Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Chapter 26-30

@Chapter 26 – Self Deformation of a Handsome Jade Face
Approaching the afternoon that day, three riders and one carriage were seen galloping toward the north and in less than a day they had entered Dadou [lit. grand capital], the Yuan Dynasty’s capital. By this time the power of Mongolian cavalry had reached a hundred thousands ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5 km], making their borders vast and wide, matchless throughout the history. Dadou later on became Beijing. It is the city where the emperor resided, where countless smaller nations and tribes sent their envoys to pay tribute.

As Zhang Wuji and his company entered the city gate they saw that a lot of people were coming and going; many of those people had yellow hair and blue eyes. Four people went to the western side of the city to find an inn for them to spend the night. Acting as a rich merchant Yang Xiao asked for three of the best rooms. The inn attendant rushed back and forth to serve them. Yang Xiao asked him about the historical sites and scenic spots around the Dadou; after a while he casually asked about ancient temples or monasteries. The inn attendant mentioned Wan An Temple of the western city first, “This Wan An Temple is situated among a thick forest; it has three big copper Buddha idols. No matter where you are going in this world, you won’t find the fourth one. You should have come to visit this temple. It’s a pity you have come in an unfortunate time. For the past half a year the temple has been occupied by foreign western monks; common people do not dare to come anymore.”

“Occupied by foreign monks, that shouldn’t be a problem, should it?” Yang Xiao asked.

The attendant stuck his tongue, he looked left and right before lowering his voice and said, “It’s not that I talk too much, but honorable guests have come to the capital, you must be careful when talking. If they see people coming in, those foreign monks will beat or even kill as they please; if they see pretty women then they will grab and take them inside the temple. They are backed by the Emperor. Who dare to swat a fly on a tiger’s head by coming to those foreign monks and confront them?”

The foreign monks were backed by the Mongolian power, plundering and rampaging, oppressing the Han people, Yang Xiao and the others had long been aware of it; but they did not expect these people would unscrupulously run amuck in the capital. Thereupon they did not talk with the inn attendant any longer.

After dinner that night they stayed in their respective rooms to cultivate their energy. Around the second hour [between 1 and 3 am] three people leaped from the window, heading west.

The Wan An temple was a big four-story building, with a thirteen floor pagoda behind it, which they could see in the distant. Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao launched their ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] to the fullest and in a short time they had arrived at the temple. Exchanging hand signals they circled to the left, with the intention of climbing up the pagoda to take a better look of the overall temple’s situation from a higher position. Unexpectedly when they were still about twenty ‘zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10 ft or 3.3 m] away from the pagoda they saw shadows of people on each floor of the pagoda, going back and forth, patrolling. It turned out that there were twenty, thirty people guarding the pagoda. As they saw this, three people were both startled and delighted at the same time, because if the pagoda was guarded this heavily, then Shaolin, Wudang, and other sects’ people must be imprisoned here; hence saving them time to investigate further. Only the enemy’s guard was so heavy, their rescue effort would certainly not be easy. Much less since each one of Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, and the others had an outstanding level or martial art skill; yet they were still captured by the enemy, showing that the enemy was not only numerous, but their methods were undoubtedly fierce and cruel. Before coming to this Wan An Temple, three people had decided not to be rash and act recklessly; therefore, they quietly retreated.

Suddenly they saw a flicker of light on the sixth floor; about eight, nine people walked slowly with torches in their hands. The light moved from the sixth floor to the fifth, then from the fifth to the fourth, going down the pagoda. As they arrived at the first floor they went out the pagoda’s main entrance, moving towards the back of the temple. Yang Xiao waved his hand and slowly crept toward these people. On the rear courtyard of the temple there were old trees towering to the sky. Three people hid behind one of the trees; and as soon as the wind blew they moved several ‘zhang’s away to the next tree. These three people’s ‘qing gong’ was very high, yet they only dare to move with the blowing wind and rustling leaves in fear of their movement to be detected by enemy.

Stepping stealthily they managed to move more than twenty ‘zhang’s. They saw around ten men wearing yellow robes, each with a weapon in his hand, escorting an old man wearing an oversized robe with wide sleeve. As that old man turned his head, Zhang Wuji could see clearly that the old man was the Kunlun Sect’s Sect Leader, ‘tie qin xian sheng’ [Mister Iron Qin (a musical instrument)], He Taichong; Wuji could not help but shiver, “Even Mr. He is also here,” he thought.

As they saw those people enter Wan An Temple’s back door, three people waited for a moment. After looking around to make sure nobody else was watching, they also entered the back door quick as a flash. The temple was huge, with many rooms inside; some of the rooms looked similar to those in the Shaolin Temple. They saw bright light coming out through long windows of the main hall; and guessed this must be the room where He Taichong was detained. Three people moved swiftly toward this hall. Zhang Wuji crouched on the ground trying to take a peek inside the hall via a small crack on the long window. Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao stood on either side, guarding against any possible sneak attack. Although these three people were bold and highly skilled, they were entering a tiger’s den at this moment, so their hearts were anxious.

The crack on the long window was very small so Zhang Wuji only managed to see the lower part of He Taichong’s body; he could not see any other people inside the hall. He heard He Taichong roar angrily, “I have already fallen into your treacherous hand; just kill me or cut me off, but don’t say another word. If you want me to take an oath to be the government’s hunting falcon or dog, then dream on. Even if you talk for three or five more years, you are only wasting your words.” Zhang Wuji silently nodded his head, “Although this Mr. He is not an honorable gentleman, he stands firm in critical moment; he truly befits the character of a sect leader,” he thought.

He heard a man in a cold voice say, “You are so stubborn, our Master won’t force you. But do you know the custom here?”

“Even if you cut all my ten fingers I still won’t surrender,” He Taichong said.

“Very well,” that man said, “Let me explain it to you once again. If you can defeat three of our people, we’ll immediately release you. If you lose, we’ll cut one more of your fingers and lock you up another month. Then we’ll ask you again whether you want to surrender.”

He Taichong replied, “I’ve already lost two fingers, so what if I lose another one? Come, take your sword out!”

That man laughed coldly, “By the time you lose all your fingers, although you surrender, we won’t want a trash. Give him a sword! Mokopas, you can try him first!”

Another hoarse voice replied, “Yes!”

Zhang Wuji sent his strength to the point of his finger and gently pushed the crack to make it wider. He saw that He Taichong was holding a wooden sword; its body was wrapped in cloth. It was a soft and blunt sword; could not possibly injure anybody. Standing in front of him was a burly foreign monk. In his hand was a steel blade, flickering its bluish ray under the light. One weapon was sharp, the other blunt. It was clearly no competition; it was so easy to see who was strong and who was weak. But He Taichong was not discouraged; he shook the wooden sword in his hand and said, “Please!”

‘Swish!’ his sword hacked down swiftly and fiercely, sending out a secret move from the Kunlun Sword technique. That foreign monk, Mokopas, was big and tall, but his movement was very agile; his blade flashed back and forth, aiming He Taichong’s vital points.

Zhang Wuji only need to watch several moves before he was shocked, “How come Mr. He’s footwork is unstable, utterly discomfited, as if he doesn’t have any internal energy at all?” he thought.

He Taichong’s sword technique was exquisite, but without internal energy, he did not differ much from an average person; the swiftness and fierceness of his sword could not be unleashed to the fullest. Fortunately that foreign monk’s martial art skill was two levels beneath his, so although the monk launched several fierce attacks, He Taichong always managed to counterattack thanks to his wonderful moves.

After about fifty moves He Taichong shouted, “Gotcha!” His sword slashed to the east and turned back to the west, slanted to the rear and then back to the front, with a light ‘bang!’ the sword hit the monk’s armpit. If it was a real sword, also if his internal strength was not gone, then the sword would have already penetrated the monk’s flesh and bone.

“Back off, Mokopas!” that cold voice said, “Unwol, your turn!”

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the owner of that cold voice. He saw a dark face, as if this person’s face was covered with a layer of black smoke, with graying grizzled beard; he was one of the Xuanming Two Elders. He stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes were partly open, as if he was indifferent to whatever was happening in front of him.

Moving his eyes forward Zhang Wuji saw a short stool covered with brocade, on which rested a pair of feet, wearing a pair of yellow satin shoes, with a pearl on the tip of each shoe. Zhang Wuji’s heart was beating faster, because he recognized these delicately beautiful feet with round anklebones; this pair of feet belonged to Zhao Min, which he had grabbed in his hands in the Green Willow Manor. When they met at Mount Wudang, they faced each other as enemies. This time he saw this pair of delicate feet resting on a brocade stool, somehow his face turned red and his heart was beating fast. He saw Zhao Min’s right foot tap the stool lightly, as if she was deeply engrossed in the martial art contest between He Taichong and Unwol.

After about the time needed to drink tea has passed, He Taichong shouted, “Gotcha!” Zhao Min raised her right foot as Unwol was defeated.

That black-faced Xuan Ming Elder said, “Unwol, back off. Helin Pohu, your turn.”

Zhang Wuji heard that He Taichong’s breathing was getting heavier; he knew that Mr. He must be extremely exhausted after he successively battled two people. A short moment later the fight began. Helin Pohu was using a long and big, heavy steel staff as his weapon. The gust of wind from his weapon filled the hall and the candles flickered, creating a dancing shadow like a cloud on Zhao Min’s shoes. Suddenly a black shadow swept across the floor, a red candle on top of a small table on the right side of the hall was extinguished. ‘Crack!’ the wooden sword snapped. He Taichong heaved a long sigh and threw the sword on the floor. At last he lost the match after staking everything he got.

“Mister Iron Qin, do you surrender?” the Xuanming Elder asked.

He Taichong boldly replied, “I said I won’t surrender. If I have my internal energy, how can this foreign monk be my match?”

The Xuanming Elder coldly said, “Cut his left ring finger; take him back to the pagoda.”

Zhang Wuji turned his head toward Yang Xiao, and Yang Xiao shook his hand; his meaning was obvious: ‘If we break into the hall to save people, then our own important matter will fail.’ They heard the finger got cut, medicine applied to stop the bleeding, and the wound wrapped. He Taichong was really unyielding; he did not even utter a single grunt. The group of yellow robed men took the torch and took him back to the pagoda. Zhang Wuji and the others shrunk back to hide behind the corner wall. Under the torch light they saw He Taichong’s face was white as a sheet, his jaws were clenched, he looked really angry.

After the group walked far, a gentle and charming clear voice was heard in the hall, “Mr. Lu Zhang [lit. deer staff], Kunlun Sect’s sword technique is really profound. In the stance with which he stabbed Mokopas, first he slashed to the left like this, and then turned to the right like this …”

Zhang Wuji put his eyes back on the crack and saw that it was indeed Zhao Min. She was talking and walking toward the center of the hall, with a wooden sword in her hand, imitating He Taichong’s movement earlier. The foreign monk Mokopas brandished his blade to block her sword.

That black-faced Xuanming Elder, which Zhao Min called ‘Mr. Lu Zhang’, short for ‘Lu Zhangke’, praised her, “Master’s intelligence is matchless. This stance was absolutely correct.”

Zhao Min practiced again and again, every time she hit Mokopas’ armpit. The sword was a wooden one, but each stab hit the same spot over and over again, causing quite a bit of pain. Mokopas turned all his attention to spar with her; he did not dare to complain or try to evade her stabs. She practiced this move until she mastered it, and then called Unwol and practiced the stance He Taichong used to defeat him earlier.

Zhang Wuji understood; it turned out Zhao Min imprisoned the experts from various sects here and drugged them to suppress their internal energy and force them to surrender to the royal government. Naturally these people would not surrender; so she ordered her people to fight with them, while she observed from the side. That way she could steal various sects’ exquisite moves. Her intention was really evil; her scheme wicked, making other people’s blood boil.

While she was sparring with Helin Pohu, toward the very last several stances Zhao Min hesitated and asked, “Mr. Lu Zhang, is it like this?” Lu Zhangke hesitated without answering; he turned his head and asked, “He Xiongdi [lit. Brother Crane], did you see it clearly?”

From the left corner a voice replied, “Ku Dashi [lit. grand master ‘bitter/painful’ – Reverend Ku] must have seen it clearly.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Ku Dashi, I will have to bother you; please come here and give me directions.”

From the right corner came a ‘tou tuo’ [Buddhist monk with hair]; his hair was so long that it draped over his shoulder like a cape. His stature was big and tall, his face was full of scars so that it was difficult to tell what his original face would look like. His hair and palm looked red, like he was a middle-eastern man. Without saying anything he took the sword from Zhao Min’s hand and ‘swish, swish, swish, swish’ he repeatedly swung it toward Helin Pohu, using Kunlun Sect’s sword technique.

This so-called ‘Ku Dashi’, the Ku Toutuo, was using He Taichong’s sword technique, also without internal energy; while Helin Pohu fought him with all his might. Toward the end his staff swept away with a strong gust of wind, extinguishing the red candle on the right hand side of the hall. He Taichong was not able to evade this move and thus was forced to parry the steel staff with his wooden sword; as a result his sword broke and he was defeated. But that Ku Toutuo’s wooden sword turned around sharply; light as a feather it slid along the staff, like a swallow sweeping the water, following the staff’s movement it slid upward to slice Helin Pohu’s fingers which held the staff. Helin Pohu felt his palm went numb; he could not hold on to his staff. ‘Clang!’ it fell to the ground hitting the green brick tile making brick dust flew up.

Helin Pohu’s face turned red; he knew that if the wooden sword was a real sharp one, his eight fingers would have been cut off. Bowing down he said, “My respect! I admit defeat,” Then he stooped down to pick up his steel staff. Ku Toutuo held the wooden sword with both hands and gave it back to Zhao Min. Zhao Min said with a smile, “Ku Dashi, that last move was really wonderful; was it also from the Kunlun Sect’s sword technique?”

Ku Toutuo shook his head. Zhao Min continued, “No wonder He Taichong could not do it. Ku Dashi, can you teach me?”

Using his bare hand Ku Toutuo attacked Zhao Min’s sword. Sparring for the third time Ku Toutuo’s hand moved lightning fast; his speed was unimaginable. Zhao Min could not match his speed; but although her sword was slower, her movement was similar to his, without the slightest amount of discrepancy. Ku Toutuo turned his body around, shot both of his hands out then stopped dead on his track.

“Good!” Zhang Wuji applauded silently, “That was brilliant!”

For a moment Zhao Min did not understand, leaning her head sideways she stared at Ku Toutuo’s position. After thinking for a while she finally understood. “Ah, Ku Dashi, if you were holding a weapon, then the staff would break my arm,” she said, “How do you counter it?”

Ku Toutuo made a movement of flipping his hand and grabbing the steel staff. His left foot flew up, his head raised up; he simultaneously snatched the enemy’s staff and kicked. This movement looked clumsy, but actually it was a very skillful movement of martial art from outside the great wall.

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Good Shifu, quickly teach me.” Her expression was tender and flattering.

Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat. He thought, “Your internal energy is not enough, you can’t learn it. But the way she asked made it difficult for others to refuse.”

Ku Toutuo made two hand signals; his meaning was obvious, ‘You don’t have enough internal energy, you can’t learn this move.’ Then he turned around and ignored her. Zhang Wuji pondered in his heart, “Ku Toutuo’s martial art is strong; I am afraid he is not below the Xuanming Elders. I don’t know his internal energy level, but his movements were exquisite. He is truly a formidable opponent. He keeps making hand signals, but did not speak a single word; could it be that he is mute? But he definitely is not deaf. Miss Zhao is very respectful to him; he is obviously a character with an extraordinary background.”

Seeing Ku Toutuo was not willing to teach her Zhao Min was not angry; she showed a faint smile and said, “Take Kongtong Sect’s Tang Wenliang here.”

Not too long afterwards Tang Wenliang was ushered into the hall. Again Lu Zhangke ordered three of his men to fight with him. Tang Wenliang was not willing to suffer defeat under a weapon, so with bare hands he fought against the enemy’s palms. He won the first two matches; but on the third match his opponent used internal energy. Tang Wenliang was not able to resist and he lost one of his fingers. Again Zhao Min practiced according to what she just saw while Lu Zhangke gave directions from the side.

It dawned on Zhang Wuji that Zhao Min realized her internal energy was insufficient and it was difficult to cultivate internal energy intensively; so she wanted to learn the martial arts of various sects’ sect leaders and experts. This method was not only more feasible, but by practicing the most exquisite of each skill she might be able to greatly make up of her own inadequacy.

After practicing the fist technique Zhao Min said, “Call the Old Nun Miejue!”

One of the yellow-robed men said, “The Old Nun Miejue has gone on a hunger strike for five days. She is still as stubborn as ever; not willing to take any order.”

“Starve her to death, then!” Zhao Min smiled, “Hey, call that Emei Sect’s young girl, Zhou Zhiruo.” Her subordinate complied; he turned around and went out the hall.

Zhang Wuji remembered Zhou Zhiruo had cared for him attentively on the boat in Han River; he felt that he owed her a debt of gratitude. On the Brightness Peak Zhou Zhiruo also helped him by giving him pointers on positions, so that he was able to defeat the Huashan Sect and Kunlun Sect’s Saber and Sword Combination Technique; later on she stabbed him with her sword, but it was because she was following her Shifu’s strict order, so he did not hold it against her. Now that he heard Zhao Min’s order to get her, his heart was shaken.

A short moment later the group of yellow-robed men came back, ushering Zhou Zhiruo into the hall. Zhang Wuji saw that she was as beautiful as he remembered her; only compared to at the Brightness Peak she was slightly thinner and paler. Although imprisoned by the enemy, she managed to maintain her composure as if she had already disregarded life and death.

As usual Lu Zhangke asked if she was willing to surrender or not. Zhou Zhiruo simply shook her head without saying anything. Lu Zhangke was about to send someone to fight with her when Zhao Min said, “Miss Zhou, you are very young, yet you are one of Emei Sect’s martial art experts; that is truly something to be envious of. I heard you are Reverend Mie Jue’s protégé and have mastered her profound swordsmanship, is that true?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “My Master’s martial art is so broad and deep; let’s just say that she [here the term used was ‘lao ren jia’ – Senior] has passed all her knowledge to me, I am [here the term used was ‘xiao nu zi’ – a little girl] young and my understanding is shallow, I fall far too short.”

Zhao Min smiled, “The rule is as long as you can defeat three of our people, then we’ll let you go, free and unharmed; we won’t trouble you anymore. Why is your honorable master so proud that she disdains to compare martial art with us?” she asked.

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “My Master prefers death over disgrace. She is the Sect Leader of Emei; how could she ask for mercy from your subordinate? What you said was not wrong; my Master certainly look down upon contemptible, evil woman and lowly people. Of course she disdains fighting with you.”

Surprisingly Zhao Min was not angry; she still smiled and asked, “How about you, Miss Zhou?”

“I am but a little girl, what do I have to say?” Zhou Zhiruo answered, “Whatever Shifu said, I follow.”

“Your honorable master also forbade you to fight with us, didn’t she?” Zhao Min asked, “Why is that?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Although Emei Sect’s sword technique is not the greatest technique there is, it is still the Central Plains’ major sect’s martial art; certainly we cannot allow some shameless barbarian captors to steal it.” She spoke with a refined manner, but her words were sharp, in total disregard of other people’s feeling.

Zhao Min was startled; she did not expect Miejue Shitai to correctly guess her true intention. She heard Zhou Zhiruo first said ‘evil woman, lowly people’, then she said, ‘shameless barbarian’; she could not bear her anger. ‘Swish!’ the Yitian Sword appeared in her hand. “Your Shifu cursed us as shameless barbarians. Fine! Let me ask you this: this Yitian Sword is obviously my family’s treasure; how could the Emei steal it?”

Zhou Zhiruo indifferently said, “Yitian Sword and Tulong [slaying dragon] Saber have always been the Central Plain Wulin world’s precious weapons. I have never heard they have anything to do with a barbarian woman.”

Zhao Min’s face turned completely red; “Humph!” she angrily said, “I did not know your tongue is actually very sharp. So you are determined not to fight with us?” Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. Zhao Min said, “I always cut a finger of those other people who lost in the martial art match or simply refuse to fight. You, this little girl, must be very proud of your beautiful face; no wonder you are so arrogant. I am not going to cut your finger.” While saying that she pointed her finger toward Ku Toutuo and continued, “I am going to make you as this Reverend; I am going to add twenty, thirty sword marks on your face. I want to see if you are still arrogant.” She waved her left hand and immediately two of the yellow-robed men came forward to grab Zhou Zhiruo’s arms. Zhao Min smiled and said, “I want to turn your smart face into a honeycomb; and I don’t need Emei’s exquisite sword technique to do that. Do you think I can’t turn you into an ugly clown with my ‘three-legged cat’ skill?”

Tears started to well up Zhou Zhiruo’s eyes; her body started to tremble. She saw the tip of the Yitian Sword was only a few inches apart from her own cheeks. She knew as soon as this demon moved her hand, her face would look like that ugly and fearsome ‘toutuo’.

“Are you scared?” Zhao Min asked with a smile. Zhou Zhiruo did not dare to act strong anymore; she nodded her head. “Good!” Zhao Min said, “Do you surrender?”

“I won’t surrender!” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Just kill me!”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “I’ve never killed anybody; I only want to cut a little bit of your skin and flesh.” A cold ray flashed; the sword in Zhao Min’s hand slashed toward Zhou Zhiruo’s face.

‘Bang!’ suddenly something was thrown from outside, hitting the Yitian Sword. At the same time the long window broke and someone flew into the hall; throwing the two yellow-robed men who held Zhou Zhiruo’s arms outside. The person who broke the window and flew in turned his left arm around to protect Zhou Zhiruo, while at the same time stretched out his right arm to block Lu Zhangke’s palm. ‘Bang!’ both people staggered two steps backward.

Everybody turned their eyes toward this person; he was none other than the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, Zhang Wuji. His entrance was so sudden like he descended from the sky; everybody was shocked. Even masters like the Xuanming Elders did not expect anything like this that they were caught off guard.

Lu Zhangke heard the window burst; immediately he rushed to the front of Zhao Min’s body to protect her. He used all his strength to strike Zhang Wuji; but to his surprise his legs wobbled and he staggered back two steps. He was about to attack in anger when suddenly he felt an unbearable dry heat on his body, as if he was entering a hot furnace.

Zhou Zhiruo saw an impeding doom in front of her eyes, but unexpectedly someone suddenly came to her rescue. Finding herself in Zhang Wuji’s embrace, Zhou Zhiruo was conscious of his broad and solid chest and smelling a whiff of a strong male breath; she was pleasantly surprised. In an instant she felt her body weaken and she almost passed out. She did not know that Zhang Wuji had used the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine yang (positive) divine energy] to block Lu Zhangke’s ‘xuan ming shen zhang’ [mysteriously dark/deep divine palm]; the pure ‘qi’ in his body came out. Zhou Zhiruo had never been this close to a male body before; moreover, this man was the one who was always in her mind day and night, even in her dreams. She felt an indescribable joy in her heart, so even though all around her the enemies threatened to cut her with a thousand blades and ten thousands swords she had nothing to worry, she had nothing to fear.

As soon as they saw their Cult Leader break in to rescue someone, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao followed quick as a flash and stood behind him on either side. At first the martial art experts under Zhao Min’s command were thrown into confusion; but very soon they saw that only three enemies broke into the hall. The guards outside and inside the hall exchanged some whistles, confirming that there was no other enemy outside. Immediately they moved to guard all doors, waiting quietly for Zhao Min’s order.

Zhao Min was neither alarmed nor afraid, she was not even angry; she only looked at Zhang Wuji with a startled look on her face. She turned her gaze toward the two pieces of bright golden objects on the corner of the hall. When she swung the Yitian Sword toward Zhou Zhiruo’s face Zhang Wuji threw something to block the sword. Turned out that object was the golden case she gave him as a souvenir. The Yitian Sword was very sharp that it cut the golden case into two halves on contact. She stared at those two golden pieces for a long time before saying, “Do you hate this box so much that you want to break it?”

Zhang Wuji noticed her gaze was full of quiet resentment; not anger, but more sorrow because of desires being cut short. He was startled; apologetically and in a soft voice he said, “I did not bring any secret projectile; in a hurry I reached into my pocket and took this box out. It was really unintentional. I hope Miss do not mind it.”

Zhao Min’s eyes shone, “Do you always carry this box with you?” she asked.

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied. Suddenly he realized Zhao Min’s beautiful eyes were staring at him; while his left arm was still hugging Zhou Zhiruo. He blushed slightly then loosened up his arm.

Zhao Min sighed and said, “I didn’t know Miss Zhou is your … your good friend; otherwise I wouldn’t treat her this way. Turned out you two are …” She did not finish her words and turned her head away.

Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhou and I … we are not … it’s only … it’s only

…” He said ‘it’s only’ twice, but actually he did not know what to say.

Zhao Min turned her gaze back toward those two halves of the golden box on the floor; she did not say anything, but her eyes actually spoke a thousand words. Zhou Zhiruo’s heart was stirred, “This female demon is very passionate toward him; could it be …”

But Zhang Wuji actually did not share these two girls’ sentiment; he only partially understood Zhao Min’s dazed expression, but did not realize the profound meaning behind it. He thought Zhao Min gave him the pearl head ornament and the golden case with which he cured Yu Daiyan and Yin Liting, yet now he had broken the golden case; he felt he was being inappreciative toward others. Thereupon he walked to the corner of the hall, bent down to pick the two halves of the golden case and said, “I will find a skilled craftsman to have it fixed.” “Really?” Zhao Min happily asked.

Zhang Wuji nodded; but in his heart he thought, ‘You and I both command countless warriors, how can we be worried about such an insignificant silver and gold matter? Although this golden case is exquisite, it is not a rare treasure. The ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ [black jade break connecting (or fracture healing) paste] hidden inside the box has already taken out, then the box does not have much usefulness anymore; so what if it is broken? Putting them back together is also a minor matter; presently we have many important matters to deal, but you actually worry about this box; you are such a fussy little girl, who cares much about such a trivial matter. Such a typical woman.’ Immediately he put the golden box pieces into his pocket.

“Then off you go!” Zhao Min said.

Zhang Wuji thought Song Da Shibo [First Martial (older) Uncle] and the others had not been rescued yet; how could he leave just like that? But the enemy’s experts surrounded them like a cloud, while there only three people on his side; so speaking about rescue was easier said than done. “Miss Zhao,” he asked, “Why did you capture my Da Shibo and the others?”

Zhao Min smiled, “My intention is good; I want to advise them to be loyal to the royal government, then everybody will enjoy splendor, riches and honor together. Who would have thought that they are so stubborn and don’t want to listen. I have no choice but to slowly persuade them.”

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji snorted; turning around he returned to Zhou Zhiruo’s side. With the enemy all around him he walked toward the box, picked it up and returned to his original position, all with calm and composed manners, as if there were nobody else there. He swept his cold gaze around and said, “Since that is the case, we’ll take our leave then!” Taking Zhou Zhiruo’s hand he turned around to leave. Zhao Min hastily said, “You want to leave then just leave. But if you want to take Miss Zhou along without asking my permission; what kind of person do you think I am?”

“It is really inappropriate for me to do that,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, will you release Miss Zhou and let her go with me?”

Zhao Min did not answer; she cast a meaningful glance toward the Xuanming Elders. He Biweng [lit. old man crane pen] moved forward one step. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” he said, “You come and go as you like, you want to rescue others as you like; where do you think we should place our old faces? If you don’t demonstrate some special skills, I am afraid we brothers will have difficulty submitting to you.”

Zhang Wuji recognized He Biweng’s voice; anger welled up his chest. He roared, “You captured me when I was small and made my life nearly gone. Today you still have a face to speak to me? Take this!” With a loud grunt he sent out a palm toward He Biweng.

Lu Zhangke had just suffered a defeat; he knew He Biweng’s strength was not Zhang Wuji’s match. Rushing forward he shot a palm toward him. Zhang Wuji’s right palm was still moving toward He Biweng, his left palm moved underneath his right arm to block Lu Zhangke’s palm. Pure internal energy met pure internal energy, there was not the slightest margin of error. Three people, four palms. As soon as they met, they all staggered back.

When they were at the Wudang Mountain the Xuanming Elders had exchanged palm strikes with Zhang Wuji and managed to land a couple of slaps on his body. This moment they wanted to repeat the same trick, also with two palms striking together. But that day Zhang Wuji had suffered defeat once; how could he let himself fall into the same trick? His elbows shrunk slightly launching the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ technique; ‘Clap!’ He Biweng’s left fist landed above Lu Zhangke’s right palm. These two men’s received the same instructions from their master; their palm techniques were similar, their strengths were also more or less the same. They both felt their arms go numb and were confused as how could they, martial brothers, strike each other? Although their martial art skills were high, they did not understand this profound mystery.

While those two men were startled and angry, Zhang Wuji’s palms had arrived. Each of the Xuanming Elders launched their palms; one to counterattack, the other to block. They used a totally different move from the previous one, but Zhang Wuji still used the same technique to lead Lu Zhangke’s left palm to strike above He Biweng’s right palm. Zhang Wuji executed the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ technique skillfully and with great precision that his attack arrived at an unthinkable condition.

While the Xuanming Elders were still stunned Zhang Wuji’s third palm strike arrived; as if by prior agreement each of them lifted a palm to block. Three people’s pure energy collided; the Xuanming Elders felt their opponent’s ‘yang’ [positive] energy surge in, it was difficult to block. Zhang Wuji’s palm technique was like the wind; he recalled his many years of sufferings when he was little and was struck by He Biweng’s Xuanming Divine Palm. For that reason his palm strike was a little bit lenient toward Lu Zhangke, he did not give any leeway to He Biweng.

Twenty or so palms later He Biweng’s greenish face had turned completely red. Seeing the opponent’s palm strike, he raised his left palm trying to fend it off, while his right palm is slanting down heavily. ‘Slap! Slap!’ He Biweng’s palm fiercely hit Lu Zhangke’s shoulder. In the end he still failed to fend off Zhang Wuji’s palm, which hit him squarely on his chest. Luckily Zhang Wuji had never had any intention to take his life; thus he only used 30% of his strength. With a ‘wah’ noise He Biweng spurted a mouthful of blood. His face from red turned to purple, his body swayed; if Zhang Wuji took advantage of this situation and launched another palm strike, his life would be gone right there and then. Lu Zhangke’s shoulder was also so painful that his face greatly changed and his lips bleed from his own biting.

The Xuanming Elders had always been Zhao Min’s most capable subordinates; who would have thought that both of them were injured in under thirty moves? No wonder the rest of Zhao Min’s warriors were flabbergasted; even Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao were astonished. They had seen it with their own eyes how on Wudang Mountain the Xuanming Elders had injured Zhang Wuji with their palms; surprisingly in just several months he had made a tremendous progress. But they also remembered that in these last several months while treating Yu Daiyan and Yi Liting’s injuries on Mount Wudang, Zhang Wuji had also consulted Zhang Sanfeng on the subtle and profoundly deep study of the martial arts; finally he was able to combine the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine ‘yang’ (positive) divine skill], ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ [great shifting of the universe], plus Wudang’s ‘tai ji chuan jian’ [Taiji’s fist and sword], three martial arts into one. They were secretly praising Zhang Sanfeng’s divine knowledge, which could be called ‘shen bu ke ce’ [immeasurably deep], four characters.

As the two Xuanming Elders were defeated, they howled and took their weapons out. In Lu Zhangke’s hand there was a short stick with a forked head, resembling a pair of deer antlers. The body of the stick was dark; it was unclear what the stick was made of. He Biweng’s hands were grasping a pair of pens; the tip of the pens was sharp, shaped like a crane’s beak. The pens glistened with crystal-like rays. These two people had followed Zhao Min for quite a while, but even Zhao Min had never seen them using their weapons. As these three weapons were launched, one black shadow and two white lights were seen; surrounding Zhang Wuji in their midst.

Zhang Wuji did not bring any weapons with him; with only his bare hand and empty fist, his situation was quite disadvantageous. But he was not scared one bit. He determined to test his own martial art against these two powerful opponents; he wanted to see if he would be able to score victory barehanded.

The Xuanming Elders had always relied on their profound internal energy, the Xuanming Divine Palms was a lost art of the martial art world; yet as soon as they went into battle against Zhang Wuji’s palms, his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ was actually so unfathomable that in dozens of palms they were defeated.

When using their weapons, these two people oftentimes scored victory because of their strange moves. Their names actually came from their weapons, ‘lu jiao duan zhang’ [deer antler short stick] and ‘he zui shuang bi’ [crane beak pair of pens]. Each of their moves was swift, fierce and very ruthless; rarely seen in the world.

With total concentration Zhang Wuji launched attacks and put up defenses among the weapons, but momentarily he had not yet understood his opponents’ movements; so it would not be easy to score any victory. Luckily He Biweng was severely wounded and his movements were unavoidably sluggish.

In the meantime Zhao Min lightly clapped her hands three times and naked blades dazzled in the hall. Three men attacked Yang Xiao, four people attacked Wei Yixiao, and two pointed the tip of their weapons on Zhou Zhiruo’s back. Yang Xiao snatched a sword and brandished it lightning fast, stabbing a man attacking his back. Wei Yixiao used his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] as his weapon and slapped two people with his ‘xuan yin mian zhang’ [dark cloud cotton palm]. But in reality the enemies were too many, for every man down, two came out to take his place; while Zhang Wuji was engaged in a fierce battle against the Xuanming Elders and was not able to lend them a hand. It would not be too difficult for the three of them to escape, but certainly it was almost impossible if they wanted to take Zhou Zhiruo along.

While they were anxious, suddenly Zhao Min shouted, “Everybody hold your hands!” Her voice was not too loud, but her subordinates obeyed her and immediately leaped backward.

Yang Xiao tossed his sword to the ground. Wei Yixiao had just snatched a blade from an enemy’s hand; he turned it around and threw it back to its owner, while laughing a big laugh. Seeing someone was still holding a dagger on Zhou Zhiruo’s back; Zhang Wuji could not help but feeling anxious and it showed on his face.

With a sad voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “Zhang Gongzi [young master, a respectful term to address a young man], please leave. Xiao Nuzi [little/young girl] is deeply grateful of three gentlemen’s kind intention.” Zhao Min smiled and said, “Zhang Gongzi, I feel sad to destroy such a beautiful face like this. Surely she is your beloved?”

Zhang Wuji blushed; he said, “Miss Zhou and I have known each other since we were little. When I was a child I was hit by this man’s …” he pointed to He Biweng, “… Xuanming Divine Palm. The cold poison entered my body and made me difficult to move. I was lucky this Miss Zhou helped me eating and drinking. I do not dare to forget her kindness.”

“So you were childhood friends,” Zhao Min said, “You are thinking of making her the Devil Cult’s Madame Cult Leader, aren’t you?”

Zhang Wuji blushed even deeper. “The barbarians have not yet been extinguished, how can I think of raising a family?” he said.

Zhao Min’s face darkened. “You surely want to destroy me very much, don’t you?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “Until now I still do not know Miss’ origin,” he said, “Although our paths have crossed several times, every time it was Miss who seeks out Zhang Wuji; it wasn’t the Old Zhang who looks for trouble with Miss. I will be deeply grateful if Miss is willing to let my martial uncles and the Wulin warriors from various sects go; I wouldn’t dare to seek enmity with Miss. Moreover, Miss still has to tell me three matters, which I will strive to carry them out, in no way will I refuse your command.”

Zhao Min could hear the sincerity in his voice, her face brightened like a fresh flower just blossomed. She smiled and said, “Hey, you haven’t forgotten that.” Turning her head toward Zhou Zhiruo she said to Zhang Wuji, “This Miss Zhou is not your beloved, she is neither your martial sister, nor your fiancé; so if I want to destroy her face, it has nothing to do with you …” She cast a sidelong glance; Lu Zhangke and He Biweng immediately raised their weapons in front of Zhou Zhiruo, while another man raised a sharp dagger toward her cheeks. If Zhang Wuji wanted to save her, he would have to break the Xuanming Elders’ defense line; which was not easy. Zhao Min coldly said, “Zhang Gongzi, you’d better tell me the truth.”

All of a sudden Wei Yixiao held out his palms and spat some saliva on them. He rubbed his palms several times to the sole of his shoes, and laughed a big laugh. Nobody knew what kind of crafty trick he was about to perform; suddenly a green shadow flashed. Zhao Min felt her left and right cheeks were rubbed by a palm. She looked at Wei Yixiao and found him stood on his original position, but now in his hands were two daggers; it was not clear whom he snatched the daggers from. Zhao Min realized things were not good; she did not dare to rub her own cheeks, but took a handkerchief and wiped her face. She saw her handkerchief was black with some mud, and knew instantly that it was the dirt from Wei Yixiao’s shoes plus his saliva. This thought made her sick that she almost threw up.

Wei Yixiao said, “Miss Zhao, whether you want to destroy Miss Zhou’s face or not, it is up to you. You are cruel and merciless; I, the one with surname Wei, cannot stop you. Just know this: today you cut Miss Zhou’s face once, the one surnamed Wei will double it; I will cut your face twice. You cut her face twice, I will cut yours four times. You break one finger of hers, I will break two of yours.” Speaking to this point he struck the daggers in his hands to each other and continued, “What the one surnamed Wei wants to do, he can do it. ‘Qing Yi Fu Wang’ [The Green Winged Bat King] will do what he says. All my life I have never said an empty talk. You can guard against me for a year or a year and a half, but not for eight years, ten years. You can send your people to kill me, but I doubt they will be able to pursue me. I take my leave now!” When the word ‘now’ came out of his mouth, he had already disappeared.

‘Slap! Slap!’ two daggers flew and struck a pillar; followed by “Aiyo! Ah!” screams, two foreign monks in the hall slowly sat down. Somehow the swords in their hands were snatched by Wei Yixiao; while their acupoints were also sealed by him. Wei Yixiao’s words were spoken lightly, but everybody knew it was not idle talk; they saw with their own eyes that Zhao Min white cheeks, which were red from rouge earlier, were smeared black by Wei Yixiao’s dirt. If he was holding knives in his hands, Zhao Min’s cheeks would have been destroyed. His movement to her and back was lightning fast; it was like a ghost or a demon’s movement; certainly no experts would be able to guard against him. Even Zhang Wuji felt ashamed of his own inferiority. In a long distance race Zhang Wuji would be able to win relying on his stronger internal energy, but moving in the courtyard or between the porch and the veranda nobody could match this person’s divine speed.

Zhang Wuji bowed and saluted. “Miss Zhao,” he said, “We have offended you today; we’ll take our leave now.” Taking Yang Xiao’s hand he turned around and went out the hall. He knew with Wei Yixiao’s threat Zhao Min would not dare to harm Zhou Zhiruo. Zhao Min looked at his back with mixed feelings: ashamed and angry; but she did not command her people to block their way.

Zhang Wuji and Yang Xiao returned to the inn; Wei Yixiao was already waiting for them there. Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Wei Fuwang [Bat King Wei], today you have given them a demonstration of your prowess, letting them know not to easily provoke the Ming Cult.”

“It wasn’t difficult to scare a little girl,” Wei Yixiao said, “She can pretend to be fierce and wicked, but as she heard me wanting to destroy her face, I guarantee you she won’t be able to sleep for three whole days and three whole nights.”

Yang Xiao smiled and said, “She can’t sleep; that’s not good. It will make our effort to rescue people more difficult.”

“Yang Zuoshi [Left Emissary Yang],” said Zhang Wuji, “Speaking of rescuing people, do you have any ingenious plan?”

Yang Xiao hesitated. “We are only three people, plus our presence is already known; it is truly a thorny problem,” he said. Zhang Wuji apologetically said, “When I saw Miss Zhou’s dire situation I could not bear not to help. In the end I messed up an important matter.”

“The way the turn of events went, nobody could bear not to help,” Yang Xiao said, “Single-handedly Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] defeated the Xuanming Elders and that can crush the enemy’s spirit big time; that was also very good. Moreover, now that they know we are here, they won’t dare to treat Song Daxia [great hero Song] and the others too rudely.”

Zhang Wuji remembered that his Song Dabo [first (older) uncle], Yu Erbo [second (older) uncle] and the others were still in the enemy’s hand; and then seeing how Zhao Min has treated He Taichong, Tang Wenliang and the others with disgrace, his heart burned with anxiety.

Three people discussed their course of action for half a day without reaching any conclusion; finally they went their separate rooms to rest.

Toward the dawn the following morning Zhang Wuji was still half dreaming when he heard a noise from the window; he woke up immediately and opened his eyes wide only to see the window slowly open. There was someone outside staring at him. He was startled. Lifting up the bed curtain he saw that person’s face was filled with scars, he looked fearsomely ugly; it was none other than Ku Toutuo. Zhang Wuji was even more shocked; he immediately jumped out of bed, but Ku Toutuo’s face was still at the window, staring blankly at him. It seemed like Ku Toutuo did not mean any harm to him. “Yang Zuoshi! Wei Fuwang!” Zhang Wuji called out.

Yang and Wei two people responded from the neighboring rooms. Zhang Wuji was slightly relieved. In the meantime Ku Toutuo’s face disappeared from the window. Zhang Wuji hastily jumped out the window and saw Ku Toutuo go out the front gate in a hurry. By this time Yang and Wei two people had also caught up. Looking around to see there was no other enemy, three people moved their feet to pursue Ku Toutuo.

Ku Toutuo was waiting on a street corner. As he saw the three people approach, he turned around and went to the north. His strides were big, but he was not running. Three people exchanged hand signals and followed behind. By that time it was daybreak, not too many people were outside; so in a short moment they had reached the northern gate. Ku Toutuo continued leading the way along a small pathway. About seven, eight ‘li’s [1 li is approximately 0.5km] later they arrived at a small mound with rocks scattered around it. At last Ku Toutuo stopped and turned around; he waved his hands toward Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao, asking them to step back, following which he cupped his fists in respect toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji returned the salute while thinking in his heart, “I wonder what is this Toutuo’s intention in leading us here? There is nobody else here, if we fight, with one against three, he would surely lost. Judging by this, he doesn’t seem to have an ill intention.”

Before Zhang Wuji made his mind up, Ku Toutuo had already made a ‘heh, heh’ noise, then he attacked with his hands in the form of claws: tiger claw on his left hand, dragon claw on his right hand; all ten fingers in the shape of hooks, ferociously attacked Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji diverted the attack by a sweep of his left palm; he said, “Shangren [lit. upper/above person, a respectful term to address a Buddhist monk], what is your intention? Please make it clear; we can always fight later.”

Ku Toutuo did not pay him any attention, as if he did not hear anything. His left hand tiger claw changed into an eagle claw, his right hand dragon claw changed into a tiger claw; one attacked the opponent’s left shoulder, the other attacked the right abdomen. The attacks were very vicious.

“Do we really have to fight?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Ku Toutuo’s eagle claw turned into a lion palm, his tiger claw turned into a crane beak; one struck the other pecked, in an ever-changing style. In a short three stances he had already used six different styles. Zhang Wuji did not dare to slack off; he immediately launched the ‘Taiji Chuan’ [taiji fist]. His body moved like the passing clouds or flowing water, fighting his opponent on that stone mound. He felt this Ku Toutuo’s movements were very complicated; sometimes they were wide open and easily predicted, but just they turn surreptitiously strange as swift, like the martial art from a demonical unorthodox sect, casting a profound heretical, almost evil, air around him, but all along Zhang Wuji only used Taiji Chuan to fight him.

After about seventy, eighty stances later Ku Toutuo suddenly grunted and shot his fist straight forward. Zhang Wuji used the ‘ru feng si bi’ [Apparent Closure] to seal his fist power, followed by the move ‘dan bian’ [Single Whip] his left palm slapped Ku Toutuo’s back; only he did not exert any internal energy, as soon as he touched his back, Zhang Wuji withdrew his palm.

Ku Toutuo knew Zhang Wuji was showing him mercy; he leaped backward and stared at Zhang Wuji for half a day. Suddenly he made a hand signal to Yang Xiao, indicating he wanted to borrow the long sword on Yang Xiao’s waist. Yang Xiao loosened up the sword belt and presented the sword, complete with the sheath, with both hands to Ku Toutuo.

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “How can Yang Zuoshi lend a weapon to the enemy?” he thought.

Ku Toutuo drew the sword and made a hand signal, telling Zhang Wuji to borrow Wei Yixiao’s sword. Zhang Wuji shook his head; he took the sword sheath from Ku Toutuo’s left hand, and with a ‘qing shou’ [invitation] stance he used the sheath as a sword. With his left hand he pinched the tip of the sheath and positioned the sheath horizontally in front of his chest.

Ku Toutuo swept the sword and stabbed diagonally down. Zhang Wuji had seen him teaching sword technique to Zhao Min, so he knew this man had a superb swordsmanship. At once he focused his attention to use the Taiji Sword he had learned for the past several months on Mount Wudang. He saw that the opponent’s sword moved sometimes fast sometimes slow, with the blade seemingly everywhere; but Zhang Wuji was always able to block or divert the attack. Ku Toutuo withdrew immediately and re-attacked with new stances; yet not a single one of them was able to penetrate Zhang Wuji’s defense.

Zhang Wuji silently praised him, “If I fought this man half a year ago, I certainly would not be his match in swordsmanship. Compared to that ‘ba bi shen jian’ [Eight-armed Divine Sword] Fang Dongbai this Ku Toutuo is a notch better.” He started to feel fondness toward him and decided not to score victory too conspicuously.

Ku Toutuo brandished his sword like a ‘luan pi feng’ [tornado]; the blade of his sword glistened under the sun as if ten thousands metal snakes scurried around the opponent. Zhang Wuji looked clearly and then abruptly turned the sword sheath around. ‘Shua!’ the sword entered its sheath perfectly while both of his hands shot out and lightly touched Ku Toutuo’s wrists. Smiling slightly Zhang Wuji leaped back. If he made any effort ever so slightly, he would have been able to seize the sword. This move to seize the sword was really dangerous; but it also demonstrated his excellent skill.

Before Zhang Wuji’s feet landed on the ground Ku Toutuo dropped the sword and with a grunt sent out his palm forward. Zhang Wuji heard the gust of wind and knew that this palm carried a lot of strength. It was truly not a small matter; obviously the opponent was testing his internal strength. He turned his right palm around and met the incoming palm head-on, while his left foot finally touched the ground.

In an instant Ku Toutuo’s force flowed out like a stream. Zhang Wuji used the power of the seventh level of ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ to gradually dissipate the incoming force. Suddenly he shouted loudly and pushed back; it was like the dam on a mountain lake suddenly burst and the water flooded out with an earth shattering force. Zhang Wuji was actually returning Ku Toutuo’s palm strength to its owner. It was the combination of ten opponent’s palm strength into one; the world had never seen such force. If Ku Toutuo was hit, his wrist bone, arm bone, shoulder bone, and his ribs would be broken; blood would spurt out and he would have turned into a heap of shapeless pulp as he died a miserable death.

At this moment a pair of palms stuck to each other. It was impossible for Ku Toutuo to escape. Suddenly Zhang Wuji’s left hand grabbed his chest and flung him up; Ku Toutuo’s big body flew up. With a loud ‘Bang!’ the rocks behind him flew all over the place. Zhang Wuji’s matchless palm strength had hit the rocks on that mound.

Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao, who were watching from the side, both cried out in alarm. They knew Ku Toutuo and their cult leader were staking it all in that internal energy competition. They thought it would take at least the time needed to drink tea for the match to reach its conclusion; who would have thought that the moment of life and death had arrived in just a short time. These two had a lot in their mind to say, but it was too late for them to open their mouths. Now that Ku Toutuo had landed on the ground, safe and sound, their palms were wet with cold sweats.

As his feet touched the ground Ku Toutuo’s hands made a sign like a blazing flame in front of his chest; he bowed to pay his respect to Zhang Wuji and said, “Xiao Ren [lit. little/lowly person] is ‘guang ming you zhi’ [Right Emissary of the Brightness] Fan Yao; I pay my respect to Jiaozhu [Cult Leader]. I thank Jiaozhu for sparing my life. Xiao Ren also asks forgiveness for my offensive behavior.” He had never talked for more than ten years, so his intonation was rather unnatural.

Zhang Wuji was pleasantly surprised; not only this mute Ku Toutuo could talk, but he was also his own Cult’s Right Emissary of the Brightness. It was truly beyond what he expected. He Busily held out his hands to raise him up and said, “It turns out that you are our Cult’s Fan Youshi [Right Emissary Fan]. I am extremely happy. We are family, so you don’t have to be overly courteous.”

Actually when they arrived at the rock mound, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao had already guessed with 30% certainty; only Fan Yao’s appearance was greatly changed that they did not dare to say anything. When he displayed his martial art, they were 70, 80% sure; now that he mentioned his own name, they rushed forward held his hands tightly. Yang Xiao stared at his face for half a day with tears streaming down his face. “Fan Xiongdi [Brother Fan],” he said, “Gege [big brother] missed you very much.”

Fan Yao hugged Yang Xiao and said, “Da Ge [big brother], we should be thankful for ‘Ming Zun’s [Translator’s note: I don’t know how to translate this properly. I am guessing that Fan Yao was referring to the Ming Cult founder (or prophet).] blessing and protection, that we have such a highly capable Jiaozhu, and that we brothers can see each other again.”

“Xiongdi,” Yang Xiao said, “How did your appearance change like this?”

“If I didn’t deform my own face, how can I deceive that traitor, the ‘hun yuan pi li shou’ [Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation] Cheng Kun?” Fan Yao said.

As soon as they heard him, they realized that he intentionally destroyed his own face to get close to the enemy. Yang Xiao’s heart was moved. “Xiongdi,” he said, “You have suffered greatly.” In the past Yang Xiao and Fan Yao were known in Jianghu as the ‘Xiao Yao Er Xian’ [Xiao and Yao, two immortals]; because they both were outstandingly handsome men. Fan Yao had deliberately made his own face unbearably ugly; truly not many people could match his pain and suffering.

Wei Yixiao had never been close to Fan Yao; but this time he could not help but be deeply moved. He knelt down and saluted, “Fan Youshi,” he said, “Today Wei Yixiao truly submits to you.”

Fan Yao also knelt down to return his salute. Smiling he said, “Wei Fuwang’s ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] is matchless in this world. Your divine skill is even better than in the past. Last night Ku Toutuo broadened his outlook.”

Yang Xiao looked around and said, “This place is not too far from the city; the enemy has ears and eyes everywhere. We’d better go farther up and talk on the mountain ahead.” Four people ran for about ten ‘li’s and stop on the back of a small hill, where they were able to see for several ‘li’s around and thus did not have to worry anybody would hide and listen secretly, yet from a distant nobody would be able to see them. They sat down and told each other what happened after they were separated.

That year Yang Dingtian suddenly disappeared without any trace; the Ming Cult’s leaders fought with each other over the Cult Leader position. Nobody was willing to submit, so the Cult split up. Fan Yao still believed their Cult Leader had not passed away, so he wandered the Jianghu alone to look for his whereabouts. Several years passed and he had not found the slightest trail. Afterwards he thought that perhaps their Cult Leader was harmed by the Beggar Clan, so he secretly captured many Beggar Clan’s important people and tortured them to force a confession; still he did not find any clue, while in the process he had killed many innocent Beggar Clan members.

Later on he heard the escalating sharp dispute among the Ming Cult leaders; some people even went everywhere looking for him, they wanted to appeal to him. Fan Yao had never wanted to be the Cult Leader; he was also not willing to be involved in this power struggle. Hence he went as far as possible for fear that his brethren would find him. Thereupon he grew a long beard and disguised himself as an elderly scholar; wandering everywhere, free and unrestrained.

One particular day he saw someone at a bustling street in Dadou; he recognized that person as Madame Cult Leader’s martial brother Cheng Kun. He could not help to be secretly shocked. By that time there was a rumor in the Wulin world that many skilled pugilists were murdered, and there was always this message written on the adjacent wall: ‘The killer is Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation Cheng Kun’. He wanted to investigate this case, but also wanted to inquire the Yang Jiaozhu’s whereabouts to Cheng Kun; thereupon he followed Cheng Kun from a safe distance. He saw Cheng Kun enter a restaurant, where two older men were waiting; they were the Xuanming Elders. Fan Yao knew Cheng Kun’s martial art level was high, so he sat on a rather far away table, drinking wine. He could only hear those three people talking indistinctly, but the words ‘must destroy the Brightness Peak’ were heard clearly. Hearing his cult was in danger Fan Yao could not ignore it; he followed those three secretly and saw them entering the Ruyang [a place in Henan] ‘wang fu’ [lit. king mansion – governmental palace]. Later he found out that those two Xuanming Elders were martial art experts under the employment of the Prince of Ruyang.

The Prince of Ruyang, Khakan Timur, was a very high ranking officer in charge of the military forces. He was brave and resourceful; in fact, he was the most capable person of the imperial household. He was the one who dispatched troops to suppress the rebellion of Jiang Huai [Jiangsu and Anhui]. It can be said that the victory and defeat of the imperial army was the sole responsibility of this prince Khakan Timur.

Zhang Wuji and the others had heard his name for quite some time, by now hearing that Lu Zhangke and the others were his subordinates, they more or less could guess, but in the end they were still surprised.

“Who, then, is this Miss Zhao?” Yang Xiao asked.

“Da Ge, there is no harm for you to take a guess,” Fan Yao answered. “Is it possible that she is Khakan Timur’s daughter?” Yang Xiao said.

“Pretty good!” Fan Yao clapped his hands, “One guess and right on target. This Ruyang Wangye [Prince, lit. king master] has one son and one daughter. His son is Kuku Timur; his daughter is this girl. Her Mongolian name is Minmin Timur something. Kuku Timur is Ruyang Wangye’s crown prince; he will succeed his father as the future Prince Ruyang. The daughter’s title is Shao Min Jun Zhu [‘jun zhu’ means a ruler of some region, or a princess. Translator’s note: I don’t know how to translate this ‘Shao Min’ name; I guess we’ll leave it as is: a name.]. These two children are good in martial arts and they both have good level of skill. They love to dress as Han people and they speak Han language. They even adopted Han names; the boy chose Wang Baobao, while the girl chose Zhao Min. These two characters ‘Zhao Min’ came from her title, Shao Min Jun Zhu.”

Wei Yixiao smiled and said, “These brother and sister are very strange; one uses Wang as his surname, the other Zhao. From our Han people’s perspective, it is very funny.”

Fan Yao said, “Actually, their surname is Timur. Their given names are in the front; this is the custom of the barbarians. Ruyang Wangye Khakan Timur also has a Han’s surname; which is Li.” Speaking to this point the four of them burst out in laughter.

[Author’s note: In the New Yuan History, 220th chapter, on the biography of Khakan Timur: ‘Khakan Timur was the ancestor of Kuokuotai, Zunaimantai, Fualuwen. He made Henan his home and thus was known as Shenqiu people. Later he changed his surname to Li.’ Although officially Kuku Timur was his crown prince, in reality he was Khakan Timur’s sister’s son. This little detail is not distinguished clearly in the novel.]

[Translator’s note: I apologize for not able to find any reference on the above note; hence my translation might be inaccurate.]

Yang Xiao said, “This Miss Zhao’s appearance and lifestyle is just like Han people, but the way she handles affairs was so fierce and ruthless, revealing her true barbarian origin.”

Until that moment Zhang Wuji did not know Zhao Min’s origin. Although he guessed she must be from the royal household, he had never expected that she was actually the daughter of Prince Ruyang who was the commander of the Yuan Dynasty’s military forces. He had fought with her several times and each time he was somewhat overpowered. Although her martial art skill was not as good as his, when it comes to quick-thinking and resourcefulness, he was not her match. Fan Yao continued, “Subordinate continued listening secretly and found out that Prince Ruyang had made up his mind to exterminate Jianghu’s martial art exponents [‘men, pai, bang, hui’ – gate, sect, clan and society]. He had accepted Cheng Kun’s scheme, in which the first step was to eliminate our Cult. I considered it carefully; our Cult was involved in endless internal strife, while the enemy was so strong, our destruction was imminent. The only way to prevent this is by entering the palace, learning Prince Ruyang’s plot, and act accordingly. Other than that I could not think of anything else. What I found to be strange was that Cheng Kun is not only Madame Yang Jiaozhu’s martial brother, but he is also Xie Shi Wang’s [Lion King Xie] master; why did he hate our Cult so much? I thought about it but could not come up with a good answer. I thought he must be seeking riches and honor so that by exterminating our Cult he would render a meritorious service to the kingdom. There are not too many Cult brethrens who know Cheng Kun, but I have met him once, so he knew me. To prevent my plan from leaking out, I have to kill this man.”

You should,” Wei Yixiao commented.

“But this man is so sly, also his martial art is strong,” Fan Yao continued, “I have tried to kill him secretly three times but to no avail. The third time I managed to stab him with a sword, but I was hacked by his palm. It was really not easy for me to escape. I did not reveal my identity, but I suffered a severe injury, which took me more than a year to recover. By this time the Ruyang Palace conspiracy has ripened. I thought if I disguise myself I might be able to conceal my identity for a while. In the past the number of Jianghu people who knew me and Yang Xiong [brother Yang] as the ‘Xiao Yao Two Immortals’ were truly not a few. Over longer period of time I will surely give myself away. Thereupon clenching my teeth I destroyed my own face and disguised myself as a Toutuo. I used some medicine to dye my hair, and went to the Watzu kingdom of the Western Region.”

“Watzu kingdom?” Wei Yixiao wondered, “It is tens of thousands ‘li’s away; why did you go there?”

Fan Yao smiled, but before he could answer Yang Xiao clapped his hands and said, “That’s a marvelous idea! Wei Xiong, Fan Xiongdi went to Watzu kingdom looking for a chance to show his skill, so that the Mongolian nobility would surely notice. Prince of Ruyang was looking for warriors from all over the world, so if the ruler of Watzu wanted to please the Prince, he would send him to the palace to offer his service. This way Fan Xiongdi became a warrior from the Watzu kingdom. His face was changed, also he did not open his mouth. Even if Cheng Kun had divine skill, there is no way he would have recognized him.”

Wei Yixiao heaved a deep sigh and said, “Yang Jiaozhu placed the Xiao Yao Er Xian above the four ‘Fa Wang’ [Protector King]; his vision was truly as bright as a torch. This kind of scheming, some Eagle King, Bat King, will never think about.”

“Wei Xiong, that’s enough of praising,” Fan Yao said, “Just like Yang Zuoshi said, in Watzu I killed some lions and slaughtered some tigers, making a name for myself; for their honor, the local king sent me to the Ruyang Palace. But that Cheng Kun was not in the palace; I didn’t know where he went.”

Immediately Yang Xiao narrated briefly the enmity between Cheng Kun and the Ming Cult; how he sneaked into the Brightness Peak to attack, and how Zhang Wuji thwarted his treacherous plan, and how in the end he fought with Yin Yewang and finally died.

As Fan Yao listened to this story he was silent for half a day; he did not realize that there were so many twist and turns in this affair. He stood up and bowed respectfully toward Zhang Wuji, “Jiaozhu,” he said, “Subordinate would like to ask for your forgiveness.”

“Fan Youshi, there is no need to be modest,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Fan Yao said, “When subordinate entered the Ruyang Palace, in order to win the King’s heart, during a disturbance in the market place subordinate has killed three of our own Cult’s ‘xiang zhu’ [a position within the Ming Cult; I am not sure how to translate this term properly], giving the impression that there was a deep enmity between myself and the Ming Cult.”

Zhang Wuji was silent, he thought, “Killing a Cult brother is one of our Cult’s five big prohibitions; that was the reason why although Yang Zuoshi, Four ‘Fa Wang’s, Five-Element Flags and the others fought fiercely over the Cult Leader position, they had never killed a fellow Cult brother. Fan Youshi’s transgression is really not light, but his primary motivation was to protect our Cult and not because of personal grudge, so I really cannot judge him guilty.” He said, “Fan Youshi has suffered so much in protecting our Cult, I can’t really blame you.”

Fan Yao bowed and said, “Thank you for Jiaozhu’s forgiveness.”

Zhang Wuji silently thought, “A man as cruel as Fan Youshi is truly rare. He is capable of mutilating his own face with seventeen, eighteen cuts; then he killed several of our own Cult’s innocent ‘xiang zhu’s, all without any guilty feeling. People calling the Ming Cult a heretical Devil Cult is not without reason. I wonder if, in the future, we can change this perverse and evil characteristic.”

Although with his mouth Zhang Wuji said, ‘I can’t really blame you,’ Fan Yao could see the unsatisfied look on his face. He held out his hand to draw Yang Xiao’s sword, and with a swing of his left hand he cut off two of his right hand fingers.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; he snatched the sword from Fan Yao’s hand and said, “Fan Youshi, you … you … why did you do this?”

Fan Yao replied, “Killing our own innocent Cult brothers is a grave offense. Fan Yao still has an unfinished important matter, so I can’t kill myself yet. I cut my two fingers first then later on I’ll cut my own head.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I have already forgiven Fan Youshi’s mistake, why bother doing this? We should be more concerned over the important matter. Fan Youshi, don’t raise this matter anymore.” He quickly took out some cut wound medicine and applied it to his wound; he also tore up his own clothes and wrapped Fan Youshi’s wound. He knew in his heart that this man was hard-hearted; although Zhang Wuji said he did not hold him accountable, he could see any sign in Fan Youshi’s face that he would take Zhang Wuji’s words by heart. He was capable of doing what he said, so there was a great possibility he would commit suicide in the future for his own crime. Zhang Wuji remembered how he had suffered this much for the sake of the Cult, his heart was moved. Suddenly he knelt down and said, “Fan Youshi, you have rendered a great service to the Cult; please accept my respect. If you harm yourself, that means you are saying to me that I am neither competent nor worthy to hold the Jiaozhu position. You stab yourself with a sword, I will stab myself twice. I am young and my knowledge is shallow; I don’t understand much of our affair, I can’t distinguish good from evil.”

As they saw their Jiaozhu kneel down, Fan Yao, Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao quickly knelt down on the ground. With tears in his eyes Yang Xiao said, “Fan Xiongdi, please rest your case. Our Cult’s prosperity and decline are in the hands of our Jiaozhu only. Jiaozhu has given you an order, you surely must not disobey it.”

Fan Yao saluted and said, “Today subordinate has tested his sword and palm skill against Jiaozhu’s, and I fell on my knees in full admiration. Ku Toutuo’s personality is eccentric and unreasonable, I am asking for Jiaozhu’s forgiveness.”

Zhang Wuji held out his hands to stand him up. From that day forward a strong bond had formed between the two; no more misunderstandings happened.

Fan Yao continued his narration on what happened after he entered the Ruyang Palace. The Ruyang Prince, Khakan Timur, was very capable in commanding the military force. Unfortunately for him the royal government was dominated by corrupt ministers, plus the current emperor was a muddle-head, so chaos and confusion reigned everywhere in the kingdom; insurrections arose everywhere, forcing the Ruyang Prince to dispatch troop’s expeditions to east and to the west, crushing innumerable rebellions. These insurrections had kept the Ruyang Prince busy for years and his plan of annihilating the Jianghu’s sects, schools and clans was put on hold for the time being.

Several years passed; his children grew up. While his son Kuku Timur followed his steps commanding the troops, his daughter Minmin Timur gathered Mongolian warriors under her command, Western Region’s warriors and foreign monks, to carry out a large scale attack against the sects, schools and clans. Cheng Kun secretly helped her engineer the plan; taking advantage of the six major sects’ besiege of the Brightness Peak, Zhao Min sent a large quantities of her martial art masters in an attempt to extinguish the Ming Cult and the six major sects all at once.

The Green Willow Manor affairs and the subsequent events were part of this grand scheme. At that time Fan Yao’s assignment was to protect the Ruyang Prince, hence he did not participate in the attack to the western region and he did not learn about the attack until much later. Fan Yao said that although he did not raise any suspicion in the Ruyang Palace, Zhao Min would not allow him to participate in the attack to the western region since he came from the western region. Perhaps it was also part of Cheng Kun’s idea.

Zhao Min used the poison ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ [ten-fragrance muscle softener powder], offered by the foreign western region monk, to drug the masters of the six major sects who were just returning from the Brightness Peak, by poisoning their food. This poison had no color and no smell, so once it was mixed in the dishes, who could detect it? Once the drug worked, the muscles and bones in one’s whole body would be weakened for a few days. Although they were able to move around as usual, they could not exert the least bit of internal energy; for that reason all the six major sects’ masters who were involved in the Brightness Peak expedition were captured one by one within just one short month. It was when they tried to drug the third group Shaolin monks under Kong Xing’s command that they were detected. A fierce battle followed, Kong Xing died under Ah San’s hand; about a dozen or so others died under the hands of Xuanming Elders, Shen Jian Ba Xiong [Eight Divine Archers], as well as Ah Da, Ah Er, Ah San and the others. The rest were captured. The next step was to raid the six major sects’ bases; the first being the Shaolin Sect. The Shaolin Temple was heavily guarded, so it was not easy to mix the poison into their food. It was completely different from drugging the monks when they were spending the night in the inn while traveling. Therefore, they had to resort to different method. “’Jun zhu’ [princess] was afraid their strength was not sufficient to fight the Shaolin Temple head-on, so they called for reinforcement from Dadou, which happened to be under my command. We arrived right on time to help capturing the Shaolin monks. Shaolin Sect is always rude to our Cult; so I was glad they undergo a little bit of suffering. Even if I have to kill several stinky monks, Ku Toutuo won’t crease my brows. Jiaozhu, I believe you’ll agree with me, ha

… ha …!”

“Xiong di [brother],” Yang Xiao interrupted, “Were you the one who turned those Luohan statues around?”

Fan Yao said with a smile, “I saw ‘Jun zhu’ ordered her people to carve those sixteen characters on the back of the Luo Han statues; her intention was to shift the blame to our Cult. Later on I came back quietly and turned those statues back. Dage [big brother], you are very observant, you managed to find out about this matter. At that time did you guess it was ‘Xiong di’?”

Yang Xiao said, “At that time we only know that there was a master helping our Cult in secret; how would I know that it was my old partner, good brother?” Four people broke up in laughter. Immediately Yang Xiao told Fan Yao briefly that the Ming Cult had ceased all enmity with the six major sects and joined hands to fight the Mongols together; for that reason they must rescue all the masters.

Fan Yao said, “The enemy is numerous, we are only four people; it will be difficult for us to accomplish this. The best way would be to get the antidote for ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ and feed it to those stinky monks, stinky nuns and all those ox-noses; after their internal strength is recovered then we can make a surprised attack to those Tartars and then we can escape Dadou together.”

The Ming Cult had never had any good relationship with Shaolin, Wudang and other orthodox sects, so in his speech Fan Yao did not have the slightest respect toward these six major sects. Yang Xiao tried to cast him some meaningful glances, but Fan Yao was oblivious to him. But actually Zhang Wuji did not mind at all; he clapped his hands and said, “That’s great, Fan Youshi; but then how are we going to get the antidote for the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’?”

Fan Yao said, “Although ‘Jun zhu’ pays me a lot of respect, she has never discussed any important matter with me because I’ve never opened my mouth. When she talked and the other person did not utter a single word, how could she not be disappointed? Moreover, I came from a small country in the western region, so she could not treat me as a trusted friend. Hence I don’t know where the antidote for the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ is. But I do know that this matter is very important to her, so she would guard this secret carefully. If my guess is correct, the poison and the antidote are in the hands of the Xuanming Elders; one has the poison, the other has the antidote, and they swap those poison and antidote periodically.”

Yang Xiao sighed and said, “This princess is so cunning that even a man might not necessarily be better than her. Doesn’t she trust the Xuanming Elders?”

Fan Yao replied, “First, distrust is right; second, it is also safer this way. Take us, for example, we want to steal the antidote; but we don’t know whether it is in Lu Zhangke’s hand, or is it in He Biweng’s hand? Moreover, I heard that between the poison and the antidote there is no distinct color or odor differences, so unless we are really familiar with it, we might end up stealing the poison when we want to steal the antidote. This ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ also has another fierce characteristic; when one took the poison, one’s muscles and bones would be weakened, but one’s life would not be threatened in any way. However, if that same person took the poison for the second time, even only for a little bit, immediately his blood flow will reverse and there is no cure for it.” Wei Yixiao stuck out his tongue and said, “If that’s so, then we must not steal the wrong antidote.”

“That’s true,” Fan Yao said, “But I have an idea: we steal both the poison and the antidote from the Xuanming Elders then we give it to some low level master from Huashan or Kongtong Sect. If he dies, then that one is the poison. Don’t you think it is a good idea?”

Zhang Wuji realized he still had some heretical nature and did not put too much thought about other people’s life. He laughed, “That’s not good,” he said, “What if after we painstakingly steal them, they are both poison?”

Yang Xiao slapped his thigh, “Jiaozhu is right,” he said, “Last night we made such a commotion that perhaps ‘Jun zhu’ is scared and keep the antidote herself. I think we’d better investigate carefully who has the antidote then we’ll talk about how to get it from him.” He paused for a moment and then said, “Xiong di, what do those two Xuanming Elders like most?”

Fan Yao smiled and said, “Lu loves pretty face, He loves wine; what else do they like?”

“Jiaozhu,” Yang Xiao asked Zhang Wuji, “Is there any drug that can make someone physically weak like the effect of the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’?”

Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and smiled, “To make someone weak and drowsy is certainly not difficult; only if you give it to a martial art expert, he would recover in less than an hour. To make something as fierce as the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, that I cannot do.”

Yang Xiao smiled, “About an hour is enough,” he said, “Subordinate has an idea, but I don’t know whether it will work. I am asking Jiaozhu to give me your opinion. Although I said it is an idea, it might be just a worthless thought. Fan Xiongdi, you invite He Biweng to drink some wine; put the poison Jiaozhu make into it. Then Fan Xiongdi make up some trouble, pretend that he is being poisoned by He Biweng with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’; at that time we will find out who has the antidote. Then we can steal it and use it to rescue the others.”

Zhang Wuji said, “This idea is feasible; only it depends on He Biweng’s temperament. Fan Youshi, what do you think?”

Fan Yao contemplated this idea back and forth and thought that although this idea was simple, it was flawless; so he said, “I think Yang Dage’s idea is feasible. That He Biweng is temperamental, but he is not as smart as Lu Zhangke. If the antidote is in his hand, I think I can still deal with him even though my martial art skill is inferior to him.”

“What if the antidote is in Lu Zhangke’s hand?” Yang Xiao asked.

Fan Yao knitted his brows and said, “Then it is a lot more complicated.” He stood up and paced back and forth on that little hill. After a long time he clapped his hands and said, “I have a way; that Lu Zhangke is smarter than average men, if we try to trick him, he might see through our deception. We must get hold of his weakness and then blackmail him; of course he will consider the pros and the cons, but he will never realize our scheme. I know that this idea is risky; we might fail, but other than this I can’t think of anything else.”

“What kind of weakness does this old man have?” Yang Xiao asked, “He is an old man with a young heart; what weakness of his fall into Xiongdi’s hand?”

“In the spring this year Ruyang Wangye took a concubine and he invited some of us to an informal dinner in his residence,” Fan Yao said, “Wangye proudly talked about his beautiful concubine; he even ordered the new bride to come out and serve us wine. I saw Lu Zhangke’s lecherous eyes almost popped out of their sockets, while he swallowed his saliva; his heart was indeed burning with desire.”

“Then what happened?” Wei Yixiao asked. “Nothing,” Fan Yao replied, “She is Wangye’s beloved concubine; although he has guts as high as the sky he would not dare to indulge his wicked thought.”

“Lecherous eyes can’t be called some secret you can blackmail him with,” Wei Yixiao said.

“I can’t blackmail him over that matter,” Fan Yao said, “But I am going to bother Wei Xiong [brother Wei]; with your ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] you can go and steal Ruyang Wangye’s beloved concubine and place her on Lu Zhangke’s bed. I am 70, 80% sure that this old lecher won’t be able to hold his desire forever. Even if he really is able to rein his horse before falling off the cliff, I will rush in. Although he has a hundred mouths he won’t be able to wash himself clean, so he will be forced to hand the antidote over to me nicely.”

Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao laughed and clapped their hands, “This is a very nice ploy. Although he is as smart as the Devil, he will be framed for sure.”

Zhang Wuji was annoyed and amused at the same time, thinking that he was the leader of this heretical and unorthodox bunch. But although their conduct was sly and no different than Zhao Min and her people; they were doing it for a good cause, not an evil one. So in a way it was completely different from Zhao Min. It could be said that they were using poison to combat poison. Having this thought he relaxed a little bit; smiling he said, “It’s a pity Ruyang Wangye’s concubine’s honor will be ruined.”

Fan Yao replied with a smile, “I will rush into the room as soon as possible, so Lu Zhangke won’t have a chance to molest her.”

Immediately four people sat down to discuss their plan in detail; after acquiring the antidote, Fan Yao was to rush to the pagoda and distribute it to masters of Shaolin, Wudang, and the other sects. Zhang Wuji and Wei Yixiao would wait outside the temple. As soon as Fan Yao set off fire in the Wan An Temple, they would set the common people’s homes around the temple on fire, so that the group of warriors could take advantage of this confusion to escape. Yang Xiao would buy some horses and prepare some carriages and wait outside the western city gate; the warriors would then use these horses and carriages to separately escape from the city, and to finally rendezvous at Changping.

Zhang Wuji objected to the idea of burning common people’s homes; he would rather not to implicate the innocents. But Yang Xiao said, “Jiaozhu, the affair of this world is oftentimes difficult to predict. We are saving the warriors of the six major sects so that someday we will drive the Tartars away; that would certainly benefit millions of common people. Today we are forced to harm hundreds of homes, this is because we don’t have any other alternative.”

Once the plan was decided four people went back to the city separately to attend to their individual business. Yang Xiao went to buy some horses and hired some carriages. Zhang Wuji bought the ingredients and concocted some drugs. To conceal the taste, he added three types of spices so when it was mixed with the wine, it would produce a sweet smelling fragrance. Wei Yixiao went to the market and bought a big cloth sack. When the sky turned dark he went to the Ruyang Palace and kidnapped the Prince’s concubine.

Fan Yao and Xuanming Elders, along with other martial art experts, lived nearby the Wan An Temple complex to guard the major sects warriors. Zhao Min still lived at the palace; only on the evenings she wanted to learn martial art did she ride a carriage to go to the temple. Fan Yao took the drug back to the temple with a happy and grateful heart. He remembered how over the last twenty years or so the Ming Cult was in disunity, but today a new hope emerged; his many sufferings over the years were not in vain. Zhang Wuji was not only a martial art expert, but his heart was righteous as well, so others can easily put their trust in him. The only problem was that Zhang Wuji was not cruel and merciless enough; he was somewhat weak and fussy, otherwise he would be a perfect leader.

Fan Yao lived in the west building, while the Xuanming Elders stayed at the ‘bao xiang jing she’ [the most refined precious fragrance hall] of the rear courtyard. Normally he did not hang around those two elders too much for fear that they might be able to look through his disguise; that was the reason he chose a room far away from them. Now he had to invite He Biweng to drink wine, he did not have any idea how to do it. Casting his glance to the rear courtyard he saw the sun was setting in the sky; already the sun could not reach the lower half of the 13-level pagoda, while the light reflected from the glazed tiles on top of the pagoda were also gradually turning pale. He still did not know what to do. Slowly pacing back and forth along the rear courtyard with his hands behind his back, he suddenly caught a sweet fragrance of meat from the small building opposite the ‘bao xiang jing she’; it was the building where Sun Sanhui and Li Sicui of the Eight Divine Archers lived.

Fan Yao’s heart was stirred; he walked toward that building, shoved the door open, and the strong meat smell greeted his nostrils. He saw Li Sicui was squatting on the floor, busily fanning the fire in a small brick stove, on which was a big earthenware pot. The fire was blazing hot; the strong smell of meat came out of that pot. Sun Sanhui was setting the bowls and chopsticks on the table. Obviously these two were about to have their dinner.

They were slightly startled as they saw Ku Toutuo push the door and come in; upon seeing his stern face they groaned inwardly. They had just killed a big yellow dog on the street; cut its limbs and quietly cooked the dog inside their room. Wan An Temple was a Buddhist temple, so cooking meat in the temple was a great trespass. If it was other people they might still get away from it, but Ku Toutuo was a Buddhist monk. If he was angered he might beat them up. Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill was very high, these two people certainly were not his match; moreover, they were the ones who committed the crime, so if they were beaten, they got what they deserved. Thinking of this they were scared; but then they saw him walking to the stove, opened the lid, took a look and drew a deep breath, seemingly to say, ‘Smells good, smells good!’ Suddenly they saw him putting his hand into the pot, seemingly oblivious to the boiling soup, to fish out a slice of dog meat. Opening his mouth wide he put the meat entirely in his mouth; chewing it for a while and swallowed it. Then he licked his lips as if he was tremendously enjoying the meat.

Sun and Li two people were delighted, they busily said, “Ku Dashi [Reverend Ku], please sit down, please sit down! We didn’t know you like to eat dog meat.”

But Ku Toutuo did not want to take a seat; he squatted in front of the stove and picked another piece of dog meat and chewed it right there. Sun Sanhui wanted to win his heart, so he presented a bowl of wine to him. Ku Toutuo took the bowl and drank a mouthful, but suddenly he spat it back out to the ground. He waved his left hand in front of his nose, as if he was saying that the wine was of inferior quality and not good to drink; and then he left the room in big strides.

Sun and Li two people were anxious to see him going out of the room, seemingly angry. But not too long afterwards they saw him back with a big wine gourd in his hand. “Right! Right!” they exclaimed delightfully, “Our wine is a low quality one; Ku Dashi has a good quality wine, nothing can be better than that!” They busily arranged the stool and the bowl, inviting Ku Toutuo to sit on the head of the table; they took a bowl full of dog meat and served it in front of him. Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill was very high; among Zhao Min’s subordinates he could be ranked near the top. Under normal circumstances the Eight Divine Archers would not curry favor with anybody, but today they had an opportunity to invite him eating dog meat, perhaps if his heart was happy he would impart to them one or two special skills, then they would reap the benefit for the rest of their lives.

Ku Toutuo pulled out the gourd’s cork and poured three bowls full of wine. The wine was golden yellow in color and it was rather thick like diluted honey; as soon as it was poured, a sweet aroma greeted their nostrils. Sun and Li two people cheered, “Good wine! Good wine!”

Fan Yao silently mused, “I wonder if the Xuanming Elders are home; if they are out and not back yet, then what I am doing right now is useless.” He took the wine bowl and held it above the pot on the stove; while the dog meat was boiling, the steam rose up and warmed up the wine, making the wine aroma stronger.

Sun and Li two people were drooling over the wine; they were going to drink the wine cold, but Ku Toutuo signaled them not to do that, he told them to warm the wine before drinking it. Three people took turn warming their wine over the boiling soup; the aroma spread out everywhere. If He Biweng was not in the temple complex, then that was the end of it. Otherwise if he was around the courtyard would be impossible for him not to smell the wine and come over. And sure enough, the door of the ‘bao xiang jing she’ across the street opened up and He Biweng was shouting, “Good wine, good wine! Hey, hey!”

He was not shy; so he crossed the courtyard toward their door, he pushed it open and walked in. He was startled to see Ku Toutuo along with Sun and Li two people gathered around the stove, drinking wine and eat the dog meat, with the soup dripping everywhere. He Biweng laughed and said, “Ku Dashi, I didn’t know you like eating and drinking too; we have the same taste.”

Sun and Li two people busily stood up and said, “He Gong-gong [grandfather, respectful term toward someone older], quickly drink some wine, this is Ku Dashi’s good wine, not everybody can drink it.”

He Biweng sat opposite Ku Toutuo, it was as if they were having an eating and drinking competition; Sun and Li two people ended up became their servants, busily serving them meat and pouring them wine. Four people were all in high spirits, they ate and drank for half a day and were 60, 70% drunk. “Now I can make my move,” Fan Yao thought.

After pouring wine on his own bowl until it was full, he laid the wine gourd horizontally on the table. Turned out his wine gourd’s cork was hollow. He put the powder made by Zhang Wuji inside the cavity and wrapped the cork with two pieces of cloth. When the wine gourd stood upright, the powder did not fall down, so what the four of them drank was ordinary good wine. But once the wine gourd was laid on its side, the wine would wet the cloth and diluted the powder, so now the wine became poisonous. The bottom of the wine gourd was round, so it did not matter whether it was standing upright on lying down on its side; besides, they had been drinking for a good long while, so nobody paid any attention. They were drunk and felt entirely carefree.

After He Biweng drank the bowl in front of him, Fan Yao pulled the cork and handed the gourd over to him. He Biweng poured a bowlful of wine for himself, and then he also poured some wine in Sun and Li’s bowls. Because Ku Toutuo’s bowl was still full, he did not pour any wine for him. Four people lifted the bowl to their mouth and ‘glug, glug’ they emptied their bowls. Other than Fan Yao, the three of them had drunk the poisoned wine.

Sun and Li two people’s internal strength was not too deep; once the drug entered their system they immediately felt their limbs weaken and their bodies get sick. In a low voice Sun Sanhui said, “Si di [fourth brother], there is something wrong with my tummy.”

“I … I … I think I am poisoned,” Li Sicui also said. By this time He Biweng also felt something was wrong; he tried to circulate his internal strength, but failed. His expression changed drastically.

Fan Yao stood up; his face was full of anger, he grabbed He Biweng’s collar and grunted some ‘Heh, heh’ noise, but did not say anything. Sun Sanhui was scared, “Ku Dashi, what is it?” he said. Fan Yao dipped his finger in the wine and wrote ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ five characters on the table. Sun and Li two people knew that the Xuanming Elders were in charge of this poison, and so it seemed Ku Toutuo and the two of them were being poisoned with this drug. They looked at each other and knelt down in front of He Biweng, “He Gong-gong,” they pleaded, “We two brothers do not dare to offend you, Senior; please don’t punish us too severely.” Both of them thought that He Biweng was trying to attack Ku Toutuo, and they happened to be there, so they suffered as innocent bystanders; if He Biweng meant to harm them, he did not need to use any poison.

He Biweng was also greatly shocked; this month it was indeed his turn to be in charge of the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’, which he hid inside his left crane-beak pen. This pair of weapons had never left his body even for a single step, so it would be impossible for anybody to steal it without his knowledge. But as luck would have it, he could not exert the least bit of internal energy, so without a doubt he must have been poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’. Actually, although the drug Zhang Wuji made was also potent, but it was greatly inferior to the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’; the effect felt by the victim was not the same. But He Biweng only knew that the victim of ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ would lose their ability to exert their internal energy, he had never taken the poison personally; therefore, although the difference was great, he was not able to distinguish between the two.

He saw Ku Toutuo look flustered and angry, while Sun and Li two people did not stop imploring him to have mercy; his doubt was gone, he said, “Ku Dashi, please don’t be angry; we are brothers here, how could I have an ill intention to harm you? I am also poisoned; I feel weak all over my body. I don’t know who is playing dirty trick on us. It’s really strange.”

Fan Yao dipped his finger in the wine again and wrote on the table, ‘Quickly give us the antidote.’

He Biweng nodded and said, “That’s right, we must take the antidote first, then we’ll find and deal with the traitor who played this trick on us. But the antidote is in Lu Shige’s [martial (older) brother] hand. Ku Dashi, please come with me.”

Fan Yao was secretly delighted; he did not expect Yang Xiao’s plan worked flawlessly, without too much trouble he found out where the antidote was. Holding up his left hand he grabbed He Biweng’s wrist, deliberately making his steps falter. They crossed the courtyard together, walking toward the ‘bao xiang jing she’.

He Biweng was secretly happy to see Fan Yao staggering, he thought, “This Ku Toutuo’s martial art is supposedly very high, but he has never contended against us, two brothers. Looking at his flustered condition after being poisoned, it seems like his internal strength is way below ours.” Two people walked over the hall’s gate. He Biweng’s room was against the south wall, while Lu Zhangke lived in the room against the north wall. The door of the northern room was tightly closed. “Shige,” He Biweng called out, “Are you home?”

Lu Zhangke answered from inside the room. He Biweng stretched out his hand to push the door open, but it was bolted. “Shige, hurry up and open the door,” he called out, “This is important.”

“What’s so important?” Lu Zhangke asked, “I am busy training my martial art. Can you not disturb me?”

He Biweng and Lu Zhangke’s martial arts came from the same school, their skill levels were almost equal. But first of all Lu Zhangke entered their school earlier, secondly he was smarter, hence He Biweng had always been respectful to him. Hearing his annoyed tone, He Biweng did not dare to call again.

Fan Yao, on the other hand, could not wait any longer; if the drug’s effect disappeared, his scheme would be exposed. Therefore, disregarding everything he pushed the door with his right shoulder, breaking the bolt and the door flew open. A shrill cry of female voice was heard. Lu Zhangke was standing in front of the bed; hearing the sound of the broken door he turned his head immediately. His expression was that of startling and embarrassment. Fan Yao saw lying on the bed was a woman, her body was wrapped inside a sheet of blanket, her head was the only part exposed, the blanket was tied up with a string of rope, just like a bedding roll. The woman’s long hair spread outside the blanket, her face was white and beautiful. Fan Yao recognized her as the Ruyang Prince’s new beloved concubine, Han Shi [lit. a maiden with surname of Han]; he said in his heart, “Wei Fuwang [Bat King Wei] is really good. He managed to enter the palace alone to kidnap Concubine Han and bring her over here.”

Actually, although the Ruyang Palace was tightly guarded, but the warriors only concentrated on guarding the Prince, the Crown Prince and the Princess [original: Wangye (lit. master king), Shi zi (a royal son), and Jun zhu (princess)] three people; nobody had ever thought of someone kidnapping one of the numerous concubines around the palace. Besides, Wei Yi Xiao moved like lightning, he was quick and agile exceptionally; as soon as he entered the Palace he stealthily kidnapped Concubine Han and brought her out. It was actually a lot more difficult for him to enter Lu Zhangke’s room. He waited for half a day before finally Lu Zhangke left his room to go to the bathroom. Like a ghost he sneaked in and put Concubine Han on the bed, and just as quick he left the room.

When Lu Zhangke returned he saw a woman was lying on his bed. He jumped out his room immediately; looking to four directions he did not see anybody, Wei Yixiao was already far away, other than some noise of eating and drinking from Sun and Li two people’s room, he saw nothing unusual. Lu Zhangke felt strange, but maintaining his composure he returned to his room. When he looked at the woman, he was dumbstruck. That day when the Prince took a new concubine and invited his top-tier warriors for an informal dinner in his palace, Concubine Han served the wine. She was graceful and full of smiles. Although Lu Zhangke was not young anymore, he was unable to restrain his soul to be stolen by her. He was a lecherous man and all his life he had devastated countless women of respectable families. That day when he saw Concubine Han’s beauty he sighed and regretted that he did not meet this kind of beautiful woman earlier. If he had seen her before she was taken by the Prince, he was certain she would not escape from his hand. He had oftentimes remembered her for many days to come; but afterwards he found a new lover and Concubine Han slowly faded from his memory.

To his complete surprise right at this moment Concubine Han was on his bed, as if she was dropped from heaven. He was pleasantly surprised. Thinking for a moment he guessed it must be his oldest disciple Wuwang Apu who knew his deepest desire and had secretly took Concubine Han away for him.

Lu Zhangke saw she was wrapped inside a blanket, the exposed skin of her neck was as white as snow. Faintly he could see her obviously naked shoulder, as if she was not wearing any clothes inside the blanket; his heart was thumping wildly with excitement. He quietly asked her how she came to this place; but after asking her several times, Concubine Han still did not give him any answer. Finally Lu Zhangke guessed her acupoint must be sealed. He was about to reach out and unseal her acupoint when He Biweng and the others arrived at his door and then Ku Toutuo shoved the door open. It was an unexpected change and Lu Zhangke was in an extremely awkward situation. He meant to cover her up, but it was already too late. Now he thought that perhaps the Prince had discovered that his concubine was kidnapped and sent Ku Toutuo to arrest him. Things had come thus far, he had no choice but trying to escape. ‘Shua!’ his right hand unsheathed his deer antler staff, while his left hand grabbed Concubine Han with the intention of rushing out through the window.

“Shige,” He Biweng was startled, “Quickly give me the antidote.” “What?” Lu Zhangke asked.

He Biweng answered, “I don’t now how, but Xiao Di [little brother] and Ku Dashi are poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’.”

“What did you say?” Lu Zhangke asked again, and He Biweng repeated what he said. “Isn’t the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ in your hand?” Lu Zhangke was confused.

“Xiao Di is also baffled,” He Biweng said, “We, four people, were merrily eating and drinking, and suddenly we were all poisoned. Lu Shige, quickly take the antidote and give it to us.”

Listening to this part Lu Zhangke’s fear subsided. He returned Concubine Han to the bed, making sure that her head was facing inside. He Biweng knew his martial brother’s lecherous nature, so seeing a woman inside his room was not surprising at all. Moreover, He Biweng was so frightened of being poisoned that he did not pay any attention to what the woman looked like. Besides, he would not recognize her anyway. That day during the banquet at the Palace, when Concubine Han came out to serve the wine, she retreated right after greeting the guests. He Biweng only had his eyes on the wine; why would he care if that woman wearing pearl bracelet and jade necklace was beautiful or ugly?

Lu Zhangke said, “Ku Dashi, please come in and take a rest with He Xiong Di [brother He] here, I’ll go to get the antidote.” While speaking, he gently pushed them to lead them inside. Because of this, He Biweng faltered and nearly fell down. Fan Yao also staggered, pretending that his internal strength was gone. But his internal strength was actually very deep, so as soon as there was an external force, his internal strength reacted naturally. As Lu Zhangke pushed, he immediately knew his Shidi [martial (younger) brother] really lost his internal strength, while Ku Toutuo was only pretending.

Lu Zhangke was afraid he was mistaken, so he pushed them one more time. He Biweng and Ku Toutuo fell back together outside, but Lu Zhangke felt while one was devoid of strength, the other was stable and solid. Lu Zhangke maintained his composure; he smiled and said, “Ku Dashi, I am sorry.” While saying that he held out his hand as if he was going to help Ku Toutuo stand up, but actually he was going to grab the ‘hui zong’ [gathering ancestor] and ‘wai guan’ [outside passage] acupoints on Ku Toutuo’s wrist.

Fan Yao understood his intention and knew that his scheme was exposed. With a wave of his left hand he heavily hit the ‘hun men xue’ [soul gate acupoint] on He Biweng’s back, rendering him paralyzed for the next three quarters of an hour. Fan Yao understood that he had to fight a martial art master; but he was not afraid of Lu Zhangke if it was a one-to-one fight. “Hey, hey,” he sneered and said, “Are you bored of your life? How dare you kidnap wangye’s beloved concubine?”

As he opened his mouth to speak, the Xuanming Elders were shocked. They had known Ku Toutuo for fifteen, sixteen years, yet they had never heard him say even a single word. For all they know, Ku Toutuo was mute since his birth. Although Lu Zhangke knew Ku Toutuo did not have good intentions towards him, he had never suspected this man to be able to speak. Come to think about it, Ku Toutuo had deliberately planned this deception, then without a doubt he meant to place Lu Zhangke in a more dangerous situation. He immediately said, “Turned out Ku Dashi is not mute at all. You have been concealing the truth for more than a dozen years; what is your intention?”

Fan Yao said, “Wangye knew your heart is not right, he ordered me to pretend to be mute and stay near you to keep watch over you.” There were actually many flaws in his argument, but the fact was Concubine Han was on Lu Zhangke’s bed, so even if he did not have any ill intention, it was hard for Lu Zhangke not to believe. Besides, he knew very well how the Ruyang Prince treated the masters under his command.

As Fan Yao said those words, Lu Zhangke felt his knees weakened. “Wangye ordered you to arrest me?” he said, “Hey, hey, although you are the Ku Dashi, master of martial art, you might not necessarily able to capture me, Lu Zhangke.” While saying that he raised his deer staff, ready to fight.

Fan Yao laughed a little bit and said, “Mr. Lu, although Ku Toutuo’s martial art skill is not superior to yours, but the difference is not much. If you want to defeat me, I am afraid you won’t accomplish that within one or two thousand moves. It’s not difficult for you to have three moves or two stances advantage over me, but if you are thinking of taking Concubine Han along and saving your martial brother, I don’t think you, Lu Zhangke, have this kind of ability.”

Lu Zhangke shot a look at his martial brother; he knew Ku Toutuo was not speaking an empty threat. His martial brother and he had been studying martial art together since their childhood all the way until they were both old, they had never been separated for even a day. Both did not have wife or children, all they had was each other; hence it would be very hard for him to escape alone and abandon his martial brother.

Fan Yao understood his heart was moved, he called out to Sun and Li two people, telling them to enter the room and then he said, “Mr. Lu, nobody knew about this matter yet. Ku Toutuo is willing to protect you.” Lu Zhangke was surprised; “Protect me?” he asked, “How?”

Without answering Fan Yao turned around and sealed Sun and Li two people’s mute and paralyze acupoints; his movement was swift and accurate, forcing Lu Zhangke to silently sigh in admiration. Ku Toutuo said, “Certainly you won’t tell anybody yourself, your Shidi won’t intentionally make things difficult for you. Ku Toutuo was mute, and he will stay mute, can’t speak a word. About these two brothers, Ku Toutuo can seal their death acupoints to close their mouths for good. I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Sun and Li two people were greatly shocked; they both thought that they had nothing to do with this matter, they were just having fun eating dog meat and drinking wine, yet it led them to this kind of big disaster. They wanted to implore, asking for mercy, but unfortunately they could not open their mouths.

Fan Yao pointed his finger to Concubine Han, “As for this concubine, the Old Monk has two ideas: the first is we wash our hands clean; take her along with Sun and Li two people to a deserted place and kill them with a blade. We’ll report to Wangye that she and Li Sicui, this handsome little thief, are having an affair and are running away together. Ku Toutuo found out about them and in his anger he killed both of them on the spot. We can spare Sun Sanhui’s life. The second idea is you take her away and hide her well. Whether later this matter leaks out or not, it will depend on your own ability.”

Lu Zhangke could not help from turning his head to look at Concubine Han; he saw on her eyes she was pleading him to take the second idea. Seeing her natural beauty Lu Zhangke felt that it would be a great pity if she were to be killed by a sword; his heart was greatly moved. “Thank you so much for standing up for me,” he said, “But since you are so thoughtful, there must be something you want from me. What is it?” He knew perfectly well Ku Toutuo would not help him without any compensation.

“It is an extremely easy matter,” Fan Yao replied, “I have a deep friendship with the Sect Leader of Emei Sect Miejue Shitai. That young miss surnamed Zhou is the result of my relationship with that old nun. I am asking you to give me the antidote so that I can rescue these two people. I will take full responsibility in front of Junzhu. If in anyway I implicate you, let the family of Ku Toutuo and the Old Nun Miejue, the males become thieves and the females become prostitutes, let us die a violent death without any opportunity to reincarnate forever.”

He thought that because of Lu Zhangke’s romatic nature, it would be easier to win his heart if Fan Yao raised the affair between a man and a woman. He also recalled Yang Xiao’s story about how many of his fellow Ming Cult brethrens had died under Miejue Shitai’s sword; hence he fabricated a fake story about a monk and a nun secret relationship. He was a heretical man to begin with, so his speech and conduct were not those of a gentleman. He did not mean it with his heart when he made a heavy oath of ‘the males become thieves and the females become prostitutes’ kind of punishment.

As Lu Zhangke listened, he broke into smile, as he thought that this old Toutuo was no different than he was; in order to save his old lover and his daughter he was willing to ask favor from other people. Although it was a risky venture , it was all worth it for the sake of a beautiful woman. As Ku Toutuo asked him a favor, Lu Zhangke felt relieved. He laughed and said, “So then kidnapping Wangye’s beloved concubine and brought her here is also Ku Dashi’s handiwork?”

Fan Yao replied, “This is an important matter, how can I request with an empty hand? Consider it my payment.”

Lu Zhangke was delighted, only he was afraid there was somebody outside, so he did not dare to laugh out loud. But suddenly he remembered something, “Then how could my Shidi got poisoned with the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’? Where did it come from?” he asked.

“Isn’t that easy?” Fan Yao replied, “The poison is in your Shidi’s hand, and he is a drunkard. Once he drank a lot of wine, can’t Ku Toutuo steal it from him?” “Very well!” all Lu Zhangke’s doubts were gone, he said, “Ku Dashi, let Xiongdi [brother] become friends with you. I will not sell you, I hope you won’t play such a dirty trick on me again.”

Fan Yao pointed at Concubine Han and smiled, “Next time if you have a dirty trick as beautiful as this, I am asking Mr. Lu to set up a trap, let Ku Toutuo enter it. The Old Monk will happily fall into it.”

Two people laughed together, but each one actually had his own thought. Lu Zhangke secretly calculated how to kill this evil Toutuo after this current trouble had passed. Fan Yao knew that although Lu Zhangke submitted to his wish right now, but what kind of people were the Xuanming Elders that they were willing to let this kind of defeat go unavenged? As soon as Lu Zhangke hid Concubine Han and unsealed He Biweng’s acupoint, he would look for him to settle the debt. But at that time the masters of the six major sects would had been rescued and Fan Yao would shake the dust from his buttocks and walked away.

Seeing Lu Zhangke was slow in taking out the antidote, Fan Yao thought that if he urged, then Lu Zhangke might deliberately make things difficult, so he sat down and said with a laugh, “Why don’t Lu Xiong unseal Concubine Han’s acupoint? Then we all can drink several cups together. Looking at beautiful face under the bright lamp light is a rare lucky occasion that you won’t necessarily experience it once in a lifetime.”

Lu Zhangke knew that there were a lot of people in the Wan An Temple complex; the longer Concubine Han stayed in his room, the more dangerous their situation would be. Therefore, immediately he took the deer antler staff and turned one of the antlers open. He took a cup and pour some powder into it while saying, “Ku Dashi, Xiongdi concede defeat to your divine strategy; please take this antidote.”

Fan Yao shook his head, “Such a little antidote, what can I do with that?” Lu Zhangke said, “Not to mention two people, this powder is enough to rescue six, seven people.”

“Don’t be stingy,” Fan Yao said, “What harm is it in giving me some more? To be brutally honest, you are so crafty that Ku Toutuo is afraid of your scheming.”

Seeing him wanted more of the antidote, Lu Zhangke suddenly stood up and said, “Ku Dashi, could it be that the people you want to rescue is not Miejue Shitai and your beloved daughter?”

Fan Yao was about to make some excuse when suddenly they heard footsteps on the courtyard; about seven, eight people rushed in. One of them was heard saying, “The footprints stop here. Could it be that Concubine Han is in the Wan An Temple area?”

Lu Zhangke’s expression changed; he pulled the cup back into his bosom, out of Ku Toutuo’s reach. He thought that Ku Toutuo had prepared an ambush; as soon as he took the antidote, he would make his move. Fan Yao waved his hand, telling him not to panic, then he took a blanket and covered up Concubine Han, including her head; he also pulled down the bed curtain.

“Mr. Lu, are you home?” one of the men on the courtyard called out. Fan Yao pointed to his own mouth, reminding Lu Zhangke that he was a mute, telling him to answer.

“What is it?” Lu Zhangke said in loud voice.

“One of the concubines from the palace is kidnapped,” that man replied, “We trace the bandit’s footprints and looks like he came to Wan An Temple.”

Lu Zhangke shot an angry look toward Fan Yao; his meaning was clear: ‘If you are not intentionally framing me, with your kind of skill, how could you leave a trail behind?’

Fan Yao grinned widely and smiled. He made some hand signals, telling him to send these men away; while in his heart he thought, “Wei Fuwang truly went all the way; he directed the track from the palace to this place.”

Lu Zhangke coldly laughed and said, “You don’t scatter and look around, but making disturbance here. What do you want?” Because of his high level of martial art skill, everybody was scared of him. That man answered indistinctly and did not dare to say anything else. He ordered his men to disperse and search the temple.

Lu Zhangke knew that with people all around the Wan An Temple searching for Concubine Han, to actually take Concubine Han out of the temple and bring her someplace else would not be easy even though they would not dare to search his room. He frowned and stared angrily at Ku Toutuo.

Suddenly Fan Yao got an idea, in a low voice he said, “Lu Xiong, there is a place within the Wan An Temple which can be used as a good hiding place for your beloved. We’ll wait for half a day then we’ll take her out; I don’t think that will be too late.”

Lu Zhangke angrily replied, “The safest place is in your own room.”

Fan Yao smiled and said, “With this kind of beautiful woman hiding in my room, the Old Toutuo’s heart might be moved. Are you sure Lu Xiong won’t be jealous?”

“Then what kind of place were you talking about?” Lu Zhangke asked.

Fan Yao pointed his finger toward the peak of the pagoda outside the window while showing a faint smile.

Lu Zhangke was smart; he understood immediately. Raising his thumb he praised, “Good idea!”

The pagoda was used as a prison for the martial art masters of the six major sects; it was under Lu Zhangke’s first disciple Wuwang Apu’s custody. Other people or other places could be under suspicion, but nobody would suspect the Prince’s concubine was hidden in the most heavily guarded place of all: the prison.

“Right now there is nobody on the courtyard,” Fan Yao said, “We must not tarry. Let’s move.” Raising the four corner of the blanket he wrapped Concubine Han inside, making it looked like a big bundle. With his right hand he lifted it up and gave it to Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke, however, thought that he was being swindled; he thought that as soon as he carried Concubine Han on his shoulder, Ku Toutuo would make a racket announcing it to everybody, then Lu Zhangke would be caught red-handed with the kidnapped person in his hand, at that time he would not be able to say anything. Having this thought his expression changed and he did not hold out his hand to receive the bundle.

Fan Yao understood his thought, he said, “Mustn’t help someone half way. Sending off Buddha must send him off to Heaven. What harm is it in letting Ku Toutuo protecting you again? Who told me to ask a favor from you?” While saying that he carried the bundle on his back, pushed the door to go out and in a low voice said, “You walk ahead. If anybody stops us to inquire, just kill them.”

Walking sideways Lu Zhangke went out the door; he still did not want to let Ku Toutuo walking behind him for fear of any sneak attack. Fan Yao reached back to close the door, then with Concubine Han on his back he walked toward the pagoda.

It was already late eleventh hour (between 7 – 9 pm); other than the pagoda guards, there was nobody else walking around the Temple. As the guards saw Lu Zhangke and Fan Yao they bowed to salute and respectfully moved aside to let them pass. As they arrived in front of the pagoda, someone had already informed Wuwang Apu, so that he was waiting on the door. “Shifu,” he said, “I wish you, Senior, well. Are you going to take a walk in the pagoda?” Lu Zhangke nodded his head; along with Fan Yao he was about to step into the pagoda when suddenly from the moon gate on the east side of the pagoda someone stepped out, it was none other than Zhao Min. Because he was guilty, Lu Zhangke was really shocked. He thought Zhao Min was personally leading her warriors to arrest him. He had no alternative but summon his courage and he stepped forward to pay his respect along with Ku Toutuo and Wuwang Apu.

The previous night Zhang Wuji made such a disturbance and Zhao Min did not know only three people from the Ming Cult came over. She feared they were dispatching a large scale raid; therefore, she personally came to the pagoda on an inspection tour. Seeing Fan Yao, she smiled slightly and said, “Ku Dashi, I was looking for you.” Fan Yao nodded, maintaining his composure. Zhao Min continued, “I want you to accompany me going to a certain place.”

Fan Yao was inwardly groaning, “With great difficulty I lured Lu Zhangke into the pagoda; all I have to do is snatching the antidote and then this great endeavor will be brought into its successful completion. Who would have thought that this little girl pick this exact same time to look for me?” Frantically he tried to find an excuse, but could not come up with any good explanation; besides, he was a mute, so he was not supposed to say anything. Suddenly he had an idea, “I’ll let Lu Zhangke think of something.” Immediately he pointed toward the bundle on his back and shoved it toward Lu Zhangke. Lu Zhangke was taken aback; he inwardly scolded Ku Toutuo as being very malicious.

“Mister Lu,” Zhao Min asked, “What is inside Ku Dashi’s bundle?” “Uh … uh … It’s Ku Dashi’s bedding,” Lu Zhangke stammered.

“Bedding?” Zhao Min was surprised, “Why is Ku Dashi bringing his bedding along?” she asked. She chuckled and said, “Ku Dashi thinks I am too dumb that he is not willing to take me as his disciple; and now he has to carry his own bedding?” Fan Yao shook his head; his right hand moved around as if he was making some hand signals, while in his heart he was thinking, “Let Lu Zhangke fabricates all kind of lies. I am a mute, I might as well take advantage of it.”

Zhao Min could not understand his hand signals, so she turned her gaze toward Lu Zhangke, waiting for him to explain. Lu Zhangke’s quick mind got a sudden inspiration, he said, “It’s like this: last night some sorcerers [Translator’s note: the literal translation is ‘devil head’] from the Devil Cult came and made some disturbance. Subordinate is afraid they might not give up easily. This … this … this is not confirmed yet, but they might come to the pagoda to rescue these people. For this reason Subordinate two martial brothers, along with Ku Dashi, decided to personally guard the pagoda so Junzhu’s major plan will not be disturbed. This bedding is Ku Dashi’s cotton quilt.”

Zhao Min was very pleased; she smiled and said, “Actually I was going to ask Mr. Lu and Mr. He to personally guard the prisoners, but I was afraid I might be condescending toward people of your position, so I was uncomfortable in asking you. Now that the three of you are concerned about me, I couldn’t ask any better. With Mr. Lu and Mr. He guarding in here, I am sure those ‘devil head’ won’t be able to do anything; so I don’t need to go up the pagoda to take a look. Ku Dashi, please come with me.” While saying that she held out her hand to pull Fan Yao’s hand.

Fan Yao had no choice; he thought that even if he exposed Lu Zhangke right now, first, it would not do him any good, second, Concubine Han was obviously on his own back. He might not necessarily able to convince Zhao Min. Hence he handed over the big bundle to Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke held out his hands to receive the bundle and said, “Ku Dashi, I will be waiting for you on this pagoda.”

“Shifu,” Wuwang Apu said, “Let disciple carry the bedding.”

“No need,” Lu Zhangke laughed, “This is Ku Dashi’s belonging, I want to win his heart, so I must carry this bedding myself.” Fan Yao grinned widely, he stretched out his hand to slap the bundle, right on Concubine Han’s buttocks. Luckily her mute acupoint was sealed; otherwise she would cry out in shock. But Lu Zhangke was scared out of his wits; his countenance paled. Without delay he bowed toward Zhao Min and carrying Concubine Han on his back he hurriedly entered the pagoda. His mind had already cooked up a plan; as soon as he entered the pagoda, he would wrap a cotton quilt inside the blanket. If Ku Toutuo told Zhao Min about him, he would deny any knowledge of Concubine Han.

End of Chapter 26. 
@Chapter 27 – Soaring Down from a Hundred-foot Pagoda
Following Zhao Min, Fan Yao went out of the Wan An Temple complex. He was both anxious and feeling strange; did not know where Zhao Min would take him. Zhao Min pulled her cloak over her head, covering her beautiful hair. “Ku Dashi,” she quietly said, “We are going to look for that guy Zhang Wuji.”

Fan Yao was startled; he cast a sidelong glance to her but she averted his gaze. Her cheeks blushed; as if she was 70% shy and 30% happy. She did not look like she already knew about him. His heart was relieved. He recalled the situation of the previous night, when she met Zhang Wuji in the Wan An Temple; where they were facing each other as archenemies. As soon as the word ‘archenemies’ came into his mind, his heart was stirred. “Enemy?” he thought, “Could it be that Junzhu [Princess] fell in love secretly with my Jiaozhu [Cult Leader]?” But then another thought came into his mind, “Why does she want me to go with her? Why didn’t she take her trusted subordinates, the Xuanming Elders? Ah, right! It must be because I am mute, so I won’t leak her secret.” Having this thought he nodded his head, with a strange-looking smile on his face.

“What are you laughing at?” Zhao Min angrily asked.

Of course Fan Yao could not tell her what he thought was funny; thereupon he busily gesticulated, telling her that Ku Toutuo would do his best to protect the Princess, that he would accompany the Princess even going to the dragon’s pool or tiger’s cave. Zhao Min did not speak anymore; she quietly led the way, and very soon they had arrived at the gate of the inn where Zhang Wuji stayed.

Fan Yao was secretly surprised, “Junzhu is really resourceful, she knew exactly where Jiaozhu stays,” he thought, while following her entering the inn.

Zhao Min asked the innkeeper, “We are looking for a guest by the surname of Zeng.” Turned out when he checked into the inn Zhang Wuji was using his fake name, Zeng Aniu. The innkeeper went inside to inform the guest. Zhang Wuji was sitting in meditation, circulating his internal energy, waiting for the fire signal at the Wan An Temple to render his assistance; when suddenly he heard someone was looking for him. He felt strange, but he went out anyway. Arriving at the reception room he saw the visitors were Zhao Min and Fan Yao. “Not good!” he silently groaned, “Looks like Miss Zhao has exposed Fan Youshi’s identity and now she is here to deal with me.” He had no choice but step forward and cup his fists, “I didn’t know Miss Zhao was here; please forgive me for not welcoming you,” he said.

Zhao Min said, “It’s not convenient to talk in here. What do you say we go to the small restaurant over there and have three cups of wine?”

“Very well,” Zhang Wuji did not have any choice but to agree.

Zhao Min was still leading the way; she was the first to leave the inn. They walked past five shops before they finally arrived at a small restaurant. There were several tables made of rough wood planks scattered sparsely inside the restaurant, with wooden tubes of chopsticks on the tables. It was already late in the evening; there was no other guest inside the restaurant. Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji sat facing each other. Fan Yao made some hand signals, saying that he was going to drink some wine on the outer hall. Zhao Min nodded her head; she called the waiter and ordered a bowl of hot pot with three catties of fresh mutton, plus two catties of white wine.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was full of suspicions; he thought she was a princess, yet she went to this dirty little restaurant to eat mutton soup with him. He wondered what kind of trick she was playing.

Zhao Min poured out two cups of wine. She took the cup in front of Zhang Wuji; drank it a little and said with a smile, “There is no poison in this wine; set your heart at peace and have a drink.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Miss invites me here, I wonder what instructions do you have for me?” “Please drink three cups, then we’ll talk,” Zhao Min replied, “I’ll dry my cup first to honor you.” She raised her cup and drank it dry.

Zhang Wuji also raised his cup. Under the light from the coal of the hot pot stove he faintly saw lipstick mark on the edge of the cup, while his nose caught a soft and sweet smelling fragrance. He did not know whether the fragrance came from the lipstick mark on his cup, or it was the perfume she was wearing. With a shaken heart he drank the wine.

“Please drink two more cups,” Zhao Min said, “I know you are suspicious toward me, so I’ll drink each cup first.”

Zhang Wuji knew she was very shrewd; he certainly must set up his guard. Although she was unexpectedly willing to taste the wine in advance, he would still be braving a great danger. In the end he drank three cups anyway. He tried to feel if there was anything unusual, but he could not find any. Raising his head he saw a faint smile on her graceful face, the wine had made her cheeks blush a little bit; truly it was a tender and extremely beautiful face. Zhang Wuji did not dare to look at her too long, hastily he turned his gaze somewhere else.

In a low voice Zhao Min said, “Zhang Gongzi [young master, a respectful term to address a young man], do you know who I am?” Zhang Wuji shook his head. Zhao Min said, “Let me tell you today. My father holds authority over the imperial armed force, the Ruyang Prince. I am a Mongolian girl, my real name is Minmin Temur. The Emperor granted me the title of Shao Min Junzhu. ‘Zhao Min’ two characters, is the name I chose to be my Han name.”

If Fan Yao did not tell him that morning, Zhang Wuji would have been shocked; but listening to her revealing her true identity without concealing anything was also beyond his expectations. Only he was not used to pretend, so he did not show an expression of great surprise.

“What?” Zhao Min was surprised, “So you have already found out?” “No, I haven’t. How can I?” Zhang Wuji replied, “But I know that you are but a young girl yet you command that many Wulin masters, your position must be unusual.”

Zhao Min gently stroked the wine cup in her hand. She was silent for half a day. Lifting up the wine pot she poured two cups of wine and then slowly said, “Zhang Gongzi, I have a question I would like to ask you. Please answer me truthfully. If I killed that Miss Zhou of yours, what would you do?”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “Miss Zhou has never offended you; how could you kill her for no reason at all?” he asked.

“There are some people I don’t like, so I have them killed. Do you think I only kill those who offended me?” Zhao Min replied, “Some people continuously offend me, yet I did not kill them. Take you, for example, how many times have you offended me?” While saying this, her eyes were smiling.

Zhang Wuji heaved a deep sigh and said, “Miss Zhao, I offended you because I did not have any other choice. You have given me the medicine I need to save my San Shibo [third martial (older) uncle] and Liu Shishu [sixth martial (younger) uncle]; for that I will be eternally grateful.”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “I think a third part of you is muddleheaded. Yu Daiyan and Yin Liting received their injuries from my subordinates. You did not blame me, but thank me instead?”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “My San Shibo was injured twenty years ago; at that time you haven’t been born yet.”

“Those people are my father’s subordinates; therefore, they are also my subordinates. So what’s the difference?” Zhao Min asked, “Anyway, don’t divert the subject, I asked you: If I killed your Miss Zhou, what would you do? Would you kill me to avenge her?” Zhang Wuji was silent for half a day before answering, “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Zhao Min pressed, “You just don’t want to say it, do you?”

Zhang Wuji said, “My father and mother were forced to their death by some people. They are from Shaolin Pai, Huashan Pai, Kongtong Pai [‘pai’ = Sect] and the others. When I got older my reasoning also grew; but the more I think, the more I don’t understand: Who was my parents’ real killer? I should say it was not Kong Zhi Dashi [Reverend Kong Zhi], Tie Qin Xiansheng [Mister Iron Qin], those people; I can’t even say it was my (maternal) grandfather or my uncle; so much so that I can’t say it was your subordinates, Ah Er, Ah San, the Xuanming Elders, and so on. All I can say is that it was fate; I have thought it over yet I could not come to the clear truth. Let’s just say that those people were the killers; then I would kill them all one by one. What do I gain? My father and mother would not come back to life. Miss Zhao, these past several days I have been thinking: If everybody does not kill somebody else, live in harmony with each other, love each other as friends, won’t that be good? I don’t want to seek revenge by killing someone; I also hope others would not kill and harm other people.”

He had had this thought for a long time, only he had not told Yang Xiao, he had not told Zhang Sanfeng, he had not told Yin Liting, yet suddenly in this small restaurant he told it to Zhao Min. Once it came out of his mouth, suddenly he felt weird.

Listening to him pouring out his heart Zhao Min paused to ponder, and then she said, “You are very kind-hearted. I can’t do that. If someone killed my father or my brother, not only I would kill him and his whole family, I would also kill his relatives, his friends, everybody who is related to him. I will wipe them clean.”

“Then surely I must stop you,” Zhang Wuji said.

“Why?” Zhao Min asked, “Are you going to side with my enemy?” “You kill one person, you will add one guilt to your life,” Zhang Wuji said, “To the person you killed, after he died he won’t know anything, so that was that. But how about his parents, his children, his brothers or sisters, his wife; won’t they feel unbearable grief? When you recall what you did in the future, your conscience will not be peaceful. My ‘yi fu’ [godfather] has killed many people. Although he has never said anything, I know he feels deep regrets in his heart.”

Zhao Min did not say anything; she quietly pondered over what he said. Zhang Wuji asked, “Have you killed anybody?”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “I have not. But when I am older, I will kill a lot of people. My ancestor is Genghis Khan the Great Emperor, Tuolei, Badou, Xuliewu, Khubilai, those heroes. I regret that I was born female. If I were a man, hey, hey, I would certainly accomplish great undertakings.” She poured out one more cup of wine, drank it, and said, “You have not answered my question.”

“If you killed Miss Zhou, or anybody related to my subordinates, then I will no longer consider you as my friend; I will never see you again, nor will I speak to you,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhao Min laughed, “Then do you currently consider me as your friend?” she asked.

“If I hated you in my heart, then I would not sit together and drink some wine with you,” Zhang Wuji said, “Ah! It is so difficult for me to hate anybody. All my life the person I hated most was that ‘hun yuan pi li zhang’ [Lightning Palms of the Originating Formation] Cheng Kun. [Translator’s note: previously it was ‘shou’ (hand) instead of ‘zhang’ (palm); perhaps Jin Yong ‘forgot’?] Yet now that he died, I feel sorry for him. I actually wish he did not die.”

“If I die tomorrow, what would you think?” Zhao Min asked, “I bet you will say: Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth, my wicked and fiendish enemy has died; from this time on I will be spared of many troubles.” “No, no!” Zhang Wuji loudly said, “I am not looking forward to your dying; not in the least bit. Wei Fuwang [Bat King Wei] has scared you by threatening to cut your face several times. Later on when I think about it I am very anxious.”

With a captivating smile Zhao Min blushed and lowered her head.

“Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said, “Please don’t make things difficult for us. Why don’t you release the six major sects’ masters; then we all can live happily as friends, won’t that be good?”

“Very good,” Zhao Min delightfully said, “That’s what I was hoping for. You are the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, your words carry a lot of weight. Go and talk to them, tell them to surrender to the royal government. Wait till my father becomes the Emperor, then he will grant rewards to everybody.”

Zhang Wuji slowly shook his head, “Our Han people all have a wish: to drive you, Mongolians, from invading our land,” he said.

Zhao Min abruptly stood up and said, “What? You dare to say such preposterous thing, defying your superior? Don’t you realize you are blatantly rebelling against the government?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “I am a rebel. Don’t tell me you realized it just now?”

Zhao Min fixed her gaze at him for a long time; the anger and shock on her face slowly dissipated, turning into tenderness and despair. Finally she sat back down and said, “I have already known for a long time, but I want to hear it from your own mouth before I can believe it was absolutely true. You are really beyond any help.” These words were spoken with intense bitter feeling.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was soft to begin with; this time he could not bear to hear her grieving even more, he almost blurted, “I will listen and obey you.” But this thought disappeared in a flash; he tried to control his mind, but could not find some comforting words.

Two people sat facing each other silently for a long time. Finally Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, it is late, let me walk you home.”

“You don’t want to accompany me much longer, do you?” Zhao Min asked.

“No!” Zhang Wuji frantically said, “If you want to sit here, drinking and talking, then I’ll accompany you.”

Zhao Min smiled slightly, then slowly said, “Sometimes I am thinking: if I am not a Mongolian girl, also not a Junzhu, but a common Han girl just like Miss Zhou, then perhaps you will treat me a lot better. Zhang Gongzi, what do you say: am I prettier, or Miss Zhou is prettier?”

Zhang Wuji had never expected this kind of question to ever come out of her mouth; but he remembered that after all, barbarian women were frank and did not guard their speech too much. Under the lamp light he saw her to be sweet and extremely pretty; he could not help but blurted, “Of course you are prettier.”

Zhao Min reached out with her right hand to hold the back of Zhang Wuji’s hand, her eyes showed happiness. “Zhang Gongzi,” she said, “Would you like to see me often? If I invite you from time to time to come over here and have a drink, would you come?”

As his hand was being touched by her soft and tender palm, Zhang Wuji’s heart was thumping madly. Calming his heart down he said, “I can’t stay here for too long. In a few days I am going to the south.”

“What do you do in the south?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “Even if I don’t tell you, you will be able to guess; if I do, I’ll make you angry …”

Zhao Min averted her gaze toward the round moon outside the window; she suddenly said, “You have made a promise to do three things for me. Have you forgotten your promise?”

“Of course I haven’t forgotten,” Zhang Wuji said, “As soon as Miss tells me, I will do my utmost to fulfill it.”

Zhao Min turned her head back, looking straight at his face. She said, “Only now do I have my first request. I want you to accompany me to get that Tulong [Slaughtering Dragon] Saber.”

Zhang Wuji had already guessed that her three requests would not be easy to do; but never in his life would he guess that the first request was already a very difficult matter to do. Zhao Min saw his distress look and said, “What? You are not willing? This request certainly does not violate the way of the chivalry; it is also not something you are unable to accomplish.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “The Tulong Saber is in the hand of my Yifu; this fact is well-known in Jianghu [river and lake – martial art world], I don’t have to hide the truth from her.” Thereupon he said, “The Tulong Saber belongs to my Yifu, ‘Jin Mao Shi Wang’ [Golden Mane Lion King], Xie Daxia [Great Hero Xie]. How can I betray my Yifu by taking his saber and give it to you?”

Zhao Min said, “I do not meant for you to steal or snatch or take it by deceit; I also do not want to own this saber. All I want is for you to tell me your Yifu’s whereabouts, so I can borrow it and play with it for a couple of hours, and then I will return it to him right away. You are Yifu-yizi [foster- father, foster son]; don’t tell me he won’t allow you to borrow it even for a couple of hours? I want to take a look at it, not to swindle his possession; I won’t use it to kill anybody, do you think I am violating the way of the chivalry?”

Zhang Wuji said, “Although this saber is talked-about in the martial world, but actually it doesn’t have anything worth looking about it except it is very heavy and unexceptionally sharp.” “There is a saying,” Zhao Min said, “’Wu lin zhi zun, bao dao tu long, hao ling tian xia, mo gan bu cong. Yi tian bu zhu, shei yu zheng feng?’ [Martial world’s most venerable, Prized saber dragon slaying, Controlling all under Heaven, None dares not to follow. Power of heaven not appear, who can possibly compete? – Meh’s translation] The Yitian Sword is in my hand; I surely must see what this Tulong Saber looks like. If you are concerned, you can stay by my side while I am examining the Saber. With your current skill level, I should not be able swindle you in any way.”

Zhang Wuji considered carefully, “My original plan was leaving immediately to fetch Yifu after rescuing the six major sects’ masters, to ask him to hold the Jiaozhu position. Miss Zhao promises to take a look at the Saber only for a couple of hours. I know it’s hard to say whether she has some crafty trick under her sleeves, but if I guard by her side, she won’t be able to seize the Saber. Only Yifu once said that the Tulong Saber holds a big martial art secret. Yifu has taken possession of this treasured Saber before his eyes were blinded, yet by his intelligence and wisdom he still could not penetrate the details of this secret. Given only a short couple of hours, how could this Miss Zhao uncover the secret? Besides, Yifu and I have not seen each other for more than ten years; perhaps on that isolated island he has succeeded in understanding the Saber’s secret.”

Seeing he was hesitating and not answering, Zhao Min laughed and said, “It’s up to you if you are not willing. I can think of something else for you to do, and it surely will be much more difficult.”

Zhang Wuji realized this woman was extremely cunning; if she presented another difficult problem, he might not be able to do it. Thereupon he busily said, “Very well, I agree to borrow the Tulong Saber for you. But let me get it clear: you can only borrow it for a couple of hours. If you change your mind and want to steal it, I will not let you go.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Min laughed, “I can’t use a saber, especially a heavy one. What’s good it is for me? You are respectfully presenting the Saber to me so I will not dare to offend you. When are you going to leave?” “Within these next several days,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Nothing could be better,” Zhao Min said, “I am going to pack now. When it’s time to leave, come and get me.”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “Are you going to come?” he asked.

“Of course,” Zhao Min answered, “I heard your Yifu lives on an isolated island far away. If he is not willing to return to the mainland, will you take tens of thousands ‘li’s journey to bring the Saber to me, let me look at it for a couple of hours, then take another tens of thousands ‘li’s journey to return the Saber back to him, and then take tens of thousands ‘li’s journey again to go back home? There is no such logic in this world.”

Zhang Wuji remembered the dangerous great billows of the ‘Bei Hai’ [Northern Sea]; whether they would be able to find the ‘bing huo dao’ [Ice and Fire Island] in the vast and boundless ocean was still a great uncertainty. There was no guarantee if they would not meet any accident during the three times voyage back and forth to the island, so what she said was right. Moreover, his Yifu had lived on ‘bing huo dao’ for more than twenty years; he might not be willing to return to the mainland in his sunset years. “The wind and the waves on the ocean are merciless,” he said, “Are you sure you want to brave this danger?”

“If you can brave the danger, why can’t I?” Zhao Min replied.

With uncertainty in his voice Zhang Wuji asked, “Will your father let you go?”

Zhao Min replied, “Father has given me the authority to command the Jianghu warriors. For the last several years I have wandered to the east and journeyed to the west; Father has never forbidden me.”

Hearing the words ‘Father has given me the authority to command the Jianghu warriors’ Zhang Wuji’s heart was moved, “My journey to the ‘bing huo dao’ to fetch Yifu might take years or at least months,” he thought. “Supposing she is executing the luring-the-tiger-to-leave-the-mountain trick, then she might launch a large scale attack on my Cult while I am gone. But if she goes with me, her subordinates might lose command and spare me unnecessary worries over those I leave behind.” Thereupon he nodded and said, “Very well, I’ll come and get you when it’s time for us to leave.”

He had not finished speaking when suddenly they saw bright red light from beyond the window, followed by a faint clamoring noise of commotion coming from a distance.

Zhao Min went to the window to take a look. “Aiyo!” she cried out in alarm, “The Wan An Temple Pagoda is on fire! Ku Dashi, Ku Dashi, come here, quick!” She called out several times, but Ku Toutuo did not answer. She went to the outer hall but Ku Toutuo was nowhere to be seen. She asked the waiter and was told that that Toutuo went away as soon as they arrived; he did not even sit down, and he had left for a long time. Zhao Min as astonished; suddenly she recalled his strange smile earlier and could not help blushing. She lowered her head and stole a glance toward Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji saw the fire was getting bigger by the minute; he was afraid his Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle] and the others’ internal strength had not recovered and they died inside the burning Pagoda. “Miss Zhao,” he said, “I have to go!” Before finished speaking he had rushed out the restaurant.

“Wait!” Zhao Min called out, “I am coming too!” But by the time she reached the door, Zhang Wuji had disappeared.

o0o

When Ku Toutuo was taken away by the Princess, Lu Zhangke decided to take Concubine Han into his disciple, Wuwang Apu’s room. The Wan An Temple Pagoda had a total of thirteen floors, so the total height was about thirteen ‘zhang’s [1 zhang is approximately 10ft or 3.3m]. The top three floors were consecrated to house the image of Buddha, Buddhist literature, and other religious articles; nobody could stay in these floors. Wuwang Apu was in charge of guarding the Pagoda, so he occupied a room in the tenth floor; from which he could see all around and thus had a better control over the overall situation.

As he entered the room, Lu Zhangke told Wuwang Apu, “Go and guard outside the room, don’t let anybody enter in.” As Wuwang Apu went out the room Lu Zhangke immediately closed the door, untied the bundle to let Concubine Han out. Her beautiful face showed both shocked and hurt expression; her sad eyes were pleading. Lu Zhangke quietly said, “Now that you have arrived here, you don’t have to be afraid. I will treat you well.”

He did not want to unseal her acupoints yet, fearing she would cause a commotion. Thereupon he gently laid her down on Wuwang Apu’s bed, pulled up a quilt to cover her up; and then took another cotton-quilt to replace the bundle and set it aside. With Concubine Han safely tucked in the bed Lu Zhangke started to attend to other businesses. He did not dare to stay inside the room for too long; he went out hurriedly, forbidding Wuwang Apu from entering the room or allowing others from doing so. He knew his main disciple had always regarded him with respect and fear, so it was unlikely for him to disobey his master’s order.

Lu Zhangke thought, “I need Ku Toutuo to help me keeping the secret. If I want to win his favor, I must rescue his old lover and his daughter first. Luckily the Cult Leader of the Devil Cult made such disturbance last night, precisely over that girl by the surname of Zhou. I can always put the blame on him by saying the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu rescued Old Nun Miejue and Miss Zhou. Truly the Heaven is on my side; Junzhu will not suspect anything. This little devil head’s martial art is superior, Junzhu cannot blame us from failing to stop him.”

All Emei Pai’s female disciples were imprisoned on the seventh floor. Miejue Shitai, being a Sect Leader, was imprisoned alone inside a smaller room. Lu Zhangke ordered the guard to open the door and then walked in. He saw Miejue was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her eyes were closed in meditation. She had been on a hunger strike for several days, but although she looked thin and pale, her countenance still showed her proud and valiant character.

“Miejue Shitai, how are you?” Lu Zhangke greeted.

Slowly Miejue Shitai opened her eyes. “It’s not good in here, what good are you talking about?” she asked. [Translator’s note: It was a play on words: ‘How are you?’ in Chinese is ‘ni3 hao3’, with literal translation ‘you good’]

“You are so stubborn,” Lu Zhangke said, “My master said keeping you alive is useless, I am ordered to send you to heaven.”

Miejue Shitai had determined to die anyway, so she said, “Very well. Only I do not need to bother Sire to do it; just lend me a knife and I will do it myself. I only request Sire to bring my disciple Zhou Zhiruo, I have something I need to talk to her.”

Lu Zhangke turned around and went out the room, ordering the guard to bring in Zhou Zhiruo; he thought, “The feeling between a mother and a daughter is really unusual; otherwise why didn’t she ask for her other main disciples, but ask for her instead?”

Not long afterwards Zhou Zhiruo entered her master’s room. “Mr. Lu,” Miejue Shitai said, “Please wait outside, I only need to speak a little bit with her.”

Zhou Zhiruo waited until Lu Zhangke left the room before she pushed backward to close the door, and then she threw herself at her master’s bosom and wept. For all her life Miejue Shitai had been strong and firm; this time she was going to die, she could not restrain to be emotionally touched; she stroked Zhou Zhiruo’s hair gently. Zhou Zhiruo knew her time to speak with her master was not long; immediately she narrated how Zhang Wuji came to rescue her the previous night. Miejue Shitai wrinkled her brows and was silent for half a day before she finally said, “Why did he only rescue you and did not rescue other people? That day on the Brightness Peak you stabbed him; why did he repay it by rescuing you?” Zhou Zhiruo’s cheeks blushed and she softly said, “I don’t know.”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai indignantly said, “That kid is so wicked. He is the leader of the Devil Cult; how can he have good intentions? I think he is setting a trap and he is luring you to enter in.”

“He … he is setting a trap?” Zhou Zhiruo wondered.

“We are the Devil Cult’s archenemy,” Miejue Shitai said, “I don’t know how many devil disciples died under my Yitian Sword. The Devil Cult hates Emei Pai to their bones; how could they come over to rescue us? This surnamed Zhang’s devil-head must have been looking at you and took a liking; he wanted you to fall into his snare. He ordered some people to capture us then he would deliberately rescue you to curry your favor, so that from this time on you will always be grateful to him.”

“Shifu,” Zhou Zhiruo weakly said, “I think … I think he was sincere.”

Miejue Shitai was very angry; in a loud voice she said, “You are just the same as that good-for-nothing Ji Xiaofu; captivated by Devil Cult’s disciples. If I had my internal energy, I’d strike you dead with my palm.”

Zhou Zhiruo was so scared that her whole body trembled. “Disciple does not dare,” she said.

In a stern voice Miejue Shitai said, “You really do not dare, or was that just sweet-talk to deceive your master?”

With tears in her eyes Zhou Zhiruo said, “Disciple simply does not dare to disobey ‘En shi’s [benevolent master] instruction.”

Miejue Shitai said, “Kneel on the floor. Make a heavy oath.”

Following her command, Zhou Zhiruo knelt down but she did not know what to say. Miejue Shitai said, “Say it like this: ‘Xiao Nuzi [lit. little/young woman – this is kind of hard to translate without losing the real meaning] Zhou Zhiruo make an oath against the Heaven: if in the future my heart adores Zhang Wuji, that evil Cult Leader of the Devil Cult, if I become husband and wife with him, let the bones of my departed parents bodies in the ground do not have peace; let my Shifu Miejue Shitai’s departing soul becomes restless spirit, haunting me night and day for the rest of my life; and if I give birth to sons and daughters with him, let my sons become slaves and my daughters prostitutes.”

Zhou Zhiruo was shocked; her natural disposition was meek and gentle. She had never thought of making such a sinister oath; not only cursing her dead parents and cursing her benevolent master, but cursing the children who had not even born yet. She saw her master’s eyes were staring fiercely at her face with a malicious gleam. Suddenly she felt dizzy; yet she did not have any choice but repeating what her master said, word for word.

As she listened to this heavy oath Miejue Shitai’s countenance softened. “All right, you can stand up,” she warmly said.

Zhou Zhiruo’s tears fell like rain; she stood up with a heavy and hurting heart. Miejue Shitai’s face turned serious when she said, “Zhiruo, I did not deliberately force you; I am doing this for your own good. You are a young and naïve girl. Later on your Shifu wouldn’t be able to look after you anymore. If you repeat your Ji Shijie’s [martial (older) sister] mistake by treading on the road to disaster, your Shifu in the next world will not rest in peace. Moreover your Shifu is relying on you to carry the heavy responsibility of our Sect; you must not be careless.” While saying that she took out the iron ring on her left index finger, stood up, and said, “Emei Pai’s disciple Zhou Zhiruo, kneel down to receive my order.”

Zhou Zhiruo was startled; she knelt down immediately.

Miejue Shitai lifted the iron ring high above her head and said, “The Third Generation Sect Leader of Emei Pai, ‘Nu ni’ [lit. female (Buddhist) nun] Miejue, hereby passes the Sect Leader position to the Fourth Generation ‘nu di zi’ [female disciple] Zhou Zhiruo.” After she was compelled by her master to make that heavy oath, Zhou Zhiruo’s mind was still confused; now that suddenly hearing the Sect Leader position was being passed on to her, she was so shocked that she did not know what to think.

Slowly, word by word, Miejue Shitai said, “Zhou Zhiruo, receive this iron ring of our Sect; held out your left hand.”

Still stupefied, Zhou Zhiruo held out her left hand, Miejue Shitai put the iron ring on her index finger. With a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “Shifu [Master], disciple is young, I joined the sect not too long ago, how can I bear this heavy responsibility? You, Senior, must not be desperate; please don’t say such thing. Disciple really cannot …” Speaking to this point, she hugged her master’s legs and cried.

Waiting outside, Lu Zhangke was already impatient for a while; hearing the weeping noise he banged the door and called out, “Hey! Are you done talking? Your talking days in the future are still long!”

Miejue Shitai shot back, “What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” To Zhou Zhiruo she said, “Do you dare to disobey your Shifu’s command?” Immediately she proceeded by telling Zhou Zhiruo the Sect Leader’s rules and regulations, wanting her to commit them in her memory.

Zhou Zhiruo could see through her master’s words; it was like she was leaving her death wish; Zhou Zhiruo was alarmed and scared. “Disciple cannot do this, disciple is not able …”

In a stern voice Miejue Shitai said, “If you don’t do what I said, you are disobeying your Sect’s ancestors.” Noticing Zhou Zhiruo pitiful face and remembering about her impending departure from this world, she thought about how she was placing this heavy responsibility on this mild-mannered, soft and weak female disciple’s shoulder; Miejue Shitai was afraid her disciple would actually not able to withstand this heavy load. But among the Emei disciples she was the one with the highest comprehension and the one most likely to reach the pinnacle of their martial arts and brighten their reputation. Other than her there was no other disciple worthy of this position. Miejue Shitai also realized that in the days to come this young disciple would inevitably experience innumerable difficulties and dangers; she could not help but feel heartbroken.

Miejue Shitai raised Zhou Zhiruo up and embraced her in her bosom; in a soft voice she said, “Zhiruo, I picked you to be the next Sect Leader instead of your numerous Shijies [martial (older) sisters], not because I am biased toward you. It was because the Emei Pai has always dominated by women; the Sect Leader’s martial art must be outstanding. Only then will we be able to stand among the heroes of the Wulin world.”

“How can disciple’s martial art exceed those of numerous Shijies?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Miejue Shitai smiled and said, “Their accomplishment is limited; once they reach certain level, it would be very difficult for them to make a good progress. This is the Heaven-given natural ability and no power on earth can change it. Right now you are inferior to your Shijies, but in the future your progress will be unlimited. Hmm, unlimited, truly unlimited. That’s exactly what you will be.”

Zhou Zhiruo was confused; she looked at her master with eyes full of questions. Miejue Shitai put her lips close to Zhou Zhiruo’s ear and in a very low voice said, “Since you are now our Sect Leader, I am going to tell you our Sect’s greatest secret. The founder of our Sect was Guo Nuxia [Heroine Guo]; she was the youngest daughter of Daxia [great hero] Guo Jing. In those days Guo Daxia’s name shook the world; all his life he was known to possess two kinds of special skills: the first one was military strategy, the second was martial art. Guo Daxia’s wife was Huang Rong, Huang Nuxia; she was known as the most intelligent and quick-witted person. She had realized early on that the Yuan army’s power was unstoppable; that in the end Xiangyang could not be defended. They, husband and wife, had made up their minds to sacrifice their lives for their country as a token of their patriotism and loyalty. But would they bring Guo Daxia’s special skills down to the grave? Moreover, she had predicted correctly that although the Mongolians would occupy China for a moment, in the end the Han people would not be willing to live in slavery under the Tartars’ rule; that there would be bloody battles on the Central Plains [‘zhong yuan’] in the future. At that time the military strategy and the martial art would play a very significant role. For that reason she hired a very skilled craftsman to melt the black steel sword Yang Guo, Yang Daxia gave to our founder Guo Zushi [martial art ancestor], mixed it with refined gold from the western area, and forged it into the Tulong [slaughtering dragon] Saber and the Yitian [relying on Heaven] Sword.”

Zhou Zhiruo had long ago heard about the names of Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword; but it was only now did she find out that this pair of Saber and Sword was forged by the mother of her own Sect’s Founder, Guo Nuxia.

Miejue Shitai continued, “While these weapons were forged, Huang Nuxia and Guo Daxia two people toiled for a whole month writing the military strategy and the martial art manuals and hid them inside the weapons. The Tulong Saber held the military strategy manual. It was called ‘tu long’ with the wish that someday someone would obtain the military strategy book, then drives out the Tartars and kills the Tartar Emperor. Among the martial art secrets concealed in the Yitian Sword, the most precious are the Nine Yin Manual and the Eighteen Dragon-subduing Palm Techniques, hoping that the later generation who study the martial arts from the Sword would enforce justice on behalf of Heaven and rid the people of evil.”

Zhou Zhiruo listened with eyes wide open; the more she listened, the more marveled she became. Meanwhile her master continued the story, “After Guo Daxia and his wife finished forging the Sword and the Saber, they gave the precious Saber to their son, Guo Gong Polu [Translator’s note: the word ‘gong’ here denotes respect or honor; there is no English equivalent to this way of addressing other people]; while the precious Sword was passed on to our Sect’s Guo Zushi. It goes without saying that Guo Zushi was taught martial arts by her parents, as Guo Gong Polu was also instructed in military strategy. But when the Xiang Yang’s city wall was broken, Guo Daxia husband and wife, as well as Guo Gong Polu died together as patriots. Guo Zushi’s character did not go very well with her father’s martial art style; for this reason our Sect’s martial art style differs from that of Guo Daxia of the past.”

After a short pause Miejue Shitai continued, “Over the last one hundred years the Wulin world was shaken repeatedly; these Saber and Sword have changed hands several times. The later generation only knows that the Tulong Saber is the Wulin world’s most venerable, and only the Yitian Sword is worthy to be its match; but why is it most venerable, nobody knows. Guo Gong Polu died for his country in his youth; he had no descendant not disciple, so only our Sect’s Guo Zushi alone knew the Saber and the Sword’s secret. Before her death, the Senior had spent considerable amount of effort to find the precious Tulong Saber, but she had not succeeded. On her death bed she passed on this secret to my ‘en shi’ [benevolent master], Feng Ling Shitai. Upon receiving Zushi’s commandment, my ‘en shi’ also looked for the Tulong Saber, but to no avail. In turn when she died she passed on this Sword and Guo Zushi’s commandment to me.

It was not too long after I took over the Sect Leader position of our school when your Shibo [martial (older) uncle] Gu Hongzi made an appointment for a martial arts match with a young master from the Devil Cult. They agreed to fight one-on-one, not allowing anybody to receive help from anybody else. Your Shibo knew that although his opponent was young, his martial art skill was actually very profound. Thereupon he came to me to borrow the Yitian Sword.”

As Zhou Zhiruo heard the phrase ‘a young master from the Devil Cult’ she could not help her heart thump madly, and her face involuntarily blushed; but she immediately remembered, “It was not him, I am afraid at that time he was not even born yet.”

Meanwhile Miejue Shitai continued, “At that time I wanted to go along and help him, but your Shibo insisted that he wanted to keep the good faith; saying he stated clearly with that devil-head that no third-party participation was allowed; therefore, he was firm in not letting me go along. In that martial art match your Shibo’s skill was certainly not below his opponent; but because the devil-head employed a dirty trick, in the end he managed to land a palm on your Shibo’s chest and snatched away the Yitian Sword before it even came out of its sheathe.”

“Ah!” Zhou Zhiruo exclaimed, remembering how Zhang Wuji snatched away the Sword from Miejue’s hand on the Brightness Peak.

Her Shifu continued, “That devil-head laughed coldly several times and said ‘What a big reputation Yitian Sword has! In my eyes it is no different that scrap copper and rusty iron!’ Casually he threw the Sword to the ground and swaggered away. Your Shibo picked the Sword up and went back to the mountain to return it to me. Who would have thought that because of his proud character, the more he thought about the lost, the more he was grieved. He only managed to take a three-day journey when he caught an illness along the way and was not able to get up again. The Yitian Sword fell into the hands of the local authorities who in turn presented it to the royal government. Do you know who was this evil disciple of the Devil Cult who angered your Shibo Gu Hongzi to his death?”

“No …” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “I wonder who that was?”

“It was he who later on harmed your Shijie Ji Xiaofu; that devil-head Yang Xiao!” Miejue Shitai replied.

Right at that moment Lu Zhangke banged the door and shouted, “Are you done talking? I can’t wait much longer!”

“Don’t be impatient,” Miejue Shitai said, “We will be done very soon.” Quietly to Zhou Zhiruo she said, “We don’t have much time; we can’t talk too much. This Yitian Sword was later on granted by the Tartar Emperor to the Ruyang Prince so I went to the Ruyang Palace to steal it back. It is so unfortunate that by an evil plot the Sword has fallen into the hand of the Devil Cult.”

“No, it was that Miss Zhao who stole it,” Zhou Zhiruo said. Miejue Shitai stared at her and said, “This surnamed Zhao girl is obviously in cohort with that Cult Leader of the Devil Cult. Don’t tell me that up to this point you still don’t believe your Shifu?”

In all honesty it was hard for Zhou Zhiruo to believe her; but she did not want to argue with her master. Miejue Shitai continued, “I have a strong reason why I want you to take over the Sect Leader position. This time I fall into the crafty villains’ hands, my reputation is falling down the drain; I do not want to get out of this Pagoda alive. That lecherous man surnamed Zhang has dirty thoughts toward you, but I believe he won’t harm your life. You may pretend to get close to him, and then seize the opportunity to take back the Yitian Sword. The Tulong Saber is in the hand of his foster father, that wicked bandit Xie Xun. This kid will not reveal Xie Xun’s whereabouts no matter what; but I know there is one person in this world who will be able to get this Saber.”

Zhou Zhiruo knew her Shifu was talking about her; she was startled and shy, and happy but scared at the same time.

Mie Jue Shitai said, “That person is you. I want you to use your beauty to obtain the treasured sword. I know this is not a very chivalrous thing to do, but for an important matter I don’t want to worry about little things. Just think about it: presently the Yitian Sword is in that surnamed Zhao girl, while the Tulong Saber is in that wicked bandit Xie Xun’s hand. Both have close relationship with him. If by any chance he acquires both the Sword and the Saber, and if by chance he obtains Guo Daxia’s military strategy and martial arts manual; then it will be catastrophic for the common people. I don’t know how many innocent people in the world will lost their lives, families will be broken, not to mention the great undertaking of driving out the Tartars will be more difficult to accomplish. Zhiruo, I know perfectly well that this matter is too difficult, in all honesty I don’t want you to bear it; but what is the purpose of us training martial arts all our lives? Zhiruo, I beseech you for the sake of the common people in the world.” Speaking thus, she suddenly stood up, and then bent her knees and bowed in front of Zhou Zhiruo. To say that Zhou Zhiruo was mildly shocked is certainly an understatement; she hastily knelt down and called out, “Shifu! Shifu! You …”

“Quiet!” Miejue Shitai said, “Don’t let the wicked bandit outside hear. Do you agree? If you don’t, I won’t get up.”

Zhou Zhiruo was utterly confused; in just a short moment her Shifu had just asked of her three very difficult matters. The first was to make the heavy oath that she would not to fall in live with Zhang Wuji, the second was for her to take over the Sect Leader position; afterwards she wanted her to utilize her beauty to entice Zhang Wuji to obtain the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword. Each one of these three might take her ten years to decide. Based on her gentle and warm character, chances are she would not agree to any of them, much less she was given just a short time to accept. Her head was spinning and she passed out, losing her consciousness completely.

Suddenly feeling a sharp pain on her upper lip she opened her eyes and saw her Shifu was still kneeling in front of her. Crying she said, “Shifu, please get up.”

“Do you agree to my request, then?” Miejue Shitai asked.

Bursting into tears Zhou Zhiruo did not have any choice but nodding her head; she almost fainted again. Miejue Shitai grabbed her hands and in a low voice said, “After obtaining the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword, here is how you’ll get the secret inside: With one hand holding the Saber and the other the Sword, exert your internal energy and strike the Saber and the Sword to each other. Both the Sword and the Saber will break simultaneously, and then take the secret scrolls from inside the Saber’s body and the Sword’s blade. This is the only way to take the secret out of those precious Sword and Saber, and to destroy them at the same time. Do you understand?” She spoke in low voice, but her tone was very urgent.

Zhou Zhiruo nodded her head. Miejue Shitai continued, “This is our Sect’s greatest secret; ever since Guo Daxia husband and wife passed it on to our Sect’s Guo Zushi, only the Sect Leaders of our school are aware of it. To think that the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword are weapons with matchless sharpness, let’s just say that someone getting hold of these precious sword and saber at the same time; who would dare to strike the Sword and the Saber to each other and thus risking the destruction of these valuable weapons? After you obtain the military strategy book, go and find a good and honest warrior, a patriot who is undoubtedly loyal to the country; give the book to him, tell him to make an oath to drive the invaders away. Take the martial arts manual and train yourself in it. The Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palm is a pure positive, hard and ferocious technique; it is not suitable for you. You may learn the Nine Yin Manual. According to my ‘en shi’ [benevolent master], Guo Zushi said that the original Nine Yin Manual was so broad and deep that it would be impossible to master it in a short period of time. But Huang Nuxia had thought that obliterating the Tartar’s fierce and ruthless government is an urgent matter; accomplishing it one day sooner means sparing the common people one less day of suffering. For that reason among the secrets inside the Yitian Sword she had written some chapters that can be learned intensively. However, after the important matter is accomplished, you must go back and revisit the prescribed path to strengthen your foundation. Those intensive courses can only be used temporarily. It was created from Huang Nuxia’s profound intelligence and wisdom to provide a quick fix. It is by no means a true matchless-under-the heaven’s martial art method. You have to keep this firmly in your mind.”

Zhou Zhiruo nodded her head absentmindedly. Miejue Shitai continued, “Our Sect has two greatest desires: the first is to drive out the Tartars and get our mountains and rivers back; the second is to make Emei Pai the leader in the martial arts world, surpassing Shaolin, Wudang, and the other schools, to become the Number One Sect in the Wulin world of the Central Plains [zhong yuan]. These two goals are very difficult to achieve; but now we have a way. As long as you comply with your Shifu’s injunction, you can achieve it one by one. At that time your Shifu in the next world will be very grateful to you.”

As she finished speaking Lu Zhangke again knocked on the door. “Come in!” Miejue Shitai said. The door opened and to their surprise instead of Lu Zhangke it was Ku Toutuo who walked in. Miejue Shitai did not think differently; she thought these people were the jackals from the same lair anyway, so whoever came in did not make any difference. “Please take this child out,” she said. She was not willing to commit suicide in Zhou Zhiruo’s presence, to spare her from grieving.

Ku Toutuo came closer and in a low voice he said, “This is the antidote; take it quick. As soon as you hear commotion outside, everybody get out and join hands to kill the enemy.”

Miejue Shitai was surprised. “Who are you, Sire?” she asked, “Why are you giving the antidote to me?”

“I am the Ming Cult’s ‘guang ming you shi’ [Brightness Right Emissary] Fan Yao,” Ku Toutuo replied, “I managed to steal the antidote and come here to rescue Shitai.”

“Devil Cult traitor!” Miejue Shitai was angry, “You still want to play joke on me!”

Fan Yao smiled and said, “All right! Let’s just say I am playing a joke on you. This is a poison to add the effectiveness of the poison in your system. Do you have the guts to take it? Once it goes into your belly, within a couple of hours your intestines will ruptured and you will die miserably.”

Without saying anything Miejue Shitai reached out into his hand, took the powder, and swallowed it.

“Shifu … Shifu …” Zhou Zhiruo called out in alarm.

“Quiet!” Fan Yao said, stretching out his other hand, “You must also take this poison.”

Zhou Zhiruo was shocked, but Fan Yao had already grabbed her cheeks and poured the powder in her mouth, followed by a cup of water; very soon the powder had entered her throat.

Miejue Shitai was shocked too; she thought with Zhou Zhiruo’s death her meticulously planned scheme would go down the drain. Disregarding her own safety she threw herself with an open palm toward Fan Yao. Unfortunately her internal energy was lost; although her palm technique was exquisite, but it was devoid of any strength. With only a light push Fan Yao sent her body flying to the wall.

Fan Yao laughed and said, “All Shaolin monks and all Wudang heroes have taken my poison. Whether our Ming Cult is good or evil, you’ll find out really soon.” With a big laugh he turned around, went out the room and slammed the door closed.

When Zhao Min took Fan Yao for a rendezvous with Zhang Wuji, his mind was still fully occupied by how to steal the antidote. As soon as Zhao Min told him to wait in the outer hall of that small restaurant, he left immediately, rushing toward the Wan An Temple, straight to the Pagoda. When he reached the tenth floor, he saw Wuwang Apu was standing on guard in front of his own room. As Wuwang Apu saw Fan Yao, he greeted him respectfully, “Ku Dashi.”

Fan Yao nodded while laughing in his heart. “Good!” he thought, “The Old Lu disregards the honor of his own school; he is hiding inside, having a good time with Wangye’s [Prince, lit. King Master] beloved concubine, while he orders his disciple to guard the door. I’d better rush in and seize the antidote while this old man is doing the Heaven-knows-what.” Slanting his body sideways he slipped through Wuwang Apu’s side and suddenly stretched out his finger, sealing the acupoint on Wuwang Apu’s lower abdomen.

It would still be very difficult for him to avoid this attack even if he was completely alert not to mention Wuwang Apu was taken by surprise. Once his acupoint was sealed, his body went numb and he was paralyzed. Inwardly he was feeling very strange; when did he offend this mute Toutuo? Could it be that his ‘Ku Dashi’ greeting just a moment ago was not respectful enough?

Fan Yao shoved the door open and quick as lightning he plunged into the bed. Before his feet even touched the floor his palm had already struck toward someone on the bed. He fully realized the level of Lu Zhangke’s martial art skill; if he failed to inflict serious injury with this one palm strike, then it would not be easy to determine victory or defeat in a life and death fight, hence he had exerted his whole strength in this one strike.

“Splat!” the quilt burst open; cotton fibers flew everywhere. Fan Yao opened the cotton-waded quilt and as he looked, he saw Concubine Han with blood coming out of her mouth and nose. She was as dead as a jade statue. But Lu Zhangke’s shadow was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly Fan Yao got an idea; he turned around and went out the room. He pulled Wuwang Apu inside and stuffed him underneath the bed. He had just closed the door when he heard Lu Zhangke’s angry voice outside, “Apu! Apu! How dare you leave your post?”

Turned out Lu Zhangke had been waiting outside Miejue Shitai for quite a while; he wondered how long these mother and daughter would fussily talk to each other. He did not dare to offend Ku Toutuo, so he did not dare to crash in. His heart wandered toward Concubine Han and he missed her already; thereupon he returned to Wuwang Apu’s room, only to see that his always-obedient main disciple was unexpectedly not guarding outside the door. He was really angry. Shoving the door open he was relieved not to see anything unusual. Concubine Han was still lying on the bed facing inward, her body was still covered by the cotton quilt.

Lu Zhangke bolted the door behind him before turning around and smiled, “Pretty girl, I am going to unseal your acupoint, but you must not make any noise.” While speaking he stretched out his hand toward the bedding, his finger aimed toward Concubine Han’s spine. Suddenly a strong hand, with its five fingers as hard as a pair of iron pliers, grabbed the main artery on his wrist; at once his body weakened, not a bit of strength was left in his body. He saw from the cotton quilt a head covered in long hair came out; it was none other than Ku Toutuo. With his right hand Fan Yao held tight Lu Zhangke’s main artery, while at the same time his left hand moved like the wind, sealing nineteen major acupoints all over Lu Zhangke’s body. Lu Zhangke was paralyzed; he lay on the floor with his eyes full of anger. Fan Yao pointed his finger to him and said, “The Old Man here has never changed his surname, nor has he changed his name. I am the Ming Cult’s Right Emissary of the Brightness; surnamed Fan, given name Yao. Today you have fallen into my hand. You are always proud of your peerless intelligence, but you are actually a stupid and useless man. If I kill you now, I am neither a hero nor a real man; therefore, I am going to spare your life. If you have the ability, look for Fan Yao to seek your revenge in the future.”

He was not done yet; he stripped Lu Zhangke naked and lay him down next to Concubine Han’s dead body, and then he covered both people, one dead the other alive, under the cotton quilt. Now at last he took the antler staff, unscrewed the tip of the antler to get the antidote; and then went to the prisoners’ room one by one to distribute the antidote to Kong Wen Dashi, Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, and the others. In doing so he had spent a lot of time; especially since he had to explain everything to the prisoners again and again. Finally he reached Miejue Shitai’s room, and when she did not believe it was the real antidote, he bluffed her by saying it was another poison. Fan Yao hated her for killing so many of his Ming Cult brethrens, so if he could hurt her some, he was very pleased.

Finished distributing the antidote Fan Yao felt very pleased of himself, but suddenly he heard clamoring noise of people shouting outside the Pagoda; among those people He Biweng’s voice was the loudest, “This Ku Toutuo is a spy, get him down here, quick!”

Fan Yao groaned inwardly, “This is bad, really bad!” he thought, “Who helped this fellow out?” Poking his head outside he saw He Biweng leading a large number of warriors surrounding the Pagoda.

As they saw Ku Toutuo’s head, Sun Sanhui and Li Sicui shot their arrows while cursing, “Wicked thief Toutuo, you harmed us really bad!” Actually, when He Biweng and the other two’s acupoints were sealed, they should not be able to get out of trouble for a while; moreover, they were hidden inside Lu Zhangke’s room, so normally nobody would dare to rashly go in. Who would have thought that Ruyang Palace dispatched a lot of warriors everywhere, including to the Wan An Temple. When they failed to see the Prince’s beloved concubine’s track, someone remembered Lu Zhangke’s lecherous nature. But these warriors were always afraid of him; although they suspected the missing of the Prince’s beloved concubine was somewhat related to him, who would dare treading on a tiger’s head by offending him? After contemplating for a long time, the captain of the guards, Captain Ha, finally made up his mind. He sent a low ranking soldier to knock on Lu Zhangke’s door; he figured out that a person of his rank, although Lu Zhangke was angry, he would not stoop so low as to harm this lowly soldier.

The soldier knocked on the door several times, but nobody answered. Captain Ha clenched his teeth and ordered the soldier to just shove the door open and take a look. To their surprise they saw He Biweng, Sun Sanhui and Li Sicui were lying on the floor. By this time He Biweng had managed to circulate his internal energy, trying to unseal his acupoints. He had unsealed three, four passages; and then Captain Ha helped him unseal the rest. Very soon he was able to move about freely.

He Biweng’s anger had reached the heaven; he inquired about Lu Zhangke and Ku Toutuo’s whereabouts and was told that they went to the Pagoda. Thereupon he led the warriors to surround the Pagoda and then shouted loudly, calling Ku Toutuo to go down and fight to the death.

Fan Yao was secretly alarmed, “Fight to the death then fight to the death, do you think the one surnamed Fan is scared of you?” he thought, “Only these stinky monks and old nun have not taken the antidote for too long; they will still need about one and a half hour to recover their internal strengths. This He Biweng has heard my conversation with Lu Zhangke; although I kill the old Lu, I still cannot close his mouth. What should I do?” At a loss of what to do Fan Yao paced back and forth for a while. He Biweng called out again, “Deserve-to-die Toutuo, if you don’t get down, I am going up!”

Fan Yao returned to the room to get Lu Zhangke and Concubine Han who were still bundled inside the cotton quilt; he brought them to the railings and lifted them high in the air. “Old He!” he called out, “If you come near the gate even for one step, I am going to throw this old lecher Lu down.”

The warriors were carrying torches high in their hands, which made the surrounding area as bright as day; but the Pagoda was too tall that the light could not reach Fan Yao. However, in spite of the dim light they could still recognize Lu Zhangke and Concubine Han’s faces.

He Biweng was greatly shocked. “Shige [martial (older) brother], Shige, are you all right?” he called out. After calling out several times without hearing Lu Zhangke’s reply, he started to think that his Shige was killed by Ku Toutuo. “Thief Toutuo, you killed my Shige. I swear I won’t live on the same earth as you do.”

Fan Yao unsealed Lu Zhangke’s mute acupoint. Immediately Lu Zhangke shot some abusive words, “Thief Toutuo, you are the enemy’s spy! I am going to cut you into thousand pieces …” Fan Yao let him shout curses for a while before sealing his mute acupoint again.

Seeing his martial brother did not die, He Biweng was somewhat relieved; he was afraid Ku Toutuo would really throw his martial brother down, so he did not dare to come near the gate.

This deadlock situation dragged for quite a while; He Biweng did not dare to rescue his martial brother, while Fan Yao only hoped to gain as much time as possible. Half an hour by half an hour passed by, Fan Yao stood by the railings and laughed loudly, calling out, “Old He, your Shixiong [martial brother] has such nerve that he dared to kidnap the Prince’s beloved concubine. I caught them red-handed and captured them on the spot. You are still thinking of protecting your Shixiong? Captain, Sire, quickly arrest this old man. These two martial brothers are staging a rebellion, committing a capital crime. If you arrest him, I am sure the Prince will heap you with rewards.”

Captain Ha cast a sidelong glance toward He Biweng; he wanted to take an action, but lack the courage to do so. He felt strange to suddenly see Ku Toutuo open his mouth and speak, but the evidence in front of his eyes was that Lu Zhangke and Concubine Han were wrapped together in one cotton quilt. Besides, he had already had some previous suspicions, so in his heart was 90% believed what Fan Yao said. “Ku Dashi, please get down,” he loudly called out, “Let us go together to the Prince and sort this thing out. The three of you are senior masters, Xiao Ren [lit. little/lowly person] does not dare to offend any of you.”

Fan Yao was very bold and he thought that while he went to the Prince’s palace to sort out right from wrong, the prisoners would have had enough time to recover from their poisoning. “Wonderful! Wonderful!” he called out immediately, “I am just about to go to Wangye to receive the reward. Captain, Sir! Please look after this Old Man He, don’t ever let him escape!”

While he was still speaking suddenly they heard sound of hoof beats, a rider was coming fast toward the temple, straight to the Pagoda. The surrounding warriors immediately bowed to pay their respect, “Xiao Wangye! [Young Prince]” they greeted.

From the Pagoda looking down Fan Yao saw that the crown on this person’s head glittered under the flame light. When he was dismounting from a big and tall white horse, Fan Yao noticed that that person was wearing an embroidered gown. He was none other than the Ruyang Prince’s crown prince, Kuku Temur, whose Chinese name was Wang Baobao.

“Where is Concubine Han?” in stern voice Wang Baobao asked, “Fuwang [father king] is extremely angry; he ordered me to come over and investigate.”

Captain Ha stepped forward to give his report; he said that Lu Zhangke and Concubine Han did indeed in the temple and were currently in Ku Toutuo’s hands. He Biweng hastily said, “Xiao Wangye, don’t listen to this rubbish; that Toutuo is a spy, he frames my Shige …”

Wang Baobao raised his eyebrows and called out, “All of you, get down here to talk!”

Fan Yao had been serving in the palace for a long time, he knew Wang Baobao was very astute and competent; he was not inferior to his father. Fan Yao might be able to deceive others, but it would be difficult to hide the truth from this young prince. If he went down, the young prince might be able to see through his scheme in just a few sentences. Then if the young prince ordered the warriors to besiege him, He Biweng alone would give him enough trouble, making it difficult to escape, not to mention rescuing the imprisoned heroes on the Pagoda. In loud voice he said, “Xiao Wangye, I have Lu Zhangke in my hand. His Shidi [martial (younger) brother] hates me to the bones. If I came down, he would surely kill me.”

“Just get down quickly, Mr. He will not kill you,” Wang Baobao said.

Fan Yao shook his head and shouted, “It is still safer for me to stay on this Pagoda. Xiao Wangye, for all my life Ku Toutuo has never spoken; today the circumstance has forced me to open my mouth. I am doing it all to repay Wangye’s kindness to me. If you don’t believe me, Ku Toutuo would rather jump into the ground to meet my death to show my loyalty to you.”

Listening to him, Wang Baobao knew that 70, 80% of what he said was nonsense; so it was obvious that he was trying to stall. In a low voice Wang Baobao asked Captain Ha, “What conspiracy is he in? He is deliberately stalling. Is he waiting for someone to come?”

“Xiao Ren does not know …” Captain Ha replied.

“Xiao Wangye,” He Biweng cut him off, “This bandit Toutuo has stolen my Shige’s antidote; he must be planning on rescuing the rebels imprisoned in the Pagoda. Wnag Baobao realized it immediately. “Ku Dashi,” he called out, “I know your loyalty. Quickly get down here; I am going to heap rewards on you.”

“My legs were kicked by Lu Zhangke earlier,” Fan Yao said, “Both legs are broken. I must not move now. Xiao Wangye, please wait a moment, as soon as I can move, I’ll come down immediately.”

“Captain Ha,” Wang Baobao barked his order, “Send some men to go up and carry Ku Dashi down.”

“No, no,” Fan Yao said, “As soon as I move, my two legs will be crippled.”

This time Wang Baobao did not have any suspicion anymore. With his own eyes he saw Concubine Han and Lu Zhangke were wrapped together inside the cotton quilt. Even if there was nothing going on between the two, he was certain his father king would not want to have Concubine Han anymore. In a low voice he said, “Captain Ha, set the Pagoda on fire. Set your men around with their bows and arrows. Whoever jumps down from the Pagoda, shoot him dead.”

Captain Ha complied; he passed the order around. His archers surrounded the Pagoda with bows and arrows, ready to shoot; while the other warriors spread around to gather firewood and grass to light up the fire.

He Biweng was shocked. “Xiao Wangye,” he called out, “My Shige is up there.”

Wang Baobao coldly said, “This Toutuo can’t stay up there forever; as soon as the Pagoda is on fire, he will come down.”

He Biweng called out, “What if he throw my Shige down? Xiao Wangye, please don’t light the fire.”

“Humph,” Wang Baobao snorted, ignoring his plea.

A short moment later the warriors had gathered enough kindling material and they set the Pagoda on fire.

He Biweng had always enjoyed good reputation in the Wulin world; even when he entered the service in the Ruyang Palace he had always been highly revered. Unexpectedly today not only he had fallen into Ku Toutuo’s sinister plot, he was also ignored by the Young Prince. Seeing his martial brother in grave danger he did not care anymore whether it was the ‘Xiao Wangye’ or the ‘Da Wangye’ [lit. old king master]. Raising his pair of crane-beak pens he charged toward the warriors who were lighting the fire. ‘Bang, bang!’ two warriors were thrown away.

Wang Baobao was very angry. “Mister He,” he shouted, “Are you defying my command?”

“If you did not set the Pagoda on fire, I would not dare to defy your command,” He Biweng replied.

“Set the fire!” Wang Baobao shouted. With a wave of his left hand five foreign monk wearing red robes jumped from behind his back; they snatched away the torches from the warriors’ hands and tossed them to the firewood and grass on the base of the Pagoda. As soon as the kindling material was lit, the fire was raging wild.

He Biweng was very anxious. He snatched a spear from a warrior’s hand and frantically beat the wood and grass, trying to extinguish the fire.

“Arrest him!” Wang Baobao shouted.

Those five foreign monks in red unsheathed their sabers and surround He Biweng immediately. He Biweng was very angry; he dropped the spear and snatched the saber of a foreign monk to his left. Eluding his hand the foreign monk flipped the saber over and hacked his shoulder. He Biweng moved sideways to elude, while from behind came a gust of saber wind; as a result two sabers struck each other.

There were a total of eighteen foreign monks with high level of martial art under Wang Baobao’s command; they were known as the ‘Shi Ba Jin Gang’ [eighteen Buddha’s warrior attendants], consisted of Five Sabers, Five Swords, Four Staves, and Four Cymbals. These five monks were the ‘Five- Saber Buddha’s Warriors’. Each one of them alone was far below He Biweng in term of martial art level; however, with five of them fighting together, they complement each other in defense and offense. Furthermore, He Biweng’s martial art level was high, but Zhang Wuji struck him until he vomited some blood the previous day; his internal energy suffered serious damage. On top of everything right in front of his eyes the fire was raging wild, his martial brother was in a precarious condition; unavoidably he could not keep himself calm and steady. As a result, it was difficult for him to score a quick victory.

In the meantime, Wang Baobao’s subordinates kept adding wood and grass to make the fire even bigger. The Pagoda was constructed of brick and wood. Very soon the first several lower floors were starting to burn. Fan Yao dropped Lu Zhangke and dashed toward the room in which the Wudang heroes were imprisoned. “The Tartars are burning the Pagoda,” he called out, “Has everybody’s internal energy recovered?” But Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou and the others were still sitting cross-legged, cultivating their internal energy in full concentration. Nobody replied; apparently they were at a critical moment of their recovery process.

Several guards came to attack him. Fan Yao struck and grabbed them one by one; throwing them to their death at the bottom of the Pagoda. The rest of the guards scrambled downstairs over the fire, trying to save themselves.

A moment later the fire had reached the fourth floor, where the people from Huashan Pai were being imprisoned. They did not have time to wait for the recovery of their internal energy; in this dangerous situation everybody fled to the fifth floor. But the fire kept creeping upward to the fifth floor, causing the Kongtong Pai people also ran to the sixth floor. Some were rather slow, resulting in their clothes to catch fire. Fan Yao was at a loss.

Suddenly he heard someone calling out, “Fan Yaoshi [Right Emissary Fan], catch!” It was Wei Yixiao’s voice. Fan Yao was greatly delighted; looking toward the direction of the voice he saw Wei Yixiao was standing at the rooftop of a big building behind the Wan An Temple. Wei Yixiao swung his arms to throw a long rope toward Fan Yao and Fan Yao caught it.

“Tie it on the railings, we’ll make a rope bridge,” Wei Yixiao called out.

Fan Yao had just tied the rope to the railings when ‘swish!’ Zhao Yishang of the ‘Shen Jian Ba Xiong’ [Eight Divine Archers] shot an arrow and cut the rope. Simultaneously Fan Yao and Wei Yixiao opened their mouths to curse; they knew that if they want to build a rope bridge, they would have to get rid of these Eight Divine Archers.

“Shoot your granny,” Wei Yixiao cursed, “If that one does not drop his bow and arrow, the Old Man will butcher him first.” While cursing he drew his sword and jumped down.

His feet were barely touching the ground when five foreign monks wearing dark green robes surrounded him with swords in their hands. They were the ‘Five-Sword Buddha Warriors’ from the ‘Eighteen Buddha Warriors’ under Wang Baobao’s command. The swords in their hands glittered, their sword moves were strange; and they attacked Wei Yixiao together.

He Biweng brandished his pair or crane-beak pens, fighting a fierce battle. “Xiao Wangye,” he loudly called out, “If you don’t order your men to put off the fire, don’t blame me for being impolite to you.”

Wang Baobao did not pay any attention to him. Four foreign monks with long Buddhist staves in their hands stood around the Young Prince, guarding him from any possible sneak attack.

He Biweng’s anxiety rose up; his double-pen suddenly moved in ‘heng sao qian jun’ [sweeping a thousand soldiers], forcing the three foreign monks in front of him to retreat two steps. He Biweng anxiously rushed toward the Pagoda. The five foreign monks ran after him. He Biweng’s feet kicked the ground and he flew to the eaves of the first floor. Seeing the fire was raging wild, the five foreign monks did not pursue.

He Biweng jumped from floor to floor. When he reached the eaves of the fourth floor Fan Yao poked out his head from the seventh floor; lifting high Lu Zhangke’s body he loudly called out, “Old He, stop! If you move one more step, I am going to throw the Old Lu down, let him become deer mince meat.” [Translator’s note: the ‘Lu’ of Lu Zhangke means ‘deer’]

He Biweng obediently did not dare to move again. “Ku Dashi,” he called out, “We, martial brothers, have never offended you in the past, we still don’t have any enmity against you today, why do you make things difficult for us? If you want to save your old sweetheart Miejue Shitai and your beloved daughter Miss Zhou, then rescue them. I will not stop you.”

After taking the antidote from Ku Toutuo, Miejue Shitai thought that she had taken a poison and would die soon; but then Zhou Zhiruo had also taken the poison. Her lifetime hopes were shattered; how would her heart not bitter? While she was grieving suddenly she heard commotion at the base of the Pagoda; she heard Ku Toutuo and He Biweng’s argument, then she also heard Wang Baobao issued an order to set the Pagoda on fire. She heard it all, one by one, clearly. She felt strange, “Could it be that this devil- like Toutuo is really rescuing us?”

She thought she might as well try, whether good or bad. Immediately she felt warm energy flowing up from her ‘dan tian’ [pubic region]; which was different from when she was still under the influence of the poison. She would rather starve herself to death than obeying Zhao Min’s order to get out to the mail hall and contend in martial arts, as a result, she had been fasting for six, seven days. Her stomach was completely empty; therefore, as the antidote entered her belly, it rapidly entered the blood and neutralized the poison in her system. Her recovery was faster than everybody else. Furthermore, her internal energy was profound; it was even higher than Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, He Taichong and the others, perhaps it was somewhat inferior only to the Abbott of Shaolin Pai, Kong Wen Shen-seng [divine monk]. As the effect of the ‘Ten Fragrance Muscle-weaken Powder’ was gradually dispersed by the antidote, her own internal energy was able to push the toxicity away. In less than an hour later her internal energy had been recovered 50, 60%. She was still cultivating her internal energy intensively when suddenly from outside came He Biweng’s voice; each word was like an arrow piercing her ear, “…If you want to save your old sweetheart Miejue Shitai and your beloved daughter Miss Zhou, then rescue them. I will not stop you.”

How could she not get angry hearing this ‘Old Sweetheart’ and the other nonsense? In big strides she walked out of her room toward the railings. “What nonsense are you blabbering about? Such a dirty mouth!” she shouted angrily.

He Biweng looked at her imploringly, “Lao Shitai [Old Shitai], please tell your old … old friend to let my Shige down. I guarantee your family of three will be able to leave safely. Xuanming Elders always say one as one, two as two; in no way we will fail to keep our words.”

“What family of three?” Miejue Shitai asked angrily.

Although he was in a precarious situation, Fan Yao could not help to laugh aloud. Feeling very proud of himself he said, “Lao Shitai, this old man said I was your old sweetheart, and that Miss Zhou was our daughter.”

Miejue Shitai was really, really angry, that under the flickering light of the fire downstairs her face looked terrifying. “Old He,” she roared, “Come up here! I want to exchange a hundred palms with you before we talk again.”

If it was different time, when He Biweng was challenged to come up, he would come up; he was not scared of the Sect Leader of Emei. But this time his martial brother had fallen into the enemy’s hand; he did not dare to act recklessly. “Ku Toutuo,” he called out, “It was you who said that; I certainly would not talk irresponsibly.”

Miejue Shitai shifted her gaze toward Fan Yao and in stern voice she asked, “Did you say such thing?”

Fan Yao laughed heartily; he was about to take that opportunity to ridicule her when suddenly he heard loud shouts at the bottom of the Pagoda. He looked down and saw by the flames a shadow was dancing like a fluttering butterfly among the flowers. That shadow moved around the warriors and the foreign monks. ‘Bang! Clank! Clank! Bang! Clank! Clank!’ everywhere he went a weapon fell down to the ground. The Cult Leader Zhang Wuji had arrived.

Zhang Wuji attacked the five wielding-swords foreign monks who were surrounding Wei Yixiao; sending their swords flying high into the air. Wei Yixiao was delighted; like a flash of lightning he dashed toward Zhang Wuji. “I am going to set the Ruyang Palace on fire,” he said in a low voice.

Zhang Wuji nodded; he understood his intention. They had only a few people on their side; if they failed to rescue the masters of the Six Major Sects in a short period of time, the enemy might send more reinforcement. With the Green-winged Bat King went to set the Ruyang Palace on fire, the enemy would be forced, first and foremost, to protect the Prince. It was an excellent ‘luring the tiger out of the mountain’ or ‘removing firewood from under the pot’ plan.

Wei Yixiao’s dark green shadow flashed by and flew over the tall wall surrounding the Temple. Zhang Wuji looked around him to assess the situation. “Fan Youshi,” he called out loudly, “How are you?”

“It’s bad!” Fan Yao called back, “The escape route is completely on fire; we are trapped here.”

By this time, fourteen out of the eighteen foreign monks under Wang Baobao’s command had spread our and surrounded Zhang Wuji. Zhang Wuji thought that to defeat the enemy he had to capture the leader first; thereupon he turned his attention to that young Tartar prince wearing a golden helmet. If he could capture him, than he could force the Prince to order his people to put off the fire and release the prisoners. Immediately he leaned sideways and slipped from among the foreign monks; he went straight to Wang Baobao fast and fluid like a fish swimming in the water.

Suddenly out of the blue a sword came from his left side, the blade carried a cold gust of wind; in a flash the sword tip was moving toward his chest. Hastily Zhang Wuji drew a step backward, only to hear a woman’s voice said, “Zhang Gongzi, this is my brother. Don’t hurt him.”

The sword in her hand moved in graceful and elegant way; the blade was colder than water. It was the Yitian sword; a sword as beautiful as a flower. The bearer was of course Zhao Min. She hastily followed Zhang Wuji, it was just that she was a bit slower.

Zhang Wuji said, “Please order your people to put out the fire and let the people go; otherwise I will not be polite toward the two of you.”

Zhao Min called out, “Shiba Jin Gang, this man’s martial art is high; all Jin Gang are to fight him together.”

Those eighteen foreign monks had just suffered under Zhang Wuji’s hand; they did not need their Junzhu [Princess] to remind them. They knew their opponent was fierce. ‘Bang! Bang!’ the eight copper cymbals in the Four- Cymbal Buddha Warriors’ hands crashed together. Eighteen foreign monks moved together in front of Wang Baobao and Zhao Min, separating them from Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji took a glance; he saw eighteen foreign monks walked in circle around him. Their footwork was strange, eighteen people formed a human wall; apparently their movement contained many changes. His interest was piqued; he wanted to see if he could break this ‘Jin Gang Zhen’ [Buddha Warrior Formation]. But right at that moment a loud bang was heard, one of the big pillars on the Pagoda broke and fell down. Turning his head around he saw the fire had reached the seventh floor. Amidst the blood-red flickering tongues of fire two people were engaged in an intense battle; they were Miejue Shitai and He Biweng. Looking further up he saw the corridor by the railings of the tenth floor was full of people; they were the masters from Shaolin, Wudang, and the other Sects. Their martial arts were not recovered yet; but even if they were, the Pagoda was over ten ‘zhang’s tall [over 100 feet tall], even if their internal energy and qing gong [lightness skill] were not the slightest bit lost, they would certainly plunge to their deaths if they jumped down.

An idea came into Zhang Wuji’s mind; he pondered over it for a moment, “I can’t possibly break this Jin Gang Zhen in a short period of time. Even if I did, the other warriors are certainly going to attack me. It won’t be easy to capture Miss Zhao’s brother. Miejue Shitai has been fighting He Biweng all this time without showing any sign of defeat. It appears that her internal energy has already been restored. Then Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle] and the others must also be recovered. Only the Pagoda is too high, they are unable to jump down.”

As soon as his mind was made, he moved around the courtyard in lightning fast speed; his hands struck and snatched, slapped and grabbed the Eight Divine Archers and the warriors around the Pagoda. He either knocked down the bows and arrows from their hands, or sealed their acupoints. In a short moment there was no one standing with neither bow nor arrow around the Pagoda. “Seniors on the Pagoda!” he called out, “Please jump down! I will catch you down here.”

The people on the Pagoda were stunned; they thought, ‘This Pagoda was over ten ‘zhang’s tall, the force of their bodies falling down would be tremendous, although you have thousand catties strength, how could you catch us?’ Immediately some people from Kongtong, Kunlun and some other Sects blurted out, “Surely we cannot jump down; don’t listen to this kid! He wants to deceive us so that we will meet our cruel deaths.”

Zhang Wuji saw the smoke and fire filled the air, it almost reached near the place where those masters were standing. If they did not jump soon, they would inevitably become barbequed meat. Raising his voice he shouted, “Yu Erbo [second martial (older) uncle], your kindness to me is like a mountain, do you think Xiao Zhi [little nephew] would deliberately harm you? Why don’t you jump first?”

Yu Lianzhou trusted ZhangWuji completely; besides, he thought that although his martial art skill was stronger, he would still not be able to save himself. Therefore, rather than being burned to death, wouldn’t it be better to plunge to death? “All right!” he called out, “I’ll jump down!” Without hesitation he jumped from the Pagoda down to the ground.

Zhang Wuji’s eyes followed his uncle closely; he waited until they were about five feet apart before his palm gently patted his uncle’s waist. In this one palm he had unleashed the ultimate power of the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ [the great shifting and moving of the universe]; by absorbing and releasing energy he dispersed the falling down momentum from top to bottom to from left to right, and thus sending Yu Lianzhou flying horizontally several feet to the side. By that time his internal energy had been recovered 70, 80%; flipping his body midair he landed steadily on the ground. In one fluid motion his palm struck a Mongolian warrior that he spurted blood from his mouth.

“Da Shige [first martial (older) brother], Si Shidi! [fourth martial (younger) brother],” he loudly called out, “Jump down!”

The people on the Pagoda cheered as they saw Yu Lianzhou land safely on the ground. Out of his deep love toward his son, Song Yuanqiao wanted him to jump down first. “Qingshu,” he said, “You jump down!”

Ever since they came out of their prisons, Song Qingshu had always been standing up next to Zhou Zhiruo. “Miss Zhou,” he said, “Quickly jump down.”

Zhou Zhiruo’s internal strength had not been recovered yet; she was unable to help her master, yet she was unwilling to escape alone. Hearing Song Qingshu, she shook her head and said, “I am going to wait for Shifu!”

By this time He Taichong, Ban Shuxian, and the others had jumped down one after another; they were all intercepted by Zhang Wuji using the marvelous power of the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ to the fullest; breaking the vertical force of the drop, turning it horizontally, delivering them all one by one from danger.

These people’s internal energy had not been fully recovered yet, but although their strength was only 50, 60% of their normal level, they had already given the foreign monks and the warriors a lot of trouble. Yu Lianzhou and the others snatched some weapons and they formed a fence around Zhang Wuji.

Wang Baobao’s and Zhao Min’s subordinates were trying to stop Zhang Wuji, but Yu Lianzhou, He Taichong, Ban Shuxian and the others blocked them. One more person jumped down from the Pagoda meant one more person was protecting Zhang Wuji. Ever since these people were being held captives by Zhao Min, they had suffered innumerable humiliations and a lot of them even lost their fingers. This time they were freed from their bondage, all of them were staking whatever they have, venting their anger. In a short moment the ground around the Pagoda was littered by more than twenty warriors’ corpses.

Seeing the unfavorable situation, Wang Baobao issued an order, “Get my special archer force over here!”

Captain Ha was just turning his body around to carry out the Young Prince’s order when he saw the sky toward the southeast corner was bright with fire. He was shocked and immediately called out, “Xiao Wangye, the Palace is on fire! We must hurry to save Wangye!”

Wang Baobao was concerned over his father’s safety, he could not be bothered by catching or killing some rebelling thieves. “Meizi, [younger sister – term of endearment]” he hastily said, “I am going back to the Palace. You must be careful!” Without waiting for Zhao Min to answer he turned his horse around and galloped away to the exit.

As Wang Baobao left, the Eighteen Buddha Warriors followed; as did most of the palace guards. They saw the Palace was on fire and thought that a large number of rebels had attacked the Palace, they were very anxious; nobody guessed it was a trick played by Wei Yixiao, one person.

Meanwhile Song Qingshu, Song Yuanqiao, Zhang Songxi, Mo Shenggu, and the others had jumped down from the Pagoda. Very soon the situation was reversed, the warriors were outnumbered. A little later Kong Wen Fang Zhang [Abbot Kong Wen], Kong Zhi Dashi [Reverend Kong Zhi], as well as the senior monks from the Damo Hall and Luohan Hall had also jumped down. Zhao Min’s warriors lost any chance to gain victory.

Zhao Min thought that if they did not escape now, they would change from captors to captives. Therefore, immediately she issued an order, “Everybody, get out of Wan An Temple!” Turning toward Zhang Wuji she said, “At dusk tomorrow, I will be waiting for you to have some drinks. I hope you’ll come.”

Zhang Wuji was startled; but before he could answer Zhao Min flashed one of her captivating smiles, and hurriedly retreated toward the hall at the rear of the Wan An Temple.

He heard Fan Yao, still on top of the Pagoda, shouted loudly, “Miss Zhao, quickly jump! Your eyebrows are burned. You don’t want to jump, do you want to be a beautiful-woman charcoal?”

“I want to be with Shifu!” Zhou Zhiruo replied.

In the meantime, Miejue Shitai was still in fierce battle against He Biweng. When the floor they were on was burned down, they jumped to the higher floor. Very soon they were fighting in the room at the corner of the tenth floor. Her internal energy had not 100% recovered, but from the beginning she had disregarded her life by concentrating all her strength in offense without thinking about defense at all. On the other hand, He Biweng was first of all anxious over his martial brother’s safety, so he could not focus his attention to the battle. Secondly, his previous injury from Zhang Wuji’s palm had not been healed completely. Thirdly, he had just recovered from the poison administered by Fan Yao, plus his acupoints were sealed for quite a long time, his limbs were not as agile as at normal time. Therefore, the two of them fought for a long time without clear winner or loser. Miejue Shitai heard her disciple’s voice; “Zhiruo,” she called out, “Quickly jump down! Don’t mind me! This old thief has humiliated me too much, how can I let him live?”

He Biweng was groaning inwardly, he thought, “This old nun is disregarding her own life fighting me; while I must save my martial brother. Must I lose my life together with her in this hell hole?” He shouted loudly, “Miejue Shitai, it was Ku Toutuo who said that, what do I have to do with it?”

Miejue Shitai held her palm and turned around, “Stinky Toutuo, was it you who said all those crazy talk?” she asked Fan Yao.

Fan Yao was amused, he deliberately asked, “What crazy talk?” He wanted Miejue Shitai to say it with her own mouth, ‘He said that I am your old sweetheart, and that Zhou Zhiruo is our daughter.’ But how could she say such thing? However, hearing Fan Yao’s answer, Miejue Shitai knew He Biweng was telling the truth. She was so angry that her body trembled.

As Miejue Shitai was turning her back toward him, suddenly a burst of black smoke rolled in; He Biweng saw this was a good opportunity to launch a sneak attack. Thereupon amidst the smoke he launched a palm strike toward Miejue Shitai’s back.

Zhou Zhiruo and Fan Yao saw it clearly; they shouted together, “Shifu, watch out!” “Old Nun, watch out!”

Miejue Shitai quickly struck her left palm backward to counterattack, but He Biweng’s yin-yang palms had already arrived. Her left palm blocked He Biweng’s left palm, but her back was struck by his right-hand Xuanming Shen Zhang [Xuanming Divine Palm]. This Xuanming Divine Palm was the exact same palm he exchanged with Zhang Sanfeng at Mount Wudang a few years back. Miejue Shitai staggered; she almost fell down.

Zhou Zhiruo was greatly shocked; she rushed ahead to support her Shifu. Fan Yao was very angry; “Wicked despicable coward!” he roared, “You are not worthy to live!” Lifting the cotton quilt containing Lu Zhangke and Concubine Han, he threw the bundle down.

He Biweng loved his martial brother very much; without thinking he jumped, trying to catch the bundle, but it was already too far outside the Pagoda that He Biweng only managed to grab the corner of it. Because of the weight, He Biweng was also dragged down.

Zhang Wuji was standing at the base of the Pagoda. Because of the smoke, he could not see clearly the battle high on the Pagoda. He saw a big object followed by a man was falling down. He did not know what the bundle was, but amidst the smoke he saw vaguely there was somebody inside the bundle. He could see clearly however, that the man was He Biweng. He realized this man had caused him endless suffering, even his parents’ death was closely related to him. But in the end Zhang Wuji just could not bear to see him falling down to meet his cruel death. Immediately he flew up and with both palms he struck the bundle and He Biweng, sending each one of them flying about three ‘zhang’s to the right and to the left.

He Biweng flipped his body midair and landed on the ground. “Really dangerous!” he inwardly called out in alarm. Never in his life would he expect Zhang Wuji to render good for evil by saving his life. As he turned his head around to look for his martial brother he was shocked. Turned out Zhang Wuji’s palm strike had caused the bundle to burst open, throwing two naked bodies into a pile of burning wood. Lu Zhangke’s acupoints were still sealed; he was unable to move that his beard and hair was burned immediately.

“Shige!” He Biweng called out in panic and rushed toward the fire.

As he landed on the fire, before his feet were steady, Yu Lianzhou had called out, “Eat my palm!” followed by a left palm strike toward He Biweng’s shoulder.

He Biweng did not dare to block, he shrank his shoulder to evade. It seemed like Yu Lianzhou’s palm had lost its momentum, but as He Biweng’s shoulder shrunk, the palm followed and ‘slap!’ He Biweng was so much in pain that his forehead was drenched in cold sweats. Yet rescuing his martial brother was more important that ignoring the pain He Biweng hastily embraced Lu Zhangke and took him flying over the tall wall surrounding the temple.

At that moment a burning big pillar of the Pagoda fell down, crushing Concubine Han’s body and in a short moment her body was caught on fire. The people on the ground shouted repeatedly, “Quickly jump down! Quickly jump down!”

Fan Yao fled to the east and leaped to the west to avoid the fire. As the main pillars burned down, the bricks and tiles from the Pagoda started to fall down like rain. The Pagoda was starting to sway, looked like it would collapse anytime.

In stern voice Miejue Shitai said, “Zhiruo, jump down!” “Shifu, you jump first, then I’ll jump!” Zhou Zhiruo replied.

Miejue Shitai suddenly leaped and hacked Fan Yao’s left shoulder with her palm, while shouting, “The Devil Cult’s thief, I can’t let you go!”

Fan Yao let out a long laugh and jumped down. Zhang Wuji received him with a slap of his palm, let him gently landed on the ground.

“Fan Youshi,” Zhang Wuji praised him, “You have successfully accomplished a very difficult task!”

Fan Yao steadied his feet before answering, “If not because of Jiaozhu’s matchless skill, everybody would become roast pork on top of that Pagoda. Fan Yao’s way of handling affair was improper; what merit do I have?”

Miejue Shitai stretched out her arm to grab Zhou Zhiruo and take her jump down. When she was about a little over a ‘zhang’ away from the ground, she sent all her strength to her arms and threw Zhou Zhiruo several feet upward. That way she broke the momentum of Zhou Zhiruo’s fall that she only had about a ‘zhang’ to fall to the ground, while at the same time her own falling down momentum was actually strengthened.

Zhang Wuji dashed forward to pat her waist with the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’. Who would have thought that even in her death Miejue Shitai was not willing to receive any kindness from the Ming Cult. Seeing Zhang Wuji’s palm was about to reach her, she gathered all her remaining strength to launch an attack. Two palms collided. ‘Bang!’ Zhang Wuji’s palm was shifted sideways. ‘Crack!’ Miejue Shitai crashed on the ground; her spine, as well as several bones on her body, broke immediately.

On the other hand, Zhang Wuji was hit really hard from her palm strength plus the falling down momentum; blood bubbled up in his chest and he staggered several steps backward. He did not understand because with this one palm attack Miejue Shitai obviously was trying to kill herself.

Zhou Zhiruo threw herself on top of her Shifu’s body while crying out, “Shifu, Shifu!” The rest of the Emei disciples, both males and females, all gathered around their master’s body in great confusion.

“Zhiruo,” Miejue Shitai said, “From this day on, you are our school’s Sect Leader. The things I want you to do, you won’t disobey all … all of them?”

Zhou Zhiruo cried and said, “Yes, Shifu, disciple does not dare to forget.”

Miejue Shitai showed a faint smile and said, “Then, I can die with closed eyes …”

Right away Zhang Wuji came forward to check on her pulse, but suddenly Miejue Shitai flipped her right hand and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s wrist. In a stern voice she said, “Devil’s Cult evil disciple, if you dare to violate my beloved pure disciple, even being a ghost I will not spare …” The last ‘you’ word had not been uttered, she had already breathed her last; yet her grip was not loosened up, her five fingernails dug Zhang Wuji’s flesh until he was bleeding. Fan Yao called out, “Everybody, come follow me; we are going out from the western gate. If we tarry, that scoundrel king’s cavalry would catch us here.”

Carrying Miejue Shitai’s lifeless body in his arms Zhang Wuji said in low voice, “Let’s go!”

Zhou Zhiruo gently pried her master’s fingers from Zhang Wuji’s hand, she held out her hand to take her master’s body, all the while she avoided Zhang Wuji’s eyes; and then she quietly walked out of the temple.

By then the masters from Kunlun, Kongtong and Huashan had already swarmed out the temple. Only Shaolin Pai’s Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two ‘shen seng’ [divine monks], did not lose their seniority demeanor; they came to Zhang Wuji with clasped palms to express their gratitude. And then they exchanged some modest greetings with Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou and the others before finally they left the temple together.

Zhang Wuji had spent a lot of energy in using the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ to rescue the masters from the Six Major Sects; his internal energy was depleted. Last of all he exchanged a palm with Miejue Shitai that he suffered a major internal injury; by now he was so weak that he could not walk. Mo Shenggu took him and carried him on his back. Zhang Wuji took that opportunity to silently cultivating his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [the Nine Yang divine strength/energy] that at last his strength was recovered.

Meanwhile it was almost dawn; as the crowd of heroes reached the western gate, they dispersed and went out the city separately to avoid the gate guards. Several ‘li’s outside the city they met Yang Xiao who had already prepared several large mule and horse carriages. He congratulated them on escaping the danger.

Kong Wen Dashi [Reverend Kong Wen] said, “If not for the Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu and gentlemen’s help today, it is difficult to say what our Central Plains’ [zhong yuan] Six Major Sects’ fate would be, our gratitude of your kindness is unspeakable. Now about next step, how we are going to proceed, please Zhang Jiaozhu gives us instruction.”

“My knowledge is shallow,” Zhang Wuji answered, “I don’t have any plan, so I invite Reverend Abbot of the Shaolin Pai to give us orders.” But Reverend Kong Wen strongly refused.

Zhang Songxi said, “This place is not too far from the city. Today we have made an earth-shattering disturbance inside the Tartar’s capital; how could that evil king let it go? As soon as the fire in the palace is extinguished, he would certainly dispatch a cavalry to pursue us. Let us leave this place first before deciding on our next action plan.”

He Taichong said, “If that evil king sends a cavalry to pursue us, then that would be best. We can kill them all to vent our several days of built-up anger.”

“Our internal strength is not completely recovered yet,” Zhang Songxi said, “Killing the Tartars right now is not our priority; we’d better avoid them first.”

“Zhang Sixia [fourth hero Zhang] is right,” Reverend Kong Wen said, “We could kill many Tartars today, but our own casualty would not be small. We’d better withdraw for the time being.” Certainly the words of Shaolin’s Abbot carried a different weight. As soon as he opened his mouth, nobody dared to raise any objection anymore.

Reverend Kong Wen asked again, “Zhang Sixia, according to your respected opinion, where should we go to temporarily avoid the enemy?”

Zhang Songxi replied, “The Tartars would certainly expect us to go if not to the south, then to the southeast. We will go to the opposite direction; to the northwest. What do you think?”

Everybody was stunned; yet Yang Xiao actually clapped his hands and said, “Zhang Sixia’s plan is really marvelous. The people of the northwest is sparse, we can look for any uninhabited mountain and hide there for a while. The Tartars would not think of looking for us there.” The more the rest of them think, they more they realized Zhang Songxi’s plan was indeed marvelous. Thereupon they turned their carriages around and went northwest.

About fifty ‘li’s later the group of heroes stopped at a valley to take a rest and eat. Yang Xiao had already prepared dried provisions, dried meat and wine; nothing was lacking. They were talking about the rescue operation they had just undergone and they all agreed that Zhang Wuji and Fan Yao were in charge of the entire battle and the rescue operation.

On the side Zhou Zhiruo and the Emei disciples were cremating Miejue Shitai’s body. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Song Yuanqiao, Zhang Wuji, and the rest of them, one by one, offered their last respect. Miejue Shitai was a great hero; although her temperament was peculiar she had always upheld chivalry and justice. Her character was imposing; there was no one in the Wulin world who did not respect her. The Emei disciples cried and wept loudly, the rest of the people were also mournful.

In a loud and clear voice Reverend Kong Wen said, “The dead cannot go back to live. The heroes of Emei must carry on the will Shitai had left behind; hence although Shitai died, she will also live. This time we fell under evil people’s poisonous hands; everybody suffered a great defeat. Even our own Sect’s Kong Xing Shidi [martial (younger) brother] had died under the Tartars’ hands. This debt must be settled, but as how we are going to do this, we need to discuss it further.”

Reverend Kong Zhi said, “Initially the Six Major Sects of the Central Plains and the Ming Cult are enemies to each other; but Zhang Jiaozhu has forgotten this animosity and lent a hand to rescue us. This way the enmity between us is to be forever eradicated. From now on we are of one heart and mind, driving the invaders together.”

Everybody voiced their agreement at once. However, speaking of revenge, each sect’s opinion differed with one another; it was difficult to reach decision. Finally Kong Wen said, “We cannot decide on this matter, let us take a rest for several days, and then separately go back to our places. Someday when we are ready to launch a large attack of vengeance, then we will slowly talk it over.” Everybody nodded their heads in approval.

Zhang Wuji said, “Now that this important matter is done, I have some personal business I have to attend; I need to return to Dadou. Hereby I bid everybody farewell. Later on we will work hand in hand, fighting the Tartars to the death together.”

Everybody raised their voices together, “We will work hand in hand, fighting the Tartars to the death together.” Their shouts shook the sky, the valley reverberated with their cry; and then they send Zhang Wuji off to the mouth of the valley. Zhang Wuji raised his hands in salute and said goodbye.

“Jiaozhu,” Yang Xiao said, “The heroes of the world look up on you; you have to take a really good care of yourself in everything.”

“Xiongdi [brother] will remember that,” Zhang Wuji said. Mounting his horse he galloped to the south.

End of Chapter 27. 
@Chapter 28 – Broken Kindness, Lost Friendship,
Purple Robed King

When he was nearing the Dadou, Zhang Wuji thought that with the uproar at the Wan An Temple the previous night, a lot of the warriors working for the Prince of Ruyang would certainly recognize his face; hence it would be inconvenient for him to enter the city as he was. Thereupon he stopped by a farmer’s house along the way to buy a set of old peasant clothes. He changed his clothes and wore a bamboo hat; he also blackened his face and hands using some soot and mud before he finally entered the city.

He returned toward the inn he was staying at the western side of the city, but did not enter the inn right away. He went around looking everywhere, and after ensuring that he saw nothing unusual he went into his room quick as a flash.

Xiao Zhao was sitting by the window; her hands were busy with needle and thread. She was startled to see someone enter the room; but her face broke into joyous smile just like a blooming flower in the spring after recognizing him. “Gongzi ye [young master], I thought it was a farmer breaking into the wrong room; turned out it was you,” she said with a laugh.

Zhang Wuji also laughed. “What are you doing?” he asked, “Aren’t you lonely?”

Xiao Zhao blushed; immediately she hid the clothes she was sewing behind her back. “I am learning to sew, but it is so bad,” she said bashfully. Stuffing the clothes underneath her pillow, she rose up to pour some tea for Zhang Wuji. Seeing his black face she laughed and said, “Aren’t you going to wash your face?”

“I put this on purpose,” Zhang Wuji smiled, “I can’t take it out yet.” He took the teacup while pondering in his heart, “Miss Zhao wanted me to come with her fetching the Tulong Saber. As a real man I have to live up to my promise; I can’t break it. Besides, I also want to take Yifu [foster father] to return to the ‘zhong tu’ [mainland, lit. middle/central earth]. Yifu was afraid that he made too many enemies in the ‘zhong yuan’ [Central Plains]; now that he is blind, he won’t be able to deal with them. But right now the warriors of  the  Wulin  world  are united  to  fight  the  invaders;  certainly personal grudges can be resolved. As long as he is with me, nobody will be able to harm a single hair of his head. The wind and the waves of the ocean are dangerous; this child Xiao Zhao cannot come with us. Mmm, I got it. I can ask Miss Zhao to settle Xiao Zhao in the Palace; it is certainly a lot safer than any other places.”

Seeing him suddenly smile, Xiao Zhao asked, “Gongzi, what are you thinking?”

“I am going to a far, far away place,” Zhang Wuji said, “It is not safe to take you along. I am thinking of taking you to a place where you can stay temporarily.”

Xiao Zhao’s face changed. “Gongzi ye,” she said, “I am going with you. Xiao Zhao must attend to your need everyday.”

“This is for your own good,” Zhang Wuji tried to persuade her; “The place I am going is too far and too dangerous. I don’t know when I am coming back.”

Xiao Zhao said, “Inside that cave on the Brightness Peak I had made a resolution; wherever you go, I am going with you. Only if you kill me then you can get rid of me. Am I that disgusting that you do not want to be with me?”

“No, no,” Zhang Wuji said, “You know I like you very much, but I don’t want you to brave an unnecessary danger. As soon as I return, I’ll immediately look for you.”

Xiao Zhao shook her head, “As long as I am with you, I don’t mind any danger. Gongzi, take me with you!”

Zhang Wuji grasped Xiao Zhao’s hands and said, “Xiao Zhao, I am not going to lie to you; I have made a promise to Miss Zhao that I am going to accompany her overseas. On the ocean, the waves are so high that they reach the sky. I have to go since I don’t have any choice, but for you, what good is it for you to brave this mighty danger?”

Xiao Zhao’s face turned red, “You are going with Miss Zhao, I have more reasons to go with you.” While saying this, she was so worried that tears welled up in her eyes.

“Why do you have more reasons to go with me?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“That Miss Zhao is so evil,” Xiao Zhao said, “Nobody could guess what she is going to do to you. If I am with you, I can look after you.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, “Could it be that this young girl have a deep feeling toward me?” he thought in his heart. Hearing the sincerity in her words his heart welled up with gratitude. He smiled and said, “All right, I’ll take you with me. But if you get seasick on the boat, you are not allowed to complain.”

Xiao Zhao was very happy; she gave her promise repeatedly. She said, “If I make you mad and you are not happy with me, you can toss me to the sea to feed the fish!”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “How can I bear to part with you?”

Although the two of them had known each other for quite a while, and sometimes had to share the same room due to the inconveniences of traveling, Xiao Zhao had always taken the position of a servant, and Zhang Wuji had never teased her or said anything inappropriate to her. Now that he blurted out, ‘How can I bear to part with you?’ he realized that he had made an indiscreet remark; he could not help blushing and turned his head around to look out the window, yet Xiao Zhao actually sighed and sat by the bed side.

“Why do you sigh?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Actually, there are many people you cannot bear to part with,” Xiao Zhao replied, “Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou, Ruyang Palace’s Junzhu Niang-niang [princess; ‘niang-niang’ can also mean ‘empress’]; I don’t know how many more. How can you be concerned over a little girl like me?”

Zhang Wuji stood up in front of her and said, “Xiao Zhao, you are always good to me. Do you think I don’t know it? Do you think I am such an ungrateful man that I do not know good from bad?” He said these things with a serious face, showing her his earnestness.

Xiao Zhao was shy and happy at the same time. Lowering her head she said, “I am not asking you to treat me in a special way. As long as you allow me to be with you forever; to be your servant, to take care of you, I will be satisfied. You haven’t slept for the whole night, you must be very tired. Why don’t you lie on the bed and take some rest?” While saying that she lifted the blanket from the bed to let him lie down; and then she returned to her seat by the window, resuming her sewing.

While closing his eyes Zhang Wuji could still hear the occasional clinking noise of the iron chain on her hand; he felt safe and peaceful. Not too long afterwards he fell sound asleep.

Zhang Wuji slept until dusk. He woke up and ate a bowl of noodles. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “Let me take you to see Miss Zhao, we can borrow her Yitian Sword to cut the iron shackle on your hands and feet.”

Two people went out to the street. They saw Mongolian soldiers on horsebacks everywhere. It seemed like the security level was at its highest after the fire at the Ruyang Palace and the big trouble in the Wan An Temple the previous night. As two people heard the hoof beats, they shrank back and hid behind the corner of a house to avoid being seen by the soldiers. They arrived at the small wine shop without taking too much time.

Zhang Wuji took Xiao Zhao and entered in pushing the door open. He saw Zhao Min was drinking wine, she was sitting on the same table as on the previous night. As she saw them she stood up and smiled, “Zhang Gongzi is truly a trustworthy man,” she said. Zhang Wuji noticed her expression was as usual, as if last night’s trouble had nothing to do with her at all; he mused, “This girl is truly extraordinary; I sent someone to kill her father’s beloved concubine and released the masters of the Six Major Sects whom she painstakingly captured after a meticulous plan. She should be very angry, yet she looks like nothing happened. I wonder how she is going to vent up her anger.”

He saw the table was already set with two sets of chopsticks and cups just like last night. He bowed slightly and took a seat. Xiao Zhao stood a bit farther away, taking the position of a servant.

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Miss Zhao, about last night, I offended you a lot. Please forgive me.”

Zhao Min said with a smile, “That Concubine Han of my father was bewitchingly enchanting. I was repugnant. My Mama praised you as a smart and competent man.”

Zhang Wuji was stunned; her reaction was truly beyond his anticipation.

Zhao Min also said, “I am fine with you rescuing those people too. They were not willing to surrender anyway, so what the use of keeping them here? Now that you have rescued them, everybody must be very grateful to you. Currently in the Wulin world of the Central Plains nobody surpasses you in term of power and prestige. Zhang Gongzi, let me offer you a toast!” With a soft laugh she raised her cup.

Right at this moment the door was pushed open and someone came in; it was Fan Yao. He went to Zhang Wuji first to pay his respect; and then he turned toward Zhao Min and bowed respectfully to her. “Junzhu,” he said, “Ku Toutuo is taking his leave from you.”

Zhao Min ignored his greeting; “Ku Dashi,” she said in a cold voice, “You have hidden the truth from me really good. This time Junzhu has stumbled big time.” Fan Yao stood straight up, he boldly said, “Ku Toutuo’s surname is Fan, first name Yao; the Guangming Youshi [The Right Emissary of the Brightness] of the Ming Cult. Because the royal government is in enmity with the Ming Cult, I entered the Ruyang Palace to spy on the enemy. I have received a lot of Junzhu’s kindness; thereupon I come today to bid you farewell.”

Zhao Min remained to be cold; she said, “If you want to go, just go. What’s the purpose of this propriety?”

“A real man always handles matters in the open,” Fan Yao said, “From this day on, I am Junzhu’s enemy. If I do not let Junzhu know this, I am betraying Junzhu’s kind treatment in the past.”

Zhao Min turned toward Zhang Wuji and asked, “What is it that you have, that each one of your subordinates is willing to die for you?”

To which Zhang Wuji replied, “We are doing it for our country and our people, for chivalry, for loyalty and self-sacrifice. Fan Youshi and I did not know each other, yet we feel like old friends; we are devoted to each other, lifting high this ‘yi4’ [justice/righteousness] character.”

Fan Yao laughed aloud and said, “Jiaozhu’s words truly express what is in subordinate’s heart. Jiaozhu, you have to be really careful; this Junzhu Niang-niang is young, but her heart is cruel and merciless, she is truly an extraordinary woman. You have too kind of a heart; you must never let her swindle you.”

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I will not dare to be careless.”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Ku Dashi, thank you for your compliment.”

Fan Yao turned around to leave the inn. When he walked pass Xiao Zhao, he suddenly stopped dead on his track. His face showed a big shock, as if he suddenly saw a ghost or a demon. “You … you …” he stammered. “What?” Xiao Zhao asked.

Fan Yao stared blankly at her for half a day before he finally said, “No … it can’t be … I thought you are someone else.” Heaving a deep sigh he pushed the door and left; his face looked so gloomy. “Looks alike, looks alike,” he softly mumbled.

Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked at each other in bewilderment; they wondered to whom Xiao Zhao might look alike.

Suddenly they heard the sound of whistle in the distant; three long and two short whistles, sharp and shrill whistles. Zhang Wuji was startled; he remembered it was the signal of Emei Pai disciple whenever they were trying to contact their fellow martial brothers or sisters. In the Western Region he had met Miejue Shitai and the others, and he heard this exact same signal back then. “Why do the Emei Pai’s disciples return to Dadou [lit. grand capital, the present day Beijing]? Could it be that they are dealing with some enemies?” he pondered in his heart.

“That is Emei Pai’s signal,” Zhao Min said, “Looks like they have an urgent matter. Let us go and take a look, shall we?”

Zhang Wuji was surprised, “How do you know?” he asked.

Zhao Min smiled and said, “In the Western Region I followed them for four days and four nights before I finally managed to capture Miejue Shitai. Why wouldn’t I know?”

“All right, let us go and take a look,” Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, I have a favor I’d like to ask. Can I borrow your Yitian Sword for a moment?”

Zhao Min laughed. “I have not borrowed the Tulong Saber, you want to borrow the Yitian Sword first. You do have an astute business skill,” she said. Loosening the precious sword from her waist she handed it over to him. Zhang Wuji took the sword. Drawing the sword from its sheath he called, “Xiao Zhao, come over here.”

Xiao Zhao walked over. Zhang Wuji brandished the Sword; with some light ‘swish, swish, swish’ sounds the iron chain on Xiao Zhao’s hands and feet fell clanking down on the ground.

Xiao Zhao bowed down and said, “Many thanks Gongzi, many thanks Junzhu.”

Zhao Min smiled. “What a beautiful young girl,” she said, “Your Jiaozhu must be very fond of you.”

Xiao Zhao blushed profusely; but her eyes sparkled with joy.

Zhang Wuji returned the sword into its sheathe and handed it back to Zhao Min. He heard the Emei Pai’s signal sound was moving toward the northeast. “Let’s go,” he said.

Zhao Min fished out a silver coin from her pocket and threw it on the table; then she dashed out of the inn.

Zhang Wuji was afraid Xiao Zhao could not keep up; he pulled her hand with his right hand, while with his left he pushed her waist, keeping a distance between their bodies. They followed Zhao Min closely. But after only a dozen of ‘zhang’s or so, he felt Xiao Zhao’s body was very light; her footsteps were also very fast. He felt strange, so he took away the strength from his hands; yet Xiao Zhao was still able to run side-by-side with him, she did not show any sign of lagging behind at all. Zhang Wuji did not utilize his ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] to the fullest, but his feet were moving very fast; yet to his surprise Xiao Zhao was able to match his speed.

In an instant Zhao Min had already crossed several desolate alleys and arrived at an empty yard enclosed in a partly collapsed wall. Zhang Wuji heard a faint noise of some women arguing inside the enclosure. Knowing that the Emei Pai’s disciples were on the yard, he pulled Xiao Zhao’s hand and took her crouching behind the wall, silently hiding in the darkness. He noticed long grass everywhere on the yard; it seemed like it was an abandoned garden. Zhao Min followed them hiding in the grass.

There was a broken down pavilion on the north corner of the garden; in this pavilion there were about twenty or so shadows of people sitting or standing. One female voice was heard, “You are our school’s youngest disciple; based on either in knowledge or martial arts, you are still unworthy to be our Sect Leader …”

Zhang Wuji recognized this voice as belonged to Ding Minjun. He crawled among the thick patch of long grass toward within a few ‘zhang’s of the pavilion to get a better view. That night the starlight was dim, all he could see was dark shadows. Focusing his attention, he could see there were male and female shadows in the pavilion; they were all Emei Pai’s disciples. Other than Ding Minjun, it looked like the rest of Miejue Shitai’s senior disciples were all present. To the left stood a slender woman with her dark green long skirt reaching the ground, it was Zhou Zhiruo. Hearing Ding Minjun talked nonstop with an excited voice, ‘You said this, you said that

…’ Zhou Zhiruo calmly said, “What Ding Shijie [martial (older) sister] said was right; Xiao Mei [little/young sister] is the youngest disciple of our school. Whether in term of qualifications and records of service, martial arts, talent, or personal character, none is sufficient to qualify me as the Sect Leader. When Shifu assigned this heavy responsibility to me, Xiao Mei has repeatedly declined wholeheartedly; but Xian Shi [late/departed teacher] was severely adamant, telling Xiao Mei to make a heavy oath that I will not fail to follow Shifu’s injunction.”

Jing Xuan, a senior Emei disciple said, “Shifu was very wise; if she appointed Zhou Shimei [martial (younger) sister] to be our next Sect Leader, then she must have had a profound meaning. All of us have received Shifu’s kindness. It is just proper for us to receive and obey her will by supporting Zhou Shimei with one heart, and thus brighten our Sect’s martial arts’ prestige.”

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “Jing Xuan Shijie said that Shifu must have had a profound meaning; this ‘profound meaning’ was well-said. When we were on the Pagoda, as well as when we were on the ground, didn’t we all hear Ku Toutuo and He Biweng shouting loudly? Who are Zhou Shimei’s parents? Why did Shifu regard her with special fondness? Haven’t you understood?”

Ku Toutuo did tell Lu Zhangke that Miejue Shitai was his old sweetheart, and that Zhou Zhiruo was their daughter. It was simply because he came from a heretical background; he meant those things as a joke, but unexpectedly He Biweng shouted it loud that everybody could hear it. They might not necessarily believe what they heard, but it was also difficult to avoid suspicions. This male-female relationship was a private matter, other people could choose to either believe or not believe, but Miejue Shitai did indeed treat Zhou Zhiruo with special attention, which was puzzling to the rest of the disciples. Therefore, this ‘daughter’ stuff was the most logical explanation to them. Listening to Ding Minjun’s argument, the disciples were silent.

With a trembling voice Zhou Zhiruo said, “Ding Shijie, if you cannot accept Xiao Mei as the Sect Leader, just say so. You are talking nonsense, ruining Shifu’s clean lifetime reputation, what did she do to deserve this? Xiao Mei’s late father’s surname was Zhou, he was a boatman along the Han Shui [River Han]; he did not know any martial arts at all. My late mother was from the Xue household, an aristocratic family from Xiangyang. After the City of Xiangyang fell down, they fled to the south to escape calamity, they lost their fortune and she finally married my late father. Over Wudang Pai’s Zhang Zhenren’s [lit. real/true man, a respectable term to address a Taoist priest] recommendation, Xiao Mei became Emei disciple. I have never met Shifu before then. You have received Shifu’s great kindness. Today Xian Shi returned to the western sky [i.e. died], yet you dared to say such thing. This … this …” Speaking to this point her voice cracked and teardrops started to fall down her cheeks like rain, she was not able to continue.

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “You are only thinking of becoming our school’s Sect Leader, you have not received our school’s recognition, your position is not clear yet, but you have already flaunted your authority by accusing me. What ‘ruining Shifu’s lifetime clean reputation’? What ‘accusing her of doing something to deserve anything’? You want to control me, don’t you? Let me ask you this: if you have received Shifu’s order to become the next Sect Leader, then you should go back to Emei soon. Shifu passed away, our school’s affair is not only numerous, but complicated as well; every thing is in need of the Sect Leader’s attention. But you, without consulting anybody else, suddenly returned to Dadou alone; may I ask why?”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “Xiao Mei has received an extremely urgent assignment from Shifu; which left me no choice but to return to Dadou.”

“What assignment is that?” Ding Minjun asked, “Here we are all of the same school, there is no outsiders present. You may tell us clearly.”

“It is our Sect’s greatest secret,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Nobody else is privileged enough to hear it other than the Sect Leader.”

“Humph, humph!” Ding Minjun sneered, “You keep pushing this ‘Sect Leader’ business but you can’t deceive me. Let me ask you: our Sect’s enmity with the Devil Cult is as deep as the ocean; many of our Sect’s disciples died under the hands of the Devil Cult disciples, while the Devil Cult’s disciples who died under Shifu’s Yitian Sword is even more numerous. Shifu died because she was not willing to receive any kindness from that Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu. That being the case, Shifu’s body has not turned cold yet, why did you stealthily seek that pervert little thief surnamed Zhang of the Devil Cult, that Jiaozhu, the leader of the devils?”

Hearing the last few sentences Zhang Wuji’ body shook; but then he felt a soft hand reaching out to his left cheek, gently traced his face down with two fingers. It was Zhao Min who was by his side, tracing her fingers on him to shame him. Zhang Wuji’s face turned completely red; he thought, “Was Miss Zhou really looking for me?”

He heard Zhou Zhiruo stammer, “You … you are talking nonsense …” “You still want to deny it?” Ding Minjun shouted, “You told everybody to return to Emei first. We asked you why you must return to Dadou, and you gave us an indistinct answer; you were not willing to tell us. We felt something was not right, so we followed you behind. You asked your father Ku Toutuo of this pervert little thief’s whereabouts. Do you think we don’t know it? And then you went to that inn looking for that pervert little thief. Do you think we don’t know it?”

Almost in every other sentence in her speech she mentioned ‘pervert little thief’ and although Zhang Wuji was not temperamental, he was very angry nonetheless. Before he could do anything, again Zhou Min blew a breath to his neck to tease him.

Ding Minjun continued, “It certainly is not other people’s business to whom you like to speak, with whom you want to be intimate, but this pervert little thief surnamed Zhang is the archenemy of our Sect. Last night when we escaped from Dadou, why did you keep looking at him along the way? Wherever he went, your eyes had never left him. I did not make up this story; all our fellow martial brothers and sisters witnessed it with their own eyes. That day on the Brightness Peak, Xian Shi told you to stab him with your sword. Unexpectedly he neither dodged nor evaded, but he cast his alluring glance at you instead; you made eyes with him in response and gently pricked him just for show. With the Yitian Sword in your hand, why did he not die? Who would believe there isn’t something fishy going on here?”

Zhou Zhiruo broke up in tears. “Who made eyes with him?” she sobbed, “Your vicious words are falsely accusing others.”

Ding Minjun laughed coldly and said, “My words are vicious; but what about you? Aren’t you afraid others may say ugly words of your unsightly conduct? Are your words pleasant to the ears? Humph, how did you ask that innkeeper a while ago? ‘Mister Innkeeper, is there any guest by the surname Zhang in here? Mmm, he is about twenty, rather tall. Perhaps he did not use the surname Zhang, but some other family name?’”

She talked slowly with a sharp throaty voice, imitating Zhou Zhiruo’s slow intonation; with an exaggerated action imitating a demonic seductress, absolutely horrifying those who heard her. Zhang Wuji was very mad; he thought this Ding Minjun was Emei Pai’s most sly and nasty disciple. The gentle and soft-spoken Zhou Zhiruo was definitely not her match. But he could not come out to stand for her; because first of all it was Emei Pai’s internal affair, it was inappropriate for outsiders to butt in, second, he would only make Zhou Zhiruo’s situation more disadvantageous. In the end, he could only see Zhou Zhiruo was cornered without him able to render any help.

The majority of the Emei Pai disciples were originally submitting to their Shifu’s wish; they were ready to support Zhou Zhiruo as the new Sect Leader. But listening to Ding Minjun’s fiery argument, which was actually logical and reasonable, they thought, “Shifu’s hatred to the Devil Cult was so deep. Zhou Shimei and that Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu have nothing in common. Supposed she is selling our Sect to the Devil Cult, how can that be good?”

Ding Minjun continued, “Zhou Shimei, you entered Shifu’s school by Wudang’s Zhang Zhenren’s recommendation. That Devil Cult’s pervert little thief is Wudang’s Zhang Wuxia’s [Fifth Hero Zhang] son. Nobody knows the details to what kind of intricate plot you are scheming.” Raising her sharp voice again she said, “Martial brothers and sisters, even though Shifu left us her will that Zhou Shimei is to take over the Sect Leader position, surely she could not know that while her skeleton is not yet cold, this new Sect Leader would look for the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu to nurture their personal relationship. This is a grave matter concerning the life or death, the prosperity or decline of our Sect. If Xian Shi were here tonight, she would definitely appoint another Sect Leader. Shifu’s desire was certainly the bright future of our Sect, not its destruction under the Devil Cult’s hands. In Xiao Mei’s opinion, we must lift high Xian Shi’s lifelong desire; we will respectfully ask Zhou Shimei to hand over the Iron Ring, the Sect Leadership’s token of authority. And then we will nominate someone else with both ability and integrity, a senior martial sister whose martial art can be an example to our fellow disciples, to take the position of our school’s Sect Leader.” As she finished her oration, some six, seven disciples voiced their agreement.

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I have received Xian Shi’s order to take over this school’s Sect Leader position; in no way I can hand over this Iron Ring. In all honesty, I did not want to become the Sect Leader; but I have made a heavy oath in front of her. I simply cannot … simply cannot betray her trust.” Her voice was so weak that some disciples could not hear clearly what she was saying. They could not restrain from inwardly shaking their heads.

In a stern voice Ding Minjun said, “This Iron Ring, you must hand it over, whether you want it or not! One of our school’s strictest rules is prohibition against deceiving masters and ancestors; the other is strict abstention against immorality and shameless act. You have violated these two most important rules; how can you even be the disciple of our school?”

Zhao Min put her lips close to Zhang Wuji’s ears and in a very low voice said, “Your Miss Zhou is done with! You call me ‘good elder sister’, I will come out to her rescue.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred; he knew this girl was shrewd, certainly she could think of some way to get Zhou Zhiruo out of trouble. But she was a few years younger than he, so if he called her ‘good elder sister’, he thought it was just too corny. He hesitated and did not open his mouth.

“You want to call or not, it’s up to you,” Zhao Min said, “I’m leaving.” Zhang Wuji had no choice; he whispered on her ear, “Good elder sister!”

Zhao Min stifled her laughter. She was about to stand up and come out when the people in the pavilion had already cried out in alarm.

“Who’s there?” Ding Minjun shouted, “Hiding in the dark eavesdropping to other people in here?” From outside the wall came several coughing noises, a clear and crisp female voice was heard, “What are you, Emei Pai people, doing in the middle of the night, stealthily gathered in here?” The sound of flapping clothes swept by and there were two more people standing outside the pavilion.

These two people were facing the moon. Zhang Wuji was able to see clearly. One was a frail hunchback old lady, with a walking stick in her hand; it was none other than Jin Hua Popo [Golden Flower Granny]. The other was a young lady with a graceful figure, but her face was strangely ugly; it was Yin Yewang’s daughter, Zhang Wuji’s own cousin Zhu’Er [Spider Kid] Yin Li.

Zhu’Er was captured by Wei Yixiao the other day; but before he reached the Brightness Peak the cold poison in his body flared-up. He did not want to suck her blood, so finally he collapsed to the ground. Afterwards he was rescued by Zhou Dian, but by the time he tried to find Zhu’Er, she was nowhere to be found. Ever since Zhang Wuji argued with her, he had never forgotten her. He was pleasantly surprised to unexpectedly see her here that he almost opened up his mouth to call her.

“Jin Hua Popo, what are you doing here?” Ding Minjun coldly asked. “Where is your Shifu?” Jin Hua Popo asked her back.

“Xian Shi passed away yesterday,” Ding Minjun said, “You have eavesdropped outside the wall for a while, why are you still pretending?”

“Ah, Miejue Shitai has passed away!” Jin Hua Popo exclaimed in a weak voice, “How did she die? Why didn’t she wait for me? Ay, ay, what a pity, what a pity …” Before finished speaking, she had already bent down and was coughing incessantly.

Zhu’Er gently patted her back. She sneered toward Ding Minjun and said, “Who eavesdrops on your conversations? Popo and I are simply passing by; we heard someone was mumbling nonstop. I recognized your voice, so we stopped by to take a look. Popo asked you, have you not heard? How did your Shifu die?”

Ding Minjun indignantly said, “What business is it of yours? Why do you expect me to answer you?”

Jin Hua Popo slowly exhaled, she calmly said, “In all my life dealing with other people, I only suffered defeat one time under your Shifu’s hands. It was not because her martial art was better than mine, but because the sharpness of the Yitian Sword. These past several years I have been wandering everywhere, trying to find a comparably sharp weapon so that I can challenge your Shifu once again. Finally my wandering to the end of the world has not been in vain; an old acquaintance has agreed to let me use a precious saber of his. I heard Emei Pai people were imprisoned at the Wan An Temple by the royal government. I had a thought of rescuing your Shifu, so that we can decide whose skill is better. Who would have thought that as I arrived today, the Wan An Temple has been reduced to rubble. Ay! This is fate; for the rest of her life Jin Hua Popo will not be able to wash away the shame of this defeat. Miejue Shitai, oh, Miejue Shitai, can’t you wait just one and a half day later to die?”

Ding Minjun said, “If Shifu were still alive, you will certainly suffer another defeat. So you’d better not have any dream …” Suddenly ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’ four times, loud and clear; Ding Minjun’s head spun and she faltered, since Jin Hua Popo had slapped her on the face four times, left and right.

This old granny looked frail, as if she could not support her own weight; she was also coughing repeatedly, but who would have thought that her hand could move in an unbelievable speed with a very weird palm technique. These four palm strikes were so fast that Ding Minjun did not have the slightest idea they were coming, let alone try to evade them. She was separated about two ‘zhang’s [about 20 feet, close to 7m] away from Ding Minjun, yet she was able to slap her and go back to her original position like a ghost. Ding Minjun was angry; she drew her sword and pointing it toward Jin Hua Popo she said, “Old beggar granny, are you always this impatient?”

Jin Hua Popo ignored her insult, she also did not seem to see the sword in her hand, but slowly said, “How did your Shifu die?” Her voice was full of sorrow, as if she was completely discouraged.

The tip of Ding Minjun’s sword was actually less than three feet away from Jin Hua Popo’s chest, but in the end she did not have the courage to thrust it in. “Old beggar granny,” she cursed, “Why do you expect me to answer you?”

Jin Hua Popo heaved a deep sigh and lamented, “Miejue Shitai, you were a hero; you can be considered as the Wulin world’s outstanding character. It’s a pity that you died. Don’t you have any decent disciple to take over the Sect Leader position?”

Jing Xuan Shitai stepped forward; joining her palms in greeting she said, “Pin ni [lit. impoverished nun] Jing Xuan, paying my respect to Popo. Before her death Xian Shi had appointed Zhou Zhiruo, Zhou Shimei to take over the Sect Leadership position. Only in our Sect there are certain numbers of fellow disciples who have not submitted to that decision yet. Xian Shi has died; it would be difficult to fulfill Popo’s wish. Since that is the case, what else can we say? Our school’s Sect Leader has not been decided; we cannot make any appointment with Popo. But Emei is a great Sect of the Wulin world; in no way would we degrade Xian Shi’s prestige. We will listen to whatever instruction Popo have; in the future our Sect Leader, according to the rule of the Wulin world, will deal with you. But if Popo, relying on your seniority, want to take an unfair advantage of us, although Emei Pai has just suffered a great calamity, we will fight with you until our blood is poured over this abandoned garden, until the very last of us die.”

She was speaking boldly, yet without any trace of arrogance or submissiveness; making Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min applauding silently. Jin Hua Popo’s eyes flickered. “Turns out before she died, Zun Shi [lit. revered master] had appointed her successor, the new Sect Leader. That’s wonderful! Which one? May I see her?” she said. Her manner of speaking was a lot more polite than when she talked with Ding Minjun.

Zhou Zhiruo stepped forward and saluted. “Popo, may you be blessed! Emei Pai’s fourth generation Sect Leader Zhou Zhiruo wishes Popo well.”

“Shameless!” Ding Minjun bellowed, “Proclaiming yourself as the Emei Pai’s fourth generation Sect Leader.”

Zhu’Er sneered. “This Zhou Jiejie [elder sister Zhou] is a good person; I have received her loving care in the western region. If she is not fit to become the Sect Leader, do you think you are? You dare to blubber your big mouth in front of Popo; you make me want to slap your ugly face!”

Ding Minjun was angry. ‘Swish!’ her sword stabbed toward Zhu’Er. Zhu’Er leaned sideways to evade, her palm struck toward Ding Minjun’s face. Her movement was exactly the same as Jin Hua Popo’s, but her speed was far inferior than Popo’s. Ding Minjun ducked to avoid the strike, but her sword also missed its target.

Jin Hua Popo said with a smile, “Girl, I have taught you many, many times, but you have not mastered such an easy move. Watch carefully!” Her right palm moved, conveniently slapped Ding Minjun’s left cheek. She flipped her palm and slapped her right cheek. Then her palm returned and slapped her left cheek, flipped over and slapped her right cheek again. These four palm strikes were very distinct; everybody could see them clearly. But Ding Minjun felt as if her body was enveloped with a great power that her limbs were completely unmovable, so her cheeks were slapped four times without her having any strength to block or evade. Fortunately, Jin Hua Popo held up her strength that Ding Minjun did not suffer any serious injury.

Zhu’Er smiled and said, “Popo, I have mastered your palm technique, but I don’t have the kind of power you do. Let me try again!” Ding Minjun was still bound by Jin Hua Popo’s internal strength; she saw Zhu’Er’s palm was about to strike her face. In her fury she almost passed out. Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo moved sideways; stretching her left hand she blocked Zhu’Er’s palm and said, “Jiejie [elder sister], hold on!” Turning her head toward Jin Hua Popo she said, “Popo, my Shijie Jing Xuan has said it clearly; although our martial art skills are not as exquisite as Popo’s, we will not let ourselves to be bullied by others.”

Jin Hua Popo smiled and said, “This surnamed Ding woman’s mouth is too sharp; she kept on saying she won’t submit to your leadership, yet you still stand up for her?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “The internal affair of our school is not any outsider’s business. Xiao Nuzi [lit. young woman] has received Xian Shi’s order. Although my skill is too shallow, I will not let any outsider to humiliate my fellow disciple.”

Jin Hua Popo smiled. “Good, good, good!” she said ‘good’ three times, then broke up in coughing again. Zhu’Er immediately handed a pill to her. Jin Hua Popo took it, while gasping heavily. With a sudden movement both of her palms reached out; one palm pressing Zhou Zhiruo’s chest, the other pressing her back, so that all Zhou Zhiruo’s fatal acupoints were covered by her palms. As soon as she pressed her palms, Zhou Zhiruo’s life would be gone.

It was a very strange move. Although Zhou Zhiruo had not learned martial art for a long time, she had mastered about 30% of Miejue Shitai’s skill, yet she was baffled and was rendered speechless by this strange move that held her in between the opponent’s palms, she was shocked and scared, and it showed on her face.

“Miss Zhou,” in a gloomy voice Jin Hua Popo said, “As the Sect Leader, your skill is really shoddy. I wonder if Zun Shi did really assign this heavy responsibility to a pampered pretty young girl like you. I’ll say you are merely boasting.” Zhou Zhiruo made up her mind; she thought it in her heart, “If she exerted her strength right now, my arteries would be shaken and immediately broken, then I will die on the spot. But how can I degrade Shifu’s power and prestige?” As soon as she remembered her Shifu, her courage escalated a hundred folds; lifting her right hand high she said, “This is Emei Pai’s Iron Ring of the Sect Leader; Xian Shi has personally put it on my finger. How can it be a fake?”

Jin Hua Popo laughed; she said, “Just now your Shijie said that Emei is a major sect in the Wulin world. She was right, but relying on your meager skill, can you be the Wulin world great Sect’s Sect Leader? I think you’d better be an obedient child and listen to what I have to say.”

“Jin Hua Popo,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Although Xian Shi has already died, Emei Pai did not die with her. I have fallen under your hands, so if you want to kill me you can just kill me; but if you want to force me to submit to your desire, I suggest you give up that idea. Our Sect was fallen into the royal government’s sinister plot and we were imprisoned in the Pagoda; but did you see any of us surrender? Zhou Zhiruo is merely a young and feeble woman, yet I have accepted the heavy responsibility assigned to me. I know it is very difficult, so early on I have already disregarded my own life and death.”

Zhang Wuji saw the vital acupoints on her back were threatened by Jin Hua Popo; her life was hanging on a thread of hair, yet she was stubbornly standing up. He was afraid that in her anger Jin Hua Popo would take her life. He realized the situation was desperate; he wanted to jump out to rescue her. Zhao Min had already guessed his intention; she grabbed his right arm while lightly shaking her head, meaning that he should not act recklessly.

They heard Jin Hua Popo laugh aloud and say, “Miejue Shitai did not make a wrong decision. This young Sect Leader’s martial art skill is weak, but her character is actually very strong. Hmm, that’s right, that’s right, insufficient martial art can be learned, river and mountain can be changed, but character is difficult to be altered.”

Actually, right at that moment Zhou Zhiruo was scared to death, only she remembered about how her Shifu just before her death had placed her great trust on her, so she summoned all her courage and stood unyieldingly upright.

The other Emei disciples were originally looking down upon Zhou Zhiruo, but at this moment they saw her disregarding personal dislike bravely stepping forward to protect Ding Minjun, and then she did not demean their school prestige at all even under a powerful enemy’s threat, feelings of respect and admiration started to grow in their hearts.

Jing Xuan brandished her sword and let out some signal whistles; the Emei disciples moved at once, with weapons in their hands they dispersed surrounding the pavilion.

“What is it?” Jin Hua Popo smiled and asked.

Jing Xuan said, “Popo captures Emei’s Pai Leader, what do you want?”

Jin Hua Popo coughed several times and said, “You want to achieve victory by sheer numbers? Hey, hey, will ten times your number make any difference in Jin Hua Popo’s eyes?”

Abruptly she let Zhou Zhiruo go, and then her body swayed and dashed straight toward Jing Xuan. Her two fingers moved toward Jing Xuan’s eyes as if she wanted to dig her eyes out. Jing Xuan hastily waved her sword trying to chop her arm. Suddenly she heard a ‘hey’ noise, followed by a grunt; one of her Shimei standing close to her had fallen down. Turned out that when Jin Hua Popo faked an attack to Jing Xuan, her left foot actually kicked the acupoint on the waist of an Emei female disciple.

Her shadow dashed around the pavilion, her sleeves fluttered in the air, occasional coughs were heard, Emei disciples thrust their swords, but nobody was able to stab her; on the contrary, seven male and female disciples fell down because their acupoints were sealed. Her acupoint sealing technique was very strange; those who were hit were screaming from pain. In a short moment the garden was full of sad and shrill screams, rending the hearts of those who heard them.

Jin Hua Popo clapped her hands and returned to the pavilion. “Miss Zhou,” she said, “How is Jin Hua Popo’s martial art compared to your Emei Pai’s?”

“Our Sect’s martial art is certainly better than Popo’s,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “You were defeated by my Xian Shi’s sword the other day; have you forgotten?”

Jin Hua Popo was furious, “The Old Nun Miejue was using a precious sword; that doesn’t count!” she said.

“Popo, let’s be honest,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “If Xian Shi and you fight barehanded, who do you think will win?”

Jin Hua Popo was silent for half a day before answering, “I don’t know. I came to Dadou today to find out between your Zun Shi and me, who’s weak and who’s strong. Ay! Miejue Shitai has died, Wulin world lost one of its martial art masters. Someone like her had never been seen in the past, and will never be seen in the future. Henceforth Emei Pai will become weak.”

Those seven disciples were still screaming and wailing, as if they were underlining Jin Hua Popo’s words. Jing Xuan and several other senior disciples tried hard to unseal their acupoints, but their efforts did not show any effect. It looked like they would have to be released by Jin Hua Popo herself.

Zhang Wuji had treated not just a few of Wulin world’s characters who were injured by Jin Hua Popo in the past. He knew this granny was very vicious, a person of her caliber was rare in the Jianghu. He was thinking of coming out and help, but after careful consideration he decided against it. He thought, “If I help Miss Zhou, I will offend Zhu’Er. This cousin of mine has been so good to me; moreover, she is my close relative. How can I favor one and discriminate against the other?”

In the meantime, Jin Hua Popo said, “Miss Zhou, do you admit defeat?”

Zhou Zhiruo gathered up her courage and said, “Our Sect’s martial art is as deep as the ocean, it can’t be learned in a short time. We are still young. Right now we are inferior to Popo, but our progress in the future will be immeasurable.”

Jin Hua Popo laughed. “Wonderful, wonderful!” she said, “Since that’s the case, Jin Hua Popo is taking my leave now. Just wait until your progress is immeasurable then you can come back and unseal their acupoints.” While saying that she took Zhu’Er’s hand, and turned around to leave.

Zhou Zhiruo realized her fellow disciples were too much in pain; they might not be able to endure another hour and might die from their pain. “Popo, wait a minute!” she hastily said, “Please help my Shijie’s and Shixiong’s [martial (older) sisters and brothers].”

“You want me to help them? That’s easy,” Jin Hua Popo said, “From this day forward, wherever Jin Hua Popo or her disciples go, Emei disciples have to make yourselves scarce.”

Zhou Zhiruo thought, “I have just accepted the Sect Leader responsibility, already I have to face this strong enemy. If I agree to her condition, how can Emei Pai set our feet in the Wulin world? How can I let the demise of Emei Pai to be in my hand?”

Jin Hua Popo saw her hesitation; she laughed and said, “You don’t want Emei Pai’s prestige to fall; that’s fine. Just let me borrow the Yitian Sword then I will help your fellow disciples.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “Our Sect’s master and disciples all fell into the royal government’s evil plot and were held captives on that Pagoda. How can the Yitian Sword still be in our hands?” Jin Hua Popo had already expected this answer, she knew her chance of borrowing the Sword was only one in ten thousands, yet hearing Zhou Zhiruo say so, her countenance showed disappointment nonetheless. Suddenly in a stern voice she said, “If you want to save Emei Pai’s reputation, you cannot save your own life …” Taking a pill from her bosom she said, “This is the ‘duan chang lie xin’ [breaking intestines, cracking the heart] poison. You take this, then I’ll save your people.”

Zhou Zhiruo remembered that her heart was already broken when she received her Shifu’s injuction; she said in her heart, “Shifu told me to deceive Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang]; I can’t do this. Rather than keep on living with this constant torture, death is a hundred times better; nothing matters anymore.” With a trembling hand she took the poison.

“Zhou Shimei, don’t eat that!” Jing Xuan shouted.

Zhang Wuji saw the situation was critical; he was ready to jump out and snatch the poison away. Zhao Min hissed into his ear, “Idiot! It’s a fake; that is not a poison.”

Zhang Wuji was stunned, but Zhou Zhiruo had already swallowed the pill. Jing Xuan and the others shouted and rushed toward Jin Hua Popo, ready to strike.

“Excellent, you have guts!” Jin Hua Popo said, “The poison won’t kill you in an hour or two. Miss Zhou, come with me and nicely listen to me. If Lao Po [the old granny] is happy, she might give the antidote to you.” Finished speaking she walked around and slapped and kicked those Emei disciples. Immediately their pain stopped; so their screams stopped as well. Only their limbs were still weak that they would not be able to move for a while.

These people saw with their own eyes that Zhou Zhiruo took the poison to save their lives; they were overwhelmed with gratitude. “Thank you, Sect Leader!” one of them shouted.

Jin Hua Popo pulled Zhou Zhiruo’s hand, “Good child,” she tenderly said, “Come with me, Popo won’t make things difficult for you.”

Before she could reply, Zhou Zhiruo felt an enormous power pulling her body and she jumped forward against her own will.

“Zhou Shimei …” Jing Xuan shouted and rushed forward, trying to block, but suddenly she felt a strong wind from her side, a finger almost touched her. It was Zhu’Er attacking her from the side. Jing Xuan used her left palm to block, but to her surprise Zhu’Er’s move was a fake one. ‘Slap!’ Ding Minjun’s face ate her palm. This ‘zhi dong da xi’ [aim to the east strike to the west] was indeed Jin Hua Popo’s technique.

Zhu’Er chuckled and jumped over the wall.

“After them!” Zhang Wuji said. With one hand pulling Zhao Min along and the other carrying Xiao Zhao, he also jumped over the wall.

Jing Xuan and the others were startled to suddenly see three people coming out from the grass. They tried to pursue after them, but how could their ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] be compared to Jian Hua Popo and Zhang Wuji? By the time they jumped over the wall, six people had already disappeared into the darkness.

Zhang Wuji and the others pursued for a dozen of ‘zhang’s or so. Without slowing down the least bit Jin Hua Popo shouted, “I am surprised Emei Pai disciples have the courage to pursue Jin Hua Popo. Hey, hey, it’s amazing!”

“Let our Sect Leader go!” Zhao Min shouted. Her body swayed and she flew several ‘zhang’s forward. The tip of her Yitian Sword threatening Jin Hua Popo’s back. She was using the ‘jin ding fu guang’ [golden peak like a ray of light], one of Emei’s sword techniques; which she learned from an Emei female disciple in the Wan An Temple. It could not be compared to Miejue Shitai, but it was exquisite nonetheless.

As Jin Hua Popo heard the gust of wind behind her back, she let Zhou Zhiruo go and quickly turned around. Zhao Min flicked her wrist and launched another stance, ‘qian feng jing xiu’ [a thousand peaks compete to show their elegance].

Jin Hua Popo knew the sword in Zhao Min’s hand was the Yitian Sword; she was alarmed yet happy. Stretching out her hand, she tried to snatch the sword away.

Several stances later Jin Hua Popo pressed in front of Zhao Min, her finger was just about to reach Zhao Min’s wrist, which was holding the sword; unexpectedly Zhao Min turned her sword around with one of Kunlun Pai’s sword techniques, the ‘shen tuo jun zu’ [divine camel with stallion’s feet].

Jin Hua Popo saw Zhao Min was a young girl; she was holding the Yitian Sword, she was also using Emei’s sword technique, therefore, she must be an Emei Pai disciple. In order to challenge Miejue Shitai, Jin Hua Popo had extensively studied Emei’s sword techniques for several years. After seeing Zhao Min’s several stances, she knew her internal strength was only mediocre; hence for the next several stances she thought she would understand and able to anticipate her attack. For that reason she pressed on with the intention of snatching the Yitian Sword away. Who would have thought that this young girl was able to launch a Kunlun Pai’s sword technique? If she were not too engrossed with her preconception, Kunlun Pai’s sword technique would never give her any trouble; it was just that she was taken completely by surprise. Although her martial art skill was high, she was unable to block and was forced to hastily roll back to evade the attack; only she was not fast enough that the end of her left sleeve was cut by the sword.

In her anger Jin Hua Popo pounced back. Zhao Min realized that her martial art skill was too far below her opponent; she did not dare to take the attack head on. Relying on the Yitian Sword she stabbed to the left and cut to the right, brandishing the sword to the east and striking to the west, at the same time keep changing her sword style; one time it was Kongtong, another time Huashan. She launched Kunlun’s ‘da mo fei sha’ [great desert flying sand], followed by Shaolin Pai’s ‘jin zhen du jie’ [crossing golden-lily’s pond]. Each stance was the best feature of each Sect; each stance carried an enormous power; enhanced by the very sharp Yitian Sword, confounding Jin Hua Popo and rendering her helpless to press closer.

Zhu’Er was anxious; she loosened the sword from her waist and tossed it towards Jin Hua Popo. Meanwhile Zhao Min ferociously attacked for seven, eight stances. Toward the ninth stance Jin Hua Popo could not help but block using the sword. ‘Crack!’ her sword was cut into two.

Jin Hua Popo’s countenance changed greatly, she rolled away and shouted, “Who are you?”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Why didn’t you pull out the Tulong Saber?”

Jin Hua Popo was angry, “If I had Tulong Saber in my hand, do you think you can stand eight, ten stances against me? Do you dare to try it?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Then go and get the Tulong Saber. I am fine with it. I’ll be waiting for you at Dadou; we’ll fight again when you have the Saber.”

“Turn your head around,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Let me take a look at your face.”

Zhao Min turned her body sideways, stuck out her tongue, closed her left eye and opened her right one, twisted her face muscle; making a ghost face. Jin Hua Popo was very angry; she spat on the ground, tossed her broken sword away, and pulling Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo along she left in big strides.

“Let us go after them,” Zhang Wuji said.

“No need to worry,” Zhao Min said, “You come with me. I guarantee your Miss Zhou’s safety.”

“What Tulong Saber were you talking about?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“In that deserted garden I heard that old granny say that she went all over the world, till the end of it, before she finally found an old acquaintance who’d let her borrow a precious weapon, with which she was going to fight Miejue Shitai’s Yitian Sword,” Zhao Min replied. She recited, “’Yi tian bu chu, shei yu zheng feng’? [Meh’s translation: ‘Power of heaven not appear, who can possibly compete?’ Literal translation: ‘relying on heaven (the ‘Yitian’ of the ‘Yitian Sword’) does not appear, who can fight its (blade) edge?’] There is no weapon which can match the Yitian Sword but the Tulong Saber. Could it be that she acquired the Tulong Saber from your ‘Yifu’ [foster father] Xie Lao Qianbei [Old Senior Xie]? I used the Yitian Sword to attack her, with the intention of forcing her to pull the Saber out. Turns out she did not have the treasured Saber in her hand, and challenged me to fight her in the future. Apparently she knows the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts; only she was unable to get it yet.”

Zhang Wuji thought for a while. “This is strange,” he said.

“My guess is she will go to the seaside,” Zhao Min said, “She will go to the ocean to fetch the Saber. We must precede them; don’t let the old malicious granny swindle blind but kindhearted Xie Lao Qianbei.”

Hearing her last sentence, Zhang Wuji’s blood bubbled up from his chest, “Yes, yes!” he hastily said. At first he agreed to go with Zhao Min to borrow the Tulong Saber just because as a real man his words must worth a thousand gold; he could not eat his own words. But this time, thinking of Jin Hua Popo was about to make things difficult for his ‘yifu’, he wished he had wings so that he could fly in a hurry and save his ‘yifu’.

Immediately Zhao Min took two people to the Palace. She talked with the guard at the Palace gate without going inside. The guard repeatedly answered in affirmative, then turned around to enter the palace. In a relatively short moment he came back out, leading nine steeds along. He also carried a large bag of gold and silver. Zhao Min, with Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao, rode on three steeds, while leading the other six steeds behind. By alternating their mounts, they sped up eastwards.

By early morning the next day, the nine steeds were so exhausted that they were unable even to stand. Zhao Min presented the golden medal of the Ruyang Prince, as the highest commander of the entire army, to the local government; they traded the nine steeds and continued their journey. By late evening that day they had arrived at the seaside.

Zhao Min rode the horse straight to the local government mansion. She ordered the magistrate to quickly prepare a strong ocean ship; complete with the helmsmen, the sailors, food and water, weapons and winter clothes. In addition, all ocean ships were to be moved immediately to the south; no other ships were to be moored within fifty ‘li’s [about 25 km] from that place. With Ruyang Prince’s gold medal, how could a lower ranking county magistrate dare not to obey? Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao waited leisurely inside the mansion, eating and drinking wine. Less than a day later the magistrate came back to report that everything was ready.

When three people went to the seaside to inspect, Zhao Min could not help but stomping her feet repeatedly, “Wasted effort!” she bellowed. Turned out by the beach anchored a really big ship with two decks; the decks of the bow, the port and the starboard were loaded with heavy canons. It was a Mongolian navy’s battleship.

In those years the Mongolians were trying to send military expedition to Japan; hence they recruited a large number of boat makers. Unexpectedly a major hurricane had scattered the Mongolian navy, resulted in the expedition to the east was postponed indefinitely, but since then the extent of boat making had been declining.

Zhao Min was at her wit’s end; she did not expect in order to curry her favor the county magistrate would prepare a battleship for her. By now the food, the water and the supplies had been prepared on board; the other boats had also obeyed the Ruyang Prince’s gold medal, they had sailed dozens of ‘li’s southwards. With a bitter smile Zhao Min ordered the sailors to cover the canons with fishnets, she also had the boat loaded with several hundred catties of fresh fish, to give the impression that it was an old battleship, which was converted to a fishing boat. Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji and Xiao Zhao three people changed into sailor attire. Using greasepaint they made their faces darker, and then glued some fake moustache and beards; they were not taking any chances. Afterwards they sat quietly in the boat, waiting for Jin Hua Popo’s arrival.

This Zhao Min Junzhu’s prediction was very accurate; sure enough, that very same evening a large carriage arrived by the seaside. Jin Hua Popo, along with Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo, came looking for a boat. The sailors had received Zhao Min’s instruction; they pretended to refuse by saying that the boat was a fishing boat converted from an old battleship, they only caught fish and not interested in taking passengers. It was not until Jin Hua Popo produced two ingots of gold did the captain reluctantly agree to take them aboard. Jin Hua Popo took Zhu’Er and Zhou Zhiruo on board and they set sail immediately, heading east.

On that vast boundless open sea the lone boat sailed to the southeast. During the two days of sailing, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min looked out their cabin window in the bottom deck. They noticed that during the day, the sun, and in the night, the moon, were both rising from the port side. Obviously the boat was sailing to the south. It was the beginning of winter, the boat had the full advantage of the north wind blowing strong on its sail that they were traveling very fast.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min often had some discussions. “My ‘Yifu’ is on the ‘bing huo dao’ [ice and fire island] of the extreme north; if we want to find him, then we must sail to the north. Why are we going to the south instead?”

Each time Zhao Min always replied, “This Jin Hua Popo is certainly a strange woman. More over, right now the south wind has not arrived yet, there is no way we can sail to the north even if we want to.”

Toward noon on the third day, the captain came down to their cabin to give his report, he said Jin Hua Popo was very familiar of the sea condition around this place; she knew exactly where the sand bar, the reef, and the shallow waters were. She was even more knowledgeable than the captain was.

Zhang Wuji suddenly remembered, “Ah, right!” he exclaimed, “Could it be that she is returning to the ‘ling she dao’ [spirit snake island]?”

“What Ling She Island?” Zhao Min asked.

“The Ling She Island is Jin Hua Popo’s home,” Zhang Wuji said, “Her late husband was called the ‘yin ye xiansheng’ [Mister Silver Leaf]. Ling She, Jin Hua, Yin Ye [Spirit Snake, Golden Flower and Silver Leaf]; haven’t you heard?”

Zhao Min laughed mockingly and said, “You are only a few years older than I am, but seems like you are an expert in the Jianghu’s matters.”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “The heretical devilish Ming Cult certainly knows a lot more of Jianghu matters than Junzhu Niang-niang.”

These two people were originally archenemies; the groups of warriors under their commands had been engaged in several tough battles. But after several days of living together in a ship’s cabin in the middle of the sea, they were unable to restrain from chatting with each other amiably. Also, with Jin Hua Popo as their common enemy, one more day they were together, one more day the estrangement between them was shed away.

In order not to raise Jin Hua Popo’s suspicions, the captain immediately went back to the upper deck right after giving out his report. Zhao Min laughed and said, “Da Jiaozhu [great cult leader], I wonder if it is bothersome for you to tell this friendless and unlearned young girl about the power and prestige of the Spirit Snake’s Golden Flower and Silver Leaf that shook the Jianghu.”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “To my shame, I don’t have the slightest idea Yin Ye Xiansheng is what kind of person; but Jin Hua Popo, I actually have had some encounters with her.” Thereupon he told her how he went to the Butterfly Valley and studied medicine under the ‘die gu yi xian’ [the Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley] Hu Qingniu, how some people from different sects were wounded by Jin Hua Popo until they were in between life and death, how they came to the Butterfly Valley for medical help, and how under Hu Qingniu’s direction he cured them all. How Jin Hua Popo contended with Miejue Shitai in martial arts and was defeated, how in the end Hu Qingniu and Wang Nan’gu husband and wife died under Jin Hua Popo’s hands. He told her all kinds of emotions surrounding the circumstances. He felt that although Hu Qingniu’s character was rather peculiar, his treatment toward Zhang Wuji was not bad. Thinking about how those husband and wife’s bodies hung high on the tree, he was unable to restrain his eyes from turning red. The only thing he did not tell was how Zhu’Er grabbed his hand because she wanted to take him as her playmate on the Ling She Island; and how he bit her arm really bad. Why he omitted this part of the story, Zhang Wuji could not explain; perhaps he felt what he did was rather unsophisticated.

Throughout Zhao Min listened attentively without saying anything. Finally with a serious look on her face she said, “At first I only thought this old granny as a powerful martial art master, turned out she is involved in many gratitude and grudges. Listening to your story, it seems that this old granny is truly a formidable opponent, we must not be careless at all.”

Zhang Wuji said with a smile, “Junzhu Niang-niang is well-versed in both pen and sword, under her command there are numerous warriors with marvelous and diverse ability. Dealing with a trivial Jin Hua Popo, she should be able to accomplish the task with ease.”

Zhao Min also smiled and said, “Too bad in this boundless ocean I have no way to summon numerous warriors and foreign monks under my command.”

Zhang Wuji said, “That chef who prepared our meals, the sailors who pull the sail, although they can’t be considered Jianghu’s top rank fighters, can’t they be counted as the second rank warriors?”

Zhao Min was startled, then broke into chuckle while saying, “My admiration! Da Jiaozhu truly has a good pair of eyes; nothing can be concealed from you.”

Turned out when she returned to the Palace to get the gold, silver and the horses, she also left a secret message via the guard, dispatching a group of warriors under her command to rush to the seaside. They also rode on fast horses, only they arrived half a day later than Zhang Wuji. She had carefully picked the warriors who had not participated in the battle at the Wan An Temple; those who had not met Zhang Wuji before, to come over and guised themselves as kitchen helpers, sailors, et cetera. However, for people who practiced martial art, naturally their facial expression and bodily movement differed from average people; therefore, although they tried to conceal it carefully, Zhang Wuji only needed to take a single look and he had already found out their true identities.

Hearing him say that, Zhao Min mused on the fact that since he could see through their disguise, then Jin Hua Popo must have had seen it also; since she had a lot more experience, plus she was a wily old fox. Luckily they had more people on their side; Zhang Wuji’s martial art was far superior. It would be fine whether Jin Hua Popo saw through the disguise or not. Either way, if they were to battle each other, Zhao Min did not have anything to fear from Jin Hua Popo plus Zhu’Er. And since Jin Hua Popo had most likely seen through their disguise then they did not have any reason to continue concealing their true identities.

These past several days, Zhang Wuji was most concerned over whether the poison pill Zhou Zhiruo took had broken out or not. Zhao Min understood his concern; as soon as she saw he wrinkled his brows, she sent someone to the upper cabin with the pretense of serving tea, while spying around on their enemies. Each time he returned, he would report that Miss Zhou looked just fine, without any poisoning symptoms. This happened several times; finally Zhang Wuji felt embarrassed. He sat quietly on the corner of the cabin; thinking about the snowy area of the western region, where Zhu’Er kept him company for several days. How He Taichong, Wu Lie, Ding Minjun, and the others came and surrounded them, how in the presence of He Taichong and the others he was saying loudly, ‘Miss, with all my heart I sincerely desire to marry you. I only hope you will not regard me unworthy.’ How wholeheartedly he promised, ‘From now on, I will cherish you with all my might, I will look after you. No matter how many people come to make things difficult for you, no matter how many fierce people come to bully you, I don’t care if I’ll have to lose my life, I will protect you. I want you to be happy, I want you to forget your past sufferings.’ Thinking about these things he could not help but blush.

“Pei!” Zhao Min suddenly spat, “You are daydreaming about your Miss Zhou!”

“No, I am not!” Zhang Wuji denied.

“Humph,” Zhao Min snorted, “Daydreaming is daydreaming. You are a real man, why would you lie?”

“Did I lie?” Zhang Wuji countered, “I am telling you: I was not thinking about Miss Zhou.”

“If you were thinking about Ku Toutuo or Wei Yixiao, you won’t have that kind of expression,” Zhao Min said, “They are ugly and weird fellows; if you are thinking of them, would you have that kind of gentle and bashful expression on your face?”

Zhang Wuji smiled bashfully, “You are really good,” he said, “You can tell whether other people were thinking about some pretty people or some ugly ones. But I am being honest with you, the person I was thinking about is not the least bit pretty.”

Zhao Min could see the sincerity in his words; she showed a faint smile and did not pay him anymore attention. Although she was intelligent, she would never guess that the person he was thinking about was that ugly girl Zhu’Er who was inside the upper deck cabin of their boat.

Zhang Wuji recalled how in order to train the poisonous martial art, ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [thousand spiders ten-thousand poisonous hands], Zhu’Er’s face had become contorted and bumpy. That night at the deserted garden he thought that she looked even worse than in the past. Thinking to this point he could not restrain from heaving a deep sigh; remembering that the deeper she practiced this poisonous skill, the more her whole body and mind would be harmed. He also remembered when Yin Liting told her that Zhang Wuji had died falling down from the cliff; Zhu’Er had shown her true feeling by crying bitterly. Zhang Wuji was very grateful over that matter.

Ever since he arrived at the Brightness Peak, day in and day out he was either busy training martial arts or busy tending the Ming Cult affairs; when did he ever have time to sit down peacefully and think about his own concerns? Once in a while he would remember Zhu’Er, then he would ask Wei Yixiao to look for her, or ask Yang Xiao to dispatch some search and rescue team to look around the Peak; but all those times nobody found out her whereabouts. Now he rebuked himself deeply, “Zhu’Er has always been good to me, but why have I been so ignorant about her? Why haven’t I given any thought to her these past several days?” Actually, since he took the Cult Leader position of the Ming Cult, all his personal affairs were totally out of his mind.

“What are you regretting?” Zhao Min suddenly asked.

Before Zhang Wuji could reply, they heard shouts from the upper deck; followed by a sailor coming down to give his report, “We see land ahead. The Granny ordered us to pick up speed and come ashore.”

Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked out from their window and saw that there was a big island several ‘li’s ahead with trees and lush green vegetation on it. There was a strange looking peak on the island; it was tall and towering straight above a forest of pine trees. The boat was sailing fast because of the favorable wind; they had arrived on shore in just a time needed to eat a bowl of rice.

On the eastern end of the island there was a rocky hill protruding into the sea, with no sandy beach on it. Although the battle ship was deep into the water due to its weight, it would be able to anchor right next to the shore. But before the anchor was down, they heard a ferocious shout coming from the hill; the shout was full of rage, with an overwhelming power in it.

Zhang Wuji was pleasantly surprised, since he recognized the voice; the shout belonged to his Yifu, the ‘jin mao shi wang’ [golden-mane lion king] Xie Xun. It had been more than ten years, but his Yifu’s heroic air was still as he remembered it; how could he not feel extremely joyful? Without thinking how Xie Xun from the far north Bing Huo Island could be on that island, also without any regard if Jin Hua Popo would see through his disguise, he hurriedly stepped down the wooden plank and ran toward the hill from which the shout originated to take a look.

He saw four men with unsheathed weapons in their hands surrounding a tall and big man. That man was facing the enemies with an empty hand. He was none other than Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun.

Zhang Wuji took a quick glance and saw that although his Yifu was blind, although he was surrounded by four men, although he faced four weapons barehanded, he did not by any chance lose his imposing air. Zhang Wuji had never seen his Yifu fight an enemy before; now that he had the opportunity to witness several stances, he was very happy. “Jin Mao Shi Wang’s prestige shook the world in the past; it certainly was not an empty reputation,” he said to himself, “Yifu’s martial art skill is above ‘Qing Yi Fu Wang’ [Green-Winged Bat King]; I’ll say he is on par with (maternal) grandfather.”

The four people’s martial arts were certainly not bad either. From where he was, near the boat, looking to the hill, Zhang Wuji was not able to see their faces clearly; but he could see that they were wearing raggedy clothes with cloth sacks on their backs. Obviously, they were from the Beggar Clan. Three other men stood on the side, ready to join the battle.

Zhang Wuji heard someone was saying, “Hand over the Tulong Saber … we’ll spare your life … precious saber in place of your life …” The strong wind from the hill transmitted the voice intermittently, making him difficult to understand clearly what they were saying; but Zhang Wuji knew that these people were here to snatch the precious Tulong Saber.

He heard Xie Xun laugh a big laugh and say, “The Tulong Saber is in my possession. The Beggar Clan’s stinky thieves; if you have the ability then get it from me.” His hands and feet did not slow down the least bit when his mouth was speaking.

In a flash Jin Hua Popo had run ashore; amidst the coughing she said, “Beggar Clan’s Heroes, welcome to the Ling She Island. You did not come and talk to Lao Po, but disturb the Ling She Island’s honorable guest. What do you want?”

“This is indeed the Ling She Island,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Listening to Jin Hua Popo, apparently Yifu is her invited guest. Yifu has said that in any event he won’t be willing to leave Bing Huo Island and return to the Central Plains; how come on Jin Hua Popo’s invitation he was willing to come? How could Jin Hua Popo find out Yifu’s whereabouts?” Questions after questions grew in his heart.

Hearing the host had arrived, the four people on the hill wanted to subdue Xie Xun as quick as possible; they attacked more urgently. But in doing so, they had actually violated a major principle in the study of martial art. Xie Xun was blind, thus he depended on the wind generated by the weapons to distinguish the enemies’ positions. The faster these four people moved their hands, the stronger the wind generated by their weapons.

Xie Xun let out a long laugh. ‘Bang!’ he hit one enemy squarely on his chest. That man let out a long miserable scream and fell straight down from the hill into the rocks below. His skull broke and his brain splattered everywhere.

One of the three people standing on the side shouted, “Back off!” With a light movement he stepped forward, his fist floating in the air with strength that was sometimes there and sometimes not there, making it hard for Xie Xun to distinguish the sound. Sure enough, it was not until the fist was only a few inches from him that he finally realized it. He hastily tried to block the attack; his movement was awkward, he was truly in a very difficult situation.

The three men who fought previously moved back quickly; while an old man who was standing on the side took over their place. This old man incorporated the same technique as the first man; his palm was also light. Several stances later Xie Xun was forced to block to the east and evade to the west; he was in a really dangerous situation.

“Ji Zhanglao [Elder Ji], Zheng Zhanglao [Elder Zheng]!” Jin Hua Popo shouted, “Jin Mao Shi Wang is inconvenienced by his eyes; you are fighting him with this despicable method. You are enjoying a reputation as Jianghu’s heroes for nothing.” She was talking and walking to the hill at the same time, with the help of her walking stick.

She was walking in faltering steps, as if a mountain breeze would blow her off the hill; but actually she was moving very fast. Supported by the stick, it looked like she was riding the wind, floating forward; with several strikes of her stick she quickly reached the waist of the hill. Zhu’Er followed closely behind her, but just in a short moment she fell behind.

Zhang Wuji was concerned over his Yifu’s safety, he quickly ran up the hill. Zhao Min followed behind him. In a low voice she said, “With this Old Granny here, Shi Wang [Lion King] will not be in grave danger. Don’t do anything yet, you’d better hide your identity first.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and followed behind Zhu’Er. By now all he could see was Zhu’Er’s graceful and slender body. If he did not know Zhu’Er’s face, wouldn’t he think she was an extremely beautiful woman, not inferior to Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo, and Xiao Zhao, three girls? Once he had this thought, immediately he scolded himself, “Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, your Yifu is facing a grave danger, yet you are looking at a girl and seizing her up, whether she is a beautiful woman or not.”

In a short moment, the four of them had reached the peak of the hill. They saw that Xie Xun was keeping his hands close to his body, in a defensive position without even trying to attack. Only when the enemy’s fist or kick came near did he use a little bit of ‘qin na’ [grappling technique] to parry the attack. This way he was able to hold out against the enemy momentarily, but it would be difficult for him to score a victory.

Zhang Wuji stood underneath a cluster of pine trees. He saw his Yifu’s face was full of wrinkles, and there were more white hair on his head; he looked a lot older than the last time they parted. Zhang Wuji guessed that for the past dozen of years he was living alone on that desolate island, he must have passed the days with difficulty. Zhang Wuji was grieved, he felt blood rushing up in his chest and could not help but feel a strong urge to fight the enemy for him. He stepped forward to get a closer look at the enemies. Zhao Min understood his intention; she lightly pinched his hand and shook her head.

“Ji Zhanglao,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Your ‘yin shan zhang da jiu shi’ [lit. nine great style of ‘yin’ (negative, female, of ‘yin and yang’) mountain palm] is famous throughout the Jianghu; why are you stealthily changing it to ‘mian zhang zhao shi’ [lit. cotton palm style]? Zheng Zhanglao is even more unspeakable; you conceal the ‘hui feng fu liu quan’ [lit. returning wind brushing away the willow fist (technique)] inside the ‘ba gua quan’ [eight-diagram fist (technique)]. Of course Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia [great hero Xie] does not know that … (cough, cough) …”

Since Xie Xun could not see the enemies’ style, he was at a great disadvantage over them. Moreover, Ji and Zheng two elders were extremely cunning; by deliberately concealing their style, Xie Xun was having trouble predicting their moves. As Jin Hua Popo exposed their trick, Xie Xun’s confidence grew. He waited until Zheng Zhanglao was about to change his fist technique, suddenly he struck straight ahead; his fist collided with Zheng Zhanglao’s fist. Zheng Zhanglao staggered back two steps until he bumped into a tree stump. Ji Zhanglao thrust his palm from the side to protect his companion, forcing Xie Xun to stop from pursuing him.

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to the two Beggar Clan’s Elders; Ji Zhanglao was short and plump, with a red face, reminding him of a village butcher. Zheng Zhanglao was tall and skinny, with an ashen look, a perfect picture of a beggar. Both men carried eight cloth sacks on their back. The other man standing afar looked about thirty years of age; he also wore a beggar clothes, but his clothes was neat and clean. Surprisingly he also carried eight cloth sacks on his back. For someone his age to achieve an eight-bag elder position of the Beggar Clan was extremely rare. Suddenly that man opened his mouth, “Jin Hua Popo, you said you were not going to help Xie Xun, but in the end you are helping him. Aren’t you ashamed?”

Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “Are you also a Beggar Clan’s Elder, Sire? Please forgive this Old Granny’s faulty vision for not recognizing you.”

“I joined the Beggar Clan not too long ago, no wonder Popo did not know,” that man replied, “My surname is Chen, given name Youliang.”

“Chen Youliang? Chen Youliang?” Jin Hua Popo muttered, “I have never heard that name.”

Suddenly a cry was heard as Zheng Zhanglao’s left arm was hit by Xie Xun. The three Beggar Clan disciples who were standing on the side immediately charged forward with their unsheathed weapons. These three’s martial art skills were inferior to Ji and Zheng, two Elders; normally they would only be in the Elders’ way, but since Xie Xun became blind, he had never fought with anybody, so his battle experience was lacking. Today was the first time he fought powerful enemies. Amidst the sound of fists and kicks were the sounds of the weapons; these mixtures of noises made him difficult to distinguish the enemies’ positions. In a moment his shoulder was hit by a fist.

Seeing the critical situation, Zhang Wuji was about to make his move, but Zhao Min said in a low voice, “Certainly Jin Hua Popo would help?” Zhang Wuji halted his steps; he looked at Jin Hua Popo, and saw that she was leaning on her stick with cold smile on her face, without giving any sign that she was going to help.

By that time Xie Xun’s left leg was kicked heavily by Zheng Zhanglao. Xie Xun staggered, he nearly fell down. Zhang Wuji had already prepared seven small pebbles in his hand; by now he could not wait any longer, his right hand moved, the seven pebbles flew toward the five people surrounding Xie Xun. But before the pebbles hit their targets, a black light flashed; ‘swish!’ three weapons were cut down. Among the five people, four were cut off right on their chests, becoming eight pieces, which scattered to all directions, falling off the hill. Only Zheng Zhanglao survived with his right arm cut off, but his back was hit by the two pebbles Zhang Wuji shot; he fell on the ground. The four of the slain people’s back were also hit by the pebbles, only the Saber cut them off first before the pebbles arrived. This time Zhang Wuji’s action was actually unnecessary.

This incident happened so fast that everybody was startled. They saw Xie Xun’s hand was holding a deep black saber, precisely what was known as ‘wu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the Wulin (martial art) world], the Tulong Saber [Dragon-slaying Saber]. He held the Saber horizontally across his chest, standing on the peak of the hill, his power and prestige made people shiver, he looked just like a deity.

Zhang Wuji had seen this Saber since he was little, yet he had never expected its sharpness to have such an overwhelming power as demonstrated just now. Jin Hua Popo muttered, “’Wu lin zhi zun, bao dao tu long’! [the most revered in the Wulin world, precious saber slaying the dragon] ’Wu lin zhi zun, bao dao tu long’!”

Losing his arm, Zheng Zhanglao screamed in pain just like a pig getting slaughtered. Chen Youliang pale faced, he said in a loud voice, “Xie Daxia’s [great hero Xie’s] martial art is unparalleled, my utmost admiration! I ask you to let this Zheng Zhanglao go down the hill. Let me trade my life with his. Xie Daxia, please make your move!”

His speech made everybody’s countenance change; they had not expected this person’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty and self-sacrifice/code of brotherhood] to be this deep. Zhang Wuji could not help but feel quite respectful towards him.

“Chen Youliang,” Xie Xun said, “Hmm, you are a real man. Take this surnamed Zheng away, I will not make things difficult for you!”

“Let me thank Xie Daxia first for your graciousness in not killing us,” Chen Youliang said, “Only the Beggar Clan has five lives died under Xie Daxia’s hands. I am going to train for ten more years. If I achieve success, I am going to come again to settle this debt.”

Xie Xun thought that he only have to move one step forward and brandish his precious saber, then this man would not escape alive; yet under this extremely dangerous situation he still had the nerve to say that he would come back to seek revenge in the future; he was a very brave man. Thereupon Xie Xun said, “If the Old Man is still alive ten years from now, I am going to wait for your instructions.”

Chen Youliang cupped his fists toward Jin Hua Popo in salute and said, “Without permission the Beggar Clan has trespassed your island; herewith we apologize!” Carrying Zheng Zhanglao, he went down the hill in big strides.

Jin Hua Popo turned toward Zhang Wuji and coldly said, “You, this young fella, you are good at the acupoint striking technique. Why are you shooting seven pebbles? One was meant for Chen Youliang, the other was meant for me, wasn’t it?”

Seeing she was able to see that he has prepared the seven pebbles, but was not able to see through his disguise, Zhang Wuji did not know how to reply; he only showed a faint smile.

“Young fella,” Jin Hua Popo said sternly, “What is your honored name? Disguising yourself as a sailor, following Lao Po Zi [the Old Granny] around, what is your purpose? You dare to act craftily in front of Jin Hua Popo; are you bored of your life?”

Zhang Wuji was not used to tell lies; he was startled and could not answer. Zhao Min made her voice hoarse and answered, “We are from the ‘ju jing bang’ [gigantic whale clan], we make our living on the sea, doing business without any capital. Lao Popo [Old Granny] offered us a lot of gold, so what’s wrong with giving you a ride? This brother saw the Beggar Clan was cheating and he wanted to lend a hand. His intention was good, but we did not expect Xie Daxia’a martial art was this high; in the end we were only being meddlesome.”

Although she imitated a male’s voice, her voice was still unavoidably sharp; piercing the ears of those who heard her. Luckily her makeup was perfect; her face was yellowish and looked like an old man, Jin Hua Popo was not able to see the flaw.

“Many thanks!” Xie Xun waved his left hand and said, “Ay, Jin Mao Shi Wang is like a tiger fallen on the plains that he has to receive help from Ju Jing Bang. Leaving the Jianghu for twenty years, capable people have come forth in the Wulin world in large numbers; why should I come back?”

When speaking the last sentence, his voice was full of sorrow, as he sighed with depressing emotion. Just now when Zhang Wuji shot those seven pebbles, Xie Xun could hear clearly the strength behind the shot; strength like that was truly rare in the world. He was shocked that there was such an expert in the Wulin world. Also, in the battle today, the reason he escaped injury from besiege after fighting all night was entirely due to the Tulong Saber. Suddenly the memory of the Wangpan Island some twenty years ago where he faced a group of warrior was like a different lifetime to him.

“Xie San Ge [third (older) brother Xie],” Jin Hua Popo said, “I know you don’t like other people meddling in your fight; that’s why I did not lend you a hand. You are not offended, are you?”

Hearing her unexpectedly calling his Yifu ‘San Ge’, Zhang Wuji was astonished. He did not know his Yifu ranked third in seniority; because looking at Jin Hua Popo, he was certain that she was older than his Yifu.

“Why am I not surprised?” he heard Xie Xun replied, “You were returning to the Central Plains this time, did you hear anything about that child of mine Wuji?” Zhang Wuji was shocked; but he felt a soft palm was holding his hand tightly. He knew Zhao Min did not want him to step forward and expose himself. Just now he did not listen to her advice and rashly shot the pebbles to help; in the end he let their existence to be known. Only his concerns toward Xie Xun went to the extreme; he could not let Xie Xun being bullied by anybody. This time he felt it was all right to momentarily restrain himself.

“Nothing,” Jin Hua Popo said.

Xie Xun heaved a deep sigh and was silent for a long time before he finally said, “Mrs. Han, we are brother and sister [Translator’s note: the characters used here are ‘xiong mei’ - (older) brother, (younger) sister], you cannot deceive me, a blind man. Tell me, that child of mine, Wuji, is he still alive in this world?”

Jin Hua Popo hesitated without answering. Zhu’Er suddenly said, “Xie Daxia …” Jin Hua Popo reached out with her left hand to grab her wrist and stared hard at her; Zhu’Er did not dare to continue.

“Miss Yin,” Xie Xun said, “Tell me, tell me! Your Popo is deceiving me, is she not?”

Two streams of tears flowed down on Zhu’Er’s cheeks. Jin Hua Popo lifted up her right hand and placed it on top of her head, so that as soon as Zhu’Er said something she did not wish she would exert her internal energy and take her life.

“Xie Daxia,” Zhu’Er said, “My Popo did not deceive you. We went to the Central Plains this time, we did not hear any news about Zhang Wuji.”

Hearing what she said, Jin Hua Popo took her right palm from Zhu’Er’s forehead, but she still grabbed her wrist tight.

“So what news did you hear?” Xie Xun asked, “What happened to the Ming Cult? What happened to our old acquaintances?”

“I don’t know,” Jin Hua Popo replied, “I did not inquire anything on the Jianghu matters. I was only looking for the Toutuo [Buddhist monk with hair] who killed my husband to settle the debt; and for Emei Pai’s Miejue Laoni [Old Nun Miejue], to avenge that sword duel defeat. As for other matters, Lao Po Zi does not care.”

Xie Xun indignantly said, “All right, Mrs. Han, that day on the Bing Huo Island, what did you say to me? You said my Zhang Wudi [fifth brother Zhang], husband and wife, were not willing to reveal my hiding place; they were forced to cut their own throats on the Wudang Mountain. That child of mine, Wuji, became an orphan with nobody to care for him; that he was wandering in the Jianghu, that everywhere he went he was bullied by others, that he was destitute and miserable beyond words. Did you not say that?”

“That’s right!” Jin Hua Popo said.

“You said that he was struck by the Xuanming Shen Zhang [mysterious and dark divine palm]; he endured the suffering day and night,” Xie Xun continued, “You said you met him at the Butterfly Valley, and that you wanted him to come with you to the Ling She Island , but he was not willing. Is that right?”

“That’s right!” Jin Hua Popo said, “If I lied to you, may the Heaven punish me and the Earth extinguish me, may Jin Hua Popo becomes the lowest of low in the Jianghu, may my departed husband does not have peace in his grave.”

Xie Xun nodded. “Miss Yin,” he said, “What was it that you wanted to say?”

Zhu’Er replied, “I was going to say that at that time I urged him to come with us to the Ling She Island; he did not want to listen, and bit me instead. His teeth mark is still on the back of my hand; I am telling you the truth. I … I am very concerned about him.”

Suddenly Zhao Min tightened her hand, which was grabbing Zhang Wuji’s palm; her eyes were staring at him with contempt, but also with a teasing look, as if she was saying, ‘You lied to me! Turned out you knew this girl; not only that, there were many entanglements between the two of you.’

Zhang Wuji blushed; remembering how Zhu’Er had a strange fondness toward him, his heart was bittersweet. All of a sudden Zhao Min lifted up Zhang Wuji’s hand toward her mouth and she bit the back of his hand really hard. As his hand was bleeding, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong [Nine Yang Divine Energy/Power] in Zhang Wuji’s body automatically reacted. Zhao Min felt a shock on her mouth that the corner of her mouth was also bleeding. This short episode between the two of them happened noiselessly.

Zhang Wuji looked at Zhao Min with questioning eyes, wondering why in the world she suddenly bit him. But he saw her eyes were full of smiles, her face was blushing, beautiful as the springtime. Although she was wearing fake moustache above her lips, the moustache failed to cover her sweetness and beauty. Confusion filled his heart.

“Very well!” Xie Xun said, “Mrs. Han, it was because of my concern over my child Wuji that I took the tens of thousands of ‘li’s journey back from the Bing Huo Island to the Central Plains. You promised to find Wuji for me; why didn’t you keep your promise?”

Tears streaming down Zhang Wuji’s cheeks; it was only then did he found out that although his Yifu knew he had enemies everywhere, disregarding grave dangers he returned to the Central Plains, it was all because of him.

Jin Hua Popo said, “That day we reached an agreement; I will look for your Zhang Wuji, you will lend me the Tulong Saber. Xie San Ge, let me borrow your Saber, Lao Po Zi’s words are like mountain; I will find this youngster for you.”

Xie Xun shook his head. “Bring Wuji over here; naturally I’ll lend you the Saber.”

“You don’t trust me?” Jin Hua Popo coldly asked.

“The matters of the world are not easy to say,” Xie Xun replied, “Even close relatives like father and son or brother and sister sometimes are not trustworthy.”

Zhang Wuji knew he was referring to Cheng Kun in the past; he felt sorry for his Yifu.

“Then you are sure you won’t let me borrow the Saber in advance?” Jin Hua Popo asked.

“I let the Beggar Clan’s Chen Youliang go down the mountain,” Xie Xun said, “From now on there will be no more peaceful days on the Ling She Island. I don’t know how many enemies of mine of the Wulin world would come over to make things difficult for me. Jin Mao Shi Wang is not like what he used to be; other than this Tulong Saber, I don’t even have a staff to lean on. Hey … hey …” Suddenly he let out a cold laugh and said, “Mrs. Han, just now five people were surrounding me. Even that hero from the Ju Jing Bang was preparing seven pebbles in his hand. Are you sure you don’t have any intention to harm me? You are hoping that I would die under the hands of the Beggar Clan, and then you can leisurely pick up the spoil. Xie Xun’s eyes maybe blind, but his hear is not. Mrs. Han, let me ask you again, Xie Xun came to your Ling She Island in secret; how did the Beggar Clan find out my whereabouts?”

“I was just going to find out,” Jin Hua Popo said.

Xie Xun flicked a finger on the blade of the Tulong Saber then he put it inside his robe. “You are not willing to find my Wuji for me, that’s fine,” he said, “Xie Xun only needs to re-enter the Jianghu and makes some earth- shattering disturbance.” Tilting up his head he let out a loud whistle; and then leaped up and ran from the west side of the hill. His steps were quick; he headed straight toward a mountain peak on the northern end of the island. There was a lone thatched hut on the mountain peak; apparently it was where he lived.

Jin Hua Popo waited until Xie Xun had gone far. She turned around and stared at Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min. “Get lost!” she barked.

Pulling Zhang Wuji’s hand, Zhao Min immediately went down the mountain, returning to their boat.

“I want to see Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said.

“When your Yifu left, Jin Hua Popo stared at him viciously, didn’t you see that?” Zhao Min asked.

“I am not afraid of her,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“There are so many surreptitious matters on this island,” Zhao Min said, “How could the Beggar Clan people come into this island? How did Jin Hua Popo know your Yifu’s whereabouts? How could she find the Bing Huo Island? There are so many unanswered mysteries here. It’s not difficult for you to kill Jin Hua Popo, but then we will never find out the answers to these questions.”

“It’s not that I want to kill Jin Hua Popo,” Zhang Wuji said, “It’s just that Yifu misses me so much; I must go and see him.”

Zhao Min shook her head, “You haven’t seen each other for more than a dozen years,” she reasoned, “Why can’t you wait one or two more days? Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang], let me tell you something: no doubt we must guard against Jin Hua Popo; but more importantly, we must guard against Chen Youliang.”

“That Chen Youliang?” Zhang Wuji asked, “This man’s ‘yi qi’ is very deep; he is a true gentleman.”

“Do you really believe it in your heart? Or are you merely making fun of me?” Zhao Min asked.

“Why would I make fun of you?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “This man was willing to die in place of that Zheng Zhanglao; a man of his quality is truly rare.”

Zhao Min stared at him for a moment and sighed. “Zhang Gongzi, oh, Zhang Gongzi,” she said, “You are the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader; you are commanding of I don’t know how many fierce and wild warriors and heroes, executing I don’t know how many important matters, yet you are this gullible? How can that be?”

“I am gullible?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“This Chen Youliang was obviously swindling Xie Daxia,” Zhao Min said, “You were witnessing it with your own eyes; how can you not see it?”

“He was swindling my Yifu?” Zhang Wuji jumped.

“Xie Daxia was wielding the Tulong Saber,” Zhao Min said, “Four of the Beggar Clan’s masters were killed. Even if Chen Youliang’s martial art skill were higher, he might not necessarily be able to escape from the Tulong Saber’s cut. In this situation, he could charge forward staking everything he got and die, or he could kneel down for mercy. But just think about it, Xie Daxia does not want anybody to know his whereabouts; even if Chen Youliang knocked his head three hundred times, he might not necessarily be able to gain pity from Xie Daxia’s tender heart. Other than pretending to be someone with thick ‘yi qi’, do you think he would have a better way?”

While she was speaking, she took Zhang Wuji’s hand and applied ointment on the bite-wound, and wrapped her own handkerchief over it.

Listening to her analysis of Chen Youliang’s plight, Zhang Wuji thought she was right; but thinking back about Chen Youliang’s heroic and vehement attitude, also his manner of speaking, Zhang Wuji could not detect any falseness; hence, he was still unconvinced. “All right,” Zhao Min said, “Let me ask you this: when that Chen Youliang was speaking to Xie Daxia, what were the positions of his hands and his feet?”

When he was listening to Chen Youliang, Zhang Wuji only occasionally looked at his face, while the other times looked at his Yifu; he had not paid any attention to Chen Youliang’s hands and feet, but actually Chen Youliang’s posture was projected in his mind. If nobody mentioned this, he would not remember; this time hearing Zhao Min’s question, the scene came back in his brain. He said, “Mmm, Chen Youliang’s right hand was slightly raised, his left hand across the body; that was the ‘shi zi bo tu’ [the lion catches the rabbit]. What about his feet? Mmm, right! That was the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’ [devil-subduing kicking style]. Both were part of Shaolin Pai’s fist techniques; nothing special about them. Could it be that he was asking a favor from Yifu, but actually he was going to launch a sneak attack? That can’t be right; these two styles are not very effective.”

Zhao Min coldly laughed, “Zhang Gongzi,” she said, “You really do not have any understanding about people’s hearts, do you? Even if that Chen Youliang wanted to stealthily attack Xie Daxia, do you think he has the ability? This person is so cunning, he is a first class smart person; he understands people very well. Supposed his feigned ‘yi qi’ did not work; Xie Daxia could see through his scheme and was not willing to let him go, then with his posture, whom would he kick with the ‘devil-subduing kick’? Whom would he catch with the ‘lion catches the rabbit’?”

Because Zhang Wuji had always thought people everywhere were kindhearted, he had never thought deeply about Chen Youliang’s scheme. Now that Zhao Min brought it up, his mind was churning. Cold sweats started to trickle down his back; with a trembling voice he said, “He … he was going to kick Zheng Zhanglao who was lying on the ground; and he was going to grab Miss Yin.”

Zhao Min smiled sweetly. “That’s right!” she said, “He was going to kick Zheng Zhanglao toward Xie Daxia. He would also grab that childhood sweetheart of yours, that Miss Yin whose hand you bit, and shove her toward Xie Daxia, with the hope that they would slow him down a little bit. Then he would use the opportunity to escape with his life. Even though Xie Daxia’s ability is matchless and he was holding a precious saber in his hand, Chen Youliang still had a slim chance of escaping; other than that, he did not have any other choice. If it were me, I’d do the same. Up until now, I still have not found a better way. This man was able to think such a clever method in a short moment; he is truly amazing.” She could not stop praising him.

The more Zhang Wuji thought, the more upset he became; he had never thought that people in this world could be that ruthless. Ever since he was little, he had experienced countless hardships, yet he had never seen anything of Chen Youliang’s caliber. After half a day he said, “Miss Zhao, you were able to see through his intentions; I am afraid you are not inferior to him.”

Zhao Min’s countenance turned dark. “Are you ridiculing me?” she asked, “Let me tell you something: if you are afraid of my wicked scheming, then stay far away from me.”

“That is not necessary,” Zhang Wuji said with a smile, “You have already used a lot of deceit against me, I can guard against all of them.”

Zhao Min showed a faint smile and said, “You can guard against my deceit? How come you don’t know I applied some poison to the back of your hand?”

Zhang Wuji was startled; he did feel a bit of itch and numb, a rather unusual feeling. Hastily he tore the handkerchief down and brought his hand to his nose. “Aiyo!” he could not help exclaiming. He knew it was the ‘qu fu xiao ji gao’ [flesh/muscle decomposer ointment], an external medication, which could erode rotting flesh from a wound. Although it was not a poison, applied to the bite-marks it would deepen the wound. This ointment actually carried a pungent smell, but Zhao Min had mixed some rouge in it; she also used her own handkerchief to wrap the wound, so the smell was somewhat obscured that Zhang Wuji was not able to detect it. Zhang Wuji hurriedly ran to the stern to wash his wound with some fresh water. Zhao Min followed behind him; helping him washing the wound while laughing and giggling.

Zhang Wuji pushed her shoulder away and said angrily, “Stay away from me! What kind of joke is this? Do you think it didn’t hurt?”

Still giggling Zhao Min replied, “It is truly ‘the dog that bites Lu Dongbin’; you are unable to recognize other’s kindness. I was afraid you are in so much pain that I used this method.”

[Translator’s note: ‘the dog that bites Lu Dongbin’ is a Chinese proverb, which means an inability to recognize goodness and repay kindness with vice. Lu Dongbin was one of the Eight Immortals (ba xian) in Taoist legends.]

Zhang Wuji ignored her remark; he furiously went back to his cabin and closed his eyes.

Zhao Min followed in and called, “Zhang Gongzi!” Zhang Wuji pretended to be asleep. Zhao Min called him two more times, but Zhang Wuji simply snored even louder. Zhao Min sighed, “If I knew you would be like this, I would have spread a real poison to take your dog’s life then I wouldn’t have to deal with you anymore.”

Zhang Wuji opened his eyes and said, “How can I be the dog that bites Lu Dongbin; unable to recognize other’s kindness? You tell me.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “If I tell you, then what are you going to do?”

“You are always able to present a strong argument on everything; naturally I can’t argue with you,” Zhang Wuji said.

“You haven’t heard what I am going to say and you admit defeat already?” Zhao Min said with a smile, “You knew all along that my intention was good.”

“Pei!” Zhang Wuji spat, “Good intention indeed! You bit my hand, but did not apologize. Fine! But why did you have to spread poison on my wound? I’d rather not receive your kindness.”

“Hmm,” Zhao Min said, “Let me ask you this: which one was deeper, my bite on you, or your bite on Miss Yin?”

Zhang Wuji blushed. “That … that was a long time ago,” he stammered, “Why do you have to bring it up?”

“I want to bring it up,” Zhao Min insisted, “Just answer my question; don’t talk in circles.”

“Granted that my bite on Miss Yin was deeper,” Zhang Wuji admitted, “But at that time she was grabbing me, while my martial art was inferior to her; no matter what I did, I could not shake her loose. As a child, my heart was anxious, and I just bit her. You are not a child; I did not grab you and want you to come to the Ling She Island, did I?”

“That’s strange,” Zhao Min laughed, “So she grabbed you and wanted you to come to the Ling She Island, but you’d rather die than come with her. Presently nobody invited you to come, yet you willingly came without any fuss? After all, when people grow, their hearts also grow, everything changes.”

Zhang Wuji’s entire face turned red. “You are the one who wanted me to come!” he said with a smile.

Hearing this, Zhao Min’s face also turned red, but she felt an indescribable sweetness in her heart. It was as if Zhang Wuji was saying, ‘She wanted me to come, I’d rather die than come. You wanted me to come, I immediately came.”

Two people looked at each other for half a day without saying anything then suddenly they averted their gaze from each other. Zhao Min lowered her head and said, “Very well, I’ll tell you: it was a very long time ago that you bit Miss Yin, yet she has never forgotten you. I heard the way she talked; I am afraid she won’t ever forget you for the rest of her life. The reason I bit you is so that you also won’t forget me for the rest of your life.”

Only upon hearing this last sentence did Zhang Wuji finally understand her profound meaning; his heart was moved and he was speechless.

“I saw the tooth marks on the back of her hand,” Zhao Min continued, “Your bite was very deep; I thought that you bit her really deep, her memory of you is also deep. I wanted to bite you really deep, but I did not have the heart to do so; but if I bit you lightly, I am afraid you will forget me in the future. I thought about it left and right, then decided to bite you first, then spread the ‘qu fu xiao ji gao’; so that those tooth marks will be deepened.”

At first Zhang Wuji thought it was funny then he thought that although with this act she was indulging in fantasy, in the end it was a demonstration of her deep affection to him. He sighed and softly said, “I don’t blame you. I was truly the dog that bites Lu Dongbin; I was unable to recognize your kindness. You are treating me this way, as such; there is no way I’m going to forget you.”

Initially Zhao Min felt vulnerable after revealing her tender feelings, but after hearing his words her eyes flashed mischievously; she smiled and said, “You said, ‘you were treating me this way’; are you saying that I treated you badly, or I treated you well? Zhang Gongzi, my bad treatments to you is actually numerous, but my good treatment is none.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Later on your treatment to me will be somewhat better.” Grabbing her hand, he brought it to his mouth. “I want to also bite you really bad, so you won’t forget me for the rest of your life,” he said with a laugh.

Zhao Min suddenly felt very bashful; she shook his hand and rushed out of the cabin. As she opened the cabin door, she almost bumped into Xiao Zhao. Zhao Min was startled. “Damn it!” she silently cursed, “If my conversation with him was heard by this girl, I would die of embarrassment.” She could not help but blushing profusely while she ran to the upper deck.

Xiao Zhao came to Zhang Wuji and said, “Gongzi, I saw Jin Hua Popo and that ugly girl went that way; they were carrying a big sack together. I don’t know what kind of crafty trick they are planning to do.”

“Hmm,” Zhang Wuji mumbled. He realized his conversation with Zhao Min had turned intimate; to have Xiao Zhao suddenly appear, he was unavoidably ashamed. He stared blankly for a moment before finally asking, “Are they going toward that small mountain hut on the northern side of the island?”

“They are going north alright, but they are not going to the mountain,” Xiao Zhao replied, “It seemed like they were in a deep argument with each other. That Jin Hua Popo looked very angry.”

Zhang Wuji went to the stern. He saw Zhao Min was standing at the bow with her eyes gazing toward the ocean. She did not turn her body around. He heard the mighty waves of the sea pounding the hull of the boat. He felt that his heart was as tumultuous as those fluctuating waves; he tried with great difficulty to calm it down.

The sun gradually set toward the western horizon in what he felt like a very long time; the trees on the island turned darker and became a blur in his eyes. Finally Zhang Wuji returned to his cabin.

During supper that night he told Zhao Min and Xiao Zhao, “I am going to visit Yifu. It would be better for the two of you to stay and guard the boat, so that we won’t scare Jin Hua Popo away.”

“Then I think you’d better wait for another night watch,” Zhao Min said, “Wait till the sky turns really dark before you leave.” “Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied. His heart was boiling with anxiety over his Yifu’s safety; this one night watch was indeed unbearable to him.

With great difficulty he waited until he could not see anything anywhere he looked. Finally he stood up, smiled faintly at Zhao Min and Xiao Zhao then he walked toward to the cabin door.

“Zhang Gongzi,” Zhao Min called while loosening the Yitian Sword on her waist, “Take this sword for self defense.”

Zhang Wuji was startled; “You’d better keep it with you,” he said. “No!” Zhao Min refused, “This time I am worried about you.” Zhang Wuji smiled, “Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Zhao Min replied, “Jin Hua Popo’s surreptitious craftiness is unpredictable; Chen Youliang is a bag full of tricks. Also I don’t know whether your Yifu will be convinced that you are his ‘child Wuji’ … Ay, this island is known as the ‘Spirit Snake’, perhaps there are highly venomous vipers everywhere; besides …” Speaking to this point, she suddenly stopped.

“Besides what?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min raised her hand toward her mouth and made a biting motion. She giggled and her cheeks blushed. Zhang Wuji knew she meant to say his cousin, Miss Yin. He waved his hand and went out the cabin door.

“Catch!” Zhao Min called out, tossing the Yitian Sword to him.

Zhang Wuji caught the Sword; his heart was touched. “She trusts me this much to the point of letting me borrow the Yitian Sword,” he thought. He tied the Sword on his back and walked toward the mountain peak on the northern end of the island. Keeping in mind what Zhao Min said he always stepped on bald rocks fearing there were venomous snakes among the grass. In about the time needed to drink a cup of tea, he reached the base of the mountain. He looked up and saw that the hut where his Yifu lived was completely dark, without any light. “Has Yifu gone to bed?” he thought. But then he remembered, “His eyes are blind; why would he need any light?” Right at that moment he faintly heard voices from the left-hand side of the mountain. Quickly he crouched down, turning his attention towards the direction of the sound, but by that time the voices were gone.

It was the beginning of the month and the north wind was blowing over the trees and bushes. Zhang Wuji moved quickly along the rustling noise of the blowing wind toward the source of the voices. Soon he heard Jin Hua Popo’s low and throaty voice about four, five ‘zhang’s ahead, she said “Still don’t want to do it? What are you waiting for?”

“Popo,” Yin Li replied, “Why are you doing this, as if … as if you don’t care about the old friendship? Xie Daxia and you have known each other from dozens of years; he trusted you and thus agreed to leave the Bing Huo Island to return to the Central Plains.”

“He trusted me?” Jin Hua Popo laughed coldly, “What a joke. If he did, why didn’t he let me borrow the Saber? He returned to the Central Plains because of his ‘yi zi’ [adopted/foster child]; what does it have to do with me?”

In the darkness Zhang Wuji vaguely saw Jin Hua Popo’s hunched back. Suddenly he heard a ‘clink’ noise as she pounded a metal nail with a mountain rock in front of her. A moment later the same noise was heard again. Zhang Wuji felt very strange; but he was afraid he might be detected by these two women, so he did not dare to move forward to take a closer look.

He heard Yin Li say, “Popo, if you want to take his treasured weapon away then fight him with a saber or a spear; that won’t be considered a hero’s misdeed. If the present matter is known, how can you not be the laughingstock of the heroes and warriors of the world? Besides, that Miejue Shitai has already died; what use is the Tulong Saber to you?”

Jin Hua Popo was angry; she straightened up her back and said in a stern voice, “Little girl, who rescued your insignificant life from the hands of your father? Now that you are a grown up, you don’t want to listen to Popo anymore! This Xie Xun is neither your friend nor your relative, why are you so adamant in protecting him? Give Popo a good reason.” Although her tone was grim, but her voice was actually low; apparently she was afraid Xie Xun on the mountain peak might hear her. Actually, the distance between that place and the peak was very far, it was a slim chance Xie Xun might hear her as long as she did not shout using her internal energy.

‘Clank, clank!’ Yin Li threw the bag she was carrying on the ground, and then she moved three steps backwards.

“Well?” Jin Hua Popo sternly said, “Your wings have grown, and now you want to fly, don’t you?”

Although watching from the darkness, Zhang Wuji could see her eyes shine with an intimidating power, like a cold piercing thunder.

“Popo,” Yin Li said, “It’s not that I dare to forget your great kindness in saving my life and teaching me martial arts. But Xie Daxia is his … is his Yifu.”

Jin Hua Popo let out a hollow laugh. “Surprisingly there is such an idiot like this in the world,” she said, “That boy surnamed Zhang has fallen into a ten-thousand ‘zhang’s ravine in the Western Region. You have heard it with your own ears from Wu Lie and Wu Qingying. If you don’t believe me, just capture those people and torture their confessions out. They have told us clearly; don’t tell me you think they were lying? That boy surnamed Zhang’s skeleton has turned into ashes by this time, and you still cannot forget him?”

“Popo,” Yin Li said, “I cannot cast him aside from my heart. Perhaps, this is what you said about some … some debt from the previous life.” Jin Hua Popo heaved a sigh and said, “Let’s not talk about that boy was not willing to come with us to the Ling She Island; even if he agreed to marry you, he’s dead now. What are you going to do? Luckily he died early; if he did not die and see your appearance, how could he love you? You would helplessly see him fall in love with some other woman; how would you feel then?”

The tone of these last few sentences was greatly moderated. Yin Li was silent; obviously she could not give her any answer. Jin Hua Popo continued, “Let’s not talk about other women, even our captive, that Emei Pai’s Miss Zhou, is very pretty. If that boy surnamed Zhang saw her, his heart would have been stirred. Would you then kill Miss Zhou, or would you kill that boy? Hm, hm, if you didn’t practice this ‘hand of thousand spiders ten thousand poison’ [‘qian zhu wan du shou’], you were actually a beautiful woman; but now? There is nothing we can do.”

“He has already died, my face has already been destroyed; what else can I say?” Yin Li said, “But Xie Daxia is his Yifu. Popo, we cannot hurt a single strand of his hair. Popo, I beseech you on this matter only; otherwise, I will listen to you.” While saying that, she bent her knees to kneel down.

Zhang Wuji was secretly astonished, “I became the new Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu and have already caused quite a stir in the Wulin; how come these two actually know nothing about it?” he thought, “Hmm, that’s right; it must be that they went to the far away Bing Huo Island to get my Yifu. The round trip journey took a really long time. This time they came back to Dadou without having any communication with anybody; no wonder they have not heard about me.”

Jin Hua Popo hesitated a moment before answering, “Very well, you stand up!”

“Many thanks, Popo!” Yin Li happily said.

“I promise you not to harm his life, but I must take the Tulong Saber from him …” Jin Hua Popo said. “But …” Yin Li said.

“Don’t fuss and make Popo angry,” Jin Hua Popo cut her off. Her hand moved and a ‘clink’ noise was heard again.

Zhang Wuji saw Jin Hua Popo’s hands were moving swiftly; successive ‘clink, clink’ noises were heard nonstop, farther and farther away. Yin Li sat on a rock with her head in her hands, sobbing softly. Zhang Wuji was very appreciative seeing, unexpectedly, that she has such a deep feeling toward him.

A moment later Jin Hua Popo shouted from about ten ‘zhang’s away, “Bring them here!” Yin Li had no choice but to take the two sacks and bring them to Jin Hua Popo.

Zhang Wuji crept forward several feet and looked; he was greatly shocked for he saw steel spikes seven, eight inches long were planted on the ground, among the rocks, about two, three feet apart. The sharp points of the spikes were facing upward; they looked very sharp, flickering with dim rays. The more Zhang Wuji thought about it, the more he was shocked. Apparently Jin Hua Popo was going to fight the Golden Mane Lion King, but she was afraid she might not be his match. If she launched secret projectiles, Xie Xun would be able to hear and evade; but steel spikes scattered on the ground were without noise and without movement. All she needed to do was lure him into the trap; how would a blind man like him be able to withstand the spikes?

Zhang Wuji’s anger flared up; he was about to reach out and pull the steel spikes and unmask her plot, but he changed his mind. “This wicked Popo calls my Yifu ‘Xie San Ge’; in the past they must have had unusual friendship,” he thought, “I’ll wait till she fights Yifu face to face, then I’ll expose her trick. Today the Heaven has led me, Zhang Wuji, to this place, so that Yifu may not suffer any harm.” Thereupon he sat on a rock, hugging his knees, waiting quietly for what would happen. Suddenly he heard a rustling noise amidst the blowing wind, like a falling leaf on a rock. He knew a martial art master with high ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was quietly coming near. Turning his head around he saw a shadow moving stealthily; it was no other than the Beggar Clan’s Elder, Chen Youliang. He had a curved saber in his hand, with its blade wrapped in cloth to avoid it from reflecting any light. Zhang Wuji mused how accurate Zhao Min’s prediction was; this man was indeed not a good person.

“Xie San Ge!” Jin Hua Popo shouted, “There is a dog thief who is not afraid of death coming here looking for you!”

Zhang Wuji was startled, he thought Jin Hua Popo was very good; could it be that his presence had already been detected? Reasonably said, it would not be the case. He saw Chen Youliang was crouching among the tall grass, without daring to make any movement. Zhang Wuji crept carefully several more ‘zhang’s forward; he wanted to get as close as possible to his Yifu, to guard him against Jin Hua Popo’s deceit and to offer his assistance as quickly as possible.

Not too long afterwards, a shadow of a big and tall man appeared from the hut on the mountain peak. Xie Xun walked slowly down the hill, and stopped several ‘zhang’s away from Jin Hua Popo. All along he did not utter a single word.

“Hey, hey,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Xie San Ge, you are utterly suspicious toward an old acquaintance, yet you readily believed a total stranger. This fellow Chen Youliang, whom you let go today, has come looking for you.”

Xie Xun coldly replied, “An open spear is easy to avoid, a hidden sword is hard to guard against. All my life Xie Xun has often suffered under those people close to me. That Chen Youliang is looking for me; what does he want?”

“This kind of treacherous lowly man, why would we want to care about him?” Jin Hua Popo said, “This afternoon you spared his life; do you know what position did his hands and feet take? His hands were in the ‘shi zi bo tu’ [the lion catches the rabbit] position, while his feet were in the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’ [devil-subduing kicking style]. Ha ha ha ha …!” Her speaking voice was clear and crisp, pleasant to the ears; but her laughter was sad and shrill like those of a crying owl in the deep of the night.

Xie Xun was startled for he knew Jin Hua Popo was not lying. Because of his blindness, he had fallen into Chen Youliang’s scheme. He wryly said, “It was not the first time I was taken advantage of by others. Lowly people like that are a dime a dozen in the Jianghu; I kill one more or one less, what difference does it make? Mrs. Han, you can be considered my good friend; you saw it, but chose to ignore it, and only now did you come and tell me. Are you trying to incite my anger?” Having finished speaking, he suddenly jumped toward Chen You Liang with an unbelievable speed.

Chen You Liang was shocked; he brandished his saber to hack. Xie Xun bent his left hand and snatched the saber away. ‘Slap, slap, slap!’ He successively slapped Chen Youliang’s ears three times; then his right hand grabbed the back of his neck and lifted him up. “If I want to kill you now, it would be as easy as killing a chicken,” he said, “But Xie Xun has given his words, letting you go and come back in ten years. If I see you again before that time on this island, I am going to take your dog’s life away.” Waving his hand, he threw Chen Youliang away.

Right away Chen Youliang’s body flew toward the spikes on the ground. If he fell down to the ground, the spikes would certainly pierce his body; and then Jin Hua Popo’s all-night effort would be wasted. Immediately Jin Hua Popo flew forward and hit Chen Youliang’s waist with her walking stick, sending him off several more ‘zhang’s to the side.

“If you dare to tread your feet even for one step on my Ling She Island, I am going to kill a hundred of your Beggar Clan disciples,” she shouted, “Jin Hua Popo has always been true to her words. Today I’ll let you enjoy one of my golden flowers [‘jin hua’] first.” With a wave of her left hand a golden light streaked by. ‘Puff!’ a golden flower pierced the ‘jia che xue’ [jawbone acupoint] on Chen Youliang’s left cheek, rendering him unable to speak momentarily, so that her secret plan would not be revealed.

Pressing his left cheek with his hand, Chen Youliang scurried downhill. By this time Xie Xun was only several ‘zhang’s away from the spikes. Zhang Wuji was crouching behind him. Only Zhang Wuji’s internal energy was much higher than Chen Youliang’s; he was able to regulate his breathing in such a way that Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo were not aware of his presence.

Jin Hua Popo turned around and praised, “Xie San Ge, your ears are as sharp as your eyes were. Hereafter you can arouse your heroic manner and wander unhindered in the Jianghu for twenty more years.”

“I was not able to see the ‘shi zi bo tu’ and the ‘jiang mo ti dou shi’,” Xie Xun replied, “As long as I know what really happened to my child Wuji, I will die with my eyes closed. The blood debts Xie Xun bears on his body are as high as the mountain. I deserve to die a miserable death, why would I want to wander unhindered in the Jianghu?”

Jin Hua Popo laughed and said, “For a Ming Jiao Hu Jiao Fa Wang [The Protector King of the Ming Cult], killing several people is nothing. Xie San Ge, let me borrow your Tulong Saber.” Xie Xun shook his head without saying anything.

Jin Hua Popo said again, “This place is no longer a secret; you can’t stay here any longer. Let me find another safe place for you to stay for a few months. Lend me the Tulong Saber so I can defeat my archenemy from the Emei Pai; and then I will seek Zhang Gongzi [young master Zhang] with all my might. Based on my skill, finding Zhang Gongzi and bringing him to your presence should not be a difficult matter.” Again Xie Xun shook his head.

Jin Hua Popo continued, “Xie San Ge, do you still remember the ‘si da fa wang, zi bai jin qing’ [four great protector kings, purple white golden and (dark) green], these eight characters? Remember how the four of us were under Yang Jiaozhu’s [Cult Leader Yang] command, the ‘Ying Wang Yin Er Ge’ [Eagle King, Second (older) Brother Yin], ‘Fu Wang Wei Si Ge’ [Bat King, Fourth (older) Brother Wei], and the two of us, ran amuck in the world, nobody could stop us? Today our great aspirations have grown old; can you let your ‘zi shan lao mei zi’ [purple robe old (younger) sister] being bullied without you lending a hand?”

Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised, “Listening to her, is it possible that she is unexpectedly the chief of our Cult’s Four Protector Kings, the ‘zi shan long wang’ [Purple Robe Dragon King]? Could there be such a coincidence in the world? How can she call Wei Fu Wang [Bat King Wei] ‘si ge’ [fourth (older) brother]?”

He heard Xie Xun sigh and say, “Those are all past events; why do you raise them up? Old, we are all old!”

“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “My old eyes are not blind yet; do you think I cannot see that in these last twenty years your martial art skill has advanced greatly? Why be so modest? In our whole lives we haven’t had too many good days. I’ll say before the Ming Jiao Si Da Fa Wang die, we have to join hands and attempt to achieve a great undertaking in the Jianghu.”

Xie Xun sighed said, “Yin Er Ge [second (older) brother Yin] and Wei Si Di [fourth (younger) brother Wei] might not necessarily still alive today. Especially Wei Si Di; the cold poison in his body was difficult to eliminate. I am afraid he is no longer alive.”

Jin Hua Popo laughed and said, “This time you might be wrong. Let me tell you honestly, at this time Bai Mei Ying Wang [White-browed Eagle King] and Qing Yi Fu Wang [Green-winged Bat King] are both on the Brightness Peak.”

“They went back to the Brightness Peak?” Xie Xun wondered, “What are they doing?”

“This Ah Li has seen it with her own eyes,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Ah Li is Yin Er Ge’s granddaughter. She offended her father and he wanted to kill her. The first time it was I who saved her; the second time it was Wei Si Ge. Wei Si Ge was taking her to the Brightness Peak, but along the way I stole her away. Ah Li, tell Xie Gong-gong [grandfather, a respectful term to address a senior] how the six major sects besieged the Brightness Peak.”

Thereupon Yin Li narrated briefly what happened in the western region. Only she was taken away by Jin Hua Popo before reaching the Brightness Peak, so that she did not have any recollection of the later incidents.

The more Xie Xun listened to her, the more anxious he became, “What happened next? What happened next?” he asked repeatedly. In the end he got angry, “Mrs. Han,” he said, “Although you did not get along with our brethrens very well because of your marital issue, our Cult is in difficulty, how could you stand as a spectator? Yang Jiaozhu was your Yifu. Have you forgotten how he treated you? Look at Yin Er Ge and Wei Si Di, Wu San Ren [the five wanderers] and the Five-Element Flag; didn’t they all come to the Brightness Peak to fight?”

Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “Without the Tulong Saber, I was defeated by Emei Pai’s Old Nun Miejue. Even if I went to the Brightness Peak, I still didn’t have a face to fight her; then why should I have gone?”

The two of them were silently standing facing each other. After a while Xie Xun asked, “How did you find out where I was? You have always been unwilling to speak plainly. Was it the Wudang Pai people?”

“How would the Wudang Pai people know?” Jin Hua Popo said, “When pressed by people of various sects, Zhang Cuishan, husband and wife, would rather kill themselves than revealing your hiding place, naturally Wudang disciples did not know. All right, I am not going to conceal anything from you today: in the western region I met by accident someone by the name of Wu Lie. He is a descendant of Wu Santong, a disciple of Duan Family from Dali. Quite by chance I overheard him talking to his daughter; from which I deduced the subject of their conversation. Thereupon I tortured him to tell me everything.”

Xie Xun was silent for half a day before saying, “This man surnamed Wu has met my child Wuji, hasn’t he? I believe he deceived that child to reveal my secret.”

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji was really ashamed, remembering how he was cheated at the ‘Zhu Jia Zhuang [Zhu Family Village], how Zhu Zhang Ling and Zhu Jiu Zhen, father and daughter, had used deceit to obtain the secret from him. If his Yifu had suffered any harm because of him, he would never atone for that guilt even if he had to die ten thousand times. Although his Yifu was blind, his ability to see things through was like those of seeing people.

Xie Xun continued, “The Six Major Sects besieging the Ming Cult is not a small matter; what happened to our Cult next?”

Jin Hua Popo replied, “The rise or fall, prosperity or decline, of the Ming Cult has nothing to do with Lao Po Zi. In the past, everybody on the Brightness Peak made things difficult for me. You might not remember that, but Lao Po Zi will never forget it. At that time only Yang Jiaozhu and you, Xie San Ge, who were good to me; that also I will not forget.”

“Ay, personal grudge is a small matter, protecting our Cult is important,” Xie Xun said, “Mrs. Han, you are rather narrow-minded.”

Jin Hua Popo was angry, “You are a real man, I am only a narrow minded, unethical woman. When I left the Cult, I swore that I would have nothing to do with the Ming Cult. How could that Hu Qingniu treat me as an outsider if this was not so? Why did he compel me to return to the Ming Cult before he would be willing to treat the poison from Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf]? I was the one who killed Hu Qingniu. Zi Shan Long Wang has violated the Ming Cult’s major law. How can I have any relation with the Ming Cult?”

Xie Xun shook his head. “Mrs. Han,” he said, “I understand what’s in your heart. You want to borrow my Tulong Saber; you said you wanted to deal with the Emei Pai, but actually you want to deal with Yang Xiao and Fan Yao. You have never forgotten your desire to enter the Brightness Peak via the secret passage. That gives me even more reason not to lend the Saber to you.”

Jin Hua Popo coughed several times. “Xie San Ge,” she said, “How was your martial arts compared to mine in the past?”

“Four Great Protector Kings, each one has their own strengths and weaknesses,” Xie Xun replied.

“But now you have lost your eyes; how would you fare compared to Lao Po Zi?” Jin Hua Popo asked.

Xie Xun fearlessly said, “You want to take the Saber by force, don’t you? With the Tulong Saber in his hand, Xie Xun will overcome the loss of his eyes.” Exhaling a long breath he moved one step forward; the pupils of his blind eyes were aimed at Jin Hua Popo imposingly.

Yin Li was intimidated; she withdrew several steps backward. Jin Hua Popo, with her hunchback, was standing up supported by her walking stick; occasionally she would let out one or two coughs, as if as soon as Xie Xun stretched out his hand, the Saber would be able to chop her into two pieces. But she stood motionless, as if she completely ignored Xie Xun.

Zhang Wuji had seen her in action several times; her speed was truly unbelievable. Probably she was slightly inferior to Wei Yixiao, but her movement was very strange, like a demon or a ghost; totally unpredictable. This moment Xie Xun and she were facing each other; one was like a drawn sword or bent bow, ready to spring into action; the other was like an enlightened sage, totally calm and at ease in the face of danger.

Zhang Wuji thought that since her position was above his (maternal) grandfather, his Yifu and Wei Fu Wang, her martial art skill must be very high; he could not help but secretly feel anxious for Xie Xun.

The wind was howling, the sound of the waves of the sea were faintly heard; adding some chill in the air to this already suspenseful situation. Two people stood less than a ‘zhang’ away facing each other, but neither one was willing to make the first move.

After a long time, Xie Xun suddenly said, “Mrs. Han, today you are forcing me to fight you, breaching the oath we made as the Four Protector Kings of the olden days, Xie Xun is really in pain.”

“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “You are always soft-hearted; I can’t believe those countless famous Wulin’s heroes and warriors were killed single-handedly by you.”

Xie Xun sighed, “I bore the enmity of my father, mother, wife and child; hence I disregarded everything,” he said, “The one thing I regretted most was with thirteen strokes of ‘qi shang quan’ [seven injuries fist (technique)] I killed Shaolin Pai’s Kong Jian Shen Seng [Divine Monk Kong Jian].”

Jin Hua Popo was awestruck. “Kong Jian Shen Seng really died under your hands?” she asked, “When did you learn that kind of fierce martial art skill?” At first she was confident her hands and feet would be able to deal with Xie Xun, but now she started to feel fear.

“Don’t be afraid,” Xie Xun said, “Kong Jian Shen Seng took the beating without retaliating. He wanted to use the vast and boundless Dharma to help me cross over from my evil way.”

“Hmm,” Jin Hua Popo said, “That sounds better. Lao Po Zi can’t be compared to Kong Jian Shen Seng. If you used thirteen punches to kill him, you would only need nine, ten punches to handle Lao Po Zi.”

Xie Xun took a step backwards, his tone suddenly turned gentle, he said, “Mrs. Han, at the Brightness Peak you treated me well. As your big brother I was sick, while my wife was weak from giving birth and could not get up. You took care of me with full attention for more than a month. I will always appreciate that.” Patting the grey cotton robe he was wearing he said, “I was overseas wearing beast’s leather as clothes, you sewed me this outfit, which fits me well inside and outside, showing me that your brotherly love at the Brightness Peak has not changed. Please leave! From now on we are not going to see each other anymore. I only ask you to find information on that child Wuji’s whereabouts and then bring him here to me; I will always be indebted to you.”

Jin Hua Popo laughed bitterly and said, “You still remember this friendship from the past. Let me be frank to you; ever since Yin Ye Da Ge [big brother Silver Leaf] died, my heart had died with him. It’s just that I still have some unresolved gratitude and grudges, so I cannot die just like that, and join Yin Ye Da Ge underground. Xie San Ge, although the people of the Brightness Peak are martial art experts and brilliant strategist, in your ‘mei zi’s [younger sister – term of endearment] eyes they are nothing. Only you, Xie San Ge, are special in my eyes. Do you know the reason?”

Xie Xun raised up his head and was silent for half a day before he finally shook his head and said, “Xie Xun has always been ordinary and mediocre, he certainly is not worthy of ‘xian mei’s [worthy (younger) sister] regard.”

Jin Hua Popo walked over several steps toward a piece of boulder, and then she slowly sat down. “At the Brightness Peak in those days,” she said, “Only Yang Jiaozhu and you, Xie San Ge, are special in my eyes. When I married Yin Ye Xiansheng, only the two of you did not resent my decision.”

Xie Xun also sat down and said, “Although Han Da Ge [big brother Han] was not a member of our Cult, he was a hero. Our brothers dissented to your marriage, they were rather a bit narrow-minded. Ay, they are under siege of the Six Major Sects, I wonder how they are doing?”

“Xie San Ge,” Jin Hua Popo said, “You are overseas, but your heart is still in Zhong Tu [central earth]; you have never forgotten your brethren of old. A man’s life is only a few decades, which will pass in a flash, why should you always think of others?”

By this time the two of them were only a few feet apart; hence they were able to hear each other’s breathing. Xie Xun noticed that Jin Hua Popo would cough every other sentences; he asked, “You suffered lung injury from the frostbite at the ‘bi shui han tan’ [jade-green water, frozen pool]; from that day until now, you are not completely healed?”

“Each time the weather turns cold, my coughing always gets worse,” Jin Hua Popo said, “Hmm, after coughing for dozens of years, I already became accustomed to it. Xie San Ge, I hear your breathing is uneven, is it the injury you suffered from training the ‘qi shang quan’? You must take a good care of yourself.”

“Many thanks for your attention, Xian Mei,” Xie Xun said. Suddenly he raised his head up and called Yin Li, “Ah Li, come over here.”

Yin Li came over and greeted him, “Xie Gong-gong.”

Xie Xun said, “Use your entire strength and pierce me with your finger.” Yin Li was startled; “I do not dare,” she said.

Xie Xun laughed, “Your ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ won’t be able to hurt me, although you are using your entire strength. I simply want to test your skill,” he said.

Yin Li still said, “Hai’er [lit. child] do not dare.” And then she added, “Xie Gong-gong, since Popo and you are old friends, whatever problem we have right now, why can’t we talk it over? We don’t have to fight over it.”

Xie Xun laughed bitterly, “Just pierce me with your finger,” he said.

Yin Li did not have any choice; she wrapped a handkerchief around her right index finger then stabbed Xie Xun’s shoulder with it. “Aiyo!” suddenly she called out and stumbled backwards; her body flew for more than a ‘zhang’ away. ‘Bang!’ she landed heavily on the ground. She felt as if the bones in her body were broken into pieces.

Jin Hua Popo maintained her composure; “Xie San Ge,” she slowly said, “Your heart is so wicked. You are afraid I might have a helper, hence you get rid of her first.” Xie Xun was silent for half a day before saying, “This child is kind hearted. She pricked me with only 20, 30% of her strength, and she wrapped her finger with a handkerchief, so that the ‘thousand spiders poison’ did not harm me. Very good, very good. Otherwise, the ‘thousand spiders poison’ would come back and attack her heart; her life would be gone by now.”

Listening to these words, Zhang Wuji’s back broke into cold sweats; he thought his Yifu plainly stated that he was going to test Yin Li’s strength, if she did indeed attack him with all her strength, wouldn’t she die a violent death? The Ming Cult people were indeed cruel; even his kind Yifu was no exception. He did not know Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo had been friends for a long time; obviously they cared of each other. He thought after talking to each other amiably, they would certainly not hold ill feeling toward each other. But with an extra help for Jin Hua Popo, Xie Xun was greatly disadvantaged; hence he wanted to get rid of her preemptively.

“Ah Li,” Xie Xun asked, “Why are you so kind to me?”

“You … you are his Yifu,” Yin Li said, “Besides … besides, you came here for his sake. In this world you and I are the only people who remember him.”

“Ah,” Xie Xun said, “I did not expect you to be this kind to my child Wuji; I nearly took your life. You come over here.”

Yin Li struggled up and slowly walked to him. Xie Xun put his lips on her ear and said, “I am going to pass on to you an internal energy cultivation method, which I developed on the Bing Huo Island. It is the essence of my life-long martial art accomplishment.” Without waiting for Yin Li to reply, he recited the theory from top to bottom one time.

Yin Li could not comprehend it completely; she tried desperately to memorize it. Xie Xun was afraid she could not remember, so he recited it two more times. “Have you memorized it?” he asked. “I have,” Yin Li replied.

“After you train it in five years, you will reap some benefit,” Xie Xun said. “Do you know why I pass this skill on to you?”

Yin Li suddenly cried and said, “I … I know. But … but I can’t.”

“What do you know? Why can’t you?” Xie Xun asked sternly. His left palm was on her hair, ready to strike if Yin Li’s answer did not satisfy him.

Covering her face with both hands, Yin Li said, “I know you want me to find Wuji and pass this skill on to him. I know that after I master this skill, you want me to protect Wuji, so that he won’t suffer under evil people’s cruel hands, but … but …” After saying two ‘buts’ she broke into a loud cry.

Xie Xun stood up and shouted, “But what? Has my child Wuji encountered any mishap?”

Yin Li threw herself on his bosom and wept. “He … he has died six years ago in the … in the western region, he fell down a valley and died.”

Xie Xun was trembling. “Are you … are you … serious?” he asked.

“I am,” Yin Li was still crying. “Those Wu Lie, father and daughter, saw it with their own eyes. Seven times did I prick both of them with the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ and seven times I saved their lives again, until they were suffering in between life and death. They … they could not tell me a lie.”

When Yin Li recounted Zhang Wuji’s death, Jin Hua Popo was going to stop her; but then she changed her mind, thinking that as Xie Xun heard his Yizi died, his mind would be troubled. True, in the coming fight he would be fiercer by 30%, but also he would be less cautious by 30%; thus increasing the chance he might fall into her steel spikes trap. Therefore, she only laughed coldly and did not say anything. Xie Xun lifted up his head and let out a loud whistle, while tears stream down his cheeks. Seeing his Yifu and his cousin loved him this much, Zhang Wuji could not contain himself much longer. He was about to come out and make himself known, but suddenly Jin Hua Popo said, “Xie San Ge, since your Yizi, that Zhang Gongzi has already died, why would you hold on to that Tulong Saber? Please lend it to me.”

Xie Xun hoarsely said, “You hid the truth from me really well. If you want to take the precious saber, you must take my life first.” He gently pushed Yin Li to the side. With a hiss he used the lapel of his robe to wipe his tears, and then tore it and tossed it toward Jin Hua Popo. It was called ‘ge pao duan yi’ [lit. cutting off the robe, breaking friendship].

Zhang Wuji thought, “I’d better come out and tell them the truth, so that these two will not senselessly injure their ‘yi qi’ [friendship, code of brotherhood]” He had just finished thinking when suddenly he heard some light breathing noise from the tall grass toward his far left. The noise came from quite a distant away, plus it was very light; if not due to his extremely keen ears, Zhang Wuji would not be able to hear it. His heart was moved, “Could it be that Jin Hua Popo secretly prepared some helpers? I’d better not rashly come forward.” In the meantime, he heard the gusts of wind from the Saber, as Xie Xun and Jin Hua Popo had started fighting each other.

Xie Xun brandished his precious saber around his body like a black dragon circling around him; sometimes fast, other times slow, with a divine variation. Jin Hua Popo was afraid of the Saber’s sharpness; she kept moving in circles some distant away from him. Sometimes Xie Xun would deliberately open up a hole in his defense, trying to entice Jin Hua Popo to enter, but Jin Hua Popo did not buy his trick; she would wait for him to attack, then with extreme ingenuity she would evade and launch a counterattack.

These two people knew their opponent’s martial art very well; victory or defeat would not be easily determined within one or two hundreds moves. Xie Xun relied on the precious saber, while Jin Hua Popo took advantage of his blindness. Each of them was trying to exploit this slight advantage to gain victory. In a way they were having a contest of wits and not of internal energy.

‘Swish, swish!’ suddenly two yellow rays flashed by; Jin Hua Popo launched two of her ‘jin hua’ [golden flower]. Xie Xun turned the Tulong Saber around; both ‘golden flowers’ stuck to the Saber. Turned out the golden flowers were made of pure steel plated with gold; while the Tulong Saber was cast from some ‘xuan tie’ [black/mysterious iron] with some magnetic property, which attract any ferrous metal.

These golden flowers were the secret projectiles that brought fame to Jin Hua Popo’s name, when released, the variation was endless; even if Xie Xun’s eyes were not blind he would be hard pressed to evade them. Unexpectedly, this Tulong Saber was the bane of these secret projectiles. Jin Hua Popo moved swiftly to the left and to the right, successively launching eight more golden flowers; all of them stuck to the Tulong Saber.

It was a dark night, with neither the moon nor the stars in the sky; the golden flowers on the Saber looked like several hundreds of fireflies dancing around in the air. Suddenly Jin Hua Popo let out a cough and shot sixteen, seventeen golden flowers at once, so that if Xie Xun intercepted the ones on his east, he would not be able to evade the ones on his west. Xie Xun waved his sleeve and rolled in about seven, eight golden flowers; while intercepted the other eight or so golden flowers with his Tulong Saber.

“Mrs. Han,” he shouted, “Your title is ‘zi shan long wang’, which is a big taboo against this saber. If you have a prolonged contact with it, I am afraid it won’t be to your advantage.”

Jin Hua Popo shivered. For martial art practitioners who live their lives on the blades of the weapons; mostly they paid particular attention to taboos like this. She was known as the ‘long wang’ [dragon king], while the saber was named ‘tu long’ [slaughtering the dragon]; so it was a very unlucky combination. She forced a laughter and said, “Perhaps my ‘sha shi zhang’ [killing-the-lion staff] will kill the blind lion first.” Abruptly her staff shot out. Xie Xun shrunk his shoulder to evade, but suddenly his foot stumbled. “Ah!” he cried, as the staff hit his left shoulder. Although the force had been dissipated for the most part, the hit was not light by any means.

Zhang Wuji was delighted, he cheered in his heart. He knew Xie Xun pretended he was not fast enough to dodge and thus took the hit; Zhang Wuji thought, “Yifu only needs to shoot the golden flowers in his sleeve, and then use the Tulong Saber in ‘qian shan wan shui’ [thousand mountains ten thousands rivers] to chop randomly. Jin Hua Popo will not dare to block the blade; she will be forced to move to the left. After two steps she won’t be able to move farther; at that time Yifu will use his internal energy to force the golden flowers on the Tulong Saber to shoot forward. Jin Hua Popo will be powerless to evade; most probably she will be seriously hurt.”

He had just finished thinking when yellow rays streaked out, Xie Xun did indeed broadcast the golden flowers rolled inside his sleeve; forcing Jin Hua Popo to withdraw to the left. Zhang Wuji was watching the fight when suddenly he remembered something. “Aiyo, not good!” he thought, “Jin Hua Popo also has already calculated her steps.”

By this time Zhang Wuji had acquired a universal knowledge of the martial art. When these two martial art masters attacked and blocked, not a single one of their movements was outside his anticipation. He saw Xie Xun’s ‘qian shan wan shui’ was successful in forcing Jin Hua Popo to withdraw to the left. With a loud shout Xie Xun shot the dozen or so golden flowers on his precious saber; “Aiyo!” Jin Hua Popo cried out and staggered several steps backwards. Xie Xun was a man of his words; after ‘ge pao duan yi’ [breaking the friendship], he showed no mercy whatsoever. He leaped forward to pursue, brandishing his saber to strike Jin Hua Popo.

“Watch out!” suddenly he heard Yin Li shouted loudly, “There are sharp spikes underneath your feet!”

Xie Xun heard the shout, and was shocked; but it was too late for him to stop. Suddenly he heard a series of ‘swish, swish’ noise; more than a dozen golden flowers came his way. Jin Hua Popo was taking advantage as his body was midair and incapable to evade; she wanted to force him to land and thus tread on the sharp spikes.

Xie Xun had no alternative but brandish his saber to block the golden flowers. Suddenly a series of clinking noises were heard; his feet reached the ground, uninjured. He stooped down and groped around. He found out that there were seven, eight inches long of steel spikes planted among the rocks on the ground. He could feel the spikes were very sharp; but someone had already shot the four spikes that his feet were supposed to land on, with gravels, sending the spikes fly away from him. From the wind generated by the gravels, Xie Xun could tell that the shooter was the youngster from the Gigantic Whale Clan who shot the seven pebbles to help him that afternoon. This man had been hiding nearby, but Xie Xun had not had the slightest idea; if not because of that man’s help, he would have been seriously injured by now, and then Jin Hua Popo only needed to butcher what was left of him. Thinking about this possibility, he was unable to restrain cold sweat from trickling down his back.

These two people had both laid a trap to harm their opponent; Xie Xun’s shoulder was hit by the staff, Jin Hua Popo was hit by two golden flowers from Xie Xun’s saber. Although the injuries were not life-threatening, considering the strength of their opponents, both of them were nonetheless suffering considerable disadvantages.

Jin Hua Popo was coughing badly several times before turning toward the place Zhang Wuji was hiding, “Ju Jing Bang kid,” she said, “You have repeatedly interfered with Lao Pozi’s business. Quickly give me your name.”

Zhang Wuji had not replied when suddenly he saw a yellow ray flashed by and Yin Li grunted as three golden flowers hit her on the vital points on her chest. Turned out Jin Hua Popo had realized that Zhang Wuji’s martial art was superior, and if she wanted to punish Yin Li, he would try to thwart it; therefore, she faced and spoke to him, and when he was the least expecting it, she backhandedly shot out some golden flowers. Zhang Wuji was shocked; he flew up and caught two golden flowers midair; and as soon as he landed, he embraced Yin Li in his bosom. Yin Li had not lost her consciousness; seeing a bearded man embracing her, she pushed out and struggled trying to get free, but when she exerted some strength, she threw up some blood. Zhang Wuji realized immediately what was going on; he quickly pulled the fake beard and moustache, and wiped the makeup from his face, revealing his real face.

Yin Li was dazed; “Ah Niu Gege [big brother Ah Niu],” she called out, “Is it you?”

“It’s me!” Zhang Wuji smiled. Yin Li felt relieved and immediately passed out. Seeing her injury was serious, Zhang Wuji did not dare to pull away the golden flowers; he quickly sealed her ‘shen feng’ [divine grace], ‘ling xu’ [spirit grave], ‘bu lang’ [stepping porch], and other vital acupoints connected to the injury, to protect her main artery.

He heard Xie Xun say with a loud voice, “Sire has lent your hands twice to save me; Xie Xun is greatly indebted.”

With a choking voice Zhang Wuji said, “Yi … Yi … You don’t have to …”

End of Chapter 28. 
@Chapter 29 – The Hopes of Four Women on the Boat
At that moment, they heard two ‘ding-a-ling’ sounds coming from behind them, and very soon three people had arrived. Zhang Wuji took a glance and saw three people wearing wide robes; two of them were very tall, while the one on the left was a woman. They were approaching with their backs to the moon, so that he could not see their faces clearly; but their robes were embroidered with an image of flaming fire, so obviously they were Ming Cult disciples. Each person had their hands high in the air, with each hand holding a black, about two feet long, tablet. The one, which was the tallest, said in a clear and loud voice, “The Ming Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling [Decree of the Holy Fire] have arrived, Cult Protectors Dragon King and Lion King have not kneeled down, what are you waiting for?”

His accent was terrible; he sounded very stiff. Zhang Wuji was startled; he mused, “Yang Jiaozhu [Cult Leader Yang] did mention that our Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling has been lost since the time of our thirty-first generation Cult Leader, Shi Jiaozhu. How can it be in these three people’s hands? Is this the genuine Sheng Huo Ling? Are they really our Cult’s disciples?”

Jin Hua Popo said, “I have left the Cult a long time ago, so these four words ‘hu jiao long wang’ [cult protector dragon king] don’t mean anything to me. What is Sire’s honorable name? Is that Sheng Huo Ling the real one or a fake? Where did it come from?”

That man barked, “You have left the Cult; what are you prattling about?”

Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “In all her life Jin Hua Popo has never allowed others to slander her for even half a word; in the past, when Yang Jiaozhu was still alive, even he was 30% respectful toward me. What is your position in the Cult that you dare to shout and bicker in my face?”

In a sudden movement, the three people’s shadow swayed, and simultaneously three left hands moved to grab Jin Hua Popo. She brandished her walking stick, sweeping horizontally toward them. It was unclear how these people moved, but somehow their position changed and Jin Hua Popo’s stick had struck empty air and three right hands reached out to the back of her neck; her body shook and she was thrown far away. Based on Jin Hua Popo’s martial art level, even if three highest-skilled martial art masters besieged her, they would not necessarily able to throw her out in one move like that. But, not only the footwork of these three people in white robes was very strange, their coordination was also near perfection; they were just like one person with three heads and six arms.

“Wow!” Zhang Wuji could not stop from exclaiming. As those three people moved, he was able to see their features clearly; the tallest among them had pointy whiskers, his eyes were bluish green. The other man had blonde moustache and eagle nose. The woman’s hair was black, just like the Chinese, but the pupils of her eyes were so pale that they were almost colorless. Her face was watermelon-seed shaped; she was around thirty years of age. Although her features were strange, she looked very beautiful.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Turn out these people are Middle-Easterners; no wonder their accents are so stiff, almost sounds like they are reciting a book.”

In a loud and clear voice the man with the pointy whiskers said, “Seeing the Sheng Huo Ling is like seeing the Jiaozhu; Xie Xun, why haven’t you knelt down?”

“Who are the three of you?” Xie Xun replied, “If you are Ming Cult disciples, then Xie Xun should know you. If you are not Ming Cult disciples, then Sheng Huo Ling has nothing to do with the three of you.”

“Where is the origin of the Ming Cult?” the pointy whisker asked. “It came from Persia,” Xie Xun answered.

“Correct, correct!” the pointy whisker said, “I am the ‘Liuyun Shi’ [flowing/spreading (take your pick) cloud emissary] from the Persian Central Ming Cult. These other two are ‘Miaofeng Shi’ [wonderful wind emissary] and ‘Huiyue Shi’ [glorious moon emissary]. We come to the Central Earth [‘zhong tu’] from Persia on assignment from the Central Cult Leader.”

Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji were stunned. Zhang Wuji had read Yang Xiao’s book, the ‘Ming Jiao Liu Chuan Zhong Tu Ji’ [A record on the spread of Ming Cult to the Central Earth]; so he knew the Ming Cult came from Persia. He saw these three people were Persian Middle-Easterners, their martial arts were also this good; so they must be telling the truth.

He heard that blonde-moustache Miaofeng Shi say, “Our Jiaozhu received the news that the Central Earth’s Jiaozhu was missing and the disciples were killing each other, the Cult was declining quickly. He ordered Cloud, Wind and Moon, three Emissaries, to reorganize the Cult’s affairs. All Cult disciples, from the top to the bottom, must receive our commands without fail.”

Zhang Wuji was delighted, “The Central Cult Leader has sent his orders; nothing can be better than that,” he thought, “Now I don’t have to bear this heavy responsibility with my superficial experience and cause harm on the important matter.”

He heard Xie Xun say, “Even though the Central Earth’s Ming Cult stemmed from Persia, we have become an independent faction for several hundred years; therefore, we are outside the Persian Central Cult’s jurisdiction. The three of you have come from afar to the Central Earth, Xie Xun is very pleased; as for kneeling down and so on, don’t you think it is rather unreasonable?”

The pointy whiskered Liuyun Shi struck the two pieces of black tablets in his hands to each other. ‘Clang!’ The noise was neither those of metals nor jade; it sounded very strange. He said, “This is the Central Earth’s Ming Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling; the former Jiaozhu surnamed Shi was unworthy; he lost it to the outsiders, and now we took it back. Seeing the Sheng Huo Ling is like seeing the Jiaozhu; Xie Xun still does not obey orders?”

When Xie Xun joined the Cult, Sheng Huo Ling had been lost quite a long time, so he had never seen it; but he had heard about its divine features, it was also frequently mentioned in the Ming Cult’s Holy Scripture. Therefore, listening to this unique sound, he knew that the Sheng Huo Ling in that person’s hand was the genuine one. Besides, those three were able to catch and throw Jin Hua Popo away with only one move, which ordinary people would not be able to do; his doubts were gone.

“Subordinate believes what Sire has said,” he said, “I wonder what instructions do you have for me?”

Liuyun Shi waved his left hand; together with Miaofeng Shi and Huiyue Shi they leaped together. In two jumps they landed by Jin Hua Popo’s side. Jin Hua Popo attacked them with some golden flowers; the three Emissaries dodged to the east and swayed to the west; the golden flowers fell to the ground. Huiyue Shi dashed forward with extended finger toward Jin Hua Popo’s throat. Jin Hua Popo raised her walking stick to block, followed by a counterattack. Suddenly her body flew up, because her back was grabbed and lifted up by Liuyun Shi and Miaofeng Shi. Huiyue Shi immediately advanced three steps and her palms struck Jin Hua Popo’s chest and abdomen three times. The palm strikes were not too heavy, but Jin Hua Popo was immobilized.

Zhang Wuji said in his heart, “These three’s movements were not extraordinary, but the ingenuity of their coordination was matchless. Huiyue Shi attacked from the front to entice the enemy and the other two mysteriously come in and out to capture Jin Hua Popo. Strictly speaking, in term of martial art, each one of them is inferior to Jin Hua Popo. That woman’s three palm strikes are not really sealing acupoint technique, but it was cunningly comparable to our Central Earth’s sealing acupoint technique.”

Liuyun Shi grabbed Jin Hua Popo with his left hand and tossed it toward Xie Xun. “Shi Wang [Lion King],” he said, “According to our Cult’s law, once somebody enters our Cult, he cannot rebel and leave the Cult. This woman has left the Cult on her own accord; hence she is a traitor. Behead her.” Xie Xun was shocked; “The Central Earth Ming Cult does not have this law,” he said.

Liuyun Shi coldly said, “From now on the Central Earth Ming Cult will receive the Persian Central Cult’s orders. A traitor who leaves the Cult will bring disaster later on, if left alive. Quickly execute her.”

Xie Xun fearlessly said, “The Four Kings of the Ming Cult are no different than sworn brothers and sister. Although she treated the Old Xie ruthlessly today, the Old Xie cannot retaliate cruelly. I cannot harm her.”

Miaofeng Shi laughed loudly. “Chinese people are wishy-washy, with so many customs to be observed” he said, “How can you not kill a traitor? Where is the logic in that? What a load of crap!”

“The Old Xie can kill people without batting an eyelid,” Xie Xun said, “But I have never killed my fellow Cult disciple.”

Huiyue Shi said, “You don’t want to kill her that means you are defying order. We will kill you first.”

Xie Xun replied, “The three of you came to the Central Earth, and your first order of business is forcing Jin Mao Shi Wang to kill Zi Shan Long Wang, is it because you want to establish authority by intimidation?”

Huiyue Shi showed a faint smile. “Your eyes are blind, but your heart is not,” she said, “Hurry up, do it!”

Xie Xun tilted his head up and let out a long laugh; his voice shook the mountain and valley. He loudly said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang has always been frank. Not to mention I won’t kill friends and comrades, even if the Old Xie has a deep enmity toward someone, you have already captured and immobilized her; how can the Old Xie kill someone who is unable to fight back?”

Listening to his Yifu’s heroic and frank speech, Zhang Wuji cheered inwardly; but he started to loath these Three Emissaries from the Persian Ming Cult.

He heard Miaofeng Shi said, “For the disciples of Ming Cult, seeing Sheng Huo Ling is the same as seeing the Jiaozhu. Do you dare to defy the Cult?”

Xie Xun boldly said, “The Old Xie has been blind for more than twenty years. Even if you place it in front of my eyes, I still cannot see it. What do you mean by ‘seeing Sheng Huo Ling is the same as seeing the Jiaozhu’?”

Miaofeng Shi was angry. “Fine! Then have you made up your mind to rebel?”

“The Old Xie has never dared to rebel against the Cult,” Xie Xun said, “But the Cult’s teaching is to do good and shun evil; ‘yi qi’ is heavily emphasized. Xie Xun would rather lose his head than do this despicable thing.”

Jin Hua Popo was paralyzed, but she heard everything Xie Xun said. Zhang Wuji realized his Yifu was about to face a life and death situation; he immediately laid Yin Li gently on the ground. He heard Liuyun Shi say, “Ming Cult disciples who refuse to follow the Sheng Huo Ling’s order will be killed without mercy!”

“I am a Protector King of the Cult,” Xie Xun shouted, “Even if Jiaozhu himself want to execute me, he would have to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, and to the Ming Zun [the Ming Cult prophet(?)] in front of the altar and state my crime clearly.”

Miaofeng Shi chuckled and said, “The Ming Cult of Persia was fine, but once it arrived at the Central Earth, it has so many of these stinky customs!” All three Emissaries let out a whistle and together they charged forward.

Xie Xun brandished his Tulong Saber, forming a wall in front of his body. The Three Emissaries successively attacked three times but failed to get close to him. Huiyue Shi managed to sneak in, the tablet in her left hand struck toward the top of Xie Xun’s head. Xie Xun raised the Saber to block, ‘Clang!’ the noise was very strange. No other weapon could match the sharpness of the Tulong Saber; yet it failed to cut the Sheng Huo Ling.

In between strikes, Liuyun Shi rolled down toward the left and hit Xie Xun’s leg with his fist. Xie Xun staggered. Right that moment Miaofeng Shi swept his tablet horizontally toward Xie Xun’s back, suddenly he felt that his wrist was grabbed and the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand was snatched by someone else. In great surprise he turned around and saw a young man with the Sheng Huo Ling in his right hand.

With an unmatched speed and unbelievable agility Zhang Wuji had managed to jump in and snatch the tablet away. Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi were startled and angered; they attacked together from two sides. Zhang Wuji turned around and dodged to the left; unexpectedly, ‘Slap!’ his back was squarely hit by the tablet in Huiyue Shi’s hand.

The Sheng Huo Ling was made of special material; it was extremely hard. As Zhang Wuji was hit, his vision turned black, he almost passed out. Luckily, the divine energy [‘shen gong’] protecting his body was so profound that he managed to control his mind and he dashed three steps forward. The Persian Three Emissaries immediately rushed after him and surround him.

Zhang Wuji attacked Liuyun Shi with the tablet in his right hand, while his left hand swiftly reached out and grabbed the Sheng Huo Ling in Huiyue Shi’s hand. Who would have thought that suddenly Huiyue Shi let her hand loose; the Sheng Huo Ling flew upward with the tail first. ‘Slap!’ it hit Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji felt all five fingers of his left hand went numb; he had no choice but let the Sheng Huo Ling he just seized to fall down. Huiyue Shi deftly reached out and snatched it back.

Ever since Zhang Wuji learned the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ plus receiving Zhang Sanfeng’s instructions on the most refined secret of the Taiji Fist, he had been roaming around without any match. Unexpectedly now that he fought Huiyue Shi, a woman, he was hit repeatedly. On the second time, if not of his ‘shen gong’ reacted naturally to provide protection, his wrist would have been broken. He was wary and did not dare to attack; he stopped and focused his attention to see his opponents’ moves more clearly.

The Persian Three Emissaries were also amazed that he was hit twice without sustaining any injury. Miaofeng Shi suddenly bent down and charged toward Zhang Wuji with his head as a battering ram. Using one- self’s most important part to strike the enemy was actually a big violation of the martial art theory. Zhang Wuji did not budge from his position; he knew that a clumsy move like this bound to be followed by an exceptionally fierce stance. He waited until the head was only about one foot in front of his body before he finally moved one step backward.

Liuyun Shi suddenly leaped up; trying to land on top of Zhang Wuji’s head. It was another weird move; attacking the enemy using one’s buttock. Although there were countless strange moves within the martial art world, such a clumsy and seemingly useless stance had never been heard of. Without batting an eyelid, Zhang Wuji stepped sideways to evade. Suddenly he felt pain on his chest, as Miaofeng Shi struck him with his elbow. The ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine-yang divine energy] in Zhang Wuji’s body reacted naturally, sending Miaofeng Shi stumbling three steps backward. He was just about to steady his feet when the residue of the force compelled him to fall back three more steps.

The Persian Three Emissaries’ countenances changed in consternation. Huiyue Shi swept the Sheng Huo Ling in her hands horizontally, while Liuyun Shi made three somersaults in the air. Zhang Wuji wondered what his intention was, but he knew he had better evade. He had just moved one step to the left when a white ray of light flashed, and his right shoulder was heavily hit by the Sheng Huo Ling in Liuyun Shi’s hand.

It was indeed an unthinkable stance that Zhang Wuji did not the least bit anticipate. Liuyun Shi was obviously somersaulting in the air; how could he suddenly reach out with his Sheng Huo Ling and struck out his shoulder? Zhang Wuji was startled and did not dare to prolong contact. Besides, although his body was protected by the ‘jiu yang shen gong’, the strike on his shoulder was so heavy that he felt the pain to his bone and marrow. However, he fully realized that if he drew back, his Yifu’s life would be difficult to protect. Therefore, he took a deep breath and clenching his teeth he leaped forward; his palm struck toward Liuyun Shi’s chest.

At the same time, Liuyun Shi leaped forward and struck the Sheng Huo Ling in his hands to each other. ‘Clang!’ Zhang Wuji was still in the air; hearing the noise his mind was suddenly disturbed and he fell back down to the ground. He felt a shot of pain on his waist as Miaofeng Shi kicked him. ‘Bang!’ Miaofeng Shi stumbled backward from the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ reaction; while Huiyue Shi hit Zhang Wuji’s right arm with her Sheng Huo Ling.

All this time Xie Xun was standing on the side, listening to the fight. He knew this young man from the Gigantic Whale Clan had already hit several times and was presently exhausted. Xie Xun regretted his blindness that he was helpless to step forward and lend his hand. He was very anxious; if he was fighting alone, he would be able to distinguish the enemy’s weapon, fist or kick by listening to the wind. But if he was fighting alongside a friend, how could he tell whether it was the friend’s fist or kick, or it was the enemy’s weapon? He could brandish his Tulong Saber; but wouldn’t he be greatly distressed if he inadvertently hacked down his own friend?

“Shao Xia! [young hero]” he called out, “Please back off. This is the Ming Cult’s business; it has nothing to do with you, Sire. Shao Xia has repeatedly helped me today; Xie Xun is deeply grateful.”

Zhang Wuji shouted, “I … I … Go away quickly! Please listen to me, go away!”

Right away Liuyun Shi struck with his Sheng Huo Ling. Zhang Wuji parried with the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand. ‘Clunk!’ Two Sheng Huo Ling struck each other, the noise was unbearable, it sounded like a slaughtered animal or grating metals. Liuyun Shi could not hold his grip, his Sheng Huo Ling flew up. Zhang Wuji quickly leaped up trying to snatch it; but suddenly ‘Rip!’ a large portion of the clothes on his back was grabbed by Huiyue Shi. Her fingernails created several lines of claw cuts on Zhang Wuji’s back. Zhang Wuji was in so much pain that his action was slowed down and Liuyun Shi managed to snatch the Sheng Huo Ling back.

The fight went on for several more stances. Zhang Wuji realized that in terms of strength, these three were far inferior to him, but their martial art was very strange, and their weapons were mysterious, almost magical. But it was their collaboration that was the most difficult to deal with; it was like a formation, but not quite a formation, like choreographed movements, but not quite like it. It was mysterious and ruthless, beyond imagination. He knew that as long as he could strike one of them, he would win the battle. But whenever he attacked one, the other two would launch a converging attack to help their comrade. Zhang Wuji kept changing his style, but throughout he was unable to break these three people’s defense; instead, he was hit twice by the Sheng Huo Ling. Luckily, for the Persian Three Emissaries, this was the first time their fists and kicks bounced back to hurt them each time they attacked; after a while they did not dare to made fists and kicks contact with him anymore.

With a loud shout Xie Xun leaped forward, holding the Tulong Saber in front of his chest. He came near Zhang Wuji and said, “Shao Xia, use this Saber!” while handing the Saber over to him.

Zhang Wuji thought that with this precious saber’s invincible power, he might be able to repel the enemy; hence he took the Saber immediately. Xie Xun’s right foot kicked down to jump backward, but within a split second his back was heavily hit by Miaofeng Shi’s fist, he felt as if his internal organs inside his chest and belly were turned upside down. This fist was without a noise and without a trace; Xie Xun did not hear the least bit of wind.

Zhang Wuji brandished the Saber to hack Liuyun Shi. Liuyun Shi raised both of his Sheng Huo Ling, moved both of his hands, and the Sheng Huo Ling rode on the Tulong Saber. Zhang Wuji felt an intense vibration on his palm and the Tulong Saber almost fell off his hand. He was shocked and hastily added more internal strength to his hand. It had always been easy for Liuyun Shi to use the Sheng Huo Ling to seize his opponent’s weapon; he had done it thousands of times without failing. This time unexpectedly he failed; he was greatly surprised. Huiyue Shi let out a shrill shout and the Sheng Huo Ling in her hands also rode on the Tulong Saber’s blade. Four tablets pulled the Saber together, the force increased.

Zhang Wuji had received seven, eight injuries; although they were all minor, his internal energy had been greatly reduced. At this moment he felt half of his body was feverish, his right hand, which was grabbing the Saber, was trembling. He knew this Saber was his Yifu’s lifeline. His Yifu had not found out the truth about him, yet surprisingly he was willing to lend the Saber away, demonstrating his heroic character. Supposing that Zhang Wuji lost the Saber in his hand, how would he still have the face to see his Yifu? Thereupon with a loud grunt he sent out his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ like a steady stream of energy attacking his enemies.

Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi’s faces changed. Miaofeng Shi realized the disadvantageous situation, he moved the remaining Sheng Huo Ling in his hand to also ride on the Tulong Saber. Now Zhang Wuji had to resist three powerful pull on his Saber, yet he was able to hold his ground. He was secretly glad that he managed to snatch the Sheng Huo Ling away from Miaofeng Shi earlier; otherwise, he would be really hard-pressed to resist the six Sheng Huo Ling altogether at the same time.

By this time these four people had reached the stage where they were staking everything in this internal energy tug-of-war. Zhang Wuji thought that this internal energy duel was exactly what he was expecting, since his internal energy was a lot stronger.

For a moment four people stood motionless with each one exerting his/her internal energy. Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt a shot of pain in his chest as if a very fine sharp needle was pricking his heart and lung. His grip loosened and the five Sheng Huo Ling pulled the Tulong Saber away. Facing this great change, he stayed calm; in one fluid motion he pulled the Yitian Sword from his waist and using the ‘yuan zhuan ru yi’ [lit. circle/sphere revolving harmoniously] from the Taiji Sword, he made some slanting circles, simultaneously sweeping the Persian Three Emissaries’ lower abdomen.

When the Three Emissaries were about to leap back to evade, Zhang Wuji returned the Yitian Sword into its scabbard on his waist, while simultaneously reached out and snatched the Tulong Saber back. These four movements: loosing the Saber, pulling the Sword, returning the Sword, and snatching the Saber back, were executed swiftly, lightning fast; based on the seventh level of ‘qian kun da nuo yi’.

“Ah!” the Persian Three Emissaries exclaimed in amazement. Their internal energy was not as strong as Zhang Wuji’s; as soon as they opened their mouths, three Sheng Huo Ling were pulled away by the Tulong Saber. Three people quickly exerted their internal energy to pull back the Sheng Huo Ling; once again the four of them were locked in a stalemate situation.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt that pricking pain in his chest again. This time he had anticipated the attack, so that his grip on the precious saber was not loosened. These two attacks were tangible, he could feel it; but in reality they were formless attacks. A thread of cold air broke through his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ defense line, straight to his internal organs. He knew it was the Persian Three Emissaries’ cold ‘yin’ internal energy, concentrated into a singular point and entered his body via the Sheng Huo Ling.

When a ‘yin’ type of energy attack a ‘yang’ one, it might not necessarily be able to penetrate the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ defense. However, his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ was protecting his whole body, while the ‘yin’ energy was concentrated like a thin silk thread, drilling through his defense system. It was difficult to guard against, as well as difficult to bear. For example, the elephant has great strength, yet even a woman or a small child will be able to prick its skin with a small embroidered needle. As the ‘yin’ energy entered the body, it would disperse immediately; but this prick could really cause the pain to enter the bones.

Huiyue Shi successively sent out two attacks of ‘tou gu zhen’ [bone penetrating needle] internal energy. She was astonished to see the opponent resisted her attacks seemingly without too much effort. Although Miaofeng Shi’s left hand was free, his entire strength was actually concentrated to his right arm; so that his left hand was no different from if it was paralyzed.

Zhang Wuji realized that if this deadlock situation continued and while the enemy keep repeatedly sending this needle-like ‘yin’ energy attacks, he would not be able to hold on in the end; yet he did not have any real idea on how to get out of this situation. He heard Xie Xun’s heavy breathing behind him, and realized he was walking step-by-step closer; apparently he meant to strike the enemy to help Zhang Wuji. However, by this time the four people’s entire bodies were covered with their internal energy; if Xie Xun struck the enemy, it would be the same as striking Zhang Wuji, and therefore, he did not dare to act recklessly.

“This situation is dangerous,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Getting Yifu away from this place is more important.” Thereupon with a clear voice he said, “Xie Da Xia, although these Persian Three Emissaries’ martial art is marvelous, it is not difficult for me to escape alone. Would you please leave for the time being, after I’m done, I will return the precious saber to you.”

The Persian Three Emissaries were even more alarmed to hear him open his mouth as if nothing happened, while in reality he was exerting his entire internal energy.

Xie Xun asked, “Shao Xia, what is your honored surname and great given name?”

Zhang Wuji thought that if he let himself known, out of his deep love toward him, his Yifu would certainly stake it all to fight the Persian Three Emissaries; hence, controlling his emotion he said, “My surname is Zeng, given name Ahniu. Xie Da Xia, you haven’t left; could it be that you are afraid I might embezzle your treasured saber?”

Xie Xun laughed aloud and said, “Zeng Shao Xia [young hero Zeng], you don’t need to incite me. You and I have the same guts; Xie Xun is very happy that in his sunset years he can have a friend like you. Zeng Shao Xia, I am going to use the ‘qi shang quan’ [seven-injury fist (technique)] to strike that woman. As I send out my strength, you can let the Tulong Saber go.”

Zhang Wuji knew the fierceness of his Yifu’s ‘qi shang quan’. As long as he was willing to let the Tulong Saber go, one fist from his Yifu would send Huiyue Shi to her violent death. On the other hand, his Cult would develop a very deep enmity with the Persian Central Cult. Zhang Wuji had always been earnestly admonishing his brethrens to live in harmony with their fellow Cult disciples; if today without any reason he killed one of the Central Cult’s emissaries, how could he continue to be the Cult Leader? Thereupon he hastily said, “Hold on!”

Toward Liuyun Shi he said, “Let us hold our hands for a moment, I have something I’d like to say to the three of you.” Liuyun Shi nodded.

Zhang Wuji continued, “I have a close relationship with the Ming Cult. The three of you have the Sheng Huo Ling in your hands then you are our honored guests. Just now I offended you; for which I apologize. Let us pull our internal energy back together and stop fighting; what do you say?”

Liuyun Shi repeatedly nodded his head. Zhang Wuji was delighted; he pulled his strength back and pulled the Tulong Saber to the front of his chest. He felt the Persian Three Emissaries were also pulling their internal energy back; but suddenly a whiff of ‘yin’ energy – like a saber, like a sword, like a dagger, like a chisel, struck straight into the ‘yu tang xue’ [jade hall acupoint] on his chest.

This time, although the cold ‘yin’ energy was still formless and invisible, it felt like a steel blade’s stab. In an instant Zhang Wuji was suffocated, his body was paralyzed; several thoughts flashed in his mind, “After I die, it will be difficult for Yifu to escape their cruel hands. I can’t believe the Persian Central Cult’s emissaries do not give any thought to good faith. I wonder if my cousin Yin Li is going to live… What will happen to Miss Zhao and Miss Zhou? Xiao Zhao, ay, poor little child! What will happen to our Cult’s great undertaking of driving the Yuan away?” He saw that Liuyun Shi raised the Sheng Huo Ling in his right hand, ready to strike the top of his head. Zhang Wuji quickly circulated his internal energy, trying to attack the ‘yu tang xue’ on his chest, but he felt the energy flow was sluggish.

Suddenly a loud female voice was heard, “The Central Earth Ming Cult battle force has arrived!” Liuyun Shi was startled, his hand halted in midair and did not strike down. A grey shadow flashed by, pulled the Yitian Sword on Zhang Wuji’s waist, and swept toward Liuyun Shi’s chest.

Although Zhang Wuji’s body was immobilized, he could see clearly that this person was Zhao Min. He was delighted, but his delight quickly turned into shock, because the stance she was using was Kunlun Pai’s deathly stance called the ‘yu sui kun gang’ [jade shattered over Kunlun (mountain) ridge]; it was the stance to kill the enemy without any regard of one self’s safety. Although Zhang Wuji did not know the name of this stance, he knew that by using this move plus the Yitian Sword’s sharpness, she would certainly inflict harm to Liuyun Shi, but it would also difficult for her to escape the enemy’s cruel hand.

Liuyun Shi could see immediately the fierceness of this sword attack. It would be difficult for him to save himself, let alone thinking of joining hands with the other Emissaries to launch a converging attack. In his desperation he raised his Sheng Huo Ling to block with all his might, followed by throwing himself on the ground and rolled away. ‘Bang!’ the Sheng Huo Ling managed to divert the Yitian Sword, but he felt a breeze of his left cheek. Without knowing whether he was dead or still alive he stood up and traced his cheek; he felt something wet and sticky, and extremely painful. Turned out the beard and whiskers on his left cheek, along with a piece of his skin, had been sliced by the Yitian Sword. If not because of the special material Sheng Huo Ling was made of, half of his skull would be sliced by this Yitian Sword strike.

When Zhang Wuji left to see Xie Xun, Zhao Min kept thinking that Jin Hua Popo was hiding a lot of craftiness; plus, Chen Youliang’s actions were suspicious. She was anxious over his safety; therefore, she quietly followed behind. She knew her own ‘qing gong’ was inferior, hence if she came too close she would be discovered in no time. She stayed some distance away and did not come close until Zhang Wuji was fighting the Persian Three Emissaries.

When Zhang Wuji was engaged in internal energy duel against the Three Emissaries, she was delighted; thinking that although these three foreigners’ martial art was weird, in term of internal energy, no way would they surpass Zhang Wuji’s ‘jiu yang shen gong’. When Zhang Wuji suddenly called out to hold their hands, Zhao Min was about to call him to be careful, but the enemy had already launched the ‘yin feng dao’ [‘yin’ wind saber] that Zhang Wuji was hurt and he fell down. In her anxiety she disregarded everything and dashed out, snatched the Yitian Sword and brandished it with Kunlun Pai’s suicidal stance she saw in the Wan An Temple earlier.

Zhao Min succeeded in forcing Liuyun Shi away, but the Yitian Sword had bounced back and slashed her own hat, exposing a cluster of her beautiful hair. Her Sword made a slanted circle as she threw herself toward Miaofeng Shi, while her Yitian Sword followed behind.

This move was called the ‘ren gui tong tu’ [man and ghost travel together], a Kongtong Pai suicidal move, similar to Kunlun Pai’s ‘yu sui kun gang’; both were used as one was certain he or she would definitely lost, then his or her only hope would be to die together with the enemy. Shaolin and Emei, two Buddhist sects did not have this kind of desperate stances. Those who launched ‘yu sui kun gang’ and ‘ren gui tong tu’ were not trying to score a victory amidst a defeat, or to seek life amidst deaths; but they deliberately wounded themselves to perish together with the enemy. When the masters of Kunlun Pai and Kongtong Pai were imprisoned, they were humiliated by being forced to contend in martial arts while their internal energy was gone. Because they knew it was impossible for them to score any victory, some hot-tempered masters had used these kinds of stances. Unfortunately, their strength was not enough and they failed in their attempts, giving Zhao Min the opportunity to memorize these stances, one- by-one, in her heart. Seeing her coming his way in this violent manner, Miaofeng Shi was shocked; his body turned cold and he froze. Although his martial art skill was high, his courage was lacking. Seeing this kind of move, he was unable to parry; he was so intimidated that he stood as stiff as a corpse, with hands froze in the air, waiting for death. In the meantime, Zhao Min’s body had already reached the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand; shaking out her Sword, she stabbed Miaofeng Shi’s chest.

The principle of this stance was throwing one’s body to the enemy’s weapon first, and then, as the weapon, be it saber or sword, spear or axe, was still in one’s body that the enemy’s movement was temporarily delayed, one would stab one’s sword. Even if the enemy’s martial art skill were higher, they would not be able to escape.

Miaofeng Shi was scared to death to see this fierce attack. Fortunately, the weapon in his hand was the Sheng Huo Ling, which looked like an iron ruler, without any sharp edge. As Zhao Min’s body landed on the weapon, she was unharmed. Her Sword had barely stabbed forward when her back was grabbed by Huiyue Shi. The Persian Three Emissaries’ collaboration in fighting the enemy together was truly marvelous beyond imagination.

Zhao Min’s two suicidal moves had thrown three martial art masters into confusion; until this time, Huiyue Shi only managed to grab Zhao Min’s back. Her grab seemed ordinary, but actually it was very accurate and swift like a meteor. Although Zhao Min’s sword was also swift and fierce, it still failed to reach Miaofeng Shi’s body in the end.

As Zhao Min felt her arm tighten, she knew something was amiss, she did not resist the pull, she let her body fall backwards at the same time turned her sword around and stabbed her own lower abdomen. This suicidal stance was even fiercer than the previous ones; it was a part of Wudang Pai’s sword technique called the ‘tian di tong sui’ [heaven and earth live together]. Actually, it was not created by Zhang Sanfeng, but came from Yin Liting’s painstaking effort; he meant to use it against Yang Xiao. Ever since Ji Xiaofu died, he could think nothing else but how to kill Yang Xiao to avenge her death; yet he realized his martial art skill was not Yang Xiao’s match. Although his Shifu was the number one martial artist in the world, his own intelligence and perception was limited; his comprehension was only about 30, 40% of his Shifu’s skill. In any case, after killing Yang Xiao he did not think to live anyway, hence on the Wudang mountain he painstakingly thought of several moves, which might enable him to kill the enemy while disregarding his own life.

Yin Liting trained his sword in secret. One time Zhang Sanfeng saw him. He sighed, knowing that whatever he said, Yin Liting could not be persuaded. Thereafter he named this stance ‘tian di tong shou’, meaning that after someone dies, the spirit becomes immortal, it will live for tens of thousand springs (season). Hence, in actuality, it was a solemn and stirring sword move to take away the shell in which that spirit resides.

Yin Liting’s senior disciple was trying to use this stance at the Wan An Temple; luckily Fan Yao saved him. Zhao Min saw it and this time she used it. This move could be used to kill an enemy who was grabbing one from behind. The sharp sword penetrated one’s lower abdomen, straight through to the enemy’s lower abdomen; how would Huiyue Shi escape? If Miaofeng Shi was not scared out of his wits and Liuyun Shi was standing close by, then the two of them might be able to save her, since Huiyue Shi and her partners had been working together long enough that they developed an alertness as if they were one person.

They saw the Yitian Sword was about to pierce Zhao Min and Huiyue Shi’s lower abdomen. Right at this crucial moment Zhang Wuji succeeded in breaking through his sealed acupoint. Quickly he reached out to seize the Yitian Sword. Zhao Min struggled to free herself from Huiyue Shi’s grab. Moving very fast she took the Sheng Huo Ling from Zhang Wuji’s hand and threw it far away. ‘Swish!’ it fell among the sharp steel spikes Jin Hua Popo spread on the ground earlier.

To the Persian Three Emissaries, this Sheng Huo Ling was as important as their lives. Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi disregarded Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min as their enemy; they did not even give any thought to Miaofeng Shi’s safety, they jumped toward the steel spike formation to look for the Sheng Huo Ling.

Rushing forward for only a ‘zhang’ or so, they reached the steel spikes. “Ah!” Huiyue Shi screamed, as she treaded on one of the steel spikes.

It was a moonless night with wind blowing hard, the grass was knee-deep; they could not see the steel spikes and the Sheng Huo Ling. They were forced to get down and pull the spikes while groping around for the Sheng Huo Ling. At that moment Miaofeng Shi called out in alarm, as if he had just awaken from a dream, and leaped forward to follow his comrades.

In order to save Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min had used these three stances much like a rabbit fighting a falcon; certainly without even give it a thought in advance. Now that the excitement subsided, the more she thought about it, the more she was afraid. “Wah!” she broke into a cry and threw herself in Zhang Wuji’s bosom.

Zhang Wuji embraced her with a heart full of gratitude, but he realized that as soon as the Persian Three Emissaries found the Sheng Huo Ling, they would turn around against them. “Let’s go quickly!” he hastily said. He turned to return the Tulong Saber to Xie Xun. Carrying the severely wounded Yin Li, he said, “Xie Da Xia, let us temporarily escape from them.”

“Right,” Xie Xun replied. Stooping down he unsealed Jin Hua Popo’s acupoints.

Zhang Wuji thought that after narrowly escaped death, Jin Hua Popo would certainly forget her enmity towards Xie Xun. Four people went down the hill for several ‘zhang’s when Zhang Wuji thought that although Yin Li was his own cousin, yet a man and a woman should not be to close to each other; thereupon he handed her over so Jin Hua Popo could carry her.

Zhao Min was leading the way, followed by Jin Hua Popo and Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji was the last, to protect them against the enemy. Looking back he saw the Persian Three Emissaries were still stooping down, searching among the long thick patch of grass. Zhang Wuji recalled the thrill of his defeat just now, and his heart shivered in fear; plus he was not sure if Yin Li would survive this severe injury.

While he was still deep in thought, suddenly he heard Xie Xun’s angry shout and saw him sending his fist toward Jin Hua Popo’s back. Jin Hua Popo reached back to parry, while simultaneously throwing Yin Li to the ground. Zhang Wuji was shocked and flew forward.

“Mrs. Han,” Xie Xun barked, “Why do you want to kill Miss Yin?”

Jin Hua Popo laughed coldly, “Whether you killed me or not, that’s your business. Whether I want to kill her or not, that’s my business. Why do you care anyway?”

“Since I am here,” Zhang Wuji said, “I won’t let you harm anybody on your whim.”

“Haven’t you meddled enough in other people business for today, Sire?” Jin Hua Popo asked.

“That’s not necessarily your business,” Zhang Wuji said, “The Persian Three Emissaries will pursue us here in an instant and you still will not go?”

Jin Hua Popo snorted and ran westward. Suddenly she shot three golden flowers backhandedly toward the back of Yin Li’s head. Zhang Wuji stretched out his hand and flicked his fingers. ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ the sound of golden flowers split the air, flying back toward Jin Hua Popo, stronger than arrows shot from a crossbow.

Jin Hua Popo had already seen his face clearly when Zhang Wuji held Yin Li for the first time and wiped out the beards pasted on his lips. Since realizing this young man’s internal energy was surprisingly very profound, she did not dare to reach out and catch; hastily she ducked down to dodge. The three golden flowers swept past her robe and tore away three big strips of clothes on her back. She was so frightened that her heart was jumping madly; she scurried away without even looking back.

Zhang Wuji reached out to carry Yin Li. Suddenly he heard Zhao Min moan in pain while bending her waist and pressed both hands on her lower abdomen. Hastily he went forward and asked, “What is it?” But then he saw that her hands were full of blood, which was still seeping out from her fingers. Turned out the ‘tian di tong shou’ had stabbed her abdomen after all.

Zhang Wuji was very shocked and busily asked, “Is the injury deep?”

Right at that moment they heard Miaofeng Shi cheered, “I found it! I found it!”

“Don’t mind me!” Zhao Min urged, “Go! Just go!” Zhang Wuji reached out to carry her and rushed downhill.

“To the ship! We escape to the sea!” Zhao Min said.

“Right!” Zhang Wuji responded. With one hand carried Yin Li and the other hand Zhao Min, he sped downhill.

Xie Xun followed close behind; he was secretly astonished, “This youngster is amazing; carrying two adults yet still able to run this fast.”

Zhang Wuji was so anxious that he felt his heart go numb. Even if only one of these two girls in his hands would die of her wounds, he would hate himself for the rest of his life. Luckily their bodies were still warm and did not gradually turn cold.

As the Persian Three Emissaries found the Sheng Huo Ling, they rushed to pursue, but these three’s ‘qing gong’ was definitely inferior to Zhang Wuji. It was even greatly inferior compared to Xie Xun’s. As Zhang Wuji was nearing the ship, he loudly called out, “Shao Min Junzhu’s order: Raise the sail and weigh the anchor, prepare to sail immediately!”

So when he and Xie Xun stepped their feet on the deck, the ship was ready to sail. But the captain must hear from Zhao Min personally; he went forward to ask for instruction.

Zhao Min had lost a lot of blood. With a weak voice she said, “Hear … hear Zhang Gongzi’s order … do it …”

The captain immediately complied, the ship set sail that when the Persian Three Emissaries reached the shore, the ship had already sailed dozens of ‘zhang’s away from the island.

Zhang Wuji laid down both Zhao Min and Yin Li side by side in the cabin. Xiao Zhao helped him take off their clothes to reveal the wounds. Zhang Wuji assessed these two women’s conditions; he saw the sword wound on Zhao Min’s abdomen was approximately half a ‘cun’ [1 cun is about 1 inch] deep. Although she was bleeding profusely, her life was not in danger. All of the three golden flowers on Yin Li’s chest had hit her vital points; apparently Jin Hua Popo did not attack her half-heartedly. Whether her life could be saved remained very difficult to say. He applied some medicine and wrapped their injuries.

Yin Li remained unconscious, while tears streaming down Zhao Min’s face. Zhang Wuji asked how she felt; she merely clenched her teeth without giving an answer.

“Zeng Shao Xia,” Xie Xun said, “Old Xie has left the matters of the world; this time unexpectedly returning to the Central Earth, and still can make an acquaintance with a friend with such a deep ‘yi qi’, I am happy beyond believe.”

Zhang Wuji led him to sit on a chair in the middle of the cabin. He knelt and bowed down, crying, “Yifu, child Wuji is unfilial; has not been able to meet you sooner, causing Yifu to suffer extreme hardships.” “You …” Xie Xun was shocked, “What did you say?” “I am your child Wuji,” Zhang Wuji said.

But how could Xie Xun believe? “You … what did you say?” he asked.

“The fist technique starts with a focused attention, intention precedes strength, only then victory will be achieved …” Zhang Wuji gushed non- stop, reciting the theories Xie Xun passed on to him on the Bing Huo Island just before they bade each other good-bye.

After he recited about twenty sentences or so, Xie Xun was surprised and happy; he grabbed Zhang Wuji’s arms and said, “You … you are really my child Wuji?”

Zhang Wuji stood up and embraced Xie Xun tightly, while trying to control his emotions. Thereupon he narrated in brief important points of what had happened since they parted omitting the fact that he was the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. He did not want his Yifu to observe the Cult protocol and did obeisance to him instead.

Xie Xun felt as if he was in a dream; but this time he could not help but believe. “Lao Tian Ye [Heaven, God] has eyes, Lao Tian Ye has eyes!” he repeatedly said.

Suddenly they heard the sailor on watch shouted from the stern, “The enemy ship pursues!”

Zhang Wuji rushed toward the deck and saw on a distant a large ship riding on the wind with five sails open, coming fast toward them. In the dark night he could not see the ship’s hull, but the five large white sails were clearly visible. Zhang Wuji looked for a while; he noticed that the enemy’s ship was lighter; they were closing the gap rapidly. He was anxious and was at a loss. If it was only the Persian Three Emissaries, then he could fight them inside the cabin. Because of the space limitation, they might not be easily collaborating with one another. Thereupon he moved Zhao Min and Yin Li to the side, took the two big anchors on the deck, and placed them on the middle of the cabin as a barrier, forcing the Persian Three Emissaries to fight one on one.

As he finished the preparation, suddenly a loud explosion was heard; their ship violently leaned sideways, followed by the seawater rise up to the sky and splash into the cabin.

“The enemy ship fires their cannon! The enemy ship fires their cannon!” the sailor on the stern loudly called out. Luckily the cannon missed its target and landed on the water.

Zhao Min beckoned Zhang Wuji and in a low voice said, “We also have cannon!”

Zhang Wuji remembered and immediately rushed to the main deck, ordering the sailors to take away the covers of the cannon and load it with gunpowder and iron cannonball. They lighted the fuse and ‘Bang!’ the cannonball flew out. These sailors were Zhao Min’s warriors in disguise; their martial art skills were not weak, however they knew nothing about artillery or naval battle; the cannonball landed in between two enemy ships. Column of water rose up several ‘zhang’s to the sky, but the enemy’s ships were not even swayed. Fortunately, as the enemy saw that they also have guns, they did not dare to get too close.

Not too long afterwards, the enemy ship fired another round. This time it hit the bow and immediately their ship caught fire. Zhang Wuji busily directed the sailors to draw water to fight the fire. Suddenly he saw the fire had reached one of the upper deck’s cabins. With both hands carried two buckets of water, he kicked the cabin door open and splashed the water to extinguish the fire. Amidst the smoke he saw a woman lying on the bed. It was Zhou Zhiruo. She was completely soaked.

Zhang Wuji dropped the buckets and rushed in. “Miss Zhou,” he hastily asked, “Are you all right?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s head and face was wet; she looked really miserable. She was extremely stunned to suddenly see Zhang Wuji appear. She tried to move her hands, ‘clink, clank, clink’. It turned out her hands and feet were shackled in iron chain by Jin Hua Popo. Zhang Wuji rushed to the lower deck cabin to fetch the Yitian Sword and cut away the shackles.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You … how come you are here?”

Before Zhang Wuji could reply, the hull suddenly shook violently. Zhou Zhiruo’s legs were still weak and she fell into Zhang Wuji’s bosom. Zhang Wuji busily reached out to help her up. By the flame light from outside the window Zhang Wuji saw on her pale face two streaks of blush; embellished by little drops of water, she looked so beautiful and elegant, just like narcissus in the morning dew.

Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and said, “Let us go to the lower deck cabin.”

Two people barely went out the door when they felt the ship was spinning. Turned out the enemy’s cannon just now had not only hit the rudder and smashed it, but killed the helmsman and threw him down the sea as well.

The captain was anxious, he personally loaded the cannon, with the hope of sinking the enemy ship. He kept pouring gunpowder down the gun barrel and packed it solid with an iron rod. Turning around the cannon’s mouth, he lighted the fuse. ‘Bang!’ Suddenly the air around them turned red as the explosion shook the sky, pieces of steel and iron flew everywhere. The cannon exploded and killed the captain and the sailors standing nearby; their flesh and blood scattered everywhere. It was because the captain wanted to utilize the full power of the cannon that he put several times the amount of gunpowder than necessary, so that the cannon exploded instead.

Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo had just stepped onto the deck when they saw the ship was on fire; they withdrew immediately. Looking around Zhang Wuji saw a small boat tied on the port side of the ship. “Miss Zhou,” he called out, “Jump to that boat …” By this time Xiao Zhao, carrying Yin Li, and Xie Xun, carrying Zhao Min, emerged from the lower deck cabin. Turned out the explosion had made a crack on the hull of the ship and the seawater welled up quickly. Zhang Wuji led Xie Xun and Xiao Zhao to the boat. He cut the rope with his sword and ‘splash!’ the boat fell onto the sea below.

Zhang Wuji jumped out and lightly landed on the boat. He took the pair of oars and started rowing with all his might. By this time, the fire was blazing wild, painting the surface of the sea to a bright red. Zhang Wuji thought he must take the boat as far away as possible from this circle of light. If the Persian Three Emissaries did not see the small boat, they would think that everybody perished in the sea and will no longer pursue them. Xie Xun followed his example by taking out a plank and rowing furiously.

The small boat sailed swiftly on the waves; in a short moment they were outside the circle of light. They heard a series of explosions as the gunpowder on the ship was detonated. The Persian ship did not dare to come close; they stopped to observe afar from quite a distance.

Some of Zhao Min’s warriors possessed good water skills; they dove into the sea and swam toward the enemy ship, crying for help. But the Persians shot them with arrows and they died in the sea.

Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun did not dare to slack off. If the Three Emissaries overtook them on land, they would still be able to fight to the death. But now they were in the middle of the boundless ocean; if the enemy ship fired their canon, even if they missed the small boat by several ‘zhang’s, the wave would surge and the small boat would capsize. Fortunately, these two’s internal energy was very profound that they were not exhausted although they rowed for half a night.

Black clouds filled the sky towards dawn and all around them was gray drizzle of thick fog. Zhang Wuji happily said, “If this thick fog stays for half a day, then the enemy will not be able to find us in any way.” But towards the afternoon, suddenly a strong wind came followed by a heavy rain. The small boat was blown southward by the wind. It was the depth of wintertime. Everybody’s clothes were soaked. Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun had profound internal energy, so they were all right. But blown by the north wind, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao could not restrain their teeth from chattering. Unfortunately, there was nothing on that small boat; nobody could come up with any ideas. Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun had stopped rowing for a while; right now four people removed their eight shoes and used them to scoop the rainwater accumulated on the boat to the sea.

Xie Xun was very happy to finally meet Zhang Wuji; although the present situation of their plight was dangerous, he did not seem to care. He cursed the sky and shouted at the sea, and was busy talking and laughing in the rain. Xiao Zhao was also carefree; she happily accompanied Xie Xun chitchatting. Only Zhou Zhiruo was silent; occasionally her eyes would meet Zhang Wuji’s, and she would immediately turn her head around to avoid his gaze.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “In the past, while your parents and I were riding on a boat together, we met a violent storm along the way; it was worse than today. Afterwards we were marooned on an iceberg and we had seals as our food. But that time the south wind was blowing, so we were floating to the North Pole’s world of ice and snow. Today the north wind is blowing. Could it be that ‘Lao Tian Ye’ [God, or Heaven] think Xie Xun is not pleasing to the eyes, that He wants to send me to the South Pole’s palace of old immortals for another twenty years? Ha ha ha ha …!”

After laughing for a moment he said, “That time your parents were one man and one woman, a talented young man and a beautiful young woman; it was a match made in Heaven. Now you have four beautiful girls with you; what can we do? Ha ha ha ha …!”

Zhou Zhiruo blushed and lowered her head; while Xiao Zhao remained calm and said, “Xie Laoyezi [old master Xie], I am Gongziye’s [master] servant; of course I don’t count.” Although Zhao Min’s injury was not light, she was conscious the whole time; “Xie Laoyezi,” she suddenly said, “If you keep talking nonsense, as soon as I am well, we’ll see if I don’t slap your ears really good.”

Xie Xun stuck out his tongue and said with a smile, “This girl is actually very mean.” Suddenly the smile disappeared from his face; he hesitated a moment before saying, “Hmm, last night you launched three suicidal moves. The first one was Kunlun Pai’s ‘yu sui kun gang’, the second one was Kongtong Pai’s ‘ren gui tong tu’, and the third one … what was it? The old man is uncouth and unlearned, could not hear it.”

Zhao Min was secretly shocked. “No wonder Jin Mao Shi Wang’s name shook the world in the past; his conducts in Jianghu were earth-shattering,” she thought, “His eyes are blind, yet he was able to guess correctly the two stances I was using. He truly lives up to his reputation.”

“The third move was Wudang Pai’s ‘tian di tong shou’,” she said, “Apparently it was developed only recently, no wonder Laoyezi does not know.” She said that with a really respectful expression.

Xie Xun sighed, “You did your utmost to save Wuji; that was really good,” he said, “But why did you risk your own life? Why risked your life?”

Zhao Min started to say, “He … he …” but then she stopped, as if she was mulling over whether she should continue or not. Finally she could not refrain from sobbing; she said, “He … Who told him to show such affection? … Hugging … Hugging Miss Yin. I don’t want to live!” Finished speaking, her tears were already rolling down like rain.

Hearing her publicly revealing her deepest feelings unexpectedly, four people were startled; they did not remember Zhao Min was a Mongolian girl who loves when she wants to love, and who hates when she wants to hate. Certainly she was not wishy-washy; unlike the Central Earth’s women who were strongly influenced by Confucianism’s custom and regulations. Besides, they were all on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, the heavy rain drenched their heads, their small boat could capsize anytime and they would all perish. At the time when they hovered between life and death, it was even more unnecessary to be scrupulous.

Listening to Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel touched. “Miss Zhao is originally my archenemy,” he thought, “This time my primary intention was to see Yifu when we were going out to the sea together. Who would have thought that she would have these deep feelings toward me?” Unable to restrain his emotions, he reached out to hold her hand, put his lips next to her ear and whispered softly, “No matter what, next time you can’t do it again.”

As Zhao Min blurted out her feelings, she had almost immediately had already regretted it; thinking that if a girl from an honorable family did not stop this kind of talk from coming out, how could he not look down on her? Suddenly hearing him admonish her lovingly, she was surprised and happy, bashful and loving at the same time. She felt an unspeakable sweetness in her heart and felt that last night’s risking her life three times, and the suffering of drifting on the ocean today, everything, were not in vain.

The heavy rain started to subside and gradually stopped, but the fog was coming back and actually getting thicker and thicker. Suddenly a swishing noise was heard as a large fish, more than 30 catties, leaped up from the sea. Xie Xun’s right hand stretched out and stabbed his five fingers into the fish’s belly, taking the fish into the boat. Everybody cheered. Xiao Zhao took out her sword to cut open its belly and scrape the scales; and then cut it to pieces. They were all hungry, so although the raw fish was smelly, they forced themselves to eat a few slices. Xie Xun ate eagerly; he had lived on a desolated island for more than twenty years, and had survived on all kinds of food, how could he care about eating raw fish? Besides, the fish was fresh; after chewing for some times and being used to the fresh fish smell, the meat brought out its raw sweet flavor.

The waves gradually subsided. After eating, they all closed their eyes to get some rest. They had been fighting violently for the whole day and whole night the previous day, they were not only physically, but emotionally exhausted as well. Although Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were not engaged in battle physically, the excitement and frights they experienced were not small. The ocean gently rocked the small boat like a cradle; the six people on the boat fell asleep one after another.

They were sound asleep for almost six hours. As an old man, Xie Xun was the first one to wake up. He heard the sound of five young people breathing blended with the sound of the wave and the wind. Since Zhao Min and Yin Li were injured, their breathings were short and quick. Zhou Zhiruo’s breathing was light and long. Zhang Wuji’s inhales and exhales sounded like they were broken yet continuous, without any distinct separation. Xie Xun was secretly astonished, “This child internal energy is very profound,” he thought, “I won’t be able to achieve this level in all my life.”

Xiao Zhao’s breathing was sometimes fast, sometimes slow, a sign of a very special school’s internal energy cultivation method. Xie Xun frowned as he remembered something, “This is strange,” he mused, “Could it be that this child is …”

Suddenly his thought was interrupted by Yin Li’s loud shout, “Zhang Wuji, you little kid, why don’t you come with me to Ling She Island?”

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were awakened by her shout. She said again, “I live alone on the Island, and quite lonely … why are you not willing to come and accompany me? I miss you so much, you

… you are in the afterworld, do you know that?”

Zhang Wuji put his hand on her forehead and felt it was burning hot; he knew her severe wound had caused her a fever, making her sprouting nonsense. Although his medical skill was exquisite, there was nothing on the small boat, not even a blade of grass, so he was helpless. He tore away a piece of his clothes and soaked it in the water, then pressed it on her forehead.

Yin Li continued to ramble; suddenly she shouted, “Father, you … don’t kill mother, don’t kill mother! I was the one who killed ‘Er Niang’ [second madame or second mother], you’d better kill me; it had nothing to do with mother … Mother is dead, mother is dead! I killed my mother! Boo hoo hoo …” She cried miserably.

“Zhu’Er, Zhu’Er, wake up,” Zhang Wuji said in a gentle voice, “Your father is not here, you don’t have to be afraid.”

“Father is not good, I am not afraid of him!” Yin Li indignantly said, “Why did he marry ‘Er Niang’, ‘San Niang’ [third madame or third mother]? Is not one wife enough for one man? Father, you have two hearts and three minds; delight in the new, discard the old. You’ve married someone yet marry another, hurting my mother really bad, hurting me really bad! You are not my Father, you are a heartless man, a greatly wicked man!”

Zhang Wuji was shocked and alarmed; his face turned blue and his lips white. Turned out he had just had a good dream; he dreamt that he married Zhao Min, and also married Zhou Zhiruo. Yin Li’s face had changed, she was beautiful; he also married her and Xiao Zhao. Whatever idea he did not dare to think during the day had manifested itself in a dream when he was sleeping. He felt that these four girls were all good, and he could not bear to part with any of them. Hence when he comforted Yin Li, his mind was still vaguely remembering the sweetness that the dream brings.

This time listening to Yin Li scolding her father, he recalled how in the past she had told him that because she could not accept her mother being cheated, she killed her father’s beloved concubine, so that his uncle, Yin Yewang wanted to kill his own daughter. This tragic incident had affected Yin Yewang greatly that to comfort his own feeling he took several more wives and concubines.

Zhang Wuji looked at Zhao Min, and could not help but look at Zhou Zhiruo as well, remembering his dream, he was deeply ashamed. He heard Yin Li mumbling in her sleep, but suddenly she implored urgently, “Wuji, please come with me, I am asking you. You’ve bitten the back of my hand really bad, but I don’t hate you the least bit. I will take care of you as long as I live, to be close to you, to regard you as my master. Don’t hate me because my face is ugly; if you want it, I’d rather lose my martial art, I’ll discard the poison from the thousand spiders, so my face will come back to when you first saw me …”

She spoke these last few sentences with a very tender and gentle voice, totally different from the strong-willed and short-tempered, eccentric cousin Zhang Wuji had always known; that gentle and tender feeling also grew in his heart. He heard her continue, “Wuji, I went everywhere looking for you, I went to the end of the earth without hearing anything about you, and then in the western region I heard you have died, falling off a cliff; made me want to stop living. In the western region I met a guy named Zeng Ahniu; his martial art skill was very high, he was also very good to me; he wanted to take me as his wife.”

Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao knew that Zhang Wuji often used the name Zeng Ahniu, they all turned their eyes to him. Zhang Wuji blushed profusely; he felt very awkward to be under these three girls attentive gaze. He really wished he could just jump into the sea and did not come back up until Yin Li regained her consciousness.

He heard Yin Li mumbled and said, “That Ahniu Gege [big brother Ahniu] said to me, ‘Miss, with all my heart I sincerely desire to marry you. I only hope you will not regard me unworthy.’ He said, ‘From now on, I will cherish you with all my might, I will look after you. No matter how many people come to make things difficult for you, no matter how many fierce people come to bully you, I don’t care if I’ll have to lose my life, I will protect you. I want you to be happy, I want you to forget your past sufferings.’ Wuji, that Ahniu Gege’s character is a lot better than yours; his martial art skill is also stronger than that Emei Pai’s Miejue Shitai. But my heart belongs to you, this heartless and short-lived little rascal, hence I cannot come with him. You have died young then I will be your widow for the rest of my life. Wuji, tell me, isn’t Ah Li good to you? You ignored me in the past, don’t you regret it now?”

At first Zhang Wuji was very embarrassed when she repeated what he said to her, but the more he listened to her, the more his heart was touched. He could not control his tears from flowing down his cheeks. By now the thick fog had already been dissipated, the crescent moon illuminated the boat. Yin Li was leaning on her side, so that her graceful figure was clearly seen. She softly said, “Wuji, in the afterworld, aren’t you lonely? Don’t you miss me? I am going with Popo to the northern sea’s Bing Huo Island to find your Yifu, and then I am going to the Wudang Mountain to offer sacrifice on your parents’ graves. Afterwards I am going to the snowy peak in the western region where you died and I’ll jump down to accompany you. But I must wait for Popo’s a hundred years [meaning: a lifetime, till she died]; I cannot accompany you yet, leaving her to suffer in this world alone. Popo treated me very well, if she did not save me, I would have been killed by Father early on. For your Yifu’s sake I have betrayed Popo; she must hate me very much, but I still have to be good to her. Wuji, don’t you think so?”

She talked as if she was discussing something face to face with Zhang Wuji. In her heart, Zhang Wuji had become a ghost from another world. The way she spoke soft and gentle words to the dead, plus the moonlight shining on the ocean, a quiet night, lone boat were all making those who were listening feel a sudden chill creep in their hearts.

Yin Li kept rambling to the east and to the west, which did not make any sense whatsoever; sometimes she called out in alarm, sometimes shouted in anger, each word was a manifestation of inexhaustible anxiety in her heart. She called out and shouted randomly like that for a while, finally her voice softened, and slowly she fell into a deep sleep.

The other five people on the boat were silent as they were busy with their own thoughts. The only audible noise was the sound of the waves gently striking the hull of their little boat. Under the gentle wind and the bright moon, they felt that the life’s miseries from tens of thousands days ago still exist today, and will be forever.

In between thoughts, they suddenly heard a very faint gentle singing float above the water, ‘In the end, this body will be difficult to escape from that day. Out of a hundred years span of life, those who reach seventy are already sparse. Years of misery pass like torrential flood of the river.’ [Translator’s note: I am not a poet, and this passage is very difficult to translate. I welcome any correction.] It was Yin Li who softly sang the song in her sleep.

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; he remembered inside the secret passage of the Brightness Peak, when their exit was completely stopped by Cheng Kun that they were unable to get out, Xiao Zhao had also sung this tune. Almost without thinking he turned to look at Xiao Zhao. Under the moonlight he saw that Xiao Zhao was looking at him with a blank expression her face.

End of Chapter 29. 
@Chapter 30 – East and West Will Always Be Divided like Enemies
After singing that song, Yin Li continued singing another tune. This time the song was unspeakably weird, the melody was totally different from songs of the Central Earth. If one listened closely, they would be able to discern the words, which were also similar to the song Xiao Zhao used to sing, ‘Coming like the running water, departing like the wind; wonder where it came from, and where it will end!’

She sang these two songs over and over again, while her voice getting softer and softer, until finally her voice was drowned by the noise of the wind and the waves. Everybody pondered how life and death was not eternal; one came into this world lightly, just like the flowing water of the river, without knowing where it came from. It does not matter if you are a hero or a warrior, death is inevitable in the end, coming out of this world also lightly, just like the blowing wind, without knowing where it would go. Zhang Wuji felt that Zhao Min’s delicate fingers in his hand were as cold as ice, and they slightly trembled.

Xie Xun suddenly said, “This is a Persian song; Mrs. Han must have taught her. One evening twenty years ago, I heard this song at the Brightness Peak. Ay, I can’t believe Mrs. Han could be that heartless to hurt this child with a cruel hand.”

"Laoye Zi," Zhao Min asked, "How did Mrs. Han know about a Persian song? Was it a Ming Cult's song?"

Xie Xun replied, "Ming Cult's origin is from Persia, so this Persian song is somewhat related to the Ming Cult; but it is not a Ming Cult song. This song was written by the most famous Persian poet Omar Khayyam more than two hundred years ago; it was said that every Persian could sing this song. When I heard Mrs. Han sing this song, I was touched; thereupon I asked her the story behind this song, and she told me everything:

There was a great Persian philosopher by the name of Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri; among his disciples, there were three outstanding students: Omar Khayyam, who was a master in literature studies, Nizam-ul-Mulk, who was an expert in political studies, and Hassan-i-Sabah, who excelled in martial arts. These three were good friends and bound themselves in an oath, to face fortune and adversity together, and not to forget each other in riches and honor.

Later on because of his accomplishment, Nizam-al-Mulk became Vizier to the Seljukid Empire. His two old friends came to seek shelter. Nizam entreated the Shah, and Hassan was granted an official position. Omar was not willing to be a government official; he only asked for annual provision so that he could research and study astronomy, almanac and mathematics, also to drink wine and write poems in peace. Nizam generously granted each of his friends’ requests.

Unexpectedly, Hassan was ambitious; he was unwilling to be someone else’s subordinate for long and thus staged a rebellion. His attempt was foiled and he fled to a mountain. Later on he became the chief of a sect whose prestige shook the world. This sect specifically took murder as their service, and was called the Hashhashin Sect. During the Crusades, whenever someone in the western region mentioned the name of The Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan, no hearts would be exempt from shaking in fear. Many of the western region’s rulers lost their lives under the innumerable assassins under The Old Man of the Mountain.

Mrs. Han told me that in the far west [i.e. Europe] there is one great nation called England. This country’s King Edward has offended The Old Man of the Mountain, so he dispatched a band of assassins. The King was wounded by a poisoned blade. Luckily, the Queen sacrificed herself to save her husband by sucking the poison from his wound. As a result, the King survived.

In spite of the kindness he received in the former days, Hassan dispatched his men to assassinate the Vizier, Nizam-al-Mulk. At the point of his death, the Vizier uttered Omar Khayyam’s verse; these two lines ‘Coming like the running water, departing like the wind; wonder where it came from, and where it will end.’

Mrs. Han also told me that afterwards, the martial art from The Old Man of the Mountain’s Sect was practiced by the people of the Persian Ming Cult. The Persian Three Emissaries’ martial art was odd in a strange way; I suppose it stemmed from The Old Man of the Mountain’s martial art.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “This Mrs. Han’s character is similar to that of The Old Man of the Mountain; you treated her with utmost kindness, yet she plotted to harm you.”

Xie Xun sighed, “It is common for people to repay kindness with evil; what’s so strange about that?” he said.

Zhao Min lowered her head and was silent for half a day before saying, “Mrs. Han was the chief of the Ming Cult’s Four Kings, but her martial art skill is not necessarily superior to Laoye Zi. Last night, why didn’t she use the deathly stances of ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [hand of thousand spiders ten thousands poisons] when she fought with the Persian Three Emissaries?”

“Qian zhu wan du shou?” Xie Xun asked, “Mrs. Han does not know that skill. She is a woman of an outstanding beauty, and she cherishes her appearance more than her life; how could she be willing to practice this kind of skill?”

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo were startled; they thought Jin Hua Popo was ugly. Looking at her present appearance, even if she was thirty, forty years younger, it would be very difficult for them to say that she possessed an outstanding beauty. Her nose was crooked and her lips thick; her face was oval-shaped, her ears as big as a pair of fans. Certainly these features would not change over time.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Laoye Zi, I’ll say Jin Hua Popo’s beauty is nowhere near ‘outstanding.’”

“What?” Xie Xun said, “Zi Shan Long Wang’s [purple-robed dragon king] beauty is similar to deities’. Twenty some years ago she was the Wulin World’s Number One Beauty. Granted that she is advanced in years now, but her gracefulness in the past should still be there … Ay, too bad I cannot see her anymore.”

Listening to him speaking seriously, Zhao Min had a vague feeling that something was wrong; this ugly, hunched back and sickly woman was the Wulin World’s Number One Beauty? Nobody would buy that. “Laoye Zi,” she asked, “Your name shook the Jianghu, your martial art skill is high, so nobody would doubt you. Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king] founded a cult. He managed to stand equally with the six major sects, and even fought valiantly against them for over twenty years. Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] comes and goes like a ghost. That day at the Wan An Temple he threatened to destroy my face; hereafter if I think about it, I am still shivering in fear. On the other hand Jin Hua Popo to have a position above the other three is rather unsuitable although her martial art skill is also high and quite resourceful. I wonder why?”

Xie Xun replied, “That was because Yin Er Ge [Second (older Brother Yin], Wei Si Di [Fourth (younger) Brother Wei) and I, three people were willing to yield to her.”

“Why?” Zhao Min asked. Suddenly she chuckled and said, “Because she was the most beautiful woman in the world, three great heroes were willing to submit under her skirt?” She was a Mongolian woman, who did not confine herself to senior-junior propriety; whatever came into her mind, she would unscrupulously blurt it out as a joke toward Xie Xun.

Surprisingly, Xie Xun was not angered. He sighed and said, “Do you think only three people who willingly submitted under her skirt? If I say there were a hundred people inside and outside the Cult who hoped to attain Taj- kis’ favor, I am afraid that number is still too few.”

“Taj-kis?” Zhao Min wondered, “Is that Mrs. Han? How come her name is so strange?”

“She is a Persian,” Xie Xun said, “That is a Persian name.”

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo were stunned; “She is a Persian?” they asked almost simultaneously.

“Can’t you all see?” Xie Xun was surprised, “She was born of a mixed marriage between a Chinese and a Persian. Her hair and eyes are black, but her nose is high and her eyes deep; her skin is as white as snow; greatly different from the women of the Central Plains. It is so easy to distinguish.”

“No, no!” Zhao Min said, “Her nose is low, her eyes are like a pair of slits on her face; completely different from your description. Zhang Gongzi, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “Could it be that she is like Ku Toutuo, deliberately destroying her own face?”

“Who is Ku Toutuo?” Xie Xun asked.

“He is the Ming Cult’s Guang Ming You Shi [right emissary of the brightness], Fan Yao,” Zhang Wuji replied. Thereupon he briefly told him how Fan Yao had destroyed his face and entered the Ruyang Palace as a spy.

Xie Xun sighed, “This act by Fan Xiong [brother Fan], done in pain and suffering, was a great merit to our Cult; not everybody is capable of doing that. Ay, part of it was also because of Mrs. Han’s affair.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “Please don’t keep us in suspense. Why don’t you tell us everything from beginning to the end?”

“Hmm,” Xie Xun raised his head up and was lost in thought for half a day before he slowly said, “Twenty some years ago, the Ming Cult was quite prosperous under Yang Jiaozhu’s leadership. One particular day three Persian foreigners suddenly appeared at the Brightness Peak, to deliver the personal letter of the Persian Central Cult’s Jiaozhu addressed to Yang Jiaozhu. The letter said that the Persian Central Cult had a Jing Shan Shizhe [lit. clean and virtuous emissary], who was Chinese. He had lived in Persia for a long time; joined the Ming Cult, and rendered quite a few meritorious services. He married a Persian woman and had a daughter. This Jing Shan Shizhe passed away a year ago. On his deathbed he remembered his native land and wished his daughter be sent to China. The Central Cult’s Jiaozhu honored his wish and thus dispatched some people to escort his daughter to the Brightness Peak; hoping that the Central Earth’s Ming Cult would look after her.

Yang Jiaozhu readily agreed and invited the daughter to come in. As that young woman entered the main hall, immediately it was as if the hall was filled with a glorious light; nothing could describe her glaring beauty. As she knelt down to pay her respects toward Yang Jiaozhu, there wasn’t any one who was not shaken among everybody in that hall, including the Left and Right Brightness Emissaries, the three Protector Kings, the Five Wanderers and the Five-Element Flags.

The three Persian escorts only stayed at the Brightness Peak overnight; they took their leave the very next day. Since then, this glamorous Persian girl, Taj-kis lived at the Brightness Peak.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said with a laugh, “At that time you were also mesmerized by this glamorous Persian woman, were you not? Come on, don’t be shy; admit it honestly.”

“No!” Xie Xun shook his head, “At that time I was a newlywed; I loved my wife dearly, and she was pregnant. How could I think about another woman?”

“Oy,” Zhai Min muttered, silently scolding herself for making an indiscreet remark. She knew that Xie Xun’s wife and son were killed by Cheng Kun. This time she inadvertently brought it up, she knew she would unavoidably bring grief to Xie Xun’s heart; hastily she said, “That’s right, that’s right! No wonder Mrs. Han said that when she married Yin Ye Xian Sheng [Mr. Silver Leaf], everybody on the Brightness Peak opposed her, except Yang Jiaozhu and you, who treated her very well. I bet Jiaozhu’s wife was not only beautiful, but also an expert in martial arts, so she won over her husband’s heart.” “Yang Jiaozhu was generous, brave and chivalrous,” Xie Xun said, “Taj- kis’ age was appropriate to be his daughter. Besides, the Persian Central Cult has entrusted her to him, so Yang Jiaozhu always treated her with utmost respect; definitely he did not have any inappropriate thoughts against her. Mrs. Jiaozhu was my Shifu’s shimei [martial (younger) sister], she was my Shigu [martial aunt]. Yang Jiaozhu loved his wife very much.”

Cheng Kun had killed his entire family; Xie Xun bore a long and deep hatred toward him but when mentioning Cheng Kun’s name, Xie Xun said it lightly, as if he was mentioning other people’s name.

Zhao Min asked, “I heard when he was young, Ku Toutuo Fan Yao was a very handsome man. Did he fall in love with Taj-kis?”

Xie Xun nodded; “It was love at first sight,” he said, “Later on it became a kind of infatuation written-in-his-heart and engraved-on-his-bone. In fact, I am afraid I seldom find a man whose heart was not moved by Taj-kis’ beauty. But the Ming Cult’ religious law is strict; everybody maintained self-control and propriety. In the end, only bachelors dared to show their admiration toward Taj-kis. Who would have thought that Taj-kis’s heart was as cold as ice; she was also a no-nonsense, unpretentious kind of person. Whoever revealed even a slight cordiality toward her would receive her harsh reprove; to the point of humiliating him so that he would fall from his honored position. My Shigu, Madame Jiaozhu, wanted to be the matchmaker between her and Fan Yao. Taj-kis flatly declined. Later on, she went as far as swore publicly, with a sword horizontally across her body, saying that she would never get married, and that she would rather die if anybody forced her. Because of this, everybody’s heart also turned cold towards her.

One day about half a year later, somebody from Ling She Island came to the Brightness Peak. He said his surname was Han, given name Qianye [lit. thousand leaves], a son of Yang Jiaozhu’s enemy of the former days. He came to avenge his father. Admittedly, nobody thought this youngster surnamed Han’s appearance was astonishing. Seeing his surprising boldness in coming to the Brightness Peak to challenge Yang Jiaozhu, everybody burst out in laughter. But Yang Jiaozhu’s expression was serious; he received him as an honored guest and prepared a banquet to welcome him.

After the feast, Yang Jiaozhu explained to the brethrens how in the past due to a misunderstanding he had seriously injured this lad’s father using the ‘da jiu tian shou’ [great nine heavenly hands] that his father fell on his knees and was unable to stand back up. At that time the father said that he was going to avenge this enmity; only realizing his martial art skill would not advance anymore, he promised that he would send his son or his daughter.

Yang Jiaozhu said that whomever he would send, whether a son or a daughter, Yang Jiaozhu would yield to him or her for three stances. That man replied that he would not expect Yang Jiaozhu to yield, but he would ask that if they were to have a martial art duel, to have his son or daughter choose the method on how they would fight. At that time Yang Jiaozhu gave his consent.

A dozen or so years had passed; Yang Jiaozhu had already set this matter aside from his mind. Who would have thought that the man surnamed Han did indeed send his son to seek revenge. Everybody thought that it would be well if he did not come; but once he came, nothing good would happen to him [‘shan zhe bu lai, lai zhe bu shan’]. This man dared to come alone to the Brightness Peak, he must have had an astonishing skill. But Yang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill was very high; it could be said that nobody in this present age could be compared to him. Other than Wudang Pai’s Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. real/true man, a term of respect to address a Taoist priest], nobody would be able to take his one stance or half a form. How old could this man surnamed Han be? Yang Jiaozhu did not have anything to be worried about even if he was three times or five times his age. We were anxious only over how they were going to have their duel.

Chapter 30 – Part 3 On the next day, in front of everybody Han Qianye first explained the agreement of the past, cornering Yang Jiaozhu so that he could not deny his promise, and then he presented his request. To everybody’s surprise, he wanted to fight against Yang Jiaozhu inside the ‘bi shui han tan’ [bluish green water cold pool] on the Brightness Peak to decide victory or defeat.

As he said that, everybody was shocked. The water of ‘bi shui han tan’ was really cold, penetrating the bones. Even in the heat of the summer nobody dared to enter in, much less in the middle of the winter?

Although Yang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill was high, his water skill was only so-so. If he went into the ‘bi shui han tan’, , he would be frozen to death, or drown to his death inside the water without even contending in martial arts. At that moment, all warriors and heroes in the Sheng Huo Ting [holy fire hall] opened their mouths to denounce the young man.”

“That was a very difficult dilemma,” Zhang Wuji said, “Once a word left a real man’s mouth, four horses would not be able to chase it. Yang Jiaozhu had made a promise to that man surnamed Han that he would let his son or daughter to pick the way they would fight. That Han Qianye Lao Qianbei [senior, older generation] picked water battle; reasonably speaking, Yang Jiaozhu could not refuse.”

Zhao Min reached out to the back of his hand and pinched it lightly; she laughed and said, “That’s right! Once a word left a real man’s mouth, four horses would not be able to chase it. What kind of man was the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu? How could he swallow back his words, break his own promise to the world? Once he gave his consent regarding other people’s matters, then he should fulfill his promise.”

She was saying that to Zhang Wuji, reminding him about the oath of honor between them; but of course Xie Xun did not know that. “That’s exactly so,” he said, “That day Han Qianye clearly said, ‘I am going up the Brightness Peak alone, I am not hoping to go down this mountain alive. The heroes and warriors can simply kill me; nobody in the Jianghu will find out. I am only a nameless lowly character. What difference does it make if there is one less of me? If you want to kill me, go ahead.’ When everybody heard what he said, they could not say anything anymore. Yang Jiaozhu was silent for half a day before he finally said, ‘Han Xiongdi [Brother Han], I have made an agreement with your honorable father. A hero must be frank; I already lost this duel. I am going to comply with whatever you have in mind.’

Han Qianye flipped his wrist and produced a brilliantly gleaming dagger; he pointed the dagger to his own chest and said, ‘This dagger is Xianfu’s [late/departed father] legacy; I am only asking Yang Jiaozhu to kowtow three times to this dagger.’

As the warriors heard him, there wasn’t anybody who was not angered; how could a Ming Cult’s Cult Leader take this humiliation? But Yang Jiaozhu has admitted defeat; according to the Jianghu custom, he had no choice but comply with the opponent’s wishes.

The situation was clear; Han Qianye came staking everything he got, as soon as Yang Jiaozhu kowtowed three times, he would immediately thrust the dagger into his own chest to avoid being killed by the warriors of the Ming Cult.

In that instant, the main hall was awfully quiet. The Brightness Left and Right Emissaries, Xiao Yao Er Xian [Xiao and Yao, two immortals], White- browed Eagle King Yin Er Ge [second (older) brother], Peng Yingyu Heshang [Buddhist monk], and the others are all excellent strategists, but facing this difficult problem, they were at their wits’ end. It was obvious to them that Han Qianye intended to humiliate Yang Jiaozhu the same way his father was forced to fall on his knees; and then he would kill himself.

In this critical moment, Taj-kis suddenly stepped forward and said to Yang Jiaozhu, ‘Father, he is a good and filial son; but don’t you also have a good and filial daughter? This Master Han is seeking revenge on behalf of his father, so it is only appropriate if your daughter fight him on your behalf. The older generation dealt with the older generation, the younger generation deals with the younger generation; no confusion in generational gap here.’

Everybody was surprised, ‘Why did she call Yang Jiaozhu ‘tie-tie’ [dad, father]?’ But straight away they understood, ‘She is pretending to be his daughter to help him out of this distress.’ They also thought, ‘Looking at her pretty and delicate features, does she know martial arts? Even if she does, her skill is certainly not too high, so to have a water battle in the ‘bi shui han tan’ is even more out of question.’

Yang Jiaozhu has not replied, Han Qianye has already laughed coldly and said, ‘It’s certainly all right if Miss wants to fight on behalf of your father; but if Miss loses, I am still going to insist that Yang Jiaozhu kowtow three times toward my Xianfu’s dagger.’ He has noticed that Taj-kis was a pretty and delicate girl, of course he did not consider her a threat to him.

Taj-kis replied, ‘What if Sire loses?’

Han Qianye said, ‘You want to kill me or chop me, it’s entirely up to you.’

‘Good!’ Taj-kis replied, ‘Let us go to the ‘bi shui han tan’ then.’ As she said that, she had already preceded him walking toward the pool.

Yang Jiaozhu hastily waved his hand, ‘No,’ he said, ‘This matter does not have anything to do with you.’

‘Father,’ Taj-kis replied, ‘Don’t you worry.’ And she respectfully knelt down to him. It was as if with this kneeling down, she acknowledged Yang Jiaozhu as her Yifu. Yang Jiaozhu saw that she had high confidence; other than that, he did not have any other idea. Hence, he was obliged to listen to her proposition.

Immediately everybody went to the ‘bi shui han tan’ on the northern side of the mountain. By that time the northern wind was blowing intensely, as we arrived by the pool side, the cold air attacked us furiously. Those whose internal energy was somewhat lower had already felt discomfort. The water in the pool had turned into ice for quite a while, below the surface the water looked deep blue, we could not see the bottom.

Yang Jiaozhu did not want Taj-kis to risk her life for him, he boldly said, ‘Dear Daughter, I accept your good intention, but let me fulfill Han Xiong’s wish.’ As he said that, he took off his outer garment, and with a single dagger in his hand he was ready to jump in; this time he had made up his mind not to back off.

Taj-kis smiled and said, ‘Father, your daughter grew up by the sea; since I was little my water skill has been very good.’ Immediately she unsheathed her sword and leaped to the middle of the pool. Standing on the ice she turned her sword to make a circle about two feet in diameter. With her left foot she treaded on the ice, ‘crack!’ the round ice broke and she jumped into the water.”

At that moment a gust of sea breeze from the north brushed their clothing. Xie Xun continued his narration, “Each time I recalled the scene by the ‘bi shui han tan’ that day, it always seems like yesterday to me. Taj-kis was wearing a lavender gown. Standing on the ice that day, she looked like the ‘ling bo xian zi’ [Immortal/Deity/Goddess Ling Bo]. Silently and instantly she disappeared into the water below; the crowd of warriors was amazed.

As Han Qianye watched the way she entered the water, the haughty expression on his face disappeared. He followed, jumping into the pool with the dagger in his hand.

The pool was dark green; nobody could see the battle raging underneath the surface from above the water, but the water was bubbling continuously.

After a while the bubbling gradually ceased. But before long the water started to bubble again. The Ming Cult warriors were extremely anxious. Those two had been in the water for a long time, how could they survive underwater for that long?

A moment later a wisp of dark red blood appeared on the green deep water. Everybody was even more anxious, not knowing if Taj-kis was injured. Suddenly ‘splash!’ Han Qianye jumped out from the water, gasping for breath, panting heavily. Seeing him jumping out first, everybody was shocked; they surged forward and asked, ‘Where is Taj-kis? What happened to her?’ But then they saw that his hands were empty, his dagger was actually stuck on his right chest, while there was a long scar on each of his cheeks.

While everybody was still in shock, Taj-kis flew up from the water like a flying fish, with her sword in front of her body as a shield. She made a flip in the air and lightly landed on the ice. The warriors broke into loud cheers. Yang Jiaozhu went forward to grab her hand; he was speechless from extreme delight. Nobody would guess that this cute and tender girl possessed such magnificent water skill.

Taj-kis looked at Han Qianye and said, ‘Father, this man’s water skill is not bad. Taking into account that he was a filial son seeking revenge for his father, could his rudeness toward Jiaozhu be forgiven?’ Naturally, Yang Jiaozhu granted her request; he ordered Shen Yi [Divine Doctor] Hu Qingniu to treat his injury.

That very evening there was a huge banquet on the Brightness Peak; everybody agreed that Taj-kis has rendered a great service to the Ming Cult. If not for her stepping out to take the matter over, Yang Jiaozhu’s reputation would go down the drain. Immediately a position in the Cult was arranged. Madame Yang bestowed to her the title ‘Zi Shan Long Wang’, and given her the same authority as the Eagle King, Lion King and Bat King. We, the other three kings, were most willing to let her hold the chief position among the four kings; since her great merit that day easily surpassed the other three kings’ merits of the past. Afterwards the three ‘hu jiao fa wang’ and she, four brothers and sister, agreed on how to address each other; hence she called me ‘Xie San Ge’ ever since.

[Translator’s note: ‘hu jiao fa wang’ (‘hu’ – protect, ‘jiao’ – Cult, ‘fa’ – law, ‘wang’ – king) has been translated as ‘Protector King’ throughout this novel. I believe the more accurate translation should be ‘Protector of the Cult, Law Enforcement King’, or ‘Judge’. (The same ‘fa wang’ was translated ‘imperial priest’, as in Jin Lun Fa Wang, in Shen Diao Xia Lu – RoCH) I am going to keep using the term ‘Protector King’, interchangeably with ‘fa wang’ for the remainder of this novel; I want the readers to be informed that the term carries a broader sense than simply ‘Protector King.’]

The battle of ‘bi shui han tan’ has brought another repercussion beyond anybody’s anticipation. Han Qianye was defeated in the battle, but somehow he won Taj-kis’ heart. I don’t know whether it was because she visited him on his sick bed everyday, or love grew out of pity, or passion out of regret; but when Han Qianye recovered, suddenly Taj-kis reported to Jiaozhu that she wanted to marry this man.

As we heard this news, some were grieving because their hopes were shattered, some deeply resented it; because this Han Qianye had forced our Jiaozhu to be under an extremely difficult situation. How could our own ‘hu jiao fa wang’ marry this man? Some of the more temperamental brethrens spoke insultingly to her face.

Taj-kis was adamant. Holding a sword in her hand, she stood at the hall entrance and loudly said, ‘From this day forward, Han Qianye is my husband. Whoever insults Han-lang [a term of endearment for ‘husband’], will have to face Zi Shan Long Wang’s sword!’ Seeing this turn of event, everybody could only disperse bitterly.

On the day she wedded Han Qianye, most of our brethrens did not come to drink the celebratory wine. Only Yang Jiaozhu and I, who were appreciative for what she did, strived to help her and mediate for her, so that she could have a safe marriage, not lacking anything.

When Han Qianye wanted to enter the Ming Cult, the opposition from the brethrens was too strong; it was also inconvenient for Yang Jiaozhu to disregard the public opinion.

Not too long afterwards, Yang Jiaozhu husband and wife suddenly disappeared together. The Brightness Peak was in panic. Everybody went everywhere to track them down. One evening Guangming You Shi Fan Yao unexpectedly saw Mrs. Han Taj-kis come out of the secret passage.” Zhang Wuji’s heart was moved. “She came out of the secret passage?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Xie Xun replied, “The Ming Cult’s law is very strict; other than Jiaozhu, nobody is allowed to enter the secret passage. Fan Yao was shocked and angered; immediately he asked and reproached her. Mrs. Han said, ‘I have committed a grave offense to our Cult; you want to kill me or chop me, it’s entirely at your convenience.’

That very evening we had a general assembly. Mrs. Han kept repeating those words. When asked for what reason she entered the secret passage, she said she was not willing to tell lies, but she was also unwilling to tell the truth. When asked where Yang Jiaozhu had gone; she said she did not know. As for the matter of her entering the secret passage, she said she alone had done it, she alone was responsible; there was no need to say too much.

According to our law, she either had to kill herself or cut off one of her limbs; but first of all, Fan Yao had not forgotten his feelings of the past, he did his utmost to cover up for her, secondly, I also pleaded on her behalf. Finally, the general assembly agreed to punish her by confining her for ten years, so that she could consider her crime. Who would have thought that Mrs. Han said, ‘Yang Jiaozhu is not here, nobody can punish me.’”

“Yifu,” Zhang Wuji asked, “Why did Mrs. Han enter the secret passage?”

“That’s a long story,” Xie Xun replied, “In the Ming Cult, only I alone know the reason. At that time everybody suspected it had something to do with the missing Yang Jiaozhu, husband and wife; but I am convinced it wasn’t related with that matter in any way.

In the Holy Fire Hall of the Brightness Peak that day, there was a strong argument among the warriors, and it resulted in Mrs. Han leaving the Cult, saying that from that day on, she would have nothing to do with the Ming Cult of the Central Earth. She was the very first person to ever leave the Ming Cult. That very day Han Qianye and she left the peak and disappeared without any trace.

Thereafter the Cult brethrens went around everywhere to find Jiaozhu without any result. A few years later the internal strife over the Jiaozhu position got worse. Bai Mei Yin Er Ge also left the peak and founded the Heavenly Eagle Cult [‘tian ying jiao’]. I persuaded and pleaded with him, but he would not listen. Because of that, he and I became enemies.

More than twenty years ago, by the Wangpan Mountain the Heavenly Eagle Cult showed off the Saber to flaunt their power and prestige. Jin Mao Shi Wang hurriedly appeared on that gathering. First, to snatch the Tulong Saber away; second, to vent my anger over the dispute of the former days. I intentionally wanted to give Yin Er Ge a hard time; to let him know that after leaving the Ming Cult, he might not be able to accomplish anything great. Ay! When I think about it now, I was rather carried away by my feelings and went too far!”

He heaved a long sigh, as if he was unleashing the inexhaustibly bitter feelings of the past and mourning over the countless disturbances in the Jianghu; during which the others were silent for half a day.

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “Afterwards, the names of Jin Hua Yin Ye [golden flower silver leaf] shook the Jianghu. Why was it that nobody from the Ming Cult recognized their true identities? That Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf] must be Han Qianye; how did he get killed by poison?”

“I am not clear on that matter myself,” Xie Xun said, “When they, husband and wife, roamed the Jianghu, they always avoid Ming Cult people.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “Jin Hua Popo has always avoided the Ming Cult. When the Six Major Sects besieged the Ming Cult, she did not go up to lend a hand even though she was in the vicinity of the Peak.”

Zhao Min pondered over it and said, “But Zi Shan Long Wang was the beauty of her era; how did she become that ugly? Her face did not show any sign of damage.” Xie Xun said, “I guess she is using some clever trick to change her appearance. In all her life, Mrs. Han has always been a peculiar person, but actually she endures an unspeakable suffering in her heart. She has always avoided the Persian Central Cult’s people’s pursue, but who would have thought she is still unable to escape in the end.”

“Why is the Persian Central Cult looking for her?” Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min asked simultaneously.

“This is Mrs. Han’s biggest secret,” Xie Xun replied, “Actually, I should not say it, but I am hoping that you would return to the Ling She Island to save her; so I’ll have to tell you this.”

“Return to the Ling She Island?” Zhao Min wondered, “Do you think we can overcome those Persian Three Emissaries?”

Xie Xun did not answer directly, but he told this story instead: “For several hundred years, the Ming Cult of the Central Earth has always had a man as our Jiaozhu; but the Persian Central Cult’s Jiaozhu has always been a woman, not only that, but the woman must be a virgin. The Holy Scripture of the Central Cult clearly stipulated that the virgin maiden is necessary to maintain the Ming Cult’s sacred purity. Right after each Jiaozhu takes office, three maidens, called the ‘sheng nu’ [holy maiden] are appointed from among the Cult’s high-level officials. After these three holy maidens take an oath, they are sent out to do good deeds and render meritorious service to the Ming Cult. As the current Jiaozhu pass away, the elders of the Cult convene to evaluate the three holy maiden’s merit; the holy maiden who renders the greatest merits then designated to be the new Jiaozhu. But if there is any holy maiden who loses her chastity, she will be punished by getting burned alive; even if she runs away to the ends of the earth, the Cult will dispatch people to pursue her, in order to maintain the purity of the sacred teaching …”

As he spoke to this point, Zhao Min interjected, “Is that Mrs. Han one of the three holy maidens of the Central Cult?” “Correct!” Xie Xun nodded his head, “I was already aware of it even before Fan Yao found out she came out of the secret passage. Mrs. Han considered me as a friend; therefore, she told me everything. During the battle with Han Qianye inside the ‘bi shui han tan’, they had some physical contacts, her feeling started to grow. Later on, they reassured each other by his sick bed, and she knew that she was committing a great sin. She was aware that there will come a day when the Central Cult will dispatch someone to find her. She was hoping to render a great service to the Central Cult as retribution of her crime. Thereupon she entered the secret passage stealthily to find the ‘qian kun dai nuo yi’ manual. The Central Cult had lost this manual for a long time; the only copy left belonged to the Central Earth Ming Cult. As a matter of fact, the real reason the Central Cult sent her to the Brightness Peak was to find this manual.”

“Ah,” Zhang Wuji exclaimed. He vaguely felt something was wrong, but after thinking for a while he still could not figure it out.

In the meantime, Xie Xun continued, “Mrs. Han had entered the secret passage several times, but could not find the manual. As I learned about it I gave her a serious warning that this matter was a grave offense to the Cult’s law, which would not be easily forgiven …”

“Ah, I know!” Zhao Min interrupted again, “Mrs. Han left the Cult because she wanted to enter the secret passage. Since she is not a member of the Central Earth Ming Cult, then the restriction did not apply to her.”

“Miss Zhao is so smart,” Xie Xun said, “But the Brightness Peak is our headquarters, how could we allow outsiders to come and go as they wish? At that time I’ve also guessed her intention, so after Mrs. Han left the mountain, I personally guarded the secret passage entrance. Mrs. Han did indeed come up the mountain three times, each time she met me; finally, she gave up.”

Xie Xun thought deeply for a moment, then he asked, “Those Persian Three Emissaries’ clothing, in what way they are different from what they have in the Central Earth Ming Cult?” Zhang Wuji replied, “They all wear white robes with blazing flame embroidered on the corners … Hmm, there was a black strip on their white robes; that is the only small difference.”

“That’s it!” Xie Xun slapped the edge of the boat and exclaimed, “The Central Cult Jiaozhu has passed away. The people of the west use black as their mourning clothes. White robes with black lining, those are their mourning garments. They are going to elect a new Jiaozhu, that’s why they came tens of thousands ‘li’s to the faraway Central Earth to find Mrs. Han’s whereabouts.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Since Mrs. Han came from Persia, she must be familiar with the Persian Three Emissaries’ weird martial arts. How come in less than a stance she was captured by them?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “You idiot; Mrs. Han is in disguise, of course she could not reveal that she knew the Persian Emissary’s martial art. From what I understood, supposing Xie Laoye Zi had listened to their order and killed her, Mrs. Han would certainly find a way to escape.”

Xie Xun shook his head, “She is not willing to reveal her own identity, that part is correct. But if you think that she was capable of escaping after her acupoint was sealed by the Persian Three Emissaries, that might not necessarily be true. In anyway, she would rather be killed by my blade than suffer the pain of being burned alive.”

“I always think the Central Earth Ming Cult is a malicious cult,” Zhao Min said, “Who would have thought that the Persian Ming Cult is even more evil. Why would they want a virgin to be their Jiaozhu? Why would they burn the holy maiden who lost her chastity?”

“Miss talked nonsense,” Xie Xun rebuked her, “Each Cult and Sect will have their own customs and ceremonial regulations, handed down from generation to generation. Buddhist monks and nuns cannot marry, cannot eat meat, isn’t that custom and ceremonial regulation? What is malicious or evil?”

Suddenly they heard a ‘clack, clack, clack’ noise, Yin Li’s teeth chattered from cold. Zhang Wuji quickly touched her forehead and felt his hand was burning hot; a sign that she was suffering from a severe fever. “Yifu,” he said, “Your child also would like to return to the Ling She Island. Miss Yin’s condition is very serious, I must find some herbs to treat her. We must strive to save Mrs. Han, we must also save Miss Yin.”

“That’s right,” Xie Xun replied, “This Miss Yin loves you this much; how can we not save her? Miss Zhou, Miss Zhao, what do you think?”

“Miss Yin’s injury is serious,” Zhao Min said, “Mine is not a problem. Other than returning to the Ling She Island, what else can we do?”

Zhao Zhiruo unenthusiastically said, “Laoye Zi says we should return then we must return.”

Zhang Wuji said, “We have to wait for the fog to clear up and then we can look at the stars to find our bearing. Yifu, that Liuyun Shi was somersaulting in the air, but he was able to hurt me with his Sheng Huo Ling. How did he do that?”

Immediately the two of them discussed the Persian Three Emissaries’ martial arts. Zhao Min also possessed a vast knowledge of martial arts, so occasionally she was able to offer some opinion. But after deliberating for half a day, they still could not figure out the essence of the coordinated movements of the three people.

The fog on the ocean lasted until dawn. Zhang Wuji said, “We came from the north toward the southeast; hence we need to row toward the northwest.”

Zhang Wuji, Xie Xun, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao took turn rowing the boat. It was not easy to handle that small boat braving the big waves against the strong northerly wind. Fortunately, Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun possessed profound internal energy; Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were not weak either. They considered rowing the boat as martial art training.

For several days, the lone boat headed northwest slowly but surely. Xie Xun had been frowning all this time, as he was thinking deeply about the Persian Three Emissaries’ strange martial art. Other than asking Zhang Wuji a few questions, he did not say anything else.

Toward the evening of the sixth day, suddenly Xie Xun carefully interviewed Zhou Zhiruo about the martial art of Emei Pai, which Zhou Zhiruo answered matter-of-factly. Two people exchanged questions and answers until very late at night.

Xie Xun’s expression showed some disappointment as he said, “Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, three Sects’ martial art was somewhat related to the ‘Jiu Yang Zhen Jing’ [Nine Yang Manual]; similar to what Wuji has learned, all based on the ‘yang gang’ [positive and hard/firm]. If only Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. real/true person, a respectable term to address a Taoist Priest] was here, then his extensive martial art skill encompassing ‘yang gang’ and ‘yin rou’ [negative and soft/flexible] could join hands with Wuji; so yin and yang complement each other, then we can defeat the Persian Three Emissaries. But distant water cannot extinguish a nearby fire; if Mrs. Han has already fallen into the hands of the Persian Three Emissaries, what use is my good idea?”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhou Zhiruo suddenly asked, “I heard a hundred years ago in the Wulin world there exist some experts who were proficient in the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing [Nine Yin Manual]; is that true?”

On Mount Wudang, Zhang Wuji had heard his Da Shifu [great master] mentioned the name Nine Yin Manual; so he knew that the founder of the Emei Pai, Guo Xiang Nuxia’s [heroine] father, Guo Jing, and the ‘Shen Diao Daxia’ [Divine Eagle Great Hero] Yang Guo, both had mastered the martial arts from the Nine Yin Manual. But the skill contained in the Manual was very difficult; so that although Guo Xiang was Guo Jing’s own daughter, she still had not learned it. Listening to Zhou Zhiruo’s question he thought, “Could it be that the Emei Pai’s founder has handed down parts of the skill contained in the Nine Yin Manual?”

Xie Xun replied, “People of old did say such thing, but nobody knows the fact. Based on what I heard from the seniors, if we had someone who masters this martial art join hands with Wuji, then they would be able to defeat the Persian Three Emissaries.”

“Hmm,” Zhou Zhiruo mumbled and no longer asked any questions.

“Miss Zhou,” Zhao Min asked, “Do any of your Emei Pai people know this martial art?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “If Emei Pai knew this divine skill, Xian Shi [late/departed master] would not lose her life at the Wan An Temple.”

Miejue Shitai passed away because of Zhao Min, so Zhao Zhiruo hated her to the bone. Although they were on the same boat through the wind and the rain, she had not talked to her even one sentence. This time Zhao Min asked her directly, she contradicted her immediately. Zhou Zhiruo was gentle by nature; her remark to Zhao Min was already the most rude she had talked to anybody in her entire life. Zhao Min was not angry; she simply smiled.

During this entire conversation, Zhang Wuji did not stop rowing the boat. Suddenly he looked at the distant and called out, “Look! Look! There is fire over there!”

Everybody followed his gaze and indeed they saw flashing light of fire on the horizon toward their northwest. Although Xie Xun was not able to see, he was as excited as everybody else; he took the wooden oar and helped to row the boat with all his strength.

That blazing fire looked near, but actually it was dozens of ‘li’s away on the surface of the ocean; both men had to row for most of the day before they got close to it. Zhang Wuji saw the fire was actually on a mountainous island, which was precisely the Ling She Island. “We have arrived!” he said.

“Aiyo!” suddenly Xie Xun exclaimed, “Why is the Ling She Island on fire? Did they burn Mrs. Han?”

‘Thud’ suddenly Xiao Zhao fell down on the boat.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; he leaped to help her up, but her eyes were tightly closed, looked like she passed out. He busily massaged her acupoint to wake her up. “Xiao Zhao,” he called out, “What happened to you?”

With tears on her eyes Xiao Zhao said, “I heard somebody is being burned alive, I … I … I’m very scared.”

“That was just Xie Laoye’s guess,” Zhang Wuji consoled her, “It might not be true. Besides, even if Mrs. Han has fallen into their hands, if we rush, we might still be able to catch up and save her.”

Xiao Zhao grabbed his hand and earnestly said, “Gongzi, please, you have to save Mrs. Han’s life.”

“All of us will do our best,” Zhang Wuji replied. He went back to the stern, picked up the oar, and exerting his strength, he rowed even faster.

Xiao Zhao also picked up an oar, and although her hands were trembling, she also furiously paddled the boat.

“Zhang Gongzi,” suddenly Zhao Min said, “There are two things that I don’t understand; I’ve been giving it a thought for a long time, but still cannot figure it out. I wonder if you could enlighten me.”

Hearing her suddenly being polite to him, Zhang Wuji felt strange. “What is it?” he asked.

Zhao Min said, “That day outside the Green Willow Manor, I dispatched people to attack your grandfather, Yang Xiao, and the others; but this Miss Xiao Zhao had actually defended against the troops. I know that under a capable general there are no weak soldiers, but still, under the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu there is actually a little servant girl with this kind of ability, I found it really strange … “

“What Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu?” Xie Xun interrupted.

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min laughed, “Let me tell you now: the young master, your foster child, is the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. You are actually his subordinate.”

Xie Xun was half believing and half doubting; he was at a loss of words. Thereupon Zhao Min told him briefly how Zhang Wuji had taken over the Cult Leader position; but she did not know too much about the details. Xie Xun then asked Zhang Wuji directly, and he did not have any choice but telling him the truth, about his involvement when the Six Major Sects besieged the Brightness Peak, and how he found the ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’ manual inside the secret passage.

In his utmost delight Xie Xun stood up, then knelt down on the small boat’s deck; “Subordinate Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun pays his respect to Jiaozhu,” he said.

Zhang Wuji hastily also knelt down to return his respect. “Yifu,” he said, “Please don’t be overly courteous. Yang Jiaozhu had left an order for Yifu to take the interim Jiaozhu position. It is very hard for your child to bear this heavy responsibility. With the Heaven’s blessing Yifu has returned, safe and sound; it is truly our Cult’s good fortune. As soon as we reached the Central Earth, I am going to ask Yifu to take over the Jiaozhu position.”

Xie Xun sadly said, “Your Yifu has returned, but his eyes are blind. So you cannot actually say ‘safe and sound’. How can a blind man take the leadership of the Ming Cult? Miss Zhao, didn’t you say you have two things you do not understand?”

“I want to ask Miss Xiao Zhao,” Zhao Min said, “Who taught you the ‘qi men ba gua’ [strange/wonderful gate, eight trigrams] and ‘yin yang wu xing’ [yin and yang, five elements] techniques? You are very young, how did you know all those extraordinary skills?”

Xiao Zhao replied, “They are my family heritage. It is not worth Junzhu Niang-niang’s [Princess] attention.”

“Who is your honorable father?” Zhao Min asked further, “The daughter is this good, your father and mother must be world famous masters.”

“My father has buried his name and lives in seclusion,” Xiao Zhao replied, “Why did Junzhu bother to ask? Could it be that you are going to cut my fingers to force me to show you my martial art?” She was young, but surprisingly did not show the slightest degree of submission toward Zhao Min. By bringing up the finger cutting affair, it was obvious that she was trying to incite Zhou Zhiruo’s anger; pulling her to her side to face a common enemy.

Zhao Min simply smiled; she turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Zhang Gongzi, that night we met at the small inn in Dadou for the second time, Ku Toutuo Fan Yao came to take his leave from me. When he saw Miss Xiao Zhao, he said two sentences; what were those?”

Zhang Wuji had already forgotten this matter; now that she brought it up, he had to think for a moment before answering, “Ku Dashi [Reverend Ku] seemed to say that Xiao Zhao’s appearance looks very much like someone he knew.”

“Correct!” Zhao Min said, “Can you guess to whom did Ku Dashi think Miss Xiao Zhao look like?”

“How can I guess?” Zhang Wuji said.

Throughout this discussion, the small boat was approaching the Ling She Island. They that saw a row of ships were moored on the west of the Island; there was a large red blazing fire painted on each one of their main sails, there was also a black ribbon hanging from each sail. Zhang Wuji wrinkled his eyebrows and said, “The Persian Central Cult dispatches their armada; the number of people coming in must be a lot.”

Zhao Min said, “Let us take this boat to the back of the island and land on a secluded place. Don’t let them see us yet.”

“Yes!” Zhang Wuji nodded his head.

He was only rowing for three, four ‘zhang’s when suddenly from one of the ships came a bugle sound, ‘whoo, whoo …’ followed by ‘bang, bang’ two explosions, as two cannonballs were fired away. One fell to the left of the small boat, the other to its right side, creating two water columns. The small boat was shaken and nearly turned over.

Someone called out from the ship, “Quickly row the boat over here; if you don’t obey, we are going to fire again.”

Zhang Wuji silently groaned, knowing that with these two salvos the enemy deliberately demonstrated their ability to shoot accurately; if they could hit two sides of the boat, then with the distance so close, they would easily hit the boat. Once the boat capsized, none of the six people onboard would survive. He had no choice but slowly row the boat toward the ship while the three cannons from the big ship slowly turned, following them around.

When the small boat reached the ship, a rope ladder was let down. Zhang Wuji said, “Let us go up and try to seize the ship.”

Xie Xun groped around for the ladder and he was the first to go up. Without saying anything Zhou Zhiruo stooped down to pick Yin Li up, and then climbed to the ship, followed Xiao Zhao. Carrying Zhao Min in his arm, Zhang Wuji was the last to go aboard the ship.

They saw the people on the ship were all blonde haired with blue eyes, their statures tall, they were Persian foreigners; but Liuyun Shi and the other two were actually not among them. One of them, who spoke Chinese, asked, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Zhao Min replied, “We are shipwrecked; and are looking for help.”

That Persian was half believing and half doubting; he turned his head around and spoke several sentences in Persian toward someone sitting on a chair on the deck, who seemed to be their leader. That leader mumbled some instructions. Suddenly Xiao Zhao jumped and sent out a palm strike toward that leader. The leader was startled; he dodged sideways, grabbed the chair, and smashed it toward Xiao Zhao.

Zhang Wuji was taken by surprise; not anticipating Xiao Zhao to make her move this soon. He moved three feet sideways and stretched out his fingers to strike the leader’s acupoint. The several dozen Persian sailors aboard were immediately thrown into confusion; they unsheathed their weapons and surrounded them. Although these people knew martial art, their skills were far below those of the Cloud and Wind emissaries.

Supporting Yin Li with his right hand, Zhang Wuji’s left hand struck to the east and slapped to the west. Xie Xun unsheathed his Tulong Saber; Zhou Zhiruo brandished her sword; together with Xiao Zhao whose movements were quick, in a short period of time they struck down dozens of Persians. More than ten people fell down on the deck, either died or seriously injured by the blades; about seven, eight people fell down to the sea below, while the rest of them were immobilized because their acupoints were sealed.

Instantly the sea was full with people shouting and bugle sounding, as the other Persian ships moved to surround them, with the people on board ready to attack. Zhang Wuji picked up the leader and jumped to the ship’s side. “Don’t you dare come over, or I’ll hack this man to his death,” he shouted loud and clear.

The people on the other ships shouted and yelled. Zhang Wuji did not understand what they were saying, but seeing that nobody jumped to their ship, he believed the man he captured must be someone in a high position, so that the enemy hesitated and did not dare to attack rashly. Zhang Wuji jumped back down to the deck.

He barely laid that leader down when he suddenly heard a swishing noise from behind, as a weapon was coming down on his back. Quickly he evaded sideways and kicked back; only to feel that his foot had struck a Sheng Huo Ling, while from the left another Sheng Huo Ling swept horizontally. Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, resenting the fact that the Wind, Cloud, and Moon Emissaries have arrived this quickly. “Everybody, retreat back to the cabin,” he shouted, while lifting up the leader in his hands to parry the Sheng Huo Ling.

Huiyue Shi hastily pulled her attack back, but because of this abrupt movement, her lower body was exposed; Zhang Wuji swept with his leg and almost hit her calf. Liuyun Shi and Miaofeng Shi attacked together from the sides, forcing Zhang Wuji to withdraw his kick.

Toward the ninth stance, the Sheng Huo Ling in Miaofeng Shi’s left hand slamming down diagonally in a very weird move; looked like he was aiming Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. Zhang Wuji lowered the Persian leader’s body. Although Miaofeng Shi’s stance was very strange, Zhang Wuji’s reaction was extremely ingenious. ‘Slap!’ the Sheng Huo Ling squarely hit that Persian on his left cheek.

The Three Emissaries cried out in alarm simultaneously; their countenance changed and they leaped back at the same time. After talking in Persian among themselves, suddenly they bowed toward the Persian in Zhang Wuji’s hand, with a very respectful expression; and then they retreated.

Suddenly the bugle sounded again as one big ship slowly came near. On the bow of this ship were twelve embroidered golden banners, while underneath the banners twelve chairs were set covered in tiger skins. One of the chairs was empty, while the other eleven were occupied. That big ship stopped some distance away and dropped its anchor.

Zhao Min noticed that the empty chair was the sixth one; a thought came to her mind. “The man we captured is dressed similar to those eleven people on that ship; looks like among their twelve leaders, he ranks number six.”

“Twelve big leaders?” Xie Xun asked, “Hmm, the Central Cult’s twelve ‘bao shu wang’ [lit. kings of treasured/precious tree] have come to the Central Earth. This is no small matter.”

“What are the twelve ‘bao shu wang’?” Zhao Min asked.

“Under the Jiaozhu of the Persian Central Cult,” replied Xie Xun, “are the twelve grandmasters of the Scripture; they are called the Twelve Precious Tree Kings. Their position is similar to the Four Protector Kings of the Central Earth’s Ming Cult. These twelve kings are: the first Dasheng [great holiness], the second ‘zhi hui’ [wisdom or knowledge], the third Changsheng’ [eternal victory], the fourth Zhanghuo’ [palm of fire], the fifth Qinxiu [diligent cultivation], the sixth Pingdeng [equality], the seventh Xinxin’ [faith], the eighth Zhen’e [suppressing evil], the ninth Zhengzhi [integrity], the tenth Gongde’ [virtue], the eleventh Qixin [single mindedness], the twelfth Juming [entire brightness]. However, these twelve Precious Tree Kings are only experts in Scriptures and doctrines, great teachers of religious law; I heard they are not experts in martial art. This man is the sixth; so he must be the Pingdeng Bao Shu Wang.”

Zhang Wuji sat down by the main mast, laying down the Pingdeng Wang on his knees. This man held a high position within the Persian Central Cult; hence, Zhang Wuji was thinking of using him a hostage to escape later on, therefore, he must take a good care of him. Looking down, Zhang Wuji saw that man’s left cheek was swollen very badly; fortunately it was not life- threatening. Thinking about the fierceness of Miaofeng Shi’s strike, he felt strange; hastily he exerted his strength and felt some reaction from this man’s internal energy.

Meanwhile Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were cleaning up the deck; they moved the corpses to the rear cabin and laid down those who were still alive neatly in rows on the deck.

They saw that they were surrounded by more than ten Persian ships, with each ship’s cannon aimed at their ship, while the deck next to the fender was full of Persian people; their blades flickered under the bright torchlights. The ships were jam-packed with these people, it was difficult even to estimate how many people were there. Zhang Wuji was secretly anxious; without even considering the fact that the cannons on each ship were capable of bombarding their ship, if these thousands of people attacked together, he would be hard-pressed to defend himself even if he had three heads and six arms. He might be able to escape relying on his own martial art skill; but how about his companions? Moreover, Yin Li and Zhao Min were injured, making their situation more dangerous.

He heard a Persian speak in Chinese with a loud voice, “Jin Mao Shi Wang, listen! Our Twelve Precious Tree Kings of the Central Cult are here. You have committed a crime against the Central Cult, the Precious Tree Kings are being lenient and willing to pardon you. Quickly release the Cult member on your ship, we will allow you to sail away safely.”

Xie Xun laughed. “The Old Xie is not a three-year old child; do you think we don’t know that your cannons will fire on us as soon as we released the hostages?” he said.

That Persian was indignant. “If you don’t release our people, do you think we cannot shoot you?”

Xie Xun hesitated for a moment before answering, “I have three conditions; if you agree, we will then respectfully send these Cult people ashore.”

“What condition?” that man asked.

“First,” Xie Xun replied, “From now on, the Central Cult and the Central Earth Ming Cult are to respect each other, no more interfering with each other’s affairs.”

“Hmm, and the second?” that man said.

“Release Taj-kis,” Xie Xun said, “Send her over to our boat. Pardon her for losing her chastity, and do not look for her again, ever.”

“Not on your life,” that man angrily said, “Taj-kis has violated a major law of the Central Cult; she must be burned alive as a punishment. What does that have to do with your Central Earth Ming Cult, anyway? What is the third condition?”

“You have not agreed to the second one, why talk about the third one?” Xie Xun said.

“All right!” that man replied, “Let’s just say we agree to the second condition; then there is no problem in hearing the third one, isn’t there?” “The third condition?” Xie Xun said, “That’s the easiest one. Send a small boat to follow us. After we sail for fifty ‘li’s, and we are sure that you are not pursuing us, then we’ll release the hostages to the small boat. You are free to pick them up.”

That man angrily shouted, “Hu shou jiu dao! Hu shou jiu dao!”

Xie Xun and the others were puzzled, not understanding what he said. Zhao Min laughed and said, “This man learned how to speak Chinese, but he learned it sloppily. He must have thought one degree higher than ‘nonsense’ must be ‘absurd’.” [Translator’s note: ‘hu shuo ba dao’ (????) means ‘rubbish, nonsense’, where the single character ? - ‘ba’ means ‘eight’. The man increased the number eight to number nine, ? - ‘jiu’.]

Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji thought they could not blame his logic; they could not help bursting into laughter even though they were currently under a dire circumstance.

As that man increased the ‘degree of rubbishness’ and Xie Xun and the others were laughing, the Precious Three King who was sitting at the end of the row, called Juming Bao Shu Wang, was angry. Letting out a loud whistle, he jumped toward the enemy’s ship. The eleventh king, Qixin Bao Shu Wang, followed behind him. Zhang Wuji stepped forward, his left palm struck toward Qixin Bao Shu Wang’s chest. To his surprise, Qixin Wang did not parry, but stretching out his left hand to grab the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhang Wuji thought that surely his palm would reach the enemy’s body first; who would have thought that from the side Ju Ming Wang’s both palms came charging in, blocking his palm, while at the same time Qixin Wang’s fingers almost touched his skull. Zhang Wuji evaded by moving one step forward. He realized now that these two people’s collaboration was as tight as one person with four arms and four legs.

The three people had exchanged seven, eight stances in a flash. Zhang Wuji was inwardly worried; the collaborations of these two were somewhat inferior compared to the Wind and Cloud, three emissaries, but their martial art was very strange nonetheless. The essence of their martial art was clearly similar to the ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’, but as their attack arrived, it carried an unpredictable variation within, making it very difficult for Zhang Wuji to fight with confidence. Speaking about swiftness and fierceness, however, their stances were actually not as good as the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi by a long shot. These two men were fighting as they were mad; occasionally they would launch what seemed to be a stance from the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, but before striking the target, they would suddenly act as if they were losing their minds and kicked and hit randomly, but surprisingly their attack was very difficult to block. Their collaboration was very tight, it wasn’t any different from the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries.

Zhang Wuji resisted with a lot of effort and only managed to fight them evenly; it was not until twenty, thirty stances later that he slowly started to gain an upper hand. It was at this moment that the Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, howled in one voice and jumped to their ship, toward the Pingdeng Wang, with the intention of snatching him back to redeem their guilt of striking him earlier.

Xie Xun heaved the Ping Deng Wang and brandished him around, making a large circle around him. This time, how could the Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, dare to act rashly? They hastened to the left and dodged to the right, while trying to find a hole to launch their attack. Suddenly Juming Wang grunted and tumbled down. Zhang Wuji reached down trying to grab him, but Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi’s pair of tablets came to block, while Miaofeng Shi scooped Juming Wang to bring him back to their own ship.

Qixin Wang and Cloud and Moon Emissaries were forced to face Zhang Wuji together; their coordination was not as when they were fighting with their own respective partners. After several more stances, they knew it was hard to score a victory. Three people successively let out a whistle and retreated to their ship.

After calming himself down, Zhang Wuji said, “These people definitely knew the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; but somehow their techniques are different, making it difficult for me to deal with.”

“Our Cult’s Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi originated from Persia,” Xie Xun said, “But after they passed it on to us several hundred years ago, they lost their own copy. So what they preserved, according to Taj-kis, was only some shallow and superficial knowledge. For that reason, they sent Taj-kis to the Brightness Peak to get the manual back.”

“Their martial art foundation really is superficial, so their knowledge is indeed only skin deep,” Zhang Wuji said, “But the way they use it was truly ingenious. Obviously, they knew something significant that was the key to their skill, which I have not penetrated through. Hmm, in the seventh level of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, there are some passages I have not mastered yet; could it be the key?” While saying that, he sat down on the deck with his head between his hands, thinking hard. Xie Xun and the others did not dare to make any noise, for fear they would disturb his train of thought.

“Aiyo,” suddenly Xiao Zhao called out in alarm. Zhang Wuji looked up only to see Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, was taking someone to the presence of the eleven Precious Tree Kings. That person was a hunchback, with a walking stick in her hand; she was none other than Jin Hua Popo.

Zhihui Bao Shu Wang who was sitting on the second chair shouted her some questions. Jin Hua Popo leaned her head sideways and shouted back, “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

Zhihui Wang sneered; he stood up and reached out with his left hand, pulling the entire white hair from Jin Hua Popo’s head, exposing a clump of silky hair as black as crow. Jin Hua Popo turned her head sideways, trying to hide her face. But Zhihui Wang’s right hand reached out suddenly to peel a layer of skin from her face.

Zhang Wuji and the others could see clearly that what Zhihui Wang peeled was a human skin mask. Instantly Jin Hua Popo turned into a very beautiful woman, with creamy white skin, almond shaped eyes, and cheeks like peach. Her countenance was glowing; her beauty was truly indescribable.

As Taj-kis’ true appearance was exposed, she might as well throw away the walking stick, and she stood there smiling bitterly. Zhihui Wang asked her some questions again, and she replied in Persian. As those two people exchanged words, the countenances of the eleven Precious Tree Kings were getting more and more serious.

“Miss Xiao Zhao,” suddenly Zhao Min asked, “What are they talking about?”

With tears in her eyes Xiao Zhao said, “You are so smart, you knew everything; why didn’t you prevent Xie Laoye Zi from talking?”

Zhao Min was puzzled, “Prevent him from talking what?” she asked.

Xiao Zhao replied, “Initially, they did not know who Jin Hua Popo was. Later on, they found out that she is the Zi Shan Long Wang; but they had never guessed that Zi Shan Long Wang is the Holy Maiden Taj-kis. Popo had made a great effort in concealing her identity from them. Xie Laoye Zi’s second condition was for them to release Sheng Nu Taj-kis; although his intention was good, he inadvertently revealed her secret to Zhihui Bao Shu Wang. Xie Laoyezi’s eyes cannot see, of course he did not know that Jin Hua Popo’s appearance was radically changed that nobody would recognize her. Miss Zhao, you can see everything clearly, could it be that you haven’t thought about it?”

In reality, when listening to Xie Xun’s story on the little boat, Zhao Min had early on guessed correctly that Jin Hua Popo was the Persian Ming Cult’s Holy Maiden Taj-kis, but she had never guessed that in the eyes of the Persian leaders, her true identity was by no means uncovered. She was about to open her mouth to retort back, but noticing that Xiao Zhao was speaking miserably, she vaguely guessed that Xiao Zhao must have had some unusual relationship with Jin Hua Popo. She did not have the heart to speak harshly and only said, “Xiao Zhao Meizi [(younger) sister, term of endearment], I certainly have not thought about it. If I had an ill-intention to harm Jin Hua Popo, let me die a horrible death.”

Xie Xun was even more remorseful; he did not say anything. But he had made a decision in his heart that even if he had to lose his life, he would save Taj-kis from danger.

Sobbing, Xiao Zhao said, “They blame Jin Hua Popo, saying that she got married and committed apostasy against the Cult, they … they are going to burn her to death.”

“Xiao Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said, “Please don’t worry, as soon as there is an opportunity, I am going to go over and save Jin Hua Popo.” He was accustomed to call her ‘Popo’, but if he looked at Zi Shan Long Wang right now, even though she was middle-aged, but her gracefulness and beauty was not inferior to Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo, and the others; she even looked like Xiao Zhao’s elder sister.

“No, no,” Xiao Zhao said, “You cannot fight Eleven Bao Shu Wang, plus the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries; don’t deliver your life in vain. Right now they are discussing how they are going to take the Pingdeng Wang back.”

“Humph!” Zhao Min hatefully said, “Even if they take Pingdeng Wang back, his face has already imprinted with these lines of characters; he will look so ugly.”

“What imprinted characters?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“That yellow bearded emissary’s Sheng Huo Ling struck his left cheek …” Zhao Min said, “Ah, Xiao Zhao!” suddenly she remembered something. “Xiao Zhao Meizi,” she asked, “Do you know Persian characters?”

“I do,” Xiao Zhao replied.

“Come here and look,” Zhao Min said, “What is written on Pingdeng Wang’s face?”

Xiao Zhao came near Pingdeng Wang and leaned over his head; she saw his left cheek was swollen badly and three lines of Persian characters were imprinted on it. Turned out each one of the Sheng Huo Ling was engraved with characters. Miaofeng Shi had accidentally struck Pingdeng Wang, and the characters on the Sheng Huo Ling were transferred to his flesh. Only, the part where Sheng Huo Ling met the flesh was no more than two ‘cun’s wide and three ‘cun’s long [1 cun is approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm)], so the inscription was incomplete.

Xiao Zhao had followed Zhang Wuji into the secret passage of the Brightness Peak, and had memorized the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual; although Zhang Wuji had never forbidden her, she had never trained it, but she knew the theory of this martial art by heart. When Zhang Wuji encountered a difficulty during training of the seventh level and he was forced to skip several lines, Xiao Zhao had memorized those lines well. Presently, looking at the characters on Pingdeng Wang’s face, she could not help from blurting out, “This is Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory!”

“Did you say Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“No, it’s not,” Xiao Zhao said, “At first, I thought it was it, but it’s not. Translated into Chinese, those lines mean: ‘reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear; three voids, seven solids, something exists out of nothing …’ something, ‘the heaven square, the earth round …’ and the next line is unreadable.”

Listening to these dozen or so characters, Zhang Wuji felt as if among the black clouds in the sky suddenly he saw a flash of lightning; but after the lightning passed, the sky was still dark. Nevertheless, this flash of lightning gave him hope, that in the midst of a five-‘li’ dense fog he could see a glimpse of a way out. His mouth muttered, “Reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear …” He tried hard to integrate these cryptic lines with the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory he already mastered. Several times did he think he see the connection, each time it appeared right but actually was wrong; in the end everything was still dark to him.

“Gongzi, watch out!” suddenly he heard Xiao Zhao calling out, “They are issuing an order: the Three Win and Cloud Emissaries are to attack you, Qinxiu Wang, Zhen’E Wang, and Gongde Wang, three kings are to take Pingdeng Wang back.”

Xie Xun heaved the Pingdeng Wang and held him across his chest, while tossing the Tulong Dao to Zhang Wuji and said, “Just chop them up with this Saber.”

Zhao Min also took the Yitian Sword and handed it over to Zhou Zhiruo. This time they were on the same boat sharing the same fate; fighting a common enemy together was more important than their differences.

Zhang Wuji took the Tulong Saber, and absentmindedly inserted the Saber to his waist, while his mouth was still mumbling, “Three voids, seven solids, something exists out of nothing …”

“Idiot!” Zhao Min anxiously said, “This is not the time to ponder some martial art theory; quickly prepare yourself to face the enemy.”

Before she finished speaking, Qinxiu, Zhen’E, and Gongde, three kings had already jumped over with their palms extended to attack Xie Xun. They were afraid to injure Pingdeng Wang, hence they did not dare to use weapons. They were hoping that by attacking with their palms and fists, they might have a chance of snatching him back as soon as one man managed to get hold of Pingdeng Wang’s body.

Zhou Zhiruo was standing by next to Xie Xun; each time the situation was critical, she would hack down her sword to Pingdeng Wang; forcing Qinxiu Wang, Zhen’E Wang, and Gongde Wang, diverting their attack toward Zhou Zhiruo to prevent her sword from harming Pingdeng Wang.

On the other battlefront, Zhang Wuji was fighting the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries. These four people fought cautiously; each side had suffered some hard beating from their opponents, nobody dared to be careless. After fighting for several stances, Huiyue Shi’s tablet came down to strike; according to basic martial art principle, this move should strike Zhang Wuji’s left shoulder. Who would have thought that the Sheng Huo Ling changed its course halfway; it made a very strange turn and ‘slap!’ it hit the back of Zhang Wuji’s neck.

Zhang Wuji felt a burst of severe pain, but it was as if his mind was as bright as snow. “Reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear, that’s right, that’s right!” he shouted excitedly. In this short period of time, he suddenly realized that the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries’ martial art was based on the first level of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; only the Sheng Huo Ling was inscribed with the marvelous, almost fantastic, variations on the usage of these stances. His mind was churning, and straightaway he understood the four lines of secret Xiao Zhao uttered earlier. Only he had not been able to penetrate the secret of ‘the heaven square, the earth round’ part. He thought he had to take a look at the inscription on the Sheng Huo Ling to thoroughly understand the essence of the Persian martial art.

Suddenly he let out a clear whistle and his pair of hands, using the ‘three voids, seven solids’, reached out to grab two Sheng Huo Ling from Huiyue Shi’s hands; while with ‘something exists out of nothing’ he took away the two Sheng Huo Ling from Liuyun Shi’s hands. While the two of them were still in shock, Zhang Wuji had put the four Sheng Huo Ling into his bosom, and then separately grabbed them by the back of their necks and threw them back into their ship.

Amidst the shouting yelling of the Persians, Miaofeng Shi turned his body around trying to escape. By this time Zhang Wuji had understood clearly the basic principle of his opponents’ martial art. His comprehension of the details was somewhat limited, but Miaofeng Shi’s martial art had lost its mystery in his eyes. Once his right hand reached out, he grabbed Miaofeng Shi’s left foot and pulled him back from midair. With one hand on the Sheng Huo Ling in Miaofeng Shi’s hand, Zhang Wuji lifted up Miaofeng Shi’s body and smashed him toward the top of Zhen’E Wang’s head with the other hand.

The three kings were shocked; making hand signals to each other, they hurriedly leaped back to their ship. Zhang Wuji sealed Miaofeng Shi’s acupoint and threw him down near his foot.

This victory of his came so quickly that in a blink of an eye from being under-handed he suddenly gained an upper hand. Zhao Min and the others were no less surprised and they all asked him how he did it.

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “We might still be in trouble if not of mistakes arising out of chance that Pingdeng Wang suffered this mishap. Xiao Zhao, translate the inscriptions on these six Sheng Huo Ling for me; quick, quick!”

They looked at the Sheng Huo Ling, and noticed that they were neither made of metal nor jade, but of very hard substance. The size of six of them varied, some were big, some were small, some were long and some were short. The surface seemed translucent, but also seemed opaque. There seemed to be a faint image of blazing fire dancing around inside the tablet, but actually it was a reflection of the ambient light on the tablets, on which color fluctuated. Each one of the Sheng Huo Ling was inscribed with a lot of Persian characters; to translate them would take a lot of time, not to mention Zhang Wuji would have to interpret their very profound meaning. But he realized that if he wanted them to survive this current situation, then he had to understand the essence of the Persian sect’s martial art.

“Miss Zhou,” he said toward Zhou Zhiruo, “Please place your Yitian Sword on Pingdeng Wang’s neck. Yifu, please place your Tulong Saber on Miaofeng Shi’s neck. We have to buy as much time as possible.” Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo nodded their compliance.

Xiao Zhao took the six Sheng Huo Ling, and picked the shortest one, an unremarkable blackish green tablet with the least characters inscribed on it, and she started translating it. Zhang Wuji listened attentively, but he did not understand even a single sentence. He pondered deeply but still could not make any sense of what he heard, and could not help but feeling very anxious.

“Xiao Zhao Meizi,” Zhao Min said, “Why don’t you read the Sheng Huoling that struck Pingdeng Wang.”

Her words had reminded Xiao Zhao; she busily checked the inscriptions on the other tablets, and found it to be the second longest. She translated it immediately, and this time Zhang Wuji could actually understand 70, 80% of it. Once she was finished, she took the longest one and translated it. Zhang Wuji only heard several sentences when he happily said, “Xiao Zhao, these six Sheng Huo Ling, the longer ones contain the shallowest sentences. The one you just read was the rudimentary theory of their martial art.”

Actually, the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling were cast by the Persian ‘Shan Zhong Lao Ren’ [the Old Man of the Mountain], in which he engraved the essence of his lifetime martial art achievement. These six Sheng Huo Ling entered the Central Earth at the same time as the Manichaeism, and they became the symbol of authority of the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. After a long time, nobody within the Ming Cult of the Central Earth understood Persian writing. Decades ago, the Sheng Huo Ling was stolen by the Beggar Clan. It went through many hands before finally acquired by a Persian merchant, and found its way to the Persian Ming Cult. The Persian Central Cult diligently studied the writing for dozens of years, and as a result, the leaders of the Cult had enjoyed a tremendous advancement in their martial art skills. However, the martial art contained in these tablets were too broad and deep, so that even Dasheng Bao Shu Wang who was the first among the kings only managed to master 30, 40% of the entire skill set.

As for the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual, it was originally the Ming Cult’s ‘hu jiao shen gong’ [divine skill to protect the cult]; but due to its extraordinary features, it was not a skill an average person would be able to master. The Persian Ming Cult stipulated that its Cult Leader must be a virgin maiden, and for hundreds of years, the position was held by women with mediocre skill; therefore, the transfer of the manual to the successive generation was very limited, while the Central Earth Ming Cult still preserved the manual in its entirety. The Persian Ming Cult only mastered less than 10% of the original Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. By combining it with the 20, 30% of the Sheng Huo Ling’s martial art, they developed a set of strange stances, forming a brand new branch of martial art skill.

Zhang Wuji sat cross-legged on the bow, while Xiao Zhao translated the inscriptions on the Sheng Huo Ling line by line. Actually, the martial art contained in these Sheng Huo Ling was very exquisite, but by mastering one set of skill well, it would be easier to learn ten thousand sets of skill; as all kinds of skills, although they use different and unique approach, are basically developed to reach a common goal. Zhang Wuji had already possessed a profound knowledge of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, as well as the principle of Wudang Pai’s Taijiquan. Although the martial art of Sheng Huo Ling was strange, even greatly broad and profound, it was nothing more than another unorthodox sect’s martial art, which had not attained the pinnacle of its perfection yet; after all, it was still far inferior to the aforementioned three martial art skills.

After Xiao Zhao finished translating the six Sheng Huo Ling, Zhang Wuji felt that he only remembered 70, 80% of it, and understood only 50, 60%; nevertheless, he was confident that he had understood thoroughly the martial art of the Precious Tree Kings and the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries.

Time slowly passed. Forgetting everything else, Zhang Wuji wholeheartedly pondered over the martial art he had just learned; but Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo, who observed the enemy’s movement, were getting more and more anxious. They saw Taj-kis’ hands and feet were shackled, while the eleven Precious Tree Kings convened in private; then the eleven kings took off their long robes and changed into soft armors, while the people around them presented eleven strange-looking weapons. They saw the ships around them were full of Persians with their bows drawn and the arrows were aimed at them. They saw around a dozen Persians with hatchets in their hands plung into the water, waiting for their chiefs’ command to sink their ship. Suddenly they heard Dasheng Bao Shu Wang, who was sitting among the kings shout; from all the ships the drums thundered and the bugles sounded.

Zhang Wuji was startled; he raised his head and saw the eleven Precious Tree Kings, each one wearing glittering metal armor and holding weapon in their hands, were jumping toward his ship. Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo held their Saber and Sword tight, placing them on Pingdeng Wang and Miaofeng Shi’s necks. The eleven kings noticed this and as they jumped to the bow, they did not dare to press further. They formed a half moon formation and gazed intently, waiting for an opportunity to make their move.

In Zhou Zhiruo and Zhao Min’s eyes, these eleven kings looked so mean and ferocious, plus they were tall in stature; they were rather afraid.

Zhihui Wang spoke in Chinese, “Thou better release my fellow Cult member quickly, we will spare thy lives. They people are like pigs or dogs in us eyes; why do thou need to place thy blades on they people’s necks? If thou dare, go ahead and kill they people. There are thousands of people like them people in the Persian Holy Cult. What regret do we people have if thou kill one or two of they people?”

“Thou don’t have to talk big to deceive we people,” Zhao Min said, “We people know that they two people are the Pingdeng Bao Shu Wang and Miaofeng Shi. They people’s positions in thy Ming Cult are quite high. Thou said that they people are just like pigs or dogs in thy eyes then thou have made a mistake, a big heap mistake!”

That Zhihui Wang’s Chinese was a ‘textbook’ Chinese, the terms they used for ‘thou’ and ‘they people’ were nondescript. Zhao Min had cleverly imitated his intonation and terminology. Although they were in a dangerous situation, Xie Xun and the others could not restrain from smiling.

Zhihui Wang frowned and said, “In our people’s Holy Cult, there are three hundred sixty Bao Shu Wang, Pingdeng Wang holds the three hundred and fifty-ninth position. We people have one thousand two hundreds emissaries, this Miaofeng Shi’s martial art is just so-so, he is totally useless. Thou quickly kill they people then!” “Very good, very good!” Zhao Min said, “Friends with saber and sword in your hand, quickly kill these useless people!”

“Accepting order!” Xie Xun said. Lifting up his Saber, he drew a deep breath and hacked down toward Pingdeng Wang’s skull.

Everybody shouted in alarm; but the Tulong Saber swept gently and swiftly less than half an inch pass Pingdeng Wang’s head, cutting a clump of his hair, which was blown by the sea breeze, vanishing into the air. Xie Xun moved his arm, slicing to the left and to the right, seemingly cutting Pingdeng Wang’s arms; but in the last moment he flicked his wrist slightly and cut Pingdeng Wang’s sleeves instead.

These three moves were executed fiercely, yet accurately. It was extremely difficult even for people with seeing eyes, let alone for a blind man.

Narrowly missing death, Pingdeng Wang was so scared that he almost passed out several times. The other eleven Precious Tree kings and the Wind and Cloud three emissaries were dumbstruck; their mouths were wide open but their tongues were tied. “Now thou have seen the Central Earth Ming Cult’s martial art,” Zhao Min said, “This Jin Mao Shi Wang ranks three thousand five hundred and ninth in the Central Earth Ming Cult. If thou want to rely on numbers to achieve victory, then the Central Earth Ming Cult will come to Persia to seek revenge in the future. We will wipe out thy central altar, and thou will certainly not able to resist. I suggest thou make peace with we people.”

Zhihui Wang knew Zhao Min was bluffing, but he did not know how to answer her. Suddenly Dasheng Bao Shu Wang spoke. Xiao Zhao called out, “Zhang Gongzi, they are going to sink our ship.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; he realized his side did not possess excellent water skill. Once the ship sunk, they would certainly be captured by the enemy. His shadow flashed and he had arrived in front of Dasheng Wang.

“What are thou doing?” Zhihui Wang shouted. From both sides Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang, one was using a whip, the other a hammer, struck together.

By this time Zhang Wuji had already understood Persian Sect’s martial art; without even trying to evade, both of his hands reached out and grabbed the kings’ throats. ‘Clang!’ Gongde Wang’s iron whip and Zhanghuo Wang’s octagonal hammer struck each other. Sparks flew everywhere. Zhang Wuji sealed both men’s acupoints on their throats to immobilize them and dragged them away.

In this confusion Zhang Wuji kicked his feet left and right; two kicks made the blades in Qixin Wang and Zhen’E Wang’s hands flew away, two more kicks made Qinxiu Wang and Juming Wang flew into the water. Suddenly he saw a tall and skinny Precious Tree King pounc on him with a pair of daggers in his hand, stabbing Zhang Wuji’s chest. Zhang Quji’s foot flew up and kicked his wrist. That man overlapped his hands and stabbed Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. This change was so quick that Zhang Wuji was forced to hurriedly leap back to evade. Turned out this man was Changsheng [eternal victory] Wang, who possessed the highest martial art skill among the twelve kings of the Persian Central Cult. After sealing Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang’s acupoints, Zhang Wuji quickly threw them into the cabin, and then turned his body around to fight Changseng Wang’s pair of daggers.

Although this man was numbered among the twelve kings, his martial art skill was strong, greatly different from the rest of the kings. Zhang Wuji attacked for three stances and defended for another three stances, he advanced three steps and retreated three steps. He inwardly praised, “A Persian with an excellent skill!”

After gaining an understanding of the martial art theory from the Sheng Huo Ling, Zhang Wuji did not have time to practice. Now that he met a powerful enemy, he had to think and fight Changsheng Wang at the same time. For the first dozen or so stances, he defended himself relying on his profound internal energy and the ingenuity of his moves, thus he managed to fight evenly with a narrow margin. After the twentieth stance, he was getting more and more comfortable in utilizing the secret from the Sheng Huo Ling on top of the martial art from the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi.

Changseng Wang earned his title ‘Eternal Victory’ because in his entire life he had never met any worthy opponent. This time he felt like his hands and feet were bound by the enemy, which he had never experienced before; naturally he was astonished, but also scared.

After thirty stances, Zhang Wuji made a step forward and suddenly sat on the deck, while grabbing Changsheng Wang’s calves. This strange move was an extremely profound move recorded on the Sheng Huo Ling. Although Changseng Wang knew about it, he had never dared to use it.

As Zhang Wuji grabbed the enemy, his ten fingers moved and sealed the ‘zhong dou’ [central capital] and ‘zhu bin’ [building guest] acupoints on Changseng Wang’s calves, using the acupoint sealing technique of the Central Earth martial art. Changseng Wang felt the lower half of his body went numb and difficult to move; he heaved a deep sigh and let his hands caught by the enemy.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt a fondness in his heart toward this man’s ability. “Thy martial art skill is excellent, I want to save your reputation. Quickly return to your ship,” he said, while releasing his captive. Changsheng Wang was grateful and ashamed at the same time, he leaped back to his ship.

Dasheng Wang saw Changsheng Wang’s bitter defeat, also saw how Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang fell into the enemy’s hands, he realized that if the enemy’s ship sank, Pingdeng Wang and the other three kings would also perish with them. He shouted his command, calling everyone to return to their ship.

Zhao Min loudly called out, “Quickly release Taj-kis and agree to Jin Mao Shi Wang’s three requests!”

The remaining kings quietly discussed their situation. Zhihui Wang said, “Complying with thy requests is not a big deal. But this young master’s martial art is obviously our Persian Sect’s skill, where did he learn it from? We demand an explanation.”

Stifling her laugh, Zhao Min maintained a solemn face and said, “Thou art naïve and lack of understanding, boastful and wishy-washy. This young master is our Cult Emissary’s eighth disciple. His seven martial brothers will arrive soon. By that time, if the seven of them are upset, then it will be extremely awful for thou. Woe is thou …”

Although Zhuhui Wang was intelligent, Chinese language is difficult and profound; he only understood around 60, 70% from what Zhao Min said, but he was certain she was blowing her horn. He hesitated a moment before saying, “Very well! Send Taj-kis over to their ship.”

Two Persian cult members took Taj-kis to the bow of Zhang Wuji’s ship. Zhou Zhiruo raised her sword. ‘Ding, ding!’ immediately the shackles on Taj-kis’ hands and feet were cut off. Seeing the sharpness of the Sword, those two Persians were scared to death; they hastily leaped back to their ship.

“Thou may set sail immediately, return to the Central Earth,” Zhihui Wang said, “We will send a small boat to follow behind thy ship.”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “The Central Earth Ming Cult came from Persia, thou and us are like brothers. Today we had a misunderstanding. I respectfully wish thou do not keep this in thy mind. I invite you to visit the Brightness Peak in the future, we will drink wine and have a pleasant chat together. For the offenses of today, herewith Xiongdi [brother] apologize.”

Zhihui Wang laughed out loud and said, “Thy martial art skill is excellent, you’ve won our utmost admiration. For those who learn some kind of skill, isn’t it a delight to train it to perfection? A friend comes visit from afar, isn’t it a delight to the host? Even if they are upset, shouldn’t they be delighted?”

Zhang Wuji and the others were surprised to hear him quoting Kongzi [Confucius], showing that he was an educated man, he was able to respond accurately to Zhao Min’s remarks earlier. They all laughed.

Zhao Min said, “What you say is very good; you are truly a distinguished Persian, a true rarity! I wish you all a prosperous and long life, blessed with abundance and kept from calamities, free of sickness until the day you die.”

Zhihui Wang understood the four character ‘prosperous and long life’ [duo1 fu2 duo1 shou4], so he believed the rest were also good wishes for him. He smiled and mumbled, “Many thanks, many thanks!”

Zhang Wuji realized that although Zhao Min was speaking amiably, she could turn vicious and hurl some cunning and provocative speeches. Right now they were among tigers and wolves, the night was still young and the dreams many; hence the earlier they get out of danger the better. Immediately he pulled the anchor and turned the rudder, he hoisted the sail and slowly drove the ship away. All around them the Persians aboard their ships watched how Zhang Wuji weigh the anchor and hoist the sail, a job for dozen of sailors, alone; a demonstration of an astonishing strength. They burst out in cheers. Someone tossed the mooring rope of a small boat, which Zhang Wuji caught and tied to the rear mast. The big ship towed the small boat, gradually they sailed away. There were two people on the small boat, a man and a woman; they were none other than Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi.

Zhang Wuji manned the rudder and steered the ship westward, he saw that the Persian ships did not pursue. Quickly they sailed away for several ‘li’s, until the ships by the Ling She Island looked no more than one inch big, yet they were still unmoving, so finally he felt relieved. He asked Xiao Zhao to handle the rudder, while he went into the cabin to check on Yin Li’s condition.

Yin Li was still in a blurry condition, half-asleep and half-awake. Although she did not seem to improve, but her sickness did not get worse either. Zhang Wuji thought that in this big Persian ship, there must be some medicine around.

Taj-kis was standing on the bow with her eyes gazed into the ocean. She heard Zhang Wuji walk on the deck, but she did not turn her head. Zhang Wuji saw her from behind, and had to admit that her figure looked beautiful and elegant; her beautiful hair floated in the wind, the back of her neck as white as the white jade. Xie Xun said she was the Wulin world’s most beautiful woman in the past, it was certainly not an empty word. He imagined her standing by the bank of the Bi Shui Han Tan, with her purple gown as beautiful as a flower, her sword as brilliant as the snow; he wondered how many heroes and warriors’s hearts had fallen because of her.

Sailing until the evening, they had left Ling She Island approximately a hundred ‘li’s behind. Looking to the east they did not see a single sail on the surface of the ocean; obviously the Persian Central Cult did not dare to pursue them under their threat. “Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said, “Can we release them now?”

“Very well!” Xie Xun replied, “Even if they want to pursue, they won’t overtake us.”

Zhang Wuji unsealed Pingdeng, Gongde, Zhanghuo, three kings, and Miaofeng Shi’s acupoints, while apologizing to them repeatedly. He took them to the stern and helped them to leap into the small boat.

Miaofeng Shi said, “We are responsible for these six Sheng Huo Ling; losing them is not a small offense. Please return them to us.”

Xie Xun said, “Sheng Huo Ling is the Central Earth Ming Cult’s token of authority; today it returned to its rightful owner, how can we let you take it away?”

Miaofeng Shi talked incessantly, insistent that the tablets be returned to him. Zhang Wuji thought he must subdue Miaofeng Shi’s heart today to avoid more trouble in the future. He said, “If we return these tablets to you, your ability is still too low. I am afraid you won’t be able to defend them. Rather than letting some strangers snatch them away, don’t you think it would be better if the Ming Cult has them?”

“How can some strangers casually snatch them away?” Miaofeng Shi asked.

“If you don’t believe me, then let us try,” Zhang Wuji said, handing over the six Sheng Huo Ling tablets to him.

Miaofeng Shi was delighted; he had barely uttered, “Many thanks!” when Zhang Wuji hooked with his left hand and pulled with his right, taking the six tablets back.

Miaofeng Shi was surprised and angrily said, “I was not even ready, that one did not count.”

Zhang Wuji smiled, “All right, there is no harm in trying again,” he said, handing the Sheng Huo Ling back to him.

Miaofeng Shi put the four tablets of Sheng Huo Ling into his bosom first, and then held the two tablets in his hands tightly. Seeing Zhang Wuji reached out to snatch, he moved the Sheng Huo Ling in his left hand to hit Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji flipped his wrist and grabbed Miaofeng Shi’s right arm and pulled it up so that two Sheng Huo Ling struck each other. ‘Clang’ the noise shook their hearts. Zhang Wuji transmitted his abundance internal energy to Miaofeng Shi’s arm.

Both of Miaofeng Shi’s arms were numb because of this attack, his whole body lost its strength as if he was paralyzed, so that the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands fell onto the deck. Zhang Wuji took the four Sheng Huo Ling from his bosom first before taking the ones on the deck.

“Well?” he said, “Do you want to try it again?”

Miaofeng Shi’s face was ashen. “You are not a human,” he stammered, “You are the devil, you are the devil!” He took several steps backward and was about to jump into the small boat, but he staggered and tumbled down. Liuyun Shi leaped up to carry him down.

The small boat raised its sail. Gongde Wang pulled the towing rope. ‘Snap!’ the rope broke and the small boat was separated from the big ship. Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Please forgive us for the many offenses.”

Gongde Wang and the others’ eyes were full of hatred, they turned their heads around without answering. The big ship rode on the wind and sailed to the west, two boats were getting farther and farther away from each other.

Suddenly Taj-kis cursed, “Bastard! How dare you?” She jumped into the water.

Zhang Wuji was shocked and hastily turned the rudder. He saw blood bubbling up from the water, followed by another one some distant away. Altogether there were six bloody areas with bubbles up to the surface.

With a splash Taj-kis’ head appeared from below the surface with a short dagger in between her teeth, her right hand was holding a Persian man’s hair, which appeared above the water shortly.

Zhang Wuji turned the rudder quickly to meet them, but the hull of that ship was too big; because of the strong wind, instead of turning around, the ship slowly made a big circle on the water. In the water, Zi Shan Long Wang was as agile as a fish; without taking too much time, she had reached the ship. Her left hand reached the anchor and with one pull she flew up, taking the Persian along with her, to the deck.

Everybody realized now, that the Persians had concealed this disastrous thought. They waited until Gongde Wang and the others safely moved to the small boat, then they raised the sail to cover up some people who went underwater toward the big ship, with the intention of sinking Zhang Wuji and the others to the bottom of the sea. Fortunately, Zi Shan Long Wang noticed the bubble in the water from these people’s breathing, leaped into the sea, and managed to kill six of them while capturing one alive. She was about to interrogate this survivor when suddenly there was a loud explosion coming from the aft; followed by black smoke rising to the sky. The hull shook violently, as if it was hit by a cannon; the mast broke and the top part flew into the air.

Zhang Wuji and the others felt a searing heat; hastily they ducked down. “What a wicked scheme!” Taj-kis called out. She rushed to the mast and saw a big hole on the aft, while the rudder disappeared without any trace. Water rushed in from the hole. Taj-kis asked several questions in Persian to the man she captured, and then her palm struck down toward his skull, smashing his head altogether. She kicked his body to the ocean while saying, “I only knew they were trying to make some holes on the ship; I did not think they planted explosive on the aft.”

By this time Gongde Wang and the others had sailed quite some distance away on their small boat; although Taj-kis’ water skill was excellent, there was no way she could overtake them. Everybody looked at each other in blank dismay, not knowing what to do. Zhao Min gave Zhang Wuji a sorrowful look while thinking in her heart, “The enemy ships will be over very soon; all of us will certainly die without any burial place.”

The ship was really big, so that it would not sink too quickly. Amidst that commotion, suddenly Taj-kis spoke to Xiao Zhao in Persians, to which Xiao Zhao also replied in Persian. Two people spoke back and forth, their expressions kept changing irregularly. They noticed Xiao Zhao glanced at Zhang Wuji with blushing cheeks, she looked bashful. Taj-kis kept talking to her with a stern voice. They talked for half a day; apparently they were arguing over something. Afterwards, it sounded like Taj-kis was urging Xiao Zhao to do something, while Xiao Zhao kept shaking her head without saying anything. Finally, she suddenly looked toward Zhang Wuji, heaved a deep sigh, and said two sentences. Taj-kis stretched out her arms to embrace her and kept kissing her, tears streaming down from their eyes. Xiao Zhao was sobbing, while Taj-kis comforting her in gentle voice.

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo looked at each other in bewilderment, not knowing what was happening. Zhao Min whispered in Zhang Wuji’s ears, “Look, their faces look alike!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, he noticed Taj-kis and Xiao Zhao both had delicate and elegant melon-seed-shaped faces, high nose and snow-white complexion, graceful like rippling waves of autumn. Their facial features were about 60, 70% similar, only on Xiao Zhao, the Persian heritage was but a shadow, while Taj-kis looked more foreign than a Central Earth woman. Zhang Wuji recalled at the little wineshop in Dadou, when Ku Toutuo Fan Yao saw Xiao Zhao, he said, ‘Looks alike, looks alike!’ Turned out what he meant by ‘look alike’ was that Xiao Zhao looked very much like Zi Shan Long Wang. Was Xiao Zhao Taj-kis’ younger sister, then? Or was she her daughter?

Zhang Wuji also remembered how Yang Xiao and Yang Buhui, father and daughter, had always been suspicious toward Xiao Zhao. Whenever he asked Yang Xiao why he seemed wary toward a young girl like Xiao Zhao, Yang Xiao only said that Xiao Zhao reminded him of his old enemy, yet he did not elaborate further. Only now did Zhang Wuji understand that Yang Xiao felt Xiao Zhao’s appearance looked very much like Zi Shan Long Wang; only he did not have any other evidence. Besides, Zhang Wuji was protective toward her, thus it was inconvenient for Yang Xiao to accuse her blatantly. Now it also became clear to him why Xiao Zhao deliberately twisted her mouth and made her nose crooked, painstakingly pretended to be an ugly girl.

Suddenly he recalled another matter, “Why did Xiao Zhao roam around the Brightness Peak? How did she know the entrance to the secret passage? I am sure it was Zi Shan Long Wang who ordered her to go there; obviously with the intention to steal the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual. She became my servant and has already been by my side for two years, and I have never suspected her. She had seen the manual; hereafter, if she want to write a copy, it would be as easy as taking something out of her own pocket. Aiyo! I only knew she was an innocent young girl; who would have expected that she is a shrewd schemer. These past two years were like a dream to me, I was constantly under her mercy without even realizing it. Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, in all your life you always believe others too easily, that was very stupid! Indeed, even a little girl like her was able to play with me on her palm.”

Thinking to this point, he could not help but feel angry. Right at that moment, Xiao Zhao’s eyes met with his. Zhang Wuji saw that her gaze was tender with unbounded passion, without any hint of pretense in it. His heart was shaken; he remembered how on the Brightness Peak, when he was battling the Six Major Sects, Xiao Zhao had protected him without any regard of her own safety, how during these two years she had ironed his clothes and taken good care of his daily needs. Could those actions be faked? Or could it be that he had accused her unjustly? While he was busy with his thoughts, the ship shook again and sank down quite a bit more.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Taj-kis said, “All of you do not need to panic. When the Persian ships arrive, Xiao Zhao and I will deal with them. Zi Shan Long Wang is only a woman, but she knows how to be responsible of her own actions; in no way she would implicate others. Zhang Jiaozhu and Xie San Ge have shown kindness as heavy as a mountain to me; Taj-kis herewith expresses her gratitude to you.” While saying that, she gracefully bowed to the ground.

Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun hastily returned her respects; each of them thinking, “These Persians are evil and cruel; they are going to capture you and burn you to death, and will certainly not let us go.”

The ship gradually sank down; the water had reached the cabin. Zhang Wuji carried Yin Li, and Zhou Zhiruo carried Zhao Min, they all climbed up the mast. Suddenly Xiao Zhao pointed her finger to the east and broke into crying again. Everybody turned their eyes to follow her finger, and saw in the distant some sails on the surface of the ocean. Before long, the sails grew bigger and bigger; they were indeed a dozen or so big Persian ships coming to pursue them.

Zhang Wuji thought, “If I were Taj-kis, I’d rather jump into the ocean and die rather than suffering the pain of being burned alive.” But when he looked at her, her expression was calm, she hardly showed any anxiety or fear; he had to admit his admiration, “She was the chief of the Si Da Fa Wang [Four Great Judge – see my notes earlier on ‘hu jiao fa wang’]; she is truly an extraordinary lady. To think that in the past, Yi Wang, Shi Wang and Fu Wang [eagle, lion and bat kings] have already achieved fame as senior heroes, while she was just a teenage girl; for her to be ranked above the three kings, it could not be just because of one time merit she rendered. She must have had some other quality, which surpassed other people.”

Seeing the Persian ships gradually come near, he thought, “My offense toward the Bao Shu Wang [Precious Tree Kings] is not small, if I fall into their hands, I might as well forget about escaping alive. Only I have to find a way to save Yifu, Miss Zhao, Miss Zhou, and cousin. Xiao Zhao, oh, Xiao Zhao, you can betray me, but I cannot treat you unkindly.”

By now, a dozen or so Persian ships were within sight; he could see that the cannons on those ships were aimed at the sunken ship’s mast. The ships stopped within twenty some ‘zhang’s from the sunken ship, and they rolled the sail and dropped the anchor right away. He heard Zhihui Wang laugh heartily. He looked very smug when he called out, “Do thou surrender now?”

In a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji replied, “The warriors of the Central Earth would rather die unyielding; how can we surrender? True warriors would contend with martial arts to decide who’s strong and who’s weak.”

Zhihui Wang laughed; “True warriors battle with wits and not with brute force. Hurry up, extend your hands to be bound!”

Taj-kis suddenly spoke several sentences in Persian; her demeanor was stern. Zhi Hui Wang was stunned; he also replied in Persian. Two people asking and answering for a while; Dasheng Wang also joined the conversation. After several more exchanges, the big ship released a small boat with eight sailors rowing it, coming near the sunken ship.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Taj-kis said, “Xiao Zhao and I will go over there first, please wait for us here for a moment.”

“Mrs. Han,” in a stern voice Xie Xun said, “The Central Earth Ming Cult’s treatment to you was not bad. Our Cult’s safety and danger, its prosperity or fall, is on Wuji’s shoulder alone. If you betray us, the Old Xie won’t show any compassion. If you harm a single strand of Wuji’s hair, even becoming a ghost the Old Xie will not spare you.”

With a cold laugh Taj-kis said, “If your foster child is so precious, do you think my daughter is merely dirt?” While saying that she took Xiao Zhao’s hand and lightly jumped into the small boat. The eight sailors immediately rowed; the small boat sailed as if it was flying toward the big ship.

Listening to her words, everybody was startled. “Xiao Zhao is indeed her daughter,” Zhao Min said.

From a distance they saw Taj-kis and Xiao Zhao board the ship and talk with the Precious Tree Kings; while their own ship was sinking. The mast went into the water inch by inch. Xie Xun sighed and said, “Different people, different hearts. Wuji Child, I am mistaken about Mrs. Han, and you are mistaken about Xiao Zhao. Wuji, a real man can be bent and can be stretched; we will endure disgrace for a while, waiting for a good opportunity to escape. You bear a very heavy responsibility on your shoulders, millions of common people of the Central Plains place their hopes in our Ming Cult to lift the banner of righteousness high and to repel the Tartars. When the opportunity comes, you’ll have to escape, you cannot think others. You are the leader of a great Cult, you must be able to distinguish the important from the trivial.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated without answering. “Pei!” Zhao Min spat and said, “It is still questionable whether you will stay alive, yet you worry about Tartars. Tell me, which one is better, the Mongolians or the Persians?”

Zhou Zhiruo had always been silent, but now suddenly she opened her mouth, “Xiao Zhao loves Zhang Gongzi very much, she won’t betray him.”

“Didn’t you see Zi Shan Long Wang coercing her?” Zhao Min said, “Xiao Zhao was not willing, but later the pressure was getting unbearable that in the end she relented, but still pretended to cry loudly.”

By this time, the mast was only about a ‘zhang’ [about 10 feet or 3 meters] away from the water, the waves splashed and made everybody’s face wet. Zhao Min suddenly laughed and said, “Zhang Gongzi, it is so neat that we are going to die together. That traitor Xiao Zhao, on the contrary, cannot die with us.”

These words were spoken jokingly, but the meaning was deep. Zhang Wuji was really touched; he said in his heart, “I cannot take them all as my wives, but if I can die together with them, then my life is not in vain.” He looked at Zhao Min, then looked at Zhou Zhiruo, and also looked at Yin Li in his embrace. Yin Li was still unconscious, while Zhao and Zhou two girls were blushing, with drops of water on their faces. They looked as beautiful as fresh flowers; if the Zhao girl could be likened to a rose, then the Zhou girl was an orchid. His heart was filled with warm and fuzzy feelings. Suddenly, the Persians on a dozen or so ships shouted together. Zhang Wuji and the others were startled; they focused their eyes to look. They saw the people on each ship were kneeling down on the decks; they were bowing toward the big ship. On the big ship, all the Precious Tree Kings were also bowing toward someone sitting on a chair, whose features looked like Xiao Zhao’s. Only the distance was too far that they were not able to see clearly.

Zhang Wuji and the others were alarmed and unsure of what trick these Persians were about to do. After shouting for a while, the Persians stood up, but the sound of shouting did not stop; however, the shout was obviously a shout of joy, as if they were happily celebrating something. A moment later, the small boat returned with Xiao Zhao on board, sitting majestically.

“Zhang Gongzi, everybody,” she waved, “Let us go to the big ship. The Persian Ming Cult will not dare to harm you.”

“Why?” Zhao Min asked.

“You will find out later,” Xiao Zhao replied, “How could Xiao Zhao answer Zhang Gongzi if they still have ill intention toward you?”

“Xiao Zhao,” suddenly Xie Xun asked, “Did you become the Persian Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu?”

Xiao Zhao lowered her head without answering, but a moment later two drops of crystal-clear tears suddenly hang from her eyes. All of a sudden Zhang Wuji’s ears buzzed, because he had guessed with 70, 80% certainty what was happening; his heart was grieved but also full of gratitude.

“Xiao Zhao,” he said, “You did this because of me!” Xiao Zhao turned her head to the side, she did not dare to meet his eyes.

Xie Xun sighed and said, “To have a daughter like you, Taj-kis is truly worthy to bear the illustrious name of Zi Shan Long Wang. Wuji, let’s go.” He was the first to jump into the small boat, followed by Zhou Zhiruo carrying Yin Li and Zhang Wuji with Zhao Min in his arms. The eight sailors immediately rowed the boat toward the big ship.

When they were still more than ten ‘zhang’s away from the big ship, the Precious Tree Kings had already bowed to welcome their Cult Leader.

As they came aboard the big ship, Xiao Zhao gave her orders and immediately several people respectfully presented them with towels and food, and they were led to a cabin to change their wet clothes.

Zhang Wuji saw his cabin was very spacious. The room was illuminated by pearl and jewels; and it was furnished with countless precious objects. He was just about to dry his body with a towel when suddenly with a creaking noise the door was opened and somebody came in. It was Xiao Zhao, with a set of short shirt and pants, and a long robe in her hands.

“Gongzi,” she said, “Let me help you change your clothes.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “You are the Central Cult’s Jiaozhu. Technically, I am your subordinate. How can you do this anymore?”

“Gongzi,” Xiao Zhao begged him, “This is for the last time. Hereafter, we will be separated by tens of thousands ‘li’s from east to west. Our time is limited. After this time, even if I want to serve you, I cannot.”

Zhang Wuji was heartbroken; he had no choice but to let her help him change his clothes, button his shirt, and tie his belt, just like she used to do. She also took a comb and combed his hair, all the while tears were streaming down her cheeks. Zhang Wuji could not restrain himself much longer; he turned around and hugged her petite stature in his bosom.

“Ah,” Xiao Zhao exclaimed softly, her body trembled slightly.

Zhang Wuji planted a deep kiss on her cherry lips. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “At first I thought you were betraying me; I had never expected you to treat me this good.”

Xiao Zhao leaned her head on his broad chest. She whispered, “Gongzi, I did lie to you. My Mama was one of the Central Cult’s three Holy Maidens. She received an order to come to the Central Earth to set up a merit, so that when she returns to Persia, she would take over the Jiaozhu position. Unexpectedly, after meeting my Father her feelings were difficult to suppress, hence she had no choice but to commit apostasy and marry my Father. Mama knew she was guilty of a capital crime; thereupon she passed on the Holy Maiden’s seven-color gem ring to me, told me to go among the Brightness Peak people and try to steal the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual. Gongzi, I continuously concealed these things from you, but in my heart, I have never had any ill intention towards you. I would rather be your servant, serving you for the rest of my life, and never leave you, than being the Jiaozhu of the Persian Ming Cult. I have told you that haven’t I? And you have promised you would let me do that, haven’t you?”

Zhang Wuji nodded; he held her gentle body and sat her on his knees, and he kissed her again and again. Her warm and soft lips were wet with tears; they tasted sweet as honey, yet also bitter from pain.

Xiao Zhao continued, “I have memorized the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual, but that was not because I wanted to betray you. I would never have divulged this information if the mountains were not exhausted and the rivers used up …”

“I know,” Zhang Wuji softly said, “I understand everything now.”

As if she was talking to herself, Xiao Zhao said in a soft voice, “When I was little, I often saw Mama was restless and frightened, day and night. She covered up her fine appearance by pretending to be an old and ugly granny. She would not allow me to be seen with her; she let another family raise me up, and would only see me every one or two years. Only now do I understand that she braved this great danger just to be married with my Father. Gongzi, if not for the situation we were in today, I would not be willing to be the empress of this whole world, let alone be a cult leader.”

Speaking to this point, her cheeks were fiery red. Zhang Wuji felt the tender body in his embrace go warmer; his heart was moved, but suddenly Taj-kis’ voice was heard from outside the door, “Xiao Zhao, if you cannot restrain your passion, you are endangering Zhang Gongzi’s life.”

Xiao Zhao trembled and jumped up. “Gongzi,” she said, “You should forget me. Miss Yin has followed Mother [here the original word was ‘mu qin’, a formal term for ‘mother’, while before, she used the term ‘Mama’] for many years, she is also passionately devoted to you; she will be a good match to you.”

In a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “We’ll break out and kill, capture one or two Bao Shu Wang, and force them to take us to the Ling She Island.”

Xiao Zhao sadly shook her head, “This time they are ready; at this very moment, there are Persians with unsheathed blades standing by Xie Daxia, Miss Yin and the others. As soon as we make our move, they will be killed immediately.” While saying that she opened the cabin door. They saw Taj- kis was standing by the door, with two Persians wielding swords standing behind her. Those two Persians bowed toward Xiao Zhao, but their swords did not leave Taj-kis’ back.

Fearlessly Xiao Zhao walked up the deck, with Zhang Wuji following behind her. They saw Xie Xun and the others, each one with Persian warrior by their side, wielding a naked blade.

“Gongzi,” Xiao Zhao said, “Here is some Persian medicine, effective to treat wounds; please apply it to Miss Yin.” She then spoke several sentences in Persian. Gongde Wang took a bottle of medicine and handed it over to Zhang Wuji.

“I have ordered some people to take you back to the Central Earth; we’ll part here,” Xiao Zhao continued, “Xiao Zhao’s body will be in Persia, but every day my prayer is that Gongzi will have happiness, good health, and peace; and that everything you do will be successful.” Speaking to this point she choked and started crying.

“You will be living among the tigers and the wolves,” Zhang Wuji said, “Please be careful.” Xiao Zhao nodded and ordered her people to prepare a ship.

Xie Xun, Yin Li, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo boarded the ship one by one. Xiao Zhao returned the Tulong Saber and Yitian Sword to Zhang Wuji. With a bitter smile she raised her hand to bid them farewell.

Zhang Wuji did not know what to say; he stared blankly at her for a moment before finally he leaped into the ship. The big ship Xiao Zhao was riding sounded its horn. Both ships set sail at the same time, the distance between them gradually increased. Xiao Zhao was standing on the bow, her eyes fixed on Zhang Wuji’s ship. Two people looked at each other while the sea between them got wider and wider. Finally, Xiao Zhao’s ship was only a black dot on the dark blue sea. The strong wind from afar blew on the sail, faintly carrying the sound of soft crying.

End of Chapter 30.

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