Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 16-20

Chapter - 16 (16)

Old gratitudes, past grievances - friends in morning, becomes foes at midday

Everyone turned their heads and looked behind the apricot trees. A square faced, big eared monk, dignified in appearance wearing an ash colored robe, stepped out. Elder Xu cried, "Reverend Zhiguang from Mt. Tiantai has arrived! 30 years since we last met, reverend still look as healthy as ever."

Reverend Zhiguang's reputation was not well known in recent years so many of the latter generations of the Beggar Clan do not know his name. But Qiao Feng and the six clan elders all stood up and paid him respect, having known of his reputation from before. In the past, the Reverend had sailed the seas to deserted lands and islands looking for medicinal herbs to treat malaria and other illnesses for the common people in the Zhejiang, Fujian Guangdong and Guangxi area. Because of this, the Reverend had caught an illness himself and lost his martial arts, thus the gratitudes of the common people for his deeds are not small. Many people came up to salute him.

Reverend Zhiguang turned to Zhao Qiansun, smiled and said, "Wugong that is inferior to the opponent when attacked, wanting to retaliate is already hard. Wugong that is superior to the opponent when attacked, and choose not retaliate is even harder." Zhao Qiansun lowered his head as if pondering what was said.

Elder Xu said, "Reverend Zhiguang's brilliant wisdom and benevolent grace are so widespread that no one dares to disrespect. In the past ten years Reverend had not involved yourself with any business in Jianghu, but today you grace us with your presence and bringing the Beggar Clan great honor. I am deeply grateful."

Reverend Zhiguang replied, "Elder Xu of the Beggar Clan and Iron Faced Judge Shan of Mt. Taishan both asked me to come, so how can I refuse? The distance between Mt. Tiantai and Wuxi is not great, moreover this matter deals with the peace and prosperity of the common people thus I came when summoned."

Qiao Feng thought to himself, "So it turns out he was asked here by Elder Xu and Shan Zheng. Reverend Zhiguang has a reputation of high prestige and a noble character. There's no way he would be involved with the plot to harm me. Maybe with him here is a good thing."

Zhao Qiansun suddenly spoke up, "The battle at Quarry Stone Valley outside of Yanmen Guan Pass, Reverend Zhiguang also participated in it. You can speak about it first."

Reverend Zhiguang hearing the mentioned of Quarry Stone Valley caused his facial complexion to became distorted, showing an uncomfortable restlessness and a hint of fear, like a person who saw a horrible sight and can't bear to look. His face then switched to a melancholic look full of pity, let out a long sigh, and said, "The sin is really heavy, to speak of this matter brings up feelings of great shame. Everyone, the battle at Quarry Stone Valley took place 30 years ago, so why today bring up this matter?"

Elder Xu replied, "Only because our clan is facing a impending crisis involving the matter in this letter." After speaking he brought out the letter and handed it over.

Reverend Zhiguang read the letter from beginning to end, shook his head and said, "Grievances of the past should not be reopened, why bring up this old matter? According to my opinion, this letter should be destroyed so it will bring this matter to an end. That is the best solution."

Elder Xu retorted, "Vice Chief Ma of our clan died a tragic death. If this matter is not investigated carefully then this injustice suffered by Vice Chief Ma will never be washed away and it will lead to a disintegration of our clan."

Reverend Zhiguang could only nod his in in agreement, "What you said is true." The reverend looked up at late afternoon sky showing the new moon shining a thin ray of light onto the apricot trees for a long time, then turned to Zhao Qiansun and said, "Okay, the mistake that I committed many years back, I won't conceal it anymore. I will be straightforward about what happened back then."

Zhao Qiansun shook his head, "A mistake is a mistake. Why continue to deceive ourselves and others."

The Reverend turned to the people gathered and spoke, "30 years ago, heroes of realm of rivers and lakes received news that a group of Khitan warriors planned to launch a sneak attack on the Shaolin Temple to steal martial art manuals developed over the past hundreds of years..."

Everyone gasped softly thinking to themselves, "The ambitions of these Khitan warriors are not small." The unique martial art secrets of Shaolin Temple are the treasures of Great Song. Liao and Great Song had been at war with each other for many years, if these Khitan succeeded in stealing the martial art secrets of Shaolin and train their military in them, the armies of Great Song will not be able to repel their invasions.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, "This matter was a matter of great crisis. If the Khitans succeeded then Great Song would be facing a calamity with the threat of losing the country, the entire family of the Emperor will be put to the sword. The matter was urgent so our group of heroes did not have time to investigate this matter carefully. We heard that the group of Khitans will travel through Yanmen Guan Pass so beside from sending message to Shaolin to be on full alert, the group all immediately headed out to Yanmen Guan Pass to meet the enemy. If we couldn't annihilate that group then at least we can foil their plans."

Hearing of the impending battle with the Khitans, everyone's blood started to boiled. Great Song over the years have been humiliated by the armies of Liao, having lost many battles, land was invaded, and the common people suffered greatly.

Reverend Zhiguang slowly turned his head, stared at Qiao Feng and asked, "Qiao Bangzhu, if Bangzhu had known of this news then what would you have done?"

Qiao Feng dignifiedly replied, "Reverend Zhiguang! My wisdom is limited, my abilities too lacking for people to praise, even brothers in the clan suspect of them that to even speak of it brings shame. But even though I am incompetent, I still am a man, and regarding these matters of principal one know what is right, what is wrong. Our Great Song has constantly been terrorized by armies of Liao, this dishonor upon our country, who here has never thought of cleansing? If I had heard of news such as those, I will immediately lead brothers in our clan to travel day and night to help stop them."

Those words of his were very heroic and proud, everyone who heard was touched inside and thought to themselves, "Now that is how a true man should act."

Reverend Zhiguang nodded and said, "Since Qiao Bangzhu said that, when I headed out to Yanmen Guan Pass to ambush the Khitans, there is nothing wrong with that right?"

Qiao Feng angrily thought to himself, "Who does this old man think he is? Saying that, isn't it just like looking down on me?" However he betrayed no emotions and just calmly said, "The heroic spirit of all seniors here are fierce, I greatly admire them. I regret that I was not born 30 years earlier so that I could follow the heroes to fight the Khitans."

Reverend Zhiguang looked at him carefully once more, his facial expressions were strange, and slowly said, "At that time we split up into small groups heading to Yanmen Guan Pass. I and this brother here..." he pointed to Zhao Qiansun and continued, "were in the first group. Our group consisted of 21 people. Brother Leader was younger than I by a few years, however his martial arts were outstanding, and many people revered his status in the martial arts world, thus we all nominated him to be our Leader. Everyone listened to him and carried out his orders. In our group there were Wang Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan, Ten Thousand Wins Saber the hero Wang Laoying, the Great Sword God Priest Yun of Mt. Huashan, they were all first class martial art masters. At that time I have yet to become a monk, and to be grouped together with such heroes I felt very unworthy. Only that my desire to serve my country to kill enemies did not allow for me to be polite and stand in the rear of that group. When it comes to killing enemies and protecting the country, every little strength that can be contributed should be contributed. The martial arts of these brothers were much greater than my own, as for nowadays, as you may know there is no need to compare anymore."

Zhao Qiansun added, "That's correct! At that time my martial arts were much greater than yours. As much as this.." As he said that he spread both his arms out wide to show the difference. But seeing that the distance was still not enough, he tried spreading out his finger tips to add a few inches.

Reverend Zhiguang just continued with his story, "Our group reached Yanmen Guan Pass and waited until near dusk, then went out beyond the Great Wall 10 more miles. We were on guard and very careful the whole time. Suddenly in the northwest direction we heard sounds of horses running, listening to the sound there were at least 10 riders. Brother Leader raised his right hand up and all of us halted. Everyone in the group were both excited and worried, no one dared to say a word. Excited because the news were not false, and the group arrived in time to stop the enemies. However also worried because everyone knows that these Khitans must be very fierce and capable to even dare attack Shaolin, who is the Mount Tai of martial art studies. If they were friendly then they wouldn't have came, but since they came they couldn't be friendly at all. These warriors must have been chosen very carefully, 1 chosen out of 10,000 so they must not be ordinary. Great Song had fought many battles with the Khitans, defeats were many but victories few, the outcome of the battle would be hard to imagine."

"Brother Leader waved his hands and all 21 of us spread out around the mountain road and hid among the boulders. The left side of the mountain was a deep valley where the bottom could not even be seen."

"The sound of hoofbeats start getting nearer and nearer, there was a sound of 7-8 people together singing a song native to the the people of Liao. The singing was gracefully long, both grand and herioc, but none of us could understand its meaning. I tightened the grip on my saber, my palms were so drenched in cold sweat that I had to dry them on my pants but it soon became wet again. Brother Leader was bending down to the side of me. Knowing that I was nervous, he patted my shoulder, looked at me, and gave a smile. He made a chopping motion with his hand as if to say we will kill all of the Khitan soldiers today. I smiled back at him. Inside I felt much calmer than before."

"When the person in the lead of the Khitan group were about 50 meters away from us, I peeked out from behind of a boulder. The Khitan warriors were all wearing fur, some holding spears, some with short sabers, others with bows and arrows, and a few have large hawks perched on their shoulders. The whole group was singing as they walked, unbeknown of the ambush up ahead. In a brief second I had took in the appearances of the Khitans in front, they had short hair and thick beards, all looked fierce. As they got closer, my heart was beating so furiously that it felt like it was closed to jumping out of my mouth and out my body..."

The people hearing Reverend Zhiguang telling the story, though all knew this story took place 30 years ago, they couldn't help but felt suspenseful. Reverend Zhiguang turned again to Qiao Feng and said, "Qiao Bangzhu, the success or failure of this mission will influence the safety of Great Song along with the lives of millions of people. And we still do not have a grasp on whether we will be successful. The only advantage we had was that the enemies were in the light, while we in the dark. According to Bangzhu, what should we have done?"

Qiao Feng replied, "There is an old saying 'All's fair in war." This matter is involving two countries at war, there's no way we can follow the heroic moral ethics code of Jianghu. The distant dogs had always slaughtered the people of Great Song, have they ever held back? In my opinion we must use concealed projectiles coated with deadly poison."

Reverend Zhiguang clapped his hand against his thigh and said, "Good! The suggestion of Qiao Bangzhu is exactly like the thinking of our group. Brother Leader seeing the Khitans had came close enough, cried out a sound, and everyone let loose their concealed weapons and projectiles. Flying out there was an abundance of steel darts, steel arrows, flying daggers, iron awls... each and everyone were all coated with deadly poison. The Liao dogs screamed out in confusion, then fell over and screamed no more..."

In the group of beggars listening, some clapped their hands and cheered.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, "At that point I had counted clearly. The group of Khitans warriors had 19 people. Our concealed weapons had slain 12, leaving 7 still standing. Our group all to a man jumped out, raising our sabers and swords cut down all remaining in a flash. None was able to escape."

Some listening in the Beggar Clan group cheered once more. However both Qiao Feng and Duan Yu pondered in their head, "The reverend had said that these Khitans were all chosen carefully among the best of the best warriors, so how can their skills be so mediocre to die in such a short time?"

Their was a sound of Reverend Zhiguang heaving a long sigh, "Our group just barely raised our arms and had easily killed 19 Khitan warriors, all were ecstatic but also felt uneasy. This group was too ordinary, not a single person lasted more than one move, definitely are not skilled warriors. Was the news that we heard inaccurate? Or did the Khitans planned this so that they could trap us? We exchanged only a few words with each other before we heard the sound of a horse. In the northwest direction there were 2 riders coming this way."

"This time our group did not bother to ambush anymore, all headed straight to meet the enemy without consulting with anybody. Immediately we saw that the enemy included a man and a woman. The man's body was powerfully built, his facial expression was solemn. His clothing was more expensive and better looking than all those other 19 Khitans. The woman was young looking, and in her hands was a little baby. The two people were shoulder to shoulder, smiling and talking very intimately, obviously they are husband and wife. The two upon seeing us were greatly surprised and looked around saw the corpse of those 19 warriors all lying on the ground. The man immediately changed his countenance to a fierce and aggressive look, loudly shouting questions at us in a Khitan language that none of us understood what he was trying to say."

"Shanxi Datong government office's Iron Tower third brother Fang Daxiong raised his iron rod up and shouted loudly: 'You Khitan dog there, surrender and accept your fate!' He shouted and at the same time wielded his iron rod to strike down the Khitan man. Brother Leader in his stomach felt uneasy and was about to yelled out, 'Brother Fang, don't be reckless! Do not kill him. We must capture him alive to question him.'

"Brother Leader had not finish his sentence before the Khitan's right hand had moved forward, snatching the iron rod away from Fang Daxiong. A sound of bones breaking emitted from Fang Daxiong's hands. Seeing that person was about to strike with the rod from midair down, our group started yelling out, knowing that we won't be fast enough to charge forward to save Fang Daxiong's life, thus we started shooting our hidden projectiles at the enemy. The Khitan man only needed to wave his left arm once, and a powerful wind forced all the projectiles to harmlessly land on the side. Looks like Fang Daxiong's life can no longer be saved, however unexpectedly, he threw the iron rod forward, sending both it and third Brother Fang crashing out to the side of the road. His mouth mumbling did not know what to say.

"In just 1 move, it caused our whole group to stand in shock, witnessing that the level of this person's martial arts are so high, that it is rare to see one of such caliber in the world. So the news that we received are not false, and fearing that following him there will be more first class masters approaching, thus we must use our large numbers to immediately overwhelm him. 6-7 people charged forward to attack him and 4-5 others moved to take on the female."

"Unexpected the young married female did not know martial arts. She was slashed just once and lost her arm causing the baby in her hand to fall to the ground. Another person then hacked with a saber cutting off half of her head. The Khitan man's martial arts although high, but he was also surrounded by six-seven other skilled fighters, so it was impossible for him to rush over to protect his wife and child. The first few moves he just snatched away our weapons and swords, carefully trying not to injure anybody, however when seeing his wife being killed, his eye turned blood red, his face looked fearsome. When I saw his sight then, my hands and feet felt like lead and dared not go forward."

Zhao Qiansun added, "Can't blame you for feeling such! Can't blame you for feeling such!" Ever since he talked to Granny Tan earlier, whoever talked to him were met with either crankiness or rudeness, however the sentences that he just let out seemed like its meaning was partly painful and partly regretful.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, "The fierce battle then already took place 30 years ago. Over the past 30 years I don't know how many nightmares I had regarding that sight I saw, every image imprinted deeply in my head. The Khitan man brought both his palms forward, I don't know what palm techniques he used, but he snatched the weapons right out of the hands of two of our brothers, same time using it to both slash and stab killing those two. He at times fought on the ground, then leaped back to continue on the saddle of his horse, bold and fast like a bird pecking a worm. He moved like a ghost or demon. That's right, he was no different than a demon, finished killing a person to his west, he turned in a blink and killed a person to his east. In just a moment, out of 21 people in our group, 9 people had already been killed."

"Now everyone was furious, all eyes were red. Brother Leader with Wang Bangzhu and the rest of us all jumped into the fray, willing to trade our lives for his. Shockingly his martial arts was so strange that one could not even imagine, nor could one even predict from which direction his attacks would be coming from. The setting sun in the sky was shining red like blood. There outside of Yanmen Guan Pass the northern wind blowing furiously mixed with the crying sounds of past heroes right before their death. Limbs -arms and feet, heads, weapons, blood were flying and falling all over the place. Whoever was skilled was only able to protect themselves, no one was able to help anyone other.

"Seeing the circumstances, I was truly frightened. But seeing that my brothers were falling one by one, that sight can not help but caused one's blood to boiled. I gathered all my courage, got on a horse and charge directly at him. Both my hands holding a saber aimed for his head and slashed down, knowing that if this move does not connect, then my life will be handed over to him. When the edge of the saber was barely a meter away from him, the Khitan man suddenly grabbed hold of another person and held him up to block. I shockingly looked and saw that the person being held up was the second senior from the Band of 3 Heroes of Jiangxi Du. I hurriedly pulled back my saber but the edge of the saber went right into the head of the horse I was riding, hitting it with a clang. The animal was in such pain that it neigh a loud sound and it jumped up. At that moment the Khitan man sent out a palm strike right at the moment the horse jumped up so that the horse took the full brunt of that strike for me. If not for that my bones would have all been smashed and how could I have survived to this day?"

"The force of his palm strike was truly terrifying. It sent both horse and rider flying out to the back. My body flying in midair smashed right on top of some tree branches. I was stunned and fazed, not knowing where am I nor did I knew whether I was alive. It was a long time before I was able to look down and saw my brothers still surrounding and fighting the Khitan man. Only 5-6 people were still standing. At that time I also saw this brother here..." Reverend Zhiguang pointed to Zhao Qiansun and continued, "... his body shook once, then fell into a pool of his own blood. I thought he must be dead."

Zhao Qiansun shook his head and said, "To speak of this story I am very ashamed, but why bother hiding it anymore. It wasn't because I was injured but because I was so scared that my heart stopped beating. I saw that person holding brother Du's two legs and tearing his whole body in half. I was so dizzy that I fell unconscious only because of that reason. That's right I am a coward. Seeing that person killed so many people that I became unconscious."

Reverend Zhiguang spoke again, "The Khitan man was deadly like a devil while killing numerous brothers. Whoever says that they did not feel fear are being deceitful." He then looked up and stared at the moon hanging the the sky for a time then continued, "At that point our side only still had 4 people still fighting the Khitan man. Brother Leader knowing that the end was near, knowing that all will die, opened his mouth asking: Who are you? Who are you? The other person did not reply. In just a few moment he killed two more people. He then drew out his right foot and it hit Wang Bangzhu right on the vital pressure points on his back, while his left foot went out to finish the move move Twin Ducks Linking Together (not sure if this is the correct name for it. Helppp??) hitting Brother Leader's vital pressure point on his ribs. He used his legs to hit the pressure points precisely and powerfully knocking them out. His footwork was so impressive it was unthinkable. If I was not almost on death's door then, seeing the two people I respect most being seriously wounded, a scream would have escaped my mouth."

"The Khitan man finished taking care of all his enemies then rushed over to the side of his dead wife's body, holding it while crying, and let out a loud mournful cry for a long time. Hearing his weeping sounds I could barely withstand the sadness. Surprised to see the Khitan dog who was as cruel as a devil could also show a sorrowful sentiment resembling a human, no different from the sound of those of our Han people."

Zhao Qiansun coldly said, "If that is so then what is so strange about it? Even wild animals have parent-child, husband-wife sentimental relationships, how is that any different than a human's? The Khitans are still humans, how are they any different than Hans?"

In the group of beggar clan, someone screamed out, "Liao dogs are evil and cruel, even worse than poisonous snakes and wild beasts. Our Han people are entirely different!" Zhao Qiansun could only smile bitterly and did not answer those words.

Reverend Zhiguang went on with his story, "The Khitan man sat there and cried, both holding tight and looking at his son for a long time. Then he placed his son into the bosom of his dead wife and walked over to where Brother Leader's body lied. He let loose his anger by screaming and scolding at Brother Leader. Brother Leader did not submit but just glowered at him. His pressure points were hit, his movements and speech were sealed. He could not even muttered a word. The Khitan man suddenly raised his head and let loose a long scream. He picked up a saber from the ground and started carving words on the face of the mountain. At that time it was dark and I was lying far away so I could not see what was written."

Zhao Qiansun said, "He was carving words in Khitan. Even if you could see it you still wouldn't be able to read it."

Reverend Zhiguang replied, "That is right. Even if I saw it I could not read it. On the cliff it was silent on all sides, the only sounds heard were that of the saber carving into the stone. Listening to the sound of stone chips falling down, I dared not to even breath hard. I did not know how long it was before he finally threw down the saber. He bent down to pick up his wife's corpse and son, then walked to the edge of the cliff and jumped to the bottom of the canyon."

Everyone hearing that couldn't help but let out a sound "Ah." It was unexpected that the story would turn out so.

Reverend Zhiguang continued, "Everyone hearing this retelling must be surprised. At that time with my own eyes witnessing that, I was even more shocked. A person with a high level of martial arts as him living in the Kingdom of Liao must have a high rank. This time when the group of Khitan warriors coming south of the Yellow River to attack Shaolin Temple, if he is not their Leader then at least he must be one of their important characters. He had captured our group's Leader along with Wang Bangzhu, and the rest were all killed. It seems like he had won. Who would have thought that he would jump down the cliff to commit suicide instead of taking advantage of his victory and moving forward with his mission."

"I looked downward and all I could see was clouds and fog. The bottom could not be seen. He is still made of flesh and blood. No matter how powerful his martial arts are, to jump from such height there's no way one could survive. I startled myself and could not bear but called out a cry. Turns out in this weird event there's another even weirder. I had just finished yelling when there was a sound of a baby crying. From the bottom of the cliff a black bundle flew up and landed right on top of the body of Wang Bangzhu. The sound of a baby crying did not stop but continued. It seems the bundle that landed on Wang Bangzhu was the little baby from earlier. At that point I had stopped being scared, and jumped down from the tree. I ran up to Wang Bangzhu and saw that the Khitan baby was lying on top of him still crying.

"I thought to myself for a bit before I understood fully what happened. When the Khitan woman was killed, the baby she was holding fell to the ground causing the baby to fall unconscious and stopped breathing, but not entirely dead yet. The Khitan man when he was crying sorrowfully, touched his son's nose and saw that he was not breathing so thought that the son had died. Thus he carried the two corpse and jumped down the cliff to die together. The sudden shocked jolted the baby back to life and started crying. The Khitan's man skills were shockingly scary. He doesn't want his son to be buried with him at the bottom of the valley, so he immediately used his strength and threw the baby up. He remembered the exact distance and location to throw the baby to land exactly on top of Wang Bangzhu without harming the it. That Khitan man when falling in midair, found out his baby was alive. He was quick witted enough to react and throw the baby up. His skills to be able to throw something that far and that accurate and calculate the exact distance, is formidably fearsome.

"I looked around at the brothers that died a tragic death, inside was sorrowful and angry, grabbed the baby and planned to throw it against the mountain wall for it to die. Just as I raised my hands to throw, the baby started crying, the face was pulsing red, the bright black eyes were wide staring back at me. If I hadn't looked into the baby's eyes I would have threw him already, and that would be the end of the story. However I had saw the eyes of that small child. The child seemed so lovable and innocent that I could no longer follow through. I thought to myself: if I had bullied and kill the baby not yet a year old then that would be a disgraceful deed, not the act of an upright and respectable gentleman."

In the group of the Beggar Clan, a beggar shouted out, "Reverend Zhiguang! The Liao dogs killed and murder our Han people countless of times. With my own eyes I saw Han babies being speared, and carried around upon a lance on top of a horse to parade around town showing off. If they can kill babies, so why can't we?"

Reverend Zhiguang let out a long sigh and replied, "That is right. But as the saying goes the darkness in the hearts of man, who here does not have it. That day I saw that the dead were already too many. I couldn't bring myself to add more to it by killing a little baby. Everyone can say what I did was wrong, everyone can say what I did was cowardly. But in the end I still let the baby live.

"After that I went to release the blocked pressure points of Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu, but my skills were mediocre and plus the pressure point hitting techniques of the Khitan man were top notch, no matter how much strength I exerted, how much I pressed, how much I rubbed or squeezed, I only succeeded in drowning myself in my own sweat. No matter what I did Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu still could not move nor speak. I did not know what else to do and fearing the Khitans will soon come to help so I threw both Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu onto two horses. I myself rode a horse holding the Khitan baby in one arm while the reins of the other two horses in the other and ran all night away from Yanmen Guan Pass to look for a doctor specializing in releasing blocked pressure points, but that was useless. The next night after 12 hours have passed, the pressure points released voluntarily.

"Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu were still worried about the Khitan warriors coming to attack Shaolin, so they immediately returned to Yanmen Guan Pass to scout out the situation. However they only saw flesh and blood left all over from the fight before. The sight was no different from how I left it. I looked down the cliff at the Quarry Stone Valley and still could not find any clues. We all planned to prepare the corpse of our brothers for burial, but when we counted, there were only 17 dead bodies. The number of people that should have died should be 18 so why is it that we are now missing one?" He stopped talking then looked directly at Zhao Qiansun questioningly.

Zhao Qiansun remembering smiled and said, "In that bunch there was one corpse that had the ability to come back from dead and able able to walk around to this day. That living corpse is I, Zhao Qian Sun Li Zhou Wu Zheng Wang. (a joke... see Ren Wo Xing's explanation below)

Reverend Zhiguang said, "At that time the three of us thought nothing of it, thinking to ourselves that during that fight, this brother here might have died and fallen down the cliff. So not seeing his corpse we did not linger too much on this. After we had properly buried all the brothers, we were all furious inside, so we threw all the Khitan corpse over the side of the cliff down into the Stone Quarry Valley. Brother Leader said to Wang Bangzhu: 'Brother Jiantong, that Khitan man if he wanted to kill the two of us it would be as easy as turning his hand, so why did he just kicked us in our pressure points and allow us to live to now?' Wang Banzhu replied: 'I have been thinking of that but still can not figure it out. The two of us were part of the people responsible for killing his wife and son, it is only right that he should have ruthlessly killed both of us.'"

"The three of us discussed back and forth but could not think of a logical reason for what happened. Brother Leader then spoke up: 'He must have carved those letters into the stone with some hidden intent. What a shame that none of us three knows the Khitan language.' Brother Leader went down to the river and gathered some water to mix with the blood on the ground making ink. Then he colored it all over the stone. After that he imprinted the cliff writing onto a piece of white cloth torn from a gown. The Khitan used only a small saber but were able to carve letters two inches deep into the stone. With this kind of internal power his skills must have been unparalleled in the world, unmatched by anyone. Looking at the writing the three of us were secretly amazed. The memory of the day before still left a lingering fear in all of us. Returning back inside the Great Wall, Wang Bangzhu went to find a peddler who travels between there and Liao. Since that person knew the Khitan language we gave him the white cloth to read. He translated it out for us on paper."

Zhiguang stopped speaking, looked up at the sky. He sighed and then continued, "After the three of us read the paper, all we could do was look wide-eyed back and forth at each other. We couldn't believe it. The Khitan man had at that time made up his mind to kill himself, so why would he intentionally lie? We then went to find another person who reads Khitan and had him translate it by mouth one line at a time. What he said was exactly like the previous translation. God! If that was the truth then seventeen of our brothers had died a meaningless death. Those Khitan warriors had committed no crimes and were wrongfully implicated. As for that pair of husband and wife, towards them we had committed a great sin that could never be undone."

Everyone was eagerly waiting to hear the words that were written on the mountain face, but Zhiguang was silent and had stopped talking. People's impatience caused their tempers to flare and they irritably asked: "What did those words say?" "What sins had you committed towards them?" "Why do you feel regret towards the husband and wife?"

Zhiguang replied, "My good friends, it is not because I want to keep the meaning of those Khitan words a secret, but it is because if those words that were written were true, then all the actions of Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and even mine were greatly in the wrong. We are too ashamed to face anybody. I am only a lowly common person in Jianghu, even if I did wrong it will not impact anything in the grand scheme of things. However regarding Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu, they are different from me, what kind of rank and status do they hold? Moreover Wang Bangzhu had passed away. I do not dare to say anything that might ruin the reputation and prestige of these two people. I beg you all for forgiveness. I cannot say it."

The previous bangzhu of the Beggar Clan was Wang Jiantong whose reputation and prestige were widespread. From Qiao Feng to clan elders to various disciples, all held deep gratitudes toward him . The members of the Beggar Clan were extremely curious about the story but upon hearing that this matter has implications toward the reputation and prestige of Wang Bangzhu not a single person dared to inquire further.

Zhiguang continued talking, "The three of us thought for a time, at first not wanting to believe it, but were forced to accept it so we decided to temporarily spare the life of the Khitan baby. We decided that we first off should head to Shaolin to see if there were any new developments. If the Khitan warriors actually did attack Shaolin then we could still kill the baby then. We rushed day and night toward Shaolin without stopping. Arriving there we saw that the number of heroes that had gathered at Shaolin to lend a hand was not small. The news involved the life and death of millions of common citizens, so all it needed was for the news to spread and numerous people came to help."

Reverend Zhiguang turned his face from left to right looking at each person listening and then continued, "There were many heroes and revered seniors that came to the gathering at Shaolin that year. I need not to go into detail about that. Everyone was on full alert and ready, guarding the temple very tightly. More and more heroes from all corners of the land gathered as time passed. From September at the time of Mid Autumn Moon Festival all the way to December, three months passed without a single enemy movement. To further investigate the matter, we planned to look for the person who originally spread these news, however we could no longer find any traces of this person. Only then did we conclude that the news were actually false and that we all had been tricked. Both sides had suffered tragic and unnecessary deaths in the battle outside of Yanmen Guan Pass."

"However not long after, Khitan calvary started invading Hebei so the matter about the Khitan warriors coming to attack Shaolin was soon forgotten. It did not matter whether they did or didn't come, after all no matter what, the Khitans were still the mortal enemies of our Great Song."

"Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and I all felt ashamed and regretful about the situation outside Yanmen Guan Pass. The only people we told about it to was the Abbot of Shaolin and the families of the people who had died. We did not tell another soul except for those people. As for the Khitan baby, he was given into the care of a family of farmers living at the base of Mount Song. The matter had already passed and deciding what deal with the baby was quite difficult. We felt a lot of guilt for how we treated his parents, so we could not bear to take the baby's life. However if we foster the Khitan baby till he grows up, and he seeks us out for revenge, then isn't that like raising a tiger and sowing the seeds for disaster. In the end Brother Leader handed to that peasant family 100 Liang of silver and asked them raised the Khitan baby as their own, and not divulge to the baby any information about his heritage. That husband and wife did not have any children so they were overjoyed and accepted immediately. The couple also did not have any idea that this baby was of Khitan descent, because on the way to Mount Song we had changed the baby's clothes to fit that of a Han baby. The people of Great Song held great enmity towards people of Liao that ran deep all the way to their bone marrow. So if they saw a baby wearing Khitan clothes then they would cause him harm..."

Qiao Feng hearing this had grasped about nine tenths of the intent, shakily asked "Reverend Zhiguang, that family... that family at the base of Mount Song... what... what... are their names?"

Zhiguang replied, "Bangzhu must have already figured it out. I don't have any more reason to hide it. That person's surname is Qiao, named Sanhuai."

A stunned Qiao Feng yelled out, "No! No! Reverend please stop talking nonsense. Stop fabricating these stories to cause me harm. I am a definitely a Han so how can I be a Khitan savage? Sanhuai is... is... the person that is my biological father. Reverend stop talking nonsense..." Suddenly he jumped in front of Zhiguang, the left hand snatched the monk's chest.

Shan Zheng and the 4 Elders called out, "Don't!" and immediately rushed forward to rescue the monk. But Qiao Feng's lightness skills were great. He jumped and dodged to one side while still maintaining hold of the Reverend with his left hand.

The sons of Shan Zheng - Shan Zhongshan, Shan Shushan, Shan Jishan - all three at the same time charged at the back of Qiao Feng. Qiao Feng, using only his right hand, caught both Shan Shushan and Shan Zhongshan then threw them far away. He next grabbed Shan Jishan, threw him to the ground, and placed his foot keeping pressure on Jishan's throat.

Shan Family's Five Tigers' reputation and prestige were renown throughout the whole Shandong region. The five brothers had already been famous for a long time based on their own deeds, definitely not ones who rely on the fortune and fame of their parents. Even then, Qiao Feng easily dispatched the brothers like it was nothing. With his left hand holding Zhiguang, his right hand lashed out to grab, he threw the three Shan brothers around like pieces of straw, not one was able to put up any resistance. People saw this were shocked. Their jaws dropped in disbelief.

Shan Zheng, Shan Boshan, and Shan Xiaoshan felt anxious seeing their own flesh and blood in danger, wanted to jump in to help. But Qiao Feng had a foot on Shan Jishan's throat. Knowing that his strength was something worth fearing, and all it needed was a press of the foot and Jishan will lose his life. Because of that, the three father and sons dared not to come any closer. Shan Zhen yelled out, "Qiao Bangzhu, if there is any misunderstanding then let us discuss it, don't be heavy handed. Our Shan family does not have any enmity with you. Please spare my son." Even the famous Iron Faced Judge were powerless and had to beg Qiao Feng.

Elder Xu called out, "Qiao Bangzhu, Reverend Zhiguang is a person who everyone in Jianghu respects. You must not harm his life!"

Qiao Feng's hot blood had boiled, and he said in a loud voice, "Correct! The Shan family and I have no enmities with each other. I also had always respected Reverend Zhiguang. You people... if you people want to take away my Bangzhu position, then I will surrender it to you with both hands, but why do you have to create lies to slander me? I... what sins have I committed that would cause you people to accuse me as such?" The last few sentences his voice was choked by tears. People who heard were unable to restrain their feelings and started to sympathize with him.

The bones on Zhiguang's skeleton let out a creaking sound. Everyone knew that his life was tethering on a needle. Whether he lived or died all were in the hands of Qiao Feng. It was so quiet that one could hear the sounds of the wind beating against the trees, the sound of the insects in the grass, and even the sounds of people breathing. No one dared to make a noise.

A short time passed before Zhao Qiansun suddenly started laughing, "So laughable! So laughable! Han people are not necessarily a cut above other peoples and aren't Khitan people also are not pigs or dogs? Obviously you are a Khitan so why pretend to be a Han? What is there to be ashamed of? You even denied your birth parents and heritage, and here you call yourself a real man."

Qiao Feng opened his eyes wide in anger, angrily asked, "Is senior actually calling me a Khitan?"

Zhao Qiansun replied, "How can I be sure? But in that battle outside Yanmen Guan Pass, that Khitan man we fought, his appearance and face is exactly like yours. That time I was so frightened. I fell unconscious immediately from terror. That man's face I will never forget even in a hundred years. Also with my own eyes I saw Reverend Zhiguang carrying that Khitan baby back. I am a good for nothing corpse that came back to life, in this world outside of Xiaojuan (Granny Tan), I don't involved myself in the business of anybody, nor do I have any involvement in other matters. If you are or if you are not the Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan, what does that trifling thing have to do with me? Why would I bring false charges against you? What advantage is there for me to make up a story about helping to kill your parents years ago? Qiao Bangzhu, my martial arts when compare to yours is very lacking. If I don't want to live anymore, wouldn't just killing myself be a better option?"

Qiao Feng slowly put Reverend Zhiguang down. He then flicked his foot and the large body of Shan Jishan flew out and fell to the ground with a thud. Shan Jishan stood up immediately. He was not in the slightest injured.

Qiao Feng looked at Zhiguang, seeing his face had a confident aura without the slightest hint of falseness, then asked, "So what happened afterwards?"

Reverend Zhiguang replied, "What happens afterwards, you should already know. At age seven you went to pick chestnuts in the forest, got chased by a wolf, and was rescued by a monk from Shaolin. The monk killed the wolf and treated your injuries. Then day after day the monk returned to teach you martial arts. Is this correct?"

Qiao Feng replied, "Correct. It seems the Reverend also knew of this matter." Years ago when Reverend Xuanku passed his martial arts to Qiao Feng, he had ordered him not to tell anyone about it. So in Jianghu everyone had always thought that Qiao Feng was the direct disciple of Wang Bangzhu of the Beggar Clan. Who knew that he and Shaolin Temple had such an old and deep relationship.

Zhiguang said, "That monk from Shaolin was asked by Brother Leader to teach you martial arts and guide you since childhood to keep you from walking down the wrong path. Regarding this matter, Brother Leader, Wang Bangzhu, and I had many disputes. I wanted you to live the life of a common person, as farmer, and did not want you to learn martial arts to keep you away from being involved with the grudges and enmities of Jianghu. Brother Leader said that if we do that then we will be doing another wrong to your parents. So to make amends we must take care of you and develop you into a great hero."

Qiao Feng said, "All you... all you seniors, why do you feel you will be doing wrong to my parents? People of Han and people of Khitan have been fighting and harming each other for a long time. It is a common thing. There is nothing to be regretful about."

Zhiguang sighed and said, "The stone writing outside of Yanmen Guan Pass to this day still has not faded. Why don't you go and see it. Brother Leader had already made up his mind and Wang Bangzhu went along with it. There was no way I by myself can win the argument. Only when you were sixteen years old did Wang Bangzhu received you as his disciple. After that there were many chances to get along together. Your natural talent is outstanding and progressed furiously. There was no way an average person can keep up with you. Of course if Brother Leader and Wang Bangzhu were not behind the scenes helping out, you would not be where you are today."

Qiao Feng lowered his head to ponder. Thinking back on his life, he had faced numerous difficulties but each and every time his bad luck had turned into good. He had not faced much pain or hardships. He had met with many lucky opportunities in life. It came even without asking for it. For a long time he had thought that it was all due to his luck. But after listening to Reverend Zhiguang he realized he had a secret benefactor helping him all those years and he was ignorant of it. In his head he was stunned and asked himself, "If what the Reverend said was true then I am a Khitan and not a Han? Wang Bangzhu is not my kind teacher but the culprit who killed my father, killed my mother. The senior who helped me out in secret, he did not do it with pure intentions but probably only wanted to make reprimands to relief him of his guilty conscience. No! No! That can't be right! Khitan people are evil and ruthless dogs. They are the mortal enemies of our Han people. How can I be one of those savages?"

Zhiguang continued: 'Chief Wang was very wary of you at first, but later, seeing you make fast progress in learning martial arts, behave generously and chivalrously, treat people with clemency, treat him with great respect and prudence, and act to his liking in every aspect, he gradually became really fond of you. Afterward, as you made more contributions and gained more prestige, from the people at the top to the people at the bottom of the Beggar Society, each and every one honored and submitted to you, even outsiders also knew that the upcoming Chief of the Beggar Society would be no one but you. However Chief Wang had still been undecided about you all along because you're a Khitan. He tested you with three difficult problems, you got them done one by one, but only after you'd achieved seven feats did he entrust the Dog Beating Stick to you. In the Taishan convention that year, after you defeated nine strong enemies of the Beggar Society in succession, he then all the more resolutely installed you as the Chief of the Beggar Society. As far as laona (老衲 – old kasaya, a term a Buddhist monk calls himself with) know, for the past several hundred years, there has never been another Chief of the Beggar Society who had to go through so many hardships like you did.'

Qiao Feng lowered his head and said: 'I only thought that enshi (恩师 – kind master) Chief Wang intended to train me, making me undergo many hardships so that I'd be able to take on important missions, but it turns out... but it turns out...' Saying to here, in his heart he already almost believed that it was true.

Zhiguang said: 'I only know as far as here. After you had started to serve as the Chief of the Beggar Society, seeing rumors in jianghu all having it that you acted heroically and valued justice, benefited the common people, behaved without partiality, reorganized the Beggar Society and made it thrive, inwardly I felt happy for you. Also, hearing that you'd several times ruined vicious schemes of Khitan people and killed some of their notable figures, I thought that, in that way, our previous fear of nourishing a viper in our own bosoms had become almost as groundless as the fear of the Qi people (杞人之忧 – the fear [of the sky collapsing] of the Qi people – referring to groundless fears). This incident should never have been mentioned, but somehow someone uncovered it? This is unlikely to be any good to the Beggar Society or Chief Qiao yourself.' Saying to here, he let out a deep sigh. There was a sorrowful expression on his face.

Elder Xu said: 'Zhiguang dashi (大师 – great monk), thank you very much for relating past events making everyone feel as if they were personally on the scene. This letter...' He raised that letter with his hand and continued: 'was written by that leading hero to Chief Wang. In the letter he made every effort to dissuade Chief Wang from handing over the Chief of the Beggar Society position to Chief Qiao. Chief Qiao, you may as well have a look at it.' When he finished saying, he held out the letter.

Zhiguang said: 'Let me take a look first, to see if it's truly the original letter.' When he finished saying, he received and held the letter in his hands, read it one time and said: 'Correct, this is really the leading big brother's original handwriting.' Once finishing saying, he slightly transferred power into his left-hand fingers to torn off the foot of the letter where there was the sender's name then put it in his mouth. With a bending of his tongue it was already swallowed into his stomach.

When Zhiguang torn the letter he had taken several steps towards the bonfire, thus he was a bit further apart from Qiao Feng. Moreover, he was putting the letter paper close to his eyes as if there was insufficient light and he could not see clearly, therefore when he torn off and put the bottom part of the letter in his mouth, the letter paper were just several cun (寸 – Chinese inch ~ 3.33 cm) away from his lips. Qiao Feng could never have expected this old monk of noble character and high prestige to use this cunning trick. With a roar of anger, he struck out with his left palm hitting the monk's acupuncture points from a distance. His right hand immediately grabbed the letter, but it was still a bit too late, as the signature at the foot of the letter had already been swallowed by the monk down his throat. Qiao Feng struck out another palm to unblock his acupuncture points and angrily asked: 'You... What are you doing?'

Zhiguang smiled and said: 'Chief Qiao, once you have become aware of who you are, perhaps you will want to seek revenge for the murders of your parents. Chief Wang already passed away so there's no need to mention him. But laona don't want to let you know the name of this leading big brother. Laona also participated in the ambush against your father and mother that year, laona shall expiate all the crimes by myself, if you want to kill me or cut me to pieces, please do not hesitate to do so.'

Seeing Zhiguang lower his eyes and droop his eyebrows, looking merciful and stately, even though Qiao Feng was very sad and angry, he could not help having a feeling of respect for the monk. He then said: 'Whether this matter is true or fake, at the moment I still don't know. Even if I wanna kill you, there's no hurry to do so now.' When he finished saying, he gave Zhao Qiansun a sidelong look.

Zhao Qiansun shrugged his shoulders as if he was totally unconcerned about it and said: 'That's right, me included as well, you must give me my share of this debt. Just kill me whenever you like.'

Grandpa Tan loudly said: 'Chief Qiao, everything should be considered carefully. Don't act recklessly. If you incited the Hu Han conflict (Hu - 胡 – referring to minority people in northern and western China in feudal times), every person of exceptional ability in the Central Plains would become your enemy.' Even though Zhao Qiansun was Grandpa Tan's love rival, at that time he still raised his voice in support of him.

Qiao Feng let out a cold laugh, feeling utterly confused and not knowing how to reply. He then had a look at the letter in the firelight, only seeing it read: 'My elder brother Jianran (剑髯 – sword beard/whiskers – Wang Jiantong's nickname), after several nights of discussion, your idea of handing over your position has always been unchanged. However, after thinking about it carefully for several days, I still believe that it is inadvisable. Brother Qiao is a man of extraordinary talents. He has made many great contributions and behaved himself courageously and righteously. Not only is he the outstanding figure in the Begger Society, but in the whole of wulin in the Divine Land (神州 – China's old name) there are only a very few people who can come close to him. If this talent inherits your position, it is only natural to expect that the prestige of the Beggar Society will expand at some time in the future.'

Reading up to here, Qiao Feng felt that this senior held himself in extremely high esteem, so in his heart he was very grateful to him for that. He continued reading:

'But there's not a day that I don't think about the bloody battle at Yanmen pass and the shocking situations at that time. This child doesn't belong to our ethnic group, his father and mother died because of both of us. In the future if he doesn't know about his origin then there'd be no problem. Otherwise, not only will the Beggar Society be destroyed in his hands, wulin in the Central Plains will also have to face a massive catastrophe. At the present time, the people whose wits and martial arts can rival those of that child are extremely rare. It's not an outsider's job to interfere in the Beggar Society's important internal affairs, but our friendship is far beyond what is usual, moreover, the involvement of this matter is too huge, please give it careful consideration.' The signature at the foot of it had already been torn off by Zhiguang.

After reading the letter, Qiao Feng stood in stunned silence. Seeing that, Elder Xu held out another letter paper and said: 'This is Chief Wang's personal letter, you should recognize his handwriting.'

Qiao Feng received it. He only saw the letter paper read:

'Instructions to Vice-Chief Ma of the Beggar Society, the Elder of Merit Propagation, the Elder of Rule Enforcement, and the other Elders: If Qiao Feng has any deed that is pro-Liao (辽 – a rival empire of Song) and anti-Han, and helps Khitan fight against Great Song (宋 – a Chinese dynasty), the whole Society must join forces to kill him, and make no mistake. Poisoning and assassination can both be applied. The killer will get credit for and not be guilty of doing so. Wang Jiantong personally penned.'

The date written at the end of the letter was: 'Great Song, the 6th Yuanfeng year, the seventh day of the fifth month.' Qiao Feng remembered clearly that it had been the day he had taken over the Chief of the Beggar Society position.

Qiao Feng knew without doubt that these several rows of words were really enshi Wang Jiantong's handwriting, thus, he was no longer uncertain about his origin. However, recalling that enshi had always acted like a kind father, being strict in teaching but also very affectionate, Qiao Feng found it hard to believe that he had secretly written and left behind this order on the day he (Qiao Feng) had taken over the Chief of the Begger Society position. He felt heartbroken. Tears streamed down his face, drop by drop falling on the instructions of Chief Wang.

Elder Xu slowly said: 'Chief Qiao, please don't blame us for being disrespectful. Originally only Vice-Chief Ma knew about these instructions of Chief Wang. He kept them very carefully and never told anyone about them. In the past several years you behaved straightforwardly, and didn't have any action that was pro-Liao and anti-Song and helped Khitan to oppress Han people, so Chief Wang's instructions were naturally of no use. It wasn't until the tragic death of Vice-Chief Ma that Madam Ma found out about this order. At first, everyone suspected that Vice-Chief Ma was killed by Murong gongzi (公子 – young nobleman) of Gusu, if you settled this score for brother Dayuan then there'd be no need to expose your origin. Laoxiu (老朽 – old senile – a term that old men call themselves modestly) thought about this again and again, because of the big picture I wanted to destroy the letter and Chief Wang's order, but... but...' Saying to here, he looked at Madam Ma, and said: 'Firstly, because Madam Ma earnestly wants to avenge her husband's death, it's impossible to just let the wrongs that brother Dayuan suffered remain unsolved or let him die with an eternal grievance. Secondly, Chief Qiao supported Hu people, a conduct that has really endangered our Society...'

Qiao Feng asked: 'I supported Hu people? Where did you get this from?'

Elder Xu said: 'The two words 'Murong' are a Hu surname. The Murong clan is the descendant of Xianbei people. Just like Khitan, they are an uncivilized ethnic group.' Qiao Feng said: 'Huh, so it was because of that, but I didn't know anything about it.' Elder Xu continued: 'Thirdly, a lot of people in the Society already know that you're a Khitan, it's no good concealing it.'

Qiao Feng looked into the sky and and let out a sigh. It was not until now that the depressing doubts and suspicions that had been in his mind for quite a while were cleared up. He asked Quan Guanqing: 'Quan Guanqing, you knew that I'm a Khitan descendant so you opposed me, didn't you?' Quan Guanqing said: 'Yes.' Qiao Feng asked again: 'The Four Elders Song, Xi, Chen, Wu listened to you and tried to kill me also because of this reason?' Quan Guanqing said: 'Correct, but they only half believed me and couldn't make a decision. When the situation became critical they also chickened out.' Qiao Feng said: 'The clue about my origin, where did you get it from?' Quan Guanqing said: 'This matter involves outsiders, so excuse me for not being able to tell you. You should know that paper cannot wrap fire. No matter how you conceal your origin, someone would eventually find out about it. The Elder of Rule Enforcement has also already known about it for a long time.'

In a twinkling, thoughts in Qiao Feng's mind surged up like tidal waves, for a moment he thought: 'They've gotten jealous, making up all kinds of lies to frame me. Even if I, Qiao Feng, am all by myself, I won't surrender and will fight bravely to the death.' But immediately he also thought: 'Enshi's order is absolutely genuine. Zhiguang dashi is a person of high virtue and good reputation, and doesn't bear any resentment towards me, why should he set up this dirty plan? Elder Xu is an important senior figure of our Society, how can it be that he has the intention of overthrowing the Society? Impartial Judge Shan Zheng, Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan all are renowned seniors in wulin. This Zhao Qiansun guy is screwy but he's also not a zilch. How can this matter be false when they all tell the same thing?'

After listening to the words of the people like Zhiguang and Elder Xu, the mood of the beggar crowd was totally confused. Some people had already heard that he was a Khitan descendant, but they only half believed it, the other were only made aware of it at that moment. They found the evidences authentic, as it seemed even Qiao Feng himself believed so already. Qiao Feng had always been kind and fair to his subordinates, his abilities, virtue and martial arts were admired by everyone, hence no one could have thought he was a Khitan descendant. But the enmity between Liao and Great Song was extremely deep and countless Beggar Society disciples had died at the hands of Liao people over the years, therefore letting a Khitan serve as the Chief of the Beggar Society was really out of the question. However, no one dared to speak out to demand his expulsion from the Society. For a short time, the apricot forest became quiet, only the sounds of everyone's heavy breaths could be heard.

Suddenly there was a clear voice of a woman: 'Uncles and brothers, my late husband unfortunately passed away. At the moment I can't say for sure who murdered him. Thinking that my late husband was always sincere and steady, and though he wasn't well-spoken he didn't have any enemy in jianghu, I really can't imagine why someone had to take his life. But they say that: 'Tardily hiding valuable things induces thieves' (慢藏诲盗 – a phrase in The Book of Changes), was it because my late husband had something important in his hands that until somebody else had they wouldn't be satisfied? Was that they murdered him as a witness because they feared he would let out the secret damaging important affairs?' It was Ma Dayuan's widow, Madam Ma, who said these words. The purpose of these several sentences was very clear, directly suggesting that the murderer of Ma Dayuan was Qiao Feng and the purpose of his deed was to cover up the evidences of him being a Khitan.

Qiao Feng slowly turned his head, looked directly at this timid-looking, dainty elegant woman who was wearing a full-length white mourning dress, and asked: 'You suspect that I murdered Vice-Chief Ma?'

All the time Madam Ma had been turning her back to Qiao Feng and looking down at the ground, at this moment she suddenly raised her head and looked at him. Seeing her eyes shining like gems and sparkling in the darkness, Qiao Feng was slightly afraid. He heard her say: 'I'm an ignorant woman, showing my face in public is already unwise, how dare I randomly accuse someone else? But my late husband died with a grievance, uncles, I beg of you think about an old friendship, investigate and discover the truth to avenge my late husband.' As she finished saying she gracefully bent down and unexpectedly kowtowed to Qiao Feng.

She didn't state that Qiao Feng was the murderer, but every word she said pointed towards him. Seeing her kowtowing to him, even though Qiao Feng was angry, it was inappropriate for him to have an outburst, he had no alternative but to kneel down to return the salute, and said: 'Saozi (嫂子 – a term to call a wife of one's older brother), please stand up.'

Suddenly, on the left-hand side of the apricot forest the voice of a girl could be heard: 'Madam Ma, there's a doubt in my mind, may I ask you a question?' Everyone turned in the direction of the voice and saw a young girl wearing a reddish gown. She was A'Zhu.

Madam Ma asked: 'What do you want to interrogate me about?' A'Zhu said: 'I dare not interrogate you. I heard you say that senior Ma had tightly sealed these letters with sealing wax, and when Elder Xu opened it, the painted imprint was still intact. Does that mean before Elder Xu opened the letters no one had seen their contents?' Madam Ma said: 'That's correct.' A'Zhu said: 'Then, besides senior Ma, originally nobody else knew about the letter of that Leading Big Brother and Chief Wang's order. So, words like tardily hiding valuable things induces thieves, murdered a witness just shouldn't have been said.'

Hearing these words of A'Zhu, everyone found them very reasonable.

Madam Ma said: 'Who are you? Why do you meddle in our Society's important affairs?' A'Zhu said: 'I'm just a little girl, how dare I meddle in your Society's important affairs? But since you all want to frame my young master, I can't help but to discern based on reasons.' Madam Ma asked again: 'Who is your young master? Is he Chief Qiao?' A'Zhu shook her head, smiled and said: 'No. He is Murong gongzi.'

Madam Ma said: 'Huh, I see.' She stopped paying attention to A'Zhu, turned towards the Elder of Rule Enforcement and said: 'Elder Bai, the rules of our Society are as firm as a rock, if you violate them, how shall you be punished?' The muscles on the face of the Elder of Rule Enforcement Bai Shijing slightly twitched, he said solemnly: 'Deliberately breaking the rules, the seriousness of illegal deeds shall be increased by one level.' Madam Ma said: 'Then how about a person who has a higher rank than even you?' Bai Shijing knew who she was pointing towards so he could not help casting a glance at Qiao Feng and said: 'The rules of our Society were created by our ancestors. Everyone must comply with them irrespective of rank or position. The same contributions will be rewarded the same, the same offenses will be punished the same.'

Madam Ma said: 'The young lady is quite right to be suspicious of this. At first I thought so too. But in the evening of the immediate day before I received the sad news about my late husband's death, someone suddenly sneaked in our house to steal.'

Everyone was surprised. Someone asked: 'Steal? What was stolen? Did anyone get injured?'

Madam Ma said: 'No one was harmed. The thief used three sedative-imbued incense sticks to make me and two maids faint and fall to the floor. He then rummaged through everything in my house and stole around ten taels of silver. The next day I received the sad news that my late husband had unluckily been murdered, how could I have the mind to care about the matter of a thief stealing silver? Fortunately, my husband kept these letters in a very secret place so it wasn't stolen and destroyed by that thief.'

These several sentences were even clearer, obviously indicating that Qiao Feng either himself went to or sent a person to Ma Dayuan's house to steal these letters. Since he had wanted to steal the letters, he must have already known about their contents, thus it could be said that the matter of murdering the witness had been made clear. As for how he knew about the contents of the letters, that Leading Hero, Chief Wang, or Vice-Chief Ma accidentally giving some information away was also not something impossible to have happened.

A'Zhu wholeheartedly wanted to vindicate Murong Fu but also did not want Qiao Feng to be embroiled in this, she said: 'A thief stealing several tens of silver taels isn't unusual. It's just that the timing of it was coincidental. That's all.'

Madam Ma said: 'What you just said is very true, at first I thought so as well, but later at the window where the thief entered and left the house I picked up an object at the foot of the wall. It was dropped by the thief in his hurry. When I just saw it I got panic and knew that this was no small matter.'

Elder Song said: 'What was the object? Why is this no small matter?' Madam Ma slowly took an object, which was eight or nine cun long, out of the cloth bag on her back, passed it to Elder Xu and said: 'Uncles, please be the judge.' After Elder Xu received that object, she dropped onto the ground and burst into tears.

Everyone turned to Elder Xu, only seeing him spreading out that object which turned out to be a folding fan. Elder Xu lowered his voice and read aloud a poem written on one side of the fan:

'The snow of the North is floating at Yanmen Pass,

On the sandy plain, grass roots are being blown chaotically in the air;

I'll feel ashamed if my feats are judged by the number of enemies I've captured,

I only wish I can personally destroy the enemy country to repay the motherland.'


When Qiao Feng heard that poem he was really shocked. As he focused his eyes on the fan, he saw a picture named The Hero Comes out of the Frontier Fortress to Fight the Enemy drawn on the other side of it. This fan really belonged to him. That poem had been written on it by enshi Wang Jiantong and that picture had been drawn on it by Elder Xu. Even though the penmanship was not very refined, it had an air of heroism and righteousness, and when combined with the north wind and heavy snow depicted in the picture, it looked even more heroic and intense. This fan had been given to him on his twenty-fifth birthday as a present by enshi. He had always treasured it and kept it carefully, how come it had been lost at Ma Dayuan's house? Moreover, as he had a liberal character he never brought such things as folding fan with him.

Elder Xu turned the fan over, looked carefully at the picture which had been drawn with his own hands, let out a deep sigh, and mumbled: 'Not belonging to our ethnic group, his heart must be different. Chief Wang, ah, Chief Wang, you made a big big mistake about this matter.'

When Qiao Feng suddenly learned about his origin unexpectedly being a Khitan descendant, all sorts of feelings welled up in his hearts. For the past ten years he had tried his best everyday to devise plans to defeat Liao and kill more Khitan aggressors, therefore when all of a sudden he was confronted with this shocking matter, even though he had weathered many great storms, he could not help feeling at a loss. But after Madam Ma had again and again accused him of plotting the murder of Ma Dayuan and his folding fan had also appeared, he calmed down. In an instant several thoughts ran through his mind: 'Someone stole my folding fan to shift the blame onto me. This kind of trick can't cause Qiao Feng difficulties.' He turned to Elder Xu and said: 'Elder Xu, this folding fan is mine.'

When the people who had relatively high ranks or important positions in the Beggar Society heard Elder Xu reading aloud those verses they immediately knew that it was Qiao Feng's, but the rest of the Society did not know about that. When they heard the confirmation from Qiao Feng himself, they were all stunned.

Elder Xu also became very emotional, he mumbled: 'On the whole, Chief Wang considered me a trusted subordinate, yet this important matter of leaving behind an order, he didn't let me know about it.'

Madam Ma stood up and said: 'Elder Xu, it was good for you that Chief Wang didn't tell you.' Elder Xu did not understand, he asked: 'What?' Madam Ma mournfully said: 'In the Beggar Society, only Dayuan knew about this matter, he then suffered a grievous death, you... you... had you known about the matter before, you may not have escaped this disaster.'

Qiao Feng said loudly and clearly: 'Does anyone have something else to say?' His eyes looked at Madam Ma then turned to Elder Xu, to Bai Shijing, to the Elder of Merit Propagation, then to everyone. No one said anything.

Qiao Feng waited for a moment, seeing that no one said anything, he said: 'My origin, I'm really ashamed that I myself can't confirm it. But because so many seniors have affirmed it, I must do my best to find out the truth about it. This Chief of the Beggar Society position, I'm leaving it to a worthy person.' Saying to here, he reached into a long bag on his right foot and took out a glossy dark-green bamboo stick, which was the Dog Beating Stick, the symbol of the Chief of the Beggar Society, and said: 'This stick was given to me by Chief Wang. When I was in charge of the Beggar Society, even though I didn't have any contribution, luckily I didn't commit any serious offense either. Today I give up my position, if any heroic worthy person wants to take on this post, please come to receive this stick.'

According to the rules of the Beggar Society that had been passed down from generation to generation, when a new Chief assumed their post, the post had to be handed over by the former Chief using the Dog Beating Stick, and before the stick was handed over, the Dog Beating Stick technique had to be passed on. Hence, even if the former Chief suddenly passed away, the successor had already been confirmed and the Dog Beating Stick technique had also already been passed on. Therefore there had never been any dispute over the Chief position. Qiao Feng was in the prime of his life, he had estimated that, in every case, twenty years later he would select a heroic worthy person in the Society to pass on the Dog Beating Stick technique. At this moment, seeing him holding the bamboo stick in his hand and standing fearlessly in front of everybody, who in the beggar crowd dared to come out and receive the stick?

Qiao Feng successively asked three times, but no one in the Beggar Society said anything. He said: 'Qiao Feng's origin is unclear, so, no matter what, I dare not be in charge of this Chief position anymore. Elder Xu and the two Elders of Merit Propagation and Rule Enforcement, this Society-stabilizing treasure, the Dog Beating Stick, you three please take care of it together. Later, once you've decided on another Chief, it won't be late for the three of you to hand it over.'

Elder Xu said: 'It's sensible to say so. As for the Dog Beating Stick technique, we're gonna discuss it in the future.' He went forwards to receive the bamboo stick.

Suddenly Elder Song loudly said: 'Wait!' Elder Xu stopped in surprise and asked: 'Brother Song, what do you wanna say?' Elder Song said: 'As far as I can tell Chief Qiao isn't a Khitan.' Elder Xu said: 'How do you do that?' Elder Song said: 'I find him different than a Khitan.' Elder Xu said: 'How different?' Elder Song said: 'Khitan people are very vicious, ruthless, and cruel. But Chief Qiao is a righteous noble hero. Only a moment ago we opposed him, but he still willingly suffered stabs and shed blood for us, and pardoned us for the serious offense of revolt. How can a Khitan be like this?'

Elder Xu said: 'From his childhood he was taught by eminent Shaolin monks and Chief Wang, so his ferocious Khitan character has already changed.'

Elder Song said: 'As his character has changed, he's longer an evil man, what's improper with him being our Chief? I see that in our Society there's no one else as heroic as him. If anybody else wants to be the Chief, I'm afraid I myself won't be content.'

Many people in the Beggar Society had the same thought as Elder Song's. Qiao Feng's kindness had always been in the mind of everyone, merely based on verbal statements and written evidences of some people to remove him from the Chief position certainly made many people who were loyal to him feel discontent. After Elder Song had taken the lead in speaking his mind, several tens of people in the beggar crowd also shouted out: 'Someone's plotting to frame Chief Qiao. We can't recklessly believe their words.' 'Things that happened tens of years ago, just based on the bull of some of you, who can find out if they're true or fake?' 'The Chief position can't be changed so rashly like this!' 'I wholeheartedly follow Chief Qiao! If they forcefully change the Chief post, even if my head is cut off I'll still be discontent.'

Elder Xi loudly said: 'Those who are willing to follow Chief Qiao go with me to this side.' He pulled Elder Song with his left hand, pulled Elder Wu with his right hand, and walked to the east. After that the three heads of the Great Kindness branch, the Great Faith branch and the Great Righteousness branch also walked to the east. After the heads of these three branches had gone to the east, their subordinates one by one went after them. Quan Guanqing, Elder Chen, the Elder of Merit Propagation, and the heads of the Great Wisdom branch and the Great Courage branch however stood still. Therefore, in a moment, the Beggar Society's members were divided into two groups, the one in the east consisted of five tenths and the one who stood still consisted of three tenths. The rest of the Society's members were hesitant, not knowing which group they should follow. The Elder of Rule Enforcement Bai Shijing had always been resolute and decisive in his actions and stood by his word, but at this moment he felt very awkward and hesitant too.

Quan Guanqing said: 'Brothers, Chief Qiao is outstandingly capable and heroic, who doesn't admire him? But being the common people of Great Song, how can we listen to and obey the orders of a Khitan? The greater Qiao Feng's abilities are, the more dangerous he is to everyone.'

Elder Xi shouted: 'Bullsh!t! Bullsh!t! Fvck you! As far as I can see, you look almost like a Khitan.'

Quan Guanqing loudly said: 'Everyone here is a good Han who dedicates himself to the service of the motherland, how could we willingly serve as slaves and lackeys of another ethnicity?' These few sentences of his were really effective, in the group of beggars who had walked to the east, there were more than ten people returning to the west. The beggars in the east then swore and pulled, creating a confusing situation. In an instant, several tens of people engaged in a melee, some using unarmed martial arts and some using weapons. The Elders said loudly to hold back the situation, but each of them had his own bias. Elder Wu and Elder Chen even fiercely pointed at and swore at each other like they would start a fight any moment.

Qiao Feng shouted: 'Brothers, please stop fighting and hear me.' His voice was imposing, the wrangle in the beggar crowd immediately stopped. All turned their heads and looked at him.

Qiao Feng said in a loud and clear voice: 'This Chief of the Beggar Society post, I definitely can no longer hold it...' Elder Song interrupted: 'Chief, you mustn't lose heart...' Qiao Feng shook his head and said: 'It's not that I've lost heart. If the evidence was something else then there might be a plot to frame me, but this is my enshi Chief Wang's handwriting, other people can't fake it in any case.' He raised his voice, saying: 'The Beggar Society is the greatest society in jianghu and has an illustrious prestige, who in wulin doesn't revere it? If we kill each other, wouldn't that make outsiders laugh their heads off? Before I go I have one thing to tell you, that is, whoever lands another punch or kick on our Society's brothers will become an offender of the highest level of our Society.'

The Beggar Society had always had a high opinion of courage and righteousness, hence hearing him say so everyone secretly felt ashamed.

Suddenly the voice of a woman was heard: 'Then what if someone kills our Society's brothers?' The person who said that was Madam Ma. Qiao Feng said: 'An eye for an eye. For harming or murdering his brothers, he'll be detested by the whole world.' Madam Ma said: 'That's right.'

Qiao Feng said: 'Who murdered Vice-Chief Ma? Who stole this folding fan of mine to frame me? Eventually, everything will be able to be cleared up by investigation. Madam Ma, with my abilities, if I wanna go to your house to get something I wouldn't return empty-handed, it'd be even more improbable for me to lose something I bring with me. Needless to say, there were only two or three women in your house. Even if it was the imperial palace, the mansion of a general, or a place guarded by a strong army with thousands of horses, if I wanted to take something I wouldn't necessarily be unable to get it done.'

These few sentences sounded very imposing. The beggar crowd had always known about his abilities therefore they all found his words reasonable. No one thought that he had just talked big. Madam Ma lowered her head and said nothing.

Qiao Feng cupped his hand around his fist in salute to everyone all around and said: 'The verdant hills will never change, the green waters will flow forever, farewell, my good brothers. It's alright if I'm a Han, it's also alright if I'm a Khitan, from now on I won't ever endanger the life of any Han. If I break this vow I shall be like this saber.' As he finished saying, he leaped towards Shan Zheng and made a grab at the same time.

Shan Zheng only felt a jerk at his wrist, the saber in his hand could no longer be held firmly. His fingers loosened, the saber had already been snatched by Qiao Feng. Qiao Feng bent his right middle finger with his right thumb and gave the back of the saber a finger flick, a clang was heard, the saber had been broken into two pieces, the top of it had been sent flying away for several chi (尺 ~ 33.33 cm), the handle was still being held in his hand. He turned towards Shan Zheng, said: 'Excuse me!', then threw the handle on the ground and walked away proudly.

Everyone was astounded, someone shouted after him: 'Chief, don't go!' 'The Beggar Society totally relies on your direction!' 'Chief, please return quickly!'

All of a sudden a whizzing sound could be heard. A bamboo stick went down from midair. It was none other than Qiao Feng who had thrown the Dog Beating Stick backwards.

Elder Xu held out his hand to receive it. As soon as his right hand got hold of the bamboo stick he experienced a shaking which spread from his palm up to his arm, from his arm through his whole body, and made he felt as if he being hit by a thunderbolt. He quickly let go of it. As the leftover force of the throw in the stick was still strong, it passed straight into the ground.

The beggar crowd exclaimed in unison. Looking at this very important 'seeing the stick is like seeing the Chief' symbol of their Society, all kinds of thoughts ran through their minds.

The sun had risen. Through spaces between branches and leaves of apricot trees, rays of golden light came down and illuminated the 'Dog Beating Stick', making it shine like glossy jade.

Duan Yu called out: 'Big brother, big brother, I'll go with you!' He set out to chase after Qiao Feng but after just three steps, feeling unable to leave Wang Yuyan at this moment, he turned his head and cast a look at her. This one look made he feel even more unable to pull away. Thousands of soft silk threads seemed to have appeared in his heart pulling him back. He turned around, went to and stood before Wang Yuyan, then said: 'Miss Wang, where are the three of you going now?'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Biaoge (表哥 – maternal aunt's, paternal aunt's or maternal uncle's son) has been given a false accusation, perhaps he himself hasn't known about it, I need to inform him.'

Duan Yu felt his heart ache with sadness, he said: 'Hum, you are young ladies, there'll be inconveniences to you on the way, please allow me to escort the three of you?' He also added another sentence, trying to explain himself away: 'Having heard a lot about Murong gongzi's illustrious reputation, I also want to meet him once.'

Elder Xu said loudly and clearly: 'How to avenge Vice-Chief Ma, we should consider the matter carefully. But our Society cannot be without a leader for even one day, Chief... Qiao Feng has already left, deciding who will take over this Chief of the Society post is an urgent important matter that cannot be delayed. Quite incidentally, everyone is here, so we must carry out negotiations immediately.'

Elder Song said: 'In my opinion, everyone should go find Chief Qiao back, ask him to change his views and not to quit his post...' When he had not finished saying, someone in the west shouted: 'Qiao Feng is a Khitan barbarian, how can he be our Chief? Today everyone still thought of the old friendship, but the next time we meet he'll be our enemy, it won't be possible not to go all-out to the death.' Elder Wu sneered: 'You'll fight Chief Qiao all-out to the death? Do you deserve?' That man said furiously: 'I certainly can't fight him by myself; but how about ten people? If ten people won't do; how about one hundred people? Righteous men of the Beggar Society are loyal and devote themselves to the country, don't tell me that we would shy away from the enemies?' These few sentences of his were full of strong feelings and emotions. Many people in the beggar group in the west applauded.

When the applause had not ended, suddenly in the northwest there was a sinister sorrowful voice of a man: 'The Beggar Society had agreed to meet us at Huishan then broke the promise and didn't show up, it turns out all of you have been sneakily hiding here, ha ha ha, this is so laughable.' This voice was piercing, the words were pronounced incorrectly as if his mouth was full of tongue and his nose was stuffy, therefore it was very uncomfortable to hear.

Captain Jiang of the Great Righteousness branch and Captain Fang of the Great Courage branch cried out at the same time: 'A'yo', and said: 'Elder Xu, we missed the meeting, the enemies have gotten to here to find us!'

Duan Yu also remembered that on the day when he had first met Qiao Feng at a restaurant he had heard someone reporting to Qiao Feng that they had arranged to meet people of Western Xia's 'First-class Hall' in the morning of the following day. At that time Qiao Feng had felt that it would be too pressing, but he had still said yes to the arrangement. It was already past 7 a.m., most of the people in the Beggar Society did not know about this meeting. Even the people who had known about it only focused their minds on important internal affairs of their Society and ignored it. At the moment, hearing their enemies' mocking words, they suddenly woke up.

Elder Xu continuously asked: 'What meeting is this? Who are the enemies?' He had not been taking part in any affair in jianghu or of the Beggar Society for a long time therefore he knew absolutely nothing. The Elder of Rule Enforcement asked Captain Jiang in a low voice: 'Was it Chief Qiao who agreed to meet them?' Captain Jiang said: 'Yes, but I already followed Chief Qiao's order, sending one man to Huishan to ask the enemies to postpone the meeting until seven days later.'

The owner of that sinister sorrowful voice had a really keen sense of hearing, Captain Jiang said these two sentences in a low voice yet he actually heard them, he said: 'This meeting was already decided, how can it possibly be put back to seven or eight days later? Even one hour later is still impossible.'

Bai Shijing said furiously: 'The Beggar Society is a grand society of Great Song, how could we fear you Western Xia barbarians? We haven't dealt with you despicable scoundrels properly only because we're having important affairs. It's usual to change a date, what do you moan about?'

Suddenly a whizzing sound was heard. A man flew out of the apricot forest, fell stiffly on the ground and did not make a move. His face had been crushed and was covered with blood. His throat had been slit. He had already been dead for a long time. People in the Beggar Society identified him as Vice-Captain Xie of the Great Righteousness branch.

Captain Jiang was both shocked and angry, he said: 'Brother Xie was sent by me to change the date.'

The Elder of Rule Enforcement said: 'Elder Xu, Chief isn't here, please temporarily act as Chief.' He did not want to let out the truth that the Beggar Society was leaderless to avoid showing the impression of weakness to the enemies. Elder Xu understood, he thought that at this moment if he himself did not run the show then no one would, he then said loudly and clearly: 'They say two countries which fight each other don't kill messengers. Why did you kill the messenger that our humble Society sent to change the date of the meeting?'

That sinister sorrowful voice replied: 'This man looked arrogant, expressed himself insolently, and did not kowtow when he saw our General. How could I let him live?' When the people of the Beggar Society heard that, they immediately boiled over with anger, many people shouted out swear words.

Until now Elder Xu still did not know who the enemies were, he heard Bai Shijing call them 'Western Xia barbarians', but that man had also mentioned something like 'our General', this really made him find it difficult to get a clue. He said: 'Why don't you show your face instead of hiding sneakily? Why just talk nonsense and brag foolishly?'

That man cackled and said: 'Who are hiding sneakily in the apricot forest?'

Suddenly there were boo-hoo sounds of bugles coming from afar, after that hoofbeats of a troop of horses coming from several li (里 – 0.5 km) away could be vaguely heard.

Elder Xu put his mouth close to Bai Shijing's ear and asked quietly: 'Who are they? What's the matter?' Bai Shijing also replied quietly: 'Western Xia has a martial arts hall called 'First-class Hall' which was set up by the king of that country to recruit people who excel in martial arts and uses special treatments and gifts to temp them to teach martial arts to Western Xia's officers and troops.'

Elder Xu nodded and said: 'Hasn't Western Xia been strengthening its army and practising martial arts because it's planned to seize our Great Song's territories?' Bai Shijing quietly said: 'Absolutely. The people who have entered 'First-class Hall' all are known for their first-class martial arts. The boss of First-class Hall is a wangye (王爷 – a very high rank of nobility usually held by a king's/an emperor's/an empress' brothers or uncles). He was appointed as the East Conquering General. His name is He Lian Tie Shu or something like that. According to what brother Yi Dabiao, sent to Western Xia by our Society, has reported, recently He Lian Tie Shu has led the warriors of the Hall to Bianliang (the capital of Song) to have an audience with the Empress Dowager and the Emperor of our Great Song. In fact, having an audience was just a sham. Their true motive was to spy upon our country's actual conditions. Knowing that our Society is one of the great pillars of Great Song's wulin they wanna destroy our Society, firstly, in order to build their prestige. Later, if they again lead their army to violate the boundary of our country, it'd be easy to push deep into our land.' Elder Xu was secretly frightened, he whispered: 'This scheme is really cruel and dangerous.'

Bai Shijing said: 'After this He Lian Tie Shu guy left Bianliang, he went to our nerve center in Luoyang. Incidentally, at that time Chief Qiao had led us to Jiangnan to avenge Vice-Chief Ma so the Western Xia people only attacked an empty place. But they didn't give up and chased after us to Jiangnan. Eventually they and Chief Qiao decided to have a meeting.'

Elder Xu thought deeply and whispered: 'So according to what they have planned, they'll destroy our Beggar Society first, maybe they'll attack Shaolin Monastery next, then crush the big martial arts schools and societies of the Central Plains.' Bai Shijing said: 'That's the plan. But can these Western Xia warriors carry it out so easily? What do they have to be this arrogant? Chief Qiao somewhat knows about the truth, but too bad at this urgent moment he...' Saying to here, feeling inappropriate, he suddenly stopped.

At this moment, the horse hoofbeats had drawn near, all of a sudden three bugle sounds were heard, eight horses split into two rows and burst into the forest. Each of the people riding on the horses was holding a lance. A small flag was tied to the head of each lance. The heads of the lances glinted. It could vaguely be noticed that the four small flags on the left-hand side all were embroidered with two white words 'Western Xia' and the four on the right-hand side were embroidered with two white words 'He Lian', the flags also had other Western Xia characters embroidered on them. After that, there were eight other horses which split into two rows and ran quickly into the forest. Four of the people riding on these horses were blowing bugles and the other four were beating drums.

Everyone in the beggar crowd scowled: 'This disposition of troops is totally like a march in a war. Where is the meeting between brave men in jianghu?'

There were eight Western Xia warriors arriving after the buglers and drummers. Seeing the expressions on their faces Elder Xu knew obviously that they all have top-class martial arts, he thought: 'It seems these are people of First-class Hall.' Those eight warriors split up and stood on both sides. Then a horse slowly walked into the forest. The man on the horse was wearing a scarlet brocade robe. He was around thirty four or thirty five years old, had an aquiline nose and a splay moustache. Following him closely was a very tall man who shouted as soon as he entered the forest: 'East Conquering General of Western Xia has arrived; the Chief of the Beggar Society goes forward to pay respects.' This voice which sounded very unusual belonged to no one other than the man who had talked to the beggar crowd a moment ago.

Elder Xu said: 'The Chief of our Society is not here. Laoxiu will take care of the Society's affairs on his behalf. The Beggar Society's brothers are all normal people in jianghu. If you, as a General of Western Xia, use guest ceremony for meeting, then we won't dare to make friends with a man of such a high position. Please go have audiences with the princes, dukes or officers of our Great Song; you don't need to meet us beggars who have to beg for food. But if you use the status of a man in wulin for meeting us, then as you are a guest coming from afar, please get off your horse and behave according to common courtesies for guests and hosts.' These several sentences showed neither inferiority nor superiority. They did not offend the opponents, but also took into consideration the status of the Beggar Society. The beggar crowd thought: 'Sure enough, the older ginger is hotter, Elder Xu is awesome.'

The big-nosed man said: 'If the Chief of your Society is not here our General can't treat you with courtesies.' He cast a glance and saw the Dog Beating Stick driven into the ground. Knowing that it was an important object of the Beggar Society, he said: 'Huh, taking this glossy dark green bamboo stick to make a broom handle is not bad.' He made a swing with his arm, the horsewhip in his hand shot out to wind around the Dog Beating Stick.

The beggars shouted in unison: 'Fvck off!'; 'Fvck you!'; 'You Tartar dog!' When the tip of his horsewhip was about to wind around the Dog Beating Stick, suddenly there was a silhouette moving very quickly, a person leapt out at an oblique angle and stood in front of the Dog Beating Stick. He extended his arm, let the horsewhip wind around it then bent it. The big-nosed man could no longer sit steadily on the saddle and had to jump off his horse to stand on the ground. Both of them exerted their strength at the same time. A snap was heard, the horsewhip was broken into two pieces. That person moved his hand backwards and grabbed the Dog Beating Stick. Without saying a word he returned to where he had come from.

Everyone looked at him and saw a withered old man with a bent back. He was no one other than the Elder of Merit Propagation. His martial arts were very good. He usually did not like to talk much, but when the important symbol of the Society had been in danger he had protected it bravely. A moment ago, in just one move, the big-nosed man had already been dismounted and his horsewhip had also been broken. It could be said that the big-nosed man had lost.

Even though this big-nosed man had just suffered a small defeat, he did not bat an eyelid and said: 'You beggars really are too stingy, hating to give away even a bamboo stick.'

Elder Xu said: 'Brave men of Western Xia, why did you and our poor Society decide to meet?'

That man said: 'Our General has heard that the Beggar Society of the Central Plains has two great techniques, one being the Cat Beating Stick, the other being the Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms, so he wanna widen his knowledge a bit.'

As soon as the beggars heard that, they all flew into a rage. This man deliberately called the Dog Beating Stick technique the Cat Beating Stick technique and called the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms technique the Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms technique, his intention of insulting was extremely obvious. It seemed in the meeting today a fierce battle of life or death was already unavoidable.

While the beggar crowd was cursing, the people such as Elder Xu, the Elder of Merit Propagation, and the Elder of Rule Enforcement secretly felt anxious: 'All along, only the Chief of our Society is able to use the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms. The enemies already knew about the reputation of these two great techniques yet they still brashly come to challenge, perhaps they're not easy to deal with.' Elder Xu said: 'You want to see our Society's Cat Beating Stick technique and Snake Subduing Eighteen Palms to widen your knowledge, there's not the slightest problem. As long as there are cowardly cats and snakes with scabies showing up here, we beggars will have our way of dealing with them. You mimic cats or mimic snakes?' Elder Wu ha-ha laughed and said: 'If the opponents are dragons, we will subdue dragons, if they're snake, then we beggars can't be better at catching snakes.'

The big-nosed man was again defeated in arguing. While he was thinking about what to say, there was a deep gruff voice from behind him: 'Cat Beating is also fine, Snake Subduing is also fine, come, come, come, who's gonna have a fight with me first?' As that man finished saying he walked out from the crowd and stood with his arms akimbo.

The beggars could see that this man looked ugly and ferocious. All of a sudden Duan Yu loudly said: 'Hey, my disciple, you came here as well? Why haven't you kowtowed after seeing master?' The ferocious-looking man turned out to be none other than South Sea Divine Alligator Yue Laosan (T/Note: this is prolly not Yue's real name, it literally means Yue, the third man).

He was astonished when he saw Duan Yu and immediately looked very awkward. He said: 'You... You...' Duan Yu said: 'Good disciple, the Beggar Society's Chief is my sworn big brother so these people are your apprentice uncles, you mustn't disrespect them. Go home quickly!' South Sea Divine Alligator let out a roar making the leaves of the apricot trees around rustle and cursed: 'Turtle egg! Bastard!' (T/Note: turtle egg - 王八蛋 – basically an equivalent of 'son of a b!tch')

Duan Yu said: 'Who did you curse as turtle egg and bastard?' South Sea Divine Alligator was extremely vicious, however when he himself said something he never broke his words. He had already recognized Duan Yu as his master, but he did not deny that and said: 'I like cursing. How can you control me? I didn't curse you.' Duan Yu said: 'Hum, you already saw master, why haven't you kowtowed to pay respects to me?' South Sea Divine Alligator repressed his anger, went forwards, kowtowed and said: 'Master, are you all right?' The more he thought about this the angrier he got. Suddenly he leaped to his feet and ran away while howling furiously.

Everyone found that howl sounded like retreating tidewater, burst after burst rushing away yet big waves still surging up fiercely. Just hearing this howl they knew that this man's martial arts were not something to disregard. Probably in the Beggar Society only several people like Elder Xu and the Elder of Merit Propagation could rival him. It was extremely strange that Duan Yu, a gentle and weak student, was unexpectedly his master. Wang Yuyan, A'Zhu and A'Bi knew that Duan Yu did not know martial arts so they were much more surprised.

Suddenly a man leaped out from the group of the Western Xia warriors. Despite being tall like a bamboo pole, his movements were exceptionally fast. Each of his hands was holding a strange weapon whose handle was about three chi (T/Note: 1 chi ~ 33.33 cm) long and one head was a steel claw with five fingers. Duan Yu recognized him as the fourth member of 'The Four Evils under Heaven' 'Extreme Ferocity Utmost Evil' Yun Zhonghe, he thought: 'Could it be that these four evildoers have all joined Western Xia?' He looked carefully at the Western Xia people and saw 'Not to Stop at Any Crime' Ye Erniang standing there embracing a child and smiling. But he did not see the leader 'Be Guilty of the Worst Crimes' Duan Yanqing. Duan Yu thought: 'As long as Prince Yanqing is not here the Beggar Society can handle the second evil and the fourth evil.'

It turned out after being defeated in Dali 'The Four Evils under Heaven' had fled northwards and run into envoys of Western Xia's First-class Hall who had been out to recruit high-level martial arts users. Unwilling to be by themselves, they had all offered their service immediately. These four people had so excellent martial arts that after showing their skills a little they had been recruited right away. This time going eastwards to Bianliang, He Lian Tie Shu brought all of them with him and regarded them quite highly. Thinking that he himself had a high status, even though Duan Yanqing was dependent on First-class Hall he acted freely. He did not accept any restrictive order and go with the others.

Yun Zhonghe shouted: 'Our General wants to see the Beggar Society's two great techniques. In the end you beggars have true skills or are just boasting? Quickly come here to fight for real!'

Elder Xi said: 'I'm fighting him.' Elder Xu said: 'Okay! This man's lightness skill is very unusual, brother Xi must be careful.' Elder Xi said: 'Yes!' Carrying his steel pole he walked towards Yun Zhonghe, stood facing him from a distance of more than one zhang (T/Note: 1 zhang ~ 3.333 m), and said: 'The use of our Society's great techniques is dependent on who the opponent is. Why should the Dog Beating Stick technique be used to handle a shrimp like you? Watch out!' He raised the steel pole, creating a whirring sound, and swung it down at Yun Zhonghe's left shoulder at an angle. Elder Xi was stubby but the steel pole in his hands were longer than one zhang, once it was brandished, even if the opponent was very tall like Yun Zhonghe, it was still possible for him to strike down from the air. Yun Zhonghe leaned sideways and dodged. A bang was heard, dirt flew on all sides, the steel pole had hit the ground and its head had gone one chi into the ground. Yun Zhonghe knew that his true abilities were far inferior to Elder Xi's so he applied a hit-and-run tactic using his lightness skill, for a moment he had been in the east, the next moment he already flashed to the west. Elder Xi's steel pole had been brandished into a white sphere but all the while it had not been able to touch Yun Zhonghe's clothes.

While Duan Yu was being absorbed in the fight, suddenly he heard a lovely gentle voice next to him: 'Mr. Duan, who should we help?' Duan Yu leaned his head to one side and saw that it was Wang Yuyan. He could not help feeling elated and hurriedly asked: 'What... who should what help?' Wang Yuyan said: 'This lanky man is your disciple's friend while this stubby beggar is your sworn brother's subordinate. The more these two have been fighting the fiercer they've become, who we should help?' Duan Yu said: 'My disciple is a villain and this lanky guy's character is even worse, don't help him.'

Wang Yuyan muttered: 'Hum, but the whole Beggar Society have driven your sworn brother away and don't let him be the Chief. They've also falsely accused my biaoge, I hate them.' In the heart of a young girl like her, whoever treated her biaoge badly was the worst person under heaven. She continued: 'This stubby geezer is using the twenty four Demon Taming Pole stances of Mt. Wutai, but because he's too short the two stances 'The King of Qin Whips Rock' and 'The Roc Spreads the Wings' can't be executed well. If the right-hand side of his lower body is attacked he won't be able to defend himself. But this lanky man doesn't realize that, he thinks the lower body of short people must be stable but in fact that's not true.'

Even though her voice was very low, all the high-level martial arts users with fine internal energy at the scene had already heard what she said. The majority of these people knew about Elder Xi's martial arts and skills but they might not necessarily realize where his stances were flawed. Once Wang Yuyan pointed out, they immediately felt that she was correct because whenever Elder Xi had used the two stances 'The King of Qin Whips Rock' and 'A Roc Spreads the Wings', his power had really been excessive but his stability had been deficient, his lower body had been rather vulnerable.

Yun Zhonghe cast a sidelong glance at Wang Yuyan and praised: 'You little girl are very beautiful. It's rarer that you have such great insight. Following me and becoming my wife are even more okay.' While saying he used the steel claws in his hands to attack Elder Xi's lower body with three swift stances. Elder Xi was too late to ward off the third stance. A sound of tearing was heard, his thigh had just suffered a long cut by Yun Zhonghe's steel claws and immediately dripped blood.

Hearing Yun Zhonghe praise herself for being beautiful Wang Yuyan was quite happy, therefore she did not think his flirty and frivolous words were offensive. She smiled and said: 'How shameless. What's good about you? I'm not marrying you.' Yun Zhonghe was very pleased, he said: 'Why not? You're already in love with that pretty boy, right? I'll kill your love interest first, to see if you'll marry me?' These sentences had seriously violated Wang Yuyan's taboos. She frowned and no longer paid attention to him.

Yun Zhonghe still wanted to say a few more words to gain advantage but Elder Wu of the Beggar Society leaped out, lifted his demon-headed saber and slashed four times on the left hand side, four times on the right hand side, four times high, four times low, totaling sixteen slashes. The momentum of the saber was extremely fierce. Yun Zhonghe was not familiar with the stances of his saber technique therefore he could only dodge around, jerk his head back and jump up. For the moment he was totally perplexed.

Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'This Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber technique of Elder Wu contains the generation principles, the restraint principles and the changes of the Eight Diagrams. That lanky man just doesn't know that. I wonder if he can use the 'Crane Snake Eight Attacks'. If he can, the Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber technique will be defeated easily.' (T/Note: Four Forms - 四象 – include Tai Yang, Tai Yin, Shao Yang, Shao Yin; Six Harmonies - 六合 – include East, West, South, North, Up and Down, referring to the universe) Hearing her say those words to help Yun Zhonghe again, the people of the Beggar Society all had an angry expression on their faces. They saw that Yun Zhonghe immediately changed his fighting style, spreading wide his legs and whipping horizontally with the steel claws, looking like a white crane. Wang Yuyan put her mouth close to Duan Yu's ear and whispered: 'This lanky man has walked into my trap. Perhaps his left hand would be chopped off.' Duan Yu was surprised, he asked: 'Really?'

Everyone only saw that the saber technique of Elder Wu was strict and heavy, chopping sidelong and slashing horizontally as if there was no arrangement of stances. He fought more and more slowly, but all of a sudden he swiftly chopped three times. White light flashed. Yun Zhonghe shouted 'Ah', the back of his left hand had already been cut by the blade, the steel claw in his left hand could not be hold firmly anymore, a clang was heard, it had already fallen on the ground. However because his lightness skill was very fast, he hurriedly moved backwards and was able to dodge the three later chops of Elder Wu.

Elder Wu walked towards Wang Yuyan, stood in front of her, held his saber in a straight upright position and said: 'Thanks a lot, Miss!' Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'Elder Wu, your 'Wonderful Door Three Powers Saber' is very refined and subtle!' Elder Wu was surprised, he thought: 'I didn't expect you to know this saber technique of mine.' It turned out Wang Yuyan had deliberately called the saber technique of Elder Wu the 'Four Forms Six Harmonies Saber' and judging from the stances of Yun Zhonghe she had anticipated that he would surely use the 'Crane Snake Eight Attacks' to make him involuntarily get into a dominated situation. As expected, his left hand had nearly been chopped off. (T/Note: Three Powers - 三才 – Heaven, Earth, Man).

The name of the big-nosed man who had the queer voice and was standing next to He Lian Tie Shu was Nu Erhai. Seeing Wang Yuyan help Yun Zhonghe injure Elder Xi with just several sentences, then enable Elder Wu to injure Yun Zhonghe with a few sentences again, he turned towards He Lian Tie Shu and said: 'General, this young Han girl is very strange, if we capture and take her back to First-class Hall then force her to tell everything she knows, it'll prolly be extremely useful.' He Lian Tie Shu said: 'Very good, you go capture her.' Nu Erhai scratched his head and thought: 'This character of General is certainly not very nice. Whenever I suggested a ploy to him he always said: 'Very good, you go handle it.' Making suggestions is easy but handling them is hard. This young girl's martial arts seem to be fathomless. I don't wanna make a fool of myself in front of her. Anyway, today is for rounding up and annihilating these beggars, it'd be better to strike first and prevail.' He made a gesture with his left hand, four of his subordinates immediately walked out.

Nu Erhai took several steps forwards and said: 'Elder Xu, our General wanna see the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms, if you have something interesting then show it, but if you really don't, we can't afford to wait any longer, we must go now, farewell.' Elder Xu sneered and said: 'High-level martial arts users of your country's First-class Hall have boasted that you all have topnotch martial arts but it turns out you're just mediocre, I'm afraid you don't deserve to see the Dog Beating Stick technique and the Dragon Subduing Eighteen Palms.' Nu Erhai said: 'How to deserve to see them?'

Elder Xu said: 'First you must beat us good-for-nothing beggars, then the head of the Beggar Society will show up...' Saying to here, he suddenly coughed loudly then his eyes hurt intensely and could not open, his tears dripped down continuously. Feeling very frightened, he jumped up, held his breath and quickly kicked three times. Nu Erhai had not expected that this old man whose beard was snow-white would attack as soon as he finished saying and that his movements were so fast like this, he hastily dodged but could only avoid getting hit at the crucial points on his chest, the head of his shoulder had still been kicked. He staggered a few steps then made use of the momentum to leap backwards. Elder Xu jumped up the second time, while still being in the air, he felt weary and numb in his arms and legs and fell down heavily.

The people of the Beggar Society shouted in succession: 'Not good, the Tartars play dirty!' 'What's in my eyes?' 'I can't open my eyes.' Everyone felt a sharp pain in the eyes. Tears streamed out of their eyes. Wang Yuyan, A'Zhu and A'Bi could not open their eyes similarly.

It turned out that in an instant the Western Xia people had already dispersed the 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' in the apricot forest. The 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' was a type of colorless odorless poisonous gas. Its liquid form was made from the poisonous animals gathered from Huanxi valley in Mt. Daxue of Western Xia. Most of the time, it was kept in bottles. When it was used, the user had already had the antidote put into their nose. As soon as the stopper of the bottle was removed, the poisonous liquid would evaporate and spread into the air gently like a breeze. Therefore, no matter how careful and precise a person was they would still be unable to detect it. When their eyes hurt sharply, the poison had already entered the brain. After being poisoned the victim's eyes would drip with tears, hence 'Sad', their whole body would be unable to move, hence 'Weak', the poisonous gas was colorless and odorless, hence 'Clear Wind'.

Thuds and 'A'yo' sounds could be heard continuously, the people of the Beggar Society fell down one after another.

Duan Yu had eaten the Manggu Cinnabar Frog (T/Note: 莽牯朱蛤 – the cinnabar frog which bellows like a bull) therefore he was immune to poison. Even though he had breathed the 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' in, he was neither 'Sad' nor 'Weak'. Seeing that the beggars, Wang Yuyan, A'Zhu and A'Bi all were having a painful expression on their faces he could not understand why and felt very frightened.

Nu Erhai cried out loudly and commanded the warriors to tie the people of the Beggar Society up. He himself went towards Wang Yuyan and stretched out his hand to grab her wrist.

Duan Yu shouted: 'What are you doing?' At that urgent moment he quickly extended his right forefinger, a beam of internal energy was shot out from the finger tip creating chi-chi sounds. It was none other than the 'Six Meridians Divine Swords' of the Duan clan in Dali. Nu Erhai did not know about its powers therefore he paid no attention to it and kept approaching Wang Yuyan to grab her wrist. Suddenly a crack was heard, the bone of his right arm had unaccountably been broken into two pieces. His arm hung down loosely. Nu Erhai cried out painfully and stopped walking.

Duan Yu bent down, gripped the delicate waist of Wang Yuyan then started to use the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps'. Taking three steps forwards at an oblique angle and two strides over to one side, he rushed out of the crowd.

Ye Erniang made a wave with her right hand. A poisonous needle was fired towards the middle of his back. This poisonous needle was very well-aimed and went with a lot of force. In any case Duan Yu should have many difficulties in dodging it. However, he suddenly moved sideways then suddenly went backwards, therefore when the poisonous needle arrived he had already moved to the right side three chi. Three skilled warriors in the group of Western Xia warriors immediately jumped off their horseback, shouted and chased after him. Duan Yu ran to a horse, put Wang Yuyan lying across the saddle, then jumped onto the horse and spurred it to run away.

Western Xia warriors had already guarded the key posts all around the apricot forest. Suddenly seeing Duan Yu running out on a horse they immediately fired arrows. Trees in the apricot forest covered him, more than ten wolf-toothed arrows all stuck into the trees.

Duan Yu cried out: 'Good horse ah good horse, the faster you run the better! When we return, I'll let you eat chicken, eat meat, eat fish, eat goat.' He forgot that horses did not eat meat or fish.

Chapter - 17 Today's Wishes

Both of them rode a horse together. After running very fast for a while they scanned around and saw that there were mulberry trees everywhere, in a short time they had already outdistanced the Western Xia warriors and no longer saw any sign of them.

Duan Yu asked: 'Miss Wang, how do you feel?' Wang Yuyan said: 'I've been poisoned. There's not any strength left in my body.' Hearing the words: 'Been poisoned' Duan Yu was startled. He hurriedly asked: 'Is it serious? How can we find the antidote?' Wang Yuyan said: 'I don't know. You urge the horse on to a safe place then we'll talk about it again.' Duan Yu said: 'Where is safe?' Wang Yuyan said: 'I don't know either.' Duan Yu thought: 'What is it? I've already promised to keep her safe from dangers, why do I ask her to give directions?' Without any feasible idea he had no alternative but to ride the horse aimlessly.

After running quickly for a meal's time they did not hear the sounds of the chasing soldiers anymore and gradually became relax, but the rain started to drip down. Duan Yu kept asking after every short period of time: 'Miss Wang, how do you feel?' Wang Yuyan always replied: 'I'm fine.' Being able to travel together with the beauty Duan Yu was unspeakably happy, but he also feared that the poison in her body would become more dangerous, therefore he could not help but to smile for a while then to be anxious for a while.

The rain became heavier and heavier, Duan Yu took off his gown and covered Wang Yuyan with it. But that only worked for a short period of time, before long both of them were soaked through. Duan Yu asked again: 'Miss Wang, how do you feel?' Wang Yuyan sighed and said: 'Both cold and wet. Let's find a place to shelter from the rain.' To Duan Yu, whatever Wang Yuyan said was like an imperial decree. When she wanted to find a place to shelter from the rain, even though Duan Yu knew clearly that they had not escaped from dangers he still continuously said yes, but he also dazedly thought: 'The person Miss Wang constantly has in her mind is her biaoge Murong Fu. Today I and she have encountered dangers together I must do my utmost to protect her. Even if I die for her, someday in the rest of her life she'd once in a while remember me a little bit. When she and Murong Fu get married later and have children, when she tells her descendants about the past in leisure time perhaps she'd mention today's events. At that time her head would be full of white hair, when she mentions the three words 'Mr. Duan', her pearly tears would fall down drop by drop…' He lost in thought and could not prevent his eyes from reddening.

Seeing that he had a distressed look on his face and had not started to look for a shelter, Wang Yuyan asked: 'What's wrong? There isn't any rain shelter?' Duan Yu said: 'At that time you'd tell your children…' Wang Yuyan said: 'What, my children?'

Duan Yu was startled, only now did he wake up to reality, he smiled and said: 'Sorry, I was daydreaming.' He looked around and saw a big mill in the northeast. The water of a rivulet was pushing the wooden wheel. The mill was in the process of pounding rice. He then said: 'We can shelter from the rain there.' and rode the horse to the mill. At this time it was raining heavily with cascading noises, all around was haze of water vapor.

He jumped off the horse, seeing that Wang Yuyan looked pale he could not help feeling very sorry for her and asked again: 'You have a stomach ache? Have a fever? Have a headache?' Wang Yuyan shook her head, smiled and said: 'I'm fine.' Duan Yu said: 'Alas, I wonder what the poison the Western Xia people used was, let me go find the antidote.' Wang Yuyan said: 'It's raining heavily like this! Help me get off the horse first and go inside. It won't be late to talk about it later.' Duan Yu hastily said: 'Yes, yes! You see, I could be very silly.' Wang Yuyan smiled and thought: 'You're just inherently silly.'

Seeing her smiling expression, Duan Yu could not help but to feel as if he was on cloud nine and almost forgot to go open the door of the mill. After opening the door he came back to help Wang Yuyan to get off the horse. Because his eyes had focused on her lovely face all the time, he did not notice that there was a ditch in front of the mill. His left foot stepped right in the middle of the ditch. Wang Yuyan called: 'Be careful!' But it was too late. Duan Yu cried out 'Ah' and fell plump into the mud. He climbed up after struggling for a while. His face, his hands, and his body were covered with mud, he continuously said: 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Are you… are you okay?'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Alas, are you okay? That fall didn't hurt did it?' Duan Yu was over the moon when he saw her showing concern for himself. He hastily replied: 'No, no. Even if it did hurt, there'd still be no problem.' He held out his hands to help Wang Yuyan get off the horse. All of a sudden, seeing that they were covered with mud, he drew them back and said: 'Not good! I go clean up first and will come back to help you.' Wang Yuyan sighed and said: 'You're really fussy. My whole body is already drenched, what's the matter if there's some more mud?' Duan Yu smiled apologetically and said: 'I have only messed things up and haven't cared for you well." Still he cleaned the mud off his hands in the rivulet before helping Wang Yuyan get off the horse and walk into the mill.

When the two of them entered the mill, they saw the rice-pounding stone pestle being lifted and dropped, continuously hitting rice grains in the stone mortar, but they did not see anybody. Duan Yu shouted: 'Is there anyone here?'

Suddenly, in the straw stack in a corner of the room, two people shouted at the same time: 'A'yo!' They stood up, one was male and one was female, both were eighteen or nineteen year old young peasants. Their clothes were untidy, their heads were full of straws, and their faces flushed red and looked totally embarrassed. It turned out they were a couple of lovers. The peasant girl had been here to pound rice, the man had followed her here to be close to her. Because it had been raining heavily they had thought that no one would arrive, and had gotten really unbridled to such a degree that they had not heard anything even though Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan had been talking to each other outside for quite a while.

Duan Yu held his fist in his hand and said: 'Sorry for disturbing, sorry for disturbing! We only come here to shelter from the rain. If the two of you have something to do, please do as you wish and don't pay attention to us.'

Wang Yuyan thought: 'This bookworm is talking nonsense again. They are meeting us here, how can they keep cuddling each other?' But she could not say those two sentences. After suddenly seeing the expression and attitude of that girl and that man, her face had soon reddened, she did not dare to look at them for long.

Duan Yu wholeheartedly focused his mind on Wang Yuyan therefore he did not care about this couple of young peasants. He helped Wang Yuyan sit down on a bench and said: 'You're totally drenched, what's to be done?'

There was a layer of rosy light on Wang Yuyan's face again. An idea sprung up in her mind. She pulled out from the hair on her temples a gold hairpin in which two big pearls were embedded, turned to the peasant girl and said: 'Sister, I give you this hairpin, can you please lend me a set of clothes to change?'

Even though that peasant girl did not know that the two pearls were precious, but she recognized gold, in her mind she did not believe this was true, and said: 'Let me fetch some clothes for you to change, this… this gold hairpin I don't dare to take.' As she finished saying she climbed up the wooden ladder beside her.

Wang Yuyan said: 'Sister, please come here.' That peasant girl had already climbed up four or five rungs. She quickly went down, walked to and stood before Wang Yuyan. Wang Yuyan put the gold hairpin in her hand and said: 'I really give you this hairpin. Can you please take me to go change clothes?'

Seeing that Wang Yuyan was beautiful and amiable the peasant girl had already been totally willing to help her, now being given a gold hairpin she felt very happy. She declined unsuccessfully for a few times before finally accepting it then helping Wang Yuyan climb up to the garret above them to change clothes. The garret was stacked with paddy, straws and farm tools such as sieves and bamboo baskets. That peasant girl had some sets of worn-out clothes which she had been sewing and mending. After that young man had arrived, she had thrown them aside and stopped paying attention to them since. Now they were very suitable for Wang Yuyan to use.

That young peasant man timidly peeped at Duan Yu, he was still abashed. Duan Yu smiled and asked: 'Big brother, what's your name?' That young man said: 'I'm… I'm surnamed Jin.' Duan Yu said: 'So you're big brother Jin.' That young man said: 'No. I'm Jin A'er. Jin A'da is my older brother.' Duan Yu said: 'Hum, so you're second brother Jin.' (T/N: Jin A'er means 'Jin, the second brother', Jin A'da means 'Jin, the big brother.')

Just saying to here, suddenly they heard horse hoofbeats, more than ten horses was galloping towards the mill. Duan Yu was frightened, he rose to his feet and shouted: 'Miss Wang, the enemies have chased to here!'

Wang Yuyan was being helped by that young peasant girl. She had taken off her wet clothes, wrung water out of them, and was drying herself. Also hearing the horse hoofbeats, she was worried and frightened, and did not know how to deal with this situation.

The horses ran very fast, in a short period of time they had already arrived at the outside of the door. Someone shouted: 'This horse is ours. That boy and that girl are inside of here.' Wang Yuyan and Duan Yu, one being up on the garret, one being downstairs, secretly complained at the same time and thought: 'Had we led the horse into the mill, it'd have been so much better.' They heard a crash. Someone had kicked the door open, three or four Western Xia warriors rushed into the mill.

Wholeheartedly wanting to protect Wang Yuyan, Duan Yu rushed up the garret. Wang Yuyan had not dressed therefore she had no alternative but to take a wet gown to put before her chest. After being poisoned she felt very weak, therefore after her left hand had raised the gown to her chest, it dropped down. Duan Yu hastily turned around and said in a panicky manner: 'I'm sorry for offending you, Miss, pardon me, pardon me.' Wang Yuyan hurriedly said: 'What should we do?'

They heard a warrior ask Jin A'er: 'Is that girl upstairs?' Jin A'er said: 'Why do you ask about other people's daughter?' A thump was heard, that warrior had thrown a punch which had hit and sent him flying away for more than one zhang then falling down. Jin A'er was very stubborn. He immediately shouted abuse at the warrior.

The peasant girl said: 'Brother A'er, Brother A'er, don't exchange insults with other people.' Caring about her lover, she climbed down to persuade him. Unexpectedly that Western Xia warrior brandished his saber then split Jin A'er head in half. The peasant girl was appalled. She fell and rolled down from the wooden ladder. Another warrior gripped her and said with a hideous grin: 'This chick gives herself up to me.' There was a sound of tearing. He had already torn her clothes. That peasant girl stretched out her hand and gave him a fierce claw in the face, immediately creating five streaks of blood. The warrior raged, with all his strength he threw a punch which hit her chest. Her ribs were all broken. She died immediately.

Hearing the agonized cries downstairs Duan Yu stuck his head out to have a look. When he saw that the couple of young peasants had suffered sudden unfortunate deaths, he was very sorry and muttered to himself: 'It's totally my fault for dragging the two of you into this so that you suffered horrible deaths.' Seeing that warrior quickly climbing up the wooden ladder, he hurriedly gave it a shove towards the outside. The wooden ladder was only loosely connected to the floor of the garret therefore it immediately fell outwards. That warrior quickly jumped down on the ground, held and stopped the ladder, then connected it to the garret's floor again. While Duan Yu was attempting to shove it one more time, another warrior raised his right hand, a sleeve-hidden arrow was shot at him. Duan Yu did not know how to dodge it. A 'pu' sound was heard, the sleeve-hidden arrow had stuck into his left shoulder. While Duan Yu was pressing his shoulder with his hand, the first warrior took advantage of that opportunity to connect the ladder to the garret's floor and climb up. Each of his steps climbed up three rungs.

Wang Yuyan was sitting on a pile of paddy behind Duan Yu, seeing how that warrior have killed the peasant girl with a palm strike (T/N: Something wrong here, cause she was killed w/ a punch) and the lightness skill he had used to jump off and climb up the ladder, she said: 'You use your left forefinger to press the 'Xiaguan acupuncture point' on his belly.'

When he had learned the Beiming Divine Skill (T/N: In Chinese myths, Beiming is the ocean at the northern extremity of the world where sunlight can't reach) and the Six Meridians Divine Swords in Dali, he had already remembered clearly every acupuncture point on the human body. While he was hearing Wang Yuyan shouting, that warrior had already set his left foot on the edge of the garret. Not having time to think anymore, he extended the forefinger and poked him in the 'Xiaguan acupuncture point' on his belly. That warrior was running up, his belly was totally unprotected. He uttered a loud cry, then fell directly backwards on the ground from midair and died immediately.

Duan Yu cried out: 'This's strange, this's strange!' He saw another shaggy-bearded Western Xia warrior brandishing his long saber to protect his body and climbing up the ladder. Duan Yu asked: 'Where to poke him, where to poke him?' Wang Yuyan said in fright: 'A'yo, this's bad!' Duan Yu asked: 'Why bad?' Wang Yuyan said: 'The movements of his saber are too fast, if you wanna poke him in the 'Shanzhong acupuncture point' on his chest, when your finger hasn't touched it, your arm would've already been chopped off.'

When she had just said to here, that shaggy-bearded warrior had already reached the edge of the floor. Duan Yu wanted to protect Wang Yuyan with all his heart therefore he did not think about the possibility that his arm might be chopped off. He stretched his right arm, utilized his internal energy, extended his finger and poked the warrior in the 'Shanzhong acupuncture point' on his chest. That warrior raised his saber to chop at Duan Yu's arm, but all of a sudden he screamed out 'Ah' then fell down on his back. From a small hole on his chest blood was spouting up to two chi's (t/n: 1 chi ~ 33.33 cm) high. Wang Yuyan and Duan Yu were both surprised and happy. Neither of them had expected the power of that finger attack to actually be this dangerous.

Because Duan Yu had continuously killed two of them in a very short period of time, the rest of the warriors did not dare to climb up to the garret anymore. They gathered downstairs to discuss.

Wang Yuyan said: 'Mr. Duan, you should pull the sleeve-hidden arrow out of your shoulder.' Duan Yu was very happy and thought: 'So she also cares about the arrow wound on my shoulder.' He held out his hand and plucked the sleeve-hidden arrow from his shoulder. This arrow had gone one cun (t/n: 1 cun ~ 3.333 cm) into his body and already touched the bone in his shoulder therefore using sheer force to pull it out like this was extremely painful, but because he was happy he did not care about that at all. He said: 'Miss Wang, if they go up here to attack again, how you think should we deal with them?' While saying he turned his head to look at Wang Yuyan. Suddenly seeing that she was still loosely dressed he hastily turned around and said: 'A'yo, I'm sorry.'

Wang Yuyan felt so ashamed that her face became very red, but she did not have any strength to dress. An idea suddenly appeared in her mind. She then got into the stack of straws, only stuck her head out, smiled and said: 'It's all right, you can turn around now.'

Duan Yu slowly turned sideways, his whole body was prepared, if he saw that she was still untidily dressed exposing her skin, he would turn away immediately. When he had just turned half of his head around, he caught a glimpse of a Western Xia warrior on the outside of the window. The warrior was standing on a horse's back, sticking his head in and looking around wanting to jump into the garret. Duan Yu hastily said: 'There're enemies on this side.'

Wang Yuyan thought: 'How are this man's martial arts?' She said: 'You throw the sleeve-hidden arrow at him.'

Duan Yu followed her advice and threw the sleeve-hidden arrow in his hand out. He was totally an amateur in using missiles therefore the sleeve-hidden arrow he threw did not have the least bit of accuracy and was at least two chi's away from that man's head. That man at first did not pay attention, but this throw of Duan Yu was extremely powerful, it was just a small sleeve-hidden arrow yet a whizzing sound was heard when it flew out. That man was frightened. He hunkered down to dodge and curled up into a heap on the saddle.

Wang Yuyan stuck her head out and saw clearly. She said: 'He's a wrestling expert of Western Xia. Just let him grip you, then hit the top of his skull with your palm, you'll win.'

Duan Yu said: 'This's easy.' He walked to the window and saw that warrior jumped up from the saddle, broke the window's lattice and plunged into the garret. Duan Yu said: 'Why do you come here?' That warrior did not understand the Han language. He glowered at Duan Yu then held out the left hand and gripped his chest immediately. The movements of this man were really fast, right after gripping Duan Yu he straightened his arm and lifted him in the air. Duan Yu sent backwards a palm strike. There was a plop. He had already hit the top of the man's head. That warrior had originally wanted to throw Duan Yu on the garret's floor then wrestle him near dead but he had not expected to be hit by this palm strike. His skull was crushed into pieces. He died immediately.

Duan Yu had killed a man again. He could not help starting to panic. The more he thought the more frightened he got, he shouted: 'I don't want to kill anymore! I can't kill anymore. You guys get away quickly!' He then used his strength to push the corpse of the wrestling expert downstairs.

In total, there were fifteen Western Xia warriors who had chased him to the mill. At this moment there were twelve left. Four of them were experts of First-class Hall, two being Han, the other two being Western Xia. Those four people saw that Duan Yu's martial arts seemed to be incomparably excellent for a while then seemed to be laughably childish for another while, which was really suitable to be regarded as 'being fathomless', therefore for the moment they did not dare to act rashly and gathered to quietly discuss attacking plans. However those eight Western Xia warriors had a different plan, they put straws inside the mill together and wanted to set fire to everything.

Wang Yuyan said in panic: 'This is bad. They wanna set fire to the mill!' Duan Yu stamped his feet and said: 'What should we do?' Seeing the big hydraulic wheel of the mill being pushed by the water of the rivulet, ceaselessly moving up and moving down, his mind was also up and down like the movements of the wheel.

He heard a Han man called: 'General has ordered us to capture that young girl. We can't kill her. Don't torch this mill.' Then he raised his voice and shouted: 'Hey, little bastard and little puss! Quickly go down here and surrender, or else we'll torch the mill, burning you alive and turning you into two roast pigs.' He shouted continuously three times. Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan ignored him. That man took out some tinder, started a fire, then ignited a handful of straws, raised it with his hand and said: 'If you keep resisting, I'll start burning.' As he finished saying he raised the kindling and assumed a posture which looked as if he wanted to throw it into the stack of straws.

Seeing that the situation was desperate, Duan Yu said: 'Let me take them by surprise.' He climbed on the hydraulic wheel. This wheel was very big, its diameter exceeded two zhang's (t/n 1 zhang ~ 3.333m), and it was even higher than the roof of the mill. Duan Yu held on to some planks of the wheel, following the rotation of it, he slowly came down.

That man was still shouting noisily and loudly ordering Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan to surrender, not knowing that Duan Yu had quietly come down from the garret and extended his finger to poke him in his back. He was using the Shaoyang sword technique of the Six Meridians Divine Swords. One poke should do the job, however, while sneakily attacking other people he felt very scared, therefore the momenta of his attacks were inadequate and his internal energy could not be shot out. Whether Duan Yu's internal energy could be shot out or not had merely been a matter of luck and this time he could not shoot it out. That man felt that his back had suddenly been lightly touched by something. He turned his head around and saw Duan Yu poking at his own back with his finger.

The man had seen with his own eyes how Duan Yu had continuously killed three people. Now, seeing Duan Yu moving his right hand in a disorderly manner and perhaps using some kind of evil technique he was rather afraid as well, therefore he hastily jumped leftwards. Duan Yu threw another finger attack, but still nothing happened, which was hard to understand. That man shouted loudly: 'Stinking boy, what are you sneakily doing?' He stretched out his left hand and made a grab at the top of Duan Yu's head. Duan Yu hurriedly shrunk back and made random grabs with his hands. Fortunately he caught hold of the wheel and was immediately moved upwards by it. That man's grab missed Duan Yu. A 'pu' sound was heard. Wood chips were sent flying all around. His grab had broken and created a big gap on a plank of the hydraulic wheel.

Wang Yuyan said: 'You only need to go around to his back then attack the 'Zhiyang acupuncture point' at his seventh vertebra, he'll be in danger. This man is a disciple of Tiger-clawed School in Jinnan. The Zhiyang acupuncture point isn't trained by his martial arts practice.'

Duan Yu was in midair, he shouted: 'That's very good!' then climbed up the wooden wheel and jumped into the main room of the mill.

The Western Xia warriors did not wait until his feet touched the ground. Three of them immediately tried to grab him at the same time. Duan Yu continuously shook his right hand and said: 'I'm being outnumbered, even a brave man can't beat multiple opponents at the same time, I only wanna fight one-on-one.' As he finished saying he leaned and advanced on one side, using the footwork of the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps', after dodging several times, he was already at the back of that man. He shouted loudly: 'Hit!' and threw a finger attack, a chi-chi sound was heard, the 'Zhiyang acupuncture point' of the man was hit. He could not make even a single sound and died instantly.

After killing that man, Duan Yu wanted to follow the hydraulic wheel again to go up and return to Wang Yuyan's side. But it was already too late because another Western Xia warrior had blocked his way out and was slashing at him with his saber. Duan Yu shouted: 'A'yo, how terrible! The Tartar soldiers have severed my route of retreat. All around are ambushes, soldiers are besieging Gaixia, my important business has gone bust!' He strode leftwards, that slash hit nothing. The other eleven in the mill immediately surrounded Duan Yu and attacked him at the same time with their sabers and swords. (T/n: Gaixia – the location where Xiang Yu was besieged by Liu Bang's army and eventually committed suicide)

Duan Yu shouted loudly: 'Miss Wang, see you in the next life. I've been besieged on all sides. It's hard to even protect myself. I have no choice but to wait for you on the way to the Underworld.' Even though he was shouting in a disorderly manner and looked extremely pathetic, the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' footwork that he was using was incomparably masterful.

Wang Yuyan was entranced looking at it. She said: 'Mr. Duan, you are following the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps', right? I have heard of it but don't know its method.'

Duan Yu happily said: 'Yes, yes! You wanna see it, then I'm gonna perform it from beginning to end one time for you. But I don't know if I can reach the end before you see my head getting chopped off.' He then performed the footwork he had learned from the scroll, starting from the first step.

Those eleven Western Xia warriors tried to punch and kick him and brandished their sabers and swords, but they could not touch even a corner of his clothes. All of them shouted: 'Hey, you block this side!' 'You guard the northeast corner, don't hold back when attacking.' 'A'yo, this's not good, the little turtle egg has slipped away from here.'

Duan Yu kept going forwards one step then going backwards one step, moving around the hydraulic wheel and the stone mortar. Even though Wang Yuyan was smart and learned, she was not able to understand the method. She said: 'Dodging the enemies is more important to you, don't perform for me to see.' Duan Yu said: 'I can't miss this good chance! If I don't perform now, after I die you won't be able to see it.'

He did not care about his own life and only wished to perform the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' from beginning to end for the person he loved to see. Who would have ever expected that a love-smitten person had their own good luck? If he waited for the enemies' attacks to come before using the footwork to dodge; firstly, because he did not know martial arts while the enemies were experts, and their stances were seemingly false and real at the same time and very unpredictable, he would not be able to dodge when he wanted to; secondly, the enemies had eleven people in total, if he successfully dodged the first man, he would not be able to dodge the second one, even if he successfully dodge the second man, he would not be able to dodge the third one. But he only focused on his own footwork and paid absolutely no attention to the enemies, therefore eleven people of them all pursued and attacked him. Every step of this 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' went to places that were definitely not expected by other people. They saw his left foot striding eastwards, but to their surprise, in fact his body had moved to the northwest corner. The eleven people attacked faster and faster, but ninety percent of their stances had ended up attacking the people on their own side, the remaining ten percent had totally missed.

Seeing Duan Yu standing beside the hydraulic wheel, the first, the second, and the third immediately attacked the place where they thought he would move to with their fists, legs, sabers and swords. The fourth, the fifth and the sixth used their weapons to attack the place where he was standing. While Duan Yu was dodging, he suddenly changed direction. Bang bang bing bing, ding dang clang clang, the weapons of the first, the second, the third, the fourth… had all hit the same place. You blocked and fought me, I blocked and fought you. Some Western Xia warriors had been a little bit slow and had been injured by the people on the own side.

After seeing just a few stances Wang Yuyan already knew the principle, she shouted: 'Mr. Duan, your footsteps are very clever and complicated, for the moment I can't understand them clearly. It'd be best if after finishing this round you perform another round.' Duan Yu said: 'Okay, I'll always follow your instructions.' Once he finished stepping according to eight times eight equaling sixty four hexagrams, he restarted from the first step of the technique.

Wang Yuyan considered: 'For the moment Mr. Duan's life is not in doubt, but how to escape from this difficult situation? I haven't put clothes on my upper body. This really makes me feel ashamed to death. The only choice is to think of a way to give Mr. Duan directions so that he'd kill all the eleven enemies.' She immediately stopped watching Duan Yu's footwork and looked carefully at the stances of those eleven people.

Suddenly she heard a clack. Someone had put the wooden ladder against the edge of the garret. A Western Xia warrior wanted to climb up to the garret again. Because all eleven of them had been fighting Duan Yu unsuccessfully for a long time, the leader of the Western Xia people had told his subordinate to capture Wang Yuyan first and talk about it later.

Wang Yuyan panicked. She shouted: 'A'yo!'

Duan Yu raised his head and saw that Western Xia warrior climbing up to the garret on the ladder. He hastily asked: 'Where to hit him?' Wang Yuyan said: 'You'd best grab his 'Zhishi acupuncture point'!' Duan Yu strode forwards and grabbed the 'Zhishi acupuncture point' on the back of his waist. Not knowing what he should do next, he conveniently made a throw, by lucky coincidence he threw the warrior into the rice-pounding stone mortar. The stone pestle which weighed two hundred jin's (t/n: 1 jin = 0.5 kg) was driven by the hydraulic wheel. All the while it had been pounding on the stone mortar unceasingly. The grains in the stone mortar had been turned into very fine rice powder for a long time, but because there was no one to look after the mill, the stone pestle still kept pounding as usual. After that Western Xia warrior had fell into the stone mortar, the stone pestle went down, a 'peng' was heard, it had burst his brain open, his blood splashed on the rice powder.

That Western Xia expert repeatedly urged his subordinates forwards, there were three other Western Xia warriors trying to be the first to climb up the ladder. Wang Yuyan shouted: 'Do the same thing!' Duan Yu held out his hand to grab the 'Zhishi acupuncture point' of another man then made a throw with all his strength, throwing that man into the stone mortar. This time he intentionally threw therefore the power he used was not as perfect as it had been the last time. When the stone pestle fell down, it hit the man's waist. He let out a miserable bloodcurdling scream, but for the moment it was impossible for him to die. Every time the stone pestle fell down, he let out a miserable scream.

Duan Yu was dumbfounded. Seeing that two other Western Xia warriors had already been climbing up the ladder, he shouted in panic: 'Don't do that! Quickly come down.' He poked chaotically with his left-hand fingers. Because he was frightened, his internal energy was in turmoil. Therefore the power of the Six Meridians Divine Swords was able to be shot out. Two 'chi-chi' sounds were heard. Two beams of internal energy hit the backs of those two men. They immediately fell down.

The remaining seven Western Xia warriors saw that Duan Yu could kill people from a distance by poking in the air. They had really never heard of this kind of technique before. They did not know that Duan Yu could not use this technique as he pleased, when he had really wanted to use it he had not necessarily been able to, but when he had used it randomly at urgent moments he had often been successful. The more those seven people thought about this the more frightened they became. All of them had already become rather timid but they were not willing to run away at this point too.

Wang Yuyan was looking down from a higher position therefore she had observed the fight in the big room clearly. She saw that even though there were seven enemies left, only three of them had rather good martial arts, and that Western Xia man who had shouted and given orders was perhaps the leader of this group. She shouted: 'Mr. Duan, you go kill that man who is wearing yellow clothes and a leather hat first. You need to find a way to hit the 'Yuzhen' and 'Tianzhu' acupuncture points at the back of his head.'

Duan Yu said: 'Yes, Miss.' and rushed towards that man.

That Western Xia man was secretly frightened and thought: 'The two acupuncture points Yuzhen and Tianzhu are exactly my weak points, how does this girl know that?' Seeing Duan Yu charging at him, he immediately chopped horizontally with the saber to prevent him from approaching. Duan Yu charged at the man several times but he was still unable to go to his back and was almost injured by the saber. That man had heard Wang Yuyan shouting that his own back had had weak points therefore he was earnestly defending the weak points on the back of his head otherwise Duan Yu would have been in great danger. Duan Yu shouted: 'Miss Wang, this man is very tough, I can't go to his back.'

Wang Yuyan said: 'That man who is robed in gray, his weakness is the 'Lianquan acupuncture point' on his neck. That yellow-bearded man, I don't recognize his martial arts stances, you should try hitting him in the chest with some finger attacks.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes!' He extended his finger and pushed it quickly towards the man's chest. Even though these finger attacks of his were technically correct they did not carry any power, but how could that yellow-bearded man know that? He immediately lowered his body and dodged three finger attacks. When Duan Yu attacked the fourth time, he jumped up in the air then from midair delivered his attacks downwards. The power of his palm strikes was fierce and encompassed Duan Yu's body.

Duan Yu felt that his breathing had become hurried and also felt dizzy. Very frightened, he closed his eyes and thrust the fingers of both hands chaotically. 'Chi-chi-chi-chi' sounds were heard continuously, the Six Meridian Divine Swords Shaoshang, Shangyang, Zhongchong, Guanchong, Shaochong and Shaoze were shot out at the same time and pierced six holes in the body of that yellow-bearded man. But the power of his palm strikes did not vanish, a pat was heard, a palm strike had hit Duan Yu' shoulder. At that moment, Duan Yu's internal energy surged through his body, even though this palm strike had a lot of force, thanks to the protection of his vigorous internal energy, it did not injure him a little bit, moreover, that yellow-bearded man was sent flying away for one zhang.

Wang Yuyan did not know that he was not injured, she said in panic: 'Mr. Duan, are you okay? Are you injured?'

Duan Yu opened the eyes and saw that yellow-bearded man was flat on his back, blood was spouting ceaselessly from the six small holes on his chest, his expression was ferocious, his eyes opened wide and were looking viciously at himself. He had still not died. Duan Yu was so scared that his heart started to pound in his chest, he shouted: 'I don't wanna kill you. You yourself… yourself were asking for it.' He was still using the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps and scampering in the main room. During that time he continuously cupped his fist, bowed to the remaining six people and said: 'Brave men, there was no enmity between me, Duan Yu, and you in former days. In the past few days there was no enmity between us either. Please open your net and allow me a way out. I… I… really don't dare to kill anyone again. This… this… having killed this many people, how can I not feel terribly guilty? Really, I've been overly merciless. You run away quickly, okay? Let's consider that I, Duan Yu, have lost, please… please… I beg your pardon.'

When he turned around he suddenly saw a Western Xia warrior standing beside the door. No one knew when he had entered the mill. That man was medium in stature. His clothes were the same as those of the other Western Xia warriors, but he had a sallow complexion and a wooden face, looking just like a corpse. Duan Yu felt a chill of fear: 'Is this man a ghost? Could it be that… could it be that… because the souls of the Western Xia warriors killed by me couldn't vanish, their unfairly-treated ghosts show up?' He said in a tremulous voice: 'You… Who are you? What… What do you wanna do?'

That Western Xia warrior stood with his back straightened, neither did he reply nor did he make a move. Duan Yu leaned to one side, made a grab backwards and caught hold of the 'Zhishi acupuncture point' on the back of the waist of a Western Xia warrior beside himself, then threw that warrior at the mysterious person. That person slightly moved sideways. A 'peng' sound was heard. The head of that Western Xia warrior had hit the wall. His skull was shattered into pieces and he died. Duan Yu let out a deep breath and said: 'You're a man, not a ghost.'

At this moment, besides the incoming mysterious person, there were only five Western Xia warriors left. Among them, one Western Xia man and one Han man were experts of 'First-class Hall'. The other three had mediocre martial arts, seeing that the number of people on their own side had gotten smaller and smaller as the fight had gone on, they all wanted to retreat, one of them went to the door and pushed it. That Western Xia expert shouted: 'What are you doing?' Shua shua shua, using his saber he chopped three times towards Duan Yu.

Seeing a blue light flashing and the sharp saber of the opponent being brandished to and fro repeatedly before him, which could cut his own body at any time, Duan Yu was extremely frightened. He shouted: 'You… you're insolent like this, I can hit your Yuzhen and Tianzhu acupuncture points, you won't be able to resist, you'd be well advised to… well advised to withdraw, we'd better disperse.' The saber stances of that man became more and more urgent and every stance was close to vital parts of Duan Yu. Had he not accelerated his steps, any of those stances would have taken his life.

That Han expert had always stayed behind, seeing that Duan Yu was making every effort to implore and besides trying his best to dodge he could not strike back at all, an idea sprung up in his mind. He went to the stone mortar, grabbed two handfuls of rice flour, which had been pounded to a very fine state, and threw them at Duan Yu in the face. Duan Yu's footwork was clever therefore those handfuls of rice flour did not hit him. That Han man kept throwing out two handfuls after two handfuls. In the main room rice flour and rice bran fluttered in all directions, in an instant looking like smoke and mist.

Duan Yu shouted: 'How terrible, how terrible! I can't see anything!' Wang Yuyan also knew the situation was extremely dangerous. She thought it was all because of that very clever Wave Treading Exquisite Steps that Duan Yu had been safe from those experts. All along, when attacking him, the enemies had seen him before themselves but suddenly somehow he would have already been at their backs, therefore their weapons, punches and kicks had always missed his body by a hair's breadth. At the moment, rice flour and rice bran had spread all over the main room like smoke and everyone was executing his stances randomly. Fighting blindly and chaotically like this made it very possible to hit him. If the Western Xia warriors just ignored Duan Yu, rushed forwards and executed any set of martial arts on their own, Duan Yu would soon be cut into seventeen or eighteen pieces.

Because rice flour had got into his eyes, Duan Yu could not open them. He jumped up with all his strength and landed beside the hydraulic wheel. He grabbed hold of a plank of the wheel and was lifted up. There were two miserable 'Ah' 'Ah' cries. Two Western Xia warriors had accidentally been chopped at by that Western Xia expert with his saber and died. After that, two clanks were heard, someone shouted: 'It's me!' Another shouted: 'Be careful, it's me!' The Western Xia expert and the Han expert had just clashed their saber and sword and exchanged two stances. Then there was another miserable 'Ah' cry, another Western Xia warrior had been given a kick in his vital part by someone and was sent flying outwards. Hearing that dying cry, Duan Yu could not help but to feel a chill down his spine. His whole body trembled. He shouted in a quavering voice: 'Hey hey, the number of you has gotten fewer and fewer, there's no need to fight anymore. Don't kill excessively. I beg you, okay?'

Hearing the voice, that Han man was able to detect Duan Yu's direction. He made a wave with the right hand and a steel dart was thrown at him. This steel dart went with great accuracy and power, but because the hydraulic wheel was revolving unceasingly, when it arrived Duan Yu had already been moved down by the wheel. There was a 'pai' sound. The steel dart had nailed a corner of his sleeve to a plank of the wheel. Frightened, Duan Yu thought: 'I don't know how to dodge missiles, if the enemies focus on throwing steel darts and sleeve-hidden arrows I'll suffer a disaster.' He was so frightened that his hands flagged, his fingers could no longer hold on to the plank. A 'teng' sound was heard, he had already fallen down.

In the dense mist the Han expert vaguely saw that, he rushed forwards to grab Duan Yu. Duan Yu remembered Wang Yuyan had said that he needed to poke him in the 'Lianquan acupuncture point', but firstly, because he was in a state of panic, and secondly, even though he knew the acupuncture points, he had never practiced martial arts in normal times, therefore when he extended his finger to hit the 'Lianquan acupuncture point' of that man in a disordered manner the direction of his attack was inaccurate, both slanted leftwards and inclined downwards, unexpectedly hitting the 'Qihu acupuncture point' of that man. The 'Qihu acupuncture point' was the laughing acupuncture point. The internal energy of that man immediately ran in the opposite direction, he could not help laughing ha-ha loudly. Executing a thrust after a thrust, he attacked Duan Yu nonstop with his sword, but all the while he kept laughing loudly hee-hee, ha-ha, hei-hei, ah-ah...

The Western Xia expert asked: 'Brother Rong, why are you laughing?' The Han man was unable to answer and kept laughing loudly. The Western Xia man did not understand the cause of that, he said angrily: 'We're facing a tough enemy. What the hell are you doing?' That Han man said: 'Ha-ha, I… this… ha-ha, ah-ah…' He raised his sword and thrusted at the back of Duan Yu. Duan Yu walked to the left at an angle. That Western Xia expert did not see clearly in the dense mist and he happened to also move to this side, therefore all of a sudden both of them had a heavy collision with each other.

As soon as this Western Xia man bumped into Duan Yu's body, he quickly turned his left hand over and using a grasping hand technique he grabbed Duan Yu's right arm. He noticed that his opponent's strong point was the footwork therefore he thought this grasp was exactly a good chance to obtain advantage. He threw the saber away with his right hand, then withdrew the hand and grabbed Duan Yu's left wrist. Duan Yu shouted: 'How terrible, how terrible!' and used all his strength to struggle. But the hands of that Western Xia man were like iron hoops, how could he struggle out of it?

Thinking that this was a good opportunity, the Han man raised his sword and thrusted at the back of Duan Yu. The Western Xia man thought: 'This's not good! This thrust of his only needs to pass into the body of the enemy several cun's (t/n 3.333 cm) to kill him. But if he disregards comradeship and wanna take all the credit for himself, maybe he'll go for a chi (t/n 33.33 cm), conveniently killing me as well.' He immediately took a step backwards, pulling Duan Yu along.

Still laughing nonstop, that Han man took a step forwards wanting to raise his sword and thrust again. Suddenly there was a 'peng' sound. A plank of the hydraulic wheel had hit the back of his head making him pass out. Even though that Han man had lost consciousness, he was still breathing and kept laughing ha-ha-ha nonstop, but because he only had the air and not the strength, his laughs sounded very strange. The hydraulic wheel slowly revolved, another 'peng' sound was heard. The second plank had hit his chest. His laughs became a bit lower. After getting hit seven or eight times, the 'ha-ha, ha-ha' sounds he made sounded just like the snores of someone who was dreaming.

Seeing that Duan Yu was being gripped and unable to pull away, Wang Yuyan felt extremely anxious. She also thought that there was still a Western Xia warrior with a scary expression standing beside the door, if he conveniently gave Duan Yu a saber or sword stroke, Duan Yu would be killed instantly. She shouted in panic: 'Don't kill Mr. Duan. We… we should discuss this slowly.'

That Western Xia man was still gripping Duan Yu. He placed his right arm horizontally and pressed it against the chest of Duan Yu with full power, wanting to crush his ribs or make him unable to breathe and die. Duan Yu was extremely frightened. His left wrist and right arm were being gripped therefore the Beiming Divine Skill which absorbed internal energy could not be used. He had no choice but to extend his left fingers and pushed chaotically with them, but all of his finger attacks only hit the air. He felt the pressure on his chest getting heavier and heavier, and gradually he could no longer breathe.

At that critical moment, suddenly there were several 'chi-chi' sounds, that Western Xia expert uttered a soft 'Ah' cry and said: 'Good skill, you've finally poked me… poked me in the Yuzhen…' His hands gradually loosened and his head drooped. He leaned against the wall and died.

Very surprised, Duan Yu turned that man over to have a look. He really saw a small hole at the 'Yuzhen acupuncture point' on the back of his head. Blood was oozing from it. This wound had been inflicted on him by his Six Meridians Divine Swords. Duan Yu did not understand for the moment what had happened. He did not know that in that urgent situation his internal energy had condensed and the energy of one of his finger attacks had hit the wall, sprung back, and hit the back of the head of that Western Xia expert. Duan Yu had executed several tens of finger attacks altogether. One after another they had bounced off the wall and hit every place on the back of the enemy. Because that Western Xia man had had a strong internal energy and the power of the rebounded energy had been very weak, they had not been able to damage him at all. But by lucky coincidence the last beam of internal energy had bounced off the wall and hit his 'Yuzhen acupuncture point'. The 'Yuzhen acupuncture point' had been his weakness and most fragile point therefore even though the rebounded internal energy had been weak he had nevertheless died instantly when it had hit him at that acupuncture point.

Duan Yu was both surprised and happy. He released the corpse of that Western Xia man and shouted: 'Miss Wang, Miss Wang, all the enemies have been killed!'

Suddenly he heard an icy voice from behind himself: 'All haven't necessarily died!' Duan Yu was frightened. He turned around and saw that it was the Western Xia warrior with a wooden expression. He thought: 'I overlooked you, but your martial arts aren't good. I can kill you with just a grip on your 'Zhishi acupuncture point.' He then laughed and said: 'Old chap, you run away quickly, okay? I definitely won't kill you.' That man said: 'Do you have the ability to kill me?' His tone was extremely arrogant. Duan Yu was really unwilling to kill again therefore he cupped his fist and said: 'I'm really not a match for you, please show your mercy and forgive me.'

That Western Xia warrior said: 'These sentences of yours are merely a jest. They have absolutely no sincere intention of begging for mercy. The Solitary Yang Finger (t/n: Yiyangzhi) and the Six Meridians Divine Swords of the Duan clan are well-known all over the world, in addition to that, this girl has told you important secrets, they're really no small matter. Let me experience your masterful stances.' Every word of these few sentences was said monotonously with no high or low sound, no rise or fall of the voice and no pause therefore they sounded very unusual. Perhaps he was a foreigner, because even though he knew the Han language and his use of words and grammar were correct, his tone was obviously very awkward.

Duan Yu innately disliked martial arts. Today he had killed so many people like this only because the situation had forced him to do so and he had had no alternative. Speaking of fighting, if it was possible to avoid fighting he would try his best to. He immediately gave a deep bow and sincerely said: 'You are very correct to be critical of me. I must confess my intention of begging for mercy was not respectful and sincere. I have never learned martial arts. Just now, it was sheer luck that I killed people. Being able to preserve my life, I'm already perfectly content, how dare I flaunt my skills and vie for superiority?'

That Western Xia warrior laughed grimly and said: 'You haven't learned martial arts yet with a raise of your hand you annihilated four experts of First-class Hall and killed eleven warriors. If you learn martial arts, would there still be survivors in wulin?'

Duan Yu took a glance from the east to the west. Seeing that in the mill corpses were lying in disorder and each of them was covered in blood, he could not help feeling extremely sorry. He covered his face and said: 'How… how did I kill this many people? I… I really don't wanna kill anyone. What should I do now? What should I do?' That man let out some grim laughs and glanced at Duan Yu to see if these few sentences arose out of his true feelings. Duan Yu shed tears and said: 'These people all have parents, wives and children. Not long ago every one of them was still full of vim and vigor, now they were all killed by me, I… I… how can I apologize to them?' Saying to here he could not help but beat his chest and cry loudly. His tears fell down like rain drops. He sobbed: 'They might not necessarily want to kill me. It's just that they were acting under orders and were assigned to capture people. That's all. I and they didn't know each other before, why I could lay my murderous hands on them so quick?' His heart was inherently benevolent. Since childhood he had chanted Buddhist scriptures and learned Buddhism, and had not dared to harm even ants and mole crickets, how could he have known that today this kind of catastrophe would suddenly happen?

That Western Xia warrior sneered: 'You're play-acting like a cat crying over a mouse's death. You think you'll be exempted from punishments by it?'

Duan Yu held back his tears and said: 'That's right, I already killed people and committed sins. What's the point of crying? I'd better bury these corpses carefully.'

Wang Yuyan thought: 'There're more than ten corpses like this, how long will it take to bury them one by one?' She shouted: 'Mr. Duan, I'm afraid there're more enemies coming in large quantities. We should run away as soon as possible.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes, yes!' He turned around, wanting to climb up the ladder.

That Western Xia warrior said: 'You haven't killed me, how can you go?' Duan Yu shook his head and said: 'I can't kill you. Besides, I'm not a match for you either.' That man said: 'We haven't fought, how can you know that you're not a match for me? Miss Wang taught you the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps, ha-ha, you're sure extraordinary.' Duan Yu at first had wanted to say that the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps technique had not been taught to him by Wang Yuyan, but he thought that there was no need to tell a stranger about this matter therefore he only said: 'Yes, moreover I haven't learned any martial arts. I've escaped from disasters totally thanks to being given directions by Miss Wang.' That man said: 'Very good, I'm waiting here. You go ask her to tell you a way to kill me.' Duan Yu said: 'I don't wanna kill you.'

That man said: 'You don't wanna kill me then I'll kill you.' As he finished saying he picked up a saber on the ground, suddenly in the main room a white light flashed, within a more than one zhang (t/n: 3.333 m) radius of him there were full of saber images. When Duan Yu had still not taken a step he had already been hit heavily on his shoulder with the back of the saber. He let out an 'Ah' shout and staggered. As soon as his footsteps became disordered that Western Xia warrior took advantage of the situation and rushed forwards. The edge of the saber was already put on the back of his neck. Duan Yu was so frightened that his whole body broke into a cold sweat. He only stood motionlessly, stunned.

That man said: 'You quickly go consult your master to see if she has any way to kill me.' As he finished saying he withdrew the saber and swiftly extended his left leg cleverly. A 'peng' sound was heard. He had kicked Duan Yu sending him rolling on the ground.

Wang Yuyan shouted: 'Mr. Duan, quickly go up here.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes!' then climbed up the ladder. He turned his head around and saw that man sitting and holding the saber. There was still a wooden expression which was similar to that of a corpse on his face. Obviously he thought absolutely nothing of Duan Yu and would definitely not take advantage of the time he was climbing up the ladder to sneakily attack from his back. After having climbed up the garret, Duan Yu said in a low voice: 'Miss Wang, I can't beat him. We should find a way to run away quickly.'

Wang Yuyan said: 'He's guarding downstairs, we can't run away. Please take that gown for me.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes!' then held out his hand and took a set of worn-out clothes left by that peasant girl. Wang Yuyan said: 'Close your eyes then come here. Okay! Stop. Put it on for me, you mustn't open your eyes.' Duan Yu complied with everything she said. He was a sincere gentleman and esteemed Wang Yuyan as if she was a heavenly god therefore he did not dare to disobey her words at all, but when he thought that at the moment her clothes were not enough to cover her body, his heart unavoidably pounded in his chest.

Wang Yuyan waited until he finished dressing her then said: 'Okay. Help me stand up.' Duan Yu had not yet heard the order that he could open his eyes therefore they were still closed tightly. When he heard her say 'Help me stand up' he immediately put out his right hand and unexpectedly touched her cheek. Feeling that there was something smooth and soft in his palm, he could not refrain from starting with fright. He hastily withdrew his hand and said continuously: 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.'

When Wang Yuyan had been having him dressing herself she had already felt so ashamed that her cheeks had become very red. Now seeing him with his eyes closed extending his palm and touching her face in a disorderly manner she blushed even more. She said: 'Hey, I told you to help me stand up!' Duan Yu said: 'Yes! Yes!' His eyes were still closed tightly therefore he did not know where he should move his hands to, fearing that if he touched her body his misdemeanor would become serious. He could not help feeling at a loss and totally troubled. Wang Yuyan's mind was also in turmoil. Only after a good while did she remember that she needed to tell him to open his eyes. She said in a displeased-sounding tone: 'Why don't you open your eyes?'

That Western Xia warrior sneered ha-ha downstairs and said: 'I told you to go learn martial arts to kill me, and didn't tell you two to flirt with and cuddle each other.'

Duan Yu opened his eyes. Seeing that Wang Yuyan's beautiful cheeks had turned red like fire, looking extremely charming and shamefaced, he was entranced and gazed fixedly at her therefore he totally did not hear those sentences of the Western Xia warrior. Wang Yuyan said: 'You help me stand up and sit down here.' Duan Yu hastily said: 'Yes, yes!' With reverence and awe he supported her body with his hands and helped her sit down on a wooden bench.

Both hands of Wang Yuyan quivered, trying to pull the clothes on her body together. She bowed her head and considered. After a long time she said: 'He didn't reveal his martial arts, I… I don't know how to beat him.' Duan Yu said: 'Is he very tough?' Wang Yuyan said: 'Just now when he fought you, he used seventeen types of martial arts of different schools altogether.' Duan Yu asked in surprise: 'What? He used seventeen different types of martial arts in such a short while?'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Yes! Just a moment ago, when he used the saber to confine you he slashed one time in the east, it was the Demon Subduing Saber technique of Shaolin Monastery; he chopped one time in the west, it was the Eighteen Ways of Firewood Chopping Saber of the old man surnamed Li in Lishan cave in Guangxi; when he turned the saber and cut one time, it was changed again to the 'Revolving Wind Brushing Willow Saber' of the Shi clan in Jiangnan. After that he executed eleven saber strokes continuously using eleven different types of saber techniques of different schools. Afterward he turned the saber over and hit your shoulder with its back one time, it was the 'Mercy Saber' created by monk Xinguan of Tiantong Monastery in Ningbo which only controls the enemy but doesn't kill them. When he put the saber on your neck, it was a stance of the Golden Saber technique that His Excellency Grandpa Yang of our imperial court used to capture enemies in battle. It was one of the 'Three Unique Stances behind the Mountain' which originally was a stance for long-handled large chopping sabers but he changed it to using normal saber. Lastly, when he kicked and sent you rolling, it was a Springing Leg stance of the Hui people in Western Xia.' She talked about one stance after another as if she was counting the valuable items in her family, explaining clearly the origin of each and every stance and the school it belonged to. Duan Yu heard what she said but he knew nothing therefore he could only gaze at her, not knowing how to get a word in.

Wang Yuyan leaned her head and thought for a long time then said: 'You can't beat him. Just admit defeat.'

Duan Yu said: 'I've already admitted defeat.' Then he raised his voice and said: 'Hey, I can't beat you in any case, are you willing to give up at this point?'

The Western Xia warrior sneered: 'You want me to spare your life, that's not hard, you just need to follow my words in one matter.' Duan Yu hastily asked: 'What's the matter?' That man said: 'From now on, every time you see me you must crawl on the the ground, kowtow to me three times and shout: 'Great master, please spare this little dog's life!''

Once hearing that, Duan Yu boiled with anger and said: 'One can kill a gentleman but cannot insult him. If you want me to kowtow to and beg you, don't imagine that's possible. If you wanna kill me, then just kill me now.' That man said: 'You're really unafraid of death?' Duan Yu said: 'Naturally I'm afraid of death. But if every time seeing you I must kneel down and kowtow to you, what the heck will that become?' That man sneered and said: 'There's nothing wrong with you kowtowing to me when seeing me. If one day I become the Emperor of the Central Plains, you'll have to kneel down and kowtow to me when seeing me, won't you?'

Hearing him say 'If one day I become the Emperor of the Central Plains', Wang Yuyan felt scared: 'Why does he also say this kind of words?'

Duan Yu said: 'Kowtowing when seeing the Emperor, that's another matter. It's a salute, and certainly not begging for mercy.'

That Western Xia warrior said: 'So that means you don't accept this condition of mine?' Duan Yu shook his head and said: 'I'm very sorry but I can't obey your order. Old chap, I deeply beg you to be magnanimous a little.' That man said: 'Okay, you go down here, I'll kill you in one saber stance.' Duan Yu cast a look at Wang Yuyan, he felt grieved and said: 'You already insist on killing me, there's no way I can do anything about it, but I also have one thing to beg you.' That man said: 'What?' Duan Yu said: 'This lady is suffering a strange poison. She doesn't have any strength in her limbs and can't walk. Can you please at your convenience take her to her home at Mantuo Villa by Tai Lake?'

That man ha-ha laughed and said: 'Why should I do this? The East Conquering General of Western Xia has given a military order, that is, whoever captures this learned and talented girl will be rewarded with two thousand gold taels and be conferred on with the Marquis of Ten Thousand Houses title (t/n 万户侯 – Wanhu Hou).' Duan Yu said: 'That's okay. I'll write a letter, after you've taken this lady back to her home, you can bring this letter to Dali to get five thousand gold taels, the Marquis of Ten Thousand Houses title will also be conferred on you accordingly.' That man ha-ha laughed loudly and said: 'You think I'm a three year old kid? Who the heck are you? Depending on a letter you little boy write can really get me five thousand gold taels and the conferment of the Marquis of Ten Thousand Houses title?'

Duan Yu thought this matter was really hard for other people to believe. For the moment he did not know what to do, his hands continuously rubbing against each other. He said: 'This… This… What should I do? I won't regret it if I die, but if I let you wander around this area and fall into the hands of the bandits then even if I died ten thousand times I still wouldn't be able to redeem myself.'

Wang Yuyan heard him say that very sincerely therefore she could not help but feel somewhat moved. She said loudly to the Western Xia man: 'Hey, if you're rude to me, my biaoge (t/n: an older cousin with a different surname than the speaker's) will avenge me. He will surely throw Western Xia into a state of extreme confusion and won't spare even fowls and dogs.' That man said: 'Who's your biaoge?' Wang Yuyan said: 'My biaoge is Mr. Murong, a famous figure of wulin in the Central Plains. I think you've heard of the reputation of 'Murong of Gusu' and the 'Paying Him Back Using His Own Methods' technique (t/n: 以彼之道, 还施彼身). If you're rude to me, he'll treat you badly ten times as much.'

That man sneered and said: 'If Mr. Murong saw you and this pretty boy being intimate with each other like this, how would he still be willing to avenge you?'

The face of Wang Yuyan became very red. She said: 'Don't talk rubbish. I and this Mr. Duan don't have… don't have any…' Thinking that this kind of matter should not be talked a lot about, she changed the topic of conversation and asked: 'Hey, master soldier, what's your name? Do you dare to tell me your name?'

That Western Xia warrior said: 'Why not? When going I don't change my surname, when sitting I don't change my given name, it's Li Yanzong of Western Xia.'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Hum, your surname is Li, that's Western Xia's national surname.'

That man said: 'The national surname isn't everything about me. I serve my country with unreserved loyalty, and will take Liao, destroy Song, wipe out Tufan in the west and annex Dali in the south.'

Duan Yu said: 'Your ambitions really aren't small. General Li, let me tell you this. You're proficient at using secret techniques of different schools so if you wanna become the number one martial user under heaven, I think that's not hard. But if you wanna annex all the lands under heaven, it's not like being the number one martial arts user under heaven you'll be able to get that done.'

Li Yanzong let out a 'humph' sound and did not reply.

Wang Yuyan said: 'Speaking of becoming the number one martial arts user under heaven, you may not necessarily be able to achieve that goal.' Li Yanzong said: 'How do you know?' Wang Yuyan said: 'In the world at the moment, as far as I know, there're two people whose martial arts are far above yours.' Li Yanzong took a step forwards, raised his head and asked: 'Who are they?' Wang Yuyan said: 'The first person is the former Chief of the Beggar Society Chief Qiao.' Li Yanzong let out a 'humph' sound and said: 'His reputation is great, but he may not necessarily be worthy of it.' Wang Yuyan said: 'The second person is my biaoge, Mr. Murong Murong Fu of Jiangnan.'

Li Yanzong shook his head and said: 'That's not necessarily true either. You put Qiao Feng's name before Murong Fu's name out of fairness or out of personal reasons?' Wang Yuyan asked: 'What is out of fairness? And what is out of personal reasons?' Li Yanzong said: 'If it's out of fairness, then you really think Qiao Feng's martial arts are better than Murong Fu's; if it's out of personal reasons, then because Murong Fu and you are relatives, you rank a stranger before him.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Out of fairness or out of personal reasons are just the same. I naturally hope that my biaoge surpasses Chief Qiao, but at the moment it's still out of the question.' Li Yanzong said: 'Though it's still impossible now, what Qiao Feng excels at are just the martial arts of one school. But your biaoge has extensive knowledge about the world's martial arts, in the future his skills will improve every day so he'll be able to become the number one martial arts user under heaven.'

Wang Yuyan sighed and said: 'That still won't be possible. In the future, the number one martial arts user under heaven will likely be this Mr. Duan.'

Li Yanzong turned his face upwards, laughed ha-ha and said: 'Turns out you can joke. This bookworm has merely been given directions by you and learned just the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps'. Don't tell me that depending on those scampering off like a frightened rat skill and withdrawing into passive defense and fleeing like a turtle skill he'll be able to get the number one martial arts user under heaven title?'

Wang Yuyan at first had wanted to say: 'His 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' technique wasn't taught by me. His internal energy is vigorous. His base is solid. No one can compare with him.' But she changed her mind: 'This man seems to be narrow-minded. If I speak the truth, perhaps it won't be possible for him not to kill Mr. Duan. I'd better incite him a bit.' She then said: 'If he's willing to follow my instructions and practice martial arts, three years later, perhaps he still won't be able to surpass Chief Qiao, but if he wanna defeat you, that'll be as easy as turning his hand over.'

Li Yanzong said: 'Very good, I believe your words. To not leave behind the cause of trouble of the other day, I'd better kill him in a saber stance today. Mr. Duan, you get down here, I wanna kill you.'

Duan Yu hastily said: 'I won't go downstairs, you… you can't go up here either.'

Wang Yuyan had not thought that she would overreach herself. To her surprise this man was not incited. She could only sneer and say: 'So you're afraid and fear that three years later he'll outstrip you.'

Li Yanzong said: 'You're using a provoking trick to make me spare his life. Ha-ha, what kind of man I am? How can it be that I could easily be fooled? Want me to spare his life, it's not hard. I already said before, he only needs to kowtow and beg for mercy every time he sees me, I definitely won't kill him'

Wang Yuyan looked at Duan Yu, thinking that he would definitely not do that kind of kowtowing and begging for mercy thing therefore the only choice left in this situation was to fight with their backs against the wall. She lowered her voice and asked: 'Mr. Duan, sometimes the energy swords in your fingers work and sometimes they don't. What's the cause of that?' Duan Yu said: 'I don't know.' Wang Yuyan said: 'You'd better use your full power to try stabbing him in his right wrist with your energy swords, snatching his long sword then clasping your arms around him tightly and using the 'Snow Melting Six Suns Skill' to remove his internal energy.' Duan Yu said in surprise: 'What's the 'Snow Melting Six Suns Skill'?' Wang Yuyan said: 'That day at Mantuo Villa, when you subdued mama Yan to save me, didn't you use this kind of divine skill of the Duan clan in Dali?' Only now could Duan Yu realize what it was. That day Wang Yuyan had mistaken his 'Beiming Divine Skill' for the 'Energy Dissolving Great Technique' which was hated by many people in wulin. At that moment, it had been too late for him to explain therefore he had unthinkingly said that it had been a skill called 'Snow Melting Six Suns Skill' that had been handed down in the Duan clan in Dali from generation to generation. He had blurted it out therefore he had already forgotten about it, but Wang Yuyan remembered clearly every martial arts of various schools in the world, let alone this kind of extraordinary strange skill.

Duan Yu nodded, thinking that there was really no other way besides this way, but it was not assured, in brief, it boded ill rather than well. He then righted his clothes and said: 'Miss Wang, I'm incompetent and not able to escort you back to your mansion. I'm really ashamed. Someday, after having returned to your mansion in honor and glory, when you and your biaoxiong (t/n: one's older male cousin with a different surname) get married, don't forget to pour down some cups of wine on the camellia trees I myself planted at Mantuo Villa, then I'd be considered as having drunk your wedding wine.'

Hearing him say that in the future she and her biaoge may get married Wang Yuyan was glad, but she also could not bear seeing him going out for other people to oppress like this. She said in a sad voice: 'Mr. Duan, your great kind act of saving my life, as long as I'm alive I won't dare to forget.'

Duan Yu thought: 'If I gotta helplessly see you and Mr. Murong get married in the future, I'll get madly jealous and my mind will be in torment, it'd be hard for me to live. It'd be better to die for you to day so that I'd feel at ease and justified.' He turned around and smiled to her then step by step went down on the rungs.

Wang Yuyan looked at his back and thought: 'This man's very strange, at this moment how can he still smile?'

After Duan Yu had climbed down the ladder, he stared at Li Yanzong and said: 'General Li, it's impossible for you not to kill me, so let's start!' As he finished saying he took a stride, which was none other than the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps'.

Li Yanzong brandished his saber. Shua shua shua, he slashed three times using three other saber techniques of different schools. Wang Yuyan did not consider it to be strange. She thought that among weapons saber had the most schools and stances, therefore if a person was really learned, even if he executed seventy or eighty stances continuously, he would not have to go as far as to use the second stance of any saber technique of a school. Once this Wave Treading Exquisite Steps technique of Duan Yu was used, it was really unpredictable and very strange. Li Yanzong wanted to use the movements of the saber to confine Duan Yu, but even though several times obviously he had already surrounded him somehow Duan Yu unexpectedly stepped out of the encirclement like a ghost. Seeing that Duan Yu could manage to defend himself this time, Wang Yuyan felt a bit more optimistic. She only hoped that he would suddenly attack when the enemy was not ready and emerge victorious from danger.

Duan Yu secretly channeled his internal energy wanting to shoot it out of his five right fingers, but every time it always stopped when it reached his arm and inexplicably went back. Fortunately, he was already extremely skilled at using the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' therefore even though Li Yanzong had sped up his saber stances, all along he had not hit Duan Yu's body.

Li Yanzong had seen with his own eyes how Duan Yu had killed the Western Xia experts with the bizarre energy of his finger attacks. This moment, seeing Duan Yu poking and drawing in the air with his fingers and being deliberately mystifying, he naturally did not know that it was Duan Yu being unable to make his internal energy come out and only thought that this was the executing method before using his evil technique. He thought when Duan Yu finished performing all of his rites and saying his incantations, he would use this murderous invisible evil technique. Therefore he could not help feeling frightened and considered: 'Besides the bizarre footwork this dude's martial arts are very mediocre, but his evil technique is dangerous, I must kill him before he uses it. But my saber has always missed him, what should I do?' An idea sprung up in his mind. He already had a plan. He sent a palm strike backwards which hit the hydraulic wheel and broke a large piece off a plank then made a grab with his left hand, held that piece of wood in his hand and threw it at Duan Yu's foot. Because Duan Yu was running like the wind, that piece of wood certainly did not hit him. But Li Yanzong continuously threw punches and hand chops, breaking all kinds of household utensils in the mill such as bamboo baskets and rice sacks, grabbed and threw them at Duan Yu's feet.

There were more than ten corpses lying in the mill in disorder, and in addition to that, there were a lot of broken household utensils like this, where could Duan Yu still put his feet on? His 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' totally depended on advancing and retreating elegantly like the wind blowing on the water surface, being natural and unimpeded. But this moment, every step he took was hindered by objects, when he did not stumbled, he stepped on the heads and bodies of the corpses, therefore how could this important secret of 'floating freely like riding the wind' still be achieved? He knew that if he slowed down just a little he would be parted from his life instantly. Therefore he decisively did not look at the ground and only stepped according to the footwork that he had well practiced. Whether his steps were high or low, whether there were strange sounds under his feet, or whether the tips of his toes kicked something weird, he did not care at all.

Wang Yuyan also realized that the situation was not all right and shouted: 'Mr. Duan, you quickly rush out of here and run away by yourself, if you keep fighting him here, your life will be in danger.'

Duan Yu shouted: 'Unless I already get killed, that's unthinkable. As long as I can still breathe I'll protect you carefully.'

Li Yanzong sneered and said: 'Your martial arts are worthless, but you're the sentimental type, treating Miss Wang with deep affection and serious love like this.' Duan Yu shook his head and said: 'That's wrong, that's wrong. Miss Wang is like a god while I, Duan Yu, am just an ordinary man, how can I dare to talk about love or something like that? As she values me, she's willing to follow me to find her biaoge. I must repay her for this kind appreciation of me.' Li Yanzong said: 'Hum, she's following you to search for her biaoge Mr. Murong, so in her heart she thinks nothing of you at all. You have such wishful thinking, isn't that like a toad wanting to eat swan meat? Ha-ha, ha-ha! This can make me laugh to death!'

Duan Yu was not angry at all. He said solemnly: 'You say I'm like a toad and Miss Wang is like a swan, these comparisons are very correct. But I, the toad, am different than the other toads. As long as I see the swan several times, I am already satisfied and don't have any other wish.'

When Li Yanzong heard Duan Yu say 'I, the toad, am different than the other toads', he could not help laughing loudly. It was strange that even though his laughs were resonant his facial muscles were still stiff as usual, and his face did not have any smiling expression. Duan Yu had seen people like Prince Yanqing did not even move their lips while speaking therefore even though Li Yanzong had a strange appearance, he did not find it very surprising. He said: 'Speaking of wooden expression, you're still very far behind Prince Yanqing. You're not qualified to become his disciple as well.' Li Yanzong said: 'Who's Prince Yanqing?' Duan Yu said: 'He's a Dali expert. Your martial arts are quite inferior to his.' Actually he could not tell whether other people's martial arts were good or bad at all, but he thought that anyway I was going to die at your hands soon, there was no harm in saying a few words that were unpleasant to the ear to make you angry.

Li Yanzong let out a 'humph' sound and said: 'My martial arts are good or bad, how could a boy like you understand?' His mouth talked yet all the while the saber in his hand had still been brandished with great ease and more and more urgently.

Seeing that Duan Yu was swaying, his footsteps suddenly became disorderly, and the situation was very difficult, Wang Yuyan shouted: 'Mr. Duan, you quickly run to the outside, if you wanna hold him back, the outside is still the same.' Duan Yu said: 'You can't move, if you stay here alone my mind won't be at ease. There're many corpses here, a young girl like you is certainly scared, I'd better say here with you.' Wang Yuyan sighed and thought: 'You're so silly, taking into consideration even whether I'm afraid of corpses but disregarding the chance that you yourself will get killed in a flash.'

At that moment, whenever Duan Yu put his feet down he kicked or tripped on something. Several times the blade of the enemy passed by and missed the top of his head and his body by a hair's breadth. He was so scared that he trembled uncontrollably and continuously thought: 'If in a slash like this he cuts off half of my head, it certainly won't be fun. A gentleman is flexible. For the sake of Miss Wang, I'd better kneel down, kowtow and beg him to spare my life.' Even though he thought so, in the end he could not say it.

Li Yanzong sneered: 'I see that you are already extremely frightened and only wanna run away.' Duan Yu said: 'Life and death are important matters, who aren't frightened? After the death, everything will be ended. I already thought of running away but I can't run away.' Li Yanzong said: 'Why?' Duan Yu said: 'It's no use talking much. I'm counting from one to ten, if you still won't be able to kill me, you mustn't follow and cling to me like a leech. You can't kill me, I can't kill you either. If we keep playing hide and seek tediously like this, it would make Miss Wang, a bystander, feel very bored and unhappy.'

He opened his mouth and counted without waiting for Li Yanzong to agree: 'One; two; three…' Li Yanzong said: 'What's your stupid game?' Duan Yu kept counting: 'Four; five; six…' Li Yanzong laughed and said: 'Why on earth are there humdrum dudes like you? You've really disgraced the words 'Martial arts'.' Hu-hu-hu he slashed continuously three times. Duan Yu accelerated his footsteps, his mouth also counted faster: 'Seven; eight; nine; ten; eleven; twelve; thirteen… Okay, I've counted to thirteen yet you still haven't killed me, why haven't you admitted defeat? I see that you're already hungry. Your mouth is dry too. Just go to Songhe Tower in Wuxi, have some cups of wine and eat some delicacies, how pleasant!' Seeing that the enemy was unwilling to give up, he wanted to use wine and food to tempt him.

Li Yanzong thought: 'I've met countless tough enemies in my life, but none of them is like this dude. Saying that he's skilled is not correct but saying that he's stupid isn't correct either, his martial arts aren't good and aren't bad. He's rare in the world. If I keep being entangled with him, who knows where it'll all end? I'm afraid if I become slightly careless and get hit with his evil technique, I'll lose my life here instead. I must think of another surprising plan.' He knew that Duan Yu cared about Wang Yuyan very much therefore he suddenly raised his head, looked at the garret and shouted: 'Very good, very good, you guys quickly kill the girl then come down to help me.'

Duan Yu was very frightened, thinking that there were really enemies having climbed up to the garret to attack Wang Yuyan. He hastily raised his head. His footsteps became slightly slower. Li Yanzong made a sweep of his own leg which hit Duan Yu and sent him falling. His left foot stepped on the chest of Duan Yu and his steel saber was put on his neck. Duan Yu extended his finger wanting to poke, but Li Yanzong's right hand slightly increased pressure, the blade of the saber immediately went into his flesh several fen's (t/n: 1 fen = 0.3333 cm). He shouted: 'Make a move, and I'll cut your head off in an instant.'

At this moment, seeing clearly that there was no enemy on the garret Duan Yu immediately felt relaxed. He smiled and said: 'So you fooled me, Miss Wang is not in danger.' After that he sighed and said: 'What a pity, what a pity.' Li Yanzong asked: 'Pity what?' Duan Yu said: 'Your martial arts are very good. At first you could be regarded as a brave man so if I, Duan Yu, had died at your hands, it'd have made sense. But unexpectedly you couldn't beat me with martial arts. Instead you used a trick and followed the way of despicable scoundrels. Don't tell me that I won't die an unfair death?'

Li Yanzong said: 'I've never been incited by other people. If you think you'll die an unfair death and feel discontent, then bring a lawsuit to the King of Hell!'

Wang Yuyan shouted: 'General Li, hold on.' Li Yanzong said: 'What?' Wang Yuyan said: 'If you kill him, then unless you also kill me immediately, there'll be one day I'll kill you to avenge Mr. Duan.' Li Yanzong was startled and said: 'Didn't you say you wanted your biaoge to find me?' Wang Yuyan said: 'My biaoge's martial arts may not necessarily be better than yours but I have the ability to kill you.' Li Yanzong sneered and said: 'How do you know?' Wang Yuyan said: 'Though your knowledge about martial arts is extensive, it's still less than half of mine. At first when I saw that your saber technique had many varieties I had a high opinion of you, but after seeing fifty stances, I thought your saber technique was merely like that. It's seemingly unkind to say that 'all your tricks have been exhausted', but in brief, your knowledge is still far inferior to mine.' (T/n: All your tricks have been exhausted - 黔驴技穷 – Taken from Liao Zongyuan's 'Three Warnings: The Donkey of Qian' (Qian - Guizhou province) which literally means 'The tricks of the Donkey of Qian have been exhausted.')

Li Yanzong said: 'The saber technique I've used so far doesn't have two stances belonging to the same school. How do you know that my knowledge is far inferior to yours? How do you know if I still have many unused martial arts?'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Just now when you used the 'Flying Sand in the Great Desert' stance of Yushu School in Qinghai, Mr. Duan quickly stepped over, had you used the seventeenth stance of the 'Feathered Raiment Saber' of Taiyi School then used the 'Clear Wind Slowly Coming' stance of Lingfei School you'd have already flattened him. Why did you gotta be flashy and use the Hao Clan's Saber Technique of Shanxi? And why did you gotta use a trick, fooling him into losing concentration because of caring about me, to get a victory? I see that you don't know anything about saber techniques of Taoist schools (t/n: Taiyi School - 太乙派 – is a Taoist school).' Li Yanzong said without thinking: 'Saber techniques of Taoist schools?' Wang Yuyan said: 'Yes. I guess you think Taoists are only good at swordsmanship, but you don't know that the saber techniques of famous Taoist schools have softness in hardness, which is another achievement.' Li Yanzong sneered and said: 'Your words are really conceited. Saying like this, you must be passionately in love with this Duan-surnamed boy.'

Wang Yuyan blushed and said: 'Passionately in love what? I never have anything called 'love' for him. But he already dies for me so I certainly should be determined to avenge him.'

Li Yanzong asked: 'You won't regret saying this in any way?' Wang Yuyan said: 'Of course I won't regret at all.'

Li Yanzong let out some sneers, took out from his bosom a porcelain bottle and threw it onto Duan Yu's body. A 'shua' sound was heard, he had already put the saber back in its sheath. His silhouette then flashed, in an instant he was already on the outside. There was a neigh, followed by hoofbeats 'clop-clop'. Unexpectedly the rider made the horse run farther and farther, and thus he left.

Duan Yu stood up and stroked the trace of saber on his neck. It still felt a little pain. He felt as if he was dreaming. Wang Yuyan had not expected this to happen either. Both of them, one upstairs, one downstairs, gazed at each other, feeling both happy and surprised.

After a long while, Duan Yu said: 'He left.' Wang Yuyan also said: 'He left.' Duan Yu laughed: 'Excellent, excellent! He unexpectedly didn't kill me. Miss Wang, your accomplishments in martial arts outclass his, he was afraid of you.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Not necessarily, had he killed you, after that he'd have needed only one saber stance to kill me, wouldn't that have been neat and tidy?' Duan Yu scratched his head and said: 'That's right. But… But… Hum, he saw that you're just like a goddess, how could he dare to kill you?'

Wang Yuyan blushed and thought: 'A bookworm like you regards me as a god. But how could this kind of cruel and merciless Western Xia warrior care about me?'

Seeing that she suddenly had a shy expression, Duan Yu did not understand why and said: 'I wanted to disregard my life and keep you safe by all means. Unexpectedly, you're safe and sound, and I can still continue living my little life, this can be considered utmost luck.'

He took a step forwards, a 'dang' sound was heard, a small porcelain bottle had dropped on the ground. It was the bottle that Li Yanzong had thrown onto his body. He picked it up, had a look and saw that there were ten seal characters written on the bottle: 'A breath will instantly remove the Sad Weak Clear Wind.' Duan Yu muttered: 'What's the 'Sad Weak Clear Wind'? Hum, this's likely the antidote.' He pulled the stopper out of the bottle. An unbearably strange stinking smell went straight into his nose. Feeling dizzy and almost passing out, he was frightened and hastily put the stopper back in the bottle, then shouted: 'I'm fooled. I'm fooled. How stinking! It's like going into an abalone and fish market!' (T/n: An abalone and fish market - 鲍鱼之肆 – taken from the Analects of Confucius to emphasize the idea that Duan Yu was a bookworm.)

Wang Yuyan said: 'Please take it for me to sniff, maybe fighting poison with poison will prove effective.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes!' then brought the porcelain bottle to Wang Yuyan and said: 'This thing is very stinking and hard to bear, do you really wanna try?' Wang Yuyan nodded. Duan Yu held the stopper in his hand but he had not removed it yet.

In a very short time, countless thoughts spun in his mind: 'If this antidote is really useful and removes the poison inside her, she won't need to depend on my help. Her abilities are one hundred times better than mine, why would she want me to go with her? Even if she doesn't forbid me to follow her, when she meets the person of her heart Murong Fu, would I just stand to the side and helplessly watch them being affectionate endlessly towards each other? Hear them talking about love? Could it be that I, Duan Yu, really have this ability? Would I be able to stay calm and maintain my composure? Would I be able not to show any sulky expression and not to say any resentful word?'

Seeing him having a dazed expression and not saying a word, Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'What are you thinking? Just take it for me to sniff. I'm not afraid of the stink.' Duan Yu hastily said: 'Yes, yes!' then removed the stopper of the bottle and moved the bottle to Wang Yuyan's nose. Wang Yuyan took a deep breath then said in fright: 'A'yo, it's really stinking.' Duan Yu said: 'Yes. I already said it likely wasn't useful.' He wanted to put the bottle into his bosom but Wang Yuyan said: 'Let me try sniffing it one more time.' Duan Yu put the porcelain bottle next to Wang Yuyan's nose again. He himself did not know if he was hoping that the antidote would be effective or not.

Wang Yuyan frowned, covered up her nostrils with her hand, smiled and said: 'I'd rather be unable to move my limbs than sniff this stinking thing… Ah! My hand, my hand can move already!' It turned out she had already unconsciously raised her right hand and covered her nostrils with it. Previously, it had been very strenuous and difficult for her to even press and keep the clothes wrapping around her body immobile.

As she was happy, she took the bottle in Duan Yu' hand and sniffed it deeply. Knowing that this stinking gas was very effective, she did not fear it anymore and took several sniffs. The softness and weakness in her limbs gradually faded away. She turned towards Duan Yu and said: 'Can you please go downstairs? I wanna change clothes.'

Duan Yu hastily said: 'Yes, yes!' and quickly went downstairs. Seeing that corpses were lying everywhere, and except for the couple of young peasants the rest had been killed at his own hands, he felt extremely regretful. He saw that the eyes of a Western Xia warrior were still wide opened and looking at him. Really, that man had died with an everlasting grievance. He made a deep bow and said: 'Old chap, if I hadn't killed you, then you would've killed me. At that time lying here wouldn't have been you but would've been Duan Yu instead. I had no alternative, but my mind really is extremely unease and regretful. In the future when I've returned to Dali, I will definitely invite eminent monks to chant scriptures and release the souls of all of you from suffering.' He turned around, cast a look at the corpses of the couple of young peasants, then turned his head towards the corpses of the Western Xia warriors and said: 'I was the person you wanna kill and Miss Wang was the person you wanna capture, why did you gotta kill innocent people?'

Wang Yuyan had finished changing clothes. She took the wet clothes and went down using the ladder. Her limbs were still slightly aching and weak. Seeing Duan Yu looking at the corpses and mumbling endlessly she smiled and asked: 'What are you saying?' Duan Yu said: 'I only feel that having killed this many people, my mind is deeply regretful and uneasy.'

Wang Yuyan muttered: 'Mr. Duan, you think why that Western Xia warrior surnamed Li gave me the antidote?'

Duan Yu said: 'This… this… I don't know either… Ah… I already know. He… he…' He said the word 'He' continuously several times. Inwardly he wanted to continue saying: 'He must have started to admire you.' But he thought if he said that a rude and cruel Western Xia warrior like this man had started to admire Wang Yuyan, wouldn't that offend the belle? She is incomparably beautiful and all people have a love for beauty, if everyone admired her, what would be so rare about this great admiration I, Duan Yu, have for her? Wouldn't I and every other man in the world be exactly alike? Alas, being willing to die for her, what's so amazing about it? Let alone I haven't died for her. Thinking to here, he said: 'I… I don't know.'

Wang Yuyan said: 'Maybe there're Western Xia warriors coming in large quantities. We must leave quickly. You say where should we go to?' In her heart she naturally wanted to go find her biaoge, but she found it embarrassing to say it straightforwardly like that.

Duan Yu knew clearly what her worries were therefore he said: 'Where do you wanna go to?' Asking this question he felt greatly distressed in his heart. He only waited for her to say 'I wanna go find my biaoge' to put on a bold face and say: 'I'll go with you.'

Wang Yuyan twiddled with the porcelain bottle in her hand, blushed and said: 'This… this…' After a while she continued: 'The brave men of the Beggar Society have been poisoned with this 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' poison, if my biaoge was here, he might take the antidote for them to sniff. Besides, I'm afraid A'Zhu and A'Bi have already fallen into the hands of the enemies…'

Duan Yu jumped up and said loudly: 'Yes! The two ladies A'Zhu and A'Bi are in danger. We must immediately go forwards and think of a way to save them.'

Wang Yuyan thought: 'This matter is very dangerous. Depending on the abilities of two of us, how can we save people from the hands of Western Xia warriors? But A'Zhu and A'Bi are trusted maids of my biaoge, I already know that they've fallen into the hands of the enemy, how is it possible not to save them? There's no choice but to play it by ear.' She then said: 'Very good, let's go.'

Duan Yu pointed at the corpses lying in disorder on the ground and said: 'We must bury them properly and investigate the name of each one, then at the grave of each person we must set up a tombstone. Someday, when their families come here to look for their remains to move to their native lands, there'll be a piece of evidence.'

Wang Yuyan giggled and said: 'Okay, you stay here to take care of their funeral arrangements. Dressing and laying them in coffins, burying them, issuing obits, receiving condolences, reading funeral addresses, making couplets, performing memorial services, releasing hungry ghosts, it seems there're also things like the first seventh day, the second seventh day and so on. After seven times seven equaling forty nine days, you go notify their families' members one after another for them to come here for moving the remains and reburial.' (T/n: Things that need to be done in a traditional Chinese funeral.)

Duan Yu noticed that there was a mocking undertone in her words. After thinking, he himself also found what he wanted to do unsuitable. He also smiled and said: 'In your opinion, what should we do?' Wang Yuyan said: 'Burning up everything with a fire, wouldn't that be better?' Duan Yu said: 'This… hum, doesn't it seem to be too disrespectful?' He muttered to himself for a long while, then seeing that there was not any better way he had no choice but to go find kindling and ignited the stack of straws in the mill. In a short period of time after they got to the outside of the mill a fierce flame rose high into the air and blazed chaotically.

Duan Yu respectfully knelt down, kowtowed and said: 'Forms and bodies are impermanent, and cannot be maintained forever. You brothers today lost your lives at my hands. Perhaps that's the karmic retribution for your previous lives. I hope your souls will go to the Paradise and escape from the sufferings of the Samsara forever. Please don't blame me, please don't blame me.' Only after mumbling for a long while did he stand up.

There were ten horses tethered under the tree outside of the mill. They were the horses that the Western Xia warriors had ridden. Duan Yu and Wang Yuyan each rode a horse and ran along the wide road. They vaguely heard 'tang-tang' sounds of gongs and a hullabaloo of people shouting, peasants in the neighborhood was rushing to the mill to fight fire.

Duan Yu said: 'Oh well, a big mill was burnt because of me, I feel extremely sorry.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Why are you saying so many womanish words like this? Though my mother is a woman, she acts straightforwardly and resolutely. When she says she'll do something, she'll definitely do it. You're a man, yet you have so many worries and rules.' Duan Yu thought: 'Your mother frequently kills people, uses human flesh to make a fertilizer for flowers, how can I be a match for her?' He said: 'I killed so many people like this for the first time and set other people's house on fire, so unavoidably I feel somewhat frightened and disturbed.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Hum! That's right, someday when you've got used to it, you wouldn't be concerned.' Duan Yu was startled. He waved his hand repeatedly and said: 'Absolutely impossible, absolutely impossible. One time is already excessive, how can it be done once more? (T/n: 一之为甚,其可再乎 – Duan Yu took this sentence directly from Zuo Zhuan 左传) Things like killing people and committing arson can't be done again.'

Wang Yuyan and he were riding their horses side by side. She turned her head and looked at him. Feeling very surprised, she said: 'In jianghu, things like killing people and committing arson happen every day. Mr. Duan, from now on you wash your hands of them and no longer get involved in jianghu right?' Duan Yu said: 'My bofu (伯父 – father's elder brother) and my father wanted me to learn martial arts. I said I wouldn't agree to learn anything. Unexpectedly the situation became critical and eventually still forced me to learn. Alas, I don't know how I should act.' Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'So your ambitions are to study and become an official then in the future become a scholar or prime minister, right?' Duan Yu said: 'That's not true either. There ain't anything interesting about being an official.' Wang Yuyan said: 'So what do you wanna do? Could it be that you, you're just like my biaoge, day and night wanting to be an emperor?' Duan Yu asked in surprise: 'Mr. Murong wants to be an emperor?'

Wang Yuyan blushed because she had unconsciously revealed the secret of her biaoge. After the battle in the mill, in which she and Duan Yu had gone through trials and tribulations together and narrowly escaped death, she felt that his nature was affable and she could talk about just anything in front of him, but the high ambition to wholeheartedly restore the former state of Yan of Murong Fu after all should not be let out. She said: 'These words were blurted out by me. Please make sure you don't tell anyone else about them. Furthermore, you shouldn't mention them in front of my biaoge either, or else he might blame me a lot.'

Duan Yu felt grieved in his heart and thought: 'Why are you so worried like this? If your biaoge wanna blame you, then just let him blame.' But he had to reply: 'Okay, I just don't care about your biaoge's unimportant businesses. If he was an emperor, fine, if he was a beggar, also fine, I don't care at all.'

Wang Yuyan blushed again, feeling that his tone was sulky, she softly said: 'Mr. Duan, are you angry?'

Since they had become acquainted with each other, Duan Yu had always seen that she totally thought and talked about her biaoge Mr. Murong. This was the first time she had talked to him sincerely with gentle words like this therefore he could not help but feel elated and burst with joy, almost falling down from the saddle. He hastily sat stably, smiled and said: 'No, no. What am I angry about? Miss Wang, all my life, I will never ever be angry with you.'

Wang Yuyan devoted all of her affections to her biaoge. Even though Duan Yu had disregarded his own life to save her, she only felt grateful for his kindness and admired his heroic and righteous heart. At this moment, hearing him saying 'all my life, I will never ever be angry with you' in an extremely sincere manner, just like taking an oath, she suddenly realized: 'He… he… Is he confessing his affection for me?' She could not help feeling ashamed to the extent that all of her face became very red. She slowly bowed her head and softly said: 'You're not angry, then that's good.'

Duan Yu was delighted, for the moment he did not know what to say. After a while, he said: 'I don't want anything. I only hope it'd be like this forever. This can make me perfectly satisfied. I have no other demand.' The words 'it'd be like this forever' only meant riding two horses side by side with her.

Wang Yuyan did not like to hear him talk like that again, her pretty face slightly darkened, she said solemnly: 'Mr. Duan, your great kindness of saving my life today, I will never forget. But my heart… my heart has long belonged to another person. I hope you'll talk with politeness so that at some future time we'll still be able to see each other.'

These few sentences hit Duan Yu like an extremely heavy stick, making him see flashes of light fluttering before his eyes and almost pass out.

The meaning of her words could not be clearer: 'My heart has long belonged to Mr. Murong. From now on, you can't say any word of admiration, if not I can't see you again. Don't flatter yourself that because you did me a kindness you can vainly covet me.' These few sentences were not immoderate at all and Duan Yu also already knew her feelings, but this time she personally said them, therefore when he heard her words, the taste was really hard to bear. He took a furtive glance at Wang Yuyan to see her expression. Seeing that she looked solemn, really no different to the jade statue in the stone cave in Dali, he could not help but feel that a catastrophe was about to befall him. He thought: 'Duan Yu ah Duan Yu, you've already met this lady, but her heart has long belonged to another man. In this life, you're destined to suffer all kinds of torments and to be indescribably miserable.'

Two of them kept riding side by side in silence. No one said a word again.

Wang Yuyan thought: 'He's likely being angry, very angry. But I'd better pretend that I don't know about it. If this time I apologized to him, later he'd likely always follow me and say these dubious words. If they reached biaoge, biaoge would definitely be unhappy.' Duan Yu thought: 'If I say a sentence that reveals my feelings for her once more, wouldn't that be frivolous and boring, and be disrespectful to her? From now on, Duan Yu'd rather die than say half of any of these sentences again.' Wang Yuyan thought: 'He doesn't say a sentence and just rides the horse straight forwards, most probably he knows where to go to save A'Zhu and A'Bi.' Duan Yu also thought like this: 'She doesn't say a sentence and just rides the horse straight forwards, most probably she knows where to go to save A'Zhu and A'Bi.'

After going for roughly a meal's time, they arrived at an intersection. Two of them coincidentally said at the same time: 'Turn left or turn right?' After exchanging a questioning look, they asked at the same time again: 'You don't know the way? Alas, I thought that you knew.' After saying those two sentences, both of them found this totally amusing and laughed heartily together. The heavy atmosphere of just a moment ago was swept away.

But they knew nothing about affairs in jianghu, after discussing for a long time, they still could not figure out where they should go to save people. In the end Duan Yu said: 'They captured a large number of the Beggar Society's members. Regardless of whether they have killed them or are still keeping them prisoners, there're always some traces we can look for. We'd better return to the apricot forest to see first then talk later.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Return to the apricot forest? If those Western Xia warriors are still there, wouldn't we hurl ourselves willingly into the net?' Duan Yu said: 'I think after such heavy rain just now they're certainly gone. Okay, you'll wait for me outside of the apricot forest. I'll quietly go inside to have a look. If the enemies really are still there, we'll turn around and run away immediately.'

Very soon two of them agreed that Duan Yu would use the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' to rush to A'Zhu and A'Bi, let them sniff that bottle of the stinking antidote, then after the detoxification think of a way to save them.

After identifying the way, two of them made the horses run very fast, in a short time they already arrived at the outside of the forest. They got off the horses and tied them to an apricot tree. Duan Yu held the porcelain bottle in his hand and walked on tiptoe into the forest.

There was full of mud inside the forest, the underbrush was still soaking with beads of water. Duan Yu scanned around, and there was not a single soul in sight. He shouted: 'Miss Wang, there's no one here.' Wang Yuyan ran into the forest and said: 'They're really gone. Let's go into Wuxi city to scout for information.' Duan Yu said: 'Very good.' Thinking that he would be able to ride horses side by side with her on another stretch of road, he felt very happy and could not refrain from showing a smiling expression on his face.

Wang Yuyan said in surprise: 'I said something wrong?' Duan Yu hastily said: 'No. Let's go into Wuxi city.' Wang Yuyan said: 'Then why are you smiling?' Duan Yu turned his head away, not daring to look squarely at Wang Yuyan, smiled and said: 'Sometimes I can smile foolishly, you don't need to pay attention to it.' Wang Yuyan found it funny and also let out some laughs. As soon as this happened, Duan Yu could not help laughing loudly ha-ha.

Chapter - 18 The Hero Had to Exhaust His Tears Because of the Hu-han Gratitude And Rancor.

Two of them gently controlled the bridles and let the horses run slowly to Wuxi. After going for several li (t/n: 0.5 km) they suddenly saw a corpse hanging on a roadside pine tree. Judging from the clothes, it was a Western Xia warrior. Going for several more zhang's (t/n: 3.333 m), they saw two corpses of Western Xia warriors lying beside a hillside. The blood on the wounds had not yet been dry. They had died not long ago. Duan Yu said: 'These Western Xia men had met opponents, Miss Wang, you think who killed them?' Wang Yuyan said: 'This man's martial arts are extremely good, killing people just by raising his hands, and without the slightest effort. He's really terrific. Yi, who's there?'

They saw on the wide road there were two horses coming side by side. One of the two people riding the horses was wearing a red gown, and the other was wearing a green gown. They were none other than A'Zhu and A'Bi. Duan Yu was very happy. He shouted: 'Miss A'Zhu, Miss A'Bi, you have escaped from dangers! Good, extremely good! Wonderful!'

The four people rode their horses and gathered. They all felt very happy. A'Zhu said: 'Miss Wang, Mr. Duan, why do you return? I and Sister A'Bi were thinking of going to look for 'you'.' (T/n: you – plural) Duan Yu said: 'We were also looking for you.' As he finished saying he cast a look at Wang Yuyan, thinking that if he could be grouped together with her in 'we', that would really be a great honor. Wang Yuyan said: 'How did you escape? Have you sniffed that stinking bottle?' A'Zhu smiled and said: 'It's really extremely stinking, Miss, you've also sniffed it? It was also Chief Qiao who saved you?' Wang Yuyan said: 'No. Mr. Duan saved me. You were saved by Chief Qiao?'

Hearing her personally say the sentence 'Mr. Duan saved me', Duan Yu felt buoyant as if he was on cloud nine, after that he felt giddy, and almost fell down from horseback.

A'Zhu said: 'Yes, after I and A'Bi were poisoned, we were in a daze and could not move. Together with the Beggar Society's people, we were tied up by those Western Xia barbarians then put on horseback. After going for a while, it started to rain heavily so they divided the task of finding a rain shelter among themselves then dispersed. Several Western Xia warriors took me and A'Bi into a summerhouse over there to avoid the rain. Only when the heavy rain had stopped did they go out. At that time, in the back there was someone coming on a horse. He was Chief Qiao. Seeing two of us being tied up by Western Xia men he was very surprised. When he hadn't asked any question, I and A'Bi already shouted: 'Chief Qiao, save me!' As soon as those Western Xia warriors heard the two words 'Chief Qiao', they one after another drew their weapons to kill him. As a result, some were hung on a pine tree, some rolled down a hillside, and some fell into a brook.'

Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'That's what happened just now, right?'

A'Zhu said: 'Yes. I said: 'Chief Qiao, I and my sister are poisoned, sorry to trouble you, but could you search for the antidote on the Western Xia barbarians' bodies please?' Chief Qiao ferreted out a small porcelain bottle on the corpse of a Western Xia warrior. Whether it was sweet or stinking, there's no need to talk much about that.'

Wang Yuyan asked: 'Where's Chief Qiao?' A'Zhu said: 'Hearing that the Beggar Society's people had all been poisoned and captured he said he wanted to go save them and hurriedly left. He also asked about Mr Duan, looking very concerned.' Duan Yu sighed and said: 'This sworn big brother of mine really has a deep and serious sense of personal loyalty.' A'Zhu said: 'The Beggar Society's people couldn't tell good and bad apart and drove away a good Chief. Now they're suffering from their own actions, serves them right. In my opinion, Chief Qiao doesn't need to save them at all. Just let them taste some misfortunes. See if they'll still rashly expel people?' Duan Yu said: 'My sword big brother is a faithful man. He'd rather have other people turn their backs on him but he himself won't agree to turn his back on them.'

A'Bi said: 'Miss Wang, where are we going now?' Wang Yuyan said: 'At first I and Mr Duan discussed that we had to go save you two. Now all the four of us are safe. This really can't be better. The Beggar Society's affairs aren't related to us at all. In my opinion, let's to Shaolin Monastery to look for your young master, is that okay?' What the two pretty girls A'Zhu and A'Bi cared for the most was also Mr Murong, hearing her say so they clapped their hands and cheered at the same time. Duan Yu felt very grieved but he calmly said: 'This young master of yours, I really admire him very much, and must meet him by all means. Anyway there's nothing to do so I'll follow you to Shaolin Monastery one time.'

Immediately the four people turned their horses and went towards the north. Wang Yuyan and the two pretty girls A'Zhu and A'Bi continuously smiled and talked about things like how dangerous it had been in the mill, how Duan Yu had dealt with the enemies, and how Li Yanzong, a Western Xia warrior, had spared their lives and given them the antidote in detail. A'Zhu and A'Bi were surprised ceaselessly.

Whenever the three young girls talked to an interesting part, they chuckled and often turned their heads and looked at Duan Yu. They used their sleeves to cover up their mouths but also did not dare to laugh freely. Duan Yu knew they were talking about his own foolish actions, but thinking that even though he had acted like a clown, in the end he had protected Wang Yuyan carefully, he could not help feeling both ashamed and somewhat proud; seeing that the three young girls were very close to each other and were treating him as a complete outsider, he thought that at this moment it was already like this, wait until they met Mr Murong, he himself would naturally have no place to take shelter, Murong Fu would probably be like Bao Butong and would drive himself away without any courtesy. The more he thought the more bored and apathetic he felt.

After going for several li's (t/n: 1 li = 0.5 km) and passing through a big wood of mulberry trees, they suddenly heard the sounds of two boys crying at the edge of the wood. The four people urged their horses forward and saw that they were two fourteen or fifteen year old little Buddhist novices. Their Buddhist robes were full of bloodstains. One of them was even injured in the forehead. A'Bi softly asked: 'Little monks, who bullied you? Why are you injured?'

The Buddhist novice who was not injured in the forehead cried and said: 'There were lots and lots of foreign villains coming to the temple. They killed our master and chased the two of us away.' When the four people heard the two words 'foreign villains', they all looked at each other and thought: 'Are they those Western Xia men?' A'Zhu asked: 'Where's your temple? Who are the foreign villains?' That little Buddhist novice said: 'We're from Tianning Temple, over there…' As he finished saying he pointed to the northeast and said again: 'Those foreigners had captured more than one hundred beggars and went into the temple to avoid the rain. They demanded wine and meat and also wanted to kill fowls and cattle. Our master said that was a sin and did not let them kill the cattle in the temple. They then killed our master and more than ten apprentice brothers in the temple, boohoo, boohoo.' A'Zhu asked: 'Have they gone?' The little Buddhist novice pointed to the wisp of kitchen smoke that was rising and waving in the wind behind the mulberry wood and said: 'They're cooking cattle meat. What a sin. Bodhisattva bless, please throw these foreigners into the Avici Hell.' A'Zhu said: 'You should quickly run a little far away from here. If you two get caught by those foreigners, they'll butcher and eat you.' Frightened, the two little Buddhist novices staggered away.

Duan Yu disapproved of that and said: 'The two of them already have no way out. Sister A'Zhu, why did you need to threaten them?' A'Zhu smiled and said: 'This wasn't threatening. What I said was the truth.' A'Bi said: 'The Beggar Society's people have already been kept prisoners in that Tianning Temple but Chief Qiao has pursued in the direction of Wuxi city. He's certainly rushed for nothing.'

A'Zhu suddenly had an odd idea and said: 'Miss Wang, I wanna disguise myself as Chief Qiao and sneak in the temple, then throw that stinking bottle for the beggars to sniff. After they've escaped from danger, they'll sure feel very grateful to Chief Qiao.' Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'Chief Qiao is big in stature and is a tall muscular man. How can you disguise yourself as him?' A'Zhu smiled and said: 'The harder it gets, the more obvious A'Zhu's skills are.' Wang Yuyan smiled and said: 'You can make yourself look like Chief Qiao, but you can't immitate his unmatched extraordinary skills. There're full of Western Xia's First-class Hall's experts in Tianning Temple, how can you come and go freely? In my opinion, disguishing yourself as a cook or an old peasant woman who sells vegetables would make it a bit easier to sneak in.' A'Zhu said: 'You want me to disguise as an old peasant woman. There's nothing interesting about it. I'm not going.'

Wang Yuyan looked at Duan Yu, wanting to say something but not being able to say it. Duan Yu asked: 'Miss, what do you wanna say?' Wang Yuyan said: 'I just wanted to ask you to disguise as a person, and go with A'Zhu to Tianning Temple, but after considering I find it inappropriate.' Duan Yu said: 'Who do you want me to disguise as?' Wang Yuyan said: 'The brave men of the Beggar Society have a very suspicious mind. They've wrongly accused my biaoge and Chief Qiao of colluding with each other and killing their Vice-Chief Ma. If… if… my biaoge and Chief Qiao free them from difficult situations, then they won't blindly suspect anymore.' Duan Yu felt very sad and said: 'You want me to disguise as your biaoge?' The white face of Wang Yuyan reddened. She said: 'The enemies in Tianning Temple are very strong so it'll be very dangerous for you two to go like this. Not going is still better.'

Duan Yu thought: 'I'll do whatever you want me to do. Even if my body is ground to dust I won't hesitate.' Suddenly he also thought: 'When I've disguised as her biaoge, maybe her manner towards me will be a bit different. It'll also be good to conveniently enjoy her tenderness in a short while.' Thinking to here, he could not help feeling very excited and said: 'What's so dangerous about it? Running away is exactly my speciality.'

Wang Yuyan said: 'I already said it was inappropriate. My biaoge kills the enemies as easily as turning his hand over, and has never run away.' As soon as Duan Yu heard that, he felt a stream of cold air running straight down from the top of his head. He thought: 'Your biaoge is a great hero and a great person of exceptional abilities. I'm just not suitable to disguise as him. If I imitate him and make a fool of myself in front of other people, that'll certainly desecrate his reputation.' Seeing that he was being in low spirits, A'Bi said to console him: 'The enemies outnumber us so it's urgent that we temporarily step aside. We only wanna save people, and not to become well-known by competing in martial arts.'

A'Zhu's pair of clever eyes looked at Duan Yu from the head to the feet to size him up. After quite a while she nodded and said: 'Mr Duan, it's really quite hard for you to disguise as our young master. Luckily, the Beggar Society's people have never known our young master, so we only need a person that generally looks and sounds like him.' Duan Yu said: 'Your skills are great, it's suitable for you to disguise as Chief Qiao. Otherwise, because Chief Qiao was the man that the Beggar Society's people met daily, if there's a little bit of flaw, our true identities will immediately be exposed.' A'Zhu smiled and said: 'Chief Qiao is a stately man but it's easy for me to disguise as him. Our young master is almost the same as you in stature, his age is also not older than yours too much, both of you are young masters of influential families and like to study, but if we want you to give up your true appearance and change into a Mr Murong, that's really very hard.'

Duan Yu sighed and said: 'Mr Murong is a phoenix or dragon among people, how can other people imitate him perfectly (Duan Yu's words are 邯郸学步 – learn to walk the Handan style – taken from 'Zhuangzi – Autumn Water')? I think it'd still be better if in disguise I don't look very similar to him, otherwise when I run away, wouldn't that damage Mr Murong's distinct and good reputation?'

Wang Yuyan blushed and said in a low voice: 'Mr Duan, I made a slip of the tongue, are you still angry with me?' Duan Yu hastily said: 'No, no, how do I dare to be angry with you?'

Wang Yuyan gave a charming smile and said: 'Sister A'Zhu, where're you two going to disguise?' A'Zhu said: 'To able to buy the things for application we gotta go to a small town.'

The four people turned their horses and went westward. After going for seven or eight li's, they arrived in a small town called Ma Lang Qiao. That town was very small and did not have any inn. A'Zhu came up with an idea. She hired a boat and anchored it in the middle of a river. After that she went buy clothes and necessary things, and disguised on the boat. In Jiangnan, there were small rivers everywhere, and there were a lot of boats, no less than the livestock of the North.

She helped Duan Yu change clothes and made up for him first, letting him hold a folding fan in his right hand, wear a blue robe and wear a ring on his right finger. A'Zhu said: 'Our young master wears a Han-dynasty jade ring, but where to buy it here? Use Qingtian stone to imitate is also okay.' Duan Yu could only force a smile and thought: 'Murong Fu is a precious jade item. I'm a lowly stone. In the viewpoints of these three young girls, the respective positions of the two of us are also like that.' A'Zhu spread flour on his face, made his nose look higher, and made his cheeks look rather fuller. Then she took a pen and altered his eyebrows and the edge of his eyes. After disguising Duan Yu, she smiled to Wang Yuyan: 'Miss Wang, do you think there's still any dissimilarity?'

Wang Yuyan did not answer and only looked at him in a trance. Her eyes were filled with affectionate feelings. Obviously she was smitten and her mind was wandering high in the air.

As soon as seeing this infatuated look of hers, Duan Yu could not help feeling as if he was floating. But he immediately thought: 'She's looking at Murong Fu and not looking at Duan Yu at all.' He also thought: 'I wonder how handsome that Murong Fu guy is. How can he be one hundred times better-looking than me? It's a pity I can't see myself.' For a while he felt happy, then for another while he felt sad.

The two people looked at each other, thoughts surging in their respective minds. They did not know that A'Zhu and A'Bi had already gone to the back of the cabin to disguise themselves.

After a good while, they suddenly heard the husky voice of a man: 'Ah, so you're here, it was so painful for your big brother to find you.' Frightened, Duan Yu raised his head and saw the person who had just said was Qiao Feng. He could not help feeling very happy and said: 'Big brother, it's you, this's very good. We're about to disguise as you to go save people, now you've personally come here, sister A'Zhu doesn't need to disguise anymore.'

Qiao Feng said: 'The Beggar Society's people have expelled me from the Society, whether they're dead or alive, I don't care. Good brother, come here, come here, let's disembark and go for a drink. We'll drink twenty bowls of wine.' Duan Yu hastily said: 'Big brother, the Beggar Society's brave men are all your former good brothers, can you please still go save them?' Qiao Feng angrily said: 'What does a bookworm like you know? Come here. Go for a drink with me!' As he finished saying he grabbed Duan Yu's hand. Duan Yu had no choice but to say: 'Okay, I'll go for a drink with you first. After drinking wine we'll save people!'

Qiao Feng suddenly giggled in a lovely manner, his laughs sounded clear and graceful. It was really suprising that a big and tall man could be uttering this kind of girlish laugh. Duan Yu was startled but he immediately understood, smiled and said: 'Sister A'Zhu, your disguising skills are really extremely fantastic. Even the voice and words are imitated so well like this.'

A'Zhu changed to Qiao Feng's voice and said: 'Good brother, let's go. Make sure you bring that stinking bottle.' She turned towards Wang Yuyan and A'Bi and said: 'The two ladies had better wait here.' As she finished saying she held Duan Yu's hand and strode onshore. No one knew what she had applied to her hand. It was a delicate small white hand, yet when held out, it unexpectedly looked swarthy. Even though it was smaller than Qiao Feng's hand, in short periods of time it was still hard for other people to distinguish.

Wang Yuyan looked at the back of Duan Yu. She only thought: 'If he really was biaoge, that'd be so good. Biaoge, at this moment are you also thinking about me?'

A'Zhu and Duan Yu rode their horses towards Tianning Temple. When they were about five li's away from the temple, fearing that the Western Xia warriors in the temple could hear the hoofbeats, they tied the horses in the cattle stall of a farmhouse and went forwards on foot.

A'Zhu said: 'Brother Murong, after arriving at the temple, I'll talk big, brag and terrify them, you'll seize the opportunity to remove the poison in the Beggar Society's people with the stinking bottle.' She said these few sentences in a deep gruff voice, just like the way Qiao Feng spoke. Duan Yu smiled and replied.

The two people strode to the outside of Tianning Temple. They only saw more than ten Western Xia warriors standing at the gate of the temple, holding long sabers in their hands and looking very fierce. When A'Zhu and Duan Yu saw that, they got nervous and could not help feeling terrified. A'Zhu said in a low voice: 'Mr Duan, after a while you must pull me and run away at high speed, otherwise if they wanna find and challenge me in martial arts, that can be hard to handle.' Duan Yu said: 'Okay.' But he said this word in a trembling voice. In fact, he also felt extremely scared.

While the two people were discussing in a low voice and sticking their heads out and looking around, a Western Xia warrior at the gate already saw them and shouted loudly: 'Two bastards standing over there, it's not nice to be sneaky, are you spies?' As he was shouting, four other warriors rushed out.

A'Zhu had no alternative but to hold forth her chest and stride forwards. She said in a rough voice: 'Quickly inform your General that Qiao Feng of the Beggar Society and Murong Fu of Jiangnan come to pay General He Lian of Western Xia a visit.'

The head warrior was astonished when he heard that. He hastily cupped his fist in his hand, bowed and said: 'So it's Chief Qiao of the Beggar Society visiting. Please pardon us for being disrespectful. I will report right away.' He immediately turned around and quickly stepped inside the temple. The rest respectfully dangled their hands and stood to the sides.

Before long, sounds of bugles were heard, the gate of was opened wide. The Hall Master of First-class Hall of Western Xia He Lian Tie Shu led the experts like Nu Erhai out to welcome. Ye Erniang, South Sea Divine Alligator and Yun Zhonghe were also among them. Duan Yu lowered his head and did not dare to look directly at them, his heart pounding.

He Lian Tie Shu said: 'I have long admired the great reputation of 'Murong of Gusu' with the 'Paying Him Back Using His Own Methods' technique. Today, being able to meet the worthy, I felt honored, ah, really honored.' As he finished saying he cupped his fist in his hand to Duan Yu in salute. Because 'First-class Hall' of Western Xia and the Beggar Society had become the enemies of each other, he thought there was no need to act polite towards Qiao Feng.

Duan Yu hastily returned the salute and said: 'General He Lian's reputation has reached the edges of the seas so I have long been looking forward to meeting the heroes and great men of First-class Hall. Today our arrival is very sudden, hopefully you'll be magnanimous enough to forgive this.' He was already very good at saying these fanciful polite words therefore they sounded grandiose and did not have any flaw.

He Lian Tie Shu said: 'I've often heard people in wulin say: 'North Qiao Feng, South Murong', and when talking about heroes of the Central Plains, they choose the two of you as the leading figures. Today the two of you visit here at the same time, how fortunate! Please, please.' He then bent his body and invited the two people to enter the main hall of the temple.

A'Zhu and Duan Yu put on a bold face and went side by side with He Lian Tie Shu. Duan Yu thought: 'Judging from the words and manner of this Western Xia general, it seems he respects Mr Murong more than he respects my big brother Qiao. Could it be that this Murong Fu guy's martial arts and personality are one level above big brother Qiao's? As I see, this's improbable, improbable.'

Suddenly there was a strange voice: 'Improbable, improbable.' Startled, Duan Yu turned his head and looked at that person. It was South Sea Divine Alligator. He was squinting at Duan Yu at a slant with a pair of eyes which were as small as beans, and only shook his head. Duan Yu's heart palpitated. He thought: 'Terrible, terrible! Perhaps I was recognized by him.' He heard South Sea Divine Alligator say: 'Looks like you have less than three taels of bones (t/n: in ancient China, 1 tael ~ 38 g), what the heck are you capable of? Hey, I ask you. They say you can 'Pay Him Back Using His Own Methods', I, Yue Laoer (t/n: Yue the Second), certainly don't believe so.' Duan Yu immediately felt relieved: 'So he doesn't recognize me at all.' He heard South Sea Divine Alligator say again: 'I don't need you to show your skills either. I only ask you, do you know what Yue Laoer's special skills are? What fvcking skills you'll use to deal with me to be regarded as fvcking 'Paying Your Father Back Using Your Father's Own Methods'?' Saying to here he stood with arms akimbo, looking arrogant.

He Lian Tie Shu at first had wanted to talk to stop him, but he changed his mind. Murong Fu had a great reputation, but whether the name matched the reality, there was no harm in checking it out through this crazy South Sea Divine Alligator. Therefore at that moment he did not interrupt him at all.

While talking, they had already entered the main hall. He Lian Tie Shu invited Duan Yu to sit at the top but Duan Yu gave the top position up to A'Zhu.

South Sea Divine Alligator said loudly: 'Hey, Mr Murong, you say, what's my best skill?' Duan Yu smiled and thought: 'If other people ask me, I really won't be able answer. But you asked me, that's a lucky coincidence.' He instantly opened his folding fan, flapped it gently several times and said: 'South Sea Divine Alligator Yue Laosan (t/n: Yue the Third), originally your best skill was twisting off other people's necks in a clack sound. In recent years your skills have improved. At the moment the martial arts that you're most pleased with are the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors. To deal with you, naturally I'll use the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors.'

He mentioned the names of the Alligator-Tailed Whip and the Alligator-Mouthed Scissors in one go. Certainly South Sea Divine Alligator was so surprised that his jaw dropped. Even Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe were also extremely surprised. South Sea Divine Alligator had just practiced these two weapons recently and had never put them to use in front of other people. He had only used them once when fighting Yun Zhonghe atop Mt. Wuliang in Dali. At that time, no one else besides Mu Wanqing had seen the weapons. But they could never have thought Mu Wanqing had already told this fake Mr Murong of the present about that from beginning to end.

South Sea Divine Alligator tilted his head and looked carefully at Duan Yu. Even though he was ferocious and ruthless, he admired heroes and brave men. After a while, he gave a thumb up and said: 'Good skill!' Duan Yu laughed and said: 'That's a laugh.' South Sea Divine Alligator thought: 'He could mention even the weapons I've mastered recently, there's no need to ask him about my remaining martial arts. Too bad big brother is not here, otherwise he'd put him to the test. Ah, I got it!' He said loudly: 'Mr Murong, you can use my martial arts, there's nothing strange and rare about that, but if my master comes here, you sure won't know his martial arts.' Duan Yu smiled and said: 'Who's your master? What extraordinary skills does he have?' South Sea Divine Alligator laughed and said boastfully: 'Needless to say, the master who first taught me martial arts passed away long ago. But the skills of my newly recognized master are no small matter. Let's not talk about the other things, just the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' alone, I believe no second person in the world knows.'

Duan Yu muttered: 'The 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps', hum, that's truly an amazing technique. Who would have expected Mr Duan of Dali to accept you as his disciple? But I somewhat don't believe this.' South Sea Divine Alligator hastily said: 'Why do I need to fool you? A lot of people here personally heard Mr Duan call me disciple.' Duan Yu laughed up his sleeve: 'At first you'd rather die than agree to call me master, but now you fear that I don't recognize you as disciple.' He then said: 'Hum, if so, you most probably have already acquired your master's unique skill? Congrats! Congrats!'

South Sea Divine Alligator shook his head continuously and said: 'I haven't, I haven't! You claim that you know every martial arts technique in the world. If you can walk three steps of the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps', Yue Laoer will be convinced.'

Duan Yu smiled and said: 'Though the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps is hard, I've also already learned several steps. Master Yue, come here and try to catch me.' As he finished saying, his robe fluttered, he went to and stood in the middle of the main hall.

The Western Xia people had never heard of the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps' technique, hearing South Sea Divine Alligator say that it was extremely mysterious and fantastic like this, they all hoped to increase their knowledge. They immediately split up and stood in the four corners of the main hall to see how Duan Yu would perform.

South Sea Divine Alligator let out a fierce roar and reached out his left hand. His right hand passed below his left palm to grab Duan Yu. Duan Yu took two steps obliquely then backed off by half a step. His body was like the wind stirring lotus leaves, gently dodging it. A 'pu' sound was heard, South Sea Divine Alligator had been too late to withdraw his force and his five right fingers had stuck into a column in the main hall by several cun's (1 cun = 3.333 cm). Seeing that his internal energy was this good, all the bystanders went pale. Because the first attack had missed, South Sea Divine Alligator roared more fiercely and jumped up then struck down from the air. Duan Yu did not pay any attention to that, and only concerned himself with the Eight Diagrams-based footwork that he was using to walk freely and comfortably. South Sea Divine Alligator sped up his attacks and roared more and more loudly, looking totally like a ferocious beast.

When Duan Yu caught a glimpse of that ferocious face, his heart skipped a beat. He hastily turned his head away, took out from his sleeve a towel, blindfolded himself and said: 'Even if I'm blindfolded, you still won't be able to catch me.'

South Sea Divine Alligator's palms danced in the air and fiercely attacked Duan Yu, but they always missed his body by small distances. The bystanders all felt scared for Duan Yu, their palms excreting cold sweats. A'Zhu cared about Duan Yu therefore she was filled with even more apprehension. Suddenly she shouted loudly in a rough voice: 'South Sea Divine Alligator, how is Mr Murong's Wave Treading Exquisite Steps compared to your master's?'

South Sea Divine Alligator was startled. All the energy in his chest was instantly discharged. He stopped moving and said: 'Excellent, excellent! You can walk this strange footwork while having your eyes encased. I'm afraid even my master couldn't do so. Okay! Murong of Gusu deserves his reputation. I, South Sea Divine Alligator, have respect for you.'

Duan Yu pulled off the towel on his eyes and returned to his seat. Immediately there was a round of thunderous applause in the main hall.

Waiting until the two people had settled into their seats, He Lian Tie Shu raised his teacup and said: 'Please have some tea. As the two heroes are visiting us, I'm wondering what you have to instruct us.'

A'Zhu said: 'Some brothers of my Society somehow offended General. I heard that General sent experts to use high-level martial arts to capture and take them here. May I be bold to request that General release them?' She specially stressed the words 'sent experts to use high-level martial arts to capture and take them here' to ridicule the Western Xia people for using the despicable method of poisoning to capture people.

He Lian Tie Shu smiled and said: 'That's not wrong. Just now Mr Murong displayed his abilities. Sure enough, he deserves his reputation. Chief Qiao and Mr Murong are equally famous, so you too need to show off your skills to everyone and make us Western Xia people sincerely admire. Only then will we release every brave man of your Society.'

A'Zhu was very worried and thought: 'If I imitate Chief Qiao's skills, wouldn't this immediately be exposed?' While trying to find a pretext to decline suddenly she felt achy and weak in her limbs, which was the same as when she had been poisoned with the poisonous gas in the evening of the previous day. She could not help feeling very frightened: 'How terrible, who would've expected these Western Xia villains to use the old trick again even at this moment? What should I do?'

Duan Yu was immune to harmful substances therefore he did not felt anything. Seeing that A'Zhu was weak and being paralyzed on her chair, he knew that she was being affected by the poisonous gas again. He hastily took out from his bosom that stinking bottle, removed its stopper and placed it at the tip of her nose. A'Zhu took some deep sniffs. Because she was not seriously poisoned, the numbness in her limbs quickly disappeared. She stretched out her hand to hold the bottle and kept sniffing nonstop. She found it strange as to why the enemies had not yet started to interfere. When looking at those Western Xia warriors, she only saw that every one of them was weak and being paralyzed on their chair. They were not budging at all and were only moving their eyeballs around chaotically.

Duan Yu said: 'How strange, these people get caught in their own trap. Could it be that they poisoned then were poisoned by themselves?' A'Zhu went to He Lian Tie Shu and pushed him.

The body of the general was immediately bent and he sat on the chair in a sloping posture. He was really poisoned. But he could still say, therefore he shouted: 'Hey, who used the 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' without permission? Quickly take the antidote here, quickly take the antidote here!' He shouted several times, but because all of his subordinates were being weak, they only said: 'Sir, subordinate can't move.' Nu Erhai said: 'There must be an infiltrator, if not, how can they know the complicated using method of this 'Sad Weak Clear Wind'?' He Lian Tie Shu angrily said: 'Correct! Who? You quickly investigate to clear this up then smash him to ten thousand pieces for me.' Nu Erhai said: 'Yes, sir! But in the current situation, we must get the antidote first.' He Lian Tie Shu said: 'That's right. You go and take the antidote here.'

Nu Erhai wrinkled his eyebrows, looked askance at the porcelain bottle in A'Zhu's hand and said: 'Chief Qiao, sorry to trouble you, but could you please let us sniff the antidote in this bottle? Our General will definitely reward you generously.'

A'Zhu laughed and said: 'Who comes here to get your General's generous rewards? I wanna urgently go rescue our Society's brothers.'

Nu Erhai said again: 'Mr Murong, there's also a vial on my body. Could you please take it out, remove the stopper and let me sniff it a bit?'

Duan Yu reached into his bosom and fished out a vial. It really was the antidote. He laughed and said: 'I've taken out the antidote but I won't let you sniff.' Then he went alongside A'Zhu to the back hall. When they pushed open the door of the west room they saw that it was crammed with people, all of whom were the Beggar Society's members who had been captured.

As soon as A'Zhu went in, Elder Wu called out: 'Chief Qiao, it's you. Thank heavens.' A'Zhu took the antidote for him to sniff and said: 'This is the antidote. You go remove the poison in the bodies of all brothers one by one.' Elder Wu was very happy. He waited until his limbs could move to detoxify Elder Song. Duan Yu then used the antidote of Nu Erhai to detoxify Elder Xu.

A'Zhu said: 'The Beggar Society has a lot of people. If detoxifying one by one like this, when will it finish? Elder Wu, you go search the bodies of those Western Xia people to see if they still have the antidote.'

Elder Wu said: 'Yes!' then trotted towards the main hall. Swear words, yells, and pops of beating suddenly could be heard from the main hall. Obviously on the one hand Elder Wu was searching for the antidote, and on the other hand he was beating them to vent his anger. Before long he returned, carrying six small porcelain bottles with both hands, smiled and said: 'I focused on searching the barbarians with flashy expensive clothes. As expected, the ones with nice clothes had the antidote on their bodies. Ha-ha, those dudes have been miserable.' Duan Yu laughed and said: 'Why?' Elder Wu laughed and said: 'I gave each of them two slaps in the mouth. With those who had the antidote, I specially used some more force.'

Suddenly he remembered that he had never seen Duan Yu, therefore he asked: 'Brother, what, may I ask, is your name? Thank you very much for helping us.' Duan Yu said: 'My compound surname is Murong. I came to help too late, putting everybody to great inconvenience for a short while. This is my fault, my fault.'

Hearing that this man in front of them is the famous 'Murong of Gusu', the Beggar Society's people all were extremely astonished.

Elder Song said: 'We've been blinded and wrongly accused Mr Murong of killing Vice-Chief Ma. Today, if he and Chief Qiao hadn't saved us, everybody would have fallen into the hands of these Western Xia bastards. If that happened, would we still be able to have a good end?' Elder Wu also said: 'Chief Qiao, a senior doesn't mind juniors' faults, it'd be better if you return to be our Chief.'

Quan Guanqing said coldly: 'Master Qiao and Mr Murong really are intimate friends.' Calling Qiao Feng as 'Master Qiao' instead of 'Chief Qiao', certainly he no longer recognized him as the Chief. Moreover he had said that he and Mr Murong really were intimate friends, which was a very dangerous sentence. The Beggar Society's people had been suspecting Qiao Feng of making use of Murong Fu to eliminate Ma Dayuan but Qiao Feng had always denied that he and Murong Fu knew each other. Today the two of them had gone to Tianning Temple together. They had also spoken to and laughed with each other, looking fairly close. Obviously this was not the first time they had met.

A'Zhu thought that these people all were old acquaintances of Qiao Feng, if she dragged this situation out a little longer, they would surely recognize her flaws. Therefore she said: 'It won't be late to slowly discuss the important affairs of the Society. I go see those Western Xia bastards.' As she finished saying she walked towards the main hall. Soon afterward Duan Yu followed her.

When the two people had arrived at the main hall, they heard He Lian Tie Shu shouting abuse: 'Quickly find out the name of this Western Xia bastard. After returning, search and confiscate his house, kill all the males and females, old people and young people in his family, not sparing even a single fowl or dog. Fvck him, he's a Western Xia man, why did he help strangers by stealing my 'Sad Weak Clear Wind' and spreading it carelessly?' Duan Yu was surprised and thought: 'Who's the Western Xia man he was cursing?' He noticed that after He Lian Tie Shu let out a cursing sentence, Nu Erhai would reply with a sentence. He Lian said again: 'He wrote these eight characters on the wall, isn't it obvious that he wanna ridicule us?'

Duan Yu and A'Zhu raised their heads and saw four rows of words which looked like flying dragons and dancing snakes written on the whitewashed wall:

'Paying Him Back, Using His Own Methods, Narcotic Poisonous Wind, I Fully Return To You.' [以彼之道,还施彼身,迷人毒风,原璧归君]

The ink strokes were still dripping wet. Obviously the writer of these words had left not long ago.

Duan Yu uttered an 'Ah' sound and said: 'This… Ah… Was it Mr Murong who wrote this?' A'Zhu said in a low voice: 'Don't forget you're Mr Murong. Our young master can write different styles of calligraphy, I can't recognize if these words were written by him.'

Duan Yu turned towards Nu Erhai and asked: 'Who wrote this?'

Nu Erhai did not answer and secretly felt anxious, not knowing how the Beggar Society's people would handle them. After capturing the Beggar Society's people, they themselves had done just about everything, including beating and insulting, therefore they only needed to 'Pay Him Back, Using His Own Methods', that would already be very hard to bear.

Seeing that the Beggar Society's people were coming to the main hall in succession, A'Zhu said in a low voice: 'The important business has been done, let's go!' She then said loudly: 'I have another important business and must go handle it with Mr Murong. See you later.' As she finished saying she trotted out of the hall. The people like Elder Wu screamed out: 'Chief, please wait, Chief, please wait.' A'Zhu did not dare to stay there anymore. She and Duan Yu went faster and faster. The Beggar Society's people had always revered Qiao Feng therefore no one dared to go forwards to stop them.

After the two people had gone for about a li (0.5 km), A'Zhu laughed and said: 'Mr Duan, it was really a lucky coincidence. That hideous disciple of yours by chance wanted you to perform the Wave Treading Exquisite Steps technique. He also said that you were even better than his master.' Duan Yu let out an 'Um' sound. A'Zhu continued: 'I wonder who released the narcotic drug? That Western Xia general kept saying that there was an infiltrator. I think it was probably Western Xia men themselves who did that.'

Duan Yu suddenly recalled a person and said: 'Could it be Li Yanzong, the Western Xia warrior we met in the mill?' A'Zhu had never seen Li Yanzong therefore she was unable to reply. She only said: 'Let's go and talk to Miss Wang, asking her to consider it in detail.'

While they were going, they heard hoofbeats. On the main road a person was galloping towards them. From afar Duan Yu saw that it was no one other than Qiao Feng. He happily said: 'He's big brother Qiao!' When he was about to call out, A'Zhu hastily pulled his sleeve and said: 'Don't shout. The real person has arrived!' then turned her body away. Duan Yu immediately understood: 'A'Zhu is disguising as big brother Qiao, it wouldn't be very nice if she's seen by him.' Before long, Qiao Feng had already come close. Duan Yu did not dare to face him directly and thought: 'When big brother Qiao meets the brave men of the Beggar Society, the truth will immediately come out. I wonder if he will blame A'Zhu for playing a trick like this or not.'

After saving A'Zhu and A'Bi, Qiao Feng had known that the Beggar Society's brothers had been captured by Western Xia men. Feeling very anxious, he had been searched for them all over the place. But unlike in the North where there were only roads, in Jiangnan, there were paddy fields and mulberry groves everywhere, and waterways and land routes also intersected each other. Qiao Feng had searched for a very long time, and with great difficulty he had run into the two little Buddhist novices of Tianning Temple. He had asked them clearly about the direction, only then had he rushed for Tianning Temple. When he saw the vigorous expression and the handsome appearance of Duan Yu he thought: 'This young nobleman and my brother Duan Yu look equally bright.' As A'Zhu had already turned her body away he did not pay attention to her. Worrying about the Beggar Society's brothers, he spurred the horse on to full speed and swept past them.

When he arrived at Tianning Temple, he saw more than ten disciples of the Beggar Society binding the Western Xia warriors and leading them out from the inside of the temple. Qiao Feng was very happy and thought: 'So the Beggar Society's brothers have turned the losing situation around and won instead.'

Seeing that Qiao Feng had gone then returned, the beggars one after another moved forwards to welcome him and said: 'Chief, how to deal with these barbarians? Please give us instructions.' Qiao Feng said: 'I'm already no longer a member of the Beggar Society, don't mention the word 'Chief' again. Was anyone injured?'

After the people like Elder Xu were informed, they all quickly ran out to welcome him. When they saw Qiao Feng, their faces either had an ashamed expression or lit up with happiness. Elder Song said loudly: 'Chief, yesterday in the apricot forest, our Society's spy in Western Xia sent back an urgent piece of military information. Elder Xu himself decided not to let you see, do you know what it was? Elder Xu, quickly take it out for Chief to see.' His words sounded rather rude.

With an ashamed look on his face, Elder Xu took out a small paper ball that originally had been concealed in a wax ball and sighed: 'I was wrong.' Then he held it out to Qiao Feng.

Qiao Feng shook his head and did not receive it. Elder Song forced his way forwards, grabbed and opened that thin crinkled paper then read loudly:

'Report to Chief: Subordinate has found out that General He Lian Tie Shu of Western Xia has led the experts of First-class Hall to the Central Plains to deal with our Society. They have a dangerous type of poisonous gas. When released it totally odorless and make people involuntarily unable to move. When we meet them, make sure we plug up our nostrils first, or defeat their leader first to snatch the awfully stinking antidote. Otherwise it'd be extremely unsafe. Urgent! Urgent! Subordinate Yi Dabiao of the Great Faith branch urgently reports.'

As Elder Song finished reading, he and such people as Elder Wu and Elder Xi glowered at Elder Xu simultaneously. Bai Shijing said: 'This urgent report by Brother Yi Dabiao arrived in time. Too bad we didn't open and read it in time. Fortunately all brothers only suffered a terror and no one was injured. Chief, we all apologize. Alas, really, needless to say, you're very noble and righteous.'

Elder Wu said: 'Chief, when you just left, everyone was instantly caught in this situation. If you and Mr Murong hadn't come and rescued us in time, the whole Beggar Society would've been wiped out. If you don't return to take charge of important matters and to be our Chief, that won't work.' Qiao Feng said in surprise: 'What Mr Murong?' Elder Wu said: 'People like Quan Guanqing talk nonsense, please don't listen to him. What's wrong with making friends? I believe that you and Mr Murong have only known each other since today.' Qiao Feng said: 'Mr Murong? Do you mean Murong Fu? I've never seen him.'

Elder Xu and the four Elders Song, Xi, Chen and Wu looked blankly at each other. All of them were nonplussed and thought: 'Just a moment ago you and Mr Murong hand in hand came in and detoxified everyone. Why at this moment do you suddenly say you don't know Mr Murong?' After thinking for a short while Elder Xi suddenly understood and said: 'Ah, that's right, just now that young master claimed that his compound surname was Murong, but he didn't say that he was Murong Fu at all. There're countless people with the compound surname 'Murong' in the world, what's so strange about that?' Elder Chen said: 'But he himself wrote 'Paying Him Back, Using His Own Methods' on the wall. If he wasn't Murong Fu then who was he?'

All of a sudden there was a strange voice: 'That bratty young master could use all kinds of martial arts, moreover his skills were even better than those of the original owners, how come he wasn't Murong Fu? Of course it was him! It was definitely him!' Everyone looked at the speaker and saw that he had eyes which looked like those of a rat, a short beard and a sallow face. He was South Sea Divine Alligator. After being poisoned he had been tied up, but he could not help interrupting and putting in his opinion.

Qiao Feng asked in surprise: 'So Murong Fu came here?' South Sea Divine Alligator said furiously: 'You're talking your mother's stinking farts! Just now you and Murong Fu came here hand in hand then played some goddamn stealthy trick, using anesthetic to make your father go numb. You quickly let me go, otherwise, humph! Humph humph…' He uttered several 'humph humph' sounds in succession, but as for what would happen 'otherwise', he could not say it. After pondering, he merely uttered 'humph humph' sounds.

Qiao Feng said: 'I see that you're also an expert in wulin, why are you talking nonsense like this? When did I ever come here? Stuff like I and Murong Fu came here hand in hand is extremely ridiculous.'

South Sea Divine Alligator gasped with anger and shouted: 'Qiao Feng, fvck you Qiao Feng. What a shame that despite being a Chief of the Beggar Society you dare to tell this brazen lie! My big and little fellows, Qiao Feng came here just now, didn't him? Didn't our General invite him to sit at the top and to drink tea?' The Western Xia people all said: 'Yes, Murong Fu performed the 'Wave Treading Exquisite Steps', Qiao Feng stood on a side and applauded, how come this was fake?'

Elder Wu pulled Qiao Feng's sleeve and said in a low voice: 'Chief, straightforward men don't do sneaky things. What happened just now can't be denied.' Qiao Feng forced a smile and said: 'Fourth brother Wu, don't tell me that just a moment ago you also saw me coming here?' Elder Wu passed the small porcelain bottle containing the antidote to him and said: 'Chief, I return the bottle to you, maybe it'll still be useful in the future.' Qiao Feng said: 'Return to me? Why return it to me?' Elder Wu said: 'You gave me this antidote just a moment ago, have you forgotten?' Qiao Feng said: 'What? Fourth brother Wu, you really saw me just now?' Seeing him continuously denying, Elder Wu felt both unhappy and uneasy.

Even though Qiao Feng was smart and capable, how could he guess that someone had disguised as himself and just a short while ago had come to Tianning Temple and rescued everybody? He thought that there was certainly an important conspiracy concealed in this matter. As straightforward people, both Elder Wu and Elder Song definitely could not do anything that was despicable, but the schemer who had been toying with him had dangerous plots. They could have set things up appropriately to make his own conduct and deeds appeared to be absurd and wicked in all respects in everyone's eyes.

Being saved by him, at first everyone in the Beggar Society had felt grateful for that, but now hearing him absolutely deny doing so, they were greatly amazed. Some people thought that for the past several days he had encountered a lot of unforeseen events, as a result his mind was in confusion; some thought that he had really made use of Murong Fu and killed Ma Dayuan, now fearing his evil scheme would be exposed, he bluntly insistently denied that he knew that man with the Murong surname; some thought that he had been conspiring to be the Chief of the Beggar Society again and was setting up some stratagem; there were even more people resolutely believing that he was exerting himself for Khitan by both opposing Western Xia and causing trouble to Great Song. Everyone had a different guess therefore there were all kinds of expressions on the faces of the beggars such as sorry, respectful, grieved, scornful and hostile.

Qiao Feng let out a deep sigh and said: 'Everybody has escaped from dangers so Qiao Feng is leaving now.' As he finished saying he cupped his fist in his hand, turned around and got on the horse. Raising the whip, he galloped away.

Suddenly he heard Elder Xu shout: 'Qiao Feng, leave the Dog Beating Stick behind.' Qiao Feng abruptly reined the horse and said: 'The Dog Beating Stick? In the apricot forest didn't I already hand it over?' Elder Xu said: 'We slipped up and was captured so the Dog Beating Stick fell into the hands of the Western Xia bastards. Now we have ransacked everywhere but still can't find it. Most prolly you've taken it.'

Qiao Feng turned his face skywards and let out a stream of laughs, which sounded sorrowful and disappointed, then said loudly: 'I, Qiao Feng, and the Beggar Society no longer have any connection with each other, what do I take the Dog Beating Stick for? Elder Xu, you've overly undervalued me.' He gave the horse a nip with his legs. It immediately galloped towards the north with its four hooves looking like flying.

When Qiao Feng had been a child he had been loved and raised by his parents. Later, he had been taught martial arts by a Shaolin monk Xuan Ku dashi (dashi = great monk, an honorific title for monks), then he had acknowledged Chief Wang of the Beggar Society as his master. When going in jianghu, even though he had experienced a lot of hardships and dangers, his masters and friends had invariably treated him with genuine sincerity. But for the past two days, a storm had suddenly taken place in the world. A Chief who had all along been renowned, illustrious, sincere, benevolent and righteous was unexpectedly regarded as a traitor to the country who harmed the people, and as a shameless untrustworthy scoundrel. He let the horse go aimlessly as it pleased. His mind was extremely confused: 'If I'm really a Khitan, for the past ten years I've killed not just a few Khitan people and ruined not just a few Khitan schemes, how come I'm not a greatly disloyal man? If my parents were really killed by Han people outside of Yanmen Pass, as I've regarded the murder of my parents as master and for the past thirty years called other people father and mother, how come I'm not a greatly unfilial son? Qiao Feng ah Qiao Feng, you're this disloyal and unfilial, how do you dare to live in the world? If Sir Sanhuai isn't my father then I'm certainly not Qiao Feng either? What's my surname? What's the first name that my natural father gave me? Ha-ha, not only am I disloyal and unfilial, but I also don't have first name and surname.'

He also had another thought: 'However, maybe all of these are due to a very treacherous arch-villain framing me. I, Qiao Feng, am confidently a dazhangfu (t/n: basically means a man of resolve or success), but I've been manipulated by others to the point that my reputation has totally been lost and can't be redeemed. If I packed up and left my responsibilities at this point because of the temporary indignation and from now on became indifferent to the Beggar Society, wouldn't that make the villain's scheme successful? Hum, all in all, I must investigate and make things clear.'

In his mind he planned, the first step was returning to Mt Shaoshi in Henan and asking Sir Sanhuai about my own life and origin, the second step would be entering Shaolin Monastery, visiting my first martial arts enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi and begging him to reveal the truth, these two people had always cherished me very much so they definitely would not hold back anything.

After planning like that he did not feel worried anymore. In the past, as the Chief of the Beggar Society, he had been able to consider the whole country his home when travelling in jianghu. Now, not only could he not go to the branches everywhere for accommodation, in order to avoid causing troubles, wherever he went he did not use roads so that he would not meet former subordinates in the Beggar Society. After going for just two days, the money on his body had been used up therefore he had to sell the horse that he had seized from the Western Xia people for travelling expenses.

One day, he arrived at the foot of Mt Song then went towards Mt Shaoshi. This was the place where he had been staying during his boyhood therefore he was already familiar with the scenery everywhere. Because the Beggar Society was the biggest society in jianghu and Shaolin School was the biggest school in wulin, if the Beggar Society's Chief came to Shaolin, this would bring about all kinds of formalities and extravagances and disturb a great deal of people. Hence ever since he had taken up the post of the Beggar Society's Chief, he had never returned here. Every year he had only sent people to respectfully give his parents and enshi food and clothing, and to inquire after them. At this moment, when he was returning to his old land, thinking that his own origin was very enigmatic and that in two or four hours it would be made clear, even though he was a calm and stable man, he could not refrain from getting anxious.

His old home was located beside a mountain slope on the south side of Mt Shaoshi. Qiao Feng quickly went around the mountain slope. He only saw that there were a straw hat and a teapot put under the big jujube tree beside the vegetable garden. The handle of the teapot had already been broken. Qiao Feng knew that it belonged to his father Qiao Sanhuai. He suddenly felt a burst of warm thoughts in his heart: 'Dad is diligent and thrifty, this broken teapot has been used for several decades but he's still unwilling to throw it away.'

As he looked at the big jujube tree he also recalled that in his childhood every time jujubes had been ripe father had always held his small hand then knocked jujubes from the tree together with him. The red ripe jujubes had been so plump that their skin had been cracked. They had been both sweet and juicy. Ever since he had left his old land, he had never tasted such delicious jujubes again. Qiao Feng thought: 'Even if they aren't my real parents, in this life, it's hard for me to repay this kindness of nurturing. No matter what my real origin is, I definitely won't change what I've addressed them as.'

He went to and stopped before the three-room earthen house, only seeing a bamboo mat on which there were full of vegetables spread for sunning outside of it and a mother hen which was leading a flock of chicks pecking food in the grass. He could not help beaming: 'Tonight mom will surely kill chicken and prepare a meal to treat the son that she hasn't seen for a long time.' He called out: 'Dad! Mom! This son has returned.'

He called a few times but did not hear any reply. He thought: 'Ah, that's right, the two oldsters' ears have been deaf and can't hear.' He pushed the door open and strode into the house. Inside the main room, such things as wooden table, wooden bench, plow, harrow and hoe did not look very different than they had been when he had left home, but he saw no one.

Qiao Feng called several more times: 'Dad! Mom!', but still, he did not hear any reply. He felt a bit surprised and talked to himself: 'Where have they gone?' When he stuck his head in the bedroom, he could not help jumping out of his skin because he saw Qiao Sanhuai and his wife lying motionlessly on the ground.

Qiao Feng hurriedly jumped into the room. First he helped his mother sit up only to find that her breathing had already stopped, but her body was still a little bit warm, obviously she had been dead for less than two hours. Next, when he carried his father, he noticed the same things. Being both panicky and grieved, Qiao Feng carried the corpse of his father and ran out of the house. After examining it carefully in the sunshine, he discovered that all the ribs in his chest had been broken. It was clear that he had been stricken dead by the palm force of a martial arts expert. He looked at the corpse of his mother again and found that she had died in the same way. Qiao Feng was confused: 'My dad and mom are faithful generous honest peasants. Why could some martial arts expert use such a cruel means to murder them? Certainly it was because of me.'

He examined carefully the three rooms inside the house, as well as the area in front of it, the area behind it, and the roof to know what kind of man the murderer was. But the murderer did not leave behind even a single footprint. Qiao Feng's face was covered with tears. The more he thought, the sadder he became. He could not help bursting out crying.

When he had cried for just a short while, suddenly he heard someone say at his back: 'What a pity, what a pity. We've come late by a step.' Qiao Feng immediately turned around and saw four middle-aged monks dressed in clothes of Shaolin Monastery. Even though Qiao Feng had learned martial arts of Shaolin School, Xuan Ku dashi, the person who had taught him martial arts, had come to his house directly every night to teach him, therefore he did not know any monk of Shaolin Monastery. Now he was feeling miserable, hence even though he had seen the strangers, for the moment it was hard for him to hold back his tears.

A rather tall monk with a completely furious look loudly said: 'Qiao Feng, you're really lower than pigs and dogs. Even if Qiao Sanhuai and his wife aren't your real parents, the kindness of bringing you up for more than ten years is no trivial matter. How could you have the heart to murder them?' Qiao Feng sobbed: 'I returned home just a moment ago. Seeing that my parents have been murdered I only wanna find out who the killer is to revenge my parents. Dashi, how could you say so?' That monk said furiously: 'The cruel heart of Khitan people is hard to change. You've really acted like an animal! You killed your foster parents with your own hands, what a pity we came to help too late. Surnamed Qiao, if you wanna go to Mt Shaoshi to act wildly, you're still this far short of that.' As he finished saying, he threw a palm attack towards Qiao Feng's chest, creating a 'hu' sound.

When Qiao Feng was about to dodge, he heard the sound of wind gently moving at his back. He knew that someone was launching a sneak attack at the back. Unwilling to fight these Shaolin monks without clear reasons like this, he made a pressing with his left foot and gently leaped out for one zhang (3.333 m). As expected, a kick of another Shaolin monk missed him and hit the air.

Seeing that he had dodged so easily like this, the four Shaolin monks all had an astonished look on their faces. That tall and big monk scolded: 'Your martial arts are good. So what? You think that having killed your foster parents you can hide your origin? Too bad you're a descendant of the evil Khitan race. This has spread in wulin for a long time. Who in jianghu doesn't know about it? Committing this severe betrayal, you've only increased the amount of your sins.' Another monk scolded: 'First you killed Ma Dayuan, next you killed Qiao Sanhuai and his wife, humph humph, how can these scandals be hidden?'

Even though Qiao Feng heard the two monks revile him so, he was only grieved and did not have the slightest feeling of anger. All his life he had faced important matters, decided important doubtful cases and met not just a few difficult affairs, therefore at this moment he was very capable of repressing his anger. He cupped his fist in his hand in salute and said: 'May I ask, what are the religious names of the four dashi's'? Are you eminent monks of Shaolin Monastery?'

A monk with a medium height who had the most pleasant temperament said: 'We all are Shaolin disciples. Alas, your foster father and mother were faithful and generous all their lives, but they ended up being repaid this miserably. Qiao Feng, you Khitan people have acted too savagely.'

Qiao Feng thought: 'They're already unwilling to reveal their religious names. It's no use asking them more. That tall monk said they had come to help too late so they must have come here to help after receiving a message. But who secretly let them know? Who predicted that my parents were going to encounter dangers?' He then said: 'The four of you are charitable and descended from the mountain to save my parents. What a pity you were a tad late…'

That tall monk had a fiery temper. He raised the fist which was as big as an alms bowl (t/n: rice bowls that monks used in old times) and threw a punch at Qiao Feng, making a 'hu' sound. He shouted loudly: 'We let you commit this unfilial thing only because we were a tad late, yet you're still showing your complacency and saying mocking words?'

Qiao Feng knew obviously that the four of them had good intentions because they had immediately come to save his own parents after receiving the message. Hence he was unwilling to fight them, but if he did not subdue them, he would not ever be able to make the truth become clear. He said: 'I appreciate the kindness of the four of you. Today I have no choice but to offend you!' As he finished saying he turned around like the wind and stretched his hand to attack the shoulder of the third monk. That monk shouted: 'You really wanna fight?' When this sentence was still unfinished, his shoulder had already been hit by Qiao Feng. His body immediately became weak. He flopped down on the ground.

Qiao Feng had learned martial arts of Shaolin School therefore he was totally familiar with the martial arts stances of the four monks. He continuously used palm attacks to knock them down one by one and said: 'Sorry for offending! May I ask the four masters, you said that you had come to help too late, how did you know that my parents were gonna suffer misfortune? Who informed you four masters of this information?'

That tall monk said furiously: 'You only wanna know about the informer to go murder him. How can Shaolin disciples yield to the oppressive interrogation of you lowly Khitan dog? Even if you use cruel torture, don't imagine that you'll be able to wring half a word outta my mouth.'

Qiao Feng thought: 'The misunderstanding has become deeper and deeper. No matter what I'll ask them about, they'll all think that I'll be interrogating them.' He stretched out his hand and gave each of them a few rubs on the back, releasing the blocked acupuncture points of the four monks, and said: 'If I wanna kill witnesses, at this moment I would've taken the lives of the four of you. Who's right? Who's wrong? What's the truth? I always hope there'll be a day when everything will come to light.'

Suddenly, he heard a man sneer and say beside the mountain slope: 'Wanna kill witnesses? That wouldn't have necessarily been so easy!'

Qiao Feng raised his head and saw more than ten Shaolin monks standing next to the mountain slope, holding weapons in their hands. The two leading monks both were about fifty years old. Each of them was holding a convenient shovel (fang bian chan - 方便铲) whose one head was a crescent blade made of refined steel which radiated a gloomy blue cold light. Those two monks had shining eyes which looked like shooting at other people. At first sight, it could be known that their internal energies were very profound. Even though Qiao Feng did not fear them, he knew the martial arts of the people who had just arrived were not bad and if he had to fight them, unless he killed and wounded some people, it would be difficult to retreat unharmed. He cupped his fist in his hand and said: 'Qiao Feng has to be rude. Dashi's, I beg for your forgiveness.' Suddenly his body flew backwards. His back hit and broke the door. He entered the earthen house.

This incident happened extremely fast. All the monks exclaimed in unison. Five or six people rushed forwards at the same time but when they just reached the edge of the door, a stream of internal energy was shot out from the inside. These five or six people raised their left palms and hastily used their internal energies to resist. A loud 'peng' sound was heard. Dust flew upwards. All of them were forced to take four or five steps back by the power of the palm attack sent out from the inside. After standing stably, they all felt their blood and internal energies tumbling up and down in their chests. They looked at each other blankly and in their heart they totally understood: 'Though this palm attack of Qiao Feng's was ferocious, he still has spare power. If he sends out the second palm attack, I may not be able to ward it off.' They all firmly believed that he was extremely ruthless and malicious, and hence they only thought that he was gathering up his power to strike again, but they could never have expected that he had actually showed mercy with that palm attack and had not wanted to harm other people.

The monks collected power and put on their guards. After a long while, the two leading monks lifted their convenient shovels and executed the 'Two Dragons Entering the Cave' stance simultaneously. The movement of the shovels produced powerful winds. Along with the shovels, the two monks entered the earthen house side by side. Clang clang clang, the two shovels clashed, creating a glittering net to protect their bodies. But they saw that the inside of the house was empty. Where was Qiao Feng? Even stranger was that the corpses of Qiao Sanhuai and his wife had also disappeared without a trace.

The two monks who used convenient shovels were the 'Precept Maintaining monk' and the 'Rule Protecting monk' of the 'Institute of Precepts' of Shaolin Monastery whose duty was supervising the conduct of the disciples of their school. They normally traveled in jianghu to examine the achievements and mistakes of the disciples of the school therefore their martial arts were no doubt very good, and they had vast knowledge which could be matched by even fewer people. Seeing that in an instant Qiao Feng had gone in a direction unbeknown to them, the two already knew that it had been extremely hard. But who could have expected that he would be able to take along the the corpses of Qiao Sanhuai and his wife? This was even more unimaginable. All the monks ransacked the areas in front of and behind the house, the head of the earthen bed (t/n: in Northern China, it was common for people to use beds made of clay or brick which were connected to kitchen stoves for warmth) and the kitchen one time. The two monks from the Institute of Precepts then rapidly chased down the mountain, but after chasing for more than twenty li's (1 li = 0.5 km), there was still no trace of Qiao Feng at all.

No one could have expected Qiao Feng to clasp the corpses of his parents and rush up Mt Shaoshi. He fled to a steep slope which was dense with forest trees and hard for people to reach. After burying his parents, he knelt down and respectfully kowtowed eight times, praying in his mind: 'Dad, mom, who carried out this murderous scheme and took your lives? I'll definitely capture the killer, take them to your graves and cut their heart out alive as a sacrifice to you.'

He thought this time returning home he had been late by just a step, thus not being able to meet his parents again, otherwise seeing that he himself had already grown up to be this vigorous and imposing they would have surely been very joyful. Had the three of them been able to meet for one day or half a day, then at least they would have had a short-lived happiness. Thinking to here, he could not help crying without being able to make any noise. Since childhood he had been resilient and wept very little, but today he was extremely grieved and indignant therefore he could not prevent his tears from streaming down.

All of a sudden a thought appeared in his mind. Inwardly, he called: 'A'yo, no good, perhaps my first enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi (great monk) is gonna meet with serious dangers too.'

He suddenly understood several matters: 'It really wasn't by coincidence that the murderer of my parents did the killing within one hour before I returned home like this. He already had premeditated plots. After the killing he immediately told the monks of Shaolin Monastery that I was going up Mt Shaoshi to kill my parents to eliminate witnesses. Those Shaolin monks cherish heroism and righteousness and wholeheartedly wanted to save my parents, but they have bumped into me. In this world there's still one person who knows my origin, that is, master Xuan Ku. I must beware of that thug laying his murderous hands on him again and framing me for that.'

Thinking that Xuan Ku dashi might be in danger because of himself, he could not help feeling extremely anxious and immediately dashed towards Shaolin Monastery. He knew clearly that the monastery was filled with experts and each of the few elderly monks of the Damo Hall had significant skills, if he himself showed up, the monks would attack together right away and it would not be easy to escape, and hence he only chose unfrequented trails to rush on. Caught on thorns and weeds, his trouser legs became ragged and his calves were dripping with blood, but he had to follow this way. Using these trails to go up the mountain, the distance was increased by a half. Only after running quickly for two hours had he arrived at the back of Shaolin Monastery. At that moment, it was already at dusk. He felt both happy and worried. Feeling happy because in the dark it would be easy to hide, and feeling worried because if the murderer took advantage of the dark to attack sneakily, it would be difficult to detect traces of him.

When traveling in jianghu for the past recent years he had rarely met a match, but he had never met an enemy who undoubtedly had excellent martial arts, elaborate plans and cruel calculations like this time. Even though Shaolin Monastery was an extremely dangerous place, they did not guard against someone going to the monastery to attack Xuan Ku dashi, therefore if someone launched a surprise attack, it would be hard to escape their sneaky scheme. How come Qiao Feng did not know that he himself was being under very serious suspicion? If at this moment Xuan Ku dashi had been murdered without anyone seeing the appearance of the killer and he himself was seen sneakily entering the monastery then even with one hundred mouths he would not be able to explain it away. If at this moment he only cared about himself and disregarded other people, the farther he got away from Shaolin the better it would be for him. But firstly, he thought about the safety of enshi Xuan Ku dashi, and secondly, he wanted to seize the opportunity to catch the real muderer and take revenge for the deaths of his parents, hence he did not pay attention to great risks and dangers.

He had lived at Mt Shaoshi for more than ten years, but he had never entered Shaolin Monastery, therefore he did not know anything about the directions, halls and institutes inside the monastery, and certainly he did not know where Xuan Ku dashi lived. He thought: 'I only hope enshi is totally safe. Upon seeing him I'll report the course of events to him and beg laorenjia (老人家 - polite term to address old people) to take care, after that I'll ask about my origin, maybe enshi would be able to guess who the real murderer is.'

There were far more than several tens of halls and compounds in Shaolin Monastery which were located scattered on mountain slopes from the east to the west. Xuan Ku dashi did not hold any position in the monastery and there were at least more than twenty monks with the generation name 'Xuan' who wore similar clothes to each other, where to find him in the dark? Qiao Feng secretly planned: 'The only way is catching a Shaolin monk then forcing him to take me to see Xuan Ku dashi. After that, I'll explain that I had no choice and seriously apologize to him. But Shaolin monks generally respect their masters and treasure righteousness, if he thinks that I wanna harm Xuan Ku dashi, probably he'd rather die than submit and definitely be unwilling to reveal his whereabouts. Hum, I might as well find a cook and ask him to lead me, but these people may not know the place of my master.'

For the moment he hesitated and had no plan. Every time he passed by a hall or a wing-room he stooped down beside a window to listen, hoping that he would be able to have a clue. Even though he was tall and big in stature, his movements were quick, leaping up and drooping down like a lynx without being noticed by anyone.

He kept going and listening like this. When he reached the side of a small house, suddenly he heard someone say inside: 'Abbot has important matters to discuss, shishu (apprentice uncle who is younger than one's master) please go to the 'Institute of Faith Attestation' immediately.' Another aged voice said: 'Yes! I'm going right now.' Qiao Feng thought: 'Abbot's gathering people to discuss important matters, maybe my master will go as well. I'd better follow these people to the 'Institute of Faith Attestation'.' A 'ya' sound was heard, the door was pushed open and two monks came out, the aged one going westwards, and the junior one hurriedly going eastwards, perhaps he was going to notify other people.

Qiao Feng thought because the Abbot had invited this elderly monk to go discuss important matters, the rank or status of this person had to be high, and because Shaolin Monastery was different than other cloisters, it was certain that all the people with high ranks or status here also possessed profound martial arts. Not daring to follow closely behind the monk, Qiao Feng only looked at his back and followed him from a distance. He saw him go straight toward the west and walk into a westernmost house. Qiao Feng waited until the monk had entered the house, only then did he go around to the back of it. After listening out and knowing clearly that there was no one around, he bent down beside a window.

He felt both grieved and indignant, thinking to himself: 'Since I started to travel in jianghu, when treating fellow orthodox people in wulin, has there ever been even a single matter in which I wasn't straightforward and didn't have superiority? Yet today I've been forced to be this sneaky. If by any chance I'm discovered, though I've always have an illustrious name, where will I be able to hide my face then?' But he immediately had another thought: 'In those years, master went down from the mountain every night to teach me martial arts, even if there were strong winds and heavy rain, he never skipped a night. I must repay such a serious kindness even if my body would be ground to dust, much less this tiny humiliation.'

He heard footsteps outside the house then four people successively came in. Before long, two other people came in. Their shadows fell on the paper of the window. There were more than ten people gathering in total. Qiao Feng thought: 'If they discuss important secret matters of Shaolin and are overheard by me, then even if it's unintentional, it'd still be improper. I'd better get away from this place. If master is inside the house, there're lots of experts here like this, no matter how dangerous the murderer is they'd not be able to harm him. After the monks finish discussing and disperse I'll think of a way to meet master.'

When he was about to go away quietly, he heard more than ten monks inside the house start to chant at the same time. Qiao Feng did not know what Buddhist sutra they were chanting, but he felt their voices were stately and solemn, and the chanting tones of some people also had an air of considerable sorrow and distress. This passage of sutra kept being chanted for a very long time. He gradually felt uneasy and thought: 'It seems they're performing some kind of Buddhist memorial service, or meditating or studying sutras, perhaps my master isn't here.' He tilted his ear to listen carefully, and as expected, he did not hear the composed thick voice of Xuan Ku dashi in the chorus of the monks chanting sutra.

When he still could not decide whether or not he should wait for a while, the sound of chanting stopped and a dignified voice was heard: 'Xuan Ku shidi (younger apprentice brother), would you still like to say something?' Qiao Feng was very happy: 'Master really is here, laorenjia (term to call old people politely) is safe and sound too. So, just now he didn't chant sutra together with other people.'

A person started to say in a deep and powerful voice. Hearing the voice, Qiao Feng knew that he was no one other than his first master Xuan Ku dashi, who said: 'The day xiaodi (I, this little brother) was initiated into monkhood, my late master named me Xuan Ku. The seven sufferings (Ku) that the Buddha mentioned are birth, aging, illness, death, contact with the hated ones, separation from the loved ones, and frustrated desires. Xiaodi has made great efforts to escape from these seven sufferings, but I could only assist myself, and not other people. I feel ashamed of this. The suffering of contact with the hated ones is a state that the human life is bound to have. I deserve to get this retribution for the causes I sowed before. Shixiong's (older apprentice brother) and shidi's, seeing me repay my former karma like this, you should feel happy for me.' Qiao Feng noticed that his voice was calm, but what he said was the language of Buddhism, therefore he himself did not understand what he meant.

That dignified voice continued: 'Xuan Bei shidi lost his life at the hands of a villain several months ago. Having been chasing down the murderer with all our power, we seem to have violated the precept of not being angry. But taming demon and punishing villain are deeds that help the people everywhere. As martial arts learners, our real intentions are spreading Buddhist teachings and following the infinitely compassionate merciful heart of the Buddha to free all living creatures from sufferings…' Qiao Feng thought: 'The person with the dignified voice is most prolly the Abbot of Shaolin Monastery Xuan Ci dashi.' He heard him continue: '… Eliminating a villain is equal to saving countless people. Shidi, is that person Murong of Gusu?'

Qiao Feng thought: 'This matter involves the Murong clan of Gusu again. I've heard that Xuan Bei dashi of Shaolin School was sneakily killed in Dali. Could it be that they're suspecting Mr Murong of committing the murder?'

He heard Xuan Ku Dashi say: 'Abbot Shixiong, xiaodi is unwilling to make you and other shixiong's and shidi's worry about me because that would increase the retribution for my sins. If that person can put down the butcher knife, naturally it won't be too late for him to repent of his sins and find a way out. But if he persists in his wrongdoings, alas, he'll only make himself suffer for nothing. There's also no need to talk about how that person looks like.'

Abbot Xuan Ci dashi said: 'That's right! Shidi has great understanding and wise opinions. Being an overly intolerant shixiong, my level has fallen behind to some extent.' Xuan Ku said: 'Xiaodi wants to meditate for a while to ruminate and repent.' Xuan Ci said: 'Alright! You take good care.'

A 'ya' sound of the door opening was heard. A tall and skinny elderly monk slowly walked out first. After he had gone out for one zhang (3.333 m), there were seventeen other monks in total continuously following behind him. All of the eighteen monks were having their palms put together and their heads lowered in meditation, looking stately.

After the monks had gone far away, the inside of the house was totally quiet. Intimidated by the situation around, for the moment Qiao Feng did not dare to appear to knock the door. Suddenly he heard Xuan Ku Dashi say: 'Good visitor coming from afar, why are you hesitant about entering?'

Qiao Feng was frightened and thought: 'I've been holding my breath, even if other people were very close to me, they wouldn't necessarily be able to notice that I've been hiding here. To have such hearing, master's internal energy cultivation is really outstanding.' Without delay he respectfully walked to the door and said: 'How are you, master? Disciple Qiao Feng pays his respects to you.'

Xuan Ku softly uttered an 'Ah' sound and said: 'Feng'er? I'm thinking about you and only hoping that I can meet you one time. Quickly come in.' His voice was filled with happiness.

Qiao Feng was very happy. He hurriedly came in then immediately knelt down, kowtowed and said: 'Master, normally I've rarely been at your service, making you miss me a lot. Seeing that you are healthy, this child is extremely happy.' As he finished saying, he raised his head and looked at Xuan Ku.

Xuan Ku dashi at first was having a smiling expression on his face. When he saw Qiao Feng's face in the light of the oil lamp, all of a sudden his expression changed greatly. He stood up and said in a trembling voice: 'You… You… so it was you. So you're Qiao Feng. I… I developed such a good disciple with my own hands?' But his facial expression was both horrified and painful, and was also mixed with deep pity and regret.

Seeing that in the blink of an eye his master was already having a very strange expression, Qiao Feng was extremely astonished. He said: 'Master, I'm Qiao Feng.'

Xuan Ku dashi said: 'Good, good, good!' After uttering the three 'Good' words continuously, he did not say anything else.

Qiao Feng did not dare to ask more and quietly waited to see if he had something to teach or instruct. He waited for a good while, but Xuan Ku dashi remained silent all along. Qiao Feng looked at his master's face again, only seeing that his facial muscles were stiff and motionless, and his expression was exactly the same as it had been a moment ago. He could not refrain from jumping up in fright. When Qiao Feng reached out his hand to touch his master's palm, he felt that it was rather cold. He hastily checked his master's breathing, but it turned out to have already stopped for quite a while. This made Qiao Feng so frightened that he was dumbstruck. His mind was in chaos: 'As soon as master saw me he was frightened to death like this? Definitely improbable, what's so frightful about me? Prolly he was already injured.' But he did not dare to inspect his master's body.

After regaining composure, he decided in his mind: 'If I quietly left at this moment, how could it be considered the action of a tough brave man like Qiao Feng? Even if today's incidents are extremely dangerous, I should investigate and clear up everything.' He walked out of the house and shouted loudly and clearly: 'Abbot Dashi, Xuan Ku dashi has passed away. Xuan Ku dashi has passed away.' The sound of these two sentences went very far and echoed through the valley. Hence the entire monastery could hear them. Even though the shouting voice was powerful, it was extremely sad.

Abbot Xuan Ci and the other people had not got back to their respective rooms yet. Suddenly hearing the shouting of Qiao Feng, they turned around at the same time and quickly came back to the 'Institute of Faith Attestation.' They only saw a tall and big man standing beside the door and wiping tears from his face with his sleeves. All the monks found this strange. Xuan Ci put his palms together and asked: 'Shizhu (施主 – literally almsgiver/benefactor – a term that Buddhist monks/Taoists call normal people with), who are you?' Concerned about Xuan Ku's safety, he rushed into the house without waiting for Qiao Feng to reply. Seeing that Xuan Ku was still standing upright motionlessly without falling, he was even more startled. The other monks came in together. They then lowered their heads and chanted sutra.

Qiao Feng was the last to enter the house. He knelt down and secretly prayed: 'Master, I came to inform you too late so you were already murdered by someone. The animosity between me and that villain has become deeper by one level. Even if I'd have to go through all difficulties, I'd find this villain and smash them into ten thousand pieces to avenge you, enshi.'

Abbot Xuan Ci had finished chanting sutra. He sized up Qiao Feng and asked: 'Shizhu, who are you? Are you the person who shouted just now?'

Qiao Feng said: 'This disciple is Qiao Feng. Seeing that my master had passed away I couldn't bear the grief so I disturbed Abbot.'

When Xuan Ci heard Qiao Feng's name, he was frightened and his body trembled. A strange expression appeared on his face. After gazing at Qiao Feng for a long time, he said: 'Shizhu, you… you… are you the Beggar Society's… former Chief?'

Hearing he said the five words 'the Beggar Society's former Chief', Qiao Feng thought: 'Messages in jianghu spread very fast. He already knows that I'm no longer the Beggar Society's Chief. He must know the reasons why I was expelled from the Beggar Society as well.' He then said: 'Yes.'

Xuan Ci said: 'Shizhu, why do you trespass on our Monastery late at night? How could you see Xuan Ku shidi pass away?'

Qiao Feng was having thousands and thousands of words that he wanted to say but for the moment he did not know what he should say. He had no alternative but to reply: 'Xuan Ku dashi was the first enshi of this disciple. But what are the injuries that my enshi suffered? And who murdered him?'

With tears welling up in his eyes, Abbot Xuan Ci said: 'Xuan Ku shidi was taken by surprise by someone. His chest took a serious palm attack. All his ribs were broken and his five internal organs were crushed. He could endure until now only thanks to having profound internal energy. We asked him who the enemy was but he said he didn't know him. We also asked him how the murderer looked like and how old he was. But he said the suffering of contact with the hated ones was one of the seven sufferings of Buddhists, and meeting the enemy was the opportunity to free himself, so he resolutely didn't say anything about the appearance of the murderer.'

Qiao Feng suddenly understood: 'So just now the monks already knew that master had been seriously injured. They chanted sutra to see him off to the Western Pure Land.' Tears welled up in his eyes. He said: 'You're eminent monks so you think of mercy and forget hatred. Being an ordinary man, I'll catch this murderer and make him suffer the death of thousands of cuts to avenge my master, that's for sure. Your monastery is strictly guarded, how could that murderer penetrate into here?'

While Xuan Ci was pondering and had not replied, all of a sudden, an elderly monk who was short and small in stature coldly said: 'When shizhu penetrated into Shaolin, we couldn't stop or detect you. That murderer of course could also come and go as he pleased, as if entering a deserted place.'

Qiao Feng bent down, cupped his fist in his hand and said: 'Because the matter was urgent, I didn't have time to inform and make an appointment at the main entrance. I was being too disrespectful. Masters, I sincerely beg for your forgiveness. Having deep roots in Shaolin School, by no means do I dare to have the slightest intention of looking down on or offending it.' His last sentence hinted that if Shaolin School lost face, he would also be humiliated as a result. In his mind, he knew that after sneaking in Shaolin's backyard, only when he himself had shouted had someone been aware of it. If this incident became known about by outsiders, it would really inflict huge damage on Shaolin School's prestige.

Right at this moment, a little Buddhist novice, who was holding a bowl of steaming hot medicine in both hands, entered the house and said to the corpse of Xuan Ku: 'Master, please take medicine.' He was the Buddhist novice who served Xuan Ku. He had just decocted a dose of a medicine that cured injuries effectively called the 'Nine Changes Rejuvenation Mixture' at the 'Institute of Medical King' and was bringing it to his master for him to take. Because he saw that Xuan Ku was standing upright without falling, he did not know that his master had died. Feeling grieved, Qiao Feng said in a voice choked with emotion: 'Master has…'

That little Buddhist novice turned his head and looked at him. Suddenly he cried out loudly: 'It's you! You've… come again!' A 'qiang' sound was heard, the bowl of medicine had been accidentally dropped on the ground. Porcelain fragments and medical liquid flew on all sides. That little Buddhist novice jumped backward two steps, leaned against the wall and squealed: 'It's him. It's him who injured master!'

As soon as he screamed so, everyone, without exception, was very frightened. Qiao Feng was even more terrified. He said loudly: 'What did you say?' That little Buddhist novice was only twelve or thirteen years old. Seeing Qiao Feng, he was extremely scared and hid behind Abbot Xuan Ci. He pulled the Abbot's sleeve and shouted: 'Abbot, Abbot!' Xuan Ci said: 'Qing Song, there's no need to be scared. Just tell us. You say it's him who injured master?' The little Buddhist novice Qing Song said: 'Yes, when he hit master in the chest using his palm I was watching from the window. Master, Master, why don't you strike back at him?' Until this moment, he still did not know that Xuan Ku had died.

Abbot Xuan Ci said: 'You should watch carefully. Don't mistake other people for him.' Qing Song said: 'I saw very clearly, he was wearing gray clothes made directly of cotton and had a square face, his eyebrows were slanted like this, his mouth and ears were big, it's exactly him. Master, beat him, beat him.'

Qiao Feng felt a chill run down his spine. He thought: 'That's right. The murderer disguised as me to shift the blame onto me. Hearing me return, at first master was extremely joyful, but as soon as he saw my face, seeing me and his murderer look exactly alike, he then said: 'So it was you. So you're Qiao Feng. I developed such a good disciple with my own hands.' Master and I haven't met for more than ten years. From a child I already became an adult. My appearance wasn't the same long ago.' Recalling that Xuan Ku dashi had continuously said three 'Good' words before dying, he felt as if a knife was piercing his heart: 'Master took serious attacks, but he didn't know who the enemy was. When he saw me, realizing that I and the murderer have similar appearances, he was very sad and died because of grief. Having suffered serious injuries, master was already on the brink of death so certainly he couldn't think carefully that: if I had really harmed him, why would I come to meet him the second time?'

Suddenly, a hubbub of human voices could be heard then a group of people trotted towards the 'Institute of Faith Attestation' before stopping outside it. Two monks bent forward and respectfully came in. They were the Precept Maintaining monk and the Rule Protecting monk who had fought against Qiao Feng at the foot of Mt Shaoshi. When that Precept Maintaining monk had just said: 'Abbot…' he saw Qiao Feng. An amazed and angry expression appeared on his face, showing that he did not know when Qiao Feng had come here. The other monks also frowned and fiercely goggled at Qiao Feng with glaring eyes.

With a stately expression, Abbot Xuan Ci slowly said: 'Shizhu, you no longer belong to the Beggar Society, but you're a famous figure in wulin. Today arriving at our monastery why did you strike dead Xuan Ku shidi? I hope to be counseled by you about that.'

Qiao Feng let out a deep sigh, knelt and bowed down to the corpse of Xuan Ku and said: 'Master, at your dying moment you still said that this disciple harmed you so that you died with a grievance. I never dare to offend you, but the villain attacked you only because of me. Even if I died today to apologize to you I really wouldn't resent it, but from now on the great wrong you suffered may not be avenged. I've violated the sanctity of Shaolin, please forgive me, master.' All of a sudden, two 'hu-hu' sounds were heard, he had blown out two long gusts of air. The two oil lamps in the hall were immediately extinguished. In an instant, the hall went pitch dark.

When praying, Qiao Feng had already devised a plan to escape. Right after blowing out the oil lamps, he swung at the Rule Protecting monk with his left palm and hit his back. This palm attack only used Yin soft power therefore it did not injure his internal organs, but it sent his corpulent body flying out, breaking open the door of the hall in the process.

Hearing the sound of wind in the dark, all the monks thought that Qiao Feng was running away through the door. Each of them grasped at the body of the Rule Protecting monk using a grasping hand technique. They all thought the same, not wanting to use severe attacks to kill Qiao Feng, and only wanting to capture him to interrogate more about why he had killed Xuan Ku dashi. These more than ten high-level monks were first-class experts of Shaolin Monastery. First-class experts of Shaolin Monastery were naturally also first-class experts in wulin. The respective grasping hand techniques they used were different from each other, each of which had its own uniqueness. In a short period of time, the best grasping hand techniques of Shaolin School such as the Dragon Capturing technique, the Eagle-Clawed technique, the Tiger Catching technique, the Diamond Finger technique, the Stone Holding Palm technique… all were executed on the body of the Rule Protecting monk. The monks really had excellent martial arts, in the dark they could only hear the sound of wind, yet their stances did not miss even by a hair's breadth. This time, that Rule Protecting monk tasted all kinds of sufferings. In a very short time, the important acupuncture points on his whole body were hit by various grasping hand techniques, his body was held up in the air and he was unable to talk. Perhaps no one had ever undergone this kind of experience before.

These high-level monks were very experienced therefore their improvisation methods were also remarkable. Some people immediately jumped onto the roof to guard there. And in a short while, the important places in the passages and at the front door and back door of the Institute of Faith Attestation were also occupied by experts. Needless to say, Qiao Feng was a tall and big man. Even if he morphed into a wild cat or a mouse, he would possibly not be able to escape either.

The little Buddhist novice Qing Song used a fire-striking knife and a flint to light the oil lamps in the hall. The monks then immediately discovered that they had wrongly caught the Rule Protecting monk.

The head of the Damo Institute (in an earlier paragraph JY called this building the Damo Hall) Xuan Ku ordered that every monk in the monastery keep watch on his own position and not act chaotically. The monks all thought that even if Qiao Feng had been bolder he would never dare to penetrate into an extremely dangerous place like Shaolin Monastery alone to commit murder, he definitely had strong aid, it was likely that he had other schemes to take advantage of the confusion, and they themselves were not allowed to fall victim to the tactic of luring the tiger out of the mountain.

More than 10 high-level monks in the Institute of Faith Attestation and the monks who were led by the Precept Maintaining monk then searched carefully everywhere in the vicinity of the Institute of Faith Attestation. Almost every stone was turned over, and every thicket was hit with stick. This time, even though the monks were lenient and cherished the lives of all living creatures, many toads, shrews, grasshoppers and ants were still accidentally injured.

After busying themselves for more than 2 hours, the only thing they had not done was digging up the ground, but where could they find Qiao Feng? All the monks constantly clicked their tongues saying that this was strange, and sometimes they unavoidably said a few insulting sentences. Even though the 10 precepts of Buddhism warned against using 'Evil Words', they were unable to pay attention to it. Right after that, they moved the corpse of Xuan Ku dashi into the 'Sarira Institute' for cremation and carried the Rule Protecting monk to the 'Institute of Medical King' to cure the injuries. They were all in very low spirits and rather silent, feeling that this time they had really lost face. Shaolin Monastery was packed with experts, and in terms of martial arts and reputation, each of these more than 10 high-level monks had a resounding name in wulin, yet they had let Qiao Feng, with bare hands and being alone, come and go as he pleased. They could not have even the least idea how he had escaped, much less killing or capturing him.

It turned out that Qiao Feng had anticipated that as soon as an unforeseen event happened, the monks would certainly search everywhere all around, but they would definitely not care about the room in which they had just gathered a moment ago. Therefore, after sending the Rule Protecting monk flying out with a palm attack, he had immediately bent his body and got into the space underneath the bed on which Xuan Ku dashi had usually slept before his death. With his 10 fingers inserted into the bed base, he had been pressing his body close to it. Even though someone had already glanced at the space under the bed, he had not seen him. After the body of Xuan Ku dashi had been moved out, the execution monk shut the door of the Institute of Faith Attestation, hence no one came in anymore.

Lying horizontally underneath the bed, Qiao Feng heard the monks cause a commotion for a long time then the sounds of human voice gradually disappear. He thought: 'Waiting until dawn, it won't be easy to escape. If I don't leave here now, then when should I?' He then quietly came out from under the bed, gently pushed open the door, jinked and hid behind a tree.

He thought, even though by now the human voices had stopped, how could it be that the high-level monks of Shaolin had given up and loosened their guard at this point? The Institute of Faith Attestation was located at the western extremity of Shaolin Monastery so he only had to go westward to enter a cluster of mountains. As soon as they came out of Shaolin Monastery, the monks would have to spread out, so even if he met them, they would definitely not be able to intercept him. But he did not want to fight Shaolin monks at all and only hoped that someday he would be able to capture the real murderer, take them to the monastery and explain the whole thing. If today he fought and defeated one more monk, he would make another enemy for nothing. If he accidentally wounded or killed someone, the consequence of it would be even more unthinkable. He thought he himself had vanished from the western part of the monastery so the monks would certainly guard the paths in the west most tightly, therefore he should go through the monastery and leave from its eastern part.

He immediately stooped and quietly went under the cover of the trees. After going past four buildings, he hid behind a sacred fig tree. Suddenly he saw two monks waiting in ambush behind a tree right in front of him. Those 2 monks were not moving a bit therefore it was hard to detect them in the dark, but with his sharp eyesight he had seen the flashes of the precept knife (戒刀 – jie dao – a Buddhist's knife that, according to the precepts of Buddhism, must not be used to harm living creatures) that a monk was holding in his hand. He thought: 'How dangerous! Had I gone a little bit too fast just now, I would definitely have been spotted.' He waited behind the tree for a while, but those 2 monks remained motionless all along. This 'Waiting for windfalls' method was unexpectedly very dangerous. If he made a move, he would be seen by those 2 monks instantly, but he also could not afford to be locked in a long stalemate and stay motionless all the while.

He slightly considered then picked up a small stone and flicked it out. He used his power very skillfully, making the stone go slowly at first but go fast afterward. When the stone started to fly out, there was no sound at all, but after it had gone for 7 or 8 zhang's (1 zhang = 3.333m), the sound of the air being pierced through became intense. The stone hit a big tree, making a strange sound. Those 2 monks stooped down and rushed towards that big tree.

Qiao Feng waited until the 2 monks went past him then he jumped up and climbed into a compound at his side. In the moonlight he saw clearly a horizontally inscribed board which read 'Bodhi Institute'. He knew when those 2 monks saw nothing unusual, they would definitely return, therefore he did not stop and walked fast straight towards the backyard, passed through the front hall of the Bodhi Institute, then leaned his body and entered the rear sanctum.

In the blink of an eye, he saw the shape of a man, who was exceptionally fast, flashing by from behind him. He had rarely seen a lightness skill this fast.

'What a skill! Who's this man?' Startled, Qiao Feng withdrew his palms to protect his body and turned around. He could not help but burst out laughing as what he saw before him was only a man whose one palm was being placed in an obliquely upward position to protect his front, his chest being drawn in and his back being stretched. It turned out that there was a screen placed in front of the Buddha statues in the rear sanctum, and a very big copper mirror was installed on the screen. The mirror had been polished to a high gloss and Qiao Feng's own image was reflected in it. The copper mirror was engraved with 4 Buddhist metrical lines. As there were several oil lamps in front of the Buddha statues, in the dim light, he could vaguely see them: 'All the elements that have a form; Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows; like dew and also like lightning; Like this should they be contemplated.' [一切有为法,如梦幻泡影,如露亦如电,当作如是观.] (These 4 lines were taken from the Diamond Sutra)

Qiao Feng smiled and turned around. When he was about to take a step, suddenly his mind felt as if being heavily hit by something. He was dumbstruck. He only knew that at this moment he had just thought of an abnormal important matter. But he was confused and could not ascertain what that matter was.

After standing there in a trance for a short while, he unconsciously turned around again and looked at the copper mirror. Seeing his own back, he came to realize all of a sudden: 'A little while ago I had a view of my own back, where did that happen? I've never seen such a big copper mirror, how could I see my own back clearly like this?' When he was still entranced, suddenly he heard footsteps outside the institute. Some people were walking towards the sanctum.

At that pressing moment, having nowhere to hide, he saw 3 Buddha statues standing side by side in the sanctum. Without delay he leaped on the altar and hid behind the third statue. He heard the footsteps of 6 people in total who came in the rear sanctum abreast in 2 rows. Each of them sat down on a bulrush mat. From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng peeped out and saw that all the 6 people were middle-aged monks. He thought: 'If I run away from the rear sanctum now, if these 6 monks' martial arts are mediocre, they won't be able to detect me, but if just one of them has profound internal energy, and keen eyes and ears, he'll notice me right away. For the moment I'd better quietly wait and see here for a while.' Suddenly he heard a monk on the right-hand side say: 'Shixiong (older apprentice bro), this Bodhi Institute is an empty place, what sutra does it have? Why did master tell us to guard here, saying something like to prevent the enemy from stealing?' A monk on the right-hand side smiled and said: 'This is the secret of the Bodhi Institute. It's no use talking much about it.' The monk on the right-hand side said: 'Humph, I see that you may not know either.' The monk on the left-hand side could not bear the incitement. He said: 'How come I don't know? 'Yi Meng Ru Shi'…' (一梦如是 – literally 'A Dream like This', I use the pinyin for the sake of faithfulness) When he had just said half of the sentence, he suddenly became cautious and stopped talking. The monk on the right-hand side said: 'What's 'Yi Meng Ru Shi'?' The monk who was sitting on the second bulrush mat said: 'Zhi Qing shidi (younger apprentice bro), normally you're not gossipy and meddlesome, why do you keep asking nonstop today? If you wanna know about the secret of the Bodhi Institute, then just go ask your own master.'

The monk named Zhi Qing did not ask anymore. After a while, he said: 'I'm going to the back to pass water.' As he finished saying he stood up. From the right-hand side he went to the side door on the left. When he passed by the back of the monk who was number 5 counting from the left, suddenly he raised his right foot and kicked that monk in the 'Xuanshu acupuncture point' on the back. The Xuanshu acupuncture point was located beneath the 13th vertebra. That monk was sitting cross-legged on a bulrush mat therefore his Xuanshu acupuncture point was right on the edge of the mat. After he was hit by Zhi Qing's tiptoe, his body slowly fell rightwards. Zhi Qing had kicked very fast without making any sound. Next he kicked the 4th monk in the 'Xuanshu acupuncture point' then kicked the 3rd monk. In a very short time he had continuously downed 3 monks with his kicks.

From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng saw that clearly. He was very surprised because he did not understand why infighting suddenly arose among these Shaolin monks. He saw Zhi Qing raise his foot and kick the 2nd monk on the left-hand side. When the tiptoe just touched his acupuncture point, 2 of the 3 monks whose acupuncture points had been hit by him fell down from the bulrush mats. Their heads hit the brick floor of the sanctum, creating peng peng sounds. The monk on the left-hand side was startled and jumped to his feet to look carefully. Catching a glimpse of Zhi Qing knocking down the monk behind him with a kick, he was even more frightened and asked: 'Zhi Qing, what are you doing?' Zhi Qing pointed outside and said: 'You see. Who's coming?' That monk turned around and looked outside. Zhi Qing then raised the right foot and quickly threw a kick at his back.

As this kick was executed very fast, it should be impossible to miss. But this sneak attack was reflected clearly in the copper mirror in front of them therefore that monk slanted his body and dodged it. He struck back with his palm and asked: 'Are you crazy?' Zhi Qing executed his stances like the wind. When they exchanged the 8th stances, that monk's lower abdomen took a punch then he received a kick. Seeing Zhi Qing use Yin, soft and ruthless stances, which were absolutely not techniques of Shaolin School, Qiao Feng felt even more surprised.

That monk knew that he was no match for Zhi Qing, therefore he shouted loudly: 'Spy. Spy…' Zhi Qing strode forwards and hit him in the chest with his left fist. That monk immediately fell down and lost consciousness.

Zhi Qing quickly ran to the copper mirror. He extended his right forefinger and gave the word 'Yi' (一 - A) in the first line of the Buddhist verse a push. Through the mirror Qiao Feng saw him follow that by pushing the word 'Meng' (梦 – Dream) in the 2nd line. He thought: 'That monk said the secret was 'Yi Meng Ru Shi'. There're 4 'Ru' words (如 – Like) on the mirror, which one should be pushed?'

He only saw Zhi Qing extend his finger and push the 1st 'Ru' word in the 3rd line, then push the word 'Shi' (是 - This) in the 4th line. When his finger had not yet left the surface of the mirror, chugging sounds were heard. The copper mirror already slowly turned over.

This was a good chance for Qiao Feng if he wanted to run away at this moment, but he got curious and wanted to see exactly why this Shaolin monk wanted to harm his fellow disciples and what there was behind the copper mirror. He thought maybe they had something to do with the murder of Xuan Ku dashi.

Before being hit by Zhi Qing, the first monk on the left-hand side had shouted loudly. There were more than 100 monks being on patrol all around in Shaolin Monastery, hence as soon as they heard the shouting, they rushed to where it had started. Not just a few footsteps were heard on all sides east, south, west, and north of the Bodhi Institute.

Qiao Feng hesitated: 'I mustn't let them spot any trail of me.' But he thought after the monks arrived, they would focus their eyes on Zhi Qing, he would have a great chance to extricate himself therefore there was no need to hurriedly escape. He saw Zhi Qing reach into a small hole behind the copper mirror to search but find nothing. At this moment, the footsteps from the north had already drawn near the outside of the Bodhi Institute.

Zhi Qing stamped his foot. Obviously he was totally disappointed. When he was about to turn around and leave, suddenly he lowered his body to look at the back of the mirror then cried out happily in a low voice: 'It is here!' He stretched out his hand to take out from the back of the copper mirror a small package and put it into his bosom. He then wanted to find a way to flee, but at this moment there were a lot of monks gathering all around and there was no way out already. Zhi Qing swept around then immediately rushed out through the front door of the Bodhi Institute.

Qiao Feng thought: 'Going out like this, it's impossible for this man not to be captured instantly.' At this moment, he suddenly felt the sound of wind. Someone was rushing into the place where he was hiding. Qiao Feng located this person by hearing the wind. Stretching out his left hand, he grabbed the left wrist of the enemy. He then raised his right hand and exerted pressure on the Shendao acupuncture point on his back, sending out his internal energy. The whole body of that man immediately went numb, felt exhausted and became unable to move. After catching the enemy, Qiao Feng looked carefully at his face and saw that this man was unexpectedly Zhi Qing. He was startled but immediately understood: 'That's right! This man is just like me, also wanting to hide behind the Buddha statues. Luckily he also chooses the 3rd statue, perhaps because this statue has the portliest body. Why did he rush out of the front door first then quietly come in through the back door? Ah, there're 5 monks lying on the floor, when outsiders enter and ask, those 5 monks will all say that he has escaped through the front door, everyone will then be unlikely to search in this Bodhi Institute. Oh dear, this man is really good at scheming.'

Qiao Feng considered, his hand still holding Zhi Qing. He then put his lips next to Zhi Qing's ear and said in a low voice: 'If you make a noise, I'll take your life in a palm attack, get it?' Zhi Qing nodded.

At this moment, 7 or 8 monks rushed in through the main entrance, 3 of whom were holding torches. The sanctum immediately lit up. Seeing that there were 5 monks lying on the floor of the sanctum, they immediately clamored: 'That villain Qiao Feng's carried out a murderous scheme again!' 'Hum, they're Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan shixiong's!' 'A'yo! No good! Why was this copper mirror lifted up? Qiao Feng has stolen the sutra of the Bodhi Institute!' 'Hurry up and report to Abbot.' Hearing these people commenting noisily, Qiao Feng could not refrain from smiling bitterly: 'This debt is again passed on to me.' In a short period of time, there were more and more monks gathering in the sanctum.

Qiao Feng felt Zhi Qing struggling, wanting to pull free. He understood his intention: 'The monks are gathering in the sanctum. Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the others haven't regained consciousness. If this Zhi Qing guy wants to escape, this moment is a good chance. Even if he arrogantly appears in the sanctum, no one would have a doubt as they all think that I'm the culprit.' He immediately had another thought: 'It seems this Zhi Qing guy isn't clever enough. A little while ago, why did he need to hide here? Had he come out from the sanctum, why would someone possibly have had interrogated him?'

Suddenly, the human voices in the sanctum stopped, no one said a word anymore. After that all the monks said in unison: 'Paying my respects to Abbot. Paying my respects to the Damo Institute's Chairman. Paying my respects to the Nagarjuna Institute's Chairman.' (Lol, this sounds so weird! Could someone please help me find an English equivalent of 参见 that is officially used in face-to-face formal meetings?)

Soft pai-pai sounds were heard. Someone had used his palm to wake Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the other 3 monks up. Then someone asked: 'Is it Qiao Feng who did this? How could he know about the secret of the copper mirror?' Zhi Zhan said: 'It's not Qiao Feng. It's Zhi Qing…' All of a sudden, he jumped up and scolded: 'Good, good! Why did you sneakily attack your fellow disciples?'

From behind the Buddha statue Qiao Feng was unable to see who he was scolding.

He only heard one man cry out in fear: 'Zhi Zhan shixiong, why do you pull me?!' Zhi Zhan angrily said: 'You kicked the 5 of us down and stole the hidden sutra. How daring! Abbot, the traitor Zhi Qing illegally opened the copper mirror of the Bodhi Institute and stole the sutra!' That man cried out: 'What? What? I've always been with Abbot, how could I come here to steal that hidden sutra thing?'

An aged hoarse voice sternly said: 'Close the copper mirror first then relate what happened.'

Zhi Yuan went put the copper mirror back to its original position. This time, Qiao Feng saw clearly in the mirror the situation of the monks in the sanctum. He saw a monk gesticulating, looking very agitated. When Qiao Feng looked at him, he could not help feeling startled as it turned out this man was Zhi Qing. Surprised, Qiao Feng involuntarily turned his head and looked at the monk at his side who had been captured by himself. He saw that this man's appearance was completely the same as that of the Zhi Qing in the sanctum. If looking at them carefully, he might notice some tiny differences, but in a glance, it was really impossible to tell them apart. Qiao Feng considered: 'In the world, people with similar appearances like this are extremely rare. That's right, perhaps they are twin brothers. This plan is unexpectedly pretty clever. One became a monk at Shaolin Monastery and one waited outside. When there was an opportunity, the other one disguised as a monk and came in the monastery to steal sutra. That real Zhi Qing didn't get away from the Abbot even by a single step so of course nobody would suspect him.'

Qiao Feng only heard Zhi Zhan successively related things like how Zhi Qing had asked about the secret of the copper mirror, how he himself should not have blurted out the 4 words, how Zhi Qing had pretended to go outside to pass water then sneakily kicked down 4 monks, and how Zhi Qing had fought against and flattened himself. While Zhi Zhan was recounting, Zhi Yuan and the other 3 monks repeatedly chimed in and confirmed that there was nothing false in his words.

Abbot Xuan Ci had all along had a disapproving expression on his face. Waiting until Zhi Zhan had finished relating, he slowly asked: 'Did you see clearly? Was it really Zhi Qing without a doubt?' Zhi Zhan, Zhi Yuan and the other monks said in unison: 'Abbot, there's no enmity between us and Zhi Qing, why should we frame him?' Xuan Ci sighed and said: 'There's definitely something strange about this. A short while ago Zhi Qing was always at my side without leaving. The Chairman of the Damo Institute was also with us.'

As soon as the Abbot said so, none of the monks in the sanctum dared to make any sound. The Chairman of the Damo Institute Xuan Nan dashi said: 'Correct. I also saw Zhi Qing accompany Abbot Shixiong. How come he could go to the Bodhi Institute to steal sutra?' The Chairman of the Nagarjuna Institute Xuan Ji asked: 'Zhi Zhan, when that Zhi Qing fought you, was there anything unusual about his stances?' He was the person with the aged hoarse voice.

Zhi Zhan uttered a loud cry and said: 'A'yo! Why haven't I thought about this? When that Zhi Qing fought this disciple, what he was using weren't the martial arts of our school.' Xuan Ji said: 'Then can you recognize what school those martial arts belong to?' Seeing that Zhi Zhan was having a blank expression and was unable to answer, Xuan Ji asked again: 'Was it Long Fist or a close-quarters technique? A Grasping hand technique? Ditang (Ground Tumbling Fist), Liuhe (Six Harmonies Fist), Tongbi (Full Arm Fist)?' Zhi Zhan said: 'He… He used very vicious martial arts. I was unaccountably hit by him several times.'

The Abbot and the elderly monks with the highest rank such as Xuan Ji and Xuan Nan looked at each other. They thought that today opponents of extremely good abilities had come to the monastery and used deceitful tricks to make everyone feel as if being in a thick fog, therefore the immediate plan was, on the one hand, speeding up inspection, and on the other hand, dealing with everything calmly and facing the fearful with no fear, otherwise turbulence would arise in the monastery and the disaster would perhaps become even harder to put in order.

Xuan Ci put his palms together and said: 'The sutra hidden in the Bodhi Institute is a Mahayana sutra written by an eminent monk of an older generation in our monastery to promulgate Buddhism and assist human beings. If a Buddhist disciple acquires it and studies it intensively, he would naturally gain quite a few marvelous benefits. But if an ordinary person acquires it and doesn't value it, the sin really wouldn't be trivial. Shidi's and shizhi's (apprentice nephews), please return to your own institutes to rest. The ones who have duties carry them out as usual.'

Following his order, the monks dispersed. Only the people such as Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan were still nagging nonstop at Zhi Qing. Xuan Ji gave them a stare. Scared, Zhi Zhan and other people did not dare to talk anymore and went out side by side together with Zhi Qing.

After those monks had left, there were only three monks Xuan Ci, Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji in the sanctum. They were sitting on the bulrush mats in front of the Buddha statues. Xuan Ci suddenly said: 'Amitabha, how sinful, how sinful!' As he finished saying these 8 words, all of a sudden the 3 monks jumped up and went around to the back of the Buddha statue. From 3 different directions they sent their palm attacks towards Qiao Feng at the same time.

It was unexpected to Qiao Feng that these 3 monks had already discovered his own place by looking in the copper mirror. It was even more unexpected to him that these 3 senile elderly monks struck as soon as they finished saying and their palm attacks were fast and fierce like this. In an instant, he already felt his breathing had become heavy and the air in his chest was blocked. The joint attack of the 3 high-level monks of Shaolin Monastery was really no small matter. When he tried to tell the directions of the palm attacks apart at that urgent moment, he only felt that the 5 directions above him, below him, on his left, on his right, and at his back were already enveloped by the palm force of the 3 monks, if he was determined to break through, it would be impossible not to use hard techniques, if he did not injure the opponents, he himself would be injured. At that moment, not having time to think carefully, he channeled internal energy into his 2 palms and pushed out forwards. With loud ka-la-la sounds, the Buddha statue in front of him was pushed down. Qiao Feng conveniently lifted Zhi Qing up and leaped forwards. He suddenly felt a swift and fierce palm wind at his back. The palm force had not yet arrived but the wind force had already reached him.

Qiao Feng was unwilling to clash palms with or try his power against high-level Shaolin monks therefore his right hand grabbed the screen in front of him on which the copper mirror was installed, then he turned his wrist and moved his arm backwards, using the screen to cover his back like a shield. Only a loud 'deng' sound was heard, a palm attack of Xuan Nan had hit the copper mirror, causing a shock that made Qiao Feng feel a little pain and numbness in his right arm. The screen around the mirror was broken into several pieces.

Qiao Feng made use of the force of this palm attack of Xuan Nan and jumped forwards more than 1 zhang (3.333 m). Suddenly he heard someone at his back taking a deep breath. The sound of the breath was louder than usual. Qiao Feng knew instantly that a high-level Shaolin monk was going to use a type of martial arts akin to the 'Air Splitting Divine Fist.' Despite not fearing him, he himself did not want to waste internal energy together with him either, hence, without delay, he blocked his back with the copper mirror and also channeled internal energy into his right arm.

At that moment, he only felt the palm wind of the opponent coming at a slanting angle, the direction of the palm attack was really bizarre. Qiao Feng was very surprised but he immediately understood. That elderly monk's palm force was not for hitting his back, but instead, was aimed at Zhi Qing's back. As Qiao Feng and Zhi Qing did not know each other, he at first had no intention of saving him, but because he was already carrying him in his hand, the idea of taking care of him involuntarily appeared in his mind. Therefore, he pushed the copper mirror to shield Zhi Qing with it. Only a low unclear 'pai' sound was heard then the sound from the copper mirror disappeared. It turned out this mirror had already been cracked by the palm force of Xuan Nan before, therefore, at this moment, when it was again hit by the Air Splitting Palm of Abbot Xuan Ci, it sounded like a gong getting broken.

When moving the mirror backwards to block the attack, Qiao Feng had already lifted Zhi Qing and jumped up towards the roof. He felt that his body was very light, really being out of proportion with his tall and big stature. But when that sound, which was rather like the sound of a gong getting broken, was heard, unexpectedly he could not stand firmly on the eaves, his knees became weak and he fell back. Ever since he had started to travel in jianghu he had never met such a formidable opponent, therefore he could not help being startled. He immediately turned around and stood on the ground like a lofty mountain, showing a mighty bearing and paying absolutely no attention to the fact that he was being surrounded by strong enemies.

Xian Ci said: 'Amitabha, Qiao shizhu (almsgiver), besides coming to Shaolin Monastery and committing murder, you've also destroyed Buddha statues.'

Xuan Ji shouted loudly: 'Take one palm attack of mine!' He moved his 2 palms inwards from the sides in circles then slowly pushed them out towards Qiao Feng. When his palm force had not yet arrived, Qiao Feng already felt his breathing had become difficult in his chest. In an instant, Xuan Ji's palm force came fiercely like a raging tidal wave.

Qiao Feng threw the copper mirror away and struck back with an 'Arrogant Dragon Having Remorse' stance in the '18 Dragon Subduing Palms'. When the 2 streams of palm force met each other, they produced chi-chi sounds. Both Xuan Nan and Qiao Feng had to move back 3 steps. For a very short time, Qiao Feng felt his whole body had no strength and he also let Zhi Qing slip out of his hand. But as soon as he channeled his internal energy, he felt vigorous again. Without waiting for Xuan Ji to send out the 2nd palm attack, he shouted: 'I must take my leave!' He then lifted Zhi Qing up and leaped onto the roof.

The 2 monks Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji both uttered a 'yi' sound simultaneously and felt extremely astonished. The palm attack sent out by Xuan Ji just now had really gathered all of his power and was called 'One Hit Two Disperse'. The words 'Two Disperse' (两散) indicated that if using it to hit a rock, the rock would be broken into pieces which would then disperse, and if using it to hit a person, that person would become so frightened that their soul would leave their body and disperse. This palm technique only had 1 stance because the palm force was too powerful, and hence when facing the enemy, there would be no need to use the 2nd stance as the enemy would already be killed by the 1st stance. But because this one palm stance used such an extremely powerful internal energy as the basis, if a user of it wanted to change the stance or switch to a different one, they would not be able to do so. Unexpectedly, after Qiao Feng had taken this stance, not only had he not dropped dead on the spot, he had also recovered in a very short period of time then jumped onto the roof while carrying a person and run away.

Xuan Nan sighed and said: 'This man's martial arts are really outstanding!' Xuan Ji said: 'We must eliminate him as soon as possible to prevent him from becoming an extremely great danger.' Xuan Nan continuously nodded. But Abbot Xuan Ci looked at the horizon in the path in which Qiao Feng had just left, entranced.

Just before running away, Qiao Feng had turned his head around and cast a glance, only seeing that the copper mirror had been broken into dozens of pieces, which had scattered on the ground, by that punch of Abbot Xuan Ci. His back had been reflected in every piece. Qiao Feng had again been startled without a reason: 'Why do I always feel uneasy every time I have a view of my own back? In the end what's unusual about this?' In that moment, he had been eager to get away from Shaolin, and hence even though this suspicion had appeared in his mind, when hurriedly rushing away, he had also forgotten it.

As he was extremely familiar with the paths at Mt Shaoshi, he fled to the back of the mountain and chose precipitous narrow tracks to go along. After running away quickly for several li's (0.5 km), hearing no Shaolin monk chasing him, he felt a little bit calm. He then put Zhi Qing down on the ground and shouted loudly: 'Walk by yourself! But don't think about escaping.' Unexpectedly, when Zhi Qing's feet touched the ground, he immediately became weak, paralyzed and exhausted. He then curled up into a heap, looking as if he was already dead. Startled, Qiao Feng stretched out his hand to check Zhi Qing's breathing, only feeling that his breathing was unclear and extremely weak. When he checked his pulse next, he also found that it was beating extremely slowly. It seemed he was going to die very soon.

Qiao Feng thought: 'There're countless doubts and suspicions in my mind that I'm going to ask you about. I mustn't let you die so easily like this. After falling into my hands, this monk fears that his schemes would be exposed so he has prolly taken a fierce poison to kill himself.' He then held out his hand to touch Zhi Qing's chest and check the monk's heartbeat, only to feel that his hand was touching something pliant. This monk was unexpectedly a female!

Qiao Feng hastily withdrew his hand. He felt more and more strange: 'He… He's a female in disguise?' In the dark it was unable to examine carefully the appearance of this person. Unlike Duan Yu, who liked to read books, was familiar with decencies and had a lot of scruples, he was an open-minded tolerant man and did not stick to trivial matters, therefore he held Zhi Qing's back, lifted him up and shouted: 'Are you male or female? If you don't tell the truth, I'm gonna undress you to find out about it!' Zhi Qing's lips made a few movements. He wanted to say but was unable to utter any sound at all. Obviously he was at his last gasp and his life was hanging by a thread.

Qiao Feng thought: 'Regardless of whether this person is male or female, good or bad, I mustn't let him die at this point.' He held out his right palm, putting it on Zhi Qing's back. He then circulated his internal energy in his dantian (the point which is located ~ 5 cm below the navel), channeled it from his abdomen into his arm, from his arm into his palm and transferred it into Zhi Qing's body. Even if he was unable to save his life, at least he also needed to ask and get some clues from him. Before long, Zhi Qing's pulse gradually became stronger, and his breathing was also getting smoother. Seeing that he was unable to die at the moment, Qiao Feng was somewhat relieved and thought: 'This place isn't far from Shaolin. I can't stay here for too long.' He immediately bent his arms to carry Zhi Qing horizontally in them and strode westwards.

At this moment, he again felt that Zhi Qing's body was very light, which was out of proportion to his tall and big stature. He thought: 'It's not proper for me to remove your clothes, but don't tell me that I can't take off your footwear?' He then stretched out his hand and pulled the Buddhist shoe off his right foot. When he pinched his sole, he only felt that his hand was touching something solid. Obviously it was not human flesh. He slightly pulled it with force. Following his hand, an object fell away, which turned out to be a wooden false foot. Only when he touched Zhi Qing's foot once more was it a soft delicate sole. Qiao Feng uttered a 'humph' sound and murmured: 'This person's really a female.'

He immediately used his lightness skill and went faster and faster. Running quickly until dawn, estimating that he was already more than 50 li's (0.5 km) away from Shaolin Monastery, he carried Zhi Qing into a grove on the right-hand side. Seeing a clear brook, which ran through the grove, he went to the side of it, scooped up some clear water and splashed it on Zhi Qing's face. Then he used the sleeve of her Buddhist robe to give her face a few wipes. All of a sudden, the flesh on her face fell down piece after piece. Qiao Feng was frightened and jumped to his feet: 'Why is her skin rotten like this?' Looking carefully with his doubtful eyes, he saw that under the rotten flesh on her face the smooth translucent skin was exposed.

Being carried in Qiao Feng's arms while he had been running, Zhi Qing had always been in a daze. At this moment, after her face had been wet by clear water, she opened her eyes, looked at Qiao Feng, forced a smile and softly said: 'Chief Qiao!' But because she was too weak, after uttering these words, she closed her eyes again.

Seeing that her face had different colors and was uneven, making it unable for him to see her real face clearly, Qiao Feng soaked the sleeve of her Buddhist robe in the brook until it was drenching then used force to swab her face several times with it. The gray dust continuously fell down under his hand, exposing the dainty face of a young girl. Qiao Feng could not refrain from shouting out: 'It's Ms A'Zhu!'

The person who had disguised as Zhi Qing and blended in with the monks at the Bodhi Institute was no one other than Murong Fu's maid A'Zhu. Her disguising and making-up skills were really unmatched. She had walked on wooden feet to make her body look taller, used cotton to make her shoulders look higher and her abdomen curve outwards, used flour to make her cheeks look puffy, worn a Buddhist hat, and put on a Buddhist robe. Even the people who met Zhi Qing daily such as Zhi Zhan and Zhi Yuan had not been able to discover that she had been the fake one.

When feeling confused and not being able to think clearly, she heard Qiao Feng call her 'Ms A'Zhu'. She wanted to reply and explain why she had sneaked in Shaolin Monastery, but she had no strength at all. Her tongue did not obey her orders either, therefore she could not even reply with a 'yes' sound.

Qiao Feng at first had firmly believed that Zhi Qing had been treacherous and vicious, and that the deaths of his father and mother must have had an enormous connection with him, hence he had not hesitated to spend his internal energy to save his life, wanting to investigate him and bring to light all the true facts. He had resolved that if Zhi Qing had not said, he would use all kinds of cruel unendurable tortures to force him to say the truth. Who could have expected that this person's true identity was the young girl A'Zhu, who was dainty, clever, lovely and delightful? Really, no one could have expected this, even in a dream. Even though Qiao Feng had met A'Zhu and A'Bi a few times, and had saved the 2 of them from the hands of Western Xia warriors, he did not know that A'Zhu was very proficient at making-up. If Duan Yu had switched with Qiao Feng, he would have already guessed correctly.

At this moment Qiao Feng already knew clearly that she was not poisoned, but was injured by palm force. After considering a little, he already knew the reason. Before Abbot Xuan Ci had sent out an Air Splitting Palm attack, he had used the copper mirror to cover his back. Even though the attack had not hit A'Zhu, because he had been carrying her in his left hand, the extremely swift and fierce palm force had transferred to her body as a result. After understanding this matter, he could not help feeling sorry inwardly: 'If I hadn't meddled in other people's affairs, letting her come and go as her pleased, she would've already escaped and definitely wouldn't have met with this disaster.' He had a very high opinion of Murong Fu, and as they said, if a person liked someone they would like even his house and the crow on the roof of his house (the English equivalent of this proverb is 'Love me, love my dog', but 'dog' gives a negative connotation in a Chinese context, so I don't use it here), therefore it was unavoidable that Qiao Feng also respected Murong Fu's maid. He thought: 'She suffered this serious injury all because of me. My sense of honor doesn't allow me not to cure her. I must go to a town and ask a doctor to treat her.' He then said: 'Ms A'Zhu, I'm gonna carry you to a town to treat your injury.' A'Zhu said: 'There's vulnerary in my bosom.' As she finished saying she moved her right hand, but did not have any strength to reach into her bosom.

Qiao Feng stretched out his hand and took out all the things in her bosom. Besides some pieces of silver, he saw a gold lock which was very finely crafted. On the lock, two lines of small characters were engraved: 'Stars in the sky, which are twinkling, will glitter forever, and forever well will you be.' (天上星, 亮晶晶, 永灿烂, 长安宁 – There's a hidden message in this poem, I'll explain in a later chapter) In addition, there was a small case made of white jade, which had been given to her by Grandpa Tan in the apricot forest. Qiao Feng felt happy as he knew this vulnerary was highly effective. He said: 'Saving your life is important, please forgive me.' Holding out his hands, he unfastened her gown then repeatedly applied all the Cold Jade Icy Toad Ointment in the case onto her chest. A'Zhu could not refrain from getting embarrassed. She felt a sharp pain in the injury again and passed out immediately.

Qiao Feng fastened her gown and put the white jade case and the gold lock back into her bosom, but he took the silver pieces. He then stretched out his hand to grab her body and walked quickly towards the north.

After going for more than 20 li's (0.5 km) he arrived in a densely populated big town called Xu Jia Ji. Qiao Feng went to the biggest inn and booked 2 rooms. He then helped A'Zhu settle down and invited a doctor to come and examine the condition of her injury.

That doctor felt A'Zhu's pulse then continuously shook his head and said: 'The lady's illness is incurable. This prescription is merely the best I can do. That's all.' Qiao Feng saw that the prescription had some licorice, peppermint, Chinese bellflower, pinellia ternata, all of which were mild medicines which might not necessarily be able to cure even a common stomach ache.

He did not go buy medicines either and thought: 'If even the effective medicine of Grandpa Tan of Chongxiao Cave can't cure her then what's the use of the medicines of a quack in this town?' He then channeled his internal energy and transferred it into her body. In an instant, A'Zhu's face became ruddy. She said: 'Chief Qiao, luckily you saved me. Had I fallen into the hands of those bald thieves, my life would've been threatened.' Hearing she talk with abundant energy, Qiao Feng was very happy and said: 'Ms A'Zhu, I was really worried that you wouldn't be able to get well.' A'Zhu said: 'Don't call me Ms or something. Calling me A'Zhu straight out is okay. Chief Qiao, why did you come to Shaolin Monastery?' Qiao Feng said: 'I'm no longer a chief already. Later on don't call me Chief…' A'Zhu said: 'Oh, I'm sorry. I'm gonna call you great master Qiao.'

Qiao Feng said: 'Let me ask you first. Why did you come to Shaolin Monastery?' A'Zhu laughed and said: 'Oh, speaking of that, please don't laugh at me for playing the goat. I heard that our young master had come to Shaolin Monastery so I wanted to find him and talked to him about Ms Wang. Who would've known that when I just entered the monastery, that monk Zhi Qing, who was on guard at the main entrance, aggressively said that women couldn't enter Shaolin Monastery? I had a quarrel with him. He instead scolded me. But I wanted to come in, besides I also disguised as him, to see what he could do.'

Qiao Feng smiled and said: 'You disguised, made up, and in the end entered Shaolin Monastery. Those monks couldn't discover that you're female at all. It'd have been better if after entering you had let them see your true appearance. They would've exploded in the bellies with anger without being able to do anything to you.' At first he had greatly respected Shaolin Monastery, but he could not help feeling angry because, firstly, Xuan Ku were already dead, and secondly, the monks had wrongly accused him of the 3 most serious crimes under heaven, which were patricide, matricide and killing his master, without asking about the rights and wrongs of him.

A'Zhu sat up, clapped her hands, laughed and said: 'Great master Qiao, that's a good idea. After I get well, I'll disguise as a man to enter the monastery then change to female clothes, swagger to the middle of the Great Mighty Sanctum and sit there, making all the monks so angry that they would roll on the floor. How interesting would that be! Ah…' Suddenly, she could not take even a breath. Her body then loosened and collapsed. She lay motionless on the bed.

Qiao Feng was startled. He put his forefinger next to her nostrils and felt that her breathing seemed to have completely stopped. Feeling anxious, he hastily put his palm on the 'Lingtai acupuncture point' on her back and sent his internal energy into her body. Within the time to finish a cup of tea, A'Zhu slowly turned her body over, laughed apologetically and said: 'A'yo, why did I fall asleep during conversation? Great master Qiao, I'm really sorry.' Qiao Feng knew that her condition was far from good. He said: 'You haven't recovered yet. You'd better sleep for a while to rest.' A'Zhu said: 'I'm not tired, but you've been busy for half a night, so please rest for a while.' Qiao Feng said: 'Okay, I'll see you after a while.'

He went to the parlor to order 5 Jin's of wine and 2 Jin's of beef (1 Jin = 0.6 kg) then ate and drank alone. Because at this moment he felt very sad, it was easy for him to get drunk. After drinking up 5 Jin's of wine, he unexpectedly felt slightly intoxicated. He then took 2 steamed buns to A'Zhu's room for her to eat. After he entered the room, he called several times but did not hear any reply. He went to the bed and saw that her eyes were slightly closed and her cheeks were sunken. It looked like she was already dead. He stretched out his hand and touched her forehead. Fortunately it was still warm. He then hastily used his internal energy to save her. A'Zhu slowly woke up. She received the buns and happily ate them.

This time, Qiao Feng knew that she was now totally depending on his internal energy to stay alive, if he did not transfer internal energy into her body, she would be exhausted within 2 hours and die. He did not know what he should do.

Seeing that he was having a thoughtful and worried look, A'Zhu said: 'Great master Qiao, am I so seriously injured that even the effective medicine of Sir Tan can't cure me?' Qiao Feng hastily said: 'No, no! It's nothing, after several days, you'll get well.' A'Zhu said: 'Please don't deceive me. I myself know it. I only feel empty, not having even the least bit of strength.' Qiao Feng said: 'Set your mind at rest and recover. I'll surely have a way to cure you.' Hearing his tone, A'Zhu knew that her injury was really serious therefore she could not help but get scared and her hand started to tremble. The bun half of which she had eaten then fell on the floor. Qiao Feng only thought that her internal energy had run out again, hence he immediately put his palm on her Lingtai acupuncture point.

At this moment, A'Zhu was still in full possession of all her faculties, she felt a warm stream of internal energy being channeled into her body from his palm and her whole body instantly felt comfortable. After thinking a little, she already understood that actually she had almost died for several times and every time Qiao Feng had used his internal energy to bring her back to life, hence she felt both grateful to him and frightened. Even though she was clever, after all she was still very young. With tears streaming down, she said: 'Great master Qiao, I don't wanna die, please don't ignore and leave me behind in here.'

Finding her words pitiable, Qiao Feng consoled her: 'That's definitely impossible. Don't worry. What kind of man is Qiao Feng? How can I abandon a friend who's in jeopardy?' A'Zhu said: 'I don't deserve to be your friend. Great master Qiao, am I gonna die? After a person die will they become a ghost?' Qiao Feng said: 'You don't need to think too much. You're so young like this, suffering a bit of minor injury, how could you die?' A'Zhu said: 'You're not fobbing me off, are you?' Qiao Feng said: 'No, I'm not.' A'Zhu said: 'You're a well-known hero in wulin. They all say: 'North Qiao Feng, South Murong', you and my young master, one in the north, one in the south, are equally famous. In your life, have you ever failed to keep your words?' Qiao Feng smiled and said: 'When I was little I often lied, but afterward, when traveling in jianghu, I no longer deceived other people.' A'Zhu said: 'You said the condition of my injury wasn't serious. It's deceiving me, isn't it?'

Qiao Feng thought: 'If you know that the condition of your injury is serious, you'll be anxious, making it harder to save you. Because of you I have no choice but to deceive you.' He then said: 'I can't deceive you.' A'Zhu let out a sigh and said: 'Okay, I feel at ease then. Great master Qiao, I have one matter to beg you.' Qiao Feng asked: 'What's the matter?' A'Zhu said: 'Tonight you stay in my room with me, and don't leave me.' She thought if Qiao Feng went away this time, she herself would possibly not be able to endure till dawn. Qiao Feng said: 'Very good. Even if you hadn't said that, I'd still sit here with you. Don't say anymore, just sleep quietly for a while.'

A'Zhu closed her eyes, but after a while, she opened them again and said: 'Great master Qiao, I can't sleep. I beg you one thing, is that okay?' Qiao Feng asked: 'What is it?' A'Zhu said: 'When I was little, every time I couldn't sleep my mother would sing for me to hear at the side of my bed. She would only need to sing 3 songs, I'd then sleep soundly.' Qiao Feng smiled and said: 'It's not easy to find your mother now.' A'Zhu let out a sigh and said quietly: 'I don't know where my father and mother are. I don't know if they still live in this world either. Great master Qiao, you sing a few songs for me to hear, is that okay?'

Qiao Feng could not help but smile bitterly. He was such a mighty man therefore if he sang to coax a young girl to sleep, this would really be outrageous. He then said: 'I really can't sing.' A'Zhu said: 'When you were little, your mother sang songs to you, didn't she?' Scratching his head, Qiao Feng said: 'That seems to have happened, but I already forgot everything. Even if I remembered I wouldn't be able to sing.' A'Zhu sighed and said: 'If you're unwilling to sing then I can't do anything about it.' Qiao Feng said apologetically: 'It's not that I'm unwilling to sing, but I really can't sing.' A'Zhu suddenly came up with another idea. She clapped her hands, laughed and said: 'Ah, I got it, great master Qiao, I beg you another matter, this time you can't say no.'

Qiao Feng felt this young girl was innocent and simple, but her words and behavior were often beyond people's expectations. After she had said she would ask him for another thing, he had no idea what whimsical thing it would be. Hence, he said: 'You say it first. If I can promise then I'll promise. If I can't promise then I won't promise.' A'Zhu said: 'This matter, everyone in the world can do, as long as they are at least 4 or 5 years old. You think it's easy or not?' Not wanting to be fooled, Qiao Feng said: 'In the end, what is it? You gotta say it clearly first.' A'Zhu gave a charming smile and said: 'Alright! Please tell several tales to me, it doesn't matter if they're about a rabbit gege (elder bro) or a wolf popo (husband's mother/grandmother), I'll always be able to fall asleep.'

Qiao Feng frowned. An awkward expression appeared on his face. Not long ago, he had still been the Chief of the number one large society in jianghu who had had great might and been in charge of extraordinary people. But during the past few days, he had been dismissed from the Chief post and expelled from the Society. The 3 dearest people to him, who were his parents and master, had passed away in one day. In addition, he did not know if he was a Hu man or a Han man, his origin was unclear, and yet he was bearing the 3 heinous crimes which were betrayal and murdering his parents. After receiving such blows one after another, of course he had no one to share his worries, but who could have expected that, at this inn, he would have to keep a young girl company and would be asked to sing and tell tales by her like this? In the past, had he heard only half a sentence regarding these kinds of mushy trivialities, he would have covered his ears and run away quickly. In his life, he had only liked drinking wine and betting with his brothers and speaking loudly and openly. Besides engaging in carousals, he had only talked about serious national affairs and military affairs, and about heroes in the world. Those things such as telling a tale, a rabbit gege and a wolf popo were really jokes and absurdities to him.

However, in a glance, seeing that there was an earnest expectant look in A'Zhu's eyes and that her face was haggard, he thought: 'Suffering such a serious injury, it's perhaps already hard for her to recover. If she couldn't take a breath, she would die at any moment. She wants to hear a tale then I'll conveniently tell her one.' He then said: 'Okay, I'm gonna tell you a tale. But I'm afraid you'll think that it's not good.'

A'Zhu was very happy. She said: 'It'll definitely be interesting. Please tell me quickly.'

Even though Qiao Feng had agreed to tell a tale, he really did not know what to tell. Only after a while did he say: 'Hum, I'm gonna tell a tale of a wolf. Once upon a time, there was an old man. While walking in the mountains, he saw a wolf which had been tied up by men and put into a cloth bag. That wolf begged him to set it free. The old man then untied the cloth bag and released the wolf. The wolf…' A'Zhu continued: 'The wolf said it was hungry and wanted to eat the old man, right?' Qiao Feng: 'Oh, so you've already heard this tale?' A'Zhu said: 'This is the tale of a wolf in the mountains. I don't like to hear the stories in books. I want you to talk about the countryside, and not the stories written in books.'

Qiao Feng considered and said: 'Not a story written in books but a story in the countryside. Okay, I'm gonna tell you a story of a country kid.'

'A long long time ago, there was a poor family in the mountains. The father and the mother had only 1 child. When that child turned 7, his body was very tall and big, and he could already help his father chop firewood in the mountains. One day, the father got sick, but because their family was very poor, they couldn't afford to invite a doctor or buy medicine. But the father's illness got more serious with each passing day. Not using medicine was out of the question. So, the mother took the only 6 hens and a basket of eggs of the family to the market and sold them.'

'The hens and the eggs were sold for 4 silver qian (1 qian = 1/10 tael = ~ 4 g). But the doctor said it was too far to go into the mountains and he didn't want to see the patient. The mother made every effort to beg him, but that doctor always shook his head and refused. The mother then knelt down and begged him sincerely. The doctor said: 'Going to your house in the mountains to see the patient isn't worth the trouble of being affected by the miasma and the poverty. What illness can your 4 silver qian cure?' The mother then pulled a corner of his gown. The doctor used his strength to pull free. Unexpectedly, the mother was grabbing too tight, therefore, with a 'chi' sound, a long seam was torn in the gown. The doctor was very angry so he pushed the mother down on the floor then threw a heavy kick at her. He also pulled her and demanded that she paid for the damage to the gown, saying that this gown was newly made and that it was worth 2 silver taels.'

Hearing him say to here, A'Zhu softly said: 'This doctor really was too despicable.'

Qiao Feng raised his head, looking at the twilight, which was gradually getting dark, through the window, and slowly said: 'That child was at the mother's side. Seeing the mother being bullied, he rushed forwards then both hit and bit the doctor. But he was just a little child, what strength did he have? So, he was lifted up by the doctor and thrown out through the main door. The mother hastily went outside to take care of the child. The doctor was afraid that the woman would pester him again so he shut the door. The child's forehead hit a stone and bled a lot. The mother was afraid of having problems so she didn't dare to stay in front of the doctor's house. She only wept and pulled the child's hand to go home.'

'When that child went by an ironware shop, he saw several sharp knives which were used for killing pigs and cattle being put on the stall. The blacksmith was very busy inviting customers to buy plows, rakes and hoes so the child stole a knife and hid it in his body. Even the mother didn't see that.'

'After they got home, the mother didn't tell the father about what had happened as she was afraid that the father would get angry and his illness would become more serious. She wanted to take out the 4 silver qian to hand over to the father, but to her surprise, when she reached into her bosom, she didn't find any silver.'

'The mother both panicked and found this strange. When she went outside to ask the child, she saw that he was holding a shining new knife and sharpening it by rubbing it against a stone. The mother asked him: 'Where did you get the knife from?' The child didn't dare to say that he'd stolen it so he lied: 'Other people gave me.' The mother of course didn't believe it. At the market, a new sharp knife like this had to be sold for 1.5 qian or 2 qian of silver, how could someone casually give it to a child? She asked who gave it to him, but that child couldn't answer. The mother sighed and said: 'Son, dad and mom are poor so normally we can't buy you any toy. We've really wronged you. You've bought the knife to play, to boys, there's nothing wrong with this. But you give mom the remaining money. Dad is sick, so we'll buy a Jin (~ 600 g) of meat and simmer a soup for him to eat.' As soon as the child heard that, he goggled and asked: 'What remaining money?' The mother said: 'Our 4 Qian (~ 4 g) of silver, you took them and bought the knife, didn't you?' The child was anxious and cried out: 'I didn't take the money, I didn't take the money.' The father and the mother had never smacked or scolded him. Even though he was just a several year old child, they'd treated him like a guest and always been polite to him…'

Telling to here, Qiao Feng suddenly shivered with fear: 'Why was it like this? Parents in the world never treat their children like this. Even if they spoil or take a pity on their children, they definitely can't respect them and be polite like this.' He talked to himself: 'Why was it so strange like this?'

A'Zhu asked: 'What was strange?' When she said the last 2 words, her breath was already feeble like a silk thread. Qiao Feng knew the internal energy in her body had exhausted. He immediately pressed his palm on her back and sent internal energy into her body.

A'Zhu gradually regained her energy. She sighed and said: 'Great master Qiao, every time you transfer energy to me, your internal energy decreases. To martial arts users, internal energy is the most important thing. You treat me like this, how can A'Zhu… repay you?' Qiao Feng laughed and said: 'So, I only need to breathe in meditation for several shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours) then not only will my internal energy be restored but I'll also be able to talk about repaying? I and your master Mr Murong have a deep telepathic friendship despite being thousands of li (0.5 km) apart. Even though we've never met, I always regard him as a friend. You're a member of his family, why do you need to regard me as an outsider?' A'Zhu said sadly: 'My energy will gradually disappear in every 2 hours. You can't… you can't forever…' Qiao Feng said: 'Don't worry. We can always find a doctor with brilliant medical knowledge to treat your injury.'

A'Zhu smiled and said: 'I'm afraid that doctor would hate me for being poor and fear that he would be affected by miasma and poverty so that he wouldn't treat me. Great master Qiao, you haven't finished telling your story yet. What was so strange?'

Qiao Feng said: 'Oh, it was just a slip of the tongue. Seeing that the child didn't admit, the mother didn't say either. She went back into the house. After a while, when the child finished sharpening the knife, he came into the house. He heard the mother talking in a low voice to the father that he himself had stolen money and bought a knife but was unwilling to admit. His father said: 'Ever since staying with us, this child hasn't got any toy. If he wants something then let him be. We've rather wronged him all along.' When the 2 of them talked to here they saw the child enter the house and stopped talking. With a kind and pleasant expression, the father patted his head and said: 'Poppet, later on watch your step, how could you fall and have your head so badly injured?' As for the missing 4 qian of silver and the matter of him buying a new knife, the father didn't mention a single sentence. He didn't even have the least bit of an unhappy expression.'

'Even though the child was only 7, he was already very sensible. He thought: 'Dad and mom suspect me of stealing money to buy the knife, if they gave me a good beating or a good scolding, I wouldn't mind at all. But unluckily they still treat me this well.' He felt uneasy so he said to his father: 'Dad, I didn't steal money. I didn't buy this knife either.' The father said: 'Your mom is meddlesome. What's so urgent about the missing money? Why questioned and made a fuss? Women are just small-minded. Good child, does your head hurt?' The child had no choice but to answer: 'I'm still fine!' He wanted to offer an explanation but had no way to argue. He was sulky and skipped the dinner to go to bed.'

'He tossed and turned in bed and couldn't fall asleep. He heard the mother softly crying. He thought it was because she was worried that the father's illness was serious and also felt angry about being insulted and beaten by the doctor during the day. The child quietly got up then climbed out through the window. During the night, he rushed to the town and went to the outside of the doctor's house. The front door and back door of that house were tightly shut so there was no way to go inside. But the child's body was small, so he crept into the house through the dog hole. He saw lamplight passing through the paper of a room's window. The doctor hadn't gone to bed yet and was decocting medicine. The child pushed the door of the room open…'

Feeling worried about that child, A'Zhu said: 'This child entered other people's house at night. Perhaps he was gonna be in big trouble.'

Qiao Feng shook his head and said: 'No. Hearing the sound of the door opening, the doctor raised his head and asked: 'Who?' The child didn't say anything. He came near him, drew the sharp knife and gave a thrust. His body was short so this thrust pierced the doctor's belly. That doctor could only groan with several 'hum' sounds then fell down.'

A'Zhu uttered an 'Ah' sound and said in a shocked voice: 'This child stabbed dead the doctor?'

Qiao Feng nodded and said: 'Correct. The child then crawled out through the dog hole again and returned home. In the night he made a round trip of several tens of li (0.5 km) so he was terribly tired. Only in the early morning of the next day did the family of the doctor find out that he was dead with his belly broken and his gut sticking out, looking very nasty. But all the front and back doors were still being locked tightly and were bolted from the inside, how could an outside murderer enter the house? Everyone suspected that people in the doctor's family had done this. The district chief (zhixian – Song dynasty's district-level top-ranking official) then tortured and investigated the doctor's brothers, wife and children, causing a disturbance for a few years, so the doctor's family was broken up. Since then, this incident has become a doubtful case in Xu Jia Ji.'

A'Zhu asked: 'You said Xu Jia Ji? Did that doctor… live in this town?'

Qiao Feng said: 'Yes. This doctor was surnamed Deng. At first he was the most famous doctor in this town. Even the several districts around knew about his reputation. His house was located to the west of the town. Originally it was surrounded by tall and big white walls, but now everything has been ruined. Just a moment ago, when I was going to invite the doctor to see your illness, I also went to the front of that house to have a look.'

A'Zhu asked: 'How about the sick father? Did he recover from the illness?' Qiao Feng said: 'Afterward, a monk from Shaolin Monastery brought medicine to their house and cured his illness.' A'Zhu said: 'It turns out there're still good monks in Shaolin Monastery.' Qiao Feng said: 'Of course there are. Shaolin Monastery has several high monks that are benevolent and knightly. They really make other people revere them.' As he finished saying, he felt sad because he thought of his first enshi (kind master) Xuan Ku dashi.

A'Zhu let out an 'En' sound and muttered to herself: 'That doctor looked down on the poor and thought nothing of their lives. He was of course despicable, but his fault didn't deserve death. This child was also too barbaric. I really can't believe this, how could a 7 year old child dare to kill a person? Ah, great master Qiao, you said this was a tale and not true, right?' Qiao Feng said: 'It's a real incident.' A'Zhu let out a sigh and said softly: 'This kind of cruel child seems like a Khitan villain!'

Qiao Feng suddenly trembled all over. He jumped to his feet and said: 'You…. What did you say?'

Seeing that his face had changed color, A'Zhu was scared and suddenly understood everything. She said: 'Great master Qiao, great master Qiao, I'm sorry, I… I didn't mean to hurt you with words. I really didn't say it on purpose…' Qiao Feng stood in a state of shock for a short while then sat down dispiritedly and said: 'You already guessed it?' A'Zhu nodded. Qiao Feng said: 'Words that are said unconsciously are often sincere words. I acted without mercy like this, was it really because of the Khitan origin?' A'Zhu gently said: 'Great master Qiao, A'Zhu talked nonsense. You don't need to think about it. That doctor kicked your mother and you've been heroic and righteous since childhood so there's nothing odd about you killing him.'

Qiao Feng hugged his head with his hands and said: 'It wasn't merely because of him kicking my mother. It was also because he made me face a false accusation. My mother's 4 silver qian must've fallen on the floor during the struggle in the doctor's house. I… In my life, what I can't stand the most is being wrongly accused by other people.'

However, within this day he had suffered 3 great injustices. It was unable to know if he himself was a Khitan, but Qiao Sanhuai and wife and Xuan Ku dashi obviously were not murdered by him, yet the 3 heinous crimes which were patricide, matricide and killing his master all had been put on his head. In the end, who was the murderer? Who shifted the blame onto him like this?

At this moment, Qiao Feng thought about another matter: 'Why did dad and mom both say that I was treated unfairly by staying with them? If the parents are poor, the child naturally will be poor, why is there anything fair or unfair about that? Perhaps I'm not their real son, but someone entrusted me to them. Most prolly the person who put me into their fosterage has a very high status, that's why dad and mom were very polite to me. Not only being polite, they also respected me deeply. Who was the person that entrusted me to them? Prolly he was Chief Wong.' His parents had treated him completely differently than how normal parents treated their children. As he was astute, he should have been aware of this long ago, but because it had been like that since childhood, he was accustomed to it. Even a more astute person would not have been able to figure them out as they would only think that his parents had been particularly benign. At this moment, when considering, he felt that everything confirmed that he himself was a Khitan barbarian.

A'Zhu consoled him: 'Great master Qiao, they say you're Khitan but in my opinion they're definitely slandering and starting a rumor. Needless to say, you're kind-hearted, righteous and well-known in the whole world. To just a negligible little maid like me, you've also watched over with all your heart. Khitan people are cruel like tigers and wolves. You're like the sky and they're like the earth, how can they compare with you?'

Qiao Feng said: 'A'Zhu, if I'm really a Khitan, will you still let me watch over you?'

At that time Han people in the Central Plains detested Khitan people and regarded them as poisonous serpents and ferocious beasts, hence A'Zhu was startled. She then said: 'Don't let your imagination run away with you. That's definitely impossible. If the Khitan ethnic group can produce such a good person like you then we won't detest Khitan people.'

Qiao Feng did not say anything and thought: 'If I'm really a Khitan then even such a little maid like A'Zhu won't pay attention to me.' In an instant, he felt that even though the world was big, he himself had nowhere to take shelter. His thoughts surged up like tidewater and his chest burned with righteous indignation. He knew that because he had transferred energy to A'Zhu repeatedly, his internal energy had been spent quite a lot. Without delay, he sat cross-legged on a chair beside the bed then slowly breathed and channeled his internal energy.

A'Zhu also closed her eyes.

Chapter - 19 I'sll Go, Despite a Myriad of Foes.

Qiao Feng channeled his internal energy for a long time. Suddenly, he heard two soft 'ge-ge' sounds high above in the northwest corner. He knew that there was a person in wulin walking on the roof. After that, there were also 2 sounds up in the southeast corner. When hearing the sounds in the northwest, Qiao Feng had still not paid any attention to them, but when there were 2 people gathering together like this, he knew it was likely they had come because of him. He lowered his voice and said to A'Zhu: 'I go out for a while and will come back immediately, don't be afraid.' A'Zhu nodded. Qiao Feng did not blow out the candle. As the door of the room was half closed, he turned his body sideways and went out. He then went around to the window at the backyard and stood next to the wall.

He only heard someone say in a room in the east of the inn: 'Is that 8th master Xiang? Please come down.' The man on the northwest corner laughed and said: 'Qi the Sixth of Guanxi has also arrived.' The man in the room said: 'Very good, very good! Please come in together.' 2 people jumped down from the roof in succession and walked into the room.

Qiao Feng thought: 'Qi the Sixth of Guanxi is called 'Fast Saber Qi Liu' (Liu = Six). He's a famous brave man in Guanxi. That 8th master Xiang is most prolly Xiang Wanghai of Xiangdong. I've heard that these people are generous in aiding the needy and their martial arts are remarkable. These 2 people aren't the treacherous vicious type and have no dispute with me either. Definitely they've come here not because of me. It turns out I've had a silly suspicion. The voice of the man in the room sounds somewhat familiar, but who is he?'

He heard Xiang Wanghai say: ''Yama's Foe' Divine doctor Xue suddenly sends out hero invitation cards to invite every fellow in jianghu, the situation is also very urgent because it says 'To the hero who sees this card, your esteemed presence is requested.' Big brother Bao, do you know what this is for?'

When Qiao Feng heard the words 'Yama's Foe Divine doctor Xue', he immediately had a mixed feeling of happiness and fright: 'Divine doctor Xue is around here? I only knew that he was far away in Ganzhou. If he is around here, the little maid A'Zhu can be saved.'

He had heard that Divine doctor Xue was the number one wizard in medical circles nowadays. Because the 2 words 'Divine doctor' were too famous, everyone did not even know what his original real name was. The tales of him in jianghu were even more exaggerating, saying that he could even bring the dead back to life, as for the people who were alive, no matter how serious the injuries or illnesses they suffered were, he always had methods to cure them, and for this reason Yama of Hell also had a serious headache as every time he sent Wuchang little demons to capture people, Divine doctor Xue would often stay at the side and thwart them or block the way and snatch the people. Not only did Divine doctor Xue have godlike medical knowledge, his martial arts were also outstanding. He liked making friends with fellows in jianghu. When he cured a person of an illness, he often consulted them about 1 martial arts stance or two. The person involved felt grateful to him for saving their life therefore naturally they would not hold back anything when passing on their knowledge and only teach him their proudest skills.

He heard Fast Saber Qi Liu ask: 'Shopkeeper Bao, recently have you bought or sold something good?' Qiao Feng thought: 'No wonder the voice of the man in the room sounds familiar. It turns out he's 'No Capital' Bao Qianling. This man robs the rich to aid the poor. He has quite a heroic reputation. That year, when I assumed the Beggar Society's Chief post, he also participated in the ceremony.'

Already knowing that there were 3 people Xiang Wanghai, Qi Liu and Bao Qianling in the room, he did not want to hear other people's private matters and thought: 'Tomorrow morning I'll visit Bao Qianling's room and ask him about where Divine doctor Xue is staying.' When he was about to return to A'Zhu's room, suddenly he heard Bao Qianling sighed and said: 'Oh, for the past several days I've been in a very bad mood and uninterested in buying or selling. Today, hearing that he killed his father, mother and master, I was even more furious.' As he finished saying he stretched out his hand and gave the table a heavy slap.

When Qiao Feng heard the words 'killed his father, mother, and master', he was scared: 'They're talking about me.'

Xiang Wanghai said: 'This Qiao Feng guy has always had a big reputation and been hypocritical. Not just a few people have been fooled by him. Who would have expected he could commit monstrous crimes like this?' Bao Qianling said: 'That year, when he assumed the Beggar Society's Chief post, I and he also had a chance to meet each other. I've always totally admired the conduct of this man in the past. Hearing Zhao the Third say he belonged to the Khitan barbaric ethnic group, I still tried my best to argue that he didn't, for this reason I and Zhao the Third quarreled to the point that we turned purple with rage and almost had a fight with each other. Oh, barbaric people really are the same as animals. He could hide it for a period of time, but later on, the ferocious character eventually broke open.' Qi Liu said: 'Who could have expected that he has roots in Shaolin Monastery? Xuan Ku dashi was his master.' Bao Qianling said: 'This matter at first was very secret. Even in Shaolin School, very few people knew about it. But Qiao Feng already killed his master so Shaolin School can no longer conceal the truth. This Qiao surnamed vicious traitor only thought that after killing his father, mother and master he'd be able to hide his origin and he'd rather die than admit it to anyone. But he couldn't have expected that he would overreach himself and his sins would become more and more serious.'

Standing outside the door, hearing Bao Qianling assessing his mind like this, Qiao Feng thought: ''No Capital' Bao Qianling and I can be regarded as having some friendship. This man is definitely not the type to make irresponsible remarks. If even he is saying like this, of course other people's words are even more unbearable. Oh, I, Qiao Feng, have suffered this unjustifiable injustice, why should I bother clearing myself of it? From now on I'll just conceal my identity, more than 10 years later, friends in jianghu would all forget that there's a person like me, that's all.' In an instant, he could not help but feeling utterly disheartened.

He heard Xiang Wanghai continue: 'My guess is that Divine doctor Xue sends out hero invitation cards to confer with other people about how to deal with Qiao Feng. This 'Yama's Foe' hates evil like an enemy, I've also heard that he and the 2 dashi Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji of Shaolin Monastery have a really deep friendship.' Bao Qianling said: 'Correct! I think recently in jianghu, besides Qiao Feng doing evil, there's no other major affair. Brother Xiang, brother Qi, come on, come on, come on, let's drink up several Jin (600 g) of white spirit, tonight we're gonna have a long talk.'

Qiao Feng thought even if they talked till dawn, they would merely make an extra effort to angrily scold him hence he did not want to hear anymore and returned to A'Zhu's room immediately.

Seeing that his face was pale and was having a very ugly expression, A'Zhu asked: 'Great master Qiao, did you meet enemies?' She was worried that he had suffered internal injuries. Qiao Feng shook his head. A'Zhu was still uneasy, she asked: 'You're not injured, right?'

Ever since Qiao Feng had started to step into jianghu, he had only been respected by friends and feared by enemies. He had never been despised and looked down upon like he had for the past several days. Hearing A'Zhu ask him so, he could not help but sense his pride rising. He said loudly: 'No, I'm not. It's not difficult for those ignorant narrow-minded lowlifes to defame and spread false rumors about me, but if they want to fight and injure me, it may not necessarily be easy.' Suddenly, heroic and mettlesome feelings surged up in his heart. He said: 'A'Zhu, tomorrow I'm gonna find the best doctor under heaven to treat the injury for you. Just relax and sleep.'

Seeing his proud expression, A'Zhu had a lot of respect and admiration for him but she was also scared. She felt that the man in front of her was totally different than Mr Murong but they also had very many similarities as both of them did not fear Heaven and Hell, and were both prideful and majestic. But Qiao Feng was straightforward and heroic like a mighty lion, while Mr Murong was refined and unaffected like a phoenix.

After making up his mind, Qiao Feng was no longer worried. He then fell asleep soon after sitting down on the chair.

A'Zhu saw the dim lamplight beaming on his face. After a while, she could hear him snoring. Suddenly, his facial muscles twitched slightly and he ground his teeth. The muscles on both sides of his square face stuck out. A'Zhu felt that the brawny man in front of her was very pitiable and really was much unhappier than she herself was.

Early in the morning of the next day, Qiao Feng transferred his internal energy to A'Zhu, paid the rent and asked the inn attendant to go hire a mule wagon. He helped A'Zhu take a sit in the wagon then went to the outside of Bao Qianling's room and said loudly: 'Brother Bao, this little brother Qiao Feng pays a visit.'

After cursing Qiao Feng for half a night, the 3 people Bao Qianling, Xiang Wanghai and Qi Liu had been very tired and fallen asleep. At this moment they had not yet waken up. Suddenly hearing the shout by Qiao Feng, they were all frightened and immediately jumped out of the earthen bed simultaneously, taking out the saber, drawing the sword, and touching the whip. As soon as the 3 people held weapons in their hands, they were dumbfounded because they saw that there was a small piece of white paper on which 4 small words 'Qiao Feng paying respects' were written sticking to the weapon of each of them. The 3 people looked at each other, gasping with astonishment. They knew that the previous night Qiao Feng had played a trick on them, had he wanted to take their lives, it would have been as easy as turning his hand over. Among them, Bao Qianling was even more embarrassed as his nickname was 'No Capital'; he had gone to thousands of houses in the daytime and had broken through hundreds of doors at nighttime; leaping onto roofs, vaulting over walls and stealing other people's money were his best skills, yet during the night he had been played a prank on by Qiao Feng without knowing anything about it until now.

Bao Qianling wound the flexible whip back around his waist, knowing that if Qiao Feng had wanted to harm them he would have done it the night before. He immediately ran to the door and said: 'The head on Bao Qianling's neck, brother Qiao can take it whenever you want to. I, Bao, specialize in doing business without capital, even if my entire home is lost at the hands of brother Qiao, it's still nothing. You killed even your father, mother and master, and only have a nodding acquaintance with me, why should you show mercy to me?' As soon as he had seen the piece of paper on his flexible whip, he had already made a decision. He knew the situation today was very dangerous, if he himself argued insolently with Qiao Feng to the end, there would really be no way to flee for his life; therefore it would be better to hand over himself to him.

Qiao Feng cupped his fist in his hand and said: 'Several years have flown by since the day we bid farewell to each other in Qingzhou prefecture in Shandong. Brother Bao's demeanor is still the same as before. This is really pleasing and commendable.' Bao Qianling ha-ha laughed and said: 'I've just been dragging out an ignoble life. Until now, on the whole, I haven't died yet.' Qiao Feng said: 'Hearing that 'Yama's Foe' Divine doctor Xue has sent out hero invitation cards, I rather like to go to increase my knowledge. May I go with the 3 of you?'

Bao Qianling was astonished and thought: 'Divine doctor Xue has sent out hero invitation cards only to deal with you. Having the nerve to go alone, you must be impatient not to live. In the end, what's your intention? I've long heard that Chief Qiao of the Beggar Society is bold but cautious, and both brave and resourceful. If it's not because he's secure in the knowledge that he has strong backing, he definitely won't hurl himself into the net. I mustn't fall into his trap.'

Seeing that he was hesitant about replying, Qiao Feng said: 'I have a matter to beg Divine doctor Xue. Hopefully, brother Bao will lead the way.'

Bao Qianling thought: 'I'm worried about not being able to escape from his murderous hands. If I lead him to the hero banquet, extraordinary people will jointly attack him, even if he had 3 heads and 6 arms, he would be hopelessly outnumbered. But going with him is really like facing an almost certain death.' Even though he was worried, he still thought that it would be good to lead Qiao Feng to the meeting of heroes, hence he said: 'This great banquet for heroes will be held at Juxian Manor which is 70 li (0.5 km) away to the northeast of here. Brother Qiao wants to go there. This can't be better. But I'm gonna make it clear that, in the first place, this meeting isn't a nice meeting and this banquet isn't a nice banquet. If brother Qiao goes there, it'll bode ill rather than well for you. Please don't blame Bao Qianling me for not telling you in advance.'

Qiao Feng smiled half-heartedly and said: 'I appreciate brother Bao's good intentions. The hero banquet will be held at Juxian Manor so the organizers are the You Clan's 2 Heroes, aren't they? It's also easy to ask about the location of Juxian Manor so the 3 of you please go ahead. It won't be late if this little brother slowly goes 2 hours later. This will also allow time for everyone to prepare.'

Bao Qianling turned around and looked at Qi Liu and Xiang Wanghai. The 2 of them slowly nodded. Bao Qianling said: 'If so, the 3 of us will respectfully wait for brother Qiao's arrival at Juxian Manor.'

The 3 people Bao, Qi and Xiang hurriedly paid the rent then got on their horses and whipped them towards Juxian Manor. They urged the horses on all the way and sometimes they turned their heads around to take a peep, fearing that Qiao Feng would suddenly ride a fast horse and catch up with them from the back. Fortunately, all along they did not see him. Bao Qianling was certainly a very clever person and Qi Liu and Xiang Wanghai were also extraordinary people in jianghu who had a lot of experience and extensive knowledge. But after the 3 of them discussed and made guesses on the way, they still could not understand what Qiao Feng's intentions were when he had said he would go to the hero banquet alone.

Qi Liu suddenly said: 'Big brother Bao, did you see that big wagon beside Qiao Feng? I'm afraid there's something strange in it.' Xiang Wanghai said: 'Could it be that there's someone formidable hiding in the wagon?' Bao Qianling said: 'Even if the inside of the wagon was to be packed with people to the point that the air couldn't pass through, it'd only be possible to shove 7 or 8 people into it. Adding Qiao Feng, there'd still be less than 10 people. If they went to the hero banquet, it'd be like a small boat going into the ocean. What would it be able to achieve?'

While they were talking, they gradually met more wulin fellows on the way, all of whom were rushing to Juxian Manor to attend the hero banquet. This time, the invitation to the hero banquet had been issued shortly before the opening and the invitation cards did not have the names of the guests, but whoever saw one of them would be welcomed as long as they were a person in wulin. The people who had received the invitation cards had used fast horses to forward them to their fellows in the same night, one person forwarding to another, therefore within 1 day and 1 night the invitation cards had been spread very far. Because the time was too limited, most of the people who went to Juxian Manor were from within several hundreds of li of Shaolin Monastery. But Henan was a central region, hence besides local martial arts people, the well-known experts in wulin of the North and the South who had received the message all went to the meeting. The number of people was really not small.

This time, the invitation to the hero banquet was jointly issued by the You Clan's 2 Heroes of Juxian Manor and 'Yama's Foe' Divine doctor Xue. The You Clan's 2 Heroes You Ji and You Ju were rich and powerful and had a wide circle of acquaintances, remarkable martial arts and resounding names, but they were not a formidable force in wulin; they could not be regarded as being people of noble character and high prestige to invite so many heroes and extraordinary people. But Divine doctor Xue was the person that everybody wanted to make friends with. Even though in general martial arts users were vainglorious, very few people were confident that they could fight without equal under heaven; even if they really flattered themselves that they were the #1 in martial arts nowadays, it was still difficult not to get sick or suffer injuries. If they could make friends with this Divine doctor Xue, they themselves would have an extra life because as long as they did not get killed on the spot and Divine doctor Xue was willing to treat them, they would narrowly escape death. Therefore, if the You Clan's 2 Heroes invited guests, the people who received the invitation cards would only feel that they themselves were honored, but these were also the invitation cards by Divine doctor Xue, hence they were like a life saving talisman. They all thought, if today they got in touch and made friends with him, in the future, if they met unforeseen disasters or accidents he would not be able to ignore them; moreover, as people whose lives were put on the tip of the saber, who could be sure that they would not meet unforeseen disasters? The signatures on the invitation cards were 3 names 'Xue Muhua, You Ji, You Ju', followed by a line of small words: 'You Ji and You Ju's additional explanation: Mr Xue Muhua is addressed as 'Divine doctor Xue'.' If there had not been this line of small words, probably the receivers of the invitation cards would not have known what kind of highly able person Xue Muhua was, and hence the number of people going to Juxian Manor would perhaps have been even less than 3/10th of what it was at the moment.

When the 3 people Bao Qianling, Qi Liu and Xiang Wanghai arrived at the manor, the 2nd brother You Ju personally came out to welcome. After entering the hall, they saw that there were already full of people sitting in the hall. Bao Qianling was not acquainted with all of them but as soon as he entered the hall, there were human voices all around, mostly saying: 'Shopkeeper Bao, are you enjoying prosperity?' 'Old chap Bao, how has your business been doing?' Bao Qianling continuously folded his hands in salute and greeted all the heroes. He really did not dare to be careless as even though many of these heroes in jianghu were generous and open-minded, there were also not just a few narrow-minded people. If he forgot to give someone a nod or a smile in return, he would possibly unconsciously displease them, thus causing endless future troubles; even if it led to a fatal disaster, this also would not be something strange.

You Ju led him to the top position in the east. Divine doctor Xue stood up and said: 'Brother Bao, brother Qi, brother Xiang, the esteemed presence of the 3 of you here really makes me feel as if my face is covered in gold. I extremely appreciate it.' Bao Qianling promptly returned the salute and said: 'Once Master Xue has beckoned, even if Bao Qianling was so sick that I couldn't move, I would still ask other people to carry me here.' The big brother You Ji laughed and said: 'If you were really bedridden, you'd wanna ask other people to take you here to meet Master Xue even more!' The people around all laughed heartily. You Ju said: 'The 3 of you have had a tiring journey, please go to the rear hall to have a snack.'

Bao Qianling said: 'It won't be late to have a snack later. May I ask a question? Is Qiao Feng among the guests that Master Xue and the 2 Masters You invite this time?'

When Divine doctor Xue and the You Clan's 2 Heroes heard the 2 words 'Qiao Feng', their faces slightly changed colors. You Ji said: 'This time we've sent out invitation cards without guest names. Whoever sees them is invited. Brother Bao has mentioned Qiao Feng, what's your intention? Brother Bao and that Qiao Feng guy have quite a friendship, right?'

Bao Qianling said: 'That Qiao Feng guy said he was going to Juxian Manor to attend the great banquet for heroes.'

As soon as he said so, the crowd was startled. At first everyone in the big hall had been talking noisily and in a high-flown way, but all of a sudden, everyone became quiet. The people who were standing far from Bao Qianling could not hear what he had just said, but suddenly finding that no one was saying anymore they themselves also stopped saying what they had not yet finished. The big hall fell silent instantly, but the distant sounds of people drinking wine in the rear hall and of people talking and laughing in the corridor could be heard.

Divine doctor Xue asked: 'Brother Bao, how do you know that Qiao Feng guy is gonna come here?'

Bao Qianling said: 'I, brother Qi and brother Xiang personally heard that. It's a shame to say, but last night the 3 of us took a serious tumble.' Xiang Wanghai continuously gave him signals with his eyes, wanting to tell him not to relate the shameful incident of the night before. But Bao Qianling knew Divine doctor Xue and the You Clan's 2 Heroes were undoubtedly highly capable, there were also many intelligent people in the hero meeting, if he himself hid a bit, it would definitely cause other people to be suspicious. This matter was very important; he himself had become entangled in the maelstrom, if he dealt with it just a bit improperly, his status and reputation would instantly go out the window. He slowly took the flexible whip out from his waist. The piece of paper which had the 4 words 'Qiao Feng paying respects' was still sticking to it. He passed the flexible whip to Divine doctor Xue using both hands and said: 'Qiao Feng ordered the 3 of us to pass on a message that today he was going to Juxian Manor.' After that, he recounted things such as how they had met Qiao Feng and what he had said, not holding back even a single word. Xiang Wanghai continuously stamped, his whole face reddened with shame.

After Bao Qianling calmly recounted everything, he said: 'This Qiao Feng guy is from the Khitan dog ethnicity, we should still eliminate him even if he was noble and righteous, let alone the fact that his evil has become obvious and he's an increasingly intense danger. If he runs off to distant parts, it'll be hard to hunt him down. But Heaven really has its will, who could have expected that he would willingly hurl himself into the net?'

You Ju muttered: 'I've usually heard that Qiao Feng is both brave and resourceful. His abilities are sufficient for him to successfully do evil. He's not a reckless lout. Could it be that he really dares to go to this great banquet for heroes?'

Bao Qianling said: 'I'm afraid he has other wicked plans. We mustn't be without caution. The more people the more ideas. Let's plan together, everyone.'

While he was saying, many more heroes and extraordinary people arrived at the outside, including 'Impartial Judge' Shan Zheng and his 5 sons, Grandpa Tan, Granny Tan and Zhao Qiansun. Before long, the 2 high-level monks of Shaolin School Xuan Nan and Xuan Ji also arrived. Divine doctor Xue and the You Clan's brothers welcomed and sincerely received them one by one. When mentioning the evil of Qiao Feng, they all raged.

Suddenly, the housekeeper who received guests came in and reported: 'Elder Xu of the Beggar Society has led the Elder of Merit Propagation, the Elder of Rule Enforcement and the 4 Elders Song, Xi, Chen and Wu to our Manor for a visit.'

Everyone shivered with fear. The Beggar Society was the number 1 large society in jianghu and could not be held in contempt. Xiang Wanghai said: 'As expected, the Beggar Society has come here in great force to express support for Qiao Feng.' Shan Zheng said: 'Qiao Feng has already been expelled from the society. He's no longer the Beggar Society's Chief. I saw with my own eyes that they turned their backs on and became the enemies of one another.' Xiang Wanghai said: 'But at this point they haven't necessarily forgotten all the old feelings.' You Ji said: 'All of the Beggar Society's elders are proud brave men. How could they disregard rights and wrongs to protect their enemy? If they still helped Qiao Feng, wouldn't they become Han traitors to the country?' Everyone nodded in approval and said: 'Definitely not even a good-for-nothing would wanna be a Han traitor to the country.'

Divine doctor Xue and the You Clan's 2 Heroes went out of the manor to welcome. Seeing that there were only 12 or 13 people of the Beggar Society coming, they felt relaxed and thought: 'Needless to say, these beggars are unlikely to protect Qiao Feng. Even if they were up to no good this time, with these 12 or 13 people, what would they be able to achieve?' They greeted the people such as Elder Xu perfunctorily then invited them to enter the big hall. They could see a worried expression on the faces of all of the Beggar Society's people. Obivously these people were bearing a very heavy load on their minds.

After splitting into hosts and guests, everyone sat down. Elder Xu started the conversation: 'Brother Xue and the 2 laodi (younger male friend) of the You Family, today you invite all the heroes to gather here, is it because of the newly emerging cause of trouble in wulin Qiao Feng?'

After the heroes heard him call Qiao Feng 'the newly emerging cause of trouble in wulin', they looked at each other, and without prior consultation they all let out a sigh of relief. You Ji said: 'It's exactly for this reason. Elder Xu and every elder of your noble society come here together. This is really a great luck to wulin. If we want to kill this foreign dog, we must get the nod from the elders of your noble society. Otherwise, it would provoke misunderstanding and damage the harmony, making everyone unavoidably regret.'

Elder Xu let out a deep sigh and said: 'This man is extremely ruthless and vicious, and acts strangely. Originally, he achieved quite a few great feats for our society. Recently, when we made mistakes and were plotted against by crooks, it was also him who saved us. But when a dazhangfu (an ambitious or successful man) conducts himself he should attach most importance to the general situation, so we have no choice but to banish those few small kindnesses from our minds. He's a mortal enemy of our Great Song. The Elders of our Society have been treated well by him, but we can't abandon public righteousness because of personal gratitude. They say righteousness must be placed above family loyalty, let alone the fact that now he isn't a relative of our Society's people's.'

As soon as he said that, everyone in the crowd applauded and cheered.

You Ji then mentioned that Qiao Feng also wanted to attend the great banquet for heroes. When the elders heard that, all of them were astonished. Having followed Qiao Feng for a long time, they knew that he always acted with both valor and strategy, if he really single-handedly came to Juxian Manor, it would be extremely unusual.

Xiang Wanghai suddenly said: 'I think that Qiao Feng guy has deliberately created a diversionary front to make everyone kick their heels in here, but he has slipped away to somewhere no one knows. This is called the tactic of escaping by using crafty schemes.' Elder Wu stretched out his hand, gave the table a heavy slap and scolded: 'Escaping your mother by using crafty schemes! What kind of man is Qiao Feng? Once he says something, how could he not keep his words?' Scolded by him, Xiang Wanghai's face reddened. He said angrily: 'You wanna appear in public to support Qiao Feng, right? I, Xiang, am the first to disapprove of it. Come here; come here; come here. Let's have a fight.'

After hearing all kinds of news that Qiao Feng had killed his parents and master then caused a big disturbance at Shaolin Monastery, Elder Wu had been very depressed, his heart had been filled with resentment and rage and he did not know who he should vent his feelings on. Hence this Xiang Wanghai guy unreasonably challenging Elder Wu was really most welcomed by him. In a flash, he jumped into the courtyard in front of the big hall and said loudly: 'Qiao Feng is from the Khitan dog ethnicity or is completely a Han man? At this moment it's still unclear. If he's really a Khitan barbarian I'll be the 1st to fight him to the death. Wanna kill Qiao Feng? Even if counting to the person numbered 1000, it still wouldn't be your turn, you stinking turtle egg (~ s.o.b). Who the heck are you to gab in here? Escaping your grandmother by using stinking crafty schemes! Come here, your father's gonna teach you a lesson.'

Xiang Wanghai's face had already turned livid. A 'shua' sound was heard, he had drawn the saber out of its sheath. As soon as he looked at the blade, he remembered the piece of paper which read 'Qiao Feng paying respects' and could not help feeling at a loss.

You Ji said: 'The two of you are my honorable guests. Please have some consideration for my face. We cannot lose harmony.' Elder Xu also said: 'Brother Wu, you shouldn't be rash in your actions. You must take into account the reputation of the whole Society's.'

Suddenly someone in the crowd said in a soft voice: 'Having produced such a person as Qiao Feng, the Beggar Society really has a very good reputation. You must take it into account and preserve it carefully!'

As soon as the Beggar Society's extraordinary men heard that, they shouted furiously: 'Who's saying that?' 'Come out if you have skills. What kind of brave man would hide in the crowd to be a dwarf?' 'Which goddamn turtle egg is that?'

But after saying those sentences that person kept silent, hence no one knew who had just said those words. Being ridiculed with those 2 sentences, the extraordinary people from the Beggar Society were totally annoyed but because they could not find anyone who admitted saying so, they could not do anything either. Even though the Beggar Society was the number 1 large society in jianghu, the extraordinary men of the Society were all beggars. After all, they were not upper-class people who paid particular attention to formalities, hence some of them shouted and some even cursed other people's 18 generations of ancestors.

Divine doctor Xue frowned and said: 'All of you please calm down and hear this senile old man say a few words.' The beggars gradually became quiet.

Suddenly, in the crowd, that cold voice said again: 'Very good, very good, Qiao Feng has sent this many formidable guys to here to carry out undercover tasks. After a while, there'll definitely be a good play to watch.'

As soon as the people such as Elder Wu heard that, they got even angrier. Shua-shua sounds were heard continuously; dazzling lights of sabers were seen; many people had taken out their weapons. The rest of the guests only thought that the Beggar Society's people wanted to fight therefore many of them also took out their weapons. With a lot of shouting and cursing, the hall was plunged into disorder. Divine doctor Xue and the You Clan's brothers advised everyone to calm down, but the shouts by the 3 of them only added to the uproar in the hall.

In this chaos, a servant hurriedly ran into the hall. He ran up to You Ji's side and whispered something to him. You Yi's face darkened as he asked the servant something. The servant, his face full of fear and surprise, pointed to the outside. You Ji turned and whispered something to Divine Doctor Xue, causing his face to drop as well. You Ju walked up to his older brother's side and You Ji told him as well. You Ju's face dropped immediately.

One man told 2, 2 men told 4, and just like that the word spread among the crowd. In an instant, the noisy and chaotic hall was in complete silence.

Because everyone had heard the words by now: "Qiao Feng is here!"

Divine Doctor Xue nodded towards the You brothers and shot a look towards Xuan Nan and Xuan Ju, the 2 ShaoLin representatives before declaring: "Let him in!"

The servant turned and walked out.

Everyone's heart was beating a mile a minute, despite of the fact that all of them knew that with their numeric advantage, they could overwhelm Qiao Feng and chop him into a million pieces in an instant. But this man was just too famous, and coming here all by himself like this, obviously he wasn't afraid, don't know what kind of devious plot he is pulling.

In the silence, the only sounds one can hear is the steady beat of horse hooves and the low rumble of wheels on stone-slabs as a donkey carriage approached the front door. But it didn't stop there and just walked in through the door. The You brothers were both frowning heavily, feeling that they have been slighted by this show of manners, or lack thereof. "Ge-Dong". "Ge-Dong". The wheels of the carriage hopped over the door sill. A huge man, with a whip in his hand, was sitting on the driver's seat. The curtains of the carriage were down, hiding something in the carriage. But everyone was staring at the driver.

Square-faced and tall with a wide chest and huge shoulders, his eyes weren't angry but demanded attention and instilled fear. Who else could it be but former leader of the Beggar Clan Qiao Feng?

Qiao Feng put the whip down besides him and hopped off the carriage. Cupping his fist, he said: "I heard that Divine Doctor Xue and the You Brothers were hosting a Gathering of Heroes here at JuXian Mansion. I can't consider myself a 'hero' and don't dare attend such a gathering. It's just that there's an emergency I have to ask of Divine Doctor Xue. I hope you will forgive me for such an intrusion."

He bowed deeply, looking very sincere.

The more polite Qiao Feng acted, the more convinced the rest of them were that he's got something up his sleeves. You Ju gave his left hand a slight flick and 4 of his disciples immediately snuck out from the sides to inspect the surrounding areas.

"What does Brother Qiao want of me?" Divine Doctor Xue cupped his fist back and asked.

Qiao Feng took 2 steps back, moved the carriage curtains aside and helped Ah-Zhu out.

"Because of my rash actions, this girl was hit by another's palm and was severely injured. In this world, nobody but Divine Doctor Xue could help her. That's why I was so rude to come here, to ask Divine Doctor Xue to save her life."

When everyone saw the carriage, they all got suspicious about what was inside. Some guessed that it was probably some poison or bomb, others thought it was some poisonous snakes or ferocious beasts, and still others guessed it was Divine Doctor Xue's parents or relatives that Qiao Feng was going to use to blackmail him. Nobody could have guessed that it would be a 16 or 17 year old girl that would be stepping out of the carriage asking Divine Doctor Xue for help. Everyone was surprised.

The girl was wearing a light yellow colored shirt and had a very pronounced forehead, making her look very unattractive. Turned out that Ah-Zhu decided that the MuRong family of GuSu had too many enemies out in the martial world and there was a chance if Divine Doctor Xue found out who she was that he would refuse to help her. So she went out and bought a new set of clothes and put on a disguise in the carriage. However, since she was going to see the doctor, she couldn't disguise herself as a man or an old woman.

This turn of events caught Divine Doctor Xue off guard as well. In his life, he had seen plenty of people coming to him from faraway to seek his medical help, it happens almost every day. But presently, with everyone trying to figure out how to catch and kill Qiao Feng, this despicable and incorrigible villain would just walk up in here and trap himself. It was quite a hard pill to swallow.

Looking Ah-Zhu over, he decided that Qiao Feng could not possibly be doing this out of lust because of her unattractiveness and young age. Suddenly, an idea hit him: "Maybe this little gal is his younger sister? Um, not possible. This man killed his parents and his master as well, there's no way he would take such a risk over his younger sister. Maybe it's his daughter? I don't remember hearing that Qiao Feng got married." {Qiao Feng didn't do it, he was framed}

Being the great doctor he was, he could always tell the health of people with one glance as well as their bodily characteristics. Seeing Qiao Feng and Ah-Zhu standing side by side, with one big and strong, the other small and weak, the two of them had nothing in common. Therefore he decided that they were not related at all.

"What is this young miss's surname?" He said after humming a little while his thought worked itself out. "And what relation is she with you, sir?"

Qiao Feng was taken a back a bit. He had called Ah-Zhu nothing but "Ah-Zhu" ever since they met, but was her surname really "Zhu"? He didn't know. So he turned to Ah-Zhu and asked.

"Is your surname Zhu?"

"My surname is Wan," Ah-Zhu replied with a smile.

Qiao Feng nodded. "Divine Doctor Xue, her surname is actually Wan. I just found that out myself."

"So... this young miss and you aren't well acquainted?" Divine Doctor Xue found that this was getting stranger and stranger.

"She's a maid of a friend of mine." {Ah-Zhu is MuRong Fu's maid}

"Who is that friend of yours sir? Must be very important to you sir, or else how could you care so much for your friend's maid?"

"That friend is only my friend in spirit," Qiao Feng shook his head, "I have never met him before."

An audible gasp escaped from nearly everyone present when they heard this. Most of them didn't believe him, thinking that he must be carrying out some plan and was just using this as an excuse to get in. But still, a good number of them knew that Qiao Feng had always been a very straightforward man, no matter what kind of terrible things he might have done, he probably wouldn't lie in front of everyone because of the pride he had in who he was.

Divine Doctor Xue reached out and felt Ah-Zhu's pulse. Noticing that her pulse was indeed very weak but the life force {for lack of a better word} inside her was very strong, totally opposite of what one would expect. He switched and felt Ah-Zhu pulse through her left wrist. By then he had already figured out everything.

"Had this girl not been fed the incredible Elixir of Master Tan of Mount TaiHeng and not received your constant infusion of inner force, she would have died a long time ago from the Abbot Xuan Ci's Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm." He said to Qiao Feng. {That's what Da Jin Gang Zhang translates to}

This caused quite a stir from the crowd. Master Tan and Grandma Tan looked at each other, wondering: "How did she get fed our Elixir?" {Ah-Zhu stole it from them, I think, don't quite remember}

XuanNan and XuanJu was even more astonished: "When did our Abbot hit a girl with Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm? And if she really did get hit by it, how in the world could she have survived?"

"Doctor Xue," XuanNan had to speak up, "our Abbot had not left the premise of our humble temple for years now. And women aren't allowed into ShaoLin Temple. So this Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm could not have come from my elder martial brother."

Divine Doctor Xue frowned: "Is there anyone else in the world who knows this Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm?"

That question quieted both XuanNan and XuanJu. They have been at ShaoLin for several decades now and were taught by the same master as XuanCi, they worked as hard as possible and tried as hard as they might. But this Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm still required some natural born talent and neither was able to master it. But neither one was bitter nor regret trying, for they knew that only once several centuries in the history of ShaoLin does someone with enough martial arts genius come along to master this palm skill. There were times when nobody among the hundreds of monks in the temple knew it, but it was never lost because of the great pains that the monks of the past generations took to to record down the details of training for such a skill.

"Did she really get hit by Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm?" XuanJu wanted to ask. But he stopped himself before he did. For asking such a question would be questioning the skills of Divine Doctor Xue, which would have been incredibly rude and unseemly. So instead he turned to Qiao Feng.

"Last night you snuck into ShaoLin and killed my martial brother XuanKu. At that time you had been hit once by Abbot's Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm. Had that palm hit this girl, how could she have survived?" He inquired accusingly.

"Father XuanKu is my master and I am indebted to him forever." Qiao Feng shook his head in response. "Until I repay him for everything he has done for me, I would rather die than harm him one bit."

"Still won't own up to it?" XuanJu angrily replied. "Then what about that ShaoLin disciple that you kidnapped? Did you not do that either?"

"The 'ShaoLin disciple' I took with me is right in front of you at this moment." Qiao Feng thought to himself. Instead he replied: "If Father insist on accusing me of kidnapping a ShaoLin disciple, then could you please tell me what is the name of the ShaoLin disciple that I have kidnapped."

XuanJu and XuanNan looked at each other, again, in stunned silence as neither one of them could say a thing. Last night, along with XuanCi, they had quite clearly saw Qiao Feng take a ShaoLin disciple with him as he was escaping. Yet when they checked afterwards, nobody was missing. This was one riddle that they could not figure out for the life of them.

"Brother Qiao, all by himself, snuck into and out of ShaoLin last night without a single injury and still was able to kidnap a ShaoLin disciple with him. That's rather hard to believe." Divine Doctor Xue cut in. "There must be something going on here that you are not telling us about."

"I didn't kill Father XuanKu, and I certainly did not kidnap a ShaoLin disciple last night either. There's a lot of things that you guys don't understand, and there's a lot of things that I don't understand either." Qiao Feng replied.

"No matter what," XuanNan declared, "this young miss could not have been injured by my martial brother, the Abbot. The Abbot is a respected and enlightened leader of a sect. How could he possibly bring himself to hit a young miss such as her? No matter what this young miss is guilty of, my martial brother would not stoop to her level and hit her." {This is sort of a put down, but not really. Etiquette and protocol calls for the leader of a sect to ignore the misgivings of youths and people in a lower position}

Qiao Feng figured: "It's probably better that they insist that Ah-Zhu wasn't injured by Abbot XuanCi. Otherwise Divine Doctor Xue might, because of ShaoLin, refuse to heal her." So he decided to just push the boat down the river and go along with it.

"Of course, Abbot XuanCi is forever benevolent and would never hurt a girl like her so. Most likely it's somebody disguising as a ShaoLin master causing trouble, hurting people, and spreading rumors." Qiao Feng said.

XuanJu and XuanNan looked at each other, again, and slowly nodded: "This bastard Qiao Feng may be villainous, but these couple of words are very reasonable."

Ah-Zhu was giggling inside: "What Master Qiao said is completely true, there really was somebody disguised as a ShaoLin monk, causing trouble and spreading rumors. Only the person who the pretender was trying to be wasn't Abbot XuanCi but Monk ZhiQing."

But how could XuanJu, XuanNan, Divine Doctor Xue, and the rest of them figure out the real meaning behind Qiao Feng's words?

Seeing XuanJu and XuanNan's reaction, Divine Doctor Xue decided that it was ok to move on.

"So, it seems that there's actually another person in the world that knows Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm," He continued his diagnoses. "When this person made his move, something was in the way and much of the power of his strike was dissipated. That's how Miss Wan was able to survive the strike. That person's strike power is probably on par with that of Abbot XuanCi's"

Qiao Feng had to admire the doctor: "Much Abbot XuanCi's strike's power was indeed blocked with my bronze shield. Divine Doctor Xue is truly amazing to be able to describe all of this just by simply measuring Ah-Zhu's pulse. Looks like there's hope that he would heal Ah-Zhu."

Smiling, he said: "If this young girl would die from Buddha's Great Attendant Palm, then it would cause ShaoLin to lose some face. So I beg Divine Doctor Xue to cure her." He bowed as he finished.

"Who hit you? Where were you when you got hurt? Where is that person now?" XuanJu asked Ah-Zhu before Divine Doctor Xue could reply. He was worried over the reputation of ShaoLin and decided that he must get to the bottom of this.

Ah-Zhu, unlike the serious and measured Qiao Feng, was a fun loving girl who tells harmless lies and makes stuff up all the time. So at this point, she figured: "These monks are all afraid of master, so why don't I just bring him into this and scare them a little?" {Ah-Zhu is really just Huang Rong without any knowledge of kungfu}

"That person is a young gentleman, very handsome and suave looking, around 28 or 29 years old. This Master Qiao and I was just talking about how amazing Divine Doctor Xue is. He's not just the best in the world, he's just about the best there ever was and ever will be. There's nobody like him before and almost surely nobody as good will come in the future. Even the gods and goddesses in the heavens aren't as great."

There isn't a single person in this world who doesn't like hearing his own praise. Divine Doctor Xue had heard so many praise like this in his life time that he had lost count a long time ago. But this is the first time that he had ever heard praise from an articulate young girl. Plus the fact that she was exaggerating shamelessly. He could not help but stroke his beard and smile at the praise.

Qiao Feng, however, was frowning: "What is she talking about? This gal is making stuff up like crazy."

"That's when I said: 'With Divine Doctor Xue in the world, we don't have to bother learning kungfu anymore.'" Ah-Zhu continued. "Master Qiao asked: 'Why not?' I said: 'Divine Doctor Xue could even resurrect a dead person, then what's the point of learning kungfu? You kill one, he cures one; you kill 2, he heals a pair. Aren't we just wasting our efforts for nothing?'"

She was articulate and her voice was easy on the ear. And even though she's injured, and was imitating the QingCheng Sect disciples in their SiChuan dialect, this spiel sounded like marbles rolling around in a jade bowl and was a pleasure to listen to.

Everyone smiled at her talk, some even laughed out loud.

But Ah-Zhu didn't smile at all as she continued: "There was this young gentleman sitting by us listening to us talk. He suddenly snickered and said: 'The strike powers of people in this world are mostly weak and completely devoid of inner force. That doctor named Xue is not worthy of such a lofty of status. Let's see if he can't heal this palm strike of mine.' As he said that, he struck out towards me through air. I thought he was joking with me because he was so far way. But Master Qiao was shock...."

"And he stuck his arm out to block it?" XuanJu interrupted.

"No!" Ah-Zhu shook her head and continued. "Had Master Qiao stuck his arm out to block, then I wouldn't have been hurt. But Master Qiao was too far away from me to do that, so instead he picked up a chair and threw it over. His timing was just right and with a huge crack, the chair was smashed into pieces by the force of that young gentleman's palm strength. That young gentleman spoke is such a soft SuZhou dialect, but there was nothing soft about his kungfu. I immediately felt as if I was weightless, as if I had flown into the clouds, without a single ounce of strength left in my body. Then I heard that he say: 'Go and tell that Divine Doctor Xue of yours to go flip a couple more medical books and get a little practice. That way when he has to do the same thing for Abbot XuanCi in the future he would know what to do.'"

"What did he mean by that?" XuanNan frowned.

"He seemed to say that he would use this Buddha's Great Warrior Attendant Palm on Abbot XuanCi in the future." Ah-Zhu replied.

"Ooooh!" Almost everyone in the crowd uttered in unison. Several more people simultaneously added: "Using your own method, back onto yourself!"

"So it is GuSu MuRong!" A couple of other people chimed in, making sure to add the "so it is" part in so as to tell everyone else that they suspected as much a long time ago.

Nobody knew that Ah-Zhu was doing because of ShaoLin's wrongful accusation of her Master MuRong. Figuring that sooner of later he and ShaoLin's misunderstanding was going to come to a head, she figured that she might as well make something up to boast her Master MuRong a bit and scare ShaoLin at the same time.

Suddenly, You Ju cut in: "Brother Qiao just said a while ago that it was somebody disguised as a ShaoLin master in order to cause trouble who injured this young miss. But this young miss said it was a young gentleman who injured her instead. Who's telling the truth here?"

"There's also some people disguised as ShaoLin monks as well." Ah-Zhu immediately replied. "I saw 2 monks who claimed they were from ShaoLin, but they stole black dog from a family, killed it, and ate it."

She knew she had made a mistake in her lies, so she immediately went off on a tangent and changed the subject.

Knowing that she wasn't really telling the truth, Divine Doctor Xue couldn't make up her mind whether or not to try and treat her. He looked over at XuanJu and XuanNan before turning towards You Ji and You Ju, and then finally turned his eyes towards Qiao Feng and Ah-Zhu.

"Divine Doctor Xue," Qiao Feng spoke up, "if you save this girl today. I, Qiao Feng, would be forever indebted to you."

"Forever indebted to me?" Divine Doctor Xue sneered. "Do you actually plan on walking out of JuXian Mansion alive today?"

"Dead or alive, it doesn't really matter. But this young girl's injuries had to be treated by you, doctor."

"Why should I save her?" Divine Doctor Xue casually asked.

"Save one life, 7 steps closer to Paradise. Divine Doctor Xue is a respected member of the martial world and surely could not bare to let an innocent girl like her die needlessly."

"If anyone else asked me, I would treat this girl. Hmph. But if you asked me, then I wouldn't."

Qiao Feng's face immediately stiffened as he sincerely declared: "The heroes are gathered today at JuXian Mansion to discuss how to get me, I know that."

"Ai-yo!" Ah-Zhu cut in. "Master Qiao, if that's the case, then you shouldn't have taken such a risk for me."

"I thought that since everyone here is a real man and know the difference between right and wrong." Qiao Feng continued. "The person you want to kill is me and me alone. This young girl has nothing to do with this. Divine Doctor Xue would actually move his hatred of me onto this young Miss Wan. How could that be right?"

Divine Doctor Xue had no comeback for what he said. Only after a long pause did he finally say: "Whether or not to treat a person is my decision and mine alone, others can't force me to do it. Qiao Feng, with your terrible crimes, we were just talking about how to catch you, chop you into a million pieces so as to avenge your parents and master. But instead you came walking in instead. That's better than anything we could hope for. Why don't you just end it yourself right here?"

He flicked his right hand a little. Everyone in the crowd gave a shout and unsheathed their weapons. The hall shimmered in the almost blinding reflected light of the weapons. There were countless amounts of sabres and daggers, axes and whips. This was followed by another loud cheer from up above as the ceiling was suddenly filled with people as well, guarding every piece of the room.

Qiao Feng had been in plenty of huge battles and fights in his life. But he was usually leading the Beggar Clan into to battle and hence usually had the numerical superiority over his foes. Never had he ever been trapped in such a predicament all by himself, not to mention there's a severely injured girl at his side. How exact does he get out of this? He had no idea and his heart began to pound.

Ah-Zhu was even more frightened as she began to cry. "Master Qiao, just get out of here. Don't worry about me. They have no issues with me and wouldn't hurt me."

"That's right, these people are all good people. They would never harm her for no reason. It's probably best for me to get out of here as soon as possible." Qiao Feng thought. "A real man should treat other's life like his own. Divine Doctor Xue hasn't promised to treat her yet. Her life is not saved yet, how could I be so afraid to die and leave her like this?"

Looking around, he could see that there was several famous martial arts masters present, quite a number of them he knew personally, all of them possessing great skills. But with this, the blood in his veins began to warm up: "So what if I died here? Real men should live joylessly and die fearlessly."

He let out a hearty laugh: "You all say that I am Khitan and want to get rid of this stone from your shoes. Hehe, am I Han or am I Khitan? Even I don't know."

"That's right, you are a mutt, a bastard! Only that even you yourself don't know what kind of bastard you are!" A thin and squeaky voice suddenly said from amidst the crowd. This was the same person who had made fun of the Beggar Clan earlier. But since he just says a couple of words at a time, nobody knew who it was. Everyone looked to where the voice came from, but saw no lips moving. If you say that it came from a short person, there was no short person present either.

Hearing those words, Qiao Feng quietly observed for a long time before nodding a bit and moving on. Turning around to Divine Doctor Xue: "If I was Han, how could I forgive you for your insult today? If I really am a Khitan, the sworn enemy of everything that is of the Great Song, the first person I would kill would be you, so to avoid me killing one hero of the Great Song and you saving one patriot of Great Song. Right?"

"That's right." Divine Doctor Xue replied. "No matter what happens, you are going to kill me."

"I ask you to save this girl today and exchange one life for another. If you save her, I would never even touch your hair."

"In all my life, I have only listened to other beg, not threats." Divine Doctor Xue coldly sneered.

"A life for another. It is as fair of an exchange as you can get, it's not threat."

"Aren't you the least bit ashamed?" That squeaky voice suddenly said. "You are going to become meat sauce under everyone's lives and you are still talking about showing mercy and letting others live? You...."

"Get the hell out of here!" Qiao Feng suddenly screamed at the top of his lungs, causing the roof tiles to shake and the dust to come falling off of the ceiling bars. Everyone's ears were buzzing from the scream and their hearts pounding.

A man stumbled out from the crowd as if he was drunk. He was wearing a green robe and his face was deathly gray. Nobody recognized him.

"Ah!" Master Tan suddenly shouted. "That's Tan Qing, the Soul Chasing Cane! That's right, he's "Overflowing Evil" Duan YanQing's disciple."

The Beggar Clan members, upon hearing that he's Wan YanQing's disciple, began cursing at him furiously. Turned out that soon after the West Xia martial arts master were captured using their own "Gentle Breeze of Sadness," Duan YanQing arrived. Nobody within the Beggar Clan was able to stand up to him as he cured those West Xia kungfu masters using an extremely bad smelling antidote and turned them towards the Beggar Clan, causing the Beggar Clan to take on huge losses. Everyone in the clan hates and fear Duan YanQing, knowing that without Qiao Feng, there's nobody in the clan that could stand up to this "World's Evilest Man" in the future. {If you read that part of the book, you don't feel sorry for the Beggar Clan after all, they deserved to be defeated and taught a lesson the way they treated Qiao Feng.}

Tan Qing's face was contorted almost beyond recognition, as if he was in great pain. His hands kept on grasping his chest as a voice came emanating from within his body: "I... I don't owe you anything and you not me, why... why did you have to do that?"

His voice was squeaky and sharp, but was staggered as if he couldn't catch his breath. But his lips did not move at all, to the amazement to most everyone present. A few of the people present knew that he was using a skill to talk out of his stomach which, when used in conjunction with a high level of inner strength, could be used as a depressant which would confuse and even kill whoever that hears him. But when up against a person with stronger inner force, this skill would not only not work, but would backfire and hurt the practitioner.

"You are Duan YanQing's disciple?" Divine Doctor Xue angrily shouted at him. "This is a gathering of heroes, only the heroes of the world are allowed. How did such a low-life scum like you get in?"

"Gathering of heroes my *** !" A voice suddenly said. "Looks more like a gathering of zeroes to me!"

When he said the first word, he was still far away, on top of the tall walls outside. But by the time he said the word "me," he had arrived with his voice. Jumping off of the tall wall, one could see that he unusually tall and incredibly fast. The people stationed on the roof tried to stop him by throwing their swords or hitting him through the air with their palm strikes, but all for naught as they were too slow and he was able to dodge out of the way. Quite a number of people in the hall recognized that he was "Evil Extreme" Yun ZhongHe. With a flick of his body, Yun ZhongHe had arrived inside of the hall. Grabbing a hold to Tan Qing, he shot directly towards Divine Doctor Xue. Fearing that he would kill Divine Doctor Xue, everyone in the hall immediately rushed up to protect him. But Yun ZhongHe had expected this and played a trick with them, feigning attack so as to retreat. Seeing everyone rush up to protect Divine Doctor Xue, he immediately jumped back and hopped onto the wall again.

There's plenty of martial arts masters in the room, and those whose kungfu are better than Yun ZhongHe number in the 40s if not the 50s. But because he had grabbed the initiative and caught everyone off guard, plus his superiors lightness kungfu, nobody was able to catch up to him once he had hopped onto the wall. Several people reached into their shirts for projectiles and those people on the roof tried to stop him again, but all looked too late.

"Stay here!" Qiao Feng shouted and struck out a palm strike through air. The force of the strike was like a formless blade, flying through air and hit Yun ZhongHe squarely in his back.

Yun ZhongHe let out a suppressed moan as he fell flatly onto the ground, blood spilling out of his mouth like a fountain. Tan Qing was still standing though, just that he would stumble left a bit and then jump to the right, all the while humming a little tune. Quite a comic scene, only that nobody was laughing. Everyone was shocked by the horror that was playing out in front of their eyes.

Divine Doctor Xue knew that even though Yun ZhongHe was hurt badly, he could still be saved. But Tan Qing had already lost his soul and no amount of medicine of miracle cures in this world could save him anymore. Reflecting how Qiao Feng, with a casual scream and a palm strike, would inflict such incredible damage, he realized that if Qiao Feng want to take his life, there probably isn't anyone that could stop him. While he was reflecting, Tan Qing had stopped stumbling around and just stood there. The humming had seized as well and his eyes were wide open, but he wasn't breezing anymore.

Back when Tan Qing had insulted the Beggar Clan, the clan members were furious but had nobody to take it out on, so they were forced to swallow all that anger. But now, seeing how Qiao Feng took care of him, all of them cheered on the inside. The more straightforward ones like Elder Song and Elder Wu almost let out a shout of praise but held back, realizing that Qiao Feng was from Khitan.

But deep inside every one of their heart they thought: "If he was our leader, the Beggar Clan would never lose. Otherwise... Ay! The going is going get really tough from here on out, the Beggar Clan would never be return to its former glories."

Yun ZhongHe struggled up and stumbled out of the door. He took a couple of steps before throwing up another mouthful of blood. Seeing how badly he's injured, nobody felt like troubling him anymore as everyone thought: "He called this the 'Gathering of Zeroes', yet none of us could do anything about him. Ironically it was Qiao Feng who struck and made him pay for such an insult."

"Honorable Brothers You, I have met up with many friends here today who, after today, will be friends no longer." Qiao Feng turned towards the You Brothers. "I could not but feel sad, so I would like to ask you for some wine."

Everyone was caught off guard by his request. "Let's see what the hell he's going to do here." You Ju thought to himself as he instructed the servants to go fetch some wine.

Because this was a planned gathering at JuXian Mansion, there was plenty of wine in stock and soon the servants came in with flasks of wine and cups to drink as well.

"These cups are just too small. Could you get something big to drink out of?" Qiao Feng replied.

Two servants went off and returned with several huge bowls and a newly opened jug of white wine. They placed them on the table in front of Qiao Feng and filled one bowl up with wine.

"Fill them all up!" Qiao Feng commanded and the 2 servants obeyed.

Lifting up one bowl in his hand, Qiao Feng turned towards the crowd: "Of the many heroes gathered here today, there are many who are old friends of mine. But since you are suspicious of me, I propose we drink our friendship away. If any friend wishes to take Qiao Feng's life, then come up and have a drink with me. Afterwards, our old friendship will history. If you kill me it's not betrayal, if I kill you it's not cross. Let the heroes of the world be our witness."

A coldness shot through everyone as the hall was completely silent. "If I go up and drink with him, he would undoubtedly try a sneak attack on me," each of them thought. "That close, how can I block that strike power of his?"

In this stunned silence, a woman dressed in funeral clothing suddenly walked out. It was Ma DaYuan's widow Madame Ma. "My husband died in your hands, this friendship that you spoke off ended a long time ago." she said in a grave voice as she lifted the bowl up to her lips and took a sip.

"I cannot drink the entire bowl. But the vengeance of my husband will be like this wine." She said as she slowly poured the wine that was left in the bowl onto the ground.

Qiao Feng looked her straight in the face and couldn't help but notice how beautiful and elegant she looked. It was dark that night in the apricot woods and the firelight was flickering, so he didn't get a chance to get a good look at her. Never could he had guessed that such a formidable woman would look so fragile and delicate. Without a word he picked up another bowl, drank its entire content in one breath, and signalled the servant at his side to fill the bowls again.

After Madame Ma walked back into the crowd. Elder Xu walked up and, without saying a word, drank an entire bowl of wine with Qiao Feng doing the same. Then came the Scribe Elder, after whom Enforcer Elder Bai ShiJing walked up. Just as he lifted up his bowl and was about to drink, Qiao Feng stopped him.

"Hold on!"

"Brother Qiao, do you have something you want to say?" Bai ShiJing had always admired Qiao Feng and treated him with the utmost respect, and even now he was still the same, just that now he doesn't refer to Qiao Feng as "chief" anymore.

"We have been like brothers for so long now. Who could have known that we would end up being enemies?" Qiao Feng sighed.

"Brother Qiao's birth, I had heard rumors about it for a long time." Bai ShiJing replied, fighting back tears. "Back then I would not have believed it even if it meant my life. But now... now it really is true. If it wasn't because our country is at war, Bai ShiJing I would rather die than be Brother Qiao's enemy."

"I understand." Qiao Feng nodded. "Soon we will be friends no more and be enemies in battle. But I have a favor to ask."

"If it doesn't hurt my country, I would give my all."

Qiao Feng smiled and pointed to Ah-Zhu: "All brothers of the Beggar Clan, if you still feel the slightest beholden to me for what happened in the past, then all I ask of you is to insure this young miss's safety."

Everyone got the sense that it was almost as if he was asking others to take care of his orphan. For after drinking with his friend one-by-one, he would fight. Being surrounded by so many masters, even if he kills a good number of his foes, it was highly unlikely he was going to survive. Even though everyone in the crowd hates him for being Khitan and for committing such heinous crimes, they couldn't help but admire the courage in his actions.

Bai ShiJing had always had a good relationship with Qiao Feng, and upon hearing what is equivalent to his last wishes, he had to reply: "Don't worry Brother Qiao. Bai ShiJing I would personally beg Divine Doctor Xue to treat her. If anything should happen to Miss Wan, then I would kill myself so as to as for repent for Brother Qiao."

{Hate to give the story away, but LIES, ALL LIES!!}

He brought the bowl to his lips and drank the strong wine down in one breath. Qiao Feng did the same.

Elder Song, Elder Xi, and the rest of the Beggar Clan all came up and drank the wine with him. After the everyone in the Beggar Clan finished, the heroes and masters from other sects all walked up and drank.

The longer this spectacle went on, the more amazed everyone became. Qiao Feng had already drank at least 40 or 50 bowls of wine by now. The hug jug of strong wine had long since been killed and the servants had to go and fetch another jug. But Qiao Feng still looked sober and alert, other than the fact his belly was protruded a bit, there was no sign of anything different about him.

"Forget the fight, at this rate, he would drink to death," everyone thought.

But Qiao Feng was one of those people who grows more alert the more he drinks. These last couple of days all the frustrations from the false accusations had been bottled up inside him, finally he just decided to just let it all out and drink to satisfaction before ending it all with a fight.

After even Bao QianLin and Fast Sabre Qi Liu had drank with him, Xiang WangHai walked up and picked a bowl up. "Hey you! I'm going to drink a bowl with you," he said in a rude tone.

Feeling the effects of the wine, Qiao Feng looked at him out of the corner of his eye and replied: "I'm drinking this friendship-ending drink with the heroes of the world to say that our friendships are a thing of the past. What have you done to deserve this drink? What friendship did I have with you?"

Not waiting for an answer, Qiao Feng took a step forward and grabbed his chest with his right hand. With a simple wave of his arm, Qiao Feng threw him out of the hall. Xiang WanHai hit the marble walls outside with a loud "bang" and instantly fainted.

At this, the hall descended into chaos.

Qiao Feng jumped out of the hall and into the yard before turning around to face the crowd. "Who want to come out here and fight to the death first?" He shouted at the top of his lungs.

Seeing him standing there in all his glory, nobody dared to ran forth and challenge him.

"If you guys aren't going to start this off, then I'm going to!" Qiao Feng shouted.

"Bang!" "Bang!" Two men were already hit by his palm through the air and fell to the ground. Going along with his own momentum, he charged back into the hall and, with a flurry of fists and kicks mixed with palms and elbows, instantly took down several other fighters.

"Everyone, back up against the wall, don't get into a melee!" You Ji shouted.

There were more than 300 fighters within the hall. If they all charged up at once, there was no way Qiao Feng could fend them off no matter how good he was. It was just that when everyone was stuck together pushing against one another, only 5 or 6 men was at Qiao Feng's side and could truly fight him. And even then, with all the weapons waving around, a lot of people were actually trying to protect themselves instead of attacking. But with You Ji's shout, the middle of the hall immediately emptied.

"Let's see how great the You Brothers of JuXian Mansion are!" Qiao Feng shouted as he lifted his left palm and sent a huge wine jug flying towards You Ji's face. You Ji put up both hands and was about to conjure up some inner force to bat the jug away. But unexpectedly Qiao Feng followed up with a right fist, which, with a loud bang, smashed the wine jug in a million pieces in mid-air. The sharp broken pieces and shards of the jug, pushed by the force of Qiao Feng's palm, were like hundreds of metal darts or daggers. Three pieces hit You Ji in the face, which was soon covered in blood. Several people at his sides were hit as well. The shouting and cursing of pain and warnings were deafening.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Suddenly a boy's cry could be heard coming from a corner of the hall. You Ji recognized the voice as that of his only son, You DanZhi's. Despite his predicament, he still found time to look over and see that You DanZhi's left cheek was covered in blood, having been hit by one of the piece of the jug.

"What are you doing here? Get back inside!" You Ji yelled.

"Yes sir!" You DanZhi replied and snuck back behind a column but still stuck out his head to watch the fight.

{He was introduced as a wounded character, is there any doubt that Jin Yong created YDZ to suffer?}

Qiao Feng kicked with his left foot and another jug flew off. Just as he was about to add another palm strike to smash it, he suddenly felt a soft and gentle palm force approaching him from behind. Even those the force of the strike was gentle and soft, it was very powerful and backed up with a quite strong inner force. Knowing that it had came from a strong foe, Qiao Fend did not dare to wait any longer and immediately returned a palm strike back in response.

The 2 forces met and both sides were slightly taken aback and needed a moment to collect themselves. When Qiao Feng took a good look at who his foe was, he saw a weird looking ugly man. It was none other than Zhao QianSun. "He has a tremendous inner force, got to be careful of him." Qiao Feng told himself as he drew in another breath and unleashed a second, mountain-splitting palm strike out at him.

Knowing that he could not stand up to this strike with just one palm, Zhao QianSun brought up both of his palm in an effort to block the incoming strike.

{Yet even more evidence that having 2 hands is a huge advantage to only one hand, are you paying attention those of you who maintain Yang Guo can beat Guo Jing?}

"Don't you want to live anymore?" A female voice came from the side as he was suddenly pulled over to the side and just avoided Qiao Feng's strike.

But the force of the Qiao Feng's palm still came rolling in, hitting the 3 men behind Zhao QianSun head on and sent them flying into the wall, kicking up a huge amount of dust and knocking loose a couple pieces of the wall.

Turning around, Zhao QianSun saw that it was Grandma Tan who had pulled him away. He was overjoyed: "Xiao Juan, you saved me!"

{Their relationship, or lack there of, was the source of quite a bit of comedy earlier in the book. Anyhoot, Juan means beautiful and graceful and Xiao means little. It is quite an affectionate term, too affectionate for a man to use on another man's wife.}

"I'll attack his left and you attack his right." Grandma Tan said.

Just as Zhao QianSun nodded his head and said "ok," a short and skinny old man charged toward Qiao Feng. It was Grandpa Tan.

Even though he had quite a small built, his kungfu was quite formidable. As his left palm struck out, his right palm immediately followed, at which he pulled back his left hand and struck out with it again. Three palm strikes in a row, just like 3 consecutive waves, one after another, each building on the other until it was released all at once with a force 3 times more powerful than his normal palm strike.

"Wonderful! 'Three Rolling Waves of the Yangtze!'" Qiao Feng shouted as he waved out his left palm.

The 2 forces collided violently, pushing many spectators on the side away. At this time, Zhao QianSun and Grandma Tan's attacks arrived as well. They were soon followed by the Beggar Clan as Elder Xu, Elder Cheng, and many other elders joined the foray.

"Brother Qiao, Khitan is the sworn nemesis of our Great Song. We are only doing this for our country, forgive us!" Scribe Elder shouted.

"We have already drank our friendship away, why so polite? En guarde!" Qiao Feng replied with a laugh as he stuck his left foot out at him.

Despite what he said, because of what they went through together, not only could he not bring himself to take away the lives of his Beggar Clan brothers, he did not want to make them look back in front of others. So as he stuck his foot half way out, he suddenly switched directions.

Fast Sabre Qi Liu let out an unusual yelp and took off. He didn't jump, but was kicked by Qiao Feng in his stomach. He was prepared to slash down with his sabre onto Qiao Feng's head, but because his body took off, this slash went astray. With a loud thud, his sabre came down upon one of the support beams on the ceiling. With the force he put into the chop, the cut was several centimeters deep and his sabre actually got stuck within the cut. This particular sabre was the prized weapon of Fast Sabre Qi Liu, it was the weapon that made him famous. So, facing such a formidable foe, he could not bring himself to let go of the sabre as he grasped the handle of the sabre tightly as he could with his right hand. In doing this, he doomed himself to hang in the air. It was quite an unusual situation, but everyone down in the hall was staring death in the face and nobody dared to even spare a moment to even take a look at him, much less laugh at his predicament.

Ever since he joined the martial world, Qiao Feng had never lost a single one of his hundreds of battles. Not only that, even though he had fought against many a martial arts masters, he had never been in much danger. By now the effects of the wine, with the help of his huge exertion of inner force, had really taken hold. As his palms danced around the air, none of the master present was able get close to him.

Despite his astonishing medical skills, Divine Doctor Xue's kungfu left something to be desired. He was a true genius when it came to medicine, it was as if he knew it all without even being taught. Even so, he had been interested in martial arts as a small kid and his master was an even more amazing and knowledgeable master. However, a number of years ago, Divine Doctor Xue and all 7 of his martial brothers were all kicked out by his master at the same time. Not willing to find another master, he instead took to another route, exchanging his medical services of kungfu. Picking up a move here, a skill here, rarely would you find a person with more knowledge in kungfu as he. But unfortunately, the broadness of his knowledge was also his downfall. In essence, he bit off more than he could chew and never really mastered any single kungfu. But because of his renowned medicinal skills, whenever he asked others about kungfu advice and such, people, not really being serious, would always add a couple of words of praise along with their critique so as to get on his good side. So he couldn't help but be a little arrogant, figuring that he had mastered most of all the martial arts in the world. But watching this fight, he realized that the speed with which Qiao Feng strikes and the force with which the strikes land were beyond anything he could have imagined before. His faced turned deathly pale and his heart were just about to leap out of his throat, he was not even able to utter a sound, much less join in on the fight.

Flattening himself against the wall, he wanted to quietly sneak out for the life of him. But he could not bring himself to do it. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw XuanNan standing at his side. He suddenly remembered something and felt terrible about it.

"I was incredibly rude before, I ask for Father's forgiveness," he turned toward XuanNan.

XuanNan's attention was entirely fixated upon Qiao Feng and didn't hear Divine Doctor Xue at all. Only after he had repeated it twice did XuanNan finally snapped out of his trance.

"How were you rude?"

"I had said: 'Qiao Feng, all by himself, snuck into and out of ShaoLin last night without a single injury and still was able to kidnap a ShaoLin disciple with him. That's rather hard to believe.'" Divine Doctor Xue replied.

"What's wrong with that?"

"Well, with such amazing skills, Qiao Feng is indeed practically unmatched in the world. Only now do I realize that if he wanted to enter ShaoLin and to cause trouble, it is almost impossible to stop him." Divine Doctor Xue said in sincere voice.

He meant to be apologetic, but in XuanNan's ears, they sounded caustic.

"Hmph, Divine Doctor Xue want to see exactly what ShaoLin kungfu is all about?" XuanNan replied.

Not waiting for an answer, he slowly stepped forward and twirled his sleeves up. Underneath the sleeves, the sound of a fist strike could be heard shooting out. This was one of the 72 Supreme Skills of ShaoLin, "Heaven Within the Sleeve," in which even though the sleeves are twirled up in a knot, the force of the fist would still shoot out from inside the sleeves. ShaoLin monks had always been based strictly to Buddhist teachings to learn and practice martial arts for self improvement. Even getting angry was forbidden, much less striking someone. But ShaoLin Sect had been the leader of martial arts in the world for centuries now, how could it not join in the fight? With the fist hidden within the sleeve, this "Heaven Within the Sleeve" was a very graceful move. The sleeve served as a screen for the force of the fist so the foe could not see where the fists were coming from, therefore making it easier to catch him off guard. But few people knew that the sleeves contain a huge variety of viciously strong moves. If the foe concentrate solely upon figuring out the moves of the fist behind the sleeves, then he would turn the diversion into the real thing and attack with the sleeve.

Qiao Feng was watching his attack as two sleeves flew up with the wind as if they were 2 huge sails. The force of the attack was truly amazing.

"'Heaven Within the Sleeve'! Incredible!" Qiao Feng shouted as he, with a swoosh, swatted at the sleeves. The force of XuanNan's sleeves were applied over a large area while Qiao Feng's strike was concentrated. With a string of loud tearing sounds, the 2 forces met. Suddenly the hall seemed to be filled with gray colored butterflies.

Caught by surprise, everyone paused to collect themselves. Turned out that the gray butterflies was actually what used to be XuanNan's sleeves. When one turned one's gaze to XuanNan, one could see that his incredibly skinny arms were now completely exposed. When those 2 forces met head on, how could XuanNan's sleeves possibly take that kind of pressure? Thus they instantaneously torn to shreds. Now that he lost his sleeves, his sleeves naturally lost their "Heavens". In his fury, his face turned a metallic green color. With a simple palm strike, Qiao Feng was able to defeat the very skill that had made him famous. Not able to stand such humiliation, waving his arms wildly, he charged without abandoned. Everyone recognized that what he was using was "Founder's Long Fist." It was this fist skill, along with a cane skill, that was used by the Founder of Song dynasty, Song TaiZu Zhao KuangYin to conquer and unite all of China under the Great Song. None of the Emperors since then had been as fierce or brave as Song TaiZu. These set of "Founder's Long Fist" and "Founder's Cane" was the most popular skills in the martial world, even if one didn't practice it, one was familiar with it.

Seeing such a famous ShaoLin monk, whose kungfu prowess was world famous, use such a plain, everyday skill surprised everyone. But after he had gone through 3 moves, everyone couldn't help but praise: "ShaoLin Sect's fame and acclaim is indeed well merited. The same 'Crossing Thousand Kilometers' would be so powerful when he uses it."

Because of their admiration, none of them seemed to mind how strange XuanNan looked without any sleeves.

Qiao Feng was surrounded by several scores of people, but as soon as XuanNan struck, the others, feeling that they were merely getting in the way, temporarily backed off. They still surrounded him in the middle of several rings, so as to not let escape. But everyone was completely mesmerized by the fight between XuanNan and him.

Noticing that others have backed off, an idea suddenly popped into Qiao Feng's head. With a loud swoosh, he struck out with his palm with a "Charging the Formation and Killing the General", yet another move from "Founder's Long Fist". The move was looked completely natural and poised. There was a hint of give within the unyielding force of the strike as well as a hint of firmness within its softness. The state of perfection in mastery that all kungfu practitioner wish for had been clearly exemplified by this move. Of all the people gathered here in this "Gathering of Heroes", even if their kungfu skill weren't good, they were at least extremely knowledgeable, so everyone knew and understood the essence of "Founder's Long Fist." Upon seeing Qiao Feng's move, quite a number of them could not help but cheer in admiration!

{Ok, I'm convinced, Qiao Feng is the better than Duan Yu and Xu Zhu, by a mile!}

Many people immediately regretted the cheer, for it was in praise and support of their sworn enemy. But now that the sound had left their mouth, they couldn't take it back. Qiao Feng followed with a "New Moon's Majesty", which was just as refined, it was hard to tell whether this move was better or worse than his last move. Another cheer went up in the hall as a number people still couldn't hold it back in, but because several people realized the paradox the cheering created and held back, the cheer this time was quieter than last. Nevertheless, there were still quite a number of "oohs" and "ahhs" uttered in admiration. Everyone had been too involved in battle with Qiao Feng to worry about anything else, but now that they were an outside observer, they finally realized how amazing his kungfu really was.

After Qiao Feng and XuanNan exchanged 7 or 8 moves, it had became obvious who was better. Despite the fact that both were using the same simple fist techniques, every one of Qiao Feng's moves came after XuanNan's move. As soon as XuanNan made a move, Qiao Feng would follow it up, but for some reason, maybe it was his youth or maybe he was just quicker, every one of Qiao Feng's moves would arrive at its objective before XuanNan's move. There's only 64 moves in "Founder's Long Fist," but each one of them could effectively counter another. Qiao Feng would recognize his opponent's move before countering with the move that would cancel it. In this situation, how could XuanNan not lose? Everyone present understood the reason behind this, but to be able to "move later but arrive faster", especially when facing such a master such as XuanNan, had they not witnessed it themselves, none of them could have imagined it was possible.

Seeing XuanNan in trouble, Xuan Ju shouted: "You barbaric Khitan dog! How dare you use such despicable methods?"

"I'm using our country's founder's fist, how dare you call me 'despicable'?" Qiao Feng answered righteously.

Everyone immediately understood why he was using "Founder's Long Fist." If he had used other fist styles to defeat "Founder's Long Fist", then others would not say that it was because of his superior skills but rather accuse him of humiliating the founder of their country by using the skills of another race or country, which would only add to the hatred towards him. But now that everyone's using "Founder's Long Fist", the only thing that made difference was each person's skills and nothing else.

Seeing that XuanNan was moments away from being in mortal danger, XuanJu didn't bother to reply and just simply pointed his finger at Qiao Feng's Whirled-Pearl Point and attacked using ShaoLin Sect's acclaimed pressure point hitting skill, "Tangutan Buddha Finger."

{Whirled Pearl Point is the part of the scalp where your hair goes into a whirl.}

Hearing the sound of his finger slashing through the air, Qiao Feng stepped aside to dodge the move.

"I have heard of the power of 'Tangutan Buddha Finger' for a long time, and it really is as powerful as the rumors say. You are using the kungfus of those Tangut barbarians against the martial arts of our Founder that I'm using. If you defeat me, then aren't you selling out to those barbarians and bringing shame to our great China?" Qiao Feng said.

XuanJu was quite taken aback by this. ShaoLin Sect's founder Bodhidarma was indeed a Tangut. Today everyone was teaming up against Qiao Feng for being of Khitan birth, yet because ShaoLin kungfu had been established in China for so long that every single sect or style of kungfu had at least a little bit of relationship with ShaoLin Sect. So much so that everyone had forgot the close relationship ShaoLin has with the barbarians. But now, reminded by Qiao Feng's words, everyone remembered.

Some of the wiser people among the crowd wondered: "We treat Bodhidarma with reverence like a divinity, yet why do we hate the Khitan people so much? They are all people of different races than us. Hmm, these 2 races are obviously different. The Tangut people do not slaughter us fellow Chinamen while the Khitan people are despicable and vicious. But in this sense, it doesn't mean that everyone of a different race is evil, there are good and bad people within them as well. But does that mean there are some good people within the Khitan?"

In reality, with such a huge fight at full swing, there were plenty of brutes who never thought such thoughts. Even though all of the more thoughtful people had thought such thoughts, they didn't have time to dwell it over, only feeling a little bit at the bottom of their hearts that: "Qiao Feng may not have to be killed, and we may not be as in the right."

Fighting 2 against 1, XuanNan and XuanJu still had to defend more than they attacked. Frustrated by the fact that whatever he did was always countered by his foe, XuanNan changed his style as soon as XuanJu joined him in the fight, switching instead to ShaoLin's "Arhat Fist".

"So you are going to use the martial arts of the Tangut? Let's see which is better, your foreign kungfu better or that of our Great Song!" Qiao Feng coldly snickered as his fist were loudly swung about in the style of "Founder's Long Fist."

Everybody present had a sick feeling in their stomach. They were attacking Qiao Feng because he was a foreigner, yet instead they were using foreign kungfu while he was using the fist of the founder of their country.

"Who cares about fist style? This man killed his father, his mother, and his master. He deserves to die!" Zhao QianSun suddenly shouted as he charged into the fight, followed closely by Grandpa Tan, Grandma Tan, Elder Xu, Elder Cheng, and scores of others.

Everyone of them were kungfu masters, and despite the great number of them, they attack was well organized, essentially taking turns one after another attacking Qiao Feng.

Fighting them off, Qiao Feng declared: "You say that I am Khitan, but then Grandpa Qiao SanKui and Grandma Qiao can't be my father or mother anymore. Forget the fact that they always treated me with great love and care without the slightest intention of harm, even if I did kill them, how could I be guilty of 'killing my father and mother'? Father XuanKu is my savior and master, if ShaoLin Sect admits that he's my master, then I would be a ShaoLin disciple. How could you gang up on a ShaoLin disciple like this?"

"Hmph! How could you stoop so low as to resort to such sophistry and equivocation?" XuanJu replied.

"If it justified and consistent, then it isn't sophistry or equivocation. If you guys don't regard me as a ShaoLin disciple, then don't accuse me of killing my master. As the saying goes, 'One could always trump up charges if one's out to condemn me' (yu jia zhi zui, he huan wu ci). If you guys want to kill me, then just do it like a man. Why bother accusing me of all these inconsistent and deceitful charges?"

Even as he was debating, he never stopped fighting: fist hitting Dan ShuShan, kick landing on Zhao QianSun, elbowing a green clothed man that he didn't see the face of, and palm striking a white bearded old man that he didn't know the name of. While arguing, he knocked down 4 people in a row. Knowing that these people weren't bad people, he held back with his strikes, of the 18 or so people that he had knocked down, none had lost their life. As for his brothers in the Beggar Clan, he didn't even touch them, when Elder Xu attacked him, he just ducked out of the way.

But with so many people at the gathering, as soon as he knocked 10 people down, another 10 people took their place. "If this keeps up, I'll eventually die of exhaustion. It's probably the best to find a place to escape first." Qiao Feng figured as he carefully surveyed for an escape route as he fought.

Zhao QianSun was lying on the ground, unable to move. But he was still able to see that Qiao Feng was looking to escape.

"Everyone, attack him! Don't let this despicable dog bastard get away!" He shouted.

Adrenaline pumping, Qiao Feng could feel his fury gradually taking over, hearing Zhao QianSun's words finally sent him over the edge.

"This dog bastard is going to start off his killing spree with you!" He howled as his palm came screaming down upon Zhao QianSun.

"No!" XuanNan and XuanJu simultaneously shouted as both of them stuck out with their right hand, trying to save Zhao QianSun's life.

Suddenly a human form appeared in mid air as a sickening scream reverberated around the hall. XuanNan and XuanJu's blows landed on the person's chest as Qiao Feng's palm landed squarely in the middle of the back. Caught in the middle of those 3 powerful and violent forces, the person's ribs immediately shattered and internal organs collapsed. Blood gushing out of the person's mouth, the body collapsed onto the ground like a pile of mud.

Not only was XuanNan and XuanJu shocked, Qiao Feng was caught by surprise as well. Turned out that this person was Fast Sabre Qi Liu. He had been hanging in midair for quite some time now. Rattling back and forth, he was finally able to pry loose his sabre and fall. Quite unfortunately, he just happened to fall in between those 3 strikes, it was as if 2 gigantic steel slabs came slamming together on him. There was no chance of him surviving.

"Amida Buddha," XuanNan was first to say something. "Qiao Feng, have you not sinned enough?"

"I only half responsible! You 2 are just as responsible as I for his death, why are you guys dumping it all on me?" Qiao Feng screamed in fury.

"Amida Buddha. Amida Budda. Had you not sinned first, would there have even been a fight today?" XuanNan replied.

"Alright, ok, it's all my fault. So what!" Qiao Feng screamed back as he finally let his anger take over, which instantly turned him into a wild beast.

He grabbed somebody with his right hand, who happened to be Chan Zheng's second son Chan ZhongShan. Snatching his sabre with his left hand, he let go of his body and immediately slammed down with his right hand, caving in the top of Chan ZhongShan's head. The rest of the people gasped in horror and anger.

Now that the killing started, Qiao Feng's fighting became even more desperate and violent. Slashing ferociously with the sabre in his left hand and switching periodically between palm and fist with his right, he was not to be stopped. Slowly but surely, the white walls was becoming more and more covered with small droplets of blood as the hall began to fill up with corpses. By now he did not worry about past friendships anymore, even that of the Beggar Clan. Not even waiting to make out his foe's faces anymore, his eyes were blood-shot as he killed whoever that he happens into. It was like this that Elder Xi died under his sabre.

Of the people that were at the gathering, 9 out 10 of them had killed before. After all, to become known in the martial world required more than just making friends and talking a good show. And those who had not killed before had witnessed such events many times before. But none of them had ever seen such a violent and horrifying battle as the one that was unfolding in front of their eyes. There was only one foe, but he was like a crazed tiger, a possessed demon, charging back and forth, attacking and chopping left and right indiscriminately. Many a master had stepped up to challenge him, but all were mowed down by his faster, stronger, fiercer, better moves. Nobody present was a coward who was afraid to die, but in front of them was an crazed opponent whose kungfu skills nobody could stand against as their eyes were filled with images of blood and flesh were flying across the hall, of human heads were rolling on the floor and their ears were filled with the desperate and stunned screams of death, most of them wanted to run away as soon and as quickly as possible. Was Qiao Feng guilty or wasn't he? They did not care for it anymore.

Seeing the situation quickly deteriorate, the Brothers You each brought up their circular shield with their left hand and a weapon in their right hand, one had a short spear while the other had a sabre. With a whistle, the 2 of them attacked Qiao Feng from 2 sides with the shields protecting their body.

Even though Qiao Feng was letting it all out for the fight, he was still completely coherent and not a least bit panicked as he easily and quickly picked apart every opponent's move, hence why he still hadn't been wounded. Noticing that the You Brothers were charging in, he immediately chopped down the 2 men by his side and, trying to grab the initiative, attacked You Ji. You Ji brought his shield up at the last moment. With a loud clang, Qiao Feng's sabre bounced back. Upon closer inspection, he noticed that the blade of the sabre had curled up, rendering it completely useless. The shields in the You Brothers' hands were melded using the finest of metals that had been melted and reshaped over hundreds of times, even priceless swords could not penetrate them, much less that ordinary iron sabre that Qiao Feng grabbed out of Chan ZhungShan's hands.

Immediately after deflecting his foe's attack away, You Ji immediately struck the short spear in his right hand from underneath the shield, like a snake striking out of its hole, aiming towards Qiao Feng's stomach. At this precise a moment, there was a cold flash as the shield that was in You Ju's hand came flying in at Qiao Feng's torso.

With one glance, Qiao Feng could tell that the edges of the shield were incredibly sharp, like those of an ax. If it hit him, it would surely slice him in two. A truly vicious move.

"Excellent!" Qiao Feng shouted as he threw down the sabre in his hand and punched out with his left fist.

With a tremendous bang, his fist landed squarely in the middle of You Ji's shield. He then shot out his right fist, which was followed by an equally deafening bang as it hit You Ju's shield directly at its center.

The You Brothers felt half of their bodies go numb as Qiao Feng's overwhelming power shook them to their very core. Stars appeared in their eyes as they, losing all their strength in their arms, dropped their shields and weapons onto the floor. The place where the base of their thumb and index finger came together bursted and split open, covering their hands in blood.

"Great, thanks for lending me 2 weapons!" Qiao Feng chuckled. He bent down, picked up the shields, and gave each a twirl. The shields were truly amazing devices that could be used to attack or defend. Several dying screams went up as 5 people fell by the shields. The You Brothers' faces looked shamed and defeated.

"Brother, remember what master said? 'Shield lives, we live. Shield dies, we die!'" You Ji shouted.

"After such humiliation, how could us brothers have any face left to live on this world?" You Ju replied.

With a slight nod toward each other, both of them picked up their weapons and stabbed them into their hearts, dying instantly.

"No!" Everyone shouted in dismay. But with Qiao Feng waving his shields around as he was, who had enough courage to venture to within 10 meters of him to drag the bodies out. Who could have ventured within 10 meters him?

The screams of a young man could be heard above the chaos: "Daddy! Daddy!" It was that of You Ju's son, You DanZhi.

Qiao Feng paused in shock, never expecting that the You Brothers, the Masters of JuXian Mansion would commit suicide. His back felt cold as he suddenly sobered up a great deal.

"Why did you do that, Brothers You? Here, let me return these shields back to you." Qiao Feng said with regret as he bent down and laid the shields at the You Brother's side.

He hadn't quite straightened himself back up yet when a girl suddenly shouted: "Watch out!"

Qiao Feng immediately side-stepped to the left letting a green flash shoot by as a sword barely missed him. Had it not been for Ah-Zhu's timely warning, even though he probably would not have been hit, he would have been at a very disadvantageous position. The perpetrator of the sneak attack was Grandpa Tan, who, as soon as he missed, dashed away to safety.

As everyone was concentrated on fighting Qiao Feng, Ah-Zhu curled up in a corner as she became weaker and weaker. Seeing everyone ganging up on Qiao Feng, remembering that it was because he was trying to save her that he put himself into such great danger, she could not but be greatly moved and worried. Noticing Grandpa Tan sneaking up from behind Qiao Feng as he laid down the shields, she had to call out and warn him.

"Oh is that it you little devil you!" Grandma Tan was furious. "We don't bother you so you go and help him?" With a flash, her palm came crashing down at the top of Ah-Zhu's head.

Just as her palm was about to hit Ah-Zhu, Qiao Feng arrived. Grabbing Grandma Tan by her collar from behind, he forcefully pulled Grandma Tan to a stop and tossed her aside, sending her crashing onto a priceless carved pear wood chair. Even though she was not hit, Ah-Zhu was severely frightened and her body just gave out.

"The life force in her body is about to be completely drained." Qiao Feng thought to himself. "But at this moment, how could I help her?"

"Her life force is about to run out, are you going to prolong her life with your own inner force?" Divine Doctor Xue coldly spoke out. "If she stops breathing, then even real divine goddesses couldn't bring her back to life."

Qiao Feng was in a bind, he knew that what Divine Doctor Xue said was the truth, but if he help Ah-Zhu, the people around him would immediately bear down upon him. Some of the people lost sons, others lost friends, so none of them would be the least bit hesitant at finishing him off. But was he supposed to just watch her die and do nothing?

He had taken such a risk to get her here to Gathering Virtue Mansion and it would a shame if it was all for naught if she died because she ran out of life force before Divine Doctor Xue could treat her. However, if he was going to keep her alive by transferring his inner force into her, it would be the equivalent of exchanging his own life for hers. For all she was, Ah-Zhu was still just merely a maid that he met in his travels. He had no real feelings toward her, just that helping people out and saving people were something that he'd normally do. But to exchange his life for hers was too much to ask.

"She's not a relative of mine, and I am not beholden to her at all. I had tried my best to get to here and done all that I could. I got to get out of here as soon as possible. Whether or not Divine Doctor Xue could save her would be just depend on fate and her luck." Qiao Feng thought.

So he picked the 2 shields up from the floor and continuously performed "Roc Spreading Wings" several times, creating 2 rings of white light around him that rolled towards the exit as he charged.

Despite the numerical advantage, Qiao Feng's moves were too vicious and those 2 shields too great of weapons. So nobody was able to get within several meters of Qiao Feng's body to stop him.

Having made it to the exit in several steps, Qiao Feng had just stepped over the threshold with his left foot, he suddenly heard a raspy old man shout defiantly: "Kill the girl first, then let's worry about getting him for revenge!"

It was Iron Faced Judge Chan Zheng that said that. His eldest son Chan BoShan immediately responded with a "yes" and lifted up his sabre in preparation to bring it down upon Ah-Zhu's head. In the heat of the moment, Qiao Feng didn't have to think and just threw the shield in his left hand out. It whirled violently as it exploded through the air.

"Watch out!" Seven or eight different people shouted at the same time. Chan BoShan immediately brought his sabre around in an attempt to parry. Qiao Feng's toss was too forceful and the edge of the shield too sharp.

"Crash!" Chan BoShan's body and sabre were cut in half. Still going strong, the shield kept on flying. "Zeng!" It cut through one of the huge columns that supported the hall, sending dust and roof tiles into the air and onto the ground.

{Chan Zheng had 5 sons, they were introduced earlier in the book.}

Chan Zheng and the 3 of his sons who were still alive screamed in sadness and fury. But with Qiao Feng standing there in all his menace and glory, they did not dare to go up to him. Instead, they, along with 6 or 7 others, charged toward Ah-Zhu.

"Have you know shame!" Qiao Feng cursed at them and let loose 4 straight palm strikes, which shook those people enough to stop them.

Quickly flying to her side, Qiao Feng picked Ah-Zhu up with his left arm and shielded from the others her with the shield he had left.

"Master Qiao, I'm not going to make it." Ah-Zhu pleaded. "Don't worry about me, just... leave!"

Seeing so many "heroes" stooping so low as to pick on Ah-Zhu, a defenseless and dying girl, aroused Qiao Feng's indomitable sense of pride.

"Now that it has come to this, they would never let you live. Let's die together!" He replied in a booming voice.

Reaching out with his right hand, he snatched a sword from someone and began slicing and dicing his way towards the door. Carrying Ah-Zhu, his movements were slowed on top of the fact that he had now one less hand to fight with, putting him in a very disadvantageous position. But he had long put his life on the backburner as he made the sword dance around him. He had only taken 2 steps before a pain shot up from his back, someone had slashed his back with a sabre.

{Ok, even more evidence that fighting with one arm stinks, JY explicitly stated so here. Qiao Feng was not even touched, now he got hurt after only 2 steps.}

He lifted his leg and kicked back, sending that man flying for almost 100 meters before crashing into another person, killing both of them instantly. At that moment, a spear stabbed Qiao Feng on his right shoulder, which was soon followed by a sword thrusting into his right chest.

Qiao Feng let out a thunderous howl and screamed: "Qiao Feng would rather kill himself than to die in the hands of you low lives!"

But the other fighters were, by now, so completely absorbed in the fight that there was no way that they were going to allow him the luxury of ending his own life. A dozen or so people charged up together. Gathering his strength and spirit, Qiao Feng suddenly reached out with his right hand, grabbed XuanJu by the "Mid-Chest Pressure Point", and lifted his body up in the air. Everyone involuntarily gasped in shock and instinctively took a couple of steps back.

His pressure point being hit, XuanJu was completely paralyzed and could not move despite his incredible kungfu skills. Looking down, he saw that his neck was only centimeters away from the edge of the the shield, Qiao Feng only needs to lift his left arm a little or give his right arm a push and his head would have been chopped off. Resigning himself to his fate, XuanJu sighed and closed his eyes, awaiting death.

The incredible pain on his back, his chest, and his right shoulder felt like someone had poured acid on the wounds. Qiao Feng gritted his teeth and said: "All the martial arts in my body had originally come from ShaoLin. How can I kill a high monk of ShaoLin? Qiao Feng is doomed to die today anyway, what's the good in killing one more?"

Gently, he put XuanJu down onto the ground and let go. "Well? Come on! Finish this!" He said at the top of his lungs.

The fighters looked at each other, all moved by his courage and spirit. Nobody could bring himself to take his life. Still some more thought: "He wouldn't even harm XuanJu, how could he possibly take the life of his master Father XuanKu?"

However, Iron Faced Judge Chan Zheng, heartbroken and furious over the death of 2 of his sons, did not hesitate. With a loud yell, he charged up and thrust his sabre directly at Qiao Feng's heart.

Qiao Feng knew that with his severe wounds, he could not possibly fight his way out anymore, so he just stood there motionlessly. In that instant, an infinite amount of thoughts flashed through his mind: "Am I really Han or am I Khitan? Who killed my parents and master? I have always lived honorably and tried to the do the right thing in my life, why did I kill all these heroes and good men today for no good reason? I wanted to save Ah-Zhu, but ended up giving my own life away, would all the heroes in the world laugh at me for such stupid actions?"

Seeing Chan Zheng's dark and contorted face, eyes bugging out and charging at him with a sabre aimed at his heart, Qiao Feng's heart was suddenly overwhelmed by sadness and anger. Not able to hold it back anymore, he suddenly snapped out and howled up into the heavens like a proud and dying beast.

Chapter - 20 Standing In Sadness At Yanmen, No Word Was Left On the Cliff.

Hearing this deafening bellow by Qiao Feng, Shan Zheng suddenly felt dizzy, stumbled and was unable to stand firmly on his feet. The extraordinary people could not help but take several steps backward either. Shan Xiaoshan rushed up from one side and thrust straight forward with his saber.

The tip of the saber was less than 1 chi (33.33 cm) away from Qiao Feng's chest but he had no intention of resisting. Seeing that, and not having the heart to look on, the people from the Beggar Society such as Elder Wu and Bai Shijing all closed their eyes.

All of a sudden, there was a 'hu' sound in mid air, a person leaped down in an exceptionally rapid fashion and bumped themselves on Shan Xiaoshan's steel saber just in time. Shan Xiaoshan was unable to withstand this great force therefore his arm dropped. Amidst the simultaneous shocked exclamations by the extraordinary people, another person jumped down in an equally rapid manner but their head went ahead of their feet. This person bumped into the head of Shan Xiaoshan just in time. With a 'peng' sound the tops of 2 skulls hit against each other and the heads of both people were burst open at the same time.

Only now did everyone see clearly that the 2 people who had just successively leaped down were the people who had been guarding on the roof to prevent Qiao Feng from escaping. But they had been captured and thrown down like missiles by someone. The hall was immediately plunged into chaos with everyone exclaiming and shouting. Suddenly a long rope was flung down from a corner of the roof with fierce force and swept horizontally towards the head of everyone. When the extraordinary people raised their weapons to block the long rope, the tip of it suddenly turned back. It then wound around Qiao Feng's waist and immediately lifted him up.

At this moment, the 3 wounds on Qiao Feng's body were bleeding profusely and his left hand which was carrying A'Zhu no longer had the slightest strength, hence when he was wound around by the long rope, A'Zhu immediately rolled down on the ground. Everyone saw that at the other end of the long rope was a man in black who was standing on the roof and had an imposing stature. His face was being covered with black cloth with only his eyes shown.

That man clasped Qiao Feng to his side using his left arm, flung the long rope and made it wind around a very high flagpole outside the entrance of Juxian Manor. The extraordinary people shouted loudly. In a very short time, a great variety of missiles such as steel darts, sleeve-hidden arrows, flying knives, iron awls, flying-locust stones, and hand-swung arrows were thrown at Qiao Feng and that man. That gritty man in black pulled the long rope, leisurely got off the ground and landed on the top of the flagpole. Teng-teng, pai-pai, ca-ca sounds were heard continuously, dozens of missiles had hit the top of the flagpole. Everyone only saw that the long rope was flung from the top of flagpole and wound around a big tree which was 8 or 9 zhang (3.333 m) away. Clasping Qiao Feng, that man swung off the top of the flagpole. In an instant he already passed that big tree and landed on a place which was 10 zhang away from the flagpole on the ground. He then flung the long rope again, winding it around another distant big tree. After hoisting and landing in this way several times, he already disappeared into thin air.

The extraordinary people gasped with astonishment and looked at each other. They only heard horse hoofbeats galloping farther and farther, it was already too late to chase after him.

Qiao Feng had suffered serious injuries but he was still in full command of his senses. He had seen clearly every act and every move how this man had used the long rope to save himself from danger, hence he felt deeply grateful to him for saving his life and thought: 'Flinging the rope accurately and powerfully like this, I can do as well. But using the long rope as a weapon and swinging it to attack dozens of people at the same time, I can't use this 'Celestial Maiden Scatters Flowers' stance in flexible whip techniques as perfectly as he did.'

The man in black put him on horseback. Both of them rode the same horse and went northward. That man took out jinchuang medicine (medicine for treating wounds caused by metal objects) and applied it onto Qiao Feng's 3 wounds. Having shed too much blood Qiao Feng was very weak, hence he almost passed out several times, but every such time he took a breath and circulated his internal energy, his spirit then rose back. That man urged the horse straight northwest. After going for a while, the path became more and more rugged, afterward, there was no longer any path and the horse merely went by stumbling over disorderly piles of rocks.

After going for more than 1 hour further, the horse could no longer walk, that man then carried Qiao Feng horizontally in his hands, got off the horse and climbed up a mountain peak. Qiao Feng's body was very heavy but that man carried him effortlessly. Even though they were in a very precipitous place, he easily used the long rope to wind around branches to jump over ravines. After that man had passed 8 dangerous ravines in a row, he went down all the way, going deep into an abyss from which the sky could not be seen. Finally, he stopped and put Qiao Feng down.

Qiao Feng strained to stand firmly and said: 'This great debt of gratitude can't be paid using words. Kind brother, could you please let Qiao Feng see your true face?'

That man's pair of glaring eyes roved over his face. After a long time, he said: 'In the cave, there're enough dry provisions to use in half a month. You stay here to care for your injuries. The enemies won't be able to come here.'

Qiao Feng replied: 'Yes!' and thought: 'Hearing the voice of this man, it seems he's not young anymore.'

That man sized Qiao Feng up for a while then suddenly waved his right hand, with a 'pai' sound, he gave Qiao Feng a slap in the face. His action was very fast, and firstly, Qiao Feng had not expected that the man would hit him, and secondly, this palm attack was executed extremely brilliantly, therefore he was unable to dodge it.

That man followed it up with the 2nd palm attack. The 2 palms attacks were only a flash apart, however once Qiao Feng had this marginal amount of time, how could he let the man hit him again? But because the man had saved his life, Qiao Feng did not want to fight him; moreover he had no strength to dodge, hence he extended his left forefinger and put it next to his own cheek, pointing at the center of the palm of that man.

This forefinger pointed at the 'Laogong acupuncture point' in the center of that man's palm; if this palm attack by him kept coming, then when the palm had not yet reached Qiao Feng's cheek, it would have already bumped into the forefinger first. When the palm of that man's was less than 1 chi away from Qiao Feng's cheek, he immediately turned it over and used the back of the hand to attack. This change of stances was done exceptionally fast. Qiao Feng also very quickly moved the forefinger and pointed at the 'Erjian acupuncture point' on the back of the man's hand.

That man let out a stream of laughs, forcefully withdrew his right hand then chopped horizontally with his left hand. Qiao Feng extended his left forefinger and pointed at the 'Houhuo acupuncture point' on the edge of his palm. The arm of that man was suddenly lifted a little bit but kept coming with no decrease in momentum. Without delay, Qiao Feng moved his finger and pointed at the 'Qiangu acupuncture point' on the edge of that man's palm. In an instant, the 2 palms of that man danced in the air, changing stances more than 10 times in a row. Qiao Feng only defended and did not attack; his fingers were always pointed so that if the man hit him, the acupuncture points on his palms would bump into the fingers first. That man had taken Qiao Feng by surprise with the 1st palm attack and hit him, but after that he was unable to hit Qiao Feng again. The 2 of them attacked and defended without touching each other but every stance was a top-class martial arts skill that was rarely seen at the present time.

After that man used the 20th stance, seeing that Qiao Feng was still able to change stances very fast and locate the acupuncture points very accurately despite having suffered serious injuries, he suddenly withdrew his palms, jumped backward and said: 'No one is more stupid than you are. I shouldn't have saved you.' Qiao Feng said: 'I'm sincerely waiting for your instructions.'

That man scolded: 'You stinking dumbass. Having practiced and become unequaled in martial arts under heaven, why did you wanna waste your life for a skeletal chick? She isn't your relative or friend, didn't do you any favor or have any relationship with you, and isn't a gorgeous woman either; she's just a lowly slave girl, nothing more. Why on Earth there's such an idiot like you?'

Qiao Feng let out a sigh and said: 'Savior, your criticisms are true. It was really senseless of Qiao Feng to do this useless thing with my useful body. But at that moment I couldn't hold back my fury, my barbaric nature broke out so I wasn't thinking of the consequences.'

That man said: 'Ha-ha, so it was because of the barbaric nature breaking out.' He turned his head toward the sky and let out a long stream of laughs.

Qiao Feng felt that there were a lot of desolation and indignation in his long stream of laughs. Suddenly that man jumped to his feet and leaped out for more than 1 zhang. With just a slight shake of his body, he disappeared behind a big rock. Qiao Feng called out: 'Savior, savior!' But he only saw that the man continuously leaped then went around past a ravine, he was already very far. As soon as Qiao Feng took a stride, he tottered. He hastily stretched out his hands and put them against the cliff to support his body.

After composing himself, he turned around and really saw a cave behind the stone wall. Supporting himself on the cliff, he slowly walked into the cave. He only saw a lot of dry provisions such as cooked meat, roast rice, jujubes, peanuts, and dried fish put on the ground; what even better was that there was a big jar of wine. When he opened the jar, the bouquet rushed into his nose. He reached into the jar and took out a scoop of wine to drink. The wine had a sweet taste; it was a first-class wine. Qiao Feng felt grateful: 'It's rare to see someone as thoughtful as this savior is. He knows that I like drinking and even has wine for me in here. It's hard to go on the mountain paths yet he carried this big jar of wine to here. Didn't this take too much trouble?'

The jinchuang medicine that man had applied onto him was very effective. At this moment the wounds had already stopped bleeding. Several shichen (1 shichen = 2 hours) later, the pain was gradually relieved. He was a robust man with a profound internal energy and the wounds he had suffered were merely external, therefore even though they were not minor injuries, after 7 or 8 days they were already almost half healed.

During these 7 or 8 days, he only thought about 2 matters: 'Who's the enemy that harmed me? Who's that savior?' Both of these people had very outstanding martial arts, perhaps not below those of his own at all. In wulin, the people who possessed these skills were very rare and could be counted on the fingers of 1 hand. He bent his fingers and could count every one of them out, but after thinking carefully he found that none of them was similar to these 2 people. It was understandable that he could not guess who the enemy was, but because he had exchanged 20 stances with the savior, he should be able to guess what school his martial arts belonged to. However, all the stances used by that man had been completely normal yet at the same time had shown enormous skills in their simplicity, just like the 'Founder's Long Fist' Qiao Feng himself had used at Juxian Manor, hence the stances did not give away anything about his identity.

In 2 days, he already drank up that jar of wine. Enduring until the 20th day, he felt that the wounds had 70% or 80% healed up. By now, his addiction of wine had become so strong that he could no longer keep enduring. Thinking that he could already jump over the ravines without any difficulty, he went out of the cave and tramped over hills and dales to return to jianghu.

He thought: 'A'Zhu has fallen into the hands of them. If she's dead, then she's already dead. If she's still alive, there's also no need for me to take care of her again. The most important and urgent thing at the moment is finding out what kind of man I am. Dad, mom and master passed away in 1 day so the mystery of my origin has become harder to clear up. I must go to the outside of Yanmen Pass to see the writing left behind on that stone wall.'

After calculating, he went northwest. When arriving in a town, the 1st thing he did was drinking 20 bowls of wine. In only 3 days, the remaining several taels of silver fragments were all changed into good wine, which he drank until nothing left.

At that time, Great Song was ruling the Central Plains. It divided the country into 15 regions. The main capital was Daliang; Dongjing (the eastern capital) was Kaifeng prefecture; Xijing (the western capital) was Luoyang in Henan prefecture; Nanjing (the southern capital) was Songzhou; Daming was Beijing (the northern capital, and NOT today's Beijing); in total, there were 4 regional capitals. For the moment, Qiao Feng was in Ruzhou in the Xijing region. That day, when he got to Liang County, his silver had been used up; hence he snuck in the county's office and stole several hundred taels of silver from the public treasury during the night. On the way he ate and drank a lot; chickens, ducks, fish, sorghum, and good wine all were paid by government officials of Great Song. One day, he arrived in Daizhou in the Hedong region.

Yanmen Pass was located 30 li (0.5 km) to the north of Daizhou on the rugged Yanmen path. Previously, when carrying out heroic deeds in jianghu, Qiao Feng had also been to here. But at that time, due to having important matters, he had gone past it without paying attention. When he arrived in Daizhou, it was already early 11 a.m. He had a quick meal and drank around 10 bowls of wine in the city then went out of it and headed north.

His steps were fast therefore he traveled these 30 li in less than 1 hour. When he had climbed up the mountain, he saw that both the eastern cliff and the western cliff were high and steep; the path between them was winding and rugged. This was really a very dangerous place. He thought: 'Wild geese travel south and return north can't fly over the high mountains, all of them gotta go between the 2 peaks, so this place is called Yanmen (Wild Geese's Gate). Today I came here from the south, if the writing on the stone wall states clearly that I'm really a Khitan then after I go out of Yanmen Pass this time, I'll forever become a man in the North of the pass and no longer enter the pass again. I'll be inferior to the wild geese that, once every year, go to the south from the north and return.' Thinking to here, he could not help but feel grieved.

Yanmen Pass was an important military post of Great Song's in the north. There were more than 40 passes in Shanxi, and Yanmen was the most imposing and secure one. Beyond several tens of li (0.5 km) outside the pass was the Liao Empire. Because there was always a large number of soldiers defending below the pass, Qiao Feng thought if he went out through it, he would unavoidably be interrogated and examined by the guarding officers and soldiers. Therefore he made a detour via the high ridge in the west of the pass.

After reaching the highest peak, he scanned widely around but saw nothing other than mountains and mountains, the towering Mt Wutai in the east, the Ningwu Mountain range in the west, Mt Zhengyang and Mt Shigu standing upright in the south, and in the north being Mt Shuozhou and Mt Mayi. With seemingly boundless long slopes and steep mountain sides combined with vast lonely cold forests, the scene was very gloomy. Qiao Feng remembered that while going past Yanmen Pass that year he had heard his comrades say that General Li Mu of the State of Zhao during the Warring States Period and General Zhi Du of the Han Dynasty both had garrisoned Yanmen to defend against Xiongnu invasions. If he himself was really Xiongnu and a Khitan descendant, then for the last thousands of years, the people who had been invading China all were his ancestors.

He looked at the terrain in the north and thought: 'That day when people such as Chief Wang and Zhao Qiansun ambushed the Khitan warriors outside Yanmen Pass, they must have chosen the most advantageous mountain slope within more than 10 li of here. No place has better terrain than the mountain slope in the corner to the northwest of here does. Ten to one they set up the ambush there.'

He quickly ran down the mountain and went to that mountain slope. Suddenly he felt a burst of causeless sorrow. He only saw that there was a large piece of rock on that mountain slope. Zhiguang dashi had said the extraordinary people of the Central Plains had hid behind a large rock and shot poisonous missiles out. It seemed it was this large piece of rock.

There was a deep ravine several steps outside the mountain path. Clouds and mists enveloped the ravine, making it impossible for anyone to see the bottom. Qiao Feng thought: 'If Zhiguang dashi's words are true, then after my mother was killed by them, my father jumped into the ravine to commit suicide from here. After jumping into the mouth of the ravine, he couldn't bear to make me die with him so he tossed me up onto the body of Chief Wang's. He… what did he write on the stone wall?'

Qiao Feng turned around and looked at the cliff on the right-hand side, only seeing that it was naturally flat and glossy, but right in the middle of the big stone wall, there were full of cuts caused by axes and chisels. Obviously, someone had deliberately scraped away the writing that had been left behind.

Qiao Feng stood in a trance in front of the stone wall then suddenly he could not refrain from getting furious. He only wanted to brandish a saber and raise his palms to massacre, but he suddenly remembered 1 matter: 'When I left the Beggar Society, I broke Shan Zheng's steel saber and vowed that it didn't matter if I was a Han or a Khitan, I definitely wouldn't kill any Han person. But at Juxian Manor, how many people did I kill in one go? Yet in this moment I wanted to kill again, wouldn't this seriously violate the vow? Alas, when things already became like that, if I hadn't offended other people, they would offend me. If I had passively waited for death and let other people cut and kill me, how could it be the action of a true man?'

He had run thousands of li to here because he wanted to find out about his own origin but from beginning to end he had not achieved the slightest result. Getting more and more irascible, he shouted loudly: 'I'm not a Han, I'm not a Han! I'm a Khitan barbarian, I'm a Khitan barbarian!' He then raised his palms and repeatedly hit the stone wall. He only heard the valley resounding with his shouts, each of which echoed back: '…not a Han, not a Han! ...Khitan barbarian, Khitan barbarian!'

Stone bits from the stone wall scattered all around. The grief and fury in Qiao Feng's heart could not be expressed, he kept striking out with one palm attack after another, it seemed he wanted to vent all kinds of grievances he had suffered for the past more than 1 month on the stone wall. Afterward, his palms bled, the marks of his gory fingers were printed on the stone wall one by one, but he kept on hitting.

While he was hitting, suddenly he heard the pleasing clear voice of a girl from behind: 'Great master Qiao, if you kept hitting, this mountain peak would be knocked down by you.'

Startled, Qiao Feng turned his head around and saw a young girl standing under a flower tree beside the mountain slope, leaning against it. The girl was wearing a reddish gown and was smiling. She was no one other than A'Zhu.

That day he had saved her merely because he had been stimulated by the indignation of that moment but in fact he had not cared about this little maid. Afterward, busy enough with his own affairs, he had ignored and forgotten the matter concerning her life and death. Unexpectedly, she suddely appeared here, hence Qiao Feng was astonished, but after that he also felt happy. He went upwards to greet her, laughed and said: 'A'Zhu, have you gotten well?' However, because his mood suddenly changed from being furious to being happy, his smiling expression was rather forced.

A'Zhu said: 'Great master Qiao, how are you?' She gazed at Qiao Feng for a short while then suddenly threw herself into his bosom and sobbed: 'Great master Qiao, I… I've been waiting for you here for 5 days and 5 nights. I only feared that you wouldn't come. You… You've really come. Thank Heavens, in the end you're safe and sound.'

She said these few sentences in an intermittent manner, but her words were filled with gladness and solace. As soon as Qiao Feng heard them, he knew that she cared about himself very much. He felt moved and asked: 'Why have you been waiting for me here for 5 days and 5 nights? I… How did you know that I'd come here?'

A'Zhu slowly raised her head. Suddenly remembering that she was leaning against the bosom of a man, she blushed and took 2 steps backward. When she recalled that just a moment ago she had been unable to control her feelings, her face reddened even more. She suddenly turned around and went quickly to the back of the tree.

Qiao Feng called out: 'Hey, A'Zhu, A'Zhu, what are you doing?' A'Zhu did not reply. She only felt that her heart was beating chaotically. After a good while, she walked out from behind the tree, her face still looked rather embarrassed. For the moment, she stammered and was unable to say clearly. Finding her expression strange, Qiao Feng said: 'A'Zhu, if you have something that is hard to say, feel free to tell me. The 2 of us are friends in adversity who went through life-and-death situations together, what do you still worry about?' A'Zhu's face reddened again. She said: 'Nothing.'

Qiao Feng gently pulled her shoulder and turned her face towards the sunlight. He saw that even though her countenance was still very haggard, a reddish color could vaguely be seen under her pale cheeks; they no longer had the gray color of when she had been seriously injured that day. Qiao Feng then put out his finger to feel her pulse. A'Zhu's whole body shook when her wrist touched his finger. Qiao Feng asked: 'What's wrong? You're still unwell?' A'Zhu blushed again and hurriedly said: 'No, no… nothing.' Qiao Feng checked her pulse but found that it was beating steadily and comfortably. He praised: 'Divine doctor Xue could bring the dying back to life. He really lives up to his reputation.'

A'Zhu said: 'Luckily, only because your good friend Elder Bai Shijing promised to teach Divine doctor Xue 7 stances of the 'Silk Thread Winding Grasping Hand Technique' did he treat my injury. More importantly, they wanted to interrogate me about the whereabouts of that master in black. If I had died at that moment, they wouldn't have been able to ask anything. When the condition of my injury got better a bit, every day 7 or 8 people came and asked me: 'What's the relationship between the evil traitor Qiao Feng and you?' 'Where has he escaped to?' 'Who's the man in black that saved him?' At first I didn't know anything about these matters, but when I honestly said that I didn't know, they insisted that I was lying. They also threatened me a lot, saying they'd starve and torture me. So, I secretly made up some stories and told them. The story about the master in black was the most absurd. One day I said he was from Mt Kunlun, the next day I again said he had once learned martial arts in the East Sea. It was very interesting talking nonsense to them.' Saying to here, recalling that during those days she had talked nonsense to and made a fool of many current well-known heroes and extraordinary people, she still had some lingering enjoyment, and a smiling expression appeared on her face, making it look like a spring flower which had just opened.

Qiao Feng smiled and said: 'Did they believe you?' A'Zhu said: 'Some did and some didn't. The majority of them half believed half doubted. I guessed they didn't know the identity of the master in black either and no one would be able to argue that my words were incorrect, so my stories became more and more curious, making them very suspicious and filled with anxiety.' Qiao Feng sighed and said: 'In the end, what's the identity of this master in black? I don't know it either. Perhaps if I heard you talking through your hat, I'd also half believe half doubt.'

Surprised, A'Zhu said: 'You don't know him either? Then why was he willing to risk saving you from an extremely dangerous place? Ah, of course, every great hero who saves people in danger is just like that.'

Qiao Feng sighed and said: 'I don't know who I should take revenge on, and don't know who I should pay my debt of gratitude either. I don't know if I'm Han or Hu and don't know if in the end my conduct and deeds are right or wrong. Qiao Feng ah Qiao Feng, you're really a man for nothing.'

Seeing his miserable expression, A'Zhu could not help putting out her hands and holding his hands. She soothed him: 'Great master Qiao, why do you have to make yourself suffer? There'll be one day when everything will come to light. As long as you have a clear conscience, and act and behave according to the law of Heaven and Earth, that's good enough.'

Qiao Feng said: 'But I myself have a guilty conscience. Because of it I feel very sorry. That day in the apricot forest I flicked the saber and took a vow that I'd never kill a Han, but… but…'

A'Zhu said: 'At Juxian Manor, those people disregarded rights and wrongs to jointly attack you, if you hadn't struck back, could it be that you'd have confusedly let them cut you into 17 or 28 pieces? There's no such thing under heaven!'

Qiao Feng said: 'You're right.' He was a broad-minded brave man therefore he only felt grieved and lonely for a limited time; after a while, he cast these feelings aside and said: 'Zhiguang dashi and Zhao Qiansun both said there were words written on this stone wall, but someone has scraped them off.'

A'Zhu said: 'Yes, I guessed you'd definitely go out of Yanmen Pass to see the words left behind on this stone wall, that's why after I escaped from danger I went to here immediately to wait for you.'

Qiao Feng asked: 'How could you escape? It's also Elder Bai who saved you?' A'Zhu smiled: 'No, it isn't. You remember that I once disguised as a Shaolin monk, right? Even his shixiongdi (apprentice younger and older bros) couldn't discover it.' Qiao Feng said: 'Yes, this mischievous skill of yours is really good.' A'Zhu said: 'That day, when the condition of my injury was already very good, Divine doctor Xue said there was no need to treat the injury anymore and after resting for 7 or 8 days I'd fully recover. The stories I made up gradually had more and more flaws. Also, I already got somewhat bored with making them up and was worried about you, so in the evening of that day, I disguised as a person.' Qiao Feng asked: 'Disguised again? Who did you disguise as?'

A'Zhu said: 'I disguised as Divine doctor Xue.'

Slightly startled, Qiao Feng said: 'How could you disguise as Divine doctor Xue?' A'Zhu said: 'He met me every day and talked to me the most so I was familiar with his appearance and manner the most. Besides, he often stayed with me alone. In the evening of that day, I pretended to fall in a faint. He came to feel my pulse. I then turned my hand over and grabbed the inner surface of his wrist. He could no longer move, and had no choice but to let me arrange.'

Qiao Feng could not help but burst out laughing and thought: 'This Divine doctor Xue only focused on treating illness. He didn't expect to be fooled by this imp at all.'

A'Zhu said: 'I blocked his acupuncture points, removed his clothes and footwear. As my acupuncture point blocking skill isn't first-class, I feared he would unblock the acupuncture points, so I torn the bed sheet, tied up his limbs then put him on the bed and used the quilt to cover him. If someone looked in from outside the window, they'd only think that I was sleeping deeply with my head covered by the quilt. No one would suspect. After I put on his clothes, shoes and hat and piled wrinkles onto my face, I already looked 70% similar to him, but I lacked a beard.'

Qiao Feng said: 'Oh, Divine doctor Xue's beard is half black half white, it's not easy to fake it.' A'Zhu said: 'It was impossible to make a copy, so in the end I used the real one.' Qiao Feng asked in surprise: 'The real one?' A'Zhu said: 'Yes, the real one. I took out a small knife from his medicine chest and shaved off his beard, then stuck every single thread on my face. There wasn't the slightest difference in color and appearance. Divine doctor Xue must've been extremely angry, but what could he do? Treating my injury wasn't his true goal so me shaving off his beard doesn't count as requiting kindness with enmity, let alone the fact that after having his beard shaved off, it seemed he became younger by more than 10 years, looking very handsome.'

As she spoke to here, the 2 of them looked at each other and burst out laughing.

A'Zhu continued after she finished laughing: 'After disguising as Divine doctor Xue, I swaggered out of Juxian Manor. Of course no one dared to ask me anything. I asked people to prepare horse and take silver for me then went off. When I was 30 li (0.5 km) away from the manor, I pulled off the beard and changed into a young guy. Those people must have discovered it no sooner than the early morning of the next day. But on the way I already changed my appearance, they certainly wouldn't be able to find me.'

Qiao Feng applauded and said: 'Brilliant! Brilliant!' Suddenly he recalled that at Shaolin Monastery when seeing his own back in the copper mirror in the Bodhi Institute he had been dumbfounded and vaguely felt uneasy about something. At this moment, when he heard her talking about how she had disguised and escaped from danger, not only did this uneasy feeling suddenly emerge again, but it was also more intense than it had been that day at Shaolin Monastery. He considered and said: 'You turn around for me.' A'Zhu did not understand what his intention was but she still turned around.

Qiao Feng considered for a long while then took off his coat and wrapped it around her body.

Blushed, A'Zhu turned her head around, looked at him affectionately and said: 'I'm not cold.'

When Qiao Feng saw her being wrapped in his coat, his mind suddenly became clear. He turned his hand over, grabbed her wrist and said sternly: 'It turns out to be you! Who incited you? Quickly tell me.' A'Zhu was frightened and said in a trembling voice: 'Great master Qiao, what's the matter?' Qiao Feng said: 'You once disguised as me and pretended to be me, right?'

It turned out in this moment he suddenly recalled that day in Wuxi when he had been rushing to rescue his Beggar Society brothers, he had seen the back of a person on the road. At that moment, he had not taken notice of it, but when seeing his own back in the copper mirror in the Bodhi Institute, he had started to vaguely remember that the back of that man and his own back had looked exactly alike. As a result, that uneasy feeling had emerged. But he had been confused and totally had not known the cause of it.

That day when he had rushed to rescue the Beggar Society's extraordinary people, by the time of his arrival, everyone had already escaped from danger and all of them had said they had met him not long ago. Even though he had denied that, no one had believed him. At that time, he had been baffled and thought there had been no reason for it other than someone imitating him; but if someone had wanted to imitate him to the extent that the people who had met him on a day-to-day basis such as Bai Shijing and Elder Wu had not been able to discover it, would it not be easier said than done? This moment, as soon as he saw the back of A'Zhu who was being wrapped in his coat, everything from beginning to end was confirmed further and he immediately understood. Even though A'Zhu was not having cotton padding on her body, and her small delicate back was very different than his majestic appearance, but if there were to be someone to imitate him and fool the Beggar Society people, aside from her, who else under heaven could?

A'Zhu did not panic at all. She giggled and said: 'Okay, I have no choice but to confess.' Then she told him how she disguised as him and saved the Beggar Society people using the antidote.

Qiao Feng let go of her wrist and said sternly: 'You disguised as me and saved people, what was your intention?'

A'Zhu was very surprised and said: 'I just wanted to play a joke. You saved me and A'Bi from the hands of the Western Xia people so both of us are very grateful to you. Seeing those beggars treat you badly like that, I thought if I disguised as you and cured them of the poison, making them feel ashamed, it would be a good thing.' She let out a sigh and continued: 'But who could have known at Juxian Manor they were still so cruel to you and didn't remember anything about the kindness and friendship of the past?'

Qiao Feng's expression became grimmer and grimmer. He gnashed his teeth and asked: 'Then why did you disguise as me and kill my parents? Why did you sneak in Shaolin Monastery and kill my master?'

A'Zhu jumped out of her skin and called out: 'There's no such thing. Who said I killed your parents, and killed your master?'

Qiao Feng said: 'My master was injured by someone. As he saw me, he immediately said that it was me who had harmed him. Don't tell me that it still wasn't you?' As he said to here, he slightly raised his right palm and his face was covered with a murderous look. If her answer was just a little bit clumsy, this palm would strike down, and then, even 10 A'Zhu's would die violently in an instant.

Seeing that his face was covered with a murderous look and his eyes were filled with rage, A'Zhu was extremely scared and could not help taking 2 steps backward. If she took another 2 steps backward, she would fall into the bottomless abyss.

Qiao Feng said sternly: 'Stand there, don't move!'

A'Zhu was so frightened that tears rolled down her cheeks drop by drop. She quavered: 'I didn't… I didn't kill your parents, and didn't… didn't kill your master. Your master had such great… great skills, how could I kill him?'

Her last sentence was very powerful. As soon as Qiao Feng heard it, he slightly shivered and knew that he had wrongly blamed her. He put out his left hand with lightning speed, grabbed her shoulder and pulled her close to the cliff so that she would not slip and fall into the ravine. He said: 'That's right. My master wasn't killed by you.' His master Xuan Ku dashi was a brother of high-level monks such as Xuan Ci, Xuan Ji and Xuan Nan; his martial arts attainments were first-class nowadays. He passed away not because of being poisoned or being injured by weapons or missiles, but because his inner organs had been crushed by extremely fierce palm force. A'Zhu was very young, how could she have such profound internal energy? Had her internal energy been sufficient to strike dead Xuan Ku dashi, then that Great Diamond Palm attack by Xuan Ci would not have been able to strike her near dead.

A'Zhu smiled through tears, tapped herself on the chest and said: 'You almost scared me to death. Your words were very unreasonable. If I had the ability to kill your master, then why didn't I help you massacre those bad eggs at Juxian Manor?'

Seeing that she was slightly angry, Qiao Feng felt regretful and said: 'Recently, I've been in a doubtful mood so I just talked nonsense, please don't blame me.'

A'Zhu smiled and said: 'Who blames you? If I blamed you then I wouldn't talk to you.' Then she immediately stopped smiling and said softly: 'Great master Qiao, no matter how you treat me, in this life, I'll never be angry with you.'

Qiao Feng shook his head and said indifferently: 'Even though I saved you, you don't need to keep it in mind.' He frowned, entranced, then suddenly asked: 'A'Zhu, who taught you these disguising and making-up skills? Does your master have any other disciple?' A'Zhu shook her head and said: 'Nobody taught me. Since childhood I've liked to disguise as other people to play. The more I imitated, the better I could disguise. And I don't have any master. Could it be that I must have a master in order to play a game?'

Qiao Feng let out a sigh and said: 'Then this really strange. Who could expect that in the world there's 1 man who looks exactly like me, to such an extent that my master mistook him for me?' A'Zhu said: 'Because there is this clue, it'd be easy. We just need to find this man, then torture and force him to answer.' Qiao Feng said: 'Correct. But it's extremely difficult to find 1 man in the boundless sea of people in the world. He probably also has good disguising and making-up skills like you do.'

He came near the cliff and gazed at the marks caused by axes and chisels on the stone wall, wanting to find out what words had been carved on it originally. But after looking at them carefully, he still could not recognize a single word. He said: 'I must find Zhiguang dashi and ask him what words were written on this stone wall. If I can't bring this matter to light, I won't be able to eat and sleep calmly.'

A'Zhu said: 'I'm afraid he won't be willing to say.' Qiao Feng said: 'He'll probably be unwilling to say, but I'll force and beg him. Only after he says will I stop.' A'Zhu muttered: 'Zhiguang dashi seems to be very resolute and unafraid of death. Perhaps forcing and begging him wouldn't work. It'd be better…' Qiao Feng nodded and said: 'Correct. It'd be better to ask Zhao Qiansun. Oh, probably this Zhao Qiansun guy would rather die than submit as well. But I already have a way to deal with him.'

As he spoke to here, he turned toward one side, looked at the abyss and said: 'I wanna go down to have a look.' A'Zhu jumped in fright. She looked at the mouth of that valley which was covered in clouds and mists and took several steps away from it for fear of carelessly falling down into it. She then said: 'No, no! You must not go down. What's good to see down there?' Qiao Feng said: 'In the end I'm Han or Hu? This matter has always been whirling around my head. I wanna go down to investigate and clear it up, and to take a look at the corpse of that Khitan man.' A'Zhu said: 'It's been 30 years since that man fell down. There're only several pieces of white bones left. What else will you be able to see?' Qiao Feng said: 'I just wanna have a look at that man's remains. I think if he's really my real father then I should collect his bones, bring them up and bury them properly.'

A'Zhu screamed: 'Impossible, impossible! You're benevolent, heroic and righteous. How can you be a descendant of the inhuman vicious Khitans?'

Qiao Feng said: 'You wait for me here for 1 day and 1 night. If by this time tomorrow I haven't gone up then you won't need to wait anymore.'

Very worried, A'Zhu burst into tears and called out: 'Great master Qiao, please don't go down!'

Qiao Feng's intention was very firm. In spite of A'Zhu, he did not change his mind a little bit. He said: 'At Juxian Manor, so many heroes and brave men couldn't kill me. Don't tell me that this trifling valley could take my life?'

Unable to think of any word to dissuade him, A'Zhu had no choice but to say: 'Maybe there're very many poisonous snakes, poisonous insects or ferocious monsters down there.'

'Ha-ha,' Qiao Feng laughed out loud, patted her shoulder and said: 'If there were monsters then it couldn't be better. I'd capture them for you to play.' He looked all around the mouth of the valley to find a cliff where he could manage to put his feet on to gradually climb down.

At this moment, suddenly he vaguely heard the sounds of horse hooves which were galloping southward in the northeast corner. Judging by the sounds, there were more than 20 horses. Without delay, Qiao Feng quickly walked back to the mountain slope and looked in the direction of the horse hoofbeats. From a height, he saw that these more than 20 cavalrymen wearing yellow clothes and armor. All of them were Great Song's servicemen. They were arranged in a line and coming quickly along the mountain path on the high slope below.

After seeing clearly those people, he paid no attention to them. But the place where he and A'Zhu were staying at was on the important path to enter the pass from the north of the Great Wall; that year, extraordinary people of the Central Plains had selected this place to ambush the Khitan warriors for this reason. He thought because this place was a strategic point for frontier defense, if Great Song servicemen saw unfamiliar people here, they would likely interrogate and examine; hence it would be better to stay away from them to avoid troubles. He then returned to the original place, pulled A'Zhu to the back of the big rock to hide and said: 'These are Great Song servicemen!'

Not long after that, those more than 20 cavalrymen went up the ridge. Hiding behind the rock, Qiao Feng already saw that the leading person was an officer. He could not refrain from feeling rather moved: 'That year, people such as Chief Wang, Zhiguang dashi and Zhao Qiansun prolly also ambushed behind this big rock, and in this way they saw the Khitan warriors going up the ridge. Today, the peak and the rock are still the same, but most of the warriors of both sides Song and Liao that year have turned into white bones.'

While his mind was wandering, suddenly he heard several crying sounds of children. Qiao Feng was astonished and felt as if he was in dreamland: 'Why are there also children?' After that he heard the screams of several women.

He stuck his head out and saw clearly that most of those Great Song servicemen were having a kidnapped woman on each of their horses. All of the women and children were wearing Khitan pastoral attire. Quite a few Great Song servicemen stretched out their hands and groped the Khitan women, looking extremely licentious and repulsive. Some women who resisted were immediately shouted abuse at and hit by those servicemen. Qiao Feng found this strange and did not understand the reason for this. He saw that after passing by the big rock, these people galloping straight towards Yanmen Pass.

A'Zhu asked: 'Great master Qiao, what are they doing?' Qiao Feng shook his head and thought: 'Why are defending troops at this frontier pass so obscene?' A'Zhu continued: 'This kind of serviceman looks just like bandits.'

After that, more than 30 other servicemen went up the ridge, driving along several hundreds head of cattle and sheep and more than 10 Khitan women. He heard 1 officer say: 'Gathering crops this time, our harvest isn't very good, I wonder if commander-in-chief will get angry?' Another officer said: 'We couldn't snatch a lot of cattle and sheep from Liao dogs, but 2 or 3 women among the ones we snatched look not bad. Let commander-in-chief enjoy them, he'll be in a good mood.' The 1st officer said: '30 something women aren't enough for everyone. Tomorrow we should work hard and snatch some more.' A soldier laughed and said: 'Hearing the rumors, all the Liao dogs must've already run away. If we wanna gather crops again, we need to wait for 2 or 3 months.'

Hearing to here, Qiao Feng could not refrain from getting extremely furious. He thought that the misdeeds of these servicemen were even worse than those of the most despicable robbers.

Suddenly, a baby who was being carried in the bosom of a Khitan woman started to cry loudly. That Khitan woman held out her hand and pushed away the hand of a Great Song officer then turned her head back to coax the crying baby. That officer was very angry. He grabbed that baby and threw him on the ground. After that he urged the horse forwards; the horse trampled on the body of the baby, immediately breaking his belly and making his intestines stick out. That Khitan woman was so frightened that she was stunned and unable to let out any sound of crying. The servicemen laughed loudly and passed by in large numbers.

In his life, Qiao Feng had seen not just a few ruthless cruel things, but this was the 1st time he had seen someone openly kill a baby for fun like this. He was extremely furious but did not unleash his feelings right away as he wanted to see the whole story.

After this group of servicemen passed by, more than 10 other servicemen came while shouting. All of these Great Song servicemen were riding horses and holding high spears in their hands. The head of almost every spear was piercing through 1 gory severed head. There was a long rope fastened to the tail of one of the horses, tying up 5 Khitan men. Qiao Feng saw that those people were wearing clothes of ordinary herdsmen. 2 of them were very old with their heads full of white hairs. The other 3 were 15 or 16 year old youngsters. He immediately understood that these Great Song servicemen had gone out to pillage, all the strong Khitan herdsmen had escaped but they had captured the women, the children, the old and the weak.

He heard 1 officer laugh and say: 'Cutting off 14 heads and capturing 5 Liao dogs, this contribution is not big and not small, but I'll certainly be promoted by 1 rank and rewarded with 100 taels of silver.' Another man said: 'Hey Gao, there's a Khitan small town 50 li to the west of here. Do you dare to go there to gather crops?' The one called Gao said: 'Why the heck do I not dare? Are you looking down on me for being a rookie? As a rookie, your father needs to make more contributions at the frontier.' While they were talking, the line of men, who were running fast, already came near the big rock.

When seeing the corpse of the child on the ground, 1 old Khitan man suddenly screamed out, rushed over to hug the corpse, repeatedly kissed it and cried out sorrowfully. Even though Qiao Feng did not understand this old man's language, seeing his expression, he knew that the baby who had been trampled to death by horses was his relative. The private who was dragging the old man continuously pulled the rope, urging him to go fast. Getting furious like crazy, that old Khitan man fiercely rushed at him. Frightened, that private brandished his saber and quickly slashed at the old man. The old Khitan man exerted his strength and gave him a pull, dragging him down from horseback, then opened his mouth and bit the private's neck. At this moment, another Great Song officer on horseback ruthlessly chopped at the back of the old man with his saber 1 time then he stooped down, grabbed his neck and pulled him away. Only now was the private who had fallen on the ground able to stand up. He was very angry therefore he brandished his saber and chopped several more times at the old Khitan man. That old man shook a few times but he did not tumble down. The servicemen, either raising spears or lifting long sabers, then surrounded him.

That old man turned towards the north, unfastened the clothes on the upper part of his body, stood upright and suddenly started to cry out loudly in a grieved voice, sounding like the howl of a wolf. Temporarily, the servicemen all had a frightened expression on their faces.

Qiao Feng was scared. He suddenly felt that there seemed to be a spiritual connection between him and this old Khitan man. He himself had also let out these several howls which sounded like those of a dying wolf's. That had been at Juxian Manor, after successively being hit by saber and spear, seeing Shan Zheng thrusting at him with his saber, he himself had known that he had been about to die, hence he had been unable to hold back his grief and indignation and cried out violently like a wild beast.

At this moment, when he heard those cries, a sense of closeness involuntarily arose in his heart. Not thinking anymore, he leaped out from the behind the big rock, grabbed those Great Song servicemen and threw them off the cliff one by one. The more Qiao Feng fought, the more ardent he became. He even shoved all the horses that they rode down the ravine by giving each horse 1 palm attack. The cries by men and the neighs by horses were heard for a while then soon fell silent.

A'Zhu and those 4 Khitan men were dumbfounded when they saw that he was such miraculously mighty.

After killing all of those more than 10 servicemen, Qiao Feng let out a long howl which shook the valley. Seeing that the old Khitan man was still standing upright after receiving several saber slashes, he respected him for being a brave man. He then went up to the old man and saw that he was facing north with his bare chest being exposed, but he no longer breathed and was already dead. As soon as Qiao Feng looked at the old man's chest, 'Ah,' he uttered an exclamation and took 1 step backwards, his body tottered as if he was about to fall over.

A'Zhu was very scared. She called out: 'Great master Qiao, you… you… are you alright?' Only chi-chi-chi sounds were heard, Qiao Feng had ripped open the clothes that covered his own front, showing a hairy chest.

A'Zhu immediately saw that there was a decorative design tattooed on his chest, which was a blue wolf head with its mouth wide opened showing its teeth, looking ferocious. When she looked at the old Khitan man again, she saw that his chest also had a wolf head tattoo whose appearance was exactly the same as that of the wolf head on Qiao Feng's chest.

Suddenly, those 4 Khitan men started to shout at the same time.

When Qiao Feng had begun to understand things at the age of 2 or 3, he had already seen this blue wolf head tattoo on his chest. Because he had known it since childhood, he had not in the least thought that it had been unusual. Later, when he had grown up, he had asked his parents about it. Qiao Sanhuai and his wife both had said that the picture had been beautiful and praised it for a while, but they had said nothing about its origin. During the Northern Song Dynasty, it was very common to have a tattoo on the body; some people even had their whole bodies covered with tattoos from the neck to the feet. Great Song received the country from the Chai clan of the Later Zhou Dynasty. The founder of the Later Zhou Dynasty Guo Wei had a sparrow tattoo on his neck, and for this reason he was called 'Guo Sparrow.' At that time, having tattoos had become a prevailing fashion and 8 or 9/10th of the Beggar Society brothers had tattoos on their bodies, hence Qiao Feng had never had the least bit of suspicion. But at this moment, when he saw that the blue wolf tattoo on the chest of the dead old Khitan man and his own tattoo were unexpectedly exactly alike, he was extremely shocked.

The 4 Khitan people surrounded him and talked in a language he did not understand. They continuously pointed at the wolf head on his chest. Because Qiao Feng did not understand what they were saying, he had no idea how to reply. Suddenly 1 old man unfastened his clothes and showed his chest, which unexpectedly also had this wolf head tattoo. The other 3 youngsters also unfastened their clothes, and their chests all had the wolf head tattoo as well.

In an instant, Qiao Feng finally knew absolutely that he himself was a Khitan. The wolf head on the chest had to be the symbol of their tribe, perhaps each of them had been tattooed with it since childhood. He had always detested Khitan people, thinking that they were brutal, despicable, faithless and unrighteous, and thinking that they were accustomed to killing Han people and did not stop at any crime. But at this moment he had no choice but to admit that he himself was a Khitan man who was just like an animal, hence he felt extremely distressed.

He stood in a trance for a long time then suddenly he let out a shout and ran like crazy towards the forest.

A'Zhu called out: 'Great master Qiao, great master Qiao!' and went after him.

Only after chasing him for more than 10 li (0.5 km) did A'Zhu see him sitting under a big tree and hugging his head. His face was very pale, a thick blue vein stuck out on his forehead. A'Zhu went to his side and sat down next to him.

Qiao Feng shrank his body and said: 'I'm a Khitan barbarian who is lower than pigs and dogs. From now on, you don't need to see me again.'

Like all other Han people, A'Zhu of course also detested Khitan people to the marrow, but in her heart, Qiao Feng was like a heavenly god. Needless to say, he was just a Khitan. Even if he was a demon or a ferocious beast, she would not be willing to leave him. She thought: 'He's unhappy now. I must nicely advise and console him.' She then softly said: 'There're good ones and bad ones among Han people, so naturally there're also good ones and bad ones among Khitan people. Great master Qiao, please don't pay attention to this kind of thing. A'Zhu's life was saved by you. If you're Han, that's fine by me. If you're Khitan, that's also fine. Han or Khitan, it makes no difference to me.'

Qiao Feng coldly said: 'I don't need you to take pity on me. In your mind, you look down on me. You don't need to hypocritically say any nice word. I saved your life not because of my true feelings. It's just that I temporarily wanted to show off my skills and defeat other people. This matter has been written off in 1 stroke. Please go away quickly.'

A'Zhu was anxious and flustered and thought: 'He already knows that he himself is a Khitan barbarian. Perhaps he'll return to the northern deserts and from now on never put his foot on the Central Plains again.' For the moment, not being able to control her feelings, she stood up and said: 'Great master Qiao, if you cast me aside and leave, I'll jump into this valley. A'Zhu will definitely do what she has promised. You're a Khitan hero so you look down on this lowly slave girl. I'd better finish myself.'

Hearing she say very sincerely, Qiao Feng felt touched. He had only thought that if he was a barbarian, all the Han people under heaven would avoid him like avoiding snakes and scorpions. Never could he have expected that A'Zhu still treated him the same as before, hence he could not help holding out his hand to pull her hand and said gently: 'A'Zhu, you're Mr Murong's maid, and not my maid. I… How can I look down on you?'

A'Zhu said: 'I don't need you to take pity on me. In your mind, you look down on me. You don't need to hypocritically say any nice word.' She imitated these few sentences of Qiao Feng and there was no dissimilarity between her voice and tone to those of his, but her eyes were filled with a mischievous look.

Qiao Feng ha-ha laughed out loud. He was on the edge of despair and disappointment, therefore when he was joked with and consoled by this smart young girl he could not help feeling that his worries had largely disappeared.

A'Zhu suddenly adopted a stern expression and said: 'Great master Qiao, I serve Mr Murong but I do not sell myself to him. It was only because I have been without parents since childhood and was wandering about outside, one day I was bullied and humiliated by other people, seeing that, Old Master Murong saved me and took me to his home. I was alone and homeless so I became a maid in his home. Actually Mr Murong doesn't regard me as his maid at all. He even bought a few maids to serve me. A'Bi meizi (younger sister) is also like me. It's just that her father sent her to Old Master Murong's home in Yanzi hamlet (Yanzi = Swallow - bird) to take refuge. In those days, Old Master Murong and Madam Murong once said that the day I and A'Bi wanted to leave Yanzi hamlet, his Murong family would happily see us off…' Saying to here, she slightly blushed. It turned out during that time Madam Murong had said: 'The days that the 2 little girls A'Zhu and A'Bi have homes to return to, the whole Murong family will see them off with dowries, decorated sedan chairs and musical performances. There'll be no difference to when our daughter gets married.' She paused for a short while then continued talking to Qiao Feng: 'From now on, I'm gonna serve you and become your maid. Mr Murong definitely won't take offense.'

Shaking his hands continuously, Qiao Feng said: 'No, no! I'm a barbaric Hu man, how can I have any maid? You're used to living in a rich and honorable family in Jiangnan, what's so good about following me to wander about and suffer hardships? You see, I'm such an insolent sort of fellow, do I deserve to be served by you?'

A'Zhu gave a charming smile and said: 'If so, let's consider that I'm a servant who has been captured by you, when you're happy you'll smile at me, when you're sad you'll beat me and scold me, is that okay?' Qiao Feng smiled and said: 'If I gave you a punch, I'm afraid you'd die instantly.' A'Zhu said: 'Of course you only beat me gently and must not hit too hard.' Qiao Feng laughed ha-ha and said: 'If beating gently then it'd be better not to beat. I don't wanna have any servant either.' A'Zhu said: 'You're a great Khitan hero, what's wrong with you capturing some Han women and making them your servants? You see, didn't those Great Song servicemen also kidnap many Khitan people?'

Qiao Feng was speechless. Seeing that he was knitting his brows tightly and the look in his eyes was very gloomy, A'Zhu was afraid that she had said something wrong making him unhappy.

After a while, Qiao Feng slowly said: 'I've always thought that Khitan people are ferocious and ruthless, and savagely harm Han people. But today I've seen with my own eyes how Great Song servicemen killed Khitan people regardless of age and sex. I… I… A'Zhu, I'm a Khitan. From now on, I'm no longer ashamed to be a Khitan, and I don't feel honored to be a Great Song man either.'

Hearing him say so, A'Zhu knew that he had untied this knot of depression in his mind. She was very happy and said: 'I already said there're good ones and bad ones among Hu people, and there're also the good and the bad among Han people. Hu people don't have the craftiness of Han people's so maybe they even have a bit fewer baddies.'

When Qiao Feng looked at the ravine on the left-hand side, he remembered what had happened that year and said: 'A'Zhu, my father and mother were murdered without any reason by these Han people. I'm not allowed not to settle this score.'

A'Zhu nodded and secretly felt scared. She knew that the words 'I'm not allowed not to settle this score' that he had just mentioned lightly were bound to involve countless fierce battles, blood and lives.

Qiao Feng pointed at the ravine and said: 'That year, after my mother was killed by them, my father was so sad that he didn't wanna live, so he jumped into the ravine from beside the rock over there. While he was in mid air, unwilling to make me die with him, he tossed me up. Only thanks to that can Qiao Feng be here today. A'Zhu, my father loved me very much, didn't he?' With her eyes moistened with tears, A'Zhu said: 'Yes.'

Qiao Feng said: 'My parents' intense and deep-seated score, how can I not settle it? In the past I didn't know about it so I went as far as considering the enemies my friends. It was very unfilial of me to do so. Today, if I don't find and kill the main murderer that harmed my parents, how could I, Qiao, still have the face to live in the world? In the end, who is the 'leading big brother' that they mentioned? The letter that he wrote to Chief Wang had his signature, but monk Zhiguang torn off the signature and swallowed it. Obviously this 'leading big brother' buster is still alive, otherwise they wouldn't have to cover up for him.'

He asked himself and answered himself. After thinking deeply, he knew that A'Zhu was unable to help him find the archenemy but having 1 person at his side to hear him talk would automatically relieve many of his worries. He continued: 'This leading big brother buster could command the extraordinary people of the Central Plains so he must be a person with very good martial arts and high reputation. Judging by his tone in the letter, the friendship between him and Chief Wang is very unusual. He called Chief Wang elder brother, so he must be a bit younger than Chief Wang, but of course he's much older than me. It shouldn't be hard to find a person like this at all. Alas, only monk Zhiguang, Elder Xu and Madam Ma of the Beggar Society, and Impartial Judge Shan Zheng have read that letter. That Zhao Qiansun guy certainly also knows who he is. Zhao Qiansun already told his shimei (younger apprentice sister) Granny Tan about that. Perhaps Granny Tan doesn't hide that from her husband. Both monk Zhiguang and Zhao Qiansun are accomplices in the murders of my parents so I'll certainly kill them. As for this 'leading big brother' mofo, humph, I… I will kill his whole family from the old to the young, and won't spare even fowls and dogs!'

A'Zhu felt a shiver of fear. She wanted to say: 'Killing that leading villain would already be enough. You spare his whole family, ok?' But when she was about to say these sentences, she did not dare to open her lips. She only felt that Qiao Feng had intense might therefore she did not in the least dare to refuse to follow him.

Qiao Feng continued: 'Monk Zhiguang wanders about the whole country. Zhao Qiansun also roams around. It won't be easy to find these 2 people. That Impartial Judge Shan Zheng guy didn't take part in the battle that killed my parents. I already killed 2 of his sons, his youngest son also died because of me, so there's no need to find him anymore. A'Zhu, let's go find Elder Xu of the Beggar Society.'

Hearing him say the word 'let's' A'Zhu could not help feeling elated because it meant that he agreed to let her go with him. She smiled charmingly and thought: 'Even if it's going to the ends of the world, I'll still go with you.'

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