Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Chapter 11-15

@Chapter 11 - A woman whose tongue is sharp as spear
Zhang SanFeng and Zhang WuJi walked down the Shao Bao Mountain. Realizing that Zhang WuJi’s condition is terminal, Zhang SanFeng stopped talking about possible cures. He simply tried to help Zhang WuJi pass time by chatting with him. On this day, they reached the Han River. And the two took a boat across. The boat floated on the water, wavering gently back and forth. Like the boat, Zhang SanFeng’s heart also wavered back and forth.

Zhang WuJi suddenly said, “Grand-master, don’t be sad. When I die, I’ll get to see mama and papa again.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Don’t say that. No matter what, your grand-master going to save you.” Zhang WuJi said, “Actually, I really wished I could’ve learnt Shaolin’s ‘Art of Nine-Yang’, so I can teach it to Third Uncle Yu.” Zhang SanFeng asked, “Why?” Zhang WuJi said, “I had hoped that once Third Uncle Yu learnt both Wu Dang and Shaolin’s ‘Art of Nine-Yang’, his injury could heal.”

Zhang SanFeng sighed, and said, “Your Third Uncle’s injuries are external. No amount of inner power can cure him.” He then thought, “This child knows that he’s about to die, yet he is not afraid of death. Instead, he thinks about the welfare of others, a very kind indeed.” Just about to compliment him, Zhang SanFeng suddenly heard a booming voice, “Stop the ship immediately. Hand over the child, and I’ll spare your life. Otherwise, don’t blame me for being ruthless.” This voice came from far down the river, yet one can hear the words clearly. Obviously, this person has strong inner power. Zhang SanFeng chuckled, thought, “Who would dare ask me to hand over the child?” Raising his head, only to see two boats getting near. Upon closer examination, an unshaven, burly man rowed the boat in an urgent manner. A little boy and a little girl sat with him on the boat. The boat behind them is bigger, with four lamas and seven or eight Mongolian officers on it. The officers all helped the sailors peddle the boat, allowing the boat to move much faster. The burly man’s strength is also quite amazing, rowing the small boat at great speed. Nonetheless, due to superior manpower, the bigger boat kept gaining on the smaller boat. When they got close, the lamas and the officers picked up bows and began to shoot at the smaller boat.

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Oh, so they wanted that burly man to hand over the child.” He despises Mongolians killing Hans very much, and instantly decided to help out this burly man. Only to see this man’s left hand continue to paddle, while his right hand raised the other paddle to knock down the oncoming arrows. Zhang SanFeng thought, “This man’s kung fu is quite formidable. How could I not help such a hero in trouble?” So he then said to his boatman, “Sir, let’s go help him.”

The boatman was scared out of his wits from watching the scene. He tried his best to stay away from the confrontation. So when the boatman heard Zhang SanFeng’s words, he said in shock, “Old… priest. You’re… kidding, right?” Realizing that they have no time to waste, Zhang SanFeng snatched the paddles from the boatman, and began to row towards the other two boats. Suddenly, he heard a loud scream, as an arrow struck the back of the little boy on the small boat. The burly man then immediately lost his poise, as he hurriedly turned to look at the boy’s wounds. At this moment, two arrows hit him on the shoulder and back. With the arrow wounds, the burly man could no longer hold on to the paddles, and they dropped into the water. The boat soon stopped. The bigger boat quickly caught up, as the officers and lamas jumped onto the smaller boat. That burly man did not surrender, however. Instead he fought them with all his energy.

Zhang SanFeng yelled, “Stop, filthy Mongols. I won’t allow you to hurt anyone!” As his boat got close, Zhang SanFeng jumped into the air towards the burly man’s boat. Two officers shot arrows at him. But with a wave his sleeve, Zhang SanFeng easily whisked the arrows away. As he landed, Zhang SanFeng’s left palm shot out. Two officers immediately fell down into the water. Upon seeing this, the other officers and lamas immediately froze from the shock. The head officer said, “Old priest, what do you want?”

Zhang SanFeng yelled, “Filthy Mongols! Trying to do more evil, hurting more civilians? Get out of here!” That officer said, “Do you know who he is? He is a remaining member of Yuan Province Devil Cult rebels, a wanted outlaw!”

Zhang SanFeng gasped upon hearing the words ‘Yuan Province Devil Cult rebel’. He thought, “So this man is Zhou ZiWang’s subordinate?” He turned and asked the burly man, “Is he speaking the truth?”

That burly man’s whole body filled with blood, as his left hand clutched the little boy, and cried, “They… they killed little master.” This sentence confirmed his identity.

Zhang SanFeng said in shock, “Is this Zhou ZiWang’s son?”

That burly man said, “That’s correct. I could not carry out my order, so what’s the need to keep on living?” He slowly put down the boy’s body, and then attacked an officer. But he’s already injured, plus the arrows are poisonous. So even before he could fully get up, he fell down onto the deck.

At this time, the little girl rushed towards a man’s body in the cabin, crying, “Papa! Papa!” Looking at the clothing on the body, Zhang SanFeng figured this man must be the boatman.

He thought, “If I had known the Devil Cult was involved, I wouldn’t have gotten interfered. But I can’t back out now.” So he said to the officer, “The boy’s already dead. The other man’s already seriously injured, and will die soon. Since you’ve already accomplished your task, you can surely leave!” That officer said, “No, I have to get their heads.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Why be so excessive?” That officer said, “Who are you, old priest? What gives you the right to intervene in this matter?” Zhang SanFeng chuckled, and said, “Who cares who I am? Everyone has the right to intervene in all matters.”

That officer gave his subordinates a gesture, and said, “What is your Taoist title? Which temple do you reside in?” Before Zhang SanFeng could respond, two other officers quickly raised their sabers, and attacked him. These two officers were already quite close to Zhang SanFeng. Plus, due to the small space of the boat, Zhang SanFeng had nowhere to evade.

But he quickly turned to the side, and with a quick twist of the body, dodged the sabers. His two palms quickly shot out, reaching the backs of the two officers, and yelled, “Get back there!” As the palms connect, the two officers flew out, landing in the middle of the large boat they came from. Zhang SanFeng hasn’t fought anyone in ages. But felt a bit unsatisfied simply beating up on these mediocre fighters.

That officer in charge gasped, and stuttered, “You… you… could you be…?” Zhang SanFeng swept his robe, and yelled, “This old priest only kills Mongols!” The lamas and officers immediately felt a strong wind bearing down hard on them, preventing them from breathing. After the wind passed, their faces all turned white. All of them then quickly returned to the large boat.

Zhang SanFeng took out a pill and put it in the burly man’s mouth. Then he rowed the boat to his own. Just as he’s about to help the burly man switch boats, he saw the burly man carry the boy’s body in one hand, the little girl in the other, and stepped to the adjacent boat. Zhang SanFeng thought, “Despite heavy injuries, this man still cares for his little master. His loyalty is very admirable. Although I didn’t mean to save him, this man is certainly worth saving.” He then helped take out the arrows out of the burly man, and applied medicine to the wounds.

That little girl watched her father’s body float away with his boat, and cried incessantly. The burly man said, “Those damn Mongols are really vicious. The first thing they did was to kill the boatman. If you hadn’t gotten here in time, this girl would have likely died too.”

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Right now, with WuJi having trouble moving, and this man being a wanted man. If we use the old river dock and seek lodgings there, I’d have trouble taking care of both people.” He took out three taels of silver and gave them to the boatman, said, “Sir, can you row east to the Tai Ping area? We’ll seek lodgings there.” That boatman was already in awe of Zhang SanFeng after watching him defeat those Mongols. So when Zhang SanFeng gave him so much money, he quickly complied, and began to row east.

That burly man got on his knees and kowtowed to Zhang SanFeng, said, “Thank you so much for saving my life. Chang YuChun [1] pays you his respect.” Zhang SanFeng quickly helped him up, and said, “Hero Chang, you don’t need to be so courteous.” Upon touching Chang YuChun’s hand, Zhang SanFeng found it to be icy cold. He asked in shock, “Is Hero Chang injured internally?” Chang YuChun said, “As I escorted little master down south, I fought against the Mongols four times. A lama managed to land two palm strikes on me, once on the chest and once on the back.

Zhang SanFeng checked his pulse, only to find it quite weak. He then opened Chang YuChun’s clothing, saw a heavy mark left by a palm strike, meaning the injury is quite serious. Any other man would’ve not have been able to hold up for such a long time. But this man managed to travel all the way here, battling along the way. Only a true hero can do something like this. Zhang SanFeng quickly ordered Chang YuChun to stop speaking, and to rest in the cabin.

That little girl is around ten. Her feet are bare, and her clothing’s tattered. Despite being a boatman’s daughter, she was an incredible young beauty, as she sat there in tears. Zhang SanFeng asked her, “Little girl, what’s your name?” That girl said, “My surname is Zhou. My name is Zhou ZhiRuo.” Zhang SanFeng thought, “For a boatman’s daughter, she does certainly have an elegant name.” He asked, “Where is your home? Is there anyone else in your family? I’ll have this boatman take you back home.” Zhou ZhiRuo said in tears, “I live with my dad on the boat. I… I have no other relatives.” Zhang SanFeng sighed, and thought, “Looks like she’s an orphan. What should I do about her?”

Chang YuChun said, “Old priest’s kung fu is incredible. May I ask for your title?” Zhang SanFeng said, “I’m called Zhang SanFeng.” Chang YuChun gasped loudly, sat up, and yelled, “So you are Wu Dang’s venerable Priest Zhang. No wonder your martial arts is so incredible. I’m really lucky to have to have met such a divine priest today.”

Zhang SanFeng said with a smile, “You’re too flattering. I simply happened to have lived a few extra years. Certainly not worthy of being ‘divine’. Hero Chang, please lie back down.” Seeing Chang YuChun’s straightforward and sincere demeanor, Zhang SanFeng found himself liking this man quite a lot. But due to Chang YuChun’s Devil Cult roots, Zhang SanFeng did not wish to talk too much with him, and said, “Your injury’s very serious. Don’t talk if you don’t have to.”

Because of his experience, Zhang SanFeng tends to be quite unbiased towards both the righteous and the devilish sects. He even once told Zhang CuiShan “You must never look down on others just because you reside in the position of the so-called righteous sect. The two words of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were originally hard to differentiate. A member of the orthodox sect when harboring thoughts of impurity and immorality will be considered as a wicked villain, and similarly if a member from the evil sect harbors a heart that is completely directed towards goodness, then that person is a gentleman.” But after Zhang CuiShan’s suicide, Zhang SanFeng has grieved much for the loss of his disciple, and felt great enmity towards the Heavenly Eagle Sect. Remembering his third disciple’s crippled condition, his fifth disciple’s death, both due to the Heavenly Eagle Sect, Zhang SanFeng couldn’t help but feel extra painful in regards to the word ‘devil’.

That Zhou ZiWang is Elder Mi Le’s disciple of Devil Cult, or “Ming Cult”

[2] . Many years ago, he started a revolution in the Jiang Xi province, proclaiming himself Emperor, calling his dynasty ‘Zhou’. It was soon destroyed by the Yuan troops, and Zhou ZiWang was executed. Although Elder Mi Le and the Heavenly Eagle Sect are different groups of people, they both originated from the Ming Cult. When Zhou ZiWang rebelled, Yin TianZheng also stirred up much trouble in the Zhe Jiang province. Zhang SanFeng rescued Chang YuChun today was only a spur of the moment decision, before asking about Chang YuChun’s identity.

It was already dark when they arrived at the town. Zhang SanFeng bought four dishes from a restaurant, chicken, pork, fish, and vegetables, and they ate on the boat. Zhang SanFeng told Zhou ZhiRuo and Chang YuChun to go ahead and eat, while he would feed Zhang WuJi. Chang YuChun asked him why. Zhang SanFeng responded by saying that he had sealed Zhang WuJi’s pressure points around the vital organs, to prevent the poison from getting in. In his depressed state, Zhang WuJi didn’t want to eat. And when Zhang SanFeng tried to feed him, he would simply shake his head.

Zhou ZhiRuo took the bowl from Zhang SanFeng’s hand, and said, “How about let me take care of this little friend, while you go ahead and eat?” Zhang WuJi said, “I don’t need to eat. I’m already full.” Zhou ZhiRuo said, “Little friend, if you don’t eat, the old priest would be too unhappy to eat. If he won’t eat, then wouldn’t he be hungry?”

Zhang WuJi realized that she’s right, and ate the food Zhou ZhiRuo put by his mouth. Zhou ZhiRuo carefully removed all the bones from the fish and chicken, and sweetened the meat with the sauces. So they tasted very good. Zhang WuJi quickly finished a whole bowl of food.

Zhang SanFeng thought, “Considering his crippling illness, and that both his parents are dead, WuJi really should have a attentive girl to serve him.”

Chang YuChun did not touch the meat dishes. Instead, he quickly finished the vegetable dish. Even with the injury, he ate four big bowls of rice. Zhang SanFeng urged him to eat some meat. Chang YuChun responded, “Venerable Zhang, I’m a devout Buddhist. I don’t eat meat.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot.” He immediately remembered, the Devil Cult has very strict rules, forbidding its members to eat meat. This has been true since the Tang Dynasty. Near the end of the Northern Sung Dynasty, the leader of the Ming Cult rebelled in the Zhe Dong province. At the time, the people called them ‘Vegetarian Devil Honoring Cult’.

Because the two big rules of the Ming Cult are to never eat meat, and to always honor the Devil. Under attacks from the government and the martial world, the disciples of the Ming Cult began to hide their identities. So they always say they are devout Buddhists to cover their vegetarian ways.

Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang, you saved my life, and already knows my background. So there’s no need for me to hide it. I am indeed a member of the Ming Cult. The government thinks of us as rebels. The righteous sects look down upon us, thinking we’re just a bunch of bandits, or that we’re minions of the devil. But for you to save me, even knowing who I am, I really don’t know how to repay for your kindness.”

Zhang SanFeng knows about the origins of the Devil Cult. The God they worship is called ‘Muo Ni’. But the worshipers call him ‘Honorable Brightness’. When the cult spread into the central plains in the Tang Dynasty, it was called ‘Muo Ni Cult’, and also ‘Cult of the Illuminating Light’. Its worshippers called it the ‘Ming Cult’, but others call it the Devil Cult. Zhang SanFeng sighed, and said, “Hero Chang…”

Chang YuChun quickly cut in, “Venerable priest, you really don’t need to call me a ‘hero’. Just call me YuChun.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Alright. YuChun, how old are you?” Chang YuChun said, “Twenty.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “You’re just becoming an adult. So although you’ve entered the Devil Cult, you haven’t sunk in too deeply. You can still get out before it’s too late. I have a few words that you may not like. Do you want to hear them?” Chang YuChun said, “Of course. I’d love to hear any advice from Venerable Zhang.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “Good! I want you to leave the Devil Cult. If you like Wu Dang, I’ll have my eldest student Song YuanQiao take you in as his disciple. This way, you can later walk the martial world with your head up, as no one will ever look down upon you again.” As the head of the Seven Heroes of Wu Dang, everyone knows the famous Song YuanQiao. Normally it’s almost impossible for people to even see him. The seven Wu Dang heroes recently began to take in students. But they have very strict standards. Only the most upright youngsters with great potential are admitted. As a member of the Devil Cult, a cult most people frown upon, this really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Chang YuChun.

Yet his response was, “I deeply thank you for your offer. But since I am already a member of the Ming Cult, I cannot ever leave.” Zhang SanFeng tried to persuade him some more, but Chang YuChun would not waver.

Zhang SanFeng finally gave up, shook his head, and sighed. Then he said, “This girl…” Chang YuChun said, “Don’t worry. This girl’s father died because of me. I’m definitely going to take care of her.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Alright. But you cannot let her enter your cult.” Chang YuChun said, “I really don’t know what we do that make us so despicable in your mind. But if you insist, I’ll obey your wish.”

Zhang SanFeng held Zhang WuJi in his arms, and said, “Then let us part now.” He really doesn’t want any more to do with the Devil Cult, and therefore left out the words ‘See you later’.

Zhou ZhiRuo said to Zhang WuJi, “Little friend. You need to eat everyday, so the old priest won’t worry about you.” Zhang WuJi’s tears came out, and said, “Thank you for your words. It’s just that… I’ll only be able to eat for just a while longer.” Zhang SanFeng cleaned out Zhang WuJi’s tears with his sleeve. Zhou ZhiRuo asked in shock, “What? You… You…” Zhang SanFeng said, “Little girl, you have a kind heart. I hope you’ll later go on the route of righteousness, and not of evil.”

Zhou ZhiRuo said, “Ok. But this little friend, why does he say that he can only eat for just a while longer?” Zhang SanFeng could not respond.

Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang, considering your martial arts abilities, surely you can cure this little friend’s poison, right?” Zhang SanFeng said, “Of course I can.” But he then shook his left hand behind Zhang WuJi, pointing out that Zhang WuJi is beyond help, but doesn’t want him to know it.

Upon seeing Zhang SanFeng shaking his hand, Chang YuChun gasped. He said, “Due to the severity of my injuries, I was just about to go see a very distinguished doctor. How about I take this little friend with me?” Zhang SanFeng shook his head, said, “His cold poison has already entered the vital organs. It’s not something normal medicine can cure. We only… only hope to slowly disperse the poison.” Chang YuChun said, “But the doctor I’m talking about has the ability to bring back the dead.”

Zhang SanFeng suddenly remembered a person, and asked, “Are you talking about the ‘Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley’?”

Chang YuChun said, “That’s right. So you know about Elder Hu too?”

Zhang SanFeng thought, “From my knowledge, this ‘Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley’, Hu QingNuo, does indeed have unparalleled medical skills. But he is member of the Devil Cult. Besides, he has a very strange temper. He’ll do his best to cure any Devil Cult followers, and not ask for a single penny. Yet he will not treat anyone else, no matter how much money is offered. Therefore, he has another nickname, ‘Rather See Death Than Help’. If so, it’s really better for WuJi to die than to enter the Devil Cult.”

Seeing the grave expression on Zhang SanFeng’s face, Chang YuChun understood what he’s thinking, and said, “Venerable Zhang, I know Elder Hu never treats outsiders. But since you saved my life, I’ll do anything I can to make Elder Hu break the rule this one time.” Zhang SanFeng said, “I know just how amazing this Doctor Hu’s skills are. But unfortunately, this cold poison on WuJi’s body is very unique…” Chang YuChun said, “But you can’t cure him. The worst that can happen is that Elder Hu can’t cure him either. If he’s going to die regardless, what’s the big deal?” Chang YuChun is a straightforward person, and therefore said what he thought.

Zhang SanFeng pondered a bit, “He’s right. Look like WuJi only has about another month to live. What is there to be afraid of?” Zhang SanFeng has always been a very sincere person, and normally never thinks about possible hidden motives. But Zhang WuJi is his disciple’s only child. How could he give WuJi to a member of the Devil Cult? At this moment, he really doesn’t know what to do.

Chang YuChun said, “I know Venerable Zhang doesn’t want to go see Elder Hu. After all, how could a head of a righteous sect seek help from us evil cults? Besides, with Elder Hu’s strange temper, he’d probably offend you. I guess the only is way is for me to take Brother Zhang to Elder Hu. Then I’ll come to Wu Dang Mountain to be your hostage. Should anything happen to Brother Zhang, you can go ahead and kill me.”

Zhang SanFeng chuckled, thought, “Should anything really happen to WuJi, how would killing you help? Besides, how can I be sure you’ll definitely come to Wu Dang?” But considering WuJi’s condition, there really isn’t any other possible cure. So Zhang SanFeng said, “If so, then please take care of WuJi. But I must make two things clear. Mr. Hu cannot force WuJi into your cult. And Wu Dang is not going to accept your gratitude on this matter.” He knew that the Devil Cult is very devious and strange in its ways. Being associated with them could only lead to big problems. After all, isn’t Zhang CuiShan’s death a perfect example?

Chang YuChun said, “Venerable Zhang is really belittling my cult. But if you say so, I’ll obey.” Zhang SanFeng said, “Take good care of WuJi. Should he ever recover, take him back to Wu Dang. But there’s no need to come to Wu Dang as a hostage.” Chang YuChun said, “I’ll do all I can to follow your wishes.”

Zhang SanFeng said, “As for this little girl, I’ll take her back to Wu Dang Mountain.”

Chang YuChun then went to a large tree by the shore, and dug a hole with his saber. Then he took off all of Little Master Zhou’s clothes, before burying him in the ground, and paid his respects. Burying members naked is one of Ming Cult’s rules. Everyone enters the world naked, and should therefore leave the world the same way. Since Zhang SanFeng does not know this rule, he found the burial procedure quite repulsive and mysterious. The next morning, Zhang SanFeng took Zhou ZhiRuo in his hands, and parted with Chang YuChun and Zhang WuJi. After the death of his parents, Zhang SanFeng was like a grandfather to Zhang WuJi. So Zhang WuJi couldn’t help but burst into tears as they parted. Zhang SanFeng said, “WuJi, when you’re healthy again, your Big Brother Chang will take you back to Wu Dang Mountain. Be a good boy. We’ll only be apart for a few months. Don’t be so sad.” Despite his words, Zhang WuJi’s tears did not stop.

Zhou ZhiRuo returned to the boat, took out a handkerchief from her sleeve, and began to wipe away his tears. She then smiled at him, put the handkerchief into his pocket, before returning to shore.

(Translated by Huang Yushi from the 2nd edition of the original Chinese text: )

Zhang Wuji followed his grand-teacher with his eyes as the old man walked westwards with Zhou Zhiruo. As the same time, the little girl kept turning back and waving until both of them disappeared behind a row of poplar and willow trees. Suddenly, Zhang Wuji felt so lonely that he started to cry again.

"Brother Zhang, how old are you this year?" asked Chang Yuchun with frown. When the boy answered that he was already twelve, the man said, "I see. A twelve-year-old is no longer a child, so are you not ashamed to sob and cry like a baby? When I was twelve, I had already been beaten several hundred times, but never did I shed a single tear. A man sheds only blood, you know, not tears. If you continue to cry like a girl, I will have to hit you."

"I cried because I could not bear to part with Grand-teacher," said Zhang Wuji. "If someone hit me, I would not cry at all! Go ahead and hit me if you dare. I will return each of your punches with ten punches of my own someday."

Chang Yuchun was stunned. "Good for you!" he said with a hearty laugh. "Now that is what I call a man with integrity. Since you are so formidable, I will not to hit you."

"Why not?" asked Zhang Wuji. "After all, I cannot even move a single finger."

Chang Yuchun laughed again and replied, "If I hit you today, what am I going to do when you eventually learn martial arts from your grand-teacher? How would I be able to endure ten punches from the exquisite fist techniques of the Wudang School?"

A smile appeared on Zhang Wuji's face: This Brother Chang may look very ferocious, but he is not a bad man.

Hiring a riverboat, the two travelled all the way to Hankou before switching to a larger vessel and sailing east down the Great River. The Butterfly Valley where the Healing Sage Hu Qingniu lived was located on the banks of Nüshan Lake in northern Anhui.

The Great River flowed in a south-easterly direction from Hankou to Jiujiang, before turning northwards into the province of Anhui. Two years earlier, Zhang Wuji had sailed up this very river on his way to Mount Wudang. He had his parents and Yu Lianzhou as companions then, so the journey had been filled fun and laughter. Now, his parents were both dead, and he was on a joyless trip to seek treatment with Chang Yuchun. The difference between the two were as stark as the sky above and the land below. But he did not dare to let his tears fall, fearing that Chang Yuchun would be angered again. By then, all the acupoints that Zhang Sanfeng had blocked earlier had returned to normality, so he could actually feel each excruciating attack of the toxins in his body. Yet, there was nothing that he could do, except to grit his teeth in endurance until his upper and lower lips were all cut and bruised. To make things worse, the bouts became more frequent and painful with each passing day.

When they reached the Gua Pier after Jiqing, Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji went ashore and travelled north in a hired carriage. Several days later, they arrived in the town of Mingguang, east of Fengyang. Chang Yuchun knew that his Uncle Hu did not like his secluded place of abode to be widely- known, so he sent the carriage away about twenty li (10 km) from Nüshan Lake. Then, carrying Zhang Wuji on his back, he tackled the final leg of the journey on foot.

He thought that these last twenty li would be covered in the blink of an eye, but he had travelled only one li (500 metres) when his nerves and bones started to ache terribly. His breathing became laboured and he found it very difficult to even walk. The internal injuries that he had sustained after being struck twice by the foreign monks were worse than he had realised.

Feeling very apologetic, Zhang Wuji said, "Brother Chang, let me walk on my own. You had better not tire yourself out."

"I can cover a hundred li (50 km) in a single breath without feeling tired at all," Chang Yuchun snapped, "so how could those stupid monks stop me with two strikes of the palm?" Gathering up all his strength, he forced himself to march forward. Unfortunately, he was already too wounded to push himself in this manner, and the frustration that he felt just made things worse. After several zhang or so (1 zhang = 3.33 metres), he began to feel as if his limbs and bones were falling apart. Yet, he was not ready to admit defeat. He was also unwilling to put Zhang Wuji down or to sit and rest. So, he laboured on, a step at the time.

This, of course, made their progress terribly slow. By nightfall, they had not covered even half of the targeted distance. The rugged terrain only served to make the walk more difficult, but they trudged on until they reached some woods. Then, Chang Yuchun finally put Zhang Wuji down and collapsed spread-eagle on the ground. After a simple meal of sugared fruit and biscuits, Chang Yuchun rested for half a shichen (one hour) before voicing his desire to resume the journey. Zhang Wuji tried his best to persuade the man otherwise, suggesting that they could spend a peaceful night in the woods and set out the next morning instead. By and by, Chang Yuchun realised that it would probably be midnight by the time they reached Butterfly Valley. Hu Qingniu would certainly be very irritated by their visit at such an hour, so he gave in to his companion's suggestion to stay in the woods. They soon fell asleep leaning against a large tree.

At midnight, Zhang Wuji was jolted awake by another attack of the toxins in his body. He started to shiver and shake badly, but he endured the pain in silence for fear of waking Chang Yuchun up. Just then, the sounds of clashing weapons drifted into the woods, followed by several voices that shouted, "Where are you going?" "Block the eastern route and force him into the woods!" "We cannot let this crooked baldy get away this time!" Footsteps sounded as several people ran towards the trees.

Waking up with a start, Chang Yuchun grabbed his sabre with his right hand and Zhang Wuji with his left. Then, he waited to see if he should fight or flee.

"I do not think that they have come for us," the boy whispered.

Nodding in agreement, Chang Yuchun peered through the trees and saw seven or eight people attacking an unarmed man from all sides. Although the man managed to fend his enemies off with a pair of swift palms, the group began closing in on him after a while.

By and by, a crescent moon appeared from behind the clouds and cast a silvery light on the scene. The man in the centre of the circle was a tall and thin monk in his forties who was dressed in a white robe. His attackers consisted of two grey-robed monks, two Taoists, two men in secular attire and two slim-built women. The grey-robed monks had a pole and a sabre between them, which they used with such power that leaves flew everywhere in the woods. One of the Taoists had a sword which glinted under the moonlight as he waved it about, while one of the men in secular attire -- a short and small-sized fellow with a pair of swords -- rolled back and forth on the ground, attacking the legs of the white-robed monk with Ditang swordplay, a technique that focused on the lower extremeties of the body.

The two women had a sword each, through which they executed a series of very swift but fluid strokes. As the battle wore on, one of the women turned in such a way that part of her face was lit up by the moonlight. The sight almost had Zhang Wuji blurting out: "Auntie Ji!" Indeed, she was none other that Yin Liting's fiancée, Ji Xiaofu.

Initially, Zhang Wuji thought that it was very unfair for so many people to attack the monk at once, and hoped that the hapless victim would be able to free himself. However, after recognising one of the attackers as Ji Xiaofu, he decided that the white-robed monk was a bad man. After all, he was an enemy of the Auntie Ji who had comforted him on the day of his parents' suicide. Although Zhang Wuji did not accept the necklace that she had given him, he was nevertheless very grateful for her kind thoughts.

As the white-robed monk's strokes alternated by fast and slow, and real and false, Zhang Wuji quickly realised that he was actually a highly skilled pugilist. There were also too many variations to his techniques to be identified, especially when the movements were speeded up. As a result, Ji Xiaofu and her group could not gain the upperhand despite being larger in number and battling for a long time.

Suddenly, one of the men shouted, "Use the projectiles!"

The other man and one of the Taoists responded at once, leaping to the left and the right respectively before sending a flurry of pellets and flying daggers towards the white-robed monk. As the monk scrambled to deal with the weapons that fell like rain around him, the other Taoist -- a fellow with a long beard -- shouted, "Monk Peng, we do not want your life, so why are you fighting us with all your might? Just hand Bai Guishou over and we will part with a smile. Would that not be better for everyone?"

Chang Yuchun was shocked. "So this is Monk Peng?" he wondered in a whisper.

Zhang Wuji was surprised too, for he had heard his parents tell his Second Uncle Yu about the incident on Wangpan Island and the resulting inter-clan vendettas upon returning to China two years earlier. Therefore, he knew that Bai Guishou, the Leader of the Eagle Sect's Xuanwu Circle, was the only one who had left Wangpan Island with his mental faculties intact. In recent years, many clans and organisations had taken the Eagle Sect to task because they wanted Bai Guishou to reveal where Xie Xun was. Consequently, Zhang Wuji thought: Could this Monk Peng be a member of my mother's sect as well?

Just then, Monk Peng said in a loud voice, "Circle-Leader Bai has been grievously wounded by all of you and I have a friendship with him that goes back a long way. To tell you the truth, even if I did not know him at all, I would still not ignore a dying man."

"What dying man?" roared the Taoist with the long beard. "We do not want his life, for we just want to find out where a certain person is."

"Since you want to know where Xie Xun is, why do you not go and ask the abbot of the Shaolin Temple?" said Monk Peng.

One of the grey-robed monks stepped up and shouted, "That is but an evil ploy to shift blame to my Shaolin Temple by that witch from the Eagle Sect, Yin Susu. Who believes her?" Apparently, this monk was from the Shaolin School.

The mention of his mother's name filled Zhang Wuji with both pride and sorrow: Although my mother has passed away for two years, she can still make all of you dizzy with trouble!

Suddenly, one of the Taoists shouted, "Everybody, get down!" As his companions fell on their faces, five flying daggers cut through the air towards Monk Peng's chest. These weapons could be avoided if the monk bent forward, fell on his face or leaned backwards at once, but his attackers had pre-empted his moves by positioning their weapons around him at ground-level. So how could he escape then?

As Zhang Wuji watched with bated breath, Monk Peng leapt into the air and the five flying daggers went by under his feet. The two grey-robed Shaolin monks and the Taoist with the long beard responded to this turn swiftly, slashing Monk Peng's legs with their pole, sabre and sword. Forced to strike back, the white-robed monk sent a palm into the head of one of the Shaolin monks before snatching his sabre and using it as a lever against the other monk's pole to push himself two zhang (6.66 metres) away from the fray.

The Shaolin monk who was struck on the head died at once. His angered companions set off in pursuit of Monk Peng, only to see his legs crumple beneath him in his haste to get away. As the group surrounded the white- robed monk once more, the remaining Shaolin monk shouted, "You killed my brother, so I am going to make you pay for it!"

"Wait!" said the Taoist with the long beard. "His legs have been struck my Scorpion-Tail Hook (Xie1 Wei3 Gou1), and he will soon die of poisoning."

Sure enough, Monk Peng's legs wobbled as he strove unsuccessfully to stand up.

Chang Yuchun thought: He is an important member of my Ming Sect, so I must rescue him! Although he was seriously wounded himself, he was so bent on helping Monk Peng that he took a deep breath and stepped forward. Unfortunately, the breath and the step that he took affected his internal injuries so much that he almost fainted from excruciating pain. By then, Monk Peng had collapsed on the ground after managing to move another zhang (3.33 metres) away from his attackers. He looked as if he had died of poisoning. Opening his eyes despite the massive pain in his chest, Chang Yuchun saw that none of the seven dared to approach the body of the monk.

The Taoist with the long beard said, "Brother Xu, test him with two of your flying daggers."

The other Taoist responded by throwing a dagger each into Monk Peng's right shoulder and left leg. The white-robed monk did not move, indicating that he was indeed dead.

"What a pity! What a pity!" said the Taoist with the long beard. "He has died, but we do not know where he has hidden Bai Guishou!" The group stepped forward for a closer look.

Suddenly, five swift smacks were heard, followed by the sight of five people falling away from the circle. Monk Peng was on his feet in a flash, but the daggers were still embedded in his shoulder and leg. It turned out that he had pretended to die in a bid to draw his enemies closer, so that he could catch them unaware with the lightning-fast 'Flying Clouds in the Great Wind' Palm Technique (Da4 Feng1 Yun2 Fei1 Zhang3). He had gathered up all his strength in silence as he lay on the ground, so the five strikes were so strong that they left a palm-print each on the chests of the five male victims.

Ji Xiaofu and her older sister-at-arms, Ding Minjun, were terribly shocked at this unexpected turn of events, but they managed to leapt away on time. When they looked at their five wounded companions, they found them throwing up mouthfuls of blood. The two men in secular attire even screamed in pain, for their bodies were not as strong as the other three.

The Taoist with the long beard said, "Ding-guniang, Ji-guniang, stab him quickly with your swords!"

Among the nine of them, one Shaolin monk was already dead, and Monk Peng and five others were seriously wounded. Thus, Ji Xiaofu and Ding Minjun were the only two left unharmed. Ding Minjun thought: Hmmph! Am I so poor in the sword that you must tell me how to use it? Then, she raised her weapon and slashed at Monk Peng's shin with a move called 'Splitting Metal with a Nominal Stroke' (Xu1 Shi4 Fen1 Jin1).

Monk Peng heaved a long sigh, closed his eyes and waited for death. Suddenly, a loud clang was heard, as if two weapons had come into contact with each other. Opening his eyes, Monk Peng saw that Ji Xiaofu had used her sword to deflect her sister's blade.

"Why?" asked Ding Minjun in surprise. "Elder Sister," answered Ji Xiaofu, "Monk Peng held his hands back in mercy, so we should not push him over the edge." "What hands of mercy?" Ding Minjun retorted. "His hands had run out of strength!" Then, she turned to the monk and said, "Monk Peng, my sister is very kind to spare your life, so you should tell us where Bai Guishou is."

Monk Peng threw head back and roared with laughter. "Ding-guniang, you have really underestimated Peng Yingyu," he said. "Zhang Cuishan, the Fifth Warrior of the Wudang School, would rather die of suicide than reveal his sworn brother's whereabouts. Although I am not as talented, I admire loyalty and courage of Zhang the Fifth enough to follow his example." Then, he threw up a mouthful of blood and sank to the ground.

Ding Minjun walked up and kicked him three times in the waist, so that he could not launch another stealth attack at them.

Peng Yingyu's words brought a surge of warmth and gratitude into Zhang Wuji's heart, and the boy suddenly felt as if he had found a close relative. After his father, Zhang Cuishan, committed suicide, members of renowned and upright organisations often spoke of the man in this manner: "He was an outstanding young warrior who took one wrong step and became involved with a heretical witch. As a result, he died in personal ruin and shame, and brought humiliation to the Wudang School." Zhang Wuji had never heard these exact words, of course, but he could gather as much from the conversations and attitudes of his grand-teacher and uncles. Besides being deeply grieved, they had blamed his mother for the terrible things that had happened. They had felt that everything about his father was good, except for the mistake he made in marrying his mother. No one had ever expressed admiration and respect for his father like Peng Yingyu just did.

Ding Minjun sneered and said, "Zhang Cuishan was blind to marry that heretical witch. This is what I call 'willing self-degradation', so what good is there to learn from it? His Wudang School ... " At this point, Ji Xiaofu tried to interrupt her sister, only to hear Ding Minjun say, "Do not worry. I will not include Yin the Sixth in this." Then, pointing her sword at Peng Yingyu's right eye, she added, "If you do not speak up, I will poke your right eye out before doing the same to your left. Then, I will poke through your right ear and the left one. After that, I will slice your nose off, for I will not allow you to simply drop dead." The tip of her sword glinted barely half a cun (1.67 centimetres) away from Peng Yingyu's eye.

The stubborn monk opened his eyes wide in defiance and said in a calm voice, "I have heard that the Abbess Mie Jue of the E-mei School is cruel and ruthless in her ways, so her students should be no different. Since I have fallen into your hands, go ahead and show me E-mei's best techniques!"

Ding Minjun raised her eyebrows and screeched, "Crooked baldy, how dare you ridicule my school!" She pushed her sword forward and gouged out Peng Yingyu's right eye. Then, she placed the tip of the blade on his left eye- lid.

Peng Yingyu laughed as blood poured out of his blinded right eye. Then, he opened his good left eye as widely as he could and glared at Ding Minjun until goosebumps appeared all over her. "You are not from the Eagle Sect," the woman said, "so why are you giving your life up for Bai Guishou?"

"This is one of the principles of being a man," answered Peng Yingyu. "You would not understand it even if I told you."

Ding Minjun could see that Peng Yingyu had no strength left to fight back, but somehow, he still regarded her with much disdain. As a result, she pushed her sword into his left eye in a fit of anger, only to have Ji Xiaofu knock the blade away with a nimble stroke.

"Elder Sister," said the younger woman, "this monk is so stubborn that he will never say anything, regardless of what we do to him. Killing him will not serve our purposes either."

"He said that our teacher is cruel and ruthless in her ways," Ding Minjun replied, "so I am just showing him what 'cruel and ruthless' really means. Heretics like him can only bring harm to others, so having him killed is a good thing."

"He is also a tough man," Ji Xiaofu added. "Elder Sister, I think we should just let him go."

Ding Minjun burst into a fit. "One of these two brothers from Shaolin is dead, while the other is wounded," she said in a loud voice. "The two Taoists from Kunlun are badly injured, while the two brothers from the Haisha Clan are in an even worse condition. Is he not brutal enough? I will gouge out his left eye before continuing with the interrogation." As soon as the word 'interrogation' left her mouth, her sword moved towards Peng Yingyu's left eye.

Ji Xiaofu raised her sword and pushed her sister's blade away with another light and nimble move. "Elder Sister," she said, "this man has no strength left to resist. If word of how we treat him gets out into the realm of the rivers and lakes, the reputation of our E-mei School will be adversely affected."

"Stand aside, and do not intervene!" said Ding Minjun in a stern voice. When Ji Xiaofu persisted, the older woman said, "Since you acknowledge me as your Elder Sister, you must listen to what I say. Stop nagging me!"

"Yes!" Ji Xiaofu responded, prompting Ding Minjun to send her sword into Peng Yingyu's left eye again. This time, she increased the power of her move by three-tenths.

Somehow, Ji Xiaofu found herself being unable to accept her sister's action, so she raised her sword and deflected the other blade once more. The power in Ding Minjun's move caused the younger woman to use a heavier hand as well, so the two swords impacted in a flurry of sparks. As their arms went numb, both women took two steps back.

"What exactly are you up to, protecting this evil monk time and again?" shouted Ding Minjun angrily.

"Elder Sister," answered Ji Xiaofu, "I would like to suggest that you stop torturing him in this manner. We should just take our time and ask him slowly where Bai Guishou is."

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, "Do you think that I do not know what is in your heart? Ask yourself honestly: Why do you keep on declining the requests of Wudang's Yin the Sixth to complete the rites of marriage? And why did you run away from home after your father asked you to do the same?"

"What has my personal affairs to do with this matter?" asked Xi Jiaofu. "How could you link them together?"

"We know the truth in our hearts," answered Ding Minjun, "so I need not pull the scabs from your sores in front of all these outsiders. You may be in E-mei physically, but your heart is in the Evil Sect."

Ji Xiaofu turned white at once. "I respect you as my Elder Sister-at-Arms," she said with a trembling voice. "I have never offended you, so why are you humiliating me like this?"

"All right," Ding Minjun said, "if your heart is not in the Evil Sect, go ahead and poke out this monk's left eye."

Ji Xiaofu did not do as she was told. Instead, she said, "Ever since the E-mei School was founded by the Little Eastern Heretic, our Great-Grandteacher Guo, many of our school-mates have either chosen to be nuns or to remain unmarried all their lives. My reluctance to marry is nothing extraordinary, so why must you push me into a corner?"

"Well, I am not taken in by your plea of innocence," Ding Minjun replied coldly. "If you do not stab him in the eye, I am going to spill the beans on your affairs."

"Elder Sister," said Xi Jiaofu in a gentle voice, "I hope that you will consider the bond of sisterhood that we share, and stop pushing me."

Ding Minjun laughed. "I am not asking you to do anything embarrassing," she said. "Our teacher instructed us to find out where the Golden-Maned Lion King is, and this monk here is the only lead that we have. But he was unwilling to reveal the truth and even harmed our companions. So it is only fair that I poke out his right eye, while you take out his left. Why are you still not doing it?"

Ji Xiaofu lowered her head and answered in quietly: "He showed us mercy earlier, so we should not turn around and drive him to his death. I am too soft-hearted to do this." She turned and put her sword back into its scabbard.

"You? Soft-hearted?" asked Ding Minjun with a sarcastic laugh. "Our teacher has often praised your ruthless swordplay techniques and tough character. In fact, she says that you take after her so much that she wants to pass her legacy on to you, so how can you be soft-hearted?"

It was then that the people around them finally understood the reason behind the two women's quarrel. Apparently, the leader of the E-mei School, Mie Jue, loved Ji Xiaofu so much that she had thoughts of making the young woman her heir. Jealous, Ding Minjun had eventually managed to obtain something that she could blackmail Ji Xiaofu with.

Zhang Wuji had been very grateful for the kindness that Ji Xiaofu had shown him, so he wished there and then that he could run out and give her spiteful sister a few tight slaps.

Then, Ding Minjun said, "Younger Sister Ji, let me ask you: When our teacher called all of us to the Golden Peak of Mount E-mei and taught us the 'Sword of Extermination' (Mie4 Jian4) and the 'Sword of Non-Compromise' (Jue2 Jian4) that she had developed, why did you not show up? Why did you cause our teacher to erupt with a massive fit of anger?"

"I was suddenly taken very ill in Ganzhou and could not move," answered Ji Xiaofu. "I have already reported this to our teacher, so why are you bringing it up now?"

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and replied, "You can keep the matter from our teacher, but you cannot keep it from me. I have something else to ask you, but if you poke this monk's eye out, I will keep my peace." Ji Xiaofu lowered her head in silence as she mulled over her dilemma. Finally, she said, "Elder Sister, are you really not going to consider the bond that we share, growing up and learning martial arts in the same school?"

"Are you going to poke his eye out or not?" asked Ding Minjun in return.

"Do not worry, Elder Sister," said Ji Xiaofu. "Even if our teacher wants to pass her legacy to me, I will never dare to accept it."

"Right!" Ding Minjun retorted angrily. "So you are saying that I am jealous of you. How am I inferior to you, that you should make way for me? So ... are you going to poke his eye out or not?"

"Go ahead and punish me if I have done wrong," said Ji Xiaofu, "for I would never dare to resist. There are friends from other clans and organisations here, yet you are pushing me like this ... " Tears began to stream down her face.

Ding Minjun sneered and said, "Go ahead and act pitiful if you want to, because I know that you are cursing me in your heart. When you were in Ganzhou three or four years ago ... I cannot remember it too clearly, but you should be fully aware of the time it happened. Did you really have an illness? Well, I think you did 'have' something, but it was no illness. You had a baby!"

Ji Xiaofu turned and ran off at once, but Ding Minjun had already expected her to do so.

The older woman flew ahead, blocked her way with the sword and said, "I think that you had better poke Monk Peng's left eye out, or I will ask you who the baby's father is. I will also ask why a disciple of a renowned and upright clan like you would go and protect a crooked monk from the Evil Sect."

"Let ... let me go!" pleaded Ji Xiaofu in defeat. But Ding Minjun did not relent. Placing the tip of her sword against the younger woman's chest, she asked loudly, "Where are you keeping the child? You are the fiancée of Wudang's Yin Liting, Yin the Sixth, so why did you have a child with someone else?"

These earth-shaking questions took everyone by surprise. Zhang Wuji was perplexed: This Auntie Ji is a good person, so how could she have done Uncle Yin wrong? He did not fully understand the affairs between men and women, of course, but even Chang Yuchun, Peng Yingyu, the long-bearded Taoist from Kunlun and the others were astonished by the revelation.

Ji Xiaofu turned white and made a desperate dash for cover, but Ding Minjun stopped her with a deep and vicious slash on the right arm. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Ji Xiaofu pulled out her sword with her left hand and said, "Elder Sister, if you continue pushing me, I will have to let you down."

By then, Ding Minjun knew that the situation had reached the point of no return. She had exposed her sister's shameful secret, so the younger woman would definitely want to silence her. However, she was not as highly skilled in martial arts as Ji Xiaofu, so she had seized the first opportunity to injure her. Now that the woman herself had mentioned the use of force, Ding Minjun turned her sword in a move called 'The Moon Descends Upon the Western Mount' (Yue4 Luo4 Xi1 Shan1) and sent it into her sister's abdomen. Ji Xiaofu had no alternative but to respond the blade in her left hand.

The two sisters were well-versed in each other's swordplay techniques, so their closely-fought duel was marked with intense attacks and defences. Their wounded companions could neither stop them nor risk helping one at the expense of the other, so they found themselves staring in admiration at the women's skills: The E-mei School is indeed worthy of its position as one of the four largest learning centres of martial arts today, for its swordplay techniques are really as exquisite as they are reputed to be.

Ji Xiaofu's right arm bled more profusely as the duel wore on, so she became increasingly vicious in her strokes, hoping to drive Ding Minjun away and open up a route of escape for herself. However, she did not seem too successful in her efforts, for she was rather uncomfortable using the sword with her left hand. Furthermore, the massive loss of blood had reduced her abilities by more than seven-tenths. On her part, Ding Minjun did not dare to go too close to Ji Xiaofu, preferring instead to keep her going and allow the eventual lack of blood to take its toll. Sure enough, the younger woman soon became so weak that her steps and strokes began to falter. Ding Minjun quickly seized the opportunity and stabbed Xi Jiaofu twice in the right shoulder, splattering her clothes with blood.

Suddenly, Peng Yingyu spoke up in a loud voice: "Ji-guniang, come over and gouge my left eye out. I am already very grateful for all that you have done." He knew that it was tremendously difficult for Ji Xiaofu to risk death in protecting an enemy. Furthermore, Ding Minjun had threatened her with the very thing that a woman treasured more than her own life -- the chastity of her name.

But it was already too late. Even if Ji Xiaofu really poked Peng Yingyu's eye out at that moment, Ding Minjun would still not allow her to leave. If she did not seize this opportunity to eliminate her younger sister-at-arms, she would have to face an endless stream of troublesome consequences in the future. As her strokes became more vicious, Peng Yingyu shouted, "Ding Minjun, you are absolutely shameless! It is no surprise that you are known as the Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun in the realm of the rivers and lakes, for your heart is indeed like the scorpion and the snake, and your looks are worse than Wuyan's."

Before the woman could take him to task for comparing her to the legendary Zhong Wuyan, who was known for the hideous disfiguration of her face, Peng Yingyu went on: "If every woman in the world is as ugly and as vomit- inducing as you are, all the men under the sun will want to become monks. With you, the Evil Wuyan, standing right in front of me all night, being a monk is not enough. I will have to be totally blind as well!"

Although Ding Minjun was not a beauty, she was attractive in her own way. After all, she had a rather charming face that was very well taken care of. However, as a man who was very well-versed in the ways of the world, Peng Yingyu knew that every woman under the sun hated being told how ugly she was, regardless of whether it was the truth or not. Consequently, he had come up with the 'Evil Wuyan' nickname in a bid to draw Ding Minjun's attention to himself and allow Ji Xiaofu the opportunity to escape -- or at the very least, find a way to bandage her wounds.

Unfortunately, Ding Minjun had other thoughts: Once I kill Ji Xiaofu, the stinking monk will not be able to get away either. So, she ignored all his taunts.

"The Lady Warrior Ji is chaste as ice and pure as jade," Peng Yingyu added loudly. "Who does not know this fact? But that Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun insisted on proferring a love that was not reciprocated, dreaming of a relationship with Yin Liting of the Wudang School. When Yin Liting did not respond to your advances, you naturally thought of harming Lady Warrior Ji. Ha ha, your cheekbones are so high, your mouth is as big as a basin, your complexion is so yellow and your body is as thin as a length of bamboo. How can the handsome and easy-going Yin the Sixth be attracted to you? You did not even appraise yourself in the mirror, yet you went ahead and tried to catch his attention with all sorts of provocative glances ... "

Infuriated, Ding Minjun dashed over to Peng Yingyu and sent her sword towards his mouth.

To be honest, Ding Minjun's cheekbones were a little higher than usual and her mouth did not quite fit into the cherry-sized standard of that era. Her complexion was not as fair as she wanted it to be and her body was naturally slim. She was often unhappy with these tiny blemishes, but they could only be spotted by others under close scrutiny. Yet, Peng Yingyu had been particularly observant to notice these flaws. So how could she remain composed after he announced her imperfections with added flavour and spice? Furthermore, she had never seen Yin Liting before, so when did she ever try to 'catch his attention with all sorts of provocative glances'?

Just as her sword was about to reach the monk, a man suddenly dashed out of the woods and got in front of Peng Yingyu. He was so fast that Ding Minjun could not pull her sword back on time. As the blade sank into the man's forehead, he swept a palm out and struck the woman on the chest. The force of the blow pushed Ding Minjun several steps back and caused her to throw up a mouthful of blood. By then, her sword had been stuck so firmly in the man's forehead that he was unlikely to live.

"Bai Guishou! Bai Guishou!" shouted the long-bearded Taoist from the Kunlun School. He scrambled excitedly to his feet and took a few wobbly steps before sinking back to the ground.

The man who had been killed was indeed the Leader of the Eagle Sect's Xuanwu Circle, Bai Guishou. After he had been seriously injured, he found out that Peng Yingyu had come under the combined attack of Shaolin, Kunlun, E-mei and Haisha in a bid to shield him. Consequently, he rushed to the scene and took the stab on behalf of his faithful and courageous friend. Known for his powerful palms, he had managed to strike Ding Minjun and break several of her ribs just before he died.

As Ji Xiaofu regained her composure, she tore a piece off from her clothing and bandaged the wound on her arm. Then, she released the acupoints that had been blocked on Peng Yingyu's waist, before walking away in silence.

"Wait!" said the white-robed monk. "Ji-guniang, please accept a bow from Monk Peng." He bent over in gratitude, but Ji Xiaofu stepped aside, unwilling to receive his thanks.

Picking up the sword that the long-bearded Taoist had dropped on the ground, Peng Yingyu said, "This Ding Minjun uttered slanderous nonsense against your name, so she must not be allowed to live." As he sent the sword into the woman's throat, Ji Xiaofu deflected the blade with her sword.

"She is my older sister-at-arms," she said. "Although she has no affections for me, I cannot be unfaithful to her."

"The situation has reached the point of no return," said Peng Yingyu. "If she is not killed, she will cause you a lot of trouble in the days to come." With tears streaming down her face, Ji Xiaofu replied, "I am the most unlucky and unfortunate woman under the sun, so I will have to accept my fate! Great Master Peng, do not harm my Elder Sister-at-Arms."

"Would I dare to dishonour the instruction of the Lady Warrior Ji?" the monk responded politely.

Then, Ji Xiaofu turned to Ding Minjun and said quietly, "Elder Sister, take care." Returning her sword to its scabbard, she walked out of the woods.

Peng Yingyu turned to the five injured men and said, "I have no grievances against any of you in the first place, so I really do not have to kill you. Unfortunately, you have heard the slander that this Ding woman spoke against the Lady Warrior Ji. If word of this gets out into the realm of the rivers and lakes, how will the Lady Warrior Ji be able to face the public? Therefore, do not blame me for not allowing you to live, for the situation has left me with no alternatives." With that, he sent the sword forward five times, killing the two Taoists from the Kunlun School, the remaining monk from Shaolin and the two men from Haisha.

After that, he gave Ding Minjun a slash on the shoulder, scaring the woman out of her wits. Unable to fight back because of her injuries, she shouted, "Crooked baldy, do not torture me. Just stab me once and be done with it!"

Peng Yingyu laughed and said, "I do not dare to kill an ugly, yellow-skinned and wide-mouthed woman like you. If I did, you will go to Hell and give the evil ghosts there such a terrible fright that they will all escape into the world of men. You will also scare the King and Judge of Hades so badly that he will erupt in vomit and diarrhoea. Would that not be horrible?" He laughed three times and threw the sword on the ground. Then, he hugged Bai Guishou's body and wailed loudly before walking away.

Ding Minjun sat and breathed deeply for a long time. Then, she put her sword back into its scabbard and hobbled slowly out of the woods.

o0o Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji huddled in silence, seeing and hearing every single thing that transpired during the battle that had taken place so unexpectedly in the night. When Ding Minjun left, they finally heaved a sigh of relief.

Zhang Wuji spoke first: "Brother Chang, Auntie Ji is my Sixth Uncle Yin's fiancée. That Ding woman said that she ... she had a baby with someone else. What do you think? Is it true or false?"

"She is spouting nonsense," answered Chang Yuchun. "Do not believe her."

"Right," said the boy in agreement. "When I see Sixth Uncle Yin, I will tell him about it and ask him to teach this Ding Minjun a good lesson. This will also help Auntie Ji to vent her anger."

"No, no!" said his companion at once. "Never ever mention this matter to your Sixth Uncle Yin. Do you understand? Once you mention it, things will become worse."

"Why?" asked the boy, totally puzzled by this unexpected word of caution.

"These statements are very unpleasant," answered the man, "so you do not need to repeat them to anyone else."

Zhang Wuji mumbled an "Mm!" in acknowledgement. After a while, he said, "Brother Chang, are you concerned that the matter is true?"

Chang Yuchun sighed and replied, "I really do not know."

At first light the next day, Chang Yuchun stood up, placed Zhang Wuji on his back and strode off once more. His strength had returned after the night's rest, so his movements were more nimble than the day before. After several li (1 li = 500 metres), they rounded a bend and came upon a main road. Chang Yuchun was surprised: Uncle Hu lives in isolation in Butterfly Valley. The place is very remote, so why is there a main road here? Did I take a wrong turn?

Just as he was about to look for a villager and ask for directions, hoofbeats sounded. Four Mongolian soldiers appeared on horseback, waving their sabres and shouting: "Walk quickly, walk quickly!" They rode right up to Chang Yuchun, waved their sabres menacingly and rode off again.

I have finally fallen into the mouth of the tiger again, the man thought, only to drag Brother Zhang along as well.

His injuries had left him without any ability to fight. He could not even defeat an ordinary Yuan soldier, so he had no alternative except to trudge forward. Soon, he noticed that many other people had appeared along the road, driven by the soldiers as if they were beasts. A glimmer of hope appeared in Chang Yuchun's heart: These barbarians seem to be oppressing the common people, so they may not necessarily be looking for me.

He walked along with the crowd until they arrived at a fork in the road, where a Mongolian army officer waited on horseback. There were sixty to seventy soldiers with him, each brandishing a huge sabre in his hand. The common people bowed at the officer as they passed by, while a Han-Chinese man demanded their surnames. A number of the people were let off with a kick or a slap each after they reported their surnames. When one man said that his surname was Zhang, a Yuan soldier seized him at once. Another man had a newly-bought vegetable knife in his basket, so he was stopped too.

Realising that something fishy was going on, Zhang Wuji whispered into his companion's ear: "Brother Chang, you had better fake a fall, roll into the long grass and leave your sabre there."

Chang Yuchun understood his purpose immediately, so he bent his knees, stumbled into the grass and discarded his sabre. Then, moaning and groaning in pain, he hobbled towards the army officer. "Ruffian! Do you not know the rules?" the Han-Chinese man scolded. "Bow before the officer quickly!"

Recalling the horrible deaths that his former master, Zhou Ziwang, and his entire family had suffered under the sabres of the barbaric Mongolians, Chang Yuchun refused to do as he was told. His stubbornness caught the eye of the soldiers and one of them kicked him in the knee. The rebel lost his balance and sank to the ground.

"What is your surname?" asked the Han-Chinese man loudly.

Before Chang Yuchun could answer, Zhang Wuji said, "Our surname is Xie. He is my older brother."

The Yuan soldier gave the man a kick in the buttocks and said, "Get lost!"

As Chang Yuchun scrambled to his feet in anger, he swore a silent oath: If I do not chase these barbarians back to the northern deserts in my lifetime, I, Chang Yuchun, am not a man! Placing Zhang Wuji on his back once more, he headed north. But he had only gone a few steps when blood-curdling cries filled the air. Turning around, the two of them saw that the people whom the Yuan soldiers had seized earlier were dead, their heads separated from their bodies.

It turned out that the ruling government had been so brutal in its administration of the land that many rebels had risen among the common people. Consequently, the Mongolian ministers came up with the idea of having all the Han-Chinese killed. It was an impossible dream, of course, so the Chief Advisor, Ba Yan, eventually issued a cruel order to have all the Han-Chinese with the surnames of Zhang, Wang, Liu, Li and Zhao killed. The Zhangs, Wangs, Lius and Lis were the most numerous among the Han- Chinese, while the Zhaos were seen as the descendants of the imperial family of the Song Dynasty. If people with these five surnames were wiped out, the power of the Han-Chinese would be greatly reduced. As time went by, the number of people with these five surnames who declared their loyalty to the Yuan Dynasty and became its officers increased. Eventually, someone among the Mongolian ministers advised the emperor to withdraw the order of slaughter. By then, the victims of this horrible decree were already beyond count.


Chang Yuchun increased the pace of his walk and headed into the wilderness. He knew that Hu Qingniu's home was nearby, so he began looking out for it. By and by, the man and boy came upon vast stretches of red and purple flowers that filled the hills with a wonderful fragrance. Unfortunately, the earlier incident with the Mongolian soldiers was still so fresh in their minds that the beautiful scenery was entirely lost to them. After several turns and bends, they found themselves at the foot of a sheer cliff. They had reached a dead end.

Stumped, they soon noticed several butterflies flitting through a gap in the flowering shrubs. An idea popped into Zhang Wuji's head. "Since the place is called Butterfly Valley," he said, "perhaps we should just follow those butterflies and see where they lead us."

Chang Yuchun agreed.

Squeezing through the bushes, they found a tiny path. As they proceeded down the path, more butterflies appeared. These butterflies came in a variety of patterns and colours, including white, black and purple, but none of them seemed afraid of human beings. Dancing through the air, they even landed on Chang Yuchun and Zhang Wuji's heads, shoulders and hands. The two companions were comforted that they had entered Butterfly Valley at last.

"Please let me walk on my own!" said Zhang Wuji. Chang Yuchun agreed and lowered him to the ground.

A little past noon, they came upon seven or eight huts on the bank of a clear stream. Flowers and plants grew in profusion around these huts. "We have arrived," Chang Yuchun declared. "These are the gardens where Uncle Hu grows his herbs and medicinal shrubs." Walking over to the huts, he said in a loud but respectful voice: "Disciple Chang Yuchun greets Elder Uncle Hu."

A page emerged from one of the huts and said, "Please come in."

Chang Yuchun took Zhang Wuji's hand and followed the page indoors. A dignified-looking middle-aged man stood on one side of the hall, watching over another page who was fanning the flames under a boiling pot. The entire place smelt of medicine.

Chang Yuchun knelt before the man, bowed and said, "How do you do, Uncle Hu."

He must be the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley, Hu Qingniu, thought Zhang Wuji, so he clasped his fists in salute and said, "Mr Hu."

Nodding at Chang Yuchun, Hu Qingniu replied, "I have heard about Zhou Ziwang. That is destiny, because the time of the barbarians is not over yet, and the day of our Sect's rise has not arrived." He reached for Chang Yuchun's wrist and felt his pulse. Then, he opened the man's shirt, took one look and said, "You have been struck by the foreign monks' Heart-Splitting Palm Technique. It is not really a big deal, but you used too much strength after being hit, so your heart is now seriously affected by a cold and deadly toxin. It will take quite a while to heal you of this." After that, he pointed to Zhang Wuji and asked, "Who is this child?"

"Uncle, his name is Zhang Wuji," answered Chang Yuchun. "He is the son of Wudang's Zhang the Fifth."

Hu Qingniu was taken aback. "He is from Wudang?" he asked angrily. "Why did you bring him here?"

Chang Yuchun quickly explained how he had been tasked to escort Zhou Ziwang's son to safety, and how Zhang Sanfeng had rescued him after he had been caught by Mongolian soldiers. "My life was saved by his grandteacher," the man went on, "so please make an exception and help this boy."

"Well, you were very generous to make such an offer," said Hu Qingniu sarcastically. "Hmmph! Zhang Sanfeng rescued you, not me. When have you ever seen me making an exception?"

Chang Yuchun fell on his knees and bowed several times. "Uncle, this brother's father would rather commit suicide than to betray a friend," he said. "He was a good man."

"A good man?" said Hu Qingniu with a cold laugh. "How many good men are there under the sun? Can I heal them all? It would have been fine if he is not a member of the Wudang School. Why should someone from a renowned and upright organisation seek assistance from a heretic outsider like me?"

Nevertheless, Chang Yuchun persisted: "Brother Zhang's mother is the daughter of the White-Browed Eagle King, Sect-Leader Yin, so half of him can be considered a member of our Sect."

Feeling somewhat moved, Hu Qingniu nodded and said, "All right, get up. Being the maternal grandson of the Eagle Sect's White-Browed Yin does make things different." Walking over to Zhang Wuji, the physician explained in a warm and pleasant voice: "Child, I have always had the rule of not providing treatment to any member of the renowned and upright clans. Your mother is a member of our Sect, so I will not be breaking this rule if I treat you. Your maternal grandfather, the White-Browed Eagle King, was originally one of the Four Protector Kings of the Ming Sect. Due to some disagreements with the other brothers, he founded the Eagle Sect. However, he is not a traitor, for the Eagle Sect is considered a branch of the Ming Sect. You must promise me that you will join your maternal grandfather's organisation when you have recovered from your injuries, for you must no longer be a Wudang disciple."

Before Zhang Wuji could say anything, Chang Yuchun remarked, "No, Uncle. Mr Zhang Sanfeng has said that you cannot force the boy into our Sect. Furthermore, if he is indeed cured, his Wudang School will also not appreciate our kindness."

"Hmmph! What is so great about Zhang Sanfeng?" Hu Qingniu roared in anger. "He despises us, so why must I work for him? Child, what decision have you made?"

Zhang Wuji knew that the toxins in his body had entered all his internal organs and there was nothing his grandteacher could do about it despite the richness of his internal strength. His life now depended entirely on the willingness of this eccentric physician to treat him, but his grandteacher had warned him against joining the Evil Sect and placing himself in an inextricable web for the rest of his life. Although he did not understand how bad the Evil Sect was and why his grandteacher and uncles hated it to the core, he believed with all his heart that the grandteacher whom he respected greatly could not be wrong.

Therefore, he thought: I would rather die from his unwillingness to treat me, than to violate Grandteacher's instructions. So, he raised his voice and said, "Mr Hu, my mother was a Hall-Master in the Eagle Sect, so I think that there must be something good about the organisation. But I have promised my grandteacher not to enter the Evil Sect, so how can I go back on my word? I cannot help it if you refuse to treat me. If I were to cling on to life for fear of death and agree to your condition, the world would gain nothing but another untrustworthy and unfaithful man. What good would there be in that?"

So the little monster wants to talk and act like a great hero! Hu Qingniu sneered in his heart. I will just go ahead and refuse him, and watch him beg on his knees. Turning to Chang Yuchun, he said, "Since he is unwilling to enter our Sect, Yuchun, ask him to leave. How can there be people who die of illness within the doors of Hu Qingniu's abode?"

Chang Yuchun knew that this older uncle-at-arms of his was particularly stubborn, so there was no purpose in begging him for something that he had clearly refused. So, he turned to Zhang Wuji and said, "Little Brother, although the members of the Ming Sect and the upright clans do not see eye- to-eye on many matters, our Sect has produced many heroes and outstanding men since the Tang Dynasty. Futhermore, your maternal grandfather and mother are the Leader and Hall-Master of the Eagle Sect respectively. Do agree to Uncle Hu's condition, and I will bear full responsibility for it before Mr Zhang."

Zhang Wuji stood up and replied, "Brother Chang, you have done your best, so my grandteacher will not blame you for anything." Then, he headed for the door.

"Where are you going?" asked Chang Yuchun in surprise.

"If I die in Butterfly Valley, would the reputation of the 'Healing Sage' not be damaged?" the boy said in return.

Hu Qingniu laughed coldly and said, "The One who Ignores the Dying is renowned all over the world. Those who fall dead outside the 'cow-sheds' of Butterfly Valley are not limited to this child alone."

Turning a deaf ear to his uncle's words, Chang Yuchun dashed out, grabbed Zhang Wuji and brought him indoors again.

"Uncle Hu, are you absolutely unwilling to rescue him?" asked Chang Yuchun as he gasped for breath.

"You know that I am also called 'The One who Ignores the Dying'," said Hu Qingniu, "so why do you ask?"

"But you are willing to treat my injuries?" asked the man again. "That is right," answered his uncle.

"All right then!" said Chang Yuchun. "I have promised Mr Zhang to have this brother treated, so I cannot allow the upright clans to say that the members of the Ming Sect are untrustworthy. I do not want you to cure my injuries any longer. Please treat this brother instead. If we make this one-for- one exchange, you will lose nothing."

Hu Qingniu looked him in the eye and said in a serious voice: "You have been grievously wounded by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique. If I start your treatment at this very moment, you will recover completely. A delay of seven days will save your life, but not your martial arts abilities, while a delay of fourteen days will render your injuries totally incurable."

"This is the work of my uncle, the one who ignores the dying," said Chang Yuchun. "I will depart with no resentments."

Suddenly, Zhang Wuji shouted, "I do not want you to save me! I do not want you to save me!" Then, he turned to Chang Yuchun and added, "Brother Chang, do you think that Zhang Wuji is an unscrupulous scoundrel? You offer your life in exchange for mine, but a life gained in this manner is terribly meaningless to me."

Chang Yuchun did not argue further with him. Undoing his belt, he grabbed Zhang Wuji and tied him tightly to a chair. "If you do not release me, I will start cursing people!" the boy shouted. When Chang Yuchun ignored him, he hardened his heart and yelled: "The One who Ignores the Dying, Hu Qingniu, is really as stupid as a cow! He cannot be compared even to a beast!"

Surprisingly, the physician, whose name Qingniu meant Black Cow, was not angered. He just stared coldly at the upset boy.

"Uncle Hu, Brother Zhang, I take my leave," said Chang Yuchun. "I am going to look for another physician!"

"There are no able physicians in this province of Anhui," said Hu Qingniu coldly. "But you are unlikely to cross the borders Anhui within seven days anyway."

Laughing loudly, Chang Yuchun replied, "I have an uncle who ignores the dying, so it is only fair that you have a nephew who should suffer death!" Then, he strode out of the door.

"When did I agree to your one-for-one exchange?" asked Hu Qingniu in a loud voice. "I am not treating both of you!" He picked up a broken piece of pilose antler (lu4 rong2) from the table and threw it at an acupoint on Chang Yuchun's knee, causing him to crumple into a heap on the ground.

Then, Hu Qingniu untied Zhang Wuji, gripped both his wrists tightly and proceeded to throw him out of the door, so that the two hapless patients could live and perish together in due course.

"What are you doing?" Zhang Wuji shouted in fright. Just then, the toxins in his body rushed to his brain and knocked him out.

End of Chapter 11.

[1] Chang YuChun is an actual person in Chinese history. He is one of the top generals that helped brought Zhu YuanZhang(first emperor of the Ming dynasty) to power. Rumor has it that Zhu YuanZhang whacked him soon after becoming emperor. But ‘officially’, Chang YuChun died of natural causes.

[2] The character ‘Ming’ means bright, or illuminate. 
@Chapter 12 - Needles and Prescriptions for Diseases Beyond Cure
Holding Zhang Wuji's wrists, Hu Qingniu suddenly realised that the boy's pulse thumped in such an unusual manner that he could not help but pay closer attention to the strange and irregular beats. Could this child have been struck by the 'Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness' (Xuan2 Ming2 Shen2 Zhang3)? he asked himself. But this technique has been lost for such a long time that there is no one left who knows how to use it. If it is not the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness, what is it? Yet, there is no technique that can produce a cold and deadly toxin as this. It is also very amazing that the child has not died, despite having been poisoned for a long time. Yes, that old Taoist Zhang Sanfeng must have used his rich internal strength to keep him alive. Now, with the toxins stuck in his internal organs, only the deities can save his life. He picked the boy up and put him back into the chair.

By and by, Zhang Wuji regained consciousness and saw Hu Qingniu seated opposite him, staring at the flames on the stove that he used to boil medicinal brews. On the other hand, Chang Yuchun was stretched out on the grass outside the door. Each occupied with his own thoughts, no one said anything to anyone else.

Having dedicated his entire life to the study of medicine and healing, Hu Qingniu could cure the most terrible of diseases and ailments. As a result, he became known as the 'Sage of Healing', giving proof to the amazing extent of his skills and abilities. Yet, he had never seen the toxins that were created by the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness all his life, and a long-term survivor who had this deadly poison in his internal organs was even more unbelievable. Like the wine-lover who found an exquisite brew and the glutton who smelt the fragrance of meat, how could he pass up such an invaluable opportunity to display his prowess? After thinking for half a day, the eccentric physician, who had initially refused to treat Zhang Wuji, finally came up with a wonderful solution to his personal dilemma: First, I will cure him. Then, I will make him die.

However, it was easier said than done to have the toxins in the boy's internal organs expelled. After more than two shichen (four hours) of deep thought, Hu Qingniu finally took out twelve bronze slivers, gathered up his internal strength and began inserting the tiny pieces into twelve different acupoints on Zhang Wuji's body. These included the Zhong Ji (Zhong1 Ji2), Tian Tu (Tian1 Tu1) and Jian Jing (Jian1 Jing3) acupoints on his abdomen, neck and shoulder respectively. The Zhong Ji acupoint was located at the confluence of the three Yin Channels of the Foot (Zu2 San1 Yin1 Jing1) and the Channel of Ren (Ren4 Mai4), while the Tian Tu acupoint was located at the confluence of the Channels of Yinwei (Yin1 Wei1) and Ren. As for the Jian Jing acupoint, it was found at the confluence of the Hand Shaoyang Channel (Shou3 Shao4 Yang2 Jing1), the Foot Shaoyang Channel (Zu2 Shao4 Yang2 Jing1), the Foot Yangming Channel (Zu2 Yang2 Ming2 Jing1) and the Yangwei Channel (Yang2 Wei1 Mai4).

Consequently, the twelve bronze slivers served to block each one of the Twelve Regular Channels (Shi2 Er4 Jing1 Chang2 Mai4, or Zheng4 Jing1 Shi2 Er4 Mai4) and the Eight Extraordinary Channels (Qi2 Jing1 Ba1 Mai4) in the boy's body. The five primary internal organs (a.k.a. Wu3 Zang4) -- the heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys -- as well as the pericardium, were considered yin elements in traditional Chinese medical practice, while the six secondary organs (a.k.a. Liu4 Fu3) -- the stomach, large intestines, small intestines, gall bladder, urinary bladder and the Three Visceral Cavities (a.k.a. San3 Jiao1) -- were considered yang elements. Together, these were known as the Twelve Regular Organs. The pulses of Ren, Du (Du1), Chong (Chong1), Dai (Dai4), Yinwei, Yangwei, Yinjiao (Yin1 Jiao1) and Yangjiao (Yang2 Jiao1) were neither Yin nor Yang in their movements, so they were known as the Eight Extraordinary Pulses(1).

The blocking of these Daily Organs and Extraordinary Pulses had the effect of containing the toxins in Zhang Wuji's body in their various locations. Then, Hu Qingniu burnt dried moxa leaves on the Yun Men (Yun2 Men2) and Zhongfu (Zhong1 Fu3) acupoints on the boy's shoulder, as well as the Tian Fu (Tian1 Fu3), Xia Bai (Xia2 Bai2), Chi Ze (Chi3 Ze2), Kong Zui (Kong3 Zui4), Lie Que (Lie4 Que1), Jing Qu (Jing1 Qu2), Da Yuan (Da4 Yuan1), Yu Ji (Yu2 Ji4) and Shao Shang (Shao4 Shang1) acupoints along the entire length of his arm. These eleven acupoints were collectively known as the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung (Shou3 Tai4 Yin1 Fei4 Jing1), so the heat from the burning of the moxa leaves could remove some of the toxins there. For Zhang Wuji, the terrible discomfort caused this heat-based treatment was vastly different from the massive chills he suffered whenever he had a toxin attack. After the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung was done, the Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach (Zu2 Yang2 Ming2 Wei4 Jing1) and the Hand Jueyin Channel of the Pericardium (Shou3 Jue2 Yin1 Xin1 Bao1 Jing1) were next ....

Hu Qingniu did not care whether the treatment caused Zhang Wuji any pain, and his use of the moxa leaves soon left dark burnt patches of skin all over the boy's body. On his part, Zhang Wuji refused to show a single sign of weakness: You want to make me yell in pain, but I am not even going to make the slightest fuss. Therefore, he smiled and talked as if nothing was wrong, engaging Hu Qingniu in an animated discussion of the various acupoints and their locations. Although he knew next to nothing about medical practice, his godfather, Xie Xun, had taught him the various methods of blocking and releasing acupoints as well as the techniques of repositioning them. As a result, he knew exactly where each acupoint was. Such knowledge paled in comparison with the immense understanding of the renowned physician, of course, but since it touched a little on the principles of medicine, it served to get Zhang Wuji into Hu Qingniu's good books. Consequently, both of them chatted endlessly as the physician went about burning more moxa leaves on the boy's skin.

Zhang Wuji did not understand almost everything that the physician told him, yet he wanted to show the man that "my Wudang School knows all these things as well". So, every now and then, he would throw in a fallacy and argue his point, while Hu Qingniu took time to explain the error in detail. By and by, the physician realised that "this little fellow is just spouting nonsense in total ignorance", so all his explanations had been a waste of time and effort. Fortunately, Hu Qingniu did not have any companions in this remote valley, except for the two pages who helped him to cook, clean and make medicinal brews. As a result, he found himself cherishing the rambling discussion on acupoints that his young patient had come up with.

By the time Hu Qingniu was finished with the moxibustion of all the acupoints that were related to the Twelve Regular Organs, it was already dusk. The pages served a dinner of rice and vegetables on the table before taking a tray of food out to Chang Yuchun, who was still sprawled on the grass.

That night, Chang Yuchun slept outside, and Zhang Wuji did not bother make a single request of Hu Qingniu to let his hapless nephew in. Instead, he went out at bedtime and lay down to sleep beside Chang Yuchun in a silent indication of his willingness to share in the man's troubles. Hu Qingniu pretended not to see the goings-on, yet he could not help but be amazed by the boy's actions: This little fellow is indeed different from other children.

Early the next morning, Hu Qingniu started the moxibustion treatment on Zhang Wuji's Eight Extraordinary Channels, taking almost half the day before he was done. These stagnant pulses did not have the benefit of the free-flowing arteries and veins that coursed through Twelve Regular Organs, so it was a lot more difficult to expel the toxins that had found their way there. After that, Hu Qingniu prepared a prescription that used the reverse method of combatting the cold with something even colder. Consequently, Zhang Wuji shook and shivered for half a day after consuming the brew, before emerging with a marked improvement in his health.

Then, Hu Qingniu spent the later part of the day treating Zhang Wuji with acupuncture. The boy tried to provoke the physician into treating Chang Yuchun as well, but Hu Qingniu did not react much to his words, except to say, "My nickname, the 'Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley', is not entirely correct, for how can I call myself a 'Sage' in vain? I like it better if people refer to me as 'The One who Ignores the Dying'."

At that time, he happened to be pushing a needle into the Wu Shu (Wu3 Shu1) acupoint between Zhang Wuji's waist and thigh. This acupoint was located in the confluence of the Foot Shaoyang Channel and the Dai Channel, about one-and-a-half cun (5 cm) beside the urinary tract.

"The Dai Channel must be one of the strangest things in a person's body," said Zhang Wuji. "Mr Hu, do you know that there are people who do not have the Dai?"

"Rubbish!" answered Hu Qingniu. "How can a person not have the Dai?"

The boy was spouting nonsense, of course, but he went on, "There are many people under the sun, so any oddity is possible. Besides, I do not see much purpose in the existence of the Dai."

"Well, it is true that the Dai is more special than the other channels of the body," said Hu Qingniu, "but how can you say that it has no purpose? Mediocre physicians who do not understand its functions often prescribe the wrong treatments and medicines for it. I have written a book called 'A Discussion of the Dai Channel' (Dai4 Mai4 Lun4). Read it and you will understand why it exists." He disappeared into an inner room and emerged a moment later with a thin hand-written book with yellowing pages, which he passed to his young patient.

Zhang Wuji opened the first page and read: "The channels of the Twelve Regular Organs and the Eight Extraordinary Pulses run through the entire body, but the Dai Channel circulates only in the abdomen ... " The book went on to comment on the errors that physicians had made since ancient times: In 'The Functions of the Fourteen Channels' (Shi2 Si4 Jing1 Fa1 Hui1), the Dai was said to contain four acupoints, but in 'Successful Acupuncture' (Zhen1 Jiu3 Da4 Cheng2), the Dai was described as having six acupoints. However, none were correct, for its acupoints numbered ten altogether. Two of these were so well-hidden that they were usually missed out. Zhang Wuji did not understand many of the things he read in the book, but he realised that its contents and views were extraordinary. Consequently, he took the opportunity to discuss some of the errors that the ancient physicians had made.

Hu Qingniu was so pleased that he responded to all the boy's questions and remarks until he had finished inserting gold needles into each of the ten acupoints of the Dai Channel. After telling Zhang Wuji to take a rest, he added, "I have another book, 'The Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for the Meridians(2)' (Zi3 Wu3 Zhen1 Jiu3 Jing1), which records all the painstaking research that I have done through the years." He went into the inner room again and came out with a hand-written tome so thick that it had to be separated into twelve smaller books.

All these years of living in isolation in the remote valley had turned Hu Qingniu in a very lonely man. Although he had a constant stream of patients, they were only interested in speaking praise for his unparalleled abilities as the healer of a million ailments. Unfortunately, he had already grown tired of hearing these words more than twenty years ago. As a physician, Hu Qingniu prided himself not in the exquisiteness of his abilities, but in the massive body of research, discoveries and techniques that he had accumulated in his lifetime. He knew that he had an extraordinary accomplishment in his hands, yet there was no one to share it with, except himself, the lonely inhabitant of a desolate valley. Therefore, when Zhang Wuji showed pleasure in reading the books that he had authored, Hu Qingniu felt as if he had found a friend who could understand his heart. Thus, he was more than happy to share his best work with this young patient who had no inkling what medicine and its practices were.

When Zhang Wuji opened the books, he found that each page was filled with characters as tiny as the head of a fly, detailing the acupoints, herbal prescriptions and methods of acupuncture for a mind-boggling array of diseases and ailments. A sudden thought entered his head: If I read on, perhaps I will find a way to heal Brother Chang's injuries. He picked up the ninth book, which was labelled 'The Pugilistic Arts', turned to the section on 'Treating Injuries Caused by Palm Techniques', and began his search. There were the Red-Sand Palm Technique (Hong2 Sha1 Zhang3), the Iron-Sand Palm Technique (Tie3 Sha1 Zhang3), the Poison-Sand Palm Technique (Du2 Sha1 Zhang3), the Silken Palm Technique (Mian2 Zhang3), the Mountain- Opening Palm Technique (Kai1 Shan1 Zhang3), the Tablet-Breaking Palm Technique (Po4 Bei1 Zhang3) ... all sorts of palm-strike injuries were listed, together with detailed descriptions of their symptoms and treatments. After reading through 180 different varieties, the words 'Heart-Splitting Palm Technique' (Jie2 Xin1 Zhang3) popped up.

Overjoyed, Zhang Wuji studied the description under it carefully, only to find that there were more details about the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique itself than the method of treating the injuries that it caused. In fact, this was all there was: "Deal with the four acupoints of Zi Gong (Zi3 Gong1), Zhong Ting (Zhong1 Ting2), Guan Yuan (Guan1 Yuan2) and Tian Chi (Tian1 Chi2), and ignite a change in Yin, Yang and the Five Elements. Prescribe medication for the patient's joy, anger, worry, thought and fear, according to the five conditions of cold, hot, dry, wet and wind."

Traditional Chinese medical practice was not bound by a set of rigid rules, for treatments varied according to the condition of the patient. Therefore, the physician had to consider a list of criteria during treatment, including climate (cold or hot), time (day or night), condition and location of the injury or illness (exposed, covered, internal or external), bodily functions (too much or too little), progress (beginning, middle or end), level of activity, gender, age ... Therefore, the difference between an able physician and a mediocre one was as great as the clouds and the mud. Zhang Wuji did not know all these, of course, but he read the treatment for the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique a few more times and committed it to memory. The last page of the section on 'Treating Injuries Caused by Palm Techniques' described the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness. Under the subtitle of 'Treatments', there was only one word: "None."

Zhang Wuji closed the book and put it carefully down on the table. "Mr Hu," he said, "this 'Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for the Meridians' is so profound that I cannot understand much of what I have read. May I ask please: What does 'ignite a change in Yin, Yang and the Five Elements' mean?"

Hu Qingniu began his explanation, only to turn around in sudden realisation and say, "Are you asking me how Chang Yuchun's injuries can be healed? Ha-ha, I will talk about anything, except this."

Left with no alternatives, Zhang Wuji could only turn to the various medical books for answers. Fortunately, Hu Qingniu allowed him to read all the books he wanted. As a result, the boy became so engrossed in his search that he forgot to sleep and eat, reading not only the ten books that the physician had authored, but also other medical works such as 'The Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor' (Huang2 Di4 Nei4 Jing1), 'Hua Tuo's Diagrams of the Internal Systems' (Hua2 Tuo2 Nei4 Zhao1 Tu2), 'Wang Shuhe's Manual of Arteries and Veins' (Wang2 Shu1 He2 Mai4 Jing1), 'Sun Simiao's Thousand- Gold Prescriptions' (Sun1 Si1 Miao3 Qian1 Jin1 Fang1), 'The Thousand- Gold Book of Medical Assistance' (Qian1 Jin1 Yi4) and 'Wang Tao's Secrets to External Treatments' (Wang2 Tao1 Wai4 Tai2 Mi4 Yao4). Whenever he came across passages that seemed to relate to the description of Chang Yuchun's treatment, he took time to study them carefully. Meanwhile, Hu Qingniu continued his treatment, using acupunture and moxibustion twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, to remove the toxins in his body.

Several days passed by in this manner. Although Zhang Wuji had gone through many books and memorised numerous principles and prescriptions, he was too young and ill-educated to fully understand everything that he had read.

Then, the sixth day of his arrival in Butterfly Valley dawned. Hu Qingniu had told them that Chang Yuchun's injuries had to be treated within seven days, or he would lose all his martial arts abilities even if his life was saved. The man had been sprawled on the grass for six days and six nights ... and it suddenly started to rain. Yet, Hu Qingniu was as cold as ever, turning a blind eye to Chang Yuchun and the muddy puddle that had begun to take shape around him. Zhang Wuji became very angry, thinking: All the medical books that I have read, except those that you have written yourself, state that the physician must have a benevolent heart that seeks to bring benefit to mankind. What is the use of having all these skills when you ignore the dying? What sort of 'able physician' are you?

That night, the rain fell even heavier. As lightning flashed and thunder roared, Zhang Wuji gritted his teeth in determination and thought: I will have to give it a shot, even if it ends up making Brother Chang's injuries worse. He took eight gold needles from Hu Qingniu's cupboard, walked over to Chang Yuchun and said, "Brother Chang, I spent the past few days reading as many of Mr Hu's medical books as I could. Although I do not understand everything, your treatment can no longer be delayed. Therefore, I am going to take a dangerous risk and try some acupuncture on you. If an unfortunate mishap occurs, I will not carry on living myself."

Chang Yuchun laughed and replied, "What are you talking about? Hurry up and poke me with the needles. If I survive, we can seize the opportunity to embarrass my Uncle Hu. If I die because of two or three needles, it would still be much better than suffering in this muddy puddle!"

Zhang Wuji's hands shook as he touched the Kai Yuan (Kai1 Yuan2) acupoint on Chang Yuchun's body and proceeded to push a thin gold needle into it. He had never practised acupunture before, so he just copied what he had seen Hu Qingniu do in the past few days. Unfortunately, the physician's needles were so fine and pliable that they could not be used by anyone without a substantial level of internal strength. Unaware of this, Zhang Wuji exerted external strength on the needle, causing it bend without entering Chang Yuchun's flesh. The boy had not choice but to pull it out and try again. Acupunture done right would never draw blood, but Zhang Wuji was so unschooled in its practice that blood started spurting out of Chang Yuchun's Kai Yuan acupoint. Located in the abdomen, it was one of the vital points of the body. Thus, the sight of the gushing blood threw Zhang Wuji into a panic at once.

Suddenly, someone laughed loudly behind him. The boy turned around and saw Hu Qingniu standing with his hands behind his back, watching his desperate attempts to stem the flow of the blood with a smirk on his face. Zhang Wuji said, "Mr Hu, Brother Chang's Kai Yuan acupoint is bleeding profusely. What should I do?"

"I know exactly what must be done," answered Hu Qingniu, "but why should I tell you?"

Lost of ideas, the boy replied, "We will make a one-for-one exchange right now. Please rescue Brother Chang quickly, and I will die before you in his place."

"I have said before that I will not treat him," said Hu Qingniu coldly, "so, I will not! I am only a man who ignores the dying, not the Ghost of Non- Permanence (Wu2 Chang2 Gui3) that drags people to their doom, so what benefit does your death give me? I will not rescue one Chang Yuchun even if ten Zhang Wuji die in his place."

Knowing that it was just a waste of precious time to argue with the stubborn physician, Zhang Wuji began looking for a solution. The gold needles were too soft for his use, but there were no other types of needles available. After a moment's thought, he broke a length of bamboo and used a small knife to whittle it down into several toothpick-like slivers. Then, he inserted the slivers into Chang Yuchun's Zi Gong, Zhong Ting, Guan Yuan and Tian Chi acupoints. Although these bamboo slivers were a lot stiffer than the gold needles, they were still pliable enough not to draw blood upon entry to the various acupoints. Moments later, Chang Yuchun threw up several large mouthfuls of dark-coloured blood.

Zhang Wuji did not know whether Chang Yuchun's reaction was caused by a worsening of his injuries, or the success of his bamboo "needles" in expelling the clots that had formed in the man's blood. Turning around, the boy found that Hu Qingniu still regarded him with disdain, but a hint of approval had also appeared on his scornful face. Finally assured that his treatment had not been wrong, he rushed indoors, looked up some medical books and wrote up a prescription for his patient. Although he had learnt from the books that certain herbs could cure certain ailments, he did not have any idea what the dried rhizome of Rehmannia (sheng1 di4), the root of the Chinese Thorowax (chai2 hu2), Achyranthes root (niu2 xi1) and the gall of bear (xiong2 dan3) were. Yet, he turned to one of the pages and said as confidently as he could, "Please decoct a portion of medicinal soup according to this prescription."

The page took the prescription, showed it to Hu Qingniu and asked if it was all right to go ahead. The physician sneered and said, "What a joke! What a joke! Go ahead and make the soup. If he does not die drinking it, there will no longer be any dead people on earth."

Zhang Wuji grabbed the prescription immediately and reduced the amount of each herb used by half. Then, the page began decocting the medicine, until a single bowl of soup was produced. Bringing the thick and pungent brew to Chang Yuchun's mouth, Zhang Wuji held back his tears and said, "Brother Chang, I really do not know whether this bowl of medicine will do you good or harm ... "

"Wonderful, wonderful!" said Chang Yuchun with a laugh. "This is what I call 'the sightless physician curing the blind horse'." Closing his eyes, he threw his head back and gulped down every single drop in the bowl.

That night, Chang Yuchun felt as if a million knives were slicing through his abdomen. He also kept threwing up mouthfuls of blood. Zhang Wuji stayed by his side all night, braving thunder, lightning and rain to look after his friend. When morning finally arrived, the rain stopped. Chang Yuchun's vomitting became less frequent and the volume of blood that he threw up decreased. The colour of blood also changed gradually from dark to purple to red.

"Little Brother, your medicine did not kill me at all," said Chang Yuchun in delight. "In fact, I think my injuries are beginning to get better."

"My prescription worked?" asked Zhang Wuji, hardly daring to believe his eyes and ears.

Chang Yuchun laughed and said, "My late father must have known that something like this would happen, so he named me 'Chang Yuchun' - Frequent, Meet, Spring - so that I will frequently meet with great masters like you, who will put a miraculous spring back in my dying steps. But I must say that your prescription was rather heavy-handed. My stomach felt as if it was being pierced by dozens of knives after drinking the brew."

"Yes, yes," Zhang Wuji responded. "I guess I overdid it a bit."

It turned out that the dosage was not just a bit more than usual. In fact, it was several times higher than what was normally required. Furthermore, no adjuvants were used to make the medicine more friendly on the stomach, so the thick brew had set about working its terribly strong cure as soon as it was ingested. Although Zhang Wuji had found the correct herbs for his friend's injuries from Hu Qingniu's books, he did not have a single clue about the 'Master-Servant-Assistant-Messenger' principle that guided the use of herbs. If Chang Yuchun's body had not been unusually strong, he would have died from the concoction.

When Hu Qingniu came out of his hut after waking up and washing his face, he was shocked to see Chang Yuchun glowing with renewed health. One of them is intelligent and brave, while the other is unusually strong in body and spirit, he said to himself. Consequently, the injuries caused by the Heart- Splitting Palm Technique have been cured.

After this success, Zhang Wuji immediately prepared a prescription of ginseng (ren2 shen1), pilose antlers (lu4 rong2), the tuber of the multiflower knotweed (shou3 wu1) and poria (fu2 ling2) to strengthen Chang Yuchun's body and assist in his recovery. After ten days or so of consuming the top- quality herbs that Hu Qingniu kept in his home, Chang Yuchun made so much progress that he eventually said to Zhang Wuji, "Little Brother, my injuries have healed completely, so there is no more reason for you to accompany me day and night. We will part here."

The life and death experiences of the past month had turned the boy and the man into friends who were ready to die for each other. Therefore, Zhang Wuji was very reluctant to part with Chang Yuchun. However, he knew that the man could not stay by his side all his life, so he tearfully agreed.

"Do not feel bad, Little Brother," said Chang Yuchun. "I will come back and visit you in three months. If the poison in your body is gone by then, I will take you to Mount Wudang, so that you can see your grandteacher again."

Then, he went into the hut, bowed before Hu Qingniu and said, "My injuries have been healed. Although it was Brother Zhang who treated me, he was nevertheless guided by your medical books, Uncle Hu. I have also consumed quite a bit of the expensive herbs and medicines that you possess."

Nodding in acknowledgement, Hu Qingniu replied, "That is nothing. You may have recovered from your injuries, but you have also lost forty years of life."

"What?" asked Chang Yuchun, for he did not understand the physician's remarks.

"Well," answered Hu Qingniu, "according to the condition of your body and mind, you should live beyond eighty years old. However, that little fellow used some erroneous medical prescriptions and faulty acupunture techniques on you. As a result, you will ache all over whenever it rains. At about forty years of age, you will finally go and see the King of Hades."

Chang Yuchun laughed heartily. "A man lives to serve his country," he declared. "If I can establish a work of such merit, thirty years of life will suffice. Why then do I need forty? One can live to a hundred years old, but if he does not accomplish anything, his life is but a waste of food."

Hu Qingniu nodded again, but he did not say anything more. According to The Legend of Chang Yuchun in the Historical Annals of the Ming Dynasty, the man did eventually die of a sudden illness at the age of forty.

Zhang Wuji walked Chang Yuchun all the way out to the entrance of Butterfly Valley before both of them parted in tears. Then, the boy made a silent decision in his heart: My bumbling cures and treatments caused Brother Chang to lose forty years of life. Although he had suffered harm in my hands, could he also not enjoy benefits from them? I must find a way to restore him to his previous state of health.

Since then, Hu Qingniu treated Zhang Wuji with acupuncture and herbal concoctions on a daily basis, seeking to reduce and expel the deadly toxins in his body. Meanwhile, the boy continued to study the physician's books and memorise the principles behind the use of medicines and herbs. Whenever he came across something that he could not understand, he would ask the physician for help. His desire to learn pleased Hu Qingniu so much that he would explain everything in great detail. Sometimes, the boy's questions were so strange that they caused the man to look at things in ways that he had never thought of before. Hu Qingniu had originally planned to have Zhang Wuji killed after his injuries were healed, but he soon felt the young man's death would take away the only person whom he could really talk to in the valley. Therefore, he found himself wishing that his companion would not recover as quickly as he had initially wanted him to.

Several months passed. One day, Hu Qingniu suddenly discovered that nothing happened when the Guan Chong (Guan1 Chong1) acupoint on Zhang Wuji's ring-finger was pricked by a needle. The Qing Leng Yuan (Qing1 Leng3 Yuan1) acupoint two cun (6.66 centimetres) above his elbow and the Si Zhu Kong (Si1 Zhu2 Kong1) acupoint in the cavity of his brow did not respond to the needles either. These three points were part of the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities. Named Upper, Middle and Lower respectively, these cavities were described as an amazing part of the body's internal organs in medical books. Despite painstaking thought and a variety of marvellous techniques, Hu Qingniu could not expel any of the toxins that had found its way into the boy's Visceral Cavities. As a result, he became so stressed out by the entire episode that he had ten grey hairs in as many days.

Deeply grateful for his efforts, Zhang Wuji said, "Mr Hu, you have already done your best. Everyone on earth must die someday, so this is just an indication that my time has come. You really do not have to ruin your own health for the sake of mine." Hu Qingniu snorted in disdain and said, "You despise our Ming and Eagle Sects, so when have I made any efforts to save your life? But my failure to cure your illness will inevitably damage my reputation as the 'Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley'. Thus, I must ensure that you are healed first. Then, I will have you killed."

A involuntary chill ran down the boy's spine, for he was aware that the physician would never overturn his own decision. "Since the toxins in my body are not dissipating, I will eventually die," he said. "So you need not lift a finger against me. Sigh, all the people under the sun seem to have only one wish -- that everyone else must die before they can be truly happy. Thus, they study the pugilistic arts just so that they could have everyone else killed."

To his surprise, Hu Qingniu kept silent. After gazing at the sky outside his door for a long time, he said in a quiet voice, "When I was young, I put all my heart into the study of medicine and aspired to bring hope and benefit to mankind, but I soon found out how wrong I had been when a man whom I had rescued turned around and hurt me badly. He was a young fellow who was poisoned by the venom of the golden silkworm in Guizhou's Miao Settlement. This particular venom was so potent that its victims were bound to suffer terribly painful deaths. After three sleepless days and nights of painstaking effort, I finally succeeded in curing him. Subsequently, we became sworn brothers, and I gave him the hand of my younger sister in marriage. But he eventually caused my sister's death. Do you know who he is? He is now the reputable leader of a renowned and upright clan!"

The pain and grief on Hu Qingniu's face began filling Zhang Wuji's heart with an unexpected compassion for him: So it was this tragic experience that turned him into a cold-hearted man who ignores the dying. "Who is this unfaithful ingrate with the heart of a wolf and the lungs of a dog?" he asked.

The physician gnashed his teeth in anger and answered, "He ... he is none other than the leader of the School of Mount Hua, Xianyu Tong." "Why do you not take him to task over this matter?" asked Zhang Wuji again.

"I have looked him up thrice altogether," Hu Qingniu replied with a sigh, "but I came away defeated each time. In fact, I was almost killed in our last duel, for this man is very highly skilled in martial arts. He is also very intelligent and resourceful, so much so that he is known as 'The Shrewd Strategist' (Shen2 Ji1 Zi3). I am really not his match. Furthermore, as the leader of the School of Mount Hua, he has many subordinates at his beck and call. Our Ming Sect, on the other hand, has been torn apart by internal strife in recent years. All the top pugilists in our Sect have been battling one another, so there was no one who could help me then. Besides, I am too ashamed to beg others for assistance. I am afraid that this grievance will never be redressed. Sigh, my poor ill-fated sister ... our parents passed away when we were young, so both of us depended on each other ... " At this point, tears began welling up in his eyes.

He is actually not a cold, sour and heartless man, thought Zhang Wuji.

Suddenly, Hu Qingniu raised his voice and said, "You must never ever bring this matter up again. If so much as a single word leaks out, I will make you suffer between life and death for the rest of your days!"

The boy opened his mouth to retort, but before he could say anything, his heart softened. After all, the physician's tragic experiences were not beneath his own. "I will not say a thing," he agreed at last.

Hu Qingniu stroked the boy's hair, sighed and added, "Poor thing, poor thing!" Then, he turned and headed for the inner room.

After the unexpected failure to remove the toxins in the boy's Three Visceral Cavities and the long conversation about his past, Hu Qingniu's attitude towards Zhang Wuji changed. Although he made no further mention about his background and personal problems, the physician found himself developing a liking for his thoughtful young patient. He was indeed a good companion for the lonely inhabitant of the valley. Consequently, Hu Qingniu instructed Zhang Wuji daily on the Yin, the Yang and the Five Elements of medical practice as well as the methods and techniques of acupuncture, lessons which the boy devoured with all his heart. Armed with an amazing talent for medicine, Zhang Wuji made such laudable progress in the study of various books, including 'The Xiama Manual of the Yellow Emperor' (Huang2 Di4 Xia1 Ma Jing1), 'Xifangzi's Book of Acupuncture' (Xi1 Fang1 Zi3 Ming2 Tang2 Jiu3 Jing1), 'Beneficial Prescriptions for Great Safety' (Tai4 Ping2 Sheng4 Hui4 Fang1), 'The Book of Acupuncture: Volumes 1 and 2' (Jiu4 Jia3 Yi4 Jing1) and 'Sun Simiao's Thousand-Gold Prescriptions', that Hu Qingniu could not help but sigh and say, "With your intelligence and natural flair, and my knowledge and abilities as a teacher, you should be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great physicians Hua Tuo and Bian Que before the age of twenty, but ... sigh, what a pity, what a pity."

He meant to say that the boy would be dead by the time he finished his studies in medicine, so what use was there in such a display of diligence and hard work? However, Zhang Wuji had a totally different purpose in his heart. He wanted to learn the best and the most effective medical techniques, so that he could help Chang Yuchun regain the health that he had lost. In addition, he hoped that he would enable Yu Daiyan to walk without aid. These were the two greatest desires of his heart, so if he could accomplish them before his death, he would depart with no regrets.


Life in the valley was peaceful and quiet, and the days and weeks passed with ease. When Zhang Wuji marked the second anniversary of his stay in Butterfly Valley, he was already fourteen years old. During these two years, Chang Yuchun visited him several times, with news about Zhang Sanfeng and the world outside. Apparently, the elderly Taoist was so happy to hear of the boy's progress that he instructed the boy to stay on in the valley until his recovery was complete. In addition, Zhang Sanfeng and his six disciples sent gifts of clothes and other necessities, but they could not visit the boy whom they missed dearly because of the difference in clan affiliations. Zhang Wuji missed his grandteacher and uncles too, and he almost rushed back to Mount Wudang to see them. As for the world outside the valley, the Mongolians' oppression of the Han-Chinese worsened by the day. The common people did not have enough to eat, and rising banditry gripped the land. At the same time, the feud between the upright clans and the Evil Sect worsened. Many people were injured and killed on both sides, deepening the vendettas between them.

Chang Yuchun stayed only for a few days during each visit, for he seemed to be very busy with the affairs of the Sect.

One night, after reading Wang Haogu's medical book entitled 'Matters that are Difficult to Ascertain' (Ci3 Shi4 Nan2 Zhi1), Zhang Wuji felt so tired that he went to bed without further thought. When he woke up the next day, his head hurt so badly that he thought he was coming down with a cold. As he walked into the hall in search of some anti-cold medication, he noticed that the sun was shining from the west. Shocked that it was already past noon, he thought: I must be ill to sleep for such a long time. He quickly took his own pulse, but he found nothing irregular about it. Have I finally reached the end of my days? he asked himself.

Zhang Wuji went over to Hu Qingniu's room and found the door tightly shut. Coughing lightly to get the physician's attention, he heard the man say: "Wuji, I am not feeling well today. My throat hurts badly, so just continue reading on your own."

"Yes," the boy answered, before adding out of concern: "Sir, would you allow me to take a look at your throat, please?"

"That is not necessary," Hu Qingniu replied hoarsely. "I have looked at it with a mirror. It is nothing serious, so I have taken some powdered bezoar and rhinoceros horn (niu2 huang2 xi1 jiao3 san3)."

That evening, when one of the pages served Hu Qingniu dinner in his room, Zhang Wuji walked in and saw that the physician was lying in bed with a haggard-looking face.

"Get out quickly, all of you!" said Hu Qingniu with a wave of his hand. "Do you know what I have come down with? It is smallpox!"

Sure enough, there were little red dots all over his face and hands. Zhang Wuji knew that smallpox was a dangerous disease. A light attack would leave marks all over the face, but a serious one could very well cause death. Although Hu Qingniu was a very knowledgeable physician who could treat his own illnesses better than anyone else, Zhang Wuji found himself still feeling concerned about him.

"You must not enter my room again," Hu Qingniu went on. "All the bowls, chopsticks, cups and plates that I have used must be sterilised in boiling water. You and the pages must not mix these utensils with your own." After a moment's thought, he added, "Wuji, you had better leave Butterfly Valley and stay outside for half a month or so. I do not want to pass the smallpox on to you."

"No, that is not necessary," answered Zhang Wuji at once. "You are ill. If I go away now, who will take care of you? After all, I am a bit more knowledgeable about medicine than these two pages."

"I think that it is better for you to go away," said Hu Qingniu, but Zhang Wuji refused to be persuaded. Although the man had his idiosyncracries, a comfortable relationship had developed between the two of them in the past two years. Furthermore, it was unlike the boy's character to run away in the face of trouble. Therefore, Hu Qingniu finally relented and said, "All right. But you must not step into my room."

For the next three days, Zhang Wuji checked on Hu Qingniu once in the morning and once again in the evening. Although the physician sounded rather hoarse, he seemed to be quite alert. He also had a bigger appetite than usual, so his condition did not appear to be serious. In addition, Hu Qingniu made daily announcements of the herbs that he wanted to take, as well as their respective dosages. Then, the pages would set about decocting the various brews.

In the afternoon of the fourth day, Zhang Wuji sat down and began reading a chapter in 'The Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor', which was entitled 'A Great Discussion on the Management of the Four Forces' (Si4 Qi4 Tiao2 Shen2 Da4 Lun4). By and by, he came to a passage that said: "Since ancient times, the sages have focused on the prevention rather than the healing of illnesses. They prefer to deal with troubles that have not erupted rather than problems that are already deep-set. Curing great illnesses that have done their damage and rectifying upheavals that have taken place are just like digging wells at the point of thirst and forging weapons at the point of battle

-- already too late." Nodding in agreement, Zhang Wuji thought: These words are very true indeed, for it is really too late to dig a well when I am thirsty and forge a weapon just before I get into a fight. A chaotic country that experiences subsequent peace may have returned to its former stability, but its original power and strength would have suffered a massive depletion. Illnesses should also be treated before they break out, but Mr Hu's smallpox is an external ailment that cannot be treated before it occurs.

Then, he recalled a passage from a chapter in the same book that was known as 'A Great Discussion of the Responses of the Yin and the Yang' (Yin1 Yang2 Ying4 Xiang4 Da4 Lun4): "The physician begins by treating the skin, then the flesh, then the nerves, then the Six Secondary Organs and finally the Five Primary Organs. He who treats the Five Primary Organs is left with only half a chance for success." An able physician must begin treating an illness the moment its symptoms appear, said Zhang Wuji to himself. If he waits until the disease has eaten into the Five Primary Organs before taking action, his chances of success would have already fallen by half. As for people like me, whose internal systems are overrun by toxins, we are doomed nine times out of ten.

As he praised the wisdom of the ancient physicians and reminisced about life since his injuries, Zhang Wuji suddenly heard the sound of horses' hooves heading into the valley. A short while later, the riders came to a stop outside the huts. A voice among them called out: "Friends from the martial arts circle seek an audience with the Sage of Healing, Mr Hu, requesting that he provides treatment for our ailments."

Stepping out for a look, Zhang Wuji saw a swarthy man standing in front of his hut. The man had the reins of three horses in one hand, two of which carried a blood-soaked man each. The swarthy man wore a huge bloody bandage on his head, while his right arm hung from his neck in a sling. All three of them appeared to be seriously wounded.

"You have come at a most unfortunate time," said Zhang Wuji. "Mr Hu is ill and bed-ridden, so he is unable to offer you his services. Please see another physician!"

"But we have ridden hundreds of li (1 li = 500 metres) with our lives hanging by a thread," said the swarthy man. "We can be saved only by the Sage of Healing."

"Mr Hu has been struck by a very serious case of smallpox," Zhang Wuji explained. "This is the truth, for I do not dare to deceive you."

"The three of us are gravely wounded," said the swarthy man again. "Unless we are treated by the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley himself, we are sure to die. Little Brother, please report to Mr Hu on our behalf and find out what his instructions are."

"In that case, may I enquire what your esteemed surnames and names are?" asked Zhang Wuji.

"Our worthless names deserve no mention," answered the swarthy man. "Please say that we are disciples School-Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua." His body shook and he threw up a large mouthful of blood.

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. He knew that Xianyu Tong from the School of Mount Hua was a great enemy of Hu Qingniu, so he went over to the physician's door and called, "Sir, there are three seriously-injured men outside who seek your services. They say that they are disciples of School- Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua."

Hu Qingniu gasped in surprise before replying angrily: "I will not treat them! Chase them away at once!" "Yes," answered the boy. Then, he returned to the wounded men and said, "Mr Hu is too ill to see anyone. Please forgive us."

The swarthy man frowned and opened his mouth to plead for help, but before he could say anything, a thin and small-sized fellow, who had been slumped on one of the horses, lifted his head and threw something into the hut. A golden light flashed past Zhang Wuji before coming to a stop on the table. "Take this golden flower and show it to 'The One who Ignores the Dying'," said the thin man. "Tell him that we have been hurt by the owner of the golden flower. Now, this person is about to come and cause him trouble as well. If 'The One who Ignores the Dying' can cure our ailments, the three of us will stay behind and help him to fight the enemy. Our pugilistic skills are not great, but three additional helpers are better than none."

Zhang Wuji found the thin man rather rude, unlike the swarthy fellow who was more polite. Walking over to the table, he saw that the golden flower was actually a type of projectile. Made entirely from yellow gold, it was exactly the same size and shape as a real plum blossom. The handiwork was so exquisite that the bloom even had pistils that were fashioned from platinum. Zhang Wuji reached to pick it up, only to discover that the thin man had thrown it with so much force that it had become embedded in the table. As he prised it out with a pair of tweezers, he thought: This skinny fellow seems rather skilled in martial arts, but he ended up being hurt so badly by the owner of the golden flower. I had better tell Mr Hu that this formidable person is coming to cause trouble. Holding the little flower in his hand, he stood outside the physician's room and repeated what the thin man had told him.

"Show me the weapon," said Hu Qingniu.

Pushing the door open and gently sweeping the door-curtain aside, Zhang Wuji found the physician's room as dark as night. He knew that smallpox sufferers were afraid of wind and light, so it was only expected that the windows were all sealed up. Hu Qingniu had a piece of black cloth wrapped around his face, revealing only a pair of eyes. Zhang Wuji was shocked: I wonder how the blisters are under that cloth. Would they leave scars on his face?

"Put the golden flower on the table and leave quickly," Hu Qingniu said.

Zhang Wuji did as he was told and stepped out of the room. But before he could close the door, Hu Qingniu spoke again: "The lives and deaths of the three have absolutely nothing to do with me. They also need not worry whether I am dead or alive." The golden flower flew across the room, sliced through the door-curtain and landed on the floor with a thud. In the past two years, Zhang Wuji had never seen the physician practise any martial arts. Yet, this cultured man had turned out to be a highly skilled pugilist as well. Although he was ill, he had lost none of his pugilistic abilities.

The boy picked up the golden flower, returned it to the thin man, shook his head and said, "Mr Hu is really very ill ... "

Suddenly, the sounds of hooves and wheels were heard. A horse-drawn carriage rolled into the valley.

As the carriage came to a stop outside the row of huts, Zhang Wuji saw that it was driven by a sallow-looking young man. The man lifted a bald elderly fellow out of the carriage and asked, "Is the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley, Mr Hu, at home? The Sacred Hands of the Buddhist Temple (Sheng4 Shou3 Qie2 Lan2) Jian Jie of the Kongdong School has come from afar to seek treatment ... " Before he could say more, he collapsed, dragging the bald elderly man to the ground with him. By a stroke of coincidence, the two horses that had drawn the carriage fell as well, foaming in their mouths.

The condition of these two newcomers and their horses was sufficient proof that they had travelled a long way without rest, just so that they could seek treatment from Hu Qingniu. The mention of the 'Kongdong School' rekindled Zhang Wuji's memories of his parents' suicides on Mount Wudang two years earlier. The elders of Kongdong were among those who had forced the couple to their deaths, and although this particular bald man had not been present that day, he was probably not a good fellow. Yet, before Zhang Wuji could refuse his request and send him away, four or five more people entered the valley. Some of them had crutches, while others leaned on one another for support. They all looked as if they were also wounded.

Knitting his brows into a frown, the boy did not wait for the latest group to approach him. Instead, he announced in a loud voice: "Mr Hu has contracted smallpox. He cannot even help himself at this moment, so he is unable to treat your ailments. Please seek another physician as soon as possible, so that your treatments are not delayed."

When the latest group finally reached the row of huts, Zhang Wuji saw that it consisted of five men. Looking as pale as paper, without any visible wounds on their bodies or patches of blood on their clothes, the men had probably suffered internal injuries. Their leader, a tall and fat fellow, nodded at the bald Jian Jie and the thin man who threw the golden flower. Then, the three of them exchanged a bitter laugh.

They know one another! thought Zhang Wuji in surprise. His curiosity aroused, he asked: "Did all of you fall victim to the owner of the golden flower as well?"

"That is correct," answered the fat man.

Then, the swarthy man, who had been the first to arrive, added, "What is your name, Little Brother? How are you related to Mr Hu?"

"I am Mr Hu's patient," Zhang Wuji replied. "When Mr Hu says that he will not treat you, he really means it. Thus, there is no purpose for you to continue hanging around here."

As they spoke, four more people arrived. Some came in carriages, while others rode horses, but all of them requested an audience with Hu Qingniu.

Zhang Wuji became even more puzzled: The Butterfly Valley is so remote that besides the members of the Evil Sect, very few people in the realm of the rivers and lakes know about its location. These fellows come from Kongdong and Mount Hua, so they are definitely not related to the Sect. How did all of them end up being injured at the same time? And how did all of them find their way here with such coincidence? Then, another thought entered his mind: Since the owner of the golden flower is such a formidable pugilist, it would not have been difficult for him to take these people's lives. But why did he just wound them grievously?

Some of the wounded visitors continued to plead for help, while others remained totally quiet, but all fourteen of them flatly refused to leave. As evening fell around them, they crowded into one of the huts for shelter. When one of the pages served Zhang Wuji his dinner, the boy went ahead and ate it without bothering about the visitors. Then, he lit an oil lamp and resumed his reading. Turning a blind eye to the fourteen, he said to himself: Since I am learning Mr Hu's methods and techniques of treatment, I may as well copy him and ignore the dying too.


Quiet settled on Butterfly Valley. Except for the occasional sound of Zhang Wuji turning a page of his book and the heavy breathing of the wounded visitors, no other noises were heard. Suddenly, light footfalls sounded along the path outside as two people walked slowly towards the row of huts.

A moment later, the clear, crisp voice of a girl cut through the stillness of the night: "Mother, there is a light in the house ahead. We have arrived." Her high pitch indicated that she was very young in age.

By and by, an older voice asked, "Child, are you tired?"

"No, I am not," the little girl replied. "Mother, you will not hurt after the physician cures your illness."

"Yes," answered the woman. "But I do not know if the physician is willing to treat me."

Zhang Wuji was taken aback: The woman's voice is very familiar! She sounds like Auntie Ji Xiaofu! At that moment, the little girl spoke again: "The physician will definitely treat you. Mother, do not be afraid. Are you feeling better yet?"

"Just a little better," said the woman. "Sigh, my poor long-suffering child ... "

By then, Zhang Wuji had no more doubts. He rushed to the door of the hut and called out: "Auntie Ji, is that you? Are you wounded too?"

A woman dressed in blue came into view, holding a little girl by the hand. She was indeed the Lady Warrior Ji Xiaofu of the E-mei School. When she last saw Zhang Wuji on Mount Wudang, he was not even ten years old. Almost five years had passed since then, and the little boy had grown into a teenager. Thus, she could hardly recognise him.

"Auntie Ji, do you still remember me?" asked the boy again. "I am Zhang Wuji. We met once on Mount Wudang, when my parents passed away."

Ji Xiaofu gasped in shocked, for she had never expected to run into him in this isolated valley. Suddenly very conscious about her status as an unwed mother, she turned very red with shame. After all, Zhang Wuji was the nephew of her fiancé, Yin Liting. Although he was young, it was still very difficult for her to explain herself. Unfortunately, the emotional turmoil caused by this unexpected meeting was too much for her weakened body, so she collapsed.

Her daughter grabbed her arm at once, but what could a eight- or nine-year- old child do to stop the fall of an adult? As a result, both mother and child crumpled to the ground in a heap.

Zhang Wuji quickly propped Ji Xiaofu up by the shoulders and said, "Auntie Ji, please take a rest inside." Helping her indoors, he soon saw that her left shoulder and arm had been slashed several times. Blood was still seeping through the bandages that she had put over the wounds, and a light but persistent cough accompanied her throughout. By then, Zhang Wuji's abilities in treating illnesses had surpassed those of the so-called 'renowned physicians', so he could tell immediately from her coughs that her lungs had been hurt. "Auntie Ji, you hurt the Taiyin Channel of the Lung when you used your right palm against your opponent's hand," he said.

Then, he took seven gold needles out and inserted them through her clothes into the Yun Men acupoint on her shoulder, the Hua Gai (Hua2 Gai4) acupoint on her chest, the Chi Ze acupoint on her elbow and four other points along the Taiyin Channel of the Lung. His skills had improvedly vastly since the day he treated Chang Yuchun, for he had spent the past two years in diligent study under the tutelage of Hu Qingniu. While his ability to diagnose ailments and prescribe medication was still limited by experience, his skill in acupunture had reached seven- or eight-tenths of the prowess of the Healing Sage.

Ji Xiaofu was somewhat apprehensive when she saw the gold needles, but Zhang Wuji was so fast with his hands that the needles entered her acupoints in the blink of an eye, granting immediate relief for the congestion in her chest. Startled but delighted, Ji Xiaofu said, "Dear child, I never expected to see you here, much less with this marvellous set of skills."

Years ago on Mount Wudang, Ji Xiaofu had witnessed the double-suicide of Zhang Cuishan and Yin Susu. Overcome with compassion for the little orphan that the couple left behind, she had comforted the child and offered him her necklace of gold. However, Zhang Wuji had been so angry and upset that he had blamed all the visitors for his parents' deaths. Therefore, he had rejected Ji Xiaofu's gift and left her standing in embarrassment. As he grew older, he found out that his father and uncles had originally planned to join hands with the warriors of E-mei against their opponents. Thus, he finally learnt that the E-mei School was a friend, not a foe. As for Ji Xiaofu, he had often recalled her kindness towards him with a grateful heart.

More recently, Zhang Wuji and Chang Yuchun had seen how Ji Xiaofu had taken a great risk in rescuing Monk Peng (i.e. Peng Yingyu). Therefore, in his mind, this Auntie Ji was a very good person. He was too young to understand the details behind her being an unwed mother or judge whether she had done his Uncle Yin wrong, so he had not retained the information that he had heard in the woods that night. Unfortunately, Ji Xiaofu had been carrying a guilty conscience all this time, so she found this sudden meeting with someone who knew Yin Liting terribly embarrassing. She did not know that Zhang Wuji had heard everything about her from Ding Minjun two years earlier. Since he saw Ding Minjun as a wicked woman, the things that she had said were probably not as bad as she had made them out to be.

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the little girl beside Ji Xiaofu. Pretty as a picture, the girl stared curiously at him with a pair of big and dark eyes before whispering, "Mother, is this boy the physician?"

The word 'Mother' caused Ji Xiaofu to redden at once. But there was really nothing more that she could do to keep the matter under wraps. So, she replied awkwardly, "This is an older brother from the Zhang family. His father was a friend of mine." Then, she turned to Zhang Wuji and said, "She

... she is called 'Buhui'." After a pause, she added, "Her surname is Yang ... Yang Buhui!"

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, "That is great. Little Sister, your name is very similar to mine. I am called Zhang Wuji - 'No Resentments' - while you are Yang Buhui - 'No Regrets'."

Seeing that Zhang Wuji did not react to her introduction of her daughter with shock or accusation, Ji Xiaofu heaved a silent sigh of relief. Then, she said to her daughter, "Elder Brother Wuji is very skilful. I do not hurt very much anymore."

Yang Buhui's lively eyes regarded Zhang Wuji for a moment. Then, she went forward, gave the boy a big hug and kissed him on the cheek. Besides her mother, she had never seen anyone else all her life. Therefore, she was very grateful that Zhang Wuji had reduced the pain and discomfort that her mother felt. Since she had always expressed joy and gratitude towards her mother by hugging and kissing her, she had done the same to the boy.

Ji Xiaofu smiled and said, "Bu-er, do not do that. Brother Wuji does not like it." Yang Buhui opened her eyes wide in surprise, turned to Zhang Wuji and asked, "You do not like it? Why do you not want me to be nice to you?"

Laughing in amusement, the boy replied, "I like it. I want to be nice to you too." He leaned forward and gave her a gentle peck on the cheek.

Yang Buhui clapped her hands. "Little Physician," she said, "quickly make my mother completely well again and I will give you another kiss."

Zhang Wuji found the innocent and lively little girl very adorable. All his life, he had known only people who were old enough to be his uncles. Although he treated Chang Yuchun as a brother and vice-versa, the man was still eight years older than he. Other than Zhou Zhiruo whom he had met for barely a day, he had never had any friends of his age. Therefore, he could not help but say to himself: If I had such a cute little sister, I would take her out to play everyday. After all, at fourteen years old, he was still very much a child, but the rough circumstances of his childhood had not given him many opportunities for fun and play.

Then, Ji Xiaofu noticed that Jian Jie and the other wounded visitors had not received any treatment yet. Unwilling to jump the queue, she said, "They arrived earlier than I, so you had better attend to them first. I am already feeling much better."

"They came to seek treatment from Mr Hu but he is too ill to see them," answered Zhang Wuji. "Yet, they have refused to leave. Auntie Ji, I have lived here long enough to pick up some basic medical skills, so if you can trust me, I will take a look at your injuries. After all, you did not mention that you are seeking help from Mr Hu."

In fact, Ji Xiaofu had wanted to ask the Hu Qingniu for assistance, for she had been in the same boat as Jian Jie and the others. After they were wounded, someone had told them to come to Butterfly Valley for treatment. Now that Zhang Wuji had made the offer to treat her, she quickly realised that the 'One who Ignores the Dying' was living up to his name. Since the initial course of acupuncture had proven to be rather effective, she knew that Zhang Wuji's skills were far better than 'basic'. Thus, she said, "Thank you very much. Since the Great Master refuses to provide treatment, the Little Master can do it just the same."

Ushering the woman into a room, Zhang Wuji cut her sleeve away with a pair of scissors and found three sabre slashes on her arm. The bones in the arm were broken, with a spot in the upper arm where the pieces of bone had been smashed to smithereens. This terribly fragmented section was particularly difficult to fix, yet it was just a simple matter in the eyes of the disciple of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley. Thus, Zhang Wuji began setting the bones in Ji Xiaofu's arm before applying a concoction that would aid in the healing of the open wounds on it. Then, he wrote up a prescription and instructed one of the pages to have the soup prepared. This being his maiden attempt at setting broken bones, his hands were rather clumsy. So, he struggled for a shichen (two hours) or so before everything was finally in place and bandaged. "Auntie Ji," he said, "please take a nap. When the anaesthetic wears off, the wounds are going to hurt quite badly."

"Thank you very much!" said Ji Xiaofu in gratitude.

After that, Zhang Wuji went off to get some dates and almonds for Yang Buhui, but by the time he returned, the tired little girl had already fallen asleep by her mother's side. He placed the snacks in her pocket and went out of the room.

The swarthy man from the School of Mount Hua stood up as soon as Zhang Wuji appeared. Bowing low before the boy, he said, "Young sir, since Mr Hu is ill, we have no alternative but to seek your assistance for our injuries. For this, we offer our utmost gratitude in advance."

Since he began his studies in medicine, Zhang Wuji had never provided treatment for anyone, except Chang Yuchun and Ji Xiaofu. Consequently, he was very tempted to try his skills out on these fourteen men who bore a variety of internal injuries, broken limbs and other strange ailments. Then, remembering Hu Qingniu's words, he said, "This is Mr Hu's home and I am only a patient of his. How would I dare to make such a decision?" Seeing that he did not make an outright refusal to provide treatment, the swarthy man decided to motivate the boy with a little praise. "The renowned physicians of the past were all old men in their fifties and sixties," he said, "so we did not realise that a young man like you could have such profound skills. This occurrence is so rare that we hope to experience your prowess."

The fat man, whose surname was Liang, added, "The fourteen of us have minor reputations in the realm of the rivers and lakes. If you cure our ailments, young sir, we will go out and publicise your abilities as a miraculous physician. Within a day, your name will be renowned across the land."

Young and inexperienced, Zhang Wuji did not really understand the ways of the world. Therefore, he could not help but feel pleased with the men's praises. "What benefit is there in being renowned across the land?" he said. "Since Mr Hu is unwilling to treat you, there is nothing I can do. But your injuries are really quite serious ... let me put it this way: I will help to reduce some of your pain and discomfort." With some multi-purpose ointment in hand, he began helping the wounded men.

But he was totally unprepared for what he found. Not only were the men's injuries different from one another, the injuries themselves were so strange and shocking that they were not even mentioned in the comprehensive books that Hu Qingniu had written. One of the men had been forced to swallow several dozen poisoned steel needles. Another man had his liver wounded by internal strength, but the Xing Jian (Xing2 Jian1), Zhong Feng (Zhong1 Feng1), Yin Bao (Yin1 Bao1) and Wu Li (Wu3 Li3) acupoints that were needed to treat the liver had been slashed to bits with a sharp knife. Apparently, the perpetrator of these injuries had a profound knowledge of medicine as well, so he could ensure that his victims were not easily cured. Then, there was the man whose lungs were punctured with a long iron nail each. He coughed and threw up blood continuously. Another man had all the ribs on both sides of his body totally broken, but none of these broken bones punctured his heart or lungs. Yet another fellow had both his hands chopped off, but the perpetrator had taken time to connect the left hand on the right wrist, and vice-versa. Now, the switched limbs had begun to set. And there was the man who was blue, black and swollen all over. Apparently, he had been stung by twenty different poisonous insects and pests, including the centipede, the scorpion and the wasp.

Zhang Wuji had seen only six or seven of the fourteen men, but they were enough to bring a frown to his brow: Their injuries are so strange that I cannot even cure a single one of them. Why did the perpetrator rack his brains and come up with such terrible forms of torture? Suddenly, a thought hit him: The wounds on Auntie Ji's shoulder and arm are too common, so she must have suffered some strange internal injuries as well, for how could her case be different? He ran into the room and took Ji Xiaofu's pulse. Erratic and irregular, her pulse indicated that something had gone horribly wrong with her internal organs. Yet, he had no idea as to why and how it happened.

Zhang Wuji was not particularly concerned about the conditions of the fourteen men. After all, they included the people from the Kongdong School who had a hand in forcing his parents to their deaths, so they deserved every bit of their strange sentences. But Ji Xiaofu's injuries had to be treated at all costs, so he walked over to Hu Qingniu's room and said, "Sir, are you asleep?"

"What is it?" asked the physician. "I do not care who it is outside, for I will not treat a single one of them."

"Yes," said Zhang Wuji. "But their injuries are very very strange." Then, he proceeded to describe everything that he had seen.

Hu Qingniu listened attentively from bed, sending the boy outside every now and then to clarify certain conditions that sounded vague. The process took almost an hour before the injuries of all fifteen people were completely described in gory detail. The physician punctuated the reports with numerous "Mmm, Mmm", as if he was thinking hard about them. Finally, he said, "Hmmph! These strange injuries are nothing to me ... " Suddenly, a voice behind Zhang Wuji said, "Mr Hu, the owner of the golden flower wants us to tell you this: 'You have called yourself the Sage of Healing in vain, for I do not think that you will be able to cure even one of these fifteen ailments.' Ha ha, sure enough, you are now holed up in your room, pretending to be ill."

Turning around, Zhang Wuji saw that the voice belonged to the bald old man from the Kongdong School, Jian Jie. Initially, the boy had thought that the old fellow was naturally bald, but he later discovered that his hair had fallen out after a corrosive poison was applied on his head. Furthermore, the poison had begun seeping through the scalp and the skull towards the brain. It would be just a matter of days before the man went completely mad. Meanwhile, his companions had secured his hands with iron chains, so that he could not scratch his terribly itchy scalp down to the bone.

Hu Qingniu was unfazed. "It does not matter to me whether I can cure you or not," he said calmly. "The point is that I will never treat your ailments. You have seven or eight days of life left, so if you hurry home now, you will still be able to see your family members, sons and daughters for the last time. After all, what benefit is there in nagging me?

Tortured by the persistent itch on his scalp, Jian Jie knocked his head against the wall and rattled the chains on his hands. "Mr Hu," he growled in a breathless voice, "the owner of the golden flower will come for you sooner or later, and you will probably suffer a terrible death. If we join hands and fight together against this enemy, would it not be better than hiding in this room and waiting for your doom?"

"If you can defeat him, you would have had him killed a long time ago!" answered Hu Qingniu. "What is the use of having fifteen useless helpers?"

Jian Jie pleaded for a while, but Hu Qingniu did not pay him further attention. Finally, the frustrated man shouted: "All right, since either way leads to death, I will burn this dog's den down! We will enter with white sabres, and exit with red ones. After we dispatch this crooked physician, we will meet our ends!" Just then, another man appeared. He was the swarthy fellow who had been throwing up blood. Pulling out a steel Moth-Antennae Spike (e2 mei2 gang1 ci4) and pressing it against Jian Jie's chest, he said coldly, "If you offend Elder Hu, I will be the first to take you to task. You want to enter with white sabres and exit with red ones? All right, I will let you experience it first."

Jian Jie was the better-skilled pugilist between the two, but he could not fight back because of the chains around his hands. So he just opened his eyes wide and glared at his opponent.

Raising his voice, the swarthy man announced: "Elder Hu, I am Xue Gongyuan, a disciple of School-Leader Xianyu from Mount Hua. I would like to pay you my respects!" He knelt and kowtowed several times.

A glimmer of hope appeared in Jian Jie's heart: Since Hu Qingniu refuses to respond to force, this fellow's kowtows and gentle pleadings may just do the trick.

Then, Xue Gongyuan said, "It is our misfortune that you are ill, Elder Hu. But there is a little brother here whose knowledge of medicine is brilliant. Thus, we would like to request your permission for him to treat us. After all, there is no one else in the world who can cure our strange ailments, except for the disciple of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley."

"This child is called Zhang Wuji," Hu Qingniu answered coldly. "He is a disciple of the Wudang School, the son of the Silver Hook and Iron Stroke Zhang Cuishan the Fifth, and the grand-disciple of Zhang Sanfeng. Hu Qingniu is a member of the Ming Sect, the scum of society that is despised by your renowned and upright clans. So what have I do to with a disciple of a great teacher like him? He came to me for help because he has been poisoned, but I have sworn that I will treat no one, except the members of the Ming Sect. This little fellow is unwilling to join my organisation, so how can I save his life?"

Half of Xue Gongyuan's hopes vanished into thin air. He had initially thought that Zhang Wuji was Hu Qingniu's disciple. Therefore, the physician would definitely provide the boy with pointers if he ran into difficulties during the process of treatment. He had never expected that Zhang Wuji would turn out to be yet another hapless patient whose request for assistance had been flatly refused.

"So you want to hang around, eh?" Hu Qingniu went on. "Hmmph, hmmph, do you think that I will become kind-hearted all of sudden? Ask this little fellow how long he has been hanging around my place."

When Xue Gongyuan and Jian Jie turned to Zhang Wuji, they saw him hold up two fingers and gesture twice with them.

"Twenty days?" asked Xue Gongyuan.

"Two years and two months to the day," answered Zhang Wuji. Jian and Xue exchanged a glance and sighed.

"He can go ahead and stay here for another ten years," said Hu Qingniu, "but I still cannot save his life. In twelve months, the deadly toxins that have accummulated in his internal organs will begin their final work, and he will not live to see this day next year. I swore an oath before the Ming Lord years ago, hence I cannot provide treatment for anyone who is not a member of the Ming Sect, even if they are my own father, son and daughter."

As Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan began walking out in deep disappointment, Hu Qingniu suddenly said, "This teenager from the Wudang School knows a little about medicine. Although the knowledge of Wudang is far beneath our Ming Sect, it is not poor enough to kill anyone. Therefore, the Wudang School can go ahead and provide treatment, or turn away and ignore the dying. Its decision, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the Ming Sect and Hu Qingniu."

Xue Gongyuan was taken aback, for the physician sounded as if he wanted Zhang Wuji to treat their ailments. "Elder Hu," said the man quickly, "if this Young Hero Zhang is willing to save us, we will have hope once more." "What has that got to do with me?" snapped Hu Qingniu. "Listen up, Wuji. You cannot practise medicine as you wish in the house of Hu Qingniu. But once you step out of my door, I can no longer control what you do."

Xue Gongyuan and Jian Jie glanced dumbly at each other, unsure of what the physician meant by his words.

Fortunately, Zhang Wuji was a lot smarter than they. Knowing what Hu Qingniu had in mind, he said to Xue and Jian, "Mr Hu is ill, so you should not disturb him more than necessary. Please come with me." When the three of them reached the hall, Zhang Wuji said, "Gentlemen, I am young and my knowledge is shallow. Your injuries are so strange that I do not have full confidence in curing them. If you can trust me, please allow me to do my best. As for the results, we will leave them in the hands of the Heavens."

By then, the men were so tortured by their injuries that they were willing to drink arsenic and poison for momentary relief. Therefore, they were absolutely delighted to hear Zhang Wuji's words.

"Mr Hu does not allow me to do anything in his house," the boy went on, "so that his reputation as the 'Sage of Healing' will not be damaged if anyone dies. Please step outside."

The men hesitated, for they knew that this fourteen- or fifteen-year-old lad was limited in knowledge and experience. If they remained in the house of the 'Sage of Healing', they could still look to the renowned physician himself for assurance. But if they stepped outside, they might just end up suffering additional yet totally unnecessary pain in the bumbling hands of this young man.

Suddenly, Jian Jie exclaimed: "The itch on my scalp is killing me! Little Brother, please attend to me first." Dragging his chains noisily behind him, he walked out of the door.

After a moment's thought, Zhang Wuji went to the room where a variety medicinal ingredients were kept, and brought out ten different herbs and minerals, including Nanxing (nan2 xing1), Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root (fang2 feng1), Dahurian Angelica Root (bai2 zhi3), Gastrodia Tuber (tian1 ma2), Notopterygium (qiang1 huo2), Typhonium Tuber (bai2 fu4 zi3) and ophicalcite (hua1 rui4 shi2). Then, he instructed one of the pages to crush the herbs and minerals in the mortar with some hot wine, before applying resulting paste on Jian Jie's bald pate.

The old man jumped up and yelled in pain when the paste touched his scalp, shouting, "Ouch! It hurts terribly! But this pain is a lot more comfortable than that horrible itch!" Walking around the grass with chattering teeth, he added, "Pain is wonderful! Damn, this pipsqueak is better than I thought. No

... Young Hero Zhang, I should really be thanking you for your help instead."

The fast and positive effect of Zhang Wuji's treatment on Jian Jie's itch caused the other men to rush forward with their respective needs. At that moment, one of them started rolling on the ground, holding on to his stomach and crying out in pain. It turned out that he had been forced to swallow more than thirty live leeches. Having survived the ingestion, the leeches had eventually attached themselves to the walls of their victim's stomach and intestines, sucking his blood for all their worth. Zhang Wuji recalled a passage that he had read: Leeches disintegrate upon contact with honey. There was plenty of honey in Butterfly Valley, so he obtained a large bowl of it from one of the pages and instructed the man to consume the entire serving at once.

Then, he proceeded to the other men, attending diligently to each successive patient until daybreak. When Ji Xiaofu and her daughter woke up and went outside, they found that Zhang Wuji had been working so hard that he was drenched in perspiration. Ji Xiaofu offered her help immediately, bandaging open wounds and fetching medicines as required. On the other hand, little Yang Buhui ran around the valley, snacking on almonds and dates and chasing butterflies without a single care.

By the time Zhang Wuji had finished with the initial course of treatment for all fourteen men, it was already past noon. But their ailments were so strange and complex that it was insufficient to deal just only with the external symptoms and signs. Zhang Wuji went to his room to get some sleep, only to be jolted awake several hours later by loud cries of pain. He jumped up and went to check on his patients at once. A few of them seemed better, but many more had taken a turn for the worse. Lost for ideas, he went to tell Hu Qingniu what had happened so far.

"These fellows are not members of the Ming Sect," said the physician coldly. "Who cares if they are dead or alive?"

Then, Zhang Wuji had a flash of inspiration. "If there was a member of the Ming Sect who did not have any external injuries," he said, "but his face was swollen red and his abdomen was filled with blood clots, how would you deal with him?"

"If he was a member of the Ming Sect," answered Hu Qingniu, "I would give him a decoction of water, wine, pangolin scales (shan1 jia3), the end-roots of the Chinese Angelica (gui1 wei3), safflower (hong2 hua1), the dried rhizome of Rehmannia, Lingxian (ling2 xian1), Dragon's Blood (xue4 jie2, the resin of the Calamus Gum), Taoxian (tao2 xian1), rhubarb (da4 huang2), frankincense (ru3 xiang1) and myrrh (mo4 yao4), with some urine from boys under twelve (tong2 bian4). He will pass the blood clots out after that.

Zhang Wuji asked again: "What if someone filled the left and right ears of a Ming Sect member with lead and mercury respectively, before pouring raw lacquer into his eyes?"

"Who dares to do such a horrible thing to a member of the Ming Sect?" roared Hu Qingniu in anger.

"Yes, that person is terribly vicious," answered Zhang Wuji. "But I think that we should cure the ears and eyes of this Ming Sect member first, before asking him who his enemy is and where he can be found."

Hu Qingniu thought for a moment and said, "If the victim was a member of the Ming Sect, I would pour mercury into his left ear. The pieces of lead would dissolve in the mercury and flow out of the ear. Then, I would put a gold needle into the right ear and draw the mercury out bit by bit. As for the raw lacquer, a juice made from crabs might work."

Zhang Wuji went on in this manner, turning the ailments of his patients into injuries suffered by fictitious Ming Sect members, until Hu Qingniu had given him the answers to all fifteen problems. The physician knew what the boy was up to, of course, but he taught him all the same. Unfortunately, some of these injuries were so strange and complex that the suggested treatments did not work. Therefore, Hu Qingniu had to put in additional effort and thought before the appropriate cures were found.

After five or six days, the patients began showing signs of improvement. As for Ji Xiaofu, her internal injury had been caused by poison. After Zhang Wuji had ascertained its roots, he had combatted it with a decoction of raw fossil fragments (sheng1 long2 gu3), perilla (su1 mu4), mole cricket (tu2 gou3), Trogopterus dung (wu3 ling2 zhi1), Caper Euphorbia seed (qian1 jin1 zi3) and powdered toad (ge2 fen3). Thus, when he checked on her pulse, he found that it had become rather steady, though it was still a little weak. Her injury had indeed begun to heal.

By then, the patients had built themselves a large canopy outside Hu Qingniu's row of huts, using it as a simple shelter from sun and rain as they recuperated on piles of straw and grass. Ji Xiaofu and her daughter had a tiny shed of their own several zhang (1 zhang = 3.33 metres) away, the result of a request by Zhang Wuji that the fourteen wounded men did not dare to decline. After all, the lives of these rough-and-tumble men who roamed the length and the breadth of the realm of the rivers and lakes were in the boy's hands.

Life had suddenly become rather busy for Zhang Wuji, but he had also learnt quite a few new techniques and prescriptions from Hu Qingniu. The experience had proven to be beneficial so far.

o0o One morning, Zhang Wuji discovered a slight darkening of the skin on Ji Xiaofu's brow, as if her internal injuries had recurred. He quickly took her pulse and asked her to provide some saliva for a test, eventually confirming that the poison in her body had returned. Zhang Wuji could not figure out what had happened, so he went to ask Hu Qingniu for help. The physician sighed and told him what to do. Sure enough, the treatment worked immediately. Then, Jian Jie's scalp began to rot and give out a terribly foul smell. The fifteen patients had regained eight- or nine-tenths of their health in the past few days, yet in a single night, everyone had taken a turn for the worse.

Zhang Wuji did not understand how this happened, so he turned to Hu Qingniu for an opinion.

"All of them have suffered extraordinary injuries," said the physician. "If they could be easily healed, why would they need to come to Butterfly Valley and beg me for help?"

That night, the boy lay in bed and thought: It is common for injuries to recur, but it is way too strange for such a thing to happen to all fifteen people at the same time. Furthermore, their conditions seem to change again and again. The matter kept him awake until the third watch of the night (11.00 p.m. to

1.00 a.m.) had passed.

Suddenly, he heard the soft crushing of fallen leaves as someone walked quietly past his window. His curiosity aroused, Zhang Wuji made a hole in the paper covering of his window and peered outside. He saw a figure flash by, before disappearing behind a Chinese scholartree (huai2 shu4). It looked like Hu Qingniu.

Why is Mr Hu not in bed? the boy asked himself. Has he recovered from smallpox?

But the physician's movements seemed to indicate an unwillingness to be seen by others. After a while, he crept towards the tiny shed that Ji Xiaofu and her daughter slept in. Zhang Wuji's heart began to thump loudly as he thought: Has he gone to hurt Auntie Ji? I am not his match, but I cannot let this matter pass unheeded. Climbing out of the window, he followed Hu Qingniu as quietly as he could. Then, he saw the man sneak into Ji Xiaofu's shed. The shed had been put up haphazardly as a simple shelter against wind and rain, so it had no doors or walls to keep intruders out.

Zhang Wuji panicked and made his way quickly to the back of the shed. Crouching close to the ground, he saw Ji Xiaofu and her daughter sleeping soundly on a pile of straw. Meanwhile, Hu Qingniu took a medicinal pellet out of his shirt and put it into Ji Xiaofu's bowl of medicine before leaving as quietly as he had come. Zhang Wuji saw that the physician's face was still covered by the piece of black cloth. As he wondered whether the man had recovered from smallpox, a sudden and somewhat frightening realisation hit him: Mr Hu has been tampering secretly with the patients' medications during the night! That is why their injuries have not been healing.

Then, he saw Hu Qingniu entering the canopy where Jian Jie, Xue Gongyuan and the others slept, apparently to poison them as well. The physician did not re-appear for a long time, probably because each of the fourteen men required a different prescription. Zhang Wuji stepped quietly into Ji Xiaofu's shed and took a whiff of her bowl of medicine. It had originally contained a dose of Eight Immortals Soup (ba1 xian1 tang1), which she was supposed to drink first thing in the morning. Now, the decoction emitted a pungent smell. Just then, light footsteps sounded outside, indicating that the physician was returning to his room.

Putting the bowl down, Zhang Wuji called out softly: "Auntie Ji, Auntie Ji!"

As an accomplished pugilist, Ji Xiaofu's hearing and sight were very keen, so she would wake up at the slightest noise even when she was in a deep sleep. However, she was not aroused despite several calls from Zhang Wuji. The boy had to shake her on the shoulder seven or eight times before she finally opened her eyes and asked, "Who is it?" "Auntie Ji, it is I, Wuji," he answered. "Your bowl of medicine has been poisoned, so you cannot drink it anymore. Pour it quietly into the river, and pretend that nothing is wrong. I will discuss the details with you tomorrow."

Ji Xiaofu nodded in agreement.

Then, fearing that Hu Qingniu might chance upon them, Zhang Wuji returned to his window and climbed back into his room.

After breakfast the next morning, Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui went butterfly-chasing, running further and further away from Hu Qingniu's huts and the wounded men's canopy. Ji Xiaofu knew what the boy was up to, so she quickly followed them. Having seen Zhang Wuji take Yang Buhui out to play for the past few days, no one bothered about the three of them going off on their own. When they reached a hill about a li (500 metres) away, Zhang Wuji sat down.

Ji Xiaofu turned to her daughter and said, "Bu-er, let us not chase butterflies anymore. Go and look for some wildflowers and make three crowns, one for each of us."

Beaming with delight, the little girl went off as she was told.

Zhang Wuji opened the discussion with a question: "Auntie Ji, what conflict does that Hu Qingniu have with you? Why does he want to poison you?"

"I have never met Mr Hu," answered Ji Xiaofu, somewhat taken aback by the boy's train of thought. "I have never even seen his face to this day, so what conflict is there between us?" After a moment's pause, she added, "When Father and Teacher talk about Mr Hu, they mention only his unsurpassed abilities in medicine and refer to him as the best physician in the land. It is really a pity that he has chosen to walk in heretical ways as a member of the Ming Sect. My father and my teacher do not know him either. Why ... why does he want to poison me?"

Zhang Wuji proceeded to tell her how he had seen Hu Qingniu sneak into her shed to poison her the night before. Then, he said, "Your bowl of Eight Immortals Soup emitted the pungent smells of the venus-hair fern (tie3 xian4 cao3) and the Bone-Piercing Fungus (tou4 gu3 jun1). These two plants have certain medicinal properties but they are too poisonous to be used in heavy doses. They are also counteractive to the healing properties of the eight herbs in the Eight Immortals Soup. Although the dosages that had been used were insufficient to kill, they would have nevertheless prevented the complete recovery of your injuries."

"It is even more puzzling that the other fourteen men are also affected," Ji Xiaofu remarked. "Even if my father or the E-mei School had offended Mr Hu by accident, all these fellows could not have been involved as well. It is just too coincidental to be true."

Undaunted, the boy pressed on with his queries. "Auntie Ji, Butterfly Valley is very remote," he said. "How did you manage to find this place? Who is that 'owner of the golden flower' who hurt you?" After a slight pause, he added, "Perhaps, I should not be asking you about these matters because they do not really concern me. But the entire episode has been so strange. Please do not be offended."

Ji Xiaofu turned red, for she understood the meaning behind Zhang Wuji's words -- he was concerned that his questions might be related to her being an unwed mother, hence answering them would put her in a very awkward position. Yet, she went ahead and gave him a reply: "You saved my life, so what else is there that I should keep from you? Furthermore, you treat Bu-er and me very well. You may be young, but you are also the only one in this entire world whom I can share the deepest difficulties of my heart with."

Wiping the tears in her eyes away with a handkerchief, she went on: "Since a misunderstanding with one of my elder sisters-at-arms two years ago, I have not dared to see my teacher or go home ... "

"Hmmph! That 'Evil Wuyan Ding Minjun' is horrible!" Zhang Wuji said at once. "Auntie, you do not have to be afraid of her." Ji Xiaofu gasped in surprise. "Eh, how did you know about this?" she asked.

After the boy told her how he and Chang Yuchun had seen her rescuing Monk Peng in the woods, she sighed quietly and said, "I should never have done anything that I do not want others to know about! How could my actions have escaped the ears and the eyes of men?"

"Sixth Uncle Yin is a very good man," said Zhang Wuji. "But if you do not like him, what is wrong with not marrying him? When I see Uncle Yin, I will ask him not to insist on it any longer."

Ji Xiaofu could not help but smile miserably at the boy's naive and simple view. "Child, I did not intentionally set out to do your Sixth Uncle Yin wrong," she said gently. "I had no alternatives then, but ... but now, I have no regrets about it either ... " Then, she thought: This child's heart is like a blank piece of paper, so I had better not tell him about the intimate affairs between men and women. Besides, they do not seem to be related to the issue on hand.

Thus, she continued: "After falling out with Sister Ding, I did not return to E-mei again. Instead, I took Bu-er and went to Mount Shungeng, about three hundred li (150 km) west of Butterfly Valley, where we led carefree and peaceful lives among woodcutters and farmers for more than two years. Half a month ago, Bu-er and I went to town to buy cloth for some new clothes. There, I came upon a fresh chalk drawing of a small sword surrounded by rays of light in the corner of a wall. It was a coded call for disciples of the E- mei School. I became very frightened after seeing it, but I soon realised that it was not my fault for falling out with Sister Ding. I have also not done anything to deceive my teacher or betray my school. Therefore, I decided to answer the call, just in case it was left by a schoolmate in trouble. So, with Bu-er in hand, I followed the trail of drawings to Fengyang.

"Within Fengyang City itself, another drawing led us to the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant. There were already seven or eight members of the martial arts circle there, including Kongdong's Jian Jie as well as Mount Hua's Xue Gongyuan and his two brothers, but there were no E-mei disciples.

"I had met Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan before, so I quickly found out from them that they too had followed the coded drawings of their respective clans all the way to Fengyang. But no one knew what the call was really about.

"After waiting for a day, no other E-mei disciples arrived. Instead, a few more pugilists from other organisations appeared, including those from the Clan of the Exquisite Fists (Shen2 Quan2 Men2) and the Beggars' Gang (Gai4 Bang1). They too said that they had come to the Linhuai Pavilion- Restaurant after seeing the coded drawings of their respective organisations. Several more people turned up on the second day for the same reason, but the sender of these calls did not appear. Doubts crept into our hearts: Have we all been tricked by the enemy?

"By then, fifteen people from nine different clans had responded to this strange gathering in the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant. The coded drawings differed fron one organisation to another, of course, and each guarded its own closely. No one, except for the members of the clans themselves, knew what these marks meant. If this gathering was really a work of treachery, how could the enemy have known the secret symbols of nine different clans? Unwilling to put Bu-er at risk or see any of my schoolmates, I decided to go home. After all, it was clear that this was not a call for help.

"Just as I was about to leave the restaurant, loud tapping sounds were heard on the stairs, as if someone was coming up with the help of a pole or crutch. A series of coughs followed, and a silver-haired old woman with a hunched back came into view. She coughed painfully as she walked, supported by a young girl about twelve or thirteen years old. I moved aside at once, allowing the ill and elderly woman to come up the stairs first. Her young helper had a refined air and a pretty face. On the other hand, the old woman, with her bleached walking stick and plain clothes, looked like a poor peasant. Yet, she had a shiny rosary in her left hand. When I took a closer look, I realised that the beads of her rosary were actually plum blossoms made from yellow gold ... " "So this old woman is the 'owner of the golden flower'?" asked Zhang Wuji in surprise.

"That is right!" answered Ji Xiaofu with a nod. "But who would have thought of such a thing at that moment?" Reaching into her pocket, she brought out a small plum blossom made of gold. It looked exactly like the one that Zhang Wuji had shown Hu Qingniu barely a week earlier.

The boy was amazed, for he had expected the 'owner of the golden flower' to be a horribly vicious and terribly formidable man. Yet, according to Ji Xiaofu's description, the enemy had turned out to be a sickly old woman.

Ji Xiaofu went on: "After the old woman reached the top of the stairs, she began to cough. The young girl said, 'Grandmother, perhaps you should take some medicine.' As the old woman nodded in agreement, the girl opened a small porcelain bottle and poured a medicinal pellet out. The old woman swallowed the pellet with much difficulty before saying a series of 'Amitabha!'. Then, with her eyes half-closed, she mumbled, 'Only fifteen ... mmm, ask them: Has anyone from the schools of Wudang and Kunlun arrived?'

"No one had paid her much attention when she first came up the stairs, so everyone was taken aback by her sudden remarks. A few of the men turned around at once, but they quickly dismissed what they had heard at the sight of this old and senile-looking peasant woman. The young girl raised her voice and said, 'Hey, my grandmother asks you: Has anyone from the schools of Wudang and Kunlun arrived?' Shocked, no one answered her. After a while, Kongdong's Jian Jie said, 'Young lady, what did you just say?' The girl answered with a question of her own: 'My grandmother asks: Why are the disciples of Wudang and Kunlun not here?' 'Who are you?' asked Jian Jie again. Just then, the old woman bent over and began another series of coughs.

"Suddenly, a strong gust of wind came towards my chest. I did not know where it had come from, but it was incomparably fast. I quickly raised my palm to deflect it, only to have my chest block up with nausea. I sank to the floor and threw up several mouthfuls of blood. As I struggled to get a grip on things, I saw the old woman floating across the room, sending a palm to the right and a fist to the left amidst a series of coughs. Within moments, the other fourteen men were all struck down. These sudden, swift and strong movements left us with no opportunity to fight back, for we either had our acupoints blocked or our internal organs injured. Then, the old woman's left hand swept out and sent a gold blossom each into our arms. After that, she reached for the young girl, said 'Amitabha!' and hobbled down the stairs. It took quite a while before the tapping sounds of her walking stick and her coughs faded away."

At that moment, Yang Buhui returned with a floral crown that she had made. "Mother, this is for you," she said with a bright smile as she placed her handiwork on her mother's head.

Ji Xiaofu smiled appreciatively before continuing with her tale: "By then, all fifteen of us lay weak and limp on the floor of the restaurant. A few could still mumble and curse in anger, but some could hardly breathe ... "

"Mother, are you talking about that horrible old woman?" asked Yang Buhui suddenly. "Do not talk about her, please. She frightens me."

Comforting her daughter, Ji Xiaofu said, "Dear child, be good and go make another floral crown for Brother Wuji."

Yang Buhui turned to Zhang Wuji and asked, "What colour would you like?" "Red," answered the boy. "And some white too. Make it as big as you can." Stretching her arms out, the little girl asked again, "Like this?"

"Yes, like that," replied Zhang Wuji.

As she clapped her hands and skipped off, Yang Buhui said, "You had better wear it after I have finished."

Then, Ji Xiaofu resumed her story: "As I sat in a daze, the manager, winekeepers, cooks and other workers of the restaurant appeared, and dragged all of us off into the kitchen. Poor Bu-er wailed in fright and followed me as I was taken away. By and by, the manager looked up a written list, pointed to Jian Jie and said, 'Smear this ointment on his head.' A winekeeper carried the instruction out, using a pre-determined concoction. The manager referred to his list again, pointed to another fellow and said, "Chop his right hand off, and connect it to his left arm.' Two cooks brought out a sharp cleaver and executed the order. I was fortunate to be spared of physical torture, but I was forced to consume a bowl of sweet liquid. I knew that the drink was poisonous, yet I did not have the ability to resist.

"After the fifteen of us had been handed our strange punishments, the manager said, 'You have been wounded seriously enough not to survive beyond half a month. But the owner of the golden flower says that she does not have any personal grudges against you. Thus, she has kindly provided you with a solution. You had better hurry to Butterfly Valley on the shores of Nüshan Lake and seek the help of the Healing Sage Hu Qingniu. If he is willing to treat you, your lives will be spared, for there is no one else in this world who knows how to cure your injuries. But this Hu Qingniu is also known as 'The One who Ignores the Dying', for he will not help anyone who is not in dire straits. Tell Hu Qingniu that the owner of the golden flower will go and look for him soon, and ask him to make early preparations for his own funeral!' He concluded by giving us detailed directions to this place."

"Auntie Ji, does this mean that the manager, cooks and winekeepers of the Linhuai Pavilion-Restaurant are accomplices of the horrible old woman?" asked Zhang Wuji.

"I think they are her subordinates," answered Ji Xiaofu. "After all, the manager tortured us according to a list that was probably prepared by the wicked old woman herself. What I really do not understand is the reason behind her actions. If she had had any personal grievances against us, she could have had us killed with a mere finger. But if she wanted us to suffer intentionally by coming up with these terrible forms of torture, why then did she point us to Mr Hu for help? She has even declared that she will seek Mr Hu for revenge, so has she tormented us simply to test Mr Hu's medical skills?" Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and said, "Since this Old Woman of the Golden Flower is on her way here to make trouble for Mr Hu, it would only be right for him to cure your injuries. Then, everyone could stand together against this formidable foe. If that was not the case, he would not have taught me how to treat your injuries after making such a strong refusal to provide these treatments himself. The methods that he imparted to me have proven to be very effective, so it is clear that he wants to rescue all of you in the first place. What I really find puzzling is his act of poisoning all of you sneakily in the middle of the night. Why would he want you straddling between life and death?"

They discussed this question for a long time, but no one could come up with a likely answer. By and by, Yang Buhui appeared with a huge floral crown and set it on Zhang Wuji's head.

Finally, the boy said, "Auntie Ji, you must not take any more medicine, except for those that are served personally by me. You must also keep a weapon by your side at night, just in case someone wants to harm you. But you cannot leave Butterfly Valley yet. You have to take a few more decoctions and wait until your internal injuries are completely healed before fleeing with Little Sister Buhui."

Ji Xiaofu nodded in agreement. "Child, Mr Hu's ways have proven to be quite unfathomable," she added. "Thus, it is not a good idea for you to stay on with him. Perhaps, we should leave together."

"I understand your concern," said Zhang Wuji, "but he has actually been rather nice to me. He had initially planned to have me killed after removing the toxins in my body, but his treatments have failed. Therefore, he does not need to have me dispatched. I know that it is best that we leave immediately, but there are a few more aspects about the treatment of your injuries that I do not understand. I must ask Mr Hu about them."

"He has already tried to poison me in secret," said Ji Xiaofu, "so he will probably teach you the wrong methods on purpose." "That is not necessarily so," answered Zhang Wuji. "The methods that Mr Hu has taught me so far have proven to be very effective. Besides, I can tell the difference between right and wrong. That is why this entire situation is so strange. I was initially unwilling to leave Mr Hu at the mercy of the Owner of the Golden Flower, but now, I see that he is just pretending to be ill."


That night, Zhang Wuji did not go to sleep. At the third watch (between

11.00 p.m. and 1.00 a.m.), Hu Qingniu came out of his room just as the boy had expected, and sneaked into Ji Xiaofu's shed to poison her. This went on for three days, but Ji Xiaofu did not take any of the poison that had been added to her medicine. Therefore, she progressed quickly towards full recovery. On the other hand, Jian Jie, Xue Gongyuan and the others alternated between recovery and deterioration. A few of the more bad- tempered men started to resent Zhang Wuji, saying that his medical skills were too poor. The boy paid them no attention, knowing that there was only one more night to go before he, Ji Xiaofu and her daughter would leave the place. Since the toxins in his own body could not be removed, he would not to return to Mount Wudang and bring grief to his grandteacher and uncles. Instead, he would find a remote place and pass quietly away.

Just before going to bed, Zhang Wuji began to feel sad about leaving Butterfly Valley early the next morning: Although Hu Qingniu is an eccentric man, he has been rather nice to me. If he had not provided treatment for my injuries, how could I have survived to this day? He has also taught me much about medicine and its practices in the past two years.

Therefore, the boy found himself making his way to the physician's room to ask after him. Furthermore, he could not help but feel concerned that the Old Woman of the Golden Flower was on her way here to make trouble for the man. So, he asked, "Mr Hu, are you not bored of staying in Butterfly Valley? Why do you not go out and enjoy yourself for a bit?" "I am ill, so how can I travel?" asked Hu Qingniu in return, somewhat surprised at the boy's questions.

"We can use a mule-drawn carriage," answered Zhang Wuji. "Just cover up the windows of the carriage with cloth, so that the wind does not enter. If you are willing to travel, I will accompany you."

Hu Qingniu sighed and said, "Child, you are very kind. Although the world is big, it is a pity that every place is the same as the next. How has your chest been in the past few days? Has a chill been rolling about in your lower abdomen?"

"The chill worsens from day to day," Zhang Wuji replied. "Since there is no cure for it, I have decided to let it run its course."

Hu Qingniu was quiet for a moment, before saying, "Let me give you a medical prescription that will save your life. Decoct the Chinese Angelica, the root of the thin-leaved milkwort, the dried rhizome of Rehmannia, the Double Teeth Pubescent Angelica and the Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root with pangolin scales during the second watch of the night (9.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.). The brew must then be drunk immediately."

Zhang Wuji was shocked, for the five herbs that the physician had prescribed had absolutely nothing to do with his condition. These herbs even counteracted one another. It was even more unbelievable to use pangolin scales as a supplement to increase the efficacy of the resulting decoction. Therefore, he asked, "Sir, what are the dosages that should be used?"

"The stronger the better," snapped Hu Qingniu angrily. "I have already told you everything, so why are you still hanging around?"

The physician had always seen the boy as a student and friend whenever they talked about medical practices and herbs, so he had never shouted so rudely before. As a result, Zhang Wuji could not help but stomp angrily back to his room. I advised you in good faith to go on a trip so that you could avoid harm, he thought, but you scolded me instead. You even gave me a prescription that does not make sense! Do you think that I would fall for it?

As he lay in bed and went over what Hu Qingniu had said, a thought suddenly hit him: The Chinese Angelica, the root of the thin-leaved milkwort ... how can these herbs be used in the strongest dosages possible? Unless ... unless the Chinese Angelica -- 'Dang Gui' -- is actually meant to convey 'gaidang guiqu' -- that 'I should return home'?

Similar interpretations followed: The root of the thin-leaved milkwort is 'Yuan Zhi'; it should mean 'zhi zai yuanfang, gaofei yuanzou' or 'go as far away as possible'. The meanings of the dried rhizome of Rehmannia and the Double Teeth Pubescent Angelica cannot be any clearer, because 'Sheng Di' and 'Du Huo' mean 'the place where one will be alive' and 'live on alone' respectively. He is telling me that fleeing in this manner is the only way to survive the impending doom. What about the Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root or 'Fang Feng'? Yes, it means 'xu fang zoulou fengsheng' or 'take the necessary precautions to prevent this secret from leaking out'. As for using pangolin scales or 'Chuan Shan Jia' as a supplement during the second watch of the night and consuming the brew immediately after decoction, he is telling me 'chuanshan taozou' or 'escape through the moutains' during the second watch. I should not use the road that runs through the valley.

Hu Qingniu's erroneous prescription began to make a lot of sense. As Zhang Wuji leapt out of bed, he thought: Mr Hu must have known that something terrible is about to happen, so he has kindly told me to leave at once. But the enemy has not arrived. Why then is he using this riddle, instead of speaking plainly? What if I fail to crack the code? The second watch has passed, so I had better hurry up and go. He figured that the physician probably had his own reasons for staying behind, with marvellous plans for dealing with the enemy. Although Hu Qingniu had asked him to 'Fang Feng' and 'Du Huo', Zhang Wuji could not leave without taking his Auntie Ji and her daughter along.

Thus, he crept quietly out of his room and headed into Ji Xiaofu's shed. To his surprise, he found someone bent over the woman as she lay on a pile of straw. Dressed in a blue robe and square hat, with a piece of black cloth around his face, the intruder was none other than Hu Qingniu himself. Ten thousand questions entered the boy's mind at once.

The physician pressed Ji Xiaofu's cheeks with his left hand, forcing her mouth open, as he prepared to drop a medicinal pellet into it with his right. Zhang Wuji leapt out and said, "Mr Hu, you must not harm others ... "

The man released his grip and turned around in shock. Just then, Ji Xiaofu struck him hard on the back, sending him to the ground in a crumpled heap.

The piece of black cloth fell away, revealing a pair of trimmed eyebrows and a powdered face. The intruder was actually not Hu Qingniu, but a middle- aged woman instead.

End of Chapter 12.

Definitions, explanations and/or words generally left in their original form: Those covered in earlier chapters, if any, are not repeated.

1. Pulses (mai4) = another word for 'Channels' when used to label the 'Eight Extraordinary' ones.

2. Meridians (zi3 wu3) = another word for 'Channels' (jing1 mai4).

Mini Facts and Figures

People, Places, Organisations, Martial Arts, Weapons, Objects ... and other details about Chapter 12 of Heavenly Sword, Dragon Slaying Sabre.


Chang Yuchun - member of the Ming Sect and nephew-at-arms of Hu Qingniu who took Zhang Wuji to Butterfly Valley for treatment. Seriously wounded by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique.

Ding Minjun - member of the E-mei School and elder sister-at-arms of Ji Xiaofu. More information in Chapter 11.

Ghosts of Non-Permanence (Wu2 Chang2 Gui3) - supernatural beings from Hell who were believed to drag people their doom; consisted of the White Ghost of Non-Permanence (Bai2 Wu2 Chang2) and the Black Ghost of Non- Permanence (Hei1 Wu2 Chang2).

Hu Qingniu - renowned but eccentric and temperamental physician who lived as a recluse in Butterfly Valley. Dedicated his entire life to the study of medicine and healing; could cure the most terrible of diseases and ailments; hence, became known as the 'Sage of Healing' (Yi1 Xian1). Preferred to be known as 'The One who Ignores the Dying' (Jian4 Si3 Bu4 Jiu4). A very lonely man who had grown tired of hearing praise for his unparalleled abilities as the healer of a million ailments. Prided himself in the massive body of research, discoveries and techniques that he had accumulated in his lifetime, and was more than happy to share his best work those who could understand his heart. Unable to match Xianyu Tong in martial arts.

Ji Xiaofu - a disciple of the E-mei School; the unwed mother of Yang Buhui.

Jian Jie - elderly man who was a disciple of the Kongdong School; also known as 'The Sacred Hands of the Buddhist Temple (Sheng4 Shou3 Qie2 Lan2).

Monk Peng - a member of the Ming Sect. More information in Chapter 11. One who Ignores the Dying, The - see Hu Qingniu.

Sacred Hands of the Buddhist Temple, The - see Jian Jie. Sage of Healing, The - see Hu Qingniu.

Shrewd Strategist, The - see Xianyu Tong.

Xianyu Tong - leader of the School of Mount Hua; highly skilled in martial arts, very intelligent and resourceful. Also known as 'The Shrewd Strategist' (Shen2 Ji1 Zi3).

Xie Xun - godfather of Zhang Wuji; taught the boy various methods of blocking and releasing acupoints, as well as the techniques of repositioning them.

Xue Gongyuan - disciple of Xianyu Tong from the School of Mount Hua; a swarthy man.

Yang Buhui - eight- or nine-year-old daughter of Ji Xiaofu; pretty as a picture with a pair of big and dark eyes.

Yin Liting - Zhang Wuji's sixth uncle-at-arms; fiancé of Ji Xiaofu. Yu Daiyan - Zhang Wuji's third uncle-at-arms whom he hopes could be helped to walk without aid. More information in earlier chapters.

Zhang Sanfeng - elderly Taoist who founded the Wudang School; grandteacher of Zhang Wuji. Rich in internal strength. More information in earlier chapters.

Zhang Wuji - twelve-year-old boy seeking medical treatment from Hu Qingniu in Butterfly Valley. Only son of the late Zhang Cuishan ??? and Yin Susu ???. Had such an amazing talent for medicine that Hu Qingniu thought he could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the great physicians Hua Tuo ?? and Bian Que ?? before the age of twenty.

Zhou Zhiruo - nine- or ten-year-old girl whom Zhang Wuji met for barely a day before he went to Butterfly Valley. More information in Chapter 11.


Butterfly Valley - secluded home of Hu Qingniu; located on the shores of Nüshan Lake in Anhui Province. More information in Chapter 11.

Mount Wudang - location of the Wudang School. Organisations

E-mei School - martial arts school that was considered renowned and upright; disciples include Ji Xiaofu and Ding Minjun.

Eagle Sect - sect led by Zhang Wuji's maternal grandfather, Yin Tianzheng. More information in earlier chapters.

Evil Sect - a name for the Ming Sect that was given by the renowned and upright clans. More information in earlier chapters.

Kongdong School - martial arts school that was considered renowned and upright; disciples include Jian Jie.

Ming Sect - sect to which Hu Qingniu and Chang Yuchun belonged; torn apart by internal strife in recent years. More information in earlier chapters.

School of Mount Hua - martial arts school that was considered renowned and upright; led by Xianyu Tong.

Wudang School - martial arts school founded by Zhang Sanfeng; considered by Zhang Wuji as his school of origin. Martial Arts

Heart-Splitting Palm Technique (Jie2 Xin1 Zhang3) - the palm technique through which Chang Yuchun is gravely wounded. More information is found in Chapter 11 of the novel text.

Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness (Xuan2 Ming2 Shen2 Zhang3) - the palm technique through which Zhang Wuji is gravely wounded; produces a terribly cold and deadly toxin. Thought to be lost for such a long time that there is no one left who knows how to use it. More information in earlier chapters.

Palm Techniques, Miscellaneous (only listed, not described/used): Red-Sand Palm Technique (Hong2 Sha1 Zhang3)

Iron-Sand Palm Technique (Tie3 Sha1 Zhang3) Poison-Sand Palm Technique (Du2 Sha1 Zhang3) Silken Palm Technique (Mian2 Zhang3)

Mountain-Opening Palm Technique (Kai1 Shan1 Zhang3) Tablet-Breaking Palm Technique (Po4 Bei1 Zhang3) Weapons

Golden Flower, The - a type of projectile that was made entirely from yellow gold in exactly the same size and shape as a real plum blossom. The handiwork was so exquisite that the bloom even had pistils that were fashioned from platinum.

Moth-Antennae Spike (e2 mei2 gang1 ci4) - a fine and delicately-curved spike (or sometimes, blade) with two pointed ends.

Medicines, Medical Treatments and Bodily Matters Acupoints mentioned (in alphabetical order):

Chi Ze (Chi3 Ze2) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Da Yuan (Da4 Yuan1) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Guan Chong (Guan1 Chong1) - located on the ring-finger; part of the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities. Guan Yuan (Guan1 Yuan2) - an acupoint needed in the treatment of the injuries caused by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique.

Hua Gai (Hua2 Gai4) - located on the chest; one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung. Used by Zhang Wuji in the initial treatment of Ji Xiaofu at Butterfly Valley.

Jian Jing (Jian1 Jing3) - in the abdomen; at the confluence of the three Yin Channels of the Foot and the Channel of Ren.

Jing Qu (Jing1 Qu2) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Kai Yuan (Kai1 Yuan2) - located in the abdomen; one of the vital points of the body.

Kong Zui (Kong3 Zui4) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Lie Que (Lie4 Que1) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Qing Leng Yuan (Qing1 Leng3 Yuan1) - located two cun (6.66 cm) above the elbow; part of the Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities.

Shao Shang (Shao4 Shang1) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Si Zhu Kong (Si1 Zhu2 Kong1) - located in the cavity of the brow; part of the Hand

Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities.

Tian Chi (Tian1 Chi2) - an acupoint needed in the treatment of the injuries caused by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique.

Tian Fu (Tian1 Fu3) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Tian Tu (Tian1 Tu1) - in the neck; at the confluence of the Channels of Yinwei and Ren.

Wu Li (Wu3 Li3) - one of the acupoints needed for treating a liver wounded by internal strength. Wu Shu (Wu3 Shu1) - located in the confluence of the Foot Shaoyang Channel and the Dai Channel, about one-and-a-half cun (5 cm) beside the urinary tract.

Xia Bai (Xia2 Bai2) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Xing Jian (Xing2 Jian1) - one of the acupoints needed for treating a liver wounded by internal strength.

Yin Bao (Yin1 Bao1) - one of the acupoints needed for treating a liver wounded by internal strength.

Yu Ji (Yu2 Ji4) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Yun Men (Yun2 Men2) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Zhong Feng (Zhong1 Feng1) - one of the acupoints needed for treating a liver wounded by internal strength.

Zhong Fu (Zhong1 Fu3) - one of the acupoints on the Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung.

Zhong Ji (Zhong1 Ji2) - in the shoulder; at the confluence of the Hand Shaoyang Channel, the Foot Shaoyang Channel, the Foot Yangming Channel and the Yangwei Channel (Yang2 Wei1 Mai4).

Zhong Ting (Zhong1 Ting2) - an acupoint needed in the treatment of the injuries caused by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique.

Zi Gong (Zi3 Gong1) - an acupoint needed in the treatment of the injuries caused by the Heart-Splitting Palm Technique.

Eight Extraordinary Channels, The (Qi2 Jing1 Ba1 Mai4) - These consist of the channels of Ren, Du, Chong, Dai, Yinwei, Yangwei, Yinjiao and Yangjiao. They differ from the Twelve Regular Channels in that they neither pertain to any organ, nor do they share an exterior-interior relationship between each other. Their main function is to regulate the circulation of energy (qi4) and blood in the Twelve Regular Channels. When the regular channels are satiated, excess qi and blood flow into the Eight Extraordinary Channels to be stored for later use. Five Primary Internal Organs, The (Wu3 Zang4) - consist of the heart, lungs, spleen, liver and kidneys; considered together with the pericardium as yin elements in traditional Chinese medical practice.

Medical Books mentioned (in alphabetical order):

* A separate series of articles on the books listed below, except for those written by Hu Qingniu, will be made available soon.

Beneficial Prescriptions for Great Safety (Tai4 Ping2 Sheng4 Hui4 Fang1) Book of Acupuncture (Jiu4 Jia3 Yi4 Jing1)

Discussion of the Dai Channel, A (Dai4 Mai4 Lun4) - written by Hu Qingniu to describe the Dai Channel and its functions, as well as to correct erroneous information in ancient medical texts, such as the Dai having ten acupoints altogether instead of four or six.

Functions of the Fourteen Channels, The (Shi2 Si4 Jing1 Fa1 Hui1)

Hua Tuo's Diagrams of the Internal Systems (Hua2 Tuo2 Nei4 Zhao1 Tu2) Internal Classic of the Yellow Emperor, The (Huang2 Di4 Nei4 Jing1)

Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion for the Meridians, The (Zi3 Wu3 Zhen1 Jiu3 Jing1)- written by Hu Qingniu as a record of all the painstaking research that he had done on acupuncture and moxibustion through the years. Consisted of twelve separate volumes; the ninth volume provided information on the treatment of injuries caused by the pugilistic arts.

Matters that are Difficult to Ascertain (Ci3 Shi4 Nan2 Zhi1) Successful Acupuncture (Zhen1 Jiu3 Da4 Cheng2)

Sun Simiao's Thousand-Gold Prescriptions (Sun1 Si1 Miao3 Qian1 Jin1 Fang1)

Thousand-Gold Book of Medical Assistance, The (Qian1 Jin1 Yi4) Xifangzi's Book of Acupuncture (Xi1 Fang1 Zi3 Ming2 Tang2 Jiu3 Jing1) Wang Shuhe's Manual of Arteries and Veins (Wang2 Shu1 He2 Mai4 Jing1)

Wang Tao's Secrets to External Treatments (Wang2 Tao1 Wai4 Tai2 Mi4 Yao4)

Xiama Manual of the Yellow Emperor, The (Huang2 Di4 Xia1 Ma Jing1) Medicinal Flora, Fauna, Minerals and Preparations mentioned (in alphabetical order):

* A separate series of articles on the items listed below, except those marked 'fictitious', will be made available soon.

Achyranthes Root (niu2 xi1)

Bone-Piercing Fungus (tou4 gu3 jun1) - fictitious. Caper Euphorbia Seed (qian1 jin1 zi3)

Chinese Angelica (dang1 gui1)

Chinese Angelica End-Roots (gui1 wei3) Chinese Thorowax Root (chai2 hu2) Dahurian Angelica Root (bai2 zhi3) Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root (fang2 feng1) Dragon's Blood (xue4 jie2)

Double Teeth Pubescent Angelica (du2 huo2) Frankincense (ru3 xiang1)

Gall of Bear (xiong2 dan3) Gastrodia Tuber (tian1 ma2) Ginseng (ren2 shen1) Guiwei (gui1 wei3) Lingxian (ling2 xian1) Mole Cricket (tu2 gou3)

Multiflower Knotweed Tuber (shou3 wu1) Myrrh (mo4 yao4)

Nanxing (nan2 xing1) Notopterygium (qiang1 huo2) Ophicalcite (hua1 rui4 shi2) Perilla (su1 mu4)

Pilose antlers (lu4 rong2) Poria (fu2 ling2)

Powdered Bezoar and Rhinoceros Horn (niu2 huang2 xi1 jiao3 san3) Powdered Toad (ge2 fen3)

Raw Fossil Fragments (sheng1 long gu3) Rhizome of Rehmannia, Dried (sheng1 di4) Rhubarb (da4 huang2)

Safflower (hong2 hua1)

Thin-leaved Milkwort Root (yuan3 zhi4) Pangolin Scales (chuan1 shan1 jia3, shan1 jia3) Taoxian (tao2 xian1)

Trogopterus Dung (wu3 ling2 zhi4) Typhonium Tuber (bai2 fu4 zi3)

Urine from Boys Under Twelve (tong2 bian4) Venus-hair fern (tie3 xian4 cao3) Prescriptions and Treatments mentioned:

For Chang Yuchun, after acupuncture, presumably to remove blood clots in his body - dried rhizome of Rehmannia, Chinese Thorowax root, Achyranthes root and the gall of bear. According to Hu Qingniu, the prescription contained errors that would eventually shorten Chang's life by forty years.

For Chang Yuchun, after the first prescription was consumed, to strengthen his body and assist in his recovery - ginseng, pilose antlers, the tuber of the multiflower knotweed and poria. According to Hu Qingniu, the prescription contained errors that would eventually shorten Chang's life by forty years.

For Jian Jie, to reduce the pain in his scalp - ten different herbs and minerals, including Nanxing, Divaricate Saposhnikovia Root, Dahurian Angelica Root, Gastrodia Tuber, Notopterygium, Typhonium Tuber and ophicalcite.

For one of the fourteen wounded men whose face was swollen red and abdomen was filled with blood clots - water, wine, pangolin scales, the end- roots of the Chinese Angelica, safflower, the dried rhizome of Rehmannia, Lingxian, Dragon's Blood, Taoxian, rhubarb, frankincense and myrrh, with some urine from boys under twelve . He would pass the blood clots out after that.

For one of the men who was forced to consume live leeches - Consume honey to disintegrate the leeches.

For one of the men who had his left and right ears filled with lead and mercury respectively, and raw lacquer poured into his eyes - Pour mercury into his left ear. The pieces of lead would dissolve in the mercury and flow out of the ear. Put a gold needle into the right ear and draw the mercury out bit by bit. As for the raw lacquer, a juice made from crabs might work.

For Ji Xiaofu's poisoning - a decoction of raw fossil fragments, perilla, mole cricket, Trogopterus dung, Caper Euphorbia seed and powdered toad.

Six Secondary Organs, The (Liu4 Fu3) - consist of stomach, large intestines, small intestines, gall bladder, urinary bladder and the Three Visceral Cavities (San3 Jiao1); considered as yang elements in traditional Chinese medical practice.

Twelve Regular Channels, The (Shi2 Er4 Jing1 Chang2 Mai4, or Zheng4 Jing1 Shi2 Er4 Mai4) - a general term for the three yin and three yang channels of the hand, and the three yin and three yang channels of the foot. Each channel is related to a specific internal organ, and shares an exterior- interior relationship with one another:

The Hand Taiyin Channel of the Lung (Shou3 Tai4 Yin1 Fei4 Jing1).

The Hand Shaoyin Channel of the Heart (Shou3 Shao4 Yin1 Xin1 Jing1).

The Hand Jueyin Channel of the Pericardium (Shou3 Jue2 Yin1 Xin1 Bao1 Jing1).

The Hand Taiyang Channel of the Small Intestine (Shou3 Tai4 Yang2 Xiao3 Chang2 Jing1).

The Hand Shaoyang Channel of the Three Visceral Cavities (Shou3 Shao4 Yang2 San1 Jiao1 Jing1).

The Hand Yangming Channel of the Colon (Shou3 Yang2 Ming2 Da4 Chang2 Jing1).

The Foot Taiyin Channel of the Spleen (Zu2 Tai4 Yin1 Pi2 Jing1). The Foot Shaoyin Channel of the Kidney (Zu3 Shao4 Yin1 Shen4 Jing1). The Foot Jueyin Channel of the Liver (Zu3 Jue2 Yin1 Gan1 Jing1).

The Foot Taiyang Channel of the Urinary Bladder (Zu3 Tai4 Yang2 Pang2 Guang1 Jing1).

The Foot Shaoyang Channel of the Gall Bladder (Zu3 Shao4 Yang2 Dan3 Jing1).

The Foot Yangming Channel of the Stomach (Zu2 Yang2 Ming2 Wei4 Jing1).

Weights and Measures

1 chi = 1/3 metres (33.33 centimetres) 1 cun = 1/30 metres (3.33 centimetres) 1 jin = 500 grammes

1 li = 500 metres

1 liang = 0.1 jin = 50 grammes

1 qian = 0.1 liang = 5 grammes

1 qing = 100 mu = approximately 6.667 hectares

1 shichen = 2 hours

1 wen (1 copper-cash) = 0.01 liang = 0.5 grammes 1 zhang = 10/3 metres (3.33 metres)

Translation Notes

Chapter 12 of Heavenly Sword, Dragon-Slaying Sabre was translated by Huang Yushi with the same level of detail and comprehensiveness as Ode to Gallantry and Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain. The sheer volume of supplementary materials presented makes this a very time-consuming style; hence, it cannot be determined at this point in time whether Yushi will continue to work on the remaining chapters of this novel.


The information on traditional Chinese medicine, including but not limited to the acupoints, channels, prescriptions and medicinal flora/fauna listed in this document, is meant only to provide readers with a deeper appreciation for the extent of research and thought that Jin Yong put into the writing of Chapter 12 of Heavenly Sword, Dragon-Slaying Sabre. It should not be considered as medical advice. The authors and publishers of this document, including Huang Yushi, Linh Vu and wuxiapedia.com, disclaim all responsibility for any loss, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information. 
@Chapter 13 - No Regrets for Second Chances
Zhang Wuji was shocked that the intruder was a woman. "Who ... who are you?" he asked as sternly as he could.

The woman did not answer him, for she had been wounded too badly by the palm technique of the E-Mei School to speak.

"Who are you?" Ji Xiaofu demanded. "Why have you harmed me time and again?"

The woman remained silent, so Ji Xiaofu pulled out her sword and placed its tip against her chest.

After a while, Zhang Wuji said, "I am going to check on Mr Hu." He was concerned that Hu Qingniu had fallen victim to the intruder too. After all, she was probably an accomplice of the Old Woman of the Golden Flower. Running over to the physician's room, he pushed the door open and shouted, "Sir, sir! Are you all right?" When no one answered him, panic set in. He quickly reached for the flint-and-steel on the table, lit a candle and saw that Hu Qingniu's blankets had been turned down. But he was not in bed or anywhere else in the room.

Zhang Wuji heaved a sigh of relief, for he had half expected to see the physician's corpse on the floor. He must have been taken away by the enemy, the boy thought. Just as he was about to dash off in pursuit, he heard heavy breathing coming from under the bed. Bending over with the candle in hand, he found Hu Qingniu bound and gagged under the bed. Overjoyed, Zhang Wuji pulled the hapless man out immediately. He had not been able to call for help because his mouth had been stuffed with a huge walnut. As soon as the walnut was removed from his mouth, Hu Qingniu asked, "Where is the woman?"

"She has been overpowered by Auntie Ji," answered Zhang Wuji as he began untying the physician. "She will not escape. Sir, you are not hurt, are you?"

"Do not worry about me," snapped Hu Qingniu. "Bring me the woman quickly, or it will be too late."

"Why?" asked the boy in surprise.

"Bring her to me quickly," said the physician again. "Wait, you had better take three 'Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco' (Niu Huang Xue Jie Dan

/ Niu2 Huang2 Xue3 Jie2 Dan1) with you and get her to swallow them first. The pills are in the third drawer. Hurry!" Hu Qingniu seemed so anxious that he would have rushed out himself if he was not all tied up.

Zhang Wuji knew that these 'Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco' were very effective detoxicants. Made by Hu Qingniu himself from a variety of medicinal fauna and flora, a single pill was sufficient to counter some of the deadliest poisons known to man. Therefore, the woman had probably ingested an unimaginably strong dose of poison to necessitate the use of three such pills.

Yet, he did not dare to dwell further on the issue, for Hu Qingniu was already beside himself with anxiety. Grabbing the Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, he ran to Ji Xiaofu's shed, turned to the woman whom they had captured and said, "Swallow them quickly!"

"Get lost!" snapped the woman at once. "Who needs sympathy from a little thief like you!" Apparently, she had identified the pills as detoxicants from their smell.

"Mr Hu wants you to take them!" said Zhang Wuji.

"Go away, go away!" said the woman again, her voice becoming weaker as her injuries took their toll.

Zhang Wuji could only guess that the woman had been struck by one of Hu Qingniu's poisoned darts while tying him up earlier. Thus, the physician probably wanted to keep her alive, so that he could interrogate her on the enemy's plans. Consequently, the boy forced the three pills into the woman's mouth and down her throat. Then, he turned to Ji Xiaofu and said, "Let us hand her over to Mr Hu, and hear what he has to say."

Ji Xiaofu immobilised the woman by striking her acupoints, before leading her to Hu Qingniu's room with Zhang Wuji's help.

As soon as the three of them appeared, the physician asked, "Has she taken the pills?"

"Yes," answered Zhang Wuji.

"Very good, very good!" said Hu Qingniu in relief, as the boy cut away the ropes around his hands and feet.

Free at last, Hu Qingniu scrambled over to the woman and began examining her. After turning her eyelids to check on her blood, he took her pulse. "How

... how did you end up with these external injuries?" he gasped in shock. "Who hit you?" He sounded both anxious and sympathetic at the same time.

The woman pouted and replied, "Ask your good disciple!"

Hu Qingniu turned to Zhang Wuji and growled, "Did you hit her?"

"She was about to ...," the boy began to answer, only to feel two tight and resounding slaps landing on his face. Golden stars danced before the boy's eyes as he struggled against the dizzying effect of these powerful and unexpected slaps.

Meanwhile, Ji Xiaofu raised her sword protectively and shouted, "What are you doing?" Hu Qingniu ignored the sharp and gleaming blade. Instead, he turned to the wounded intruder and asked, "How does your chest feel? Does your stomach hurt?" He was so warm and attentive that he seemed completely different from the cold and calculating 'One who Ignores the Dying'. Yet, the woman did not seem to care about his concern. Undaunted, the physician released her acupoints and massaged her limbs. Then, he administered several doses of medicine, taking great care as he fed them into her mouth. Finally, he picked her up, laid her in his bed and covered her with his blankets. Such warmth and gentleness was so unfit for the enemy, that Zhang Wuji began rubbing his swollen cheeks in an absent-minded manner as he tried to make sense of the baffling scene.

The expression on Hu Qingniu's face softened further, until affection and compassion could be clearly seen all over it. "You have other injuries in addition to the poisoning," he said to the woman in a gentle voice. "If I heal you of all these ailments, can we call off the duel for the rest of our days?"

The woman smiled and answered, "These light injuries are nothing to worry about. But do you know what poison I took? If you can really heal me of it, I will submit to you. But I am afraid that the abilities of the Sage of Healing are not necessarily as great as the prowess of the Sage of Poisons." She concluded by eyeing the physician with a coquettish smile.

Although Zhang Wuji did not understand much about the intimate relationships that could occur between a man and a woman, he could tell from the scene that the physician and the woman had a great deal of affection for each other.

"I have already declared ten years ago that the Sage of Healing is less able than the Sage of Poisons, but you have refused to believe me," Hu Qingniu went on. "Sigh, there are many ways to fight this out, but how can you use your own body to prove your point? Now, I really hope with all my heart that the Sage of Healing is better than the Sage of Poisons, or I will not carry on living any longer." The woman smiled again and said, "If I poison other people, you will pretend to be a mediocre physician and let me gain the upperhand. Hee hee, now that I have poisoned myself, you have no alternative but to do your very best."

Hu Qingniu sighed and stroked the woman's hair. "I am very worried about you," he said. "Please do not talk anymore, for you need to close your eyes and get some rest. But if you decide to harm yourself further by exercising your internal strength in secret, you are not being fair to me at all."

"Victory and defeat must naturally be decided in a manner that is open and aboveboard," the woman responded with a smile. "I will not act in such a despicable way." She closed her eyes as she was told, but the smile remained on her lips.

As Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji reeled in disbelief over what they had seen and heard so far, Hu Qingniu turned to the boy, bowed deeply and said, "Little Brother, I offended you greatly in a moment of haste and emotion. Please forgive me."

Zhang Wuji shot an accusatory glance at the physician and snapped, "I really do not understand a single bit of what is going on! What exactly you are doing?"

To his surprise, Hu Qingniu raised his hand and slapped himself twice across his cheeks. "Little Brother," the man said, "I owe my life to you. But I was so worried about my wife's health that I ended up offending you just now."

"She ... she is your wife?" asked Zhang Wuji in surprise.

"Yes, she is," answered Hu Qingniu with a nod. "If you are still angry, please give me another two slaps, or I will have to kowtow before you in apology. Having my life rescued is no big deal, for it is more important that my wife is saved. Now, she owes her life you as well."

The physician had always been such a strict and dignified man that Zhang Wuji regarded him with a mixture of respect and fear. Therefore, his willingness to slap himself clearly indicated the sincerity of his apology. Furthermore, the woman was really his wife. As the anger in his heart dissipated, Zhang Wuji said, "I do not dare to accept your kowtows of apology, and I am not particularly bothered by the slaps that you gave me. But I really do not understand why things have turned out this way."

Inviting Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji to sit down, Hu Qingniu replied, "I guess the truth cannot be kept hidden any longer. My wife's surname is Wang, and her maiden name is Nangu. We were originally apprentices in the same school. Besides learning martial arts from our master, I chose to focus on the study of medicine, while she decided to pursue the study of poisons. She felt that the ultimate reason for learning martial arts was to kill others. Since the art of poisoning served the same purpose, the two skills complemented each other. Being well-versed in the art of poisoning could only multiply the effectiveness of one's pugilistic skills. On the other hand, the practice medicine cures illnesses and saves lives, opposing the goal of martial arts. I admired my wife's views, for her knowledge was ten times better than mine. However, I was so bent on doing good that nothing could change my mind. As a result of my folly and the reluctance to take her advice, I neglected her loving and painstaking efforts to help me see her point.

"Our differing pursuits did not affect the good relationship we had between us, so our master eventually arranged for us to be married. As time went by, we built reputations for ourselves in the realm of the rivers and lakes. I became known as the 'Sage of Healing', while my wife was referred to as the 'Sage of Poisons'. Her skill in the art of poisoning was beyond comparison, for she was the indigo that had come out of the blue, surpassing our master by leaps and bounds. Her nickname alone testified to the extent of her abilities. Thus, I can only blame myself for acting without sufficient thought and consideration in curing her victims on several occasions. I was even singing my own praises without realising that I was being undevoted and unfaithful to my beloved wife. Such disregard was so terrible that even the phrase 'wolf's heart and dog's lungs' was insufficient to describe it. Think about it: The victims of the Sage of Poisons were saved by the Sage of Healing. Besides going against my beloved wife's intentions, did this also not indicate that the Sage of Healing was greater than the Sage of Poisons?"

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji shook their heads quietly in their hearts, for his train of thought sounded very incorrect.

Hu Qingniu went on: "She has always been gentle, submissive, loving and devoted to me. There is no one else like her in the entire world. Yet, I carried out my selfish acts time and again, belittling my wife and putting her down by healing her victims. Finally, I realised that I had hurt her too much, so I swore an oath never to provide treatment for anyone whom she had poisoned. As time went by, my reputation as the 'One who Ignores the Dying' was established.

"She forgave me after seeing that I could change my ways. A few years later, I ran into a case of poisoning so strange that it could only be the work of my wife. So I stepped back and refused to be involved with it. Unfortunately, the victim's condition was so unique that I lost my self-control after a few days and proceeded to cure him of his ailment.

"Somehow, my wife did not kick up a fuss about it. Instead, she said, 'All right! The Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley Hu Qingniu has indeed turned out to be a marvellous physician. But I, the Sage of Poisons Wang Nangu, absolutely refuse to submit to you. Let us both pit our skills against each other, and see whether the Sage of Healing is more brilliant, or the Sage of Poisons is more formidable.' I tried my best to apologise, but how could her anger be appeased so easily? Then, I found out that she had poisoned the man not because he was her enemy, but because she had discovered a new method of poisoning that might render the victim incurable. She had executed it on the man just to test the validity of her findings, but I had ended up spoiling her experiment with a few misguided medical techniques and a stroke of sheer good luck. I did not even show the slightest regard for my beloved wife, so how could I still be considered a man?

"For many years after that incident, she concentrated on finding new techniques of poisoning, often sending me her victims for treatment. We went on pitting our skills against each other in this manner, until I began to fail in my work. There were two reasons for this: First, there were indeed some shortcomings in my abilities, and second, I was really unwilling to anger her further. Unfortunately, my wife became more angry than before. She accused me of belittling her, allowing her to gain the upperhand without giving my best in the competition between us. Subsequently, she left Butterfly Valley in a huff and refused to return.

"Although I did not act rashly again, I found too much enjoyment in healing ailments that I could not pass up any opportunity to deal with strange illnesses or weird poisons. I knew that my wife's victims would show up time and again among my patients, but she had become so good that I could not identify her work with certainty on a number of occasions. As a result, I ended up curing her victims again. Sigh, I should be named Hu Chunniu (Stupid Cow) instead of Hu Qingniu (Black Cow). I am very fortunate that a woman like Nangu would lower herself in marriage to me, but I did not know how to love her and care for her. Instead, I made her so upset that she walked out on me in favour of a life of wandering between the skies and the cliffs, suffering the hardships of being beaten by wind and frost. Furthermore, the hearts of the people in the realm of the rivers and lakes are deceitful. How then could I rest at ease, when a fragile woman like her is living alone amidst so many wicked people?"

As remorse appeared all over Hu Qingniu's face, Ji Xiaofu cast a glance at Wang Nangu and thought: This Mrs Hu is known as the 'Sage of Poisons', for who else is better than she when it comes to the art of poisoning? Poeple would probably be thanking the Heavens and the Earth as soon as she sat still, so who would dare to touch her in return? It is really funny that Mr Hu fears his wife as if she is a tigress.

"Thus, I swore another oath," said the physician. "Henceforth, I will not provide treatment for anyone unless he or she is a member of our Ming Cult. I did this to prevent myself from unwittingly destroying Nangu's handiwork, for both my wife and I belong to the Cult. Therefore, she would never harm any of our brothers and sisters."

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji exchanged a glance: So this is the reason behind his refusal to provide treatment for anyone who is not a member of the Ming Cult.

Hu Qingniu resumed his tale: "Seven years ago, an elderly couple came to Butterfly Valley to seek treatment after falling victim to a terrible poison. Owners of Lingshe Island in the Eastern Sea, they were known by their nicknames as the Old Woman of the Golden Flower and the Old Man of the Silver Leaf. They took every care to adhere to the courtesies of making a visit, but the Old Woman ended up revealing her pugilistic prowess by accident. I was very shocked by the display. I did not dare to make an outright refusal to provide treatment, but how could I return to my old ways after recognising that those ways were wrong? Therefore, I took their pulses and said, 'Sir, you and your wife may be elderly, but your pulses move as if they belong to people in the prime of their lives. This is the first time that I have seen such an amazing condition, so credit should be given to your rich internal strength.' The Old Woman said, 'You are very brilliant.' Then, I said, 'Sir, your poison-wrought ailment is different from your wife's. Your condition is incurable, but you will live for several more years to come. As for your wife, her poisoning is not serious, so she can treat herself with her internal strength.'

"Prodding further, I found that they had been poisoned by an old foreign monk(1) from the Western Regions, who was employed by the Mongolians. I was relieved that my wife was not involved, yet I was bound by my oath to provide treatment only for members of the Ming Cult. I could not make an exception for this couple. The Old Woman offered me a great reward, and asked me to save her husband's life. But I chose to ignore their request for the sake of my relationship with my wife. To my surprise, the elderly couple did not use any force against me, preferring to walk away in sadness. Before leaving, the Old Woman said, 'Ha ha, Ming Cult, Ming Cult ... so it is still all because of the Ming Cult!' I knew that my stand had made me many enemies, and would continue to do so for the rest of my life, but I could not allow outsiders to spoil my deep and loving relationship with my wife. Do you not think so?"

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji kept silent, unwilling to lend their support to his reason for ignoring the dying.

"Recently, my wife heard that the Old Man of the Silver Leaf had passed away," said Hu Qingniu. "As a result, the Old Woman of the Golden Flower is now on her way here to make trouble for me. My wife rushed back to stand with me against the enemy, but she found an outsider in our home. Thus, she used some medicine to knock Wuji out for one night."

Suddenly, the boy understood: I had slept all the way past noon because Mrs Hu had drugged me, and I actually thought that I was falling ill. The Sage of Poisons is formidable indeed, to work in such an undiscernable manner.

Hu Qingniu went on: "I was very happy that my wife had returned. She wanted me to pretend that I had been struck by smallpox, to avoid seeing anyone. Then, both of us stayed in the room, looking for ways and means to overcome the Old Woman of the Golden Flower. After all, she was so highly skilled that we would never be able to escape from her clutches. A few days later, Xue Gongyuan, Jian Jie, Ji-guniang and the other twelve patients arrived.

"Descriptions of your ailments told me immediately that the Old Woman of the Golden Flower wanted to test me, and see if I was really going to stick to my oath and treat no one, except for members of the Ming Cult. I enjoyed the challenge of medicine as much as life itself, so I could hardly control myself at the sight of one strange ailment. So you can just imagine how much these fifteen cases tugged at my heart. But I knew what the Old Woman was up to. As soon as I had any one of these patients cured, she would increase the torture that she had planned for me by a hundred times. Therefore, I had no choice but to stay quiet and ignore the itch in my hands, until Wuji asked me how these ailments could be healed. But I took great pains to declare that Wuji is a disciple of the Wudang Clan and that he had no relationship whatsoever with Hu Qingniu.

"Unfortunately, Nangu became upset when Wuji found success in my instructions. So, she started adding poison to the patients' food, drink and medicinal brews. This meant that she had resumed pitting her skills against mine. At the same time, she was also protecting me from the wrath of the Old Woman of the Golden Flower, for Wuji's success would probably be blamed on me. These fifteen patients were all highly skilled pugilists, so how could they not know what Nangu was doing? It turned out that she had knocked them out with drugs first, before proceeding with the main task of poisoning them. Such prowess will probably be lost when Nangu is gone."

Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji exchanged another glance, for they finally understood why the boy had to shake the sleeping woman so hard before waking her up several nights ago.

"Ji-guniang has been recovering well in the past few days," Hu Qingniu added, "so Nangu's poison has not been producing the desired effect. After some investigations, my wife realised that Wuji had uncovered her secret, so she decided to harm him as well. Sigh, it is easy to transform the physical face of our land, but it is difficult to change a man's natural disposition. At the end of the day, I am still not entirely devoted to my beloved wife. I was unwilling to be involved in the first place, but after Wuji advised me to take a trip and avoid the impending doom, my heart softened. As a result, I gave him a prescription with the Chinese angelica (dang gui / dang1 gui1), the dried rhizome of rehmannia (sheng di / sheng1 di4), the root of the narrow- leaved polygala (yuan zhi / yuan3 zhi4), the root of the Saposhnikovia divaricata (fang feng / fang2 feng1) and Angelica biserrata (du huo / du2 huo2). I could not speak plainly then because my wife was with me.

"But Nangu was very intelligent. She knew the properties of each herb well, so she could tell that the prescription was too strange to be true. After some thought, she broke the code. Then, she tied me up, swallowed some poison and said, 'Shige, we have been married for more than twenty years. The oceans can dry up and the stones can break down, but the love between us will never change. Yet, you have always despised my skills, for you have always been able to cure my victims, regardless of the poison I use. Now, I have taken a deadly poison myself. If you can heal me, I will submit to you for the rest of my life.' I was so shocked that I admitted defeat at once, and begged her not to harm herself. But she gagged me with a huge walnut. You know what took place after that." Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji looked at each other, feeling exasperated and tickled at the same time. After all, this couple was so eccentric in their ways that it would probably be very difficult to find another pair like them. It was not really a big deal that Hu Qingniu loved his wife so much that he gradually became fearful of her, but it was unimaginable that Wang Nangu would be so eager to put her husband down that she ended up poisoning herself to prove her point.

"Think about it," said Hu Qingniu. "What other alternatives do I have? If I succeed in healing her, I would just be declaring that my skills are better than hers. She will be very upset. But if I fail, she will die! Sigh! I wish the Old Woman of the Golden Flower would appear soon and kill me with a stroke of her walking stick. Then, Nangu would no longer have to fret over me. Furthermore, her skills have advanced so much in recent years that I cannot figure out what poison she has ingested. So I do not even know where and how to start treating her."

"Sir, can you really not tell what poison Shimu has taken?" asked Zhang Wuji.

"Your Shimu's skills have reached the point of perfection in recent years," answered the physician. "So I am likely to fail in my attempts to heal her. She has probably ingested a deadly poison made from three pests and three weeds, but I do not have a single clue as to how these six ingredients are combined." As he spoke, he used the index finger of his right hand to write a prescription on the surface of the table. Then, he waved a hand and said, "Please go out. If Nangu dies, I will not carry on living alone."

"Please take care of yourself and do encourage Shimu with kind words," said Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji in unison.

"What should I say to encourage her?" Hu Qingniu retorted in frustration. "It is all my fault!" He burst into loud sobs after that, prompting Ji Xiaofu and Zhang Wuji to leave the room at once. With the two outsiders gone, Hu Qingniu struck several acupoints on his wife's back and waist. Then, he said, "Shimei, your husband is useless, for he is really unable to heal the poison wrought by the three pests and the three weeds. The only alternative left is to follow you in death, so that we can still be husband-and-wife in the afterlife." He put a hand into Wang Nangu's pocket and pulled a few small packets out. Opening one of these packets, he found that it contained a multi-coloured mixture of powders that were obtained from the grinding of three pests and three weeds.

Although Wang Nangu could not move, she could still speak. So, she said, "Shige, please ... do not take the poison ... " But Hu Qingniu turned a deaf ear to her pleas and poured the powder into his mouth. Mixing it with his saliva, he proceeded to swallow the poison.

"How can you take such a large dose at once?" cried Wang Nangu in shock. "That was enough to kill three people!"

Hu Qingniu smiled wanly and sat down on a chair beside the bed where his wife lay. Just then, he felt as if a million knives were slicing through his stomach. This was the work of the Gelsemium elegans (duan chang cao / duan4 chang2 cao3), the first of the six ingredients to take effect. The remaining two weeds and three pests would soon follow.

"Shige, there is a way to cure the poison," cried Wang Nangu.

"No ... I ... I do not believe ... I ... I am dying ...," Hu Qingniu replied as his body shook and his teeth chattered. "Take a combination of the Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe' quickly," said Wang Nangu again. "Then, use acupuncture to dissipate the poison."

"What ... purpose ... will ... it serve?" gasped Hu Qingniu in retort.

"I took only a little of the poison," answered Wang Nangu, "but you took too much. If you do not do anything now, it will be too late!"

"I have ... loved you ... with all my heart," said Hu Qingniu. "But you insisted ... on fighting with me. There is no more joy in living ... but ... when I die, everything will ... be ... over ... a-yo ... a-yo..." By then, the venom of the Pallas pit viper and the spider -- two of the three pests in the poisonous six-ingredient concoction -- had begun to attack the physician's heart and lungs. Hu Qingniu weakened until he lost consciousness altogether.

"Shige, Shige, it is all my fault!" Wang Nangu wailed loudly. "You must not die ... I will never pit my skills against yours again." Although they had fought each other for decades, the love between them had remained strong. Wang Nangu was not afraid of death, but she panicked when her husband decided to kill himself with the very same poison that she had taken. With her acupoints blocked, she could not do anything to rescue him.

Fortunately, Zhang Wuji heard her cries and rushed into the room. "Shimu, what must I do to save Shifu?" he asked, finally acknowledging himself as a student of Hu Qingniu.

Wang Nangu brightened up at once. "Give him a combination of the Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe' quickly," she answered. "Then, prick his Yong Quan and Jiu Wei acupoints with gold needles ... "

At that moment, a series of coughs sounded outside the door, appearing to be clearer than usual in the stillness of the night. Ji Xiaofu rushed into the room with a face as pale as a sheet of paper. "The Old Woman of the Golden Flower ... the Old Woman of the ...," she stammered in fright, but before she could finish her announcement, the door-curtain parted silently.

A crone with a hunched back appeared, with a young girl about twelve or thirteen years old by her side. The fearsome Old Woman of the Golden Flower had finally arrived.

Focusing her attention on Hu Qingniu, the Old Woman was taken aback to see him holding his stomach in pain. His face had darkened and his breathing was weak. In fact, he looked as if he was about to drop dead. "What is wrong with him?" she asked. Before anyone could answer her, Hu Qingniu's legs stiffened. He was finally dead.

"Why did you punish yourself in this manner?" wailed Wang Nangu. "Why did you poison yourself to death?"

The Old Woman of the Golden Flower had travelled all the way to the Central Region from the Isle of the Gifted Snake for two purposes: to seek redress from the enemy who had caused the death of her husband, and to terrorise Hu Qingniu. Yet, she had not expected the physician to ingest a deadly poison just before she showed up. As an expert on poisons herself, she could tell from the colour on the faces of Hu Qingniu and Wang Nangu that both of them had been so seriously poisoned that there was no longer a cure for either one of them. Since the physician had probably committed suicide in fear of the Old Woman herself, she quickly decided that the objective of her visit had been accomplished. "He has sinned, he has sinned!" she mumbled with a sigh as she walked out of the room with the young girl in tow.

Moments after leaving the hut, her coughs were heard coming from a distance of more than ten zhang (33.33 metres) away. The speed at which she moved was really beyond imagination. Feeling safe once more, Zhang Wuji placed a hand on Hu Qingniu's chest. His heart was still beating, but its pace had become very faint. The boy quickly fed the man a Pill of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, and a dose of the Powder of 'Yulong-Suhe'. Then, he pushed a gold needle each into his Yong Quan and Jiu Wei acupoints, before giving Wang Nangu the same course of treatment.

More than an hour later, Hu Qingniu regained consciousness. Wang Nangu was so happy that she burst into tears. "Little Brother, thank you so much for saving our lives," she said to Zhang Wuji between sobs. Then, she wrote up a prescription that would expel the remaining poison from their bodies.

Unfortunately, her skills at detoxification were not particularly brilliant, so her prescription could not remove the poison in its entirety. When Zhang Wuji took the prescription away for decoction, he quietly substituted some of its contents with what Hu Qingniu had written earlier on the surface of the table. However, Wang Nangu was never told about it.

"With the Old Woman of the Golden Flower thinking that Mr Hu has poisoned himself to death, one big problem has been solved," Zhang Wuji declared. But the thought of the crone and the ghost-like manner in which she appeared and disappeared was still frightening enough to send shivers down his spine.

"People say that this Old Woman of the Golden Flower is very cautious in her ways," Wang Nangu remarked. "Although she has gone, she will return again to check on us. My husband and I must leave this place immediately. Little Brother, please erect two graves for us, with our names clearly inscribed on the gravestones."

Zhang Wuji agreed.

After Hu Qingniu and his wife had drunk their detoxifying decoctions, they packed the things hurriedly. Then, they sent the two pages back to their respective homes with ten liang (500 grams) of silver each. Finally, the couple hopped on to a mule-drawn carriage and vanished under the cover of night.

Zhang Wuji sent them all the way up to the entrance of Butterfly Valley. Having spent the past two years in each other's company, neither the boy nor the physician could bear to part with the other.

Hu Qingniu pulled out a handwritten book and said, "Wuji, all the things that I have learnt about medicine and its practices are recorded in this book. I have kept it hidden from you in the past, but now, I would like you to have it. I feel very bad for failing to expel the toxins of the Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness (Xuan Ming Shen Zhang / Xuan2 Ming2 Shen2 Zhang3) from your body, so I hope that you will eventually find a way to do so by studying this book." Zhang Wuji accepted the gift with thanks.

Then, Wang Nangu said, "You saved our lives and enabled us to be reconciled with each other. Thus, I should pass all my knowledge and skills to you as well. But I have focused only on the methods of harming others with poison, so there is little purpose in your learning them. I hope that you will achieve complete recovery as soon as possible. As for your reward, I will have to make up for it in the days to come."

Zhang Wuji waited until the mule-drawn carriage had disappeared from sight before returning to the row of huts. Early the next morning, he built two graves beside the huts by piling earth and stones. Then, he left the valley to engage the services of a stonemason. The stonemason erected two gravestones: one inscribed with 'The grave of the Healing Sage of Butterfly Valley Hu Qingniu' and the other with 'The grave of Mrs Hu, nee Wang'.

Jian Jie and the others sighed when they saw the graves, for the story of Hu Qingniu being seriously ill had proven to be true.

With Wang Nangu gone, there was no one left to poison the patients in secret. Consequently, their injuries began to heal under Zhang Wuji's care. Less than ten days later, they took their leave with thanks. Ji Xiaofu and her daughter did not have anywhere to go to, so they decided to accompany Zhang Wuji for a few more days.


In the 2nd edition, the culprit was a "mute medicant monk".

(Translated by SmokeyTheBear)

In these few days, Zhang Wuji spent all his effort reading the medical book that Hu Qingniu had written, and discovered that the contents were deep and profound, a worthy work of the “Deity of Healing”. He only read it for about eight or nine days and his medical skills improved greatly, but as to the eradication of the “Yin” poison in his body, there wasn’t the slightest clue. He flipped through and read many pages, finally gave up hope, and thought, “If Hu Qingniu knew a method to cure me, how would he not do so? If he did not, how would the medical book have a method?” After thinking of this, he could not help feeling completely disheartened. He closed the book, walked outside the house, saw the two false graves, and thought,” Before a year passes, I will really be buried under the ground. What will my tombstone say?” While he was lost in thought, suddenly he heard a few coughs from behind, Zhang Wuji was surprised and turned his head, only to see the Golden Flower Granny holding the beautiful looking little girl, standing unsteadily a few ‘zhang’ away. (1 ‘zhang’=10 feet) The Golden Flower Granny asked, “Little one, who are you to Hu Qingniu? Why are you sighing here?” Zhang Wuji replied, “My body is afflicted with ‘Yin’ poison from the Xuanming Divine Palm......” The Golden Flower Granny walked to him, held his wrist, and felt his pulse, exclaiming, “Xuanming Divine Palm? Such a skill really exists in this world? Who was the one who hit you?” Zhang Wuji replied, “That man assumed the guise of a Mongolian military officer, but I do not know who he actually is. I came to seek treatment from Mr. Hu, he said I was not one of the Ming Cult, he would not heal me. Now that he has died from ingesting poison, my illness cannot be cured, so I felt sad thinking about this.”

The Golden Flower Granny saw that he was handsome and refined, very likeable, yet was afflicted with this untreatable illness, then said, “A pity, a

pity!” Three lines suddenly surged forth from Zhang Wuji’s heart, “⽣死修短,岂能强求?予恶乎知悦⽣之⾮惑邪?予恶乎知恶死之⾮弱丧⽽不 知归者邪?予恶乎知夫死 者不悔其始 之蕲⽣乎?”*

*Explanation to follow

These three lines come from ‘Zhuangzi’. Zhang Sanfeng practiced Taoism. Although his seven disciples were not priests, but they studied this Taoist- venerated book ‘Zhuangzi Nanhua Jing’ very thoroughly. When Zhang Wuji reached five years of age on Fire and Ice Island, Zhang Cuishan taught him to read and write. Though the lack of books limited them to writing on the ground, he was taught to memorise the ‘Zhuangzi’. These four lines mean, “The span of life, how can it forced? How would I know, if wanting to live was a mistake? How would I know, if man’s fear of death, was not like wandering outside during youth not knowing to return to his hometown? How would I know, if dead people would not regret previously seeking to live?” Zhuangzi’s original meaning expounded that, life might not be bliss, death might not be suffering, life and death are actually no different, a living person is only “having a big dream”, and after dying is “greatly awakened”, and maybe after dying would feel that the previous time in life was stupid, why not die earlier? Just like after having a sad and terrifying nightmare, once awakened, would realise this annoying nightmare had simply went on for too long. Zhang Wuji was young and originally did not know these truths about life, but in these four years he had been between hovering between life and death, unavoidably experiencing the hidden meaning in Zhuangzi’s words. Originally he did not believe Zhuangzi’s words, but since his days were numbered, he hoped that after death there would be a wondrous change, making his days of struggling to live laughable. At this time, he heard the Golden Flower Granny’s repeated “a pity”, and laughed lightly, saying those three lines from the ‘Zhuangzi’ without thinking. The Golden Flower Granny asked, “What does that mean?” Zhang Wuji explained it once and the Golden Flower Granny was immediately stupefied.

*'Zhuangzi' is a book on Taoist philosophy written by an author of the same name. Whenever quotes are used i.e. 'Zhuangzi' it refers to the book, and without quotes it refers to Zhuangzi the person/author. For more information, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuangzi

She thought of her deceased husband from these few lines. The two of them were husband and wife for ten years and were incomparably loving, once separated by ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ (i.e. life and death), no longer having a chance to meet, if one was to live on it was like wandering destitution in a foreign land. On the contrary death would be a return to native land, so when the enemy had poisoned her husband, Hu Qingniu’s refusal to treat him was not necessarily a bad thing. “Native land? Native land? But after returning to the native land, would it really be better than the foreign land?”

However the little girl standing beside the Golden Flower Granny did not understand these few lines of Zhang Wuji’s at all, not knowing why once the granny heard them, had become still as if she was crazy. Her pair of beautiful eyes looked at the granny, then looked at Zhang Wuji, shifting from the two’s faces back and forth. Finally, the Golden Flower Granny took a breath, and said, “Matters of the nether realm, cannot be ascertained. Although death might not be frightening, but no mortal will not die, at the end of this life, it is difficult to escape that day. To be able to live one more day, is one day more!”

Zhang Wuji, having seen Ji Xiaofu and the fifteen others cruelly wounded by the Golden Flower Granny and also the dread of the Hu Qingniu couple towards her, did not even have the courage to run away. He thought that this Golden Flower Granny was an extremely brutal person, but on meeting her it seemed otherwise. That day he caught a glance of her under the light and did not get a clear look. At this moment he saw that she was clearly a kind and gentle old granny. Although her face was hard and stiff, full of wrinkles and totally devoid of feeling, but her eyes were sparkling clear, with the liveliness of a young woman, and displayed warmth and kindness.

The Golden Flower Granny asked again, “Child, what is the respected name of your father?” Zhang Wuji answered, “My father’s surname is Zhang, first name Cui second name Shan, a Wudang disciple.” But he did not mention his father’s suicide.

The Golden Flower Granny was shocked, and said, “You are the son of Wudang’s Fifth Hero Zhang, does that mean that evil person who used ‘Xuanming’ Divine Palm to hurt you was for the whereabouts of the Golden- Mane Lion King and the Dragon-Slaying Sabre?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Correct, he inflicted all kinds of torture on me, but I would rather die than say it.” The Golden Flower Granny said, “You really know it?” Zhang Wuji answered, “En, the Golden-Mane Lion King is my godfather, I absolutely would not reveal it.” The Golden Flower Granny’s left hand shot forth and captured his hands with her palm. Only to hear his joints making a “ge, ge” sound, Zhang Wuji’s hands were so painful that he also fainted, he felt a bone-penetrating chill of cold ‘qi’ transmitted from his hands to his chest, this cold ‘qi’ was different from ‘Xuanming’ Divine Palm, but it had the same unbearable feeling. The Golden Flower Granny said gently, “Obedient child, good child, tell of Xie Xun’s whereabouts, granny will cure your cold poison, and pass on a set of invincible martial arts to you.” Zhang Wuji was in tears from the pain, fearlessly replying, “My parents would rather give up their lives, than reveal the location of a friend. Golden Flower Granny, you look upon me as one who would betray his parents?” The Golden Flower Granny smiled and replied, “Very good, very good! Your father? Is he here?” The transmission stopped and the iron-like fingers that gripped his hands loosened. Zhang Wuji said loudly, “Why don’t you pour mercury into my ears? Why not force me to swallow metal needles, swallow leeches? Four years ago when I was only a child, I was already unafraid of all kinds of torture from those evil people, now that I am grown up, could it be that I have degenerated?” The Golden Flower Granny laughed loudly “haha”, and said, “You think you are an adult, not a child anymore, haha, haha......” She laughed a few times and released Zhang Wuji’s hands, only to see that the wrists of his hands to his fingertips, had turned a purplish-black colour.

That little girl shot him a meaningful glance, and said, “Quickly thank Granny for her mercy in sparing your life.” Zhang Wuji gave a “heng”, saying, “If she killed me, maybe I would be a little happier, what is there to thank?” That little girl wrinkled her brows, replying angrily, “You are disobedient, I am going to ignore you!” Saying this she turned away, but surreptitiously peeped at him to see what he was doing. The Golden Flower Granny laughed loudly, “Ah Li, you were alone on the island, without a young companion, it must have been lonely!” Let us capture this little child and tell him to serve you, how about that? The only thing is he has the temper of a donkey, being too stubborn and not very obedient.” That little girl’s long eyebrows raised, she clapped and laughed, “Wonderful, let us capture him then! If he is disobedient, won’t Granny think of a way to control him?” Zhang Wuji was hearing the two of them going back and forth, and became very anxious. If the Golden Flower Granny was to kill him on the spot, that would be fine, but if he were to be captured and brought to some island, to suffer the two’s torture and be half-alive or half- dead, it would be more unbearable than anything else.

The Golden Flower Granny nodded, “Follow me, first we have to find someone, accomplish a task, then go back to Lingshe (Spirit Snake) Island.” Zhang Wuji said, “You are not a good person, I will not accompany you.” The Golden Flower Granny smiled, “Our Lingshe Island has everything, things to eat and play, you have not even seen them before. Obedient child, come follow Granny.” Zhang Wuji suddenly turned around and ran away quickly, who knows as soon as he took a step, the Golden Flower Granny was in front of him again, and said gently, “Child, you will not be able to escape, come follow us obediently.” Zhang Wuji gritted his teeth and sent a fierce palm towards her, the Golden Flower Granny turned sideways and blew a breath towards his palm. Zhang Wuji’s palm had already been made black and swollen by her, now that this breath came it was like using a sharp knife to cut into a wound, being so painful that he leapt up.

All of a sudden a girl’s voice could be heard, “Brother Wuji, what are you playing? I’m coming as well.” It was precisely Yang Buhui that had come, followed by Ji Xiaofu who emerged from behind the trees and walked over. The mother and daughter duo had just strolled back from the field, unexpectedly seeing the Golden Flower Granny, Ji Xiaofu’s face paled. Finally gathering her courage, she said tremblingly, “Granny, you cannot trouble children?” The Golden Flower Granny stared fixedly at Ji Xiaofu, and laughed coldly, “You are not dead yet? This old granny’s affairs, need you to chatter about as well? Come over here to let me take a look, why have you not died to this day?”

Ji Xiaofu came from a martial family, was a high disciple of a famous school, and was originally very courageous, but now she took her daughter into consideration and did not dare to get into danger. Clutching her daughter’s hand she retreated a step instead, and said quietly, “Wuji, come over.”

Zhang Wuji felt like going over. That little girl Ah Li turned her palm over and caught the ‘San Yang Luo’ on his shoulder, and said, “Hold it there! You are called Wuji, surnamed Zhang, you are Zhang Wuji, is that it?” Once this ‘San Yang Luo’ was clasped, half of Zhang Wuji’s body immediately became numb and weak rendering him immobile. He was shocked and angry, and shouted, “Release me quickly!” Suddenly a crisp and clear female voice was heard, “Xiaofu, how can you be so useless? Go over if you want to!” Ji Xiaofu was shocked but happy, turned around and said, “Master!”, but there was no trace of anyone behind her. She looked carefully, only then did she see a grey-robed nun slowly walking over from a distance away, precisely the headmaster of Emei, her master Miejue Shitai*. Following behind her were two disciples, one was her elder martial-sister Ding Minjun, one was her younger martial-sister Bei Jinyi. The Golden Flower Granny saw that she was so far away that even her face could not be seen clearly, yet her voice was transmitted to everyone’s ears as though she was very close, which was sufficient proof of her profound internal energy. Miejue Shitai was very well-known, everyone in the martial world had heard of her, only that she rarely left the mountain and not many people had met her personally. As she came nearer, it could be seen that she was about forty- four to forty-five years of age and her features could be considered beautiful, but her two eyebrows arched downwards, her appearance was strange, and resembled the ‘Lu Si’ ghost from stage a little. Ji Xiaofu went to kneel down and kowtowed to her, and greeted quietly, “Master, you are well.” Miejue Shitai replied, “You have not angered me to death, I can still be considered well.” Ji Xiaofu continued kneeling and did not dare to get up. But hearing the cold laughs from Ding Minjun standing behind her master, as if she had said numerous bad things about herself to their master, she could not help breaking out in cold sweat. Miejue Shitai said icily,” This granny told you to go over and let her take a look as to why you have not died to this day. You go over and let her take a look.”

*Shitai is a term of address used for senior nuns or priestesses. E.g. In Smiling Proud Wanderer the three senior Hengshan leaders are Shitai (senior Buddhist nuns), in Return of the Condor Heroes Priestess Shenying is also a Shitai (senior Taoist priestess).

Ji Xiaofu answered, “Yes.” Standing up, she strode up to the Golden Flower Granny, and said in a clear voice, “Golden Flower Granny, my master is here. Your fierce and overbearing manner should be ended.” The Golden Flower Granny coughed, stared fixedly at Miejue Shitai, nodded, and said, “En, you are the Emei headmaster, I hit your disciple, what will you do?” Miejue Shitai replied icily, “Well hit! If you like to hit her, hit her again, even if you kill her it is none of my business.” Ji Xiaofu felt as if a knife had pierced her heart, and called out, “Master!” Two streams of warm tears flowed. She knew her master was always extremely protective of her disciples. When her disciples had crossed anyone, even if it went against her principles she would argue vehemently to protect them. Now that she said these words she clearly did not regard her as a disciple any longer. The Golden Flower Granny said, “I do not have any enmity with Emei, having hit her once, it is enough. Ah Li, let us leave!” Saying that she slowly turned away.

Ding Minjun did not know the Golden Flower Granny’s background, only that she looked senile and sickly but dared to be so insolent towards her master. She became angry, stepped up quickly and obstructed her, exclaiming, “You did not apologise to my master and are thinking of leaving?” Saying that her right hand drew her sword, half-unsheathed, to intimidate the granny.

The Golden Flower Granny suddenly extended two fingers and gently pinched on her sword sheath, then released it quickly, laughing, “Scrap metal, can also be used to scare people?” Ding Minjun became even angrier and wanted to unsheathe her sword. Unexpectedly her single pull was not able to pull out the sword. Ah Li laughed, “Scrap metal, it has become rusty!”

Ding Minjun tried again with all her might, but was still unable to pull it out. Only then did she know that the Golden Flower Granny’s seemingly causal pinch on her sword sheath before, had secretly utilised her internal energy to make an indent into the sword sheath, making it grip the blade of the sword firmly. Ding Minjun could not unsheathe it even if she wanted to but she was unwilling to leave it at that. Her face reddened and her expression was wretched.

Miejue Shitai walked up slowly, held the sword hilt with three fingers and shook gently. The sword sheath immediately cracked into two, freeing the sword blade. She said, “This sword is not any sharp or precious blade, but neither is it scrap metal. Golden Flower Granny, why do you not enjoy life on Lingshe Island, but come to the central plains to make trouble?”

The Golden Flower Granny saw the way that she used her three fingers to shake the sword and break the sheath. She felt a pang of fear, and said to herself, “This bothersome nun is renowned, she truly possesses some real skill.” All smiles, she said, “My husband passed away, I was alone on the island and felt bored. So I left and wandered around, to see if I could find any suitable monk or priest to be my companion.” She emphasised “monk or priest” to ridicule the other as being a nun, yet was also wandering about. Miejue Shitai’s pair of drooped eyebrows hung even lower, she raised the sword and said in a bleak voice, “Show your weapon!” Since coming under her tutelage, Ding Minjun, Ji Xiaofu and the others had never seen their master fight with anyone. Ji Xiaofu was especially concerned as she knew that the Golden Flower Granny’s martial arts were extraordinary and inscrutable. Zhang Wuji’s shoulder was still being held by Ah Li and his upper body was becoming increasingly numb, he shouted, “Let go of me quickly! Why are you grabbing on to me?” Ah Li saw Ji Xiaofu at the side with the intention to step in. If she did not let him go, Ji Xiaofu would definitely come to intervene and by then she would have to release him anyway. Hence she exerted her strength and flung him away, releasing his shoulder, and said coldly, “Let us see whether you can escape?” The Golden Flower Granny gave a slight smile, and said, “Years ago Emei Sect’s Guo Xiang Heroine Guo’s sword skill was renowned throughout the land. It must have been extremely high, but I wonder how much of it has been passed down to the descendants?” Miejue Shitai replied strongly, “Even if only a fraction remains it is enough to annihilate the evil and unorthodox.” The Golden Flower Granny stared fixedly on the tip of her opponent’s sword unblinkingly. All of a sudden, she raised her walking staff and thrust it fiercely towards the sword. Miejue Shitai’s sword quivered and stabbed towards her shoulder. Amidst her coughing, the Golden Flower Granny swept her staff across. Miejue Shitai followed her sword, moving behind her opponent in a flash. Before her steps ended her sword move had arrived. However the Golden Flower Granny did not turn around but instead twirled her walking staff and sent a backhand smash towards the sword blade. The two of them had exchanged three to four moves and were already praising each other’s ability silently. An abrupt ‘dang’ sound was heard as the sword Miejue Shitai was wielding broke into two. When the sword and staff met the sword was broken by the impact of the walking staff. The onlookers were all shocked except for Ah Li. The Golden Flower Granny’s walking staff was dark, yellowish and dirty. It appeared very ordinary and seemed to be neither gold nor iron. Yet it could shatter a sharp sword, so it must be the force of her profound and abundant internal energy. However, when the Golden Flower Granny clashed weapons with Miejue Shitai she knew that the sword broke because of the sharpness of her weapon and not because her own internal energy had improved. Her walking staff was actually a special product of the seabed near Lingshe Island. It was called ‘Gold Coral’ and was made from a blend of various kinds of quality gold combined with coral, formed by undergoing thousands of years deep in the sea. It could shear metal like cutting tofu and strike rocks like hitting cotton. Any kind of sharp weapon would break immediately upon contact. Nevertheless the Golden Flower Granny did not press her attack. She only propped her staff against the ground and pat her chest, coughing. The three Emei disciples Ji Xiaofu, Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi feared that their master was injured. In unison they rushed to Miejue Shitai’s side to guard her.

(Translated by dgfds01)

Ah Li turned her palm and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Laughing, she said: “I said you won’t be able to escape. Isn’t that true?” This was totally unexpected. Before Zhang Wuji could break free, his meridians were obstructed and lost the strength in his body. This was the second time she had beaten him. Feeling both embarrassed and indignant, both angry and anxious, he kicked out at her waist with his right foot. Ah Li’s fingers held firm and Zhang Wuji’s foot had traveled no more than half a chi (about a foot) when it lost the strength to continue. He yelled angrily: “Are you going to let me go?” Ah Li laughed: “If I don’t let you go, what can you do?” Zhang Wuji suddenly bent down and bit hard into her arm. Ah Li felt the pain and screamed: “Ai yo!” She loosened her right hand’s grip while her left hand clawed at Zhang Wuji’s face. Zhang Wuji jumped back quickly but he was too slow. AH Li’s fingers had scratched the right side of his face causing it to bleed. Ah Li’s bitten right arm was bleeding even more. The pain was so great that she wanted to cry.

While the two children were fighting, Golden Flower Granny (Jinhua Popo) did not even glance at them. Miejue Shitai threw aside her broken sword and said: “This is my disciple’s weapon, not suitable for fighting against top experts.” So saying, she untied her knapsack and took out an antique long sword about four feet in length. Granny Golden Flower saw that a green- tinged aura was emitting from the scabbard. The sword had not yet been drawn but she could see it was something out of the ordinary. She then saw the words ‘Yi Tian’ (roughly translated as ‘supporting heaven’ but I’ll stick with simply ‘Heaven’ to be consistent with the title) inlaid in gold on the scabbard. Shocked, she blurted out: “The Heaven Sword!” Miejue Shitai nodded her head and said: “Correct, this is the Heaven Sword. Granny Golden Flower’s mind flashed to the well-know phases resounding over the Wulin: “Martial world’s most venerable, Prized saber dragon slaying, Controlling all under Heaven, None dares to not follow. Power of heaven not appear, who can possibly compete?” She muttered repeatedly to herself: “So the Heaven Sword has fallen into Emei’s hands.”

Miejue Shitai shouted: “En garde!” Without removing the scabbard, she grasped the hilt and pointed the sword at Granny Golden Flower’s chest. Granny Golden Flower flipped her staff round to meet her. Miejue Shitai’s wrist moved slightly and the sword met the staff. With a light ‘chi’ sound, Granny Golden Flower’s precious ‘Gold Coral’ staff was cut into two as easily as a piece of paper.

Granny Golden Flower was shaken. She thought: “The Heaven Sword has not even been drawn out of its scabbard, and yet it is already so formidable. It truly lives up to its reputation.” She gazed at the sword and asked: “Miejue Shitai, please let me see what the sword looks like.”

Miejue Shitai shook her head and said coldly: “Once this sword leaves its scabbard, it will not return without first tasting blood.”

The two women stared at each other, neither speaking for a long while.

By this time, Granny Golden Flower knew that this nun’s kungfu was not below hers. Miejue had not yet displayed her top skills but as the head of Emei, she would definitely be quite formidable. Added to that, she had in her hand the “Number 1 Sword under Heaven”. Granny Golden Flower did not feel able to take her on. She coughed softly twice, then turned around, grabbed Ah Li’s hand and walked away. Ah Li turned her head and shouted: “Zhang Wuji, Zhang Wuji!” Her voice grew softer and softer as the distance increased, until finally it could be hear no more.

Ding Minjun, Ji Xiaofu, and Bei Jinyi were overjoyed that their shifu had won and her powerful opponent had run away. Ding Minjun said: “Shifu, that old woman is no Mt Tai, is she? Yet she even dared to fight with you, she truly got what she deserved.” Miejue Shitai said: “When you roam the jianghu in the future, if you ever hear her cough, make sure you run far away.” Earlier when she struck out with her sword, it was backed with the power of her thirty years worth of cultivation of “Emei’s 9 Yang Divine Skill”. Even though she succeeded in breaking her opponent’s staff, when her internal energy came into contact with Granny Golden Flower’s body, it was as if it had fallen into a vast ocean and left no trace of itself behind. The force only managed to cause Granny’s clothing to flap while her footing remained firm. Now that she thought about it, her heart shivered with fear. She thought that the Granny’s inner power was strong and powerful while her body was strong and healthy, definitely not like that of an old lady in her twilight years. It was difficult to understand how this could be so. Miejue Shitai raised her head to stare at the sky, then after a while she called: “Xiaofu, come here!” Without even glancing at her, she walked into the house. Ji Xiaofu and the other two followed her inside. Yang Buhui called out: “Mama!” and tried to go inside too.

Ji Xiaofu knew that her shifu had left Emei with the purpose of ‘cleaning out the home’ (i.e. dealing with a renegade disciple). Though she had previously been the object of love and attention, her shifu was very strict, so she really did not know how she would be dealt with. She told her daughter: “You should stay outside and play, don’t come inside.”

Zhang Wuji thought: “The Ding woman is really bad. She will definitely bad-mouth Anuty Ji in front of their shifu. I saw clearly what happened that night, she’s venomous and cruel. If she talks rubbish now and confuses the truth, I will come out and help Aunty Ji.” He quietly went to the back of the house, crouched under a window, held his breath and listened. But inside the house was totally silent, nobody was talking. After a while, Miejue Shitai said: “Xiaofu, it is your story so you can tell me what happened.” Ji Xiaofu choked out: “Shifu, I… I…” Miejue Shitai said: “Minjun, come and question her.” Ding Minjun said: “Yes. Martial sister Ji, of our sect’s forbidden practices, what is the third?” Ji Xiaofun replied: “Taking part in lewd and lecherous activities.” Ding Minjun said: “Correct. What then, is the sixth? Ji Xiaofu replied: “Turning your heart to outsiders, rebelling against sect and master.” Again, Ding Minjun asked: “And how do we deal with people who break these rules?” Ji Xiaofu did not reply. Instead, she turned to Miejue Shitai, saying: “Shifu, there is something that I have difficulty saying. It is not as simple as what Martial Sister Ding is saying.” Miejue Shitai said: “Alright, there are no outsiders here. Tell me everything.”

Ji Xiaofu knew that this was a very important moment, she didn’t dare conceal anything. She said: “Shifu, that year after we found out about the Heavenly Eagle Cult gathering at Wangpan Shan, you ordered me and 15 other martial sisters to leave the mountain and split up to look for the Golden-hair Lion King Xie Xun. I went west towards Sichuan. On the way, I met a middle-aged man dressed in white. He was around 40 years old. Everywhere I went, he followed. When I stayed at an inn, he stayed there as well. When I moved on, he moved on as well. At first I just ignored him. After that, I told him off because it was unseemly. That man talked like a madman, so I lost my patience, took out my sword and stabbed at him. He had no weapon but his kungfu was amazing. Within 3 moves, he had snatched the sword from my hand. I was frightened and tried to run away. He didn’t chase me. Early morning the second day, I woke up in my inn room only to see my sword next to my pillow. I was greatly frightened. When I left the inn, that man started following me again. There was no point in me fighting him again, so I tried begging him. I said that we are neither related nor are we enemies, we don’t know each other, plus men and women should remain apart, there is no point in you following me around. I also said, although my kungfu is not your match, you shouldn’t provoke our Emei Sect.” Meijue Shitai ‘hmmphed’ as if she agreed. Ji Xiaofu continued: “That man laughed and laughed, then said: ‘Once a person’s kungfu is split into different sects, it deteriorates a lot. If you are willing to follow me, you’ll acquire a new set of eyes and ears. I’ll teach you the greatest kungfu on earth.”

Miejue Shitai has eccentric in nature. Her whole life had been devoted to martial arts to the exclusion of other matters (Note: I think there’s a mistake in the online text I’m using, so this bit is a guess). On hearing what that man said, she said: “You should have followed him to have a look and see what sort of weird skills he has.” Ji Xiaofu blushed bright red and replied: “Shifu, he is a strange man, how could I follow him?” Miejue Shitai then came to her senses: “Ah, you’re right! So you told him to get lost?” Ji Xiaofu said: “I tried time and time again to avoid him, but I just couldn’t lose him. Ai, I was unfortunate to run into this, the consequence of my sins in my previous life…” As she said this, her voice grew softer and softer.

Miejue Shitai saked: “What happened after that?”

Ji Xiaofu answered softly: “I couldn’t resist and lost my chastity to him. He had complete control over me, I couldn’t even end my life. This went on for a few months. Then one day, an enemy suddenly came looking for him and I took this opportunity to escape. Not long later, I discovered that I was pregnant. I didn’t dare tell you, Shifu, so I hid away and gave birth to my child in secret.”

Miejue Shitai asked: “Are you telling me the truth?” Ji Xiaofu said: “I would never dare to lie to you, Shifu.” Miejue Shitai gave a low hum and said: “My poor child. Ai, this matter really wasn’t your fault!” When Ding Minjun heard her Shifu’s sympathy, she could not help but glare fiercely at Ji Xiaofu. Miejue Shitai sighed and asked: “Then what are your plans now?” Ji Xiaofu tearfully answered: “The arrangements my family made for me to marry Wudang’s Sixth Master have fallen apart. I beg Shifu to permit me to cut my hair and become a nun.” Miejue Shitai shook her head: “That won’t be good. Humph, what is the name of the evil man who harmed you?” Ji Xiaofu lowered her head and answered: “His… his surname is Yang, and his given name is Xiao.” Miejue Shitai suddenly leapt up. She waved her sleeve and with a ‘krack’ sound, the table collapsed into two pieces. Zhang Wuji who was eavesdropping outside was greatly frigetened. Even the expressions of Ji Xiaofu, Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi changed. Miejue Shitai yelled: “You said that he is Yang Xiao? The biggest demon of the Demon Cult, the man called the ‘Left Emissary of Guang Ming’ Yang Xiao?”

Ji Xiaofu replied: “He… he… is from the Ming Cult and seemed to hold some position within it.” Miejue Shitai, with a furious expression on her face, said: “What Ming Cult? The Demon Cult is ferocious and inhuman, there are no evil deeds that they do not do. (Note: ‘Ming’ means ‘bright’ which implies good, as opposed to evil.) Where… where is he hiding now? Is he at Guang Ming Peak in the Kunlun Mountains? I’m going to look for him.” Ji Xiaofu said: “He said he is the Ming Cult’s…” Miejue Shitai shouted: “Demon Cult!” Ji Xiaofu said: “Yes. He said he is the Demon Cult’s leader. Ordinarily, he would be at Guang Ming Peak but the last few years, there has been internal discord and fighting within the Cult. So he no longer lives on Guang Ming Peak to prevent people from thinking he wants to be the Cult Leader. He is now secretly living in Zuo Feng Summit of the Kunlun Mountains. This was something he only told me, no one else in the Jianghu knows about it. Since Shifu asked me, I dare not refuse to answer. Shifu, this man… is this man our sects’s enemy?” Miejue Shitai answered: “Our enmity is as deep as the ocean! Your Eldest Martial Uncle Guhong Zi was angered to death by the great demon Yang Xiao.”

Ji Xiaofu was very frightened, yet she couldn’t help but feeling proud. Her Eldest Mrtial Uncle Guhong Zi was a top expert in the world but even he was angered to death by “him”. She wanted to ask about the details but did not dare open her mouth.

Miejue Shitai lifted her face to the sky, with great hatred she muttered to herself: “Yang Xiao… for many years I had no idea of your whereabouts, now that you’ve fallen into my hands…” She suddenly spun around and said: “Right, you lost your chastity to him, defended Monk Peng, offended your Martial Sister Ding, concealed the truth from me, and secretly gave birth to a child… I’ll forget about all this. I want you to do something for me, when you’ve rendered this great service come back to Emei. I will give you the robes, alms bowl and Yi Tian sword, and then make you my successor as the our Sect Leader.” These words shocked everyone. Ding Minjun’s jealousy and hatred burst forward. She was furious with their Shifu for not understanding right and wrong, and acting unreasonably.

Ji Xiaofu said: “Whatever Shifu orders, I will do my utmost to complete. But I have too many faults and my martial arts are not good, so I dare not even dream of accepting your legacy. Miejue Shitai said: “Come with me.” She pulled Ji Xiaofu’s wrist and flew out of the house to the hill on the left side of the valley. She only stopped when they reached a deserted spot. Zhang Wuji observed them from far away. He then saw Miejue Shitai stand at a tall vantage point and gaze round in all four directions, before pulling Ji Xiaofu to her side and speaking softly into her ear. Only then did he realise that what she was saying was a big secret. Not only was she afraid of eavesdroppers, but she also did not even want her two disciples, Ding and Bei, to hear what she said.

After hiding next to the house, Zhang Wuji did not dare reveal himself. From afar, he watched Miejue Shitai say something and Ji Xiaofu lower her head in thought before finally shaking her head firmly. He then saw Miejue Shitai lift up her right palm and struck down, only to stop halfway like she was giving Ji a last chance to change her mind. Zhang Wuji’s heart was beating rapidly. He thought that if this palm fell on her head, she would definitely die. He gazed intently at Ji Xiaofu without blinking an eye. He saw her drop to her knees and shake her head. Miejue Shitai’s palm fell squarely on her forehead, Ji Xiaofu’s body swayed and dropped to the ground. She writhed a little and then stopped moving.

Zhang Wuji was both frightened and grieved, he flattened himself in the grass behind the house, not daring to move a muscle. At this moment, Yang Buhui giggled a couple of times and threw herself onto his back. Laughing, she said: “I’ve caught you, I’ve caught you!” She had been running around in the fields and had seen Zhang Wuji hide among the grass. She thought he was planning hide-and-seek with her and rushed forward to catch him. Zhang Wuji grabbed her, covered her mouth with one hand and whispered into her ear: “Keep quiet, don’t let the evil people find us.” Seeing that his face was pale and his expression frightened, Yang Buhui was shocked. Miejue Shitai came down from the slope hurriedly and told Ding Minjun: “Go and kill her bastard child. Don’t allow future disaster to take root.” Ding Minjun had seen how her shifu had dealt violently with Ji Xiaofu. Though she was inwardly happy, she was also greatly surprised. Hearing her shifu’s orders, she quickly borrowed Bei Jinyi’s sword and went off to look for Yang Buhui.

Zhang Wuji hugged Yang Buhui and shrank further back into the long grass. He didn’t even dare take a deep breath. Ding Minjun looked everyone but couldn’t find a trace of the little girl. As she decided to do a thorough search, Meijue Shitai scolded: “Useless thing! You can’t even find a little girl!” Bei Jinyi had always gotten along well with Ji Xiaofu. After seeing her die under their shifu’s palm and now trying to kill her only child, she could not hold back any longer. She said: “I’ll go see whether the child has run out of the valley.” She knew her shifu was impatient by nature. Once they have gone out to search for the child unsuccessfully, she would not bother coming back to look. Though a little girl left alone in the world might not survive, Bei Jinyi could not bear the idea of seeing her stabbed by Ding Minjun’s sword. Miejue Shitai said: “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Glaring at Bei, she led the chase out of the valley, with Ding Minjun and Bei Jinyi following.

Yang Buhui still did not know that disaster had befallen her mother. Her eyes were open wide and round, darting around with a questioning look. Zhang Wuji placed his ear to the ground and listened. When he heard the three going further and further away, he jumped up, pulled Yang Buhui’s hand and rushed up the slope. Yang Buhui laughed: “Brother Wuji, have the evil people gone? We’re going up the mountain to play right?” Zhang Wuji did not answer. He only pulled her quickly to where Ji Xiaofu was. When Yang Buhui got closer and finally saw her mother lying on the ground, she was very frightened. She surged forward crying: “Mama, Mama!” and threw herself down next to her mother. Zhang Wuji tested her breath and found it to be extremely weak. He saw that her skull had been smashed by Meijue Shitai’s palm. Even if Hu Qingniu arrived, it would be difficult to save her life. Ji Xiaofu opened her eyes slightly to see Zhang Wuji and her daughter. Her lips slightly moved as if she wanted to speak, but not a single sound came out. Two large tears flowed from her eyes. Zhang Wuji took out some golden needles and pushed them into her “Shen Ting”, “Yin Tang” and “Cheng Qi” acupoints, reducing the pain in her head. Ji Xiaofu regained some strength and said softly: “I beg… beg you… to take her to her father……I could not… could not harm her father……” Her left hand moved to her chest as if to retrieve some object but suddenly her head drooped and breathing stopped.

Yang Buhui hugged her mother’s body, crying loudly she kept calling: “Mama, Mama, does it hurt a lot? Does it hurt a lot?” Ji Xiaofu gradually became cold, but she did not stop asking. She did not understand why her mother did not move at all, or why she did not answer her. Zhang Wuji already felt great sorrow. Then when he thought about his parents tragic deaths, he too felt like howling. He could not stop tear from pouring from his eyes. The two of them cried for a while, then Zhang Wuji thought: “Before Aunty Ji died, she begged me to take Sister Buhui to her father. Erm, her father’s name is Yang Xiao, he is the Ming Cult’s Guang Ming Left Emissary, and he lives on Zuo Wang Summit in the Kunlun Mountains. I must take her there.” He did not know that the Kunlun Mountains were tens of thousands of li to the west. How could two children make it all the way there? He had seen Ji Xiaofu reach towards her chest to retrieve something before her breath was cut short. Now he felt around her neck and found a silk cord hanging around her neck. From the cord hung a black pendant inlaid with a golden flame. Not knowing what it was, he just hung it around Yang Buhui’s neck. Then he got an iron shovel out of the house and dug a grave to bury Ji Xiaofu’s body. By this time, Yang Buhui had exhausted herself crying and had fallen into a deep sleep. When she woke up, Zhang Wuji told her that a mother had flown up to heaven and she will only come back down after a very long time.

After that, Zhang Wuji slapped a meal together for himself and Yang Buhui to eat. Exhausted, they both fell asleep on a couch. The next morning, he packed two small travel packs and the money that Hu Qingniu had given him, then took Yang Buhui to pay their respects in front of her mother’s grave. That done, the two children left Butterfly Valley.

End of Chapter 13. 
@Chapter 14 - Meeting Zhongshan Wolf* Along the Way
The two people (Yang Buhui and Zhang Wuji) walked for half a day, only then did they finally leave the Butterfly Valley. Yang Buhui’s feet were small and her legs were short and as a result couldn’t walk any further. After resting for a while, they needed to hurry on the road again, repeatedly stopping and starting, so that on the first night they couldn’t find a place to stay. They traveled until the sky was dark, but were still randomly travelling on the mountainside. The sounds of owls and wolves nearby made Yang Buhui start crying.

Zhang Wuji was also scared, so when he saw a cave next to the road, he pulled Yang Buhui inside the cave, hugging her and covering up her ears so that she couldn’t hear the sounds of the animals. The two children, hungry and scared, suffered for an entire night. In the morning they were able to pick some wild fruit to eat and continued intermittently walking and resting.

Around noon, Yang Buhui suddenly cried out loud, pointing to a tree by the side of the road. When Zhang Wuji took a look, he saw two corpses hanging from a tree. Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui were so scared that they turned around and starting running. They weren’t able to run more than ten paces when they tripped over a rock, falling down. Zhang Wuji bravely looked back, and this time was even more startled, blurting out “Mr. Hu!” The corpse hanging from the tree was actually Hu Qingniu. The other corpse had long hair and was apparently a woman; from the appearance of her clothes, it seemed to be Hu Qingniu’s wife Wang Nangu. The image of her long hair and corpse blowing in the wind created a dark, chilling air.

Zhang Wuji tried to stay calm and in good spirits, telling himself, “Don’t be afraid, Don’t be afraid!” He slowly started crawling toward the corpses, verifying that the corpses were Hu Qingniu and Wang Nangu. On each of their faces was something glittering – it turned out that each of them had a golden flower on their face. Zhang Wuji was disappointed, thinking, “so they weren’t able to run away from Jing Hua Popo’s poisonous hand after all” He saw that in the mountain gorge was a broken carriage and a mule that had drowned in the river. Zhang Wuji really started crying and decided to loosen the ropes, taking down the Hu couple’s bodies from the tree.

All of a sudden, there was a “Clap!” sound; a book fell from Wang Nangu’s body. Picking it up, he saw it was a handwritten book, titled “Wang Nangu’s poison manual.” When he flipped it open, he saw that the pages were filled with small print, detailing the toxicity of poisons and how to use them. Not only did it detail how to use poisonous medicine, but also poisonous weeds, snakes, centipedes, scorpions, spiders as well as other strange fish, insects, birds, flowers, fish and trees, leaving out nothing. He decided to keep it without much thought and put the Hu couple side by side, burying them with stones and dirt. He bowed down to the couple before grasping Yang Buhui’s hand and continuing with their journey.

Shortly after they reached a large road, which then led them to a small town. Zhang Wuji wanted to buy some food to eat, but as he walked from house to house, they were all empty, without even a single person. They had no choice but to continue their journey.

On the way, they noticed that the cornfields and rice fields were all dried up and desolate. Zhang Wuji was confused and worried, but he saw that Yang Buhui was able to not cry and keep walking which was already rather well- behaved, so what could he do? After a while, they saw next to the road were several corpses, with empty stomachs and sunken in cheeks – it was obvious at first glance that they had starved to death.

The more they walked the more they saw others like this. Zhang Wuji was scared out of his wits, thinking, "Is there really nothing to eat? Are we also going to starve here like this?”

In the evening, they reached a small forest and saw some white smoke emerging into the sky. Zhang Wuji was very happy - they had not seen anyone or any smoke since they had left the Butterfly Valley, so he quickly ran towards the white smoke.

After going near the smoke, they saw two men wearing ragged clothes circling a pot of boiling water, adding firewood under the pot. When the two men heard footsteps, they turned around. When they saw Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui, they burst out with big smiles and jumped up. One of them waved a hand, “Small kids, good, come over here, come over here quickly. Where are the adults that came with you? Where did they go?”

Zhang Wuji said: “There’s only the two of us, no adults came with us.” The two adults broke out into big smiles, while saying, “What luck, what luck!” Zhang Wuji was so hungry, so he took a look into the big pot to see what it was, only to see grass in boiling water.

One of the men grabbed Yang Buhui in one hand, exclaiming, “This small lamb is so fat and tender! Tonight we can eat until we’re full, how nice.” The other man said, “Very good, we can eat the little boy tomorrow.” Zhang Wuji was very surprised, exclaiming, “What are you doing? Let go of my sister!”

The man ignored him and proceeded to laugh and start to tear off Yang Buhui’s clothes, reaching into his boots to take out a knife, saying “It’s been a long time since I ate such a fat and tender lamb.” He grabbed Yang Buhui to the side, apparently to slaughter her. The other man took a bowl and followed him, saying, “Wasting lamb blood is a pity, we can cook a bowl of lamb blood soup, the flavor’s not bad.”

Zhang Wuji was scared out of his wits, but he looked at them and it seemed that they really weren’t joking. It really looked like they were about to slaughter Yang Buhui, so he yelled loudly, “You want to eat people? You aren’t scared of harming heaven?”

The man holding the turkey bowl laughed and said, “Old man hasn’t eaten a grain of rice for three months, if I don’t eat a person, can I really eat a cow or lamb?” For fear that Zhang Wuji would run away, he came over to grab Zhang Wuji’s neck. Zhang Wuji dodged the man. With his left hand he pulled the man and with his right hand he hit the man’s back.

He had learned martial arts from the Blond haired Lion King Xie Xun as well as his Wudang Palms from his parents. So even though these few years he had only learned medicine and had not practiced martial arts, he had good martial arts habits and was able to exert good martial arts. He put forth this palm with great effort, and even someone studying martial arts for many years would’ve been unable to bear this palm, much less this ordinary village person. That man let out a “Hng!” before fainting and falling to the ground, unable to move.

Zhang Wuji immediately jumped up next to Yang Buhui. The other man exclaimed, “I’ll kill you first”, raising his knife and striking towards Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji used a move from Wudang Palms called “Wild Goose Wings”; his right foot flew, hitting the man in the wrist. The knife flew out of the man’s hand. Zhang Wuji exerted another move called “Yuanyang lianhuan kick”, following with another kick to the man’s jaw. The man was in the process of opening his mouth to yell at him, but his jaws were forced shut by the kick, resulting in his biting his own tongue in half. Blood spurted out of his mouth and he fainted.

Zhang Wuji hurriedly went over to support Yang Buhui. At the same time, he heard the footsteps of others entering the forest. Yang Buhui was terrified when she heard the sounds of other people and hid herself in Zhang Wuji’s arms.

Zhang Wuji raised his head to take a look, but was calmed, shouting, “It’s Mr. Jian, Mr. Xue.”

Five people had entered the forest. One was KongDong’s Jian Jie, and another was Huashan’s Xue Gongyuan along with two of his martial brothers. All these people were healed by Zhang Wuji. The last person was an heroic looking approximately twenty year old youth with a broad forehead whom Zhang Wuji had never met before. Jian Jie made a “Heng!”, saying, “Brother Zhang, you’re here also? What happened to these two people?” As he was saying this, he pointed to the two people on the ground.

Zhang Wuji indignantly told the story of what happened, ending with, “They even dared to eat people, aren’t they outlaws?”

Jian Jie was staring at Yang Buhui, when all of a sudden saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth, so he licked his lips, saying, “Damn, for five days and five nights I haven’t had a grain of rice in my stomach, only eating some tree bark and grass…..En, fine skin and meat, fatty and tender…”

Zhang Wuji saw that Jian Jie had a fire in his eyes, looking like a hungry wolf, with his mouth hanging wide open and his teeth gleaming. He really looked scary, so Zhang Wuji hugged Yang Buhui close to him. Xue Gongyuan asked, “Where is this girl’s mother?”

Zhang Wuji thought in his heart: “If I say that Auntie died, they’ll have even more evil thoughts.” So he said, “Heroine Ji went out to buy some rice, she’ll be back soon.” Yang Buhui suddenly said, “No, My mom flew up to the sky!”

When Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan heard the two of them speaking, they knew Ji Xiaofu had already died. Xue Gongyuan laughed coldly, saying “Buying rice? If you find a grain of rice within these five hundred kilometers, you’ll really have skills.” Jian Jie shot a look at Xue Gongyuan, and the two suddenly jumped towards them. Jian Jie’s two hands grabbed ahold of Zhang Wuji’s shoulders. Xue Gongyuan’s left hand covered Yang Buhui’s mouth, and with his right hand he picked her up.

Zhang Wuji was startled and shouted, “What are you guys doing?” Jian Jie laughed and said, “In these thousand kilometers in Fengyang province, I’ve been so hungry I can’t stand it anymore. This girl isn’t related to you, so we’ll split a portion with you later.” Zhang Wuji angrily insulted them: “You wrongly claim to be heroes, how can you bully a small orphan? If this gets out, how can you even claim to be human?”

Jian Jie flew into a rage, grabbed him with his left hand and hit him twice on the face, saying, “We’ll kill you small beast along with her, we originally thought one small lamb might not’ve been enough.”

Zhang Wuji had just taken care of the two villagers easily, but up against Kongdong’s martial artists who had learned decades of martial arts, Zhang Wuji was easily captured and his struggles were in vain.

Xue Gongyuan’s two martial brothers took some rope, tying up the two children. Zhang Wuji knew he would have no good luck today, and furiously regretted that he had saved these peoples’ lives. People’s hearts change quickly; who would know that these people would repay kindness with evil?

Jian Jie said, “Little beast, you healed this old man’s head wound, so you’ve done some good for me, right? You must be hating me in your heart, right?” Zhang Wuji said: “Isn’t this paying kindness with evil? I have no debts or business with you, if I didn’t help you, how would you four have recovered from those strange diseases?”

Xue Gongyuan laughed and said, “Young man Zhang, after we were injured we’ve displayed this ugly attitude, we’ve even let you see it. If this becomes public, it’ll be hard for us to live. Today we’re starving, if we have no fresh meat in our stomachs, it’ll also be hard for us to live. Why don’t you save us to the end, save us one more time.” Jian Jie was ferocious and scary, but this Xue Gongyuan had a smiling appearance and was cunning and treacherous.

Zhang Wuji, seeing them couldn’t help but feel his heart freeze in terror, and shouted loudly: “I’m in Wudang, this sister is part of Emei, if you harm us two, will the Five Heroes of Wudang and MieJue Shitai forgive you?”

Jian Jie was startled and made an “e” sound, feeling that there was some truth in his words - it was not a good idea to provoke Wudang and Emei. Xue Gongyuan laughed and said: “Here only the sky and ground will know, and you and I will know. Once you’re in our stomachs, go grumble to Zhang SanFeng.”

Jian Jie guffawed, saying: “I’m so hungry fire is about to come out of my stomach, even if you were my brother or son, I’d eat your skin and bones.” He turned around and said to Xue Gongyuan’s martial brothers: “Quickly bring some fire and cook some soup, what are you waiting for?” Those two got the pot; one of them went to the creek to get water, and the other went to start the fire.

Zhang Wuji said, “Mr. Xue, those two people are already dead, if you’re hungry and want to eat people, wouldn’t eating them be good?” Xue Gongyuan laughed and said, “These two men are just skin and bones, they’re not only old and tough, but hard and stinky, who wouldn’t eat tender lamb but eat old sheep instead?”

Zhang Wuji usually would have a brave attitude, if someone was going to hit or kill him, he wouldn’t beg to be spared. However, when he was trapped by these evil men, about to be eaten alive, he couldn’t help but offer up a few words to try to plead for his life. But Xue Gongyuan instead just jeered repeatedly, “Haha, Wudang’s and Emei’s disciples claim to be the strongest and rule Jianghu, but today you’re going to be eaten bite by bite. It would be really strange if Zhang Sanfeng or Old Nun Miejue knew about this and weren’t angered to death.”

Enraged, Zhang Wuji shouted, “Mr. Xue, if you have to eat people, then eat me. I just beg you to let this small sister go, then I can die with no regrets.” Xue Gongyuan asked, “Why?” Zhang Wuji replied: “When her mother died, she trusted me to bring this little girl to her father. Today, if you eat just me, you will be full, tomorrow you can go buy some cows, lamb, or rice, please spare this little girl.”

Jian Jie saw that he was able to fearlessly face danger at such a small age and with such a heroic and chivalrous air. He really thought this was something to be admired and couldn’t help but be moved and hesitated, asking, “What should we do?” Xue Gongyuan replied, “Saving this small girl isn’t a big deal. However, this may leak out; in the future, when Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou come to find us, Brother Jian should have certain methods to take care of them.” Jian Jie nodded his head, saying, “What you said is also true. I’m a fool, never thinking of the future.”

While saying these words, the other Huashan disciples returned with the pot of water and put it on the fire. Zhang Wuji knew the situation was urgent and shouted, “Little Sister Buhui, swear an oath to them that in the future you won’t speak of today’s events.” Yang Buhui, confused, just cried out, “Can’t eat you, can’t eat you!” She didn’t understand what Zhang Wuji was saying, but vaguely knew that he was sacrificing himself to protect her.

Meanwhile, the bold looking youth silently sat to the side, not speaking or moving. Jian Jie stared at him for a second, saying, “Xu xiaoshe, if you want to eat lamb, you must also be willing to handle the lamb’s body.” In the region of Hao Si, they called young men “xiaoshe.” That young man replied, “Yes!” He pulled out a small knife from his waist and said, “Killing pigs and cows are my specialty.” He clenched the knife in his teeth and carried Yang Buhui and Zhang Wuji in each hand toward the mountain creek.

Zhang Wuji protested loudly and tried to bite his arm but couldn’t reach it. Xu xiaoshe walked away for more than ten steps when Xue Gongyuan said, “Xu xiaoshe, slaughter them here!” Xu xiaoshe looked back and replied, “Slaughtering them in the creek is better, it’ll be cleaner there.” However, the knife was clenched in his teeth so his words were unclear, but his legs didn’t slow down at all. Xue Gongyuan said, “If I tell you to stay here, then you’ll stay here.” He had noticed that Xu xiashe looked kind of strange; he was worried that Xu xiaoshe would run away with the two kids to eat them by himself.

Xu xiaoshe whispered, “Quick, run away!” He put the two of them on the ground and stretched out his knife to cut the ropes that were binding them. Zhang Wuji said, “Thank you for your great kindness in saving our lives.” He grabbed Yang Buhui’s hand and pulled her up to run away. Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan both shouted and jumped up to chase them. Xu xiaoshe grabbed his knife to block them and shouted, “Stop!”

When Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan saw him with the knife guarding his chest heroically blocking them, they were startled. Jian Jie said, “What are you doing?” Xu xiaoshe said, “If we’re walking around Jiang Hu together, bullying the small and the weak, wouldn’t we be laughed at by all the heroes under the sky?” Xue Gongyuan indignantly replied, “Hunger is urgent, I would even eat my mother or the old and the young.” He waved a hand to his two martial brothers, “Hurry up, chase them!”

Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui couldn’t run quickly, especially since he was carrying her. He was already rather small, so carrying her made him even slower. Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan each pulled out their weapons and attacked Mr. Xu. After fighting for a little bit, Jian Jie with a stroke of his knife managed to cut Xu xiaoshe’s leg, causing it to drip wet with blood. Xu xiaoshe couldn’t hold out any longer and suddenly lifted up his knife and threw it towards Xue Gongyuan. Xue Gongyuan ducked to the side, and Xu xiaoshe managed to rush out.

Xue Gongyuan and Jian Jie didn’t chase him, instead going after Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui. Mr. Xu from far away shouted, “Brother Zhang, don’t be nervous, I’ll go find helpers to help you,” Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan worked together and managed to again capture Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui. Jian Jie stared at Xue Gongyuan, shouting, “This person named Xu isn’t a good person, why would you travel with him?”

Xue Gongyuan said, “This companion I randomly bumped into on the road, how would I know whether he’s good or bad? He said his surname was Xu, named something like Xu Da. Don’t listen to him, the sky’s black already, where would he go to find help around here?” One of the Huashan disciples said, “Listening to his accent, he’s native to this Fengyang Prefect, haha, even if he brought some country bumpkins here, we wouldn’t be scared of them.” Jian Jie laughed, “Fengyang’s people are so hungry they can’t even crawl. Let’s quickly cook these two lambs into a delicious meal, it is right to eat a full meal.”

This was the second time Zhang Wuji was captured; he was hit until his nose and mouth were blue and swollen and his clothes were torn. His possessions and money were all scattered on the ground. He thought in his heart, “So this Mr. Xu’s name was Xu Da, this man is a good friend, too bad my life is so short and can’t be better friends with him.” When he bowed his head down to the ground, he saw a handwritten yellow-papered book on the ground blowing in the wind. This was the Wang Nanggu poison manual taken from Wang Nangu’s body. His eyes followed the words on the page and noticed that “poisonous mushrooms” was written, with small words detailing the forms of poisonous mushrooms such as their odor, color, toxicity, antidotes, type after type. His heart was in turmoil, how could he take this into his head?

All of a sudden when he glanced to the left, he saw that about four or five feet away, under some rotten tree bark, were more than ten mushrooms with vivid colors. His heart jumped and he thought, “What type of mushroom is this? I don’t know whether there’s poison or not on it. The poison manual says that most poisonous mushrooms have vivid colors. If these poisonous mushrooms are toxic, there is hope to save Sister Buhui’s life.

At this time he already wasn’t thinking of his own life, as he already had the cold poison inside him that was difficult to expel. If he managed to run away with his life today, he would only live for a few months anyways, so he really only hoped to save Yang Buhui. He sat on the ground, slowly moving his feet and bottom and turned his body around, reaching out his hand to pick those mushrooms. At this time the sky already was black; everyone was ready for the fire to burn, so nobody really paid attention to him. Zhang Wuji suddenly turned his eyes to the direction that Xu Da had run, jumping up and down and shouting, “Brother Xu, you’ve brought people here, save us! Save us!”

Jian Jie and the others thought it was real, so the four of them grabbed their weapons and jumped up. Zhang Wuji took advantage of the four of them looking for Xu Da and backed up two steps, putting the mushrooms into the iron pot. Jian Jie and the others didn’t see anyone and started cursing, “Little bastard, even if you become crazy nobody’s going to come help you.” Xue Gongyuan said, “Prepare the knife, who wants to start?” Jian Jie said, “I’ll kill the small girl, you kill that guy.” As he was saying this he took his hand and grabbed Yang Buhui. Zhang Wuji said, “Mr. Xue, my throat’s really thirsty, can you give me some hot soup, that way when I die my ghost won’t bother you. Xue Gongyuan said, “Alright, what’s wrong with letting you drink some soup?” Xue Gongyuan scooped some hot soup into the bowl for him. Before the soup reached his mouth, Zhang Wuji loudly shouted, “How tasty! How tasty!” Indeed, once the mushrooms had been boiling in the pot, they released a fragrant smell. Xue Gongyuan had been hungry for a long time, so when he smelled the fragrant soup, he grabbed Zhang Wuji’s soup and drank it into his stomach, licking his lips and saying, “Really fresh!”

Jian Jie reached out and grabbed the bowl and also drank a large mouthful, and once again drank another bowl. Xue Gongyuan and the other two Huashan disciples also drank two bowls, so that when the two bowls of hot soup were in their stomachs, they felt an unspeakable comfort. Jian Jie even took the mushrooms in the put and ate them. Nobody even asked where the mushrooms were from. After Jian Jie ate the mushroom, he patted his stomach, laughing, “First eat some appetizers, then eat the lamb.”

His left hand raised Yang Buhui behind him, and his right hand raised a knife. Zhang Wuji saw that after many people drank the mushroom soup there was no effect, so in his heart he thought that the mushrooms didn’t have poison after all and could not help but feel bitter. Jian Jie took two steps when all of a sudden, he shouted, “Aiyo!” His body faltered for a few moments before he fell on the ground, throwing Yang Buhuia and the knife to the side. Xue Gongyuan was startled and asked, “Brother Jian, what happened?” He ran over to look down at his body. When he stooped down, he also couldn’t stand up straight anymore and fell on Jian Jie’s body. The other two Huashan disciples also were poisoned and died miserably.

Wuji shouted loudly, “Thank heaven and earth!” He rolled over to the knife and grasped the knife, cutting Yang Buhui’s ropes. Yang Buhui’s trembling hands also managed to cut Zhang Wuji’s ropes after wounding his palms a few times. Having just escaped from death, the two of them were exceedingly happy and hugging each other. When Zhang Wuji went to see the four other people, he just saw that every person’s face had turned black and that their muscles were warped. Their bodies were really scary and he thought, ”That Wang Nangu’s poison manual really is valuable, I’ll keep it with me and resolve to really study it carefully.”

Zhang Wuji carried Yang Buhui’s hand and left the forest. They traveled along Yaomi road, when suddenly from the east they saw light from a torch. There were seven or eight people grasping their weapons and running quickly towards them. Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui hid in the underbrush.

When those people ran nearby, Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui saw that one of the people was Xuda. He was the one carrying a torch in his left hand, while in his right hand he was carrying a pike, shouting, “You wicked thieves that would harm the sky and eat people, quickly lay down your lives!” When they entered the forest, they saw the four of them dead on the ground and were startled. Xu Da shouted, “Brother Zhang, are you ok? We are here to save you!” Zhang Wuji shouted, “Big Brother Xu, your brother is here!” and came out of the underbrush.

Xuda was very happy and hugged him, saying, “Brother Zhang, you have such a chivalrous character, not to mention among children, even among adults it’s hard to find such a person. I was scared that you’d be harmed by those evil thieves, fortunately there’s good news and the evil receive their punishment, this is a good judgment.

When they asked how Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan were poisoned, Zhang Wuji told them the story of cooking the mushrooms in the soup. Everyone praised him as clever. Xuda said, “These are all my good friends, they slaughtered a bull. A large fire is at Huang Jue Si Temple where the meat is being cooked. I went to find them and they all came. But if it weren’t for Brother Zhang’s cleverness, we still would’ve come too late.” He introduced everyone to Zhang Wuji. One one side, a big eared guy was named Tang He, another heroic, exuberant one was named Deng Yu, a black faced, tall one was named Hua Yun; of two fair skinned brothers, the older one was named Wu Liang, and the younger was named Wu Zhen. The last one was a monk; his appearance was very ugly, with a protruding chin, resembling an iron shovel. Many scars and moles were on his face, and he had two sunken in eyes that were bright and unusually. Xuda said, “This person is Brother Zhu, his given name is Yuanzhang. He became a monk in Huang Juesi temple.

Hua Yun laughed and said, “He is an unconventional, happy monk, not one of those who loves to read Buddhist scriptures and worship Buddha, drinking wine and eating meat all day. When Yang Buhui saw Zhu Yuanzhang’s ugly appearance, she felt afraid in her heart and hid behind Zhang Wuji. Zhu Yuangzhang laughed and said, “Even though this Buddhist monk eats meat, I don’t eat people, so little sister doesn’t need to be afraid.” Tang He said, “The beef we’ve been cooking in that pot should be ready now.” Hua Yun said, “Let’s go! Little sister, I’ll carry you.” He carried Yang Buhui on his back, walking with big steps. When Zhang Wuji saw this capable man was so happy and outgoing, he was also happy in his heart.

When they had walked around two and a half kilometers, they arrived at a temple. They walked inside the main hall and noticed the fragrant aroma of the roasting meet. Wu Liang said, “It’s done, it’s cooked!” Xuda said, “Brother Zhang, rest here, we’ll get the meat ready."

Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui Sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a cushion in the palace. Zhu Yuan Zhang, Xu Da, Tang He, Deng Yu and others moved quickly and brought out large pots and bowls of freshly-cooked beef. The brothers Wu Liang and Wu Zhen carried out a jug of fragrant wine and in a short while were singing and making merry in front of the Bodhisattva's statue.

Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui were already very hungry, so with the beef in their stomach, they were pleased beyond words. Hua Yun said, "Brother Xu, among all our Cult rules, we are not allowed to comsume meat; this might be a little inappropriate."

Zhang Wuji was inwardly surprised, "So they are all members of the Ming Cult. The Cult rules only permit them to eat vegetarian dishes and to worship the demons, yet over here they are all merrily eating the meat."

Xu Da replied, "Our Cult's first rule is to 'Promote Kindness and Destroy Evil'; even though eating meat isn't a good thing, but it can't be totally avoided. Over here there isn't any rice or vegetables, so how can we just stare at the meat and starve to death?"

Deng Yu clapped his hands and said, “Brother Xu’s words are insightful, eat! Eat!”

When they were eating and drinking, all of a sudden there was the sound of footsteps outside the door. Soon after, someone knocked on the door. Tang He jumped up and shouted, “Aiya! Zhang’s household is outside searching for this cow!” The door was opened, and in came two servants, heroic looking with protruding chests and bellies. One person shouted, “Alright! Our house’s big cow was actually stolen by you guys and eaten!” When he said this, he grabbed Zhu Yuanzhang. The other one said, “You lowly monk, today your entire club is here sharing the spoils, where can you run to? Tomorrow we’ll send you to the mansion, and kill you by hitting you to death with a wooden board.”

Zhu Yuanzhang laughed and said, “You’re really speaking rubbish, how would you dare blame us for stealing that cow? Monks eat vegetables and pray to Buddha. If you’re accusing me of eating meat, isn’t this committing a great sin?” The heroic servant pointed to the meat inside of the plate, saying, “This isn’t beef?”

Zhu Yuanzhang gave a signal with his eyes and laughed, “Who says this is beef?” The Wu Liang and Wu Zhen brothers walked up to the two servants and with a shout, grabbed the two men’s arms. Zhu Yuanzhang took out a short dagger from his pocket and laughed, “Two brothers, I don’t want to hide this from you, what we’re eating isn’t beef, but human meat. Today you’ve seen this, so we’ll just have to eat you so you won’t talk and leak this out. With a “chi” sound, one of the servant’s clothes was torn and the knife produced a line of blood on his chest. The heroic servant was really startled, even begging, “Spare us, spare our lives!” Zhu Yuanzhang grabbed a piece of beef and stuffed into the two servant’s mouths, saying, “Swallow it!”

The two of them even didn’t dare to chew it and swallowed it into their stomachs. Zhu Yuanzhang laughed and said, “You can go out and tell your master we’ve stolen your cow, we can then cut open your stomachs and say, who’re the ones that have eaten the beef, not even cleaning off the hair?” He flipped over the knife, dragging a line along their bellies. That person just felt a cold, icy knife on his stomach and was scared out of wits, screaming. The Wu brothers laughed, lifted up their legs and kicked the two out of the palace hall. Everyone was relieved and started eating quickly, laughing and insulting the two servants who had asked for their miserable experience. On normal days, the Zhang household would bully around the villagers. This time, they were so scared about their bellies being cut open, they surely wouldn’t go out and tell them about everyone stealing the cow.

Zhang Wuji thought his actions were funny and admirable and pondered, “Despite this monk’s ungly appearance, his behavior is upright and refreshing. His methods are really formidable.” Zhu Yuanzhang had heard Xuda tell the story of how Zhang Wuji was willing to sacrifice himself to save Yang Buhui’s life and was really fond of this chivalrous youth. He didn’t treat him as a normal child, instead proposing a toast to him and treating him like a good friend. They drank until they were intoxicated, when Deng Yu said, “Us Han people have really endured the oppression of these barbarians, receiving an era of their dirty farts. Until today we haven’t been able to have a good meal. If these days go on, how can we take it?” Hua Yun clapped his leg and said, “Half of the common people in Fengyang prefecture have died, really half of all the people under heaven have died of starvation, why don’t we stake all of it and fight those Tartars?”

Xuda said with a clear voice, “Today people’s lives have been put on the same level as dogs and goats. This good little brother and sister nearly went into people’s stomachs. Under the sky, who knows how many common people have become like cows and sheep? If upright men can’t help all these people, living is really living in vain.” Tang He also said, “Not bad, our luck was good today, we managed to find a cow to slaughter and eat, tomorrow we may not necessarily find one to steal. Everyone doesn’t have enough clothes and food, do even upright men and heroes have to become thieves?”

As these people spoke they became more and more furious and began insulting the Tartars for inflicting suffering on them. Zhu Yuanzhang said, “We’re randomly insulting these people here, but these insults aren’t even going to hurt a hair on these Tartars. If we’re really heroic, we should go to kill these Tartars!” Tang He, Deng Yu, Hua Yun, and the Wu brothers all yelled together, “Let’s go!”

Xuda said, “Big Brother Zhu, you don’t need to be this hard-working monk anymore. You’re the oldest, we’ll all listen to your words.” Zhu Yuanzhang also didn’t decline and said, “After today, we will live and die together, whether we have fortune or problems we will share it together.” Everyone raised their bowl of wine together and drank it down, slamming their knives into the table with a heroic air. Yang Buhui looked at everyone, not understanding what they were saying and was inwardly scared.

Zhang Wuji thought, Zhang Sanfeng Tai Shifu warned me repeatedly not make friends with these people in the Mo Jiao. But Chang Yucun and Brother Xu are all within the Mo Jiao. They’re far better than Jian Jie, Xue Gongyuan, these disciples in the righteous branch by tens of thousands of times. He always admired Zhang Sanfeng to the highest degree, but from his experience, he thought Zhang Sanfeng had some prejudice towards them in his heart. However, he also thought that he shouldn’t go against his Tai Shifu’s wishes. Zhu Yuangzhang said, “Good Han people will do what they say, this time when we eat full is just the right time to do things. The Zhang household invited the Tartar officers and soldiers to dinner today, let’s go capture and kill them. Hua Yun said, “Wonderful! “ and grabbed his knife and stood up.

Xuda exclaimed, “Hold on a minute!” He went to the kitchen to get a basket and filled it with fourteen or fifteen pounds of beef to give to Zhang Wuji. He said, “Brother Zhang, your age is still small, you can’t follow us to this shady business of rebelling and killing government officials. Us small group of people are so poor, without money on our bodies, so we must give this meat to you. If we luckily don’t burn to death, we will see each other in the future and eat some beef together.

Zhang Wuji took the basket and replied, “I hope that you will perform a great service and wipe out these Tartars in order to let these common people under the sky have some food to eat.” Zhu Yuanzhang, Xuda, Tanghe, Deng Yu all heard what he said and clapped and praised what he said, saying: “Brother Zhang, what you said is really correct, we hope that we will have some time together in the future.”

As they said this they exited the temple, each carrying their weapons. Zhang Wuji thought in his heart, “They are going to go kill the Tartars, if I wasn’t accompanying this little sister, I would also go with them. They only have seven people and are not the enemy’s match. Zhang Yuan’s house have Tartars who may follow them here to kill them so I can’t really stay in this temple anymore. So he took his basket of beef and took Yang Buhui outside the temple. After traveling in the dark for four or five miles, suddenly they saw that to the north there was a red light rising to the sky and knew that Zhu Yuanzhang and Xuda were successful and had burnt down Zhang Yuan’s manor, making them very happy. At night the two of them slept on a mountain plain, and in the morning they proceeded westward. The two children endured wind, frost, hunger, and cold while walking along the road, making them exhausted. Fortunately Yang Buhui’s parents were martial artists, so her own physique was healthy and strong so a small girl traveling for such a long distance was able to avoid sickness. On the way, she did have some colds, so Zhang Wuji picked some herbal medicine and was able to cure it. Every day they did have to rest, so they could only cover 20 or 30 miles in a day. After about fifteen or sixteen days, they reached Henan province.

There was not much difference between Henan and Anhui province – everywhere they went, there was famine and people were dying of starvation. Zhang Wuji made a bow and arrow and managed to shoot some birds and animals – one day they would be full, and another they would be hungry, slowly making their way east. Fortunately, they did not run into the Mongolian military, and they also did not run into any Jiang Hu people. As for those ordinary criminals with evil thoughts, how would they match up with Zhang Wuji? One day they ran into an old man and told him they wanted to go to the summit of Mt. Kunlun. This old man was startled and raised his eyebrows, saying, “Little brother, Kunlun Mountain is still about 108,000 li (a ‘li’ = 0.5 km) away, I heard that a Tang monk only went there to fetch some scriptures. You little kids aren’t crazy are you? Where do you live? Quickly go back home!” When Zhang Wuji heard this, he could not help but feel disappointed, thinking, “Kunlun Mt. is so far, it’s really impossible to go there, so the best thing to do is to go to Wudang to see Grandmaster first.” But then he thought: “Someone trusted in me, even though the road is far, how can one stop in the middle? My own life is not long, if I can’t send Sister Buhui before I die, I really can’t be forgiven by Aunt Ji.” So without saying anything else to the old man, he pulled up Yang Buhui and continued their journey.

Later, after walking for more than twenty days, the two children’s clothing were tattered, their appearances were wan and sallow. The thing that vexed Zhang Wuji most was that Yang Buhui constantly asked for her Mama. She would frequently cry for half a day because Mama did not fly back down from the sky. Zhang Wuji tried his best to distract her by telling her stories, by saying that their journey to the west this time was also to look for her Mama, by making faces and all kinds of things that would turn her tears into laughter.

One particular day they arrived at Zhumadian [a city in Henan]. It was the end of autumn, early winter. The new moon wind was blowing hard. Since the two children only had the clothes on their backs, they were shivering incessantly. Zhang Wuji took out his tattered outer garment and put it on Yang Buhui.

“Wuji Gege,” Yang Buhui asked, “Aren’t you cold?”

“I am not cold,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I feel unbearably hot,” while doing some jumping jacks to keep himself warm.

“You are so good to me!” Yang Buhui said, “I know you are cold, but you give your clothes to me.” The little girl spoke like an adult, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel astonished.

Right that moment, they heard the sound of clashing weapons coming from the other side of the hill, followed by footsteps coming closer. A female voice called out, “Evil thief, you have been hit by my ‘wei du sang men’ nail [lit. feed the poison, mourning gate, loose translation: as soon as you are hit, you are at the death door]. The faster you run, the quicker the poison will flare-up!”

Zhang Wuji quickly pulled Yang Buhui to hide under the bush by the roadside. They saw a sturdy-looking man, about thirty some years of age, flying their way. Several ‘zhang’s behind him, a woman ran after him with a pair of sabers in her hand. The man staggered, his legs turned weak and he stumbled down on the ground.

The woman soon arrived by his side. “Finally, you will be dead under the Miss’ hands!” she called out.

The man suddenly sprang up and struck her with his right palm. ‘Bang!’ the palm hit the woman’s chest. The force behind the strike was very strong. The woman fell backwards the pair of sabers in her hands was flung far away.

The man reached to his back to pull the nail out. “Give me the antidote,” he said hatefully.

The woman laughed coldly and said, “This time Shifu ordered us to pursue and capture you; he gave us the poisonous secret projectiles, but did not give us the antidote. Since I have fallen into your hands, I accept my fate, but do not even think that you can live either.”

With the saber in his left hand on her throat, the man’s right hand searched inside her pocket, and sure enough, there was no antidote. The man got very angry. He took the ‘wei du sang men’ nail and stabbed the woman shoulder with all his might. He roared, “Now you can taste your own ‘wei du sang men’ nail! You, Kunlun Pai …” Before he finished speaking, the poison on his back flared up and he crumpled to the ground.

The woman struggled to crawl up; but ‘wah!’ after vomiting a mouthful of blood, she fell back down. She pulled the nail on her shoulder and tossed it to the ground. The man and the woman both lied on the grass by the roadside. Their breathing was labored; they constantly gasped for air.

Ever since he treated Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan and almost died in their hands, Zhang Wuji was extremely wary towards the Wulin characters. This time, as he watched the drama unfold in front of him, he did not dare to come out.

After a while the man heaved a long sigh and said, “Today I, Su Xizhi, will lose my life at Zhumadian; yet I still do not know my offense against the Kunlun Pai. I will die with my eyes wide open. You have pursued me for a thousand ‘li’ and determined to kill me, in the end, what was that for? Miss Zhan, why don’t you be nice and tell me!” There was no trace of hostility in his voice anymore.

The woman, Zhan Chun, knew her school’s ‘wei du sang men’ nail was very fierce, so she realized that both of them were going to die together. She was completely disheartened and quietly said, “Who told you to peek when Shifu was training his sword technique? This technique, the ‘Kun Lun Liang Yi Jian’ [double-appearance sword], should be personally taught by him, the Senior, if anybody is caught looking without permission, even our own School’s disciple must suffer punishment by his or her eyes being gouged; much less you, an outsider?”

“Ah,” Su Xizhi exclaimed. “Damn it! Should die! Should die!” he cursed.

Zhan Chun angrily said, “Your death is imminent, you still cursed my Shifu?”

Su Xizhi said, “I want to curse him. What are you going to do? Isn’t this injustice? I was just passing through Bai Niu Shan [White Ox Mountain], and accidentally saw that your Shifu was practicing his sword. Because I was curious, I stopped and watched for a moment. Do you think that by watching for a moment I would be able to master this sword technique? If I have that kind of ability, how can you, a bunch of Kunlun disciples, possibly defeat me? Miss Zhan, let me tell you this: your Shifu, Tie Qin Xiansheng [Mister Iron ‘Qin’ – zither] is too narrow-minded. Not to mention that I did not learn even half a stance of the Kunlun Liang Yi Jian, even if I did, can you really say that I have committed a capital crime?”

Zhan Chun was silent. Inwardly she agreed that her master had made a big fuss over a minor issue. Just because he found out that Su Xizhi saw him launching the sword technique, he dispatched six disciples to pursue and kill him for thousands of ‘li’. In the end, she was going to die together with this man. She believed at this moment this man had no reason to lie, so if he said that he did not steal the martial art technique, then she believed he was telling the truth.

Su Xizhi also said, “He gave you these Wei Du secret projectiles, but did not give you the antidote. Is there such custom within the Wulin world? Damn it


In a soft voice Zhan Chun said, “Su Dage [big brother], Xiaomei [little sister

– referring to self] has harmed you. Right now my heart is heavy with regret. It’s good that I will accompany you to the other world. This is called fate. I only feel sorry for your family, your wife and children [Translator’s note: the original Chinese text was much more polite; she called his wife ‘Da Sao’ (eldest sister-in-law), and the children ‘gongzi’ and ‘xiaojie’ (young master and young miss).] I really have no idea what I had done.”

Su Xizhi sighed and said, “My woman died two years ago, leaving behind a boy and a girl to me, one is six years old, the other is four. Tomorrow they will become orphans with no father and no mother.”

“Do you have any other family member?” Zhan Chun asked, “Anybody to look after the children?”

“Presently my sister-in-law is looking after them,” Su Xizhi said, “But she is rather short-tempered; oftentimes she is mean and unreasonable, I think she is a bit jealous of me. Ay! From now on these two babies will have to suffer a lot of pains.”

Zhan Chun said in a low voice, “It’s all my fault.” Su Xizhi shook his head and said, “I can’t blame you on this. You have received your school’s strict order, and thus have no choice but to obey; it’s not like you have a personal enmity against me. In fact, after I got hit with your Wei Du secret projectile, I will certainly die; why should I strike you with my palm and use the secret projectile to injure you? Otherwise, I am saying this with all honestly: I know you have a good conscience, certainly you would be willing to look after my two cruel-fated children.”

Forcing a smile, Zhan Chun said, “I am the murderer who killed you, how can you say I have a good conscience?”

Su Xizhi said, “I really do not blame you, I do not blame you at all.”

Just now, the two of them were fighting a life and death battle, but as they realized they were going to die soon, they both were reluctant to leave the world of the living and their hearts were filled with nothing but kindness and goodwill.

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji thought, “Looks like these man and woman are not bad people; besides, that surnamed Su still have two small children.” Remembering the hardship Yang Buhui and he suffered because they were orphans, he came out of his hiding place underneath the bushes and said, “Miss Zhan, do you know the kind of poison you have on your Wei Du nail?” To see a teenager and a little girl suddenly appear from the bushes, Su Xizhi and Zhan Cun had already felt strange. They were even more surprised to hear Zhang Wuji asking the question.

Zhang Wuji said, “I have a rudimentary knowledge of medicine. Gentleman and Lady have been poisoned, you might not be beyond help.”

Zhan Chun said, “What kind of poison, I may not know. But the wound is unbearably itchy. My Shifu said that after one got hit by this Sang Men nail, one will have only eight hours to live.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Let me have a look at the wound.” Su and Zhan, two people noticed that he was young, his clothes were raggedy, his entire body was filthy; in short, he looked more like a beggar to them, what could he possibly know about treating poison wound?

In a rough voice Su Xizhi said, “Look, our lives are in danger. This is not a place for children to create trouble. Just go far away from me, alright?”

Zhang Wuji did not pay him any attention; he picked the Sang Men nail from the ground and sniffed it. He smelled a whiff of faint fragrance of flower. These days, whenever he had some time during their journey, he would flip the pages of Wang Nangu’s ‘Poison Manual’, to acquaintance himself with the fantastic oddities of every description of the poisons and venoms around the world. As soon as he smelled this kind of aroma, he knew at once that the poison on the Sang Men nail was from the blue ‘tuo luo’ flower [Datura stramonium(?)]. The Poison Manual did say that the juice of this flower’s original smell was stinky like dead fish. In itself, it was not poisonous, even if one to drink an entire bowl it would not bring the least bit of harm, but as soon as it is mixed with blood, it would turn into deadly poison, while its smell would turn fragrant.

“This is the poison from the ‘tuo luo’ flower,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhan Chun did not know what kind of poison was applied on the Sang Men nails, but she knew that there was indeed this kind of flower in her Shifu’s flower garden. “Ah,” she exclaimed in surprise, “How do you know?” The blue ‘tuo luo’ flower was a very rare poisonous flower; it originated from the western region, and had never been found in the central China.

Zhang Wuji nodded. “I know,” he said. Taking Yang Buhui’s hand, he said, “Let’s go.”

“Xiao Xiongdi [little brother],” Zhan Chun busily said, “If you know the treatment, please be kind and save our lives.”

At first, Zhang Wuji was considering to help them, however, he suddenly remembered the evil expressions on Jian Jie and Xue Gongyuan’s faces when they were about to eat them, he could not help but hesitate.

Su Xizhi said, “Xiao Xianggong [young master], I [orig. zaixia – the lowly or humble one] have eyes but failed to see an expert; please do not blame me.”

“Alright,” Zhang Wuji said, “Let me have a try.” Taking some golden needles from his pocket, he pierced the ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. sheep’s odor acupoint] on Zhan Chun’s chest, and the ‘que pen xue’ [empty basin acupoints] on her left and right shoulders, to stop the pain in her chest due to the palm injury she received earlier.

“This ‘tuo luo’ flower will become poisonous as soon as it meets the blood,” he said, “But it will not create any harm if it enters the stomach. The two of you need to suck each other’s wound first, until the blood is free of any coagulation.”

Su Xizhi and Zhan Chun were embarrassed and felt uncomfortable, but right now, their lives were more important, besides, there was no way they would be able to suck their own wounds. Therefore, left with no other choice, they sucked the poisonous blood from each other’s wound.

Zhang Wuji picked three kinds of herbal medicine by the hillside; he chewed it until it was mushy and then applied it on the two people’s wounds. “These three types of herbal medicine can temporarily stop the attack of the poison, but it is ineffective to drive the poison completely out of your systems,” he said, “We must go to the next town and look for a drugstore, and then I will mix the medicine to treat your poison.”

Originally, the wounds on Su and Zhan, two people, were unbearably itchy, but as soon as the herbal medicine was applied, they felt cool and comfortable, while at the same time their limbs were no longer numb and weak. At once they repeatedly expressed their gratitude.

Each one of them broke a tree branch to use it as a crutch, then helping each other, they slowly continued their journey ahead. Zhan Chun asked Zhang Wuji’s school and origin. Zhang Wuji did not want to explain the truth, he simply said that he understood medicine since his childhood.

After walking for more than two hours, they arrived at the town of Shahe [in Hebei province]. The four of them found an inn to rest. Zhang Wuji wrote a prescription and Su Xizhi had an inn-helper to get the medicine. By this time, the area west of Henan and Hebei had not suffered disaster; although the Mongolian government officers practiced unruly and tyrannical cruelty, they were not in the least different than any other places, the common people still had food to eat. The shops and inns in Shahe were open for business as usual. As soon as the inn-helper returned with the medicine, Zhang Wuji cooked it and fed it to Su Xizhi and Zhan Chun.

The four of them stayed in the inn for three days. Each day Zhang Wuji changed the prescription. He applied the medicine externally as well as internally. By the fourth day, the poison in Su Xizhi and Zhan Chun’s bodies had been completely eradicated. The two of them profusely expressed their gratitude; they asked Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui’s destination. Zhang Wuji mentioned the name of Zuo Wang Peak of the Kunlun Mountain.

“Su Dage,” Zhan Chun said, “We owe our lives to this Xiao Xiongdi. However, my five Shixiong [martial brother] are still out there looking for you. This matter has not been brought to completion yet. What do you say you come with me going up Mount Kunlun?”

Su Xizhi was stunned. “Going up Mount Kunlun?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Zhan Chun said, “I will accompany you to pay a visit to my master. We will explain that you have not learned even half a stance of the Kunlun Liang Yi Jian. If we do not resolve this matter with him, the Senior, you will face an endless disaster in the future.”

Su Xizhi was angry in his heart, he said, “You, Kunlun Pai, bully others too much. I just took one look and I nearly entered the gates of hell. Isn’t that enough?” “Su Dage,” Zhan Chun said in gentle voice, “Please think about the difficulty Xiao Mei has to face. It’s not a problem for me to explain to my Shifu that you did not draw any advantage in sword technique from watching him; however, if my five Shixiong get hold of you and harm you, how would Xiao Mei feel?”

After going through life and death situation together for several days, their affection to each other grew. Listening to her gentle words full of tender feeling, Su Xizhi’s anger subsided at once. He also thought, “Kunlun Pai is strong in numbers; if they do not stop harassing me, eventually I will lose my life under their hands.”

Seeing him hesitate, Zhan Chun continued, “Please come with me first. Whatever important matter you need to attend, Xiao Mei will come with you and together we will deal with it after our visit to Mount Kunlun. What do you say?”

Su Xizhi was delighted. “Alright,” he said, “Let’s do it this way. Only I wonder whether Zun Shi [revered master] would trust me?”

Zhan Chun said, “Usually Shifu is very fond of me. If I earnestly ask him, I am sure he will not make things difficult for you. As soon as this matter is settled, Xiao Mei is thinking of visiting your young master and young miss, so that they will not be bullied by your sister-in-law.”

Hearing the way she talked, Su Xizhi knew the feeling between them was mutual; he was very happy. To Zhang Wuji he said, “Xiao Xiongdi, let us go up the Mount Kunlun together, so that we will keep each other company.”

Zhan Chun said, “The Kunlun Mountains stretch for thousands of ‘li’; I don’t even know how many peaks there are. I don’t know where that Zuo Wang Peak is, but if our Kunlun Pai is looking for a peak on Kunlun Mountains, I am sure we will find it.”

The next day, Su Xizhi hired a large cart for Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui to ride, while Zhan Chun and he rode on horsebacks. When they arrived at the next bigger town, Zhan Chun bought several sets of clothes for Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui. After they changed clothes, they were transformed into totally different persons. Su and Zhan two people cheered loudly as they saw the change in appearances on this pair of children; the boy looked so handsome and the girl so pretty. Until that day, these two children had been travelling a long and arduous journey; after having good meals, they gradually turned into a pair of healthy children.

They went farther and farther to the west, the weather also turned colder and colder. Fortunately, they had Su Xizhi and Zhan Chun looking after them, so they had a pleasant journey. When they reached the western region, Kunlun Pai’s influence was strongly felt; there was even less obstruction. Only, the yellow sand assaulted their faces and the cold wind penetrated their bones, making the journey hard to endure. In less than a day they had arrived at the Mount Kunlun’s San Sheng Ao [three-sage cavity/valley]. Everywhere they looked, there was green grass like a carpet, with fruit trees and flower bushes. Su Xizhi and Zhang Wuji had never imagined that there would be such a beautiful place like this in this desolate desert, they were delighted. Turned out the San Sheng Ao was surrounded on all sides by skyscraping mountain peaks, which protect it from the cold winds.

Ever since ‘Kunlun San Sheng’ [Three Sages of Kunlun] He Zudao, the successive Sect Leaders had spent considerable effort and meticulous care to conserve and tidy up this valley in the next seventy, eighty years. They dispatched the disciples as far as Jiang Nan [general term referring to the area south of Yangtze River] on the east, and Tianzhu [Indian subcontinent] on the west, to collect rare flowers and extraordinary trees to be cultivated this valley.

Zhan Chun took the three of them to ‘Tie Qin Ju’ [Iron Zither Residence], where Tie Qin Xiansheng, He Taichong took his residence. As they entered the door, she saw hat a crowd of her martial brothers and sisters were gathered inside with worried looks on their faces. They only nodded their acknowledgement to her without saying anything. Zhan Cun shivered inwardly, she wondered what had happened. Pulling a younger martial sister aside, she asked, “Is Shifu home?”

The female disciple had not yet replied when they heard He Taichong roar in violent rage coming from the inner chamber, “What a useless bunch! A useless bunch! [orig. fan tong - ‘rice bucket’] Everything I ask you to do, nothing is done properly. What use do I have of these worthless [orig. nong bao – wrap cloth of a boil or a wound] disciples?” followed by an earth- shattering noise of a table being slapped.

Zhan Chun turned toward Su Xizhi and said, “Shifu is having a fit of temper, we’d better not bump against the nail, let’s come back tomorrow.”

“Is that Chun’er?” suddenly He Taichong called out, “What are you doing whispering sneakily? Have you severed the head of that little thief surnamed Su?”

Zhan Chun’s face changed; she scrambled toward the inner chamber, kneeled down and kowtowed. “Disciple pays her respects to Shifu,” she said.

He Taichong said, “I sent you to do something for me. How was it? How is that little thief surnamed Su?”

“That man surnamed Su is outside,” Zhan Chun replied, “He comes to kowtow and apologize to Shifu. He said he did not realize his offense; or else he would not have watched Shifu practice the sword technique. But our School’s sword technique is most refined and subtle that as soon as he looked, he knew it was a brilliant sword move, unparalleled in the world. However, he did not have any luck that it was all an unfathomable mystery to him; in the end, he did not have the slightest comprehension.”

She had followed her master for quite some time; she knew he was extremely proud of his own martial art skill. Therefore, she said that Su Xizhi highly commended their school’s martial art. If her master was happy, then he might forgive Su Xizhi.

Normally, this conceited He Taichong would take things lightly, but today his mood was greatly agitated. “Humph,” he snorted, “You dealt with this matter well! Confine that surnamed Su in the stone building behind the mountain. I’ll punish him later.”

Zhan Chun realized he was still in a fit of temper, so she did not dare to press further. “Yes!” she said; then she asked, “Are Shimu [master wives] all well? Let me pay my respects inside.”

Altogether, He Taichong had five wives and concubines. The one he loved most was the youngest, the fifth concubine. Zhan Chun was thinking that in order to seek forgiveness for Su Xizhi, she would need this ‘Wu Shimu’ [Fifth Master Wife] to speak on their behalf.

He Taichong’s face suddenly turned sorrowful, he heaved a deep sigh and said, “It’s alright for you to see ‘Wu Gu’ [fifth (paternal) aunt], she has been very sick. It’s good that you returned this quick so that you can still see her face.”

Zhan Chun was startled. “Wu Gu is not feeling well?” she asked, “I wonder what kind of sickness?”

He Taichong sighed again. “If we know the sickness, then we can help her. We have had seven, eight supposedly famous doctors to examine her, but they can’t even tell what sickness she is suffering. Her whole body swells; a woman as beautiful as flower and jade, swollen … Ay, I don’t want to talk about it …” He repeatedly shook his head, and then he continued, “I have this many disciples, but all are just a useless bunch. I told them to Changbai Shan [Mount Changbai, Jilin province] to look for thousand-year ginseng. They have been gone for two months, yet nobody returned. I told them to look for Xue Lian [snow lotus (Saussurea involucrata)], or other miracle drug, yet everybody returned empty handed.”

Zhan Chun mused, “Changbai Shan is ten thousand ‘li’ away from this place, how can they promptly return? Even after reaching Changbai Shan, they might not necessarily find the thousand-old ginseng. As for Xue Lian or other miracle drug, which can bring the dead back to life, it’s not likely that we can find it even if we look for it our entire lives, much less in a short time? How can there be such convenience?” She knew her master loved this young concubine as much as he loved his own life. Now that she had fallen seriously ill, no wonder he vented his anger to others.

He Taichong continued, “I transmitted my internal energy through her ‘chi’ passage, but it did not make the least bit of difference. Humph, humph, if Wu Gu’s life cannot be saved, I am going to kill all useless physicians in the world.”

“Let disciple come and visit her,” Zhan Chun said. “Fine, let me come with you,” He Taichong said.

The master and disciple went together to the Fifth Aunt’s chamber. As soon as Zhan Chun walked through the door, her nostrils were assaulted by strong odor of medicine. Upon opening the mosquito net, she saw the Fifth Aunt’s face was swollen like Zhu Bajie [the pig-face character in the Journey to the West]; her eyes were buried deep underneath the swollen flesh that she almost could not open her eyes. Her breathing was so heavy that it sounded like the bellows a blacksmith. The Fifth Aunt was originally a beautiful woman; He Taichong would not be this infatuated with her otherwise. However, because of the illness she had turned into an ugly woman. Zhan Chun could not help but heave a deep sigh.

“Call those useless doctors to examine her again,” He Taichong said. The old female servant who was attending to her needs complied and went out the room. Soon afterwards, they heard the clinking noise of iron chains as seven doctors walked in. The legs of these seven men were chained together. Their appearance looked haggard and their faces were pitiful.

These seven men were famous physicians from Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu regions. They were half-invited, half-kidnapped by He Taichong’s disciples. But these seven famous doctors did not share the same opinion; some said she was bloated, some said she was possessed by evil spirit. They all wrote prescriptions, but after taking the prescribed medicine, the Fifth Aunt condition was no different that her condition on the first day. In his rage, He Taichong had these seven famous physicians locked up, saying that if the Fifth Aunt was not cured, these seven useless doctors (by this time, the ‘famous doctors’ had turned into ‘useless doctors’) would accompany her to the grave. The seven doctors had used up their entire skill, but the Fifth Aunt’s swelling was growing bigger and bigger. They knew their lives were at stake, but each time they did the examination together, these seven doctors were always arguing loudly with each other. Each one criticizing the other six, saying that the Fifth Aunt’s worsened condition was because of the others’ mistake, it had nothing to do with him.

This time was no different; as soon as they entered the room and examined her pulse, they started bickering with each other. He Taichong was anxious and enraged; he roared his curses that the seven famous or useless doctors’ voices were drowned.

Zhan Chun’s mind suddenly clicked. “Shifu,” she said, “I brought a doctor from Henan. Although his age is young, his skill is somewhat superior to these doctors.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” He Taichong was delighted, “Quickly invite him, quickly invite him!”

Each time the famous doctor arrived, he always treated him with an utmost respect; but he would not be polite anymore as soon as the ‘famous doctor’ turned into a ‘useless doctor’.

Zhan Chun quickly returned to the hall and took Zhang Wuji inside. As soon as Zhang Wuji saw He Taichong, he recognized him as one of the crowd who forced his parents to their death on Mount Wudang a few years ago; he could not refrain from feeling hatred and resentment. However, it had been four, five years since then, that Zhang Wuji’s face and stature had undergone huge changes. He Taichong did not recognize Zhang Wuji. He only saw a fourteen, maybe fifteen years old teenager, who did not kneel down and kowtow to him. He Taichong’s eyes narrowed; his face turned cold, and he no longer took any notice of Zhang Wuji. “Where is that doctor you were talking about?” he asked Zhan Chun.

“This Xiao Xiongdi is the doctor,” Zhan Chun said, “He has an exquisite medical knowledge, I am sure his skill surpasses many famous doctors.”

How could He Taichong believe her? “Nonsense, nonsense!” he said.

Zhan Chun said, “Disciple was hit by the blue ‘tuo luo’ flower poison, he was the one who cure me.”

He Taichong was astonished, he thought, “Without our School’s antidote, anybody who got hit by the blue ‘tuo luo’ flower poison would certainly die. If this kid can cure it, he must be some kind of freak.” Looking up and down to size up Zhang Wuji, he asked, “Young man, do you really know how to treat illness?”

Recalling his parents’ tragic death, actually Zhang Wuji hated He Taichong to his bones, however, by nature, it was difficult for him to hold a grudge, otherwise, he would not easily treat Jian Jie and the others, and he would not treat Zhan Chun of Kunlun Pai. As he heard He Taichong’s rude question this time, although he was not happy, he still nodded his head.

When Zhang Wuji entered the room, he had already smelled strange odor. After a while, he felt the odor was sometimes growing stronger, another time the odor was dispersing. He felt the odor was very unusual. He walked toward the Fifth Aunt’s bed and examined her face. He pressed the wrists of her both hands to check her pulse. Suddenly he took out a golden needle from his pocket and pricked it into her face which was swollen as big as a pumpkin.

He Taichong was shocked. “What are you doing?” he barked. As he lifted up his hand to grab Zhang Wuji, Zhang Wuji had already pulled the needle out, but there was no blood coming out from the Fifth Aunt’s face. He Taichong’s five fingers were less than half a foot from Zhang Wuji’s back when he stopped. He saw that Zhang Wuji brought the needle to his nose and then nodded his head.

A ray of hope grew in He Taichong’s heart. “Young … Xiao Xiongdi,” he said, “Can her illness be cured?” For a leader of a major sect to unexpectedly call Zhang Wuji ‘Xiao Xiongdi’ [little brother], he could be considered very polite.

Zhang Wuji did not answer. He crawled underneath the Fifth Aunt’s bed for a while, and then he opened the bedroom window and looked at the flower garden outside. Suddenly he jumped out the window and took a stroll in the garden. He Taichong was very fond of the Fifth Aunt, so he had all kinds of rare flowers and plants grew outside her window. When he saw Zhang Wuji was acting strange, he felt as if his heart was frying in oil. He was hoping that Zhang Wuji would immediately write a prescription and cure the Fifth Aunt strange illness, but he was strolling leisurely in the flower garden instead; how could he not be angry? But when his hands and feet were bound without him able to do anything and suddenly he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, he was forced to suppress his anger. Still, his face turned dark and his breathing was getting faster.

He observed that Zhang Wuji looked at the flowers and plants for a while and then he nodded his head as if he understood something. Upon returning to the room, Zhang Wuji said, “Her illness can be cured, but I don’t want to cure her. Miss Zhan, I am leaving.”

“Zhang Xiongdi,” Zhan Chun said, “If you heal the Fifth Aunt, our Kunlun Pai, from top to bottom, will be greatly indebted to you. I must certainly ask you to heal her.”

Pointing his finger to He Taichong, Zhang Wuji said, “This Tie Qin Xiansheng took part in forcing the death of my father and mother; why should I save his family’s life?”

He Taichong was shocked. “Xiao Xiongdi,” he asked, “What is your honorable surname? Who are your respected father and mother?” “My surname is Zhang,” Zhang Wuji replied, “My departed father was the fifth disciple of Wudang Pai.”

He Taichong’s heart turned cold. “Turns out he is Zhang Cuishan’s son,” he mused, “Wudang Pai is truly good; he learned from his family school, I guess his skill must be good.” Immediately he sighed in grief and said, “Zhang Xiongdi, when your respected father was still alive, he and I [orig. ‘zaixia’ – under, the humble one] were good friends. When he committed suicide, I did not stop grieving over his death …” In order to save his beloved concubine’s life, he did not hesitate to flatter without any reservation.

Zhan Chun also helped her master propagating the lie, “After your father and mother died, Shifu wept bitterly several times. He often told us, the disciples, that your respected father was his most cherished friend he had his entire life. Zhang Xiongdi, why didn’t you tell me earlier? If I knew you are Zhang Wu Xia’s [fifth hero] son, I would have treated you with more respect.”

Zhang Wuji was half-believing and half-doubting, but since he did not easily hold any grudge, he said, “Madame has not contacted some strange disease; she is suffering from the snake venom of ‘Jin Yin Xue She’ [gold and silver blood snakes].”

“Jin Yin Xue She?” He Taichong and Zhan Chun exclaimed together.

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “I have never seen this kind of vipers myself, but Madame’s cheeks are swollen, and when I pricked it with the golden needle, the needle smelled like the sandalwood fragrance. Mr. He, please take a look at Madame’s feet, the tips of her ten toes may have tiny bite marks.”

He Taichong busily tore open the cotton-wadded quilt covering the Fifth Aunt’s body. When he examined her toes carefully, indeed he saw several purplish black bite marks on all her toes. The marks were as tiny as grains of rice; if he did not intentionally look for the marks, he would easily miss them.

As soon as He Taichong saw the marks, his confidence in Zhang Wuji’s skill increased ten-folds. He said, “That’s right, that’s right, there are indeed bite marks on each toes. Xiao Xiongdi is very intelligent, very intelligent. Since Xiao Xiongdi knows the cause, you must also know how to treat it. After Concubine is healed, I will certainly reward you handsomely.” Turning toward the seven physicians, he sternly said, “What ‘cold’ or ‘possessed by evil spirit’, ‘devoid of Yang’ or ‘lack of Yin’? Rubbish! How come you, seven rice buckets, cannot see the bite marks on her toes?” Although he was swearing and cursing, his tone was actually jubilant.

“Madame’s illness is very peculiar,” Zhang Wuji said, “It’s not surprising that they do not know the cause. Please let them go home.”

“Very well, very well!” He Taichong laughed, “Xiao Xiongdi honors us with your presence; if we keep these useless doctors in here, won’t they annoy us to our deaths? Chun’er, give each of them one hundred ‘liang’ [tael], let them go home.”

Narrowly escaped death, the seven physicians were overjoyed. They left in a hurry, for fear that Zhang Wuji’s medical technique was not effective, then He Taichong would lock this ‘little useless doctor’ together with them, and would bury eight big and little ‘useless doctors’ together with the beloved concubine.

“Please ask the servant lady to move Madame’s bed,” Zhang Wuji ordered, “There is a hole underneath the bed from which the Jin Yin Xue snakes coming in and out of their lair.”

He Taichong did not wait for the servant lady; grabbing the bed’s leg with his right hand, he single-handedly pulled the bed away, along with the Madame on it. Sure enough, he saw a small hole underneath the bed. Unable to contain his delight and his anger, he called out, “Quickly get some sulfur and fire over here! Fumigate the vipers, cut them into thousand cuts and ten- thousand pieces!”

Zhang Wuji shook his hand. “Certainly not! Certainly not! Madame was hit by snake venom, she needs these two snakes to heal. If you kill the snakes, Madame will never recover.”

“So be it,” He Taichong said, “What shall we do, then? Please advice.” Ever since his master died, it was the very first time he had uttered these two words ‘please advice’ again.

Zhang Wuji pointed toward the flower garden outside the window. “Mr. He,” he said, “Your honorable wife’s illness stems from those eight ‘ling zhi lan’ [lingzhi orchid] trees in that garden.”

“Is that what’s it called? Lingzhi Orchid?” He Taichong asked, “I did not know its name. A friend of mine knew my affection of flowers and plants, he brought those eight orchid trees from the western region for me. When the flowers bloom, they indeed emit sweet smelling fragrance, like that of sandalwood. The color of the petals is also extremely delicate and beautiful. I have never thought it is the source of the disaster.”

Zhang Wuji said, “According to the book, the root of the Lingzhi Orchid is ball-shaped, fiery red in color, with deadly poison inside. Why don’t we dig it out to see whether it is true?”

By this time, the other disciples had heard about the young doctor who was going to treat the Fifth Master-wife’s strange illness. The male disciples felt it was inappropriate for them to enter the room, so only Zhan Chun and the other female disciples, six in total, were standing on the side. Hearing Zhang Wuji’s order, two female disciples quickly fetched iron shovels and began digging around the root of one of the Lingzhi Orchid tree. As expected, they saw the fiery red ball-shaped root. The disciples heard Zhang Wuji when said that the root contained deadly poison; how could they dare to touch it?

Zhang Wuji said, “Please dig all eight of the ball-shaped roots for me and place them in a clay pot. Put eight chicken eggs and a bowl of chicken blood, and mince everything into mush. Be careful in mixing the concoction, make sure nothing splashes onto your flesh.”

Zhan Chun complied; she took two younger disciples to do his order. Zhang Wuji also wanted two bamboo tubes, about a foot long each, and a bamboo stick, which he set aside.

Soon afterwards, the Lingzhi Orchid’s ball roots had been mashed into a thick paste. Zhang Wuji applied the paste on the floor, making a circle, but he left a gap about two ‘cun’ wide [1 cun is approximately 1 inch].

“Soon you will see an unusual thing; do not make any noise,” Zhang Wuji said, “If the vipers are frightened, they will disappear without any trace. All of you must take licorice root and cotton; squeeze it into your nostrils.”

Everybody followed his order at once. Zhang Wuji also stopped his nostrils then he took some kindling material and burned the Lingzhi Orchid’s leaf he placed in front of the snake hole.

Less than the time to drink a cup of tea later, a little snake head appeared from the small hole. The snake’s body was blood red. There was a golden crown-like flesh on its head. The snake slowly crawled out. Unexpectedly, this snake had four legs. Its length was approximately eight ‘cun’. Behind this snake, there was another snake crawling out of the hole. The second snake was a little shorter, but it looked exactly like the first snake, except the crown on its head was silver in color.

Seeing these two strange snakes, He Taichong and the others held their breath; nobody dared to make any noise. It goes without saying that this kind of strange snake must be deadly venomous, but these people were martial art experts, they were not afraid of the snakes. However, if the snakes were scared away, the Madame’s foul disease would be difficult to cure.

They saw the two snakes were extending their tongues to lick each other’s back; they looked very affectionate, leaning and snuggling on each other, while crawling slowly to enter the Lingzhi Orchid paste circle. Zhang Wuji quickly placed one bamboo tube outside the circle’s gap, while using the bamboo stick he gently pushed the tail of the silver-crowned blood snake. The snake moved in a lightning speed; everybody only saw a flash of silver lightning and the snake had already entered the tube. The golden- crowned blood snake also wanted to follow in, but the bamboo tube was too small; it could contain only one snake. As the golden-crowned blood snake was unable to enter, it produced an anxious ‘hu, hu’ sound.

With the bamboo stick, Zhang Wuji pushed the other bamboo tube in front of the golden-crowned blood snake. The snake also entered the tube. Zhang Wuji quickly took a wooden cork and closed the bamboo tube opening.

From the time the pair of snakes came out of the hole, everybody had been nervously holding their breath in trepidation. When Zhang Wuji finally closed the bamboo tubes with wooden corks, these people exhaled together as if by prior agreement.

Zhang Wuji said, “Please take several buckets of hot water and scrub the floor clean. We must not have any Lingzhi Orchid’s poison remain in here.”

The six female disciples rushed into the kitchen to boil some water. They returned a short while later and promptly washed the floor clean.

Zhang Wuji instructed them to shut the doors and windows tight, also for them to fetch some ‘xiong huang’ [realgar], ‘ming fan’ [potassium alum], ‘dai huang’ [Chinese rhubarb], ‘gan cao’ [licorice], and other drug ingredients, and ground them into powder, mixed with quicklime [Calcium Oxide]. He poured the mixture into the bamboo tube containing the silver- crowned blood snake. The snake immediately produced a 'hu hu' sound, which was immediately responded by the golden-crowned snake in the other bamboo tube. Zhang Wuji took the wooden cork out. The golden-crowned snake went out of the tube and crawled anxiously around the tube containing the silver-crowned snake. Suddenly it dashed toward the bed and disappeared underneath Fifth Aunt's cotton quilt. "Ah!" He Taichong was extremely shocked. Zhang Wuji shook his hand, and then gently uncovered the cotton quilt. They saw that the golden-crowned snake was biting the middle toe of the Fifth Aunt's left foot.

Zhang Wuji's face lit up as he said in a low voice, "The Jin Yin Xue snakes' venom inside Madame's body is currently being sucked out by this snake."

About half the time needed to burn an incense stick later, the snake's body grew several times its original size; the golden crown on its head also grew brighter. Zhang Wuji partly opened the wooden cork containing the silver- crowned snake. The golden-crowned snake leaped down from the bed and went to the bamboo tube. It spat the poisonous blood from its mouth to feed the silver snake.

"That's enough," Zhang Wuji said, "We'll draw the poison out twice daily, plus I am going to write a prescription to rapidly reduce the swelling, within ten days she will recover completely."

He Taichong was ecstatic. He invited Zhang Wuji into his study and said, "Xiao Xiongdi is extremely skillful. Would you advice me of what is going on?"

Zhang Wuji replied, "According to the book, this pair of golden-crowned and silver-crowned snakes occupies number 47 in the world in term of its toxicity, so their venom cannot be considered very fierce. However, there is one singular characteristic: they feed on poisons; 'pi shuang' [arsenic frost], 'he ding hong' [lit. red top of a crane], 'kong que dan' [peacock gall bladder], 'zhen jiu' [wine made of feathers of legendary bird], and so on, no exception. Lingzhi Orchid grew in the flower garden outside Madame's window. This Lingzhi Orchid's toxicity is truly fierce; it had unexpectedly drawn the pair of Jin Yin Xue snakes."

He Taichong nodded. "So that's how it is," he said.

Zhang Wuji said, "Jin Yin Xue snakes always live in pairs, male and female. Just now, I used realgar and other chemicals to burn the silver-crowned female snake. To save its mate, the male golden-crowned snake absorbed the poisonous blood from Madame's toe and feed it to her. Hereafter I am going to burn the male snake. The female snake will definitely drew some more poisonous blood. By repeating this procedure several times, the venom inside Madame's body can be totally eradicated."

Speaking to this point, he remembered something. "Why did the snakes bite Madame's toes in the first place?" he mused, "There must be another reason." After thinking for a while without finding any satisfactory answer, he dropped the matter out of his mind.

That very same day He Taichong held a banquet at the inner hall to entertain Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui. Zhang Wuji thought that since Yang Buhui was Ji Xiaofu's illegitimate daughter, he did not want to implicate Emei Pai's reputation; thereupon, when He Taichong inquired of her, he gave him a vague answer without further explanation.

A few days later, the swelling on the Fifth Aunt subsided, her spirit recovered, she was able to eat and drink. Zhang Wuji bid his farewell, but He Taichong earnestly asked him to stay, for fear that his beloved concubine’s illness would return.

Toward the afternoon of the tenth day, the swelling on the Fifth Aunt had completely disappeared. The Fifth Aunt prepared an exquisite banquet complete with fine wine as her way of saying thanks to Zhang Wuji. She also invited Zhan Chun to accompany the guests.

Although the Fifth Aunt’s countenance was still thin and pallid, her beauty had returned, making He Taichong utterly delighted. Seeing her master was in a very good mood, Zhan Chun implored him to take Su Xizhi as his disciple.

He Taichong roared in laughter. “Chun’er,” he said, “Your ‘removing-the- firewood-from-under-the-pot’ ruse is very well executed. If I accepted this surnamed Su fellow, then I might pass on the ‘Kunlun Liang Yi Jian’ sword technique to him. In that case, what harm would it bring if he has previously peeked one time?”

“Shifu,” Zhan Chun laughed, “If not because this surnamed Su fellow peeking your sword practice, disciple would not have left to pursue him, and thus would not come across Brother Zhang. No doubt that Shifu and Wu Gu’s good fortune have always flooded the heavens, and that Brother Zhang’s medical skill is brilliant; but come to think about it, this fellow surnamed Su also has a tiny bit of contribution.”

The Fifth Aunt said to He Taichong, "You have received these many disciples, in the end, nobody was able to help you in your distress, except Miss Zhan who has rendered you a great service. Since Miss Zhan has her heart set on that fellow, I am sure he must have something good in him. Why don't you accept one more disciple? Who knows, perhaps in the future he will be your most capable disciple."

He Taichong had always listened to his most beloved concubine, thereupon he said, "Very well, I will accept him on one condition."

"What is it?" the Fifth Aunt asked.

With a straight face He Taichong said, "Upon entering my school, he must keep his mind on his lessons, he must not have any wishful thinking toward Chun'er, thinking about taking her as his wife, for example. I will strictly enforce this one condition."

Zhan Chun blushed and hang her head low. The Fifth Aunt giggled and said, "Aiyo, as the Shifu, you must set a good example. You yourself have three wives and four concubines, and yet you forbid your disciple to marry?"

He Taichong was only teasing Zhan Chun. He broke out in laughter and said, "Let's drink! Let's drink!"

A young maid came in, carrying a wooden tray in his hands, with a pot of wine on the tray. She came in front of the banquet table and poured wine for everybody. The wine was thick and rather sticky, golden yellow in color, its sweet aroma assailed their nostrils.

"Zhang Xiongdi," He Taichong said, "This wine is our mountain's famous product, it is fermented from the 'hu po mi li' [lit. amber honey pear] grown on the snowy peak. It is called 'hu po mi li jiu' [amber honey pear wine]. You won't find it outside this area. You should not drink only a little of it." While in his mind he pondered, "How can I swindle him into spilling out the Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden-mane lion king] Xie Xun's whereabouts? I must plan it carefully, cannot have the slightest bit of rashness."

Actually, Zhang Wuji was not a wine-drinker, but since the sweet aroma of the 'hu po mi li jiu' was flooding his brain, he took the cup with both hands. He had just brought the cup to his lips when the pair of Jin Yin Xue snakes he kept in his pocket was calling out, 'hu hu hu'. Zhang Wuji's mind was stirred. "We must not drink this wine," he called out.

Everybody was startled and put down the wine cups at once. From his pocket Zhang Wuji took the bamboo tubes out and released the golden- crowned blood snake. The snake crawled toward the wine cup and stretching out its neck, it sucked the wine dry. Zhang Wuji returned the snake into the bamboo tube, and then released the female silver-crowned blood snake to also drink a cup. This pair of snakes did not want to be separated from each other, so if only either the male or the female was released, they would not go far and were very tame. However, if both of them were released at the same time, not only it would be difficult to return them into the bamboo tubes, they might even bite.

The Fifth Aunt laughed and said, "Xiao Xiongdi, your pair of snakes can drink wine. They are so amusing."

Zhang Wuji said, "Could you have someone bring in a dog or a cat, please?" "Yes," the young maid replied and turned around to leave the room.

Zhang Wuji said, "Would this Jiejie [elder sister] wait here and not go? Let someone else get the cat or the dog." A short while later, a servant came in pulling a yellow dog. Zhang Wuji took the cup of wine in front of He Taichong and poured it into the yellow dog's mouth. The yellow dog barked sadly several times, and then died with blood flowing from all its seven orifices.

The Fifth Aunt was so frightened that her entire body trembled. "The wine is poisonous ... who ... who wants to kill us? Zhang Xiongdi, how did you know?"

Zhang Wuji said, "Jin Yin Xue snakes feed on poison. When they smelled the poison in the wine, they cried out happily."

He Taichong's face turned pale; he grabbed the young maid's wrist and said in low voice, "Who told you to deliver this poisonous wine to us?"

The young maid was shocked and scared out or her wits. In a trembling voice she stammered, "I ... I didn't know it was ... it was poisonous ... I took it from the kitchen ..."

"Whom did you meet on the way from the kitchen to this room?" He Taichong asked.

The young maid replied, "I saw Xing Fang at the corridor, she stopped me to talk to me, she opened the wine pot to smell its aroma."

He Taichong, the Fifth Aunt and Zhan Chun looked at each other with fear on their faces. Turned out that Xing Fang was the trusted maid of He Taichong's first wife.

"Mr. He," Zhang Wuji said, "I was reluctant to say it, although I have pondered about it in my heart. Think about it, why did this pair of Jin Yin Xue snakes bite Madame's toes in the first place, so that the snake venom entered into her system? Evidently, Madame has already been hit by a slow poison; her blood has already contained poison. This was what attracted the Jin Yin Xue snakes. I am afraid the person who poisoned Madame is the same person who put poison in our wine today."

He Taichong had not replied when suddenly the curtain on the doorway was opened and a shadow flashed by. Zhang Wuji felt a severe pain on the chest below his breasts as his acupoints were sealed.

A sharp voice said, "You are absolutely right, I was the one who put poison!"

They saw a middle-aged woman came in. She was big and tall in stature, the hair on her head was graying, her eyes revealed a strong character, there were wrinkles in between her eyebrows. The woman said to He Taichong, "I put centipede venom in the wine, what are you going to do?"

The Fifth Aunt's face showed fear; she stood up at once and respectfully bowed, "Taitai! [Madame]" she called out. Turned out this big and tall woman was He Taichong's first wife, Ban Shuxian, who was originally his older martial sister.

Seeing his wife burst into the room, He Taichong was silent, he only snorted once. Ban Shuxian said, "I am asking you: I put the poison in the wine. What are you going to do?"

He Taichong said, "You don't like this young man, that's fine with me. But you just did this without distinguishing right from wrong. Supposing the wine entered my belly, how can that be good?"

Ban Shuxian indignantly said, "There is no good person in here! If I can torment everybody to death, it is good for me."

She took the wine pot and shook it lightly. The wine splashed inside the pot; apparently, the pot was still almost full. She poured a cup of wine and placed it in front of He Taichong. "I was thinking of killing all five of you," she said, "But since this kid has discovered my plan, I am willing to spare four of you. I don't care who will drink this cup of wine. Lao Gui [old ghost], you decide." While saying that, 'shua!' she drew her sword. Ban Shuxian was Kunlun Pai's most illustrious character. She was two years older than He Taichong, and she entered their school earlier, her martial art skill was not inferior to He Taichong. When he was young, He Taichong was a handsome man, so he won the favor of this older martial sister. Their master, Bai Luzi, died in a battle against a Ming Cult expert, and did not leave any will. As a result, the numerous disciples fought over the Sect Leader position, nobody was willing to yield to anybody else. Ban Shuxian threw her full support behind He Taichong. With their combined effort, their power increased greatly. Although the other martial brothers each desired a selfish gain, nobody was able to challenge them. In the end, He Taichong took over the Sect Leader position. Out of his indebtedness, he took this older martial sister as his wife.

As they grew older, due to the difference in their ages, Ban Shuxian appeared to be more than ten years older to He Taichong. Using the pretext of not having a male offspring, He Taichong took a concubine. Because of her dozens of years of prestige and his own conscience - he knew he was at fault, He Taichong held this Shijie [older martial sister] in very high regard. However, although he was afraid of her, he kept taking concubine after concubine. Only, each time he took a new concubine, his fear toward his first wife also increased by 30%.

At this time, as he saw his wife put a poisoned wine in front of him, it had never occurred to him to disobey his wife's order. He thought, "Certainly I can't drink it. Wu Gu and Chun'er also cannot drink it. Zhang Wuji is the benefactor who saved our lives. Only this baby girl does not have any relation with us." Thereupon he stood up and handed the wine cup to Yang Buhui, saying, "Child, drink this cup of wine."

Yang Buhui was terrified; she had just witnessed how a large yellow dog drank a cup of poisoned wine and died violently; how could she dare to drink the wine? Crying, she said, "I don't want to drink, I don't want to drink."

He Taichong grabbed the clothes on her chest and was about to force her. Zhang Wuji coldly said, "Let me drink it." He Taichong felt a pang of regret, but he did not open his mouth at all. Ban Shuxian was actually jealous and wanted to poison He Taichong's most beloved concubine, the Fifth Aunt. Her scheme was doing so well until Zhang Wuji suddenly appeared and thwarted her plan; therefore, she loathed this young man. With a cold voice she said, "You are a crafty young man, perhaps you have taken the antidote. If you are going to drink, then one cup is not enough, you must drink the entire poisonous wine pot dry.”

Zhang Wuji looked at He Taichong, hoping he would say something on his behalf, who would have thought that He Taichong was looking down and did not utter a single word. Zhan Chun and the Fifth Aunt did not dare to speak, for fear that as soon as they opened their mouth, Ban Shuxian might turn her anger to them, and then this almost full pot of poisonous wine would be poured into their own mouths.

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned icy-cold, he said in his heart, “These several people’s lives were saved by me, but now that I am facing a disaster, they indeed only watch with folded arms, they don’t even utter half a word on my behalf.”

“Miss Zhan,” he said, “After I die, please take this little sister to Zuo Wang Peak where her father is. Would you do that?”

Zhan Chun looked at her master. He Taichong nodded. Thereupon Zhan Chun said, “Very well, I will take her there.” However, in her heart she thought, “Kunlun Mountains spread out for thousands of ‘li’, how do I know where the Zuo Wang Peak is?”

Zhang Wuji could hear that she said those words half-heartedly, obviously she did not have the least bit of sincerity; he knew that these people were hypocritical bunch, so it would not do any good to speak further. With a cold laugh he said, “Kunlun Pai is one of the prestigious school in the Wulin world, turns out it is just like this. Mr. He, get the wine for me!”

He Taichong was indignant to hear him, so he thought the sooner he got rid of Zhang Wuji the better, his wife’s anger would be suppressed sooner, and thus she would not think of any other treacherous scheme to kill the Fifth Aunt. To him, it was a desperate situation; he had no time to worry about Xie Xun’s whereabouts. Therefore, he fetched the almost full pot of poisonous wine and poured it into Zhang Wuji’s mouth.

Yang Buhui hugged Zhang Wuji tight while wailing loudly.

Ban Shuxian laughed coldly and said, “Even if your medical skill is more exquisite, I am going to make sure that you will not be able to save yourself.” Stretching out her hand, her fingers deftly sealed several acupoints on Zhang Wuji’s shoulder, back, waist and sides. Using the end of her sword’s hilt, she also sealed two major acupoints on He Taichong, Zhan Chun, the Fifth Aunt and Yang Buhui’s bodies. She said, “I’ll be back four hours later to release you.” When she sealed their acupoints, He Taichong, Zhan Chun, and the others did not move; they did not even dare to evade.

Ban Shuxian turned toward the servants waiting on the side, "Out!" she said. She went out the room last and closed the door while laughing coldly all the way out.

As soon as the poisonous wine entered his stomach, Zhang Wuji felt excruciating pain deep inside his belly. When Ban Shuxian left the room, he thought, "Now that you left, I may not necessarily die." Suppressing the pain, he circulated his 'chi' using the technique taught by Xie Xun. First, he freed the sealed the acupoints on his body, and then he pulled several strands of his own hair and tickled his throat. 'Wah!' he vomited about 80, 90% of the poisonous wine inside his stomach.

He Taichong, Zhan Chun, and the others were utterly amazed seeing how he was able to move even after his acupoints were sealed. He Taichong wanted to reach out and stop him, but unfortunately, his acupoints were also sealed by his own wife. His superior martial art skill was useless at this time, it only increased his anxiety.

Zhang Wuji was still hurting inside, but no matter how hard he tried, there was simply nothing else he could vomit out of his stomach. He thought the best course of action right now was to try to escape from this dangerous place and then find a way to repel the poison. Thereupon he reached out to unseal Yang Buhui's acupoints. To his surprise, however, Ban Shuxian's acupoint sealing technique was unique, Zhang Wuji was unable to unseal the acupoints. In this pressing moment, he had no time to try over various acupoint unsealing techniques, thereupon he carried her toward the window. Pushing the window pane outward, he looked around and after making sure there was nobody outside, he put Yang Buhui down outside the window.

If He Taichong used his internal energy [orig. 'zhen qi' - true/real 'chi'] to force the acupoints open, he might be able to do it within a little more than an hour; however, Zhang Wuji was about to escape. If he waited until his wife returned and inquired, he would be in trouble; not to mention this Wudang Pai kid was able to escape from Kunlun Pai's San Sheng Tang [three-saint hall] unarmed [orig. 'chi shou kong quan' - empty hand, empty fist]. If his ungrateful act and hypocritical deeds were spread out in Jianghu, how could he save his face as the grand master of a prestigious sect? No matter what, he simply must kill him. Therefore, he took a deep breath, ready to shout, to warn his wife.

Zhang Wuji had anticipated this, so he took a black pill from his pocket and stuffed it inside the Fifth Aunt's mouth, saying, "This is the 'jiu pi wan' [lit. turtle-dove arsenic pill]. After twenty-four hour, the Fifth Madame will die with broken intestines and split heart. I am going to put the antidote on a big tree thirty 'li' from here. You will see the mark. Six hours later, Mr. He can send someone to fetch the medicine. If by any chance I am captured on my way out and am put to death, there will be one person accompanying me."

This abrupt turn of events took He Taichong by surprise; he hesitated a moment before saying in a low voice, "Xiao Xiongdi, although my San Sheng Tang is not a dragon pool or a tiger lair, I doubt two children like you will be able to break through."

Zhang Wuji knew he was not bluffing. He laughed coldly and said, "But the toxicity of the 'jiu pi wan' the Fifth Madame took, no one else can neutralize it other than I."

"Alright," He Taichong said, "You unseal my acupoints, I will personally escort you out."

He Taichong's sealed acupoints were 'feng chi' and 'jing men' ['wind reservoir' and 'capital (city) gate']. Zhang Wuji massaged his 'tian zhu', 'huan tiao', 'da zhui', 'shang qu' [lit. sky pillar, jumping the hoop, big spine, and crooked quotient], several acupoints for a moment, but it hardly gave him the desired effect. In their hearts, the two of them admired one another.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Their Kunlun Pai’s acupoint sealing technique is truly good. Mr. Hu had taught me seven different acupoint unsealing techniques, but all are useless against the sealed acupoints on his body.”

He Taichong thought, “Surprisingly this kid knows these many acupoint unsealing techniques, every technique is marvelous, truly deserving my admiration. Shijie [martial (older) sister] clearly sealed seven, eight of his acupoints, yet somehow she failed to control him? For the last several years the name of Wudang Pai shook the Jianghu. This LaoDao [Ol’ Taoist] Zhang Sanfeng’ ability is unreachable. On the Mount Wudang that day, I was lucky I did not fight Wudang Pai. Otherwise, if they unleashed their anger, I would have fallen with head and face in the mud. He is only a small child, yet he is this good. The older and bigger ones must be ten times better than he is.”

He did not know that Zhang Wuji learned acupoint sealing technique from Xie Xun and the acupoint unsealing technique from Hu Qingniu. Wudang Pai indeed gave him the solid foundation with its prestige that shook the Wulin world, however, these two special skills of Zhang Wuji’s had nothing to do with Wudang Pai.

Seeing Zhang Wuji failed to unseal his acupoints, He Taichong had an idea, “Take that teapot and give me a mouthful of tea,” he said.

Zhang Wuji did not know why he suddenly wanted to drink tea at a moment like this, but knowing that he cared too much about his beloved concubine’s life, he believed He Taichong would not dare to do any trick against him. Thereupon he took the teapot and let him drink some tea.

He Taichong slowly sipped a mouthful of tea, but he did not swallow it. Aiming toward his own ‘qing leng yuan’ [lit. clear and cold abyss] on the crook of his elbow, he exerted his strength and blew a water dart. With ‘chi, chi!’ sound, the acupoint on his hand was immediately unsealed.

Upon his arrival at the San Sheng Tang, Zhang Wuji saw right away how He Taichong threw a fit of temper because of the Fifth Aunt's illness, that he was a man who fears his wife and pampers his concubine, that he was a weak and indecisive man. Right now, as he witnessed He Taichong's skill, he could not restrain from being flabbergasted. "This Kunlun Pai Zhang Men's [Sect Leader] martial art skill is truly profound; I underestimated him before. Apparently, his skill level is not below those of Yu Er Shibo [second martial (older) uncle], Jin Hua Popo and Miejue Shitai. I thought he was a timid and careless. I forgot the fact that he is the Kunlun Pai Zhang Men, a position which not many people would be able to reach. If this water dart was shot to my face or my chest, I would have died instantly."

He Taichong turned his right hand several times and then he unsealed his own legs' acupoints. "Give the antidote first," he said, "Then I will escort you safely out the valley."

Zhang Wuji shook his head. He Taichong anxiously said, "I am the Kunlun Zhang Men, do you think I will break my promise to a child like you? Won't it be bad if the poison flares-up?"

Zhang Wuji said, "The poison will not flare-up." "Alright," He Taichong sighed, "Let us go out quietly."

The two of them jumped out the window. He Taichong reached out and lightly brushed Yang Buhui's back with his fingers. Her acupoints were immediately unsealed; his hand was incomparably light and swift. Zhang Wuji was extremely impressed, and his face showed his deep respect. He Taichong understood his feelings, he smiled slightly. With each hand holding one child, he circled toward the flower garden behind the San Sheng Tang, and went out through the side door.

Altogether, there were nine entryways around the San Sheng Tang. Other than the side door of the rear garden, all the passages were winding around garden paths, and some lead into various pavilions and halls. Zhang Wuji saw endless rows of rooms with countless doors. If He Taichong did not lead them, he knew he would be lost for sure. Even without any Kunlun disciple stopping them, they might not necessarily be able to escape out.

As soon as they left the San Sheng Tang, He Taichong grabbed Yang Buhui and carried her in his right arm while pulling Zhang Wuji with his left hand. Unleashing his 'qing gong', He Taichong took them toward the northwest. Taken by He Taichong, Zhang Wuji felt they were lightly floating on the ground; each jump covered a distance of more than a 'zhang' [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet or 3 meters]. The wind sounded so loud in his ears; it was as if they were flying high up in the sky. His respect towards He Taichong and Kunlun Pai grew by several points.

Zhang Wuji realized that the poison in his stomach had not been completely eradicated, so he took two detoxifier pills from his pocket and felt relieved after the pills entered his belly.

While they were still rushing ahead, suddenly they heard a woman's voice calling, "He Taichong ... He Taichong ... stop ..." This voice was riding on the wind; it sounded very far, yet also sounded as if the speaker was right next to them. It was precisely Ban Shuxian's voice.

He Taichong hesitated, but in the end he stopped. He said with a sigh, "Xiao Xiongdi, the two of you better go quickly. She is my wife, I cannot escort you any further."

Zhang Wuji thought, "This man is actually very decent toward us." Thereupon he said, "Mr. He, you can return now. The pill I gave the Fifth Madame is not poison; it is not 'Jiu Pi Wan' at all, it is only 'sang bei wan' [mulberry tree shell pill] to moist the throat and suppress coughing. A few days ago Buhui Meimei [younger sister] was coughing, so I made some for her. I still have several pills left and unavoidably I scared you."

He Taichong was stunned, angry, but also relieved. "So it really is not poison?" he roared.

“I was the one who brought the Fifth Madame back to life,” Zhang Wuji said, “How could I poison her?”

In the meantime, Ban Shuxian did not stop calling, “He Taichong … He Taichong … Are you done running away?” Her voice was somewhat closer.

He Taichong took Zhang Wuji and Yang Buhui away because he was afraid his beloved concubine’s poisoning might be incurable, but now he knew for certain that the Fifth Aunt was not poisoned at all. Turned out he had fallen under this kid’s trick. His anger rose uncontrollably. ‘Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!’ four times on his ears left and right, Zhang Wuji’s cheeks were swollen and blood dripping down from his mouth.

Zhang Wuji deeply regretted his own action, “I was muddle-headed. Why would I tell him the truth?” he mused, “Now Buhui Meimei and I will lose our lives.”

Seeing He Taichong’s fifth strike was about to arrive, hastily he launched the ‘dao qi long’ [riding a dragon upside-down] from the Wudang ‘chang quan’ [long fist] style, in which his palm met the approaching enemy. If this stance was launched by Yu Lianzhou or his peers, the raw power would be unlimited, but Zhang Wuji’s mastery of this skill was only skin-deep, how could he possibly withstand Kunlun Pai Zhang Men’s strike?

He Taichong slightly leaned sideways. ‘Slap!’ his palm hit Zhang Wuji’s face above his right eye so that his eye was immediately swollen. Zhang Wuji had realized early on that his skill was too far below of his opponent. Since he could not even return a single stance from the opponent, he might as well hang down his hands and stand still, no longer trying to resist. But He Taichong did not give up just because Zhang Wuji did not fight back, he still struck Zhang Wuji one palm after another. Only he did not use internal energy at all, otherwise, one palm strike would be enough to kill him. Still, each palm strike had made Zhang Wuji dizzy and his vision blurred; the pain was unbearable.

While He Taichong was hitting enthusiastically, Ban Shuxian, taking two disciples along, had arrived, she coldly standing on the side.

Seeing Zhang Wuji not fighting back, Ban Shuxian thought it was not interesting. “Try hitting that baby girl,” she said.

He Taichong’s body turned sideways and ‘Slap!’ he struck Yang Buhui’s ear. Yang Buhui was hurt and crying loudly.

Zhang Wuji was angry, "It's alright for you to hit me, why must you bully a little girl?"

He Taichong ignored him, he stretched out his palm to strike Yang Buhui again. Zhang Wuji jumped forward to hit He Taichong's chest with his head.

Ban Shuxian sneered and said, "A little boy like that still knows passion and righteousness, unlike an old fickle who completely lacks any sense of love and justice."

Listening to his wife mocking him, He Taichong's face reddened. He grabbed the back of Zhang Wuji's neck and threw him out. "Little bastard!" he roared, "Go see your father and mother!" He was using his full power, aiming Zhang Wuji's skull toward a large rock on the side of the mountain. Zhang Wuji was unable, he flew swiftly and in an instant he would hit the rock, his brain would burst open.

Suddenly a strong force came in from the side, pulling Zhang Wuji aside and stood him up on the ground. Zhang Wuji was shaken badly, he stood unsteadily and narrowed his swollen eyes to look to the side. He saw about five feet away stood a middle-aged scholar wearing white coarse cotton long robe.

Ban Shuxian and He Taichong looked at each other in astonishment; they did not hear this scholar coming, and did not see from where he came. Supposing he had already been hiding behind the rock, based on their capability, why did these husband and wife not know his presence? Just now He Taichong was using a considerable force in throwing Zhang Wuji toward the rock, the momentum was at least five, six hundred catties, yet the scholar neutralized it, and stood Zhang Wuji on the side, with only a roll of his sleeve. Clearly his martial art skills were amazingly high.

They noticed the scholar was around forty years of age, his appearance was elegant, only his eyebrows were slightly sagging. There were noticeable wrinkles on the corners of his mouth, as if he had grown old before his age due to suffering. He did not speak nor did he move, his expression was apathetic, as if his mind was on some distant place, thinking about some other matters.

He Taichong coughed once and asked, "Who are you, Sire? Why are you meddling willfully, interfering Kunlun Pai's business?"

The scholar indifferently said, "So you are Tie Qin Xiansheng [Mr. Iron Zither] and Mrs. He? I’m [orig. zaixia - the humble one] Yang Xiao."

"Ah!" as soon as the two words 'Yang Xiao' came out of his mouth, He Taichong, Ban Shuxian and Zhang Wuji, three people, exclaimed together as if by prior agreement. The difference was: Zhang Wuji's exclamation was full of surprise and delight, while He Taichong, husband and wife, were shocked and angered.

'Shua, shua!' the two Kunlun Pai female disciples unsheathed their swords, reversed the sword hilts and gave the sword to their Shifu and Shimu [master and master wife]. He Taichong held the sword across to protect his abdomen, in the ‘xue yong lan qiao’ [snow covers the blue bridge] stance. Ban Shuxian held the sword with its tip slanting to the ground in the ‘mu ye xiao xiao’ [the rustling of trees and leaves] stance. These two stances were the most refined and mysterious within the Kunlun Pai sword techniques. The stances appeared light and casual, but behind each movement seven, eight swift and fierce follow-up movements were hidden.

The two people send their internal strength toward their right arms. With only a simple flick of their wrists, the swords in their hands would flash and they would be able to attack seven, eight vital points on their enemy’s body. Facing a formidable enemy, the two of them were prepared to launch the skill they had learned for all their lives. However, Yang Xiao seemed oblivious to these people; he heard the delight in Zhang Wuji’s voice and felt strange. He turned his glance toward Zhang Wuji, and saw his face was full of blood; his nose was swollen and his eyes blue from the beating he took from He Taichong earlier. He looked awful, but the happiness from the bottom of his heart overflowed to his unsightly face.

Zhang Wuji called out, “You, are you the Ming Cult’s Left Emissary of Brightness, Yang Xiao Bobo [uncle, older than one’s father]?”

Yang Xiao nodded, “How does a child like you know my name?” he asked.

Zhang Wuji pointed toward Yang Buhui and called out, “She is your daughter.” Pulling Yang Buhui closer, he said, “Buhui Meimei, call him Papa, call him Papa! We finally found him!”

Yang Buhui looked at Yang Xiao with eyes opened wide. She was 90% unsure, but truth be told, she did not care whether he was her father or not. She only asked, “Where is Mama? Hasn’t Mama flown down from the sky?”

Yang Xiao’s heart was greatly shaken. He grabbed Zhang Wuji’s shoulder and said, “Child, tell me clearly. She … whose daughter is she? Who is her Mama?” His grab was too strong; Zhang Wuji’s shoulder bone made a ‘crack, crack’ sound, the pain penetrated his heart.

Zhang Wuji was unwilling to show weakness and refused to cry of pain, but in the end an 'Ah!' cry still escaped from his mouth. "She is your daughter, her Mama was Emei Pai Heroine Ji Xiaofu," he said. Yang Xiao's original complexion was pale, but this moment his face did not show any sign of pink at all. "She ... she has a daughter?" his voice was trembling, "She ... where is she?" Hastily he bent down to pick Yang Buhui up. After being struck twice by He Taichong, her cheeks were swollen big, but her features did remind him of Ji Xiaofu's beauty.

While Yang Xiao was about to inquire further, he suddenly saw black silk thread hanging over her neck. He gently pulled the thread and saw at the end of the thread there was a piece of iron medallion. On the medallion there was a carving of blazing fire inlaid with gold. It was precisely the Ming Cult's 'tie yan ling' [iron flame symbol of authority] he gave Ji Xiaofu. His doubts were entirely gone. He embraced Yang Buhui tight and asked, "Where is your Mama? Where is your Mama?"

"Mama has flown to the sky," Yang Buhui replied, "I am looking for her. Did you see her?"

Yang Xiao realized she was too young to speak clearly, so he turned his questioning gaze toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji sighed. "Yang Bobo," he said, "Please don't be grieved. Ji Gugu [(paternal) aunt] was struck to death by her Shifu. At the point of death she


"You're lying! You're lying!" Yang Xiao bawled. 'Crack!' Zhang Wuji's left arm was crushed by his grip. 'Thump! Thump!' Yang Xiao and Zhang Wuji fell down together. Yang Xiao's right hand was still holding his daughter tight.

He Taichong and Ban Shuxian looked at each other. They raised their swords; one was pointing to Yang Xiao's throat, the other to his forehead in between his eyebrows. Yang Xiao was the Ming Cult's expert fighter, his name was widely well-known. Ban Shuxian and He Taichong's master, Bai Luzi was killed by a Ming Cult person. Although the killer's name was unknown to them, most of Kunlun Pai people suspected it was Yang Xiao. As soon as Mr. and Mrs. He came across him by chance, they felt as if their hearts were soaked by a bucket of cold water as the hearts were beating faster. Who would have thought that Yang Xiao suddenly fainted? It truly was a heaven-sent opportunity, so they immediately take control his vital points.

Ban Shuxian said, "Let's chop his arms first." "Yes!" He Taichong replied.

At this time, Yang Xiao had not come around yet. Zhang Wuji's broken arm hurt like hell that his brow was wet with cold sweats, but his mind was still very clear. Realizing their critical situation, he stretched out his leg and lightly knocked the 'bai hui xue' [hundred-gathering acupoint] on top of Yang Xiao's head with his toes. 'Bai Hui' acupoint was connected directly to the brain; as soon as it was jolted, Yang Xiao regained his consciousness and opened his eyes at once. But he immediately felt the cold air of the sword pointing toward the center of his eyebrows, and saw a dark green shadow flash as another sword was hacking down on his left arm. It was too late for him to make any move, much less Ban Shuxian’s sword was threatening his vital point; he simply could not move. Immediately he sent his internal energy to his left arm.

When He Taichong’s sword cut his left arm, the blade suddenly slid to the side; the sword lost its power, as if it was cutting a slippery and resilient object. Yet the sleeve of Yang Xiao’s white robe suddenly turned red. Obviously his arm was cut after all.

Right this moment, Yang Xiao’s body suddenly stiffened and slipped more than a ‘zhang’ backward, just like if someone was tying a rope around his neck and pulling him with such an unbelievable speed. Ban Shuxian’s sword was initially resting on his forehead. As Yang Xiao slipped backwards, the tip of the sword cut through from his forehead to his nose, mouth and chest, creating a long strip of bloody scar several ‘fen’ deep. [1 fen is approximately 1/3 of a centimeter or about 1/8 of an inch]. It was a very risky move on Yang Xiao’s part. Supposing Ban Shuxian’s sword were half a ‘cun’ deeper [1 cun = 1 inch], Yang Xiao’s chest and abdomen would be fatally cut. As he slipped away, immediately he stood stiffly up. These two movements were totally unpredictable. His knees were not bent, his waist did not buckle, he slipped out abruptly and stood up suddenly, as if his body was a mass of spring. The way his body stiffened strangely was no different from a living corpse.

As Yang Xiao stood up, his feet pushed down and ‘Crack! Crack!’ both swords of He Taichong and his wife were broken. Although his two kicks were sent out one after another, the speed was like lightning as if they were sent out at the same time. Based on He Taichong and Ban Shuxian’s swordsmanship attainment, even if Yang Xiao martial art skill were stronger, he should not have been able to break the two people’s swords just like that. Only his movements were so weird, plus he was seriously hurting when he suddenly escaped and launched a counterattack. He Taichong, husband and wife were so shocked that they pulled their sword a fraction of a second too late.

After breaking the swords, Yang Xiao kicked the two sword tips that they flew toward their two owners. He Taichong, husband and wife used their broken swords to block, but their palms were shaken and half of their bodies tingled. Although they managed to block the tips of the swords, the shock they experienced was not small. Hastily they retreated and jumped backward. One was standing on the northwest, the other on the southeast. Although they were holding half-broken swords in their hands, the ‘Yang’ sword pointed to the sky, the ‘Yin’ sword pointed to the earth. Two people with two swords combined and complemented each other. It was precisely the Kunlun Pai’s ‘liang yi jian fa’ [two appearances sword technique]. Although they were both scared, they still maintained a calm outward appearance, as steady and dignified as a mountain.

Kunlun Pai’s ‘liang yi jian fa’ had enjoyed hundreds of years’ reputation. It was one of world-famous sword techniques. He Taichong, husband and wife came from the same school, they had been practicing together since they both were very young, so their familiarity with this particular skill was matchless.

Yang Xiao had fought a number of great battles against the Kunlun Pai. He knew this sword technique was truly fierce. Although he was not afraid, he realized that he would not be able to defeat these two people in less than several hundred moves. This moment the only thing in his heart was Ji Xiaofu's death, how could he have any mood to fight? Let alone the cuts on his arm and face were not light, he would face an extreme danger if he let the wound bleed without an end. Thereupon he coldly said, "Kunlun Pai did not make any progress at all. I have to leave for the time being, but I will be back in the future to settle the score with worthy husband and wife."

His left hand was still holding Yang Buhui, his right hand reached out to pull Zhang Wuji. Without anybody saw him raise his foot or move his leg, he suddenly moved back more than a 'zhang'. With one turn of his body, he was already several 'zhang' away.

Mr. and Mrs. He looked at each other in astonishment; it was not easy for them to get rid of this big devil head, how could they dare to pursue?

Carrying two children along, in one breath Yang Xiao covered a distance of several 'li' before he stopped suddenly. He asked Zhang Wuji, "What happened to Miss Ji Xiaofu?" He was running very fast, but was able to stop abruptly just like that, it was as if his body was nailed to the ground, he did not move even for half a 'fen'.

Zhang Wuji could not overcome the momentum, he was pulled forward and would have fallen if Yang Xiao did not pull him back. Hearing the question, he gasped for breath for a moment before answering, "Ji Gugu has died. Believe me or believe me not, it is entirely up to you. Why did you have to break my arm?"

A flash of regret appeared on Yang Xiao's face, but he kept asking, "She ... how did she die?" There was a hint of sobbing in his voice.

After drinking Ban Shuxian's poison, it had not been completely eradicated from his system although Zhang Wuji was able to vomit most of the poison and had also taken some anti-poison pills along the way. Presently he felt pain in his stomach again, so taking the golden-crowned blood snake, he let the snake bite his left hand index finger and suck the poison, while narrating in details how he came to know Ji Xiaofu, how he treated her injury, how he saw she was beaten to death by Miejue Shitai. By the time he finished his story, the golden-crowned blood snake had also finished sucking the poisonous blood from his body.

Yang Xiao asked him in detail what Ji Xiaofu had said at the point of her death. With tears streaming down his face he said. "That wicked nun Miejue was forcing her to harm me. If she agreed, not only she would render a great service to Emei Pai, she would also take over the Zhang Men position. Ay, Xiaofu, oh, Xiaofu, you would rather die than giving her your consent. Actually, you need only to pretend that you agreed, then wouldn't we meet each other again? Then you would not have to lose your life under that wicked nun Miejue."

Zhang Wuji said, "Ji Gugu was a righteous person. She was not willing to scheme in secret and kill you surreptitiously but she was also unwilling to deceive her Shifu."

With a bitter laugh Yang Xiao said, "You knew Xiaofu well ... who would have guessed that her own Shifu could actually strike a vicious blow and took her life."

Zhang Wuji said, "I promised Ji Gugu that I will take Buhui Meimei to you


Yang Xiao stiffened. "Buhui Meimei?" he asked. Turning his head, he asked Yang Buhui, "Child, my obedient treasure, what is your surname? And what is your given name?"

"My surname is Yang," Yang Buhui answered, "My name is Buhui [no regret]." Yang Xiao looked up to the sky and let out a long whistle. His voice shook the forest in all directions that leaves were falling down like rain. When he finally stopped after a long time, he said, "You really are surnamed Yang. Buhui, Buhui. Good! Xiaofu, although I forced my desire on you, you had no regret.”

Ji Xiaofu had told Zhang Wuji the sin and fate between the two people. This time he met Yang Xiao in person and found him to be handsome, natural and a bit unrestrained. Although he was somewhat older, he still could be considered as an elegant and graceful handsome man. Compared to his sixth uncle Yin Liting, who was still a bit childish, Zhang Wuji was afraid it would be easier for Yang Xiao to make a woman fall upside down. Ji Xiaofu was disgraced by force, but in the end she fell in love with him; she must not be blamed. Although by this time Zhang Wuji was still too young to understand clearly, he had a vague thought about this kind of love-hate relationship.

The pain on Zhang Wuji’s broken left arm was unbearable. Because for the time being he was not able to find herbal medicine to set broken bones and stop the pain, he had no alternative but to connect his broken bones first, then try to find some herbal medicine and apply it to his arm to reduce the swelling. He took two pieces of branch and used the tree bark to bind the branches onto his broken arm. Yang Xiao was amazed to see that young as he was, Zhang Wuji was able to mend the broken bones with only one hand with an absolute proficiency.

Finished binding his arm, Zhang Wuji said, “Yang Bobo, I have not failed Ji Gugu’s trust. Buhui Meimei is safely in her Papa’s hands. Let us part here.” Yang Xiao said, “From tens of thousands ‘li’ you have come to take my daughter to me. How can I not repay you? What is it that you want? All you need to do is open your mouth. In this world, the matters that are impossible for Yang Xiao achieve, the things that are unreachable to Yang Xiao, I am afraid are not too many.”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Yang Bobo, you look down on Ji Gugu too much. It was in vain that she died for you.” Yang Xiao’s face was greatly changed. “What did you say?” he roared.

Zhang Wuji said, “It was because Ji Gugu did not look down on me that she entrusted her daughter to me to take to you. If I am doing this to seek reward, do you think I would be worthy of her trust?” While in his heart he thought, “Along the way Buhui Meimei has encountered countless difficulties and I have had countless suffering for her. If I were greedy for benefit, unrighteous and unworthy disciple, how could you, father and daughter meet each other today?” It was just that he did not like to flaunt his own merit that he did not mention even a single word about the various hardships he endured along the way. As he finished speaking, he bowed with clasped hands and then turned around to leave.

“Wait!” Yang Xiao said, “You have done me a great kindness. Yang Xiao always repays gratitude and grudges. Come with me. Within a year I will pass on to you the world’s rarest and fiercest martial art skills.”

Zhang Wuji had seen it with his own eyes how he broke the swords of He Taichong, husband and wife; this kind of martial art skill was indeed rare to find its match in the Jianghu, so if he could learn only half a style from him, it would give him a tremendous advantage. However, he remembered Tai Shifu [grand master – referring to Zhang Sanfeng] repeatedly warned him not to associate himself with the Devil Cult people. Besides, even if Yang Xiao’s martial art skills were higher, how could he surpass Tai Shifu? In addition to that, his own life would not be longer than half a year more; what would be the use even if he learned the unmatched martial art skill in the world? Thereupon he said, “Many thanks for Yang Bobo’s offer, but ‘wanbei’ [younger generation – referring to self] is a Wudang disciple; I do not dare to learn other Sect’s bright skill.”

“Oh,” Yang Xiao said, “Turns out you are Wudang Pai’s disciple! In that case, Yin Liting … Yin Liu Xia [sixth hero] …”

Zhang Wuji said, “Yin Liu Xia is my Shishu [martial (younger) uncle]. Ever since my own father passed away, Yin Liushu’s treatment to me is no different than my own uncle. By accepting Ji Gugu’s entrustment to take Buhui Meimei to Mount Kunlun, I cannot avoid … cannot avoid feeling ashamed toward Yin Liushu.”

As his gaze met with Zhang Wuji’s, Yang Xiao felt ashamed. Waving his right hand, he said, “The Ol’ Yang is deeply indebted to you. I am ashamed I cannot repay. Since that is the case, we will meet again someday.” His shadow swayed, he was already several ‘zhang’ away.

Yang Buhui called out loudly, “Wuji Gege, Wuji Gege!” But Yang Xiao was unleashing his ‘qing gong’, in an instant he was very far, the ‘Wuji Gege’ cry gradually disappeared in the distant, until at last Yang Buhui’s voice and her shadow vanished from his view.

End of Chapter 14.

*Note on the title:

A wolf had fallen into a hunter’s trap. By chance, a village teacher passed by. The wolf asked the teacher to let him out. Out of compassion, the teacher took the wolf and put it into a sack to be brought home. Along the way, the wolf asked the teacher to let him out. Again, the teacher took him out of the sack and loosened the ropes. Then the wolf said, “I am starved, and I am going to eat you.” The teacher said, “I saved you, and yet you are going to eat me? You are such an ungrateful creature.” The wolf denied any wrong doing and thus they were engaged in a heated argument. It so happened that an old oak tree heard their arguments and agreed to be the judge. The tree said to the teacher, “You are such a weakling, how could you possibly help this fierce beast?” So the tree asked that the teacher and the wolf re-create what had happened. As soon as the wolf was inside the sack, the tree shouted, “Quickly tie the sack and kill the wolf …”

The story supposedly happened on Zhongshan, hence the term 'Zhongshan Wolf' is used to describe someone who repay kindness with evil. 
@Chapter 15 –Strange Scheme and Secret Intrigue Like in a Dream
For tens of thousands ‘li’ Zhang Wuji had been travelling together with Yang Buhui, keeping each other company and relying on each other. Now that they suddenly parted, he felt sadness. However, thinking that at last he did not fail Ji Xiaofu by successfully delivering her daughter to Yang Xiao, he could not help feeling relieved and gratified. After standing still for half a day, he remembered that he might bump into He Taichong, Ban Shuxian, or other Kunlun Pai here, so he quickly walked down the valley.

After walking for more than ten days, his arm was gradually healing; however, wandering around Kunlun Mountains, he still could not find his way out of the mountain. One particular day, he walked for half a day and then stopped by a pile of rocks to take a rest. Suddenly from the northwesterly direction he heard sound of barking dogs. From the noise, he estimated there were about a dozen dogs or so. The sound of barking was getting closer, it seemed like the dogs were pursuing some wild animal. Amidst the barking dogs, there appeared a little monkey running for his life; there was a short arrow sticking out from the rear of the monkey’s thigh. The monkey was still several ‘zhang’ away from Zhang Wuji when suddenly it fell tumbling down. Because of the arrow on its thigh it was unable to climb a tree. By this time its strength was gone that it could not even crawl back up.

Zhang Wuji came near the monkey and looked; the monkey looked back at him with fear, but its eyes also spoke to him, begging for pity. Zhang Wuji's heart was touched; he mused, "I am also running away from Kunlun Pai people, so we are in the same boat." Thereupon he gently lifted the monkey up and pulled the arrow out. Then he took some medicine from his pocket and applied it on the arrow wound.

Right this moment the barking of the dogs sounded very near. Zhang Wuji quickly opened his robe and hid the monkey in his bosom. He heard loud and intense 'woof! woof! woof!' as a pack of about a dozen large hounds with sharp teeth surrounded him. The hounds smelled the monkey. They bare their fangs and brandish their claws threateningly, but did not dare to attack immediately. Zhang Wuji was terrified to see these vicious dogs exposing their row after row of sharp white teeth. He knew that as soon as he let the monkey in his bosom out, the dogs would turn their attention to the monkey and would not give him any trouble. However, he had received instruction from his father since he was a child to take chivalry seriously; he did not want to fail even toward a wild animal. Immediately he leaped over the dogs and ran as fast as he could. The pack of dogs barked wildly and ran after him.

How could Zhang Wuji match the speed of the hounds? He only managed to run for about a dozen of 'zhang' when the pack of dogs overtook him. He felt a sudden pain on his leg as a vicious dog sank its teeth on him and would not let him go. Hastily he turned around and struck the dog's head with his palm. This palm strike carried his entire strength. The dog rolled down on the ground and then stopped moving altogether. The rest of the hounds attacked together. Zhang Wuji punched and kicked wildly with all his strength. However, his arm had not completely healed that he could not rotate his left hand; before long, a vicious dog bit his left hand and then the dogs pounced on him from all directions. His head, his face, his shoulders, practically his entire body was bitten by the dogs. While he was about to lose his consciousness out of shock and fear, he heard faint calls of a clear and tender voice of a woman. But the voice seemed to be very far away. His vision blackened and he passed out.

In his unconscious state, Zhang Wuji felt as if he was in the middle of packs of jackals and wolves, tigers and leopards which were ready to devour him. He wanted to cry out for help, but no sound was coming out of his mouth. Suddenly he heard that someone was saying, "The critical situation has passed, perhaps he will live."

Zhang Wuji opened his eyes and saw a pale yellow light. He felt he was lying on a bed inside a small room, with a middle-aged man standing next to his bed.

"Da ... Dashu ... [big uncle, or more appropriately: honorable uncle] I ... how did I .." Zhang Wuji only managed to utter these words when he suddenly felt burning pains all over his body. Only then did he slowly remember that he was attacked and bitten by a pack of wild hounds.

"Xiaozi [boy, kid]," that man said, "Just consider yourself lucky you did not die. What is it? Are you hungry?"

"I ... where am I?" Zhang Wuji said. Because of severe pain all over his body, Zhang Wuji passed out again.

By the time he came around for the second time, the middle-aged man was no longer in the room. Zhang Wuji thought, "Definitely I won't live much longer, why do I have to experience this much torment?" Looking down his body, he saw his neck, his chest, arms and thighs were wrapped in cotton cloths, while a strong smell of medicine assailed his nostrils. Turned out someone was treating his wounds, but from the smell of the medicine, he knew the person applying the ointment had a rather shallow medical skill. He smelled almond, 'ma qian zi' [sorry, I don't know what it is], 'fang feng' [windproof], 'nan xing' [southern star], and various other herbs. These kind of herbs were effective to treat rabid dog bites, as it would draw out rabies pus from the wound; but the dogs biting him were not rabid at all, his wounds were on his flesh and bones, without any poisoning. The medicine was not only ineffective, it would increase the pain.

Powerless to get up, he lay down until dawn. The middle-aged man came to check him up. Zhang Wuji said, "Dashu, thank you so much for saving me."

The man coldly said, "This is the 'Hong Mei Shan Zhuang' [Red Plum Villa]; it was our Miss who saved you. Are you hungry?" While saying that he went out and came back with a bowl of steaming hot porridge.

Zhang Wuji drank several mouthfuls, but his stomach was nauseous; his head was dizzy and he did not have the appetite to eat more.

He lay down for eight days before he was finally strong enough to get up. His legs felt weak without the least bit of strength. He knew it was because of excessive lost of blood, so it would take a while to recover. The man came everyday to deliver his food and change his medication. Although his expression was rather bored, Zhang Wuji was still very appreciative toward him. Only, Zhang Wuji's mind was filled with unanswered questions, but he did not dare to ask too much because the man seemed uninterested to converse with him.

One day, the man returned with the same medication, 'fang feng', 'nan xing' and so on. Zhang Wuji could not help from saying, "Dashu, these medicines are not effective for my illness. Would you change it for me?"

The man turned to him with a condescending look. After staring at Zhang Wuji for half a day he said, "Laoye [old master, grandmaster] personally wrote the prescription; how can he be wrong? You said the medicine is not effective, how could it revive you from the dead then? Really! Little kid is babbling nonsense. If our Laoye heard it, he might not be offended, but you really do not know good from bad." While saying that he spread the medicine on Zhang Wuji's wound. Zhang Wuji could only force a smile.

The man said, "I think you wound is so much better. Why don't you go see Laoye, Taitai [Madame], and Xiaojie [Miss] to kowtow and thank them for saving your life?"

"That is only appropriate," Zhang Wuji said, "Dashu, why don't you take me to see them?"

The man led Zhang Wuji out of the small room, walked through a long corridor, passed through two halls, and came to a warm chamber. It was the beginning of winter, but the Kunlun region had been very cold for quite some time. The room was as warm as the springtime. Zhang Wuji could not locate the furnace; he only saw the chamber was decorated extravagantly, with couches draped in brocade and soft pillows. In all his life Zhang Wuji had never seen such a splendid and cozy room as the one he was in. Looking at his own dirty clothes, he felt so out of place standing inside such a luxurious warm room; he could not help feeling ashamed at his own filth.

There was no one inside the warm room, but the man’s expression was extremely respectful. Bowing, he said, “The boy who was bitten by the dog is well, he wants to kowtow to Laoye and Taitai to express his gratitude.” After saying this, he stood silently with relaxed hands; he did not even dare to breathe loudly.

After what seemed like a long time, from behind the screen walked in a fifteen, sixteen year-old young woman. She cast a sidelong glance toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Qiao Fu, what are you doing? Why did you bring him here? If the bugs and parasites from his body jump down, what are we going to do?”

“Yes, yes!” Qiao Fu replied.

Zhang Wuji had already been uncomfortable, this time his face blushed even redder. Other than the one on his back, he did not have any other change of clothes. Certainly his clothes were full with bedbugs and fleas by now. He thought that this Miss was not the least bit wrong.

He saw her face was oval like a goose egg, her black hair drooped over her shoulders. She was wearing some kind of fine silk or satin, which sparkled under the light. She wore a golden bracelet on her wrist. In short, he had never seen such a splendid and luxurious young lady. He mused, “When I was surrounded by the pack of dogs, I faintly heard a woman’s voice shouting. That Qiao Fu Da Shu also said that it was his Miss who saved me. I ought to thank her.” Thereupon he kneeled down and kowtowed. “Thank you Miss for saving me,” he said, “I will never dare to forget your kindness as long as I live.”

The young girl was startled, and then she giggled. “Qiao Fu, Qiao Fu, what did you do? Did you fool this dumb kid?”

Qiao Fu laughed and said, “Xiao Feng Jiejie [older sister], this dumb kid kowtowed to you, you shouldn’t accept it. The dumb kid has never seen beautiful face; he thought you are our Miss! But come to think about it, our home’s maid is somewhat comparable to our honorable precious Miss [orig. ‘qian jin’ – thousand gold].”

Zhang Wuji was stunned, he stood up hastily. “It’s bad!” he thought, “Turns out she is a maid, and I thought she was the Miss.” His face turned red and white as he was extremely embarrassed.

Xiao Feng suppressed her laughter. She looked at Zhang Wuji to size him up. His face and upper body were still stained with blood; his wounds were still wrapped in cloth strips. Zhang Wuji was very self-conscious; he was aware of his filth and unsightly appearance, he wished the earth would open up and swallow him.

Xiao Feng lifted her sleeve to cover her nose while saying, “Laoye and Taitai are busy, you don’t need to kowtow. Let’s go to see Miss.” While saying that, she circled around Zhang Wuji at a distant and hurriedly led the way because she was afraid the bugs and fleas from Zhang Wuji’s body might jump onto hers.

Zhang Wuji followed behind Xiao Feng and Qiao Fu. Along the way he noticed the maids and servants were all wearing expensive looking clothes and jewelry. Of the chambers, halls and pavilions he passed there were not any that didn’t look exquisitely beautiful. Zhang Wuji spent the first ten years of his life on the Bing Huo Island [ice and fire]. For the next several years, he spent half his time on Mount Wudang, the other half in the Butterfly Valley. His food and drink and everyday life was very simple. He had never imagined that there were this kind of rich and luxury households in the world.

After walking for a while, they arrived outside a large pavilion. Zhang Wuji saw a sign above the door, which read 'ling ao ying' [spirit mastiff camp]. Xiao Feng walked into the pavilion. A moment later she came out and beckoned them to enter in. Qiao Fu then brought Zhang Wuji in.

As soon as he stepped in, Zhang Wuji was shocked, for he saw more than thirty ferocious looking large dogs, arranged in three rows, crouching on the ground. A young woman wearing genuine arctic fox fur coat was sitting on a chair draped in tiger skin. There was a whip in her hand. She barked, "General Qian, throat!" A vicious dog leaped up suddenly and bit the throat of someone who was standing by the wall. "Aiyo!" Zhang Wuji could not help but crying out as he saw this cruel scene. He saw the dog bit off a piece of flesh and then sat down and started to chew. When he calmed down, Zhang Wuji noticed that the person was actually a dummy made of leather. All its vital points were covered in chunks of meat.

The young woman barked again, "General Che Qi! Lower abdomen!" The second vicious dog leaped up and bit the dummy's lower abdomen.

To Zhang Wuji's surprise, these dogs were in training to follow orders to attack people. Their bites were highly accurate. To his shock, Zhang Wuji recognized these dogs as the pack of malicious hounds that wildly bit him at the mountain. Thinking back, he vaguely remembered that the shout which stopped the dogs was the voice of this young woman. At first he only knew that this Miss had saved his life, but now he realized that the many suffering he received was actually because of her. Anger arose to fill his chest; he thought, "That's it, that's it! She was in cahoots with the dogs. How can I deal with her? If I knew it earlier, I would rather die on that mountain than treating my injuries in her house." Ripping the bandages from his body, he threw strips of cloth to the ground then he turned around and walked away.

"Hey, hey!" Qiao Fu called out, "What are you doing? This is our Miss, why don't you kowtow to her?"

"Pei!" Zhang Wuji spat, "Thank her for what? The malicious dogs that injured me, don't they belong to her?"

The young woman turned her head. Seeing the extremely angry expression on Zhang Wuji's face, she showed a faint smile and beckoned him. "Xiao Xiongdi, come here," she called.

When Zhang Wuji saw her face, his heart suddenly went 'thump, thump, thump' continuously, because this young woman face was very captivating; it was so fair and smooth. In trying to fight his feelings, his ears were buzzing, his back turned cold and his limbs slightly trembled. He quickly hang his head low, he did not dare to look at her. His face, which was originally bloodless, suddenly turned deep red.

The young woman laughed. "Come here," she called again.

Zhang Wuji looked up. His eyes met her bright eyes which were like a vast expanse of water. His mind suddenly turned blurry; he slowly walked toward her against his own will.

"Xiao Xiongdi," the young woman said with a smile, "You are angry with me, aren't you?"

Zhang Wuji had suffered many pains under these dogs' teeth, how could he not be angry? But as he stood in front of her, he only felt that her breath smelled like orchid, her body emitted intermittent whiff of fragrance that he felt he was going to faint; how could he think about this word 'angry'? Shaking his head, he said, "I am not!"

The young woman said, "My surname is Zhu, given name Jiuzhen. How about you?"

"I am called Zhang Wuji," Zhang Wuji replied.

"Wuji, Wuji!" Zhu Jiuzhen said, "Hmm, it is a very elegant name. [Translator's note: Wuji means 'without a shame'] Xiao Xiongdi must have come from an aristocratic family. Mmm ... why don't you sit over there?" While saying that, she pointed to a low stool by her side.

Since the day he was born, Zhang Wuji had never seen such a beautiful woman that he was shaken to the core as if he was enchanted. If Zhu Jiuzhen told him to jump into a fiery pit, he would jump down without hesitation. Hearing her telling him to sit next to her, with unspeakable delight he immediately went and sat down reverently. It was beyond Xiao Feng and Qiao Fu’s expectations to see their Miss showing favor toward this dirty and stinky kid. Zhu Jiuzhen barked her order again, “General Zhe Chong! Chest!” One large dog leaped up to bite the dummy, but the meat on the chest of that dummy had been bitten by another dog; so that dog bit the meat on the side of the dummy’s body and started to eat it.

Zhu Jiuzhen angrily said, “Greedy pig! You did not follow orders?” Raising the whip in her hand, ‘Whack! Whack!’ she lashed it twice.

The whip was full of thorns, as it lashed down, two long strips of bloodstains appeared on the back of the dog. But the dog was still unwilling to put the meat down, it growled menacingly instead.

“You are not following orders?” Zhu Jiuzhen barked. The whip lashed again, striking the dog so that it rolled around wildly with blood dripping from all around its body. Her whip technique was swift and ingenious, no matter where the dog run, it could not escape from the whip. At last the dog spat out the meat and then kneeled on the ground, motionless, whining in low voice. Yet Zhu Jiuzhen did not stop lashing her whip until it was dying to its last breath, and then she said, “Qiao Fu, put medicine on it.”

“Yes, Miss!” Qiao Fu replied, and took the wounded dog out of the hall and handed it over to the servant in charge of the dogs.

The rest of the dogs were all frightened to see this scene; no one dared to move. Zhu Jiuzhen sat back on her chair and barked her orders again, “General Ping Kou! Left leg! General Wei Yuan! Right arm! General Zheng Dong! Eye!” One by one the vicious dogs leaped bit according to the order, no one missed the target.

To Zhang Wuji’s amazement, she had given these dozens of ferocious dogs names as generals, while she directed them all with ease and competence just like a marshall. Zhu Jiuzhen turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and said with a smile, “Did you see these animals? If I do not firmly beat them with the whip, how can they be obedient to me?”

Although this pack of dogs had inflicted enormous pain on him, seeing the dog was beaten to miserable condition, Zhang Wuji could not restrain from feeling sorrowful.

Seeing he did not respond, Zhu Jiuzhen laughed and said, “You said you are not mad at me, but you don’t say something? How did you come to the western region? Where are your father and mother?”

Zhang Wuji thought that with his current miserable condition, if he mentioned the name of Tai Shifu and his parents’ names, he would only bring disgrace to them; thereupon he said, “My parents are dead. It was hard for me to survive in the Central Plains, so I wandered everywhere and ended up in here.”

“I shot that monkey,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Who told you to hide it in your bosom? You were so hungry that you wanted to eat monkey’s meat, weren’t you? You had not thought that you might be ripped to death by my dogs.”

Zhang Wuji blushed; he repeatedly shook his head and said, “I was not thinking of eating the monkey.”

With a captivating smile Zhu Jiuzhen said, “In front of me, you’d better not deny it.” Suddenly she remembered something and asked, “What kind of martial art did you train? My General Zuo’s skull shattered and it died. Your palm power is truly not bad.”

Hearing that he had killed one of her pet dogs, Zhang Wuji apologetically said, “I was in panic and hit with all I had. When I was little, I learned two, three years of random punching and kicking with my father, it was not any martial art at all.”

Zhu Jiuzhen nodded, then turned to Xiao Feng and said, “Take him to bath and give him some presentable clothes.”

Xiao Feng pursed her lips, laughed and said, “Yes!” and took Zhang Wuji out. Zhang Wuji was reluctant to part from Zhu Jiuzhen; as he reached the door, he could not help but turn his head to look at her one more time. Who would have thought that Zhu Jiuzhen was also looking at him? As he looked at her bright and beautiful eyes, she flashed him a sweet and captivating smile. Zhang Wuji blushed until he felt his entire body, from the root of his hair to the end of his toes, turned red; as if his soul had just left him. He did not pay attention to the threshold, and thus he tripped and fell flat on his face, right on top of dog dung. His entire body was still covered with wounds; this fall had made him sore all over, but he did not dare to groan, he busily propped himself up and crawled away.

Xiao Feng giggled and said, “To see our Miss, everybody would be infatuated and head over heels in love with her. But you are still this young, you are also falling for her?” Zhang Wuji was really embarrassed, he rushed ahead of her.

After walking for a while, Xiao Feng laughed and said, “Are you going to take a bath and change your clothes in Taitai’s room?”

Zhang Wuji halted his steps at once and looked up; he saw above the door ahead of them hung an embroidered golden banner. He had never been to this place before. It was then that he realized that in his confusion he had taken the wrong turn. That maid Xiao Feng was so sly that although she knew, she did not say anything, but waited until he went straight to the family room before opening up her mouth to mock him.

Zhang Wuji hang his reddened face down without saying anything. Xiao Feng said, “You call me ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie’ and earnestly ask me, then I’ll take you out.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Xiao Feng Jiejie …”

With her right hand index finger pointing to her own cheek Xiao Feng said with straight face, “Hmm, what do you want from me?”

“I am asking you to take me out,” Zhang Wuji said. “That’s better,” Xiao Feng laughed.

Taking him back to the small room, Xiao Feng said to Qiao Fu, “Miss said for him to take a bath and change his clothes with a clean one.”

“Yes, yes!” Qiao Fu replied. He was full of respect. Apparently, although Xiao Feng was also but a servant, compared to the other servants and maids her position was somewhat higher. Five, six male servants immediately stepped in, calling her ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie this’ and ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie that’, flattering her to no end. Xiao Feng actually looked cold and indifferent. Suddenly she came to Zhang Wuji and bowed to him.

Zhang Wuji was flabbergasted. “You … why?” he stammered.

Xiao Feng laughed and said, “Just now you kowtowed to me, right now I am returning the respect to you.” Finished speaking, she disappeared into the inner chamber in a flash.

Qiao Fu told everybody else how Zhang Wuji thought Xiao Feng was their Miss, how he kowtowed to her, adding some spices to his story, describing Zhang Wuji’s appearance as more ridiculous than it actually was so the hall was full with the crowd of servants’ howl of laughter. Zhang Wuji entered the room with his head hung low, but he was not angry. His heart was filled with the memory of the Miss’ laughter and anger, and each word she uttered.

After he took a bath, he saw Qiao Fu return with a set of dark green clothing, which he recognized as the servants’ attire. Zhang Wuji was angry in his heart, “I am not your family’s servant,” he mused, “How do you expect me to wear this kind of clothes?” He was about to wear his own worn out clothes when suddenly he noticed it was full of holes, exposing his skin and flesh. “If Miss wants to see me again and sees that I am still wearing this kind of dirty and worn out clothing, she will be unhappy,” he thought, “Actually, what wrong with me being her servant and doing errands for her?” With this thought, he calmed down and changed into the servant clothes.

Contrary to his expectation, not only the Miss did not call him that day, for the next a dozen of days later, he did not even see Xiao Feng, let alone the Miss. Zhang Wuji often daydreamed with blank expression on his face, thinking the Miss’ voice, her laugh and her face. He even felt that her appearance when she fiercely whipping the dogs was kind of flirtatious and lovely. He was thinking of going to the rear courtyard on his own. He would be satisfied just by looking at her from a distant, or hearing her voice when she was talking to someone else. But Qiao Fu had repeatedly warned him that if it was not their master who summoned them, they were not supposed to enter the gate. Otherwise, the vicious dogs would devour them. Remembering the ferociousness of the dogs, although he longed to see her, in the end he decided it was probably not a good idea to go to the rear courtyard.

More than a month had passed. Zhang Wuji’s broken arm was healed as good as new. The wounds of the dogs’ bite had also been healed, only there were some permanent teeth mark scars on his arms and legs. However, instead of feeling upset, a feeling of sweetness crept into his heart each time he remembered that these scars were from the Miss’ pet dogs.

These days, the cold poison in his body still flared up once every few days. Each time it flared up, it was worse than the last. One day the poison attacked him again. He lay down on the bed with the cotton quilt wrapped tightly around his body, while he was shivering badly. Qiao Fu came into the room. He was accustomed to see Zhang Wuji under the cold attack and did not think of anything unusual.

“Get plenty of rest,” he said, “Drink lots of hot preserved meat porridge! This is the new clothes Taitai [Madame] give to you for the New Year.” While saying that, he put a bundle on the table.

Zhang Wuji endured the poison attack all through the night before the cold gradually subsided. He got up and opened the bundle only to see a set of leather clothes. The lining was of snow-white sheepskin. He was delighted. The style of the leather clothes was still of the servant attire, apparently the Zhu family had regarded him as their servant.

Zhang Wuji had always had a warm nature and seldom lost his temper; he did not consider the clothes as an insult. He only thought, “It’s hard to imagine I have been here for more than a month. Very soon it will be the New Year. Mr. Hu said I would not live for more than a year. This New Year will be my last. I will be gone before the next New Year.”

As the year came to a close and the New Year’s Day approached, the bustling of activities in the rich family doubled. The servants were very busy painting the walls and the doors, and slaughtering pigs and sheep; all were in high spirits. Zhang Wuji helped Qiao Fu do some errands. He was hoping the New Year’s Day would arrive soon, thinking that when he kowtowed to wish Laoye, Taitai and Miss a happy new year, he would see Miss again. After seeing her one more time, he would quietly go away and die in some remote mountain area, so that he would not be an unnecessary burden for Qiao Fu and the other servants.

Amidst the noise of the firecrackers, the New Year’s Day arrived. Zhang Wuji followed Qiao Fu toward the main hall to greet their masters for the New Year. He saw a pair of elegant and beautiful middle-aged man and woman sitting in the hall, while around seventy, eighty maids and servants kneeled down on the floor.

With a happy laugh the man and the woman said, “Everybody has worked hard!” While on the side, two housekeepers distributed money. Zhang Wuji also received two ‘liang’ [tael] of silver. He did not see the Miss and was very disappointed. Holding the money with a blank expression on his face, he suddenly heard a charming and flirtatious voice from the outside, “Biaoge [older male cousin], you come here early this year.” It was precisely Zhu Jiuzhen’s voice.

A male voice laughed and said, “Would I dare to come late to greet Jiujiu and Jiumu [maternal uncle and aunt, respectively] a happy new year?” Zhang Wuji’s face turned hot; he felt as if his heart was about to jump out of his chest, his palms were wet with perspiration. After hoping for two whole months this was the first time he heard Zhu Jiuzhen’s voice again; how would he stop his soul from being shaken?

He heard another female voice saying, “Shige [older martial brother] rushed here early, I wonder if he wants to pay a New Year visit to our Elders, or if he wants to a New Year visit to Biaomei [younger female cousin]?”

Amidst the voices, three people stepped into the hall. The crowd of servants stepped aside one after another. Zhang Wuji absentmindedly stood motionless. It was not until Qiao Fu forcefully pulled him aside that he finally moved out of the way.

Among the three people walked in, one was a young man. Zhu Jiuzhen walked on his left. She was wearing a scarlet sable coat, accentuating her tender and beautiful face, difficult to be described, difficult to be painted. On the other side of the young man was another young woman. Ever since Zhu Jiuzhen entered the hall, Zhang Wuji’s eyes had never left her; he did not even care whether the young man and the other young woman were smart or were ugly, or whether they were wearing red or green. The two people kowtowed toward the masters, husband and wife. The hosts and the guests exchanged some words, but Zhang Wuji was oblivious to it all; he heard it but did not understand. In his eyes there was only Zhu Jiuzhen one person.

Actually Zhang Wuji was still too young, about male-female relationship, he only ‘knew one but understand a half’. However, just like everybody else, it was the first time his lust was awakened by a young and good- looking woman that he was infatuated and head over heels like a fool; so it was hardly Zhang Wuji’s natural disposition at all. Furthermore Zhu Jiuzhen was indeed dazzlingly beautiful, and he met her while he was in distress and she saved him; his admiration was hard to control. He only felt that as long as he could look at her once and hear her voice, then he would have an inexhaustible joy.

The masters, husband and wife, talked with three young people for a while. “Pa, Ma,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “I am going out to play with Biaoge and Qing Mei [younger sister Qing]!” Her voice carried a thirty-percent little spoiled girl’s tone. The masters smiled and nodded.

Mrs. Zhu said with a laugh, “Take good care of Wu Jia Meizi [little sister of the Wu family], you, three teenagers, must not quarrel among yourselves in this New Year’s Day.”

Zhu Jiuzhen laughed. “Ma,” she said, “Why don’t you tell Biaoge not to bully me?”

The three young people were talking and walking toward the rear courtyard. Without realizing it, Zhang Wuji followed from a distance. That day the servants had the freedom to do whatever they liked; some went out to play, some went out to gamble. By this time Zhang Wuji had seen clearly that the young man was quite handsome, his body was as beautiful as jade. Even in a cold day like this, he was only wearing thin yellow satin clothes; obviously his internal energy was not weak.

The other girl was wearing a black sable coat. Her figure was slender and graceful, her words and actions were refined. Speaking of grace and beauty, she was comparable to Zhu Jiuzhen, but in Zhang Wuji’s eyes, she was nothing compared to the Miss he venerated as a goddess. All three of them were about seventeen, eighteen years of age.

The three of them were walking and talking and laughing toward the rear courtyard. “Zhen Jie [older sister Zhen],” the other girl said, “Have you trained your Yi Yang Zhi [solitary yang finger] skill to the second level? Would you demonstrate it to broaden Meizi’s [younger sister] horizon?”

“Aiyo!” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You don’t want me to look good, do you? Even if I trained for ten more years, I would never surpass one stroke of your Wu family’s ‘lan hua xue shou’ [orchid acupoint brushing technique].”

The young man said with a laugh, “The two of you need not to be modest. The great name of ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’ [Two Beauties of the Snowy Range] possesses an impressive power and prestige.”

Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Being alone in my home, I blindly think through this, how can I surpass your rapid advancement, Shi Xiong Mei [martial (older) brother and (younger) sister], who can consult and discuss between the two of you? Today you came to see the stance, tomorrow you compare notes, doesn’t that mean ‘a thousand ‘li’ in one day’?”

The other girl could hear the vinegar [meaning ‘jealousy’] in her voice; she simply pursed her lips without saying anything, but in doing so, she tacitly agreed with what she was saying.

The young man was afraid Zhu Jiuzhen would get angry for real. “That’s not necessarily true,” he quickly said, “You have two Shifus, with Jiufu and Jiumu both teaching you, won’t you be stronger than we are?”

Zhu Jiuzhen angrily said, “What do you mean by ‘we’? Humph, of course you love your Shimei more than your Biaomei. Whenever I am playing with Qing Mei, you are always in her side.” While saying that, she turned her head away, no longer paid any attention to him.

Accompanied by a smile, the young man said, “I love my Biaomei, I also love my Shimei. My palm is part of my body, as much as the back of my hand, there is no difference between one and another. Biaomei, why don’t you take me to see those guard generals of yours? Certainly you have trained those generals to be fiercer and fiercer.”

“Alright!” Zhu Jiuzhen started to feel happy; she led them toward the Ling Ao Ying.

Zhang Wuji was following them from afar; he saw them talking and laughing, but he did not hear a word they were saying. Presently he also followed them into the dogs’ courtyard.

Turned out Zhu Jiuzhen was a descendant of Zhu Zhiliu. The girl surnamed Wu was Wu Qingying, she was Wu Santong’s descendant from Wu Xiuwen’s line. Wu Santong and Zhu Zhiliu were disciples of Yideng Dashi [Reverend ‘One Lamp’], so their martial art skills came from the same source. But after more than a hundred years, each of the family developed their own variations. The two brothers Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen were under the tutelage of Da Xia [great hero] Guo Jing. Although they also learned the Yi Yang Zhi, their martial art style was closer to the ‘hard’ and ‘fierce’ way of Jiu Zhi Shen Gai [Nine-finger Divine Beggar] Hong Qigong.

The young man, Wei Bi, was Zhu Jiuzhen’s [maternal] cousin. Not only he was handsome, his temperament was also gentle and easygoing, and thus both Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying’s hearts were captivated and both secretly fell in love with him. The two girls, Zhu and Wu, were approximately of the same age, they were both beautiful and glamorous. Just like the spring orchid and the autumn chrysanthemum, each had her own strength; the martial art skills they inherited from their respective families were also comparable.

About two, three years ago, the Wulin community around the Kunlun region gave them the title ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’. Ever since then, these two women had been competing against each other in secret. This situation had put Wei Bi on the hot seat; it was as if he had to choose between the bear paw and the fish, a very difficult choice indeed. Consequently, each time the three of them were together, although outwardly they were polite, the two girls were actually fighting a battle of words, nobody was willing to yield to the other. Only Wu Qingying was more introvert and was not quite outspoken. Besides, Wei Bi and she were of the same school, everyday, day and night, they saw each other a lot; therefore, she had a distinct advantage over Zhu Jiuzhen.

Zhu Jiuzhen ordered the servant in charge of the vicious dogs to release them out. The dogs followed orders to the letter, not one missed its intended target. Wei Bi did not stop voicing his compliments. Zhu Jiuzhen was very proud of herself.

Wu Qingying pursed her lips and laughed. “Shige,” she said, “I wonder which one will you be in the future, ‘Guan Jun’ [lit. head of the army, champion], or ‘Piao Qi’ [lit. rider of the white horse]?”

Wei Bi was taken aback. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

Wu Qingying said, “You are so obedient toward Zhen Jie [older sister Zhen], won’t she bestow to you the title of ‘General Guan Jun’ or ‘General Piao Qi’? Only, you must be very careful toward her whip.”

Wei Bi blushed deep red; there was a slight sign of anger in between of his eyebrows. “Pei!” he spat, “Rubbish! Are you cursing me as a dog?”

Wu Qingying smiled and said, “The ‘generals’ are always by a beautiful woman’s side, shaking their tails and begging for affection. They have a very amusing life. What’s not to like?”

Zhu Jiuzhen was angry. “If he were a dog,” she said, “What does that make his Shimei?”

Listening to this, Zhang Wuji could not stop laughing, ‘Ha!’ escaped from his mouth. He realized immediately of his rudeness, so he covered up his mouth quickly.

Wu Qingying felt anger was boiling inside her stomach, but she knew it was inappropriate to explode in front of Zhu Jiuzhen, so she stood up and said, “Zhen Jie, your mansion’s servants are truly well-mannered. We are chatting here and this servile kid unexpectedly eavesdropping on the side, and still dares to laugh once or twice. Shige, I am going home first.”

Zhu Jiuzhen suddenly remembered that Zhang Wuji was able to strike dead her ‘General Zuo’ with his palm; his strength was actually not small. She laughed and said, “Qing Mei, you do not need to be angry, and do not underestimate this little servant either. Although your Wu family’s martial art is strong, if you are able to flatten this servile kid within three moves, I will truly submit to you.”

“Humph,” Wu Qingying said, “Does this kind of kid deserve me put forth my own hand to deal with? Zhen Jie, you belittle me too much.”

Zhang Wuji was not able to stop from shouting, “Miss Wu, I also have a father and a mother; am I not a human? What do you think you are? Bodhisattva? A princess?”

Wu Qingying did not even look at him. “Shige,” she turned toward Wei Bi, “You let me receive the insult this little servant hurled at me without helping me?”

Seeing her loveable and hurt expression, Wei Bi’s heart had melted early on. Although he was impartial toward the ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’, he knew perfectly well that his Shifu’s martial art skill was incomprehensively deep. The skill he would expect to learn from him would be at most ten or twenty percent. If he wanted to master the peerless skill, there was no other way but to win his Shimei’s favor. Thereupon he said to Zhu Jiuzhen, “Biaomei, this little servant’s martial art skill is not bad, is it? Would you let me test him?”

Zhu Jiuzhen understood he was trying to help his martial sister, but she had another thought, “I don’t know the origin of this servant kid surnamed Zhang. Perhaps it is not such a bad idea to let Biaoge compel him to reveal his foundation.” Thereupon she said, “Alright. Let him receive instruction from the Wu family unique skill. Nothing could be better than that. This man, even I do not know which school’s disciple he is.”

Wei Be was surprised. “This servant kid’s martial art skill did not come from your family?” he asked.

Toward Zhang Wuji Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Why don’t you tell Shaoye [young master] who your Shifu is, and which school he belongs to?”

"You despise me too much," Zhang Wuji thought, "How can I mention my parents' schools, and thus dishonor Taishifu and my departed parents? Besides, I have never seriously practiced Wudang Pai's martial art." Thereupon he said, "My parents passed away when I was a child, I wandered the Jianghu in destitute. I do not know any martial art, I only received a little bit of instructions from my father when I was little."

"What was your father's name? Which school did he belong to?" Zhu Jiuzhen asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. "I can't tell you," he said.

Wei Bi laughed. "With the three of us looking, can't we find it out ourselves?" he said. Slowly he walked to the center of the courtyard. "Kid," he said with a laugh, "Why don't you try taking three stances of mine?" While saying that, he turned toward Wu Qingying and gave her a wink. His meaning was clear, "Shimei, no need to get angry. I am going to beat this kid really bad to vent your anger."

For someone in love, each word and each action, a frown or a smile of the beloved's would not escape attention. Zhu Jiuzhen was no different. She understood clearly the meaning of Wei Bi's wink. Seeing Zhang Wuji was unwilling to concede, she beckoned to him, calling him to come over and then in a low voice whispered in his ear, "My Biaoge's martial art skill is very strong. You don't need to defeat him. As long as you can resist his three stances, you are giving me a lot of face." Finished speaking, she patted his shoulder to show her encouragement.

Zhang Wuji knew he was not Wei Bi's match. If he conceded, he would unavoidably invite trouble and humiliation on himself, and brought nothing more than delight in these people's hearts. But standing in front of Zhu Jiuzhen, his mind was chaotic. Hearing her soft voice and gentle words urging him, and smelling her perfume, how could he think clearly? His only thought was, "Miss orders me to fight. Even for a more difficult and dangerous task, I would risk my life to do it; what's the harm in receiving a few punches and kicks?" He absentmindedly walked toward Wei Bi and stood in front of him with a blank expression.

Wei Bi said with a laugh, "Kid, take this!" 'Slap! Slap!' he struck Zhang Wuji twice on his face. These two slaps came so fast that when Zhang Wuji was about to lift his hand to block, his face had already struck. His cheeks swelled with red palm marks on them.

Wei Bi knew Zhang Wuji did not receive any martial art instructions from the Zhu family, so he knew he had nothing to fear in term of causing Zhu Jiuzhen, as well as his uncle and aunt lose face. His strikes were without any reservation, only he did not use any internal energy; otherwise, Zhang Wuji's teeth would have fallen and his cheekbones broken, he would have fainted.

"Wuji, fight!" Zhu Jiuzhen called out.

As soon as he heard his Miss call, Zhang Wuji's spirit was aroused. With a grunt he punched straight forward. Wei Bi evaded sideways and praised him. "Good kid, you know what you are doing!" he said. Moving sideways, he jumped toward Zhang Wuji's back. Zhang Wuji hastily turned around, but like a lightning Wei Bi's hand reached out and grabbed his collar. Lifting his arm high, he laughed and said, “Go eat the dog’s dung!” and threw Zhang Wuji hard to the ground.

Zhang Wuji learned martial arts from Xie Xun for several years, but first, he was still too young; second, Xie Xun only told him to memorize the theory and the stances, without giving him any real combat experience. Meeting a disciple from a prestigious family like We Bi, his hands and feet were bound and he was unable to launch any stance. As he was being thrown, he wanted to stretch out his hand to break the fall, but it was too late. ‘Bang!’ his forehead and nose heavily hit the ground and blood spread all over his face.

Wu Qingying clapped and cheered. Giggling sweetly she said, “Zhen Jie, is our Wu family martial art good enough for you?”

Zhu Jiuzhen was ashamed and angered at the same time. If she said the Wu family martial art was not good, she would unavoidably offend Wei Bi; but if she said it was good, she was unbearably angry toward Wu Qingying and did not give her any satisfaction. Without any better option, her face turned cold and she did not say anything.

Zhang Wuji crawled up and looked gingerly at Zhu Jiuzhen. Seeing her knitted eyebrows, he said in his heart, "Even if I have to die, I must not make Miss lose her face."

Wei Bei laughed and said, "This kid does not even know three-legged cat martial art, why do we have to talk about his school or sect?"

Zhang Wuji suddenly lunged forward, his leg flew toward Wei Bi's lower abdomen. "Aiyo!" Wei Bi called out with laughter. By moving slightly backward, he evaded this kick, right after, his left hand reached out and grabbed Zhang Wuji's right foot, which was still in the air, and flung it sideways. He was only using 30% of his power, but Zhang Wuji flew toward the wall like an arrow leaving its bow. In desperation Zhang Wuji kicked the ground to make his back face the wall. Although his skull escaped the disaster of shattering down, his back hurt so much that he felt as if all the bones in his body had been broken. He slid down along the wall and sat on the ground like a pile of mud; unable to crawl back up.

Although he was in severe pain, he was still concerned over Zhu Jiuzhen losing face; while he was still in dazed, he heard that she was saying, "This servant kid is totally useless. Let us go to the garden to play!" Obviously she was very angry.

Without knowing where the strength came from, Zhang Wuji turned around, propping himself on the ground and pounced with a palm strike toward Wei Bi.

Wei Bi laughed aloud and stretched out his palm backward to block. 'Slap!' to his surprise, his body swayed, forcing him to take a step back. Turned out Zhang Wuji was using the 'Qi Xing Shou' [seven-star (or Big Dipper constellation) hand] from the 'Wudang Chang Quan' [Wudang Long Fist], which his father, Zhang Cuishan taught him during the voyage on the raft. Wudang Long Fist was Wudang's special skill. Although the fist was not strong, it carried a subtle variation. Wudang's martial art had always departed from the mainstream martial art study, the emphasis was to use softness to subdue hardness, using the weak to defeat the strong, injuring the enemy without using one's own strength; rather, it incited the enemy's strength toward himself. If the enemy was using a catty of force, then the reacting force was also one catty; if the enemy was using a hundred catties, then a hundred catties would return to him. It was like punching the wall. The heavier one punched, the heavier the reaction force he had to suffer.

In the past, when Jue Yuan Dashi [Reverend Jue Yuan] recited the 'Nine Yang Manual', he said, 'use one's own strength, strike only after the enemy has struck'. Later on, Zhang Sanfeng used this principle to govern the Wudang fist technique. If it was Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou or the other Wudang experts, they might add their own strength above the enemy's. Zhang Wuji’s mastery of this skill was only superficial, yet in this punch he was unconsciously successful in inciting the opponent’s force.

Wei Bi felt his hand was sore and numb, the ‘chi’ and blood in the pit of this stomach were shaken. Immediately he leaned sideways and sent out a fist toward Zhang Wuji’s back. Zhang Wuji swept his palm backward to parry using the stance ‘yi tiao bian’ [‘the whip’]. Seeing his marvelous palm technique, Wei Bi hurriedly evaded backwards, but his shoulder was still brushed by Zhang Wuji’s three fingers. Although he was not hurt, Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying had naturally seen that he had lost this move.

Wei Bi was in the presence of his sweetheart, how could he concede? At first, when he was face to face with Zhang Wuji, seeing the opponent was a young boy, he looked at him condescendingly. He had no doubt that he would win martial-art-wise, but he wanted to toy with Zhang Wuji to win Wu Qingying’s favor; and thus his fists and kicks only carried about 20, 30% of his strength. This time, as he suffered defeat twice in a row, he shouted, “Little demon, are you not afraid of death?” With a loud grunt his fist went straight to Zhang Wuji’s chest.

His fist, which contained three layers of force, was from the ‘Chang Jiang San Die Lang’ [Yangtze River’s three layers of waves]. If the opponent used all his strength to block the first layer of force, he would not anticipate the second layer of force would follow closely, followed by the violent third layer of force immediately surging up. Unless the opponent was a martial art master, he would certainly meet death or at least seriously wounded.

Seeing the severity of the opponent's move, Zhang Wuji was scared. Without enough time to think, he remembered that his father on the wooden raft in the middle of the ocean taught him a technique where both arms circled back and break the opponent's hand, called the 'jing lan' [cross-fence (like the symbol '#')]. This stance was very broad and deep; how could Zhang Wuji comprehend its essence? It was just that he was in such a desperate situation that he had used it without thinking.

Wei Bi was sending out his right hand punch straight toward Zhang Wuji's right arm. He felt as if the first layer of force of his own fist was entering the vast ocean, it vanished without a trace. While he was startled, 'crack!' the second layer of force bounced back and the bone of his right arm was jolted and it broke. Lucky for him he had not launched the third layer of force, otherwise, because Zhang Wuji did not understand the wondrous use of this 'jing lan' stance, both of them would suffer serious injury under this third layer of force.

Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying both cried out in alarm and rushed toward Wei Bi to look at his injury. "Not a problem," Wei Bi smiled bitterly, "I was just being careless."

Seeing the love of their lives was wounded, as if by prior agreement Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying both sent out their palms toward Zhang Wuji. As he succeeded in breaking Wei Bi's arm, Zhang Wuji was also being hit so he was almost thrown backward. Zhu and Wu, two girls' palms had arrived while his feet were still staggering. In his daze, Zhang Wuji failed to evade. One palm hit his chest, the other hit his shoulder. He instantly threw up a mouthful of blood. Yet in his heart his resentment was greater than his bodily pain; he thought, "I fought with all my might for you so that you won't lose face, but after I actually won you hit me!" "Stop!" Wei Bi called out. Zhu and Wu, two girls halted their hands following his order. They saw him raise his left palm with an ashen face, and he struck Zhang Wuji again. Zhang Wuji hastily leaped sideways to evade.

"Biaoge!" Zhu Jiushen called out, "You are injured. Why should you lower yourself to the same level as this little servant? I was wrong. I should not have asked you to fight with him."

Based on her usually arrogant temperament, she would never ever bow her head to admit her own mistake to anybody. It was just that she saw her lover's arm was broken that she was frightened and felt sorry for him and thus she was willing to humble herself. Who would have thought that when Wei Bi heard her, he was even more enraged?

"Biaomei," he said with a cold laugh, "Your little servant's skill is superior, where were you wrong? It's just that I am not convinced yet." As he said that, he pushed Zhu Jiuzhen aside with his left arm, and then raised his fist to strike Zhang Wuji again.

Zhang Wuji was about to step backward to evade when Wu Qingying pushed his back gently with her palms, so that he could not step back. Wei Bi’s fist hit Zhang Wuji squarely on the bridge of his nose and immediately blood started to flow down from his nose.

Wu Qingying was far more shrewd compared to Zhu Jiuzhen; she helped her martial brother in secret, without showing any sign, so that he did not lose face and felt appreciative towards her.

Zhu Jiuzhen saw it and thought, “You can help your Shige, do you think I cannot help my Biaoge?” Thereupon she also put forth her hand to attack Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill was far inferior to Wei Bi to begin with; now that Zhu and Wu, two girls, one was helping him in the open, the other was helping him surreptitiously, in a short moment Zhang Wuji had to suffer the three people’s punches and kicks. In just seven, eight moves, he had vomited several mouthfuls of blood.

With the heart full of resentment, Zhang Wuji disregarded his own life and launched the 32 stances Wudang Long Fist one after another. Although his mastery was insufficient and each fist and each kick lacked power, the Wudang Long Fist was his family’s special skill, so that after the time needed to drink a cup of tea later, he was still standing and not falling down.

Zhu Jiuzhen roared, “Where did this stinky kid come from? He dares to come to the Zhu and Wu manors with such unruly manners; he is truly impatient to give his life away.”

Wei Bi raised up his left palm and hacked down in full force toward Zhang Wuji's left shoulder so that Zhang Wuji's body was pushed forward toward Wei Bi's other palm. Wei Bi's broken arm was getting more and more painful, so he was unwilling to prolong his fight with this lowly servant. His palm carried 100% of his strength. Zhang Wuji, unable to stop himself from fumbling forward, felt a strong gust of wind on his face and realized he was helpless to block, but he still tried to lift both arms to parry.

"Stop!" suddenly they all heard an imposing voice shout. A blue shadow flashed by, somebody flew from the side and fended off Wei Bi's palm. His movement seemed light, but surprisingly Wei Bi was unable to hold his ground and was forced to draw several steps backward and was about to fall sitting down on the ground. The man in blue robe moved extremely fast; he flew over Wei Bi's shoulder and reached out to steady him so that Wei Bi was able to stand.

"Father!" Zhu Jiuzhen called out.

"Zhu Bo Fu [paternal (older) uncle]!" Wu Qingying called out.

Wei Bi gasped for breath, and then called out, "Jiujiu [maternal uncle]!" This man was indeed Zhu Jiuzhen's father, Zhu Changling. Wei Bi's broken arm injury was not a small matter, the servant in charge of the dogs in the Ling Ao Ying [spirit mastiff camp] rushed toward the main hall to inform their master. Zhu Changling hurriedly came and saw the three people were surrounding Zhang Wuji. After standing on the side to watch for a while, he saw that Wei Bi launched a killer strike, so he intercepted the attack to save Zhang Wuji's life.

Zhu Changling cast a sidelong glance toward his daughter and Wei and Wu, two people. His face was filled with rage. Suddenly he slapped his daughter's face with the back of his hand and roared, "Very good! Very good! The Zhu family descendants are making a good progress. I have such a sweet daughter, will I still have a face to see our ancestors in the nether world later on?"

Since her childhood, Zhu Jiuzhen had always been pampered by her parents; they had never even reprimanded her with harsh words, but today unexpectedly her father slapped her heavily in public. In that instant her head spun and she was at a loss about what to do. It was not until a moment later that she broke up crying.

"Stop it! Don't cry!" Zhu Changling sternly said. His voice was full of authority and power, shaking the dust on the beam that it rained down. Zhu Jiuzhen was so terrified that she stopped crying at once.

Zhu Changling said, “From generation to generation, our Zhu family has always been upholding chivalry. Your ancestor Ziliu Gong [‘gong’ is a general term to address a male senior/elder] worked under the Yideng Dashi as the Prime Minister of the Dali kingdom. Later on he fought to defend Xiangyang, his name spread out throughout the world. Now, he could be called a hero, don’t you think? Who would have thought that his descendants are unworthy? I, Zhu Changling, have this kind of daughter, three adults surrounding a child, wanting to take his life. Tell me, isn’t that shameless? Isn’t that shameless?” He was berating his daughter, but when Wei Bi and Wu Qingying heard him, it was as if each word was a stab of knife to their hearts that they felt so ashamed that it was a total loss of face for them.

Zhang Wuji was hurt all head to toe and almost fainted, but he gritted his teeth to stay standing. His mind was still clear, however, he was able to hear everything Zhu Changling had said. His admiration grew, and thinking in his heart, “Right and wrong is clearly distinguished, this is the sign of a true hero.”

He saw Zhu Changling was so furious that the skin on his face looked sallow, his entire body trembled, his breathing fast. Wei Bi and the others, three people, hung their heads low, they did not dare to meet his eyes at all. Zhang Wuji also noticed that Zhu Jiuzhen’s face was swollen big; it was obvious that her father’s slap was indeed not light. She looked ashamed and scared at the same time, truly pitiful; she looked as if she wanted to cry, yet she did not dare to. Zhang Wuji bit his own lower lip and said, “Laoye, this does not concern Miss.” He was startled by his own voice, for his voice was hoarse and almost inaudible. Turned out his throat was hit hard by Wei Bi earlier.

Zhu Changling continued, “This Xiao Xiongdi’s [little brother] fists and kicks did not follow any specific method. It is obvious that he has never bowed to anybody and received proper martial art training. All the while he was relying on brute force and bravery, staking everything to defend himself. He has made others admire him even more. The three of you have bullied someone who does not know martial art. Don’t you remember anything your master and elders and your parents instructed?”

His words were harsh and his countenance stern; he had unexpectedly showed the least bit of leniency toward Wei Bi and Wu Qingying. Listening to him, Zhang Wuji was frightened and anxious instead. Zhu Changling also asked Zhang Wuji how he came to the manor, how he came to wear a servant’s attire, while at the same time he also called someone to fetch medicine and some paste to mend broken bones to treat Wei Bi and Zhang Wuji’s injuries.

Zhu Jiuzhen knew her father was furious and so she did not dare to conceal anything. She told him how Zhang Wuji protected the little monkey, how he was attacked by the pack of dogs, and how she rescued him and took him to the manor.

The more Zhu Changling heard, the deeper his frown was; when his daughter finished her narration, he sternly said, “Out of chivalry this Zhang Xiongdi protected the little monkey; that fact shows his heroism, yet you have unexpectedly treated him as a servant. If this matter is spread out later, the Jianghu warriors will all say that I, ‘Jing Tian Yi Bi’ [One Pen Shocking the Heavens] Zhu Changling, am a heartless, unjust disciple. You are raising these malicious dogs, I only knew that you love to play with them, and that’s fine with me. Who would have thought that you dare to be reckless and use them to hurt others? If I don’t kill you, this little girl, today, how can I, Zhu Changling still have a face to take part in the Wulin world?”

Realizing her father was really angry, Zhu Jiuzhen bent her knees and kowtowed on the ground. “Father,” she said, “Child will not dare anymore.”

Zhu Changling’s rage continued, Wei Bi and Wu Qingying also kneeled down to beseech him. Zhang Wuji also opened his mouth, “Laoye …”

Zhu Changling busily said, “Xiao Xiongdi, how could you call me ‘Laoye’ [old/senior master]? I am only several years older than you are. At most you can call me ‘Qian Bei’ [senior/older generation], that would be enough.”

“Yes, yes, Zhu Qian Bei,” Zhang Wuji said, “You cannot blame Miss over this matter; her actions were by no means intentional.”

“Look at that,” Zhu Changling said, “A young boy like him is very broad- minded and loving; how can the three of you rise above that? Today is the New Year’s Day, also Miss Wu is our guest, actually I should have not gotten angry, but this matter should not have happened at all. It was an act of cowardice, the act of the lowly characters of the ‘black way’, how could someone from the ‘chivalrous way’ like us do such thing? Since Xiao Xiongdi has interceded for you, you can all rise.”

Swallowing their shame, Wei Bi and the others, three people, stood up. Zhu Changling turned toward the servant who feeds the dogs and shouted, “Where are those malicious dogs? Take them here.” The servant complied and took the dogs out.

Zhu Jiuzhen saw the dark expression on her father’s face and wondered what he was about to do. “Father,” she called in low voice.

With a cold laugh Zhu Changling said, “You raised these dogs to harm others. All right, tell them to bite me.”

Zhu Jiuzhen cried. “Father,” she was sobbing, “Daughter realizes her mistake.”

“Humph,” Zhu Changling sneered and walked toward the vicious dogs. ‘Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!’ four times, the skulls of four big vicious dogs, as big and vicious as wolves, were shattered and they fell down on the ground. The people were shocked and all were speechless. Zhu Changling punched and kicked, his palms hacked down and his fingers pierced, his body floated; a dark blue shadow circled around the courtyard, more than thirty vicious dogs were all killed without mercy. They could not even escape, let alone try to bite or attack. He was able to kill the dogs in one fell swoop, admittedly because the dogs were not under Zhu Jiuzhen’s order to attack, that is, the dogs were caught off guard; however, his action was as swift as the wind or lightning, his palm power was extremely fierce. Wei Bi, Wu Qingying and Zhang Wuji watched with their jaws dropped.

Then Zhu Changling carried Zhang Wuji lying in his arms to his own house to tend to his injuries. Before long, Mrs. Zhu and Zhu Jiuzhen came to take care of him with some medicinal soup.

After being bitten by the dogs, Zhang Wuji had lost a considerable amount of blood, his body was weakened. This time the injuries he suffered were not light, he was unconscious for several days. After his mind cleared up, he wrote his own prescription and asked the servant to prepare the medication and feed it to him, then his recovery was quicker. Seeing his divine-like medical ability, Zhu Changling was surprised and impressed. Within these twenty-some days of recovering, Zhu Jiuzhen often came to accompany Zhang Wuji by his bed, singing or guessing riddles, telling him stories, or simply chatting and joking, just like a big sister taking care of her ailing little brother, very attentive and considerate with meticulous care. After Zhang Wuji was strong enough to get up, Zhu Jiuzhen was still spending most of her days with Zhang Wuji. When it was time for her to train martial art with her father, she did not try to shun Zhang Wuji away; she always called him to watch on the side.

Zhu Changling had hinted twice that he had the intention of taking Zhang Wuji under his tutelage to inherit his entire martial art skill, but seeing a lack of response on Zhang Wuji’s side, he no longer brought it up. But he still treated Zhang Wuji with kindness, not different than if he were one his own disciples.

The Zhu family martial art was closely related to calligraphy. Zhu Jiuzhen was required to practice writing every day, and she always had Zhang Wuji accompany her studying the books. Ever since Zhang Wuji left the Bing Huo [ice and fire] Island and came to the Central Earth, he had always wandered alone in desperation, laden with grief and misery, when had he experienced this kind of peaceful and happy days?

In the blink of an eye it was already past the middle of the second month. This particular day Zhang Wuji and Zhu Jiuzhen were practicing their calligraphy in a little study room when Xiao Feng the maid came in and reported, “Miss, Yao Er Ye [second master Yao] has returned from the Central Plains.”

Zhu Jiuzhen was very happy; she tossed the pen brush away and called out, “Good! I have been waiting for him for more than half a year, now he finally comes.” Pulling Zhang Wuji’s hand along he said, “Wuji Di [little brother Wuji], come and take a look, I wonder what neat things Yao Ershu [second (younger) uncle] bought for me this time.” Two people walked hand-in-hand toward the main hall. “Who is Yao Ershu?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“He is my father’s sworn brother,” Zhu Jiuzhen replied, “He is known as ‘Qian Li Zhui Feng’ [pursuing the wind for thousand ‘li’] Yao Qingquan. Last year my father asked him to deliver a gift to the Central Plains. I asked him to buy some rouge cosmetics and silk fabrics from Hangzhou, and embroidery needles and patterns from Suzhou, also some Huimo [Anhui ink, known for its quality] brush and ink. I wonder if he managed to buy everything.” She explained further that the Zhu family manor was located in remote Kunlun mountain range of the western region, and that fine and delicate articles could not be bought within several thousand ‘li’ from where they were. Kunlun Mountain was tens of thousands ‘li’ away from the Central Earth, to make a round trip between two places would required two, three years; therefore, if anybody was going to the Central Plains, Zhu Jiuzhen would ask him to buy large quantities of goods.

As the two of them were near the hall, they were shocked to hear the sound of crying and weeping. Upon entering the hall, their shock was even greater, since they saw Zhu Changling and a tall and slim middle-aged man were kneeling on the floor, weeping. The man was wearing white mourning garment with a straw belt on his waist.

Zhu Jiuzhen went toward and man and called out, "Yao Ershu!"

With a loud wailing Zhu Changling called out, "Zhen'Er, Zhen'Er, our great benefactor, Zhang Wu Ye [fifth master Zhang], Zhang ... Zhang Wu Ye ... he .. he ... he died!"

Zhu Jiuzhen was startle. "How can that be?" she asked, "Zhang En Gong [benefactor master (see also my note on 'Gong' earlier] ... has been missing for ten years. So he did not return safely?"

Sobbing, Yao Qingquan said, "We live remotely so we did not receive timely information. Turned out more than four years ago Zhang En Gong and Madame committed suicide together. I heard this news on the way at Shanxi, before I even went up Mount Wudang. Upon my arrival on the mountain, I met Song Da Xia and Yu Er Xia [first hero Song and second hero Yu, respectively]. Only then did I know the truth, ay ..."

The more Zhang Wuji listened; his shock grew until finally his doubts were gone. The one they referred as 'the great benefactor, the fifth master Zhang' was his own father, Zhang Cuishan. Seeing saw Zhu Changling and Yao Qingquan were crying bitterly while Zhu Jiuzhen was also weeping with tears coming down her face, Zhang Wuji was unable to bear the urge to step forward and reveal his real identity, but then he changed his mind, "All along I did not tell them my origin, if I reveal the truth now, it is most likely that Zhu Bofu [father's elder brother, general respectful term to address an older man] and Zhen Jie [older sister] would not believe me. Perhaps they would think that I am merely trying to buy their sympathy, and then they would look down on me."

Not too long afterwards, there came a loud noise of weeping from the inner courtyard. Mrs. Zhu, holding on a maid's shoulder, walked into the hall, while repeatedly asking Yao Qingquan question after question. In his grief and indignation, Yao Qingquan forgot to pay his respects toward the sworn sister-in-law. Immediately he narrated again how Zhang Cuishan committed suicide.

Zhang Wuji tried hard to suppress his emotions. He did not cry openly,but tears rained down on his face. Everybody in the hall was crying, so nobody paid him any attention.

Suddenly Zhu Changling raised his palm and 'crack!' he struck the octagonal table by his side that it broke in two. "Er Di [second (younger) brother]," he said, "Tell me clearly, who had forced En Gong and En Sao [benefactor sister-in-law] to their deaths on Mount Wudang?"

"As soon as I heard the information, I should have returned quickly to report this matter to Dage [big brother]," Yao Qingquan said, "But I thought investigating the enemies' names was more important. Turned out the people who went up Mount Wudang and forced En Gong to his death were under the leadership of the Shaolin Three Divine Monks, the number of people was indeed not a few. Xiao Di [little brother – referring to self] secretly investigated everywhere, and thus was delayed several days.” Thereupon he named the people from Shaolin, Kongtong, Emei, and other ‘Pai’ [sect], and then Hai Sha [lit. sand of the ocean], Ju Jing [gigantic whale], Shen Quan [divine fist], Wu Shan [Mount Wu, located on the Changjiang River by the Three Gorges], and other ‘Bang Hui’ [clan and society], who had gone up Mount Wudang to coerce Zhang Cuishan, such as Abbot Kong Wen, Reverend Kong Zhi, He Taichong, Jing Xuan Shitai, Guan Neng, and many other names.

Zhu Changling grimly said, “Er Di, these people are among the best of the Wulin characters of the present age; we can’t provoke even one of those people. However, Zhang Wu Ye’s kindness on us was as heavy as the mountain; we must avenge his deep enmity even if our bodies were ground into powder and our bones were broken into pieces.”

Wiping his tears, Yai Qingquan said, “Dage is right, we owe our two lives to Zhang Wu Ye. In any case we are able to live these dozen of years, so if we must lose our lives for Zhang Wu Ye’s sake, that is only appropriate. What Xiao Di regrets most is that I was not able to meet Zhang Wu Ye’s young master; otherwise I would be able to convey Dage’s good intention. It would be best if we can invite him here, then we can give him everything we have and take a good care of him the rest of his life.”

Mrs. Zhu prattled incessantly, asking in details about this Zhang Gongzi [young master]. Yao Qingquan only knew that he was seriously injured, but he did not know where he had gone to seek treatment. It seemed to be that this child was only eight, nine years old that year. Supposedly Zhang Sanfeng, Zhang Zhenren [lit. real/true person, a respectful term to address a Taoist priest] was going to pass his entire martial art skill on to him, so that in the future he could take over the Sect Leader position of Wudang Pai.

Zhu Changling, husband and wife immediately kneeled down to express their thanks to the Heaven and the Earth for the future Sect Leader Zhang.

Yao Qingquan said, "Dage asked me to deliver thousand-year-old king ginseng, snow lotus herb from Tianshan, jade lion paper weight, black gold dagger and other things for Zhang En Gong; Xiao Di has left everything on Mount Wudang, asking Song Da Xia to hand them over to Zhang Gongzi."

"That's the best arrangement, that is," Zhu Changling said. Turning toward his daughter he said, "Why don't you tell Zhang Xiongdi how our family received great kindness from our benefactor?"

Zhu Jiuzhen took Zhang Wuji's hand and led him to her father's study room. She pointed toward a large scroll of painting hanging at the center of the wall and told Zhang Wuji to take a look. On the right margin of the painting there were seven characters: 'Picture of Zhang Gong Cuishan's Kindness'.

Zhang Wuji had never been to Zhu Changling's study before, this time, as he saw his father's revered name, his eyes were clouded with tears. The background of the painting was a vast wilderness. A handsome young warrior, with left hand holding a silver hook and right hand brandishing an iron brush, was fighting a fierce battle with five fearsome looking enemies. Zhang Wuji knew this warrior must be his father. Although the face was somewhat different, he could see the slight resemblance with his own face. There were two people lying on the ground, one was Zhu Changling, the other Yao Qingquan. There were two more people with severed heads. On the lower left corner there was a young mother, her expression was full of fear. She was Madame Zhu. She was carrying a baby girl in her arms. Zhang Wuji focused his eyes and saw a small black mole on the side of this baby's mouth, so she must be Zhu Jiuzhen.

The paper of this painting had turned light yellow; apparently it was an old painting, at least ten years old. Zhu Jiuzhen pointed her finger to the painting and explained to him. Turned out shortly after Zhu Jiuzhen was born, in order to avoid strong enemies, Zhu Changling took his entire family to the west. Unfortunately, the enemy still managed to overtake them on the way. Two of his younger martial brothers were killed, while Yao Qingquan and he were also overthrown. The enemies were just about to finish them off when Zhang Cuishan happened to pass by. Out of chivalry he beat the enemies and drove them away, and thus had saved the lives of the entire family. A simple calculation would reveal that it must have happened before Zhang Cuishan went to the Bing Huo Island.

After Zhu Jiuzhen narrated this story, her expression turned sad. She said, "We live in such a remote area that we have just found out about Zhang En Gong's return from overseas last year. Father had made an oath that he would not tread his feet on the Central Plains even for one step; thereupon he imposed upon Yao Ershu to deliver the precious gifts to Mount Wudang and pay his respects, who would have thought ...” While she was still talking, a young servant of the study room came in and invited her to the mourning hall to pay her respects.

Zhu Jiuzhen hurriedly went out the room. After changing her clothes to a plain white gown, together with Zhang Wuji they went to the rear hall. There were two memorial tablets arranged in the hall. White candles were burning high. One of the memorial tablets bore this inscription: 'En Gong Zhang Daxia Hui Cuishan Zhi Lingwei' [the memorial tablet of benefactor Great Hero Zhang, revered name Cuishan]. The other one had 'Zhang Furen Yin Shi Zhi Lingwei' [the memorial tablet of Mrs. Zhang of the Yin family]. Zhu Changling, husband and wife, along with Yao Qingquan were kneeling on the floor, weeping with grief.

Zhang Wuji followed Zhu Jiuzhen, together they also kowtowed. Zhu Changling stroke his head and with a choking voice said, "Xiao Xiongdi, very good, very good. This Zhang Daxia was generous and big hearted, a remarkable man, truly unparalleled in the present age. Although you do not know him, he was not your relative or acquaintance, yet you pay your respects to him. It is very appropriate."

Faced with this situation, Zhang Wuji had even less reason to confess that he was the Benefactor Zhang's child, thinking, "The rumor Yao Ershu heard was incorrect, he said I am no older than eight, nine years of age; if I confess now, it would be more difficult for them to believe."

"Dage," suddenly Yao Qingquan said, "About that Xie Ye [Master Xie] ..." Zhu Changling coughed and made an eye signal. Yao Qingquan immediately changed the subject, "What should we do about the thanksgiving sacrifice? Shall we hold a funeral for the Benefactor?"

"You take care of it!" Zhu Changling replied.

Zhang Wuji thought, "You were obviously saying 'Xie Ye'; how come suddenly changed into 'xie yi' [thanksgiving offering]? [Translator's note: the same 'Xie' (thank you) character, so in Chinese the two words did not differ too much.] Xie Ye, Xie Ye? Could he be talking about my Yifu [foster/adoptive father]?"

That night he remembered his departed father and mother, as well as his Yifu who was spending the rest of his life on the cold island of the extreme north. His mind was full of disquieting thoughts; how could he sleep soundly?

By the dawn the next day, he heard intermittent footsteps, while his nose caught a delicate fragrance, followed by Zhu Jiuzhen entering his room carrying a basin of water in her hands to wash his face with.

Zhang Wuji was startled. "Zhen Jie, what ... what are you doing?" he asked. Zhu Jiuzhen said, "All the servants and maids have left completely. What's wrong with me taking care of you?"

Zhang Wuji was even more surprised. "What ... what happened? Why did they leave?"

"My father told them to leave last night," Zhu Jiuzhen said, "He gave every one of them some money and sent them back to their homes. It is too dangerous in here." After a short pause she continued, "After you wash your face, Father wants to have a word with you."

Zhang Wuji quickly washed his face without taking too much care. Zhu Jiuzhen combed his hair, and then together they walked toward Zhu Changling's study. There were originally seventy, eighty servants in this big building complex, but now it looked cold and empty, not even one person was to be seen.

Seeing the two of them walk in, Zhu Changling said, "Zhang Xiongdi, I very much admire your chivalrous heart and heroic spirit. Actually, I wanted to keep you in my humble home for eight or ten years, but now that we are suddenly on the brink of an unforeseen incident, we must part. Zhang Xiongdi you must not have questions in your heart." While saying that, he presented a tray; on the tray there were twelve gold ingots and twelve silver ingots, plus a self-defense dagger. He said, "This is a small token just to remember your meeting with a simple-minded couple and their daughter, I ask Zhang Xiongdi to accept. If the old man can keep his life, we will meet again in the future ..." Speaking to this point, his voice broke, he sobbed and was unable to continue.

Zhang Wuji stepped aside to evade the gift. He boldly said, "Zhu Bobo [(older) paternal uncle], although your nephew is young and useless, he is not one who covets life and fears death. As your family is facing imminent danger, there is no way nephew will go away on my own. Perhaps nephew cannot help Bofu and Jiejie in any way, but I will follow Bofu and Jiejie in life or death.

Zhu Changling urged him again and again, but Zhang Wuji's mind was set. "Ay!" finally Zhu Changling sighed and said, "You kid do not know danger. Alright, I will tell you the truth, but you must swear a heavy oath first, that you will not in any way divulge the secret to a second person, you also must not ask me too many questions."

Zhang Wuji kneeled down at once and with a loud and clear voice said, "The Emperor of Heaven above, the matter which Zhu Bobo will tell me, if I divulge it to other people, or ask him too many questions, let me die with random chops of knife, and bring ruin and shame upon myself."

Zhu Changling raised him up and then looked outside the door and the windows, followed by leaping up the roof. After ensuring there was no other people in all directions, he returned to the study room and said in low voice next to Zhang Wuji's ear, "What I am going to tell you, you are to remember it in your heart; you must not say anything to me, to guard against the wall with an ear." Zhang Wuji nodded.

In low voice Zhu Changling continued, "Yesterday Yao Er Di brought the news of Zhang En Gong's death, but he also brought someone home. This person is surnamed Xie, given name Xun, he is known as the Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden mane lion king] ..." Zhang Wuji was so shocked that his body trembled.

Zhu Changling continued, "This Xie Daxia and Zhang En Gong were sworn brothers, while he has tied many deep enmities with various schools and sects under the heavens. Zhang En Gong, husband and wife committed suicide was because they were unwilling to disclose their sworn brother's whereabouts. Somehow Xie Daxia returned to the Central Earth and went into action to avenge Zhang En Gong's grievance. He has killed many enemies, but the enemy warriors are simply too many; in the end he suffered a serious injury. Yao Er Di is quick-witted; he rescued him and brought him here to escape, but we know the enemies will pursue in an instant. The adversaries are too numerous, we are absolutely helpless to withstand them. I am risking my life to repay the kindness; I determine to die together with Xie Daxia. But you have no relation whatsoever with him, why must you lose your life here? Zhang Xiongdi, I have told you everything, quickly leave! Once the enemies arrive, all jades and rocks will be burned; it will be too late to escape by then.”

When Zhang Wuji heard this, his heart was burning with surprise and delight. He had never thought Yifu would come to this place. “Where is …” he asked, but Zhu Changling’s right hand quickly covered his mouth while he whispered in his ear, “Must not speak. The enemy’s power is extensive; one careless word, we will jeopardize Xie Daxia’s life. Have you forgotten your heavy oath just now?” Zhang Wuji nodded.

Zhu Changling said, “I have clearly told you everything. Zhang Xiongdi, although you are young, I have regarded you as a good friend and have taken you into my full confidence, concealing nothing. You must leave immediately.” Zhang Wuji said, “You have clearly explained everything to me, now I'm even more unwilling to leave.”

Zhu Changling was deep in thought for a long time. Finally he heaved a deep sigh and decisively said, “Alright! Here after we will live or die together, no need to say anything anymore. While we still have time, we must act quickly.”

Immediately he took Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji and went out the door. Mrs. Zhu and Yao Qingquan had been waiting outside the door, with several cloth bundles sitting next to them, as if they were ready to take a long journey. Zhang Wuji looked to the east and gazed to the west, but did not see any sign of his Yifu. Zhu Changling ignited a paper flint to light a torch, and then aimed the fire at a spot above the main gate. Instantly fire blazed high into the sky while the fire tongues reaching out everywhere. Turned out the several hundred houses in this large building complex was already soaked with petroleum. Tianshan and Kunlunshan mountain ranges of the western region were rich with natural resources; it was common to see oil bubbling up from the earth like a fountain, which the people took to make the fire to cook their meals.

The Zhu family village consisted of splendid large buildings spread over a wide area with somewhat connected interior, but with the help of the oil, the fire spread really fast. Zhang Wuji saw how quick the richly ornamented building engulfed in the raging flame; he felt very grateful in his heart. He thought, "This is Zhu Bobo's life savings, built with countless care, but when evening comes, everything will be reduced to ashes, and all for the sake of my father and Yifu. This kind of courageous and upright man is indeed very rare in the world."

That night, Zhu Changling, husband and wife, Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji, four people slept in a cave. Zhu Changling's five trusted disciples, led by Yao Qingquan, stayed on guard duty outside the cave with weapons in their hands. The fire was raging continuously to the end of the third day; fortunately the enemies had not arrived yet. By the evening of the third day, Zhu Changling took his wife and daughter, along with his disciples, Yao Qingquan and Zhang Wuji to go deeper into the cave, through dark long underground tunnel, toward several underground rooms with mountain rocks as their walls. The chambers were well stuffed with provisions: food and water, but it was rather hot and stuffy down there.

Zhu Jiuzhen noticed that Zhang Wuji kept wiping his face with his long sleeve. She smiled and asked, "Wuji Di [younger brother], can you guess why is it so hot in here? Do you know where we are?"

Zhang Wuji smelled strong burning odor and realized immediately, "Ah, we are underneath the original village."

"You are very smart," Zhu Jiuzhen laughed.

Zhang Wuji admired Zhu Changling's careful thinking even more. When the enemy's large-scale raid arrived, they would see the Zhu family village had been burnt down without a single tile left intact, so they would go to distant places to search, and would never have guessed that Xie Xun was actually hidden underneath the rubble. Zhang Wuji saw a closed iron door at the other end of the stone chamber, he surmised that his Yifu must be hidden inside. Although he was dying to see his Yifu and chat with him about what happened after they parted, he realized the danger they were still facing. Even Zhu Changling did not dare to talk with him, how could he act blindly without thinking? If he messed up this important matter, the loss of his own life was nothing, but he would also endanger the lives of his Yifu, as well as the entire Zhu family's, wouldn't he be responsible for this grave offense?

After spending half a day underground, the heat gradually diminished, everybody unfolded their blankets and went to sleep. Suddenly they heard galloping hoof beats from a distant, which in a short while the noise sounded like it came directly above their heads. Someone with a gruff voice was heard saying, “This old thief Zhu Changling must be protecting that runaway Xie Xun, after them, quick!”

Although they were underground, everyone was able to hear clearly the noise above the ground. Turned out there was an iron tube from the underground chambers leading to the surface, transmitting the noise.

They heard random noise of hoof beats, which gradually went away. Altogether, there were a total of five groups of pursuing force coming and going one after another that night; people from Kunlun Pai, Kongtong Pai, and Ju Jing Bang [‘great whale clan’]. They could not hear the origin of the other two groups. Each group was at least seven, eight people, at most a dozen people. Their weapons made a resounding noise, their horses neighing noisily, they were all yelling and shouting evil words; the air was filled with violence that night.

Zhang Wuji thought, “If Yifu was not blind and seriously injured, would he be concerned over these tiny demons and little clowns like you?”

As the fifth group galloped away, Yao Qingquan picked up a wooden plug to cover the mouth of the iron pipe, so that the noise underground would not be accidentally heard by a passerby. But he was still speaking in a subdued voice. “I am going to check Xie Daxia’s condition,” he said. Zhu Changling nodded.

Yao Qingquan reached out and pulled a lever by the iron door to operate the secret mechanism, the iron door slowly opened. Carrying an oil lamp in his hand, he walked through the iron door. By this time Zhang Wuji was no longer able to endure patiently, he stood up and peeked over Yao Qingquan’s back. He saw a big and tall man was lying on a couch facing in. To suddenly see his Yifus broad back, Zhang Wuji’s eyes were brimming with tears of excitement.

He heard Yao Qingquan asked in a low voice, “Xie Daxia, do you feel a lot better now? Do you want to drink some water?”

Suddenly, a strong gust of wind blew out, the oil lamp in Yao Qingquan’s hand went out immediately, followed by ‘Bang!’ Yao Qingquan was struck by Xie Xun’s palm. He flew out of the iron door and fell heavily on the ground.

Xie Xun shouted, “Dogs of Shaolin Pai, Kunlun Pai, Kongtong Pai, come, come! Do you think Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun is afraid of you all?”

“Not good!” Zhu Changling called out, “Xie Daxia’s mind is confused.” Walking toward the door, he said, “Xie Daxia, we are your friends, not your enemies.”

“What friends?” Xie Xun said with a cold laugh, “Are you deceiving me with sweet words?” He walked out the iron door in big strides and sent out his palm toward Zhu Changling’s chest. This palm strike was so swift and fierce that the fire of the oil lamps around the room flickered continuously.

Zhu Changling did not dare to block head on, he circled around to evade. Xie Xun sent out a left punch toward his face. Zhu Changling had no choice but to parry by lifting up his arm, his body shook and he retreated two steps backward.

Seeing this sudden turn of events, Zhang Wuji was frightened. Xie Xun’s fist and palm were like a storm with incomparable speed and power. Zhu Changling did not dare to parry and withdrew repeatedly. Xie Xun’s palm missed Zhu Changling and struck the rock wall nearby; debris of rock flew. If that palm had struck a human body, would he still be alive?

Xie Xun’s long hair was draped on his shoulder, his eyes were like lightning, his face was full of bloodstains, his mouth continuously made ‘huh, huh’ noises, his palms were getting more and more violent. Mrs. Zhu and Zhu Jiuzhen were terrified, they huddled together at the corner of a wall.

Seeing Xie Xun’s fist and palm arrive, Zhu Changling had no choice but shove a nearby wooden table to stop him. ‘Bang! Bang!’ Xie Xun punched twice and the table was smashed into smithereens. Zhang Wuji was completely dumbfounded, his jaw dropped, because as he watched from the side, he saw that this ‘Xie Xun’ was definitely not his Yifu Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. His Yifu had been blind for a long time, this man’s eyes were flashing bright. He saw this man’s palm struck again, while Zhu Changling’s back was against the rock wall, unable to take another step backwards, but he still did not try to block. “Xie Da Xia,” Zhu Changling called out, “I am not your enemy, I am not going to fight you back.” The man ignored his plea completely, his palm was still striking toward Zhu Changling’s chest.

Zhu Changling’s face bore a pained expression. “Xie Da Xia,” he called out, “Do you believe me now?”

“Dog thief,” that man shouted, “Eat my fist!” as he sent out a punch.

Zhu Changling spurted out a mouthful of blood. In a trembling voice he said, “You are my benefactor’s sworn brother; although you beat me to death, I will never fight you back.”

With a wild laugh that man said, “It’s best that you don’t fight back, it will be easier for me to kill you.” With a left punch followed by a right punch he struck Zhu Changling’s chest and abdomen.

“Ah!” with a miserable cry Zhu Changling’s crumpled body slid down to the ground. The big man showed no mercy and punched again. Zhang Wuji quickly stepped forward risking his life, he raised his arm to block. He felt that the power behind this punch was tremendous. As soon as he was shaken, he almost fainted. At that moment, forgetting about life and death he called out, “You are not Xie Xun, you are not …”

The big man was furious. “What does a little rascal like you know?” He lifted his leg to kick him.

Zhang Wuji rolled sideways to avoid the kick, while shouting, “You pretend to be Jin Mao Shi Wang with evil intentions, you are a fake! A fake …” Zhu Changling had already been sitting wearily on the ground, but listening to Zhang Wuji’s cry, he struggled to crawl back up. Pointing his finger toward the big man he called out, “You … you are not … you deceived me

…” Suddenly he spurted another mouthful of blood, which shot toward that man’s face. He fumbled forward and while falling, he struck to seal the ‘shen feng xue’ [divine grace acupoint] under that man’s right breast.

Actually, after being wounded, Zhu Changling was not that man’s match. But when he spurted blood and fell forward, he took the man by surprise and struck his vital acupoint using the special family skill ‘Solitary Yang Finger’.

After sealing two other acupoints on that man’s waist, Zhu Changling could not hold himself any longer and passed out on the ground. Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji rushed forward and quickly held him up.

A moment later, Zhu Changling regained his consciousness and asked Zhang Wuji, “He … he …”

Zhang Wuji said, “Zhu Bobo, I cannot hide the truth from you anymore; the one you call benefactor was my father. Jin Mao Shi Wang is my Yifu. How could I fail to recognize him?”

Zhu Changling shook his head with a bitter smile; his face showed that he was not convinced the least bit. Zhang Wuji continued, “My Yifu is blind, this man’s eyes can see well, that is the biggest flaw of his disguise. My Yifu became blind overseas, of course no outsider would know. This man came here in disguise, he would not know about my Yifu’s blindness.”

“Wuji Di,” Zhu Jiuzhen happily said, “Are you really our family’s great benefactor’s son? That’s very good, very good!”

Zhu Changling still was not convinced. Zhang Wuji had no choice but narrated briefly how he came to be in Kunlun region. Yao Qingquan implied his disbelief by asking him all kinds of questions about the Wudang Mountain; he also asked him the circumstances around Zhang Cuishan, husband and wife’s suicide. After Zhang Wuji gave all the correct answers, only then did he believe.

Zhu Changling still felt uncomfortable. “If this boy did not tell the truth and we offended Xie Da Xia, how can that be good?”

Yao Qingquan pulled out a dagger and placed it on that man’s right eye, saying, “Friend, both of Jin Mao Shi Wang’s eyes are damaged. If you want to pretend to be him, then you must copy him well. I am going to help you by taking out these things first. I, the one surnamed Yao, have been deceived really bad by you; if this little brother did not expose your lie, wouldn’t I deliver my Zhu Dage’s life for nothing?” While saying that, he thrust the dagger forward until the tip touched that man’s eyelid. He asked again, “Who are you, anyway? Why do you pretend to be Jin Mao Shi Wang?”

“If you have guts, just stab your dagger and kill me,” that man angrily said, “What kind of man do you think ‘Kai Bei Shou’ [hand splitting the stone] Hu Bao is? Do you think you can extort any confession from me?”

“Ah,” Zhu Changling exclaimed, “Kai Bei Shou Hu Bao! You are from Kongtong Pai.”

Hu Bao said loudly, “All schools and sects under the heavens know that Zhu Changling wants to avenge Zhang Cuishan. As the saying goes: strike first and gain the upper hand, strike later and suffer a calamity’.”

Yao Qingquan roared, “You are so malicious!” His dagger went down to stab that man’s heart. But Zhu Changling reached out with his left hand to grab his wrist, saying, “Er Di, wait. What if he really is Xie Daxia? Even if we have to die ten thousand times, we still cannot redeem our wrong.”

Yai Qingquan said, “Zhang Xiongdi has told us clearly. Dage, if you are half-hearted [orig. ‘san xin er yi’ – three hearts two intentions] and do not make a decision, it will be difficult to us to escape present disaster.”

Zhu Changling shook his head, “I would rather we receive a thousand blades than make a mistake by injuring even a strand of hair of our benefactor’s sworn brother.”

“Zhu Bobo,” Zhang Wuji said, “This man definitely is not my Yifu. My Yifu is widely known as ‘Golden Mane Lion King’, his hair is yellow. This man’s hair is black.”

Zhu Changling was deep in thought for half a day. Finally he nodded. Taking along Zhang Wuji’s hand, he said, “Xiao Xiongdi, come with me.”

The two of them went out from the stone chambers. They left the cave and walked toward a valley behind the hillside and then sat side-by-side on a piece of boulder.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Zhu Changling said, “If this man is not Xie Daxia, naturally we must kill him, but before we make our move, I must not have the least bit of doubt in my heart; don’t you think so?”

Zhang Wuji said, “You don’t want to make any mistake, that is only natural. But this man is definitely not my Yifu. Zhu Bobo, set your heart at ease.”

“Child,” Zhu Changling sighed, “When I was young, I fell into deceitful schemes of more than a few people. Today I did not want to fight back and I received a severe injury as a result; hence I knew that I have misjudged that man. One mistake is enough, I cannot make another one. This is a significant responsibility. My death is not to be regretted, but whatever happens, I simply must protect Xie Daxia and your safety. Actually, I wanted to ask clearly Xie Daxia’s whereabouts, so that my heart can be truly at ease, but I feel that this is an inappropriate matter to ask.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was deeply touched. “Zhu Bobo,” he said, “For the sake of my father and Yifu, you have destroyed a million of your family properties, you also went as far as receiving this serious injury personally, how can I not trust you? Even if you did not ask about my Yifu, I certainly must tell you everything.” Thereupon he told Zhu Changling how his parents and Xie Xun were carried by the current to the Bing Huo Island, how they lived there for ten years, and how the three of them finally returned on a wooden raft; one by one he told him everything. He learned most of these events from his parents’ mouths, but he was able to narrate clearly. Zhu Changling repeatedly asked questions on things that were unclear, such as how Zhang Wuji learned martial art on the Bing Huo Island, how he brought Yang Buhui to the west, how he ran into a misfortune at the Kunlun San Sheng Ao [three-sage depression (of the earth)], until he understood everything clearly. Finding that Zhang Wuji’s story was without any flaw, only then did he believe him completely.

With a long sigh of relief he looked up to the sky and said, “En Gong, oh, En Gong, I am asking your spirit in Heaven to clearly be my witness: Zhu Changling will exhaust everything he has to raise Wuji Xiongdi until he grows up and becomes an adult. Only powerful enemies lie in wait on all sides, while my martial art skill is meager, in all honesty I cannot necessarily bear this heavy burden. Therefore, I pray that En Gong will bless and protect.” Finished speaking, he kneeled down on the ground and kowtowed toward the heavens. Zhang Wuji was grieved, but also full of gratitude; he also kneeled down.

Zhu Changling stood up and said, “Now I don’t have even half a part of doubt. Ay! Shaolin, Emei, Kunlun, Kongtong, which one of them does not have strength in number and superior martial art? Xiao Xiongdi, previously I was determined to risk my old life to fight the enemies one by one, to repay your honorable father’s great kindness. But today, comforting an orphan is an important matter, revenge comes second. Only, the earth is so vast, where can we go to escape this disaster? They managed to find even a secluded place in a remote area like mine, where can we find a more secluded place?”

After pausing for a while he continued, “Xie Daxia lives alone on the Bing Huo Island with nobody to help him. I am thinking that for these past several years, his life must be really miserable. Ay, this great hero has such an esteemed friendship with benefactor and sister-in-law; if only I can see him just once, I will die a happy man."

Hearing him talk about how his Yifu had a harsh life, alone on the Bing Huo Island, Zhang Wuji was overwhelmed with sadness. Suddenly he had an idea and blurted, "Zhu Bobo, what do you say we go to the Bing Huo Island together? My days on that island were happy, but as soon as I arrived on the Central Earth, I saw and suffered, if not murder then shedding of blood, and thus I feel alarmed and anxious."

"Xiao Xiongdi," Zhu Changling said, "You really want to return to the Bing Huo Island, don't you?"

Zhang Wuji hesitated and did not answer; quietly thinking that he would not live too much longer anyway. Besides, the voyage to the Bing Huo Island was difficult and dangerous, they might not necessarily reach their destination, and thus he should not endanger the lives of Zhu Changling and his family. The ocean was without mercy, just one slight mishap and their bodies would be buried underneath the giant billowing waves.

Zhu Changling held his hands and looked at his face, saying, “Xiao Xiongdi, you and I are not strangers to each other, any concern should be discussed openly. Do you or do you not want to return to the Bing Huo Island?” His voice was full of sincerity.

In Zhang Wuji’s heart right this moment, he was tired and loathed the sinister hearts of the Jianghu people, his desire was that he would be able to see his Yifu’s face one more time before he died. If only he could die in his Yifu’s arms, he would ask nothing else in this life. He was unable to conceal his heart’s content in front of Zhu Changling, thereupon he slowly nodded.

Zhu Changling did not waste any time by more talking; holding Zhang Wuji’s hand, he took him back to the stone chamber, and said to Yao Qingquan, “That man is a traitor, no doubt about it.”

Yao Qingquan nodded. With the dagger in his hand, he entered the cell. They heard Splitting Stone Hand Hu Bao’s long and miserable cry, and then it stopped abruptly. Yao Qingquan walked out of the cell and closed the iron door, his dagger was dripping with fresh blood, which he casually wiped on the bottom of his boots.

Zhu Changling said, “That traitor could come here and be a mole among us, looks like our trail has been compromised; we can’t stay here anymore.” Immediately he led everybody out of the stone chamber, out of the cave, and walked for more than twenty ‘li’, around two mountain peaks, toward a valley, and arrived at a cluster of four, five little huts by a giant tree.

It was dawn. After everybody entered the huts, Zhang Wuji noticed the plow, sickle and other farming tools in the room, as well as pots, pans and furnace, and plenty of all kinds of provisions. It appeared that to guard against his powerful enemies, Zhu Changling had prepared not a few of these safe houses. Due to his severe injury, Zhu Changing immediately laid down on a bed. Mrs. Zhu took out some long gowns made of hand-woven cloth, along with straw sandals, head scarves, and distributed everything to everybody. All of a sudden the rich family madam and miss were transformed into peasant women. Although they did not act or talk like peasants, as long as they did not come too close to outsiders, nobody would know their disguise.

They stayed in the farm house for several days. Zhu Changling treated his injury with legacy medicine from Yunnan so he enjoyed a quick recovery. Fortunately, no enemy came to pursue. With nothing to do, Zhang Wuji quietly observed everything happening around him. He saw Yao Qingquan went out every day to seek out information. Mrs. Zhu led the disciples to pack their luggage, obviously for the long journey ahead of them. Zhang Wuji knew that to repay kindness and escape the enemy, Zhu Changling had decided to bring his whole family overseas to the Bing Huo Island, and Zhang Wuji was delighted.

That night Zhang Wuji was lying on the bed, imagining that if he was lucky enough not to die and manage to reach the Bing Huo Island, he would be able to live together on the island with this elder sister Zhu Jiuzhen, whose beauty was like an immortal's. He blushed and felt his ears getting hot, his heart was thumping madly. He also envisioned that when (older) uncle Zhu, (younger) uncle Yao meet with his foster-father, the three of them would become good friends; they would live a carefree life on the island for the rest of their lives. They would not have to be afraid that the Mongolians would massacre or push them around; they also do not need to worry about the powerful enemies of the Wulin world sneakily attacking them. If he could live that kind of life, he would not want anything else in the world. In his delight, he had forgotten about the cold poison in his body and that his own days were numbered. It was deep into the night, but he had not fallen asleep.

While he was half-asleep, suddenly he heard the door gently pushed open, someone entered his room. Zhang Wuji was slightly surprised because his nose smelled light and delicate fragrance, which was precisely the jasmine perfume Zhu Jiuzhen used daily on her clothes. Suddenly his face turned deep red, for some unknown reason he felt extremely shy.

Zhu Jiuzhen walked quietly to the bed and asked in a low voice, "Wuji Di, are you asleep?"

Zhang Wuji did not dare to answer, he closed his eyes tight, pretending to be asleep. A moment later, he felt warm fingers on his eyelids. Zhang Wuji was surprised but happy, shy but scared; he wished she would quickly get out of the room. In his heart, he held Zhu Jiuzhen with the highest respect; if he could only look into her eyes every day, he would be very satisfied. He did not have the slightest degree of dirty thoughts toward her at all; even the hope of taking her as his wife in the future had never entered his mind. This moment, to suddenly see her entering his room, how could he not lose his mind?

Suddenly a thought came into his mind, "Could Zhen Jie possibly have an important matter she needs to discuss with me in the middle of the night?" he mused. Right this moment, suddenly the 'shan zhong xue' [lit. sheep odor acupoint] in the pit of his stomach went numb, followed by 'jian zhen' [shoulder chaste(?)], 'shen zang' [divine storehouse], 'qu chi' [crooked reservoir], and 'huan tiao' [jump the hoop] acupoints were sealed one by one. He was totally taken by surprise, who would have thought that Zhu Jiuzhen came in the middle of the night to seal his acupoints?

In his disappointment he tried to reason, "Ah, perhaps Zhen Jie wanted to test my alertness although I was asleep? She'll come back tomorrow to unseal my acupoints and make fun of me. If I knew it earlier, I would have jumped and scared her as soon as she entered the room, so that tomorrow she wouldn't have anything to boast."

He saw that she quietly pushed the door open and flew out. "I'd better unseal my acupoints quickly and follow her," Zhang Wuji thought, "I will pretend to be a ghost to scare her. That should be fun." Immediately he used the acupoint unsealing technique he learned from Xie Xun. However, Zhu Jiuzhen's family legacy of 'Solitary Yang Finger' was not something to be trifled with; he had to spend the most part of an hour to release his sealed acupoints. It was because Zhu Jiuzhen did not have enough strength, and also because she did not want to awaken him, she had only used light force; otherwise, even if Zhang Wuji's acupoint unsealing techniques were more amazing, he would never be able to free himself.

When he was able to stand up, he hurriedly put his outer garment on and jumped out of the window, but it was quiet everywhere he looked, not a trace of Zhu Jiuzhen to be seen. Standing in the darkness he was feeling rather dispirited, but suddenly he had another thought, "Zhen Jie is going to make fun of me for being useless; let her tease me if she want to, why should I fight over who wins who loses with her? I always try to win her favor daily, it is not easy; if I pursue her tonight, she may be angry with me instead." Having this thought, his heart immediately calmed down.

It was the beginning of spring, the air was filled with the light fragrance of wild flowers all around the valley. Since sleep had left him, he wandered aimlessly along a small creek. The snow on the hillside was beginning to melt; it trickled down into the creek below. Occasionally he would step on or kick small pieces of ice, creating clinking noises along the way. After walking for a while, he heard giggles coming from the woods to his left, it was Zhu Jiuzhen's voice.

Zhang Wuji was slightly startled, "Did Zhen Jie find me?" he mused. But then he heard that she was scolding in a low voice, "Biaoge, don't make a scene, or I will slap your big ears," followed by a male voice laughing gaily. Zhang Wuji did not need to hear more to know that it was of course Wei Bi.

Zhang Wuji's heart was so shaken that he almost cried; the sweet dream he had for the last half a day was completely shattered, but his mind was suddenly as bright as the snow: "Why would I think that Zhen Jie sealed my acupoints because she wanted to play a joke on me? She is afraid I might find out that she is seeing her cousin in the middle of the night." In that instant his hands went numb and his legs went weak. He also thought, "I am a homeless pauper; how can I be compared to Wei Xianggong in terms of literacy or martial art skill, manners or appearance? ['xianggong' is yet another way of saying 'mister' or 'young master']. Zhen Jie and he are related as cousins, they are a perfect match [orig. 'lang cai nu mao' - talented man, beautiful woman], truly a match made in heaven [orig. 'tian zao di she' - heaven built, the earth arranged]."

Once he accepted the fact, he gradually calmed down and sighed lightly. Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching, someone was coming from behind. Right this moment, Zhu Jiuzhen was still talking and laughing in a low voice with Wei Bi, while walking hand-in-hand toward him. Zhang Wuji did not want to be seen by them, so he hastily stepped behind a large tree to hide.

He heard the two sets of footsteps were approaching each other. Suddenly Zhu Jiuzhen called out, "Father! You ... you ..." her voice trembled, apparently she was very scared. Turned out the person coming from the other side was none other than Zhu Changling.

Seeing his daughter having a tryst in the middle of the night with his sister's son, Zhu Changling was really angry. "Humph," he snorted, "What are you doing here?"

Zhu Jiuzhen forced herself to act like she did not care, she said with a laugh, "Father, Biaoge and I have not seen each other for such a long time, today he happened to come by, we are just chatting."

"You, this little girl, are recklessly too bold," Zhu Changling said, "What if Wuji finds out ..."

"I lightly sealed five of his major acupoints," Zhu Jiuzhen cut him off, "He is sleeping soundly right now. I am going to release him as soon as I am back, I am sure he will not know anything."

Zhang Wuji said in his heart, "Zhu Bobo knew I like Zhen Jie. Because of my father's kindness to him, he does not want me to be broken hearted and lose heart. Actually, although I like Zhen Jie, I do not have any other intentions. Zhu Bobo, you are very good to me."

He heard Zhu Changling say, “Even so, you must be very careful, don’t let us fail at the last hurdle and raise his suspicions.”

Zhu Jiuzhen said with a smile, “Child understands.”

“Jiufu [(maternal) uncle], Zhen Mei [younger sister],” Wei Bi said, “I’d better return. I am afraid Shifu is waiting for me.”

Zhu Jiuzhen did not want to part with him too soon, she said, “Let me walk you off.”

“Alright,” Zhu Changling said, “Let me go with you, I need to talk to your Shifu a little bit. This time we are going to Bing Huo Island, everybody must be fully prepared, we can’t afford any mistakes.” And then the three of them walked toward the west.

Zhang Wuji felt rather strange; he knew Wei Bi’s master was called Wu Lie, which was Wu Qingying’s father. Listening to Zhu Changling, it seemed like the Wu family, father and daughter, along with Wei Bi, will be going to the Bing Huo Island too; why didn’t anybody tell him before? The more people knew about this matter, the greater the possibility that it would leak out; hopefully nothing would implicate his Yifu.

He pondered about this for half a day. Suddenly he recalled something: Zhu Changling had said, ‘don’t let us fail at the last hurdle and raise his suspicions’. Suspicion … suspicion … what suspicion? Thinking about this word ‘suspicion’, suddenly something else flashed through his mind as if someone had just lighted a light in the darkness of his mind; the people in the painting 'Picture of Zhang Gong Cuishan's Kindness' all bore close resemblance to the real ones, but how come his father’s oval face was painted as square? He looked a lot like his father, true, because as father and son, they shared many similar facial features; however, his father face was oval with pointy chin, not at all like Zhang Wuji’s long face with square jaw. According to Zhu Changling, he drew the painting with his own hand more than ten years ago. Even if his painting technique was not good, he should not make such a blatant mistake that the face of his great benefactor was changed beyond recognition. The Zhang Cuishan in the painting was practically a grown up version of Zhang Wuji.

“Ah, there is one more thing,” he mused, “Father’s iron pen had a straight handle with sharp nib; it looked just like ordinary writing brush. That day, not long after we arrived on the main land, he bought a regular judge pen from a weapon maker. He said that in term of weight and length, the weapon was acceptable for him to use, even with an extra iron hand. It did not look too pleasing to the eye. Mama said that as soon as we were settled, he should go and have one cast to his specifications. Yet the weapon Father had in the painting was actually a regular judge pen with a cast iron in the shape of a hand. Zhu Bobo himself is an expert in using judge pen, how could he paint it incorrectly? How could he draw Father’s judge pen wrong?”

Thinking to this point, a faint feeling of dread started to grow in his heart. In the deepest part of his heart, he knew the answer, but the answer was too frightening, so he did not dare to think it clearly, he only tried to console himself, “I must not let my imagination run wild; Zhu Bobo treats me this good, why should I suspect him blindly? I’d better go back and sleep, if they knew I wander around in the middle of the night, I might put my own life in jeopardy.” As soon as he thought about ‘his life in jeopardy’, he shivered involuntarily, although he did not know for sure why he should be afraid.

After standing on that place for half a day, he could not stop himself from walking toward the direction Zhu Changling, father and daughter, took. He saw a flicker of fire light like a star among the thick cluster of trees. Turned out there was another house in the middle of the woods. His heart was thumping wildly and immediately he stepped more lightly as he walked quietly toward the house. Arriving at the back of the house, he calmed himself down and peeked inside through a crack on the window. He saw Zhu Changling, father and daughter, and Wei Bi were sitting facing the window, talking with someone. There were two other people in the room, their backs were facing Zhang Wuji that he could not see their faces, but one of them was a woman, which obviously was one of the ‘Two Beauties of the Snowy Range’, Wu Qingying. The other was a big and tall man, listening to Zhu Changling talking about how they were going to disguise themselves as merchants and set sail from Shandong region. He did not say a single word, only nodded repeatedly.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Aren’t I afraid over imaginary fears? Most likely this gentleman is the master of Wu family village, Wu Lie. He is a good friend of Zhu Bobo, so he is invited to come to the Bing Huo Island together. That is only natural, why should I make such a fuss over nothing?”

“Father,” he heard Wu Qingying say, “What if we cannot find that small island in the boundless ocean, and then we cannot return home? What should we do, then?”

Zhang Wuji mused, “This gentleman is indeed the Village Master Wu.”

He heard Wu Lie reply, “If you are scared, then you should stay home. It is the matter of this world, if we do not go through hardship and suffering, how can we achieve peace and happiness?”

“I was only asking,” Wu Qingying sulkily said, “Of course I will follow the lesson I’ve learned from you.”

Wu Lie laughed and said, “Actually, in this matter we are staking everything on a single throw of a dice. If we are lucky, we will get to the Bing Huo Island. Even if that Xie Xun’s martial art skill is higher, he is still only one person, much less he is blind. He is certainly not our match …” Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji felt a cold air creeping up his back; he could not help but shiver. In the meantime, Wu Lie continued, “… how could we not take that Tulong Saber away from him? When that happens, the ‘ruling under the heavens, no one dares to disobey’, your Zhu Bobo and I together will become the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’. However, if our plan is not in accordance with the Heaven’s will [orig. ‘ren suan bu ru tian suan’ – man’s calculation is inferior to the Heaven’s calculation. I remember this saying has its origin from the Three Kingdoms, but I do not have the exact reference.], we will end up dead in the sea. Humph, who in the world would not eventually die?”

Wei Bi said, “I heard Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun’s martial art skill is outstanding. On Wangpan Mountain Island, his roar had shaken dozens of Jianghu’s skilled people that they lost their minds. Disciple thinks that as we arrive on the island, we need not fight him openly; just put poison in his food and drink. Let’s not say that he is blind, even if his eyes are well and he can see clearly, he would never guess that the people his foster son brought along would harm him.”

Zhu Changling nodded. “Bi’er’s idea is marvelous,” he said, “Only we, Zhu and Wu, two families, from generation to generation have always been upright and chivalrous prestigious martial art school; we have never used poison, even on our secret projectiles we have never put poison. In short, I do not know anything about which poison we should put in his food and drink without raising his suspicions.”

Wei Bi said, “Yao Ershu goes to the Central Plains a lot, he should know. Ask him to buy some prepared poison.”

Wu Lie turned around to pat Zhu Jiuzhen’s shoulder, he said with a smile, “Zhen’er …” As he turned his head around, Zhang Wuji was able to see his face and he was shocked! Turned out this man was the ‘Hand Splitting Rock’ Hu Bao who masqueraded as his Yifu, who struck Zhu Changling that he vomited some blood, who was killed by Yao Qingquan with a dagger. Zhang Wuji understood immediately, everything was a charade. In order to make the charade lifelike, the palm strike, the hit against the wall so that rock debris fall down, the smashing of the table, had to be performed by Wu Lie, whose martial art skill was very strong.

Wu Lie was saying to Zhu Jiuzhen with a laugh, “Speaking about which, you have an important role to play in this drama; you have to be affectionate toward that little rascal along the way until he has delivered Xie Xun’s life. You must not reveal anything that would give our scheme away.”

“Father,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You must promise me one thing.” “What is it?” Zhu Changling asked.

“You want me to wait upon that little rascal,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You don’t know how much suffering I have to endure these last several days. From here until we get to the Bing Huo Island and kill Xie Xun, I don’t know how many more hardships I have to bear. As soon as you take the Tulong Saber, I want to use it to kill that little rascal!”

Listening to such hateful and malicious talk, Zhang Wuji vision blackened and he almost fainted. Indistinctly he heard Zhu Changling say, "We are using this kind of trick to deceive him only to find out Jin Mao Shi Wang's whereabouts. Strictly speaking, we should not do this. This kid is not a bad kid. After we kill Xie Xun and get the Tulong Saber, pierce this kid's eyes blind, and leave him on the Bing Huo Island; that should be enough."

Wu Lie praised him, "Zhu Dage has a benevolent heart, he does not want to fail the family's chivalrous values."

Zhu Changling sighed, "This is like we are taking one step in chess, no feelings should be involved. Wu Erdi [second (younger) brother], when we are sailing, you must follow us from a distance. If you are too close, you might raise that kid's suspicion, but if you are too far, we might lose contact. You may have to take the trouble of selecting skilled sailors to man your boat."

"Yes," Wu Lie replied, "Zhu Dage's plan is truly thorough."

Zhang Wuji was confused. "I have never revealed my true identity, how could they find out?" he mused, "Hmm, perhaps when I staked everything to fight Wei Bi and Zhu and Wu girls, I used Wudang Pai's techniques. Zhu Bobo's experience is vast; perhaps he could instantly see my origin. He knew that my father and mother would rather die than revealing Yifu's whereabouts. Supposing he has used force, he could not make me reveal the truth; therefore, he forged the painting, burned down his own residence, using the ruse of inflicting self-injury to move my heart. Without uttering a single sentence of request, I asked him to take me to the Bing Huo Island instead. Zhu Changling, oh Zhu Changling, your sinister plot is truly ruthless."

By this time Zhu Changling and Wu Lie were still discussing all kinds of preparations for their journey to the east. Zhang Wuji did not dare to listen further, he held his breath and quietly lifted his foot and quietly put it down. For every single step he had to listen and make sure there was nothing astir inside before he took the next step. He realized Zhu Changling and Wu Lie's martial art skills were very strong, as soon as he made a careless step, stepping on a dry twig, for instance, he would alert them at once. Hence, for the first thirty steps or so, he walked very slowly. It was not until he was more than ten 'zhang' away from the little hut did he quicken his pace.

In his panic he did not see where he was heading, he only thought that he must have walked toward the deepest part of the forest on the hillside. He climbed higher and higher, and faster and faster, until finally he ran like a madman. He did not dare to slow down or stop to catch his breath for more than two hours. After running for half of the night, finally it was dawn. He noticed that he was inside a deep forest on a mountain range. He turned his head to see if Zhu Changling and the others pursued him or not, but as soon as he turned and looked, he cried out in desperation, because his feet made deep prints on the snow as far as he could see. The western regions were bitterly cold, although it was already the beginning of spring; the snow had not melted in between the mountain ridges. Running for his life in panic, with all his strength he managed to climb the mountain ridge; who would have thought that he had left a very clear track of his whereabouts.

From where he was, Zhang Wuji could hear a faint howling of wolves ahead; it was sad and shrill, but also frightening. He walked toward the edge of a cliff and saw on the opposite hillside seven, eight large grey wolves looking up at him, baring their teeth and howling threateningly. Obviously the wolves wanted to eat their fill, but between them there was a bottomless canyon, perhaps tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep, so the wolves would not be able to reach him. Turning his head again, his heart skipped a beat, for he saw on the hillside there were five dark shadows slowly creeping upward; they must be the people from the Zhu and Wu families. Presently they were still some distance away, it seemed like these five people did not walk too fast, but he knew that they were rushing like the wind that they would be able to catch up with him in less than two hours.

Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and made a decision, "I'd rather die by becoming food for the hungry wolves than fall into their hands and have to suffer torment from this group of evil people."

He thought about how stupid he was to hold Zhu Jiuzhen in the highest esteem, hidden away under her beauty was a heart as poisonous as a viper or a scorpion. In shame and grief he staggered to enter the dense forest.

The grass in the forest was as tall as his waist, although there was accumulation of snow, his trail could not be seen easily. After running for a while, his body and mind were overcome by weariness, plus the cold poison in his body suddenly flared up, his legs gave up that he was unable to move further. He crawled into a clump of long grass and picked a sharp rock from the ground. He held the rock tight, thinking that as soon as Zhu Changling and the others find his hiding place, he would kill himself by striking the sharp rock on his 'taiyang xue' [sun acupoint, located on the temple].

Thinking back on everything he went through in the last two months in the Zhu family manor, his heartache grew. "Kongtong Pai, Huashan Pai, Kunlun Pai people repaid kindness with evil, I did not keep their wickedness in my heart. But toward Zhen Jie I had nothing but sincerity, yet in the end it comes to this ... Ay, what did Mama tell me before her death? How could I forget her warning?"

Just before she died, Zhang Wuji's mother had clearly whispered in his ear this warning, 'Child, when you grow up, you must be cautious of women tricking you. The more beautiful that woman is, the better of a manipulator she will be.' His eyes were brimming with tears as he vaguely recalled what happened that day. "Mama said those words with a dagger already thrust into her chest. She endured the severe pain just to warn me, but I did not keep the words she uttered through blood and tears in my heart. If I did not know the unsealing acupoint technique and by curious coincidence heard Zhu Changling's conspiracy, I would have fallen into their thorough scheme and would have brought them to the Bing Huo Island; then I would certainly bring harm to Yifu's life."

As his mind was made up, his brain became exceptionally clear; he was able to see the meaning behind Zhu Changling, father and daughter's actions. When Zhu Changlin realized he was Zhang Cuishan's son, he went into action by killing the dogs and slapping his daughter, so that Zhang Wuji would believe that he was the kind of man who clearly distinguish right from wrong, a righteous man who upheld chivalry. Although the setting of his large complex of elaborately decorated buildings in flame was something to be pitied, it was nothing compared the 'Wulin Zhi Zun' [the most revered in the Wulin world] Tulong Saber. Just from the quick- thinking and decisive way of handling matters, Zhu Changling was indeed worthy to be feared.

Zhang Wuji also thought, "When I was on the island, every day I have seen Yifu held the Saber in his hand, lost in thought. For ten years he was not able to penetrate the secret of the Saber. Although Yifu is intelligent, he is a straightforward man. This Zhu Changling's resourcefulness surpasses others. Speaking about the depth of his scheme, he is far above Yifu. Yifu cannot solve the mystery, but if the treasured Saber fell into Zhu Changling's hands, most likely he would succeed ..." Carefully thinking it over, all sorts of scenarios jumbled around in his head. Suddenly he heard footsteps. Zhu Changling and Wu Lie had entered the forest.

Wu Lie said, “That kid must be hiding in the forest, he won’t run far …”

Zhu Changling quickly cut him off, he said, “Ay, I wonder what did Zhen’er say that she offended Zhang Xiongdi. I am really worried over him; he is such a young boy, if he met a mishap on these snowy and icy mountain ridges, even if my body is ground to powder and my bones shattered, I would never forgive myself in front of Zhang En Gong.”

These words were spoken with extreme anxiety, as if he deeply regretted himself. Zhang Wuji was completely horrified to hear him, he thought, “He has not given up hope; he still wants to deceive me with flowery speech.”

He heard that Zhu and Wu, two men, were beating the bushes with three branches in their hands. Zhang Wuji crouched even lower and did not dare to make the slightest move. Fortunately, that forest covered a very large area that although they beat the bushes for a while they still could not find him. Shortly afterwards, Wei Bi and the Two Beauties of the Snowy Range also arrived. The five of them searched the forest for half a day without finding anything. They grew tired and sat on rocks to rest. Actually, the place they were resting was less than three ‘zhang’ away from Zhang Wuji’s hiding place; it was just that the grass in this forest was really tall that he was completely hidden from their sight.

Zhu Changling focused his attention and thought for a moment, suddenly he loudly shouted, “Zhen’er, how have you offended Wuji Xiongdi that he left in the middle of the night without telling us?” Zhu Jiuzhen was startled. Zhu Changling busily signaled her with his eyes, but from his hiding place among the thick grass, Zhang Wuji actually was able to see this signal clearly.

Zhu Jiuzhen understood, she also replied in loud voice, “I was just joking with him, I sealed his acupoints, I did not know that Wuji Di will take it seriously.” Finished speaking, she called out loudly, “Wuji Di, Wuji Di, quickly come out, Zhen Jie wants to apologize to you.” Although her voice was loud, it still carried a flirtatious and seducing tone, coaxing Zhang Wuji to respond.

After calling for a moment without anything astir, suddenly she cried, “Father, don’t hit me, don’t hit me. I did not intentionally offend Wuji Di.” Zhu Changling raised his palm and slapped his own thigh, making loud slapping noises, while his mouth was shouting angrily. Zhu Jiuzhen did not stop screaming miserably, as if she could not bear the pain of her father’s beating. Wu Lie, Wei and Wu Qingying looked from the side with smiles on their faces.

Zhang Wuji saw the drama performed by this pair of father and daughter, but hearing the noise, his heart was still sorrowful. He thought, “Luckily I can see your faces, otherwise, hearing her shrill screaming, although I know it is harmful to me, I would not be able to bear it and would have stepped forward.”

Zhu family’s father and daughter were certain that Zhang Wuji was hiding in this forest; one cursed angrily, the other cried pitifully, their voices grew more and more severe. Zhang Wuji covered his ears with his hands, but intermittently, the voice still penetrated his ears. Finally he could not bear it anymore, he leaped out and shouted, “Whatever trick you are playing, do you think you can still deceive me?”

Zhu Changling and the others, all five of them, cheered together, “He is here!”

Zhang Wuji called out, “Zhen Jie, how are you?” and then turned around and dashed like crazy into the woods. Zhu Changling and Wu Lie flew to pounce on him at once. Zhang Wuji had made up his mind to die, hence without hesitation he ran toward that tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep canyon. Zhu Changling’s ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was far superior to Zhang Wuji; as soon as Zhang Wuji rushed toward the nearby canyon, Zhu Changling had already very near behind him, reaching out to grab the clothes on his back.

Zhang Wuji felt a severe pain to the bones as the five fingers of Zhu Changling’s right hand tightly held his back. By this time, however, his foot had already treaded on empty air; half of his body was already above the abyss. His left foot followed and his entire body was thrown rapidly forward.

Zhu Changling had never imagined that Zhang Wuji would throw himself over the cliff to commit suicide. Because he was holding Zhang Wuji’s back, he was also pulled forward. Based on his dozens of years of martial art training, if he released his hand and immediately leaped backward, he would have preserved his life. However, he knew that as soon as he let his five fingers loose, he would forever lost the chance to get his hand on ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’, the treasured Tulong Saber. These past two months of painstaking planning and preparation, the burning of his vast magnificent dwelling complex to the ground, all would be wasted as soon as he let these five fingers loose.

In his hesitation, Zhang Wuji’s fall did not slow down the least bit. ‘Not good!” Zhu Changling called out, while reaching back with his left hand, trying to grab the hand of Wu Lie, who was running close behind him, but he missed by about a foot, yet he was still unwilling to let his grab on Zhang Wuji go. Two people fell together over the cliff, into the tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep abyss below. They only heard Wu Lie, Zhu Jiuzhen and the others cry out in alarm above, but in a blink of an eye their voices were no longer heard.

The two of them fell straight down through the clouds and mist in the valley. In all his life, Zhu Changling had endured not just a few wind and waves; his mind stayed clear in this critical time. He felt the howling wind rushing past his ears as his body fell downward. Occasionally he would see tree branches extended from the wall of the cliff. He tried to reach out and grab these branches, but several times he missed by a few feet. Finally he succeeded, but the force of gravity on their bodies was simply too strong, the branch was unable to bear the load, ‘crack!’ the pine branch, as big as a human arm, snapped. But this slight slowing down was enough for Zhu Changling to swing his legs, using the move ‘wu long jiao zhu’ [black dragon entangles the pillar], and wrap them firmly around the trunk of the pine tree. Next, he swung Zhang Wuji and sat him on a branch. For fear that Zhang Wuji would leap down again, he kept holding on to Zhang Wuji’s arm.

Seeing that in the end he was still unable to escape from Zhu Changling’s grasp, Zhang Wuji was extremely disheartened. “Zhu Bobo,” he bitterly said, “No matter how you would torture me, don’t ever think that I would take you to look for my Yifu.”

Zhu Changling heaved his own body up and steadied himself sitting on the branch. Looking up, he could no longer see Zhu Jiuzhen and the others; he did not even hear their shouts anymore. Although he was gutsy, recalling that he had just narrowly cheated death, he could not stop cold sweats from trickling down his forehead.

After calming himself down, he said with a smile, “Xiao Xiongdi, what are you talking about? I don’t understand anything. Please don’t let your imagination run wild.”

“I have seen through your crafty scheme,” Zhang Wuji said, “It is completely useless against me. If you force me to take you to the Bing Huo Island, I can randomly point to north, south, east or west; then everybody will die together in the ocean. Do you think I will not dare to do just that?”

Zhu Changling thought that he was telling the truth; right now there was no way he could argue with him face to face, his only hope was for another ingenious plan involving his daughter. He looked around to assess their situation. Climbing back up was certainly not an option. Looking down, he still cannot see the bottom, besides, even if he could reach the canyon ground, nine out of ten there would be no way out. The only possibility was to slowly crawl along the sloping mountain wall.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” he said to Zhang Wuji, “You must not have any blind suspicion. I assure you, I simply will not compel you to find Xie Daxia. If I did, let ten thousand arrows penetrate this body of mine, and I the one surnamed Zhu die without a burial place.” His heavy oath was not empty words, because he thought that since Zhang Wuji had attempted suicide, he knew that it would be useless no matter how he compelled. His only hope was to entice him to willingly bring this matter up.

Hearing his oath, Zhang Wuji was somewhat relieved. Zhu Changling said, “We will have to slowly crawl up from here. You must not jump down, do you understand?”

“If you don’t compel me, why would I want to seek death?” Zhang Wuji replied.

Zhu Changling nodded. Taking out his short saber, he peeled the tree bark to make some rope. He tied one end of the rope to his waist and the other to Zhang Wuji’s. Going all fours on the ground, they crawled one step at a time along the snowy mountain slope toward the sunlight high above their heads. The cliff was steep to begin with, now that it was covered with ice and snow, it was extremely slippery. Twice had Zhang Wuji slipped and fell, both times Zhu Changling exerted his strength to pull him that he did not fall into the deep canyon below. But Zhang Wuji did not appreciate his efforts at all. “If you don’t have your eyes on the treasured Tulong Saber, would you still have the good intention of saving me?” he silently thought.

Two people crawled for half of the day; their elbows and knees were scraped and bruised bloody by the hard ice, until at last the cliff was not so steep. Two people were able to stand; step by step they struggled onward. With great difficulty they walked around a sheer cliff that seemed like a large screen and without any shame Zhu Changling cried out in despair. As far as the eyes could see, there was boundless ocean of clouds around them, there was no way out, that place was like a high and flat stage with empty air on its three sides. The circumference of the stage was more than ten ‘zhang’, but it was hanging in the middle of the air, they could not go up, and could not go down either; it was truly a dead-end.

This large platform was covered with ice and snow; there was no vegetation, no wild animal. Contrary to expectation, Zhang Wuji was happy, he laughed and said, “Zhu Bobo, you have planned all this wholeheartedly, and yet we end up on this suspended-from-the-sky platform. If right at this moment someone offered the treasured Tulong Saber, what would you do with it?”

“Stop talking nonsense!” Zhu Changling shouted. He sat cross-legged and ate two mouthfuls of snow, thinking, “Although I am tired right now, I still have some energy left. If stay here one more day without eating anything, I am afraid it would be hard to escape from this trap.” Thereupon he stood up and said, “There is no way out from this place, we must go back and find another way out.”

“I actually think it is so fun in here,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Why must we go back?”

Zhu Changling angrily said, “There is nothing to eat here, why stay?”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Isn’t it better not to eat human’s food? Then you can cultivate the way of the immortals.”

Zhu Changling was enraged, but he knew that as soon as he used force, perhaps Zhang Wuji would jump over the cliff. “All right,” he said, “You can stay here and rest for a moment. As soon as I find another way out, I’ll be back here to get you. Don’t go too near the cliff, you might fall down.”

Zhang Wuji said, “What concern it is to you if I live or die, exist or perish? If you are still dreaming of me leading you to the Bing Huo Island, I suggest you let it go.”

Zhu Changling did not answer; he went back to where they came from. When he arrived at the big pine tree, he took the path to the left. This side of the cliff was more dangerous, but without having to look after Zhang Wuji, he managed to move faster. After more than an hour of climbing, he reached the top of the cliff. Again he did not see any way out. Zhu Changling looked over the cliff and heaved a long sigh. After staring blankly to the emptiness for a long time, he dejectedly went back to the platform.

Without asking, Zhang Wuji could see from his expression that he failed to find a way out; he thought, “I was hit by the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang [black/mysterious and dark divine palm]. The cold poison is not easy to get rid of. I won’t have too much time to live. No matter where I die, it’s all the same to me. On the other hand, he has been blessed but failed to enjoy it in his vain attempt to become ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’, that unexpectedly he has to accompany me on this world of ice and snow, and die of starvation. It’s a pity, it’s a pity!”

At first Zhang Wuji detested Zhu Changling for his treacherous scheme, even after they fell over the cliff together and escaped dangers, he still made fun of him several times, but as now their hope of escaping alive had been cut short and he saw Zhu Changling hung his head dispiritedly, Zhang Wuji began to feel pity on him instead. “Zhu Bobo,” he warmly said, “You are already old, you have enjoyed all kinds of splendor and happiness, if you die now, what else do you have to regret? Don’t be sad.”

Zhu Changling had always yielded to Zhang Wuji because he had not given up yet; he still hoped that in the end he could swindle Zhang Wuji into leading them to the Bing Huo Island. But now as he saw his path to life had been cut and he was left in this desperate situation, all because of this kid, how could he suppress his resentment? He stared menacingly toward Zhang Wuji, with eyes spouting raging fire.

Seeing the abrupt change of Zhu Changling’s expression, from that of a gentle and good-natured old man to a beast, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel very scared. He cried out in fear and ran away. “Where can you run?” Zhu Changling roared, reaching out to grab Zhang Wuji’s back. He was determined to torture him really bad, he wanted Zhang Wuji to experience the worst possible pain before he died.

Zhang Wuji ducked forward one step, and saw the dark shadow of what seemed to be a cave on the mountain wall to his left. Without thinking he jumped into the cave. ‘Rip!’ a piece of his pants was torn and his thigh was cut by Zhu Changling’s claw. Zhang Wuji staggered along toward the inside of the cave. Suddenly ‘bang!’ his forehead bumped onto a mountain rock so hard that he saw stars dancing in front of his eyes. He knew that if Zhu Changling could tear his face to pieces right now he would use any savage method to torture him. Therefore, in his fear, he desperately struggled to enter further into the cave. He did not have the luxury of considering that if he entered this dark hole, might be trapped inside and it would be more difficult for him to escape the enemy’s poisonous hands. Fortunately, the deeper he went, the narrower the cave got. Crawling for more than ten ‘zhang’ later, he could barely push his way forward. Zhu Changling could no longer follow him. Zhang Wuji crawled several more ‘zhang’ forward and then he suddenly saw light ahead; he was delighted, he moved his hands and feet faster toward the light.

Zhu Changling was anxious and angry at the same time. “I won’t hurt you,” he called out, “Quickly come out!” But how could Zhang Wuji heed his call?

Zhu Changling exerted his internal energy into his palm and struck the rock wall. The mountain rock was incomparably solid, when the palm hit the rock, his hand was shaken and he felt severe pain in the center of his palm, while the rock wall was not damaged in any way whatsoever. He took his short saber out with the intention of digging the rock loose so that the passageway would be somewhat wider, but he only dug a few times when ‘snap’, his blue-steel short saber was broken into two.

Zhu Changling was furious. He sent his strength to his shoulder and squeezed his body through the opening. Sure enough, he advanced about a foot forward, but to move any further was totally out of question. The solid rock walls were crushing his chest and back, and to his shock, he could not breathe. If he did not want to die of suffocation, he had no choice but to withdraw. Unexpectedly, his body was stuck in between the solid rocks; he could neither move forward nor withdraw backward. He was so frightened that he felt his soul was leaving him. With his entire strength his arms pushed on the rock and his body was pushed about a foot back, but there was a burst of acute pain on his chest as one of his ribs broke.

End of Chapter 15. 

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