Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Chapter 16-20

@Chapter 16 – If All Failed, Consult the Nine Yang
Zhang Wuji continued crawling through the passageway for several more ‘zhang’. The light was growing brighter, until suddenly he was dazzled by the bright sunlight. He had to close his eyes to calm down for a while before opening his eyes again. To his surprise, in front of him was a jade- green valley with clusters of bright flower bushes; the flowers were red, the trees green, complementing each other to deliver this dazzling scenery. He shouted in glee and crawled out of the cave.

The mouth of the cave was actually about a ‘zhang’ above the ground [reminder: 1 zhang is approximately 10ft or 3m]. He lightly jumped down and landed on a layer of soft fine grass. His nose smelled the clear and quiet fragrance of flowers; his ears heard the chirping birds from the mountain pass, and he saw fresh fruits hanging from tree branches. Who would have thought that beyond the dark cave lay such a paradise like this?

Forgetting all his wounds and pain, he let his feet loose and ran forward. After about two ‘li’ [1 li is approximately 0.5km], another peak blocked the way. Looking at all directions, he noticed that this jade-green valley was surrounded by tall peaks; apparently there have never been any human in this place. The tip of the peaks on the four sides all were hidden behind the cloud, the cliff was very steep, it seemed like nobody would be able to climb it.

Zhang Wuji was delighted. He saw seven, eight mountain goats were grazing on the meadow, and the goats were not scared of him. On the trees there were dozens of monkeys playing around by leaping from branch to branch, apparently because tigers, leopards or other predators were heavier, they were not able to climb over the perilous peaks. He thought, “Laotianye [the Heaven] indeed treats me not so bad, he prepares for me this kind of fairyland as my burial place.”

Strolling back to the mouth of the cave, he heard Zhu Changling shouting from the other end, “Xiao Xiongdi, come out! Aren’t you afraid of dying of suffocation in this cave?”

“It’s so fun in here!” Zhang Wuji replied with a laugh. He picked a fruit from a dwarf tree whose name he did not know. He held it in his hand and smelled its sweet fragrance. Taking a bite, he found out that the fruit was delicious beyond comparison. Peach would not this be crisp, apple would not be this fragrant, while pear would not be this creamy. He took one of the fruits and tossed it to the cave, while calling out, “Take this! Something delicious is coming your way!”

As the fruit went through the cave, it bumped several timed on the rock wall so that by the time it reached Zhu Changling, it was already smashed and mushy. But when he took a bite and chewed it, his appetite was roused that he was hungrier than ever. “Xiao Xiongdi,” he called out, “Give me some more.”

“You are a man of wicked conscience,” Zhang Wuji called back, “You deserve to die of starvation. If you want more, then come and get it yourself.”

“My body is too big,” Zhu Changling replied, “I can’t go through the cave.”

Zhang Wuji laughed, “If you cut yourself in halves, won’t you be able to come here?” he said.

Zhu Changling realized his plot had failed and been exposed; Zhang Wuji wanted him to die of starvation to avenge his hatred. In the meantime, the pain on his chest was worsening; he opened his mouth to shout curses, “Thief little rascal, can the fruits in this cave feed you for the rest of your life? I will die of starvation outside, but no more than three days you will also die of starvation.” Zhang Wuji ignored him, he took seven, eight more fruits and had his fill.

About half a day later, a sudden wisp of thick smoke puffed out of the mouth of the cave. Zhang Wuji was startled, but then he realized that Zhu Changling must have ignited pine branches outside the cave, supposing that he would force Zhang Wuji to come out by smoking him. He did not know that there was another world at the other end of the cave, so that it would be useless even if he burned a thousand or ten thousand piculs [1 picul = 100 catties, approximately 50 kg] of pine wood. But just for the fun of it, he pretended to cough loudly.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Zhu Changling called out, “Come out! I promise not to harm you in any way.”

“Aahhhhh …” Zhang Wuji cried out as if he was fainting, and then he left the cave.

Walking to the west for about two ‘li’, he saw a large waterfall falling heavily down from a cliff, which he thought must be from the melted snow. Under the sunlight the falling water looked like a giant jade dragon in all its magnificence. The water flowed into a clear dark-green pool, but the pool did not overflow, so there must be another way through which the water drained from the pool.

After enjoying the scenery for half a day, he looked down and saw his hands and feet were filthy with moss and mud, plus countless cuts and bruises from the thorns and coarse grass; thereupon he went to the edge of the pool, took out his shoes and socks, and washed his feet in the pool water.

After washing for a while, suddenly ‘splash!’ a big white fish jumped from the water, it was about a foot long. Zhang Wuji quickly reached out to grab. He was able to touch the fish, but it slipped and fell back into the water. Zhang Wuji leaned over the pool edge to look down into the water. He saw about a dozen big white fish swimming back and forth in the dark green water. Catching fish was a skill he had learned since his childhood on the Bing Huo Island, thereupon he broke two stiff branches and sharpened one end. He then waited patiently by the edge of the pool. As soon as another fish jumped out of the water, he thrust the spear with all his strength and it pierced the fish body. He cheered, and then with the sharpened branch he cut the fish and cleaned its intestines. Gathering some dried wood, he took out his fire blade, flint and fire cloth to build a fire and roast the fish. Shortly the aroma floated everywhere. As soon as the fish was cooked, he enjoyed the smooth and tender, delicious roast fish. He could not remember ever eating this kind of tasty fish before. In just a short moment the big fish was cleaned to its bone.

The next day he caught another big white fish and roasted it. He thought, “Since I am not going to die soon, I’d better leave the fire on, otherwise the fire cloth will be used up quickly and then it will be troublesome.” Thereupon he gathered the ashes and put the partly burned firewood inside to keep it burning. All household appliances on the Bing Huo Island were homemade, so living alone in the wilderness like this was not foreign to him. He made a pot from clay, and spread some straw as his bed.

Busily working until the evening, he remembered that Zhu Changling must be very hungry, thereupon he picked a big fresh fruit and tossed it through the cave. He was afraid if he gave Zhu Changling some fish, his strength might increase and perhaps he would be able to break through the hole and give him trouble; therefore, he never gave him any roasted fish.

By the fourth day, Zhang Wuji was busy building a clay furnace when he heard some miserable cry of a monkey. It sounded so urgent that he rushed toward the noise. He saw that a little monkey was lying on the ground next to a cliff. One of the monkey’s feet was crushed under a rock that it could not move. It seemed like the monkey lost its footing and fell from the steep cliff.

He lifted the rock and pulled the monkey up, but the monkey’s right leg was broken. It cried out in pain. Zhang Wuji picked two straight branches as splint to connect the monkey’s broken bone. Next he looked for some herbal medicine, which he chewed mushy and applied it to the wound. Although it was difficult to seek effective herbal medicine in this valley and the medicine he applied did not have any miraculous effect, the broken bones were healing well because of his bone-mending skill.

Unexpectedly, the little monkey was grateful and wanted to repay the kindness. The second day the monkey returned, bringing lots of fresh fruits for him. Ten days later, the broken leg was completely healed. Since Zhang Wuji did not have anything to do, he spent his days playing with the monkey. If not for the cold poison occasionally flaring up, his life in that secluded valley could be called carefree and happy. Sometimes he saw wild goats grazing by. He had a thought of catching one and roasting it over the fire, but seeing the goats were so tame, he did not have the heart to kill them. Fortunately he had enough fruits on the trees and fish in the pool, so he never lacked food.

A few days later, he succeeded in catching several snow birds, which enhanced his appetite greatly. In this way he already passed more than one month. One early morning, while he had not completely awakened, he suddenly felt a large hairy hand gently stroking him on the face. He was greatly startled and jumped up, only to see a large white ape squatting by his side, holding the little monkey, with which he used to play every day, in its arm. The little monkey was squeaking and chattering incessantly with its finger pointed toward the big ape’s belly.

Zhang Wuji smelled a whiff of nasty odor, like rotten meat; he saw a faint trace of pus and blood on the white ape’s belly, which looked like a large skin ulcer. He smiled and said, “Alright, alright! Turned out you are bringing a sick person to see the great doctor!”

The large white ape extended its left hand, with a ‘pan tao’ [from the dictionary: the peaches of immortality kept by Xi Wangmu] about the size of a fist, which it respectfully presented to Zhang Wuji. Seeing this bright red and plump ‘pan tao’, Zhang Wuji mused, “Mama told me a legend about the immortal goddess Wangmu of Kunlun Mountain, who held a ‘pan tao’ feast every year on her birthday, inviting other immortals. Xi Wangmu might not exist; but the fact that Kunlun Mountain indeed produces large ‘pan tao’ is certainly undeniable.” With a laugh he said, “I normally do not take payment; even without ‘xian tao’ [immortal peach], I will still treat your sore.”

He reached out to gently feel the white ape’s belly and could not help but feel shocked. The white ape’s malignant ulcer was no more than an inch in diameter, but the hard area around it was more than ten times larger. He had never read about this kind of malignant boil in the medical manual. Supposing this hard area was full with pus and was rotten, then this boil might be incurable. He pressed his finger on the white ape’s wrist to feel its pulse, but did not find anything to cause him any concern. Next he opened up the long hair covering the ape’s abdomen to look at the ulcer again. He was more shocked, because there was more or less a rectangular bump on the abdomen. All four sides of the bump were sewn. Apparently it was a human handiwork, because no matter how intelligent apes and monkeys are, they had never learned how to use needle and thread.

Looking at the boil more carefully, he deduced that the bump was the culprit, it pressed on a blood vessel and stopped the blood from flowing that the flesh around it was gangrenous and became a long lasting boil. If he wished to treat the ulcer, he must remove whatever object sewn inside the ape’s abdomen. Speaking about performing operation to treat injury, he had mastered the skill taught by Hu Qingniu, and thus it should be an easy and simple procedure. However, he did not have any knife or scissors with him, also no medication whatsoever. This might pose some problems.

After contemplating for a while, he picked a rock and threw it with all his might against another rock that it smashed into pieces. He chose one piece with a sharp edge and corner, with which he slowly cut the thread sewn on the white ape’s belly. The white ape was very old and was intelligent, it knew Zhang Wuji was trying to treat its injury; therefore, although it felt severe pain on its abdomen, with a strong willpower it endured the pain and did not make even a single move.

After cutting the right and upper side of the stitches, Zhang Wuji made a slanting cut to the skin on the corner, which was healed a long time ago; he saw an oilcloth package hidden in the ape’s belly. He felt even more strange; but he did not have time to open the package. He set it aside and busily sewed the abdomen skin back. Since he had no needle and thread, he used the fishbone as the needle, piercing the skin one hole at a time, and then used tree bark as the thread, tying the small holes together. With great difficulty he finished mending the cut, and then he applied some herbal medicine on the wound. He was busy for more than half a day before everything was in order. Although the white ape was strong, by this time it lay on the ground, motionless.

Zhang Wuji washed of the bloodstain from his hands and the oilcloth, then he opened the package. Inside were four thin books of scriptures. Because the oil cloth was watertight, although the books were hidden inside the ape’s abdomen for a long time, the pages were still intact without any sign of damage.

The pages were filled with curvy and squiggly characters, which Zhang Wuji did not recognize. Browsing up all four books, he found that these strange characters were used in all the books, but in between the lines he saw tiny Chinese characters, as small as a fly’s head. After calming himself down, he started from the first line, and found that the content of the book was actually some secret instructions on cultivating and applying ‘chi’ and energy. He slowly read from top to bottom; suddenly his heart skipped a beat, for he read three lines with which he was very familiar. It was the ‘Wudang Jiu Yang Gong’ [Wudang’s Nine Yang Energy] he learned from Tai Shifu [grand master, referring to Zhang Sanfeng] and his Yu Erbo [second (older) uncle Yu, referring to Yu Lianzhou], only the subsequent part was different.

Casually browsing through, after several pages he read another sentence of the ‘Wudang Jiu Yang Gong’, but all in all the theory differed greatly from the one taught by Tai Shifu and Yu Erbo. His heart was beating wild as he closed the book and pondered deeply, “What manual is this? Why does it contain sentences of the ‘Wudang Jiu Yang Gong’? But why is it different from the one taught at our Wudang school? Furthermore, it seems like this manual is ten times more complete than ours?”

Thinking to this point, he remembered the story told by Tai Shifu when he was taking him to Shaolin Temple: Tai Shifu’s master was called Reverend Jueyuan, he mastered the ‘Jiu Yang Zhen Jing’ [nine ‘yang’ (positive, sun, male, etc.) real/true scripture, in this series it is commonly translated as ‘Nine Yang Manual’], which he recited from memory just before he passed away. Tai Shifu, Heroine Guo Xiang, and Reverend Wuse of Shaolin Pai, three people, each remember parts of it. As a result, Wudang, Emei and Shaolin, three Sects, enjoyed tremendous advancement in martial arts, and were regarded as equals in the past dozens of years, their names shook the Wulin world.

“Could it be that this is the stolen Nine Yang Manual?” he mused, “That’s right, Tai Shifu said that the Nine Yang Manual was written inside the ‘Lengjia Jing’ [Lankavatara Sutra]. These squiggly and curvy characters must be the Lankavatara Sutra in Sankrit. But why is it inside the ape’s belly?”

This four-volume book was indeed the Nine Yang Manual; as for why it was hidden inside the ape’s abdomen, no one in this generation knew. More than ninety years ago, Xiao Xiangzi and Yin Kexi stole the manual from the Shaolin Temple library, for which crime they were pursued by Reverend Jueyuan to the summit of Huashan [Mount Hua in Shaanxi] without any chance of escaping. It so happened that they had this dark grey ape with them, so they had an idea: they cut open the dark grey ape’s belly, and hid the manual inside. Later on, Jueyuan, Zhang Sanfeng, Yang Guo, and the others searched Xiao Xiangzi and Yin Kexi’s bodies thoroughly, but failed to find the manual, so that they let the two, along the dark grey ape, go down the mountain. [Author’s note: please read ‘Divine Eagle Gallant Knights’] And thus the Nine Yang Manual’s whereabouts became the great mystery of the Wulin World for approximately a hundred years.

Later, Xiao Xiangzi and Yin Kexi took their dark grey ape and went to the far away Western Region. The two of them were suspicious of each other; each of them feared that when the other one had mastered the martial art of the Manual, he would kill him. Thereupon they kept their eyes on each other and neither dared to take the manual out from the ape’s belly. Finally they arrived at the Jing Shen Peak of Kunlun Mountains; Yin and Xiao two people were plotting against each other. They fought until both of them sustained injuries. Thereafter this supreme manual of internal energy cultivation stayed hidden inside the dark grey ape’s abdomen.

Actually, Xiao Xiangzi’s martial art skill was slightly better than Yin Kexi’s, but because he was hit by Reverend Jueyuan’s fist on Mount Hua, his internal strength was shaken and he suffered serious injury; hence when he fought Yin Kexi later, he was killed instead of scoring a victory.

At the point of his death, Yin Kexi met ‘Kunlun San Sheng’ [Three Sages of Kunlun], He Zudao. Pricked by his own conscience, Yin Kexi asked He Zudao to go to Shaolin Temple and tell Reverend Jueyuan that the books were inside this ape’s belly. However, by that time he was already delirious that his speech was incoherent; he said ‘jing zai hou zhong’ [scriptures inside the monkey], He Zudao heard it as ‘jing zai you zhong’ [scriptures inside the oil]. He Zudao did keep his promise; he went to the distant Central Plains and conveyed the message ‘jing zai you zhong’ to Reverend Jueyuan. Jueyuan failed to comprehend the meaning of the message. Rather than talking about it, he stirred up a big disturbance instead. As a result, the Wulin world enjoyed the addition of Wudang and Emei, two Sects.

As for the dark grey ape, it was fortunate to have Kunlun Mountain’s immortal peach as its diet; with the spiritual influence of the heavens and the earth, after more than ninety years it was still capable of jumping around as if flying. The dark grey and shiny long hair covering its entire body gradually turned snow-white that it turned into a white ape. It was just that the manual hidden inside its belly had caused a digestive system problem that from time to time it suffered stomach ache. Finally the malignant skin ulcer was developed on its belly, which lasted until today, when Zhang Wuji took the books out. Speaking of this white ape, it had entrusted its great misfortune to a trusted friend. This whole story was so complicated that even if there were someone with intelligence a hundred times better than Zhang Wuji in the world, he would definitely not able to deduce it.

Zhang Wuji was lost in thought for half a day. Realizing he would not be able to solve this riddle, he did not take the trouble to think about it further. He took the big ‘pan tao’ presented by the white ape and took a bite, enjoying the fresh sweetness of the juice slowly flowing into his throat. It was indisputably better than the nameless fruits he found in the valley.

Finished eating the ‘pan tao’, Zhang Wuji thought, “Tai Shifu once said that if I can practice the ‘Jiu Yang Shen Gong’ [nine ‘yang’ divine strength/power] of Shaolin, Wudang and Emei, three Sects, then I can drive the cold poison away from my body. These three Sects’ Jiu Yang Gong all came from the Nine Yang Manual. If this book is indeed the Nine Yang Manual and I practice according to it, then the end result will far exceed the result if I practice the three Sects’ divine power separately. Since I have nothing to do in this valley, I’d better practice according to this book. Supposing my guess is wrong; that this book is actually useless, so much so that it is harmful to me, the worst that can happen to me is death anyway.” Without anything to weigh his heart down, he put the other three volumes of the manual on a dry place. He spread some straw over the books, and put three big rocks on top, for fear that the monkeys, being mischievous, would fight over the books and perhaps would tear the books apart into pieces. With the first volume in his hand, he started by reading it several times to commit its contents to his memory. Afterwards he would try to understand it and only then he would start practicing the first sentence. His thought was, ‘Even if I succeeded in cultivating the divine strength from the book, and managed to repel the cold poison, I would still be imprisoned in this valley with steep peaks all around, could not get out forever. My days in this valley are long, if I can succeed today, good; if I must wait ‘til tomorrow, it’s also good. It doesn’t make any difference. If I fail, I would have something to do to pass my boring days anyway.’

Strangely, with this win-or-lose-always-happy attitude, he made a surprisingly rapid progress. In only four short months, he succeeded to comprehend in detail the skill described in the first volume of the book, which he immediately trained accordingly.

Finished training the first volume, he did a quick calculation, and found that the date predicted by Hu Qingniu on which the cold poison would take his life had already come and gone. His body felt light and healthy, the ‘zhen qi’ [real ‘chi’] flowed freely in his entire body, without any symptom of an illness. Previously, the cold poison would flare-up often; now, the interval between occasional attacks was more than a month. When the attack came, it was very light. Not too long afterwards, he read a sentence in the second volume: ‘Exhale according to the Nine Yang, hold in the mouth first, this book is called the Jiu Yang Zhen Jing’. [Translator’s note: I am not sure about this part; any help will be appreciated.] Now he was convinced that this book was really the treasured texts which had always been in Tai Shifu’s mind all these years. He was delighted and trained even more diligently. In addition, the white ape was grateful for his kindness in treating its illness that he had an endless supply of large ‘pan tao’, which was good to invigorate his body and lift his spirit.

When he was halfway through the second volume, the cold poison inside his body had been driven out completely. Every day, other than cultivating his energy, he played with the apes and monkeys. When he picked the fruits, he would always give half to Zhu Changling. Thus he lived without worry or concerns, free and easy. However, to Zhu Changling, who was still on that little piece of platform, a day dragged past like a year. When winter came, his world was covered in ice and snow; the cold wind penetrated his bones. The hardships he suffered were beyond description.

Zhang Wuji had acquired immunity to heat and cold after finishing the second volume. It was just that the further along he was, the more complicated and subtle the lesson got; his progress was not as rapid as before. He needed a whole year to finish the third volume; the final volume took him more than three years until he achieved a satisfactory result. He had been living in that quiet, secluded snowy valley for more than five years by now; he had grown from a boy to a tall and well-built young man.

For the last year or two, whenever he felt like it, he would occasionally play with the apes and the monkeys by climbing up the rock wall and looking out into the distance. Based on his current skill, it would not be too difficult for him to climb over the peak and get out of the valley. However, each time he remembered that the world was full with treacherous and deceitful people, he could not help but shudder. He thought: why should he go outside to bring trouble to himself, just like a fish throwing itself into the net? Wouldn’t it be better to live in this beautiful valley until he grew old and die? One afternoon he browsed the four-volume book from head to tail all the way through. When he flipped the very last page, his heart was joyful but he felt a slight emptiness at the same time. He dug a hole, about three feet deep, on the mountain wall to the left of the cave. He wrapped the four- volume Nine Yang Manual, as well as Hu Qingniu’s Medical Manual and Wang Nan’gu’s Poison Manual, inside the oil cloth he took out from the white ape’s belly, and buried the bundle in the hole. He then filled the hole with dirt, thinking, “I got the Manual from the white ape’s belly; that was truly destiny, an enormous opportunity. I wonder if in a hundred or a thousand years it would be somebody else’s destiny to come hither and find these three Manuals?” Picking up a sharp stone, he carved six large characters on the mountain wall, ‘Zhang Wuji’s Manuals Burial Place’.

When he was in training, he had something occupying his mind every day, so that he did not feel the slightest degree of loneliness. That day, after successfully completing his training, he felt hollowness in his heart. Moreover, with the newly acquired ‘shen gong’ [divine strength], his courage soared high. He mused, “If this time Zhu Bobo came to harass me again, I would not be afraid of him. There is no harm in going out and talk to him.” Thereupon he bent down to crawl into the cave again.

When he entered the valley, he was a small fifteen-year old boy; going out, he was a grown up twenty-year old adult, who could not go through the narrow passage of the cave. Taking a deep breath, he utilized the ‘suo gu gong’ [shrinking bones skill], making the bones in his entire body crowded together, reducing the space between bone and bone. Gently and easily he slipped through the cave.

Zhu Changling was sleeping soundly, leaning against the rock wall, dreaming he was sitting in one of his family’s banquets, with maids and servants running around him, and friends and relatives fawn up to him; it was a happy and ego-boosting occasion for him. Suddenly someone tapped his shoulder; he woke up with a start, and saw the shadow of a big and tall man in front of him. Zhu Changling leaped up, he was still half asleep. “You … you …” he called out.

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “Zhu Bobo, it’s me, Zhang Wuji.”

Zhu Changling was startled and delighted, but angry and hateful as well. He stared at Zhang Wuji for a long time before saying, “You grew this tall. Hmm, why didn’t you come out to talk to me? No matter how I asked you, you have never paid me any attention.”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “I was afraid you would hurt me.”

Zhu Changling’s right hand suddenly reached out, using the ‘qin na’ [grab and capture, grappling] technique he grabbed Zhang Wuji’s shoulder, while sternly said, “So you are not afraid now?” But he felt the palm of his hand boiling hot; he could not stop his arm from shaking and his hand slipped, while there was a dull pain at the pit of his stomach. In his shock he took three steps backwards and stared at Zhang Wuji with a blank expression on his face.

“You … you …” he asked, “What martial art is this?”

After completing the Nine Yang Manual training, it was the first time that Zhang Wuji had ever tried it out; he was pleasantly surprised at its formidable power. Zhu Changling was a first rate martial art master, yet he was still shaken by his ‘shen gong’ without he him needing to lift even one finger. Seeing Zhu Changling’s miserable condition and his amazement, Zhang Wuji was very proud of himself. “So you think this martial art skill is useful?” he said with a laugh.

Zhu Changling’s mind was still shaken. “What … what martial art skill was that?” he asked again.

“It’s Jiu Yang Shen Gong,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Zhu Changling was stunned. “How did you train it?” he asked. Zhang Wuji did not hide anything. He told Zhu Changling how he treated a white ape’s illness, how he found the manual inside the ape’s belly, and how he practiced according to manual.

Listening to this story, Zhu Changling was jealous and resentful at the same time. He thought, “I had to suffer hardship beyond description for five years, alone on this peak, yet this kid actually trained an incomparably mysterious ‘shen gong’.” He did not remember that it was because his own heart’s desire to harm others that they ended up this way; he also did not remember that Zhang Wuji had supplied him with fruits these past five years, every day without fail, so that he could live until today. He only remembered that this kid was too lucky while he was too unlucky, and he felt it was so unfair. Anger rose in his heart, with a forced laughter he said, “Where is that Nine Yang Manual? Can you show it to me?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “There is no harm in letting you take a look. I don’t think you will remember much in just a short time.” Thereupon he said, “I buried it inside the cave, I’ll bring it out tomorrow for you to see.”

“You have grown this big,” Zhu Changling said, “How can you go through the cave?”

“The cave is actually not too narrow,” Zhang Wuji said, “If you make an effort to shrink your body and push, you can come through.”

“Do you think that I can squeeze through?” Zhu Changling asked.

Zhang Wuji nodded and said, “We can try together tomorrow. The place inside the cave is spacious, nothing compared to staying on this tiny platform.” He was thinking of using his power to press his shoulder, chest, buttocks, and the bones all around his body, and help him to go through the cave.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Zhu Changling laughed, “You are indeed a good man, a gentleman who does not recall old grievances. I have done you wrong, I wish for your forgiveness.” While saying that, he bowed deeply with cupped fists. Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety, saying, “Zhu Bobo does not need to be overly courteous. We’ll think of a way to get out of this place tomorrow.”

Zhu Changling was overjoyed. “Did you say we are going to leave this place?” he asked.

Zhang Wuji said, “If apes and monkeys can come in and out, we certainly can.”

“If that’s the case, why didn’t you leave?” Zhu Changling asked.

Showing a faint smile, Zhang Wuji said, “I didn’t want to go out for fear that people would bully me, but now I am not afraid anymore. I also want to see my Tai Shifu, along with all Shibo and Shishu [martial older and younger uncles, respectively].”

Zhu Changling laughed out loud, clapped his hands and said, “Very good, very good!” He took two steps backward, suddenly his shadow swayed, ‘Aiyo!” he shouted, and fell over the cliff to the empty air below.

That his extreme joy suddenly turned into an unforeseen accident, had taken Zhang Wuji by surprise. He hurriedly leaned over the cliff and called out, “Zhu Bobo, are you all right?” He only heard two groans uttered in a low voice from underneath.

Zhang Wuji was delighted; he thought, “Fortunately he did not fall all the way down, but I am afraid he is injured.” Judging by the sound of the groans, Zhu Changling was only several ‘zhang’ away from him. When he looked closely, he saw by coincidence a pine tree grew just beneath the cliff. Zhu Changling’s body lay horizontally on the tree trunk, unmoving. Seeing this situation, Zhang Wuji was thinking of leaping down and carrying Zhu Changling back over the cliff. With his skill right now, it should not be too difficult. Thereupon he took a deep breath and aiming for the tree trunk, which looked like an extended arm out the canyon wall, he jumped down lightly. When his toes were still half a foot away from the tree trunk, suddenly the tree trunk dropped. He was hanging midair and did not have any place to set his foot on; although he had mastered the ‘shen gong’, he was only a human and not a bird; how could he fly back up to the cliff? It was as if a lightning suddenly illuminated his dark mind as he understood: “Turns out Zhu Changling is still employing a dirty trick to harm me. He had broken the branch and held it in his hand, waiting for me to set my foot on it, he let the tree branch drop down.” But his understanding had come too late; his body fell straight down …

Zhu Changling had lived on that tiny platform with circumference of less than several dozen ‘zhang’ for more than five years. He knew every grass every tree, every grain of sand and every rock on that platform by heart. He pretended to be falling over the cliff and feigned injury, knowing full well that Zhang Wuji would jump down to help. As expected, his treacherous plan prevailed; Zhang Wuji fell down the tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep canyon.

Zhu Changling laughed out loud, thinking, “This kid will fall into pulp today, finally I can vent my five years worth of resentment!” With the help of a long cane by the pine tree, he leaped over the cliff back to the platform. He mused, “Last time I could not go through that cave, perhaps I was impatient and exerted too much strength that my rib was broken. This kid’s stature is a lot bigger and taller than mine. If he could go through, I don’t see any reason why I cannot. After I find the Nine Yang Manual, I’ll find a way home from the other side. Someday when I have acquired the ‘shen gong’, I will be unequalled under the heavens, won’t it be wonderful? Ha ha ha ha …!” The more he thought about it, the happier he was; he went into the cave at once.

Before long, he had crawled to the place where five years ago he broke a rib. His only thought was: ‘that kid is bigger than me, if he can go through, I certainly can too’. He did not think erroneously, however, he forgot one tiny little detail: Zhang Wuji had mastered the shrinking bone technique from the Jiu Yang Shen Gong. Calming himself down, he squeezed into the narrow passage, inch by inch forward, and sure enough, he managed to advance about a ‘zhang’ further than five years ago. But from this point forward, no matter how he exerted his strength, it was simply impossible to advance even half an inch more. He realized that if he used brute force, he would only repeat the disaster he suffered five years ago; he would certainly break some more rib bones. Thereupon he calmed himself down and exhaled all air from his lungs. Sure enough, his body shrunk two more inches that he managed to squeeze three more feet forward. However, without any air in his lungs, soon he was suffocating; his heart beat felt like the beating of a drum, several times he felt he was going to faint. Knowing his condition was far from good, he had no choice but retreat before he could make another plan. He did not think, however, that when he moved forward, his feet propelled his body by kicking against the uneven surface of the mountain wall, but to go back, there was nothing he could use as a stepping stone. As he moved forward, his arms were in front of his head to reduce size of his shoulder. At this moment, his hands were tied by the rocks all around his head; he could not stretch the arms further, he could not use the least bit of strength in his hands.

He started to panic; thinking, “That kid is bigger than me; he could go through, I can certainly go through, why am I stuck in here? This really does not make any sense!” But there are so many things in this world that do not make sense. This man, who possessed excellent literary and martial art skills, whose intelligence and resourcefulness could be considered first rank among the masters, hereafter stuck inside the narrow passageway of a remote mountain cave; unable to neither advance nor retreat.

Fallen under Zhu Changling's treacherous plan, Zhang Wuji fell straight down from the cliff, while continuously scolding himself, "Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, you are such a useless kid. You knew Zhu Changling's matchless craftiness, yet you still fell under his evil trick. You deserve to die, deserve to die!"

Although he scolded himself as deserving death, he was actually struggling furiously to stay alive. The ‘chi’ inside his body flowed, sending his strength upward, trying to slow down his fall, so that his body would not be smashed to powder and his bones broken to pieces. But he was in midair, swaying against emptiness, his body was beyond his control. Even when he exerted his whole power until not an ounce of strength left, he still felt the wind passing his ears had not diminished at all.

A short moment later, he felt the sting of the bright light reflected from the white snow below in his eyes. He knew he was at the critical moment between life and death, but he saw about a ‘zhang’ away there was a big pile of snow. He did not have time to distinguish whether that pile was really snow or a white rock; immediately he made three somersaults in the air, trying to land on that pile of snow. His body curved diagonally, his left foot pointed toward that pile of snow. ‘Splosh!’ his body sank into the pile of snow.

His more than five years training of Jiu Yang Shen Gong showed its formidable power; as he made contact with the pile of snow, his body reacted naturally and he bounced upwards. But the momentum from the ten thousand ‘zhang’ fall was simply too great. He felt a severe pain on his legs as the bones were broken.

Although his injury was severe, his mind was still clear; he saw firewood flying in the air, because the pile of snow was actually a farmer’s pile of firewood and straw. “What a close call!” he groaned inwardly, “If under the snow was not a pile of firewood but a block of boulder, I, Zhang Wuji, would have lost my life.” Sending his strength to his arms, he slowly crawled out of the pile of firewood, and rolled toward the snowy ground. Inspecting his own legs’ injury, he took a deep breath and set his broken bones, while thinking, “I must lie down without moving for at least one month before I can walk again. That shouldn’t be any problem because I can use my hands in place of my feet; but I cannot stay here and die of starvation.” He thought further, “This pile of firewood must belong to a farmer family; there must be some people nearby.”

He was about to call for help when suddenly he had a second thought, “There are too many evil people in this world. It’s all right for me to lie alone on this snowy ground, recovering from my injury; but if I call and an evil person comes, I will be in big trouble.” Thereupon he quietly lied down on the snowy ground, waiting for his broken bones to heal slowly.

And so he lied down like that for three days. His stomach rumbled from hunger, but he knew that especially at the beginning of the healing process, he must not move at all; he would be crippled for the rest of his life if the healing bones were not set straight. Consequently, he steeled himself not to make the slightest move. Whenever he felt unbearable hunger, he would grab a handful of snow just to appease his hunger. In these three days he kept thinking, "From now on, I will have to be extra careful in every step I take. I must not fall under evil people's tricks. Otherwise I may not be as lucky as today and in the end may not avoid great calamity."

Toward the evening of the fourth day, he was lying down quietly while cultivating his internal energy. He felt his mind was clear and his body relaxed. Although the injury on his legs was heavy, it did not appear to hinder his training that he made some progress. Suddenly the quietness of the night was broken by the noise of barking dogs in the distant, which gradually came closer. Apparently, this pack of vicious dogs was pursuing some kind of wild animal. Zhang Wuji was startled. “Could the dogs be Zhu Jiuzhen Jijejie’s? Hmm, those vicious dogs have been killed by Zhu Bobo. But it’s been a few years; she could have raised another pack of dogs.”

Focusing his eyes, he looked toward the distant snowy ground, and saw that a man was running fast, pursued by three large howling dogs. The man was obviously dead-tired; he staggered along for several steps and then tumbled down to the ground, but because he was afraid of the sharp teeth and claws of the dogs, he struggled hard to stand up and desperately ran.

Zhang Wuji remembered his own sufferings he received from dogs attack a few years ago; he could not refrain the blood in his chest from boiling. He had the desire to render his help, unfortunately his legs were broken and he could not walk. Suddenly he heard the miserable cry of that man as he fell down and two vicious dogs climbed over his body and bit fiercely. "Vicious dogs, over here!" Zhang Wuji indignantly shouted.

When the dogs heard the call, they charged toward Zhang Wuji. Smelling that Zhang Wuji was not someone they knew, the dogs surrounded him while barking madly, before they finally pounced on him to bite him. Zhang Wuji stretched out his finger and flicked each dog on its nose. The three vicious dogs rolled down and died at once. Seeing that with only a gentle flick of his finger he killed the three dogs, Zhang Wuji could not help feeling startled by the formidable power of his Jiu Yang Shen Gong.

He heard that the sound of that man's groan was very weak. "Dage [big brother]," he asked, "Did the dogs bite you really bad?"

"I ... I ... can't hold on ... I ... I ..." that man said.

Zhang Wuji said, "My legs are broken, I can't walk. Can you come over here? Let me take a look at your wounds."

"Yes ... yes ..." the man replied. Huffing and puffing he struggled to crawl over. After crawling for a while, he stopped a moment, then crawled again toward Zhang Wuji, but when he was about a 'zhang' away from him, he suddenly cried out, 'Ah!' and then fell flat on the ground, he could not move any more. The two of them were quite some distance away from each other; one could not go over, the other could not come closer.

"Dage," Zhang Wuji asked, "Where exactly is your wound?"

The man replied, "I ... chest, belly ... the vicious dogs tore my stomach and pulled out my intestines."

Zhang Wuji was shocked. He knew that since that man's intestines had already out, he would not live. "Why did those vicious dogs chase you?" he asked. The man replied, "I ... went out tonight to chase the wild boars away, so ... so they will not damage my crop. I saw Zhu Jia Da Xiaojie [eldest miss of Zhu family] and ... and a young master talking underneath a tree. I should have not come close ... I ... aiyo!" With a loud cry he died.

Although he did not finish, Zhang Wuji understood most of what he was about to say. It seemed like Zhu Jiuzhen and Wei Bi were having a rendezvous in the middle of the night, and met this peasant by accident, so Zhu Jiuzhen released her dogs to kill him. Zhang Wuji's anger arose, but suddenly he heard the sound of hoof beats, followed by several whistles. Apparently Zhu Jiuzhen was calling her dogs.

The hoof beats came closer, two riders coming over, fast. The riders were one man and one woman. The woman suddenly called out, "Ah! How come General Ping Xi and the others are all dead?" The voice belonged to none other than Zhu Jiuzhen. She still called her vicious dogs as generals, no different than before.

The man riding with her was indeed Wei Bi. He dismounted and said in astonishment, "Two people are dead in here!"

Zhang Wuji quietly decided on his course of action, "If they come to harm me, I have no choice but to act without leniency."

Zhu Jiuzhen looked at the peasant’s corpse with the intestines spilled out; it was a terrifying sight. Zhang Wuji’s clothes were tattered to the extreme, his hair was disheveled, his face was covered with unkempt moustache and beard, he was lying down on the ground motionless, so she thought he must be dead, bitten by the dogs early on. She was eager to talk about feelings and love with Wei Bi, and thus she did not want to stay much longer.

“Biaoge, let’s go!” she said, “These two must be fighting with all they had and killed my three generals before their own deaths.” Pulling her reins, she galloped to the west. Wei Bi felt there was something unusual in the death of these three dogs, but seeing Zhu Jiuzhen riding away, he felt it was inappropriate for him to stay and investigate carefully. Thereupon he mounted his horse and galloped away behind her.

Zhang Wuji could still hear Zhu Jiuzhen’s tender laughter coming from afar, he felt anger rise in his heart. Just a little over five years ago he adored her as a goddess. She only needed to lift her little finger, even if she wanted him to climb the mountain of blades or go down the boiling oil, he would do so without the least bit of hesitation. But seeing her again tonight, for some unknown reason, her charms on him had unexpectedly completely vanished.

Zhang Wuji thought that it was because of his mastery of the Nine Yin Manual, or perhaps because he had discovered her treacherous scheme toward him. He did not realize that most young men would experience this kind of blind infatuation stage of the first love, in which he would neglect sleep and food for the sake of a young girl that he would live and die for that particular girl. However, this kind of passionate infatuation comes quickly, also vanishes as quickly, someday his mind would clear up and he would laugh at his own former days' wallowing.

In the meantime, his stomach was growling with hunger. He was thinking of tearing off a dog leg and eating it, but he was afraid that Zhu Jiuzhen and Wei Bi would return and find out that he had not died yet, and he had eaten her general. In which case he would have committed a grave offense against her; he was not Wei Bi's match while his legs were broken.

Early in the morning the next day, he saw a bald eagle eyeing the dead people and dead dogs on the ground. The eagle wheeled several times in the air before finally diving down to feed. This eagle really deserved to die, because instead of going down on the dead man or the dead dogs, it flew straight toward Zhang Wuji's face. Zhang Wuji reached up and caught the eagle's neck. With a light pinch he killed the bird.

"It is truly a heaven-sent breakfast," he muttered happily. He plucked the feather, tore the eagle's leg, and took a big bite. Although it was raw, he ate it with gusto because he had been hungry for three days.

Before he finished the first eagle, the second eagle came down. And thus Zhang Wuji appeased his hunger with eagle meat, while lying down on the snowy ground waiting patiently for his broken bones to heal completely.

A few more days passed. Surprisingly, he did not see any humans wandering around in the wilderness. There were three dead dogs and one dead man by his side; fortunately it was the depth of the winter, the weather was bitter cold, so that the corpses did not decay. He was accustomed to spending his days alone, so he did not suffer from loneliness.

One afternoon, after circulating his internal energy for one round, he saw two bald eagles flying high in the sky. The eagles circled around for a long time without daring to fly down. One eagle suddenly swooped down, fast, but when it was about three feet away from Zhang Wuji, it suddenly turned around and soared high to the sky. The movement was extremely swift and amazing. All of a sudden Zhang Wuji had an inspiration, "This movement can be used in martial art; attack when the enemy expects it the least, and when the attack fails, swiftly retreat far away."

In the past, although Jueyuan Dashi's entire body was filled with the divine energy, when he received attack from Xiao Xiangzi and He Zudao, his hands and feet moved randomly without any ability to resist. Zhang Sanfeng had to ask Yang Guo to teach him four stances first before he was able to fight Yin Kexi.

Zhang Wuji had learned martial arts ever since his childhood, so he had a far superior foundation compared to Jueyuan and Zhang Sanfeng. However, Xie Xun only taught him the theory of martial art, without the actual practical stance or style. Right now Zhang Wuji understood the painstaking effort of his foster father. Yifu's mastery of martial art was broad and profound; supposing he imparted his knowledge by step by step instructions, perhaps even twenty years would not be enough to teach Zhang Wuji everything he knew. Knowing that their time together was limited, he insisted that Zhang Wuji firmly remember all the key theories of the martial arts, so that he could comprehend it on his own later on.

The only martial art ZhangWuji really learned was the thirty-two stance Wudang Long Fist, which his father taught him on the wooden raft. He realized that from now on, other than continue cultivating the Jiu Yang Shen Gong until he reached perfection, he should try to integrate his excellent internal energy with the martial art theory Xie Xun passed on to him. Thereupon every time he saw a flower blown by the wind or fell down to the earth, strange tree shape reaching out to the sky, as well as the movements of birds and beasts, the changing of the wind and cloud, he would often think about martial art movements.

This moment, he was hoping that the bald eagles would circle back and display their various movements. While he was deep in thought, suddenly he heard footsteps on the snowy ground from a distance. The steps were light and intermittent; the newcomer appeared to be a woman. Zhang Wuji turned his head and saw a woman carrying a bamboo basket, approaching him in quick steps.

When she saw bodies of people and dogs lying around on the snow, she exclaimed, “Ah!” and halted her steps in fright. Zhang Wuji focused his eyes and saw that she was a young girl, about seventeen, eighteen years of age. Her dress was simple; apparently she was a poor peasant girl. Her countenance was rather dark, she seemed to suffer some kind of skin disease, with bumps and indentations all over her face. In short, she was very ugly; only her eyes were bright, her posture was also slender and elegant.

She took a step closer and was slightly startled to see that Zhang Wuji was staring at her. “You … you are not dead yet?” she asked.

“Maybe not,” Zhang Wuji replied. Both the question and the answer did not make any sense; once both of them realized what they were saying, they could not help but laugh.

“Since you are not dead, why are you lying down here without moving?” she asked with a laugh, “You frightened me.”

“I fell from the mountain and broke my legs,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I have no choice but to lie down in here.”

“Was that man your companion?” the girl asked, “Why are there three dead dogs over here?”

"These three dogs were very vicious," Zhang Wuji said, "They bit this Dage to his death, but they also turned into dead dogs."

The girl said, "What can you do, lying in here? Are you hungry?"

"Naturally I am starving," Zhang Wuji said, "But I cannot move. I have to submit to the will of Heaven."

The girl smiled slightly. She took two wheat cakes from her basket and handed the cakes over to him.

"Thank you very much, Miss," Zhang Wuji said, but as he received the cakes, he did not immediately eat it.

"Are you afraid my cakes are poisonous?" the girl asked, "Why don't you eat it?"

In the last five years, other than occasional exchange through the cave with Zhu Changling, Zhang Wuji had never tasted anything else; furthermore, he had never spoken even half a word with another human being. This time he met this girl, although her appearance was ugly, her manner of speaking was actually quite charming; his heart was delighted. He said, "Because Miss gave me these cakes, I can't bear to eat it."

His words carried a somewhat teasing tone. He was always honest and frank; he had never smooth talked anybody, but in front of this girl, he felt comfortable and almost without thinking had blurted those words. When she heard it, the girl's countenance darkened. "Humph," she snorted.

Zhang Wuji immediately regretted his words; busily he took a big bite of the cake. But because he was in a hurry, the cake choked his throat, and he coughed it out.

The girl's anger turned into delight, "Thanks the Heaven and thanks the Earth," she said, "May you be choked to death! This ugly freak is not a good person, no wonder Laotianye [God, lit. old master of the sky] punished you. How come nobody else broke his dog-legs, and only you fell down and broke your bones?"

Zhang Wuji thought, "For five years I never cut my hair or shave my face, of course I look like an ugly freak. But you are not necessarily more beautiful than I am. We are the same ['ban jin ba liang' - half a pound eight ounces]. The eldest brother does not speak ill about the second brother." But of course he kept this thought to himself. With all seriousness he said, "I have been lying down in here for nine days. To see Miss passing through is such a blessing indeed. Now that Miss gave me these cakes, I thank you very much."

The girl pursed her lips, laughed and said, "I asked you: How come nobody else broke his dog-legs and only you fell down and broke your bones? If you do not answer, I am going to take the cakes back."

Listening to her peal of laughter and seeing the twinkle in her eyes, showing her mischievousness, Zhang Wuji's heart was shaken. "How come her eyes look very much like Mama?" he mused, "When Mama swindled the old monk of Shaolin Temple just before she died, her eyes also shone like this." Thinking to this point, he could not stop tears from welling up in his eyes, and very soon the tears flowed down this face.

"Pei," the girl spat and said, "I won't take your cakes away. You don't need to cry. I didn't know you are such a useless fool."

“It’s not that I am crying over your cake,” Zhang Wuji said, “It’s just that I am remembering a sad memory.”

That girl had turned away and walked for two steps, but as she heard him, she turned her head and said, “What sad memory? A foolish-looking fellow like you also have a sad memory?”

Zhang Wuji sighed deeply and said, “I remember my Mama, my passed away Mama.”

The girl guffawed and said, “Your Mama always gave you cake, didn’t she?”

“Mama always gave me cakes to eat,” Zhang Wuji said, “But I remember her because your smile looks like my Mama.”

The girl angrily said, “You devil! So you said I am that old? That I am as old as your mother?” While saying that, she picked a piece of firewood and hit Zhang Wuji, twice.

If Zhang Wuji wanted to seize the firewood in her hand, it would be very easy, but he thought, “She does not know my Ma was young and pretty. She only knows that I look like an ugly freak; no wonder she is angry.” So after she struck him twice, he said, “When she died, my Ma was very pretty.”

With a serious face she said, “You make fun of me because I am ugly, you don’t want to live. I’ll pull your leg!” She bent down, acting as if she was going to pull Zhang Wuji’s leg.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; his broken legs were just beginning to heal. If she did indeed pull it, then all previous accomplishment would come to nothing. Hastily he grabbed a handful of snow. As soon as that girl’s hand touched his leg, he would strike the acupoint in between her eyebrows to knock her unconscious on the spot.

Luckily that girl was only scaring him; looking at the great change of his face, she said, “Look at your frightened face! Who told you to make fun of me?”

Zhang Wuji said, “If I intentionally make fun of Miss, after my both legs are healed, let me fall again and break my legs three times that in the end I become a cripple.”

The girl giggled and said, “Alright, so be it!” She sat on the ground next to him and said, “So your Ma was a pretty woman. How could you compare me with her? Do you think I am pretty?”

Zhang Wuji was speechless for a moment, then he said, “I don’t know why, but for some reason I feel that you are somewhat similar to my Ma. Although you are not as pretty as my Ma, but I like looking at you.”

The girl bent her middle finger and gently tapped his forehead twice with her knuckle. She said with a laugh, “Good boy, then call me Mama!” But as soon as these words came out of her mouth, she immediately realized its inappropriateness; thereupon she closed her mouth and turned her head the other way, yet she still could not stifle her laughter.

Looking at her expression, Zhang Wuji vaguely remembered when his Mama chatted with his Papa on the Bing Huo Island, her expression was very much like this. All of a sudden he felt that this ugly girl was simply elegant and charming; her manner was sweet, and that she was not ugly at all. He could not help but staring at her with a dreamy look on his face.

The girl turned her head around and saw the way he looked at her; she laughed and said, “Why do you like looking at me? Tell me.”

Zhang Wuji stared blankly at her for half a day. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know. I only feel that when I look at you, my heart feels safe and comfortable. I feel that you will treat me with nothing but goodness. You will not bully me, harm me!”

“Ha ha …” the girl laughed, “You are dead wrong! In all my life, I like nothing better than harming others.” Suddenly she raised the firewood in her hand and struck Zhang Wuji’s broken legs twice, and then jumped up and walked away.

These two strikes happened to fall right on Zhang Wuji’s broken bones. He was caught off guard and cried loudly in pain, “Aiyo!” But the girl only giggled and turned her head around to make a face at him.

Zhang Wuji kept his gaze on her as she gradually disappeared in the distance. The pain on his broken legs was unbearable. He mused, “Turns out all women love to harm others. The beautiful ones love to hurt people, the ugly ones also like to inflict pain on me.”

That night in his sleep he dreamed about that young girl, also about his mother. Several times the images in his mind blurred between that girl and his mother. He was unsure if the face in his dream was beautiful or ugly, he only knew that the eyes were clear and bright, and both were mischievous and charming at the same time as those eyes were gazing at him. His dream brought him to his childhood past, when his mother often teased him by deliberately stretching out her leg to trip him. And then when he stumbled and cried in pain, mother would hug him and kiss him, while did not stop saying, “Good child, don’t cry, Mama loves you dearly!”

He woke up with a start; suddenly a thought flashed in his mind, a thought which he had never suspected before, “Why did Mama like to see others suffer? Yifu’s eyes were blinded by her, Yu Sanbo [third (older) uncle] was crippled by her underlings, the entire family of Lin’An prefecture’s Long Men [Dragon Gate] Escort Agency was also perished under her hands. In the end, was Mama a good person, or was she an evil person?”

After gazing the continuously twinkling stars high in the sky for a long, long time, he sighed and said to himself, “Doesn’t matter if she was a good or evil person, she was my mother.” In his heart he thought, “If Mama was still alive, I would love her with all my heart.” Again his mind wandered toward that peasant girl. He was baffled as why without any reason she hit his broken legs. “I did not offend her at all, why did she want me to cry out in pain before she was happy? Could it be that she really loves hurting others?” He wished she would come again, but he was also afraid she would hurt him with different method.

As his hand gently stroked the half eaten cake by his side, he remembered that peasant girl’s expression when she said, ‘So your Ma was a pretty woman. How could you compare me with her? Do you think I am pretty?’ He could not stop himself from saying out loud, “You are pretty; I really love seeing you.”

Indulging himself in this kind of fancy thought, he lay down for two more days, but that peasant girl did not come. Zhang Wuji started to think that she would never come again, who would have thought that toward the afternoon of the third day, the peasant girl appeared from behind the hillside, walking toward him with the bamboo basket in her hand.

“Ugly freak,” she said with a laugh, “You have not died yet?”

Zhang Wuji also laughed. “Most of me have died of starvation, a little part of me is still alive,” he said.

The peasant girl giggled and sat by his side. Suddenly she extended her foot and kicked his broken leg, asking, “Is this part dead or still alive?”

“Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji cried out, “Don’t you have any conscience?”

“What conscience?” the girl replied, “What did you do to me that I should be good to you?”

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. He said, “Three days ago you hit me really bad, but I don’t hate you. In fact, I have been thinking about you often these past two days.”

The girl’s face reddened, she was angry, but forced herself to bear it. “Who wants to be thought by you, an ugly freak?” she said, “Most likely you did not think good things about me. In your belly, you must be cursing me as ugly and evil girl.” “You are not ugly at all,” Zhang Wuji said, “But why must you hurt others first before you can be happy?”

With a chuckle the girl said, “If others do not suffer pain, how can I be happy?” She could see the disagreement in Zhang Wuji’s expression, but she also noticed the half-eaten cake in his hand, which after three days he had not finished eating. She said, “You keep that cake until now? Won’t it taste awful?”

Zhang Wuji said, “This cake was given by Miss, I hate to part with it.” Three days ago, he said those words half-jokingly, but today he was very sincere.

The girl knew he was not talking empty words, her face blushed slightly. “I have fresh cake,” she said, while taking many more food from the basket. Other than cakes, there were a roast chicken and a roast mutton leg.

Zhang Wuji was very happy. He had been eating raw eagle meat these days; it was dripping with blood, smelly, and tough. The roast chicken was delicious; it was still hot that it burned his hand somewhat, but in his mouth it was delicious beyond measure.

The girl watched his appetite while she chuckled and sat down, hugging her knees. “Ugly freak,” she said, “You are eating happily, it’s fun watching you eat. Apparently you are different; I don't have to hurt you for me to be happy."

"Others are happy, you are happy. Now that is the real happiness," Zhang Wuji said.

"Humph!" the girl sneered and said, "Let me tell you first: right now I am happy, so I won't hurt you. There will come a day when I am not happy. I can't say for sure; perhaps I will torture you until you are neither dead nor alive. At that time you must not blame me." Zhang Wuji shook his head, "Bad people have been torturing me since I was little until I am a grown up. The more I was tortured, the stronger I became."

With a cold laugh the girl said, "Don't be so sure of yourself. We'll see."

Zhang Wuji said, "In that case, as soon as my legs are healed, I am going to go far away from you. Even if you want to torture me, hurt me, you won't be able to find me."

The girl said, "Then I am going to cut your legs first, so you won't be able to leave me for the rest of your life."

Hearing her icy-cold voice, Zhang Wuji could not help but shiver. He believed that she was capable of doing whatever she said. Those words were certainly not an empty threat.

The girl stared at him for half a day. She sighed and then her expression changed suddenly, "Do you think you deserve it? Ugly freak! Do you think you deserve me cutting your dog legs?" She leaped up, grabbed the half- eaten roast chicken from Zhang Wuji's hand, the mutton leg, and the cakes, and tossed them all far away. Lastly, she also spat on Zhang Wuji's face.

In shock Zhang Wuji looked at her. He felt that she was not actually angry with him, nor did she hold him in contempt; yet her face revealed her deep misery. Apparently she bore an unspeakable burden in her heart. He wanted to comfort her, but in that instant he was not able to find any appropriate words to say.

Seeing the expression on his face, the peasant girl suddenly shouted, "Ugly freak, what are you thinking?"

"Miss," Zhang Wuji said, "Why aren't you happy? Would you tell me?"

Listening to his gentle words, the girl could not throw a tantrum anymore. She dropped herself next to him, holding her head in his hands, and sobbed uncontrollably.

Looking at her shaking shoulders and her waist as delicate as a bee, Zhang Wuji felt sorry for her. "Miss," he said in low voice, "Who bullied you? Wait 'till my legs are healed, I am going to vent your anger for you."

The girl was sobbing continuously. After a while she said, "Nobody bullies me. It's just that I have been unfortunate ever since the day I was born. I always think of one person, and cannot forget him."

Zhang Wuji nodded and said, "He is a young man, isn't he? Was he cruel to you?"

"That's right," the girl replied, "He is very handsome, but also very arrogant. I wanted him to come with me and be with me forever, but he did not want to. That was all right, but why did he have to scold me, hit me, and even bite me bloody?"

Zhang Wuji angrily said, "This man is so rude and irrational. Miss, from now on, forget him."

The girl burst into tears and said, "But ... but I can't forget him. He ran far away; I have been looking for him everywhere without ever finding him."

Zhang Wuji thought, "This love affair between a man and a woman is indeed difficult to resolve. Although this miss' appearance is somewhat lacking, but it is obvious that her love is genuine. Her temperament is rather strange, that is because of the grief in her heart, because of her deep disappointment. It's hard to imagine that that man's heart is this callous toward her!" In soft voice he said, "Miss, don't be sad. There are plenty of good men in this world, why do you have to worry about this man, who do not have any conscience?"

The girl heaved a deep sigh. Her eyes gazed toward a distant place, as if she was in a trance. Zhang Wuji knew that she would not be able to forget this boyfriend, the desire of her heart. He said, "That man scolded you, hit you; but the misery I suffered was actually ten times worse than Miss'." "What is it?" the girl asked, "Have you been cheated by a beautiful girl?"

Zhang Wuji replied, "At first, she did not intentionally cheat on me; I was stupid, seeing her beauty, I was captivated by her. Actually, how could I deserve her? In my heart, I have never had any vain desire. But she and her father have arranged in secret a treacherous plan to inflict an unspeakable harm on me." While saying that, he pulled his sleeve to show the countless scars on his arm. "These teeth marks were from the bites of her vicious dogs," he said.

Seeing that many scars, the girl flew into a rage. "Was it that girl Zhu Jiuzhen who harmed you?" she asked.

"How do you know?" Zhang Wuji wondered.

"Everybody within the surrounding area of several hundred 'li' knows that that lowly girl loves to raise vicious dogs," the girl replied.

Zhang Wuji nodded. "Yes, it was Miss Zhu," he said indifferently, "But these scars have been healed a long time, I no longer feel the pain. I am fortunate to be alive, I don't need to hate her anymore."

The girl stared at him for half a day, but she could not see any trace of anger, he looked at ease; she felt this was rather strange. "What's your name?" she asked, "Why are you here?"

Zhang Wuji mused, "All the way from the Central Earth, people keep asking me about Yifu's whereabouts. They threatened, swindled, committing all manners of crimes that I had to suffer countless sufferings. From now on, Zhang Wuji is dead, nobody in this world knows Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun's whereabouts. Supposing I meet with someone ten times more cunning than Zhu Changling, I won't have to worry about falling into his trap and unintentionally cause trouble to my Yifu." Thereupon he said, "I am called Ahniu [lit. cow/bull]." The girl slightly smiled. "What's your surname?" she asked.

Zhang Wuji thought again, "I can't say Zhang, Yin, or Xie; those are all not good. 'Zhang' and 'Yin' combined sounds like 'Zeng'." Thereupon he said, "I

... My surname is Zeng. What is Miss' surname?"

The girl's body shook, she said, "I don't have any surname." After pausing for a moment, she slowly said, "My birth father did not want me; he would kill me if he sees me. How can I take Father's surname? My Mama was killed by me, I also cannot use her surname. I was born ugly. You can call me Miss Chou [lit. Ugly]."

Zhang Wuji was stunned. "You ... you killed your Mama?" he asked, "How can that be?"

The girl sighed and said, "It's a long story. Mama was my father's first wife. She had never given birth to any son or daughter; hence Father took Er Niang [Second Mother]. Er Niang gave birth to my two (older) brothers. Father doted on her very much. Later on Mama gave birth to me, her only daughter. Relying of Father's love, Er Niang had always bullied Mama. My two older brothers were also very bad; they helped their mother in bullying my Ma. My Ma could only cry in secret. Tell me, what should I do?"

"Your father should have been more neutral" Zhang Wuji replied.

The girl said, "Because Father constantly shielded Er Niang, I was unbearably angry. I took a blade and killed my Er Niang."

"Ah!" Zhang Wuji exclaimed in shock. He always thought that people kill people in the Wulin world was nothing strange, but that this peasant girl unexpectedly could kill someone with a blade was beyond his expectation.

The girl continued, "Seeing I was in deep trouble, Mama told me to run away at once. But my two brothers pursued me to take me back. Because Mama was helpless to stop them, she slit her own throat to save me. Tell me, didn't Mama lose her life in my hands? When my father saw me, is it possible for him not to kill me?" When she said all these, her intonation was light, without the slightest degree of excitement.

Zhang Wuji, however, listened to her story with his heart thumping madly; he thought, "I am unfortunate that my parents are dead, but Father and Mother loved each other and they loved me very much. Compared to this Miss' bitter experience, I am actually ten thousand times luckier than she." Thinking to this point, his sympathy for the girl grew. With a tender voice he said, "Have you left home for a long time? Have you been always alone out here?”

The girl nodded slightly. Zhang Wuji asked again, “Where do you want to go?”

“I don’t know,” the girl replied, “The world is very big, it doesn’t matter if I go to the east or to the west. I will be all right as long as I don’t bump into my father or brothers.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart burst with compassion because he felt they shared the same fate. He said, “Wait ‘till my legs are healed, I will accompany you to look for that … that Dage [big brother]. We’ll ask him what he thinks about you.”

“What if he scolds me or bites me again?” the girl asked.

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji boldly said, “If he dares to harm a single strand of your hair, I will not rest until I deal with him.”

The girl said, “What if he simply ignores me, will not speak even one word to me?”

Zhang Wuji was dumbfounded. He thought that he could not force a man to love a woman he did not have any affection to even if he possessed stronger martial art skills. After being silent for half a day, he said, “I will try my best.” Suddenly the girl bent over in laughter, as if she had just heard the funniest joke ever. “What’s so funny?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Ugly freak,” the girl said, “Who do you think you are? Will others listen to you? Besides, I have been looking for him everywhere and did not even see any sign of him. I don’t even know if he is dead or alive. You will do your best? What kind of ability do you have? Ha ha ha ha …!”

Zhang Wuji was about to open his mouth, but because of her laughter, he blushed and closed his mouth immediately.

The girl saw him opening and closing his mouth, she stopped laughing and asked, “You are going to say something?”

“You laughed at me, I won’t tell you,” Zhang Wuji said.

“Humph,” the girl coldly said, “A laugh is a laugh. At worst I will laugh at you again. You won’t die because of my laughter, will you?”

In a loud voice Zhang Wuji said, “I have nothing but good intentions toward you, you should not laugh at me!”

The girl said, “I am asking you: what is it that you were going to say?”

Zhang Wuji said, “You are all alone, without friends or family. I am of the same fate. My father and mother have died; I have neither brothers nor sisters. I was going to say that if that wicked man still pays no attention to you, there is no harm in us traveling together as companions. I can accompany you and talk to you to relieve boredom. But since you said I am not fit, I might as well not say it.”

The girl said angrily, “You certainly are not fit! That wicked man is a hundred times more handsome than you; he is a hundred times smarter than you. It is really bad luck that I hang around with you in here, engaging in idle conversation.” While saying that, she madly kicked the mutton leg and the roast chicken lying on the snowy ground, and then she ran away while covering her face.

Being on the receiving end of such unreasonable fit of temper, Zhang Wuji did not get angry. He thought, "This Miss is truly pitiful. It's not surprising, considering she has been through many sufferings."

Suddenly the girl rushed back and fiercely said, "Ugly freak, you must be upset with me. You must be thinking that my own face is so ugly yet I am looking down on you. Am I right?"

"No, it's not that," Zhang Wuji shook his head, "Your face is not very good- looking, but as soon as I see you, I feel we can get along well. If you have not turned uglier and looked the same as before ..."

The girl suddenly cried out in alarm. "You ... did you say I do not look the same as I was before?"

Zhang Wuji said, "Compared to the last time we met, your face today looks somewhat more swollen, your skin also darkened somewhat. That is unnatural."

The girl was startled. "I ... I did not dare to look into the mirror these past few days," she said, "Did you say I am getting uglier?"

Zhang Wuji gently said, "For a person, the most important thing is good character. Who cares if one is beautiful or ugly? Mama told me that the more beautiful the women, the worse their conscience and the more they are capable of deceit. She told me to carefully guard against such women."

The girl was not interested in listening to whatever his Mama said. She pressed on, "I am asking you: when you saw me the last time, I was not this ugly, yes or no?"

Zhang Wuji knew that if he answered 'yes', than she would be unbearably heart-broken, therefore, he only stared at her with a blank expression on his face, his heart full of compassion. Seeing his expression, the girl knew what his answer would be. She covered her face and cried. "Ugly freak, I hate you! I hate you!" she screamed and ran away madly. This time she did not turn back.

Zhang Wuji lay down for two more days. During the night, a wild wolf crawled near him, attracted by the smell. Zhang Wuji struck the wolf dead with his fist. Instead of feeding on Zhang Wuji, the wolf became his dinner instead.

Several days later, his broken legs had healed for the most part. In ten more days at most he would be able to walk again. He thought that henceforth the peasant girl would not come again. He regretted that he did not even ask her name. "How can her face turn uglier?" he mused, "This is indeed a mystery." After pondering this matter for half a day without finding any answer, he gave up and tried to get some sleep.

Around midnight, in his sleep, he heard the footsteps of several people walking on the snow. He woke up immediately and sat up, turning his head toward the direction of the noise. That night the new moon looked like an eyebrow. Under the soft moonlight, he saw that seven people walked in. The silhouette of the one in the front appeared graceful, apparently it belonged to that peasant girl. When these seven people were near enough, he could see that it was indeed the girl with the ugly face. The other six people were walking in a fan formation behind her, as if they were guarding against her running away.

Zhang Wuji was greatly astonished. "Has she been captured by her father and brothers?" he wondered in his heart.

Before he finished this thought, the girl and the six people behind her had come near. As soon as Zhang Wuji looked, he was even more shocked. Turned out these six people were his old acquaintances; they were Wu Qingying, Wu Lie and Wei Bi on his left, and He Taichong and Ban Shuxian, husband and wife, on his right. The one on the extreme right was a middle-age woman. Her face looked somewhat familiar. Turned out she was Ding Minjun of the Emei Pai. "How did she know all these people?" he mused, "Could it be that she is one of the Wulin people who knows my real identity so she is taking all this people to capture me and force me to reveal Yifu’s whereabouts?”

Thinking to this point, the suspicion in his heart was gone and anger rose in its place. “I have no enmity no grudges, but you come here to bring harm to me!” he mused. He thought further, “Presently I cannot move my legs. There is not a single weakness among these six people; the peasant girl’s martial art may not be weak either. I’d better submit to them and agree to take them to look for my Yifu. When my legs are healed, I will deal with them one by one.”

If it were five years ago, he would rather lose his life than submitting to the enemy. No matter how the enemy tortured or intimidated him, he would simply clench his teeth refusing to say anything. But now, first of all he was older, his mind was more open; second, after mastering the Nine Yang Manual, his confidence grew, he was able to deal with dangerous situations calmly. In the presence of powerful enemies, he did not feel the least amount of fear. The only unexpected thing was that the peasant girl would betray him. In his resentment, he could not help but be grieved. He lied back down and used his arms as a pillow, no longer paying attention to these seven people.

The peasant girl stopped in front of him. She quietly looked at him for a long, long time before slowly turning around and walking away. Zhang Wuji could hear her sigh. The sound was extremely soft, but it was full of grief. He sneered in his heart, “I don't know what malicious intention you have in your heart, but since you already planned it, why fake compassion on me?”

He saw that Wei Bi was swinging the sword in his hand back and forth and he said with a cold laugh, “You said you want to see someone before you die. I thought it must some young man whose appearance was as handsome as Pan An; turns out it as an ugly freak. Ha ha ... funny! Very funny! The two of you are really a pair made in Heaven." The peasant girl did not get angry. "That's right," she drily said, "I want to see him again before I die. I want to ask him clearly about one thing. After I know his answer, I will die with closed eyes."

Zhang Wuji was greatly astonished, he did not understand what these two people were talking about. The peasant girl said, "I have something I'd like to ask you. You must answer me honestly."

Zhang Wuji said, "Anything about me, I can answer truthfully; but if it is about another person, it may not be easy to tell you." He was guessing the peasant girl would ask him about Xie Xun's whereabouts. He had decided to yield to their wish for now, therefore, he stated his condition first so that later on he would have some leeway in the negotiation.

"Why would I want to know other people's business?" the peasant girl said, "I am asking you: that day you said that both of us are all alone, without friends or family; therefore, you are willing to be my companion. Did you say that with a sincere heart?"

What Zhang Wuji heard was beyond his expectation. He sat up at once, and saw that her eyes showed the grief she bore in her heart. “I did. I was sincere,” he said.

“You really do not mind my ugly appearance, and willing to stay together for a lifetime?” the peasant girl asked.

Zhang Wuji was taken aback. He had never expected this ‘staying together for a lifetime’ in his heart, but he could not bear to see her forlorn look, as if she was about to cry; thereupon he said, “Ugly or not, pretty or not, I don’t care at all. If you want me to accompany you, to talk and laugh together with you, as long as you don’t mind me, of course I will be happy to do so. But if you are thinking of deceiving me …”

“Then are you willing to marry me, to take me as your wife?” the peasant girl asked in a trembling voice. Zhang Wuji’s body shook, and he was speechless for half a day. “I … I have never thought … to take a wife …” he mumbled.

He Taichong and the others, six people broke out in laughter. Wei Bi laughed and said, “Even an ugly bum don’t want you. If we don’t kill you, what good is it for you to continue living? You’d better hit your head against the rock and die.”

Hearing the laughter of the six people and Wei Bi’s mocking, Zhang Wuji was convinced that this peasant girl was not in cahoots with these people, and that Wei Bi and the others meant to kill her. The realization that the peasant girl really did not come to harm him, Zhang Wuji’s heart grew warm. He saw her hanging her head, with tears dripping down her face, obviously her sorrow was unbearable, only he did not know whether she was sad because she was going to die soon, or because she was ugly, or was it because Wei Bi’s mocking was like a blade cutting deep into her heart?

Zhang Wuji’s heart was greatly moved, recalling that after his own parents’ death, he himself was wandering about in desperate plight, and was the victim of countless others’ bullying. This peasant girl was also alone and weak, she was a few years younger than him; she was also more unfortunate than he. Now that she came to him and asked that question, how could he let her broken-hearted to the point of shedding some tears, and suffer disgrace from others? Much less her question showed her sincere devotion to him. “In all my life, other than my parents, Yifu, Tai Shifu and all martial uncles, who else would show such loving care to me? If I treat her well, and she also treats me well, we are bound by a common destiny, what harm can that bring?”

He saw that her body trembled, she was about to go away. Immediately he reached out to grab her right hand. In a loud voice he said, “Miss, with all my heart I sincerely desire to marry you. I only hope you will not regard me unworthy.”

As the girl heard this, her eyes immediately lit up, with a low voice she said, “Ahniu Gege, you are not lying to me, are you?” “Of course not,” Zhang Wuji said, “From now on, I will cherish you with all my might, I will look after you. No matter how many people come to make things difficult for you, no matter how many fierce people come to bully you, I don’t care if I’ll have to lose my life, I will protect you. I want you to be happy, I want you to forget your past sufferings.”

The peasant girl sat down on the ground, leaned against his body, and grabbed his other hand. “I am really happy that you are willing to treat me like that” she said with a tender voice. Closing her eyes, she said, “Please say those words again, let me hear it and remember each word in my heart. Tell me, how are you going to treat me?”

Zhang Wuji was also grateful to see her so happy. Holding her soft and silky smooth hands he said, " I want you to live in safety and joy, I want to make you forget all sorts of past suffering, I don’t care how many people come to bully you, to give you trouble, I will protect you without any regard of my own life."

With a tender and sweet smile the peasant girl leaned on his chest and said with a gentle voice, "I asked you to come with me, but you not only refused, you hit me, scolded me, and bit me ... Now you told me those things, I am really happy."

As soon as Zhang Wuji heard her words, his heart turned cold. Turned out this peasant girl was talking with her eyes closed, she was imagining that he was the boyfriend of the past.

The peasant girl felt his body tremble; she opened her eyes and looked at him. Her expression changed suddenly; she looked disappointed and angry, but there was also a hint of regret and tender feelings. Calming herself down, she said, "Ahniu Gege, you are willing to take me as your wife; you did not turn your back to me even though I am an ugly woman. I am very grateful. But several years ago I have given my heart to someone else. At that time he already had not paid me any attention. If he saw me now, he would not even cast me a glance. He is such a heartless and short-lived little rascal ..."

She was cursing that man as 'heartless and short-lived little rascal', yet her voice was full of longing and tender sentiments.

Wu Qingying coldly said, "He has agreed to marry you, and you two have spoken words of love to each other. Can we start now?"

The peasant girl slowly stood up and said to Zhang Wuji, "Ahniu Gege, I am going to die soon. But even if I live, I cannot marry you. I want you to know that I am very happy to hear what you have just told me. Please do not be angry with me. If you have some free time in the future, please remember me." Her voice was extremely tender and sweet.

Zhang Wuji's heart ached. He heard Ban Shuxian's hoarse voice say, "We have kept our words by letting you see this man. Now you must keep your words by telling us who the killer was."

"Alright!" the peasant girl said, "I know for sure that the killer had once hidden in his house." While saying that she pointed her finger to Wu Lie.

Wu Lie's countenance changed slightly. "Humph!" he shouted, "Nonsense!"

Wei Bi angrily said, "Tell us the truth quickly. You killed my Biaomei, who ordered you to do so?"

This time Zhang Wuji's shock was indeed not small. With a trembling voice he said, "Killed Zhu ... Miss Zhu Jiuzhen?"

Wei Bi turned his stare toward him; he asked fiercely, "You know Miss Zhu Jiuzhen?"

"The name of Two Beauties of the Snowy Range shook the heavens, who hasn't heard?" Zhang Wuji replied.

A faint smile appeared on the corner of Wu Qingying's mouth. "Hey!" she loudly called the peasant girl, "Are you or are you not going to tell us who sent you?"

The peasant girl said, “I was sent to kill Zhu Jiuzhen by Kunlun Pai’s He Taichong, husband and wife, and Emei Pai’s Miejue Shitai.”

Wu Lie roared, “You attempt to sow dissension among us is in vain, what good is it for you?” With a loud shout his palm struck toward the peasant girl. This shout carried an impressive power, the palm also created a strong gust of wind causing the snowflakes rise on the ground that snow fluttered in the air.

The peasant girl moved sideways to evade, her movement was fantastic. Zhang Wuji’s mind was chaotic, “She … she is indeed a Wulin character. She killed Xhu Jiuzhen, that must be because of me. I told her that I was deceived by Miss Zhu, and was bitten by the vicious dogs she raised. But I have never asked her to kill anybody. I only know that because she is ugly and has been through a misfortune in her family, her temperament turned strange. Who would have thought that she really is capable of killing people without a strong reason?”

Wei Bi and Wu Qingying, each with a sword in their hands, attacked from left and right. The peasant girl dodged to the east and escaped to the west trying to evade Wu Lie’s palm force. Suddenly her slender waist twisted, she turned toward Wu Qingying’s side and slapped her on the face, while her left hand reached out and snatched the sword in her hand. Wu Lie and Wei Bi cursed and came together to her rescue. The sword in the peasant girl’s hand shook and she called out, “Got you!” as she inflicted a short cut on Wu Qingying’s face.

Wu Qingying cried out in fear and leaped backwards. Her injury was actually very light, but she cherished her appearance very much, so when she felt a slight pain on her face, she was frightened out of her wits.

Wu Lie swept his left palm, pressing down on the peasant girl. The peasant girl leaned sideways to dodge. ‘Clang!’ the sword in her hand crashed with Wei Bi’s sword. Right this moment Wu Li’s right index finger trembled and sealed the ‘fu tu’ [subduing rabbit] and ‘feng shi’ [windy city(?) – I am sure Jin Yong was not talking about Chicago?], two acupoints on the outer side of her left leg. The peasant girl uttered a soft groan as her leg gave up and she fell onto Zhang Wuji’s body. She felt her body was comfortably warm, but she could not exert an ounce of strength or the least bit of ‘chi’, even trying to lift a finger felt like hoisting a thousand-catty load for her.

Wu Qingying raised her sword and hatefully said, “Ugly girl, I won’t let you die a quick and painless death. I am going to cut your arms and legs first and I’ll leave you here to feed the wolves.” She swung her sword down to chop the peasant girl’s right arm.

“Hold it!” Wu Lie said, while reaching out to grab his daughter’s wrist and pushing her sword away. To the peasant girl he said, “Tell us who sent you and I’ll let you die a quick death. Otherwise, humph, humph! I’ll say you won’t enjoy rolling around on the snow without your limbs.”

With a smile the peasant girl said, “Since you insist, I cannot hide the truth anymore. Miss Zhu Jiuzhen wanted to marry a man. Another pretty woman also wanted to marry this man. This other pretty Miss then gave me five hundred taels of silver, telling me to kill Zhu Jiuzhen. Actually, I should have kept this matter in the strictest confidence …” Before she finished talking, Wu Qingying’s pretty face had turned pale from anger; with a flick of her wrist the sword went straight toward the peasant girls’ chest.

The peasant girl was good at observing people and evaluating their situations [orig. ‘inspect appearance distinguish/recognize look’. Elif, can you think of a better translation?]; early on she had guessed the awkward situation among the three people, Wu Qingying, Wei Bi and Zhu Jiuzhen, correctly. Deliberately enraging Wu Qingying, her intention was precisely that she would stab her to death quickly. She saw a blue ray flashed and the sword had already arrived at her chest. Suddenly, something flew noiselessly and struck the sword. ‘Whoosh!’ the sword was knocked out and flew more than a dozen ‘zhang’ away before it fell on the ground. In the darkness, nobody saw clearly how Wu Qingying’s sword left her hand and flew away, but this kind of force, even if she intentionally wanted to throw it away, she might not have the ability to do so. It was obvious that the peasant girl had a powerful helper.

In their shock, the six people took several steps backward. They looked around, but there were only open spaces in all directions; there were no hills, trees or thick bushes in which someone might be hiding. As far as their eyes could see, not even half a shadow of other people was to be seen. The six of them looked at each other in alarm and uncertainty.

“Qing’er,” in low voice Wu Lie said, “What happened?”

“Seemed like a very fierce secret projectile,” Wu Qingying replied, “It knocked my sword out of my hand.”

Wu Lie again looked around, but did not see any other people. “Humph,” he said, “Perhaps this slave girl played a trick on you.” But in his heart he felt strange, “She was definitely hit by my Yi Yang Zi [Solitary Yang Finger], how could she still have the strength to shake Qing’er’s sword away? This girl’s martial art is truly demonical.” He strode forward and struck the peasant girl’s left shoulder with his palm. He was using his entire strength with the intention to crush her shoulder bone, so that she would lose her martial art skill and thus give his daughter the opportunity to do to her as she wished.

It seemed that the peasant girl’s shoulder bone would be crushed soon, when suddenly she raised her left arm and met his palm with hers. ‘Crash!’ Wu Lie felt a burning sensation in his chest; the opponent’s palm felt like a raging storm, a torrential flood which was impossible to resist. “Ahh!” he cried out loudly as his body flew backwards, and ‘Bang!’ it hit the ground, hard. Fortunately his martial art skills were superb that as soon as his back touched the ground, he leaped back up. But blood was bubbling up in his chest and abdomen, his vision blackened and his head spun, so that he had just straightened up his body and regulated his breathing when his body swayed and in the end he tumbled down on the ground again. Wei Bi and Wu Qingying were greatly shocked. They rushed to prop him up, but suddenly He Taichong said, “Let him lie down for a while longer!”

Wu Qingying turned her head and angrily said, “What did you say?” In her heart she thought, “Father has just fallen under the enemy’s attack yet you take delight in his misfortune and ridicule him?”

He Taichong said, “His ‘chi’ and blood bubbled up, he needs to calm down quietly.”

Wei Bi understood immediately. “Yes!” he said, and gently laid his Shifu back to the ground.

He Taichong and Ban Shuxian looked at each other in great surprise. They had fought the peasant girl before, and although her stances and techniques were exquisite and her skill was above average, her internal energy was mediocre. When she exchanged palms with Wu Lie, it was obvious that the internal strength that jolted Wu Lie was extraordinarily strong. This had puzzled them to no end.

In her heart, the peasant girl was even more shocked. When her acupoints were sealed by Wu Lie, she fell into Zhang Wuji’s bosom, completely unable to move. Very soon Wu Qingying’s sword would have stabbed her, but suddenly something flew and shook the sword, while a stream of charcoal hot energy flowed through her leg, burst into her ‘fu tu’ and ‘feng shi’ acupoints and flushed the sealed acupoints open. Her body shook; lowering her head, she saw Zhang Wuji’s hands were gripping both of her ankles, the stream of hot energy rushing into her body continuously via the ‘xuan zhong’ [hanging bell] acupoint.

This turn of events happened so quickly that before she had time to think about it, Wu Lie’s palm had already come down. Without thinking she raised her hand up, thinking that broken hand would be better than crushed shoulder bones. Who would have thought that as soon as two palms collided, Wu Lie was jolted more than a ‘zhang’ backwards by her own palm? She was startled and thought in her heart, “Could this ugly freak bum actually be a martial art master with immeasurably deep skill?”

He Taichong was wary; he did not dare to contend in palm strength with her. Unsheathing his sword, he said, “I want to receive instructions in sword technique from Miss.”

The peasant girl laughed. “I don’t have any sword!” she said.

“Not a problem,” Wei Bi said, “I’ll lend you mine!” Raising his sword, he aimed the tip of the sword toward the girl’s chest and exerting himself, he threw the sword away.

The peasant girl reached out and caught the sword in her hand. She laughed and said, “Your martial art skill is lacking too much, your thrust did not kill me!”

Being a leader of a Sect, He Taichong did not want to take advantage of a younger generation. “You may start,” he said, “I will yield to you for three stances before I will attack!”

The peasant girl thrust her sword toward He Taichong’s groin. He Taichong snorted in anger. “A junior is being impolite!” he said in low voice, while lifting his sword to block. But there was a ‘Crack!’ sound as both swords broke at the same time.

He Taichong’s face changed greatly; his shadow swayed and he withdrew half a ‘zhang’ backwards.

“What a pity! What a pity!” the girl exclaimed inwardly. Turned out Zhang Wuji transmitted his Jiu Yang Shen Gong to her body, but she did not know how to unleash the formidable power of Shen Gong’s, which resulted in both swords being broken. If she was able to utilize the power to attack the enemy, only the enemy’s sword would be broken, while the sword in her hand would stay intact.

Ban Shuzian was greatly astonished. “What happened?” she asked in a low voice.

He Taichong’s arm was still numb and aching. “Demonical!” he said with a bitter smile.

Ban Shuxian drew her sword out. With a cold face she said, “I want to receive instructions.”

The peasant girl spread out her hands, her meaning was clear: she did not have any sword. Ban Shuxian pointed towards Wu Qingying’s sword, which was fallen on the ground about a dozen of ‘zhang’ away. “Take that sword!” she ordered.

The peasant girl did not dare to be away from Zhang Wuji’s hands; she had no choice but lift the broken sword in her hand, she laughed and said, “This broken sword is all right!”

Ban Shuxian was angry. She mused, “This dead girl is too arrogant to despise me like this.” She was not like He Taichong who maintained his position in every aspect as an older generation of high skill level; her sword circled around and pierced the peasant girl’s neck. The peasant girl raised her broken sword to block, but Ban Shuxian’s sword technique was light and agile to the extreme; the sword quickly cut down on the peasant girl’s left shoulder. She quickly flipped her sword to fend off. Ban Shuxian again changed her sword to stab the right side of her body. Ban Shuxian successively attacked eight times like a whirlwind, but all along she did not dare to meet the peasant girl’s broken sword. She only displayed the exquisiteness of her swordsmanship without giving the opponent any opportunity to use her internal energy.

The peasant girl blocked to the left and parried to the right; soon she repeatedly fell into dangerous situations. Her swordsmanship was far inferior to Ban Shuxian to begin with, now that she only had a broken sword in her hand and did not dare to move her feet, she could only defend without any possibility of attacking. Several stances later, the tip of Ban Shuxian’s sword flashed and made a slash on the peasant girl’s left arm. In Kunlun Pai’s sword technique, once one gained the upper hand, one would not allow the enemy even half a chance to take a breather, and pressed on with follow-up stances to advance.

“Ah!” the peasant girl cried out as her shoulder was hit by the sword. “Hey!” she called out, “Aren’t you going to help me? Are you going to just watch me being killed?”

Ban Shuxian took two steps back; holding the sword horizontally across her chest, she looked all around, but did not see anybody. Immediately her sword vibrated and the tip created cold plum flowers as she attacked the peasant girl again. The peasant girl frantically brandished her broken sword. After blocking three sword moves, the opponent’s sword was getting amazingly fast, but her defense was also amazingly swift. It was a situation where the eyes must be clear and the hands must be quick, there was simply no leeway for miscalculations.

“Dead girl, your hand is quick!” Ban Shuxian praised.

The peasant girl did not want to be beaten; she cursed back, “Dead Granny, your hand is not slow either.”

But Ban Shuxian’s swordsmanship was from a major school with dozens of years of training. Her mouth was speaking while her hand did not slow down ever so slightly. On the other hand, the peasant girl was no more than seventeen, eighteen years of age; even if she was trained under a great master, how could she copy Ban Shuxian’s calm and composed manner even in a fierce battle? As soon as she opened her mouth, her attention was slightly distracted and she felt pain on her wrist immediately as the broken sword in her hand flew away.

“Ah!” the peasant girl cried out in fear as the tip of Ban Shuxian’s sword threatened the lower part of her side.

Ding Minjun had been watching from the side without doing anything. Now that she saw a small opening, because it was too late to draw her sword, she launched the stance ‘tui chuang wang yue’ [push out the window to look at the moon], in which both of her palms struck toward the peasant girl’s back. Right this moment, Wu Qingying also leaped in, her leg flew to kick the peasant girl’s right waist.

The peasant girl was so frightened that she felt her heart was about to jump out of her throat. Suddenly she felt her whole body was boiling as if she had fallen into a raging furnace. Without thinking she stretched out her finger to flick Ban Shuxian’s sword. At the same moment her back was struck by the palms and her waist was kicked.

“Aiyo! Aiyo!” two miserable screams were heard. Ding Minjun and Wu Qingying were thrown backward, while the sword in Ban Shuxian’s hand was reduced to a half-section broken sword.

Turned out when Zhang Wuji saw the desperate situation, he sent out his entire ‘zhen qi’ [real ‘chi’] to the peasant girl’s body in great speed. By this time, his cultivation of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong had reached about thirty, forty percent of perfection; his power was indeed not small. As a result, Ban Shuxian’s sword, both of Ding Minjun’s wrist bones, and Wu Qingying’s right toes, were all broken.

He Taichong, Wu Lie, and Wei Bi were stupefied; they were momentarily at a loss. Ban Shuxian tossed the broken sword on the ground. “Let’s go!” she bitterly said, “Haven’t we disgraced ourselves enough?” while her eyes shot a fierce glare toward her husband. Her belly was full of resentment, which she wanted to vent on him.

“Yes!” He Taichong replied. Two people rushed away side by side. In a short moment they had already gone.

Kunlun Pai’s ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was excellent; certainly it ranked among the top within the Wulin world. As far as how Ban Shuxian would vent her anger toward He Taichong as soon as they reached home, whether by punishing him by making him kneel in front of her sword, or by subjecting him to another strange Kunlun Pai sword stance, it was not for the outsiders to know.

With one hand supporting his Shifu and the other supporting his martial sister, Wei Bi walked slowly away. The three of them were afraid the peasant girl would pursue and attack them; yet they were unable to run away as fast as He Taichong, husband and wife did. Each step they took was laden with anxiety.

The bones on both of Ding Minjun’s wrists were broken, but her feet were not injured. Gritting her teeth and bearing the pain, she walked away alone.

Pleased with herself, the peasant girl laughed heartily. “Ugly freak! You …” she said, but before she could finish, she passed out suddenly.

Turned out as soon as Zhang Wuji saw the six people took off their separate ways, he released her ankles. Immediately the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi [the true/real ‘chi’ from Nine Yang] filling her body dispersed that it was as if her body was drained and her limbs and her entire bones were without any strength.

Zhang Wuji was startled, but immediately realized what had happened. Both his thumbs lightly pressed the ‘si zhu kong’ [empty bamboo silk] acupoint on the ends of her eyebrows and transmit a little bit of ‘Shen Gong’.

The girl slowly regained her consciousness. When she opened her eyes, she realized she was lying on Zhang Wuji’s bosom while he was looking at her with a smile on his face; for some reason she felt very bashful. She leaped up immediately, and stared at him with a face that seemed like smiling yet she was not smiling. Suddenly she reached out toward his left ear and twisted it with all her strength.

“Ugly freak,” she scolded him, “You deceived me! You possess such a fierce martial art skill, why didn’t you tell me?” “Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji cried out in pain, “What are you doing?” The peasant girl laughed and said, “Who told you to deceive me?”

“When did I deceive you?” Zhang Wuji replied, “You did not tell me you know martial arts, I did not tell you I know martial arts either.”

“All right,” the peasant girl said, “I’ll forgive you this time, considering you have helped me big time just now, your merit compensates for your crime, I am not going to press charges. How’s your leg? Can you walk?”

“Still cannot,” Zhang Wuji replied.

The peasant girl sighed and said, “Finally good intentions are being repaid well. If I did not remember you and wanted to see you one more time, you would not help me.” After pausing for a moment, she continued, “If I knew your martial art skill level is much stronger than mine, I would not have to kill that witch girl Zhu Jiuzhen."

Zhang Wuji's face darkened. "I did not ask you to kill her," he said.

"Aiyo, aiyo! Turns out you still have this beautiful lady in your heart," the peasant girl said, "My bad, I killed your sweetheart."

"Miss Zhu was not my sweetheart," Zhang Wuji replied, "Even if she were more beautiful, she had nothing to do with me."

"Well! That's strange," the peasant girl exclaimed in amazement, "She had harmed you this bad, yet you don't like it when I killed her to vent your anger?"

Zhang Wuji indifferently said, "There are too many people who have harmed me. If I want to kill each and every one of them to vent my anger, I would have gone on an endless killing spree. Besides, there were some people who deliberately harmed me, but actually I feel sorry for them. Take Miss Zhu for example, she had always been scared and edgy every day, she was afraid her Biaoge [older male cousin] would not get along well with her, she was always anxious that he would take Miss Wu as his wife. This kind of person, do you think she would be happy?"

The peasant girl got angry. "Are you mocking me?" she said.

Zhang Wuji was taken aback, he did not expect that talking about Zhu Jiuzhen would offend the girl in front of him right now. "No, no," he busily said, "I was talking about how everybody has his or her own misfortunes. If others were unfair to you and you killed them, that is really not good."

The peasant girl laughed. "If you learned martial art not to kill people, then why did you learn it?" she asked.

Zhang Wuji hesitantly said, "After we mastered the martial art skill, when bad people mistreat us, we can resist them."

"My utmost admiration!" the peasant girl mocked, "Turns out you are such an upright gentleman, a very good man!"

Zhang Wuji looked at her with a blank expression on his face. He always felt that somehow this girl's demeanor seemed familiar, he felt somehow this girl was related to him.

The peasant girl closed her mouth and asked, "What are you looking at?"

Zhang Wuji replied, "My Mama often laughed at my Papa who was indiscriminately good toward others, saying that he was a soft-hearted scholar. When she said that, her tone and her manner was exactly the same as yours just now."

The peasant girl blushed. "Pei!" she spat, "You are mocking me again. You said I look like your Mama, then you yourself look like your Papa!" Although she was angry, her eyes were actually laughing.

Zhang Wuji hurriedly said, "The Heaven above, if I had the intention of mocking you, let me be condemned by the Heaven and the Earth."

"Talk is cheap," the peasant girl said, "Even if you did mock me, there is nothing serious about it. Why do you have to swear an oath?"

They had just talked to this point when suddenly there was a clear whistle coming from the northeast. The whistle was bright and long, obviously it was coming from a woman. The whistle was responded by someone nearby; apparently it was Ding Minjun who had not gone too far. Ding Minjun immediately stopped.

The peasant girl's countenance changed slightly; she said in a low voice, "Someone from Emei Pai is coming."

End of Chapter 16. 
@Chapter 17 – Green Wing Appears and Vanishes with a Laugh
Zhang Wuji and the peasant girl turned their gaze toward the northeast. It was already dawn. They saw a green shadow walking on the snowy ground with steps as light as a feather. When the shadow was about a dozen of ‘zhang’ away, they could see clearly that it was a woman wearing a green robe. She talked with Ding Minjun for a while, and then turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and the peasant girl, before finally she walked towards them.

Her clothes fluttered in the wind, her movements were light and graceful, her steps were dainty, but in an instant she was already four, five ‘zhang’ away from the two people. They saw her style was simple yet elegant, her countenance beautiful, she could not be older than seventeen, eighteen years of age.

Zhang Wuji was amazed; listening to her whistle and looking at her movements, he would have thought that she was a lot older than Ding Minjun, but it turned out that she looked even younger than him. He noticed a short sword hanging on the young woman’s slender waist, yet she did not draw her weapon but approached them barehanded.

Ding Minjun warned her, “Zhou Shimei [younger martial sister], this witch girl’s martial art is very demonical.”

The young woman nodded. With a refined and polite manner she asked, “May I know your honorable surnames and great given names? For what reason did you injure my Shijie [older martial sister]?”

When she was near enough, Zhang Wuji thought she looked quite familiar. As soon as she spoke, he remembered immediately, “Turns out she is the Hanshui River boatman’s little girl, Miss Zhou Zhiruo. Tai Shifu took her up the Wudang Mountain, how did she become Emei School’s disciple?”

His heart warmed up; he wanted to ask her about his Taishifu, but then he changed his mind. “Zhang Wuji is dead. Right now I am a bum, the ugly freak Zeng Ahniu. If I am not able to control my emotions, I would only invite inexhaustible calamity in the future. I simply must not reveal my true identity to avoid bringing harm to Yifu, so that my Papa and Mama’s death would not be in vain.”

The peasant girl laughed coldly and said, “With the ‘pushing the window to look at the moon’ your honorable Shijie’s palms struck my back. She broke her own wrists because of that. How could you blame me? Go ahead and ask your honorable Shijie, did I attack her even for half a stance?”

Zhou Zhiruo flashed a questioning look at Ding Minjun. Ding Minjun angrily said, “Take these two to see Shifu, let the Senior punish them.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “If these two did not offend Shijie intentionally, in Xiao Mei’s [little sister – referring to self] opinion, it’s always better to let it go, turning an enemy into a friend.”

“What?” Ding Minjun angrily shouted, “Are you siding with the outsiders?”

Looking at Ding Minjun’s expression, Zhang Wuji remembered one night a few years ago, when Monk PengYingyu was besieged by enemies in the forest, in which Ding Minjun showed hostility toward Ji Xiaofu. History repeated itself today. Ding Minjun again was forcing her will to her young martial sister. He could not help but secretly worry for Zhou Zhiruo. But Zhou Zhiruo was very respectful toward Ding Minjun.

"Xiao Mei will follow Shijie's instructions, will not dare to disobey," she said with a bow.

"Alright," Ding Minjun said, "Seize this stinky girl, break both of her hands."

"Yes," Zhou Zhiruo replied, "I am asking Shijie to help watch my back." Turning around toward the peasant girl, she said, "Please forgive Xiao Mei for being rude; I want to request Jiejie’s [older sister] expert instructions."

The peasant girl said with a cold laugh, "Where did this wordy girl come from?" While in her heart she said, "Do you think I am afraid of this little girl?"

Without relying on Zhang Wuji's help, she sprang up and fast as a lightning launched three palm strikes in succession. Zhou Zhiruo leaned sideways and rushed forward, her left palm tried to capture the girl's hand. She had used an offensive strike as a defensive mechanism, her gambit was rather ingenious.

Although Zhang Wuji's internal energy was strong, his knowledge of movements in martial arts had not reached the level of complete comprehension. As he watched Zhou Zhiruo and the peasant girl fight a fast- paced battle; Zhou Zhiruo's 'mian zhang' [soft palm] from Emei Pai was agile and swift, while the peasant girl's palm technique was weird and mysterious, he was very impressed, but also concerned about the two combatants. He did not care who would win; he only hoped that neither one of them would be injured.

The two women fought for more than twenty stances; each had fallen into dangerous situations several times. Suddenly the peasant girl called out, "Got you!" Her left palm hacked down on Zhou Zhiruo's shoulder.

'Rip!' Zhou Zhiruo flipped her hand and pulled the peasant girl's sleeve. Both of them leaped back immediately. Their faces were red.

"Good 'Qin Na' [grab and capture] technique!" the peasant girl shouted. She was about to jump back into the arena when she saw Zhou Zhiruo wrinkle her brows with her hand pressing her chest. She staggered two steps and swayed as if she was about to tumble. Zhang Wuji could not stop from calling out, "You ... you ..." His face showed a very deep concern.

Seeing this man with long hair and long beard show deep concern toward her, Zhou Zhiruo was secretly astonished.

"Shimei, how are you?" Ding Minjun asked.

Placing her left hand on her martial sister's shoulder for support, Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. Ding Minjun had suffered pain from the peasant girl, she knew the peasant girl was very fierce. It was just that their Shifu often praised this young martial sister, saying that her perception was wonderfully deep, her progress was amazingly rapid. She would most likely play a very important role on the advancement of their Sect in the future. It was hard for Ding Minjun to accept, therefore, she told her to give it a try, with the hope that she would also suffer some pain under the peasant girl's hands. Seeing her Shimei was able to fight the peasant girl for more than twenty stances without suffering any defeat, which exceeded her by a large margin, Ding Minjun was very jealous in her heart.

Feeling the hand leaning on her shoulder was without any strength, she knew her Shimei's injury was not light. Afraid that the peasant girl would attack, she said hastily, "Let's go!" Supporting each other, the two of them walked toward northeast.

The peasant girl noticed Zhang Wuji's expression. "Ugly freak," she said with a cold laugh, "Seeing a beautiful girl makes your soul fly to the heavens."

Zhang Wuji wanted to explain, but he thought, "I won't be able to explain this matter clearly without revealing my history. I might as well not say anything." Thereupon he said, "Whether she is beautiful or not, what does that have anything to do with me? I was concerned about you, I was afraid you might be injured."

"Are you telling me the truth?" the peasant girl asked. Zhang Wuji thought, "Actually, I was concerned about both of you." He said, "Why would I lie to you? I am surprised that such a young girl from Emei Pai can possess such an excellent martial art skill."

"Fierce! Very fierce!" the peasant girl said.

Zhang Wuji turned his gaze toward Zhou Zhiruo’s back, thinking that she came with light and graceful steps but left staggering. He remembered how on the boat on the Hanshui River she helped feed him, gave him towel to wipe his tears. He wished her injury was not heavy.

Suddenly the peasant girl laughed coldly and said, “You don’t have to be worried, she was never been injured. When I said ‘fierce’, I was not talking about her martial art skill, but she is such a young girl, yet her quick thinking and scheming ability is this fierce.”

“She was not injured?” Zhang Wuji was surprised.

“That’s right!” the peasant girl said, “When my palm hacked on her shoulder, her shoulder produced internal energy reaction, which diverted my palm. Turns out she has trained the Emei Jiu Yang Gong [Nine Yang energy/power], with which she shook my arm that it went slightly numb and painful. Where did her injury come from?”

Zhang Wuji was greatly delighted; he thought, “Could it be that she is highly favorable in Miejue Shitai’s eyes that unexpectedly she passed on the Emei Pai treasured skill, Emei Jiu Yang Gong, to her?"

Suddenly the peasant girl heavily slapped Zhang Wuji's face with the back of her hand. Her action was so sudden that Zhang Wuji was caught off guard and his cheek turned red and swollen at once.

"You ... why did you do that?" he angrily asked.

The peasant girl hatefully said, "Seeing that beautiful girl, your soul fly to the heavens. I said she was not injured, why are you this happy?" "I am happy for her, what does it do to you?" Zhang Wuji replied.

The peasant girl swung her palm again, but this time Zhang Wuji ducked that she missed. The peasant girl angrily said, "You said you are going to take me as your wife. It is still less than half a day and you already changed your mind as soon as you saw that pretty girl."

"You have said it early on that I am not fit to marry you," Zhang Wuji retorted, "You also said that your heart has already belonged to this boyfriend of yours, so you cannot marry me."

"That's right," the peasant girl said, "But you have promised me that you will treat me well for the rest of our lives, that you will take a good care of me."

"Of course I will keep my promise," Zhang Wuji said.

The peasant girl was angry. "If that's the case, why did you lose your soul as soon as you saw this good-looking young woman? That is very aggravating to those who look at you."

Zhang Wuji laughed. "I did not lose my soul," he said.

"I forbid you to like her," the peasant girl said, "I forbid you to even think of her."

"I've never said I liked her," Zhang Wuji said, "But why do you always have another in your heart, and never forget him?"

"I met him first," the peasant girl said, "If I know you first, then all my life I would be good to you only, and would not think about other people. This is called 'faithful unto death' [Confucian ban on widow remarrying]. The Heaven will not tolerate a double-minded person."

Zhang Wuji thought, "I knew Zhou family girl long before I met you." But it was inappropriate for him to say so, thereupon he said, "If you are good to me only, then I will be good to you only. If you remember another in your heart, I will also remember another in my heart."

The peasant girl was silent for half a day. Several times she seemed to open her mouth to speak, but each time she stopped. Suddenly tears started to flow from her eyes. She turned around so Zhang Wuji would not see her wiping her tears with her sleeve.

Zhang Wuji could not bear to see her crying. He grabbed her hand and said in a soft voice, "Why did we say these things without any reason at all? In a few more days my legs will be healed, and then the two of us will travel everywhere to have fun, won't that be great?"

The peasant girl turned her head; with an anxious look on her face she said, "Ahniu Gege, I want to ask you one thing, but you must not get angry."

"What is it?" Zhang Wuji asked, "As long as it is within my power, I will do it for you."

"You must promise me not to get angry first before I tell you," the peasant girl said.

"Alright, I won't," Zhang Wuji promised.

The peasant girl hesitated for a moment before saying, "With your mouth you said you won't get angry, but I also want you not to be angry in your heart."

"Alright, I also will not be angry in my heart," Zhang Wuji said.

The peasant girl flipped her hands so that she was holding Zhang Wuji's hands now. "Ahniu Gege," she said, "The reason I travelled for tens of thousands 'li' from the Central Plains to this remote Western Region was to look for him. Before, I still heard news about him; but as soon as I arrived here, he vanished just like a stone sank in the ocean and I have never heard anything about him anymore. After your legs are healed, help me to find him, and afterwards I will accompany you roaming the mountains and playing on the rivers, will that be alright?"

Zhang Wuji could not restrain from feeling unhappy. "Humph," he snorted. The peasant girl said, "You promised me not to get angry; aren't you angry right now?"

Feeling uncomfortable, Zhang Wuji said, "Alright, I'll help you find him."

The peasant girl was delighted. "Ahniu Gege," she said, "You are very kind." Looking toward the distant horizon, her heart was beating fast with the memory of 'him', she said quietly, "When we find him, he will know that I have been looking for him for such a long time that he won't be angry with me. I will do whatever he says, I will obey whatever he tells me to do."

Zhang Wuji said, "Tell me, what is so good about this boyfriend of yours that you always keep him in your mind like this?"

The peasant girl smiled slightly and said, "How can I explain how good he is? Ahniu Ge, do you think we will be able to find him? When he sees me, will he beat me, scold me?"

Seeing how childish her affection was, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel sorry for her. He said in a low voice, "I don't think so. He will not beat you or scold you."

The peasant girl's cherry lips quivered; tears welled up in her eyes. Also in a low voice she said, "That's true, he will love me and pity me that he won't beat me or scold me anymore."

Zhang Wuji thought, "This girl loves her boyfriend this much. If only there was someone in this world who loves me and misses me like her, I will be happy even if I have to suffer more hardships and pain." He turned his gaze to the pair of footprints Zhou Zhiruo and Ding Minjun left on the snow, thinking, "I wish Ding Minjun's footprints were mine; if I could walk side by side with Miss Zhou ..."

"Aiyo!" suddenly the peasant girl called out, "Let's go, quick! It will be too late if we tarry."

"What?" Zhang Wuji was awakened from his daydreaming.

The peasant girl said, "That Emei girl was not willing to fight with me so she feigned injury. But that Ding Minjun insisted on her to take us to see their Shifu. Miejue Shitai must be somewhere near. This old thief nun always loves to outdo others, how can she not come over?”

Zhang Wuji recalled how Miejue Shitai struck Ji Xiaofu to her death without showing any mercy; he could not help from shuddering. “This old nun is very fierce,” he said in fright, “We are definitely not her match.”

“Have you met her?” the peasant girl asked.

“She is the Emei Pai Zhangmen [Sect Leader], how can she be an ordinary person?” Zhang Wuji replied, “I can’t walk yet, you’d better run away quickly.”

“Humph,” the peasant girl was angry, “How can I abandon you and escape alone? You think my conscience is that bad?” Creasing her eyebrows, she thought hard for a moment. She took several pieces of stiff firewood from the pile and twisted the flexible ones as the ropes to build a snow sled. Carrying Zhang Wuji in her arms, she helped him sit on the sled with his legs stretched out straight; and then she pulled the sled toward the northwest direction.

Zhang Wuji only saw her slender figure sway, just like a lotus leaf blown by the early morning breeze; her back looked graceful, her posture beautiful. She towed the sled just like a breeze of wind flitting across the snowy ground.

She sped along without pausing for about thirty, forty ‘li’. Zhang Wuji felt bad for her. “Hey, let’s get some rest first!” he called out. The peasant girl laughed. “Who do you called ‘hey’?” she said, “Don’t I have a name?”

“You don’t want to tell me; what can I do?” Zhang Wuji replied, “You wanted me to call you Miss Chou, but I think you are attractive.”

The peasant girl scoffed; she let out a mouthful of breath then halted her steps. Pushing a stray hair, she said, “Very well, there is no harm in telling you. I am called Zhu’er.”

“Zhu’er, Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are truly a precious pearl.” [Translator’s note: ‘zhu’ of ‘spider’ and ‘pearl’ sound the same in Chinese, and ‘pearl’ is a more common name for girls.]

“Pei!” the peasant girl spat, “Not ‘Zhu’ of pearl [zhen zhu], but ‘Zhu’ of spider [zhi zhu].”

Zhang Wuji was stunned. “Who would have used this ‘spider’ character as a name?” he mused.

“That’s my name,” Zhu’er said, “If you are scared, don’t call me.” “Did your Papa give you that name?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Humph,” Zhu’er said, “If my Papa gave me that name, do you think I would want it? It was my Ma. She trained me the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [hand of a thousand spiders ten-thousand posion], so she said for me to use that name.”

Hearing the five characters ‘qian zhu wan du shou’, Zhang Wuji shuddered inwardly.

“I have started training since I was a kid, yet I still have far to go,” Zhu’er said, “When I have mastered this skill, I will not have to fear this old thief nun Miejue. Do you want to see it?” While saying that, she took a glistening yellow gold case from her bosom. She opened the lid and showed two spiders, about the size of a thumb, squirming inside.

The spiders’ back were spotted with bright, multi-colored dots, dazzling the eye. Zhang Wuji immediately remembered that Wang Nan’gu’s Poison Manual did mention that the spotted spiders were the most poisonous insects; once a human was bitten, he would be beyond help. Zhang Wuji could not help but feel very scared.

Looking at his serious expression, Zhu’er laughed and said, “You know the benefit of my precious spiders. Just wait a moment.” As she said that, she leaped onto a large tree and looked around. Then she leaped back down to the ground and said, “Let us go a little bit farther; we can leisurely talk about spiders later.”

Pulling the sled along, she ran about seven, eight ‘li’ until they arrived at the edge of a canyon. She helped Zhang Wuji out of the sled and she put several large rocks in his place. Pulling the sled, she ran toward the canyon. When she got to the edge of the canyon, she abruptly halted her steps, while the sled continued its journey into the canyon below. The sled, along with the rocks on it, crashed into the canyon with a loud, resounding sound, which continued for a long time.

Zhang Wuji turned his head back and saw the firewood sled had left a pair of tracks, snaking on the snowy ground, as far as his eyes could see. Following the tracks with his eyes, he saw the tracks disappeared at the edge of the canyon. He thought, “This girl’s thinking is so thorough. If Miejue Shitai followed us here, she would think that we fell into the snowy canyon below, and died with none of our bones survived.”

Zhu’er stooped down and said, “Get on my back!”

“Are you going to carry me? You will be too tired,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhu’er rolled her eyes and said, “Do you think I won’t know it if I am tired or not?” Zhang Wuji did not dare to talk too much, he quietly got on her back and very lightly hugged her neck.

Zhu’er laughed and said, “Are you afraid you will choke me to death? Your hands and feet are very light; you are only tickling me to death.”

Seeing she was so innocent and without any apprehension toward him, Zhang Wuji was delighted; he hugged her neck tighter. Zhu’er leaped up suddenly and brought him flying to a tree. The row of trees extended toward the west, so Zhu’er leaped from one tree to another, also heading west. Her stature was small and delicate; Zhang Wuji was big and tall, but her feet were nimble and did not show the least bit of being over-burdened.

After leaping about seventy, eighty trees, she jumped to a mountain wall and then leaped down to the ground. She gently lowered him to the ground, and said with a laugh, “We are going to build a cowshed in here. This is the perfect place.”

“Cowshed?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “Why would we build a cowshed?”

“For the bull and the cow to stay, of course,” Zhu’er laughed, “Aren’t you called Ahniu?” [Translator’s note: The ‘niu’ character of Ahniu means ‘cow/bull’.]

“That’s not necessary,” Zhang Wuji said, “In four, five days, my broken legs will be healed completely. Actually, if I am forced to walk, I think I can manage without problem.”

“Humph!” Zhu’er said, “Forced to walk? Right now you are already an ugly freak, if your cow legs are lame, will you look good?” While saying that, she took a strip of branch and swept the snow accumulated beside the mountain rock.

Hearing her say, ‘Will you look good if your cow legs are lame?’ Zhang Wuji suddenly realized that she had a deep concern toward him; he could not help his heart from being touched. He heard her humming a tune while pulling and breaking branches and twigs to build a canopy in between two boulders, so that the thatched roof and the boulders formed a hut, an attractive little cabin which they could use to take shelter.

As soon as the hut was finished, Zhu’er scooped piles and piles of snow and spread the snow on the roof. Working hard for half a day, she got the hut completely hidden in snow that it was not visible from the outside. Only then did she stop, took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from her face.

“Wait here,” she said, “I am going to find something to eat.”

“I am not that hungry,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are too tired. Why don’t you take a short rest before going again?”

Zhu’er said, “If you want to treat me well, you must treat me really well. If you only sweet-talk me, what good would that bring?” Without waiting for an answer, she entered the woods in quick steps.

Staying on the mountain rock, Zhang Wuji recalled Zhu’er’s tender voice and her graceful manners, which was the style of a refined woman. Her face might be ugly, but he remembered how just before her death, his mother had admonished him, ‘The more beautiful that woman is, the better of a manipulator she will be. You must take more caution.’ Zhu’er was not pretty, yet her treatment to him was fabulous; he had a mind of spending the rest of his life with her. However, her heart had already belonged to another man; she had no regard of him in her heart.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was like a tidal wave as his mind raced in myriads of thoughts. Shortly afterwards Zhu’er returned with two snow birds. She built a fire and roasted the birds; it was tasty beyond comparison. Zhang Wuji ate one bird clean to its bone, but it was not enough for him. Zhu’er pursed her lips and laughed then she pushed her two bird legs, which she saved earlier, to him. Actually, she saved the legs because it was her favorite part of the chicken.

Zhang Wuji was about to decline when Zhu’er angrily said, “If you want to eat, just eat. Whoever speaks to me with pretense, saying something without meaning it, I will stab three holes on his body with a knife.”

Zhang Wuji did not dare to talk too much, he ate the two bird legs. Because his mouth was greasy, he picked up a handful of snow from the ground and wiped his face, then used his sleeve to dry it up. Zhu'er happened to turn her head and saw him wiping his face clean. She could not help from being startled and stared at him.

Zhang Wuji was embarrassed; "What is it?" he asked. Zhu'er said, "How old are you?"

"Twenty one," Zhang Wuji replied.

"Hmm," Zhu'er said, "You are only three years older than I am. Why do you have such a long beard?"

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, "I lived alone in a remote valley deep in the mountains, I have never met anybody else, so I have never thought of shaving."

Zhu'er took out a knife with golden handle from her side and raised it to his face to shave him slowly. Zhang Wuji felt the blade was very sharp; everywhere the knife touched, hair immediately fell. Feeling her soft and tender palm and fingers, Zhang Wuji could not stop his heart from beating faster.

The knife slowly arrived at his neck. Zhu'er laughed and said, "If I exert a little bit more force, your throat will be cut and you'll become a ghost. Are you or are you not afraid?"

Zhang Wuji also laughed, "To die under Miss' jade-like hands, I will become a happy ghost."

Zhu'er flipped the knife and pressed hard on his throat with the back of the knife. "Then be a happy ghost!" she shouted.

Zhang Wuji was scared and wanted to jump, but her movement was swift, the knife was also very close. As he was about to jump, the blade had already slashed. He was powerless to resist, but the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside his body reacted automatically and shook the knife sideways. It was then that he knew she was only using the back of the blade.

Zhu'er felt a jolt on her arm. "Aiyo!" she cried out, but then giggled immediately. "Are you happy?" she asked.

Zhang Wuji laughed and nodded his head. His natural disposition was rather serious, but in front of Zhu'er he somehow felt free and unrestrained. It was as if he had known her since childhood and they grew up together; he felt unexplainably at ease and even had an urge to joke around with her.

Finished with shaving him clean, Zhu'er stared at him for half a day. Suddenly she heaved a deep sigh.

"What is it?" Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhu'er did not reply, she trimmed his hair a little bit, combed it, and tied the hair into a bun. She carved a hairpin from a tree branch and stuck it into his bun. After he was tidied up, although his clothes were tattered and unsightly (as a matter of fact, the clothes were too short and a few sizes too small for him, as if they were stolen clothes), his countenance glowed; the ugly freak has turned into one handsome young man.

Zhu'er sighed again and said, "I have never thought you are such a handsome man."

Zhang Wuji knew she was disheartened by her own ugliness; thereupon he said, "I am not that handsome. Besides, among the beautiful things in this world, oftentimes there is some bad thing hidden inside. The peacocks are adorned with beautiful feathers, but their gallbladders are extremely poisonous. Manchurian cranes' crest are bright red, very pretty, who would have thought that it was the most lethal poison? Within the various snakes and insects, oftentimes the more beautiful it looks, the more venomous it is. Aren't those two spiders of yours beautiful? What good is it to have a handsome appearance? A good heart is more desirable."

Zhu'er sneered and said, "What good is it to have a good heart? Why don't you explain it to me?"

Zhang Wuji could not find the answer right away. After being silent for a while, he said, "A man with a good heart will not harm others."

"What good is it in not harming others?" Zhu'er pressed.

Zhang Wuji said, "If you don't harm others, you will have a peaceful heart, you will be calm and composed."

"I don't feel happy if I don't harm others," Zhu'er said, "If I can make others miserable beyond words, then my heart will be happy and peaceful, and then I will be calm and composed."

Zhang Wuji shook his head. "You are forcing anarchy and robbing justice," he said.

With a cold laugh Zhu'er said, "If not for the purpose of harming others, why would I want to train this 'qian zhu wan du shou'? I have to endure vast and limitless pain and suffering, do you think it was all for fun?" While saying that, she sat cross-legged on the ground, and after circulating her internal energy for a while, she took the small golden case from her bosom, opened the lid, and stuck her two index fingers into the golden case.

The pair of colorful spiders inside the case crawled slowly toward her fingers and then the spiders bit the tip of her fingers separately. She took a deep breath, her arms slightly trembled as she used her internal energy to resist the poison. The colorful spiders fed on her blood, but in turn Zhu'er sucked the spiders' venom into her body by reversing her blood flow. Zhang Wuji saw her face was solemn while at the same time a faint black layer appeared on the center of her eyebrows and both of her temples. She clenched her teeth to endure the pain with all her might. A moment later, beads of perspiration started to form on the tip of her nose.

Zhu’er trained this special skill for almost an hour, until the spiders were full with blood, with their belly bulged that they looked like a couple of furry balls; they dropped on their belly inside the case and fell asleep. Zhu’er continued circulating her internal energy for a good while. The blackness on her face gradually disappeared and the blood returned to her cheeks. When she exhaled, Zhang Wuji could smell that her breath was fragrant, but he felt dizzy immediately. Obviously her breath contained a violent poison.

Zhu’er opened her eyes and smiled slightly. Zhang Wuji asked, “How do you train to reach perfection?”

Zhu’er said, “Each colorful spider must turn to black, and then from black turn to white, then the venom is exhausted and it will die, while the poison inside the spider is completely transferred into my fingers. I need at least a hundred spiders to reach small success. To really reach perfection, a thousand or two are not considered too many.”

Hearing her saying so, Zhang Wuji could not restrain the hair on his back from standing up. “Where did you get these many spiders?” he asked.

“One way is to raise them, they can produce little spiders,” Zhu’er replied, “Another way would be to catch them in their original habitat.”

“There are so many different martial art skills in the world,” Zhang Wuji exclaimed, “Why must you train this kind of poisonous skill? The spiders’ venom is extremely violent; granted that you have a way to withstand it if it enters your body, but in the long run it won’t give you any benefits.”

With a cold laugh Zhu’er said, “No doubt there are many different martial art skills in the world, but which one school’s skill is superior to this ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ in terms of fierceness? You may rely on your strong internal energy, but when I reach perfection, you may not necessarily able to withstand one poke of my finger.” While saying that, she concentrated her ‘chi’ into her finger, and then casually poked her finger into a tree by her side. Because her internal energy had not reached perfection, her finger only went half an inch deep into the tree.

Zhang Wuji asked again, “How did your Mama teach you this skill? Did she complete the training herself?”

Zhu’er’s eyes suddenly shone with a malicious light; she hatefully said, “In training this ‘qian zhu wan du shou’, as long as one has consumed more than twenty spiders, the venom accumulated in one’s body is already considerable, one’s countenance will be deformed. If the training reaches a thousand spiders, one’s face will be incomparably ugly. My Mama had almost reached a hundred spiders when she met my father. Because she was afraid her countenance would grow uglier and would make my father unhappy, she discarded the entire skill from her body. As a result, she turned into an ordinary woman who lacked the strength to even truss up a chicken. Although she turned back into a pretty woman, but receiving Er Niang [second mother] and my two older brothers’ bullying and insults, unexpectedly she did not have the least bit of ability to fight back. In the end she still had to lose her life. Humph! What good is it to have a pretty face? My Ma was a very beautiful and extremely refined woman. Just because she did not bear a son, my father took a concubine …”

Zhang Wuji’s eyes swept over her face. “So … it was because you train this skill …” he said in a low voice.

“That’s right,” Zhu’er said, “It was because I train this skill that the poison turned my face to look like this. Humph, if that heartless man pays me no attention, just wait ‘til I master the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’. When I find him, if he does not have any woman by his side, then that’s all right …”

“You are not married to him,” Zhang Wuji cut her off; “You also are not engaged to him, you’re just … you’re just …” "Just say it straight out, what are you afraid of?" Zhu'er said, "You wanted to say that I am just indulging myself in unrequited love, didn't you? What if I am? Since I have already fallen in love with him, I cannot let another woman occupy his heart. If he is heartless and wishy-washy, I'll let him taste my ‘qian zhu wan du shou’."

Zhang Wuji stifled a laugh, but he did not argue with her, realizing that she had a weird character; when she was good, she was really good, but when she was bad, she would not listen to reason at all. He also remembered that his Tai Shifu, Er Shibo [second martial (older) uncle) and the others would often tell him to avoid Wulin people of the heretical way. Apparently the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ she trained was one of the most ruthless martial art skills of the heretical sect. Her mother must also be a top ranking demon of the heretical sect. Thinking to this point, he could not help but feel somewhat apprehensive toward her.

Zhu'er, however, did not realize the change in his mood; she was busy going in and out of their little hut. She picked a lot of wild flowers and arranged them inside the hut. Seeing the elegant taste with which she decorated the hut, Zhang Wuji knew that her good taste must have come from her natural instinct, it was the poison that caused her face to be ugly.

"Zhu'er," he said, "After my legs are healed, I am going to pick some herbal medicine to try to cure the poison swelling on your face."

When Zhu'er heard these words, her expression suddenly turned fearful. "No

... no ... don't," she said, "I have endured countless pain to reach today's level. Do you want to neutralize my ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ skill?"

Zhang Wuji said, "Perhaps we can think of a way to eliminate the swelling of the poison on your face without any adverse effect to your skill."

"No way," Zhu'er said, "If there were a way, my Mama would have inherited the skill, how could she not know? In this world, other than the Divine Doctor Hu Qingniu of the Butterfly Valley, nobody else has this kind of astonishing ability. But he ... he has died many years ago." [Translator's note: the original was 'yi xian' - medicine/medical immortal. Previous chapters also use 'Sage of Healing'.]

"You know Hu Qingniu?" Zhang Wuji asked in astonishment.

Zhu'er stared at him and said, "What? Something strange? The name of Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley was known throughout the Jianghu, everybody knew him." She heaved a deep sigh and continued, "Even if he was still alive, he had the reputation as Seeing Death Without Helping, [orig. Jian Si Bu Jiu. Previous chapters also used 'The One who Ignores the Dying'.] what good is it to see him?"

Zhang Wuji thought, "She did not know that the Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley had passed on his entire skill to me. I'd better not mention it now, someday I'll think of a way to cure the poison swelling on her face, it will be a big pleasant surprise for her."

White they were talking, the sky turned dark. They leaned on mountain rocks inside the hut to catch some sleep. In the middle of the night, Zhang Wuji suddenly heard one or two sobbing noises in his sleep. He woke up with a start only to find Zhu'er crying. Zhang Wuji sat up immediately and reached out to gently pat her shoulder twice.

"Zhu'er," he said, trying to comfort her, "Don't be sad." Who would have thought that with his gentle words, Zhu'er cried even louder as she placed her head on his shoulder?

"Zhu'er," Zhang Wuji asked, "What is it? You are thinking about your Mama, aren't you?"

Zhu'er nodded. "Mama is dead!" she said in between sobs, "I am all alone. Nobody likes me, no one's good to me."

Zhang Wuji pulled his lapel and slowly wiped her tears. "I like you," he said in a gentle voice, "I am good to you."

"I don't want you to be good to me," Zhu'er said, "I only like one man, but he ignored me, beat me, scolded me, and he even bit me."

With a trembling voice Zhang Wuji said, "Why don't you forget this unfortunate young man? I'll marry you, I will treat you well for the rest of your life."

"No! No!" Zhu'er loudly said, "I won't forget him. If you tell me to forget him, I am going to ignore you forever."

Zhang Wuji was greatly embarrassed; fortunately it was very dark inside the hut that Zhu'er could not see his red and awkward expression. For a good while nobody said anything.

A long time afterwards, Zhu'er said, "Ahniu Gege, are you angry at me?"

"I am not angry at you," Zhang Wuji replied, "I am mad at myself, I shouldn't have said those words to you."

"No, no!" Zhu'er hastily said, "You said you wish to take me as your wife, you will treat me well for the rest of my life, I love to hear it. Can you say it one more time?"

Zhang Wuji indignantly said, "Since you cannot forget that man, what else can I say?"

Zhu'er reached out to grab his hand. "Ahniu Gege," she said in a soft voice, "Please don't be angry. I offended you. My mistake. If you really take me as your wife, I might prick your eyes blind, I might kill you."

Zhang Wuji shuddered. "What did you say?" he asked in shock.

Zhu'er said, "If you are blind, you won't see my ugly face, you won't look at that Miss Zhou from Emei Pai. If you still cannot forget her, with one finger I will stab you dead, with one finger stab that Miss Zhou from Emei Pai dead, and with one finger stab myself dead." She said those strange words with ease, as if what she was going to do was in accordance with the heaven’s law and the earth’s principle.

Hearing her ruthless words, full of maliciousness, Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat. Right this moment, suddenly from a distant came an old voice, “In which matter did Miss Zhou of Emei Pai give you trouble?”

Zhu’er was startled, she leaped up and said in a low voice, “It’s Miejue Shitai!”

Her voice was so low, but the person outside could still hear her. “That’s right,” she said sternly, “It is Miejue Shitai.”

When the person outside spoke the first few words, the voice sounded from a far, but the second time she spoke, she was already outside the little hut.

Zhu’er knew their situation was far from good, but it was too late for her to pick Zhang Wuji up and hide; she had no choice but holding her breath without saying anything.

“Get out!” they heard the person outside said with a cold voice, “Do you think you can hide inside forever?”

Zhu’er opened the straw curtain and walked out holding Zhang Wuji’s hand. She saw about two ‘zhang’ outside the hut stood an old nun with white hair and dreary face, she was none other than Emei Pai’s Zhang Men [sect leader], Miejue Shitai. Behind her, about a dozen people, divided into three groups, came rushing in. As they arrived, they stood on either side of Miejue Shitai. Half of those people were nuns, the rest were men and women in civilian clothes. Ding Minjun and Zhou Zhiruo were among them. The male disciples stood at the back row. Miejue Shitai had never favored male disciples, Emei Pai male disciples had never learned the most advanced of their school’s martial art, their status was somewhat lower than the female disciples.

Miejue Shitai coldly looked at Zhu’er to size her up without saying anything for half a day. With trepidation, Zhang Wuji was crouching behind Zhu’er. He had made up his mind that if Miejue Shitai attacked Zhu’er, he would do his utmost to help her, although he knew he was not Miejue Shitai’s match. He heard Miejue Shitai humph and she turned toward Ding Minjun.

“Was it this baby girl?” she asked. “Yes,” Ding Minjun replied respectfully.

Suddenly they heard ‘Crack! Crack!’ twice, Zhu’er uttered a muffled grunt, while she was thrown about three ‘zhang’ backward with broken wrists. She fainted on the snowy ground.

Zhang Wuji only saw a grey shadow flashed as with inhuman speed footwork Miejue Shitai dashed toward Zhu’er, with inhuman speed hand technique she broke her wrist bones and threw her out, and again with inhuman speed footwork she returned to her previous position, and stood loftily like an ancient tree. She looked so ghostly yet also grand standing in the night breeze. Each one of her actions was nimble yet so clear. Zhang Wuji could see each movement clearly, yet her speed was unfathomable. He was so astonished by her speed that he was paralyzed in fear.

Miejue Shitai stared at Zhang Wuji with a piercing-heart-and-soul vision. “Get out!” she sternly said.

Zhou Zhiruo took a step forward. “Shifu,” she reported, “This man’s legs are broken; he cannot walk.”

“Make two snow-sleds, take them go,” Miejue Shitai said. The disciples complied at once.

The dozen or so male disciples with quick hands and feet built two sleds. Two female disciples carried Zhu’er, two male disciples carried Zhang Wuji. They put them on the sleds and pulled the sleds behind Miejue Shitai who had already sped to the west.

Zhang Wuji focused his attention, trying to hear or see if Zhu’er was astir. He did not know the severity of her injury. After travelling for about a ‘li’, he heard Zhu’er groan softly.

“Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji called out loudly, “How’s your injury? Have you received an internal injury?”

“She broke my both my wrist bones,” Zhu’er replied, “But my chest and abdomen seem to be fine.”

“No internal injury, that’s good,” Zhang Wuji said, “Use your left elbow to bump your right arm three ‘cun’ five ‘fen’ [1 cun is approximately 1 inch, 1 fen is approximately 1/3 of a centimeter or a little over 1/8 or an inch] below the bend, and use your right elbow to bump your left three ‘cun’ five ‘fen’ below the bend. That should lessen your pain somewhat.”

Before Zhu’er could respond, Miejue Shitai had already exclaimed, “Ah!” She turned her head toward Zhang Wuji, stared at him and said, “This kid is proficient in medical skill. What’s your name?”

“Zaixia [lit. under/below, the humble one] surnamed Zeng, called Ahniu,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Who is your Shifu?” Miejue Shitai asked.

Zhang Wuji said, “My shifu was a nameless country doctor of a small town; Shitai would not know him even if I mentioned his name.”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, but no longer paid him any attention.

The party travelled straight until the dawn before they stopped to eat their rations. Zhou Zhiruo took out several cold steamed buns and gave them to Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er. As she gave the buns to Zhang Wuji, she looked up at his face for a second before turning her head away.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was shaken; he could not bear it any longer. “Your kindness in feeding me on the Hanshui River boat, I will never dare to forget,” he said softly. Zhou Zhiruo’s whole body trembled; she quickly turned around and looked at him. This time Zhang Wuji was clean-shaven. She looked at him for a while. “Ah,” she suddenly exclaimed with a pleasantly surprise expression. “You … you …” she stammered. Zhang Wuji knew she finally recognized him, he slowly nodded his head.

“The cold poison in your body, is it healed?” she quietly asked. Her voice was as soft as a mosquito that it was almost inaudible.

In the same soft voice Zhang Wuji replied, “It is healed.” Zhou Zhiruo’s face blushed, and she walked away.

All this time, Zhu’er was behind Zhang Wuji. She saw Zhou Zhiruo could not contain her joy; her lips quivered, her face also appeared bashful, but her eyes brightened. Zhu’er waited until Zhou Zhiruo left before she asked Zhang Wuji, “What were the two of you talking about?”

Zhang Wuji’s face reddened. “What? No … nothing,” he said. “Humph!” Zhu’er snorted, “Barefaced liar!”

They rested for about an hour and a half before continuing their journey in haste to the west, and continued in the same manner for three days. Apparently they had some important matter to attend to. Along the way, whether when travelling or resting, neither the male nor female disciples opened their mouths to talk, unless it was absolutely necessary; it was as if they were a bunch of mute people.

By this time Zhang Wuji’s legs were already healed. He could walk if he wanted to, but he maintained his guise as a cripple. Every now and then he would fake a groan so Miejue Shitai would not guard against him. He was waiting for a good opportunity to help Zhu’er to escape. However, the terrain they had been travelling so far was a vast plain, before they could run too far, the pursuers would certainly overtake them; therefore, he did not dare to act recklessly. He quietly mended Zhu’er’s broken wrist; Miejue Shitai only gave him a cold look, but did not interfere. During their stops in the day, or in their bivouacs at night, Zhang Wuji was dying to get a glimpse of Zhou Zhiruo, but she had never come close to him anymore.

After travelling for two more days, they arrived at the great desert in the afternoon. The snow on the ground had melted; the sleds were now being pulled over sand. Suddenly they heard horse hooves coming from the west. Miejue Shitai signaled with her hand. The disciples immediately hid themselves behind sand dunes. Two disciples drew their daggers and placed the daggers on Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er’s back. Their intention was clear: Emei Pai was ambushing of the enemy, as soon as Zhang Wuji or Zhu’er made any noise to warn the enemy, they would thrust the daggers forward and take their lives.

It seemed like the horses were galloping very fast, only they were still very far away that it took almost half a day before the horses came near. As soon as the riders saw footprints on the sand, they reined their horses at once. Emei Pai’s senior disciple Jing Xuan Shitai waved her whisk; about a dozen disciples responded to her signal by leaping out from their ambush and surrounding the riders.

Zhang Wuji took a peek to see there were four riders altogether, all wearing white robes. The robes were embroidered with a red blazing flame. Realizing they were being ambushed, the four riders shouted, drew out their weapons, and charged toward the northeast trying to break the siege.

Jing Xuan shouted, “It’s the Devil Cult’s demons, don’t let even one of them escape!”

Although Emei Pai had more people, they did not attack together. Two female disciples and two male disciples responded to Jing Xuan Shitai’s order. They shouted their compliance and stepped forward to block the enemies. The four Devil Cult’s people fought valiantly with curved sabers in their hands. But in the expedition to the western region this time, Emei Pai had sent their choice fighters; each one possessed strong martial art skill. After only about seven, eight stances, three of the Devil Cult people were killed by the swords and were thrown down from their horses. The remaining one was a lot stronger than his companions; he managed to chop and injure the Emei Pai male disciple’s left shoulder and rushed through this opening to escape.

When he was several ‘zhang’ away, the third ranking Emei Pai disciple, Jing Xu Shitai called out, “Get down!” With a swift footwork she caught up with the man. Her whisk swept toward the man’s left leg. The man brandished his saber to block. Jing Xu’s whisk suddenly changed its course; ‘Shua!’ it struck the back of the man’s head.

This move had hit the man’s vital point, the whisk also carried a profound internal energy; the man immediately fell down from his horse. Surprisingly this man was extremely swift and fierce; even under such a severe injury, he still attempted to perish together with the enemy. Spreading out his arms, he threw himself on Jing Xu. Jing Xu leaned sideways to evade while her whisk lashed on the man’s chest.

Right that moment, from the cage hanging on the neck of the last man’s horse flew three white pigeons. “What devilish trick are you playing?” Jing Xuan called out. Her sleeve shook, three iron lotus seeds flew toward the three pigeons.

Two pigeons were shot down. The third iron lotus seed was shot down by a secret projectile launched by the white-robed man, who at this time was lying on the ground. The last white pigeon dashed toward the cloud. The numerous Emei Pai disciples immediately launched their secret projectiles, but none hit its target. They saw that the pigeon was flying toward northeast.

Jing Xuan waved her left hand. The male disciples immediately dragged the four white-robed men and stood them in front of her.

From the initial attack toward the enemy down to shooting the pigeons and capturing the men, Miejue Shitai only looked coldly with her hands behind her back. Zhang Wuji thought, “She dealt with Zhu’er personally, which showed that she held Zhu’er in considerably higher regard; perhaps it was because she shook Ding Minjun’s wrists broken. If this old nun wanted to stop that white pigeon, all she needed to do was to lift her finger; what’s the problem with that? But she seemed to intentionally ignore her numerous disciples’ effort in dealing with the situation.”

Zhang Wuji also recalled how Jing Xuan, along with Ji Xiaofu and the others, had come up the Mount Wudang to wish his Taishifu happy birthday. Clearly she was considered of the same rank as the various Sect Leaders of Kunlun, Kongtong, and other sects. By this time these Emei Pai’s senior disciples had held quite a reputation within the Jianghu; any one of them was fully capable to assume sole responsibility in important matters. In dealing with several Devil Cult people, Miejue Shitai did not need to personally go into action. The fact that Jing Xuan and Jing Xu had personally put forth their hands showed that they had a high regard toward the enemy.

A female disciple picked up the two shot down pigeons. She took a roll of paper out from the small tube tied on the white pigeon’s leg and presented it to Jing Xuan. Jing Xuan unrolled the paper and read.

“Shifu,” she said, “The enemy has found out our plan to besiege the Brightness Peak. This letter is an emergency call for help to the Heavenly Eagle Cult.” She looked at the other roll of paper and said, “Exactly the same. Too bad the other pigeon escape from the net.”

“Why do you feel bad?” Miejue Shitai coldly said, “Let the devils gather together. We’ll wipe them out in one swoop. Won’t it be a happy occasion? It will save us running around to the east and to the west looking for them.”

“Yes,” Jing Xuan said.

Hearing the words ‘emergency call for help to the Heavenly Eagle Cult Heavenly Eagle Cult’, Zhang Wuji was startled. “Isn’t the Heavenly Eagle Cult Leader my ‘wai gong’ [maternal grandfather]?” he mused, “I wonder if he, the Senior, would come. Humph, this old nun is so arrogant; you may not necessarily be my Grandfather’s match.” Originally, he wanted to find an opportunity to help Zhu’er escape, but with this turn of events, he wanted to continue watching the drama unfold, thereupon he did not want to leave just yet.

Jing Xuan sternly asked the four white-robed men, “Who else did you invite? How did you find out about the Six Major Sects’ plan to besiege the Devil Cult?”

The four white-robed men laughed bitterly with their eyes to the sky, then suddenly they fell down to the ground, motionless. Two male disciples stooped down to take a look; they saw the contorted smile on the four men’s faces, it was obvious that they stopped breathing.

“Shijie [older martial sister],” they called out in fear, “They all dead!”

Jing Xuan indignantly said, “The witches took poison to kill themselves. The poison is very lethal, the reaction was this quick.

Jing Xu said, “Search them.”

“Yes!” four male disciples complied. They were about to search the corpses’ pockets when Zhou Zhiruo suddenly said, “Shixiong [martial brothers], be careful. There might be poisonous things hidden inside their pockets.”

The four male disciples were startled; they drew out their weapons to search the pockets. They saw something was wriggling inside the pocket. Turned out in each pocket were hidden two extremely venomous snakes. If they had used their hands to search the pockets, they would have been bitten by the snakes. All disciples’ faces changed; everybody cursed the Devil Cult disciples as poisonous and ruthless in their actions.

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “From the Central Earth we came to the west, today was the first time we dealt directly with the Devil Cult disciples. These four men were merely nameless pawns, but they were already this sinister. Can you imagine how we are going to deal with the leaders and the brains behind the Devil Cult? Humph, Jing Xu, you are not young anymore, but they way you handle matters is this careless, not as careful as Zhiruo.” Jing Xu’s face reddened; she bowed down to accept the reproach.

In his heart, Zhang Wuji was still pondering Jing Xuan’s words earlier, ‘Six Major Sects besiege the Devil Cult’. “Six Sects? Six Sects?” he mused, “I wonder if our Wudang Pai is one of those Sects?”

About the second hour that night, suddenly they heard the jingle of bells usually mounted on camel’s heads. It sounded like there was a camel approaching from a distance. Everybody was actually asleep, but they were awakened at once. At first the sound of the camel came from the west heading to the south, but a short time later it sounded like the camel ran from south to north, but as soon as the sound arrived at the northwest direction, it immediately turned east, and then the sound appeared again from the northeast. In this way the sound came from east and west just like a ghost.

The people looked at each other in bewilderment. Everybody thought that no matter how fast the camel could run, it was impossible for it to be on the east at one time and suddenly on the west. From the sound of it, it was also unlikely that there were several people on the four directions who rang the bell one after another.

After a while, it sounded like the camel bell came toward them from a distance, the bell grew clearer and clearer. Suddenly the bell rang loudly from the southeast, as if the camel was a bird, which flew swiftly.

Coming to this great desert and hearing this kind of strange ringing bell, Emei Pai people were inwardly frightened. In clear voice Miejue Shitai said, “Which master is paying us a visit? Please come out to meet us. Won’t it be highly improper, playing tricks like this?” Her voice travelled far.

After she spoke those words, the bell suddenly turned silent, as if the person ringing the bell was afraid of her and did not dare to play tricks anymore.

Nothing happened all day the next day, but by the second hour in the evening, the camel bell returned. Suddenly going afar, suddenly coming near, suddenly it was on the east, suddenly it moved to the west. Miejue Shitai repeated her reprimand, but this time the camel bell ignored her. Sometimes the sound was light, another time it was loud. Sometimes it sounded as if the camel galloped in anger towards them, but suddenly it walked away sadly from them. It just drove everybody nuts.

Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er looked at each other and smiled. Although they did not understand how the bell could make this kind of weird noise, they knew it must be the doings of a Devil Cult’s master to disturb the Emei people and render them helpless. Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er found it amusing to see them at a loss like this.

Miejue Shitai waved her hand; the disciples lay back down to sleep, no longer paid any attention to the bell. The bell made a loud noise. Although it changed pattern a hundred times, the Emei people simply turned a deaf ear to the sound, apparently they were no longer interested in the bell. Suddenly the bell rang loudly on the north and then vanished. It seemed that Miejue Shitai’s tactic ‘seeing demon as not a demon, let the demon defeat itself’ was somewhat effective.

By daybreak the next day, everybody was busy tidying up their clothes and blankets, preparing themselves for the journey ahead. Two male disciples suddenly cried out in alarm, because they saw somebody was lying next to them, sleeping soundly. This person's body was covered from head to toe with a filthy blanket, not the least bit of his body was exposed; his buttocks curved upward, he was snoring loudly.

The rest of the Emei Pai people also jumped in fright. Last night numerous people took turns in night-watch duty, but how could nobody knew someone was coming and that he mingled with them? Miejue Shitai's martial art skill had reached such a level that even grass blown by the wind or a petal of a flower flying or a leaf falling would not escape her eyes and ears; but how could she not know there was an extra person in the midst of her disciples?

Everybody was startled and ashamed. Two disciples immediately drew their swords and walked toward the man. "Who is it? What trick are you playing?" they shouted.

The man was still snoring loudly, seemingly oblivious of everything around him. A male disciple used his sword to lift the blanket and saw an impressive-looking man wearing dark green robe over white long gown. The man was sleeping soundly with his face to the ground.

Jing Xu knew that since the man dared to come like this, he must have an extraordinary background. She took a step forward and said, "Who are you, Sire? What business do you have here?"

The man's snoring was getting louder, like the rumble of a thunder. Seeing the man was this rude, Jing Xu was enraged; she brandished her whisk. 'Shua!' the whisk lashed toward the man's buttocks which were sticking up. 'Whoosh!' suddenly the whisk somehow left Jing Xu's hand and flew vertically up for more than ten 'zhang' to the sky. Without realizing it, everybody looked up...

"Jing Xu, watch out!" Miejue Shitai called out. She had just closed her mouth when the man in dark green robe had already moved several 'zhang' away. His steps were so swift it looked like he was flying; he carried Jing Xu in his arms across his chest.

Jing Xuan and another senior female disciple, Su Mengqing, each with a sword in her hand, quickly pursued; but the man's movements were so fast they were almost fantastic, the pursuers definitely would not be able to catch up. Miejue Shitai let out a clear whistle, and then with the treasured Yitian Sword in her hand she also ran after them.

The Sect Leader of Emei indeed possessed an extraordinary skill. In the blink of an eye she had already passed Jing Xuan and Su Mengqing. A dark shadow flashed as the sword pierced toward the man's back. But the man was really fast, the sword missed him by almost a foot and thus he escaped unscathed. The fact that he was carrying Jing Xu did not have any adverse effect on his speed; he was not by any means slower than Miejue Shitai. He did not run away, but ran in circles around the Emei people as if he intentionally wanted to show off his skill. Miejue Shitai repeatedly thrust her sword forward, but all along she failed to stab his body.

Suddenly they heard a 'Pat!' as Jing Xu's whisk fell back down on the ground. By this time, Jing Xuan and Su Mengqing had stopped pursuing. Everybody watched with baited breath as about a dozen 'zhang' away where the two masters were chasing each other. Although they were running on a desert ground, both people's feet were like flying that the sand did not fly upwards.

The Emei disciples noticed that in that man's arms, Jing Xu did not move at all, as if she had already died; their hearts were scared. A lot of the Emei disciples had the desire to step forward to intercept, but remembered their Shifu's prestige, how could she lower her rank by asking her disciples for help? If the incident ever spread out, wouldn't they be the laughingstock of the heroes and warriors of the Jianghu? It was a highly suspenseful moment, but nobody dared to take any step forward. They only wished their Shifu would be one step faster then she would be able to stab that weird-looking man's back.

In the meantime, the man and Miejue Shitai had made three large circles around the people. If only Miejue Shitai were one step closer, her sword would injure the enemy. However, she was always one step too late. Although that man started first and Miejue Shitai managed to catch up with him, the man was carrying a person, which added his burden by more than a hundred catties. Therefore, in this 'qing gong' contest, although they could be considered even in terms of speed, Miejue Shitai was still one notch inferior to the man.

By the fourth circle, the man turned around abruptly and stretching out his arms, he threw Jing Xu over to Miejue Shitai. Miejue Shitai only felt a strong wind in front of her face as Jing Xu arrived with an irresistible force. Hastily she concentrated her 'chi' into her legs and with 'qian jin zhui' [thousand-catty fall] she gently caught Jing Xu. The man let out a long laugh and said, "The Six Major Sects come to besiege the Brightness Peak. I am afraid it won't be that easy!" While saying that, he ran northward.

When he raced Miejue Shitai earlier, the sand underneath their feet was not stirred up at all, but this time the yellow sand rose high behind him, surging on to the north with an overwhelming power that it looked like a giant dragon, several dozen 'zhang' long, which immediately blocked his shadow from view.

The Emei disciples rushed toward their Shifu only to see Miejue Shitai's face paled; she did not say anything.

"Jing Xu Shijie ..." suddenly Su Mengqing cried out in fear. Jing Xu's face looked like yellow wax, there was an open wound on her throat, apparently she had stopped breathing. The wound was covered in blood, but there were teeth marks around it; obviously she was bitten to her death by that strange man.

The female Emei disciples broke out in loud crying. "What do you cry for?" Miejue Shitai shouted, "Bury her." Everybody stopped crying at once and buried Jing Xu right there.

"Shifu," Jing Xuan respectfully asked, "Who was that demon? Let us remember him clearly in our hearts that we can avenge Shimei later."

Miejue Shitai coldly said, "This man sucks blood from the neck, he is ruthless and savage; he must be one of the Devil Cult's four kings, the 'Qing Yi Fu Wang' [green-winged bat king]. I have long heard that his 'qing gong' is unparalleled in the world; apparently his reputation is well-deserved, he defeated me by a large margin."

At first, Zhang Wuji hated Miejue Shitai for her ruthlessness, but now that he witnessed how in the face of huge changes she was able to maintain her composure, to keep her coldness as if nothing happened, as well as her ability to praise the enemy and not ashamed to admit her own shortcomings, which befit her status as a grandmaster of a prominent Sect, he could not restrain his respect toward her from growing.

Ding Minjun hatefully said, "He did not dare to fight Shifu; always ran away, what kind of hero is he?”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted. ‘Slap!’ suddenly she slapped Ding Minjun’s mouth while angrily said, “Shifu cannot overtake him, cannot save Jing Xu’s life. He won. Victory or defeat is known to the world. Is hero or warrior a self-proclaimed title?”

Half of Ding Minjun’s face immediately turned red and swollen. “I accept Shifu’s lesson. Disciple knows her own fault,” she respectfully said, while in her heart she said, "You cannot beat others and lost face, but vent your frustration on me. Just consider my bad luck!"

"Shifu," Jing Xuan said, "Could you please tell us more about this Qing Yi Fu Wang?"

Miejue Shitai waved her hand without answering Jing Xuan's question; she walked forward. As the rest of the disciples saw how their martial sister had bumped her head against the wall, nobody dared to say anything. They continued their journey in silence until evening, when they built a large fire and slept behind a sand dune.

Miejue Shitai sat motionless with her gaze fixed on the fire, she looked like a stone statue. Seeing their Shifu had not slept, nobody dared to sleep. In this way they waited for more than two hours. Suddenly Miejue Shitai thrust both of her palms forward, creating a blast of strong wind. 'Bang!' the bonfire died down at once.

Everybody was still sitting motionless. The cold moon cast its clear light on everybody's shoulders. Suddenly a sad feeling crept into Zhang Wuji's heart. "Will Emei Pai's awe-inspiring prestige collapse completely in this western region? Will they suffer a total defeat from the enemy?" he mused. He also thought, "Whatever happens, I must save Miss Zhou, but the Devil Cult's people are this fierce, what can I do to save others?"

Suddenly he heard Miejue Shitai shout, "Kill the demon fire, extinguish the devil fire!" And then after a brief pause she continued slowly, "The Devil Cult regards the fire as sacred, reveres the fire as deity. After the death of their thirty-third generation Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] Yang Dingtian, the Devil Cult does not have any Jiaozhu. Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness, Four Great Hu Jiao Fa Wang, Five Wanderers, as well as the Five Flag Leaders of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth Flags, all covet this Jiaozhu position so much so that they fight and massacre each other, and thus the Devil Cult became weak. Although each of the upright major sects is prosperous, I believe it is not easy at all to seek the destruction of this demonical and heretical people if they are not inthe midst of this internal strife."

[Translator's note: here I repeat my note in chapter 30: ‘hu jiao fa wang’ (‘hu’ – protect, ‘jiao’ – Cult, ‘fa’ – law, ‘wang’ – king) has been translated as ‘Protector King’ throughout this novel. I believe the more accurate translation should be ‘Protector of the Cult, Law Enforcement King’, or ‘Judge’. The same ‘fa wang’ was translated ‘imperial priest’, as in Jin Lun Fa Wang, in Shen Diao Xia Lu – RoCH; in different story, it is also translated as 'Dharma King. I am going to keep using the term ‘Protector King’, interchangeably with ‘fa wang’ for the remainder of this novel; I just want the readers to know that the term carries a broader sense than simply ‘Protector King.’]

Zhang Wuji had heard the name 'Devil Cult' ever since he was little, but because his own mother was somehow related to the Devil Cult, each time he asked, his parents did not look too happy. When he asked his Yifu, his Yifu would stare blankly as if he was entranced, then all of a sudden he would be thrown into a violent rage. For this reason, he had never known what the Devil Cult was. Later, when he was with Tai Shifu Zhang Sanfeng, who also abhorred the Devil Cult, whenever he brought it up, Tai Shifu would earnestly warned him, telling him to never, ever, mess with the Devil Cult people or make friends with them. However, Zhang Wuji then met Hu Qingniu, Wang Nan'gu, Chang Yuchun, Xu Da, Zhu Yuanzhang, and other warriors, which were all Devil Cult people. These people were generous, just and loyal; they might not necessarily evil. It was just that their actions were sometimes underhanded that to the outsiders they were often unfathomable. This moment, as he listened to Miejue Shitai talk about the Devil Cult, he perked up at once and listened attentively.

Miejue Shitai continued, "The Devil Cult's previous generations' Jiaozhu had always passed on the Sheng Huo Ling [lit. the order of the sacred fire] to the next generation as their token of authority. But to the thirty-first generation Jiaozhu, God rest his soul, the Sheng Huo Ling was somehow vanished without a trace. Hence the thirty-second and thirty-third generations Jiaozhu did not have this token of authority, and thus these two Jiaozhu led the Cult quite reluctantly. Yang Dingtian died suddenly. Nobody knows whether he was poisoned or fell under the enemy's plot, but he did not have enough time to appoint his successor. The number of highly-skilled devil-heads within the Devil Cult is truly not a few; there are at least five, six people who are qualified to be the Jiaozhu. You don’t submit to me, I won’t yield to you; and thus internally they are in a big chaos. Until today, they still do not have any Jiaozhu. The one we met today also wanted to be the Jiaozhu. He is one of the Devil Cult’s Four Great Protector Kings, Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao.” [Translator's note: The character 'Yi' of 'Qing Yi Fu Wang' (green- winged bat king) refers to thin wings like those of dragonfly, not the wing of feathered birds. The title of the chapter "... with a laugh" refers to Wei Yixiao's name (Yi Xiao - one laugh).]

The disciples had never heard the name Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao before, they stayed silent.

Miejue Shitai continued, “This man has never set foot on the Central Plains; the way the Devil Cult’s people handle matters is also extremely surreptitious. For this reason, although this man’s martial art skill is strong, he does not have the least bit of fame in the Central Plains. But I am sure you all know about the Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king] Yin Tianzheng and Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun, two people, don’t you?”

Zhang Wuji shivered inwardly. Zhu’er softly exclaimed in surprise, ‘Ah!’ Yin Tianzheng and Xie Xun’s reputation was so widespread that nobody in the Wulin world could claim that they had never heard those names.

“Shifu,” Jing Xuan asked, “Are those two also belong to the Devil Cult?”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, “Of course they belong to the Devil Cult, what else? ‘Mo Jiao Si Wang, Zi Bai Jin Qing’ [The Devil Cult’s Four Kings: Purple White Gold and Green], Zi Shan Long Wang [purple-robed dragon king], Bai Mei Ying Wang, Jin Mao Shi Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang are the Devil Cult’s four kings. The Green Wing is ranked the last, yet today all of you have seen his skill with your own eyes; you can imagine the skills of Zi Shan Long Wang, Bai Mei Ying Wang and Jin Mao Shi Wang. Jin Mao Shi Wang has gone insane and has done many despicable things. More than twenty years ago he suddenly went on killing the innocents indiscriminately. Finally he disappeared and his whereabouts became Wulin world’s big mystery. Yin Tianzheng failed to be the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, in his anger he founded another Tian Ying Cult [Heavenly Eagle]. His sickness was that he craved to be a Jiaozhu. I know that since Yin Tianzheng has forsaken the Devil Cult, he became like water and fire with the Brightness Peak. Who would have thought that when the Brightness Peak is facing a calamity, they still ask the Heavenly Eagle Cult for help?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was in chaos; he had known early on that his foster father and (maternal) grandfather’s conduct was heretical, which most of orthodox people would not tolerate; but he had never thought that those two people were actually the Devil Cult's Protector Kings.

While being busy with his thoughts, he did not hear what the Emei disciples were talking. A little while later he heard Miejue Shitai continue, "We, the Six Major Sects, are currently in a mission to destroy the Brightness Peak. We will prevail. Even if the demons and witches are united, what do we fear? It's just that during the battle, many will be injured or dead. No one must have a faint heart; we should not rely on luck. If fear overcomes our hearts, then we will degrade Emei Pai's power and prestige in the presence of our enemy." The disciples jumped to their feet at once. They bowed in compliance. Miejue Shitai continued, "Whether one's martial art skill is strong or weak, it all depends on talent and destiny, we cannot force it at all. Before Jing Xu even had a chance to launch a stance, she had fallen under the enemy's scheme and died in the hands of that blood-sucking demon. Nobody can sneer at her. What is the purpose of training martial arts? Is it not to rob the rich and give it to the poor, to destroy the demons and devils? Today Jing Xu was the first to die. Who knows? Perhaps the second one will be your own Shifu. Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, Kunlun, Kongtong and Huashan, the Six Major Sects' mission is to besiege and destroy the Devil Cult. We, the Emei Pai, have earlier disregarded good luck or bad luck, disaster or happiness ..."

In his heart Zhang Wuji thought, "Our Wudang is indeed among them." Deep in his heart he felt that his journey to the west this time would bring him to see countless wretched disasters, which eyes could not near to see, and ears could not bear to hear. And thus he seriously considered taking Zhu'er to escape so that they would not have to witness the war and massacre among the Jianghu people.

In the meantime, Miejue Shitai said, "The proverb says it well: 'A thousand coffins go out the door, the home prospers. The children survive, the father dies first; and thus the descendants mourn their ancestors.' [Translator's note: this is a literal translation of the text. I am not sure about the background of this saying. Any help will be greatly appreciated.] Who in the world would not die? As long as we leave behind our successors, we can still prosper even though there are hundreds or thousands of deaths in the family. I am only afraid that you will all die and leave the old nun live alone." She paused for a moment before continuing, "Hey, hey, even if that happens, I will have no regrets. A hundred years ago, was it not that Emei Pai did not even exist? As long as every one of us is fighting with everything we have, wouldn't that be enough if Emei Pai had to meet its destruction?"

With boiling blood, the disciples' drew out their weapons and responded in loud voices, "Disciples vow to fight to the death; we will not co-exist with the people of demonic way." Miejue Shitai laughed drily and said, "Very good! You may sit down!"

Although the majority of Emei Pai disciples were weak women, Zhang Wuji had to admit that they possessed heroic spirits, which enable them to brave death without frowning. He thought that it was not by accident that Emei Pai was considered one of the Six Major Sects, and certainly not only because of their superiority in martial arts. Witnessing this scene, he was reminded of how Jing Ke went west to enter the Qin [Jing Ke was supposedly the would- be assassin of King Ying Zheng of Qin], with the sadness of 'the mournful wind rippled the cold water, the warrior departed on a one-way mission.'

Actually, these words should be spoken before they embarked on this mission, while they were still thinking that the Devil Cult was weakened by internal strife that it would be easily destroyed with just a raise of the hand. They had not anticipated that in the middle of disintegration, the demons of the Devil Cult were still able to join hands in resisting outsiders' invasion. Now that Qing Yi Fu Wang had made his move, the situation was substantially different.

Sure enough, Zhang Wuji heard Miejue Shitai say, "If Qing Yi Fu Wang could come, then Bai Mei Ying Wang and Jin Mao Shi Wang could also come. The possibility of Zi Shan Long Wang, the Five Wanderers, and the Five Flag Commanders to come is even greater. We, the Six Major Sects, originally thought that with our combined forces, we would be able to destroy Guangming Zuo Shi [the Left Emissary of the Brightness] Yang Xiao first, then sweep out the other demons one by one. Who would have thought that this time the prediction of Huashan Pai's Shen Ji Xiansheng [Mr. Divine Strategist], Xianyu Zhang Men's [Sect Leader Xianyu] is inaccurate? Hey, hey, he is totally off the mark."

Jing Xuan asked, "What kind of evil devil-head is that Zi Shan Long Wang?"

Miejue Shitai shook her head. "Zi Shan Long Wang's evil conduct is obscure; I myself only heard bits and pieces about him. I heard when this person failed to be the Jiaozhu, he immediately escaped to the distant overseas and no longer communicated with the Devil Cult. It would be best if he stays out of this. ‘Mo Jiao Si Wang, Zi Bai Jin Qing’. This person is the chief among the Four Kings, needless to say, he is the most difficult to be dealt with. Other than Yang Xiao, the Devil Cult has another Emissary of the Brightness. From generation to generation, the Devil Cult has always had Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness, whose positions are above the Four Hu Jiao Fa Wang. Yang Xiao is the Guangming Zuo Shi [Left Emissary of the Brightness]; but the name of the Guangming You Shi [Right Emissary of the Brightness] is actually unknown to the people of the Wulin world. Kong Zhi Dashi [reverend] of Shaolin Pai and Song Yuanqiao, Song Daxia [great hero] of Wudang Pai, both are warriors with vast experience and knowledge, but even they did not know it. Yang Xiao is our enemy; in a frontal battle, victory or defeat will be decided by our martial art skill, which is fine with me. My main concern is if that Guangming You Shi suddenly launches a sneak attack.”

The disciples were scared; without realizing it, they turned their heads around as if that Right Emissary of the Brightness or the Purple-robed Dragon King suddenly came and launched a sneak attack. Under the cold moonlight, everybody’s face looked deathly pale.

Miejue Shitai indifferently said, “Yang Xiao killed your Gu Hongzi Shibo [martial (older) uncle], he also killed Ji Xiaofu. Wei Yixiao killed Jing Xu. Between Emei Pai and the Devil Cult there is an enmity as high as the heavens. Since our Sect was founded by Guo Zushi [ancestor master], the Zhang Men position has always been held by a virgin woman. Not to mention that a man will not have any part in this position, even a woman, if she is married, cannot hold the Zhang Men position. However, today our Sect is facing a life and death, exist or perish situation; how can I adhere strictly to the norms? In this mission, whoever set a great merit will inherit my cassock and alms bowl, I don’t care if it is a man or a married woman.”

The disciples hang their heads in silence; they felt their Shifu was making an arrangement for things to do after her death, discussing the appointment of her successor, as if she knew that she would not return to the Central Earth alive. In everybody’s hearts there was a third part of uncomfortable, mournful feeling. Miejue Shitai let out a long, loud laughter, “Ha ha, ha ha …” her voice travelled far into the distant over the great desert. The disciples looked at each other in a start; inwardly feeling scared. Miejue Shitai waved her sleeve and loudly said, “Everybody, sleep!”

As usual, Jing Xuan arranged the night watch. “No need for night watch,” Miejue Shitai said.

Jing Xuan was startled, but then she understood. If a master of Green- winged Bat King’s caliber attacked in the middle of the night, how could the disciple find out? Night watch would be futile.

That evening the Emei Pai seemed relaxed outwardly, but very tense inwardly; they seemed to be scattered loose, but actually in a very tight formation, ready for any unanticipated matter.

End of Chapter 17. 
@Chapter 18 – The Cold and Bright Ray of the Yitian Sword
The next day they continued their journey westward and did not stop for more than a hundred ‘li’. It was around midday, the sun was shining brightly overhead, although it was the depth of the winter, they felt hot.

Continuing after the rest, suddenly they heard faint noises of weapons clashing and people shouting, coming from the northwest direction. Without waiting for Jing Xuan to give an order, everybody quickened their steps, rushing toward the noise. Shortly afterwards, they saw ahead that several people were dodging and attacking in a violent battle. When they were near, they saw three Taoist priests in white robes with weapons in their hands were surrounding a middle-aged man. The three Taoist priests’ left sleeves were embroidered with red blazing flame; apparently they were Devil Cult disciples. The middle-aged man brandished a long sword, the sword’s ray flickered; he fought the three Taoist priests intensely. With one against three, he did not show any sign of defeat.

Zhang Wuji’s legs were already healed for some time, but he still pretended that he could not walk, so he stayed on the sled so that the Emei Pai people would not guard against him, while he waited for a good opportunity to take Zhu’er and escape. Right now, an Emei male disciple was standing in front of him, blocking his view that he had to lean over to see the four people fighting. He saw the middle-aged man’s sword was getting faster and faster. Suddenly the man turned around and shouted. ‘Shua!’ his sword slashed one Devil Cult’s Taoist priest’s chest.

The Emei disciples cheered. Zhang Wuji could not restrain himself from calling out in surprise. The move was called ‘shun shui tui zhou’ [lit. push the boat along the current]; it was a unique skill from the Wudang’s sword techniques, because the middle-aged man who launched the stance was precisely Wudang Pai’s Sixth Hero, Yin Liting.

The Emei disciples watched the battle from a distance and did not step out to help at all. As the other two Devil Cult Taoist priests saw one man down from their side, and the enemy had increased in number, their hearts sank. With a sudden whistle they ran separately, one to the north, the other to the south. Yin Liting flew to pursue the Taoist priest running to the south. His feet were a lot faster; only seven, eight steps later, he had already reached the Taoist priest’s back. The Taoist priest turned around and brandished his pair of sabers wildly; staking everything he had with the intention to take the enemy down with him.

The Emei Pai disciples realized it would be difficult for Yin Liting to chase two enemies at once; the Taoist priest who ran to the north’s ‘qing gong’ was not bad either, he ran faster and faster. It appeared that even if Yin Liting managed to kill the Taoist priest who ran to the south, he would not be able to turn around to chase and kill the one running to the north. There was an enmity as deep as the ocean between Emei disciples and Devil Cult people; everybody looked at Jing Xuan, waiting for her to issue the order to block the escaping enemy. Most of the female disciples were good friends of Ji Xiaofu; they all thought that had it not because of the crime of Devil Cult’s villain, this Sixth Hero of Wudang would have been their Sect’s in- law. This moment they all hoped to lend him a helping hand.

Jing Xuan was also hesitating; she thought that the Sixth Hero of Wudang held a prominent position within the Wulin world, if he did not ask for help and other people rashly put out their hands, it would be disrespectful for him. That was the reason she did not immediately issue the order to intercept; she would rather the Taoist priest escape than offending the Wudang’s Yin Liuxia [sixth hero].

Suddenly they all saw a bright ray flashed, the sword in Yin Liting’s hand flew to the north. Swift like the wind, fast like a lightning, it shot toward the Taoist priest’s back. The Taoist priest suddenly felt this incoming attack, but by the time he was about to evade, the sword had already penetrated his heart, through his body, and still flew forward. The Taoist priest’s feet did not stop; he still ran at least two ‘zhang’ forward before finally he fell, dead. The sword was still flying for three more ‘zhang’ after going through the Taoist priest before it also fell to the ground. The blade flickered under the bright sunlight as the sword stuck straight up in the sand. Although it was only an object without a life or a mind of its own, the sword carried an awe-inspiring divine power.

Seeing this hair-rising scene, there was not a single person among the spectators who was not shaken to the core; they were speechless for half a day. When they remembered to turn their heads back, they saw the Taoist priest fighting Yin Liting was shaking and swaying just like a drunk. He threw his pair of sabers to the ground, and hands were grabbing wildly the empty air. Yin Liting simply ignored him; he walked toward the Emei Pai party. He had just walked for several steps when the Taoist priest uttered a stifled grunt and fell with his face upward, and stopped moving altogether. Nobody saw with what technique Yin Liting had struck him.

The Emei Pai disciples were loudly cheering and clapping. Even Miejue Shitai nodded her head before heaving a deep sigh. Perhaps with her sigh she was saying: Wudang Pai had this kind of excellent disciple, my Emei Pai did not have this accomplished disciple. But perhaps she was saying: Xiaofu was unfortunate not to be able to marry this man but fell under the hands of a Devil Cult lecherous disciple. In Miejue Shitai’s mind, Ji Xiaofu was killed by Yang Xiao, it was not her who struck her to death.

The call ‘Liu Shishu’ [sixth martial (younger) uncle] was already on Zhang Wuji’s lips, but he swallowed it back. Among his martial uncles, Yin Liting was the one closest to his father, therefore, he also had always treated him with parental love. When he looked at this sixth uncle, whom he had not seen for nine years, he saw a face battered with wind and dust, the hair on his temples was graying out. Zhang Wuji presumed Ji Xiaofu’s death had given him a tremendous blow.

As he saw a close relative after a long period of separation, Zhang Wuji’s first urge was to rush forward and greet him, but finally he thought that in front of too many people, he could not blurt out the truth and should avoid provoking endless trouble later on. Although Zhou Zhiruo knew his real identity, he did not think she would reveal it to others.

Yin Liting bowed and saluted Miejue Shitai. “My humble Sect’s Da Shixiong [first martial brother], leading a number of his martial brothers and the third generation disciples, thirty-two people altogether, have arrived at the frontline’s canyon bank. Wanbei [younger generation – referring to self] is under Da Shixiong’s order to welcome your honorable Sect,” he said.

“Good,” Miejue Shitai replied, “Wudang has arrived first. Have you had any contact with the demons?”

“We have battled the Devil Cult’s Wood and Fire, two Flags, three times,” Yin Liting said, “We have killed several demons, but Qi Shidi [seventh martial (younger) brother] Mo Shenggu suffers a light wound.”

Miejue Shitai nodded. She knew that although Yin Liting spoke lightly, these three battles must be exceptionally fierce and heavy, such that with Wudang’s five heroes’ ability, they still failed to kill the Devil Cult’s Flag Leaders and the Seventh Hero Mo Shenggu even sustained injury.

“Has your honorable Sect ascertained the strength of the Brightness Peak yet?” Miejue Shitai asked further.

Yin Liting said, “We heard the Heavenly Eagle Cult and other Devil Cult’s branches carried a massive operation to support the Brightness Peak, yet some others say that Zi Shan Long Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang have also arrived.”

Miejue Shitai was startled. “Zi Shan Long Wang has also arrived?” she asked.

The two of them were talking while walking side by side, with the Emei disciples followed from a distance; they did not dare to listen to these two people’s discussion. After talking for a while, Yin Liting raised his cupped fists to take his leave, as he needed to make contact with the Huashan Pai.

“Yin Liuxia,” Jing Xuan called out, “You have been busy running around; you must be hungry. Would you eat some light refreshments before continuing your journey?” Yin Liting was not shy, he said, “In that case I will bother you.”

The Emei heroines immediately took out the provisions; some piled sand and built fire to cook noodles in an iron pot. Their meals were simple, but they were very attentive in entertaining Yin Liting; naturally it was for the deceased Ji Xiaofu’s sake. Yin Liting understood their intention; with moist eyes and choking voice he said, “Many thanks to you all, Shijie, Shimei.”

Zhu’er had been waiting silently on the side, right now she suddenly said, “Yin Liuxia, may I inquire of you about somebody?”

With a bowl of noodle in his hand, Yin Liting turned his head around and said, “I wonder what the honored name of this Xiao Shimei is [little martial (younger) sister? And who is it you wish to inquire about? If I have the information, I will certainly share it with you.” His manner was very cordial.

“I don’t belong to the Emei Pai,” Zhu’er said, “I am their prisoner.”

At first Yin Liting thought she was Emei Pai’s young disciple; hearing her said so, he could not help but be a bit surprised. But thinking that the girl was very frank, he asked pointedly, “Are you of the Devil Cult?”

“No,” Zhu’er said, “I am a Devil Cult’s enemy.”

Yin Liting did not have time to ask her origin in details; to respect the host, he cast a questioning look at Jing Xuan.

Jing Xuan said, “What is it that you want to inquire of Yin Liuxia?”

Zhu’er said, “I want to inquire: is your honorable Shixiong, Zhang Cuishan, Zhang Wuxia [fifth hero Zhang] also come to the frontline’s canyon bank?”

As soon as they heard this question, Yin Liting and Zhang Wuji were gob- smacked. “What do you want by inquiring about my Wu Shige?” Yin Liting asked.

With a blushing face Zhu’er replied in a low voice, “I only want to know if his son, Zhang Wuji, also came with him.”

Zhang Wuji was even more startled. “She knows my real identity,” he thought, “and is going to expose it to everybody.”

“Are you telling the truth?” Yin Liting asked.

“I am sincerely inquiring of the Yin Liuxia,” Zhu’er said, “How could I dare to deceive you?”

“My Wu Shige has passed away more than ten years ago,” Yin Liting said, “The tree by his grave has arched over it. Could it be that Miss does not know it?”

Zhu’er sprang up with a start. “Ah,” she exclaimed, “Turns out Zhang Wuxia has already passed away. So … he … he has become an orphan early on.”

“Does Miss know my nephew Wuji?” Yin Liting asked.

Zhu’er said, “Five years ago, I met him once at the Butterfly Valley’s Divine Doctor Hu Qingniu’s house. I don’t know where he is right now.”

Yin Liting said, “Receiving my Master’s instruction, I also went to the Butterfly Valley to find him, but Hu Qingniu, husband and wife had been killed, while Wuji disappeared without a trace. Afterwards, I went around seeking him, without finding any information about him. Ay, who would have thought … who would have thought …” Speaking to this point, his expression turned sad, and he did not continue.

“What?” Zhu’er hastily said, “What bad news did you hear?”

Yin Liting stared at her. “Why are you so concerned about him, Miss?” he asked, “That nephew of mine, Wuji, did he have kindness with you, or enmity?”

Zhu’er turned her gaze to a distant place; she quietly said, “I wanted him to come with me to the Lingshe Island [spirit snake] …”

“Lingshe Island?” Yin Liting cut her off, “What relation do you have with Jin Hua Popo [Golden Flower Granny] and Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf]?”

Zhu’er did not answer, she continued as if she was talking to herself, “… not only he was not willing, he hit me, scolded me, and bit my palm bloody

…” Her left hand gently stroke the back of her right hand, “… but … but … I am still thinking about him. I did not want to harm him, I wanted him to come to the Lingshe Island. Popo would teach him a martial art skill with which he could be healed of the cold poison of the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang [black/mysterious and dark/deep divine palm] in his body. Who would have thought that he was so vicious; he regarded other’s good intentions as bad ones.”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was in turmoil; it was the first time he knew: “Turns out Zhu’er is Ah Li who grabbed me in the Butterfly Valley. The boyfriend who is always in her mind is me.” Casting a sidelong glance, he saw her bumpy cheeks. Where did the beauty he saw on her face when they first met? But her eyes were like limpid autumn water; clear, pure and bright, just like he remembered it after all those years.

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “I hear her Shifu, Jin Hua Popo, also have some enmity with the Devil Cult. But Jin Hua Popo is certainly not an upright person, and this is not a good time for us to start a feud with her. For now, let’s just detain her.”

“Hm, so that’s how it is,” Yin Liting said, “Miss, you had good intentions toward my nephew Wuji, it’s a pity that he was so unfortunate. I came across Wu Zhuangzhu [village/manor master] Wu Lie of the Zhu and Wu combined manor recently. I learned that more than five years ago, Wuji lost his footings and fell into a ten-thousand ‘zhang’ deep ravine; his body and bones did not survive. Ay, the love between his father and I was like hand and foot; who would have thought that the Emperor of Heaven did not bless a well-doer, such that even his only flesh and blood …” He had not finished speaking when with a thud Zhu’er fell backward as she lost consciousness.

Zhou Zhiruo quickly propped her up and massaged her chest for quite a while before Zhu'er regained consciousness. Zhang Wuji was extremely grieved seeing Yin Liting and Zhu'er heart-broken like this, yet he steeled himself to stay out of this matter. When he looked up, he saw that Zhou Zhiruo was staring at him with a questioning look, apparently she was wondering, "How come she does not recognize you?" Zhang Wuji realized that over the last several years, his stature and appearance had undergone huge changes. Zhou Zhiruo would not recognize him as well if he did not mention the Hanshui River boat affair first.

Biting her lips, Zhu'er asked, "Yin Liuxia, who harmed Zhang Wuji?"

"Nobody did," Yin Liting answered, "Wu Lie of the Zhu and Wu combined manor said that he personally witness Wuji lost his footing on his own and fell into the ravine. Wu Lie's sworn brother, 'One Pen Shaking the Heavens' Zhu Changling also fell and died together with him." Zhu'er heaved a deep sigh and sat back down dejectedly.

"Miss, what is your honorable surname and great given name?" Yin Liting asked.

Zhu'er only shook her head in daze, as tears streaming down her face. Suddenly she threw herself on the sandy ground and cried miserably.

"Don't be sad, Miss," Yin Liting consoled her, "Even if my nephew Wuji had not fallen into that snowy canyon, the cold poison in his body would have flared up by now, it would still be difficult for him to escape calamity. Ay, he fell with a smashed body and shattered bones, that might not necessarily a bad fortune. It sure beats the heavy and endless torture of the cold poison in his body." Miejue Shitai suddenly said, "It was better for this breed of sin Zhang Wuji to die early; otherwise he would just be a source of harm to mankind."

Zhu'er was angry. "Old Thief Nun," she roared, "What nonsense are you blabbering about?"

Hearing her unexpectedly dared to insult their venerated master, four or five the Emei disciples immediately drew their swords and pointed the tips to her back.

Zhu'er was not scared at all; she still shouted curses, "Old Thief Nun, Zhang Wuji's father was this Yin Liuxia's Shixiong [martial brother]; his chivalry and prestige spread all over the world. What's not good about him?"

Miejue Shitai laughed coldly without answering. Jing Xuan said, "Watch what you are saying. Zhang Wuji's father was no doubt a disciple of an upright and prestigious school, but what about his mother? He was the son of a Devil Cult witch. If he was not a breed of sin, the source of harm to the mankind, then what is he?"

"Who was Zhang Wuji's mother?" Zhu'er asked, "Why did you say she was a Devil Cult witch?"

The Emei disciples broke into raucous laughter; only Zhou Zhiruo lowered her head and looked at the ground. Yin Liting looked quite awkward. Zhang Wuji's face was flushed with fury, his eyes red and brimming with tears; if he had not made up his mind to hide his true identity, he would have stood up and defended his mother.

Jing Xu was more honest and considerate; she explained to Zhu'er, "Zhang Wuxia's wife was Heavenly Devil Cult's Cult Leader, Yin Tianzheng's daughter; her name was Yin Susu ..."

"Ah," Zhu'er exclaimed; her countenance changed greatly.

Jing Xu added, "Because Zhang Wuxia took this witch as his wife, he brought ruin and shame upon himself and slashed his own throat on Mount Wudang. This matter was widely known all over the world. Could it be that Miss was not aware?"

"I ... I lived on the Lingshe Island, and have never heard anything about the Wulin world affairs of the Central Plains," Zhu'er said.

"Alright, then," Jing Xuan said, "You have offended my Shifu. Quickly apoligize."

But Zhu'er still asked, "That Yin Susu, where is she?" "She died together with Zhang Wuxia," Jing Xu replied. Zhu'er's body trembled. "She ... she also died?" she asked. "Do you know Yin Susu?" Jing Xuan wondered.

Right this moment they saw on the northeast horizon a blue flame shot up to the sky. "Aiyo!" Yin Liting said, "My nephew Qingshu is surrounded by the enemy." Turning around, he bowed to take his leave from Miejue Shitai then raised his cupped fists to everybody else and immediately dashed towards the direction of the blue flame.

Jing Xuan waved her hand; Emei disciples immediately followed. When they got near, they saw that three men were besieging a young man. The three men were wearing hats and dressed like servants, each one had a saber in his hand. The people only watched the fight for several stances and they were secretly shocked. Although these three men were dressed like servants, their movements were ruthless and fierce, not at all inferior to top ranking martial artists. It seemed like their martial art skills were a lot stronger than the three Taoist priests killed by Yin Liting. They were attacking the young man dressed in scholar attire in rotation; one by one they took turns in engaging the young scholar in close combat. The scholar had fallen into a greatly disadvantageous situation, but the sword in his hand still formed a tight defense. By these four fiercely fighting men stood six men wearing yellow robes, their robes were embroidered with red blazing flame; obviously they were Devil Cult people. These six men stood out of the way and did not take part in the battle. As soon as they saw Yin Liting and the Emei disciples arrive, a stout man among the six called out, "Yin Jia Xiongdi [brothers of the Yin family], you have failed. Just run with your tails between your legs, Laozi [old man or 'your father' (vulgar term), referring to self] will cover your back."

One of the men in servant attire angrily said, "Hou Tu [thick earth] Flag crawls the slowest. The one surnamed Yan, why don't you run away first?"

Jing Xuan coldly said, "Death is knocking on your door, and you are still squabbling among yourselves?"

"Shijie," Zhou Zhiruo said, "Who are those people?"

"Those wearing the servant attire are Yin Tianzheng's servants," Jing Xuan replied, "They are called Yin Wufu [without luck/prosperity], Yin Wulu [without good fortune], and Yin Wushou [without long life]."

Zhou Zhiruo was astonished. "Three servants, and yet they are this ... this good?" she asked.

"Originally they were famous big robbers of the underworld; they are not ordinary people at all," Jing Xuan replied, "Those in yellow robes are the Hou Tu Flag demons of the Devil Cult. Perhaps the stout one is Yan Yuan, the Flag Leader of the Hou Tu Flag. Shifu said that the five flag leaders of the Devil Cult clashed with the Heavenly Devil Cult over the Jiaozhu position; they don't get along with each other ..."

By this time the young scholar had repeatedly fallen into dangerous situations. With a 'Rip!' his left sleeve was cut by the saber in Yin Wushou's hand. Yin Liting let out a clear whistle, his sword went straight to Yin Wulu. Yin Wulu swept his saber horizontally across his chest to block. The saber and the sword collided. By this time, Yin Liting had already possessed abundant internal energy; it was not a small matter at all. 'Slap!' Yin Wulu's saber was shaken and bent, it turned into a square tool.

Yin Wulu was shocked; he leaped three steps sideways. Suddenly Zhu'er leaped toward him, her right index finger stretched out and pierced the back of Yin Wulu's neck, and then she leaped back to her previous position at once. Yin Wulu's martial art skill was not superficial at all, but under Yin Liting's internal energy attack, the 'chi' and blood in his chest welled up. While he was still staggering, Zhu'er's finger pierced him. Immediately he doubled up in pain and only managed to let out a soft grunt while his body shivered incessantly.

Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou were shocked; abandoning their fight with the young scholar, they rushed toward Yin Wulu to support him. They saw his body was twisted; obviously his injury was very heavy. They turned their gaze toward Zhu'er and suddenly exclaimed, "It is San Xiaojie [third miss]."

"Humph," Zhu'er snorted, "You still recognize me?"

Everybody thought that these two men would certainly stake everything they got to fight Zhu'er; who would have thought that they picked Yin Wulu and without saying anything they rushed to the north.

This turn of events happened so suddenly that everybody was dumbstruck; they scratched their heads in confusion.

The stout man in yellow robe raised his left hand, in which there was a yellow flag. The other five men also waved their yellow flags. Although there were only six of them, the flags made noise just like a boar hunting party. They slowly retreated to the north with an imposing manner.

Seeing the strange flags, Emei disciples were taken aback. Two male disciples shouted and pursued. Yin Liting’s shadow swayed as he ran after them. He overtook them and cut their path. With arms straight to the front, he lightly pushed. The two men could not help but were pushed three steps back. Their faces immediately turned red. Jing Xuan shouted, “Shidi [martial brothers], come back! Yin Liuxia’s intention is good. This Hou Tu Flag must not be pursued.”

Yin Liting said, “The day before yesterday Mo Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] and I chased the Lie Huo [raging inferno] Flag formation, and had to suffer a big defeat. Half of Mo Qidi’s hair and eyebrows were burned.” While saying that, he pulled his left sleeve up, showing a large red patch of burned skin. The two Emei male disciples could not help from feeling inwardly scared.

Miejue Shitai’s cold and penetrating eyes swept Zhu’er’s face. “Was that ‘qian zhu wan du shou’?” she coldly asked.

“Not perfect yet,”Zhu’er replied.

“What could you have done if it were perfect?” Miejue Shitai asked, “Why did you harm that man?”

“Too bad I couldn’t pierce him to death on the spot,” Zhu’er said. “Why?” Miejue Shitai asked.

“It’s my business,” Zhu’er replied, “Why do you care?”

Miejue Shitai’s body slightly moved to the side; she took the sword from Jing Xuan’s hand. ‘Ding!’ Zhu’er busily leaped backward; her face turned paper white. Turned out in that split second Miejue Shitai had chopped her right hand index finger. Her hand was so swift that nobody was able to see it clearly. Because her broken wrist had not completely healed, Zhu’er’s hand was still weak; moreover, because her ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ had not been perfected yet, Zhu’er had put a refined steel cap on her finger before she made her move. Besides, the sword Miejue Shitai used was not Yitian Sword; therefore, to everybody’s surprise, this sword unexpectedly failed to cut her finger. Miejue Shitai tossed the sword back to Jing Xuan. “Humph,” she snorted and said, “I’ll let you go this time. Next time you use this kind of malicious martial art, make sure you don’t fall into my hand.” Since her attack to a junior did not hit its target, true to her higher status, she was not willing to make another move.

Yin Liting saw the vicious and malicious the martial art Zhu’er practiced, which was his school’s big taboo. However, she had pierced Yin Wulu in her attempt to help his side; furthermore, he also saw her concern toward Zhang Wuji and how passionately she was devoted to him. In the end, he felt compassionate toward Zhu'er and did not want Miejue Shitai to injure her.

"Shishu [martial (younger) uncle]," he persuaded Miejue Shitai, "This child has learned the wrong kind of skill, we can slowly help her to learn from another great master. Hmm ... perhaps ... perhaps ..." He was thinking that it would be best if Miejue Shitai was willing to accept her as an Emei disciple; but he remembered how this young girl had just called her 'old thief nun'. Fortunately, he managed to stop in time and did not continue speaking. Beckoning to the young scholar to come over, he said, "Qingshu, quickly pay your respects to Shitai and to all Shibo and Shishu."

The scholar hurriedly took three steps forward and knelt in front of Miejue Shitai. When he bowed to Jing Xuan, everybody continually called out 'Do not dare' and all of them returned his salute. Zhang Sanfeng's age was close to a hundred years; in terms of seniority, he was actually more than one generation above Miejue Shitai. But because Yin Liting was engaged to Ji Xiaofu, he was considered one generation younger than Miejue Shitai. Supposing Zhang Sanfeng was considered of the same generation with the Emei Pai founder Guo Xiang then technically Miejue Shitai should call Yin Liting 'Shishu'. Fortunately, Wudang and Emei were two distinct schools and neither one considered the seniority of the other school as important, so they address each other based on their age, regardless of the generational seniority. Therefore, when the young scholar called them as ‘Shibo’ and ‘Shishu’ [martial uncles], Jing Xuan and the others modestly declined. Everybody had just witnessed his battle against the three Yin brothers; his movements were deliberate, his techniques were refined and wonderful, clearly he was a disciple of a prestigious school. Furthermore, although he was at a disadvantage under the three martial art masters’ attack, he still maintained his calm in resisting the enemy; he did not the least bit look panicked, which was not easy to do. Now that they met face to face, everybody could not help but secretly admire him. “What a handsome young man!” they thought. They could see that in his delicately handsome appearance, there was a third part of proud and imposing bearing, causing those who saw him to be impressed.

“This is my Da Shige’s only son,” Yin Liting said, “His name is Qingshu.”

Jing Xuan said, “For the last several years, the name and chivalrous deeds of Yu Mian Meng Chang [Jade-faced Meng Chang – emperor of the Later Shu kingdom, known for his aptitude in ruling the kingdom] is quite famous; the Jianghu people say that Song Shaoxia [young hero Song] is generous and vehement in upholding justice, always ready to deliver people from their distress. It is very fortunate to meet a revered model.” The crowd of Emei disciples murmured among themselves with the ‘he really lives up to his reputation’ look of admiration on their faces.

Zhu’er stood close to Zhang Wuji. “Ahniue Ge,” she said in low voice, “This man is a lot more handsome than you are.”

“Of course,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Do you need to mention it?” “Are you jealous?” Zhu’er asked.

“Are you joking?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Why should I?”

“He is looking at your Miss Zhou,” Zhu’er said, “You are still not jealous?”

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to Song Qingshu, and sure enough, Song Qingshu was looking at Zhou Zhiruo; but Zhang Wuji did not care. After finding out that Zhu'er was indeed Ah Li whom he met at the Butterfly Valley that year, his heart was tumultuous. At that time Zhu'er was forcing him to come with her to the Lingshe Island, he had no choice but fiercely bite her hand because he could not free himself otherwise. Unexpectedly, she had never forgotten him all this time. He could not help but feeling very grateful.

"Qingshu," he heard Yin Liting said, "Let's go."

Song Qingshu said, "Kongtong Pai has made an appointment to meet with us in this area by noon today, but they have not arrived yet until now; I am afraid they have met some set-back."

Yin Liting looked worried. "I am afraid so," he said.

"Yin Liushu," Song Qingshu said, "I think it is better for us to travel together with the Emei Pai seniors to the west."

"Very well," Yin Liting nodded.

Miejue Shitai and Jing Xuan and the rest all thought, "For the last several years, Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren no longer deals with day-to-day business, Song Yuanqiao is the acting Zhang Men [sect leader] of Wudang. It looks like the third generation Zhang Men position will fall into this Song Shaoxia's hand. Although Yin Liting is his Shishu, he heeds his advice."

Actually, they did not know that Yin Liting was always easy-going; not often would he pull his rank on others, he very seldom opposed whatever other people suggested.

After travelling for about forty, fifty 'li', they saw a tall sand dune ahead of them. Seeing Song Qingshu quickly climb the sand dune, Jing Xuan waved her left hand and two Emei disciples quickly followed. They did not want to be outdone by the Wudang Pai. As the three of them climbed over the sand dune, they cried out in alarm, because to the west of the sand dune there were about thirty bodies scattered on the sand. Hearing the cry, everybody rushed to climb the sand dune. They noticed that all the corpses, young and old alike, if their skulls were not shattered, then their chests were smashed in; apparently they were all struck by a large blunt object.

Yin Liting had a vast experience; he said, “The Poyang [name of a city/county] Clan of Jiangxi has been wiped out by the Ju Mu [Gigantic Wood] Flag of the Devil Cult.”

Miejue Shitai frowned. “Why did the Poyang Clan come over here?” she asked, “Did your honorable Pai invite them?” She did not sound too happy. The prestigious schools of the Wulin world had always been discriminatory against the clans and societies [‘bang’ and ‘hui’]; Miejue Shitai did not want to mingle with them.

Yin Liting busily said, “We did not. But Poyang Clan’s Liu Bangzhu [Clan Leader] is a disciple of Kongtong Pai. They must have heard the Six Major Sects are besieging the Brightness Peak, and then volunteered to come and help their school.

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted; no longer saying anything.

The disciples buried the bodies of the Poyang Clan people in the sand. They were about to continue their journey when suddenly the grave farthest to the west split open; from beneath the sand flew a person, who grabbed a male disciple and ran away. The rest of the people were so frightened that they were at a loss; about seven, eight Emei female disciples screamed. But they saw that Miejue Shitai, Yin Liting, Song Qingshu and Jing Xuan had already run after that person.

A short moment later everyone came to their senses; they realized now that the person jumping out of the grave must be Qing Yi Fu Wang of the Devil Cult. He must have put on Poyang Clan’s uniform, mixed himself among the corpses and stopped his breathing, pretended to be dead. The Emei disciples did not look carefully and had buried him in the sand. His skill was strong, and he had a lot of guts; so he did not immediately make his presence known. Luckily the sand was loose, so he had no problem holding his breath for a while. When he felt he had fooled them enough, he suddenly broke out of the grave.

At first, Miejue Shitai and the other, four people, were running abreast; but after making a large half circle, the difference in their skill levels became apparent. Two people were now running ahead of the other two; Yin Liting and Miejue Shitai in the front, Song Qingshu and Jing Xuan on the rear. But Qing Yi Fu Wang’s ‘qing gong’ was very strong; truly unparalleled in the world; even when he was carrying a man in his arms, how could Yin Liting and the others overtake him?

When they were about to circle the second time, Song Qingshu suddenly stopped and called out, "Zhao Lingzhu Shishu, Bei Jinyi Shishu, please outflank him from position 'li' [lit. leave/depart]; Ding Minjun Shishu, Li Mingxia Shishu, please cut him off from position 'zhen' [lit. shake/jolt; my dictionary also gives: symbolizing thunder in 'ba gua'] ..." He continuously shouted his order, instructing the more than thirty Emei disciples to occupy various positions according to Ba Gua [trigrams].

At that moment, the Emei people were like a dragon without a head; hearing the instructions he shouted with authority, everybody complied immediately. This way, Qing Yi Fu Wang was not able to circle freely; with a shrill laughter he tossed the man he had been carrying high to the sky, and then he sped away.

Miejue Shitai put out her hands to receive the disciple falling down, while Wei Yixiao's voice came across the sandy desert from afar, "Unexpectedly Emei Pai has this kind of skilled man; Miejue Lao Ni [old nun] is truly amazing!" It was obvious that he was praising Song Qingshu.

When Miejue Shitai lowered her head to look at the disciple in her hands, she saw his throat was dripping with blood with two rows of teeth marks; he was definitely dead. Everybody stood around her; they were grieved beyond words. After a long time, Yin Liting spoke up, "According to what I heard, each time this Qing Yi Fu Wang has to use his martial art, he has to suck fresh blood from a live human being. It looks like the rumor is not false. It's too bad for this Shidi [martial (younger) brother] ... ay ..."

Miejue Shitai was ashamed and furious at the same time. Ever since she assumed the Sect Leader position, Emei Pai had never received this kind of significant setback; two of her disciples died in succession, their blood being sucked by the enemy, yet she could not even see the enemy's appearance clearly.

After staring blankly for half a day, she turned her piercing gaze toward Song Qingshu and asked, "How do you know these many names of my disciples?"

"Jing Xuan Shishu introduced numerous Shishu to disciple," Song Qingshu replied.

"Hey, photographic memory! [orig. 'ru er bu wang' - enter the ears won’t forget]" Miejue Shitai exclaimed, "Of course my Emei Pai does not have this kind of talent."

When they stopped for the night that evening, Song Qingshu respectfully came to Miejue Shitai. He bowed and said, "Qianbei [senior, older generation], ‘wanbei’ [junior, younger generation] has a presumptuous request to ask."

"If you know it is presumptuous, why ask?" Miejue Shitai coldly replied.

"Yes," Song Qingshu respectfully replied. He bowed again and returned to sit next to Yin Liting.

Everybody heard he came to Miejue Shitai with a request, but when the request was declined, he did not talk too much; they were all curious: what was it that he wanted to ask? Finally Ding Minjun could not hold her patience. "Song Xiongdi [brother]," she asked, "What is it that you want to ask my Shifu?"

Song Qingshu replied, "When my father taught 'wanbei' sword technique, he mentioned that among the sword experts of this age, our own school's Shizu [ancestor master] is number one; next to him is Emei Pai Zhang Men Miejue 'qianbei'. Father said, Wudang and Emei swordsmanship each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, our school's 'Shou Hui Wu Xian' [hand brandishes five-stringed instrument] is very similar to your honorable Sect's 'Qing Luo Xiao Shan' [light veil, small fan] with minor differences. But if the force on the sword's blade is increased, the move loses its liveliness and agility, unlike the 'Qing Luo Xiao Shan', which can maintain its free and unrestrained character." He was speaking and pulling out his sword at the same time, and then executed those two stances in succession; only when he launched the 'Qing Luo Xiao Shan', his movements were somewhat nondescript.

Ding Minjun laughed and said, "That's not right." Taking the sword from his hand, she demonstrated the stance for him and said, "My wrist is still in pain, I cannot exert my strength, but the movement should be like that."

Song Qingshu gasped in admiration. He said, “Father always says that he is unfortunate never to see your revered master’s swordsmanship. Today ‘wanbei’ can see Ding Shishu’s 'Qing Luo Xiao Shan' stance, it truly is an eye opener for me. Wanbei was thinking of asking Shitai for some pointers to satisfy some doubts and suspicions in my heart. But wanbei is not your honorable Pai’s disciple; thereupon I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Miejue Shitai was sitting some distance away, but she heard everything he said. Hearing that Song Yuanqiao ranked her as number two in the world in terms of swordsmanship, she was satisfied. Zhang Sanfeng was considered the ‘tai shan bei dou’ [as weighty as Mount Tai, as brilliant as the Big Dipper] in the martial art study of the present age; everybody admired him. She had never had any desire to surpass this grand master who was rarely seen, at present, as well as in the past. For a Wudang main disciple to unexpectedly regard her swordsmanship as the most refined aside from Zhang Sanfeng, she could not help but feel very proud of herself. Seeing Ding Minjun executed the stance with only thirty, forty percent proficiency, she was displeased; how could the Emei Pai sword technique whose prestige had shaken the world was just like this? She stood up and came near immediately; without saying anything she took the sword from Ding Minjun’s hand. Lifting the sword so that it was level with her nose, she gently shook the sword that the blade made a buzzing noise. And then she moved the sword from right to left, again from left to right, the sword successively flashed nine times with an extraordinary speed, but each move was very clear. Seeing their master launched this amazing sword technique, the Emei disciple’s hearts were pounding and their palms were wet with perspiration.

“Excellent sword technique! Excellent sword technique!” Yin Liting called loudly, “Wonderful!”

Song Qingshu watched with rapt attention while holding his breath; inwardly he was frightened. At first he commended Emei sword technique just to flatter Miejue Shitai; who would have thought that as she executed the technique, it was unimaginably subtle and amazing that he could not help but submit to her wholeheartedly. After that, with all sincerity Song Qingshu asked for advice. Whatever he asked, Miejue Shitai would answer without reservation, so that she passed on more knowledge to him than to her own disciples. Song Qingshu’s mastery of the martial art was already high, he was also intelligent so he asked all the right questions.

Emei disciples sat around these two people. They watched their Shifu fully demonstrate each one of the sword techniques, every single one was exquisite, strange and subtle, amazing to the extreme. There were some disciples who had been with their Shifu for a dozen of years yet had never seen Shifu demonstrate such divine skill.

Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er stood far outside the circle; they felt it was inappropriate for them to watch Emei’s sword technique demonstration without authorization. Suddenly Zhu’er said to Zhang Wuji, “Ahniu Ge, if I can learn ‘qing gong’ like Qing Yi Fu Wang, I will die satisfied.”

“Why would you want to learn that kind of heretical skill?” Zhang Wuji said, “Yin Liu … Yin Liuxia said that each time this Wei Yixiao utilizes his martial art, he must drink human blood. Isn’t that demonical?”

“His martial art skill is good,” Zhu’er replied, “He managed to kill Emei Pai’s disciples. If his ‘qing gong’ was somewhat lacking, that Old Nun and her companions would have caught him and killed him; only they would not suck his blood. The end result is the same; sucking blood or not, what’s the difference? Upright prestigious school or heretical and demonic way, what’s different?”

For a moment Zhang Wuji could not find a right answer. Suddenly he saw a bright flash of a sword flying straight up to the sky from amidst the people. Turned out Song Qingshu was sparring with Miejue Shitai. During the fifth stance, ‘hei zhao ling hu’ [spirit fox of the black marsh], she shook Song Qingshu’s sword to the sky. This stance was created by Emei Pai’s founder, Guo Xiang to commemorate her adventure with Yang Guo when they went to the black marsh to catch the spirit fox.

As everybody looked up at the sword, they saw a yellow flame shot to the sky on the northeast, about a dozen ‘li’ away. “Kongtong Pai meets the enemy,” Yin Liting called out, “Let’s go and help.”

In this far away mission to the western region to besiege the Devil Cult this time, in order to conceal their operation, the Six Major Sects adopted a strategy of entering the enemy territory separately and then launch a converging attack from different directions. They had agreed on rockets in six different colors as their means of communicating with each other. Yellow rocket was Kongtong Pai’s signal.

Everybody immediately rushed toward the direction of the flame. They heard loud noises of combat, the sound was getting increasingly wretched; often times they would hear one or two people crying out as they met their deaths. When they reached the place, they were greatly shocked, because what they saw was a large scale massacre, an orgy of bloodshed. Both sides had several hundred people in the battle. Under the bright moon, the sabers and swords flicker as the combatants ignore death and overlook live in hard fighting.

As long as he lived, Zhang Wuji had never seen this kind of battle. He saw sabers and swords fly and dance in the air, blood spill and flesh cut open; truly it was a scene too horrible to endure. He did not wish for the Devil Cult to prevail, but also unwilling for Yin Liushu and his company to triumph over their opponent. One side was the Sect where his father came from, the other was his mother’s; but both sides were in an impossible-to- coexist kind of fierce battle. Each time he saw somebody was killed, his heart was shaken, a burst of grief rose up.

Yin Liting observed the battle for a moment and then said, “The enemy consists of Rui Jin [acute/sharp metal], Hong Shui [flooding water] and Lie Huo [raging inferno], three Flags. Hmm, Kongtong Pai is here, Huashan Pai has also arrived, and so has Kunlun Pai. Our side’s three Sects against the enemy’s three Flags. Qingshu, let’s go into the battle.” He waved his sword to split the air, making a buzzing noise.

“Wait,” Song Qingshu said, “Liushu, look on that side. There are still a large number of the enemy waiting for an opportunity to make their move.”

Following the direction of his hand, Zhang Wuji saw that there were three groups of riders clumped together in neat formation toward the east, several dozen ‘zhang’ away from the battlefield. Each group had a hundred men. Currently, the three Sects against three Flags on the battlefield were evenly matched, but if these three companies of the Devil Cult entered the battle, Kongtong, Huashan and Kunlun, three Sects would inadvertently suffer a crushing defeat. However, for an unknown reason, these three companies only held their reins without moving.

Miejue Shitai and Yin Liting were secretly alarmed. “Why don’t those people make their move?” Yin Liting asked Song Qingshu.

Song Qingshu shook his head, “I can’t think through,” he said. Zhu’er suddenly laughed coldly. “What is it you cannot think through?” she said, “Nothing is clearer than this.”

Song Qingshu’s face reddened, but he did not say anything. Miejue Shitai wanted to open her mouth to ask, but finally she held her peace. Yin Liting said, “Would Miss please give us directions?”

Zhu’er said, “Those three groups are from the Heavenly Eagle Cult. Although the Heavenly Eagle Cult branched out from the Devil Cult, they have never been in good terms with the Five-Element Flags. If your party managed to wipe out the Five-Element Flags, the Heavenly Eagle Cult will be inwardly joyful. Perhaps Yin Tianzheng then can work his way to the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu position.”

Miejue Shitai instantly saw the light. Yin Liting said, “Thank you very much for your insight, Miss.”

Miejue Shitai stared at Zhu’er. She nodded her head while thinking, “Jin Hua Popo’s martial art skill is not weak. Who could have thought that this young disciple of hers is actually also quite good?”

By this time, the group of Emei disciples arrived one after another; they stood behind Miejue Shitai.

“Song Shaoxia,” Jing Xuan said, “Speaking about battle strategy, none of us could surpass your knowledge. Everybody will obey your command. We just want to kill the enemy. Please don’t be bashful.”

“Liushu, this … this …” Song Qingshu stammered, “How can nephew dare?”

“At a time like this you still pay particular attention to superficial politeness?” Miejue Shitai said, “Just issue your order.”

Song Qingshu saw the battle situation was urgent; fighting the Rui Jin Flag, Kunlun Pai seemed to have an upper hand, Huashan and Hong Shui seemed to be evenly matched, while Kongtong Pai seemed not able to hold with the Lie Huo Flag that surrounded them in the middle, slaughtering them left and right.

Song Qingshu said, “Let’s form three groups and charge down on Rui Jin Flag from three directions. Shitai with her team attack from the east, Liushu with his team attack from the west, Jing Xuan Shishu, wanbei and our team attack from the south …”

Jing Xuan was perplexed. “Kunlun Pai is not in a dire situation at all,” she said, “I think Kongtong Pai’s situation is extremely critical.”

“Kunlun Pai is already holding the upper hand,” Song Qingshu explained, “With our additional great fighting power, we thunder in to kill; we can annihilate the Rui Jin Flag in one stroke. The other two Flags will then be wasted and will scatter into the wind. If we help Kongtong, we will be locked into a harsh battle. The Heavenly Eagle Cult will then reap the benefit just like a fisherman spreading his net. Our effort will then be wasted.”

Jing Xuan was truly won over with admiration. “Song Shaoxia has said it well,” she said. She divided her martial brothers and sisters into three groups at once.

Zhu’er pulled Zhang Wuji’s sled away. “Let us go,” she said, “There is no advantage for us to stay in here.” She then turned around and started to move.

Song Qingshu quickly moved to overtake them, he blocked them with his sword across his chest. "Miss, please stop," he called out.

"And why must I?" Zhu'er said.

"Miss' origin is dubious," Song Qingshu said, "I can't let you go this easily."

With a cold laugh Zhuer said, "So what if my origin is dubious? So what if it is not?" Miejue Shitai's heart was burning with impatience; she could not wait to set aside the Buddhist commandment against taking life immediately and kill the Devil Cult people neat and clean. Listening to Zhu'er and Song Qingshu bickering with each other, her shadow swayed and she had already reached Zhu'er. Her hand quickly sealed three major acupoints on Zhu'er's back, waist and leg. Zhu'er's martial art skill and Miejue Shitai's differed too much; she was completely helpless against this attack. Her knees buckled and she fell down to the ground.

Miejue Shitai brandished her sword and shouted, "We are setting aside the commandment against taking life today; destroy the demons completely!" Along with Yin Liting and Jing Xuan, they charged toward the Rui Jin Flag from three different directions.

Kunlun Pai disciples, led by He Taichong and Ban Shuxian, had already occupied the dominant position against the Rui Jin Flag. With Emei and Wudang now joining the battle, their power multiplied. Miejue Shitai's swordsmanship was swift and fierce beyond comparison; no one from the Ming Cult was able to hold her for more than three stances. Her big and tall figure was seen weaving through the enemies. Stabbing to the east and hacking to the west, in a very short time seven Ming Cult people lost their lives under her sword.

Realizing the dire circumstances, Zhuang Zheng, the Flag Leader of the Rui Jin Flag rushed to meet the enemy with his wolf-fang staff. Only then was Miejue Shitai's advance slightly obstructed. After exchanging about ten stances, Miejue Shitai unleashed the full power of Emei swordsmanship; her sword was growing faster and stronger. But Zhuang Zheng's martial art skill was highly refined; unexpectedly he was able to match her for a while.

By this time, Yin Liting, Jing Xuan, Song Qingshu, He Taichong, Ban Shuxian and their company had done major killing. Although the Rui Jin Flag did not lack highly skilled fighters under its banner, how could they resist the joined forces of Emei, Kunlun and Wudang, three Sects? Before long, the casualties on their side were disastrous. 'Bang! Bang! Bang!' Zhuang Zheng struck his staff three times, forcing Miejue Shitai to take a step backward. These three strikes were immediately followed by another one as his staff went down, hard and fast, toward the top of her head. Miejue Shitai's sword moved slightly to the side and knocked the body of the staff, using the stance 'shun shui tui zhou' [push the boat with the current], forcing the wolf-fang staff to the side. To her surprise, as an important character within the Ming Cult, Zhuang Zheng could be considered a first-class martial art expert in the Wulin world; his natural strength was amazingly powerful, his internal energy cultivation had also reached top level. As he felt an internal energy push on his wolf-fang staff, he shouted loudly and countered it with a brute and fierce force of his arm. 'Crack!' Miejue Shitai's sword broke into three sections.

When her weapon broke, Miejue Shitai's arm went numb, but she did not withdraw. Reaching to her back, she pulled the Yitian Sword. A cold and bright ray of light flashed and sparks flew as with the 'tie suo heng jiang' [iron lock across the river] she thrust the sword forward. Zhuang Zheng suddenly felt the wolf-fang staff in his hands got lighter, as the full-of-teeth head of the staff was cut down by the Yitian Sword, along with half of his own head, which was also truncated by this matchless sharp sword.

Seeing their Flag Leader has lost his life, the Rui Jin Flag people screamed hysterically and with bloodshot eyes they fought even more ruthlessly, completely disregarding their own lives, immediately killing several Kunlun and Emei disciples.

Someone from the Hong Shui Flag shouted, "Zhuang Qishi [Flag Leader Zhuang] has returned to Heaven for the sake of the Cult, Rui Jin and Lie Huo, two Flags to withdraw; Hong Shui Flag to cover our retreat."

The banner of the Lie Huo Flag changed; following the order, they withdrew to the west. But the Rui Jin Flag was fighting even more fiercely, nobody withdrew. The man from the Hong Shui Flag shouted again, "Tang Qishi [Flag Leader Tang] of Hong Shui Flag gives his order: the situation is unfavorable, Rui Jin Flag people to withdraw immediately. We will avenge Zhuang Qishi on a later date."

Several people from the Rui Jin Flag shouted together, "Hong Shui Flag, please withdraw, avenge our grievance in the future. Rui Jin Flag brethrens will live and die together with Zhuang Qishi."

The Hong Shui Flag suddenly raised a black banner. Someone with a thunderous voice called out, "Brothers of the Rui Jin Flag, the Hong Shui Flag will definitely avenge you."

The Rui Jin Flag only had about seventy men left; all in one voice called out, "Many thanks Tang Qishi!"

The Hong Shui Flag's banner turned over and they also withdrew to the west.

Seeing the orderliness of the enemy lineup, with about twenty people on the rear held some glittering cylinders, The people of Huashan and Kongtong, two schools did not dare to pursue they didn’t know what kind of strange trick these contraptions were. Everybody turned their attention on the attack on the Rui Jin Flag.

By this time the battle outcome had been decided; Kunlun, Emei, Wudang, Huashan and Kongtong, five Sects surrounded the Ming Cult’s Rui Jin Flag. Other than Wudang, which had only two people present, the other four Sects’ people were all elite fighters. Since the Flag Leader was dead, the Rui Jin Flag was like a dragon without a head; naturally they were not a match of these martial art experts. But the people serving under the banner were very loyal, they all view death as a return home, and were determined to follow Zhuang Zheng in dying for the sake of the Cult.

After killing several more people, Yin Liting felt their victory was inappropriate. In a loud voice he shouted, "Devil Cult demons, listen up: You have only one way out of the death's door. Throw your weapons at once, we will spare your lives." The Vice Flag Leader laughed aloud and said, "You disregard our Ming Cult's people too much! Since Zhuang Dage [big brother] has died, would we wish to live?"

Yin Liting called out, "Friends of Kunlun, Emei, Huashan and Kongtong, everybody take ten steps back, let these demons surrender." One after another, everybody retreated.

Out of her hatred toward the Devil Cult, Miejue Shitai did not retreat, but brandished her sword wildly. Wherever the blade of the Yitian Sword reached, swords broke and sabers cut, limbs severed and heads flew. Seeing that their master did not withdraw, the Emei Pai disciples charged back into the battleground to join the slaughter. Now it was Emei Pai one sect against the Rui Jin Flag.

The Rui Jin Flag still had approximately sixty people, among which, around twenty men were martial art experts. Under the leadership of the Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao, they outnumbered the thirty some Emei disciples by two to one. Technically, they should gain the upper hand. However, the Yitian Sword in Miejue Shitai's hand was simply too sharp, her sword stances were also very fierce and swift; her dark green shadow appeared to be everywhere, sweeping everything in her path. Instantly seven, eight more people lost their lives under her sword.

Zhang Wuji could not bear to watch. "Let us go," he said to Zhu'er. Reaching out, he unsealed her acupoints. Who would have thought that after massaging her back and waist for awhile, Zhu'er still felt numb and aching because her acupoints were still sealed. Only then did they realize the profoundness of Miejue Shitai's internal energy. She only touched lightly, yet her strength penetrated deep into the blood passages. Although Zhang Wuji possessed enough strength and knowledge to unseal the acupoints, he could not do that in such a short period of time.

Zhang Wuji sighed. When he turned his head, he saw all the weapons of the dozens of Rui Jin Flag people were broken. In one hand, these people were surrounded by the Kunlun, Huashan and Kongtong disciples, on the other hand, they were unwilling to run away; thereupon they fought Emei disciples with their bare hands.

Although Miejue Shitai abhorred the Devil Cult, with her status as the Sect Leader of a major sect, she did not want to use a weapon to massacre unarmed enemies. With an outstretched left hand finger, she floated everywhere like a passing cloud or flowing water. In a short moment, the various acupoints of fifty plus Rui Jin Flag people were sealed. They stood upright on the spot, unable to move at all.

Witnessing Miejue Shitai's superior skill like this, the spectators all cheered. It was now daybreak. Suddenly they realized that the Heavenly Eagle Cult's three groups of riders slowly closing in from the east, south and north directions. The riders stopped when they were about several dozen of 'zhang' away from these people. Apparently they assumed a wait-and-see attitude from some distance away and did not wish to challenge the enemy right away.

"Ahniu Ge," Zhu'er said, "Let's leave quickly. It would be a lot worse if we fall into the hands of the Heavenly Eagle Cult."

Zhang Wuji had an inexplicable affection toward the Heavenly Eagle Cult in his heart. It was his mother’s sect. When he thought about his mother, oftentimes he also thought, “Mother has died, I can’t see her anymore; I wonder if I can see Waigong [maternal grandfather] and Jiujiu [maternal uncle]?” Now that the Heavenly Eagle Cult people were nearby, he wondered if his grandfather or his uncle was among them; therefore, he did not want to leave too soon.

Song Qingshu stepped forward to talk to Miejue Shitai. “Qianbei, we’d better execute the Rui Jin Flag before dealing with the Heavenly Eagle Cult, so that we will have one less thing to worry.” Miejue Shitai nodded.

The early morning sun slowly rose from the east. Its hazy ray shone on Miejue Shitai’s big and tall figure, leaving a long shadow on the ground. Within the imposing image she projected, there was a cold and lonely, yet frightening emotion. In her desire to break the Devil Cult’s spirit, she did not want to kill them with a sword just like that.

In a stern voice she said, “Devil Cult people, listen up: whoever wants to live only needs to beg for mercy, then you’ll be free to go.”

Her words were met with silence. After half a day, a series of incessant ha- ha, hey-hey, hee-hee laughter was heard; the Ming Cult people broke out in laughter, the sound was loud and clear.

“What’s so funny?” Miejue Shitai indignantly asked.

In a loud and clear voice the Rui Jin Flag’s Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao responded, “We have made an oath to live and die together with Zhuang Dage. Just kill us quickly.”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, “Very well! You still want to be heroes and warriors in a time like this! You wish for a quick and painless death? Not that easy!” Her sword vibrated lightly and immediately cut Wu Jingcao’s right arm.

Wu Jingcao laughed out loud, his expression remained calm and composed. “The Ming Cult enforces justice on behalf of Heaven, provides relief to the people, there is no difference between life and death. Old Thief Nun wants us to kneel down and surrender, I suggest you get rid of that desire at the earliest opportunity.”

Miejue Shitai was even more furious. ‘Shua! Shua! Shua!’ three times, she chopped the next three Cult disciples’ arms. To the fifth man she asked, “Are you going to beg for mercy?”

“Eat your own stinky old nun dog fart!” the man cursed.

Jing Xuan stepped forward from the side and chopped that man’s arm with her sword, while calling out, “Let disciple chop these demons!” She asked several men in succession, but none of the Ming Cult people was willing to surrender. Jing Xuan chopped until her hand grew tired. “Shifu,” she turned her head around, “These demons are so stubborn …” Her intention was to ask for leniency from her master.

Miejue Shitai ignored her completely. “Chop everybody’s right arm first,” she said, “If they are still stubborn, chop their left arms!” Jing Xuan had no choice but chop several more people’s arms.

Zhang Wuji was not able to keep patient much longer; he sprang up from the snow sled and stood in front of Jing Xuan. “Stop!” he called out. Jing Xuan was startled; she took a step backward.

In a loud voice Zhang Wuji said, “Such a cold-blooded cruelty, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Everybody was astonished to see a young man with tattered clothes and unsightly appearance suddenly stepping forward boldly. And then they heard his stern but logical question to Jing Xuan, who was a famous senior master of a famous Sect, they could not help but feel intimidated by his imposing manner.

Jing Xuan let out a long laugh and said, "The demons of the heretic way deserve to be killed. What cruelty are you talking about?"

Zhang Wuji said, "Each one of these men upholds brotherhood and loyalty above everything else, they are not afraid of death, those are the qualities of real heroes and warriors; why do you call them demons of the heretic way?"

"Aren't they Devil Cult's disciples?" Jing Xuan retorted, "Isn't that of the heretical way? That Qing Yi Fu Wang sucks human blood, he killed my Shimei and Shidi. You saw it with your own eyes. If that is not demonic, then what do you call it?"

Zhang Wuji replied, "That Qing Yi Fu Wang killed two people, you have killed ten times more people. He used his teeth to kill, Zun Shi [revered master] used Yitian Sword to kill. They both killed people. What difference there is in good or evil way?"

Jing Xuan was furious. "Young fellow!" she shouted, "You actually dare to equate my Shifu with the heretic demon?" 'Whoosh!' her palm struck toward Zhang Wuji's face. Zhang Wuji hastily moved sideways to evade.

Jing Xuan was the most senior disciple of the Emei Pai, her martial art skill was taught directly by her master. This strike to his face was a fake one; as soon as Zhang Wuji moved sideways, her left leg flew out toward the pit of his stomach. 'Bang! Crack!' Jing Xuan's left leg broke and she was thrown away several 'zhang' backwards.

Turned out as soon as Zhang Wuji's chest was kicked, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong [the divine energy from Nine Yang] inside his body automatically reacted against the incoming force. His footwork was far inferior to Jing Xuan's, but the Jiu Yang Shen Gong was very powerful; the stronger the incoming force, the heavier the reaction force would be. Jing Xuan felt as if her kick was hitting her own body. Luckily she did not have any desire to take his life; this kick only contained about 50% of her strength, so that she did not suffer serious internal injury.

"I am really sorry," Zhang Wuji apologetically said. He rushed forward to help her up.

"Go away! Go away!" Jing Xuan angrily said.

"Yes!" Zhang Wuji replied. He had no choice but to back off. Two of Emei female disciples quickly came over to helped their First Martial Sister up.

Most of everyone watching knew Jing Xuan was the first or at least the second best martial art expert under Miejue Shitai. They were wondering why she was this useless; she was thrown several 'zhang' away by this raggedy youngster just in one stance? If they say that she had enjoyed false reputation, it did not seem so, because when battling the Rui Jin Flag just now, her swordsmanship was superb; indeed everybody had seen it. Could it be that they had misjudged this raggedy and filthy young man that he actually had a peerless martial art skill?

Miejue Shitai also was secretly amazed. “Which school does this young man belong to?” she mused, “He has been my prisoner for many days, yet I have not paid attention to him. Turned out he is a master who did not show his true colors; he is actually a great character who did not boast his greatness. Even if I want to shake Jing Xuan like this, I am afraid I cannot; perhaps in this age only that old Taoist Zhang Sanfeng who has this kind of ability. But then he had to train for a hundred years before reaching this level.”

Miejue Shitai’s character was like ginger; the older she got, the spicier she became. Although she did not dare to belittle Zhang Wuji, actually she also did not have the least bit of fear in her heart. She looked at him from top to bottom to size him up.

At this time Zhang Wuji was already busy taking care of the Rui Jin Flag people’s bloody wounds. With top-ranked proficiency his hands sealed various acupoints on everyone so that the blood flowing from the cuts of arms was greatly reduced.

Among the spectators, there were not a few experts with similar acupoint sealing technique to treat injuries, but Zhang Wuji’s technique actually made everybody felt ashamed of their own inferiority. They did not even know what extraordinary technique Zhang Wuji was using.

The Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao said, “Thank you very much Shaoxia [young hero] for your kindness and loyalty. May I ask your honorable surname and great given name?”

“Zaixia [lit. under/below, the humble one] surnamed Zeng, called Ahniu,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “Come over here, young fellow; take my three sword stances.” “I’m sorry, would Shitai wait a moment?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Helping people is more important.” He finished wrapping the wound from the cut arm of the last person before he finally turned around, cupped his fists and said, “Miejue Shitai, I am not your match, fighting with you, Senior, is even more beyond what I can think of. I only hope both sides will stop fighting and forget all grudges and grievances of the past.”

When he said ‘both sides will stop fighting’, his tone was very sincere. In his heart, the ‘two sides’ was equal to the memory of his departed parents. One side was the prestigious and upright schools, the side of his father’s Wudang Pai; the other was demonic and heretical way of his mother’s Heavenly Eagle Cult.

“Ha ha ... “Miejue Shitai laughed, “Just with a few words from a stinky kid you want us to stop fighting? What are you? The Most Revered in the Wulin World [wu lin zhi zun]?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was moved. “May I ask what about the Most Revered in the Wulin World?” he asked.

Miejue Shitai replied, “He who has the Tulong Dao in his hand will still have to compete with my Yitian Sword to decide who is weak and who is strong, only then will he be the Most Revered in the Wulin World. By that time, it won’t be too late to give everybody orders.”

Hearing how their master ridiculed Zhang Wuji, the Emei Pai disciples laughed mockingly. There were people from the other Sects who also laughed.

Based on his age and status, it was highly inappropriate for Zhang Wuji to say ‘stop fighting’. Hearing everybody sneering at him, Zhang Wuji blushed to the root of his hair. But he still could not bear to stay silent. “Why did you kill so many people?” he asked, “Everybody has a father, mother, wife and children. You killed them, their children would turned into helpless orphans, receivers of others’ bullying. You Senior are a follower of Buddha [orig. ‘chu jia ren’ – one who left home], please show mercy.” He spoke without authority, his manner was inappropriate, but he remembered his own life experience and spoke with sincerity. His words were passionate and earnest that those who heard him were moved. Miejue Shitai, however, remained wooden.

“Young fellow,” she said in her cold voice, “Do I need you to lecture me? You are conceited because of your profound internal energy that you are blowing hot air in here. Very well, take my three palm strikes, and I will let these people go.”

“I can’t take even one palm strike from your disciple, how am I going to take three from Shitai?” Zhang Wuji said, “I do not dare to compete in martial art with you; I am only asking you to show mercy. Just consider yourself showing divine kindness to these people.”

"Zeng Xianggong [young master],” in a loud voice Wu Jingcao called out, “No need to talk too much with this old thief nun. We would rather under die this old thief nun’s hand than receive her fake benevolence.”

With squinting eyes Miejue looked at Zhang Wuji and asked, “Who is your Shifu?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Although Father and Yifu both taught me martial arts, but they are not my Shifu.” Thereupon he said, “I don’t have any Shifu.”

Once these words came out of his mouth, everybody present was very surprised. At first when he shook Jing Xuan with one stance, they thought he must be a disciple of a master, in their hearts there were thirty percent suspicions; who would have thought that he said he did not have any master? Wulin people revered their masters the most. It was not uncommon for someone unwilling to reveal his master’s surname and given name; but very rare would someone who had a master to say he did not have any master. If Zhang Wuji said he did not have any Shifu, then he truly did not have any Shifu. Miejue Shitai did not want to talk too much. “Receive the first strike!” she said. Her right hand stretched out with a casual slapping motion.

Faced with this circumstance, Zhang Wuji did not have any choice but to fight. Not daring to be careless, he pushed both palms out, receiving her one palm with his both hands. Unexpectedly Miejue Shitai’s palm went down and then from below his hands swiftly slipped through his palms like an extraordinary slippery small fish. ‘Slap! The palm squarely hit Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji was startled. The Jiu Yang Shen Gong protecting his body automatically reacted to the opponent’s palm strength. But just before these two whiffs of tremendously strong internal energy collided, Miejue Shitai’s palm strength suddenly disappeared without a trace. Zhang Wuji was taken by surprise. When he looked up to see her face, suddenly he felt as if the pit of his stomach was hit by an iron hammer. Zhang Wuji staggered and was thrown rolling around twice on the ground. ‘Wah!’ he spurted out a mouthful of blood, which looked like a pile of mud on the sandy ground.

Miejue Shitai’s palm power switched between ‘swallowing’ and ‘throwing up’, changing indeterminately, sucking and diverting the enemy’s force before sending out her own strength again. It was the most refined and subtle of the internal energy cultivation of the martial art study. The spectators with profound martial art knowledge understood the amazing technique this palm; they all could not stop from cheering.

Zhu’er was extremely worried; she rushed toward Zhang Wuji and reached out to help him up, but suddenly her knees went numb and she slipped to the ground. Turned out although Zhang Wuji had unsealed her acupoints, the blood had not flowed freely. Seeing he received injury, in her anxiety she rushed to help, but after a short moment her strength gave up and she fell down.

“Ahniu Ge, you … you …” she called out.

Zhang Wuji felt the blood in his chest bubbling over. Shaking his hand he said, “I am not dead.” And then he slowly crawled back up.

In the meantime, Miejue Shitai ordered three of her disciples, “Chop all the demons’ right arms, no exceptions.”

“Yes!” the three female disciples responded and with naked swords in their hands they walked toward the Rui Jin Flag people.

Zhang Wuji hastily said, “You … you said if I take your three palm strikes you will let them go. I … I have received one strike, there are still … still two more.”

When Miejue Shitai’s palm struck Zhang Wuji, she could tell that his internal energy was very strong, and not at all of the demonic and heretical way; it was rather similar to her own energy cultivation. She also knew that although he was protecting the Devil Cult people, he was not a Devil Cult member.

“Young people should not meddle in other people’s business,” she said, “Upright and heretic should be distinguished clearly. In that one palm strike I only used thirty percent of my strength; do you know?”

Zhang Wuji knew that as a Sect Leader of a respectable sect, her words could not be empty; if she said she had used only thirty percent of her strength, then she must have used only thirty percent of her strength. But no matter how hard-to-resist the next two palm strikes would be, he could not consider his own life more important by looking helplessly while she was harming the Rui Jin Flag people. Thereupon he said, “Disregarding my own capability, Zaixia would like … would like to receive Shitai’s two palm strikes.”

Wu Jingcao called loudly, “Zeng Xianggong, we deeply feel your kindness! You are a hero who upholds justice and loyalty, deserving everybody’s utmost admiration and gratitude. You must not receive the remaining two palm strikes.”

Seeing Zhu’er fell by Zhang Wuji’s side, Miejue Shitai was annoyed because she obstructed her hands and feet. Her left sleeve brushed away, she rolled Zhu’er inside the sleeve and threw her back. Zhou Zhiruo rushed one step forward to take her and gently laid her down on the ground.

Zhu’er anxiously said, “Zhou Jiejie [older sister], quickly urge him not to receive the other two palm strikes. If you say it, he would listen.”

“Why would he listen to me?” Zhou Zhiruo wondered.

“In his heart, he likes you very much,” Zhu’er said, “Don’t you know it?”

Zhou Zhiruo blushed profusely. “Pei!” she spat, “How can there be such a thing?”

In a loud and clear voice Miejue Shitai said, “Since you insist on being the real man, the hero, it is you who seek your own death. You must not blame me.” Raising her right hand, with a strong gust of wind it attacked straight to Zhang Wuji’s chest.

This time Zhang Wuji did not dare to lift up his hand to block; he wanted to avoid her palm power by leaning sideways. Miejue Shitai bent her right arm and turned it around quickly. From a seemingly impossible angle, her palm shot straight forward. ‘Slap!’ It struck him squarely on his back. Like a bunch of straw Zhang Wuji flew horizontally in the air and fell down heavily on the ground. His body crumpled motionlessly in the sand, it looked like he had met a violent death.

In this palm strike, Miejue Shitai's technique was flawless and exquisite beyond comparison, the spectators should have cheered; but in their hearts, everybody was secretly admiring Zhang Wuji's chivalry. Seeing he met with an unfortunate incident, they all called out in alarm and sighed; unexpectedly, no one cheered.

"Zhou Jiejie," Zhu'er begged, "Please, look at his injury; is it heavy?"

Zhou Zhiruo's heart was pounding. Hearing Zhu'er was asking earnestly, she wanted to step out and look at his injury; but everybody was staring at Zhang Wuji. How could she, an eighteen, nineteen years old young woman, dare to look at a young man's injury? Much less the injury was caused by her own master. Although it might not be considered a blatant rebellion against her school if she stepped out, she would inadvertently show great disrespect toward her Shifu. Therefore, she had taken a step, but she pulled back.

By this time the sky was bright with the morning sun. A moment later Zhang Wuji's back seemed to be moving. He struggled hard to sit up slowly, but when his elbow was about a foot from the ground, his strength was gone; he spurted another mouthful of blood and tumbled again to the ground. In his daze, all he wanted was to lie down quietly, but he remembered he still had to take another palm strike to save the Rui Jin Flag people's lives. He took a deep breath and finally was able to sit up, but his body was swaying, as if he was ready to fall back down any second.

Everybody else was holding their breath while watching him intently. There were several hundred people all around, but it was so quiet that a fallen needle would be clearly heard.

In this complete silence, Zhang Wuji suddenly recalled several lines from the Nine Yang Manual:

'He is strong, let him be strong,

The cool breeze brushes away the small hill; He is rowdy, let him be rowdy,

The bright moon shines on the great river.'

He had recited these lines several times in the deep valley, but had never understood the meaning. This time he suddenly understood: Miejue Shitai was strong and ruthless, fierce beyond compare; definitely not his match. But in light of the essence of the Nine Yang Manual, it appeared that regardless of how strong and fierce the enemy, regardless of how ferocious, to him it was no more than a cool breeze brushing away the hill or a bright moon illuminating a river. Although he could feel the cool breeze of the bright moon, it would not bring him any harm. But how? What should he do that he would not receive any harm? The next lines in the Manual said, 'Let him be fierce, let him be ruthless,

a mouthful of 'zhen qi' [real/genuine 'chi'] is enough for me.'

Thinking to this point, his mind suddenly opened. He sat cross-legged and regulated his breathing according to the technique described in the Manual. Almost instantly he felt a warm and comfortable feeling in his 'dan tian' [pubic region], lively and strong; the 'zhen qi' flowed into his four limbs and the hundreds of bones in his body. He was finally able to unleash the formidable power of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong. Although his flesh wound was so heavy that he vomited fresh blood, the 'zhen qi' inside his body indeed did not suffer the least bit of damage.

Watching him circulating his 'chi' to treat his injury, Miejue Shitai could not restrain her astonishment. This young man indeed possessed some extraordinary skill. The first stance she used to strike Zhang Wuji was from the 'piao xue chuan yun zhang' [floating snow piercing the cloud palm technique]. The second palm strike was even fiercer, it was the third stance of the 'jie shou jiu shi' [nine style cutting hand; the word 'cut' here means 'cut (or truncate) into section' or 'cut to length', not 'slice' or 'chop' kind of cuts]. Both were the best features of the Emei Pai palm techniques.

In the first strike she used only thirty percent of her strength. In the second strike, she added the power to seventy percent. She presumed that if he did not get killed violently on the spot, his muscles and bones would certainly be shattered that he would be paralyzed and would not be able to move anymore. Who would have thought that after lying down for half a day he was able to sit up? It was totally beyond her anticipation.

According to the Wulin world custom, Miejue Shitai was not required to wait for him to circulate his breathing to treat his injury. But she was a person of high status, she definitely must not take advantage of her opponent's precarious position, especially since her opponent was of the younger generation.

"Hey, the one surnamed Zeng!" Ding Minjun called loudly, "If you do not dare to take my Shifu's third palm strike, just roll away as far as you can. If you are treating your injury for a lifetime in here, shall we also wait for you for a lifetime in here?" "Ding Shijie," Zhou Zhiruo softly said, "There is no harm in letting him rest for a moment longer."

"You ... are you protecting an outsider?" Ding Minjun angrily said, "Looking at this boy ..." She wanted to say, 'Looking at this boy to be a handsome one, you are having ideas in your mind.' But she immediately remembered there were not just a few notable warriors of the other major sects standing around, naturally she must not utter this kind of vulgar language; and thus she stopped just in time. However, how could everybody present not understand her implication? Although she did not finish her words, it was not any different than if she had said it out loud.

Zhou Zhiruo was ashamed and anxious at the same time. Her face paled from the anger rising in her breast, but she was not willing to bicker. "Xiao Mei is only concerned over our school and Shizun's [respected master] prestige," she said drily, "I hope others will not spread a gossip."

"What gossip?" Ding Minjun was surprised.

Zhou Zhiruo said, "Our school's martial art is well known all over the world, Shifu is one of the very best Senior Masters of the present age; she will not lower herself to the level of this junior young fellow. It's just that he was outrageously arrogant that she went into action to teach him a lesson. Do you think she really want to take his life? Our Sect's chivalry is renowned for nearly a hundred years, Shizun's benevolence and chivalry is magnanimous, who does not look up to her in admiration? This youngster is just like a candle, how can he be compared to the glorious light of the sun and the moon? Even if we let him train for a hundred more years, he still would not be our Shizun's match. Much less letting him tending his injury for a bit longer; what difference will it make?"

Her speech had made all who heard inwardly nod their heads. Miejue Shitai's delight was even greater, thinking that this young disciple indeed understood the cardinal principle and had raised their Sect's prestige in the eyes of the masters of other Sects. As soon as Zhang Wuji finished circulating his 'zhen qi' for one round, his spirit was lifted and his body refreshed. He heard everything Zhou Zhiruo had said, and was aware that she had done everything she could to protect him. Also, based on her words, Miejue Shitai would be inconvenienced to strike him with a murderous intent. His heart was flooded with gratitude. He stood up and said, "Shitai, 'wanbei' will put my life at your service by taking your last palm strike."

Seeing that his vigor immediately returned after only sitting cross-legged for a while, Miejue Shitai mused, "This kid's internal energy is indeed very deep, it's magical." She said, "You may fight me back. Who told you to take the beating without retaliating?"

"With 'wanbei's tiny bit of coarse martial art skill, I cannot touch even half a 'fen' [1 fen is approximately 1/3 cm or a little over 1/8"] of the corner of Shitai's clothes, how could I think of retaliating?" Zhang Wuji replied.

Miejue Shitai said, "Since you already know it, then why don't you run away at the earliest opportunity? A young man with this kind of courageous spirit is hard to come by. Miejue Shitai's palm does not normally show mercy, but today I am willing to make exception for you."

Zhang Wuji bowed. "Many thanks, Qianbei," he said, "Will you also spare these big brothers of the Rui Jin Flag?"

Miejue Shitai's long eyebrows drooped down. With a cold laugh she said, "Do you know what my Buddhist title is?"

"Qianbei's honorable title consists of the character 'Mie' [extinguish or overthrow (a regime)] at the top and 'Jue' [extinct or vanish, completely] at the bottom," Zhang Wuji replied.

"It's good that you know it," Miejue Shitai said, "Demons and heretical disciples, I must 'extinguish' and 'cut short'; I simply cannot show mercy. Do you think the two characters 'Miejue' [wipe out/destroy] is an empty name?" "That being the case," Zhang Wuji said, "Qianbei may send out your third palm strike."

Miejue Shitai cast him a sidelong glance. She had never seen a more tenacious youth in her entire life. She was usually cold-hearted, but this time she started to feel affection toward this talented young man. She thought, “Once my third palm strike is launched, he would definitely die. Since he is not a master of the demonical way, it would be a pity if he loses his life in such a young age!” After hesitating for a moment, she made up her mind. The third palm strike would hit the vital acupoint above his ‘dantian’, she would transmit her internal energy to shake his ‘dantian’ to stop his breathing so that he would faint instantly. After executing the Rui Jin Flag demons, she would help awoken him.

Brushing her left sleeve, she was about to launch the third palm strike when suddenly she heard someone called out, “Miejue Shitai, hold your palm!”

These words were spoken with a shrill voice, as sharp as a needle piercing everybody’s ears; it was extremely uncomfortable. They saw from the northwest corner came a man wearing white robe, waving a folding fan in his hand, walking through the crowd. His feet did not raise the sand at all; it was as if he was floating over the water. The left lapel of this man’s white robe was embroidered with a tiny black eagle with its wings spread out like it was soaring in the sky.

As soon as they saw him, everybody knew this man must be a master of the Heavenly Eagle Cult. Turned out the uniform of the Heavenly Eagle Cult was similar to the Ming Cult’s uniform, which was white robe. Only the Ming Cult’s uniform was embroidered with a red flame, while the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s uniform was embroidered with a black eagle.

The man walked to within three ‘zhang’ from Miejue Shitai. He cupped his fists and said with a laugh, “Shitai, please, this third palm strike, how about I take it instead?” “Who are you?” Miejue Shitai asked.

The man replied, “Zaixia surnamed Yin, and is called Yewang.”

Once the name ‘Yin Yewang’ was uttered, a commotion broke among the people. Yin Yewang’s reputation was indeed loud and clear throughout the Jianghu for the last twenty years. A lot of Wulin people said that his martial art skill was very high; as a matter of fact, it did not differ too far from his father, the Bai Mei Ying Wang, Yin Tianzheng. He was the ‘tang zhu’ [hall leader] of the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s ‘tian wei tang’ [Heaven’s Secret Hall]; his authority was second only to the Cult Leader.

Miejue Shitai estimated this man was no more than forty some years of age, but his pair of eyes was like a cold lightning sweeping everybody around, his manner was imposing and intimidating. Truly he was not someone to be trifled with, especially since she had heard quite a bit about his reputation. Therefore, with a cold voice she said, “What is this kid to you that you want to take my palm strike on his behalf?”

In his heart, Zhang Wuji cried out, “He is my Jiujiu [maternal uncle], my Jiujiu! Could it be that he recognized me and has come for me?”

Yin Yewang laughed out loud and said, “I don’t even know him. I only saw that he is young yet strong-willed, not at all like those hypocritical Wulin people, those disciples who always fish for compliment. I am pleased, and thus I want to receive instruction and see how good Shitai's skill is."

The last few words were not spoken politely, apparently he did not have too high of a consideration toward Miejue Shitai. But Miejue Shitai was not angry, she turned toward Zhang Wuji and said, "Kid, if you still want to live for a few years longer, it is not too late for you to go away at this time."

"Wanbei does not dare to be greedy of live and forget loyalty," Zhang Wuji replied.

Miejue Shitai nodded. She turned back toward Yin Yewang. "This kid still owes me one palm strike. Our own account will be settled a (pen) stroke for a stroke. I will certainly not disappoint Sire."

"Hey, hey," Yin Yewang sneered, "Miejue Shitai, if you have the ability, kill this young man. If this young man loses his life, I guarantee all of you will die without any burial site." As soon as he finished speaking, he floated back through the crowd while shouted, "Get out!"

Suddenly from the sandy ground around them appeared innumerable heads; each one had a shield in front of his body, while their hands held drawn bows. Row after row of arrowheads were aimed at the Major Sects' people.

Turned out the Heavenly Eagle Cult people had dug a tunnel under the sand and surrounded those people. Because everybody's attention was focused on Miejue Shitai and Zhang Wuji exchanging palm strikes, nobody suspected anything. Song Qingshu and the others were experienced warriors; they were on guard against the Heavenly Eagle Cult's frontal attack. They did not anticipate the Heavenly Eagle Cult would take advantage of the soft sandy ground by excavating underground tunnel and occupying a strategic position, taking full advantage of the terrain around them.

Everyone's face changed; they saw that the arrowheads emitted bluish rays under the bright sunlight, obviously the arrows were poisoned. As soon as Yin Yewang issued his order, it would be difficult for the upright sects' people to protect their own lives, other than a few masters with the highest martial art skill. Among the five Sects present, in term of seniority, prestige and age, Miejue Shitai was the most senior, therefore, everybody turned their eyes to her, waiting for her to issue an order.

Miejue Shitai was simply too obstinate; although she knew the situation was highly unfavorable for her side, she was completely unmoved. "Kid," she said to Zhang Wuji, "You'd better blame yourself for your fate." Suddenly her entire bones started to pop and crack, not at all unlike the noise of beans being pan-fried; as her right hand went straight toward Zhang Wuji's chest. This palm strike was the pinnacle of Emei Pai's skill, it was called the 'fo guang pu zhao' [The Light of Buddha illuminates everything]. Any palm or sword technique always consists of an unbroken set of complementary stances. The technique could contain as many as several hundred stances, or as little as three or five styles. But whether it was three styles or five stances, in each style would hide several variations that one style could be executed in many stances, as many as a dozen stances. However, this 'fo guang pu zhao' only had one stance. Not only this one stance did not have further variations, once it was launched, whether it struck the chest or the back or the shoulder or the face, the style was plain, almost boring; it was always the same style. Its formidable power came from the Emei Pai’s Jiu Yang Gong as its foundation. Once it was executed, the opponent would not be able to either block or evade.

At present, other than Miejue Shitai, no one else was able to launch this stance. At first she only wanted to strike Zhang Wuji’s ‘dantian’ to knock him out momentarily, but after Yin Yewang issued his threat, if she showed leniency, people would think that she did not show mercy, she only was afraid of death, and was kneeling in front of the enemy to surrender. Therefore, she had put all her strength into this one stance, without leaving any room to maneuver.

Seeing that her strike was preceded by popping and cracking of her bones, Zhang Wuji knew this palm strike was not a small matter. With the life and death would be decided in the next split seconds, how could Zhang Wuji dare to be negligent? In this instant he remembered the phrase from the Manual: 'Let him be fierce, let him be ruthless, a mouthful of 'zhen qi' is enough for me'. Without thinking about how he was going to fend off the attack at all, he took a deep breath and gathered a whiff of 'zhen qi' in his chest.

With a very loud 'Bang!' Miejue Shitai's palm struck Zhang Wuji's chest. All the spectators cried out in alarm, as they believed the entire bones in Zhang Wuji's body would be shattered to dust, or perhaps this earth- shattering force would break his body in two. Who would have thought that when the dust settled, they saw Zhang Wuji, with a shocked expression on his face, was still standing in one piece, while Miejue Shitai's face was as grey as a corpse while her palm trembled slightly.

What happened was: Miejue Shitai's stance, 'fo guang pu zhao' purely took Emei Jiu Yang Gong as its foundation, which originated from the real Jiu Yang Shen Gong, which Zhang Wuji trained. After listening to Jue Yuan reciting the Nine Yang Manual, Guo Xiang developed Emei Jiu Yang Gong based on fragments she managed to remember. As a result, the power of Emei Jiu Yang Gong of course cannot be mentioned on equal terms with the original Jiu Yang Shen Gong. However, the power of these two internal energies were comparable, the essence was identical. When Emei Jiu Yang Gong met the Jiu Yang Shen Gong, it was like river and stream entering the ocean, or like milk dissolved into water, instantly disappeared without any trace.

Miejue Shitai's first palm strike, the Floating Snow Penetrating the Cloud, and the second strike, the Nine-Style Cutting Hand, were not based on Emei Jiu Yang Gong; therefore, when the palm hit Zhang Wuji, the strikes had caused him to be injured and to throw up blood. This reasoning was unknown to everybody present. Zhang Wuji admittedly did not have vast knowledge, but although Miejue Shitai possessed an extensive experience and knowledge, her thoughts were no more than that this kid's internal energy was so deep that she was not able to inflict any harm. Therefore, other than Miejue Shitai herself, the hundreds of people, inside and outside of the besiege, all believed that she was being lenient, or that she was taken by Zhang Wuji's unyielding character, or perhaps she was working for the benefits of all, unwilling to let the Five Major Sects suffer disastrous casualties under the Heavenly Eagle Cult's poisoned arrows. Some even went so far as assuming she was a coward who submitted under Yin Yewang's threat.

Zhang Wuji bowed and cupped his fists. "Many thanks Qianbei for holding your palm and showing mercy," he said.

"Humph," Miejue Shitai snorted, she was in a very awkward situation; if she struck again, she would clearly breach her own words that she would strike him three times, but if she dropped the case, she would suffer great embarrassment by yielding to the Heavenly Eagle Cult's will.

While she was still in a quandary, Yin Yewang had already laughed aloud and said, "Only an outstanding talent can submit to circumstances. Miejue Shitai has proven herself to be a great master of the present age." To his people he ordered, "Withdraw the arrows!"

The Heavenly Eagle Cult people turned around abruptly and withdrew; like a wave row after row of shields and bows and arrows rolled away in a very neat formation. It appeared that Yin Yewang's troops were trained for battle; whether they are attacking or withdrawing, they followed certain rules.

Miejue Shitai's countenance darkened, yet she did not know what to say in her defense; would she say that in the last palm strike she was showing mercy? Everybody had clearly seen how with gentle strike she had inflicted serious injury to Zhang Wuji, twice in a row. But under Yin Yewang's threat, the third palm, which appeared to carry a tremendous force, did not injure Zhang Wuji in the least bit. No matter how hard she defended herself, nobody would believe her. Much less she was always an arrogant person; how could she ask everybody to believe her?

While staring maliciously at Zhang Wuji, she called in a loud and clear voice, "Yin Yewang, if you want to test my palm power, come over here."

Yin Yewang cupped his fists and said, "After receiving Shitai's compassion today, I do not dare to offend further. We will meet again someday soon."

Miejue Shitai waved her left sleeve; without saying anything she led her disciples to walk quickly westward. The people of Kunlun, Huashan and Kongtong Pai, as well as Yin Liting and Song Qingshu, followed behind them.

Zhu'er's legs were still paralyzed. "Ahniu Ge," she said anxiously, "Quickly take me away." But Zhang Wuji wanted very much to speak a few words with Yin Yewang. "Wait a moment," he said, and he walked toward Yin Yewang.

"Qianbei has rendered a great assistance, 'wanbei' will never dare to forget," he said.

Yin Yewang pulled his hand and look at him from top to bottom, sizing him up. "You are surnamed Zheng?" he asked.

Zhang Wuji had the urge to throw himself into his bosom and call out, 'Jiujiu, Jiujiu!' But in the end he forced himself not to do that, although he could not stop his eyes from turning red. There was a saying, 'Seeing (maternal) uncle is like seeing one's mother.' Since his parents died, Yin Yewang was the first close family member he had seen in more than ten years, how could his heart not get excited?

Yin Yewang saw the affectionate look on his eyes, but he thought that Zhang Wuji was very grateful because he had saved his life, so he did not further think about this matter. His eyes turned toward Zhu'er, who was lying down on the ground. With a dry laugh he said, "Ah Li, are you all right?"

Zhu'er looked up; her eyes were brimming with hatred. Immediately she lowered her head and after a while she called out, "Father!"

As soon as she called, 'Father', Zhang Wuji was shocked. But his mind was churning fast, and very soon he understood everything. "Turns out Zhu'er is Jiujiu's daughter; in that case she is my Biaomei [maternal younger female cousin]. She has killed her second mother, and thus vexed her own mother to her death. She also said that her father would kill her if he sees her ... Oh, she used the 'qian zhu wan du shou' to pierce Yin Wulu, must be because these brothers, just like their masters, were not good toward these mother and daughter. Although Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou hated her very much, they cannot fight with her, hence they only said a sentence, ‘It is San Xiaojie’ before taking Yin Wulu away.”

Turning his head around toward Zhu’er, suddenly he remembered something else, “No wonder I always felt that her mannerism very much resembled my Mama, turns out she is my own blood relative; my Ma was her (paternal) aunt.”

He heard Yin Yewang’s cold laugh. “You still call me ‘Father’? Humph, I know you have followed Jin Hua Popo and did not have any regard toward the Heavenly Eagle Cult. You are a hopeless kid, exactly like your Mama, train that ‘qian zhu wan du shou’. Humph, look in the mirror, tell me, is there any ugly freak in my Yin family?”

At first Zhu’er was so frightened that her whole body trembled, but suddenly she turned her head and stared directly at her father’s face, while in a loud and clear voice she said, “Father, if you did not raise the past matters, I wouldn’t have raise them either. But since you mentioned it, I want to ask you: you were happily married with Mama, why did you take Er Niang [second mother]?”

“This … this …” Yin Yewang said, “Dead girl, which one among the men did not have three wives, four concubines? You are disobedient and unfilial; it’s useless to debate with you today. You do not have any regard to Jin Hua Popo, Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf], or the Heavenly Eagle Cult.” He waved his hand to his back and said to Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou, “Take this girl along. Let’s go.”

Zhang Wuji stretched out his arms to block. “Hold on!” he said, “Yin … Yin Qianbei, why do you want to take her along?”

“This girl is my daughter,” Yin Yewang replied, “She killed her stepmother and vexed her own mother to death; she is more like a beast than a human being, how can I let her live in this world?”

Zhang Wuji said, “At that time Miss Yin was still very young, seeing her mother bullied by others, she was enraged and had made the mistake of taking matters into her own hands. I beseech Qianbei to remember the love between a father and his daughter and punish her leniently.” Yin Yewang laughed with his face toward the sky. “Young fellow,” he said, “Who do you think you are that you always meddle with other people’s business? Why, you even want to interfere with my Yin family’s internal affair. Are you the ‘Most Revered in the Wulin World’?”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was stirred. He really wanted to shout, “I am your nephew, I am not an outsider.” But in the end he held his peace.

“Kid,” Yin Yewang laughed, “You are lucky that today your life was spared. But if you keep meddling into the Jianghu people’s business like this, even if you have ten little lives, that won’t be enough.” While saying that, he waved his left hand. Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou stepped forward to pick up Zhu’er then they followed Yin Yewang.

Zhang Wuji knew that falling into her father’s hand this time, Zhu’er would most likely not have the good fortune to keep her life. In his desperation, he pounced forward trying to snatch her away.

Yin Yewang frowned; like a lightning his hand reached out and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s chest and gently tossed him away. Zhang Wuji’s body refused to follow its master’s order; like soaring into the clouds or sailing in the fog he flew out and ‘Bang!’ he fell heavily into the yellow sand. The Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside his body protected him that he did not sustain any injury; but falling into the sand, his eyes, ears, mouth and nose were full of sand that it was unbearably uncomfortable. Unwilling to give up, he crawled up trying to grab Zhu’er again.

"Kid,” with a cold laugh Yin Yewang said, “I was being lenient the first time, don’t force me to be impolite the second time.”

Zhang Wuji earnestly begged, “She … she is your own daughter. When she was little you carried her in your arms, you kissed her. Please spare her.”

Yin Yewang’s heart was touched, but when he turned his head to look at Zhu’er, he saw her bumpy face, and could not help feeling even more loathsome. “Get out of my way!” he shouted. Zhang Wuji took a step closer instead, still trying to grab Zhu’er.

“Ahniu Ge,” Zhu’er called out, “Don’t mind me. I will always remember your kindness to me. Just go away, you are not my father’s match.”

Right this moment, suddenly someone in dark green robe flew out of the sandy ground. Stretching out both hands, he grabbed Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou by the back of their collars and brought his arms together, hard. The two men’s heads bumped to each other and they fainted instantly. That man grabbed Zhu’er and carrying her in his arms, he swiftly ran away.

“Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei],” Yin Yewang shouted angrily, “You also want to meddle in my business?”

Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao let out a loud and long laugh, while carrying Zhu’er speeding along forward. He was called ‘Yixiao’ [one laugh], but his laughter was continuous without pausing; why wasn’t he called ‘a hundred laugh’ or ‘a thousand laugh’?

Yin Yewang and Zhang Wuji anxiously pursued at the same time. This time Wei Yixiao no longer run in circles; he flew straight toward the southwest direction. His feet moved very fast, almost unthinkable. Yin Yewang’s internal energy was deep; his ‘qing gong’ was also excellent. The ‘zhen qi’ circulated inside Zhang Wuji’s body; he ran faster and faster. But Wei Yixiao’s speed was even more difficult to be dealt with. When they started, he was only a few ‘zhang’ ahead, but not too long afterwards, he increased the distance to a dozen ‘zhang’, then twenty some ‘zhang’, thirty some ‘zhang’ … until finally his shadow vanished in the horizon.

In his extreme anger Yin Yewang laughed. He was secretly amazed to notice that all along Zhang Wuji was able to run alongside him, without falling behind even for a half step. By this time he knew perfectly well that he would not be able to overtake Wei Yixiao, but he still wanted to test this youngster’s legs’ strength, so he increased his speed. Like an arrow leaving the string his body shot forward, but he still saw Zhang Wuji was able to keep up, still running side-by-side with him.

Suddenly he heard Zhang Wuji say, “Yin Qianbei, although this Qing Yi Fu Wang can run fast, he might not necessarily have the strength to run long distance. We might be able to catch up with him eventually.”

Yin Yewang was startled; he stopped his steps immediately, while thinking, “In unleashing my ‘qing gong’ like this, I have exhausted my life-long cultivated strength. I can't afford to make any mistake in regulating my breath, let alone to open my mouth to speak. This young man is able to speak, yet his feet did not slow down at all. What kind of skill is this?"

When he stopped suddenly, Zhang Wuji had already flown several 'zhang' forward. Hastily Zhang Wuji turned around and returned to Yin Yewang, ready to listen to his instruction.

"Zeng Xiongdi," Yin Yewang said, "Who is your Shifu?"

"No, no!" Zhang Wuji hastily said, "You must not call me 'Xiongdi' [brother], I am your 'wanbei' [younger generation], you, Senior, just call me 'Ahniu'. I do not have any Shifu."

A murderous intent grew in Yin Yewang's heart; he mused, "This kid's martial art skill is this weird, if I leave him alive, he might bring disaster later on. I'd better strike preemptively and kill him with a palm."

Right this moment, suddenly they heard several sharp noise of ocean conch horn from the distant; it was precisely the Heavenly Eagle Cult's emergency signal. Yin Yewang creased his eyebrows. "Must be Hong Shui and Lie Huo Flags blaming me for not helping Rui Jin Flag that they create trouble for us," he mused, "If I failed to kill this kid with one palm strike, I would not have time to engage him in a dogfight at this time. I'd better borrow somebody else's knife to kill him; I'll let him deliver his own life into Wei Yixiao's hands." Thereupon he said, "The Heavenly Eagle Cult is facing an enemy; I must return at once to render my assistance. You can go alone to find Wei Yixiao. This man is ferocious and sinister, as soon as you meet him, you must strike first to gain the upper hand."

"My skill is so low and inadequate, how can I fight him?" Zhang Wuji said, "Who is your enemy?"

Yin Yewang inclined his ears to listen to the bugle call. "It is indeed the Ming Cult's Hong Shui, Lie Huo and Hou Tu, three Flags have arrived."

Zhang Wuji said, "Everybody belongs to the Ming Cult; why must you fight and kill each other like this?"

Yin Yewang's face sank as he said, "What does a child like you understand? Are you meddling in other people's business again?" Turning around, he rushed back to where he came from.

Zhang Wuji thought, "Zhu'er has fallen into the hands of the great demon Wei Yixiao; if he bites her on the throat and sucks her blood, how can she keep her life?" Having had this thought, his anxiety grew; he took a deep breath and unleashing his 'zhen qi', he dashed forward to give a chase.

Luckily, although Wei Yixiao's 'qing gong' was excellent, because he was carrying someone in his arms, he was not able to step on the sand without leaving any trace; he still left behind a set of his footprints on the desert sand. Zhang Wuji made up his mind, "If he stop to rest, I won't take a rest; if he stop to sleep, I won't sleep. Even if I have to run for three days and three nights, I will overtake him."

However, running for three days and nights under the hot sun on the yellow sand was truly easier said than done; he ran until dusk, and his mouth dried out and his lips parched, while his entire body was sweating like rain. But strangely, his legs did not get weary. Bit by bit the Jiu Yang Shen Gong he cultivated for several years showed its effectiveness, the more he used his energy, his vigor grew more abundantly. He stopped by a spring to fill his stomach with water, and then continued following Wei Yixiao's tracks nonstop until midnight. He saw the moon was right in the middle of the sky. Suddenly a feeling of dread overcame Zhang Wuji; he was afraid that while he was running, Zhu'er's body, with her blood sucked dry, would suddenly appear in front of him.

Right this moment, he seemed to hear faint footsteps behind him. Quickly he turned around, but did not see anybody. Unwilling to be delayed, he continued running forward; but the footsteps appeared again behind him. Greatly puzzled, he turned around again; still he did not see anybody. Looking carefully on the desert ground, he saw three sets of tracks; one obviously belonged to Wei Yixiao, one belonged to him, but where did the third track come from? Turning his head again, he saw ahead of him there was only Wei Yixiao's track. In that case, someone was following him; no doubt about it. But why couldn't he see the person? Could it be that this person knew magic of making himself invisible?

Preoccupied with doubts, he continued running forward, and sure enough, the footsteps behind him reappeared. "Who's there?" Zhang Wuji called out.

"Who's there?" a voice behind him echoed.

Zhang Wuji was shocked. "Are you a human or a ghost?" he asked sternly. "Are you a human or a ghost?" the voice echoed.

With a great speed Zhang Wuji turned around again. This time he saw a flash of shadow of the person behind him, so he was convinced that someone with an exceptionally swift footwork did indeed follow behind him.

"Why are you following me?" he asked.

"Why am I following you?" that person replied.

Zhang Wuji laughed. "How do I know?" he said, "I was asking you." "How do I know?" that person replied, "I was asking you." Zhang Wuji knew this person probably did not have any malicious intention; he had been following him for a while, if he wanted to, it would be easy for him to make his move and send Zhang Wuji to his doom. Thereupon he said, "By what name are you called?"

"Can't say [Shuo Bude]," came the reply. "Why can't you say it?" Zhang Wuji asked.

"If I can't say it, then I can't say it; why should I explain to you the reason?" the man said, "By what name are you called?"

"I ... I am called Zeng Ahniu," Zhang Wuji replied.

"You are running wildly in the middle of the night; what are you doing?" the man asked.

Zhang Wuji knew this man must be one who loved to play trick on others. He said, "A friend of mine is captured by the Qing Yi Fu Wang, I am going to rescue her back."

"You cannot rescue her," the man said. "Why not?" Zhang Wuji asked.

"The man said, "Qing Yi Fu Wang's martial art is stronger than yours; you cannot beat him."

"Even if I cannot beat him, I must fight him," Zhang Wuji said.

"Very good, you have the spirit," the man said, "Is your friend a young woman?"

"Correct," Zhang Wuji replied, "How do you know?"

“If it were not for a young woman, would a young man be willing to risk his life?” the man said, “Is she very beautiful?” “Very ugly!” Zhang Wuji replied.

“How about you?” the man asked, “Are you ugly or not?”

“Come over here,” Zhang Wuji replied, “You can see it for yourself.”

“I don’t want to see,” the man said, “Does that young woman know martial arts?”

“She does,” Zhang Wuji said, “She is the daughter of Yin Yewang Qianbei from the Heavenly Eagle Cult, and has learned martial art from Jin Hua Popo of the Lingshe Island.”

“You don’t need to pursue,” the man said, “Once Wei Yixiao got hold of her, he will never let her go.”

“Why is that?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“Humph,” the man snorted, “You are a fool, you can’t use your head. Who is Yin Yewang to Yin Tianzheng?”

“They are father and son,” Zhang Wuji replied.

The man asked, “Bai Mei Ying Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang, whose martial art skill is stronger?”

“I don’t know,” Zhang Wuji replied, “May I ask Qianbei, who is stronger?”

“Each one has his own strong point,” the man said, “Whose influence is greater?”

“Ying Wang is the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s Cult Leader,” Zhang Wuji said, “I suppose his influence must be somewhat greater.”

“That’s right,” the man said, “Consequently, by seizing Yin Tianzheng's granddaughter, Wei Yixiao can take advantage of her by use her as a leverage, he can force Yin Tianzheng to submit to him."

Zhang Wuji shook his head. "I am afraid that is impossible," he said, "Yin Yewang Qianbei is insistent in wanting to kill his own daughter."

"And why is that?" the man was puzzled.

Thereupon Zhang Wuji told him briefly how Zhu'er had killed her father's beloved concubine and had caused the death of her own mother.

When Zhang Wuji finished, the man clicked his tongue and said, "Amazing, truly amazing. She is a perfect material."

"What material?" Zhang Wuji wondered.

The man replied, "In such a young age she was able to kill her stepmother, indirectly killed her own mother, and has received training under Jin Hua Popo of the Lingshe Island. I think she is a treasure. Wei Yixiao must want to take her as his disciple."

Zhang Wuji was stunned. "How do you know?" he asked.

"Wei Yixiao is my good friend," the man replied, "Naturally I understand his temperament."

Zhang Wuji's mind went blank for a moment before he called out loudly, "It's bad!" and rushed forward. That man also ran closely behind him.

While still running, Zhang Wuji asked, "Why are you following me?"

"I am curious," the man replied, "I want to see some excitement. What are you going to do when you overtake Wei Yixiao?"

Zhang Wuji angrily said, "Zhu'er is already rather heretical. I must stop her from taking Wei Yixiao as her master. What would happen if she also learned to become a demon who sucks other people's blood?"

"Do you like Zhu'er that much?" the man asked, "Why do you care that much of her?"

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, "I don't know if I like her or not; it's just that she ... she is a little bit like my mother."

"Hmm, so your Mama is also an ugly freak; it may be assumed that you are not too good-looking," the man said.

"My Mama was very good-looking," Zhang Wuji quickly said, "Don't talk nonsense!"

"What a pity, what a pity!" the man said.

"What do you mean, 'what a pity'?" Zhang Wuji asked.

The man replied, "You are young and have some guts. You are brave and upright, which is very good. It is too bad that very soon you will be a bloodless corpse."

Zhang Wuji's heart was stirred. "He is right," he mused, "Even if I can overtake Wei Yixiao, how can I save Zhu'er? Won't I simply deliver my own life in vain?"

"Qianbei," he said, "Will you help me?"

"No, I can't," the man replied, "First, Wei Yixiao is my friend. Second, I am also not his match."

"If Wei Yixiao is your friend, why didn't you advise him?" Zhang Wuji asked.

"Advice is useless," the man said, "Wei Yixiao himself does not want to suck people's blood, he has no choice, his suffering is indeed difficult to bear."

"He has no choice?" Zhang Wuji asked in bewilderment, "How can that be?"

"Wei Yixiao suffered a fire deviation when cultivating his internal energy," the man explained, "Henceforth, each time he uses his internal energy, he must drink human blood; otherwise his entire body would turn cold and he would freeze to death immediately."

Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and said, "Does that mean the three 'yin' arteries in his armpits are damaged?"

“Ah, how do you know?” the man was surprised.

“I was just guessing,” Zhang Wuji said, “I don’t know if it is correct?”

The man said, “Three times I climbed the Changbai Mountain to find a fire toad for him to treat his illness, but three times I failed. The first time I did see a fire toad, but I missed by about two ‘zhang’. The second and third time, not even the shadow of a fire toad was to be seen. After the current crisis is resolved, I am going back to try again.”

“I can go together with you,” ZhangWuji said, “Is that alright?”

“Hmm,” the man said, “Your internal energy is enough, but your ‘qing gong’ is lacking too much, simply not enough. We’ll talk again when the time comes. Hey, tell me, why do you want to help me find a fire toad?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “If we can catch one, not only Wei Yixiao’s illness will be cured, we can also help a lot of people, because then he would not have to suck other people’s blood anymore. Uh, Qianbei, he has already run for such a long time, he has used up his internal energy. If he has no other choice, won’t he be forced to suck Zhu’er’s blood?”

The man was taken aback. “That might be true,” he said, “Although he wanted to take Zhu’er as his disciple, when the cold attack came, his blood will be congealed into ice. If that happened, I am afraid even his own daughter …”

The more Zhang Wuji thought about it, the more he was frightened; he ran madly as if his life depended on it.

Suddenly the man exclaimed, “Ah, what’s that behind you?”

Zhang Wuji turned his head around to see, but suddenly all he could see was darkness as his entire body was encased in an enormous sack; followed by the sensation of his body lifted to the air. It seemed like he was captured inside a cloth sack, which was lifted up by that man. Quickly he stretched out his arms, trying to rip the cloth sack. Who would have thought that the sack was made of neither silk nor animal hide? It was exceptionally tough and durable. He groped around to feel the cloth; obviously it was a coarse homespun cloth, but he could not make even a crack on the seam.

The man tossed the sack on the ground, laughed out loud and said, “If you can drill out of my sack, I’ll consider you an expert.”

Zhang Wuji exerted his internal energy and pushed ferociously outward with both hands, but the sack simply followed his push without showing the least bit of cracking under the stress. He raised his right foot and kicked with all his might. ‘Pop!’ the sack only curved outward slightly. It did not matter whether he pull, push, roll, stretch; the sack simply followed his movements without giving way to his strength.

The man laughed and said, “Do you give up?” “I give up!” Zhang Wuji said.

‘Slap!’ the man slapped the sack right on his buttocks and said with a laugh, “Kid, just stay inside my ‘qian kun yi qi dai’ [lit. Heaven and earth (the universe) air pocket] nicely, don’t move; I am taking you to a good place. If you open your mouth to speak and your presence is exposed, I might not be able to save you.”

“Where are you taking me?” Zhang Wuji asked.

The man replied, “Since you have fallen into my ‘Universe Air Pocket’, if I want to take your poor life, do you think you can run away? As long as you don’t move and don’t make any noise, you will reap the benefits.”

Zhang Wuji thought the man made a lot of sense; therefore, he did not struggle anymore.

The man added, “You can get into my cloth sack; that is your good fortune.” Slinging the cloth sack over his shoulder, he dashed forward.

“What about Zhu’er?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“How do I know?” the man replied, “You talk too much and make a lot of noise, I am going to shake you out of my cloth sack."

Zhang Wuji thought, "If you really shake me out of this cloth sack, I could not ask for anything more." But his mouth did not dare to reply; he only felt that this man's feet were very fast.

After running for several hours, inside the sack Zhang Wuji started to feel hot, so he knew it was already daytime and the sack was heated by the sun. A moment later, he felt the man was walking on an upward slope; it seemed that they were going up the mountain.

They continued climbing the mountain for more than four hours. Zhang Wuji felt the nip of the cold air on his body; he mused, "Looks like we are climbing a very high mountain, the peak must be covered in snow, that's why it is this cold."

Suddenly he felt his body was flying in the air. He could not restrain from shouting in suprise. But before his shout vanished, he felt they were stopping; that man had landed on the ground. Zhang Wuji understood, the man must have had taken him on a jump just now. He assumed that they were on a dangerous precipice on a high mountain peak; the man jumped while carrying him on his back, the mountain rocks must be very slippery since they were covered with ice and snow. Supposing his foot slipped, wouldn't it mean both of them falling together and die with their bones shattered?

He was just thinking about these things when the man leaped again. He successively leaped several times; sometimes he jumped higher, sometimes lower, sometimes he jumped far, sometimes near. Although Zhang Wuji was inside the cloth sack and could not see the least bit of light, he knew the local terrain must be extremely steep.

End of Chapter 18. 
@Chapter 19 – Disaster Arose Within the Broken Impenetrable Fortress
Zhang Wuji was brought by the man leaping high one more time. Suddenly he heard someone calling out from a distance, "Shuo Bude, why are you this late?"

The man carrying Zhang Wuji replied, "I had to take care of a small matter along the way. Has Wei Yixiao arrived?"

"I haven't seen him!" the man in the distance answered, "This is strange, even for him to come this late. Shuo Bude, have you seen him?" They were talking back and forth while the man walked closer.

Zhang Wuji was inwardly surprised. "Turns out this man's name is Shuo Bude [can't say]," he mused, "No wonder when I asked his name he said, 'Can't say'. Even when I asked him again why he can't say it, his answer was  ' Shuo Bude is just Shuo Bude; why should I explain to you the reason?' How can someone have such a weird name?" He thought further, "It seems like he has an appointment with Wei Yixiao to meet in here. I wonder how is Zhu'er? He is a good friend of Wei Yixiao; I wonder how are they going to deal with me?"

He heard Shou Bude say, "Tieguan Dao Xiong [Taoist brother 'Iron Hat'], let us go seek Wei Xiong [brother Wei]; I am afraid he met some kind of trouble."

Priest Tieguan said, "Qing Yi Fu Wang is astute and intelligent, his martial art skill is superb, what kind of trouble might he meet?"

"I just feel something is not right," Shuo Bude replied. Suddenly from the valley below a voice came, "Stinky monk Shuo Bude, old mixed-up hair [a derogatory term to call a Taoist priest] Tieguan, come here quick! We need your help! It's bad! It's too bad!"

Shuo Bude and Priest Tieguan were shocked. "It's Zhou Dian," they exclaimed together, "What might be so bad?"

Shou Bude added, "Sounds like he is injured; why does his voice sound so weak?" Without waiting for Priest Tieguan's answer, he carried Zhang Wuji and leaped down the peak.

Priest Tieguan followed behind him. "Ah!" suddenly he said, "Zhou Dian is carrying someone on his back; who could it be? It's Wei Yixiao!"

"Zhou Dian, don't panic," Shuo Bude called, "We are coming to help you."

"Panic your Mama's fart!" Zhou Dian called back, "Why would I panic? The blood-sucking bat's old life is about to return to Heaven!"

Shuo Bude was startled, "What happened to Wei Xiong? What kind of injury does he suffer?" he asked, while quickening his pace.

Inside the sack, Zhang Wuji felt like he was mounting the clouds and riding on the mist; he could not help but saying in a low voice, "Qianbei, let me down for the time being, helping people is more important."

Shuo Bude suddenly lifted up the sack and tossed it in the air three times. Zhang Wuji was shocked; if Shuo Bude let his hands off, the sack would be thrown away, the consequences would be really hard to imagine. He heard Shuo Bude say in a calm and throaty voice, "Kid, let me tell you: I am the Bu Dai Heshang [cloth sack (Buddhist) monk] Shuo Bude; the one behind us is the Tieguan Daoren Zhang Zhong. The one speaking down below is Zhou Dian. The three of us, plus the Leng Mian Xiansheng [Mr. Cold Face] Leng Qian and Peng Yingyu, Peng Heshang [monk Peng], we are the Ming Cult's Wu San Ren [Five Wanderers]. Do you know the Ming Cult?" "I do," Zhang Wuji replied, “Turns out Dashi [reverend] is also Ming Cult member.”

“Leng Qian and I do not kill people too often,” Shou Bude continued, “But Tieguan Daoren, Zhou Dian, Peng Heshang, they usually kill people without batting their eyelids. If they knew you are hiding inside my ‘Universe Air Pocket’, they might pounce on you just for fun and then you’ll become minced meat.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I have never offended your honorable Cult, why …”

Shuo Bude cut him off, “When Tieguan Daoren and the others kill people, do you think they would ask first whether you have offended them or not? From now on, if you still want to be alive, do not say even a single word from inside my sack. Do you understand?”

Zhang Wuji nodded.

“Why you don’t answer me?” Shuo Bude asked.

“You told me not to say even a single word,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Shuo Bude smiled. “It’s good if you know that …” he said, “Ah, what happened to Wei Xiong?” The last sentence was directed toward Zhou Dian.

Zhang Wuji heard Zhou Dian’s hoarse and throaty voice, “He … he … the disaster has reached its peak.”

“Hmm,” Shuo Bude said, “Wei Xiong’s chest is still a bit warm. Zhou Dian, was it you who helped him?”

“B**lsh*t,” Zhou Dian said, “Do you think it was he who helped me?” “Zhou Dian,” Priest Tieguan said, “Are you injured?”

“I saw the blood-sucking bat was lying stiffly by the roadside,” Zhou Dian replied, “He was so frozen that he was not even breathing. Contrary to my nature, I showed him the kindness of my heart and transferred my ‘chi’ to help him. Who would have thought that the cold poison inside the blood- sucking bat was so fierce that this is what happened.”

“Zhou Dian,” Shuo Bude said, “This time you indeed have done a good deed.”

“What good deed or bad deed?” Zhou Dian said, “This blood-sucking bat is not only ruthless, he is also very strange. Usually I don’t like to see his face, but this time he has done something very much to Zhou Dian’s liking, so Zhou Dian decided to help him this time. Who would have thought that this blood-sucking bat is incorrigible? The cold poison inside his body attacked me instead and wanted to take Zhou Dian’s old life.”

Priest Tieguan was startled. “Your injury is that heavy?” he asked.

“Retribution, retribution,” Zhou Dian said, “The blood-sucking bat and Zhou Dian have never done any good things in all our lives, and now by doing one good thing we brought disaster to our own lives.” “What kind of good thing did Wei Xiong do?” Shuo Bude asked.

Zhou Dian replied, “Whenever he excites the poison inside his body, the cold poison flares up and he has to suck someone’s blood to suppress the poison. There was clearly a baby girl by his side, but he would rather die than sucking her blood. Zhou Dian was surprised, so he said, ‘Aiyo, not right! The blood-sucking bat is doing something against his nature. Zhou Dian better also do an act of sacrilege by trying to save him.”

Hearing that Wei Yixiao did not suck Zhu’er’s blood, Zhang Wuji’s delight was not light. Shuo Bude slapped the sack with the back of his hand while asking, “Who is that baby girl?”

“That’s what I asked the blood-sucking bat,” Zhou Dian replied, “He said she is Bai Mei Lao Er's [Second Old White Brow] granddaughter. He said presently the Ming Cult is facing a disaster, everybody must be united in a concerted effort; therefore, he must never suck her blood."

Shuo Bude and Priest Tieguan applauded together. "That must be so," they said, "If White Eagle and Green Bat, two Kings join hands, the power of the Ming Cult will rise."

Shuo Bude took Wei Yixiao from Zhou Dian; he was shocked. "His body is ice-cold," he said, "What can we do?"

"That's right," Zhou Dian said, "I'll say it's too soon for the two of you to be happy. The blood-sucking bat's old life has 90% gone. One dead bat joins hands with the Bai Mei Ying Wang; what good does it bring to the Ming Cult?"

"You two wait here," Priest Tieguan said, "I am going down the mountain to find a living person and let Wei Xiong drink his fill of fresh human blood." Finished speaking, he stood up at once, ready to jump down the mountain.

"Wait!" Zhou Dian called out, "Mixed-up hair Tieguan, this place is so remote. By the time you find a living person, Wei Yixiao [one laugh] has already turned into Wei Buxiao [not laughing]. If a dead man can laugh, that is too scary. Shuo Bude, you'd better take the kid inside your cloth sack out, let Wei Xiong eat him."

Zhang Wuji was startled. "Turns out they already knew I am hidden inside this cloth sack."

"That won't do!" Shuo Bude said, "This kid has shown great kindness toward our Cult. If Wei Xiong ate him, the Five-Element Flags would not let Wei Xiong keep his old life." Thereupon he briefly told them how Zhang Wuji had received three palm strikes from Miejue Shitai in order to save the remaining several dozens of Rui Jin Flag people. "Therefore," he concluded, "Do you think the Five-Element Flags would easily give this kid up?"

Priest Tieguan asked, "You are keeping this precious commodity inside your sack; are you going to use him to subdue the Five-Element Flags?" “Can’t say [Shuo Bude], can't say!" Shuo Bude said, "In short, currently our Cult is disintegrating and is in the face of a great catastrophe. The Heavenly Eagle Cult has come from afar to render their assistance. Unfortunately they are fighting with the Five-Element Flags over an old account; each one was completely routed by the other. All of us must join hands if we want to avoid destruction. The kid inside my sack will be beneficial to the unity of our Cult’s various factions and troops; I have no doubt about it.” Speaking to this point, he reached out toward Wei Yixiao’s back and stuck his palm on the ‘Ling Tai’ [spirit platform] acupoint, and sent out his ‘chi’ to help him resist the cold poison.

Zhou Dian sighed, “Shuo Bude,” he said, “It is great that you want to sell your life for your friend, but please be careful for your own old life.”

“Let me also help,” Priest Tieguan said. He stretched out his right hand and joined his palm with Shuo Bude’s left palm. Together two streams of internal energy burst into Wei Yixiao’s body.

About the time needed to cook rice later, Wei Yixiao started to groan weakly and came to his senses, but his teeth were still chattering; it was obvious that the cold was extreme. With a shivering voice he said, “Zhou Dian, Tieguan Dao Xiong [Taoist brother], thank you for your help.” He did not thank Shuo Bude, because the two of them were good friends; verbal gratitude would be superfluous instead.

Priest Tieguan’s internal energy was deep, but against the cold poison inside the Wei Yixiao’s body, he had to exert everything he had to overcome it that momentarily he was not able to speak. Shou Bude was not any better.

Suddenly several notes of a ‘qin’ [zither] floated over from the eastern side of the peak, intermingled with a clear sound of a whistle. “Mr. Leng Mian and Peng Heshang have arrived,” Zhou Dian said. Raising his voice, he called out, “Leng Mian Xiansheng, Peng Heshang, somebody’s injured. Roll over here quickly!” From the other side the ‘qin’ responded with one clear note. Monk Peng asked, “Who … is … injured …?” The voice came from quite a distant away; it echoed over the valley. Successively he asked several questions: “Who is injured? Is Shuo Bude all right? How about Tieguan Xiong [brother]? Zhou Dian, why is your voice lacking some ‘chi’?” With each sentence he uttered, he got closer by several ‘zhang’, hence by the time he finished his strings of questions, he was close enough to them.

“Aiyo!” he said in shock, “It’s Wei Yixiao!”

“You are always flustered,” Zhou Dian said, “Always the first in the world to be anxious. Leng Mian Xiong, why don’t you think of a way to help?” The last sentence was obviously directed toward Mr. Cold Face, Leng Qian.

“Hmm,” Leng Qian grunted, but did not say anything. He knew Monk Peng would definitely ask for more details, so he could save himself some energy. And indeed, question after question did not stop gushing out of Monk Peng’s mouth. Zhou Dian’s explanation was a bit disorderly, but by the time he finished his story, Shuo Bude and Priest Tieguan were able to regulate their ‘chi’. Monk Peng and Leng Qian also transferred their internal energy to separately help Wei Yixiao and Zhou Dian to overcome the cold poison.

After Wei Yixiao and Zhou Dian’s vitalities are slightly recovered, Monk Peng said, “I came from the northeast direction, and learned that Shaolin Pai Zhang Men [Sect Leader] Kong Wen is personally leading Shidi [younger martial brother] Kong Zhi and Kong Xing, along with more than a hundred disciples of various generations, has just arrived at the Brightness Peak to take part in the besieging of our Cult.”

“Due east,” Leng Qian said, “The Five Heroes of Wudang!” He always spoke succinctly; even if his head was cut, he would not want to say even half an extra word. He only said these six characters [‘zheng dong, wudang wu xia’], but his meaning was, ‘The Five Heroes of Wudang have arrived to attack from the east direction.’ As for who were the Five Heroes of Wudang, everybody knew they were Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou, Zhang Songxi, Yin Liting and Mo Shenggu; hence did not need to waste his breath to explain. Monk Peng said, “The Six Sects are advancing separately to mount a join attack, gradually closing in on us. The Five-Element Flags have been engaged in a number of battles. The situation seems to be very disadvantageous to our side. In my opinion, we need to be at the Brightness Peak ahead of the enemy.”

“You are releasing your Mama’s smelly fart!” Zhou Dian angrily said, “That fellow Yang Xiao did not come to seek help from us, would the Wu San Ren come uninvited?”

“Zhou Dian,” Monk Peng said, “Suppose that the Six Major Sects succeed in breaking through the Brightness Peak and extinguish the Sacred Fire, can we still live as human beings? Of course Yang Xiao did offend the Wu San Ren, but we are helping to guard the Brightness Peak, absolutely not for Yang Xiao’s sake, but for the Ming Cult.”

“Peng Heshang is right,” Shuo Bude also expressed his opinion, “Although Yang Xiao was rude to us, protecting the Cult is more important than our personal grudges.”

“Fart, fart!” Zhou Dian cursed and swore, “Two bald donkeys [derogatory term to call Buddhist monks] are farting together, the stench reeks out to the high heaven. Tieguan Daoren, Yang Xiao shattered your left shoulder in the past, don’t you remember?”

Priest Tieguan was silent for half a day before answering, “Protecting the Cult against the enemy is a big matter. We will settle the account with Yang Xiao after the enemy is repelled. When that time arrives, with the Wu San Ren join hands, I am not afraid this fellow will refuse to bow his head.”

“Humph,” Zhou Dian snorted. “Leng Qian, what do you say?” he asked. “We go together!” Leng Qian said.

“You also submit to Yang Xiao?” Zhou Dian mocked, “Don’t you remember we made a heavy oath, saying that we, the Wu San Ren, from now on would leave our hands in our sleeves and would not pay any attention to the affair of the Ming Cult? Are you saying that our oath was merely a fart?”

“It was merely a fart!” Leng Qian said.

Zhou Dian was angry; he sprang up and said, “Everybody is farting! Mine is the only human's words."

Priest Tieguan said, "We still have time; let us hurry to the Brightness Peak!"

"Dian Xiong [brother Dian]," Monk Peng persuaded, "Because we were fighting over the Jiaozhu position in the past, we became enemies to each other. Yang Xiao is admittedly narrow-minded, but if we think carefully, the Wu San Ren are not without fault ..."

"Nonsense!" Zhou Dian was furious, "No one among the Wu San Ren was dreaming to become the Jiaozhu; what did we do wrong?"

Shuo Bude said, "Even if we fight for a year or a year and a half longer, we would still be unable to clear up our Cult's past argument of right and wrong. Zhou Dian, let me ask you this: are you or are you not a disciple of 'Ming Zun Huo Sheng' [The Bright Prophet of the Holy Fire]?"

"Do you have to even question that fact?" Zhou Dian said.

Shuo Bude said, "Today a great disaster is looming above our Cult's head; if we keep our hands inside our sleeves, after we die, do we have a face to see 'Ming Zun' and Yang Jiaozhu [Cult Leader Yang]? If you are scared of the Six Major Sects, you can stay here. We are going to the Brightness Peak to join the battle and die for our Cult. You may come later to bury our bones!"

Zhou Dian leaped up and struck Shuo Bude's face with his palm, while cursing, "Fart!"

'Slap!' Shuo Bude endured the heavy strike quietly. Slowly he opened his mouth and spat out several teeth; not a single word came out of his mouth. His cheek from white turned to red, from red turned dark scarlet and grew bigger.

Monk Peng and the others were stunned. Zhou Dian was even more shocked. Actually, Shuo Bude and Zhou Dian's martial art skills were almost on par with each other. When Zhou Dian casually sent out his palm, if he wanted to, he could parry or dodged; either way, Zhou Dian's palm would definitely not hit him. Who would have thought that he took the beating without doing anything? Consequently, his injury was not light.

Zhou Dian was filled with remorse. "Shuo Bude," he called out, "Hit me back! If you don't, you are not a human."

Shuo Bude smiled wryly and said, "My energy is reserved to fight the enemy. Why would I want to hit a friend?"

Zhou Dian was angry; he raised his palm and heavily struck his own face. 'Slap!' he also spat several teeth out.

Monk Peng was startled. "Zhou Dian," he said, "What are you doing?"

Zhou Dian angrily replied, "I shouldn't have struck Shuo Bude. I told him to hit me back, he did not want to, so I have to do it myself."

"Zhou Dian," Shuo Bude said, "You and I are like brothers. The four of us are going to risk our lives in a battle on the Brightness Peak, we might part forever. What harm does it bring to let you hit me with a palm?"

Zhou Dian's heart was deeply touched. He shouted with a cry in his voice, "I'm also going to the Brightness Peak. Yang Xiao's old debt, let me set aside for the time being."

Monk Peng was delighted. "Now that is a good brother!" he said.

Inside the sack, Zhang Wuji was able to hear everybody clearly. He thought, "These five men are highly skilled martial art experts; there is no doubt about it. What's hard to come by is their chivalrous brotherhood. There are not a few experts within the Ming Cult; is it possible that all of them are heretical and demonic?"

While he was still deep in thought, suddenly he felt he was being moved; so he knew Shuo Bude was taking him to the Brightness Peak. Ever since he learned that Zhu'er was all right, he was relieved; his only concern right now was the Six Major Sects of Wulin world besieging the Ming Cult; how was he going to bring this matter to conclusion? He also thought that when he got to the Brightness Peak, he would see his childhood friend, Yang Buhui. After she grew up, would she still remember him?

The party travelled for a day and a night. Once every several hours, Shuo Bude would untie the mouth of the sack to let Zhang Wuji had some fresh air before he would tightly tie the sack again. By afternoon the next day, Zhang Wuji suddenly felt the sack was being dragged over the rugged ground. At first he did not understand, but later when he slightly raised his head, his forehead bumped heavily into a rock that it hurt like hell. Now he realized that they were walking along a tunnel inside the mountain. The tunnel was unusually cold, the air was not moving freely. After walking for the more than an hour, they were out of the belly of the mountain. Then they walked along an ascending path. But before long, they entered another tunnel.

After going through five such tunnels, Zhang Wuji heard Zhou Dian call out, "Yang Xiao, the blood-sucking bat and the Wu San Ren are here to see you!"

Half a day later, came the reply from some distance ahead, "What a pleasant surprise Fu Wang and the Wu San Ren honor me with your presence. Yang Xiao did not welcome you from afar, for which offense I beg your forgiveness."

"What a hypocritical nonsense are you blabbering about?" Zhou Dian said, "In your belly you must be cursing the Wu San Ren's words were like a fart; we said that we would never go up the Brightness Peak, we would forever pay no attention to the Ming Cult's affair, yet today we come for a visit uninvited." "The Six Major Sects are besieging us from all sides, Xiaodi [little brother, referring to self] is unable to cope with it alone, and am very anxious," Yang Xiao replied, "That Fu Wang and the Wu San Ren are looking at Ming Zun's face and come to offer your help for the sake of loyalty, it is indeed our Cult's good fortune."

"It's good if you know that," Zhou Dian said.

Immediately Yang Xiao welcomed the Five Wanderers into the inner chamber, where a boy servant delivered tea and refreshments.

"Aaahhh ....!" suddenly the servant cried miserably. Inside the sack, Zhang Wuji was absolutely horrified for not knowing what happened. After quite a while, he heard Wei Yixiao say, "Yang Zuo Shi [left emissary Yang], I am sorry to harm your servant. Wei Yixiao will pay you back someday."

His voice was full of vigor; entirely different from when he was gasping for breath previously. Zhang Wuji shivered inwardly. "He sucked this servant's blood," he mused, "Now his cold poison is under control."

He heard Yang Xiao flatly say, "What's pay back or not pay back between us? That Fu Wang is willing to come to the Brightness Peak shows that you regard me in high esteem."

These seven people were the Ming Cult's top fighters, masters who are the sharpest-tip-of-the-weapon; although presently they were facing a powerful enemy, once they gathered together, their spirits rose. After food and drink, they discussed ideas on how to resist the enemy. Shuo Bude placed the cloth sack next to his feet. Zhang Wuji was hungry and thirsty, but remembering Shuo Bude's warning, he did not dare to either move or make any noise.

After a lengthy discussion, Monk Peng said, "Guang Ming You Shi [the Right Emissary of the Brightness] and Zi Shan Long Wang [Purpled-robe Dragon King] have gone missing; whether Jin Mao Shi Wang is alive or dead is also hard to foretell, so we might as well forget about them. The most unfortunate matter at the moment is that the enmity between the Five- Element Flags and the Heavenly Eagle Cult is getting deeper and deeper. During the most recent battle, both sides have suffered quite heavy casualties. If only the two of them can also go up the Brightness Peak and join forces to resist the enemy, not only siege of Six Major Sects, even twelve sects or eighteen sects, the Ming Cult would be able to counter soldiers with arms, water with earth wall.”

Shuo Bude lightly kicked the cloth sack and said, “The kid inside this sack is somewhat related to the Heavenly Eagle Cult; recently, he also showed great kindness to the Five-Element Flags. Perhaps he will play an important role in the resolution of bilateral animosity in the future.”

Wei Yixiao coldly said, “One more day the Jiaozhu position is undecided, one more day our Cult’s dispute is not resolved. Even if he has ability as big as the sky, he will never resolve this hostility. Yang Zuo Shi, ‘zaixia’ [humble one] wants to ask you something: after the enemy is repelled, whom will you support to be our leader?”

Yang Xiao unenthusiastically said, “Whoever possesses the Sheng Huo Ling [command or decree of the holy fire] I will support to be our Jiaozhu. This has been our Cult’s custom since the days of our ancestors; why did you ask me?”

Wei Yixiao said, “Sheng Huo Ling has been lost for nearly a hundred years; are you telling me that as long as Sheng Huo Ling is not found, the Ming Cult will not have a Jiaozhu? The Six Major Sects have the guts to besiege the Brightness Peak; they have complete disregard for our Cult. It is all because they know our Cult has lost our line of command, we are disintegrating internally.”

“Wei Xiong is right,” Shuo Bude said, “I, Bu Dai Heshang [cloth sack monk], am not of the Yin faction, neither am I of the Wei faction; whoever become the Jiaozhu is fine with me, as long as there is a Jiaozhu. Even if we do not have a Jiaozhu, a Vice Jiaozhu is also fine. Without a clear chain of command, how can we thwart the intrusion of the enemy?” Priest Tiguan said, “Shuo Bude’s words attain my heart.”

Yang Xiao’s face changed. "Gentlemen," he said, "Do you come up the Brightness Peak to help me to fight the enemy, or to make things difficult for me?"

Zhou Dian laughed aloud. "Yang Xiao," he said, "Do you think I, Zhou Dian, do not know your real intention on why you do not want to elect a Jiaozhu? As long as the Ming Cult does not have a Jiaozhu, it will be you, the Left Emissary, who presides over the interim position. Humph, however, although your position is the highest, if others do not obey your order, then what good will it bring? Can you command the Five-Element Flag? Will the Four Great Hu Jiao Fa Wang submit to you? We, the Five Wanderers, are like floating clouds and wild cranes, don't even give a damn to some Guang Ming Zuo Shi!"

Yang Xiao stood up abruptly. In a cold voice he said, "Today the enemy is outside, ready to strike; Yang Xiao does not have time to engage gentlemen in a battle of words. If gentlemen willingly watch with folded arms the Ming Cult’s life or death, then please go down the Brightness Peak! As long as Yang Xiao does not die, I will return your visit one by one in the future.”

“Yang Zuo Shi, you don’t need to lose your temper,” Monk Peng exhorted, “The Six Major Sects are besieging the MingCult. It is the duty of each and every one of the Cult disciple to defend our Cult. It is not your business alone.”

With a cold laugh Yang Xiao said, “I am afraid there are people within our Cult who are hoping that Yang Xiao will be slain by the Six Major Sects, and thus they will be rid of the nail in their eyes.”

“Whom are you referring to?” Zhou Dian asked.

Yang Xiao replied, “Every body knows his own heart; must I spell it out?” “Are you talking about me?” Zhou Dian angrily asked. Yang Xiao averted his gaze to someplace else; he was ignoring Zhou Dian completely. Monk Peng saw Zhou Dian’s eyes radiated a different gleam; apparently he was ready to fight with Yang Xiao, he quickly urged, “There is an ancient saying: brothers fight each other, outsiders will drive their insult. Let us discuss further our plan to fight the enemy.”

Yang Xiao said, “Yingyu Dashi [Reverend Yingyu] understands the important matter, your words are very true.”

“Fine!” Zhou Dian shouted loudly, “Bald thief Peng understands the important matter, Zhou Dian only knows trivial matter?” He was just being mule-headed; he did not want to consider anything. Still shouting, he said, “I want this Jiaozhu position to be decided today. Zhou Dian nominates Wei Yixiao as the Ming Cult Jiaozhu. The blood-sucking bat’s martial art skill is superb, in terms of scheming he is shrewd. Nobody in our Cult is superior to him.”

Actually, in normal times, Zhou Dian and Wei Yixiao had never been close friends; there were more ill will between them than there was goodwill. But he deliberately wanted to provoke Yang Xiao, so he pushed Wei Yixiao forward.

Yang Xiao laughed. “In my opinion,” he said, “It would be best if the Jiaozhu position is held by Zhou Dian. Currently the Ming Cult is all split up in pieces. If we have Great Cult Leader Zhou to preside at the top, our Cult will be turned upside down. Now, that should be very interesting!” [Translator’s note: This is one of those ‘lost in translation’ cases. Yang Xiao was playing with Zhou Dian’s name: the character ‘Dian’ means ‘top (of the head)’ or ‘apex’; but it also means ‘fall forward, upside down, or jolt’.]

Zhou Dian was furious. “Your Mama’s dog stinky fart!” he shouted. ‘Whoosh!’ his palm struck down on the crown of Yang Xiao’s head.

A while ago, Zhou Dian’s palm had caused many of Shuo Bude’s teeth fall down; it was because Shuo Bude had no intention to evade. But how could Yang Xiao receive such treatment easily? More than ten years ago, because of a dispute over a Cult affair, Yang Xiao had a major argument with the Five Wanderers. At that time, the Five Wanderers made an oath not to go up the Brightness Peak again. When they broke their heavy oath by coming today, suspicions had started to grow inside Yang Xiao’s heart. Seeing Zhou Dian suddenly make his move, he knew that the Five Wanderers had made an agreement with Wei Yixiao to come and conspire against him. Startled and angered, his right palm swept out to meet Zhou Dian's palm.

Wei Yixiao knew Yang Xiao’s capability very well. After Zhou Dian was injured, his 'chi' had not recovered; he was definitely not Yang Xiao's match. Thereupon Wei Yixiao dashed ahead of him with swept palm to receive Yang Xiao's palm. The two palms collided, but surprisingly no noise was to be heard. Turned out although Yang Xiao had reasons to dislike Zhou Dian, he still remembered that both of them belonged to the same Cult; therefore, he was unwilling to harm his life. Consequently, his palm did not carry his full strength. However, Wei Yixiao's martial art skill was deep; as his stance 'han bing mian zhang' [cold ice soft palm] arrived, Yang Xiao's right arm was shaken, as he felt a burst of cold 'yin' energy penetrated his skin and flesh; hastily he exerted his internal energy to withstand. When the two men’s internal energy collided, they were locked at a stalemate.

“The one surnamed Yang,” Zhou Dian called out, “Eat my palm again!” Just now his first palm did not hit its target, now his second palm was aimed at Yang Xiao’s chest.

“Zhou Dian, don’t make a scene!” Shuo Bude called out.

Monk Peng also said, “Yang Zuo Shi, Wei Fu Wang, please hold your hands, don’t harm our own people!” He stretched out his hand to divert Zhou Dian’s palm. But Yang Xiao’s body leaned sideways, his left palm already met and stuck on Zhou Dian’s right palm.

“Zhou Dian,” Shuo Bude called out, “You are two against one, what kind of hero are you?” Reaching out toward Zhou Dian’s shoulder, he wanted to grab him and pull him back. But before his hand even touched Zhou Dian, he saw Zhou Dian’s body slightly shiver as if he had already received internal injury. Shuo Bude was shocked. He knew very well the Left Emissary of the Brightness’ divine power; he was their Cult’s top master. Shuo Bude was afraid that in that one palm strike, Yang Xiao had already injured Zhou Dian. He saw Zhou Dian’s right palm was stuck onto Yang Xiao’s left palm, as if he was not willing to withdraw his palm.

“Zhou Dian,” Shuo Bude called out, “We are all brothers, why would you disregard your own old life?” He came closer to pull Zhou Dian’s shoulder, while at the same time said, “Yang Zuo Shi, please be lenient with your palm.” He was afraid Yang Xiao was unwilling to withdraw his palm strength and took that opportunity to attack him. To his surprise, as he pulled Zhou Dian’s body, Zhou Dian swayed but could not move; while at the same time a burst of ice-cold ‘chi’ penetrated his palm and went straight toward the pit of his stomach.

Shuo Bude was even more shocked; thinking, “This is the special skill of Wei Xiong’s school, the Cold Ice Soft Palm; how could Yang Xiao also train this skill?” Hastily he exerted his own internal energy to resist the attack. But the cold ‘chi’ was growing in intensity that in a short period of time Shuo Bude’s jaws started to chatter from the unbearable cold.

Priest Tieguan and Peng Yingyu rushed forward; one protected Zhou Dian, the other protected Shuo Bude. With the combined energy of four men, the cold ‘chi’was no longer unbearable. They only felt that the force transmitted from Yang Xiao’s palm was sometimes light, sometimes heavy, something bursting something sluggish; it kept changing with infinite variation. The four men did not dare to withdraw their palms, for fear that as soon as their power slackened, Yang Xiao would sent out his power suddenly and then the four of them would either be dead or at least suffer serious injury.

“Yang Zuo Shi,” Peng Yingyu called out, “We are facing powerful enemy; how can you … can you … can you …” His teeth chattered so much that he was unable to continue. He felt as if the blood in his entire body had frozen to ice. Turned out as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, the real ‘chi’ in his body stopped momentarily that he was unable to withstand the cold ‘chi’ coming in from his palm.

And so for the next time needed to drink a cup of tea later, Mr. Cold Face Leng Qian stood on the side watching. He noticed that the faces of Wei Yixiao and his four fellow Wanderers were tight, but Yang Xiao seemed to be at ease; he felt very strange. “Although Yang Xiao’s martial art skill is high,” he thought, “Compared to Wei Yixiao, he is about the same, he won’t necessarily be able to defeat him easily. With the addition of Shuo Bude and the others, four men, Yang Xiao is absolutely not their match. Why is it that with one against five, he still looks like he is so confident of victory? There must be something strange going on here …”

Hanging his head, he pondered deeply, but failed to solve the puzzle immediately. He heard Zhou Dian call out, “Leng Mian devil, strike … strike his back … strike …” But Leng Qian was unwilling to make his move before he has a clear understanding of what was happening. Right now, among the Five Wanderers, he was the only one who was not doing anything; they would depend solely on him to escape the danger and get away from distress. However, supposing he also stakes everything he had to battle Yang Xiao, although with the addition of one man their combined power would be increased quite a bit, they still could not ascertain their victory.

He saw that the faces of Zhou Dian and Peng Yingyu had turned blue; it looked like if this situation continued, the ‘yin’ poison would enter their internal organs, and then they would face endless disaster. Thereupon he took out from his pocket five small sterling silver writing brushes and held them in his hand while he said, “Five brushes, strike your ‘qu chi’ [crooked reservoir], ‘ju gu’ [gigantic bone], ‘yang huo’ [positive orifice], ‘wu li’ [five interior(?)], ‘zhong du’ [middle capital].” These five acupoints were located on hands and feet, really were not fatal acupoints at all. He mentioned the target first, apparently so that Yang Xiao would know that he did not have any malicious intention, just wanted him to withdraw his palms.

Yang Xiao showed a faint smile, but did not take any notice of him. Leng Qian called out, “Forgive my offense!” With a tossing motion on his left hand and scattering motion on the right, five silver rays shot toward Yang Xiao.

Yang Xiao waited until the five silver brushes came near, then abruptly his left hand swept horizontally, pulling along Zhou Dian and the others, four people, using them as a shield in front of his body. Zhou Dian and Peng Yingyu uttered a stifled grunt as the five brushes separately landed on these two men’s bodies; Zhou Dian received two brushes, while Peng Yingyu was hit by three brushes. Luckily Leng Qian had no intention to hurt anybody; the force of his hands was very light, plus the pens did not actually hit the intended acupoints. Although they suffered flesh wound, they were not seriously harmed.

“It’s ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi!’ [‘qian kun’ – heaven and earth, yin and yang, the universe; ‘da’ – big/great; ‘nuo’ – to shift, to move; ‘yi’ – also to shift, to move, to change/alter/remove. The Great Shifting of the Universe]” in a low voice Peng Yingyu said.

As soon as Leng Qian heard the five characters ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’, he understood immediately. ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’ was the fiercest martial art skill, a Ming Cult’s legacy, passed on from generation to the generation. The fundamental principle was not mysterious at all; it strove to stimulate one’s own potential first, and then used it to lead and shift the opponent’s force. But the variations within this principle were magical; it was almost unthinkable.

Ever since the death of the previous Cult Leader, Yang Dingtian, there was no one else within the Ming Cult who mastered this special skill, and thus none of the six men ever expected it. No wonder Yang Xiao did not seem to exert himself, since he simply directed Wei Yixiao’s palm power to attack the four Wanderers, and conversely, used the four Wanderers’ palm power to attack Wei Yixiao, while he leisurely positioned himself in between them, no more than drawing and transmitting both parties’ internal energy, nothing more than ‘parting the mountain to watch tigers fight’.

“Congratulations!” Leng Qian said, “No ill will, please stop fighting.” He always spoke succinctly. With ‘congratulations’, he congratulated Yang Xiao on being successfully trained in the Ming Cult’s long lost divine skill, the ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’; by ‘no ill will’ he was saying that we, six people, going up the mountain this time without holding any ill will toward you, that we were sincere in our desire to help resisting the invaders; and by ‘please stop fighting’ he meant both sides should stop fighting and must not have any misunderstanding.

Yang Xiao was aware that in normal times Leng Qian had never uttered a single rubbish talk; and because he did not want to utter even one extraneous word, he had never told a lie. If he said, ‘no ill will’, then he truly did not have any evil intention. Moreover, when he made his move by shooting the five silver brushes, it was obvious that his intention was indeed to help his companions out of trouble, not to harm anybody. Thereupon he laughed and said, "Wei Xiong, Four Wanderers, when I say 'one, two, three', everybody remove your palm power at the same time, so that nobody will get hurt!"

Seeing Wei Yixiao, Zhou Dian and the others nodded their heads, he slowly counted, "One, two, three!"

As the word 'three' left his mouth, Yang Xiao removed the divine skill ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’; but suddenly he felt his back was cold. A burst of sharp finger power pierced the 'shen dao' [divine way] acupoint on his back. Yang Xiao was shocked. "Fu Wang is very sinister and ruthless," he thought, "To launch a sneak attack like this." But when he was about to counterattack by slapping backward, he saw that Wei Yixiao swayed and tumbled down. It seemed like he had also fallen under the enemy's sneak attack.

In all his life, Yang Xiao had seen countless big battles; although this turn of events had taken him by surprise, his mind stayed clear. Quickly he dashed forward to get away from the enemy's reach. Upon turning his head around, he saw Zhou Dian, Peng Yingyu, Priest Tieguan and Shuo Bude, four people, had also fallen on the ground, while Leng Qian was exchanging palm strikes with someone wearing ash grey cotton robe.

The man struck backhandedly, and Leng Qian uttered a grunt; his voice sounded like he was in pain. Yang Xiao took a deep breath and jumped forward with the intention of helping Leng Qian, but suddenly he felt a burst of ice-cold 'chi' flowed swiftly from his 'shen dao' acupoint to his torso, attacking his 'shen zhu' [body pillar], 'tao dao' [pottery channel], 'da zhui' [big spine], 'feng fu' [windy mansion], and various acupoints along the 'du mai' [supervise arteries] channel.

Yang Xiao knew his condition was far from good. The enemy was not only a martial art expert, but also a sinister and ruthless person; he was able to take the split-second window when Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao and the four Wanderers were withdrawing their strength and like a lighting he struck a surprise attack. Yang Xiao had no choice but to circulate his own real 'chi' to fight the cold. This cold 'chi' was completely different from Wei Yixiao's Cold Ice Soft Palm. Yang Xiao felt it was like a wisp of ice-cold thread, but wherever it reached, it turned the acupoint numb and itchy. If they were fighting face to face, Yang Xiao could use his internal energy to protect his body, and there was no way this kind of finger power would penetrate his internal defense. But since he had already fallen under the enemy's sneak attack, his only option was to launch a counterattack together with Leng Qian, trying to knock down the enemy then act accordingly.

Yang Xiao stepped forward with raised right palm, and was about to strike down when suddenly his entire body shivered violently from the cold and the strength he gathered in his palm disappeared without a trace.

By this time Leng Qian had exchanged more than twenty stances with that man, and it was obvious that he was not the man's match. Yang Xiao was very anxious. He saw Leng Qian kicked with his right foot. The man rushed one step forward and his finger hacked down on Leng Qian's arm. Leng Qian staggered and fell backward.

Yang Xiao was startled and angered; he gathered the remaining of internal energy in his entire body into his right elbow and struck the grey-robed man on the chest. The grey-robed man stuck out his left finger toward the 'xiao hai' [small ocean] acupoint on Yang Xiao's elbow. Immediately Yang Xiao felt his entire body went cold and numb, and was not able to make another move, even for half a step.

The grey-robed man laughed coldly and said, "The Guang Ming Zuo Shi indeed lives up to your reputation. After getting hit twice by my 'huan yin zhi' [fantasy/magical 'yin' finger], you can still stand."

Yang Xiao said, "Your finger-flicking technique is from Shaolin, but whatever is the 'huan yin zhi' internal strength? Humph, Shaolin Pai does not have this kind of sinister and ruthless martial art. Who are you?"

The grey-robed man laughed aloud and said, "Pin Seng [impoverished monk] Yuan Zhen, a disciple under the tutelage of my master, whose Buddhist title was 'Kong' at the top and 'Jian' at the bottom. Right now the Six Major Sects are besieging the Ming Cult. You die under a Shaolin disciple, your death is not in vain."

Yang Xiao said, "The Six Major Sects and our Ming Cult are enemies, real swords, real spears, we will fight to the death; that will be the deed of the real man, real hero. Kong Jian Shen Seng's [Divine Monk] kindness and chivalry was widely known throughout the world, who would have thought that among his disciples there is someone as despicable and shameless as you are ..." Speaking to this point, he was unable to stand anymore; his knees gave up and he fell sitting down on the ground.

Yuan Zhen laughed out loud and said, "To win by a surprise move is just fair in a war. It has been this way since the ancient times. I, Yuan Zhen, one man can flatten the Ming Cult's seven big masters. Aren't you going to accept the defeat?"

Yang Xiao shook his head and sighed. "How can you enter the Brightness Peak stealthily?" he asked, "How did you know about this secret passage? If you are willing to reveal it, Yang Xiao will die with closed eyes." Yang Xiao knew that Yuan Zhen’s sneak attack was successful, admittedly it was because his martial art skill was superior; but most importantly, it was because he knew the secret passages of the Brightness Peak, bypassing a dozens of Ming Cult’s sentries along the way, and made his move stealthily [orig. shén bù zhi gui bù jué – deity (does) not know, ghost (does) not realize.], so that he was able to knock down seven masters of the Ming Cult in one move.

The Ming Cult had been operating from the Brightness Peak as their headquarters for hundreds of years, relying on dangerous precipice as their natural defense, enforced with metal ramparts and impassable moats. Who would have thought that disaster arose from the inside; it came so suddenly that there was not enough time to set up a defense? Indeed they had suffered a crushing defeat.

A phrase from the ‘Lun Yu’ [Analects of Confucius] suddenly came to Yang Xiao’s mind: Kong Zi [Confucius] said, ‘In his own territory there are divisions and downfalls, leavings and separations, and, with your help, he cannot preserve it. And yet he is planning these hostile movements within the state.-I am afraid that the sorrow of the Ji-sun family will not be on account of Zhuan-yu, but will be found within the screen of their own court.' [This is not my translation, I found it here: http://classics.mit.edu//Confucius/analects.html under Section 4, Part 16, edited to pinyin spellings.]

Yuan Zhen said with a laugh, “You, Devil Cult, always regarded the seven peaks and thirteen cliffs of the Brightness Peak as a natural defense. In our Shaolin monks’ eyes, it is no more than a broad and open road, is it not? All of you have been hit by my ‘huan yin zhi’, I have no doubt that within three days, you will return to the Western Paradise. In my visit to the Peak this time, Pin Seng has buried several dozen catties of gunpowder. I will extinguish the Devil Cult’s devil fire. When the Heavenly Eagle Cult, the Five-Element Flags, and what have you, busily going up to rescue, ‘ka- boom’, the buried gunpowder will explode. Smoke will arise, fire will be out, from then on, you can consider the Devil Cult vanished without a trace. This is what it is called: The lone Shaolin monk extinguishes the Ming Cult, the seven demons of the Brightness Peak return to the Western Paradise.”

Listening to this, Yang Xiao and the others could not help from feeling extremely anxious, knowing that this monk was capable of doing what he said he would do. The loss of their own lives was not to be regretted, but the Ming Cult, which had been passed on for thirty three generations, would perish under this Shaolin monk’s hands.

In the meantime, Yuan Zhen was growing more and more complacent. “Within the Ming Cult, the masters are as numerous as the clouds. If you did not fight each other and disintegrate to pieces, how could there be any disastrous destruction? Just look at what happened today: if the seven of you were not in the middle of staking everything in palm power competition, how could Pin Seng quietly go up the Brightness Peak, and succeed in one strike? This is called: the Heaven regards sin yet still allow man to live, but the more sin committed, man must not live! Ha ha ha ... I can't believe the Ming Cult, with its awe-inspiring prestige in the former days, will end up like this after Yang Dingtian's death."

In the brink of great disaster of their own death, as well as the destruction of their Cult, as Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu, Zhou Dian, and the others heard his words, they recalled the incidents happened over the last twenty years, and were all filled with deep regret. "This monk is right," they thought.

"Yang Xiao," with a loud voice Zhou Dian said, "I, Zhou Dian, really deserve to die! I was being unfair toward you. Although you are not too good, you being the Jiaozhu certainly beat us without any Jiaozhu at all, and so we won't be completely wiped out like this."

With a bitter laugh Yang Xiao replied, "What ability do I have to become the Jiaozhu? Everybody was in the wrong; we have made such a huge mess that in the netherworld we won't have a face to see the past generations' Jiaozhu."

Yuan Zhen laughed. "It is too late for you, gentlemen, to regret it now," he said. "When Yang Dingtian was the boss of the Devil Cult, he was insufferably arrogant. It's a pity he died early and could not witness the defeat of the Ming Cult with his own eyes."

"Fart!" Zhou Dian angrily said, "If Yang Jiaozhu were still alive, everybody would obey his orders! How can a bald thief like you launch a sneak attack like this?" With a cold laugh Yuan Zhen said, "It doesn't matter if Yang Dingtian is dead or alive. I will always have a way to have his reputation swept away ..."

Suddenly a slap was heard, followed by a cry, "Ah!" Yuan Zhen's back was hit by Wei Yixiao's palm, while Wei Yixiao was also hit by Yuan Zhen's counterattack finger strike, right on the 'shan zhong' [lit. mutton smell] acupoint on his chest. Both of them staggered a few steps backward.

When Wei Yixiao was hit by Yuan Zhen's finger earlier, although his injury was heavy, his internal energy was, after all, a notch higher than the others. Only he did not immediately strike back, but pretended to be knocked out instead. When Yuan Zhen was getting immensely pleased with himself and not in the least on guard, he leaped up and attacked. He had sent out his entire strength in this one palm strike. He was willing to die together with the enemy to save the Ming Cult from a calamity.

Although Yuan Zhen was fierce, the Green-winged Bat King was one of the Ming Cult's 'Hu Jiao Fa Wang', he shared the same honor with Yin Tianzheng and Xie Xun. When he struck with everything he had, how could it be considered a small matter? As soon as the power of ‘Cold Ice Soft Palm’ entered his body, Yuan Zhen felt his stomach turn upside down that he wanted to throw up. He tried to circulate his internal energy to steady himself, but he still felt the sky spun and the earth revolved that he felt he was about to fall down. He had no choice but sit cross-legged and circulate his ‘chi’ to resist the cold attack from the ‘Cold Ice Soft Palm’.

As Wei Yixiao got hit by the ‘Fantastical Yin Finger’ twice in succession, he could not stand and fell backward and was not able to move. Immediately the hall became quiet as the eight martial art masters all received heavy injuries; nobody was able to make even half a step of movement.

Eight men exerted their internal energies, each was hoping he could restore his strength one step earlier than the enemy. If only one side was able to move, he could kill the other side. Everybody was anxious in his heart. They all knew it was the decisive moment for the survival or destruction of the Ming Cult, as well as the live or death of all eight people. If Yuan Zhen was able to move first, despite his heavy injury, he would be able to pick up a sword and murder these seven people one by one. If only one of the seven Ming Cult people was able to move first, he would be able to kill Yuan Zhen and thus save the Ming Cult.

There were seven people in Ming Cult’s side, they should have the benefit of numbers; however, the Five Wanderers’ power was comparably shallower than the rest. When they were hit by the ‘Fantastical Yin Finger’, their strength was gone; while Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao, who possessed more profound internal strength were hit twice. Actually, it was not easy to differentiate the power of ‘han bing mian zhang’ and ‘huan yin zhi’; however, Wei Yixiao sent his last palm strike when he had already suffered injury, while Yuan Zhen launched hi attack when he had not been injured. It could be gathered from this fact that Yuan Zhen had a greater chance to make his move first.

Yang Xiao and the others were secretly distressed, but circulating internal energy to treat injury like this must not be forced the least bit; the more they were anxious and impatient, the greater the chance of something going terribly wrong. Each one of these people was an expert in internal energy cultivation; how could they not know this fact?

Leng Qian and the others vomited several times. They knew they would never be able to recover ahead of Yuan Zhen. They only hoped for one of Yang Xiao’s subordinates at the Brightness Peak would come into the hall. As long as one Ming Cult disciple came in, - he did not have to know martial art – he could pick a wooden stick and gently knock Yuan Zhen and kill him. However, after waiting for a long time, there was not even half a noise could be heard outside the hall. It was close to midnight, the disciples at the Brightness Peak were either on their guard duties outside, or were sleeping in their quarters inside. Besides, without Yang Xiao’s order, who would dare to barge into the hall? As for Yang Xiao’s servants, ever since one of them was bitten by Wei Yixiao to death, they all scared out of their wits and had scattered away early on. Not to mention Yang Xiao did not summon them, even if he did, they might not necessarily dare to step into the hall, to come to the presence of this blood-sucking Devil King.

Hidden inside the cloth sack, Zhang Wuji could not see anything, but when they spoke, he could hear every single word clearly. Right now the hall was quiet, but he knew that this silence was hiding an enormous murderous intention. After half a day, suddenly he heard Shuo Bude’s voice was calling out, “Hey, little friend inside the cloth sack, you must save us.”

“How do I save you?” Zhang Wuji asked.

The flow of ‘chi’ in Yuan Zhen’s ‘dan tian’ was starting to clear up. To suddenly hear a voice came out of the cloth sack, his shock was not light. His real ‘chi’ was shaken and his body was trembling violently. Ever since he entered the hall, his attention was focused on dealing with Wei Yixiao, Yang Xiao, and the other masters; how could he find the time to leisurely observe anything unusual lying on the ground other than an ordinary cloth sack? To suddenly hear someone was talking, he could not restrain from sucking a mouthful of cold air while cried out inwardly, “I am finished!”

He heard Shuo Bude say, “The mouth of the cloth sack was bound by the ‘qian chan bai jie’ [a thousand wraps a hundred knots] technique. Other than myself, definitely nobody else would be able to untie it. But you can stand up.”

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied, while standing inside the cloth sack.

“Xiao Xiongdi [little brother],” Shuo Bude said, “You were willing to give up your life to save the lives of several dozen Rui Jin Flag brethrens, your righteousness, chivalry and noble character deserves everybody’s utmost admiration. Right now several of our people’s lives also depend on you. Please go to that evil monk and kill him with a fist or a palm.”

Zhang Wuji pondered deeply and did not answer for half a day.

Shuo Bude added, “This evil monk took advantage of our precarious position and launched a sneak attack. It was a despicable deed, you have heard it with your own ears. If you don’t kill him, tens of thousands Ming Cult people, from top to bottom, will be wiped out completely by outsiders. If you kill him, you are performing a huge virtuous deed and chivalrous duty.”

Zhang Wuji still hesitated and did not say anything.

Yuan Zhen said, “Right this moment I cannot move the least bit. If you kill me, won’t you be the laughingstock of all heroes under the heavens?”

“Stinky bald thief,” Zhou Dian angrily said, “Shaolin Pai calls themselves a righteous major sect; but you surreptitiously came up here and launched a sneak attack. Won’t you be the laughingstock of all heroes under the heavens?”

Zhang Wuji had taken a step toward Yuan Zhen, but then he stopped and said, “Shuo Bude Dashi [reverend], your precious Cult’s dispute [orig. shi fei qu zhi – right or wrong, crooked or straight] with the Six Major Sects, Xiao Ke [the young one] does not know; Xiao Ke is very wiling to help you, gentlemen, but is unwilling to harm this Great Monk from the Shaolin Pai.”

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Peng Yingyu said, “You are somewhat ignorant. If you do not kill him now, when this monk’s strength is restored, he will definitely kill you as well.”

Yuan Zhen said with a laugh, “I have neither grudges nor enmity with this Xiao Shizu [young benefactor]; how can I kill him without any reason? Let alone this Xiao Shizu does not belong to the Devil Cult; apparently, out of ill intention Bu Dai Heshang captured him and took him up the mountain. You, the Devil Cult people, have never shrunk from any crime; what good might come out of this for him?”

Both sides were huffing and puffing, it was extremely difficult for them to talk, but they forced themselves to speak, trying to touch Zhang Wuji’s heart. Zhang Wuji was in quandary; he had personally heard how this Yuan Zhen monk launched a sneak attack, which was a cowardly act. But to go forward and strike him dead was also against his wish. Besides, once he made his move, he would be standing in the Ming Cult’s side forever and become the enemy of the Six Major Sects. His Tai Shifu [grand master], the Six Heroes of Wudang, Zhou Zhiruo, and the others would become his enemy.

He also thought, “The Ming Cult is recognized by the mainstream Wulin community as demonic and heretical, such as Wei Yixiao sucks people’s blood and Yifu indiscriminately killed the innocent. Really they have done too many things they should have not done. Tai Shifu has repeatedly warned me not to make friends with the Devil Cult people to avoid the disaster of lifelong suffering. Because my Father had involvement with the Devil Cult by marrying my Mother, he had to commit suicide on the top of Wudang Mountain. A warning example is close at hand, road to disaster is straight ahead. Much less this Yuan Zhen is Divine Monk Kong Jian’s disciple. Kong Jian Dashi willingly endured thirteen punches of ‘Qi Shang Quan’ [seven- injury fist] with the hope of restoring my Yifu, but the end result was he died under the fist. This kind of benevolence, justice and mercy is extremely hard to come by within the Wulin world even from the ancient times; how can I harm his disciple?”

As he heard Shuo Bude urge again, Zhang Wuji said, “Shuo Bude Dashi, could you teach me a way so that I do not need to harm this Great Monk while he also cannot harm all of you? Xiao Ke will certainly do as instructed.”

Shuo Bude thought, “Looking at the current situation, it is a fight to the death between the two parties; how can there be a way to preserve both sides? If Yuan Zhen does not die, then we will perish.”

While he was still deep in thought, Peng Yingyu said, “Xiao Xiongdi, your benevolence is truly admirable. In that case please stretch out your finger and lightly push the ‘yu tang’ [jade hall] acupoint on Yuan Zhen’s chest. This way you will definitely not harm him, you will only prevent him to use his internal energy for several hours. We will send someone to take him down the mountain, we will not harm even a hair on his body. Do you know the location of the ‘yu tang’ acupoint?” Zhang Wuji’s medical knowledge was deep, he knew that if the ‘yu tang’ acupoint was lightly sealed, the flow of real ‘chi’ from the ‘dantian’ upward would be temporarily blocked, but his health would not be affected. Thereupon he said, “I do.”

He heard Yuan Zhen say, “Xiao Shizhu must not act on their behalf. You seal my acupoint, no doubt it is not fatal, but as soon as their internal energy is restored, they are going to kill me at once. How are you going to prevent it?”

“Your Mama’s stinking dog’s fart!” Zhou Dian cursed, “We said we are not going to harm you, naturally we are not going to harm you. Do you think the words of Wu San Ren of the Ming Cult cannot be trusted?”

Zhang Wuji believed that Yang Xiao and the Five Wanderers were people who would not fail to keep their own words, but he was not certain about Wei Yixiao. Thereupon he asked, “Wei Qianbei, what do you say?”

With a trembling voice Wei Yixiao said, “I won’t harm him for now. But the next time we meet, we will disregard our lives and fight … fight to the … the death.” By the time he said the words ‘fight to the death’, his voice was getting extremely weak while he was gasping for breath.

“Then so be it,” Zhang Wuji said, “Guangming Shizhe [The Emissary of the Brightness], Qing Yi Fu Wang, and Wu San Ren, seven gentlemen, each one is a hero and warrior of the present age, how can they break their own promise renege their own words? Yuan Zhen Dashi, please forgive ‘wanbei’s offense.” While saying that, he walked toward Yuan Zhen.

Because he was inside the sack, he could only take about one foot at a time; therefore, it was a dozen steps later that he finally arrived in front of Yuan Zhen. This kind of big cloth sack creeping forward slowly was actually a funny scene, but this moment everybody’s life was hanging on a thread; nobody found it amusing.

Listening to Yuan Zhen’s breathing, Zhang Wuji knew when he was about two feet away from him, so he stopped and said, “Yuan Zhen Dashi, ‘wanbei’ is doing this for the benefit of both sides, you must not blame me.” While saying that, he slowly raised his hand.

With a bitter laugh Yuan Zhen said, “At this moment my whole body can’t move; I can only let you, ‘xiao wan bei’, to do whatever you want.”

Ever since the Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley Hu Qingniu died, ZhangWuji’s technique in acupoint identification was already incomparable in this present age. Yuan Zhen and he were separated by a cloth sack, but unexpectedly his stretched finger toward the ‘yu tang’ acupoint did not miss even a thousandths of a hair width. This ‘yu tang’ acupoint was located on the pit of the stomach, about one ‘cun’ six ‘fen’ [1 cun is approximately 1 inch, 1 fen is about 1/3 of a centimeter] below the ‘zi gong’ [purple palace] acupoint, and about one ‘cun’ six ‘fen’ above the ‘shan zhong’ [mutton smell] acupoint. It belonged to the ‘ren mai’ [lit. free, unrestrained blood passage]. This blood passage was not a fatal major acupoint, but it was located as such that the ‘chi’ passage must pass through. If this passage was blocked, the flow of ‘chi’ in the entire body would be obstructed.

“Aiyo!” suddenly Yang Xiao, Leng Qian, Shuo Bude shouted together, “Quickly withdraw your hand!”

Zhang Wuji felt the forefinger of his right hand shook; a gust of cold ‘chi’ burst through his hand and spread throughout his body just like a lightning strike, immediately his body turned cold. He heard Zhou Dian, Priest Tieguan, and the others shouted curses at the same time, “Stinky bald thief, dare to use such treachery!”

Zhang Wuji’s entire body shivered violently. He understood that although that Yuan Zhen could not move away, he was still able to send all his strength to his finger, which he positioned in front of his ‘yu tang’ acupoint. Because Zhang Wuji was inside the sack, he did not see that Yuan Zhen unexpectedly could still execute this countermeasure. As Zhang Wuji’s finger arrived, two fingertips bumped into each other, the power of Yuan Zhen’s ‘huan yin zhi’ penetrated the cloth sack and went straight into his body. In this situation of life and death, Yuan Zhen had used up his remaining strength on his finger. After the two fingers collided, his entire body was paralyzed and his countenance turned greenish pale that he looked like a corpse.

In the hall, there were originally eight men who were unable to move after receiving injuries. Now Zhang Wuji was added to their number. Zhou Dian was the one most irritated; although he was gasping for breath, he insisted on shouting curses at the Shaolin bald thief’s shameless treachery. Yang Xiao and the others, however, thought that they could not blame Yuan Zhen. The enemy was threatening to seal his acupoint, he held out his hand in self- defense. He had done nothing improper.

Yuan Zhen’s strength was completely depleted that he felt he was about to die. But secretly he was delighted, thinking this boy was still young, his power could not be too strong. After being hit by the ‘huan yin zhi’, he would certainly be dead in less than half a day, while in about two hours he would be able to slowly gather his dispersed real ‘chi’, and then he would be able to do anything he wanted.

The hall grew very quiet. After more than an hour later, the four candles illuminating the hall died out one after another. The hall became pitch black.

Yang Xiao and the others heard Yuan Zhen’s intermittent breathing slowly evened up; it was heavy at first, but progressively getting longer. They knew the scattered real ‘chi’ in Yuan Zhen’s body was slowly condensing, while whenever they tried to exert their own energy, a cold ‘chi’, like the ice-cold ‘huan yin zhi’, would burst into their ‘dantian’. They could not help but shiver. Their despair grew, the anxiety was getting even more unbearable. They wished for Yuan Zhen to recover quicker and quickly send out a palm strike to each of them so that they would die immediately, sparing them the seemingly endless torture of waiting anxiously.

Leng Qian, Zhou Dian and the others were content to just close their eyes waiting for death, simple and straightforward. Shuo Bude and Peng Yingyu, however, could not set their minds at ease. Of the Five Wanderers, Shuo Bude and Peng Yingyu were Buddhist monks [orig. ‘chu jia ren’ – those who leave their homes], but these two were also ones with the most ambition, the ones most care about the common people’s suffering, the ones resolved to take the great undertaking. By this time the situation was already decided, they were certain they would lose their lives under the hands of Yuan Zhen. Everybody’s lifelong magnificent aspiration would soon go down the drain.

“Peng Heshang,” Shuo Bude mournfully said, "We have carefully laid a plan to drive the Mongolian Tatars away, who would have thought that in the end everything is wasted? Ay, to think that the calamity of millions of common people has reached its peak, yet they will still have to endure suffering for a longer time."

Zhang Wuji was generating hot 'chi' in his 'dantian' to fight the cold 'chi' of the 'huan yin zhi'. He clearly heard everything Shuo Bude said, and was unable to restrain from feeling strange. "He said they are planning on driving the Mongolian Tatars away?" he thought, "Could it be that the notoriously evil Devil Cult really have the good of common people in their minds?"

He heard Peng Yingyu reply, "Shuo Bude, I have already said that if we rely solely on our Ming Cult's strength, it is impossible for us to overtake the Mongolian Tatars. We have to contact the world's heroes and warriors to join hands, only then we will succeed. In the past, your Shixiong [martial brother] Bang Hu and my Shidi [(younger) martial brother] Zhou Ziwang have raised arms in rebellion. The momentum was strong, but in the end they still utterly failed. Wasn't it because they did not involve the assistance of outsiders'?"

Zhou Dian loudly said, "Death is knocking on your door, yet you two, this pair of bald thieves, are still fighting a vague battle. One says he wants to rely mainly of the Ming Cult, the other says he wants to join hands with the major sects. To me, Zhou Dian, everything is nonsense! Merely a fart! Our Ming Cult is all split up in pieces, with our guts spilled all over the place; yet you still want to fart? Peng Heshang wants to get in touch with the orthodox major sects, it is an even louder fart, an extremely stinky fart. We are currently besieged by the Six Major Sects, and you want to communicate your fart with them?"

Priest Tieguan interrupted, "If Yang Jiaozhu was still alive, we would have beaten the Six Major Sects out of their wits, then we would not have to worry that they would not obey our command."

Zhou Dian laughed aloud and said, "The ox nose mixed-up hair [both are derogatory terms to call a Taoist priest] is releasing an even smellier ox fart! If Yang Jiaozhu were still alive, naturally everything would be alright; who wouldn't know it? You just talk too much ... aiyo ... aiyo!" As he opened his mouth to laugh, his 'chi' dispersed and the cold 'chi' of 'huan yin zhi' burst into his heart and lungs that he could not restrain from screaming in pain.

"Shut up!" Leng Qian said. As soon as he said those two words, everybody calmed down immediately.

Zhang Wuji's heart was still filled with disquieting thoughts: "Apparently there are many twists and turns surrounding this Ming Cult; they are obviously more than just a bunch of evildoers." Thereupon he said, "Shuo Bude Dashi, what exactly is your precious Cult's objective? Could you possibly reveal it to me?"

"Ha, you are not dead yet?" Shuo Bude said, "Xiao Xiongdi, with no reason whatsoever you deliver your life because of the Ming Cult, we feel very sorry. In any case you won't live past a few more hours, so I don't see any reason why I cannot tell you the secret of our Cult. Leng Mian Xianzheng, what do you say?"

"Tell!" Leng Qian said. Instead of saying, 'it's alright, you can tell him', six words, it was enough for him to say just one word, 'tell'.

"Xiao Xiongdi," Shuo Bude said, "Our Ming Cult originated from Persia. It entered the Central Earth during the Tang dynasty. At that time it was called 'Xian Jiao' [Zoroastrianism]. By imperial decree, Tang emperors allowed Guangming [brightness] Temples to be built everywhere as our Ming Cult's monasteries. Our Cult's creed is to do good and shun evil, that all living creatures are equal. Those who have silver and gold ought to share it with the poor. No meat no wine. We worship the Ming Zun [Brightness prophet]. The Ming Zun is actually the God of Fire, the virtuous deity. It was because corrupt government officials bullied our Cult, our Cult brethrens were angered and often staged rebellions. From the Northern Song's Fang La, Fang Jiaozhu, I don't know how many times we have raised our arms."

Zhang Wuji had also heard about Fang La's reputation; he knew Fang La was named one of the Four Great Bandits of the Northern Song, sharing the same honor with Song Jian [from the Water Margin], Wang Qing, and Tian Hu. Thereupon he asked, "So Fang La was your precious Cult's Jiaozhu?"

"That's right," Shuo Bude said, "In the years of 'Jian Yan' of the Southern Song, there was Wang Zongshi Jiaozhu at Xinzhou [Jiangxi], in the years of 'Shao Xing', Yu Wupo Jiaozhu raised arms at Quzhou [Zhejiang], during the 'Shao Ding' years of Emperor Li Zong, Zhang Sanqiang Jiaozhu staged a rebellion at Jiangxi and Guangdong regions. It was because our Cult often opposed the imperial authorities that the imperial government started to call us 'the Devil Cult' and strictly forbade our activities. To survive, inevitably our operations became surreptitious so we can evade the authorities' eyes and ears. In the meantime, the accumulated grievances between us and the orthodox major sects grew to the level similar to water and fire. Admittedly, within our own Cult there were unavoidably certain individuals who were not self-introspective, some evildoer disciples, who relying on their superb martial art skill to indiscriminately killed, raped and plundered the innocents. As a result, today our Cult's prestige within the Jianghu is declining ..."

Suddenly Yang Xiao interrupted in cold voice, "Shuo Bude, are you talking about me?"

Shuo Bude said, "My name is 'Shuo Bude' [can't say]; I won't say anything that is not supposed to be spoken. Whoever has done the deed, he understands. This is called 'the teeth chew the wontons, the stomach knows how many'." "Humph," Yang Xiao snorted, but did not say anything.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji was startled by a realization: "Hey, how come I am not cold anymore?" When he was hit by Yuan Zhen’s ‘huan yin zhi’, the cold was unbearable, but after a while, surprisingly the cold ‘chi’ completely vanished.

What actually happened was: he was hit by the ‘yin’ poison of the ‘xuan ming shen zhang’ [black/mysterious and deep divine palm], which lasted until he was seventeen when the poison was completely eradicated from his system. During the seven years, day in and day out his body was fighting the cold poison; thereupon his body developed a natural defense against the cold, just like blinking his eyes or breathing, which he instinctively does. Much less after he trained the Jiu Yang Shen Gong, although he had not reached perfection yet, the last hurdle had not been passed, the ‘yang’ ‘chi’ inside his body was quite abundant, so that without taking too much time, the ‘yin’ poison was completely driven out.

In the meantime, Shuo Bude continued, “Ever since our Great Song perished under the hands of Mongolian Tatars, the Ming Cult becomes the mortal enemy of the imperial government more and more, because our Cult has taken the duty to drive out the invaders. Only it’s a pity that for the past few years the Ming Cult has become like a dragon without a head. Because the masters within the Cult are fighting over the Jiaozhu position, we have been constantly killing each other. In the end, some washed their hands and lived in seclusion; some founded another sect and became the Jiaozhu. After our Cult fell apart, the enmity with the prestigious schools and orthodox sects grew deeper, until finally we reached the situation we are in today. Yuan Zhen Heshang, did you hear even half a sentence of lie in what I just said?”

“Humph,” Yuan Zhen said, “No lies, no lies! You all are in front of the death’s door, why would you tell any lie?” While he said that, he slowly stood up and took a step forward.

“Ah!” Yang Xiao and the Five Wanderers cried out in alarm. Although they all knew he was going to recover first, they did not expect his internal strength to be this profound that even after being hit by Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao’s ‘cold ice soft palm’, his recovery would be this quick. They watched his imposing stature; as his left foot took another step forward, his body was as steady as a rock.

Yang Xiao laughed coldly. “Kong Jian Shen Seng’s distinguished disciple really is not to be trifled with, but you have not answered my question earlier. Could it be that there is some dubious affair in this matter that you cannot tell the truth?”

“Ha … ha …” Yuan Zhen laughed while taking another step forward. “You are not going to die with your eyes closed before knowing all the details, aren’t you?” he said, “You asked me how I knew the secret passages in the Brightness Peak, how I could pass through the layer upon layer of natural stronghold, and stealthily [as before, the original was ‘deity does not know, demon does not aware’] going up the mountain peak. Very well, I am going to tell you, gentlemen, the truth. It was your own precious Cult’s Yang Dingtian Jiaozhu, husband and wife, who personally lead me up here.”

Yang Xiao shivered involuntarily; he thought, “Based on his status, there is no way he would tell a lie; but how can there be such thing?”

Meanwhile, Zhou Dian had already cursed, “You are just releasing your eighteen generation ancestors’ fart! This secret passage is the Brightness Peak’s greatest secret, it is our Cult’s sacred passageway. Although Yang Zuoshi [left emissary] is a Guangming Shizhe [emissary of the Brightnes], Wei Dage [big brother] is a Hu Jiao Fa Wang, they have never walked on that passage. Only the Cult Leader, one man, can use this secret passage. How could Yang Jiaozhu take you, an outsider, into this secret passage?"

Yuan Zhen sighed and was lost in thought for half a day before quietly said, "Since you insist on getting to the bottom of this matter, I am going to tell you a secret that happened twenty-five years ago. You all are not going to go down the mountain alive anyway, so I am not worried that you would divulge this matter. Ay! Zhou Dian, you are right, this secret passage is the Ming Cult's sacred passageway, it was always only the Jiaozhu, one man, who can enter it. Anybody else entering it would be considered a sacrilege, punishable by the most severe punishment, without any possibility of pardon. However, Madame Yang Dingtian had entered it. Yang Dingtian had violated the religious law by personally sneaking his wife into this secret passage..."

(Zhou Dian cut him off by cussing, "Fart! A stinky dog's fart!" Peng Yingyu rebuked him harshly, "Zhou Dian, shut up!")

"In turn, Madame Yang also personally took me in ..."

(Zhou Dian cursed again, "Damn it! Pei! Pei!" he spat, "Nonsense!")

"... I am not a Ming Cult disciple; technically, I did not violate you Cult's law. Ay, even if I were a Ming Cult disciple, even if I committed a grave offense against the Cult, what should I be afraid of?" As he recounted these past events, surprisingly his voice sounded so forlorn.

"Why did Madame Yang take you into the secret passage?" Priest Tieguan asked.

"It was something that happened a long, long time ago," Yuan Zhen replied, "Today Lao Na [lit. old cassock, a term used by Buddhist monk to call himself] is an old man, over seventy years of age ... but when I was young ... Alright, I will tell you everything. Do you gentlemen know who I am? Madame Yang was my Shimei [martial (younger) sister], before Lao Na left home, my secular surname was Cheng, my given name was Kun, I was none other than the 'Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou' ['hun yuan' - origin of the universe, 'pi li' - thunderbolt, 'shou' - hand]!"

As soon as these words came out of his mouth, no doubt Yang Xiao and the others were shocked beyond belief; Zhang Wuji, who was inside the cloth sack, was even more shocked that he cried out in alarm. The stories he heard from his Yifu that night on the Bing Huo Island immediately came back vividly to his mind; how his Yifu's master, Cheng Kun, had killed his entire family: parents, wife and son; how Yifu has excessively massacred Wulin people to force Cheng Kun to appear; and how he had wounded Divine Monk Kong Jian with his fist, but Cheng Kun had not fulfilled his promise to appear in the flesh ...

Zhang Wuji suddenly remembered, "Turned out at that time this evil Cheng Kun had bowed to Kong Jian Shen Seng as his master. Because Kong Jian Shen Seng wanted to resolve this debt of sin, he willingly took Yifu's thirteen 'Qi Shang Quan' [seven-injury fist] punches. Who would have thought that Cheng Kun also deceived his Shifu and had caused Kong Jian Shen Seng to die with unsatisfied regret?"

He thought further, "As a result, Yifu's insanity flared up and he killed the innocents indiscriminately that all Clans and Sects went up Mount Wudang together, forcing my Father and Mother to their deaths. All things considered, the main reason of all these affairs is Cheng Kun's mischief."

All of a sudden an incomparable anger flared in his breast; he felt his whole body was parched as if he was burning. This 'air pocket of the universe' of Shuo Bude was airtight. He had been stuffed inside the sack for a long time, the oxygen inside was depleted long ago. Because of his profound internal energy, Zhang Wuji was able to survive this long by breathing like a tortoise,

i.e. he needed very little air. Now that his mind was suddenly agitated, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi [real 'chi' of Jiu Yang] in his 'dantian' was out of control and was about to burst out. Immediately he felt like he was inside a burning stove and was unable to restrain from groaning loudly.

"Xiao Xiongdi," Zhou Dian said sternly, "Everybody's life is in danger; everybody's distress is difficult to bear, but a real man will not show weakness by groaning loudly."

"Yes," Zhang Wuji responded, immediately he circulated his internal energy according to the Nine Yang Manual to blend his 'chi' evenly throughout his body. Usually, whenever he did this, his mind would calm down like still water, his spirit would transcend beyond the material world; however, as he circulated his energy this time, his four limbs and hundreds of bones felt unbearably painful, as if there were hundreds of small needles, all were burning red, simultaneously pricking his major acupoints all over his body.

During the several years he was training the Nine Yang Manual, although he had uncovered the mystery of the world's most excellent martial art study, he did not have any expert master to give him directions, he was merely groping in the dark. As a result, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi was accumulating in his body, but had not been put to use to break through the last major hurdle. He was fine as long as nothing triggering the 'zhen qi'. But Yuan Zhen's 'huan yin zhi' was the Wulin world's most poisonous 'yin' martial art. As soon as it entered Zhang Wuji's body, it was like the gunpowder being ignited. But because he was inside the 'qian kun yi qi' sack, the excited Jiu Yang Zhen Qi had nowhere to go, therefore, it came back and attacked his own body.

In this short period of time, he had experienced the most difficult and dangerous moment a warrior must go through in cultivating the internal energy. It was the moment where life or death, success or failure, were hanging on a thread. Of course Zhou Dian and the others did not know that at that particular time, Zhang Wuji was right at the critical juncture where the water met the fire, the dragon clashed with the tiger; they thought he was simply groaning in pain with his dying breath after being hit by Yuan Zhen's 'fantastical yin finger'.

While Zhang Wuji was struggling hard to resist the torment of the heating 'yang chi', every sentence Yuan Zhen spoke was transmitted clearly into his ears: "Shimei's family and mine have been friends for many generations. The two of us were engaged ever since we were very young. Who would have thought that Yang Dingtian was also secretly in love with my Shimei. When he took up the duty as the Ming Cult's Jiaozhu, his power rose until it shook the heavens. My Shimei's parents were admittedly greedy people who craved selfish gain, while Shimei herself did not have a strong character. Unexpectedly she married him, but their marriage was not necessarily a happy one. Sometimes she wanted to see me. Unavoidably, we must find an extremely secret place for our rendezvous. Yang Dingtian always complied with everything Shimei wished for, he did not dare to disobey the least bit. When she wanted to look at the secret passage, although Yang Dingtian very much did not want to allow her, in the end he could not resist her persuasion and ended up taking her into the secret passage. From that time on, the secret passage of the Brightness Peak, the most sacred ground of the Ming Cult for several hundred years, has become your Madame Jiaozhu’s and my secret rendezvous place. Ha ... ha … ha … ha … I have been coming and going through this secret passage more than a dozen times; is it any wonder that today I can easily go up the mountain?”

Listening to this narrative, Zhou Dian, Yang Xiao and the others were at a loss of words. Zhou Dian only started to curse, “Fa …” but did not continue. Their breasts were filled with anger that they felt they were going to explode. They had never heard the Ming Cult being insulted as grave as this time. Moreover, today's destruction of the Ming Cult was all because this secret passage was breached. Although they were listening with anger as if their eyes were spouting fire, they all realized that Yuan Zhen did not tell a lie.

"What? Are you angry?" Yuan Zhen said, "Yang Dingtian was blatantly destroying my marriage. She was clearly my beloved wife; just because Yang Dingtian rose up to become the boss of the Devil Cult, he snatched my wife away just like that. My hatred toward the Devil Cult is such that I refuse to coexist with you under the same sky.

On the day Yang Dingtian married my Shimei, I came to offer my congratulations, but when I was drinking their wine of happiness, I swore a heavy oath in my heart: 'As long as there is one breath remaining in Cheng Kun's body, I will definitely kill Yang Dingtian and destroy the Devil Cult completely.' It has been more than forty years since I swore that oath, and today I see the great success of my effort. Ha ... ha ... I, Cheng Kun, have fulfilled my wish, now I can die with closed eyes."

Yang Xiao coldly said, "Thank you very much for clarifying a great suspicion in my heart. Yang Jiaozhu died suddenly but the cause of his death was unknown. Turns out he died under your hands." With a conviction in his voice Yuan Zhen said, "At that time Yang Dingtian's martial art skill was a lot higher than mine. Not to mention at that time, I am afraid even now my martial art skill still cannot surpass his skill of that time


"And so you injured Yang Jiaozhu sneakily," Zhou Dian cut him off, "If not by poison, then it must be a sneak attack like this time."

Yuan Zhen sighed and shook his head. "No," he said, "My Shimei was afraid I would do just that. She warned me continually that if I killed Yang Dingtian, she would break all ties with me immediately. She said that by having a tryst with me she had already committed a serious offense against her husband, if on top of that I maliciously harm him, the Heaven would never forgive her. Yang Dingtian, ay, Yang Dingtian, he ... he died on his own account."

"Ah!" Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu and the others exclaimed simultaneously.

"If Yang Dingtian indeed died under my palms, I would have spared your Ming Cult ..." Yuan Zhen added. His voice trailed off as he recalled the events that happened several decades ago. In a slow and deep voice he continued, "That particular night, my Shimei and I were having our rendezvous in the secret passage. Suddenly we heard a very heavy breathing from the left, something that had never happened before. This passage was extremely secret, no outsider would be able to find its entrance; if it were a Ming Cult disciple, they would never dare to enter. When the two of us heard this sound of breathing, we were extremely shocked and quickly looked around to see what it was, only to see that Yang Dingtian was sitting inside a small room. There was a sheet of sheepskin in his hands, his face was dark red like blood. When he saw us, he said, 'The two of you, very good, you have done to me very good indeed!’ While saying this, his face suddenly turned pale, but this ashen face immediately vanished, turned into blood red. This turning from ashen to red happened quickly three times in the blink of an eye. Yang Zuo Shi, do you know this martial art skill?”

Yang Xiao replied, “That was our Cult’s divine skill, the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi.”

“Yang Xiao,” Zhou Dian said, “You have also mastered it, haven’t you?”

“How can I dare to say ‘I have mastered it’?” Yang Xiao said, “In the past, just because Yang Jiaozhu regarded me with respect, he had passed on some shallow introductions of this divine skill. I trained it for more than ten years, but so far I only reach no higher than the second level. When I tried to continue, it was like the real ‘chi’ in my entire body was trying to burst out of my brain, no matter what I did, I simply could not control it. Yang Jiaozhu was able to change his countenance three times in a flash; that means he had reached the fourth level. He once said that among the Cult Leaders of previous generation, the eighth generation Jiaozhu possessed the highest martial art skill. It was said that he managed to master the fifth level of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. But on the same day that he mastered it, he died of a fire deviation. From that time on, no one has ever mastered the fourth level.”

“That difficult?” Zhou Dian asked.

Priest Tieguan said, “If it is not that difficult, how can it be called the Ming Cult’s protective divine skill?”

They were all masters within the Ming Cult; naturally they had heard about the divine skill Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi for a long time and had always been fascinated with it. Consequently, although they were presently in a precarious situation, they could not restrain from having a discussion about it.

“Yang Zuo Shi,” Peng Yingyu said, “When Yang Jiaozhu reached this fourth level, why did his countenance change?” Actually, he inquired this slightly out-of-topic subject for another profound reason; he knew that if Yuan Zhen took several more steps forward, he would strike everybody dead with his palms. Thereupon he strived to bring up past events to gain as much time as possible. As long as one among their Cult’s seven masters could recover in time and fight back, he could hold Yuan Zhen back momentarily. Even if he was not Yuan Zhen’s match, perhaps the situation would change to their advantage. Anyway, it would beat just sitting there waiting for their deaths.

How could Yang Xiao not understand his intention? Thereupon he said, “The main principle of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi divine skill is to shift the rigid and flexible, yin and yang, two ‘chi’ of the universe. When the countenance appears bluish pale and red during training, it is because the blood subsides, the real ‘chi’ changes shapes. It was said that when one reaches the sixth level, the entire body would turn abruptly from bluish pale to red and vice versa; but by the seventh level, the yin and yang blend harmoniously that there would not be any visible sign externally."

Peng Yingyu was afraid Yuan Zhen would grow impatient, thereupon he asked him, "Yuan Zhen Dashi, in the end, how did our Yang Jiaozhu return to the Heaven?"

With a cold laugh Yuan Zhen said, "After all of you were hit by my 'huan yin zhi', I can hear from the sound of your breathing and the way you circulate your 'chi' that, you will definitely not be able to restore your energy within four hours. You want to gain time, hoping that you would get out of trouble by your own 'chi'. Let me tell you, gentlemen, frankly: you won't have enough time. All of you are martial art masters; even if you receive a more serious injury, after circulating your internal energy this long, you should have felt improvement no matter how slight. But how come your body is growing stiffer and stiffer?"

Actually, Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu and the others had realized this fact early on, but they were not willing to lose heart as long as they still have one breath remaining.

They heard Yuan Zhen say, "When I saw Yang Dingtian's countenance changed irregularly, I could not help but panic. My Shimei knew his martial art skill was extremely high. Just one strike and he would have sent us to our death. She said, 'Dingtian, it is all my fault. Please let Cheng Shige [martial (older) brother] go down the mountain, whatever punishment you care to give, I am resigned to accept.' Hearing her words, Yang Dingtian shook his head and slowly said, 'I married your body, but I cannot marry your heart.' He stared hard at us; but suddenly two lines of blood flowed down from his eyes, his body stiffened and he no longer moved. Shimei was greatly shocked. 'Dingtian, Dingtian!' she called out, 'What happened?'"

Although his voice was not loud, Yuan Zhen uttered these words in the quietness of the night, plus everybody was still thinking about the terrifying situation of blood flowing down from Yang Dingtian's eyes, all of them were quite shaken.

Yuan Zhen continued, "She called out several times, but Yang Dingtian was still motionless. My Shimei gathered her courage and stepped forward to pull his hand, but he was already stiff. When she felt his breathing, it turned out he had already died. I know in her heart she was exceedingly grieved, so I tried to console her, 'It seems that he was in the middle of training some kind of extremely difficult martial art and accidentally suffered fire deviation so that his real 'chi' was heavily reversed to such an extent as he was beyond help.'

My Shimei said, 'That's right, he was training the Ming Cult's timeless distinguished skill, the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. While in a critical juncture, he suddenly discovered you and I were having a private meeting in here. Although I did not personally kill him, he died because of me.' I was about to say something to comfort her and ease her burden when she suddenly pointed her finger somewhere behind me. 'Who's there?' she shouted. I hastily turned around but did not see even half a shadow of anybody else. When I turned back, I saw a dagger had already pierced the pit of her stomach; she had killed herself.

Hey, hey, Yang Dingtian said, 'I married your body, but I cannot marry your heart.' I had won Shimei's heart, but in the end I could not own her body. She was the only woman I ever loved and respected my whole life. If not for Yang Dingtian stirred up trouble, how could our blissful marriage end up in such a tragic way? If Yang Dingtian did not rise to become the Devil Cult's Cult Leader, my Shimei would have never agreed to marry someone who was more than twenty years her senior. Yang Dingtian had died; there is nothing I can do to him. But the Devil Cult is still alive and running amuck in the world. At that time, pointing my finger toward the corpses of Yang Dingtian and my Shimei, two people, I said, ‘I, Cheng Kun, swear to do everything I can to destroy the Ming Cult. The day I successfully accomplish my oath, I will come here to your presence and cut my own throat to express my apologies.’ Ha ha … Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao, you are going to die soon, I, Cheng Kun, also will not live much longer. It's just that my heart's desire is achieved; I will happily kill myself, so I am ten-thousand times better than you are. Over these years, for me, not a day passed by without contemplating a way to destroy the Devil Cult. Ay, I, Cheng Kun, have been unfortunate my whole life; my beloved wife was taken from me, and my only beloved disciple hated me to the bones ..."

Hearing Cheng Kun brought up Xie Xun, Zhang Wuji paid a closer attention. Only when he tried to concentrate, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in his body grew more abundantly, so that he felt as if his four limbs and hundreds of bones were swollen to the point that his body was about to burst; as if each strand of his hair was inflated several folds.

He heard Yun Zhen continue, "After going down the Brightness Peak, I returned to the Central Plains to seek my beloved disciple Xie Xun, whom I have not seen for many years. To my dismay, after talking to him, I have found out that he has become one of the Devil Cult's four great Hu Jiao Fa Wang. Although I visited the Brightness Peak often, my heart had always been on my Shimei, one person; I did not care about any of your shady businesses, my Shimei also had never said anything about the Cult's affairs. My disciple Xie Xun's position within the Devil Cult was quite high; but it was not before he mentioned it himself that I knew about it. With all his might he persuaded me to join the Devil Cult; he said something about joining forces with one heart, driving the barbarians away, my anger was not small. But I also realized that the Devil Cult has had long history and was deeply rooted; the number of masters within the Cult was also as abundant as the clouds. If I rely on my own strength, there was no chance I could destroy it completely. Let's not talk about me, one person; even if the Wulin heroes and warriors under the heavens joined hands, we might not necessarily able to destroy it completely. My only hope was to incite disharmony from within, let them massacre one another, let the Devil Cult destroy the Devil Cult."

Listening to this point, Yang Xiao and the others were unable to restrain their shock. Over the last several dozen of years, each one of them were completely in the dark, totally unaware that a major enemy was watching and waiting outside, with a deliberate plan to destroy the Ming Cult. Because of the dispute over the Cult Leader position, they failed to see the more sinister chaos waiting to happen. Yuan Zhen's words were like a stick striking their heads, waking them up to a violent realization.

In the meantime, Yuan Zhen continued, "Immediately I maintained my composure, I only said that this matter was such of a great substance that I must not be rash without giving it further consideration. Several days later, while pretending to be drunk, I tried to rape my disciple Xie Xun's wife. Seizing the opportunity, I killed his entire family: his parents, his wife and his son. I know that because of this, he would hate me to the bones and would definitely try to find me to seek revenge. If he could not find me, he was bound to commit outrageous acts recklessly. Ha ha ... nobody knows a disciple better than his master. This boy Xie Xun is good in every aspect; his literary and martial art skills were extraordinary. It's just that he was easily provoked to anger; he could not carefully reflect on cause and effects of everything ..."

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji could not suppress the anger in his heart much longer. He thought, "Turns out all these misfortunes befell on Yifu were the result of this old thief, Cheng Kun's secret plot. This old thief was not drunk; it was part of his deliberate scheming."

Yuan Zhen was immensely proud of himself. “Xie Xun killed Jianghu warriors indiscriminately,” he said, “In all places he left behind my name; he wanted to force me to come out. Ha ha … how could I step forward bravely? If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it. Xie Xun gained innumerable enemies. Eventually these blood debts were put on the Ming Cult’s account. Once in a while he got into dangerous situations while doing his killings and I secretly helped him. He was the blade with which I kill others; how could I let him be destroyed by others? You, the Devil Cult, faced enemies on the outside as numerous as the leaves on a tree, your own masters were fighting over the Jiaozhu position in the inside; your internal strife was endless, and thus step by step you fell into my plot.

Xie Xun failed to kill Song Yuanqiao. It was a regrettable matter, but he punched Shaolin’s Divine Monk Kong Jian to his death, injured Kongtong Wu Lao [five elders] with his palm, and killed countless masters of various schools and sects on the Wang Pan Island. He even harmed the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s ‘tan zhu’ [altar leader] of his old friend’s Yin Tianzheng … Good disciple, a very nice disciple indeed. I spared no effort in passing to him all excellent martial art skills. It truly was not in vain!”

“If that’s the case,” Yang Xiao coldly said, “Your Shifu Kong Jian Shen Seng also died under your treacherous plan.”

Yuan Zhen laughed. “Do you think I was sincere when I bowed to Kong Jian? He received several kowtows from me for the price of his old life. I can’t say he suffered any loses … Ha ha … ha ha …!”

While Yuan Zhen roared in laughter, Zhang Wuji’s anger flared uncontrollably. His ears were buzzing and he passed out, but a short while later he regained consciousness. In all his life he had received countless bullying and humiliation, so he was able to take it indifferently. But he was thinking about hisYifu, who was a strong and bold warrior, who had unexpectedly fallen under Cheng Kun’s treacherous plan to such an extent where his family perished and his own reputation destroyed, in the end his eyes were blinded and he lived all alone on a desolate island waiting for his death. It was such a deep enmity and great hatred; how could he not avenge him?

As his anger filled his breast, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in his entire body was aroused, the real ‘chi’ flowed out but could not leak outside the sack; the ‘Universe Air Sack’ started to inflate. However, Yang Xiao and the others were captivated by Yuan Zhen’s story; nobody paid any attention to the inflating cloth sack.

“Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao, Peng Heshang, Zhou Dian,” he heard Yuan Zhen said, “Don’t you have anything else to say?”

Yang Xiao sighed and said, “Since it has come to this, what else can we say? Yuan Zhen Dashi, can you spare my daughter’s life? Her mother was Ji Xiaofu of Emei Pai; she came from an upright family, she has not joined our Devil Cult.”

“Rearing a tiger reaping a danger, pulling grass must be from its root!” Yuan said, while taking another step forward. His palm stretched out, slowly came down toward the crown of Yang Xiao’s head.

Inside the cloth sack, Zhang Wuji heard the critical situation outside. He felt his entire body was burning. By listening to the sound to determine the position, he leaped in front of Yuan Zhen; raising his left hand inside the sack, he blocked Yuan Zhen's palm with the back of his palm. In this one strike, Yuan Zhen was actually exerting himself, because his 'chi' had not completely recovered. As his strike was blocked by Zhang Wuji, he staggered and was pushed a step backward.

"Good kid! You ... you ..." he stammered. Steadying himself, he swept his palm forward, striking the cloth sack. The palm did not hit Zhang Wuji's body, but landed on the inflating sack and bounced back that he was pushed two steps back. Yuan Zhen was shocked, not knowing what had happened.

By this time Zhang Wuji's mouth was parched, his head was dizzy, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi inside his body expanded to the point that he felt he was about to explode. If the 'universe air sack' exploded first, then he would escape danger; otherwise, when the real 'chi' inside his body reached its critical point, his flesh and skin would split open and he would be burned like a black coal.

Seeing the weird cloth sack, Yuan Zhen immediately took two steps forward and launched another palm strike. As before, his palm bounced and he was pushed one step backward, but the cloth sack was also pushed back by his palm strength. Like a giant ball it rolled several times along the ground.

Inside the sack, Zhang Wuji was also tumbling down repeatedly. With the 'chi' filling his chest, he felt his torso was about to burst. He wanted to release the real 'chi' out of his body, but by this time the sack was simply too full; just to let out a breath was getting more and more difficult.

Yuan Zhen successively punched three times and kicked twice, but all his attacks bounced on the cloth sack full of real 'chi'. Inside the sack, Zhang Wuji had already fainted. Fortunately all of Yuan Zhen's attacks landed on the sack; if his hands and feet had made direct contact with Zhang Wuji's body, with the overflowing real 'chi' in his body, Yuan Zhen would definitely suffer serious injury.

Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao and the others watched this strange occurrence in amazement, but they were also surprised that they were at a loss of what to do. This 'universe air sack' belonged to Shuo Bude, but even he did not understand why the sack was inflated like a ball. They did not even know whether Zhang Wuji was still alive inside the sack.

They saw Yuan Zhen pull a dagger from his waist and ferociously stab it onto the sack. But where the point of the dagger met the sack, the dagger simply sank into the sack and bounced back out without creating any damage. The sack was made of some strange material; it was neither silk nor leather, but of some kind of unusual and extremely rare material under the heavens. Also Yuan Zhen's dagger was not a treasured blade; although he stabbed several times, how could the blade overcome the sack?

Seeing his palms, feet and dagger were all ineffective, Yuan Zhen thought, "Why would I waste my time with this kid?" His leg flew up and he kicked with all his might. The large sack rolled straight toward the door of the hall.

By this time the cloth sack was fully inflated into a big ball. As soon as it hit the door, it bounced back with great speed toward Yuan Zhen. Realizing the sack was coming at him with a violent force, Yuan Zhen raised up his palms in front of his chest and pushed forward at the big ball with all his strength.

'Ka-boom!' The noise was like a thunder in a cloudless day, followed by shreds of cloth fluttered in the air as the 'qiankun yi qi dai', fully inflated with Zhang Wuji's Jiu Yang Zhen Qi, exploded into pieces.

Yuan Zhen, Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao, Shuo Bude and the others felt an exceedingly burning hot air burst onto their bodies; next they saw a young man in tattered clothes standing in the middle of the hall, with a bewildered look on his face.

In that short time, Zhang Wuji had achieved the full potential of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong; water and fire flowed together, the dragon and the tiger converged. Because the sack was filled with abundant real 'chi', it was as if dozens of masters put forth their strengths and simultaneously massaged the several hundred acupoints on his body. The real 'chi' inside and outside of his body surged together to break the dozens of obstacles all over his blood passages. He felt an incomparable comfort as if a stream of mercury flowed along all his entire network of blood vessels. No one had ever met this kind of destiny, and now that the treasured sack was destroyed, no one would ever encounter such opportunity again.

Yuan Zhen saw that the young man from the sack was standing with a blank expression on his face as if he had lost his mind. Although he was severely wounded, if he did not seize this fleeting moment immediately, and if the enemy preceded him in taking the initiative, his life would be in danger indeed. Thereupon he rushed one step forward with an extended right-hand index finger, sending his 'huan yin zhi' internal strength straight toward the 'shan zhong' acupoint on Zhang Wuji's chest.

ZhangWuji swept his palm to parry. He had just completed his 'shen gong' [divine strength/power] cultivation, however, his martial art skill was still mediocre; he had not mastered the martial art skills previously taught by Xie Xun and his own father, how could he fight such an accomplished martial art master like Yuan Zhen? In just one move, the 'yang chi' ['yang' reservoir] acupoint on his wrist was sealed by Yuan Zhen. Immediately a numbing cold burst into his body; he shivered and was pushed a step backward. But his body was still overflowing with real 'chi', which in a flash was also transferred to Yuan Zhen' body via his finger.

Two different types of energy collided; one yin the other yang, exact opposite to each other, but Zhang Wuji's internal energy came from Jiu Yang Shen Gong, the strength of his power far outweighed Yuan Zhen's. Yuan Zhen's finger heated up; he felt as if his internal energy dispersed all over his body. Moreover, he had already suffered a heavy injury, the level of his power was only one-tenth his normal strength. Realizing the situation was disadvantageous for him, he thought saving his own life was more important; thereupon he turned around and ran away.

"Cheng Kun, you big evil thief!" Zhang Wuji angrily cursed, "Leave your life behind!" Moving his feet, he ran after him out of the door.He saw a flash of Yuan Zhen's shadow as he entered another door. With anger filling his breast, Zhang Wuji rushed forward to pursue. But as soon as he exerted his strength, 'Bang!' his forehead heavily hit the doorframe.

What happened was: he did not know that after he had reached the full potential of his 'shen gong', a lifting of his hand, a kick of his foot, would be ten times more powerful than his usual strength. With just one big stride, he lost control and bumped his head on the doorframe.

Rubbing his slightly sore forehead, he mused, "Confound this demonic door; how come just one step took me this far?"

Busily he leaned sideways to enter the door, and saw that it was a small room. In his zeal to avenge his Yifu, he ran across the room toward the door on the other end. Outside the room was a courtyard, the air was filled with the fragrance of flowers and plants in the middle of the courtyard. He saw light coming out from a window of the room on the western side of the courtyard. He leaped toward the room and pushed the door open. He saw a flash of grey shadow; Yuan Zhen was pulling a curtain open and ran in. Zhang Wuji followed after him; but as he pulled open the curtain, Yuan Zhen was nowhere to be seen. Zhang Wuji focused his eyes to look around and could not help but was inwardly surprised. This room looked like a chamber belonging to a young lady of a greatly rich family. There was a dressing table standing next to the window, with a large red candle burning brightly on top of it, casting its light on a beautifully embroidered tapestry in the middle of the room, it looked imposingly rich and beautiful, not at all inferior to Zhu Jiuzhen's room.

On the other side was the bed, with a gauze mosquito net drooping over it. There was a pair of pink embroidered shoes in front of the bed; obviously there was a woman sleeping on the bed. The only door to this room that he could see was the one he entered in; the windows were tightly closed. He had clearly seen Yuan Zhen enter the room, how could he disappear without any trace in just a blink of an eye? Could it be that he mastered some kind of art of invisibility? Or perhaps despite his status as a 'chu jia ren' [lit. those who leave home] he was hiding inside a woman's bed?

Zhang Wuji was contemplating whether he should open the bed's curtain to search for the enemy when suddenly he heard intermittent sound of footsteps; somebody was coming. Quickly he dodged behind a piece of blanket draped by the western wall, right before two people walked in.

From behind the blanket, Zhang Wuji peeked out and saw two girls; one was wearing light yellow silk robe, her dress and adornment were luxurious. The other was a younger girl, wearing dark green cotton robe; looked like she was the young maid.

"Xiaojie [miss]," the young maid said in a raspy voice, "The night is deep, please have some rest."

The 'miss' turned around and slapped the young maid's face heavily with the back of her hand. The young maid staggered and fallback one step. The body of the 'miss' swayed and she turned around completely. Under the candlelight Zhang Wuji was able to see clearly her big round eyes, with deep black pupils, on a round-shaped face. She was none other than Yang Buhui, whom he escorted for tens of thousands 'li' all the way from the Central Plains to the remote Western Region.

It had been several years; she had grown a lot taller, but her mannerism did not change, particularly the downward curve at the corners of her mouth, which he recognized as her childhood feature, was more pronounced.

He heard she cursed the maid, "You told me to sleep, humph, the Six Major Sects are besieging the Brightness Peak, my Father and his colleagues have been discussing plans to fight the enemy all night and have not finished yet. He [orig. 'lao ren jia' - a polite term for an older person] has not slept, how can I sleep? It would be best if my Father is killed by the enemy, and then you can kill me; you would gain everything your heart desires." The young maid did not dare to defend herself, she simply helped her to sit down.

"Quickly get my sword!" Yang Buhui said.

The young maid walked toward the wall and took off the sword hanging on the wall. Her ankles were shackled with an iron chain, her wrists were also shackled with iron chain. Her left leg was limping, her back was arched like a humpback. When she had the sword in her hands and turned around, Zhang Wuji was even more startled; he saw her right eye was small, the left eye was big, her nose and the corners of her mouth were twisted. In short, her form was extremely unsightly. He thought, "This young lady's appearance is uglier than Zhu'er. But Zhu'er is ugly because the poison in her body had caused the bumps on her face; she can be cure completely. This young miss, however, has an inborn deformity."

Yang Buhui received the sword and said, "The enemy could be here any time, I want to patrol outside."

"I am coming with Miss," the young maid said, "If we meet the enemy, we can look after each other.” Her voice was so raspy that it was hard to understand; she sounded more like an uncouth middle-aged man than a young girl.

“Who wants your fake good intention?” Yang Buhui said. Her left hand reached back and grabbed the pulse on the wrist of that young maid’s right hand; the young maid was immediately paralyzed.

“Xiaojie,” she said in a trembling voice, “You … you …”

“A large number of the enemy is here to besiege us,” Yang Buhui said with a cold laugh, “We, father and daughter, are at the point of death. Most likely you, this little maid, were sent by the enemy to the Brightness Peak as a spy, are you not? How can we, father and daughter, let ourselves be tortured by you? Today I will kill you first!” While saying that, she flipped her sword to stab the young maid’s neck.

When he saw the young maid was deformed, Zhang Wuji felt compassion toward her; now that he suddenly saw Yang Buhui’s sword went straight to stab her, in this critical situation he did not have time to think, immediately he flew out and flicked the body of the sword with his finger. Yang Buhui was not able to hold her sword. ‘Clink clank!’ the sword fell to the floor. As soon as the sword left her right hand, her two fingers went straight toward Zhang Wuji’s two eyes. It was actually a very common, mediocre stance called the ‘shuang long qiang zhu’ [a pair of dragons fight over a pearl], but since she had been under her father’s tutelage for several years, the stance came out rather powerful.

Zhang Wuji leaped backward to evade and blurted, “Buhui Meimei [younger sister], it’s me!”

Yang Buhui was accustomed to him calling her ‘Buhui Meimei’, four characters; she was startled. “Wuji Gege [big brother]?” she asked. She only recognized the intonation of the call ‘Buhui Meimei’, but she did not recognize Zhang Wuji’s appearance.

Immediately Zhang Wuji felt a pang of regret in his heart; but he could not deny again. “It’s me!” he had no choice but answered in affirmative. “Buhui Meimei, how have you been these past several years?”

Yang Buhui looked at him intently, but when she saw a man in ragged clothes and filthy face, she was startled and felt uneasy. “You … you … really are Wuji Gege? How … how did you get in here?” she asked.

“It was Shuo Bude who took me up the Brightness Peak,” Zhang Wuji replied, “After that Yuan Zhen Heshang entered this room, he disappeared suddenly. Is there any other way out from here?”

“What Yuan Zhen Heshang?” Yang Buhui was confused, “Who entered this room?”

Zhang Wuji was anxious to chase after Yuan Zhen; he did not want to start explaining a long story. He simply said, “Your father is injured in the hall, you’d better take a look quickly.”

Yang Buhui was shocked. “I’ll go look at Father,” she hastily said, but then suddenly with a great force her palm shot down on the top of the young maid’s head.

“No, don’t!” Zhang Wuji cried out in fear as he reached out to push her arm so that Yang Buhui’s palm came down on empty air.

Twice Yang Buhui tried to kill that young maid, but both times Zhang Wuji intervened. “Wuji Gege,” she said sternly, “Is this girl your companion?”

Zhang Wuji was baffled. “She is your maidservant,” he said, “I met her just now, how can she be my companion?”

“If you do not know the real story, then do not meddle in other people’s business,” Yang Buhui said, “This maidservant is our family’s big enemy. My Father put shackles on her hands and feet exactly to prevent her from harming me. Right now the enemy is coming to attack in large numbers, this maid is going to take this opportunity to strike back.”

Zhang Wuji saw that this young maid was tender and pitiful; although her appearance was rather unusual, she did not look like a fiendish person. "Miss," he said, "Do you have any intention to take this opportunity to strike back?" The young maid shook her head. "Certainly not," she said.

Zhang Wuji said, "Buhui Meimei, did you hear? She said 'Certainly no'. Please spare her!"

"Very well," Yang Buhui said, "Since you ask on her behalf, aiyo ..." suddenly her body leaned sideways and swayed, her legs shaky.

Zhang Wuji hastily reached out to support her, but suddenly he felt pain on the 'xuan shu' [hanging hinge/pivot] and 'zhong shu' [hub/center], two acupoints on his lower back, and he tumbled forward.

Turned out Yang Buhui did not like him keep stopping her; she lured him to come near, and then using the iron ring on her middle finger she struck his two major acupoints on his back to overthrow him, followed by her right hand slapped backhandedly toward the young maid's right-hand 'taiyang xue' [sun acupoint, on the temple]. But before the strike hit, Yang Buhui felt her 'dantian' fiery hot while her whole body went numb so that she did not have any choice but release the young maid's wrist in her hand. Her knees buckled and she fell down, sitting on the chair.

What happened was: when with her entire strength she struck Zhang Wuji's acupoints, although the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi had not completely protected his body since he had just mastered it, it automatically reacted against the external stimulation and heavily shook the arteries and veins in Yang Buhui's entire body.

The young maid picked the sword lying on the floor and said, "Xiaojie, you always suspect me of harming you. If I wanted to kill you right now, it would be as easy as blowing dust; but I do not have this kind of intention." Finished speaking, she returned the sword back to its sheath and hang it on the wall.

Zhang Wuji stood up and said, "Did you see that? I was right!" As soon as his acupoints were sealed, he used the real 'chi' inside his body to flush the obstructed blood vessels and very soon he was able to move again.

Yang Buhui looked at him helplessly, with a great astonishment in her heart. By this time the numbness in her hands and feet had vanished. Remembering her father's safety, she stood up and said, "How is my Father's injury? Wuji Gege, wait for me here, I will be back to see you. How have you been these past several years? I remembered you often ..." She kept talking while rushing out the room.

"Miss," Zhang Wuji asked the young maid, "That monk escaped to this room and suddenly disappeared. Do you know any other way out from here?"

"Do you really have to pursue him?" the young maid asked.

"This monk has offended the Heaven and defied reason," Zhang Wuji replied, "He has committed innumerable crimes. I ... I ... must pursue him even to the ends of the earth."

The young maid looked up to stare at his face. Zhang Wuji said, "Miss, if you know, please show me the way."

The young maid bit her lower lip and hesitated for a moment. "You have saved my life," she said in low voice, "All right, I'll take you." She blew the candle out and pulled Zhang Wuji's hand away.

End of Chapter 19. 
@Chapter 20 - Help From the Son To Fight the Enemies*
Zhang Wuji followed her a few steps, towards the bed. That little servant girl opened the curtains and got on the bed, still holding Zhang Wuji’s hand. Zhang Wuji became shocked, thinking that although this servant girl is very ugly, she’s still a girl. How can he be in the same bed with her? Besides, he needs to chase the enemy. So he took his hands off of hers. That servant girl said quietly, “The secret entrance is on the bed!” When he heard these words, he gathered himself, and forgot all about the fact that man and woman should be apart. As he saw her opened the covers and lied on the bed, he followed suit. The girl then pushed some sort of switch, the bed shook, and the two of them fell down. Although it was a drop of several meters, padding on the ground broke their fall. So he felt no pain. Only to hear a loud thud, as the bed reverted to its original position. He thought, “This entrance really is exquisite. Who would’ve thought that the entrance would be on the bed of the young lady’s room?” He held the servant girl’s hand and ran forward quickly, only to hear the chains on the servant girl’s legs drag on the ground. He suddenly remembered, “This girl’s legs are crippled, so how can she keep up?” He immediately stopped. That girl figured out what he was thinking, and said with a smile, “I was faking my cripple in front of master and the young lady.” Zhang Wuji thought, “No wonder my mom told me that all women lie, even Sister Bu Hui sneaked up on me today.” But with his mortal enemy ahead, he stopped thinking about it, and continued to run forward. They quickly reached the end of the path. Yet he could not see Yuan Zhen.

That servant girl said, “I’ve been here before. Although I’m sure there’s more to this path, I have never found the switch to open it.” Zhang Wuji held his hand out and searched around. He tried to push at different parts of cave walls, but couldn’t move them. That servant girl said, “I’ve tried tens of times. Never did find a secret switch. So where could that monk have gone?”

Zhang Wuji sighed, gathered his chi, pushing the left side of the wall, with no success. Then he pushed the right side, and saw the wall move a bit. He was ecstatic, and immediately gathered in two more breath of chi. This time he pushed open the door. This door is actually the best kind of secret door. There’s no hidden switch. But if you don’t have an amazing amount of inner strength, it’s impossible to open. Now that Zhang Wuji has learned the complete Jiu Yang Shen Gong*, his push utilized a tremendous amount of energy, so obviously the door opened. After opening the door a few inches, Zhang Wuji pushed out his palm into the opening, to prevent Yuan Zhen from sneaking up behind the door, then slid through the opening. A new long path opened up. As the two people ran forward, they felt the path going downward. After running for about 50 meters or so, they came upon a branch with seven paths. Just as Zhang Wuji wondered which way they should go, he heard a light cough from the left side. Although low and short, the sound was obvious when heard inside such a quiet place.

*Jiu Yang Shen Gong is the inner power kung fu Zhang WuJi learned from reading [Jiu Yang Zhen Jing].

Zhang Wuji said quietly, “This way!” Then followed the left-most path, This path is very uneven, sometimes going up, sometimes going down, only to hear the clanking of the chains behind him. He turned around and said, “It’s dangerous ahead, why don’t you slow down as I go on ahead?” That servant girl said, “If there’s danger, we’ll face it together. What’s there to be afraid of?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Are you lying to me too?” but then kept going, following the left path every single time. The path suddenly became steeper and steeper, until it seemingly became a well. Suddenly, he felt a huge wind pushing from behind, immediately grabbed that girl’s waist, then dashed quickly downward. Whether it’s a bottomless pit down there or a hard wall, he never thought about it. Thankfully there was a room down there for them to fall into. Only to hear a loud thud, as dirt and pebbles landed on their face. Zhang Wuji gathered himself, and heard the servant girl say, “That was close. The old bastard hid to the side, then tried to kill us using a boulder.” Zhang Wuji went to where the boulder got stuck to, and heard Yuan Zhen’s voice from behind, “You little bastard, today you get to be buried alive here, but at least you have a girl to die with you. So consider yourself lucky. I don’t care how much strength you have, do you really think you can push this boulder? If that’s not enough, how about another one?” Only to hear another stone falling down, on top of the last one. Zhang Wuji tried to find any holes he might go through, but couldn’t fit anything more than an arm. He gathered some chi and pushed, but while the stones shook, they didn’t budge. With thousands of pounds of stone, not even his Jiu Yang Shen Gong can break through. Only to hear Yuan Zhen breathing heavily, asking, “Little boy… what’s…. your… name…?” After he said ‘name’, he couldn’t speak anymore.

Zhang WuJi thought, “Even if he wanted to save us, he can’t now. No need to keep talking to him.” He then started to walk around, looking for other exits. The servant girl said, “I have some flint and tinder, but no torch to use it on.” Zhang WuJi said, “No need for fire yet.” He started to search around, finally finding a torch. He said happily, “I got it!” He found lots of dust on it, but doesn’t know what it really is. Picking up the wood, he said, “Here, light the fire.” The servant girl took out her things to light the torch, which caught fire extremely quickly, and sparks flew around. The two people were both shocked, and they began tosmell something stinky. That servant girl said, “It’s gunpowder!” Then raised the torch, looking closely at the contents of the nearby chest, filled with gunpowder. She chuckled quietly and said, “If we had lit the fire here, I bet even that old monk would’ve been blown up by now.” Only to see Zhang WuJi staring intently at herself, his expression filled with surprise. So she said with a smile, “What’s wrong with you?” Zhang WuJi sighed, “So you’re… you’re this beautiful?” That servant girl curled her lips with a smile, “Oops. I was so scared that I forgot to put on my ugly expression.” As she said this, she stretched her body. It turns out that she wasn’t a cripple, nor a hunchback, nor even ugly. In fact, she really is incredibly beautiful, except she’s still a bit young, so she’s not fully developed. Zhang WuJi asked, “Why do you pretend to be like that then?” That servant girl said, “The young lady really hates me, but when she sees my ugly look, she becomes happy. If I don’t act like this, she would’ve killed me a long time ago. Zhang WuJi asked, “Why does she want to kill you?” That servant girl said, “She kept thinking that I’m scheming to kill her and old master.” Zhang WuJi shook his head, said, “She really worries too much. When you had the sword in your hand earlier, and she couldn’t move, you didn’t kill her. So from now on, she won’t distrust you again.” That servant girl said, “Young lady will only get more suspicious now that I’ve taken you here. But we don’t even know if we can get out of here, so I won’t worry about that for now.” As she said this, she held the torch high up into the air, scanning the area. Weapons filled this stone room. As they checked the area once more, they saw no signs of another path. Obviously, Yuan Zhen’s cough is to lure them into this room.

The servant girl said, “Young master, my name is Xiao Zhao. I heard the young lady call you ‘Brother WuJi’, does this mean your name is WuJi?” Zhang WuJi said, “That’s right. My surname is Zhang…” He then got an idea, and picked up a spear. He tested its weight, seeing that it’s quite heavy, about 50 pounds. He said, “These gunpowder just might just save our lives. Let’s see if they can crack the boulders.” Xiao Zhao clapped her hands, “Great idea!” As she clapped, the chains on her wrists clanked together. Zhang WuJi said, “These chains are really bothersome. Let me take them off.”

Xiao Zhao said alarmingly, “No! Master will be very mad.” Zhang WuJi said, “Just tell him I broke the chain. I’m not scared of him at all.” As he said this, he pulled on the chains. Those chains are only about the thickness of chopsticks, and Zhang WuJi applied at least four to five hundred pounds of force, yet the chains did not break. He took a deep breath, then applied more force, yet still couldn’t break the chains. Xiao Zhao said, “These chains are very strange, even sharp swords and sabers can’t break it. The key is in the young lady’s possession.” Zhang WuJi nodded, “If we get out of here, I’ll ask her to unlock the chains for you.” Xiao Zhao said, “I’m afraid she wouldn’t consent.” Zhang WuJi said, “She and I are very close friends, so she’ll definitely listen to me.” As he said this he picked up the spear again, walked over to the boulders, then stopped. When he did not hear Yuan Zhen’s breathing, he stuck the spear into the crack, trying to make a little hole. He put a bunch of gunpowder into the hole, then used some gunpowder to make a path into the room.

He took the torch from Xiao Zhao, and she immediately put her hands over her ears. Zhang WuJi shielded her as he lit the gunpowder, and a huge explosion followed, prompting him to fall back two steps, but Xiao Zhao began to fall down. However, Zhang WuJi prepared for this, and held on to her waist tightly. The smoke filled the room. The torch blew out.

Zhang WuJi said, “Xiao Zhao, are you alright?” Xiao Zhao coughed a few times, then said, “I… I’m fine.” Zhang WuJi heard some stutter in her voice, and thought it was odd. He lit the torch again, and saw her eyes all red. So he asked, “What happened? Do you feel uncomfortable?” Xiao Zhao said, “Young master Zhang, you… you and I are just strangers, why are you so good to me?” Zhang WuJi found this question strange, and said, “Why do you say that?” Xiao Zhao said, “Why did you shield me? I’m just a worthless servant, you… your health is much more precious. There’s no reason to do that.”

Zhang WuJi chuckled, said, “What’s so precious about me? You’re just a little girl, of course I should protect you.”

The smoke clear out a bit, so he walked over to the boulders, only to see them still there, with simply a small crack adding to the side. Zhang WuJi sighed. “Looks like we need repeat this at least seven or eight more times before we can get through. Yet there’s only enough powder for two more blows. He started to randomly poke at the boulder with the spear. As he did this, he accidentally poked the side of the nearby wall, and some stone fell off. Surprised and happy, he immediately went and pushed down more blocks, revealing another path. While the gunpowder didn’t break apart the boulders. It did soften the wall by it.

He entered the new path, and then asked Xiao Zhao to come through. This time, he held up the spear in front of him to guard from Yuan Zhen. After walking a while, they came upon another stone door. Zhang WuJi gave the torch to Xiao Zhao and pushed open this one. The next room looks bigger. As he took the torch from Xiao Zhao again, he scanned the area, seeing two skeletons on the floor, a woman and a man.

Xiao Zhao became really scared, and held on to his side. Zhang WuJi raised the torch again and searched the area, said, “Looks like another dead end. I wonder if we’ll ever find an exit.” He started to poke the walls with his spear, but with no success. None of the walls are hollow.

He walked close to the two skeletons, saw that the woman held a dagger in her hand. The dagger apparently pierced into her body. He immediately remembered Yuan Zhen’s story. Yuan Zhen and Lady Yang met secretly here, and Yang DingTian found out. In his anger, Yang DingTian got fire deviation and died. Lady Yang then followed her husband by committing suicide.

“Could this be the Yang couple?” he thought. As he walked up to the man, he saw the hand holding a piece of sheepskin. Zhang WuJi picked it up, looked at it, and saw that it’s blank. But Xiao Zhao quickly took it from him, and her face started to be filled with happiness. She said, “Congratulations, this is the Ming sect’s most powerful kung fu manual.” As she spoke, she made a cut on her finger with Lady Yang’s dagger, spreading her blood onto the skin. Slowly words appeared, the first line said, “The Ming sect Holy Fire manual, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi.” Although Zhang WuJi accidentally found the powerful Ming sect kung fu manual, he felt no happiness. He thought, “This room has no food or water. If we don’t leave, we’ll last no more than seven to eight days. Since we’re going to die here, no kung fu is useful.” He stared at the skeletons again, wondering, “Why didn’t Yuan Zhen take this manual? That’s right, he probably felt bad about the whole thing, and was too scared to visit the Yang couple. Of course, there’s no way he would know that the sheepskin was the kung fu manual. Or he would’ve definitely taken it.” Zhang WuJi then asked Xiao Zhao, “How do you know the secret of this sheepskin?” Xiao Zhao lowered her head, said, “I overheard the master speaking about it with the young lady, They’re both members of the Ming sect, so they can’t come down here to look for it.” Zhang WuJi looked at the skeletons again, and said, “Let’s bury them.” So they put the bones together and gathered some dirt to cover them. As they did so, Xiao Zhao picked up something. “Young Master Zhang, there’s a letter here.” Zhang WuJi took the letter, and saw the words “To my wife” on it. He said, “Looks like Lady Yang killed herself before getting a chance to open the letter.” He then put the letter back with their body, and was about to cover them with dirt. But Xiao Zhao said, “Wait, let’s read it. Maybe it’s something important left by old leader Yang.”

Zhang WuJi said, “But that would be disrespectful to their bodies.” Xiao Zhao said, “If he has something he wanted to do but couldn’t, you can tell the young lady and master. So they can take care of it for Leader Yang.” Zhang WuJi thought she’s right. So he opened the letter and looked at the contents. “To my wife: After you have entered the Yang family, we have often been separated, as I have neglected you, I’m truly sorry, I hope you understand. But the thirty-second leader Yi left me in his will: when I have fully learnt Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, I will lead our troops to Persia to retrieve our Holy Fire Commandment. Although our sect originates from Persia, we are now deeply rooted here in China, and have been independent for over a hundred years. Today the Mongolians rule over our land, so we must fight them to the end, and disobey our orders from the Persian Ming sect. Once the Holy Fire Commandment enters our hand, we shall finally be able to break away from the Main sect.” Zhang WuJi thought, “This old leader would disobey the main sect to fight the Mongolians. He really is a great man.” With a feeling of admiration, he read on. “Today I finished the fourth level, but due to the event with Cheng Kun, I have fire deviated, unable to control my inner chi.” When Zhang WuJi read to here, he sighed lightly, “So Leader Yang knew about his wife and Cheng Kun’s meetings when writing this.” When he saw that Xiao Zhao wanted to ask, but was afraid, he explained the events between them. Xiao Zhao said, “I say it’s all Lady Yang’s fault. If she really loves Cheng Kun, she should’ve married him instead. But once married to Leader Yang, she should’ve stopped seeing Cheng Kun.” Zhang WuJi nodded, thought, “Although she is young, she is quite wise.” He then read on, “Today my life is near the end, and as I cannot complete Leader Yi’s will, I am a criminal of the Ming sect. My only hope is to give this letter to my wife, so she can gather the Left and Right Guard, the four Protector Lords, the head of the Five Colored Flags, so they can adhere to my will. ‘Whoever obtains the Holy Fire Commandment will become the thirty-fourth leader of the Ming sect. Anyone who disagrees will be executed immediately. The interim leader of the sect will be Xie Xun.” Zhang WuJi felt a surge in his body, and thought, “So he chose my godfather to be the next leader. My godfather is great at everything, and one of the most powerful person in the Ming sect. Unfortunately, Lady Yang did not have a chance to read this letter. Or the Ming sect would never have reached this stage of inner turmoil.” He was quite happy that Leader Yang was so appreciative of his godfather, but also felt sad at the same time. After a while, he continued to read on, “The [Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi] manual will be passed on to Xie Xun, so he can give it to the next leader. Brighten our sect, Do good deeds, Destroy evil, Uphold the righteous, spread our Holy Fire to all the people in the world. This, the new leader must adhere to.”

Zhang WuJi thought, “From the looks of this letter, the Ming sect is very righteous. So the six sects really should not be causing trouble for the Ming sect.” Only to read further,

“ With my remaining powers, I will close off the remaining path to this room and die here with Cheng Kun. My wife can then escape with my map. Since only those who knows Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi has my energy, no one else can open this door at the ‘Wu Wang’ location. But anyone who later learns this can do so. Sincerely, Yang Ding Tian.” The last line was filled with small words, “Although my name is Ding(top) Tian(sky), I couldn’t learn much kung fu, nor could I brighten the sect, nor could I make my wife happy, I really am useless.”

On the back of the letter is a map, detailing every single door and passageway. Zhang WuJi became ecstatic, said, “So Leader Yang wanted to die with Cheng Kun here, except he couldn’t hold up long enough, dying first. But at least this means that we can now escape with this map.” He found his location on the map, then checked for the exit. Unfortunately, the only exit route is the one Yuan Zhen blocked. So it’s useless after all. Xiao Zhao said, “Don’t worry about it, young master. Maybe there’s another exit.” She took the map and examined closely, but couldn’t find anything else either. Zhang WuJi saw her disappointment, and said with a bitter smile, “Leader Yang mentioned that once one learns Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, he can open the stone door. Yet only Left Guard Yang has learnt this technique, and only a tiny bit at that. Even if he’s here, we’re still probably stuck. Besides, I have no clue where this ‘Wu Wan’ position is.”

Xiao Zhao said, “Wu Wan position? That’s one location within the ‘Fu Xi sixty-four Gua’*, Let’s see, it should...” As she said this, she walked to an area in the northwest corner, then said, “It should be here.”

*Note: I looked up the web for an hour on the explanation of this particular Gua. Suffice to say I got nothing useful. Honestly, I have no knowledge of Taoism. But it doesn’t really matter too much.

Zhang WuJi said, “Really?” He picked up a big axe from the stack of weapons, went over to the area and wiped away the dust. A crease appeared, showing a door. He thought, “Although I don’t know Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, I do know Jiu Yang Shen Gong. My power might be enough.” So he gathered his chi and his fists shot out, pushing the door. After a long time, the door still showed no signs of movement. No matter where he positions his hands and feet, how he applied his chi, the door won’t budge. After becoming sore from all the pushing, he finally stopped.

Xiao Zhao said, “Young master Zhang, you don’t need to keep trying. Let me go get the rest of the gunpowder.” Zhang WuJi said excitedly, “Oh, I forgot about that!” The two people put the remaining gunpowder next to the door, then let it explode. Although it blew a huge hole, it still did not penetrate the door. Zhang WuJi finally gave up, held on to Xiao Zhao’s hand and said tenderly, “Xiao Zhao, it’s all my fault. It’s because of me that you’re stuck here.”

Xiao Zhao’s bright eyes stared closely at Zhang WuJi, “Young master Zhang, you should be scolding me instead. If I didn’t take you here, then… then you wouldn’t…” She cried when she got here, and used her sleeves to wipe away her tears. After a while, she began to smile through her tears, “Since we can’t leave anyway, let’s not worry too much. How about I sing you a song?” Zhang WuJi really isn’t in the mood to listen to a song, but he couldn’t bear to say no. So he smiled and said, “Ok!” Xiao Zhao sat by his side, and began to sing.

“Things in the world are hard to describe through logic, life filled with unexpected, for nothing will keep one’s interest very long, there’s danger within good fortune, good fortune within danger.” When Zhang WuJi heard the last phrase, he couldn’t help but think that this is how his life has been. He listened some more, hearing her soothing and clear voice. His worries became less and less, listening intently.

When Xiao Zhao was finished, Zhang WuJi said, “Xiao Zhao, your song was great. Who wrote the lines to this song?” Xiao Zhao smiled, “You’re just kidding. What’s so great about my singing? I just heard some other people sing it, and then started singing myself. So not even I know who wrote it.” Zhang WuJi then started to hum a bit himself. Xiao Zhao said, “Do you really like it, or just pretending?” Zhang WuJi laughed, “Of course I really like it. Why would I pretend?” Xiao Zhao said, “Really? Ok. I’ll sing another piece.” She began to sing again, “Put away your worries, don’t be so bitter, even if you’re beautiful today, you will still be old some day, life has always been like this, who cares for money and fame.”

“In the end, you still can’t escape fate. Like flowing water, what goes around comes around.”

These words are very deep and felt like spoken from personal experience, very inappropriate for a young girl like Xiao Zhao. Obviously, she memorized it from listening to someone else. Although Zhang WuJi is still young, he has been through so much already in his life. He thought about the “In the end, you can’t escape fate.” In the past, he has never cared much for life and death. Before, his death would never affect anyone else. Yet today, he not only pulled in this innocent girl to die with him, but also would die not knowing what would happen to the Ming sect, to the safety of Yang Xiao and Yang BuHui, the revenge of his godfather. Unlike previous occasions, he really didn’t want to simply die at this moment. So he stood up and tried the door again. Yet no matter how hard he tries, the door still won’t budge.

It’s at this time that Xiao Zhao cut open her own finger again, spreading her blood onto the sheepskin, then said, “Young master Zhang, why don’t you try learning this? Perhaps you’re a genius, and can therefore learn this in a short time.” Zhang WuJi smiled, “The old Ming sect leaders were all some of the best martial artists in the world, yet they couldn’t even learn this in a short time. How could I compare to them?”

Xiao Zhao sang in a low voice, “Learning a little bit means a little bit more knowledge. Even if it is useless, it doesn’t hurt to try.” Zhang WuJi chuckled, took the sheepskin from Xiao Zhao, and started reading. Only to see all the text contains information on utilizing one’s chi, to make them flow easily within your body. So he followed it, and quickly finished the first level without any trouble. Then he saw the sheepskin said, “This first level requires at least seven years for experts, lesser people require fourteen years.” Zhang WuJi felt strange, wondering how this can be so.

He followed by reading the second level, and felt his inner chi flow easily through his body. Then he felt as if icy particles shot out of his ten fingers, finishing the level. Yet on the parchment, it said, “Experts require seven years, lesser people require fourteen years. If you can’t finish in twenty one years, you should give up, or risk fire deviation.” Zhang WuJi, surprised and happy, began to learn level three. This time the words have begun to fade. Just as he was about to cut his finger, Xiao Zhao dropped her blood onto the sheepskin first. Zhang WuJi followed the directions and quickly finished level three and four. When Xiao Zhao saw that half of his face is bright red, while the other half is green, she felt scared. Yet she saw that he still has much energy, as if nothing’s going on. Then when he was learning the fifth level, his faces sometimes turn red and sometimes green. When it turns green, his face becomes cold as ice. When it becomes red, sweat poured down his face.

Xiao Zhao took out a handkerchief, wanting to wipe some sweat off from him, but when it touched his forehead, she felt a shock, and thrown back, almost falling down. Zhang WuJi stood up and began to wipe his sweat with his sleeves, not really knowing what happened, He had completed level five of this kung fu. This Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi really is simply a cunning way of utilizing one’s power. The basic theory lies in one’s natural ability. Everyone has a huge amount of innate strength. However, most of the time, you’ll never use it. Yet when there’s an emergency, like when you’re saving someone’s life, a weak person maybe able to life a thousand pounds. Zhang WuJi, after learning Jiu Yang Shen Gong, has more natural ability than anyone else in the world. It’s just that he never received advice from experts, and therefore cannot utilize most of his abilities. This time as he learns Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, his innate power finally released.

This particular kung fu is very difficult to learn. A single mistake can lead to fire deviation. This is due to the inner power requirement for utilizing the technique. For if you ask a young child to lift a hundred pound hammer, he’ll fail, end up hurting himself no matter how well he grabs and lifts it. But if you ask a weightlifter to do the same, he’ll accomplish it easily. The idea is easy in theory, but does not work if you don’t have the means. Every older leader of the Ming sect knows this, but they all felt that if they try hard enough, they would eventually succeed. This is why Zhang WuJi could learn the skill so fast, while many people smarter than he fails. Zhang WuJi simply had enough inner power, while the others do not. After learning level five, Zhang WuJi found himself very relaxed, as if he can do many things quickly and easily. He even forgot about the door, and concentrated on level six. Two hours later, he reached level seven. Level seven is many times more difficult then level six, prompting him to think a lot before learning. But it’s a good thing he is an expert in medicine, and can figure these things out. But after finishing the majority of the text, he found his blood began to boil, his heart pounding fast. He stopped for a while, and tried again. This time, the same thing happened. He never had experienced this before while practicing. So he skipped that sentence. The next one was fine. But he could not figure out the one after that. Overall, he had to skip nineteen sentences when finished the last level. Zhang WuJi rested for a while, then put that sheepskin on the stone, and kowtowed to it. He said, “Student Zhang WuJi accidentally found this secret manual, and learned it only because I seek to live, not because I want to steal your manual. When I leave, I will use my new power only to help the Ming sect, as to thank the former leaders of the Ming sect for saving my life.” Xiao Zhao also kowtowed a few times, and said quietly, “Former leaders of the Ming sect, please protect young master Zhang in his effort to rebuild the Ming sect, returning it to the glory of the past.” Zhang WuJi stood up and said, “I’m not a member of the Ming sect, and because of the promise to my martial grandfather, never will be. But after reading Leader Yang’s will, I know that the Ming sect really is a righteous sect. So I will do my best to arbitrate their misunderstandings with the six sects.” Xiao Zhao said, “You said you couldn’t finish nineteen sentences, why don’t you rest and try once more?” Zhang WuJi responded, “Although I missed nineteen sentences, and feel a bit empty, but why dwell on it? I have learned so much. There’s no need to ask for more.”

Xiao Zhao said, “Young master’s right.” She took the sheepskin, asked him to point out those nineteen sentences, and memorized them. Zhang WuJi laughed, “Why are you trying to remember these?” Xiao Zhao’s face became red, and said, “It’s nothing, I just thought that if even you can’t learn it, then it must be extremely strange.”

Who would’ve thought that since Zhang WuJi is never greedy, he was able to avoid major problems. For you see, the original creator of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi only learned to level six. So he can only conjecture how one should practice level seven. The nineteen sentences that Zhang WuJi skipped just happened to be mistakes that person made while writing down level seven’s directions. So had Zhang WuJi continued, he would’ve fire deviated, perhaps losing his life.

After the two of them finished burying the Yang couple, Zhang WuJi walked over to the stone door. Following the directions of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, he opened it with just one hand.

Xiao Zhao excitedly clapped her hands, praising Zhang WuJi’s powers, her chain clanked together again. Zhang WuJi said, “Let me try breaking them apart again.” Xiao Zhao said happily, “This time you’ll definitely succeed!” Zhang WuJi held the chains between her hand, and pulled. Yet for some reason, the chains only became longer and longer, not breaking. Xiao Zhao yelled, “Wait, this isn’t good. I’ll be in even worse condition with a longer chain.” Zhang WuJi said, “This chain really is strange.” When he saw Xiao Zhao sigh, Zhang WuJi tried to make her feel better, said, “Don’t worry. I promise I’ll get you the key. If we can go through death together, how are some chains going to get in our way?” He wanted to find Yuan Zhen for revenge, but found that he still couldn’t move those two boulders. So they left through the other door. As they got outside, both squinted their eyes, trying to adjust to the brightness. When they could see again, both saw sunlight reflecting off the snow on the ground. Xiao Zhao blew out the fire on the torch, then buried it inside the snow, and then said, “Thank you little torch. Thank you for shining the way for young master Zhang and myself. If it weren’t for you, we’d be dead already.”

Zhang WuJi laughed at her, but then immediately thought, “There are so many devious people in this world, yet this little girl would even thank a torch. She must be a very kind person.” So he smiled. With the snow reflecting the light onto her face, Xiao Zhao looked even more radiant, showing her great beauty. He couldn’t help but say, “Wow. Xiao Zhao, you’re so very pretty.” Xiao Zhao said happily, “Young master Zhang, you’re not lying to me, are you?” Zhang WuJi said, “Please don’t pretend to be a hunchback and a cripple, I like you just like this.” Xiao Zhao said, “If you tell me to be like this, I’ll stay like this. Even if young lady kills me, I still won’t pretend.” Zhang WuJi said, “Oh, don’t say that. Why would she kill you?” After looking at her some more, he found her skin especially white, her nose a bit taller, her eyes as blue as the sea. He said, “You’re originally from Xi Yu*, aren’t you? You have an unique attractiveness that the mid-plains girls don’t have.” Xiao Zhao said, “But I’d rather look like the girls from the mid-plains.” As they walked further, Zhang WuJi saw some people lying on the ground to the north. Zhang WuJi said, “Let’s go over there and take a look.” He then held Xiao Zhao’s hand and immediately started to run. Now that he has mastered the seventh level of Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, his whole body moves effortlessly. Making the impossible seemingly easy. Even while holding another person, his movement is still quick and agile. They soon arrived at the location of the bodies. Three has the clothes of the Ming sect, while one looked like a Shaolin monk. Zhang WuJi said with shock, “Oh no! We’ve been in the cave for so long. The six sects might have reached the mountain top now!” He touched the bodies, and realized that they’ve been dead for a while. So he started to run quickly, while holding on to Xiao Zhao. Zhang WuJi said, “I wonder what has happened to Mr. Yang and Sister BuHui?” He ran faster and faster, as if carrying Xiao Zhao in midair. On the way they saw many corpses. The majority are Ming sect members, but quite a few are also among the six major sects. Obviously, without the guidance of the likes of Yang Xiao and Wei YiXiao, the Ming sect had a lot of trouble holding off the enemy. But since they would rather die than surrender, the six sects also suffered major casualties. He suddenly heard noise of weaponry, thinking that it’s a good thing the battle hasn’t reached the main hall.

*Xi Yu is the location of the Ming sect. It’s in the western area of china. Not sure of the exact location, though.

As he kept going on, he heard two darts from behind, and someone yelled, “Who is it? Stop!” Zhang WuJi did not slow down, simply waved his sleeves to blow away the darts. Only then did he hear a scream. He stopped, turned around, and saw a monk on the ground, with two darts on his right shoulder. Zhang WuJi felt astonished, as he did not know that a wave of his arm could have so much power behind it. He hurried to the monk and apologized, “I’m sorry that I accidentally hurt you.” And then took out the two darts.

Yet this monk suddenly struck out at him, his right foot struck at Zhang WuJi’s left waist. Zhang WuJi didn’t expect this, and couldn’t dodge it. Yet for some reason that monk instead bounced away, hitting a tree behind him. His right foot broken, his mouth filled with blood. By now, the chi inside Zhang WuJi is even more fluid, so his defense power was much better than when Jing Xuan* kicked him That’s why the monk’s injury was much severe.

*This happened right before ZWJ took the three palms from Mie Jui. Jing Xuan is the top disciple of Mie Jui.

When Zhang WuJi saw this, he felt even worse. He tried to go up and apologize again, but that monk only looked at him venomously. Hearing more noise coming from afar, he stopped caring for the monk. Picking up Xiao Zhao, Zhang WuJi immediately darted to the location of the sound. After going through the front door, he passed two buildings, and finally into a large square. The square is filled with people. The people on the west are less in numbers, and most are wounded. The people on the east are separated into six groups, with a lot more in numbers. Zhang WuJi saw the likes of Yang Xiao, Wei YiXiao, Monk Peng, and Shuo BuDe* all in the Ming group. From the looks of it, they still have trouble moving. Yang BuHui sat by her dad’s side. In the middle of the square, two people are fighting. As everyone’s attention is on the fight, no one them. Zhang WuJi got closer to see clearly. He saw that both combatants used bare fists, but their strikes carried the wind, power unimaginable. Obviously both people are two of the top fighters in the world. Those two people’s body moved quickly, their strokes extremely fast. Then suddenly, the four palms struck each other, all movement stopped immediately in a flash. The spectators all yelled together, “Great!”

*For those who don’t remember them, Wei YiXiao is the Green Bat King. Shou BuDe(Can’t Say) is the person who carried ZWJ in his sack. Monk Peng is another member of the ‘Wu San Ren’,

Zhang WuJi was shocked when he saw the faces of the combatants. The short middle-aged man with a determined face is Wu Dang’s fourth hero Zhang SongXi. His opponent is and old man, whose long brows look whiter than snow, his nose crooked, like an eagle’s beak. Zhang WuJi thought, “Since when did the Ming sect have another person this powerful? Who is he?” Suddenly, he heard someone in the Hua Shan sect scream, “Old man white-brow, give up now, how can you be a match for the fourth hero of Wu Dang?” When Zhang WuJi heard the name ‘old man white-brow’, he immediately figured it out, “Oh, so he… he’s my grandfather. White-browed Eagle King!” He wanted to go up and embrace him. But they’re still matching inner strength as of right now. On one side you have one of the Ming sect’s Four Great Protection Lords, on the other you have one of Zhang SanFeng’s top student. As the battle seemingly near the end, both sides started to hold their breath, concerned for their own side’s fighter. This battle is not only a match between Wu Dang and the Ming sect, but the fighters’ healths are at risk too. Only to see both people still as statues. Zhang SongXi knows that Yin TianZheng has twenty extra years of inner power cultivation, but he has the advantage of youth and a body in his prime. He didn’t realize that Ying TianZheng is a prodigy at martial arts. Although he is quite old, his body still has the stamina of a youngster. Waves of chi strikes came continuously at Zhang SongXi. When Zhang WuJi first saw them, his reaction was pure joy. But that soon turned to worry. One is his grandfather. One is his dad’s martial brother, who treated him like a son. When he was still suffering from Xuan Ming Palm, all the Wu Dang heroes took turns sacrificing their own inner power to prolong his life. No matter who dies, he would be deeply miserable.

Just as he was about to go break up the fight, both Yin TianZheng and Zhang SongXi yelled, the four palms broke apart, and each person retreated six to seven steps. Zhang SongXi said, “Elder Yin’s power is simply amazing. You have my admiration.” Ying TianZheng said, “Brother Zhang’s inner power skill has no equal, I must say that mine is no match. You are the martial brother of my son-in-law. Do we really have to fight to the death here?” When Zhang WuJi heard him talk about his father, his head kept yelling, “Stop! Stop!” Zhang SongXi said, “I retreated one more step than you did, so I admit defeat.” After bowing, he retreated to his group.

Suddenly another person came out from the Wu Dang sect. He pointed at Yin TianZheng, “Old man Ying, if you hadn’t brought up my fifth brother, I would have let that slide. But my third and fifth brother were both injured because of your Heavenly Eagle sect. If I don’t have my revenge here, I don’t think we would deserve our nickname of the ‘Seven Wu Dang Heroes’.” As he spoke, his sword came out. Under the bright sun the sword sparkled as he moved into the starting ‘Wan Yue Chao Zong’ position. This is the normal Wu Dang position when dueling against elders. Although Muo ShengGu is incredibly angry, he still did not lose his cool in front of the masses. Making sure he pays the proper respect to an elder. Yin TianZheng sighed, as his face showed much sadness. “After my daughter died, I stopped caring to use swords. But if I face your sword with bare fists, that would be too disrespectful.” He pointed to a Ming member who uses the iron staff, “Can I borrow your staff for a moment?” That Ming member presented it to him with both hands. Yin TianZheng took the iron staff, and then use his hand to break it in two.

All the spectators ‘wowed’ at that action. No one thought that after so many fights, this old man still have such amazing strength. Muo ShengGu knows that he won’t attack first, so his long sword rose, attacked with the stroke ‘Hundred Bird Flying in the Wind’. Only to see the sword point move in different directions, suddenly changing into tens of sword point, aiming towards the opponents mid area. Although this stroke is very powerful, it’s still a very respectful stroke. Yin TianZheng blocked with his left broken staff, and said, “You don’t have to be so respectful.” And followed by a counter with his right broken staff. After several moves, they saw that Muo ShengGu’s swords strokes are incredibly elegant, agile, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, really is befitting of a major sect. Yin TianZheng’s staff is already quite heavy, and his strokes look quite dumb and ordinary. But in the eyes of the experts, they see that his martial arts has reached an astonishingly high level. His steps are also quite slow and unmethodical. Muo ShengGu attacked from all directions, in just a few moments, he has unleashed over sixty lethal attacks.

After some time, Muo ShengGu’s strokes became faster and faster. Kun Lun and Er Mei has long been known for their sword art, but they too were amazed at just how powerful Muo ShengGu’s sword art is, thinking, “Wu Dang’s fame really is quite deserving. Really glad to see it today.” Yet no matter how hard he tries, Muo ShengGu still could not break through Yin TianZheng’s blockade of two broken staffs. He thought, “This person had already fought three top fighters of Shaolin, plus he wasted much energy while matching palms with fourth brother He’s already at a severe disadvantage. If I can’t beat him now, where’s the face for our sect?” He suddenly changed his sword form, as the long sword seemingly became a strand of silk, light as a feather, flowing effortlessly up and down. This is Wu Dang’s seventy-two stroke ‘Finger Spinning Soft Sword’. After twenty or so attacks, Yin TianZheng could no longer stand fairly still, and began to utilize his lightness kung fu, matching him speed for speed. Suddenly he saw Muo ShengGu’s sword came aiming at his chest, yet in the middle, it suddenly changed directions, aiming towards his right shoulder. Yin TianZheng hurriedly tried to dodge this, yet for some reason, the sword bounced back to its original direction, striking YinTianZheng’s left shoulder. Yin TianZheng’s shot out his right hand, grabbed Muo ShengGu’s wrist, twisted it, and grabbed his sword. His left hand then grabbed his ‘Jian Zhen Point’. White-browed Eagle King’s Eagle Claws is unrivaled in the martial world. If he simply applied a bit more pressure, Muo ShengGu’s bones would crack, and forever be crippled. The other Wu Dang heroes wanted to go up and save him, but knew it’s too late.

Yin TianZheng sighed, said, “Why bother…” and released his grip. His right hand took the sword out of his left shoulder, and blood came pouring out. He said, “You know, in my whole life, I have never been beaten in terms of techniques. Zhang SanFeng really is incredible!” He was commenting that he could not block Wu Dang’s ‘Finger Spinning Soft Sword’. Muo ShengGu stared at the ground. Although he did deliver the first blow, he lost at the end. After a moment, he said, “Thank you for not taking my life.” Yin TianZheng did not speak, returning the sword to him. Muo ShengGu had always been a prodigy at the sword art. He felt terrible that his sword was taken, and couldn’t bring himself to accept it before backing down. Zhang WuJi ripped a piece of sleeve from his shirt, about to go treat his grandpa’s injuries. But the top hero of the Wu Dang sect, Song YuanQiao, came out first and said, “I’ll treat your injuries.” He then took out some blood- stopping medicine, and covered up his wound. Heavenly Eagle sect and the Ming sect both saw his righteousness expression, knows that he wouldn’t try to hurt Yin TianZheng in the process. Yin TianZheng said, “Thank you!” Zhang WuJi became ecstatic, thinking, “My uncle Song treated grandpa’s wounds for not taking uncle Muo’s life. I bet they’ll stop fighting now.” Who would’ve thought that after patching his wounds, Song YuanQiao backed off a bit and said, “I will now challenge you to another duel!” This really is something Zhang WuJi did not expect, and he immediately blurted out, “Hero Song. This is not fair that you’re all fighting him one after the other!”

As he said this, everyone turned towards him. Other than a few, like the Er Mei sect, Yang Xiao, Song QingShu, Yin LiTing, and others, no one else knows who he is.

Song YuanQiao said, “This boy is correct. Although Wu Dang and Heavenly Eagle sect are enemies, we’re here to fight the Ming sect. So our differences can wait.” Yin TianZheng looked back to his group, seeing Wei YiXiao, Yang Xiao, and the others still heavily wounded, his own son unconscious. Other than himself, no one else can possibly put up a fight against Song YuanQiao. But after fighting five times already, his energy has mostly been depleted. Besides, this shoulder wound really is quite severe.

Just as he was thinking these things, an old, short man came out from the Kong Dong sect. He said, “Since you’ve lost already, why don’t you just surrender now? Reverend Kong Zhi, let’s go burn the place!” Kong Zhi is the leader of the Shaolin group that came to fight the Ming sect. The others all look up to him for guidance.

Before Kong Zhi could respond, someone in the Hua Shan sect said, “Who cares whether they surrender or not? Just kill them all.” Yin TianZheng tried to recover some strength, but he felt sharp pain on the shoulders. He knew that Song YuanQiao is the eldest disciple under Zhang SanFeng. Even at full strength, he’s not sure if he can win. Yet with everyone else injured or dead, he’s the only one who can put up any resistance. So his only choice is to fight to the end. Although he’s not afraid of death, but to lose everything he’s worked for is hard to take. Song YuanQiao then said, “Elder Yin, although Wu Dang and Heavenly Eagle Sect are enemies, that is not the purpose of this visit. We are here to fight the Ming sect. Since you have already left the Ming sect, you really don’t have to be here. If you leave now, we won’t stop you.”

Everyone knows thee story about Heavenly Eagle sect harming Yu DaiYan* to become the enemy of Wu Dang. So everyone was surprised to hear Song YuanQiao say these words. But they also know that Song YuanQiao is a righteous peson, and doesn’t want to take advantage of him.” Yin TianZheng laughed, “I thank your kindness. But I am one of the Great Protection Lords of the Ming sect. How can I ignore the Ming sect when it’s in trouble? I can only die defending today.” As he said this he stepped up, his hands by his shoulders. Song YuanQiao said, “If that’s the case, then I’m sorry!” As he said this, his hands shot out, using the move ‘Qing Shou Shi’. This is Wu Dang’s opening palm move against elders, again to show respect. Yin TianZheng said, “No need.” And moved his hands in position to block. Although in order to facilitate this strike, Song YuanQiao needed to move up another step, but instead he did not move his feet. So this palm is still inches from Yin TianZheng’s body.

*Yu DaiYan is the third brother of Wu Dang, who was poisoned and sent back by Yin SuSu.

Yin TianZheng thought, “Could it be that his palm is so powerful it can hit through air?” He doesn’t want to take the chance, and used his chi onto his right palm to meet the opponent. But for some reason, Song YuanQiao’s palm did not carry any extra inner power with it. Just as he was wondering what’s going on, Song YuanQiao said, “My master heard your inner power cultivation is one of the best in the world. However, after battling so many people, it’s unfair for someone as fresh as me to fight you. So let’s just compete in techniques, not inner power.” As he said this, his foot shot out. Although it did not aim at the opponent, it’s still precise and quick, making it difficult to block had he used it for real. Yin TianZheng said, “Great!” He decided to use attack as defense. Trying to gain the initiative. Song YuanQiao dodged left and right before returning a palm. Although they’re not touching each other, they both know what the results of each strike and counters were.

The spectators include many top martial artists. They see that Song YuanQiao used soft to counter hard, his movement incredibly fast. Yin TianZheng’s style is pure power, yet he also kept up the speed. Only to see both attack and defend quickly. Although seemingly like two people practicing, they are actually in a very heated battle.

When Zhang WuJi first saw Yin TianZheng fought Zhang SongXi and Muo ShengGu, he cared too much for their safety to actually look at their fighting style. But now that there’s no worry about anyone’s lives, he can concentrate on their techniques. Yet the more he watched, the more he doesn’t get it. “My grandfather and Uncle Song are two of the best fighters in the world, so are there so many flaws in their moves? If grandpa only aimed that last attack a bit left, he would’ve hit Uncle Song’s chest. If Uncle Song had held back this attack a bit longer, he would’ve hit my grandpa’s shoulders. Could it be that they’re purposely holding back? But that doesn’t seem to be the case.” In actuality, both Yin TianZheng and Song YuanQiao are fighting with all their concentration. But after learning Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, his abilities have raised another notch. There are many flaws in Song and Yin’s moves, but also none. The only reason Zhang WuJi thinks this way is because of Jiu Yang Shen Gong. His methods for beating the enemy might succeed, but certainly no better than the ones Yin and Song are using. Because no one else can use them. It’s the same as a bird watching a lion fight a tiger, thinking why doesn’t one just fly up and attack from above? Although lions and tigers are powerful, they still cannot fly. Zhang WuJi is hardly knowledgeable about these things, so he couldn’t figure it out. Suddenly he saw Song YuanQiao’s moves changed, his hands danced in the air, soft and without power. This is Wu Dang’s ‘Soft Palms’. Yin TianZheng still used his same palm style. One trying to counter soft, while the other trying to counter hard.

In the middle of the fight, Song YuanQiao attacked with his left hand, his right hand followed, but attacked faster. Then his left hand then reached around and caught up with the right hand. Yin TianZheng could not find a way to escape, so he shot out both of his palms forward. Their palms facing each other, and stopped moving. At this moment, there’s nothing to do but to match inner strength. Except their palms did not meet. Song YuanQiao smiled, putting down his arms, said, “Your palm really is quite magnificent. You have my admiration!” Yin TianZheng also took back his palms and said, “Wu Dang’s palm art really is the best in the world.” They agreed not to match inner powers, so they had to stop here. Wu Dang still has Yu LianZhou and Yin LiTing still available, but Yin TianZheng’s face became red, sweat pouring down his body. Although it was not an inner power match, the opponent was too strong. So he had to waste a lot of strength anyway. At this moment, no matter which other Wu Dan hero comes forward, they would easily win, and become famous for defeating the White- browed Eagle King. Yin LiTing and Yu LianZhou looked at each other, both shook their head, thinking, “How can we possibly fight an injured person?”

Although they wouldn’t step forward, it doesn’t mean others would follow suit. A small man from Kong Dong stepped forward and said, “Let me play around with you a bit!” His voice full of disrespect.

Yin TianZheng thought, “Ordinarily, they’re not even worth fighting me. But now the situation is different. Had I died in the hands of Wu Dang, it wouldn’t have been too bad. But how can I let you Tan WenLiang achieve this fame?” Although he felt dizzy, he still gathered his strength to stand up. “Little guy, go ahead!” Tang WenLiang saw that his energy has been mostly depleted, that if he simply wait a bit longer, Yin TianZheng will probably collapse himself. So he quickly got behind Yin TianZheng, aiming towards the back of his heart. Yin TianZheng turned to block, but Tang WenLiang had already left his original spot, moving around like a monkey, not giving him a good target. After a while, Yin TianZheng’s eyes saw only black, his mouth coughed some blood, and fell down. Tang WenLiang excitedly said, “Yin TianZheng, today you’ll die in my hands!” He jumped down to attack. Zhang WuJi saw what’s going on, began to help, but then saw Yin TianZheng’s right hand reached up, using a perfect technique against an attack from above, grabbed Tang WenLiang’s arm. Followed by two ka-cha sounds, as his Eagle Claw broke Tang WenLiang’s shoulders, followed by his two legs. Tang WenLiang fell to the ground, unable to get up. People all felt awe that he was able to do such a thing in such condition. Members of the Kong Dong sect all looked pale. Although they’re close to Tang WenLiang, none dared to go up and retrieve him. After a while, a tall person from the Kong Dong sect came out, picked up a stone, and threw it at Yin TianZheng. This is Zong WeiXia, the second Kong Dong elder. He said, “Old man White-brow. Let’s take care of some old business.” This stone shot over and hit Yin TianZheng on the face, blood came out. Everyone became shocked, as no one thought it would actually hit him. But apparently, in his semi-conscious state, Yin TianZheng couldn’t even see the stone coming, much less avoid it. At this moment, almost anyone could go up and kill him. But before Zong WeiXia can do anything, a person came out from the Wu Dang sect. This is the second Wu Dang hero Yu LianZhou. He said, “Brother Zong, he’s already very injured. To kill him now is a terrible thing to do. Since he and us Wu Dang has some issues, why don’t you leave him to me?” Zong WeiXia said, “What injury? He’s faking it. Otherwise, how could he cripple my third brother?” I have to hit him three times for revenge.” Yu LianZhou didn’t want such a heroic person to die in such circumstances, and then thought of Zhang CuiShan and Yin SuSu, said, “Your Qi Shang Fist is world famous, how can he stand three blows?”

Zong WeiXia said, “Fine then. He crippled my brother. I’ll just cripple him. Eye for an eye!” He saw disagreement on Yu LianZhou’s face, then said, “Second hero Yu, we came here to take out evil. How can you protect them instead?” Yu LianZhou sighed, said, “Fine then. But when we get back, le me test out your Qi Shang Fist.” Zong WeiXia thought, “Why is he protecting this old man?” Although he’s afraid of Wu Dang, he couldn’t show it in front of the masses. So he laughed coldly, “Nothing in this world is above the word ‘reason’. Although you’re powerful, you still cannot use it to force others to agree with you.”

Song YuanQiao said, “Second brother, let it go.” Yu LianZhou said, “Great hero! Great man!” Then left. These words are obviously meant to praise Yin TianZheng. Zong WeiXia doesn’t want to make enemies of Wu Dang, so he pretended to not hear it. Once Yu LianZhou left, he went towards Yin TianZheng.

Shaolin’s Kong Zhi started yelling orders, “Kong Dong and Hua Shan people. Finish the remaining people. Wu Dang, search left for those in hiding. Er Mei go right and do the same. Kun Lun, get some fire and burn this place. Shaolin disciples, prepare to guide the dead on their journey.” Everyone thought that after Yin TianZheng dies, they can go on destroying the place. And the plan will be a success. All the Ming sect members who weren’t terribly injured raised their arms, ten fingers apart, holding them in front of their chest. They then followed Yang Xiao in saying the sacred Ming text, “Come to me, Oh holy fire, What joy is in life, what pain in death, for righteousness against evil, happiness and sadness, as we return to earth, hopefully the living, will receive happiness.” Everyone chanted along, seemingly feel nothing about dying.

Yu LianZhou thought, “This must be their sacred chant before they die. That really is righteous of them. Actually, the Ming sect used to be filled with heroes. It’s just that recently, many members have become evil.” Zhang WuJi originally was afraid to appear in front of so many elders of the six sects. But after Kong Zhi said those commands, and Zong WeiXia now walking towards Yin TianZheng, he can’t possibly hold back. Without thinking, he jumped in front of Zong WeiXia, said, “Hold on! How can do this to such an injured person? You’re not afraid that people will laugh?” He said these words loud and clear. Although everyone was intent on doing their duties, they all turned around when they heard this. When Zong WeiXia saw that it’s a youngster with a dirty shirt talking, he ignored him, and tried to push him away. Zhang WuJi saw Zong WeiXia trying to push himself, so he lightly held out with his palm, after a ‘peng’ sound, Zong WeiXia fell back three steps. Tried to get his balance back, but this push really is too strong. So every time he desperately to regain his balance, he fails. So he had to retreat further a few steps before getting back up. By that time, he’s already quite far from Zhang WuJi. His mind couldn’t explain what happened, while the others wonder what he’s doing. Even Zhang WuJi himself didn’t realize how much power he had. Zong WeiXia thought for a moment, and then said to Yu LianZhou, “Hey, a man should be righteous. How can you harm me like that?” He thought it must be Yu LianZhou doing something sneaky, with his brothers probably. Otherwise, how can anyone have this much power? Yu LianZhou felt awkward, not knowing why he would make up something like that. Zong WeiXia stepped up and said, “Little kid. Who are you?” Zhang WuJi said, “My name is Zeng AhNuo.” As he said this, he used his palm to shoot his chi into Yin TianZheng’s body. Jiu Yang Zhen Chi is thick and pure, so Yin TianZheng was able to open his eyes after a few moments. He looked at this youngster, wondering who he is. Zhang WuJi simply smiled at him, an began to sent his chi even faster. After only a few moments, Yin TianZheng was able to stand up, and said, “Thank you, little friend!” Then he said, “Mr. Zong, your Qi Shang Fist is nothing, I’ll take it right now!”

Zong WeiXia never thought Yin TianZheng could stand back up again. Seeing that he’s no longer at an advantage, plus afraid of his Eagle Claws, Zong WeiXia said, “If my Qi Shang Fist is indeed nothing, then let’s match fists.” He wanted to make Yin TianZheng stick to just fist, not claws. This way, he can win due to superior inner power. When Zhang WuJi heard him talk about Qi Shang Fist, he thought back to that night when his godfather told that story about killing Reverend Kong Jian, then later forced him to memorize the formula. When he couldn’t memorize correctly, he even got scolded. But now, he has figured out the workings of this fist form. After all, no inner power in the world can match Jiu Yang Shen Gong. Plus, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi is made to point out how best to utilize one’s power, combining all the intricacies of all the martial arts in the world. So knowing that means knowing all other martial arts. Which is why all the martial arts in the world are like open books to him. He then heard Yin TianZheng said, “Forget three fists, I can take thirty!” He then said to Kong Zhi, “Reverend Kong Zhi, I’m still alive. Are you going back on your promise?”

Kong Zhi waved his hand, said, “Everyone stop for a moment.” Apparently, after Yin TianZheng found out what happened on the Brightness Peak, he had to trap Kong Zhi with words. Saying that they can’t try to win by numbers. And proposed one-on-one match ups. But the remaining top level Ming fighters still could not handle their opponents. And in the end, only Yin TianZheng remained. Zhang WuJi realizes that although his grandfather is much better now, he still cannot utilize his inner chi. He’s only matching palms with Zong WeiXia because he has to, in order to defend the sect. Therefore he said, “Elder Yin, I’ll go take those fists for you. If I can’t handle him, then you can go.” Yin TianZheng realizes that this youngster’s inner power is astonishing, much higher than himself even at full strength. But no matter how good he is, he still cannot fight every single person in the six major sects. So in the end, this youngster will turn out just like himself, half dead. Although he is willing to die for the Ming sect, there’s no reason for an outsider, especially someone so young and skillful, to do the same. He asked, “Which sect are you from, little friend? You’re not a Ming sect member, are you?” Zhang WuJi said, “Although I am not a Ming sect member, nor a Heavenly Eagle sect member, I have always respected you. I am willing to help out.” Yin TianZheng can’t figure out what’s going on, but just as he wants to ask more, Zong WeiXia said, “Here comes my first fist, old man.”

Zhang WuJi said, “Elder Yin said you’re not worthy of fighting him. You have to beat me first.” Zong WeiXia immediately became angry, said, “Who the hell do you think you are? Let me show you the power of my Qi Shang Fist.” Zhang WuJi thought, “Only by bring up the plan of Yuan Zhen can we solve this misunderstanding. Otherwise, how can I possibly beat all these people? Besides, how can I possibly fight my martial uncles?” So he said, “I’ve long known the power of Kong Dong’s Qi Shang Fist. After all, didn’t Reverend Kong Jian die from your Qi Shang Fist?” This sentence startled the Shaolin sect. They knew that from looking at the body, Kong Jian did indeed die from the Qi Shang Fist. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and Kong Sheng discussed this for a long time, finally decided that no one in the Kong Dong sect has the power to kill someone who has learnt the ‘Golden Invincible Body’ skill. Later they found out that the Kong Dong elders were in the southeast area, while Kong Jian died in Luo Yang*. Other than the five Kong Dong elders, no one else can even come close to harming Kong Jian, so they let it go. Besides, there are the words ‘Cheng Kun killed Kong Jian’ nearby. So when they found out that it’s Xie Xun who pretended to be Cheng Kun, it all became clear. Only now, when Zhang WuJi brought this up again, did they all become startled. Zong WeiXia said angrily, “Everyone knows that Xie Xun is the killer. What does this have to do with us?” Zhang WuJi said, “Were you there to see this? Did you help him out?” Zong WeiXia thought, this little kid doesn’t look like a beggar, nor some farm kid, what’s he doing here? I bet it’s the Wu Dang people who sent him, trying to cause problems between Shaolin and us. I better be careful.” He said seriously, “Kong Jian died in Luo Yang. Us five elders were at Yun Nan* How can we have seen it?”

*Luo Yang was the capital of the Tang dynasty, and roughly in the central regions of China today. Yun Nan is a lot more to the south. Just felt like sharing some of the very miniscule knowledge I have of China’s history and geography.

Zhang WuJi said loudly, “That’s right! If you were at Yun Nan, then how do you know Xie Xun killed Kong Jian? Everyone knows that he died in the hands of the Qi Shang Fist. Xie Xun is not a member of the Kong Dong sect. How can you pin this crime on him?” Zhong WeiXia said, “Because the words ‘Cheng Kun killed Reverend Kong Jian’ appeared at the murder scene. Everyone knows that Xie Xun did all these crimes.”

Zhang WuJi thought, “My godfather never told me this. He felt only pain and regret for killing Kong Jian. How could he possibly write something like this?” He then laughed, said, “Everyone can write these words. I can say that you wrote those words. It’s easy to write words, but hard to learn Qi Shang Fist.” He then turned to Kong Zhi and said, “Reverend Kong Zhi, isn’t it true that Reverend Kong Jian was killed by Qi Shang Fist, and that Xie Xun was not a disciple of Kong Dong?”

Before he could respond, another monk came out, holding an iron staff in his hand. He yelled, “Little kid, which sect are you under? You think you’re worthy of talking to my teacher? This just happens to be Yuan Yin. Back when Shaolin and the others went to Wu Dang to get Xie Xun’s location, he’s the one who said it was Zhang CuiShan who killed those Shaolin disciples. Zhang WuJi remembers this person, and his blood immediately began to boil. He kept thinking, “Zhang WuJi, oh Zhang WuJi. You’re here to settle this misunderstanding, not to seek revenge. Otherwise, it can turn out really bad. You can settle this with Shaolin later.” Although he knows what’s the right decision, the tragic death of his parents keep appearing in his head. Sweat came down his face.

Yuan Yin then said, “If you aren’t a Ming sect member, get out of here now. The Buddha is lenient. We won’t stop you if you don’t interfere.” Zhang WuJi said, “Where’s Reverend Yuan Zhen? Ask him to come out. I have some questions.” Yuan Yin aid, “Brother Yuan Zhen? Why do you want him? Get out of the way. I don’t have all day for rascals like you. Which sect are you under?” He saw the way Zhang WuJi pushed Zong WeiXia, knowing his teacher must be very good. Which is why he kept asking for his sect. Zhang WuJi said, “I’m not a Ming sect member. But I do know that someone purposely provoked the six major sects into fighting the Ming sect. I just want to settle this misunderstanding. Although I’m young, I do know the truth.” After he said this, everyone in the six major sect began to laugh at him. With many people saying things like, “This kid’s crazy. What’s he blabbering about?” “Who does he think he is? Abbot of Sholin? Master Zhang of Wu Dang?” “Did he get the Dragon Saber in his dreams?” “Haha! Haha!” “He thinks we’re all little kids. Oh man, my stomach hurts from the laughing!” Only Er Mei’s Zhou ZhiRuo held her head low, not saying anything. Ever since she found out Zhang WuJi’s identity, knowing he’s the little boy she met on the boat, she has thought of him as an old friend. Later when he took her master’s three palm strikes, saving those under the Golden Flag, she felt great admiration towards him. Now, seeing the crowd laughing, she cannot but help feel bad and sympathetic.

Zhang WuJi did not back down, said, “Only when Yuan Zhen comes out can the truth be known.” Even though he said this amidst all the laughter, everyone can still hear him clearly. Everyone in the six major sect immediately held back their laughter a bit, knowing that this youngster is not as simple as he seems, thinking, “How can someone so young have such amazing inner power?” When the laughter died down, Yuan Yin said, “You little punk, you knew Yuan Zhen brother is dead, yet you still asks for him? Why don’t you ask for Wu Dang’s Zhang CuiShan to come out too?”

Just as he said this, Kong Zhi immediately yelled, “Yuan Yin, be careful when you speak!” But Hua Shan, Kong Dong, and Kun Lun people have already started laughing again. Only Wu Dang remained still. Apparently, Yuan Yin, after Yin SuSu hit his eyes with her darts, still thinks Zhang CuiShan did it. And therefore felt deep hatred for him.

Zhang WuJi could not hold back his anger after hearing him ridicule father, yelled, “How dare you speak to Fifth Hero Zhang like that?” Yuan Yin laughed coldly, “He’s just a lecherous fool, getting hooked by the beauty of an evil woman…” Zhang WuJi knows that he cannot harm anyone in order to stop this bloodshed, but how can he possibly hold back after that comment? He dashed forward, his left hand reached out and held up Yuan Yin at the back of his waist, his right hand reached out and took his staff. Yuan Yin could not fight back. But just at this time, two Shaolin disciples came out, their staffs aiming towards the left and right side of Zhang WuJi. Their moves aimed towards saving someone in the grasp of an enemy. These two disciples are Yuan Xin and Yuan Ye. Zhang WuJi held Yuan Yin in one hand, his staff with the right, jumped up, and kicked at the point of Yuan Xin and Yuan Ye’s staffs. Only to hear two sounds, as Yuan Xin and Yuan Ye both fell to the ground, their staffs bouncing back and hit them. Thankfully both of their inner powers are quite good, so they did not suffer internal injuries. Zhang WuJi twisted in midair, then gently floated down. Many people in the six sects immediately yelled, “Wu Dang’s ‘Cloud Stairs’!” Zhang WuJi learned Wu Dang’s entrance fist form ‘Wu Dang Long Fist’ from his dad, martial grandfather, and fellow martial uncles. Although he had since seen many other skills, he’s still most familiar with Wu Dang’s kung fu. For the likes of Yu LianZhou and Zhong SongXi, it’s not difficult to use ‘Cloud Stairs’ as well as Zhang WuJi. But for them to do so while holding another person is simply impossible.

By now, he’s quite far from the Shaolin group. So the only way to reach him is through darts. But Zhang WuJi only needs to use Yuan Yin as a shield to borrow Shaolin’s hand for killing him. Even with the likes of such experts as Kong Zhi and Kong Sheng, no one has any way to save him. Only to see Zhang WuJi’s face filled with hatred as he raised the staff. Yet didn’t bring it down. It’s as if he has a hard decision to make. But then after a while, his expression calmed, and lowered the staff slowly. He thought, “If I kill just one person here, I will become the enemy of the six major sect, and can no longer be an arbitrator. This bloodshed will then continue. That’s why I must endure, endure no matter what. This is what my parents would’ve wanted me to do.” Once he thought this through, his put down Yuan Yin, said, “Reverend Yuan Yin, your eyes were not blinded by Fifth Hero Zhang, why do you hate him so? Besides, he had already committed suicide, so any grudge should’ve been settled at that point.

After his escape from death, Yuan Yin could only stare blankly at Zhang WuJi, unable to speak. When Zhang WuJi threw him his staff, he took it and returned to his group, thinking he really did go overboard with his hatred the past years. When the high reverends of Shaolin and the heroes of Wu Dang heard this, they all nodded silently.

End of Chapter 20.

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