Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils Chapter 6-10

Chapter - 6 Descendants Into the Courtyard

Duan Yu hugged Mu Wanqing to his bosom, feeling both happy and concerned, he asked, "Miss Mu, how is your injury? Did that evil person bully you?" Mu Wanqing said angrily, "Who am I to you? Still calling me Miss Mu?"

Seeing Mu Wanqing angry, yet prettier at the same time; this seven days he had missed her really badly; he tightened his arms and said gently, "Sister Wan! Sister Wan! Can I call you that?" lowering his head at the same time and kissed her. Mu Wanqing exclaimed, "Ah!" blushed deeply and jumped up saying "There are other people here! How could you…you do that? Aye, where are those people?" looking around, realised that Chu, Gu, Fu, Zhu these four people were gone; Zuo Zi Mu had left with his son, leaving not a single person in their surroundings.

Duan Yu asked, "Who else is here? Is it Divine Croc?" looking frightened. Mu Wanqing asked, "How long have you been here?" Duan Yu replied, "Only for a while. I came up this peak." Mu Wanqing said, "Ok…"mumbling, "This is strange. How come everyone just disappeared in an instant? Suddenly, someone behind a rock recited, "Moving thousands of miles with a sword, daring to speak…" during the reciting, a person came out; it was one of the four royal guards Zhu Dan Chen. Duan Yu said happily, "Brother Zhu!" Zhu Dan Chen walked two steps in front, bowed and replied happily "Young master, luckily you are safe and well, just now what the young lady said made us so anxious!" Duan Yu made a polite hand gesture and said, "So all of you have met? Why are you…you here? This is too coincidental."

Zhu Dan Chen replied with a smile, "The four of us were ordered to escort young master home, it was not a coincidence. Young master, you are so daring to wander alone in the martial arts world. We went to Ma Wu De's home to find you and also rushed to Mt. No Measure. These few days all of us have been worried enough. Duan Yu replied with a laugh, "I went through quite a lot of suffering too. Uncle and father must be really angry, right?" Zhu Dan Chen replied, "They are of course not very happy. But when we left the two masters' anger had been appeased and they have missed you greatly these few days. After Marquis Shan Chan found out that the four evil ones were coming to Dali, he became worried that young master will bump into them, thus he personally rushed out."

Duan yu said, "Uncle Gao is finding me too? How can I not feel bad? Where is he?" Zhu Dan Chen replied, "Just now we were all here. Lord Gao chased away an evil woman, heard young master's cries, heaved a sigh of relief and then he ordered me to wait here for young master. Then they went to chase after the evil woman. Young master, let's go back home, so that the two masters will not be too worried. Duan Yu said, "So you…you were here all along?" thinking about how his intimate actions with Mu Wanqing had been seen and heard by him, leading him to blush in embarrassment.

Zhu Dan Chen said, 'Just now I was sitting behind the rock reading Wang Chang Ling's poetry collection, his wu jue "Moving thousands of miles with a sword, daring to speak….Once a man of honour, not breaking his promises…"in these simple twenty words which are unconventional and very worthy of admiration." and took out a book; it was "Wang Chang Ling's poetry collection". Duan Yu nodded and replied, 'Wang Chang Ling's speciality is qi jue, not wu jue. But this literary piece is of high quality. Isn't his other piece: "song guo si cang" even better?' he then recited "Reflection of the door in the green water, leaving the heart of the master. The bright moon…, the deep spring night." Zhu Dan Chen bowed again and said "Thank you young master." using the poetry lines to change the topic. He used those lines to say that he will, like the others repay young master in death. Duan Yu used those lines to say that as master, he is devoted to his subordinates and will treat them as good friends. Looking at each other, the two of them smiled.
 

Mu Wanqing did not know poetry and thought "This bookworm has forgotten where he is, he gets so interested once he talks about poetry. This military officer sure knows how to flatter people by bringing a book with him. She did not know that Zhu Dan Chen was of both literary and military capacity and usually read books of poetry.

Duan Yu turned and said, "Miss Mu…Mu, this is Zhu Dan Chen, 4th brother Zhu, my good friend." Zhu dan chen bowed with respect and said, "Greetings, Miss Mu."

Mu Wanqing returned the greeting and seeing him treat her with respect, was overjoyed and said, "4th brother Zhu."
 

Zhu Dan Chen said with a laugh, "I do not dare to be called that." thinking "This young lady is really pretty, just now when she slapped young master, she had been so agile, it seems as though her kungfu is not bad. Young master was slapped, yet he still smiled, not caring much. For this young lady, he actually left home for such a long period of time; thus, he must be very infatuated with her. I wonder what the background of this young lady is. Young master is so young and therefore, does not know how dangerous the martial arts world is, he should not be smitten with her beauty, maybe even causing him to lose his reputation." and said with a smile, "The two old masters miss young master and hope that you will go back home immediately. If Miss Mu is free, please go too as our guest." He was worried that Duan Yu would refuse to go home, but if the young lady would go together, he would most likely agree to do so.
 

Duan Yu stuttered, "What would…would I say to Uncle and Father?" Mu Wanqing blushed and turned her head away.

Zhu Dan Chen said, "The four evil ones have such high martial arts abilities, just now when the Marquis Shan Chan managed to force Second Madam Ye to retreat, it was by the element of surprise and also by luck. Young Master should not be in such a perilous situation, let's leave quickly!" Duan Yu thought of Divine Croc's fierce expression and could not help feeling scared. He said with a nod, "Ok, let's go. 4th Brother Zhu, since the opponent is so powerful, you should go and help Uncle Gao. I will go home together with Miss Mu." Zhu Dan Chen said with a laugh, "It was not easy to find Young Master; I should personally escort you home. Miss Mu is well-versed in martial arts, but I think she has not recovered from her injury, it will be bad if you meet strong opponents on your way home, and thus it will be better if I go with the both of you."

Mu Wanqing said rudely, "You do not need to be so polite when you talk to me. I am a wild woman that has never studied before. I only understand half of what you are saying." Zhu Dan Chen said with a laugh, "Of course, of course. Although I am a military officer, I like to act as if I am a scholar, this is a bad habit that refuses to go away, please do not blame me, lady."

Duan Yu was not willing to go home just like that, but since Zhu Dan Chen found him, he knew that he would have no choice but to do so; he would just have to try to leave secretly during the journey, thus, the three of them went down the peak. Mu Wanqing wanted to ask Duan Yu where he had gone to during those seven days and seven nights but because Zhu Dan Chen was near, talking was not convenient, thus she had to resist the urge. Zhu dan chen brought dried food which he gave the two of them to eat.

The three of them reached the bottom of the peak and after travelling for miles, they found five horses tied to a tree. It turned out to be what Gu du cheng and the others rode here. Zhu Dan Chen led three of the horses to them and after Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing got on the horses, he got on one horse himself and followed them behind. That night, the three of them rested at an inn, each of them taking separate rooms. Zhu Dan Chen then bought a new set on clothes for Duan Yu to change into so that he did not have to suffer the misery of the holes in his trousers.

Mu Wanqing closed the door of her room, staring at the red candle on the table, she sat down, feeling both happy and worried. She thought, "Husband Duan came to find me despite of the danger, showing how devoted he is to me. These few days I have been cursing him, thinking he was heartless; I have misunderstood him. Zhu Dan Chen treats him with so much respect, thus, he must be some important officer's son. I, being a lady, although we have been engaged, should not go to his home for no apparent reason, isn't that awkward? It seems like his uncle and father are very fierce towards him, if they look down on me and treat me with disrespect, what should I do? Hey, I should use my poison darts to kill his whole family, except him." While she was thinking about this, she suddenly heard two soft taps on the window.

Mu Wanqing extinguished the candle flame with a wave of her left hand. Outside the window, Duan Yu said, "It's me." Hearing Duan Yu look for her in the deep night, her heart started pounding and her cheeks started burning, she whispered, "What do you want?" Duan Yu replied, "You open the window and I tell you." Mu Wanqing said, "I will not open." She knew martial arts, yet now she was scared of this weak scholar, it was strange. Duan Yu did not understand why she refused to open the window and he said, "Then you come out quickly and let's leave quickly." Mu Wanqing made a hole in the window paper and asked, "Why?" Duan Yu replied, "4th Brother Zhu is asleep, let's not wake him up. I do not wish to go home."

Mu Wanqing was overjoyed, she had been worried about meeting Duan Yu's parents. She then pushed open the window lightly and jumped out. Duan Yu whispered, "I go and get the horses." Mu Wanqing shook her hands and wrapped her arm around Duan Yu's waist before taking a deep breath and leapt over the wall. She then whispered, "4th brother Zhu will find out when he hears the sound of the hooves." Duan Yu said softly with a laugh, "Luckily you thought of that."

Holding hands, the two of them started travelling towards the east. After walking for miles, they did not hear anyone chasing them from the back and they were relieved. Mu Wanqing said, "Why do you not wish to go home?" Duan Yu replied, "Once I get home, Uncle and Father will definitely lock me up and I will not be able to go out. It will be difficult even to see you once. Mu Wanqing was very pleased and said, "It's best not to go to your house. From now on, the both of us shall wander in the world, isn't that carefree? Now where do we go?" Duan Yu said, "Firstly, we must not be caught by 4th brother Zhu and Uncle Gao. Secondly, we must avoid that Divine Croc. Mu Wanqing said, "True. Let's travel in the northwest direction, its best if we find a village family where we can lie low for some time. After the injury on my back has fully healed, we would not be afraid of anything anymore." Thus, the two of them traveled in the northwest direction, not daring to slow down, only hoping to leave Mt. No Measure as far as possible.

After they traveled till dawn, Mu Wanqing said, "Those servants in Gu su Wang family must still be looking for me. If we travel during the day, we would be easily noticed. We should find somewhere to rest, daytime, we eat and sleep, nighttime, we travel." Duan Yu did not know much about the martial arts world, thus he replied, "You decide." Mu Wanqing said, "After the meal, tell me where you have been these seven days and seven nights. If you dare to lie to me, be careful your..." Before she could finish her sentence, "Aye!" she said.

In front of them, three horses were tied to a willow tree in the shade and a person was sitting on a rock, holding a book in his hand, reciting, of course it was Zhu Dan Chen, who else could it be? Seeing this, Duan Yu was very shocked, he grabbed Mu Wanqing's hand and said hurriedly, "Let's go!"

Mu Wanqing was very sure that last night when they secretly escaped, Zhu Dan Chen had found out, he knew Duan Yu did not know qing gong and could not travel fast, he then predicted where the two of them will head and rode on the horse to block their way; she frowned and said, "Blockhead, since we have been caught by him, how can we escape?" then, she walked in front and said mockingly, "Reading in the early morning, you want to be the top scholar?"

Zhu Dan Chen said to Duan Yu with a laugh, "Young master, what poem do you think I am reading?" then he recited "Birds chirp on the ancient tree in the winter, monkeys calling in the desolate mountains, since your eyes are injured, feeling frightened and shocked, isn't it dangerous? Remember the debt of gratitude of your homeland. No two promises,...winning words..., ...in your life, who will determine your title?"

Duan Yu replied, "This is Wei Zheng's "Xu Huai"? Zhu Dan Chen said with a laugh, "Young Master is of great literary ability, worthy of admiration, worthy of admiration." Duan Yu understood that he was using this poem to tell him that I chased after you despite of everything is because he owns Duan Yu's uncle and father a debt of gratitude, not daring to fail in his mission; he is also hinting that since Duan Yu had agreed to go home, he should not go back on his word.

Mu Wanqing untied the horse and said, "To go to Dali, is the direction we are travelling in right?" Zhu Dan Chen replied, "Since we are free, we travel to the east or travel to the west, we will still get to Dali." The day before he allowed Duan Yu to ride on the horse with the strongest legs, but now he led that horse to himself, in case the two of them decide to escape on the horses, he will still be able to catch up on the horse.

After Duan Yu got on the horseback, he directed it to the east. Afraid that Duan Yu would get annoyed with him, Zhu Dan Chen kept chatting with him about poetry and books but he did not know about "Yi jing", otherwise he will be able to cater to Duan Yu's pleasure. Despite that, Duan Yu was already in high spirits and kept talking a lot. However, Mu Wanqing could not join in the conversation. Not long after, they reached the main road and after they travelled till noon, they stopped at a shop to eat noodles.

Suddenly a shadow flashed past and a tall and thin person walked in the door, once he sat down, he hit the table and called, "Wine and beef, quick, quick!"

Mu Wanqing did not need to look at his face; she only heard how his voice was suddenly low and suddenly high, very unpleasant to the ears, before she knew that "Desperate Evil" Yun Zhong He had arrived, luckily her face was facing towards the inside, not towards him. She then stuck her finger into the soup and wrote on the table, "The Fourth Bad One". Also using the soup, Zhu Dan Chen wrote on the table, "Leave quickly! Don't need to wait for me!" Mu Wanqing pulled Duan Yu's sleeve and the two of them walked into the inside. Zhu Dan Chen moved swiftly into a dark corner.

When Yun Zhong He just reached the shop, he had been staring intently at the main road; when he heard someone moving behind him, he turned back and saw Mu Wanqing just disappearing behind a cupboard and then he shouted, "Who is it? Stop there!" He got up from his seat, his long arm trying to grab Mu Wanqing's back.

Holding a bowl of soup, Zhu Dan Chen suddenly rushed out from the dark corner and exclaimed, "Ah Yo!" pretending to lose hold of the bowl; a bowl of hot soup splashed towards Yun Zhong He. Not only were they quite near to each other, Zhu Dan Chen was also quick in the splashing and there was no space in the little shop to move around, thus, even though Yun Zhong He did turn around and avoided half of the soup, the other half of the soup still splashed on his face; instantly, his vision blurred and in his anger, he attacked Zhu Dan Chen, hoping to scratch open his chest. But once the bowl left Zhu Dan Chen's hands, he had conveniently taken a table and threw it together with the bowls, plates and cups towards Yun Zhong He. Yun Zhong He's five fingers stuck into the table and with strong force, the bowls, plates and cups flew towards him.

Meeting a strong enemy in a small shop, even though he had strong kungfu, he was still in a flurry. He quickly tried to spread his inner energy over his whole body, those plates and bowls that hit him all bounced back but he was still dripping with soup, making him look very embarrassing. Outside the door, there was the clatter of the hooves, two people were leaving, riding on horses towards the north. Yun Zhong He wiped the soup from his eyes with his sleeve, suddenly, he felt something flying towards his chest. He took a deep breath and his chest contracted a few centimetres and his left palm attacked from the air and turning it, he caught the judge's brush that the enemy had attacked with. Zhu Dan Chen quickly wielded his inner energy, hoping to snatch it back. His inner energy was not strong enough, this seizing originally would not have succeeded, and a favourite weapon would have certainly landed into the hands of the enemy, luckily Yun Zhong He's hands were oily and his fingers were slippery, thus, he could not hold it tight enough and Zhu Dan Chen actually managed to get back his weapon.

After many moves, Zhu Dan Chen knew that the enemy had good reflexes and strong kungfu, thus, he shouted, "The person with the metal stick and the person with the broad axe, block the door quickly, the bamboo pole would not be able to escape!" He had once heard from Zhu Wan Li and Gu Du Cheng that that night they had met a bamboo pole-like person and with the strength of the two of them, they had managed with an effort to win, thus, Zhu Dan Chen tried to make an empty show of strength. Yun Zhong He did not know that it was a trick and thought, "Oh No! The person with the metal stick and the person with the broad axe are lying in ambush outside, I am alone, one against three, I will definitely lose!" thus, he did not want to fight, immediately, he rushed into the backyard and leapt over the wall. Zhu Dan Chen shouted, "The bamboo pole is escaping, quick, chase after him, we must not let him escape this time!" rushed to the horse, got on it and chased after Duan Yu.

Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing galloped many kilometres on the horses and then slowed to a trot. Not long after, Zhu Dan Chen managed to catch up with them. The two of them stopped their horses to wait for him, about to question him, when Mu Wanqing cried, "Oh No! The person is chasing after us!" on the road, there was a bamboo-like person darting here and there towards them.

Zhu Dan Chen said, "That person's qing gong is so good!" and whipped Duan Yu's horse, the three horses galloped even more quickly. In an instant, had left Yun Zhong He far behind. After many kilometres, Mu Wanqing heard the gasping of breath of her horse and had to slow down. However, once she slowed down, Yun Zhong He would be able to catch up with her. Although he could not sprint as fast as a horse, he had really high endurance.

Zhu Dan Chen knew that his ploy had been seen through by Yun Zhong He; empty showing of strength was not going to work anymore. He knew that within twenty kilometres, he will definitely catch up with them. Once they reached Dali city, obviously they will not be afraid of anything but the three horses were galloping slower and slower and the situation was getting desperate. After galloping for some kilometres, Duan Yu's horse suddenly kneeled down, throwing Duan Yu off. Mu Wanqing jumped off her horse and before Duan Yu had reached the ground, she had already grabbed him and jumped back on to her horse. Zhu Dan Chen was far behind them, so as to defend them against the enemy, thus, when Duan Yu fell off the horse; he was unable to save him, seeing Mu Wanqing saving him at the last moment, he could not help saying, "Good skills!"

Suddenly, Zhu Dan Chen was attacked behind. He used his judge's brush to fight off the iron fingers. Yun Zhong He used the momentum to scratch the horse's back until it was dripping with blood. The horse felt painful and galloped even faster. It was not long before there was a long distance between them and Yun Zhong He. However, now there were two people riding on one horse and one horse injured; it was difficult to maintain this for long. Zhu Dan Chen and Mu Wanqing were secretly anxious.

On the other hand, Duan Yu did not know the severity and asked, "Is this person very powerful? Surely, it does not mean that Fourth Brother Zhu cannot defeat him?" Mu Wanqing shook her head and said, "It is a pity I am injured and cannot use my strength to help Fourth Brother Zhu to fight against the evil person." suddenly, she had an idea and said, "I pretend to fall off the horse and get injured. Then I lie on the floor and catch him unaware by shooting two darts at him, it may work. You ride on the horse and just go, do not need to wait for me." Duan Yu was very anxious and using his left hand to grab her neck and his right hand to grab her waist, he said, "No! No! How can I let you take the risk?" Mu Wanqing's face turned red and said, "Blockhead, let go of me! Fourth Brother Zhu can see us!" Duan Yu was shocked and said, "Sorry! Don't be offended." Mu Wanqing said, "You are my husband, why say sorry?"

While they were talking, they turned their heads and say Yun Zhong He getting closer and Zhu Dan Chen kept waving his hand, asking them to escape quickly. Then he leapt off his horse and blocked the way. Although he knew he was not the match of Yun Zhong He, he still had to block him, so as to prevent him from catching up with Duan Yu. Unexpectedly, Yun Zhong He only wanted to catch up with Mu Wanqing, suddenly, he ran diagonally into the fields at the side and bypassed Zhu Dan Chen, running straight towards Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing.

Mu Wanqing kept whipping the horse but it was already vomiting white foam and was about to die. Duan Yu said, "If only we were riding your Black Rose, I am sure that evil guy would not be able to catch up with us." Mu Wanqing said, "Do I need you to remind me of that?"

That horse went over a hill and in front of them was a straight road, no place to hide. In the west, within the green willows, next to the small lake, there was the side of a yellow wall exposed. Duan Yu said happily, "Good! Let's go there!" Mu Wanqing said, "No! That is a dead end and there is no road to escape." Duan Yu said, "You listen to me, I would not be wrong." Using the reins to turn the horse, they headed towards the green willows.

As they got nearer, Mu Wanqing realised that that wall was actually a monastery and "Yu Xu Monastery" seemed to be written on its signboard; thinking quickly, "This blockhead escaped until here where there is no other road. I should hide in a dark corner and shoot the bamboo pole with a dart." in the blink of an eye, they had reached the front of the monastery, suddenly, they heard someone laughing behind them, it was Yun Zhong He who was only metres away from them.

Duan Yu shouted, "Mother, mother, come quickly! Mum!" Mu Wanqing got angry and snapped, "Blockhead, shut up!"...

Yu held onto Grace tightly- feelings of relief, concern- and yes, love- all rolled into one, threatening to overwhelm him all at once. Neither spoke for a while. Finally, Yu asked, "How are your wounds, Miss Mu?"

"Miss Mu?" she teased. "Is that all I am to you?" For a girl who rarely smiled, up until now, her mirth only made her even more beautiful. Yu was so happy he wanted to faint. He held her even more tightly, whispering softly, "Gracie! How about that- Gracie? Would you like me to call you that?" Dipping his head, he kissed her lips gently.

"Oh!" Grace leapt up, blushing furiously, suddenly remembering that they weren't really alone- but in fact, had a hidden audience! "Not here, not now!" she exclaimed. "There's people around, you know!" She looked around, only to see that the robed man and the four knights- Chu, Ku, Fu and Zhu- had vanished. Even Zuo Zhimu had taken his son and disappeared.

"Who's here?" Yu asked, puzzled, then gasped. "No- don't tell me that it's the Croc!"

"How long have you been here?" Grace asked.

"Not long."

"Hmm." Grace was perplexed. "Strange. They sure left quickly."

Her muse was broken by an eloquent voice that came from behind some boulders.

"Battles fought;

Over a thousand miles,

A word to say-"

The voice was followed by the actual speaker- Chu Danchen.

"Brother Chu!" Yu cried out happily. The latter bowed respectfully, at the same time breathing a sigh of relief. "Sir, thank God that you really are safe. This young lady here had sure given us quite a fright earlier!"

Yu nodded in reply. "So you two have met then? What a coincidence." he seemed perplexed. "How'd you get here?"

"Sir, it's definitely no coincidence that we're here." Chu smiled, amused. "The four of us have been ordered to find you and bring you home. May I be so bold to say, sir, that you really have been quite foolhardy in running off like that and travelling alone! We followed your trail to Ma Wude's place, then to Mt Wuliang. My God- you really had us worried sick!"

"Ah, well." Yu looked slightly sheepish. "Well, it hasn't really been as fun as I thought it was going to be. Say, my father and uncle must be furious- were they?"

"Well, they certainly weren't thrilled." Chu said dryly. "Although, by the time we left, their lordships seemed to have been calmed down, somewhat. And for the last few days, I'm sure they're probably just worried sick- like the rest of us! To make it worse, the Duke of Shanchan got the news that four very nasty characters have arrived in Dali! He left after us, to personally make sure that you'd be safe."

"Err... So Uncle Gao is looking for me too..." Yu shifted uncomfortably at the thought.

"Yes, sir, he has indeed. In fact, he was just here, fighting off a truly unpleasant woman. He heard you calling out, and told me to stay here, to wait for you. He and the others have gone to chase after her." Chu paused. "Sir, let's go home then, shall we? Your family is really worried about you."

Yu wasn't interested in going home. He'd just realised that Chu had bene lurking behind those rocks the whole time, while he was having (what he thought was) a private tete-a-tete with Grace! Yu's face burned with embarrassment.

Chu read his mind. He held up a bound volume. "I've been reading awhile." Grace was taken aback. She hadn't seen that many fighting men who could read- let alone carry around with them a book. What she didn't know was that Chu had only gotten to his elite rank by being not only skilled in the martial arts, but also being well versed in the classics.

"Ah." Yu changed the subject hurriedly. "Grace, this is Chu Danchen. He's one of my greatest friends! Brother Chu, let me introduce you to Grace, Grace Mu."

"Miss Mu." Chu bowed deeply.

Miss Mu was pleased by the respect he'd shown her- respect like that doesn't come her way very often! "Brother Chu." She smiled.

Chu eyed Grace carefully. "She's no doubt a pretty one- obviously not too bad in kungfu, either, judging by the way she'd slapped Yu so nimbly! And he didn't seem to mind either. Huh, so this is why he'd taken off like that. And it doesn't look as if they'd just met. Hmph, next chance I get, I better warn him. A pretty face- nice times out of ten they can't be trusted."

"So!" Chu said brightly. "Should we go? Miss Mu, you're more than welcomed to come with us, as our guest." Chu had a feeling that Yu isn't overly enthusiastic in returning- but he'd be more than happy to do so, if Grace can be persuaded to go with him.

Yu looked at Grace, then at Chu, reddening. "Um, I don't know... How am I going to explain... ahhhh..." Grace turned away, uncomfortable.

"We'll deal with that question later." Chu said a little more forcefully, although maintaining his deferential tone. "Those four villains are skilled fighters, and it took Lord Gao all his power- and an element of luck!- to defeat just one of them. This place is dangerous- I strongly suggest that we leave, as quickly as possible."

Yu nodded, mentally shuddering at the thought of the return of even one of the four Evil Ones. Especially that crazy, obsessive Croc. "In that case, I'll go with Grace. Why don't you help Uncle Gao instead?"

Chu chuckled. "I'd have failed miserably in my duty, if I were to desert my post now. I trust Miss Mu's ability implicitly- however, she is obviously still significantly incapacitated, trauma from which she remains to recover fully."

Grace humphed- Chu's long words and sentences leaving her somewhat muddled. "I didn't understand half of what you were talking about."

Chu smiled. "I apologise, Miss Mu. I've always been long-winded- it's an old habit of mine. Please forgive me."

Yu didn't want to go home at all- with or without Grace. But the current situation seemed to left him with little choice. He decided to play it by ear- there'll be plenty of opportunities to make an escape later on. The three of them made their way down the hillside. Along the way, Grace peppered Yu with questions as to his whereabouts for the past week. Yu didn't want to give too much details with Chu around- he did work for his parents and uncle, after all. He hinted strongly to Grace to keep quiet.

At the bottom of the mountain, the three mounted horses that'd been left by the rest of the rescue party. Yu and Grace rode ahead, followed by Chu. They lodged at a small rural inn that night. Despite his reluctance in following Chu home, Yu was still greatly relieved at being back in civilisation, especially after he'd changed out of his dirty, tattered clothing that'd seen so much adventure in the last few weeks.

Grace, left alone in her room, was unable to sleep. She stared at the burning candle, her mind in turmoil. She was delighted that Yu had come back- he's obviously devoted to her! She felt vaguely guilty at having cursed him wrongly for the past few days. On the other hand, Yu's background perplexed her. The deference shown to him by a highly skilled and respected warrior such as Chu means that Yu is no ordinary person, but a son of highly ranked nobility. And a girl such as herself can't just become engaged to someone like that- and turn up on the doorstep, unintroduced and uninvited. To make it worse, Yu's parents and uncle seemed terribly strict.

"Huh." she tossed her head. Since when did she become timid like that? "So what if they looked down on me? I'll just kill them all. They can't stop me taking Yu, then, can they?" she thought.

A soft tap on the window made her turn. Yu was whispering outside. "Grace! It's me."

Grace blushed. It's past midnight- what did the man want? "What's the matter?"

"Open the window."

"No."

"Then come out." Yu hissed. "We've got no time left."

Grace slit the window paper with a finger. "What are you talking about?"

"Brother Chu's asleep- what are we waiting for? Let's go! And keep your voice down- I don't want to go home."

Grace was thrilled. All her anxieties about meeting Yu's parents vanished. She opened the window, and leapt out.

"I'll get the horses."

Grace shook her head. "The horses will wake Chu up." She grabbed him around the waist, and jumped lightly, "flying" over the wall of the inn's courtyard.

They headed east, hand in hand, feeling liberated and happy. No pursuers appeared. The two relaxed, and their walk slowed to a stroll.

"So why don't you want to go home?"

"Because I'll never see you again." Yu said. "As soon as I step through the door, my father and uncle will be sure to lock me up- and I'll never be able to get out again."

Grace's heart soared at his words. "That's great! You don't have to go back- ever! We'll wander the world, just you and I! Where should we go?"

"Any place where we won't be found- by Chu, Uncle Gao, or anyone else for that matter! Especially the Croc."

"You're right. How about the northwest? It's isolated there. We'll find a small village, stay there for a bit, until my wounds have healed completely, then we'll go wherever we want to!"

So decided, the two turned and headed in their chosen direction. They walked briskly, hoping to put as much distance between themselves and familiar territory, as quickly as possible.

Dawn soon broke. "Let's take a break, get something to eat, and have a rest. We'll attract too much attention by travelling during the day." Grace said. "The Wangs are still after me- we better lay low for a while." Yu readily agreed.

"After we've had a rest, you can tell me how you spent the last seven days." Grace said with mock severity. "And if you lied-" she broke off abruptly. "Wha-"

In front of them, a man was reclining against the trunk of a sweeping willow, seemingly at great leisure. He was reading a book, and appeared to be reciting verses from it. Chu! Yu gaped, grabbed Grace's hand, and hissed, "Run!"

Grace felt a stab of frustration. Chu obviously guessed that Yu would sneak out in the middle of the night, and had pre-empted him, knowing that they wouldn't have travelled far, with Yu being unschooled in the art of "flying".

"Don't be silly. He got us- where would we run to?" Grace snapped. She marched up to the knight crossly. "Hey, you. What are you reading so early? You trying to top the imperial exams or something?"

Chu smiled. "Sir, why don't you take a guess at what I'm reading?" he asked rhetorically, reciting the lines of yet another famous poem, which depicts the loyalty of a Tang warrior to his monarch. Yu recognised it right away- and its sublimal message. Chu was tactfully rebuking him for breaking his word, and deserting someone he'd claimed as his good friend, whilst the said friend remained as loyal as ever.

Grace didn't know what went on in their highbrow conversation, but guessed as much. She untied the horses from their tether, and asked, "Actually, we were on our way to Dali City. Are we going the right way?"

"From where you were, it doesn't matter which direction you head in."

Duan Yu laughingly replied, "If it weren't for me heading out this time, how could I have brought mother back? I think I really have performed an awe-inspiring act of great merit. So let's just consider myself as having redeemed myself. Father, don't be angry." The man in purple robes, upon hearing this response, answered, "Even if I don't beat you up, your uncle will not let you off lightly!" Applying pressure to his horse's sides, the white horse suddenly flew towards the direction of the Sage of the Hollow Jade.

Mu Wanqing saw that the squadron of cavalry was clothed in fine brocade, wearing shining helmets, and their weapons glimmering in the light. Twenty people in front held aloft a banner, upon which was written six words: "DaLi's 'South-Subduing Prince Duan'". On the side of the tiger-headed banner were the words, "Great General Duan, Protector of the Country". Even though she was a person who feared neither heaven nor earth, upon seeing this majestic, awe-inspiring show, she couldn't help but feel great respect. Turning to Duan Yu, she asked, "Hey, this "South-Subduing Prince", "Great General Who Protects the Country", is your dad, right?"

Laughing, Duan Yu nodded his head. In a low voice, he responded, "Yes, that would be your father-in-law."

Mu Wanqing reined in her horse in a daze. All of a sudden, her heart was filled with confusion. She was stupefied for a long period of time, before finally spurring her horse to gallop forward to Duan Yu's side. On the main street, there were people everywhere. Suddenly, in her heart, she was feeling an inexpressible solitude, making her want to stay close to Duan Yu. Only then did she calm down a little.

The South-Subduing Prince slowed his horse down roughly ten feet away from the Sage of the Hollow Jade. The two exchanged glances for some time; I look at you, you stare at me. Neither of them opened their mouths. Duan Yu spoke. "Mother, dad personally came to receive you and escort you home." The Sage of the Hollow Jade replied, "Go tell your aunt that I'm back. I'll stay with her for a few days. After we've beaten off our enemies, I'll return to the Hollow Jade Monastery."

The South-Subduing Prince laughed. "Wife, you're still angry at me? Let's go home. Afterwards, I'll slowly make everything up to you." The Sage of the Hollow Jade's face was unmoved. "I'm not going home. I'm entering the palace."

Duan Yu said, "That works too. Let's all enter the palace first and pay a visit to uncle and auntie. Mother, this time your son snuck outside to have some fun, and uncle definitely is going to be furious. Dad probably isn't going to speak up on my behalf, this time. It'll have to be you who begs for clemency on my behalf." The Sage of Hollow Jade responded, "The older you grow, the less responsible you get. It is going to be necessary to allow your uncle to thrash you and teach you a lesson."

Duan Yu laughingly responded, "The blows may fall on the son's body, but the pain will occur in the mother's heart. It's best if I don't get beaten!" The Sage of Hollow Jade let out a small laugh. "Hah! The harder you get beaten, the better. I have no sympathy for you at all!"

Initially, there was an aura of awkwardness between the South-Subduing Prince and the Sage of Hollow Jade. But with Duan Yu cracking jokes and being so light-hearted, he managed to get a laugh out of the Sage of Hollow Jade, breaking the icy tone of the meeting. Duan Yu said, "Dad! You have a good horse. Why aren't you letting mother ride it?" The Sage of Hollow Jade replied, "I refuse!" With a kick, she spurred her horse to gallop forwards and away from them.

Duan Yu spurred his own horse onwards as well, overtaking her and grabbing the reins of his mother's horse. The South-Subduing Prince had already dismounted and walked it over towards them. Giggling, Duan Yu hugged his mother and placed her on the saddle of his father's horse.

With a laugh, Duan Yu said, "Mother, a peerless, unequalled beauty such as yourself, riding this white horse, becomes even more attractive. You are like the Bodhisattva Guanyin herself, having descended upon the mortal world!" Laughing, the Sage of Hollow Jade replied, "That girl of yours surnamed 'Mu' is the real peerless beauty without equal. You're just making fun of your mother, this old lady."

The South-Subduing Prince turned to look at Mu Wanqing. Duan Yu said, "She...she is Miss Mu. She is your son's...your son's...your son's good friend." The South-Subduing Prince saw the expression on his son's face and immediately understood his real meaning. He saw that Mu Wanqing had a clear, pure complexion and was very beautiful, and secretly cheered. "Yu'er, you have pretty good eyesight!" He saw Mu Wanqing's gaze was cloudy and distant, and she did not come forward to pay her respects. He thought to himself, "So she's a girl from the countryside who doesn't understand proprietry."

His heart still filled with anxiety over the state of Gao Shengtai's injuries, he quickly strode over to the latter's side. "Younger brother Tai, how are your internal injuries?" He stretched out his finger to touch Gao Shengtai's wrist, feeling for his pulse. Gao Shengtai replied, "My 'du ' meridian received some injuries, but it's no big deal. You...there is no need for you to waste your energy."

Before he even finished speaking, the South-Subduing Prince had already extended the forefinger of his right hand and struck three times at the back of his neck, then pressed on his waist with his free hand.

From the top of the South-Subduing Prince's head arose thin wisps of white smoke. It wasn't until the amount of time it would take to drink a cup of tea had passed before he would release his hold. Gao Shengtai said, "Elder brother Chun, with powerful enemies so close by, how can you pick this time to waste your internal energy on me?" The South-Subduing Prince laughed. "Your internal injuries are not light. The sooner we start to heal you, the sooner you'll get better. After I take you to see our elder brother, he won't let me help you, and would involve himself instead."

Mu Wanqing saw that originally, Gao Shengtai's face was terrifyingly white. But in such a short time, color began to appear in his cheeks. In her heart, she wondered, "So husband Duan's father's internal energy has reached an extremely profound level. Why is that that husband Duan...husband Duan doesn't know any martial arts at all?"

Chu Wanli came over with a horse, and helped the South-Subduing Prince mount. The South-Subduing Prince and Gao Shengtai moved slowly, as the former inquired in a quiet voice regarding the enemy's status. Duan Yu talked and laughed with his mother. Under the iron-clad guardsmen's protection, they galloped towards the city of Dali. With everyone else occupied, it was unavoidable that Mu Wanqing was neglected.

At dusk, the party entered the city of Dali via the southern gate. Wherever the two flags "South-Subduing" and "Protecting Country" went, the common people would loudly cheer, "May the South-Subduing Prince live a thousand years! May the great general live a thousand years!" The South-Subduing Prince waved to the people in response.

Mu Wanqing saw the teeming masses of people in Dali. The streets were newly paved and flat, and the marketplace was bustling. After crossing a number of intersections, they arrived at a large stone path, at the end of which was a towering palace, covered in an uncountable number of golden tiles. The sun shone off the gleaming tiles, a beautiful sight, causing one to become dazzled.

Upon reaching a memorial arch, the entire party dismounted. Mu Wanqing saw that on the memorial arch was written four large words in gold. "Saintly Road, Broad Compassion". She thought to herself, "We must have arrived at the imperial palace of Dali. Husband Duan's uncle lives in the middle of the Imperial Palace. He must be a very high official. Most likely, he's also another prince, or general, or something like that."

Passing by the memorial arch, Mu Wanqing saw an inscribed board with the words, "Palace of Saintly Compassion", written in gold. A court eunuch quickly appeared and said, "Prince, I must report that the Emperor and the Empress are awaiting you at your home. Will the lord prince and the imperial concubine please return to the South-Subduing Palace and appear before his majesty."

The South-Subduing Prince replied, "Understood." Duan Yu laughed. "Marvelous, marvelous!" The Sage of Hollow Jade glanced at him, angrily asking, "What's so marvelous? I'll just wait at the imperial palace for the Empress to return!" But the eunuch replied, "The Empress instructed me to request that the imperial concubine immediately visit her, as she has urgent matters to discuss." The Sage of Hollow Jade muttered in a low voice, "What type of urgent matter does she want to discuss? She's full of devilish schemes."

Duan Yu knew that the Empress had planned this all out. She had anticipated that Duan Yu's mother would be unwilling to return to her own manor, and the Empress went to the South-Subduing Prince Palace herself to wait for her, with the warm intention of reconciling Duan Yu's parents. Duan Yu was extremely pleased.

After exiting, the party remounted and headed eastwards. After traveling for two li, they arrived in front of a large mansion. Two large flags fluttered in front of the gate. On each flag was written respectively the words "South-Subduing" and "Protecting Country". At the top of the gate were the words, "South-Subduing Palace". In front of the gate was a large number of imperial guards. They immediately came to attention and saluted. "We respectfully welcome the Prince and the imperial concubine back to their palace."

The South-Subduing Prince was the first to enter. After taking only one step, the Sage of Hollow Jade suddenly came to a halt. Her eyes suddenly reddening, tears began to fall. Half pushing, half tugging, Duan Yu escorted his mother through the gate. He said, "Father, your son has brought mother home! This is a deed of great merit. What award do you have for me?" His heart filled with happiness, the South-Subduing Prince replied, "Ask your mother for a reward! Whatever your mother wishes to reward you with, I will comply!" The Sage of Hollow Jade smiled between her tears. "I'll reward you with a good caning!" Duan Yu stuck out his tongue.

Upon reaching the great hall, Gao Shengtai rose to his feet. The South-Subduing Prince said, "Younger brother Tai, you are injured. Please, sit down." Duan Yu said to Mu Wanqing, "Rest here for a bit. After I pay my respects to the Emperor and the Empress, I'll come keep you company."

Mu Wanqing was unwilling to let him leave her, but had no way to stop him. All she could do was nod her head unhappily. She took a seat at the head chair. Everyone else remained standing. It wasn't until after the South-Subduing Prince and his wife had entered the inner hall that Gao Shengtai finally sat down. But Chu Wanli, Gu Ducheng, Zhu Danchen, and the rest all remained on their feet.

Mu Wanqing paid them no attention, her eyes focused on that great hall. She saw a large horizontal plaque upon which were written the four words, "Pillar Which Supports the Nation". It was signed by the "Imperial Pen of Dingmao". The pillar was covered with calligraphy. It would be difficult to read it all in a short time, and some of the characters, she didn't even recognize.

A servant brought green tea, respectfully offering it to her on a plate. Mu Wanqing thought to herself, "These people really are weird." She saw that only herself and Gao Shengtai had been offered tea. Zhu Danchen and the others, when fighting off the enemy, had been awe-inspiring figures, but upon reaching the South-Subduing Palace, became so quietly respectful. They didn't even dare breathe too loudly, much less have the aura of heroes who were highly skilled in martial arts.

After waiting for some time, Mu Wanqing became impatient. She loudly shouted, "Duan Yu! Duan Yu! What are you doing in there? Why haven't you come out yet?"

The great hall was filled with people, but none of them had dared make so much as a peep. With Mu Wanqing's sudden shout, everyone was startled for a moment. Gao Shengtai laughingly whispered, "Miss, be patient. The young prince will be back soon." Mu Wanqing asked, "Young prince? What young prince?" Gao Shengtai responded, "Young master Duan is the son of the South-Subduing Prince. Of course he is the young prince." Mu Wanqing mused aloud to herself. "Young prince...young prince. That bookworm is a prince? He doesn't look the part!"

A eunuch exited the inner hall. "The Emperor has issued a request. Will the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment and Mu Wanqing please enter the hall." Upon seeing the eunuch enter, Gao Shengtai had already respectfully risen to his feet. Mu Wanqing remained seated. Upon hearing the eunuch utter her name, she wasn't happy. She muttered to herself, "He doesn't even address me as 'Miss'. Is my name so casually called out by the likes of you?" Gao Shengtai said, "Miss Mu, let us go pay our respects to the Emperor."

Even though Mu Wanqing feared neither heaven nor earth, upon hearing that she was to go meet the Emperor, she was still a bit uneasy at heart. All she could do was follow behind Gao Shengtai. They passed through a long corridor and a large courtyard. It was as though they were walking through an unending room. But at last, they arrived outside a flower pavilion.

The eunuch reported, "The Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment and Mu Wanqing have come to pay their respects to the Emperor and Empress." Then he left.

Gao Shengtai gave Mu Wanqing a meaningful look, then entered the flower pavilion and knelt before a man and a woman who were sitting in the center.

Mu Wanqing did not kneel. Seeing that the male had a long beard and wore a golden robe, with a clear and intelligent appearance, she asked, "So you are the Emperor?"

The man who sat in the middle was indeed the Emperor of the country of Dali, Duan Zhengming. His imperial reign name was "Baoding". The country of Dali was established in the second year of Heavenly Fortune, of the Later Jin dynasty of the Five Dynasties period. Thus, it was actually founded twenty three years before Zhao Kuangyin founded the Song Dynasty.

The people of Dali's Duan dynasty was originally from the Wuwei region. Their first ancestor was Duan Jianwei. He assisted the Nanzhao's Meng clan and became known as the "Official of Pureness and Peace." Six generations later, his descendant Duan Siping became the governor of Tonghai. In the 'Dingyou' year, Duan Siping founded the nation, and became the Great Ancestor of the Duan dynasty, known as the 'Saintly Emperor of Martial Prowess and Learning'. Duan Zhengming was the fourteenth Emperor in the line, which had been in power for a hundred and fifty years.

At this time, the Northern Song was ruled by Emperor Zhezong in the city of Bianliang [now known as Kaifeng]. Being young in years, the Empress Dowager attended to state affairs. She appointed and trusted famous statesmen and repealed severe laws, resulting in the rejoicing of the common people and pacifying the land. She was the most brilliant and humane female lord in Chinese history, which would proclaim her as being the 'female Yao and Shun' [famously benevolent Chinese emperors].

The country of Dali was located in southern Xinjiang, and thus every Emperor was a devout adherent to Buddhism. Even though they had raised themselves to the level of being a ruler, towards the Song dynasty, they were always deferential and unfailingly patient, never raising arms against them. Emperor Baoding had reigned for eleven years and espoused three precepts. To protect order, to uphold peace, and secure the blessings of heaven, creating a heaven-like place to live. The borders were safe, the country was prosperous, and the people lived in peace.

Emperor Baoding, upon seeing that Mu Wanqing not only did not kneel, but even cheekily asked him directly if he was the Emperor, couldn't help but laugh. "I am indeed the Emperor. Do you find the city of Dali to be a fun place?" Mu Wanqing replied, "As soon as I entered the city, I was brought to come see you. I haven't explored it yet." Emperor Baoding let out a slight smile. "Tomorrow, Yu'er will take you out to tour the city and show you the sights of Dali." Mu Wanqing replied, "Great. Will you be coming with us as well?" After she said this, everybody present couldn't help but laugh slightly.

Emperor Baoding turned to look at the Empress who sat by his side and merrily asked, "Empress, this little sister wants us to accompany her sightseeing. What do you think?" The Empress smiled a little, but did not respond. Mu Wanqing cast a few glances at her. "Are you the Empress? You really are quite pretty." Emperor Baoding roared with laughter. "Yu'er, this Miss Mu is very innocent and naive. How amusing!"

Mu Wanqing asked, "Why do you called him "Yu'er" [child Yu]? Are you the 'uncle' which he kept on talking about? He snuck out of the city to have some fun, and was very afraid that you would be angry at him. Don't beat him, okay?" Emperor Baoding laughed. "I was going to give him fifty hard strokes of the cane, but since you ask for mercy on his behalf, I'll spare him. Yu'er, quickly thank Miss Mu!"

Seeing that Mu Wanqing had put the Emperor in a merry mood, Duan Yu was happy. He knew that his uncle had an even temperament. Duan Yu bowed deeply towards Mu Wanqing, and said, "Many thanks to Miss Mu for asking for clemency on my behalf!" Mu Wanqing returned his bow and whispered, "As long as your uncle has agreed to not beat you, my heart is at ease. There's no need to thank me." Then she immediately turned towards Emperor Baoding and said, "I always thought that Emperors were really fierce and scary people. I never would have imagined that you...you...you are very nice."

Aside from being praised by his parents when he was a child, for the past ten years, everyone who met Emperor Baoding would be extremely respectful and fearful. Nobody would ever call him "very nice". But he saw that Mu Wanqing was like a piece of muddied gold or uncut jade, totally unaware of propriety and custom, and liked her all the more. He said to the Empress, "Do you have anything to bestow upon her?"

The Empress removed a jade bracelet from her left wrist and handed it over. "I'll give this to you as a gift."

Mu Wanqing accepted the gift and wore it on her own wrist. Suddenly, she laughed. "Thanks! Next time, I'll also find something pretty and give it to you!" The Empress laughed slightly. "Then I'll thank you in advance."

Suddenly, a 'ge' sound could be heard on the roof of the pavilion, followed by another 'ge' sound coming from the top of an adjacent room.

Mu Wanqing was startled and knew that an enemy had arrived. That person had arrived so very quickly. But suddenly, like raindrops hitting the ground, the sound of other people arriving on the roof was heard as well. Chu Wanli's voice sounded out, "Sir, what desire do you have that causes you to arrive at the prince's manor in the dead of night?"

A loud, coarse, husky voice replied, "I came to find my apprentice! Quick, go have my obedient apprentice come out and pay me a visit!" It was the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas.

Mu Wanqing's sense of startlement deepened. Although the prince's palace was heavily protected, with guards clustered as thickly as the clouds, and although the South-Subduing Prince, Gao Shengtai, the Sage of Hollow Jade, and Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu all possessed excellent martial arts, but the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas really was too formidable. If Yun Zhong'e and Ye Erniang, along with that as-yet unseen 'most evil man in the world' appeared, then the Four Evils would be working in harmony, and it would be difficult to prevent them from kidnapping Duan Yu.

Chu Wanli shouted in reply, "Sir, who is your apprentice? How could your apprentice be in the palace of the South-Subduing Prince? Withdraw and depart!" But suddenly, a mocking laugh was heard, and a large hand appeared which ripped apart the large plaque above the room, tearing it in two. Like a shadowy blur, the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas suddenly appeared in the middle of the pavilion.

Casting his gaze across the people present, he spotted Duan Yu and laughed loudly, then shouted, "Number four wasn't wrong! My obedient apprentice really is here after all! Quick, beg for me to make you my apprentice, then come with me to learn martial arts!" While speaking, he extended his chicken-claw like hands and reached for Duan Yu's shoulders.

The South-Subduing Prince saw that this claw came swiftly and with great power, and was afraid that his beloved son would be hurt. Immediately, he struck out with a counter-palm. With a 'peng' sound, their two hands collided and he fully blocked the energy of the strike. The Divine Crocodile was secretly alarmed and asked, "Who the heck are you? I came here to take my apprentice away, what business is it of yours?" Smiling, the South-Subduing Prince replied, "I am Duan Zhengchun. This child is my son. When, precisely, did he kowtow and accept you as his master?"

Duan Yu laughed. "He wanted to accept me as his apprentice. I told him that I had accepted another master long ago, but he wouldn't believe me."

The Divine Crocodile looked at Duan Yu, then looked at the South-Subduing Prince, Duan Zhengchun, and said, "The old guy's martial arts is pretty damn good, but the kid doesn't know any at all. I refuse to believe you two are father and son! Duan Zhengchun, we're not bad, but even if he really is your son, you haven't been teaching martial arts properly. Your son really is worthless! What a pity! What a pity!"

Duan Zhengchun responded, "What's a pity?" The Divine Crocodile responded, "Your son is really similar to me. He's an exceptionally rare prospect for studying martial arts. He only needs to study with me for ten years, and I guarantee that he will become an incredible expert in the wulin."

Duan Zhengchun was half-furious, half-amused. From his earlier exchange of palms with the Divine Crocodile, he knew that this person's martial arts was extremely formidable, and just as he was formulating a proper response, Duan Yu interjected.

"Yue Number Three! Your martial arts are crap. You aren't fit to be my master! Go back to the "Ten Thousand Crocodile Island" of the Southern Seas and practice martial arts for another twenty years before coming here to discuss martial arts with others!" The Divine Crocodile angrily responded, "A little brat like you, do you have the stature to claim my martial arts are bad?!"

Duan Yu responded, "Let me ask you. 'Wind and thunder, increase. A gentleman should act in virtuous ways, and if he commits an error, must rectify it.' What does this mean?" The Divine Crocodile was stupefied, then indignantly responded, "That doesn't have any meaning. You're just talking rubbish!"

Duan Yu said, "You don't even understand these most basic of sentences, how can you be fit to discuss martial arts philosophy? I'll ask you another question. 'To injure those above, to benefit those below, the people speak without boundaries. Ones self, top and bottom, below. Arriving at great brightness'. What does that mean?"

Emperor Baoding, the South-Subduing Prince, Gao Shengtai, and others, upon hearing him recite from the Book of Changes [I-Ching] to tease this person, couldn't control their laughter. Even though Mu Wanqing had no idea what he was talking about, but guessed that it was something akin to 'a sour scholar dropping a satchel', and that he was mocking the Divine Crocodile.

In his startlement, the Divine Crocodile noticed that upon the face of every person present was suppressed laughter. He guessed that whatever it was that Duan Yu said, it probably was insulting. With a loud roar, he extended his palm, preparing to strike. Duan Zhengchun took a half-step forward, standing between him and his son.

Duan Yu laughed. "What I have said are all secrets of martial arts practice, and their subtleties are boundless and without end. You probably wouldn't understand anyways. You 'frog in a well' [reference to a Chinese parable], actually want to be my master? The people under heaven would laugh so hard, their mouths would become permanently askew! Haha! The masters I have kowtowed to, some are Daoist immortals from jade caverns, others are elite scholars and erudites, and still others are learned elder monks. You? Even if you studied for another ten years, you might not be able to get me to accept you as my student!"

The Divine Crocodile loudly roared, "Who is the teacher you have accepted? Tell him to get out here and show me his abilities!"

Duan Zhengchun saw that only one of the Four Evils had arrived. Although his martial arts was formidable, the Divine Crocodile was still a level beneath himself. He might as well take the opportunity to allow this idiot to be teased a bit. Thus, although the Emperor, Empress, and imperial concubine were all in attendance, he did not step in to curb his son's nonsense.

Duan Yu, seeing amusement on the face of his uncle and seeing that his father wasn't going to step in, became even more animated. He said to the Divine Crocodile, "Fine. You have the courage to stay here. I'll go invite my master. Don't get scared and hop away!" The Divine Crocodile angrily replied, "I, Yue Number Two, have wandered the jianghu for such a long time. Who am I afraid of? Hurry, go!" Turning, Duan Yu left.

The Divine Crocodile took a look at every person's face, only to see that there was a smile on each of their faces. He thought to himself, "My apprentice's martial arts are so crappy, not worth a dog's fart. How good can his teacher be? Your old man aint scared of him one bit!"

He suddenly heard the sound of boots as two people entered the room. From outside, Duan Yu called out, "Has that Yue Number Three fellow ran off yet? Father, don't let him flee! My master is coming." The Divine Crocodile roared back, "Why would I run away? Damn it! Quickly, have your teacher enter! You aren't willing to accept such an illustrious teacher as myself, it's most likely because your current teacher won't agree. First I'll snap the neck of your worthless teacher. Then, without a teacher, you'll have to accept me as your teacher! Haha, this idea of mine is so extremely brilliant!"

Just as he was praising himself, Duan Yu brought a person in. Upon seeing that person, everyone present couldn't resist laughing their heads off.

__________________

Who is that person? Why is everyone laughing?

This person wore a small hat and a long gown, with a yellow, rat-like mustache, and squinty red eyes. He had a shrunken set of shoulders, appearing to be a humble thing. The Sage of Hollow Jade and the others recognized him as Mr. Huo, one of the palace's accountants. This person always seemed to be half-asleep, half-awake. He loved to go gambling with the palace's servants.

At the moment, he was covered with the scent of alcohol and his front was covered in grease. Duan Yu was grabbing his arm, trying to pull him in, but he was cowering and reluctant. As soon as he entered the flower pavilion, he knelt before the Emperor and the Empress. Emperor Baoding did not recognize him, and merely said, "Forget it."

Holding onto Mr. Huo's arm, Duan Yu said to the Divine Crocodile, "Yue Number Three, amongst all of my masters, this one has the most shallow martial arts. First you need to overcome him, before you can go on to challenge my other masters." The Divine Crocodile screamed loudly, "If I can't crush him to a pulp within three stances, I'll accept you as my master!"

Duan Yu's eyes suddenly gleamed. "Are you serious? A man's word is his bond. If a man breaks his word, then he isn't a man at all. He's a bastard son of a turtle!" The Divine Crocodile yelled, "Come, come, come!" Duan Yu answered, "If we're only competing three stances, then there's no need to fight with my master. I'll take on those three stances of yours myself."

After hearing the report from Yun Zhonghe, the Divine Crocodile immediately rushed to Dali. His sole goal was to abduct Duan Yu and make him the heir of the martial arts of the Southern Seas sect. After exchanging a set of palms with Duan Zhengchun, his heart was filled with fear, thinking to himself that to kidnap Duan Yu while surrounded by so many elite fighters would be a difficult task indeed. He might not even be able to take his apprentice's father.

Fortunately, at this moment, Duan Yu himself volunteered to fight him. He couldn't ask for a better opportunity. With a single stance, he could subdue Duan Yu. After that, no matter how good Duan Zhengchun and the other's martial arts were, they wouldn't dare move against him. All they would be able to do would be to watch dumbly as he took his apprentice away. The Divine Crocodile replied, "Fine, come take three stances from me. I won't use any internal energy and promise not to hurt you at all."

Duan Yu answered, "Let's set all the conditions now. What happens if you can't beat me in those three stances?"

The Divine Crocodile laughed loudly. He knew that Duan Yu was a frail, scholarly weakling who didn't even have the strength to tie up a chicken. Forget three stances, the kid couldn't even take on one. "If I can't hit you in three stances, I'll accept you as my master." Duan Yu laughed. "Everyone here can bear witness. You won't go back on your words, will you?" The Divine Crocodile angrily replied, "The words of Yue Number Two are totally trustworthy! If I say this is this, then it is. If I say that is that, then it is."

Duan Yu teased, "Yue Number Three!" The Divine Crocodile retorted, "Yue Number Two!" Duan Yu again said, "Yue Number Three!" The Divine Crocodile said, "Quick, make your move and stop wasting time!" Duan Yu strode forward two steps to face the Divine Crocodile.

Of the people in the palace, everyone from the Emperor and Empress on down, with the exception of Mu Wanqing, had watched Duan Yu grow up. They all knew that he loved scholastics and hated fighting. This time, Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun wanted to force him to learn martial arts. Instead, he actually snuck away from home. Forget about exchanging blows with first class masters, even if he were to fight with your average bodyguard or escort, he would definitely not be a match.

Everyone present knew that he was just teasing this idiot, but in the end, his words became hard, and it looked like he was actually going to fight the idiot. Although the Divine Crocodile had promised not to harm him due to wanting to take him on as an apprentice, the Divine Crocodile's temperament was violent and murderous. What if he suddenly became enraged and started to fight for real? Duan Yu was of royal descent, how could he possibly be allowed to take on the risk? The Sage of Hollow Jade was the first to speak and to block Duan Yu. "Yu'er, stop fooling around. There's no need to waste time on a wild, uncouth man such as him." The Empress also spoke. "Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment, issue an order to have this madman apprehended."

The Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment, Gao Shengtai, replied, "Your servant, Gao Shengtai, will obey." Turning, he shouted, "Chu Wanli, Gu Ducheng, Fu Sigui, Zhu Danchen! The four of you, listen to the imperial decree! The Empress orders you to apprehend this unruly man!" Chu Wanli and the other three respectfully replied, "Your servants shall follow the decree."

The Divine Crocodile, seeing that a brawl was about to erupt, loudly shouted, "So you people want to mob me, huh? Fine! All of you, come at once! You there! Are you the Emperor and the Empress? Why don't the two of you come as well?"

Duan Yu frantically waved his hands. "Wait, wait! Let me fight with him for three stances first!"

Emperor Baoding knew that this nephew of his was often capable of exceeding expectations. Perhaps he had some sort of plan or trick up his sleeve. The Divine Crocodile definitely would not take his life, and with himself, the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment, his brothers, and others present, there definitely wouldn't be any problems. "Everybody, stop. We might as well let this uncouth madman experience the martial talents of the young prince of Dali."

Chu Wanli and the other three were just about to charge, but as soon as they heard the Emperor's decree, they immediately stood down.

Duan Yu repeated, "Yue Number Three, we have to agree in advance. If you can't beat me in three stances, you'll have to take me on as your master. Even if I become your master, you need to be aware that your intelligence is lacking. There's no way I can teach you martial arts. Do you agree to this?" The Divine Crocodile angrily replied, "Who wants you to teach me martial arts? What type of crappy martial arts can you possibly know?"

Duan Yu said, "Good! So you've agreed. After I become your master, you'll have to obey my commands. If I tell you to do something, you must do it. Otherwise, you'll be known as an unfilial person who disobeys his master and insults his ancestors, which is totally contrary to the rules of the wulin. Do you agree?" The Divine Crocodile actually wasn't angry; instead, he laughed. "Naturally. After you lose and take me on as your master, you also would have to obey me."

Duan Yu had been silently pondering ten or so steps of the "Graceful Steps Upon the Waves" [Ling Bo Wei Bu] martial arts he had learned. He felt that to avoid three stances would not be difficult. However, he had never fought with anyone before, and the Divine Crocodile's martial arts was extremely high, leaving him without absolute confidence in victory. It'd be best to leave himself an avenue of retreat.

"Fine," Duan Yu said. "But if you want to take me on as your apprentice, you still need to defeat my masters one by one. Only after proving that your martial arts are superior will I accept you as my master." He thought to himself, "If I am grabbed by him underneath three stances, I'll just point at all the elite martial artists here one by one and describe them all as being my masters, and force him to fight them one by one by one." The Divine Crocodile replied, "Fine! Fine! You keep on talking but you refuse to fight. You aren't like me at all! The students of the Southern Seas sect are never hesitant when it comes to a battle!"

Duan Yu pointed behind the Divine Crocodile with a faint smile. "One of my masters has been standing behind you for a long time, now." The Divine Crocodile hadn't sensed anyone behind him. Swiveling his head, he didn't see anybody. At this time, Duan Yu suddenly advanced one step, moving as though he were floating on the breeze. Clumsily, he reached out towards the Divine Crocodile's chest, attempting to strike at his Shanzhong acupoint with his thumb. This was an extremely clumsy and ungainly move, but Duan Yu's body was filled with the internal energy of seven disciples of the Wuliang sword sect. Although he couldn't use all of that internal energy, the power of this claw was not small.

The Divine Crocodile felt some pain at the pit his stomach as Duan Yu suddenly seized his Shenque acupoint, located at his navel, with his left hand. The scroll for the "Divine Art of the Northern Darkness" [Beiming Shengong] included drawings of numerous myriads of acupoints on it. Duan Yu, however, had only mastered the acupoints on two of the drawings. The "Ren" meridians, and the "Lunar Lung" scripture. The Shanzhong acupoint and Shenque acupoints were two major acupoints of the "Ren" meridians.

Startled, the Divine Crocodile immediately exerted his internal energy to resist. To his great shock, he felt it flow outwards from his Shanzhong acupoint, causing him to feel as though his entire body had lost half of its strength, frightening him even further. Duan Yu had already flipped him around, causing his feet to point upwards and his head to point downwards. With a 'teng' sound, his big bald head collided with the floor. Fortunately for him, the floor of the flower pavilion was carpeted, and so he was not injured. In his great anger, he exercised the skill "The Carp Stands Erect" and rose to his feet, then sent out his left hand in a claw attack towards Duan Yu.

Upon seeing this series of events, every person present was extremely shocked. Duan Zhengchun, seeing that the Divine Crocodile sent out that claw with extreme force, was just about to intervene when Duan Yu suddenly sidestepped towards the left. His footwork was strange to the extreme. With but a single step, he managed to dodge the opponent's attack, which had struck with the speed of a peal of thunder or a flash of lightning. Duang Zhengchun exclaimed, "Incredible!" The Divine Crocodile's second palm attack came slamming down towards Duan Yu, who did not try to block or counter. Instead, he took two oblique steps and once again completely dodged the attack.

The Divine Crocodile had missed two attacks in a row. He was both startled and angry. Duan Yu was standing right in front of him, not more than a meter away. Suddenly, with a crazy howl, he sent out a two-handed attack, grabbing at Duan Yu's chest and stomach. He used all of his energy in this attack; arms, hands, and his claws. In his anger, he had completely forgotten that if this double blow connected, his "future heir to the Southern Seas sect" would suffer tremendous physical damage.

Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, the Sage of Hollow Jade, and Gao Shengtai shouted in unison, "Careful!" Only to see Duan Yu take a step to the left, then a step to the right. With breeze-like ease, he had already managed to somehow appear behind the Divine Crocodile. With his two hands, he patted the Divine Crocodile on his bald head.

The Divine Crocodile felt that his opponent's attack was totally mysterious and unpredictable. Somehow, the kid had managed to pat him on the top of his head! He darkly exclaimed, "My life comes to an end!" But as soon as his opponent touched the top of his head, he realized that there was no power behind this blow at all. With a sneer, he reversed his left hand and sent it upwards. Suddenly, five bloody lines appeared on the back of Duan Yu's hand. Duan Yu hastily retracted his hand, but the Divine Crocodile's power hadn't diminished yet. The clawing attack slid down from Duan Yu's retracted hand, resulting in five bloody cuts also being made on the Divine Crocodile's head.

Actually, after having avoided three separate attacks in a row, Duan Yu had already won this battle. Only, he was far too mischievous, and so patted the Divine Crocodile on his head. He wasn't aware that his internal energy was now quite strong, and also didn't know how to utilize it either. Consequently, he was almost captured instead. With a series of interconnected steps, he flew backwards and hid behind his father, so terrified that his face was pale and bloodless.

The Sage of Hollow Jade cast him a glance and thought to herself, "Hmph. Your father and your uncle taught you such a marvelous skill, and you've been hiding it from me all along."

Mu Wanqing said loudly, "Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas! Not only were you unable to hit him within three strokes, but you took a nasty tumble yourself instead! Quick, get over here and pay respects to your master!" Red-faced, the Divine Crocodile scratched his ear. "He wasn't fighting with me for real. This one doesn't count." Mu Wanqing pointed directly at his face. "Have you no shame? If you aren't going to accept him as your master, then you must be a bastard son of a turtle! What's your choice? Are you going to accept him as your master, or be a bastard son of a turtle?" The Divine Crocodile angrily replied, "Neither! I want to fight him again!"

Duan Zhengchun saw that his son's footwork was miraculous to the extreme, but was unable to discern the secret behind it. Quietly, he whispered to his son, "Don't fight with him head on. Just take an opportunity to seize his acupoints." Duan Yu whispered back, "Your son is afraid now. I don't know if I can do it." Duan Zhengchun replied softly, "Don't be afraid. I'll secretly assist you from the side."

With his father supporting him, Duan Yu's courage arose, and he reappeared from behind Duan Zhengchun's back. "You weren't able to hit me in three stances. Time to accept me as your master!" The Divine Crocodile let out a thunderous bellow, then struck out at him with a powerful palm.

Duan Yu took a single step towards the northeast and easily avoided the attack. With a loud sound, 'ka-la!', this palm attack from the Divine Crocodile shattered a tea table. With all his willpower, Duan Yu focused, then softly recited, "See my body, advance and retreat. Follow his back, do not capture him. Go to the front courtyard, see nobody present. Hide both sides of the urn, go to a strategic place. Peel, disadvantageous to go towards the construct. The ram and goat touch the border, they cannot retreat, nor can they be fulfilled."

He ignored the origins of the Divine Crocodiles palms, focusing only on his own footwork, retreating and dodging with strange, slanted steps. The twin palms of the Divine Crocodile became faster and faster, and the force of his blows stronger and stronger. A ceaseless stream of cracking sounds continually could be heard from within the flower pavilion as the chairs, tables, teapots, and teacups were shattered one after another. But he couldn't land a single blow on Duan Yu's body.

More than three stances passed in the blink of an eye. The two brothers, Emperor Baoding and the South-Subduing Prince, could easily tell that Duan Yu's technique was shallow, and that he possessed no martial arts at all. Only, they could not discern how he received instruction from an elite martial artist and received an almost divine footwork skill, striding in the positions of Fuxi's 64 trigrams. His first step would always be unimaginably queer. If he were really to fight with the Divine Crocodile, he would die underneath the opponent's very first palm. But he didn't bother to fight, and just focused on walking around. Although the Divine Crocodile palms were extremely fierce, he couldn't lay a single finger on Duan Yu.

After watching for a while, the two brothers exchanged glances. A hint of worry had appeared on both of their faces. They both thought, "If the Divine Crocodile just closed his eyes and ignored Yu'er's footwork, opting instead to randomly flail out with punches and palms, he'll hit him sooner or later." But they saw that the Divine Crocodile's face grow more and more yellow, his eyes bulging more and more wide, not having thought of this method. His palm attacks fluctuated rapidly, but always would miss Duan Yu's body by a third or two thirds of a meter.

If the fight continued, although Duan Yu would not be hurt, actually beating the opponent would be impossible as well. After watching a while, Emperor Baoding suddenly said, "Yu'er, slow your footsteps by a half. Face him directly, and grab the acupoint on his chest."

Duan Yu answered, "Yes!" He slowed down his footsteps, then turned to face the Divine Crocodile and walked towards him. But upon facing the furious yellow countenance of the Divine Crocodile, fear suddenly struck him. His footsteps faltered just a little, causing him to move slightly out of position. The Divine Crocodile sent out a claw towards the left side of Duan Yu's head, connecting and causing blood to immediately flow from his left ear. Feeling pain from his wounded ear, Duan Yu became even more timid. He increased the speed of his footsteps, hurriedly backing up and once again hiding behind Duan Zhengchun. With a forced smile, he called out, "Uncle, that won't work!"

Duan Zhengchun roared furiously, "The members of the Dali Duan dynasty face their enemies boldly. Which one is cowardly and retreats to hide? Go out there and fight! Your uncle's instructions were good." The Sage of Hollow Jade, doting on her son, interjected, "Yu'er has already fought with him for sixty stances or more. The Duan family has produced such a wonderful scion, and you still think it isn't enough? Yu'er, you won long ago. No need to fight any more." Duan Zhengchun said, "Do not be afraid. I can guarantee that he won't die." The Sage of Hollow Jade felt bitterness in her heart, and her eyes began to fill with tears.

Seeing his mother in such a state, Duan Yu couldn't bear it. His courage rose again, and he boldly strode forwards. He loudly proclaimed, "I'll fight with you some more!" This time, he hardened his heart and began to walk in a circular pattern, with each step slower than the previous. He didn't make eye contact with the Divine Crocodile, and instead just struck out at the latter's chest with a palm.

The Divine Crocodile saw that there was no strength at all behind his blow. With a loud laugh, he slanted his body slightly and returned a claw attack against Duan Yu's shoulder and head. But he didn't imagine Duan Yu's footwork would be so incredibly profound and ever-changing that the two moved their positions at exactly the same moment. As the two ran into each other, the Divine Crocodile's chest was somehow right where Duan Yu's finger was. Duan Yu clearly saw the location of his acupoints, and with his right hand immediately seized the enemy's Shanzhong acupoint, while his left hand grasped the opponent's Shenque acupoint.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to use his internal energy at all. Although Duan Yu had grabbed two of the opponent's acupoints, if the Divine Crocodile just ignored him and shrugged him off without the use of internal energy, there would be nothing Duan Yu could do at all. But when the vital acupoints of the Divine Crocodile were seized, the Divine Crocodile's heart suddenly leapt, and he extended both his hands in a frontal attack against his enemy.

This attack actually served the purpose of defense. He was attacking Duan Yu's eyes. In martial arts learning, this was considered "an attack which absolutely must be defended against". No matter how strong the enemy was, he would still have to retract his hands to defend himself, and thus the person originally in danger would have escaped from the dangerous situation. Originally, this was a brilliant way of fighting. Unfortunately, Duan Yu didn't understand anything about fighting an enemy. As the opponent's claw attack arrived, he didn't think to immediately let go and retreat backwards. His two hands remained firmly attached to the Divine Crocodile's acupoints.

This mistake which Duan Yu made became a benefit for him instead. As a result, the Divine Crocodile's internal energy was thrown into turmoil, the flow of which was being blocked at two separate major acupoints. At the same time, once again his internal energy began to flood out of him from his Shanzhong acupoint. As his fingers reached a distance of six inches away from Duan Yu's eyes, they became disobedient and refused to budge a single inch further. Taking a deep breath, he once again tried to generate his internal energy.

Duan Yu suddenly felt an enormous surge of energy coming towards him from the Shaoshang acupoint on his left thumb. The Divine Crocodile's internal energy was very powerful, on a totally different level from those seven low level disciples of the Wuliang sect. Duan Yu felt his entire body tremble and his footing became unsteady. He knew that the situation was extremely dangerous. As soon as he removed his hands from his opponent's acupoints, his life would be in jeopardy. Although he felt extremely uncomfortable, he just forced himself to ignore it.

Duan Zhengchun and Duan Yu were no more than a meter or two's distance away from each other. Seeing his son's face grow more and more red, Duan Zhengchun struck out with his forefinger towards the Dazhue acupoint on his son's back. The Dali Duan dynasty's "Solitary Solar Finger" [Yiyangzhi] was world-renown; it really was nothing to trifle with. A sudden surge of warm, soft energy streamed towards Duan Yu, arousing the internal energy which already resided in Duan Yu's body.

The Divine Crocodile's entire body was shaking violently, and he slowly fell down. Duan Zhengchun supported his son and kept him standing. Duan Yu's internal energy began to circulate and smoothed out again. The energy from the Divine Crocodile's Shoutaiyingfei acupoint slowly and unhurriedly began to collect in the ocean of internal energy in Duan Yu's body. For the moment, Duan Yu was unable to speak.

Duan Zhengchun secretly used his "Solitary Solar Finger" to assist his son, and with their combined efforts, managed to subdue the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas. Everybody in the pavilion understood this, of course, but there would nonetheless be no way for the Divine Crocodile to deny that he had lost to Duan Yu.

But this man's ability really was incredible. As soon as Duan Yu's hands left his acupoints, with a deep breath and circulation of his energy, the Divine Crocodile leapt to his feet. Narrowing his pair of bean-like eyes, he glared at Duan Yu. An utterly strange look was on his face, a mixture of astonishment, sadness, and wrath.

Mu Wanqing shouted, "Yue Number Three! It seems to me that you really are willing to be a bastard son of a turtle! Are you ready to kowtow to your master yet?" The Divine Crocodile angrily roared back, "I'm going to blow your mind and do something you don't expect at all! Fine, I'll accept him as my master. Yue Number Two will definitely not be a bastard son of a turtle!" While speaking, he suddenly immediately knelt down on the spot. Dong, dong, dong dong. Dong, dong, dong dong. His head knocking against the ground, he kowtowed to Duan Yu eight times in a row. Loudly, he proclaimed, "Master! Your disciple, Yue Number Two, is paying his respects to you!"

Stupefied, Duan Yu didn't immediately respond. Not waiting for him to answer, the Divine Crocodile jumped to his feet then flew to the top of the pavilion. There was an "Ah!" cry from the top, followed by a "peng" sound. Suddenly, a person dropped from the top of the pavilion. It was one of the imperial bodyguards, and fresh blood dripped from his chest. His heart had already been torn out by the Divine Crocodile. His arms and legs flailing madly, he hadn't died yet. It was an extremely frightful sight. Although this bodyguard's martial arts was not as good as that of Chu Wanli and the others, it wasn't ordinary either. Unexpectedly, the Divine Crocodile was able to easily rip his heart out as quickly as another man might lift his hands. Even though the Four Great Bodyguards were nearby, they were unable to save him. The faces of every person present changed color.

Mu Wanqing angrily said, "Husband Duan, this disciple you have taken acts too outrageously! Next time you meet him, you need to teach him a lesson." Duan Yu's heart was thumping frantically. "I won only because I was lucky, and because my father lent his aid. If I see him again, I'm afraid that it will be my heart that gets torn out by him. What ability do I have to discipline him?"

Gu Ducheng and Fu Sigui took out the corpse of the guardsman. Duan Zhengchun issued orders to provide for his bereaved family, and to arrange for a proper burial.

That Mr. Huo, who was 70% awake and 30% drunken, was so terrified that his body was trembling nonstop. He also withdrew.

Emperor Baoding said, "Yu'er, that set of footsteps you learned was derived from Fuxi's 64 trigrams, was it not? Who taught it to you? He must truly be a brilliant master." Duan Yu replied, "I learned it by accident in a mountain cave. I don't know if I learned it properly or not. Will uncle please instruct me?" Emperor Baoding asked, "How exactly did you learn it in a mountain cave?"

Duan Yu then explained how he fell into the Wuliang mountain ravine and entered the cavern, and discovered the painting with the instructions for the "Graceful Steps on the Waves". With regards to the jade sculpture and the paintings of naked women and what not, he naturally did not bring them up. These naked paintings of his Dear Goddess, how could he show them to his uncle, aunt, father, and mother? And if Mu Wanqing found out that he was infatuated with his Dear Goddess, she would be furious. Leaving out details in a story would be like Confucius whittling away at unnecessary parts of the Spring and Autumn period, just the wish of the storyteller.

After Duan Yu was finished, Emperor Baoding said, "Within this sixty four trigram footwork is hidden a first-class internal energy. Try walking the entire thing from the beginning." Duan Yu said, "Yes!" After a moment's thought, he began the footwork. Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, and Gao Shengtai all had very profound internal energy. But despite that, they were only able to understand twenty to thirty percent of the profound secrets of the internal energy method hidden within the footwork. After finishing all sixty four trigram footsteps, Duan Yu had walked in a circle, and was back at his original position.

Emperor Baoding exclaimed, "Superb! This set of footwork has no equal under heaven. That Yu'er was able to learn it is his incredible good fortune. Tonight, your mother will return to her palace. Yu'er, be sure to drink a few cups of wine with your mother." Turning his head, he said to the Empress, "Let us leave." The Empress, rising to her feet, agreed. "Yes, let's."

Duan Zhengchun and the others respectfully escorted the Emperor and the Empress out, all the way to the outside of the decorate arch of the South-Subduing Palace.

Chapter - 7 Boundless Regrets of Profligate Love

Duan Zhengchun and the others returned to his palace, where a feast had been prepared. At the banquet table, aside from Duan Zhengchun and his wife, and Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing, no one else was present save the servants, which numbered seventeen or eighteen. In her entire life, how could Mu Wanqing have seen or experienced such splendor and luxury? She had neither heard of nor ever seen any of the dishes which were being presented.

She saw that Duan Zhengchun and his wife were treating her like a member of the family. It were as though two generations of husband and wife were happily dining together. Her affection was won by this display.

Duan Yu saw that his mother was continuing to treat his father somewhat coolly. She neither drank, nor ate any meat. The only dishes she touched were some vegetarian dishes. Duan Yu poured out a cup of wine, then, holding it with both hands, rose to his feet. "Mother, your son would like to offer you a cup. My respectful congratulations on you and father reconciling. Finally, our family of three can enjoy domestic bliss again."

The Sage of Hollow Jade replied, "I don't drink wine." Duan Yu poured out yet another cup of wine, then winked towards Mu Wanqing. "Miss Mu would also like to offer you a cup." Taking the cup with both hands, Mu Wanqing also rose to her feet.

The Sage of Hollow Jade felt that it wouldn't be appropriate to act too coldly towards Mu Wanqing. She let out a small smile. "Miss, this son of mine is extremely naughty. We, his parents, aren't able to control him. In the future, you'll have to help us keep him under control." Mu Wanqing replied, "If he's disobedient, I'll grab him by his ears and beat him!"

The Sage of Hollow Jade let out a surprised laugh, then glanced at her husband out of the corner of her eye. Duan Zhengchun laughed. "That's how it should be."

The Sage of Hollow Jade extended her left hand to accept the wine cup from Mu Wanqing. Underneath the flickering candlelight, Mu Wanqing saw that her hand was delicate and fine, as clear and lustrous as fine jade. On the back of the Sage's hand, she saw some sort of mark, as red as the color of blood. Mu Wanqing's entire body began to tremble. "You...your name...is your name, Dao Baifeng?"

The Sage of Hollow Jade smiled. "My family name is very rare and unusual. How did you know?" Mu Wanqing's voice shook. "You...you are Dao Baifeng? A woman of the Baiyi tribe? Once, you wielded a soft whip as your weapon? Am I right?" The Sage of Hollow Jade saw that her expression seemed strange, but didn't harbor any misgivings against the girl. Smiling, she said, "Yu'er really is good to you. He even told you my full name. Your husband is also half Baiyi, which is probably why he acts so wildly."

Mu Wanqing asked, "You truly are Dao Baifeng?" The Sage of Hollow Jade smiled a little. "Yes, I am."
 

Mu Wanqing shouted, "A master's benevolence is very profound, a master's orders cannot be disobeyed!" With a lift of her right hand, she shot out two poisoned quarrels towards Dao Baifeng's chest. During the banquet, the four of them had talked and laughed together as though they were part of one family. Who could have foreseen that Mu Wanqing would suddenly attack?

Dao Baifeng's martial arts were roughly at the same level as Mu Wanqing to begin with. But at this moment, the distance between them was extremely short, and this attack was so unexpected that she wasn't able to defend herself. It seemed as though those two poisoned quarrels would hit her no matter what. Duan Zhengchun was sitting on the other side of the table, behind Mu Wanqing. He called out, "Aiyo!" He immediately struck out with a finger, but this finger could only hit Mu Wanqing, and could not save his wife.
 

Duan Yu had seen Mu Wanqing kill people with those poisoned quarrels many times, and knew that the venom was extremely lethal. In a very short time, the victim's blood would coagulate and choke off the victim's throat. As soon as he saw her wave her sleeves, he immediately knew something was wrong. He was sitting by his mother's side, but unfortunately did not know any martial arts. There was no way for him to deflect this attack. He sprang to his feet, immediately executing his "Graceful Steps Upon the Waves". With a slanting horizontal motion, he quickly positioned himself in front of his mother. Bo, bo! The two poisoned quarrels struck him directly in the middle of his stomach. At the same time, Mu Wanqing's back and heart suddenly felt numb, and she fell face-first towards the table, unable to move.

Duan Zhengchun, seeing the desperate situation, flew towards Duan Yu and immediately sealed the eight acupoints surrounding the area where Duan Yu had been struck by the quarrels. This would prevent the poison from spreading throughout the rest of his body for a time. With a flip of his hand and a cracking sound, he immediately dislocated Mu Wanqing's right arm, preventing her from firing off any more quarrels. Then he unsealed her acupoints. In a stern voice, he said, "Give me the antidote!"

Mu Wanqing's voice trembled. "I...I only wanted to kill Dao Baifeng. I didn't want to harm my darling Duan." Resisting the pain from her dislocated right arm, she reached towards the bosom of her clothes and withdrew two bottles filled with an extract of flowers. "The antidote in the red bottle should be taken internally, and the antidote in the white bottle should be applied externally. Hurry! If you take too long, we won't be able to save him!"

Dao Baifeng saw that her concern for Duan Yu was genuine and unfeigned. She had already roughly guessed the reasons behind the girl's actions. Stretching out her hand, she immediately snatched the medicine. She placed two red pills within her son's mouth. The other bottle was filled with a white powder. She grabbed the end of the quarrels and lightly pulled the two out, then applied a layer of the medicinal powder on top of the wound. Mu Wanqing said, "Thank heaven! He...his life won't be in danger now, otherwise I...I..."

The three people were extremely anxious. They did not know that Duan Yu had consumed the "King of Ten Thousand Poisons", the Cinnabar Toad, and that he was immune to all poisons. The venom on Mu Wanqing's quarrels couldn't do anything to him. Even if the antidote had not been applied, he would have been fine. However, after being shot with the quarrel, Duan Yu felt twinges of pain in his chest. After seeing the lethal effectiveness of the poisoned quarrels so many times, Duan Yu truly believed that he was definitely going to die. In his panic, he fainted within his mother's arms.

Watching carefully, Duan Zhengchun and his wife noticed that within a twinkling of the eye, the color of the blood flowing from Duan Yu's wound had changed. First, it had changed from black to purplish; then, it had turned from purplish to red. Only now did they let out a sigh of relief, knowing that their son's life was saved.

Dao Baifeng carried her son to his bedroom and covered him with a quilt. She took his pulse, and felt that his pulse was strong and steady. There wasn't the slightest sign of any weakness, causing her to be extremely happy. So assured, she returned once more to the dinner hall.

Duan Zhengchun asked, "No problems?" Dao Baifeng did not answer. Instead, she turned to Mu Wanqing and said, "Go tell the 'Asura Sabre' [In Buddhist mythology, Asuras are malevolent spirits], Qin Hongmian…" As soon as Duan Zhengchun heard the six words, " 'The Asura Sabre', Qin Hongmian", he said, "You…you…" Dao Baifeng paid no mind to her husband, continuing to address Mu Wanqing. "Tell her that if she wants to take my life, she should make her attempts openly and honestly. Acting with such maliciousness and deceptiveness, isn't she afraid that people will laugh their heads off?" Mu Wanqing replied, "I don't know who this 'Asura Sabre', Qin Hongmian is." Baffled, Dao Baifeng asked, "Then who is it that ordered you to kill me?"

Mu Wanqing said, "My master. She ordered me to kill two people. The first person was you. She told me I could identify you by a red mark on your hand. She told me that you are named Dao Baifeng, are of the Baiyi tribe, are very beautiful, and wield a soft whip as your weapon. She…she didn't tell me that you dressed up like a nun. I saw that your weapon was a flywhisk, and are called the 'Sage of Hollow Jade'. I never thought…never thought that you are the person whom Master wishes to kill. Much less that you are Duan Yu's mother…" And as she finished, teardrops cascaded down her face.

Dao Baifeng said, "The second person your master asked you to kill, is it the "Lovely Poisonist" Gan Baobao?" Mu Wanqing replied, "No, no! The "Lovely Poisonist" Gan Baobao is my martial uncle. She sent people to deliver a message to my master. She said that two people had caused great pain to my master all her life, and that this great wrong must be avenged no matter what…" Dao Baifeng said, "Ah, I understand. The other woman is surnamed Wang and lives in Suzhou, right?" Surprised, Mu Wanqing said, "Right. How did you know? I went with my Master to Suzhou to kill her, but this evil woman had a lot of flunkies under her command. Her dwelling was also very strange. Not only was I unable to find her, but her flunkies chased me all the way to Dali instead."

Duan Zhengchun listened with his head bowed. The color of his face alternated from blue to red.

A tear suddenly rolled down Dao Baifeng's cheek. She said towards Duan Zhengchun, "Please take good care of Yu'er and instruct him well. I…I'm leaving now." Duan Zhengchun said, "Dearest phoenix [the 'feng' character in Baifeng stands for phoenix], that's all in the past. Why are you taking it to heart?" Dao Baifeng said softly, "You aren't taking it to heart, but I am, and so are other people." Suddenly, her body flew into the air, and she leapt towards a window.

Duan Zhengchun extended his hand to grasp at her sleeve, but Dao Baifeng waved her own and shot a palm towards his face. Duan Zhengchun turned his face to avoid the blow. With a tearing sound, he ripped off half of her sleeves with his hand. Turning her head, Dao Baifeng said angrily, "Are you really intending to fight me?" Duan Zhengchun said, "Dearest phoenix, you…" With a kick of her legs, Dao Baifeng shot into the air, landing on the top of a nearby room. Within a few movements, she had already moved a hundred feet away.

From far away, Chu Wanli's voice could be faintly heard. "Who is it?" Dao Baifeng replied, "It's me." Chu Wanli said, "Ah, so it is the princess…" After this, nothing more could be heard. Dao Baifeng was far away.

Duan Zhengchun sadly remained standing for a long time. Then, with a sigh, he returned to the warm pavilion. He saw that Mu Wanqing's face was extremely pale, but that she had not fled. Duan Zhengchun reached out and took a hold of her right arm with his hands. With a "ka" sound, he popped her dislocated arm back in place. Mu Wanqing thought to herself, "I attacked his wife with poison quarrels. I wonder how he is going to torture me?" But Duan Zhengchun only sat down dispiritedly and slowly poured himself a cup of tea. With a 'gu' sound, he drained it all in one go.

Duan Zhengchun stared at the window from which his wife had fled as though he were in a trance. After a long time passed, he slowly poured himself a second cup of tea. 'Gu'. He drained this one in one go as well. Pouring a cup, draining a cup. He repeated this twelve or thirteen times. After finishing the pot of tea, he reached out and grabbed another pot, this one filled with wine. As with before, he poured very slowly, but drank extremely quickly.

Finally, Mu Wanqing became impatient. "What type of strange, vicious way of punishing me are you devising? Whatever it is, hurry up and use it!"

Duan Zhengchun lifted his head to stare at her. After some time had passed, he shook his head and sighed. "So similar. So very similar! I should have realized a long time ago. Your appearance. Your temper…"

Mu Wanqing had no idea what he was babbling about. "What are you talking about?" She asked. "You're full of rubbish!"

Duan Zhengchun did not reply. Rising to his feet, he sent a backwards palm with his left hand. With a swishing sound, a candle was extinguished by his palm wind. He immediately followed this with another backwards palm with his right hand. A second candle was unexpectedly snuffed out. In this manner, he sent out five palms behind him and extinguished five candles. All throughout, his gaze was towards the front, and yet the palms flowed out like rolling clouds or running water, with natural ease.

Mu Wanqing said in shock, "This is…this is the 'Five Gentle Smoke Palms'. How do you know this skill?" Duan Zhengchun laughed bitterly. "Did your master teach it to you?" Mu Wanqing said, "My master told me that she would never teach this to anyone, and that she would take it to her coffin with her." Duan Zhengchun nodded. "Huh. She said that she would never teach it to anybody, and that she would take it to the grave?" Mu Wanqing said, "Right! But whenever she thought I wasn't watching, she would often practice this set of palms by herself. So I'm used to seeing it by now." Duan Zhengchun said, "She would often practice this set of palm strokes by herself?" Mu Wanqing nodded. "Yes. Every time after she was done practicing this set of palms, she would become very angry and curse me out. How…how is it that you know it as well? And it seems as though you're even more skilled in it than my master!"

Duan Zhengchun let out a sigh. "This 'Five Gentle Smoke Palms' was taught by me to your master."

Mu Wanqing was shocked, but she couldn't help but believe him. She saw in the past that when her master practiced this art, that often there would be one candle that she couldn't extinguish, and would force her to have to send out a second or third palm. Her skill definitely was not as high as that of Duan Zhengchun, who exercised the set of palms as his heart desired, as though he were effortlessly wiping away wine. She stuttered, "So you are my master's master…so you would be my grandmaster?"

Duan Zhengchun shook his head. "No!" Resting his cheek on one hand, he mused to himself, "So every time after she practiced this set of palms, she would be angry. She said that she wouldn't teach anyone this skill, and would take it to her grave…" Mu Wanqing asked, "Then you…" Duan Zhengchun waved his hand, signaling for her to stop asking. After a while, he suddenly asked, "You are eighteen this year. You were born in September, right?" Mu Wanqing sprang to her feet. Shocked, she asked, "How do you know everything about me? What relation do you have with my master?!"

A look of great pain was on Duan Zhengchun's face. In a hoarse voice, he said, "I…I unforgivably wronged your master. Wan'er, you…" My Wanqing asked, "Why? From what I've seen, you have a kind disposition and are a good person." Duan Zhengchun said, "Your master has never told you her name?" Mu Wanqing said, "My master told me that she is called the 'Guest of the Secluded Valley'. Her real name or her surname, I have no idea." Duan Zhengchun softly repeated to himself, " 'Guest of the Secluded Valley'…'Guest of the Secluded Valley'..." Suddenly, he remembered Du Fu's [one of China's most famous poets] poem, 'Beautiful Maiden'. Every single word in the poem suddenly tingled in his heart. "A peerless beauty, residing in an empty valley. She proclaims herself as being from a good family, but is fallen like rotted trees or decayed grass. Her husband is a philanderer, and his new woman is as beautiful as jade. Hearing the new woman laugh, the previous wife can but cry…"

After a long time, he asked again. "How has your master lived her life, all these years? Where have you lived?" Mu Wanqing replied, "My master and I have lived in a deep valley which was hidden behind a tall mountain. My master said that it was called the 'Secluded Valley'. It wasn't until now that the two of us left it." Duan Zhengchun said, "Who are your parents? Your master never told you?" Mu Wanqing said, "My master told me that I am an orphan who was abandoned by my parents. She found me by the side of a road and took me in and raised me." Duan Zhengchun asked, "Do you hate your mother and father?" Mu Wanqing inclined her head. She lightly bit at the pinky of her left hand.

Seeing this, Duan Zhengchun felt an boundless distress in his heart. Mu Wanqing saw two large tears roll down his face. Very much surprised, she asked, "Why are you crying?" Duan Zhengchun turned is face away, drying his tears. With a strong laugh, he said, "How was I crying? I drank too much. The alcohol is taking effect." Mu Wanqing didn't believe him. "I clearly saw you cry. Only women cry. Men cry as well? I've never seen a male cry, besides little children."

Duan Zhengchun saw that she was inexperienced with worldly affairs, and felt even more miserable. "Wan'er, in the future, I promise to take good care of you. I will try to make up for my past mistakes. If there's anything you desire, just let me know, and I will definitely obtain it for you."

Mu Wanqing had just shot poisoned quarrels towards his wife. She was feeling very worried, but upon hearing Duan Zhengchun's words, happily said, "I shot quarrels towards your wife. You aren't going to blame me?" Duan Zhengchun said, "It is as you yourself said. 'A master's benevolence is very profound, a master's orders cannot be disobeyed.' The affairs of the previous generation have nothing to do with you. Naturally, I won't blame you. But you must never be disrespectful to my wife again." Mu Wanqing asked, "In the future, if my master starts to ask questions, what shall I say?"

Duan Zhengchun said, "Take me to see your master. I'll personally explain to her." Mu Wanqing clapped her hands. "Great, great!" But immediately, she wrinkled her forehead. "My master often says that all men are people who are faithless and unkind. She never meets men."

A strange expression flashed across Duan Zhengchun's face. "Your master never meets with men?" Mu Wanqing said, "Yes. Whenever my master needs rice or salt, she always has Granny Liang go shop for her. Once, when Granny Liang was sick, she had her son do it instead. Master was extremely angry. She ordered him to place it far away outside, and would not allow him to enter the room."

Duan Zhengchun sighed. "Hongmian, Hongmian. Why must you make your own life so miserable?"

Mu Wanqing said, "You said the words 'Hongmian' again. Who, exactly, is 'Hongmian'?" Duan Zhengchun hesitated for a moment. "This can't be hidden from you forever. Your master's real name is Qin Hongmian. Her nickname is the 'Asura Sabre'." Mu Wanqing nodded. "Ah. No wonder your wife, upon seeing me shoot out those short quarrels, asked me in such an angry manner as to what my relationship was with the 'Asura Sabre', Qin Hongmian. At that time, I really didn't know. I wasn't trying to deceive her on purpose. So my master's name is Qin Hongmian? It's a very pretty name. I don't know why she didn't tell me it."

Duan Zhengcun said, "I hurt your arm just a while ago. Does it still pain you?" Mu Wanqing saw that a warm, caring expression was on his face. She smiled slightly. "It's much better now. Let's go take a look…take a look at your son. Okay? I'm afraid that the toxin on the quarrel won't disappear immediately." Duan Zhengchun said, "Alright!" As he stood up, he added, "If there's anything you desire, just tell me."

Suddenly, Mu Wanqing flushed, as a blushing red colored her face. Lowering her head, she said, "I'm just afraid…afraid that I shot quarrels towards your wife, and she'll resent me." Duan Zhengchun said, "Let's slowly beg her forgiveness. Maybe in the future, she won't be so angry." Mu Wanqing said, "I'm not the type of person who begs others. But for the sake of my darling Duan, it's no big deal to beg her." She suddenly summoned all her courage and said, "South-Subduing Prince, if I tell you my wish, will you really…will you really achieve it for me?"

Duan Zhengchun said, "So long as it is within my power, I will definitely make your wish become a reality." Mu Wanqing said, "The words you have said, you can't go back on!" A slight smile appearing on his face, Duan Zhengchun walked to her side. Extending his hand, he lightly stroked her hair. His eyes overflowing with love, he said, "I naturally won't go back on my word." Mu Wanqing said, "You must make sure my marriage with him goes through. Don't let him renege on it." After saying this, her face glowed radiantly.

The expression on Duan Zhengchun's face immediately changed. He slowly backed away and sat down in a chair. Quite some time passed without him saying a single word. Mu Wanqing felt something was amiss. Her body quivering, she said, "You…you won't allow it?" Duan Zhengchun said, "You definitely cannot marry Yu'er." His voice was sluggish and slow, but the tone was extremely certain. Mu Wanqing's heart froze. Sadly, she said, "Why? He…he personally agreed to marry me." Duan Zhengchun only replied, "Karmic sin…karmic sin!" Mu Wanqing said, "If he doesn't want me, I…I will kill him, then kill myself. I swore a heavy oath in front of my master." Duan Zhengchun slowly shook his head. "Can't!" Mu Wanqing impatiently said, "I'm going to go ask him right now. Why can't I?"

Duan Zhengchun said, "Yu'er…he himself…he himself doesn't know." He saw the look of intense suffering on Mu Wanqing's face, identical to the expression which would appear on the face of Qin Hongmian eighteen years ago, when she received the sad news of the passing of a beloved person. He could no longer hold himself back, and the words rushed out of him. "You may not marry Yu'er, and you may not kill him either!" Mu Wanqing said, "Why?" Duan Zhengchun said, "Because…because…because Duan Yu is your brother by blood!"

Mu Wanqing's eyes widened. She could hardly believe her ears. Her voice shaking, she said, "Wha…what? You're telling me Duan Yu is my brother?" Duan Zhengchun said, "Wan'er, do you know who your master is? She is your birth mother. I…I am your father."

Mu Wanqing was both terror-stricken and furious. Not a hint of color could be seen on her face. Stamping her feet, she said, "I don't believe you! I don't believe you! I…I don't believe you!"

Suddenly, a female voice let out a long sigh from outside the window. "Wan'er, let's go home." Mu Wanqing suddenly came to her senses, and called out, "Master!" The window suddenly opened. Outside stood a middle-aged woman. She had a sharp face and two slender eyebrows. Her appearance was extremely attractive. But in her eyes was a mixture of stubbornness and maliciousness.

Duan Zhengchun saw that his former lover Qin Hongmian had suddenly appeared. He was filled with a mixture of surprise and joy. He called out, "Hongmian, Hongmian. These many past years, I've…I've missed you so painfully."

Qin Hongmian called out, "Wan'er, come out! A home belonging to such a heartless, faithless man. We can't even stay here as guests."

Seeing the expressions on Duan Zhengchun and Qin Hongmian's faces, Mu Wanqing's heart grew still colder. "Master, he…he lied to me. He said you are my mother, and that he is…he is my father." Qin Hongmian replied, "Your mother died long ago. Your father is also dead."

Duan Zhengchun rushed to the window. "Hongmian, come in. Let me gaze upon you a bit longer. Don't leave me. Let's always be together from now on." Qin Hongmian's gaze suddenly brightened, and she happily replied, "You just said that we'd always be together from now on. Are these words of yours sincere?" Duan Zhengchun replied, "Absolutely! Hongmian, there hasn't been a single day that passed where I did not think of you." Qin Hongmian said, "You can bear parting with Dao Baifeng?" Duan Zhengchun hesitated, unable to respond. An awkward expression appeared on his face. Qin Hongmian said, "If you have any pity at all for our daughter, come with me now. You must never think of Dao Baifeng again, and you must never come back here."

Listening to the two speak, Mu Wanqing felt her heart sink lower and lower. Tears began to gather at the corner of her eyes. The forms of both her master and Duan Zhengchun appeared only as blurs. She knew that the two people standing before her really were her parents. Even if she wanted to deny it, she couldn't. These past few days, she had truly fallen deep in love. But it turned out that the man of her dreams, her darling Duan, was actually her step-brother, who had the same father but a different mother. Her dreams of 'flying together like mandarin ducks', of 'growing old white hairs together', all evaporated like mist.

She heard Duan Zhengchun gently respond, "But I am the South-Subduing Prince of Dali. I administer critical affairs of state both civil and military. I can't leave for even a day…" Only to hear Qin Hongmian harshly say, "Eighteen years ago, these were the words you used. Now, today, eighteen years later, you are using the same words. Duan Zhengchun, oh, Duan Zhengchun! You heartless, faithless man. I…I hate you so much."

Suddenly, from the rooftops of the eastern rooms, could be heard three 'pa' sounds of palms being exchanged. From the west as well could be heard the sounds of people exchanging palms. Immediately afterwards, Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli's voices said simultaneously, "Assassins! Brothers, remain on guard at your positions. Do not act rashly!"

Qin Hongmian loudly shouted, "Wan'er! You still aren't coming out?"

Mu Wanqing replied, "Yes!" She flew out of the building from the window, throwing herself in the arms of this woman who doubled as her birth mother and as her benevolent master.

Duan Zhengchun said, "Hongmian, are you really going to just leave me like this?" An extreme sense of misery and bitterness permeated his voice.

Qin Hongmian's voice suddenly turned soft and gentle. "Brother Chun, you've been a prince for decades now. Haven't you had enough? Come with me. From now on, I'll be obedient to you and listen to your every word. I won't dare to curse at you even slightly, or hit you a single time. Look at our adorable daughter. Can you possibly not cherish her?" Duan Zhengchun was suddenly moved, and blurted out without thinking, "Alright! I'll go with you!" Qin Hongmian was ecstatic. She stretched out her right hand and waited for him to take it.

Suddenly, a female voice rang out icily behind her. "Martial sister, you…you've been deceived by him once again. He'll humor you a few days. After that, he'll go back to being the prince here." Turning his head, shock filled Duan Zhengchun's heart. He called out, "Baobao [this can also translate as 'precious' or 'babe']! It's you! You came as well!"

Mu Wanqing turned her head, and saw that the woman who spoke wore a green silk blouse. It was Madame Zhong of the "Ten Thousand Calamity Gorge", her own martial uncle, the "Lovely Poisonist" Gan Baobao. Four people stood behind her. One was Ye Erniang, another was Yun Zhonghe, and the third was the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas, who had so recently arrived and departed. What surprised her all the more was that the fourth person was Duan Yu. The Divine Crocodile's big, meaty hand was clamped on his neck. Whenever he wanted to, he could snap Duan Yu's neck. Mu Wanqing called out, "My darling Duan! Are you alright?!"

Duan Yu had been resting in bed. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he had been abducted from his room by the Divine Crocodile. He hadn't been poisoned at all. The lethality of Mu Wanqing's poisoned quarrels rested in the word 'poison', not in the word 'quarrel'. A minor quarrel wound would cause him no real harm. Stunned into wakefulness by his abduction, he overheard the conversation between his father, Mu Wanqing, and Qin Hongmian. Although he didn't hear everything, he managed to guess eighty or ninety percent of it. Hearing Mu Wanqing continue to address him as 'her darling Duan', sourness filled his heart. "Little sister, from now on, there will be sibling love between the two of us. Things will be the same."

Mu Wanqing angrily replied, "No. No, it isn't the same. You are the first man to ever see my face." But she suddenly remembered that both of them were sired by Duan Zhengchun. Brothers and sisters cannot wed. If anyone in the world had tried to disrupt her marriage, she could shoot out those poisoned quarrels and kill them. But the thing which was preventing her marriage was natural law and the will of heaven. No matter how high her martial arts level was, or how great her power, there was no way to get around it. Suddenly, she felt that everything around her had turned to gray ash. With a kick of her legs, she rapidly began to run away. Qin Hongmian urgently called, "Wan'er! Where are you going?"

Mu Wanqing didn't even care about her master now. She said, "You harmed me. I'm not going to pay attention to you anymore." And she sped up her footsteps.

As she ran, a palace guardsman extended his arms towards her, barking out, "Who is it?" With a wave of her sleeves, Mu Wanqing shot out her poisoned quarrels, striking the guardsman directly on the throat. She didn't pause at all, and in an instant, disappeared within the darkness of the night.

Duan Zhengchun saw that his son had been taken captive by the Divine Crocodile, and had no idea where his daughter had run off to. Extending a finger, he struck towards the Divine Crocodile. Ye Erniang intercepted him with a palm of her own, chopping towards his wrist veins. Duan Zhengchun flipped his hand, reversing it into a hooking attack. With a laugh, Ye Erniang flicked her middle finger towards the back of his hand. Within the blink of an eye, these two pugilists had exchanged three stances. In his mind, Duan Zhengchun was secretly startled. "So this b.itch is this powerful?"

Extending her hand, Qin Hongmian reached out and pressed her palm against the top of Duan Yu's head. She called out, "Do you want to preserve son's life or not?" Shocked, Duan Zhengchun stayed his hand. He knew that she had always had a terrible temper. She hated his wife, Dao Baifeng, to the core. He feared that in her anger, she might exert her strength and take Duan Yu's life.

He hurriedly replied, "Hongmian, my son was struck by your daughter's poison arrows. His wounds are not light." Qin Hongmian replied, "He's already taken the antidote. He won't die. I'm going to take him away from here for now. I want to see if you want to be the prince more, or if you want your son more." The Divine Crocodile laughed uproariously. "In the end, this kid will still have to take me as his master." Duan Zhengchun replied, "Hongmian, I'll agree to anything. Just let go of my son."

The love which Qin Hongmian felt for Duan Zhengchun hadn't waned even a little in the eighteen years which had passed. Hearing him speak so anxiously, her heart softened. "You really...really will agree to anything?" Duan Zhengchun replied, "Yes, yes!" Madame Zhong interjected, "Martial sister, are you going to believe the words of this heartless man again? Mr. Yue Number Two, let's go."

The Divine Crocodile straightened his body. While carrying Duan Yu, he suddenly rose in the air. In the blink of an eye, he landed on the roof of the adjoining room. Immediately afterwards, Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe followed him, then each struck a palace guardsmen and threw them to the ground.

Madame Zhong called out, "Duan Zhengchun! Are we going to have a fight today?"

If Duan Zhengchun summoned all the forces in his palace, he wouldn't necessarily be unable to defeat these people. But his son had fallen into their hands. It would be difficult to obtain victory via force of arms. Not to mention, the relationship between him and the two sisters standing before him was anything but ordinary. In a soft voice, he said, "Baobao, you...you've also come to make things difficult for me?"

Madame Zhong replied, "I am the wife of Zhong Wanchou. What type of nonsense are you speaking? You have no right to address me in such a way."

Duan Zhengchun said, "Baobao, all these years, I've often been thinking of you." Madame Zhong's eyes suddenly reddened. "That day I found out that Duan Yu was your son, my heart...my heart was filled with such agony." Her voice had softened as well. Qin Hongmian called out, "Martial sister! Are you also going to fall for his lies?" Madame Zhong pulled at Qin Hongmian's hand and yelled, "Alright. Let's go!"

Turning her head, she said, "If you come pay your respects at the Ten-Thousand Calamities Gorge holding Dao Baifeng's head in your hand, maybe we'll return your son to you."

Duan Zhengchun said, "The Ten-Thousand Calamities Gorge?!" He saw that the Divine Crocodile was getting farther and farther away, and that Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli were leading men to intercept him from all sides. With a sigh, Duan Zhengchun called out, "Worthy brother Gao, let them go." Gao Shengtai called back, "But the young prince..." Duan Zhengchun replied, "We'll slowly think of a way to get him back."

As he was speaking, he flew to Gao Shengtai's side. He called out, "The assassins have retreated. Everyone, return to your original position." With a sway of his body, he then arrived next to Madame Zhong. In a soft voice, he said, "Baobao, have you been well, these past years?" Madame Zhong replied, "Why wouldn't I be well?" Noiselessly, Duan Zhengchun sent out a silent finger and struck her on her 'Zhangmen' acupoint at her waist. Madame Zhong didn't manage to react in time, and her body immediately turned soft. Duan Zhengchun stretched out his left hand and caught her. Pretending to be alarmed, he called out, "Oh no! Baobao, what happened?"

Qin Hongmian was unaware of the trickery which had just occurred. She rushed over to their side and asked, "Martial sister, are you alright?" Duan Zhengchun then struck out with his "Solitary Solar Finger" and sealed off the 'Zhangmen' acupoint on her waist as well. Their vital acupoints struck, Qin Hongmian and Madame Zhong were now trapped in Duan Zhengchun's embrace, and he hugged one of them with each arm. [Translator's note: ROFL!!! What a player...]

The two simultaneously cast him hateful glares, thinking to themselves, "Tricked by him again. Am I really as silly as this? All my life, I've been deceived by him. At a critical point such as this, I still wasn't vigilant against him." Duan Zhengchun called out, "Worthy brother Gao, your internal injuries haven't fully healed yet. Hurry back to your room and rest. Wanli, you take command of the guards and have them remain vigilant." Gao Shengtai and Chu Wanli bowed and obeyed.

Clasping one woman under each arm, Duan Zhengchun returned with them to the insides of the warm pavilion. He ordered the cooks and maids to restart the banquet, once more preparing cups and plates.

After everyone else retired, Duan Zhengchun struck the 'Huantiao' and 'Ququan' acupoints on the two women's legs, preventing them from walking. Then, with a smile, he released the 'Zhangmen' acupoint on their waist. Qin Hongmian shouted loudly, "Duan Zhengchun! You still are trying to bully people..." Duan Zhengchun turned around and clasped his hands to greet them. "I am sorry for my offense. I'll offer you my apologies right here and now." Qin Hongmian angrily responded, "Who wants your apologies?! Release us immediately!"

Duan Zhengchun replied, "The three of us haven't met for over ten years. It's rare that we can meet like this. We have countless things to say to each other. Hongmian, you're always so impetuous. Baobao, you're even more beautiful than before. You look as though you are even younger than when we were together in the past." Madame Zhong did not reply. Qin Hongmian angrily said, "Let me go now! So my martial sister is even more beautiful than before. I guess that means I'm even uglier and more freakish than before! Why would you want to stare at an ugly old hag like me?"

Duan Zhengchun quickly replied, "Hongmian, take a look in a mirror and see for yourself. If you are an ugly old hag, then when those literary men write essays describing 'peerless beauties', they would have to include the line, "A face which can mesmerize fish and geese, bearing the appearance of an ugly old hag."

Qin Hongmian couldn't help but let out a laugh. She was about to stamp her foot coquettishly, but her legs were paralyzed. Her anger renewed, she replied, "Nobody came here to exchange jokes with you! Grinning and smiling like an idiotic monkey. What type of prince are you?"

Under the candlelight, Duan Zhengchun saw the angry expression on her face and suddenly recalled one evening long ago. His heart was suddenly moved, and he walked forwards and kissed her on the cheek. Qin Hongmian's upper body was not paralyzed, and with a clear, cracking sound, she slapped him on the face. If Duan Zhengchun had wanted to dodge, it wouldn't be difficult at all. But he purposefully let her hit him. In a low voice, he whispered by her ear, "To die beneath the asura sabres, even as a ghost I would roam carefree."

Qin Hongmian's entire body trembled. Tears began to flow down her face, and she began to cry loudly. "You...you are saying these lascivious words again..." In the past, Qin Hongmian wielded a pair of asura sabres as she roamed the jianghu, which is why her nickname became the "Asura Sabre". The day she gave herself to Duan Zhengchun, he had kissed her on the cheek, and she had slapped him on the face. His response was precisely the same two lines which he just uttered. "To die beneath the asura sabres, even as a ghost I would roam carefree." These words had been replayed in her heart thousands of times. At this moment, hearing him once more say these words, she felt both happy and angry, sweet and bitter, as a hundred emotions flooded her.

Madame Zhong said in a low voice, "Martial sister, this fellow excels in using sweet and honeyed words to please others. Are you really going to fall for it again?" Qin Hongmian said, "Right. Right! I'll never believe your lies again!"

These words were directed towards Duan Zhengchun. Duan Zhengchun walked to Madame Zhong's side. Laughing, he said, "Baobao, let me kiss your face as well. Will you allow me to?" Madame Zhong replied in a stately voice, "I am a married woman. I will not allow anyone to ruin the good name of my husband. If you so much as touch me, I will immediately bite my tongue off and swallow it, suffocating myself and dying in front of you."

Seeing the cold expression on her face, and hearing how resolute and unhesitating her words were, Duan Zhengchun didn't dare to behave with impropriety. He asked, "Baobao, what type of husband did you marry yourself to?" Madame Zhong said, "My husband is ugly in appearance, has a strange temperament, inferior martial arts compared to you, inferior talent compared to you, and certainly does not have your riches and glorious life. But he loves me whole-heartedly, and I treat him the same way. If I, Gan Baobao, do anything to betray him, let heaven punish me and the earth extinguish me, and let ten thousand calamities prevent me from being reincarnated. I'll tell you something right now. The place where I live with him is called the 'Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge'. The name comes from this deadly oath I have sworn."

Duan Zhengchun couldn't help but feel respect in his heart, and no longer dared to bring up their old love from bygone days. But even though he no longer spoke of it, he saw that Gan Baobao's white, tender face was as beautiful as it was in the past, as was her slightly lifted, cherry-red lips. How could he forget about their former passion? Hearing how devoted she was to her husband from her speech, he couldn't help but feel sourness in his heart. He let out a long sigh. "Baobao, I am an unlucky man. I don't have the fortune to be treated so well by you. Initially...initially, I knew you before he did. Alas! It is my own fault."

Madame Zhong heard the desolate sound of his voice and the profound, sincere emotions in it. These words were not said to deceive her. Once again, her eyes reddened.

The three people silently faced each other, all of their thoughts wandering to the past. In all three of their hearts was a mixture of joy and sorrow.

After a long while, Duan Zhengchun gently asked, "You've kidnapped my son. Why? Baobao, where is your Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge?"

From outside the window, a grating voice said, "Do not tell him." Duan Zhengchun was startled, and thought to himself, "Chu Wanli and the others are standing guard outside. How did this person manage to sneak his way in?" Madame Zhong's face dropped. "Your injuries aren't healed yet. What are you doing here?"

Following her words, a female voice rang out. "Mr. Zhong, please enter." Upon hearing this voice, Duan Zhengchun was even more surprised. He couldn't help but blush fiercely, his face turning red all the way to his ears.

The curtained door to the warm pavilion was parted, and Dao Baifeng walked in. A furious expression was on her face, and behind her followed an exceptionally ugly man with a long, horse-like face.

As it turned out, Qin Hongmian's mission of assassination in Gusu was a failure, and she was parted from her beloved daughter. Consequently, as had been agreed upon, she came south to Dali to visit with her martial sister. The Wang family of Gusu sent Granny Rui and Granny Ping to pursue and attack Mu Wanqing. But because Qin Hongmian fell behind by a bit, her journey was peaceful and undisturbed. After arriving at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, in order to ascertain the situation, she came out with Madame Zhong.

On the road, she came upon the 'Three Evils', Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas, and Yun Zhonghe. These 'Three Evils' had been invited by Zhong Wanchou to help assist him in his efforts against Duan Zhengchun, and immediately began discussing the situation with Madame Zhong. Naturally, the matter of the Divine Crocodile having accepted Duan Yu as his master was glossed over. Upon hearing that Mu Wanqing was currently residing within Dali's South-Subduing Palace, Qin Hongmian immediately accompanied them to the palace.

Zhong Wanchou loved his wife even more than his own life, and was an extremely jealous person to begin with. Ever since she had left, he had been very restless and could not find any peace of mind. He no longer cared that his injury was as-yet not fully healed, and secret left at midnight to follow her. Outside the South-Subduing Palace, he ran into Dao Baifeng, who was about to leave. Both were filled with a belly full of anger. Each began to insult the other, and soon, the two came to blows. After fighting for some time, Dao Baifeng was slowly finding it hard to sustain herself. Then suddenly a person dressed in black flitted past, her face covered with sobs. It was Mu Wanqing. Both of them called out to her, but she ignored them both and fled.

Zhong Wanchou shouted, "I'm going to go find my wife. I don't have the time to spare, fighting you!" Dao Baifeng asked, "Where are you going to find your wife?" Zhong Wanchou replied, "The home of Duan Zhengchun, that thieving dog. If my wife meets up with him, everything will become disastrous!"

Dao Baifeng asked him, "Why will everything become disastrous?" Zhong Wanchou replied, "Duan Zhengchun is full of sweet and honeyed words. He's a pretty boy who knows how to deceive women. I definitely must kill him!"

Dao Baifeng thought to herself, "Zhengchun is in his forties now, and has a large beard. How can he be considered a 'pretty boy'? But he really does have a playboy's heart. This horse-faced man's words can't be ignored." Inquiring as to who his wife was, she realized that the person was Gan Baobao. She knew long ago that the 'Lovely Poisonist' Gan Baobao was one of her husband's former flames. Her jealousy became all the greater, and she immediately accompanied Zhong Wanchou and returned to the palace.

Even though the palace was tightly guarded, upon seeing the princess, the guardsmen would naturally give way. And so the two easily made their way to the warm pavilion without a single person issuing a warning call. The words which Duan Zhengchun had said to Gan Baobao and Qin Hongmian, his teasing and his flirting, had been heard by both of them from outside the window. Listening, Dao Baifeng was so infuriated that her chest felt as though it would explode. Zhong Wanchou, on the other hand, listening to how properly his wife behaved, was filled with ecstatic joy.

Zhong Wanchou rushed to his wife's side, filled with affection and happiness. He winded around her multiple times, then said, "Baobao, thank you...thank you for being so good to me. If he dares to bully you, I'll fight to the death with him." A long time passed before he realized that his wife's acupoints had been sealed. Turning his head, he barked towards Duan Zhengchun, "Hurry up and unseal my wife's acupoints!"

Duan Zhengchun replied, "My son has been abducted by you. Once you release my son, I naturally will release your lady wife."

Zhong Wanchou stretched out his hands and struck the acupoints on his wife's waist. But no matter how he pinched or struck, he was unable to unseal them. Although his internal energy was very strong, the technique behind the Duan family's "Solitary Solar Finger" was unparalleled under heaven, and outsiders could not hope to counter it. He exerted so much effort that all his muscles bulged.

Madame Zhong was pinched and struck by him repeatedly, causing her to feel both ticklish and pained, but the sealed acupoint on her leg wasn't even slightly opened. Madame Zhong furiously said, "You idiot, stop making a fool out of yourself." Zhong Wanchou angrily stopped his efforts. His fury bottled up with nowhere to go, he exploded, "Duan Zhengchun, come and f.ucking fight with me for three hundred stances!" Grinding his fists and stretching out his palms, he was about to go forward and start fighting.

Madame Zhong said coldly, "Prince Duan, your son has been kidnapped by the Divine Crocodile and the others. Even if my husband wanted them to release him, these evil people might not necessarily do so. Let me and my martial sister go back, and wait for a chance to rescue him. This could conceivably work. At the very least, I can keep them from mistreating your son."

Duan Zhengchun shook his head. "I can't trust in that. Mr. Zhong, go back home. Come back to me with my son, and I will release your wife to you."

Zhong Wanchou was infuriated, and loudly roared, "Your South-Subduing Palace is a shameless place! If my wife is left here, she will be subject to ten thousand dangers." Duan Zhengchun's face reddened. He shouted out, "If such rude words continue to spew forth from your mouth, do not blame me from being discourteous as well!"

After entering the room, Dao Baifeng didn't say a single word. Now, she suddenly spoke. "What is the purpose behind you keeping these two women here? Is it really for Yu'er? Or is it for your own sake."

Duan Zhengchun let out a sigh. "Even you do not trust me." He pointed backwards and struck Qin Hongmian's waist, unsealing her acupoint. Taking another step, he struck towards Madame Zhong's waist as well.

But Zhong Wanchou stepped between his wife and Duan Zhengchun. Shaking his two hands hurriedly, he yelled loudly, "You are a sly and sneaky chap. You are an expert at taking advantage of women! You aren't allowed to touch my wife's body at all." Duan Zhengchun laughed bitterly, "Although my acupoint-sealing skill is shallow and superficial, outsiders cannot break it easily. If too much time passes, I'm afraid that Madame Zhong's legs will become permanently crippled." Zhong Wanchou angrily retorted, "My beautiful, flower-like wife, as precious as a piece of jade, is currently in perfectly good health. If she becomes a cripple, I'll tear your bastard dog's son into a thousand pieces!" Duan Zhengchun laughed. "You want me to unseal her acupoint, but you won't let me touch her body. What exactly do you want me to do?"

Zhong Wanchou was speechless for a moment. Suddenly, he let out an indignant shout. "Who told you to seal my wife's acupoints? Wait. Crap! When you sealed her acupoints, you already touched her body! I'm going to go poke your wife's body as well!"

Madame Zhang glared at him. She angrily said, "You're talking rubbish again. Aren't you afraid of others laughing at you?" Zhong Wanchou said, "What's there to laugh at? I refuse to let others take such a big advantage over me!"

Just as the dispute was at its noisiest, the curtained door was parted, and a man wearing a yellow satin gown entered. Three long strands of a beard was on his face, which was fine and attractive. It was the Emperor of Dali, Duan Zhengming.

Duan Zhengchun cried, "Imperial brother!" Emperor Baoding nodded. Stretching out with a finger, he pointed towards Madame Zhong. Madame Zhong only felt a warm sensation in the top her dantian [the place where internal energy accumulates] as two warm currents of energy streamed towards her leg. Immediately, her acupoints were unsealed and her blood began to flow unimpeded, and she rose to her feet.

Zhong Wanchou seeing that Emperor Baoding possessed the godlike ability to "Seal Acupoints Through Air", was shocked. Utter amazement filled his face, and his jaw hung open slackly. He couldn't say a single word. He never would have imagined that someone possessed such an unfathomable ability.

Duan Zhengchun said, "Imperial brother, Yu'er was kidnapped by them." Emperor Baoding nodded. "The Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment has already informed me. Younger brother Chun, if an offspring of the Duan dynasty has been kidnapped by others, then his parents and his uncles will naturally go and rescue him. It is not acceptable for us to hold others hostage."

Duan Zhengchun's face reddened. "Understood!" Emperor Baoding's speech was straightforward and upright, keeping in with his dignity and status. The hidden meaning of his words was thus; "You wanted to keep them hostage, so as to exchange them for your son. Isn't this an act which would tarnish the honorable name of Dali's Duan dynasty? How can we, the majestic, royal scions of Dali's Duan dynasty, use this sort of method against a few female commoners?"

The Emperor was silent for a few moments, then spoke to Zhong Wanchou. "The three of you may leave at your leisure. Within three days, the Duan family will send delegates to your Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to retrieve our people.

Zhong Wanchou replied, "My Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge is truly a hidden, secretive place. You might not be able to even find it. Would you like for me to give you directions?" He wanted for Emperor Baoding to ask for his assistance, so he could refuse and make things hard for him.

Who would have thought that Emperor Baoding would pay him no mind. With a sweep of his sleeves, Emperor Baoding said, "Escort our guests out."

Zhong Wanchou had an explosive temper, but in front of this majestically composed Emperor Baoding, he found himself utterly bewildered. Upon hearing him say, "Escort our guests out," Zhong Wanchou said, "Fine, we'll leave! All my life, your old man hates those surnamed Duan the most! There isn't a single good person in the world, who has the surname Duan!"

Grabbing his wife by the hand, he turned to leave the room in a towering rage. Madame Zhong grabbed Qin Hongmian by her sleeve. "Sister, let's go." Qin Hongmian cast a glance at Duan Zhengchun, but saw that he was silent. She couldn't prevent her heart from being filled with a sour pain. She glared fiercely at Dao Baifeng, then lowered her head and left. After the three of them left the room, they leapt up to the rooftops.

Standing at the corner of the eaves, Gao Shengtai bowed slightly, and said, "Escorting our guests out!" From the rooftops, Zhong Wanchou spat, then vehemently replied, "You guys are all false hypocrites. Not a single one of you is a good person!" Exerting his internal energy, he flew from one rooftop to another. Very shortly, he arrived at the palace walls. Once more exerting his energy, he jumped up, extending his left foot to step on the top of the wall.

But suddenly, another person appeared, standing right at the place where he was about to alight. Wearing a broad gown and a loose girdle, it was Gao Shengtai, who had come to escort the guests out as he said he would. Gao Shengtai was initially behind him, but somehow he arrived at the wall before Zhong Wanchou did. He then saw where Zhong Wanchou was about to step, and took the position before Zhong Wanchou had a chance to.

Zhong Wanchou's body was in mid-air. There was no way for him to retreat, nor was there a way for him to change directions. He shouted, "Scram!" He shot out twin palms to attack Gao Shengtai. He thought to himself, "The power of my twin palms is enough to shatter tablets and crack open boulders. If the opponent wants to take it head on, I'll definitely be able to knock him off the wall. Even if his internal strength is on par with mine, I'll be able to borrow his energy and change direction to stand next to him on top of the wall." But just moments before his twin palms would have struck the other on his stomach, Gao Shengtai's body suddenly leaned backwards, as though he were an iron bridge. Both of his feet remained firmly planted on the top of the wall, but he had gotten out of the way of Zhong Wanchou's twin palms.

Zhong Wanchou, having missed his attack, secretly cried out to himself, "Oh no!" His body had already passed by Gao Shengtai's reclined form. With his attack having missed, his chest, abdomen, and lower body were totally open to a counter-attack. At this point, the enemy could arbitrarily strike him as he pleased. Fortunately, Gao Shengtai did not strike him at all. As Zhong Wanchou's feet landed on the ground, he said to himself, "Thank goodness!" Immediately afterwards, Madame Zhong and Qin Hongmian also passed the wall.

Gao Shengtai straightened his body and turned around to face them. "Forgive me for not escorting you any further!" Zhong Wanchou let out a 'hngh' sound. Suddenly, his trousers began to fall down. He hastily extended his hand and caught them just in the nick of time, else he would have been utterly humiliated. Only then did he realize that his belt had been broken by Gao Shengtai with a flick of the finger when he flew over Gao Shengtai's reclining form. If it weren't for the fact that Gao Shengtai was showing mercy, he would have been struck by this finger on his dantian and turned into a corpse on the spot. He was half alarmed, half angered. With a cough, he turned to once more face the wall and spat out a dense mouthful of phlegm. 'Pah!' The phlegm was shot out with great accuracy and great power.

Mu Wanqing left the South-Subduing Palace in a daze. She had heard but ignored the hails of Dao Baifeng and Zhong Wanchou. Covering up her face, she sprinted away. She only felt that in all the vastness of the earth, there wasn't a single place for her to take shelter. In the middle of a wild, mountainous terrain, she blindly ran and leapt about in a state of confusion until the coming of dawn. She was now so exhausted that both of her legs were limp and painful. Only now did she come to a halt. Leaning against a large tree, she stamped her feet and shouted, "I'd rather die! I don't want to live anymore!"

Even though she was filled with resentment and anger, she had no idea who it was her hatred should be directed towards. "My darling Duan wasn't fickle or unfaithful to me. It was just that the stars were misaligned, and he turned out to be my brother by the same father. My master turned out to be my mother. These past years, she toiled and labored so hard to bring me up and raise me. Her benevolence towards me is as weighty as a mountain, how can I possibly blame her? The South-Subduing Prince is my father. But although he was not faithful to my mother, perhaps he had many hidden difficulties which prevented him from being with her. He showed me a pleasant demeanor and showered me with love. He even said that if there was anything I desired, that I needed to only let him know, and he would strive with all his ability to make it happen. Alas, this desire of mine he was simply unable to fulfill. Mother wasn't able to marry father, this was no doubt due to Dao Baifeng's interference. That must be why she wanted me to kill her. But if I were in her shoes, I definitely wouldn't let my darling Duan have a second woman either. And she even entered a convent and became a nun. No doubt, father was faithless towards her as well, causing her to be so broken-hearted. I shot two quarrels towards her outside the Temple of Hollow Jade, but she wasn't angry with me at all. At the palace, I shot two more quarrels towards her and even harmed her beloved only child, but she still didn't make trouble for me. It seems…it seems she isn't a cruel, vicious woman either."

No matter what she thought, she was filled with sorrow. "I need to forget about darling Duan, and never think about him again." This was something that was easily said. But to forget about him just like that was something she simply could not do. Every time Duan Yu's attractive features and slender figure sprang to the fore of her mind, her chest felt as though someone had struck her with a fist. After awhile, she tried to console herself. "In the future, I'll just view him as my elder brother. I used to be a fatherless, motherless orphan. Now all of a sudden, I not only have a father and a mother, but also such a wonderful elder brother. I should be ecstatic. Stupid girl, what are you so sad about?"

But she had already been fallen into love's trap. The more deeply she become entangled, the more deeply it bound her. When she miserably waited for Duan Yu at the peak of Mt. Wuliang for seven days and seven nights, she had become immersed in the webs of love, and would never be able to extricate herself again.

She heard the roaring sound of water unceasing galloping and surging forth. Suddenly, Mu Wanqing's heart became severed from all earthly desires and dreams. She sought only death. She headed towards the sound of running water. After crossing a mountain, she saw the grandiose, majestic sight of the Lancang river falling down from the mountain peak. She took a deep breath. She thought to herself, "All I need to do is steel myself and jump, and I will never have any cares or worries again." Following the mountain slope, she arrived by the side of the river. The morning sun was just rising. Casting its gentle glow upon the jade-like river, it appeared as though a layer of gold had been sheathed on the water. If she really jumped down, then she would never be able to see this beautiful and wondrous sight again, nor any of the other wonderful things in the world.

Standing quietly by the river, her thoughts swirled about like the waves. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that several hundred feet away, someone was sitting on top of a large rock. This person was completely still, and was wearing a green gown that was the same color as that of the green cliffs. This was why, even though she had been at the riverside for a long time, she hadn't noticed him. Mu Wanqing cast him a few glances, then thought to himself, "Probably just a corpse."

She could kill with but a lift of her hand, and so naturally wasn't afraid of a corpse. Feeling curious, she quickly walked towards the body to investigate. The man in a green gown was old, with a long beard that stretched down to his chest. He had a pitch-black face, and both of his eyes were wide open and fixed on the center of the river.

Mu Wanqing said, "So it isn't a corpse after all!" After she took a closer look, she noticed that within the eyes of the corpse was a look of great intelligence, and that there was some color in his face. Mu Wanqing extended her hand, waving it beneath his nose to test for breath. It seemed as though there was a sign of breathing, and yet there also wasn't. Next she touched his face. Strangely, it felt both warm and cold. When she extended a hand to touch his chest, it seemed as though his heart was both still and beating. Absolutely baffled, she said, "This person is so strange. If I want to call him a dead person, he seems to have the characteristics of the living. But were I to call him a living person, he seems so much more like a dead person."

Suddenly, a voice said, "I am a living person!"

Mu Wanqing was very surprised. She quickly turned her head, but saw no one behind her. The stones scattered by the riverside were all no bigger than eggs. There was no place for anyone to hide. And while she was inspecting that freak, she had clearly seen that when the sound of that voice entered her ears, that person had not moved his lips at all. She loudly shouted, "Who is playing tricks on me? Are you tired of living?" Retreating two steps, her back was now towards the river, her eyes closely scanning the other three directions.

She saw nothing, but heard a voice say, "I truly am tired of living." Mu Wanqing's surprise was not small at all. The only person in front of her was this freak, but she clearly saw that his lips hadn't moved. Deciding he wasn't the one who had spoken, she loudly said, "Who is speaking?"

That voice replied, "You are speaking!" Mu Wanqing said, "Who is the person who is speaking with me?" That voice said, "Nobody is speaking with you." Mu Wanqing hurriedly spun around three times, but saw nothing aside from her own shadow.

By now, she had already figured out that the voice must be coming from the freak in a green gown. Summoning her courage, she walked towards him and pressed his lips shut with her hands. Then she asked, "Are you the one speaking to me?" That voice replied, "No!" Mu Wanqing didn't feel the slightest vibration from her fingers on his lips. She asked, "A person is clearly speaking to me. Why are you saying there isn't?" That voice replied, "I am not a person. I am not even myself. I no longer exist in this world."

Mu Wanqing suddenly felt her hair stand on end. She thought to herself, "Can it really be a ghost?" She asked, "You…are you a ghost?" That voice replied, "You yourself said that you do not want to live anymore, and were going to kill yourself and become a ghost. Why are you afraid of a ghost then?" Mu Wanqing forcefully replied, "Who says I'm afraid of ghosts? I fear neither heaven nor earth!" That voice replied, "There is one thing you are afraid of." Mu Wanqing made a 'hngh' sound. "I fear nothing!"

That voice said, "You fear it, you fear it. You fear a perfectly fine husband suddenly turning into your own brother by blood."

These words were like a cudgel strike to her head. Mu Wanqing's legs suddenly felt weak, and she sat down on the ground. After being dazed for a long time, she murmured, "You're a ghost. You're a ghost." That voice said, "I have a method to change Duan Yu from being your brother to being your husband again." Quivering, Mu Wanqing replied, "You…you're lying to me. This is the will of the heavens. You…you can't change it." That voice said, "Heaven? The lord of heaven deserves to die. He is an a.sshole! No need for us to pay attention to him. I have a way to turn your brother into your husband. Do you want it or not?"

Originally, Mu Wanqing's had been utterly disheartened, and she had felt utterly detached from the world. These words truly came as though they had descended from the skies. Even though she half-believed, half-doubted, she urgently said, "I want it! I want it!" But that voice fell silent.

After a while, Mu Wanqing said, "Who are you? Let me see you. Is that alright?" That voice replied, "You've been staring at me for a very long time now. Haven't you stared enough?" After a moment, it continued, "Even I do not know if I am still myself. Alas!" Only when letting out this long sigh did he betray the feeling of deep sorrow and depression in his heart.

No doubt was left in Mu Wanqing's mind at all that the voice came from the old man in a green gown who sat before her. She asked, "How can you speak without your lips moving?" The man replied, "I am a living corpse. My lips cannot move. My voice comes from my abdomen."

Although Mu Wanqing was highly disciplined, she still had a childish personality at times. Just moments ago, she was feeling extremely sorrowful, but upon hearing that this person claimed that he could speak with his abdomen, she couldn't help but feel fascinated. "Speaking with your stomach? That'd truly be a bizarre thing!" The man in the green robe replied, "Extend your hand and rest it against my belly. Then you'll understand." Mu Wanqing extended her hand and placed it against his stomach. The man in the green robe said, "My stomach is vibrating when I speak. Can you feel it?" Mu Wanqing indeed felt the man's stomach quiver with every word he spoke. Laughing, she said, "Haha, that's so very weird!" She didn't know that the man in the green robe practiced a form of ventriloquism. There were thousands of puppetmasters and ventriloquists in the world, but to be able to speak with such clarity was truly no easy feat. It could only be achieved with a deep and profound internal energy.

Mu Wanqing circled around him a few times. Closely examining him, she asked, "If your mouth isn't able to move, how do you eat?" The man in the green robe stretched out his hands. One hand gripped his upper lip, whereas the other gripped his lower lip. He pulled his mouth open, then held his mouth open with his left hand while tossing something in his mouth with his right. With a gulping sound, he swallowed it. "That is how."

Mu Wanqing sighed. "Alas! What a pity! If you eat like this, how can you possibly taste your food?" Suddenly, she saw that all of the flesh on his face was stiffened, and he could not close his eyes. Neither expressions of anger nor joy could be seen on this man's face. This was the reason why, when she first saw him, she thought that he was a corpse.

Although her fear had dissipated, she suddenly thought to herself, this person is himself in such dire straits. How can he possibly counter the will of heaven and change her brother into her husband? Evidently, all the words he said earlier were just nonsense. She muttered to herself for a long time, then sighed. Turning her body, she began to walk away. Only to hear that voice say, "I am going to make Duan Yu into your husband. You cannot leave." Mu Wanqing laughed dully, then took a few steps towards the west. Suddenly, she stopped and turned around. "The two of us don't know each other. How can you know what is in my heart? Can it be that you…you know my darling Duan?"

The man in the green robe replied, "That which is in your heart, I naturally am aware of." From the sleeves of his arms he suddenly withdrew a pair of thin black metal canes. "Let's go!" Tapping the rock on which he sat with his left cane, he suddenly rose into the air. With ease and grace, he landed on the cane over ten feet away. Mu Wanqing saw that both of his feet remained in midair, and that he supported himself only on that one metal cane. Despite that, his body remained exceptionally steady. Curious, she asked, "Your two legs…" The man in the green robe said, "My legs were crippled long ago. Enough. From now on, you are no longer allowed to ask questions about me."

Mu Wanqing said, "And if I keep on asking?" Just after the fourth word had left her mouth, she felt her legs turn soft. She fell down. The man in green had moved as quickly as a gust of wind and had arrived by her side, then tapped her twice at the back of her knees with a steel cane. He had followed that with a single blow from the cane which had caused pain so deep, it reached her marrow. "Ah!" She let out a loud cry. The man in green tapped her two more times, releasing her sealed acupoints. His movements were so fast as to be unbelievable. Mu Wanqing leapt to her feet. Angrily, she said, "You are so impolite!" Unfastening her sleeves, she was about to shoot a quarrel at him.

The man in green said, "If you shoot a quarrel at me, I will spank you. If you shoot ten quarrels at me, I will spank you ten times. If you don't believe me, try for yourself." Mu Wanqing thought to herself, "If that quarrel of mine hit him, he would have died on the spot. How could he possibly hit me back? But this man possesses an incredible, godlike ability. His martial arts is even better than that of the Divine Crocodile. I probably wouldn't be able to hit him with my quarrels. It looks like he'll be able to do as he says he will. If he really ended up spanking me, what a humiliation that would be!" She heard the man say, "If you no longer dare to attack me, then obediently listen to my instructions. You may not disobey." Mu Wanqing said, "I'm not going to listen to your commands!" But although she was outwardly defiant, her left hand released the mechanism for shooting out quarrels.

The man in green strode forward, using those two thin black metal canes in lieu of his arms and legs. Walking behind him, Mu Wanqing saw that those two canes were each roughly three feet long. His strides were twice as long as that of ordinary people. Summoning her energy, Mu Wanqing followed him rapidly, only managing to follow him with an effort. The man in green climbed mountains and traversed ravines as though he were walking on flat plains. He did not travel on the mountain paths, but rather made his own way. No matter how rough the terrain was, he would pass through it with ease with the tap of a cane. This put great hardship on Mu Wanqing. Her sleeves and skirts were ripped and torn into many slices by thorns and bushes, but she did not complain or give any signs of weakness.

After crossing several mountain peaks, far off in the distance a large dense copse of trees could be seen. Mu Wanqing thought to herself, "We've arrived at the Ten-Thousand Calamities Gorge." She asked, "What are we doing here?" The man in green turned around. Suddenly, his metal canes flew out. With a 'sou' sound, one knocked on her right leg. Then he said, "Are you going to keep babbling?" Based on Mu Wanqing's temperament, in the past if someone mistreated her like this, even if she knew she was not their match she wouldn't put up with this. But she saw that the man in green's martial arts were so very incredible, and faintly thought in her heart that perhaps he really could help her achieve her dream. She only replied, "Don't think I'm afraid of you! I'm just giving way to you for the time being."

The man in green said, "Let's go!" He did not pass into the forest but rather circled behind the gorge, taking a sloped path. He appeared to be very familiar with the layout of the area. Mu Wanqing wanted to ask him how, but was afraid that he would wave the stick and whack her again. She could only swallow back the question, just as it had almost exited her lips. She saw that as the road they took continued to twist and turn, it took them farther away from the gorge proper and deeper into the rear of the gorge. In the past, when she came to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to meet with her martial uncle Gan Baobao, she had stayed at the gorge for many days. But she had never come here before. She never would have imagined that the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge could have such a wild, desolate, hidden and remote place.

After traveling for several kilometers they arrived within a large wooded area. All around them were ancient trees that stretched far up in the sky. Although the sun was shining brightly, within the woodland it was as dark as dusk. The deeper they went, the more dense the forest growth, until it was necessary to turn their bodies sideways to squeeze through the trees. After walking for a few hundred more feet, she saw two enormous trees which had grown into each other, forming a large, interlinked wall that was impassable. The man in green extended his left cane and lightly waved it behind Mu Wanqing's back. Mu Wanqing's body suddenly rose high up in the air and floated onto the top of the tree wall. Mu Wanqing could only accept this, and she obediently made her way past the tree branches, jumping down on the other side of the tree wall.

A large, empty space appeared before her eyes, with a single lonely stone house in the middle. The appearance of that house was extremely strange. It looked as though it had been formed from boulders which weighed over a hundred thousand jin, much like a little mountain that had an entrance to a cave on its side. The man in green shouted, "Enter!" Mu Wanqing gazed towards the stone house. It was extremely dark inside. Who knew what type of monster might be in there? How could she dare to rashly enter? But she suddenly felt a palm press against her back. She quickly tried to dodge, but the man in green had already exerted his force, pushing her into the stone house.

Mu Wanqing used her left palm to protect her body, executing the stance "Dawn Wind Whisks the Willow" to protect her face. She was afraid that some sort of monster might attack from within the darkness. But all she heard was a rumbling sound as the entrance to the house was suddenly sealed by a heavy object. She was shocked. As she rushed to the entrance to push the object away, she felt that the material under her hand was rough and coarse. It was a gigantic boulder.

She exerted all her strength with her two arms, but couldn't budge the boulder at all. She tried even harder, but felt like 'a dragonfly trying to push a stone column'. How could she move it? She loudly shouted, "Hey! Why are you imprisoning me here?" Only to hear the man in green reply, "Have you already forgotten the matter which you begged me about?" His voice penetrated the huge boulder via some small cavities on the top of it, and was extremely clear. Mu Wanqing calmed herself down. She saw although the boulder was blocking the entrance, many small openings around it were exposed. Some were a third of a foot wide, others were perhaps one foot. But none of them would allow her to escape.

Mu Wanqing shouted loudly, "Let me out! Let me out!" Nothing came in response from outside. Pressing her eye against a crack, she peered outside. The man in green was in midair, flying over the distant tree wall as though he were a large green bird.

Turning around, she opened her eyes widely. She saw that the room had both a bed and a table, and that someone was sitting on the bed. She was startled, and called out, "You…you…"

That person stood up, then walked forward two steps. He called, "Sister Wan. You came as well?" His voice was filled with surprised joy. It was Duan Yu.

In the middle of her despair, Mu Wanqing suddenly saw her beloved darling. She was so happy that she rushed towards him, throwing herself into his embrace. Although the light in the stone house was faint, Duan Yu could see that her face was deathly pale, and that two teardrops had forced their way out of her eyes. He held her firmly in his arms. Her two cherry-red lips were quivering, and he couldn't resist lowering his head to give her a kiss.

But just as their lips met, they immediately both thought to themselves, "We're brother and sister. We definitely can't act like this!" Both their bodies shook, and they released each other's arms, each retreating a few steps. The two of them both backed into the stone walls, staring at each other with stricken eyes. "Wah!" Mu Wanqing suddenly began to cry.

In a soft voice, Duan Yu consoled her. "Sister Wan, this is our destiny as is willed by heaven. Don't feel so agonized. To have such a wonderful sister as you fills me with joy." Mu Wanqing repeatedly stomped on the floor. Crying, she said, "I insist on feeling agonized! I refuse to be joyful! If you're really so happy, then you have no conscience!" Duan Yu sighed. "What can be done? Perhaps it would be better if we had never met."

Mu Wanqing said, "It isn't as though I wanted to meet you. Who told you to come looking for me? Even if it weren't for you, I probably still wouldn't have been killed. You harmed my Black Rose and caused her to die. You harmed me and caused me to be unhappy for so long. You harmed me and caused my master to become my mother; you harmed me and caused your father to become my father; you harmed me and somehow caused yourself to become my elder brother! I don't want it. I don't want any of it! Now you've harmed me and caused me to be imprisoned in here. I want out. I want out!"

Duan Yu said, "Sister Wan, it's all my fault. Don't be angry. Let's slowly think of a way to escape." Mu Wanqing said, "I'm not escaping. Dying inside here, dying outside of here…it's all the same to me. I'm not leaving! I'm not leaving!" Just moments ago, she was loudly shouting, "I want out!" But within the blink of an eye, it had changed to, "I'm not leaving!" Duan Yu knew that her heart was greatly disturbed, and that for now, there would be no way to get through to her. He fell silent.

Mu Wanqing was throwing a fit, but saw that Duan Yu ignored her. She asked, "Why aren't you talking?" Duan Yu replied, "What do you want me to say?" Mu Wanqing said, "Tell me what you are doing here." Duan Yu said, "My apprentice kidnapped me…" My Wanqing asked, confused, "Your apprentice?..." Suddenly, she remembered that the Divine Crocodile had accepted Duan Yu as his master. She couldn't help but laugh through her tears. "You should act as a master would, and order him to release you." Duan Yu replied, "I ordered him to do so more than a few times, and put on the demeanor of very stern and imposing master. But he said that he would only release me if I bowed to him and accepted him as master as well." Mu Wanqing said, "Hah! Most likely, you didn't act the part out properly." Duan Yu said, "That's probably how it is. Sister Wan, who is it that caught you?"

Mu Wanqing briefly summarized her meeting with the man in green. But with regards to the matter of 'turning her brother into her husband', she left it out. Duan Yu, hearing that this person couldn't move his lips but could speak with his stomach, was crippled but could move as though he were flying, couldn't help but feel vastly amused. He couldn't help but repeatedly ask Mu Wanqing's questions, his tongue clicking incessantly.

The two of them chatted for a long time. Then suddenly, with a cracking sound, a bowl was passed into the room via a hole in the boulder. A voice said, "Eat!" Duan Yu reached out and took the bowl. He saw that inside it was a dish of fragrantly cooked 'red-roasted pork'. Next, the man passed in ten or so steamed buns. Duan Yu put both the dishes and the steamed buns on the table. In a low voice, he whispered, "Do you think there is any poison in the food?" Mu Wanqing replied, "If they wanted to kill us, it would be an easy task. No need for them to poison us."

Duan Yu thought that this made sense. He was also extremely hungry, and said, "Then let's eat!" Clamping some of the pork inside a steamed bun, he handed one to Mu Wanqing. Then he started to eat as well. The person outside said, "After eating, put the bowl outside. Someone will come to take it." After he finished speaking, he immediately left. Mu Wanqing peered past the boulder. She saw that person pull himself up past the tree wall, then descend on the other side. She thought to herself, "The person who delivered food has only an ordinary skill." Walking back to Duan Yu's side, she started to eat the pork and the steamed buns.

While eating, Duan Yu said, "Don't be worried. My father and uncle will definitely come to rescue us. Although the Divine Crocodile and Ye Erniang's martial arts might be high, they aren't necessarily a match for my father. And if my uncle himself comes? It will be like the wind scattering the leaves. They'll flee at the mere sight of his oncoming force." Mu Wanqing let out a 'hngh' sound. "He's just the Emperor of Dali. What's so special about his martial arts? I don't believe he can beat the man in the green robe. He'll probably just lead a few thousand armored cavalry and invade this place." Duan Yu repeatedly shook his head. "Not so, not so! The ancestor of the Duan lineage used to be a respected figure within the wulin of the Central Plains. Even though he became the Emperor of Dali, he wouldn't dare forget about the rules of the wulin. If he took advantage of his position to bully others, and achieved victory by superior force of numbers, wouldn't Dali's Duan dynasty be derided by all the heroes of the world?"

Mu Wanqing nodded. "I understand. Even after the people of your family became Emperors and princes, they were unwilling to throw away their standing as heroes of the jianghu." Duan Yu said, "My uncle and my father often tell me, this is the meaning of the saying, 'A person must not forget his origins'." Mu Wanqing made a contemptuous sound. "Pei! Their mouths are full of righteousness and morality, but they act in shameless and despicable ways. Since your father already had your mother, why would he come after my master as well?"

Startled, Duan Yu said, "Eh?! How can you insult my father? He's your father too, you know. Besides, of the princes and dukes in the world, how many of them don't had multiple wives? Even if they had eight or ten wives, it still wouldn't be a big deal."

Actually, during the Northern Song dynasty, the north was occupied by the Khitan, the center was occupied by the Great Song, the northwest was occupied by the Western Xia, the southwest ruled by Tibet, and the south by Dali. The princes and dukes of these five countries all had, in addition to a 'formal wife', a large number of concubines. At the very least, they would have three or four; some even had dozens. Even high ranking nobles or officials would have a few concubines. This is how it had been since ancient times, since the beginning of the imperial system. Most people had long since accepted it as a matter of course. [Translator's note: Jinyong and his bloody history lessons....]

Hearing his words, anger swelled in Mu Wanqing's heart. She dealt Duan Yu a heavy blow right on his cheeks. A loud cracking sound could be heard, loud, sharp and clear. This blow knocked him silly, causing the half-eaten steamed bun in his hand to fall to the ground. All he could say was, "You...you..."

Mu Wanqing angrily said, "I refuse to acknowledge him as my father! If a man takes on multiple wives, then he has no conscience. If a person has split desires and a split mind when it comes to love, then that person is faithless and heartless." Gently caressing his swollen cheeks, Duan Yu let out a bitter laugh. "I'm your elder brother. As my little sister, how can you be so disrespectful towards me?" The grief and anger in Mu Wanqing's heart was difficult to bear. Upon hearing these words, she struck at him again.

This time, Duan Yu was prepared. With a slip of the foot, he exercised his "Graceful Steps Upon the Waves" and dodged behind her. Mu Wanqing sent out a palm backwards, but Duan Yu avoided that one as well. Although the square room was only around ten feet in diameter, the "Graceful Steps Upon the Waves" truly was a wondrous skill. Mu Wanqing's palm attacks came faster and faster now, but she wasn't able to hit him again.

Mu Wanqing was all the more infuriated by this. Suddenly, she let out a loud cry of pain and pretended to fall down. Alarmed, Duan Yu asked, "What's wrong?" He bent over her, extending a hand to help her up. Mu Wanqing leaned gently against his body. She hooked her left arm around his neck, then suddenly tightened her grip. She laughed. "Can you still run away from me now?" She slapped him once again with her right hand, this time on his left cheeks. The ringing sound was extremely sharp and clear.

Duan Yu was hurt, but only let out a single cry. "Ow!" Suddenly, he felt a warm stream rapidly rise up from his dantian. His blood vessels began to rapidly expand, filling him with an irresistibly sensual sensation. He suddenly was aware that the girl whom he had embraced within his bosom was delicately panting. Waves of fragrant scents filled the air, throwing his mind into great turmoil. He placed a kiss on her lips. Upon being kissed, Mu Wanqing's entire body immediately went soft. Duan Yu, still holding her body in his arms, set her down on top of the bed, then undid one of his buttons. Mu Wanqing said in a low voice, "But you...you are my elder brother..."

Although Duan Yu's mind was in turmoil, this sentence struck him like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky. Stunned for a moment, he quickly released her and took three steps back. Attacking with both palms, he struck himself on his mouth four times. He cursed at himself. "I deserve to die. I deserve to die!"

Mu Wanqing saw that both of his eyes were bloodshot, and had a strange light in them. The flesh of his face was moving and churning, and his nostrils were dilating, then contracting. Frightened, she said, "Ah! Darling Duan, there was poison in the food! We have been deceived!" Duan Yu felt as though his entire body was boiling up, as though he had been placed within a steamer and was being thoroughly steamed. Upon hearing Mu Wanqing cry that the food was poisoned, he was actually relieved. "So it was poison which threw my mind into chaos and caused me to act in such a depraved way towards younger sister Wan. It isn't as though I was an insane creature who had never read the classical scriptures, acting in ways which imitate beasts."

But the heat coming from his body was truly hard to resist. Slowly, he removed one article of clothing after another, until he wore but a single shirt and trousers. He sat down on his knees. His eyes focused on his nose, and his nose pointed towards his heart. With a powerful effort, he restrained the capricious desires the drug was causing.

After consuming the Cinnabar Toad, he had become immune to all poisons. But the drug which had been put in the bowl of pork wasn't a poison which would actually harm a person's life. Rather, it was an aphrodisiac designed to generate lust. The desire for men and women to be together is inborn. This aphrodisiac only aroused the natural lusts which are innate to every person, intensifying them and making them difficult to control. The Cinnabar Toad's venom could, using the principle of 'fighting poison with poison', counteract thousands of toxin, but this aphrodisiac was not actually poisonous. Thus, the Cinnabar Toad could do nothing for Duan Yu.

Mu Wanqing was also feeling somewhat hot. After some time, it was more than she could bear, and she also removed her outer garments.

Duan Yu called out, "You can't take anything else off! Rest your back against the stone wall. It'll help cool you down."

Both of them leaned back against the stone walls. Although their backs were cool, every inch of their chest, stomach, limbs, face, and necks felt as though they were being rolling in fire. Duan Yu saw that Mu Wanqing's cheeks were a fiery red, and that she appeared unspeakably lovable and glamorous. Tears glimmered in her eyes, and it was obvious that she would like to do nothing better than to throw herself in his embrace. Duan Yu thought to himself, "At this moment, we need to be resolute in fighting off the effects of this drug. But our strength has limits. If we engaged in depraved, incestuous acts, we will have lost all face for the Duan family. Even a hundred deaths would not redeem such a heavy offense." He said, "Give me one of your poisoned quarrels."

Mu Wanqing asked, "For what?" Duan Yu said, "If...if I become unable to withstand the strength of this drug, I'll use the quarrel to stab myself to death, so I won't harm you." Mu Wanqing said, "I'm not giving it to you." Neither of them knew that the poison the quarrel could do nothing to Duan Yu. Duan Yu said, "You need to promise me something." Mu Wanqing said, "What?" Duan Yu said, "If I so much as extend my hand and touch your body, you must shoot your quarrels and kill me." Mu Wanqing said, "I refuse to promise you that." Duan Yu said, "I'm begging you. Promise me. The reputation of Dali's Duan dynasty, pure and clean for the past hundreds of years, cannot be ruined by my hand. Otherwise, how can I face my ancestors after death?"

Suddenly, a voice spoke from outside the stone room. "Dali's Duan dynasty used to be awe-inspiring in the past. But then the kingship passed into Duan Zhengming's hands. His mouth is filled with righteousness and moral platitudes, but he has the heart of a wolf and the innards of a dog. He's long since lost the Duan dynasty's pure reputation!"

Duan Yu angrily replied, "Who are you? You're full of s.hit!" Mu Wanqing said in a low voice, "He's the freak in the green gown." Only to hear the man in green say, "Miss Mu, I promised that I'd help you turn your brother into your husband. I've taken this task to heart, and I will definitely accomplish it." Mu Wanqing angrily said, "You're poisoned the food to harm us! What does this have to do with my request?"

The man in green replied, "In that bowl of red-cooked pork, I placed a large quantity of the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder. After being ingested, if yin and yang do not enter into a harmonious relationship, and the male and female do not become man and wife, then their flesh and skin will crack and split. They will bleed from their seven orifices, then die. The potency of this 'Conjoining Powder' grows with every day. On the eighth day, even if you were the Great Golden Immortal Luo [a Taoist deity] himself, you still wouldn't be able to hold it off."

Duan Yu angrily replied, "There are neither enmities nor grievances between the two of us. Why did you cook up such a poisonous plot to harm me? You are trying to force me to lose all face as a man, and cause my parents and my uncle to suffer shame for the rest of their entire life. I...I would rather die a hundred times than engage in such a shameless, depraved, incestuous act!" The man in green replied, "Although neither enmities nor grievances exist between us, the grievances between your uncle and I are as deep as the oceans of the four seas. Duan Zhengming, Duan Zhengchun. I can imagine nothing better than for those two kids to lose all face and suffer lifelong shame, and be unable to face others in the future. Wonderful. Wonderful! Heh heh, heh heh." His lips could not move, so the sound of laughter emanated from his larynx, sounding all the more hideous and strange.

Duan Yu was about to continue arguing, but, out of the corner of his eye, saw Mu Wanqing's beautiful face, which looked like the slumbering spring or a lovely cherry, and her slender body, which appeared as though it were a blooming hibiscus flower. His heart beat so frantically that even he was almost able to hear it. His brain was once more confused, and he thought to himself, "Little sister Wan and I originally had agreed to wed. If the two of us had not returned to Dali, who would have known that we were siblings? This is a karmic retribution born from the affairs of the heart of the previous generation. What does it have to do with the two of us?"

When his thought process arrived at this point, he shakily rose to his feet, only to see that Mu Wanqing, her hand supporting her against the wall, was also slowly rising to her feet. Suddenly, within his heart a sudden thought flashed by, striking upon it like a ray of sunlight on a flintstone. "Cannot! Cannot! Duan Yu, ah, Duan Yu! This is the critical moment, where your actions will determine if you am a man or a beast. If you make the wrong choice now, not only will you suffer a complete and utter fall from grace, but you will also destroy your uncle and your father as well."

He immediately cried out loudly, "Sister Wan! I am your elder brother, and you are my younger sister! You know that, right? Do you understand the Book of Changes?"

In the midst of her fuzzy-headedness, Mu Wanqing heard him ask such a strange question. "Huh? Book of Changes? I don't know what you're talking about." Duan Yu replied, "Alright, I'll teach you! The study of the Book of Changes is extremely difficult and abstruse. Listen carefully!" Mu Wanqing was confused. She asked, "What good is it going to do me?" Duan Yu replied, "After you learn it, it will benefit you greatly! Maybe the two of us can use it to escape from our current predicament."

He felt that his desires were driving him mad. At the critical juncture between being a man and a beast, a thousand things rested upon this one decision. If Mu Wanqing rushed over to him and tried to seduce him even but a little, his mental walls and willpower would surely crumble. The reason he wanted to teach her the Book of Changes was out of the hope that with one of them teaching, and the other learning, their attention would be focused somewhere else, and they wouldn't think about the affairs between males and females.

He said, "The basics of the Book of Changes rest in the Taiji, the Absolute Ultimate. From Taiji is born Liangyi [two mutually correlated opposites, aka Yin and Yang], and Liangyi gives birth to Sixiang [the four images]. In turn, the Sixiang gives birth to the Bagua [the eight divinatory Trigrams]. Do you know what the Bagua trigram looks like?" Mu Wanqing replied, "No, I don't. This is so annoying! My darling Duan, come over here. I have something I want to tell you."

Duan Yu said, "I'm your brother. Don't call me 'darling Duan'. Call me 'elder brother'. I'll tell you the secret mantra of the Bagua diagram. Concentrate and do your best to remember it. 'Qian' is three links, 'Kun' is six pieces, 'Zhen' stares at the cup, 'Gen' overflows the bowl. Within 'Li' is emptiness, within 'Kan' is fullness. Above 'Dui' is deficiency, below 'Xun' is absoluteness [the eight trigrams of the Bagua are 'Qian', 'Kun', 'Zhen', ''Gen', 'Li', 'Kan', 'Kuang', and 'Gen']."

Mu Wanqing repeated it after him once, then asked, "What's this 'cup' and 'water' and food bowl stuff all about? What are you talking about?" Duan Yu replied, "This is the shape of the Bagua diagram. You must understand the hidden meaning of the Bagua. All living things in the world, bar none, are encompassed by it. Let's use a family as an example. 'Qian' is the father, 'Kun' is the mother, 'Zhen' is the eldest son, 'Xun' is the eldest daughter. We're siblings, so I would be the 'Zhen' trigram, and you would be the 'Xun' trigram...."

Mu Wanqing lazily said, "No. You are the 'Qian' trigram, and I am the 'Kun' trigram. We'll become husband and wife. Only in the future, when we have children, will the 'Zhen' trigram and the 'Xun' trigram appear." Duan Yu, hearing her speak so sluggishly yet flirtatiously, couldn't help but be moved. He quickly said, "Don't think crazy thoughts! Keep listening to me speak." Mu Wanqing replied, "If you...if you come sit next to me, I'll listen to you speak."

Only to hear the man in green say from outside the room, "Excellent. Excellent! After the two of you become husband and wife and give birth to sons and daughters, I will release you two. Not only will I not kill you, but I will teach you two all the martial arts I possess, and set you two to rampage across all the land under heaven."

Duan Yu angrily replied, "At the last hour, the two of us will kill ourselves by smashing our heads against the stone walls. The scions of Dali's Duan dynasty would rather die than be disgraced! You want to revenge yourself upon my body? Forget it!"

The man in green replied, "You dying is fine. You living is fine. I don't care. If you two choose the path of death instead, I will strip your bodies naked, removing every stitch of clothing. I'll write on your bodies that you two are the nephew and niece of Dali's Duan Zhengming, and Duan Zhengchun's children. I will write that while you two secretly had conjugal relations with each other, you were discovered by others, and that in your shame and anger, you committed suicide. I will preserve your bodies with salt, then hang your bodies up above Dali's main gate for three days. Then I will go to the city of Kaifeng, Luoyang, Lin'an, and Guangzhou and publicly expose your bodies there as well."

Duan Yu was absolutely livid. He loudly roared, "How exactly did my Duan family offend you, for you to retaliate in such a malicious way against us?"

The man in green replied, "Why should I discuss my own affairs with a little kid like you?"

After saying this, he fell silent. Duan Yu realized that every time he spoke with Mu Wanqing, he increased the danger of their situation by another degree. Turning, he sat facing the wall, and began to deeply ponder the secrets behind the 'Graceful Steps on the Waves'."

After pondering the dazzlingly complicated footwork for a long time, he suddenly thought to himself, "The dear Goddess in the stone cavern is ten times more beautiful than sister Wan. If I must marry, only by marrying that dear Goddess will I have not married in vain." In a dazed state, he turned his head, then saw Mu Wanqing's beautiful face slowly turn into that of the stone cavern's jade statue. Duan Yu shouted loudly, "Dearest Goddess! I'm suffering so miserably right now. Please come rescue me!" He knelt down on the spot and embraced Mu Wanqing's calf.

At this moment, a voice came from outside. "Time to eat!" A lit red candle was tossed in. The person laughed. "Quick, catch! It is your first night of spring-like lust in the marital chambers. How can there not be a flower-scented candle?" Startled, Duan Yu rose to his feet. By the glow of the candle, he saw Mu Wanqing's eyelashes ripple, beautiful beyond description. With a single breath he blew the candle out. He shouted back, "There's poison in the food. Take it away! We're not eating!"

That person replied, "You were poisoned long ago, and consumed a sufficiently large dose. There's no need to add more." Then he sent in the rice and the dishes.

Duan Yu accepted the food, placing it on the table. He thought to himself, "After a person dies, all comes to an end. With regards to issues that come up after his death, how can he possibly be concerned?" Then he had a second thought. "Father, mother, and my uncle have loved me so dearly. How can I allow the Duan family to be laughed at by the world?" Suddenly, he heard Mu Wanqing gently say, "My darling Duan, I am going to commit suicide with my poisoned quarrels, so I won't end up harming you." Duan Yu shouted, "Wait! Even after the two of us, brother and sister, die, this evil man will not be done with us. This man is vicious and dangerous. Compared to the baby-murdering Ye Erniang or the heart-ripping Divine Crocodile, he's even more evil! Who can this man possibly be?"

Only to hear that man in a green gown say in a low voice, "Kid, you have some experience after all. This old man is the chief of the Four Great Evils. I am known as 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity!'"

Chapter - 8 Hiss of the Tiger, Moan of the Dragon

Within the warm pavilion of the South-Subduing Palace, the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment Gao Shengtai, returned and reported that Zhong Wanchou, his wife, and Qin Hongmian had departed the palace grounds. The South-Subduing Princess Dao Baifeng, concerned about her son, said, "Emperor, do you know the location of the so-called Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge?" Duan Zhengming, also known as the Emperor Baoding, replied, "Today isn't the first time that I've heard of this place. But up until now, it has had no interactions with Dali".

Dao Baifeng worriedly said, "From what Zhong Wanchou said, it seems this place is very remote and hidden. I'm worried we might not be able to find it. If Yu'er remains in enemy hands for too long..." Emperor Baoding let out a small smile. "Yu'er has been sheltered all his life. He doesn't understand how dangerous and sinister the world can be. For him to undergo some hardships and gain some endurance and experience may not necessarily be an altogether bad thing." Dao Baifeng's mind was filled with anxiety, but she did not dare rebut him.

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, "Little brother Chun, could I trouble you to have some wine and dishes brought out?" Duan Zhengchun said, "Yes!" He sent the orders, and in a short amount of time an entire banquet was prepared with all sorts of exotic delicacies. Emperor Baoding ordered everyone present to partake of the banquet, feasting and drinking.

Dali was a small, rustic nation of the south where hundreds of minorities lived. The Han people were not necessarily in the majority. The South-Subduing Princess, Dao Baifeng, was herself of the Baiyi tribe. The people of the country accepted the teachings of the central plains as profound, but even the daily rituals of the imperial court were much more casual and simpler than that of the far away Song dynasty. In addition, Emperor Baoding had a very compassionate, gentle character. Aside from when he was visiting monasteries or temples, he never liked to stand on ceremony. Thus Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai sat next to him at the head of the table and kept him company.

While eating and drinking, Emperor Baoding refused to bring up the previous matter. Dao Baifeng's eyebrows were tightly knit with worry. To her, the food had no taste at all. At dawnbreak, the guards outside said, "Minister Ba has come to pay his respects to the Emperor." Duan Zhengming said, "Enter!" The curtain screen was parted, and a short, skinny black man entered. He knelt before Emperor Baoding and said, "Reporting to your majesty, to arrive at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, one must first pass the 'Benevolent Man's Crossing', then go through the 'Iron Rope Bridge'. To enter the gorge itself, one needs to pass through a hole in a gigantic tree."

Dao Baifeng clapped her hands and laughed. "If I had known that Minister Ba had been sent out, why would I possibly have worried about being unable to locate the enemy's lair? I wouldn't have had to be worried for so long either!" That black man bowed slightly and said, "Princess, you flatter me. Ba Tianshi is embarassed and not deserving of such praise."

Although the skinny black man, Ba Tianshi, had a rustic appearance, he was an extremely intelligent and capable person. He had gained great merit from accomplishing many tasks for Emperor Baoding. Presently, his position was that of the 'Sikong', Minister of Soil and Water. The three ministerial positions of 'Situ', Minister of Education, 'Sima', Minister of War, and 'Sikong', Minister of Soil and Water, were the foremost positions in the imperial court, of exceeding glory and honor. Ba Tianshi's martial arts were absolutely outstanding, and he was an expert in qinggong. This time, he had been sent out by Emperor Baoding's decree to locate and investigate the enemy's base of operations. He secretly followed behind Zhong Wanchou's party and actually managed to find the location of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge.

Emperor Baoding smiled a little. "Tianshi, sit down and eat your fill. Then we'll go together." Ba Tianshi knew that the Emperor hated when others acted too worshipfully or formally towards him, and that he loved and addressed his subjects and his officials as though they were his brothers or friends. If he acted too formally or respectfully towards the Emperor, he might actually cause the Emperor to be angry with him. He immediately assented.

Lifting up his rice bowl, he began to eat. He didn't touch a single drop of wine, but the quantity of food he ate was astonishing. In a twinkling of an eye he consumed eight large bowlfuls of food. Duan Zhengchun, Gao Shengtai, and himself had known each other for a long time, and so the other two weren't surprised at all. After Ba Tianshi had finished eating, he stood up and wiped away the grease from his lips. "Your vassal, Ba Tianshi, will lead the way."
 

He left, taking the position of vanguard. Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai followed behind him. After leaving the South-Subduing Palace, they found the Four Imperial Guards, Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu standing outside the door, waiting for them with horses already prepared. Dozens of swordsmen who had sworn to follow Emperor Baoding were there as well.

Before founding their country, the Duan family was originally part of the wulin of the central plain's. In the past hundreds of years, their descendants had never lost the customs and manners of their ancestors. Although the two brothers Duan Zhengmin and Duan Zhengchun had boundless riches, they often strolled about incognito in plain clothes. If any members of the wulin community came to visit or to carry out a vendetta against them, they always treated the visitors according to the rules of the wulin, never putting on imperial airs.
 

Thus, everyone present was long since used to the sight of Emperor Baoding was personally leading an expedition, and weren't startled. From Emperor Baoding on down, everyone changed into ordinary clothes. They no longer appeared like gentry, dressed in fine red silks, but rather just a group of ordinary people roaming about.

Dao Baifeng saw that out of the people whom Ba Tianshi had selected, twenty or so of them were carrying large hatchets and long saws. Laughing, she asked, "Minister Ba, are we disguising ourselves as carpenters on our way to building a large house?" Ba Tianshi replied, "We're sawing down trees and tearing apart houses!"

The party were riding on fine stallions, and thus moved like the wind. They arrived at the forest outside the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge before noon. Ba Tianshi ordered his men to chop down the obstructing trees one at a time. Arriving at the mouth of the gorge, Emperor Baoding pointed at the large tree upon which was painted the words, "Any person surnamed Duan who enters this gorge shall be mercilessly killed." He laughed. "What a great enmity the master of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge has with our family!"

But Duan Zhengchun knew that Zhong Wanchou was afraid that he would enter the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge to seek out Gan Baobao. He glanced at his wife out of the corner of his eye, and saw that she only smiled coldly.

Four men carrying large hatchets rushed over to that large tree. In a short period of time, that large tree, with a trunk so wide that many people would be needed to wrap their arms around it, was felled.

Ba Tianshi ordered everyone present to wait with their horses at the mouth of the gorge.

The Four Imperial Guards, Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu led the way. Behind them was Ba Tianshi and Gao Shengtai. Following them was the South-Subduing Prince and Princess. Last of all was Emperor Baoding. Upon entering the gorge, they noticed that everything was quiet and still. No one came to greet them. According to the rules of the jianghu, Ba Tianshi, holding the name placards of the two brothers Duan Zhengming and Duan Zhengchun, strode boldly forth and made his way to the front of the main house. In a clear voice, he said, "The two brothers of Dali's Duan dynasy have come to pay a visit to the gorge-master Zhong!"

Just as the sound of his voice was dying away, a long shadow suddenly appeared from the trees to the left. It rushed towards Ba Tianshi with rapid speed, extending his hand and snatching at the two name placards in Ba Tianshi's hands. Ba Tianshi retreated three steps to the right and shouted, "Who are you, honored sir?" It was none other than 'Thoroughly Cruel and Evil', Yun Zhonghe! His first snatching attempt having missed, he sped up even more, once more pouncing towards Ba Tianshi.

Ba Tianshi saw that his qinggong was exceptionally formidable and wanted to compete with him a bit. He immediately rushed forward three more steps, and Yun Zhonghe pursued for three steps. With a kick of his feet, Ba Tianshi begin to run quickly, with Yun Zhonghe chasing directly after him. A short man, pursued by a tall man. In the blink of an eye, they had circled the room three times. Yun Zhonghe's stride was unnaturally long, but Ba Tianshi kept jumping and leaping about. The rise and fall of his footsteps were much quicker than that of Yun Zhonghe. Throughout the race, a distance of a few meters was maintained between the two. Yun Zhonghe knew that he would not be able to catch up, but Ba Tianshi, in turn, knew he wouldn't be able to shake him off. Both of them had long fancied themselves as having the best qinggong in the world. At this moment, upon meeting such a formidable opponent, both of them were secretly startled. Their movements became faster and faster. The lapels of their clothes fluttered in the wind, releasing a series of 'hu' sounds. Although there were only two people chasing after each other, from an outsider's perspective, it looked as though five or six people were running around in a circle. As the contest continued and as the distance between their two bodies grew slightly, it turned into a circular race around the room. No one could tell if Yun Zhonghe was chasing Ba Tianshi, or if Ba Tianshi was chasing Yun Zhonghe. If Ba Tianshi managed to catch up to Yun Zhonghe, then he naturally would have won this qinggong competition. But with a burst of strength, Yun Zhonghe once more increased the distance between himself and Ba Tianshi.

But suddenly, the main door opened with a cracking sound, and Zhong Wanchou walked out. Ba Tianshi did not stop. Secretly generating his internal energy, he shot out with his left hand. The name placards smoothly flew towards Zhong Wanchou.

Extending his hand, Zhong Wanchou received the placards. He roared, "You! The one surnamed Duan! Since you have come to visit me in accordance with the rules of the jianghu, why did you destroy the trees that served as my gate?"

Chu Wanli called back, "How could a person of the Emperor's stature lower himself to tunnel his way through the hole in that tree?"

Dao Baifeng was worried for her beloved son the entire time. She couldn't help but call out, "Where's my son? Have you hidden him here?" Suddenly, a sharp female voice came out from the room. "You came a bit late. We've already ripped apart the stomach and torn the chest of that kid surnamed Duan, and fed his body to the dogs!" This woman gripped a blade in each hand. The blades were as thin as a willow leaf and gleamed with a blue light. It was the deadly Asura Sabres, which would quickly take the life of any person whose blood it tasted!

Eighteen years ago, these two women hated and were jealous of each other, laying down a deep enmity and a strong feud. Dao Baifeng knew that Qin Hongmian was lying, but upon hearing her claim that her beloved only son had died in such a miserable fashion, felt the flames of her old hatred rise and stir anew. She coldly replied, "My question was directed towards gorge-master Zhong. No one will speak with such a cheap s.lut as yourself, to avoid lowering their own dignity!"

Suddenly, with two 'dang' sounds, Qin Hongmian struck out with her twin sabres, her attack coming as fast as the wind. This attack, the 'Character Ten Chop' [the Chinese character for 'ten' is a cross, so this would be a cross chop], was her finest skill with which she had become famous in former days. No one knows how many heroes had died under this venomous stance of her Asura sabres. Dao Baifeng pulled out her flywhisk and hurriedly moved backwards, spinning around as she did so and sending the tail of her flywhick towards Qin Hongmian's heart.

Duan Zhengchun felt extremely awkward and conflicted. One was his current beloved wife; the other was his former sweetheart. His love towards Dao Baifeng was truly deep and profound, but was also unable to forget what he and Qin Hongmian had once shared. He knew that if the two women started fighting, they would be using vicious, life-taking techniques. No matter who was harmed, he would have hated the outcome. He called out, "Stay your hand!" Slanting his body, he quickly moved closer, pulling out his sword and trying to separate the two women.

As soon as Zhong Wanchou saw Duan Zhengchun, his belly had filled with anger. With a clattering sound, he pulled out his large ringed sabre and chopped towards him. Chu Wanli called out, "Prince, no need to personally deal with this. I'll take care of him!" Striking out with his iron staff, he attacked Zhong Wanchou's neck. His previous iron staff had been broken in two by Ye Erniang, so he had ordered a new one be forged.

Zhong Wanchou cursed at him. "I always knew that the one surnamed Duan only knew how to rely on winning via superior numbers!" Duan Zhengchun laughed. "Wanli, stand down. I was just about to test out gorge-master Zhong's martial arts!" His long sword struck out, deflecting Chu Wanli's iron staff. At the same time, he dragged his sword down the back of Zhong Wanchou's large-ringed sabre, nicking his fingers. In one stroke, he 'deflected,' 'dragged down', and 'nicked', not revealing even half of a flaw or opening. Zhong Wanchou was startled. "What a formidable sword skill this thief surnamed Duan has!" He immediately clamped down his anger. In front of such a powerful opponent, he dared not be careless or reckless.

Duan Zhengchun's straight sword continued to attack. Zhong Wanchou saw that the power in his attack was lively and powerful, difficult for him to block. He leapt three steps backwards. Duan Zhengchun had only wanted him to stop intervening, and with him gone, moved sideways to stand next to Dao Baifeng and Qin Hongmian. Qin Hongmian's sabre techniques were becoming slightly disorganized, and Dao Baifeng kept advancing and pressing onwards. With a series of 'chi' sounds, Qin Hongmian suddenly shot out three poisoned quarrels. Her quarrels were identical to those shot out by Mu Wanqing, but her skill in shooting them out was much higher.

These quarrels were aimed to three parts of Dao Baifeng's body; the left, the right, and the center. This was an extremely difficult attack to dodge. Dao Baifeng leapt into the air and all three quarrels passed by underneath her feet. But just as her body was in mid-air, three more quarrels were shot out. The first was aimed at her abdomen. The second was aimed between her two legs. The third was aimed at her foot. At the moment, Dao Baifeng was unable to ascend any higher, and as her body descended, these three quarrels were perfectly positioned to strike at her head, chest, and stomach. This attack was vicious to the extreme.

Fear filled Dao Baifeng's heart and she attacked hurriedly with her flywhisk, managing to deflect the first poisoned quarrel. Her body was descending rapidly, and it seemed as though the second and third quarrels, aimed at her chest and stomach, would be impossible for her to dodge or deflect. Suddenly, a white light flashed, and the hilt of a long sword flashed by her face, chopping these two poisoned quarrels into four pieces. At the same time, someone placed his own body protectively in front of hers. It was Duan Zhengchun who had rushed over and saved her life. If he had been even slightly slower and been unable to chop the quarrels in half, then they would have struck his own body instead.

Upon seeing those, both Dao Baifeng and Qin Hongmian were so terrified that their faces turned pale, and their hearts thumped frantically. Dao Baifeng called out, "I don't want your help!" She sidestepped past her husband, striking towards Qin Hongmian with her flywhisk. She despised the venomous, cruel techniques which Qin Hongmian employed, and her flywhisk attacked with extreme speed. It swept towards Qin Hongmian, preventing her from using those poisoned quarrels again. Moments ago, Qin Hongmian had almost hit Duan Zhengchun with those poisoned quarrels and saw him protect his wife's body without a care for his own life, showing extreme bias in this fight. In her heart, panic had intermingled with bitter misery, and for the moment she was unable to block the attack of the flywhisk.

Dao Baifeng's flywhisk technique, "Phoenix Alights on the Parasol Tree", descended towards the crown of her head. Qin Hongmian hurriedly dodged to the right, just as Dao Baifeng struck out with her left palm in that direction. It seemed as though she was about to be struck right on the pit of her stomach and suffer a severe enough injury that she would vomit blood. The palm was only inches away from her abdomen, but suddenly a male palm appeared and blocked, diverting Dao Baifeng's palm. It was Duan Zhengchun who had saved her. He said, "Dearest phoenix, don't be so fierce against her."

Qin Hongmian was startled, then angrily replied, "What's with the 'dearest phoenix', 'beloved peacock' crap? You're so affectionate towards her!" Her left sabre chopped towards Duan Zhengchun's neck. Dao Baifeng was also furious at her husband rescuing his former mistress. She withdrew her attacking flywhisk, redirecting it and sending it sweeping towards Duan Zhengchun's face.

The two women struck at the same time, and saw each other's attack at the same time as well. They simultaneously cried out, "Oh no!" Both of them wanted to protect their lover. Dao Baifeng's flywhisk changed direction once again to block the Asura sabre; Qin Hongmian, on the other hand, sent out a flying kick towards Dao Baifeng, wanting to force her to retract the flywhisk.

Duan Zhengchun slanted his body to dodge, but with a 'peng' sound, Qin Hongmian's kick landed on his buttocks. Dao Baifeng angrily said, "Why are you kicking my husband?" Qin Hongmian said, "My darling Duan, I didn't do that on purpose! You...are you hurt?" Duan Zhengchun decided to put on an act, and loudly cried, "Ouch! Ouch!! You kicked me to death!" He squatted down.

Zhong Wanchou, seeing the situation, thought to seize the advantage and raised his sabre to hack at Duan Zhengchun. Dao Baifeng called out, "Stay your hand!" Qin Hongmian cried out, "Hit him!" The flywhisk and the Asura sabres struck out at Zhong Wanchou simultaneously, forcing him to retract his strike to defend against them. He loudly shouted out, "The stinking thief surnamed Duan! You useless pretty boy, you're relying on women to save your life! What type of hero are you?" Duan Zhengchun burst out into loud laughter. He suddenly leapt up, and with three 'shua' sounds, sent out three sword attacks that forced Zhong Wanchou to stumble and stagger backwards.

Qin Hongmian was startled, then angrily called out, "You aren't injured at all! You were faking it!" Dao Baifeng was also angry. "This bastard excels at scamming others. How could you have believed him?" Qin Hongmian cried out, "Beware my sabres!" Dao Baifeng also cried out, "Hit him!" The two women joined together to attack Duan Zhengchun.

Emperor Baoding, seeing his brother getting entangled in the dispute with the two women, turned his head away and laughed secretly. He said to Chu Wanli, "Go inside and check the place out." Chu Wanli replied, "Yes sir!"

The Four Imperial Guardians Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu rushed into the room. Right as Gu Ducheng's left foot crossed over the threshold, he felt a cold wind rush towards the crown of his skull. Before his left foot had touched the floor, his right foot had already leapt backwards. He saw an extremely thin but broad sabre slice downwards in front of his face. The distance between him and the blade was but a few inches. If he had been but a moment slower to dodge, even if he had lucked out and his head wasn't split in twain, his nose would have been sliced off at the very least. Cold sweat trickled down his back. He saw that the hidden figure was a middle aged woman with elegant features. It was 'No Evil Left Undone', Ye Erniang. Her thin sabre was rectangular in shape. In all four directions, the blade was surpassingly sharp. Holding on to the short sabre-handle, she brandished it about, forming a circular halo about her.

Gu Ducheng was extremely startled at first. After calming himself, he let out a loud cry, then with a wave of his broad axe, chopped towards her thin blade. Ye Erniang's thin sabre continually spun around, not daring to directly meet such a heavy weapon as an axe. Gu Ducheng executed the seventy two strokes of his "Chaotic Whirlwind Hatchet" technique, his twin axes chopping upwards and downwards towards her. Ye Erniang was possessed of a weird temperament, and alternated between gently cooing towards Gu Ducheng and speaking boldly towards him. Zhu Dancheng, seeing how leisurely she fought and how strange her sabre techniques were, conjectured that if the battle went on for too long, Gu Ducheng wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. Immediately, he struck out with his twin judge's pens in a pincer attack towards her.

At this time, Ba Tianshi and Yun Zhonghe were still happily running around in circles. Their qinggong abilities were on par, and it would take a long time before victory or defeat could be determined. At this time, what they were really competing in was the relative superiority of their internal energy. After having ran over a hundred circles, Ba Tianshi knew that although Yun Zhonghe's skill in his lower legs was abundant and graceful, he was unable to center himself perfectly. In this respect, Yun Zhonghe was inferior to his own movements, with its elegant and perfectly executed leaps and bounds which had no left-over energy. All he had to do was to come to a sudden halt and strike with three palms, and Yun Zhonghe surely would not be able to take it. But Ba Tianshi was determined to defeat Yun Zhonghe solely through superior qinggong, and not through superior fighting ability. Thus, he continued to run with all his might.

Suddenly, a coarse voice let fly a stream of curses. "Goddamnit, you guys are kicking up such a racket that your old man here can't even sleep. What type of rabbit whelp has come?" The Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas suddenly appeared, Crocodile Maw Scissors in hand, as he leapt closer and closer.

Fu Sigui called out, "Your master's father has come!" The Divine Crocodile yelled back, "What are you talking about, 'my master's father'?" Fu Sigui pointed towards Duan Zhengchun. "The South-Subduing Prince is the father of young lord Duan. Young lord Duan is your master. Are you trying to deny it?" Although the Divine Crocodile had done many vile things, he had one good quality. He never reneged on anything he said or agreed to. Upon hearing these words, he was so angry that his face turned bright yellow, but couldn't deny them. He angrily replied, "What ****ing business is it of yours, you son of a turtle, with regards to what goes on between me and my master?" Fu Sigui laughed. "I'm not your son. Why are you calling me the son of a turtle?"

The Divine Crocodile was confused. Only after a long moment had passed did he realize that the other person had insulted him and called him a turtle in a roundabout way. After coming to this realization, with a series of loud 'wa' cries, he repeatedly opened then chomped closed the two sides of his Crocodile Maw Scissors, then attacked Fu Sigui. He was a dim-witted person, but truly capable in martial arts. The Crocodile Maw Scissors were filled with a forest of white 'teeth', similar to the sharp needles on top of a wolf's fang cudgel. Fu Sigui received three of his attacks using his copper truncheon, and already felt his two arms turn sore. Chu Wanli waved his long pole, flourishing the soft steel-wire whip attached to the top of the pole and attacking the face of the Divine Crocodile. The Divine Crocodile drew his Crocodile's Tail Whip and blocked the attack.

Watching the battle scene, Emperor Baoding felt that none of his people were in any real danger. He said to Gao Shengtai, "Stay here and watch over things."

Gao Shengtai replied, "Yes sir!" He stepped aside.

Emperor Baoding entered the room and called out, "Yu'er! Are you here?" But no one responded. He opened the door to a side-room and called out again. "Yu'er! Yu'er!" Only to see a fifteen or sixteen year old girl come out from behind the door and ask, "You...who are you?" Emperor Baoding replied, "Where is Duan Yu?" The girl replied, "Why are you looking for him?" Emperor Baoding replied, "I'm going to rescue him."

The girl shook her head. "You won't be able to rescue him. He's been locked inside a stone house, and sealed in with a large boulder. Someone is guarding him too." Emperor Baoding replied, "Take me to him. I'll knock down the guard and push aside the boulder. Then I'll rescue him." The girl shook her head again. "I can't! If I took you there, my daddy will kill me." Emperor Baoding asked, "Who is your father?" The girl replied, "My surname is Zhong. My daddy is the master of this gorge." The girl was Zhong Ling, who had escaped from Mt. Wuliang.

Emperor Baoding nodded. He thought that for such a little girl, using words to threaten her or martial arts to force her to reveal the secret would be degrading to his stature and position. Since Duan Yu was definitely in the gorge, it wouldn't be too hard to locate him. He immediately exited the room, intending to find someone else to take him to Duan Yu.

Inside the stone room, upon hearing that the freak in green was actually the most vile man in the world, he who was known as 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity', Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing were terrified. In their shared fright, they rushed over and embraced each other. Duan Yu said in a low voice, "So we fell into the hands of 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity', the most evil man in the entire world. This is really, really bad." With a 'wu' sound, Mu Wanqing rested her head against his chest. Duan Yu gently stroked her hair. He consoled her, "Don't be afraid."

Both of their clothes were moist with sweat, as though they had just climbed out of a pool of water. Their bodies were burning hot, as though filled with steam. Smelling each other's breath, they were even more attracted towards each other. One was a healthy and vigorous male youth; the other was a young woman filled with deep love. Even if they hadn't been excited by the aphrodisiac, it would be difficult for them to control themselves. Much less now, having eaten the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining Powder', which had an abnormally powerful effect and possessed a despotic might. It was enough to turn an honorable scholar into a lewd lowlife, a chaste woman into a prostitute. It bewildered minds, turning even virtuous sages into beasts. At this moment, everything depended on one thing remaining bright in Duan Yu's mind; the pure and honorable reputation of the Duan dynasty. Only this allowed him to restrain himself.

The man in green was extremely pleased. His strange voice laughed. "You two, brother and sister! Hurry up and become husband and wife. The sooner you two have a baby, the sooner you will escape your imprisonment. I'm leaving!" After speaking, he leapt over the tree wall.

Duan Yu yelled loudly, "Yue Number Three! Yue Number Three! Your master is in trouble! Hurry up and help out!" He called out for a long time, but how could there be any response?

Duan Yu thought to himself, "We're in such a critical state. I can't even accept him as my master now, even if I wanted to. If I had made a wrong choice and accepted an evil man as my master, that would only be my personal business. I wouldn't have implicated my uncle and my father in this." Following this train of thought, he loudly shouted, "Divine Crocodile of the Southern Seas! I'm willing to accept you as my master now! I'm willing to be the heir of the Southern Seas sect! Quick, come and rescue your apprentice! If I die, you won't have a student anymore!"

He wildly shouted and cried out for a time, but never heard the Divine Crocodile's voice. He suddenly thought to himself, "Oh no! Not good! The one person whom the Divine Crocodile fears the most is his superior, the most evil person in the world, 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity'. Even if he heard me shouting, he wouldn't dare to come rescue us." His heart was filled with pure bitterness.

Mu Wanqing softly said, "My darling Duan, after we become husband and wife, do you want for our first baby to be a boy or a girl?" Duan Yu replied, in a dazed voice, "A boy!"

Suddenly, the sound of a female voice drifted in from outside the stone house. "Mr. Duan, you're her big brother! You definitely can't marry her!" Duan Yu was startled. "You...are you Miss Zhong?" That girl was indeed Zhong Ling. "Yes, it's me! I eavesdropped on what that evil man in green said. I'll definitely find a way to rescue you and Miss Mu!" Duan Yu was ecstatic. "That's great! Quick, find and steal the antidote to the poison for me!" Mu Wanqing angrily shouted, "Zhong Ling! You little devil, scram! Who wants you to save us?" Zhong Ling said, "It'd be best if I first thought of some way to push this boulder away and rescued you two." Duan Yu replied, "No, no! You go find the antidote. I...I can't hold on much longer. I'm...I'm about to die." Frightened, Zhong Ling cried, "What's wrong? What do you mean, you can't hold on much longer? Does your tummy hurt?" Duan Yu replied, "It isn't my stomach that hurts." Zhong Ling asked again, "Is it your head that hurts?" Duan Yu replied, "That isn't it either." Zhong Ling asked, "So where exactly do you feel uncomfortable?!"

Duan Yu was filled with uncontrollable lust. How could he possibly explain this to the little girl? He only replied, "My entire body is uncomfortable. Just think of a way to steal the antidote for me." Zhong Ling wrinkled her forehead. "If you can't tell me the symptoms, I won't be able to find the antidote for you. My father has lots of antidotes, but I need to know if it is your stomach that hurts, your head that hurts, or your heart that hurts." Duan Yu let out a sigh. "I'm not hurting, precisely. I just...I was poisoned by something called the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder." Zhong Ling clapped her hands. "Since you know the name of the poison, it'll be no problem at all. Big brother Duan, I'll go and get the antidote from my daddy right now!"

She hurriedly climbed over the tree wall, intending to go find her parents and convince them into giving her the antidote for the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder. The 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder actually belonged to the man in the green, but as soon as Zhong Wanchou heard the name of it, he knew what type of thing it had to be. His horse-like face stretching in disapproval, he said, "Little girl, why are you asking about such inappropriate things? If you keep on talking such rubbish, I'll grab you by the ear and give you a spanking." Zhong Ling hurriedly replied, "I'm not talking rubbish."

Just then, Emperor Baoding and the rest of the party had entered the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. Zhong Wanchou had hurriedly rushed out to confront the enemies, leaving Zhong Ling by herself in the room. She heard the sounds of a ferocious fight brewing outside, with weapons clashing, but ignored them. She focused her energies on rummaging through her father's secret medicine cabinet. Zhong Wanchou had over a hundred medicine bottles with the names of the medicine written on them, but none of them were the antidote for the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder. She had no idea what to do. Suddenly, she heard someone entering the house. Exiting the room to see who it was, she had run into Emperor Baoding.

Emperor Baoding looked for someone to lead him to Duan Yu, but couldn't find anyone at all. Suddenly, he heard someone running towards him from behind. Turning his head, he saw Zhong Ling rushing towards him. He immediately stopped and waited for her. Zhong Ling ran towards him and said, "I couldn't find the antidote! I guess it'll be best to take you there. I wonder if you can push the boulder aside." Emperor Baoding was baffled. "Antidote? Boulder?" Zhong Ling said, "Just follow me. As soon as you see everything, you'll understand."

Although the pathways within the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge were complex and winding, with Zhong Ling leading the way, Emperor Baoding arrived at the tree wall in a matter of moments. Emperor Baoding grasped Zhong Ling's arm. His body did not jump or flex, but suddenly levitated into the sky, smoothly and steadily flying past the tree wall. Zhong Ling clapped her hands excitedly. "Wonderful, wonderful! You fly so wonderfully! Wait! Oh no!"

Someone was in front of the stone house. It was the man in green!

Zhong Ling was absolutely terrified of this half-dead, half-living person. She whispered, "Hurry, let's leave. We'll come back after this person has left." Upon seeing this freak, Emperor Baoding was also extremely astonished. He comforted Zhong Ling. "With me here, you don't need to be afraid. Duan Yu is inside this stone house, right?" Hiding behind him, Zhong Ling nodded.

Emperor Baoding casually strolled forward. "Honored sir, please step aside." But the man in green seemed to have neither heard nor saw him, sitting there unmoving.

Emperor Baoding said, "Honored sir, if you refuse to move, then please do not blame me for offending you!" Leaning sideways, he flashed past the man in green from the left. Slanting his right palm, he pressed it against the side of the boulder. Just as he was about to exert his energy to push it aside, he saw the man in green take out a thin steel cane and point it at his 'Quepen' acupoint. When the steel cane reached within a foot of his body, it came to a halt, then began to quiver. If Emperor Baoding exerted any energy on the boulder, the steel cane would immediately attack, and he would be unable to dodge it at all.

Emperor Baoding's heart was filled with cold fear. He thought to himself, "This man's acupoint sealing technique is extremely brilliant. Who can he be?" His right palm fluttered slightly, then chopped towards the steel cane. His left palm snaked underneath his right palm, resting itself against the boulder once more. The man in green shifted the position of his steel cane. It was now pointing at his 'Tianchi' acupoint. Emperor Baoding's palm moved as swiftly as the wind, shifting positions seven times. But each time, the man in green would simply move his cane to point at a different acupoint, adapting to the situation.

The two exchanged many stances. Each time, the man in green's threatened attack would prevent Emperor Baoding from exerting any energy to pushing the stone aside. His knowledge of the various acupoints on a persons body was extremely accurate. Emperor Baoding felt that it was on par with his own, and above that of his brother, Duan Zhengchun. Suddenly, he turned his palm into a finger, and with a 'chi' sound, exercised the power of his 'Solitary Solar Finger'. He pointed at the steel cane. If his attack managed to connect with it, the cane would definitely be bent and warped. But suddenly, a 'chi' sound came from the cane as well as it pointed back. Their energy streams met in the middle of the air. Emperor Baoding moved one step back while the man in green's body trembled. A red light flashed across Emperor Baoding's face. At the same time, a faint layer of even distributed blue light appeared on the man in green's face as well.

Emperor Baoding was astounded. He thought to himself, "Not only is this man's martial arts extremely high, but he definitely must have some sort of past relationship with me. His cane technique is clearly related to the 'Solitary Solar Finger.' Immediately, he cupped his hands towards him. "Senior, what is your respected name? I hope you can tell me." Only to hear a voice sound out. "Are you Duan Zhengming, or Duan Zhengchun." Emperor Baoding saw that he was able to speak without his lips moving and was all the more flabbergasted. He replied, "I am Duan Zhengming." The man in green let out a 'hngh' of contempt. "So you are the current Baoding emperor of the country of Dali?" Emperor Baoding replied, "Exactly so." The man in green asked, "How does your martial arts compare with mine? Who is superior, who is inferior?"

Emperor Baoding hesitated for a long moment, then said, "In martial arts, you are slightly better than me. But if the two of us are really to fight, I can defeat you." The man in green replied, "Correct. After all, my body is crippled. Sigh! I would never have thought that after becoming an emperor, you would have continued to practice martial arts so assiduously and not slack off in the slightest." Although the voice which emanated from his abdomen was extremely strange, one could still discern a sense of anger and despair.

Unable to guess the origins of this person, countless questions flooded into Emperor Baoding's heart. Suddenly, he heard an urgent cry from inside the room. It was Duan Yu's voice. Emperor Baoding called out, "Yu'er! Are you alright? Don't panic, I've come to rescue you!" Zhong Ling cried out in fear, "Mr. Duan! Mr. Duan!"

Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing were suffering the powerful effects of the aphrodisiac. It was become harder and harder to resist their lustful desires. As time passed, Mu Wanqing had become so dazed that she had long-since forgotten that Duan Yu was her elder brother. She cried out, "My darling Duan, hold me. Hug me." She was a virgin, and thus had only a smattering of knowledge with regards to conjugal relations between men and women. All she knew was that her body felt so very dry and hot, and that only Duan Yu holding her would make her feel better. She threw herself at Duan Yu. Duan Yu cried out, "I can't do that!" He dodged sideways, his feet unconsciously moving in the pattern of the 'Graceful Steps Upon the Waves'. Mu Wanqing, having missed her mark, fell onto the bed and fainted.

Duan Yu walked a few more steps, and his internal energy automatically began to flow along his meridians. He walked faster and faster. An incredible suffocating feeling welled up in his stomach, making him feel as though he could hardly breathe. He couldn't help but let out a loud cry. Suddenly, the feeling of suffocation diminished. He immediately walked a few more steps, then let out another cry. The feeling of lust diminished a bit. He heard but ignored the conversation between Emperor Baoding and the man in green, as well as Emperor Baoding's exhortations to him to not panic.

The man in green said, "This kid's self control is not bad. After taking my 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder, he can actually hold out for so long." Emperor Baoding was startled. "What type of poison is that?" The man in green replied, "It isn't poison. It's just a very strong type of aphrodisiac." Emperor Baoding asked, "What are your intentions, for you to feed him something like that?" The man in green replied, "Inside the room, there is a female as well. His sister!"

As soon as Emperor Baoding heard this, he immediately understood this person's treacherous plot. Even if his level of self-cultivation were much higher, he wouldn't have been able to control the huge surge of anger he felt. Waving his sleeves, with a 'chi' sound he struck out with a finger towards the man in green. The man in green blocked that attack with his steel cane. Emperor Baoding struck again with a second finger, this one aimed at his 'Qitu' acupoint, right beneath his larynx. That was a fatal acupoint, and he expected the man in green to fiercely defend and counterattack.

Who would have thought that the man in green only let out two cold chuckles. He neither defended nor dodged. Emperor Baoding, seeing him ignore the attack, felt the situation was extremely strange and retracted his attack. He asked, "Why are you willing to die?" The man in green replied, "It couldn't be better if I died under your hands. Your sins will become yet another level deeper." Emperor Baoding asked, "Who are you?" The man in green whispered a single sentence.

Upon hearing that sentence, the color of Emperor Baoding's face changed. He said, "I don't believe you!" The man in green switched the steel cane in his right hand to his left hand, then with his right hand, pointed at Emperor Baoding with a 'chi' sound. Emperor Baoding slanted his body, dodging the attack, then returned a finger. The man in green then struck out with his middle finger. Emperor Baoding's countenance grew heavy, and countered the attack with his own middle finger. The man in green's third attack came with a sweeping motion from his ringer finger, then his fourth attack came from his pinky finger. In each case, Emperor Baoding countered with the exact same stance. When the time came for the fifth attack, the man in green pressed forward with his thumb. The thumb is the shortest of all fingers, and thus is the most ineffective and clumsy of them as well. But the power from this finger of his was the strongest yet. Emperor Baoding dared not to ignore it, and struck out with his own thumb as well.

Watching from the side, Zhong Ling felt quite curious and baffled. She forgot how afraid of the man in green she was. Laughing, she said, "What are you guys doing? Playing rock, paper, scissors? He's pointing at you, then you're pointing at him. Who is winning?" While speaking, she walked closer to them. Suddenly, a powerful gust suddenly appeared, pushing at her. Startled, Zhong Ling suddenly felt her left shoulder hurt, so badly that she almost fainted. Turning his hand over, Emperor Baoding waved his palm towards her, smoothly pushing her body backwards, then leapt backwards as well and supported her. He said, "Stand here and don't move." Startled, Zhong Ling asked, "Is he trying to kill me?" Emperor Baoding shook his head. "No. We're competing martial arts. Other people can't get close to us." Stretching out his hand, he gently patted her on the back a few times.

The man in green said, "Do you believe me yet?" Emperor Baoding rushed forward, then bowed towards the person. "Zhengming pays his respects to his senior!" The man in green said, "You only refer to me as your senior. Are you refusing to fully recognize me, or is there still doubt in your heart?" Emperor Baoding replied, "I, Zhengming, am the guardian of an entire country. My words and actions must therefore be correspondingly serious and certain. I, Zhengming, have no sons. A heavy national responsibility is therefore laid upon the shoulders of this boy, Duan Yu. I ask for you, senior, to please release him." The man in green replied, "I want for Dali's Duan dynasty to collapse and engage in evil, incestuous acts, then come to an end. Such a rare opportunity as this, do you expect me to so easily let it slip away?" Emperor Baoding said in a stern voice, "I, Duan Zhengming, definitely will not allow it!"

The man in green laughed. "Heh, heh. You claim you are the emperor of Dali, but in my eyes, you are nothing but a rebel who coveted and stole the throne. If you have the courage to do so, feel free to go back and call out the national army and the imperial bodyguards. Let me tell you this. My influence is vastly less than yours, but for me to kill Duan Yu first would be accomplished as easily as turning over my hand. If you want to fight with me, you might be able to overcome me after several hundred stances. But if you want to actually kill me, that will be an incredibly difficult thing for you to accomplish. And as long as I am not dead, you will not be able to rescue Duan Yu."

The color of Emperor Baoding's face alternated between blue and white. He knew that this man's words definitely were not false. There was no need to call for the national army or the imperial guards; all he needed was a single helper, and this man in green wouldn't be able to hold out against them. But this would badly injure the reputation of the Duan family, and would not be in keeping with his own station. He couldn't kill this man either. He said, "What do you want, before you are willing to release him?" The man in green said, "Something that is easily done, very easily done. All you need to do is to go to Tianlongsi, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, and become a monk. Give the title of emperor back to me, and I will dissolve the drugs in Duan Yu's body. I will return to you your good nephew, who is utterly without moral flaw or deficit, a rare dragon amongst men." Emperor Baoding replied, "How can I casually discard the inheritance which my ancestors have passed down to me?"

The man in green laughed. "Heh, heh. So it was meant to be your inheritance, and not my inheritance? To return a possession to its original owner cannot be considered as 'casually discarding' it. For me to not pursue the matter of you conspiring to seize my throne is already a sign of my magnanimousness. If you aren't willing to do as I suggest, then you might as well wait for a while. After Duan Yu and his sister have a son together, I'll release them." Emperor Baoding replied, "Better that you kill them instead!"

The man in green replied, "Aside from this, there are two more options." Emperor Baoding asked, "What are they?" The man in green said, "The first option is to come up with a devious plot to murder me. Then, you can let him out." Emperor Baoding said, "I cannot plot against you." The man in green said, "Even if you wanted to scheme against me, you might not succeed. The second option is for you to call out Duan Yu and have him fight me himself, using the 'Solitary Solar Finger'. If he is able to defeat me, then he can leave, of course. Hah hah."

Emperor Baoding felt his temper rising, and almost flared out. Only with a powerful effort did he manage to curb it. "Duan Yu doesn't know a single shred of martial arts, much less know the 'Solitary Solar Finger'." The man in green replied, "The nephew of Dali's Duan Zhengming doesn't know the 'Solitary Solar Finger?' Who can believe that?" Emperor Baoding replied, "Ever since he was young, Duan Yu studied the classics and Buddhist texts. He has a merciful character, and steadfastly refused to learn martial arts." The man in green said, "Yet another hypocrite putting on airs of false righteousness. If a person like this becomes the monarch of Dali, it definitely will not be a good thing. Better for me to kill him first!"

Emperor Baoding asked forcefully, "Senior, are there truly no other options available?" The man in green replied, "Years ago, if other options were available, would I have fallen to such a state? Half living, half dead. Others gave me no options back then. Why should I give you other options now?"

Emperor Baoding lowered his head and hesitated for a long moment. With a powerful effort, he raised his head. A resolute, unyielding expression was on his face. He called out, "Yu'er, I'll think of a way to rescue you. Never forget that you are a scion of the Duan family!"

Only to hear Duan Yu call out in reply, "Uncle, you...come in and kill me with a single finger." At this time, he had halted his footsteps, and was resting against the large boulder which was blocking the doorway. He clearly heard the second half of the conversation between Emperor Baoding and the man in green. Emperor Baoding said in a stern voice, "What? Have you acted in a way which would destroy the reputation of my Duan family?" Duan Yu replied, "No! No, I haven't. Your nephew...your nephew is suffering from extreme heat. I won't be able to live much longer."

Emperor Baoding sighed. "Life and death are determined by fate. Let things take their course!" Grasping Zhong Ling's arm, he ran across the open plains, then flew over the tree wall. He said, "Little girl, thank you for leading the way. In the future, I will definitely repay you." Retracing his steps, he returned to the main building.

Emperor Baoding saw that despite Chu Wanli and Fu Sigui teaming up against the Divine Crocodile, victory or defeat was still yet to be determined. But Zhu Danchen and Gu Ducheng, under the pressure of Ye Erniang's rectangular sabre, were find it difficult to cope. To the side, although Yun Zhonghe's feet movements hadn't slowed in the slightest, he was panting heavily, as though he were feeling weary. But Ba Tianshi showed great ease and relaxation with his ceaseless leaps and bounds.

His hands folded behind his back, Gao Shengtai was casually strolling about as though he were utterly indifferent to the life-and-death battles which were being played out before him. But in actuality, his senses were keenly attuned, and he was keeping track of the entire overall situation. So long as no one appeared to be in imminent danger, there was not yet a need for him to intervene.

Duan Zhengchun, Dao Baifeng, Qin Hongmian, and Zhong Wanchou had disappeared.

Emperor Baoding asked, "Where is younger brother Chun?" Gao Shengtai responded, "After the South-Subduing Prince chased away gorge-master Zhong, he left with the princess to locate young lord Duan." Emperor Baoding called out loudly, "At this moment, there have been unexpected developments in the situation. Everybody, withdraw!"

Ba Tianshi suddenly halted in his footsteps. Yun Zhonghe directly rushed towards him, and immediately, with a 'peng' sound, Ba Tianshi sent out a palm towards Yun Zhonghe, who blocked with his own twin palms. Yun Zhonghe felt as though his mind, his qi, and his blood were all thrown into turmoil, and almost vomited blood on the spot. He forcefully suppressed the urge, but his vision had turned blurry. He was unable to see clearly where his opponent had gone. Ba Tianshi, however, did not follow up on his victory and press home the attack. With a clear, cold laugh, he said, "Thanks for the lesson!"

Suddenly, Duan Zhengchun's voice could be heard from behind the copse of trees to the west. "He isn't here either. Let's return to the back of the house and check again." Dao Baifeng's voice followed. "Let's just find someone and interrogate them. Can it be that this place really has no servants at all?" Next came Qin Hongmian's voice. "My martial-sister told them to all go into hiding."

Emperor Baoding, Gao Shengtai, and Ba Tianshi exchanged incredulous glances and smiles. All three of them felt that the South-Subduing Prince's ability truly was vast and godlike. None of them had a clue as to what brilliant technique he used to cause these two women, who previously had been locked in a battle of life and death, to set aside their differences and work together to search for Duan Yu.

Only to hear Duan Zhengchun say, "Then let's go find your martial-sister. She certainly knows where Yu'er has been imprisoned." Dao Baifeng angrily said, "I won't allow you to go see Gan Baobao! You scheming bastard!" Qin Hongmian said, "My martial-sister has already sworn to never see you ever again."

While chatting, the three of them exited the tree line. Seeing Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun said, "Elder brother, did you resc-...did you locate Yu'er yet?" At first, he was going to ask if Duan Yu had been rescued, but seeing that his son wasn't here, he changed the sentence midstream. Emperor Baoding nodded. "I found him. Let's talk about it when we get back home."

Chu Wanli, Zhu Danchen, and the others had heard the emperor's order to cease fighting, and had every intention of doing so, but Ye Erniang and the Divine Crocodile were enjoying the battle. They had no intention of stopping, and continued to embroil their opponents in this deadly battle. Emperor Baoding's brows furrowed slightly. "Let's go."

Gao Shengtai replied, "Yes sir!" He withdrew his iron flute from his breast pockets, and with a 'ting' sound, pointed it at the Divine Crocodile's throat. Following that, he raised his arm and flipped his hand, sweeping the flute against Ye Erniang. These two attacks with the flute were both aimed at critical cracks in the enemy's defense. The Divine Crocodile managed to dodge by somersaulting away. With a clapping sound, the iron flute repeatedly struck Ye Erniang's left arm. Ye Erniang let out a loud cry, then hastily glided away, beating a retreat.

Actually, Gao Shengtai's level of martial arts wasn't that much superior to these two. But he had been watching the fights progress for a long time, and had long since devised masterful strokes to deal with those two. Although his attack seemed as though it was meant to deal purely with the Divine Crocodile, it was actually a feint. His fierce, unexpected, genuine attack was actually aimed towards Ye Erniang, repaying her for the injury that palm of her had inflicted upon him. Although it appeared as though he executed these strokes as casually as another might write a few lines of free verse, in actuality, he had contemplated this attack in his heart many times. He had gathered all of his power, then struck out with full force with this attack.

The Divine Crocodile's bean-like eyes widened. He felt both alarmed and respectful. "Sonufa*****, what a guy! I couldn't tell that you..." He didn't complete the line of thought, but the meaning was naturally, "I couldn't tell that you're actually this fearsome. Looks like your old man here isn't your match, kid."

Dao Baifeng asked Emperor Baoding, "Emperor, how is Yu'er?" Emperor Baoding's mind was filled with worry, but didn't allow a single flicker of it to show on his expression. He said, in a voice devoid of passion, "He's fine. This is an excellent opportunity for him to build up his self-discipline and to temper his character. He'll come out in a few days. We'll discuss this at length when we return to the palace." After these words, he turned and immediately left.

Ba Tianshi took the front and led the way, while Duan Zhengchun and his wife stayed behind the emperor. Following them was Chu, Gu, Fu, and Zhu, the Four Imperial Guards, with Gao Shengtai bringing up the rear. With that outstandingly brilliant attack earlier, he had managed to cow those two people. Although the Divine Crocodile was violent and ferocious, he didn't dare to go up and challenge him.

After walking thirty or so meters, Duan Zhengchun couldn't help but turn his head and gaze back at Qin Hongmian. Qin Hongmian was also watching his receding figure. Their two pairs of eyes met, and both of them were struck dumb.

Suddenly, Zhong Wanchou brandished his large-ringed sabre and rushed out, flustered and exasperated, from the back room. He called out, "Duan Zhengchun! On this visit, you weren't able to see my wife. Consider that your good fortune! I won't give you trouble on your way out. My wife has already sworn an oath that she will never see you again in the future. But...but...but I can't rely on that alone! If she sees you again, maybe she'll ****ing...she'll...bah, to put it briefly, you aren't allowed to come here again!" After fighting with Duan Zhengchun and being unable to achieve victory after many stances, he had immediately retreated, going back to guard his wife, so as to prevent Duan Zhengchun for coming for her and seducing her. After hearing his wife swear an oath that she definitely would never see Duan Zhengchun again, he was hugely relieved, and then hurriedly ran out again to make this demand towards Duan Zhengchun.

Duan Zhengchun's heart was saddened. He secretly said to himself, "Why? Why is it that you refuse to see me in the future? You are already another man's wife. How could I possibly act to ruin your chastity? Although the second son of Dali's Duan dynasty is dissolute and lascivious, he isn't a shameless, contemptible thug. Just let me see you again. Even if the two of us stood far away from each other and didn't say a single word to each other, I would be happy." Turning his head, he saw that his wife was gazing at him coldly. His own heart suddenly trembled, and he sped up his footsteps, leaving the gorge.

The party returned to Dali. Emperor Baoding said, "Everybody, let us discuss the situation at the palace." Arriving at the royal study in the imperial palace, Emperor Baoding sat on a chair covered with leopard fur in the middle of the room. Duan Zhengchun and his wife sat on the ground next to him. Gao Shengtai and the others cupped their hands, awaiting further orders.

Emperor Baoding ordered that stools be brought for each of them, then ordered for them to be seated. Dismissing the servants, he explained how it was that Duan Yu fell into the enemy's hands. Everyone knew that the man in green was the key to the situation. Upon hearing Emperor Baoding say that not only did this person know the 'Solitary Solar Finger', but that his skill in it was above the emperor's own, everyone present didn't dare to interrupt. Each of them lowered their heads in thought. They all knew that the 'Solitary Solar Finger' was something which was passed down from one generation to the next within the Duan family. Only the sons were trained in it, and not the daughters, much less outsiders. If the man in green knew this art, he must be the offspring of the royal line.

(Note: This rule was unbroken until a later descendant of the Duan family, Duan Zhixing, also known as master Yideng, broke the ancestral proscriptions by teaching this divine art to Wang Chongyang in order to subdue Ouyang Feng. He later passed the teachings of it to his four disciples: The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer, and the scholar. For a comprehensive overview, see 'Legend of the Eagle-Shooting Heroes'.) [Translator's note: This note was not put in by me, but was included in the text of my copy of the novel.]

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, "Younger brother Chun, try and guess who this person is." Duan Zhengchun lowered his head. "I can't guess it. Can it be that someone from the Heavenly Dragon Monastery has returned to the secular world?" Emperor Baoding said, "No. It is Crown Prince Yanqing!"

After these words were spoken, everyone present was extremely shocked. Duan Zhengchun said, "Crown Prince Yanqing left the mortal world long ago! This man surely must be an imposter who is faking his identity!" Emperor Baoding replied, "His identity can be faked, but the 'Solitary Solar Finger' cannot be. It's a commonplace occurrence in the wulin for someone to secretly learn the martial arts of another sect. But how could anyone possibly manage to pilfer his way into this type of internal energy learning? This person is definitely Crown Prince Yanqing. There is no mistaking it!"

Duan Zhengchun pondered this for a long time. He asked, "Then he is a noble figure within our Duan family. Why would he choose to destroy pristine and pure reputation of our house?" Emperor Baoding sighed. "This person's entire body is crippled. His temperament is strange as well. Nothing can be understood through conventional reasoning. Much less, I now sit on Dali's imperial throne. His heart is naturally filled with resentment and melancholy. He wants for us brothers to have our reputations swept away."

Duan Zhengchun said, "Elder brother, you assumed the throne long ago. The ministers and the common folk alike support you, and the borders are peaceful. Forget about Crown Prince Yanqing, even if Emperor Shangde [Duan Yanqing's father] was reborn, he couldn't reclaim the throne."

Gao Shengtai rose to his feet. "The South-Subduing Prince's words are absolutely correct. Let's just have Crown Prince Yanqing deliver young lord Duan into our hands. In fact, there's no need for us to recognize him as a Crown Prince at all. We should only view him as the leader of the four most evil villains in all the world, whom every man must condemn and punish. Although he possesses a high level of martial arts, in the end, he can't overmatch all of us."

[This excerpt is translated partially by Laviathan, partially by me.]

More than ten years ago during the fifth year in the reign of the Emperor Shangde Duan Lianyi, a great and sudden upheaval occurred in the court of Dali. The Emperor Shangde was killed by the treacherous official Yang Yizhen. Consequently, Duan Shouhui, the nephew of the deceased emperor, sought the assistance of the eminent monks of the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the loyal minister Gao Zhisheng to have Yang Yizhen killed. After ascending the throne, Duan Shouhui became the Shangming emperor. Emperor Shangming did not want to be an emperor. After reigning for but a single year, he abdicated and became a Buddhist monk at the Heavenly Dragon Temple, giving his position to his younger cousin Duan Zhengming, who became the Baoding emperor. The Emperor Shangde had a son, whom the court addressed as Prince Yanqing. During the coup of Yang Yizhen, the situation had been so chaotic that no one knew where Prince Yanqing had gone. He was soon presumed dead, killed by Yang. Therefore, no one had expected that Prince Yanqing would suddenly reappear so many years after the incident.

[Excerpt completed.]

After hearing Gao Shengtai's words, Emperor Baoding shook his head. "The position of emperor originally belonged to Crown Prince Yanqing. It was only because he could not be found that Emperor Shangming accepted the throne, then passed it to me. Since Crown Prince Yanqing has appeared, I should resign my position to him." Turning his head, he said to Gao Shengtai, "If your esteemed father was still alive, he would be of like mind." Gao Shengtai was the son of Gao Zhisheng, a minister who had rendered outstanding service. The wiping out of the rebel forces in the past was completely due to the great efforts Gao Zhisheng had exerted.

Gao Shengtai took a step forward, then knelt down. "My late father was loyal to his lord and loved his citizens. This freak in green claims to be the leader of the Four Evils. If he became the monarch of Dali, who can imagine how much the people would suffer under his reign? Even if I, your servant, were threatened with ten thousand deaths, I cannot accept your abdication!"

Also kneeling down, Ba Tianshi said, "Earlier, I heard the monstrous voice of the Divine Crocodile calling out and saying that their leader, the head of the Four Evils, was known as...what was it again? 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity'? If this person is not Crown Prince Yanqing, he naturally cannot be allowed to achieve his goals. But even if he is Crown Prince Yanqing, how can such a vicious, treacherous knave be allowed to rule over the people of Dali? If that were to happen, the country would certainly collapse, and many lives would be lost."

Emperor Baoding waved his arm. "The two of you, please rise. Your words are full of sense and reason. But Yu'er has fallen into his clutches. Aside from me abdicating, what method is there for us to get Yu'er back home?"

Duan Zhengchun said, "Elder brother, we, the subjects, should be the ones giving away our lives to help protect our emperor. Even though you love Yu'er, how can you throw away your important position for him? Even if Yu'er manages to escape using your method, he would become the greatest sinner of all Dali."

Emperor Baoding rose to his feet. With his left hand, he stroked his long beard, while he lightly tapped his forehead with two fingers of his right hand. He began to pace in a circle in the study room. Everyone here knew that he always pondered in such a way when he was unsure as to how to best deal with an important issue. No one dared to make a sound, for fear of derailing his train of thought. Emperor Baoding walked back and forth. Only after a long time had passed did he speak again. "Crown Prince Yanqing is a poisonous and vile schemer. He fed Yu'er the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder. The strength of this drug is very profound. It's difficult for ordinary people to resist. I fear...I fear that his brain has already been fully bewildered by this drug." He sighed. "This is is a villainous plot indeed. We can't hold Yu'er responsible for what he does."

Duan Zhengchun lowered his head. His sense of shame was boundless. He thought to himself that the root of this disaster came from his dissolute, lascivious way.

Emperor Baoding returned to his seat. "Minister Ba, issue a decree. Have the Imperial Hanlin Academy prepare a written edict, conferring up on my brother, Zhengchun, the position of Huang Taidi, 'Imperial Crown Brother'. [This is a title conferred upon a sibling of an Emperor which puts that sibling first in the line of succession for the throne, above that of even the Emperor's own children.]

Duan Zhengchun was startled, then hurriedly knelt down. "Elder brother, you have always been benevolent and upright, and have governed the people virtuously. The heavens will surely protect you, and you will have countless sons and grandsons. Please rescind your edict!"

Extending his hand, Emperor Baoding lifted Duan Zhengchun up. "You and I are brothers. The country of Dali should've been administered by the both of us to begin with. Forget about the fact that I don't have sons or grandsons. Even if I had both, I would transfer my throne to you. Younger brother Chun, I made the decision to make you my heir long ago. Everyone in the country knows that. Today, we'll make it official, to let Crown Prince Yanqing know that he will not achieve his heart's desire!"

Duan Zhengchun declined multiple times, but Emperor Baoding refused to allow him to. He had no choice but to kowtow and thank the emperor. Gao Shengtai and the others rushed forward to congratulate him. As Emperor Baoding was without sons, the imperial throne would definitely go to Duan Zhengchun in the future. This is something which had been long anticipated, and no one was surprised at all. Emperor Baoding said, "Everyone, go get some rest. This affair with Crown Prince Yanqing can only be told to Minister of Education Hua, and Minister of War Fan. Besides those two, this secret cannot be divulged." Everyone agreed in one voice, then left after paying their respects. Ba Tianshi immediately left for the Imperial Hanlin Academy to publicly declare the imperial order.

Emperor Baoding ate some food, then took a little nap. When he woke up, he faintly heard the sounds of celebration from outside, as firecrackers exploded ceaselessly. A servant helped him into his robes, then reported, "After hearing that your majesty conferred the position of 'Imperial Crown Brother' upon the South-Subduing Prince, the common people were filled with joy and started to celebrate. It's quite lively outside." In the past few years, military ventures had become outmoded in Dali, and the imperial court was pure and bright. The citizens lived and worked in peace and happiness. They absolutely loved and respected such rulers as Emperor Baoding, the South-Subduing Prince, and the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment.

Emperor Baoding said, "Send forth my decree. Tomorrow, hang out colored lanterns in celebration everywhere. Cancel the usual curfews. Reward the entire army, and bestow a gift of wine and meat to all the elderly and all the orphans." After this edict was passed out, the joy of the common people only increased even more, to the point of the entire city boiling with it.

At the fall of night, Emperor Baoding changed into cheap clothes and left the palace by himself. He covered much of his face with a big hat, hiding his features behind it. Everywhere he went, he only saw the common people clapping and singing songs of praise, with young men and women singing and dancing together.

At the time, the people of the central plains considered the people of Dali to be barbarians, as their etiquettes and customs were very different from that of China proper. The streets were filled with young men and women holding hands, flirting, and laughing together as though they were in a secluded area. No one thought this was strange at all. Emperor Baoding secretly prayed, "If only the people of Dali can forever be so happy."

After leaving the city, he hastened his steps, traveling more than twenty li before he entered a mountain range. The farther he walked, the more barren was the land around him. After passing through four mountain cavities, he arrived in front of a small monastery. At the monastery gates were written the words, "Flower Gathering Monastery". The national religion of Dali was Buddhism. There were tens of large monasteries outside the nation's capitals, and over a hundred small ones. The 'Flower Gathering Monastery' was far away from civilization, and few joss sticks were burning in front of it. Even if one was a citizen of Dali, one might not know of the place.

Emperor Baoding stood silently in front of the monastery for a short moment, then strode forward and lightly knocked three times at the gate. After quite some time, the monastery gates opened and a novice monk came out. He politely asked, "A respected guest has brightened our doorway. What worthy purpose has led you here?" Emperor Baoding replied, "I'd like to trouble you to inform Master Huangmei [lit. 'Yellow Brows'] that an old friend, Duan Zhengming, is requesting to see him." The novice monk said, "Please, enter."

Turning, he respectfully waved him in. Emperor Baoding lifted up his foot, preparing to step inside the monastery. He suddenly heard two clear 'ding' sounds emanate from a chime the inner courtyard. All of a sudden, his entire body felt cool and pure. His thoughts became tranquil, and his spirit filled with peace.

Freed of anxiety, he entered the monastery and headed for the inner courtyard. The novice monk said, "Respected guest, please wait here. I will go report to my master." Emperor Baoding said, "Alright." Folding his hands behind his back, he stood in the middle of the courtyard.

There was a gingko tree standing in the courtyard. He watched as a single yellow leaf slowly drifted down from it. In his entire life, there had been extremely few instances of him standing outside and waiting for someone else. But as soon as he entered the 'Flower Gathering Monastery', customs and conventions died away. He totally forgot that he was the emperor.

Suddenly, an aged voice laughed. "My worthy younger brother Duan, what problems do you have in your heart?" Emperor Baoding turned around, seeing a tall, lofty old monk with a face full of wrinkles push open the door from a small residence. On this old monk's face was two long, sickly yellow eyebrows, the tails of which sagged downwards. It was the Yellow Browed Monk.

Cupping his hands, Emperor Baoding said, "Excuse me for disrupting your meditations." The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "Please, enter." Emperor Baoding strode forward and entered the small residence. Two middle-aged monks immediately cupped their hands, paying their respects to him. Emperor Baoding knew that they must be the disciples of the Yellow Browed Monk, and quickly returned their salute. He sat down on a prayer mat to the left of the main prayer mat, which the Yellow Browed Monk took.

After the Yellow Browed Monk seated himself, Emperor Baoding said, "I have a nephew named Duan Yu. When he was seven, I carried him here, and we listened to you, martial brother, expound on the scriptures." The Yellow Browed Monk let out a small smile. "That child has an extremely remarkable comprehension. He's a good kid. Good kid!" Emperor Baoding said, "He has been enlightened by Buddhism doctrine and has a merciful heart. He was unwilling to learn martial arts in order to avoid killing others." The Yellow Browed Monk said, "If one doesn't know martial arts, one can still kill others. If one learns martial arts, one still might kill others."

Emperor Baoding replied, "Yes!" Thereupon he related the story of how Duan Yu was firmly opposed to learning martial arts and ran away from home, how he met Mu Wanqing, and how he was trapped by 'The Most Evil Man in the World', Crown Prince Yanqing, inside the stone house. A small smile on his lips, the Yellowed Browed Monk listened quietly, not interjecting a single time. The faces of his two disciples, who were standing behind him and waiting on him, didn't change in the slightest.

After Emperor Baoding was finished, the Yellow Browed Monk slowly said, "This Crown Prince Yanqing is your older male cousin. It's inappropriate for you to fight with him. It's even inappropriate for you to send your subordinates to fight with him." Emperor Baoding replied, "Martial brother, you see things clearly." The Yellow Browed Monk said, "The elder monks of the Heavenly Dragon Temple are extremely virtuous, and their martial arts exceed yours as well, worthy brother. But by entering Buddhist orders, they have severed their ties with the Duan dynasty. It's also inappropriate for them to side with you, worthy brother, in an internicine dispute. Thus, you cannot request aid from the Heavenly Dragon Temple as well." Emperor Baoding said, "Exactly so."

The Yellow Browed Monk nodded. He extended his middle finger slowly, then pointed towards Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding let out a small smile, then pointed out with his own finger as well. Aiming at the Yellow Browed Monk's middle finger, he pointed towards it. Their figures swayed, and they immediately withdrew their fingers. The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Worthy brother Duan, the force from my 'Vajra Finger' cannot overcome your 'Solitary Solar Finger'." Emperor Baoding replied, "Martial brother, your wisdom is deep and your intelligence is vast. You can achieve victory without purely relying on the power of your fingers." The Yellow Browed Monk lowered his head and was silent.

Emperor Baoding rose to his feet. "Five years ago, you told me to revoke the salt taxes. But I did not, for two reasons. First, the country did not need it. And secondly, I desired for Duan Zhengchun to assume the throne after me, and intended for him to do it in my stead, thereby winning the hearts of the populace. But tomorrow, I will immediately order for the salt taxes to be abrogated."

The Yellow Browed Monk stood up, then knelt and respectfully prostrated himself before the Emperor. "Worthy brother, you take such care of your people. This old monk is endlessly gratified." Emperor Baoding also knelt down and returned the bow. He said nothing more, and quickly glided away from the monastery.

Returning to the palace, Emperor Baoding immediately ordered the servants to summon Minister Ba. He ordered him to abolish the salt tax. Ba Tianshi kowtowed, thanking the Emperor for his benevolence. "Majesty, your great benevolence is the utmost fortune of the common people." Emperor Baoding said, "Make sure that our own use of salts is reduced and restrained whenever possible in the palace. Go discuss this with ministers Hua and Fan and see if you can think of any areas where we can cut back." Ba Tianshi agreed and left the palace.

Ba Tianshi immediately arranged for a meeting with Minister Hua Hegen, and together they arrived at the manor of Fan Hua, the Minister of War. He informed them of the abolishment of the salt tax. With regards to the matter of Duan Yu being kidnapped, he had already informed them earlier.

Fan Hua muttered to himself, "The South-Subduing Prince's son has fallen into the hands of a vile man. For the Emperor to suddenly decide to abolish the salt tax…he must be using this as a method of beseeching heaven for its help to return the South-Subduing Prince's son safe and sound. If we cannot help alleviate his concerns as a Emperor and as an uncle, what face will we have to remain in the leadership position of the imperial court?"

Ba Tianshi said, "Exactly so. Second brother, what brilliant scheme have you thought of to rescue the child?" Fan Hua replied, "Since our opponent is Crown Prince Yanqing, the Emperor will do everything possible to avoid directly confronting him as an enemy. I do have a plan, but I'm afraid it will be burdensome for our elder brother." Minister Hua Hegen hurriedly said, "So what if it requires hard work? Second brother, hurry and explain."

Fan Hua explained, "The Emperor himself said that Crown Prince Yanqing's martial arts ability was slightly above that of his own. Naturally, it won't be possible for us to forcibly break Duan Yu out of the house. Elder brother, why don't you once more take up that old profession of yours from twenty years ago?" Minister Hua's entire face blushed red. He laughed. "Second brother, you're making fun of me again."

The Minister of Education Hua Hegen was originally named Hua Egen. He was of lowly birth. Although he had now risen to the stature of being one of the three most powerful ministers of Dali, before his rise, he was in the business of graverobbing. His best skill was in looting the tombs of princes and rich merchants. After they died, these wealthy people would often be buried with many riches and precious treasures. Hua Egen would tunnel his way into the tombs and steal the treasures. Although it required a tremendous amount of effort, he was never detected by anyone.

Once, upon tunneling his way into a particular tomb, he discovered a secret martial arts manual. Practicing in accordance with it, he managed to learn an extraordinarily powerful set of exterior martial arts. Following that, he abandoned his mean job and became an assistant to Emperor Baoding, rendering outstanding service and finally rose to the prestigious level of Minister of Education. He felt that the deeds attached to his old name were too vulgar, and therefore changed his name to Hegen. Aside from Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua, those two dear friends of his whom he had undergone life and death experiences with, very few people knew of his origins.

Fan Hua said, "How would I dare mock you, elder brother? I was thinking of us secretly sneaking inside the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, then digging a tunnel straight into the stone house where the South-Subduing Prince's son is kept. That way, without a single soul knowing, we would be able to rescue him."

Hua Hegen slapped his thigh. "Brilliant! Brilliant!" He was born addicted to the hobby of tomb-robbing. Although in the past twenty years he didn't dare do such a thing, whenever he thought about the old days and reminisced, his hands couldn't help but itch. But he was a high official of exceeding rank and glory. How could he possibly go back to grave-robbing again? But now, upon hearing Fan Hua's words, he couldn't help but be hugely delighted.

Fan Hua laughed. "Elder brother, don't be too happy this early. There are plenty of difficulties with regards to this plan. The Four Evils are residing with this gorge; in addition, Zhong Wanchou, his wife, and the Asura Sabre are also exceptionally formidable people. To keep this hidden from them really is no simple task. In addition, Crown Prince Yanqing has personally decided to serve as garrison for the stone house. If the tunnel is dug past him, how could he not feel it?

Hua Hegen mumbled to himself for a long while, then said, "The tunnel must be dug from the back of the stone house, so as to avoid Crown Prince Yanqing." Ba Tianshi said, "The South-Subduing Prince's son is in imminent danger. Digging a tunnel is no small task. I'm worried that we won't be able to complete it in time." Hua Hegen said, "Let us three brothers do it together. I'll have to request that you lower your stations and dignity, and learn the arts of being a petty graverobbing thief from me." Ba Tianshi laughed. "It seems that the three great ministers of Dali are now unshakeably duty-bound to engage in the unsavory business of tomb raiding." All three of them laughed, clapping their hands together.

Hua Hegen said, "There's no time to waste. If we're going to do it, let's do it!" Ba Tianshi immediately whipped out the map of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. Hua Hegen drafted out a proposed tunnel route. The issues of what to do with the dirt they dug out, or how to avoid being detected, were things that he was incomparably skilled at.

Duan Yu had felt hot and agitated for every moment within the past day and night. He began to use the 'Graceful Steps Upon the Waves', walking about quickly within the room. He only needed to complete one or two revolutions before feeling a sense of coolness. But Mu Wanqing's entire body felt as though it were scorching, and her senses were addled. At least half the time, she would just dazedly lean against the stone wall.

At midday, Duan Yu once more began to stride about the room. Suddenly, he heard an aged voice speak from outside. "So very many people have been engrossed by the nineteen horizontal and vertical lines. Layman, would you be in the mood to discuss some things with this old monk?" Duan Yu felt strange. He immediately slowed down his footsteps, and after taking ten more, came to a halt altogether. He peered outside via the hole through which food was delivered.

He saw an old monk with sallow yellow eyebrows and a face filled with wrinkles. In his left hand, he held a steel muyu instrument [Buddhist percussion instrument used to beat a rhythym while chanting prayers] the size of a rice bowl. In his right hand, he held a hammer. He repeatedly struck the muyu with the hamer several times, producing a series of loud clangs. From the sound of it, the hammer must have been made of steel as well. While doing so, he chanted Buddhist prayers. "Amituofo! Amituofo!"

Bowing his head, he pointed the hammer at a blue stone in front of the stone house and began to draw a line. With a 'chi' sound, bits of stone began to fly everywhere, and a straight line immediately appeared. Duan Yu felt strange. He vaguely felt as though he had seen this old monk before in the past. The power in his hands was incredible. With but a casual wave of the hand, a deep mark had been made in the blue stone. The results were similar to that which a stonemason might have achieved using hammer and chisel over a long period of time. The line carved was extremely straight as well. If a stonemason had wanted to carve out a line so straight, he would have had to draw it out first.

A gloomy voice in front of the stone house spoke. "Power of the Vajra Finger. Good skill!" It was the man in green, "Evil Beyond Human Capacity." Stretching out his left cane, he also carved out a horizontal line on the stone. This straight line intersected perfectly with the one carved out by the Yellow Browed Monk. His line was also carved deeply within the stone and very straight, without any crookedness or curvature.

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "Benefactor, you are willing to grant your instructions to me? Excellent, excellent." He carved out a second vertical line with his steel hammer. Following him, the man in green carved out a horizontal line with his steel cane. And thus, in such a manner, these two exerted their energies to carve. They carved slower and slower, unwilling for there to be the slightest difference in the depth of their respective lines, or crookedness in their lines. If that had happened, they would have lost to their opponent.

In the time it would take to cook a bowl of rice, the nineteen horizontal and vertical lines of a Go chessboard had been neatly carved out on the stone. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself, "Mr. Zhengming spoke truly. Crown Prince Yanqing's internal energy really is formidable." Crown Prince Yanqing didn't know that the Yellow Browed Monk had come with a specific purpose in mind. He was shocked, wondering to himself, "Where did such a powerful old monk come from? Hm, he must be a helper whom Duan Zhengming called for. With him keeping me entangled, if Duan Zhengming were to go rescue Duan Yu, I would be unable to prevent him from doing so."

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Benefactor Duan, your strength is deep and profound. Admirable, admirable. Your skill at chess is surely tenfold that of this old monk's as well. This old monk would like to request that you allow me a handicap of four stones." The man in green was startled. He thought to himself, "The power of your fingers is so very profound. You must be a famous man of high status. You came to challenge me. How could you immediately ask for me to give way to you?" He replied, "Master, no need to be courteous. Victory and defeat must naturally be determined on an even playing field." The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "You really must allow me the handicap of four stones." The man in green said emotionlessly, "Since you claim that you have little skill in chess, there is no need for you to force yourself to play." The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "Then just let me have an advantage of three stones instead?" The man in green replied, "I will give you a handicap of one stone, if you give me the same."

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "Evidently, your accomplishments in the field of chess are limited. I'll allow you the handicap of three stones instead." The man in green replied, "That is also unnecessary. We shall simply play." In the Yellow Browed Monk's heart, a feeling of dread grew. "This man is neither conceited nor rash. He is somber to the extreme. A truly formidable opponent. No matter how I badgered him, he wouldn't react to me." As it happened, the Yellow Browed Monk wasn't certain of victory. He knew that all chess players liked to outdo others. Generally, when he requested a handicap of three or four stones, his opponents would agree. He himself was beyond such worldly things, and cared little for such empty things as reputations. If Crown Prince Yanqing, desiring to flaunt his abilities in chess, had agreed to allow a handicap, the Yellow Browed Monk would have gained a massive advantage, and naturally would have had an increased chance of success in this battle. He didn't expect that Crown Prince Yanqing neither allowed others to take advantage of him, nor would take advantage of others. He wasn't the least bit negligent, showing an unparalleled solemnity and sternness.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Fine. You're the host. I'm the guest. I'll take the first move." The man in green said, "No! A powerful dragon cannot crush a snake in his own haunts [lit., a powerful force must give way to a weaker one if on the weaker one's turf]. I will go first." The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Then the only way we can determine who will go first is via a guessing game. Please guess if my age this year is even or odd. If you guess correctly, you may go first. If not, I go first." The man in green said, "Even if I guess correctly, you will deny it." The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Fine! Then guess something which I won't be able to deny. When I am seventy years old, will the number of toes on my feet be even, or odd?"

This riddle was extremely bizarre. The man in green thought to himself, "Everyone has ten toes. Of course the number will be even. He's purposefully trying to lead me into saying that the number of toes he has when he is seventy will be an odd number. It is written in the Art of War that lies are hidden within the truth, and the truth is hidden within lies. He has ten toes, but purposefully made the exact number seem mysterious so as to deceive me. How can I fall for such a trick?" He said, "The number is even." The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "Wrong. It is odd." The man in green said, "Remove your shoes and prove it."

The Yellow Browed Monk took off his left shoe, revealing five toes in perfectly good shape. The man in green, observing his opponent's countenance, saw a small smile on his face. He thought to himself, "So he really only has four toes on his right feet." He watched as the monk unhurriedly removed his right shoe as well, then slowly began to remove his socks. He was just about to say, "No need to check. Just go ahead and play the first stone." But suddenly, he thought to himself, "Wait. I can't fall for a trick." He watched as the monk removed the sock from his right foot as well. Once again, five perfect, undamaged toes were revealed. Where was any disfigurement? There was none at all.

Countless thoughts flashed through the mind of the man in green, as he wondered what was the meaning behind this move of his opponent. Only to see the Yellow Browed Monk casually wave his small steel hammer downwards. With a 'ka' sound, he chopped off the pinky toe of his right foot. His two disciples stood behind him. Upon seeing their master disfigure himself, causing blood to flow in front of him, they couldn't help but let out an 'ah' cry. Uncertaintly, the elder disciple took out the 'Golden Salve' medicine from his breastpocket, applying it to his master's wounds. Ripping off part of his clothes, he bound up the wound.

The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "This old monk is sixty nine years old. When I am seventy years old, the number of toes on my feet will be odd."

The man in green said, "So it will be. You may move first." He was known as 'The Most Evil Man in the World'. What type of vile or brutal atrocity had he not committed? Why would he care about the mere chopping off of a pinky toe? But upon seeing this old monk be willing to part with his own toe and resort to such extreme methods in order to gain the small advantage of moving first, he knew that he would definitely prove the victor in this game of chess. Even if he lost, the terms which he would exact would be harsh beyond imagining.

The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "Thank you for giving way." Extending his steel mallet, he drew two circles on a diagonal line of the inside of the board, symbolizing white chess pieces. The man in green extended his own cane and lightly pressed on the line of the opposing diagonal. The circular indentation served to symbolize the black chess pieces. Together, the four formed a square within the middle of the board. To place two black and two white chess pieces on the board in such a fashion, forming a 'shizi', was a rule in the ancient Chinese art of Go. The white pieces would be placed first, followed by the black pieces, opposite of what later generations would do. Following this, the Yellow Browed Monk placed a white piece in the 'Ping' quadrant, where the sixth vertical and third horizontal lines intersected. The man in green answered with a piece at where the ninth vertical and third horizontal lines intersected. These two starting moves came extremely quickly. The Yellow Browed Monk didn't dare to be the slightest bit negligent, for fear of losing the advantage which he had purchased using his own pinky toe.

By the time the seventeeth or eighteenth stones were laid, the two sides were in diametric opposition to each other, engaging in a fierce struggle. At the same time, the power from each person's finger continued to be used up. They focused on the game, striving for victory, while also generating their internal energies. The game began to slow down.

The second disciple of the Yellow Browed Monk, Pochen, was also an expert at this game. He saw his master and the man in green utilize marvelous military tactics, and many variations were used. A threat to the Yellow Browed Monk's pieces in the lower right corner of the board appeared. If the Yellow Browed Monk did not move to cope with the threat, he would be exposing those pieces to extreme hidden dangers. But if he used a piece to guard that corner, he would have lost the offensive.

The Yellow Browed Monk was unable to make up his mind for a long time. Suddenly, a voice cried out from the stone house. "Counterattack at the 'Qu' quadrant, and you won't lose the offensive." As it happened, Duan Yu excelled at chess ever since his youth. At this moment, seeing the vicious battle which those two were engaged in, he couldn't help but blurt out what the next move should be. A common saying described this situation most aptly: "The spectators see clearly, the players' eyes are clouded." Duan Yu's skill in chess was higher than that of the Yellow Browed Monk. With him being in the position of a spectator, it was all the more easier for him to see the key to solving the dilemma.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "This old monk was going to make that move all along. Only, I was unable to follow through with that choice. Young benefactor, your words have removed the doubt in my mind." He immediately placed a piece at the 'Qu' position, where the seventh vertical line met the third horizontal. According to ancient Chinese rules of playing Go, the chessboard was divided into the quadrants of "Ping", "Shang", "Qu", and "Ru". The "Qu" quadrant was in the upper right corner.

The man in green said emotionlessly, "The onlooker who does not speak is of noble character; the player who makes his own move is a true man." Duan Yu yelled back, "You imprisoned me in this room. You aren't a gentleman of noble character to begin with!" The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "I'm a true monk, not a true man." The man in green said, "Shameless. Shameless." After thinking for a moment, he pressed his cane down and created an indentation within the 'Qu' quadrant.

After their armies had exchanged countless attacks, the Yellow Browed Monk's forces were once more in danger. His disciple, Pochen, was worried while watching. Duan Yu, however, didn't make a sound. Thus Pochen walked next to the stone house. In a low voice, he whispered, "Mr. Duan, how should this next move be played?" Duan Yu replied, "I already thought of a solution. The problem is, the solution must be implemented across seven moves. If I say it and the opponent hears me, he'll counter it. That is why I hesitated to speak." Pochen extended his right palm. With his left hand, he wrote on his right palm, "Please write it out." Following that, he immediately extended his hand into the hole in the boulder. But as he did so, he said, "Since this is the case, there's nothing that can be done." He knew that the internal strength of the man in green was astonishing. No matter in how low a voice Duan Yu whispered, he would overhear.

Duan Yu thought to himself that this strategy was brilliant. He immediately stretched out his finger and wrote out the seven moves. He said, "The venerable master is an expert at chess. He certainly has a wonderful move in mind. There's no need for me to give any more advice." Pochen thought for a while, then realized that these seven moves truly were extremely clever. He returned to his master's side. Extending his finger, he began to write out those moves on his master's back. The billowing folds of the sleeves of his cassock hid his hands, rendering the man in green unable to see his chicanery. The Yellow Browed Monk thought for another moment, then made his move as instructed.

The man in green let out a 'heng' sound. "Another instructed you to make this move. Based upon your own accomplishments in chess, master, you could never have formulated such a move." The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "The game of chess originated as a battle of the wits. A person must be modest and not reveal their real skill to the opponent. If the depths of my chess abilities could be see easily and totally seen through by you, benefactor, would we even need to play this match?" The man in green replied, "Crafty, cunning schemer, playing tricks with your sleeves." He had seen Pochen walk back and forth, then cover the Yellow Browed Monk's back with his sleeves. He knew that there must be something odd about that action. But he was too busy concentrating on the changes and variations within the chess game, and so could not spare any more attention to other things.

The Yellow Browed Monk's next six moves were all acccording to Duan Yu's instructions. He did not need to use his energy to think of them, and only needed to exert his energy to draw the actual pieces on the board. Correspondingly, the six circles which he drew with his steel hammer were extremely round and deep, giving him the appearance of being full of vigor and an unending source of energy. The man in green, seeing that each of these six moves were more powerful than the previous, was forced to ponder deeply in order to defend against each one of them. He was totally forced to the defensive, and the indentations which his steel canes made began to show some differences in depth. After the Yellow Browed Monk played his sixth piece, the man in green simply sat there for a long moment. Then, suddenly, he played a piece in the 'Ru' quadrant.

This move was strange to the extreme. It was completely different from what Duan Yu had anticipated. The Yellow Browed Monk was stunned. He thought to himself, "This seven-step strategy of Mr. Duan was carefully devised and perfect in the details. By the time I laid down the seventh piece, I would have advanced from being one move ahead to being two moves ahead. But now, I'll no longer be able to make the seventh move. All my previous efforts were wasted."

As it happened, the man in green saw that the battleground was becoming more and more disadvantageous to him. No matter what defense he might use, he would still be in trouble. So instead, he decided to ignore the threat to his own pieces, and attack the opponent's pieces in a different area instead. This was known as "defending without defending". Truly, it was a formidable move. Furrowing his forehead, the Yellow Browed Monk tried to devise a good reply.

Pochen saw the sudden change in the battlefield of chess pieces and that his master's pieces were once again in great danger. He immediately ran next to the stone house. Duan Yu had long ago come up with a strategy, and wrote six countermoves on Pochen's palm, one after the other. Pochen then rushed back to the Yellow Browed Monk's side, once more writing down the moves on his master's back.

The man in green was known as "The Most Evil Man in the World." How could he possibly ignore his opponent's constant cheating and trickery? He stretched out his left steel cane, pointing it at Pochen's shoulder. He shouted, "Junior disciple, stand farther back!" And as he pointed, a 'chi' sound emanated from the cane.

The Yellow Browed Monk saw that his disciple wouldn't be able to resist the enemy's power, and that it would be difficult for him to avoid sustaining a heavy injury. He thrust out his own left palm in a snatching attack towards the cane. The man in green's cane trembled, then pointed towards the acupoint beneath the left side of the monk's chest. The Yellow Browed Monk turned the snatching attack into a chopping attack on the cane. But once again, the steel cane changed position.

In the blink of an eye, the two had exchanged over eight stances. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself that his arm couldn't reach long enough. He struck with his finger at the steel cane. The man in green didn't budge a single step, and the monk's finger and the steel cane touched. Both of them generated their power and began to compete in internal energy. Immediately, the steel cane and the monk's fingers came to a halt, neither of them moving in the slightest.

The man in green said, "Master, it is your move. You have delayed for so very long now. Are you preparing to forfeit?" The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "Sir, you are an elite master of a senior generation. Why would you launch a sneak attack against my disciple? I'm afraid you really are lowering your own status!" With his right hand, the monk drew another small circle on the blue stone with his steel hammer. The man in green didn't even take time to think. With a casual wave of his hand, he made his own move. And so, their left hands remained locked in a fierce internal energy competition, with neither side daring to slacken off in the slightest. Their right hands continued to play chess. Each side continued to advance their own pieces, continuing to counter each move of the other.

Five years ago, the Yellow Browed Monk had pled on the behalf of the commoners of Dali, asking Emperor Baoding to abolish the salt tax. Only now did Emperor Baoding agree. The two of them had reached a tacit understanding that the Yellow Browed Monk would rescue Duan Yu in Emperor Baoding's place. The Yellow Browed Monk thought to himself, "It is of little consequence if I lose my life. But if I cannot rescue Duan Yu, how can I possibly face my worthy brother, Zhengming?"

When martial arts exponents were cultivating their internal energy, they couldn't allow themselves to be distracted in the slightest. This is what is described as "Reflecting the brilliance of emptiness, forgetting both myself and the world." But in playing chess, one must strive to outdo someone else. Each game of chess had three hundred and sixty one possible moves, and every single move had to be carefully contemplated. It truly did require that one calculate out ever minor detail, and haggle over every minor point. These two principles were directly opposite to each other, highly incompatible. Although the Yellow Browed Monk was a master at chan meditation, his skills in chess were inferior to his opponent. While secretly generating internal energy to resist the opponent, he neglected the game. If he focused on the game of chess instead, he would find himself disadvantaged in the internal energy competition. It seemed as though today, he found himself in an inextricably dangerous and strange situation. His only option was to die fighting, so as to repay his bosom friend. His own safety was no longer a concern for him. As the ancients said, "An army burning with righteousness is guaranteed victory." But although the Yellow Browed Monk certainly was filled with righteousness, the words 'guaranteed' and 'victory' really did not apply.

The three ministers of Dali, 'Minister of Education' Hua Hegen, 'Minister of War' Fan Hua, and 'Minister of Soil and Water' Ba Tianshi, led thirty subordinates who possessed martial arts in their expedition. They brought along timber, shovels, kongming lanterns, and other tools, and snuck into the forest at the back of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. After selecting a suitable location, they began to dig the tunnel. The thirty three men dug for an entire night, tunneling out a passageway that was several hundred feet long. The following day, they continued to dig, all the way until late afternoon. They calculated that they shouldn't be too far from the stone house. Hua Hegen ordered his subordinates to withdraw and dispose of the dirt, leaving only the three of them as they continued to dig. They knew that Crown Prince Yanqing's martial arts were extremely profound, and so they dug as quietly as possible, not daring to make even the slightest of sounds. Under the circumstances, their forward progress slowed greatly. They didn't know that at this moment, Crown Prince Yanqing was exhausting all of his energy and concentration in competing in both chess and internal energy with the Yellow Browed Monk. There was no chance that he might hear them digging a tunnel.

They continued to dig until the 'shenpai' hour [3 PM to 5 PM], then stopped, calculating that they should be beneath Duan Yu. They were now no more than ten feet away from Crown Prince Yanqing. Consequently, it was now all the more important for them to proceed with caution. They definitely could not risk making a single sound. Hua Hegen put down his iron shovel and began to dig using his ten fingers. He executed his 'Exceeding Claw Skill', and his ten fingers became much akin to a pair of steel claws, tearing through large chunks of dirt. Fan Hua and Ba Tianshi stood behind him, taking the dirt which his claws dislodged and disposing of it. At this point in time, Hua Hegen was no longer digging forwards; rather, he had begun to dig upwards. The architectural feat had been completed. But as to whether or not Duan Yu could be rescued, they would find out very soon. All three of them couldn't help but have their heart's beat faster.

Digging upwards was a much less taxing proposition than digging forwards. Once the dirt and mud was loosened, they would fall down of their own accord. After Hua Hegen had dug sufficiently upwards to allow himself to straighten his body, his digging speed increased even further. After digging for a while, he would stop and listen carefully, trying to hear any movement above him. In such a manner, he dug for the length of time which might take two joss sticks to burn down. By then, he judged that he could be no more than a foot away from the surface. He dug even more slowly now. As he gently brushed aside the remaining mud and dirt, his hand came into contact with a flat wooden plank. He was ecstatic. "So the stone house has a wooden floor. That makes it much easier to deal with."

Pouring power into his fingers, he slowly carved out a two-foot long square in the wooden board. He then withdrew the support his free hand had been providing the wooden plank, and the wooden square lightly fell down, creating an aperture which a single person could easily pass through. Hua Hegen lifted up his iron shovel, waving it in a circle above the floor in order to guard against a sneak attack. Suddenly, he heard a loud 'ah' sound, as a female voice screamed loudly.

Hua Hegen said in a low voice, "Miss Mu, don't scream. I'm a friend. I'm here to rescue you." With a leap, he jumped out of the hole.

But when he saw the insides of the room, he was hugely startled. What type of 'stone house' was this? The room was bright and clean, and all sorts of bottles and jars covered every single cabinet and table. A young girl with a terrified expression on her face was standing in one corner. Hua Hegen immediately knew that he had miscalculated, and dug into the wrong place. The location of the stone house was only known by Emperor Baoding, who had described it to Ba Tianshi, who in turn described it to him. Afraid of being caught, he hadn't dared to personally inspect the terrain. Operating on the basis of thirdhand information, he hadn't been too far off, but nonetheless a huge error had been made.

Hua Hegen had dug himself directly into Zhong Wanchou's house. That young girl was Zhong Ling. She was in the process of rummaging through her father's belongings, trying to find the antidote for Duan Yu. All of a sudden, a big man suddenly jumped up out of the floor. How could she not be terrified?

Hua Hegen's thoughts moved quickly. "Since we dug to the wrong place, we'll have to start digging anew. I've already left behind traces of my passing. If I kill this girl in order to silence her, after finding her corpse Zhong Wanchou will certainly search the area. He'll find me before I can manage to tunnel my way to the stone house. The only option is to temporarily take her into the tunnel. If others go looking for her, they'll definitely search outside of the gorge."

But at this very moment, footsteps could be heard outside the room as someone walked nearby. Hua Hegen waved his hands towards Zhong Ling, signifying that she wasn't to cause a disturbance. Turning his body, he extended his left leg towards the hole, as though he were preparing to go back down. But suddenly, he spun around and leapt towards Zhong Ling, covering her mouth with his left hand while hugging her around the waist with his right. He carried her within the hole, passing her downwards. Fan Hua received Zhong Ling from Hua Hegen, then grabbed a big handful of mud and covered her mouth with it. Hua Hegen jumped back into the tunnel, then placed the wooden square which he had cut out back to its original position. Pressing his ears against the cracks, he listened to any sounds which might come from above.

He heard the sound of two people walking into the room. A male voice said, "You must have lingering affection for him. Otherwise, why would you keep on trying to prevent me from ruining the reputation of the Duan family?" A displeased female voice replied, "What 'lingering' affection are you babbling about? I never had any affection for him to begin with." The male voice said, "If that's true, I couldn't be happier. Excellent, excellent!" Utter happiness was in his voice. The woman said, "However, Miss Mu is my martial sister's daughter. She's one of our people. How can you mistreat her so?"

By now, Hua Hegen had already realized that the two people speaking had to be gorge-master Zhong and his wife. Hearing that the topic of their conversation had to do with Duan Yu, he became all the more attentive in his eavesdropping.

He heard Zhong Wanchou say, "Your martial sister wanted to sneakily release Duan Yu. Fortunately, she was discovered by Ye Erniang. Your martial sister is already one of our enemies. Why care about her daughter? Wife, the people who are now at our halls are all famous members of Dali's wulin community. But you didn't pay the slightest attention to them. You walked into the room, widened your eyes, and glared at them. Isn't that a little…a bit…eh, not polite." Madame Zhong angrily replied, "What's the point of you inviting those fellows into our house? We don't have much of a relationship with any of them. Do you think they will dare offend the Emperor of Dali for our behalf?"

Zhong Wanchou said, "I didn't invite them here for the purpose of asking them to loan us their fists in battle and rebel against Duan Zhengming. As it happened, they all were present within Dali. I invited them here to drink wine and serve as witnesses for what will happen. Duan Zhengchun's own son has shared a room with his own sister and engaged in licentious, incestuous acts, as though they were animals. The guests that I invited today even include some heroes from the Central Plains to our north. Early tomorrow morning, we'll open the door to the stone house and give everybody something to see. The heir of the Duan family's 'Solitary Solar Finger', in such a state…won't that be so very amusing? Won't this be spread far and wide throughout the jianghu?" As he spoke, he began to laugh loudly, utterly delighted.

Madame Zhong let out a 'heng' sound. "Contemptible and despicable! Brazen and shameless!" Zhong Wanchou said, "Who are you cursing as being despicable and shameless?" Madame Zhong said, "Whoever performs despicable and shameless acts is a despicable and shameless person. There's no need for me to curse them as being such!" Zhong Wanchou said, "Right! That evil fellow, Duan Zhengchun, describes himself as being a dissolute playboy, and has brought many sins upon his own head. In the end, his own children will fall in love and engage in an illicit sexual relationship. He really is extremely despicable and shameless!" Madame Zhong let out a cold smile, but did not respond. Zhong Wanchou asked, "Why did you just smile coldly like that? Can it be that those two words, 'despicable' and 'shameless', were not directed towards Duan Zhengchun?"

Madame Zhong smiled coldly again. "You aren't able to overcome the Duan family with your own abilities, and hide yourself here in this gorge, not daring to show yourself. Fine, whatever. As the saying goes, knowing how to avoid being shamed is something akin to courage. This is still something which a man might do. But I never would have imagined that you would use such despicable means to manipulate his children instead. The heroes of the world won't be laughing at him, no. They will be laughing at you! Zhong Wanchou!"

Zhong Wanchou leapt to his feet. He angrily said, "You're calling ME shameless and despicable?"

Tears flowed down Madame Zhong's face. Her voice choked with sobs, she said, "I didn't imagine that the husband whom I married, the good man to whom I entrusted my entire being, would be…would be a person like this. I….I…my life is so bitter!"

Seeing his wife cry, Zhong Wanchou couldn't help but be flustered. "Fine. Fine! If you want to curse at me, then curse at me as much as you want!" He stalked back and forth across the room. He wanted to offer his wife some sort of apology, but couldn't immediately think of anything appropriate to say. Finally, he said, "This wasn't my idea! Duan Yu was captured by the Divine Crocodile. Mu Wanqing was seized by 'Evil Beyond Human Capacity'. The 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder belongs to him as well. How could I use such a despicable and shameless sort of drug?" At the moment, he wanted to disavow all responsibility. Madame Zhong laughed coldly. "As long as you know what the words 'despicable' and 'shameless' mean. If you don't approve of this idea, then you should release Miss Mu." Zhong Wanchou said, "That won't work, that won't work. If I release Mu Wanqing, what type of performance can Duan Yu put on by himself?"

Madame Zhong said, "Fine! If you want to be despicable and shameless, I'm going to do something despicable and shameless as well for you to see!" Zhong Wanchou was startled, and hurriedly asked, "You…you…what are you going to do?" Madame Zhong let out a 'heng' sound. "Just go imagine it by yourself." In a trembling voice, Zhong Wanchou said, "You…are you going to find Duan Zhengchun…find Duan Zhengchun, that evil thief, and commit adultery with him again?" Madame Zhong angrily roared, "What do you mean, AGAIN?" Zhong Wanchou hurriedly laughed. "Wife, don't be angry. I misspoke. Of course you never…never…never did that with him. When you said you would do something despicable and shameless for me to watch, that was…that was just a joke. Right?" But Madame Zhong did not respond.

Zhong Wanchou's mind was greatly disturbed. Casting his gaze wildly about the room, he saw that all the bottles and jars were all jumbled about. He said, "Humph. What a mischievious kid Zhong Ling is. At her tender age, she actually came and asked me about the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder. Where did she hear about it, anyhow? Now she came here and made a mess of things." As he spoke, he went into the room and began to straighten and reorganize the medicine cabinets. One foot strode on top of the piece of wood which had been cut away earlier. Hua Hegen hurriedly exerted his strength to keep the piece of wood from collapsing, in order to prevent Zhong Wanchou from discovering them.

Madame Zhong said, "Where is Ling'er, anyhow? Where'd she go? Why did you need to take her to the grand hall to meet the guests, anyhow?" Zhong Wanchou laughed. "The two of us made such a beautiful little girl together. How can I not introduce her to my friends?" Madame Zhong said, "What, are you a monkey showing off your treasure? I saw the wicked look in the eyes of that Yun Zhonghe fellow as he stared nonstop at our daughter. You need to be careful." Zhong Wanchou laughed. "I only need to be careful about you. You are a lovely woman with the complexion of a flower and are as beautiful as the moon. Who wouldn't be scheming to steal you away?"

Madame Zhong spat, then shouted, "Ling'er! Ling'er!" A serving girl walked towards her. "The young miss was just here a moment ago." Madame Zhong nodded. "Go find that young lady. I have something to tell her."

Underneath the floor and within the tunnel, Zhong Ling clearly heard every single word her parents exchanged. Unfortunately, there was no way for her to respond. Her heart was filled with fear, and in addition, her mouth was covered with mud, making her feel even worse.

Zhong Wanchou said, "Take a rest. I'll go keep our guests company." An icy expression on her face, Madame Zhong coldly replied, "Why don't you rest instead. I'll go keep them company." Zhong Wanchou said, "Let's go together." Madame Zhong said, "The guests want to see my 'flower-like complexion' and my 'moon-like beauty'. Why would they be interested in seeing your long, horse-like face? One day, even I'll be tired of seeing that face, and then you'll know how it feels."

These past few days, Zhong Wanchou had been getting blamed for everything he did. No matter what he said, his wife would abruptly ridicule him. He clearly saw that after his wife had met with Duan Zhengchun again, old passions once more began to rise in her thoughts. Even though he was unhappy, he never dared to snap back at her. He could only let out a laugh, then walk towards the great hall. While walking, he thought to himself, "She's going to do something shameful and despicable for me to see? Then she said that one day, even she'll be sick of seeing my face. Hmm. That means, she isn't sick of seeing my face yet. Things aren't so very bad! I'm just worried about Duan Zhengchun, that thieving scoundrel…"

Chapter - 9 The Luan And Feng Who Exchange Nests

[Luan is the male counterpart to the female feng, which is commonly translated as 'phoenix'. The phrase 'luan and feng' thus is a reference to a husband and wife.]

Upon hearing that Emperor Baoding had abolished the salt tariff, the tens of thousands of citizens of Dali felt extremely grateful. Yunnan did not produce a great deal of salt. Throughout the country, only the cities of Baijing, Heijing, Yulong, and six others produced salt. Every year, they would need to import salt from Shu [modern day Sichuan]. The salt tariff was extremely heavy, often forcing many of the poorer citizens at the outlying regions of the country to go without. Emperor Baoding knew that as soon as he abolished the salt tariff, the Yellow Browed Monk would certainly try to think of a way to rescue Duan Yu, so as to show his gratitude.

He had always admired the Yellow Browed Monk's intelligence and martial arts, and also knew that the monk's two disciples were not weak either. With the three of them working together, they would certainly achieve victory. Much to his surprise, after waiting an entire day and an entire night, he hadn't received any news of success at all. He was just about to send out Ba Tianshi to investigate when he discovered that Ba Tianshi, Minister of Education Hua, and Minister of War Fan had all disappeared as well.

Emperor Baoding pondered to himself, "Can it be that Crown Prince Yanqing truly is this formidable? Can it really be possible that the Yellow Browed Monk, his two disciples, and my three ministers have all fallen to him within the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge?" He immediately sent for his Imperial Crown Brother Duan Zhengchun, the South-Subduing Princess Dao Baifeng, the Marquis of Virtuous Enlightenment Gao Shengtai, and the Four Imperial Bodyguards to once more make their way to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge.

Her heart aching for her beloved son, Dao Baifeng asked Emperor Baoding to call out the imperial army and totally obliviate the gorge. Emperor Baoding replied, "Unless we're completely out of all other options, we must act in accordance with the customs and rules of the jianghu. The centuries-old instructions of the Duan family ancestors cannot be cast aside."

The party arrived at the entrance to the gorge, only to see Yun Zhonghe approach them with a little smile on his face. Cupping his hands politely, he said in a deep voice, "We Four Evils and gorge-master Zhong anticipated that you, sir, would once more honor us with your presence today. I have been respectfully waiting for you here for a long time. If you have brought your armored soldiers here, we will simply escaped, taking with us your beloved son and your precious daughter. But if you have come here in accordance with the rules of the jianghu, intending to greet friends based upon your martial ability, then please enter the main lounge and enjoy some tea."

Emperor Baoding saw that he was extremely calm and showed not a single hint of fear, acting in a manner far different from the previous day, where he had immediately rushed out and launched and attack. This made him feel all the more alarmed. Instantly, he cupped his hands as well. "It couldn't be better if that is truly the case." Yun Zhonghe escorted the party inside the lounge. Upon stepping foot within, Emperor Baoding saw that room was filled with heroes of the jianghu. Ye Erniang and the Divine Crocodile were there as well, but Crown Prince Yanqing was nowhere to be seen. Once again, he secretly prepared for the worst.
 

Yun Zhonghe cried out loudly, "Master Duan, the head of the Duan family of the southern skies has arrived!" He didn't use the phrase, 'His majesty, the Emperor of Dali', but rather introduced him in accordance with his wulin title, showing that everything would proceed in accordance with the rules of the jianghu.

Not only was Duan Zhengming the ruler of a country, but he was also an extremely esteemed expert in the wulin, of great prestige and stature. As soon as the crowd heard that he had arrived, they all immediately rose to their feet. Only the Divine Crocodile remained sitting. He loudly shouted, "I was wondering who showed up. So its the ole emperor, eh? How ya doing?"
 

Zhong Wanchou quickly rushed forward and said, "I, Zhong Wanchou, did not come to welcome a distant guest. Please forgive me." Emperor Baoding said, "You're too polite, too polite."

Presently, everyone retook their seats. Their positions were in accordance with the rules of the jianghu. Duan Zhengchun, his wife, and Gao Shengtai no longer needed to act in accordance with the rules governing how a subject should behave in front of his ruler, and so sat next to Emperor Baoding. Chu Wanli and the other three guards stood behind Emperor Baoding.
 

Servants of the gorge came to them, offering them tea. Emperor Baoding, seeing that the Yellow Browed Monk, Ba Tianshi, and the others were not here, was busy formulating a way which would allow him to inquire about their whereabouts. Suddenly, he heard Zhong Wanchou speak. "Master Duan, you've really given me a huge amount of face! It's so seldom that so many good friends would be gathered in one place. Come, let me introduce them to you."

Following this, he began to introduce the other guests one by one. Some were heroes from the Central Plains to the north. The rest were all outstanding members of Dali's wulin community. They included Xin Shuangqing, Zuo Zimu, and Ma Wude amongst others. Emperor Baoding had never met most of the people present, but had heard of their names. These heroes of the jianghu all respectively paid their respects to Emperor Baoding. Some were extremely respectful; others intentionally acted arrogantly. Others addressed him using the language that a wulin person who was of a junior generation to him might use.

Zhong Wanchou said, "It is a rare thing for Master Duan to come here. Why not stay here for a few additional days? That way, you could get to know all the friends here better." Emperor Baoding replied, "It would be enough if you could pardon Duan Yu for his offense, gorge master Zhong. He has been detained at your noble residence. Today, I have come here for two reasons. Firstly, to ask for clemency on his behalf. Secondly, to offer my apologies. Gorge master Zhong, I hope that you will give me some face and forgive the ignorance of the child. I will be extremely grateful."

Upon hearing his words, everyone secretly felt admiration for him. They thought to themselves, "We've long heard that Emperor Duan acts in accordance with the rules of the wulin. His reputation is well earned. This place falls within the borders of the country of Dali. He only needs to send out a few hundred cavalrymen and would immediately be able to take his nephew back. Who would have thought that he would come in person, and instead ask in such respectful language?"

Zhong Wanchou laughed loudly, but did not immediately respond. Ma Wude said, "Ah, so Duan Yu offended gorge master Zhong. Some time ago, he went to the city of Pu'er, then went sight-seeing with me and my brothers at Mt. Wuliang. I didn't take good care of him, and this was the cause of so many problems. I would also like to request clemency on his behalf."

The Divine Crocodile suddenly shouted loudly, "What right do you have to meddle in the affairs of my apprentice?!" Gao Shengtai said coldly, "The young lord Duan is your master. You've even knelt down and kowtowed to him. Are you reneging on that?" The Divine Crocodile's entire face turned red. He cursed, "**** your grandmother. I'm not reneging! Today, I'm going to kill the brat who is my master only in name. I wasn't careful and somehow ended up accepting that brat as my master. I'm dying of shame!"

No one in the crowd knew what he was talking about, and each and every one of them was flabbergasted.

Dao Baifeng said, "Gorge master Zhong, whether or not Duan Yu will be released lies in a single word from you." Zhong Wanchou laughed. "Release, release, release! Of course I will release him! What good does it do me to keep your honorable son?" Yun Zhonghe interjected, "Duan Yu is romantic and handsome. Madame Zhong, the 'Lovely Poisonist', is an extremely beautiful woman. To keep him within the gorge would be like leading a wolf into a sheep pen, or like raising a tiger with your children. Naturally, gorge master Zhong will release him. He can't help but release him. He doesn't dare not release him!"

Upon hearing these words, everyone present was startled. They realized that this 'Thoroughly Cruel and Evil' Yun Zhonghe spoke without the slightest scruples, as though he really didn't give a damn about gorge master Zhong. His nickname, 'Thoroughly Cruel and Evil', really was not mistakenly given.

Zhong Wanchou was furious. Turning his head, he said, "Brother Yun, after finishing the business at hand, I would like to experience your brilliant moves!" Yun Zhonghe replied, "Wonderful, wonderful! I've long wanted to kill the husband, seize the wife, then settle down within this gorge."

The face of every person present turned pale. Xin Shuangqing, lady of the Wuliang Cave, spoke. "The good and noble heroes of the world haven't been exterminated. No matter how high the martial arts of you 'Four Evils' are, you won't escape justice in the end!" In a coquettish, delicate voice, Ye Erniang said, "Daoist friend Xin, I, Ye Erniang, haven't offended you. Why rope me in with him?"

Zuo Zimu, suddenly recalling how she had abducted his son, couldn't help but have lingering fears. He snuck a sideways glance at her. Ye Erniang laughed. "Mr. Zuo, your little boy must be even fatter and cuter now, right?" Zuo Zimu didn't dare to not respond. He said in a low voice, "Last time, he was exposed to the cold. He hasn't fully recovered from the illness yet." Ye Erniang laughed again. "Oh, I'm sorry. It's all my fault. Later, when I have a chance, I'll head over to your mountain and pay a visit to my cute little grandson." Zuo Zimu was terrified. He quickly replied, "I wouldn't dare to trouble you to come."

Emperor Baoding thought to himself, "These Four Evils have perpetrated many atrocities and committed many outrages. Many people have formed grudges and enmities against them. These jianghu heroes clearly aren't their allies. This makes things much more easier to handle. After rescuing Yu'er, I should take the chance to eliminate these evil people. Although the leader of the Four Evils, Crown Prince Yanqing, is a member of the Duan family, making it inappropriate for me to personally deal with him, there will still be a day when he truly is called to account for his monstrous crimes [another possible meaning of the title, 'E Guan Man Ying']."

Dao Baifeng, hearing everyone speak, saw that the conversation was getting derailed. She suddenly stood up. "Gorge master Zhong, as you have agreed to return my son, please return him to me and let the two of us, mother and son, meet."

Zhong Wanchou also stood up. "Alright!" Suddenly turning his head, he shot a glance towards Duan Zhengchun. He sighed. "Duan Zhengchun, you have such a wonderful wife and son. Why aren't you satisfied and remain so greedy? Today, when your reputation is trampled underfoot and when you lose all face, you will have no one to blame save yourself. You cannot blame me, Zhong Wanchou!"

Duan Zhengchun, after hearing that Zhong Wanchou was willing to release his son, immediately suspected some sort of conspiracy or trap, as he did not believe the matter would be settled so easily. Now, upon hearing Zhong Wanchou's words, he immediately stood up and walked to Zhong Wanchou's side. "Gorge master Zhong, if you have maliciously harmed him, then I assure you that I, Duan Zhengchun, will also have a method to make you bitterly repent your actions for the rest of your life."

Zhong Wanchou saw that he had a majestic appearance and an awe-inspiring presence, with a magnificent and lofty aura. He felt that he himself truly was vastly inferior to this man. A feeling of shame suddenly filled his chest, and it engendered a jealous flame in his heart. He loudly said, "Since things have already come to this point, I'm going to take this all the way to the end, even if the final result is that I become destitute and homeless, and have my corpse broken into a thousand pieces. If you want your son back, come with me!" And as he spoke, he strode away from the hall entrance.

The group of people followed Zhong Wanchou as he arrived at the giant tree wall. Yun Zhonghe, showing off his qinggong abilities, was the first to leap over the wall. Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, "We've almost reached the point of no return. We might as well demonstrate our power and prestige, so as to cause the other side to know how much disaster will be in store for them and perhaps retreat." He called out, "Ducheng, chop the tree down, so that everyone will find it easier to pass."

Gu Ducheng responded, "Yes sir!" He raised his steel hatchets. With a series of quick 'ca' sounds, he immediately chopped down one of the trees. Fu Sigui launched a twin palm attack on the tree. With a loud crash, it fell down to the side. The steel hatchet, gleaming with bright light, continued to chop away. The chopping sounds went on non-stop, and the large trees were felled one after another in succession. In short time, all that could be seen were five tree stumps.

It had not been easy at all for Zhong Wanchou to plant and cultivate this wall of trees. He had labored mightily, and it had cost him a great deal of blood and sweat. After seeing them chopped down by Gu Ducheng, he couldn't help but become agitated and furious. But then he had second thoughts. "Today, the Duan family of Dali is going to lose a huge amount of face. Why quibble over such a small things as this?" He immediately walked past the cleared stumps.

Only to see that past the chopped down wall, the Yellow Browed Monk and Duan Yanqing were both pressing against a steel cane. A cloud of white mist hover over their heads, showing that they were in the middle of an internal energy competition. The Yellow Browed Monk suddenly stretched out his right hand and used a small steel hammer to draw a circle on a blue stone in front of him. The man in green thought for a moment, then stretched out his right steel cane and pressed it downwards on the blue stone. Staring at them, Emperor Baoding immediately realized that his martial brother, the Yellow Browed Monk, was competing in both chess and internal energy with Crown Prince Yanqing. It was a competition of both intelligence and strength. The competition was as fresh and original as it was deadly. He thought to himself, "He never gave me an update. It seems as though it is because this competition has been going on for one day and one night, without victory or defeat having been achieved.

Glancing at the chess game, he saw that the two sides were locked into a 'Life or Death Knot'. Victory and defeat would completely depend on the resolution of this knot. However, the Yellow Browed Monk was in the weaker position, barely keeping his pieces alive with strenuous effort. His two disciples, Pochi and Pochen, had fallen unmoving to the ground. Earlier, upon seeing their master in a critical situation, had attacked the man in green from both sides in a pincer attack. But both of them had been felled by his steel cane.

Duan Zhengchun walked forward and unsealed their acupoints. "Wanli, you four go and push aside the stone and rescue Yu'er." Chu Wanli and the other three replied in the affirmative and walked forwards as well.

Zhong Wanchou called out, "Wait! Do you know who else, in addition to Duan Yu, is in this stone house?" Duan Zhengchun angrily said, "If you used ruthless tricks to coerce my son, then you should remember that you yourself have a wife and daughter!" With a cold expression on his face, Zhong Wanchou laughed. "Right on. I, Zhong Wanchou, do indeed have both a wife and a daughter. Fortunately, I don't have a son, much less a son who will engage in depraved, incestuous acts with his own sister." Duan Zhengchun's face turned ashen. He called out, "You're full of crap! What are you babbling about?" Zhong Wanchou said, "Mu Wanqing is your daughter, is she not?" Duan Zhengchun angrily replied, "What business is it of yours as to what her origins or family are, you busybody?"

Zhong Wanchou laughed. "I'm not necessarily a busybody. Dali's Duan family serve as the rulers of the southern world and dominate it. Your name is also famous and prestigious within the wulin. Heroes and noble men present! Open wide your eyes and watch as Duan Zhengchun's son and daughter become husband and wife, fornicating like animals. He made a hand signal towards the Divine Crocodile, and the two of them prepared to push aside the boulder which was blocking the door.

Duan Zhengchun called out, "Wait!" He extended his hands to halt them. But Yun Zhonghe and Ye Erniang each sent out a palm to attack him from two sides, forcing him to block. Slanting his body, Gao Shengtai surged forwards and blocked Yun Zhonghe's palm attack. But unexpectedly, both Ye Erniang's attack and Yun Zhonghe's attacks were feints. Although they waved their right hands in a false attack, they simultaneously pressed their left palms against the boulder as well and exerted their force. That giant boulder weighed thousands of jin, but, faced with the combined efforts of Ye Erniang, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and the Divine Crocodile, immediately rolled aside.

This trick was something which the four of them had long ago planned out. It was very difficult to discern, and there was no way for Duan Zhengchun to stop them. And, in all honesty, Duan Zhengchun was worried sick about his son, and thus didn't use all of his efforts to stop them from rolling the boulder aside. After the boulder was rolled aside, a doorway was exposed. The insides of the house was dim and dark, and the circumstances inside could not be seen.

Zhong Wanchou laughed. "A lonely man and a single woman, completely naked, together inside a dark room. What type of good things might they possibly be doing aside? Haha, haha. Everyone, take a good look!"

In the middle of Zhong Wanchou's laughter, a young man with tousled hair, naked from the waist up, walked out. He was only wearing a pair of shorts, exposing most of his legs as well. It was Duan Yu. In his arms, he held a woman. The woman cuddled into his arms. She, too, was only wearing her underwear, exposing her arms and her thighs, as well as much of the pure white flesh of her back.

Emperor Baoding's entire face was flooded with shame. Duan Zhengchun lowered his head, unable to look. Tears filled Dao Baifeng's eyes. She mumbled to herself, "Karma...this is karma..." Gao Shengtai removed his own gown, preparing to give it to Duan Yu to wear instead. Ma Wude, wholeheartedly trying to ingratiate himself with the two brothers of the Duan family, hurriedly stepped forward and stood in front of Duan Yu, concealing him. The Divine Crocodile called out, "Sonufab.itch, f.uck off!"

Extremely delighted, Zhong Wanchou continued to laugh loudly. Then, suddenly, his laughter came to an abrupt halt. He fell silent for a long moment, then let out a wretched shout. "Ling'er? Is that...is that you?"

Upon hearing his loud cry, the hearts of the entire crowd trembled. Zhong Wanchou suddenly pounced towards Duan Yu, snatching at the woman whom he was holding in his arms. At this time, everyone present could now see this girl's face. Her age was certainly younger than that of Mu Wanqing, and her figure was also smaller and slimmer. A look of youthfulness remained on her face. It wasn't Mu Wanqing. It was Zhong Wanchou's own daughter, Zhong Ling! When the group of heroes had first arrived at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, Zhong Wanchou had brought her to the grand hall to introduce her to the guests, with the intention of showing off his beautiful, adorable daughter.

Somewhat confused and bewildered, Duan Yu saw that there were many people in front of him. He recognized his uncle and his parents, and immediately released Zhong Ling, allowing Zhong Wanchou to take her away from him. He called out, "Mother! Uncle! Father!" Dao Baifeng rushed towards him, embracing him within her arms. "Yu'er, are you...are you alright?" Bewildered, Duan Yu replied, "I...I...I'm not sure."

Not only had Zhong Wanchou failed to harm his enemy, he had harmed himself instead. How could he have imagined that the woman whom Duan Yu carried out in his arms would actually be his own daughter? Dazed, he let go of his daughter. Zhong Ling was only wearing some form-hugging undergarments. Seeing so many eyes on her, her entire face blushed red. Zhong Wanchou took off his own gown, wrapping it around her, then slapped her on the face, causing her left cheeks to redden even more. He scolded her, "Shameless! Who told you to get together with that little swine?" Zhong Ling's face was a picture of grievance at being falsely accused, and started to cry. How could she explain everything in such a short time?

Zhong Wanchou suddenly thought to himself, "Mu Wanqing clearly was imprisoned within the stone house. I doubt she was able to push the boulder aside. She must be within the house still. I'll go drag her out and have her help shoulder some of the humiliation which Ling'er is suffering." He loudly cried out, "Miss Mu, hurry up and come out!" He called out three times, but heard no sound within the house.

Zhong Wanchou rushed inside the house. The stone room was only ten feet wide and long. It was obvious at first glance that there wasn't even a shadow of a person within. Zhong Wanchou was so angry that he felt as though his chest would explode. He left the room, then struck out with another palm towards his daughter. He screamed, "Stupid girl, I'm going to kill you!"

But suddenly, a hand stretched out from the side, with the ring finger and the little finger striking towards his wrist. Zhong Wanchou hurriedly withdrew his hand to escape the blow, then turned his head. The person who had interfered was Duan Zhengchun. He angrily said, "I'm teaching my daughter a lesson. What business is it of yours?"

Chuckling, Duan Zhengchun said, "Gorge master Zhong, you really treated my son incredibly well during his stay here! You were afraid that he would get lonely by himself, and ordered your precious daughter to come here and keep him company. I am incredibly grateful towards you. This being the case, your precious daughter is already a member of my Duan family. How can I not interfere?"

Zhong Wanchou roared, "How is she a member of your Duan family?" Duan Zhengchun laughed. "Within this stone room, your daughter attended to the needs of my son, Duan Yu. They've been together quite some time now. As you said. A lonely man and a single woman, completely naked, together inside a dark room. What type of good things might they possibly be doing aside? My son is the heir to the South-Subduing Palace. Although he might not be able to take on your daughter as his chief wife, he can still take her on as a concubine. For the nobility, what's wrong with having three wives or four concubines? It looks like you and me have become in-laws! Ha ha ha ha, he he he!"

Zhong Wanchou was unable to suppress the violent rage which filled him, and rushed towards Duan Zhengchun. 'Hu', 'hu', 'hu'. He struck out with three palms. His laughter not stopping, Duan Zhengchun neutralized each of his attacks.

Everybody present thought to themselves, "Dali's Duan family really is formidable! I wonder what method they used to abscond with gorge master Zhong's daughter, then imprison her within the stone room. Zhong Wanchou is a citizen of Dali, but repeatedly sets himself against the Duan family and stirs up trouble for them. Isn't he really asking for trouble?"

As it happened, this entire scene was planned out by Hua Hegen and the other two. After kidnapping Zhong Ling and taking her down into the tunnel, Hua Hegen's original idea was to simply prevent her from leaking out their plans. Only after hearing Zhong Wanchou and his wife speak did he realize that Zhong Wanchou and Crown Prince Yanqing had created such a devious, ruthless plan to destroy the reputation of the Duan family. The three of them discussed the situation in a low voice within the tunnel. All three of them knew that this was a matter of the gravest importance. Moreover, time was of the essence. As soon as Madame Zhong left, Ba Tianshi quietly left the tunnel and scouted out the area. He found the exact location of and distance to the stone house, and informed Hua Hegen. All of them sped up their excavating pace. They were busy for yet another night, digging until dawn break. Only then did they arrive at the stone house.

Hua Hegen dug his way into the stone house, only to see Duan Yu running around the room madly, as though he had gone insane. He stretched out his hand to grab him, but Duan Yu's movements were both fast and bizarre, and he wasn't able to get a hold of him. Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua also entered the room and surrounded Duan Yu. The room really was too small, and there was nowhere Duan Yu might go. Hua Hegen stretched out his hand and grabbed Duan Yu's wrist, but his entire body immediately shook. He felt as though he had grabbed onto a hot coal. He quickly tugged hard, trying to knock Duan Yu into the tunnel so that they might quickly escape. But as soon as he exerted his strength, he felt his internal energy flow out of him and into Duan Yu. He couldn't keep from uttering a startled 'aiyo'.

Ba Tianshi and Fan Hua grabbed him and pulled at him hard. Only with their combined efforts did they manage to separate the two and shake off the internal-energy leeching 'Divine Art of the Northern Darkness'. The internal energy of the three chief ministers of Dali was much greater than that of the Wuliang disciples, and they had reacted more quickly as well. Only for this reason were they spared. Their bodies were covered with cold sweat. They thought to themselves, "The heretical skills of Crown Prince Yanqing truly are formidable!" They no longer dared to touch Duan Yu's body.

Just as they were at a loss as to what to do, they heard voices from outside the room. They realized that both Emperor Baoding and the South-Subduing Prince had arrived, and heard Zhong Wanchou's loud mockery. Fan Hua suddenly was struck by a brainwave. "Zhong Wanchou is hateful and vile. Let's play a big prank on him!" He immediately stripped off much of Zhong Ling's outer garments, then dressed Mu Wanqing with them. Then, he put Zhong Ling in Duan Yu's arms. Duan Yu dazedly accepted her. Hua Hegen and the other two grabbed Mu Wanqing then returned to the tunnel, covering the hole as they left, not leaving behind the slightest bit of evidence that they had ever been there.

Emperor Baoding saw that his nephew was totally fine. He would never have imagined that things would have turned out this way. He was both gratified and amused. For the moment, he wasn't able to think of the reason why this all happened. He suddenly remembered that the Yellow Browed Monk and Duan Yanqing had reached a critical juncture of life and death in their internal energy competition. If they were disturbed in the slightest, their lives would immediately be in danger. He quickly walked back to the two men and their competition. Beads of sweat the size of a pea were rolling down the Yellow Browed Monk's head, falling down onto the chessboard below. But Crown Prince Yanqing sat there nonchalantly, the expression on his face unchanged, as though nothing had happened at all. Clearly, victory and defeat had already been determined.

Duan Yu's mind slowly became clearer. He was also concerned about the outcome of the chess match, and walked over to stand next to the two men. He saw that the Yellow Browed Monk's resources were exhausted. Crown Prince Yanqing would only need to make one more indentation, and the Yellow Browed Monk would be out of moves and would be forced to admit defeat. He saw Crown Prince Yanqing extend his steel cane, preparing to push down on the chess board. The place he was pointing at was precisely the critical point of the match. After making this move, there would be nothing more that the Yellow Browed Monk could do at all.

Duan Yu was extremely worried. He thought to himself, "Let me go muddle up the situation a bit." He stretched out his hand and grabbed at the cane. Just as Crown Prince Yanqing's steel cane was about to press down at the 'Shang' quadrant, where the third vertical and seventh horizontal line intersected, he felt a shock in his arm. The energy from his right arm, which was as tightly wound and directed as a bowstring, suddenly was diverted and flew away from him.

The sense of startlement he felt was not small. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Duan Yu had grabbed onto the tip of his cane. Duan Yu had only wanted to pull the steel cane aside and prevent him from striking the critical point in the chess match, but the steel cane, hovering in midair, didn't even budge. He immediately exerted as much force as he could, and Crown Prince Yanqing's internal energy suddenly entered his body via his 'Shaoshang' acupoint.

Greatly startled, Crown Prince Yanqing thought to himself, "It's the 'Energy Dissolving Art' [Hua Gong Fa] of that old freak Ding from Xingxiuhai [a plateau in Qinhai]." He immediately gathered his internal energy within his dantian, then transferred it to his arm. An incomparably powerful burst of energy erupted from his steel cane, shaking off Duan Yu's fingers.

Duan Yu only felt half his body go sore, and wanted to faint. His body trembled, and only by gripping the blue stone in front of him did he manage to stabilize himself. But a small part of that violent burst of energy from Crown Prince Yanqing had entered the ocean of energy within Duan Yu's dantian, then disappeared. Crown Prince Yanqing was greatly startled, and his steel cane drooped downwards slightly. The tip of it just so happened to precisely alight upon the 'Shang' quadrant, at the point where the seventh vertical and eighth horizontal lines connected.

After Duan Yu's interference, his internal energy did not flow smoothly. Although his steel cane sagged, it still carried a tremendous force and he involuntarily pressed downwards. Crown Prince Yanqing secretly cried out, "Not good!" He hurriedly lifted his cane, but at the point where the seventh vertical and eighth horizontal lines intersected, a small indentation had already appeared.

When experts played chess, they had to make sure that they would not regret making even a single mistaken move. Much less in this game, a large stone was the chessboard and indentations and circles served as the pieces. How could a move be taken back? But the move he had just made, at the point where the seventh and eighth lines intersected, was where one of his 'eyes' were. As anyone who knows even a little bit about chess would know, having a safe pocket of two eyes meant those pieces were safe, but a single eye by itself was doomed. Crown Prince Yanqing had long ago turned that part of the board into a pocket of two eyes, making it a safe base of operations from which he could launch attacks at the Yellow Browed Monk's pieces. What sense would there be for him to kill one of his own eyes and doom his position? And yet, he had already made the move. Although it was totally counter to the logic of chess, the move was made due to his own internal energy being weakened and unstable.

Crown Prince Yanqing secretly sighed. "A single failed move will result in defeat across the entire playing field. Is this truly the will of heaven?" He was a person of extraordinarily high status and dignity. He definitely would not get into a dispute with the Yellow Browed Monk over this matter. He immediately rose up, pressing both of his hands down against the blue stone chessboard, staring at it and not moving for a long time.

Most of the heroes present had never seen him before. Upon noticing his strange appearance, everyone's attention was drawn towards him. He stared at the chessboard for a long time. Suddenly, without saying a word, he propped himself up with his steel canes. Their tips pressed against the earth as though he was stepping on the ground. Each step he took was very large, and he quickly departed.

Suddenly, a series of cracking sounds could be heard. The blue stone trembled, then split into six or seven pieces. And so this brilliant game of chess, the likes of had never been seen before and which might never be seen again, was erased from the world. The group of people couldn't help but let out cries of surprise. Aside from Emperor Baoding, the Yellow Browed Monk, and the three remaining Evils, everyone present thought to themselves, "That person seemed neither like a human being, nor like a ghost. That living corpse who wore green had such an amazing level of martial arts."

The Yellow Browed monk managed to win this game of chess by sheer chance. Both of his hands rested against his knees, and he himself was entranced in a daze as he replayed the thrilling events in his mind. He couldn't understand at all why Crown Prince Yanqing, just as victory was within his reach, would suddenly harm his own side and seal off one of his own eyes. Could it be that upon seeing Duan Zhengming and other experts arrive, he feared coming under attack and thus conceded the match? But he had many helpers on his side as well. He wouldn't necessarily have been defeated.

Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, and Gao Shengtai also did not understand what had happened. But luckily, Duan Yu had been safely recovered, and the pure name of the Duan family was not damaged in the slightest. With Crown Prince Yanqing having conceded the match, a total victory had been achieved. Although there were many details of this encounter which they did not understand, at the moment it was not necessarily to thoroughly investigate everything.

Duan Zhengchun smiled towards Zhong Wanchou. "Gorge master Zhong, now that your daughter has become my son's concubine, in the coming days, I will send someone to escort her to our palace. We will naturally take good care of these two lovebirds and treat her as though she were our own daughter. Set your mind at ease."

Zhong Wanchou was already in the middle of an uncontrollable fury. Upon hearing Duan Zhengchun speak in such a mocking tone towards him, he pulled out his sabre with a 'shua' sound and chopped at Zhong Ling's head with a loud shout. "I'm dying of anger! I'm going to kill you first!"

But suddenly, a long shadow flashed by. With matchless speed, it seized Zhong Ling, then it flew away like a gust of wind, floating tens of feet away. With a 'ta' sound, Zhong Wanchou's sabre connected with the ground. He saw that the man holding Zhong Ling was none other than 'Thoroughly Cruel and Evil' Yun Zhonghe. He angrily said, "What...what are you doing?!"

Yun Zhonghe laughed. "You don't even want this daughter anymore. Just pretend that she's dead and that you chopped her to death. Let me have her." Even as he spoke, he further flew tens of more feet away. He knew very well that aside from Emperor Baoding and the Yellow Browed Monk, whose martial arts were far above his own, even Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai were incredible figures. And so, as soon as he hatched the scheme to kidnap Zhong Ling, he immediately fled. Seeing that Ba Tianshi was not present, he knew that as long as he could utilize his qinggong, not a single person present could catch up to him.

Zhong Wanchou knew that his qinggong abilities were incredible. He was so worried that he was literally hopping mad, jumping up and down as he cursed. Emperor Baoding had seen Yun Zhonghe run around in circles with Ba Tianshi the other day. Today, seeing Yun Zhonghe move as though he were unburdened despite carrying Zhong Ling, he knew that there was nothing he could do either.

Duan Yu suddenly had a idea flash by his head. "Yue Number Three! Your master has an order for you! Quick, get this young girl back!" The Divine Crocodile was startled, then angrily replied, "Bastard, whaddya talking about?" Duan Yu said, "You accepted me as your master, and even kowtowed to me. Are you going back on your words? Are your promises worth nothing more than a fart? You must really want to be a bastard son of a turtle!"

The Divine Crocodile furrowed his eyebrows as storm clouds gathered across his face. He thundered, "Of course I won't go back on my words! So what if you are my master? If you piss me off, I'll even kill you, my 'master'!" Duan Yu replied, "It's good that recognize me as your master! Miss Zhong is my wife. That makes her your master-wife. Go get her back for me! If Yun Zhonghe disgraces her, then he's disgracing your master-wife! You'll lose so much face that you won't be able to be considered a hero or a real man!"

The Divine Crocodile was startled. He thought to himself, "Huh, these words make a lot of sense." But he suddenly thought to himself that Mu Wanqing was Duan Yu's wife. How was it that this little girl surnamed Zhong was also his wife? He asked, "How many master-wives do I have, anyhow?" Duan Yu replied, "Stop asking! The bottom line is, if you aren't able to get back this master-wife, you'll lose a huge amount of face. All of the heroes present have seen with their own eyes that you can't even overcome the Fourth Evil, Yun Zhonghe. That drops you down to the position of being the Fifth Evil. Heck, maybe you'll become the Sixth Evil!"

To the Divine Crocodile, being ranked beneath Yun Zhonghe was literally a fate worse than death. He'd feel less miserable if he were killed. He let out an insane roar, then rushed towards Yun Zhonghe. He screamed, "Put down my master-wife right now!"

Running and leaping forwards, Yun Zhonghe called out, "Yue Number Three, you really are a gigantic idiot! You've fallen for his trick!" The Divine Crocodile loved more than anything else to think of himself as an awe-inspiring person. Hearing Yun Zhonghe claim in front of so many people that he had been tricked only infuriated him all the more. He loudly roared to the heavens, "How could I, Yue Number Two, fall for someone else's tricks?" He immediately sped up his pursuit. In the blink of an eye, the two of them, one in the front, the other in hot pursuit, passed outside the gorge.

In the middle of his earlier, blind rage, Zhong Wanchou had chopped towards his daughter. But at this moment, seeing his daughter being abducted by a thug, he was greatly agitated. After all, the love between a father and his daughter was deep. Not to mention, he realized that if his wife asked him what had happened, he would be incapable of giving her an answer. In a fit of desperation, he, too, chased after them.

Emperor Baoding quickly bade the crowd of heroes farewell, and with the rest of his party also left the gorge. They returned to the city of Dali and returned to the South-Subduing Palace. Hua Hegen, Fan Hua, and Ba Tianshi emerged from the palace to welcome them. Next to them was a bright and beautiful young lady, dressed in the most gorgeous of clothes and ornaments. It was Mu Wanqing.

Fan Hua gave a brief report to Emperor Baoding about Hua Hegen digging out a tunnel, putting Zhong Ling in the stone house, and rescuing Mu Wanqing. Only now did everyone realize that this was why Zhong Wanchou, in trying to harm others, ended up harming himself. Everyone laughed uproariously.

Although the power of the 'Yin and Yang Conjoining' powder was very fierce, it wasn't poisonous. After taking a dose of counteracting medicine, then drinking a big bowl full of cold water, the powder's effect was dissolved.

At noon, the palace prepared a banquet. During the banquet, everyone happily and animatedly discussed all the events which had transpired at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. Everyone agreed that the contributions of the Yellow Browed Monk and Hua Hegen were the greatest. If the Yellow Browed Monk hadn't kept Duan Yanqing distracted, he certainly would have discovered the tunnel being dug.

Dao Baifeng said, "Brother Hua, I would like to trouble you to do something else for me as well." Hua Hegen replied, "Princess, say the word. I will obey your order." Dao Baifeng said, "Please send someone to collapse the tunnel." Hua Hegen was startled. He replied, "Yes ma'am!" But he did not understand what she was thinking. Dao Baifeng gave Duan Zhengchun a hard stare. "This tunnel passes by Madame Zhong's bedroom. If you don't collapse it, I'm afraid that one of the gentlemen currently present will henceforth go tunnel his way there every night from now on." Everyone present burst into loud laughter.

Every once in a while, Mu Wanqing would steal glances towards Duan Yu. Every time their gazes crossed, they would quickly turn their heads away from each other. She knew that for the rest of her life, she could forget about being wife and husband with him. Thinking back to the situation of the past few days, where they shared a room, she felt all the more miserable. She heard everyone discuss how Zhong Ling would become Duan Yu's concubine, and how despite being kidnapped by Yun Zhonghe, the Divine Crocodile and Zhong Wanchou would surely bring her back. She also heard Emperor Baoding order the Four Imperial Bodyguards to send out search teams to find news regarding Zhong Ling and to protect her. The more Mu Wanqing heard, the angrier she got. From her bosom, she retrieved a tiny golden case. It was the letter which Madame Zhong had given to Duan Yu, requesting his father come and rescue Zhong Ling. She handed it over to Duan Zhengchun and said, "Gan Baobao asked me to give this to you."

Duan Zhengchun was startled. "Huh?" Mu Wanqing indignantly said, "It's the little girl's astrological birth horoscope." Pointing towards Duan Yu with the golden box, she said, "Gan Baobao told him to give it to you." Duan Zhengchun took the box, his heart aching. He had immediately recognized the golden box as the gift which he had given to Gan Baobao on the night when they had first requited their passions for each other. Opening the cover of the box, he saw a small piece of red paper with words written on it. There were nine words in total. "December 5th, year of the Sheep, the 'chou' hour [1AM-3AM]." The handwriting was in a trembling scrawl. It was definitely Gan Baobao's personal writing.

Dao Baifeng coldly said, "How very lovely. She's even sent the girl's birth horoscope over to us."

Duan Zhengchun turned over the red paper, only to see several lines of small words written on it. "Broken-heartedly waiting, every hope has turned to dust. A child cannot be without a father. Sixteen years ago, I thought about you every morning and longed for you every evening, hoping that you would come to me. But now I am out of alternatives. As of the May of the 'Yiwei' year [32nd year of a 60 year cycle], I belong to the Zhong clan." Every single word was extremely fine and slender. If one didn't squint, the words would be nearly invisible.

Duan Zhengchun's eyes reddened as he recalled how very badly he had let down Gan Baobao. Suddenly, his heart trembled, and in an instant he understood the hidden meaning behind the words of these few lines. "Baobao married Zhong Wanchou in May of the 'Yiwei' year, but Zhong Ling was born on December 5th of the 'Gai' year. Most likely, she isn't Zhong Wanchou's daughter. After waiting for me and seeing me not come, she wrote that a child cannot be without a father. Then she said that she had no alternative to marrying, because she couldn't give birth to a child without having a husband. That means that Zhong Ling is my daughter. It was precisely...it was precisely sixteen years ago, in the spring, when the two of us shared a joyous time lasting not even a full month. That must be when she conceived Zhong Ling...."

After understanding everything, he suddenly blurted out, "Oh, no! This won't do!"

Dao Baifeng asked, "What won't do?" Duan Zhengchun shook his head. With a forced smile, he said, "This fellow, Zhong Wanchou...this fellow really has a malicious heart, to come up with such a poisonous plot to harm my Duan family. We definitely cannot...definitely cannot become in-laws with him. No matter what, we cannot do this!"

Hearing him hemming and hawing, Dao Baifeng knew that his words were insincere. She took the red piece of paper from his hands and read it. She pondered it for a moment, then suddenly broke out into loud laughter. "So she...so she...ha ha...so that little girl Zhong Ling is also your daughter!" Her anger rising, she sent out a palm. Duan Zhengchun leaned his head to the side to avoid it.

Everyone in the hall felt extremely awkward and embarassed. Emperor Baoding let out a small smile. "Since this is the case, then it looks like we'll have to abandon the idea of marriage..."

Suddenly, one of the family warriors entered the hall. In his hands, he respectfully pro-offered a name placard. Bowing, he said, "Master Guo Yanzhi of the Hulao Pass has come to see you, lord." Duan Zhengchun thought to himself that Guo Yanzhi was the eldest disciple of Ke Baisui leader of the 'Hidden Ox' sect. He was nicknamed the 'Soul Pursuing Whip'. Supposedly, his martial arts were quite good, but he never had any relations with the Duan family. Why would he come from such a long distance? He immediately rose to his feet and said to Emperor Baoding, "I don't know what this man has come here for. Your brother will go take a look."

Emperor Baoding nodded, a small smile on his lips. "The arrival of 'Soul Pursuing Whip' is very fortuitous for you. You can seize the opportunity to sneak away."

Duan Zhengchun left the flower pavilion. Gao Shengtai and the Four Imperial Bodyguards followed behind him. Entering the hall, he saw a middle-aged man of great height seated on a chair to the west. The man was wearing a mourning garment. He wore a hat on his head, and his face was covered with dust and dirt. His eyes were red and swollen. It was evident that a tragedy had happened, and that a family member must have died.

Upon seeing Duan Zhengchun enter, he quickly rose to his feet and bowed. "Guo Yanzhi of Henan pays his respects to the prince." Duan Zhengchun returned the salute. "Master Guo, you honor Dali with your presence. Please forgive your little brother Duan Zhengchun for not having come out and welcomed you to the city personally." Guo Yanzhi thought to himself, "Everyone says that despite being rich and powerful, the Duan brothers of Dali are not arrogant at all. That really is the case." He said, "Guo Yanzhi is only a common, ordinary person. For me to beg an audience from the prince is really quite presumptuous of me." Duan Zhengchun replied, "The position of 'prince' is just something set up to show the common people. I have long admired the reputation of Master Guo. Let us address each other as friends and as brothers. There's no need for us to adhere to such false propriety." After introducing him to Gao Shengtai, all three of them sat down.

Guo Yanzhi said, "Prince, my martial-uncle has resided within your palace for a long time now, and has long been away from home. Please tell him that I would like to see him." Duan Zhengchun said, "Brother Guo, your martial-uncle?" He thought to himself, "There's no member of the 'Hidden Ox' sect in my palace." Guo Yanzhi said, "My martial-uncle changed his name and surname, hiding himself within your palace to avoid a calamity. He didn't dare expose himself to you, prince. This really was very disrespectful. I hope that you, prince, will be forgiving and merciful, and won't blame him. Allow me to thank you in advance."

As he spoke, he rose to his feet and profoundly saluted Duan Zhengchun with cupped hands. While returning the courtesy, Duan Zhengchun was deeply pondering the situation, but could not come to a realization as to who his martial-uncle might be.

Gao Shengtai was also wondering to himself, "Who is it? Who could it be?" Suddenly, he thought of that person's surname and nickname. "It must be him!" He spoke to a nearby servant. "Go to the accounting rooms and tell Mr. Huo that the 'Soul Pursuing Whip' of Henan, Master Guo, has arrived. He has important news to report to the 'Golden Abacus', the venerable senior Cui. Please invite him to the great hall to chat with us."

The servant nodded and left. After a short time, the sound of footsteps coming from the back hall could be heard. All alone, a man appeared, slowly shambling forwards. He said, "Now, thanks to you, I won't be able to have free meals here anymore."

Upon hearing the seven words, 'the Golden Abacus, venerable senior Cui', the expression on Duan Zhengchun's face changed slightly. He thought to himself, "Can it be that the 'Golden Abacus', Cui Baiquan, really is hidden here? How could I have been unaware of this, and why wouldn't worthy brother Gao have told me?" Only to see an old man with a humble appearance emerge with a grin on his face. It was Mr. Huo of the accounting room, who assisted in all sorts of menial tasks. Every day, the man was either intoxicated or gambling. He was extremely lazy. The only reason why they had allowed him to stay for the past ten or so years was because he was totally honest with regards to the accounting. Duan Zhengchun was hugely surprised. "So Mr. Huo really is Cui Baiquan? I have eyes but am blind as a bat. How can I possibly recover the face I have lost?" Fortunately, Gao Shengtai had managed to come up with the right person in a single try, leading Guo Yanzi to assume that the people of the South-Subduing Palace had long since known about the situation.

Originally, Mr. Huo was always seventy percent drunken, thirty percent awake, with a confused and uncomprehending expression perpetually on his face. But seeing Guo Yanzhi wearing mourning clothes, he couldn't help but feel startled. He asked, "You...why are you..." Guo Yanzhi rushed forward a few steps. He fell to his knees and began to cry loudly. "Martial uncle Cui, my mas...master has been murdered!" The face of Mr. Huo, of Cui Baiquan, immediately change. His skinny yellow visage turned, in a twinkling of an eye, sinister and predatory. Slowly, he said, "Who is our enemy." Guo Yanzhi replied, crying, "Your nephew is useless. I wasn't able to definitively identify our enemy. But from what I know, I guess that it is probable that the murderer was a member of Gusu's Murong family." A look of dread flashed across Cui Baiquan's face, but it quickly vanished. In a low voice, he said, "We need to carefully calculate our response."

Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai exchanged a glance. They thought to themselves, "'Northern Qiao Feng, Southern Murong.' If the 'Hidden Ox' sect has become enemies with the Murong clan, then it will be very difficult for them to avenge their loss."

A distressed look was on Cui Baiquan's face. He said, "Worthy nephew Guo, please recount the story of how my martial brother died as clearly as possible." Guo Yanzhi said, "The murder of one's master is like the murder of one's father. Every day that vengeance is delayed, your nephew finds it hard to eat or sleep. Martial uncle, please go with me immediately, and I will report it to you on the road, so as to avoid wasting any more time."

Seeing the expression his face, Cui Baiquan realized that it was because he felt there were too many people in the hall, making it inconvenient to speak, rather than really being worried about time. He thought to himself, "For ten years or so, I've hidden myself here and not revealed myself at all. I never would have thought that Marquis Gao had long ago realized my true identity and seen past my masquerade. If I do not apologize to Prince Duan, then I will have deeply offended the Duan family. In addition, I want to seek revenge upon Gusu's Murong family on behalf of my martial brother, but that's something I cannot accomplish by myself. If the Duan family is willing to send people to assist me, things may be different. The difference between 'friends' and 'enemies' is huge." He abruptly walked over to Duan Zhengchun's side, then knelt before him on both knees. He repeatedly kowtowed, banging his head against the ground with a series of 'dong' sounds.

This was something which was totally unexpected by everyone present. Duan Zhengchun hurriedly stretched out his hand to lift Cui Baiquan up, only to find that it was as though Cui Baiquan's body had been nailed to the floor, not budging in the slightest. Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, "Nicely done, you 'drunkard'. So your martial arts is this profound. You totally deceived me!" Exerting his strength through both his arms, he lifted Cui Baiquan upwards. Cui Baiquan no longer resisted, and rose to his feet. As soon as he stood up, he felt as though the hundred bones in his body were filled with unspeakable discomfort, as though a tiny boat was being thrown about by killer waves in the ocean. He knew that it was Duan Zhengchun's way of reprimanding him. He thought to himself, "If I generate my energy to resist, then the South-Subduing Prince will be all the more upset with me. Perhaps he will even suspect me all the more of having crafty ulterior motives for having snuck my way into his palace. While his internal energy is raging inside my body, I might as well fall down." He collapsed, head facing the sky and cutting a sorry figure indeed as he let out a cry. "Ow!"

Duan Zhengchun let out a small smile and extended his hand to help him up. With a light touch, he dispelled the nauseous feeling in his body.

Cui Baiquan said, "Prince, Cui Baiquan was pressed so heavily by his enemy that he had nowhere to turn. For this reason only did I hide myself within your manor and rely on your aid. Only by hiding myself under your glorious name have I managed to live until today. Cui Baiquan never revealed the truth to you, prince, and I deserve to die a thousand deaths for my offense."

Gao Shengtai replied, "Brother, why be so modest? The prince knew your true identity long ago. But since you, brother Cui, were unwilling to reveal your true identity, the prince did not want to break your disguise either. Forget about the prince, even others know about the situation. That day, when Duan Yu was fighting against the Divine Crocodile, didn't he grab brother Cui and claim you were his master? He knew that within this palace, only brother Cui could handle that vile fellow surnamed Yue."

Actually, that day when Duan Yu had grabbed Cui Baiquan and claimed he was his master, he was purely putting on a show for entertainment. As Cui Baiquan's appearance was the most unsightly and humble within the palace, he had picked him to mock the Divine Crocodile. But at the moment, upon hearing these words, Cui Baiquan believed and did not doubt them. He secretly felt ashamed.

Gao Shengtai continued, "The prince has always been a welcome and hospitable host. Brother Cui, you came to Dali without any malicious intent. But even if you had come with an intent on causing harm, the prince would have courteously welcomed you and thrown a banquet on your behalf. Brother Cui, why stand on such ceremony?" The implicit meaning of this statement was that the only reason Cui had not been exposed was because he had not come with an evil intent; if he had, he would have been disposed of long ago.

Cui Baiquan said, "Marquis Gao is brilliant and wise. Although your words are very kind, I, the one surnamed Cui, should make clear to you the reason why I sought refuge within your palace and why I must depart now. Otherwise, my actions would be too inglorious. Only, this matter involves others. If I may be so bold, I would like to explain."

Duan Zhengchun nodded. He said to Guo Yanzhi, "Brother Guo, although the enmity between you and your master's killer is deep, there's no need to quibble over such a small amount of time. Let's slowly discuss the situation." Before Guo Yanzhi had a chance to respond, Cui Baiquan had already hurriedly said, "Naturally, I will obey the requests of the prince."

At this moment, a family warrior entered the hall. Bowing at the entrance, he said, "Reporting to the prince! The abbot of Shaolin has sent two eminent monks with a letter for you." Ever since Shaolin had been founded in the Tang dynasty, it had been the Mt. Tai and the Big Dipper of the wulin [meaning that it held a position of extreme eminence]. Upon hearing these words, Duan Zhengchun immediately stood up and left the hall to personally welcome the guests.

He saw a pair of middle-aged monks be escorted by two of his family warriors, making their way past the small yard. One of the monks, who had a dry and shriveled up appearance, bowed towards Duan Zhengchun, then said, "The junior monks of Shaolin, Huizhen and Huiguan, pay their respects to the prince." Duan Zhengchun cupped his hands, returning the courtesy. "For you to have travelled such a distance to brighten my doorway must have been very difficult on you. Please, come inside and have some tea."

After entering the pavilion, the two monks did not sit. Huizhen said, "Prince, this humble monk has come here on the instructions of my abbot to deliver a letter to Emperor Baoding or the South-Subduing Prince." As he spoke, he withdrew a wrapped bundle from his breast. Slowly he unwrapped it, removing a yellow parchment from within, then pro-offering it respectfully to Duan Zhengchun.

Duan Zhengchun accepted it, then said, "My imperial brother actually is inside at this very moment. This is the perfect time for you to meet him." He said to Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi, "Gentlemen, please take some refreshments for now. We will speak shortly." He then brought Huizhen and Huiguan deeper within the palace.

Actually, at this moment, Emperor Baoding had already retired into the warm pavilion and was having a tranquil conversation with the Yellow Browed Monk. Duan Yu sat next to them and listened quietly. Upon seeing Huizhen and Huiguan, he rose to his feet. Duan Zhengchun handed the scroll over to Emperor Baoding, who opened it. The letter was addressed to them two, and was filled with such flowery language as "long respected your illustrious name, but never had the fortune to meet you," "rule over the south, acting with vast benevolence," "admired by thousands of people, of exceptional ability and wisdom," "guardian of the Buddhist truth, glorifying the saintly path," etc. etc. etc. Finally, it came to the meat of the letter. "My younger martial brother, Master Xuanbei, will be heading towards your respected area with his four disciples. On the basis of our shared worship of Buddha and of our friendship within the wulin, I respectfully request that you take good care of him." The letter was signed, "The lowly disciple of the Shaolin monastery, Xuanci, pays a hundred respects."

Emperor Baoding rose while he read the letter to show the respect he held for Shaolin. Huizhen and Huiguan politely stood off to their side. Emperor Baoding said, "The two of you, please be seated. All of us followers of Buddha's teachings and, as members of the wulin, share the same heart and arteries. Whatever the abbot of Shaolin requests, we will certainly exert all of our efforts to comply with. Master Xuanbei's understanding of Buddhism is extremely subtle, and his martial arts level is deep and profound. I admire him to the extreme. Might I ask when he will grace my humble abode? We eagerly anticipate his arrival."

Huizhen and Huiguan suddenly felt to their knees. With a series of 'dong' sounds, they kowtowed repeatedly. They began to cry bitterly.

Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun were both startled. They thought to themselves, "Can it be that Master Xuanbei has died?" Emperor Baoding stretched his hand out and helped them up. "Both of us are members of the wulin. You cannot be so polite towards me." Huizhen stood up and indeed said, "My master has passed on to Nirvana." Emperor Baoding thought to himself, "This letter must have been intended for Master Xuanbei to personally present to me. Can it be that he died within the borders of Dali?" He said, "Master Xuanbei has returned to the western heavens. The Buddhist family has lost an eminent monk, and the wulin has lost a skilled exponent. This is mournful news indeed. May I ask when Master Xuanbei entered Nirvana?"

Huizhen replied, "A month ago, my martial uncle, the abbot, received a letter stating that the 'Four Greatest Evils of the World' were headed towards Dali with the intention of making trouble for your majesty and for the South-Subduing Prince. The Duan dynasty of Dali reigns supreme over the southern world. Naturally, you wouldn't fear such a trifling group as the 'Four Evils'. But the abbot feared that you two might not know of this news and fall into their ambush. Thus, he sent Master Xuanbei and we four disciples to come here and inform you. This is why we came."

Emperor Baoding felt a deep sense of gratitude. He thought to himself, "No wonder Shaolin has been held in the utmost respect for the past hundreds of years. He has taken it upon himself to safeguard the wulin. Although we are located in the distant south, he has so much concern over our well-being. Although in his letter, he asked that we take good care of Master Xuanbei, his actual intent was to station him here to assist us." He immediately bowed slightly and said, "Abbot Fangzheng is a man of great kindness and thoughtfulness. I do not know how we brothers can repay him."

Huizhen replied, "Your majesty, you are too modest. Our group rushed southwards upon receiving his directive. On the 28th of last month, we arrived at Dali's Liangzhou prefecture and took shelter for the night at Shenjie monastery. Who would have imagined that on the morning of the 29th, as we four disciples woke up, we saw that our master…our master had been murdered. He died in the main hall of the Shenjie monastery…." As he came to this point, he was sobbing so much that no further words could come out.

Emperor Baoding let out a long sigh. He asked, "Was Master Xuanbei killed by means of poison or hidden weaponry?" Huizhen replied, "No." Emperor Baoding, the Yellow Browed Monk, Duan Zhengchun, and Gao Shengtai were all startled. They thought to themselves, "With Xuanbei's level of martial arts, unless he was struck by hidden weaponry coated with a poison that would kill on contact, even if the enemy had ambushed him from behind, he wouldn't be completely defenseless and die on the spot. Within Dali, what evil master martial artist has such a high and vicious level of ability?"

Duan Zhengchun said, "Today is the third. The 28th of last month was four days ago. Yu'er was kidnapped on the night of the 27th. Emperor Baoding nodded. "It wasn't the 'Four Evils'." For the past few days, Duan Yanqing had been focused on keeping guard over Duan Yu. He definitely wouldn't have had the time to travel such a great distance to commit murder at the Shenjie monastery. In addition, even if it were Duan Yanqing, he wouldn't have been able to silently and stealthily kill Xuanbei in the blink of an eye.

Huizhen said, "As we propped up our master, we felt that his entire body was icy cold. He had gone to Nirvana hours ago. There was no trace of any battle having occurred within the main hall. We rushed out of the temple, and the monks of Shenjie monastery assisted us as well. But within a ten-li radius, we couldn't find a single trace of the murderer's passing.

Emperor Baoding gloomily said, "Master Xuanbei not only died on behalf of the Duan family, but perished within the borders of Dali. No matter how one views it, we two brothers definitely cannot let this go unpunished."

Huizhen and Huiguan immediately dropped to their knees, kowtowing in thanks. Huizhen spoke again. "After the four of us discussed the situation with Abbot Wuye of Shenjie monastery, we decided to temporarily keep our master's remains at Shenjie monastery. We didn't dare to cremate him on the spot, so as to allow our martial-uncle, the abbot, to see him with his own eyes. The other two disciples rushed back to Shaolin to report the situation to the abbot. This humble monk and Huiguan rushed to Dali to report the situation to your imperial majesty, and to the South-Subduing Prince."

Emperor Baoding said, "Abbot Wuye is of venerable age and eminent virtue. His knowledge is broad and he knows many anecdotes regarding the wulin. What did he have to say?"

Huizhen replied, "Abbot Wuye said: 'There is an eighty or ninety percent chance that the murdered was a member of Gusu's Murong family."

Duan Zhengchun and Gao Shengtai exchanged glances. Both of them thought to themselves, "Once again, it's Gusu's Murong family!"

Up til now, the Yellow Browed Monk had been silent. He interjected, "Did Master Xuanbei die due to a strike to the chest, with the enemy technique being the 'Great Veda Sceptre'?" Huizhen was startled. "Great master, your guess is just so. How…how did you…" The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "I've long heard that Master Xuanbei was an expert at Shaolins 'Great Veda Sceptre' technique. When fighting opponents, their ribs would snap from his blows. This martial arts skill, although fearfully powerful, is too tyrannous and brutal. It really does not seem like a Buddhist martial arts at all…alas!" Duan Yu interrupted, "Right! This martial arts is too brutal and ruthless."

Hearing the Yellow Browed Monk criticize their teacher, Huizhen and Huigen naturally felt resentment. But knowing that he was of a senior generation, they did not dare to contradict him. Upon hearing Duan Yu chattering from the side, they were so furious that their eyes bulged out. Duan Yu pretended not to notice, paying them no mind.

Duan Zhengchun asked, "Martial brother, how did you know that Xuanbei died from the 'Great Veda Sceptre'? The Yellow Browed Monk sighed. "For Abbot Wuye of Shenjie monastery to be so certain that the murdered was of the Murong family, he certainly must have had corroborating evidence. Gusu's Murong family is known for something called, 'Using the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent.' Have you heard of this?" Duan Zhengchum mumbled to himself, "I have heard this saying before, but never really understand its meaning." The Yellow Browed Monk murmured, "'Using the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent.' Hm. 'Using the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent…" Suddenly, a look of dread flashed across his face. Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun, in the decades they had known him, had never seen him be afraid. The other day, when he was engaged in a life and death duel with Crown Prince Yanqing, he was clearly in a losing position. Although he was in an extremely difficult situation, that look of utter calmness never left his face. For him to now show fear indicated that their opponent definitely was no one to look down upon.

For a period of time, there only silence within the warm pavilion. After a long moment, the Yellow Browed Monk said slowly, "This old monk has heard that within the world, there is a person known as Murong Bo. His personal name is 'Bo', abundant, and his martial arts knowledge and abilities truly are abundant and profound to the extreme. It seemed as though he knew every single unique and consummate skill of every sect within the wulin. He knew every one of them, and could use them as well. In addition, whenever he wanted to kill someone, he would use the same skills which that person had gained fame with."

Duan Yu said, "This really is strange beyond imagining! There are so many martial arts in the world. How can he possibly comprehensively learn them all?" The Yellow Browed Monk replied, "Worthy nephew, your comment is correct. The body of learning is as vast as the sea. How could a single person know everything? But Murong Bo did not have many enemies to begin with. In addition, it was said that if Murong Bo was unable to kill his enemy with their own martial arts, he would not kill them at all."

Emperor Baoding said, "I too have heard that there is such a strange man in the central plains. Hebei's Three Warriors of the Luo Family excelled in using flying awls. Eventually, all three of them died due to flying awls. Daoist Zhangxu of Shandong, when killing his opponents, would chop off all four of their limbs, causing them to cry out in agony for a long time before passing away. Daoist Zhangxu himself met with such a bitter end. The phrase describing Murong Bo, 'Using the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent', came from Daoist Zhangxu's dying lips." After pausing for a moment, he continued. "That year, within the busy streets of Jinan, who knows how many people watched as Daoist Zhangxu rolled about on the floor, limbless and howling." As he said this, it seemed as though he was dimly seeing in his mind the sight of Daoist Zhangxu's cruel death. His face was filled with both resentment and with an unbearable look.

Duan Zhengchun nodded. "Then it must be so." He suddenly thought of something, and said, "Master Guo Yanzhi's master, Ke Baisui, was said to be a master of the soft whip. The powerful force release from his whip was pure and hard. When killing his opponents, he could often crush their skull with a single whip. Can it be that he…he…" Slapping his hands together three times, he called for a servant. "Invite Mr. Cui and Master Guo inside. Tell them I have something to discuss with them." The servant replied, "Yes sir!" But he didn't know who Mr. Cui was, and hesitated to leave. Duan Yu laughed. "Mr. Cui is the Mr. Huo of the accounting room." Only now did the servant loudly reply, "Yes sir!" Turning his body, he left.

After a short period of time, Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi arrived at the warm pavilion. Duan Zhengchun said, "Brother Guo, there's something I must ask you. Please do not be offended." Guo Yanzhi replied, "I will not." Duan Zhengchun said, "Might I asked, how was old master Ke ambushed and murdered? Was he fatally wounded by punches and kicks, or by martial weaponry?" Suddenly, Guo Yanzhi's entire face flushed red. A look of deep shame on his face, he stammered for a long moment. Finally, he spoke. "My respected master was slain by the soft whip technique, the 'Thousand Rendings of the Heavenly Spirit'. The murderer's power was extremely hard and ferocious. Even my master himself could not…could not…"

Emperor Baoding, Duan Zhengchun, the Yellow Browed Monk, and the others exchanged glances. They couldn't help but feel a chill in their hearts.

Huizhen walked towards Cui Baiquan and Guo Yanzhi. After saluting them, he said, "This humble monk and his brother share the same enmity with you two brothers. If we do not eradicate Gusu's Murong family…" As he came to this point, he halted. Whether or not they could actually wipe out Gusu's Murong family was hard to say. He clenched his teeth. "…then this humble monk will simply give his life to them instead." Tears filling his eyes, Guo Yanzhi said, "Shaolin also has a deep enmity with Gusu's Murong family?" Huizhen gave a brief summary of how his master, Xuanbei, died at the hands of Gusu's Murong family.

Guo Yanzhi's face was filled with grief and indignation as he listened, and he gnashed his teeth with hate. Cui Baiquan, on the other hand, simply looked crestfallen and was silent, as though the death of his brother was not a matter of great importance at all. Huiguan said, "Mr. Cui, are you afraid of Gusu's Murong family?" Huizhen quickly interjected, "Martial brother, do not be so rude!" Cui Baiquan glanced to the east, then to the west, as though he were afraid that the walls might have grown eyes or ears, or as though a powerful enemy had arrived and was about to launch a sneak attack. A look of utter terror was on his face. Huiguan let out a 'heng', then muttered to himself, "If a real man is faced with death, then so be it. What's the point of being afraid?" Huizhen also did not approve of Cui Baiquan's attitude. Thus, having already reprimanding his martial brother once, he no longer said anything.

The Yellow Browed Monk coughed lightly. "This matter…" Cui Baiquan's entire body shuddered. He jumped up, so hurriedly that he overturned his teacup. With a 'ping' and a 'pang', it crashed to the floor, breaking into tiny pieces. After calming himself down and collecting himself, he noticed that all eyes were on him. He flushed with same. "Sorry, I'm very sorry!" Guo Yanzhi knitted his brow, then bent over and began to pick up the broken pieces of the shattered teacup.

Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, "This Cui Baiquan fellow is useless." He said to the Yellow Browed Monk, "Martial brother, what were you going to say?"

The Yellow Browed Monk took another sip of tea, then said unhurriedly, "Benefactor Cui, I take it that you have met Murong Bo before?" Upon hearing the three words, 'Murong Bo', Cui Baiquan let out a little 'ah' cry of fear. His two arms propping him up on the arms of the chair, he stammered, "I never…I…I saw him…I didn't…" Huiguan loudly said, "Mr. Cui, have you met Murong Bo before or not?" Cui Baiquan stared towards the sky, as though his spirit had fled his body. Duan Zhengchun and all the others were secretly shaking their heads. Seeing his martial uncle shame himself in front of all these people, Guo Yanzhi felt all the more humiliated and miserable. Only after a long time did Cui Baiquan say, in a quavering voice, "I didn't…well…I kind of…it seems there was…this…"

The Yellow Browed Monk interjected, "This humble monk has a personal experience which I will relate to everyone, so that everyone might know the details. This was something that happened forty three years ago, when I was young and in the prime of my strength. I had just entered the martial world, and had gained a little bit of fame within the jianghu. I really was a 'newborn calf who did not fear a tiger' [Chinese saying meant that an ignorant person knows no fear]! I felt that despite the vastness of the world, aside from my own master, no one had higher martial arts skill than me. That year, I was escorting a retiring official and his family back to their old homes. We were travelling from Bianliang back to Shandong. At a mountain pass near the Blue Leopard Ridge, we came upon four bandits. After they saw us, their first move was not to go after our belongings, but rather for that official's daughter. At the time, I was young and impetuous. Naturally, I showed no mercy with my blows, and every strike was a vicious one. I exercised the power of my Vajra Fingers, and drove each finger into an enemy heart with each attack. All four of the bandits died before they had so much as a chance to grunt."

"I really thought that I was something incredible, and began to brag and boast to that retiring official. I said things like, 'Even if eight or ten bandits came, I would take their lives with my Vajra Finger.' At that moment, I heard the sound of hoofsteps, and two people rode past on a donkey. Suddenly, one of the persons on the back of the donkey let out a 'heng'. It was a female's voice, but that 'heng' was filled with contempt and disdain. I turned around and saw a thirty six year old married woman on the donkey. The other person was a fifteen year old lad with delicate and extremely attractive features. Both of them were wearing white mourning clothes, showing great filial piety. That youth said, "Ma, what's so impressive about the Vajra Finger, for someone to come here to brag about it?"

The origins of the Yellow Browed Monk, even Emperor Baoding and his brother were not too clear about. But everyone here very much respected his display at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, where he used the power of his Vajra Finger to carve out a chessboard, carve out chess moves, and struggle unyieldingly against Crown Prince Yanqing. His Vajra Finger was even more venerated. At this moment, hearing him recount these events, they all thought to themselves that it was just a young, ignorant kid whose words were full of nonsense.

They didn't expect that the Yellow Browed Monk would let out a light sigh before continuing. "At that time, I was angry upon hearing these words. But I thought to myself, why be upset over the wild ramblings of a little kid? I glared at him, but paid him no attention. Only to hear the woman upbraid him. She said, 'This person's Vajra Finger comes from the orthodox teachings of the Putian Damo Courtyard of Fujian. He's achieved a thirty percent proficiency in it. What does a little kid like you know? When you strike with your fingers, you aren't as accurate as he is."

"As I heard this, I was both startled and angry. Very few people of the jianghu knew where my martial arts originated from, yet this woman was able to determine it with a single sentence. In addition, she claimed that my Vajra Fingers had only reached a level of thirty percent proficiency. Of course I couldn't take this lying down. Alas, at that time, I really had no idea as to how high the heaven is, or how deep the earth is. Based on my level of actual ability at that time, for someone to say that I had reached thirty percent proficiency was already giving me too much credit. At most, I had reached perhaps twenty six or twenty seven percent proficiency. I loudly said, "Madame, what is your respected surname? Your son belittled my Vajra Finger. Does he wish to exchange a few stances and pointers with me?" That kid brought the donkey to a halt and was about to respond. Suddenly, the lady's eyes reddened and tears appeared in her eyes. "What words did your father say to you just before he died? Have you already forgotten?" That youth replied, "Understood. I don't dare forget." They spurred the donkey on and galloped forwards.

"The more I thought about it, the less I could accept their words. I spurred on my own horse to catch up to them. I called out, 'Hey! You came here and spewed nonsense about my martial arts, but refused to exchange a few pointers with me. Do you really plan to just get away that easily?' I was riding an extremely fine stallion. As I spoke, I passed by their donkey, then came to a halt in front of them. That woman said to her son, 'See? You said a bunch of rubbish, and now other people are upset.' That youth was clearly very obedient towards his mother, and did not dare to even glance at me. I saw that they were afraid of me, and thought to myself that they were just a widow and an orphan, with no martial abilities. Why lower myself to their level? But from the woman's words, it seemed as though that youth also knew the Vajra Finger. It took me over fifteen years to begin to master this set of martial arts. How could this little kid possibly know it? Naturally, they were just blowing hot air. I said, 'Today, I'll let you guys go. In the future, be more careful when speaking.'"

"The woman still didn't even so much as glance at me. She said to the youth, 'The words of this uncle are correct. In the future, be more careful when you speak.' It would have been so much better if I had just let the matter drop here. But that that time, I was young and strong-headed, and did not move my horse away, continuing to block the road. The woman got off the donkey and began to walk in front of it. The youth patted the donkey, then also got off and began to lead it past me. I let out a big laugh and aimed a blow at the donkey with my whip, saying, 'Hurry, scram!' But before my whip reached a foot of the body of the donkey, the youth turned around. With a 'chi' sound, he pointed, projecting his internal energy through the air and knocking my whip out of my hand. This terrified me so badly that I was totally stunned. The power of his finger was extremely strong, far surpassing my own."

"I heard the woman say, 'Since you have already attacked, you might as well finish the job.' The youth said, 'Yes!' He turned the donkey around and rushed towards me. Stretching out my left palm, I executed the technique, 'Cloud-Barring Hand' and pushed towards him. Suddenly, with a 'chi' sound, he pointed at me with his finger. I felt some pain on the left side of my chest. Then, all my energy left my body."

As the Yellow Browed Monk came to this point in the story, he slowly began to remove his robes, exposing his thin, bony chest. Everyone could see that on the left side of his chest, above his heart, there was a hole roughly an inch deep. Although the hole was long since scabbed over, it was nonetheless clear to everybody how severe the injury he suffered was. Everyone was absolutely astonished that with such a deep wound over his heart, he not only did not die, but had managed to survive to this very day.

The Yellow Browed Monk pointed towards the right side of his chest and said, "Everyone, please take a look." The flesh and skin there were slightly undulating upwards and downwards. Only now did everyone realize that his body structure was a bit different from everyone else's; his heart was closer to the right side than the left. The reason he managed to just barely survive was for this reason.

The Yellow Browed Monk once more put on his cloth robes, then continued. "For a person to have a heart like mine is really an extremely rare occurrence. That youth, seeing that I did not immediately die upon being struck by his finger on my heart, pulled his donkey back a few steps. A look of great surprise was on his face. I saw the blood flowing from my chest and knew that my life certainly would be lost. I no longer had any fear, and immediately boomed out, 'Little crook, you claim that you know how to use the Vajra Finger. Hmph! The Vajra Finger of the Damo Courtyard, is there such a thing as it injuring the opponent and drawing the opponent's blood but not taking the opponent's life? Your technique is totally wrong. It definitely is not the Vajra Finger!' That youth leapt towards me, once more about to strike at me. At that moment, I couldn't defend myself in the slightest. All I could do was stand there and wait for death. I never would have imagined that the woman would suddenly flick her whip and capture her son's arm with it. I dimly and hazily heard her reprimand her son. 'The Murong family of Gusu actually has such a useless scion as you. Since your finger strike was not perfect, you cannot kill this man. I'll punish you. For the next seven days…' As to what sort of punishment she would assign him for the next seven days, I do not know. By that time, I had already fainted."

Cui Baiquan said in a trembling voice, "Ma…master, afterwards…afterwards, did you ever meet them again?"

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "I am embarrassed to say this. But after that day, I felt extremely downhearted. Such a young man already achieved such great attainment in martial arts. Even if I practiced hard for the rest of my life, I might not be able to catch up to him. After the injury to my chest was healed, I left the territory of the Great Song, and came to far-away Dali. I hid myself under his majesty's protection, and after a few years became a monk. Over these many years, I have passed beyond the point of caring about life or death, and no longer care about my past honors or humiliations. But when I occasionally think back on that event, my heart cannot help but quiver with fear. I really am like a little bird terrified by the twang of a bowstring."

Duan Yu asked, "Master, if that youth lived to this day, he would be in his sixties. He would be Murong Bo, right?"

The Yellow Browed Monk shook his head. "I'm embarrassed to say this, but I don't know. As to whether or not the skill he used to attack me truly was the Vajra Finger, I also could not tell for sure. I only felt that it seemed somewhat different. But regardless of whether or not it was the Vajra Finger, it was extremely powerful…extremely powerful…"

No one spoke. The disdain they had felt towards Cui Baiquan was mostly gone now. They all thought to themselves that for a martial artist of the Yellow Browed Monk's caliber to be in dread of Murong Bo, it was excusable for Cui Baiquan to be terrified out of his wits.

Cui Baiquan said, "Sir, you have an extremely high status, and yet you do not conceal your past inglories at all. What type of person am I, to not speak for fear of being shamed? I was just about to explain to the prince my reasons for hiding myself here. As no one here is an outsider, I will tell everyone the story." As he said this, his face became extremely agitated. He felt his tongue and his throat become dry. He grabbed his bowl of tea and gulped it down, then took Guo Yanzhi's bowl of tea and drank that down as well. Only then could he continue. "This…this event of mine, happened…happened eighteen years ago…" After he said this, he couldn't help but start glancing outside the window again.

He calmed himself down, then said, "Within the regional capital city of Nanyang, there was a local tyrant surnamed 'Cai'. He was rich but cruel and oppressed the common people. A friend of my martial brother and I was framed and harmed by him. His entire family died at Cai's hands." Guo Yanzhi said, "Martial uncle, are you talking about that crook, Cai Qingtu?" Cui Baiquan said, "Right. Whenever your master speaks of Cai Qingtu, he always gnashes his teeth with hate. Your master wrote many letters of condemnation and complaint to the local officials, but each time Cai Qingtu would bribe the high officials to suppress and quash the complaints. If your master were to use his soft whip, he could have destroyed Cai Qingtu in a heartbeat. But although he was a lofty hero in the world of the jianghu, in his own hometown, he had a family and a business. He wasn't willing to break the law. I, Cui Baiquan, was totally different. I thieved chickens and stole dogs, *****d and gambled, committed murder and arson. I did everything. That night, I couldn't suppress my anger. I snuck into Cai Qingtu's house and wiped out everyone in his household, numbering over thirty people."

"I started killing at the main gate, and killed all the way until I reached the backyard courtyard. I didn't even spare the female slave gardeners. Entering the courtyard, I saw some light at the window of a small building. I rushed up the building and kicked down the door. It was a study room, and all four walls were filled with books. A pair of two, man and woman, were seated there and were reading."

"The male was in his forties and had handsome features. He wore the clothes of a scholar. The woman appeared very young, but as her back was towards me, I didn't see her face. I saw that she wore a light green outer garment. Judging by the candlelight, she seemed quite pretty and charming. Goddamnit…" Up til now, his words had been refined, not at all in keeping with his normal behavior. He stunned everyone in suddenly letting out such an uncouth remark. Swimming in his memories, Cui Baiquan continued, "…I had just killed thirty odd people in a short amount of time and was in a great mood. I suddenly saw those two bastards, and goddamnit, I thought it was weird. Everyone in Cai Qingtu's family was vicious and thuggish. Where did these two attractive, refined bastards come from? Isn't this like Emperor Tangming and Yang Guifei from the opera skits? I thought it was weird, and wasn't planning to immediately kill them. The man said, "Wife, everything from 'guimei' to 'wuwang' is not lined up correctly [tortoise sister to martial king]."

Duan Yu, upon hearing the words, 'guimei' to 'wuwang', thought to himself, "What the heck is this? What is he talking about?" After thinking for a moment, he came to a realization. "Oh, he means, from 'guimei' to 'wuwang' [tortoise sister to no rashness]. The man is talking about the I-Ching." His interested was roused.

Cui Baiquan continued, "That woman muttered to herself for a while, then said, 'If you go from the northeast corner and slant towards 'dage' [elder brother], then turn at 'zizi' [elder sister]…is this route possible?" Duan Yu thought to himself, "Elder brother? Elder sister? Oh, he means 'large road' and 'already crossed'." Suddenly, he was startled all the more. "This woman is clearly talking about the steps within the 'Graceful Steps Upon the Waves'. Her positioning is a bit off though, so she isn't totally correct. Can it be that this woman has some sort of relationship with the Dear Goddess of the mountain cave?"

Cui Baiquan continued, "These two kept on talking incessantly, babbling about turtle sisters, brothers-in-law, older sisters, yadda yadda. I got impatient and yelled, 'Goddamnit, both of you bastards, roll the hell out!' But both of them acted as though they were deaf and hadn't heard my words at all. They simply continued to stare intently at that book. The woman said in a soft voice, 'There are nine steps that need to be taken from here to the elder sister's house. They can't be taken.' I yelled again, 'Take them, take them, take them! Take as many steps as you need to your grandmother's house! I'll send you to meet all eighteen generations of your ancestors!' Just as I was about to enter the room, that man suddenly clapped his hands and laughed. 'Brilliant, brilliant! The grandmother is the 'kun'. Eighteen generations of ancestors…hey, two times nine is eighteen! They should revolve around the 'kun' position. We've thought through this part of the footwork!' He reached out and grabbed an abacus on the table. I don't know what he did, but suddenly three abacus beads flew out towards me. I only felt some pain in my chest, then found my body to be paralyzed and unable to move any more."

"These two still ignored me, and continued to talking about their little brothers and their little swine. My heart was filled with unspeakable fear. My bandit nickname was the 'Golden Abacus', because I always carry with me an abacus forged from gold. Hidden within was a secret spring mechanism which would shoot out seventy seven abacus beads when the mechanism was activated. But the abacus on the table was an ordinary one made from mahogany. The bamboo cross-pieces of the abacus had been broken into countless pieces; clearly, he had used his internal energy to shatter the bamboo cross-pieces, then used his internal energy to agitate the beads and shoot them out. This display of martial arts prowess really was goddamn incredible."

"The more the man and the woman spoke, the happier their voices became. I, on the other hand, grew steadily more afraid. I committed over thirty bloody murders in this house, and now I was stuck here, unable to move, unable to speak. It would be alright if I had to pay with my own life for my murders. But if I were found here, I would be implicating brother Ke as well. The four hours that I spent there were more agonizing than that of ten or twenty years of torture. It wasn't until the chickens began to crow that the man laughed and said, 'Wife, it looks like we won't be able to figure out the next few steps tonight. Let's go!' The woman said, 'This 'Golden Abacus', Master Cui, helped you to come up with such a miraculous solution. We should give him some sort of reward!' I was startled once more. So they had known my identity all along. The man said, 'Since this is the case, let's let him live a few more years. We'll take his life the next time we meet him! He dared to insult you and insult me. We can't just pretend that didn't happen.' As he spoke, he picked up his book, then sent out a palm and lightly tapped me on the back, unsealing my acupoints. Following this, the two of them flew out of the window. I lowered my head and saw that three holes had appeared in the chest of my clothes. Three abacus beads were neatly and perfectly nailed into my chest. Even if one had used a ruler and other tools, it would be extremely difficult to place them so accurately. Look, look, look. Everyone, take a look at my predicament for yourself." And as he spoke, he removed his upper body garments.

As everyone looked at him, they couldn't help but laugh. Two of the abacus beads were planted precisely on top of his nipples, with the other one in between them. Can it be that he wasn't able to think of a way to remove them, despite all these years having passed? Cui Baiquan shook his head, rebuttoning his clothes. "For these three beads to be placed on my body is really a heavy punishment. At first, I wanted to dig them out with a knife. But as soon as I used the slightest bit of force, I agitated my own meridians and passed out. It took four hours before I was able to wake up. How about using sandpaper or a filing knife to slowly destroy it? It was still so agonizing that I screamed like a goddamn pig. This punishment has followed my spirit and never left my body. Whenever it is about to rain, these three points of my chest are filled with so much unbearable ****ing pain. It's more accurate than tortoise shell divinations!" Everyone present was both astonished and amused.

Cui Baiquan let out a sigh. "This man said that the next time he saw me, he would take my life. I can't let him take my life, but if I ever met him again, I can't prevent him from taking it either. The only thing I could do was to make sure he would never see me again. I had no other choice but to escape far away. I ended up arriving at the South-Subduing Palace. There were many experts here, including Prince Duan, Gao Shengtai, Chu Wanli, and the other bodyguards. Surely, they wouldn't stand by and do nothing and simply watch as my life was taken away. When these three beads on my chest began to hurt, I had no choice but to drown the pain in alcohol for a while. Any lofty aspirations, grand ideals, or dreams of becoming a famous man of my time had become totally out of ****ing reach, more distant than the ninth level of the heavens."

Everyone thought to themselves, "This person's situation is largely the same as that of the Yellow Browed Monk. The only difference is that one left the secular world and became a monk, whereas the other hid his identity and lived incognito." Duan Yu asked, "Mr. Huo, how do you know that those two belonged to Gusu's Murong lineage?" He was used to calling this person 'Mr. Huo', and wasn't able to instantly change his mode of address.

Cui Baiquan scratched his head and said, "That was the hypothesis of my martial brother. After being hit by these three abacus beads, I went to discuss the situation with him. He told me that in the wulin, only Gusu's Murong family would 'Use the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent.' I use abacus beads to attack others, and so he used abacus beads to attack me. Gusu's Murong family isn't a flourishing one. ****! It's a good thing there's not a lot of them in the world. If they had thousands of sons and hundreds of grandsons, there would be no others left in the jianghu. Only their family would be left."

These words were extremely disrespectful to Dali's Duan family, but no one cared. He continued, "The only famous person from their family is Murong Bo. Forty three years ago, the kid who used the Vajra Finger to harm this respected monk was aged fifteen or sixteen. Eighteen years ago, the man who drilled these three beads into my chest was in his forties. It seems likely that they both were the same person, Murong Bo. I never would have imagined that my martial brother would lose his life to him as well. Yanzhi, how did your master offend him?"

Guo Yanzhi replied, "These past few years, my master had been focused on his business. He would often say, 'harmony brings prosperity'. He never quarreled with anybody. There's no way that he could've offended Gusu's Murong family. We're located in Nanyang; they're located in Suzhou. There's a huge distance between us."

Cui Baiquan said, "Most likely, Murong Bo wasn't able to find me, shrinking, cowardly turtle that I am, and went to ask your master for my location. Your master was a loyal, filial man. He would rather die than reveal my location, and lost his life under Murong Bo's hands. Brother Ke! I harmed you!" As he spoke, tears began to fall from his eyes and he had a runny nose. Sobbing, he said, "Murong Bo…Bo, Bo, Bo! I'll rip your skin off [Bo is a homonym for another Chinese character, meaning to skin]!" After crying for a bit, he turned to Duan Zhengchun and said, "Prince Duan, all I have to say, I have. Thank you for taking care of me over the past few years and not exposing my identity. I feel extremely grateful towards you, but it will be difficult for me to repay you. I am heading to Gusu right now!" Astonished, Duan Zhengchun said, "You are going to Gusu?"

Cui Baiquan said, "Right! My martial brother and I are as close as blood brothers. How can I not avenge his murder? Yanzhi, let's go!" As he spoke, he clasped his hands towards every person, then turned around and left. Guo Yanzhi also paid his respects to everyone present, then followed him out.

This turn of events was completely out of everyone's expectations. They saw how terrified Cui Baiquan was of Gusu's Murong family. But when he spoke of going to avenge his martial brother, despite the fact that he knew he was going to his death, he didn't show an iota of fear. Everyone secretly felt respect for him within their hearts. Duan Zhengchun called out, "Gentlemen, please wait. Brother Guo has travelled such a long distance to get here. Please take a night's rest at my humble abode first, then leave on the morrow." Cui Baiquan halted, turned around, and said, "Yes! We'll follow your orders, prince, and trouble you for one last meal. Yanzhi, let's go drinking!" He led Guo Yanzhi away.

Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, "Brother Chun, tomorrow, go with Ministers Hua, Fan, and Ba to the Shenjie monastery of Luliang prefecture. Hold a memorial service on my behalf for master Xuanbei." Duan Zhengchun agreed. Huizhen and Huiguan kowtowed, showing their thanks. Emperor Baoding said to Duan Zhengchun, "After paying your respects to Abbot Wuye, wait at the Shenjie monastery for the arrival of the other master monks of Shaolin, then give them my return letter for Abbot Xuanci." He said to Ba Tianshi, "Prepare a pair of letters. One will go to Abbot Xuanci, the other will go to Abbot Wuye. Also prepare gifts for both of them." Ba Tianshi bowed and acknowledged the order. Emperor Baoding continued, "Escort these two eminment monks to their rooms so that they can have some rest." After Ba Tianshi escorted Huizhen and Huiguan out, Emperor Baoding said, "Dali's Duan family came from the wulin of the central plains. We have never dared to forget our origins, despite the passage of centuries. When friends from the wulin of the central plains come here, we always happily welcome them with lavish ceremony. But our ancestors laid down an extremely strict rule. The scions of the Duan family are completely forbidden from getting involved in the enmities of the jianghu of the central plains. Although we will not and cannot ignore the death of master Xuanbei, we will leave the question of getting revenge up to Shaolin. We cannot interfere." Duan Zhengchun said, "Yes, your brother understands."

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "It really is very difficult to decide what our proper course of action here is. We must assist Shaolin, but we cannot get involved in any revenge killings. Although Gusu's Murong family does not have many people, as a famous, aristocratic wulin family, they certainly have a huge number of friends and affiliates. For Shaolin to be open enemies of Gusu's Murong family would be an shocking, earth-shattering event of wulin. Blood will spray like rain, and the wind will reek of flesh. Who knows how many people will perish. For the past few years, the country of Dali has been peaceful and prosperous. If we get too deeply involved in this spat, I'm afraid that in future years, there will be many people who come to Dali for the purpose of settling scores."

Emperor Baoding said, "Master, your words are most correct. Our only option is to act totally in accordance with the righteous path, while also showing as much forebearance as we can. Brother Chun, you must always remember these four words: 'Maintain righteousness, exercise forebearance.'" Duan Zhengchun cupped his hands in acknowledgement of the lesson.

The Yellow Browed Monk said, "My two worthy brothers, I must depart now. I need to take a stroll at the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge." Everyone was astonished. Emperor Baoding said, "Martial brother, what business do you have at the Ten Thousand Calmities Gorge? Who do you want to take with you?" The Yellow Browed Monk laughed. "I won't even take my two disciples. My two worthy brothers, why don't you try to guess why I am going there?" Seeing a cheerful smile on his face, Emperor Baoding and Duan Zhengchun felt that it probably wasn't some dangerous affair. And yet, they still weren't able to guess what it might be. The Yellow Browed Monk smiled towards Duan Yu. "Worthy nephew, I'll wager you can guess what it is."

Duan Yu was startled. "Why is it that I can guess what it is, despite my uncle and father being unable to?" But suddenly, the answer came to him. Laughing, he said, "Master, you are going to investigate that game of chess!" The Yellow Browed Monk laughed loudly. "Precisely. I have no idea as to how, precisely, I defeated Crown Prince Yanqing in that game of chess. Why did he kill one of his own eyes?" Duan Yu shook his head. "I don't know either." The Yellow Browed Monk said, "Can it be that there was some oddity within the stone house, or on the blue stone? This humble monk must go take a second look!"

For students of chess, after each game, regardless of victory or defeat, they would go and ponder and deliberate the moves of that match. They would consider where they made weak moves or unwise moves, or where they attacked to aggressively or moved too sluggishly. They wouldn't feel comfortable until after they had totally understood the intricacies of the game. Not to mention, the Yellow Browed Monk won this game of chess in an extremely strange manner. If he couldn't discover the secret to this game of chess, it would most likely vex him for the rest of his life.

Emperor Baoding immediately returned to his own palace. The Yellow Browed Monk instructed his two disciples to return to the Flower Gathering Monastery, then went by himself to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. He reassembled the blue stone chessboard which was shattered by Crown Prince Yanqing, then began pondering each move step by step.

After escorting Emperor Baoding and the Yellow Browed Monk out of the palace, Duan Zhengchun returned to his own room, intending to discuss the day's events with his wife. Unfortunately, Dao Baifeng, still angry with him over the discovery that he had another illegitimate daughter, in the form of Zhong Ling, had locked the door and wouldn't let him in. Duan Zhengchun begged her from outside to open up for a long time. She replied, "If you don't leave immediately, I'm going back to the Hollow Jade Monastery!"

Helpless, Duan Zhengchun could only return to the study room, sitting down gloomily. He suddenly thought of Zhong Ling, and wondered if Zhong Wanchou and the Divine Crocodile could rescue her. Chu Wanli and the others had left to investigate, but hadn't returned to make a report yet. His mind was uneasy. He stroked the golden box which Gan Baobao had returned to him. Staring at her slender, fine handwriting, his mind returned to a time seventeen years past, where the two of them had shared joy and happiness so overwhelming, it had penetrated to their marrows. Then he thought of how she had painfully waited for him for so long, before she finally was forced to marry Zhong Wanchou. He couldn't help but feel a deep ache within his heart. "At that time, she was only a seventeen year old girl. Her parents had always treated her unkindly. She was carrying my child within her, out of wedlock. What else could she do?"

The more he thought, the more miserable he felt. Suddenly, he remembered the words which Dao Baifeng had earlier said to Minister Hua. "This tunnel passes by Madame Zhong's bedroom. If you don't collapse it, I'm afraid that one of the gentlemen currently present will henceforth go tunnel his way there every night from now on." He immediately ordered one of his servants to secretly summon two of Minister Hua's most able family warriors, admonishing him to keep everything secret.

Within his own study room, Duan Yu's mind was fully occupied with running through all the strange events which had recently transpired. First, his wedding engagement with Mu Wanqing, then his discovery that she was his sister. Even more bizarre, Zhong Ling was also his sister. Zhong Ling had been kidnapped by Yun Zhonghe, and whether or not she had escaped his clutches was as of yet unknown. His heart was filled with worry. Then, he thought of Murong Bo and his wife studying the art of the 'Graceful Steps Upon the Waves'. He wondered what sort of connection they might have with his Dear Goddess from the cave. Could it be that they were disciples of the Xiaoyao Sect [literally, 'Carefree' Sect]? Are they the people whom the Dear Goddess has ordered me to kill? They have attained such an incredibly high level of martial arts. For someone to expect me to try and kill them will be a joke of colossal proportions.

His mind wandered to his imprisonment within the stone house. Thank goodness he hadn't committed any incestuous acts. It really was a stroke of luck. In addition, he had become much more familiar with the footwork of the 'Graceful Steps Upon the Waves' as well. However, he had been slacking with regards to doing the homework which the Dear Goddess had assigned him. He immediately reached within his bosom, intending to pull the manuscript out. As soon as his fingers brushed its surface, he realized that something was wrong. He quickly extracted the manuscript, then let out a series of cries, "Aiyo! Aiyo!" The scroll had long since been torn into many scattered pieces. Upon unwrapping it, he found that all the pieces were jumbled together. How could this be readable at all? Of the scattered pieces of parchment, perhaps only thirty percent of the original remained. The damage done to the actual diagrams and instructions was even more severe. Duan Yu's entire body trembled, as though he had been thrown into a room built of ice. He thought to himself, "How…how could this have happened."

Only after a long time had passed did he vaguely recollect that after being imprisoned by the man in green, his entire body had suddenly turned unbearably hot. He had wildly ripped and torn at his clothes. Later, as he ran and jumped about madly, he had continued to wildly tear at his clothes. In his dazed state, how could he tell the difference between clothes and manuscripts? Naturally, he tore at everything, ripping them into little pieces then casting them aside.

He stared stupidly at the image of the naked girl on the scroll, whose arms and legs had been torn off with the parchment they were drawn upon. And yet, there was a feel of relief in his heart as well. "The manuscript has been destroyed. I can no longer learn the martial arts written within it. It's not that I refuse to obey Dear Goddess's orders, but that I am unable to. All that stuff about exterminating the disciples of the Xiaoyao Sect no longer apply." He threw the remaining scraps of parchment into the fireplace, then lit the fire and burned them to ash. He thought to himself, "The naked pictures are badly damaged. Each time I look at them, I would be profaning the memory of the Dear Goddess. It is heaven's will that it be destroyed in flame."

He saw that it was now late at night, and headed to his mother's room. He wanted to have a good conversation with her and share a meal. Arriving at her room, he saw that the door was shut tightly. The female servant in charge of waiting on the princess giggled, "The princess is sleeping. Please come back tomorrow." Duan Yu thought to himself, "Oh, right. Father must be inside." Turning away, he left, intending to find Mu Wanqing and have a conversation with her instead. But after taking a few steps, he decided that it would be best for him to avoid her for now. For him to visit her now would only make her feel sadder. Bored and aimless, he strolled towards the inner garden.

By now, the moon appeared. He sat for a while at the pavilion by the side of the pond, watching as the curved crescent moon rose up into the sky from the east. He thought to himself that at this moment, the moonlight would also be descending upon the jade cliffs of Mt. Wuliang. After a few more hours, a multicolored long sword would appear on those jade cliffs, pointing to the abode of the Dear Goddess. Just as he was beginning to fall into a spellbound trance, he heard a soft whistle come from outside of the walls. Listening, he heard the sound a few more times. In the past, he wouldn't have paid such a thing any mind. But in the past few days, he had undergone many things and broaded his experiences. He thought to himself, "Can it be that a person of the jianghu is sending a secret signal?"

After a short period of time, the whistle came again. Suddenly, a shadow flashed by the peony flower terrace. As it reached the wall, it leapt on top of it. Duan Yu involuntarily cried out, "Sister Wan!" The person was Mu Wanqing. He watched as she leapt down from the wall, to the other side.

Duan Yu cried out a second time, "Sister Wan!" He rushed to the spot where Mu Wanqing had leapt onto the wall, but he himself, of course, didn't have that sort of ability. There was a door next to him, leading out of the garden, but it was bolted and locked shut with an iron padlock. He could do nothing but loudly shout out, "Sister Wan! Sister Wan!"

Only to hear Mu Wanqing loudly shout back from the other side of the wall, "Why do you keep on calling my name? I never want to see you again! I'm leaving with my mom!" Duan Yu anxiously said, "Don't leave! No matter what, you mustn't leave!" Mu Wanqing did not reply.

After a while, he heard the voice of an older woman say from the other side, "Wan'er, let's go! Alas! It's useless." Mu Wanqing was still silent. Duan Yu knew that this woman must be Qin Hongmian. He shouted, "Aunt Qin, please come in."

Qin Hongmian said, "Come in? For what purpose? So that your mother can kill me?"

Duan Yu wasn't able to formulate a reply. He hit the door hard, calling out, "Sister Wan, Sister Wan! Don't go! Let's slowly think of an idea." Mu Wanqing replied, "What idea can we come up with? Heaven itself has no ideas!" After pondering a moment, she called out, "I have an idea. Are you interested?" Duan Yu happily replied, "Great! What's the plan?"

With two 'chi' sounds, the blade of a thin blue sabre was inserted within the openings at the side of the doorway, then cut the henges off. Following that, with a pair of 'peng' sounds, the gate was pushed open. Mu Wanqing stood in the doorway. Within her hands, she held that thin blue asura sabre. She said, "Stretch out your neck and let me chop it in half. Then I'll immediately kill myself. When we reincarnate, we won't be brother and sister. That way, we can become man and wife."

Duan Yu was so frightened that he was stupefied. In a quavering voice, he replied, "This…this isn't…isn't workable!"

Mu Wanqing said, "I'm willing. Why aren't you? Alternately, you can kill me first, then take your own life." As she spoke, she handed an asura sabre over towards him. Duan Yu hurriedly took two steps back. "No way, no way!"

Mu Wanqing slowly turned around. Grasping her mother's arm, she quickly walked away. Duan Yu blankly stared as their silhouettes disappeared within the darkness of the night. For a long, long time, he did not move.

Slowly, the moon rose until it was in the middle of the sky, but he continued to stand there without moving. He suddenly felt a tightness at the back of his neck, and then he was lifted up in the sky by someone. A quiet voice laughed. "Do you wanna die, or do you wanna live? If you wanna be my master, you'll be a dead master. But if you're willing to be my apprentice, you'll be a living apprentice." It was the Divine Crocodile's voice.

Duan Zhengchun, with two of Hua Hegen's most skilled subordinates, swiftly rode to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge. These two subordinates, having helped Hua Hegen dig the tunnel, knew where the entrance to it was. They led him to it, then shifted away the branches and twigs which they had used to camouflage the entrance. One of them said, "Let this humble one guide you." Duan Zhengchun said, "No need! The two of you shall just wait for me here."

Just as he was about to crawl into the tunnel, he suddenly a shadow flash by from behind a large tree to the west. The movement was extremely quick. Duan Zhengchun immediately utilized his energy and charged over there. He cried out in a low voice, "Who are you?" Behind the large tree, a man whispered back, "Prince, I am Cui Baiquan!" He stepped out from behind the tree.

Surprised, Duan Zhengchun said, "Brother Cui, what are you doing here?" Cui Baiquan said, "This humble one heard that your honored daughter had been abducted. I came with my martial nephew Guo in order to look for her. I saw some clues on the road and deduced that the young miss most likely fled back here. But that villain is continuing to pursue her and not letting up."

Duan Zhengchun's mind was suddenly enlightened. "This Cui Baiquan is a man who distinguishes between benevolence and mistreatment. He had hidden himself in my manor for all these years, and consequently feels that he owes me a debt of gratitude. He is about to go seek out Gusu's Murong family for revenge; this is tantamount to throwing his life away. He hoped to be able to find my daughter Ling'er, and in this way repay the gift of protection which I had given him for the past ten or so years."

He immediately bowed deeply. "Brother Cui, I can't thank you enough for the righteousness you have displayed." Cui Baiquan replied, "I'll go search for her over there." In a flash, he entered the forested woods, demonstrating an exceptionally capable skill in qinggong.

Duan Zhengchun thought to himself, "Brother Cui's martial arts is not inferior at all to Wanli or Danchen." Returning to the tunnel entrance, he entered the tunnel. After crawling for a while, he came to a fork in the tunnel. The two subordinates had already told him earlier that the northeastern tunnel led to the stone house which had previously imprisoned Duan Yu and Mu Wanqing, and that the northwestern tunnel led to Madame Zhong's bedroom. He immediately crawled in the northwestern direction. Arriving at the end of the tunnel, he gently lifted up the board above his head by a few inches. Bright light appeared before him. He slowly peered into the crack, only to see a pair of purple, flower-embroidered shoes resting on the floor. Duan Zhengchun felt a great shock in his heart, then pushed the board up another two inches.

He heard Gan Baobao let out a long sigh. After a while, she quietly said, "If you weren't a prince, but were instead a farmer or a hunter, or a philandering little thief, or a bandit who plundered homes, I would still have followed you...I would have followed you my entire life..." Following this, a few teardrops fell, descending on the floorboard next to her flower-embroidered shoes.

Duan Zhengchun felt a gush of warm feeling rise from the pit of his stomach. He thought to himself, "I won't be a prince anymore. I'll be a thief or a bandit and have you follow me for the rest of our lives. What's so good about being a prince anyhow?"

Only to hear Gan Baobao continue, "Can it be...can it be that I really will never see you again for the rest of my life? Not even once? I...I'm better off dead. Brother Chun, brother Chun...do you miss me at all?" These soft laments were truly heart-rending and deeply moving. Duan Zhengchun couldn't resist from quietly whispering, "Baobao...my beloved Baobao..." Gan Baobao was startled. She stood up, then immediately let out a sigh. She mumbled to herself, "I'm dreaming again. I dreamed that you were calling to me." Duan Zhengchun said in a low voice, "Beloved Baobao, I really am calling out to you. I've always been thinking of you and missing you."

Gao Baobao let out a startled cry. "Brother Chun, is it really you?" Duan Zhengchun pushed the floorboard aside and crawled out. In a low voice, he said, "Beloved Baobao, it really is me!" Gan Baobao, upon suddenly seeing Duan Zhengchun appear before her, lost all color in her face. She took a few steps forward, her entire body trembling. Duan Zhengchun rushed forwards and embraced her in her arms. Gan Baobao's body suddenly swayed, and then she passed out.

Duan Zhengchun hurriedly massaged her 'Renzhong' acupoint. Slowly, Gan Baobao began to come to. She felt that her body was in Duan Zhengchun's embrace, while he was kissing her face. She was filled with such joy that her entire body was about to explode from it. Her mind in a daze, she whispered, "Brother Chun, Brother Chun...I'm dreaming again." Duan Zhengchun tightly embraced her warm, soft body. He whispered in her ear, "Beloved Baobao, you aren't dreaming. I'm the one dreaming."

Suddenly, a coarse voice erupted from outside the door. "Who?! Who's inside the room?! I heard a male voice!" It was Zhong Wanchou's voice. Duan Zhengchun and Gan Baobao were both startled. Gan Baobao loudly replied, "I'm inside! What's this nonsense about a male voice or a female voice? You're babbling again!"

Duan Zhengchun whispered into her ear, "Run away with me. I'll be a thief or a bandit. I won't be a prince anymore." Absolutely jubilant, Gan Baobao whispered back, "I'll be a thief's wife or a bandit's wife. Even if it's just for one day, it would be wonderful."

Without his wife's permission, Zhong Wanchou didn't dare to enter his wife's room. But from a window, he saw a man's shadow inside the room. He loudly cried out, "You have a man inside your room! I...I see him!" He no longer cared about whether or not his wife had given permission and knocked the door open with a flying kick.

The back of Duan Yu's neck had been seized by the Divine Crocodile. Held up in mid-air, he couldn't move in the slightest. He had only finished practicing one part of the 'Divine Art of the Northern Darkness', the 'Shoutaiyinfei' part. He could only use the 'Shaoshang' acupoint on his thumb to fight with people. In addition, the opponent was using all his might in seizing him; how could he drain his energy away, with all of his other acupoints unable to draw internal energy? He was just about to shout, but the Divine Crocodile stretched out his left hand and covered his mouth.

Holding him, the Divine Crocodile raced away. He did not stop until he had arrived in a quiet, secluded place, far away from the South Subduing Palace. He put Duan Yu back down, but did not release the back of his neck, fearing that if he did, Duan Yu would utilize that bizarre set of footwork to flee.

Duan Yu let out a bitter smile. "Evidently, you changed your mind. You don't want to be my disciple after all; you'd rather be a bastard son of a turtle." The Divine Crocodile replied, "Says who? First, return to me my eight kowtows and expel me from your sect, releasing me from your tutelage. Then kowtow to me eight more times and accept me as your master. We'll do this orderly and by the book. That way, there'll be no issue of me being a bastard son of a turtle."

Duan Yu couldn't help but laugh silently to himself. "No way! At this moment, I've been captured by you and don't have the ability to defend myself. Go ahead and kill me!" The Divine Crocodile spat. "Bah! I won't fall for your trick! Your old man definitely won't kill you while you are helpless and give people a reason to call me a bastard son of a turtle! Do you think I'm stupid or something?" Duan Yu replied, "You are so sharp! So extremely smart!"

The Divine Crocodile had come up with a 'brilliant plan' that would allow him to flawlessly and properly achieve his hearts desire in terms of formalities. How could he have known that the other person would rather die than kowtow to him eighteen times? The brilliant plan he had spent days concocting was now totally useless. He couldn't help but feel extremely anxious and indecisive.

Duan Yu said, "According to the rules of the Southern Seas sect, can a disciple kill his own master?" The Divine Crocodile replied, "Of course he can't! A master can kill his disciple, but a disciple killing his master is unheard of!" Duan Yu continued, "So does a disciple have to listen to and obey his master, or does the master have to obey the disciple?" The Divine Crocodile replied, "Naturally, the disciple has to obey the master. After you accept me as your master, you'll need to obey me in all things." Duan Yu laughed. "Right now, you are still my disciple. I told you to go rescue your master-wife. Have you accomplished this or not?"

The Divine Crocodile said, "****! I started to fight with Number Four just as my master-wife's old man rushed over. He took the opportunity to seize her back." Duan Yu, hearing that Zhong Ling had already escaped Yun Zhonghe's vile grasp, was filled with joy.

The Divine Crocodile continued, "Next, I started to fight with my master-wife's old man. After we battled for a bit, he didn't want to fight anymore. My master-wife had already run away as well. Number Four said that we should go to the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge and kill Zhong Wanchou." Duan Yu asked, "Why's that?" The Divine Crocodile replied, "This important task cannot go undone! Otherwise I, Yue Number Two, will never be able to raise my head in the jianghu ever again, and be looked down upon by everyone." Baffled, Duan Yu said, "What type of logic is that? Number Four was just messing with you. You don't need to listen to him."

The Divine Crocodile replied, "No, no! Number Four is looking after my well-being. If you don't understand the logic of this, let me instruct you. That little girl is now my master-wife, putting her a generation up above me. That means her old man is two generations above me. ****! What type of shitty creature is Zhong Wanchou, for him to be two generations my senior? I gotta kill him! Number Four also said that the reason he was planning to kill Zhong Wanchou and steal his wife was because of his loyalty to our group, the 'Four Great Evils'. He was totally doing this for my sake, charging ahead without caring about his own safety and risking everything for me."

Duan Yu was all the more baffled. He asked, "How so?" The Divine Crocodile replied, "Zhong Wanchou's wife, being my master-wife's mother, is also two generations above me. But if Number Four made her his wife instead, she would become the wife of the junior brother of I, Yue Number Two. That would make her my sister-in-law. Her daughter would naturally be a generation beneath me, making her my niece. You would be my niece's husband, making you my nephew-in-law. Naturally, you'd also be one generation lower than me. I'd address you as 'master', and you'd address me as 'uncle'. Wouldn't that put both of us in a great position? Haha! What a brilliant idea!"

Duan Yu burst into loud laughter. The Divine Crocodile said, "Let's go, let's go! Let's quickly go and take care of this important bit of business. There can never be a person in the world who is two generations above Yue Number Two!" Grabbing Duan Yu by the hand, he flew towards the direction of the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge.

Duan Zhengchun heard Zhong Wanchou kick down the door to enter the room. A thought flashed by his mind. "I can't kill him!" He gently pried himself loose from Gan Baobao's embrace and jumped back into the tunnel, hurriedly replacing the wooden board.

With his large sabre in hand, Zhong Wanchou rushed into the bedroom, only to see Gan Baobao by herself in the room. He hurriedly checked the wardrobe, underneath the bed, and behind the door. He checked every conceivable place where a person might hide. Forget about finding a male, he wasn't even able to find half the shadow of a ghost. He was filled with total astonishment. Gan Baobao furiously said, "You've come to bully me again! Quick, just go ahead and kill me cleanly with a cut of your sabre!" Not finding a man inside the room, Zhong Wanchou had been filled with happiness. He hurriedly threw aside his sabre and laughed heartily. "Wife, my vision must've been blurry. I must've drank a few too many cups of wine earlier!" But even as he was saying this, he continued to peer here and there.

Suddenly, the sound of frantic footsteps came from outside. Zhong Ling cried loudly, "Mother! Mother!" She flew into the room. Yun Zhonghe's voice pursued her in. "Even if you run to the ends of the world, I'll still find and capture you!" With quick footsteps, he followed her in.

Zhong Ling cried out, "Daddy, this bad man…this bad man is chasing me again!" In the course of running away from Yun Zhonghe, she had long since exhausted herself. Fortunately, she was familiar with every nook and cranny of her own home, and so was able to dodge here and hide there. Yun Zhonghe on the other hand, in this twisting maze of secret paths and passageways, wasn't able to utilize his qinggong abilities fully. This was the only reason she was able to escape into her mother's bedroom. Yun Zhonghe, seeing both Zhong Wanchou and his wife in the room, was very pleasantly surprised. He thought to himself that this was an excellent opportunity to kill Zhong Wanchou, then carry off both Madame Zhong and Zhong Ling.

Zhong Wanchou fired off three palms in a row, but all three were sidestepped by Yun Zhonghe. Yun Zhonghe circled past the table to pursue Zhong Ling. He thought to himself, "First, let me take care of the little girl. The next step after that would be to kill her father and capture her mother. That way, I won't give her a chance to run away." Zhong Ling cried out, "Hey, you bamboo-pole, if you keep on chasing me, I'm going to start tickling you!" Yun Zhonghe was startled, then called out, "You'll tickle me? I'd like to see you try!" As he spoke, he threw himself through the air towards her.

That day when Zhong Ling had been abducted by Yun Zhonghe, she had struggled with all her might. But how could she escape his grasp? She was terrified to death. She heard the Divine Crocodile rush after them from far away, and heard him loudly call out, "Master-wife! Master-wife! Stretch out your hand and scratch his armpit! This skinny bamboo pole is terrified of being tickled!" Zhong Ling thought to herself, "Tickling? I'm an expert at that skill!" Stretching out her hand, she was just about to tickle his armpit. But Yun Zhonghe had also heard the Divine Crocodile's shout. Even before she had startled to tickle him, he couldn't help but begin to laugh. While laughing, he was no longer able to run as quickly as before, and the Divine Crocodile was able to catch up to him.

Yun Zhonghe said, "Yue Number Three! You've fallen for that guy's tricks!" The Divine Crocodile retorted, "What are you babbling about, tricks this and tricks that? Hurry up and let go of my master-wife, or I'll give you a taste of my crocodile fang scissors!" Out of options, Yun Zhonghe was forced to put Zhong Ling down. Catching him off-guard, Zhong Ling startled to tickle him. Turning his waist away, Yun Zhonghe laughed so hard that he ran out of breath. The more he laughed, the more vigorously Zhong Ling tickled. Between laughs, Yun Zhonghe began to cough. The Divine Crocodile said, "Master-wife, please spare him! If you keep on doing this and if this goes on for much longer, he'll suffocate to death from laughter!" Zhong Ling thought this was really bizarre. This evil person's martial arts skill was of such a high level. How could he be literally tickled to death by someone? She replied, "I don't believe you! I want to try and see if he can really be tickled to death!" The Divine Crocodile said, "That won't do! If you tickle him to death, he won't be able to come to life again. The weak spot of Yun Zhonghe's martial arts is at the 'Tianquan' [Heavenly Spring] acupoint underneath his armpit. It can't be touched!"

Upon hearing his words, Zhong Ling ceased her assaults on the crook of his armpit. Yun Zhonghe rose to his feet, then suddenly spat towards the Divine Crocodile. He cursed, "You damned crocodile, you ugly alligator! Why'd you expose the weak spot of my martial arts to an outside?!" Zhong Ling said, "Wow, now you're cussing at people?" She stretched out her hand to tickle him again, but unexpectedly, it didn't work this time. Yun Zhonghe sent out a flying kick that sent her flying far away.

The Divine Crocodile helped Zhong Ling stand up. He said, "Master-wife, does it hurt?" Before Zhong Ling had a chance to respond, Zhong Wanchou rushed towards them, his large sabre in hand. He cried out, "Stupid girl! What's the point of you dying here?" The Divine Crocodile turned his head and barked out, "****, man! Why the hell are you screaming obscenities?" Zhong Wanchou angrily replied, "I'm scolding my daughter! What the hell does it have to do with you?" The Divine Crocodile was totally enraged. Pointing at Zhong Wanchou, he roared, "You…you thieving dog! You want to take advantage of me? I…I, Yue Number Two, am going to go all out on you!" Zhong Wanchou replied, "How am I taking advantage of you?" The Divine Crocodile replied, "She's my master-wife. That means she's a generation above me. There's nothing I can do about that. But you dare to call yourself her father. This…this…you…doesn't this mean you're two generations above me!? Yue Number Two is a respected senior in the Southern Seas. Everyone politely addresses me as 'grandpa' or 'ancestor'. But ever since I arrived at the Central Plains, I've become a generation or two lower than everybody. This old man won't stand for it! I won't stand for it no matter what!"

Zhong Wanchou replied, "If you won't stand for it, then you won't stand for it. She's my birth daughter. That naturally makes me her old man. What's this crap about 'calling myself' her father?" The Divine Crocodile craned his head to glance at both him and his daughter, then said, "Naturally, you're 'calling yourself' her old man. My master-wife is spectacularly beautiful. But you're as ugly as sin. How could you possibly be her old man? She definitely wasn't conceived by you, she was conceived by some other bloke! You're not really her 'old man', you are a fake 'old man'!" Listening to his words, Zhong Wanchou was so enraged that his face turned black with rage. Raising up his sabre, he chopped at the Divine Crocodile.

Zhong Ling hurriedly said, "Daddy, this person rescued me from the hands of that bad man! Don't kill him!"

The flames of Zhong Wanchou's fury towered above the sky. He roared out, "Damn girl! I always suspected that you weren't really my daughter! Even this huge dumbass knows it to be true! How can it be false? First I'll kill him, then I'll kill you, and last of all I'll kill your mother!"

Zhong Ling saw that the two had begun to fight, and that victory or defeat would take some time to be determined. She loudly cried out, "Hey, Yue Number Three! You aren't allowed to hurt my daddy!" She called out again, "Daddy, you can't hurt Yue Number Three!" Then she walked away.

By the time she reached the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge, she was totally exhausted. As soon as she arrived at her own room she immediately fell asleep. She remained asleep until midnight, when she was awoken by Yun Zhonghe's shouts and calls. He was searching through every single room, one after the other. She had hurriedly gotten up and ran away.

At this time, Zhong Ling suspected that she wouldn't be able to get close enough to Yun Zhonghe to tickle him without being captured. She suddenly saw the plank covering the tunnel. Remembering how she was kidnapped via this tunnel by Hua Hegen, she immediately ran over there and lifted up the wooden plank then threw herself into the tunnel.

Yun Zhonghe hurriedly jumped in after her. After crawling for less than ten feet, his hand suddenly fell upon a thin, slender ankle. He heard Zhong Ling call out, "Aiyo!" Kicking frantically, she tried to kick him loose. But how could Yun Zhonghe, as ecstatic as he was, let her go? Exerting some of his upper body strength, he gave a strong pull, trying to pull her towards him. But unexpectedly, Zhong Ling let out another cry of 'Aiyo' and didn't budge in the slightest. It seemed as though someone in front of her had grabbed her as well. At this moment, Yun Zhonghe felt a tight grasp settle around his own two ankles, and was himself being pulled out by someone else. He heard Zhong Wanchou call out, "Get out, get out!"

Zhong Wanchou, worried about his daughter, had also rushed into the tunnel. Zhong Wanchou gave two tugs but was unable to budge him. He was just about to exercise his strength when he, too, felt his ankles being seized by someone else. A surge of energy ran through his body, trying to pull him out. The Divine Crocodile's hoarse voice was heard. "You ugly, horse-faced bastard, how dare you 'call yourself' my master-wife's father?! You want to put yourself two generations above me? I'm going to kill you today, no matter what!"

As it were, the Divine Crocodile had just arrived, with Duan Yu in tow. From outside the room, he had watched as Zhong Ling, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Wanchou successively jumped into the hole. He thought to himself that there was nothing more important, at this moment in time, than killing this "fellow who dares calls himself my master-wife's father". He immediately rushed into the house and jumped into the tunnel as well, seizing hold of Zhong Wanchou's feet.

Duan Yu hurriedly rushed into the room as well. He said to Madame Zhong, "Aunt Zhong, the important thing right now is to help little sister Zhong Ling." Just as he was about to jump into the tunnel as well, somebody suddenly gave his body a push. He immediately fell down.

A female voice cried out, "Number Three, Number Four, get out of there now! Our leader has sent instructions forbidding you guys from killing each other!" It was "No Evil Left Undone", Ye Erniang. She had received orders from Duan Yanqing to come and collect Yun Zhonghe and the Divine Crocodile. But she had arrived a bit late, and saw Yun Zhonghe wriggling into the tunnel, followed shortly by Zhong Wanchou and the Divine Crocodile. She knew that, earlier, the Divine Crocodile was trying to pursue and kill Yun Zhonghe. Yun Zhonghe's martial arts was inferior to the Divine Crocodile. If he were to be really killed, their leader would definitely be absolutely infuriated. After calling out a few more times, and seeing that the Divine Crocodile did not respond, she too jumped into the hole after them. Grabbing the Divine Crocodile's feet, she prepared to exert her strength and pull him out.

Duan Yu cried out, "Hey hey, you guys can't kill sister Zhong Ling! Originally, she was my fiancée. Now she's my sister!" But the cries and shouts coming from the tunnel were chaotic and muddled. He couldn't tell who was calling out what. He thought to himself that with three of the most evil people in the world in that tunnel, Zhong Ling was in a very precarious situation. He felt that she had treated him with loyalty and affection; even though he did not know martial arts, he was willing to stake his life in order to rescue her. He immediately threw himself towards the tunnel opening. Grabbing onto Ye Erniang's ankles, he prepared to pull her out.

As he clenched his hands around her ankles, his hands naturally settled around the location on Ye Erniang's ankles, known as the "Shouyishu". This was the location of a major acupoint, the 'Sanyinjiao' ['Three Lunar Crossings'] acupoint of the 'Zutaiyinpijing' ['Lunar Foot and Spleen Channel']. The intersections were of the 'Zushaoyinshenjing' ['Younger Lunar Foot and Kidney Channel'], the 'Zutaiyinpijing', and the 'Zujueyinxinbaojing' ['Lunar Foot and Pericardium Channel']. The 'Shaoshang' acupoint of his thumb was resting on the 'Sanyinjiao' acupoint of Ye Erniang's ankle. As the two of them simultaneously exerted their energy, Ye Erniang's internal energy immediately rushed out and entered Duan Yu's body.

In the narrow confines of the tunnel, it wasn't easy to turn around. Yun Zhonghe had seized Zhong Ling's ankles, Zhong Wanchou had viciously grabbed on to Yun Zhonghe's ankles, the Divine Crocodile had latched on to Zhong Wanchou's ankles, Ye Erniang had snatched the Divine Crocodile's ankles, and at the very end of the chain, Duan Yu was holding on to Ye Erniang's ankles. Aside from Zhong Ling, everybody in the tunnel was using all of their strength to pull out the person in front of them. Zhong Ling did not have much internal energy, and at first, it seemed as though she was going to be easily pulled out by Yun Zhonghe. But somehow, it seemed as though someone in front of her had tightly grabbed onto her, preventing her from being pulled out!

Everyone in this human chain had the 'Shaoshang' acupoint on their thumbs attached to the 'Sanyinjiao' ankle acupoints of the person in front of them. As Ye Erniang's internal energy flowed towards Duan Yu, it carried with it the internal energies of the Divine Crocodile, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Ling. Zhong Ling didn't have much internal energy to begin with, so it was no big deal for her. But the other four people were terrified out of their wits and starting to kick like crazy, trying to escape the hold of the person behind them. But they were so tightly grabbed that they couldn't shake loose no matter what. The more urgently they exercised their internal energy, the more quickly it flew away from them.

Yun Zhonghe only felt that a stream of energy was flowing from Zhong Ling's ankle to him, and then passing through his own ankle further down the chain. He thought to himself that it was extremely strange that the little kid had such profound internal energy. Fortunately for him, even while internal energy was dissipating from his ankles, he was receiving a constant injection from his hands around her own. Naturally, no matter what he was unwilling to let go of Zhong Ling's ankles, for fear that once he did, he wouldn't be able to catch her again. Zhong Wanchou and the rest had the exact same ideas as well. As their hearts began to grow more and more fearful, their grips grew tighter and tighter as well. It was similar to how a drowning person will grab onto anything they can and refuse to let go no matter what.

Nobody in the tunnel could see a single thing. It was filled with the clamor of their shouts. "Our leader has summoned you!" "Let go of me!" "Your old man is gonna butcher you!" "Whaddya grabbing on to me for? Let go now!" "Mom! Mom! Daddy!" Towards the end, they began to feel that although the stream of energy entering their body from their hands was beginning to weaken, the energy flowing out of their bodies from their feet did not slacken in the slightest. This caused them to be all the more fearful.

Duan Yu pulled for a long time, and noticed that the internal energy continuously gushed forth into him. He had experienced this before at Mt. Wuliang. At the moment, he was able to handle the feeling of dry heat as he stored up the gush of internal energy within the 'Ocean of Energies' at his 'Shanzhong' acupoint. But after a while, he began to feel as though the 'Ocean of Energies' at his 'Shanzhong' acupoint was becoming bloated and swollen. Slowly, he began to grow afraid as well. But he thought to himself that with Zhong Ling in such a precarious situation, he had to hang on no matter what. He clenched his teeth together and did not let go.

Seeing so many strange events occur in succession, Gan Baobao was totally flustered and did not know what to do. In her heart, that spiritually transcendent feeling she had when Duan Zhengchun held her in his arms had not yet totally dissipated. Sitting on a chair stupidly, she softly cried out, "Brother Chun, Brother Chun…he addressed me as his 'Beloved Baobao', he held me, he kissed me. This time, it wasn't a dream. It was real!"

The heat in Duan Yu's chest was proving difficult to endure, but the energy which was entering his body from his hands was only growing stronger and stronger. At this point in time, roughly half of the internal energy of the people in the tunnel had entered his body. Finally, he was able to slowly drag Ye Erniang out of the tunnel, followed by the Divine Crocodile, Zhong Wanchou, Yun Zhonghe, and Zhong Ling. Upon seeing Zhong Ling, Duan Yu felt a great sense of relief in his heart. He immediately let go of Ye Erniang, then rushed forward to help Zhong Ling up. He called out, "Sister Ling, sister Ling, you aren't hurt, are you?"

Ye Erniang and the other three had lost half of their internal energies. They released each other, then simply sat there on the floorboards, huffing and panting.

Zhong Wanchou suddenly cried out, "There's a man! There's a man in that tunnel! It's Duan Zhengchun, Duan Zhengchun!" He suddenly understood what had happened. He thought to himself, "It must have been Duan Zhengchun who dug the damn tunnel underneath my wife's bedroom. Earlier, I heard a man's voice and saw a man's shadow. It's definitely Duan Zhengchun!" The flames of his jealousy roaring, he rushed forwards, pushing Duan Yu aside and grabbing Zhong Ling by the back of her neck, intending to toss her aside, then jump back down into the tunnel and drag Duan Zhengchun out.

Upon hearing him loudly cry out the words "Duan Zhengchun!", Gan Baobao immediately awoke from her stupor. Rising to her feet, her heart was filled with grief and bitterness.

Zhong Wanchou had forgotten that he had lost a large part of his internal energy. Although he grabbed her back the back of her neck, not only was he unable to budge her, his own two feet suddenly buckled and he fell to a sitting position on the ground. But he was unwilling to give up; no matter what, he was going to pull Zhong Ling from the tunnel. There was no way he was going to let Duan Zhengchun slip away!

After pulling for a while, he saw a pair of hands emerge from the tunnel. These hands were wrapped around Zhong Ling's own wrists. Zhong Wanchou loudly cried out, "Duan Zhengchun, get up! You and I are going to fight to the death!" Exerting all his strength, he pulled Zhong Ling backwards. And indeed, a person slowly emerged from the tunnel.

This person really was a male!

Zhong Wanchou loudly called out, "Duan Zhengchun!" Letting go of Zhong Ling, he threw himself forward and seized the man by the chest. He lifted the man up, only to see that this man was repulsive and ugly, with knitted brows, a miserable face, a crooked mouth, and slanted shoulders. His body was extremely thin and gaunt. He was totally different from Duan Zhengchun. Duan Yu cried out, "Mr. Huo, what are you doing here?" This person was the 'Golden Abacus', Cui Baiquan!

Zhong Wanchou cried out, "It isn't Duan Zhengchun!" Lifting his face towards the sky, he fell over backwards. But even then, he wouldn't relinquish his tight grip on Cui Baiquan. But suddenly, two more hands reached out from the tunnel, grabbing on to Cui Baiquan's ankles. Zhong Wanchou loudly cried, "Duan Zhengchun!" Using all his might, he pulled a second person out of the hole.

Only to see that this person was bald, with incense burn-scars on the top of his head. It was a monk. His face was filled with wrinkles, and eyebrows were long and yellow. Not only was it a monk, but it was an extremely old monk. Duan Yu cried out, "Master Huangmei! What are you doing here?" This old monk was the Yellow Browed Monk.

Zhong Wanchou exerted all the remaining strength he had to pull the Yellow Browed Monk out of the tunnel. But nobody was grabbing onto his feet. Zhong Wanchou rushed into the tunnel. After a long period of time, he breathlessly emerged from it, shouting, "Nobody left, there's nobody left in the tunnel." He glanced at Cui Baiquan, then peered at the Yellow Browed Monk. There was no way in hell either of these two could be the secret lover of his wife. He felt a huge sense of relief. He cried out, "Wife, I'm sorry, I…I wrongly blamed you yet again!" By now, he had totally exhausted all of his internal energy, and simply lay there at the tunnel entrance, panting. He was incapable of standing up again.

The Yellow Browed Monk, Cui Baiquan, Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile, and Yun Zhonghe sat down on the floor, regulating their breaths and circulating their internal energy. Amongst the five, the Yellow Browed Monk's internal energy was far and away the best. After a short period of time, he stood up. He shouted loudly, "You three evil creatures! Today, I'll spare your lives. If you dare come to Dali again to cause trouble, don't blame this old monk for being merciless!"

Neither Ye Erniang, nor the Divine Crocodile, nor Yun Zhonghe had any idea as to what had happened in the tunnel. They all thought to themselves that it was some trick which the Yellow Browed Monk had performed. They thought to themselves that not even their leader had been able to overcome this old monk, who was able to take away half of their internal energy in the twinkling of an eye. How could they dare to make so much as a peep? After regulating their breathing for a long period of time, they slowly rose to their feet. They fractionally bowed towards the Yellow Browed Monk, then left the room and departed. At this moment, these three evil people didn't have the slightest evil aura about them.

After bidding Zhong Wanchou and Madame Zhong farewell, the Yellow Browed Monk, Cui Baiquan, and Duan Yu left the gorge. As they arrived at the mouth of the gorge, they saw Duan Zhengchun waiting with two of his household warriors. As Duan Zhengchun and Duan Yu, father and son, saw each other, they both felt very surprised.

As it happened, after Duan Zhengchun saw Zhong Wanchou rush into the room, he had felt extremely guilty and ashamed in his heart. He hurriedly exited the tunnel. As he left, he saw Cui Baiquan standing guard off to the side. Knowing the prince's dissolute temperament, Cui Baiquan didn't ask too many questions. He immediately volunteered himself to enter the tunnel and keep an eye on things, so as to make sure that Madame Zhong would not be harmed by her husband. But instead, he found Zhong Ling, whose ankles had been grabbed by Yun Zhonghe. He immediately grabbed her wrists to help her out. Just as he felt as though he would no longer be able to hold on, someone seized him by his ankles. As it happened, the Yellow Browed Monk was in the middle of pondering that game of chess. Hearing some commotion down in the tunnel, he had entered the tunnel from the stone house. Following the sound of the voices, he had discerned Cui Baiquan's identity and location, and had decided to give him a hand. But in that short period of time, both he and Cui Baiquan had lost a small half of their internal energy to Duan Yu as well.

Chapter - 10 Sword Qi And Lines of Jade Smoke

 He immediately sent two of his own eunuch's to further investigate the situation. After an hour had passed, the two eunuch's returned with news. "Your Imperial Crown Brother's son's disease is a serious one. His mind seems to be deranged."

Emperor Baoding was inwardly alarmed. He immediately left his palace, heading towards the South Subduing Palace to personally investigate. As soon as he reached Duan Yu's bedchamber, he could hear a cacophonous series of sounds without end. Peng peng, ping pang, ka la, qiang lang. It was as though many household utensils were being smashed. The servants outside the room immediately knelt upon seeing the Emperor. A look of panic was on their faces.

Upon entering the room, Emperor Baoding saw Duan Yu dancing in the middle of the room like a madman, tossing and throwing about all sorts of household items, including the tables and the chairs. The two imperial physicians were dodging this way and that way, a pitiable sight. Emperor Baoding cried out, "Yu'er, what's wrong?"

Duan Yu was still quite clear-headed. However, the internal energy flowing throughout his body was simply too powerful, raging as though it were preparing to burst forth from his chest. If he waved his arms about and destroyed some things, he felt slightly more comfortable. Upon seeing Emperor Baoding enter the room, he called out, "Uncle, I'm about to die!" His two hands frantically drew circles in the air as he spoke.

Dao Baifeng was standing off to one side, tears flowing. She said, "Elder brother, Yu'er was perfectly fine this morning when he saw his father off. I don't know how or why, but he's suddenly gone mad." Emperor Baoding consoled her, "Sister-in-law, it must be that the drugs he was poisoned with in the Ten Thousand Calamities Gorge have not fully been eradicated yet. It won't be too hard to cure." He said to Duan Yu, "How are you feeling?"

Repeatedly stamping his feet, Duan Yu replied, "My entire body feels swollen and is incredibly painful." Emperor Baoding saw that the skin on his face and his hands seemed unblemished and perfectly normal, without the slightest sign of swelling at all. This, clearly, was a case of Duan Yu's mind being confused. He couldn't help but furrow his forehead.

As it were, this was caused by his draining of a small half of the internal energy reserves of those five master martial artists last night. At the time, he hadn't noticed anything amiss, and after he had seen his father off, he went home and took a small nap. In the midst of his slumber, his internal energy began to circulate improperly, and instantly began to rush about wildly. Duan Yu had immediately jumped up and began to exercise the steps of the Graceful Steps Upon the Waves. But as he moved faster and faster, the energy in his body only grew more and more agitated, growing even wilder and even less controllable. Right away, he began to shout and howl, terrifying everyone in the household.
 

An imperial physician opined, "Your majesty, his pulse is incredibly strong and vigorous right now. It seems as though his blood vessels have become enormously dilated. In your humble servant's opinion, a little bit of bloodletting may prove helpful. May we try it?" Thinking to himself that this idea might have some merit, Emperor Baoding nodded. "Fine. Go ahead and bleed him a little." The imperial physician replied, "Yes sir!" Opening his medicine bag, he retrieved from within a porcelain box a particularly large and fat leech. Leeches were considered to be an excellent way to bleed a patient, as it could draw away a patient's blood conveniently but not cause pain. Grabbing onto Duan Yu's forearm, the imperial physician carefully placed the leech directly on top of a blood vessel. But as soon as the leech touched Duan Yu's body, it began to writhe and squirm. No matter what the imperial physician did, it refused to bite Duan Yu. The imperial physician was startled. He forcefully pressed the leech down against Duan Yu's blood vessels. After some time passed, the leech's body grew stiff. It had actually died. The imperial physician, having humiliated himself in front of the emperor, began to sweat. He hurriedly withdrew a second leech from his medicine bag, but to no effect; it, too, ossified and died.
 

A worried look on his face, the other physician interjected, "Your majesty, he must have been poisoned by some sort of powerful toxin. Even the leech was poisoned to death." He had no idea that Duan Yu had swallowed the "King of Ten Thousand Poisons", the Cinnabar Toad. Any sort of serpent or vermin, upon smelling Duan Yu, would fearfully scurry far away. Even the most venomous of vipers would be cowed into submission, much less a mere leech.

Emperor Baoding was extremely worried. He asked, "What sort of poison is it, for it to be so incredibly lethal?" The physician replied, "In your humble servant's opinion, your nephew's pulse seems to be incredibly dry. He must have been poisoned by some sort of extremely hot poison. But as to exactly what that poison might be? Well…that is….forgive your humble servant's inadequacy…" The other physician said, "I disagree. His pulse appears to have a deficiency of Yin. The toxin must be cold in nature. A hot toxin may neutralize it." In reality, Duan Yu's body was not only bursting with powerful, vigorous, masculine Yang internal energy from the Yellow Browed Monk, the Divine Crocodile, and Zhong Wanchou, but also with the soft Yin internal energy from Ye Erniang and Yun Zhonghe. Each of the physicians could only grasp half of the problem, and thus were unable to come up with the real answer as to why he was so ill.
 

Emperor Baoding listened as the two physicians debated each other incessantly. They were the finest medical minds Dali had to offer, and yet their diagnoses differed so radically. However, it was unarguable that his nephew's illness was bizarre to the extreme. Stretching out the 'Shi', 'Zhong', and 'Wuming' fingers [the index finger, the middle finger, and the ring finger, respectively], he gently touched the "Lique" acupoint on Duan Yu's wrist. The scions of the Duan family had a strange characteristic; unlike ordinary people, whose pulses flowed through the "Cunkou" point, theirs flowed through the "Lique" point. This was what physicians termed the "Reversed Juncture Pulse".

Upon seeing Emperor Baoding demonstrate a profound knowledge of medicine with this simple movement, the two famous physicians were in awe. One of them said, "This is written in medical books: 'A Reversed Juncture Pulse on the left hand is the sign of nobility; one on the right hand is a symbol of wealth. For both hands to have a reversed juncture is a sign of great nobility and great wealth.' His highness, the South Subduing Prince, and his nephew all have 'Reversed Juncture Pulses' on both hands."

The other one opined, "One needn't test their acupoints to know that these three are of great nobility and wealth." The first one replied, "That isn't the point. For his nephew to have two 'Reversed Juncture Pulses' is a sign that although this illness is certainly fearful, it will not prove to be a serious problem." The second physician disagreed. He secretly thought to himself, "What, no one who is both rich and noble can die young?" But he didn't dare say this aloud.

Emperor Baoding found that his nephew's pulse was both strong and quick. If it continued, how could his heart possibly stand the strain? He exerted the slightest bit of pressure with his finger, trying to discover any irregularities within Duan Yu's internal energy's circulatory system. Immediately, his own internal energy began to flow towards Duan Yu, disappearing without a trace. Greatly astonished, he hurriedly released Duan Yu.

He was unaware that Duan Yu had already learned the "Divine Art of the Northern Darkness" and mastered the 'Shoutaiyinfei' channels of absorption. The 'Lieque' acupoint just so happened to be part of that set of meridian channels. When he exerted his internal energy, he only filled Duan Yu's body with even more internal energy.

Duan Yu cried out, "Ow!" His entire body began to violently shake, trembling without end.

Emperor Baoding retreated two steps. He said, "Yu'er, did you somehow come across Ding Chunqiu of Xingxiuhai?" Duan Yu replied, "Ding…Ding Chunqiu? Your nephew doesn't know the person." Emperor Baoding replied, "Rumors say that he is an old man with the appearance similar to that of a Taoist divinity in paintings." Duan Yu replied, "I've never met him before!" Emperor Baoding said, "This man is learned in heretic and evil martial arts, and is a master at dissolving and destroying the internal energy of others with some sort of skill called the "Great Art of Energy Dissipating. He can cause the internal energy which a martial artist has cultivated all his life to be destroyed in a day. There is nobody in the wulin world who does not utterly despise him. If…if you never met him, how could you have learned this evil skill?" Duan Yu hurriedly replied, "I have never…never learned such a skill. 'Ding Chunqiu' and the 'Great Art of Energy Dissipating'…this is the first time I've ever heard of either."

Emperor Baoding felt that Duan Yu wouldn't lie to him, much less try to dissipate his own internal energy. Suddenly, another thought hit him. "I know! It must be that Crown Prince Yanqing learned this heretic skill. Somehow, he must have found a way to implant the art within Yu'er's body, with the intention of using Yu'er to harm me and brother Chun. Hmph, this man claims to be the 'Most Evil Man in the World'. He lives up to the reputation!"

He saw Duan Yu randomly scratch and tear at his body, ripping his clothes to utter shreds. Bloody lines began to appear on Duan Yu's body. It was only with an effort that he managed to refrain from howling out, but continuous groans escaped from his lips. Dao Baifeng repeatedly tried to console him, "Yu'er, just endure it for a bit longer. Everything will be alright soon." Emperor Baoding thought to himself, "What a difficult problem…I must seek advice from the Heavenly Dragon Monastery." He said, "Yu'er, I am going to take you to pay your respects to a number of elders. I'm sure that they will have some way to cure this vile poison!" Duan Yu replied, "Yes sir!" Dao Baifeng hurriedly retrieved a new set of garments for her son to change into. Emperor Baoding escorted him out of the palace. Each mounting a chariot, they rode for Mt. Diancang.

The Heavenly Dragon Monastery was located outside of the city of Dali, being situated in the northern peaks of the Diancang mountains. Its formal name was the 'Sublime Sage Monastery' [Chongsheng Si], but the citizens had become accustomed to simply calling it the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Its was built on the shoulders of Mt. Diancang, facing the waters of a river, an utterly lovely sight The monastery had three pagodas which were built during the Tang dynasty. The largest one was sixteen stories high, stretching over seventy meters. At the top, the following words were inscribed in metal: "Virtuously Built by Yuchi Jing, Loyal Officer of the Great Tang." Of the five treasures of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, the three pagodas were considered to be the chief.

Many of the ancestors of the Duan family who became Emperor eventually discarded their thrones and became monks here, at the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Thus, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery became the family temple for the imperial family of Dali. It was the most respected and venerated monastery in all of Dali. After each former Emperor came here, upon their birthdays, their sons and grandsons would come to the monastery to pay their respects. And each time they paid their respects, they would build a new building as a gift. The temple possessed three pavilions, seven storied buildings, nine halls, and a hundred mansions, all of them huge in size and majestic in beauty. Even the most famous Buddhist mountain temples of the central plains, such as Wutai, Putuo, Jiuhua, or Emei could not match its splendid opulence. Only, it was situated too far to the south, and thus its fame was not as great.

During the journey, Duan Yu listened to his uncle's instructions and suppressed the incessantly clashing and raging energy streams within him. As the pain subsided slightly, he arrived with his uncle in front of the monastery. Emperor Baoding was very familiar with the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, having often come here, and immediately searched for the abbot of the monastery, master Benyin.

In terms of familial relationship, Abbot Benyin would be considered Emperor Baoding's uncle. However, as a monk, he did not need to pay Emperor Baoding the respects due to a king, nor did Emperor Baoding need to treat him as he might ordinarily treat a family elder. The two met with each other on equal terms. Emperor Baoding explained how Duan Yu was kidnapped by Crown Prince Yanqing, how he had been poisoned with a vile venom, and how he had been afflicted with an evil skill that caused him to dissolve the internal energy of others.

Abbot Benyin mumbled to himself for a short period of time, then said, "Please accompany me to Muni [as in Sakyamuni] Pavilion and meet with my three apprentice-brothers." Emperor Baoding said, "I have disturbed the tranquil meditations of so many master monks. My sin is grievous indeed!" Abbot Benyin replied, "The son of the South Subduing Prince shall one day be the heir to the throne of Dali, which will be a true blessing to the people of the country. Your experience and internal energy can only be above that of my own. For you to come and ask me for help can only mean that this is a difficult problem indeed. I cannot help you by myself, and must consult with my apprentice-brothers."

Two young apprentice monks led the way, with Abbot Benyin directly behind him and Emperor Baoding with his nephew in the rearmost position. They took a left at the Auspicious Crane Gate, passed by the Billowing Heaven Gate, the Jade Pavilion of the Pure Capital, the Boundless Hall, the Three Principals Temple, the Great Tushita [a heavenly realm] Courtyard, the Rain and Flowers Courtyard, and the Prana Terrace. Finally, they arrived at a long corridor. The two apprentice monks respectfully stood outside the doorway, halting their steps. Following the corridor, the three headed westwards, arriving at a number of rooms. Although Duan Yu had often come to the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, he had never come here before. Those rooms were all built out of pinewood. The wooden pillars were simple and unadorned and in perfect shape. They looked totally different from the splendid and majestic buildings which the three had passed on their way here.

Abbot Benyin clapped his hands together a few times, then said, "Amitabha! Benyin has come across a difficult problem which I cannot solve. Forgive me for interrupting your studies, my apprentice-brothers." From within a room, someone spoke, "Please enter, abbot!" Slowly, Benyin stretched out his hand and pushed the door open. The door creaked and squeaked as it opened; clearly, it was opened or closed only very rarely. Duan Yu followed Abbot Benyin as the latter walked walked inside. Earlier, he had heard Benyin say he would consult with 'three apprentice-brothers', but there were four monks inside, seated on cattail hassocks. Of the three monks that could be seen, two of them had withered appearances, with the third one possessed of a large frame. The fourth monk was situated towards the east, and was facing the wall, still and unmoving.

Emperor Baoding recognized the two withered, skinny monks; one was named Benguan, the other was named Benxiang. They were Abbot Benyin's elder apprentice-brothers. The large, stalwart monk was named Bencan; he was Benyin's younger apprentice-brother. He only knew that Muni Pavilion housed three elder monks with the names 'Guan,' 'Xiang', and 'Can'; but did not recognize the fourth monk. He immediately bowed low and paid his respects. A slight smile on their lips, Benguan and the other two returned his salute. Perhaps the monk facing the wall was rooted to the floor, or his studies had reached a critical juncture and rendered him unable to turn his attention away; regardless, he did not pay the slightest attention to Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding knew that the two characters, 'Mu' and 'Ni', referred to stillness and quiet. In the Muni Pavilion, the fewer words that he spoke, the better. Thus he was succinct and terse in describing the evil poison flowing in Duan Yu's body. He finished by saying, "I earnestly hope that you four can benevolently give me some pointers."

Benguan mumbled to himself for some time while measuring up Duan Yu. He said, "Apprentice brothers, what do you think?" Bencan replied, "Even though it would cost some energy, it might not render us incapable of mastering the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'."

Upon hearing the four words, "Liu Mai Shen Jian" [Six Meridians Divine Sword]", Emperor Baoding felt a shock in his heart. He thought to himself, "In my youth, my father once told me that the Duan family's ancestral homeland had an infinitely powerful skill known as the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians.' But according to my father, this was just a legend, and no one in our family history was recorded as actually having mastered this technique. Moreover, no one actually knows if this technique is really as powerful as the legends say. From the words of master Benguan, it seems as though such a wondrous skill actually exists!"

His thoughts turned in another direction. "Judging from his words, they intend to drive away the poison from Duan Yu's body by using their own internal energy, but doing so would tire them out and obstruct their attempts at mastering the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. But Yu'er has been poisoned with an evil toxin and an evil skill has been implanted in his body; both are deadly and strange to the extreme. If the five of us do not combine our strengths, how can he be cured?" Although he felt extremely apologetic, in the end, he did not decline the suggestion. Benxiang did not say a single word. He rose to his feet, lowered his head, furrowed his eyebrows, then took a slanted position at the northeast side of the room. Benguan and Bencan each returned to their respective positions as well. Abbot Benyin said, "Shanzai, Shanzai!" [Shanzai is a Buddhist exclamation, usually signifying a good deed being done]. He took a position towards the west-southwest.

Emperor Baoding said, "Yu'er, these four elders of yours have decided to use their own internal energy to drive out the poison in your veins, not caring about the loss of their own strength. Quickly kowtow and thank them!" From the expression on his uncle's face as well as that of the four monks, Duan Yu knew that this was no small matter indeed. He immediately fell to his knees and kowtowed to each of the monks in turn. Each of them smiled faintly and nodded in response. Emperor Baoding said, "Yu'er, rest on your knees. Don't think about anything at all, and definitely don't exert so much as an ounce of your internal energy. If you feel some strange sensations, don't be alarmed; this is normal." Duan Yu acknowledged the instructions, then sat down as instructed.

Benguan held up his right thumb and, exercising a precise amount of force, pressed it against the "Fengfu" acupoint behind Duan Yu's skull. The force of his Solitary Solar Finger gradually emerged. The "Fengfu" acupoint was roughly an inch beneath the hairline, and belonged to the "Du" meridians. Next, Benxiang struck the "Zigong" acupoint of Duan Yu's "Ren" meridians. Bencan struck the "Daheng" acupoint of his "Yinwei" meridians. Abbot Benyin struck his "Youmen" acupoint of his "Chong" meridians. Finally, Emperor Baoding struck his "Qingming" acupoint of his "Yinjiao" meridians. A human body has seven channels and eight meridians; of the eight meridians, the five of them ignored the "Yangwei" and the "Yangjiao" meridians. All five of them exercised the Solitary Solar Finger, attempting to purify his body of any toxins or evil energies with their pure Yang energy, driving them out through the acupoints of his "Yangwei" and "Yangjiao" meridians.

These five masters of the Solitary Solar Finger had each achieved a very close level of attainment within it. With a 'chi-chi' sound, five streams of pure Yang energy entered Duan Yu's body at the same time. Duan Yu's body suddenly trembled and was filled with an incredibly warm sensation that was indescribably comfortable, as though he were soaking in the sunlight during winter. The five people's fingers moved in unison. They felt as though after their energies entered Duan Yu's body, they would gradually vanish, never to reappear. Duan Yu had not fully mastered all of the aspects of the "Divine Art of the Northern Darkness", but with the five masters pouring the pure Yang energy of their Solitary Solar Finger into his body, he was helpless to resist, and the energy began to collect in his 'sea of energy' at his "Shanzhong" acupoint. The five elite experts of the Duan family gazed at each other, startlement and bewilderment covering each and every one of their faces.

Suddenly, a powerful cry was heard. "WUHUA!" Everyone's ears shook with the sound, a buzzing noise filling them. Emperor Baoding knew that this was an extremely high-level Buddhist technique known as the "Lion's Roar" [Shizi Hou]. Within the roar was hidden an extremely deep internal force, easily capable of terrifying opponents or astonishing friends. The monk who was facing the wall spoke. "A powerful opponent is arriving in but a few days, and the centuries-old fame of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery is dangling above a precipice. As for this mewling babe, regardless of whether he has been poisoned or afflicted with some evil skill; is it really worth it to waste internal energy over him at this critical juncture?" These sentences were filled with an awe-inspiring dignity and majesty.

Abbot Benyin said, "Martial-uncle, your instructions are wise!" With a wave of his left hand, the five people retreated at the same time.

Upon hearing Abbot Benyin address that man as 'martial-uncle', Emperor Baoding hurriedly said, "I was unaware that elder Kurong was present, and am guilty of being remiss in paying my proper respects." As it were, elder Kurong was of the highest ranking generation in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. He had secluded himself into isolated meditation for decades now, and none of the monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery had ever seen his actual face. Emperor Baoding, as well, had only heard of him but had never met him before. In the past, he had heard that elder Kurong was in secluded meditation at the Two Trees Courtyard, but no one had mentioned him in over ten years. He had assumed that elder Kurong had achieved nirvana [i.e. died].

Elder Kurong continued, "One must consider a matter's relative importance and urgency. The date of our appointment with the Shining King of the Great Wheel, from the Great Snowy Mountain, is almost upon us. Zhengming, why don't you join us in discussing the matter." Emperor Baoding replied, "Yes!" In his heart, he thought to himself, "The Great Snowy Mountain's Shining King of the Great Wheel possesses a deep and erudite understanding of the dharma. I wonder what he connection he has with us?"

From within his bosom, Abbot Benyin withdrew a resplendent golden letter, passing it over to Emperor Baoding. Emperor Baoding accepted the letter. It weighed heavily in his hand. This letter was exceptionally bizarre; its 'envelope' was actually an extremely thin layer gold beaten into the shape of a envelope, with the words written in Sanskrit using platinum ['white gold']. Emperor Baoding could read it. The words were, "Respectfully Presented to the Sublime Sage Monastery".

He withdrew the actual letter from the envelope; it, too, was made out of an exceptionally thin sheet of beaten gold. Once again, the words were written in Sanskrit. The general meaning was, "Many years ago, I had a chance meeting with the honorable Murong Bo. In the course of our meeting, we conversed at length about the various martial arts in the world. Mr. Murong held your temple's "Divine Sword of the Six Meridians" in the highest esteem, and deeply regretted not having the opportunity to visit you to see it himself. I recently have heard that Mr. Murong passed away; my sorrow is boundless. I respectfully request that your revered monastery transmit to me the manuscript of the "Divine Sword of the Six Meridians", so that I might burn it in sacrifice before Mr. Murong's tomb. I will arrive in a number of days; I hope that my wish might be granted."

The letter was signed, "Jiumozhi, disciple of the Great Wheel Temple of the Great Snowy Mountain, pays his deepest respects." The words on the letter were also written using platinum; the carefulness and worksmanship displayed was nothing short of exquisite. Clearly, it had been crafted by a master artisan who had expended boundless efforts in making it. The letter and envelope alone could be considered an overwhelmingly priceless treasure, displaying the obvious wealth and opulence of the Shining King of the Great Wheel.

Emperor Baoding had heard before that Jiumozhi, the Shining King of the Great Wheel, was the national protector and dharma king [an extremely high rank in Tibetan Buddhism; the Golden Wheel Monk of ROCH was originally also titled 'dharma king'] of the nation of Tibet. He had heard that the man possessed a staggering intellect and a clear understanding of Buddhism. Every five years, he would hold lectures where he would expound at length on various scriptures. Many high monks and men of great virtue of the western regions would converge at the Great Wheel Monastery of the Great Snowy Mountain to ask for clarifications regarding difficult-to-understand parts of various scriptures. After the discussions were complete and the people began to depart, there would not be a single person who was not joyful and full of praise. Emperor Baoding himself had once desired to travel there to listen to the readings of the scriptures. This letter described him as having discussed martial arts with Gusu's Murong Bo, and even becoming intimate friends with him; clearly, then, the man was also an extremely skilled martial artist. For such a man of great intelligence and wisdom, it would be perfectly normal for him not to practice martial arts. If he really were to be a martial artist as well, then he must be a formidable character indeed.

Abbot Benyin said, "The 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' is a precious treasure of our monastery, passed down from generation to generation. It represents the highest level of martial arts learning which the Duan family of Dali possesses. Zhengming, Dali's Duan family's most advanced martial arts technique resides here, in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. You are not a monk, but a secular man; therefore, even though you are our nephew and possess a deep understanding of many abstruse martial arts concepts, we could not divulge it to you." Emperor Baoding said, "Yes, I understand this rule." Benguan said, "Not even Zhengming and Zhengchun knew that our monastery possessed the manuscript for learning the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. I wonder how it is that Gusu's Murong family learned of it."

Duan Yu, listening, suddenly thought of the 'Blessed Reading Ground' within the cave near Mt. Wuliang, and its empty shelves. One of the shelves had been marked "the Duan family of Dali", with two additional markings on it: "Solitary Solar Finger, missing" and "Divine Sword of the Six Meridians, missing." He thought to himself, "My Dear Goddess scoured the land for the martial arts manuscripts of every family and school in the world, but was never able to acquire my family's "Solitary Solar Finger" and "Divine Sword of the Six Meridians." He felt delight in his heart, but also some melancholy as he imagined how much the Dear Goddess must have regretted their absence.

He heard Benguan angrily say, "The Shining King of the Great Wheel can be considered a world-famous monk of high standing. He must have lost his wits! How can he demand this manuscript from our monastery? Zhengming, as our brother abbot knows, 'If he comes, he comes not with good intentions, but with ill will.' This matter is of the utmost importance, and we ourselves dare not handle it by ourselves. Thus, we invited martial-uncle Kurong to lead us in handling the situation."

Benyin said, "Although our monastery does indeed have this manuscript, I am ashamed to admit that none of us are capable of learning the divine skill written upon it. We can't even be said to have a rudimentary knowledge of it. Martial-uncle Kurong has been practicing that which is known as 'withered ['Ku', like his name] meditation'. This is a totally different type of divine skill which our monastery possesses. He, too, is lacking in understanding in the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. But although we are incapable of learning this skill, no one in the world knows about it. Can it be that the Shining King of the Great Wheel is totally confident in himself and is not afraid of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' at all?

Kurong icily said, "I doubt that he dares to look down upon the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. The respect which he holds for Murong Bo, and the respect which Murong Bo held for the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', hmph…I am sure the Shining King of the Great Wheel himself knows which one he holds in greater import. But most likely, he has guessed that, as our monastery has not produced any exceptionally astonishing martial artists, though the manuscript may be priceless, no one can master its skills, and thus he is not worried."

Benguan loudly shouted, "If he himself admires the skill and asked for a chance to borrow it and read it, on account of us respecting him as an eminent Buddhist monk, at most we would gently and tactfully refuse. There's no big deal. What really pisses me off is that he's going to go burn it in front of some dead guy. He's really thinking too little of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery!"

Benxiang let out a sigh. "Martial brother, there is no need for you to work yourself into such a rage. I do not think that the Shining King of the Great Wheel is such an ignorant and presumptuous man. It seems he wishes to imitate the story of 'Wu Jizha hanging a sword on the tomb'. It appears he held Mr. Murong in the utmost of esteem. Alas, an excellent friend passes away, and can never be seen again…" And he slowly began to shake his head. Emperor Baoding said, "Master Benxiang, what was the character of Mr. Murong Bo?" Benxiang said, "I do not know. But for such an extraordinary character as the Shining King of the Great Wheel to hold him in such esteem, he must have been an incredible person indeed." And as he spoke, he seemed to be carried away and carefree.

[Here is a quick summary of the story of Wu Jizha: Wu Jizha was a man of the Zhou dynasty who had a good friend named Xu Jun. Jizha had a precious sword created for him that he needed for a special mission; his friend Xu Jun saw the sword and wanted it very much for himself, but said nothing, as it would be inappropriate. Wu Jizha saw that his friend wanted it and intended to gift him the sword, but could not do so immediately, as he needed it for the mission. He vowed to himself that he would give Xu Jun the sword when he returned, but by the time he completed the mission, Xu Jun was dead. Besides himself with grief, Wu Jizha went to Xu Jun's tomb and hung his sword over a tree overlooking the tomb. When people asked him what was the point of him doing so, he replied, 'Although Xu Jun has departed, the promise I made him in my heart still binds me. I promised myself that when I returned, I would make a gift of the sword to him; how could I allow such a paltry thing as death stand in the way of me keeping my oath?']

Abbot Benyiin continued, "Martial-uncle Kurong believes that, based upon his judgement of our enemy's capabilities, unless we are able to quickly master the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', the precious manuscript will be forcibly taken from us, and the Heavenly Dragon Monastery will suffer a crushing blow. Unfortunately, the divine technique written on the scroll is heavily dependent upon one's internal energy reserve, and so there's no way to simply hasten one's learning of it. Zhengming, it's not that we don't care about Duan Yu or his condition. Only, we fear that if we exhaust too much internal energy and our powerful enemy suddenly arrives, we won't be able to fend him off. It seems that although Duan Yu's problem is very severe, he won't be at risk of losing his life for many days yet. Let's have him quietly rest here for the next few days. If his condition suddenly takes a dangerous turn for the worse, we will immediately come up with a solution to cure him. After we have driven off our enemy, we will exert all of our energies into curing him and driving out the poison in his body. What do you think?"

Although Emperor Baoding was worried about Duan Yu, he also was capable of understanding the big picture. He knew that the Heavenly Dragon Monastery was a fundamental root and supporting structure of Dali's Duan family. Whenever the imperial family was in trouble, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery would lend its support, and each time they would pull through. In the past, when the treacherous official Yang Yizhen murdered Emperor Shangde and stole the throne, it was the Heavenly Dragon Monastery who, along with loyal official Gao Zhisheng, put down rebellion and restored peace. Dali was established in the second year of Heavenly Fortune, of the Later Jin dynasty of the Five Dynasties period; it had existed for a hundred and fifty eight years now. It had undergone many trials and tribulations. One of the major reasons why the state had been able to survive them all was the calming and steadying influence of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. Today, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery was in trouble; this was identical to the state itself being in danger. He immediately said, "Abbot, your benevolence is greatly appreciated, and my gratitude towards you is boundless. But if I might ask, how do you intend to defend against the Shining King of the Great Wheel, and how can I, Zhengming, offer my humble assistance?"

Benyin mumbled to himself, "You are a master amongst the secular members of the Duan family. If you can work together with us to defeat this powerful opponent, it will add to our prestige. But for you, a secular person, to get involved in a dispute between Buddhist disciples…no doubt, the Shining King of the Great Wheel will laugh at us, mocking the Heavenly Dragon Monastery for not being able to take care of ourselves."

Kurong suddenly said, "If each of us were to try to individually learn the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', it would be impossible. Simply put, our internal energy is not strong enough. I had once thought of a workaround, where six of us each master a single one of the six meridians, and all six of us strike in unison. Although there is no glory in us fighting him six against one, in the end, we aren't challenging him to a duel, but trying to protect our monastery and our scriptures. Even if a hundred of us were to fight him at the same time, it would be acceptable. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't think of a sixth person in the Heavenly Dragon Monastery who was skilled enough to join us. I have worried about this conundrum for a long time. Zhengming, why don't you take the sixth position? Only, you'll have to shave your head and switch into monastery robes." He spoke more and more quickly, as though he were getting very excited; however, his tone of voice was as icy and cold as ever.

Emperor Baoding said, "I have always desired to fully devote myself to the Buddha and his teachings. Only, with regards to the secret manuscript, well, I've never seen it before. For me to try and learn it so hastily, I'm afraid that…"

Bencan said, "You long ago learned the fundamentals to this skill. You only need to learn the sword techniques." Emperor Baoding did not understand. He said, "Abbot, please explain." Abbot Benyin said, "Be seated." Emperor Baoding knelt down on one of the cattail hassocks.

Benyin said, "The 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' is not an actual, physical sword. It is the transformation of the energy of the Solitary Solar Finger into sword qi. It has substance, but is invisible; it can be described as 'invisible sword qi'. The 'Six Meridians' refer to the six meridians near the hand from which the energy is executed; the "Taiyinfei" channels [Lunar Lung], the "Jueyinxinbao" channels [Yin Pericardium], the "Shaoyinxin" channels [Lesser Yin Heart], the "Taiyangxiaochang" channels [Solar Intestine], the "Yangmingwei" channels [Brilliant Yang Stomach], and the "Shaoyangsanjiao" channels [Three Lesser Yang Cavities]. And as he spoke, he withdrew a rolled up scroll from behind Benguan's hassock.

Bencan took the scroll over, unfurling it and hanging it up on the wall. The passage of many years had turned the paper a sickly yellowish-brown color. A picture of a naked male was on the paper, with all of his acupoints clearly marked out. Red and black lines were used to indicate how the internal energy was supposed to flow amongst the six meridians. Emperor Baoding was a superb expert of the Solitary Solar Finger; at a single glance, he could tell that the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' was indeed based upon the Solitary Solar Finger as its foundation.

Duan Yu was lying on the floor, resting. Upon seeing the naked male picture on the scroll, his thoughts instantly turned to the scroll which he accidentally tore up. He thought to himself, "The acupoints of men and women are identical. Dear Goddess was so strange. Why did she draw a scroll of a naked woman instead of a man, much less use give that naked woman her own features?" He faintly felt that it was inappropriate, as though his Dear Goddess had intended to use her beauty and features to lure men into staring at the scroll and seduce them into learning its martial arts. In his delirium, he had accidentally torn up the scroll; perhaps this was actually to his benefit and had aided him in avoiding some sort of catastrophe. But thinking in such a way would profane the Dear Goddess' purity, and so the thought only flashed by his mind, and he dared not ponder on it longer.

Benyin said, "Zhengming, you are the absolute ruler of the country of Dali. For you to change into a monk's attire is a critical stopgap measure, but if our enemy realizes who you actually are, a huge blow will be dealt to the prestige of Dali. I leave it to you to decide whether or not the advantages outweigh the disadvantages." Emperor Baoding folded his hands together. "Guard the dharma, protect the monastery. Honor and duty leave no other options." Benyin replied, "Excellent. However, the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' may not be passed down to secular disciples. You must enter the monastery gates and become an actual monk; after our opponent has been driven off, I will permit you to return to the secular world and unfrock you." Emperor Baoding rose to his feet, then knelt down on both knees. "Great master, please be benevolent [and accept me as a disciple]."

Elder Kurong said, "Come over here. I will shave you."

Emperor Baoding moved forwards until he was kneeling before elder Kurong. Seeing his uncle prepare to be shaven and join the ranks of the monks, Duan Yu was secretly shocked. He watched as elder Kurong stretched his hand out and pressed his palm against the top of Emperor Baoding's head. There was not so much as a single shred of muscle on his hand; the only thing which lay underneath his skin was bone. Elder Kurong still did not turn around, as he recited, "Within this dust-speck of a world, there are three concealed truths. All accomplishments are predetermined by karma. These accomplishments are meaningless and do not even add to the dust. And yet, it is difficult to stop thinking of the present. [This translation is probably totally off; can someone who understands Buddhism help retranslate this?]." He lifted his hand up. All of Emperor Baoding's black hair fell off, leaving his head totally bald, without so much as a single strand of hair on top. Even if a razor had been used, such a clean shave would not have been possible. Duan Yu was totally shocked, and Emperor Baoding, Benguan, Benyin, and the others were also extremely impressed. "Elder Kurong has long practiced the art of 'Withered Meditation'. He has reached such an incredibly high level of strength!"

Elder Kurong said, "Upon entering Buddha's doorway, you shall now be known as Benchen [Chen means dust, like what he was talking about earlier]." Emperor Baoding joined his palms together. "Master, thank you for granting me a name." Buddhists do not adhere to secular rules regarding generational gaps. Originally, Abbot Benyin was Emperor Baoding's uncle, but now that Emperor Baoding had been shaved by elder Kurong himself and brought into the monastery, he became Benyin's younger apprentice-brother, on the same generational level. Emperor Baoding immediately changed into monastic shoes and clothes, his appearance completely changing into that of a learned and eminent monk.

Elder Kurong said, "That 'Shining King of the Great Wheel' might arrive this very night. Benyin, transmit the secrets of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' to Benchen." Benyin replied, "Yes!" Pointing to the manuscript, he said, "Brother Benchen, you shall focus on the 'Shoushaoyangsanjiao' meridians. After your qi is collected at the dantian, circulate it upwards, through your shoulders and arms. Once it reaches the 'Qinglengyuan' point [Chilly Pool], curve the qi to pass through the 'Tianjing' point [Heavenly Well], then the 'Sidu' [Four Recitations] point, the 'Sanyang' path [Three Yang], then the Huizong [Ancestral Assembly], Waiguan [Outer Gate], Yangchi [Yang Moat], Zhongzhu [Central Islet], and Yemen [Liquid Door] points. Condense the internal energy, then fire it out from the 'Guanchong' acupoint [Vigorous Gate] of your ring finger."

Emperor Baoding followed the instructions and circulated his internal energy as ordered. With a 'chi-chi' sound, his internal energy burst out from the 'Guanchong' acupoint of his ring finger.

Elder Kurong happily said, "Your cultivation of internal energy is extraordinary indeed. Although the sword techniques themselves have many heavy and complicated changes, your sword qi has already taken form. You can now execute it at will."

Benyin said, "Originally, the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' was supposed to be executed by a single person. But in this day and age, martial arts has declined, and there is now no one capable of gathering and cultivating such a powerful, vigorous internal energy. All we can do is divide up the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' amongst ourselves. My martial-uncle has specialized in the 'Shaoshang' sword of the thumb; I specialize in the 'Shangyang' sword of the index finger; brother Benguan specializes in the 'Zhongchong' sword of the middle finger; brother Benchen specializes in the 'Guanchong' sword of the ring finger, brother Benxiang specializes in the 'Shaochong' sword of the pinky finger, and brother Bencan specializes in the 'Shaoze' sword of the left pinky. We must attend to the matter of combining these six swords at once."

He once more retrieved the manuscripts of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', hanging them on the four walls of the room. The picture describing the 'Shaoshang' sword he hung next to elder Kurong. Every single picture was filled with criss-crossing lines, circles, and arcs. Each of the six focused on their respective manuscripts, and began poking and pointing in the air as they sketched out the movements.

Duan Yu slowly sat up. He felt as though the energy in his body was swaying, and even more difficult to bear than before. As it happened, just a short time ago, Emperor Baoding and the other four monks had poured a substantial amount of internal energy into his body. Seeing how his uncle and the other elders were concentrating so hard on their practice, he didn't dare to make a sound and disturb them. Sitting down for a long while, he began to feel bored. By accident, his gaze came to rest upon the manuscript which was resting above elder Kurong. After staring at it for only a short while, he began to feel his right arm begin to tremble uncontrollably, as though something was trying to burst forth from his skin and escape. That small, mouselike creature that was trying to escape precisely from the 'Kongzui' acupoint, as illustrated on the manuscript.

He had successfully completed the practice of the 'Shoutaiyinfei' channels. The acupoints illustrated on that manuscript were identical with those on the illustration of the naked girl. However, the lines that were drawn were totally different. According to the pathways drawn by the red lines, the energy from the 'Zikongzui' point passed to the 'Dayuan' point, then immediately jumped to the 'Chize' point, then dropped down to the 'Yuji' point. Unexpectedly, as he tried to channel the wildly rushing internal energy as according to the manuscript, it actually obeyed, although it took many twists and turns as it moved towards his upper arm. As the internal energy flowed through his meridians, he felt the nausea and pain of his body immediately lessen. Immediately, he dedicated his mind to channeling the energy into his 'Shanzhong' acupoint.

However, this gush of energy was different, and could not be easily channeled towards his 'Shanzhong' acupoint as instructed by the naked female pictures. After a short period of time, he began to cry out, "Ow, ow!" in pain. Hearing his cries, Emperor Baoding immediately turned his head. "How are you feeling?" Duan Yu replied, "In my body, there are innumerable flows of qi that are running amuck. It is extremely painful. I was thinking about grandmaster Kurong's manuscript, and the energy began to flow towards my 'Shanzhong' acupoint. Ow! But my 'Shanzhong' acupoint has been totally filled to the brim, and can't take in any more energy! My…my…my chest is about to explode!"

This feeling which he had, only he himself could tell, due to it being caused by the internal circulation of qi. Thus, even though he proclaimed that his chest was about to explode, to outsiders, his chest seemed perfectly normal. Emperor Baoding was an expert martial artist, and knew that for a person to experience the feeling of his 'Shanzhong' acupoint being filled to the brim with energy would require at least twenty years of practice that resulted in an internal energy of unmatched power and vigor. As Duan Yu had never practiced martial arts, this sensation must have been caused by the evil toxins in his body. Emperor Baoding was inwardly fearful, knowing that unless the internal energy was dispersed, Duan Yu's entire body would become paralyzed. But if the toxins were dispersed with the qi and settled deep within his body, it would become almost impossible to eradicate in the future.

Normally, when settling grave and important affairs, he would be both impartial and swift in passing judgement, uttering only a single sentence in verdict. But the matter in front of him would affect the entirety of Duan Yu's life. If only a slight mistake were made, his life would be immediately at risk. Seeing that Duan Yu's eyes had a dazed look, giving him the appearance of madness, he realized that he had no time to be irresolute. He decided to himself, "At this point in time, even if we have to have Duan Yu 'drink poison to quench his thirst', there are no other options." He said, "Yu'er, I will teach you how to disperse your internal energy." Immediately, he began to demonstrate while speaking and taught him the method to do so.

Not waiting for Emperor Baoding to finish speaking, Duan Yu immediately began to follow his instructions step by step. The martial arts techniques of Dali's Duan family were incomparably marvelous. He followed the instructions precisely, and the wildly rushing internal energy in his body began to disperse, settling down into his internal organs. According to traditional Chinese medicine, a person's organs were divided into the "Five Internal Organs and the Six Hollow Organs." "Internal Organs" referred to 'storage', and "Hollow Organs" referred to 'home'. The original term had the secondary meaning of storing and accumulating energy. Duan Yu first drained all of the internal energy of seven disciples of Mt. Wuliang's Sword sect, then absorbed some of the energy of masters such as Duan Yanqing, the Yellow Browed Monk, Ye Erniang, the Divine Crocodile, Yun Zhonghe, Zhong Wanchou, and Cui Baiquan. This day, he gained a small portion of the internal energy of Emperor Baoding, Benguan, Benxiang, Benyin, and Bencan, five master martial artists of the Duan family. His internal energy was now incomparably deep and profound; the phrase, 'Shocking the ancients and overawing contemporaries' could be used to describe it. He had no equal in the entire world. Now, under his uncle's instructions, he began to store away this powerful internal energy within his organs, and his entire body began to feel more and more comfortable. His entire body felt light and carefree, as though he was about to fly away into the sky.

Upon seeing the boundless joy and pleasure on Duan Yu's face, Emperor Baoding feared that he had deeply fire deviated, and that the toxin in his body would forevermore give him trouble. No matter how hard they tried to remove it, most likely it would exhaust and tire him for the rest of his life. He couldn't help but inwardly sigh.

Aftering hearing Emperor Baoding finish teaching Duan Yu how to disperse his internal energy, elder Kurong said, "Benchen, as a man sows, so shall he reap. This is true for everything in the world. Good fortune or trouble, calamity or blessing, all arise from the heart. There's no need for you to worry too much about others. Hurry up and start focusing on mastering the 'Shaoshang' sword!" Emperor Baoding said, "Yes!" Putting away his feelings, he once more began to intensively study the 'Shaoshang' sword techniques.

The internal energy in Duan Yu's body was extremely abundant. There was far too much of it for it to be totally stored within a short period of time. But the more he practiced the dispersion technique, the more familiar he became with it, and the more familiar he became with it, the more quickly the dispersal proceeded. The seven of them each concentrated on their own designated martial arts, and none of them noticed as light gradually appeared from the east.

By the time he heard the roosters announce the arrival of down, Duan Yu felt as though his limbs and his bones no longer contained the slightest bit of internal energy. He rose to his feet and stretched a bit. He saw that his uncle and the five elder monks were still totally, unmovingly dedicated to practicing the sword techniques. He didn't dare to open the door to go out and take a walk, much less make a noise and disturb them. In his boredom, he casually started to check out the manuscript which his uncle was focusing on, as well as the 'Shaoshang' sword manuscript again. Although he had heard that the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' could not be transmitted to secular disciples, he felt that he could not possibly understand such a high level martial arts, and so there should be no problem with him just glancing at it. As he was focusing on the manuscript, suddenly he felt a burst of internal energy pour forth from his dantian on its own accord, gushing towards his arms and pouring forth from the ring finger's 'Guanchong' acupoint. But he didn't know how to actually release the energy from his finger, and consequently felt as though the tip of his ring finger was becoming more and more swollen. He thought to himself, "I better let this burst of energy dissipate." Just as he thought this, that gush of energy really did return to his dantian.

Duan Yu didn't know that he had accidentally learned a secret high level technique; all he felt was that the internal energy in his arm flowed up and down as according to his hearts desire. He felt that it was very funny. Out of the three monks of the Muni Pavilion, he felt that master Benxiang was the nicest and most amiable. Turning his head, he stared at Benxiang's "Shoushaoyinxin Channels" manuscript. The energy from this manuscript was generated from the 'Jiquan' [Utmost Spring] acupoint of the armpit, then flowed three inches upwards into the 'Qingling' [Green Spirit] acupoint, where it condensed as it passed through the 'Shaohai' [Young Ocean] acupoint, the 'Jingling' [Spirit Channel] acupoint, 'Tongli' [Open Within] acupoint, 'Shenmen' [Divine Door] acupoint, and the 'Shaofuzhu' [Lesser Residence] acupoint, before exiting via the pinky finger's "Shaochong" acupoint. As he pondered the manuscript, a gush of energy really did pass through the channels as instructed by the drawing. Only, the speed of that gush of energy could not be controlled; sometimes it was extremely quick, but at other moments, it came to a complete halt. He guessed that it was probably due to him not being very good, and did not overthink it.

In the course of half a day, Duan Yu had already circulated his internal energy through every single passageway as drawn by the paintings. He felt as energetic and vigorous. Without anything to do, he once more began to study the 'Shaoshang', 'Shangyang', 'Zhongchong', 'Guanchong', 'Shaochong', and 'Shaoze' sword pictures. He saw that the red lines and black lines intercrossed in numerous and complicated ways. He thought to himself, "How could anyone memorize such annoyingly complex sword techniques? Besides, martial grand-uncle has already stated that non-monks are not allowed to learn it." He immediately stopped looking at them. He felt a bit hungry, and thought to himself, "Why haven't the apprentice monks brought any vegetarian dishes and rice yet? I might as well secretly creep outside and look for some food." But at that very moment, he suddenly detected a gentle, fragrant scent of white sandalwood, and heard from the sound of a Buddhist chant waft in from afar.

Elder Kurong said, "Shanzai, shanzai! The Shining King of the Great Wheel has graced us with his presence. How well have you learned your respective skills?" Bencan replied, "Although I still have not mastered it, I believe I know enough to fight our enemy." Kurong said, "Excellent! Benyin, I don't want to walk. Invite the Shining King of the Great Wheel to come to the Muni Pavilion to hold discourse with us." Abbot Benyin said, "Yes!" He left. Benguan retrieved five cassocks, arranging them in a row on the east side. On the west side, he put a single cassock. He sat down on the first cassock, Benxiang sat down on the second, Bencan the fourth, and Emperor Baoding the fifth, leaving the central cassock for Abbot Benyin. Duan Yu had no place to sit, and so stood behind Emperor Baoding. Kurong, Benguan, and the others reviewed the techniques on the manuscripts one last time before finally gathering them up and placing them in front of elder Kurong.

Emperor Baoding said, "Yu'er, very shortly a fierce battle will erupt here. Sword qi will be freely flying across the room, and things will become very dangerous. Your uncle won't be able to divert any attention to protecting you. Why don't you go outside and take a walk?" A burst of misery suddenly filled Duan Yu's heart. "From everyone's tone of voice, it seems as though this 'Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel's' martial arts is at an extraordinarily high level. My uncle only just learned the 'Shaochong' sword; I don't know if he'll be able to win or not. If some sort of mistake or error occurs, what sort of unthinkable thing might happen?" He replied, "Uncle, I…I want to stay with you. My heart is ill at ease, imagining you sword-fighting with others." By the time he finished the last few words, his voice was already choked with sobs. Emperor Baoding's heart was moved as well. "This child really has a filial heart."

Elder Kurong said, "Yu'er, come sit by my side. No matter how powerful the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is, I guarantee that he won't be able to harm a single hair on your head." Although his tone of voice was as calm and icy as ever, his words conveyed an extremely proud and lofty confidence.

Duan Yu replied, "Yes!" He walked in front of elder Kurong, but did not dare stare at his face. He, too, knelt and stared at the wall. Elder Kurong's body frame was much larger than that of Duan Yu, totally covering Duan Yu's smaller body. Emperor Baoding was both moved and relieved. Previously, elder Kurong had demonstrated the 'Art of the Withered Meditation' in shaving his head, displaying a power that more than allowed for him to show disdain for the heroes of this age. It would be more than enough to protect Duan Yu.

In a very short amount of time, all sound disappeared from the Muni Pavilion.

After a long period of time, Abbot Benyin's voice could be heard. "Enlightened Lord, you grace us with your dharmic knowledge. The Muni Pavilion is this way." Duan Yu heard another voice answered him. "Abbot, thank you for going to the trouble of guiding me." The second voice was extremely gentle and mild, refined and courteous. It definitely did not belong to a vicious, violent tyrant who took what he wanted. From the sounds of the footsteps, around ten people were headed their way. He heard Benyin push open the wooden door while saying, "Enlightened Lord, please enter!"

The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel replied, "Excuse me!" He entered the room, then immediately folded his hands in a gesture of respect towards elder Kurong. He said, "I, Jiumozhi, a junior from Tibet, pay my respects to an eminent monk of an elder generation. Eternal or not eternal//twin trees bloom and wither//north and south, east and west//not false, not empty!"

Duan Yu wondered to himself, "What did those four lines mean?" But elder Kurong felt a shock in his heart. "The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is reputed to possess a vast and boundless learning. He lives up to his reputation! As soon as he saw me, he laid bare the history behind my practice of 'Withered Meditation.'

In a past age, the great forefather of Buddhism, Sakyamuni, passed away from the world between the twin Sal trees of the city of Kusinara. He was surrounded in every direction by twin Sal trees. Each twin tree had one side which was blooming, and another side which was withered. They became known as the "Four Withered, Four Blooming." According to Buddhist scriptures, the twin trees to the east had the meaning of, "Eternal and ephemeral." Those to the south had the meaning of "Joyful and joyless." The twin trees to the west signified "Myself and not myself," and the twin trees to the north signified "Peaceful and restless." The flourishing and blooming trees symbolized the truth and reality of nirvana: "Eternal, joyful, myself, peaceful." The withered trees symbolized the real world: "Ephemeral, joyless, not myself, and restless." The Tathagata Buddha passed away between these eight states of existence; the hidden meaning of this was, 'neither withered nor blooming, neither false nor empty.'

Elder Kurong had been quietly practicing the art of 'Withered Meditation' for decades now, but had only managed to reach the level of being 'half withered, half blooming'. He was unable to progress to the next level of being 'neither withered nor blooming, but also withered and also blooming.' Upon hearing the words of the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, he immediately became stern and said, "Enlightened Lord, you have come from afar but I did not come out to greet you. Forgive my discourtesy."

Jiumozhi, the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, replied, "This junior monk has long heard of and admired the glorious fame of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. For me to be able to see its stately and grand structures is a source of great joy to me."

Abbot Benyin said, "Enlightened Lord, please be seated." Jiumozhi thanked him and sat down.

Duan Yu thought to himself, "I wonder what this 'Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel' looks like?" He quietly turned his head and snuck a look past elder Kurong's side. He saw a monk wearing a white cassock seated on a hassock in the western corner. He was not yet fifty years of age. His face was inclined upwards and seemed to have a precious light emanating from it, similar to that of brilliant pearls or precious jade, a natural sheen. After taking but a few glances at him, Duan Yu felt a sense of veneration and kinship towards him. Taking a glance outside the door, he saw eight or nine brutes with savage and fearful appearances. Clearly, they were not from the Central Plains; thus, they must be attendants or servants which the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel brought from Tibet.

Jiumozhi folded his hands together and said, "Thus spoketh the Buddha: 'Without birth, there is no death; without filth, there is no purity.' My mind is slow and dull; I am unable to see past love and hate, life and death. In all my life, I have had an extremely close bosom friend; he is a man of the Great Song's Gusu's province, surnamed Murong, with his personal name being Bo. In the distant past, I met with him by chance and discussed martial arts and swordplay with him. Mr. Murong had a deep knowledge regarding every single martial arts form in the entire world. He gave me pointers and tips for many days. I have always remembered this. I will never dare to forget the great benevolence and deep kindness which Mr. Murong showed me in transmitting to me so many high-level skills and techniques. Unexpectedly, heaven did not extend a gift of long life to the great hero, and Mr. Murong has departed to the Western Heaven to enjoy bliss. I have a presumptuous request which I hope all of you elders can grant."

Abbot Benyin said, "Enlightened Lord, your close relationship with Mr. Murong was no doubt predestined. Now that the karmic ties which bound you have come to an end, why try to force it? Mr. Murong is now joying the delights of the Western Heaven, greeting Buddha before his lotus pool. How could he possibly still care about the martial arts learning of the mortal world? Enlightened Lord, isn't it a bit pointless for you to act in such a way?"

Jiumozhi replied, "Abbot, your advice is very cogent. But from birth my disposition has been silly and wild. Despite secluding myself in solitary meditation for over forty days, I nonetheless found it impossible to forget my former friendship with him. In the past, when Mr. Murong was discussing the sword techniques of the world with me, he was resolute in his opinion that the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' was the best in the world. The fact that he never had a chance to see it with his own eyes was his greatest regret in all his life."

Abbot Benyin said, "Our monastery is secluded here in the distant south. For us to be esteemed so highly by Mr. Murong is a great honor for us. But why is it that in the past, Mr. Murong himself did not come personally to ask for a chance to see the manuscript of this skill?"

Jiumozhi let out a long sigh. A grieved expression was on his face, and he did not speak for a long time. Finally, he said, "Mr. Murong knew that this manuscript was the most precious treasure of this venerable monastery, transmitted down generation to generation. Naturally, he would not be permitted to view it. He knew that the Duan family, despite being the rulers of Dali, had never forgotten the code of righteousness and their former ties with the jianghu. He knew that the Duan family loved the common man and was filled with benevolence. He could not bring himself to steal or forcibly take the manuscript." Benyin thanked him, saying, "Mr. Murong praised us too highly. Since Mr. Murong esteemed Dali's Duan family so highly, you yourself as his close friend, Enlightened Lord, should take his wishes into consideration."

Jiumozhi replied, "But that day, I made a regrettable boast; I said to him, 'I am the national instructor of Tibet, without any relations with Dali as well, and Tibet itself has no diplomatic relations with Dali. Mr. Murong, if it's inconvenient for you to retrieve it, allow me to do so for you!' After a man has made a promise, he cannot go back on it no matter what! I made this promise to Mr. Murong, and no matter what, I cannot renege on it!" And as he spoke, he lightly clapped three times. From outside, two of his men brought a wooden chest into the room, setting it down on the floor. Jiumozhi simply flicked his sleeve, and the chest calmly opened by itself, exposing a brilliant, gleaming, small golden box. Jiumozhi withdrew the golden box and held it within his hand.

Abbot Benying thought to himself, "Does he think that we monastic folks might be moved by precious treasures and gifts? Besides, after administering Dali for over a hundred and fifty years, how could the Duan family lack for gold or silver ornaments?" He watched as Jiumozhi opened the lid of the golden box and withdrew the contents. It was actually a trio of old, worn books. As Jiumozhi casually turned the books over, Benyin shot them a look. The books had both pictures and words, written in cinnabar ink. Jiumozhi stared at the books for a long time. Suddenly, tears began to fall from his eyes, splattering on his clothes. He had a look of uncontrollable grief on his face. Benyin and the rest were all totally astonished.

Elder Kurong said, "Enlightened Lord, you miss your old friend and are unable to sever your attachments. Aren't you ashamed to be called an 'eminent monk'?" Hanging his head, Jiumozhi said, "Master, you possess great wisdom and remarkable ability. I cannot measure up to you. These three books are filled with top-level martial arts techniques, and were written down by Mr. Murong himself. They explain the essence and training methodology behind Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques, as well as the way by which one might defeat them."

Everyone who was listening was shocked. They thought to themselves, "The fame of Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques shakes the world. Supposedly, aside from an extremely wise monk who managed to learn twenty three of these techniques at the beginning of the Song dynasty, no one has ever learned more than twenty. For Mr. Murong to be able to understand the essence of Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques is very difficult to believe. The claim that he actually managed to figure out the weaknesses of each technique is even less believable."

Jiumozhi continued, "Mr. Murong gifted these three scrolls to me. I studied them intently, and reaped great benefits from them. My desire is that I might exchange these three precious scrolls for your venerable monastery's scroll of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. If all of the eminent monks here would be willing to permit me to fulfill my promise, my gratitude would be boundless."

Abbot Benyin was silent. He thought to himself, "If the skills written on these three scrolls really are that of the 72 Ultimate Techniques of Shaolin, then after acquiring them, we would not merely be on par with Shaolin in terms of martial arts knowledge, but surpass them. The Heavenly Dragon Monastery would have a thorough understanding of Shaolin's best techniques, but Shaolin would have no knowledge of ours."

Jiumozhi continued, "After your respected monastery gifts me with the original scroll of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', please feel free to keep a copy of it for yourself. This means that despite allowing me to pay my respects to Mr. Murong, you yourselves would not suffer any loss at all. Secondly, immediately after you give me the scroll, I will seal it. I will not sneak a single glance at it, and personally take it to the grave of Mr. Murong where I will burn it. Thus, you have no need to worry about your elite arts being leaked out. Third, although the martial arts understanding of you, respected reverends, is deep and requires nothing from outside, as the saying goes, a stone from another mountain can be used to polish one's own precious jade. Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques have many hidden secrets, and in particular, their "Flower Plucking Finger" [Nianhua Zhi], "Pattra Leaf Finger" [Duoluoye Zhi], and the "Formless Raiding Finger" [Wuxiang Jie Zhi] have many similarities to your own 'Solitary Yang Finger'.

When Abbot Benyin and the others had first read the golden letter which he had sent them, they believed that he intended to forcibly demand they hand over their precious treasure to them. Such would be an unreasonable, tyrannical act. But now, hearing him speak tirelessly, they began to feel as though his words were very reasonable. It seemed to them that agreeing to his request would bring great benefit to the Heavenly Dragon Temple, without them incurring any losses. It now seemed that he was actually bringing them a great gift instead. Benxiang was a person who liked to get along with others; in his heart, he had already acquiesced. But because Benyin was the abbot, and because Kurong was of an elder generation, it was not for him to speak.

Jiumozhi said, "I am young and my learning is shallow; my words alone might not be enough to win the trust of all of the senior monks here. Please permit me to show some meager skill that I possess with the three finger techniques of Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques." As he spoke, he rose to his feet. "In the past, I only casually skimmed through the manual and learned the techniques to a superficial degree. My technique is very sloppy; I hope that all of you will give me some pointers. This technique is the "Flower Plucking Finger." He gently touched his right hand's thumb with his index finger, as though he had just plucked a fresh, lovely flower. A small smile was on his face, as he gently flicked all five digits of his left hand towards the right.

Aside from Duan Yu, everyone present was a martial arts expert who had specialized in and analyzed finger techniques for all their life. They saw that the movements of Jiumozhi's fingers were incomparably gentle. Each time he flicked out the fingers of his left hand, it was as though he were flicking away dewdrops from the flower that he was holding with his right hand, but was afraid that he might cause the flower petals to fall. The entire time, an amiable, kind, gentle expression was on his face, giving him an appearance of great wisdom.

According to the legends of Zen Buddhism, Sakyamuni expounded on the Buddhist doctrine at an assembly at Mt. Ling. His fingers plucked a golden Sal flower and showed them to everyone present. Everyone was silent, not understanding; only the Arhat Mahākā?yapa showed a faint smile on his face. Sakyamuni thus knew that Mahākā?yapa had truly understood his mind, and said, "I possess the true Dharma eye, the path to Nirvana, the form of the formless, and the subtle dharma way, which can be neither written down nor taught. I entrust them to Mahākā?yapa." The most important precept in Zen Buddhism was that of achieving enlightenment via inner understanding. Shaolin belonged to the Zen school of Buddhism, and so they naturally spared no efforts in studying and refining this "Flower Plucking Finger".

But there seemed to be nothing remarkable whatsoever in Jiumozhi's flicking movements. After flicking for a few dozen times in succession, he lifted up the right sleeve of his robe and puffed at it. In the blink of an eye, a cascade of chess-piece sized pieces of round cloth descended, revealing dozens of holes within his sleeves. Apparently, the dozens of finger flicks he had demonstrated earlier had all been through-the-air strikes against his own sleeves. The soft energy released had damaged the cloth, but at first, it had seemed totally unharmed. Only after he gently breathed on it was the effect revealed. Benyin, Benguan, Benxiang, Bencan, and Emperor Baoding all glanced at each other a few times. All of them were secretly astonished. "Based on our level of skill, using the 'Single Solitary Finger' to strike through the air and puncture holes in clothing is not difficult at all. But to execute such a divine technique with such gentle, soft movements, while holding such a placid, smiling expression on our faces is impossible for us. The 'Flower Plucking Finger' is totally different from our 'Single Solitary Finger'; it emphasizes the use of soft 'Yin' energy. There is definitely a great deal we could learn from it, as it is like unto a mirror of our own skills."

Jiumozhi said, with a small smile, "I've embarrassed myself. My skill in the 'Flower Plucking Finger' is far inferior to that of master Xuandu of Shaolin. My skill in the 'Pattra Leaf Finger' is even more laughable." He immediately turned his body around and began to circle around the wooden box on the floor. He struck out in repeated succession with all ten of his digits. The onlookers watched as scraps of wood on the chest began to fly off the chest and dance around. In the blink of an eye, the wooden chest had been reduced to a pile of wooden scraps.

Emperor Baoding and the others thought that there was nothing special about him destroying a wooden chest with his fingers. But the chest's hinges, copper strips, iron locks, padlocks, and other metal components also completely disinitegrated under the pressure of the force of Jiumozhi's fingers. This caused them to be involuntarily shocked yet again.

Smiling, Jiumozhi said, "In exercising this 'Pattra Leaf Finger' technique, I had a tyrannical air. My cultivation in it is shallow indeed!" As he spoke, he folded his hands within the folds of his clothes. Suddenly, that pile of wood and metal scraps began to jump about and dance. It was as though some person wielding a thin, invisible stick was beating them and stirring them up. When they looked at Jiumozhi, they saw that a calm, smiling expression remained on his face. None of his clothes, from his sleeves to lower him of his gown, were moving or fluttering in the slightest. Evidently, he was secretly projecting his finger energy from within his clothes, and yet didn't reveal a trace of it at all. Benxiang couldn't control himself and praised, "The 'Formless Raiding Finger' lives up to its name! Admirable, admirable indeed!" Jiumozhi bowed and said, "Master, you praise me too highly. The jumping of the wooden chips is still visible. For the technique to truly match up to its name, it must be both formless and invisible. Even if one spent all of his life assiduously practicing this technique, he might not be able to achieve such a level." Master Benxiang said, "Amongst the scrolls left behind by Mr. Murong, did he include a method by which one can defeat this 'Formless Raiding Finger'?" Jiumozhi replied, "He did. The method by which one can defeat this technique arises from your own honorable religious name." Benxiang mumbled to himself for some time, then said, "Right, one must use the 'True Form' [Benxiang] to overcome the 'Formless' [Wuxiang]. Brilliant, this extremely brilliant."

Benyin said, "Martial-uncle, the Enlightened Lord has come to us from afar, and his request appears to be genuine and sincere. How should we handle this situation? We respectfully await your instructions."

Elder Kurong said, "Benyin, what is the purpose of our study of martial arts?"

Abbot Benyin never would have imagined that elder Kurong would have replied to him with such a question. After being stunned a brief moment, he replied, "To improve our dharma and to protect our nation." Elder Kurong asked, "When an evil opponent appears, whom we are unable to dissuade using Buddhism due to our shallow understanding of dharma, and forces us to use force to subdue him, what type of martial arts would we use?" Benyin replied, "If we have no choice but to use force, we would naturally use the 'Single Solitary Finger'." Elder Kurong asked, "What level of proficiency have you attained in your mastery of the 'Single Solitary Finger?'" Sweat began to appear on Abbot Benyin's forehead. "Your disciple is slow and stupid by nature, and due to my position am unable to settle down to properly advance. I have only reached the forth level."

Elder Kurong continued, "In your opinion, how does our 'Single Solitary Finger' compare with Shaolin's 'Flower Plucking Finger', 'Pattra Leaf Finger', and 'Formless Raiding Finger?' Which is stronger, and which is weaker?" Benyin replied, "There is no such thing as 'strength' or 'weakness' in techniques, only in each individual's learning and power." Elder Kurong replied, "Precisely so. And what if our 'Single Solitary Finger' is practiced to the highest level?" Benyin replied, "The depth of the skill is so profound that I dare not wildly speculate." Elder Kurong said, "If you managed to live for another hundred years, what level could you attain?" The sweat on Benyin's forehead dripped down in a steady stream. In a trembling voice, he said, "Your disciple does not know." Elder Kurong asked, "Can you master the highest level?" Benyin replied, "I definitely cannot." Elder Kurong fell silent at this point and spoke no more.

Benyin said, "Martial-uncle, your words are wise. We are not yet even able to fully master the highest levels of our own martial arts skills. What uses have we for books containing the skills and techniques of others? Enlightened Lord, you have made an arduous journey to come here. Let us welcome you properly with a vegetarian meal." In speaking these words, he was tacitly refusing the request of the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel.

Jiumozhi let out a long sigh. "It's all my fault; I shouldn't have opened my mouth and made such a foolish promise. Otherwise, with Mr. Murong dead, what does it matter whether or not I am able to obtain the scroll of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'? Today, this young monk is going to be wildly bold and say a few audacious words that may display an exaggerated opinion of my own abilities. If the technique of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' really is as amazing and profound as Mr. Murong believed, I fear that even if your venerable monastery has the scroll, it does not have anyone capable of learning it. If someone here is capable of learning it, then in all likelihood it is not nearly as amazing as Mr. Murong believed it to be."

Elder Kurong said, "This old monk is confused about something. I hope that the Enlightened Lord may instruct me." Jiumozhi said, "I wouldn't dare!" Elder Kurong said, "The fact that the 'Divine Scroll of the Six Meridians' is hidden within our humble temple is concealed even from the secular members of the Duan family. Might I ask, how is it that Mr. Murong learned of this?" Jiumozhi replied, "Mr. Murong's understanding of the martial arts of the world was extremely deep and broad. He even had at his fingertips many skills belonging to various sects which had long been forgotten by even the leaders of the sects themselves. The characters used to describe Mr. Murong, 'Using the opponent's skills, exercising them upon the opponent', comes from this. But all his life, Mr. Murong was never able to learn any of the secrets of the 'Single Solitary Finger' or the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. This troubled him all his life, and he took this regret with him to his grave."

Elder Kurong grunted, then fell silent. Emperor Baoding and the others thought to themselves, "If he really learns the secrets of the 'Single Solitary Finger' and the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', then I fear that he might really be able to use our own techniques against us in the future.

Abbot Benyin said, "It has been well over a decade since my martial-uncle has received any guests. Enlightened Lord, as you are an eminent monk of this era, my martial-uncle made an exception and has accompanied you for a long time. Enlightened Lord, please." As he spoke, he rose to his feet, signifying the meeting was at an end.

But Jiumozhi did not rise with him. He unhurriedly said, "The scroll of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' is only a tool with an undeserved reputation, and has no practical use. Why must your precious temple hold it in such importance, to the point where you would be willing to harm the friendship between the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the Great Wheel Temple, as well as the diplomatic relations of Dali and Tibet?"

Benyin's face changed slightly. He said in an awe-inspiring way, "Enlightened Lord, are you saying that if the Heavenly Dragon Temple does not hand the manuscript over, that Dali and Tibet will face each other with weapons and armies?" Emperor Baoding had always kept a strong garrison of forces to the northwestern boundaries of the country, so as to keep Tibet from invading. Upon hearing Jiumozhi's words, he became totally engrossed in the conversation.

Jiumozhi replied, "The master of my country has long yearned for Dali's local environment and people. He has long desired to meet with your honored country's master and compete with him. However, I felt that doing so would cause great loss of innocent life, which is greatly in contradiction with the heart of Buddha's teachings. For many years, I have spared no effort in dissuading him from such a course."

Benyin and the others were all aware that a veiled threat was hidden within Jiumozhi's words. He was the national protector and dharma king of Tibet. Everyone in Tibet from the king to the commoners was Buddhist, much like the country of Dali. Jiumozhi always had the trust of the Tibetan king. Whether there would be peace or war with a nation could hinge on a single word from him. It really would not be worth it for the people of their two countries to be forced to endure suffering over a simple manuscript. Tibet was powerful whereas Dali was weak; if war really did break out, the overall situation would be very dangerous. But how could the Heavenly Dragon Temple freely give up their most precious treasure to him, by virtue of him trying to intimidate them?

Elder Kurong said, "Since you, Enlightened Lord, desire this manuscript so much, far be it for this old monk to deny you. But we dare not agree to exchange it for Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques. Enlightened Lord, as you have mastered all of Shaolin's 72 Ultimate Techniques in addition to the martial arts of the Great Snowy Mountain's Great Wheel Monastery, you are no doubt peerless and without equal in the world."

Jiumozhi clapped his hands together. "Master, do you mean for me to put my incompetence on display?" Elder Kurong said, "Enlightened Lord, you said that our monastery's manuscript of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' is a useless tool, undeserving of its fame, which cannot be used. We will use the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' to experience your elite skills. If it really is as you said, Enlightened Lord, and the technique is unusable and undeserving of its fame, why should we value it? In such a case, Enlightened Lord, feel free to take it!"

Jiumozhi was secretly startled. In the past, when he discussed the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' with Mr. Murong, he learned enough to know that it totally depended on converting internal energy into invisible sword qi. They both felt that no matter how astonishing the techniques were, for a single person to have enough internal energy to use all six of his meridians to create sword qi was most likely impossible. Now, judging from elder Kurong's words, not only was he capable of using the technique, but all of the other monks around him were as well. The Heavenly Dragon Temple's centuries-long fame clearly was no little thing indeed. His expression had been very polite and respectful all along; now, he became even more polite. Bowing forwards slightly, he said, "It is this humble monk's greatest fortune for you, honored reverends, to be willing to display such a consummate skill in front of me."

Abbot Benyin said, "Enlightened Lord, what weapons do you wish to use? Please feel free to take them out now."

Jiumozhi clapped his hands together. From outside entered a very tall and large man. Jiumozhi spoke a few words of Tibetan to him, and the man nodded while responding. He withdrew a stick of fragrant Tibetan incense from an outside box, handing it to Jiumozhi before retreating from the room.

Everyone present was baffled. The stick of incense would snap at a blow; how could it possibly be used as a weapon? Only to see Jiumozhi hold the stick of incense with his left hand while reaching down to pick up some of the wooden scraps with his right. He gently fixed the stick of incense within the pile of scraps. He repeated this five more times, until he had created a row of six sticks of incense. There was roughly one foot of distance between each stick. Jiumozhi knelt down five feet behind the line of incense. Suddenly, he rubbed his palms together a few times, then thrust them outwards. All six pieces of incense suddenly lit with fire in unison. Everyone present was shocked, thinking to themselves that this person's internal energy strength had reached an inconceivably high level. But then, they smelled a scent of sulfur from the incense and guessed that the incense had been tipped with gunpowder. Jiumozhi hadn't actually set them alight with his internal energy; rather, he has used his internal energy to generate friction-based heat to agitate the gunpowder. Although this was still no easy task, it was something which Emperor Baoding and the others could do as well, if they exerted their internal strength.

The smoke from the Tibetan incense was dark green in color. Six lines of the dark green smoke lazily curled upwards towards the ceiling. Jiumozhi cupped his hands together as though he were holding a sphere. He generated his internal energy, and the six lines of smoke slowly began to curve outwards. Each line headed towards one of the six monks; one to Kurong, one to Benguan, one to Benyin, one to Benxiang, one to Bencan, and one to Empeor Baoding. This type of palm energy which he was releasing was called the "Blazing Flame Sabre". Although it had no form and no substance and was invisible, it could still take a person's life. It was an incomparably powerful technique indeed. At this moment in time, he only wanted to gain the manuscript, not to take someone's life. Thus, he lit these six sticks of incense, so as to reveal the direction and heading of his palm energy. In this way, not only could he display his power and confidence, he could also demonstrate his merciful and benevolent heart. They would only be competing in terms of comparing their relative martial arts proficiencies, rather than trying to kill or injure each other.

Once the six lines of smoke arrived within a meter of Benyin and the others, they came to a halt and became unmoving. Benyin and the others were astonished yet again; it was not too difficult for a person to cause smoke to move using his internal energy, but to cause the drifting, aimless smoke to come to a sudden halt and freeze in the middle of the air was ten times more difficult. Bencan extended the pinky of his left hand, and a stream of energy erupted from his 'Shaochong' acupoint, rushing towards the line of jade smoke in front of him. As soon as that line of smoke came into contact with this stream of energy, it rushed back towards Jiumozhi with incomparable speed. When it reached within two feet of Jiumozhi's body, he increased the energy of his "Blazing Flame Sabre", and it could advance no further. Jiumozhi nodded. "Impressive and worthy of the praise which is heaped on it. The 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' really does have a technique known as the 'Shaoze Sword'." The internal energy of the two clashed repeatedly for many moves. Master Bencan knew that if he remained seated without moving, it would be very difficult to give free rein to the full power of the technique. He immediately rose to his feet and took three diagonal steps towards the left, with the internal energy from his pinky now attacking diagonally as well. Jiumozhi thrust out his own left hand and immediately blocked the attack.

Benguan's middle finger suddenly straightened, and the power of his 'Zhongchong Sword' rushed forth. Jiumozhi exclaimed, "Excellent! This is the 'Zhongchong Sword' technique!" With a wave of his palm, he blocked the attack. Despite fighting against the two of them simultaneously, he did not seem the slightest bit nervous.

Seated in front of Elder Kurong, Duan Yu continually snuck side glances towards this battle, the likes of which wulin might see only once every thousand years. Although he did not understand martial arts, he could still tell that these eminent monks were using their internal energy to compete in a sword competition with each other. The situation was even more dangerous than if they were wielding actual, physical swords against each other. Fortunately for him, Jiumozhi had prepared those six sticks of incense, and so he was able to see some of their sword and sabre techniques of the three via the movement of the smoke. After watching for over ten stances, he suddenly realized, "I know! That's master Benguan's 'Zhongchong Sword' technique! It is totally identical to the technique which was drawn on his manuscript." He gently unscrolled the manuscript teaching the 'Zhongchong Sword' technique, comparing the movements of the smoke to the sword techniques contained in the manuscript. With it serving as reference, he now understood everything he saw, including Bencan's 'Shaoze Sword' techniques. The techniques of the 'Zhongchong Sword' were majestic and imposing, with large, grand motions; in contrast, the 'Shaoze Sword' flickered here and there, its changes and movements small and refined.

Abbot Benyin saw that his two martial-brothers could not gain the slightest advantage, despite having joined forces. He thought to himself, "We have not yet thoroughly finished our studies of this technique, and can easily run out of attacking strokes. The earlier all six of us join in, the better. The Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel is intelligent to the extreme; right now, it seems as though he is simply observing Bencan and Benguan's techniques. He isn't using all of his abilities." He immediately said, "Brothers Benxiang and Benshen, let us join in as well." He stretched out his index finger, attacking with the 'Shangyang Sword' technique. Following him was Benxiang's 'Shaochong Sword' technique and Emperor Baoding's 'Guanchong Sword' technique. In unison, the three streams of sword qi attacked the the three lines of jade smoke in front of them.

Duan Yu's eyes wandered left and right; he would check out the 'Shaochong Sword' technique, then the 'Guanchong Sword' technique, and then the 'Shangyang Sword' technique. After he compared them to the illustrated manual, he could understand what was going on in general, but by and large everything seemed confused and jumbled to him. Just as he was raptly studying the instructions for the 'Shaochong Sword' technique, he saw Elder Kurong stretch his finger onto the drawings and write, "Only study one at a time. Move on to the next one only after you are done with the previous." Duan Yu's heart jumped; he realized that Elder Kurong was giving him pointers. Turning around, he smiled slightly towards Elder Kurong, so as to express his appreciation.

But as soon as he turned around, the smile on his face immediately froze and became stiff. The face he saw was extremely bizarre. The left side of Elder Kurong's face was healthy and rosy; the skin was smooth and the flesh was abundant, like the face of a young baby. But the right side of his face was like a withered bone; aside from a layer of sallow skin, there wasn't so much as a single scrap of flesh. With the bones on prominent display, it seemed very much like half of a skeleton's skull. In his startlement, he immediately turned back, his heart pounding madly in his chest. He knew that this was the result of Elder Kurong practicing the 'Withered Glory Meditation' art, but this half-withered, half-healthy face was simply too terrifying. For the moment, he felt as though he couldn't calm down no matter what, only to see Elder Kurong's index finger once more tracing words on the scroll. "Do not waste such a good opportunity. Focus all your attention on studying the sword techniques. Watch by yourself and learn by yourself. That does not count as violating our ancestral commandments."

Duan Yu realized, "Grand martial-uncle Kurong said to my uncle that the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' cannot be taught to secular disciples. Only after he shaved his head and became a monk could he be taught the technique. But for him to now write, 'Watch by yourself and learn by yourself, that does not count as violating our ancestral commandments' implies that the commandments of the ancestors of the Duan family do not specifically forbid secular members of the family from studying the techniques independently. He ordered me to 'Not waste such a good opportunity' and to 'focus all my attention on studying the techniques'. Naturally, he wants me to study and learn by myself right now." He immediately nodded, then began to carefully study his uncle's execution of the 'Guanchong Sword' technique. After more or less understanding it, he moved on to the 'Shaochong Sword' technique and the 'Shangyang Sword' technique.

For ordinary people, the ring finger is the least dexterous, whereas the index finger is the most nimble. Thus, the 'Guanchong Sword' technique strove to achieve victory in a sluggish, simple, and unsophisticated way, whereas the techniques of the 'Shangyang Sword' were ingenious, lively, and difficult to ascertain. The 'Shaochong Sword' was similar to the 'Shaoze Sword' technique in that it used the pinky; however, one was on the left hand, whereas one was on the right hand. Thus, in terms of technique, the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' had techniques that were 'skilled' as well as 'clumsy', 'nimble' as well as 'sluggish'. And yet, the 'clumsy' techniques were not any less wonderful, nor the 'sluggish' techniques contain any less might. They were just displayed in different ways.

At first, Duan Yu had just been curious. He was simply comparing the movements of the jade smoke to the techniques written down on the scrolls; it was something akin to guessing riddles. Only now, after receiving directions from Elder Kurong, did he settle down and seriously watch the battle. By the time he more or less understood the techniques of the 'Shangyang Sword', 'Shaochong Sword', and 'Guanchong Sword', Benguan and Bencan were beginning to repeat their respective sets of movements and attacks. Duan Yu no longer needed to refer to the manuscript each time. The movements of the jade smoke were identical to the sword techniques which he had memorized. He felt as though the lines and techniques drawn on the paper were rigid and inflexible, whereas the movement of the jade smoke underwent boundless changes and transformations. The techniques were much richer and more diverse by far than the ones actually written on the scroll.

After watching for a while longer, he saw that Benyin, Benxiang, and Emperor Baoding's techniques had been exhausted as well. Benxiang flicked out his pinky, striking with the 'Parting Flowers, Flicking Willows' technique. It was the second time he had used this technique. Jiumozhi nodded slightly. Following this, Benyin and Emperor Baoding could not help but repeat previously used techniques as well. Suddenly, a 'chi-chi' sound could be heard from in front of Jiumozhi, and the power of his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' increased dramatically, forcing back the internal energy of the five.

As it were, Jiumozhi initially remained on the defensive, desiring to see the techniques of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' in its entirety before counterattacking. Now that he had changed from defense to offense, the five lines of smoke whirled about in the air with incomparable nimbleness. But that sixth line of smoke remained calmly unmoving in front of Elder Kurong, still three feet away from him and not moving in the slightest. Elder Kurong desired to know the exact extent of his abilities and see how long he could hold out, fighting with five lines of smoke but holding the sixth stock still. This was why that entire time he hadn't extended his own hand to attack. And, sure enough, Jiumozhi really did expend a rather considerable amount of energy keeping that sixth stream of smoke still. But now, that line of jade smoke finally began to inch its way towards the back of Elder Kurong's skull.

Alarmed, Duan Yu said, "Grand martial-uncle, the jade smoke is attacking!" Elder Kurong nodded, then unrolled the 'Shaoshang Sword' manuscript and placed it in front of Duan Yu. Duan Yu saw that the illustrations of the 'Shaoshang Sword' manuscript were made in the splash-ink style, similar to the style used for scenic paintings. The horizontal and vertical lines were tilted and few in number, but the sword technique was strong and vigorous, with the capability of shattering the earth and battering the heavens, containing within it the power of the wind and the rain. Duan Yu studied the sword manuscript, but could not forget about the stream of jade smoke that was floating towards the back of Elder Kurong's skull. Turning around, he saw that the jade smoke was now only three or four inches away. He cried out in alarm, "Careful!"

Elder Kurong flipped his hands over, then extended the thumbs of both hands. With two 'chi-chi' sounds, they launched separate surprise attacks on Jiumozhi's right shoulder and the right side of his chest. He did not ward off his enemy's assault; rather, he sent two brilliant attacks of his own to counter-attack his opponent. His judgement was that Jiumozhi's 'Blazing Flame Sabre' internal energy was still not fully released. As it was advancing towards him only slowly, for it to actually harm him would still take it a short while. If, despite moving after Jiumozhi did, his attack arrived first, he would be able to catch Jiumozhi offguard.

Jiumozhi was a careful and contemplative person. Long ago, he had prepared a stream of palm energy which protected his chest. But he had only anticipated a single, ferocious attack from the 'Shaoshang Sword', and did not foresee Elder Kurong would launch twin surprise attacks at the same time and threaten two different areas. Jiumozhi raised his palm and used it to block the attack on the right side of his chest. Following that, he kicked upwards with his right foot, hurriedly propelling himself backwards. But no matter how quickly he retreated, he could not move faster than the sword qi, which arrived with the speed of the thunder and the lightning. With a soft sound, the top of the robe on his shoulder split open, and fresh blood spilled forth. Elder Kurong reversed his thumbs, retracting his internal energy and pulling back towards him. All six sticks of incense snapped simultaneously. Benyin, Emperor Baoding, and the rest also withdrew their fingers and dissipated their sword energy. Each of them had fought for a long time without achieving success and had been secretly anxious for a long time now. Only now did they feel relieved.

Jiumozhi walked back inside the room. A small smile on his lips, he said, "Elder Kurong, your Meditation Arts are extraordinary indeed. This humble monk admires you greatly. But as for that 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', well, it seems it really is nothing more than a tool with an undeserved reputation." Abbot Benyin said, "How is it nothing more than a useless tool? I must ask that you enlighten us." Jiumozhi said, "What the venerable Mr. Murong admired was the sword techniques of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', not the sword formation. This sword formation of the Heavenly Dragon Temple really is very powerful, but if we were to compare it with Shaolin's 'Arhat Sword Formation' or Kunlun sect's 'Chaos Sword Formation', it can only be said to be on the same level, and cannot be said to be the most unparalleled sword technique in the world." By describing it as a 'Sword Formation' instead of as a 'Sword Technique', he was pointing out the fact that all six of them fought in unison with a pre-planned formation, rather than one of them using the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' by himself, as he, Jiumozhi, had done with his 'Blazing Flame Sabre'.

Abbot Benyin felt that his words were indeed reasonable, and was at a loss for a response. But Bencan only coldly sneered, "Regardless of whether it was a 'Sword Technique' or a 'Sword Formation', were you, Enlightened Lord, the victor in that competition? Or was the Heavenly Dragon Temple the victor in that competition."

Jiumozhi did not reply. Closing his eyes, he silently meditated for the time it takes to drink a cup of tea. Opening his eyes, he said, "In the first round, your respected monastery took the upper hand. But in the second round, I believe I am guaranteed victory." Benyin was startled. He asked, "Enlightened Lord, you want to compete in another round?" Jiumozhi replied, "A man must live up to his words. Since I have already given my word to Mr. Murong, how can I back off at the first sight of difficulty?" Benyin asked, "And why is it that you are guaranteed of victory, Enlightened Lord?"

Jiumozhi smiled slightly. "Everyone here has a profound and deep understanding of martial arts. Can it be that you cannot guess? Please prepare to receive my stances!" As he spoke, his two palms slowly pushed outwards. Elder Kurong, Benyin, Emperor Baoding, and the other three simultaneously felt as though two streams of internal energy were suddenly attacking from different directions. Benyin and the others all felt that they could not use the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' to block this energy attack. Each of them faced two streams of energy, and pushed out with palms to block the attack. Only Elder Kurong continued to thrust out the thumbs of both of his hands, using the 'Shaoyang Sword' technique to receive the opponent's energy.

After pushing out this twin burst of palm energy, Jiumozhi immediately halted his attack. "Excuse me for offending you!"

Benyin, Benguan, and the others all traded glances. All of them understood, "With a single palm, he was able to send out so many streams of internal energy. If Elder Kurong were to launch another concerted double-attack on him, he would be able to withstand it. But we, on the other hand, would have to give up the sword techniques and use palm techniques. It seems our 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' inferior to his 'Blazing Flame Sabre.'"

Just at this very moment, smoke could be seen rising up from in front of Elder Kurong. Four distinct lines of black smoke drifted upwards, then moved towards Jiumozhi. Jiumozhi held a deep, secret dread of this old monk who sat facing the wall and never turned around a single time. Now, seeing the smoke head towards him and not knowing what the old monk's intention was, Jiumozhi once again executed his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' technique to ward off all four lines of smoke. He did not immediately launch a counterattack, both so that he would not be caught off-guard by a simultaneous attack from Benyin and the others, as well as to enable himself to calmly see if Elder Kurong had any other fearsome techniques.

The black smoke grew thicker and thicker, showing that the attack was extremely aggressive. Jiumozhi was secretly surprised. "To launch an all-out attack like this is like the saying that a windstorm cannot last all morning, and a rainstorm cannot last all evening. How can this possibly be sustained? Elder Kurong is an eminent monk of this age. How could he use such a rash, aggressive method to fight his opponent?" He felt that Elder Kurong couldn't possibly be that inexperienced; thus, he must have some other trick up his sleeve. He immediately tightened his defenses and raised his guard mentally, preparing himself to immediately act as according to the situation. After a short period of time, the four lines of smoke suddenly began to split. One became two, two became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen, rushing towards Jiumozhi from all directions. Jiumozhi thought to himself, "An arrow at the end of its flight is a spent force. Nothing worth even talking about." He executed his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' technique and blocked every single line. As soon as his internal energy touched the lines of smoke, they split and fell apart, filling the entire room with smoke in the blink of an eye. Jiumozhi was not worried in the slightest, generating his internal energy to protect his entire body.

As the smoke and the mist thinned by degrees, he could hazily see that Benyin and the other five monks were on their knees, a solemn expression on their faces. A look of great grief and indignation could be seen on the faces of Bencan and Benguan in particular. In a moment of clarity, Jiumozhi suddenly realized the truth. He secretly cried out, "Oh no! This old monk, Kurong, knows that they aren't a match for me, so he actually burned the manuscript of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians!'"

His guess was correct. Elder Kurong had used the force of his 'Solitary Yang Finger' to set the six manuscripts ablaze. Afraid that Jiumozhi would prevent him from doing so and snatch the manuscripts by force, he used his internal energy to push the smoke towards Jiumozhi, forcing Jiumozhi to stay on the defense and exert his efforts towards protecting himself. By the time the smoke dissipated, the drawings had been long since reduced to ashes. Benyin and the others were experts of the 'Solitary Yang Finger' who had spent many years mastering it. As soon as they saw the black smoke, they knew what caused it. They thought to themselves that their martial-uncle would rather die with glory than live with dishonor [lit., 'would rather be a broken jade vessel than an unbroken clay pot'] and was willing to destroy this most precious treasure of their monastery rather than let it fall into enemy hands. Fortunately, the six of them had each memorized a portion of the technique. Once their powerful enemy departed, they would simply recreate it from memory. Only, a priceless artifact which had been handed down to them by their ancestors had been totally destroyed.

Now, the Heavenly Dragon Temple and the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel had formed between them a long, deep, and bitter enmity. It would be difficult for there to be any sort of peace between them.

Jiumozhi was both startled and angry. He usually had a very high opinion of his own intelligence and stratagems, but today he had been defeated by Elder Kurong twice in a row and witnessed the destruction of the manual of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', earning himself a bitter enemy without any reward at all. He stood up and folded his palms together. "Elder Kurong, why did you need to be rigid and inflexible to such an extent? That you would rather shatter the manuscript than allow it to fall in the hands of others shows your lofty style and temperament. That your venerable monastery's most precious treasure was destroyed in part due to the actions of this humble monk is a source of great regret for me. Fortunately, it was impossible for any one person to fully learn the martial arts on this manuscript. Thus, it does not really matter whether or not it was destroyed. I take my leave now."

He turned around slightly. Not waiting for Elder Kurong or Abbot Benyin to reply, he suddenly struck out and seized Emperor Baoding's wrist, grabbing his wrist acupoints and saying, "My humble country's ruler has long wished to meet with Emperor Baoding. Your majesty, I'll have to invite you to make a journey to Tibet with me."

Everyone was greatly startled by this totally unexpected turn of events. This sneak attack was executed so unexpectedly that despite Emperor Baoding's own formidable level of martial arts, Emperor Baoding fell to it. Jiumozhi had seized the "Lieque" and "Pianli" acupoints on his wrist. Emperor Baoding hurriedly exerted his internal energy to protect himself. In the blink of an eye, he had made seven attempts to break lose, but was unable to each time. Abbot Benyin and everyone else present felt that this ambush was too despicable and contemptible, totally not in keeping with his station as an elite martial artist. However, they managed to control their anger, and yet remained unable to think of a plan for rescue. With Emperor Baoding's acupoints under the control of the opponent, his life could be taken at any point in time.

Elder Kurong laughed. "He once was Emperor Baoding, but has since abdicated and become a monk. His religious name is Benchen. Benchen, since the ruler of Tibet wishes to meet you, you might as well go." Helpless, Emperor Baoding could only say, "Yes!" He knew what Elder Kurong was trying to do. Jiumozhi considered him the ruler of a country, and thus a priceless hostage. But with Elder Kurong describing him as having already abdicated his throne, he was no longer a priceless royal hostage, but only a monk of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, making him a useless personage of little importance. Perhaps, in that case, Jiumozhi would release him.

Ever since Jiumozhi had entered the Muni Pavilion, Emperor Baoding had not said a single word or revealed a single hint of his real origins. But, in order to execute even a single sword of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', one must be a first class master martial artist, with an extraordinarily deep and profound internal energy cultivation. The people within the wulin who could be considered first class masters were well aware of who the others were. Jiumozhi had not come to Dali unprepared. Before arriving, he had carefully made inquiries regarding the appearance and ages of each and every member of Dali's Duan family, as well as the disciples of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. He had an eighty or ninety percent understanding of each person's temperament, habits, and achievements in martial arts. He knew that aside from Elder Kurong, the Heavenly Dragon Monastery had four more martial arts masters. Now, a 'Benchen' had appeared out of nowhere, a person he had never heard of before, and with an extremely powerful internal energy that was not one whit inferior to the four other 'Ben' generation monks. Seeing his majestic poise and judging from his features that he came from a luxurious background, Jiumozhi guessed that he was Emperor Baoding.

Hearing Elder Kurong say that Emperor Baoding had already abdicated the throne and become a monk, Jiumozhi's heart was swayed. "I've long heard that in each succeeding dynasty, the Duan's of Dali would often abdicate and join the monastery. It is not altogether unbelievable that Emperor Baoding might do the same and join the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. But if an Emperor were to abdicate and become a monastery, there would be grand ceremonies held throughout the country, with gifts of food being given to monks and rituals made before the Buddha. Pagodas would be renovated and new temples would be built. It would be a huge public affair, not something kept so low-key and under wraps. Even my Tibet would, upon hearing the news, send an envoy to congratulate the new monarch. There's some trickery involved here."

He replied, "Regardless of whether or not Emperor Baoding has abdicated, he still needs to make a trip with me and pay a visit to my humble country's ruler." As he spoke, he tugged on Emperor Baoding's hand, intending to immediately exit.

Benyin loudly shouted, "Wait a moment!" His form flickered, and he, along with Bencan and the other monks, simultaneously moved in front of the door. Jiumozhi said, "I have no intentions of harming Emperor Baoding, but if all of you force me to, then there's no other options I can take." His right hand feinted towards the back of Emperor Baoding's heart. The power of his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' was all-conquering and unstoppable. With Emperor Baoding's meridians already under Jiumozhi's control, Emperor Baoding was helpless to resist and had no way to defend himself. If all of the monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery were to attack at once, not only would they fear 'breaking the dishes in order to pelt the rat', they still could not be certain of victory. And yet, Abbot Benyin and the others were still hesitant. Emperor Baoding was the ruler of Dali. How could they allow an enemy to kidnap him and march him away under duress?

Jiumozhi loudly shouted, "I've long heard of the fame of the eminent monks of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery. I never would have imagined that they would be so irresolute over such a small matter, like little boys or girls. Please make way for me!"

After seeing his uncle being captured, Duan Yu was extremely anxious. At first, he thought to himself that with his uncle's level of martial arts, there was no need to fear. He thought that his uncle was just being patient for now, and when the right moment came, he would free himself. But the more he watched, the more Duan Yu felt that something wasn't right. There was a look of great arrogance on Jiumozhi's face and his words were proud and overbearing, whereas Benyin, Benguan, and the others looked anxious, angry, and helpless. As he watched Jiumozhi head towards the exit with Emperor Baoding in tow, Duan Yu was filled with fear and worry. Without pausing to think, he shouted, "Hey you! Let go of my uncle!" Following this, he came out from behind Elder Kurong.

Jiumozhi had long ago seen a young man hiding behind Elder Kurong, but was unable to guess who that person might be, much less the reason why he was sitting in front of Elder Kurong. Now, seeing him come out, his curiosity compelled him to turn his head and ask, "Might I ask who you are, sir?"

Duan Yu replied, "Don't ask me who I am! Let go of my uncle first!" Stretching out his right hand, he seized Emperor Baoding's left hand.

Emperor Baoding said, "Yu'er, don't mind me! Leave quickly and go to your father, and tell him to immediately ascend the throne and take on this heavy responsibility! I am an old monk who is like a lazy cloud or an untamed crane; what is there to be concerned about?"

Duan Yu exerted all his strength to pull at Emperor Baoding's wrist while shouting, "Quickly let go of my uncle!" The 'Shaoshang' acupoint of his thumb was touching the acupoints on Emperor Baoding's wrist. With him now exerting his strength, Emperor Baoding's entire body trembled, and he immediately felt his internal energy flowing outwards.

At this exact same point in time, Jiumozhi also felt his internal energy being drawn away from him. His countenance immediately changed drastically. He thought to himself, "How is it that the Duan dynasty of Dali learned the 'Great Art of Energy Dissipation?'" He immediately gathered his internal energy to fight against this evil, heterodox martial arts.

Emperor Baoding immediately felt as though two fierce and powerful streams of energy were jerking at his body. He immediately used the technique of 'Borrowing a Sabre to Strike a Knife', forcing these two streams of internal energy to directly face each other. At this moment in time, these two streams of energy were principally facing off against each other ,with very little focused on his wrists. With a wave of his hand, he broke free from Jiumozhi's grip. Together with Duan Yu, he floated backwards and retreated. He cried out to himself, "How shameful! That I was able to escape is all thanks to Yu'er."

Jiumozhi was more than a little bit startled by this turn of events. He thought to himself, "Another powerful martial artist suddenly appeared in the Central Plains. How could I have been totally unaware of this? This person is very young and is only around twenty years of age. How could he have reached such a level of martial arts? He addressed Emperor Baoding as uncle; he must be of a younger generation in Dali's Duan family." He slowly nodded and said, "I've always thought that the Duan family of Dali only specialized in their own ancestral martial arts. Only now do I know that a learned member of their latter generation made friends with the Old Man of Xingxiu and studied the strange martial arts technique known as the 'Great Art of Energy Dissipation.' Strange, how very strange!"

Although his martial arts learning was profound and vast, even he mistook Duan Yu's 'Divine Art of the Northern Darkness' as the 'Great Art of Energy Dissipation'. Only, wanting to conduct himself according to the dignity of his station, he changed 'Old Freak' into 'Old Man' in referring to Ding Chunqiu. Likewise, the people of Wulin all considered the 'Great Art of Energy Dissipation' as a vile art and an evil skill; he chose to describe it as a 'strange martial arts technique'. Just now, in their brief exchange, he felt that Duan Yu's internal energy cultivation was definitely not inferior at all to that of Ding Chunqiu, the Old Freak of Xingxiu. He definitely was not Ding Chunqiu's disciple or student, and thus used the phrase "made friends with".

Emperor Baoding let out a cold laugh. "I've long heard that the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel was wise and farsighted, flexible and accommodating, with extraordinary understanding and knowledge. I wouldn't have imagined he would say such absurd things. The Old Freak of Xingxiu is an expert at plotting and sneak-attacking, despicable and without shame. How can the the sons of the Duan family possibly have any relationship with him?" Jiumozhi's face reddened slightly, and his heart trembled. The eight words Emperor Baoding had used, 'Plotting and sneak-attacking, despicable and without shame', were clearly meant to refer to his own earlier actions.

Duan Yu said, "As you, the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel, have come from afar and are a guest of the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, we have received you with proprietry and respect. But you dare to offend my uncle? The only reason we had been showing forebearance and restraint at every turn is because everyone here is a disciple of Buddha, but you have only become more and more overbearing and arrogant. Who, amongst Buddhist disciples, is as flagrant in breaking monastic principles as you are?"

Everyone, hearing Duan Yu righteously castigate Jiumozhi, felt secretly grateful towards him. At the same time, they became even more on guard, fearing that Jiumozhi might suddenly fly into a rage and suddenly launch an attack against Duan Yu to harm him.

They did not expect that Jiumozhi would remain calm and composed. He said, "Today, I have become acquainted with so many eminent personages. It has been my great fortune. I ask that you exchange a few stances with me as well, so as to allow this humble monk to gained great benefit from your tutelage." Duan Yu said, "I don't know martial arts and I've never learned it." Jiumozhi laughed. "Wise, wise. I take my leave!" Leaning slightly, with a sweep of his sleeves he struck out with both arms and simultaneously launched four attacks using his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' technique, chopping towards Duan Yu.

The enemy had just launched an attack on him using his most ferocious skill, but Duan Yu remained muddle headed and ignorant. Emperor Baoding and Benxiang struck out with their fingers simultaneously, receiving and blocking these four attacks from Jiumozhi's 'Blazing Flame Sabre'. Only, under the sudden assault of Jiumozhi's vigorous internal energy, both of their bodies swayed. Benxiang let out a 'wa' cry and vomited out a mouthful of fresh blood.

Only after seeing Benxiang vomit blood did Duan Yu understand that Jiumozhi had just then launched yet another sneak attack. He was absolutely enraged. Pointing at Jiumozhi's nose, he cursed, "You couth, unreasonable barbarian monk!" With his exertion of energy from his right index finger, his mind and his internal energy connected, and he naturally executed an attack from the 'Shangyang Sword' technique. His internal energy was extremely powerful. In this day and age, extremely few people had reached such a level. Just previously, he had studied the manuscripts of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians' while hiding in front of Elder Kurong, and also watched the invisible sword fighting of the seven elder monks. Now, as he struck out with his finger, his mind unconsciously followed the instructions on the manual. With a 'chi' sound, a simple, vigorous, and incomparably powerful energy stabbed towards Jiumozhi.

Startled, Jiumozhi hurriedly used a palm strike from the 'Blazing Flame Blade' technique to receive the attack. Duan Yu's attack not only surprised Jiumozhi; it was also wildly out of the expectations of Elder Kurong, Abbot Benyin, and the others. The ones who were the most surprised of all were Emperor Baoding and Duan Yu himself. Duan Yu thought to himself, "Huh. That was weird. I just pointed at him. Why did this monk act so hurriedly to 'block' my point? Oh, I get it, I get it. It must be that I accidentally pointed at him in accordance with the techniques of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', and he thought that I knew how to use it. Haha, since that's the case, I might as well scare him a bit!" He loudly said, "What's so remarkable about this 'Shangyang Sword' technique! Take a look at the 'Zhongchong Sword' techniques!" As he spoke, he struck out with his middle finger. But this time, although his technique was correct, the internal energy did not rush out as it did before. He was just pointing aimlessly in the air, without any actual effect.

Jiumozhi, seeing him strike out with his middle finger, immediately gathered his internal energy to resist the attack. He didn't expect that the 'attack' didn't contain an ounce of internal energy. At first, he thought that his opponent was trying to confuse him, interchanging 'solid' with 'void'. He saw Duan Yu strike out a second time, but once again it was empty and without any power behind it at all. He couldn't help but feel delight in his heart. He thought to himself, "I was just wondering how someone who could use the 'Shaoshang Sword' technique could also be able to use the 'Zhongchong Sword' technique. Looks like I was right. This kid is just bluffing. Scared me for a moment!"

During this trip to the Heavenly Dragon Monastery, he had fallen flat on his face, so to speak, several times in a row now. He thought to himself that if he didn't show off his power a bit, the fame and prestige of the 'Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel' would suffer more than a bit of harm. His left palm immediately chopped towards both the left and the right, sealing off any rescue paths which Emperor Baoding and the others might use to aid Duan Yu. Then, he chopped out with his right palm, striking at Duan Yu's right shoulder. This technique, 'White Rainbow Pierces the Sun', was a marvelous and brilliant technique from his 'Blazing Flame Sabre' skill. He was intending to cut off Duan Yu's right arm with a single chop. Emperor Baoding, Benyin, Bencan, and the others cried out in unison, "Careful!" Each of them struck out with a finger towards Jiumozhi.

The three of them were naturally using the first-class martial arts principle of 'forcing an enemy into a position where he cannot help but withdraw to defend himself' in their attack. Jiumozhi had already used his internal energy to protect all the critical points on his body. He didn't draw back his attack on Duan Yu in the slightest, and chopped perfectly straight down. Hearing the alarmed cries from Emperor Baoding and the others, Duan Yu knew that he was in a bad situation. He pushed outwards vigorously with both hands. His mind in a state of panic, his internal energy natural flowed out. The 'Shaochong Sword' of his right hand and the 'Shaoze Sword' of his left hand simultaneously struck out, dissolving the power of the stroke of the 'Blazing Flame Sabre' aimed at him. There was still plenty of energy left over from his strike, and with a 'chi chi' sound, the the two attacks counter-assaulted Jiumozhi. Jiumozhi didn't have time to think, immediately sending internal energy to his left hand to ward off the attack.

After being provoked into striking out for the past few times, Duan Yu had the vague notion that it was necessary for one to first gather his internal energy, and then agitate it to strike out with a finger; only then could his internal strength and power be unleashed. But as to why this was the cause, he had no clue at all. He lightly struck out with his middle finger, once more shooting forth the 'Zhongchong Sword'. In a blink of an eye, all of the techniques he had learned from the six manuscripts rushed to the front of his mind. All ten of his fingers struck out continuously, attacking here and there in an inexhaustible onslaught.

Jiumozhi was astounded, and hurriedly generated his internal energy to resist the attacks. Sword qi criss crossed the small room, and sabre energy danced in the air. It was as though countless miniature thunderbolts or raging gales were repeatedly clashing against each other midair. After fighting for a while, Jiumozhi felt as though his opponent's internal energy was only growing stronger and stronger, and his sword techniques were boundless without fathom, as though creating new stances on the spot. It was totally different from his earlier fight with Benyin, Benxiang, and the others, where they were rigidly sticking to a pre-set formula; in contrast, the variations were much more difficult to predict and fathom. He was not aware that Duan Yu was not able to memorize all of the complicated changes and transformations within the sword techniques of the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', and was simply randomly piercing and stabbing about in a critical situation, much less inventing new stances on the spot. In his heart, he was both shocked and regretful. "The Heavenly Dragon Monastery actually has such a young and extraordinarily skilled master as this person. Today, I really did bring about my own humiliation!" Suddenly, he struck out three times, with three 'chi' sounds, before calling out, "Hold your hand!"

Duan Yu's internal strength could not be generated or retracted at will. Upon hearing his opponent call for him to halt, he did not know how to cease, and so his only option was to raise his fingers and point them at the ceiling. He thought to himself, "I should stop exerting my strength and hear what he has to say."

Jiumozhi saw that a perplexed look was on Duan Yu's face as he stopped fighting. Earlier, when he was withdrawing his internal energy, Duan Yu acted as though he were baffled and did not know what the hell he was doing at all. Jiumozhi's heart was swayed, and he immediately leapt forwards, striking towards Duan Yu's face with his fist.

Only through great fortune and luck did Duan Yu manage to learn this highest of martial arts techniques, the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. He didn't know any of the most basic empty handed or weapon based martial arts at all. Within this punch of Jiumozhi's was hidden seven or eight separate techniques. This was already a very powerful fist skill to begin with; now, backed up by the might of the Blazing Flame Sabre's energy, it became an infathomably deep and powerful stroke, impossible for even he himself to measure its strength.

In the martial world, there was no martial artist at all who understood deep martial arts but not superficial ones, who could comprehend complex martial arts not but not simple ones. Duan Yu was the only exception. Seeing Jiumozhi punch towards his face, he awkwardly stretched out his arm to block. Jiumozhi's right palm flipped over, seizing the 'Shenfeng' acupoint on his chest. Duan Yu's entire body immediately felt limp and he could no longer move. The 'Shenfeng' acupoint belonged to the 'Zushaoyinshen' group of acupoints, which he had never practiced in his study of the Divine Art of the Northern Darkness.

Although Jiumozhi discovered huge, gaping flaws in Duan Yu's study of martial arts, he was unable to overcome Duan Yu's 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians', and intended to use other high-level martial arts to defeat him. But he never would have expected to be able to so easily capture him in a single attack. He was actually afraid that Duan Yu was just play-acting and had some strange trick in mind. With his one hand on Duan Yu's 'Shenfeng' acupoint, he immediately struck out with his other hand and sealed his 'Jiquan', 'Dazhui,' and 'Jingmen' acupoints. This acupoints belonged to the 'Jingmai' group, which Duan Yu also had never learned.

Jiumozhi retreated three steps. He said, "This young benefactor has memorized the method by which one might learn the 'Divine Sword of the Six Meridians'. The original manuscript has already been burned by Elder Kurong. That makes this young benefactor a living manuscript. Burning him alive as a sacrifice in front of Mr. Murong's tomb will be just as good." Spreading out his left palm, he hurriedly made five chops in a row, then seized Duan Yu and dragged him out of the doorway and away from the Muni Pavilion.

Emperor Baoding, Benyin, Benguan and the others wanted to rush forward and reclaim him, but were all sealed out by this chain of five chops which Jiumozhi made. There was no way for them to rescue him.

With a toss, Jiumozhi handed Duan Yu off to the nine escorts which stood guard outside the pavilion. He called out, "Let's go quickly!" Two of the escorts stretched their hands out simultaneously and caught Duan Yu. They did not leave the way they came in. Rather, apparently on their own intiative, they made their way out via the grove which surrounded the Muni Pavilion. Jiumozhi generated the power of his 'Blazing Flame Blade' and simply repeatedly hacked at the doorway of the Muni Pavilion.

Emperor Baoding and the others all urgently clashed the force of their Single Solitary Finger against Jiumozhi's power, but were temporarily unable to break his invisible net of sabre strikes. Jiumozhi heard the sound of hoofsteps and knew that his nine subordinates had already departed northwards with Duan Yu. He laughed long and loudly. "Burning a living manual is superior to burning a lifeless manuscript! Now that Mr. Murong has someone to accompany him in the underworld, he won't feel lonely anymore!" He made diagonal cuts with his right hand. With a 'ka la la' sound, two of the pillars of the Muni Pavilion were chopped in half. His body swayed slightly, then, as though his body were nothing more than a breath of thin smoke, he flew towards the grove as well. In an instant, his location became indiscernable.

Emperor Baoding and Bencan rushed out at the same time, only to see that Jiumozhi was already long gone. Emperor Baoding said, "Hurry! Chase him!" His gown fluttering in the wind, he had already moved many meters. Master Bencan and him were running shoulder to shoulder, picking up speed and pursuing northwards.

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