Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Chapter 36-40 (End)

@Chapter 36 – The Three Withered Pine-trees Sprouting Green Leaves
Under the heavy rain, the patrols on rooftops and everywhere else were considerably slackened off. Zhang Wuji followed close after Yuanzhen by hiding behind the building corners and behind big trees. He saw Yuan Zhen leap over the back wall of the Temple. “Turns out Yifu is imprisoned outside the Temple,” he thought, “No wonder I can’t find any clues inside the Temple.”

He did not dare to jump openly over the wall; creeping along the wall, he climbed up slowly to the top of the wall, and then after the patrolling monks passed by, he jumped down to the ground. In the rain, he saw that the top of Yuan Zhen’s umbrella was already more than a hundred ‘zhang’s to the north of the Temple, and then it turned to the left toward a small hill. Yuan Zhen climbed to the top of the hill with an exceptional speed.

By this time Yuan Zhen was already around seventy years of age, but his agility was still extraordinary; during the ascend to the peak, the umbrella in his hand did not seem to sway at all. His movements were so smooth that it was as if someone was pulling him up with a rope.

Zhang Wuji quickly ran toward the foot of the hill. He was about to climb up when suddenly his eyes caught a glittering light by the mountain path; there was someone with open blade lying in ambush by the roadside, hastily he halted his step. After waiting for only a short moment, he saw from the cluster of trees four people, three in the front and one in the back, came out and ran toward the peak. From a distant, Zhang Wuji saw there were several pine trees on the peak, but he did not see any buildings. He wondered where Xie Xun could be imprisoned. After looking around for and not coming across any other people, he followed to the peak. The ‘qing gong’skills of the four people ahead of him were excellent. He picked up speed until he was only about twenty ‘zhang’s behind them. In the darkness he could still see that among the four, one was a woman, the other three were men, all of them wearing regular clothes. He thought, “Most likely these four came to give my Yifu some trouble. I’ll let them fight a life and death battle against Yuan Zhen first. There is no hurry for me to interfere.”

Arriving at the peak, the four people picked up their speed. Suddenly Zhang Wuji recognized two of them, “Ah, those two are Kunlun Pai’s He Taichong and Ban Shuxian, husband and wife.”

He heard Yuan Zhen let out a long and fierce cry, turn around abruptly, and dash back down the hill. Immediately Zhang Wuji dove down and hid among the grass by the roadside. He crawled several ‘zhang’s to the left and heard the ringing noise of clashing weapons, as Yuan Zhen and the newcomers had begun to fight.

From the sound of the clashing weapons, it sounded like only two people were fighting Yuan Zhen. “The other two are not fighting,” he mused, “Obviously, they proceed to the peak to find Yifu.” Right away he crept faster among the thick patch of grass to the peak of the hill.

As he arrived at the peak, he only saw a bare stretch of flat land; there was no building, only three tall pine trees arranged in triangle, their branches looked like soaring dragon, reaching up to the sky. He felt strange, “Could it be that Yifu is not being held here?” he thought.

He heard some rustling noise coming from the underbrush on his right, as someone was creeping along; followed by Ban Shuxian’s voice, “Move quickly, our two Shidi’s may not necessarily able to hold that Shaolin monk.”

“That’s right,” He Taichong replied. Two people rose up and charged toward the three pine trees. Zhang Wuji was afraid Xie Xun was really around here, so he did not dare to act rashly; he crawled forward among the thick grass. Suddenly he heard He Taichong exclaim, ‘Hey!’, as if he was hurt. Raising his head, he saw that He Taichong was standing among the pine trees, brandishing his sword fiercely like he was fighting with somebody, but actually no one else was visible. He only heard occasional ‘bang, bang, bang’, as if He Taichong’s sword was colliding with some strange weapon. Zhang Wuji was even more perplexed. He crawled several steps forward and focused his eyes to have a closer look; he could not help but gasp in shock.

It turned out that the trunks of the two pine trees diametrically opposite to him were hollow. The cavities’ size was just enough to accommodate one person. In each cavity sat an old monk, each monk held a black long rope in his hand, with which they were attacking He Taichong, husband and wife. The third three was right in front of Zhang Wuji. A black long rope also came out from this tree, so he knew that this tree also had an old monk inside its trunk.

In the dark night, the three black ropes did not reflect any light, hence, they were almost invisible in their movements. He Taichong, husband and wife, anxiously brandished their swords in tight defense. But because they could not see the direction of the enemies’ weapons, they did not have the leeway to launch any counterattack. These three long ropes appeared to move slowly, but in reality they were very fast, yet they did not create any wind at all. Under the heavy rain, in the middle of the night, on a lone hill peak, the three ropes moved like ghosts or as if by magic; it was unspeakably weird.

Mr. and Mrs. He repeatedly shouted their frustrations. They tried to get away from the encirclement of these trees, but each time they charged outward, the ropes would always push them back in. Zhang Wuji was secretly amazed; these ropes moved noiselessly, the people who drove them must have had profound internal energy, clear, pure and without any ruggedness in its utilization, might not be inferior to his own. He was astonished. “Yuan Zhen said that Yifu is being guarded by his three Tai Shishu [grand martial uncles]; obviously, they are these three old monks. Their power is extremely profound!”

“Ah!” suddenly he heard a miserable cry, as He Taichong’s back was hit by the rope and was thrown out from the encirclement; his life was gone right away.

Ban Shuxian was shocked and saddened. While she is losing her concentration ever so slightly, the three ropes struck together to burst her skull and break her four limbs, making her lose her human form. One of the black ropes shook and threw Ban Shuxian’s corpse out from the encirclement.

Yuan Zhen was fighting and stepping backwards, luring his opponents toward the peak. “Come!” he called out, “You dare to come here, receive your death.”

Although his two opponents were Kunlun Pai’s masters, with his level of martial art skill, Yuan Zhen would not necessarily lose, but it would be difficult to kill both of them at once. At best he would be able to injure only one of them, and then the other one would unavoidably escape. Therefore, he led them toward the pine trees.

The two of them were still several ‘zhang’s away from the trees, when suddenly they saw He Taichong’s body. They both halted their steps, and in that split second, two long ropes came noiselessly from behind their heads and wound around their waists. The ropes jerked, and two people were thrown down from the peak, which was more than a hundred ‘zhang’s tall. Needless to say, they died as soon as their bodies struck the foot of the hill, but they cried out wretchedly when they were still midair, and the echo of their cry was still heard even after they were dead.

In a short moment the three old monks had killed four masters of Kunlun Pai. They were able to lift heavy objects as if they were very light, and accomplished the task with ease; the level of their martial art skill was rarely seen. Zhang Wuji believed they were superior to Lu Zhangke and He Biweng, although not as good as Tai Shifu [grand master] Zhang Sanfeng, whose skill was immeasurably deep; but they had definitely reached the boundary of divinity. Shaolin Pai unexpectedly still had this kind of old expert, perhaps even Tai Shifu and Yang Xiao were not aware of it. His heart was beating fast; he crouched down in the thick grass and did not dare to make the slightest movement.

He saw Yuan Zhen kick twice in succession, sending the bodies of He Taichong and Ban Shuxian into the deep valley below. As the corpses fell, it was a moment later that they heard two dull thuds as the bodies crashed into the bottom of the valley. Zhang Wuji mused, “He Taichong repaid my kindness with evil. Today he came here to harm my Yifu and steal the precious saber away; his conduct was despicable. But he was a martial art master, truly an expert in the martial art study, and a leader of his school. I did not expect for him to end his life this way.”

He heard Yuan Zhen respectfully say, “Three Tai Shishu’s divine skill is truly matchless; just by raising your hands, you have killed four masters of the Kunlun Pai. Yuan Zhen’s respect is endless. Words truly cannot express it.”

“Humph,” one of the old monks snorted, but did not say anything.

Yuan Zhen continued, “Yuan Zhen received Fangzhang Shishu’s [abbot martial uncle] order to come and wish three Tai Shishu well, and also to talk with the prisoner.”

One raspy voice said, “Kong Jian Shizhi [martial nephew] was very virtuous and highly skilled. The three of us are very fond of him. We were hoping he would develop Shaolin’s martial art study. It was unfortunate that his life was lost in this villain’s hands. The three of us have lived in seclusion for decades and for a long time did not encumber ourselves with the mundane affairs of this world; yet because of Kong Jian Shizhi we came to this hill peak. This criminal is worthy of death for his many sins. One chop of the blade will take his life away. Why should you waste your breath and disturb our peaceful meditation?” Yuan Zhen bowed respectfully and said, “Tai Shishu’s instruction is right. However, Fangzhang Shishu also said, my En Shi [benevolent master] was harmed by this villain, but what kind of martial art my En Shi possessed? How could this villain, alone, have the power to injure him? For that reason, we imprison him here and trouble three Tai Shishu to guard him. First, to lure his comrades to come and save him; we hope to destroy the enemies who help him harm my En Shi one by one. Second, we want him to hand over the precious Tulong Saber, so it won’t fall into other sect’s hands, and thus usurp our position as the most revered in the Wulin world, which we have held for thousands of years.”

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji could not help but gnash his teeth in anger. He mused, “This evil thief Yuan Zhen truly deserves to be cut in pieces for all his crimes. His words are sweet but poisonous. He persuaded these three monks, who have lived in seclusion for decades, to come out, and borrow their hands to slaughter the martial art masters of the Wulin world.”

“Hmm,” he heard one of the old monk said, “You can speak with him.”

By this time, the heavy rain had not stopped, thunders were still rumbling incessantly. Yuan Zhen walked toward the center of the triangle and kneeled on the ground. “Xie Xun,” he said toward the ground, “Have you thought about it? You only need to say where you keep the Tulong Saber, I will let you go.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “Why did he speak to the ground?” he thought, “Could it be there is some kind of dungeon down there, and my Yifu is held captive in it?”

Suddenly, with a loud and clear voice one of the old monks said angrily, “Yuan Zhen, Buddhist monks [orig. chu1 jia1 ren2 – people who leave their homes] do not tell lies. Why do you deceive him? If he did tell you the place where he hid the Saber, would you really let him go?”

“Tai Shishu, please understand,” Yuan Zhen replied, “Disciple thinks that my En Shi’s enmity is deep, yet if we consider it carefully, our Sect’s prestige is more important. If he would tell us the precious Saber’s whereabouts for our Sect to obtain it, then we would let him go. After three years, disciple will find him to avenge my En Shi.”

“So be it,” the old monk said, “In the Wulin world, good faith is of priority. Our words are like arrows. Even toward big criminals or the most evil people, Shaolin disciples should not break our promise.”

“Respectfully received Tai Shishu’s instruction,” Yuan Zhen said.

Zhang Wuji thought, “These three Shaolin monks not only possess outstanding martial art skill, they are also virtuous eminent monks; too bad they unconsciously fell into Yuan Zhen’s sinister plot.”

He heard Yuan Zhen shout to the ground again, “Xie Xun, did you hear my Tai Shishu? Three Seniors have agreed to let you go.”

Suddenly from underground came the reply, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

As Zhang Wuji heard this heroic, but bleak voice, which he recognized as his Yifu’s voice, his heart was shaken. He fought the strong urge to dash forward, kill Cheng Kun and rescue Xie Xun, knowing that as soon as his presence was detected, three Shaolin eminent monks’ black ropes would immediately strike him. Even without Cheng Kun joining the fight, he knew he could not match the collaboration of these three monks. He thought, “I will wait for that evil monk Yuan Zhen to go, then I will step forward to pay my respect to the three monks. Then I will explain the entire complicated story. They are enlightened Buddhists, they must know how to tell right from wrong.”

“Xie Xun,” he heard Yuan Zhen say with a sigh, “You and I are old, why do you still painfully hang on to those past events? At most in twenty more years, you and I both will return to the yellow earth. I know I have wronged you, but I have also done you some good. Let the matter of the past go.” As he was rambling on, Xie Xun did not pay him any attention. He simply waited until he was done speaking, then he said, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

Yuan Zhen talked repeatedly for half a day, but the answer was always, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

Yuan Zhen coldly laughed and said, “I give you three days to think it over. After three days, if you still do not want to tell the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts, you know with what method I will deal with you.” As he said that, he stood up, paid his respect to the three monks, and walked down the hill.

Zhang Wuji waited until he walked far. He was about to arise to greet the three monks when suddenly he felt something different on the air around him. This sneak attack did not have the least bit of forewarning. He was shocked and immediately rolled away, while feeling two long objects from above of his face coming horizontally across, perhaps no more than half a foot in front of his face. It was a swift and marvelous attack, but did not carry the least bit of wind. These objects were precisely the long black ropes.

As he rolled a little more than a ‘zhang’ away, another black rope was pointing toward his chest. This black rope was as straight as a lance or a staff, coming fast to pierce his body. At the same time, the other two ropes wound around from behind him.

Only a moment ago he had seen four masters of Kunlun Pai, in short succession, lost their lives under these three black ropes. So he knew that these strange weapons were very fierce. Feeling the danger he was facing at this precise moment, he was even more shocked.

Flipping his left hand, he caught the black rope piercing his chest, thinking he would fling it to the side. But suddenly the rope shook and a whiff of mountain-moving, ocean-stirring internal energy attacked the pit of his stomach. If this attack hit its target, all his ribs would be broken and his five internal organs would be crushed. In the time of split seconds, Zhang Wuji moved his right hand to the back, warding off the two black ropes threatening his back, while his left hand launched the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, backed by Jiu Yang Shen Gong. One hand pulled the other pushed and he let his body follow the force. With a ‘whiz!’ he flew up to the sky.

Right that moment, three, four flashes of lightning lit up the sky. Two of the eminent monks grunted, as if they were amazed at his martial art skill. These lightning illuminated Zhang Wuji. Three eminent monks lifted up their heads, only to see that the martial art master whose skill had reached the pinnacle of perfection was actually a peasant young man with a filthy face. They were even more surprised.

Three black ropes flew up menacingly like three black dragons, aiming Zhang Wuji from three different directions. Taking advantage of the lightning, Zhang Wuji looked down to see clearly the three monks’ appearances. The one sitting on the northeast corner had a black face, as black as the bottom of a wok. The one on the northeast corner had a sickly yellowish face, the same color of a dry wood. The monk sitting on the south had a deathly pale, paper-white face. All three monks had deep cheeks. They were so thin that it looked as if they did not have any flesh on their bodies. The yellow-faced monk only had one eye. The five eyes of the three old monks sparkled under the lightning so that they looked even more mysterious.

As he saw the three black ropes curling toward the upper part of his body, Zhang Wuji pushed to the left and reached to the right. One hand swept, the other tangled as he borrowed these three monks’ forces to wind the three black ropes together. This move was based on Wudang Pai’s Taiji technique, which he learned from Zhang Sanfeng. The force was like a vortex, the three black ropes were wound into one.

The lightning flashed, the thunder rumbled continuously; the Heaven was showing off its soul-shaking power. Zhang Wuji made several somersaults midair, before his left foot landed on a pine-tree branch. As he steadied his footing, in between the crashing thunder he said in a clear voice, “Junior [orig. hou4 xue2 wan3 bei4 – younger generation who studied later] Ming Jiao Jiao Zhu [the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader] Zhang Wuji, pays his respect to three eminent monks.”

His left foot was treading on the tree branch, his right foot high up in the sky, while he bowed in respect. As he bowed down, the pine-tree branch followed his movement, bobbing up and down slightly like a wave. Zhang Wuji stood steadily, his body appeared graceful. Although he was bowing down, he was up on the tree looking down, so he did not degrade his position.

As the three monks felt their ropes were wound up by Zhang Wuji’s internal energy, they shook their hands and the ropes separated. In this short exchange, the three monks had used the three different stances of nine different styles [san1 zhao1 jiu4 shi4]; each style concealed dozens of variations, dozens of killer moves. Who would have thought that each one of these three stances of nine styles was warded off by the opponent? Each style was extremely dangerous. If the opponent missed even a fraction of a hair width, his flesh would be crushed and his bones broken, he would die a violent death. However, Zhang Wuji appeared to stay composed, as if he was crossing a ravine like flat ground. The three eminent monks had never faced this kind of superior opponent. No wonder they were very amazed.

They actually did not know that to neutralize these three stances of nine styles, Zhang Wuji was forced to exhaust his entire strength. So as he was standing on the fluctuating pine-tree branch, he took the opportunity to regulate the troubled internal energy [orig. zhen1 qi4 – genuine breath] in his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region].

The martial arts Zhang Wuji used just now consisted of Jiu Yang Shen Gong, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, and Taiji Quan, three major divine skills, but for the final somersault in midair, he used the technique he learned from the engraving of the Sheng Huo Ling.

Although the three Shaolin eminent monks possessed unique skill in martial arts, they had been living in seclusion for decades; they did not follow the human affairs. Obviously, they had never seen even one of these four martial arts. They vaguely felt, however, that his internal energy was somewhat similar to Shaolin Jiu Yang energy, yet it also felt far superior to Shaolin’s divine energy in a subtle way. As they heard him introducing his own name, who was unexpectedly the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, the admiration and surprise they felt earlier immediately turned into rage.

The old monk with deathly-pale face spitefully said, “Lao Na [lit. old cassock – referring to self] was wondering which martial art expert descended down to pay us a visit; turns out it is the big devil head of the Devil Cult. Lao Na, three brothers, have shut ourselves up for dozens of years, ignoring the mundane affairs of this world. Even our own Sect’s important business usually eludes our attention. Today by chance we get to meet the Devil Cult’s leader; that is truly the good fortune we couldn’t even hope for in our lifetimes.”

To hear him mentioning the words ‘devil head’ and ‘Devil Cult’ left and right, it was obvious to Zhang Wuji that they bore a very deep grievance against his Cult; he could not help hesitate greatly, and was at a loss as how to reply.

He heard the yellow-faced monk with one eye say, “The Jiaozhu of the Devil Cult is Yang Dingtian! How can it be Sire?”

“Yang Jiaozhu has passed away almost thirty years ago,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Ah!” the yellow-faced old monk exclaimed, but did not say anything. He sounded shocked, as if he was utterly crushed and broken-hearted.

Zhang Wuji thought, “He looks exceedingly grieved to hear about Yang Jiaozhu’s death. His friendship with Yang Jiaozhu in the past must be very deep. Yifu was Yang Jiaozhu’s subordinate. Perhaps I can bring up the old friendship and then tell them how Yuan Zhen bore a deep hatred toward Yang Jiaozhu, and I’ll see what happen.” Thereupon he said, “Da Shi [reverend – grand master] must have known Yang Jiaozhu then?”

“Of course I do,” the yellow-faced old monk replied, “If Lao Na did not know the great hero [the word here is ‘da ying xiong’] Yang Dingtian, how could I turn into a one-eyed man? Why would we, three martial brothers, have to sit in suffering for more than thirty years?”

He said those words matter-of-factly, but the extreme pain and deep hatred behind those words were obvious. Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, “Bad! It’s bad!” He understood that this old monk’s eye went bad under Yang Dingtian’s hands, so the three martial brothers lived in seclusion for the last thirty years of their lives, making a painstaking effort, was to avenge this enmity. No wonder they were greatly disappointed to hear the death of their archenemy.

The yellow-faced old monk suddenly let out a clear whistle and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, Lao Na’s Buddhist name is Du E [lit. crossing distress]. This white- faced Shidi [younger martial brother] is Du Jie [lit. crossing calamity]. This black-faced Shidi is Du Nan [lit. crossing difficulty]. Since Yang Dingtian [his given name means ‘top of the sky’] has died, our three people’s deep hatred and great resentment must fall into the current Jiaozhu. Our martial nephews, Kong Jian and Kong Xing have died under your honorable Cult’s hands. Since you dare to come over here, you must be a fearless man. As for the dozens of years gratitude and grudges, let our martial art skills be the judge.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Junior [wan3 bei4] does not have any enmity against your precious Sect. I come here to rescue Yifu, Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia. Although Kong Jian Shen Seng [divine monk] accidentally perished under my Yifu’s hands, the background story is rather complicated. As for Kong Xing Shen Seng’s death, it has nothing to do with my humble Cult. The three of you cannot listen only to one side of the story. You must be able to discern right from wrong.”

The white-faced old monk, Du Jie, said, “So according to you, who harmed Kong Xing?” Zhang Wuji frowned and said, “According to Junior’s understanding, Kong Xing Shen Seng died under the imperial family’s Ruyang Palace’s warrior.”

“Who is the leader of the Ruyang Palace’s warriors?” Du Jie asked.

“The daughter of the Ruyang Prince,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Her Han name is Zhao Min.”

“I heard from Yuan Zhen,” Du Jie continued, “That this girl has joined hands with your honorable Cult. She has abandoned her royalty, abandoned her father, and defected to the Ming Cult. Is it true?” He was aggressively pressing on step by step.

Zhang Wuji did not have any choice but said, “That’s right, she … right now, she … she has crossed from darkness to light.”

In a loud voice Du Jie said, “The killer of Kong Jian is the Ming Cult’s Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. The killer of Kong Xing is the Ming Cult’s Zhao Min. This same Zhao Min has also broken into the Shaolin Temple, captured our Temple’s disciples. The worst of it all, she went as far as engraving insulting words on our revered sixteen Luohan idols. If we add my Shixiong’s [older martial brother] eyeball to those offenses, the three of us bear a hundred years of grievance. Zhang Jiaozhu, if we do not settle this debt with you, then with whom?”

Zhang Wuji heaved a deep sigh, thinking that since he had decided to shelter Zhao Min, her previous excessively wicked deeds could only be heaped on his head. In that blink of an eye, he suddenly understood his father’s feelings when he committed suicide when confronted with his beloved wife’s former crimes. He thought that as the settlement of Yang Jiaozhu and Yifu’s enmity from the past until today, “Du Jie is right: If I do not undertake it, who would?” He stood straight up, sending his strength to his foot, and the bobbing tree branch he was standing up suddenly stayed still. In a loud voice he said, “Since the three honorable masters say so, Wanbei cannot run away from this responsibility. Then only Wanbei, one person, can accept all offenses. But as Yifu harming Kong Jian Shen Seng, there were innumerable difficulties surrounding that event. I am asking three honorable masters not to hold him accountable.”

Du E said, “What do you depend on that you dare to plead for Xie Xun? Do you think we, three martial brothers, will not kill you?”

Zhang Wuji thought that as things had come this far, he must fight to the end; he said, “With one against three, Wanbei is definitely not your match. Which one of the three honorable masters will grant instruction to me?”

Du Jie said, “Fighting one to one, we cannot defeat you. This is about an enmity as deep as the sea, we don’t have to follow Jianghu custom. Good devil head, come to receive your death. Amitabha Buddha!”

As he invoked the name of Buddha, Du E and Du Nan spoke in chorus, “May Buddha shows mercy!” Three black ropes flew in a flash to coil around his body.

Zhang Wuji dropped down to evade the ropes, but before his feet touch the ground, he flipped midair and charged toward Du Nan. Du Nan raised his left palm; with an abrupt turn of his palm, a strong gust of wind attacked Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. Zhang Wuji turned sideways to evade; using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi on his palm he ward off the attack. In the meantime, Du E and Du Jie’s pair of black ropes curled down on him. Zhang Wuji smoothly skated half a circle. Du Jie waved his left palm and launched a noiseless attack.

Zhang Wuji moved from tree to tree, sending attack after attack. Suddenly his palm hacked down, several hundred raindrops, as big as soybeans, flew toward Du E, carrying a strong gale of wind. Du E leaned his head sideways to evade, but dozens of raindrops still hit his face so he felt pain nonetheless. “Good kid!” he shouted. The black rope shook. It made two circles in the air and struck down toward the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhang Wuji flew like an arrow to avoid the circle of rope and attack Du Jie at the same time.

The more he fought, the more alarmed he became, as he felt his body was surrounded by the airstream from the three black ropes and the gust of wind generated by the three palms, which gradually tightened around him like glue. Ever since he started teaching himself martial art, he had never met such superior opponents like these three monks. Not only their stances very complicated, the abundance of their internal energy was matchless.

At first, Zhang Wuji was still able to use 70% of his strength in defense and 30% for offense. More than 200 stances, however, he started to feel that his pure and clear internal energy gradually turned muddy that in order to survive he could only defend and not attack at all. His Jiu Yang Shen Gong was actually unlimited; the more he used it, the stronger he was. But right now, every move he made consumed enormous internal energy that little by little he felt his stamina decrease. Actually, it was also because he had never had this kind of experience ever since he trained the Shen Gong [divine skill/strength].

After several dozens more stances, Zhang Wuji thought, “If I keep fighting, I will only deliver my life in vain. I’d better escape today, and come back with Grandfather [orig. wai4 gong1 – maternal grandfather], Yang Zuo Shi [left emissary], Fan You Shi [right emissary], and Wei Fu Wang [bat king]. With five of us joining forces, I am sure we will defeat these three monks. At that time we will be able to rescue Yifu.”

Immediately he sent three stances attack toward Du E in his attempt to break out of the encirclement. Unexpectedly, the circle of three long black ropes was as tight as copper wall or iron rampart. Several times he attacked, each time he was pushed back and was unable to get out. He was greatly shocked. “Turns out these three monks collaborate as one individual,” he thought, “Can anyone in the world really achieve this kind of interlinked minds?”

He did not know that Du E, Du Jie and Du Nan, three monks had spent more than thirty years sitting in meditation together. Their biggest skill was in using the ‘interlinked minds’. As one person moved, the other two understood his intention immediately. This ‘telepathic’ skill sounded mysterious, but these three men had been together in one room for more than thirty years; concentrating in interaction with each other in training, so it was not surprising that their minds could react as one person.

Zhang Wuji further thought, “If that is the case, then although Grandfather and the others come together, we might still be unable to breakthrough these three men’s interlinked minds. Could it be that in the end my Yifu is beyond deliverance? That I will lose my life today?”

As he was anxious, his focus was slightly dispersed, his shoulder was swept by Du Jie’s five fingers, and the pain entered the bones and marrows. He mused, “My own death is nothing to be regretted, but Yifu’s injustice must be washed clean. Yifu has always been a proud man. Since he has fallen into others’ hands, he will not utter half a word to defend himself.” Thereupon, in a clear voice he said, “Three Old Honorable Masters, since Wanbei has stranded over here today, my life is difficult to protect. A real man is not afraid of death. What else can I say? There is one matter I need to clarify, though …”

‘Whoosh! Whoosh!’ two black ropes came from left and right. Zhang Wuji pushed to the left and pull to the right, warding off the incoming force away, while continuing, “That Yuan Zhen’s real civilian name was Cheng Kun, his title was Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou [Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation]. He was my Yifu, Xie Xun’s master …”

The three Shaolin eminent monks noticed how he warded off their forces while spitting out words at the same time. It was a kind of internal energy cultivation they themselves were not able to master. They could not help but feel more alarmed. The three monks recognized the Ming Cult was the ‘stop- at-no-evil’ Devil Cult. The higher the Jiaozhu’s martial art skill, the higher their capacity to harm others would be. Seeing that currently he fell into the tight encirclement and unable to escape, they decided to seize the opportunity. Only, their endeavor would need unlimited efforts. Therefore, without saying anything, they intensified the black ropes and their palms attacks.

Zhang Wuji continued talking, “Three Old Honorable Masters must understand, this Cheng Kun’s Shimei [younger martial sister] was the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu Yang Dingtian’s wife. Cheng Kun had some feeling toward his Shimei, thus he became jealous and eventually his jealousy turned into deep hatred toward the Ming Cult …”

Thereupon as his hands were busy fending off the three monks’ stances, his mouth did not stop recounting, from the beginning to the end, how Cheng Kun schemed to destroy the Ming Cult, how he made illicit rendezvous with Mrs. Yang, which finally caused Yang Ding Tian’s demise, how he faked drunkenness and molested Xie Xun’s wife and killed his entire family, how he compelled Xie Xun to randomly massacre Wulin people, how he took Kong Jian Shen Seng as his master and deliberately lured him to take thirteen fists from Xie Xun, but he did not appear and in the end Kong Jian died with unsatisfied regret.

The more Du E, three monks heard, the more troubled their hearts were; the story appeared as it was cooked up by some criminals or barbarians, yet everything was logical and reasonable, everything fitted together perfectly. Du E was the first to relax his black rope.

Zhang Wuji also said, “Wanbei does not know how Yang Jiaozhu became enemies with Du E Dashi, but I am not surprised if there was a third party who incited disharmony between the two of you. Most likely this man was Yuan Zhen. There is no harm in Du E Dashi trying to recall past events. See if what Wanbei has said has some merit in it.”

“Hm,” Du E stopped his rope altogether. He lowered his head and pondered a moment. “That makes sense,” he finally said, “In Lao Na’s feud with Yang Dingtian, Cheng Kun did indeed play an important role. Afterwards, he wanted to take Lao Na as his master, but Lao Na had never taken any disciple, so I recommended him to Kong Jian Shizhi to be his disciple. Come to think about it, did he intentionally arrange all this?”

“Not only that,” Zhang Wuji said, “Currently, he is coveting over the Shaolin Temple Abbot position, gathering supporters outside the Temple, and cooking up a secret conspiracy to usurp Kong Wen Shen Seng …” He had not finished speaking when there was a loud rumbling noise as a giant boulder on the sloping hill toward their left tumbled down toward the three pine trees.

“Who’s there?” Du E shouted. The back rope in his hand flew. ‘Bang! Bang!’ it struck the boulder right on, but it only caused several chips to fly away. From behind the boulder a shadow suddenly pounced toward Zhang Wuji with an exceptional speed. A cold ray flashed as a short blade was thrust into his throat.

This attack was so sudden, and it came when Zhang Wuji was using his full- strength to block Du Jie and Du Nan, two monks’ black ropes and palm strikes. He was totally caught off guard against this sneak attack. He only felt a sharp wind in the darkness and the short blade had already reached his throat. In this critical situation he threw himself sideways, and with a ‘rip’ noise the sharp of the blade made a big cut on his clothes right on his chest. If he was a fraction of a second late, his chest and abdomen would be cut open.

As his attack failed, the attacker broke out of the three monks’ black ropes encirclement by rolling behind the giant boulder.

“Close shave!” Zhang Wuji silently cursed. He shouted, “Wicked thief Cheng Kun! Come and deal with me personally if you dare! You want to kill me to close my mouth?”

Actually, he did not see clearly the assassin who attacked him with the blade, but he knew that person’s movements were quick, his stance was fierce, his internal energy was strong, and his martial art was somewhat similar to Xie Xun, so he presumed it was none other than Cheng Kun.

Just like three great hands, the three black ropes of the Shaolin three monks reached out toward the boulder. Wrapping and heaving, they lifted the thousand-catty giant boulder and hurled it away. But Cheng Kun had already gone down the mountain far away. “Was it really Yuan Zhen?” Du E asked. “Of course that was him,” Du Nan said.

Du E said, “If he did not have any guilty conscience, why would he …”

Suddenly from all directions came repeated shouts, as seven, eight shadows arrived. The first one shouted, “Shaolin monks became Buddha disciples in vain, you have killed too many people. Aren’t you afraid the consequences of your sins? Everybody, let’s go together.”

Eight people, each with a weapon in their hands, charged toward the three monks. Zhang Wuji was still standing in the middle of the three monks. He saw that among these eight people, three wielded swords, each of the other five wielded either a saber or a whip. Each one of them possessed a high level or martial art skill. Immediately they fought the three monks’ black ropes.

After watching for a while, Zhang Wuji recognized the stances of the three people wielding swords were similar to the Qinghai Three Swords, who were killed by the Shaolin monks several days earlier. Only their changes were more subtle and their forces stronger, far above the Qinghai Three Swords. These people must be Qinghai school’s senior characters. These three people attacked Du E. The other three people fought Du Nan, and the remaining two joined hands in battling Du Jie.

Although Du Jie only fought two people, these two’s martial art skill was a notch higher than the rest of the attackers. After fighting for half a day, Zhang Wuji could tell that Du Jie gradually fell under his enemies’ control; while although fighting one against three, Du E seemed to be in control with his abundance internal strength.

About a dozen or so stances later, Du E was aware of the difficulty Du Jie was facing. His black rope shook, and flew toward the two men attacking Du Jie. The two men were tall and powerfully built. Their black beards floating, their movements were extremely agile. One of them held a pair of judge brushes, the other held a short pole to seal acupoints. Du E and Du Jie were several ‘zhang’s apart, yet Du E could feel the wind generated by these two people’s weapons as if they were closed to him, proving that short weapons were inevitably more fierce than the long ones.

On the other front, the power carried by the three swords of Qinghai people was getting weaker, and they slowly fell under Du Nan’s control. As it happened, Du Nan was fighting three enemies, while Du E and Du Jie two monks were fighting five enemies. For the time being, both parties were in a stalemate.

Zhang Wuji wondered in his heart, “These eight people are all martial art experts and they are not necessarily inferior to He Taichong, husband and wife. Other than the three Qinghai Pai people, I cannot figure out the school origin of the other five. Truly in this wide world, there are crouching tigers and hidden dragons among the tall grasses and thick weeds. I wonder how many heroes and warriors are hiding quietly, whose names I have never heard of.”

After these eleven people fought for more than a hundred moves, the black ropes in the three monks of Shaolin’s hands were getting shorter. The shorter ropes required less internal energy to operate, but their agility and attacking power were also reduced several degrees. Several dozens of moves later, the three monks’ black ropes were shortened six, seven feet more. The two black-bearded old men fought closer and closer. The power behind their weapons was getting stronger and stronger. As soon as they saw a hole in their enemies’ defense, they would do their utmost to advance step-by-step, to be as close as possible to the three monks. But as their black ropes were shorter, the three monks’ defense was also tighter. The three ropes were like a circle with infinite elasticity. Each time the two black-bearded old men pressed on, they would be pushed back by the ropes.

By this time the three monks had already joined their ‘qi’ that the battle turned into three against eight. The three Shaolin monks spared no effort in fighting the enemies, but they were groaning inside. They knew that although the battle with these eight people was prolonged, they would not suffer defeat. If they used the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ [Buddha’s warrior’ devil subduing ring/loop], not only eight enemies, even sixteen or thirty-two people would not be able to penetrate their defense. However, inside this ring hides a powerful enemy who would endanger them internally. If Zhang Wuji ever decided to make his move, they would be crushed from inside and outside, then the Shaolin three monks’ lives would be gone.

The three monks saw him quietly sit on the ground; apparently he was waiting for a good opportunity to strike. Perhaps he was waiting for the three monks and their enemies to exhaust their strengths, and then gain advantage at their expense. By this time the three monks had used their internal energy to its fullest potential. They were thinking of letting a long whistle down the hill to call for help from the Shaolin Temple, but they could not open their mouths. If they uttered even a single word, the flow of their blood and ‘qi’ would reverse, and then if they were lucky enough not to die, they would certainly suffer internal injury and would be crippled.

In their hearts, they were scolding themselves for being too proud. If, at the first sign of powerful enemy’s arrival they had raised the alarm asking reinforcement from the Temple, their victory would have been assured as soon as several masters of Damo Hall and Luohan Hall came to help.

This dire circumstance was also clearly seen by Zhang Wuji. If he wanted to take these three monks’ lives at this time, it would be as easy as lifting his finger. But he thought as a real man, he should not take advantage when others were in danger. Let alone the fact that these three monks were the victims of Yuan Zhen’s evil plot. Besides, if he killed them, he would still have to deal with the eight powerful enemies, which would not make his job any easier.

Knowing that victory or defeat between the two parties would not be decided for a while, he looked down to see that there was a dungeon in the ground, covered with a very big rock. All he could see was a small gap, supposedly it was the air passage for Xie Xun to breathe, and to deliver food for him. He thought that his time was limited. By the time victory and defeat between the combatants was decided, some people from the Shaolin Temple might have arrived; and then he would lost the opportunity to rescue Yifu. Thereupon he knelt down by the rock and pushed with both hands. He was able to push the giant stone slowly aside by exerting his strength using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique.

He had not pushed the rock one foot when suddenly a strong wind came from behind, as Du Nan sent a palm strike toward his back. Zhang Wuji used the ‘take off force to borrow strength’. ‘Bang!’ a large part of the clothes on his back tore to pieces. In the fierce wind and rainstorm, the pieces of clothes flutter in the air like butterflies; but actually he transferred Du Nan’s palm strength to the giant stone. With a loud rumbling noise the stone slid about a foot. He unloaded the palm strength to the rock so that he was not injured internally, but when he took the force, his own internal energy was focused on the stone in front of him; therefore, he felt severe pain on his back.

As Du Nan launched a palm strike, he revealed a gap in the black ropes defense. One of the black-bearded old man immediately penetrated the loop. The short pole in his right hand struck toward Du Nan’s left breast.

The Shaolin Three Monks’ flexible rope formation was very effective for a long distance attack, but not for a close combat. Du Nan raised his left palm to ward off the attack threatening the acupoint on his chest. The black- bearded old man stretched out his left-hand index finger to pierce Du Nan’s ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. ‘in the flock (of sheep or goats)’ acupoint].

“Not good!” Du Nan cried out inwardly. He did not expect the enemy’s ‘yi zhi chan’ [sacrificing finger] acupoint sealing technique was fiercer than his sealing acupoint pole. In this critical situation, he did not have any choice but to let go the rope in his right hand and sweep it across his chest with a strong gust of wind, and immediately launched a counterattack with his thumb, index finger and middle finger shaped like a fan.

Although he succeeded in warding off the enemy’s attack, with the black rope no longer in his hand, the old man wielding judge-pens immediately entered in his line of defense. The Shaolin Three Monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was broken. Suddenly, the end of the black rope, which was lying on the ground, rose up just like the head of a viper ready to strike its victim. With a loud scream the rope went toward the acupoint on the face of the old man wielding the judge pens. Even before the rope arrived, the strong wind generated was enough to stop the enemy. The old man hastily raised both of his judge pens to block. As the rope and the pens collided, he was shaken and his arms went numb, the pen in his left hand almost fell off, while the pen in his right hand was diverted to strike the rock underneath. Rock chips flew as sparks splashed everywhere.

The black rope continued toward the Qinghai Pai’ three swordsmen, forcing them to withdraw about a ‘zhang’ backwards. The ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was not only restored, the power was even greater than the original formation. The Shaolin Three Monks were pleasantly surprised, especially since they saw the other end of the rope was unexpectedly in Zhang Wuji’s hand. He had never practiced the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ with them, so in term of ‘interlinked minds’ and moving in seamless coordination with the others, he was far inferior to Du Nan. However, his unequalled abundance internal energy was more than enough to generate an earth-shattering force to drive the enemies to withdraw in all directions.

Du E and Du Jie’s black ropes also moved that together they drove the remaining seven people to fall back. In the meantime, Du Nan focused his attention to deal with the black-bearded old man, which was a notch inferior to him both in terms of martial art and internal strength. He fought sitting inside the pine tree, and did not stand up at all. His ten fingers slapped, pierced, plucked, hooked, pointed, brushed, captured and seized, so that after several moves, the black-bearded old man repeatedly fell into dangerous situations. Seeing his seven companions were not in a better situation than what he was facing, the old man bellowed and leaped out from the loop.

Zhang Wuji handed the black rope back to Du Nan, and then bending down, he used the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi again to push the giant rock another foot. He looked down into the exposed underground cave and called out, “Yifu, Child Wuji is late in rescuing you. Can you come out?” “I am not going out,” Xie Xun replied, “Good Child, get out of here, quick!”

Zhang Wuji was surprised. “Yifu,” he said, “Is your acupoint sealed? Or are you bound in shackles?”

Without waiting for Xie Xun to reply, he jumped down the dungeon. ‘Splash!’ water splashed out. Turned out the several hours of heavy downpour had flooded the dungeon that the water reached his waist. Half of Xie Xun’s body was submerged in water.

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. He reached out to carry Xie Xun up. His hands groped around Xie Xun’s hands and feet, but did not feel any shackles. He then massaged Xie Xun’s several main acupoints, but again, he did not find any signs of anybody sealed his acupoints. Hence, he wrapped his arms around Xie Xun’s body, leaped up and out of the dungeon, and sat Xie Xun on top of the giant rock by the cave opening.

“This is the best time to escape,” Zhang Wuji said, “Yifu, let us leave.” As he said that, he pulled Xie Xun’s arm, with the intention to leave immediately. But Xie Xun kept sitting on the rock, refusing to move. Hugging his own knees he said, “Child, the gravest sin I have ever committed in my life was killing Kong Jian Dashi. If your Yifu fall into other people’s hands, I would certainly fight bravely to the end. But today I become a prisoner of the Shaolin Temple, I am willing to receive the harshest punishment to pay for Kong Jian Dashi’s life.”

Zhang Wuji anxiously said, “But you killed Kong Jian Dashi by mistake. It was Cheng Kun, that wicked thief, who engineered such a sinister plot. Besides, Yifu’s entire family’s blood debt has not been restituted, how can you die under Cheng Kun’s hands?”

Xie Xun sighed and said, “Everyday for more than a month, in this dungeon, I heard the three eminent monks chant their prayers, I heard the morning bell and the evening drum from the temple at the bottom of this hill, which has made me think about my past. Your Yifu’s hands reek with too much innocent blood that even a hundred deaths cannot redeem it. Ay, all sorts of wickedness caused too much sin. I am more sinful than Cheng Kun. Good Child, don’t mind me, just quickly go down the hill.”

The more Zhang Wuji listened to him, the more anxious he was. “Yifu,” he shouted, “If you don’t want to go, I will force you.” As he said that, he turned around and grabbed both of Xie Xun’s hands; he was going to carry him on his back.

They heard clamoring noise of people coming up the mountain path, there were several people shouting, “Who dare to cause trouble at Shaolin Temple?” A dozen or so people were coming up the hill, amidst the noise of feet splashing in the water.

Zhang Wuji was just about to grab Xie Xun’s legs, ready to take him go; but suddenly the ‘da zhui xue’ [big spine acupoint] on his back went numb. It was Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji’s hands lost their strength and he did not have any choice but to relax his grip. In his anxiety he almost cried. “Yifu,” he called out, “You … why are you being this difficult?”

“Good Child,” Xie Xun replied, “The wrong I have received, you have already explained it clearly to the three eminent monks. The sins I have committed, I have to pay the retribution myself. If you are not leaving, who will avenge my grievances for me?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; but he saw the dozen or so Shaolin monks wielding Buddhist staff or saber had already attacked the eight people. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ the noise of the close combat can be heard.

The black-bearded old man with judge pens realized that if the battle was prolonged, not only they would fail their mission at the last minute; they may find it difficult to escape alive. He was enraged that a nameless young man had spoiled their important business. With a clear voice he shouted, “I beg to know the honorable surname and the great given name of the young man in the middle of the pine trees. Hao Mi and Bo Tai of Hejian [a city in Hebei province] want to know which expert has interfered with our business today.” Raising his black rope up, Du E said, “The Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu, the number one martial art expert in the world; how can the Hejian Shuang Sha [twin evils of Hejian] not know?”

“Ah!” the judge pen wielding Hao Mi exclaimed. He raised his pair of pens up and then walked out of the loop. The other seven followed him. The Shaolin monks were about to stop them, but those eight’s martial art skill was considerably higher than the monks; side by side they proceeded going down the hill.

Du E and the others, three monks, had heard everything Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji said. They also knew that Zhang Wuji did not take advantage of their precarious situation, he simply stood on the side, did not help either side. When Bo Tai broke through their ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ defensive line, based on the Twin Evils of Hejian’s cruelty, the three monks would have lost their lives by now. The three monks laid down their black ropes, stood up, and put their palms together in respect. “Many thanks for Zhang Jiaozhu’s benevolence,” they said in chorus.

Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety and said, “Such an insignificant deed; is it worth mentioning?”

Du E said, “In today’s business, although Lao Na would not allow Xie Xun to accompany Zhang Jiaozhu, but Zhang Jiaozhu has just saved our lives, Lao Na would be powerless to stop you from leaving. Only Lao Na, three martial brothers, have received order from our temple’s Abbot to watch over Xie Xun. We have established a heavy oath before Buddha’s presence, unless the three of us lose our lives, we will never let Xie Xun escape. This matter concerns our Sect’s thousand years of glory or disgrace; we beg Zhang Jiaozhu to understand of our difficulty.”

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji snorted, but did not say anything.

Du E continued, “About the animosity of Lao Na losing an eye, we can consider it over today. If Zhang Jiaozhu wishes to rescue Xie Xun, you may come back anytime. As long as you can break Lao Na, three martial brothers’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’, you can take Shi Wang [lion king] go. Zhang Jiaozhu may bring as many helpers as you wish. You can take turn fighting us, or you can fight us as a group; we, three martial brothers, will accept the challenge by ourselves. Before Zhang Jiaozhu’s return, Lao Na, three brothers, will guard Xie Xun carefully. We will not let Yuan Zhen to insult him even for half a sentence, or harm a single strand of his hair.”

Zhang Wuji cast a glance toward Xie Xun; in the dark night he saw the silhouette of his well-built form, his long hair draped over his neck and shoulders; he was standing with lowered head, as if his heart was full of remorse over the transgressions he committed in the past. He looked totally different from his impressive, invincible former self. Zhang Wuji felt tears forming in his eyes as he considered, “I can’t defeat them today, and Yifu does not want to leave. I must bring [maternal] Grandfather, Yang Zuo Shi, Fan You Shi, and the others to help me fight. This three black rope formation is as impregnable as a copper wall or iron rampart. If Du Nan Dashi did not send me a palm attack, that Bo Tai would definitely not able to break through their defense line. Even with the help of Grandfather and the Left and Right Brightness Emissaries, there is no guarantee that we can break their formation. Ay, right now, all I can do is to deal with whatever comes my way using one step at a time.” Thereupon he said, “Since that is the case, I will return to receive instructions from the Three Reverends.” Turning around to embrace Xie Xun’s waist he said, “Yifu, your child is leaving.”

Xie Xun nodded. Gently stroking Zhang Wuji’s hair he said, “You don’t have to come back. I have made up my mind not to leave. Good Child, I hope in everything you will turn bad luck into good fortune. Don’t let the hopes of your Father and Mother and myself down. Follow your Father’s example; don’t follow your Yifu’s.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Both Father and Yifu are heroes and real men; upright warriors who do everything in the open. Both are Child’s role models.” As he said that, he bowed in respect. His shadow swayed and he flew out of the three pine trees circle. Raising his hands toward the Shaolin Temple’s three monks, he launched his ‘qing gong’ and suddenly disappeared. They only heard his clear whistle, which in a very short time had reached about a ‘li’ [approx. 0.5 km] away.

The Shaolin monks standing on the peak of that hill looked at each other in astonishment. They had heard that the Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult possessed an outstanding martial art skill, but they had never expected his skill to be this divine.

Since his presence was no longer a secret, Zhang Wuji thought he might as well show his martial art skill. Perhaps the Shaolin monks would be scared and would treat Xie Xun nicely.

His whistle sound came out of his abundant ‘qi’; it was a continuous whistle, which rose up above the noise of the thunderstorm. It sounded like a dragon roar as it flew through the sky. Putting his entire strength on his feet, he ran faster and faster, while his whistling was also getting louder and louder. Thousands of Shaolin monks were startled awake from their dreams. It was not until the whistle was far away they started to talk to one another. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others knew Zhang Wuji had arrived; which only served to increase their anxiety.

Zhang Wuji ran for several ‘li’s. Suddenly from behind a willow tree by the road side someone was calling out, “Hey!” Someone leaped out. It was Zhao Min.

Zhang Wuji stopped his whistle and halted his steps. Reaching out, he pulled her over, only to see that her whole body was dripping wet from the heavy rain; as she looked up, water streaming down from her face.

“Did you fight with the Shaolin Temple baldies?” Zhao Min asked. “Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“How is Xie Daxia?” Zhao Min asked, “Did you see him?”

Zhang Wuji pulled her arm along, and while they were strolling in the heavy rain, he told her briefly what had happened just now. Zhao Min hesitantly asked, “Did you ask him how he got captured?”

“I was only thinking of how to help him escape,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I did not have time to mind other people’s business.”

Zhao Min sighed and no longer made any noise. “You are not happy?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“To you, it is other people’s business, to me, it is a very serious matter,” Zhao Min replied, “All right, I’ll wait for Xie Daxia to be rescued. I don’t think it will be too late to ask him then. I am only afraid …”

“What are you afraid of?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Are you afraid we cannot save Yifu?”

“The Ming Cult is a lot stronger than the Shaolin Pai,” Zhao Min said, “If you really want to rescue Xie Daxia, I am sure you will eventually succeed. I am only afraid that Xie Daxia is determined to die because of Kong Jian Shen Seng.”

It was exactly what had been burdening Zhang Wuji’s heart. “Do you think he is?” he asked.

“I hope he isn’t,” Zhao Min replied.

Two people walking and talking until they arrived at the Du couple’s hut. Zhao Min laughed and said, “Your real identity has been exposed, you cannot hide from these two people anymore.”

Zhang Wuji noticed that the door of the hut was half closed, so he reached out to open it. After shaking the rain water from his head and body he went in, but suddenly smelled a burst of blood. He was shocked and immediately pushed Zhao Min back out of the door with his left hand. From the dark someone’s claw was reaching out. This claw was noiseless, without creating any wind, but it was shockingly fast. In a flash the fingers had reached Zhang Wuji’s cheek. He did not have enough time to evade. His left foot flew up toward that person’s chest. The attacker pulled back his hand and his elbow struck the ‘huan tiao xue’ [lit. ‘jump-the-loop’] acupoint on Zhang Wuji’s leg with an extremely fierce and ruthless move.

Zhang Wuji knew that as soon as pulled back his leg slightly, the enemy’s left hand would immediately scoop out his pair of eyeballs. Therefore, he feigned a grab toward the enemy’s hand, expecting the enemy to pull back his elbow, but unexpectedly his grab was successful. He took the enemy’s left hand in his palm, but right at that moment, his ‘huan tiao xue’ went numb; he could not stand and was forced to kneel down on his right leg.

He was about to seize the opportunity by wrenching the enemy’s wrist when he suddenly realized the hand in his palm was soft, warm and smooth. It was a woman’s hand. His heart was stirred and he did not have the heart to treat her with a heavy hand. He lifted that person up and flung her outside. ‘Stab’, he felt a severe pain on his right shoulder as it was pierced by a knife.

As the enemy leaped out of the room, her palm struck toward Zhao Min’s face. Zhang Wuji knew Zhao Min would not be able to block it and would be killed on the spot. Thereupon, enduring the pain, he leaped up and sent out his palm to parry. ‘Bang’ two palms collided. That person’s body swayed, her feet staggered; but borrowing the momentum, she continued moving backward and ran several ‘zhang’s out, and then disappeared into the darkness.

“Who was that?” Zhao Min was still in shock.

“Hey,” Zhang Wuji mumbled. He tried to light a fire, but the flint inside his pocket was soaked wet from the heavy rain; he could not start the fire. Afraid that the enemy’s knife on his right shoulder was poisonous, he did not dare to pull it up.

“Light up the lamp,” he said. Zhao Min went to the kitchen to get a flint and lighted the oil lamp. She was shocked to see the short knife on his shoulder. Zhang Wuji saw that the blade of the knife was without poison.

“Only a flesh wound,” he laughed, “Nothing to worry about.”

As he turned his head and pulled the knife out, he saw Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang curled up on the corner of the room. Ignoring the blood oozing out of his wound, he rushed to look; the couple had died for a while.

Zhao Min was scared. “They were still fine when I went out,” she said.

Zhang Wuji nodded. As Zhao Min wrapped his wound, he took up the short knife and examined it. It was precisely the weapon the Du couple used. He looked around the room, and saw on the beam, on the pillars, on the table, on the ground, everywhere, there were short blades scattered around. Apparently, the enemy engaged the Du couple in fierce battle, forcing them to use up their blades one by one, and then began to injure them.

“This person’s martial art is very fierce,” Zhao Min said in amazement.

If Zhang Wuji was not quick enough in the battle in the dark just now, that person would have had gouged his eyes. Not only he would have been a blind man, but most likely Zhao Min and he would be lying on the ground, dead. He looked back at the bodies of the Du couple. Dozens of ribs on their chests were broken, as were ribs on their backs. It was obvious that the martial art which killed them was very cruel, with a very powerful palm strength behind it. He had fought countless archenemies, undergone many dangerous situations, yet thinking back about the quick-paced, three-stance close combat in the dark room, he could not restrain from shivering in fear. He had fought two vicious battles tonight; the first was one against three, which lasted for a long time. But speaking of soul-stirring and hair-rising battle, it was nothing compared to the second one, which lasted for a twinkling of the eye.

“Who was that?” Zhao Min asked again. Zhang Wuji shook his head without answering. Suddenly Zhao Min understood. Her eyes grew big in fright. After staring blankly for half a day, she threw herself into Zhang Wuji’s bosom and wept in fear. They both knew that if Zhao Min did not hear Zhang Wuji’s whistle and came out amidst the heavy rain to welcome him, and thus escape the great catastrophe, right now on the corner of the room there would not only be two corpses, but three.

Zhang Wuji gently patted her back and consoled her in gentle voice. Zhao Min said, “That person’s target must be me; she killed the Du couple first, and then hid to set up an ambush against me. She simply did not mean to harm you.”

“You must not leave my side these next several days,” Zhang Wuji said. After thinking for a while he muttered, “How could her internal energy and martial art skill advance so rapidly in less than a year? I am afraid nobody in this world other than myself will be able to protect you.”

The next morning, Zhang Wuji took Du Baidang’s hoe and dug a deep hole to bury the Du couple. Together with Zhao Min they kneeled and bowed to express their respect. Recalling how Yi Sanniang had treated the two of them with loving care, they could not help but feel grief.

Suddenly from far away, from the direction of Shaolin Temple they heard a faint continuous ‘dang, dang’ sound. It sounded very urgent. At the same moment, from the east a blue-green rocket shot to the sky; from the south a red rocket, from the west white, and from the north black, while from several ‘li’s away they saw yellow smoke rise up. These five rockets and smoke encircled the Shaolin Temple in the middle.

“The Ming Cult’s Five-element Flags have arrived!” Zhang Wuji called out, “And they are going to deal with the Shaolin Pai frontally. Let’s go quickly.” Hurriedly they changed their clothes, washed the mud from their hands and faces, and walked quickly toward the Shaolin Temple. Walking for only a few ‘li’s, they saw a company of white-clothed Ming Cult army, with small yellow banners in their hands, going up the mountain.

“Is Yan Qi Shi [Flag leader Yan] here?” Zhang Wuji called out.

As the leader of the Hou-tu Qi [thick earth flag/banner], Yan Yuan heard the call, he turned around and saw his Jiaozhu. In his delight, he quickly came forward to pay his respects. The people serving under him were also expressed their delights in thunderous voices and bowed down together.

Yan Yuan reported: As the leaderships of the Ming Cult learned about Xie Xun’s whereabouts, they held a discussion and decided that if they waited for the Duan Yang Festival to ask for Xie Xun, all the heroes under the Heaven would have flocked to the Shaolin Temple, then the Ming Cult would have to face the world’s heroes as their enemies. Since they were not able to report to their Cult Leader, they were forced to take the matter into their own hands. Thereupon, ten days before the Duan Yang Festival, Yang Xiao and Fan Yao led the masters of the Cult to the Shaolin Temple to ask for Xie Xun. They expected an open war would be unavoidable, but after looking everywhere, they could not find their Cult Leader, so the group of warriors felt like a dragon without a head.

The Ming Cult people blew the bugle, announcing the arrival of their Cult Leader; so not too long afterwards, Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, Yin Yewang, Zhou Dian, Peng Yingyu, Shou Bude, Priest Tie Guan, and the others came one after another, while the Rui Jin [acute gold/metal], Ju Mu [gigantic tree], Hong Shui [flooding water], and Lie Huo [blazing fire], four banners were surrounding the Shaolin Temple on all sides. As they saw each other, everybody broke into delightful chatter.

Yang Xiao and Fan Yao admitted their guilt for acting without authorization. Zhang Wuji said, “You don’t have to be too modest. Everybody with one mind join forces to rescue Xie Fa Wang. That shows our Cult’s brethrens have a strong spirit of brotherhood [yi4qi4]. Everybody appreciates what we are doing, why do you feel guilty?” He told everybody briefly how he went undercover and mingled among the Shaolin Temple’s workers, and how last night he battled with Du E three monks. As they heard Cheng Kun was behind everything, plotting and scheming, they were all furious. Zhou Dian and Priest Tie Guan shouted some curse words.

Zhang Wuji said, “Today our Cult is paying a formal visit to ask Shaolin Fangzhang [Abbot] to release the prisoner. It is best if we do not injure our friendship. We will fight only out of absolute necessity. Our goal first and foremost is saving Xie Fa Wang, next, we want to apprehend Cheng Kun. Other than that we should not harm the innocents.” The people acknowledged the order in one voice.

“Min Mei,” to Zhao Min Zhang Wuji said, “In order to avoid more trouble, it will be best if you would be in disguise, don’t let the Shaolin Temple monks to recognize your true identity.” Since she took the Shaolin monks prisoners to Dadu, she had sowed an extremely deep enmity with Shaolin Pai.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Yan Dage [big brother Yan], let me pose as one of the brothers under your command!”

Yan Yuan immediately ordered one of his men to get the uniform for Zhao Min to wear. She quickly went to the woods behind the mountain and hurriedly put on the uniform and applied black grease onto her face. When she went out of the woods, she turned into a mean and ferocious thin man with a black face.

The bugle sounded again, the Ming Cult warriors went up the mountain in neat formation. Earlier that day, the Shaolin Temple had received the Ming Cult’s visiting card. Eminent Monk Kong Zhi, leading a group of monks, had been waiting at the pavilion in front of the Temple.

Because of Yuan Zhen, Kong Zhi was convinced that when the Shaolin monks were captured by deceit and brought to Dadu as prisoners, when their fingers were broken after they were forced to show their martial art skills, it was all part of the conspiracy between the Ming Cult and the Ruyang Palace. Later on, when Zhang Wuji came and rescued them, it was also part of the sinister plot to curry their favors. Therefore, he received the guests with a gloomy look. He put his palms together in respect, but did not say anything.

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Our humble Cult has a favor we’d like to ask in earnest from your precious Sect. For that reason, we are going up the mountain to pay our respect to the Fangzhang Shen Seng [Abbot Divine Monk].”

Kong Zhi nodded. “Please!” he said, and he led the Ming Cult warriors walk toward the gate.

Abbot Kong Wen, accompanied by the Damo Hall, Luohan Hall, Banruo [great wisdom] Hall, and Jielu [monastic discipline] Courtyard, all senior monks, was waiting outside the door to greet the guests. He took the warriors into the Da Xiong Bao Dian [great hero precious hall] and invited them to sit down. Immediately several young monks appeared to serve them tea. After exchanging some pleasantries with Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng, and the others, Kong Wen was silent.

“Fangzhang Shen Seng,” Zhang Wuji said, “We would not go up to the San Bao Dian [three-treasure hall] if this wasn’t an important matter. We come here to ask earnestly that Fangzhang would honor the Wulin way by releasing our humble Cult’s Xie Fa Wang. We will certainly repay this great kindness and great benevolence someday.”

“Amituofo,” Kong Wen said, “Those who left homes [Buddhist monk or nun] must have mercy as their life principle. We must shun anger and avoid murder; actually, we should not make things difficult for Xie Fa Wang. However, Lao Na Shixiong [martial brother] Kong Jian perished under Xie Shizhu’s [benefactor Xie] hands. Zhang Jiaozhu is the leader of a cult, you must understand the custom of the Wulin world.”

Zhang Wuji said, “There was another reason behind it, we must not blame Xie Fa Wang.” Thereupon he narrated how Kong Jian willingly received some beatings in his attempt to reconcile a great enmity in the Wulin world. As Kong Wen and the others heard to the middle of the story, he exclaimed praises to Buddha, and stood up at once to show his respect.

With tears in his eyes, Kong Wen said in a trembling voice, “Shanzai, Shanzai! Kong Jian Shixiong willingly put this benevolent and self- sacrificing principle into practice; his virtue was not small.”

The rest of the monks chanted scripture verses in low voice, praising Kong Jian’s chivalry and righteousness; there wasn’t anybody who did not admire him. The Ming Cult warriors also stood up to show their respects.

Zhang Wuji narrated in detail what had happened that day, and said, “Xie Fa Wang injured Kong Jian Shen Seng by mistake; he deeply regretted it. But if we think over it carefully, the real master mind behind this crime was your precious Temple’s Yuan Zhen Dashi.” Noticing that Yuan Zhen was not in the Hall, he said, “Would you ask Yuan Zhen Dashi to come out? Let us meet face to face and resolve right from wrong.”

“That’s right!” Zhou Dian opened his mouth, “This bald donkey [derogatory term for Buddhist monks] feigned death on the Brightness Peak, but actually he is alive and well. What is he up to, being sneaky like that? Quickly tell him to roll out.” He had suffered a great setback from Yuan Zhen on the Brightness Peak, so he still bore a grudge against him.

“Mr. Zhou,” Zhang Wuji busily said, “You shouldn’t be rude in front of Fangzhang Dashi.”

Zhou Dian said, “I was cursing that bald donkey Yuan Zhen, not cursing the bald Fangzhang …” As the word ‘bald’ came out of his mouth, he knew something was wrong; hastily he put his hands on his mouth.

As Kong Zhi listened to Zhou Dian’s rude remarks, he was even more indignant. “In that case, how would Zhang Jiaozhu explain the death of my Kong Xing Shidi?” he asked.

Zhang Wuji replied, “Kong Xing Shen Seng was a frank and upright hero; I [orig. zai4xia4 – under] had the privilege of visiting with him on the Brightness Peak. I admired him very much. Kong Xing Dashi had agreed to meet with me again in the future to discuss martial art. Who would have thought that the unfortunate Master had met a terrible fate? I deeply regret his passing. It was a sinister plot of some traitors; it has nothing to do with our humble Cult.”

Kong Zhi laughed coldly and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, it seems like you are washing your hands really clean. Then the news that the Ruyang Prince’s Junzhu has joined hands with the Ming Cult is also a false rumor?”

Zhang Wuji blushed and said, “Junzhu has had some disagreement with her Father and Brother, and has joined our humble Cult. In her former days, Junzhu has done a great deal of irreverence toward your precious Temple. I will ask her to go up the mountain to pay her respect to Buddha and seriously apologize.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Kong Zhi was shouting, “Your words are sweet but insincere; how can it be that easy? You are a leader of a Cult, yet you are talking nonsense. Aren’t you afraid you will be the laughingstock of the heroes all over the world?”

Zhang Wuji realized that the murder of Kong Xing and the captured of numerous monks were certainly Zhao Min gravest offense. Although she had done it without the Ming Cult’s knowledge, presently she entrusted herself to him. Apparently, he could not make any excuses that he had nothing to do with her.

While he was in an awkward situation, Priest Tie Guan said with a stern voice, “Kong Zhi Dashi, our Jiaozhu respects you as a senior eminent monk, he is giving you a face; therefore, you should not press too hard. Our Jiaozhu always keep his promises and holds justice in high regard, how can he tell any lie? Your insult to our Jiaozhu means insult to our million Ming Cult disciples. Our Jiaozhu is broad-minded and generous; he might not want to argue, but we, his subordinates, may not want to let it go.” By that time, the Ming Cult army had besieged towns and occupied lands around the Huai Si and Henan, Hubei area. They recruited soldiers and built up cavalries, so when he said ‘a million disciples’, he was not exaggerating.

With a cold laugh Kong Zhi said, “So what if you have a million disciples? Are you going to destroy Shaolin Temple to the ground? The Devil Cult has insulted our Shaolin and we have not repaid that disgrace until today. We were captured, and then held captives at the Wan An Temple; we can only blame our own negligence. Evil and righteous do not coexist; that fact we understand well. But you came to our Shaolin Temple and on the back of our sixteen revered Luohan idols you carved sixteen large characters. Hey, hey, ‘Destroy Shaolin first, then overthrow Wudang, only our Ming Cult fits to rule the Wulin world!’ How impressive! Such a fart!”

Those sixteen characters were carved on the back of the sixteen revered Luohan images with some kind of sharp tool by Zhao Min’s warriors after the captured Shaolin monks had been taken away. Afterwards, Fan Yao waited until everybody had left, and flew back to the Luohan Hall. He turned the sixteen revered Luohan images back, so that their backs were against the wall. His goal was to thwart Zhao Min’s plan of shifting the blame to the Ming Cult. Later on, Yang Xiao and the others knew something was amiss and they saw the carving on the backs of the Luohan images, but they had never expected the Shaolin monks would also find out about it.

Zhang Wuji had never been known as an eloquent man. Besides, he thought that it was Zhao Min who deliberately stirred up trouble; he was inwardly ashamed and did not know how to answer. It was Yang Xiao who answered Kong Zhi.

“We don’t understand what Kong Zhi Dashi was saying,” he said, “Our humble Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu is the son of Wudang disciple, Zhang Wuxia [fifth hero Zhang]. It is not a secret in the Jianghu. Even if we were ten thousand times more arrogant than we are, we would never dare to insult Jiaozhu’s elders. How can our Zhang Jiaozhu himself make the ‘overthrow Wudang’ inscription? Fangzhang Dashi and Kong Zhi Dashi are highly virtuous eminent monks, how can you not understand such a simple logic like this? I am [orig. zai4xia4] convinced that there is no such thing.” His words were refined and thought provoking, rendering Kong Zhi speechless.

Abbot Kong Wen was a man of learning and wisdom; his disposition was also kind. He realized that in the end, the situation was not advantageous for them. He knew the Ming Cult had great influence; if both sides engaged in serious battle, he was afraid the thousand years of Shaolin history, which was passed on from generation to generation, would unavoidably end in his hand. Therefore, he said, “It’s useless for us to debate endlessly; please follow Lao Na to visit the Luohan Hall. We’ll look at the Luohan images reverently, and then we’ll know who’s right and who’s wrong.”

Zhang Wuji mused, “As soon as we enter the Luohan Hall, the truth will be revaled.” Hence, he hesitated and did not immediately give his consent.

“That is a good idea,” Yang Xiao replied.

Zhang Wuji did not understand Yang Xiao’s intention, but seeing Zhao Min stayed with the ‘Hou Tu’ Flag members and did not enter the Temple at all, he thought that there was little chance she would be found out by the Shaolin monks, so he had nothing to worry about.

The monk in charge of receiving the guests led the way, and everybody followed him in single file, walking toward the Luohan Hall. Kong Wen bowed down in front of the Luohan images and said, “Disciple is disturbing the revered Luohan, please forgive me.” Then he stood up and ordered six disciples to respectfully turn an idol around.

The six disciples went forward as instructed. After they clasped their palms together and uttered a silent prayer, with three men on each side, they lifted the first Luohan idol and turned it around. But not even a scratch was found on the back of this Luohan. Formerly, there was a large ‘xian’ character [‘first ‘] on the golden lacquer, but right now there was not the least bit of trace of the character. Not only Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others were surprised, even Zhang Wuji himself was stunned. Shaolin disciples moved together, they turned the Luohan over one by one, but there was not even a half stroke of character on the back of these Luohans. The Shaolin disciples were speechless; they looked at each other in astonishment. They had clearly seen there was a large character engraved on the back of each Luohan, which together, they read ‘xian zhu Shaolin, zai mie Wudang, wei wo Mingjiao, wulin chen wang’ [Destroy Shaolin first, then overthrow Wudang, only our Ming Cult fits to rule the Wulin world]. But were did those sixteen characters go?

The golden lacquer on the back of these Luohans looked new; it was obvious that the lacquer had just been applied. But for the last several months, the security in and around Shaolin Temple was very tight. To fix the writing on the back of these sixteen Luohans, and then re-apply the golden lacquer, was indeed not a simple thing to do. How could no monk in the Temple know about it?

Zhang Wuji turned his head around and saw Wei Yixiao and Fan Yao looked at each other with suppressed smile on their faces. His heart was stirred; he realized it must be his fellow Cult brothers who went into action. “Whoever is doing this must be very resourceful and have a vast knowledge,” he mused.

Seeing the bewildered looks on the monks’ faces, Yang Xiao said, “Your precious Temple’s good fortune is very deep; there is no end to your virtuous beneficence. Sixteen revered golden images are in perfect condition. As Kong Zhi Dashi said, these idols suffered some vandalism, but the sixteen Luohans are obviously divine, their virtue boundless, they are able to fix themselves. It truly is a reason for us to celebrate.”

As he said that, he bent his knees and kowtowed toward the Luohans. Zhang Wuji and the others also followed his example and kowtowed.

Kong Wen, Kong Zhi and the others did not believe such nonsense as the Luohans were divine, having boundless virtue that they were able to fix themselves up. They guessed it must be the Ming Cult who surreptitiously did this. Regardless of what happened, however, it showed that the Ming Cult was trying to make amends to their Temple; knowing this, they could not restrain a third of the anger in their hearts from melting away. But, thinking about how these devil heads were able to come and go like ghosts, they felt 30% admirations and 30% fears.

“Since the Luohan idols are as good as new, we should not mention this matter again,” Kong Wen said. Waving his hand, he ordered Shaolin disciples to turn those Luohan back to their original positions.

“Last night, Zhang Jiaozhu has visited us and has made an acquaintance with Lao Na’s three martial uncles,” Kong Wen continued, “I heard Du E Shishu and Zhang Jiaozhu have come to an agreement; as long as Zhang Jiaozhu is able to break my three Shishu’s ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Juan’, you can take Xie Shizhu away.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Du E Dashi did say that. But I [orig, zai4xia4] have a deep admiration to the three eminent monks’ profound martial art skill. In all honesty, I know I am their match. I had suffered defeat under three eminent monks’ hands last night. How can the general of a defeated army dare to speak bravely?”

“Amituofo,” Kong Wen said, “Zhang Jiaozhu’s words are too heavy. Victory or defeat of last night has not been decided yet. Furthermore, Jiaozhu’s kindness and chivalry in helping them have left a deep impression on the three Shishu’s hearts.”

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, and the others had heard from Zhang Wuji how Du E and the other two monks possessed such an amazing martial art skill. Naturally, they wanted to see it with their own eyes.

Yin Tianzheng said, “Since the Shaolin eminent monks insist on seeing who is superior in the martial art study, Jiaozhu, I think forgetting our own inadequacy, we should follow their request and we ask instruction from the Shaolin Pai. Besides, that is the only way we can save Xie Xiongdi [brother Xie]. We are compelled to do this. It’s not like we deliberately want to challenge Shaolin Temple’s supremacy in the Wulin world.” Zhang Wuji had always held his grandfather’s opinion in high regards; besides, Yin Tianzheng was right, they had no other choice. Thereupon he said, “My brothers have heard how I praised the three eminent monks’ divine skill as unrivalled; they said the three eminent monks have been living in seclusion for decades that nobody in the Wulin world knew about them. Now that we are fortunate enough to pay a visit, it would be our lifelong happiness to be able to meet with them.”

“Please!” Kong Zhi raised his hand and led the group of warriors toward the hill behind the Temple.

The ‘Hong Shui’ Flag of the Ming Cult, under the leadership of Tang Yang, had arranged themselves, forming a formidable wall around the hill. But Kong Wen and the others seemed oblivious to their presence; they kept walking toward the peak. Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, with clasped palms, walked toward the three pine trees, bowed and reported to their elders.

Du E said, “The enmity against Yang Dingtian has been resolved last night. The affair of the Luohan idols has also been resolved today. Very good, very good. Zhang Jiaozhu, are you all coming here to fight?”

Yang Xiao and the others noticed the three monks’ were short and skinny. Sitting inside the hollow trunks, they looked like corpses. Yet as he spoke, Du E’s voice resounded in the mountain and valley. It was obvious that his internal strength was very deep. They could not help their faces from changing.

Zhang Wuji pondered in his heart, “Last night I was alone, hence I could not defeat them. Today I have many people with me. If we rely on number in fighting them, first, I might not be able to unleash my skill to the fullest, second, even if we won, we will demean our own Cult’s prestige. Too many people won’t look good, too few people won’t achieve anything. I think the best way would be three of us against three of them. Fair and square.” Thereupon he said, “I have experience three eminent monks’ divine skill last night; my heart is full of admiration. I do not dare to show off my shameful skill in front of the three of you. But Xie Fa Wang has shown me fatherly love; he is also a good friend and a brother to my brethrens here. Even if we have to overestimate our own strength, we must try to save him. I am thinking of asking two of my Cult brethrens to help, so that we will fight three against three; that way, we are receiving instruction on a level ground.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu does not need to be modest,” Du E dryly said, “If in your precious Cult you have someone whose seniority in martial art comprehension second only to Jiaozhu, then you need only one more person to kill us, the three old baldies. But if Lao Na’s presumption is correct, there will not be any second person with skills as high as Jiaozhu’s to be found in the world. In that case, it doesn’t matter if you have more people or less people; all of you can come up together.”

Zhou Dian, Priest Tie Guan, and the others looked at each other. They all thought this old bald donkey was very arrogant, by going as far as regarding the world’s heroes as nothing. However, they also realized that they were praising Zhang Jiaozhu by saying that nobody in the world could be considered on par with him; so they were being polite after all. Zhou Dian was about to open his mouth to speak, but Shuo Bude’s hand was quicker; it reached out to cover Zhou Dian’s mouth.

Zhang Wuji said, “Our humble Cult is considered heretical [orig. pang2 men2 zuo3 dao4 – lit. side door, left way] and not worthy to be compared to your precious Sect’s prestigious name, but with our several hundred years of establishment, we do have some talented people. It was by chance that I am appointed the interim Cult Leader. In reality, in term of ability, insight and martial art skill, within my humble Cult, we do not lack people who are superior to me. Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei], please deliver this visiting card to the three eminent monks.” As he said that, he took out a piece of visiting card, which listed Zhang Wuji’s name on the top, and then Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, down to everybody who came to pay a visit.

Wei Yixiao knew the Cult Leader wanted him to demonstrate his unparalleled-in-the-present-age ‘qing gong’, to show the Shaolin monks that they should not belittle the Ming Cult characters. Immediately he bowed to accept the order. After taking the visiting card, without straightening up his back or even turning around, his body flew backward, as smooth as floating smoke. He covered the several ‘zhang’s distance as if he was skating on ice. As he got to the pine tree, he handed over the visiting card to Du E with both hands.

Du E and the others only saw his shadow sway, and Wei Yixiao had suddenly appeared in their presence. They had never seen ‘qing gong’ this exquisite; much less he was flying backwards, which was even unthinkable to them. They could not help but praised, “Good ‘qing gong’!”

The crowd of Shaolin monks also knew a good thing when they see one, so they broke out in applause. Although the crowd of Ming Cult warriors had already aware of Wei Yixiao’s excellent ‘qing gong’, it was the first time for them to see he fly backwards like that. Only, they felt uncomfortable to praise their own people openly, so even though their hearts were full of admiration, they restrained themselves from saying anything. Only Zhou Dian applauded noisily.

Du E slightly leaned his body forward and stretched out his hand to receive the visiting card. The five fingers of his right hand grabbed the card, and Wei Yixiao felt tingling sensation in his entire body, as if he was stricken by a thunder; his chest was burning, suddenly he felt weak. In his shock, he hastily circulated his energy trying to dissipate the attack.

At the same time, Du E took away the visiting card, and the whiff of internal energy transmitted through this card disappeared. Wei Yixiao’s countenance changed, thinking that this one-eyed old monk’s profound internal energy was truly immeasurable. He did not dare to linger any longer; leaning his body sideways, he skate on a layer of long grass on the ground, back to Zhang Wuji’s side.

It was his infamous ‘cao shang fei’ [flying on the grass] ‘qing gong’. Although it was not exceptionally good, but to train until he was able float like that, that could be considered brilliant. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others thought, “This man can achieve this level of ‘qing gong’, he undoubtedly has received training from a master, but obviously because he has talent. It seems that he was born with different trait that other people would not necessarily reach this kind of level even though they train painstakingly.”

Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu said on your precious Cult there will be three people joining our exchange of pointers. Other than Jiaozhu and this gentleman Wei Fu Wang, who will the other person be?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Wei Fu Wang had received instructions from Dashi’s divine internal energy. I am thinking of inviting the Ming Cult’s Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness to help me.”

Du E was surprised, “This young man has a very sharp vision,” he mused, “I sent the internal energy via the visiting card for only a split second, yet unexpectedly it did not elude his eyes. Now, what kind of people are these Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness? Could their martial art skills be better than this person surnamed Wei’s?”

He had lived in seclusion for too long, hence he had never heard about Yang Xiao’s reputation. As for Fan Yao, he had been living incognito for the last several years so not everybody knew about him.

As Yang and Fan two people heard Jiaozhu mentioning their names, they stepped forward at once and bowed down. “Respectfully accept Jiaozhu’s command,” they said.

“The Three Eminent Monks use flexible weapons, what will be a good weapon for us to use?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhang, Yang and Fan, three people usually fought their enemies barehanded. Today they were facing formidable opponents, so they could not hold on to their habit of not wielding any weapon. For these three people, they knew ten-thousand different techniques as well as one; for them, any weapons would do. Zhang Wuji asked this question just for the convenience of the other two. “We’ll follow Jiaozhu’s instruction,” Yang Xiao replied.

Zhang Wuji hesitated a moment; he thought, “Last night, the Twin Evils of Hejian were using short weapons to attack long ones; and they seemed to gain quite a few advantages from it.” Thereupon he took the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling from his bosom and handed over four of them to Yang Xiao and Fan Yao, while saying, “This time, we are going up the mountain to pay a visit to the Shaolin Temple, we do not dare to bring any weapons. This is our own Cult’s treasure; let us just use these tablets then.”

Yang and Fan two people bowed down and received the tablets. They were asking for further instructions when suddenly Kong Zhi shouted, “Ku Toutuo, we still have an unfinished business from the Wan An Temple; how can I let you go? Come, come, come! Let Lao Na ask for your advice first. Lao Na did not take the ‘Shi Xiang Ruan Jin San’ today; we are going to see our true power.”

He had never forgotten the resentment of being held captive at the Wan An Temple; upon seeing Fan Yao today, he had tried his best to suppress his rage, but at this time he could not hold his patience any longer.

Fan Yao laughed dryly and said, “I [orig. zai4xia4] received Jiaozhu’s order to ask instructions from the Three Eminent Monks. If Dashi wants to avenge the enmity of the former days, you’ll have to wait until this matter is closed, then I will be able to accompany you.”

From the hand of a Shaolin disciple standing next to him, Kong Zhi took a sword and shouted, “You are overestimating your own ability. You want to fight my three Shishu; if you don’t die, you will be seriously injured and then I can’t extract my revenge on you.”

Fan Yao laughed, “If I die under your honorable Shishu’s hand, won’t that be the same?”

Kong Zhi laughed coldly, “Looks to me there is no other master in your Ming Cult. What can I say?” How could the Ming Cult warriors not know that he was provoking them? But if they ignored his remarks, would not the Shaolin Pai look down on the Ming Cult? In terms of rank, Yin Tianzheng was right after Fan Yao. Zhang Wuji thought that his grandfather was old, it was inconvenient for him to ask Grandfather to fight. Therefore, he was thinking of asking his uncle [orig, Jiujiu – maternal uncle] Yin Yewang to take his father’s place.

Yin Tianzheng took a step forward and said, “Jiaozhu, subordinate Yin Tianzheng is ready to accept instructions.”

“Waigong is advanced in years, let me ask Uncle …” Zhang Wuji said.

Yian Tianzheng cut him off, “I am old, but not as old as these Three Eminent Monks. Shaolin Pai can have their senior warriors; can’t our Ming Cult have our own veteran?”

Zhang Wuji was aware that his grandfather’s martial art skill was very deep; not beneath Yang Xiao or Fan Yao’s, and a lot higher than his uncle’s. If he joined this battle, their chance of victory was several degrees better. “All right,” he said, “Fan You Shi can conserve your strength to accept instructions from Kong Zhi Shen Seng later. I am asking Grandfather to help me.”

“I follow the order!” Yin Tianzheng replied, and took the Sheng Huo Ling tablets from Fan Yao’s hands.

In a clear voice Abbot Kong Wen said, “Martial Uncles, this gentleman is Yin Lao Yingxiong [old hero Yin], Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king]. He is the founder of Tian Ying Jiao [heavenly eagle cult] of the former days, and its prestige was comparable to the Six major Sects. He is an extraordinary warrior. This gentleman is Mr. Yang; his inner and outer power has reached perfection. He is the Ming Cult’s first class character. Numerous masters of Kunlun and Emei Pai have been defeated under his hands.”

With a dry laugh Du Jie said, “Fortunate meeting, fortunate meeting! Let’s see how well Shaolin disciples compete against them.” The three black ropes shook; they soared like three China-ink black dragons and formed three layers of loops around their opponents.

Last night, when Zhang Wuji battled these three monks, he could not even see his own fingers, so he had to rely on the aura of the black ropes to determine the direction of the incoming weapons. This time, it was the beginning of the seventh hour [between 11am – 1pm]; the sun was shining brightly in the sky that he was able to see clearly every wrinkle on the faces of the three monks. Reversing the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands, he cupped his fists and bowed. “Please forgive my offense,” he said, and immediately attacked sideways.

Yang Xiao flew toward his left. With a loud shout Yin Tianzheng raised the Sheng Huoling in his right hand to strike the black rope in Du Nan’s hand. A dull clanking noise was heard as the rope and the tablet collided. These two weapons were so strange that the noise generated when they struck each other also sounded weird. Both men’s hands were shaken, and both exclaimed inwardly, “Very fierce!” They both realized that they were facing a formidable opponent, which they seldom meet in their lifetimes.

Zhang Wuji thought, “The three monks’ black ropes are connected together to form a loop. Their defense is very tight. Although the three of us join hands, we might not necessarily be able to make a breakthrough within three to five hundred stances. We’d better try to exhaust the three monks’ energy, then slowly look for a flaw.” Seeing the black rope coil over his way, he used the Sheng Huo Ling to take the brute force head on with brute force.

Fighting for the time needed to cook rice, Zhang Wuji, three people managed to press forward and reduce the loop diameter a ‘zhang’ or so. However, as the three monks’ loop was getting smaller, their defensive power increased. Each step the three attackers took required several folds of effort from the previous ones. As the battle progressed, Yang Xiao and Yin Tianzheng were more astonished than ever.

At first, the battle was three against three, but after about an hour, Yang and Yin, two people gradually could not hold their ground. In the end, the two of them fought Du Nan; while Zhang Wuji had to deal with Du E and Du Jie, two monks, alone.

Yin Tianzheng always took the ‘hard’ and ‘ferocious’ approach. Yang Xiao, on the other hand, sometimes used ‘soft’, sometimes ‘hard’; his fighting style kept changing. Among these six combatants, Yang Xiao’s martial art was the most attractive to look at. The two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands circled around and danced in the air; sometimes it became a sword, suddenly it changed into a saber. Sometimes he thrust it forward like a short spear, next time it struck, coiled, slapped, and then changed into a judge’s pen; poking, pressing down, jerking up, and then the one in his left hand changed into a dagger, while the one in his right changed into an awl [(?) Translator’s note: I don’t know what kind of weapon this is. The original was ‘shui3 ci4’ ?? - ‘water thorn’]. Suddenly the one in his right hand changed into a steel whip, while the one in his left a crowbar. Within these hundreds of changes, he struck the two tablets to each other, creating a ‘ya ya’ [This is the transliteration of the Chinese characters, don’t ask me what kind of noise is this.] sound, disturbing the enemy’s concentration. Before they even fought for four hundred stances, the tablets had changed into twenty-two different weapons; with each weapon incorporating two sets of styles, so altogether he had used forty-four different sets of styles.

Kong Zhi had mastered eleven out of Shaolin Pai’s seventy-two unique skills; while almost no martial art skills in the world eluded Fan Yao’s knowledge, but at this moment watching Yang Xiao deftly launch his divine skills, both of them could not help but inwardly sigh with admiration.

Zhou Dian had never been in good terms with Yang Xiao. The two of them had fought each other several times. But this moment, the longer Zhou Dian watched, the more ashamed he was. “Turn out this son of a turtle Yang Xiao has always yielded to me,” he mused, “I knew his martial art skill was somewhat higher than mine, and I thought each time we fought, he was just lucky that he won by one stance or half a style. Who would have thought that I, Zhou Dian, actually inferior by one big peg to this son of a turtle.” However, no matter how many changes Yang Xiao launched, Du Nan’s black rope still parry the two people’s attack without showing any slackness. Everybody started to see white mist rising on top of Yin Tianzheng’s head. They knew he was using his entire internal energy. The white robe he wore slowly ballooned up, and it was soaked with his perspiration. Each step he took left a deep mark on the ground. In an hour, the area around the three pine trees was full of his footprints.

Suddenly, Yin Tianzheng moved the Sheng Huo Ling tablet in his right hand to his left. With this pair of tablets he pushed Du Nan’s black rope down; while with ‘pi kong zhang’ [splitting air palm] his right hand hack down toward Du Nan. Du Nan raised his left hand up with five fingers forming a claw, like a hollow fist, also hacking toward the incoming palm.

“Ah!” Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the other Shaolin monks exclaimed together; their voices were full of amazement and admiration. Turned out the technique Du Nan used was one of the seventy-two special skills of Shaolin, which was called the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ [overflowing mountain palm; ‘xu mi shan’ also means ‘Sumeru Mountain’, which is the central 'world mountain' of the Buddhist universe – courtesy of Ren Wo Xing]. Needless to say, this special skill was very difficult to train. But even if someone did master the technique, each time it was launched, the practitioner must assumed the horse stance, and concentrated his ‘qi’ for a long time; only then would he be able to gather his internal energy in his ‘dantian’. Who would have expected that Du Nan had a perfect control and was able to launch the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ at will?

‘Slap!’ as his hand blocked Yin Tianzheng’s palm, the black rope in his hand shook and struck toward Yang Xiao. But because the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ consumed a lot of energy, the power behind the black rope was diminished by more than a half. Du Nan quickly covered up his weakness by rolling, fluttering, and coiling the black rope as if it was a spirit snake randomly quivering in the air. Yang Xiao’s pair of Sheng Huoling tablets was also making countless changes. The eyes of most of the spectators were watching the battle between these two people. Yin Tianzheng focused all his strength on his palms, sending strike after strike toward Du Nan. Sometimes he took two steps forward, another time he took two steps back.

On the other front, Zhang Wuji was engaged in a fierce battle against two formidable opponents. These three people’s style looked ordinary and bland, because their true battle was internal. This kind of staking-it-all internal energy match was actually a lot more dangerous than Yin Tianzheng’s battle of strength and Yang Xiao’s battle of style against Du Nan. As soon as one of the parties’ internal energy was overcome by the opponent, if he did not die instantly, then suffering fire-deviation, losing his sanity or being crippled was a common occurrence. However, only the combatants knew their own situations. To the spectators, even though their martial art skill was higher, they would never be able to predict the outcome of the battle by observing the three combatants’ outward appearance.

Slowly the sun rose from the east, then it was exactly on top of their heads, before gradually moving to the west. By this time, the battle situation was clear for Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, and the other masters. They saw the mist coming out from the top of Yin Tianzheng’s head was getting thicker; on the other hand, the trunk, the branches and the needle- leaves of the big pine tree in which Du Jie was sitting were shaking constantly. From this fact, they knew the difference in level of power of the two monks, Du E and Du Jie. At this stage of the battle, Du Jie’s back was leaning against the tree to borrow its strength in blocking Zhang Wuji’s Jiu Yang Shen Gong. If Yin Tianzheng fell, the Ming Cult lost; but if Du Jie gave up first, then the Shaolin Pai was defeated.

The six combatants also understood they had reached the crucial point of the battle. Yin Tianzheng was staking it all in sending out his palm attacks toward Du Nan, but after more than thirty stances, he realized he was not Du Nan’s match. “Our priority today is saving Xie Xiongdi,” he said in his heart, “My own victory or defeat, glory or disgrace, why should I care? Much less I lost under the hand of Shaolin Pai’s senior master’s hand, so nobody can say that the Bai Mei Ying Wang’s prestige is damaged.” Thereupon, with all his might he blocked the enemy’s attack, while he was forced to retreat half a step back. Successively he blocked more than ten strikes, and was forced to fall back more than a ‘zhang’. He did not know, however, that Du Nan had trained the ‘xu mi shan zhang’, one of the seventy-two Shaolin Pai’s special techniques for dozens of years, so that the power of his palm was not a small matter. As Yin Tianzheng withdrew one step, Du Nan’s palm strength also advanced one step. Surprisingly, the power did not diminish ever so slightly with the increasing distance.

Yang Xiao thought, “This Shaolin monk is formidable indeed. No matter how much change my Sheng Huo Ling make, in the end I still fail to make him budge. Yin Bai Mei [white-browed Yin] only attacks with his strength, I am afraid he won’t survive a prolonged battle.”

He combined the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets and struck them toward the black rope. It looked like he was going to fight force with force head-on in order to help Yin Tianzheng. As the Sheng Huo Ling just about to strike the black rope, Du Nan shook his wrist, and the black rope rose up toward Yang Xiao’s face. Yang Xiao’s mind was as quick as lightning; he threw the Sheng Huo Ling tablets toward Du Nan’s chest, while his palms turned over to grab the end of the rope. It was the stance called ‘dao ye jiu niu wei’ [pulling back nine ox tails], in which a sudden force was pulling outward.

Du Nan saw Yang Xiao throw his weapons like secret projectiles with an extremely strong force; he raised his left hand with a bent elbow to press down the Sheng Huo Ling threatening his left chest. To his surprise, the other Sheng Huo Ling suddenly changed its course midair and ‘whoosh!’ it flew toward Du Jie.

Yang Xiao was the most resourceful among these six combatants. His attack with these two Sheng Huo Ling tablets toward Du Nan was a fake; his real target was Du Jie, in which he sent out his entire internal strength.

Du Jie was using his entire strength to fight Zhang Wuji. He noticed that in dealing with Yang and Yin, two people, Du Nan seemed to gain an upper hand. He had never expected that Yang Xiao was able to launch this extraordinary sneak attack with such a weird technique. In his shock, he saw the Sheng Huo Ling was already in front of his face. Du Jie’s concentration was slightly broken. He lightly stretched his hand with two fingers up to catch the Sheng Huo Ling. But his entire strength and attention was focused on blocking Zhang Wuji’s attack; as he was disturbed, the pine tree he was sitting on shook violently, pine-needles fell down like rain.

As he saw a big break in his opponent’s line of defense, Zhang Wuji launched the highest technique of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to penetrate this opening. It was unstoppable even when the enemy used a hundred different techniques to block; much less Du Jie was in a disadvantageous situation. Zhang Wuji sent his internal energy toward his five fingers. With a ‘zip, zip’ noise, his hand struck down. ‘Crack, crack!’ In an instant, the branches on Du Jie’s tree were shaken and fell down one by one.

Du E realized their precarious situation. ‘Whoosh!’ He stood up suddenly. His shadow swayed and he flew toward Du Jie’ side. Stretching his left hand, he grabbed Du Jie’s shoulder. With the help of his martial brother Du E, Du Jie was able to steady himself.

On the other front, Du Nan’s fight against Yin Tianzheng and Yang Xiao also reached a critical moment, where both sides were staking all they have in a life and death battle. Yang Xiao was grabbing the rope and trying to pull it away. With a ‘splitting mountain, crushing stone’ kind of palm power, Yin Tianzheng kept pressing down the enemy. Two masters, one pulled, the other pushed. Du Nan was attacked with two exact opposite forces; even though he was extremely strained, he did not seem to be in danger of losing.

The spectators on the side, both the Ming Cult warriors and the Shaolin monks, also saw this critical situation. They knew that if the battle went on, not only the victory or defeat was difficult to decide, perhaps from among these six masters, more than half would be either dead or seriously injured. The hill peak was awfully quiet, with the backs of most of the spectators wet with sweats. They were all very tense; everybody was concerned about their own side. The silence was suddenly broken by a low and deep voice, coming from the ground in the middle of the three pine trees, “Yang Zuo Shi, Yin Dage, Wuji Hai’er [left emissary Yang, big brother Yin, child Wuji], I, Xie Xun, have a pair of bloodstained hands. I deserved to be condemned. Today, in order to save me, you are battling the Shaolin Temple’s three eminent monks. If either side is harmed, Xie Xun, cannot bear the additional guilt. Child Wuji, quickly take our Cult brethrens out of the Shaolin Temple. If you don’t, I am going to cut my own main artery to avoid adding my own sin.”

Xie Xun spoke with his divine skill ‘lion roar’, with which, on the Wang Pan Island in the past, he had shaken the soul of countless warriors from various clans and sects [‘bang’ and ‘pai’]. This time, although he did not use it to harm anybody, he still managed to shake everybody’s soul that their eardrums were buzzing, and they looked at each other with changed countenances.

Zhang Wuji knew his Yifu’s words were as strong as a mountain; and his Yifu was not willing for anybody to be injured to get himself out of this trouble. Zhang Wuji considered the present situation carefully; supposing both sides fought with all their strengths, although he himself might be all right, but it was possible that Grandfather, Yang Xiao, Du Jie and Du Nan, four people could not avoid injuries.

While he was hesitating, Xie Xun loudly shouted, “Wuji, you are not leaving yet?”

“Yes!” Zhang Wuji said, “I will follow Yifu’s order.” He took a step backward, and in a clear voice he said, “The Three Eminent Monks’ martial art skill is really marvelous. Today the Ming Cult is not able to break it. We will return some other day to ask more advice. Grandfather, Yang Zuo Shi, we stop fighting!” As he said that, he gathered his ‘qi’ and flicked Du E and Du Jie’s black ropes that the ropes returned to their master.

Yang Xiao and Yin Tianzheng heard his order, but they were still engaged in an internal energy battle with Du Nan, and were incapable of stopping the fight, because if they pulled back their strengths, Du Nan’s force would injure them. For the same reason, Du Nan was also incapable of stopping the fight.

Zhang Wuji walked in front of Yin Tianzheng. Waving both of his palms, he took and neutralized the palm power of Du Nan and Yin Tianzheng from left and right. And then reaching out with a Sheng Huo Ling, he pressed down on the black rope near the end held by Du Nan’s hand. This black rope was held at either end by Du Nan and Yang Xiao, it was stretched very tight just like a bowstring. As Zhang Wuji’s Sheng Huo Ling pressed down, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’s divine power immediately dissolved the pulling forces. The black rope loosened and fell down to the ground.

Yang Xiao deftly reached down and caught the rope. Du Nan’s countenance changed; he was just about to speak when Yang Xiao, holding the black rope with both hands, took several steps forward and said, “Respectfully presenting Dashi’s weapon.” Du Jie understood Yang Xiao’s intention. He picked the Sheng Huo Ling tablets by his side and returned them to Yang Xiao.

After going through this battle, the three Shaolin eminent monks lost their previous haughtiness. They knew that if this staking-it-all battle continued, both sides would suffer losses, while the three of them would not necessarily achieve victory.

“Lao Na has lived in seclusion for decades,” Du E said, “To be able to make acquaintance with worthy warriors of the present time, we feel very happy and fortunate. Zhang Jiaozhu, you have people with outstanding ability in your precious Cult. You yourself are even more excelling above the others. I hope you will use this excellent capability to benefit common people and do not use it for dishonorable businesses.”

Zhang Wuji bowed and said, “Thank you very much for Dashi’s advice. Our humble Cult does not dare to commit evil acts.”

Du E continued, “We, three martial brothers, will respectfully await here for Zhang Jiaozhu’s third visit.” “I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji replied, “However, I will have to ask for some more advice. Xie Fa Wang is my Yifu. His kindness is more than a family to me.”

Du E heaved a deep sigh, closed his eyes, and did not say anything anymore.

Leading Yang Xiao and the others, Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and took his leave from Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the other Shaolin monks; then they went down the mountain. Peng Yingyu sent out a signal, instructing the Five-element Flags to withdraw. Five ‘li’s outside the Temple, the Cult disciples from Jumu [gigantic tree/wood] and Houtu [thick earth] Flags built more than a dozen wooden shacks on a hillside for their leaders lodgings.

Zhang Wuji was despressed, as he thought that within their Cult, nobody possessed martial art skills higher than Yang Xiao and his grandfather. Even if he took Fan Yao and Wei Yixiao, he doubt if the result would be different than today’s battle. Where in the world can I find one or two masters who are superior to them, who can help me break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’?

Peng Yingyu guessed correctly what was in his mind. “Jiaozhu,” he said, “Have you forgotten about Zhang Zhenren?”

Zhang Wuji hesitantly said, “Supposing my Tai Shifu is willing to go down the mountain and help us, the two of us join hands, we would certainly break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’. However, by doing this, Tai Shifu would damage the friendship between the Shaolin Pai and Wudang Pai; so Tai Shifu might not want to do it. Besides, Tai Shifu is over a hundred years old. Although his martial art skill has reached a high degree of proficiency, his physique is, after all, declining. If there is any accident, wouldn’t that be very bad?”

Yin Tianzheng suddenly rose on his feet, with a laughter he said, “If Zhang Zhenren is willing to go down the mountain, our success is guaranteed. Marvelous! Marvelous!” After several hollow laughs, the laughing voice suddenly stopped, but his mouth was still wide open. Seeing he froze in standing position with a laughing face, the group of warriors felt strange. “Yin Xiong,” Yang Xiao said, “Do you think Zhang Zhenren will go down the mountain to help us?”

He asked twice, but Yin Tianzheng did not reply, he did not even move. Zhang Wuji was startled, he reached out to feel his pulse, and found that Yin Tianzheng’s pulse had already stopped; he had unexpectedly passed away.

Turned out when Yin Tianzheng was the only one left to fight the warriors of the Six Major Sects on the Brightness Peak, he had strained himself, and his physique had suffered a great damage. His recent ‘staking-it-all’ battle with Du Nan had further depleted his strength, plus he was also quite advanced in years, so his condition was like a dried up oil lamp.

Crying, Zhang Wuji embraced his body. Yin Yewang rushed forward and cried his heart out. The group of warriors also remembered their comradeship and spirit of loyalty and brotherhood [‘yi qi’]; there wasn’t anybody who did not shed tears. The news travelled fast; there were a lot of Heavenly Eagle Cult disciples who now served under the Ming Cult banner, their sound of crying shook the hill and valley.

For the next several days the group of warriors was busy attending to Yin Tianzheng’s funeral. Wulin leaders and masters from various sects and clans and societies also went up the mountain. These people admired Yin Tianzheng’s prestige, and came in front of his coffin in the wooden shack to offer their condolences.

Later on, Shaolin Pai also sent thirty-six monks to offer prayers for Yin Tianzheng’s departing soul. But they had only read several verses from the scripture when Yin Yewang, with a ‘ku sang’ staff [from MDBG dictionary: a mourning staff draped in white, held at a funeral to show filial piety] in his hand, exploded in anger and chased these thirty-six monks out.

From the side, Zhou Dian shouted his curse, “Hypocritical Shaolin bald donkeys!” Zhang Wuji’s heart was still burdened with their rescue effort; several times he consulted Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu, Zhao Min, and the others, but nobody was able to offer a good solution. Zhao Min wanted to try the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ in Du E’s, three monks, diet. She also wanted to summon Lu Zhangke and He Biweng to collaborate with Zhang Wuji. But on both accounts Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao and the others thought it was inappropriate.

End of Chapter 36. 
@Chapter 37 – No Hero Under the Heavens Able to Withstand
Very soon it was the Duan Yang Festival. Zhang Wuji led the Ming Cult warriors to Shaolin Temple. The Shaolin Temple’s front hall, rear hall, left and right side rooms, everywhere was overflowing with heroes and warriors from all kinds of martial art schools. Among these Wulin characters, some had enmity toward Xie Xun, so they anxiously came to kill him to avenge their grievance. Some others were there for the Tulong Saber, so they were dreaming of snatching the precious saber away and becoming the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wulin zhi zun]. Yet some others were having a grudge against each other, so they came to seize the opportunity to avenge their grievances. But the majority came just because they loved the festivities bustling with noise and excitement.

The Shaolin Temple prepared more than a hundred monks as ushers; they directed the guests to their respective places. Wudang Pai had sent Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting as their representatives. Zhang Wuji quickly stepped forward to welcome them and inquired about Zhang Sanfeng’s well- being.

Yu Lianzhou quietly said, “Did you hear anything about Qingshu and Chen Youliang?”

Zhang Wuji briefly told him what happened since they parted, and was relieved to learn Song and Chen, two men, had not stirred up any trouble on Mount Wudang, and that at this moment, Song Yuanqiao and Zhang Songxi did not come because they were guarding their Shifu and their monastery against the traitors’ evil plot. Yu Lianzhou also mentioned that ever since Song Yuanqiao heard with his own ears how his own only son was plotting against him, he was heart-broken and did not have any appetite for food and drink. Right now, he was half as thin as he was. They did not dare to tell their Shifu anything, for fear that Shifu would be grieved.

Zhang Wuji said, “I do hope Song Shige [martial (older) brother] realizes his wrong path very soon and repents, so that he can be reunited with Song Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle].”

“That is so,” Yu Lianzhou said, “But this renegade has killed Mo Qidi [seventh (younger) brother], we cannot let him off lightly.” His voice was full of bitter hatred.

Within the next two hours, more and more Wulin characters arrived. The Twin Evil of Hejian and the Qinghai Pai swordsmen who fought the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan the other day had also arrived. Huashan Pai, Kongtong Pai and Kunlun Pai also sent out their masters to attend the meeting. Only nobody from Emei Pai went up the mountain.

Zhang Wuji was hoping he would see Zhou Zhiruo; he wanted to explain to her why he did what he did the other day. However, as he imagined her face and her gaze, he became anxious from a mixture of fear and shame.

The Ming Cult warriors were assigned the west side room. They did not mingle with the other heroes, because they simply had too many enemies. They were afraid that as personal enemies meet, a big fight would ensue even before the Great Assembly was officially opened.

As the seventh hour [between 11am – 1 pm] arrived, the usher monks invited the guests to gather on a large open space to the right of the Temple. It was actually a several hundred ‘mu’ [1 mu is approximately one fifteenth of a hectare] vegetable garden on which the monks grew their food. But this time the field was leveled, and several dozens wooden shelters were erected on it.

The warriors sat on their assigned seats as directed by the monks. Any school, sect, clan or society with a large group of warriors occupied one shelter; while those with fewer numbers of delegates shared the shelter with other warriors. Peng Yingyu reported the name and origin of each and every warrior on the field for Zhang Wuji’s benefit.

When all the warriors had gathered, it was obvious that this meeting would be a grand occasion. Many characters who normally did not roam the Jianghu too often, who had lived in the privacy of the remote mountains and forests, also made their appearance one after another. Peng Yingyu estimated that not including the Ming Cult, there were about 4,600 people on the field that day. Seeing these numerous assembly participants, most of them were not friendly toward the Ming Cult, Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao, and the others were anxious.

After the audience had been seated, the Shaolin monks began to appear. Beginning with the Yuan generation, followed by Hui, Fa, Xiang, and Zhuang, they bowed toward the audience. Finally Kong Zhi Shen Seng appeared, followed by nine senior monks from the Damo Hall. Kong Zhi walked toward the middle of the field, clasped his palms in respect, uttered some praises to Buddha, and then said, “The arrival of the world’s heroes in acceptance to our invitation today has brought great honor to Shaolin Pai. However, Fangzhang Shixiong is suddenly ill that he does not have the good fortune of seeing the virtuous guests. He therefore, asked Lao Na to convey his deepest regret.”

Zhang Wuji felt little bit strange, “When Kong Wen Dashi attended Grandfather’s funeral the other day, he did not look sick at all; he looked spirited and bright. With the kind of internal energy he has, how can he fall sick so suddenly? Could he be injured?” He looked around but saw neither Yuan Zhen nor Chen Youliang; he thought, “That night I exposed Yuan Zhen’s treachery to Du E, three eminent monks; I wonder if Shaolin has taken care of him or not. I wonder if Kong Wen Dashi’s sudden illness has anything to do with it.”

At the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, after Guo Jing and Huang Rong, husband and wife, had scored several major victories, they invited the world’s heroes and warriors to Xiangyang to discuss plans and strategies to withstand the Mongolian invasion. And now, almost a hundred years later, another great assembly of world’s heroes and warriors, the biggest grand occasion in the Jianghu, was being held; but all of a sudden the host was ill. It is no wonder the crowd of warriors could not help but feel disappointed.

They heard Kong Zhi continue, “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun has wreaked havoc in the Wulin; he has committed a very serious crime. Luckily, our humble Temple has captured him. Shaolin Pai does not dare to make the decision on our own. Therefore, we respectfully invite all honorable Wulin warriors to discuss how we are going to handle this matter.”

His face was long ever since he made his appearance; by now, he sounded lethargic. As soon as he finished speaking, he clasped his palms again and withdrew.

A man stood up on the southeast corner, his stature was big and tall, the black beard on his face was interspersed with white, and it was fluttering in the breeze, he swept his gaze on the warriors with a bright and fiery pair of eyes; in short, he looked imposing. Peng Yingyu quietly informed Zhang Wuji that this person was Shandong’s old pugilist master, Xia Zhou. They heard his thunderous voice say, “This Xie Xun has done too much evil. Your precious Sect unexpectedly able to capture him, the benefit you bring to the Wulin world is not small. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, two Shen Seng [divine monks] are too modest. This kind of evil person deserves to be executed immediately with a blade. End of story. Why do you have to ask others? Today, the heroes from all over the world are gathered here, and we call this assembly ‘tu shi da hui’ [lion-slaying great assembly]. Let us put this Xie Xun to death, and then everybody eat his flesh and drink his blood, as a revenge for our innocent friends and relatives who died under his hands. Won’t we all be happy?”

His own older brother was killed by Xie Xun, so for the last dozens of years he always wanted revenge. As his words, several hundred people around the field echoed his sentiment; they all wanted to kill Xie Xun as soon as possible.

Amidst the commotion, suddenly a sad sounding voice was heard. “Xie Xun is the Ming Cult’s ‘hu jiao fa wang’ [see my note in Chapter 30 earlier]. If Shaolin Pai were not afraid to offend the Ming Cult, they would already have put Xie Xun to the sword early on; why would they invite everybody here to share the blame? I think, Xia Dage [big brother Xia], you are a bit muddle-headed. Let your brother here tell you something: you’d better watch out for your own life.”

His voice might be sad and high-pitched, sounded like a man, but also like a woman, but as it reached everybody’s ears, the words were very clear. Everybody turned their heads toward the voice, but they could not see who it was. Apparently, that speaker was short, and when he talked, he did not stand up. Sitting among the crowd, nobody could see him.

Xia Zhou loudly said, “Is that ‘zui bu si’ [drunken but not dead] Brother Situ? I have an enmity with that Xie Xun for killing my brother. A real man is not afraid of his own actions. I can ask the Shaolin eminent monks to take him out; I will kill him personally. If the devil heads of the Devil Cult want revenge, they can come to look for the man surnamed Xia of Shandong.”

The man with the sad voice laughed and said, “Xia Dage, everybody in Jianghu knows that the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’, the precious Tulong Saber, has fallen into Xie Xun’s hand. Since Shaolin Pai has acquired Xie Xun, how can they not be interested in the treasured Saber? Killing Xie Xun is secondary; lifting up the Saber to show their prestige is the priority. I’ll say: Kong Zhi Dashi, you don’t need to put an act; just take that precious Tulong Saber and hold it high in your hands, let us broaden our horizons. For thousand of years, you, Shaolin Pai, have been the head and brain of the Wulin world. With the Saber you won’t achieve much, without the Saber you won’t lose much; you will always be the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’.”

In a low voice Peng Yingyu said to Zhang Wuji, “The speaker is ‘Zui Bu Si’, Situ Qianzhong. This person is carefree; I heard he doesn’t have any master, does not take any disciple, does not belong to any school or society, and very seldom engage in battle. Nobody knows the detail of his martial art skill. His tone is always cold and condescending, but oftentimes right on target.”

They heard about seven, eight people in the audience say, “His words make sense. Would Shaolin Pai please take the Tulong Saber out for everybody to see?”

“The Tulong Saber is not in our humble Temple,” Kong Zhi slowly said, “In all my life, Lao Na has never seen it. I am not even sure if such saber indeed exists in the world.”

As soon as the crowd of heroes heard this, they broke into murmurs; the field was suddenly bustling with noise. The attendees were originally thinking that other than about Tulong Saber, this assembly did not have anything else of great importance. Who would have thought that Kong Zhi would flatly deny the possession of the Saber? Everybody felt strange.

The nine old monks standing behind Kong Zhi were all wearing red kasayas. After the commotion in the audience subsided, one of the nine monks took two steps forward and with a loud voice said, “The Tulong Saber was originally in Xie Xuns hands; however, when our humble Sect captured him, the Saber was no longer in his possession. Our temple’s Fangzhang realizes that this is an important matter of the Wulin world; therefore, he immediately launched an investigation. Xie Xun is stubborn and arrogant; he is unwilling to tell us the truth. Today’s great assembly of heroes, first of all, is to discuss how we are going to handle Xie Xun. Secondly, we want to inquire if any of the heroes has heard anything about the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts. Whoever has any information is invited to speak up.”

The crowd of heroes looked at each other; nobody opened his mouth. Again, the ‘Zui Bu Si’ Situ Qianzhong, with his sad and high-pitched voice said, “For the last hundred of years, there is a saying in the martial art world, ‘the most revered in the Wulin world, precious Saber slaughtering the dragon (Tu Long), ruling under the heavens, nobody dares to disobey. Yitian (relying on Heaven) does not appear, who can match its sharpness?’ Other than the Tulong Saber, there is the Yitian Sword. I heard this Yitian Sword was originally in the hands of Emei Pai, but after the battle of the western region’s Brightness Peak, nobody knew its whereabouts. Just because today’s meeting is called the Heroes’ Assembly, could it be that the Emei Pai’s heroines refuse to come?” As the people heard his last sentence they broke into boisterous laughter. [Translator’s note: ‘ying xiong’ – hero, where the ‘xiong’ character can also mean ‘male’ (mostly used to refer to male animal), so literally, ‘ying xiong’ means ‘brave male’. Situ Qianzhong used the characters ‘ying ci’ – ‘brave female (animal)’. By calling the Emei Pai heroines as ‘ying ci’, he was not being complimentary (He would have used ‘nu-xia’ if he wanted to be courteous).]

Amidst the loud laughter, a monk in charge of guest reception made an announcement in loud voice, “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Bangzhu, has arrived accompanied by various Zhanglao and various disciples.”

As he heard the word ‘Shi Bangzhu’ three characters, Zhang Wuji was greatly surprised. “The Beggar Clan’s Shi Huolong had died long ago under Yuan Zhen’s hands,” he thought, “How come there is another Shi Bangzhu?”

“Please!” Kong Zhi responded. The Beggar Clan was the biggest clan in Jianghu, so it was only proper for him to welcome them personally.

They saw a large group of people walk towards the open field in quick pace. There were approximately 150 men, all in rags and tattered clothes. The Beggar Clan’s prestige has been in decline in the last several years, but just like a centipede that moves even after it dies, it had not become placid; the Beggar Clan still has an enormous power in the Jianghu. The crowd of heroes did not dare to despise them; most of them stood up to show their respect.

The ones in the front were two elderly beggars. Zhang Wuji recognized them as Chuan Gong Zhanglao and Zhi Fa Zhanglao. Behind these two old beggars was an ugly girl of twelve, thirteen years; her nose curved upward, her mouth was wide, revealing two big front teeth. She was none other than Shi Huolong’s daughter, Shi Hongshi. In her hand was the Beggar Clan’s symbol of authority, the Dog Beating Stick. Behind Shi Hongshi walked Zhang Bang Longtou and Zhang Bo Longtou, followed by eight-pouch elders, seven-pouch disciples, and six-pouch disciples. It looked like the lowest ranking disciples within the Beggar Clan contingent this time were the six-pouch disciples.

As Kong Zhi saw the one holding the Dog Beating Stick was a little girl, he hesitated; he was not sure which one was the Clan Leader and thus was not sure to whom he should speak, but he was obliged to respond. Therefore, clasping his palms, he said without addressing anybody in particular, “The monks of Shaolin respectfully welcome the warriors of the Beggar Clan.”

Together, the Beggar Clan warriors cupped their fists to return the propriety. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s former Shi Bangzhu was unfortunate and has return to Heaven. The elders have voted to elect Shi Bangzhu’s daughter, Miss Shi Hongshi to be Bangzhu. This lady is therefore our Clan’s new Bangzhu.” He pointed toward Shi Hongshi.

Kong Zhi and the crowd of warriors were taken aback. They remembered the saying in the Jianghu, ‘Ming Jiao, Gai Bang, Shaolin Pai’. Within the ‘jiao’ [cults, religions], Ming Cult was the leader; within the world’s ‘bang hui’ [clans and societies], the Beggar Clan held the place of honor; within the ‘men pai’ [martial art schools and sects], Shaolin Pai was the number one. The Ming Cult had elected a twenty-year-old young man, Zhang Wuji as their Jiaozhu; already people were clucking their tongues in amazement. And now the Beggar Clan pushed this little girl to be their Bangzhu? If it did not come from a Zhanglao’s [elder] mouth, nobody would believe it. In the past, Huang Rong was also a young girl when she took over the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu position. Although it was a good precedent, at that time Huang Rong was several years older compared to this little girl.

Kong Zhi did not lack any courtesy in his surprise. He clasped his palms and said, “Shaolin disciple Kong Zhi pays his respect to Shi Bangzhu.”

Shi Hongshi bowed down to return the propriety; she seemed to mumble something, but nothing came out of her mouth. Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “Our humble Clan’s Bangzhu is young. All businesses of the Clan are temporarily being handled by Xiongdi [brother, referring to self] and Zhi Fa Zhanglao, two people. Kong Zhi Shen Seng is more senior by far so you do not need to be overly courteous.” After the two of them exchanged some modest pleasantries, the usher monk directed the Beggar Clan warriors to take their seats in one of the wooden shelters.

The Beggar Clan contingent was big, so it took half a day for all of them to be seated. Zhang Wuji noticed that the group of beggars was wearing mourning clothes; their faces carried grief and an indignation expression. The pouches on some of the disciples had things inside that were seemingly wriggling and moving. It was obvious that they came with some purpose in mind. Zhang Wuji smirked inwardly; he whispered to Yang Xiao, “We have some helpers.”

He saw Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa, two elders were escorting Shi Hongshi walk toward the Ming Cult’s shelter. Chuan Gong Zhanglao cupped his fists in salute and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, our humble Clan shares a large part of responsibility in Jin Mao Shi Wang falling into the enemy. Even if we have to lose our lives today, we must redeem our offense. Furthermore, we want to avenge our Shi Bangzhu’s death. The Beggar Clan, from top to bottom, is under Zhang Jiaozhu’s command.”

“I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao was speaking with his strong internal power that his words were loud and clear; obviously, he deliberately wanted everybody in that open field to hear. As he finished speaking, the numerous Beggar Clan disciples stood up together and said in loud voices, “Respectfully waiting for the Ming Cult Zhang Jiaozhu’s command; we will not refuse to go through the water or tread on the fire.”

The warriors were baffled, “Since when the Beggar Clan formed a life and death alliance with the Ming Cult?”

Other than very few people who seldom roamed the Jianghu, everybody knew that for the past many years, the Beggar Clan and the Ming Cult were always at each other’s throat. A few years ago, the Beggar Clan participated in the siege of the Brightness Peak. The casualties from both sides were very heavy in that one bloody battle alone. On their last attack against the Brightness Peak, almost all Beggar Clan warriors were annihilated. And now, Chuan Gong Zhanglao had openly declared that the entire Beggar Clan force was under Zhang Wuji’s command, and that they wanted to avenge their former Shi Bangzhu, everyone scratched their heads in confusion.

Chuan Gong Zhanglao turned around and said in a loud voice, “Our Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai never had neither enmity nor grudge. Our humble Clan has always regarded Shaolin Pai as the Wulin’s number one major sect. In case of any small misunderstanding, we have always exercised self-restraint as much as we possibly can, and have never dared to offend Shaolin Pai openly. As our humble Clan’s Shi Qian Bangzhu’s [former Shi Bangzhu] subordinates, we have always admired the Four Divine Monks of Shaolin as persons of virtue and prestige; as the model warriors of the martial art study we should imitate. Shi Qian Bangzhu had long ago lived in seclusion to recuperate from his injury in peace and quiet; for dozens of years he had not made any contacts with other Jianghu characters. But somehow, he had fallen under a Shaolin senior monk’s evil hands …”

“Ah!” as he spoke to this point, the people around the field called out in shock. Even Kong Zhi was taken by surprise.

In the meantime, Chuan Gong Zhanglao continued, “We come here today to ask, in the presence of the heroes of the world, Kong Wen Fangzhang to give us directions in treading this confusing path. What did our Shi Qian Bangzhu do to offend Shaolin that that Shaolin senior monk, even after he killed Shi Qian Bangzhu, had to be so merciless toward his widow, a lone helpless woman that in the end Mrs. Shi was not able to defend her own life?”

“Amituofo,” Kong Zhi clasped his palms, “Only at this moment Lao Na learned of Shi Bangzhu’s misfortune and that he passed away. Zhanglao keeps proclaiming that it was our humble Sect’s disciple who has done it; I am afraid there is a big misunderstanding in this case. Would Zhanglao please tell us the details?” Chuan Gong Zhanglao said, “For thousands of years Shaolin Pai has been the ‘tai shan bei dou’ [Mount Tai (Taishan) Big Dipper Constellation, ‘as weighty as Mt. Tai, as brilliant as the Big Dipper’, meaning the ultimate] of the Wulin world; how can we dare to make a false accusation? Your precious Temple has an eminent monk and a secular disciple; we request that they come out and confront us.”

“Zhanglao please tell us what to do, we will comply,” Kong Zhi replied, “I wonder which two people Zhanglao wants to come out?”

“They are …” Chuan Gong Zhanglao only uttered the ‘are’ word, and suddenly he was tongue-tied with his mouth open, unable to continue.

Kong Zhi was shocked. He hastily stepped forward and grabbed his right wrist, feeling for pulse, which, unexpectedly, had stopped. Kong Zhi was even more shocked. “Zhanglao! Zhanglao!” he called. Looking at Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s face, Kong Zhi saw a small black dot the size of the head of an incense stick between his eyebrows; apparently his fatal point was hit by some poisonous secret projectile.

With a loud voice Kong Zhi shouted, “Fellow Heroes and Warriors, please understand. This Beggar Clan elder was hit by a poisonous secret projectile and unfortunately lost his life. Our Shaolin Pai has never used this kind of evil secret projectile.”

The Beggar Clan people immediately broke into clamor; several dozen people rushed toward Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s body. Zhang Bo Longtou took a piece of magnet from his pocket and put it in between Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s eyebrows. He pulled a steel needle, as fine as an ox hair, only about an inch long. The Beggar Clan elders realized that Kong Zhi was not lying; an upright and prestigious sect like Shaolin Pai certainly would not use this kind of evil secret projectile. However, someone had sneakily and unexpectedly launched a secret projectile, under broad daylight, under the gaze of thousands of eyes without anybody seeing it, and this was certainly strange beyond anybody’s imagination.

Zhi Fa  Zhanglao and  the others  thought that  Chuan Gong  Zhanglao was standing with his face to the south, so the secret projectile must come from the south. At this time, the sun was shining dazzlingly, Chuan Gong Zhanglao was indignant and excited so he must have been unguarded against this kind of fine secret projectile. With angry glare the elders looked at the people behind Kong Zhi. They saw that the eyes of the nine old monks wearing red kasaya were half-closed with their eyebrows drooping down. Behind these nine monks stood a row of monks wearing yellow robes, followed by monks in gray robes. However, although they had no doubt that the murderer was one of these Shaolin monks, they could not tell which one was the villain.

Zhi Fa Zhanglao let out a loud and long laugh, while tears rolling down like rain from his eyes. “Kong Zhi Dashi,” he said, “Are you still thinking that we have brought false accusation towards Shaolin Pai? How will you explain what has just happened?”

Zhang Bang Longtou was the most hot-tempered among the beggars; brandishing the iron staff in his hand, he roared, “We will fight to the death with Shaolin Pai today!”

‘Clang, clang, clang!’ a chaotic noise was heard as the Beggar Clan people took out their weapons and charged toward the middle of the field.

With a grieved countenance Kong Zhi turned around toward the group of Shaolin monks. “Ever since our ancestor Damo arrived from the west, for thousands of years our Temple has established a strong foundation in diligent cultivation of the teachings of Buddha and the most refined in maintaining monastic discipline. Although we train martial arts for self- defense and have been interacting with the brave warriors of the Jianghu, we have never dared to perform dishonorable deeds. Fangzhang Shixiong [martial brother Abbot] and I have long ago given up the worldly matters. How can we still feel any attachment to this red dust …” His gaze swept the faces of the monks. “This poisonous needle,” he continued, “Who shot it out? A real man who dares to do it, must also have the courage to accept responsibility. Stand up and face me.” None of the several hundred monks opened his mouth; some of them muttered, “Amituofo, sin, sin!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, he recalled his parents’ story how his mother Yin Susu had posed as his father, Zhang Cuishan, and used poisonous needles to kill Shaolin monks, and thus had caused his father to bear the grudge despite his innocence. But the silver needles of Tian Ying Jiao [Heavenly Eagle Cult] differed greatly from this steel needle, both in shape and in toxicity. The poison of the one taken from Chuan Gong Zhanglao’s dead body looked like that of the western region’s venomous insect ‘xin yi tiao’ [one heart beat]. It was called the ‘xin yi tiao’ because as the poison from the insect contacted the warm blood, the heart would beat only once, and then it would stop beating altogether.

Zhang Wuji knew that Shi Huolong was killed by Yuan Zhen; he also knew that hidden among the Shaolin monks were Yuan Zhen’s henchmen. Consequently, the reason Chuan Gong Zhanglao was shot with the needle must be to close his mouth from mentioning Yuan Zhen’s name. Only at that time everybody was looking at Chuan Gong Zhanglao, so nobody paid any attention on who shot the needle.

Zhang Bang Longtou shouted, “Tens of thousands Beggar Clan disciples all know who Shi Bangzhu’s killer is. You want to kill others to close their mouths? Humph, humph! Only if you kill all Beggar Clan disciples under the heavens! The murderer is a Buddhist monk, his name is Yuan Zhen …”

Zhang Bo Longtou suddenly leaped in front of his comrade; his iron bowl moved. ‘Ding!’ he caught a steel needle with the bowl. It was still unclear from which direction the steel needle was shot, but Zhang Bo Longtou had put all his concentration guarding from the side. As soon as he saw a bluish streak of light flickered under the sun, he lifted his iron bowl to catch it. If he was half a step late, Zhang Bang Longtou would certainly meet his violent death.

Kong Zhi’s shadow circled around to the back of the nine Damo Hall monks. ‘Bang!’ He kicked the fourth old monk down, followed by a grab on that monk’s collar. “Kong Ru,” he said while lifting that monk up, “It turns out that it is you! You are also ganging up with Yuan Zhen?” His right hand pulled down the front lapel of Kong Ru’s Buddhist robe. ‘Rip!’ the robe tore, revealing a small steel tube, with a small hole on the head of the tube, on his waist.

Suddenly it became clear to everybody: there must be a powerful spring inside this steel tube. That monk only needed to reach into his pocket, press the trigger and the poisonous needle would shoot out of the hole. He did not need to raise his hand or wave his arm to do this; therefore, even if one was facing him only a few feet apart, one would not necessarily be able to see him shooting the secret projectile.

In his grief and anger, Zhang Bang Longtou raised his iron staff and swept it down, crushing Kong Ru’s brain out. Kong Ru was a peer of the Four Divine Monks; his martial art skill was on par with them, but he was seized by Kong Zhi and the acupoint on his back was sealed, so he could not move. As Zhang Bang Longtou’s iron staff swept down, he was unable to evade. The crowd of warriors cried out in alarm together.

Kong Zhi was taken by surprise; he glowered at Zhang Bang Longtou, thinking, “You are too hot-headed; you did not even investigate clearly.”

Amidst this confusion, suddenly from outside the field four Buddhist nuns wearing black robes walked in quick steps, each one had a whisk in her hand. In loud and clear voices they announced, “Emei Pai Zhangmen [sect leader] Zhou Zhiruo, leading the Emei disciples, pays her respect to Shaolin Temple’s Kong Wen Fangzhang.”

Kong Zhi laid down Kong Ru’s body and replied, “Please come in.” He welcomed the guests in a calm and composed manner. The remaining eight old monks of the Damo Hall followed behind him. It was as if they completely ignored the recent tragedy and it did not weigh on their mind at all.

After the four nuns paid their respects, they withdrew, turned around and left as swiftly as they came. The extraordinary thing about them was that these four women came and went as if they were one person; their footwork was light and graceful, as if they were floating leisurely, like passing clouds or flowing river, surging waves devoid of discreet steps.

As Zhang Wuji heard Zhou Zhiruo was coming, his face immediately turned red, and he stole a glance toward Zhao Min. At that exact same time, Zhao Min was also looking at him. Two people’s gaze met. Zhao Min winked, it was as if she was smiling, but actually she was not. The corner of her mouth slanted down, as if in contempt; although it was not clear whether she was mocking Zhang Wuji, who was at a loss, or she was looking at Emei Pai’ bluff with disdain.

Unlike the Beggar Clan warriors who walked into the field on their own, the Emei Pai heroines waited for Kong Zhi and the Shaolin monks to go out and welcome them, and only then did they enter the field in neat formation. There were about eighty, ninety female disciples wearing black robes; most of them were bald Buddhist nuns of all ages, elderly, middle-aged and young, even teenaged nuns. Behind these female disciples, more than a ‘zhang’ away, walked a very beautiful young woman wearing dark green ordinary [Translator’s note: by ‘ordinary’ here, I mean secular, not a Buddhist nun clothes] clothes in slow steps. She was the Emei Pai Sect Leader, Zhou Zhiruo. As Zhang Wuji saw her slim figure, with a rather thin and pallid face, he felt sorry for her, but also ashamed of himself.

Several ‘zhang’s behind Zhou Zhiruo, there were about twenty male disciples; they also wore black robes. Most of them had refined scholar-like features, unlike the masculine and imposing features common to those of Wulin characters. Each man’s hands carried a wooden case of varying sizes, long and short. These hundred or so Emei disciples did not carry any weapon either on their bodies or their hands, obviously, the weapons were inside those boxes.

The crowd of warriors secretly praised, “The Emei Pai truly knows propriety; by not carrying weapons openly, they are showing deep respect toward the Shaolin Pai.” Zhang Wuji waited until they were seated before he walk toward Emei Pai’s shelter and greet Zhou Zhiruo by cupping his fists. In bashful and ashamed voice he said, “Zhou Jiejie [elder sister Zhou], Zhang Wuji comes to apologize humbly.”

More than ten Emei Pai female disciples stood up suddenly; their eyebrows were raised, their faces looked angry.

“I do not dare,” Zhou Zhiruo returned the propriety. “Zhang Jiaozhu, why must you overly courteous? I am sure you are well since we part?” She looked completely calm, without any sign of either delight or anger.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was thumping erratically. “Zhiruo,” he said, “Because I was eager to save Yifu, I was being rude to you. I feel endless regret in my heart.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I heard Xie Laoye [old master Xie] has fallen into Shaolin Temple’s hands. Zhang Jiaozhu is an unrivalled hero, I am sure you have already rescued him.”

Zhang Wuji blushed and said, “Shaolin Pai’s eminent monks possess profound martial art skill. The Ming Cult has lost a battle. My (maternal) Grandfather was unfortunate and has passed away.”

“Yin Laoye Zi [old master] was a hero of this age,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “What a pity, what a pity!”

She did not show any emotion whether happy or angry. Zhang Wuji could not read her true feelings; he only felt that his words seem like bumping on her flexible nail, always bounce back without generating any interest on her part. However, thinking that compared to how bad he had hurt her by leaving her for Zhao Min in front of multitude of guests, the cold reception he received today was a thousand times, ten thousand times better. Thereupon he said, “Later, when we try to save Yifu, I wish you would lend your hands for old times’ sake.” His heart stirred as soon as he said those words. “In the past half a year, her skill has advanced greatly,” he mused, “At the wedding hall the other day, Fan You Shi was forced to retreat by her in just one stance even with the kind of skill he has. Min Mei has learned the special skills of various sects’ leaders, yet she was almost killed instantly by her; not to mention Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang, husband and wife just a few days ago. Perhaps … perhaps as she took over the Emei Zhangmen [sect leader] position, she trained some secret martial art from some secret manual reserved exclusively for Sect Leader. Her comprehension is better than Miejue Shitai to the extent of although green was born of blue, it surpasses the blue [Translator’s note: a Chinese saying, means ‘student (or children) become superior to the master (or parents)]. If she is willing to collaborate with me, we might be able to break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’.”

Thinking to this point, he was excited and said, “Zhiruo, I want to ask you a favor.”

Zhou Zhiruo’s countenance suddenly stiffened. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” she said, “Please exercise self-control. At this point, how can you address me like in the former days?” Beckoning to someone behind her she said, “Qingshu, come over here. Tell Zhang Jiaozhu about us.”

Zhang Wuji saw a man with face full of spiky beard step forward, cupping his fists and say, “Zhang Jiaozhu, how are you?”

Zhang Wuji recognized the voice as belonging to Song Qingshu; he took a closer look and recognized him as Song Qingshu; only he disguised himself as an older and uglier man to hide his original features. Thus Zhang Wuji also cupped his fists and said, “Turns out it is Song Shige [martial (older) brother]; I am well, thank you.”

Song Qingshu showed a faint smile and said, “Actually, I should thank Zhang Jiaozhu. That day when you were about to marry my wife you had a second thought and regret …”

“What?!?” Zhang Wuji was shocked; his voice trembled. “I have Zhang Jiaozhu to thank for my happy and blissful marriage,” Song Qingshu said.

It was as if five thunderbolts had struck Zhang Wuji at once. He stood with a blank expression on his face; his eyes glazed over like he was looking at a vast expanse of whiteness, his ears were buzzing with indistinct noise that he could not hear what people were saying around him. After a long time, he felt someone was tugging his arm.

“Jiaozhu, let us go back!” that person said.

Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and took a sidelong glance. He saw his arm was pulled by Han Lin’er. Han Lin’er’s face was full of anxiety, grief and anger.

“Miss Zhou,” Han Lin’er said to Zhou Zhiruo, “My Jiaozhu is a righteous hero; just because of a small misunderstanding you married this … this … humph, humph!” Actually, he wanted to scold Song Qingshu, but out of respect to Zhou Zhiruo, he swallowed back the word that was on the tip of his tongue.

Although Zhang Wuji had deep feelings toward Zhao Min, he had always thought that he was engaged with Zhou Zhiruo. That day, because he wanted to rescue Yifu, he had no choice but follow Zhao Min. He thought as a sweet and gentle girl, Zhou Zhiruo would understand and would not blame him as long as he honestly told her the reason. Who would have thought that in her rage she married Song Qingshu? The pain in his heart right now far exceeded the pain on his chest when Zhou Zhiruo stabbed him at the Brightness Peak.

Turning his head, he saw Zhou Zhiruo stretch out her delicate hand, as white as jade, to beckon Song Qingshu. With a very smug expression Song Qingshu walked back to her side, and sat next to her. With a faint smile on the corners of his mouth he said to Zhang Wuji, “When we get married, we did not throw any invitations and thus announced it publicly. Someday, we will invite Sire to enjoy our ‘wine of happiness’ [orig. xi3jiu3 – wine drunk at a wedding feast].”

Zhang Wuji wanted to say ‘thank you’ [orig. duo1xie4le5], but his throat was dry; unexpectedly he could not utter these three characters. Han Lin’er pulled his arm and said, “Jiaozhu, don’t pay any attention to this kind of person.”

Song Qingshu laughed and said, “Han Dage [big brother Han], when the time comes, you also have to enjoy this ‘wine of happiness’.”

Han Lin’er spat and hatefully said, “I’d rather drink three jars of horse urine than your bad-luck, dead-people’s wine.” Zhang Wuji sighed; he pulled Han Lin’er’s arm and took him away sadly.

In the meantime, the Beggar Clan’s Zhang Bang Longtou was engaged in a fiery argument with a Shaolin monk. The exchange among Zhang Wuji, Zhou Zhiruo, Song Qingshu and Han Lin’er took place at the Emei Pai shelter, on the northwest corner of the field, so it did not attract anybody’s attention; the crowd of warriors was busy listening to the dispute between the Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai.

Zhang Wuji returned to the Ming Cult’s shelter and sat down with a troubled mind. He vaguely heard that old Shaolin monk in red kasaya say, “I told you Yuan Zhen Shixiong [martial brother] and Chen Youliang are not in our Temple, but your precious Clan did not believe me. Your precious Clan’s Chuan Gong Zhanglao was unfortunate to meet his death, but our Sect’s Kong Ru Shishu [martial uncle] had paid it with his own life. What else do you want?”

Zhang Bang Longtou said, “You said Yuan Zhen and Chen Youliang are not here? I don’t believe you! You must let us search Shaolin Temple.”

That Shaolin monk sneered and said, “Sire, you want to search Shaolin Temple? Don’t you think you are a bit too arrogant? The puny Beggar Clan might not necessarily have the ability to do so.” “You are looking down on the Beggar Clan?” Zhang Bang Longtou said angrily. “Fine, I’ll ask you for advice first.”

The Shaolin monk replied, “For thousands of years, there have been countless heroes and warriors paying a visit to Shaolin. But because of our founder’s mercy, Shaolin has never burned anybody.”

The argument of these two was getting hotter by the minute; it looked like they were about to fight soon. Kong Zhi was standing quietly on the side; he did not even try to intervene. Suddenly Situ Qianzhong’s weird voice was heard again, “The world’s heroes are gathered together at Shaolin today. Some of us had to cover a distance of thousands of ‘li’s. Are we here to watch the Beggar Clan seeking a revenge?”

“That’s right,” Xia Zhou said, “The enmity between the Beggar Clan and Shaolin Pai can be temporarily set aside. It will not be too late for the two of you to settle your account later. We’d better talk about how we are going to handle that villain Xie Xun first.”

“Don’t be foul-mouthed,” Zhang Bang Longtou was indignant. “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia is one of the Ming Cult’s Protector Kings; what villain are you talking about?”

Xia Zhou thundered, “You are scared of the Ming Cult, I am not scared of them! A villain with a wolf heart and dog lung like Xie Xun and you still honor him as a hero?”

Yang Xiao walked toward the center of the field, cupped his fists around and said, “I am [orig. zai4xia4] the Ming Cult’s Guangming Zuo Shi [left emissary of the brightness]. I have something I’d like to say in front of the world’s heroes. My humble Cult’s Xie Shi Wang has killed innocent people in the past, but actually, he can’t be blamed …”

“Humph,” Xia Zhou snorted, “Those people he killed are already dead. Do you think you can resurrect them with several sentences of your superficial words?” Yang Xiao was unfazed; he said, “We are roaming the Jianghu; we lick the blood on our blades on a daily basis. Which one among us has never taken anybody’s life to be able to stay alive until today? One with stronger martial art skill might kill more people. One with inept skill might lose one’s life. If for every life we take we must pay with our own lives, hey, hey, I wonder how many of us, among these several thousands of heroes and warriors in this field, would remain. Xia Lao Yingxiong [old hero Xia], you have never killed people in your whole life?”

The Mongolian occupation of China was a time of chaos; there was trouble and confusion everywhere. As the Wulin characters roamed the Jianghu, they would either kill or be killed. It was quite difficult to cultivate one’s own moral worth. Other than a small number of monks and nuns from Shaolin Pai and Emei Pai, perhaps it was rare to find anybody whose hands were free from bloodstain.

This Shandong’s warrior Xia Zhou was a hot-tempered man; he had injured countless people. Yang Xiao’s words had rendered him speechless.

After being dumbfounded for a while, he said, “Bad people we can kill, good people we should not kill. This Xie Xun and the devil heads of the Ming Cult are entirely alike; always do dishonorable deeds. I wish I could cut you in thousands pieces, eat your flesh and sleep on your skin. Humph, humph, the one surnamed Yang, I think you are not a good ‘thing’.”

He understood that there were many highly skilled people within the Ming Cult, but today he wanted to kill Xie Xun to avenge his brother’s death, so a bloody battle against the Ming Cult was unavoidable. Therefore, he spoke boldly without showing any restraint.

A piercing voice came from the Ming Cult shelter, “Xia Zhou, do you think I am a good ‘thing’?”

Xia Zhou turned to look at the speaker; he saw a thin-cheeked and sharp- mouthed, pale-faced man; so pale that his face looked gray. Xia Zhou did not know what kind of person this speaker was; he shouted, “I don’t know who you are, but since you are one of the Devil Cult’s devil heads, I am sure you are not a good ‘thing’.”

“Xia Xiong [brother Xia},” Situ Qianzhong said, “Don’t you know this gentleman? He is one of the Four Protector Kings of the Ming Cult, the Qing Yi Fu Wang.”

“Pei, pei!” Xia Zhou spat, “The Blood Sucking Devil!”

Suddenly, while the crowd of warriors was still talking among themselves, Wei Yixiao had arrived in front of Xia Zhou. They were actually more than ten ‘zhang’s apart, but somehow Wei Yixiao managed to cover that distance in split seconds.

Wei Yixiao raised his hand and ‘slap, slap, slap, slap!’ he gave Xia Zhou four slaps on his face, followed by an elbow strike toward the acupoint on Xia Zhou’s lower abdomen. Actually, Xia Zhou’s martial art skill was not so bad. Based on their actual skill levels, Wei Yixiao would need at least fifty stances before he could beat Xia Zhou. However, Wei Yixiao’s ‘qing gong’ skill was too strange for Xia Zhou. He moved like a ghost, like a demon; so because of this element of surprise, by the time Xia Zhou realized the attack and was about to parry, the strike had already arrived.

While the crowd of warriors was crying out in shock, a white shadow flew from the Ming Cult’s shelter. It was inferior to Wei Yixiao’s lightning speed, yet the shadow was faster than a galloping horse. As the shadow reached Xia Zhou, a large cloth sack opened, went down on his head, and scooped him inside the sack. It was not until the shadow slung the sack on his shoulder did the crowd of warriors finally saw that the shadow was a giggling Buddhist monk, the Bu Dai Heshang [cloth sack monk] Shuo Bude.

Shuo Bude laughed and said, “A good thing, you are a good thing! The monk will take you home and cook you slowly for my dinner!” Carrying Xia Zhou along, light as a feather he swiftly returned to the wooden shelter.

This attack on Xia Zhou happened very quickly and ended just as quick. Although he was surrounded by a dozen friends and fellow martial brothers, the two men from the enemy side were too fast that nobody was able to render their assistance. Only after Wei Yixiao and Shuo Bude were back to their seats that these dozen or so people unsheathed their weapons and charged toward the Ming Cult’s shelter with loud shouting and cursing.

Shuo Bude pulled open the sack’s mouth and said with a laugh, “Just return to your seats nicely and sit down quietly. After the meeting is over, I will let him go. If you are not obedient, the old monk will urinate into this cloth sack, or put some dung inside, or the best I can do is farting into the sack. Do you believe me or not?” As he said that, he put his hand onto his belt, as if he was ready to take his pants off.

These dozen or so people were so angry that their faces turned green and yellow, but remembering that these Ming Cult people would not stop at anything, they believed that he would do what he said he would do. They also realized that their skills were insufficient to help Xia Zhou. If this bald thief really urinated on his head, Xia Lao Yingxiong would certainly kill himself. They looked at each other, and then they returned to their seats with a dejected look on their faces.

Watching this affair, the crowd of heroes was startled and amused at the same time. When they went up the mountain, they were in high spirits, thinking that they were going to witness the execution of Xie Xun. But as they saw the skills of these two Ming Cult warriors, they realized that this assembly could turn dangerous. Even if they were successful in killing Xie Xun, the field would unavoidably be soaked with blood, and corpses would be scattered everywhere. They could not restrain trepidation from creeping into their hearts.

They saw Situ Qianzhong, with a wine cup in his left hand and a wine gourd in his right, walk toward the center of the field while shaking his head. “There is indeed a lively event worthy to be watched today,” he said, “Some want to kill Xie Xun, some want to save him. But after going back and forth, whether Xie Xun is really at the Shaolin Temple or not, is still left to our own speculation. I’ll say: Kong Zhi Dashi, why don’t you invite Jin Mao Shi Wang to come out so that everybody can see him first. And then, those of want to kill and those who want to save, can show their true ability by competing against each other. Don’t you think it will be interesting?”

At his words, most of the warriors around the field applauded and cheered loudly. Yang Xiao thought, “Xie Shi Wang [lion king Xie] has too many enemies. Even with Ming Cult and the Beggar Clan’s combined forces, we simply cannot fight the heroes from all over the world. It will be better to divert their attention to the Tulong Saber and stir up these warriors to fight each other.” Thereupon with a loud and clear voice he said, “All the warriors under the heavens are gathered here at the Shaolin Temple today, first, to settle the unfinished business of gratitude and grudges with Xie Shi Wang; second … hey hey! I am afraid everybody wants to get their hands on this treasured Tulong Saber. If we follow Mr. Situ’s suggestion, everybody will fight everybody else and then after when all is said and done, I wonder who will get the precious Saber?”

As the crowd heard him, they thought he was speaking reasonably. Besides, among these several thousand people, perhaps only a little over a hundred people who truly had intense and deep-hatred toward Xie Xun. Without realizing it, their hearts were beating faster as soon as they thought about the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wulin zhi zun], four characters.

A black-bearded old man stood up and said, “I wonder what kind of person is in possession of the Tulong Saber, would Yang Zuo Shi inform us?”

“This matter is also unclear to me,” Yang Xiao replied, “I am afraid we must consult Kong Zhi Chanshi [honorific title for a Buddhist monk].”

Kong Zhi shook his head without saying anything. The crowd of heroes was secretly dissatisfied, they all thought, “Shaolin Pai is the host and initiator of this assembly, but Kong Wen Fangzhang is suddenly ill and cannot come out; this Kong Zhi Chanshi is so lethargic that it looks like he is half dead. I wonder what kind of trick they are playing.”

A middle-aged man in dark-green coarse long robe stood up and said, “Although Kong Zhi Chanshi does not know, Xie Shi Wang certainly does. Let us invite him to come out and inquire of him. Afterwards, each one of us can play around with our true skills. Whose martial art skill is number one under the heavens will be clear to us; naturally, he is worthy to bear the ‘wulin zhi zun’ title. No matter in whose hands the Saber is, he should hand it over to the ‘wulin zhi zun’. If you ask me, I’ll say we must agree to this first to avoid any dispute in the future. If he refuses to hand it over, all the heroes under the heavens will rally together to attack him. Gentlemen, what do you think?”

Zhang Wuji recognized the speaker as one of the three Qinghai Pai sword masters who joined the attack to the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan the other night.

Situ Qianzhong said, “Won’t that be a martial art competition? [orig. da2 lei4 tai2 – beating drum on the platform; as martial art competition on those days was usually held on a raised platform, with people beating drums on the side] I think it is completely inappropriate.”

“Any why not?” that man in the dark-green robe coldly asked, “Are you saying that we should not compete in a martial art, but compete on liquor capacity? If that’s the case, then which thousand bells [Situ Qianzhong means Situ (surname) ‘thousand bells’] is not drunk, whoever gets drunk but does not die [Situ Qianzhong’s title was ‘zui bu si’ (drunk but did not die)], will be crowned the ‘wulin zhi zun’.”

The crowd broke up in laughter. Some in the crowd said with a strange voice, “Why do we have to compete then? This ‘wulin zhi zun’ title would certainly belong to the ‘zui bu si’, Mr. Situ!”

Situ Qianzhong tipped his wine gourd to pour a cup of wine, and then tilting his head backwards he drank it in one gulp. “I don’t dare, I don’t dare!” he said earnestly, “To win the title ‘jiu lin zhi zun’ [the most revered in the wine world], I, ‘zui bu si’ might have a thirty percent chance; but ‘wulin zhi zun’, ha ha .. I don’t dare to accept the challenge; I don’t dare ...” To the man in the dark-green robe he said, “Since Sire has raised this issue, your martial art knowledge must have transcended the mortal world attainment. Under my faulty vision, I actually do not know Sire’s illustrious name.”

That man coldly said, “I am Ye Changqing of Qinghai Pai; both my drinking capacity and my clowning skills are inferior to Sire’s.” He implied that ‘in martial art skill, I am much stronger than Sire.’

Situ Qianzhong tilted his head sideways and thought for half a day. “Qinghai Pai?” he said, “Never heard. Ye Changqing? Hm, hm … never heard either.”

Everybody thought, “This Old Situ has such a nerve. Insulting Ye Changqing one man is all right, but he dares to insult the entire Qingjai Pai; wonder if he has a formidable backer behind him? Or did he have an unresolved enmity against Qinghai Pai? Just based on these few words, I am afraid Qinghai Pai would not let him go easily.” Only those who knew Situ Qianzhong well realized that he was always alone, without anybody to back him up. He also did not have any enmity against the Qinghai Pai. He simply was a brassy man, who loved to argue and did not exercise control over his own tongue. Although he had suffered countless troubles in his life, his behavior did not change.

Murderous intent started to grow in Ye Changqing’s heart, but his face remained calm when he said, “Qinghai Pai and the Ol’ Ye are indeed obscure names, no wonder Sire did not know. But since Sire said martial art competition was inappropriate, while in drinking wine [orig. ‘pouring yellow soup’] competition Sire’s skill is unequalled under the heavens, then how would we resolve this problem? Please advice.”

“ ‘Unequalled under the heavens’ is truly much easier said than done,” Situ Qianzhong said, “Truly much easier said than done. Back then, when I was at Jinan Prefecture [capital of Shandong, northeastern China] …”

“Zui Bu Si,” he was about to prattle along when someone in the crowd shouted, “Don’t get drunk in here! We don’t have time to listen to your nonsense.” Another man shouted, “What about Xie Xun? What about the Tulong Saber?” Yet another man shouted, “Kong Zhi Chanshi, you are the host of this hero’s assembly, are you inviting us here to listen to this empty talk? What kind of assembly is this?” In short, the people wanted Situ Qianzhong to shut up, and for Kong Zhi to take charge of the situation. These people were shouting from among the crowd, some far, some near, they were from all directions.

Situ Qianzhong said, “Shi Laoda [old (big) man Shi] from Jiangling [a place in Hubei] prefecture’s Hei Feng Zhai [black wind fort], you don’t have to worry. Although your Hei Sha Zhang [black sand palm] is fierce, you will not necessarily able to defeat the ‘Unequalled under the heavens’. Poyang Lake’s ‘shui di jin ao’ [mythological golden turtle from the bottom of Poyang Lake] Hou Xiongdi [brother Hou], that Xie Shi Wang [lion king Xie] possesses an excellent water skill; you won’t be able to take advantage of him with your underwater skill. Much less they still have one ‘Zi Shan Long Wang’ [purple-robed dragon king] who has not made her appearance yet. Hey, hey, how can turtle and fish compete against the dragon king? Mount Qingyang’s [a place in Anhui] Wu San Lang [third lad surnamed Wu], if you are dreaming of snatching the Tulong Saber with your sword, you must be blind …”

This man might talk like a madman, but he had a skill that surpassed others; his network of acquaintances was broad, his hearing was keen. From a bustling and random noise of the people shouting, he was able to call the surname and special skill of each speaker, one by one, without any mistake. The crowd of warriors realized this special skill of his; they could not help but break out in cheers.

An old monk behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “Shaolin Pai is ashamed to be the host; as luck would have it, our Fangzhang [Abbot] has suddenly fallen ill. Nobody is in charge of this grand assembly, and in the end we become the laughingstock of everybody present. Xie Xun and the Tulong Saber are two separate matters, but they are two in one and one in two, which can be handled together. According to Lao Na, what this Ye Shizhu [benefactor] of Qinghai Pai said is very reasonable. There are countless brave people with outstanding ability among the attending heroes. We only need everybody to demonstrate each one’s skill. Whoever stays standing at the end will have the right to handle Xie Xun; the Tulong Saber will also be his. Let the heroes consider; isn’t it a good idea?” Zhang Wuji asked Peng Yingyu, “Who is this monk?”

Peng Yingyu shook his head. “Subordinate does not know,” he said, “This monk did not participate in the besieging of the Brightness Peak. He also was not one of those held captive by Junzhu Niangniang at the Wanan Temple. But since he repeatedly speaks in front of Kong Zhi Dashi, his position in the Temple must not be low.”

Zhao Min said in a low voice, “Nine out of ten, this man belongs to Yuan Zhen gang. I am guessing that Kong Wen Fangzhang has fallen into Yuan Zhen’s hands. Kong Zhi Dashi thereupon is forced to comply with these rebels’ wish. That’s why he looks so gloomy and dispirited.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart sank; “Peng Dashi, what do you think?” he asked.

“Junzhu’s guess makes sense,” Peng Yingyu replied, “Only Shaolin Temple is full of martial art masters. Yuan Zhen’s his nerves must be too big to have the courage to openly defy his superior and create trouble.”

“Yuan Zhen has made preparations long time ago,” Zhang Wuji said, “First, he wants to destroy our Cult; second, he wants to gain control over the Beggar Clan. Both deceitful attempts failed when success was just in sight. This time, I believe he wants to be the Shaolin Pai’s Zhang Men Fangzhang [sect leader, abbot].”

“To be Zhang Men Fangzhang might not be enough,” Zhao Min said.

“Shaolin Pai is the number one Sect in the Wulin world,” Zhang Wuji said, “Being the Zhang Men Fangzhang is the pinnacle of achievement; nothing can be higher than that.”

“How about ‘wulin zhi zun’?” Zhao Min asked, “Isn’t ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’ higher than Shaolin Pai’s Zhang Men Fangzhang?” “He wants to be the ‘wulin zhi zun’?” Zhang Wuji asked absentmindedly.

“Wuji Gege,” Zhao Min said, “Just because Zhou Jiejie [elder sister] married another man, you become muddle-headed, and cannot think about anything else clearly.”

As the secret of his heart was exposed, Zhang Wuji blushed. “Zhang Wuji,” he silently scolded himself, “You must not be engrossed in one thing and care about man-woman relationship only, and thus setting the important matter of rescuing Yifu aside.” Calming himself down, he thought about how Yuan Zhen was really farsighted; today’s great assembly was part of his grand schemes, so there must be something greater than what meets the eye. “Min Mei,” he said, “What do you think Yuan Zhen’s real intention is?”

Zhao Min said, “This man Yuan Zhen is very cunning; extremely intelligent

…”

Zhou Dian, who had been listening on the side this conversation in low voice, finally could not restrain himself from cut in, “Junzhu Niangniang, you are also very cunning and extremely intelligent. I’ll say you are not the least bit inferior to Yuan Zhen.”

Zhao Min laughed, “You flatter me too much,” she said. Zhou Dian said, “Not too much …”

“Dian Xiong,” Peng Yingyu cut him off, “Do not interrupt Junzhu Niangniang.”

Zhou Dian was indignant. “You interrupted me first …” he said.

Peng Yingyu smiled without saying anything. He was well aware that bickering with Zhou Dian for two to four hours [orig. one or two ‘sichen’, 1 sichen = 2-hour] was not unusual; therefore, he would rather not respond.

“Why don’t you say anything?” Zhou Dian asked. “You told me not to interrupt you; I won’t interrupt you,” Peng Yingyu replied.

“But you have already interrupted me,” Zhou Dian said.

“Then please continue whatever you were going to say,” Peng Yingyu said.

“I’ve forgotten already, I don’t remember what I was going to say,” Zhou Dian said.

Zhao Min laughed and continued, “I thought that if Yuan Zhen’s sole objective was to be Shaolin Temple Abbot, he did not need to gather all the heroes under the heavens here. Xia Daxia has already fallen into his hands, why would he want the heroes to fight over him? Wuji Gege, speaking about martial art skill, I am afraid nobody in the world is superior to you. It’s impossible that Yuan Zhen did not know this fact. I don’t think he is being nice by arranging all heroes under the heavens to gather here so that you can defeat them all and become the ‘wulin zhi zun’. It is like he is offering Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber to you for free.”

Zhang Wuji, Peng Yingyu and Zhou Dian nodded and asked, “What do you think is his real plot?”

At this time Yang Xiao walked over toward Zhang Wuji and joined the discussion, “I have been thinking, this traitor Yuan Zhen’s evil scheme must not be a simple one …”

Zhou Dian could not bear not to comment, “Yuan Zhen is our Cult’s archenemy. Junzhu Niangniang, you were once also our Cult’s archenemy. This traitor Yuan Zhen is very cunning and extremely intelligent, Junzhu Niangniang, you are also very cunning and extremely intelligent. I say the two of you are on par with each other.”

“You are talking rubbish!” Yang Xiao scolded him. With a faint smile Zhao Min continued, “What Mr. Zhou said makes sense. If I were Yuan Zhen, how would I carry out my conspiracy? Mmm … first, I would persuade Kong Wen Fangzhang to send out mass invitation to all heroes under the heavens, requesting them to come to Shaolin Temple. Kong Wen Fangzhang is a devout Buddhist; a person of mercy and peace. Naturally, he did not want to be meddlesome in other people’s business; but all I need to do is mention the names of Kong Jian and Kong Xing, two Shen Seng. Kong Wen Fangzhang loves his martial brothers very much, so, he gave his permission. Furthermore, if Shaolin Temple wanted to kill Xie Daxia, the enmity with the Ming Cult would be as deep as the ocean. Based on one Sect’s power alone, Shaolin might not necessarily be able to resist Ming Cult’s full-force attack; but if Shaolin shifted the blame to the heroes from all over the world, certainly the Ming Cult could not massacre several thousand attending warriors, could it?”

Everybody nodded their heads in agreement. Zhao Min continued, “Once the great assembly is in progress, I would not show my own face; I’ll let others use Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber as a bait to provoke the heroes and warriors to kill each other. Inevitably, The Ming Cult would have to fight countless enemies. After the battle is over, it doesn’t matter who win or lose, the Ming Cult force would be decreased by half and its power would diminish considerably.”

“Exactly,” Zhang Wuji said, “I have had the same concern, but Yifu’s kindness to me was as heavy as the mountain. He also has dozens of years of friendship with our brethrens. How can we sit down without trying to save him? Ay, we have been on this mountain only for several days, Grandfather had already died. That traitor Yuan Zhen must be clapping and cheering in his hiding place.”

Zhao Min continued, “At the end of the battle, most likely Zhang Jiaozhu will be crowned the number one martial artist; so the Shaolin monks would say, ‘Zhang Jiaozhu’s skill surpasses all the heroes. You are worthy of the honor and the accolades. Our Temple sincerely hands over Xie Daxia to Zhang Jiaozhu. Would Zhang Jiaozhu please go to the hill peak behind the Temple to welcome him?’ Thereupon everybody would climb the peak together; Zhang Jiaozhu must break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’. If anybody stepped forward to assist him, Yuan Zhen’s crony would say, ‘The one defeating all the warriors was Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult; it has nothing to do with anybody else. It would be better for Sire to stand on the side and watch.’ In his effort to win the title of number one martial artist in the world, even if Zhang Jiaozhu did not suffer any injury, his internal energy would be consumed I don’t know how much; by that time, how can he be the three monks’ match? In the end, not only Xie Daxia could not be rescued, he would die among the three green pines instead. Only the cold moon and the bitter wind would accompany the body of the great hero of this generation, Zhang Wuji. Tell me, isn’t my scheme wonderful?”

Listening to this point, the group of warriors’ countenances changed; they believed Zhao Min’s words were not meant to frighten anybody. Zhang Wuji’s courage and uprightness was outstanding; he would not care how much suffering and calamity he had to endure, he would definitely try to rescue Xie Xun. Even if he had to lose his life, he would never regret his decision. Yuan Zhen had accurately seen these traits on Zhang Wuji; he knew that Zhang Wuji would jump into a mountain of blades or pot of oil.

Zhao Min sighed and said, “This way, the Ming Cult’s demise is guaranteed. Yuan Zhen would carry out his evil plot further. He would poison Kong Wen, and put the blame on Kong Zhi Dashi. This scheme would be very easy to do, he would only need to fabricate false evidence, and the Shaolin monks would believe him. Consequently, his cronies would unanimously recommend him as the logical candidate to take over Fangzhang position. He, Senior, would issue a decree for the warriors to besiege the Ming Cult. Relying on numbers to achieve victory, he would annihilate the Ming Cult. At that time, the title number one martial artist in the world, I am afraid other people would be unable to take it away from him. If Tulong Saber did not appear, so be it. But if in the Jianghu the trail of this precious Saber reappeared, everybody would know that the rightful owner of this Saber would be the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Yuan Zhen Shen Seng. If the owner of the Saber was unwilling to hand this Saber away, I am afraid he would be in a precarious position!” Although Zhao Min was speaking in a low voice, several people in the wooden shelter were intently listening to her. As she finished speaking, Zhou Dian slapped his own thigh and called out, “Exactly, exactly! What an excellent evil plan!” Unconsciously, his voice grew loud that most of the people around the field heard him. Everybody turned their eyes toward the Ming Cult’s shelter.

“What kind of excellent evil plan?” Situ Qianzhong asked, “Can you tell it to this old man?”

“Definitely not!” Zhou Dian said, “The Old Man [referring to himself] wants to sow dissension so that the heroes from all over the world would kill each other, to the point that you die, I live. If I tell you, won’t the evil plan lose its effectiveness?”

“Wonderful, wonderful!” Situ Qianzhong laughed, “But how are you going to sow dissension? Would you elaborate?”

Zhou Dian loudly said, “I am thinking of an ingenious evil plan; I would tell a lie by saying that the Old Man has the Tulong Saber in his possession. Whoever possesses the strongest martial art, the Old Man would hand over the Tulong Saber to him …”

“What a plan! What a conspiracy!” Situ Qianzhong called out, “And then what?”

Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji exchanged a glance, they both thought, “This drunkard is neither our relative nor our friend, but he is a great help to us.”

Zhou Dian loudly said, “Just think, this precious Saber is known as the ‘wulin zhi zun’; who won’t fight with his all might to get hold of it? Thereupon, the lunatic would be killed by the drunkard, the drunkard would be killed by the monk, the monk would be killed by the priest, the priest would be killed by the young lady … the killing would continue, the field would be littered with dead bodies, blood would flow like a river. Woohoo! What a pity! What an awful sight!” As soon as the crowd of heroes heard him, they shivered in fear; thinking that although this man acted like a lunatic, his words actually made a perfect sense. Kongtong Pai’s Er Lao [second elder] Zong Weixia stood up and said, “This gentleman, Mr. Zhou, actually has a point. We are honest and upright people, we do not speak in riddles; it is unavoidable that every school and every sect has an interest in the Tulong Saber. However, I think it is not worthwhile to lose our reputation just for the sake of the Saber, or even go as far as the destruction of the entire sect. I wish everybody will not bicker over it, to honor our martial art code of brotherhood, to the point that our friendship will not be harmed regardless of victory or defeat. What do you think?”

At the Brightness Peak, Zhang Wuji had shown him kindness by healing his internal injury due to the ‘Qi Shang Quan’ [seven-injury fist] training. Afterwards, Zhang Wuji also saved him from the Wan An Temple Pagoda. This time Kongtong Pai came to Shaolin Temple with the intention of providing assistance to the Ming Cult.

Situ Qianzhong said with a laugh, “I see you are a big fellow, but you are afraid of death. If nobody spills any blood and nobody loses his life, the martial art contest will not be worth seeing.”

Kongtong Pai’s Si Lao [fourth elder], Chang Jingzhi angrily said, “To hurt a drunkard like you, I don’t need to spill your blood.”

“The drunkard is only joking,” Situ Qianzhong said, “Why should Mr. Chang the Fourth be this angry? Everybody knows Kongtong Pai’s Qi Shang Quan can kill anybody without spilling any blood. Didn’t Kong Jian Shen Seng of Shaolin Temple die under the Qi Shang Quan? How can my old bones, the drunkard surnamed Situ, be compared to Kong Jian Shen Seng?”

The crowd of heroes thought, “This drunkard is offending both the Kongtong Pai and Shaolin Pai. It’s a wonder that he can survive this long roaming in the Jianghu the way he is.”

Zong Weixia ignored his remarks and said in a loud voice, “In my opinion, each school, sect, clan or society is to nominate two of their masters. These masters will compete in martial art skill, and whoever has the highest martial art skill will have the right to handle Xie Daxia and the Tulong Saber.”

The crowd of heroes applauded loudly; they all said that this is the best proposal ever.

Zhang Wuji carefully looked at the monks behind Kong Zhi; most of them frowned, as if they were displeased with this turn of events. He knew Zhao Min’s speculation on Yuan Zhen’s evil plot was correct; he indeed wanted to provoke the crowd of heroes to kill each other.

A white faced middle-aged man with little moustache stood up; his hand waved a folding fan with golden spine, his face was rather good-looking. He said, “I believe Zong Er Xia’s [second hero Zong] proposal is very good. When we compete in martial art, although we will stop at touching the opponent, we must remember that weapons, fists and legs do not have eyes. If anybody slips, that can be considered a fate. Martial brothers and friends shall not come out to seek revenge. Otherwise, the fight will continue without conclusion.”

“That’s right,” the crowd of heroes replied, “Let it be so.”

With a shrill voice Situ Qianzhong said, “This brother, the good-looking gentleman with laughter in his speech, could you be Ouyang Xiongtai [‘xiongtai’ is yet another way of saying ‘brother’] of Hengyang prefecture in Xiang Nan [southern Hunan]?”

That man shook his folding fan twice and laughed. “I do not dare. Such a humble name,” he said, “You flattered me in one sentence and insulted with me the next.”

Situ Qianzhong said, “It seems like Ouyang Xiong and I are loners [orig. ‘gu1hun2ye3gui’ – lonely soul, wild ghost]; we do not belong to any clan, society, school or sect. I like wine, you like women. How about the two of us found the ‘jiu se pai’ [wine and sex sect, or drunkard and lecher sect]? Then our Jiuse Pai’s two masters will stand hand in hand to face the world’s masters together.”

The crowd of heroes broke out in laughter again, thinking that this Situ Qianzhong repeatedly blurting jokes, creating happy atmosphere, inciting not a few laughter around the meeting place; and thus reducing the hostility inside the hearts of many people.

Peng Yingyu informed Zhang Wuji that this white-faced man was Ouyang Muzhi, altogether, he had twelve concubines. Although his martial art was strong, very seldom did he roam around the Jianghu. He spent his days snuggling with his women, enjoying the soft and tender happiness.

Ouyang Muzhi laughed and said, “If we join hands to found a sect, I am afraid my family heritage will not be enough to buy you the wine. Ladies and Gentlemen, speaking of martial art competition, we may want to elect several venerable seniors to act as referees and arbitrators. Otherwise, you say ‘I win’, and I say ‘I win’, and thus the dispute continues.”

Situ Qianzhong laughed, “Won’t we know it if we win or we lose? Who would be as shameless as you are?”

Zong Weixia said, “Electing several arbitrators is good. Shaolin Pai is the host, naturally Kong Zhi Dashi will be one.”

Situ Qianzhong pointed his finger to Shou Bude’s sack and said, “I nominate Shandong Daxia [great hero of Shandong], Xia Zhou, Xia Lao Yingxiong.”

Shuo Bude lifted up his sack and tossed it toward Situ Qianzhong. “One arbitrator coming up!” he said with a laugh.

Situ Qianzhong put down his wine gourd and wine cup. Carrying the cloth sack, he tried to loosen up the cord tied around the sack mouth. Unexpectedly, the knot and the thread were the result of Shou Bude’s special skill; the thread was braided from golden silk and fish bladder strands. Situ Qianzhong struggled with all his might, but was unable to untie the knot. Shuo Bude laughed out loud and leaped forward. His left hand picked the sack and slung it behind his back. His right hand reached up, his ten fingers twisted and turned; then he heaved the sack to the front again. After heaving the sack back and forth, the knot on the sack mouth was loosened. Turning the sack over and shaking it, Xia Zhou rolled out the sack. Situ Qianzhong hastily reached out to unseal Xia Zhou’s acupoint.

After being kept inside the dark cloth sack for half a day and now suddenly he was let out, Xia Zhou found the bright sunlight dazzled his eyes. And then he realized that thousands pairs of eyes were looking at him. He could not bear the shame and wanted to die. Turning around, he pulled the dagger on his waist and stabbed it into the pit of his own stomach.

Situ Qianzhong quickly reached out to grab him with both hands and laughed while saying, “Victory and defeat is common within the martial art practitioners. Xia Dage, why is your heart so dull?”

From among the crowd, a short and plump man shouted loudly, “I am afraid the hero inside the cloth sack is not qualified to be an arbitrator. I nominate Sun Laoyezi [old master Sun] of Mount Changbai.” A middle-aged woman also said, “Zhe Dong Shuang Yi’s [pair of righteous from eastern Zhejiang] prestige shakes the Jiangnan; these two brothers are upright and selfless. They are perfect candidates for the arbitrators.” From here and there the crowd of heroes shouted names and very quick there were more than a dozen arbitrators; all were prestigious and respectable heroes of the Jianghu.

Suddenly from within the Emei Pai crowd an old nun coldly said, “What’s the use of electing arbitrators? There is no need of them from the start.” Her voice was not loud at all, but it went straight into everybody’d eardrums. Apparently her internal energy cultivation was quite deep.

Situ Qianzhong laughed. “I beg Shitai’s pardon; why don’t we need arbitrators?” he asked.

The old nun replied, “Two people fight, the victor lives, the loser dies. Let Yanwu Ye [the ruler of the netherworld] be the arbitrator.” Listening to these cold and cruel words, everybody felt chill creeping up their backs.

Situ Qianzhong said, “We are friends in the martial art world, we also do not have any grudges or enmity against each other; why should we fight a live and death battle against each other? Those who left their homes should practice mercy. By saying those words, isn’t Shitai afraid of Buddha’s rebuke?”

The old nun coldly replied, “You can talk nonsense in front of other people, but you should watch your manners in front of Emei Pai disciples.”

Situ Qianzhong raised his wine gourd and poured a cup. ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk! What a fierce Emei Pai!” he said, “There is a saying that a good man would not fight a woman, good drunkard would not fight a nun!” Raising his hand, the cup was just about to touch his lips when suddenly two ‘whiz! whiz!’ noise split the air, as two tiny objects, as small as a prayer bead, were shot. One flew toward the wine cup, the other flew toward the wine gourd. These two projectiles were immediately followed by another one, aimed at Situ Qianzhong’s chest.

‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ three loud explosions were heard successively, as the three prayer beads exploded. The gourd and the wine cup were smashed at once, while a large hole appeared on Situ Qianzhong’s chest. He was thrown several ‘zhang’s backward from the explosion, while his clothes were burning.

Xia Zhou immediately rushed forward, but Situ Qianzhong had already died, with a frozen smile on his face. Apparently, because the prayer beads were coming and exploding so fast, he did not even realize that death was at the door. It was just like a sudden thunder in a clear blue sky. There were plenty of experienced warriors with vast knowledge among the crowd, yet nobody had ever seen this kind of fast and deadly secret projectile.

“The nun is serious!” Zhou Dian called out, “What kind of secret projectile was that?”

In low voice Yang Xiao said, “I heard there is a big country in the western region where someone is perfecting technique to manufacture gunpowder into some kind of secret projectiles. It is called ‘pi li lei huo dan’ [Translator’s note: ‘pi li’ – thunderbolt, ‘lei’ is also thunder, ‘huo’ – fire, ‘dan’ bullet. Shall we call it ‘thunderbolt bullet’ for short? Actually, it was closer to modern day grenade, but the original says it was a ‘bullet’]. The gunpowder is concealed inside, and it is shot out using a powerful spring mechanism. It seems to me this old nun is using that fellow’s invention.”

Carrying Situ Qianzhong’s black burning body, Xia Zhou said in loud voice, “Although this Situ Xiongdi often said harsh and sometimes mean words, it was because he loved to fool around, his character was actually kind. He had never harmed anybody nor committed any dishonorable acts in his life. Today, the heroes from all over the world are gathered here, which one of you can say that he had done any evil conduct?”

The crowd of heroes was completely silent. Xia Zhou pointed his finger toward the old nun and angrily said, “Emei Pai has always been known as upright and chivalrous school; who would have thought that they are capable of using such an evil and ruthless secret projectile? Even the strong in the Wulin world will not overstep the ‘appropriateness’ of character. [orig. ‘li’ – reason, logic, truth] May I know Shitai’s title?”

The old nun replied, “I am called Jing Jia. The ‘hero inside the sack’, what do you want by talking and gesticulating like that?”

Xia Zhou mournfully said, “The one surnamed Xia’s skill is inadequate, thus falling miserably under the Ming Cult’s devil head’s insult. That was the surnamed Xia’s own weakness; yet I did not damage my lifelong reputation of the way of chivalry. Jing Jia Shitai, you are this vicious; aren’t you doing a great disservice to your precious sect’s founder, Guo Xiang, Gu Nuxia [heroine Guo]?”

Hearing him bring up the venerated name of their founder, the Emei disciples sprang up on their feet. Jing Jia’s eyebrows rose up. “Can a bastard like you casually mention our founder’s revered name?” she roared.

“You have disgraced your founder’s revered name by doing many unrighteous acts,” Xia Zhou retorted, “Not to mention Guo Nuxia, even Miejue Shitai, when she was alive, she was cruel and merciless but her sword had never taken innocent people’s lives. You have killed an innocent man like this and your Zhangmen [sect leader] surprisingly did not care. Hey, hey, after today, can Emei Pai take its stand in the Jianghu?”

“If you carry on talking half a sentence more of those nonsense talk, this drunkard will be your example,” Jiang Jia said.

Xia Zhou’s anger welled up in his chest, he courageously took two big strides forward and said, “If the Emei Pai Zhangmen will not clean up her own school, Emei Pai will be held in contempt by the world’s heroes from now on.”

The crowd of warriors, as well as the Emei Pai disciples, turned their gaze toward Zhou Zhiruo. They saw her nodding slowly to Jing Jia. ‘Bang! Bang!’ two loud explosions followed as Jing Jia shot out two ‘thunderbolt bullets’. Two large holes appeared on Xia Zhou’s chest and lower abdomen; his clothes were burning. But in his unyielding spirit, although his breathing had ceased, he was still standing, with his arms still around Situ Qianzhong’s body.

The crowd of heroes looked at each other in utter shock. After a moment, several hundred people raised a clamor, condemning Emei Pai’s ruthlessness. Wei Yixiao and Shuo Bude exchanged a glance, nodded at each other, and then rushed toward Xia Zhou’s remains. They knelt down in front of the corpse.

“Xia Lao Yingxiong,” Shuo Bude said, “The two of us did not know your chivalry and uprightness, and thus have offended you much. We are very ashamed of our conducts.” They both raised their palms and then ‘slap, slap, slap, slap’ they slapped their own faces that their cheeks turned red and swollen immediately. They extinguished the fire still burning on the two corpses, and then carried the bodies into Ming Cult’s wooden shelter.

Zhang Wuji was deeply grieved seeing Zhou Zhiruo suddenly become so cruel and heartless.

Amidst the clamor of the crowd, Zhou Zhiruo was seen whispering into Song Qingshu’s ear. Song Qingshu nodded, and then in deliberate steps he walked toward the center of the field. In a loud and clear voice he said, “The heroes and warriors assembled here today, not to drink wine and discuss poetry, to play the zither, beat the drum or pluck the harp; nor do we come here to compose a poem by each one contributing a line. This is the place where we clash our weapons, our fists and feet. That being the case, most likely there will be casualties. This Xia Lao Yingxiong had just said that in all his life, Mr. Situ had never done anything evil, and blamed our Sect’s Jing Jia Shitai for indiscriminately killed an innocent. The honorable heroes raised up a clamor, seemingly discontent of our Sect. Xiongdi [brother, referring to self] wants to ask something: do we have to verify moral character and virtuosity of each other first before we contend in martial art today? A sage or a saint must never, ever be harmed; while the poor, ominous, extremely evil people can be killed at will?” The crowd was taken aback and was at a loss momentarily; they thought that what he said was not totally without any reason.

Song Qingshu continued, “If we say that only a virtuous person can own the Tulong Saber, why should we hold a ‘martial art competition’? Why don’t we all go visit the Confucius temple inside the great city of Qufu in Shandong, and respectfully present the Saber to Confucius’ descendant over there? If we are still speaking about this ‘wu’ [martial art] character, then what we concern about most is life or death, victory or defeat. I am afraid we won’t be able to deal with other people’s ‘innocence’ or ‘guilt’.”

“That’s right,” several people responded from among the crowd, “Saber and spear do not have eyes. We have agreed that we must not seek revenge.” The more they listened to Song Qingshu, the more Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting felt that this person’s accent was somewhat familiar. However, with the short beard, this man looked different; besides, he kept saying ‘our sect this’ and ‘our sect that’. Consequently, he must be an Emei Pai male disciple. Therefore, they could not help but feeling doubtful.

Yu Lianzhou stood up and said, “May I know Sire’s honorable surname and great given name?”

Seeing his Er Shishu [second martial (younger) uncle], Song Qingshu was rather afraid of Yu Lianzhou’s longstanding prestige; he stammered for a while before answering, “I am a nameless younger generation, not worth Yu Er Xia’s [second hero Yu] inquiry.”

In stern voice Yu Lianzhou said, “Sire did not stop talking about ‘martial art competition’. I presume your martial art study must have reached excellence. My Shifu had received great kindness from your precious sect’s Guo Nuxia in his childhood; thereupon he instructed Wudang disciples not to fight with Emei Pai. I [orig. zai4xia4] must understand clearly, whether Sire is truly Emei disciple or not. What is your name? Real men should be straightforward and upright; why would you conceal your own identity?”

Brushing away the dust from her clothes, Zhou Zhiruo said, “Yu Er Xia, I don’t have to conceal anything from you. This man is my husband; surname Song, given name Qingshu. He was related to Wudang, but this time he has entered the Emei’s school. If Yu Er Xia has anything to say, you can tell it to me.”

She spoke those words with a clear, but cold voice, as cold as a torrential river and frozen ice. Her manner and movements were as exquisite as a jade, her countenance was clear and beautiful; indeed she looked like an immortal rising from among the dust. There were thousands of heroes around the field, yet nobody made any noise, they all held their breath, trying to listen with full attention. Song Qingshu reached up to rub his face, peeling the short beard from his chin and taking his hat off; immediately he emerged as a young man as handsome as a jade crown.

As the crowd of heroes saw him, they could not restrain from praising in their hearts, “What a beautiful pair of immortals!”

Remembering Song Qingshu’s offense in killing his Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] Mo Shenggu, anger rose up in Yu Lianzhou’s breast. However, his character had always been calm; in the last few years, the older he got, the deeper was his self-control. Although he was furious, he managed to keep a calm face; only his eyes flickered like lightning, sweeping Song Qingshu’s face.

Song Qingshu hung his head down in shame. Zhou Zhiruo said, “My husband has left Wudang and joined Emei. Hereby I am making it official today in the presence of these world’s heroes. Yu Er Xia, Zhang Zhenren does not allow Wudang disciples to fight our Sect’s disciples for the sake of friendship of the former days. It shows the Senior’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty, code of brotherhood]; but it might also show how smart the Senior is in preserving Wudang’s prestige.”

Yin Liting could not hold his patience much longer; leaping forward, he pointed his finger toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “Miss Zhou, when you faced calamity in your childhood, it was my Shifu who held out his hands to save you, and brought you to the Emei Pai. My Shifu has never wished for you to repay his kindness, yet in what you’ve just said today, you obviously accuse our Wudang Pai of earning false reputation, of being far inferior to the heroines of Emei Pai. This … you … aren’t you doing my Shifu wrong?”

Zhou Zhiruo laughed indifferently and said, “Wudang’s heroes have shaken the Jianghu; obviously you have real ability. Song Daxia is my father-in-law. How can I dare to accuse my in-law of earning false reputation? However, Wudang and Emei two schools have their own history, each developed its own martial art; so it is difficult to say who is superior and who is inferior. In the past, our Sect’s Guo Shizu [ancestor, founder] has shown kindness toward Zhang Zhenren, later on, Zhang Zhenren has shown kindness to me. We are even. Nobody owes anybody kindness. Yu Er Xia, Yin Liu Xia, let us hereby discard the custom that says Wudang disciples must not fight Emei disciples.”

All around the field, the crowd of warriors under their wooden shelters talked among themselves in low voices, “This young Zhangmen is very arrogant; listening to her words, it sounded as if Emei Pai has a high confidence in exceeding the Wudang Pai. Yu Er Xia has reached the pinnacle in term of internal and external power. Extremely few people in the world today can be his match. Could it be that Emei Pai relies on the fierce and evil secret projectiles to dominate the Jianghu?”

Yin Liting was very emotional thinking about Qidi Mo Shenggu’s tragic death; tears flowing down on his face and he cried out, “Qingshu … Qingshu! You … why did you kill your … your Qishu [seventh (younger) martial uncle] …” As he said the word ‘Qishu’, suddenly he broke into a loud weeping.

The crowd of heroes was surprised; they looked at each other, thinking, “Wudang’s Yin Liu Xia has such a reputation, how can he cry in public?”

Yu Lianzhou stepped forward and pulled Yin Liting’s right arm. With a loud and clear voice he said, “The world’s heroes, please hear this: Wudang is very unfortunate to have a renegade disciple like this Song Qingshu. Our Qidi, Mo Shenggu, was killed by this disciple …”

Suddenly two ‘whiz! whiz!’ noise split the air. Again, two ‘thunderbolt bullets’ flew toward Yu Lianzhou’s chest.

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji called out in alarm and was about to rush forward to save his uncle; but the thunderbolt bullets were simply too fast; while listening to the conversation, he had never expected Emei Pai would to launch this kind of sneak attack, even if he could move faster, he would still be too late. This attack was actually also beyond Yu Lianzhou’s expectations; his first reaction was to evade, but the bullets would certainly hit the numerous Beggar Clan disciples standing behind him. He surmised that these bullets were meant to deal with him, to close his mouth so that he would not expose publicly Song Qingshu’s crime in offending his superior and rebelling against his own father. If he evaded, unavoidably, some innocents would be killed. In the split seconds this thought was flashing through his mind, the two thunderbolt bullets, one after another, had already arrived in front of his chest.

Yu Lianzhou turned his palms around in the ‘yun shou’ [cloudy hand] stance of the Taiji Fist. With the utmost ‘softness’, as if his palms were pressing empty air, he dissipated the incoming power with which the ‘thunderbolt bullets’ were shot, by lightly catching the bullets in the middle of his palms. He was seen standing with his arms outstretched in front of his chest, palms facing the sky, with the two thunderbolt bullets spinning with unfathomable speed in the middle of his palms. The crowd of heroes stood up at once, several thousand pairs of eyes stared at his hands. It was as if their hearts had stopped beating, extremely anxious to see whether these spinning bullets would explode at any moment.

This Taijiquan’s special skill of incorporating softness was the softest martial art skill in the world; it was called ‘a feather cannot add (to the weight), a fly cannot drop (the weight)’. The main principle was ‘sticking’ and ‘sucking’ [create a vacuum], using ‘bent’ to overcome ‘straight’, the ‘feeble geriatric to defend the crowd’, as well as ‘hero aiming for the invincibility’. [Translator’s note: I do not know Taiji, so the translation might be inaccurate.]

For the past several years, Yu Lianzhou had diligently and painstakingly trained hard in Zhang Sanfeng’s special skill. Seeing Situ Qianzhong and Xia Zhou lose their lives just now, he understood that these bullets would explode as soon as they contacted any hard object; the bullets were very difficult to be dealt with, and in this desperate situation, he had no choice but risking this skill, backed by his entire life’s cultivation of power. Sure enough, the soft was able to overcome the hard; the softness of his palms controlled the two thunderbolt bullets that they were spinning just like a drill trying to bore through a thick object, but did not explode.

Suddenly two other ‘whiz! whiz!’ noises were heard, Emei Pai shot two more thunderbolt bullets toward Yu Lianzhou. Yin Liting was standing next to his Shixiong; immediately both of his palms rose up to meet the thunderbolt bullets in the air. As soon as his palms made contact with the thunderbolt bullets, he executed the ‘lan qiao we shi’ [‘seizing a bird’s tail’ style] from Taijiquan, by gently catching the thunderbolt bullets, while with the ‘jin ji du li shi’ [‘golden rooster standing’ style], his left foot strongly grounded, his right foot in the air, his entire body spin fast, just like a top.

Yin Liting was very skilled in swordsmanship, but his mastery of Taijiquan was not as deep as his Shixiong’s. He saw that Yu Lianzhou was straining in catching the two thunderbolt bullets; he was completely aware that if there was the slightest bit of ‘hardness’ in the palms, the evil and ruthless secret projectiles would explode immediately. Therefore, he dissipated the shooting force by spinning his body and took the thunderbolt bullets spinning along in his palms.

In terms of martial art skill, Yin Liting’s way of dissipating the incoming force by catching them midair was slightly inferior compared to Yu Lianzhou using his palm power to neutralize the bullets; however, they way he spun his body rapidly was a lot more attractive. After he spun for more than thirty revolutions, all around the field the crowd broke into thunderous applause, while the thunderbolt bullets also failed to explode.

To everybody’s surprise, a series of ‘whiz! whiz!’ noises were heard again as eight thunderbolt bullets came their way. Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting shouted together and threw the thunderbolt bullets in their hands. Wudang disciples did not use secret projectiles, but they were trained in striking projectiles with projectiles. After catching the enemy’s secret projectile, they were able to return the projectile, one projectile striking two, two projectiles striking three. As these two shot the four thunderbolt bullets in their hands, the bullets struck the incoming eight enemy’s thunderbolt bullets. ‘Bang! Bang!’ In the field, the explosion was deafening, black smoke filled the air, and burning sulfur smells attacked everybody’s nostrils.

As soon as they shot the thunderbolt bullets, Yu and Yin two people immediately leaped more than ten ‘zhang’s back, to guard against the successive attacks of Emei Pai. If they were shot again and again, they knew that eventually they would not be able to stand.

There wasn’t anyone among the crowd of heroes who was not stunned to see that the thunderbolt bullets were this deadly. They thought that in the present age, other than these two Wudang Pai masters, perhaps not too many people would be able to escape these thunderbolt bullets. Those with superior ‘qing gong’ might be able to evade, but if the bullets were scattered with ‘man tian hua yu’ [blossoming rain filling the sky] technique, several thunderbolt bullets would collide with each other midair, as soon as these bullets exploded, they would not escape alive even if they were able to move faster.

A big and tall man in the Huashan Pai wooden shelter stood up; with a loud voice he said, “Will Emei Pai rely on numbers to achieve victory in this martial art competition?” This man was one of the Huashan Er Lao [two elders], who joined hands with He Taichong, husband and wife, to fight Zhang Wuji at the Brightness Peak.

Jing Jia of Emei Pai replied, “The study martial art has thousands of change and ten thousand of variations. Those who are strong, win. Those who are weak, lose. We are not pedantic intellectuals who always insist that everything should adhere to meticulous principles. Besides, in this world, there are not too many meticulous principles worth talking about.”

The crowd of heroes was astonished that although Emei Pai was dominated by women, they were actually persistently unreasonable; surprisingly more so than the men were. When the old master of Huashan was arguing with the women, he did not dare to walk close to the Emei Pai shelter; he stayed at his own shelter and argued from a distant, for fear that in their unparalleled aggressive spirit, the opposite party would shoot their thunderbolt bullets away. Zhang Wuji thought, “Zhiruo must have married Song Shige against her heart. Wasn’t she so kind and loving toward me when we were stranded on that desolate island over the sea? The two of us have pledged our undying love and taken an oath not to fail the other. The words are still ringing in our ears, how can we destroy our own oath? It’s all because I have done her wrong. On the day we were about to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, in the presence of guests filling the wedding hall, I fled with Min Mei. Zhiruo is a Zhangmen of a Sect; she is worth a thousand gold, and I have disgraced her that bad. Is it any wonder that she is that angry and full of resentments toward me? Today the Emei Pai is going against the tide, and it is all because of me.”

The more he thought, the more restless he was. Leaving his own wooden shelter, he walked toward the Emei Pai’s shelter. “Zhiruo, in everything, I have done you wrong,” he said to Zhou Zhiruo, “Song Shige has killed Mo Qishu; ultimately we must resolve this matter. I say, let Song Shige return to Wudang with Yu Erbo and Yin Liushu; let Song Dabo decide on how he has to pay for his crime.”

“Zhang Jiaozu,” Zhou Zhiruo coldly laughed, “At first I thought you were a real man, only a little bit muddle-headed; to my surprise, turns out that you are a lowly man. A real man will bear the consequences of what he has done. You have killed Mo Qi Xia; why do you put the blame on my husband’s head?”

Zhang Wuji was shocked. “You … you said I killed Mo Qishu?” he stammered, “I … how can there be such thing?”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “The murder of Mo Qi Xia was arranged under the scheming of the imperial household’s Ruyang Junzhu. Why don’t you tell her to come out and confront her directly in front of the world’s heroes?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Min Mei has offended the Six Major Sects. I am afraid she has more enemies than Yifu. How can I have her make an appearance here? Zhiruo deliberately brought this point up to put Min Mei and me in danger. Ay, a thousand errors, ten thousand blunders, I should have not left her on our wedding day.”

Biting his own lower lip, he turned around and walked away. Suddenly someone from the Emei Pai crowd shouted, “I am surprised that Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult is such a despicable coward. Seeing the fierceness of our thunderbolt bullet, he ran away with his tail between his legs.”

Zhang Wuji halted his steps, but did not turn his head. “I don’t need to see who was talking,” he mused, “Whatever insult the Emei Pai people hurl at me, I deserve the punishment.”

The jeering and mocking behind him was getting louder, yet Zhang Wuji ignored them all and walked straight to the Ming Cult’s wooden shelter.

Yang Xiao let out a cold laugh and said, “The thunderbolt bullet is such an insignificant thing; it’s not even worth mentioning. Since it was useless against Wudang’s Second Hero, it is also useless against Wudang’s direct descendant Zhang Jiaozhu. You, Emei Pai people, are boasting on your special apparatus. Let’s see what you can do against our Ming Cult’s special apparatus.”

As soon as he waved his left hand, a boy dressed in white came forward carrying a small wooden tray on his hands. There were more than a dozen small flags of five different colors inserted on the tray. Yang Xiao grabbed a white flag and tossed it to the center of the field. The flag fell down with its pole sticking out of the ground. The crowd of heroes could see that the flagpole was not even two feet long. The Ming Cult’s flaming fire insignia was embroidered on the flag. The crowd wondered what kind of a trick Yang Xiao was playing.

At this moment, someone behind Yang Xiao launched a rocket, which flew fast to the sky, and dispersed white smoke in the air.

Footsteps were heard as a team of Ming Cult disciples, with white cloths wrapped around their heads, rushed to the field. There were altogether five hundred men; they all bent their bows and ‘Swish! Swish!’ Five hundred arrows made a neat circle around the white flag. Then the team arranged themselves in a circle formation. They were the Rui Jin [acute metal] Flag under the command of Wu Jingcao.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause. Each one of the Rui Jin Flag grabbed a javelin from his back. They rushed a dozen of steps forward, and hurled the javelins. Five hundred javelins made a neat fence inside the circle of arrows. Then they rushed another dozen of steps forward, and drew the short hatchets from their waists. The crowd of heroes saw flickering rays of light as five hundred short hatchets whizzed through the air and landed neatly in a circle on the ground. The short hatchets, the javelins and the arrows formed three concentric rings, with no weapon touching another. Even if one’s martial art skills were as high as the sky, under these 1,500 long and short weapons’ converging attack, one would definitely become minced meat.

The Rui Jin Flag suffered an extremely heavy loss when fought a fierce battle against the Emei Pai in the western region. Even their flag leader, Zhuang Zheng, died under Miejue Shitai’s Yitian Sword. Later, learning from this painful experience, they developed this battle formation to destroy even the enemy’s strongest defense. During the last several years, the Ming Cult’s prestige rapidly rose up; the Five-Element Flags also grew at a tremendous rate. The Rui Jin Flag now had more than twenty thousand men under its banner. This team of five hundred men with javelins, hatchets and arrows was handpicked from among the twenty-thousand members. Their martial art skills were not weak to begin with and after undergoing a rigorous training under the direction of the masters within the Ming Cult, they became a squadron of fighting force, which could be used to support the Ming Cult army in the battlefield or could be deployed as an elite squad in special assignments.

As they watched this demonstration, the crowd of heroes’ faces changed; they thought, ‘Wherever Ming Cult’s Yang Zuoshi tosses the white flag, these one thousand five hundred weapons will also follow. Although Emei Pai’s thunderbolt bullets are fierce, their destroying capability is limited; when they shoot ten bullets, even if each one of them hit the target, they could at most harm only ten people. How can they match the Ming Cult’s Rui Jin Flag?” They also thought, “If the Ming Cult suddenly turned hostile and wanted to destroy us, then what? Although the attendees of this great assembly today are all martial art masters, we are actually no more than a mob; certainly we are no match for the refined formation of Rui Jin Flag who are well-trained for a long time and can move together as one unit.”

Although their hearts were full of disconcerting thoughts, the crowd of heroes could not help but cheer at the amazing display of the Rui Jin Flag’s special skill.

Yang Xiao lifted the white flag in his hand and waved it several times behind his back. The five hundred Rui Jin Flag men pulled out their feathered arrows, javelins and hatchets, walked toward the Ming Cult’s wooden shelter, bowed in respect to Zhang Wuji, and then turned around and left the field.

Yang Xiao took a dark green flag and tossed it next to the white flag. Again, heavy footsteps were heard as five hundred Ju Mu [gigantic wood] Flag people, with dark green cloth wrapped around their heads, walked quickly into the field. Every ten men carried a large wooden log. The gigantic logs weighed around a thousand ‘jin’ [catty, 1 catty is approximately 0.5kg] each. Each log was fitted with iron hooks. Each man pulled one iron hook. They marched in even steps.

Suddenly they all shouted in one voice and the fifty gigantic logs flew out from their hands. Some flew high, some flew low; some to the left, some to the right; but as each one flew out, it would at least strike another log. All fifty logs and amazingly not a single log was missed. A continuous series of ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’ sounds were heard as the fifty logs, divided into twenty-five pairs, struck each other. With fifty logs, each weighed over a thousand catties, struck each other, the momentum was really astonishing. If there were people standing next to the dark green flag, no matter how high they jumped, or evaded to the left and escaped top the right, they would unavoidably struck by these gigantic logs.

The Ju Mu Flag developed this flying-log formation from military tactics on breaking the defense of a besiege city. The troops would usually utilize wooden logs to ram down the city gate. With logs of this size, even a strong city gate would be struck open. If flesh and blood were subjected to the impact of these big logs, wouldn’t they be smashed into pulp?

As these gigantic logs fell back down, the five hundred men caught the iron hooks, and then they turned around and rushed for about a dozen ‘zhang’ out, waiting for the next order in the shape of another dark green flag, before they tossed the gigantic logs up for the second time.

Yang Xiao waved the dark green flag, ordering the Ju Mu Flag to withdraw. And then his right hand picked a red flag and tossed it to the center of the field.

As the Ming Cult men with dark green headbands withdrew, five hundred men from Lie Huo [raging inferno] Flag, with red cloth wrapped around their heads, marched into the field. Each man had a spray gun in his hand. As they pumped the gun, they spurted thick and blackish oil to the center of the field. The Lie Huo Flag leader waved his hand to toss a blazing sulfur ball. The oil met the fire and the field was ablaze with wave after wave of raging fire.

The neighboring area of the Ming Cult headquarters on the Brightness Peak was very rich with petroleum. Day and night crude oil spouted out from among the rocks, which would burn as soon as it met with fire. Each one of the Lie Huo Flag men carried an iron tank on his back. Each tank was full of petroleum. With them spraying more oil to the burning fire, nobody would be able to withstand it.

After the Lie Huo Flag withdrew from the field, Yang Xiao tossed a black flag into the field. Five hundred Hong Shui [flooding water] Flag men, with black cloth wrapped around their heads, rushed into the field. These Hong Shui Flag men carried household items. Altogether, there were twenty water hoses, some spray guns and buckets. Ten men at the front pushed ten wooden carts.

The Flag Leader, Tang Yang, shouted his command. The carts opened to release twenty hungry wolves. The wolves made threatening gestures and growled in the field then they charged to the crowd, trying to bite people. The heroes were shocked; they wondered what did these hungry wolves have to do with the words ‘flooding water’?

They heard Tang Yang shout his order again “Spray the water!” A hundred men pumped their spray guns and a hundred streams of water were shot at these hungry wolves. The crowd of heroes smelled a peal of acid stench. They saw that as soon as the wolves were hit by the water, they tumbled down at once, yelping madly and howling miserably. In an instant, their skin split open and their flesh rot, they turned into coal-black piles. It turned out that the water sprayed by the Hong Shui Flag was a deadly poison to dissolve flesh in liquid form. It was concocted from sulfur, potassium nitrate and other chemicals.

Watching this extremely disturbing demonstration, the crowd of heroes could not help but be absolutely horrified; each of them thought, “If this poisonous water was not sprayed to the wolves but were aimed on me, what would happen?”

The Hong Shui Flag carried twenty water hoses with the spray guns. They assumed a standby position, and then squirted the water towards the wolves. Obviously, they carried more poisonous water than what was needed to kill the wolves. If a little more pressure was added, not only the spray would be stronger, it could also reach farther.

Yang Xiao waved the black flag to withdraw the troops. The Hong Shui Flag pulled their water hoses away from the field. As they turned the spray guns around, the heroes who stood in the direction the spray gun was turned at, couldn’t restrain their faces from cringing.

Meanwhile, Yang Xiao had tossed a small yellow flag. A group of men wearing yellow headbands marched into the field. Each man carried an iron shovel in his hand and pushed a wheelbarrow full of dirt. Compared to the other four flags, Jin, Mu, Shui, Huo [metal, wood, water and fire], their numbers were a lot smaller; they had only a hundred people in their team. These hundred men formed a circle around the field. Then they simultaneously started to dig vigorously. Suddenly there was a loud booming noise. The dust rose. The center of the field collapsed, revealing a large hole, about three, four ‘zhang’s in diameter. Next, the ground all around the hole was moving, followed by the appearance of men, each wearing a metal helmet on his head and holding an iron shovel in his hand. Four hundred men bored through the surface of the ground. The heroes were greatly shocked and cried out in unison.

Turned out these four hundred men had dug a tunnel from some distant away to the center of the field, where they excavated a large hole underground and supported the ground overhead with planks of wood. They waited, hidden underground, until the Hou Tu [thick earth] Flag Leader, Yan Yuan, gave his command and the four hundred men simultaneously pulled the planks so that the entire layer of ground fell down. Then the Ming Cult people underground emerged to the surface. This way, the wolves’ carcasses, oil, scorched earth, everything fell down into the hole below.

The hundred men brandished their iron shovels and struck the air above the holes three times. If there were any people who fell into the hole and wanted to escape by jumping up, they were bound to be struck down by these hundred shovels.

One by one the wheel barrows poured their loads of dirt, black sands and pebbles into the hole. In a short period of time, the big holes, along with hundreds small holes around it, were filled and the ground was level again. The five hundred iron shovels rose and fell continuously, making an attractive scene.

The Flag Leader shouted his command and the five hundred men saluted toward Zhang Wuji. The center of the field was now filled with dirt and sand, as flat and smooth as a mirror, a lot more firm and solid than it was previously.

The crowd of heroes understood. “If I stood at the center of the field and spoke condescendingly against the Ming Cult, I would have been buried under the ground by now.”

In a way, this little demonstration had showcased the invincible might of the Ming Cult’s Five-Element Flags. There weren’t any one among the spectators, from heroes all around the world who was not amazed by it. They were aware that for the last several years, the Ming Cult had staged a rebellion in Huai Si, Henan, Hubei, and other area. They had besieged towns and seized territories; successively defeated Yuan army. This moment they displayed the military skill and tactics they had mastered for the benefit of the gathering of Wulin heroes and warriors. They were large in numbers, organized and followed strict discipline, plus they were highly trained. No Jianghu sect or school under the Heavens would be able to withstand.

After withdrawing the troops, Yang Xiao returned the small flags to the wooden tray, which was then carried back by the young boy. With cold eyes he looked at Zhou Zhiruo. He did not say anything, but his meaning was very clear: ‘With only a little more than a hundred male and female Emei disciples, can you match our strong Ming Cult of several thousand?’

Around the field, each of the heroes was immersed in their own thoughts. For a moment, the field was quiet. After a while, the old monk behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “The Ming Cult demonstration of troop movements and military tactics we have witnessed just now looked impressive. However, when all is said and done, whether it can be really used, whether it can really subdue the enemy, we are not military generals; we have not studied the Sun Wu’s art of war. I am afraid none of us can really tell …”

Everybody knew he was speaking contrary to his convictions; it was just that the Ming Cult’s prestige was truly awe-inspiring, so he played down the fierceness of the Five-Element Flags.

Zhou Dian called out, “You want to know whether it can be really used? That is very easy. All Shaolin Pai needs to do is send some monks to try and then the result will be apparent.” The old monk pretended not to hear, he continued his speech, “Today is the great assembly of the heroes from all over the world. Every school and every sect’s aspirations are to observe and emulate, to compare and deliberate the study of martial art skills. Still, as highlighted by several Shizhu [benefactor] earlier, everybody will compete in martial arts and the one with the highest skill will win. What we are interested in doing is a one on one competition; relying on numbers to achieve victory, is actually an unheard custom in the Wulin world.”

Ouyang Muzhi said, “Relying on numbers to achieve victory is an unheard custom in the Wulin world, but what about ‘pi li lei huo dan’? This poisonous and malicious trick, is it allowed?”

The old monk was silent for a moment before saying, “If a contestant wants to use secret projectiles, of course it is allowed. If some friends put some poison on their secret projectiles, we have no way of forbidding them. But if somebody launches a sneak attack, he is breaking a major rule of this assembly; then everybody else has the right to attack him together. Gentlemen, what do you think?”

Most of the heroes in attendance gave their consent by applauding loudly. Tang Wenliang of Kongtong Pai said, “I have one thing I’d like to say: whoever has won two fights in a row must be allowed to take a rest, so that he can restore his internal energy and take a breather. Otherwise, if one is forced to fight a series of capable people, one cannot fight them all in one breath regardless of how high one’a skill is. Furthermore, from each school, each sect, each clan and each society, if there are two people already defeated, they must not send anybody to the stage anymore. Otherwise, there are thousands of heroes in here; if for every hero defeated another one takes his place, I am afraid even three months will not be sufficient to accommodate everybody. Although Shaolin Temple has abundant provisions [orig. ‘liang2cao3’ – food and grass], they will go broke if they have to feed us all; and I doubt if they would recover within a hundred years.”

The audience broke out in laughter; they agreed that these two propositions made a lot of sense. The Ming Cult warriors knew that Tang Wenliang was indebted to Zhang Wuji because he set his broken bone at the Brightness Peak; and then again when he saved him from the Wan An Temple. He was hoping Zhang Wuji would triumph over the opponents. By proposing these two rules to the crowd of heroes, he was helping Zhang Wuji to conserve his energy.

Peng Yingyu said with a smile, “Tang Lao San [Ol’ Tang the third] is doing us a favor. It seems like we can count on Kongtong Pai to be on our side today. All right, other than Jiaozhu, who will compete for us?”

All of the Ming Cult masters were eager to try, but they all realized that the battle today was of a very great importance; it was necessary for them to spare no effort. They would have to try to defeat as many opponents as possible, and thus leave as little powerful opponents as possible to their Jiaozhu, so that he could conserve his energy to face the unexpected. If they only managed to defeat a few people, and then got defeated, not only they would leave a heavy burden for Jiaozhu to bear alone, the damage to their own prestige would not be small, but also the burden to the Cult would be great; Xie Xun and their Cult Leader were too important. Furthermore, if they volunteered rashly, they would inevitably gave the impression that after the Cult Leader, their martial art skills were better than everybody else’s, and thus they risked damaging the ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty and self sacrifice/code of brotherhood] among the brethren. For these reasons, they were all silent; nobody dared to make any noise.

“Jiaozhu,” Zhou Dian said, “It’s not that Zhou Dian is scared of death. It’s just that my martial art has not reached perfection. If I volunteer, I would only expose my own disgrace.”

Zhang Wuji looked at his subordinates one by one. He thought, “Yang Zuo Shi, Fan You Shi, Wei Fu Wang, Bu Dai Shifu, Tie Guan Daozhang [Taoist priest]; everybody possesses an unsurpassed quality. Any one of them may go. Among them, Fan You Shi’s martial art knowledge is the broadest. No matter what school the opponent came from, he has a greater chance to score a victory. I’d better ask Fan You Shi to go into action with me.” Thereupon he said, “Actually, any one of the brethren going is the same to me. But Yang Zuo Shi had helped me fighting the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan. Wei Fu Wang and Bu Dai Dashi have just captured Xia Zhou, so they have used up some strength. This time, I am thinking of asking Fan You Shi to come with me.”

Fan Yao was delighted. “I accept the order!” he bowed and said, “Many thanks Jiaozhu, for your high regards!”

The Ming Cult warriors all knew that Fan Yao’s martial art skill was superb; nobody raised any objections.

“Fan Dashi,” Zhao Min suddenly said, “I am going to ask you something. Would you be willing to indulge me?”

“Whatever instruction Junzhu has, I will comply,” Fan Yao replied.

Zhao Min said, “Kong Zhi Dashi of Shaolin Pai has not resolved his enmity against you. If you fight him first, victory or defeat between the two of you will be hard to predict. Even if you gain victory, your strength would be depleted.”

Fan Yao nodded. He understood that Kong Zhi Shen Seng had been famous for dozens of years. Kong Zhi’s face looked long as if he was in constant anxiety; he looked like someone who would not reach old age, but actually, his internal and external skills had reached perfection.

Zhao Min said, “There is no harm in making an appointment with him; state it explicitly that you want to fight him one on one at the Wan An Temple in Dadu. One fight to decide victory and defeat.”

“Marvelous plan, marvelous plan!” Yang Xiao and Fan Yao exclaimed. They knew that if Kong Zhi agreed to fight Fan Yao at a later date, then they could not fight today. With her idea, Zhao Min eliminated one powerful enemy to the Ming Cult.

In the mean time, the heroes and warriors of every sect and every school were whispering among themselves in their respective wooden shelters to choose their champions. From several wooden shelters came loud noises of people bickering; apparently, they have some disagreement in the selection process.

Fan Yao went to the host’s shelter. He saluted Kong Zhi and said, “Kong Zhi Dashi, I wonder if you have guts? Do you dare to meet me at the Wan An Temple?”

Hearing the word ‘Wan An Temple’, which was the only disgrace he had ever experienced in his entire life, the lines on Kong Zhi’s forehead went even deeper. His thin eyes were gleaming as he asked, “What is it?”

Fan Yao said, “We tied our enmity at Wan An Temple, we must resolve it at Wan An Temple. You, Kong Zhi Dashi, are a man of virtue and prestige. Unfortunately, I also have some insignificant reputation. In today’s battle, if you defeated me, Jianghu people would say that a strong dragon cannot repress a snake in its lair; you, a Dashi [great master], take advantage of your home turf. If by luck I gained half a style advantage, ignorant people would add fuel to the fire by saying Ku Toutuo came to Shaolin Temple to overpower Shaolin’s number one master. If Dashi is not afraid, I will be asking for Dashi’s unsurpassed artistries at the Wan An Temple, in the evening of the full moon, on the Mid-autumn festival of this year [orig. ‘ba yue zhong qiu’ – 15th day of the eighth month of lunar calendar].”

Actually, Kong Zhi was rather afraid of Fan Yao’s martial art. Besides, there was a big change in the Temple right now; he was not in a good mood to fight Fan Yao. Therefore, although he knew Fan Yao was provoking him, he agreed immediately. “Very well, the Mid-autumn festival of this year, we will meet at the Wan An Temple. I will not leave until we meet.”

Fan Yao cupped his fists to salute, and then turned around and left. He had just walked for seven, eight paces when he heard Kong Zhi unhurriedly say, “Fan Shizhu [benefactor], you wholeheartedly want to save Jin Mao Shi Wang today. That’s why you do not dare to fight with me. Am I right?”

Fan Yao was startled; he halted his steps while thinking, “This monk sees through our intention after all.” Turning his head, he laughed and said, “I don’t have the confidence I would defeat you.”

Kong Zhi smiled and replied, “Lao Na also do not have the confidence to defeat Shizhu.”

The two of them nodded. In that moment, in their hearts grew a fondness toward each other; hero admired another hero, a real man cared for another real man.

End of Chapter 37. 
@Chapter 38 – A Gentleman is Vulnerable to Deceit
Gradually, the noise around the field died down. The old monk from Damo Hall who sat behind Kong Zhi stood up and said, “We have agreed to the rules set by the heroes to govern our martial art competition today. Saber and spear, fists and legs, do not have eyes. Death will not be discussed further, alive and well will be the Heaven’s fate. Whichever school, sect, clan or society has the strongest martial art, will have control over Xie Xun and the Tulong Saber.”

Zhang Wuji frowned slightly. He thought, “It seems like this monk is afraid the battle will not be fierce enough, the enmity among schools will not be deep enough. Don’t they have mercy as displayed by Shen Seng like Kong Jian and Kong Wen anymore?”

The crowd further agreed that as soon as one had defeated two opponents in a row, one must be given an opportunity to rest. Other than that, there was not much difference than the previously agreed rule.

Immediately some people went down the field and called out their challenges, which were answered at once. A moment later, there were six people fighting in three pairs.

Zhao Min had learned the essence of each unique skill belonging to the Six Major Sects’ masters when she detained them in the Wan An Temple. Although her comprehension was still shallow, her knowledge and experience were not ordinary at all. Standing in between Zhang Wuji and Fan Yao, they discussed the martial arts of those six people. She made predictions on who would win and who would lose. Surprisingly, her analysis was very clear and logical. About the time needed to drink a cup of tea later, among the three pairs, two had reached conclusion, and only one pair was still engaged in a fierce battle. Two more people immediately went down the field to challenge the victors. Hence, it was still six people fought in three pairs. The newcomers were using weapons, so their opponents also unsheathed their weapons. As the competition proceeded this way, it was only natural that eight or nine fights out of ten were decided with some shedding of blood.

Zhang Wuji mused, “This way, the friendship between each clan and sect will definitely suffer some damage. As soon as one school defeats another, although nobody loses his life or suffer injury, the loser will unavoidably try to retaliate in the future. I will be greatly surprised if this event will not breed an enormous disaster in which everybody kills each other.”

In the meantime, the Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s palm hacked down on the short elder of Huashan Pai that the latter spurted blood from his mouth. The tall elder of Huashan Pai cursed, “Stinky Beggar! Rotten Beggar!” while jumping out to challenge the Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao.

The short elder quickly grabbed his arm and said in low voice, “Shidi [younger martial brother], you are not his match. We’ll have to swallow this defeat for the time being.”

The tall elder angrily said, “I don’t care, I must fight him!” Although his mouth said those words, deep down in his heart he realized that his Shixiong’s [martial brother] martial art skill was comparable to his own; their energy cultivation was identical. If Shixiong was beaten, then he had no chance of victory. As he was being pulled by his senior, his mouth did not stop shouting abusive words, but his feet actually moved toward their wooden shelter.

After that, Zhi Fa Zhanglao scored another victory over the Sect Leader of the ‘Mei Hua Dao’ [Plum Blossom Blade]. Since he had defeated two people in a row, amidst the thunderous applause from the Beggar Clan crowd, he returned to their shelter, feeling very pleased with himself. And thus, one come the other go, the competition in the field had been going on for more than four hours. The red glowing sun was slowly moving to the west. The martial art skill of the people going down into the battle was increasingly higher. At first, a lot of people were having lofty aspirations; their hearts were filled with desire to show off their skills in this general assembly of the world heroes. However after seeing other people’s martial art skills, and only then did they realize that they were no more than a frog in the well. Without ascending the Mount Tai, one would not know the vastness of the earth. Therefore, they did not dare to enter the competition.

By the ninth hour (between 3 to 5 pm), the Beggar Clan’s Zhang Bo Longtou entered the arena to challenge Peng Siniang [fourth lady Peng] of Xiang Si Pai Jiao [lit. ‘Four-Row Cult’(?) of Hunan province], which he struck until she tumbled down. The clothes on Siniang’s back were torn. It was such a big tear that she withdrew from the fight in her embarrassment.

Zhang Bo Longtou turned his eyes toward the Emei Pai people and with a cold laugh said, “What kind of real ability can womenfolk have? If they do not depend on their sharp weapons, then they would depend on strange secret projectiles. This lady Peng Siniang is able to train to this level, it truly is not easy.”

Zhou Zhiruo spoke in low voice to Song Qingshu. Song Qingshu nodded, and then unhurriedly went down the arena. He cupped his fists to Zhang Bo Longtou and said, “Longtou Dage; let me receive pointers from your masterful strikes.”

Zhang Bo Longtou was furious to see Song Qingshu. “The one surnamed Song,” he angrily shouted, “You are in collusion with that traitor Chen Youliang in penetrating our Beggar Clan. You, the traitor, must have played a part in the death of our Shi Bangzhu. Do you still have a face to see me today?”

Song Qingshu coldly replied, “Penetrating the enemy’s nest and stealing secrets are common occurrences in Jianghu. You only have your own bunch of blind beggars to blame that you failed to see Song Daye’s [‘big master’ Song] true identity.”

Zhang Bo Longtou cursed, “You are capable of betraying your own old man’s Wudang Pai; you are capable of doing anything. You are not being filial to your father, later you will not be faithful to your wife. Emei Pai will certainly meet its destruction in your hands.”

Song Qingshu was so angry that his face turned pale. “Are you done farting?” he said.

Zhang Bo Longtou did not respond. With a loud grunt his palm hacked down. Song Qingshu turned around to evade. His hand lightly swept backhandedly, using Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ [lit. golden peak soft/supple palm] to parry the attack.

Zhang Bo Longtou was angry with Song Qingshu for penetrating the Beggar Clan and deceiving them, so his move was intended to kill; it was exceptionally fierce. Unfortunately, his opponent this time was not an ordinary martial artist. Within the Beggar Clan, Zhang Bo Longtou’s martial art skill was inferior only to their late Bangzhu, and Chuan Gong and Zhi Fa, two elders. His palm technique had reached an unordinary level.

Song Qingshu was chief among the Wudang Pai’s third generation disciples; but after all, his comprehension of Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ was not deep enough. He had not yet able to unleash the full potential of exquisite and subtle variations within the palm technique. After fighting for about forty, fifty stances, he repeatedly fell into dangerous situations. Automatically his ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ turned into Wudang Pai’s ‘Mian Zhang’ [cotton palm]. It was the martial art he was most familiar since his childhood. He had trained it for more than twenty years. He was able to launch this martial art at will; it was very powerful. The outward appearance was similar to Emei Pai’s ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’, but the method of transmitting energy to the moves was actually entirely different. The spectators did not know this fact. They only saw Song Qingshu gradually turned the situation over in his favor. The more he watched, the angrier Yin Liting was. ‘Song Qingshu,” he called out, “You, the kid, have no shame at all! You have left Wudang, why do you still use Wudang skill to save your life? You betrayed your father, but why do you use the martial art your father taught you?”

Song Qingshu’s face turned red. “What’s so special about Wudang Pai’s martial art?” he called out, “Look carefully!” Suddenly his left hand turned into a hook in front of Zhang Bo Longtou’s eyes. Revolving to the left and turning to the right, he launched seven, eight different styles. In a surprise movement, his right hand thrust forward and ‘stab!’ His five fingers pierced Zhang Bo Longtou’s forehead.

The spectators were stunned. They only see Song Qingshu’s fingers dripping with blood, while Zhang Bo Longtou fell backwards. It was obvious that he was dead.

With a cold laugh Song Qingshu said, “Does Wudang Pai have this kind of martial art?”

The crowd of heroes called out in alarm. Eight people from the Beggar Clan rushed forward. Two quickly grabbed Zhang Bo Longtou’s body, while the other six attacked Song Qingshu. These six were Beggar Clan’s masters; among them, four were brandishing their weapons, so that in a short moment Song Qingshu was surrounded by dangers.

A big and fat monk behind Reverend Kong Zhi loudly shouted, “The Beggar Clan’s gentlemen take advantage of a solitary man; aren’t you breaching today’s heroes assembly rule?”

Zhi Fa Zhanglao called out, “Brothers, get back. Let me avenge Zhang Bo Longtou.”

The Beggar Clan disciples leaped backward. They took Zhang Bo Longtou’s body back to their wooden shelter. With angry look on their faces, they stared at Song Qingshu menacingly. The heroes watching on the side thought, “Although it was agreed that in this martial art competition death is not a big deal, but this surname Song’s hands are too heavy and ruthless.”

At this moment, Zhang Wuji was recalling the injury on Zhao Min’s shoulder, which was from a five-finger claw; and then that night at the thatched hut, the way Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang’s corpses lying on the floor. With a trembling voice he asked, “Yang Zuo Shi, where did Emei Pai get this evil martial art from?”

Yang Xiao shook his head. “Subordinate has never seen this kind or martial art,” he said, “However, Emei Pai’s founder Guo Nuxia was known as ‘Xiao Dong Xie’ [young eastern heretic] so I wouldn’t be surprised if 30% of her martial art skill was heretical.”

While the two of them were talking, Song Qingshu has started fighting Zhi Fa Zhanglao. Zhi Fa Zhanglao was a thin and small man, and extremely agile. His ten fingers were like a hook or an awl, attacking Song Qingshu with ‘mo zhua gong’ [devil claw skill]. It looked like he was very adept in using his fingers, and wanted to poke five holes on top of Song Qingshu’s head to avenge Zhang Bo Longtou’s death.

At first, Song Qingshu was still using the ‘Jin Ding Mian Zhang’ to parry the opponent. After fighting for a while, Zhi Fa Zhanglao roared, “Little dog thief!” The five fingers of his left hand had already touched Song Qingshu’s forehead. Just a little bit more strength, the fingers would have pierced Song Qingshu. Song Qingshu stretched out his right hand, and ‘stab!’ his five fingers entered Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s throat. Zhi Fa Zhanglao fell forward. His left hand had not lost its strength that it penetrated the surface of the earth. Blood spread out on the ground. He stopped breathing at once.

Zhou Zhiruo made a signal with her hand. Eight Emei Pai female disciples, each with a sword in her hand, jumped forward and with two on each side, they stood with their backs facing in, on the front, rear, left and right, around Song Qingshu. There would be a chaotic battle if the Beggar Clan people rushed forward to attack again.

With a loud and clear voice, one of the old monks of Damo Hall said, “Luohan Hall’s thirty-six disciples, obey the order!” His palms clapped three times, thirty six Shaolin monks wearing yellow robes came out. Eighteen of them held Buddhist staves, while the other eighteen brandished sabers. They quickly spread out around the field. They stood in what looked like a formation, yet it was not exactly a formation. However, all strategic places were guarded.

The old monk said, “Receive Kong Zhi Shishu’s [martial (younger) uncle] order: the thirty six Luohan Hall disciples are to enforce the great hero assembly’s rules. If there are some people who rely on number to bully an individual, they are to be treated as Wulin world’s public enemy. We, Shaolin Temple, must not shame ourselves as the host. We must maintain the justice. Thirty six disciples to look carefully; regardless who break the rules, kill him on the spot. Do not show any mercy.”

The thirty six disciples loudly voiced their compliance. With ferocious stare they fixed their gaze to the center of the field. With the Emei Pai guarding Song Qingshu, and Shaolin Pai guarding on the side, the Beggar Clan disciples did not dare to make any rash moves even though they were grieved and furious. They only shouted and cursed while taking Zhi Fa Zhanglao’s body back to their shelter.

“Ku Dashi,” in a low voice Zhao Min said to Fan Yao, “I didn’t expect Emei Pai still have this deadly stance. At the Wan An Temple, Mie Jue Shitai would rather die than showing off her martial art. Perhaps this is the reason.”

Fan Yao shook his head without saying anything. He was deep in thought to find a way to break this particular stance. After staring blankly for half a day, he suddenly approached Zhang Wuji.

“Jiaozhu,” he said, “Subordinate wants to consult with you a martial art stance.” With his palms pressed on the table, he stretched out his left hand index finger, and then his right hand index finger, one after another. With an incredible nimbleness he moved the fingers continuously seven times. And then with a low voice said, “My arms will attack successively this way. I only need to coil around this boy’s arm, and exert my internal energy to break his arm joint. With a broken arm, even if his fingers were fiercer, he would not be able to execute his move.”

Zhang Wuji also moved around his fingers on the table. Left hooked, right lifted. “Be careful not to let his fingers pierce your arms,” he said.

Fan Yao nodded his agreement. He said, “I will use ‘qin na shou’ [grab and seize, grappling technique] to grab his wrist, and then ‘shiba lu yuanyang lian huan tui’ [eighteen way/method mandarin ducks chain legs (continuous kicking)] to kick the lower part of his body].”

Zhang Wuji said, “Attack him ferociously with eighty one stances, don’t give him any opportunity to take a breather.”

These two people’s four fingers moved backward and forward, attacked and defended with exceptional speed. Fan Yao suddenly smiled, “Jiaozhu’s attacks are too marvelous. I don’t think this boy has this kind of power. His martial art is limited. He won’t be able to unleash the full potential of these several stances.”

Zhang Wuji also showed a faint smile and said, “If he cannot unleash the full potential of these three stances, then Fan You Shi, you have already won.” His left index finger made two circles, right index fingers suddenly thrust out from within the circles and hooked Fan Yao’s finger. He smiled slightly without saying anything.

Fan Yao was startled. “Many thanks for Jiaozhu’s directions,” he delightedly said, “The admiration of your subordinate reaches the highest level. These four stances are unthinkable. They truly enlightened subordinate’s dark mind. I really wish I could bow to you and take you as my master.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “These are part of Taijiquan technique bestowed to me by my Tai Shifu, the ‘luan huan jue’ [secret of the random circles]. The main point is the circles made by the left hand. Although this man surnamed Song came from Wudang, I don’t think he has mastery over the most refined of these principles.”

With this new idea in his mind, Fan Yao was confident he could defeat Song Qingshu. However, after two streak victories, Song Qingshu was entitled to take a rest according to the competition rules. Therefore, Fan Yao must wait for him to reenter the stage before he could come forward and challenge him.

All this time Zhao Min was standing close to them. With a faint smile on her face, she looks extremely delighted. Zhang Wuji shifted to get closer to her and asked in low voice, “Min Mei, what is it? Why do you look so happy?”

Zhao Min’s jade-like cheeks blushed. Hanging her head low, she whispered, “You taught Fan You Shi these several martial art techniques only to break Song Qingshu’s arm. Why didn’t you teach him something to take the life of that person surnamed Song?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Although Song Qingshu has done much evil, he is, after all, my Da Shibo’s [first martial (older) uncle] only beloved child. It will be up to Da Shibo to discipline him. If I told Fan You Shi to take his life, I would have been unfair to Da Shibo.”

Zhao Min said with a laugh, “If you have him killed, Zhou Jia Jiejie [older sister from Zhou family] would become a widow. Then you can rekindle the old flame. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?”

Zhang Wuji laughed. “Would you allow me to do that?” he asked.

Zhao Min smiled and replied, “I wouldn’t think of not allowing you. I’ll just wait till you turn double-minded again [orig. ‘san xin liang yi’ – three hearts, two intentions], then she’d use her fingers to poke five holes on your chest.”

While Zhang Wuji was discussing counterattack measure with Fan Yao, and talking and joking with Zhao Min, Song Qingshu had retreated to his wooden shelter under the protection of the eight Emei female disciples. The crowd of heroes saw how hair-raising and ruthlessly he killed his two opponents just now. They could not help but feeling frightened; they were not willing to go down the arena and thus subjected themselves to the danger.

A moment later, in a leisure manner Song Qingshu returned to the arena. Cupping his fists he said, “I [orig. zai4xia4 – under] have had enough rest. I am ready to take any hero who would like to give me some instructions.”

Fan Yao called out, “Let me ask for some advice from Emei Pai’s marvelous skill.” He was just about to jump into the arena when suddenly a grey shadow flashed by and stopped right in front of Song Qingshu. He turned toward Fan Yao and said, “Fan Dashi, please let me try first.” This person’s manner was very dignified. He stood with his feet sturdily grounded. His attitude was guarded. He was the Wudang Er Xia [second hero], Yu Lianzhou.

Seeing that Yu Lianzhou rushed over, and realizing he was Jiaozhu’s martial uncle, Fan Yao felt it was inappropriate to argue with him. He said, “The Ol’ Fan is lucky today to be able to see Yu Er Xia’s Wudang divine skill.”

“I do not dare,” Yu Lianzhou replied.

Since he was little, Song Qingshu had always a bit scared of this particular Shishu. Right now, seeing him with an imposing aura and stern look, he knew today’s battle was no longer a sparring while he was training on Mount Wudang, but it would be a life and death combat. Although he had learned amazing martial art from a different school, he still cowered in the end.

Yu Lianzhou cupped his fists and said, “Song Shaoxia [young hero], please!” This salute, and also the way he addressed Song Qingshu, showed clearly that he did not dare to show the slightest degree of contempt toward Song Qingshu, but also showed that he considered Song Qingshu as a total outsider.

Song Qingshu did not say anything. He simply bowed in respect. Yu Lianzhou shouted and his palm hacked down on Sing Qingshu’s face.

Yu Lianzhou had been famous in the Wulin world for the last thirty years or so, but the number of people who had actually seen him displaying his true capability was actually very few. Until today, when they saw him with soft power in his palms he rendered the strong, ruthless, explosive power of the ‘pi li lei huo dan’ [thunderbolt bullet] useless. His skill was so refined that the spectators felt ashamed of their own inadequacy. The Jianghu people had known for some time that the essence of Wudang Pai’s martial art was ‘soft subduing hard’, the style was slow moving but also very rich with subtle changes. Who would have thought that Yu Lianzhou’s palms stormed like the wind, his style was amazingly swift, that Song Qingshu’s lower part, between his legs and his waist, was successively hit by a kick and a palm.

Song Qingshu was very shocked. “Tai Shifu and Father both prepared me to be the Wudang Pai’s third generation Zhangmen [sect leader], they would not hold any martial art secret from me. Yu Ershu’s [second uncle] swift fist and quick leg were in the style I had already learned, but how could he launch the stances with such a speed? Didn’t the way he use it is contrary to our school’s main principle? Whatever it is, the result is this fierce!”

He wanted to use the finger skill Zhou Zhiruo taught him, but Yu Lianzhou did not give him even a chance to catch his breath. Thereupon he had no choice but kept stepping back and did his best to hold his position.

The crowd of heroes watched the fight between these two men with rapt attention. Presently, Yu Lianzhou was gaining an upper hand. However, in the two previous battles, Song Qingshu was also at a disadvantage before he was able to turn defeat into victory by stretching out his fingers and killing his opponents. He might be able to repeat it this time. They saw Yu Lianzhou moved faster and faster, but every style and every stance was very clear. It was just like an expert singer, although the singer sang a fast-tempo song, the enunciation of every syllable was very clear, without the slightest degree of fuzziness.

The crowd of heroes started to stand up one by one. Those who sat on the back climbed the tables and chairs. In their hearts, they were all praising, “Wudang’s Yu Er Xia truly deserves his reputation. He does not stop pressing his opponent, yet not a single stance was used twice.”

Lucky for Song Qingshu that he was a direct-line disciple of Wudang; he knew all the subtle changes of Yu Lianzhou’s hands and feet movements. However, fighting in such a pace was actually the first time for him.

The yellow dust on the field rose upward, becoming a thick fog enveloping these two men. Suddenly there was a loud bang as two palms collided. Both Yu Lianzhou and Song Qingshu leaped backward at the same time. The cloud of dust was divided. Before he was even standing firmly, with a monkey-like agility Yu Lianzhou had jumped forward again.

Yin Liting was concerned over his Shixiong’s safety. He could not help standing by the field with his hand on the hilt of his sword and his unblinking eyes trained on the battle in the field.

By now, Song Qingshu felt as if he was treading on the fine line between life and death. He fought with everything he had. He did not even think of using other school’s martial art any longer; all he could use was Wudang Pai martial art, which he trained since his childhood.

Yin Liting was very familiar with these two men’s punching and kicking style; he knew that each stance was meant to take the opponent’s life. Hence, his anxiety far surpassed of those who were merely spectators. Fortunately, he noticed that Yu Lianzhou gradually gained the upper hand. He would have hacked him dead early on if he did not guard against Song Qingshu’s malicious and ruthless five-finger piercing stance, hence being somewhat cautious.

Zhang Wuji was also quite worried. Secretly he grabbed two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his pocket. If Yu Lianzhou’s life will be in danger, he would disregard the general assembly’s rule by dashing out and save him.

The cloud of dust was growing higher. Suddenly Song Qingshu stretched out his left hand with his five fingers spread out to claw Yu Lianzhou’s right shoulder. For the last hundred stances or so, Yu Lianzhou had been waiting for Song Qingshu to launch this stance.

Yu Lianzhou had clearly seen the way Song Qingshu used his claw to kill the two elders of the Beggar Clan. If there were no previous fatal example, Yu Lianzhou would have been taken by surprise by this kind of fierce and killer stance. Although he might not die, but he would certainly be seriously injured. However, since he had seen this stance, he had prepared beforehand how to deal with it. On the other hand, Song Qingshu had not practiced this claw technique long enough; his movement did not have too many variations. His movement this time was almost the same to the previous ones.

Yu Lianzhou made a slight shoulder movement to evade. His left hand made several circles in the air.

“Ah!” Zhao Min and Fan Yao could not bear not to exclaim together, because Yu Lianzhou’s circles were exactly the ‘luan huan jue’ of Taijiquan Zhang Wuji taught Fan Yao earlier.

As Zhao Min and Fan Yao watched this, they knew Song Qingshu was in a very bad moment. Before their ‘ah!’ exclaim was even finished, the five fingers of Song Qingshu’s right hand had arrived at Yu Lianzhou’s throat.

Zhang Wuji was enraged. “He deserves to die! He deserves to die!” he muttered under his breath. The Beggar Clan’s Zhi Fa Zhanglao lost his life under this claw. Unexpectedly Song Qingshu was brazen enough to use this malicious hand toward his own martial uncle.

But he saw that one of Yu Lianzhou’s arms made a circle, while the other arm revolved in the ‘zuan fan’ [drilling/boring movement] and ‘luo xuan’ [corkscrew turn] stances from the ‘liu he jin’ [six gathering strengths] style. Yu Lianzhou’s arms coiled around Song Qingshu’s arms. ‘Crack! Crack!’ Song Qingshu’s arm joints broke.

“Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] is avenged today!” Yu Lianzhou roared. Joining his arms together, Yu Lianzhou continued striking both of Song Qingshu’s ears with the ‘shuang feng guan er’ [a pair of wind piercing the ears]. It was an attack where the ‘soft’ power was focused into one target. Song Qingshu’s skull disintegrated immediately. But before his body even fell to the ground, Yu Lianzhou gave him a powerful kick. Obviously, he wanted to finish Song Qingshu on the spot.

Suddenly a dark green shadow flashed by; a long whip threatened Yu Lianzhou’s face. Hastily he leaped back to evade. But with an unimaginable speed the long whip kept threatening his face. It was none other than the Emei Pai’s Sect Leader seeking revenge for her husband.

Yu Lianzhou hurriedly took three steps backward. Zhou Zhiruo’s whip technique was truly out of this world; in just three stances Yu Lianzhou was surrounded by the whip. Suddenly the flexible whip shook and coiled back. Zhou Zhiruo caught the tip of the whip with her left hand and coldly said, “If I take your life right now, you will be dissatisfied. Unsheathe your weapon!”

‘Shua!’ Yin Liting drew his sword out. He stepped forward and said, “Let me receive Miss Zhou’s instruction.”

Zhou Zhiruo stared at him with cold eyes; she turned around to look at Song Qingshu’s injury. His eyes were closed, blood flowed out from is seven orifices, he laid down on the ground, paralyzed. It looked like his life could not be saved. Three male disciples from Emei Pai rushed forward and took him back to their shelter.

Zhou Zhiruo turned back and pointed at Yu Lianzhou and said, “I’ll kill you first. Killing the one surnamed Yin later will not be too late.”

Yu Lianzhou had exhausted his entire strength just now yet he was unable to escape from her whip’s encirclement. He was inwardly shocked. He loved his younger martial brother. He thought, “If I fight her, even though I might die under her whip, at least Liudi [sixth (younger) brother] would have a chance to see her whip technique. My only hope is that his chance of survival will be increased by several points.”

Reaching behind his back, he wanted to take over Yin Liting’s sword. Yin Liting also realized the mortal danger they were facing. Even with the two martial brothers’ level of martial art skills, the chance of them escaping her long whip’s strike seemed very remote. Both he and his Shixiong had the same intention; he also wanted to fight her first, so that Shixiong would have a chance to find the gist of her whip technique. Thereupon, he was unwilling to hand his sword over.

“Shige [martial (older) brother],” he said, “Let me have a go first.”

Yu Lianzhou turned his gaze to him. They had been training in the same school for dozens of years. They had a very close relationship with each other; as close as blood brothers. That moment, deep emotion surged up his breast; his thought flashed back and forth like lightning. He remembered Yu Daiyan was crippled, Zhang Cuishan killed himself, Mo Shenggu died a tragic death. From the Wudang Seven Heroes, only four left. It seemed like two more heroes would lost their lives in this place. Although Yin Liudi was strong in martial art, emotionally he was very weak. If he died first, Yin Liudi’s mind would take such a blow that he might be unable to fight an all out battle.

“If I died first,” he carefully considered, “Liudi would have to go through countless difficulties to avenge me, while he himself would not want to escape alive alone. In the end, the two of us, martial brothers, would unavoidably die together in vain. If he died first, I would have a chance to understand the essence of this woman’s whip technique, and then perhaps I could fight her with all I have and die together with her.” Thereupon he nodded and said, “Liudi, try to hold your ground as long as possible.”

Remembering his pregnant wife, Yang Buhui, Yin Liting could not help but taking a glance toward Yang Xiao and Zhang Wuji. But immediately he rebuked himself, “After I die, other people will certainly take a good care of Buhui and the child; why would I act like a weak woman by asking others to help?” Thereupon he raised his sword, his eyes focused on the sword, his mind cleared of other matters, his back straightened, his chest puffed out, his shoulder relaxed and his elbows hang loosely.

“Zhang Men Ren [sect leader], please grant your instructions!” he said. Although he was a lot older than Zhou Zhiruo, at this moment, Zhou Zhiruo was the Sect Leader of Emei Pai. He did not want to show the least bit of disrespect.

Noticing that Yin Liting was using the ‘Taijijian’ [Taiji Sword] to face the opponent; Yu Lianzhou knew that his sixth brother was prepared to unleash the full potential of their school’s most powerful skill to contend with the most powerful enemy. He slowly retreated from the arena.

“You may start!” Zhou Zhiruo said.

Yin Liting thought that the opponent’s movement was lightning fast. If he let her took the initiative, he might never be able to regain his momentum. Thereupon as his left foot took a step, he switched the sword to his left hand, and launched the ‘san huan tao yue’ [three rings around the moon]. This first stance was a mixture of truth and deceit; the sword in his left hand lunged toward the enemy, the blade flickered with rays of light, ‘swish, swish, swish’, the sword produced light swishing noise. The crowd of heroes broke into an earth-shattering applause.

Zhou Zhiruo turned her body sideways to evade; Yin Liting followed with ‘da kui xing’ [the Great Bear Constellation] and ‘yan zi chao shui’ [swallow hunts over the water]. His sword drew a big circle in the air, his right hand pierced straight forward, surprisingly, it also carried light ‘swish, swish, swish’ noise.

Zhou Zhiruo swung her slender waist like a pendulum, dodging the attacks one by one. “Yin Liu Xia,” she said, “I gave you three stances to repay your kindness on Mount Wudang in the old days.” As the last word came out of her mouth, the flexible whip in her hand shook like a cobra and struck directly into Yin Liting’s chest. Yin Liting quickly evaded to the left; but the whip changed its course midway and curved toward him. Yin Liting countered with ‘feng bai he ye’ [the wind sweeps lotus leaves]. His sword pared down. The whip and the sword collided, creating a light scratching noise. Yin Liting felt a burning sensation on the palm of his hand; the sword nearly fell off.

He was greatly shocked. “I thought her stances were strange but her internal energy was in par with mine,” he mused, “Who would have thought that her internal energy is also strange beyond measures.” Refocusing his attention, he launched the Taiji Sword by creating random circles, generating an extremely tight defense around his body.

The flexible whip in Zhou Zhiruo’s hand was like a string of soft silk thread, like a weightless object. Her body flashed to the east and to the west, dashed forward and backward, yet the whip was always fluttering around Yin Liting.

Zhang Wuji’s amazement grew as he watched the battle. “The way she moves the whip is entirely different from Du E, Du Nan and Du Jie, three eminent monks.” At first, he thought that Emei Pai still had some heretical martial art that he was unaware of, but as he watched she move with demon- like agility, which differed greatly from Mie Jue Shitai’s movements, against his will, a vague feeling of fear crept into his heart.

Suddenly Fan Yao exclaimed, “She is a ghost, she is not a human!”

His words echoed what was in Zhang Wuji’s mind that he shivered involuntarily. If he were not in the field where the sun was still shining brightly and people were standing all around him he would have thought that Zhou Zhiruo had died and her ghost picked up a whip and fought with Yin Liting.

In all his life, he had seen countless of strange martial arts, but Zhou Zhiruo’s footwork and whip technique, which was like the wind blowing willow branch, or the water floating duckweed, was truly beyond anybody’s imagination. In that moment, he felt as if he was awakened from a nightmare and was shivering from fear, “Could it be that she practices some kind of demonic skill? Or she is being possessed by some monster?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s movements were strange, but Taiji Sword was developed from Zhang Sanfeng’s Taijiquan [Taiji fist], which he created in his later years. It was the pinnacle of the sword technique, which came from the culmination of his life-long comprehension of martial art theory. Yin Liting unleashed his entire strength and skill into his continuous sword movements. Although he was unable to injure the opponent, his defense was flawless, enough to hold his ground.

Suddenly, someone called out with a strange voice and strange intonation, “Aiyo! Song Qingshu is about to breathe his last. Zhou Da Zhangmen [great sect leader], if you don’t pay your last respect to your husband, you will considered a dishonorable widow!”

Everybody turned their eyes toward the voice. It was Zhou Dian. He knew that in their entire lives, Wudang disciples put great emphasis to the internal energy cultivation to control their breathing. In facing the enemy, they were like ‘the Mount Tai collapsed in front of their eyes, their countenances would not change; an elk hit their left ears, their eyes did not blink.’ So he intended to help Yin Liting by disrupting Zhou Zhiruo’s attention.

“Hey, hey, Miss Zhou Zhiruo of the Emei Pai,” he called again, “Your husband is about to die, he has some last words for you. He says he has three times seven, twenty-one, and four times seven, twenty-eight, illegitimate children outside. He wants that after he dies, you will take a good care of them, so that he won’t die with open eyes. Will you or will you not consent to his request?”

As the crowd of heroes heard him blabber such nonsense, some of them could not help but snicker. But Zhou Zhiruo acted as if she did not hear anything.

“Aiyo,” Zhou Dian called out, “It’s too bad! Miejue Lao Shitai, how have you, Senior, been doing? Long time no see. You, Senior, has never looked better. Your spirit must have possessed Miss Zhou; the way she plays this flexible whip is indeed very attractive!”

Suddenly, Zhou Zhiruo’s shadow flashed several ‘zhang’s backward. She lashed her long whip over her right shoulder. The tip of the whip curved up from the ground toward Zhou Dian’s face. Initially she was more than a dozen ‘zhang’s away from the Ming Cult’s thatched shelter, but just like a dragon swooping down from the sky, the flexible whip suddenly arrived at his face like an arrow.

Zhou Dian was happily blabbering with spittle coming out of his mouth. He did not expect in the middle of a fierce battle, Zhou Zhiruo was able to launch a sudden attack with her whip. As he was stunned, the long whip had already arrived at his face. Zhou Zhiruo did not even turn her head, but it was as if the back of her head grew a pair of eyes; the tip of the whip was pointing right at his nose.

As Zhou Zhiruo flung the long whip backward, two of her left-hand fingers repeatedly pierced toward Yin Liting. Within seven of such attacks, she had covered the entire vital acupoints on Yin Liting’s head, face and the front of his chest.

Yin Liting was unable to attack the opponent. He also could not turn back his sword to pare her arm. With no other choice, he launched the ‘feng dian tou’ [nodding phoenix] by bending his knees to dodge the attacks.

In the meantime, from the Ming Cult’s thatched shelter came a loud ‘bang!’ followed by a series of crashing noises. Turned out Yang Xiao, who was standing on the side, and had keen eyes and quick hands, hurled the wooden table in front of him to block Zhou Zhiruo’s whip. As the whip struck the table, wooden splinters flew all over the place. The teapots and teacups on the table were also thrown to all directions, splashing hot tea to numerous people around them.

As her attack missed, Zhou Zhiruo no longer paid Zhou Dian any attention. Her flexible whip coiled back and stormed toward Yin Liting. Holding the hilt of a sword in his hand, Yu Lianzhou had been standing on the side. But after watching for half an afternoon, he still could not predict the essence of her whip technique. “Even if I have to fight, in Taiji Sword technique I am not any better than Liudi [sixth younger brother]. But if the fight is prolonged, this woman’s internal energy might be insufficient, and then relying on our resilience, we might score a victory.”

He saw Yin Liting’s sword going back and forth, opening and closing, the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ elements intertwined with each other. Yin Liting was unleashing the instructions given by their benevolent master, Zhang Sanfeng to the fullest. He thought that in all his life he had never seen his Shidi [younger martial brother] unleash this kind of brilliant swordsmanship. Today, while facing a life and death situation, he was able to display the most refined of their school’s sword technique. Wudang Pai’s martial art paid particular attention to resiliency; the longer the fight, the stronger they were. The longer they were able to hold their ground, the greater the chance they would not get defeated.

Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip vibrated, creating circles, big and small circles, surrounding Yin Liting’s entire body with these circles. Taiji Fist and Taiji Sword also based on transmitting strength through circles. Surprisingly, Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip was also vibrating strength through circles. The rotational direction of the whip and Yin Liting’s sword were the same, but the whip was several times faster.

As Yin Liting’s sword was entangled by her whip, it lost its strength and did not want to follow its master’s command. The sword was swirled several times and then a blue ray flickered as the sword was thrown upward. Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip coiled down to smash the crown of Yin Liting’s head.

Yu Lianzhou immediately jumped forward. His right hand caught the tip of the flexible whip. From inside her gown, Zhou Zhiruo’s leg flew out, threatening Yu Lianzhou’s waist.

From the start, Yu Lianzhou had always had difficulty predicting the direction of Zhou Zhiruo’s whip strange movements. However, when he saw her shook the whip to create the circles and snatch Yin Liting’s sword, it suddenly it dawned on him, “Turns out her skill is only mediocre. Her technique in vibrating the whip to make circles is far inferior to our Taiji Fist.”

As he grabbed the tip of the whip, ignoring the attack toward his waist, his left hand struck Zhou Zhiruo’s lower abdomen using the ‘hu zhua jue hu shou’ ['Tiger Claws Destroying Procreation Skill’ - See Chapter 10, translated by Faerie Queenie].

Zhou Zhiruo was unable to block. Like a lightning, this thought came into her mind, “I’ll die under Yu Er Shu’s [second (younger) uncle] hands today.” Releasing the whip handle, the five fingers of her right hand came down on top of Yu Lianzhou’s head, hoping that in her death, she would take Yu Lianzhou along.

Yu Lianzhou wanted to lean his head sideways to evade, but unfortunately, the ‘tui hou xue’ [lit. ‘behind the leg’ acupoint] on his waist was sealed by Zhou Zhiruo’s kick that his neck stiffened and he could not turn his head. However, the strength of his left hand did not diminish.

At the time when both people’s lives were hanging by a thread, someone suddenly darted in from the side; his right hand blocked Yu Lianzhou’s ‘hu zhua jue hu shou’, his left hand stopped Zhou Zhiruo’s fingers, which were about to pierce Yu Lianzhou’s skull. It was Zhang Wuji who decided to save them.

Zhou Zhiruo combined the forces of her palms to strike Zhang Wuji’s chest. If Zhang Wuji dodged the attack, this pair of palms would strike Yin Liting’s face, therefore, he had no choice but parry her palms with his left palm.

As these two people’s three palms struck each other, Zhang Wuji suddenly felt that Zhou Zhiruo’s palms were void of any strength. Zhang Wuji was stunned. “Aiyo, not good!” he thought, “After fighting ferociously with Liu Shu [sixth uncle] for more than 200 stances, she is like a lamp which oil has dried up. If I continued sending out my strength, she would certainly die on the spot.” In desperation, he hastily pulled back his strength.

When he sent out his left palm, he only knew that Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art did not differ too much from his own, that she was a powerful opponent; therefore, he did not dare to be negligent. With one palm blocking two, he had sent his entire strength. As the force was just about to come out, he realized the opponent was devoid of any strength, so he hurriedly pulled back his power. He was well aware that by doing so, he had violated an important principle of the martial art theory. It was equal to attacking his own body with his entire strength. In addition, he needed to use more strength in order to pull back the outgoing power. Fortunately, he had reached a level where he could send out or pull back his power at will. This sudden withdrawal of his strength would only stop the flow of his ‘chi’ momentarily, but would not greatly harm him.

Unexpectedly, as he pulled his strength, he suddenly felt like a burst of flooding water breaking a dam, the opponent’s strength surged into his body with an irresistible force. Zhang Wuji was greatly shocked; realizing that he had fallen into the enemy’s trap. ‘Bang!’ his chest was squarely hit by Zhou Zhiruo’s palms.

Zhang Wuji was stricken by his own strength plus Zhou Zhiruo’s palm power. It was as if two martial art masters joined hands to attack him. Although his Jiu Yang Shen Gong protecting his body was profound, it was simply too much for him to bear. Much less, the power of Zhou Zhiruo’s palms seized the opportunity to burst in when his defense line was wide open; right when his previous strength was pulled back and before the new strength was generated.

This technique was actually Emei Pai’s specialty. In the past, Miejue Shitai had used it to strike him until he spurted blood and fell down to the ground. It was just that in the past, he was completely ignorant on how to withstand the attack. This time however, he misread Zhou Zhiruo’s intentions and thus had fallen under the deceit. Zhang Wuji was thrown backwards. His vision blackened and he spurted a mouthful of blood.

As Zhou Zhiruo’s sneak attack succeeded, her left hand followed with five fingers aimed at the pit of his stomach. Zhang Wuji was heavily injured, but he had not lost consciousness. Seeing the claw was about to rip his throat and chest open, he strained himself to inch backward some more. ‘Rip!’ Zhou Zhiruo’s claw scratched the front part of his clothes open, revealing Zhang Wuji’s bare chest. Zhou Zhiruo’s right hand claw swiftly followed.

At this moment, Yu Lianzhou’s acupoint was sealed by her kick so he was unable to move. Yin Liting was some distance away so even though he pounced forward, he would be too late to save him. It looked like Zhang Wuji would not be able to escape this calamity.

As she was glancing down, Zhou Zhiruo suddenly saw a deep scar on his chest. It was the scar when she stabbed him with the Yitian Sword at the Brightness Peak. Her five fingers were less than half a foot from his chest, but mixed emotions suddenly surged up in her breast. Her eyes turned red and her claw stopped midair.

While she was hesitating, Wei Yixiao, Yin Liting, Yang Xiao, and Fan Yao, four people had already arrived. Wei Yixiao flew and blocked in front on Zhang Wuji. Yang and Fan, two people launched a converging attacked from left and right. Yin Liting quickly grabbed Zhang Wuji and took him away.

The crowd around the field was thrown into chaos. Emei Pai disciples and Shaolin monks shouted and grabbing their weapons, they rushed into the arena. Yang Xiao and Fan Yao only fought Zhou Zhiruo for several stances before they stopped. Wei Yixiao helped up Yu Lianzhou, taking him back to their shelter. Emei Pai and Shaolin Pai also returned to their positions as they saw that the fight has ceased.

Zhao Min was actually also rushing into the arena, but her speed was inferior to that of Wei Yixiao, Yang Xiao, and the others. By the time she was halfway, Zhang Wuji was already carried back. As she saw blood seeping out from his mouth, she was so frightened that her face turned sheet-white.

Forcing a smile, Zhang Wuji said, “I am all right. I only need to circulate my ‘chi’ for a while.”

Everybody helped him to sit in the shelter. At once Zhang Wuji slowly circulated his Jiu Yang Shen Gong to treat his internal injury.

Zhou Zhiruo called out, “Which hero will come up to grant me instruction?” Tightening his belt, Fan Yao went out in big strides.

“Fan You Shi,” Zhang Wuji quickly called out, “Listen to my order: you must not fight. We … we admit defeat …” As he opened his mouth, he vomited two more mouthful of blood.

Fan Yao did not dare to defy his Jiaozhu’s order. Supposing he insisted on fighting, he would inevitably make Zhang Wuji’s injury worse. Besides, even if he fought with everything he had, he might only deliver his life in vain, without any advantage to their own Cult.

Standing in the middle of the field, Zhou Zhiruo asked two more times.

The fact that Zhang Wuji was injured by his own pulled-back strength was known to him and Zhou Zhiruo only. Others believed that Zhou Zhiruo’s power was so strange that Zhang Wuji was not her match. The spectators only saw that Zhou Zhiruo did not continue her claw and thus they believed that she spared Zhang Wuji’s life. As a young woman, she successfully defeated Yin Liting, Yu Lianzhou and Zhang Wuji; three prominent martial art masters of this age. Everybody believed that her martial art was simply too strange; totally beyond anybody’s comprehension.

Although there were more than a handful warriors among the crowd of heroes who were quite skillful in martial arts, upon self-introspection, these people realized they could not be compared to Yin, Yu and Zhang, three people; therefore, they decided there was no need for them to lose their lives for nothing. Standing in the field, Zhou Zhiruo’s gown was blown by the mountain breeze, giving the impression that her gentle and frail figure was swaying by the wind. All around the field there were several thousand heroes and warriors from all over the world [orig. ‘san shan wu yue, si mian ba fang’ – three hills and five mountains, four faces and eight directions. Five sacred mountains of the Taoism are: Tai Shan, Hua Shan, Heng Shan, Heng Shan (different characters) and Song Shan.], yet not a single one dared to come down and challenge her.

Zhou Zhiruo waited a while longer, still nobody stepped forward. The old monk from Damo Hall walked into the field. Joining his palms together he said, “The skill of Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren [sect leader], Mrs. Song surpasses the crowd of heroes. Her martial art skill is number one in the world. Is there any hero who disagrees?”

Zhou Dian called out, “I, Zhou Dian, disagree.”

“In that case,” the old monk said, “I invite Zhou Yingxiong [hero Zhou] to come down and have a competition with her.”

“I am not her match,” Zhou Dian replied, “What can I compete with her?”

“Zhou Yingxiong,” the old monk replied, “Since you are aware you are not her match, aren’t you submitting to her?”

“I know that I am not her match,” Zhou Dian said, “But I do not submit to her. What’s wrong with that?”

The old monk no longer argued with his twisted logic. He asked, “Aside from this gentleman, Zhou Yingxiong, is there anybody else who do not submit to her?”

He repeated the question three times. Zhou Dian also voiced his disagreement three times. But nobody else made any noise to challenge the decision. “Since nobody is going to challenge her,” the old monk said, “Then according to the prior agreement of this great assembly, Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun will be handed over to Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren, Mrs. Song. Whoever has the precious Tulong Saber in his possession should also hand over the control of the said Saber to Mrs. Song. This is the agreement reached by theh heroes present and nobody will be allowed to dissent.”

Zhang Wuji was in the middle of treating his heavy injury by dispersing his internal energy and activating his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi. He was slowly entering the ‘clear’ and ‘void’ state of mind. But as he suddenly heard the old monk say ‘Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun will be handed over to Emei Pai Zhang Men Ren, Mrs. Song’, his mind was shaken and he nearly threw up another mouthful of blood.

Zhao Min was sitting close to him, caring for him with complete attention. Seeing Zhang Wuji suddenly shiver and his face greatly change, she understood his concern.

“Wuji Gege,” she said in a soft voice, “Nothing could be better than that Yifu falling into Zhou Jiejie’s hands. She did not have a heart to kill you just now; obviously, she still has deep feelings for you. I am sure she will not harm Yifu. Please set your heart at ease and just concentrate on treating your injury.”

Zhang Wuji thought she was right. He was relieved.

In the meantime, the sun was slowly setting behind the western mountain. The field gradually turned dark. The old monk said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun is confined somewhere in the back of the mountain. Right now, the sky has turned dark, Gentlemen and Ladies must be hungry. We will gather here again tomorrow afternoon. Lao Seng [old monk, referring to himself] will lead Mrs. Song to release the prisoner. That time we will witness Mrs. Song’s unparalleled martial art skill once again.”

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, and the others cast their glances toward Zhao Min. They all thought, “Exactly as you predicted. Shaolin Pai indeed has another plot. Even if Zhou Zhiruo possessed stronger martial art skill, there is no way she would be able to defeat Du E and the others, three eminent monks. I am afraid she would lose her life on top of that small hill. By showing off their power, Shaolin Pai will still dominate over the Wulin world.”

By this time Zhou Zhiruo had already returned to her thatched shelter. By defeating the heroes that day, Emei Pai’s prestige soared high. Seeing their Sect Leader return, there was not a single Emei disciple who did not show profound respect.

Although the crowd of heroes had seen Zhou Zhiruo win the title ‘Number One Martial Artist under the Heavens’, the most important matter had not been brought to completion yet, its conclusion was still left to everybody’s guess. Therefore, nobody went down the mountain that day.

The old monk said, “By visiting our Temple, all heroes are Shaolin Pai’s esteemed guests. If there is any resentment in your midst, we respectfully request for our sake that you do not settle it up on the Shaoshi Mountain. Otherwise, we will consider you as looking down on Shaolin Pai. After dinner tonight, you may visit the front part of the mountain as you wish. The rear part of the mountain, however, is where our Sect keeps our scriptures and manuals. We ask you to stay away from that part.”

Immediately Fan Yao took Zhang Wuji and carried him back to the Ming Cult camp. Although Zhang Wuji’s injury was very heavy, after taking nine of his own ‘miracle pills’ plus circulating his Jiu Yang Shen Qi, deep into the night, around the second hour [between 1 – 3am], he vomited three mouthfuls of blood and his internal injury was completely healed.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the others were pleasantly surprised. They all praised his internal energy cultivation as unparalleled in the world. If someone else suffered such a heavy injury, even if he was under a master physician’s care, he would need at least one or two months before he could comfortably circulate his ‘chi’ again. The fact that Zhang Wuji was able to recuperate in a matter of hours was simply too incredible. It would be hard for them to believe if they did not witness it with their own eyes.

Zhang Wuji ate two bowls of rice. After resting for a moment, he stood up and said, “I need to get some air.”

He was the Cult Leader. Even though he did not tell them what he was going to do, nobody dared to inquire. Yin Liting only said, “You have just recovered from a serious injury; you must be very careful.”

“I will!” Zhang Wuji replied. Noticing a great concern on Zhao Min’s face, he gave her a faint smile as if he was saying, “Don’t worry!”

As Zhang Wuji walked out the shed and looked up, he saw the bright moon and sparse stars in the sky. He took a deep breath and felt that his ‘zhen qi’ [real/genuine ‘chi’] was flowing freely around his body. His spirit rose as he walked toward the Temple gate.

“I [orig. zai4xia4 – ‘under’] have something I’d like to discuss with Emei Pai Zhang Men [sect leader]; would you please show me the way?” he said to the monk in charge of the reception of the visitors.

The monk on duty knew he was the Ming Cult Jiaozhu. “Yes! Yes!” he said, full of respect, “Xiao Seng [humble monk – referring to self] will show the way. Zhang Jiaozhu, this way, please.”

Leading Zhang Wuji to the west, they walked for approximately a ‘li’ [0.5km] before he pointed toward several little huts some distance away.

The monk said, “Emei Pai stays over there. Monks and nuns are not supposed to mingle. Xiao Seng feels uncomfortable to get too close this late at night.” Actually, he was afraid Zhang Wuji might fight with Zhou Zhiruo again. If two masters of the present age involved in a battle, he might get unlucky and would be hurt as an innocent bystander.

With a smile Zhang Wuji said, “If you returned and mentioned this matter, you would unavoidably alarm the others. I’d better seal your acupoint. What do you say?”

The monk hastily said, “Xiao Seng will not dare to open my mouth. Jiaozhu, don’t worry.” Hurriedly he turned around and left.

Zhang Wuji strolled leisurely toward the huts. He stopped about a dozen of ‘zhang’s away from the huts. Two nuns immediately flew in. Holding their swords horizontally across their bodies they shouted, “Who’s there?”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Ming Cult’s Zhang Wuji wishes to have an audience with your precious Sect’s Sect Leader, Mrs. Song.”

The two nuns were very apprehensive; the more senior of the two haltingly said, “Zhang … Zhang Jiaozhu, please wait here, I … I have to report it first.” Although she tried to act calm, her voice trembled. She turned around and started to walk. But only several steps later she took out a bamboo whistle and blew it.

Emei Pai was very happy and proud that day. Their Sect Leader had defeated three of the great masters of the present age in front of the world heroes. She had scared the several thousand fierce warriors so that none dared to challenge her. That was indeed an unprecedented grand occasion in the history of their Sect. However, the Emei Pai had killed two Elders of the Beggar Clan, defeated two heroes of Wudang, and injured the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. The number of people they had offended today was truly not a few. In addition, with Zhou Zhiruo winning the ‘Number One Martial Artist in the World’ title, there would be many heroes who were angry or envious. Thus, that night they set up tight sentries and patrols around their camp to guard against any threat from the outside.

As the nun blew the whistle, more than twenty people rushed in immediately from all directions. Their blades flickered under the moonlight. Zhang Wuji ignored their presence. He stood still with his hands behind his back.

The nun disappeared into a small hut. She reappeared a moment later and said, “Our humble Sect’s Zhang Men Ren says: Men and women are not supposed to mingle, especially this late at night. Zhang Jiaozhu, please return.”

“I have a rather acceptable medical skill,” Zhang Wuji said, “I only wish to treat Song Qingshu Shaoxia’s [young hero] injury; nothing more.”

The nun was startled. She went back into the hut to convey the message. After a long time, she returned and said, “Zhang Men Ren invites you to come in.”

Zhang Wuji patted his waist to show that he did not carry any weapon before walking behind the nun to enter the hut. He saw Zhou Zhiruo sitting by a table on the side; her cheek rested on her palm. She was lost in thought so that she did not turn her head although she heard him. The nun poured a cup of green tea and set it on the table then she retreated and gently closed the door. There were no other people in the room. A flickering white candle on the table illuminated Zhou Zhiruo’s plain dark green attire. The overall scene was sad and gloomy.

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. In a low voice he said, “How is Song Shige’s condition? Let me take a look at him.”

Without turning her head, Zhou Zhiruo coldly said, “His skull is smashed, his injury is very heavy. Most likely he won’t survive. I don’t even know if he would survive the night.”

“You know my medical skill is not too bad,” Zhang Wuji said, “I will do my best to save him.”

“Why do you want to save him?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji was startled. “I did you wrong,” he said, “In my heart, I am very ashamed. Moreover, you have showed me mercy today by letting me live. Song Shige is injured; I want to make it up to you somehow.”

“You showed me mercy first, do you think I did not know it?” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “If you can bring Song Dage back to life, how do you want me to repay?”

“A life for a life,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I am asking you to show mercy on my Yifu.”

Pointing toward the inner chamber Zhou Zhiruo indifferently said, “He is inside.”

Zhang Wuji walked toward the inside chamber. But as he saw the room was pitch-black without any light, he took the candlestick and went in. Zhou Zhiruo did not move; she was still sitting motionless with her cheek on her palm.

Zhang Wuji raised the dark green mosquito net up. Under the candlelight, he saw that Song Qingshu’s eyes were bulging, his facial features [orig. ‘wu3guan1’ – five sensory organs: nose, eyes, lips, tongue, ears] were distorted, making his countenance hideous. His breathing was very weak and he had lost consciousness long ago. Zhang Wuji held his wrist only to find his pulse was chaotic; sometimes fast, sometimes slow. His skin felt ice- cold. If he was not treated immediately, indeed he would not survive the night. Zhang Wuji lightly touched his skull and felt that four pieces of Song Qingshu’s skull, the forehead and the back of his head, were disintegrated. Zhang Wuji thought about the fierceness of his Yu Er Bo’s [second (older) uncle] pair of fists. This ‘shuang feng guan er’ stance was backed by a hundred percent internal energy. If Song Qingshu did not have a very strong foundation in internal energy cultivation, he would have died on the spot.

Zhang Wuji let down the mosquito net. He put down the candlestick on the table, sat on a bamboo chair by the table, and was deep in thought, thinking how he was going to treat the injury. Song Qingshu’s injury was fatal; even with all his might, Zhang Wuji’s confidence only reached 30%.

It took him about the time to cook rice to consider all options carefully; and then he stood up and went out the room. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “Whether or not Song Shige’s life would be saved, I find it very difficult to assert. Would you let me give it a try?”

“If you can’t save him, nobody else in this world can,” Zhou Zhiruo answered.

Zhang Wuji said, “Even if his life is spared, I am afraid his face, his martial art will not return to his former days. His brain was also shaken badly. I am afraid … I am afraid even speaking will not be easy for him.”

“You are not a deity,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “I know you will do your utmost to bring him back to life, so that you can be the imperial court’s consort with a clear conscience.”

Zhang Wuji was stumped; he thought it was inappropriate for him to respond, so he simply went back to the inner chamber and uncovered the quilt covering Song Qingshu’s body. After sealing Song Qingshu’s eight major acupoints, with an extreme care and very light pressure, which was neither here nor there, his ten fingers started to mend Song Qingshu’s broken skull, piece by piece. And then he took out a golden case from his bosom. With his little finger he picked a bead of blackish paste, which he then rubbed evenly with both hands on Song Qingshu’s broken skull.

This black paste was the ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ [black jade bone mending ointment], which was the supreme panacea of broken bones, developed by the Shaolin Pai of the Western Region. It was what remained from the ointment he begged from Zhao Min to treat Yu Daiyan and Yin Liting’s broken limbs. He also sent out his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in steady stream through his palm to help the medicine penetrate Song Qingshu’s broken bones.

About the time needed to burn an incense stick later, Zhang Wuji had finished applying his energy. Seeing Song Qingshu’s face did not worsen, he was delighted; knowing that his chance of saving Song Qingshu’s life had been increased by several points.

He had just recovered from a heavy injury so that after exerting that much energy, his heart was beating faster and his breath was labored. After standing next to the bed while regulating his ‘chi’ for half a day, he walked back to the outer chamber and put the candlestick back on the table.

Under the flickering candlelight, he saw Zhou Zhiruo’s face was unusually pale. Hearing light footsteps outside the room, he knew that the Emei disciples were still patrolling around their camp.

“I think Song Shige will live. Set your heart at ease,” he said.

“You don’t have the confidence of saving his life, I also don’t have the confidence of saving Xie Daxia’s life,” Zhou Zhiruo said.

“She is going to attack the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan tomorrow,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Even if there is one or two masters within the Emei Pai to give her a hand, nine out of ten it would be difficult for her to succeed. Perhaps she might deliver her life instead.” Thereupon he said, “Do you know the situation of the place where they hold Yifu captive?”

“I don’t,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “What kind of fierce ambush Shaolin Pai is preparing?”

And thus Zhang Wuji explained briefly how Xie Xun was held prisoner in a dungeon on top of a small hill, and that he was guarded by Shaolin’s three old monks; how he himself had failed to break the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan twice, resulted in the death of Yin Tianzheng.

Zhou Zhiruo was listening quietly until he was finished, and then she said, “That being the case, if you failed to break their defense, what hope do I have?”

Suddenly Zhang Wuji got an idea. “Zhiruo,” he happily said, “If the two of us join hands, we can accomplish greater merits. With my pure ‘yang’ and ‘hard’ power, I can entangle the three eminent monks’ long whips. With your ‘yin’ and ‘soft’ power, you seize the opportunity to enter. Once you are inside the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan defense line, with converging attack from outside and inside, we could score a victory.”

With a cold laugh Zhou Zhiruo said, “We were once engaged to each other. Right now, my husband is hovering between life and death. On top of that, I did not take your life today. Other people would say that I still have a feeling toward you. If I took your advice by asking you to help me, the heroes of the world would scold me as one without any sense of honor, indecisive and capricious.”

Zhang Wuji anxiously said, “We only need to have clear conscience. Why would we give any regard to whatever other people might say?”

“And if I do have a guilty conscience?” Zhou Zhiruo asked. Zhang Wuji was taken aback; he could only say, “You … You …”

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You are a single man and I am a widow. With us being together this late of night, it’s hard for us to avoid public criticism. Please leave immediately!”

Zhang Wuji stood up and bowed deeply. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “You have been very good to me since we were very young. I wish you would bestow kindness to me one more time. For the rest of his life, Zhang Wuji will not dare to forget your kindness.”

Zhou Zhiruo met his request with silence; she neither agreed nor disagreed. All along, she did not even turn her head so that Zhang Wuji was unable to see her expression. While he was just about to repeat his request, in a loud voice Zhou Zhiruo called, “Jinghui Shijie [martial (older) sister], see the visitor out!”

With a creaking noise, the outer door opened. Jinghui stood outside with a sword in her hand. She stared at Zhang Wuji with an angry look.

Zhang Wuji thought that at this moment, his Yifu’s life was at stake; his own reputation was of no importance. Thereupon, he knelt down in front of Zhou Zhiruo and kowtowed four times. “Mrs. Song,” he said, “I am asking for your mercy.”

Zhou Zhiruo sat motionless like a statue.

“Zhang Wuji,” Jinghui shouted, “Zhang Men Ren [sect leader] told you to get out. Why are you still pestering her? You are indeed a scum of the Wulin community. There is no one this shameless!” She thought that Song Qingshu had died and thus Zhang Wuji was begging Zhou Zhiruo to marry him.

Zhang Wuji sighed and jumped out the door.

Before even reaching the Ming Cult camp, Zhao Min had already met him. “Song Qingshu’s life is saved, isn’t it?” she said, “And you have used my ‘hei yu duan xu gao’ to be a good man.”

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed, “You truly have a deity’s foresight. At this time, it’s still hard to say whether he will be alive or not.”

Zhao Min heaved a deep sigh and said, “You wanted to save Song Qingshu’s life as an exchange for Xie Daxia. Wuji Gege, you are growing more and more muddleheaded; you do not have the least bit of understanding of other people’s hearts.”

“Why?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “I don’t understand what you were saying.”

“You saved Song Qingshu with all your strength, your blood, your sweat. That means you did not care about Zhou Jiejie’s feeling to you the least bit,” Zhao Min said, “Tell me, do you think she is or she isn’t angry?”

Zhang Wuji was startled; he was at a loss for words. He thought it would defy any logic if Zhou Zhiruo did not want her husband to be healed. However, she did say, ‘I know you will do your utmost to bring him back to life, so that you can be the imperial court’s consort with a clear conscience’. Clearly, this sentence carried the idea that Zhou Zhiruo resented him. Moreover, she also said, ‘what if I do have a guilty conscience?’ “You have saved Song Qingshu’s life, and now you regret it, don’t you?” Zhao Min asked. Without waiting for Zhang Wuji’s answer, she smiled slightly and then flew back into the shed.

Zhang Wuji sat on a large rock. He raised his head to look at the cold crescent moon, and was lost in thought. His mind wandered back to the events that followed the first time he met Zhou Ziruo, especially her tone of speaking and her body language just now. He lowered his head, while myriads of indiscernible thoughts raced back and forth in his mind.

Early morning on the sixth day of the fifth month, the bells inside the Shaolin Temple rang, calling the crowd of heroes to gather again in the field. This time, the old monk of the Damo Hall did not even ask for Kong Zhi’s permission. He stood in the middle of the field and said in a loud and clear voice, “All heroes, greetings! In the martial art competition yesterday, the Emei Pai Sect Leader, Mrs. Song’s skill was proven to surpass everybody else’s. We invite Mrs. Song to the back of the mountain to break the guard and get Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun out. Lao Seng [old monk – referring to self] will show the way.” Finished speaking, he proceeded walking toward the back of the mountain.

Emei Pai’s eight senior female disciples promptly followed him, with Zhou Zhiruo and the rest of Emei disciples close on their heels. The rest of the heroes followed after them. Zhang Wuji noticed that Zhou Zhiruo wore similar clothes to the ones she wore the previous day, not mourning clothes, so he knew Song Qingshu had not died yet.

“Critical moment has passed,” Zhang Wuji thought, “He will live.”

As the crowd of heroes went up to the peak of the hill, they saw that the three eminent monks were still sitting cross-legged under the pine trees.

The old monk of the Damo Hall said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang is held captive in the underground dungeon in between the three green pine trees. Guarding the dungeon are our Sect’s three elders. Mrs. Song’s martial art skill is unrivalled under the heavens. She only needs to defeat our Sect’s three elders then she can open the dungeon and take the prisoner away. The rest of us will have the opportunity to admire Mrs. Song’s skill once again.”

Seeing Zhang Wuji’s indeterminate expression, Yang Xiao said quietly by his ear, “Jiaozhu, don’t worry. Wei Fu Wang and Shuo Bude are leading the Five-Element Banners to surround the peak. If Emei Pai is unwilling to hand Xie Shi Wang over, we will have to use force.”

Frowning, Zhang Wuji said, “That means we are breaking the general assembly’s rules and breaking good faith.”

“I am only afraid Mrs. Song would place a sword on Xie Shi Wang’s neck,” Yang Xiao said, “And then many innocent bystanders would be hurt. Breaking good faith or not, we simply can’t deal with this crowd alone.”

Zhao Min quietly said, “Xie Shi Wang’s enemies are numerous. We must guard against sneak attacks, someone launching secret projectile from among the crowd.”

Yang Xiao said, “Fan You Shi, Priest Tie Guan, Zhou Xiong [brother Zhou] Peng Dashi [reverend Peng], four people are taking their positions on the four corners, guarding against sneak attacks.”

In a low voice Zhao Min said, “It would be better if someone launched a secret projectile. We may seize the opportunity amidst the chaos to snatch Xie Shi Wang. The world heroes could not blame us for breaking good faith. However, if all is quiet … something has to happen … Hmm, Yang Zuo Shi, have someone in disguise secretly launch an attack toward Xie Shi Wang to stir up the water, and then in the midst of trouble we snatch him away.”

Yang Xiao laughed. “This is a wonderful idea,” he said, and then immediately left to find someone to execute the plan.

Zhang Wuji realized they were not being straightforward and upright; but in order to save his Yifu, they were left with no other choice but to act decisively. In his heart, he could not stop feeling grateful toward Zhao Min. He thought, “In the face of critical situation, Min Mei and Yang Zuo Shi both have the ability to act decisive. It is very seldom that they had to stop and discuss matters at length, and lose a good opportunity. I don’t have that ability.”

In the meantime, he heard that Zhou Zhiruo was saying, “Since the three eminent monks are Shaolin Pai’s elders, your martial art skill must be very profound. If I fought you with one against three, not only it will be unfair, it will also be disrespectful of me.”

The Damo Hall’s old monk said, “If Mrs. Song must have one or two people to help, you may do so.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “Because all the heroes under the heavens yielded to me, I was fortunate to win the competition. I was using our Sect’s special skill, secretly passed on by Xian Shi [late/departed master], Miejue Shitai. Supposing we fought three against three, even if we scored a victory, I would fail to display the instructions my Xian Shi painstakingly taught me. But if I fought one against three, I would show disrespect toward the host. Therefore, let us do this: I am going to call someone who was injured under my hands yesterday, whose injury has not completely recovered, a kid to lend me a hand. This kid was once struck by my Xian Shi three times that he spurted blood. Let all the heroes under the heavens know. That way, my Xian Shi’s prestige will not be damaged.”

As Zhang Wuji heard this, he was utterly delighted. “Thanks the Heaven and thanks the Earth! She indeed allows me to come forward.”

“Zhang Wuji,” he heard Zhou Zhiruo call out, “Come out.”

Aside from Yang Xiao and a few other people, the Ming Cult warriors did not know the background story; but all of them were angry to hear Zhou Zhiruo saying ‘this kid this’ and ‘this kid that’ in total disrespect of their Cult Leader. To their surprise, however, they saw that Zhang Wuji looked so happy. He stepped forward, bowed with cupped fists and said, “Many thanks Mrs. Song, for showing mercy and sparing this kid’s life yesterday.” Zhang Wuji had already decided in his heart, “She is humiliating me publicly not only to gain face to the Emei Pai, but also to retaliate for the disgrace that day, when the groom fled in the middle of the wedding ceremony. For Yifu’s sake, I must set aside everything else.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “You were heavily injured that you vomited some blood yesterday. I don’t really need any help today, but we must show some manners.”

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I will follow your orders, I will not dare to disobey.”

Zhou Zhiruo took out her whip. As she shook her right hand, the whip immediately created more than a dozen big and small circles in the air. It was a very beautiful sight. Her left hand flipped over. A blue ray flashed. A short blade appeared in her hand. The crowd of heroes had seen the formidable power of her flexible whip yesterday; they did not expect that she was able to use a blade at the same time. One long, the other short, one flexible, the other stiff; these two weapons were exact opposite of each other. The crowd of heroes gasped in admiration; their spirits were aroused.

Zhang Wuji fetched a couple of Sheng Huo Ling tablets from his pocket. He took two steps forward. Suddenly he staggered and deliberately let out several coughs, as if he had not fully recovered and was having difficulty even to protect himself, so that if they defeat the three Shaolin monks, the crowd of heroes would think that all credits belong to Zhou Zhiruo.

Zhou Zhiruo came near to him and said in a low voice, “You have sworn an oath to avenge your ‘biaomei’ [younger maternal female cousin]. But if the murderer who harmed her was your Yifu, do you still want to save him?”

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. “Yifu suffers from some mental illness, he cannot be held responsible for his own actions,” he finally said.

Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu come here to grant some more instructions today.”

“I beg the forgiveness of the three Eminent Monks,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Well said, well said!” Du E said, “This Emei Pai Zhang Men; I heard she defeated all heroes under the heavens yesterday. Could it be that her martial art is superior to Zhang Jiaozhu’s?”

“Certainly,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Wan bei [younger generation – referring to self] suffered a severe injury and I vomited blood under Zhou Zhang Men’s hands yesterday.”

“That’s strange,” Du Nan said.

The three old monks’ long whip slowly shook and came out. Right at this moment, from the waist of the hill suddenly came a gentle sound of ‘qin’ [zither] and flute ensemble, intermingled with the cry of the birds.

Zhang Wuji was very happy. As the ‘yao qin’ [jade or mother-of-pearl zither] made three ‘zheng, zheng, zheng’ noise, four young woman wearing white clothes floating onto the peak, each one had a short zither in her hands. Next, amidst the rising and falling flute sound, four young women in black, each blowing a long flute, walked up the peak. The black and white intermingled, eight young women stood on eight directions. The zither and flute ensemble played a gentle, yet elegant music.

Accompanied by this beautiful music, a beautiful woman draped in light yellow soft cotton clothing strolled leisurely toward the peak. She was the woman Zhang Wuji met during the Beggar Clan meeting at Lulong the other day.

As soon as the little girl, the Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, Shi Hongshi saw her, she rushed forward, threw herself in that woman’s bosom and cried out, “Yang Jiejie, Yang Jijie! Our Zhanglao and Longtou have been killed!” She pointed toward Zhou Zhiruo and said, “They were killed under Emei Pai and Shaolin Pai’s malicious hands.” The woman in yellow nodded and said, “I know. Humph! Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua is not necessarily the strongest martial art in the world.”

Ever since she arrived at the peak, her entourage, her beautiful face and her elegant manners have captivated the attention of everybody present. These few words of her were clearly heard by everyone. The crowd of heroes was astonished. The older ones among them thought, “Could it be that Emei Pai’s claw technique is the sinister and ruthless skill, ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’, which shook the Jianghu over a hundred years ago?” They had heard the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’s name, and they knew this martial art was evil and brutal to the extreme; but since it had been lost for a long time, nobody had ever seen it.

The woman in yellow took Shi Hongshi by the hand and led her back to the Beggar Clan crowd. Then she sat on a piece of mountain rock.

Zhou Zhiruo’s countenance slightly changed as in a low voice she asked, “Who is this woman?”

“I only met her once,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I don’t know her name, I don’t know her origin; I only know she has some relation with the Beggar Clan.”

“Humph!” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, and then said, “Let’s start!” Her long whip shook and coiled toward Du Nan’s long rope, while grasping this opportunity to occupy the space in between the three deep green pine trees. Her first move in attacking the center of the enemies was very ruthless and swift, with lots of guts; even first-class Jianghu masters might be unable to do what she did.

The crowd of heroes only saw her shadow in the air, just like a giant dark green crane sweeping down from the sky; her movements were incomparably graceful.

The flexible whip in her right hand entangled Du Nan’s long rope. Both of them exerted their strength trying to pull their respective weapons that Du Nan’s weapon was rendered useless temporarily. Du E and Du Jie’s pair of whips made a converging attack from left and right. Zhang Wuji immediately stepped forward, but his step faltered and he tumbled down to the ground. The crowd of heroes gasped; they thought that after his injury, Zhang Wuji’s steps were weakened. They did not know that Zhang Wuji was using the ancient Persian martial art he learned from the Sheng Huo Ling tablets. His movements were weird, totally unpredictable. As he seemed to be falling forward, the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands actually struck toward the pit of Du Nan’s stomach.

Du Nan’s long rope was still entangled by Zhou Zhiruo’s whip that he was unable to use his weapon to block the attack. Du E and Du Jie saw the danger. Their ropes left Zhou Zhiruo to assault Zhang Wuji. Two long strips of black ropes, with overwhelming power swiftly struck toward Zhang Wuji like a pair of black dragons so that he would be hard pressed to block. Who would have thought that Zhang Wuji rolled around on the ground to escape the attack while rolling toward Du E.

Du E thrust his left hand toward Zhang Wuji’s shoulder. Zhang Wuji parried with his left palm using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. His body shook and his shoulder bumped toward Du Jie. He resolutely wanted to make Zhou Zhiruo famous today by giving up the credit of defeating the Shaolin three eminent monks entirely to Emei Pai Zhang Men. His only wish was that he would be able to save Xie Xun. By using the ancient Persian martial art, he rolled and circled to the east, and stumbled and turned to the west. His movements were totally unattractive; he seemed to be in a very distressing situation.

There were many outstandingly experienced warriors with vast knowledge among the spectators, but this special ancient Persian martial art was simply too strange. In addition, there had never been anybody from the Central Plains using it. Much less, the fact that Zhang Wuji was heavily injured the previous day was a public knowledge. Consequently, no one realized that he was only pretending. There wasn’t any one among the enemies of the Ming Cult who was not secretly delighted, while all the friends of the Ming Cult were deeply troubled; thinking that Zhang Wuji might lose his life over this matter today. Over several dozens of stances later, they saw that Zhou Zhiruo’s shadow abruptly flashed up and down, swiftly swaying in an unpredictable manner. In the meantime, Zhang Wuji seemed to be losing his ground. His hands and feet moved in a frantic manner, not any better than a fool who had just started training martial arts. However, no matter how dangerous his situation was, he always managed to escape the opponent’s fatal blow at the last moment.

The experienced heroes among the crowd started to realize that Zhang Wuji must have followed some type of footwork; perhaps something similar to ‘zui ba xian’ [drunken eight immortals], where the movements seemed disorderly, but actually contained strange and subtle variations within it. This type of martial art skill was much more difficult to master than the orthodox martial art commonly practiced in that era.

If this ancient Persian martial art were used to fight one of the three eminent monks, regardless of which monk, he would certainly be confused and put at a disadvantage; just as Zhang Wuji was battered and exhausted when he was dealing with the Wind and Cloud Emissaries for the first time. However, these three Shaolin eminent monks had been in meditation together for several decades; their minds were interlinked. As soon as one of the monks showed a small opening in his defense line, the other two monks would immediately close that gap.

Zhang Wuji executed all kinds of strange movements. Each one was designed to confuse enemy’s vision. He would move to the left, but actually attack to the right; he seemed to attack to the front, but actually aim to the back; his movements were very difficult to predict. However, the three monks’ whips were as steady as their heartbeat, totally immune to his tricks.

Toward the seventieth, eightieth stance, Zhang Wuji’s strange movements continuously emerged one after another, but all along he failed to harm even a strand of these three monks’ hair. After nearly a hundred stances, he felt the three monks’ whips were getting stronger, while his own movements were getting sluggish; he was unable to move as quick as when they started fighting. He did not realize that the martial art he used was somewhat demonic, while the three monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was based on Buddhism power utilization technique to subdue evil spirit.

The spectators only saw as if he was fighting with renewed vigor, while actually it was because the demonic influence in his mind was growing stronger. If he fought for another hundred stances, unavoidably he would completely fall under the control of the three monks’ Buddhist influence and would continuously dance crazily beyond his control. Without any attack from the three eminent monks, he would condemn himself to his doom.

The common people called the Ming Cult as the Devil Cult not without any reason. This ancient Persian martial art was developed by ‘the Old Man of the Mountain’, the big devil that killed without batting his eyes. When Zhang Wuji first trained this martial art, he was unconscious of this demonic character; however, now that he was battling formidable opponents, he had to bring out the essence of this demonic martial art to its fullest potential, and thus his mind was gradually stimulated.

Suddenly he looked up to the sky and let out a hysterical and devilish ‘ha, ha, ha’ laughter. As he stopped laughing, from inside the dungeon among the three green pine trees came a voice; it was his Yifu, Xie Xun’s voice. Zhang Wuji heard Xie Xun’s old voice slowly recite the ‘Jin Gang Jing’ [Vajracchedika Sutra or Diamond Sutra], “Upon the occasion of hearing this Discourse Subhuti had an interior realization of its meaning and was moved to tears. Whereupon he addressed the Buddha thus: It is a most precious thing, World-honored One, that you should deliver this supremely profound Discourse. Never have I heard such an exposition since of old my eye of wisdom first opened. World-honored One, if anyone listens to this Discourse in faith with a pure, lucid mind, he will thereupon conceive an idea of Fundamental Reality …” [Translator’s note: I was about to give up translating this passage, fortunately, I found the English translation by A.F. Price, http://personal.palouse.net/lotus/diamondsutra.htm The passage Xie Xun recited was from Section XIV.]

Zhang Wuji was listening and fighting at the same time. As Xie Xun’s chanting rose up, he felt that he was able to resist the power of the whips of the three Shaolin monks. He heard Xie Xun continue, “World-honored One, having listened to this Discourse, I receive and retain it with faith and understanding. This is not difficult for me, but in ages to come - in the last five-hundred years, if there be men coming to hear this Discourse who receive and retain it with faith and understanding, they will be persons of most remarkable achievement. Wherefore? Because they will be free from the idea of an ego-entity, free from the idea of a personality, free from the idea of a being, and free from the idea of a separated individuality…”

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji’s heart became troubled. He knew that as his Yifu was being imprisoned in the dungeon on this peak, he listened to the three Shaolin eminent monks reciting the sutra every day. He was definitely able to escape the other day, but realizing he had committed grave offenses in the past, he was adamantly not willing to leave. Could it be that after listening to the teachings of Buddha for several months, he finally had a change of heart? The sutra said, ‘in ages to come - in the last five-hundred years, if there be men coming to hear this Discourse who receive and retain it with faith and understanding.’ At this moment, in Yifu’s heart, the ‘latter man of the five-hundred years’ must be a reference to Zhang Wuji. Only, the meaning of the scripture was very deep; Zhang Wuji was in the middle of a heated battle, he could not stop to ponder. Naturally, he did not know that Subhuti was an elder who listened to Sakyamuni Buddha’s discourse of the Diamond Sutra. Therefore, his understanding of what Xie Xun was reciting was next to nothing.

He heard Xie Xun continue, “Buddha said to Subhuti: Just as you say! If anyone listens to this Discourse and is neither filled with alarm nor awe nor dread, be it known that such a one is of remarkable achievement … When the Rajah of Kalinga mutilated my body, I was at that time free from the idea of an ego-entity, a personality, a being, and a separated individuality. Wherefore? Because then when my limbs were cut away piece by piece, had I been bound by the aforesaid distinctions, feelings of anger and hatred would have been aroused in me … Bodhisattvas should leave behind all phenomenal distinctions.”

Zhang Wuji understood this passage of scripture. It was clear that everything in this world was illusionary. In regard to my own body, my life, my mind, everything was temporal. Even if others cut my flesh into pieces, I simply need to disregard my own body, naturally all hatred and resentments would vanish. “Yifu lives in a dungeon, yet he seems to be at peace. Could it be that he has reached the realm of freedom from shock, intimidation, and fear?” As he pondered about this, he had another thought, “Is Yifu trying to tell me not to agonize over his well-being? That I don’t have to exert myself in rescuing him?”

Xie Xun had been imprisoned in the dungeon for several months. Every evening he heard the three monks in the pine trees reciting the ‘Diamond Sutra’. He was slowly enlightened by the meaning of the scripture. This time, as he heard Zhang Wuji’s devilish laughter, he realized the demonic influence was already growing in his heart; Zhang Wuji gradually entered into a dangerous situation. Immediately Xie Xun recited the ‘Diamon Sutra’ with the hope of driving the demonic influence out of Zhang Wuji’s heart.

While listening to the Buddhist scripture, Zhang Wuji’s hands did not stop moving. In his heart, he pondered upon the meaning of the text he was hearing. The demonic influence in his heart gradually diminished. Consequently, his ancient Persian martial art lost its effectiveness.

‘Swish!’ Du Jie’s long rope struck toward his left shoulder. Zhang Wuji shrank his shoulder to dodge. Without realizing it, he was using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi , supported by his Jiu Yang Shen Gong. At once he was able to neutralize the power of the incoming attack. His mind was moved, “It’s hard for me to score a victory using this ancient Persian martial art.”

Casting a sidelong glance toward Zhou Zhiruo, Zhang Wuji saw that she was struggling just to hold her ground, to the point that she was in the brink of defeat. He thought, “Today’s business is difficult to be resolved in a manner that will satisfy both sides."I can forget about saving Yifu, if I don’t go all out and Zhiruo is defeated.” Letting out a clear whistle, he used the Sheng Huo Ling tablets to attack bit by bit.

Meanwhile, Xie Xun did not stop reciting the sutra, but Zhang Wuji focused his entire attention on the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi so he closed his ears to the chanting. He tried to take the three monks’ long ropes as much as possible with the hope of Zhou Zhiruo finding an opening so that she might enter the circle.

As Zhang Wuji fought with all his might, the three monks felt the pressure on their ropes was gradually getting heavier that they were forced to increase their internal energies to resist it. The three monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was based on ‘Jin Gang Jing’s [Diamond Sutra] highest essence; namely, it aimed to achieve the realm of ‘free from the idea of an ego-entity, free from the idea of a personality, free from the idea of a being, and free from the idea of a separated individuality’. There was no difference between me and you, no separation of life and death, completely regarded everything as illusory. Only, although the three monks’ cultivation was high, as they fought, they were still unable to overcome the desire to win. Although they had disregarded life and death, their human ego had not disappeared. Therefore, the power of their ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ could not reach its pinnacle.

Among the three monks, Du E’s cultivation was the highest that he had gotten rid of the ‘four freedoms from individuality’. However, the other two monks, Du Nan and Du Jie were still burning with the desire to achieve victory. This mixture of different inner desires had taken its toll in that Du E’s long whip movements did not seamlessly match with those of his two colleagues.

The crowd of heroes watching from the side had seen the changes in Zhang Wuji’s martial art. The battle in the middle of the green pine trees were growing in intensity. Thin mist started to rise from the top of the three monks’ heads. The spectators knew the mist came from the perspiration on the monks’ foreheads, which was turned into vapor by the heat generated from the exertion of their internal energy. It was clear that these five people had reached the stage of all out internal energy battle. Thin mist also appeared on top of Zhang Wuji’s head. But the mist rose like a long, thin straight line; it did not disperse like regular steam. Obviously, his internal energy cultivation was very deep, deeper than the three monks’. Just the previous day the crowd of heroes saw that he had received a severe injury. Who would have thought that he completely recovered in only one night? The depth of his internal energy really amazed others.

Zhou Zhiruo, on the other hand, did not dare to engage the three monks in direct confrontation; she only wandered outside the circle. As soon as the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan revealed a crack in their defense line, she would jump in the opportunity. But as one of the whips intercepted her, her graceful figure would lithely turn back to evade. Because of this, the difference in martial art cultivation between Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo became apparent to the spectators. Many among the crowd of heroes could not restrain from voicing their opinions in whispers.

“For the last several years there is a rumor in the Wulin world that the Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill is without equal. Sure enough, his reputation in well-deserved. Apparently, he was deliberately yielding to this Mrs. Song yesterday. It is called a gentleman will not fight a woman.”

“What do you mean a gentleman will not fight a woman? Don’t you know Mrs. Song was about to become Zhang Jiaozhu’s wife? It is called ‘old ruler’s affection is deep’!” [Translator’s note: I know it sounds weird in English, but perhaps someone will explain this saying for us?]

“Pei! It is ‘old sword’s affection is deep’, not ‘old ruler’s affection is deep’!” “Don’t you see those two iron rulers in Zhang Jiaozhu’s hands?”

“After that, Mrs. Song did not have a heart to kill Zhang Jiaozhu with a vicious blow. Won’t it be ‘the old hand’s affection is deep’?”

Meanwhile, the stances launched by the three monks and Zhang Wuji were getting slower; the changes were also getting more subtle.

Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art skill grew at a fantastical rate; her victory over Wudang's Second Hero was the peak of her achievement. However, speaking about internal energy cultivation, compared to Yu Lianzhou and Yin Liting, she actually fell far behind. This moment, Zhang Wuji’s battle with the three Shaolin monks had reached an all-out, real-skill stage; there was no leeway for a shortcut, no opening for Zhou Zhiruo to attack. Now and then her flexible whip would sweep and strike forward, but as soon as it bumped into the four people’s internal energy, it would bounce back immediately.

Less than an hour later, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside Zhang Wuji’s body flowed out rapidly. The Sheng Huo Ling in his hands created ‘swish, swish, swish’ noise. Originally, the three monks’ countenances were different from each other, but at this time their faces were dark red, their Buddhist robes bubbled up as if they were blown by a strong gale. On the other hand, there were not any visible changes in Zhang Wuji’s clothes. His superiority had been established by this fact alone. If he fought them one-on-one, or even one-on-two, he would have scored a victory early on.

Zhang Wuji’s cultivation of Jiu Yang Zhen Qi was immeasurably deep to begin with. After receiving instructions from Zhang Sanfeng, he further developed his ‘chi’ with cultivation technique of Taijiquan. Right now, the longer he fought, the stronger he was. He would win an endurance race, since he could fight an all-out battle for one or two ‘sichen’ [1 sichen = 2 hours] more, waiting for the opponents to exhaust their own strength.

The three Shaolin also realized that a prolonged battle would be detrimental to their side. Suddenly they let out a high-pitched shout together. Three long whips rotated rapidly, the whips turned into blur shadows that it was difficult to see which one was real and which one was a mere shadow.

Zhang Wuji focused his gaze on the incoming whip; he blocked them one by one, while anxiety started to grow in his heart. “Although Zhiruo’s martial art is marvelous, her days of training were, after all, not too many. Our joint power cannot be compared to [maternal] grandfather and Yang Zuo Zhi. I can’t do it based on my strength alone. It looks like we are going to be defeated again today. If I can’t save Yifu this time, what do I do?” As his heart was anxious, his internal energy was somewhat reduced. The three monks seized this opportunity to press on; their attacks grew more dangerous, surrounding Zhang Wuji from all sides. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning a thought came into Zhang Wuji’s mind. He recalled Xie Xun’s affection toward him when he was little on the Bing Huo [ice and fire] Island. He also remembered although Xie Xun was blind, he braved the danger by re-entering the Jianghu, all because of him. If he could not save him today, he definitely did not want to live alone.

He saw that Du Nan’s long whip was threatening his back. Disregarding his own safety, his left hand reached up to let the whip strike his arm, but he dissipated the incoming force using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. The Sheng Huo Ling tablet in his right hand blocked the pair of whips of Du E and Du Jie. Like a giant bird he suddenly pounced to the left, but his body turned around midair and suddenly he grabbed Du Nan’s long whip, and wound it once around the trunk of the green pine tree in which Du Nan was sitting.

This maneuver was truly unthinkable; Zhang Wuji raised his left arm, pulled the whip and wound it around the tree trunk. Du Nan was greatly shocked; he hastilypulled back. Zhang Wuji’s change of movements were amazingly fast; he also pulled the rope to counter Du Nan’s force. Although the bough of the pine tree was thick, almost half of it had already scooped out hollow by the three monks to protect them from the wind and the rain. This time, a very tough and durable long rope wound around it, and Zhang Wuji and Du Nan’s internal energy pulled it at the same time, a loud crashing sound was heard as the pine tree broke right at the hollow part, with the top portion of the tree came crashing down from the sky.

Seizing the opportunity when Du E and Du Jie, two monks were still stunned by this turn of events, Zhang Wuji struck with both palms, with a loud shout he pushed the pine tree where Du E was sitting. In this strike he put the entire life-long cultivated strength into his palms. The pine tree could not stand and snapped off at once.

The two broken pine trees, along with their branches and leaves, fell down on the tree where Du Jie was sitting. These two trees carried the momentum of several thousand catties. Zhang Wuji flew up and landed on the third tree. His feet pushed down and the tree broke. It swayed in the air and slowly fell down. The noise of the broken trees intermingled with the cry and shouts of the crowd of heroes.

Zhang Wuji threw the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands toward Du E and Du Jie. The two monks were busy dodging the falling trees, and now they had to deal with the incoming Sheng Huo Ling tablets; the movements of their hands and feet became chaotic. Zhang Wuji bent his knees and rolled underneath the falling trees, which had not reached the ground yet. He had entered the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’s center. Using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique, his palms pushed and turned, and the boulder covering the dungeon was shoved open.

“Yifu, come out, quick!” he called out. Afraid that Xie Xun was unwilling to come out, without waiting for a reply, Zhang Wuji put one hand down the hole and grabbed the back of Xie Xun’s collar and lifted him up.

Right this moment, Du E and Du Jie’s whips arrived. Zhang Wuji was forced to let Xie Xun down. He took out two more Sheng Huo Ling tablets from his bosom and threw the tablets toward the two monks. Quick as lighting his hands grabbed the tip of the whips. Du E and Du Jie were about to exert their internal energy to pull the whips back, but the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets had already arrived in front of their faces with speed that did not give them any leeway. The two monks did not have any choice but let their whips go as they hastily jumped back. It was the only way they could evade the Sheng Huo Ling attack.

In the meantime, Du Nan’s left palm was threatening Zhang Wuji’s chest. “Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji called out, “Stop him!” Slanting his body sideways to evade, he carried Xie Xun in his arms. As soon as he managed to get Xie Xun out of the three pine trees encirclement, Shaolin Pai would not have anything to say.

“Humph,” Zhou Zhiruo snorted, but she hesitated, while Du Nan’s right palm followed his left. Zhang Wuji turned his body around to avoid the vital acupoint on his back from being hit, letting the palm to land on his shoulder instead. Carrying Xie Xun, Zhang Wuji wanted to break out from the pine trees. “Child Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “In all my life I have committed grave sins. In this place I am listening to the scripture about repentance, my heart is at peace. Why do you insist on taking me out?” While saying that, he tried to struggle free.

Zhang Wuji knew Yifu’s martial art skill was very high; if he stubbornly refused to go, he could be very difficult to be dealt with. “Yifu,” he said, “Please forgive Child’s offense!” The five fingers of his right hand moved lightning fast, sealing several acupoints on Xie Xun’s thigh, chest and abdomen, rendering Xie Xun immobile temporarily.

Because of this slight delay, the palms of the three Shaolin monks had struck by. “Leave him!” they barked.

Zhang Wuji was aware that the palms of these three monks had surrounded him from all directions. Before the palms arrived, the wind generated by these palms had already pressing him. He had no other choice but put Xie Xun down on the ground, and then lifted his palms to block.

“Zhiruo,” he called out, “Quickly take Yifu out!” His palms shook, forming a circle, and he sent his palm strengths to engage the palms of the three monks so that none of them could leave to stop Zhou Zhiruo. It was the highest technique of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; his palms moved randomly, making it hard to tell which one was real, holding the three monks’ palm strengths together like glue.

Zhou Zhiruo leaped into the circle toward Xie Xun. “Pei!” Xie Xun spat, “Lowly woman …”

Zhou Zhiruo reached out and sealed his mute acupoint. “Surnamed Xie,” she scolded, “I have come to rescue you with good intentions. Why do you insult me? Your crimes have reached the heavens; your life is hanging by the thread in my hand. Do you think I cannot kill you?” While saying that, she raised her right hand with her five fingers forming a claw, ready to strike the top of Xie Xun’s head. Zhang Wuji was very anxious to see this. “Zhiruo, no …!” he hastily said.

At this moment, he was engaged in a stake-it-all battle with the three monks, in which everybody was exerting the internal energy cultivation of their entire life. The three monks did not have any intention to kill him, but in this kind of battle, they had reached the critical moment; where either they injured the enemy, or they themselves would perish. There was simply no room for either side to yield to the opponent.

As Zhang Wuji opened his mouth, his ‘chi’ was decreased slightly. The three monks’ ‘topple-the-mountain-and-overturn-the-sea’ kind of palm strength immediately surged in. Zhang Wuji had no choice but increase his own strength in defense. Both sides were in a stalemate situation. Their strengths were interlocking each other. They had to continue until victory or defeat was decided, without any chance to escape midway.

Zhou Zhiruo’s claw was hung midair, but she did not continue her strike. Casting a cold sidelong glance toward Zhang Wuji she said with a cold laugh, “Zhang Wuji, when you abandoned me during the wedding ceremony in Haozhou that day, did you ever imagine there will be a day like today?”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was divided into three parts: he was anxious over Xie Xun’s safety, he was angry that she chose this critical moment to settle an old score, and he was busy fending off the three monks’ palm strength, which was flooding in towards him. Even if he was completely focused, he would most likely still lose in the end. Much less now that his mind was in confusion, he was facing a more imminent catastrophe. Cold beads of sweat were forming on his forehead, streaming down to his chest and back, soaking his clothes.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, Shuo Bude, Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, and the others were all shocked to see this critical situation. They all had the same thought, namely, they wanted to save Zhang Wuji. Even if they had to lose their lives in the process, they would not regret it. However, they all realized that their own strength was inadequate. Not only they could not break the fight, even if they did attack the Shaolin three monks, the three monks would easily divert the external force toward Zhang Wuji, adding to the force he had to withstand. In the end, instead of helping him, they would harm him.

Raising his voice, Kong Zhi called out, “Three Shishu [martial (younger) uncle], Zhang Jiaozhu has shown kindness to our Sect; please be lenient to him.”

But the battle between these four people had reached the stage where they could not back off. Zhang Wuji had never had any intention to harm the three monks. The three monks remembered Zhang Wuji had helped them out of trouble the other day, they were also waiting for an opportunity to stop the battle. Only, both sides were in the ‘qi hu nan xia’ [riding a tiger, hard to get off] predicament. The spirituality of the three monks had transcended the material world. It was not that they turned a deaf ear to Kong Zhi’s cry; they did want to acknowledge him, but they were unable to do so.

Wei Yixiao’s shadow flashed by. Like a floating blue smoke, he slipped into the middle of the broken pine trees. He wanted to pounce on Zhou Zhiruo, but he saw Zhou Zhiruo’s right hand was still suspended in the air. If he pounced on her, her claw would certainly strike down on top of Xie Xun’s head. If Xie Xun died, Zhang Wuji’s heart would be greatly grieved and he would die immediately under the three monks’ hands. Thereupon, when Wei Yixiao was less than a ‘zhang’ away from Zhou Zhiruo, he halted his steps in hesitation and did not dare to make a further move.

That moment, everybody on the peak looked like a statue; nobody dared to neither move nor make any noise. Suddenly Zhou Dian laughed and strode forward.

Yang Xiao was startled. “Dian Xiong,” he shouted, “Don’t be reckless.”

Zhou Dian ignored him; he walked toward the three Shaolin monks and with a smiling face said, “Three great monks, do you eat dog meat?” Reaching into his pocket, he produced a boiled dog leg and waved it in front of Du E’s face.

These past two days, Shaolin Temple only served vegetarian dishes to its guests. Zhou Dian loved to drink wine and eat meat; how could he stand eating green vegetables and tofu every day? He went out the previous night to steal a dog and cooked it. After eating his fill, he still had a dog leg, which in this critical moment he used to disturb the Shaolin three monks’ concentration.

As soon as they saw it, Yang Xiao and the others were delighted; they thought, “Zhou Dian usually acts like a lunatic, but this time his move is brilliant.” They knew that in an internal energy battle, the key was the combatant’s concentration. As Zhou Dian stepped forward to create trouble, even if only one of the monks got angry, his concentration might be broken and Zhang Wuji would be victorious.

The three monks turned a blind eye to him; they completely ignored Zhou Dian. Zhou Dian took the dog leg to his open mouth and took a bite. “Smells good, tastes good!” he said, “Three great monks, why don’t you take a bite?” Seeing the monks did not even blink, he brought the dog leg closer to Du E’s mouth.

As he was about to shove the dog leg into Du E’s mouth, several monks watching from the side shouted, “Baldy Dian, back off quickly!”

As soon as the dog leg touched Du E’s lips, suddenly Zhou Dian’s arm shook, half of his body turned numb. ‘Bang!’ the dog leg fell to the ground.

Turned out at this moment Du E’s entire body was covered with his internal energy that he was in the ‘fly cannot penetrate’ realm. As soon as his four limbs and hundreds of bones met with an external force, the force would bounce back.

“Aiyo! Aiyo! Terrible, terrible!” Zhou Dian cried out, “You don’t want to eat my dog meat, that’s all right. Why did you have to snap it out to the ground? Now it is dirty and wasted. I want compensation, I want compensation!” His hands and feet were flailing all over the place; he raised a clamor.

Unexpectedly, the three monks’ concentration was so deep that they were not disturbed by any external demonic influence. Zhou Dian flipped his right hand and fished a short blade from his bosom. “Since you don’t appreciate my kindness by eating my dog leg, Laozi [old man – referring to self] will risk everything to fight you.” His blade slashed his own face that immediately he was dripping with blood.

The crowd of heroes shouted in shock. Zhou Dian used the short blade to make another slash. His face was covered with blood; he looked terrifyingly fearsome. Regardless of who saw this kind of scene, their hearts would be shocked and disturbed. But in their deep concentration, the Shaolin three monks’ eyes, ears, nose and tongue seemed to be closed to the world outside. Not only they did not see the scene Zhou Dian was making, they even seemed unaware of his presence, which was very closed to their bodies.

“Good monk,” Zhou Dian loudly called out, “If you don’t compensate my dog leg, I’ll die in front of you!” Lifting his short blade, he thrust it into his own heart. Because his Cult Leader was in such a dire situation, he was determined to kill himself to disturb the concentration of the three monks.

Suddenly a yellow shadow flashed by; someone flew in and snatched the short blade away from his hand. The yellow shadow then continued sideways, with five fingers striking toward the top of Zhou Zhiruo’s head. The technique used was exactly the same as the one Song Qingshu used to kill the Beggar Clan’s elders. Zhou Zhiruo’s five fingers were less than a foot away from Xie Xun’s head, but the enemy’s movement was simply too fast; she had no alternative but to turn her hand over to block this attack.

Zhang Wuji’s internal energy level was very strong; it was not inferior to the combined energy of the three monks. However, in terms of ‘forgetting everything’, his meditation skill fell short. He could not reach the stage of ‘looking without seeing, hearing without listening’ of the outside influence. Seeing that Zhou Zhiruo’s hand was threatening Xie Xun, his mind was immediately thrown into confusion. He also saw Zhou Dian stepping forward to create trouble, and then drawing his blade to commit suicide. He saw everything clearly and was even more anxious.

Currently, his internal breathing was boiling, he was about to spurt out some blood and perish. To suddenly see that woman in yellow gown leaping forward into the circle, snatching the short blade from Zhou Dian’s hand, and attacking Zhou Zhiruo, Zhang Wuji knew that Xie Xun was out of danger. His heart was delighted and his internal energy was growing so that he was able to neutralize the three monks’ internal energy attacks one by one. As a result, now the four of them were back into the stalemate situation.

Although Du E and the others were not affected by outside disturbance, they were able to differentiate the subtle decrease and increase of either side's strength. They realized the sudden increase of the opponent force, but the force did not change from defensive to offensive; which was precisely the best opportunity to withdraw without endangering either side. The three monks’ minds were interlinked; they concurrently reduced their own power. Zhang Wuji followed by reducing his own power one notch. The three monks then reduced their power another notch. By ‘you reduce one notch, I reduce one notch’, in a short time both sides had withdrew their power completely.

Four men laughed together and stood up at the same time. Zhang Wuji cupped his hands and bowed low. Du E, Du Jie and Du Nan also clasped their palms to return the propriety. Almost together they said, “My utmost admiration!”

Zhang Wuji turned his head and saw that lady in yellow had already fought Zhou Zhiruo. The lady in yellow was barehanded, while Zhou Zhiruo still had the whip in her right hand and the dagger in her left, yet the lady in yellow did not show the least sign of defeat. The lady in yellow’s martial art seemed to have the same source as Zhou Zhiruo’s. They both moved swiftly with seemingly infinite variations, yet her hands and feet looked upright without any sign of demonical influence. If Zhou Zhiruo moved like a ghost, then the lady in yellow moved like an immortal. Zhang Wuji took a second look and knew that the lady in yellow would certainly win without any chance of defeat, and that his Yifu was completely out of danger. But he had a feeling that the lady in yellow was tantalizing Zhou Zhiruo; it seemed like she was trying to find out the ins and outs of Zhou Zhiruo’s martial art. She would have had flattened Zhou Zhiruo early on if she took the fight seriously.

“Shanzai, shanzai!” Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, although you cannot defeat us three brothers, we three brothers also cannot defeat you. Xie Juzhi [warrior Xie], you are free to go!” Having said that, he stepped forward and unsealed Xie Xun’s acupoints, while saying, “Xie Juzhi, lay down your saber and follow the teachings of Buddha. The gateway to our Buddha is wide open, there is no one in this world who cannot be brought to cross over. You and I have spent many days together on this peak. That is also destiny.”

Xie Xun stood up and said, “Merciful Buddha. The three Dashi [reverend, grandmaster] have shown the direction to the bright road. Xie Xun cannot thank you enough.”

Suddenly they heard the lady in yellow shouted in clear voice. She flipped her left hand to grab Zhou Zhiruo’s long whip, followed by her elbow striking the acupoint on her chest. Her right hand opened up, her five fingers were hanging on top of Zhou Zhiruo’s head.

“Do you want to taste the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’ [nine yin white bone claw]?” she asked. Zhou Zhiruo was unable to move; she closed her eyes, waiting for death.

Although Xie Xun’s eyes could not see anything, he could hear clearly what had been going on around him. He stepped forward and bowed with cupped hands while saying, “Miss has saved this father and son’s lives. We feel greatly indebted. There will come a day when this Miss Zhou will meet her just retribution, if she does not repent from her unrighteous ways. I am asking earnestly that Miss would spare her life today.”

The lady in yellow said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang turned from your ways really quickly.” Her shadow swayed as she withdrew.

End of Chapter 38. 
@Chapter 39 – The Hidden Military Strategy Manual
Taking Xie Xun by the hand, Zhang Wuji was about to walk away when suddenly Xie Xun said, “Hold on!” Pointing to an old monk among the Shaolin crowd he called out, “Cheng Kun! Come out! In the presence of the heroes from all over the world, I want you to clearly explain all kinds of gratitude and grudges of the past.”

The crowd of heroes was startled; they only saw a hunchback old monk with a nondescript face. Definitely he did not look like Cheng Kun. Zhang Wuji was about to say, “He is not Cheng Kun.” But he heard Xie Xun say, “Cheng Kun, you might change your appearance, but you can’t change your voice. I only heard your cough, but I know who you are.”

The old monk grinned fiendishly and said, “Who would listen to such nonsense from a blind man like you?”

As soon as he opened his mouth, Zhang Wuji recognized him immediately. That day on the Brightness Peak, when he was held captive inside the cloth sack, he had heard Cheng Kun’s lengthy speech. He clearly remembered his voice. This time Cheng Kun deliberately made his voice sound throaty and his disguise was perfect, but in the end he could not change his voice.

Zhang Wuji leaped up to cut Cheng Kun’s escape route. “Yuan Zhen Dashi, Cheng Kun Qianbei [senior, older generation],” he said, “A real man is straightforward and upright. Why don’t you show your true face?”

Turned out Cheng Kun had disguised himself and mingled among the crowd. All along he managed to hide his true identity. But when the lady in yellow subdued Zhou Zhiruo, which he did not anticipate, he could not restrain from coughing lightly. Ever since he turned blind, Xie Xun’s ability to distinguish sound grew. Besides, he harbored a deep hatred toward Cheng Kun; naturally, he would remember Cheng Kun with an ‘inscribed in the heart, engraved on the bone’ kind of memory. To Xie Xun’s ears, this light cough was no less than a thunder in the midst of a clear blue sky; he recognized him immediately.

Cheng Kun realized his plot had fallen through and he had been exposed. Straightening his back up he shouted, “Shaolin monks, listen to this: The Devil Cult has come to disturb the holy place of Buddha. They are here to despise our Sect. Everybody must fight together. Show them no mercy.”

His followers immediately responded; they unsheathed their weapons and charged forward to fight.

Because his martial brother, Abbot Kong Wen, had fallen into the hands of the Temple’s rebels, Kong Zhi was forced to suppress his anger for quite a long time. This time, hearing Yuan Zhen issue an order to fight against the Ming Cult, he knew that his temple’s monks would suffer countless damage if a tangled battle ensued. Taking everything into consideration, in the end, the lives of the monks in his temple were more important. Thereupon he shouted, “Kong Wen Fangzhang has fallen into this rebel Yuan Zhen’s hands. All disciples must capture this traitor first then we’ll save Fangzhang.” All of a sudden there was great confusion on the peak.

Zhang Wuji saw that Zhou Zhiruo was still kneeling on the ground; she looked utterly dejected, he felt sorry for her. Zhang Wuji came to her, unsealed her acupoints, and helped her get up. Zhou Zhiruo pushed his arm away and leaped toward the crowd of Emei disciples.

They heard Xie Xun say in loud and clear voice, “Everything that happens today is between Cheng Kun and I, two people only. All kinds of gratitude and grudges ought to be concluded by us, two people, alone. Shifu, my entire skill came from you; Cheng Kun, my whole family was murdered by you. Your great kindness and deep animosity, we will settle it between us today.”

Cheng Kun realized that Kong Zhi had disregarded everything by giving the order; he also knew that the honest Shaolin Temple monks were simply too numerous compared to his followers, which were only about a tenth of the entire Shaolin disciples. It looked like his ambition to become the Shaolin Abbot had also turned into an illusion. He thought, “Xie Xun has committed all kinds of evil deeds. If I subdue him, I can push all the blame on him. His martial art came from me, plus he is blind; I don’t see any reason why I cannot defeat him.” Therefore, he said, “Xie Xun, I don’t know how many heroes and warriors of Jianghu lost their lives in your hands. Today, you are taking the bunch of Devil Cult’s devil heads to come to Shaolin and create trouble in Buddhist paradise, going against the heroes of the world. I regret teaching you martial art in the past. Now I have to clean up my own school; I have to punish you, a renegade disciple who betrayed his school’s forefathers.” He then strode toward Xie Xun.

Xie Xun raised his voice, “All heroes hear me: Xie Xun’s martial art was taught by this gentleman Cheng Kun. But because he failed to defile my wife, he murdered my father and mother, my wife and my son. Although I must love and honor my master, I must love and honor my parents more. I want to seek revenge on him, do you think I deserve to do it?”

All around the heroes thundered their response, “You deserve to seek revenge, you deserve to seek revenge!”

Without saying anything, Cheng Kun sent out his palm to hack Xie Xun’s head. Xie Xun leaned his head sideways to avoid the strike on his vital point. ‘Bang!’ the palm hit his shoulder.

Xie Xun grunted, but did not hit back. “Cheng Kun,” he said, “When you passed on this move, ‘chang hong jing tian’ [long rainbow traverse the sky], you said that as soon as you hit the opponent’s body, you must immediately send out the ‘hun yuan’ [originating formation] chi to injure the enemy; why didn’t you send out any strength? Are you getting old that your strength is gone?” Actually, Cheng Kun’s first move was a fake one; he did not anticipate that the opponent did not even make any effort to evade so his strike was on target. But he did not send any power with this move therefore Xie Xun was not injured at all.

Cheng Kun’s right palm followed his fake left hand strike. Xie Xun leaned his head sideways again, but still he did not hit back. Cheng Kun sent out a chain-kick attack with his both legs. ‘Bang, bang!’ Xie Xun received these two kicks on the side of his body. These two kicks carried an extremely fierce force that even though Xie Xun’s physique was sturdy, he could not withstand it. ‘Wah!’ he spurted out a mouthful of blood.

“Yifu!” Zhang Wuji anxiously called, “Fight back! Why do you take a beating without retaliating?”

Xie Xun’s body swayed several times. With a bitter laugh he said, “He was my Shifu, I ought to take a couple of kicks and a palm from him.” With a sudden long whistle, Xie Xun flipped his palm and hack down on Cheng Kun.

“Bad luck! Bad luck!” Cheng Kun silently cried out, “I only knew that his hatred to me was as deep as the ocean, and that he would stake everything he has as soon as he sees me. If I had known that he was willing to take my first three moves, I would have strike him with killer strike and thus I would not have missed this good opportunity.”

Seeing the swiftness and fierceness of Xie Xun’s palm, Cheng Kun immediately swept his left hand diagonally to fend off Xie Xun’s palm power, while he moved a half turn toward Xie Xun’s back. Taking advantage of Xie Xun’s blindness, Cheng Kun’s palm silently pressed on Xie Xun’s back. But it was as if Xie Xun could see; he sent a kick backward. Cheng Kun leaped up gently. Like a big predatory bird, he swooped down from the sky. He was more than seventy years old, but his agility was not inferior to those of the younger people. Xie Xun raised both of his hands to block. Cheng Kun’s downward strike met Xie Xun’s palms. Borrowing the momentum from the impact, Cheng Kun’s body shot up once again. He made a gentle maneuver in the air and struck down again.

The two men exchanged blow after blow. They fought faster and faster that they had exchanged seventy, eighty stances in a very short period of time. Although Xie Xun’s pair of eyes could not see a thing, his martial art skill came from Cheng Kun, so he knew Cheng Kun’s fists and kicks by heart. No matter how many times Cheng Kun changed his style, Xie Xun was able to anticipate his movements without difficulty. After decades of separation, both men had enjoyed tremendous advancement in terms of their internal energy cultivation, but the styles and stances were still their martial art school’s techniques.

Xie Xun did not need to use his eyes; as he launched a strike, he knew exactly how the opponent would react, as well as by which stance, or at least the most likely variation, the opponent would counterattack. In addition, he was more than ten years younger than Cheng Kun; his physique was considerably stronger. The many years he spent on the extraordinarily cold and extremely hot Bing Huo Island had given his internal energy cultivation a tremendous advantage. For these reasons, he did not show the slightest sign of defeat even after fighting for more than a hundred stances.

Xie Xun’s animosity toward Cheng Kun was as deep as the ocean. He had waited bitterly for several decades. This time as he met his archenemy, at first Zhang Wuji thought that Xie Xun would disregard everything and fought Cheng Kun with all he had so that both sides would perish together. Contrary to his expectation, each style and every stance Xie Xun launched was exceptionally steady and calm, his line of defense was also very tight. Initially Zhang Wuji was astonished, but after watching the battle progress for dozens of moves, he finally understood.

Cheng Kun’s martial art skill was not inferior to Du E, Du Nan, three monks. If Xie Xun brazenly attacked with all he had, he might not be able to last more than three hundred moves. It was evident that the deeper Xie Xun’s hatred toward Cheng Kun, the more cautious he was in his movements. He was afraid that he would be destroyed under Cheng Kun’s hands before he was able to avenge his father, mother, wife and son’s blood debt.

After about two hundred moves, Xie Xun gave a loud shout. His fist struck out with a strong gust of wind.

“Qi Shang Quan! [seven-injury fist]” Guan Neng of Kongtong Pai called out. He saw Xie Xun’s left and right fists continuously move with matchless overwhelming power. The elders of Kongtong Pai looked at each other with amazement; they could not help but feel ashamed of their own inferiority.

Cheng Kun subsequently evaded three fists. As Xie Xun’s forth fist arrived, Cheng Kun swept his right palm horizontally. ‘Bang!’ The fist and the palm collided. With loose hair and beard, Xie Xun stood motionless; while Cheng Kun was forced to withdraw three steps back.

Many of the heroes watching the fight were cheering inwardly. By this time, it was already clear to the Jianghu people how the enmity between Xie Xun and Cheng Kun started, and how it escalated. Although the people were angry with Xie Xun because he was too ruthless, excessively harming the innocents, they understood the cruel fate Xie Xun met. On the other hand, they thought Cheng Kun was too malicious and evil. Therefore, other than a few people whose close friends and family were killed by Xie Xun, most of the people present hoped he would triumph.

Xie Xun rushed three steps forward. Again, with strong gusts of wind his fists punched left and right. Cheng Kun parried with his pair of palms, while he took three more steps backward.

“Not good!” Zhang Wuji cried out silently, “Cheng Kun is using the Jiu Yang Gong [nine ‘yang’ energy], which he learned after he entered Kong Jian Shen Seng’s [divine monk] tutelage. He did not pass it on to Yifu.”

Xie Xun trained the Qi Shang Quan in a rush. As a result, he had suffered internal injury. His fist strength was actually flawed. Cheng Kun had a deep knowledge of this fist technique’s crucial keys; therefore, he deliberately showed weakness, but in actuality, he was sending out his Jiu Yang Gong to counterattack the opponent. With each fist Xie Xun sent, Cheng Kun received about 70% of the force and neutralized it with his Jiu Yang Gong, while he sent the remaining 30% back to Xie Xun.

‘Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!’ Xie Xun sent out twelve punches. Cheng Kun took a dozen or so steps backward. It appeared that Xie Xun was gaining the upper hand; however, the internal injury he suffered was actually getting heavier. Zhang Wuji was extremely anxious, but he knew this was his Yifu’s lifelong dream to finally have the opportunity to exact his revenge; obviously, he could not meddle by giving him a hand. Yet if Xie Xun continued fighting like this, in a few dozen moves he would inevitably vomit blood and die.

“Yuan Zhen,” with a cold voice Kong Zhi suddenly said, “Did my Shixiong [martial brother] teach you this Shaolin Jiu Yang Gong to harm others?”

Cheng Kun sneered and said, “My En Shi [benevolent master] lost his life under the Qi Shang Quan. I am avenging En Shi today to wipe out a disgrace.”

Suddenly Zhao Min called out, “Kong Jian Shen Seng’s Jiu Yang Gong cultivation was far above yours. How come he could not withstand the Qi Shang Quan? Kong Jian Dashi was harmed by your traitorous hands. You deceived the Senior to come forward and resolve your enmity; you deceived him to take a beating without hitting back. Hey, hey, look, look! Who’s that standing behind you? His face is full of blood; he looks at your back with angry glare. Isn’t that Kong Jian Shen Seng?”

Cheng Kun knew perfectly well that she was blabbering nonsense, but what he had done had been weighing his conscience down, so he did feel guilty and he shivered involuntarily.

Right this moment, Xie Xun sent another punch. Cheng Kun used his palm to block. Surprisingly, he did not retreat. Because of Zhao Min’s distraction, his concentration was divided and his ‘chi’ did not flow properly. Xie Xun’s punch made the ‘chi’ and blood in Cheng Kun’s breast turned upside down. He was forced to use his ‘qing gong’ to run around Xie Xun for a while until he could regulate his breathing.

“Kong Jian Shen Seng,” Zhao Min called out, “Nail him! That’s right! Just like that! Blow your breath on the back of his neck! You died under your disciple’s hands, he must also die under his disciple’s hands. It is called ‘karma’. Lao Tian Ye [lit. old master of the sky – a reference to God or the Heaven] has eyes, the just retribution is coming.”

The hair on Cheng Kun’s back stood up. He did not believe in ghosts, but at that time he indeed felt a puff of cold wind on the back of his neck. He was flustered. He did not remember that the wind had always been blowing on that peak all year long. Besides, Xie Xun and he were leaping up and down in their fight; naturally his back was blown by the wind.

Zhao Min could see doubt was starting to grow in Cheng Kun’s mind, she shouted, “Aiyo! Cheng Kun, watch your back! You don’t dare to turn your head? Look down to the shadow on ground. There are only two people fighting, where did the third shadow come from?”

Cheng Kun could not help but look down. He did see that between the two shadows, there was another dark shadow. His heart skipped a beat. Xie Xun’s punch arrived. Cheng Kun did not have enough time to evade; he was forced to use his fist to meet the incoming fist head-on. ‘Bang!’ Two enormous forces collided. They were both shaken and they were both pushed one step backward. Then Cheng Kun could see clearly that the extra shadow was actually a broken pine tree trunk.

When the battle dragged on with him unable to achieve the victory, Cheng Kun had already been impatient. “He is my disciple,” he thought, “And he is blind; yet I still cannot deal with him. My followers watching from the side won’t accept it. Too bad my special skill ‘huan yin zhi’ [lit. fantasy ‘yin’ finger] was broken by the pure ‘yang’ energy of that extremely loathsome little thief, Zhang Wuji, that night; otherwise, how could I fight such a long fight with Xie Xun right now? Currently the situation is dangerous. I must subdue this renegade disciple as quickly as possible. Only then can I hold the Ming Cult at bay and also provoke those people who have grudges against him. At least I can still escape with my life.” As he made this decision, his footwork changed. Making his steps as quiet as possible, he took two steps backward toward the broken pine tree.

Xie Xun sent three punches in succession while he took two steps forward. Cheng Kun retreated two steps. He wanted to entice Xie Xun so that he would stumble on the broken pine tree. Xie Xun was about to chase Cheng Kun forward when Zhang Wuji called out, “Yifu, watch your steps!”

Xie Xun shivered; he stepped sideways to avoid the obstacle. But as he was hesitating, Cheng Kun seized the opportunity to launch his silent punch, aimed at Xie Xun’s chest. Cheng Kun suddenly sent out his force and Xie Xun fell backward. Cheng Kun raised his foot to kick Xie Xun’s skull. Xie Xun rolled away and quickly stood up. Blood trickled down from the corner of his mouth.

Cheng Kun stood motionless. His right palm stretched out slowly.

When Xie Xun fought Cheng Kun, he relied on his knowledge of Cheng Kun’s techniques, but also by listening to the wind to distinguish the direction. This time Cheng Kun stretched out his palm without using any particular technique, slowly reaching out toward Xie Xun’s face. Suddenly his palm struck Xie Xun’s shoulder. Xie Xun staggered a few steps and braced himself to stop.

A lot of the heroes on the side were not happy; they shouted one after another, “A sighted person fighting a blind, and still using this despicable trick!”

Cheng Kun paid no attention; he slowly raised his palm to strike again. Xie Xun focused his attention to listen. As he felt the enemy palm was coming, he raised his hand to block. Seeing the yellow hair on Xie Xun’s head flutter, the corner of his mouth was daubed in blood, Zhang Wuji was very angry and anxious at the same time. He knew that if this kind of fight continued, Xie Xun would undoubtedly die under Cheng Kun’s hands. Yet if he stepped forward to lend a hand in this situation, even if he managed to kill Cheng Kun, his Yifu would certainly regret it for the rest of his life. Grabbing Zhao Min’s hand, he anxiously said, “Quickly think of a good way to help him.”

“Can you stealthily launch secret projectiles to blind that old thief’s eyes?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “Yifu will not let me do such thing even if he has to die!” he said.

Meanwhile, he that saw Cheng Kun was slowly raising his palm again. Zhao Min suddenly shouted, “Chest!”

Xie Xun sent a jab straight out. Cheng Kun pulled back his palm without making any contact. Again and again he launched several slow attacks, but each time Zhao Min foiled his attacks by shouting his target. Seeing his tactic fail, Cheng Kun changed plan. He raised his palm slowly toward Xie Xun’s right shoulder.

“Right shoulder!” Zhao Min called out.

Cheng Kun’s left shoulder moved slightly. Zhang Wuji immediately understood his intention. “Back!” he shouted.

When Xie Xun heard Zhao Min’s shout, he waved his right arm to block the palm threatening his right shoulder. To his surprise, Cheng Kun’s palm was an empty move; when he followed Zhao Min’s warning by moving his right arm, Cheng Kun’s left palm entered Xie Xun’s open defense. ‘Slap!’ His palm heavily struck Xie Xun’s back. Although Zhang Wuji’s warning came in time, Cheng Kun’s palm was simply too swift. By the time Xie Xun heard the warning, it was already too late to change his move. The crowd shouted in alarm. Xie Xun vomited a mouthful of blood, most of it sprayed onto Cheng Kun’s face.

“Ah!” Cheng Kun cried out while reaching up to wipe his face. Xie Xun rolled down on the ground. Suddenly they both screamed and disappeared together.

Turned out as soon as Xie Xun rolled down, he grabbed both of Cheng Kun’s legs and furiously pulled him down that both of them fell into the underground dungeon together.

The dungeon was filled with water reaching to their necks. It was also pitch black inside that Cheng Kun immediately became like a blind person. Hastily he leaped back to get away from the enemy, but the dungeon was very narrow that as he leaped, his back crashed heavily onto the rock wall. He wanted to jump up, but his lower abdomen was struck by Xie Xun’s Qi Shang Quan. Severe pain rushed into his heart instantly.

Cheng Kun realized his injury was not light. If he continued leaping, he would be hit again. Thereupon he changed his tactic. He used the ‘xiao qin na shou’ [lit. little ‘grab and capture’ or grappling technique] to fight the enemy.

This ‘xiao qin na shou’ was very effective to use in close combat in the darkness. It possessed an exquisite ability to adapt to changes in a marvelous and rapid way. Although the eyes could not see, the fingers, palms, arms and elbows could be used to detect the enemy, and then grabbed, clawed, hit, tore, poked, hooked or struck the enemy’s body.

Xie Xun gave a loud shout and also used the ‘xiao qin na shou’ to fight back.

The crowd only heard shouts coming out of the dungeon again and again, mixed with rapid noise of fists and palms collided with each other or with the opponent’s body, just like the noise of firecrackers. Large sheets of water splashed out of the dungeon. It appeared that the two men were attacking each other at full speed. Zhang Wuji’s heart was thumping madly as he thought that if right this moment his Yifu met a dangerous situation, he would be helpless to render his assistance, since he obviously could not jump into the dungeon to save his Yifu. In his anxiety, his back was wet with cold sweat.

Xie Xun had been blind for more than twenty years; his ability to distinguish shape from listening to the noise was very well trained. He was accustomed to rely on his ears instead of his eyes. On the other hand, Cheng Kun fought like a blind person amidst the splashing water; he hit and grabbed randomly, so the table was turned in that now he was at a disadvantage.

Cheng Kun panicked. He could not think of anything else except moving his arm rapidly like a gust of wind under a sudden downpour. He increased the speed of his ‘xiao qin na shou’ while using only killer moves with this thought in his mind, “I am going to stake everything I have; whatever happens, we must return to fighting above the ground.”

Step by step the crowd of heroes approached the dungeon. Their palms were wet with cold sweats, while their ears heard continuous shouting of Cheng Kun and Xie Xun from underground. It seemed like victory and defeat had not been decided yet.

Suddenly Cheng Kun’s scream was heard from underground, followed by the two men jumping out of the dungeon together. Under the sunlight, everybody could see that both Cheng Kun and Xie Xun’s eyes were bleeding. The two men stood still, facing each other.

What happened was: during the fierce battle, with open arms Xie Xun’s palms struck down toward Cheng Kun. Cheng Kun was delighted. “Got you!” he shouted, while the two fingers of his right hand struck Xie Xun’s eyes. It was the move ‘shuang long qiang zhu’ [a pair of dragons fight over a pearl], which was quite common. However, because it was launched in the midst of ‘xiao qin na shou’, it carried an enormous power. He expected the opponent to lean sideways to evade, and then his left hand would sweep across the opponent head. He was certain the opponent’s vital ‘tai yang xue’ [sun acupoint, located on the temples] would be hit. Contrary to his expectation, Xie Xun neither evaded nor blocked his strike; he also shouted, “Got you!” with the same ‘shuang long qiang zhu’, his two fingers poked Cheng Kun’s eyes.

As soon as Cheng Kun’s fingers pierced Xie Xun’s eyes, like a flash of lightning a thought came into his mind, “Bad!” followed by stabbing pain as his own eyes were pierced by Xie Xun’s two fingers.

Both men suffered the same injury. However, Xie Xun had been blind for a long time. As he was pierced by Cheng Kun’s fingers, he only suffered some superficial wound. Cheng Kun, on the other hand, had turned blind.

With a cold laugh Xie Xun said, “Does it feel good, being a blind man?” With a loud shout he launched another punch.

Cheng Kun could not see anything; he was unable to evade. The ‘Qi Shang Quan’ hit him squarely on the chest. Xie Xun followed with a left hand punch. Cheng Kun staggered several steps backward until his back was against the broken pine tree; blood gushing out from his mouth.

Suddenly Du E opened his mouth, “Just retribution! Shanzai, shanzai!”

Xie Xun stopped dead on his track; he had concentrated his power on the third punch, but right now it stopped midway. “I should have punched you thirteen times with the ‘Qi Shang Quan’; but your martial art skill is gone and you are blind, henceforth you have become a handicapped person and thus will not do wicked things on the earth anymore. You need not receive the remaining eleven punches.”

Seeing that Xie Xun achieved a total victory, Zhang Wuji and the others cheered. But suddenly Xie Xun sat on the ground; the bones on his entire body were cracking.

Zhang Wuji was shocked, knowing that Xie Xun was using his own internal energy to destroy his own martial art skill. “Yifu,” he hastily said, “Don’t!” He rushed forward and stretching out his hand, using the Jiu Yang Shen Gong, he pressed Xie Xun’s back to stop him.

Xie Xun suddenly leaped up and fiercely punched his own chest; blood gushing out from his mouth.

Zhang Wuji busily reached out to support him, but he felt that Xie Xun’s hand was feeble. His martial art skill had definitely gone, and would be very difficult to recover.

Xie Xun pointed his finger toward Cheng Kun and said, “Cheng Kun, you murdered my entire family. Today I destroyed your eyes and wiped out your martial art skill. We are even now. Shifu, my martial art skill was taught by you. Today I willingly destroyed it; I am giving it back to you. From now on, there is no gratitude nor grudges between me and you. You will never see my face again and I also will never see your face.”

Cheng Kun pressed his hands on his eyes. He was groaning from the pain, but did not say anything. The crowd of heroes looked at each other; who would have thought that this battle between master and disciple would end up like this?

In a loud and clear voice Xie Xun said, “I, Xie Xun, have done much wickedness; I have never hoped I would live until today. If there is anyone among the heroes of the world whose family or martial brother died under the Old Xie’s hands, you are free to take the Old Xie’s life. Wuji, you must not stop them, nor you must avenge me in the future and thus adding to your Yifu’s guilt.”

Zhang Wuji consented with tears in his eyes.

Although there were quite a number of heroes who harbored deep enmity with Xie Xun, they all saw how Xie Xun had avenged his entire family only by destroying Cheng Kun’s martial art skill. However, Xie Xun’s own martial art was also gone. Therefore, if anybody went forward and stabbed him with a sword, or punched him with a fist, his action would be considered a hero or a warrior’s bad deed.

Suddenly a man stepped out from among the crowd. “Xie Xun,” he said, “My father, ‘Yan Ling Fei Tian Dao’ [The Wild-Goose-Plume-Flying-to-the- sky Saber] Qiu Lao Yingxiong [old hero Qiu] lost his life under your hands. I am here to avenge my Xian Fu [deceased father]!” Finished speaking, he walked toward Xie Xun.

“That’s right,” Xie Xun sadly said, “Your honorable father died under my hands. Qiu Xiong [brother Qiu], you may proceed.”

The man surnamed Qiu drew his saber and took two more steps closer.

Zhang Wuji could not think straight; if he did not act, his Yifu would lose his life under this man’s saber, but if he stopped this man, he was afraid that he would add to the agony his Yifu had to endure for the rest of his life. Much less, Yifu was blind and had lost his martial art skill; it was difficult to say whether Yifu would live a happy life or not. His body shook; he took two steps forward without intending to do so.

“Wuji,” Xie Xun roared, “If you stop anybody from exacting their revenge, you are being greatly unfilial to me. After I die, go down into the dungeon and take a look. You will understand everything.”

The man surnamed Qiu lifted his saber in front of his chest. Suddenly tears started to flow down from his eyes. He spat on Xie Xun’s face and said with a choking voice, “My Xian Fu was a hero. If his spirit in Heaven saw me killing a blind man whose martial art skill has gone, he would be angry with me for being unworthy …” ‘Clang!’ his saber fell to the ground. Covering up his face, he rushed back into the crowd.

Next, a middle-aged woman came out and said, “Xie Xun, I am here to avenge my husband, ‘Yin Yang Pan Guan’ [‘pan guan’ is a mythological judge of the underworld], Yin Dapeng.” Walking toward Xie Xun, she also spat on his face; then she walked away while crying loudly. Seeing his Yifu was being humiliated in succession, outwardly, Zhang Wuji was standing unperturbed, but inwardly, his heart was like being sheared by a knife. The heroes and warriors of the Wulin world considered death lightly, but they would never take any insult. It was called ‘a warrior can be killed, but not disgraced.’ These two people’s spittle on Xie Xun’s face was the greatest insult, but he endured it patiently. It was clear that he acknowledged his sins in the past and that he was pained with regret, and thus he took the repentance seriously.

One by one people were coming out from the crowd; some slapped Xie Xun on the face, some kicked him, some opened their mouths in curses, but Xie Xun only sit with bowed head, enduring everything in silence. He did not withdraw, he did not even try to talk back.

In this manner, more than thirty people came out one by one to humiliate Xie Xun. Finally, a Taoist priest with long beard stepped out. He bowed and said, “Pin Dao [lit. impoverished Daoist – referring to self] Taixu Zi [Translator’s note: I am not an expert in Daoism, but it seems to me that many Taoist priest used ‘Zi’ (lit. son or male child) as the last part (suffix?) of their title. Remember the Seven Quanzhen priests? Anyway, this priest’s name means ‘great emptiness’]. My two Shixiong lost their lives under Xie Daxia’s fists. Looking at Xie Daxia’s character today, Pin Dao is deeply ashamed. Pin Dao’s sword has also killed innumerable warriors, both from the black and white worlds. If I came to you to seek revenge, other people would also come to me to seek revenge.” Having said that, he drew his sword, his left hand reached up and plucked the blade of the sword with his fingers. ‘Clang!’ the sword broke into two. He tossed the broken sword to the ground, saluted Xie Xun, turned around and left.

The crowd of heroes broke into soft murmurs. This Taixu Zi was not very well known in the Jianghu, yet his martial art skill was actually superb. However, what was harder to come by was his broadmindedness; his ability to rebuke himself.

After he left, it seemed like no one else would come out to make things difficult for Xie Xun. To everybody’s surprise, while they were still talking among themselves, a middle-aged nun stepped out from among the Emei Pai’s crowd. She walked toward Xie Xun and said, “To avenge my husband’s murder, I also will resolve it by spitting on you!” As soon as she said that, she opened her mouth and spat toward Xie Xun’s forehead. Who would have thought that this spittle carried a strong gust of wind? Turned out it was not spittle, but a date stone steel nail.

Xie Xun heard the difference in the sound of the wind. He smiled bitterly, but did not evade at all. He thought, “If I die right now, it can be considered already too late.”

Suddenly a yellow shadow flashed by. The lady in yellow dashed forward. Her sleeve swished, and the date stone nail was rolled inside the sleeve. “How must we address Shitai by your Buddhist title?” she asked sternly.

As the nun saw her attack fail, a slightly frightened expression appeared on her face. “I am called Jing Zhao [lit. still/calm/quiet illumination],” she said.

“Hmm, Jing Zhao, Jing Zhao …” the lady in yellow said, “Before you left home to become a nun, what was your husband’s name? How did he die under Xie Daxia’s hands?”

Jing Zhao angrily said, “What does it have to do with you? Why do you meddle in other people’s business?”

The lady in yellow replied, “Xie Daxia repents from his former sins. If anybody wanted to avenge his father, brother, martial family or friends, even if he is cut into thousand pieces, Xie Daxia would accept his fate willingly; other people have no right to interfere. But if there are people with malicious intention, trying to fish in the muddled water, trying to kill him to shut his mouth, then it becomes everybody’s business.”

Jing Zhao said, “Between Xie Xun and I, there are no grudges and no enmity; why would I want to kill him to shut his …” The last word ‘mouth’ had not come out of her mouth when she suddenly realized she had blundered. She stopped abruptly. Her face turned deathly pale; and she could not help but cast a glance toward Zhou Zhiruo. “That’s right,” the lady in yellow said, “You have no grudges and no enmity with Xie Daxia, then why did you want to kill him to shut his mouth? Humph, among the twelve Emei Pai’s ‘Jing’ generation nuns, Jing Xuan, Jing Xu, Jing Kong, Jing Hui, Jing Jia, and Jing Zhao, are all virgins when they left home. Where did the husband come from?”

Without saying anything, Jing Zhao turned around and walked away.

“Do you think it’s this easy to walk away just like that?” the lady in yellow barked.

Rushing two steps forward, her palm reached out to grab her shoulder. Jing Zhao turned her shoulder to evade. The lady in yellow’s right index finger pierced toward her waist, followed by a kick to hit the ‘huan tiao xue’ [‘hop the loop’ acupoint] on her thigh. Jing Zhao grunted and fell down to the ground.

“Miss Zhou,” in a cold voice the lady in yellow said, “This ploy of killing someone to shut his mouth is very cruel.”

In the same cold voice Zhou Zhiruo replied, “Jing Zhao Shijie is seeking revenge against Xie Xun. What ‘killing someone to shut his mouth’?” Waving her left hand she said, “There are countless disciples from prestigious upright sects in here who fail to distinguish the just from the evil, willingly associate themselves with unorthodox demonic sects. It’s not worthwhile for Emei Pai to be involved with the murky water. Let’s go.”

The Emei Pai crowd responded together and stood up immediately. Two female disciples helped Jing Zhao. The lady in yellow did not stop them. Zhou Zhiruo led her fellow disciples going down the peak.

Zhang Wuji walked toward the lady in yellow. Cupping his fists, he said, “I have received many help from Jiejie; my gratitude is beyond words. I wish to know your illustrious name, so that Zhang Wuji can cherish it in his heart day and night.” The lady in yellow showed a faint smile. She said, “Behind the Mount Zhong Nan, the Tomb of the Living Dead, the Divine Eagle and Gallant Knights vanished from the Jianghu.” [Translator’s note: it was like a poem of four characters each: Zhong Nan Shan Hou, Huo Si Ren Mu, Shen Diao Xia Lu, Jue Ji Jiang Hu.] Finished speaking, she tucked her gown and returned the salute. Her hand beckoned, the eight young maidens wearing black and white followed her floating away.

Zhang Wuji took a step forward and said, “Jiejie, please stay.”

Unexpectedly, the lady in yellow did not pay him any attention; she continued going down the peak.

“Yang Jiejie, Yang Jiejie!” the young Clan Leader of the Beggar Clan, Shi Hongshi called out.

From the waist of the hill came the lady in yellow’s reply, “I am asking Zhang Jiaozhu’s unreserved involvement in helping the Beggar Clan solving their important matters.”

“Wuji accepts the order,” Zhang Wuji replied in loud and clear voice.

“Many thanks, then!” the lady said. These three words ‘duo xie le’ came from a distant, since she had been far away, but her voice was still very clear. Zhang Wuji could not help but feel a sudden emptiness in his heart.

Kong Zhi went to Cheng Kun and sternly shouted, “Yuan Zhen, quickly tell your followers to release the Fangzhang. If there is any unexpected misfortune to the old Fangzhang, you will heap more sin to your head.”

Forcing a smile, Cheng Kun said, “Since things have come this far, everybody will perish together. Even if I want to release Kong Wen He Shang [monk Kong Wen] now, I am afraid we are already too late. You are not blind, are you? Can’t you see the blazing flame?” Kong Zhi was taken aback, he turned his head to look down from the peak and saw black smoke and tongues of fire rising up from the Temple complex. Startled, he said, “The Damo Hall is on fire! Quickly put out the fire!”

The crowd of monks was thrown into confusion; they scrambled down the hill at once. Suddenly they saw from all around the Damo Hall columns of water like white dragons rose up and poured down on the blaze, suppressing the flame.

“Amituofo,” Kong Zhi joined his palms and chanted the name of Buddha, “The ancient Shaolin Temple has once again escape disaster.”

Not too long afterwards, two monks rushed up the peak to give their report, “Reporting to Shishu [martial (younger) uncle], the rebel followers of Yuan Zhen set fire to burn down the Damo Hall. Fortunately, for the sake of justice and loyalty, the heroes under the Hong Shui Flag of the Ming Cult have extinguished the raging fire.”

Kong Zhi went toward Zhang Wuji, joined his palms and said, “The thousand years old ancient temple Shaolin is spared from the fire, all thanks to Zhang Jiaozhu’s great kindness and virtue; one the old monk will never be able to repay even if my body is ground to powder.”

Zhang Wuji returned the salute and answered modestly, “We only did what we ought to do; Da Shi need not be overly courteous.”

Kong Zhi said, “Kong Wen Shixiong is being held prisoner in the Damo Hall by this traitor. Although the fire is out, I do not know Shixiong’s safety yet. Zhang Jiaozhu and the other heroes please wait here for a moment, Laodi [lit. old younger brother – referring to self] must go and see.”

Cheng Kun laughed out loud and said, “Kong Wen’s entire body is smeared with butter and lard, as soon as he met the fire, he would turn into charcoal immediately. Hong Shui Flag can save the Damo Hall, they cannot save the Old Fangzhang.” From the waist of the hill suddenly came a voice, “If Hong Shui Flag failed, there is still Hou Tu Flag.” It was Fan Yao’s voice. He had just finished speaking when he appeared with Hou Tu Flag Leader, Yan Yuan, on the peak, each holding the hand of an old monk walking between them. It was none other than the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Kong Wen. However, the three men’s clothes were scorched; their eyebrows were partially burned. They looked battered and exhausted.

Kong Zhi rushed forward to embrace Kong Wen. “Shixiong,” he called out, “Are you well? Shidi is incompetent, I am guilty and deserve ten thousand deaths.”

Kong Wen smiled and said, “If not because of these Fan Shizhu [benevolent master, donor] and Yan Shizhu came out from the tunnel, you and I would have to say goodbye to each other today.”

Kong Zhi was astonished. “The Ming Cult’s Hou Tu Flag’s ability to dig tunnels is divine.” He bowed deeply to Fan Yao and Yan Yuan to express his gratitude, and then said, “Fan Shizhu, Laoseng [old monk – referring to self] was rude and offensive to you; please forgive me. Laoseng does not dare to go to the appointment at the Wan An Temple of Dadu.”

When a Wulin character made an appointment for a martial art competition and ate his own words by not showing up, the loss of face he would experience would be ten thousand times worse than if he lost because of inferior skill. Kong Zhi was endlessly grateful toward Fan Yao for risking his life in saving his Shixiong’s life; hence he was willing to break his own promise. These two men admired each other to begin with. After this incident, their respect for each other grew. From now on, they became the very best of friends.

Turned out Cheng Kun had made a comprehensive arrangement in advance. On the eve of the Great Heroes Assembly, he caught Kong Wen off guard and sealed his acupoint, and held him prisoner inside the Damo Hall. The Hall was filled with sulfur, firewood and other flammable material. Then he assigned his trusted aides to stand guard. He coerced Kong Zhi to do everything he commanded, or else he would set the fire and burn Kong Wen to his death. When things did not turn out the way he planned later, when everything did not happen as he anticipated, when he believed his plan had failed completely, he issued an order to his cronies to set the fire as his last gambit to ‘break the cauldrons and sink the boats’. He was hoping that when the crowd of heroes and monks were busy putting off the fire, his cronies might have a chance to help him escape down the mountain.

Unexpectedly, Yang Xiao and the Ming Cult army arrived at the Shaoshi Peak a few days early. The Hou Tu Flag was immediately ordered to dig a tunnel toward the Shaolin Temple, originally, it was to rescue Xie Xun, but Xie Xun was not imprisoned inside the Temple at all.

As the Hou Tu Flag people looked everywhere with no avail, they took the opportunity to erase the writing on the back of the sixteen Luohan images. Later on, after Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo battled the Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan, and Cheng Kun’s real identity was revealed and he was confronted in front of Kong Zhi and everybody else, Zhao Min and Yang Xiao immediately guessed thru his plan.

After a short discussion, they asked Fan Yao to lead Hong Shui and Hou Tu, two Flags, to infiltrate the Temple and find Kong Wen. However, Cheng Kun’s arrangement was extremely thorough and ominous; sulfur and firewood were piled high inside and outside the Damo Hall. As soon as a fire was ignited, the Hall caught in a blazing inferno, burning five Hou Tu Flag disciples to their deaths. Fan Yao and Yan Yuan moved quickly through the smoke and fire to rescue Kong Wen. Still, the three of them suffered some burns on their clothes, hair and eyebrows. If not for the tunnel, they would not escape and would be buried under the burning hall.

Damo Hall, as well as several adjacent buildings, suffered heavy damages from the fire. Fortunately the fire did not spread further, the Da Xiong Bao Dian [great heroic precious hall], the library, the Luohan Hall, and other important places did not suffer any damage. After a short discussion, Kong Wen and Kong Zhi issued an order for Cheng Kun and his followers to be detained in the rear hall, waiting for further instructions. Cheng Kun had been staying in the Shaolin Temple for quite a long time, he had made a lot of friends and gathered quite a bit of followers, but as the leader was apprehended and the Abbot escaped from danger, Cheng Kun’s supporters realized their cause was lost. They did not offer any resistance and were led down the peak by the monks, under the leadership of the Luohan Hall’s chief monk, with their head hung low in dejection.

Zhang Wuji came near Xie Xun and could only call out, “Yifu!” while tears streaming down his face like rain.

“Silly Child!” Xie Xun laughed, “Your Yifu is enlightened by the three eminent monks and has passed through to great awakenings. My lifetime of crimes have been resolved, every single one of them. You should be very happy for me, why would you be grieving? Why would you feel sorry that I lost my martial art skill? Do you want me to use it to do evil again in the future?”

Zhang Wuji could not think of anything to answer, but there was pain in his heart; he called out again, “Yifu!”

Xie Xun went toward Kong Wen and kneeled down saying, “Disciple’s sin is grave, I hope for Fangzhang to offer a shelter by taking me under your discipleship.”

Kong Wen had not answered when Du E said, “Come, let Laoseng take you as my disciple.”

Xie Xun said, “Disciple does not dare to hope for such good fortune.” He asked Kong Wen to be his master, because then he would be a ‘Yuan’ generation disciple. If he entered Du E tutelage, then he would have a ‘Kong’ generation rank, which was at the same level of seniority with Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two martial brothers.

“Rubbish!” Du E barked, “’Kong’ is empty, ‘Yuan’ is also empty. I would have thought that you’d understand it by now!”

Xie Xun was startled, but he understood immediately. Master-disciple relationship was a mere distinction of the Buddhist title; it was all illusory for Buddhist followers. Thereupon, he recited a Buddhist verse, “Master is empty, disciple is empty, no guilt no responsibility, no virtue no merit!”

Du E laughed out loud and said, “Shanzai, shanzai! You have become a disciple of our school, yet you are still called Xie Xun. Do you understand?”

“Disciple understands,” Xie Xun replied, “Xie Xun is ox dung. Everything is but a shadow, the body does not exist, let alone a name?”

Xie Xun was skilled in both pen and sword [orig. ‘wen wu cuan cai’], there wasn’t any ‘zhu zi bai jia’ [lit. many sages, hundred schools, a general term for all the pre-Han schools of thought] he did not pry into. With a little enlightenment from Du E, he became aware of the essential meaning of Buddhism. Henceforth he entered Buddhism and eventually became an eminent monk himself.

“Enter the rest, enter the rest!” Du E said, “Only by comprehending the way one will avoid devil's traps!” Taking Xie Xun by the hand, he went down the peak unhurriedly with Du Jie and Du Nan following behind.

Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Zhang Wuji, and the others bowed to send them off. The Golden-Haired Lion King’s name shook the Jianghu thirty years ago by doing countless deeds which offended the whole society. Today he entered the empty gate, there wasn’t anyone among the crowd of heroes who did not sigh with mixed feelings. Zhang Wuji’s heart was filled with joy mixed with sorrow.

Kong Wen said, “The presence of the heroes has brightened our humble Temple. We are ashamed that there was a sudden change in the Temple that we have offended many people and were not able to perform our duty as the host. The heroes from all over the world have gathered here. We do not know when we will meet again. Therefore, we would like to invite you all to stay in our Temple for a few more days.”

The crowd of heroes went down the peak to enter the Temple. Shaolin Temple prepared vegetarian banquet for the guests. The monks immediately performed a religious ceremony on behalf of the heroes who were unfortunate to lose their lives during the great assembly. One by one the crowd of heroes also offered sacrifices to express their condolences.

As the important matters were resolved, there remained many unclear businesses in Zhang Wuji’s heart. Since Xie Xun left in a hurry, he did not have time to inquire about doubts and suspicions troubling his heart. He only had a feeling that the key to this mystery was somewhat related to Zhou Zhiruo. Thinking about their former relationship, he felt that he did not need to scrutinize everything and thus damage her reputation.

After dinner, Zhang Wuji visited Shi Hongshi and the Beggar Clan elders at the western chambers to discuss important matters within the Beggar Clan. Suddenly a Ming Cult disciple rushed in with a report, “Jiaozhu, the Wudang Zhang Si Xia [fourth hero Zhang] has arrived. He has an important matter to discuss with you.”

Zhang Wuji was startled, “Could it be that Tai Shifu has met some mishaps?” He quickly went out and walked toward the main hall.

He knelt down in front of Zhang Songxi, but did not see anything different on his expression, thereupon he felt relieved. “Is Tai Shifu well?” he asked.

“Shifu is well,” Zhang Songxi replied, “At Mount Wudang I received information that the Yuan cavalry, twenty thousand strong, is heading to the direction of Shaolin Temple. Obviously, they do not have good intentions toward the Heroes Assembly. Therefore, I come here in the middle of the night to inform you.”

“We must let Fangzhang know as soon as possible,” Zhang Wuji said. Two men immediately went to the rear courtyard and informed Kong Wen. Kong Wen thought for a moment. “This matter implicates a lot of things; we must discuss it with the crowd of heroes.” Thereupon he ordered a monk to sound the alarm, inviting everybody to the Da Xiong Bao Dian.

As soon as they were alerted, the crowd of heroes discussed the matter at hand. The hot-blooded among them said, “While the heroes from all over the world gather here, let us go down the mountain to catch them off guard and slaughter them.”

The more experienced among them said, “The Yuan army is always on the move. Perhaps this is one of their routine relocation operations. They might not necessarily come to give us trouble.”

Zhang Songxi said, “I understand Mongolians; I heard it with my own ears the Tatar officer ordering his troops to attack the Shaolin Temple.”

By that time, the Mongolians had been occupying the Central Plains for more than a hundred years; the number of Han people who understand Mongolian language was not small. Zhang Songxi was intelligent and experienced; he understood a considerable number of dialects from different towns and villages, and was quite fluent in Mongolian.

“Gentlemen Heroes,” Kong Wen said, “It appears that the imperial court has found out about our assembly in here, and they decided our meeting is not beneficial to the imperial court, and thus they dispatch an army to suppress us. We are all martial art practitioners, and we are not afraid of the Tatars. We are ready to cope with anything, we will resist by whatever means available, we …” He had not finished his speech when some people started cheering and clapping.

Kong Wen continued, “However, we are Jianghu’s warriors who are accustomed to fight one on one; if not using a blade or fists and kicks, then using internal energy and secret projectiles. We are not experts in fighting on horseback or using long spear and double-ended lance. In Laoseng’s opinion; how about the heroes go down the mountain and disband?” The crowd of heroes looked at each other in silence. Zhang Wuji said, “If we go down and disband, first, the Tatars would think we are afraid of them and we will unavoidably crush the spirit of the people. Second, what will happen to the masters in the Shaolin Temple?”

Kong Wen smiled and said, “If the Yuan army come to the Temple and only see a bunch of monks and not Jianghu warriors, they would certainly leave us alone. This is called ‘arrive in high spirit, return in disappointment.’”

The crowd of warriors knew that Kong Wen said this out of his good intention. The crowd of heroes was invited by Shaolin Pai; of course they did not want their guests to face disaster and shed their blood on the Shaoshi Peak. But this crowd of heroes was all people of courage and uprightness; they would not flinch in front of the enemy, naturally, they were unwilling to leave. Besides, the imperial government had already dispatched their troops. They simply would not return empty-handed. They would definitely trouble the Shaolin Temple. Most likely, they would kill most monks and capture the rest, and then they would probably burn the Temple down. The Mongolian soldiers were well known of their brutality; killing and burning were not foreign to them.

Yang Xiao said, “The Tatars kill without mercy. It is the duty of all Han people to fight the enemy. In my humble opinion, we have no other choice but to fight. We must battle them someplace else so that this thousand-year ancient Temple will be spared of the catastrophe of war.”

The crowd of heroes applauded in agreement. “Let it be so,” they said.

When they were still talking, from outside the gate suddenly came the sound of hoof beats; two riders galloped near. The horses stopped with a neigh outside the door. Two men, ushered by the monk in charge of visitor reception entered the hall in a hurry. As soon as the crowd of heroes saw the riders’ clothes, they knew these men were Ming Cult disciples.

The two men walked before Zhang Wuji, bowed in salute and one of them reported, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: Tatar vanguard army of five thousand troops has arrived to attack Shaolin Temple. They say the Shifus in the Temple are gathering a crowd to rebel, so they are here to flatten Shaolin. All shiny … shiny …”

Kong Wen smiled and said, “You were about to say ‘shiny head monks’, weren’t you? Those words are not taboo. Please continue.”

The man said, “Along the way, the Tatars have killed many monks. The Tatars say: ‘Shiny heads are not good people, those with hair are also not good people; they all deserved to be put to death by the blade.’”

A lot of people raised their voices, they all said, “If we don’t fight a life and dead battle against the Tatars, we are ashamed to be the descendants of the Yellow Emperor.”

Although by that time the Song dynasty had been subjugated by foreign power for almost a hundred years, the mainstream heroes and warriors had always considered Mongolians soldiers and officers as barbarians. They were unwilling to be the foreigners’ subjects. This time hearing how the Mongolian troops went on a killing spree, their blood boiled and everybody wanted to go to battle.

“Gentlemen, the heroes,” in a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji said, “Today is the day we, the Han men, kill the enemy to serve our country. The name of the Great Assembly of Shaolin Temple will go down the history for thousands of years!”

The Great Hall shook with the deafening cheers of the people.

Zhang Wuji continued, “We can’t go back now even if we want to. I am asking Kong Wen Fangzhang to give us the order. We, the Ming Cult, from top to bottom will follow with all our hearts.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu, what are you talking about?” Kong Wen said, “Although our humble Sect’s monks have learned a little bit punching and kicking, we know nothing about marching in the army and going to war. In the last several years the Ming Cult has initiated such a great undertaking; who in the Jianghu has not heard about it? Only the Ming Cult has the resources to fight Tatars’ large army. We nominate Zhang Jiaozhu to hold the commander position and lead the heroes from all over the world to fight the Tatars.”

Zhang Wuji tried to decline modestly, but the crowd of heroes had already cheered loudly. It was true that Zhang Wuji was young and inexperienced, but his martial art skill was strong. His power in fighting the three Shaolin monks had been witnessed by everybody present. In addition, the success of Han Shantong, Xu Shouhui, Zhu Yuanzhang and the other Ming Cult generals in staging rebellions, attacking cities and capturing territories in such places as Huai Si River, Hunan and Hubei, and other areas had shaken the world. Earlier, the people had also seen the Five-Element Flags displaying their full capabilities in the arena. No other school or sect possessed these kinds of skills. The warriors from various sects and clans all agreed that nobody else fit to take such a big responsibility other than the Ming Cult.

Zhang Wuji said, “I [orig. zai4xia4] have never learned how to manage soldiers. Please elect other capable person to be in charge.”

While he was still declining modestly, from the foot of the mountain came the rumbling noise of people shouting and fighting. Two Shaolin monks rushed into the Hall and reported, “Reporting to Fangzhang: the Mongolian army has attacked our mountain.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Rui Jin, Hong Shui, two Flags, are going to be the first to engage the enemy. Mr. Zhou Dian, Tie Guan Daozhang [Priest Tie Guan (‘hard hat’)], you are to assist these two flags.” Zhou Dian and Priest Tie Guan complied and quickly left.

The situation this time was so urgent that it did not allow Zhang Wuji to decline anymore. He had no choice but issue his orders: “Shuo Bude Shifu, please take my Sheng Huo Ling and go to our Cult’s encampments in the surrounding area. Tell them to go up the mountain to lend their assistance.” Shou Bude took the tablet and left. As the crowd of heroes in the Great Hall heard about the Yuan’s army arrival to destroy them, they drew their weapons and rushed out.

“Jiaozhu,” in a low voice Yang Xiao said, “If you don’t take command, these people will fight randomly, and they will certainly be defeated.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and ran out the Hall. He went to the pavilion halfway down the mountain and saw thousands of the Mongolian vanguard troops had arrived at the waist of the mountain. The Rui Jin Flag drove them back down by a salvo of arrows and javelins.

As far as eyes could see, the Mongolian troops were creeping up; their power looked so intimidating. Although their prestige was far below Genghis Khan’s army, whose power overawed foreign lands, the Mongolian cavalry, after all, was very well trained and was still holding their reputation as unmatched elite troops.

Suddenly from the left came loud shouts as a large number of nuns, men and women ran up the mountain. They were the Emei Pai contingent, which was on their way down the mountain when they met the Mongolian army and was driven back up. About a dozen or so men were carrying stretchers and other things. They were surrounded by the Mongolian soldiers.

Leading Jing Xuan, Jing Zhao, and several other senior disciples, Zhou Zhiruo charged and killed the enemy. But although they had killed dozens of Mongolian officers and soldiers, they still could not penetrate the enemy’s siege and save their fellow disciples.

“Not good!” Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, “One of the stretchers must be carrying Song Shige!”

“Hong Shui, Lie Huo, two flags, cover us!” he shouted, “Fan and Yang two Emissaries, Wei Xiong [brother Wei], follow me to save people!” He jumped and rushed down.

Two Mongolian soldiers thrust their lances straight toward him. With one hand Zhang Wuji grabbed one lance; exerting his strength he shook the lance and the two Yuan soldiers were thrown down the mountain. He turned the lance over and like a pair of dragons diving into the sea, the pair of lances plunged into the crowd.

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, Peng Yingyu, and the others followed. The Mongolian soldiers scattered and a passageway has opened behind Zhou Zhiruo’s group.

Fan Yao threw a punch, crushing the face of a Yuan army’s Shi Fu Zhang [leader of a ten-man unit]. He then snatched the person on the stretcher and turned around to leave.

Zhang Wuji saw that Zhou Zhiruo’s body and face were covered in blood; he charged back into the Yuan soldiers’ encirclement. “Zhiruo, Zhiruo!” he called out, “Song Dage is saved!”

Zhou Zhiruo did not pay him any attention; she kept wielding her whip and charged ahead, but the mountain pathway was too narrow. Moreover, it was crammed full of soldiers so that after a while she could not charge anywhere anymore. Zhang Wuji saw two more Emei disciples carrying another stretcher were being caught up in the encirclement; they were brandishing their swords in a desperate struggle against the Yuan army.

“Looks like Song Shige is on that stretcher,” Zhang Wuji thought. Dodging an attack, he jumped into the encirclement. He pulled two spears, which hit the rock wall and stuck, and then moving his hands and feet, he used the spears as stilts. When he was still a little more than a ‘zhang’ away, he saw the two Emei disciples were hit one after another by a saber and an arrow. They fell and both disciple and the stretcher rolled down the mountain. Zhang Wuji flew in; with the spear in his left hand he stopped the stretcher. He saw the person on the stretcher was wrapped in plain cloth from head to toe; only the face was exposed. It was indeed Song Qingshu.

Zhang Wuji threw the spears and carried Song Qingshu horizontally in his arms. He was surprised to feel Song Qingshu was exceptionally heavy. Apparently, there was a hard and stiff object inside the plain cloth wrap. Zhang Wuji did not have time to think about it, he was afraid that all this twisting and turning would break Song Qingshu’s skull. Dodging to the left and evading to the right, he tried to stay away from the rain of sabers and spears of the Yuan cavalry, while keeping his steps exceptionally smooth and stable.

Tang Wenliang and Zong Weixia of Kongtong Pai charged together, protecting Zhang Wuji on either side. Their pair of swords stabbed and blocked, the Yuan troops fell one by one under their swords. Carrying Song Qingshu in his arms, Zhang Wuji made a steady progress going up the mountain. Several hundreds of Yuan soldiers arranged themselves in formation.

“Lie Huo Flag, move to action!” Peng Yingyu called out.

The Lie Huo Flag men spurted oil from their spray guns, followed by shooting the rockets one by one. Raging flames rolled in waves, burning more than two hundred Yuan soldiers. Their burning bodies rolled down the mountain like balls of fire.

On the other side, the Hong Shui Flag’s hoses belched out poisonous water, spraying several hundred Yuan troops. The dead and the injured scattered on the mountainside. The Yuan army’s Wan Fu Zhang [leader of ten-thousand- man unit] ordered his troops to retreat. The front end of the formation changed into the rear. Shooting the arrows to prevent the enemy from pursuing, the army drew back slowly.

Peng Yingyu sighed and said, “Although they are defeated, the Tatars army does not get chaotic. They are truly world caliber elite troops.”

The Yuan army withdrew to the base of the mountain, and then spread out in a fan-shaped formation. It appeared they were not going to attack again, at least for the time being.

Zhang Wuji issued his order, “Rui Jin, Hong Shui and Lie Huo, three flags to defend the major road going up the mountain. Ju Mu and Hou Tu, two flags to quickly cut lumber and construct barriers to guard against the enemy attack.”

All the Five-Element Flags leaders accepted the order in one voice, and then went separate ways to lead their people laying out a defense.

Previously, the crowd of heroes thought that although they might not be able to completely kill Tatars troops, defending themselves certainly would not be too difficult, would it? However, in the battle just now they experienced the power of the Yuan army first hand. Now they realized that large-scale battle was substantially different than fighting one-on-one in a martial art competition. With thousands upon thousands soldiers surging in like a tide of people, even someone excelled in martial art like Zhou Zhiruo would not have the opportunity to unleash her full potential. In a forest of sabers, spears, swords and lances, where everybody was chopping and killing everybody else, the skill they learned in normal time, be it weaponry or bare fist bare foot, internal or external strength, everything lost its usefulness. If the Ming Cult’s Five Element Flags did not use troops formation to fight troops formation, at this moment there would be wretched mourning on the Shaoshi Peak; while the Shaolin Temple would turn into charred rubble under the raging fire.

Actually, Shaolin monks were also following some kind of discipline. They were divided into teams of younger monks, armed with monk staves and sabers, under the leadership of more senior monks. These teams spread out all around the Temple to guard all strategic locations. However, their number was simply too small; it was impossible for them to withstand the attack of twenty-thousand Mongolian elite troops.

The crowd of heroes broke into discussion with one another as they saw Yuan army retreat. Now they understood why the previous dynasty, which was defended by a large number of heroes and warriors with superior martial art skill, was still unable to prevent their ‘river and mountain’ [‘jiang shan’ – country] from falling into the Tatars’ hands.

Zhang Wuji gently placed Song Qingshu on the floor and looked for his breath. Luckily, he was still breathing. Turning his head, he wanted to talk to Zhou Zhiruo, but he did not see her anywhere.

“Where is Mrs. Song?” he asked. But everybody was busy fighting the Yuan force; nobody paid any attention to where Zhou Zhiruo was going. By this time, Emei Pai disciples’ hostility toward the Ming Cult had been reduced substantially, yet they also said that they had not seen their Sect Leader.

Zhang Wuji was afraid that Song Qingshu’s injury had worsened in the confusion of the battle just now; he decided to take off the wrapping on Song Qingshu’s body and examine him carefully.

There were three layers of wrapping cloth on Song Qingshu’s body. By the time Zhang Wuji had loosened the second layer, ‘clang, clang, clang,’ four pieces of broken weapon fell down. Zhang Wuji was startled. “Tulong Saber, Yitian Sword!” he called out.

One after another the crowd of heroes came near and stood around him. They saw the blades of both the Tulong Saber and the Yitian Sword were broken into two parts each. Zhang Wuji picked the half Tulong Saber, which still felt rather heavy in his hand. At that moment, all sorts of feeling welled up in his heart. He remembered his own parents lost their lives because of this Saber. For the last twenty years or so the Jianghu was in continuous trouble, all because of this Saber. The primary intention of the crowd of heroes gathered in Shaolin was also for this treasured saber. He could not imagine that this Saber suddenly reappeared broken and turned into a useless thing.

As he lifted the Saber closer, he noticed that the broken part was hollow; large enough to conceal something. The Yitian Sword was also hollow. However, both holes were empty. Someone must have taken whatever object that was previously hidden inside.

Yang Xiao sighed, “Turned out Miss Zhou’s astounding martial art skill came from these Saber and Sword.” Looking at the appearance of the broken sections of the Saber and the Sword, Zhang Wuji suddenly realized that when the Saber and the Sword went missing on that little island, they were taken by Zhou Zhiruo. Somehow she managed to banish Zhao Min, kill Yin Li, and strike the Saber and the Sword to each other, and thus two sharpest weapons in the world gave up and broke. She then took the concealed secret martial art manual and trained surreptitiously.

“That’s right,” he thought. The more Zhang Wuji thought, his mind grew clearer, “On that island, when I tried to use the Jiu Yang Shen Gong to drive the poison out from her body, I felt a strange internal energy vaguely resisting my strength. Later, this strange energy grew stronger. Obviously her internal energy cultivation has made some advancement. Ay! Because of her impatience to get a quick result, she did not cultivate a strong internal energy foundation, but took a shortcut by training a ruthless and evil martial art skill. In the end, she will not be able to reach the perfection of the martial art study. She had defeated Yu Er Bo and Yin Liu Shu, but it was because she was relying on strange moves, thus gaining the advantage of surprise, just like when I was defeated under the Central Cult’s Wind and Cloud, three Emissaries’ hands in the past. Zhiruo’s real skill is still far inferior to Yu and Yin, two uncles. If they fight again in the future, she will certainly die under the hands of Wudang Heroes …”

When he was still deep in thought, the Rui Jin Flag Leader, Wu Jingcao stepped forward and said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: your subordinate came from a blacksmith family. I have learned how to forge metal into saber and sword. Let subordinate give it a try. Perhaps I can fix these treasured Saber and Sword.”

Yang Xiao was delighted. “Wu Qishi’s [flag leader Wu] skill as a swordsmith is unparalleled in the world. Jiaozhu, there is no harm in letting him try.”

Zhang Wuji nodded. “It is indeed a pity that these sharp weapons are broken like this. Wu Qishi, you might as well give it a try.” Wu Jingcao turned toward the Lie Huo Flag Leader, Xin Ran, and said, “The most important ingredient in sword making is the fire. I will need Xin Xiong’s wholehearted assistance. From the look of it, the Tatars will not going to attack the mountain for a while; what do you say we two brothers start working together rightaway?”

Xin Ran said with a laugh, “Making fire is actually Xiongdi’s [brother, general term] expertise.”

Thereupon the two of them ordered their subordinates to build a blast furnace, with an opening not more than one foot wide. Laying bricks, Wu Jingcao firmly clamped the top section of the Tulong Saber inside the furnace with the broken end toward the fire. There were all kinds of fuel and flammable materials in the Lie Huo Flag that in an instant the furnace was blazing hot with raging fire.

Wu Jingcao had lost his right arm, only his left arm was left. He arranged a dozen or so swords and sabers by his side. His eyes were fixed on the fire. Each time the fire changed color, he put a blade inside the furnace to test the strength of the fire. When the fire turned from blue to white, his left hand quickly grabbed a pair of steel pliers and pinching the other half section of the Tulong Saber, he joined it with the top section, and held it in the fire. He was bare-chested; sparks landed on his body, but he seemed oblivious, his attention was focused completely on the task at hand.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Although being a swordsmith is a humble occupation, it actually requires great knowledge and great ability. An ordinary blacksmith would not be able to endure even this blistering hot furnace.”

Suddenly, ‘bonk, bonk’, the two Lie Huo Flag men who were pumping the bellows fainted and fell on the floor. Xin Ran and the Lie Huo Flag’s Vice Flag Leader quickly stepped in. They pulled their two fainted men and then took their place in pumping the bellows. These two men’s internal energy cultivation was not bad; as they exerted their strength, blast of air made the fire inside the stove blazing high, reaching about a ‘zhang’ above the smokestack, creating quite a spectacle. About half the time to burn an incense-stick later, Wu Jingcao suddenly cried out, “Aiyo!” and jumped backwards with disappointment on his face. Everybody was stunned; when they looked at his hand, they saw the steel pliers in his hand had melted and deformed beyond recognition, while the Tulong Saber did not show the slightest bit of melting.

Wu Jingcao shook his head and said, “Subordinate is incompetent; this treasured Tulong Saber’s reputation is truly justified.”

Xin Ran and his second in command stopped pumping and stepped aside. Their clothes were soaking wet with perspiration, as if they had just swam in the water fully clothed.

“Wuji Gege,” Zhao Min suddenly said, “Wasn’t even the Tulong Saber not able to chop the Sheng Huo Ling tablets?”

“Ah, that’s right!” Zhang Wuji said.

Out of six Sheng Huo Ling tablets, one was taken by Shuo Bude going down the mountain to call for reinforcement; there were still five tablets left. Zhang Wuji took these five tablets and handed them over to Wu Jingcao, while saying, “If the Saber and the Sword cannot be fixed, that’s all right. Sheng Huo Ling is our Cult’s most precious object. We simply must not damage it.”

“Yes!” Wu Jingcao replied, while bowing down to receive the tablets. He looked at the five tablets and noticed that the tablets were made neither of steel nor iron; they were hard like nothing he had seen. He estimated the weigh to be about more or less a catty [approx. 1 lb or 0.5kg]. Lowering his head, he pondered deeply.

“If you are unsure, you don’t have to take a risk,” Zhang Wuji said.

Wu Jingcao did not reply. After a while, he awoke from his deep thought and said, “Subordinate did not promptly reply, begging Jiaozhu’s pardon. This Sheng Huo Ling was cast using ‘bai jin, xuan tie’ [lit. white gold – platinum, black/mysterious iron (same material as Yang Guo’s heavy sword)], blended with ‘jin gang sha’ [lit. very hard steel (or diamond) powder/granule] and other materials; ordinary blaze would not smelt it. Subordinate was pondering deeply how it was made in the past. It was truly unthinkable; thereupon I was lost in thought for a while.”

Zhao Min cast a sidelong glance toward Zhang Wuji. Pursing her mouth, she laughed and said, “When Jiaozhu needs to go to Persia to meet with a certain important character in the future, you can go with him to consult their master artisan.”

Zhang Wuji was bashful. “Why would I want to go to Persia?” he asked.

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Do I have to spell it out in front of everybody?” To Wu Jingcao she said, “Have you looked? There are engravings of characters on the Sheng Huo Ling. If sharp weapons like Tulong Saber and Yitian Sword cannot damage it the least bit, what kind of tool did they engrave the characters with?”

“Actually, to engrave the characters is not difficult,” Wu Jingcao replied, “You can apply a layer of white wax [here’s from the dictionary: white wax from Chinese white wax bug] to the Sheng Huo Ling; and then engrave the characters on the wax. Next, apply a strong acid. Within several months, the acid will corrode the tablets. When the white wax is scraped, the characters stay on the tablets. What Xiao Ren [humble one, lowly one – referring to self] do not understand is how the metal was cast.”

“Hey,” Xin Ran called out, “Are we going to do it or not?”

“Jiaozhu, set your mind at ease,” Wu Jingcao said to Zhang Wuji, “Although Xin Xiongdi’s raging fire is fierce, it will not damage the Sheng Huo Ling the least bit.”

Xin Ran, however, was apprehensive, “I will make every effort to fan the fire, but if it burns our Cult’s most precious object, I may take the blame.” Wu Jingcao smiled and said, “I don’t think you have the ability to do so. But even if you do, I will take the blame.” Thereupon he used two Sheng Huo Ling tablets to clamp the half section of the Tulong Saber, and then took a new pair of pliers to grip the Sheng Huo Ling tablets and returned the treasured Saber into the furnace.

The fire was blazing hotter and higher. After burning continuously for more than an hour, Wu Jingcao, Xin Ran and the Lie Huo Flag’s Vice Flag Leader seemed to be beaten down by the heat; their faces showed signs of weariness, it looked like they would not be able to hold much longer. Priest Tie Guan signaled Zhou Dian with his eyes, while his left hand made a circle in the air. The two of them rushed forward to take Xin Ran and Lie Huo Flag’s Vice Flag Leader’s place in pumping the bellows. These two men’s internal energy was much higher than those two they were replacing; inside the furnace, a white flame rose straight up.

Suddenly Wu Jingcao shouted, “Gu Xiongdi [brother Gu], do it!” The Rui Jin Flag’s Vice Flag Leader rushed toward the furnace with a naked blade in his hand. A white ray flashed, the blade stabbed Wu Jingcao in the chest. The multitude faces of heroes watching from the side changed, they all cried out in shock. Blood spurted out from Wu Jingcao’s naked chest toward the Tulong Saber. As the blood met the fire, blue smoke rose gracefully.

“It’s finished!” Wu Jingcao shouted. He retreated several steps and fell sitting down on the ground. There was a deep black big saber in his right hand. The two broken pieces of the Tulong Saber had been fused together into one piece.

Now everybody understood. Turned out when a swordsmith failed to forge a saber or a sword, they would drip blood on the blade. There was an old legend about a certain husband and wife, Gan Jiang and Mo Xie, who had to jump into the furnace before an extremely sharp weapon could be forged. With his action, Wu Jingcao might have followed a master artisanship custom handed down from the ancient times. Zhang Wuji rushed toward Wu Jingcao; he looked carefully at the wound, and saw that the saber only entered the flesh shallowly, the injury was not life threatening. Immediately he applied cut wound medicine and wrapped up the wound, while saying, “Wu Xiong, why did you do this? It’s not important whether this Saber can be fixed or not. Why did Wu Xiong have to suffer such pain?”

“What’s the big deal about this superficial wound that it has caused Jiaozhu anxiety?” Wu Jingcao replied. He stood up and raised the Tulong Saber to take a closer look. Upon seeing that the broken part was mended flawlessly with only a faint trace of blood on it, he could not help but feel very proud.

Zhang Wuji examined the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets, which were used inside the furnace and as expected, he did not see the slightest sign of damage. Receiving the Tulong Saber, he chopped it on two spears, which were snatched from Yuan troops earlier. With a light ‘Swish!’ sound, the two spears were cut smoothly, as if they were made of mud, cut by ordinary iron.

The crowd of heroes applauded loudly. “Excellent Saber! Excellent Saber!” they praised.

Wu Jingcao took the two-piece Yitian Sword in his hands. His mind wandered to the moment when the former Rui Jin Flag Leader, Zhuang Zheng, as well as dozens of his brethrens of the Rui Jin Flag, lost their lives under this Sword. He could not restrain tears from flowing down his eyes.

“Jiaozhu,” he said, “This Sword has killed my Zhuang Dage. It has killed not a few of my good brothers. Wu Jingcao hates this Sword to the bone. I can’t fix it. I am ready to accept responsibility for this offense.” While saying that, his tears poured down like rain.

“That only shows Wu Xiong’s ‘yi qi’ [loyalty, code of brotherhood],” Zhang Wuji said, “What offense are you talking about?” Taking the two pieces of the Sword, he walked toward Jing Xuan of Emei Pai and said, “This Sword originally belonged to your precious Sect. I would like to ask Shitai to pass this on to Miss … to Mrs. Song.” Jing Xuan did not say anything, but she accepted the two pieces of broken sword.

Zhang Wuji held the Tulong Saber in his hand; he thought for a moment and then brought the Saber to Kong Wen.

“Fangzhang,” he said, “This Saber was my Yifu’s. Now that Yifu has entered the ‘three precious’ [orig. ‘san bao’ – Buddha, Dharma (his teaching) and Sangha (his monastic order)] and joined Shaolin, it is only fit that this Saber should be under Shaolin Pai’s power.”

Kong Wen shook both of his hands and said, “This Saber has already exchanged hands many times over. Last time it was Zhang Jiaozhu who snatched it away from among the thousand troops and ten thousand horses; everybody can bear witness to it. And then it was Wu Dage from your precious Cult who mended it. In addition, today the heroes from all over the world have agreed to elect Zhang Jiaozhu to preside over the honorable position. Therefore, it is a question of ability and virtue, of origin and relationship, of prestige and position, this Saber should be under Zhang Jiaozhu’s control. This is perfectly justified.”

The crowd of heroes echoed in chorus; they said, “This is the will of the people, Zhang Jiaozhu does not need to decline.”

Zhang Wuji had no choice but to accept; he thought, “If I can command the heroes of the Wulin world with this treasured Saber, we can drive the invaders together and complete the big current task.”

He heard somebody started to recite, followed by the multitude of heroes, “The most revered in the Wulin world, tresured Saber slaying the dragon, ruling everything under the heavens, no one dares to disobey!” The next line was ‘Yitian [relying on Heaven] does not appear, who can match its sharpness?’ but since everybody had seen the Yitian Sword was broken and was not going to be mended, nobody recited these last two sentences.

The Rui Jin Flag of the Ming Cult harbored a deep hatred toward the Yitian Sword. Today, seeing the Tulong Saber was restored to its original form while the two pieces of Yitian Sword stayed broken, they all expressed their delight.

Everybody had been busy for half a day; their stomachs were growling. The Ming Cult’s Five Element Flags and half of the Shaolin Temple monks were dispatched to guard all vital points. The rest of the people followed the monks to enjoy vegetarian dishes inside the Temple.

As the sky turned dark, Zhang Wuji leaped onto a tall tree to scout the enemy’s movements at the bottom of the mountain. He noticed a cluster of encampments to the west, where smoke was rising up everywhere; it looked like they were cooking their dinner on the fire pits dug on the ground.

Zhang Wuji leaped down the tree and said to Wei Yixiao, “Wei Xiong, as soon as it is dark enough, go down and spy around the enemy’s camp. Find out whether they are going to attack tonight or not.” Wei Yixiao received the order and left.

“Jiaozhu,” Yang Xiao said, “After being defeated at the front of the mountain today, I think the Tatars will not attack again tonight. What we must guard against is their sneak attack from the back of the mountain.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “I am asking Yang Zuo Shi and Fan You Shi to stay and take charge in here, while I am going to the other side of the mountain to look around.”

“I am coming with you,” Zhao Min said.

The two of them went to the peak where Xie Xun was held captive; they looked far toward the back of the mountain, but did not see anything astir. Zhang Wuji ran his fingers gently on the three broken pine trees, and then he looked at the dark mouth of the dungeon, while in his mind he replayed the fierce fight earlier that day. He shivered at the thought of extremely dangerous situation he was in. Suddenly he remembered something, "Yifu told me to look at the rock wall of the dungeon. I almost forgot." "Min Mei," he said, "Stay up here and stand watch; I am going down to take a look."

Jumping down into the hole, he took a torch [orig. ‘huo zhe’ (lit. fire folded document) – folded paper used as torch] and lit a fire. By this time, the water inside the dungeon had receded, but the wall and the ground were still wet. He saw on all sides, the wall was full of pictures. The pictures were apparently engraved on the rock wall using a sharp rock. The lines were simple, yet graceful and rather vivid.

On the eastern wall, the drawing depicted three women. One was lying on the ground; one was kneeling next to her as if she was tending to the woman on the ground. The third woman's right hand was at the kneeling woman's bosom. Next to the picture were two characters 'qu yao' [fetching the medicine].

On the south side, there was a picture of a big ship. One woman was throwing another woman into the ship. The caption said 'fang zhu' [banish].

Cold sweats broke out on Zhang Wuji's forehead. "Turn out it really happened this way," he thought, "When Min Mei was attending to my Biaomei [younger female cousin], Zhiruo stole the 'shi xiang ruan jin san' from her pocket to be mixed in our food and drink. And then she threw Min Mei into the Persian ship and forced them to leave immediately. But why didn't she simply kill Min Mei? Hmm, perhaps if she left Min Mei's body behind, she would not be able to cover up her track, plus she could not shift the blame to her. That being the case, then Biaomei was also killed under her ruthless hands."

Just below the picture, a bit to the left, was another picture of two men. One was sleeping, the other, with a head full of long hair, was inclining his head to listen. Zhang Wuji was startled, "Turn out when Zhiruo was performing this bloody atrocities that cry out to Heaven, Yifu heard everything. The Senior's self-control was indeed very strong; he did not reveal anything on the island. Ah, right. At that time Yifu and I were already drugged by the 'shi xiang ruan jin san'; our internal strength were gone. Our lives were in Zhiruo's hands. No wonder at that time Yifu adamantly said that it must be Min mei's doing, and that he was very indignant toward her. He knew I was naive and muddle-headed; if he told me the secret, I would inadvertently divulge it through my speech or my demeanor."

He saw the pictures were splattered with blood, a reminder of the bloody battle between Xie Xun and Cheng Kun during the day, making the pictures more forlorn and terrifying.

Looking at the third picture on the western wall, he saw Xie Xun was sitting, and Zhou Zhiruo was attacking him from the back. There was a crowd of beggars of the Beggar Clan lurking outside the room. This scene was exactly the same as was depicted in the tableau sponsored by Zhao Min during the 'Tour of the Imperial City' at Dadu.

When he was about to look at the fourth picture, the torch in his hand suddenly went out. "Min Mei," he called out, "Could you come down and let me use your fire?"

Zhao Min lighted her torch and jumped down. As she saw the drawings, she understood immediately. The fourth picture depicted Xie Xun was being taken by several men. There was a woman peering from behind a tree in a distant. The stroke of these drawing was excellent; however, other than Xie Xun’s own face, the other people’s faces were indistinct, Zhang Wuji could not tell who the woman was.

He pondered about it for a moment and then he understood, “When Yifu became blind, I have not even been born yet. He recognizes Min Mei, Zhiruo, Biaomei, and me by our voices, but actually he does not know what we look like. Naturally he could not draw our faces.” Pointing to the young woman, he asked, “Was it you, or Miss Zhou?”

“It was me,” Zhao Min replied, “When Cheng Kun snatched Xie Daxia away from the Beggar Clan, he had someone else to take Xie Daxia to be imprisoned in the Shaolin Temple. He himself went around leaving the Ming Cult’s mark along the way, leading you on a wild goose chase around a big circle. I did try to seize Xie Daxia by force several times, but I failed every time. In the end I had to stop you from being the bridegroom. I am truly sorry.”

At that time, Zhang Wuji’s heart was filled with extreme remorse. He stared blankly at Zhao Min, looking at her wan and sallow countenance, and her thin cheeks; knowing that in the last several months she had endured suffering beyond any normal person can bear. Overwhelmed by compassion, he reached out to embrace her, and said in a trembling voice, “Min Mei, I … I have wronged you.” As soon as he embraced her, the fire went out and the dungeon turned into a pitch-black cave.

He continued, “If not because of your intelligence and quick-thinking, the muddle-headed Zhang Wuji would have killed you; wouldn’t that be terrible?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Do you have a heart to kill me? You insisted that I was the murderer, yet when you saw me, why didn’t you kill me?”

Zhang Wuji was silent with a blank expression on his face. After a moment, he sighed and said, “Min Mei, my feelings toward you have made me lose control over my own actions. Supposing you did kill my Biaomei, I still do not know what I should do. Now that the truth is being gradually revealed, even though I feel sorry for Zhiruo, I must say that deep in my heart I am happy.”

Zhao Min could hear the sincerity in his voice; she leaned on his bosom. For a long time nobody said anything. When she looked up, she saw that the crescent moon was hanging low on the eastern horizon, while all around them nothing was astir.

“Wuji Gege,” Zhao Min said in a tender voice, “When we first met at the Green Willow Manor, we fell into the dungeon together. Don’t you think our circumstance today is more or less the same as the one we were then?”

Zhang Wuji snickered. He reached down to grab her left foot and then took her shoe off.

Zhao Min laughed. “A big man like you bullying a weak girl like me,” she said.

“You, a weak girl?” Zhang Wuji replied, “You are so crafty that even ten grown men are not your match.”

“Thank you for your praise, Zhang Da Jiaozhu [Big Cult Leader Zhang]!” Zhao Min laughed, “Little girl does not dare to accept.”

Speaking to this point, both of them broke out in laughter. The exchange between them was exactly what they were saying when they were trapped in the Green Willow Manor’s dungeon together a few years ago. Only, the first time they said that, the words were filled with hostility, while this evening, the words were full of unbounded tender love.

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “Aren’t you afraid I might scratch the bottom of your foot again?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “No, I am not!”

Zhang Wuji grabbed her foot again, but suddenly they heard faint shouts from the direction of northwest. Leaning their heads to listen, they heard clashing gusts of wind; obviously, there were people fighting in the distance.

“Let’s go take a look!” they said to each other.

Taking Zhao Min’s hand, Zhang Wuji leaped up from the dungeon. Following the direction of the noise, they saw three shadows speeding away to the west. Their feet were exceptionally swift; they were definitely first class martial art masters. Zhang Wuji held out his arm to grab Zhao Min’s waist, and then unleashing his ‘qing gong’ he dashed on a chase. From the distant he noticed that the one in the front was running away, while the other two in the back were pursuing vigorously. Zhang Wuji picked up his speed trying to close the distance. Under the moonlight he saw that the pursuers were two old men. They were none other than Lu Zhangke and He Biweng. He saw He Biweng wave his left hand, throwing a crane-beak pen forward toward the one in the front. The one in the front swept a sword backward to parry. ‘Bang!’ the crane-beak pen was thrown to the sky.

Because of this slight delay, Lu Zhangke was able to leap nearby that person, and immediately thrust his deer-antler staff forward. That person leaned sideways to evade and counterattacked with a palm. The moon shone onto that person’s face. Her face was pale, her loose long hair fluttered in the wind. Turned out she was Zhou Zhiruo. Zhang Wuji was startled. Hastily he took Zhao Min and hid behind a tree.

He Biweng caught the crane-beak pen as it fell from the sky. He circled toward Zhou Zhiruo’s left and launched a converging attack together with Lu Zhangke.

Clenching her teeth, Zhou Zhiruo said, “Why do you, two old ghosts, painstakingly chase me?”

Lu Zhangke replied, “Today we have seen it with our own eyes; Zhang Wuji of the Ming Cult managed to seize the Tulong Saber and Yitian Sword, but the secret martial art manual inside the Saber and the Sword was already gone. It must be in Mrs. Song’s possession.”

Zhang Wuji was shocked. “Turned out when I was snatching the blades and saving others, these two old chaps were close by. But why couldn’t I know their presence?”

He heard Zhou Zhiruo say, “There is indeed a secret martial art manual, but I destroyed it as soon as I finished training.”

With a cold laugh Lu Zhangke said, “Did you say ’finished training’? That easy, huh? These Tulong Saber and Yitian Sword were known as ‘the most treasured in Wulin world’; how can the secret hidden inside them be that superficial? Although Mrs. Song’s martial art skill stands out above the others, I don’t think you have reached the pinnacle yet. Otherwise, with one wave of your hand you would have killed us, two brothers. Why would you run away?”

“If I said I have destroyed it then I have destroyed it,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Who has so much spare time to chat with you? I am taking my leave now!”

“Hold it!” Lu Zhangke and He Biweng shouted together. They raised their hands at the same time and attacked Zhou Zhiruo from left and right.

Zhou Zhiruo brandished her sword; it looked like a silver snake dancing wildly under the moonlight. The Xuan Ming Elders parried her attacks with a staff and a pair of pens.

Zhang Wuji had seen Zhou Zhiruo’s whip technique. This time he saw that her sword emits a mysterious ray, moving in and out in defense and offense in the midst of two martial art masters’ converging attack. Her stances irregularly varied between fake and real; it seemed like her movements were full of tricks.

After fighting for more than several dozens stances, Zhou Zhiruo’s sword moves were growing even stranger. At least seven of the ten stances were swift and fierce offensive strikes. Zhang Wuji knew that she wanted to get away from the enemies, but her internal energy would actually deplete faster by fighting like this. If she were a bit careless, she would face a mortal danger. Zhang Wuji was deeply concerned. He stepped out from behind the tree and quietly walked several steps closer.

Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo let out a shout and swiftly stabbed Lu Zhangke three times. Lu Zhangke stepped sideways to evade. Right this moment, He Biweng threw his pair of pens toward her back with a full force. The pens clashing with each other midair and changed course; one flew towards the back of her head, the other flew towards the back of her waist.

Zhou Zhiruo heard the wind of the weapons behind her back and ducked; but she did not expect the pens would collide in midair and change their courses. As she ducked, one pen struck her forehead. Needless to say, she could not avoid the crane-beak pen threatening her waist.

Hastily Zhang Wuji leaped to catch the crane-beak pen, while sweeping his palm horizontally toward He Biweng. In her shock, Zhou Zhiruo was at a loss for a split second, and Lu Zhangke’s palm came floating lightly toward her lower abdomen. It was not a small matter, as it was the ‘xuan ming shen zhang’ [black/mysterious divine palm]. Zhou Zhiruo stopped breathing and fainted at once.

Zhang Wuji was greatly shocked; throwing the crane-beak pen in his hand, he reached backward to catch Zhou Zhiruo, and then leaped more than a ‘zhang’ backwards.

“Xuan Ming Er Lao!” he roared, “Don’t you have any face?”

Lu Zhangke laughed out loud and said, “I was wondering who dares to come and meddle with our business; turns out it is Zhang Da Jiaozhu [great cult leader]. Where is our Junzhu Niangniang [princess]? Where did you take her after kidnapping her?”

Zhao Min stepped out from behind the tree; taking Zhou Zhiruo from Zhang Wuji’s arms, she softly laughed and said, “Mr. Lu, you are head over heels longing after me; aren’t you afraid Father might be angry with you?”

“Little witch,” Lu Zhangke angrily said, “You sowed dissension between us, brothers. We have severed any relationship with your father early on. Why would Ruyang Prince being angry or not concern me?”

Seeing how Lu Zhangku struck a vicious blow to injure Zhou Zhiruo, and then spoke rudely to Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji also recalled how these two men had caused him countless sufferings with their ‘xuan ming shen zhang’when he was a child; his old hatred was rekindled. In that moment, his blood was boiling inside his chest. “Min Mei, back off,” he said, “Just looking at these two old chaps is making me angry. I must fight them well today.” Seeing that Zhang Wuji was barehanded, the two elders laid down their weapons and waited with focused attention.

“On guard!” Zhang Wuji shouted and launched the ‘lan qiao wei’ [seizing the bird’s tail] stance; his palms struck out together. This stance was part of the Taiji Fist technique, the movement was very slow, but the power behind it was from his Jiu Yang Shen Gong.

Although Taiji Fist is common for the later generations, not too many Wulin people were even aware of its existence at the time right after Zhang Sanfeng developed it. Lu Zhangke had never seen this kind of soft, seemingly powerless palm technique; naturally, he did not know what kind of trick was hidden in this palm attack. He was extremely afraid of Zhang Wuji, hence he did not dare to meet his palm and leaned sideways to evade.

Zhang Wuji turned around and with ‘bai she tu yan’ [white snake spitting words] his left palm struck He Biweng, while his right palm shook in and out randomly. He Biweng pointed his left hand index finger to the center of Zhang Wuji’s palm, his right palm swept diagonally down toward Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen.

Zhang Wuji had fought the Xuan Ming Elders several times; he knew these two men were not his match. Compared to Du E and the other, the three monks whom he encountered in his most recent three battles, these two were a level below in terms of their depth in martial art skills. So if he wanted to defeat these two, he should have more than enough to spare. However, these two’s skill was, after all, not superficial. Therefore, Zhang Wuji did not dare to be reckless. He launched Taiji Fist to its fullest potential; creating circle after circle, with Jiu Yang Shen Gong struck out from sometimes straight, sometime slanting circles.

The Xuanming Elders gradually felt the ‘yang’ energy burning fiercely; while the ‘yin’ and cold energy of their own ‘Xuan Ming Shen Zhang’ was frequently forced back by the opponent. After fighting for more than a hundred stances, by chance Zhang Wuji turned around and saw two dark shadows shiver on the ground. The moon had cast its shadow on Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo. His heart skipped a beat. Zhao Min appeared to be shaking uncontrollably while she was fighting to keep Zhou Zhiruo in her arms.

“Not good!” Zhang Wuji was secretly alarmed, “After taking Old Lu’s ‘xuan ming shen zhang’, I am afraid Zhou Zhiruo cannot withstand it. The energy cultivation she trained was ‘yin’ and cold in nature. Now that she received Xuan Ming Shen Zhang which is the world’s coldest and most poisonous energy, cold on top of cold, apparently even Min Mei is not able to endure it.” Thereupon he increased his effort to press Lu Zhangke.

Lu Zhangke noticed the change in Zhang Wuji’s fist technique; he guessed Zhang Wuji’s intentions correctly. Leaping sideways to evade, he called out, “Shidi, surround him; that woman surnamed Zhou is having a cold-poison attack. Don’t let him help her.”

“Certainly,” He Biweng replied. Leaping out of the circle, he picked up his pair of crane-beak pens and with the ‘tong tian che di’ [going through the sky and penetrating the earth], his pens smashed in from top and bottom.

Zhang Wuji smiled slightly and said, “With or without weapons, it’s all the same!” With a shout his palm struck; the gust of wind generated was so strong that He Biweng was gasping for breath.

Lu Zhangke reached back for his deer-antler staff and swept it toward Zhang Wuji’s waist. Zhang Wuji successively changed his fist techniques; now he launched the thirty-six style (or form) ‘long zhua qin na shou’ [dragon claw ‘grab and capture’ or grappling technique] he learned from Shaolin Divine Monk Kong Xing, the ‘fu qin shi’ [zither playing form], ‘gu se shi’ [drum beating form], ‘bu feng shi’ [wind grasping form], and ‘bao can shi’ [destruction carrying form], all with very strong offensive power.

“This Dragon Claw skill is very well trained,” Lu Zhangke called out, “Later on it will be very useful to dig a hole in the ground; no mistake about it.” “Shige,” He Biweng replied, “Why do we need a hole in the ground?”

Lu Zhangke laughed, “That Miss Zhou is going to die; of course we need a hole to bury her!”

As he spoke, his attention was slightly divided; Zhang Wuji flew in and kicked his left leg. Lu Zhangke staggered. He quickly braced himself and brandished his deer-antler staff, creating a defense so tight that even the wind and the rain would not be able to penetrate.

Zhang Wuji turned his head to see Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo; he saw these two women were shaking even more violently. “Min Mei,” he asked, “How do you feel?”

“Very bad!” Zhao Min replied, “I feel very cold!”

Zhang Wuji was shocked. He thought for a moment and then understood. When Zhou Zhiruo was hit by the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang, as fierce as the ‘yin’ and cold energy was, it only attacked her, one person. But now even Zhao Min was feeling cold. He thought it must be because of Zhao Min’s good intention that she transmitted her own energy to help Zhou Zhiruo resisting the cold. However, these two women’s strengths differed considerably; Zhou Zhiruo’s internal energy was also very strange, so strange that instead of helping her, Zhao Min’s own energy was depleted.

Zhang Wuji moved his fists furiously, hoping that he would force these two Elders as quickly as possible. But the two Elders kept their distance; they moved to his front and to his back, but did not dare to fight him directly, as their intention was only to prolong the battle.

Zhang Wuji was getting impatient. “Min Mei,” he called out, “Lay Miss Zhou on the ground, and do not hold her.”

“I … I can’t,” Zhao Min replied. “What?” Zhang Wuji was puzzled.

“She … her back … is stuck to my palm,” Zhao Min said. Her teeth chattered and her body swayed as if she was going to fall down any minute. Zhang Wuji was even more shocked.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” he heard Lu Zhangke say, “This Miss Zhou is very cruel; she is passing on the cold poison in her body into Junzhu Niangniang that Junzhu Niangniang is almost dead. What do you say we make an agreement?”

“What agreement?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Lu Zhangke said, “We stop fighting. We get the two books from Miss Zhou, you get to save Junzhu Niangniang.”

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji snorted. He thought, “These Xuan Ming Elders’ martial art is already this good; if they also train Zhiruo’s sinister martial art and then they do much evil, nobody will be able to control them.”

While still thinking, he turned his head to look at Zhao Min again and saw that a shade of greenish blue had already appeared on her jade-like beautiful white cheeks, while her face showed an extreme pain. Zhang Wuji took two steps backward and grabbed her right palm with his left hand. Immediately he transferred his Jiu Yang Shen Qi in steady stream via his palm.

“Attack together from the front!” Lu Zhangke called out. With a staff and a pair of pens, like a flurry of torrential rain the Xuan Ming Elders charged together.

Zhang Wuji was using most of his energy to save Zhao and Zhou, two women; he was unable to move his body, he only had one palm with which to block the enemy’s attack, so in an instant he found himself in a very precarious situation.

‘Rip’, He Biweng’s crane-beak pen cut a long slit on the pants on his left leg; blood immediately dripped out of his leg.

At first, Zhao Min was almost frozen stiff by the cold ‘yin’ chi from Zhou Zhiruo’s body; she felt as if her blood was slowly coagulating. As soon as the Jiu Yang Shen Qi flushed in, gradually her body warmed up. But as Zhang Wuji used his other palm to fight Xuan Ming Elders, he was straining just to make ends meet; consequently, his transfer of Jiu Yang Zhen Qi toward Zhao Min weakened. Zhao Min started to feel cold again.

‘Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!’ Lu Zhangke struck three times with his deer- antler staff, with the tip of the antler aiming toward Zhang Wuji’s eyes. Zhang Wuji raised his palm to parry, deflecting the head of the staff away. He Biweng rolled on the ground. The pen in his left hand launched the ‘cong xin suo yu’ [lit. ‘whatever you like’ or ‘do as you please’] toward Zhang Wuji’s waist.

Zhang Wuji was unable to evade; he had no choice but to use the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi trying to neutralize the pen’s strength. But He Biweng’s pen carried a tremendous force and Zhang Wuji did not have the confidence that he would be able to neutralize the incoming force. Suddenly a loud ‘Dang!’ was heard; his waist shook, but he did not feel any pain. Turned out by chance He Biweng’s pen hit the Tulong Saber hanging on his waist.

Zhang Wuji did not normally fight his opponent using any weapon. Even battling Du E, three monks, he only used Sheng Huo Ling tablets, which were not real weapons. He had never used a sword or a saber, and thus although the Tulong Saber was hanging on his waist, he had not thought of using it to fight the enemy.

This pen strike by He Biweng awakened him; with a loud shout his left leg kicked, forcing He Biweng to withdraw three steps back. He pulled the Saber out right when the deer-antler staff was stabbing again. Zhang Wuji swept his Tulong Saber. With a light swishing noise the antler from the staff fell down. Lu Zhangke was stunned. “Aiyo!” he cried out.

He Biweng’s pair of pens rolled in. Zhang Wuji swept the treasured Saber again. ‘Swish, swish!’ Two crane-beak pens broke into four pieces. Zhang Wuji turned the Saber around, creating a circle of black light. The Xuan Ming Elders did not dare to get close anymore; finally Zhang Wuji was able to transmit his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi into Zhao Min’s body.

With this infusion of full-strength energy, the critical condition of the cold Xuan Ming poison attack on Zhou Zhiruo has finally passed. However, when two different types of energy, yin and yang, intersect inside the body, especially if they were of different strength level, the strong would subdue the weak. After the cold Xuan Ming poison was repelled, Jiu Yang Zhen Qi also offset the internal Jiu Yin energy, which Zhou Zhiruo trained for.

After Zhou Zhiruo acquired the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing [Nine Yin Manual] hidden inside the Yitian Sword, she only trained surreptitiously in the night because she was afraid Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji might find out. But time was running out. Since she was unable to build a strong foundation by training the manual step-by-step, her internal energy cultivation was not too deep. Actually, she only trained the lower and easier-to-train sinister martial art from the Manual. When she was hit by the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang, she was thinking of transmitting the cold ‘yin’ chi to Zhao Min. When Zhang Wuji interfered, she only felt her entire body was enveloped with a warm and cozy feeling. As she felt the incoming energy grow, she wanted to take her body out of Zhao Min’s palm; unexpectedly, as she struggled, she felt as if a whiff of very strong sucking force was holding her so that she was not able to escape. Before, she was sucking Zhao Min’s palm with her back; now, her back was stuck on Zhao Min’s palm. It was because of the difference in internal energy strengths. Zhou Zhiruo could not help but feel utterly shocked.

As Zhang Wuji was driving the cold poison out, he felt his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi was flowing out, while from Zhao Min’s palm continuously came an opposing cold chi. He thought the cold poison of Xuan Ming Shen Zhang had not been completely neutralized, so he kept increasing his power. He did not know that with each part of Jiu Yang Zhen Qi he sent out, he neutralized one part of the Jiu Yin Zhen Qi Zhou Zhiruo had painstakingly cultivated. Zhou Zhirou was groaning inwardly, but she must not say anything, since she knew that as soon as she opened her mouth, blood would immediately spurt out like crazy, her chi would be drained and she would die.

Zhao Min felt warm and comfortable; she laughed and said, “Wuji Gege, I am all right now. You can focus your attention to fight the Xuan Ming Elders!”

“Very well!” Zhang Wuji replied, and withdrew his internal energy.

Zhou Zhiruo felt as if she had just received pardon; she quickly pulled away from Zhao Min’s palm. She realized that although the cold poison of Xuan Ming Shen Zhang had been completely repelled, her own Jiu Yin internal energy had also suffered a heavy damage. As soon as Zhang Wuji brandished the Tulong Saber to attack the enemy, she stretched out her five fingers to strike the crown of Zhao Min’s head.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min cried out loudly. She felt a severe pain on the top of her head, and thought that she was going to die this time. But she heard ‘crack, crack’ noise instead, as Zhou Zhiruo was groaning in pain and hurriedly retreated.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; hastily he turned his head and asked, “What is it?”

Zhao Min reached up to touch her forehead and was so scared that she felt her soul had left her and flown to the heavens that she was unable to say anything. Zhang Wuji only knew that she was hit by the ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’; he was also scared out of his wits. With his right hand he brandished to Saber to block the two elders, with his left hand he felt the top of her head. He felt the stickiness of blood, but luckily did not find any broken bone. He felt as if a large boulder burdening his heart had just fallen down.

“It’s all right,” he said, consolingly, “Your wound is only skin deep.” While in his heart he mused, “Strange, very strange!”

He did not know that when Zhou Zhiruo attacked, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi he sent out earlier had not completely left Zhao Min’s body. Moreover, Zhou Zhiruo’s own internal energy had suffered substantial damage. When she attacked, not only she failed to harm the opponent, her own fingers experienced quite a shock.

As Zhang Wuji’s attention was diverted, the Xuan Ming Elders’ attack came by, but this time Zhang Wuji had the world’s sharpest weapon in his hand. Aware of the outstanding character of this weapon, he did not want to take advantage over the opponent, so he handed the precious saber over to Zhao Min instead. Quickly he circulated his breathing one round and focused his attention. Then, retracting his left hand, he thrust out his palm using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to divert He Biweng’s incoming palm.

This ‘pull and push’ was the most profound technique of the seventh level of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; backed by concentrated power of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong. This technique required the most amount of internal energy and could not have the slightest degree of negligence in its execution. If he failed, he would suffer fire deviation. For this reason he did not dare to use it earlier even though when faced with a desperate situation, because his mind was still occupied by trying to repel the cold poison from Zhao and Zhou, two women.

The Xuan Ming Elders were first class martial art masters; if he had used the fifth or the sixth level of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, he might not be able to deal with them. As He Biweng’s right palm struck by, ‘whoosh!’ it changed course to strike Lu Zhangke’s shoulder.

Lu Zhangke was startled and angrily said, “Shidi, what are you doing?”

Although He Biweng’s martial art skill was high, his natural disposition was rather slow; he had to think for quite a while before he could understand anything. This time, things happened so quickly that he himself was baffled. In his shock, he was unable to give Lu Zhangke any explanation. He only knew that Zhang Wuji had played a trick on him. He thought that if he increased his effort in attacking the enemy, he might appease his Shixiong; therefore, sending out his strength to his right leg, he kicked Zhang Wuji, hard.

Zhang Wuji’s left hand whisked this kick, hooked He Biweng’s leg and directed it toward Lu Zhangke’s lower abdomen. Lu Zhangke was shocked and angered. “Are you insane?” he roared.

“That’s right!” Zhao Min called out, “Mr. He, quickly capture this rebellious, lecherous, greedy and kinky Shixiong of yours, my Father will certainly reward you heavily.”

Zhang Wuji secretly laughed. “This ‘driving-a-wedge-between-them’ idea is really marvelous,” he mused. Originally, he wanted to use Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to divert He Biweng’s attack toward Lu Zhangke, and redirect Lu Zhangke’s strike toward He Biweng. But as he listened to Zhao Min, he only diverted He Biweng’s fists and legs, but used Taiji Fist to deal with Lu Zhangke.

“Mr. He, don’t worry,” he called out, “With our combined effort, we will certainly be able to butcher this pervert deer [‘Lu’ of Lu Zhangke means ‘deer’]. The Ruyang Prince has already bestowed to you … bestowed to you

…” In that instant, he could not think of an appropriate government position for him.

“Mr. He,” Zhao Min called out, “The official letter of your appointment to a high official position is here.” While saying that she took a bundle of paper from her bosom and waved it up, reading, “Hmm, it is ‘Da Yuan Hu Guo Yang Wei Da Jiang Jun’ [the Great Yuan’s Protector of the Country, Great General with Rising Power]. Hurry up, you must try harder!”

Zhang Wuji struck with his right palm, forcing Lu Zhangke to lean to the left; right at this moment, he diverted He Biweng’s left palm from attacking Zhang Wuji’s left to Lu Zhangke’ right, so that Lu Zhangke was attacked from left and right.

Lu Zhangke and He Biweng had been together for several decades; their love to each other was like blood brothers. At first Lu Zhangke did not believe that He Biweng would betray him, but at this moment he had seen it with his own eyes how He Biweng successively attacked him for five stances; all aimed at his vital points, all with full-powered punches or kicks, apparently with the desire to take his life, without the least bit of friendship. His resentment had reached its peak. He roared, “You are after riches and honor, and do not have any regard about ‘yi qi’?”

“I … I am ...” He Biweng hurriedly said.

“That’s right,” Zhao Min cut him off, “You have no choice because you are going to be the ‘Da Yuan Hu Guo Yang Wei Da Jiang Jun’; therefore, you cannot say anything about offending your Shixiong.”

Zhang Wuji put his entire strength in his right hand and focused his entire attention to lead He Biweng’s palm strike toward Lu Zhangke. ‘Bang!’ Lu Zhangke’s shoulder was squarely hit. In his anger Lu Zhangke slapped backward, striking He Biweng’s left side of his jaw that several of his teeth fell down.

He Biweng was already old; he only had several teeth left inside his mouth. Naturally, he cherished these remaining few teeth on his left cheek. Unable to restrain his anger, he shouted, “Shige, you really can’t tell the good from the bad. I did not hit you on purpose.”

Lu Zhangke was also angry. “Who started the fight?” he said. Although his knowledge was vast, he did not know that in this world there existed the seventh level of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi with such a formidable power. He thought that based on the level of martial art skill He Biweng and he possessed, Zhang Wuji might be able to defeat them or even kill them, but never in his wildest dream would he expect Zhang Wuji to use such technique as ‘borrowing strength to fight strength’, reversing his partner’s palm force to strike him. Therefore, he had never suspected he had fallen into Zhang Wuji’s trick.

Venting up his frustration, He Biweng cursed, “Little bastard, you have played trick on me!” “That’s right!” Zhao Min called out, “You don’t need to call him ‘Shige’, just call him ‘Little bastard’.”

As Zhang Wuji’s left palm was pressing Lu Zhangke’s palm power, his right hand diverted He Biweng’s palm to hit Lu Zhangke’s right cheek that his cheek was swollen immediately.

Noticing that Lu Zhangke was fuming; his eyes were red and his palm attacked He Biweng like crazy, Zhang Wuji knew his plan worked. “Mr. He,” he shouted, “I’ll leave this pervert deer into your hands.” His left foot kicked, he flew out of and took Zhao Min to leave. He saw the Xuan Ming Elders were still intensely fighting ‘you punch me, I kick you’ each other.

“Mr. He,” Zhao Min called out, “After you arrest your Shige, you may borrow the secret martial art manual from the Tulong Saber for a month. Quickly set up a great merit; don’t miss this good opportunity.”

Lu Zhangke was getting angrier; he attacked He Biweng without showing any mercy. These two men were of the same school; there was not much difference in their martial skill level [orig. ‘ban jin ba liang’ – half a pound is eight ounces]. It was hard to say when this kind of fierce battle would end.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min returned to the Shaolin Temple. Examining the top of Zhao Min’s head, Zhang Wuji saw that the injury was superficial. Suddenly he remembered something. “Min Mei,” he said, “Luckily you bring that bundle of paper; otherwise, Lu Zhangke would not believe.”

With a chuckle, Zhao Min took two bundles of thin papers from her bosom. She waved it in front of Zhang Wuji’s face and said with a laugh, “Can you guess what this is?”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “If you tell me to guess, I will never guess correctly in my lifetime. So, why would I want to take the trouble?”

Zhao Min placed the two bundles of paper in his hand. Zhang Wuji took a candle to examine the paper. He found out that it was not paper, but thin sheets of silk, as thin as cicada’s wings. The sheets were densely populated with tiny characters, with each character as small as the head of a fly. The first bundle began with this line of four characters, ‘wu mu yi shu’ [Wumu Legacy; lit. ‘the book (or letter) left behind by Wumu’]. It explained the key in deployment of troops in a war, battle formation, and other fine points of military strategy.

Looking at the second bundle, he saw it started with these four characters, ‘Jiu Yin Zhen Jing’ [Nine Yin Manual; lit. ‘nine yin (negative/feminine/moon) true/real scripture’]. Inside were all kinds of mystical and strange martial arts. Flipping toward the end of the bundle, he found ‘Jiu Yin Bai Gu Zhua’ [Nine Yin White Bone Claw] and ‘Cui Xin Zhang’ [heart destroying palm] among other things.

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold. “You … did you take all this from Miss Zhou?” he asked.

Zhao Min laughed. “When she was immobile, why can’t I take advantage of her [orig. shun shou qian yang’ – lead away a goat in passing’]?” she said, “This kind of malicious martial art, I don’t want to learn, but I do want to destroy it, since left in her hands it might be used to harm others.”

Zhang Wuji browsed through the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing. A few pages later, he realized that the lesson inside was very profound and difficult to decipher in a short while. He also knew that the martial art skill toward the end of the book was not malicious, he said, “The martial art in this manual is actually very deep. If trained properly, I believe ten, twenty years later, the result will not be a small matter. But if it is trained rashly, the result will be superficial. Not only it will harm others, but will inflict self injury as well.” After pausing for a moment, he continued, “That Jiejie wearing yellow gown’s martial art is obviously of the same school, yet her movements were upright without any sign of maliciousness, very pure and honorable. It seems that her skill also came from this Nine Yin Manual.”

“She said something like ‘Behind the Mount Zhong Nan, the Tomb of the Living Dead, the Divine Eagle and Gallant Knights vanished from the Jianghu’, what do these four lines mean?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “When we see Tai Shifu in the future, we will ask the Senior. Perhaps he could shed some light on this affair.”

They chatted for some time. After making sure that there was no change in troop activity at the bottom of the mountain, they went their separate ways to take a rest.

End of Chapter 39. 
@Chapter 40 – Didn’t Know This Zhang Fellow was The Mr. Zhang (End)
Zhang Wuji woke up at daybreak the next morning, and immediately jumped up a tall tree to scout the enemy movement. The enemy camp was bustling with activity; it seemed that they were going to launch an attack.

“Min Mei!” Zhang Wuji called.

“Mmm … what is it?” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji hesitated before saying, “Nothing, I just love to call your name.” Actually, he wanted to consult Zhao Min on how to repel the Yuan army, knowing full well that she was very resourceful; certainly she had some brilliant ideas. But then he thought, “She was a princess of the imperial court; she betrayed her father and brother to follow me. I think it is just too much to ask her to help me killing her fellow Mongolians.” Hence, he stopped himself when the words were just on the tip of his tongue.

Zhao Min noticed the change in his countenance; she knew what he was going to say. She sighed and said, “Wuji Gege, you are able to empathize with my painful predicament; I don’t have to say anything.”

Zhang Wuji went back to his room with a troubled mind of not knowing what to do. Absentmindedly he took the two bundles of book Zhao Min brought last night. He read several pages of the Nine Yin Manual; he also took a glance on the Wumu Legacy. Again, after reading several pages, he came across a title ‘bing kun niu tou shan’ five small characters [troops trapped on the Ox-head Hill]. His heart was moved. He read on and found that in this section, Yue Fei recounted his experience when his outnumbered troops were surrounded by the Jin army; how he escaped from the entrapment, how he deployed special force soldiers, how he launched a converging attack and seized an overwhelming victory, all kinds of plan explained in great details.

Zhang Wuji slapped the table, “The Heaven helps me!” he exclaimed. Slapping the book down, he started to think. The situation of this Shaoshi Peak was entirely different to the Niutou Hill where Yue Fei was trapped in the past; however, if he used the same tactics, there was no reason why he could not win by a surprise move.

His admiration grew as he pondered deeper; he thought that Yue Wumu was a Heaven-sent genius. Faced with such danger, an ordinary man would not think of such strategy. He also thought that troop’s deployment was just like martial arts; if there wasn’t any expert giving guidance, no matter how smart or how dull, one would not think of such plan.

Dipping his finger into the tea cup, he drew the Temple map on the table. Even though he was aware of the dangerous situation they were in, who can say that they would not be lucky and prevail against the enemy? Their side was few, the enemy was many; they would not be able to score victory by marching out in a neat formation and engage the enemy in an open battle.

Once his mind was set, he went to the Da Xiong Bao Dian [Precious Hall of Great Heroes] and asked Abbot Kong Wen to summon the heroes. In a short moment everybody had arrived.

Zhang Wuji stood up and said, “Presently, Tatar cavalry has gathered at the base of the mountain. Presumably, they will carry out a large scale attack soon. Although we have scored a small victory yesterday and have dampened their spirit, we will be hard pressed to withstand them if the Tatars pay no regards to their own lives and throng up the mountain. Zaixia [lit. under, the humble one] has no talent; it was by the heroes’ graciousness that I am elected to hold this temporary position as the commander in chief. Today we are united against a common enemy. I am asking everybody to obey my command.”

The multitude of heroes replied in one voice, “Please issue the order, we will follow, no one will dare to disobey.” “Very well!” Zhang Wuji said, “Wu Qishi [Flag Leader Wu], receive my order!”

Rui Jin’s Flag Leader, Wu Jingcao stepped forward, bowed and said, “Subordinate is ready to receive the order.” While he was thinking in his heart, “Jiaozhu issues his first order to me. It is truly a great honor. No matter what kind of danger I will have to face, I will risk my life in doing it.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I assign you to lead your Flag brethren to uphold the martial law. Whichever hero or warrior does not obey my order, the Rui Jin Flag’s lances and hatchets will be thrown into his body. This law applies both to seniors and elders of our own Cult, and other Wulin masters and seniors. No exception.”

“Accept the order!” with a loud voice Wu Jingcao complied. He took a small white flag from his bosom and held it tight with both hands.

Both in terms of name and martial art skill, Wu Jingcao was not considered a first class Jianghu warrior, so previously, nobody regarded him too highly. But since the Five-Element Flags demonstrated their invincible might the other day, the multitude of heroes all knew that wherever this small white flag in his hand landed, it will immediately followed by the 500 feathered arrows, 500 javelins, and 500 short hatchets. Even if your skill is as high as the heavens, you will become mincemeat instantly. Therefore, seeing him unfold the white flag, everybody’s hearts shivered.

The reason behind this order was because when Zhang Wuji browsed through the Wumu Legacy, the first chapter started with, ‘The way to the successful training of troops starts with strict discipline.’ He knew these Jianghu warriors were proud people; each one was used to do what one thought right. Although individually they possessed strong martial art skills, fighting together, they were no different than a motley crowd. Without someone giving order to organize and restrain, forcing them to follow orders, there was no way they could resist the Mongolian elite troops. Therefore, his first order was to assign the Rui Jin Flag as the law enforcers. Pointing his finger to the tall wall in front of the hall, Zhang Wuji said, “Gentlemen, Heroes, whoever excels in ‘qing gong’ and able to jump over that wall, please show your skill.”

Among the crowd of heroes, there were not a few whose face appeared dissatisfied; they thought, “What is this immaterial talk about telling us to show off our jumping ability?” Some senior masters felt that he was showing contempt toward others; they were not pleased at all.

Zhang Songxi stepped out from among the crowd and said, “I can.” And then he leaped over the wall and lightly landed on the other side of the wall. Wudang Pai’s ‘ti yun zong’ [cloud stairs] ‘qing gong’ enjoyed quite a reputation throughout the world. For someone with Zhang Songxi’s ability, leaping this wall was as easy as blowing off dust. However, he was not showing off at all, it was only an honest demonstration because he was following order. Thereupon Yu Lianzhou, Yin Liting, Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, Yin Yewang and the other experts followed suit one by one.

Like butterflies flying over flowers the heroes jumped over the wall one after another. Some were showing off their ‘qing gong’ by performing all kinds of flowery styles midair. After more than four hundred people had leaped, it looked like nobody else would try.

This wall was indeed not low; without a good ‘qing gong’ it was not easy to leap over it. The multitude of heroes did not train the same martial art skill. Oftentimes they trained themselves well in fists and kicks or weaponry, so their ‘qing gong’ was ordinary. There were quite a number of Jianghu characters who made their names this way; naturally, they were not willing to show off their shortcomings.

Noticing that among these four hundred people there were about eighty to ninety Shaolin monks, Zhang Wuji thought, “Shaolin Pai truly lives up to its reputation as the number one school in Wulin. Just in ‘qing gong’ alone, they have many more masters than any other schools.” Thereupon he issued his next order, “Yu Er Bo, Zhang Si Bo, Yin Liu Shu, the three Uncles are to lead these heroes excel in ‘qing gong’ to bluff the enemy. You are to pretend to be escapees from the Temple, make the enemy troops to pursue you, and when you get to the back of the mountain ...” And he detailed the next steps.

Wudang Pai’s Yu, Zhang and Yin, three heroes accepted the orders. Zhang Wuji made further assignments: who would set up ambush, who would cut the enemy’s rear flank, who would engage them frontally, who would make flank attack, and so on; all in detailed arrangement.

Yang Xiao and the others noticed how he planned this ingenious tactic and deployed troop’s formation to engage the enemy; everything was so clear and orderly as if it was all premeditated. They were all utterly impressed; nobody knew that he had used the military tactic legacy of Yue Wumu. Only, he modified it slightly because of different terrain and different troops.

Finished assigning tasks, Zhang Wuji finally said, “I am asking Kong Wen Fangzhang and Kong Zhi Shen Seng to lead gentlemen and ladies of the Emei Pai to take care of the injured and the dead.” Since Zhou Zhiruo was not present, Emei Pai had no one to give leadership. Zhang Wuji was aware Emei Pai had deep resentment against him, so he felt it was inappropriate for him to give them direction. For this reason he asked Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two divine monks; both men of good moral standing and reputation to act as their leaders. Presumably, Emei Pai people would not refuse to be under their leaderships. Sure enough, hearing his order, male and female disciples of Emei Pai silently accepted it; no one open his or her mouth in dissent.

In a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji said, “Today, the warriors of the Central Plains are united to fight the Tatar invasion. Masters in charge of bells and drums of the Shaolin Pai, please beat the drums and ring the bells.” The multitude of heroes responded with an earth-shattering cheers; they unsheathed their weapons in high spirit.

The Lie Huo Flag had transported the firewood amassed in the Temple out from its storehouses and piled it up in front of the Temple. They lighted it up and very soon flames and thick smoke rose up to the sky. The Hou Tu Flag had spread silt on top of various halls in the Temple, where the Lie Huo Flag then stacked firewood on it. This way, when they lighted the firewood, the fire would not spread to the building below. Yet from a distant, the several hundred buildings in the Temple complex appeared to be burning.

From the base of the mountain, the Yuan army heard the bells and drums first, which sounded like emergency alarm; then the saw the raging fire up the mountain. “Not good!” they said to each other, “The ‘man zi’ [insulting term for south Chinese/southern barbarian] set the Temple on fire; they must be running away.”

Leading more than 150 warriors excelled in ‘qing gong’, Yu Lianzhou rushed down the mountain from the left side of Shaoshi Peak. Before they even reached the waist of the mountain, Yuan troops had already made loud ruckus and lined up in formation to pursue. The crowd of warriors scattered in all direction, making it hard for the Yuan army to shoot them with arrows.

Zhang Songxi led the second group. Yin Liting led the third group. Each of them carried a large bundle on his back. The bundles contained either wooden planks or bundles of clothes. In the eyes of the Yuan troops, it appeared that they were abandoning the Temple, escaping with difficulty carrying valuables; but the bundles were actually shields against the Mongolians’ arrows.

Because of the heavy smoke, the Yuan troops could not see clearly how many people were escaping. Thereupon they divided their forces into two groups; ten thousand soldiers pursued the escapees immediately, while the other ten thousand stayed in their original defensive position.

“Yang Zuo Shi,” Zhang Wuji turned toward Yang Xiao, “The Tatar General is quite knowledgeable of military tactic; he did not order the entire army to pursue. This might give us trouble.”

“Yes,” Yang Xiao replied, “They do give us reason to be concerned.”

They heard bugles sound from the bottom of the mountain. Two thousand strong Yuan cavalry divided itself into two groups and advanced to the top of the mountain from left and right. The mountain roads were rugged, but Mongolian ponies were able to gallop fast, as if they were flying. With their long spears and iron armors, the troops’ appearance was very impressive.

When the vanguard of the Yuan cavalry arrived at the pavilion halfway up the mountain, Zhang Wuji gave his signal. From either side of the road, Lie Huo Flag people closing in, crouching among the tall grass. As the two- thousand strong cavalry advanced about another hundred ‘zhang’s, Xin Ran let out a whistle; his troops immediately sprayed oil toward the enemy, followed by balls of fire, burning both horses and their riders. The horses neighed in fear and pain; most of them rolled down the mountain, creating a great chaos.

The Yuan troops discipline was very strict. As the front group was being defeated, the rear group did not budge. Under the command of their general, three thousand soldiers got down from their horses and marched forward to attack. Again the Lie Huo Flag shot their fire, burning several hundred troops. But with extreme force of will, the remaining troops were still marching on.

Tang Yang, the Flag Leader of the Hong Shui Flag waved a black flag; poisonous water spurted out. Next, the Hou Tu Flag also shot poisonous sand, throwing the Yuan army into total disorder. Several hundred troops managed to advance toward the mountain peak. These soldiers were completely wiped out by the Rui Jin Flag and Ju Mu Flag.

From the bottom of the mountain suddenly came the sound of beating drums. Five thousand troops marched forward with large shields lined up in front of their bodies, creating a slowly advancing wall. This way, the fire, poisonous water and poisonous sand lost their effectiveness. Even gigantic logs rolled down by the Ju Mu Flag only managed to create a few gaps, which were quickly closed again.

Seeing this desperate situation, Abbot Kong Wen said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, please have everybody retreat quickly. We must preserve the vitality of the Wulin world of the Central Plains. Although we are defeated today, we will stage a comeback in the future.”

In the midst of this anxiety, suddenly they heard rousing sound of metal drums from the foot of the mountain, followed by a rocket shot up to the sky. Battle cries rose up from all directions.

Yang Xiao was delighted. “Jiaozhu,” he said, “Our reinforcement arrives!”

From the top of the mountain looking down, they could not see the situation at the foot of the mountain; but they saw the dust rose and they heard the shouts of the people and the neigh of the horses. Obviously, the incoming troops were numerous.

Zhang Wuji loudly called out, “The reinforcement has arrived; everybody, charge!” From the top of the mountain, the multitude of heroes charged downward with weapons in their hands.

Zhang Wuji cried out again, “Gentlemen Heroes, kill officers first before killing the soldiers.”

The crowd of heroes echoed his cry, “Kill officers first before killing the soldiers!”

The Mongolian armed force was organized into teams. Every ten soldiers formed a ten-man unit. Every ten-man units formed a hundred-man unit. Likewise, they formed thousand-man unit and subsequently ten-thousand- man unit, following a layered chain of command. When they go to battle, it was just like the mind giving order to the arm, the arm giving order to the hand, the hand giving order to the fingers. If the two forces were battling against each other arrayed in formation, Zhang Wuji’s order to kill the officers first would be difficult to follow; but at this moment the Yuan army was scattered on the hillside. Although the Yuan army could be considered elite troops, the martial art skill of their officers, after all, was inferior to the heroes and warriors of the Central Plains. Soon several ‘qian fu zhang’ [leader of a thousand-man unit] and ‘bai fu zhang’ [leader of a hundred-man unit] were killed. The Mongolian troops were thrown into confusion.

Charging down the mountain, Zhang Wuji and the others saw fluttering flags at the base of the mountain. The one on the south carried a ‘Xu’ character, while the one on the north had a ‘Chang’ character. So they know that Xu Da and Chang Yuchun had arrived.

Xu and Chang, two men were originally stationed around the Huai Si River. This time they were just moving their troops to Henan when Budai Heshang [cloth sack monk] Shuo Bude arrived with the call for help. As soon as they learned about their Cult Leader was besieged by the enemy at the Shaoshi Peak, they deployed their troops night and day. By that time, around the Henan and Hubei, the Ming Cult army had fought the Yuan army for several years; with both sides occupying overlapping regions. Since they were not too far away and left as soon as they received the news, they managed to arrive in less than two days.

Xu Da and Chang Yuchun had been in command over the Ming Cult army for a long time; moreover, their troops were large, so they were able to drive the Yuan army to the west in no time.

The other force of ten-thousand Yuan soldiers was pursuing the heroes who pretended to escape from the Temple toward the western valley. Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi and Yin Liting led several hundred warriors with outstanding ‘qing gong’ fighting and retreating into the valley. The Yuan army’s ‘wan fu zhang’ [leader of ten-thousand-man unit] saw that the three sides of the valley were all steep cliffs; the valley looked dangerous. However, seeing the number of the enemy was small, he thought that even if the enemy prepared an ambush there, they should be able to deal with it. Thereupon he signaled with his hand to order his troops to pursue closely into the valley.

As Yu Lianzhou and the others arrived at the bottom of the cliff, they climbed on several dozens long ropes, which were prepared in advance. As the ‘wan fu zhang’ realized they had fallen into the enemy’s trap, he quickly ordered his men to withdraw. To his shock, however, at the mouth of the valley they were driven back by volleys of fire, poisonous sand, arrows, and poisonous water; while the Ju Mu Flag dropped logs in abundance to seal up the entrance of the valley.

Meanwhile, the second defeated army was also driven to the valley. As they saw there was no way out, they ran all over the mountain and valley, scattered to all direction. Zhang Wuji and Xu Da arrived in close succession. “What a pity!” they cried; if they had planned it properly in advance, the second ten thousand strong troops would also be driven into the valley and destroyed completely.

Zhang Wuji did not anticipate the Yuan army would divide themselves into two groups, he also did not expect the reinforcement would arrive amazingly quickly. After all, commanding troops in the battlefield was not the same as being a Cult Leader. Although the Wumu Legacy contained marvelous military strategy, in the end, it was not easy to reconcile between the theory and practice. If Xu Da and Chang Yuchun did not arrive on time, the Shaolin Temple would inadvertently meet its doom. The first ten-thousand strong Yuan army, which was trapped inside the valley, would also be eventually rescued by their allies.

Xu Da immediately ordered his troops to move dirt and rocks to seal the mouth of the valley. He also sent his archers to climb up the cliff. Occupying the higher position their arrows shot down like rain into the Yuan army below. The Yuan troops were surrounded by the valley walls, they were powerless to retaliate and could only hide underneath the mountain rocks.

Not too long afterwards, Chang Yuchun’s troops arrived. He was extremely delighted to see Zhang Wuji after a long period of separation.

“Remove the dirt and the rocks,” Chang Yuchun yelled, “We are going in to wipe out the Tatars.”

Xu Da laughed and said, “There are no food and no water in the valley. Give them seven, eight days; the Tatars will die of thirst and starvation. Why must we, brothers, painstakingly fight with them?” Chang Yuchun also laughed, “I always prefer to kill them with my own hands.”

Although Chang Yuchun was older than Xu Da, he usually submitted to Xu Da’s intelligence; also, he noticed that Zhang Wuji did not contradict Xu Da, so he did not press on.

Xu and Chang, two men were battlefield-trained; their orders were appropriate and to the point. Zhang Wuji realized his battle experience was inferior to these two, therefore, he asked Xu and Chang to be in charge in pursuing and killing the runaway Yuan soldiers.

That evening, joyous noise shook the Shaoshi Peak, as the Ming Cult rebel army [orig. ‘yi jun’ – righteous army, or militia] and the heroes from all schools and sects celebrate their victory. After several days in a row always eating vegetarian dishes in the Shaolin Temple, they grew tired of the food. Tonight, wine and meat were overflowing; everybody could eat to their heart’s content.

During the banquet, Zhang Wuji asked Chang Yuchun about his health; he wanted to know if Chang Yuchun diligently took the medicine he prescribed to nurse Chang Yuchun’s health. Chang Yuchun laughed aloud and said, “Jiaozhu, don’t worry. Lao Chang [the Ol’ Chang] is as healthy as an ox, on one meal I can eat three catties of meat and six big bowls of rice. During the battle, lack of sleep for three days and three nights will not harm me a bit.” His implication was that he did not need any medication. However, Zhang Wuji remembered what Hu Qingniu had told him; therefore, he earnestly implored him to take the medicine for his health. Chang Yuchun only gave him a non-committal answer, because in his heart he greatly disapproved Zhang Wuji’s advice.

Xu Da poured a cup full of wine to toast Zhang Wuji. “Congratulations, Jiaozhu,” he said, “Please accept this toast!” Zhang Wuji received the cup and drank the wine. Xu Da said, “Subordinate has always admired Jiaozhu’s courage and wisdom in dealing with others, admired your peerless martial art skill. To my surprise, your military tactic is also marvelous. This is the great fortune of our Cult to the benefit of common people everywhere.”

Zhang Wuji laughed out loud and said, “Xu Dage, no need to flatter me. Our great victory today was first, due to the amazingly speedy arrival of Xu Dage and Chang Dage; and second, due to the Yue Wumu’s Legacy. Xiao Di [little brother] truly cannot take even a half part of credit.”

“What is the Yue Wumu’s Legacy?” Xu Da wondered, “I beg for Jiaozhu’s explanation.”

Zhang Wuji took a bundle of yellowish thin paper from his bosom. It was the Wumu Legacy, which was concealed inside the Tulong Saber. He turned the page to the ‘Troops Trapped on the Ox-head Mountain’ section and handed it over to Xu Da.

Xu Da received the book with both hands and read attentively for a moment. He could not help but be stunned and impressed and the same time. “Wumu’s ability in managing the troops was truly divine, truly unachievable by the later generation,” he sighed, “If Yue Wumu was still alive today, leading the warriors of the Central Plains, we would not worry about driving the Tatars back to the northern desert.”

While saying that, he respectfully returned the book But Zhang Wuji did not want to receive it. He said, “’The most revered in the Wulin world, treasured Saber slaughtering the dragon; ruling everything under the heavens, no one dares to disobey.’ The real meaning of these sixteen characters, only today did I finally understand. The so-called ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’ is not the Saber itself, but it is the Legacy concealed inside the Saber. When this military strategy is used to face the enemy, fighting a battle will result in victory, attacking will result in subduing the enemy. Ultimately, ‘ruling everything under the heavens, no one dared to disobey.’ Otherwise, how can one rule everything under the heavens with just a single treasured saber? Xu Dage, I am passing this military strategy book to you. I hope you will use the notes Yue Wumu left behind to take our country [orig. ‘he shan’ – river and mountain] back and set up a new emperor [orig. ‘huang long – yellow dragon].”

Xu Da was taken aback. “What kind of virtue or ability does Subordinate have?” he hastily said, “How can I be worthy to accept such a generous gift from Jiaozhu?”

“Xu Dage,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Please do not decline. I am giving this book on military strategy to you on behalf of the common people.”

Xu Da held the book with trembling hands. Zhang Wuji continued, “There were two more lines in the saying circulating within the Wulin world: ‘Yitian [relying on Heaven] does not appear, who can match its sharpness?’ Presently, the Yitian Sword is broken into two; but someday someone will mend it. Hidden inside the Sword was a very fierce secret martial art manual. I also know the meaning of these last two lines. The Military Manual is to be used to drive the Tatars away. Somebody will seize the power. If it happens that the new ruler is abusing his newfound power, that he is simply replacing one tyrant with another, so that the common people are oppressed with great suffering, then there will come a day when a hero, wielding the Yitian Sword, will severe the head of that tyrant. Although by commanding millions of warriors the tyrant is able to overturn the world, he might not necessarily able to withstand one strike of the Yitian Sword. Xu Dage, I want you to remember what I said today.”

Xu Da’s back was streaming with cold sweats; he did not dare to decline anymore. “Subordinate will cautiously observe Jiaozhu’s instructions today,” he said. With full respect he placed the Wumu Legacy on the table, kneeled down and kowtowed to it four times before respectfully thanking Zhang Wuji again for bestowing the book to him.

Hereafter, Xu Da did indeed command his troops with a divine skill; consecutively defeated the Yuan army, until finally he held the commander- in-chief position in the expedition to the north, driving away the Mongolians beyond the Great Wall. His prestige shook the northern desert, establishing meritorious achievement of his generation. Henceforth the Ming Cult was admired by the heroes of the Central Plains. Everywhere Zhang Wuji issued his order, nobody dared to disobey. For the last several hundred years the Ming Cult was held in contempt by the common people; they were considered demonic and heretical. After this heaven-turning-and-earth- shaking huge change, the Ming Cult became the leader of the heroes and warriors of the Central Plains, became the driving force behind the resurgence’s great mission. Later on, Zhu Yuanzhang turned double-minded and repeatedly schemed to ascend the throne. Even so, the Ming Cult people were the ones helping him to take back the country [here, the word is ‘jiang shan’ – river and mountain]; therefore, he could not help but choose the character ‘Ming’ [bright] as his dynasty name. From the first year of Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Hongwu [reign name of Zhu Yuanzhang] to the seventeenth year of Emperor Chongzhen [the last emperor of Ming Dynasty], 277 years of ruling the land under the heavens [i.e.China], it was because of the Ming Cult.

[Translator’s note: Jin Yong original text says the first year of Hongwu was ‘wu shen’, the forty-fifth year of the 60-year cycle. History of China (J.A.G. Roberts) says Zhu Yuanzhang declared his new dynasty in January of the year 1368. The last year of Chongzhen was ‘jia shen’ – the twenty-first year of the 60-year cycle, or 1644. Roberts did say that Chongzhen committed suicide in 1644; however, 1368 + 277 = 1645. The same book also says that Chongzhen reigned from 1628 to 1645 (seventeen years). One possible explanation I can think of is that according to Chinese calendar, January of 1368 was still considered the previous year.]

That evening, the multitude of heroes ate and drank until dawn; it was not until they were drunk did they go to their rooms to rest. Toward the afternoon, one by one they took their leave from Kong Wen and Kong Zhi. Zhang Wuji saw that the Emei disciples were like sheep without a shepherd, his heart was sorrowful. He also saw Song Qingshu was still lying on the stretcher; it was unclear whether he was still alive or had already died. Thereupon he went near them and said to Jing Hui, “Let me examine Song Dage’s injury.” Jing Hui coldly said, “The cat weeps for the dead mouse. You don’t need to shed crocodile tears.”

Zhou Dian happened to be nearby; he could not restrain himself from cursing, “For the sake of old friendship with your Zhang Men [Sect Leader], our Jiaozhu is willing to treat this surnamed Song’s injury. Actually, everybody has the right to kill this kind of renegade and betrayer-of-father disciple. What is a wicked nun like you prattling about?”

Jing Hui was about to retort; but then she saw Zhou Dian’s rogue looking ugly countenance, she was afraid he might be persistently unreasonable. If a fight broke, she would unavoidably be at a disadvantage; therefore, suppressing her anger she laughed coldly and said, “From generation to generation, our Emei Pai’s Zhang Men has always be ‘clear-as-ice-and- clean-as-jade’ virgin. If Zhou Zhang Men did not maintain her moral integrity and chastity, how can she be our school’s Zhang Men? Humph, if this kind of traitor Song Qingshu stayed with our Sect, he might smear Zhou Zhang Men’s reputation. Li Shizhi [martial nephew], Long Shizhi, please return this fellow to Wudang Pai!”

The two Emei disciples carrying Song Qingshu complied. Lifting up the stretcher, they brought it to Yu Lianzhou and set it down in front of him before promptly returning to their group. Everybody was stunned.

“Wh … what?” Yu Lianzhou asked, “He is not your Zhang Men’s husband?”

“Humph,” Jing Hui hatefully said, “How could our Zhang Men even look at a man like that? She was unbearably angry to that kid Zhang Wuji for breaking faith and running away from their wedding; humiliating our Sect in front of the heroes from all over the world. It was then that she deceived this kid to come and pretend to be her husband. Who would have thought … humph, humph, if we had only known, why should our Zhang Men endure this notoriety? Presently, she … she …”

Zhang Wuji had been listening from the side with a dull expression on his face; he could not restrain himself from stepping forward and asking, “You said Mrs. Song … she … she is not really Mrs. Song?”

Jing Hui turned her head and hatefully said, “I am not talking to you.”

Right this moment, Song Qingshu, who was still lying on the stretcher, stirred and moaned, “Is … is Zhang Wuji killed?”

“On your dream!” Jing Hui sneered, “Death is at your door, you are still thinking about pretty face.”

Seeing Jing Hui was emotional and her speech was incoherent, in low voice Yin Liting asked another female disciple of Emei, Bei Jinyi, “Bei Shimei [martial (younger) sister), what had actually happened?”

Bei Jinyi was a good friend of Ji Xiaofu. As Yin Liting asked her, she hesitated for a long time before saying, “Jing Hui Shijie [martial (older) sister), Yin Liu Xia is not an outsider. Let Xiao Mei [little sister – referring to self] explain to him, alright?”

“What outsider or not outsider?” Jing Hui replied, “He is not an outsider, we must explain it to him. He is an outsider, we must explain it to him even more. Our Zhou Zhang Men is clean and pure; she has nothing to do with this crafty villain surnamed Song. All of you have seen the ‘shou gong sha’ [lit. gecko/house lizard sand, ‘chastity mark’?] on Zhang Men’s arm with your own eyes. We must make this fact known to the Wulin people all over the world, so that our Emei Pai’s hundred years of uprightness will not be blemished …”

Yin Liting thought, “This Jing Hui Shitai’s mind is jumbled; her speech is somewhat confusing.” Thereupon he said to Bei Jinyi, “Bei Shimei, since that is the case, could you elaborate more? How did my Song Shizhi get involved with your precious Pai? What relationship did he have with your precious Pai’s Zhang Men? Someday Xiao Xiong [lit. little/humble elder brother] must report to our Shifu. This matter concerns both of our Sects; I think it will be better not to damage the friendship between the two parties.” Bei Jinyi sighed and said, “Speaking about both behavior and martial art skill, this Song Shao Xia [young hero] could actually be considered a rare talent within the Wulin world. Only because of one silly youthful lust, he has fallen into such sin. Apparently our Zhang Men promised him that as soon as Zhang Wuji is killed to wash away the humiliation she experienced in her wedding day, she would marry him. Thereupon he agreed to join our Sect and asked our Zhang Men for advice in the marvelous martial art. During the Heroes Assembly the day before yesterday, Zhang Men suddenly declared herself as ‘Mrs. Song’; by saying that she was the wife of this Song Shao Xia. At that time, all our Sect’s disciples were utterly astonished. That same day our Zhang Men’s prestige shook the crowd of heroes by subduing all Sects …”

Zhou Dian interrupted, “It was because our Jiaozhu was yielding to her intentionally; what a loud horn you are blowing!”

Bei Jinyi ignored him, she continued, “Although our Sect’s disciples were very happy, when evening came, we still asked her where the ‘Mrs. Song’, three characters [Song Fu Ren] came from. Zhang Men exposed her right arm and sternly said, ‘Everybody, come and see!’ All of us saw with our own eyes the scarlet ‘shou gong sha’ on her arm, so we know that she has kept her chastity. Zhang Men said, ‘It was expedient that I call myself Mrs Song for the time being. I need to make that kid Zhang Wuji angry, to disturb his mind so that I may seize victory over him. This kid’s martial art is simply too remarkable, I definitely cannot defeat him. For the sake of our Sect’s reputation, why should I care about my own?’ She said that with determination and in loud voice as if she wanted everybody to hear it clearly. She also said, ‘The disciples of this Sect, male or female, unless they are ‘chu jia xiu dao’ [those who leave home (to become Buddhist monks or nuns), and those who practice Daoism], are never forbidden from getting married. However, since our founder Guo Zu Shi’s [lit. ancestor master], all highest and deepest martial art skills are imparted only to virgins who keep themselves pure. Each time a female disciple bows down to enter our school, Shifu will always plant ‘shou gong sha’ on our arms. Every year, on Guo Zu Shi birthday, Xian Shi [departed master] would perform inspection. That year Ji Shijie … it was …” Speaking to this point, she stammered and then stopped altogether.

Yin Liting and the others understood clearly, however, that Bei Jinyi was going to say that when Ji Xiaofu was violated by Yang Xiao, her ‘shou gong sha’ disappeared and that was how her disgrace was discovered by Miejue Shitai. Yin Liting and Yang Buhui were happily married, yet as he remembered Ji Xiaofu this time, he could not help from feeling deep sorrow in his heart. Involuntarily he cast a sidelong glance toward Yang Xiao and saw that Yang Xiao’s eyes were brimming with tears as he turned his head away.

“Yin Liu Xia,” Bei Jinyi said, “Our Zhang Men deliberately wanted to anger the Ming Cult’s Zhang Wuji by taking advantage of this Song Shao Xia’s endless infatuation toward our Zhang Men, in the end, it gave birth to many problems. I wish for Song Shao Xia’s recovery, also for Yin Liu Xia to talk to Zhang Zhenren and Song Da Xia, so as to avoid further hostility between your precious Sect and ours.”

Yin Liting nodded. “So that’s how it is. My Shizhi was disobedient and he defied his superior, his death will not be regretted. He truly did bring shame to our humble Sect. I only wish he would die cleanly sooner.” Yin Liting was softhearted by nature, but recalling Song Qingshu’s grave offense by murdering Mo Shenggu, he was really repulsed by him.

While they were still talking, suddenly from a distant came a shrill scream; it sounded like Zhou Zhiruo’s voice, full of shock and fear, as if she had met some extremely dangerous misfortune. Everybody was horrified; especially since it was in the middle of the day, the sun was shining brightly, with people everywhere all around them. Yet this scream was so hair rising, as if the person screaming suddenly saw an evil spirit appear before her very eyes. Almost like on cue, everybody turned their heads to the direction of the noise.

Zhang Wuji, Jing Hui, Bei Jinyi and the others rushed forward. Zhang Wuji was afraid Zhou Zhiruo might meet a powerful enemy, so he ran full speed ahead. After several jumps, he had already entered the forest. He saw a dark green shadow running wildly towards him, it was none other than Zhou Zhiruo.

Quickly Zhang Wuji met her and asked, “Zhiruo, what is it?”

Zhou Zhiruo cried out with a face full of terror, “Ghost, ghost! There’s a ghost chasing me!” She threw herself to Zhang Wuji’s chest, while trembling uncontrollably.

Seeing her so frightened as if her soul was leaving her, Zhang Wuji patted her shoulder gently. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid; there is no ghost,” he said consolingly, “What did you see?” He noticed that her clothes were tattered from running through the thick briar and her face was full of bloodstains. Half of the sleeve on her left arm was torn, exposing a snow- white, lotus-root colored arm. Sure enough, there was a red dot, as red as a coral or a red jade, the ‘shou gong sha’.

Zhang Wuji was proficient in medicine. He knew that once this ‘shou gong sha’ was implanted under the skin, it would stay forever, unless the woman marries or loses her chastity. When listening to Jing Hui and Bei Jinyi previously, he was still half-believing and half-doubting. Now as he saw it with his own eyes, not even half a suspicion remained in his heart.

In that moment, myriads of thoughts filled his mind. “So her marriage with Song Qingshu was a fake. Why did she deceive me? Why did she deliberately want to anger me? Was it truly because of that ‘Number One Martial Artist of the Present Age’ title? Was it because she wanted to test my heart, whether I still have feelings toward her?” Just as quick, he remembered, “Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, Miss Zhou is the enemy who murdered your Biaomei. Whether she is a virgin or already married to someone else, what do you have to do with it?” Yet seeing how terrified Zhou Zhiruo was, he did not have a heart to push her away.

Zhou Zhiruo buried her face in Zhang Wuji’s chest. She was aware of Zhang Wuji’s broad and muscular body and smelled his masculine breath; gradually her fear subsided. “Wuji Gege,” she said, “Is it you?” “It is I,” Zhang Wuji replied, “What did you see? Why were you terrified like that?”

Zhou Zhiruo was suddenly enveloped by fear again. ‘Wah!’ she broke into crying again; she sobbed uncontrollably on Zhang Wuji’s shoulder with hot tears streaming down her cheeks.

By this time, Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao, Jing Hui, Yin Liting and the others arrived one after another. Seeing this scene, they signaled each other with their eyes and withdrew quietly. Ming Cult, Wudang Pai and Emei Pai people were all still hoping in their hearts that Zhou Zhiruo will be reconciled with Zhang Wuji and they will become husband and wife. Admittedly, it was difficult for all these people to forget Zhao Min’s offense in the past. In addition, Zhao Min was a Mongolian woman; if Zhang Wuji took her as his wife, they were afraid it would hinder their great mission.

After crying for a while, Zhou Zhiruo suddenly said, “Wuji Gege, is there somebody chasing me?”

“No,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Who is chasing you? Is it the Xuanming Elders?”

“No! Not them!” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Have you looked clearly? Are you sure nobody … no, it was not a human … Are you sure nothing, whatever it is, pursuing me?”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “The sun is shining brightly, I can see everything clearly.” His voice turned gentle; “Zhiruo,” he said, “You have spent too much energy these past few days; you must be really tired. Perhaps you hallucinated and thought you saw something.”

“Can’t be! Can’t possibly be!” Zhou Zhiruo insisted, “I saw it three times; three consecutive times.” Her voice trembled; obviously she was terrified.

“What is it that you saw three consecutive times?” Zhang Wuji asked. With one hand on his shoulder, Zhou Zhiruo tried to stand up on her trembling feet. And then, mustering all her courage and strength she turned around to look back. Just an instant she quickly turned her eyes toward Zhang Wuji again and seeing his gentle and soft expression, full of concern, her heart ached; suddenly she felt weary and dropped down on the ground.

“Wuji Gege,” she said, “I … I have deceived you. I was the one who took Yitian Sword and Tulong Saber, I was the one who killed … killed Yin … Miss Yin … I was the one who sealed Xie Da Xia’s acupoint. I … I did not marry Song Qingshu. In my heart I always have only … only you alone.” Zhang Wuji sighed. “Actually, I have already known everything. But … but why did you do it?”

Crying, Zhou Zhiruo said, “You don’t know what my Shifu told me on the Wan An Temple Pagoda. She told me the secret of the Yitian Sword and the Tulong Saber. She wanted me to obtain the treasured Sword and Saber at all costs, to brighten the name of Emei Pai. She made me swear a heavy oath to pretend that I like you, but she would not allow me to fall in love with you

…”

Zhang Wuji gently stroked her arm, remembering how he had witnessed Miejue Shitai struck Ji Xiaofu dead with her palm, how in the great desert Miejue Shitai swore to destroy the Ming Cult, how he saw her massacre the Cult disciples under the Rui Jin Flag with Yitian Sword in her hand. Afterwards, soaring down from the Wan An Temple Pagoda, she preferred death to being help by him. It all showed how deep her hatred toward the Ming Cult was. Since Zhou Zhiruo was appointed her successor and had received her last words, all kinds of malicious and cruel acts she did must be because of her Shifu’s instructions.

By his nature, Zhang Wuji had always been very easy to forgive other people’s offense. He had never held any grudge against anybody. Moreover, he remembered her kindness when they were little on the boat floating along the Hanshui River, how she helped him eat and took a good care of him. Also, during the fierce battle on the Brightness Peak, when he was fighting He Taichong, husband and wife, and the two tall and short elders of Huashan Pai, perhaps he would have been dead right then and there if she did not give him directions from the side. On top of that, he remembered that although she was malicious, cruel and crafty, all her actions were caused by her deep feelings toward him.

This moment, as her delicate and frail body was leaning against his bosom, Zhang Wuji could not help from having a tender feeling toward her. “Zhiruo,” he called in a soft voice, “What did you actually see, which made you that scared?”

Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo jumped up and said, “I am not going to say. It must be one of those restless spirit came back to entangle me. I have done too much evil. I deserve this revenge. I have explained to you everything, I … I won’t live long …” Covering her face, she scurried down the mountain.

Zhang Wuji felt as if his mind was enveloped in fog. “What restless ghost entangled her? Was it the Beggar Clan’s people seeking revenge on her and dressed up as a ghost to frighten her?” Slowly he turned around and walked back to the Temple.

He saw Zhou Zhiruo go toward the Emei Pai crowd. Bei Jinyi took a coat and wrapped it around her shoulder. Zhou Zhiruo said something in low voice and the Emei Pai disciples bowed together.

By this time, most of the multitude of heroes had left the mountain, Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two monks were busy sending them off. Yang Xiao, Fan Yao and the others congregated around Zhang Wuji. “We’d better take our leave too,” Zhang Wuji said.

He saw Zhou Zhiruo walk toward Kong Wen and speak in a low voice. Kong Wen’s countenance changed; he looked startled. Then Kong Wen shook his head. Whatever it was, it looked like Kong Wen had just refused her request. Zhou Zhiruo talked some more, and then suddenly she kneeled down in front of him. Clasping her palms together, she mumbled something that looked like she was praying. Kong Wen looked somber, his mouth muttered praises to Buddha. “Jiaozhu,” Zhou Dian said, “You must quickly stop her, don’t let her do it.”

“Don’t let her do what?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhou Dian replied, “Miss Zhou is going to leave home [orig. chu jia] to become a monk. She … she is going to enter the gate of emptiness. It will be bad for you.”

Yang Xiao snickered and said, “Even if Miss Zhou is going to leave home, she will become a nun, not a monk. Why would she take a Shaolin Pai monk to be her master?”

Zhou Dian slapped his forehead loudly. “Right, right!” he said, “I was muddleheaded. But what is Miss Zhou asking Kong Wen Dashi to do? One is Shaolin Pai Zhang Men, the other is Emei Pai Zhang Men, they are equal, nobody needs to kneel down in front of the other.”

They saw Zhou Zhiruo standing up; her face showed she was somewhat comforted. Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “We don’t need to meddle into someone else’s business.” Turning his head, he said, “Min Mei, let us leave.” Who would have thought that as he turned his head, he did not see Zhao Min.

For the last several days, Zhao Min had never left his side; she always shadowed Zhang Wuji. Zhang Wuji was slightly stunned. “Where is Miss Zhao?” he asked, while in his heart he silently cursed, “Bad! I am sure Min Mei saw me when Zhiruo leaned against my chest. Could it be that she thinks I cannot forget my old flame and considers me as hopeless?” Hastily he ordered everybody to look for her.

Xin Ran, the Flag Leader of Lie Huo Flag said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: subordinate saw Miss Zhao walking down the mountain!”

Zhang Wuji was grieved. “Min Mei has abandoned everything to follow me,” he mused, “She has gone through I don’t know how many adversities. How can I give up on her?” Thereupon, he turned to Yang Xiao and said, “Yang Xiong, I am asking you to take care of our business here. I am going to leave first.”

He bid his farewell to Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, also to Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, Yin Liting and the others. Last of all, he said to Zhou Zhiruo, “Zhiruo, take a good care of yourself. We’ll meet again some day soon.” Zhou Zhiruo hung her head low; she did not reply, only nodded slightly. Beads of silver tears fell down from her face to the dusty ground.

Unleashing his ‘qing gong’, Zhang Wuji dashed down the mountain. For the next several ‘li’s, the mountain path was full with the heroes returning home from Shaolin Temple. He was not willing to greet the heroes one by one, so he simply flew past them from the side, yet along the way he did not see any trace of Zhao Min at all. In one breath he had pursued for more than thirty ‘li’s. The sky was turning dark, the people walking along the road was thinning. Suddenly he remembered, “Min Mei is best in planning and scheming. If she has a mind to avoid me, then most likely she will avoid the main road. Otherwise, with my speed, I should have caught up with her long ago. Could it be that she is still hiding around the Shaoshi Peak, waiting for me to leave before she comes out and walk away?”

Burning with anxiety and he forgetting his own hunger and thirst, he ran back around the hills and valleys. Oftentimes he leaped up a tall tree, a hill peak or steep slope, looking to all directions. The empty mountain was quiet, the only noise came from the crows flying home for the night. Circling around toward the back of the Shaoshi Peak, he still did not see Zhao Min. “Whatever happens,” he mused, “I will always be faithful to you. Even if I have to go to the end of the earth or the corner of the ocean, I will find you.”

Once he made this decision, his mind calmed down. Looking toward the northeast he saw two large locust trees grew side by side, towering high from a crevasse on the side of the mountain. Leaping up the tree, he found a large branch extended horizontally and lied down on this branch. After toiling for the whole day and facing many unforeseen incidents, he fell asleep not too long after he lied down. Toward the middle of the night, in his sleep he suddenly heard gentle footsteps from several dozens ‘zhang’s away, which made him wake up with a start. By this time, the round bright moon had already slanting toward the western sky. Under the moonlight, he saw on the hillside, there was a shadow floating speedily to the south. That person’s figure was slender with a slim waist; obviously, the shadow belonged to a woman.

In his great delight, he nearly called ‘Min Mei’; but he immediately realized something was not right. The woman’s figure was taller than Zhao Min, her ‘qing gong’ was entirely different from Zhao Min’s, although her speed was inferior to Zhou Zhiruo’s, her steps were lighter and livelier. His curiosity was piqued. “This woman wanders alone in the deep of the night, I wonder what is it she is doing?” he mused.

At first he thought that he did not have any business to meddle with whatever this woman was doing, but then he thought, “Who knows? Perhaps I will find Min Mei’s whereabouts from this woman. If she has nothing to do with Min Mei, then I will slip out quietly, no harm done. I must not let any clue off easily.” Thereupon he got up from the tree branch and quietly slipped down.

Afraid that the woman might detect his presence, he did not dare to get too close. Besides, by stalking a young girl - a total stranger for that matter - in the middle of the night, it might be difficult for him to avoid frivolous suspicions from others.

He noticed that the woman was wearing black clothes, and she indeed was heading toward the Shaolin Temple. “Although she has nothing to do with Min Mei, she must be doing some clandestine activity related to the Wulin world,” he thought, “If her intention is not beneficial to Shaolin, I must interfere.” He halted his steps to listen, and did not hear any other people nearby, so he knew that this woman did not have anybody supporting her.

Walking for about the time needed to eat a bowl of rice, that woman had never turned her head around. Zhang Wuji had a vague feeling that this woman looked somewhat familiar, as if he had seen her somewhere before. “Is she Miss Wu Qingying? Or one of the Emei Pai female disciples?”

Several ‘li’s later, Shaolin Temple was already in sight. The woman turned toward the side of the hill, approaching the Temple from the side. Suddenly she slowed down her steps and moved surreptitiously among the trees and the mountain rocks. It was obvious that she was afraid someone might see her.

Suddenly he heard clear ringing noise coming from the main hall of the Shaolin Temple, followed by the sound of chanting of several hundred Buddhist monks. Zhang Wuji was greatly puzzled, “Shaolin monks are still chanting sutra deep into the night, and there are hundreds of them. Is there an important ceremony going on?” he mused.

The woman in front of him proceeded even more stealthily. Several dozens ‘zhang’s more, she would have reached the side of the main hall. Suddenly there were light footsteps. The woman quickly ducked among the thick patch of grass. Four Shaolin monks with sabers and Buddhist staffs were patrolling around the Temple. The woman waited for the four monks to pass before standing up, and leaped toward the shutter by the main hall. Her leap was as light as flying cotton wool; her ‘qing gong’ was truly top-notch among the Wulin characters. Zhang Wuji noticed that she did not carry any weapon, plus she was alone; hence he believed it was unlikely that she came to Shaolin Temple to create trouble. He wanted to know who the woman was, whether she was a friend or a foe; therefore, crouching behind her, he crept toward the northwest corner of the main hall.

He realized that he was in a very awkward situation. Someone of his position snooping around the Temple in the middle of the night, if he was detected by a Shaolin monk, although the other party might feign ignorance, he will not be able to avoid losing a great deal of face. And thus he was twice more careful; each step he took and each movement was as nimble as a cat stalking a mouse.

By this time, the chanting inside the hall was getting louder. Peeking from a crack on the window, he saw hundreds of monks arranged in neat rows, all sitting on round meditation mats, all wearing yellow Buddhist robes, draped in scarlet and gold kasayas. Some of them were holding ceremonial articles in their hands; the rest of them clasped their palms together with heads hung low, loudly chanting the sutras. It sounded like they were offering prayers to send departing souls crossing into the netherworld. Zhang Wuji understood immediately. “In the Great Hero Assembly this time, there were not a few people lost their lives. During the Yuan army attack up the mountain, even more people from both sides perished. Therefore, the Temple monks are holding this ceremony tonight so that the dead will be reborn happily.”

He saw that Reverend Kong Wen was standing in front of the sacrificial table. There was a young woman standing on his right. As soon as Zhang Wuji saw her, he was slightly stunned, since that young woman was none other than Zhou Zhiruo. Although he could only see her from the side, he could tell that her expression definitely showed grieve and distress; her pretty eyebrows were deeply wrinkled, as if she was harboring a deep sorrow.

“That must be it,” Zhang Wuji thought, “The reason Zhiruo kneeled down in front of Kong Wen Dashi this afternoon must be to ask him to hold this Buddhist ceremony. I suppose she is repenting from her conduct and deeds. The innocents who lose their lives under her claw and her sword are simply too many.”

Focusing his eyes, he tried to read the memorial tablets arranged on the sacrificial table. To his great surprise, one of the tablets read ‘nu xia Yin Li zhi ling wei’, seven characters [the memorial tablet of Heroine Yin Li]. Zhang Wuji felt a stab of pain in his heart, remembering how during her short and miserable life his cousin had always passionately devoted to him; he could not help from shedding some tears.

Amidst the ringing of chime stones and the tapping of wooden fish, Zhou Zhiruo gracefully kneeled down and bowed to the ground, while her lips were moving in quiet prayer. ZhangWuji raised up his ’shen gong’ [divine strength] trying to listen to what she said. This was what he heard, “Miss Yin

… your spirit in Heaven … rest in peace … do not come to harass me …” Zhang Wuji tightened his grip on the wall while disquieting thoughts filled his mind. “Biaomei lost her life under her sword, no doubt it was a cruel fate; but the torment inside Zhiruo’s heart, the pain she is suffering, might not necessarily be lighter than Biaomei’s. Suddenly from the ocean of thoughts in his mind a song surged up, the song he heard on the Brightness Peak, sung by the Ming Cult people, “What joy is in life, what pain in death? I pity the mankind, with their many sufferings! I pity the mankind, with their many sufferings!”

Zhou Zhiruo stood up slowly with her body slightly facing the east. Suddenly her countenance greatly changed, while she called out, “You … you … you have come again!” Her voice was shrill, suppressing all other noises in the main hall.

Zhang Wuji followed the direction of her eyes and saw the paper pasted on the window was somehow torn, and the hole revealed a young woman’s face. The face was full of scars. Zhang Wuji was so shocked that he shivered and could not stop from crying out. Although that young woman’s face was full of scars and the bumps of the former days were gone, he was very sure the face belonged to his dead cousin, Yin Li!

He wanted to rush forward and call her, but his legs did not obey their master’s bidding; it was as if his feet were planted on the ground.

As the face appeared suddenly on the window, there was a loud crash in the main hall as Zhou Zhiruo fainted and fell to the floor. Zhang Wuji no longer cared whatever Shaolin Pai might think of him; he called out loudly, “Zhu’er, Zhu’er! [spider kid] is that you?” But no one answered him.

After calming himself down, he flew to the back of the hall to pursue, but all he saw was the moon hanging low on the horizon, casting its cold shadow on the trees; the young woman in black was nowhere to be seen. Normally he did not believe in deities and demons, but faced with these kinds of images and scenes, he could not restrain cold sweats from wetting his body and hairs from rising on the back of his neck. Bracing himself, he said to himself, “It is she, it is she! No wonder her back looked so familiar, turns out it is Zhu’er. Did her ghost know that the eminent Shaolin monks are offering prayers to help her crossover to the netherworld, so she came here to receive the prayers? Could it be that because she died an unjust death her spirit did not find peace?”

As the Shaolin monks heard some noise, several people came over to investigate. As they saw Zhang Wuji, they could not help but be startled. A senior monk stepped forward, saluted him and said, “We did not know Zhang Jiaozhu came to visit this late at night, otherwise we would have welcomed you properly. Please accept our apology.”

“I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji replied, cupping his fists to return the propriety. Stepping aside, he entered the main hall.

He saw Zhou Zhiruo’s eyes were shut tight; her face was without any sign of blood. Apparently, she had not regained her consciousness. Walking toward her, he put forth his strength to massage her and knead [orig. ‘tui na’ – a form of Chinese manual therapy] her back for some time. Zhou Zhiruo slowly awakened.

As she saw Zhang Wuji and realized she was in his embrace, Zhou Zhiruo hugged him and called out, “Ghost, there is a ghost!”

Zhang Wuji said, “This is indeed strange, but you don’t need to be afraid. There are so many eminent monks in here. I am sure they will be able to solve this mystery.”

Zhou Zhiruo had always been a dignified and staid woman. This time she was scared out of her wits, and right now she was embracing him in public; hearing him say these words, her face blushed and she busily pried herself away from him. She stood up, but could not stop herself from shivering. Quickly she grabbed his hand and even if she had to die, she would not dare to let him go.

Zhang Wuji exchanged some propriety with Kong Wen; he mentioned that someone was spying on them outside the window just now. Neither Kong Wen nor any of the monks had seen it, but the fact remained that it was a new torn on the paper, and the hole was still there.

“Wuji Ge … Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “That was what I saw earlier.” Zhang Wuji nodded.

“You … you …” Zhou Zhiruo’s voice was trembling, “Who did you say she was?”

“She is Miss Yin, my Biaomei Yin Li,” Zhang Wuji replied. Zhou Zhiruo cried out in fear and fainted again.

This time Zhang Wuji pulled her hand that she did not fall to the floor. She was unconscious for a moment but quickly recovered. Zhang Wuji said, “I did see Biaomei, but … she is a human, not a ghost!”

“She is not a ghost?” Zhou Zhiruo was still trembling.

Zhang Wuji said, “I followed her all the way to Shaolin Temple. She walked like a human, not like a ghost.” He had said that to comfort Zhou Zhiruo, but deep in his heart, he was unsure.

“So you saw her walking like a human and not like a ghost?” Zhou Zhiruo asked.

Zhang Wuji then recounted how he saw that black-dressed young woman and followed her all the way to Shaolin Temple; also how he saw her hiding outside the long window and spying inside the main hall. Every action and every movement was of a young woman who was adept in martial arts, not at all peculiar in any way.

“Fangzhang,” he asked Kong Wen, “I [orig. ‘zaixia’ – the humble one] have one thing I am not sure I understand, I beg Fangzhang’s advice. When someone dies, will he really become a ghost?”

Kong Wen pondered about it deeply for half a day before answering, “The matter of the netherworld is difficult to assert.”

Zhang Wuji said, “That being the case, why did Fangzhang hold a ceremony to cross the departing soul to the netherworld?"

“Shanzai, zhanzai!” Kong Wen said, “The departing soul need not be helped to cross over. In the matter of live and death, virtue has its reward, evil has its retribution. The way of Buddha seeks to help living people achieving peace; the ones need help to cross over are the living ones.”

Zhang Wuji understood immediately. Cupping his fists he said, “Many thanks for the direction. I have stirred up trouble and caused disturbance this late at night. I only wish for Fangzhang’s forgiveness.”

Kong Wen smiled and said, “Jiaozhu is our humble Sect’s great benefactor. You have saved us several times, enabling Shaolin Pai to avoid disaster; why be overly courteous?”

Immediately Zhang Wuji took his leave from the crowd of monks. To Zhou Zhiruo he said, “Let us leave!”

Zhou Zhiruo seemed reluctant, she was afraid to leave the security of the Buddhist hall. Zhang Wuji did not feel comfortable to urge her strongly; he simply cupped his fists again and said, “In that case, we will say goodbye here.” Finished speaking, he turned around toward the hall gate.

Watching his back, suddenly Zhou Zhiruo called out, “Wuji Gege, will you see me again? I … let me go with you.” She jumped to catch up with him, and then side-by-side they walked out the Temple gate.

After they were far away from the Shaolin Temple, Zhou Zhiruo leaned on Zhang Wuji’s side and held on to his hand. Zhang Wuji knew she was still afraid. With her soft and smooth palm in his hand, and catching a whiff of fragrance coming from her body, it was not possible for his heart to remain unmoved. The two of them walked silently for quite some time. Zhou Zhiruo slowly heaved a deep sigh and said, “Wuji Gege, when you and I met for the first time at Hanshui River that day, I was saved by Zhang Zhenren. If only I knew that I would suffer so much pain in the later days, my death in Hanshui River that day would be a lot cleaner.”

Zhang Wuji did not answer; in his heart he remembered the song the Ming Cult people, and without realizing it, he was humming softly, “What joy is in life, what pain in death? I pity the mankind, with their many sufferings!”

Listening to the lyrics of this song, Zhou Zhiruo’s hand, which held his slightly trembled. In a low voice she said, “Zhang Zhenren brought me to Emei Pai. He had my well-being in his mind. But if he, Senior, took me under his wings on the Wudang Mountain, letting me be a disciple of Wudang, everything today would be entirely different. Ay, it is not that En Shi [benevolent master] was not good to me, but … but she forced me to make that evil oath, wanted me to abhor the Ming Cult, wanted me to hate you and harm you, while in my heart … in all honesty …”

Zhang Wuji was rather touched to hear the sincerity in her voice; he understood she indeed have many difficulties, all sorts of vicious matters, mostly because she honored Miejue Shitai’s last words. Seeing that she was also very scared, his compassion to her grew one layer deeper.

The night breeze blew gently on the mountain road, transmitting faint fragrance of wild flowers around them. It was early summer, the night was clear. With a beautiful girl pouring out her heart so close to him, Zhang Wuji could not stop his heart from beating faster. Moreover, when he helped her driving out the poison on that little island, they were flesh-and-skin close. She had shown him kindness in the past, and she was engaged to him once. All of these had made his heart confused and he was at a loss.

“Wuji Gege,” Zhou Zhiruo continued, “In Haozhou that day, when you were just about to get married to me, why did as soon as Miss Zhao bid you, you immediately come with her? Do you really love her with all your heart?” “I was just about to tell you what happened that day,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Why don’t we stop and sit for a while?” He pointed to a big rock by the side of the road.

“No,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “At this moment, my heart is in turmoil, I won’t be able to listen to you. Let us walk quietly for a moment longer before talking about that.”

Zhang Wuji nodded. He followed her wander around, seemingly aimlessly. Zhou Zhiruo led him through a small path and walked for four, five ‘li’s before she finally said, “All right, you can tell me.” She walked toward a large mountain rock in front of a clump of bushes. The two of them sat side by side.

Thereupon Zhang Wuji told her how Zhao Min had in her hand a bunch of Xie Xun’s golden hair, which leave him no choice but to walk away, and everything else that happened afterwards. Zhou Zhiruo listened from start to finish, and then for half a day she did not say anything.

“Zhiruo, do you blame me?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Choking, Zhou Zhiruo said, “I have done so many wrong things, I can only blame myself, why would I blame you?”

Zhang Wuji gently stroked her shoulder and said in a tender voice, “In this world, mistakes arise out of circumstances. Things are difficult to anticipate. You must not be excessively heartbroken.”

“Wuji Gege,” Zhou Zhiruo raised her head to look at him, “I have something I want to ask you, I want you to answer me sincerely, you must not have the slightest degree of concealment.”

“All right,” Zhang Wuji said, “I will not conceal anything from you.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “I know on this world there are four women who love you with all their hearts. One has gone away to Persia, Xiao Zhao. One is Miss Zhao, the other is … she …” She was going to say ‘Miss Yin’, but she did not have the courage to utter that name out of her mouth. After pausing for a moment, she continued, “If all four of us all alive and well, and right now we are by your side, which one of us do you really love?”

Zhang Wuji felt a burst of confusion rising in his heart. “This … mm … this

…” he stuttered.

Even since that day, when he was on the boat floating aimlessly on the ocean with Zhou Zhiruo, Zhao Min, Yin Li and Xiao Zhao, certainly more than once he had thought about this matter. “Each of these four women loves me very much, what should I do? No matter which one I marry, I will deeply hurt the other three’s hearts. But in the end, in the deepest part of my heart, which one do I really love?”

Since it had always been difficult for him to decide, he told himself to just evade the question altogether. Sometimes he thought, “The Tatars are not driven out yet, our country [orig. ‘he shan’ – river and mountain] is not being recovered yet, the barbarians [orig. ‘xiong nu’ – a general term for nomadic people] are not destroyed yet; how can I build a family? In the end, what reason do I have for having sons and daughters?”

Another times he thought, “I am the Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult. Anything I say, goes. I am responsible for the prosperity and decline of not only our Cult, but the Wulin world as sell. I am confident that in all my life, I had done nothing to be ashamed of. Yet, if I let myself indulged in female charms, not only I will invite the ridicule of the heroes of the world, I will also spoil our Cult’s reputation.”

Yet another time he thought, “Just before she died, my Mama earnestly exhorted me that beautiful women are most capable of deceiving people, warned me to be extremely careful all of my life. How can I not heed Mama’s last words to me?”

Actually, arguing every way he liked, in the end he was no more than deceiving himself. Deciding which young woman he loved most would not necessarily hinder the great undertaking of recovering his country. It would not in any way affect Ming Cult’s reputation. He only thought that this one was very nice, that one was also good, and thus he did not dare to think about them too much. His martial art skill might be strong, but his natural disposition was actually indecisive; all things considered, he preferred to let nature take its own course. When forced to make decision, he would rather sacrifice his own desire than disagree with other people’s wishes. Take the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, for example. He trained it because of Xiao Zhao’s encouragement. By right, he had held the authority to become the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult; yet he needed Yin Tianzheng, Yin Yewang and the others to push him before he agreed to them. His engagement with Zhou Zhiruo was because he was honoring Xie Xun’s request. He did not bow to the Heaven and the Earth with Zhou Zhiruo because Zhao Min compelled him. That day, if Jin Hua Popo and Yin Li did not use force, but persuaded him nicely to come with them to the Lingshe Island, he would most likely go with them.

Every once in a while, though, he could not help but think, “If I can spend the rest of my life with these four women, living together harmoniously, won’t I have a happy and carefree live?” After all, it was the end of the Yuan Dynasty; whether it was a scholar, a merchant, a Jianghu warrior or an outlaw, it was not uncommon for a man to have three wives and four concubines. On the contrary it was extremely rare for a man to have only one wife. It was just that the Ming Cult originated from Persia, where the followers were encouraged to live a frugal and hard-working life, so that taking a concubine in addition to a single wife was unusual.

Zhang Wuji was a mild-natured man. He had this idea that no matter which girl he married, it was to his greatest good fortune. Supposing he took more than one wife, he felt he would be unfair to the other. Consequently, as this thought keep flashing in and out of his head, he always tried to suppress it. Whenever he remembered it, he would immediately rebuke himself, “One must always be content with whatever one has; yet I always indulge in this kind of thought. Won’t that mean I am a despicable man? Shame on me!”

Later on, Xiao Zhao went to Persia, Yin Li died, and supposedly, Zhao Min was the one who murdered her. Logically speaking, the only option left for him was to marry Zhou Zhiruo. However, through some unexpected mishaps, some bizarre twists and turns, the truth was gradually being revealed. Zhou Zhiruo and Zhao Min switched places as the good and the evil. He felt so fortunate for not marrying Zhou Zhiruo and thus cast his blunder in stone. In addition, the fact that Zhao Min broke her relationship with her father and brother was publicly known; therefore, he should not have any difficulty in making up his mind, should he? Against all his thoughts and expectations, Zhao Min suddenly disappeared without telling him anything; and right now Zhou Zhiruo was forcing him into a corner with her question.

Seeing him hesitate without answering, Zhou Zhiruo said, “My question is hypothetical, of course. Xiao Zhao has become the Persian Ming Cult’s virgin Cult Leader, I have … have killed Miss Yin. Out of these four women, Miss Zhao is your only choice. I just want to know, supposing that all four of us are alive and well, we are all by your side, then what would you do?”

“Zhiruo,” Zhang Wuji finally said, “This matter has been burdening my heart for too long. Obviously, it was very difficult for me to make up my mind, until today … I know now who my true love is.”

“Who is it?” Zhou Zhiruo asked, “Is it … is it Miss Zhao?”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Today, when I looked for her and could not find her, I wish I was dead. If I henceforth cannot see her again, I do not wish to live longer. When Xiao Zhao left me, I was extremely heart-broken. When my Biaomei died, I was even more grieved. You … you came back like this, I was not only pained, but feeling deep regret as well. But, Zhiruo, I won’t lie to you, if for the rest of my life I cannot see Miss Zhao anymore, I’d rather die. This is my deepest feeling, which I have never made known to anybody else.” At first, all four women: Yin Li, Zhou Zhiruo, Xiao Zhao and Zhao Min were equal in Zhang Wuji’s eyes. But as Zhao Min walked away from him today, he suddenly realized Zhao Min’s true place in his heart; she was not on the same position as the other three women. As Zhou Zhiruo heard him say so, she quietly said, “That day at Dadu, I saw you go to that small wine shop to meet her, I knew exactly where your heart really was. It was just wishful thinking in my heart; if you and I get married perhaps … perhaps I can pull you back to love me. In all honesty … really

… I know that is of course impossible.”

Zhang Wuji said apologetically, “Zhiruo, toward you, I have always had respect. Toward Yin Jia Biaomei [younger female cousin of Yin family], my heart will always be grateful. Toward Xiao Zhao, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for her. But toward Miss Zhao, actually … actually I have an engraved-in-my-heart-carved-in-my-bones kind of love.”

“Engraved-in-my-heart-carved-in-my-bones kind of love, engraved-in-my- heart-carved-in-my-bones kind of love,” Zhou Zhiruo muttered. After pausing a moment, she said in low voice, “Wuji Gege … my love to you is also engraved-in-my-heart-carved-in-my-bones kind of love. Don’t you … don’t you know it?”

Zhang Wuji was extremely touched; grabbing her hand, he said in a tender voice, “Zhiruo, I know. What I do not know is how am I going to repay you for your great love in my lifetime. I … I really have wronged you.”

“You have not wronged me; you have always treated me very well, do you think I do not know it?” Zhou Zhiruo said. “Let me ask you this: Supposing Miss Zhao this time left you and not came back, you would not see her again forever; supposing she was killed by a wicked man, supposing she had a change of heart toward you, then you … what would you do?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart had been grieving for too long. As he heard her say those words, he could not bear it anymore. His dam broke and with a choking voice he said, “I … I don’t know! Whatever happens; to the heavens above or to the earth below, I must find her.”

Zhou Zhiruo sighed and said, “She won’t have a change of heart toward you. If you really want to find her; nothing could be easier.” Zhang Wuji was both surprised and delighted. “Where is she?” he stood up and said, “Zhiruo, tell me, quick!”

Zhou Zhiruo’s pair of beautiful eyes stared at Zhang Wuji intently; seeing his face was wild with joy, she said softly, “You have never shown this kind of emotion toward me. If you want to find Miss Zhao, you must agree to do something for me. Otherwise, you can forget of finding her, ever.”

“What do you want me to do?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“I have not thought about it yet,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Later, when I think of it, I will let you know. I can promise you that this matter will not violate the way of chivalry; it will not hinder the great undertaking of recovering our country, and will not damage your name as well as the Ming Cult’s reputation. Only, it won’t necessarily be easy to do.”

Zhang Wuji’s expression went blank. He thought, “Min Mei has also asked me to do three things for her; she has also said that it won’t violate the way of chivalry and so on, but so far, I have done only two things for her, and those two things were really not easy to manage. Why does Zhiruo have to copy her?”

“Whether you want to do it or not, it is entirely up to you,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “But a real man is as good as his word. If you agree, you simply cannot shrink back at the last moment.”

Zhang Wuji hesitantly said, “You said that this matter will not violate the way of chivalry; it will not hinder the great undertaking of recovering our country, and will not damage my name as well as the Ming Cult’s reputation?”

“That’s right!” Zhou Zhiruo replied.

“Very well,” Zhang Wuji said, “If it indeed will not violate the way of chivalry and will not damage the great undertaking of recovering our country, then I give you my promise now.” “Let’s strike our palms to seal the deal,” Zhou Zhiruo said. Extending her arm, she was ready to strike his palm.

Zhang Wuji understood that as soon as he struck her palm, he would place himself under extremely heavy shackles. Outwardly, this Miss Zhou was gentle, soft, and polite; but her mind was shrewd, her actions cruel. She was not the least bit inferior to Zhao Min. Therefore, as he raised his palm, he did not immediately strike her palm.

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “As soon as you give me your word, I am going to tell you, and you will meet your beloved very soon.”

Zhang Wuji’s chest boiled up. He no longer had any regard for anything else and struck Zhou Zhiruo’s palm three times.

Zhou Zhiruo laughed and said, “Look who’s here.” She reached down to pull and open up the bushes behind her. There it was, behind the clump of leaves sat a young woman whose face appeared smiling yet she was not exactly smiling, and who was she if not Zhao Min?

Surprised and delighted, Zhang Wuji loudly called out, “Min Mei!”

“Ah!” suddenly, from several ‘zhang’s behind him, he heard a female voice exclaimed, as if that woman could not restrain from being shocked when she saw Zhao Min appeared in the flesh. The voice was actually very soft, but Zhang Wuji was able to hear her clearly.

Zhang Wuji was staring blankly for a moment, loss in countless thoughts going through his mind. Slowly he reached out to pull Zhao Min up. When their palms met, he felt Zhao Min’s palm was rather stiff. Immediately he realized that when she left without telling anybody during the day, and then he looked for her everywhere without finding her, she was actually captured by Zhou Zhiruo. Her acupoint was sealed and she was hidden in here. Zhou Zhiruo then intentionally led him and said all those words in this place so that Zhao Min could hear him. If he could not bear to see Zhou Zhiruo sad and spoke thoughtless flattery to her, if his words were full of feeling to her, even acting passionately toward her, then he would fall into her scheme. If that happened, Zhao Min would have left without any question. As he thought about this, he could not help but groan secretly, “Shame on me!” while his back was wet with cold sweats.

Checking Zhao Min’s pulse, he found out that her ‘chi’ and blood were flowing normally, so she did not sustain any injury. Under the moonlight he saw her forehead and the corner of her eyes bore a happy expression; she looked so cute and flirtatious. He believed she heard everything he had just talked with Zhou Zhiruo. Although her body could not move and her mouth could not say anything, her ears could hear very well how he revealed the contents of his heart, that unexpectedly he loved her with engraved-in-his- heart-carved-in-his-bones kind of love. Zhao Min could hear the earnestness in his voice and she was ecstatic beyond her own control.

Zhou Zhiruo bent her waist and whispered something in Zhang Wuji’s ear. Zhang Wuji also replied in low voice. Suddenly Zhou Zhiruo shouted angrily, “Zhang Wuji, you really have no regard of me! Look carefully, after Miss Zhao is poisoned, do you think she can live?”

Zhang Wuji was shocked. “She … she is poisoned?” he asked, “Did you poison her?” Stooping down to examine Zhao Min, he had just opened Zhao Min’s left eye when he felt his back go numb as the acupoint on his back was sealed.

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji cried out. His body swayed.

Zhou Zhiruo’s movements were as swift as the wind. With her delicate fingers full of strength, she quickly sealed five major acupoints on his left shoulder, the side of his lower back, and the center of his back. Zhang Wuji fell backwards. He saw a dark green flash as Zhou Zhiruo drew out her sword and pointed it toward his chest.

“You cannot run, you cannot hide,” she shouted sternly, “I am going to take your life today. Yin Li’s ghost is entangling me anyway. I will eventually get killed. I’d rather die together with you.” While saying that, she raised her sword high, ready to stab it down into Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Suddenly a female voice shouted from behind her, “Hold on! Zhou Zhiruo, Yin Li has not died yet!”

Turning her head around, Zhou Zhiruo saw a woman dressed in black dash from among the thick underbrush, with fingers extended to pierce her. Zhou Zhiruo leaned sideways to evade. The woman turned around. The moon shone its light on the side of her pretty face, albeit full of faint scars.

Zhang Wuji saw her clearly; she was none other than his cousin Yin Li, only the bumps on her face had faded. Although her face was crisscrossed with scars, the scars could not cover her beauty. She vaguely looked like the delicate and pretty young girl standing by Jin Hua Popo he met in the Butterfly Valley many years ago.

Zhou Zhiruo withdrew two steps backward, her left palm in front of her chest, the sword in her right hand was still pointing toward Zhang Wuji’s chest. “You move one step forward, my sword will kill him first,” she barked.

Yin Li did not dare to move, she anxiously said, “You … have you not done enough wickedness already?”

“Are you a ghost or a human?” Zhou Zhiruo asked. “Naturally I am a human,” Yin Li replied.

“Zhu’er!” suddenly Zhang Wuji cried out, sprang up and embraced Yin Li. “Zhu’er …” he called out again, “You … I miss you so much that it hurts!”

Yin Li shrieked as she was taken by surprise; she was unable to move because Zhang Wuji’s arms were wound around her.

Zhou Zhiruo giggled and said, “If we did not do this, you won’t want to come out.” Turning around, she unsealed Zhao Min’s acupoints and massaged her veins and muscles.

Zhao Min had been under Zhou Zhiruo’s control for most of the day and was left alone after being thrown in here; she was seething with anger. Luckily, afterward she heard Zhang Wuji pouring out his heart, which turned her anger into joy. However, Yin Li’s sudden appearance had increased the countless loads she already bore in her mind. The old hatred had just gone away, new anxiety arose.

Yin Li angrily said, “What are you flattering and sweet talking to me for? Both Miss Zhao and Miss Zhou are here, watch your manners.”

“Humph,” Zhao Min sneered, “So he only needs to watch his manners when Miss Zhou and I are here?”

Zhang Wuji said, “I was overjoyed beyond words when I saw you arise from the dead. Biaomei, you … how are you?”

Yin Li pulled his hand and held his face toward the moon. After staring at him for half a day, suddenly she reached out to grab his left ear and twisted it forcefully.

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji cried out in pain, “Why did you do that?”

“You are one ugly freak deserving to be cut in thousand pieces!” Yin Li said, “You … you buried me alive under the ground, you made me suffer countless pain.” While saying that, she punched his chest three times, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’

Zhang Wuji did not dare to protect himself with the Jiu Yang Shen Gong. He endured her three punches with a smile, saying, “Zhu’er, I really thought you were … you were dead. I cried myself to exhaustion several times. You are not dead. That is wonderful. Laotianye [lit. ‘old master of the sky’ – Heaven, God] truly has eyes.”

“Laotianye has eyes alright, but you, this ugly freak, do not have eyes,” Yin Li angrily retorted, “You did not even know whether someone died or was still alive. I just can’t believe it. You hated my swollen ugly face; you simply buried me without waiting for my breathing to stop. You don’t have any conscience. You are a heartless and short-lived little rascal!”

As she constantly spitting up curses, her expression, voice and attitude were just like the Yin Li he knew. Zhang Wuji chuckled. Scratching his head, he said, “Your scolding is right on target. You are totally right. I was such a muddle-head; I saw your face was full of blood and you were not breathing, you heart was not beating. I thought you were beyond help …”

Yin Li leaped forward to twist his right ear. Zhang Wuji chuckled and moved aside to evade. He bowed and cupped his fists. “Good Zhu’er, please forgive me!”

“I won’t forgive you!” Yin Li said, “That day I woke up somehow, and felt cold all around me. Turned out I was surrounded by stones. If you wanted to bury me alive, why did you put twigs and stones on me? Why didn’t you pile up dirt on me so that I could not breathe and died for real?”

“Thank the Heaven and thank the Earth that I only piled up twigs and stones on your body,” Zhang Wuji said. He could not restrain from casting a sidelong glance toward Zhou Zhiruo.

Yin Li was angry. “This woman is completely wicked; I forbid you to look at her,” she said.

“Why?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“She is the murderer who killed me,” Yin Li replied, “Why do you still care about her?”

“But you are not dead,” Zhao Min interrupted, “How can she be your murderer?”

“I have died once,” Yin Li said, “That makes her the murderer!” “Good Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji tried to persuade her, “You have escaped danger and returned to live. We are all very happy. Why don’t you sit nicely over here and tell us how did you cheat death and escaped alive?”

Yin Li said, “What do you mean ‘we’? Let me ask you this: when you said ‘we’, who is ‘we’?”

Zhang Wuji said with a laugh, “There are only four people in here. Naturally ‘we’ refers to Miss Zhou, Miss Zhao and me.”

“Humph!” with a cold laugh Yin Li said, “I am not dead. Granted that you might be somewhat happy, but what about Miss Zhou and Miss Zhao? Are they also happy?”

“Miss Yin,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “I was so evil in those days; I have harmed you. But later, not only I deeply regretted my actions but also I have never had peace in my sleep. Otherwise, when I suddenly saw you in the woods, I would not be frightened like this. Now that I see you alive and well, my burden has been lifted off. The Heaven above is my witness that my joy is unbounded.”

Yin Li leaned her head sideways and thought for a moment. She nodded and said, “That makes sense. Actually, I was going to settle the score with you, but since you have apologized, I’ll let it go.”

Zhou Zhiruo kneeled down and sobbed, “I … I truly have committed the gravest offense toward you.”

Yin Li had always been hot-tempered; but seeing Zhou Zhiruo sincerely admit her guilt, her heart melted. She quickly helped her up and said, “Zhou Jiejie, let bygone be bygone, let us forget it. After all, I am not dead.” Holding Zhou Zhiruo’s hand, she took her to sit on her side.

Brushing her stray hair aside, Yin Li said, “You crisscrossed my face with the swords, it was also not entirely without any benefit. My face was originally bumpy, after the sword cut, the poisonous blood was drained away, the bumps slowly subsided.”

Zhou Zhiruo was overwhelmed with regret; she did not know what to say.

Zhang Wuji said, “Afterwards, Yifu, Zhiruo and I lived on that island for a long time. Zhu’er, after you came out of the grave, why didn’t you see us?”

“I was not willing to see you,” Yin Li angrily said, “You and Miss Zhou kept whispering sweet nothings to one another; how can I not be angry listening to those crap? Humph! ‘Hereafter my love to you will be doubled or tripled! We are husband and wife, two people one body; how can I mistreat you?’” In the last several sentences, she was mimicking Zhang Wuji’s manner of speech. And then, she continued with Zhou Zhiruo’s voice, “’What if I wrong you or offend you, will you hit me, scold me, kill me? Since I was little, I had never had a father and a mother to instruct me. It would be difficult not to mess up sometimes’.” She coughed once and changed her voice to a throaty male voice, “’Zhiruo, you are my beloved wife. Even if you make any mistake, I won’t blame you or scold you.’” Pointing her finger toward the moon on the western horizon, she said, “’The moon in the sky is our witness.’”

Turned out when Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo were pouring their hearts to each other that night, Yin Li had heard everything. As she now repeated their words one by one, Zhou Zhiruo’s entire face reddened, while Zhang Wuji looked bashful and restless. He stole a glance toward Zhao Min and saw that her face was deathly pale; thus he reached out to hold her hand. To his surprise, Zhao Min turned her palm around and pricked his arm with her two long fingernails. Zhang Wuji winced from the pain, but did not dare to make any noise; he did not even dare to move.

Yin Li reached into her bosom and took out a wooden strip. She shoved it in front of Zhang Wuji’s face. “Look clearly. What is this?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji looked closer and saw a line of characters engraved on the wooden strip; it read ‘The Tomb of my Beloved Wife, Zhu’Er Yin Li. Zhang Wuji Sincerely Stated’. It was exactly the grave marker he erected in front of Yin Li’s grave.

Yin Li bitterly said, “As I crawled out of the grave, I saw this wooden strip, and I was confused. What is this? Where is that heartless and short-lived little rascal Zhang Wuji? I thought about it a hundred times without figuring out what happened, until later on I eavesdropped the two of you calling ‘Wuji Gege this’ and ‘Wuji Gege’ that. It suddenly dawned on me that Zhang Wuji is Zeng Aniu, and Zheng Aniu is Zhang Wuji. You, the heartless scoundrel, you have deceived me really bad!” She raised the wooden strip and smashed it with all her might onto Zhang Wuji’s head. ‘Bang!’ the wooden strip broke, wooden shards flew out in all directions.

Zhao Min was angry. “Why do you keep hitting people?” she said.

Yin Li laughed aloud and said, “I love to hit him, what does it have to do with you? Your heart hurts, doesn’t it?”

Zhao Min blushed and said, “He is yielding to you. You do not know good from bad.”

Yin Li laughed. “Why did you say I do not know good from bad?” she asked, “Don’s you worry, I will not fight with you over this freak. I have given my heart to only one person, one who bit the back of my hand in the Butterfly Valley, Zhang Wuji. About this freak, I don’t care if he is called Zeng Aniu or Zhang Wuji, I don’t like him the least bit.”

Turning toward Zhang Wuji, she said in a gentle voice, “Aniu Gege, you have always treated me very well, I am very grateful to you. But since a long time ago, I have given my heart to that heartless, ferocious little Zhang Wuji. You are not him, no, you are not him …”

Zhang Wuji was confounded. “I am definitely Zhang Wuji,” he said, “Why

… what …”

Yin Li looked at him with a tender expression for a long, long time. Her eyes changed irregularly. Finally, she shook her head and said, “Aniu Gege, you don’t understand. In the western region desert, you and I have gone through live and death situation together. On that small island, you were extremely good to me. You are a good man. But I have already told you, I have given my heart to that Zhang Wuji for a long time. I am going to find him. Tell me, do you think if I find him, he would still beat me, scold me or bite me?”

Without waiting for Zhang Wuji to answer, she turned around and slowly walked away.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji understood. Turned out the one she truly loved was the Zhang Wuji who lived in her memory, the Zhang Wuji she met in the Butterfly Valley, the one who beat her and bite her, the obstinate Zhang Wuji who refused to follow her; not the real Zhang Wuji, the grown up Zhang Wuji who was extremely tolerant and always treated people with kindness. One third part of his heart was wounded, one third of it was reluctant to let her go, yet the other third part was relieved. He followed her with his gaze until her shadow disappeared into the darkness. He knew that for the rest of her life, Yin Li would always remember the very strong teenage boy of the Butterfly Valley, and that she would always want to find him. He realized that she would never find the one she was looking for, but then again, he could say that she had already found him, because that boy had always lived in her heart. Isn’t it true that oftentimes, the real person, the actual matter, is not as good as the one inside one’s memory?

Zhou Zhiruo sighed and said, “It’s all my fault. I harmed her so bad that she turns crazy.”

Yet Zhang Wuji thought, “She might be a little confused, and that was because of me. But compared to a clear-minded person, she is not necessarily less happy.”

Zhao Min, however, had another matter in her mind. Yin Li had gone, but what about Zhou Zhiruo? Yin Li had not died, Xie Xun had been found, safe and well, the martial art manual concealed inside the Yitian Sword, as well as the military strategy manual inside the Tulong Saber, along with the Saber itself, had been recovered and returned to Zhang Wuji. In short, it appeared that Zhou Zhiruo’s offenses and mistakes had not turned to the worst. While it was true that Song Qingshu had killed Mo Shenggu because of her, but it was Song Qingshu’s own crime; Zhou Zhiruo actually did not have any foreknowledge of the matter, also, she certainly did not instigate the incident. Zhang Wuji had had an engagement with her before, and he was not the kind of man who would abandon trust and uprightness.

Zhou Zhiruo stood up. “Let’s go!” she said. “Where?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “When I was at the Shaolin Temple just now, I saw monk Peng Yingyu came in a hurry to look for him,” she gestured toward Zhang Wuji. “Apparently, there is some important matter within the Ming Cult.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold. “I must not neglect important Cult business for the sake of my feelings toward women,” he mused, and then hastily said, “Let us quickly find out what happened.”

They set off at once, and after walking quickly for a short while, they arrived at the Ming Cult’s encampments. Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Peng Yingyu, and the others were just about to dispatch their subordinates to look for their Cult Leader. Everybody expressed their delight and relief to see him come back, but when they saw Zhou and Zhao, two women returning with him, their faces all showed surprised looks.

Zhang Wuji noticed that everybody looked dejected, immediately he knew something was amiss. “Peng Dashi,” he asked, “Were you looking for me?”

Before Peng Yingyu even answered, Zhou Zhiruo dragged Zhao Min away by the hand while saying, “Let us go and sit over there.”

Zhao Min understood Zhou Zhiruo was trying to avoid any suspicion; she was not willing to listen to the Ming Cult discussing their internal affairs. Thereupon Zhao Min accompanied her going out the room. Yang Xiao, Fan Yao and the others were even more amazed. They all thought, “In Jiaozhu’s wedding day in Haozhou that day, these two young ladies fought ferociously one against the other; but now they look as close as sisters. I wonder how Jiaozhu reconciled them. He is indeed able to achieve the impossible. The ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’ skill truly deserves other people’s admiration.”

Peng Yingyu waited until Zhou and Zhao, two women left before saying, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: We suffered a major defeat in Haozhou; Han Shantong, Han Xiong has fallen.”

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji cried. He was deeply grieved.

Peng Yingyu continued, “Presently, the military affair around the Huai Si River is under Zhu Yuanzhang Xiongdi’s control. As soon as Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, two brothers learned about the news, they deployed their troops to render their assistance. Han Lin’er Xiongdi is also coming with them. The situation is urgent; we did not wait for Jiaozhu’s order.”

“That’s how it should be done,” Zhang Wuji replied.

While they were in the middle of discussing military situation, Yin Yewang rushed in and said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: The Beggar Clan is sending their people to inform us that Chen Youliang, that traitor’s whereabouts has been discovered.”

“Where is he?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Yin Yewang said, “Unexpectedly, that traitor mingles in the midst of our Cult as a subordinate of Xu Shouhui Xiongdi. I heard he has won Xu Shouhui Xiongdi’s favor and trust.”

Zhang Wuji pondered for a moment and said, “If that’s the case, it is inappropriate for us to act rashly. Jiujiu [maternal uncle], I must bother you to send someone to warn Xu Xiong: this traitor Chen Youliang is extremely treacherous and crafty. By letting him staying by his side, Xu Xiong is just waiting for a great disaster to happen; he must by all means not let Chen Youliang stay close to him.”

Yin Yewang complied, but then he continued, “It would be better to eliminate him completely with a blade. Please assign me to handle him!”

Zhang Wuji was still contemplating the proposal when a Ming Cult disciple came in to deliver an urgent letter from Xu Shouhui.

Yang Xiao knitted his brows and exclaimed, “Terrible! It’s terrible! He has beaten us by taking the initiative.”

Zhang Wuji unsealed the letter and read. Turned out it was a long report Xu Shouhui submitted to his superior. In it he explained how Chen Youliang admitted his offense to the Cult Leader, how he understood that he had committed a serious crime, how he deeply regretted his sins and wanted to repent. Right now he sincerely wanted to join the Ming Cult and was determined to completely turn from his wicked ways. He was asking the Cult Leader to give him an opportunity to tread the new way.

Zhang Wuji handed the letter over to Yang Xiao, Yin Yewang and the others so that they could read it themselves. Yin Yewang said, “Xu Xiongdi has fallen under this man’s spell; he will certainly suffer misfortune in the future.”

Yang Xiao sighed and said, “This traitor Chen Youliang is extremely wicked, but if we kill him at this moment, the public is bound to find out. It would appear that we are only settling a long-standing grudge without giving any consideration to other people’s qualities. We will inevitably turn the hearts of the world’s heroes cold.”

“What Yang Zuo Shi said is correct,” Zhang Wuji said, “Peng Dashi, you are a good friend of Xu Xiong. Why don’t you advise him to be careful and rise up his guard against Chen Youliang? He must not let the authority over the troops to fall into his hand.” Peng Yingyu gave him his consent.

Unfortunately, Xu Shouhui dismissed Peng Yingyu’s advice. Chen Youliang had won his full confidence and in the end he lost his life under Chen Youliang’s hands. Afterwards, Chen Youliang seized control of Ming Cult’s western rebel army. He declared himself ‘Han Wang’ [King of Han], and fought for control over the land under the heavens [i.e. China] against the eastern Ming Cult rebel army. They fought great battles as far as Lake Poyang, until finally his troops were defeated and he lost his life in battle. During the dozens of year’s fierce civil war, the heroes and warriors of the Ming Cult suffered very heavy casualties.

That very evening, Zhang Wuji had a discussion with Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu and the others. They agreed to dispatch Ming Cult disciples to various army units to coordinate their movements. By the time they finished their meeting, it was already very late at night.

Early next morning, Zhao Min said, “Zhou Jiejie left last night. She said she did not wait to take her leave from you.”

Zhang Wuji was depressed for half a day. Then he remembered that the number of days he had been separated from Zhang Sanfeng was simply too great and he missed him. Therefore, taking Zhao Min and Song Qingshu along, he decided to come to Mount Wudang with Yu Lianzhou and the others.

The distance between Shaoshi Peak and Mount Wudang was not too far; in just a few days they have reached the mountain. Zhang Wuji accompanied Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi and Yin Liting as they entered the inside hall to pay their respects to Zhang Sanfeng, also to see Song Yuanqiao and Yu Daiyan.

When Song Yuanqiao learned that his son was outside, his face paled; with a sword in his hand, he stormed outside. Zhang Wuji and the others were in quandary; they felt they must persuade him, yet they realized it was not their place to interfere. Left with no other choice, they went to the main hall in his wake. Zhang Sanfeng also followed them out.

“Where is that disobedient, rebelling animal?” Song Yuanqiao roared. His glance caught Song Qingshu, who was still lying down on the stretcher. Song Qingshu’s head was covered in plain wrap cloth, even his eyes were covered. The sword in Song Yuanqiao’s hand was aimed straight at Song Qingshu’s body, but Song Yuanqiao’s hand went weak and the sword did not continue piercing down. In that instant, he remembered the love between a father and his son, the loyalty among disciples of the same school; all sorts of feeling welled up in his heart. Turning the sword around, he stabbed it into his own lower abdomen.

Zhang Wuji hastily reached out to snatch the sword away, while urging, “Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle], you must not do this. Let us leave it to Tai Shifu [grandmaster] to handle this matter properly.”

Zhang Sanfeng sighed and said, “That our Wudang School has produced this kind of unfilial disciple, Yuanqiao, it is not the misfortune of you, one man, alone. It is better for us all not to have this kind of unfilial son!” His right hand waved and ‘Bang!’ it landed on Song Qingshu’s chest. Song Qingshu’s internal organs shattered and he stopped breathing instantly.

Song Yuanqiao kneeled down and sobbed, “Shifu, disciple was negligent in teaching disciple, resulting in Qi Di’s [seventh (younger) brother] life lost in that animal’s hands. How can disciple be worthy of you, Senior, and Qi Di?”

Zhang Sanfeng reached down to help him up, saying, “You do have some part in this transgression. Lianzhou will take over the Zhang Men disciple position from you starting today. You may devote your attention to study and refine the Taiji Fist technique. The day-to-day affair of Zhang Men, you do not need to manage anymore.”

Song Yuanqiao bowed to thank him and receive the order. Yu Lianzhou tried to decline, but Zhang Sanfeng firmly refused to dismiss him, thereupon he had to accept the order.

Witnessing how Zhang Sanfeng executed Song Qingshu, removed Song Yuanqiao from his position, and thus managing his school with a firm hand, there was not anyone present who did not shiver with astonishment. Zhang Sanfeng asked about the Great Assembly of Heroes and the rebel army’s fight against the Yuan, he was very warm toward Zhang Wuji. Zhao Min kneeled and kowtowed in front of Zhang Sanfeng, asking forgiveness of her previous rudeness and offenses. Zhang Sanfeng laughed and said that he had never kept it in his heart. While it was true that Yu Daiyan’s lifelong disability, Zhang Cuishan’s lost of life, were related to her subordinate, Ah Da, Ah Er, and the others, Zhao Min had not even been born yet at that time, so when all is said and done, he could not put the blame on her.

When Zhang Sanfeng heard that she willingly forsook her father and brother to follow Zhang Wuji, he said, “Very good! Very good! A woman like you is hard to come by!”

After several days of good visit with Zhang Sanfeng and the others at the Wudang Mountain, Zhang Wuji proceeded toward Haozhou accompanied by Zhao Min. Along the way he repeatedly heard reports of their Cult’s victories. He also heard that the rebel army had swarmed various places; Zhang Shicheng at Gusu and Fang Guozhen at Taizhou, for instance. Although they were not affiliated with the Ming Cult, they were friendly forces who fought the Yuan together. Zhang Wuji’s heart was overjoyed; he continued riding with Zhao Min toward the east, envisioning that the days until country’s [orig. ‘he shan’] recovery were close. He only hoped that henceforth peace and security would reign over the world, the common people would enjoy a good and prosperous life. If that happened, then the hovering between live and dead, the undergoing of many sufferings in the past several years would not be in vain.

Zhang Wuji was not willing to create too much disturbance, hence, along the way he avoided meeting the Ming Cult rebel army’s officers and generals. He simply observed them in secret and was pleased to find the rebel army’s troops were following strict discipline; they did not harass the common people and everywhere he heard praises to Marshal Zhu Yuanzhang and Senior General Xu Da.

One day he arrived at the outskirts of Haozhou. Zhu Yuanzhang had heard about his arrival and sent Tang He and Deng Yu, two generals to lead troops waiting to welcome him and take him to the guesthouse. Tang He reported, “Marshal Zhu, along with Senior General Xu Da and General Chang are in the middle of urgent military intelligence meeting. They cannot contain their delight as they learned about Jiaozhu’s arrival; only they are being bound by military affairs and are not able to welcome Jiaozhu personally. For this disrespectful offense, they are asking Jiaozhu’s forgiveness.”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “We are all brothers, why bother with all these empty talks about welcoming and sending off? Military intelligence matter is more important.”

That evening, a large banquet was prepared in the guesthouse. Tang He and Deng Yu, two generals acted as hosts. After three rounds of wine, Zhu Yuanzhang, accompanied by his senior generals, hurriedly rushed in and bowed to the ground in front of the banquet table. Zhang Wuji hastily helped him up. Zhu Yuanzhang personally poured some wine and respectfully presented three cups of wine to Zhang Wuji. Zhang Wuji took the cups and dried them up in one gulp. Zhu Yuanzhang also presented some wine to honor Zhao Min, and Zhao Min drank it.

During the banquet, they talked about the military situation in various fronts. When talking about their achievements in besieging towns and seizing territories, Zhu Yuanzhang looked rather proud of himself. Zhang Wuji heaped him with praises.

While they were still taking, suddenly the Senior General Liao Yongzhong entered the reception hall in big strides. After paying his respects to their Cult Leader, he whispered in Zhu Yuanzhang’s ear, “He is captured!”

“Very good!” Zhu Yuanzhang replied.

Suddenly, from outside the door someone was shouting loudly, “Injustice! Injustice!”

Zhang Wuji recognized the voice crying ‘injustice’ was Han Lin’er’s. “Is that Han Xiongdi?” he was astonished, “What happened?” Zhu Yuanzhang said, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: This traitor Han Lin’er is conspiring with the Tatars, he is scheming to topple our Cult by responding from the inside to their attack from outside.”

Zhang Wuji was even more shocked, “Han Xiongdi is a very loyal and upright person, how can this happen? Take him in quickly, let me ask him personally …” His words were not finished when he suddenly felt dizzy; the sky became fuzzy and the earth blackened as he lost consciousness.

When he came around, he felt his limbs were bound with rough and heavy ropes. Looking around him, all he could see was darkness. His shock was not exactly ‘mild’. Fortunately, he felt a soft body leaning against his chest. Turned out Zhao Min and he were bound together, only Zhao Min had not regained consciousness yet.

Upon thinking it over, Zhang Wuji realized that Zhu Yuanzhang was behind all this. Most likely he expected the Ming Cult to be successful in the future; then logically and rightfully, Zhang Wuji should become the new emperor. Therefore, he put an extremely strong drug in Zhang Wuji’s wine with the intention of killing him secretly later.

Zhang Wuji circulated his ‘chi’ around once, and did not find anything unusual in his chest and abdomen; his strength was still intact. He sneered inwardly and thought, “So they think they can bind me with this rope? I don’t think it’s that easy. Right now Min Mei has not awakened yet; there’s no hurry in leaving. As soon as it is dawn, I am going to expose his traitorous scheme in front of our Cult’s people.” Thereupon he rested quietly to regain his strength.

About two hours later, he suddenly heard some people enter the room next door. As he listened to them talking, he recognized the voices of Zhu Yuanzhang, Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, three people.

He heard that Zhu Yuanzhang was saying, “This man betrays our Cult, surrenders to the Yuan Dynasty. The evidence is conclusive; there is no doubt about it. It pained me just to think about it. Brothers, what do you think we must do?” Without waiting for Xu Da and Chang Yuchun to answer, he continued, “This man’s ears and eyes are numerous; he has trusted comrades everywhere in the army. We’d better not to mention his name.”

Xu Da was heard replying, “Zhu Dage [big brother Zhu], to succeed in an important matter, we must not concern ourselves with trivial matters; we must cut the grass and pull the roots, do not leave any potential problem in the future.”

“But this little thief has always been our superior,” Zhu Yuanzhang said, “We must not forget kindness and violate justice. This is our basic principle.”

Chang Yuchun said, “If Dage is afraid that by killing him the army would revolt, there is no harm in us making our move quietly, so that Dage’s reputation will not be implicated.”

Zhu Yuanzhang was quiet for a moment before saying, “Since Xu and Chang, two brothers have already said so, we will deal with him as such, then. Only, this little thief has sown quite some kindness to the people of our Cult, also, two brothers were usually on good terms with him; we must keep this matter from leaking out. Ay, the thought of killing him today is truly unbearable for me.”

Xu and Chang both said, “We cannot give friends and personal relations more consideration than the great undertaking of recovering the nation.” As the three men finished talking, they went out the room.

Zhang Wuji sucked a mouthful of cold air. Immediately he exerted his ‘shen gong’ [divine power/strength] to break the rope binding his body. Carrying Zhao Min in his arms, he quietly climbed over the wall and went out.

Leaning against the wall, he could not stop all sorts of feelings from bubbling up in his heart. “That traitor Zhu Yuanzhang forgets kindness and violates justice, I am fine with it. But Xu Dage and Chang Dage have special friendship with me, yet for the sake of riches and honor they are unexpectedly able to betray me. The three of them bear heavy responsibility within the rebel army. If I strike them dead with my palm, I am afraid the army’s unity would disintegrate. I, Zhang Wuji, have never coveted name or position. Xu Dage, Chang Dage, you are looking down on me too much.” After thinking deeply for half a day, he quietly took Zhao Min to leave the area.

When he was safe outside the city, he wrote a letter, appointing Yang Xiao as the new Cult Leader, but he did not write even a single character about what had happened in Haozhou.

It never occurred to Zhang Wuji that when Xu Da and Chang Yuchun talked about ‘the little thief’, they were actually referring to Han Lin’er. They did not even know that Zhang Wuji was in Haozhou. Everything was secretly arranged by Zhu Yuanzhang. He wanted to make Zhang Wuji downhearted so that Zhang Wuji would retire voluntarily. First, Zhu Yuanzhang was dreadful of Zhang Wuji’s divine bravery. Second, Zhang Wuji was their Cult’s Jiaozhu who was highly esteemed by everybody in their Cult. Let’s say he wanted to kill him; not only Zhu Yuanzhang did not have the courage to do so, even if he did succeed in killing him, but if there was the slightest chance of his plot being exposed, the consequences would be too detrimental for him.

Zhu Yuanzhang understood very well that Zhang Wuji placed the important matter of recovering the country above all else, moreover, he loved Xu Da and Chang Yuchun like brothers. As soon as Zhang Wuji heard their discussion, he would quietly go away.

As expected, everything happened according to Zhu Yuanzhang’s anticipation. Although Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill was unequalled in the present age, in term of scheming and resourcefulness, he was too far below Zhu Yuanzhang. In the end, he had fallen into the treacherous scheme of the most ambitious and ruthless character of their generation.

Although Zhang Wuji had never wanted to be an emperor, he would feel saddened for the rest of his life whenever Xu Da and Chang Yuchun, which he thought were without kindness and loyalty, came into his mind.

As for the accusation that Han Lin’er was colluding with the Tatars and betraying his country, it was actually Zhu Yuanzhang who planted false evidence against him. It was because after Han Shantong’s death, the army appointed Han Lin’er as their commander; consequently, Zhu, Xu, Chang, and the other generals became his subordinates.

Zhu Yuanzhang forged a letter from Han Lin’er to the enemy as if it was Han Lin’er’s own hadwriting; with a large sum of money, he also bribed Han Lin’er’s trusted aide to leak the secret to Xu Da and Chang Yuchun. Xu and Chang, two men, believed without any reservation. As a result, they insisted on Han Lin’er’s elimination. Zhu Yuanzhang pretended to uphold righteousness and benevolence by refusing to allow the execution. It was not until Xu Da and Chang Yuchun urged him repeatedly that he reluctantly agreed.

He held Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min in the adjacent room, knowing that with his martial art skill, for Zhang Wuji to break the rope binding his body was as easy as lifting his finger. He was only afraid that as soon as Zhang Wuji was free, he would find him to exact revenge. Therefore, as soon as he finished talking with Xu and Chang, two men, he immediately went into hiding.

Soon after Zhang Wuji left, he ordered Liao Yongzhong to throw Han Lin’er into the river and let him sank into the bottom. This way, he killed two birds with one stone. His plan was truly flawless.

Later, Yang Xiao became the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult; but by this time Zhu Yuanzhang had grown wings, the troops under his command numbered in millions. Yang Xiao was aging and less ambitious than before, he lost any desire to fight over the throne with him.

After Zhu Yuanzhang ascended the throne, he opposed the Ming Cut by issuing an order to strictly prohibit its movement and massacred the brethrens who had once rendered great merit to him. Chang Yuchun died early because of sickness. Xu Da eventually was not able to escape disaster.

When Zhang Wuji finished writing the letter to Yang Xiao, Zhao Min saw he did not immediately put down the writing brush in his hand; he had quite an unhappy expression on his face. Zhao Min interrupted his thoughts by saying, “Wuji Gege, once you agreed to do three things for me. The first thing was to let me look at the Tulong Saber; the second thing was not to marry Zhou Jiejie back at Haozhou, so the first two matters are already accomplished. I still have the third request to you, you must not fail to keep your own word.”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “You … you …” he stammered, “What kind of strange demonic witchcraft do you want me to do this time …?”

Zhao Min smiled sweetly and said, “My eyebrows are too thin. I want you to thicken it with your brush. This matter certainly does not violate the Wulin’s way of chivalry, does it?”

Zhang Wuji raised his brush up; he laughed and said, “From now on I am going to draw your eyebrows every day.”

Suddenly from outside the window came a soft giggle and someone said, “Wuji Gege, you also promised to do something for me.” It was Zhou Zhiruo’s voice.

Zhang Wuji was so engrossed in writing the letter that he did not know when she arrived outside the window. The shutters slowly opened and Zhou Zhiruo’s beautiful face appeared. Under the candlelight, she looked smiling, yet she was not exactly smiling.

Zhang Wuji was startled again. “You … what do you want me to do?” he asked.

Zhou Zhiruo smiled and said, “I haven’t thought about it now, but when you and Zhao Jia Meizi [little sister of Zhao family] are ready to bow to the Heaven and the Earth to get married, I am sure I will think of something by then.”

Zhang Wuji turned to look at Zhao Min, and then he turned again to look at Zhou Zhiruo. In that instant, a myriad of thoughts raced around in his mind. He was unsure if he should be happy or if he should be worried. His hand trembled and the brush fell on the table ...

THE END

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