Smiling Proud Wanderer Chapter 1-5

Chapter 1: Massacre

The young man smiled and cracked his whip in the air cockily.

Answering the command, the white horse neighed happily and dashed along the stone slab road. "Escort Shi," one of the guards yelled out, "how about bringing back a wild boar, so we can all have a feast!"

Spring was always a relaxing time of the year. As the breeze gently brushed the willow trees and wild flowers, it filled the air of the southland with a pleasant scent of the season.

The West Gate Boulevard of Fuzhou1 was a stone slab road that

extended all the way to the west gate of the town. A huge mansion stood south of the street, in front of which a tall flagpole stood on either side of the entrance. The flagpoles were about twenty feet tall, each with a huge green banner streaming in the wind. The banner on the left was

embroidered in yellow silk, bearing the image of a majestic lion. As the banner fluttered back and forth in the wind, the lion seemed as though it had come alive and was about to jump down at any moment. Just above the lion’s head was a pair of bats, embroidered in black silk; they appeared to be flapping their wings in the air. The banner on the right bore four huge

characters in black that read “Fortune Prestige Escort House,” all written in a bold, vigorous hand.

The mansion itself had a large vermilion gate with teacup-sized copper studs which sparkled in the bright sunlight. Above the gate, the

same “Fortune Prestige Escort House” characters were inscribed in gold lacquer on a huge sign with the word “Headquarters” engraved in smaller print just below. Beyond the gate were two rows of benches bordering a path, and sitting upon those benches were eight guards in house uniforms, their faces animated with excitement.

Sounds of hoof beats came from the backyard of the court. All eight guards sprang up and rushed out the gate. Five horses galloped out from the side-door on the west of the mansion and stopped directly in front of the gate. Leading the pack was a beautiful horse, white as snow, with a silver bridle and stirrups. A young man wearing silk clothing, roughly eighteen years of age, sat on the horse with a sword hanging from his belt and a bow strapped onto his back. A hunting falcon perched on his left shoulder as the horse strode along the street. The four horsemen following him were all dressed in tight, black outfits.

“The Young Master is going hunting!” three guards shouted in unison.

The young man smiled and cracked his whip in the air cockily.

Answering the command, the white horse neighed happily and dashed along the stone slab road.

“Escort Shi,” one of the guards yelled out, “how about bringing back a wild boar, so we can all have a feast!”

A forty-year-old horseman, trailing behind, grinned back. “Don’t worry! I will be sure to save the boar’s tail for you. Just don’t get drunk before we get back.”

Amid the loud laughter, the five horsemen vanished like the wind.

Just after they exited the town gate, Lin Pingzhi,2 the Young Master of the Escort House, spurred his horse lightly; the steed picked up speed and

soon left the rest of the pack far behind. After riding up a small slope, he set the falcon to work. Minutes later, a pair of yellow rabbits was flushed out from the bushes. Lin Pingzhi quickly grabbed the bow from his back.

Pulling out an arrow from his saddlebag, he took aim and shot in one

smooth action. One rabbit down, one more to go. But by the time he pulled out another arrow and was ready to shoot again, the other rabbit had disappeared behind the bushes.

Escort Zheng rode by with a smile. “Nice shot, Young Master!” he praised. “Young Master, hurry, we’ve found pheasants here!” Henchman Bai shouted in the woods to the left.

Lin Pingzhi rushed over and saw a pheasant flying out from the bushes, heading directly toward his head. He pulled out an arrow rapidly

and fired at the pheasant but missed. Reflexively, he lashed his whip at the pheasant. With a cracking sound, the pheasant fell to the ground, its bright and colorful feathers scattering in all directions. All five men cheered.

“What a swift lash! Even a large griffon wouldn’t escape that,” Escort Shi exclaimed.

The party hunted in the woods for over four hours. Intending to let the Young Master have a good time, the two escorts, Shi and Zheng, and the two henchmen, Bai and Chen, always drove the prey toward the young man, even when they themselves had the better shot. By the end of the hunt, Lin Pingzhi had shot two more rabbits and two more pheasants. But Young Master Lin wanted to hunt more. Not finding enough excitement from small prey, he yearned for larger game.

“Let's go a bit deeper into the woods, and see what we can find,” he exclaimed eagerly.

Escort Shi thought to himself, “If we go too deep into the woods, as the Young Master wishes, he probably won’t quit until after dark. Surely, the Madam will complain when we get back. That won’t be good.” So he replied, “It is quite late already. There are lots of sharp rocks around that might damage the hooves of your white horse. Why don’t we try our luck again early tomorrow morning?”

He knew that it would be very hard to dissuade the stubborn Young Master, but Lin Pingzhi loved his white horse so much that he wouldn’t risk any chance of injuring his precious pet. The colt had been given to Lin Pingzhi as a present on his seventeenth birthday two years ago. It had come from a foreign country, and had cost his grandmother in Luoyang, a fair amount of gold.

Just as Shi had expected, his suggestion worked.

“My Snow Dragon is clever enough to not step on sharp rocks, but I am not so sure about your horses. Alright, let’s head back then. We

wouldn’t want Henchman Chen to crack his bottom somewhere on those

sharp rocks, would we?” grinned Lin Pingzhi, patting his horse on the neck.

Howling with laughter, all five turned around and started to head back home. Lin Pingzhi rode ahead of everyone else, but did not take the same route by which they had come. Instead, he turned north and sprinted forward. Feeling satisfied after some rapid riding, he finally reined in the horse and let it trot slowly.

The sign of a wine shop emerged from one side of the road, not far ahead.

“Young Master, how about a drink here? The fresh rabbits and pheasants we’ve got would go perfectly with some good wine,” Escort Zheng suggested.

“So, you didn’t come out for hunting, but rather for drinking, did you? I suppose if I don’t bribe you with some drinks, you wouldn’t want to come out again tomorrow.” Lin Pingzhi grinned as he dismounted and

started walking toward the wine shop.

Normally, the owner of the wine shop, Old Cai, would have hurried out to take the reins and flattered Lin with some praise. “Well lookee thar, the Young Master’s gotten so much game today! Ain’t he great! There ain’t many who can match his skills,” Old Cai would exclaim. But today, when they came to the door, they were greeted with complete silence. A girl, dressed in green, stood by the wine vat with her hair done up in two buns, and with a wooden hairpin holding each in place; she appeared to be busy fussing with it. Her back was towards them and she seemed to have no intention of turning around.

“Where is Old Cai? Get out and tether our horses,” Escort Zheng yelled impatiently.

Henchmen Bai and Chen pulled out a bench, brushed off the dust with their sleeves, and let Lin Pingzhi sit down. The two escorts sat with Lin Pingzhi while the two henchmen sat down at another table. Coughing

sounds floated out from the backroom, and moments later, a gray-haired old man walked out.

“Welcome, sirs. Can I bring you some wine?” the old man greeted the group of five in a distinctly northern accent.

“Do we look like we are here for tea?” Escort Zheng retorted. “Of course we want wine. Get us three jugs of Bamboo Green.3 Where’s Old Cai? What’s going on? Are you the new owner here?”

“Yes, sir! Coming right up! Wan’er, bring three jugs of Bamboo

Green,” the old man called out at the girl. “To be frank with you misters, my name is Sa. I was born in this town, but I left to be a trader when I was young. Recently, my son and my daughter-in-law both passed away. I figured that no matter how tall a tree is, its leaves will always fall to the roots, so I brought my granddaughter back to my hometown. But since I’ve been gone for over forty some years, my relatives and my friends had either passed away or left town. Luckily, the previous owner of this wine shop,

Old Cai, happened to want out, so he sold it to me for thirty taels4 of silver.

I am finally back now. I feel happy just listening to the hometown dialect. But it’s so embarrassing that I’ve totally forgotten the dialect myself.”

The girl in the green robe came back with a wooden tray. She set down the bowls and chopsticks, and then placed three jugs of wine on the table. When she finished, she walked away with her head down, never even sneaked a peek at the customers all the while. Lin Pingzhi watched as the girl walked away. She had a slim figure, but her skin was dark and rough. Pox marks covered her face, which made it appear very ugly. Lin Pingzhi thought that the reason she was so rigid was probably because she had only started waiting on tables not too long ago, so he paid no more attention to her.

Escort Shi brought out a pheasant and a yellow rabbit, and handed them to old man Sa. “Clean them up and cook them well,” he ordered.

“Yes, sir! Right away! Would you like some jerky and peanuts to go with the wine, sirs?” old man Sa asked.

Wan’er placed some beef jerky and peanuts on the table, not waiting for old man Sa’s order.

“Our Young Mister Lin here is the Young Master of the Fortune Prestige Escort House. He always aids the needy and assists the weak.

Money, to him, is like dirt. If you cook the two dishes well and make his stomach happy, you can easily make back that thirty taels investment you spent in a matter of months,” Escort Zheng introduced.

“Oh, yes, yes! Many thanks!!” old man Sa answered cheerfully as he picked up the pheasant and the rabbit and went into the kitchen.

Escort Zheng poured the wine into all three cups. Raising his own cup, he poured it all down his throat, then after smacking his lips a few times, he said contentedly, “The owner has changed, but fortunately the wine is still the same.”

He poured himself another cup and was just about to drink it, when suddenly, the drum of hoof beats rose from a distance and then came to an abrupt stop outside the shop. Two horsemen had ridden in from the north.

Traveling at a blazing speed, they had arrived at the small shop in no time at all. “Hey, it’s a wine shop. Let’s go in for a couple of drinks,” one of the riders shouted.

Escort Shi recognized that the speaker had a distinct accent of western Sichuan.5 He turned around and spotted two men in purple robes. They tied

the reins of their horses to the big banyan tree outside the shop and walked in. Giving the escorts a casual glance, they made a big display of sitting down. Both had a strip of white cloth wrapped around their foreheads. At first glance, with their purple robes, they seemed to be fairly cultured people, but since both had bare legs showing in the open and bare feet in

hemp shoes, they were unlikely to be so.6 Escort Shi knew that most people

from Sichuan dressed in this manner. The strips of white cloths on their foreheads were worn in mourning for the death7 of Marquis Zhuge Liang.8

The Marquis did so many great things for the people of Sichuan and was so well respected that even a thousand years after his death, people still wore white mourning cloths on their foreheads in his memory.

Lin Pingzhi had never seen people dressed like this before. “Their dress looks neither civilian nor martial. It’s very strange indeed,” he thought to himself.

“Wine, get me some wine! So many damn mountains here. Our horses are really tired out!” the younger of the two yelled out.

“What can I get for you?” Wan’er walked to their table and asked. She looked down at the floor while asking the question, so that the two could not see her face. Her voice was low, but sounded very clear and

pleasant. The younger man was dazed for a second. Unexpectedly, his right hand shot out and raised Wan’er’s chin.

“What a pity!” He snickered.

Wan’er gasped and quickly drew herself back. The younger man’s companion burst into laughter. “Brother Yu, this chick has a nice body, but as for her face, look how pockmarked it is!! Just like the inside of a pomegranate!” The younger man laughed even louder.

Lin Pingzhi’s anger flared. He slapped the table hard and shouted,

“What kind of creatures are you, you two blind scoundrels? How dare you to come to Fuzhou and behave so ill-manneredly?”

“Hey, Jia Junior, somebody seems really upset. Who do you think this sissy is referring to?” the younger fellow, Yu, said with a smirk.

Lin Pingzhi was fair of face, and looked much like his mother. Even under normal circumstances, he would have slapped someone just for

staring at him. Hearing the word sissy, his temper flared. He grabbed a tin kettle from the table and hurled it at the two men. Yu shifted back slightly; the kettle missed him and sailed out the door, landing on the meadow outside. Wine from the kettle splashed everywhere. Escorts Shi and Zheng sprang up immediately and rushed up to the two men.

“This boy should play a little bitch in the opera. I bet you he would

seduce quite a few men. But I doubt he’s any good at fighting.” Yu grinned sneeringly.

“This is the Young Master Lin from the Fortune Prestige Escort

House. You’ve really got the nerve to offend him!” Escort Zheng hollered. As he spat out the last word, his left fist was already on its way toward Yu’s face. Yu deflected the punch with his left palm, then grabbed Zheng’s wrist and pulled hard. Escort Zheng lost his balance and fell toward the table. Yu then struck Zheng’s neck with his left elbow. With a crash, the table

collapsed to the ground, along with Zheng.

Although Zheng was not in the top echelon of fighters at the Escort House, he was not at the bottom either. Seeing that Escort Zheng had been knocked down by Yu within just one move, Escort Shi knew the two would make tough opponents.

“Friends, who are you?” he asked. “If you are also the members of the Martial World, haven’t you heard of the Fortune Prestige Escort House?”

“Fortune Prestige Escort House? Never heard of it. What the hell is that?” Yu smirked.

“We are in the business of teaching manners to lowlifes such as you,” Lin Pingzhi leapt over with a roar. He struck out with his left hand, but before fully extending his arm, his right hand struck out from underneath his left hand. This maneuver was called “Cloud Concealed Glare” and was a move from the Lin Family’s Kung Fu style of Universal Hands.

“Ho! This sissy boy actually knows a few tricks,” Yu exclaimed mockingly, blocking the blow with his left arm and stretching out his right hand to grab Lin Pingzhi’s shoulder.

Lin Pingzhi lowered his right shoulder in evasion, and attempted to punch Yu with his left fist. Yu ducked his head from the punch, but to his surprise, Lin Pingzhi’s fist opened and changed from a punch into a palm strike. With the move called “Flowers in the Fog,” he slapped Yu hard

across the face.

Now Yu went berserk. He threw a kick at Lin Pingzhi, who stepped to the right and returned a kick at Yu. While the two fought, Escort Shi had

already engaged in a fight with Jia, and Henchman Bai helped Escort Zheng up from the ground. Swearing at the top of his lungs, Zheng leapt forward

and joined Lin Pingzhi in the fight against Yu.

“Go help Escort Shi! I can handle this punk!” Lin Pingzhi shouted.

Escort Zheng knew that the Young Master always wanted to best others, and did not want extra help, so he picked up a broken table leg and swung it at Jia’s head. In the meantime, the two henchmen had run outside. One took Lin Pingzhi’s sword, which was hanging from the saddle, while the other grabbed a hunting fork, and then both started pouring out all manner of profanity at the top of their lungs. Retainers of the Escort House were not good fighters, but because they were the ones shouting out the

escort songs during trips, they all had loud voices. They cursed in the local dialect. The two men from Sichuan had no clue as to what they were

saying, but they knew that it must have been something quite uncomplimentary.

Lin Pingzhi focused on using moves from the Universal Hands style to fight Yu. He had practiced this form and beaten many escorts in the Escort House. This was partly because this form of martial arts was indeed excellent, and partly because no one from the Escort House, who valued his employment, was stupid enough to beat the Young Master, thus, even though Lin Pingzhi had a good understanding of the form, he did not have much actual fighting experience. He had also fought some local rascals in Fuzhou before; however, no street thug could prevail against the fighting

style of the great Lin Family. In less than three moves, they would all end up running away with either a swollen face or a bloody nose. But things

were quite different this time. After only a dozen or so moves, Lin Pingzhi had to swallow his pride and admit that his opponent was really tough.

While the two exchanged punches, Yu kept taunting Lin Pingzhi with insults. “Hey, buddy! The more I look at you, the more you look like a girl dressed as a guy. Look at those lovely cheeks of yours. Why don’t we stop fighting, so I can give you a big kiss? What do you say?”

Lin Pingzhi was enraged. He glanced over at Escorts Shi and Zheng, only to find that they were not faring well, even though it was two against one. Zheng had been punched hard on the nose; blood was all over his face and his clothes. Lin Pingzhi hastened his moves and, unexpectedly, was able to slap Yu in the face a second time. It was a heavy slap.

“Son of a turtle!” Yu snarled. “I was just playing with you, you loser. You want to fight for real now?” He suddenly changed his tactics and sped up his moves. Punches poured down upon Lin Pingzhi like a thunderstorm.

The two fought from the inside of the shop to the outside. Seeing a punch aimed directly at his solar plexus, Lin Pingzhi remembered the release-block technique his father had taught him, so he tried to block it with his left arm, but Yu’s punch was so powerful that he failed to stop it.

The punch sent a shock throughout his entire spine, and before he was able to gather himself, Yu’s left hand grabbed him by the collar and jerked him down hard. Lin Pingzhi’s torso caved in to Yu’s strength and bent forward. In the next second, Yu’s right arm was already pushing down on the back of Lin Pingzhi’s neck with a move called the “Iron Threshold.”

“You son of a turtle! If you kowtow9 to me and call me Great Uncle

three times, I might let you go.” Yu laughed scornfully.

Escorts Shi and Zheng were stunned. They wanted to rush over and rescue Lin Pingzhi, but were kept at bay by Jia’s nonstop kicks and punches.

Henchman Bai thrust the hunting fork at Yu’s back. “Punk, let go of him! Who the hell do you think you are…?” he yelled loudly.

Yu threw a reverse kick with his left foot, which knocked the fork out of Bai’s grip and sent it flying into the air. He immediately followed with

another backward kick, using his right foot, sending Henchman Bai rolling to the ground.

“You stinking turtle egg god damned bastard! The hell with you! Your grandma has no eyeballs!” Henchman Chen started cursing furiously. But with each curse, he took a step back, so after eight or nine of them, he was already far from the scene of the fight.

“Hey, sissy boy, are you going to kowtow or not?” Yu laughed. He pushed down even harder, pressing Lin Pingzhi’s head almost to the ground. Lin Pingzhi tried to punch at Yu’s stomach, but the punches always fell a few inches short. Lin felt unbearable pain from his neck as if it was going to break. Sparkles glittered in front of his eyes and his eardrums were filled with buzzing sounds. He clawed and scratched like a wild cat, when

suddenly, his fingers came upon a hard object that was strapped on his shin. Without thinking, he pulled it out and stabbed it at Yu with all his might.

Yu let out a sudden shriek and let go of Lin Pingzhi. Dread and terror covered his face as Yu stumbled back in disbelief. The dagger had pierced through his stomach all the way, leaving only the handle showing. He was facing west, and the golden handle of the dagger glinted crazily in the rays of the setting sun. He opened his mouth wide, but no sound came out. He reached for the dagger with his hand, but then paused, too afraid to touch the shining handle.

Stumbling back several steps, Lin Pingzhi also looked on in shock. His heart almost jumped out of his throat. Jia and the two escorts stopped fighting and looked at Yu in astonishment. Yu finally gathered enough

courage to grab the protruding handle. Blood gushed from the wound as he pulled out the dagger. The onlookers cried out in disbelief.

“Jia…Jia…Tell my father, se…seek…vengeance…for…!” Yu hissed before dropping the dagger and falling forward onto the ground. His torso twitched a few times and finally stopped moving.

“Brother Yu, Brother Yu!” Jia rushed to his side and cried out bitterly. “Get your weapons!” Escort Shi whispered. He darted to his horse

and drew out his long knife. As an experienced escort, he knew only too well that Jia would stop at nothing to avenge the death of his companion.

Jia glared murderously at Lin Pingzhi for a few seconds, and then quickly retrieved the dagger from the ground and dashed to his horse. He mounted in a hurry, and without wasting time to untie the reins he cut the horse loose with a swift slash of the dagger. Jia spurred his horse hard, and within moments, both the horse and its rider disappeared into the northern horizon.

Henchman Chen walked up to Yu’s body and kicked it hard, sending it rolling over. Blood continued to gush from the wound.

“You big moron, how dare you insult our Young Master? Now you’ve learned your lesson.”

But Lin Pingzhi had never killed anyone before. His face turned pale with fright. “Escort Shi…what shall we do? I never…I didn’t mean to kill him.” His voice trembled.

Escort Shi pondered on the matter, “The Fortune Prestige Escort

House has been around for three generations. Getting into fights and having people die while on the job is simply unavoidable. But normally the victims are either bandits or unorthodox members of the Martial World, and these fights usually happen in some remote mountain or deep forest. Afterwards, we simply bury the corpses and forget about the whole thing. Of course, the bandits would never go to the authorities and report the killing. But this time, the victim is obviously not a bandit, and the scene is close to a populated area. Murder is no small crime. Even the son of a governor or mayor wouldn’t be able to get off easily if they committed such a crime, let alone the Young Master of an Escort House.” Reflecting upon these facts, he came to a decision.

“Let’s move the body into the shop,” he said with a frown. “It’s too close to the road here. We don’t want anyone to see this.” Luckily it was already quite late, and there was no one passing by.

Henchmen Bai and Chen hauled the body into the shop.

“Young Master, do you have any money on you?” Escort Shi whispered to Lin Pingzhi.

“Yeah, I do!” Lin Pingzhi answered anxiously, as he took all of his money out in a hurry. There were about twenty taels of silver in all.

Escort Shi took the silver and walked into the shop. Setting the money on the table, he said, “Old Sa, this outsider was harassing your granddaughter, and our Young Master was just trying to help. He didn’t

want to kill the man, but he had no choice. All of us witnessed the entire event. The incident originated because of you, so if anybody blows the

whistle, no one will get away with it. Take the money and just forget about the whole thing. We’ll get rid of the body and pretend nothing ever happened here. Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes,” Old Sa nodded.

“Killing a few gangsters is a piece of cake for us when we escort cargos,” Escort Zheng exclaimed. “These two Sichuan rats behaved so suspiciously, I bet they were either burglars or rapists. They must have come to Fuzhou looking for crimes to commit. Our Young Master saw

through their disguises, and took care of them for the safety of the town. He should have gone to the authorities for a reward, but our Young Master does not want to go through all that trouble, and he doesn’t really care for this kind of fame. You, old friend, had better keep your mouth shut. If you let

anything out, we will say that you are their accomplice and that you were just using this wine shop as cover to spy for them. From your accent,

anyone could tell that you’re not from here. People would say ‘How did those two just happen to show up right after you took over the shop? What a coincidence!’” “I won’t say a word. I know nothing,” Old Sa said hurriedly in compliance.

Led by Escort Shi, Henchmen Bai and Chen buried the body in the garden behind the shop; they also cleaned up all the bloodstains in front of the door.

“If we don’t hear anything unusual in ten days,” Escort Zheng said to Old Sa, “you’ll get yourself another fifty taels of silver. But if you really feel like telling stories…humph! Well, the Fortune Prestige Escort House has killed hundreds of bandits before. It wouldn’t be any trouble to plant two more bodies in your garden, would it?”

“We wouldn’t dare! We wouldn’t dare! Thanks! Many thanks!” Old Sa complied yet again.

It was already dark outside by the time everything was finally handled. Lin Pingzhi relaxed a little, but still felt uneasiness as he went back to the Escort House. When he entered the front hall, he saw his father sitting in a wooden armchair, his eyes shut, lost in thought.

“Dad!” Lin Pingzhi called.

“Went hunting? Caught any boars?” Lin Zhennan opened his eyes and asked with a smile.

“No,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

Lin Zhennan lifted the pipe in his hands and suddenly struck down toward Lin Pingzhi’s shoulder. “Take that,” he exclaimed.

Lin Pingzhi knew that his father always liked to impulsively check up on his progress in fighting skills. Typically, he would have countered this

“Plunging Cosmic Star” – the twenty-sixth move in the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art,” with the “Buddha Blossom” – the forty-sixth move. But his mind was so burdened by the incident at the wine shop that he thought his father had already learned about the incident and was bestowing punishment with his pipe. He dared not move, crying out plaintively, “Father!”

Lin Zhennan’s pipe halted just about three inches from his son’s shoulder.

“What’s with you today? You think you’d still have the shoulder when you are actually fighting someone, if you were this clumsy?” Lin

Zhennan asked. Although the words were harsh, a smile played about his mouth.

“Understood!” Lin Pingzhi responded. He dropped his left shoulder and rapidly spun his body around, stepping behind his father. Snatching up a feather duster from the tea table, he thrust it at Lin Zhennan’s back. This was the move called the “Buddha Blossom.”

“That’s the right move!” Lin Zhennan nodded in approval. He passed his pipe across his back and parried the thrust, then countered with a move known as the “Flute-Play on the River.”

Lin Pingzhi was much more focused now. He blocked the attack with “Purple Mist East Bound.”

Both father and son continued fighting until, after roughly fifty moves, Lin Zhennan swiftly poked his son on the chest just below the right nipple with the handle of his pipe. Not able to fend off the attack in time, Lin Pingzhi felt a sudden soreness in his right arm, and dropped the feather duster immediately.

“Good! Very good! You have shown progress every single day of this month! You lasted four more moves than yesterday!” Lin Zhennan smiled gleefully and sat back down. “Pingzhi, guess what! Our Escort House has received wonderful news today,” he announced while filling his pipe with fresh tobacco leaves. Lin Pingzhi took out a firestone and lit the pipe for his father. “Did you just sign off on a big business deal today?” he inquired.

Lin Zhennan shook his head.

“As long as our Escort House offers good services, business will come to us! Our only concern is our own ability – are we capable of fulfilling big contracts – when they do come to us?”

He inhaled deeply, and then blew out a cloud of smoke.

“Escort Zhang sent us a message from Hunan.10 Master Yu of the Pine-Wind Temple, the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, in Western Sichuan, has accepted our gifts.”

Hearing the words “Western Sichuan” and “Master Yu,” Lin Pingzhi’s heart almost jumped from his throat. “Accepted our gifts?” he repeated in a mutter.

“I haven’t really told you much about the business of the Escort House,” Lin Zhennan went on. “You wouldn’t have understood anyway.

But you are growing up fast, and the heavy burden of running the Escort House will slowly shift onto your shoulders. It’s time for you to start

playing a larger part in the business of the Escort House. Son, we’ve been in the escort business for three generations. We have been able to expand to today’s scale and become the largest and most renowned Escort House

south of the Yangtze River. How did we accomplish this? First, because of the great fame of your great grandfather; second, because of the fighting techniques our ancestors have handed down, generation after generation.

Anyone mentioning the name of ‘Fortune Prestige Escort House’ will give a thumb’s up and say, ‘What fortune! What prestige!’ In the escorting business, reputation counts for twenty percent, real fighting skills count for twenty percent, but the final sixty percent depends on your relationship with both the unorthodox and orthodox members of the Martial World.” Blowing out another cloud of smoke, he continued.

“Think about it. Our wagons have to pass through ten different provinces. If we had to fight every time we went on a job, how many men would we have lost? Even if we won every single time, it would be like in the old saying: ‘To kill a thousand enemies, sacrifice eight hundred of your own.’ If any of our escorts were injured or killed on the job, the money we earned wouldn’t even be enough to cover the compensation to their families. Soon, we would run out of our own savings as well. That’s why we escorts have to know all the right people and spare no expense to

cultivate relationships. Connections are even more powerful than the fist.” “Yes, Father.” Lin Pingzhi answered. Under normal circumstances, he

would have become quite excited and asked many questions upon hearing about the business end of running the Escort House, yet today all he could think of were the words “Western Sichuan” and “Master Yu.” His heart pounded wildly.

“Your father’s Kung Fu is surely not as good as either your grandfather’s, or your great grandfather’s.” Lin Zhennan exhaled another

cloud of smoke. “But my management skills are definitely better than either of theirs. Your great grandfather founded the business in four provinces: from Fujian to Guangdong in the south, and north to Zhejiang and Jiangsu. I expanded the business to six more provinces: Shandong, Hebei, Hunan,

Hubei, Jiangxi and Guangxi. What’s the secret here? Let me tell you: make many friends and few enemies. Our Escort House is called ‘Fortune Prestige.’ Remember, fortune comes before prestige; this means fortune is more important than prestige. Fortune will only come if you keep ‘making many friends and few enemies.’ If we change it to ‘Prestige and Fortune,’ wouldn’t that mean we would ride roughshod over others for glory? Ha- ha!” Lin Pingzhi forced a hollow laugh, which was devoid of amusement.

Lin Zhennan didn’t notice his son’s uneasiness and went on. “The old saying goes, ‘Covet Sichuan after capturing Gansu.’11 But for us, it’s ‘Covet Sichuan after capturing Hubei.’ Our escort route starts from Fujian, goes west through Jiangxi and Hunan, and stops at Hubei. Why shouldn’t we continue all the way west, up the river into the province of Sichuan?

Sichuan is called the Heavenly Kingdom. There are lots of wealthy people there. If we made it through to Sichuan, we could go either north to Shanxi or south into Yunnan and Guizhou; our business would increase by at least another thirty percent. But Sichuan is a place of crouching tigers and hidden dragons. To do business there, we would have to have connections with the two schools, Qingcheng and Emei.12 For the past three years, I have been

sending valuable gifts to the Pine-Wind Temple of the Qingcheng Sword School and the Golden-Peak Temple of the Emei School every spring and

autumn, but neither school would accept our overtures. Priest Radiance, the Head Master of the Emei School, would at least greet the gift bearers, thank them and invite them in for a vegetarian meal, then return the gifts without even breaking the seal. Master Yu of the Pine-Wind Temple is even trickier. His apprentices would stop the gift bearers halfway up the mountain,

claiming that Master Yu was in Exclusive Meditation13 at the moment, and unable to see any guest. They would also claim that they already had

everything they needed in the temple, so that there was no need for any gifts. Our escorts couldn’t even tell which direction the gate of the Pine- Wind Temple faced, let alone meet Master Yu. When they came back, they were infuriated. If it weren’t because of the specific orders I gave them before the trip to behave with restraint and respect, regardless of how ill- treated they were, they would probably have called them all manner of names and picked several fights.” After these words, Lin Zhennan stood up, a proud smile blossoming on his face. “And guess what? At long last, Master Yu has accepted our gifts, and has even sent four of his apprentices to return the courtesy and thank us in person….”

“Four apprentices? Not two?” Lin Pingzhi asked breathlessly.

“Yes, four apprentices!” Lin Zhennan answered. “Master Yu is really handling this matter quite solemnly. This will make our Escort House look especially good!! I’ve just sent messengers to our branches in Jiangxi,

Hunan and Hubei, informing them of the news and told them to treat these four as our noble guests.”

“Father, when people from Sichuan speak, do they usually call others ‘son of a turtle’?” Lin Pingzhi suddenly blurted out a question.

“Only bumpkins from Sichuan speak that way. There are rustics

everywhere, and of course they are not taught proper manners. Listen to our own henchmen talk when they gamble. They’re no better. Why do you

ask?” Lin Zhennan chuckled.

“Never mind,” Lin Pingzhi replied quickly.

“When the four Qingcheng apprentices come, you should spend some good amount of time with them; watch and learn how students of prestigious schools act. Making friends with them will surely benefit you later on in life.”

Both father and son continued chatting some more, but Lin Pingzhi couldn’t make up his mind if he should tell his father about the incident at the wine shop, and finally decided that he would tell his mother first. After dinner, the family of three remained in the Back Hall to converse. Lin

Zhennan was having a discussion with his wife as to what gift to get for her brother’s birthday in June. It would be tricky to find something appropriate that the Golden-Blade Wang family in Luoyang14 would hold in high esteem.

Suddenly, uproar came from outside, and moments later, several people rushed into the room.

“Where are your manners?” Lin Zhennan frowned.

Three henchmen had burst in. The man in front muttered in a disturbed tone, “Chief…Chief Master….”

“What’s the matter?” Lin Zhennan snapped in annoyance.

“Bai…Bai is dead,” Henchman Chen blurted out the words.

Lin Zhennan was slightly astounded. “Who killed him? Gambling must’ve led to the quarrelling!” He became quite angry, thinking how hard it was to regulate the roughnecks of the Escort House. They would often fight and draw their knives for no reason. And, as the Escort House was headquartered in the capital of the province, it could be rather troublesome if someone was killed on their premise.

“No, it is not like that,” Chen explained hastily. “Xiao Li was going to the outhouse just a minute ago and saw Bai lying in the garden nearby. His body was already cold, but there’s not a single wound on the body. No one knows how he died. Must’ve been some kind of a disease.”

Lin Zhennan breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed immediately. “Let me go have a look.” He started walking toward the garden and Lin Pingzhi followed behind.

When they arrived at the yard, a number of escorts and henchmen had already gathered around the body. Seeing the arrival of the Chief Master, the crowd moved back. Lin Zhennan took a close look at Bai’s corpse. Bai’s clothes had been unbuttoned, and clearly, there were no bloodstains.

“No wounds at all?” Lin Zhennan asked Escort Zhu, who stood next to him. “I’ve examined the body carefully, and there’s not a single wound anywhere on the body. It does not look like poison either,” Escort Zhu replied, to which Lin Zhennan acknowledged with a nod.

“Tell Dong the bookkeeper to arrange a funeral for Bai, and don’t forget to send a hundred taels of silver to his family,” Lin Zhennan directed.

The death of a henchman due to illness was not something Lin Zhennan would pay much attention to. “Didn’t Bai go hunting with you today?” he asked Lin Pingzhi after walking back to the living room.

“Yes, he did. He looked fine when we got back. Who’d think he would catch a deadly disease so unexpectedly,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

“Many things in this world are like that,” Lin Zhennan commented. “Whether good or evil, they always happen in an unexpected manner. I’ve always wanted to open the escort trail through the province of Sichuan. I thought it would have taken at least another ten years. Who would have

expected that Master Yu would somehow be prompted by some sudden impulse to not only accept my gifts, but to also send four apprentices such a long way to thank us?”

“Father, although the Qingcheng Sword School is well-renowned, our Fortune Prestige Escort House is fairly famous too. We have been sending gifts to Sichuan year after year; it’s only natural for Master Yu to send people our way to show his gratitude as well.”

“What do you know?” Lin Zhennan chuckled. “Qingcheng and Emei have been around for hundreds of years. They’ve had many outstanding disciples in their schools. Maybe they aren’t as famous as Shaolin or Wutang,15 but they certainly have enough fame to be placed next to Songshan, Taishan, Hengshan, Huashan, and Heng-Shan of the Five

Mountains Sword Alliance.16 Your great grandfather, Sir Yuantu, founded

the seventy-two moves of ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art.’ This set of sword techniques shocked the entire Martial Arts Society and gained him great fame. You could say that he never met his match in swordplay. After this sword style was passed on to your grandfather, its eminence declined. It

was then passed on to me, and I am afraid that it has declined even more in my hands. The Lin Family had only one child in each generation for the last three generations. We don’t even have any apprentices. With only you and me, we really don’t have the same kind of manpower that those other

schools have.”

“We could gather all the people from our Escort Houses in the ten provinces, and then we could take on any of them – Shaolin, Wutang, Emei, Qingcheng, or the Five Mountains Sword Alliance,” Lin Pingzhi declared.

Lin Zhennan was amused. “Son, it’s alright to say something like that when you are talking to me. But if you had said those words to an outsider, you’d get into a lot of trouble. The eighty-four escorts we have at our ten Escort Houses, each has his own specialty. Of course, when we all gather together, we aren’t afraid of anyone, but what do we gain by beating other people? It is well said that manners and amicability make great fortunes; this is especially true for us in the escort business. What are we going to lose by being humble? Let the others go around showing off.”

“Oh no! Escort Zheng is dead too!” somebody suddenly yelled out from outside. Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi were both dumbstruck.

Lin Pingzhi jumped out of his chair and muttered, “They’re back for re…!” It took him great effort to finally swallow the word “revenge” back down his throat. Lin Zhennan was already on his way out and didn’t catch what Lin Pingzhi had just said.

Henchman Chen rushed in and yelled incoherently, “Chief…Chief Master! Trouble! Escort Zheng…Escort Zheng’s spirit is possessed by the Sichuan demon too.” “Stop this nonsense! What Sichuan demon?” Lin Zhennan roared with a stern face.

“Sir! The demon…the man from Sichuan was already very ferocious when he was alive; naturally he would be more terrifying after death…,”

Chen said lamely. Seeing the Chief Master’s hard countenance, he dared not continue, and only looked to Lin Pingzhi with a mixed expression of fear

and grief.

“Did you say Escort Zheng was dead? Where’s the body? How did he die?” Lin Zhennan asked impatiently.

Several more escorts and henchmen rushed into the hall. “Brother Zheng died in the stable,” one escort answered with a frown. “He died in exactly the same way as Henchman Bai. There wasn’t a single wound on

his body, and no bleeding could be found from any aperture. No swelling on his face either. Maybe…maybe they became haunted by some kind of demon when they…when they went hunting with the Young Master.”

Lin Zhennan snorted. “I’ve lived all my life without ever seeing either a ghost or a demon. Let’s go take a look.” He walked out of the hall and into the stable.

Escort Zheng’s body lay on the ground, his hands still holding onto a saddle. Apparently, he had been taking the saddle off before his sudden demise. There was no sign of any struggle.

As it was already dark outside, Lin Zhennan asked a henchman to hold a lantern while he examined Escort Zheng. He carefully checked all parts of the corpse, including all the major bones, but failed to find any sign of injury – not even a broken finger. Lin Zhennan was not superstitious.

When Bai had died suddenly, it was just a strange occurrence. Now, that Escort Zheng died in the exact same way, it had to be more than a

coincidence. If they died of plague or some kind of disease, why were there no red or black spots on the bodies? Could the two deaths have been related to something that happened during his son’s hunting trip?

He turned around and asked Lin Pingzhi, “Besides Escort Zheng and Henchman Bai, it was just Escort Shi and him who went hunting with you, right?” He indicated Henchman Chen.

Lin Pingzhi nodded.

“You two come with me,” Lin Zhennan said firmly. Turning to

another henchman, he instructed, “Go ask Escort Shi to report to the East Hall immediately. I want to have a word with him.”

Soon, the three arrived at the East Hall. “What really happened?” Lin Zhennan asked his son. Lin Pingzhi hastily confessed and told his father all about the trouble he had at the wine shop: how they went in for some drinks; how the two men from Sichuan accosted the girl, which resulted in the fight; how the fight broke out and the man attempted to push Lin’s head down to kowtow; how he pulled out a dagger and killed that person; and how they buried the body in the back garden and gave old man Sa some

silver to keep him quiet. He told everything there was to tell, without leaving anything out.

The more Lin Zhennan heard, the more concerned he became. But still, getting into a fight with an outsider and having it result in his death was not the end of the world. He listened to the whole story from his son without turning a hair. When Lin Pingzhi finished, he pondered in silence for a moment and then asked, “Did these two fellows ever mention which clan or gang they belonged to?”

“Not a word,” Lin Pingzhi answered quickly.

“When they spoke or did things, did you notice anything unusual?” Lin Zhennan inquired further.

“I didn’t see anything unusual. The fellow Yu….” “Did you say the man’s name was Yu?” Lin Zhennan interrupted.

“Yes. I heard the other guy calling him Brother Yu. But it might have been something else. They had accents, so I couldn’t understand them too well.”

“It can’t be! It can’t be a coincidence. Master Yu said he was going to send someone over; how could they have arrived at Fuzhou so quickly?

They don’t have wings,” Lin Zhennan shook his head and muttered to himself.

“Father, you don’t think those two were from the Qingcheng Sword School, do you?” Lin Pingzhi’s voice quivered.

Lin Zhennan did not answer; instead, he performed a move and asked, “When you attacked him using this move from the Universe Hands, how did he fend it off?”

“He couldn’t fend off that move, so I slapped him hard on the face,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

“Good! Very good! Excellent!” Lin Zhennan smiled.

The room had been filled with foreboding, but now that Lin Zhennan showed a smile, Lin Pingzhi felt quite relieved and could not help smiling himself.

“When you hit him with this move, how did he respond?” Lin Zhennan asked again, performing more different moves as he spoke.

“I was infuriated at the time, and can’t remember too well. I think I punched him in the chest,” Lin Pingzhi replied.

Hearing that, Lin Zhennan became even more relaxed. “Very good!

Your move should have hit him that way. If he couldn’t even block a simple move like that, he couldn’t be a close relative to the famous Master Yu of the Qingcheng Sword School, Pine-Wind Temple.” He kept saying “very good,” but he wasn’t complementing his son’s fighting skills; he was just relieved. There must be many people named Yu in the province of Sichuan; if this particular Yu could not even beat his son, he must have been a terrible fighter. Such a rotten fighter definitely had nothing to do with the Qingcheng Sword School. He kept tapping on the table with his right middle finger as he pondered upon the situation.

“How did he grab hold of your head?” he asked, and Lin Pingzhi demonstrated how he couldn’t move when his head was held.

Henchman Chen also felt much encouraged. “Bai was trying to poke him with a hunting fork,” he interrupted, “but the fork was knocked out by the guy’s back kick and then Bai was also kicked down.”

Lin Zhennan felt a shock run through his spine. He asked immediately, “He kicked Bai with a back kick and then kicked the fork out of his hands? How…how did he perform those kicks?”

“It was something like this.” Chen grabbed the back of a chair and threw a reverse kick with his right foot, then jumped and threw another back kick with his left foot. These two kicks looked very clumsy, almost like a horse kicking back its hind legs. Lin Pingzhi watched the two clumsy kicks and could not help laughing. “Dad, see….” But then seeing the fearful expression on his father’s face, he stopped abruptly.

“These two kicks seem to be the unique “Shadowless Kick” maneuver of Qingcheng. Son, how did he perform the kicks exactly?” Lin Zhennan inquired.

“My head was held at that moment. I couldn’t see how he kicked,” Lin Pingzhi said.

“Of course! I’d better ask Escort Shi.” Lin Zhennan exited the room and yelled, “Where is Escort Shi? Why isn’t he here yet?” Two henchmen came over and reported that nobody had yet to be able to find Escort Shi. Feeling the uneasiness growing inside him rapidly, Lin Zhennan paced up and down in the garden hall, thinking, “If the two kicks were indeed the “Shadowless Kick” technique, then even if the fellow was not a close relative of Master Yu, he must’ve had some kind of connection with the Qingcheng Sword School. If that’s the case, then who was he?” He finally decided to check it out himself. So he ordered the henchmen, “Go get Escort Cui and Escort Ji.”

Escorts Cui and Ji were the careful types, both experienced and prudent, and well trusted by Lin Zhennan. Having heard about the sudden death of Escort Zheng and the disappearance of Escort Shi, they were

already waiting outside the hall. As soon as they heard their names called, both walked into the room.

“We need to go check something out,” Lin Zhennan explained. “Escort Cui, Escort Ji, my son, and Chen, come with me.”

With Lin Pingzhi leading the way, the group of five rode out of town, and headed north. Soon, they arrived at the small wine shop. The door of the shop was shut.

“Old man Sa, old man Sa! Open the door,” Lin Pingzhi pounded on the door and called out. He knocked and knocked, but there was no response.

Escort Cui signaled to Lin Zhennan if they should bash down the door. After getting a nod from Lin Zhennan, he struck the door with both hands. With a resounding crack, the door’s bolt snapped, and the swinging doors squeaked back and forth on the rusty hinges.

Escort Cui pulled Lin Pingzhi to the side as soon as he forced the door open. They waited until they were sure that there was no sound

coming from within. Lighting a fire, they entered, and then lit an oil lamp sitting on the table along with two lanterns. They searched both the interior and exterior of the shop, yet found no one. However, blankets, trunks, and other everyday accessories were still in the shop.

“The old fellow got scared. There was a murder here and the body was even buried right in the back garden. He was afraid of getting into trouble, so he just ran off,” Lin Zhennan said with a nod. Walking into the garden and pointing to a hoe that was leaning against the wall, he

commanded, “Chen, dig the body up.”

Chen was nearly convinced that the whole crisis had been caused by demons, so after digging only a short while, he felt his limbs getting stiffer and stiffer. He felt so weak that his legs started to give out.

“Utterly useless! How can you even call yourself a henchman?” Escort Ji yelled at him sternly.

He handed his lantern to Chen, took the hoe from him, and then began digging. Not long after, the clothes of the dead body appeared. He dug a little deeper and then levering the hoe beneath the corpse, he gave a strong tug, and lifted the body out of the hole.

Chen turned his head away, afraid to look. But gasps of shock

suddenly came from the other four. Scared to death, Chen dropped the lantern. The light was extinguished and the garden was enveloped in complete darkness.

Lin Pingzhi’s voice quavered when he muttered uneasily, “We definitely buried the Sichuan guy’s body, how come…how come….”

“Light the lantern!” Lin Zhennan ordered. He had been keeping calm since the strange events started, but now there was fear in his voice.

Escort Cui lit the lantern, and Lin Zhennan bent down to check on the body. Minutes later, he declared, “Same kind of death, not a single wound at all.” Chen finally gathered enough courage to glance at the body, and then he screamed, “Escort Shi! It’s Escort Shi!” The body they had dug out was that of Escort Shi, and the corpse of the man from Sichuan had vanished.

“Something seems strange about this old man Sa,” Lin Zhennan said.

He grabbed the lantern and hurried back into the room, looking over

everything very carefully. But he couldn’t find anything unusual, even after inspecting everything in the room – in the wine jugs, underneath the stoves, in the iron pot, and under the table and chairs. Escorts Cui and Ji, and Lin Pingzhi also began examining the different rooms.

“Father, come here and look at this,” Lin Pingzhi shouted out suddenly.

Following the sound of his son’s voice, Lin Zhennan found Lin Pingzhi in the girl’s bedroom holding a green handkerchief in his hand.

“Father, how could a poor girl have a handkerchief like this?” Lin Pingzhi asked, his voice quavering with excitement.

Lin Zhennan took the handkerchief from Lin Pingzhi’s hands and

examined it carefully. A trace of some kind of light, but sweet, scent soon caught his attention. The handkerchief was very soft and smooth, yet also

quite heavy. It was obviously made from high-quality silk. When he looked at it more carefully, he found three levels of green thread sealing the edges of the handkerchief. In one corner, a small red coral branch was

embroidered in great detail.

“Where did you find this?” Lin Zhennan asked.

“It fell underneath the corner of the bed. Maybe they didn’t see it when they packed and left in such a hurry,” Lin Pingzhi suggested.

Lin Zhennan put his lantern close to the bed and searched, but found nothing else. He muttered, “You said that the girl was very ugly. I suppose she wasn’t wearing very expensive clothing, but was she dressed very neatly?”

“I didn’t pay much attention. I am sure her dress wasn’t filthy, because I would have noticed when she poured wine for me,” Lin Pingzhi replied eagerly.

“Brother Cui, what do you think?” Lin Zhennan turned to Escort Cui. “I think this old man and the young girl must be involved with the

deaths of Escorts Shi and Zheng, and Henchman Bai. It’s even possible that they were the actual killers,” Escort Cui concluded.

“The two fellows from Sichuan must have been in on it too; otherwise, why would they move the dead body?” Escort Ji added.

“But that fellow Yu was harassing the girl. I wouldn’t have called him names otherwise. They can’t be working together,” Lin Pingzhi objected.

“Young Master,” Escort Cui explained, “you may not realize it, but we are living in a very dangerous world, and people may intentionally set

traps into which others may fall. It happens all the time. Two people pretend to fight, and when someone comes to try and separate them, the two will

suddenly turn on him.”

“Chief Master, what’s your opinion on this?” Escort Ji asked.

“The old man and the young girl must have come for us. I am just not sure if those two fellows from Sichuan were in league with them,” Lin Zhennan replied.

“Father, didn’t you say that Master Yu of Pine-Wind Temple sent four people over. There…there were exactly four people,” Lin Pingzhi muttered restlessly.

These words struck Lin Zhennan like a hammer. “The Fortune Prestige Escort House has always shown great respect to the Qingcheng Sword School, and has never done anything to displease them. Why would Master Yu send people to stir up trouble? Why?!” he muttered to himself.

The four just looked at each other in silence; no one could think of anything to say. After a long while, Lin Zhennan finally spoke.

“Let’s move Escort Shi’s body inside first. When we get back to the Escort House, don’t mention this to anyone. We don’t want the authorities to know about this and cause any unnecessary trouble. Humph, the Lin family respects others and wants no trouble, but that doesn’t mean we are cowards who won’t fight back.”

“Chief Master,” Escort Ji agreed heartily, “like the old saying goes, ‘Keeping an army for a year just for one battle.’ All of us will fight for the honor of the Escort House.”

“Many thanks!” Lin Zhennan nodded.

The party headed back to town. Just as they were about to reach the Escort House, they saw a big crowd gathered in front of the gate. Countless torches lit the street, turning the night into day. Lin Zhennan’s heart missed a beat. He rushed forward.

“Chief Master is back!” several people cried out.

Lin Zhennan dismounted his horse and saw that his wife, Madam Wang, looking extremely angry.

“Look! Humph, someone is trying to challenge us in our home,” she exclaimed.

A pair of broken poles lay on the street; each had a flag attached to the end. These were the flags of the Escort House; someone had cut down the two flagpoles and left them lying on the ground. The broken ends were very smooth, apparently cut with a very sharp blade.

Madam Wang was not carrying a weapon, so she drew Lin Zhennan’s long sword out from the sheath at his waist. With two sharp tearing sounds, she cut off the two flags from the broken flagpoles. Picking up the flags, she went inside through the gate.

“Escort Cui, cut the stumps of the two flagpoles down,” Lin Zhennan instructed. “Humph, it won’t be an easy task to take down the Fortune Prestige Escort House!”

“Yes, sir,” Escort Cui answered.

“Damn them! What a bunch of cowards they are, only daring to play these dirty tricks when the Chief Master is not at home,” Escort Ji cursed.

Lin Zhennan beckoned his son and the two went into the house while Escort Ji poured out even more profanities. Father and son went into the East Hall where Madam Wang had already spread the flags on two tables. On one of the flags, the eyes of the yellow lion had been cut out, leaving two empty holes. On the other flag, the word “Prestige” had been cut out from the name “Fortune Prestige Escort House.”

Lin Zhennan was a patient man with an even temper, but even he could not stand these insults any longer. He struck the table with a resounding blow. One leg of the sandalwood table broke with a crack.

“Father, it’s…entirely my fault. I got the family into this situation!” Lin Pingzhi trembled.

“Yes, the Lin family has killed someone. So what? If I ever saw a punk like him, I’d kill him too!” Lin Zhennan roared.

“Who got killed?” Madam Wang asked in surprise.

“Pingzhi, tell your mother about it,” Lin Zhennan said.

So Lin Pingzhi told Madam Wang everything that had happened: How he killed the man from Sichuan, how they found the body of Escort Shi in the garden of the wine shop, and so forth.

Madam Wang had heard about the mysterious deaths of Henchman

Bai and Escort Zheng. At the news of the death of Escort Shi, she exploded. “Husband, how can we let others push the Fortune Prestige Escort

House around like this? Let’s gather our people and go seek justice from the Qingcheng Sword School in Sichuan. We can also invite my father and my brothers to join us.”

Since her youth, Madam Wang had been known for having a bad temper. As a maiden, she had no qualms about pulling out a knife for even the smallest of disagreements. Her family, the Golden Blade Wang Family, was a large and powerful family in the city of Luoyang. Everyone would defer to her out of respect for her father, the Unbeatable Golden Blade,

Wang Yuanba. Even now, after her son was already a grown man, her hot temper still had not improved much.

“We are still not sure who our enemy is. It might not even be the

Qingcheng Sword School. But whoever they are, I doubt they’d stop at two broken flagpoles and two dead escorts…,” Lin Zhennan replied when he

was suddenly interrupted by the bellowing voice of Madam Wang. “What else do they want?”

Lin Zhennan cast a sideways glance at Lin Pingzhi and Madam Wang understood instantly. Her heart started pumping fiercely, and her face paled with fear.

“I caused all the trouble. A true man should take full responsibility for his own actions. I won’t…won’t be afraid.” Lin Pingzhi’s words were brave enough, but his trembling voice gave him away.

“Humph, they’ll have to pass through me first before they can get to you,” Madam Wang exclaimed. “The banner of the Fortune Prestige Escort House has been held high for three generations. We’ve never lost our glory.” She turned to Lin Zhennan. “If we can’t even settle this little problem, what good are we? How can we look at ourselves in the mirror for the rest of our lives?” Lin Zhennan nodded to Madam Wang in agreement. “I’ll send people to search the town for new faces. Meanwhile, I’ll have more people on patrol around the Escort House. You wait here with Pingzhi. Don’t let him run around by himself.”

“Yes, I understand!” Madam Wang acknowledged.

The couple both understood that Lin Pingzhi would undoubtedly be the next target. The enemy was hidden in the dark while they themselves were exposed under the light. Even if Lin Pingzhi only stepped out of the Escort House for one minute, he would be in grave danger.

Lin Zhennan walked to the Main Hall and gathered the escorts,

sending some people to go check out the town, and instructing the rest to patrol the Escort House. All the escorts had heard about the situation. The flagpole of the Escort House being cut down was a slap in the face for each and every one of them. Infuriated, they had already dressed themselves in uniforms and taken up arms. Upon the command of the Chief Master, they instantly obeyed the order wholeheartedly.

Lin Zhennan felt a measure of relief as he witnessed the entire Escort House working in unison, preparing to defend its honor. Walking back inside, he spoke to Lin Pingzhi.

“Pingzhi, your mom hasn’t been well for the last couple of days. The enemy will soon be coming; why don’t you move into the room outside her bedroom to guard her?”

“I don’t need…,” Madam Wang rejected, but before finishing the

sentence, she suddenly realized what her husband really meant. He wasn’t asking their son to guard her; instead, he was really trying to have their son close by, so they could protect him. Their son was a very sensitive and proud young man. If they had asked him to hide behind them, he would probably feel humiliated, and go straight out to challenge the enemy to a fight. That would be too dangerous! So she immediately swallowed the second half of the sentence down her throat.

“That’s right, Pingzhi. Mom is having joint problems these days; both my arms and legs feel weak. Your father needs to take care of the Escort

House and can’t be accompanying me all the time. If the enemy gets in, I won’t be able to fight them off.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Lin Pingzhi stated without hesitation.

That night Lin Pingzhi slept on the bed just outside his parents’ room.

The couple left the door open. Placing their weapons right next to their pillows, they slept dressed, so that they could jump up to fight at any time.

The night passed uneventfully until dawn, when someone outside the window called in a low voice, “Young Master? Young Master!”

Lin Pingzhi had not been able to sleep for the most of the night, and had just fallen asleep, so he didn’t wake up.

“What’s the matter?” Lin Zhennan asked.

“The Young Master’s horse…the horse is dead!” the man outside

answered. Lin Pingzhi loved his horse very much, so as soon as the horse’s groom found out about the calamity, he rushed to tell Lin Pingzhi.

Roused by the words, Lin Pingzhi sat up in bed. “Let me go look.”

Lin Zhennan knew that once again, something had gone terribly

wrong, so he hurried to the stable with Lin Pingzhi. The body of the horse lay on the ground. It had been dead for quite some time. As before, there was not a single wound on the corpse.

“Did you hear any noise last night?” Lin Zhennan asked. “No, sir!” the groom answered.

“Don’t get upset. I’ll see to it that you receive another good colt.” Lin Zhennan patted Lin Pingzhi gingerly on the shoulder, as Lin Pingzhi quietly caressed the horse’s corpse, tears emerging from his eyes. All of a sudden, Henchman Chen burst into the stables shouting in panic, “Chief…Chief Master, it’s terrible…horrible! All those escorts…the escorts were killed by the demon!”

“What did you say?” Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi asked in unison, their voices filled with incredulity.

“Dead, all dead!” Henchman Chen kept muttering uncontrollably. “Who is dead?” Lin Pingzhi demanded angrily. He grabbed Chen’s

collar and shook him hard.

“Young…Young Master…dead!” Chen mumbled dazedly.

Hearing the words “Young Master dead,” Lin Zhennan was most disturbed. But he did not want to yell at Chen for saying those ominous words, afraid of revealing his uneasiness.

“Where’s the Chief Master? We’d better report this to him fast,” a man’s urgent voice floated in from the outside. “The demon is so vicious, what…what can we do?” another voice asked timidly.

“I am over here! What’s going on?” Lin Zhennan shouted loudly towards them, who, in turn, rushed over. It was an escort, followed by three henchmen.

“Chief Master, not a single escort we sent out made it back,” the leading escort said.

Lin Zhennan had expected news of someone’s death when he heard the commotion. But he had sent out a total of twenty-three escorts and henchmen to gather information last night; how could all of them have been wiped out?

“Well, are you sure they’re dead?” he asked hurriedly. “Maybe they’re still investigating and just haven’t gotten back in time.”

The escort shook his head. “We have already found seventeen bodies….” “Seventeen bodies?” Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi cried out in unison.

Fear written all over his face, the escort confirmed with a nod. “Yes, seventeen bodies. Among them were Escorts Fu, Qian, and Wu. All of the bodies are in the Front Hall at this very moment.”

Without saying another word, Lin Zhennan hurried to the Front Hall. All the tables and chairs in the hall had been moved against the walls, and seventeen bodies lay on the floor in no particular order. Although Lin Zhennan was not a novice in handling difficult situations, when he took in the horrible scene in front of him, his hands could not help trembling and his knees almost gave out.

“Why…Why…Why?” he muttered, his voice so dry that the others could barely hear him.

“Alas, Escort Gao was an honest and diligent man; who’d expect that the demon would not spare him, either.” Voices came from outside the Front Hall, and seconds later, five neighbors walked into the front hall, carrying a door plank. A dead body lay on top of it.

“When I opened my door this morning, I saw him lying dead in the middle of the street,” one of the neighbors explained. “I recognized him as Escort Gao from your Escort House. I figured he probably had some kind of plague, so I asked a couple of neighbors to help me carry him back to your Escort House.”

“Many thanks! Many thanks!” Lin Zhennan cupped his hands17 and bowed. Turning toward a henchman standing by the side, he instructed,

“Give three taels of silver to each of these wonderful neighbors. You can go to the bookkeeper to get the money.”

Frightened by all the dead bodies in the hall, the neighbors thanked Lin Zhennan and hurried away, and before long, the bodies of four more escorts were sent back. Lin Zhennan counted the bodies which totaled twenty-two in all. Escort Chu’s was the only one not among them, but it might not be long before his body was found somewhere.

Lin Zhennan walked back to the East Hall. Pouring a cup of hot tea for himself, he tried to calm down, but that didn’t help. Still feeling

completely dumbfounded, he walked out the gate and looked around. The stumps of the two broken flagpoles had been taken away, but he found himself even more disturbed. The foes had killed over twenty people in the Escort House, but had never actually shown themselves; they never

formally announced their intentions, nor did they reveal their true identities.

He turned around and glared at the big sign bearing the golden words

“Fortune Prestige Escort House,” thinking, “The Fortune Prestige Escort House has been renowned for decades. Will it come to ruin in my hands?”

Then he heard the sound of hoof beats approaching from the street. A horse slowly trotted toward the Escort House, and a man lay slumped back on the saddle. Lin Zhennan walked to the horse, and he wasn’t surprised to see that it was Escort Chu. The enemy must have killed him and just left the body on the horse. The horse remembered the way home and came back, all by itself.

Lin Zhennan let out a deep sigh as tears poured down his face and fell on the body of Escort Chu. “Brother Chu,” he murmured as he carried the body into the hall, “if I can’t avenge you, I’d rather die. Why…why did you leave so hurriedly without even telling us the name of your killer?”

Escort Chu was just a regular escort in the Escort House, and not particularly close to Lin Zhennan. Lin Zhennan’s tears were shed more out of frustration than from the sadness of losing a friend.

Madam Wang stood in front of the hall holding her golden saber in her left hand. Pointing at the courtyard with her right hand, she shouted challengingly.

“You cursed murderers! Why are you hiding yourselves and sneaking around? If you are real men, I dare you to come to the Fortune Prestige Escort House and fight a real fight. Aren’t you afraid of being looked down with all of this sneaking around?”

“Did you see anything?” Lin Zhennan asked his wife in a whisper as he placed Escort Chu’s body down on the ground.

“No, I didn’t see anything,” Madam Wang growled. “These rotten lowlifes must be frightened of our Lin Family’s seventy-two moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art.” She waved the saber in the air and continued, “They are frightened of the golden saber in my hand, too!”

Suddenly, a snickering sound rose from a corner of the roof, and then with a hiss of wind, an object zipped through the air and struck the spine of the golden saber. Madam Wang felt a shock run through her arm and she had to let go of the weapon. The saber flew into the air and landed in the middle of the courtyard.

Wasting no time, Lin Zhennan unsheathed his sword and jumped up onto the roof, and with a move called “Cast Upon Demons,” the tip of his sword danced like the scatter of falling petals and flew toward the origin of the attack. Having not been able to face his enemies, he found his anger growing over the past couple of days and it now reached the point of

explosion. Sparing no strength, he attacked with full force. But the attack hit nothing. The corner of the roof was completely empty; there wasn’t even a shadow. He jumped onto the roof of the east room, but found no one there either.

Madam Wang and Lin Pingzhi also jumped up onto the roof with their weapons drawn. Filled with fury, Madam Wang snarled. “Damn you! You son of a dog! Be a man; come out and fight. Are you scared? What kind of shameless cowards are you?”

“Where did that son of a dog go? Who was he?” she asked Lin Zhennan.

Lin Zhennan shook his head. “Keep your voice down,” he whispered.

The three searched the entire roof and then jumped back down to the courtyard.

“What hit your saber?” Lin Zhennan asked in a low voice.

“Damn that son of a dog! I don’t know,” Madam Wang snapped.

They searched the courtyard but could find neither darts nor other missiles. The only thing they were able to find were small grains of bricks spread over the floor under the osmanthus tree. Obviously the attacker had hit Madam Wang’s saber with just a small piece of brick, and it was quite frightening to imagine that such a small piece of brick could have carried such great power. Seeing the fragments of brick, Madam Wang stopped

cursing. Her anger was quenched, and completely replaced with fear. She froze for a moment, and then walked silently into the room.

After her husband and son entered, Madam Wang shut the door behind them. “The enemy is too skillful. We’re not in the same class. What…what shall we…?” she whispered nervously.

“We can ask for help from friends. It’s perfectly normal for people to help each other in a time of need,” Lin Zhennan replied.

“We have many true friends that we can trust, but how many of them can fight better than we can? The ones that are no better than us won’t be of any help anyway,” Madam Wang questioned.

“Yes, you are right,” Lin Zhennan admitted, “but the more people, the more brain power. It might not be a bad idea to ask them for ideas.”

“Fine! Who do you think we should ask?” Madam Wang asked. “Let’s get friends who live close by first,” Lin Zhennan suggested. “I will transfer all the elite fighters from our Escort Houses in Hangzhou,

Nanchang and Guangzhou here, and also invite famous Kung-Fu masters in our province and the neighboring three provinces.”

“Don’t you think that would hurt the reputation of the Fortune Prestige Escort House?” Madam Wang frowned.

“Wife, you are thirty-nine years old this year, right?” Lin Zhennan suddenly asked out of the blue.

“Why are you suddenly asking about my age? I was born in the year

18

of the Tiger; don’t you remember how old I am?” Madam Wang spat at

him.

“I’ll be sending out invitations for your fortieth birthday party…,” Lin Zhennan said when Madam Wang quickly cut him short grouchily.

“Why the hell are you so interested in seeing me get a year older?

You think I’m not old enough already?”

“You’re not old at all! You don’t even have a single gray hair.” Lin Zhennan shook his head. “I am using your fortieth birthday as an excuse, so when we invite relatives and friends over, we won’t arouse any suspicion.

When everybody arrives, we shall only tell our close friends the true story, then there will be no damage to our reputation,” he explained.

Madam Wang thought about it for a while and finally agreed. “Very well! It is your decision. But what do I get for a birthday present?”

“A big one! Let’s have a cute, fat, baby boy next year!” Lin Zhennan whispered in her ear.

“Bah, you old goat! Still talking nonsense in such a crisis.” Madam Wang’s face went scarlet, and she spat at her husband half in annoyance.

Lin Zhennan grinned, and then left for the bookkeeper’s office so he could arrange to have the invitations sent out. The joke was just to ease his wife’s fear; he, himself, was still deeply worried. “Water a mile away can not put out a fire at hand. Terrible things will most probably happen again in the Escort House this very night. When our friends arrive, there might not be a Fortune Prestige Escort House waiting for them,” he thought to himself.

When Lin Zhennan arrived at the door of the bookkeeper’s office, he was greeted by two very frightened servants.

“Chief…Chief…Chief Master…something horrible…horrible has happened,” one of them mumbled in a trembling voice,

“What’s the matter?” Lin Zhennan asked.

“Bookkeeper Mr. Dong just sent Lin Fu to go buy some coffins, and right…right after he turned the corner on East Street, he fell to the ground dead,” said the servant fearfully.

“What? Where’s the body?” “Still lying on the street.”

“Go bring the body back here,” Lin Zhennan directed. “Now, our

enemies are becoming more reckless. They even dare to commit murder in broad daylight, and right in the middle of the street,” he thought inwardly.

“Yes, sir…yes, sir…!” the two servants answered, but neither of them moved an inch.

“Well?” Lin Zhennan roared.

“Chief Master, you’d better go have…have a look…at….”

Lin Zhennan knew something bizarre must have just happened again.

He gave a snort and walked toward the gate. Three escorts and five henchmen were already there. They stared through the gate, all looking very frightened.

“What’s going on?” Lin Zhennan demanded, and then saw for himself before anybody had a chance to answer. At about ten paces from the gate, an inch-wide line was drawn on the stone slab street in blood. Words also written in blood next to the line read, “Cross the Line and Die.”

“When was this drawn? Did anyone see who did it?” asked Lin Zhennan immediately.

“Earlier, when Lin Fu died on East Street, everybody was crowding around him to see what was happening. There was no one here. I don’t know who would do such a thing,” an escort answered.

Lin Zhennan raised his voice and said loudly, “I, Lin Zhennan, am tired of living; I’d like to see how I’m going to die, after I cross this line.” He strode out of the gate.

“Chief Master!” Two of the escorts cried out.

Lin Zhennan waved them off and stepped over the line. The blood used to draw the line and the words was still wet. He scuffed the words out with the bottom of his shoes and then went back through the gate.

“This is just an attempt to scare us,” he said to the three escorts.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Brothers, would you please first go to the coffin shop, and then make a visit to the Heavenly-Peace Temple in the

west end of town to have the monks come over for a mass to calm the souls, deliver them from purgatory, and drive away the evil spirits?”

The three escorts watched the Chief Master stepping over the bloody line with their own eyes. Seeing that no harm had befallen him, they were quite relieved. After getting their weapons, they walked out the gate side by side. Lin Zhennan watched them stepping over the bloody line and rounding the corner of the street. He waited a little bit longer and then went back into the house.

Walking into the bookkeeper’s office, Lin Zhennan said to

Bookkeeper Huang, “Mr. Huang, will you please write some invitations to

some relatives and friends for a wine party in honor of my wife’s birthday?” “Of course, sir! And which day would that be?” Bookkeeper Huang asked.

Suddenly, sounds of running steps came from outside. A man rushed in through the gate. Lin Zhennan stuck his head out and heard a loud thud. Someone had fallen. Hurrying to the place where the sound came from, Lin Zhennan saw Escort Di, one of the three escorts he just sent to the coffin

shop, laying on the ground. He was barely alive.

“Brother Di, are you alright?” Lin Zhennan held him in his arms and asked frantically.

“They’re all dead, I…I…I ran back,” Escort Di gasped. “Who did this to you?”

“Don’t…don’t know…don’t know….” Then after a couple of shudders, Escort Di lay still.

Within minutes, everyone in the Escort House heard the news.

Madam Wang and Lin Pingzhi both came out and all they heard from the crowd was: “Cross the Line and Die.”

“I’ll retrieve the bodies of the other two escorts,” Lin Zhennan said with determination.

“Chief…Chief Master…you can’t go,” Bookkeeper Huang muttered. “Great courage brings great rewards. Thirty taels of silver for the one that… that brings the bodies back.” He made the announcement three times, but no one answered.

“Where is Pingzhi? Pingzhi? Pingzhi?” Madam Wang suddenly shrieked frantically, her voice filled with fear.

“Young Master! Young Master!” everyone started calling together with Madam Wang.

“I am here!” Lin Pingzhi’s voice floated in from outside the gate. With a surge of relieved happiness, everyone rushed to the gate, and rounding the street corner was Lin Pingzhi, with a body draped over each shoulder – he was carrying back the two dead escorts. With weapons in

their hands, Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang both rushed over the bloodline to guard Lin Pingzhi’s back.

“What a brave young man the Young Master is! He has great

courage!” all the escorts and henchmen cheered, while Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang were both filled with pride for their son.

“Child, that was too reckless. These two escorts were good friends, but they were already dead. It wasn’t worth the risk,” Madam Wang said reprovingly.

Lin Pingzhi managed a smile, but deep inside, he was miserable. “The whole affair is my fault,” he thought to himself. “It is all because I couldn’t contain myself and killed that guy; so many people have died because of me. If I only worry about my own life like a coward, how can I bear to ever look at myself again?”

“Unbelievable, Mr. Hua is dead too!” Suddenly shouts came from the back room.

“What happened?” Lin Zhennan shouted as the steward of the Escort House walked out in quick steps.

“Chief Master,” the steward said fearfully, “Mr. Hua went out the back door to shop for some vegetables, and he just dropped dead about ten paces out the back door. There are the same…the same words in blood.”

Mr. Hua was a cook in the Escort House. His cooking skills were top notch; he was quite famous for his “White-Gourd Pot,” “Buddha Over the Wall,”19 “Pickled Fish,” and “Fish-wrap Wonton.” He was Lin Zhennan’s secret weapon when he wanted to socialize with local officials and rich business owners. But Hua was just a cook, neither an escort, nor a henchman. It was an unwritten rule that wagon-pullers, sedan-carriers, grooms, and porters were to be left alone when bandits raided escort convoys. With enemies so ruthless, it would probably result in a massacre of the entire Escort House. Lin Zhennan shivered at the thought.

“Don’t be afraid.” He tried to calm everyone. “Humph, these damn bandits only have the guts to attack when one is off guard. You’ve all seen the Young Master, Madam Wang, and I step across the line. What did those damn thugs do? Nothing? They dared do nothing.”

Everybody agreed obsequiously, yet no one dared to step out of the gate. Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang frowned at each other and neither had any idea what to do.

That night Lin Zhennan scheduled the escorts to guard the Escort House, but when he checked upon them, he found no one on duty. All the escorts just huddled within the hall. When they saw the Chief Master, all stood up looking embarrassed, yet no one wanted to move. Lin Zhennan knew that the enemy was just too vicious, and after the deaths of so many

people, he still had not come up with a solution. No wonder everyone was so scared. So he uttered a few words of comfort, ordered servants to bring wine and dishes to the hall, and then drank together with the escorts.

Greatly worried, each one just drank the wine silently, and no one talked much. Not long after, many became drunk and fell asleep.

The following noon, several horses suddenly thundered out of the Escort House. After a short investigation, Lin Zhennan found that five escorts simply could not bear the stress and had fled without notice. He shook his head and sighed.

“When trouble comes, each bird will fly in its own direction. I can no longer take care of each of you, brothers. If you feel like leaving, please go ahead,” he declared.

Some escorts started berating the five for lack of loyalty, while some others kept their silence and only sighed. They were probably wishing that they had fled as well.

Near dusk, five horses came back with five bodies. The five escorts, who wanted to escape, only ended up losing their lives before everyone

else.

Lin Pingzhi was enraged. Sword in hands, he dashed out of the gate

and stood three paces beyond the line of blood, yelling, “A true man should take full responsibility for his own actions. I, Lin Pingzhi, killed Yu from Sichuan. It has nothing to do with anyone else. If you want your revenge,

come to me. Stab me through the heart and slice me up! I won’t complain. But you keep killing innocent people; what kind of monster does something like that? Lin Pingzhi stands before you. Come and kill me if you dare! If you are too scared to come out, then you are just a pack of craven

weaklings; you son of a dog.” The sound of his voice escalated, becoming louder and louder. Tearing open his shirt and exposing his body, he pounded his own chest, shouting, “Come out and put your knife right through here! I am a real man and I am not afraid of death! Why are you so scared to stand in front of me face to face? You damn cowards! You filthy monsters!” His

eyes turned red from anger as he struck his own chest heavily.

Many bystanders watched him from far away, but no one wanted to come near the Escort House. Hearing their son shouting, Lin Zhennan and his wife both rushed out of the gate. Their anger and frustration had been steadily building over the last couple of days. The anger finally exploded, and they too began to pour streams of abuse at their unknown enemies.

The escorts looked at each other with admiration for the courage of the three. They felt no surprise that their Chief Master and his wife would shout defiance at their enemies, since the Chief Master was an outstanding man and Madame was a brave woman, but the Young Master looked as fragile as a girl, making him seem that much more heroic for his fearlessness.

The three shouted for a good long while, but were only rewarded with silence.

“‘Cross the Line and Die?’ I just crossed the line, what are you going to do?” Lin Pingzhi yelled out loud. He walked across the line again and

stood straight with pride, sword in hand.

“Yes, yes. These damn thugs only bully the weak but fear the strong.

They don’t even have the guts to come and face my son,” Madam Wang said to Lin Pingzhi tenderly. She grabbed his hand and dragged him back through the gate.

Lin Pingzhi was still trembling with fiery anger. After going back to the bedroom, he could no longer hold back his tears. Bending over the bed, he started to cry.

“Son, you are very brave. You are a true man of the Lin family.

There’s nothing we can do if the enemy doesn’t have the guts to face us openly. Why don’t you go take a rest?” Lin Zhennan patted him on the head, trying to comfort him, but Lin Pingzhi continued to cry until he finally dozed off.

After dinner, Lin Pingzhi overheard his parents talking. It was

something about some escorts who were talking about digging a tunnel out from the back garden. This way, they could escape without crossing the line of blood. If they were trapped in the Escort House, all of them would die,

sooner or later.

“If they want to dig a tunnel out, let them,” Madam Wang sniffed, “but I am afraid…afraid that…Humph!” Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi both understood what she meant. The escorts would most likely end up just like the five escorts who tried to ride away – losing their lives earlier, rather than later.

“Why don’t I go have a look? If it really works, then it might be a good way for all the escorts and henchmen to escape,” Lin Zhennan said.

He went out, but soon returned, saying, “They were just talking about it, but no one really dared to dig.”

That night, the three went to bed very early. Everyone in the Escort House had resigned themselves to their fates, and no one cared to stand guard for the night.

Lin Pingzhi slept till about midnight, when he suddenly felt

somebody patting his shoulder. He jumped up and instantly reached for the sword under his pillow. Then he heard his mother’s voice.

“Pingzhi, it’s me. Your father has been gone for a good while and still hasn’t returned. Let’s go look for him.”

“Where did Dad go?” Lin Pingzhi asked in surprise. “I don’t know!” Madam Wang replied.

The two grabbed their weapons and walked out of the room. They first peeked into the big hall, only to find that it was filled with candlelight and a dozen gambling escorts. Everyone had his heart in his throat for the last couple of days; finally realizing there was really nothing to do to improve the situation, they just stopped worrying about their safety. Madam Wang gestured Lin Pingzhi to follow her, and then left.

Mother and son looked everywhere, but still couldn’t find Lin Zhennan. They became more and more worried, but were afraid to alert the household. The news of the Chief Master’s disappearance at a time when

everyone was scared to death would be disastrous. The situation would be completely out of control. The two searched all the way to the rear of the Escort House, when Lin Pingzhi suddenly heard a faint noise coming from the armory to the left. Fluttering candlelight shone from behind the window. Walking quietly to the window, he poked a hole in the paper20 with his fingertip, and looked inside; then he called out happily.

“Dad, there you are!”

Lin Zhennan was hunched over something shielded by his body.

When he heard the call, he turned his head back. Lin Pingzhi’s smile froze when he saw the terrified expression on his father’s face. His heart started thumping hard, and he just froze there, mouth wide open.

Madam Wang pushed the door open and went in. There was blood everywhere. Three benches were put together side by side and a body lay across them. The body was completely stripped, and the chest and belly

were cut open. Madam Wang looked at the face and recognized it as Escort Huo, one of the five escorts who rode away and then was carried back dead. Lin Pingzhi walked in and closed the door behind him.

Removing the bloody heart from the chest cavity and holding it in his hand, Lin Zhennan exclaimed, “The heart was crushed to pieces. Just as I

expected, it was…it was….”

Madam Wang completed the sentence for him, “It was the “Heart Crushing Palm” technique of the Qingcheng Sword School!”

Lin Zhennan nodded and then lowered his head in silence.

By then Lin Pingzhi finally understood that his father was performing an autopsy on the body to try to determine the cause of death.

Lin Zhennan put the heart back into its cavity, wrapped the body with oilskin, and then placed it in a corner. He wiped the blood off his hands

with the oilskin and went back to the bedroom with his wife and son. “The enemy is definitely an elite master hand from the Qingcheng Sword School. Wife, what do you think we should do?” he asked.

“The whole trouble started because of me, I’ll go challenge him to a fight. If I can’t win, then just let him kill me,” Lin Pingzhi bellowed.

Lin Zhennan shook his head. “This person can crush someone’s heart into pieces with a single hit without leaving any sign of damage to the body. His Kung Fu skills are remarkable. He must be a first-class master in the

Qingcheng Sword School. If he had wanted to kill you, you’d be dead long ago. I think he is being deliberately cruel. He’s not just simply going to kill us.”

“What does he want?” Lin Pingzhi asked.

“He wants to play with us, like a cat plays with mice. He wants to see us squirm, until we are all frightened to death, and that’s when he will be

satisfied,” Lin Zhennan answered.

“Humph, how dare this son of a dog show such disrespect to our Fortune Prestige Escort House,” Lin Pingzhi barked.

“He is surely looking down upon the Fortune Prestige Escort House,” Lin Zhennan stated.

“Perhaps, he is afraid of the seventy-two moves of Father’s Evil- Resisting Sword Art. Otherwise, why does he not dare fight face to face with Father, and only sneaks around, stabbing people in the back?”

“Pingzhi,” Lin Zhennan said as he shook his head slightly. “Your father’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art is well and fine for dealing with regular gangsters. But this man’s Heart Crushing Palm Kung Fu is much better than mine. I…I don’t normally give up so easily, but after seeing Escort Huo’s heart, I…I…well….”

Seeing the dark expression that clouded his father’s face, Lin Pingzhi did not say another word. “Since the enemy is so powerful, a real man should be ready to

swallow his pride, so why don’t we just hide from him for a little while,” Madam Wang suggested.

“That’s what I have in mind, too,” Lin Zhennan nodded. “Let’s head out to Luoyang tonight,” Madam Wang said.

“Fortunately, we know who the enemy is now. It is never too late for revenge, even if we have to wait for ten years.”

“That’s right! Father-in-law has friends all over. He will be able to come up with a solution. Let’s pack now and we’ll leave right away,” Lin Zhennan said.

“If we leave, who’s going to take care of the people in the Escort House?” Lin Pingzhi asked.

“The enemy has no score to settle with them. After we leave, all the others in the Escort House will actually be safer,” Lin Zhennan explained.

Lin Pingzhi thought to himself, “That’s very true! The enemy has killed so many people in the Escort House, all because of me. After I leave, the enemy will just leave all the escorts and henchmen alone.” So he went back to his room to pack. He looked at all his robes and toys; afraid that the foes might just burn the Escort House to the ground, he could not bear to part with any of them. So even after he had packed two big bags, he still felt that there were too many things left behind. He picked up a jade horse

statue on the table with his left hand, and then grabbed a leopard fur with his right hand, a fur that was skinned from a leopard he himself had killed. Carrying all the bags, he strode into his parents’ room.

When Madam Wang saw him, she couldn’t help grinning.

“We are escaping, not moving. What are you going to do with all this stuff?” she asked amusedly. Lin Zhennan sighed and shook his head, thinking to himself,

“Although we’ve been a Martial Arts family for generations, our son is so used to living in ease and comfort that except for the Kung Fu he has learned, he is no different from any rich, profligate son. Now, when a

sudden misfortune has forced us to run away in a hurry, how can I blame him?” Love and tender affection welled up in his heart, and he could not help but try to comfort his son.

“Grandfather’s house has everything you need. Don’t bring so much stuff. All we need to bring is enough silver, gold, and valuable jewelry. On our way, we’ll be passing by our Escort House branches in Jiangxi, Hunan and Hubei. Do you think that we have to beg the whole way? The lighter the pack, the better. The less you carry, the easier it is to move about when you fight.”

At those words, Lin Pingzhi had no choice but to put down the packages.

“Which way shall we take, dashing out the front gate or sneaking out from the back?” Madam Wang asked.

But Lin Zhennan didn’t answer. He sat down in the armchair, closed his eyes and began smoking his pipe. A while later, he opened his eyes.

“Pingzhi, go tell everyone in the Escort House to pack their belongings and get ready to leave by dawn tomorrow morning. Ask the bookkeepers to distribute money to them. After the plague is over, we’ll all come back.”

“Yes, Father!” Lin Pingzhi answered, feeling a bit surprised that his father had changed his mind all of a sudden.

“Are you asking everybody to just break up in chaos? Who’s going to watch the Escort House then?” Madam Wang was also confused. “There’s no need to watch the house anymore. This is a condemned house, haunted by demons. Who would dare come in? After we leave, who do you think would remain?” Lin Zhennan explained.

Lin Pingzhi went out to spread the message. Not long after, the whole Escort House was filled with commotion. Lin Zhennan waited until Lin Pingzhi left, and then spoke again.

“Wife, tomorrow Pingzhi and I will change into henchman’s clothes, and you can disguise yourself as a maid. At dawn, over a hundred people will rush out and disperse at the same time; no matter how fierce the

enemies are, they only have two or three people at most, and won’t know whom to pursue.”

“Great idea!” Madam Wang applauded. She went out, and soon came back with two sets of dirty henchman garments, so when Lin Pingzhi came back, he and his father could put them on. She, herself, had changed into a set of dark blue clothes, with a piece of handkerchief decorated with blue flowers covering her hair. Now, except for her extremely white skin color, she looked just like an ordinary maid. Lin Pingzhi also changed into the henchman clothes. They stank terribly, but he had no other choice.

At dawn, Lin Zhennan had the gate opened and addressed all who had gathered in the court, “This year has not been a good year for us. We’ve

suffered plagues and have been haunted by demons in the Escort House. I guess we’ll just have to stay away for a while. All brothers who still want to remain in the escorting business please go to Hangzhou and Nancang to join our Zhejiang and Jiangxi branch Escort Houses. Escort Liu and Escort Yi there will treat you well. Now let us go!”

After these words, all of the over one hundred people present mounted their horses and rushed out the gate. Lin Zhennan locked the gate and, with a howl, ten riders dashed over the bloodline. Everyone was greatly encouraged, and by now, none was as afraid as before; all were thinking the same thought – the earlier they left the Escort House, the safer. So, with the thunder of hoof beats, several rode toward the north gate of the city. Most people did not have any specific plan, so they all followed and headed toward the north gate.

Lin Zhennan signaled his wife and son to stop by the corner of the street. “Let them go north, we shall go south instead,” he whispered.

“Isn’t Luoyang north from here? Why are we going south?” Madam Wang could not understand.

“The enemy probably has guessed where we are heading to, and have set up an ambush outside the north gate. But, if we go south instead, and then make a turn later to go back north, the ambush will not work,” Lin Zhennan explained.

“Father!” Lin Pingzhi suddenly called out.

“What is it, son?” Lin Zhennan asked, but Lin Pingzhi did not say anything more. After a little while he called again, “Father!”

“What do you want to say, just speak out,” Madam Wang encouraged

him.

“I still want to go out from the north gate,” Lin Pingzhi declared.

“These damn monsters have killed so many of our people, if we don’t fight them to the death, how can we vent our anger?”

“Of course we will get our revenge. But with your skill level, can you defeat his ‘Heart Crushing Palm’?” asked Madam Wang rhetorically.

“So what! At most I’ll just get killed like Escort Huo with my heart crushed in pieces!” Lin Pingzhi rebuffed her.

Lin Zhennan’s face turned livid with anger. “If all the three generations of our Lin family had acted as recklessly as you, the Fortune Prestige Escort House would have collapsed by itself, saving our enemies the trouble,” he bellowed.

Lin Pingzhi did not dare say another word, and just followed his parents quietly. They kept heading south, until they were well out of town, and then turned southwest. After crossing the Min River, they arrived at a small town, Nanyu. They continued the trip for half a day without stopping anywhere. When they finally needed a respite, it was already past noon.

Seeing a small restaurant by the road, they decided to stop and have something to eat. Lin Zhennan told the waiter to bring whatever was

available and that the food should be prepared as fast as possible. The

waiter took the order and left, but after a long while, there was still no food forthcoming.

“Waiter, hurry up!” Lin Zhennan yelled, wanting to resume their trip as fast as possible. He yelled one more time, but there was still no response.

Madam Wang started calling out as well, “Waiter, waiter….” Still no response.

Jumping up from her seat, Madam Wang drew the golden saber out from her pack. Gripping it tightly in her hand, she ran to the back room, only to find the waiter lying prone on the ground. There was also a woman lying draped over the threshold. Madam Wang put her finger near the

waiter’s nostrils and found that he was not breathing. She felt the lips of the body. They were still warm.

By then, Lin Zhennan and Lin Pingzhi had already drawn their

swords and started checking the surroundings of the small restaurant. The restaurant stood next to a hill all by itself, adjacent to a small forest, with no other shop or neighbor nearby. The trio stood in front of the restaurant and gazed into the distance in all directions, but there was nothing unusual at

all. Lin Zhennan held his sword in front of him and started shouting in a loud voice.

“Friends of the Qingcheng Sword School, Lin Zhennan is right here awaiting his destiny. Please show yourselves.”

He called out several times, but was only answered by his own

echoes, “Show yourselves…show yourselves…!” The trio knew that their enemies were watching close by. This was obviously the spot where they had decided to make their attack. All three of them gasped nervously, but knowing that everything would soon be over, one way or the other, they

also felt a sense of relief and were able to regain some sense of calm. “Lin Pingzhi stands before you! Come and get me! You filthy

scoundrels! I know you’re too scared to show yourselves. All you can do is to sneak around, like thieving pickpockets!” Lin Pingzhi yelled.

Suddenly, laughter shot toward them from the woods. Lin Pingzhi only had enough time to take in a glimpse of a blurry shadow, before finding a man standing right in front of him. He did not even bother to take a good look at the man before thrusting his sword toward the man’s chest, using the move called “Attack Straight to the Heart.” The man turned to one side and dodged the attack. Lin Pingzhi changed the thrust to a slash to the side. The man sneered and stepped around to Lin Pingzhi’s left. Lin Pingzhi struck with his left hand and then thrust the sword back.

Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang both had their weapons in hand and were about to jump in to help, but after seeing the well-arranged series of moves Lin Pingzhi had put together, they both stepped back. Lin Pingzhi appeared to be very calm and well organized while fighting such a tough enemy. The man wore a purple robe and had a sword hanging at his waist. He seemed to be about twenty-three or twenty-four years of age, and disdain was written all over his long face. Lin Pingzhi could no longer keep his anger under control. He

chopped and stabbed and slashed and diced using the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art” recklessly, not worrying about his own safety. The man just moved around, dodging attacks without bothering to draw his own sword or fight back. After Lin Pingzhi had used about twenty different moves or so, the man finally sneered.

“Is this the vaunted ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’? How mediocre!”

He flicked the sword with his finger, and there was a reverberating ring. Lin Pingzhi felt a sharp pain between his thumb and index finger, and could no longer hold on to his sword. The sword fell to the ground and before he knew it, the man had thrown a sidekick at him, which knocked him down and sent him rolling across the ground. Immediately, Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang rushed over and stood side by side to shield their son behind them.

“What’s your name? Are you from the Qingcheng Sword School?” Lin Zhennan demanded.

“With the paltry skills of your Fortune Prestige Escort House, you

aren’t worthy to know my name. But, since I am here for revenge today, I’ll make an exception. You’re right, I am from the Qingcheng Sword School,” the man said haughtily.

Lin Zhennan pointed his sword to the ground and then cupped his hands in a formal greeting. “I have always held Master Yu of the Pine-Wind Temple in the highest regard,” he said. “Every year I’ve sent escorts to the Qingcheng Sword School with gifts and have never deigned to be impolite in any way. This year, Master Yu has even sent four apprentices to Fuzhou. I wonder how we have offended you.”

The man rolled his eyes and sneered. After a long while he finally replied, “You are correct! My Master did send four apprentices to Fuzhou, and I am one of them.”

“Excellent! What is your honorable name then?” Lin Zhennan asked again.

The young man seemed disinclined to answer the question, but with a sniff, he stated, “My surname is Yu, I am Yu Renhao.”

“‘Ying Xiong Hao Jie, the Four Aces of Qingcheng.’21 You are one of

the four great apprentices of the Pine-Wind Temple,” Lin Zhennan said with a nod, “no wonder your ‘Heart Crushing Palm’ technique is so powerful,

capable of killing without drawing blood. Impressive!! Very impressive!! Mr. Yu has come such a long way to visit, and Lin Zhennan did not greet him properly; our lack of manners is unforgivable.”

“The ‘Heart Crushing Palm’ technique…humph…you did not greet us, but that Kung Fu master son of yours sure did. He even killed my

Master’s beloved son. Yes, quite a show of manners,” Yu Renhao spoke with dead seriousness.

A cold shiver ran up Lin Zhennan’s spine. He knew that if his son had only killed a normal apprentice of the Qingcheng Sword School, then he

could ask a well-respected member of the Martial World to intervene and

arrange for a formal apology to the Qingcheng Sword School, which might have solved the problem. But if the victim were really the son of the Pine- Wind Temple Master Yu Canghai, there would no longer be any alternative, except to fight until one side or the other was completely annihilated. He

waved his sword and let out a couple of laughs.

“Funny, very funny! Young Hero Yu, you have told a good joke!” “Who’s joking?” Yu Renhao replied coldly with raised eyebrow.

“I have long admired Master Yu for his amazing Kung Fu skills and his strict discipline with his students,” Lin Zhennan said. “In fact, everyone in the Martial World feels the same way. However, the person my son killed was just a punk who was harassing an innocent girl in a wine shop. Since my son was able to kill him, one can easily tell that his Kung Fu skills must have been very limited. How could such a person possibly be Master Yu’s

son? Thus, I conclude that the Young Hero Yu must be joking?” Presented with this line of logic, Yu Renhao was at a loss for words.

Suddenly another voice came from the woods, “There is an old

saying: ‘Two fists cannot parry four hands.’ In that tiny wine shop, your Young Master Lin and twenty-four escorts ambushed my junior apprentice brother Yu…!” The speaker walked out as he spoke. He had a small head and waved a folding fan casually. He continued, “If it was a fair fight, then there’s not much to talk about. To be frank, even if the Fortune Prestige Escort House had a lot more people, it wouldn’t have made any difference. But your Young Master Lin not only poisoned junior apprentice brother Yu’s wine, but also shot seventeen different kinds of toxic projectiles at

him. Humph, this son of a turtle is so treacherous. We came to visit in good will, and never expected to be greeted with an ambush.”

“What is your honorable name?” Lin Zhennan asked coldly.

“No honorable name at all. I am Fang Renzhi,” the man answered.

By then, Lin Pingzhi had picked up his sword and had been standing angrily by the side, waiting for his father to finish the conversation, before jumping in to fight once again. But when he heard all of the nonsense from Fang Renzhi, he couldn’t help but shout angrily, “That is completely false! I had no grievance with him; I’ve never even met him before; I didn’t know that he was from the Qingcheng Sword School; why would I want to harm him?”

“Bull, bull! Stinking lies!” Fang Renzhi shook his head. “If you did not have ill feelings toward my junior apprentice brother Yu, why did you hide some thirty escorts and henchmen outside the little shop then? My junior apprentice brother Yu saw you harassing that innocent girl, so he knocked you down to teach you a lesson. He spared your life, but not only were you ungrateful, you instructed all those damn escorts to attack my junior apprentice brother Yu at once.”

Lin Pingzhi felt as if his lungs were going to explode with rage. “Is everyone from the Qingcheng Sword School a rascal who lies through his teeth?” he snarled.

“The son of a turtle says we’re liars!” Fang Renzhi said with a big grin. 

“I said that. So what?” Lin Pingzhi retorted angrily.

“Continue to do so, it doesn’t matter to me.” Fang Renzhi nodded. Lin Pingzhi was surprised. These words were completely unexpected. Suddenly he heard a “swoosh” and realized that somebody was jumping toward him. He hurriedly struck out with his left palm but was still one step too slow. With the sound of flesh against flesh, he was slapped hard across the right cheek. Sparkles began to swirl in front of his eyes; he almost passed out.

Fang Renzhi retreated back to where he was standing after his lightning quick attack. Putting his hand on his own right cheek, he yelled angrily, “Punk, what did you hit me for? Ouch, it hurts! Ha-ha.”

Seeing her son being humiliated, Madam Wang jumped forth and

swung her saber at the man. This was a move called “Wild Fire Burning the Sky.” Her attack was steady and vicious. The man jumped out of the way

and the blade missed his right arm by a mere four inches.

“Damn bitch!” the man cursed, completely shocked. Not daring to take his opponent lightly, he drew his sword and deflected another of

Madam Wang’s strikes. “If the Qingcheng Sword School wants to get rid of the Fortune Prestige Escort House, that’s easy; but as to who is right and who is wrong, the Martial World will definitely be the judge of that. Young Sir Yu, if you please!” Lin Zhennan saluted Yu with his sword.

Yu Renhao pressed on his sheath, and the sword jumped out of the sheath with a ring of steel. “Chief Master Lin, after you!”

Lin Zhennan thought to himself, “I’ve long heard that the Pine-Wind Sword Art of the Qingcheng Sword School is both sturdy and light. They say that it is as sturdy as the pine and as light as the wind. I must try to

control the initiative for a chance to win.” At that thought, he started his

attack immediately. After thrusting the sword toward the enemy as a feint, he swiped his sword sideways. This was one move of the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art” called “Keep Away Evil.” Seeing the ferocity of the blow, Yu Renhao dodged out of the way. Lin Zhennan did not wait to complete the move; he immediately followed up with another move – “Eye-Picking Zhong Kui,”22 the point of his sword shot straight toward his opponent’s

eyes, and as soon as Yu Renhao jumped back from the tip of the sword, his third attack immediately followed. Yu Renhao raised his sword and blocked the thrust with a clash of metal. Both felt the impact in their arms.

“I thought the Kung Fu of the Qingcheng Sword School was really something,” Lin Zhennan thought, “but it seems to be only average. With this level of skill, how could he possibly perform the powerful ‘Heart

Crushing Palm’? He must have another powerful helper around.” With this realization, his heart pumped even faster.

Yu Renhao turned his sword around and stabbed at Lin Zhennan, directing his attack at seven different parts of Lin Zhennan’s body almost simultaneously. The thrusts were so fast that it seemed as though the air between them had suddenly been filled with the flickers of silver stars. Lin Zhennan’s counter attack was just as fast, working hard to control the initiative. The two fought back and forth, and after over twenty moves, they were still at a standstill.

At the other end, the fight between Madam Wang and Fang Renzhi turned out to be a totally different story. Madam Wang’s golden saber was simply no match for the incredible speed of her opponent’s attacks; it was already a miracle how she managed several narrow escapes. Seeing his mother on the verge of losing, Lin Pingzhi hurriedly joined in. He swung his sword downward at Fang Renzhi’s head. Fang Renzhi moved aside and

dodged the attack. Lin Pingzhi lunged forth again like a madman. Suddenly, he tripped on something. Losing his balance completely, he fell flat on his face. “Stay down!” he heard somebody yell, and then he felt a foot pressing down heavily on his back in addition to the sharp prick of a blade. All he

could see was the dirt on the ground. He heard his mother screaming,

“Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” Then he heard Fang Renzhi yelling, “You lie down, too.”

What actually happened was that when Lin Pingzhi and his mother were fighting Fang Renzhi, a third man had sneaked in from behind and

swept Lin Pingzhi with his leg, causing him to stumble. He then pulled out a dagger and placed it right at Lin Pingzhi’s heart. Madam Wang was

already having a hard time defending herself. With this distraction, she

started panicking, and her moves became careless. It became easy for Fang Renzhi to elbow her in the ribs and knock her off her feet.

Fang Renzhi quickly sealed their acupoints.23 The man who tripped

Lin Pingzhi was none other than Jia, who had fought against the two escorts in the small wine shop outside of Fuzhou.

Seeing both his wife and son captured by the enemy, Lin Zhennan also panicked and attacked more desperately. Yu Renhao let out a long laugh and suddenly attacked with several moves that gained him every the initiative in the fight.

“How did this man learn the moves of my ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’?” Lin Zhennan was astonished.

“How’s my ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’?” Yu Renhao let out a broad

grin.

“How…how…did you learn the Evil-Resisting…?” Lin Zhennan

could only stutter.

“What’s so great about your ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’? I learned it too,” Fang Renzhi started laughing hard. He held his sword and started performing the stances – “Keep Away the Evils,” “Eye-Picking Zhong

Kui,” and “Swallow Flying through the Willow Tree” – all were moves of “Evil-Resisting Sword Art.” In that instant, Lin Zhennan was utterly filled

with horror. He could never have imagined that his family’s very own secret technique, the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art,” being performed by his enemies. He was so confused that he completely lost the will to fight.

“Gotcha!” Yu Renhao blurted out as he hit Lin Zhennan’s knee. The knee went numb and gave out on Lin Zhennan, forcing him to kneel down. Though he jumped back up immediately, Yu Renhao had already pressed the tip of his sword at Lin’s chest.

“Junior apprentice brother Yu, what an excellent display of ‘Shooting Star Chasing The Moon’!” Jia Renda cheered loudly. Like the others,

“Shooting Star Chasing the Moon” turned out to be yet another move of the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art.”

“You…you know the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’…okay, just make it quick!” Lin Zhennan heaved a long sigh and dropped his sword. Numbness spread from his back as Fang Renzhi sealed his acupoint with a blow from the pommel of his sword. Then, he heard Fang Renzhi speak again. “It’s not going to end that easy, you swine! You son of a turtle, wife of a turtle, and grandson of a turtle, the three of you are going to have the

exquisite privilege of meeting my Master!”

Jia Renda grabbed Lin Pingzhi, lifted him up by the collar, and slapped him hard on both cheeks.

“You little rascal,” he snarled, “starting this day, I am going to slap you eighteen times a day, from here all the way to Mount Qingcheng. I am going to slap you till your puny little face is changed beyond recognition!”

Filled with hatred, Lin Pingzhi spat at Jia Renda. Because the two

were only a foot from each other, Jia Renda had no chance of dodging, and the wad of saliva hit him right on the nose with a wet smack. Jia Renda was furious. He hurled Lin Pingzhi to the ground and began to kick him on his back.

“Enough, enough!” Fang Renzhi restrained Jia with a big grin. “If you kick him to death, how are we going to explain this to the Master? This

scum is as fragile as a girl; he can’t handle your punches and kicks.”

Jia Renda’s Kung Fu was just average, but his character was even

worse. His Master was never fond of him, and even his fellow apprentices looked down on him. So, when he heard Fang Renzhi’s words, he didn’t dare kick Lin Pingzhi again. Instead, he spat at Lin Pingzhi to vent his

anger.

Fang and Yu carried the three members of the Lin family into the small restaurant and threw them onto the floor.

“Let’s eat something first before we start our trip. Junior apprentice Jia, go cook us something, will you?” Fang Renzhi commanded.

“Sure,” Jia Renda answered in compliance.

“Senior apprentice brother Fang, we have to be careful not to let these three escape. The old one’s Kung Fu isn’t half bad; we’ll have to figure something out,” Yu Renhao mused.

“That’s easy!” Fang Renzhi said with a nasty grin. “After we eat, we’ll just cut the nerves and tendons in their wrists and ankles. We can thread these three sons of turtles’ collarbones with a rope and tie them

together, just like a string of crabs. I’ll bet you nobody can run away then!”

Lin Pingzhi let loose a torrent of abuse. “If you’ve got guts, kill the three of us right now. Only dirty lowlife scum would do what you are going to do.”

“One more word out of your little rascal’s mouth, and I’ll find some cow dung or dog crap to stuff your mouth with.” Fang Renzhi threatened him with a wolfish grin. These words silenced Lin Pingzhi, although it made him almost pass out with rage. He shut his mouth immediately and did not dare say another word.

“Junior apprentice brother Yu,” Fang Renzhi said. “Our Master taught us the seventy-two moves of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ and we

actually did a good job performing them. As soon as the Chief Master Lin saw those moves, he was scared out of his wits, and his body just gave out on him. Chief Master Lin, I guess you must be wondering at this very moment: How the hell did the Qingcheng Sword School learn the Lin family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’? Am I right?”

At the moment, that was exactly the question Lin Zhennan was pondering in his head: “How the hell did the Qingcheng Sword School learn the Lin family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’?”

Chapter 2: Eavesdropping

The old huqin player walked slowly in front of the short fat man and looked him up and down. “What do you want, old man?” the short fat man demanded in annoyance. “You are talking nonsense!” The old man shook his head and then turned around and walked away. Infuriated, the short fat man stuck his hand out to grab the old man by his scruff.

Lin Pingzhi wanted more than anything to get up and fight Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao to the death, but with several of his acupoints sealed, he was unable to move any muscle from his lower body. He would become a

complete invalid if they were to cut the nerves and tendons of his limbs and thread him through the collarbone, and he would rather die fighting than go through all that pain.

Suddenly, screams sounded from the back kitchen. “Ah…Ah…!” It was a long cry filled with pain, and it was the voice of Jia Renda. Fang

Renzhi and Yu Renhao both jumped up with their swords drawn and dashed into the kitchen immediately. A shadow flashed by the door, and a person glided in silently, then grabbed Lin Pingzhi by the collar and picked him up. Lin Pingzhi cried out in surprise when he caught a glimpse of the pox-

covered face of his rescuer: it belonged to the ugly wine-selling girl, who had caused all this trouble to begin with.

The ugly girl dragged him all the way out the front door. When they reached the big tree where their horses were reined, she grabbed him by the back with her left hand and lifted him up onto the back of the horse. With Lin Pingzhi still in a state of shock, the girl pulled out a sword and swung it swiftly. The blade flashed and the rein was cut free. She prodded the thigh of the horse with her sword; feeling pain, the horse let out an angry neigh,

and then pounded madly into the woods.

“Mom! Dad!” Lin Pingzhi shouted. Worrying about his parents and not wanting to run away by himself, he pushed hard against the back of the horse and fell off. After tumbling some distance on the ground, he found himself deep within some tall bushes. Meanwhile, the horse did not stop running and soon disappeared into the woods.

Holding onto a branch, Lin Pingzhi tried to stand up, only to find that his legs had no strength left in them. After raising himself up about a foot, he fell back into the bushes. His waist and backside were tremendously

sore. The soreness must have come from bumping into rocks and tree roots after he fell off the horse.

Then he heard the sound of shouting followed by pounding footsteps

– someone must have come after him. In a hurry, Lin Pingzhi lay motionless in the bushes. He could hear the loud clashes of weapons nearby. Several people had started a fierce fight. Quietly, he stuck his head out and watched from the bushes. One group of fighters consisted of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao of the Qingcheng Sword School. Opposing them were the ugly girl and a man with his face concealed behind a black cloth. Most of his hair was gray, so it was obvious that he was an old man. It didn’t take Lin Pingzhi long to conclude that he was the ugly girl’s grandfather, old man Sa.

“I thought those two were also from the Qingcheng Sword School,” Lin Pingzhi pondered, “but it was actually the girl who rescued me…. Oh! If I had only known that they were both masters of Kung Fu, I wouldn’t have risked playing the hero and causing all this trouble for no reason.” Then he thought, “Since they are all so busy fighting right this moment, this is the perfect opportunity for me to rescue my father and mother.” But the

acupoint on his back was still sealed, and his body just wouldn’t cooperate. “Who…who are you? How did you learn the sword skills of the

Qingcheng Sword School?” Fang Renzhi cried out in disbelief.

The old man didn’t answer. Suddenly, with several blazing flashes, Fang Renzhi’s sword flew into the air. Fang Renzhi immediately jumped backward and Yu Renhao rushed forward to block the attacks. The old man kept pressing on with lightning fast moves.

“You…You…!” Yu Renhao shouted, his voice betraying surprise and fear. With a loud ring, his sword also flew into the air.

The ugly girl jumped forth and lunged, but the old man parried her thrust. “Don’t kill him!” he commanded.

“But they’re so cruel and killed so many people,” the ugly girl argued.

“Let’s go!” the old man said. Seeing the hesitation on the ugly girl’s face, the old man reminded her, “Don’t forget our Master’s orders.”

“Guess I’ll let them off this time,” the ugly girl nodded reluctantly, and then left through the small grove of trees. The old man followed her, and before long, both of them disappeared into the woods.

It took Fang and Yu a good while to calm down. They both picked up their own swords.

“Unbelievable! How did he know our Qingcheng sword techniques?” Yu Renhao still could not believe it.

“He only knew a few, but…but when he used the move ‘Goose in the Sky,’ he did really…really…Ah!” Fang Renzhi had to agree.

“They rescued the Lin boy,” Yu Renhao said.

“Let’s just hope this isn’t a trick to lure us away from the Lin Couple!” Fang Renzhi yelled suddenly.

“Damn!” Yu Renhao cried. The two turned around and rushed back to the restaurant.

A short while later, the sounds of horses moving at a slow trot broke the silence as two horses walked into the woods. Fang Renzhi and Yu

Renhao each led one of them, and Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang were each tied to a horse. Lin Pingzhi almost shouted out, “Mom! Dad!” Fortunately, he was able to swallow down the words. He knew that if he made any kind of noise, not only would he get himself killed, he would also ruin any opportunity he had to rescue his parents. Trailing about twenty feet behind the two horses, a man limped along. It turned out to be Jia Renda.

The white cloth wrapped around his head was soaked with blood and he was cursing loudly.

“Hell! You sons of turtles took the rabbit boy, but I’ve still got these two old rabbits. I’ll give each of these two old rabbits a good lashing every day. When we arrive at Mount Qingcheng, we’ll see how many lives they have left!”

“Junior apprentice brother Jia!” Fang Renzhi yelled in admonishment. “Master has reminded us over and over to make sure that we capture the Lin couple alive. If any accidents were to befall them, I’d pay to see how many layers of skin Master would peel off you.”

Jia Renda snorted, but shut up instantly.

Lin Pingzhi listened as the Qingcheng disciples walked away,

escorting his parents. He was actually slightly relieved after hearing those words.

“They are going to send my parents all the way to Mount Qingcheng, and they won’t give them too hard a time on the way. Fujian is far away from Szechwan. I’ll have to find a way to rescue Father and Mother.”

Then he thought, “When I get to an Escort House branch, I’ll send a message to Grandpa in Luoyang right away.” He lay silently in the bushes, oblivious to the bites from mosquitoes and other bugs.

Several hours passed. When the sealed acupoints on his back finally opened up, it was already dark. He managed to stand up and slowly walk back to the small restaurant. “I’d better disguise myself so those two villains won’t recognize me, even if they see me face to face. How am I going to rescue my parents if I get myself killed?” he said to himself.

After entering the restaurant owner’s room and lighting the oil-lamp, he searched for clothing, but the mountain people were so poor that they did not even own a spare set of clothes in which to change. Feeling very disappointed, he walked out of the restaurant when he spotted the bodies of the owner and his wife lying on the ground. “Well, I guess I’ll have to use the clothes of the deceased,” he thought. He took the clothes off of the dead body and held them in his hands. They looked filthy and stank badly.

He considered washing the clothing before putting it on, but then decided against it. If he should miss an opportunity to save his parents simply because of his concern over the cleanliness of clothes, he would surely regret it for the rest of his life. He clenched his teeth, undressed himself, then changed into the dead person’s clothes.

Lighting a torch, he looked around, and soon discovered his father’s sword and his mother’s golden saber lying in a corner. He picked up his father’s sword and wrapped it in a rag, tied it to his back, and then walked outside. The croaking of the frogs in the canyon sounded in the distance through the otherwise silent night. Lin Pingzhi suddenly felt overwhelmed with desolation and almost cried out. He threw the torch as hard as he

could; the flame formed a beautiful red arc in the night sky before being extinguished in the pond. Instantly, darkness engulfed him once again.

“Lin Pingzhi, Lin Pingzhi! If you can’t be cautious and alert, and let yourself fall back into the hands of those Qingcheng villains, then you will be snuffed out, just like that torch falling into that filthy pond,” Lin Pingzhi admonished himself. Raising his arm, he wiped the corners of his eyes with a sleeve. When the sleeve neared his face, the odor reeked so badly that he almost vomited. But he firmly said aloud to himself, “If you can’t even withstand this foul odor, you are not a true man!”

He started walking, but before long, his hips began hurting again. He clenched his teeth and increased his pace. However, not knowing which

way his parents had been taken, he wandered randomly through different paths in the mountains. He walked till dawn, when rays of sunshine bathed his face, making it difficult to see things clearly.

Suddenly, a thought struck him, “Those two villains are going to

Mount Qingcheng. Szechwan Province is to the west of Fujian. Why am I going east?” He hurriedly turned around and began to walk with his back to the sun.

“Mother and Father have been gone for more than a half day,” he thought, “and I was walking the opposite direction for half a night; I must be far away from them by now. I’d better buy a horse. I wonder how much money I will need.”

He examined his pocket and then groaned. When they started the trip, all the gold and jewelry were put into a leather saddlebag. Lin Zhennan and Madam Wang both had silver on their persons, but not Lin Pingzhi; he did not have even a single tael. He stamped his foot in frustration. “What

should I do? What should I do?” He stared blankly at the sky for a while and then decided, “I must go rescue my parents. I am sure I’ll find some way somehow, and not starve.”

He began walking toward the foot of the mountain. When it was

about noon, his stomach began to growl loudly. Some green fruits on a tree by the side of the road caught his eye. They were not ripe yet, but at least they would assuage his hunger. He went up to the tree to pick some fruits, but then realized that the fruits belonged to someone else. Taking them without permission was really no different from stealing. For three generations, the Lin family had protected goods from being robbed or

stolen by bandits. How could he do something that only common thieves do? If somebody saw him, and called him a thief in front of his father, it would have brought great shame to his father! The honor of the Fortune Prestige Escort House would be disgraced forever.

He had learned when he was still a little boy that all infamous

criminals started out as small thieves, and that small thieves usually began by stealing only small things, like a squash or fruit. Then they would start to steal more and more, finally losing all self-control, and never able to stop.

At that thought, he broke out in a cold sweat.

“One day, Father and I will restore the fame of the Fortune Prestige Escort House! I must always do what a true man does. I would rather beg than steal from others,” he vowed.

He continued on his trip in a hurry, and gave no more thought to the fruit trees by the road. A couple of miles later, he arrived at a small village.

He walked to a shack and started begging for food in a halting voice. He was used to being waited upon for everything all his life, and had never before needed to beg for anything from other people. After uttering only a couple of words his face had already turned red with shame.

The farmer’s wife in the shack had just received a severe beating from her husband and was still in a foul mood. When she saw that Lin Pingzhi was just a mere beggar, she immediately released a torrent of abuse at him.

“You little thief, what are you doing sneaking around! I just lost a hen. You probably stole it, and now you want more? Even if I had some food, I wouldn’t give it to a thief like you. You stole my hen, and made my wretch of a husband so angry that he beat me all black and blue!” she yelled, waving a broom.

Every time the woman spat out a curse, Lin Pingzhi stepped back a little. The woman became so excited that she swung her broom at Lin Pingzhi’s face. Lin Pingzhi was furious. He moved to the side to dodge the broom, and then shot a strike at the woman with his palm.

A sudden thought popped up into his head, “How shameful, beating up a dumb farmer’s wife, just because she doesn’t want to give me food?”

He tried to catch himself, but since he had used too much strength in the

strike, he lost his balance and stumbled. Then, his left foot happened to land on a pile of cow dung. He slipped and fell on his back.

The farmer’s wife burst into a loud laugh. “You little thief! You’ve got just what you deserve!” She smacked him on his head with her broom and spat on him, then turned around and went into the shack.

Lin Pingzhi’s anger soared from the humiliation. He got up and found that his hands and face were covered with cow dung. Surprisingly, the farmer’s wife came back out with four boiled corncobs and stuck them into his hands.

“Go on, kid, take these! God gave you such a pretty face, even prettier than a girl’s, but you don’t want to apply yourself. You are just a lazy bum! What good are you?” She said with a laugh.

Still angry, Lin Pingzhi made to hurl the corncobs away, but the farmer’s wife grinned, “Very well! Throw them away! Go ahead! Hey, you’ve got guts and you are not afraid to starve! Great! Throw them away, and I will watch you starve!”

Lin Pingzhi reconsidered, “In order to rescue Father and Mother, and to seek revenge and restore the fame of the Fortune Prestige Escort House, I will have to bear all kinds of humiliation. Starting from today, no matter how hard or humiliating it is, I will just clench my teeth and take it without complaint. To be humiliated by a farmer’s wife is really nothing.” So he

said, “Many thanks!” and then took a big bite of a corncob.

“I knew you wouldn’t throw them away,” the farmer’s wife smiled.

She turned and walked away, still mumbling, “This kid is so hungry; it probably wasn’t him who stole my hen. Ah, the damn husband, if he only had half of this kid’s good temper, my life would be much better.”

Along the way, Lin Pingzhi sometimes begged for food, and

sometimes, just ate wild fruits from the bushes. Luckily, this was a good harvest year in Fujian Province, and most families had extra food left over. Although his face was covered with mud, he spoke with good manners, so people liked him, and it wasn’t too hard for him to beg for food. He tried to ask for information regarding his parents’ whereabouts along the road, but was not able to learn anything. Eight days later, he entered Jiangxi province. He asked for directions to Nancang and went there straightaway. He thought that the Escort House branch in Nancang should have some information. If not, at least he could get some money and a fast horse.

After entering the town of Nancang, he asked someone on the street about the Fortune Prestige Escort House.

“Fortune Prestige Escort House? Why do you ask? It has been burned down to the ground. Even the neighbors’ houses were burnt down all together. There’s nothing left,” the man answered.

Lin Pingzhi groaned inwardly. He came to the street of the Escort House and saw with his own eyes that the entire street was littered with debris. He stood there silently for a long time, his heart aching.

“It must be those gangsters from the Qingcheng Sword School again.

If I cannot have my revenge, I would rather die!” he resolved. Without delaying in Nancang, he immediately went on with his trip westward. Several days later, he arrived at Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. He had thought that the Qingcheng Sword School might have

also burned down this Escort House branch, but when he asked people

about news regarding the Fortune Prestige Escort House, no one had heard anything. Lin Pingzhi felt great relief and started heading toward the Escort House in big strides. Soon, he arrived at the gate.

Although the Hunan branch of the Escort House was not as big as the Fuzhou Headquarters Escort House, it too had a huge vermilion gate with two big majestic stone lions sitting on either side. Lin Pingzhi peeked inside, but did not see anyone.

“I am almost in rags, and look so awkward; the escorts in this branch might scoff at me.” He hesitated at the doorway.

He raised his head and then noticed that the sign “Fortune Prestige Escort House Hunan Branch” was upside down. “How could the escorts in this branch be so absentminded as to hang the sign upside down?” he was quite surprised.

Then he turned his head to look at the flags on the flagpoles, and his heart sank. A pair of dirty saddles hung on top of the left flagpole. On the right flagpole was a pair of flower-patterned woman’s pants. The pants were torn to shreds, but still fluttered in the wind. While he looked on in shock, a man walked out from the Escort House.

“Hey, you son of a turtle. What are you doing sneaking around here?

You trying to steal something?” the man yelled.

Recognizing that the man had the same kind of accent as Fang Renzhi and Jia Renda, Lin Pingzhi knew that he must have come from Szechwan as well, so he did not even look at him and immediately started walking away. Suddenly, he felt a pain in his backside. The man had given him a hard kick. Infuriated, Lin Pingzhi wanted to turn around and fight the man, but he quashed the urge in an instant. With the Escort House obviously occupied by the Qingcheng Sword School, it was a perfect opportunity for him to try and get information about his parents. All he needed to do was to stay calm.

Pretending to be just an ordinary person with no skill in Kung Fu whatsoever, he pretended to take a spill onto the ground, and feigned an

inability to get up. The man burst into loud laughter and called him “son of turtles” a few more times before walking back inside.

Lin Pingzhi stood up slowly and ambled into a small alley. He begged for a bowl of cold rice and ate it.

“The enemy is so close by; I’d better not get careless!” He kept reminding himself.

Finding some coal ashes on the ground, he smeared them onto his face until it was completely black, then huddled up in a corner against the alley wall and fell asleep.

Lin Pingzhi waited till about ten at night, then took out his long sword and hung it at his waist. He circled around to the back door of the Escort

House and listened carefully. After making sure there was no sound from within the walls, he jumped on top of the wall. Inside was an orchard. He

jumped down quietly and started creeping slowly along the perimeter of the wall. Darkness engulfed the orchard. There was neither light nor sound; he could feel the beating of his heart. He had his hand out against the wall as he walked, and was dreading the moment he would step on a rock or dry hay and make a noise that would give him away. After walking through two courtyards, he saw light coming from the East Hall window, so he crept a

couple of steps closer, when he heard somebody talking. Slowly moving closer and resting under the window, he held his breath and lowered himself, inch by inch, until he was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. Just after he sat down, he heard someone’s voice.

“Let’s just burn the whole son of a turtle Escort House tomorrow morning, so we don’t have to stay here and make fools of ourselves.”

“No! We can’t!” another voice said. “Senior apprentice brother Pi and others just burnt down the entire Escort House Nancang branch, and I heard that dozens of neighbors’ houses were burnt down as well. Something like that won’t be good for the reputation of our chivalrous Qingcheng Sword School. That incident will most likely get them punished by Master.”

Lin Pingzhi was outraged. Now, there was no doubt that the

Qingcheng Sword School was behind these despicable acts. He cursed their hypocrisy for having the gall to still call themselves chivalrous.

“Well then, we really shouldn’t burn the house down. But are we going to just leave the house intact?” the previous voice asked.

The other one laughed. “Junior apprentice brother Ji, think about it.

We’ve already hung the sign of the Escort House upside down and also raised a pair of women’s pants on top of their flagpole. The name of Fortune Prestige Escort House has already been totally trashed. We should leave the pants hanging there for as long as possible. Why bother burning down the house?”

“You’re right, senior apprentice brother Shen!” Ji laughed. “Ha-ha, the pair of pants is going to bring the Escort House so much bad luck, they won’t be able to regain their reputation for at least another three hundred years.”

The two laughed for some time, then Ji said, “We’re going to the town of Hengshan tomorrow for Liu Zhengfeng’s ceremony; what present shall we bring? The news of the ceremony came so unexpectedly. If the present isn’t valuable enough, it won’t look very good for our Qingcheng Sword School.”

“I’ve got the present ready,” Shen said in good humor, “and relax; I guarantee you that we won’t lose face for the Qingcheng Sword School. The present might even get us a lot of attention at the banquet for the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony.”

“What is the present? Why don’t I know about it?” Ji asked delightedly.

Shen was quite content and let out a chuckle. “We are just liberating it, so we can make a gift of it. No need to take anything out of our own pockets. Look, is this good enough?”

The sound of someone opening a package came through the window. “Amazing!” Ji burst out in a cry of surprise. “Senior brother Shen, do

you have magic powers? Where the hell did you get such expensive items?” Ji asked in awe.

Lin Pingzhi was really tempted to look inside through the crack of the window to see what kind of present it was, but he maintained his discipline, realizing that if he were to stick his head up, a shadow could fall on the

window; it would be all over if he let the enemy find him. So, he suppressed his curiosity. Then he heard Shen’s voice, again.

“Did you think that we occupied the Fortune Prestige Escort House for nothing? I was going to present this pair of jade horses to Master, but right now, it is probably better to let old Liu Zhengfeng be the lucky recipient.”

A tide of anger washed over Lin Pingzhi. “So they robbed the treasure from our Escort House and used it for their own advantage. What a bunch of burglars! What treasure would the Hunan Escort House Branch have? It was probably a client’s goods, waiting to be escorted. The pair of jade horses must be extremely valuable. If we can’t get them back, Father would have to be the one to compensate.”

Shen laughed again. “There are four bags here, one for all of Master’s wives,24 one for all the apprentices, one for you, and one for me! Go ahead, pick one.”

“What are these?” Ji asked. After a short while, he burst out with

another exclamation of surprise, “Wow, these are all gold and jewels! We are damn rich now!!! What a son of a turtle the Escort House is! The hell with them! They really have extorted a lot of money! Senior apprentice

brother, how did you find these? I searched all over the Escort House over a dozen times, and I was just about to dig up the grounds. All I found was

about a hundred taels of silver. How did you find all this treasure without breaking a sweat?”

Shen sounded very pleased with himself. “Do you think they just put their gold and treasure anywhere? For the last couple of days, I watched you open drawers, smash boxes, take down walls, and have a good time

searching. I knew that you’d be busy over nothing. But you would not have believed me, even if I had told you. Anyway, all that searching wouldn’t hurt you, big boy.”

“Excellent, excellent! Senior apprentice brother Shen, where did you find these?”

“Think about it, there is one thing in this Escort House that was out of place. What was it?”

“Out of place? Lots of things are out of place in this son of a turtle Escort House. For one, their Kung Fu skills were so damn poor, but they hung a picture of a vicious looking lion on their flagpole,” Ji scoffed.

“We replaced the big lion with a pair of woman’s pants. Now it is appropriate.” Shen laughed. “Think again! Are there any other strange things in this Escort House?”

“These Hunan asses have too many odd habits. For example, Escort Zhang is the chief of the entire branch Escort House, but he put a coffin in the room next to his own bedroom. What bad luck! Ha-ha!” Ji slapped his leg.

“Use your head!” Shen chuckled. “Why would he put a coffin in the next room? Could it be the body of his wife or son that he really hates to part with? I think not! I figured he hid something important in the coffin. The coffin was just used to….”

“Aha!!” Ji jumped up in realization. “That’s it! That’s it! These treasures were hidden in the coffin! Cool! Damn! These sons of turtles Escorts are just too sneaky. Senior brother Shen, these two bags are of the same size. How can I take the same amount as you? You should take a greater share.” Then there came the sounds of gold and jade, tumbling

against each other; apparently, Ji took some jewels out from one bag and put them into another.

There was no sound from Shen declining the offer.

“Senior apprentice brother Shen, I’ll go get some water. Let’s wash our feet and then get some rest,” Ji suggested. He yawned, and then pushed the door open and walked out.

Lin Pingzhi shrank his body under the window, not daring to move a muscle. He peeked from the side of his eyes and caught the glimpse of a

short and fat man. It was the one who had kicked him earlier in the day.

A little while later, Ji returned with a basin of hot water.

“Senior apprentice brother Shen, this time, Master sent dozens of

apprentices out. I’d say that the two of us have achieved the most. Thanks to you, even I will look good this time. Senior apprentice brother Jiang and other apprentices went to strike the Guangzhou branch, and senior brother Ma and some other apprentices went to strike the Hangzhou branch; they

are so careless, even if they see a coffin, they wouldn’t figure out that there could be treasure inside.”

“Senior apprentice brother Fang, junior apprentice brother Yu, and Jia Renda got the Fuzhou Headquarters. They must have found more than we did. But since Master’s precious son got killed in Fuzhou, they’re going to end up with more blame than credit,” Shen said cheerfully.

“Master, himself, organized the attacks against the Fortune Prestige Escort House headquarters; senior apprentice brother Fang and junior

apprentice brother Yu were just scouts,” Ji said, “Master won’t blame senior apprentice brother Fang and junior apprentice brother Yu for the death of junior apprentice brother Yu. This time we are striking out in full strength.

All the apprentices started the attacks against the headquarters and the branches of the Escort House at the same time. But no one expected that the skills of the Lin family were nowhere near their reputation; just three scouts alone were enough to capture Lin Zhennan and his wife. Even Master didn’t see that coming. Ha-ha!”

Lin Pingzhi felt cold sweat dripping down his forehead. It was clear that the Qingcheng Sword School had been plotting the attacks for a long time, and attacked all the Escort Houses simultaneously. The trouble didn’t start because he had killed that man named Yu; even if he hadn’t killed that rascal Yu, they would have attacked the Escort Houses all the same. Even Yu Canghai, himself, came to Fuzhou; it was no wonder then, that there was an attacker with the skill necessary to perform the “Heart Crushing Palm.” But how did the Escort House offend the Qingcheng Sword School? Why did they attack so viciously? By now, he realized he no longer needed to blame himself for causing all the trouble and his rage was ready to explode. If it weren’t for the fact that his Kung Fu skills were no match for his enemies, he’d have broken through the window and chopped the two

animals inside into little bits! Then he heard splashing from inside. The two had begun washing their feet.

“Master didn’t have the wrong impression,” Shen continued. “Years ago, when the Fortune Prestige Escort House shocked the southeast region of the Martial World, they seemed to have some real skills. The ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Art’ earned them a great reputation; they couldn’t have done it by trickery. I’d say the descendants probably weren’t smart enough to learn the real skills from their ancestors.”

Lin Pingzhi’s face turned red with shame.

“Before we came down Mount Qingcheng,” Shen went on, “Master taught us the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art.’ Although we couldn’t learn the

complete set of techniques very well in only a couple of months, I think this set of sword moves has a lot of potential; it’s just hard to release the power. Junior apprentice brother Ji, how much did you figure out?”

“I heard from Master that even Lin Zhennan himself, could not grasp much of the true idea behind the set of sword moves,” Ji replied, “so I didn’t really study it that hard. Senior apprentice brother Shen, Master gave the order for all apprentices to meet at Hengshan; this means that senior

apprentice brother Fang and the others will bring the Lin couple to

Hengshan, right? I wonder what kind of character the descendent of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ is.”

Hearing the shocking news that his parents were still alive, and would be brought to Hengshan, Lin Pingzhi felt both joy and sorrow at the same time.

“In just a few short days, you will meet him,” Shen said, “then you can practice the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ with him, ha-ha.” Suddenly the window opened. Lin Pingzhi was astounded and thought that they had discovered him. Just when he was about to run away, he was doused with hot water from the basin being poured out of the

window. He almost cried out in astonishment because of the soaking. The light in the room was soon put out, and darkness fell over the courtyard.

Lin Pingzhi was still in shock. He could feel water dripping down from his face, and it had a foul odor, he then realized that fellow Ji must have poured the filthy water, in which they just washed their feet, on him. Although Ji didn’t do this intentionally, it was still quite humiliating. But at least, he had learned some information regarding his parents; so no matter what, even if he had to be soaked in urine, it would have been worth it.

The night was now silent. Afraid that the two might hear him if he left right away, he decided to wait till they fell asleep. He leaned against the

wall and stayed motionless under the window. After quite a while, the sound of snores arose from inside, and he stood up slowly.

Lin Pingzhi glanced back and suddenly saw a long quivering shadow cast on the window. Startled, he squatted down instinctively. Then he discovered that it was the window shutter wobbling slightly in the night

wind, and realized that Ji didn’t bolt the window after dumping out the water.

“Now is the perfect time for revenge!” he told himself.

He pulled out his long sword with his right hand, then gently lifted the shutter with his left hand, climbed into the room, and then slowly closed the window. Moonlight shone through the paper on the window; he could

see the two men asleep, one on each bed, by one side of the room. The one with a bald head was facing the wall. The other with a wild bush of a beard was lying on his back. Five bags and two swords sat on the table in front of the beds. Lin Pingzhi raised his sword. “One slash each, just as easy as that!” he thought to himself. But when he was about to swing his sword at the fellow who had his face up, another thought came to him. “If I kill these two in such an underhanded way, I would simply be a sneaky murderer. If, later, I can master the family Kung Fu skills, and then challenge these

Qingcheng villains, face to face, that would be a hero’s way of doing it!”

He moved the five bags to the table by the window, pushed the

window open gently, and then stepped out. He slid his sword back into its sheath by his waist and took all the bags out through the window. After tying three of the bags to his back and grabbing the other two with his hands, he walked slowly toward the back courtyard, afraid to make any noise that might wake up the two. He opened the back door and quietly walked out of the Escort House. After orientating himself with his

surroundings he headed directly toward the south town gate. The gate was still closed because it was nighttime, so he hid by a small hummock and tried to get some rest. His heart beat very rapidly, since he still feared that

the two Qingcheng apprentices might find out what had happened and come after him before he could get away.

At dawn the next morning, when the gate opened, he went out immediately, and spared no strength running down the road. After running for four or five miles, he finally felt he was out of danger and calmed down. Ever since leaving Fuzhou, this was the first time he truly felt relaxed.

Seeing a small noodle restaurant by the road, he went in and ordered a bowl of noodles. He did not dare to stay long, so after finishing up the bowl, he immediately reached into the bag for money and took a small lump of silver out to pay for the meal. The restaurant owner gathered all the copper coins in the small restaurant and still could not find enough change. Lin Pingzhi simply waved his hand and said loudly, “Keep the change! Don’t worry about it!”

After so many days of ill treatment, humiliation, and being looked down upon during his travels, Lin Pingzhi finally reclaimed his rich Young Master attitude.

After another ten miles, Lin Pingzhi arrived at a large town. He booked a first-class inn room and then opened the five bags after bolting the door and the windows shut. The first four bags contained all manner of gold, silver, jade, and jewelry. The fifth bag, a bit smaller, contained a beautiful brocade box, and inside the box, there was a pair of five-inch tall jade horses.

“With just one branch of the Escort House, we’ve already

accumulated so much treasure, no wonder even the Qingcheng Sword School has cast greedy eyes on the Escort Houses,” he thought aloud.

He took out some small lumps of silver and put them in his pocket, and then combined all the rest into a big package he could carry on his back. He then went to the market and bought two fast horses. For the next couple of days, he rode the two horses in turns and only slept four or five hours each night. Thus, by spending as much time as possible traveling, he soon arrived at the town of Hengshan.

As soon as he entered the town, he noticed many denizens of the

Martial World, going about the streets. Concerned about the possibility of bumping into Fang Renzhi or other Qingcheng Sword School members, he ducked his head and straightaway went to look for an inn. But after

checking several inns, he found that none of them had any vacancy.

“It’s going to be Master Liu’s Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony three days from now; that’s why our inn is already full of guests. Try your luck at another inn,” a porter suggested. With no other choice, Lin Pingzhi tried his luck in some remote streets, and after asking at three different inns, he finally found a small room. He figured, “Although I have covered my face with ashes, Fang Renzhi is pretty sharp, and he might still be able to see through my disguise.” So he bought three pieces of sticking plaster at the local pharmacy and stuck the plaster to his face. He stretched his eyebrow

downward and pulled the left corner of his mouth up until it was turned over and revealed half of his teeth. When he looked at himself in the mirror,

Lin Pingzhi saw an ugly man of miserable appearance; even he himself

could not stand it. He then strapped the big bag containing all the treasure against his back and then dressed over it. Bowing down a little, he was transformed into a hunchback with a big hump.

“I look so dreadful, even Mom and Dad wouldn’t recognize me now.

No more worries,” he thought.

After eating a big bowl of noodles with pork chops, he decided to just wander around, hoping to accidentally bump into his parents, or simply hear something about the Qingcheng Sword School. Any information at all

would be useful. He wandered for about half a day, until small raindrops suddenly began to fall from the sky. He bought a big bamboo fiber hat on the street and hurriedly put it on. Dark, heavy clouds were gathering close to the horizon, and it seemed that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime

soon. He turned into a street and saw a teashop full of people, so he went in and sat down. The waiter brought out a teapot, a small plate of pumpkin

seeds, and a small plate of broad beans.

Lin Pingzhi drank a cup of tea and started chewing the seeds to kill time, when he heard somebody say, “Hey hunchback! Mind if we share your table?” The man did not wait for Lin Pingzhi to answer and just sat down. Two others sat down, as well. At first, Lin Pingzhi didn’t realize that the man was talking to him.

After a slight hesitation he finally remembered that he was the “hunchback” they had referred to, so he replied with a smile, “Sure, sure, be my guest!” All three were dressed in black and all had weapons by their waists.

The three men were intent upon their drinking and conversation, and didn’t even give Lin Pingzhi a second glance.

“Master Liu’s Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony is really going to be a big party. It’s still three days until the ceremony, and guests have

already filled the whole town,” a young one said.

“Of course!” a one-eyed man concurred. “The Hengshan Sword School has already got a great reputation by itself, not to mention that it is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, which is even more famous. Who wouldn’t want to be on their good side? Besides, Liu Zhengfeng, Master Liu, is excellent in Kung Fu. His expertise is in the thirty-six moves of Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword, and he is

considered the second best in the Hengshan Sword School, only slightly lower in skill than the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School – Great Mr. Mo. Lots of people have wanted to make his acquaintance, but he never had birthday parties, or weddings for his children, or any kind of events, so there were no good excuses to meet him. No wonder all kinds of people from the Martial World are gathering here once they heard about the happy Gold Basin Hand Washing event. I’d say tomorrow and the day after, it’s going to be even more crowed in the town of Hengshan.”

“Not everyone is coming here just to make friends with Liu Zhengfeng,” another man with a graybeard said sardonically. “The three of us are not coming for that, are we? Liu Zhengfeng is doing his Gold Basin Hand Washing; that means after the ceremony, he will never use his Kung Fu again, and will no longer care about justices and injustices in the Martial World. There won’t be a Master Liu in the Martial World, anymore. Since he will vow to never use his sword again, what’s the use of the thirty-six moves of the Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword? After the Hand Washing, a Kung Fu master would be just like any average person, and all his skills will be wasted. What’s the point of making friends with him, then?”

“Well,” the young one argued, “although Master Liu won’t be using his Kung Fu skills anymore, he is still the second most powerful person in the Hengshan Sword School. By making friends with Master Liu, one can also make friends with the Hengshan Sword School, which in turn means you can make friends with the Five Mountains Sword Alliance!”

“To make friends with the Five Mountains Sword Alliance? Are you worthy of that?” The graybeard sneered.

“Brother Peng, don’t talk like that,” the one-eyed man said. “We live in the Martial World, the more friends the better, the less enemies the luckier. The Five Mountains Sword Alliance does have great skills, yet they still show respect to all the friends in the Martial World. If they had acted

arrogantly, and looked down upon everyone else, then why are there so many guests in Hengshan Town?”

The graybeard snorted and fell silent. After a long while, he spoke

again, “Probably because people curry favor with the powerful. Just looking at them makes me angry.”

Lin Pingzhi wished the three would keep talking, so perhaps they might say something about the Qingcheng Sword School. But since they did not agree with each other, each just drank his tea and said nothing.

Then, he heard someone behind him speak with a low voice.

“Uncle Wang, I heard that Master Liu is only about fifty years old, just about the prime age for his Kung Fu skills. Why did he suddenly decide to quit the Martial World? Isn’t that a waste?” An old voice answered, “People in the Martial World have all kinds of reasons to wash their hands. For example, someone can be a big gangster of the heterodox persuasion, who had committed many crimes, but after

washing his hands, he won’t be killing people or burning houses any longer. So, by doing this, he can firstly leave a better reputation for his descendants; and secondly, if serious crimes were committed in his neighborhood, he would not be a suspect. But Master Liu is very wealthy

and his family has been rich for many generations, so of course what I just said would not apply to him.”

“Of course! It has nothing to do with him,” another man agreed.

Uncle Wang continued, “One that studies martial arts deals with

combat all his life. It is very possible that at some point, he will hurt or kill somebody and make enemies. As he gets old, knowing that all these

enemies are still out there in the Martial World could really weigh him down with worry. Now when Master Liu invited so many guests and informed the entire world that he won’t be using Kung Fu anymore, what he is really saying is that his enemies won’t have to worry about his taking revenge, and that he, himself, hopes that his enemies won’t come and give him trouble, either.”

“Uncle Wang, don’t you think he is really putting himself at a disadvantage?” the young man asked.

“Why a disadvantage?” Uncle Wang didn’t understand the question. “Master Liu won’t be going around giving trouble to other people,”

the young man explained, “but other people can come and give trouble to him at anytime. If someone wants to kill him, and Master Liu can’t use his Kung Fu skills, then is he just going to let them kill him without even defending himself?” “You young lads really don’t know much!” Uncle Wang grinned. “If somebody wants to kill you, of course you are going to defend yourself.

With the kind of fame the Hengshan Sword School has and the great skills Master Liu possesses, one should pray to Buddha that Master Liu doesn’t give him any trouble. Who would be so stupid as to give trouble to him? Do they have the heart of a lion or the guts of a panther? Even if Master Liu decides to not fight them himself, he has many apprentices; which of them would be easy to overcome? You are really worrying for nothing!”

“There is always someone stronger than the strong. Who dares to

claim that he can defeat all comers?” the graybeard that sat opposite to Lin Pingzhi murmured to himself. But he spoke with a very low voice and neither of the two behind him heard his words.

“Like those escorts,” Uncle Wang went on, “if they had made a fortune, and then decided to retire at the height of their career, close their business early, wash their hands and stop earning risky money, that would have been a smart thing to do.”

These words struck Lin Pingzhi like a thunder. “If Father had retired a couple of years ago and washed his hands, what would life be like today?” he couldn’t help asking himself.

“Clay jars always break by the well; generals always die in battles. Onlookers always see better than the players; to really quit at the height of one’s career is far easier said than done,” the graybeard murmured again.

“Absolutely!” the one-eyed man couldn’t agree more. “For the last couple of days, I’ve heard many people say: ‘Master Liu’s fame is like the sun at high noon, and he resolutely retired at the height of his career. How admirable!’”

A middle-aged man, dressed in silk robes, sitting by the table on the left, broke into their conversation. “I was in the town of Wuhan a couple of days ago. I heard from some friends in the Martial World that Master Liu had to wash his hands and renounce the Martial World because of troubles that would be better left unmentioned.”

“What did they say? Why don’t you tell us about it?” the one-eyed man turned around and asked.

“The story would be fine in Wuhan. But here in Hengshan, I’d better not speak so freely,” the man smiled.

“Many people have already heard the rumor, so why do you bother pretending it’s such a secret?” a short fat man said in a deep grumpy voice. “Everybody is saying that Master Liu has to wash his hands, because he is too skilled in Kung Fu and that he is too popular among friends.”

He spoke with a loud voice, and instantly, all interested eyes turned to

him.

“Why does someone have to quit the Martial World because of his

skills and popularity? Why is that?” several people asked at the same time. “People who don’t know the inside story will be confused, of course,

but once you learn the secrets, you won’t think it strange at all,” the short fat man said contentedly.

“What inside story?” somebody asked.

The short fat man just smiled, but did not answer.

“Why bother asking him? He doesn’t know the story, either. He’s just blowing a lot of hot air,” a thin man several tables away retorted haughtily.

“Of course I know it,” the short fat man declared loudly, unable to ignore the barb. “Master Liu is washing his hands, because he takes the

situation as a whole into consideration – so there won’t be internal conflict within the Hengshan Sword School.”

Once again, several people clamored for an explanation, all at once. “How is he taking the situation as a whole?” “What internal conflicts?”

“Do they have problems between fellow apprentices?”

The short fat man began his explanation. “Outsiders all consider Master Liu the second best fighter in the Hengshan Sword School, but

everybody in the Hengshan Sword School knows that Master Liu’s skill in the thirty-six moves of the Wind-twirling Geese-falling Sword is far greater than the Head Master of Hengshan Sword School – Great Mr. Mo. Great

Mr. Mo can pierce three wild geese with one thrust, but Master Liu can get five. All of the apprentices under Master Liu are better than those

apprentices under Great Mr. Mo. The situation has become more and more tense. In a couple of years, Great Mr. Mo’s fame most likely will be

eclipsed by that of Master Liu. I heard that the two factions have already fought a couple of times in secret. Master Liu has a large, wealthy family. He doesn’t want to compete with his senior apprentice brother for fame. That’s why he wants to wash his hands so he can just retire quietly to a life of peace and luxury.”

“Most admirable!” many people declared, nodding. “Master Liu knows what’s important and what’s not. People like that are rare.”

“Then Great Mr. Mo is really making a great mistake. Isn’t he weakening the power of his own Hengshan Sword School by forcing Master Liu to renounce the Martial World?” someone else asked.

“How can one man figure everything out? All I want is to be the Head Master of the Sword School without challenge. Who the hell cares if the power is more or less?” the middle-aged man in silk sneered in imitation of Great Mr. Mo.

The short fat man took a couple of sips of tea and began banging the lid of the teapot loudly. “More tea, more tea!” he shouted. Then he said,

“See, this is really a big event for the Hengshan Sword School. There are guests from every kind of school and clan, but the Hengshan Sword School itself….”

Before he could finish his sentence, someone near the door struck some chords on a huqin,25 and someone began to sing, “The poor Yang Family, showed great loyalty, protected…the Song Government….” The words were drawn out and sounded quite melancholic. Everybody turned around to look, and saw an old, tall, thin man sitting next to a table. His

face looked haggard, and he was dressed in a long blue robe. The robe had been washed so many times that some parts looked more white than blue, making him look quite decrepit. He was obviously some kind of a begging performer.

“Shut your devilish voice,” the short fat man yelled at him. “Don’t you know that you just cut me off?”

The old man stopped playing his huqin so loudly, but continued humming, “At the Golden Sand Beach…double dragons met…lost the battle….”

“Hey, buddy, you were just talking about all the schools and clans having sent people, so what about the Hengshan Sword School, itself?” someone asked.

“The apprentices of Master Liu are greeting guests all over Hengshan town, but other than Master Liu’s apprentices, have you seen any other

apprentices from Hengshan Sword School?” the short fat man continued.

The people in the crowd just looked at each other and their speculation turned into an indistinct buzz.

“That’s right! How come we didn’t see any? But isn’t that a bit disrespectful to Master Liu?”

The short fat man grinned at the man in the silk robe. “That’s why I think you are just plain chicken; afraid to talk about the internal conflict in the Hengshan Sword School. What are you worried about? No one from the Hengshan Sword School is going to be here, so how are they going to hear about this?”

The sound of the huqin once again got louder and the tune changed. The old man began to sing again, “The young lad caused great trouble….”

“Stop annoying people,” a young man yelled at him. “Here’s some money!” He flicked his hand, and a bundle of copper coins flew over and landed right in front of the old man. The aim was very accurate. The old man thanked him and put the coins in his pocket.

“Hey, brother, you are a projectile expert! That throw was most excellent!” the short fat man exclaimed in praise.

“It was nothing.” The young man smiled. “So brother, according to what you are saying, Great Mr. Mo is not showing up!”

“How could he show up? The relationship between Great Mr. Mo and Master Liu is like that of water and fire. They’d start a fight the minute they saw each other. Master Liu has already given ground. Great Mr. Mo should be satisfied,” the short fat man said.

The old huqin player stood up suddenly, and walked slowly in front of the short fat man. He looked him up and down.

“What do you want, old man?” the short fat man demanded in annoyance.

“You are talking nonsense!” The old man shook his head then turned around and walked away.

Infuriated, the short fat man stuck his hand out to grab the old man by his scruff. Without warning, a light flashed in front of his eyes and the blade of a long thin sword flew toward the table. The sharp ring of the blade

echoed. The short fat man was so astonished that he jumped back instinctively, afraid of being hurt by the sword. Then he saw the old man slowly insert the sword into the bottom of the huqin till the entire sword disappeared into the instrument. No one would have expected a sword to be hidden in an old huqin.

“You are talking nonsense!” the old man shook his head again, then

slowly walked out of the teashop. Everyone watched him disappear into the rain, and all there was left was the sad music from the huqin, drifting

aimlessly in the distance.

“Look, look at the table!” someone uttered in a cry of surprise.

Everyone looked in the direction his finger was pointing. There were seven teacups on the table where the short fat man had sat; a ring, about half an inch wide, had been neatly sliced from each cup. The seven china rings had fallen by the cups, yet none of the cups even moved an inch.

People in the teashop gathered around and everyone started talking about the cups.

“Who is he? What incredible sword skills!” one person exclaimed.

“One slice gets all seven cups and none of the cups moved at all, it’s almost like magic!” another one praised.

“Luckily the old gentleman showed mercy upon you,” someone said to the short fat man, “otherwise your head and neck would have been just like these cups.”

“Nah! That old gentleman must be a famous master; he would never have lowered himself to behave so commonly!” another one commented.

The short fat man just stared at the seven half-cups blankly. His face was completely white and he did not hear a word said by the crowd.

“See, I told you not to talk so much,” the middle-aged man in the silk robe said. “Trouble comes from unnecessary words; worry comes from

acting without thinking. Right now there are all kinds of hidden dragons

and crouching tigers in Hengshan, and many of them are elite fighters! That old gentleman must be a good friend of Great Mr. Mo. He heard your disrespectful words about Great Mr. Mo, so of course, he decided to teach you a lesson.”

“He wasn’t a good friend of Great Mr. Mo,” The graybeard said

coldly. “That was the Head Master of Hengshan Sword School, ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang,’ Great Mr. Mo, himself.”

“What? He…he was Great Mr. Mo? How do you know?” Everyone was shocked and asked the question simultaneously.

“It’s quite elementary,” the graybeard said. “Great Mr. Mo loves to play the huqin and especially the song ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang.’ It could move the listeners to tears. The words ‘sword hidden in the huqin, sword plays the music’ are an apt description of his Kung Fu skills. Since all of you are in Hengshan town, how could you not have heard of that? That brother said earlier that Master Liu could pierce five wild geese with one thrust, but that Great Mr. Mo could only get three, so he sliced seven cups to demonstrate his abilities. If even cups can be sliced into pieces, how hard do you think it would be to get wild geese? No wonder he said that you

were talking nonsense.”

The short fat man was still in shock. He lowered his head, speechless.

The man in the silk robe paid the bill and dragged him out of the teashop. The people in the teashop had watched the magic thrust from “Night

Rain of Xiaoxiang” Great Mr. Mo, and suddenly they all felt a chill settle in their hearts. Since none had dissented while the short fat man was defaming Great Mr. Mo, they were worried that they might have planted seeds of trouble, so they all paid their bills and left hurriedly. In a short while, the once crowded teashop became almost empty. Other than Lin Pingzhi, there were only two other guests, bent over a table, dozing off. Lin Pingzhi gazed at the seven half-cups and the seven china rings on the table and sank deep in thought. The old man had been so wretched looking, that it seemed someone could have pushed him over with a single finger, yet with a mere wave of his sword, all seven cups had been sliced in half. If Lin hadn’t left Fuzhou, he would have never known that there could be people with such outstanding skills in the world. He was like a frog,

watching the sky from inside a well back at the Fortune Prestige Escort House. At that time, he thought that the highest level of Kung Fu people

could achieve would be, at most, on par with that of his father. If he were to become a student of this old man and work hard on his Kung Fu training, he might actually have a chance to avenge the Escort House; otherwise, there was really no hope.

Lin Pingzhi mulled over the idea a bit longer. Why couldn’t he go and find this Great Mr. Mo and implore him to rescue his parents and take him as an apprentice? He stood up in excitement, but a seed of doubt sprouted

within his thoughts. After all, Mo was the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, and the Five Mountain Sword Alliance had a good relationship with the Qingcheng Sword School; why would he offend his allies for a total stranger? At this discouraging thought, he sat back down feeling utterly depressed.

Just then, a melodious and tender voice rose, “Second apprentice brother, it looks like the rain just won’t stop. I’m almost soaked through. Why don’t we stop here for some hot tea?”

Lin Pingzhi was stunned. He recognized the voice the instant he heard it. It was none other than the voice of the ugly wine-selling girl who had

saved his life. He lowered his head in a hurry.

“Alright, let’s drink some hot tea to warm up a little,” a much older sounding voice answered. The two walked into the teashop and sat at a table, diagonally across from Lin Pingzhi. Lin Pingzhi glanced out of the corner of his eyes and saw the wine-selling girl in a green dress seated with her back to him. The person sitting besides her was the old man who claimed to be her grandfather.

“So you two are really fellow apprentices disguised as grandfather and granddaughter to carry out some scheme in Fuzhou,” he thought. But why did they save him? Maybe they would know of his parents’

whereabouts.

The waiter cleaned the table and brought out some hot tea. The old man saw the seven half-cups on the table beside them and could not help but utter a cry of surprise.

“Little Apprentice Sister, look!”

“Amazing! Who could have cut these seven cups?” the young girl was also quite surprised.

“Little Apprentice Sister, let me pose a riddle: One thrust seven directions, powerful enough to cut gold and jade. Who do you think cut these seven cups?” the old man asked the girl in a low voice.

“I wasn’t here when it happened; how should I know who…?” the girl started to protest, when suddenly, she started clapping her hands in glee. “I’ve got it! I’ve got it! It’s one of the thirty-six moves of ‘Wind-twirling

Geese-falling Sword,’ the seventeenth move ‘One Thrust Drops Nine Geese.’ This must be the work of Liu Zhengfeng, Master Liu,” she proclaimed triumphantly.

“I am afraid that Master Liu’s skills have not progressed to that level yet; you’ve only got it half right,” the old man shook his head with a smile.

“Hold on! Don’t say it!” The girl pointed at him with a big grin. “I know who it was. It…it…it was ‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang’ Great Mr. Mo!” All of a sudden, the sounds of applause and laughter came from seven or eight different directions. “Good job, Little Apprentice Sister!” Several people shouted.

Lin Pingzhi was startled. “Where did all these people come from?” He glanced up from the corner of his eyes again and saw that the two dozing men had stood up, and there were five others who just walked out from the teashop’s back room. One was dressed like a porter; one held an abacus in his hands, and looked like a merchant; another had a small monkey perched on his shoulder and looked like a street performer.

“Ha, so you dirty tricksters were all hiding. You almost gave me a heart attack! Where’s Big Apprentice Brother?” the young girl grinned.

“We’ve just met, and you’re already calling us dirty tricksters?” the man with the monkey said with mock seriousness.

“Well, you hid yourselves and tried to scare me, didn’t you? So of

course you’re dirty tricksters,” the girl retorted with a grin. “Why isn’t Big Apprentice Brother with you?”

“How come you don’t ask about anything else but your Big

Apprentice Brother?” The man with the monkey laughed teasingly. “We’ve barely spoken two sentences and you’ve already asked about your Big

Apprentice Brother twice. Why don’t you ask about your sixth apprentice brother?”

The girl stamped her foot on the floor. “Bah! You’re standing here in perfect shape, safe and sound Monkey-boy. Why should I bother asking

about you?”

“Well, Big Apprentice Brother is also safe and sound. Why are you asking about him then?” the man with the monkey shot back with a grin.

“I am not talking to you any more,” the girl exclaimed. “Fourth

apprentice brother, you’re the only gentleman of the bunch! Where’s Big Apprentice Brother?”

Before the man dressed as porter could answer, several others began to protest. “Ho! Only your fourth apprentice brother is a gentleman, and we are all villains? Hey, Number Four, don’t answer her.”

“Don’t answer then!” the girl exploded in a huff. “If you don’t want to tell me, fine! But don’t expect me to tell you one word about the strange and interesting things that happened on our way here when I was with

second apprentice brother.”

The man dressed as porter did not participate in any of the joking and bantering. He seemed to be a simple and straightforward person.

“We departed with Big Apprentice Brother yesterday at Hengyang,” he said. “He told us to come first. By now he is probably already sober, and will be here soon.”

“He got drunk again?” the girl frowned slightly. “Yep,” the man dressed as a porter answered.

“This time he really drank his fill,” the man with the abacus cut in. “He drank from morning till noon, and then from noon till dusk. He probably drank at least twenty to thirty liters of good wine!”

“That’s not good for his health! Why didn’t you talk to him?” the girl admonished.

The man with the abacus stuck his tongue out and made a face. “If Big Apprentice Brother would listen to other people’s advice, then the sun

would have risen from the west. But I guess if Little Apprentice Sister tried to stop him, then he might drink one liter less.” Everyone laughed at these words.

“Why did he start drinking like that? Was he celebrating something?” the girl asked. “You’ll have to ask him about that,” the man with the abacus replied. “I think he figured he would see his Little Apprentice Sister when he came to Hengshan town and felt really happy about it, so he decided to

celebrate.”

“Nonsense!” the girl sniffed, yet she sounded quite pleased.

Lin Pingzhi listened to the joking among these fellow apprentices. “It seems this girl really likes her Big Apprentice Brother very much,” he thought. “But if that second apprentice brother is already so old, the Big

Apprentice Brother must be even older. The girl is only sixteen or

seventeen, how could she fall in love with someone so old?” He thought a bit longer and then found an answer. “Ah, yes. The girl has pox-marks all over her face. She is way too ugly. No one else would take her, so she has to love an old drunkard.”

Then he heard the girl asking again, “So Big Apprentice Brother started drinking since yesterday morning?”

“I guess if we don’t tell you the whole story, you just won’t leave us alone,” the man with the monkey conceded. “Yesterday morning the eight

of us were just about to start the trip when Big Apprentice Brother suddenly detected the scent of some great wine from the street. We checked it out,

and found a beggar drinking out of a wine calabash. That really piqued Big Apprentice Brother’s sense of wine, so he went over to talk to the beggar, praising his wine, and asking what kind it was. The beggar replied that it was monkey wine, and Big Apprentice Brother asked what monkey wine was. The beggar then answered that monkeys in western Hunan Province knew how to use fruits to make wine. The fruits those monkeys used were

the freshest and sweetest, so the wine made from them was the best as well. The beggar had walked into the monkeys’ domain by accident, and the monkeys happened to be away, so he stole three calabashes of wine and also caught a small monkey. See, this is him.” He pointed to the monkey on his shoulder. One of the monkey’s legs was tied to his wrist by a line. The monkey kept rubbing its head, scratching its cheeks, and making faces; it looked very comical.

The girl looked at the monkey and burst into laughter. “Sixth

apprentice brother, no wonder your nickname is Monkey-Six. You and your little friend here look just like twins.”

“We are not twins,” Monkey-Six said with a straight face. “We are fellow apprentices. This little fellow is my Big Apprentice Brother, and I am his junior.” Everyone burst into loud laughter.

The girl laughed as well. “Aha, you are making fun of Big Apprentice Brother. Wait till I tell him about this. He’ll be sure to kick your backside.”

“How did your brother end up in your hands?” she asked again after giggling for awhile.

“My brother?” Monkey-Six was lost for a moment. “Are you talking about this little critter? Well, that’s a long story. It’s going to give me a headache!”

“You don’t have to tell me, I can guess,” the girl said archly. “Big

Apprentice Brother must have asked for the monkey, and asked you to take care of it, hoping the little thing would make a calabash of wine for him!”

“Hey, that’s right!” Monkey-Six said.

“Big Apprentice Brother always likes to come up with these hare- brained schemes,” the girl said. “The monkeys only make wine when they’re in the mountains. Now that he’s caught, why would he collect fruits to make wine? If you let him go loose to find fruits, wouldn’t he just run

away?” After a short pause she continued, “Otherwise, how come our Monkey-Six hasn’t made any wine?” “Little Apprentice Sister, you’re being impudent to your senior apprentice brother,” Monkey-Six said with mock sternness.

“Aha, now you’re flaunting your seniority.” The girl grinned. “Hey, sixth apprentice brother, you still haven’t touched on the real topic. Why did Big Apprentice Brother start drinking all the way from morning to

evening?”

“Right,” Monkey-Six said. “Big Apprentice Brother didn’t pay any mind to how dirty the beggar was and pleaded for some wine from him. The beggar was so dirty that he must have had a crust of filth on him at least three inches thick; lice were crawling in and out of his filthy clothes; tears

and mucus covered his face. Maybe there was some drool in the calabash as well….”

“Stop it! That’s gross!” the girl covered her mouth and frowned.

“You think it was gross, but not Big Apprentice Brother!” Monkey- Six exclaimed. “The beggar said that only a half calabash of wine was left out of the three. He was not going to give it away to anyone. Big

Apprentice Brother took out a tael of silver and offered one tael of silver in exchange for one mouthful of wine.”

The girl was annoyed and amused at the same time. “What a lush!” she spat.

“The beggar finally agreed,” Monkey-Six went on. “He took the money and said, ‘One mouthful! No more!’ Big Apprentice Brother replied, ‘I said one mouthful, so of course only one mouthful!’ He lifted the

calabash and started drinking. Who’d expect his mouthful to last so long that he was able to finish the entire half-calabash of wine in just one breath. It turned out that he used the Qi-Gong26 Master had taught him to drink the entire calabash of wine like a black dragon sipping water from the sea,

without ever taking a breath.” When everyone heard this, they all burst into laughter.

Monkey-Six continued, “Little Apprentice Sister, if you were in Hengyang and witnessed Big Apprentice Brother’s drinking Kung Fu, you’d have nothing but admiration for him!! ‘Spirit concentrates in the

Diaphragm, breaths flow around the Forbidden Region, soul floats in the air and rises above the mountains, energy shoots up to the stars.’ His Qi-Gong technique almost reached the pinnacle of perfection and was extremely

subtle.”

The girl laughed so hard that she almost fell down. “You big magpie,” she scolded, “describing Big Apprentice Brother in such a mean way. Huh!

And you’d better be careful, making fun of our Qi-Gong formulas and scripts!”

“I am not making things up.” Monkey-Six laughed. “Every one of these six fellow apprentices saw it. Didn’t Big Apprentice Brother drink using Qi-Gong?”

“Little Apprentice Sister, it was true!” Other apprentices by the side chimed in, nodding.

“This Qi-Gong technique was so difficult that he was the only one who was allowed to learn it. And all he could use it for was to cheat wine from a beggar,” the girl sighed in despair. Yet beneath the condemnation, there was an undercurrent of praise.

Monkey-Six continued with his story. “Big Apprentice Brother drank until the bottom of the calabash pointed to the sky; the beggar of course didn’t like it. He seized Big Apprentice Brother’s robe and kept yelling that he had agreed to only one mouthful, and how come Big Apprentice Brother had drunk all his wine? Big Apprentice Brother smiled and replied, ‘I truly only drank one mouthful. Did you see me take another breath? Without

changing breaths, it only counts as one mouthful. We did not specify if it should be a big mouthful or a small mouthful. Actually, I only drank half a mouthful, not the full mouthful. One tael of silver was for one mouthful, half a mouthful should only be worth half a tael of silver. You owe me half a tael of silver!’”

“He drank someone’s wine and still wanted to skip out on the bill?” the girl couldn’t help laughing.

“The beggar almost cried,” Monkey-Six said. “Big Apprentice

Brother then said, ‘Hey, brother, don’t be so upset, I bet you must be quite a wine connoisseur! Come on! Let’s drink our fill, my treat!’ Then he dragged the beggar into a wine house by the side of the street. Then a bowl for you, a bowl for me, and the two just drank on and on. We waited till noon, and the two were still drinking. Big Apprentice Brother then asked for the monkey and gave it to me to take care of. By afternoon, the beggar was already lying on the floor, drunk, and unable to get up. Big Apprentice Brother was still drinking by himself but not able to straighten his tongue.

He told us to come to Hengshan first, and he would be right behind us.”

“That’s why he was drinking,” The girl was satisfied. She paused for a while and then asked, “Was the beggar a member of the Beggars Clan?”

“Nope. He didn’t know any Kung Fu and he wasn’t carrying any bags either,”27 the man dressed as a porter said, shaking his head.

The girl gazed at the rain outside for a while. Seeing that there was no sign of it stopping, she murmured, “If you had come together with the others, then you wouldn’t have to make your trip in the rain today.”

“Little Apprentice Sister, you said that you and second apprentice brother saw lots of strange things on your way here; aren’t you going to tell us about them?” Monkey-Six asked.

“What’s the hurry?” the girl asked. “Let’s wait till we see Big Apprentice Brother and then I’ll tell the story, so I don’t need to tell it twice. Where did you agree to meet?”

“We didn’t arrange anything,” Monkey-Six replied. “The town of Hengshan isn’t that big; we’ll bump into each other eventually. Come on,

you tricked me into telling the story about Big Apprentice Brother drinking the monkey wine, and now you don’t want to tell us your story?”

The girl’s attention seemed to have drifted away. “Second apprentice brother, will you please tell the story to the other apprentice brothers?” She glanced over at Lin Pingzhi’s back and said, “There are all kinds of people here. Let’s find an inn first and then tell the story at our leisure.”

“All the inns in Hengshan town, big and small, are already full,” said a tall fellow, who didn’t say much before. “Since we don’t want to disturb the Liu House, when we meet Big Apprentice Brother later, let’s go to the temple outside town and rest there. Second apprentice brother, what do you think?”

Since their senior apprentice brother had not yet arrived, it was natural that the old man was looked to as the leader among the apprentices. “Agreed. Until then, we’ll wait here for Big Apprentice Brother,” he nodded.

Monkey-Six however, was eager to hear their story. “That hunchback is probably a retard. He has been sitting there for so long without moving a bit. Why should you worry about him? Second apprentice brother, when you went to Fuzhou with Little Apprentice Sister, what information were you able to gather? The Fortune Prestige Escort House was wiped out by the Qingcheng Sword School, so does the Lin family have any true skills?” he prompted them in a low voice.

Hearing the name of the Escort House mentioned Lin Pingzhi listened even more intently. “Little Apprentice Sister and I met Master in Changsha,” the old man answered. “Master told us to come to the town of Hengshan to meet Big

Apprentice Brother and the rest of you. Let’s not rush to the story about Fuzhou yet. Why did Great Mr. Mo use the move ‘One Thrust Nine Geese here?’ You all saw what happened, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” Monkey-Six immediately rushed to tell how people were talking about the Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony of Liu Zhengfeng

and how Great Mr. Mo showed up unexpectedly, and scared everybody off.

The old man nodded. After a long pause, he said, “A lot of people in the Martial World are saying that Great Mr. Mo is not getting along with Master Liu. Now that Master Liu is about to have the Hand Washing

ceremony, I really don’t understand why Great Mr. Mo is acting in such an odd manner and not showing himself in public.”

“Second apprentice brother, I heard that the Head Master of the Taishan Sword School, Priest Tian-Men himself, came, and has already arrived at the Liu House,” the man with the abacus said.

“Priest Tian-Men came in person?” the old man said in surprise. “Master Liu is really going to look good now. Since Priest Tian-Men is

staying at the Liu House, if a fight really breaks out between Liu and Mo, the two apprentice brothers of Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo

won’t have such an easy job of it with such an elite fighter as backup for Master Liu.”

“Second apprentice brother, whom will Master Yu from the Qingcheng Sword School help then?” the girl asked.

Hearing the words “Master Yu from Qingcheng Sword School,” Lin Pingzhi felt as if somebody had just punched him in the stomach.

Monkey-Six and the others all started talking at once. “Master Yu is here too?” “It is not easy to get him off Mount Qingcheng.”

“There’s going to be a big crowd in Hengshan now. So many master level elite fighters! I am afraid that there might be some big fights.”

“Little Apprentice Sister, who told you that Master Yu came too?” “Why do I have to be told? I saw him with my own eyes,” the girl

stated.

“You saw Master Yu? In Hengshan?” Monkey-Six asked.

“Not only in Hengshan town, but also in Fujian province and Jiangxi province,” the girl said.

“Why did Master Yu go to Fujian, Little Apprentice Sister? But I guess you probably wouldn’t know, would you?” the man with the abacus said.

“Fifth apprentice brother,” the girl replied, “you don’t have to prod me. I was going to tell you, but since you want to provoke me, I won’t say a thing!”

“This story is only about the Qingcheng Sword School. There’s no harm if others overhear it. Second apprentice brother, what was Master Yu doing in Fujian? How did you see him?” Monkey-Six couldn’t stay his

curiosity.

“Since Big Apprentice Brother hasn’t come yet,” the old man said, “and the rain won’t be stopping soon, there’s not much to do anyway. Let me tell you the story from the beginning. Once you understand the cause and effect, when you meet someone from the Qingcheng Sword School later, at least you will be ready. Last December, when Big Apprentice

Brother beat up Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong….”

“Ha-ha!” Monkey-Six suddenly burst out laughing. “What’s so funny?” the girl glared at him. Still laughing hard, Monkey-Six answered, “I am laughing at those two arrogant fellows, naming themselves Renying and Renxiong.28 They’re even known by the nickname ‘Ying Xiong Hao Jie, the Four Aces of

Qingcheng’ in the Martial World. See, my name is just plain ‘Lu Dayou,’ and with such a plain name, trouble will never come looking for me.”

“That’s not true!” the girl exclaimed. “If your last name wasn’t ‘Lu,’29 and you weren’t the sixth among the apprentices, why would you have a nickname like Monkey-Six?”

“Sure, sure.” Lu Dayou smiled. “Starting from this day forth, I will change my name to….”

“Don’t interrupt second apprentice brother from telling the story,” another apprentice cut him off.

“Alright, alright, I won’t!” Lu Dayou said, but still could not help laughing.

“What are you laughing at now? You’re just a nuisance!” the girl frowned.

Lu Dayou grinned. “I was just remembering how Hou Renying and

Hong Renxiong rolled across the floor after being kicked by Big Apprentice Brother, and still couldn’t figure out who had kicked them or why they were kicked. It turned out that Big Apprentice Brother just didn’t like their names. He was shouting ‘Dumb Bear Wild Pig, the Four Asses of

Qingcheng’ loudly while drinking his wine. Hou and Hong of course got mad and came over to fight, but only got kicked down the stairs of the wine house for their trouble! Ha-ha-ha!”

Lin Pingzhi felt quite happy when he heard of their humiliation. Instantly, he felt closer to this Big Apprentice Brother. Although he had never met Hou Renying or Hong Renxiong, these two were fellow

apprentices of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao. When they got kicked down the stairs of the wine house, he could imagine how embarrassed they must have felt. Big Apprentice Brother had really helped him to vent his spleen.

“When Big Apprentice Brother took Hou and Hong down a peg,” the old man continued, “they didn’t know who Big Apprentice Brother was at the time, but later they found out. So Master Yu wrote a letter to our Master. The words were very polite, saying that he did not discipline his apprentices well and they had offended your brilliant disciple, so he specifically wrote this letter to apologize, so on and so forth.”

“This fellow Yu is really cunning,” Lu Dayou explained. “He wrote a letter of apology, but was actually complaining to Master. So because of the letter, Big Apprentice Brother had to kneel outside for a whole day and a

whole night. Master finally let him off only after all the apprentices pleaded on his behalf.”

“What do you mean ‘let him off’?” The girl retorted. “He was beaten thirty strokes anyway.”

“Hey, I got ten strokes along with Big Apprentice Brother,” Lu Dayou said. “Ha-ha, but I saw Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong rolling down the stairs with such battered looks that the ten strokes was well worth it. Ha-ha, ha-ha!”

“Look at yourself; you don’t have any remorse at all. The ten strokes were wasted!” the tall apprentice commented.

“How should I mend my ways?” Lu Dayou argued. “When Big Apprentice Brother wanted to kick them down the stairs, how was I

supposed to stop him?”

“At least you could have tried to talk him out of it,” the tall apprentice said. “Master had you pegged, ‘Lu Dayou, well, he would never try to talk anybody out of mischief. Worse, he would add fuel to the flames. Ten

strokes!’ Ha-ha, Ha-ha!” All the other apprentices laughed as well. “This time Master really wronged an innocent person.” Lu Dayou protested. “Think about it. How fast can Big Apprentice Brother kick? The two ‘heroes’ rushed in from either side. Big Apprentice Brother just lifted his bowl and kept drinking his wine in big gulps. I shouted, ‘Big Apprentice Brother, look out!’ And then I heard the loud sounds of two heavy impacts, followed by the thumping sounds of the two ‘big heroes’ as they rolled all the way down the stairs. I really would have liked to get a better view, so I

could get some pointers on the use of Big Apprentice Brother’s ‘Panther Tail Kick,’ but I didn’t even have time to look, much less time to learn. How could I have added fuel to the flames?”

“Monkey-Six,” the tall apprentice said, “let me ask you, when Big

Apprentice Brother was shouting ‘Dumb Bear Wild Pig, The Four Asses of Qingcheng,’ did you happen to shout along with him? Speak honestly!”

“Big Apprentice Brother had already started shouting, how could we, as junior apprentice brothers, not chime in to help? Are you telling me that I should have helped the Qingcheng Sword School to swear at Big

Apprentice Brother?” Lu Dayou grinned.

“See, Master didn’t judge you wrongly at all,” The tall apprentice concluded with a laugh.

Lin Pingzhi thought, “This Monkey-Six seems to be a good guy. I wonder which school or clan they belong to?”

“We must all truly remember the words Master used to rebuke Big

Apprentice Brother,” the old man said. “Master said, ‘In the Martial World, people have all kinds of nicknames: ‘Prestige of the South’, ‘Wind-Chasing Hero’, ‘Grass Top Flying Man’ and what have you. None of them should be taken so literally. How could anyone verify the accuracy of so many names? If someone wants to be called ‘Ying Xiong Hao Jie,’ fine, let him be called that. If they are truly chivalrous, then we should be eager to admire them and try to make friends with them, how could we have any thoughts of hatred? But if they are not chivalrous, then their infamy would be known in the Martial World. Everyone would look down upon them, so why should we bother with them?’”

Hearing second apprentice brother’s words, everyone nodded in agreement.

“Still, my name ‘Monkey-Six’ is much better. No one will ever get mad at it,” Lu Dayou murmured.

“Since Big Apprentice Brother kicked Hou and Hong down the

stairs,” the old man continued with a smile, “this incident was seen as a huge humiliation and embarrassment for the Qingcheng Sword School, so of course none of their people ever talked about it; even among fellow

apprentices, few know about it. Master had exhorted us not to let the information out, thus avoiding conflicts. So starting from now on, let’s not talk about this anymore, in case somebody overhears us and spreads the

story about.”

“To be frank, I really think Qingcheng Kung Fu has an undeserved reputation. Even if we did offend them, it wouldn’t really matter….” Lu Dayou was tempted to express his opinion.

Before he could even finish, the old man yelled at him, “Sixth

apprentice brother, if you keep talking nonsense, I will have to tell Master. Maybe you’ll get another ten strokes. Do you know that Big Apprentice

Brother was able to kick those two down the stairs with a ‘Panther Tail

Kick’ only because: firstly, he launched the attack unexpectedly; secondly, he is an outstanding apprentice in our school, and other apprentices are no match for him. Do you think you have the skills to kick those two down the stairs?” “Don’t compare me to Big Apprentice Brother,” Lu Dayou said, sticking his tongue out and waving his hands.

“The Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Master Yu, is really a martial genius,” the old man said with dead seriousness, “whoever underestimates him will surely be in trouble, sooner or later. Little

Apprentice Sister, you have seen Master Yu before. What do you think of him?”

“Master Yu? He was so terrible, he…he frightens me; I don’t…don’t want to see him again,” the girl exclaimed. Her voice trembled slightly, and seemed to contain traces of fear.

“Master Yu was frightening? Did you see him kill somebody?” Lu Dayou asked.

The girl shrank and did not answer the question.

“On the day our Master received the letter from Master Yu, he was so angry that he inflicted those harsh punishments on Big Apprentice Brother and sixth apprentice brother. The next day he wrote a letter and told me to

send it to Mount Qingcheng…,” the old man said.

“So that was what you were doing that day when you left in such a hurry. You were actually heading to Mount Qingcheng,” several apprentices cried out.

“Yep,” the old man nodded, “at that time Master told me to not mention it to any fellow apprentices to avoid additional incidents.”

“What additional incidents? Respectful Master was just being careful.

Things the Master asks us to do of course are things with good reasoning behind them. Who would agree otherwise?” Lu Dayou stated.

“What do you know?” The tall apprentice cut in. “If second

apprentice brother had told you about it, you would surely have passed the message on to Big Apprentice Brother. Although Big Apprentice Brother wouldn’t disobey Master’s orders, it is very possible he would find some unusual ways to make trouble for the Qingcheng Sword School.”

“Third apprentice brother is right,” the old man agreed. “Big

Apprentice Brother has many friends in the Martial World. If he really

wants something done, he doesn’t necessarily have to do it himself. Master told me that the letter contained all kinds of apologetic words to Master Yu, saying that his wayward apprentice was too ill-mannered; how he found the acts reprehensible; how he should have expelled the apprentice from the

school, but if he did so, everyone in the Martial World would think that conflict existed between your respectful school and our school, which

wouldn’t be a good thing; now he had those two wayward apprentices….” He gave Lu Dayou a glance at these words.

“So I am a wayward apprentice as well!” Lu Dayou was displeased.

“Is placing you at the same level as Big Apprentice Brother a disgrace for you?” the girl asked.

Lu Dayou immediately became very happy. “You’re right! Get me some wine, get me some wine!” he yelled.

The teashop only had tea for sale, not wine. The waiter rushed to the table and said, “Ha you all, our teashop only has Dragon-Well, Dongting- Spring, Puer, Iron-Buddha. Ha you all, we don’t sell wine, you all.” The people of the Hengyang and Hengshan region had their own special accent, and this waiter was no exception.

“Ha you all! So ha your all’s shop doesn’t sell wine? Then I won’t drink ha your all’s wine. Ha you all!” Lu Dayou mimicked.

“Sure, sure, ha you all!” the waiter answered. He then filled all the teapots with boiled water.

The old man continued, “Master said in the letter that he had already had the two wayward apprentices harshly punished; he would have made the two go to Mount Qingcheng themselves to offer a humble apology, but the two wayward apprentices were hurt so badly from their punishment, they could not even walk; that’s why he sent his second apprentice Lao

Denuo to take the rebuke in their stead; this incident was solely caused by the wayward apprentices, he hopes Master Yu does not take too much offense for the sake of the good relationship between the Qingcheng Sword School and the Huashan Sword School; when they meet in the future, he

would apologize to Master Yu personally.”

“So your name is Lao Denuo and you are from the Huashan Sword School, part of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance,” Lin Pingzhi thought. When he considered the words “for the sake of the good relationship between the two” in the letter, he could feel his heart beating faster. “This Lao Denuo and the ugly girl have seen me twice. I sure hope they don’t recognize me today.”

Lao Denuo’s voice rose again, “After I arrived at Mount Qingcheng, Hou Renying did not seem to hold a grudge, but Hong Renxiong was still mad about it, and ridiculed me several times to try and pick a fight….”

“Damn! Those Qingcheng fellows are aggressive! Second apprentice brother, if he wants a fight, give him a fight! What are we afraid of? I know that fellow Hong is no match for you,” Lu Dayou said.

“Master sent me there to apologize, not to make trouble,” Lao Denuo exclaimed. “So I swallowed my pride and stayed on Mount Qingcheng for six days. I was not received by Master Yu until the seventh day.”

“Humph! Harsh attitude, huh! Second apprentice brother, I bet those six days and nights on Mount Qingcheng probably weren’t too enjoyable!” Lu Dayou interrupted again.

“There certainly was a lot of baiting,” Lao Denuo said, “but I knew that Master sent me on this not because I was any better in Kung Fu skills or the like, but because I am older, so I’d do a better job staying calm. The longer I could hold my anger, the better I could accomplish the mission.

Those Qingcheng people didn’t realize that keeping me waiting for six days in the Pine-Wind Temple of Mount Qingcheng wasn’t actually doing them any good.

“During my stay in the Pine-Wind Temple, I got really bored, since they wouldn’t let me see Master Yu. On the third day, I got up early to take a walk and secretly worked on some breathing exercises to prevent my

skills from getting rusty. I was wandering around when I happened to pass by the exercise field at the rear of the Pine-Wind Temple. With a glance, I saw dozens of Qingcheng apprentices, practicing their Kung Fu. Of course in the Martial World, it is considered a taboo to watch others practice their Kung Fu, so I turned around to go back to my room. But even with such a quick glance, I felt something suspicious was going on. Each of the

apprentices was using a sword, and was obviously practicing the same set of sword moves. Each one seemed to have only just learned the set, because as they practiced, their moves looked quite stiff. But what sword technique was it? I couldn’t tell with my one glance very easily.

“After I went back to my room, I mulled over what I saw, and the more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became. Qingcheng Sword School has been well known for ages. Many apprentices have been part of the school for ten or twenty years, and each apprentice would have joined at a different time, so why was everyone learning the same sword technique at the same time? Particularly since among the dozens of apprentices were the so-called ‘Four Aces of Qingcheng’: Hou Renying, Hong Renxiong, Yu

Renhao, and Luo Renjie. Fellow apprentice brothers, if it were you that saw this scene, what would you think?” “Maybe the Qingcheng Sword School just acquired a secret sword art manual, or maybe Master Yu just invented a new set of sword techniques,

and was teaching it to his apprentices,” the apprentice with the abacus suggested.

“I was thinking the same thing in the beginning,” Lao Denuo replied, “but after I thought about it more carefully, I realized that something was not quite right. With Master Yu’s understanding of the sword arts, if these were newly created moves, then they must have been really outstanding moves. On the other hand, if they did acquire an ancient secret sword art manual, the moves it contained must have been excellent; otherwise he

wouldn’t have even bothered looking at it or asked his apprentices to practice them. New sword techniques could undo the training they had already undergone. If the moves were excellent moves, then the average

apprentice wouldn’t be able to understand them easily; he would have most likely chosen three or four of his top apprentices to try them out, not have over forty apprentices learn it at the same time. That’s more like having

someone opening a Kung Fu school for mere profit, not something a Master of a noble Martial Arts School would do.

“The next morning, I went to the rear of the temple again and strolled past the exercise field. Once again, they were practicing the same sword techniques. I did not dare to stop and watch. With a quick glance, I managed to memorize two of the moves. I figured I could ask the Master’s opinion regarding them later when I got back. By that time, Master Yu still hadn’t allowed me to see him, so naturally I suspected the Qingcheng Sword School was harboring a lot of hatred toward our Huashan Sword School. Perhaps they were practicing these new moves so they could use them against us. I kept telling myself I’d better be more careful.” “Second apprentice brother, could they have been practicing a new sword formation?” the tall apprentice asked.

“That was possible,” Lao Denuo said, “but they were mostly practicing in pairs; and the attacking side was using all the same type of moves as the defending side. It didn’t look like a sword formation to me. The morning after that, I walked by the exercise field again, but this time the whole field was completely empty. I knew that they were trying to hide something from me, so my suspicions were aroused even more. I was just wandering by and happened to glance in their direction from far away.

What secret could I have seen? It seemed that they were really practicing a powerful set of sword techniques to counter us, otherwise why would they worry so much about what I had seen?

“That night, I lay on my bed and couldn’t sleep, thinking over the whole matter. Then I heard the dim clash of weapons coming from a distance. I was startled. Did some powerful enemy just invade the Pine- Wind Temple? My first thought was that perhaps Big Apprentice Brother had gotten angry because of the punishment he received from our Master, and decided to attack the Pine-Wind Temple. He was just one person, and would not be able to fight the people of the entire temple; I had to go help

him. I did not bring any weapon with me when I went to Mount Qingcheng, and in my hurry, I could not stop to find a sword either, so I had to rush out with just my bare hands….”

“Amazing!” Lu Dayou praised. “Second apprentice brother, you have great courage! I would never dare to go fight Master Yu, the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, with only my bare hands.”

“Monkey-Six, what are you babbling about?” Lao Denuo yelled

angrily. “I didn’t say that I went to fight Master Yu with bare hands. I was just worried about Big Apprentice Brother’s safety, so although I knew it was dangerous, I just had to go. Would you have me hide under my covers like a coward?” All the apprentices laughed when they heard this.

“Here I am showering you with praise and admiration, and you get angry at me?” Lu Dayou made a face.

“Thanks, but your kind of compliments don’t sit well with me,” Lao Denuo replied.

“Second apprentice brother, go on with the story. Don’t pay any attention to Monkey-Six,” several other apprentices urged.

Lao Denuo continued, “So I got up quietly and went in the direction of the sounds. Hearing the clash of weapons getting louder and louder, my heart beat faster and faster. I thought, ‘The two of us are deep in the

enemy’s lair now. Big Apprentice Brother has excellent Kung Fu skills. He might be able to escape without injury. But for me, it’s a different story. I

am in big trouble now.’ I heard the sound of weapons float out from the

Back Hall. All kinds of lights and candles were lit there making it seem like broad daylight. I crouched down to sneak in closer, and looked inside through the cracks of the window. Then I gasped and almost burst into laughter. It turned out I was just imagining things. Because Master Yu hadn’t met with me for so many days, my imagination got carried away, and I imagined the worst thing that could happen. It wasn’t Big Apprentice

Brother coming to make trouble after all! There were two pairs inside practicing their sword moves. One pair was of Hou Renying and Hong Renxiong, the other pair was of Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao.”

“Ha, the apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School really work hard, not even rest at night,” Lu Dayou mocked. “I guess this is what they call ‘sharpening one’s spear only before going into a battle,’ or ‘no joss

sticks in fair weather, but clutching the feet of Buddha in crisis.’” Lao Denuo gave Lu Dayou a glare and continued, “In the middle of the Back Hall sat a short Taoist priest in a blue Taoist robe. He was about fifty years old and had a thin face. By the look of him, one could tell that he weighed no more than eighty pounds. It was said in the Martial World that the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School was a short Taoist priest, but if I had not seen him with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have expected him to be so short, and wouldn’t have believed that he was the famous Master Yu. There were many apprentices standing around him, attentively watching the four practicing. After watching a couple of moves, I knew instantly that they were using the new moves they had been practicing over the last

couple of days.

“I knew it was very dangerous for me to be there at that time. If the people from Qingcheng Sword School had found me, not only would I be harshly punished, but the reputation of Huashan Sword School would also have been hurt badly if the news got out. Although Master punished Big Apprentice Brother harshly for kicking the top two of ‘The Four Aces of

Qingcheng’ down the stairs, saying that he had violated the school rules and caused all kinds of trouble, and offended friends, in Master’s heart, I believe he was actually glad. At least Big Apprentice Brother had gained good publicity for our school. ‘How can they be the Four Aces of

Qingcheng? They couldn’t even fend off a single kick from the senior apprentice of the Huashan Sword School.’ But if I got caught sneaking

around, digging up other people’s secrets, it would look worse than stealing money. And when I got back to Huashan, Master would most likely have me expelled from the Huashan Sword School.

“But seeing those people practicing so hard, I really thought it might have had something to do with our school. How could I just turn around and leave? I just kept telling myself, ‘I’ll just watch a couple of more moves before leaving.’ But after watching a couple, I watched another couple, and so it went on and on. The sword moves they used were so unusual. I had never seen anything like them before in my life. But if someone claimed that these moves had some kind of great power, I couldn’t agree. I

wondered, ‘This set of sword techniques is nothing special, why would the Qingcheng Sword School want to practice it so diligently, day and night? Could this set of sword techniques be to counter our Huashan sword arts?’ It didn’t look like it!

“After watching several more moves, I dared not continue watching

anymore, so I sneaked away and went back to my room while the four were still fighting intensely. If I had waited till the four stopped fighting and the noises ended, there would have been no way for me to get away. With his

superior skills, Master Yu would have found me out after my first step outside the hall.

“In the following two nights, the sound of swords ringing against

each other kept coming from the distance, but I dared not go and watch any more. To be honest, if I had known that they were practicing sword fighting in front of Master Yu, I would never have dared to go there at all. The first time was just an accident. Just now sixth apprentice brother praised my

courage; I did not deserve such praise. If you had seen my face that night, you would have known how terrified I was, and you’d have called me the number one coward.”

“No way! No way!” Lu Dayou objected. “Second apprentice brother, you’d be at most number two. If it were I, I wouldn’t have to worry about being found out by Master Yu. I would have been so scared that my entire body would have become stiff; I would stop breathing and not be able to move an inch; pretty much no different from a zombie. No matter how outstanding Master Yu’s Kung Fu skills are, he would have never known that there was a hero named Lu Dayou hiding outside his window.” The apprentices broke into uproarious laughter.

“Later Master Yu finally granted me an audience,” Lao Denuo

continued. “He spoke in a very polite manner, saying that Master really didn’t have to punish Big Apprentice Brother so harshly. The Qingcheng Sword School and the Huashan Sword School have always maintained a good relationship. The apprentices were only roughhousing with each other, just like children playing practical jokes with each other. The parents should never take such matters too seriously. That night he invited me to dinner.

The following morning when I was leaving, Master Yu saw me off all the way to the gate of the Pine-Wind Temple. Since I was the apprentice, I of course, knelt down and kowtowed. Right after I knelt down on my left knee, Master Yu lifted his right hand slightly and lifted me right up. His power was amazing! It felt as if I had suddenly lost all of my strength and my body was floating in the air. If he had wanted to toss me thirty feet or

simply flip me over seven or eight times, I would not have had any strength to defend myself.

“Master Yu smiled slightly and asked, ‘How many more years than you has your senior apprentice brother been an apprentice of your Master? You had some prior martial arts skills before you became an apprentice to your Master, hadn’t you?’

“I was still trying to catch my breath after experiencing his grip, so I had to wait a while before answering, ‘Yes, I learned some martial arts

skills before joining the Huashan Sword School. At the time I became an

apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, Big Apprentice Brother had been an apprentice for three years.’

“Master Yu smiled again and said, ‘Three years more, hmm, three years more.’” “What did he mean by ‘three years more’?” the girl asked.

“He wore an odd expression. I guess he must have been thinking that my Kung Fu skills were mediocre, so that even if Big Apprentice Brother had studied three more years than I did, he couldn’t have been too much better,” Lao Denuo shrugged.

The girl hummed and then fell silent.

“After I went back to Mount Huashan, I gave Master the reply letter from Master Yu,” Lao Denuo went on. “The letter was written in a very polite and modest manner, so Master was very pleased after reading it.

Then, he asked about different things happening in the Pine-Wind Temple, so I told him about that night the Qingcheng apprentices practiced. Master asked me to show him a couple of the moves. I only remembered seven or eight of them, so I imitated the moves. Master said immediately when he

saw them, ‘Those are moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art of the Fortune Prestige Escort House Lin family!’”

When Lin Pingzhi heard this, his body trembled!

Chapter 3: Rescue

The door curtain was lifted, and then a little nun walked quietly into the hall. She was possessed of grace and beauty. No one would have argued that she was a perfect creation of Heaven. Although wrapped in a big and loose nun’s robe, the curves of her body were apparent from her graceful movements. She walked till she stood in front of Dingyi then knelt down gracefully.

Lao Denuo continued with his story, “So I asked Master, ‘Is this ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Art’ something very powerful? Why would the Qingcheng Sword School practice it so intensely?’

“Master did not answer right away. He closed his eyes for a long while and then said, ‘Denuo, before you became my disciple, you had

already spent much time in the Martial World. In that time, what did you hear of the Chief Master of the Fortune Prestige Escort House, Lin Zhennan?’

“I answered, ‘Our friends in the Martial World said that Lin Zhennan was not stingy when socializing with others; he treated his friends well.

Everybody liked him and left the goods he escorted alone out of respect. But with regard to his real Kung Fu skills, I am not sure.’

“Master said, ‘Right! Over the last generation, the Fortune Prestige Escort House has been successful primarily because people in the Martial World treated Lin Zhennan like a friend. Did you ever hear that Master Yu’s teacher, Evergreen, was defeated by Lin Yuantu’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword

Art’ during his youth?’

“I was lost. ‘Lin…Lin Yuantu? Was he Lin Zhennan’s father?’ I asked.

“‘No,’ Master answered, ‘Lin Yuantu was Lin Zhennan’s grandfather. He was the original founder of the Fortune Prestige Escort House. In those days when Lin Yuantu founded the Escort House with the seventy-two moves of ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ none of the heterodox members of the Martial World was a match for him. Because of his great fame at that time, even orthodox members of the Martial World went to challenge him. Evergreen was one of them, and thus was defeated by several moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art.’

“I asked, ‘So the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ is truly very powerful?’ “Master said, ‘The news that Evergreen lost the fight was kept secret

by both sides, so nobody in the Martial World knew about it. However, Evergreen was a very good friend of our Grand Master and had once mentioned it to him. He considered this one of the greatest humiliations in his life, but knowing that he would never be able to defeat Lin Yuantu, he was never able to settle the score with him. Grand Master studied the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Art’ together with him in order to identify flaws in this sword art. The seventy-two moves looked plain, but there were many

profound mysteries locked within that no one could fathom, which allowed the moves to suddenly become very swift. The two of them studied it for

several months, but still could not devise a way to counter it. At that time, I was a mere teenager who had just become an apprentice. I served them tea at those sessions and was able to watch the moves everyday, so when you demonstrated the moves, I knew they were from the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art.’ Ah, time flows like a stream. That was a long time ago!’”

Ever since Lin Pingzhi had been beaten up by the Qingcheng

apprentices without being able to defend himself, he had completely lost

confidence in his family’s Kung Fu. All he wanted was to learn from a good teacher to seek revenge later. Now hearing Lao Denuo speak of the great prestige and fame of his great grandfather, Lin Yuantu, he was greatly

encouraged. Their family’s “Evil-Resisting Sword Art” was really nothing to scoff at. Years ago, even the masters of the Qingcheng and Huashan

sword schools could not defeat it. But if this was so, why couldn’t his father defeat those Qingcheng apprentices? Perhaps his father did not learn the secret and magic parts of the sword art.

Then he heard Lao Denuo say, “I then asked Master, ‘Did Evergreen ever get his revenge?’

“Master said, ‘He only lost a challenged fight. That doesn’t require revenge. Besides, Lin Yuantu had been famous for years and was

considered an admirable senior master. Evergreen was just a little Taoist priest who barely finished training. It wasn’t a big deal for a young lad to lose to a senior master. After Grand Master comforted him, they never mentioned the incident again. Evergreen died at the age of thirty-six. Maybe he could never put the incident behind him, and finally died of depression.

Now, decades later, why would Yu Canghai suddenly make all of his

apprentices practice the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art?’ Denuo, what’s your opinion on this?’

“I said, ‘It seemed that everyone in the Pine-Wind Temple was quite serious about practicing; could Master Yu be planning to mount a large-

scale attack against the Fortune Prestige Escort House to seek revenge for the past generation?’

“Master nodded and said, ‘I think so too. Evergreen was a narrow- minded person who thought highly of himself. He must have taken his defeat to heart. He probably left some kind of order to Yu Canghai before he passed away. Lin Yuantu died before Evergreen, so if Yu Canghai were to avenge his teacher, he could only go after Lin Zhongxiong, Lin Yuantu’s son. But for some reason, he waited till now to start the attack. Yu Canghai is shrewd and deep, and always plots before attacking. There’s going to be a big fight between the Qingcheng Sword School and the Fortune Prestige Escort House.’ “I asked Master, ‘So in your opinion, who has a better chance of winning the fight?’

“Master smiled and said, ‘Yu Canghai’s Kung Fu skills have

surpassed his master, Evergreen’s. Lin Zhennan’s Kung Fu skills, although outsiders have no idea, are probably inferior to his grandfather’s. One had advanced and one had slipped back. In addition, the Qingcheng Sword

School hides in the dark while the Fortune Prestige Escort House is exposed in the light; before the real fight even begins, the Fortune Prestige Escort

House already has a seventy percent chance of losing. If Lin Zhennan were to get the information early and invite the Golden Blade Wang Yuanba in Luoyang to help out, then they might be able to put up a decent fight.

Denuo, do you want to go watch the fun?’

“I, of course, agreed joyfully. Then the Master taught me a couple of sword moves that the Qingcheng Sword School is quite fond of, as a means of protection.”

“What?” Lu Dayou jumped up. “How come Master knows moves of Qingcheng’s sword art? Ah, I see. Years ago when Evergreen practiced with Grand Master, he had to use Qingcheng’s sword art to counter the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Art,’ so Master saw them from the side.”

“Sixth apprentice brother,” Lao Denuo said, “as apprentices, let’s not speculate on the origin of Master’s Kung Fu skills. Master told me not to let any other apprentices know about this, so the information wouldn’t leak out. But Little Apprentice Sister was quite clever and somehow heard about it. She nagged Master into letting her go with me. We disguised ourselves

as grandpa and granddaughter selling wine outside Fuzhou, and then

everyday we would sneak into the Fortune Prestige Escort House to see what was going on. We didn’t see much, other than Lin Zhennan teaching his son sword arts. When Little Apprentice Sister saw the sword art, she shook her head and said to me, ‘Is this really the renowned ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art?’ It’s more like the Evil-Resisting-Not Sword Art. When evil

comes, this Young Master Lin better hide far away.’”

Lin Pingzhi’s face turned red at the laughter of the Huashan Sword School apprentices. He was so ashamed that he wished there was a hole he could crawl into. “So the two of them had been watching us in our Escort House and we knew nothing about it. We are really impotent.” He couldn’t help feeling very depressed.

“Not many days after we arrived in Fuzhou, apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School drifted in one after another,” Lao Denuo

continued with the story. “The first two that arrived were Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao. They started sneaking into the Escort House everyday to

explore the place. Little Apprentice Sister and I wanted to avoid bumping into them, so we stopped going there. It was quite a coincidence when one day, that Young Master Lin came to patronize our ‘Great Wine Shop.’ Little Apprentice Sister just had to bring out some wine for them. At first we thought he had found us out and intentionally came to let us know it. But

when I spoke to him, I learned that he was still quite clueless. That playboy didn’t know a thing and was no different from a retard. Then, guess what happened? The two most useless apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School, Yu Renyan and Jia Renda happened to come to our ‘Great Wine Shop’ as well….”

“Second apprentice brother, the ‘Great Wine Shop’ Little Apprentice Sister and you opened must have had a booming business with all kinds of revenue pouring in. You probably made a fortune in Fujian, didn’t you?” Lu Dayou applauded.

“Sure! Second apprentice brother has become quite a wealthy man now, and thanks to his luck, I was able to pick up a few crumbs as well!” the girl grinned. Everyone burst into laughter.

“Although that Young Master Lin was terrible with his Kung Fu skills and not even good enough to be Little Apprentice Sister’s student, he did have some integrity,” Lao Denuo said. “Yu Renyan, the youngest and most useless son of Yu Canghai, was so blind that he started teasing and making fun of Little Apprentice Sister. Then the Young Master Lin stepped in and tried to protect us….”

Lin Pingzhi felt both ashamed and irritated. “So the Qingcheng Sword School had deliberately planned the attacks on our Escort House, seeking revenge for their defeat in the previous generation. And the group that came to Fuzhou consisted of far more than just four. Whether I killed Yu Renyan or not didn’t matter at all.” He was so disturbed that he didn’t really listen to Lao Denuo describe how he killed Yu Renyan. But he could hear laugh

after laugh; they must have been laughing at how clumsy he had been when he tried to defend himself.

Then he heard Lao Denuo say, “That night, Little Apprentice Sister and I went back to the Fortune Prestige Escort House to check things out, and saw that Hou Renying, Hong Renxiong, and other apprentices led by Master Yu had already arrived. We were afraid to be seen by the people of Qingcheng Sword School, so we just stood far away to observe. We saw them killing the escorts of the Escort House one by one, including the ones

sent out to obtain help. Dead bodies were sent back to the Escort House one after another; they were merciless. At that moment, I thought to myself: The whole thing was just because Evergreen, someone from the last generation of Qingcheng, lost to Lin Yuantu in a challenge sword fight. If Master Yu wanted to settle the score, all he needed to do was to challenge

and defeat Lin Zhennan and his son in a sword fight. Why did he behave so maliciously? He must have wanted to avenge Yu Renyan, but why didn’t they do anything to the Lin couple and Lin Pingzhi, and only forced them to leave the Escort House? Right after the remaining escorts and the Lin family fled the Escort House, Master Yu went in. Then he sat smugly on the chief’s chair; starting then, the Fortune Prestige Escort House belonged to the Qingcheng Sword School.”

“Qingcheng Sword School wanted to get into the escorting business.

Master Yu wanted to be the Chief Master Escort!” Lu Dayou exclaimed. Everyone laughed.

“The Qingcheng people had watched the Lin family disguise themselves,” Lao Denuo went on. “Fang Renzhi, Yu Renhao, and Jia Renda got the order to go after them and bring them back. Little Apprentice Sister insisted on following them to watch the events unfold, so we followed the bunch of them. When the Lin family stopped by a small restaurant in the mountains south of Fuzhou, Fang Renzhi, Yu Renhao, and Jia Renda

showed themselves and captured the three.

“Little Apprentice Sister said, ‘It was all because of me that the Young Master Lin killed Yu Renyan. We cannot just walk away like this.’

“I tried my best to change her mind and said that if we came out and attacked the Qingcheng Sword School, we would damage the relationship between the Qingcheng Sword School and the Huashan Sword School. And since Master Yu was in Fuzhou, we also might get in big trouble.”

“Second apprentice brother is old, so of course he wanted to be

careful and doesn’t care much for action. Little Apprentice Sister must have been very disappointed,” Lu Dayou speculated.

“Little Apprentice Sister was so enthusiastic that it was hard to disappoint her even if I wanted to.” Lao Denuo smiled. “So Little

Apprentice Sister first went into the kitchen and cracked Jia Renda’s head. When he started screaming and lured Fang and Yu away, she circled to the front to rescue Young Master Lin and let him escape.”

“Terrific! Terrific!” Lu Dayou applauded. “I see! Little Apprentice Sister wasn’t just saving that fellow Lin; she had something else in mind. Great! Great!”

“What other things did I have in mind? You’re talking nonsense again!” the girl said.

“Since I was beaten by Master because of the Qingcheng Sword School, Little Apprentice Sister was unhappy, so she beat up the people of the Qingcheng Sword School to vent my anger. Thank you very much….” Lu Dayou stood up and saluted the girl.

“Monkey-Six apprentice brother, you are welcome,” the girl smiled and saluted back.

“Little Apprentice Sister beat up the Qingcheng apprentice to vent

someone’s anger, but I am not sure if that someone was you. It wasn’t just you, Monkey-Six, who got beaten by Master,” the apprentice with the

abacus said with a broad grin.

“This time sixth apprentice brother is right,” Lao Denuo smiled.

“Little Apprentice Sister really beat up Jia for sixth apprentice brother’s sake. Later if Master asks about this, she will still say so.”

“This…this is an honor I don’t want. Don’t drag me into it and get me another ten strokes of the stick,” Lu Dayou exclaimed, waving his hands.

“So didn’t Fang Renzhi and Yu Renhao chase you?” the tall apprentice asked.

“Of course they did,” the girl answered, “but second apprentice brother had learned some moves of the Qingcheng sword art, and with only the one move called ‘Swan Goose in the Sky,’ he sent their swords into the sky. Too bad second apprentice brother masked his face with a black cloth. I’ll bet that even now Fang and Yu still don’t realize that they lost to the Huashan Sword School.”

“It is better that way,” Lao Denuo said. “Otherwise, there would have been more trouble. In a straight test of skills I may not be able to win over Fang and Yu, but because I used moves from the Qingcheng sword art so unexpectedly and attacked the flaw in their technique, the two were startled, and because of that, we won again this time.”

The apprentices all agreed that if Big Apprentice Brother had known about this, he would have been very happy and excited indeed.

It started raining more and more heavily; raindrops bounced off rooftops and street surfaces like peas. A vendor, carrying a pot of wonton and his cooking utensils balanced on the ends of a pole, appeared from the

rain and stopped under the eaves of the teashop to take shelter. The old man started to knock on a bamboo block to attract customers. Hot steam was

coming out of his pot.

The Huashan apprentices had been hungry for quite a while, so when they saw the wonton vendor, they were all quite pleased.

“Hey, make nine servings of wonton for us, please. Extra eggs,” Lu Dayou shouted.

“Yes, sir!” the old man answered, and then opened the pot lid and threw the wontons into the hot soup. Moments later, five bowls of wonton were ready for the apprentices.

Lu Dayou was well behaved. He gave the first bowl to second

apprentice brother, Lao Denuo, the second bowl to third apprentice brother, Liang Fa, and the next two bowls to fourth apprentice brother, Shi Daizi,

and fifth apprentice brother, Gao Genming, respectively. He should have taken the next bowl, but he put it in front of Little Apprentice Sister instead.

“Little Apprentice Sister, after you,” he said. The girl had been teasing him all the time, calling him Monkey-Six and all, but when he gave the wonton to her, she stood up and replied respectfully, “Thanks! Apprentice brother!”

Lin Pingzhi observed everything from his vantage point by the side, and thought that they had very strict school rules; it was okay to joke

around, but all had to abide by the rule of seniority.

Lao Denuo and the others began to eat, but the girl waited till Lu Dayou and all the other apprentice brothers had their bowls of wonton before eating her own.

“Second apprentice brother, you were just talking about how Master Yu took over the Fortune Prestige Escort House. What happened after that?” Liang Fa asked.

“After Little Apprentice Sister rescued that Young Master Lin,” Lao Denuo replied, “she wanted to follow them secretly and wait for a chance to rescue the Lin couple. I pleaded with her, ‘Yu Renyan offended you the other day, and the Young Master Lin helped you. You felt gratitude and rescued him, that’s enough payback already. The score between the

Qingcheng Sword School and the Fortune Prestige Escort House came from the previous generation; why should we interfere?’ Little Apprentice Sister finally agreed. Then the two of us went back to Fuzhou and saw over ten

Qingcheng apprentices guarding the Fortune Prestige Escort House.

“That was somewhat strange. Everyone in the Escort House had fled in a rush; even the Lin couple was gone; what was the Qingcheng Sword School afraid of? Little Apprentice Sister and I could not figure it out and became quite curious, so we decided to investigate. We figured that since Qingcheng apprentices was guarding the place so tightly, it would be very hard to get in at night, so we sneaked into the garden at dusk while they

were changing shifts for dinner. After we got into the Escort House, we saw many Qingcheng apprentices busily rummaging through chests and

cupboards; some were taking down walls; others were digging up the ground. It seemed that they had turned the entire Escort House upside down. There was gold and treasure the Escorts did not have time to take with them, but those were just thrown to one side and ignored. They must have been looking for something very important, but what was it?”

“The Evil-Resisting Sword Art Manuscript!” four Huashan apprentices said almost in unison.

“Correct!” Lao Denuo said. “Little Apprentice Sister and I came to that same conclusion. It was obvious that they started searching right after they took over the Fortune Prestige Escort House. Seeing them all searching and sweating so hard, we knew that they hadn’t gotten any results.”

“So did they find it eventually?” Lu Dayou asked.

“Little Apprentice Sister and I both wanted to see the outcome,” Lao Denuo said, “but those Qingcheng people searched so thoroughly that they didn’t even forget to search the outhouses. Little Apprentice Sister and I really had nowhere to hide and had to sneak away.”

“Second apprentice brother, do you think Master Yu was making a fuss over a trivial matter by going there and leading the operation himself?” fifth apprentice Gao Genming asked.

Lao Denuo answered, “Master Yu’s teacher had lost to Lin Yuantu’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art;’ whether Lin Zhennan was an unworthy descendant or an even stronger opponent, outsiders would not have known.

It might not have been proper for Master Yu to only send a couple of

apprentices to settle the score. He went to Fuzhou himself and also urged all his apprentices to practice the sword art, then prepared in advance to start the attack. I wouldn’t really call this making a fuss. But from what I saw, I think that for him, revenge was only of secondary importance, while finding that sword art manuscript was the main priority.”

“Second apprentice brother, you saw them practicing the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Art’ in Pine-Wind Temple. If they had already known how to use this sword art, why bother looking for the sword art manuscript?

Perhaps they were looking for something else,” fourth apprentice Shi Daizi suggested.

“I don’t think so.” Lao Denuo shook his head. “What else besides

secret martial art techniques could have interested Master Yu, a master of martial arts, so much that he would be willing to spend so much effort on it? Later at the Yushan town in Jiangxi Province, Little Apprentice Sister and I met them again and heard Master Yu asking messenger apprentices from other provinces whether they had found the thing. He looked worried, so it

seemed that nobody had actually found it yet.”

Shi Daizi still could not understand. He scratched his head and asked, “They already knew how to use this set of sword arts, why would they bother looking for the sword art manuscript? How strange!”

“Think about it, fourth apprentice brother,” Lao Denuo explained. “Years ago, Lin Yuantu was able to defeat Evergreen; the sword art must have been truly outstanding. But not only was the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword

Art’ that Evergreen remembered nothing out of the ordinary, Master Yu also saw with his own eyes that the Kung Fu skills of the Lin family were not

even worth mentioning. Something was just not making sense.” “What do you mean?” Shi Daizi asked.

“There must be some secrets to the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ of the Lin Family,” Lao Denuo exclaimed. “Although the moves appear average, the power of the sword art could be very strong. And Lin Zhennan did not get to learn these secrets.” Shi Daizi thought for a while and nodded, “That’s right. But secret methods for sword arts are normally only passed down by one’s master orally. Lin Yuantu has been dead for decades, and even if they could find his coffin and dig up his body, it wouldn’t help them at all.”

“The secret code for our own sword art is taught orally by Master in spoken words, with no written parts, but not every school or clan necessarily has to be like that,” Lao Denuo said.

“Second apprentice brother, I still don’t understand,” Shi Daizi said. “It was logical that before their attack they would want the manuscript for the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art.’ Know the enemy and know yourself; this way, you can win every battle. They wanted to defeat the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ so it was better if they knew the secret within the sword art.

But the Qingcheng Sword School has already captured the Lin couple, and the Headquarters and Escort House branches have all been wiped out. What score is there left to settle? Even if there really was a powerful secret in the sword art, why should they bother looking for it?”

“Fourth brother, what is your evaluation of Qingcheng’s Kung Fu compared to the Kung Fu of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance?” Lao Denuo asked.

“I don’t know,” Shi Daizi answered. After a short while he said, “Perhaps not as good.”

“That’s right, probably not as good as ours,” Lao Denuo said. “Think about it. Master Yu is a conceited, arrogant man. Doesn’t he want his fame to be greater than everyone else in the Martial World? If the Lin Family really had some kind of secret technique, something which could change the average sword moves of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ into something very powerful, then if they used this secret technique with their Qingcheng sword art, what would happen?” Shi Daizi thought for a long while and suddenly struck the table heavily as he stood up and shouted, “I see! Yu Canghai wants his

Qingcheng sword art to be number one in the Martial World!”

Right at that moment, sounds of footsteps floated in from the street outside. Everyone in the teashop turned and saw a group of people rush toward the teashop in quick steps. From the way they ran, one could tell that they were all Martial people. They were all dressed in oilcloth raincoats, and as they got closer, everyone saw that it was a group of

Buddhist nuns.

The leading old nun was a tall one, and stopping right in front of the teashop, she shouted, “Linghu Chong, come out!”

Lao Denuo and the other apprentices recognized the old nun. She was Sister Dingyi, the Master of the White-Cloud Nunnery atop Mount Heng- Shan. She was also the junior apprentice sister of Sister Dingxian, the Head Master of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Not only was she a famous Master within the Heng-Shan Sword School, she was also a renowned master of great fame in the Martial World, and all Martial people considered her a tough fighter. All the Huashan apprentices stood up and saluted her respectfully.

“We hereby pay our respect to Uncle-Master!”30 Lao Denuo said loudly.

Sister Dingyi glanced over everyone and yelled in a husky voice,

“Where is Linghu Chong hiding? Get his ass out here!” Her voice was even huskier than that of a man.

“Uncle-Master, senior apprentice brother Linghu is not here. We have been waiting for him, and he hasn’t arrived yet,” Lao Denuo replied.

“So this Big Apprentice Brother they were talking about is named Linghu Chong. He really seems like a troublemaker. What did he do to make this old nun so mad?” Lin Pingzhi thought to himself.

Sister Dingyi surveyed the teashop and stopped in front of the girl’s face. “Are you Lingshan? Why are you disguised like that? To scare people?” she asked.

“There were some bad men who wanted to harass me, so I disguised myself to hide for a while,” the girl answered with a smile.

Dingyi gave a snort. “The rules of your Huashan Sword School are getting looser and looser. Your father is too lax with his apprentices, and that is exactly what encourages them to cause trouble wherever they go.

When I finish my business here, I’m going to have to go to Mount Huashan myself, and discuss this with him.”

“Uncle-Master, please don’t do that!” Lingshan begged worriedly. “Big Apprentice Brother just got punished with thirty strokes from Father

recently. He was wounded so badly that he could barely walk. If you talk to my father, he might get another sixty strokes of the stick. That would kill him!”

“The earlier that animal gets killed, the better. Lingshan, how can you lie to my face! Linghu Chong could barely walk? If he could barely walk, how did he manage to kidnap my little apprentice?” Sister Dingyi bellowed.

Hearing those words, the faces of the Huashan apprentices turned pale with horror.

Lingshan almost cried. “Uncle-Master,” she said hurriedly, “that’s impossible! No matter how bold Big Apprentice Brother is, he would never dare to offend fellow apprentice sisters of your respectful school.

Somebody must be making up stories to sow discord with Uncle-Master.” “You still deny it? Yiguang, what did the apprentice from the Taishan

Sword School tell you?” Dingyi barked. A middle-aged nun stepped forward. “Apprentice brothers from the Taishan Sword School said that Priest Tian-Song saw apprentice brother Linghu and junior sister Yilin drinking together in a wine house in the town of Hengyang. The wine house was called something like Huiyan House.

Junior sister Yilin had obviously been seized by apprentice brother Linghu and coerced into drinking the wine. She looked…looked very upset. And drinking together with them was that…that…villain who stops at no evil… Tian…Tian Boguang.”

Dingyi had already known this, but even hearing this the second time around, she became just as angry as before. She struck the table heavily

with her palm. Two bowls of wonton jumped off the table and smashed onto the ground.

The Huashan apprentices all looked very embarrassed. Lingshan was so worried that tears began to roll down her cheeks. “They must be lying, or…or maybe Uncle-Master Tian-Song saw a different person,” she said in a trembling voice.

“We all know who Priest Tian-Song of Taishan Sword School is,”

Dingyi exclaimed loudly. “How could he be mistaken? How could he ever speak nonsense? This animal Linghu Chong, he even gets along with an

evil person like Tian Boguang. He has sunk very low. Even if your Master doesn’t handle this seriously and covers for his students, I won’t let him go so easily. This ‘Ten Thousand Miles Loner’ Tian Boguang has been a plague on society. I, an old nun, must rid the people of the scourge. When I heard the news and went there, Tian Boguang and Linghu Chong had

already spirited Yilin away! I…I…looked everywhere but still couldn’t find them….” Her voice became hoarse. She stamped her feet on the ground and sighed, “Oh, Yilin, my child. Yilin, my child!” The Huashan apprentices’ hearts were beating rapidly. That Big

Apprentice Brother dragging a nun of the Heng-Shan Sword School off to a wine house to drink and staining the nun’s reputation was already a clear violation of school rules; to make matters worse, he made friends with

someone like Tian Boguang!

After a long pause, Lao Denuo was finally able to collect himself and speak again.

“Uncle-Master, maybe senior apprentice brother Linghu was at the

same table of Tian Boguang only by chance; that doesn’t really make them friends. Senior apprentice brother Linghu has been quite drunk these days and probably was a little hazy. What one does when drunk shouldn’t really count….”

“A drunk still has thirty percent of his faculties. As a mature adult, can’t he even distinguish between good and evil?” Dingyi roared.

“Yes, Uncle-Master!” Lao Denuo said hastily, not daring to argue. “I wonder where senior apprentice brother Linghu might be right now. Let us apprentices find him and reproach him; we’ll have him come and kowtow to apologize to you first, Uncle-Master, and then report to my Master so he can administer a heavy punishment.”

“Am I here to discipline your apprentice brother?” Dingyi snarled.

Her arm shot out suddenly and grabbed Lingshan by the wrist. Lingshan felt as if an iron hoop had bound her wrist. “Ah!” She cried out and then muttered in a trembling voice, “Uncle…Uncle-Master!”

“Your Huashan Sword School kidnapped my Yilin. I am taking a female apprentice of your Huashan Sword School in exchange. When you return my Yilin to me, I will release your Lingshan!” Dingyi growled. She turned around and dragged Lingshan after her. Lingshan felt her upper body become sore and numb, and had to stagger along with Dingyi into the street. Lao Denuo and Liang Fa both jumped forth instantly to block Sister Dingyi’s way.

“Uncle-Master,” Lao Denuo bowed and said apologetically, “my Big Apprentice Brother offended you; naturally you would be angry, but that really has nothing to do with Little Apprentice Sister. Uncle-Master, please show mercy and let her go.”

“Sure, I will!” Dingyi yelled scornfully. She raised her right arm and swept it out in an arc.

Lao Denuo and Liang Fa felt a strong burst of energy shooting toward them, so strong that they could hardly breathe. They then found themselves flying backwards. Lao Denuo landed on his back at the door of the shop

across the street from the teashop. With a splintering crack, two of the door planks broke in half. Liang Fa flew straight toward a wonton stove. If he had landed on the wonton stove and knocked it over, boiling water would have splashed all over him and scalded him badly. But the old wonton seller reached out with his left hand and caught Liang Fa by his back, so Liang Fa landed safely.

Sister Dingyi turned back and stared at the old wonton seller. “So it’s you!” she said.

“That’s right, it’s me,” the old man smiled. “Sister, you’ve got quite a temper.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Dingyi snapped.

Right at that moment, with oilcloth umbrellas over their heads and lanterns in their hands, two men rushed toward the teashop. “Are you the respectful Sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School?” they shouted from afar.

“You flatter me. I am Dingyi of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Who are you?” Dingyi asked. When the two men came closer, the two big red words written on the lanterns in their hands also became more recognizable. It read, “Liu

House.”

“We junior apprentices were instructed by our Master to invite Uncle- Master Dingyi and all the fellow apprentice sisters to have dinner at our humble house,” one said. “We didn’t get the news that you had already

arrived at Hengshan, so we didn’t greet you at the gate. Please pardon us.” He bowed to pay his respect.

“That is very polite of you. Are you two apprentices of Master Liu?” Dingyi asked in a slightly softer tone.

“Yes. My name is Xiang Danian, and this is my apprentice brother Mi Weiyi. How are you, Uncle-Master?” The two saluted again.

Seeing the good manners of the pair, Dingyi agreed, “All right, we were just about to go visit Master Liu, anyway.”

“May I ask who you are?” Xiang Danian asked Liang Fa.

“I am Liang Fa, apprentice of the Huashan Sword School,” Liang Fa answered.

“You are the senior third brother Liang of the Huashan Sword School!” Xiang Danian said happily. “I have been looking forward to meeting you. Everyone please come to our humble house. Our Master told us to greet all the heroes from different groups, but there are so many people coming, we are afraid that we have been poor hosts and offended friends. Please come this way.”

“We were planning to wait here until Big Apprentice Brother shows up, and then go to congratulate Uncle-Master Liu together,” Lao Denuo went over and said.

“You must be second apprentice brother Lao,” Xiang Danian said. “My Master always praises Huashan apprentice brothers studying under Uncle-Master Yue. Especially apprentice brother Linghu, a very outstanding young hero. Since apprentice brother Linghu is not here yet, why don’t you come first?”

Lao Denuo pondered the situation in his head. “Little Apprentice Sister is under the control of Uncle-Master Dingyi, and it seems that she

won’t let her go easily. We simply have no other choice but to go with her.” At that thought, he answered, “I hope this will not be an inconvenience.”

“Your coming to Hengshan is an honor. Why be so modest? Please!

Please!” Xiang Danian greeted.

“Aren’t you going to invite this one?” Dingyi pointed at the old wonton seller.

Xiang Danian looked at the old man for a moment before he recognized him. “So, it is Uncle-Master He31 from Mount Yandang!” He bowed. “What a lack of manners on my part. Uncle-Master He, will you please come to our humble house as well?”

He had guessed that this old wonton seller was the master from Mount Yandang, He Sanqi. He Sanqi made a living by selling wontons

when he was young. Even after he became proficient in the martial arts, he still carried his wonton stove with him when he wandered about. The

wonton stove was more or less like his trademark. Although he had tremendous skills, he did not seek fame or wealth, and was content to live off his small business. Everyone in the Martial World respected him. There were thousands of people selling wonton on streets and in alleys; the only one that sold wontons and also had excellent Kung Fu skills would have to be He Sanqi.

“I’ll go,” He Sanqi said with a smile, and started to clear off the wonton bowls on the table. “We junior apprentices didn’t recognize you, respectful Master. I hope senior Master does not mind,” Lao Denuo said apologetically.

“Not at all, not at all. You came to me as my good customers, why would I mind? Nine bowls of wonton, ten coins a piece. That means you

owe me ninety coins.” He Sanqi extended his left palm out after the words.

Lao Denuo was very embarrassed, and wasn’t sure if He Sanqi was just kidding.

“Hey, pay the bill after you eat. He Sanqi never said he was letting you eat for free,” Dingyi said.

“Yeah, small business, cash only. No credits or late payments, not even for relatives or close friends,” He Sanqi announced.

“Of course, of course,” Lao Denuo answered. He dared not to give any extra, so he counted ninety copper coins carefully and handed the money over respectfully with both hands.

He Sanqi took the money, and then turned to Dingyi, with his palm out. “You broke two of my bowls and two china spoons. That comes to a total of fourteen coins.”

“You penny-pinching skinflint! You even cheat money from nuns.

Yiguang, pay him the money,” Dingyi chortled.

Yiguang counted fourteen coins and handed over the money respectfully with both hands. He Sanqi took the money, threw the coins into a bamboo tube by the wonton stove, and then lifted the stove and said,

“Let’s go!”

“We’ll take care of all the bills later. Write them up under Master Liu,” Xiang Danian said to the teashop waiter.

“Ha you all, they are all Master Liu’s guests ha you all. It is an honor to have them here ha you all. Forget about the bills, ha you all. It’s on the house,” the waiter said, beaming. Xiang Danian distributed the umbrellas they had brought with them and then led the way at the front. Dingyi dragged the girl Lingshan of

Huashan Sword School and walked side by side with He Sanqi. All the Huashan apprentices and Heng-Shan apprentices followed behind.

Lin Pingzhi thought to himself, “Let me follow them from far behind.

Let’s see if I can sneak into Liu Zhengfeng’s house by chance.”

After the group turned a corner, he stood up and walked to the corner of the street. The group was heading north, so he followed in the heavy rain by walking under the eaves by the street. After walking three long streets, he saw a big mansion on the left side of the street. Four big lanterns in front illuminated the gate. About ten people stood in front, some holding torches and others holding umbrellas, busily greeting guests. After Dingyi, He Sanqi, and the others walked into the house, more guests approached the house from both ends of the street.

Lin Pingzhi plucked up his courage and walked to the gate. Two groups of guests happened to be going into the mansion led by an

apprentice of the Liu House. Lin Pingzhi followed them in quietly. The greeting apprentices thought he was one of the guests and greeted, “Come in please! Have some tea please.”

Lin Pingzhi stepped into the crowded great hall. There were over two hundred people sitting at different tables and talking to each other. Lin Pingzhi calmed down a little. “There are so many people here; no one will ever pay any attention to me. I just need to find those Qingcheng villains, then I’ll be able to find out where my mom and dad are.” So he sat down at a small table in a dark corner. Soon, servants brought tea, snacks, and hot towels for him.

He looked around, and saw the nuns of Heng-Shan Sword School

sitting at a table to the left. The apprentices of Huashan Sword School were sitting around another table nearby. The girl Lingshan was also sitting there.

It seemed that Dingyi had decided to let her go. But Dingyi and He Sanqi were not among them.

Lin Pingzhi surveyed one table after another, and felt a sudden shock when he saw Fang Renzhi, Yu Renhao, and a bunch of others sitting around two tables. Obviously they were all apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School. His parents weren’t among them. He wondered where they could be kept. Feeling both sad and angry, and also fearful that his parents were

already dead, he felt a strong urge to move to a table closer to them, so he could overhear some of their conversation. But considering that it had been so difficult for him to get this far, if he acted recklessly and attracted the

attention of Fang Renzhi and his fellows, he would not only have wasted all his efforts so far, but would also be getting himself into a fatal situation.

A disturbance suddenly started from near the gate. Several men in blue robes came in hurriedly carrying two door planks. Two men lay on the door planks. They were covered with white sheets that were soaked with blood. People in the hall soon gathered around them to have a closer look.

“They are from the Taishan Sword School!” Somebody muttered.

“That’s Priest Tian-Song of the Taishan Sword School. Wow, that wound on him looks fatal. Who’s the other one?”

“He’s an apprentice of Priest Tian-Men – the Head Master of the Taishan Sword School. His name is Chi. Is he dead already?”

“Sure. Dead! Look at that knife wound – in from his chest and out his back, how could he survive that?”

Amid the uproar, the dead one and the wounded one were both

carried into the Back Hall. Many people followed them there. The ones remaining in the great hall all began to talk about the incident. “Priest Tian-Song is an excellent fighter from the Taishan Sword School. Who would be so bold as to challenge him?”

“If this person could wound Priest Tian-Song, he obviously has better Kung Fu skills. Better skills, more courage, that’s why.”

While the crowd was still discussing the incident, Xiang Danian emerged from the Back Hall and went straight to the table where all the apprentices from the Huashan Sword School were gathered.

“Apprentice brother Lao, my Master would like to have a word with you. Will you please come with me?” he asked Lao Denuo.

“Sure,” Lao Denuo answered. He stood up and followed Xiang Danian into the inner room.

They went through a long hallway, and then into a side hall. There

were five armchairs placed side by side at the north end of the hall. Four of them were empty, while a big red-faced Taoist priest occupied the

easternmost chair. Lao Denuo knew that these five armchairs were reserved for the five Head Masters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. The Head Masters of Songshan, Heng-Shan, Huashan, and Hengshan hadn’t arrived yet. This red-faced Taoist priest was none other than the Head Master of the Taishan Sword School, Priest Tian-Men. Nineteen senior masters sat by his sides. Sister Dingyi from the Heng-Shan Sword School, Yu Canghai from the Qingcheng Sword School and He Sanqi from Mount Yandang were all among them. At the south end of the hall, upon the seat for the host, sat a

short, fat, middle-aged man in expensive dark red-brown robes of silk. He was the host Liu Zhengfeng.

Lao Denuo first saluted the host Liu Zhengfeng, and then knelt down in front of Priest Tian-Men with a greeting, “Apprentice of Huashan Sword School, Lao Denuo, pays his respect to Uncle-Master Tian-Men.” Priest Tian-Men appeared to be full of rage, and seemed to be on the verge of exploding. “Where is Linghu Chong?” he bellowed, striking the

arm of the chair heavily with his left hand. His voice was so astounding that it sounded like thunder from the sky. Even the people in the great hall could hear him and everyone shuddered.

“Third apprentice brother, they are looking for Big Apprentice Brother again!” the young girl Lingshan cried.

Liang Fa nodded but did not say a word. After a while, he whispered, “Let’s all stay calm! There are so many people gathered here from different places; don’t let them look upon our Huashan Sword School with scorn.”

Lin Pingzhi couldn’t help thinking, “They are looking for Linghu

Chong again. This old fellow Linghu certainly has a knack for getting into trouble.”

Back at the Side Hall, Lao Denuo’s ears were almost deafened by the resounding bellow from Priest Tian-Men. He had to remain kneeling for quite a while before he could get a grip of himself and stand up again.

“Uncle-Master, apprentice brother Linghu went separately from us in the town of Hengyang,” he answered. “We had planned to meet in

Hengshan and then come to the Liu House to congratulate Uncle-Master Liu. If he doesn’t make it today, he will surely come tomorrow.”

“He still dares to come? He still has the gall to come? Linghu Chong is the Big Apprentice Brother of your Huashan Sword School. Isn’t he

supposed to be on the chivalrous side of the Martial World? What is he doing hanging around with that wicked rapist who stops at no evil, Tian

Boguang! What does he think he is doing?” Priest Tian-Men roared angrily. “From what I know, Big Apprentice Brother does not know Tian

Boguang at all. Big Apprentice Brother is always fond of drinking; maybe he didn’t know it was Tian Boguang that he was drinking with,” Lao Denuo tried to speculate.

Stamping his foot on the floor heavily, Priest Tian-Men stood up.

“You are foolish to defend that damn swine Linghu Chong,” he snarled, his voice filled with rage. “Apprentice brother Tian-Song, you…you tell him how you were wounded. Tell him whether Linghu Chong knew Tian

Boguang.”

Two door planks were laid on the floor to the west. A dead body lay on one, and a long-bearded Taoist priest lay on the other. The priest’s face appeared almost as white as a sheet, and blood soaked through his entire beard. In a very low voice, he started talking.

“This morning…I…I was with nephew apprentice Chi at the

Huiyan…Huiyan Wine House in…Hengyang. We saw Linghu Chong… together with Tian Boguang and a little nun….” He had to stop to catch his breath before finishing the words.

“Brother Tian-Song, you don’t have to repeat the story. I will tell him what you said earlier,” Liu Zhengfeng volunteered. Turning his head to Lao Denuo, he said, “Nephew apprentice Lao, nephew apprentice Linghu and you fellow apprentices came a long way to my ceremony. I really appreciate the good will of apprentice brother Yue and all of you nephew apprentices. But we don’t know how nephew apprentice Linghu met Tian Boguang, and so we must find out the truth. Since our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is like a big family, if nephew apprentice Linghu has truly done something

wrong, it is up to us to give him some advice….”

“What advice? Purge the school by chopping off his head!” Priest Tian-Men shouted angrily.

“Apprentice brother Yue is always strict with respect to school rules, and the Huashan Sword School has always had a first-class reputation. This time nephew Linghu really went a little bit too far,” Liu Zhengfeng said with a sigh.

“You still call him a nephew? Nephew my ass!” Priest Tian-Men

swore angrily. After the words came out, he realized that as a Head Master of a big sword school, it was really not appropriate for him to use such foul language in front of Sister Dingyi. But it was already too late to take it back. So he let out a loud breath and sat back down angrily.

“Uncle-Master Liu, would you be kind enough to tell me what happened?” Lao Denuo requested.

Liu Zhengfeng said, “Just now, priest brother Tian-Song told us that this morning, he went to the Huiyan Wine House in Hengyang with Chi

Baicheng, the apprentice of priest brother Tian-Men, to have a couple of drinks. When they went up to the wine house on the second floor, they saw three people drinking and eating there: the wicked rapist Tian Boguang, nephew apprentice Linghu, and the little apprentice of Sister Dingyi, Yilin. Priest brother Tian-Song felt it was very strange. He didn’t know any of those three, but from their clothing, he could tell that one was an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School, and one was an apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Please hold your anger, Sister Dingyi. Nephew apprentice Yilin was coerced; it was obvious that she was not there of her own free

will.

“Priest brother Tian-Song said that Tian Boguang was a man of about thirty years of age dressed in nice clothes. He didn’t know who the man

was, but later he heard nephew apprentice Linghu saying, ‘Brother Tian, although you have Qing-Gong32 skills unsurpassed in the entire Martial World, if you have really bad luck, no matter how good your Qing-Gong

skills are, you won’t be able to escape.’ Since his surname was Tian and he had the best Qing-Gong skills in the Martial World, there was no doubt he must have been ‘Ten Thousand Miles Loner’ Tian Boguang. Priest brother Tian-Song is one who hates evil as if it was his personal enemy. When he saw the three drinking and eating together, of course he was enraged.”

“Yes!” Lao Denuo answered, thinking, “Three people drank together in the Huiyan Wine House. One was the infamous rapist, one was a little nun, and the other was the big senior apprentice of our Huashan Sword School; it was indeed quite an odd scene.”

Liu Zhengfeng continued, “He then heard Tian Boguang saying, ‘I, Tian Boguang, come and go as I please, traveling around the world alone. What’s there to worry about? Since we have already seen this little nun, why not just let her stay here and accompany us…?’”

At Liu Zhengfeng’s words, Lao Denuo cast a suspicious glance at him, and then also sneaked an equally suspicious peek from the corner of his eyes at Priest Tian-Song. Liu Zhengfeng understood instantly.

“Priest brother Tian-Song is wounded very badly,” he said. “Of

course he was unable to tell everything so clearly and continuously. I added some of my own words, but the main idea is just the same. Priest brother Tian-Song, is that right?”

“Yes…yes, correct…correct!” Tian-Song managed to answer.

With that confirmation, Liu Zhengfeng went on, “Nephew apprentice Chi Baicheng couldn’t stand it any more, so he struck the table with his hand and shouted, ‘Are you the evil rapist Tian Boguang? Everyone in the Martial World wants to kill you to rid the world of a scourge like you, yet here you are, bragging about yourself shamelessly. You must be tired of living!’ He drew his weapon and jumped forward to fight. Unfortunately, he was slain by Tian Boguang. It was really a pity that an outstanding young man lost his life to such an evil rapist. Priest brother Tian-Song then jumped forth to fight with Tian Boguang. They fought for several hundreds rounds. Priest brother Tian-Song wasn’t cautious enough and in the end was

wounded in the chest thanks to Tian Boguang’s dirty tricks. Afterwards, nephew apprentice Linghu still sat with the evil rapist and the two drank together. That is really contrary to the creed of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. That’s why priest brother Tian-Men is so angry.”

“What happened to our ideals of unity?” Priest Tian-Men snarled. “We martial people should be able to tell right from wrong. Associating with such an evil rapist…such an evil rapist…!” His face turned scarlet with anger, and it almost seemed that his beard bristled.

Suddenly someone called from outside of the door, “Master, I have something to report.”

Priest Tian-Men recognized it as the voice of one of his apprentices. “Come in!” he said. “What’s the matter?”

A young man about thirty years of age walked in. He first saluted to the host, Liu Zhengfeng, and all other senior masters, then he turned to Priest Tian-Men and reported.

“Master, Uncle-Master Tianbai sent us the message that he has led the search for Tian Boguang and Linghu Chong the two evil rapists, with

apprentices of our school, but hasn’t found any trace of them….”

Hearing Big Apprentice Brother being classified in the “evil rapist” group, Lao Denuo felt quite embarrassed. But it seemed Big Apprentice Brother was really consorting with Tian Boguang, so what could he say?

“But outside the town of Hengyang, we found a corpse with a sword in his abdomen. The sword belonged to the evil rapist Linghu Chong…,” the Taishan Sword School apprentice continued.

“Who was the deceased?” Priest Tian-Men asked hurriedly.

The young man gave a quick glance at Yu Canghai before answering, “He was an apprentice brother of Uncle-Master Yu. At the time when we found the body, nobody knew who he was. After we took the body back to town, someone recognized him to be apprentice brother Luo Renjie….”

Yu Canghai uttered a cry of shock and stood up instantly. “It was Renjie? Where’s the body?”

“Here it is,” someone answered from outside.

Yu Canghai was a man with good self-control. Although the unexpected bad news hit him hard, and the deceased was one of the four best apprentices of Qingcheng “Ying Xiong Hao Jie,” he maintained his composure. “Nephew apprentice, please carry the body in,” he said.

“Yes,” the apprentice outside the door responded.

Two men carried in a door plank. One of the two was an apprentice of the Hengshan Sword School, and the other was an apprentice of the

Qingcheng Sword School. On the plank was a body with a sword thrust into his abdomen and going up at an angle. The sword was about three feet long, but the part protruding from the body was less than one foot long.

Apparently, the tip of the sword went all the way up into the corpse’s throat. It was very rare to see this type of ruthless move that began from the bottom and moved upwards in the Martial World.

“Linghu Chong, humph, Linghu Chong, how…how vicious you are,” Yu Canghai murmured.

“Uncle-Master sent the message that he is still searching for the two

evil rapists. It would be better if one or two of the Uncle-Masters here could go and give him a helping hand,” the Taishan apprentice continued.

“I’ll go!” Dingyi and Yu Canghai said almost in unison.

Right at that moment, a sweet and lovely voice came from outside of the door, “Master, I am back!”

Dingyi’s expression changed immediately. “Is that Yilin? Get in here right now!” she shouted. Everybody looked at the doorway, wanting to take a good look at this little nun who was bold enough to drink in public with two evil rapists. The door curtain was lifted, and when the little nun walked quietly into the hall, everyone felt as if the whole room had suddenly been brightened up. She possessed grace and beauty. No one would have argued that she was a perfect creation of Heaven. She was only about sixteen years of age, and

although she was wrapped in a big and loose nun’s robe, the curves of her body were apparent from her graceful movements. She walked till she stood in front of Dingyi, then knelt down and called out, “Master…!” After

saying this, she suddenly burst into tears.

Dingyi straightened her face. “You…what happened? How were you able to get away?” she asked anxiously.

“Master, I…I thought I would never see you again,” Yilin said in tears. Her voice was sweet and charming, and the two little hands clutching Dingyi’s sleeves were so white they almost looked like they were carved from jade.

“How could such a beauty become a nun?” many in the room couldn’t help thinking to themselves.

Yu Canghai gave her only a quick glance, and then went back to

staring at the sword in Luo Renjie’s body. There were green tassels attached to the handle of the sword. Near the handle, the words “Huashan Linghu

Chong” were etched on the blade. He looked around and saw Lao Denuo

carrying on his waist the same kind of sword with green tassels attached to the handle. All of a sudden, he jumped toward Lao Denuo and thrust his fingers toward Lao Denuo’s eyes. The attack was as swift as it was fierce, and in an instant, the tips of his fingers had touched Lao Denuo’s eyelid.

Lao Denuo was startled and hurriedly raised his arms to block the attack using a move called “Raise Fire to Burn Sky.” With a sneer, Yu Canghai rounded his left hand in a very small circle, and grabbed Lao Denuo’s hands in his left palm. Extending his right arm, he quickly unsheathed the sword by Lao Denuo’s waist.

Lao Denuo pulled hard in an effort to free his hands, which were being held by Yu Canghai, but failed miserably. A split of a second later, he found the tip of his own sword pointing right at his chest. “I…I am not involved!” he shouted out frantically.

Yu Canghai looked at the blade of the sword. There were words

saying “Huashan Lao Denuo.” The size and the style of the words matched the other sword exactly. Lowering his wrist, he pointed the sword toward Lao Denuo’s stomach, and spoke grimly.

“Which move in your respectful Huashan Sword Art is this one that thrusts from the bottom up at an angle?”

Lao Denuo could feel cold sweat dripping from his forehead. “Our… our Huashan Sword Art does not have…have such a move,” he muttered in a quavering voice.

Yu Canghai thought, “The move that killed Renjie was thrust up from the lower abdomen, and the tip of the sword went all the way to the throat.

Did Linghu Chong bend over and thrust upward from his backside? But after this killing, why didn’t he take his sword but intentionally left this

evidence? Is he challenging the Qingcheng Sword School?” but suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by Yilin’s voice.

“Uncle-Master Yu, this move of Big Brother Linghu’s is not part of the Huashan Sword Art.”

Yu Canghai turned around, his face an icy mask. “Sister, listen to the words of your respectful apprentice. What did she call this villain?”

“I have ears of my own and don’t need you to point things out to me!” Dingyi replied angrily. She had heard Yilin referring to Linghu Chong as “Big Brother Linghu,” and was already angry about it. If Yu Canghai had spoken one moment later, she would have delivered a stern rebuke to Yilin, but since Yu Canghai spoke first, especially in such an impolite manner, she instead defended her apprentice.

“The words just slipped out of her mouth. What’s the big deal? Our Five Mountains sword schools are joined into one alliance; apprentices from any sword school of the Five Mountains are naturally fellow

apprentices. What’s so strange about that?”

“Well! Well!” Yu Canghai laughed mockingly, as he gathered his inner strength from his lower abdomen, and then projected the energy from his left palm to push Lao Denuo away. Lao Denuo flew backwards and his back struck a wall. Dirt and debris dropped from the ceiling on impact.

“You think you are so innocent? Why have you been tailing me all this way? What are you up to?” Yu Canghai snapped.

After the shove and the impact, Lao Denuo felt as if his organs were turned upside down. He leaned against the wall and tried his best to not

collapse. His knees were so weak that the only thing he wanted to do was to sit down on the floor. After hearing Yu Canghai’s words, he groaned inwardly. “So this crafty little crook was already aware that Little

Apprentice Sister and I were spying on them.”

“Yilin, come with me. Tell me exactly how they seized you,” Dingyi said as she pulled Yilin by the hand and walked toward the door.

Everyone knew only too well if such a beautiful little nun fell into the hands of an evil rapist like Tian Boguang, it would be nearly impossible for her to maintain her virginity. The complete story, of course, would not be

appropriate to be revealed in front of other people. Obviously Sister Dingyi was going to take her somewhere private and then ask about the details. Swiftly, Yu Canghai rushed to the doorway and blocked their exit.

“This incident involves two lives. Little Sister Yilin, please stay right here to tell the story,” he demanded. He paused a second and then continued,

“Nephew apprentice Chi Baicheng was a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. In your alliance, all are fellow apprentices; maybe the

Taishan Sword School does not really mind that Linghu Chong killed Chi, but my apprentice Luo Renjie did not have the honor of calling Linghu

Chong an apprentice brother.”

Dingyi was a very forceful woman; normally even her big senior sister Dingjing or the Head Master of Heng-Shan Sword School, senior sister Dingxian, would give way to her. How could she let Yu Canghai

block her way with such impunity? Upon hearing these words, she raised her eyebrows immediately.

Liu Zhengfeng had long known of Sister Dingyi’s hot-temper. When he saw Dingyi raise her eyebrows, he knew she was ready to strike. Yu

Canghai and Dingyi were both first-class masters in the Martial World. If they started a fight, things would really get out of hand. So he rushed forward and bowed deeply.

“Both of you have given me great honor by being my respectful guests here at my ceremony. For the sake of that, please do not damage the spirit of that goodwill. It is my entire fault that I did not serve my guests

well, I beg your pardon.” He kept bowing to both Dingyi and Yu Canghai.

Sister Dingyi let out a dry smile. “Master Liu, you really have a good sense of humor. I am only angry at this bull-nose.33 It has nothing to do

with you. Because he doesn’t allow me to leave, I leave to spite him. If he doesn’t block my way, then it is possible for me to stay.”

Yu Canghai had some degree of respect for Sister Dingyi’s fighting

skills, and didn’t have total confidence in his ability to beat her in a fight. In addition, although her senior apprentice sister Dingxian had an amiable nature, it was well known that her Kung Fu skills were much greater. Even if he could win the fight today, her senior apprentice sister surely wouldn’t let it go that easily. And once he offended the Heng-Shan Sword School, there would be no end of trouble. So he also forced a dry smile.

“All I want is for Little Sister Yilin to tell us the truth about what happened. Yu Canghai dare not block the Heng-Shan White-Cloud Nunnery Master’s way.” After saying these words, he moved back to his seat.

“It’s good you know that,” Sister Dingyi said. She held Yilin’s hand and walked back to her seat as well.

“What on earth happened after the day we lost you?” she asked Yilin.

Afraid that since Yilin was young and inexperienced, she might say

something that would disgrace both herself and the Heng-Shan Sword School, she hurriedly added, “Just tell the necessary parts. If it is irrelevant, we don’t need to know.”

“Yes, Master!” Yilin answered. “I haven’t done anything against the instructions from the senior masters. But Tian Boguang, the villain, he… he…he…!”

“I got it!” Dingyi nodded. “You don’t have to say another word now. I know everything. I will definitely slay the two villains, Tian Boguang and Linghu Chong, to assuage your anger…!”

Yilin looked at Dingyi in surprise with her crystal clear eyes. “Big Brother Linghu?” she uttered. “He…he….” Tears began to fall from her beautiful eyes. In a choking voice, she said, “He…he is already dead!”

Everyone in the room was stunned by the news.

Priest Tian-Men’s anger immediately vanished. “How did he die?

Who killed him?” he asked in a loud voice. “It was this…this Qingcheng…Qingcheng villain.” Yilin pointed at the body of Luo Renjie.

Yu Canghai could not help feeling proud. “So the scoundrel Linghu Chong was killed by Renjie and they ended in mutual annihilation!” he thought. “Good. Renjie my boy, I knew he had guts! He didn’t disgrace the fame of my Qingcheng Sword School.”

“So all members of your Five Mountains Sword Alliance are the good guys, and all people of my Qingcheng Sword School are bad guys?” he glared at Yilin and sneered.

Tears kept falling from her eyes, Yilin said, “I…I don’t know about that. I am not talking about you, Uncle-Master Yu. I am only talking about him.” She pointed at Luo Renjie’s body again.

“What are you scaring the child for?” Dingyi barked at Yu Canghai. “Yilin, don’t be afraid. Tell us why he was a bad guy? Your Master is here, nobody will dare give you any trouble.” She gave a glare back at Yu

Canghai.

“Buddhists do not lie. Little Sister, are you willing to give a vow in the name of Buddha?” Yu Canghai demanded. He was afraid that Yilin

would speak at Dingyi’s instigation and describe Luo Renjie’s behavior as intolerable. Since this apprentice of his had already perished along with Linghu Chong, there could be no other testimony; everybody would only have the statements from a single party.

“I dare not ever lie to my Master,” Yilin said. She knelt down facing the outside, put her palms together, lowered her head and intoned,

“Apprentice Yilin is reporting to her Master and the other Uncle-Masters. She dares not speak untruth. The Buddha has great powers and will verify her words.” Everyone could sense the sincerity in her words, so all became well disposed toward her. A scholarly, black-bearded, middle-aged man had been listening by the side quietly from the beginning. He interrupted Yilin and

said, “The little Sister had already vowed. Of course we will believe her words.”

“Did you hear that, bull-nose? Even Mr. Wen agrees. She will speak the truth,” Dingyi said. She knew the man’s surname was Wen, and

everybody called him Mr. Wen, but she had no idea what his first name was. She only knew that he was from southern Shanxi Province and was famous for his Kung Fu with a pair of Judge’s Pens. He was a master of acupoints.

Everyone’s eyes turned to Yilin. Her glorious face brightened the

entire room like a brilliant pearl or a piece of beautiful jade, with its purity and flawlessness. Even Yu Canghai thought to himself, “This little nun probably won’t tell a lie.” Silence befell the room while all waited for Yilin to start.

“Yesterday afternoon,” Yilin began, “I was following Master and my apprentice sisters, heading to the town of Hengyang. In the middle of the trip, it started to rain. As we went down the valley, I slipped. Although I managed to hang on to some rocks to break my fall, my hands were covered with mud and moss. So after we descended into the valley, I went to a

stream to wash my hands. Suddenly, beside my shadow in the stream, appeared the shadow of a man. I was so startled that I stood up immediately. Then I felt a pain in my back – he had already sealed my

acupoints. I was very scared and wanted to call my Master to come and help me, but it was already too late; because of the sealed acupoints, I could not utter a sound. The man picked me up and after walking about ten or twenty yards, put me inside a cave. I was scared to death, yet I couldn’t move an inch or make a sound. After quite a while, I heard the three senior

apprentice sisters calling me in three different places, ‘Yilin, Yilin, where are you?’ That man just grinned and whispered to me, ‘If they come here, I’ll catch every one of them!’ The three apprentice sisters looked for me everywhere and then went off in different directions.

“After quite a while, hearing that my three apprentice sisters had gone far away, he released my acupoints. I immediately ran toward the opening of the cave, but this man moved a lot faster than I could, and had already blocked the way. So, I ended up running into his chest. That man burst into laughter. ‘You think you can run away?’ he said. I hurriedly jumped backwards, pulled out my long sword, and was ready to plunge it into him. But then I thought that since this man did not hurt me at all, and we

Buddhists should always be merciful to others, there was no reason for me to hurt him. Killing is the first prohibition for Buddhists, so I didn’t thrust the sword.

“‘Why are you blocking my way?’ I asked. ‘If you don’t move aside, I’ll have to thrust and…cut you.’

“The man just grinned. He said, ‘Little Sister, you really have a kind heart. You just can’t bear to kill me, can you?’

“‘I don’t have any score to settle with you, why should I kill you?’ I

said.

“‘That’s great! Why don’t we sit down and have a chat,’ he

suggested.

“‘My Master and my apprentice sisters are looking for me. And anyway, my Master does not allow me to just speak with any man,’ I exclaimed.

“‘But you already have,’ he said, ‘so what’s the difference a couple of times more or less?’ “‘Move aside, don’t you know that my Master is very tough? If she had seen you behaving like this, she probably would have broken both your legs,’ I said.

“The man replied, ‘If you want to break my legs, go ahead. But your Master…she’s too old, I couldn’t stomach it….’”

“Nonsense! You even remembered all this rubbish?” Dingyi yelled. Many people could not help laughing inwardly. But for the sake of

Sister Dingyi, nobody dared let out a smile. All tried their best to keep looking serious.

“But he did say that,” Yilin insisted earnestly.

“Okay, okay, these types of words are not really related to the story that you are telling, so don’t mention them anymore. Just talk about how you met Linghu Chong of the Huashan Sword School,” Dingyi instructed.

“Yes, Master. The man kept talking, and just wouldn’t let me out, and said that I…I was very pretty, and wanted me to sleep….”

“Stop!” Dingyi yelled. “You kids don’t think before you speak. How can you talk about such things?”

“It was he who said that, I did not agree, and I did not sleep…,” Yilin tried to explain.

“Shut up!” Dingyi yelled even more loudly.

The Qingcheng apprentice who had carried the body of Luo Renjie in could not control himself anymore and let out a laugh. Dingyi was infuriated. She picked up a teacup from the table with a flourish, and flung the contents of the cup at him. She used the unique inner strength of the

Heng-Shan Sword School when she flung the tea; it shot through the air quickly and accurately. The apprentice couldn’t move aside in time, and the hot liquid splashed squarely on his face. He cried out loud from the burning pain. “Your apprentice can talk about it, but my apprentice can’t laugh at it?

How unreasonable!” Yu Canghai complained angrily.

Sister Dingyi looked at Yu Canghai from the corner of her eyes.

“Heng-Shan Dingyi has been unreasonable for many decades. Haven’t you heard?” She held the empty teacup and was ready to throw it at Yu Canghai.

Yu Canghai didn’t look at her, and even turned his body away from

her.

Seeing Yu Canghai show so much confidence in himself, and

knowing the good Kung Fu skills of the Qingcheng Master, Dingyi did not want to start any trouble. So she put the teacup down slowly and said to Yilin, “Go on with the story! Don’t be so wordy with things that have nothing to do with the important facts.”

“Yes, Master,” said Yilin. “I tried to get out of the cave, but that man kept blocking my way and wouldn’t let me pass. Seeing the sky becoming darker and darker, I was very worried and finally thrust my sword toward him. Master, I dare not violate the killing prohibition; I did not really want to kill him. I just wanted to scare him away. I used the move called ‘Golden Pins Solve the Troubles,’ but he extended his left arm and grabbed at my… my body. I was astounded, so I dodged to the side, and he snatched the

sword right out of my hand. That man’s Kung Fu skills were remarkable. He held the hilt of the sword with his right hand, and the tip of the sword using his thumb and index finger of his left hand. Then he just gently bent it, and with a crisp crack, the tip of the sword broke off about an inch.”

“He broke off about an inch of the sword tip?” Dingyi repeated. “Yes!” Yilin affirmed.

Dingyi and Priest Tian-Men looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: If Tian Boguang had only broken off the sword from the middle, it would be nothing special, but he broke an inch off the tip of the steel sword with just two fingers; the strength in his fingers must have been tremendous.

Priest Tian-Men drew a sword from an apprentice’s waist, and also held the tip of the sword with the thumb and index finger of his left hand. He bent it slightly, and with a cracking sound, he broke about an inch off the tip. “Like this?” he asked.

“Yes,” Yilin answered. “So Uncle-Master knows how to do it too!”

Priest Tian-Men gave a snort and shoved the broken sword back in the apprentice’s sheath. He struck the table with his left hand; the inch of broken sword tip sunk into the table like an inlay.

“Uncle-Master, you really have marvelous skills. I guess the villain Tian Boguang probably doesn’t know how to do that,” Yilin said cheerfully. But then, her face turned pale and she lowered her head. With a gentle sigh, she said, “Alas, but Uncle-Master, you weren’t there at the time, otherwise, Big Brother Linghu wouldn’t have been wounded so badly.”

“What do you mean wounded badly? Didn’t you say that he was already dead?” Priest Tian-Men asked.

“That’s right, if Big Brother Linghu wasn’t wounded so badly, he

wouldn’t have been murdered by the Qingcheng villain Luo Renjie,” Yilin said remorsefully.

Hearing her associating the word “villain” with Tian Boguang while also calling his apprentice a “villain”, which put the apprentice of

Qingcheng on the same level as the notorious rapist, Yu Canghai could not help letting out another grunt.

Seeing tears welling up in Yilin’s pretty eyes, and that she was on the verge of tears, no one wanted to ask her further regarding Linghu Chong’s fate. Priest Tian-Men, Liu Zhengfeng, Mr. Wen, and He Sanqi all couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her, and would have patted her on her back or head to comfort her if she weren’t a nun.

Yilin wiped her tears with her sleeves and continued with the story in a sobbing voice, “The villain Tian Boguang was pushing me around and began to tear at my clothes. I tried to hit him with my hands, but he caught both of them.

“Right at that moment, somebody suddenly began to laugh loudly. ‘Ha, ha, ha,’ he laughed three times, and then after a short pause, another three times.

“‘Who is that?’ Tian Boguang asked in a stern voice. “The man outside just kept laughing.

“‘You’d better get lost fast,’ Tian Boguang warned him. ‘Making Mister Tian angry might cost you your life!’

“The man answered with another three laughs. Tian Boguang tried to ignore him and continued to tear off my clothes while the man outside just laughed again and again. Every time the man laughed, Tian Boguang got a bit angrier. I really hoped that the man would come to rescue me, but he knew how tough Tian Boguang was and dared not come into the cave, and just kept on laughing outside.

“Tian Boguang began to pour out streams of abuse. He sealed my

acupoints again and rushed out of the cave, but the man had already hidden himself. After a while, Tian Boguang still could not find him, so he came back into the cave again. As soon as he was about to reach me, the man outside the cave began laughing again. I thought it was quite interesting and could not help laughing myself.”

Sister Dingyi gave her a hard stare and remonstrated, “You were at the moment between life and death, and you still found the time to laugh?” Yilin’s face turned a little bit red. “True. I knew I shouldn’t have laughed, but at that moment, I don’t know why, I just did. Tian Boguang lowered his body and crept back to the opening of the cave, ready to rush out if the man outside gave out another laugh. But the man was quite alert, and didn’t make a sound. Tian Boguang walked slowly toward the opening step by step. I figured it would be really bad if the man were to get caught, so when I saw that Tian Boguang was about to rush out, I shouted, ‘Look out, he is coming out!’

“The man laughed three times from a distance and said, ‘Thanks a lot, but he won’t be able to keep up with me. His Qing-Gong skills are not too good.’”

Everyone couldn’t help thinking, “Tian Boguang’s nickname is ‘Ten Thousand Miles Loner.’ He enjoys great fame in the Martial World with his outstanding Qing-Gong skills. Now someone comes along and says ‘his

Qing-Gong skills are not too good,’ he must have intentionally said it to irritate Tian Boguang.”

Yilin continued, “The villain Tian Boguang suddenly turned around and gave my face a hard pinch. I screamed in pain. Then he ran out of the cave and shouted, ‘Damn punk, let’s see whose Qing-Gong is better.’ But

he was tricked. The man had been hiding by the opening of the cave, and as soon as Tian Boguang rushed out, he sneaked in.

“‘Don’t worry. I am here to save you. Which of your acupoints were sealed?’ he whispered to me.

“‘My right shoulder and my back,” I said. “It seems to be the Jian- Zhen Acupoint and Da-Zhui Acupoint! Who are you?’

“‘Let me open up your sealed acupoints first,’ he said, then started massaging at my Jian-Zhen and Da-Zhui Acupoints. “Perhaps I didn’t tell him the right acupoints; although he tried very hard, he still couldn’t release my acupoints. We heard Tian Boguang’s

shouting coming back toward us, so I said, ‘You’d better run away quickly. If he sees you when he comes back, he will kill you.’

“He replied, ‘Five Mountains Sword Alliance; the same root, different branches. When an apprentice sister is in trouble, how can I not try to help?’”

“Does he belong to the Five Mountains Sword Alliance?” Dingyi asked.

“Master, he is Linghu Chong, Big Brother Linghu.”

Dingyi, Priest Tian-Men, Yu Canghai, He Sanqi, Mr. Wen, and Liu Zhengfeng all said “oh” and nodded. Lao Denuo let out a long breath. Some people had already thought that this man might be Linghu Chong, but no one was very sure until Yilin confirmed it.

Yilin went on with the story, “Hearing Tian Boguang’s shouting getting closer and closer, Big Brother Linghu said, ‘Pardon me!’ Then he carried me out of the cave and hid inside the high grass. Right after we hid ourselves, Tian Boguang ran into the cave. He could not find me and became really angry, so he began swearing and saying lots of bad words. I

didn’t quite understand what he was saying. He picked up my broken sword and started slashing wildly at the high grass. Luckily it was raining that night, and there was no light from either the moon or the stars, so he could not see us. But he figured that we could not have gone far, and must have been somewhere nearby, so he kept chopping and slashing. Once the sword was so close to me that it went only a few inches above my head.

“He chopped and swore, and walked around randomly. I suddenly felt some warm drops of liquid fall on my face, and at the same time, I smelled blood. I was quite startled and asked in whisper, ‘Are you wounded?’ Big Brother Linghu covered my mouth with his hand. After a long while, when we heard the sound of chopping grass going further and further away, he

whispered back, ‘No problem,’ and then took his hand away from my mouth. But the warm blood just kept dripping onto my face.

“‘You are badly wounded; we’ve got to stop the bleeding,’ I said. ‘I have Heavenly Connecting Glue.’

“‘Don’t speak,’ he ordered. ‘He’ll find out where we are if we move!’ and then he covered his wound with his hand.

“After a while, Tian Boguang ran back. ‘Ha-ha, so here you are. I can see you. Stand up!’ he shouted.

“Hearing his words, I could only groan inwardly. I was ready to stand up, but I simply could not move my legs….”

“You were tricked. Tian Boguang was trying to fool you. He didn’t see you at all,” Sister Dingyi cried.

“That’s right. Master, how did you know? You weren’t there at that time!” Yilin asked in surprise.

“Was that so hard to guess?” Dingyi explained. “If he had really seen you, he would have come over and killed Linghu Chong with a single chop. Why bother shouting out loud? So the lad Linghu Chong was naive too.”

Yilin shook her head. “No, Big Brother Linghu thought of that as

well. He immediately covered my mouth with his hand, afraid that I would scream. Tian Boguang shouted for a while and did not hear any response, so he went about slashing some more grass. Big Brother Linghu waited until Tian Boguang went far away, then he whispered to me, ‘Apprentice sister, if we can last another half an hour, when the blood and energy flows better

around your sealed acupoints, I will be able to open them up. But since Tian Boguang will definitely turn back, we might not be so lucky again. I’d say let’s just take our chances and hide inside the cave.’” At these words, Mr. Wen, He Sanqi, and Liu Zhengfeng all clapped their hands. “Excellent! Brave, yet smart!” Mr. Wen praised.

Yilin went on, “I was scared to go back to the cave, but I already had great confidence in and admiration for Big Brother Linghu. If he said so, then it must be a good idea. So I said, ‘Okay.’ He picked me up again and rushed into the cave.

“After he put me down on the ground, I said, ‘I have Heavenly Connecting Glue in my pocket. It is a miraculous medicine for sealing wounds. Please…please take it out and use it on your wounds.’

“‘It’s not a good time to take it out,’ he objected. ‘I’ll wait till you can move your hands and legs again, then you can give it to me.’ He drew his

sword and cut off a section of his sleeve to wrap the wound on his left shoulder.

“I finally understood that when we were hiding in the grass, in order to protect me, when Tian Boguang cut his shoulder, he didn’t move at all and didn’t let out any sound, and in the darkness, Tian Boguang didn’t

notice it. I felt so sorry for him and didn’t know why it was not a good time to take the medicine out….”

“So as you have said, Linghu Chong is actually a gentleman?” Dingyi let out a snort.

Yilin looked at her Master, her bright eyes filled with surprise. “Of course, Big Brother Linghu is a first-class gentleman. I didn’t even know him, and he stood up and rescued me, risking his own life,” she said.

Yu Canghai said coldly, “You did not know him, but he probably had seen you before. Otherwise, how could he have such a ‘kind’ heart?” He

was implying that Linghu Chong acted bravely because of her extreme beauty. “No! He said he had never met me before. Big Brother Linghu never lies to me; he never does!” Yilin rebutted. These words were spoken with such assurance, that although her voice was still gentle, the meaning was very resolute and decisive. All the people in the hall were moved by her pure confidence and all truly believed her.

Yu Canghai thought, “That rascal Linghu Chong was always reckless in a crazy way; if he didn’t act so fearlessly for beauty, then it must have been for fame. He wanted to gain fame by fighting Tian Boguang.”

Yilin continued, “After wrapping his wound, Big Brother Linghu continued massaging the acupoints on my shoulder and back. Soon we heard the chopping and slashing noises coming closer and closer. Tian Boguang had slashed his way to the opening of the cave. My heart was thumping very hard.

“Tian Boguang came into the cave and sat down on the ground

silently. I held my breath and didn’t even dare to breath. Suddenly, a great pain came from my shoulder. It came so unexpected that I couldn’t help groaning. That spoiled the whole thing. Tian Boguang laughed loudly and walked toward me with big steps. Big Brother Linghu just squatted by the side and did not move.

“‘Little lamb, so you are still hiding in the cave, huh!’ Tian Boguang said with a smile. He stuck his hand out to grab me.

“I heard the sound of a sword thrust, and then I found that Big

Brother Linghu had stabbed Tian Boguang. Tian Boguang was startled and dropped the broken sword. But the thrust didn’t hit his vital parts. What a pity! Tian Boguang jumped back in a hurry, pulled out the knife by his

waist, and began to swing it at Big Brother Linghu. The knife and the sword hit each other with a clang; the two started fighting. In the dark, neither of them could see. After a couple of clangs, both of them jumped backward. All I could hear was the sound of their breathing. I was scared to death.”

“How many rounds did Linghu Chong fight him?” Priest Tian-Men interrupted.

“I was scared senseless at the time, and didn’t notice how long they had fought,” Yilin answered. “I heard Tian Boguang laughing and saying, ‘Ha, you are from the Huashan Sword School! The Huashan Sword Art is no match for my skills. What’s your name?’

“Big Brother Linghu said, ‘Five Mountains Sword Alliance; same root different branches. Either Huashan Sword School or Heng-Shan Sword School, we are all after you, evil rapist….’ Before he could finish his

words, Tian Boguang had already started his attack. It turned out that he tricked Big Brother Linghu into talking in order to find out where he was. After several more rounds, Big Brother Linghu let out a cry of pain. He was wounded again.

“Tian Boguang laughed. ‘I told you. Huashan Sword Art is no match for my skills. Even if your old Master Yue had come himself, he’d lose too.’ But Big Brother Linghu did not answer him again.

“Earlier, when I had a great pain on my shoulder, it turned out it was because the acupoints on my shoulder opened up by themselves. I felt some more pain on my back; those acupoints were opening up too. I slowly

struggled up while moving my hands around looking for the broken sword. Big Brother Linghu heard the sound and said happily, ‘Your acupoints are open now! Run away! Hurry up!’

“‘Apprentice brother of the Huashan Sword School, let’s fight the villain together!’ I declared.

“‘You run away! Hurry up! We will still be no match for him even if we fight together,’ he demanded. “Tian Boguang laughed. ‘Glad you know that! Why waste your life for no reason? Hey, I really like your courage. What’s your name?’

“‘If you had asked for my respectful name nicely, I would tell you, but since you asked your old man so rudely, he won’t pay any heed to you,’ Big Brother Linghu answered.

“Master, don’t you think that was funny? Big Brother Linghu wasn’t his father, but called himself his ‘old man’.”

“That was just a rude word; it doesn’t really mean ‘his old man’!” Dingyi let out a disgruntled snort as she explained.

“Ah, I see. Big Brother Linghu then said, ‘Apprentice sister, you can run to the town of Hengshan. We have lots of friends there; I am sure this villain wouldn’t dare to go there looking for you.’

“‘What if he kills you?’ I asked.

“‘He is not good enough to kill me!’ Big Brother Linghu yelled. ‘I

will tie him up here. Why are you still here? Run! Ouch!’ With two metallic sounds made by their weapons hitting each other, Big Brother Linghu was wounded once more.

“He got mad and started yelling at me, ‘If you don’t leave right now, I am going to start cursing you!’

“By then I had already found the broken sword on the ground, so I shouted, ‘Let’s fight him two to one.’

“‘Nothing could be better! Tian Boguang, one man and one knife, here to fight both the Huashan Sword School and the Heng-Shan Sword School,’ Tian Boguang laughed loudly.

“Big Brother Linghu started to scold me. He yelled, ‘You foolish little nun, you are an idiot. Go away! If you don’t go away, next time I see you, I’ll slap you!’ “Tian Boguang laughed. ‘This little nun doesn’t want to part with me.

She won’t go.’

“Big Brother Linghu got really mad. He shouted, ‘Are you leaving or not?’ 

“I said, ‘No way!’

“Big Brother Linghu then said, ‘If you don’t leave now, I am going to call your Master names! Dingxian you idiotic old nun, look how you’ve taught such an idiotic little nun!’

“‘Uncle-Master Dingxian is not my Master,’ I explained. “‘Fine, then I’ll call Sister Dingjing names!’ he said.

“‘Uncle-Master Dingjing is not my Master, either,’ I said.

“‘Bah! You’re still not leaving! I’ll call Dingyi an old idiot…!’” Dingyi made a sour face and looked very displeased.

“Master, please don’t be angry,” Yilin said hurriedly. “Big Brother Linghu meant well for me. He didn’t really want to call you anything.

“I said, ‘I am foolish by myself. It wasn’t taught by my Master!’

“Suddenly, Tian Boguang jumped forth at me and poked his finger at me. I waved my sword wildly in the darkness and forced him back.

“Big Brother Linghu shouted, ‘I have a whole bunch of dirty words that I am going to use on your Master now. Aren’t you afraid?’

“‘Don’t call anyone any more names. Let’s run away together!’ I said. “‘Your standing beside me is already blocking my moves,’ Big

Brother Linghu shouted. ‘I can’t use my best Huashan sword moves. Once you get out, then I can kill this villain with ease.’

“Tian Boguang laughed hard and said, ‘You’ve really got some

affection for this little nun, too bad that she doesn’t even know your name.’ “I thought these words from the villain were quite right, so I asked,

‘Apprentice brother of the Huashan Sword School, what’s your name? I will tell my Master when I go to Hengshan that you saved my life.’

“Big Brother Linghu said, ‘Go away! Hurry up! You are too wordy!

My name is Lao, Lao Denuo!’”

Hearing his own name mentioned, Lao Denuo was stunned. “Why did Big Apprentice Brother assume my identity?” he thought to himself, feeling utterly confused.

“This Linghu Chong does kind things and walks away from the fame. That is the true characteristic of us chivalrous people,” Mr. Wen nodded and murmured to himself.

Sister Dingyi glanced at Lao Denuo and murmured, “This Linghu

Chong was so rude, and even dared call me names. He was probably afraid that I would go after him because of that, so he wanted to pin the blame on somebody else.”

“Hey, so you’re the one who called me an old idiot?” she glared at Lao Denuo.

Lao Denuo bowed hurriedly. “No, no! I dare not!”

“Sister Dingyi,” Liu Zhengfeng cut in with a smile, “Linghu Chong had his reasons for using his apprentice brother Lao Denuo’s name. This nephew apprentice Lao joined Huashan Sword School with previously learned skills. Although his seniority is low, his age is not. With a great bush of a beard, he could pass of as Yilin’s grandfather.”

Dingyi immediately understood that Linghu Chong only wanted to protect Yilin’s reputation. At that time, it was totally dark in the cave; no one could recognize anyone else, even when face- to-face. If Yilin got away and mentioned that it was Lao Denuo of Huashan Sword School who saved her, no one would think up snide comments to defame her with such an old man. This not only protected Yilin’s reputation, but also protected the reputation of the Heng-Shan Sword School. At this thought, she could not help letting a little smile creep into her face.

“This lad really is thoughtful.” She nodded. “Yilin, what happened after that?”

Yilin answered, “By then I still didn’t want to leave. I said, ‘Big brother Lao, you got yourself into danger all because of me, how can I leave you in danger? If my Master learned that I was such a coward and didn’t care about fellow apprentices, she would kill me herself. Master

always taught us that although we are all females in the Heng-Shan Sword School, with regard to chivalry, we are never bettered by any man!’”

“Excellent, excellent! You said it right!” Dingyi applauded and shouted out. “For us Kung Fu practitioners, whoever does not exercise

chivalry is better dead than alive. No matter whether man or woman, it’s all the same.”

Seeing the solemn expression on her face when she said these words, everyone could see that the spirit of the old nun was really no less than that of any man.

Yilin continued, “But then Big Brother Linghu began to scold me profusely. ‘You darn idiotic little nun,’ he said, ‘all you do is talk and talk

and talk, and stop me from being able to use my unbeatable Huashan Sword Art. My old life is destined to be lost in Tian Boguang’s hands. So you’re in league with Tian Boguang and purposely set me up. I, Lao Denuo, am so unlucky today, seeing a nun right after I start my trip. And it is a rotten little nun that will have no son, no grandson, no nothing. Even with the super

strong and super powerful magical sword arts I know, I am unable to use them, because I fear that the energy of my sword strikes would hurt the little nun’s life. Alright! Very well! Tian Boguang, just give me a good chop and let’s finish it off. This old man is just fated to go today!’” All of Linghu Chong’s dirty words told in Yilin’s sweet and gentle voice brought inadvertent smiles of amusement to the lips of the listeners.

Then Yilin said, “After hearing these words, I realized I couldn’t do him any good because my Kung Fu skills were so poor, and my staying in the cave would block his way and prevent him from using his magical

Huashan Sword Art….”

“He was just bragging! His Huashan Sword Art is just average. What makes it so invincible in the Martial World?” Dingyi snorted.

“Master, he was just trying to scare off Tian Boguang,” Yilin said. “Hearing more and more abuses coming out of his mouth, I said unwillingly, ‘Big brother Lao, I am leaving! Hope to see you later!’

“‘Get lost you smelly rotten duck egg,’ he scolded. ‘The further you get lost, the better! ‘Once a man sees a nun, he loses all his bets!’ I didn’t see you before, and I will never see you again. Gambling is my favorite hobby; why would I ever want to see you again?’”

Hearing this, Dingyi could not contain her anger. She stood up and yelled in a stern voice, “That scum! Did you leave?”

“I was afraid to make him even angrier, so I left,” Yilin said. “Once I stepped out of the cave, I heard the clash of weapons getting more and more intense. I figured that if the villain Tian Boguang won, he would be after me again. If ‘big brother Lao’ won, after he came out and saw me outside of the cave, he would ‘lose all his bets’ because of me, so I clenched my teeth and ran as fast as I could to catch up with you, respectful Master. Then I could

ask you to help fight the villain Tian Boguang.” Dingyi hummed and nodded.

“Master, Big Brother Linghu later lost his life; was that because of… of seeing me, and getting bad luck?” Yilin suddenly asked out of the blue. “Drop that ‘once a man sees a nun, he loses all his bets’ nonsense!”

Dingyi said angrily. “How could you have believed that? There are so many people here that have seen us, do all of them have bad luck now?”

People in the hall bit their lips to keep from commenting on her question.

“Yes, Master,” Yilin answered. “I ran till dawn and saw the town gate of Hengyang in the horizon. I calmed down a little and thought that I could probably find Master in Hengyang. But who’d expected that right at that moment, Tian Boguang caught up with me. As soon as I saw him my legs went weak, and just after several steps, he caught me again. I thought that

since he had chased me here, big brother Lao must have been murdered in the cave. I felt indescribable sadness.

“With so many people on the streets, Tian Boguang didn’t dare be rude to me. He just said, ‘If you follow me without making any trouble, I won’t do anything bad to you. If you don’t listen to me, then I will tear off your clothes right away and let all these people on the streets laugh at you.’

“I was very scared and dared not fight back, so I just followed him into the town. When we arrived at the Huiyan Wine House, he said, ‘Little Sister, you have the type of natural beauty that will attract…attract even the wild geese to land. This Huiyan Wine House must have been opened just

for you.34 Let’s go in and have a drink and some fun.’

“I said, ‘We Buddhists don’t eat flesh or drink alcohol. This is the rule of our White-Cloud Nunnery.’

“He said, ‘I am sure you have lots of rules in your White-Cloud

Nunnery. Are you really going to follow all of them? Later I will teach you how to break some more rules. Rules and regulations are all bogus. Your

Master…your Master….’” At these words, she gave Dingyi a sneaky glance and dared not to continue. “You don’t need to mention the nonsense this villain spouted. Just say what happened next,” Dingyi instructed.

Yilin answered, “Yes, Master. Then I said, ‘You are talking nonsense, my Master would never hide in secret places to drink wine and eat dog meat.’”

The people in the hall simply could not help but laugh. Yilin did not repeat the words of Tian Boguang, yet from her own words, everyone knew what Tian Boguang must have said about Dingyi.

Dingyi made a sour face and thought, “This child is too honest. She doesn’t know what to say and what not to.”

Yilin continued, “The villain grabbed my collar and threatened, ‘If you don’t go up to the wine house and drink with me, I’ll tear your clothes off.’

“I had no choice but to go up to the wine house with him. The villain ordered some wine and dishes. He was really mean. I told him that I

couldn’t eat flesh, yet he intentionally ordered dishes of beef, pork, poultry, and fish. He threatened that if I didn’t eat, he would tear off my clothes.

Master, I simply refused to eat those dishes. Buddhists are restricted from eating flesh. I couldn’t violate the prohibition. If the villain wanted to tear off my clothes because of that, then fine, but it wouldn’t be my fault.

“Right at that moment, a man walked up to the wine house. He had a sword hanging by his waist; his face was pale and his clothes were bloodstained. He sat at our table in silence, picked up the bowl of wine in front of me and poured all of it down his throat in a single gulp. He poured himself another bowl of wine and raised the bowl toward Tian Boguang. ‘Please!’ he said. He turned to me and said, ‘Please!’ Then he drank that bowl as well. “As soon as I heard his voice, I felt very surprised and very happy. It turned out he was ‘big brother Lao’ who had saved me in the cave. Thank Buddha! He escaped from Tian Boguang’s murdering hands, but he had bloodstains all over him. In order to rescue me, he had been really badly

wounded!

“Tian Boguang looked at him from head to toe and back again. ‘It’s you!’ 

“‘It’s me!’ he replied.

“Tian Boguang raised his thumb to him and praised him, ‘Good man!’ “He raised his thumb and replied, ‘Good knife skills!’

“The two both began to laugh loudly and drink bowls of wine at the same time. I was quite surprised: They had fought so fiercely last night,

why have they suddenly become friends now? I was very pleased to know that this man did not die, but since he was a friend of Tian Boguang, the villain, I became worried again.

“‘You are not Lao Denuo!’ Tian Boguang protested. ‘Lao Denuo is a dried up old geezer. He can’t be as young and carefree as you.’

“I sneaked a glance at him. He was only in his twenties, so last night when he said ‘This old man has lived such a long life,’ he was really fooling Tian Boguang.

“‘I am not Lao Denuo,’ the man admitted with a smile.

“Tian Boguang struck the table with his palm. ‘Yeah, you are Huashan Linghu Chong. You’re a somebody in the Martial World.’

“Big Brother Linghu admitted again. ‘You really flatter me! Linghu Chong is only your defeated opponent. This is very embarrassing!’ he said.

“‘No fight, no acquaintance!’ Tian Boguang grinned. ‘Why don’t we be friends? If brother Linghu likes this pretty little nun, I’ll just let you have her. I am not the kind who values chicks above friendship.’” Dingyi’s face turned dark, but she only murmured, “That evil rapist, that evil rapist…!”

Yilin almost began to cry again. “Master, Big Brother Linghu

suddenly started scolding me again. ‘This little nun has no color in her face,’ he said. ‘All she eats everyday are vegetables and bean curds; her face can’t look that good. Brother Tian, I get real riled when I see nuns. I really wish I could exterminate all the nuns in the world!’

“‘Why?’ Tian Boguang asked while laughing.

“‘To tell you the truth, I have a small hobby – gambling,’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘Gambling is my life. Every time I see some dice, I’d forget my own name. But as soon as I see a nun, I can just forget about gambling for the rest of the day. No matter what I bet or gamble on, I will assuredly lose. This happens every single time. And it happens not only to me, but

also to all my fellow apprentices of the Huashan Sword School. So every time when we, apprentices of the Huashan Sword School, see Uncle-

Masters and apprentice sisters from the Heng-Shan Sword School, although everyone looks very respectful on the outside, we all curse our bad luck inside!’”

Dingyi simply could not stand this anymore; she turned her hand and gave Lao Denuo a resounding slap on the face. The move was fast and

accurate. Lao Denuo had no chance of dodging it. He just felt great dizziness, and almost fell to the ground.

Chapter 4: Seat-Fighting

Linghu Chong laughed loudly. “Little nun,” he said, “Do you want me to win or lose?” “Of course I want you to win,” Yilin said, “When you fight while sitting down, you are the second best in the world, you won’t lose to him.” “Good!” Linghu Chong said. “Then please go! The quicker the better, the further the merrier!”

“Sister,” Liu Zhengfeng said, smiling politely, “there’s really no need to be so angry. Nephew apprentice Linghu only said that nonsense to Tian

Boguang in order to rescue your brilliant little apprentice. Do you actually believe he meant what he said?”

“You mean he said all that in order to rescue Yilin?” Dingyi was surprised.

“That is my belief.” Liu Zhengfeng nodded. “Nephew apprentice Yilin, what do you think?”

“Big Brother Linghu was a good person, only…only a little bit

without manners when he spoke. But Master, if you are going to be angry, I dare not continue!” Yilin lowered her head.

“Tell me everything! Tell everything without omitting any details. I want to know what on earth he was thinking, good or evil! If this fellow was really a rascal, then even though he’s dead, I will make old man Yue pay for it!” Dingyi yelled.

Yilin murmured a few words, but was too afraid to continue.

“Keep talking! Don’t be so concerned about him. Are you afraid that we won’t be able to distinguish between what’s good and what’s evil?”

Dingyi demanded.

“Yes, Master!” Yilin said.

“‘Brother Tian,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘we are people of the Martial World – we live our lives on the sword’s edge. Someone with

better-developed skills does possess certain advantages, but eventually, we all have to count on our luck. Don’t you agree? When facing someone that has about the same level of fighting skills, life and death depends entirely on luck. This little nun is as scrawny as a chicken that weighs no more than three pounds. Even if she were as pretty as a goddess from heaven, I still wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Life is definitely much more important. Putting women before friendship is wrong! Putting women before life is just plain stupid. It’s to everyone’s best interest that no one touches this little nun at all.’

“‘Brother Linghu,’ Tian Boguang sneered, ‘I thought you are a man that feared nothing. Why are you so superstitious about nuns?’

“‘Hey,’ Big Brother Linghu exclaimed, ‘I have really bad luck every time I see a nun. It’s quite consistent. I simply can’t ignore that fact. For

example, I was perfectly fit last night before I met this little nun. Then, without even seeing her face, just by hearing her voice, I ended up with

three stab wounds from you, which almost cost me my life. If this isn’t bad luck, then what is?’

“‘That’s right!’ Tian Boguang burst into loud laughter.

“Big Brother Linghu then said, ‘Brother Tian, I don’t speak with nuns. Why don’t you just let the little nun get lost, so we can enjoy our drinks in peace? Trust me! I am giving you valuable advice. Even one touch of that little nun will bring you incredibly bad luck, and when you wander

about the Martial World, trouble will follow you everywhere, unless you become a monk yourself. How can you risk the Three Venoms of the World?’

“‘What are the Three Venoms of the World?’ Tian Boguang asked curiously.

“Big Brother Linghu put on a very surprised face. ‘Brother Tian,’ he said, ‘you have been to many places in the Martial World and experienced many things. How can you not know of the ‘Three Venoms of the World?’ It is indeed well said: Nuns, arsenic and golden striped snakes, do not touch for heaven’s sake! Nun is the first venom, arsenic is another, and golden striped snake is the third. And if you notice, among these three, nun is ranked number one. These words are common knowledge to the male apprentices in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance.’”

Dingyi’s anger erupted like a volcano. She struck the table with her palm so heavily that it almost collapsed. “What a damn load of…,” she

swore loudly. At the last moment, she managed to control herself and did not spit out the dirty word.

Lao Denuo, who had already learned his lesson, was keeping his distance from her. Seeing her angry red face, he instantly took another step back.

Liu Zhengfeng sighed. “Nephew apprentice Linghu had good intentions, but he may have gone a bit too far making up so much nonsense. But let’s look at it another way: when one talks with a villain like Tian

Boguang, if he doesn’t speak with conviction, it can’t be easy to trick him.” “Uncle-Master Liu, are you saying that Big Brother Linghu made

everything up to fool Tian Boguang?” Yilin asked.

“Of course!” answered Liu Zhengfeng. “How could we have such

silly and rude sayings in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance? Tomorrow, it will be time for my hand-washing ceremony. I definitely want to have good luck. If anyone had any prejudice with regard to your respectful school,

why would Sister Dingyi and all these nephew apprentices be so courteously invited to my house?”

Hearing these words, Dingyi was slightly mollified. She

acknowledged with a slight snort but complained, “What a foul mouth this Linghu Chong has! I wonder what scoundrel taught him his manners.”

Obviously, the hidden meaning behind her comment was that she felt that Linghu Chong’s Master, the Head Master of Huashan Sword School, was also to blame for his student’s actions. “Sister, please don’t be angry,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “That Tian

Boguang has some top-notch Kung Fu skills. Nephew apprentice Linghu could not hope to beat him in a fight, and seeing that nephew apprentice

Yilin was in great danger, he had to make something up in the hope that the villain would let her go. Just think, Tian Boguang has been to many places in the Martial World and has experienced many things. It is not easy to fool him. Now, there are certainly some stupid people who are prejudiced

against nuns; so nephew apprentice Linghu just used this as his hook. We live in this Martial World, and sometimes we have to do what is expedient. If nephew apprentice Linghu did not respect the Heng-Shan Sword School, if people of the Huashan Sword School, including Mr. Yue, did not

sincerely respect the three senior Sisters, why would he try so hard to rescue an apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School?”

“Thank you for the kind words.” Dingyi nodded. “So did Tian Boguang let you go because of that?” she turned back to Yilin.

“No,” Yilin shook her head.

“Big Brother Linghu then said, ‘Brother Tian, your Qing-Gong is the best in the world, but if you are cursed, you can never outrun your bad luck, no matter how good your Qing-Gong is.’

“Tian Boguang seemed a little tentative. He glanced at me, and then shook his head. ‘I come alone and leave alone, going where I please. Why get so worked up? Since we have already seen this little nun, why not just let her stay here and accompany us?’

“Right in that instant, a young man from the next table suddenly drew his sword and rushed in front of Tian Boguang. ‘Are you…are you Tian

Boguang?’ he yelled.

“‘I am. And?’ Tian Boguang answered. “‘You evil rapist,’ the young man exclaimed, ‘I’m going to kill you! Everyone in the Martial World wants you dead, yet here you are, bold as can be. You must be longing for death!’ He thrust his sword at Tian

Boguang. The moves he used were from the Taishan Sword School sword art style. And that was him, the apprentice brother.” She pointed at the

corpse on the door plank.

“Chi Baicheng, what a good lad! Very good!” Priest Tian-Men nodded.

Yilin went on with the story.

“Tian Boguang made a slight movement of his body and a knife

suddenly appeared in his hand. ‘Sit down. Sit down. Drink wine. Drink!’ he said with a smile. Then he put his knife back into its sheath.

“No one knew exactly how it happened, but the apprentice brother of the Taishan Sword School had been slashed across the chest. Blood gushed from the knife wound. He stared at Tian Boguang, stumbled a little, and then fell down on the floor.”

She turned and glanced at Priest Tian-Song. “That Uncle-Master of the Taishan Sword School immediately rushed forward to confront Tian

Boguang, and started a vigorous attack. The moves that Uncle-Master used were very good, but Tian Boguang remained seated and simply blocked them with his knife. That Uncle-Master attacked with over thirty moves,

and Tian Boguang blocked every one of them while sitting down; he did not even bother to stand up.”

Priest Tian-Men’s face turned dark. He looked at the apprentice brother lying on the door plank.

“Junior apprentice brother, was that villain’s Kung Fu really this good?” he asked.

Priest Tian-Song gave a long sigh and turned his head away slowly. Yilin continued, “Then Big Brother Linghu drew his sword and thrust it at Tian Boguang as well. Tian Boguang blocked the thrust with his knife and stood up.”

“That cannot be right!” Dingyi cut her off. “Priest Tian-Song attacked with over thirty moves, yet Tian Boguang did not stand up. Why did he

stand up when Linghu Chong only attacked once? How could Linghu Chong’s Kung Fu be better than Priest Tian-Song’s?”

“Tian Boguang had his reasons,” Yilin explained. “‘Brother Linghu,’ Tian Boguang said, ‘I look upon you as a friend. When you attack me, if I remain seated, it would be disrespectful. Although my Kung Fu skills are better than yours, I respect your personality, so no matter who wins the fight, I have to stand up to fight. But for that bull…bull-nose…well, it’s a different story.’

“‘Hmm,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘thank you for the courtesy. You are giving me too much praise.’ Then he attacked with three continuous thrusts. Master, the three thrusts were so swift and fierce, the flash of the sword covered Tian Boguang’s entire upper body….”

“That is one of old man Yue’s valued moves called something like ‘Three Peaks of Mount Huashan’.” Dingyi nodded. “It is said that the

second thrust is fiercer than the first one, and the third one is even fiercer than the second one. So how did Tian Boguang fend that off?”

“Tian Boguang blocked one thrust and took a step back, blocked another thrust and took another step, so he stepped back a total of three paces. ‘Nice moves!’ he cheered, and then turned to Uncle-Master Tian-

Song. ‘Hey, bull-nose! Why didn’t you join him and attack me together?’ Right after Big Brother Linghu began the first thrust, Uncle-Master Tian- Song stepped back and just stood by the side, watching. “‘I am a gentleman of honor from the Taishan Sword School. Why would I humiliate myself by fighting side by side with such an evil rapist?’ Uncle-Master replied coldly.

“‘Don’t be mistaken about apprentice brother Linghu,’ I could not help saying, ‘he is a good person!’

“‘He is a good person? Ha-ha, he is a wonderful person that commits evil deeds with Tian Boguang!’ Uncle-Master Tian-Song sneered.

“Suddenly, Uncle-Master Tian-Song uttered a loud cry and then pressed his hands to his chest with a great look of disbelief on his face. Tian Boguang returned his knife to its sheath. ‘Sit down. Sit down! Drink wine! Drink!’ he said.

“Seeing blood seeping through Uncle-Master Tian-Song’s fingers, I had no idea what kind of magic knife move Tian Boguang had just used. I didn’t even see him moving his arm or swinging his knife, and Uncle-

Master Tian-Song had already been wounded in the chest. The thrust must have been executed with extreme speed. I was so scared, I started

screaming, ‘Don’t…don’t kill him!’

“Tian Boguang grinned, ‘The little beauty says no killing, I won’t kill you then!’ he said.

“Uncle-Master Tian-Song covered his wound with his hands and rushed down the stairs. Big Brother Linghu was about to run after him and help, but Tian Boguang grabbed him. ‘Brother Linghu,’ he said, ‘this bull- nose is too arrogant. He would rather die than ask for your help. Why go

asking for trouble?’ Big Brother Linghu shook his head, let out a wry smile, and poured two full bowls of wine down his throat.

“Master, I was thinking, we Buddhists have five primary prohibitions, and the fifth one is the prohibition against alcohol. Although Big Brother Linghu was no Buddhist, it was still not good to drink wine nonstop like that. But I dared not say a thing to him, afraid that he was going to scold me and say something like ‘Once one sees a nun….’”

“Those insane words of Linghu Chong should never be mentioned again,” Dingyi admonished.

“Yes, Master!” Yilin answered.

“What happened after that?” Dingyi asked.

“‘That bull-nose’s Kung Fu is not bad at all,’ Tian Boguang said. ‘My attack wasn’t slow, yet he was able to move three inches back and barely

escape my deathblow. Taishan Sword School’s Kung Fu has some real stuff. Brother Linghu, since this bull-nose ran away alive, you’re probably going to have quite a bit trouble after today. I intended to kill him just now and

save you from further trouble, but too bad, I didn’t quite make it.’

“‘I get into trouble everyday,’ Big Brother Linghu said with a smile. ‘Forget about that darned trouble. Let’s drink. Brother Tian, if you had

chopped the same way at me earlier – my Kung Fu is no match for Uncle- Master Tian-Song – I wouldn’t have made it out alive.’

“‘I held back some when I fought with you,’ Tian Boguang grinned. ‘That’s because I wanted to thank you for not killing me in the cave last night.’

“I felt very confused. Does that mean Big Brother Linghu was

actually the winner when they fought in the cave, and Big Brother Linghu showed mercy and spared his life?”

At these words, everybody showed a disapproving face. They all thought that Linghu Chong shouldn’t have been so courteous to Tian Boguang, who was such an evil rapist.

Yilin went on, “‘Last night in the cave,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘I had already tried my best. My skills are not as good as yours. How dare I show you mercy?’ “Tian Boguang burst into a loud laugh. ‘When you and the little nun were hiding in the cave,’ he said, ‘the little nun made a noise and I discovered her whereabouts, but you were still holding your breath and I really had no idea that someone else was also hiding in the shadows. I was about to grab the little nun and break all her prohibitions. All you had to do

was to wait a little bit longer till I was fully enjoying myself, and then thrust your sword. You could have easily sent me on my way. Brother Linghu, you are not a twelve-year-old boy; you know how things are done. I know you

are a true man of honor who does not want to kill from behind one’s back, that’s why you only poked me slightly on my shoulder.’

“Big Brother Linghu rebuffed him, ‘If I had waited a little bit longer, the little nun would have already been humiliated by you. Listen to me. Yes, I get angry every time I see a nun, but since Heng-Shan Sword School is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, and you were attacking one of its members. Something like that can not be tolerated.’

“‘Well,’ Tian Boguang grinned. ‘If you had just stabbed three inches deeper, I would have lost my whole arm. Why did you draw back your

sword after you poked me?’

“‘I am an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School,’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘I don’t attack people from behind. You chopped me in the

shoulder earlier. I stabbed you in the shoulder as payback to get even, so we could fight a fair fight. Nobody would have any advantage on the other.’

“Tian Boguang laughed loudly. ‘Great! I am glad to make you a friend. Come on, let’s drink another bowl.’

“‘My Kung Fu may not be as good as yours, but my drinking tolerance is much better than yours,’ Big Brother Linghu said.

“‘Are you sure? I don’t think so. You want a contest? Come on, let’s first drink ten bowls of wine each,’ Tian Boguang proposed. “‘Brother Tian,’ Big Brother Linghu said with a frown, ‘I thought you were a real man who wouldn’t take advantage of others, that’s why I wanted to bet on the drinking contest. But apparently I was wrong. I am really disappointed.’

“Tian Boguang looked at him from the corner of his eyes. ‘How am I taking advantage of you?’ he asked.

“‘You know very well that I don’t like nuns,’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘Every time I see a nun I feel uncomfortable and lose my appetite. How can I still have a drinking contest with you?’

“Tian Boguang laughed again. ‘Brother Linghu,’ he said, ‘I know you are trying every trick you can to save this little nun. But I love beautiful

women more than my own life. I’ve picked this beautiful little nun, and I’ll never let her go. If you want me to set her free, there is only one way to make me.’

“‘All right, spit it out then,’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘Even if I have to go up a hill of knives or swim in a pot of boiling oil, I’ll do it. If I hesitate at your request, then I am not a true man.’

“Tian Boguang filled two bowls with wine. ‘Drink this bowl of wine and then I’ll tell you,’ he said with a big grin.

“Big Brother Linghu picked up the bowl and said, ‘Bottom’s up!’ then gulped the wine down his throat. Tian Boguang also drank a bowl of wine. ‘Brother Linghu,’ he said, ‘I see you as my friend. The rule of the Martial World is that there will be no molestation of a friend’s wife. If you

agree to marry this little nun…little nun….’” Yilin’s face blushed while she spoke out these words. She stared at her feet and her voice became softer

and softer. At the last word, her voice was so low that people could hardly discern her words. Dingyi struck the table with her palm and yelled, “Nonsense! More and more obscenity! What happened after that?”

In a very soft tone Yilin said, “Tian Boguang kept spouting nonsense. ‘For a true man, once his word is given, even a wagon with four horses

cannot drag it back. If you agree to marry…marry her, I’ll let her go right

away. I will also bow to her and apologize to her. There is no other way but that!’

“‘Bah!’ Big Brother Linghu rebuffed. ‘Do you want me to have bad luck for the rest of my life? Never mention that again.’

“Tian Boguang then said a lot more nonsense such as – once the hair grows back, a nun is not a nun anymore – and a lot of other crazy words that are too ridiculous to speak aloud. I covered up my ears and tried not to listen.

“‘Shut up!’ Big Brother Linghu cried out. ‘Stop making such crass jokes. You are driving me insane! How can I still participate in the contest when I am going insane? If you don’t let her go, then let’s fight till one of us drops dead.’

“‘You are no match for me in a fight!’ Tian Boguang said with a smirk.

“‘If we fight while standing up,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘I am not good enough to challenge you. But if we fight while sitting down, you are no match for me!’”

Everyone still remembered from Yilin’s story that Tian Boguang blocked over twenty fierce attacks from a Taishan Sword School master, Priest Tian-Song, without leaving his seat. It was quite obvious he was very good at fighting while sitting down. Apparently, Linghu Chong was intentionally trying to irritate him with those words. “When one meets with such a villain, it might be a good idea to irritate him first before attacking,” He Sanqi said with a nod.

“Hearing these words,” Yilin went on, “Tian Boguang did not get angry at all. He simply said with a grin, ‘Brother Linghu, Tian Boguang admires your courage and personality, not your Kung Fu.’

“Big Brother Linghu immediately followed, ‘Linghu Chong admires your fast knife strokes while standing up, but not your fast knife strokes

while sitting down.’

“‘There’s something you don’t know,’ Tian Boguang explained. ‘When I was a young boy, my legs had problems. For two years, I was only able to practice my knife skills sitting down. Fighting while sitting down is actually my specialty. Just now when I was fighting the bull…bull…priest, I wasn’t really deriding his skills; I was just used to fighting while sitting down, so I got lazy and didn’t bother to stand up. Brother Linghu, you are not as good as I am in this department.’

“‘Brother Tian, there’s something you don’t know either,’ Big Brother Linghu also began explaining. ‘Because of the problems of your legs, you had to practice your knife skills while sitting down for two years. That was only two years. My other Kung Fu skills are not as good, but fighting while sitting down, I am really better. I practice my sword skills while sitting down every single day.’”

At these words, all eyes turned toward Lao Denuo, all wondering, “Is there really a special Huashan sword form that is practiced while sitting down?”

Lao Denuo shook his head. “Big Apprentice Brother was just kidding.

Our sword school does not have such martial arts.”

Yilin went on with the story, “Tian Boguang appeared to be taken by surprise. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘Then I must be ignorant. I’d like to see this Huashan Sword School’s Sit…Sit…What’s the name of the sword art?’

“‘This sword art was not taught by my respectful Master. I created it myself,’ Big Brother Linghu grinned.

“Tian Boguang’s face turned solemn at these words. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Brother Linghu, you must be a genius. That is very admirable!’”

Everyone in the hall knew exactly why Tian Boguang was so moved. In one’s study of the Martial Arts, it was very difficult to create a new set of sword arts or hand fighting forms. One would have to have both first-class Kung Fu skills and outstanding knowledge and intelligence to find a way to create new moves. A big school like the Huashan Sword School had been in existence for several hundred years. Each of Huashan Sword School’s martial arts moves was improved and tested thousands of times. It would have been very difficult to even modify just one of its existing moves, let

alone create a new set of sword arts.

“Did Big Apprentice Brother create a new set of sword arts?” Lao

Denuo thought to himself. “How come he never mentioned this to Master?”

Yilin continued, “Big Brother Linghu grinned. ‘This set of sword arts is very smelly. There is nothing to admire about it.’

“Tian Boguang was confused. ‘Why is it very smelly?’ he asked. I was also very confused. A set of sword arts could be bad; how could it be smelly?

“Big Brother Linghu then explained, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, every morning when I go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet, there are always

annoying flies flying around, so I would pick up my sword and try to kill the flies. In the beginning, I could hardly hit any of the flies, but after many days, my thrusts got better, and I could hit some of them. Gradually, my mind and thrusts worked in harmony, and I was able to create a set of sword arts out of thrusting at the flies. When I use this sword art, I am always sitting on a toilet, so of course it would be a bit smelly.’

“Hearing this, I could not help laughing. Big Brother Linghu was so funny. How could anyone practice sword arts like that? But when Tian

Boguang heard these words, his face turned livid.

“‘Brother Linghu,’ he said angrily, ‘I see you as a friend, but what you said is just going too far. Are you saying that I am just a fly in the toilet? Well, then let me take a look at your…your…!’”

People in the hall could not help nodding. It was well known that

when first-class Kung Fu masters fought, if one became impetuous, then he would have lost thirty percent of his chances of winning. Linghu Chong’s words were obviously intended to enrage Tian Boguang, and now that Tian Boguang did get angry, he had already stepped into the trap.

“Very good!” Dingyi remarked. “And then?”

Yilin went on, “Big Brother Linghu chuckled. ‘I practice this sword art just for fun, and never intended to use it to fight with anybody. Brother Tian, please don’t get the wrong impression. I would never compare you to a fly in the toilet.’ I couldn’t help laughing again.

“Tian Boguang got even angrier. He pulled out his knife and smacked it on the table. ‘Well, then let’s all sit down and see who’s better.’ Seeing the fierce look in his eyes, I was very frightened. Obviously he had decided to kill Big Brother Linghu.

“Big Brother Linghu said, ‘Fighting while sitting down, my Kung Fu is better, and you can’t possibly win. We just became good friends, brother Tian, why ruin our relationship? Besides, Linghu Chong is a true man. I don’t want to use what I am really good at to take advantage of a friend.’

“‘I wish for it myself; nobody will blame you for taking advantage of me,’ Tian Boguang scoffed. “‘Brother Tian, are you sure you really want it?’ Big Brother Linghu asked.

“‘Definitely!’ Tian Boguang said without hesitation.

“‘And you are sure you want to fight while we sit down?’ Big Brother Linghu asked again.

“‘Yes! Definitely fight while sitting down!’ Tian Boguang confirmed again.

“Big Brother Linghu then said, ‘Alright! If you say so! But we have to establish some rules first. Here it goes: before one can claim to be the victor, whoever stands up loses the contest.’

“‘Exactly! Before one can claim to be the victor, whoever stands up loses the contest,’ Tian Boguang agreed.

“‘So what penalty shall we give to the loser?’ Big Brother Linghu asked.

“‘Whatever you say,’ Tian Boguang answered.

“‘Let me think about it,’ Big Brother Linghu requested. He paused for a second and then said, ‘Very well! First, starting from today, if the loser

sees the little nun again, he shall behave himself. No impolite behavior or words. And as soon as he sees her, he shall bow in respect and say, ‘Little Sister, apprentice Tian Boguang asks after your health.’

“‘Bah, what do you mean? How do you know I am going to lose?

What if you lose?’ Tian Boguang complained.

“‘Same for me,’ Big Brother Linghu answered without hesitation. ‘No matter who loses, he shall have to submit to Heng-Shan Sword School to be the grand-apprentice of Old Sister Dingyi and apprentice of this little nun.’

“Master, don’t you think Big Brother Linghu was very funny? If the fight was between them, why would the loser have to submit to our Heng- Shan Sword School? And how could I take them as my apprentices?” After these words, a slight smile appeared on her face. Her face had always looked upset before, but now when she smiled, it seemed as if a ray of sunshine had brightened the room.

“These crude people will say anything. Don’t listen to them. Linghu Chong was just trying to enrage Tian Boguang,” Dingyi said. After saying these words, she raised her head a little and narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out how Linghu Chong could win the fight. If he lost the fight, how could he go back on his word? She thought for a while and knew that her

own intelligence was far less than the rascal Linghu Chong. It would just be a waste of energy. So she asked, “What did Tian Boguang say?”

“Seeing Big Brother Linghu speak with such confidence,” Yilin said, “Tian Boguang showed a little hesitation. I guess he was a little worried.

Maybe he was thinking that Big Brother Linghu could really have some outstanding fighting skills when sitting down.

“Big Brother Linghu kept nudging him, ‘If you really don’t want to submit to the Heng-Shan Sword School, then we’d better not have this

contest.’

“‘Nonsense!’ Tian Boguang exclaimed angrily. ‘Alright, I agree!

Whoever loses will have the little nun as his Master!’

“‘I cannot have you as my apprentices,’ I said in a hurry. ‘My Kung Fu skills are too weak, and my Master wouldn’t let me either. All the people in our Heng-Shan Sword School, Buddhists or not, are female. How can

we…how can we…?’

“Big Brother Linghu waved me off. ‘I have made the decision with brother Tian. You simply have to accept it, whether you want to or not. It’s not your call.’ He then turned to Tian Boguang and said, ‘Second, the loser will have to swing his knife and make himself a eunuch.’ Master, what does ‘swing his knife and make himself a eunuch’ mean?” Many people started chuckling. Dingyi could not help but grin herself, and a smile finally showed on her strict face. “Those were dirty

words from the mouth of a rascal,” she said. “Good child, it is alright if you don’t understand. You don’t need to understand. Those are bad words.”

“Oh, so those were bad words,” Yilin said. “I thought since there are emperors, of course there will be eunuchs,35 what’s all the fuss about?

“Tian Boguang stared at Big Brother Linghu. ‘Brother Linghu,’ he asked, ‘you are really sure you will win?’

“‘Sure!’ Big Brother Linghu answered. ‘Fighting while standing up, I rank eighty-nine among the Kung Fu people in the Martial World, but fighting while sitting down, I rank at number two!’

“Tian Boguang became curious. ‘If you are number two, then who is number one?’ he asked.

“‘The Chief of the Demon Cult, Dongfang Invincible!’ Big Brother Linghu said.”

Hearing the name “Chief of the Demon Cult, Dongfang Invincible,” everybody’s face changed color. Noticing the sudden change in facial

expressions, Yilin breathed nervously, feeling afraid that she might have

said something wrong. “Master,” she asked, “did I say something wrong?” “Just don’t mention that person’s name,” Dingyi said. “So what did

Tian Boguang say?”

Yilin answered, “Tian Boguang nodded. ‘Chief Dongfang ranks number one, I totally agree,’ he said. ‘But calling yourself number two

seems to be a bit cocky. Can you even defeat your own Master, Mr. Yue?’ “‘I am only talking about fighting while sitting down,’ Big Brother

Linghu said. ‘Fighting while standing up, my Master ranks at number eight, and I am only number eighty-nine, far behind the respectful Master.’ “‘I see,’ Tian Boguang nodded in agreement. ‘Then fighting while standing up, where do I stand? And who did the ranking?’

“‘This is a big secret,’ Big Brother Linghu said in a confidential tone. ‘Brother Tian, since I am having a good chat with you, I might as well tell you. But never let this out, otherwise it can cause great upheaval in the

entire Martial World. Three months ago, the five Head Masters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance had a meeting at Mount Huashan to discuss the skills of the famous Kung Fu masters in the Martial World. While they were in a good mood, they decided to rank the masters in the Martial World just for fun. Brother Tian, to be frank, although the five Masters really disliked your personality, they had great regard for your Kung Fu skills. Fighting

while standing up, you can be ranked at number fourteen.’”

Priest Tian-Men and Sister Dingyi exclaimed in unison, “Linghu Chong was talking nonsense! Nothing like that ever happened!”

“So Big Brother Linghu was just fooling him again?” Yilin asked. “Well, Tian Boguang didn’t completely believe him either. He said, ‘The

Head Masters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance are all outstanding and famous martial artists in the Martial World. They actually ranked me at number fourteen? That is really overwhelming. So brother Linghu, did you present your smelly Toilet Sword Art in front of the five Head Masters? If not, how did they rank you at number two?’

“Big Brother Linghu said with a grin, ‘This Toilet Sword Art would be too embarrassing to show in public, especially in front of the five Head Masters. The sword art looks very ugly, but the moves are very ferocious. I was discussing it with some masters from heretical clans, and they all thought that nobody except Chief Dongfang could defeat the sword art. But brother Tian, I have to say that even though my sword art is very fierce, besides using it to kill flies when sitting on a toilet, it is really quite useless. Think about it, when you are really fighting with somebody, who would agree to sit down and not move? Even though we agreed to fight sitting

down, as soon as you start to lose, of course you would get mad and stand up. You are ranked at number fourteen fighting while standing up, so with no effort, you could easily split me, the number two fighting while sitting down, into halves with just one chop. See, your number fourteen fighting while standing up is the real thing, and my number two fighting while

sitting down is just a novel trick. It’s nothing to be proud of.’

“‘Hmm, brother Linghu, you are really glib,’ Tian Boguang said. ‘How do you know I will definitely lose to you fighting while sitting down? How do you know I will get mad and stand up to kill you?’

“‘Well,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘if you agree not to kill me after you lose, then I won’t insist on the enu…eunuch rule. So you won’t have to worry about having no descendants. Ok, enough talk already, let’s fight!’

“He raised his arm and flipped the table. The table, together with all the wine kettles and bowls, flew to the side. The two just sat there, face to face. One held a knife; the other grabbed hold of a sword.

“‘Go ahead,’ Big Brother Linghu yelled, ‘start your attack! Whoever stands up first – his butt leaving the chair – loses.’

“‘All right!’ Tian Boguang also yelled. ‘Let’s see who’s going to stand up first!’

“Right before they started fighting, Tian Boguang glanced at me and then suddenly burst into loud laughter. ‘Brother Linghu,’ he said, ‘well done! So you have set up an ambush in advance, and intentionally set limits on my actions. As we fight while sitting down, not being able to leave the

chair, all your helpers will rush out – or even if they don’t, just this little nun playing some trick behind my back might force me to stand up.’ “Big Brother Linghu also laughed loudly. ‘If anyone helps me, then Linghu Chong is the loser. Little nun, do you want me to win or lose?’

“‘Of course I want you to win,’ I said. ‘When you fight while sitting down, you are the second best in the world, so you won’t lose to him.’

“‘Good,’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘Then please go! The quicker the better, the further the merrier! With a bald headed little nun in front of me, I don’t need to go through the motions, I will have already lost.’ He did not wait for Tian Boguang to comment and thrust his sword at him.

“Tian Boguang waved his knife and blocked the attack. ‘Outstanding!’ he smiled. ‘Outstanding! What a great plan to rescue the little nun. Brother Linghu, you are truly a babe…babe-hound. But the risk is a bit too high this time.’

“By then I finally realized: Big Brother Linghu’s mentioning again

and again that whoever stands up first loses was to give me a chance to run away. Tian Boguang could not leave his chair, so of course he would not be able to catch me.”

Hearing this, the listeners all praised, in their hearts, the great effort Linghu Chong had made. His skills were not as good as Tian Boguang’s. Other than by using this stratagem, there really wasn’t any other way to help Yilin get away.

“The words ‘babe-hound’ etc. are all rude words. Never mention them again. Don’t ever even think about them in your heart,” Dingyi

admonished.

Yilin lowered her head. “Yes, Master. So those were rude words too. I

see.”

“So you left right away, right?” Dingyi asked. “Once Tian Boguang

killed Linghu Chong, you wouldn’t be able to get away anymore.” “Yes,” Yilin said. “Big Brother Linghu urged me again and again, so finally I bowed to him and said, ‘Thank you, apprentice brother Linghu, for saving me!’ Then I turned around to leave. When I got to the stairway, I heard Tian Boguang shouting, ‘Gotcha!’ When I looked back, two drops of blood splashed onto my clothes. Big Brother Linghu had taken a cut to the shoulder.

“Tian Boguang smirked, ‘Well, I think your number two ranking sword art while sitting down is really nothing special!’

“‘The little nun is still here,’ Big Brother Linghu said, ‘how am I to beat you? I am doomed to fail from bad luck!’

“I figured since Big Brother Linghu really disliked nuns, if I stayed any longer, he might really die because of me, so I rushed down the stairs. After I got out of the wine house, I could still hear all the clang of metal made by the sword and knife.

“Then Tian Boguang shouted again, ‘Gotcha!’ I was very worried and knew that Big Brother Linghu must have taken another cut, but I dared not to go up to the wine house again. I climbed up the roof of the wine house from the side of the building, and bent over the roof to look inside the

window. What I saw was very frightening. Big Brother Linghu was still fighting fiercely with his sword, with blood all over him. Tian Boguang, on the other hand, was not hurt at all.

“After another while, Tian Boguang shouted again, ‘Gotcha!’ He slashed Big Brother Linghu’s left arm and then pulled back his knife. ‘Brother Linghu, I am being nice this time!’ he said with a smile.

“‘I know. If you had cut a little deeper, my left arm would be gone by now!’ Big Brother Linghu answered, also with a smile.

“Master, how was he still able to smile in such a bad condition? “‘You still want to fight?’ Tian Boguang asked. “‘Of course I do! Did I stand up?’ Big Brother Linghu said.

“‘I suggest you give it up and stand up!’ Tian Boguang said. ‘Forget about the bet. You don’t have to ask that little nun to be your master.’

“Big Brother Linghu said, ‘For a true man, once his word is out, even a wagon with four horses cannot drag it back. I gave my word; I am still

accountable.’

“Tian Boguang complimented him, ‘I’ve seen many tough guys before. But this is the first time I see a true hero, brother Linghu. Fine! Let’s call it a tie and stop right here, alright?’

“Big Brother Linghu just looked at him with a smile and said nothing.

Blood kept flowing from his different wounds and dripping onto the wood floor. Tian Boguang lowered his knife and was just about to stand up when he suddenly remembered that he would have lost if he had stood up. His body had moved upward a little when he quickly sat back down and did not leave the chair.

“‘Brother Tian, you are clever!’ Big Brother Linghu grinned.” Everyone could not help but let out an “Ah” of pity for Linghu

Chong.

Yilin continued. “Tian Boguang picked up his knife again. ‘I am going to use my fast strokes now,’ he said. ‘If I wait any longer, the little nun will have run to wonderland, and I won’t be able to keep up with her anymore.’

“I trembled when I heard his words. I also worried that Big Brother Linghu might get killed by him, but I had no clue as to what to do next.

Then a thought popped into my head: Big Brother Linghu fought so hard against him just to rescue me. The only way to save Big Brother Linghu’s life was to commit suicide right in front of them. So I unsheathed the

broken sword by my waist, ready to jump into the wine house. Right at that moment, Big Brother Linghu’s body swayed suddenly, and he collapsed onto the floor together with his chair. He pushed on the ground with his hands and struggled to get up with the chair at his back, but he was so badly wounded that he just couldn’t get up.

“Tian Boguang was quite content, and with a big smile on his face, he said, ‘Number two for sitting down. What rank for crawling?’ With those

words, he stood up.

“Big Brother Linghu burst into loud laughter. ‘You lost!’ he said. “Tian Boguang laughed hard. ‘You were just defeated in such an

embarrassing manner, and you are calling me a loser?’

“‘What did we agree on?’ Big Brother Linghu asked while lying on the floor.

“‘We agreed that we fight while sitting down,’ Tian Boguang

answered, ‘and whoever stands up first – his butt leaving the chair – is… is…is…!’ He stuttered the word ‘is’ three times but could not finish his sentence. He could only point at Big Brother Linghu with his finger in

disbelief. He had just realized that this was a trick and he had been fooled. He had already stood up, but Big Brother Linghu had not stood up and his rear end was still touching the chair. Although his body was in a very

embarrassing position, but according to the agreement, he had already won.”

People in the hall started applauding and cheering. Only Yu Canghai gave a disgruntled snort and scoffed, “A rascal playing unscrupulous tricks with the rapist Tian Boguang; what an embarrassment to all decent

schools!”

“What kind of crap is that?” Dingyi said angrily. “A true man fights with his brain, not his muscles. I did not see any one in your Qingcheng Sword School act so bravely.” Hearing from Yilin about how Linghu Chong had saved the Heng-Shan Sword School’s reputation with no regard to his own safety, she felt very thankful deep in her heart, and had already disregarded all negative thoughts about Linghu Chong.

Yu Canghai snorted. “What a wonderful crawling young hero!”

“Your Qingcheng Sword School…!” Dingyi started yelling when Liu Zhengfeng cut her short, afraid to see conflict between them again.

“Nephew apprentice, did Tian Boguang admit defeat?” he asked

Yilin.

“Tian Boguang stood there staring blankly at the floor and could not

make up his mind,” Yilin went on.

“‘Little apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School, you can

come down now,’ Big Brother Linghu shouted. ‘Congratulations on getting a first-class apprentice!’ It turned out that he already knew I was sneaking about on the roof.

“Tian Boguang is a bad man, but he does keep his word. He could have just stepped up and killed Big Brother Linghu easily with a single blow, and then turned around to catch me, but he simply shouted out, ‘Little nun, listen up! If you ever dare see me again, I will finish you off with a

single chop.’

“I never wanted to have the villain as my apprentice in the first place, so his words were like music to my ears. Tian Boguang shoved his knife back into its sheath, and then stormed out of the wine house. I then jumped down into the wine house, helped Big Brother Linghu up, and took out the ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue’ to put on his wounds. After counting the

wounds, I found up to thirteen different ones on his body….”

“Sister Dingyi, congratulations!” Yu Canghai suddenly cut in. “Congratulation for what?” Dingyi gave him a hard stare. “Congratulations for getting such a reputable and master-level new grand-apprentice!”

Dingyi was enraged. She struck the table heavily and stood up.

“Master Yu, you’re at fault this time. How can we Taoists make such silly jokes?” Priest Tian-Men cut in.

Knowing that first of all, he was in the wrong, and secondly, Priest Tian-Men would be a tough opponent, Yu Canghai turned his head away and pretended not to hear anything.

Yilin continued, “I finished dressing Big Brother Linghu’s wounds and then helped him up to sit on the chair. Big Brother Linghu was

breathing very heavily. ‘Would you please pour a bowl of wine for me?’ he requested. I poured the wine and handed him the bowl. Then footsteps came from the stairway, and two men walked in. He was one of the two.” She pointed at the Qingcheng apprentice who had carried Luo Renjie’s body in a while ago. Then she said, “The other one was the villain Luo Renjie. They looked at me and then looked at Big Brother Linghu and then looked back

at me with very impolite stares.”

The listeners all thought: when Luo Renjie and his companion saw the blood-covered Linghu Chong sitting together with a beautiful nun in the wine house, and the little nun was pouring wine for him, they would

certainly feel very awkward. Then staring impolitely would not be an unusual reaction.

Yilin kept on telling the story. “Big Brother Linghu glanced at Luo Renjie and then asked, ‘Apprentice sister, do you know what Kung Fu the Qingcheng Sword School is best at?’

“‘I don’t know. I heard that the Qingcheng Sword School has many good Kung Fu skills,’ I replied. “‘Correct!’ Big Brother Linghu said. ‘The Qingcheng Sword School has many good Kung Fu skills. But the best one, ha-ha, I’d better not mention it to avoid conflict.’ Then he gave Luo Renjie a stare back.

“Hearing his words, Luo Renjie rushed forward. ‘Which one is the best one? Spit it out!’ he yelled.

“‘I didn’t want to say it,’ Big Brother Linghu smirked. ‘But you really want me to say it, right? It’s a move called ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’.’

“Luo Renjie struck the table with his palm and bellowed, ‘Nonsense! What is ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’? I’ve never heard of it!’ “‘This is the very special skill of your respectful school, how can you

not have heard about it?’ Big Brother Linghu chuckled. ‘Turn around, I’ll show you the move.’

“Luo Renjie started swearing at Big Brother Linghu and suddenly threw a punch at him. Big Brother Linghu tried to stand up and dodge it, but because he had lost too much blood and did not have much strength to move, he tumbled and then sat back down on the chair. The punch landed

squarely on his nose. Blood immediately started flowing. Luo Renjie punched him again and I hurriedly blocked his fist with my hand.

“‘Don’t hit him!’ I demanded. ‘Can’t you see he is badly wounded?

Bullying a badly wounded man, what kind of a man are you?’

“Luo Renjie scolded, ‘Ha, this little nun thinks this rascal is so handsome and has fallen for him! Get out of the way. If you don’t, I’ll beat you up too.’

“‘If you dare to hit me, I’ll tell your Master Yu.’ I threatened.

“‘Ha-ha, you didn’t follow your nun rules and violated the moral prohibitions; anyone can punish you,’ Luo said. Master, wasn’t he wronging innocent people? “He poked his left hand toward me. I tried to block it, but didn’t notice it was a feint. Then his right hand suddenly stretched out and pinched my left cheek. He began to laugh loudly. I was very angry and fought back with three palm heel strikes, but he dodged them all.

“‘Apprentice sister,’ Big Brother Linghu called out to me. ‘Don’t fight him. Let me get my breathing going, then I’ll be just fine.’ I turned to look at him; his face was so pale.

“Luo Renjie ran to him and punched at him again. Big Brother Linghu deflected Luo’s punch with his left palm and redirected it, which turned Luo’s own body around, and then he threw a kick and it landed right on his…his rear end. The kick was quick and accurate, swift and smooth.

Luo Renjie could not keep his balance and rolled all the way down the stairs.

“‘Apprentice sister,’ Big Brother Linghu whispered to me. ‘This is their Qingcheng Sword School’s best move called ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand.’ Bum Bum back is where they get ready to be kicked, then geese landing…landing…in sand. Don’t you think it was an accurate description?’

“I wanted to laugh, but I became really worried when I saw his face getting paler and paler. ‘Take a rest, and don’t talk,’ I said. Blood gushed out from his wounds again, obviously because he used too much strength when he threw the kick and the wounds opened up again.

“Luo Renjie rushed back immediately, after rolling down the

staircase, with a sword in his hand this time. ‘You are Huashan Linghu Chong, aren’t you?’ he yelled.

“Big Brother Linghu grinned. ‘You are already the third master of your respectful school who used this ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’ on me. No wonder…no wonder….’ He started to cough badly. Fearing that Luo Renjie might harm him, I drew my sword and stood by his side, guarding him.

“Luo Renjie turned to his fellow apprentice. ‘Junior apprentice Li, you deal with this little nun,’ he commanded. The Li villain answered and unsheathed his sword to attack me.

“While defending myself with my sword, I saw Luo Renjie thrusting his sword again and again at Big Brother Linghu, and Big Brother Linghu could hardly raise his sword to fend him off. He was really in great danger. After several rounds, Big Brother Linghu’s sword fell down to the floor.

Luo Renjie thrust his sword out, and placed the point of his sword at Big Brother Linghu’s chest and smirked, ‘If you call me Grandfather of

Qingcheng three times, I’ll spare your life.’

“‘Sure, I will! I will!’ Big Brother Linghu smiled. ‘After I call you that, are you going to teach me your school’s famous Bum Bum Back,

Geese Landing…?’ Before he could even finish this sentence, Luo Renjie the villain pushed his sword forward and stabbed the sword into Big

Brother Linghu’s chest. The villain was so ruthless…!”

Crystal teardrops began pouring down her face. She continued her story while sobbing, “I…I…I saw what happened and rushed to stop him, but his sword had already penetrated…penetrated Big Brother Linghu’s

chest.” Everyone in the hall fell silent.

Yu Canghai felt that all the looks directed toward him were full of disdain and anger. “Are you sure about your story?” he asked. “If, as you

said, Luo Renjie had already killed Linghu Chong, how did Luo Renjie die from his sword?”

“After Big Brother Linghu was stabbed,” Yilin said, “he squeezed out a smile and whispered to me, ‘Little apprentice sister, I…I have an important secret to tell you. The Fortune…Fortune Prestige Escort House’s Evil-Resisting…Evil-Resisting Sword Art Manuscript is at…at….’ His voice became lower and lower, and I could hardly hear him, only saw his lips moving….”

Yu Canghai was shocked at the words “Fortune Prestige Escort

House’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art Manuscript.” He anxiously began to ask, “At…?” He was going to say “at which place,” but then he realized it would be very bad to ask the question in front of so many people, so he swallowed his words right away, yet his heart thumped harder and harder, hoping the young, inexperienced Yilin would say it out loud. Otherwise, when Sister

Dingyi asked for details later and learned all the important connections, she would never let him know the secret.

“Luo Renjie seemed to be very concerned about that sword art manuscript,” Yilin said. “He walked closer and bent over to listen to what Big Brother Linghu was saying about the location of the sword art manuscript. Suddenly, Big Brother Linghu raised the sword he dropped on the floor, and pushed the sword into Luo Renjie’s lower abdomen. The villain fell on his back. His limbs twitched a couple of times, but he could no longer stand up. It turned out…turned out… Big Brother Linghu fooled him into coming closer, so he could kill him for revenge.”

After having finished retelling the past events, she could no longer handle the stress. She swayed back and forth a little and then fainted.

Dingyi extended her arm to support her while glaring at Yu Canghai angrily. All the listeners stayed silent and tried to imagine the epic fight in the

Huiyan Wine House. Compared to masters like Priest Tian-Men, Liu Zhengfeng, Mr. Wen, He Sanqi and others, the skills of those like Linghu Chong or Luo Renjie were nothing special, but the entire event was so

astounding and brutal. It was very rare for something like this to occur in the Martial World, especially when told by such a pure and pretty young nun, obviously there was no exaggeration.

“Mr. Li, you were there. So did you see the whole thing?” Liu Zhengfeng asked the Qingcheng apprentice named Li.

The Li-named apprentice did not answer, just looked at Yu Canghai. Seeing the expression on his face, all knew that the whole thing happened exactly as it was told. If Yilin had said a word that was not factual, he

would have argued.

Yu Canghai turned to stare at Lao Denuo with a livid face. “Nephew apprentice Lao,” he asked coldly, “What on earth did we, the Qingcheng Sword School, do that offended your respectful school so much, that your senior apprentice brother would provoke trouble over and over with the

apprentices of my Qingcheng Sword School?”

“I don’t know.” Lao Denuo shook his head. “It seems to be a personal conflict between senior brother Linghu and apprentice brother Luo of your respectful school. It has nothing to do with the relationship between the

Qingcheng Sword School and the Huashan Sword School.”

Yu Canghai sneered. “Has nothing to do, indeed! You really know how to clear things up….” He hadn’t even finished his words when

suddenly, with a loud “crack,” the west window burst open and a man flew in. Most of the people in the hall were masters and reacted quickly by dodging to the side, ready to defend themselves. Before anyone had the

chance to actually take a good look at the man who had flown in, there was a second loud “crack,” and another person flew in. The two men landed on the floor face down and just lay there still. Both were in long purple robes, the type of uniform worn by members of the Qingcheng Sword School. On the seat of their pants, each had the very clear imprint of a muddy foot. A husky old voice spoke loudly outside of the window tauntingly, “‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand!’ Ha-ha! Ha-ha!”

Without any hesitation, Yu Canghai struck a palm stance in the direction of the voice, and jumped out the window to give chase. Pushing the window frame slightly using his left hand, he jumped onto the roof.

Standing there, he looked in every direction, but all he could see was the dark night sky with a shower falling down like a hanging curtain. There was no sign of anyone. He quickly concluded that it was impossible for anyone to vanish in such a short time. Therefore, the intruder must be hiding close by. Knowing that the man must be a formidable opponent, he drew his long sword and quickly searched all around the House of Liu.

Priest Tian-Men stayed in his seat concerned about his dignity, but Sister Dingyi, He Sanqi, Mr. Wen, Liu Zhengfeng, and Lao Denuo all jumped up onto the roof. They could see the short Taoist priest running about holding a sword. The flash of his sword took the appearance of a

beam of white light and flew around the dozens of houses with magnificent speed. All inwardly praised the high level of Yu Canghai’s Qing-Gong

skills.

Yu Canghai dashed about rapidly; none of the corners, trees, or bushes escaped his searching eyes, but he found nothing out of place. Then, he jumped back into the hall. The two apprentices were still lying on the floor. In his mind, the clear footprints on their backsides turned into hundreds of laughing faces of people in the Martial World, mocking the

Qingcheng Sword School for losing face. Yu Canghai turned one apprentice over and recognized him as apprentice Shen Renjun. He didn’t have to turn the other one over; the beard clearly showed that it was the one who always hung out with Shen Renjun – Ji Rentong. Yu Canghai struck the acupoints next to Shen Renjun’s ribs twice, and then asked, “Who did this to you?” Shen Renjun opened his mouth, but nothing came out of his mouth. Yu Canghai was startled. When he struck Shen Renjun, he pretended to be doing something very easy, since so many first-class masters were

watching. However, he had actually used a type of Qingcheng high-level inner strength. Despite this, Shen Renjun’s acupoints remained sealed,

which left him no other option but to gather all his inner strength and start passing it to Shen Renjun through the Ling-Tai Acupoint on Shen’s back.

After quite a while, Shen Renjun was finally able to speak in a

stuttering voice, “Mast…Master!” Yu Canghai did not answer and kept passing more energy through the acupoint. “I…I did not see who it was.” Shen Renjun croaked.

“How were you tricked?” Yu Canghai asked.

“Fellow apprentice Ji and I went outside to take a leak. I just felt numbness on my back, and then fell into that son of a turtle’s hands.” Shen Renjun said.

Yu Canghai straightened his face. “He is a first-class master. Show some respect.”

“Yes, Master.” Shen Renjun stammered.

Yu Canghai simply could not figure out where the enemy could possibly have come from. He raised his head and saw the indifferent face of Priest Tian-Men. It seemed that he did not care about what had happened at all. Yu Canghai thought to himself, “The members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance claim to be ‘same root different branches.’ Since Renjie killed Linghu Chong, it looks like even Tian-Men is blaming me for that.” Suddenly he realized that the hidden enemy was most likely still in the

Great Hall, so he signaled Shen Renjun to follow him and then quickly walked into the Great Hall. People in the hall were still chatting and making wild conjectures as to who had killed the apprentice of the Taishan Sword School and the

apprentice of the Qingcheng Sword School. When they saw Yu Canghai

coming in, some recognized him as the Head Master of Qingcheng Sword School. For the ones who did not know him, even though all they saw was a short man, the way he walked and behaved clearly showed the dignity of a great master. So soon, they all stopped talking. Silence fell over the entire hall. Yu Canghai looked through the crowd closely, person by person. Most of the people in the hall belonged to the junior generation in the Martial World. Although he did not know many of them, by each one’s apparel, he could determine which school they belonged to. He knew that no one from the junior generation of any school could be such a master with great inner strength. If this person were really in the hall, he must look somehow different from the others. He looked and looked, one after another, when

suddenly, his sharp gaze picked out a man.

This man had a very ugly face. The very muscles on his face seemed to have been twisted by some kind of evil magical force. Several pieces of plaster were spread across his face, and a big hump stood out from his back.

Yu Canghai could not contain his surprise when he suddenly thought about the man’s identity. “Could it be him?” he asked himself. The ‘Hunchback of the North,’ Mu Gaofeng, always hung around the northern border, and seldom showed up in the central region. He had no connection with the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, so why would he show up in Liu Zhengfeng’s hand-washing ceremony? But if it were not him, Yu Canghai could think of no other ugly hunchbacks in the Martial World.

The other people in the hall followed Yu Canghai’s gaze and saw the hunchback. Several older members of the crowd, who knew more about the Martial World, let out cries of surprise. Liu Zhengfeng rushed toward the hunchback and greeted him, “I didn’t realize that your honor had come, and did not serve you well, please pardon me.”

In actuality, the hunchback was nobody famous. He was none other than the young master of the Fortune Prestige Escort House – Lin Pingzhi.

Afraid of being recognized by the others, he had kept his head down the

entire time and stayed in a corner of the Great Hall. If Yu Canghai had not searched very carefully, nobody would ever have noticed him. But now that everybody’s eyes were fixed on him, Lin Pingzhi felt very embarrassed. He stood up immediately, bowed back to Liu Zhengfeng and said, “Not really, not really!”

Liu Zhengfeng knew that Mu Gaofeng was from the northern border region, but the man in front of him had a southern accent. He also seemed to be far too young. Despite his doubts, he knew that Mu Gaofeng always liked to come and go like a shadow; it wouldn’t be appropriate to judge his behavior using common standards. So he said very politely, “I am Liu Zhengfeng. May I have the honor to ask your respectful name?”

Lin Pingzhi never thought that someone would ask him about his name. He mumbled a couple of words but did not answer.

“You and Hero Mu…?” Liu Zhengfeng asked again.

An idea suddenly came to Lin Pingzhi’s mind: “My last name is Lin. If I use only half of it, it’s the character Mu.”36 So he said quickly, “Mu is my family name.”

“Mr. Mu’s coming to Hengshan has brought great honor to our Liu House. May I ask what is the relationship between you and ‘Hunchback of the North,’ Hero Mu?” Liu Zhengfeng inquired. He could tell that Lin Pingzhi was just a young lad, and those pieces of plaster on his face were used just to hide his true identity. He was definitely not the man who had been renowned for decades – ‘Hunchback of the North’ Mu Gaofeng. Lin Pingzhi had never heard of the name ‘Hunchback of the North’ Mu Gaofeng before, but by the tone and voice of Liu Zhengfeng, he could tell the man named Mu had quite a reputation. Also, Yu Canghai was still glaring at him with a fierce look on his face; if he revealed his true identity, Yu Canghai would probably kill him without batting an eyelid. In such a precarious situation, the only right thing to do was to make some innocuous statements and fob them off with some vague answers. So he said,

“‘Hunchback of the North’ Hero Mu? He is…he is a senior of mine.” He thought if that man was called a hero, then of course the name “senior” would be appropriate.

Without finding anyone else suspicious, Yu Canghai had presumed this was the one who had humiliated his apprentices Shen Renjun and Ji

Rentong. Even if ‘Hunchback of the North’ Mu Gaofeng had come himself, he would only be cautious but not afraid. Now this one was only a child of Mu Gaofeng’s family, Yu Canghai really did not take him seriously. It was this man who had first provoked the Qingcheng Sword School. There was no way that he was going to let that go easily.

“Qingcheng Sword School has never crossed paths with Mr. Mu of the north. I wonder how we have offended you?” he said coldly.

Standing face to face in front of the short priest, Lin Pingzhi remembered how his home was broken up; how his family was ruined, and his parents were taken prisoners. He didn’t even know if they were still

alive. And all this happened because of this short priest standing right in front of him. Although he knew the short priest’s Kung Fu skills were a hundred times better than his own, he almost couldn’t help drawing his weapon and lunging forward. But after all the days of hardship following his escape, he was no longer the same dandy of Fuzhou town. He took a deep breath and tried to control himself. “Qingcheng Sword School has committed unrighteous deeds and Hero Mu happened to catch them, so of course he interferes. He is very warm-hearted and always enjoys helping the good against the evil. Why would he care if you offended him personally or not?” he replied.

Hearing these words, Liu Zhengfeng couldn’t help laughing inwardly. Although ‘Hunchback of the North’ Mu Gaofeng had high Kung Fu skills, his moral standing was not particularly good at all. He only used the words “Hero Mu” in a very casual way. Compared to Mu Gaofeng’s true character, the word “Hero” was far from a true description. This man curried favor

with the powerful and never kept his promises. But he had excellent Kung Fu skills and was always alert and careful, so if one ever offended him, it would be impossible to guard against him. That was why even though people in the Martial World might be afraid of him, no one really had any respect for him. When Liu Zhengfeng heard Lin Pingzhi’s words, he truly believed that Lin was a member of Mu’s family and was afraid that Yu

Canghai might hurt him.

“Master Yu, Brother Mu,” he said with a smile, “both of you are respectful guests in my humble place. Please, for my sake, let’s drink a friendly shot of wine? Servants, wine!”

Soon, servants brought out wine.

Yu Canghai thought nothing of the young hunchback before him. But considering all the dirty and evil tricks of Mu Gaofeng he had heard before, he would rather not challenge him right away. After the wine was poured, he did not pick up the cup straightaway, instead, just waited to see what Lin Pingzhi would do.

Lin Pingzhi wavered between anger and fear, but finally anger overwhelmed him. He thought to himself, “Probably Mom and Dad have already died under the short priest’s murderous hands. I’d rather die than drink with him.” He glared at Yu Canghai with hatred-filled eyes and did not pick up his wine cup either. He wanted to spit out some curses, but being afraid of Yu Canghai, he remained silent.

Seeing all the hostility shown by this hunchback, Yu Canghai could not hold his temper any longer. He suddenly grabbed Lin Pingzhi by his wrist. “Alright, alright, alright! Out of respect of Master Liu, no one will cause any trouble in the Liu House. Brother Mu, let us get to know each other,” he said.

Lin Pingzhi pulled his arm hard, but could not escape Yu Canghai’s grip. Right after Yu spilled out his last word, a great pain shot through his wrist. He could hear his bone cracking and it seemed as though his wrist was going to be completely crushed.

Yu Canghai halted the pressure and waited for Lin Pingzhi to beg for mercy, but Lin Pingzhi hated him so much that he did not even let out a groan in spite of the wrenching pain from his wrist.

Standing by the side, Liu Zhengfeng could see big drops of sweat trickling down Lin Pingzhi’s forehead, but his face remained defiant and did not show any sign of capitulation. He admired the toughness of this young man, so he called out, “Master Yu!” and was just about to separate the two, when suddenly a high-pitched voice said, “Master Yu, why are you so eager to bully Mu Gaofeng’s grandson?”

Everyone turned around to look, and saw a fat hunchback standing at the hall’s entrance. He had white scars crisscrossing his face, with black

spots in between, and an enormous hump on his back. He looked horribly ugly and queer. Most of the people in the hall had never seen the real face of Mu Gaofeng; now hearing this man claim to be Mu Gaofeng and seeing his bizarre appearance, all were astonished. The hunchback had a fat body, but that did not prevent him from moving at amazing speed. People only saw a blurry shadow, and the hunchback was already standing next to Lin Pingzhi. He patted on Lin Pingzhi’s shoulder. “Good lad, good lad! Bragging about your grandpa by saying things like helping the good guys against the evil and so on sounded wonderful! I really enjoyed it!” After these words, he patted Lin Pingzhi’s shoulder again.

When he patted Lin’s shoulder the first time, Lin Pingzhi felt a big shock going through his entire body. Yu Canghai also felt a stream of heat in his arm, and he almost had to let go of Lin Pingzhi’s hand. But he immediately added more strength to his grip and held the wrist solidly.

Since the first pat did not get Lin Pingzhi out of Yu Canghai’s hold, Mu Gaofeng gathered his strength while talking to Lin, and when he patted on Lin’s shoulder the second time, he used more than eighty percent of his strength. Lin Pingzhi felt that for a just second, he had lost his vision, and something sweet welled up from his throat, then blood filled his mouth. He tried his best to not spill any blood and swallowed it all back down.

Yu Canghai felt burning heat under his palm; he could not hold Lin’s wrist any longer and had to let go of it, taking a step back. “This hunchback really lives up to his reputation of cruel and evil,” he thought to himself.

“Just to break my hold, he would inflict internal damage to his own grandson.”

Lin Pingzhi gathered his strength and managed to squeeze out a laugh. “Master Yu,” he said to Yu Canghai, “your Qingcheng School’s skills are truly feeble. Compared to this ‘Hunchback of the North’ Hero Mu, you are a laggard. I suggest you submit yourself under Hero Mu and ask him to teach you a few moves, then…then…you might…improve a little….” Due to the internal injuries, he had to try hard to get these words out, feeling as though all his internal organs had been turned upside down. He finally finished his sentence, but his body had started shaking so badly that he almost fell.

“Yes!” Yu Canghai exclaimed. “Your suggestion has merit! Since you, yourself, are studying under Mr. Mu, your Kung Fu skills must be quite remarkable. I would like to check them out.” By saying these particular words, Yu Canghai was basically telling everyone that his

challenge was strictly for Lin Pingzhi, and that Mu Gaofeng should not interfere.

Mu Gaofeng took a few paces back and grinned. “My cute little grandson, I am afraid your skills are still too low and will be no match for the Head Master of Qingcheng Sword School. He can whack you with his first move. As your grandpa, I am overjoyed to have such a hunchbacked and also handsome grandson. I’d really hate to lose such a good kid. Why

don’t you kneel down and kowtow to your grandpa, then your grandpa will take him on for you. How does that sound?”

Lin Pingzhi looked at Yu Canghai and thought, “If I get into a fight

with Yu recklessly, he will probably kill me with the first blow in his fury. If I can’t even protect myself, how can I avenge my parents? But I, Lin Pingzhi, am a grown man, how can I call this hunchback Grandpa? It’s

alright if I myself am humiliated, but doing this will be a dreadful humiliation for my father as well. He would never be able to walk with his head up; how could he survive the Martial World? If I kneel down in front of this man, then I would be living under the fame of the Hunchback of the North and never be myself again.” Not able to decide, he held onto the table with his left hand and his entire body trembled slightly.

“I know you have no guts! If you want somebody else to fight for you, what’s so big a deal to kowtow a couple of times?” Yu Canghai mocked. He could tell that Lin Pingzhi and Mu Gaofeng’s relationship wasn’t anything usual. It was obvious that Mu Gaofeng wasn’t his real grandfather, otherwise, why did Lin Pingzhi only call him “Senior,” but never “Grandpa?” Mu Gaofeng wouldn’t be asking his own grandson to

kowtow at such a moment, either. He wanted to provoke Lin Pingzhi into fighting himself, thus making things much easier to handle.

Memories flashed through Lin Pingzhi’s mind, including how the Fortune Prestige Escort House was bullied and humiliated again and again by the Qingcheng Sword School. He thought to himself, “A true man will not let a small setback ruin his master plan. As long as I eventually feel pride and elation, why can’t I suffer some humiliation now?” So he turned around, knelt down in front of Mu Gaofeng, and started to kowtow.

“Grandpa,” he said, “Yu Canghai uninhibitedly kills innocent people and robs them of their belongings. Everyone in the Martial World has the right to kill him. Would you please uphold justice and rid this evil for all the people in the Martial World?”

Lin’s action was a big surprise for both Mu Gaofeng and Yu Canghai. The young hunchback acted with resolution and integrity when Yu Canghai grabbed his wrist and crushed it with his inner strength, but he was now

actually willing to kowtow and beg for protection, especially in public with so many people around. Most people thought that this young hunchback

was really the grandson of Mu Gaofeng; and even if he wasn’t a real blood relative, he must be at least a grand-apprentice or something along those lines. Only Mu Gaofeng himself knew for certain that this man had no relationship with him whatsoever. Although Yu Canghai had an inkling that there was something suspicious going on, he still could not determine the

actual relationship between the two. All he knew was that the “Grandpa” was said in a very reluctant manner, maybe because Lin was just afraid to die.

Mu Gaofeng burst into loud laughter. “Good boy, nice lad! Why, you really want to play the game?” He praised Lin Pingzhi while staring at Yu Canghai, so the words “good boy” and “nice lad” almost seemed to be directed at Yu Canghai.

Yu Canghai was furious, but he calmed and readied himself, knowing that the fight today would not only be important to his own destiny, but also to the destiny and fame of the entire Qingcheng Sword School. He let out a smile.

“If Mr. Mu wants to present his outstanding skills in front of all our friends here, I’ll just have to play along.”

Earlier, when Mu Gaofeng patted on Lin Pingzhi’s shoulder, Yu

Canghai had already learned that Mu had resourceful inner strength. And his inner strength was the explosive type; once he started the attack, it

would be as overwhelming as thunder and lightning, or like landslides and tidal waves. “It is well known that this hunchback is very conceited,” he thought to himself. “If he can’t defeat me in a short time, he will become reckless and rush his attack. I’d better use all defensive moves for the first one hundred bouts. That will keep me undefeated. After one hundred moves, I will surely be able to find his weaknesses.”

Mu Gaofeng studied Yu Canghai carefully. This short priest only had the height of a youth, and probably weighed only eighty pounds, but by the way he stood, he seemed to be as stable as a mountain, well displaying the imposing manner of a great master; obviously he had well developed inner strength.

Mu Gaofeng thought to himself, “This little priest really is something. Every generation of Qingcheng Sword School has had famous people. This bull-nose priest, being the Head Master of the sword school, certainly won’t be someone easy to deal with. I hope I won’t lose this battle and let all my fame swirl down the pipe.” Being a very careful person, he did not recklessly attack right away.

Right at the moment when the two were about to fight, two men flew out from the back, and with two loud thumps, landed on the floor and lay

still. Both men wore purple robes, and each had a muddy footprint right on the bottom. The clear and melodious voice of a young girl shouted, “This is Qingcheng Sword School’s best move, called ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’!”

Yu Canghai was outraged. Turning around without wasting any time, he dashed toward the sound without even looking. Seeing a young girl in a green shirt standing nearby, he instantly grabbed her by the arm.

“Mom!” the girl screamed loudly and then burst into tears.

Yu Canghai was startled. After hearing the embarrassing words, he acted in great anger without thinking. He had thought that she must have been involved with what had happened to the two Qingcheng apprentices, so he grabbed her arm at full strength. When he heard the girl’s scream, he realized he had made a terrible mistake. This was just a little girl. How

could he have used such power against her? In front of so many people, such behavior really did not fit with his image as the Head Master of

Qingcheng Sword School. He quickly let go of her arm, yet the girl cried louder and louder.

“You broke my arm. Mom, my arm is broken! Waah, it hurts! It hurts!” The girl cried.

Head Master Yu of the Qingcheng Sword School had fought many fights and overcome many difficulties, but this was the first time he had been placed in such an embarrassing situation. Being stared at by hundreds of accusing eyes, he felt his face burn with shame, and he did not even know where to put his arms and feet.

“Don’t cry! Don’t cry!” he whispered to the girl. “Your arm is not broken. It won’t break.”

“It’s broken already. Why are you bullying me? A grownup beats up a kid, shame on you! Waah, it hurts! Waah…!” she cried.

The young girl was about thirteen or fourteen years of age. She had a green blouse on. With skin as white as milk and a pretty little face, she looked adorable. The crowd in the hall all felt sympathy for her. A couple of the rougher members had already started shouting out, “Beat the bull- nose up!” “Kill the short priest!”

Yu Canghai was very embarrassed. He knew he had incurred the public wrath, so he dared not to say anything, and just said to the girl,

“Little sister, don’t cry. I am sorry. Let me look at your arm, see if it hurts.” He wanted to roll her sleeves up, but the girl screamed, “No, no! Don’t touch me! Mom, Mom, the short priest broke my arm.”

While Yu Canghai was completely lost, a man in a purple robe

walked out from the crowd. It was none other than Fang Renzhi, the most

cunning apprentice of the Qingcheng Sword School. “Hey, little girl, you’re just pretending now!” he said. “My Master’s hand did not even touch your sleeve, so how could he have broken your arm?”

“Mom, another one is coming to hurt me!” the girl shouted.

Having watched everything angrily from the side, Sister Dingyi stepped forward and tried to slap Fang Renzhi’s face. “Big bullying the

small, shame on you!” she yelled. Fang Renzhi tried to block with his arm, but Dingyi extended her right arm quickly and grabbed his hand, and then pushed down on his elbow with her left arm. If she gave a solid push, Fang Renzhi’s arm would be broken instantly. Yu Canghai poked his finger at Dingyi’s back. Dingyi had to let go of Fang Renzhi and strike back with her hand. Yu Canghai didn’t want to fight with her, so he jumped back two

steps and said, “Excuse me!”

Dingyi held the little girl’s hand and asked gently, “Good child, where does it hurt? Let me have a look. I’ll heal it for you.” She felt the girl’s arm but did not find any broken bones. That helped her relax a little. She rolled the girl’s sleeve up. On the lovely white arm, four clear black finger marks could be easily seen. Dingyi’s anger exploded.

“You liar!” she shouted at Fang Renzhi. “If your Master did not touch her arm at all, then who left the four black marks?”

“It was the turtle! It was the turtle!” the little girl said, pointing at Yu Canghai’s back as she spoke.

Suddenly, everybody burst into loud laughter, and some even spit out the tea from their mouths; some laughed till they doubled over. Laughter filled the entire hall. Yu Canghai had no idea why everybody was laughing so hard. He thought that the little girl had called him a turtle just like any kid would have after they got upset. What was so funny about that? But

seeing everyone laughing at him, he still felt quite embarrassed.

Fang Renzhi jumped forward and peeled a piece of paper off Yu

Canghai’s robe, then crumpled the paper into a ball. Yu Canghai took the paper ball and opened it, then saw a picture of a big turtle on the sheet.

Embarrassed and anguished, Yu Canghai suddenly realized that it must have been a set up. The picture of the turtle was drawn ahead of time of course. It must have been the girl who cried and screamed to divert his attention, and then stuck the paper onto his back. It would be impossible for anybody else to play such a trick behind his back. If that was the case, then there must have been adults behind the scene. He turned around and glanced at Liu Zhengfeng, thinking, “This girl must be a member of the Liu household, so it was Liu Zhengfeng who played all these tricks on me.”

Liu Zhengfeng saw the glance from Yu Canghai and immediately understood that Yu had placed the blame on him. He took a step forward.

“Little sister, where are you from? Where are your mom and dad?” he asked the little girl.

By asking these words, he wanted to first assure Yu Canghai that he had no clue as to what was going on, and also, he had become suspicious himself and wanted to know who had brought this little girl here.

“My mom and dad went away for something else,” the little girl muttered. “They told me to sit here and not go anywhere. They said that later there would be a good show; two guys would fly out and then lie still. They said this is the Qingcheng Sword School’s best move called ‘Bum

Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand.’ It was a good show indeed!”

She clapped her hands. The crystal teardrops on her cheeks had not yet dried out, but she was already smiling quite happily. No one could help but laugh at these words. These words were undoubtedly said to humiliate the Qingcheng Sword School. The two Qingcheng apprentices were still lying on the ground with their bottoms up, and each had a clear footprint on it. Qingcheng Sword School had really lost all face.

Yu Canghai struck one apprentice’s back, only to find that both

apprentices had their acupoints sealed in exactly the same manner as Shen Renjun and Ji Rentong earlier. To unseal their acupoints would require quite some inner strength and quite some time. Now, not only was Mu Gaofeng

staring at him fiercely, but another tough opponent was hiding close by; the smart thing to do would be not to waste any of his inner strength on unsealing the apprentices’ acupoints. “Carry them out,” he whispered to Fang Renzhi. Fang Renzhi waved at several Qingcheng apprentices, who rushed out and carried the two out of the hall.

Out of the blue, the little girl said loudly, “Qingcheng Sword School really has a lot of people! One ‘Geese Landing in Sand’ takes two to carry. Two ‘Geese Landing in Sand’ takes four to carry.”

Yu Canghai’s face turned livid with rage. “What’s your dad’s name?” he asked the little girl with a long face. “Did he teach you these words?”

He figured that since those words were really sarcastic, if it wasn’t her parents who had taught her, she would never have said them at such a young and tender age. He then thought, “The name ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’ was made up by Linghu Chong; could it be that Huashan Sword School blames Renjie for killing Linghu Chong, and now wants to get even with the Qingcheng Sword School? The one who had sealed the

acupoints had very high skills; could it be…could it be that the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, Yue Buqun, was playing tricks behind the

scene?” When he thought that Yue Buqun had plotted against him, he

couldn’t help thinking, “That man’s Kung Fu skills are outstanding. And since the five sword schools are united under the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, if they all start to attack, the Qingcheng Sword School would

suffer a crushing defeat.” At these thoughts, his face whitened with worry.

The little girl ignored Yu Canghai’s question. Smiling merrily, she started reciting, “One times two is two; two times two is four; three times two is six; four times two is eight; five times two is ten….”

“I am asking you a question!” Yu Canghai yelled in a stern voice.

Her mouth twitching, the little girl started crying again while hiding her face in Sister Dingyi’s arms. Dingyi patted her on the back gently and comforted her. “Don’t be scared. Don’t be afraid! Good child, don’t be scared.” She turned to Yu Canghai. “Why are you scaring a kid like that?”

Yu Canghai let out a disgruntled snort. “So the Five Mountains Sword Alliance is against my Qingcheng Sword School now. I’d better be very

careful,” he thought to himself.

The little girl stuck her head out from under Dingyi’s arms and grinned. “Granny, two times two is four; two of the Qingcheng Sword School ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’ will take four to carry. Three times two is six. Three ‘Bum Bum Back, Geese Landing in Sand’

will take six to carry. Four times two is eight….” She did not continue, but starting giggling.

Such behavior in suddenly going from crying to all of a sudden

smiling was more appropriate for a seven or eight year old child. Judging by her height, the girl looked to be thirteen or fourteen. Every word from her was designed to humiliate Yu Canghai somehow; people all thought those were definitely not the words from an innocent and sincere child; there was no doubt that someone must have been behind it all.

“A true man acts openly and aboveboard. Whichever friend wants to be hard on me, better show yourself. What kind of a hero are you if you only hide, sneak around, and direct a little child to utter such nonsense?” Yu Canghai bellowed loudly. Although he was short, the words were spoken using inner strength all the way down from his abdomen and echoed in

everyone’s ears. People were shocked by the great energy Yu had put on display and stopped belittling him. The entire hall quieted down, and nobody answered.

After a while, the little girl suddenly spoke again. “Granny, he asked what kind of hero that was. Are the people of the Qingcheng Sword School heroes?” Dingyi was a senior sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Although she was displeased with the Qingcheng Sword School, she wouldn’t just defame the entire school in public, so she answered vaguely, “The

Qingcheng Sword School…the Qingcheng Sword School had many heroes in the last generation.”

“Then how about now? Are there any left?” The girl asked again.

Dingyi pouted her lips at Yu Canghai. “Why don’t you ask the Head Master Priest of the Qingcheng Sword School?” she said.

“Head Master Priest of the Qingcheng Sword School,” the girl said, “if someone was badly wounded and could not even move, then someone else came to bully him, is the second person who took advantage of the other’s precarious position a hero?”

Yu Canghai was shocked. “She is indeed from the Huashan Sword School!” he thought secretly.

People who had listened to Yilin recount the story of Luo Renjie killing Linghu Chong all felt a shock too. “Could this little girl be

somebody related to the Huashan Sword School?”

Lao Denuo thought, “These words from the little girl are really all for defending Big Apprentice Brother against injustice. Who is she?” Afraid to upset the Little Apprentice Sister, he hadn’t been in a hurry to inform his fellow apprentices about the death of Big Apprentice Brother.

Yilin’s entire body started to tremble. She felt grateful toward the little girl. She had always wanted to ask Yu Canghai the same question, but being a gentle and kind girl who always respected the elders and seniors,

she simply could not confront Yu Canghai, a senior. Now that the little girl had spoken them out for her, teardrops started to run down her cheeks.

“Who taught you to ask this?” Yu Canghai asked, lowering his voice. The young girl ignored his question once again. “There was a guy named Luo Renjie. He was your apprentice, wasn’t he? When he saw

someone badly wounded, and the badly wounded man was a very good person, not only didn’t he help him, he stabbed him with his sword. Was that Luo Renjie a true hero? Was that the kind of Qingcheng Sword School’s chivalrous virtue you taught him?”

These words were only coming out of the mouth of a little girl, but they were stated so clearly and logically, it was really overwhelming.

Yu Canghai did not know how to answer, so he asked sternly, “Who on earth is telling you to ask these questions of me? Is your father from the Huashan Sword School?”

The little girl turned around to ask Dingyi, “Granny, is his scaring a little girl the kind of deed from a proper hero or a true man?”

Dingyi sighed. “That, I don’t know.”

People in the hall became more and more surprised. Those words the little girl said before were probably taught by grownups, but the two questions she just asked were really her own response, elicited from the manner of Yu Canghai’s questioning. They showed clear criticism and were right to the point. How could one have expected her to be so sharp at such a young age?

Looking at the little girl through her blurring eyes, Yilin saw her slim back. Suddenly she realized, “I have seen this little sister before. Where have I seen her?” She thought for a while and then remembered. “Yes, she was also at the Huiyan Wine House yesterday.” All the scenes from the previous day suddenly ran through her mind and became clearer and

clearer.

The previous morning, when she was forced into Huiyan Wine

House, there were many people sitting around seven or eight tables. Then the two from the Taishan Sword School challenged Tian Boguang and Tian Boguang killed one of them. By then most of the customers had been scared away, and the waiter dared not serve anyone anymore. But in the corner

close to the street, a big, tall monk continued to sit by a small table. There were also two more people sitting at another small table. Throughout the time until Linghu Chong was killed, and she carried his body downstairs from the wine house, the monk and the other two never left. At that time, she was scared to death; with lots of things going through her mind, she

simply did not care much about the giant monk and the other two. Now

seeing the back view of the little girl and comparing it with the scene in her mind, she could clearly remember that the little girl was one of the two

sitting by the small table in the wine house. She had her back to her at that time, so she only remembered her appearance from the rear. And she was wearing a yellow blouse then, not the green blouse she had on now. If the little girl had not turned around, she would never have remembered her.

But who was the other one? She could only remember that it was a man for sure. But was he old or young, and what kind of clothes was he dressed in? She could not remember anything. Also, she remembered

seeing the monk pick up his bowl to drink his wine, and when Tian

Boguang was tricked into admitting his failure, the monk had laughed loudly. The little girl was laughing too; her clear laughter seemed to be ringing in her ears again. It was surely her! Who was that giant monk? Why was a monk drinking wine?

Yilin was immersed in the memories of the previous day’s scenes. It

seemed as though Linghu Chong’s smiling face had appeared in front of her eyes again: how he had tricked Luo Renjie into coming closer before his death; how he thrust his sword into the enemy’s belly; how she carried Linghu Chong’s body staggering down the stairs empty-minded, not knowing where she had been; how she absent-mindedly went out of the town gate and just walked about aimlessly…. She could feel the body in her arms getting colder and colder. She didn’t feel his weight, didn’t feel sad, nor know where she was going. Then, she came by a lotus pond where the lotus flowers were so bright and so beautiful. Then, her chest seemed as if it was struck by a big hammer, and she could not hold out any longer. She fell down together with Linghu Chong’s body, and then passed out.

When she slowly regained consciousness, she felt bright sunshine blinding her eyes. She tried holding on to the body but missed. Jumping up in surprise, she found herself still by the lotus pond, with the beautiful lotus flowers just as before, but there was no sign of Linghu Chong’s body. She was so panic-stricken that she rushed around the lotus pond several times, but still couldn’t find any sign of where the body had gone. Seeing the bloodstains on her clothes, she knew it couldn’t have been a bad dream. She almost passed out again, but she forced herself to calm down a little, and then searched around one more time. Still, the body seemed to have flown

away on wings without a trace. The water in the lotus pond was quite

shallow. She waded into the water and searched around; still, there wasn’t a single trace. Then, she went back to Hengshan Town, asked for the location of the Liu House, and found her Master. But during all this time, she had being pondering, “Where did Big Brother Linghu’s body go? Maybe

someone passing by took it? Maybe it was dragged away by wild animals?” When she thought that he had lost his life saving her, but she couldn’t even take good care of his body, she felt miserable. If the body really had been dragged away by wild animals and had already been eaten, she would kill herself. Actually, even if Linghu Chong’s body were fine, she would rather not live anyway. Suddenly, from deep within her heart, another thought popped up. That was a thought she had never dared to think about. The thought had come to her several times through the day, but each time she immediately

pushed it back and only thought, “How could I be so disturbed? How could I be thinking such nonsense? This is just absurd! No, it’s not like that!” But now, she could not hide it any longer, and it appeared clearly in her mind:

“When I carried Big Brother Linghu’s body, I felt very calm and peaceful. I was actually feeling a bit happy, just like when I exercise chanting the

Buddhist Scriptures with an empty mind. I seemed to have hoped to just hold his body and walk casually on a never-ending road that nobody else

was on. I would pay any price to find his body. Why? Am I not able to bear the thought that wild animals ate his body? No! Not that at all! I just want to carry his body and walk around aimlessly, or just sit by the lotus pond quietly. Why did I faint? Oh, no, I am terrible! I should not be thinking like this. Master wouldn’t allow it, and Buddha wouldn’t tolerate it either. These are evil thoughts. I shouldn’t be trapped by evil thoughts. But where is Big Brother Linghu’s body?” Her mind was in such chaos. She could almost see the smile on Linghu Chong’s lips once again. It was such a carefree smile.

Then it changed into a disdainful look on his face when he swore, “You are bad luck, little nun!” She felt a pain from her chest like a knife cutting into her flesh….

Yu Canghai’s voice rose again. “Lao Denuo, this little girl is from your Huashan Sword School, isn’t she?”

“No. This is the first time I have seen this little sister. She is not from our sword school,” Lao Denuo denied in a hurry.

“Sure. If you don’t want to admit it, fine!” Yu Canghai did not believe him at all. Suddenly Yu Canghai waved his hand. With a flash, an awl-shaped missile shot toward Yilin. “Little Sister, see what this is?” he yelled.

Yilin was still deep in her thoughts, and had never expected a projectile from Yu Canghai. She actually felt some kind of joy: “It is a relief that he is killing me. I don’t feel like living anyway!” Seeing the missile flying closer, and hearing several people shouting, “Look out for that projectile!” she still had no intention of dodging it. For some unknown reason, she felt unspeakable peace and joy, feeling that there was only

sadness and endless loneliness in the living world. She would be very happy if the missile killed her.

Dingyi gently pushed the little girl aside and dashed in front of Yilin to block the missile. Although she had the look of an old Granny, the dash was extremely fast. The missile wasn’t traveling that fast, but it was still a shooting projectile. Dingyi started later yet arrived earlier, and was able to get ready to catch the projectile. Just when it seemed that Sister Dingyi

would catch the projectile without too much effort, the missile suddenly dropped to the floor about two feet away from her. Since Dingyi had

already extended her arm to catch it, yet missed, it was like losing a bout in front of everyone. Her face turned slightly red.

Yu Canghai immediately waved his hand again and threw the paper ball toward the little girl’s face. The paper ball was made out of the paper with the turtle picture.

“So the bull-nose shot the missile just to lure me away. He wasn’t really trying to hurt Yilin,” Dingyi thought to herself.

The small paper ball went much faster, and carried much more strength than the awl-shaped missile. Yu Canghai had used his inner

strength when he threw the paper ball. If it hit the little girl’s face, she would definitely get hurt. Dingyi was standing next to Yilin. When she realized what had happened, it was already too late to help. All she could do was yelling, “You…!”

The little girl swiftly sat down on the floor and cried, “Mom, Mom, he wants to kill me.” She moved very swiftly, and dodged the paper ball in perfect timing. Anyone could tell that she knew martial arts, but just acted like a spoiled child. Everyone thought it was quite funny. Yu Canghai also felt that it wouldn’t be appropriate to push her any more. He had a belly full of suspicions, but none of his questions could be answered.

Seeing the embarrassed expression on Yu Canghai’s face, Sister

Dingyi couldn’t help laughing inwardly. Since the Qingcheng Sword School had lost face so badly, she didn’t want to mess with him anymore, so she

said to Yilin, “Yilin, I don’t know where the little sister’s parents went. Why don’t you go with her to look for them, so she won’t be bullied because nobody is looking out for her?”

“Yes, Master!” Yilin answered. She walked up to the little girl and took her hand. The girl smiled at her, and they walked out of the hall together.

Yu Canghai sneered and stopped paying any more attention to the girl. He turned around and stared at Mu Gaofeng.

Chapter 5: Healing

Linghu Chong slowly closed his eyes. His breathing gradually slowed down and soon he fell asleep. Yilin stayed by Linghu Chong’s side, and gently whisked a leafy branch to drive away mosquitoes and other bugs for him

Yilin followed the girl outside. “What’s your name?” she asked.

The girl gave a sly grin. “My last name is Linghu and my first name is Chong!”

Yilin’s heart thumped. “I asked you politely, why are you making fun of me?” She pulled a long face.

“What makes you think I’m making fun of you?” The girl kept grinning. “Do you think your friend is the only one who is called Linghu Chong?”

Yilin felt deep sorrow in her heart. She sighed and could no longer hold back her tears. “Big Brother Linghu was my savior,” she said. “His death was my fault, I…I am not worthy to be his friend.”

Just then, in the hallway outside, two hunchbacks hurried by. Yilin recognized them as the Hunchback of the North Mu Gaofeng, and Lin Pingzhi. The girl giggled.

“What are the odds! An old, ugly hunchback, together with a young, ugly hunchback.”

Yilin was a bit annoyed by the girl’s remarks. “Girl,” she asked, “is it possible for you to find your mother and father by yourself? My head is beginning to hurt, and I’m not feeling very well right now.”

The girl grinned. “I know you’re faking a headache. You’re just mad because I used Linghu Chong’s name. My dear sis, your Master asked you to take care of me; are you abandoning me already? If some rascals pick on me again, your Master’s going to blame you for sure!”

“You are much more capable than I am, and you’re very smart too.

Even the renowned Master Yu didn’t know what to do with you. People are all thanking Buddha that you aren’t the one picking on others. Who would dare bully you?” Yilin countered.

The girl burst into laughter. She held Yilin’s hand and said, “Now you’re the one making fun of me. If it weren’t for your Master, that bull- nose would’ve beaten me up. Sis, my name is Qu Feiyan. My grandpa calls me Feifei; you can call me Feifei too.”

Yilin felt a little better when the girl revealed her real name. But she also thought it was strange that the girl knew she was still thinking about Linghu Chong, and used his name to startle her. Maybe the clever and

eccentric girl had hidden outside the window and overheard her report to all the masters. “Well,” she said, “Miss Qu, let’s go find your mother and father then. Where do you think they might be?”

“I know where they went,” Qu Feiyan said. “If you want to look for them, you can go by yourself. I’m not going.”

“Why don’t you want to go?” Yilin asked in surprise.

“I am still too young; of course I don’t want to go. But you’re different, you’re so gloomy and depressed right now, maybe you’d prefer to go there early,” Qu Feiyan said.

Yilin’s heart thumped. “You mean your mother and father….”

“My parents were murdered by bad guys a long time ago. If you want to look for them, you’ll have to go to the underworld.”

Yilin was very vexed. “If your parents have passed away already, how can you still make fun of them? I am leaving!”

Qu Feiyan grabbed onto Yilin’s left hand and started to beg, “My dear sis, I don’t have anyone else. I’m always so lonely. Nobody plays with me. Please, please just stay a little bit longer!”

Yilin was moved by her words. “Well, alright,” she sighed, “I’ll stay with you a little longer. But you have to stop saying such nonsense. Also, I am a member of the Buddhist order, so it isn’t appropriate for you to call me sis.”

Qu Feiyan laughed. “You think I was just saying silly words, but I think they make perfect sense. Different people have different perspectives. You are older than me, so I should call you sis. What’s wrong with that? Sis Yilin! Why don’t you quit being a nun?”

Yilin was startled, and stepped back.

Qu Feiyan let go of her hand. “What’s so great about being a nun?”

she asked. “You can’t eat fish, shrimp, chicken or duck, not to mention beef or lamb. Sis, you’re really very pretty. You don’t look so good right now because you shaved your head,37 but once you grow a nice long head of beautiful hair back, you’ll be a real babe!”

Yilin could tell that Qu Feiyan was speaking from her heart, so she smiled. “I am already a member of the Buddhist clergy. We believe in the

doctrine of the Four Emptiness; why would I care whether my outer husk is beautiful or ugly?”

Qu Feiyan turned her head toward Yilin and looked at Yilin’s face

carefully. It had just stopped raining, and dark clouds started drifting away slowly. Moonlight streamed through the opening at an angle and illuminated Yilin’s face with a pale silver glow, which made her face even more beautiful. Qu Feiyan gave a sigh.

“Sis, you are so beautiful,” she said slowly, “no wonder he thinks about you so much.”

Yilin’s face became flushed. “What are you talking about?” she

exclaimed uncomfortably. “If you keep making fun of me, I am going to leave.”

“Alright! I’ll stop,” Qu Feiyan said with a smile. “Sis, can you give me some ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue?’ I need to save someone.” “Who are you saving?” Yilin asked in surprise.

“He’s a very important person, but I can’t tell you who he is yet.” Qu Feiyan grinned.

“I really should give you the medicine if you need it to save

somebody’s life,” Yilin said, “but my Master told us that the making of the ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue’ is not easy, and we have been ordered not to use it if the wounded person is unworthy.”

“Sis,” Qu Feiyan said, “if somebody cursed your Master and your Heng-Shan Sword School, would he be worthy or unworthy?”

“If he cursed my Master and our Heng-Shan Sword School, of course he would be unworthy, how could he be any good?”

“That’s really very interesting,” Qu Feiyan mused slyly. “There’s this guy who once said again and again that he would have really bad luck after seeing nuns, and would lose all his bets. He abused you, your Master, and the entire Heng-Shan Sword School. If such an unworthy fellow got

wounded….”

Before she even finished speaking, Yilin had already turned around and stridden away angrily. Qu Feiyan jumped in front of her, arms outstretched and blocking Yilin’s way. She kept smiling but had no intention of letting Yilin pass.

A thought suddenly struck Yilin. “Yesterday at the Huiyan Wine House, this girl sat with a man throughout the entire incident, until Big

Brother Linghu was murdered. When I carried his body down the stairs, she was still sitting there. She must have seen the whole thing; there’s no need for her to eavesdrop on what I said at all. Could she have followed me all the way?” She wanted to ask the girl an important question, but could not make herself speak the words. Yilin could only blush with embarrassment. “Sis, I know you want to ask me, ‘Where did Big Brother Linghu’s body go?’ Am I right?” Qu Feiyan grinned.

“Yes, would you please tell me? I…I would really appreciate it!” Yilin pleaded.

“I don’t know, but there’s someone who does. However, he’s badly wounded and could die any minute now. If you can save him using the ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue,’ he might be able to tell you where Big

Brother Linghu’s body is.”

“You don’t know yourself?” Yilin asked.

“If I, Qu Feiyan, know where Linghu Chong’s dead body is, may Heaven let me die a terrible death by Yu Canghai’s sword tomorrow!”

“I believe you. You don’t have to vow,” Yilin said hurriedly. “So who is this person?”

“It’s up to you if you want to save his life or not. And the place we’re going to isn’t such a good place either.”

In order to find Linghu Chong’s body, even a hill of knives or a forest of swords would not stop Yilin from going, much less something like “not a good place.” Yilin nodded, “Let’s go,” and they marched towards the gate.

It was still raining outside. There were some oilpaper-umbrellas propped against the wall beside the gate. Yilin and Qu Feiyan each took one and walked out towards the northeast corner of the city. It was already late at night, and there was hardly anybody in the street. When they walked by, a couple of dogs in the deep alleys barked at them. All Yilin could think

about was where to find Linghu Chong’s body, so even though Qu Feiyan led her through many remote little streets, she did not care. After they

walked for quite a while, Qu Feiyan entered a very narrow alley. A small red lantern stuck out from a door on the left side of the street. Qu Feiyan knocked on the door three times. Someone approached from the courtyard within, opened the door, and stuck his head out. Qu Feiyan whispered something in the man’s ear and stuck something into his hands.

“Sure, sure! Come in please, Misses!” the man said.

Qu Feiyan turned back and motioned to Yilin, who followed her through the doorway. The man had a surprised look on his face upon seeing Yilin, but still hurried ahead to lead the way. After they walked through the courtyard, they arrived at a room in the east side of the building. The man parted the curtain door.

“Miss, Sister, through here please,” he said.

The scent of perfume filled the entire room. Yilin walked in and saw a huge bed in the room. Exotic silk quilts and pillows covered the bed. They were decorated with Xiang38 Embroidery, one of the greatest arts of its type in the world. A pair of love birds playing in the water was embroidered on the cover of the red silk quilt. It was made with very bright colors and the ducks seemed very lifelike. Yilin had been cloistered in the White-Cloud

Nunnery since she was very little. The quilt she used was very simple, made with gray cloth. She had never seen such a gorgeous bed set in her entire life. She glanced at it, and immediately turned her head away. A big red

candle was placed on the small table next to the bed; a mirror and a makeup box sat neatly by the red candle; two pairs of exotic slippers lay on the floor side by side near the bed – a pair for a man and a pair for a woman. Yilin felt a sudden shock when she raised her head and saw a shy face, red with

embarrassment, and looking surprised. Then she realized that it was only her own reflection in the mirror.

The sound of footsteps came from behind them. What appeared to be a maid walked in with a big smile and began serving tea. She wore very tight clothes and she behaved quite coquettishly. Yilin felt more and more uneasy. “What is this place?” she whispered to Qu Feiyan.

Qu Feiyan grinned and then whispered something to the maid.

“Sure!” The woman covered up the smile on her lips with her hand and walked out slowly.

“That woman is bumbling! She can’t be very honest!” Yilin thought to herself.

“Why did you bring me here? What is this place?” she asked Qu Feiyan again.

“This is a very famous spot in the town of Hengshan. It’s called the Jade House,” Qu Feiyan said with a broad grin.

“What is this Jade House?”

“The Jade House is the best brothel in town.”

When Yilin heard the word “brothel,” her heart skipped a beat, and she almost fainted. When she saw the way the room was decorated, she already had a feeling that something was not quite right, but she did not

expect to be in a brothel at all. Although she did not really understand what a brothel was, she had heard from the secular apprentice-sisters that prostitutes were the most lewd of women; they would consort with any man who had enough money.

“Did Qu Feiyan bring me here to be one of them?” She was so shocked and worried that she almost burst into tears.

A man’s loud laughter exploded from the room next door. The voice sounded very familiar, and before long, Yilin recognized it as the voice of the villain, “Ten Thousand Miles Loner” Tian Boguang. Yilin’s legs gave out on her; she collapsed into a chair, her face frightened and pale.

“What’s wrong?” Qu Feiyan was startled and rushed over to check on

her. “It’s Tian…Tian Boguang!” Yilin whispered.

“That’s right, I recognized his voice too. It’s your cute little apprentice Tian Boguang.” Qu Feiyan grinned.

“Who’s saying my name?” Tian Boguang shouted loudly from the next room.

“Hey, Tian Boguang,” Qu Feiyan yelled, “your Master’s here. Come here quickly and kowtow to your Master!”

Tian Boguang became enraged. “What Master, you little bitch?

You’re just babbling. Keep at it, and I’m going to bust open your stinking mouth.”

“Isn’t it true that you swore to take little sister Yilin of the Heng-Shan Sword School as your Master at the Huiyan Wine House? She is right here. Hurry up, and get over here!” Qu Feiyan urged.

“How could she possibly be in a place like this?” Tian Boguang

exclaimed. “Huh, how…how did you know? Who are you? I am going to kill you!” A trace of fear could actually be heard in his blustering voice.

“Come here and kowtow to your Master first,” Qu Feiyan said airily. “No, no! Don’t let him come over!” Yilin hurriedly objected.

Tian Boguang let out a cry in shock, and then came a loud “thump,” as he apparently jumped to the floor from his bed.

“Sir! What are you doing?” a woman’s voice inquired.

“Tian Boguang,” Qu Feiyan shouted, “don’t you run away! Your Master’s here to settle a score with you.”

“What damn master or apprentice?” Tian Boguang retorted. “I was tricked by that Linghu Chong! If that little nun comes one step closer, I’ll kill her in a blink!”

“Fine! I am not going over. And you don’t come here either!” Yilin said in a trembling voice. “Tian Boguang,” Qu Feiyan yelled, “you’re supposed to be a

somebody in the Martial World, why don’t you be a man? Are you backing out of your promise? Come over here and kowtow to your Master!”

Tian Boguang snorted, but did not say another word.

“I don’t want him to kowtow; I don’t want to see him either. He…he is not my apprentice,” Yilin said.

Tian Boguang jumped in immediately, “See! The little Sister doesn’t want to see me at all!”

“Fine,” Qu Feiyan said, “have it your way, but when we came here earlier, we were followed by a couple of little sneaks. You’d better go and

get rid of them fast. Your master and I are resting here. You can keep guard outside, and keep people from bothering us. If you do your job well, then maybe I won’t mention your agreeing to be the little Sister’s apprentice to anyone. Otherwise, I’ll just announce it to the entire world!”

Tian Boguang raised his voice and gave a sudden shout, “You sneaking little punks, you’ve got a lot of nerve!”

A window opened with a bang, followed by the clang of two weapons falling atop the roof; then someone screamed in pain, while the footsteps of someone else running away could be heard. Again came the sound of a

window opening with a bang as Tian Boguang leaped down the roof back to his room.

“Killed one, a little skulker from the Qingcheng Sword School. The other one ran away,” he declared.

“You’re hopeless! How could you let one get away?” Qu Feiyan complained.

“I couldn’t kill that one,” Tian Boguang explained hurriedly. “She… she was a nun of the Heng-Shan Sword School.” “So it was your Uncle-Master! Of course you couldn’t kill her.” Qu Feiyan giggled.

Yilin was astonished. She murmured, “Was that my apprentice sister?

What do I do now?”

“Hey, little girl, what’s your name?” Tian Boguang asked.

Grinning, Qu Feiyan said, “You shouldn’t ask questions like that. If you keep your mouth shut, your Master will put the business of settling her score on hold for now.”

Tian Boguang shut up immediately.

“Qu, let’s leave here quickly!” Yilin said urgently.

“But you haven’t seen the patient yet,” Qu Feiyan insisted. “Didn’t you have something to ask him? But if you’re afraid of making your Master unhappy, and want to go back, that’s fine with me.”

“Well, I am already here anyway, let’s…let’s go see him,” Yilin said after thinking for a moment.

Qu Feiyan smiled and walked toward the side of the bed. She pushed the wall on the east side of the room, and a secret door opened silently. Qu Feiyan waved at Yilin, motioning her to follow, and then walked through the door. Yilin felt that the whole business with the brothel was getting more and more mysterious. Thank Heavens that Tian Boguang was in the room on the west side. She figured the further she was from him the better, so she gathered her strength and followed Qu in. There was another room inside, but no light. With the illumination from outside, she could tell it was a small room. There was also a bed in it, shrouded by a curtain. She could vaguely see that somebody was lying on the bed behind the curtain. Yilin

stopped at the secret door but was afraid to go in.

“Sis, go ahead, help him with your ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue’!” Qu Feiyan directed. “He…he really knows where Big Brother Linghu’s body is?” Yilin asked in hesitation.

“Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know.”

“But you said earlier that he did know.” Yilin was frustrated.

“I’m not a gentleman; I don’t have to keep my words. If you want to help him, get to work, otherwise, just turn around and leave. Nobody’s going to stop you,” Qu Feiyan snapped.

“No matter what the cost is, I need to find Big Brother Linghu’s body even if there is only a slim chance, I can’t let it pass,” Yilin thought to herself. “Alright, I will work on him,” she declared.

She went back to the main room to get the candle, and then walked back into the small room and stopped beside the bed. She opened the

curtain and saw a man lying on the bed. A green handkerchief covered his face. When he breathed in and out, the cloth moved as well. Not being able to see his face actually gave Yilin a bit of comfort.

“Where is he wounded?” she turned and asked.

“His chest. The wound is very deep; it barely missed his heart,” Qu Feiyan answered.

Yilin gently lifted the thin blanket covering his chest. A large wound could be seen right in the middle of his bare chest. It had stopped bleeding, but since the gash was so deep, the man was still in critical condition. Yilin calmed herself a little and thought, “No matter what it takes, I have to save his life.” She passed the candle to Qu Feiyan, and took the wooden box

containing the “Heavenly Connecting Glue” out of her pocket. After opening the box, she put it on the table at the side of the bed and then gently pressed down around the edge of the wound.

“All the acupoints that help to stop bleeding have already been sealed.

Otherwise he would be dead by now,” Qu Feiyan said in a low voice. Yilin nodded. All the acupoints around the wound had already been properly sealed, and was done much better than what she could have

achieved by herself. She slowly removed the cotton padding that covered the wound. Once the padding was removed, blood gushed out. Yilin had learned how to treat wounds from her seniors. She pressed down on the

wound with her left hand, and applied the “Heavenly Connecting Glue” to the wound with her right hand. When she finished, she immediately put the cotton padding back onto the wound. “Heavenly Connecting Glue” was the Heng-Shan Sword School’s treasured poultice, prepared from a secret recipe. Once applied to wounds, it would stop the bleeding in short order.

Yilin could hear the man breathing heavily. She wasn’t sure if he would survive, so she couldn’t resist but to ask the question.

“Sir, I have something to ask you, please give me an answer.”

Suddenly, Qu Feiyan tilted her body to the side. The candlestick tilted to the side as well, and the flame suddenly went out. Darkness swept the

entire room.

“Oops!” Qu Feiyan let out a cry. “The light went out.”

It was so dark in the room that Yilin could not even see her own fingers. She became quite flustered. “How can a member of the Buddhist order remain in such an unsavory place? I need to leave here as soon as I find out where Big Brother Linghu’s body is,” she thought. With a trembling voice, she asked.

“Sir, are you feeling a little better now?”

The man let out a groan but did not answer her question.

“He’s running a fever. Feel his forehead, it’s burning hot!” Qu Feiyan exclaimed.

Before Yilin even had a chance to answer, her right hand was already caught by Qu Feiyan and placed on top of the man’s forehead. Apparently, Qu Feiyan had removed the green handkerchief that covered the man’s face earlier. Yilin felt as if her fingers were touching burning coal; she couldn’t help but feel pity for him.

“I also have medicine to take orally. I’d better administer it,” she said. “Qu, will you please light the candle?”

“Sure, you wait here. I’ll go find some flints.”

Hearing that Feiyan was leaving, Yilin became very nervous. She grabbed onto Feiyan’s sleeve.

“No, no, don’t leave. What am I suppose to do here alone?”

Qu Feiyan let out a small laugh. “Go ahead and take out the medicine,” she said.

Yilin took out a bottle from her pocket, opened the bottle and dumped three pills out onto her palm. “I have the pills. You give them to him,” she

said.

“Better not drop the pills in the dark. This concerns somebody’s life; it’s no joke. Sis, if you are afraid to be left here alone, then I’ll stay here, you go find the flints,” Qu Feiyan proposed.

Yilin was even more frightened about the idea of wandering around the brothel all by herself. “No, no, I am not going,” she cried out immediately.

“Once you decide to save somebody, you’ve got to follow through. You can just put the pills in his mouth and then give him some tea to help him swallow. In the dark, he can’t see who you are. What are you so afraid of? Here, here’s the tea cup, be careful, don’t drop it,” Qu Feiyan said.

Slowly reaching out with her hand, Yilin took the tea. Pausing, she thought to herself, “Master has always told us that as Buddhists we should always be merciful to others. Saving a life achieves more than building a seven-story pagoda for Buddha. Even if this man doesn’t know where Big Brother Linghu’s body is, he is on the verge of dying, and I should still try to save his life.” So she slowly extended her right hand. When the back of her hand touched the man’s forehead, she turned her hand over and placed three “White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pills” into his mouth. He swallowed them with the tea served by Yilin and then murmured something that

seemed to be words of gratitude.

“Sir, I know you are wounded badly, I really should let you rest, but I have one urgent thing to ask you. Hero Linghu Chong was murdered, his body…,” Yilin said.

“You…you are asking for Linghu Chong…?” the man croaked. “Yes! Do you know where hero Linghu Chong’s body is?” Yilin

asked anxiously.

The man mumbled some words, but his voice was too low for Yilin to make anything out of them. Yilin asked one more time, and then moved her ear close to the man’s lips, but all she could hear was his heavy breathing. It seemed that he wanted to say something but could not make the words

come out.

Yilin suddenly remembered. The “Heavenly Connecting Glue” and “White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pills” were wonderful treatments for

wounds, but they were both very strong medicines as well, particularly the “White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pill.” Anyone would pass out for a half day after taking it. It was just an important step of the healing process. How

could she be so self absorbed as to push him to talk at that moment? She

sighed gently and moved out from under the curtain and sat down on a chair near the bed.

“I’ll wait till he feels better and then ask again,” she murmured to herself.

“Sis, is he going to be alright?” Qu Feiyan asked.

“I hope he will recover, but the wound on his chest is really deep. Qu, who…who is he?” Yilin asked. But Qu Feiyan did not answer. “My grandpa said you couldn’t let a lot of things go,” Qu Feiyan said after a while. “You really shouldn’t be a nun.”

“Your grandpa knows me?” Yilin asked in surprise. “How does he… he know that I cannot let things go?”

“Yesterday in the Huiyan Wine House, Grandpa and I were watching your fight with Tian Boguang.”

“Ah,” Yilin said, “so your grandpa was the one sitting with you?” “Yeah.” Qu Feiyan smiled. “Your Big Brother Linghu really had a

quick tongue. When he said he was the second best at fighting while sitting

down, Grandpa actually believed him and thought he really knew some kind of sword art he created while in the toilet that could defeat Tian

Boguang. Ha-ha.”

Yilin could not see her face in the dark, but she could imagine that the little girl must be giggling quite hard. The more gleeful Qu Feiyan was the more sorrow Yilin felt.

Qu Feiyan went on, “Later, after Tian Boguang ran away, Grandpa said he had no guts. He had promised to be your apprentice, and should

have kowtowed to you and called you Master. How could he go back on his word?”

“Big Brother Linghu only tricked him to save my life, he did not really win the fight,” Yilin explained.

“Sis, you are truly kind. After the way Tian Boguang treated you, you’re still making excuses for him. Anyway, after Big Brother Linghu was killed, you just carried his body and wandered around with no specific destination. Grandpa said, ‘This little nun is really a passionate girl. I am

afraid she is going to go insane. Let’s follow her and watch.’ So the two of us followed behind you and watched how you just carried his body and didn’t want to let him go. Grandpa said, ‘Feifei, see how upset this little nun is. If this lad Linghu Chong weren’t dead, the little nun would definitely give up the nunnery and marry him.’”

Yilin flushed with great embarrassment. She could feel her face and ears burning in the dark. “Sis, was my grandpa right?”

“He died because of me,” Yilin said. “I really wish I was the one who died instead of him. If Buddha pities me, and lets me die in exchange for

Big Brother Linghu’s life, I…I…even if I had to fall all the way to the bottom of the eighteenth level of hell and never be reborn again,39 I would not complain.” Her voice was filled with sincerity as she said those words.

All of a sudden, the man on the bed let out a groan.

“He…he is awake. Qu, would you please ask him if he feels better?” Yilin said happily.

“Why do I have to be the one to ask? Don’t you have a tongue of your own?” Qu Feiyan demanded.

Yilin walked to the bed after a slight hesitation, and with the curtain in between them, asked, “Sir, are you…?” Before she could finish, the man let out several more groans.

“He is in great pain right now, I shouldn’t bother him,” she thought, so she just stood there quietly. The man’s breathing gradually fell into a

slow rhythm. Apparently the medicine was doing its job, and he had fallen asleep again.

“Sis,” Qu Feiyan whispered, “why would you die for Linghu Chong?

Do you really like him that much?”

“No, no! Miss Qu, I am a Buddhist nun. Please don’t say such disrespectful words to Buddha! Big Brother Linghu and I had never met

each other before, but he gave his life to save mine. I…I just feel I owe him so much!” Yilin said breathlessly.

“What if he was alive again? Would you be willing to do anything for him?”

“Yes, even if I had to die a thousand times for him, I would have no complaints.” Qu Feiyan suddenly raised her voice and said, “Big Brother Linghu, listen up, sis Yilin said it herself….”

“Don’t joke about it!” Yilin cut her off angrily.

Qu Feiyan simply ignored her and continued in a loud voice. “She said: if you are not dead, she would do anything for you.”

From Qu’s tone, Yilin could feel that she really wasn’t joking. Her heart started pounding faster and faster, and she also began to get dizzy. She could only murmur, “You…you…” Within seconds, Qu Feiyan lit a candle. She opened the curtain and beckoned Yilin over with a big smile on her face. Yilin slowly walked to the bed full of dread. Suddenly, it seemed as if the entire world started swirling around her; she found herself falling down to the ground.

Qu Feiyan quickly caught her by the shoulder before she actually hit the floor.

“I know this is going to be a big surprise! Go ahead and see who he is!” she exclaimed.

“He…he….” Yilin’s voice was so weak, and she could hardly breathe.

Although the man on the bed had his eyes shut tightly, with his thick eyebrows and thin lips on a long rectangular face, Yilin immediately recognized him. It was none other than the one who had fought at the Huiyan Wine House, Linghu Chong.

Yilin grabbed Qu Feiyan’s arm tightly. “He…he is not dead?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“He is not dead yet, but if your medicine doesn’t work, he’ll die soon.” Qu Feiyan smiled gently.

“He won’t die, he definitely won’t die! He…he is alive!” Filled with surprise and happiness, the emotions overwhelmed Yilin, and she started

crying. “Hey, he’s not dead, what are you crying for?” Qu Feiyan asked curiously.

Yilin felt her legs giving out on her, so she had to lean on the bed as she continued to shed more tears.

“I am so happy!” she said. “Qu, I don’t know how to thank you enough! You saved…saved Big Brother Linghu.”

“Hey, you saved him. I don’t have the skills to save him, and I don’t have ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue’ either!” Qu Feiyan said.

Suddenly, Yilin understood. She stood up slowly and held Qu Feiyan’s hand. “Your grandpa did it. It was your grandpa!”

Someone shouted outside, “Yilin, Yilin!” That was the voice of Sister Dingyi. Yilin was astounded, and was just about to answer when Qu Feiyan blew out the candle in her hands and then covered Yilin’s mouth.

“Don’t you remember what kind of a place this is? Don’t answer!” she hissed at Yilin.

Yilin found herself bewildered. It was quite embarrassing being in a brothel, but refusing to answer her Master’s call, that was something she had never done before in her life.

Dingyi’s voice rang out, “Tian Boguang, get your ass out here! Let Yilin go!”

Tian Boguang’s laughter came from the westside room. “Well! If it isn’t the White-Cloud Nunnery Senior Sister Dingyi of the Heng-Shan Sword School!” he continued cackling for a few moments, and then finally spoke. “I really should go out to pay my respects, but to leave all these cute ladies here on my bed alone wouldn’t be good manners either. I guess I’ll just stay here then. Ha-ha, ha-ha!” The coquettish laughter of several girls joined in. Obviously the women were prostitutes. “Sweetheart, don’t pay

any attention to her. Give me another kiss…,” one of them said huskily. The lascivious voices of the women grew louder and louder. Tian Boguang must have egged them on to keep Sister Dingyi away.

Dingyi was outraged. “Tian Boguang, if you don’t get your ass out here, I will cut you into ten thousand pieces!” she shouted.

Tian Boguang laughed. “If I don’t get my ass out, you’ll cut me into pieces. If I do haul my ass out, you’ll cut me into pieces just as well. I guess I’d better keep my ass put. Sister Dingyi, you nuns really shouldn’t be in places like this. Why don’t you go back to your nice convent? Your

apprentice is not here. She is a model nun who always follows all the convent rules. Why would she come here? Don’t you think it’s rather bizarre for your holiness to come here to look for your apprentice?”

Dingyi exploded. “Blazes! I’m going to set this damn place on fire!

We’ll see how long he can stay in there!” she retorted.

Tian Boguang laughed again. “Sister Dingyi, this spot is named the ‘Jade House,’ and it is one of the most famous sites in the town of

Hengshan. I suppose it would be no big deal if you set it on fire, but when the story gets out, everybody’ll know that it was Sister Dingyi from the

White-Cloud Nunnery of the Heng-Shan Sword School who burnt down the ‘Jade House’ brothel in Hengshan. People who hear this would ask themselves, ‘Sister Dingyi is a respectful senior Sister, why would she go to such a filthy place?’ The answer would be that, ‘She went there to look for her apprentice!’ People who hear this would have to ask, ‘Why did the

apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School go to the Jade House?’…I’m guessing that all these questions wouldn’t do the reputation of your school any good. Let me tell you something, Tian Boguang fears nothing and nobody in this entire world except that apprentice of yours. I’d be busy running away at the sight of her. How would I be able to bother her?” Dingyi reluctantly saw his point, but an apprentice had reported that

she saw Yilin walking into this house with her own eyes, and Tian Boguang had also attacked her. There could have been no mistake. Her anger kept growing, but the only thing she could do was to stamp the flagstones beneath her feet.

“Tian Boguang, did you murder my apprentice Peng Renqi?” demanded a voice from the roof across the way. The Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School had arrived.

“Aha! Even the respectful Head Master of Qingcheng Sword School has come to visit,” Tian Boguang crowed. “Hengshan Jade House is going to be so appallingly famous from now on. They’ll never need to worry

about getting business again! I did kill a fellow. His sword skills were ordinary, but seemed to be the moves of the Qingcheng Sword School. But as to whether his name was Peng Renqi or not, sorry, I really didn’t have the time to ask.”

Within the space of a blink, Yu Canghai leapt into Tian Boguang’s room, and a shower of ringing steel followed; Yu Canghai had started fighting with Tian Boguang. Sister Dingyi stood on the roof and listened to the sound of clashing weapons.

“That rascal Tian Boguang really has some skills,” she thought to herself. “His quick knife strokes seem to be evenly matched with the sword thrusts from the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School.”

Suddenly there was a loud “bang” followed by absolute silence. Yilin held onto Qu Feiyan’s hand tightly; cold sweat soaked her palms. She had no idea who had won the fight, Tian or Yu? Tian Boguang had bullied her

several times, and she should have wished for Yu Canghai to win, but deep in her heart, she was really hoping the opposite. It would be better if Yu

Canghai and her Master were to just leave, so that Linghu Chong could rest and heal peacefully and quietly. He was already on the brink of death, and if Yu Canghai were to rush into the room, the stress itself would surely cause his wounds to break open and kill him.

Tian Boguang’s voice rose from afar, “Master Yu, don’t you think it’s a little crowded in this room? Let’s go to the clearing in the field and fight a couple hundred rounds and see who the better man is! If you win, I’ll relinquish this cute hottie ‘Little Jade’ to you! But if you lose, this chick

will have to be mine!”

Yu Canghai almost exploded in anger. The scoundrel’s words had implied that they were fighting to gain the favor of a whore named “Little Jade” in the “Jade House.” He considered his situation. When they were

fighting inside the room, over fifty bouts passed in no time. Tian Boguang’s knife moves were well organized and balanced in both attack and defense. His skills were really no less than that of his own. Even if they were to fight another couple of hundred rounds, he still couldn’t ensure victory would be his.

Everything quieted down. Yilin could even hear her own heartbeat. She leaned closer to Qu’s ear and asked in a whisper, “Do you think…they will come in here?”

Qu was actually much younger than her, yet Yilin was completely helpless in such an embarrassing situation. Qu did not answer, and just covered Yilin’s mouth with her hand.

Liu Zhengfeng’s voice suddenly rose. “Master Yu, the villain Tian Boguang has committed so many crimes; he definitely won’t come to a

good end. We’ll get him eventually. There’s no rush right now. This brothel has been the source of much immoral behavior; I have always wanted to trash it. Please let me handle this. Danian, Weiyi, Let’s search inside. Don’t let anybody leave!” Xiang Danian and Mi Weiyi, the two apprentices of Liu House,

acknowledged the command in unison. Dingyi also sent out orders and had her apprentices surround the brothel.

Yilin became increasingly worried. She could hear the voices of the apprentices from the Liu House coming closer and closer, searching room after room. Liu Zhengfeng and Yu Canghai stood by the side and directed the apprentices. Loud cries from the proprietors could be clearly heard

while they were thrashed by Xiang Danian, Mi Weiyi, and the rest of the apprentices. Apprentices of the Qingcheng Sword School began smashing furniture, teacups and wine kettles, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Knowing that all those people would soon arrive, Yilin became so worried that she almost passed out.

“My Master came to rescue me,” she thought, “and I did not answer her call. I am in a brothel and in the same room with Big Brother Linghu late at night. Even though he is badly wounded, when all those guys from the Hengshan Sword School and the Qingcheng Sword School come in all at once, I wouldn’t be able to explain the situation even if I had a hundred tongues. The reputation of the Heng-Shan Sword School would undoubtedly be damaged and how…how can I face my Master and all the

apprentice sisters again?” She drew her sword and brought the blade toward her own throat.

Qu Feiyan heard the sound of a sword unsheathing and instantly realized what Yilin was doing. She grasped Yilin’s wrist quickly.

“Stop! Let’s dash out together,” she whispered.

Sounds of movement came from the bed. Linghu Chong had sat up. “Light the candle!” he whispered.

“Why?” Qu Feiyan asked. “I am telling you to light the candle!” Linghu Chong said. His voice had a tone of authority in it. Qu Feiyan did not say another word and lit the candle.

With the light of the candle, Yilin could see Linghu Chong’s white and bloodless face, a face that looked almost like that of a corpse. She uttered a cry.

Linghu Chong pointed at his overcoat at the end of the bed. “Put that over…over my shoulders,” he said.

While trembling like a falling leaf in a storm, Yilin picked up the overcoat and draped it over Linghu Chong’s shoulders. Linghu Chong pulled the front of the overcoat so that it covered all the bloodstains and the wound on his chest.

“You two, lie on the bed,” he said.

“This is fun!” Qu Feiyan giggled. She dragged Yilin and they slipped under the quilt.

By then, the people outside had noticed the candlelight in the room. “Let’s check that room out!” someone shouted. They all started to head toward the small room.

Linghu Chong took a deep breath, rushed to close the door, and locked it with a wooden bar. He walked back to the bed and lifted the curtain.

“Hide under the quilt!” he ordered.

“Don’t…don’t move too much. Watch out for your wounds,” Yilin begged.

Linghu Chong stuck his left hand out and pushed her head under the quilt while pulling Qu’s long hair out from under the quilt and spreading it all over the pillow. Just that simple movement caused his wound to break open, and blood gushed out again. He lost the strength in his legs and had to sit on the bed.

Someone had already started knocking on the door heavily and it

sounded like he was beating a drum. “You son of a turtle, open the door!” one of them shouted. Then with a loud cracking sound, the door was kicked open and four people rushed in.

The leading person was none other than the Qingcheng apprentice

Hong Renxiong. Astonished to see Linghu Chong, he immediately jumped back several paces.

“Linghu…It’s Linghu Chong….” he muttered.

Xiang Danian and Mi Weiyi had never met Linghu Chong before, but had both heard that Luo Renjie had killed him. So when they heard Hong

Renxiong shouting out Linghu Chong’s name both were shocked and also stepped back. Everyone had his eyes wide open and just gazed at Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong stood up slowly. “You…this many people….” he muttered.

“Linghu…Linghu Chong, you’re…you’re not dead?” Hong Renxiong murmured.

“How can I die so easily?” Linghu Chong answered coldly.

Yu Canghai stepped forward. “You are Linghu Chong? Excellent, excellent!” he said. Linghu Chong glanced at him but did not answer.

“What are you doing in this brothel?” Yu Canghai demanded.

Linghu Chong began laughing loudly. “Are you kidding me? What do you think people do in brothels?”

“I’ve heard that the Huashan Sword School has very strict school rules,” Yu Canghai said coldly. “You are the senior apprentice of the

Huashan Sword School, the best student of ‘Gentleman Sword’ Mr. Yue, yet you sneak up here to sleep with prostitutes. Very funny! How very ironic!”

“Whatever rules the Huashan Sword School has,” Linghu Chong said, “that’s our own business. No need for you or anybody else to worry about it.”

Yu Canghai was an experienced person. Seeing Linghu Chong’s

extremely white face because of blood loss, and his trembling legs, he could tell that Linghu Chong had been wounded badly. Could it be a trap? Then he thought, “The little nun of the Heng-Shan Sword School said this guy

was killed by Renjie, but he is actually still alive. Obviously the little nun was lying to cover things up. During her tale, she called him Big Brother Linghu this and Big Brother Linghu that, so full of tenderness; maybe they have already become a couple. Someone saw the little nun coming to this brothel, but now no one can find her; most likely this guy has hidden her

somewhere. Hmm! The Five Mountains Sword Alliance always considered themselves the true Martial Arts academies, and looked down upon my

Qingcheng Sword School. If I can sort that little nun out, then not only would the reputation of the Huashan Sword School and the Heng-Shan

Sword School be trashed, the entire Five Mountains Sword Alliance would also be humiliated, and they would never be able to flaunt themselves in the Martial World again!” He looked around quickly but did not see anyone

else besides Linghu Chong. “Looks like that little nun is hiding in the bed,” he concluded.

“Renxiong! Lift open the bed curtain. Let’s find out what kind of show we have in the bed,” he said to Hong Renxiong.

“Yes, Master!” Hong Renxiong answered and then stepped forward.

With his previous unpleasant encounter with Linghu Chong still fresh in his mind, he couldn’t help glancing at Linghu Chong and hesitating. “Do you want to die?” Linghu Chong threatened.

Hong Renxiong choked, but reassured by the presence of his master, he felt better and drew his sword.

“What do you want?” Linghu Chong asked Yu Canghai.

“The Heng-Shan Sword School lost a female apprentice; someone

saw her in this brothel, so we need to search here,” Yu Canghai demanded. “This is the Five Mountains Sword Alliance’s own matter. Why

doesn’t the Qingcheng Sword School mind its own business?” Linghu Chong mocked.

“We will find an answer today, whether you like it or not! Renxiong, go for it!” Yu Canghai ordered.

“Yes sir!” Hong Renxiong held his sword out and used the blade to lift the bed curtain.

Yilin and Qu Feiyan held on to each other as they hid under the quilt; they heard every word between Linghu Chong and Yu Canghai loudly and clearly. Greatly worried, they could not help trembling. Then when they heard the sound of Hong Renxiong lifting the bed curtain, both were frightened to death.

After Hong Renxiong had lifted up the bed curtain, everyone stared at the bed. There was a large red silk quilt with two love birds embroidered on it. Obviously there was someone under the quilt. Long black hair was

spread all over the pillow. The quilt was trembling. The person under the quilt must have been terrified.

Yu Canghai was very disappointed when he saw the long hair on the pillow. It was quite obvious that the one under the quilt was not a bald little nun. Linghu Chong was really sleeping with a prostitute.

“Master Yu,” Linghu Chong said coldly, “although you are a Taoist Priest, I heard that Qingcheng priests don’t have rules against marriage and you’ve already got yourself many wives. If you are so fond of naked

woman, and want to see the girl naked, why don’t you go ahead and lift up the quilt to have a good look? Why pretend to look for a female apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School?”

“Damn you!” Yu Canghai yelled while throwing a knife hand chop at Linghu Chong. Linghu Chong turned his body aside to dodge the blow

coming toward him, but he was quite weak because of his wounds and

wasn’t able to dodge fast enough; the edge of Yu Canghai’s chopping blow glanced his body. He could not hold himself steady and collapsed onto the bed. Gathering all his strength, Linghu Chong stood up again, but blood began dripping out from the corner of his mouth. His body shook a couple of times as he spat out some more blood. Yu Canghai wanted to hit him

again, but out of the blue, a voice came from outside the window. “A senior bullies a junior; how shameless!”

Yu Canghai did not waste any time. Before the last word had ended, he had already thrown a blow toward the window. Immediately following the blow, he jumped out the window. From the illumination of the

candlelight inside the room, he saw an ugly hunchback turning around the corner of the house.

“Hold it!” he shouted.

The hunchback was really Lin Pingzhi in disguise. After the conflict with Yu Canghai in Liu Zhengfeng’s house, he slipped out while Yu

Canghai’s mind was preoccupied with the little girl, Qu Feiyan. He hid behind a corner of the house and did not know what to do. He could not think of any way to rescue his parents.

“Everyone in the hall will have remembered me as the ugly hunchback,” he thought to himself. “When those people from the

Qingcheng Sword School see me again, they will definitely kill me without hesitation. Should I change back to my original look?” He thought of how Yu Canghai had grabbed onto his wrist; how he felt like he had lost all his strength and couldn’t even struggle to get away. How could there be

someone with such outstanding martial arts skills? All these thoughts flooded his mind; he completely lost track of time. He had no idea how long he had been hiding around the corner when he suddenly felt a pat on his hunchback. Stunned, he turned around quickly. The first thing he saw was a tall hunchback. It was none other than the real hunchback – “Hunchback of the North” Mu Gaofeng.

“You fake hunchback,” Mu grinned, “what’s so good about being a hunchback? Why the hell do you pretend to be my grandchild?”

Lin Pingzhi knew the hunchback was a very vicious man with very high Martial Arts skills. If any of his words displeased Mu, he could easily end up dead. He thought since he had already kowtowed to Mu when they were back in the great hall, and called him a true hero that helped the weak to fight the villains, and Mu did not get mad, all he needed to do was to maintain the same tone, and he surely wouldn’t make Mu Gaofeng mad.

“I heard from many people that ‘Hunchback of the North’ Hero Mu has a very reputable name, and he always helped the weak when needed. I truly admire you, and that’s why I dressed myself just like Hero Mu. Please forgive me,” he apologized.

“Are you kidding me? A reputable name and helping the weak when needed? What nonsense!”

Mu Gaofeng laughed. He knew Lin Pingzhi was lying to his face, yet all these compliments sounded very enjoyable and pleasing.

“What’s your name? Who’s your Master?” he asked.

“Lin is really my family name. I unintentionally used your last name,” Lin Pingzhi said. Mu Gaofeng smirked. “Cut the crap! You just wanted to use my name to swindle and bluff. Yu Canghai is the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School. He could kill you by just poking you with one finger. Yet you were so bold as to offend him! You really have some guts!”

Hearing Yu Canghai’s name mentioned, Lin Pingzhi’s anger instantly exploded. “As long as I am still breathing, one day I will slay the scoundrel myself!” he exclaimed loudly.

“What score do you have with Yu Canghai?” asked the surprised Mu Gaofeng.

Lin Pingzhi hesitated for a few seconds. He thought, “There’s no way for me to rescue my mom and dad all by myself. Why don’t I ask him to help?” So he knelt down and kowtowed to Mu Gaofeng.

“My parents are his prisoners. I am begging you. Will you please help me rescue them?”

Mu Gaofeng frowned and shook his head. “I never do anything that does not benefit me. Who is your dad? What do I get if I rescue him?”

Someone’s voice suddenly came from the door, whispering with urgency, “Go tell Master that in the brothel known as the Jade House,

another Qingcheng Sword School member has been killed. Also someone from the Heng-Shan Sword School was wounded and just got back. Hurry!”

“We’ll talk about your troubles later,” Mu Gaofeng whispered to Lin Pingzhi. “There’s going to be a good show. Come with me if you want to

see some fun.”

“As long as I am with him, I can always beg him later,” Lin Pingzhi thought. So he replied, “Sure, sure! Wherever you, the respectful senior, want to go, I’ll follow.”

“Let’s get this straight first: I, hunchback Mu, only do things that I can benefit from. If you think brown-nosing can get your grandpa to get into trouble for you, save yourself the trouble and just forget about it!” Mu Gaofeng exclaimed. Lin Pingzhi just nodded and didn’t say a word.

“They’ve left. Follow me,” Mu Gaofeng said. Lin Pingzhi only felt his right wrist being grabbed tightly, and before he knew it, he was already in the air and seemed to be speeding along the streets without even touching the ground.

Soon they arrived outside the Jade House. The two of them hid behind a tree and peered at the scene before them. They heard everything including the fight between Yu Canghai and Tian Boguang, the search led by Liu Zhengfeng’s apprentices, and the words of Linghu Chong. When Yu Canghai wanted to hit Linghu Chong again, Lin Pingzhi could not hold his anger any longer and shouted out, “A senior bullies a junior; how

shameless!” Right after that, he realized he had acted very rashly and quickly turned around to hide. But Yu Canghai came so fast that with the words “hold it,” the power of his hands had already immobilized Lin Pingzhi.

At that moment, all Yu needed to do was to release his inner strength and Lin Pingzhi’s internal organs would be smashed into pieces, but after recognizing it was the young hunchback, Yu Canghai held back his strength and did not strike.

“So it’s you!” he sneered.

He looked at Mu Gaofeng, who stood about ten feet behind Lin Pingzhi. “Hunchback Mu! Why do you instigate juniors to trouble me over and over again? What do you want?” he demanded.

Mu Gaofeng burst into loud laughter. “He claims to be my junior, but I never said he was! His name is Lin and mine is Mu, I have nothing to do with him. Master Yu, I, hunchback Mu, am not afraid of you; I just don’t

want to be a retard and shield some nobody from trouble. If there are great benefits for being a shield, like piles of gold or jewels or something, then I’d consider doing it! Free service like this will never interest me.”

Yu Canghai was quite happy to hear these words. “If this individual has nothing to do with brother Mu and is only an imposter, then I don’t have to worry on your behalf,” he said. He was just about to strike when he heard someone speaking

“A senior bullies a junior; how shameless!”

Yu Canghai turned back and saw a man standing by the window. It was none other than Linghu Chong. Yu Canghai was infuriated, but the

words “a senior bullies a junior; how shameless” were right on target. The two young men’s Kung Fu skills were no match for him; to kill them would be as easy as stepping on a puny ant. But he would never be able to get rid of the remark “a senior bullies a junior.” And if the remark of “a senior bullies a junior” were true, of course “shameless” would be the natural

conclusion. But if he just simply let these two off, he wouldn’t be able to vent his anger. He sneered and said to Linghu Chong, “I’ll have your

Master pay for your insolence later.” Then he turned to Lin Pingzhi. “Which school are you from?” he asked.

“You murderous monster, you ruined my entire family, and you are still asking me?” Lin Pingzhi yelled furiously.

Yu Canghai was confused. “Have I met you before? How did I ruin your family? What are you talking about?” he thought to himself. With so many people around watching, he did not want to ask for more details, so he turned to Hong Renxiong. “Renxiong, waste him first, then seize Linghu Chong.”

If a Qingcheng apprentice did it, it wouldn’t be “a senior bullies a junior.” Hong Renxiong answered, “Yes, Master!” He drew his sword and jumped forward. Lin Pingzhi went for his own sword, but before he could unsheathe it, Hong Renxiong’s long cold sword was already pointed at his chest.

Lin Pingzhi yelled, “Yu Canghai, I, Lin Pingzhi, will….”

Astounded, Yu Canghai hurriedly struck out with his left palm. The

energy of the strike sent Hong Renxiong’s thrust aside and the sword barely missed Lin Pingzhi’s right arm.

“What did you say?” Yu Canghai asked.

“Even if I, Lin Pingzhi, have to become a disembodied ghost, I’ll come back and kill you,” Lin Pingzhi exclaimed.

“Are you…are you Lin Pingzhi from the Fortune Prestige Escort House?” Yu Canghai asked in shock.

Lin Pingzhi thought, “Since I can’t hide my identity any more, I’d rather have a quick death.” So he pulled the plasters off his face and said loudly, “That’s right! I am Lin Pingzhi from Fuzhou Fortune Prestige Escort House. Your son harassed an innocent girl and I killed him. You ruined my entire family. Where…where are you keeping my father and my mother?”

The news of Qingcheng’s triumph over the Fortune Prestige Escort House had spread all over the Martial World. Most people didn’t know that Evergreen had lost in a sword fight with Lin Yuantu, so rumor said that it was really because the Qingcheng Sword School wanted to seize the Lin family’s manuscript of the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art.” And because Linghu Chong had heard the rumor, he used it to lure Luo Renjie into

coming closer and then killed him. Mu Gaofeng had also heard the rumor. After the fake hunchback claimed to be “Lin Pingzhi from the Fortune Prestige Escort House,” seeing how Yu Canghai knocked aside Hong

Renxiong’s sword in such a hurry and how he acted so nervously, Mu Gaofeng had no doubt that Yu Canghai really wanted to track down the

“Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript” with the help of this young man. When Yu Canghai stretched his arm out and grabbed onto Lin Pingzhi’s right

wrist, pulling his arm back to drag Lin over, Mu Gaofeng shouted, “Hold it!” He jumped forth rapidly and grabbed onto Lin Pingzhi’s left wrist and started pulling as well.

Lin Pingzhi could feel two great sources of power pulling his arms in opposite directions; all his joints started popping and he almost passed out from the severe pain. Yu Canghai knew very well that Lin Pingzhi would die instantly if he pulled any harder, so he thrust his long sword at Mu

Gaofeng as he yelled out loudly, “Brother Mu, let him go!” Mu Gaofeng waved his right arm and blocked the sword with a shinning crescent knife.

A loud ring echoed. Wasting no time, Yu Canghai launched his sword attacks, and within seconds, he had sent nine thrusts at Mu Gaofeng.

“Brother Mu, we don’t have any score to settle between us. Why

should we hurt our relationship because of this lad?” He said while tightly holding on to Lin Pingzhi’s right wrist.

Waving his crescent knife back and forth, Mu Gaofeng countered all of Yu Canghai’s attacks.

“Earlier, right in front of everyone’s eyes, this lad kowtowed to me and called me ‘Grandpa.’ Everyone saw that and heard that. Although I

don’t have any score to settle with you, Master Yu, don’t you think it would look bad for me if you seized someone who just called me ‘Grandpa’ and then killed him right in front of my eyes? If this ‘Grandpa’ can’t even protect his grandson, then who else is going to call me ‘Grandpa’ in the future?”

The two talked as they fought at a faster and faster pace. The clash of weapons also became more urgent.

“Brother Mu, this man killed my son. How can I forget the pain of losing a son and not avenge him?” Yu Canghai said angrily. “Sure,” Mu Gaofeng laughed, “for Master Yu’s sake, I’ll help you seek your revenge. Come on, you pull to the left and I’ll pull to the right,

one two three, let’s tear this lad to two!” After the words, he actually started counting, “One, two, and three!” As soon as he spat out the word three, he pulled harder. More of Lin Pingzhi’s joints popped.

Yu Canghai was stunned. There was no need to rush the revenge.

Before finding the sword art manuscript, he definitely didn’t want to let Lin Pingzhi die. So he let go of Lin’s wrist at once, letting Mu Gaofeng pull Lin Pingzhi away.

“Hey, thanks!” Mu Gaofeng grinned. “Master Yu is really a true friend! You even gave up taking revenge for your son for Hunchback Mu’s sake. There’s no other one in the Martial World who respects brotherhood as much as you do!”

“I am glad brother Mu knows that. I’ll give in a little this time. There won’t be a second time,” Yu Canghai said coldly.

“Who knows? Maybe Master Yu would be just as nice next time and give in again,” Mu Gaofeng snickered.

With a disgruntled snort, Yu Canghai waved his left arm. “Let’s go!” he commanded, and all the Qingcheng apprentices left following their

Master. At that moment, Sister Dingyi also headed south together with all the Heng-Shan nuns, to try to locate Yilin. Liu Zhengfeng and his

apprentices had gone to the southeast corner to continue their search. So after the group from the Qingcheng Sword School left, only Mu Gaofeng and Lin Pingzhi stood outside of the Jade House.

“Hey, you are not a hunchback. You are a handsome lad!” Mu

Gaofeng said with a grin. “Lad, you don’t have to call me Grandpa. I kind of like you. How about I take you as my apprentice?” Lin Pingzhi was still in pain from being pulled between two types of high-level inner strength and had just caught his breath. Hearing Mu

Gaofeng’s suggestion, he thought, “The hunchback’s Kung Fu is ten times greater than Dad’s. Even Yu Canghai was in dread of him. In my quest to seek my revenge, it would actually become possible if I have him as my

teacher. But he did not care about me at all when the Qingcheng apprentice tried to kill me. However, as soon as he heard my real identity, he started to fight Yu Canghai to get hold of me. In that light, his offer to take me as his apprentice must not have come with good intentions.”

Mu Gaofeng saw his hesitation. “You already know how good the Hunchback of the North’s Kung Fu skills and fame are. I’ve never had an apprentice before. If you have me as your teacher, I will teach you all my

Kung Fu skills without any reservation. By then, not only would the chaps from Qingcheng be no match for you, but after a couple of years, it would be easy to defeat Yu Canghai as well. Lad, why aren’t you kowtowing to me to show respect to your Master?”

The more anxious he sounded, the more suspicious Lin Pingzhi became. “If he really cared about me, why did he grab on to my wrist and pull so hard with no reservation? After Yu Canghai found out that I was the one who had killed his son, he actually wanted me alive. Obviously it was all because he wanted some ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ There are many honest people with high Kung Fu skills in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. If I want a good teacher, I should be looking amongst them. The hunchback here is too vicious. No matter how high his skills are, I’ll never have him as my Master.”

Seeing Lin Pingzhi still hesitating, Mu Gaofeng felt his anger growing. But he still managed a smile. “What? You think the hunchback’s Kung Fu skills are no good, and I am not worthy to be your master?” he asked.

Lin Pingzhi noticed the fleeting look of anger and viciousness on Mu Gaofeng’s face before it changed into a warm and kind smile. He knew he was in a very delicate and dangerous situation. If he refused to call him

Master, Mu would probably get infuriated and kill him right away. So he

said, “Hero Mu, your offer to take me as your apprentice is a fortune I never even dared dream of. But I have been learning my family Kung Fu skills. If I want to study from another great Master, I must get permission from my father. This is not only the family rule, but also the common practice in the Martial World.”

“That sounds reasonable.” Mu Gaofeng nodded. “But what little skills you demonstrated here today are not even close to being called Kung Fu.

Your father’s Kung Fu must also be very limited. I only had a sudden impulse today wanting to take you as my apprentice. Later, I might not be

similarly inclined. Good opportunities don’t come by easily. You seem to be a smart lad. Why are you acting so foolishly? How about this? You kowtow to me and call me your Master first, and then I will go talk to your father. I am sure he wouldn’t dare have a different opinion.”

Lin Pingzhi suddenly had an idea. “Hero Mu,” he said, “my parents were taken prisoners by the Qingcheng Sword School. I don’t even know if they are still alive or dead yet. I beg you, hero Mu, to get them out. After that, I would be so grateful that no matter what you tell me to do, I will follow with all my heart.”

Mu Gaofeng became livid. “What?” he exploded. “Are you bargaining with me? Do I have to have you as my apprentice? Who do you think you are? This is just outrageous!” Then he remembered that even Yu Canghai gave in right in front of so many eyes and did not want to tear his son’s killer into two; he must have had very good reasons. People like Yu Canghai were not the type that could be easily fooled. The rumor that the “Evil-Resisting Sword Art” was truly amazing was probably true. If he

could take this lad as his apprentice, then sooner or later, he would get his hands on that outstanding martial arts book. At that thought, he urged again.

“Hurry up and kowtow to me. After three kowtows, you will be my apprentice. Of course the Master will take care of the apprentice’s parents.

Since Yu Canghai captured my apprentice’s parents, when I go ask for them from him, my request would be totally justified. How dare he object?”

Lin Pingzhi really wanted to save his parents. He thought, “Mom and Dad are prisoners of that villain. Every day would seem like a year for them. I need to get them out as soon as possible. As long as he can rescue my parents, I’d be willing to give up anything, let alone taking him as my Master.” So he knelt down in front of Mu Gaofeng to kowtow.

Afraid that Lin Pingzhi might change his mind again, Mu Gaofeng put his hand on Lin Pingzhi’s head and pushed down. Lin Pingzhi was ready to kowtow to him, but when he felt the push from the top of his head, he was filled with repugnance and naturally straightened his neck and resisted.

“Hey, kowtow!” Mu Gaofeng yelled angrily. He pushed down even harder.

Lin Pingzhi was quite egotistical; when he was still the Young Master of the house, others always flattered him and he never had to take any humiliation. Now in order to rescue his parents, he had already decided to kowtow, but when Mu Gaofeng pushed down his head, it actually aroused his stubborn nature.

“I will agree to be your apprentice only after you agree to rescue my parents. But there’s no way I am going to kowtow today!” he said loudly. “Did you say no way? Let’s give it a try and see if there’s really no way!” Mu Gaofeng said angrily. He pushed even harder.

Lin Pingzhi fought with all his strength and struggled to stand up, but he felt as if he was under a thousand-pound rock, and simply could not, so he pushed on the ground with his hands and struggled some more.

Gradually, Mu Gaofeng added more and more strength into the push. Lin Pingzhi could hear his neck joints cracking because of the pressure.

“Kowtow or not? Just a bit more strength from my hand will break your neck,” Mu Gaofeng said while laughing loudly.

Lin Pingzhi’s head was pushed down inch by inch, and soon was only half foot from the ground. “I won’t! I won’t!” he kept on yelling.

“Let’s see how you won’t kowtow.” Mu Gaofeng used a little bit more strength and Lin Pingzhi’s forehead went two inches closer to the ground. Suddenly, Lin Pingzhi felt heat coming from his back and a stream of smooth energy fed into his body; the pressure atop his head suddenly felt like nothing. He pushed the ground and then easily stood up.

This was a complete surprise for Lin Pingzhi. To Mu Gaofeng, the

surprise was even greater. The inner strength that overwhelmed his strength seemed to be the famous “Divine Art of Violet Twilight” of the Huashan Sword School. He had heard before that this style of inner strength started off indistinct, like the twilight in the sky, but its stamina had great persistency, and the strength would later be released like a storm with devastating power. That was why it got the name, “Violet Twilight.”

Astonished, Mu Gaofeng quickly put his hand back on Lin Pingzhi’s head, but as soon as his hand touched Lin Pingzhi’s forehead, a stream of persistent energy rose from Lin’s forehead and shocked his hand. Mu

Gaofeng felt numbness in his arm and dull pain coming from his chest. Mu Gaofeng stepped back. “Is that Brother Yue of the Huashan Sword School?” he asked with a dry smile. “Why are you hiding behind the corner to play tricks on a hunchback?”

Smiling, a man with the look of a scholar strolled out from behind the corner of the wall. Waving a folding fan leisurely in his right hand, he looked very graceful.

“Brother Mu,” the man greeted, “after so many years, you still look so young and energetic. How wonderful!”

Mu Gaofeng immediately recognized him. He was indeed

“Gentleman Sword” Yue Buqun, Head Master of the Huashan Sword School. Mu had always been in dread of him. Now since Mu was caught bullying a junior who basically had no Kung Fu skills, and because Yue even gave the young lad a helping hand, Mu Gaofeng felt very awkward.

“Brother Yue,” he grinned, “you are just getting younger and younger.

I wish you could be my Master and teach me this ‘Yin Yang Nourishment’40 method.”

“Bah! You hunchback, stop the silly jokes. When old friends reunite, there are many good topics to talk about, yet you only spout nonsense! How would I know such a lewd method?” Yue Buqun rebuffed.

“Nobody’s going to believe that you don’t know that nourishment method, otherwise, how do you manage to look as young as my grandson when you are actually almost sixty years old?” Mu Gaofeng said.

When Mu Gaofeng’s hand moved away from his forehead, Lin Pingzhi had already jumped back several steps. He looked at the scholarly man carefully. The man had a long goatee and a neat and clean face that

shined with honesty and integrity. Admiration rose from within Lin Pingzhi’s heart. Hearing Mu Gaofeng calling him “Brother Yue of the Huashan Sword School” and figuring out it was this man who had just saved him, it suddenly dawned on him.

“Could this graceful man be the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, Mr. Yue? But his age is far from what I had expected. He looks like a forty-year-old man. Lao Denuo is his apprentice, but looks much older than him.” After he heard Mu Gaofeng’s comments regarding Yue’s way of staying young, he suddenly remembered what he had heard from his mother before: “When a Kung Fu master’s inner strength reaches the highest state, he can not only extend his life span, but also recover his youthful vigor.”

Maybe this Mr. Yue had reached that state. His admiration grew even more. “Brother Mu is kidding me again,” Yue Buqun said with a light smile.

“Brother Mu, this young man is a dutiful son, and also a man of integrity. He is good material for an apprentice; no wonder Brother Mu likes him so much. All the trouble he has had today originated from his saving my daughter Lingshan in Fuzhou. I really could not just stand aside and do nothing. Will you please show him mercy for my sake?”

Mu Gaofeng appeared to be amazed. “What? Just with the little Kung Fu he has, he could save niece Lingshan? We probably have to reverse that; it was more likely that niece Lingshan’s sharp eyes picked out this handsome boy….”

Knowing that the hunchback was a mean and obscene person and that there probably wouldn’t be any good comments coming from his mouth, Yue Buqun quickly cut him off.

“When people from the chivalrous side encounter trouble, they help those in need. The help could be as much as risking one’s life, or as little as giving a word of advice. It doesn’t really matter how great one’s Kung Fu

skills are. Brother Mu, if you are determined to take him as your apprentice, why don’t you let the young man ask permission from his parents first, and then come to submit himself to you. Wouldn’t that be a win-win solution?”

Mu Gaofeng well knew that once Yue Buqun stepped in, things would simply not go as he had wished. So he shook his head.

“I just had a sudden impulse and wanted to take him as my

apprentice. But I’ve lost that interest. Even if this lad kowtows to me ten thousand times now, I won’t take him any more.”

Out of the blue, he gave Lin Pingzhi a hard kick, which sent him into the air and sprawling twenty feet away. Yue Buqun did not expect that in

any way. Mu Gaofeng had shown no sign of a sudden kick. Once his leg was extended, it was already too late to stop him. Lin Pingzhi jumped up immediately after he landed, and did not appear to have been injured.

“Brother Mu, why are you acting like a child? I’ll have to say you are the one getting younger now,” Yue Buqun said.

“Relax, Brother Yue,” Mu Gaofeng grinned. “Although I am bold, I would never dare to offend this…this your…ha-ha…I don’t even know

what he’s going to become of yours. See you! Good-bye! I’d never thought even the famous Huashan Sword School would be interested in the ‘Evil- Resisting Sword Manuscript’.” He started stepping back as he spoke.

Yue Buqun took a step forward. “Brother Mu, what are you talking about?” he demanded loudly. Suddenly, his face seemed to turn a violet color. But the violet color only stayed for a brief moment before Yue’s normal color returned.

Mu Gaofeng saw the color change and felt a shiver in his heart. “So that was indeed the ‘Divine Art of Violet Twilight’ of the Huashan Sword School!” he thought. “Yu Buqun has good sword skills on top of this

amazing inner strength. I’d better not get into a fight with him.” So he let out a grin. “I have no clue as to what that ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ is. I am only joking about it since I saw how Yu Canghai of the Qingcheng Sword School worked hard to get his hands on it. Brother Yue, please don’t mind me.” He turned around and walked away.

Yue Buqun watched until Mu Gaofeng disappeared into the darkness of the night. Letting out a sigh, he murmured, “People having that level of Kung Fu skills are rare in the Martial World, but he would rather abandon himself to….” He held back the word “vice” to himself and just shook his head in disappointment.

Lin Pingzhi came rushing over, knelt down in front of him and started to kowtow.

“I beg you, Master, to take me as your apprentice. I promise to follow your word of advice and obey all school rules. I will never dare to not listen to the Master’s word.”

“If I take you as my apprentice, Hunchback Mu will probably start a rumor saying that I robbed him of his student.” Yue Buqun smiled lightly.

“As soon as I saw you, Master, I felt unspeakable admiration. It’s my honest wish from the bottom of my heart to become your apprentice,” Lin Pingzhi said while kowtowing nonstop.

“Very well,” Yue Buqun smiled, “I’ll take you. But you haven’t asked permission from your parents yet. We need to find out if they agree or not.”

“If I am lucky enough to become your apprentice, my parents would be very grateful. There would be no reason why they would object. The villains of the Qingcheng Sword School captured my parents. I will need Master’s help in that matter,” Lin Pingzhi said.

Yue Buqun nodded. “Alright! Get up! Let’s go look for your parents.” He turned and shouted, “Denuo, Liang Fa, and Lingshan, you can come out now.” A group of people walked out from behind the wall. Lin Pingzhi recognized them as the apprentices of the Huashan Sword School. It turned out that they had all arrived a while ago. Yue Buqun had told them to hide behind the wall, and only to come out after Mu Gaofeng had left, thus

saving some face for Mu Gaofeng.

“Congratulations on taking a new apprentice, Master!” the Huashan apprentices all said cheerfully.

“Pingzhi,” Yue Buqun said with a smile on his face, “you have met these senior apprentice brothers a while back in the small teashop. Now go ahead and pay your respects to them.”

The old man was second senior brother Lao Denuo; the big, tall apprentice was third senior brother Liang Fa; the apprentice who had

dressed as a porter was fourth senior brother Shi Daizi; the one holding an abacus was fifth senior brother Gao Genming; then there was sixth senior brother Lu Dayou. Each of these apprentices was the type not easily forgotten. Seventh senior brother Tao Jun and eighth senior brother Ying Luobai were two young apprentices. Lin Pingzhi saluted them one by one.

Giggles came from behind Yue Buqun’s back. A gentle but crisp voice asked, “Daddy, am I a senior apprentice sister or a junior apprentice sister?”

In a daze, Lin Pingzhi recognized the wine-selling girl as the one called “Little Apprentice Sister” standing with all the other Huashan

apprentices. She was actually the Master’s daughter. Sticking her head out from behind Yue Buqun’s back, showing only half of her snow-white face, she quickly glanced at Lin Pingzhi with her rolling eyes then hid back behind Yue Buqun again.

Lin Pingzhi thought, “I remember the girl in the wine shop had a very ugly pox-covered face. How did her face change?” In the dim moonlight, he could not see the girl’s face clearly when she stuck her head out and then drew it back so hurriedly, but even so, he could tell that the face was a pretty one. Then he remembered.

“She did mention that she disguised herself when she sold wine outside the town of Fuzhou. Sister Dingyi also said that she had taken on a very grotesque disguise. Obviously, she intentionally concealed her face

with an ugly disguise.”

“Everyone here all joined the school later than you, but they still call you Little Apprentice Sister. You are destined to be called Little Apprentice Sister, so of course it’s Little Apprentice Sister again.” Yue Buqun laughed.

“No way!” the girl declared with a grin. “Starting from now on, I am going to be a senior apprentice sister. Daddy, junior apprentice brother Lin will have to call me senior apprentice sister. Later when you get another one hundred or two hundred apprentices, they all have to call me senior

apprentice sister.”

Giggling, she walked out from behind Yue Buqun. Under the dim moonlight, Lin Pingzhi could vaguely make out a pretty oval face and a pair of bright eyes looking straight at his face. Lin Pingzhi bowed deeply.

“Senior apprentice sister Yue, I only gained Master’s mercy and became an apprentice today. The one who becomes an apprentice earlier is the senior. Of course I am the junior apprentice.”

Yue Lingshan was very pleased. She turned to her dad. “Daddy, he called me senior apprentice sister out of his own free will. I didn’t force him.”

Yue Buqun laughed. “He had just joined our school, and you are

already talking about ‘forcing.’ He will probably think that everyone in our school is like you, the seniors forcing their wills upon the juniors. What a frightening prospect!” All the apprentices laughed at these words.

“Daddy,” Yue Lingshan said, “Big Apprentice Brother was hiding here to recover from his wounds. He was struck by that stinky Taoist Priest, and is in serious condition. Let’s go find him quickly.”

Yue Buqun frowned and shook his head. “Genming, Daizi, you two go carry Big Apprentice Brother out,” he said.

Gao Genming and Shi Daizi answered the call in unison and both jumped into the room through the window. But soon they reported, “Master,

Big Apprentice Brother is not here. There’s no one in the room.” Light spilled through the window when they lit the candle in the room.

Yue Buqun frowned even more as he really did not want to enter such a disreputable place. “You,” he said to Lao Denuo, “go in there and check it out.”

“Yes, Master!” Lao Denuo answered and then walked toward the window.

“I’ll go check too,” Yue Lingshan suggested.

Yue Buqun grabbed her arm. “Nonsense! You are not allowed to go into places like this.”

Yue Lingshan almost cried. “But…but Big Apprentice Brother is so badly wounded…I am afraid that he will die.”

“Don’t worry,” Yue Buqun whispered, “he had the ‘Heavenly

Connecting Glue’ of the Heng-Shan Sword School applied already. He won’t die.”

“Daddy, how…how did you know?” Yue Lingshan was both surprised and cheerful.

“Shush! Don’t ask!” Yue Buqun cut her off.

Linghu Chong was already badly wounded before he took the energy blow from Yu Canghai’s palm strike. After that, his wounds hurt even more, and he spat out more blood, but his mind still remained clear. He heard the arguments between Mu Gaofeng and Yu Canghai, how everybody left, and how his Master had showed up. He was a man who feared nothing except his Master. As soon as he heard his Master talking to Mu Gaofeng, thoughts of how his Master would punish him for all the mischief he had gotten into crossed his mind. The worry was so great that he even forgot about the pain from his wounds.

He turned to the bed and whispered, “A disaster is about to strike! My Master is here! Let’s get out of here!” Right after these words, he staggered out the room steadying himself against the wall.

Qu Feiyan dragged Yilin from under the quilt and followed him. Seeing how Linghu Chong was teetering along and was on the verge of falling down at any second, Yilin and Qu Feiyan both rushed over and

supported him by his arms. Linghu Chong clenched his teeth and walked through the corridor. He knew that his Master had outstanding eyes and

ears; the moment he walked out, the Master would know about it. Seeing a big room to the right, he immediately walked into it.

“Close…close the door and the window,” he said.

Qu Feiyan followed his instructions and shut the door and window. Linghu Chong could not maintain his composure any longer and collapsed onto the bed, breathing hard.

The three of them kept very quiet, and after a long while, they heard Yue Buqun’s voice from far away saying, “He’s not here. Let’s go!” Linghu Chong let out a long breath and felt much more relaxed.

After some time had passed, someone came into the backyard and called out in a low voice, “Big Apprentice Brother? Big Apprentice

Brother!” It was Lu Dayou. Linghu Chong thought, “Monkey Six has always been the closest to me.” He almost answered when he suddenly heard the bed-curtain shaking. It was Yilin trembling in fright when she heard somebody approaching. “If I answer Monkey Six,” Linghu Chong thought, “I could really ruin the little Sister’s reputation.” So he kept silent.

Lu Dayou walked past the window while calling “Big Apprentice Brother, Big Apprentice Brother” all the way. The calling receded further and further away, and finally faded into the night.

“Hey, Linghu Chong,” Qu Feiyan suddenly broke the silence, “are you going to die?”

“How can I die? If I die, it would really hurt the reputation of the Heng-Shan Sword School, and I’d be letting them down!” Linghu Chong answered.

“How do you figure that?” Qu Feiyan asked in surprise.

“I’ve had so much of that magical medicine of the Heng-Shan Sword School, both inside and outside. If I still can’t be healed, I’d be letting… letting this Sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School down.” Linghu Chong replied.

“Yep! If you died, you would really be letting her down!” Qu Feiyan grinned.

Knowing how seriously Linghu Chong had been wounded and seeing how he was still making jokes, Yilin admired his fortitude, but also felt a bit less stressed.

“Big Brother Linghu, you’ve just taken a hit from Yu Canghai. Let me see your wounds again.”

Linghu Chong struggled to sit up, but Qu Feiyan said, “Never mind your manners. Lie down.” Linghu Chong felt so weak that he really could not sit up, so he lay back down. Qu Feiyan lit a candle. Yilin could see blood all over Linghu Chong’s robe, so she threw aside all worry about propriety, gently lifted his long robe, and wiped off the blood around the wounds with a towel hanging by a rack. Taking the box of “Heavenly Connecting Glue” from her pocket, she applied all of the remaining medicine onto Linghu Chong’s wounds.

“What a waste to put so much precious medicine on me!” Linghu Chong laughed.

“Big Brother Linghu,” Yilin said, “you were badly wounded all because of me. This medicine is the least I can offer, even if…even if….” She did not know what to say, so just mumbled a little and then continued, “Even my respectful Master praised you as a young hero who is always ready to take on villains for a just cause. Because of that she even got into an argument with Master Yu.”

“No need to praise me. As long as the respectful Sister doesn’t scold me, I’d be completely thankful!” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Why would my Master scold you?” Yilin said. “Big Brother Linghu, just rest quietly for twenty-four hours, and if your wounds don’t break open again, you should be alright.” She took out another three “White Cloud

Bear Gallbladder Pills” and helped Linghu Chong take them.

“Sis,” Qu Feiyan said all of a sudden, “you stay here and keep him

company. Watch out for bad guys who want to get him. My grandpa is still waiting for me. I’ve got to go.”

“No! No!” Yilin cried out worriedly. “You cannot go. How can I stay here by myself?”

“Isn’t Linghu Chong here too?” Qu Feiyan grinned. “You are not all by yourself?” She turned around and started heading out.

Yilin was greatly concerned. She jumped forth and gripped Qu’s left arm. In her rush, she had used the holding technique of the Heng-Shan Sword School and grabbed Qu’s arm tightly. “Don’t go!” she cried.

“Ouch! Are you trying to fight me?” Qu Feiyan chuckled.

Yilin blushed and then let go of her arm. “My good girl, please stay and keep me company,” she pleaded.

“Okay, okay. Fine! I’ll stay and keep you company. Linghu Chong is not a bad guy, why are you so afraid of him?” Qu Feiyan said.

“Sorry, Qu, did I hurt you?” Yilin asked while feeling less awkward. “Nah, it doesn’t hurt, but Linghu Chong seems to be hurting a lot,”

Qu Feiyan said.

Yilin was shocked. She immediately lifted the curtains and checked on Linghu Chong, only to find him sleeping soundly with both of his eyes shut tight. She checked Linghu Chong’s breathing with her hand and could tell that its rhythm was strong and regular. Just when she was feeling a bit

better, she heard Qu Feiyan’s giggles and the sound of the window opening.

She turned around in a hurry and saw Qu Feiyan jumping out of the window.

Yilin was astounded and felt completely lost. She walked next to the bed and called, “Big Brother Linghu? Big Brother Linghu! She…she just left.” But the effect of the medicine had kicked in. Linghu Chong was

completely out. He didn’t hear any of Yilin’s words. Yilin was very frightened and began trembling. It took her a long while before she mustered enough strength to shut the window.

“I’d better leave soon,” she thought. “What if Big Brother Linghu

wakes up and then starts talking to me? What am I going to do then?” Then she thought, “He is so weak right now, even a child could kill him easily.

How can I leave him and just flee the scene?” In the dark night, the sound of dog barks occasionally echoed from the deep alleys far away. However, apart from those occasional noises, there was just dead silence. Other people from the brothel had fled a long time

ago. It almost felt as if Linghu Chong, who was lying behind the bed

curtain, was the only person left in the entire world beside her. Yilin sat

stiffly on a chair, afraid to move. After what seemed an eternity, cock crows could be heard from all directions; it was almost dawn. Yilin began to

worry again.

“It’s going to be daybreak soon, and then people would be arriving.

What should I do?”

She had been a Buddhist ever since she was a small child, and had always been taken care of by Sister Dingyi, so she really lacked real life

experience on how to handle difficult situations. She could only worry, and had no idea what to do.

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps came from the alley outside. It seemed to be from a group of three or four people. The sound of their

footsteps could be clearly heard in the stillness of dawn. They stopped in front of the Jade House’s gate.

“You two search the east side. The two of us will search the west side. If anyone spots Linghu Chong, make sure you capture him alive. He is very badly wounded and won’t be able to resist,” a voice said.

When Yilin first heard the sound of people coming, she was terrified.

Then when she heard them talking about capturing Linghu Chong, her resolve strengthened, “No matter what happens, I will protect Big Brother Linghu and never let him fall into the bad guys’ hands.” As soon as she made up her mind, fear seemed to slip away and her brain started functioning again. She rushed over by the bed and pulled out the bed sheet. After quickly wrapping Linghu Chong in the sheet, she picked him up in her arms, blew out the candlelight, pushed open the door gently, and then sneaked out. She couldn’t tell which direction she was going, so she just

made sure she was walking in the opposite direction from which the voices came. Soon, she passed a vegetable garden and arrived at the back door.

The back door was already half open. When the occupants of the brothel fled, they probably just left it open in their haste. She carried Linghu Chong out the back door and dashed along the small alley. In no time, she had reached the town wall.

“I must get out of the town. There are simply too many enemies for

Big Brother Linghu here,” she thought. She walked along the town wall and as soon as she reached the town gate, she dashed out.

She ran nonstop for at least three or four miles, intentionally picking small roads that led into the mountains. When there were no more roads,

she found herself in a small valley. Feeling a bit relieved, she looked down at Linghu Chong and found him staring right into her eyes, a smile on his face.

Yilin almost panicked. Her arms started quivering, and Linghu

Chong’s body slipped out of her arms. “Oops!” she cried out and quickly bent down and extended her arms with a move called “Carry the Holy Scripture.” Luckily, her reactions were quick, and she caught him before he hit the ground. But as a result, she lost her balance, and staggered a few

steps before she steadied herself.

“Sorry!” she said hurriedly. “Are your wounds still hurting?” “I am fine. Why don’t you take a rest?” Linghu Chong smiled.

Yilin had completely forgotten about herself when she was running away from the Qingcheng apprentices. All she could think of was how to keep Linghu Chong out of danger. Now that they were finally safe, she felt like her body was going to fall apart. She used up her last bit of strength to put Linghu Chong down on the meadow gently, and then collapsed onto the ground panting heavily, trying to catch her breath.

“You forgot to control your breathing while you were running,” Linghu Chong said with a smile. “That is a big no-no for…for us martial arts students. It makes one more likely…more likely to get hurt.”

Yilin blushed slightly. “Thanks for the advice, Big Brother Linghu.

My Master had taught me the same thing before, but I forgot in all the commotion.” She paused for a second and then asked, “How are your wounds?”

“They don’t hurt as much now, but they’re just a bit itchy and numb,” Linghu Chong said.

“Great! Great!” Yilin exclaimed. “When a wound gets itchy and numb, that means it’s healing. I didn’t expect it would start healing this fast.”

Linghu Chong was quite moved seeing Yilin’s joy. “It’s all due to the magical medicine of your respectful school.” He let out a sigh. “Too bad that we had to suffer humiliation from those low-life scoundrels because of my wounds. If we had fallen into Qingcheng’s hands just now, it would be no big deal if I got killed right away, but most likely they would have tried to humiliate us even more,” he said grouchily.

“So you heard everything?” Yilin asked. She felt completely

embarrassed when she thought about how he could have been staring at her for the entire time she was carrying him while running away; her face reddened.

Linghu Chong didn’t realize that she was actually feeling

embarrassed, and thought she was just exhausted from so much running.

“Apprentice sister, why don’t you do some of the breathing exercises of your school to help harmonize your inner strength, so you don’t suffer any internal injuries?”

“Alright,” Yilin agreed.

She sat down cross-legged and tried to work her inner strength with the breathing techniques taught by her Master. But she felt very uneasy and simply could not calm herself down to focus on the breathing exercises.

Every other minute, she would glance at Linghu Chong to see if his wounds had gotten any better or worse, or if he was looking at her. At the fourth glance, her eyes happened to meet Linghu Chong’s eyes. With a big shock, she immediately shut her eyes tightly. Linghu Chong, on the other hand,

started laughing loudly. Yilin blushed even more and asked shyly, “Why… why are you laughing?”

“Nothing,” Linghu Chong said. “You are still young and probably don’t do well in the meditative exercises. If you can’t calm down and get focused, then don’t force yourself. Uncle-Master Dingyi must have taught you that if you work too hard on your exercises, it actually does more harm than good. This is especially true for breathing exercises; you really need to be in a calm state.” He paused a moment to catch his breath, and then

continued, “Don’t worry! My base energy is refilling itself slowly. Even if those Qingcheng crooks come after us, there’s no need to be afraid. We’ll just let them demonstrate…demonstrate that ‘Bum Bum Back…Back….’”

“Demonstrate the Qingcheng Sword School’s ‘Geese Landing in Sand’ technique.” Yilin smiled.

“Right!” Linghu Chong grinned. “That’s good. The ‘Bum Bum Back’ part does not sound very graceful. Let’s just call it the ‘Qingcheng Sword School’s Geese…Landing in Sand’ technique!” After saying the last word, he had to catch his breath again.

“Don’t talk too much! Take a good long nap,” Yilin suggested. “My Master is also in the town of Hengshan now! I wish I could get up right now and go to Uncle-Master Liu’s house to watch the fun,” Linghu Chong murmured.

Yilin noticed Linghu Chong’s lips were chapped and his eye sockets were also very dry. It must have been because he had lost so much blood. He badly needed to drink some water.

“Let me go find some water for you. You must be thirsty, right?” she asked.

“On our way here, I saw lots of watermelons in the field to the left.

Why don’t you go get some?” Linghu Chong suggested.

“Alright.” Yilin stood up and checked her pockets, but could not find any money. “Big Brother Linghu, do you have any money with you?” she asked.

“For what?”

“For the watermelons of course!”

“Did you actually intend to pay for them?” Linghu Chong grinned. “You can just go pick some. There’s nobody living close by. The owner must be far away. Who are you going to buy from?”

“But to take without consent is…is stealing,” Yilin mumbled, “and that’s the second prohibition in the Five Prohibitions. We can’t do that. If we don’t have any money, we can beg alms from them. I am sure they will be kind enough to give us a watermelon.”

Linghu Chong became impatient. “You little….” He wanted to say

“you little silly nun,” but because of her efforts on his behalf, he stopped at the word “little.”

Yilin could tell that he was disgruntled, so she dared not to say a word and simply walked in the direction they had come from looking for the

watermelon field. After walking for about a mile, she did see a field several acres large and full of watermelons. Only the chirping of cicadas filled the air. There was no one around at all.

“Big Brother Linghu wanted to have some watermelon, but these watermelons all belong to someone, how can I steal from him?” she murmured to herself.

She strode down another half a mile and walked to the top of a small rise to look around, but she still could find no one, not even a shed or a hut, so she walked back to the watermelon field. Standing in the middle of the field, she hesitated for a long time before finally sticking her hands out to pick a melon, but then she pulled her hands back when she remembered the prohibition told many times by her Master, that one should never steal from others. She wanted to walk away from the field, but then Linghu Chong’s thirsty face appeared in her mind. She clenched her teeth, put her palms

together,41 and then prayed inwardly, “Dear Buddha, I really don’t want to steal. It’s all because of Big Brother Linghu…Big Brother Linghu wants to eat some watermelon.” But when she thought about it again, “Big Brother Linghu wants to eat some watermelon” really wasn’t a great reason. She

was so worried that teardrops started welling up in her eyes. She held a watermelon with both hands and then lifted it up; the stem broke easily.

“He has saved my life,” she thought, “what’s the big deal if I have to fall down to hell and never be reborn again? The one who commits the

crime will be the one responsible. It’s me, Yilin, who broke the prohibition. It has nothing to do with Big Brother Linghu.” She held the watermelon in her arms and then walked back.

Linghu Chong never really took common rules and prohibitions seriously. When he heard Yilin talking about begging alms for a

watermelon, he simply assumed this nun was too young and inexperienced. He had never expected the matter of getting a watermelon to be such a great moral dilemma for her. When he saw Yilin come back with the melon, he was very pleased.

“Good apprentice sister! What a well-behaved little girl!” he praised.

Yilin felt a shock in her heart when she heard how he called her, and almost dropped the watermelon. She quickly wrapped it with the front of her robe. Linghu Chong laughed.

“Why are you so worried? Was someone after you because you stole his watermelon?”

“No, no one is after me.” Yilin blushed and then sat down slowly.

The sun had risen from the east; it was a sunny day. Linghu Chong and Yilin were sitting by the shady side of the mountain, and the sun had

yet to reach them. All the trees around them had been washed by the recent rain and looked greener than usual. Clear and fresh air filled the valley.

Yilin collected herself, and then pulled out the broken sword by her waist. Seeing the broken tip of the sword, she thought, “That villain Tian Boguang really had high Kung Fu skills. If it weren’t for Big Brother Linghu risking his life to save mine, I wouldn’t be sitting here in peace.” She glanced at Linghu Chong from the corner of her eyes and saw a bloodless face with

sunken eye sockets. “For him,” she thought, “even if I have to violate more rules and break more prohibitions, I will have no regrets. To steal a

watermelon is really nothing.” By then, she had finally cleared all the guilt from her mind. She wiped the broken sword clean with a corner of her robe, and then sliced the watermelon open. A sweet smell quickly filled the air.

“Good melon!” Linghu Chong sniffed and then shouted. “Apprentice sister, I just remembered a joke. In the Lantern Festival earlier this year,

when several fellow apprentices of our Huashan Sword School got together to drink wine, Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan composed a riddle. It went, ‘A small dog on the left and a dumb melon on the right. What’s the character?’ At that time, sixth junior apprentice brother Lu Dayou – he’s the one who was looking for me last night – was sitting to her left. I was sitting to her right.”

“This riddle of hers was really making fun of you and the apprentice brother Lu.” Yilin smiled.

“Right! This riddle is not hard at all. The answer is the character ‘hu’ in my name Linghu Chong.42 It was an old joke that she read from a book.

It just happened that sixth junior apprentice brother was sitting to her left and I was sitting to her right. And now, by coincidence, next to me, it’s a

small dog on one side and a big melon on the other.” Linghu Chong pointed at the watermelon and then pointed at Yilin with a big smile on his face.

“Aha, you are really calling me a dog,” Yilin said.

She cut the melon into slices. After taking out the seeds, she handed him one. Linghu Chong took a bite. The melon was very sweet and

soothing; he quickly finished it. Yilin was very delighted when she saw how he enjoyed it. Since Linghu Chong was eating while half lying down, the juice dripped all over his robe. Yilin cut the second slice into smaller pieces and handed them to him one piece at a time. Eating this way, Linghu Chong managed not to drip any more juice over himself. Seeing how his wound hurt because of the arm movements required every time he stuck his hand out to take the small pieces, she started feeding the small pieces of melon directly into his mouth. Linghu Chong consumed almost half a melon before he realized that Yilin had not had any of the melon herself.

“Have some yourself.”

“I’ll wait till you’ve had enough.”

“I’ve had enough. Go ahead and eat!”

Yilin felt thirsty, so after putting several more pieces into Linghu

Chong’s mouth, she put a small one into her own mouth. Seeing that Linghu Chong stared at her without blinking, she felt shy and turned her back towards him.

“Wow, how pretty!” Linghu Chong suddenly exclaimed. His voice was filled with praise.

Yilin felt extremely embarrassed. “Why did he suddenly say I am pretty?” she thought. She felt like getting up and running away but being in two minds, she couldn’t bring herself to do so. She felt her whole body burning; even her neck reddened because of shyness. Then she heard Linghu Chong saying, “Look, how pretty! Do you see that?”

Yilin turned slightly and saw him pointing at the west sky. She followed his finger and saw a beautiful rainbow in the distant sky extending out from behind the trees. She then realized Linghu Chong’s comment

“how pretty” was referring to the rainbow, and she had interpreted it in a totally different way. She felt very embarrassed, but the embarrassment now was also mixed with a little disappointment, very different from the

embarrassment she felt earlier, which also had a bit of shyness and a bit of joy in it.

“Listen carefully! Do you hear that?” Linghu Chong asked.

Yilin cocked her head and listened carefully. She could vaguely hear the sound of flowing water coming from where the rainbow began.

“Sounds like a waterfall,” she replied.

“Exactly! After so many days of rain, there must be waterfalls all over the valley! Let’s go take a look!”

“You…you’d better just quietly rest a few more moments,” Yilin suggested.

“There is only bare stone around here; so dull! I think it’s better to go watch the waterfalls,” Linghu Chong insisted. Yilin did not want to go against his will, so she propped him up. She blushed when she suddenly thought: “I’ve had him in my arms twice. The first time was when I thought he had died. The second time was when I was fleeing from danger. Although he is still wounded badly, he is completely

conscious. How can I hold him in my arms again? He is insisting on going to the waterfall. Could it be that…that he wants me…?”

While she was still hesitating, Linghu Chong had picked up a broken tree branch to use as a crutch and had started walking slowly. Seeing that, Yilin realized that she had gotten the wrong idea again.

Yilin quickly rushed over and held Linghu Chong’s arm. She

criticized herself inwardly, “What’s wrong with me? Big Brother Linghu is a true gentleman. Why am I so capricious and always thinking weird thoughts? Maybe because I am alone with a man, and just want to protect myself? Although he and Tian Boguang are both men, one has high morals while the other has none. I really shouldn’t put them into the same

category.”

Linghu Chong staggered along, yet was able to keep himself

supported. After a few moments, they passed by a big rock. Yilin propped Linghu Chong by the rock to sit down and rest.

“Here’s a nice spot too. Do you absolutely have to go over there to watch the waterfall?” she asked.

“If you say this is a good spot, I’ll stay here for a while and keep you company.” Linghu Chong smiled.

“Fine, fine. The scenery is better over there. If you feel happier

watching the waterfall, maybe your wounds will heal faster.” Yilin gave in.

Linghu Chong smiled and slowly stood up. The two slowly rounded a small pass, and were suddenly embraced by the thunder-like sound of a

waterfall. After another short distance, the sound became even louder. After walking through a small wood, a waterfall appeared in front of their eyes like a white stripe hanging from the cliff above.

“We have a waterfall by the side of the Jade Maiden Peak at Mount Huashan also,” Linghu Chong said cheerfully. “It’s even bigger than this one. It looks similar though. Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan and I always practice our sword art skills by the waterfall. Sometimes when she gets mischievous, she will even run through the waterfall.”

Yilin suddenly came to a realization when she heard the name “Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan” being mentioned the second time. “He insisted on coming to the waterfall in spite of his wounds not because he wanted to enjoy the scenery. He was thinking of his Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan.” For some reason, she felt a great pain in her heart as if someone had just given it a hard punch.

Linghu Chong went on, “Once when we were practicing sword arts by the waterfall, she tripped and fell down, almost falling into the deep pool at the bottom. Luckily I grabbed hold of her quickly enough. That could have been one dangerous accident!”

“Do you have many apprentice sisters?” Yilin asked dryly.

“We have a total of seven female apprentices,” Linghu Chong replied, “and Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan is the daughter of Master. We all call her Little Apprentice Sister. The other six are apprentices of Master’s wife.”

“Oh, so she’s Uncle-Master Yue’s daughter. Does she…she…she get along well with you?”

Linghu Chong sat down slowly. “I am an orphan with no parents.

Fifteen years ago when the respectful Master and Master-Wife took me as an apprentice out of mercy, Little Apprentice Sister was only three. I was

much older than she was, so I always carried her out to pick fruits and chase rabbits. We grew up together. Master and Master-Wife don’t have a son, so they treated me like their own son. Little Apprentice Sister is just like my own sister.”

“Oh,” Yilin answered. After a short while, she said, “I am also an orphan with no parents. I was taken in by my Master and have been a nun ever since I was a child.”

“What a pity!” Linghu Chong exclaimed. Yilin turned toward him and looked at him questioningly. “If you weren’t an apprentice of Uncle-Master Dingyi,” Linghu Chong said, “I could have begged Master-Wife to take you in as an apprentice. We have lots of apprentice brothers and sisters. With twenty odd people, it’s really lively. After practices, we just play around in groups. Master and Master-Wife don’t really discipline us much. When you meet my Little Apprentice Sister, you will surely like her and be good friends with her.”

“Too bad I don’t have such good luck!” Yilin said. “But in the White- Cloud Nunnery, Master and apprentice sisters are all very nice to me. I… I…am very happy too.”

“Yes, yes! I didn’t mean anything by my remarks! Uncle-Master Dingyi’s sword skills are almost godlike. When my Master and Master- Wife speak of sword arts from different schools and styles, they always mention your respectful Master. The Heng-Shan Sword School is no less than the Huashan Sword School in any way!”

“Big Brother Linghu,” Yilin said, “the other day when you said to Tian Boguang that fighting while standing up, Tian Boguang is the fourteenth best in the Martial World; Uncle-Master Yue is eighth. Then how is my Master ranked?”

Linghu Chong began laughing. “I was just fooling Tian Boguang.

There isn’t any ranking like that. Everyone’s Kung Fu skills change every single day. Some get better, and some get worse because of old age or something else. How could someone actually rank all of them? Tian

Boguang does have high Kung Fu skills, but probably not good enough to be fourteenth in the entire Martial World. I intentionally ranked him high to make him happy.”

“Oh! So you were just fooling him.” Yilin sat there, staring at the waterfall blankly for a while, lost in thought. Then she asked, “Do you always like to fool people?”

Linghu Chong grinned. “That depends. I wouldn’t say ‘always.’ Some people you can fool, and some people you cannot. When my Master and Master-Wife ask me about things, of course I wouldn’t dare try to fool them.”

“Oh,” Yilin hummed. “Then how about your fellow apprentice brothers and sisters?” She originally wanted to ask, “Do you fool your Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan?” but for some reason, she was afraid to put forth the question so boldly.

“Well, that depends on who it is, and what it’s about,” Linghu Chong said with a smile. “We apprentice brothers always play jokes on each other. If we don’t fool people, there would be no fun!”

“Even with apprentice sister Lingshan? You fool her too?” Yilin finally asked.

Linghu Chong had never thought about this before. He frowned and thought about it for a while. Throughout his life, he had never fooled her on important issues. So he said, “For important things, I will never fool her. If we were just playing together, then of course there would be some fooling and joking.”

In the White-Cloud Nunnery, Yilin’s Master did not laugh much and enforced very strict nunnery rules. The apprentice sisters also maintained

cold emotionless expressions most of the time. Although fellow apprentices cared for each other, very seldom would one tell a joke, much less play jokes on each other. There were quite a few young and vivacious secular girl apprentices under Uncle-Master Dingjing and Uncle-Master Dingxian, but they rarely joked with the nun apprentices. She spent her entire

childhood in loneliness and lived a quiet life. Other than breathing exercises and martial arts training, all she did was to drum on the wooden fish and read Buddhist scriptures. When she heard Linghu Chong talking about the fun shared amongst Huashan apprentices, she longed for it.

“It would be really fun if I could go with him to play at Mount

Huashan,” she thought. Then she figured, “After all the major disturbances I caused this time, Master surely wouldn’t let me out again once we get back to the nunnery. Playing at Mount Huashan would only be wishful thinking. Even if I did go to Mount Huashan, he would be accompanying his Little Apprentice Sister all the time. I don’t know anyone else, who’s going to keep me company?” A sudden sadness came over her; tears almost rolled down her cheeks.

Linghu Chong did not notice. He stared at the waterfall and said,

“Little Apprentice Sister and I are working on a set of sword arts that will have moves working within the falling water. Apprentice sister, do you know what the purpose is?”

“I don’t know.” Yilin shook her head. Her voice choked, but Linghu Chong didn’t notice that either.

“When we fight somebody,” he went on, “if he has a good level of inner strength, then the fierce inner strength will be released along with his punches or weapon slashes. The inner strength, although invisible, will knock our swords away. When Little Apprentice Sister and I practiced our sword skills in the waterfall, we imagined the power of the falling water to be the inner strength from the enemy, so we not only had to block the enemy’s energy attack, but also try to redirect his own inner strength back at him.”

“So were you able to get it done?” seeing that Linghu Chong was in high spirits, Yilin asked.

“Nope! Nope!” Linghu Chong shook his head. “It’s so hard to create a new set of sword arts! And we couldn’t really create any new moves; we just modified some of the Huashan Sword Art moves we had learned from the Master to thrust in the waterfall. Even if we did come up with some new ideas, they were just for fun; it would be useless in a real fight. Otherwise, why would I be beaten up so badly by Tian Boguang?” He made a short pause while moving his hands about slowly. “I just thought of another move!” he said happily. “After I recover from my wounds, I can try it out

with Little Apprentice Sister.”

“What’s the name of this sword art of yours?” Yilin asked gently.

“I really didn’t want to have a name for it, but Little Apprentice Sister insisted on giving it one. She called it ‘Chong-Ling Sword Art,’ because it was created by both her and me,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

“Chong-Ling Sword Art. Chong-Ling Sword Art. Hmm, in the name of the sword art, there’s your name and there’s her name too. When you pass it on to later generations, everyone will know it was…was created by the two of you.”

Linghu Chong laughed. “My Little Apprentice Sister said that because she’s like a little child. With our incomplete understanding of martial arts, we are not qualified to create any sword arts. Don’t tell this to anyone else. If others hear about this, they’d be laughing their asses off!”

“Of course, I won’t tell anyone,” Yilin said. She stopped for a moment and then smiled. “Actually, others have already heard about how you created your own sword art.” Linghu Chong was astounded. “Really? Did apprentice sister Lingshan tell others?” he asked.

“It was you who told Tian Boguang.” Yilin grinned. “Didn’t you say that you created a set of sword arts thrusting at flies while sitting down?”

Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter. “I was making things up with him. You still remember that, huh?” When he laughed loudly, the muscles around his wound moved and he grimaced with discomfort.

“Oh no! It’s my entire fault! Your wounds are hurting again! Please don’t speak anymore. You need to rest quietly,” Yilin said.

Linghu Chong closed his eyes. But after only a short while, he opened them again. “I just thought the scenery here would be better, but now that

we’re by the waterfall, we can’t see the rainbow any more.”

“The waterfall has the beauty of a waterfall; the rainbow has the beauty of a rainbow,” Yilin said.

Linghu Chong nodded. “That’s absolutely right! There are no perfect things in the world. When one works so hard to go after something, once he gets it, it’s no big deal anymore, but the things he had in his hands would have been lost.”

“Big Brother Linghu, what you just said has profound meaning behind it. It’s a pity that my understanding of Buddhism is too shallow, and cannot understand the full extent of it. If my Master heard your words, she would be able to come up with a good explanation.”

“What profound meaning? What do I know? Hmm, I am tired!” Linghu Chong let out a sigh and then slowly closed his eyes. His breathing gradually slowed down and soon he fell asleep.

Yilin stayed by Linghu Chong’s side, and gently whisked about a leafy branch to drive away mosquitoes and other bugs from him. After a

couple of hours, she felt tired too, and almost fell asleep. But she suddenly thought, “When he wakes up later, he will definitely get hungry. There’s not much to eat around here. Why don’t I go get a couple more watermelons?

They would help satisfy our thirst and hunger.” So she strode back to the watermelon field and picked two more melons. Afraid that someone or

some wild animals might bother Linghu Chong while she was away, she rushed back. Only after she saw him sleeping soundly, did she relax and sat down quietly beside him.

Linghu Chong opened his eyes. “I thought you had gone back,” he said with a smile.

“Gone back?” Yilin was surprised.

“Aren’t your Master and apprentice sisters still looking for you? They must be worried,” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin hadn’t thought about that at all. Now hearing these words, she got worried. “When I see Master again sometime later, will she be angry with me?” she wondered.

“Apprentice sister, thank you for accompanying me for so long. You have already saved my life. You should really go back now,” Linghu Chong said.

“No!” Yilin shook her head. “How can I leave you out in the middle of nowhere by yourself, with no one to take care of you?”

“When you get back to Uncle-Master Liu’s house, you can tell my junior apprentice brothers in secret. Then they will come to take care of me.”

Yilin felt really sad. “So it’s really because he wants the company of his Little Apprentice Sister; the sooner I go get her, the better,” She thought. Not able to suppress her sadness, she began weeping; teardrops started dripping down to the ground.

Seeing her cry, Linghu Chong was surprised. “Why…why are you crying? Are you afraid of getting punished by your Master when you get back?” he asked.

Yilin shook her head.

“Oh, I see. You are afraid to bump into Tian Boguang again. Don’t be afraid, from now on, he will only run away from you as soon as you are in sight. He will never dare approach you again,” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin shook her head again and more teardrops fell down on the ground.

Linghu Chong was confused. “Well…err…my mistake. I apologize.

Little apprentice sister, don’t get mad,” he pleaded.

Hearing his gentle words, Yilin felt better, but then she thought, “He said these words in such a soft-spoken and submissive way; obviously he is used to apologizing to his Little Apprentice Sister, and now he just blurted them out without thinking.” So she blubbered and stamped her feet on the ground.

“I am not your Little Apprentice Sister. You…you…all you can remember is your Little Apprentice Sister,” she complained.

After the words were blurted out, she immediately regretted it. “I am a nun, why am I saying things like this to him? That’s very inappropriate,” she thought. Her face flushed and she turned aside.

Linghu Chong looked at her. Her face was completely red and teardrops were still rolling down her cheeks. It was almost like a small red blossom by the waterfall, its petals sprinkled with drops of water, charming and delicate. “Wow, she is so pretty. Really no less so than apprentice sister Lingshan,” he thought.

“You are much younger than I am. Our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is like ‘Same root different branches.’ We are all apprentice brothers and sisters. Of course you are my little apprentice sister, too. Tell me how I have offended you, will you?” he said softly.

“You did not offend me. I know you want me to leave so you won’t get mad at me and won’t have bad luck. You said it before: one sees a nun, one loses….” She didn’t even finish her sentence and just kept on sobbing.

Linghu Chong could not help but feel amused. “Aha, so she wants to get even with me for the Huiyan Wine House incident. Well, I admit I

should apologize for that!” he thought.

“Linghu Chong was such a jerk and said so much nonsense. The other day in Huiyan Wine House, I said so many wrong things and offended your entire respectful school. I really should be punished!” He raised his hand

and gave himself a couple of slaps in the face.

Yilin turned back in a hurry. “Don’t…don’t…I…don’t blame you. I… I just don’t want to bring you bad luck.”

“Very punishable!” Linghu Chong said, and slapped himself one more

time.

“I am not angry now. Big Brother Linghu, don’t…don’t beat

yourself,” Yilin said in a hurry.

“You’re not angry anymore?” Linghu Chong asked. Yilin shook her head. “But you are not smiling at all. Isn’t that still being angry?” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin squeezed out a smile, but out of the blue, for no reason, she felt even greater sadness overwhelm her, and could not help weeping again, so she turned away once more.

Linghu Chong suddenly let out a long sigh. Yilin slowly stopped weeping and asked quietly, “Why…why did you sigh?”

Linghu Chong laughed hard inwardly. “After all, she’s just a little girl, and is falling for this trick of mine too!” he thought. He had been Yue Lingshan’s companion ever since he was a child. Yue Lingshan would lose her temper now and then and stop talking to him no matter how he coaxed her. Regardless of what he said, she would not pay any attention to him.

Then Linghu Chong would put on an act to arouse her curiosity, and then get her to approach him. Yilin had never been at odds with anyone before, so of course it worked like a charm. In no time, she had fallen for his trick. Linghu Chong let out another long sigh and turned away silently.

“Big Brother Linghu, did I get you upset? It was my fault; please don’t pay…pay any attention to it,” Yilin said.

“No, you didn’t get me upset,” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin could see his worried face, but had no idea that he was actually laughing loudly inwardly and had pretended the whole thing, so she got

worried.

“I got you to hit yourself. Let me…let me hit myself to make it even.”

She raised her hand and slapped herself in the right cheek. Before she could slap herself again, Linghu Chong had sat up and gripped her wrist.

But because of the body movement, his wound stung greatly, and he could not help but groan.

“Ah, lie…lie down quickly. Don’t aggravate your wounds,” Yilin said hurriedly. She helped him to lie down slowly while blaming herself, “Ah, I am so stupid. I cannot do anything right. Big Brother Linghu, is it…hurting badly?”

Linghu Chong’s wound did hurt pretty badly. If it were any other time, he would never admit it. But now he had an idea. “I’ll have to do such and such to get her smiling again.” He scowled and let out several snorts.

Yilin was very concerned. “Hopefully it won’t…won’t start bleeding again,” she murmured. She felt his forehead with her hand and was pleased to find that he didn’t have a fever. After a few moments, she asked gently, “Are you feeling a bit better?”

“Still hurts badly,” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin pulled a long face and had no idea what to do.

“Wow, it hurts! I wish sixth…sixth apprentice brother were here,” Linghu Chong muttered.

“Why? He has special painkillers?” Yilin asked.

“Yeah! His mouth is the painkiller. I’ve been wounded pretty badly before, and was in terrible pain. Sixth apprentice brother is really good at telling jokes. When I listen to his jokes and laugh at them, I forget about the pain from my wounds completely. I really wish he were here. Ouch…

woo…it really hurts…ou…ouch!”

Yilin felt that she was in an awkward position. People under Master Dingyi wore a solemn face everyday while reading Buddhist scriptures, praying to Buddha, and practicing martial arts. It was very rare in the

White-Cloud Nunnery to actually hear any laughter. For her to tell a joke was almost against her nature. She thought, “Apprentice brother Lu Dayou is not here, and Big Brother Linghu wants to hear some jokes, I guess I’ll have to tell the jokes, but…but…I don’t know any jokes.” A sudden idea popped into her head and she remembered something.

“Big Brother Linghu, I don’t know how to tell jokes, but I’ve read a book of scripture in our Scripture Room that seemed to be interesting. It’s called the ‘Scripture of Hundred Parables.’ Have you read it before?”

Linghu Chong shook his head. “Nope. I never read any books, especially Buddhist scriptures.”

Yilin blushed slightly. “I am so stupid to ask such a foolish question. You are not a Buddhist; of course you don’t read Buddhist Scriptures.” She paused and then went on, “The book ‘Scripture of Hundred Parables’ was written by a great Indian monk named Gazena. There are many interesting stories in the book.”

“Great! I love interesting stories. Tell me some!” Linghu Chong encouraged her.

Yilin smiled as countless of stories flashed through her memory. “Ok, let me tell you the parable of the ‘Plough Breaking Head.’ A long time ago, there was this bald headed man. He was naturally bald, and didn’t have a

single hair on his head. For some reason, he got into an argument with a farmer. The farmer had a plough in his hands, so he took the plough and

struck the bald man’s head. That blow broke the skin of the man’s head and it started bleeding, but the bald man only laughed and took the abuse

without dodging. Bystanders felt it very strange and asked him why he didn’t dodge the attack but rather laughed at it. The bald man said with a big smile, ‘That farmer is so dumb that when he did not find any hair on my head, he thought it was a rock, and then proceeded to use his plough to break the rock. If I dodged, wouldn’t I be agreeing that he was the smart one?’”

Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter. “Wonderful story!” he

exclaimed. “That bald man was a real character! Even if he has to lose his life taking a beating, he shouldn’t budge.”

Seeing Linghu Chong’s happy face, Yilin felt great contentment. “Let me tell you another one called the parable of the ‘Doctor Making Princess Grow Up’,” she said. “Once upon a time, a king had a daughter. The king was a very impatient man. Seeing that the princess was just a little baby, he really wanted her to grow up fast. One day, he called upon the royal doctor and ordered him to make a special kind of medicine for the princess, so that when the princess took the medicine, she would grow up immediately. The royal doctor said, ‘It is possible to make such special medicine, but to

collect all the ingredients and to refine them would require a lot of work. Please let me take the princess home and work on the medicine immediately. I will try to get it done as fast as I can, but your majesty

cannot press me.’ The king said, ‘Fine, I won’t press you.’ The royal doctor carried the princess back to his own home and then started reporting to the king everyday that he was working on getting the ingredients and refining them. Twelve years went by. The royal doctor then reported to the king, ‘I have finished making the special medicine and the princess took the medicine today.’ He brought the princess to the king. The king was very pleased to see that the little baby had grown into a slim and graceful young girl. He praised the royal doctor’s excellent skills since right after taking the special medicine his daughter did grow up. So he granted him great quantities of gold and jewels.”

Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter again. “You said the king was an impatient man,” he said, “but he was actually not impatient at all. Didn’t he wait twelve years? If I were the royal doctor, I would only need one day to change the baby princess into a seventeen year old slim and graceful young girl.”

Yilin stared at Linghu Chong with her eyes wide open. “How would you manage that?” she asked.

Linghu Chong grinned. “Apply ‘Heavenly Connecting Glue’ dressing outside and take ‘White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pills’ inside.”

“Those are medicines for cuts and bruises, how can they make one grow taller and older?” Yilin asked, laughing.

“That’s right. After I carry the baby princess back home, I’d get four tailors….”

“Why would you get four tailors?” Yilin was even more confused. “For making new dresses, of course.” Linghu Chong replied. “I’d have them measure your size and make a set of royal gowns the same night.

The second morning, after you put them on, with an exquisite phoenix

coronet on your head, a silk skirt with a hundred flower patterns, and a pair of slippers embroidered with golden thread and decorated with pearls on your feet, you can gracefully walk into the palace. First you call his majesty three times, then bow down to salute while saying, ‘My royal father, after I took the royal doctor Linghu Chong’s magical medicine, I grew up in one

single night.’ When the king sees such a beautiful and lovely princess, he

will burst with so much joy that he would never bother to check if you were real or not. Then, I, the royal doctor Linghu Chong, would of course get a handsome reward!”

Yilin giggled uncontrollably while listening to Linghu Chong. When he finally finished, she laughed so hard that she had to bend down and

could not straighten herself up. After laughing for a long while, she said, “You are definitely smarter than the royal doctor in the ‘Scripture of the Hundred Parables.’ Too bad that I…I am so ugly, and don’t look like a princess at all.”

“If you are ugly, then there is nobody who could call themselves pretty in this world. In all the ages, there must have been tens of thousands of princesses, but none can compare with you,” Linghu Chong said.

Yilin was overjoyed to hear him complimenting her so earnestly. “Did you meet all those tens of thousands of princesses?” she asked with a smile.

“Of course! I checked them out one by one in my dreams,” Linghu Chong said.

“Hey, why do you always dream about princesses?” Yilin grinned.

Linghu Chong chuckled and said, “When one thinks too much….” He suddenly remembered that Yilin was only an innocent and artless young nun. By joking with him, she had already violated her vows, how could he still carry on with her without any consideration? When he thought of that, he immediately became serious and faked a yawn.

“Ah, Big Brother Linghu, you must be tired. You should close your eyes and nap for a while,” Yilin said.

“Yes! Your jokes really worked magic. My wounds are not hurting anymore,” Linghu Chong said.

He had wanted Yilin to tell jokes so she would stop crying and smile again. Now that she was smiling, his goal had been accomplished, so he

slowly closed his eyes.

Yilin sat by his side and gently whisked the branch again to drive

away bugs. The sound of croaking frogs could be heard from streams in the distance almost like a sweet lullaby. Yilin started feeling fatigued. Her

eyelids were getting heavier and heavier; she couldn’t keep her eyes open and finally dozed off into her own dream world.

In the dream, she wore the beautiful dress of a princess and walked into a magnificent palace. A handsome young man by her side held her hand, and he seemed to vaguely resemble Linghu Chong. Then the two of them started floating into the air and above the clouds. She just felt unspeakable joy and fulfillment. Suddenly an old nun ran after them,

scowling, with a sword in her hand. It was Master! Yilin was shocked! She heard her Master yelling, “You dirty little swine, you not only didn’t follow the rules of the nunnery, but dared to be a princess, and mix around with this loafer!” Master grabbed her arm while yelling and started pulling insistently. Instantly, everything fell into complete darkness. Linghu Chong disappeared, and Master also disappeared, leaving her falling through the heavy dark clouds. Yilin screamed in fear, “Big Brother Linghu, Big

Brother Linghu!” Her entire body became weak and she could neither move her arms nor her legs. Not able to struggle, she screamed even more and suddenly found herself waking up from the nightmare and being stared at by Linghu Chong, his eyes wide open. Yilin blushed. “I…I…,” she mumbled shyly.

“Did you have a nightmare?” Linghu Chong asked.

Yilin’s face blushed again. “I am not sure.” Then with a quick glance, she found that Linghu Chong had an unusual expression on his face; it

seemed as though he was trying to endure some severe pain.

“Your…your wounds are hurting badly?” she asked hurriedly.

“It’s no big deal,” Linghu Chong said, but his voice was shaking.

Soon, big drops of sweat beaded on his forehead. Yilin could easily tell that he was in great pain.

Yilin was very worried and kept asking herself, “What should I do?

What should I do?”

She took out a handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his brow. When her little fingers brushed Linghu Chong’s forehead, it felt as if she had just touched a piece of burning coal. She once heard from her

Master that when a person was wounded by knife or sword cuts and became feverish it would be very dangerous. Out of desperation, she started reciting Buddhist scriptures.

“For all living creatures, when trouble happens, if he calls Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name with absolute faith, then Bodhisattva

Guanyin43 would hear him and help him out of trouble. If the one calling

Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name were trapped in a big fire, fire would not be able to burn him, all because of the holy power of the Bodhisattva. If he were washed away by big waves, then when he calls Bodhisattva’s name, he would drift to a shallow spot….” The scriptures were from the ‘Scripture of Magical Power from

Bodhisattva Guanyin.’ At the beginning, her voice was still trembling, after a while, she gradually calmed down. Hearing Yilin’s melodious voice getting calmer and calmer, Linghu Chong could tell that she had full faith in the magic power of the scripture.

She continued, “If one were about to be murdered, and he calls

Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name, the murderer’s knife and staff would break into pieces, thus protecting him from danger. If demons came to bother people, one can call Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name, then the demons

wouldn’t be able to see him, let alone hurt him. If one has shackles around his body, no matter whether he is guilty or not, if he calls Bodhisattva

Guanyin’s name, then all shackles would break loose and fall to the ground, he can then be freed from the restrain….”

Linghu Chong felt his amusement grow at these words and eventually let out a chuckle.

“What…what’s so funny?” Yilin asked in surprise.

“If I had known that, I wouldn’t have to learn Kung Fu,” Linghu

Chong quipped. “If a villain or my personal enemy wanted to kill me, all I…I would need to do is to call upon Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name and the villain’s knife would break to pieces, and I would remain safe…safe and

sound.”

“Big Brother Linghu, don’t be disrespectful to the Bodhisattva,” Yilin remonstrated. “If I don’t recite the scriptures with my full heart and faith, it would not work.”

She went on, “If fierce beasts surrounded you and you were frightened by their sharp teeth and claws, you could call Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name, and all the beasts would quickly leave. When you see venomous serpents and scorpions, you can call Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name and praise her holy power, then they will go back to their lairs. When lightening and thunders strike the ground and hail and heavy rain start pouring down, one can call Bodhisattva Guanyin’s name and praise her holy power so that the bad weather would stop and disappear. For all living creatures, there are so many difficulties, but the holy and wonderful power from Bodhisattva Guanyin will help us get through all of them….”

Linghu Chong could hear the sincerity in her voice. Although her voice was low, she was really praying for help with all her heart and had full faith in Bodhisattva Guanyin. It seemed that she had opened her whole heart to the Bodhisattva and was supplicating and praying from deep within her heart for the Bodhisattva to show her magical power and stop Linghu

Chong from suffering. She was almost saying, “Bodhisattva Guanyin, I beg you to take away all the pain and suffering from Big Brother Linghu and transfer it all to me. You can change me into a swine, or send me to hell, but please alleviate Big Brother Linghu’s misery….”

Later on, Linghu Chong could no longer discern her words, only the sound of her praying, so sincere and earnest. Unbidden tears filled Linghu Chong’s eyes. He lost his parents when he was just a child. Master and

Master-Wife took good care of him, but because he was always naughty and mischievous, they gave him more punishment than kind affection; among his fellow apprentices, every one respected the Big Apprentice Brother, and dared not to go against his wishes. Little Apprentice Sister Lingshan was

close to him, but had never shown such care and selfless affection that would accept all manner of misery in exchange for his safety and joy. Feelings of gratitude welled up in his chest; in his eyes, the little nun seemed to have a holy halo around her body.

Yilin’s prayers became softer and softer; in her vision, there seemed to be a real Bodhisattva Guanyin standing in front of her, waving a willow branch and spreading dew to help the needy and relieve the distressed. And every call to the Bodhisattva was a direct plea to ask for mercy for Linghu Chong. Linghu Chong’s heart was filled with gratitude and peace, and soon he fell asleep to the gentle and faithful sound of the scriptures.

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