Smiling Proud Wanderer Chapter 16-20

Chapter 16: Gaining Blood

A girl leaped out from the cabin of the small boat and stood on the bow smiling. She was dressed in a blue skirt with white flower patterns. Outside the skirt, she had an embroidered apron with many colorful and shinning decorations. By the way she dressed, one can easily tell she was a minority girl.

Amid the much drivel from the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, the boat set sail toward the lower reaches of the Yellow River. It was almost the crack of dawn. Clouds of morning mist hovered above the billowing waves,

extending infinitely into the far distance, free from inhibition, and creating a magnificent view for the passengers aboard the boat.

Gradually, the morning sun rose above the horizon, casting a golden shine on the boat while reflecting in the river below, creating glistening reflections in the shapes of thousands of snakes. A small boat in the distance hoisted its sail and traveled toward them head-on. Catching the

easterly wind, full force, with the cyan sail, the small boat moved swiftly up the stream. The giant picture of a white foot was painted in the middle of the cyan sail. And after the small boat had come closer so that everyone

could take a good glimpse at the picture, they all concluded that it was obviously the picture of a female’s foot, judging from the fine shape and delicacy it had presented.

“Why would someone paint a foot on the sail? How bizarre?” the Huashan apprentices muttered among themselves.

“This boat most likely belongs to the Bear Duo of the Northern

Desert,” Branch Fairy announced. “Oops, Madam Yue, Miss Yue, you girls had better watch out! It couldn’t have been any clearer – those guys on that boat are fond of eating girl’s feet!”

Yue Lingshan spat at him in disgust, yet a slight panic had already started swelling inside her.

Minutes later, the small boat was well within sight, and the passengers on the big boat soon noticed the faint singing coming out of the small boat’s cabin. The sound was gentle and soft, and the lyric was peculiar – no one could understand a word of it, while the tonality was so utterly intimate that it didn’t sound like singing but rather moaning or groaning. And then, it changed, now more like the sound of a love ritual, ardent and lascivious to the extreme. The many young apprentices of the

Huashan School all blushed with embarrassment as Madam Yue grunted in disgust, “What kind of monster is this?”

Suddenly, a girl’s sweet voice floated out from inside the small boat, “Is Young Master Linghu of the Huashan Sword School aboard your boat?”

“Chong, pay no attention to her!” Madam Yue whispered.

“We’d really like to have a good look at Young Master Linghu if that’s alright,” the girl asked again, her voice so charming and agreeable as though it had carried some kind of magical power that could sway one’s heart.

While the words still echoed in everyone’s ears, a girl had leapt out from the small boat’s cabin and stood on the bow of the boat, smiling. She was dressed in a blue skirt with white flower patterns. Outside the skirt, an embroidered apron with many colorful and shining decorations hung from her chest all the way to her knees, looking splendid in green and gold. The girl appeared to be around twenty-seven or twenty-eight years of age. Her skin had a slightly yellowish tone, and her two eyes were much larger than average, the pupils pitch black. The pair of large gold earrings dangling from her ears was at least the size of a wine cup. The two ends of a

multicolored waistband around her waist shot forward from the force of the wind, but she was actually standing there barefooted. Even though the girl had shown great charm, but after hearing her voice before actually seeing her look, it was only natural to think that the charming of her voice far

exceeds the charming of her looks. The girl smiled at the passengers on the big boat. By the way she dressed, one can easily tell that she was a minority girl.47

The boat carrying members of the Huashan School was traveling downstream, and it seemed as if it would have collided with the small boat when the small boat suddenly turned around in a swift maneuver. And after lowering the sail, the small boat now started traveling downstream side by side with the big boat.

Yue Buqun suddenly remembered something. “Miss, are you a subordinate of Chief Blue from the Five-Sylph Sect in Yunnan?”48 he asked.

“You do have some insights. But you’ve only gotten half of it right. I am from the Five-Sylph Sect, indeed. But I am not a subordinate of Chief Blue,” the girl giggled and then replied in a soft tone.

Taking a few steps forward until he was at the bow of the boat, Yue Buqun cupped his hands in greeting.

“My name is Yue Buqun. Miss, would you be kind enough to inform me your respectable surname and enlighten me with your purpose in a detoured visit and the advice you will favor me today?”

“I am a Miao49 girl. I don’t understand all your fancy talking there.

What did you say?” The girl grinned.

“Miss, what’s your family name?” Yue Buqun asked again.

“You already know my family name. Why do you still ask me?” The girl chortled.

“I asked because I don’t really know your family name,” Yue Buqun explained.

“You are a grown up man. See, you’ve even got long goatees.

Obviously you know my family name. Why make a scene and deny it?” The girl let out a big grin. These words sounded quite disrespectful. But she kept smiling a most innocent grin on her face; her voice did not carry any trace of hostility.

“Miss, you must be joking with me,” Yue Buqun replied.

“Now Head Master Yue, what’s your family name?” the girl asked with a bright smile.

“Miss, you already know that my family name is Yue. Why ask while you know the answer?” Yue Buqun said uncomfortably.

Madam Yue had enough of the kind of frivolous dialogue. “Don’t pay attention to her,” she whispered to her husband.

Yue Buqun put his left hand behind his back and shook it a few times, signaling Madam Yue to stay put.

“Why is Mr. Yue shaking his hand behind his back?” Root Fairy became excited. “Oh, I see. Madam Yue told him to not pay attention to that girl, but after seeing how pretty and coquettish the girl is, he just wouldn’t listen to his wife and would rest at nothing but to pay a lot of attention to her.”

“Did you say that I am pretty and coque…something? Thanks a lot!” the girl said, chuckling. “Your Han girls are certainly prettier than us Miao girls.” Apparently she didn’t know that the word “coquettish” was actually a derogatory term, and was very pleased to hear others praising about her beauty. Then she turned to Yue Buqun. “You already know my family name. Why do you ask while you know the answer then?”

“Hey, what’s gonna happen when Mr. Yue doesn’t listen to his wife?” Branch Fairy muttered.

“It’s not gonna be good! Mark my word!” Flower Fairy concluded with an evil grin.

“Isn’t Mr. Yue’s nick name the ‘Gentleman Sword’?” Trunk Fairy joined in. “So he is no gentleman after all. He already knew what her name is, and still asks for it, again and again, trying to make conversation. I think he just wants to keep talking with the girl.”

Yue Buqun was greatly embarrassed by the remarks from the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies. These six brothers never watched their mouths; Heaven knew what more garbage might come out from their holes. And what impression would that leave the many apprentices when they hear this? But knowing what kind of people the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies were, he simply couldn’t take it seriously. So he cupped his hands and spoke again.

“Will you please pass along my greetings to Chief Blue. Yue Buqun of the Huashan Sword School wishes Elder Blue good health.”

That apparently shocked the girl. She opened her eyes even wider and rolled her eyes in disbelief.

“Why…why are you calling me ‘Elder Blue’? Am I that old already?” she asked.

“Miss, you…you are the Chief Blue of the…Five-Sylph Sect?” It was Yue Buqun’s turn to be completely shocked this time. He had known that the Five-Sylph Sect was a very sinister and vicious sect, and had always been referred to as the “Five-Venom Sect” among fellow martial people behind the back. When the sect was founded about a hundred years ago, it

actually was named the “Five-Venom Sect,” and the founder of the sect and the key members of the sect were all Miao minorities. Later when several Han members joined the sect, they were able to convey to the Miao members that “Five-Venom” was not such an elegant name and changed it to “Five-Sylph,” instead. The “Five-Sylph Sect” specialized in using miasma, parasite, and venomous pests, and shared great fame with the

“Hundred-Toxic Faction” – one leads the northern region and the other tops the southern region in their knowledge of poison. Among the many members of the Five-Sylph Sect, most were Miao minorities, and lacked the skills in scheming shown by their counterparts in the Hundred-Toxic Faction, but the way they use their poison were so eerie and creepy that they were simply unimaginable. The rumor in the Martial World said that when the Hundred-Toxic Faction had wanted to poison someone, even though it was impossible to guard against the attacks, after some careful investigation and deduction, one could still understand how the poison

worked; on the other hand, when someone was poisoned by the Five-Sylph Sect, even if the executor explained it in details, it would still be totally unbelievable and unimaginable. The uniqueness and the eeriness simply

could not be reasoned using normal logic.

“I am Blue Phoenix. Didn’t you know that already?” the girl

explained with a grin. “I told you that I am from the Five-Sylph Sect but not a subordinate of Chief Blue. Now other than Blue Phoenix, herself, who

else would not be a subordinate of Blue Phoenix within the entire Five- Sylph Sect?” At that word, the girl broke into loud giggles.

The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies also broke out into loud laughter. “Mr.

Yue is so slow. She pretty much told him, yet he keeps nagging away.” The only thing Yue Buqun had known about the Five-Sylph Sect

Chief was the last name Blue. Now after hearing what the girl had just said, he realized that the chief’s full name was Blue Phoenix. And the girl’s

colorful and pattern-rich dress did make her look like a phoenix. At the time it was tradition for Han families to keep a girl’s maiden name secret. The maiden name would only be revealed the day when the prospect in-laws family proposed an engagement with gifts and performed the “Maiden

Name Revelation” ceremony. Even though martial families in the Martial World didn’t quite stick to that tradition to the letter, they still wouldn’t just give it out randomly. But this Miao girl revealed her maiden name out right so easily in front of a large crowd on the river, without showing any trace of bashfulness. Though her demeanor was natural and graceful, at the mentioning of her own name, the tone of her voice became even softer and sweeter.

“So it is Chief Blue, herself, who has come personally. It is certainly my lack of manners to have not greeted your gracious presence

appropriately. May I ask what Chief Blue has to teach me about?” Yue Buqun cupped his hands together again to salute.

“I am completely illiterate. What can I teach you? Unless you mean you can teach me. See, the way you dressed does look like that of a

schoolteacher. So you are thinking about teaching me to read, aren’t you? I am too thickheaded. You Han people are all too cunning. I doubt I’d be able to learn all that,” Blue Phoenix replied with a grin.

“Is she just acting dumb, or has she really no idea about standard polite greetings? Judging from the expression on her face, she doesn’t seem to be putting on an act,” Yue Buqun thought to himself. So he simply asked, “Chief Blue, why are you here?”

“Is Linghu Chong your apprentice brother or your apprentice?” Blue Phoenix asked.

“He is my apprentice,” Yue Buqun answered.

“Hmm, is it alright if I take a good look at him?” Blue Phoenix requested.

“But he is in poor health and a state of delirium at the moment, and would be unsuitable of coming out to pay his respects.” Yue Buqun wasn’t too fond of the idea.

“Pay his respects?” Blue Phoenix uttered in surprise, opening her big round eyes even wider. “I don’t need him to pay me respects. He is not a

subordinate of my Five-Sylph Sect. Why would he need to pay me respects? Besides, he is that one…hehe…that one’s good friend. Even if he does want to pay me respects, I don’t deserve it. I heard that he drew his own blood to feed Old Man’s daughter in order to save her life. Such kind of passionate and affectionate man is the kind we Miao girls admire the most. That’s why I’ve gotten to take a look at him.”

“Well…well…!” Yue Buqun hesitated.

“I know he is badly wounded and have lost a lot of blood. You don’t have to call him out. I’ll come over myself,” Blue Phoenix suggested.

“We dare not request your gracious presence,” Yue Buqun said hurriedly.

“Whatever!” Blue Phoenix chortled, and with a gentle leap, she landed on the big boat carrying the Huashan school members.

Yue Buqun noticed the grace and ease she had displayed from the leap, yet nothing suggested that she had any extraordinary Kung Fu skills. Taking two steps back, he blocked the entrance to the cabin, feeling deeply troubled. He knew that the Five-Sylph Sect would make a very tough

adversary, and when fighting with such unorthodox sects it would take a lot more than true Kung Fu skills to win the battle. That was the reason why he had been very polite toward Blue Phoenix from the very beginning. The two members of the Hundred-Toxic Faction had mentioned the previous night that someone had asked them to shadow the Huashan School. Birds of a feather flock together. Most likely it was the Five-Sylph Sect that had

asked them to do so. Why would the Five-Sylph Sect be hard on the

Huashan School? The Five-Sylph Sect was a large faction in the Martial World. When the chief of the sect came personally, logically he shouldn’t have blocked the way, but to let a person with all kinds of eerie poisons all over her body into the cabin was the last thing Yue Buqun would want.

Figuring that Linghu Chong coming out to meet Chief Blue probably would be the best solution for now, he held his position steadily and shouted out. “Chong! Chief Blue wants to see you. Come out, hurry!”

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered feebly. But since he had just lost a lot of blood recently, after hearing the calling from his Master, he

couldn’t even sit up and had to give up trying after failing a few pathetic attempts.

“I heard that he was seriously wounded. How could he come out?”

Blue Phoenix objected. “It’s very windy on the river. We don’t want him to catch a cold on top of everything he is already suffering from, do we? I’ll go inside to visit him.”

Blue Phoenix started walking toward the entrance of the cabin. Only after a few steps, she was already within four feet from Yue Buqun and the strong scent of fragrance filled Yue Buqun’s nostrils immediately. Turning slightly sideways, hesitantly, Yue Buqun spared enough room for Blue Phoenix to get through and watched cautiously as she entered the cabin.

The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies occupied the majority of the outer

cabin, five of them sitting down cross-legged while Fruit Fairy lying on the bed.

“You must be the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies? I am the chief of the Five-Sylph Sect, and you are the Six Fairies of the Peach Valley. Sylphs are fairies, too. We are one of the same kind!” Blue Phoenix grinned joyously.

“Not likely! We are real and you are fake!” Root Fairy challenged mockingly.

“Even if you were real, we have six fairies, one more than what you have,” Trunk Fairy added.

“It wouldn’t be that hard to turn that around, you know,” Blue Phoenix beamed.

“How are you going to having one more than us? Are you changing the name of your sect to Seven-Sylph Sect?” Leaf Fairy asked curiously. “We only have five sylphs, not seven. But we can reduce the six fairies to only four fairies, then naturally we would have one more than you guys, wouldn’t we?” A nasty grin flashed across Blue Phoenix’s face as she spoke.

“Reduce the six fairies to only four fairies? Are you saying that you are killing two of us?” Flower Fairy bellowed in fury.

“Kill or not, that’s all up to us, isn’t it? But I heard that you are friends of Linghu Chong, I guess we can let that pass. But you’ll have to stop boasting yourself and claim that you have one more fairy than my Five-Sylph Sect,” Blue Phoenix let out a triumphant smile.

“We love boasting ourselves. What’cha gonna do?” Trunk Fairy snapped.

All of a sudden, Root Fairy, Trunk Fairy, Leaf Fairy and Flower Fairy all leapt to their feet and each grabbed onto one of her limbs, but before they were able to lift her up, all four of them cried out and all let go of her

simultaneously as though following an inaudible command, each holding out his palm and gazing at it in horror. Even Yue Buqun felt cold pricks all over his back when he took a quick glimpse of what the Fairies now had in their palms – two large emerald centipedes and two large spiders that had colorful stripes all over their bodies. The bodies of all four venomous pests were covered in long hairs, so disgusting that even a glance at them could make one sick. But the four venomous pests only moved slightly, and

neither took a bite at the four Fairies. If they had bitten with their poisonous fangs, then the damage would have already been done, and they wouldn’t have appeared as frightening. Just because they were now all alerted and provoked, and any slight movement could have prompt them to bite down with the poisonous fangs, the Peach Valley’s Four Fairies dare not move an inch, and all froze right on the spot. Blue Phoenix swung her arm conveniently, and the four venomous pests vanished all of a sudden. She must have put them away with the

swing, but no one could tell where on her body did she store them. She paid no more attention to the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and walked further into the cabin. Having been frightened completely out of their wits, the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies dared not speak another word.

Linghu Chong and the bunch of male apprentices of the Huashan School occupied the middle cabin. By then, Madam Yue and the many female apprentices had returned to the back cabin, and the clapboard between the middle cabin and the back cabin had been closed. After casting a casual glance at the many apprentices in the cabin, Blue Phoenix walked next to Linghu Chong’s bed and called out gently.

“Young Master Linghu! Young Master Linghu!”

The gentleness and the affection carried in her voice seemed to have reached the extreme. As the sweet sound echoed in everyone’s ears, each felt a soul-stirring sensation surging through his entire body, and almost

couldn’t help but answer, as if she had been calling him, not Linghu Chong. After these two calls, over half of the male apprentices found themselves red in the face and their bodies quivering slightly.

“Who…who are you?” Linghu Chong opened his eyes slowly and asked in a barely audible voice.

“I am a friend of your good friend, so I am your friend, too,” Blue Phoenix answered tenderly.

Linghu Chong acknowledged with a slight groan and then closed his

eyes.

“Young Master Linghu, I know you’ve lost a great amount of blood.

But don’t worry, you won’t die,” Blue Phoenix said. But in his daze, Linghu Chong didn’t reply. Reaching under Linghu Chong’s quilt, Blue Phoenix pulled his hand out and started checking his pulse, but soon her eyebrows knitted into a

straight line. Suddenly, she stuck her head out of the window, gave a

whistle, and then jabbered out many words, which neither one inside the cabin could comprehend.

A short while later, four Miao girls entered the cabin. All of them were about eighteen years of age, and all dressed in blue skirts in white

flower patterns, with an embroidered waistband around each waist. Each of them held in her hand an eight-inch long square box made of bamboo strips.

Yue Buqun frowned slightly, thinking that whatever the things in the Five-Sylph Sect members’ hands were, they could not have been anything good. Just Blue Phoenix, by herself, already had many centipedes and

spiders hidden on her. Now, when these four Miao girls carried these boxes into the cabin openly, all hell would probably break loose. But since they

showed no sign of enmity, it would be inappropriate of him to stop them.

Walking over by Blue Phoenix’s side, the four Miao girls whispered something to her, and after getting a nod back, they opened the boxes.

People in the cabin found their curiosity growing rapidly, all were eager to find out what kind of queer things might be stored in the boxes, except Yue Buqun, who was the only one who had seen the hairy venomous insects in Peach Valley’s Four Fairies’ palms, and only wished that he would never have to get a glimpse of the things inside the boxes. But suddenly, the

strangest thing happened.

The four Miao girls rolled their sleeves high, exposing the snow-

white arms, and then they also rolled their trouser legs high, until they were above their knees.50 The many male apprentices of the Huashan School

were stupefied as they gaped at the unusual sight, their hearts pounding madly. “Oh, no!” Yue Buqun thought secretly. “These girls from this heretical sect want to perform some kind of evil enchantment and use lust to tempt my apprentices. Just the voice of that Blue Phoenix, alone, was

already utterly lascivious, if she performed any kind of black art on top of that, having not enough self-control, the many apprentices would undoubtedly fall for it.” He couldn’t help clutching the handle of his sword, determined to put a stop to it if these members of the Five-Sylph Sect were to undress themselves and perform any witchcraft.

After the four Miao girls rolled up their sleeves and trouser legs, Blue Phoenix also rolled her trouser legs up unhurriedly. Yue Buqun winked at the many apprentices, signaling them to retreat out of the cabin, so as not to be perplexed by the evil enchantment, but only Lau Denuo and Shi Daizi followed his command. Among the rest apprentices, some walked a few

steps hesitantly toward the outside before returning to the original spot, and some others simply froze there, lost in trance.

Yue Buqun gathered his inner energy around his lower abdomen and loaded his “Divine Art of Violet Twilight.” Soon, a shade of violet color flashed across his face. He knew that the Five-Venom Sect had been

entrenched in the southern region for over two hundred years, and their notoriety did not come by accident. Undoubtedly, they knew certain vicious and venomous sorcery. And when the chief, herself, was performing the

sorcery, it was no trivial matter. If he didn’t guard his mind with the divine art, any slight oversight might have caused him to fall for her tricks. Seeing with his own eyes how these Miao girls exposed themselves in public, with no regard to dignity and having no sense of shame, Yue Buqun became more and more worried. To die of poison was one thing, but what he feared the most was to lose his clear conscience under the evil spell and bring

shame to himself in the presence of everyone. If that ever happened, the reputation of the Huashan Sword School and the Gentleman Sword would have been completely ruined beyond redemption. He watched on as the four Miao girls each took something out of the box, something that wriggled back and forth in their hands. Just as he had expected, these had to be some kind of venomous worms. The four Miao girls placed these venomous

worms on their exposed arms and legs, and as soon as the worms were set loose, they clung tightly to the skins.

Fixing his eyes on the worms, Yue Buqun soon realized that those

weren’t venomous worms, but rather blood-sucking leeches that were quite common in creeks or lakes of the countryside, except that these leeches

were twice the size of a regular one. One after another, the Miao girls took out more and more leeches from the boxes. Blue Phoenix also took outs

some leeches from one of the bamboo boxes, and placed them on her own arms and legs. In only a few moments, the five girls’ arms and legs were completely covered by leeches; there were at least over two hundred of

them in total. All the onlookers were dumbstruck, and neither had a clue as to what kind of strange scheme these five were up to.

Madam Yue had been in the back cabin, but after hearing the many cries of surprise uttered by the male apprentices in the middle cabin, she

couldn’t help pulling the clapboard open and taking a glimpse, herself, and as soon as her eyes met the bizarre scene, she also let out a cry of surprise. “Don’t be afraid. They won’t bite you,” Blue Phoenix comforted her

with a smile. “Are you…are you Mr. Yue’s woman? I heard that you have outstanding sword skills. Is that true?” she asked.

Madam Yue squeezed out a smile, but didn’t answer. When Blue Phoenix had first asked if she were Mr. Yue’s woman, it sounded very

crude. And then, when she asked about whether Madam Yue’s swords skills were truly outstanding, Madam Yue hesitated. If it had been someone else who had asked the same question, even if that person were hostile, she

would have answered humbly. This Blue Phoenix evidently knew very little about conventions of Han Chinese; if Madam Yue had answered that yes,

she did have outstanding sword skills, it would sound very arrogant; if she had answered that no, she didn’t have outstanding sword skills, perhaps this Blue Phoenix would have believed it, and would look down upon her. With these thoughts in mind, she decided to simply reply with silence. Blue Phoenix didn’t ask any further and simply stood there quietly.

In the meantime, Yue Buqun found himself on full alert. If the five Miao girls had any unusual action, he was ready to strike. To catch bandits

first capture the ringleader. He would have taken Blue Phoenix down before anything else. By then, nobody in the cabin spoke another word; the only

sounds were the heavy breathing from the many male apprentices of the Huashan School.

After a long while, the bodies of the many leeches on the five Miao girls’ arms and legs started to puff up and soon turned into a faint reddish color. Yue Buqun knew that as soon as a leech touched the skin of a person

or an animal, it would make a tight grip using its sucker disk, and then start sucking blood, not letting go until it was completely full. When the leech was sucking blood from someone, the person would, at most, feel only a

slight itch or numbness. When farmers worked in the paddy fields, they

would often have leeches clinging to their legs, sucking blood out of them without their notice.

“Why are these witches using leeches to suck their own blood?” he muttered to himself. “Perhaps in order to perform their enchantment, the Five-Sylph Sect members must use their own blood. It seems that the time when these leeches have sucked enough blood will be the time they execute their enchantment.” Blue Phoenix gently lifted up the quilt covering Linghu Chong’s body. Pulling a leech that was about nine tenth full off her arm, she placed it on Linghu Chong’s neck next to an artery.

“Hey, what are you doing?” afraid that she might harm Linghu Chong in anyway, Madam Yue yelled hurriedly. Unsheathing her long sword, she leapt into the middle cabin.

“No hurry! Let’s wait!” Yue Buqun shook his head.

Clutching her long sword tightly, Madam Yue gazed fixedly at Blue Phoenix and Linghu Chong. As soon as the leech was placed on Linghu

Chong’s neck, it bit onto his artery and started sucking again. Blue Phoenix took out a small china bottle from her chest pocket and unplugged the lid.

Using the pointed fingernail of the little finger on her right hand, she picked a little bit of the white powdery substance from the bottle and then

sprinkled some onto the leech’s body. The other four Miao girls unbuttoned Linghu Chong’s robe and also rolled his sleeves and trouser legs up, then they started taking the many leeches off themselves and planting them next to the many arteries on Linghu Chong’s chest, stomach, arms and legs.

Within a short moment, the over two hundred leeches had all been transferred onto Linghu Chong’s body. Blue Phoenix kept on picking more of the white powder and sprinkling a little bit of it on each and every of the leeches. Then, something very strange happened.

While clinging to the five Miao girls, the more those leeches sucked, the more they puffed up, but now, they all started shrinking little by little. Yue Buqun suddenly understood. Feeling much relaxed, he exhaled a long breath.

“Turned out that they are just using the leeches as the medium to transfer their blood into Chong’s arteries,” he thought loud. “I wonder what are these white powders made of. How can they have made leeches give out blood? How miraculous!”

Having figured it out, he gradually relaxed the grip on the sword handle. Madam Yue also returned her sword to its sheath gently as a smile crept onto her once tightened face.

Even though the cabin was still swept with silence, it was far from the tension-filled atmosphere just a minute ago, when fierce battle could have been triggered at any moment. And furthermore, even the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies were utterly amazed by what they saw, their jaws dropping and their mouths wide open. Since all six mouths were wide open and could not close because of the dropped jaws, naturally, neither of them could make

any remark about it nor argue about it. This had to be a very rare occurrence.

After another short while, a light clatter broke the silence as one of the leeches, which had spilled out all the blood in its stomach, fell onto the cabin floor, wriggled a few times, and then dropped dead. One of the Miao girls picked it up and threw it into the river through the cabin window.

Soon, more and more leeches fell dead and were thrown into the river one after another. Within thirty minutes, all leeches had been thrown out of the window, and the once toast tan face of Linghu Chong now showed a slight redness of skin. The blood those over two hundred leeches had sucked and transferred into Linghu Chong’s body amounted to about a bowl’s worth.

Even though it would not have made up for all the blood Linghu Chong had lost, it was enough to turn the corner for him.

Yue Buqun and Madam Yue exchanged a glance at each other, both thinking, “Being the Chief of a good-sized sect, this Miao girl didn’t even hesitate to transfer her own blood into Chong’s body. Since she had never met Chong before, she couldn’t have fallen in love with him. She mentioned that she was a friend of Chong’s good friend. When did Chong make friends with such an important and influential person?”

Blue Phoenix also noticed the improvement in Linghu Chong’s

complexion. After checking his pulses again and feeling that his pulses had become stronger, she was very pleased.

“Young Master Linghu, how do you feel?” she asked in a gentle voice.

Although Linghu Chong didn’t quite understand everything, he, at least, had figured out that the girl was healing him, and also felt much improvement in spirit. “Thank you, Miss. I…I feel much better,” he replied.

“Do I look very old? Am I too old already?” Blue Phoenix asked.

“Who said that you are old? Of course you are not! If it’s alright with you, I’ll make bold to call you a younger sister,” Linghu Chong replied.

Blue Phoenix was overjoyed; her face split into a big smile as if a beautiful spring flower had just blossomed, which made it more delicate and charming.

“You are wonderful! No wonder! No wonder the one who didn’t care about any other man in this world cares about you so much. That’s why… alas…,” she said with a smile.

“If you really think I am that wonderful, why don’t you call me ‘big brother Linghu’?” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Big brother Linghu,” Blue Phoenix called out, as a slight blush shot up her face.

“My good sister! My wonderful sister!” Linghu Chong called out with a big smile.

Linghu Chong had always been the unconventional type, and never bothered about small matters, very different from Yue Buqun, who always posed as a “Gentleman.” As soon as he regained consciousness, he had already known that Blue Phoenix liked to hear others calling her young and beautiful. When she had asked him frankly, even though she was older than him, he still called her a “younger sister,” thinking that since she spared no effort at healing him, it would be totally justifiable for him to give some

compliments to repay her kindness. Not surprisingly, Blue Phoenix’s face lit up at these words.

But Yue Buqun and Madam Yue couldn’t help frowning, both thinking, “Chong is so frivolous, and there is really no cure for that. Didn’t Ping One-Finger say that he only has one hundred days left for this life?

Now it’s even less than one hundred days. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that one of his feet has already stepped into the coffin, yet only moments after he regained consciousness, he was already teasing such a lascivious woman with nonsense.”

“Big brother, do you want to eat something? Why don’t I get you some pastries?” Blue Phoenix asked, smiling brightly.

“I don’t feel like eating pastries. But some wine would be great,” Linghu Chong answered.

“That’s easy! We have the ‘Five Jewels Nectar Wine’ that we made ourselves. You can give that a try.”

Blue Phoenix jabbered out some words in the Miao dialect, and two of the Miao girls returned to the small boat, soon returning with eight bottles of wine. After uncorking one of the bottles, they poured the wine into a bowl, and instantly, the sweet scent of wine and blossom filled the entire cabin.

“My good sister, there’s something about your wine. The sweet scent of blossom is too strong. It completely overwhelmed the flavor of the wine itself. I guess this must have been the wine for women,” Linghu Chong

said. “The scent of blossom has to be very strong, otherwise, the wine will have this fishy smell of venomous snakes,” Blue Phoenix answered with a grin.

“The wine will have the fishy smell of venomous snakes?” Amazed, Linghu Chong asked.

“Certainly! This wine of mine is named the ‘Five Jewels Nectar Wine,’ then of course we need to use the ‘Five Jewels’.”

“What are the ‘Five Jewels’?”

“The ‘Five Jewels’ are five different kinds of treasures in our sect.

Have a look.”

Setting up two empty bowls, Blue Phoenix turned the bottle upside down and poured the rest of the wine into the bowls. Clattering sounds rose as a few small objects fell into the bowl, and at the sight of them, several

Huashan apprentices screeched in terror.

Blue Phoenix took the bowl of wine in front of Linghu Chong. The

wine had a very light color, almost as clear as water from a natural spring in the mountains. Soaked in the wine were five tiny venomous pests: a green

snake, a centipede, a spider, a scorpion, and a small toad.

This sight also gave Linghu Chong a good scare. “Why do you put… put these venomous pests in your wine?” he asked.

“These are the Five Jewels. Don’t call them venomous pests,” Blue Phoenix let out a disgruntled snort. But soon she asked, “Big brother Linghu, are you brave enough to drink this?”

“Well, I am a bit afraid of these…Five Jewels.” Linghu Chong confessed with a wry smile.

Raising the bowl of wine high, Blue Phoenix drank a big gulp of it. “We Miao people have this custom. When we invite a friend to drink wine and eat meat with us, if the friend refuses to drink or eat, then we don’t treat him as a friend no more.”

Taking the bowl from Blue Phoenix, Linghu Chong drank the entire bowl of wine in big gulps, swallowing the five venomous pests together with the wine down his throat. Although he had plenty of spunk, he dared not to chew on them.

Blue Phoenix was overjoyed. Embracing Linghu Chong’s neck into her arms, she gave two kisses on his left cheek, leaving two red marks on his face from the lipsticks on her lips.

“That’s my good brother!” She beamed.

Linghu Chong also let out a smile, and then his heart skipped a beat when he suddenly noticed the stern look on his Master’s face from a glance with the corner of his eyes.

“Darn! That was audacious, running wild right in front of my Master and Master-Wife. Undoubtedly Master will give me a good scolding after this, and perhaps little apprentice sister will despise me even more,” he muttered to himself.

Blue Phoenix opened another bottle and refilled the bowl with wine, pouring the five venomous pests into the bowl as well. Handing the bowl in front of Yue Buqun, she said with a grin, “Mr. Yue, have some wine! My treat!”

Yue Buqun had already felt sick just from looking at the many venomous pests soaked in the wine. When he smelled the vague, indescribable fishiness covered by the strong scent of blossoms, he was

seized with a sudden urge to vomit. Extending his left hand out, he pushed toward Blue Phoenix’s hand that was holding the wine bowl, but unexpectedly, Blue Phoenix didn’t draw her hands back. Seeing that his finger almost touched the back of her hand, Yue Buqun jerked his hand back.

“How come the Apprentice is even braver than the Master?” Blue Phoenix grinned. “Friends of the Huashan School, which one of you would like to drink up this bowl of wine? It will be of great benefit to you if you drink this.”

She held the bowl high with a hand. But there was only complete silence on the entire boat. There was no response.

Blue Phoenix heaved a long sigh. “I guess other than Linghu Chong, the Huashan School has not another true hero.”

“I’ll drink it!” a man suddenly shouted out. It was Lin Pingzhi, who stepped forward and reached out for the wine bowl.

Blue Phoenix expanded her eyebrows with a smile. “Well, turned out….”

“Little Lin,” Yue Buqun suddenly yelled out. “If you eat those dirty things, even if you survive the poison, don’t expect me to ever talk to you again.”

“Go ahead, drink it up!” Blue Phoenix handed the bowl in front of Lin Pingzhi.

“I…I am not drinking it,” Lin Pingzhi replied haltingly. Then hearing the loud laughter from Blue Phoenix, he went scarlet in the face. “It’s not… it’s not because I am afraid of death that I am not drinking the wine,” he mumbled.

“I know! You are only afraid that this pretty girl will stop seeing you.

You are not a coward. You are an affectionate lover. Ha-ha! Ha-ha!” Blue Phoenix laughed out loud. Walking next to Linghu Chong, she said, “Big brother, I’ll see you around.” She set down the bowl on the table and then waved. Getting the command, the four Miao girls collected the rest six bottles of wine,

followed her out of the cabin, and then leapt back onto the small boat. Once again, sweet and intimate singing rose and floated above the water.

Following the flow of the tide, the small boat soon gained speed and went further and further. The sounds of the singing also fainted gradually and

eventually died away.

“Throw all those bowls and bottles in the river,” Yue Buqun ordered with a frown.

“Yes, Master!” Lin Pingzhi answered and walked next to the table.

Just when his fingers barely touched the wine bottle, a strong fishy odor

suddenly shot up his nostrils. His body gave a sudden shake, and he almost lost his footing and had to grab onto the side of the table for support.

“The wine bottles are poisonous,” Yue Buqun realized at once and yelled out loudly. He swung his sleeve toward the table. The force from the swing sent all the bowls and bottles on the table flying through the window and falling into the river. Suddenly, he felt a strong feel of nausea coming from his chest, and only after gathering a good amount of inner energy,

were he able to hold it back. Then he heard a loud cry, as Lin Pingzhi burst out vomiting. Only seconds later, cries after cries rose as more and more people joined Lin Pingzhi and started throwing up wildly, even the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and the sailors at the stern of the boat were no

exceptions. After fighting the urge forcefully for half a day, Yue Buqun

could no longer endure the sickness and also started vomiting, himself. The many people kept vomiting back and forth. Even after they have spat out all the food inside their stomachs, the retching feeling did not go away, and they started vomiting up gastric juice, instead. And then after there was no more gastric juice left for them to spit out, the itching at their throats and the retching feeling inside their stomachs still remained. Everyone felt as though it would have been much better if they had something inside their stomach, so they have something to spit out, compared to vomiting again and again with an empty stomach. Among the dozens of people aboard the boat, Linghu Chong was the only one who didn’t throw up.

“Linghu Chong, that witch regards you with special respect. She must have fed you the antidote,” Fruit Fairy said.

“I didn’t take an antidote. Could that bowl of poisonous wine have been the antidote?” Linghu Chong muttered.

“That has got to be it. That witch saw that you are a handsome lad and fell for you,” Root Fairy concluded.

“Nah! I don’t think it was because he’s a handsome lad. It was because he praised that witch, saying that she was young and beautiful and all that,” Branch Fairy disagreed.

“Well, he still had to be brave enough to drink up the poisonous wine, and swallow those five venomous bugs, hadn’t he?” Flower Fairy added.

“He is not throwing up. But how do you know that it wasn’t because he is even more seriously poisoned than the rest of us with those five venomous bugs inside his stomach?” Leaf Fairy speculated.

“Oh, no, that’s terrible!” Branch Fairy cried out. “When Linghu

Chong drank the poisonous wine, we didn’t stop him, or even say anything about it. If he dies from the poison, what are we gonna do when Ping One- Finger finds out about it?”

“Ping One-Finger said he was going to die soon, anyway. What’s the big deal if he dies a few days earlier?” Root Fairy shrugged it off.

“It’s no big deal for Linghu Chong, but it will be a big deal for us,” Flower Fairy exclaimed. “Don’t worry! We’ll just take it on the lam. That Ping One-Finger is a fatty with short legs. I am sure he won’t be able to keep up with us,” Fruit Fairy comforted him.

Even while vomiting left and right, the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies didn’t want to give up arguing.

Noticing that the sailor operating the rudder also kept vomiting non- stop and the boat had been shaking back and forth dangerously, Yue Buqun leapt to the back of the boat and steered the boat toward the south bank. He had resourceful of inner energy. After circulating his inner energy a few times, the retching feeling in his chest gradually decreased. Slowly the boat pulled over by the bank. Yue Buqun jumped to the bow of the boat and threw the iron anchor down the river. The iron anchor was well over two hundred pounds, and would have taken two sailors to carry it. Seeing that

Yue Buqun, who looked just like a gentle and feeble scholar, was able to not only pick the iron anchor up with just one hand, but also throw it dozens of feet away without sparing much effort, the boatmen were left breathless.

But that didn’t last very long, because they soon had to return to their miserable vomiting routine. Everybody went ashore one after another.

Kneeling by the river, they drank a stomach full of water and then spit them out. After several cycles, the vomiting finally stopped.

The section of the bank where they had parked the boat was a desolate and out-of-the-way spot, but several miles east from where they were, rolls of houses and buildings glowed in the sunshine from the distance – it appeared to be a town.

“There is still residual poison on the boat; we can’t use the boat any more. Let’s go to that town first and then we’ll figure something out,” Yue Buqun suggested. With Trunk Fairy carrying Linghu Chong on his back and Branch Fairy carrying Fruit Fairy on his back, the group walked toward the town in the distance. After they entered town, in the van of everybody else, Trunk Fairy and Branch Fairy walked into a restaurant. Setting Linghu Chong and Fruit Fairy down onto two benches, they shouted immediately.

“Waiter! Waiter! Bring us some wine, some dish, and some rice!”

In a casual glance, Linghu Chong suddenly noticed somebody, and his heart skipped a beat. A short Taoist Priest sat up straight in the middle of the dining hall – it was none other than the Head Master of Qingcheng, Yu Canghai.

The Head Master of Qingcheng apparently was in the middle of a tight encirclement. He sat by a small table, on top of which lay a wine kettle, a pair of chopsticks, three plates of light snacks, and a shiny long sword showing its naked blade.

Seven benches surrounded the small table, a person sitting on each of them. Among the seven people, some were men and some were women, but all faces looked vicious and cruel. Each of the benches also had weapons on top of it. The seven of them simply gazed at Yu Canghai, neither of them making any sound.

The Head Master of Qingcheng appeared to be well composed. When he raised his wine cup fir a sip with his left hand, the sleeves didn’t show the slightest sign of quiver.

“This short priest must be very frightened in his heart,” Root Fairy commented.

“Of course he is. It’s seven against one. He doesn’t have a chance to win,” Branch Fairy added.

“If he isn’t afraid, why is he holding the wine cup with his left hand, not his right hand? Certainly he wants to spare his right hand, in case he has to grab on to his sword real quickly,” Trunk Fairy said.

At that comment, Yu Canghai let out a disgruntled snort, and then handed the wine cup from his left hand to his right hand.

“He heard second brother’s words, but didn’t even dare to look at

second brother. I’d say he is afraid, indeed. I am not saying that he is afraid of second brother. He is afraid that if he gets distracted, the seven enemies would attack all at once, and he would end up being chopped into eight pieces,” Flower Fairy speculated.

“This short priest is already so small, if he gets chopped into eight pieces, isn’t he going to be even smaller?” Leaf Fairy chortled.

Although Linghu Chong bore a grudge against Yu Canghai, seeing that Yu was surrounded by tough enemies, he didn’t want to take advantage of Yu’s situation.

“Six Fairy Brothers, this Priest is the Head Master of Qingcheng,” he

said.

“Head Master of Qingcheng? Big deal! Is he a friend of yours?” Root

Fairy asked.

“I dare not make friends with his high social position. He is not my friend,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Great! If he is not your friend, then we’ve gotten a good show going here!” Trunk Fairy grinned.

“Bring me some wine! Hurry up! I want to enjoy my wine while watching how the short priest will be chopped into nine pieces,” Flower Fairy shouted, smacking the table in front of him loudly.

“Why nine pieces?” Leaf Fairy asked.

“Look at that mendicant monk over there. He is wielding two Tiger-

Head Machetes, that’s why he’ll produce one more piece,” Flower Fairy explained. “That’s not likely. Some of these people use a Wolf-Fanged Hammer and some others use a Golden Cane. How are they going to chop?” Leaf Fairy argued.

“Let’s be quiet,” Linghu Chong urged. “We are not helping either

side. Let’s not distract Master Yu, the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School.”

The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies stopped talking, and all stared at Yu Canghai with fixed eyes and big grins on their faces.

One by one, Linghu Chong surveyed at the seven people who

surrounded Yu Canghai. The first one was a mendicant monk, his long hair well reaching his shoulder. A shining copper hoop on his head bound the long hair together, and a pair of crescent shaped Tiger-Head Machetes sat on the side of his table. Sitting at the next bench was a woman in her fifties. Her hair had patches of grey, and her face was covered by some kind of a grim complexion. She had a two-feet long short knife lying by her side.

Next to her were a monk and a Taoist priest. A red frock, as red as blood, draped over the monk’s shoulder, and an alms-bowl and a cymbal lay

silently by his side. Both the alms-bowl and the cymbal were made of fine steel. The steel cymbal had very sharp edges – obviously it was a formidable weapon. The Taoist priest had a tall build. An octagonal Wolf- Fanged Hammer, which appeared to be very heavy, sat on his bench next to him. On the bench to the right of the Taoist priest sat a middle-aged beggar

with his legs stretched out, and two green snakes coiled around his head and his shoulders. Both of the snakes had triangular shaped heads; their long tongues shot in and out viciously. The last two were a man and a woman.

The man had a blind left eye while the woman had a blind right eye. Each had a cane leaning against his or her bench. The bodies of the two canes were extra thick and shined with a glistening golden color. If they were truly made of gold, the weight would have been extraordinary. Both the man and the woman were in their forties, and looked just like any down- hearted wanderers in the Martial World, yet they carried with them such expensive canes, making an unspeakably eerie scene.

The mendicant monk fixed his eyes at Yu Canghai with ferocious stares, and slowly he reached out with both hands and grabbed onto the

handles of the two machetes. The beggar took off the snake around his neck and then coiled it on his right arm, aiming the head of the snake at Yu

Canghai. The other monk picked up his steel cymbal, the Taoist priest lifted his Wolf-Fanged Hammer, and the middle-aged woman also placed the

short knife in her grip. Obviously, they were ready to launch a synchronized attack.

“Winning by numbers, isn’t that the old trick of you heretical, evil demons? Bring it on! Yu Canghai is not afraid of you.” Yu Canghai let out a hollow laugh.

“Yu Canghai, we don’t want to kill you,” the one-eyed man suddenly spoke.

“That’s right. As long as you behave yourself and hand over the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ we’ll let you leave with no troubles,” the one-eyed woman exclaimed.

Yue Buqun, Linghu Chong, Lin Pingzhi, and Yue Lingshan were all taken by big surprise when they heard the woman mentioning the “Evil- Resisting Sword Manuscript,” neither had expected that the reason these seven people had surrounded Yu Canghai was actually for the sake of the “Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.” They exchanged a few stares among themselves; all had the same thought in their minds: “Could this ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript’ really be in Yu Canghai’s hands?” “Why wasting time with this dwarf? Let’s whack him first and then search his body,” the middle-aged woman said in a chilling tone.

“Maybe he hid it in a secret spot. If we can’t find it on him after we whack him, wouldn’t that be too bad?” the one-eyed woman said.

“If we can’t find it, we can’t find it. It’s not going to be any worse.” The middle-aged woman curled her lips. She spoke in such an indistinct manner, turned out that more than half of her teeth were already gone.

“Yu Canghai, if you listen to my advice, you’d better give it up. This sword art manuscript is not yours to start with, anyway. You’ve already had it for so many days. I am sure you’ve read it so many times that you probably have memorized everything. Why still hold on to it so tight? What good does it do for you?” the one-eyed woman persuaded.

But Yu Canghai did not say a word, only gathering his inner energy around his lower stomach, absorbed in the pre-battle preparation.

Right at that moment, sounds of laughter floated in from outside as a man with all smiles walked in the door. The man was dressed in a long pongee robe. The top of his head was already half bald, but the beard under his chin did not have a sprinkle of grey. His clothes looking costly and luxurious, his face glowing with health, the man looked like a merchant prince. Holding an emerald snuff bottle in his left hand and a one-foot long folding fan in his right hand, the chubby man had an affable expression on his face.

After spotting the many people upon entering the restaurant, he was taken by surprise, and his smiles shrank back a little, but only seconds later, he was all smiles, once again.

“How fortunate! How fortunate! I had not expected that all the heroes of the present time have gathered here today. I must consider myself very fortunate, indeed!” he cupped his hands in greeting, his face beaming. “Now, which good breeze has brought the Master Yu of the Qingcheng Sword School here to the Henan Province?” he said to Yu Canghai. “I’ve long heard that the ‘Pine-Wind Sword Art’ of the Qingcheng Sword School is a unique and superb Kung Fu style of the Martial World. It looks like we are finally going to have the chance to broaden our horizons today.”

But Yu Canghai still focused on loading his inner energy and paid no attention to him.

Turning toward the one-eyed man and the one-eyed woman, the man cupped his hands with a big grin. “I have not seen the ‘Tung Cypress Whiz Duo’ wandering about the Martial World for a good while. Looks like you’ve made a good fortune in the last few years.”

“You flatter us. It’s nothing compare to what Mr. You makes,” the one-eyed man answered with a slight smile.

The man uttered three laughs at those words. “I’ve only gotten a facade. Whatever I earn with one hand, I spend with the other. Just from my nickname, people can tell that I only look good on the surface, but very hollow inside.”

“What is your nickname?” Branch Fairy couldn’t help but ask.

The man cast a glance toward Branch Fairy and soon found six

strange looking fellows all staring at him curiously, but he had no clue as to who these six were and where they had come from.

“I have a very ugly nickname called ‘Slippery and Hard to Grip’,” he chortled as he spoke. “People say that I love to make friends, and for the

sake of friendship, I never stint money and have no problem spending them. Hence, although I make good money, they don’t stay in my hands long, because I don’t have a good grip of them.”

“Doesn’t this friend You Xun, here, have another nickname?” the one-eyed man cut in. “Really? How come I’ve never heard of it?” You Xun grinned. “Loach Soaked in Oil, Slippery and Hard to Grip!” a cold voice

suddenly spoke. The voice sounded indistinct, then, of course, it was the voice of the woman, who had lost over half of her teeth.

“Holy cow!” Flower Fairy yelled out. “A loach, itself, is extremely

slippery, already. Now when it’s soaked in oil, who can ever get a good grip onto that?”

“That’s only because friends in the Martial World were flattering me, praising about my Qing-Gong skills, saying that I am as quick as a loach.

But it is really embarrassing. This little Kung Fu of mine is really not worth mentioning. Madam Zhang, you are looking extremely good these days!” You Xun beamed at the woman and then bowed down deeply.

“What a glib tongue you have there. Stay away from me,” the old woman Madam Zhang turned the whites of eye up and yelled.

The man named You Xun must have had a very good temper. Hearing those harsh words, he didn’t show a slight sign of annoyance, and turned to the beggar, instead.

“Double-Dragon Divine Beggar, brother Yan! The two green dragons of yours are looking even more vigorous and nimble now.”

The beggar’s name was Yan Sanxing, and his nickname was actually “Double-Snake Ruthless Beggar,” but You Xun changed it into “Double-

Dragon Divine Beggar” on the fly. Even though the Yan Sanxing was a very vicious and ruthless man, he couldn’t help but smile at those words.

You Xun also knew the longhaired mendicant monk Chou Songnian, monk Xi Bao, and Taoist Priest Yu Ling, and also said some praising words to each of them. While laughing and joking, he had eased up the tense

atmosphere at swords’ points in the short amount of time. “Hey, Loach Soaked in Oil! Why didn’t you say anything about us, praising the six brothers of us for our excellent Kung Fu and outstanding skills?” Leaf Fairy suddenly yelled out.

“That’s…that’s of course something I’d praise about…,” You Xun replied with a smile. But before he even had a chance to finish his sentence, all of a sudden, his two wrists and two ankles were already in the grips of

Root Fairy, Trunk Fairy, Branch Fairy, and Leaf Fairy the four fairies, who immediately lifted him off the ground without pulling hard.

“What wonderful Kung Fu! What brilliant skills! Such superb techniques are so rare through out the ages!” You Xun praised hurriedly.

“Why are our Kung Fu skills so rare through out the ages?” Root Fairy and Branch Fairy asked at the same time.

“My nick name is ‘Slippery and Hard to Grip.’ Frankly speaking, no one could have gotten a tight grip on me. But as soon as the four of you reached out with your hands, you caught me with such ease, and I became neither slippery, nor hard to grip. The Kung Fu skills you have demonstrated with are so exceptional that through out the ages, no one had every seen or hear about Kung Fu skills this great. When I wander about the world after today, I simply have to publicize the six great Kung Fu masters’ names wherever I go, so that everyone in the Martial World would know that there are such extraordinary heroes in this world.” You Xun explained.

The six Fairies were overjoyed. Wasting not another second, they immediately set him down to the ground.

“Slippery and Hard to Grip! You certainly deserve the reputation. See, didn’t you just get out of the grip once again?” Madam Zhang said coldly.

“That’s only because the six great Kung Fu masters had exceptional Kung Fu skills. I admire them so very much!” You Xun answered. “But I am so ignorant. I don’t even know what the names of the six senior masters are. May I ask what your respectful names are?”

“We are six brothers called ‘The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies’,” Root Fairy explained. “I am Root Fairy. He is Trunk Fairy.” Soon, he had introduced the names of all six of them.

“That’s wonderful! Wonderful! The name ‘Fairy’ is so appropriate to go with the Kung Fu skills of the six of you. Only people with such magical and exceptional Kung Fu skills, which have risen above this world and

attained sainthood, are qualified to use the name ‘Fairy’.” You Xun applauded.

The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies felt great rejoicing. “You are very

smart and have very good insight. You are awesome!” they exclaimed in unison.

“Are you going to hand out the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ or not?” Glaring at Yu Canghai, Madam Zhang yelled. But Yu Canghai ignored her yet again.

“Oh, I see. So your dispute is over the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ But from what I heard, the sword art manuscript isn’t in Master Yu’s possession,” You Xun said.

“Are you saying that you know who has it?” Madam Zhang asked.

“This person is very, very famous. If I speak his name out, I am afraid it will scare the wits out of you,” You Xun exclaimed.

“Speak up!” the mendicant monk Chou Songnian yelled at him. “If you don’t know the answer, then begone, and stop being a hindrance!”

“This great master must have had a bit too much of roasted pork or roasted lamp, and the extra internal heat is fuming the hot temper. My Kung Fu skills are very ordinary, but I certainly have very quick access to information. Whenever there are secret messages floating around the Martial World, it wouldn’t be easy for them to get pass my eyes and ears without my noticing,” You Xun replied, still beaming.

The Tung Cypress Whiz Duo, Madam Zhang, and the rest of the group all knew that You Xun was speaking the truth. This You Xun loved poking his nose into other people’s affairs, and would spare no effort at making his way into every nook and corners for information. There weren’t really much that he wouldn’t know about in the Martial World. So they

asked in unison, “Don’t keep us guessing! Who on earth has the ‘Evil- Resisting Sword Manuscript’?”

“Well, you all know my nick name – ‘Slippery and Hard to Grip.’ Whatever I earn with one hand, I spend with the other. To be frank with you, I have been completely broke for quite some days. But you, on the

other hand, are all loaded moneybags. Now, it wasn’t easy for me to obtain this important information, and it looks like this is going to be a great opportunity for me. The old saying said it well: a sharp blade should be presented to a true man, and beautiful rouge should be given to a pretty

woman. So important information, of course, should be sold to moneybags. I am not keeping you guessing. I am just waiting for the right offer.”

“Fine. Let’s kill Yu Canghai first, and worry about forcing the secret out of this loach later. Attack!” Madam Zhang shouted. As soon as the word “attack” was spoken, sounds of weapons rapidly colliding with each other

echoed. The seven attackers had all left their benches and each exchanged a few moves with Yu Canghai. The attack stopped just as abruptly as how it had started. Within seconds, the seven attackers had retreated back to their original positions, still encircling Yu Canghai in the middle. Blood gushed out from the cuts on monk Xi Bao and monk Chou Songnian’s thighs. Yu

Canghai had handed the sword to his left hand; the part of his robe near the right shoulder had been torn into pieces – the result of a heavy strike from one of the attackers.

“Again!” Madam Zhang shouted out, and the seven of them lunged forward all at once. Some more rapid clanking sounds exploded before the seven retreated back, once again, leaving Yu Canghai in the middle.

This time Madam Zhang took a hit on her face. A long cut dragged from the middle of her left eyebrow all the way down to her lower jaw. Yu Canghai also took a chop on his left arm. No longer able to wield the sword with his left hand, he handed the sword back to his right hand.

“Master Yu, we are both members of the Taoist Order. Why don’t you listen to my advice and surrender?” Priest Yu Ling raised his Wolf-Fanged Hammer and urged.

Yu Canghai let out an angry snort and cursed indistinctly.

Madam Zhang didn’t even bother to wipe the blood off her face.

Raising her short knife and aiming it at Yu Canghai, she shouted, “Once….”

Before she was able to spit out the word “again,” a voice suddenly shouted out loudly, “Hold it!” A man rushed into the circle of attackers in quick strides and stopped right next to Yu Canghai.

“Seven against one, isn’t that a bit unfair? Besides, didn’t Mr. You clearly say that the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ was not in Yu

Canghai’s possession?” he said. It was Lin Pingzhi.

Ever since he caught Yu Canghai in his eyes, Lin Pingzhi never let Yu out of his sight for a single second. After watching Yu getting injured in both arms, he knew that another round of attack from Madam Zhang and the rest attackers would have chopped Yu Canghai into shreds. His hatred toward Yu Canghai was even deeper than the ocean. He had long vowed to kill this monster, one day, with his own hands, and would never have allowed Yu Canghai to die from other people’s hands. That was why he immediately stepped forward and stopped the next round of attack.

“Who the hell are you? Do you want to die with him?” Madam Zhang snapped.

“No, I don’t want to die with him. I just thought this is a bit unjust, and wanted to speak out in fairness to him. Why don’t we stop fighting?” Lin Pingzhi answered.

“Let’s just whack him, too,” Chou Songnian suggested.

“Who are you, you bold and reckless brat? Do you always take on other people’s trouble?” Priest Yu Ling snubbed.

“I am Lin Pingzhi of the Huashan Sword School….,” Lin Pingzhi answered.

“You are from the Huashan Sword School? Where is Young Master Linghu?” the Tung Cypress Whiz Duo, the Double-Snake Ruthless Beggar, Madam Zhang, and the rest of the group all shouted in unison.

“I am Linghu Chong,” Linghu Chong cupped his hands in greeting. “I am only a boorish youngster; I certainly do not deserve the title of a ‘Young Master.’ Are you acquainted with a friend of mine?”

Along the journey, many prominent masters with exceptional talents or eccentric behaviors had all showed great respects and made up to him, and all of them had claimed that it had been for the sake of a friend of his.

All the while, Linghu Chong still had no clue as to when he had made such an infinitely resourceful friend. When he heard the seven asking about him, he had figured that it must have had something to do with this mystic friend, again. And sure enough, the group of seven all turned toward him

and saluted respectfully.

“As soon as the seven of us received the message, we hurried over here, traveling days and nights, so we could have the honor to meet you. It’s wonderful that we get to pay you a formal visit right here,” Priest Yu Ling said.

Yu Canghai had been injured very badly. Finding out that the one who had stood up for him and helped him out of the predicament was actually Lin Pingzhi he was taken aback greatly. But it didn’t take him long to figure out Lin Pingzhi’s true intension. Seeing that the seven attackers were all in the middle of a conversation with Linghu Chong, he quickly made up his mind. He wasn’t injured in his legs; so all of a sudden, he leapt backward

and dashed into the back room of the small restaurant. Before anyone had

any time to react, he had fled from the backdoor, speedily. Yan Sanxing and Chou Songnian both cried in surprise, but it was already too late to chase

after him.

You Xun walked in front of Linghu Chong, beaming brightly. “When I came from the east,” he said, “I heard many fellow martial friends mentioning about Young Master Linghu’s great name. In my heart, I’ve been looking up to you for a long, long time. Then, when I heard that the dozens of chiefs and leaders from various sects, clans, caves, and islands

would be meeting Young Master Linghu on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge, I immediately hurried over to join in the fun. I certainly didn’t expect that I’d be so lucky to have met Young Master ahead of everyone else. Don’t

worry! You can set your heart at a rest now. This time people are bringing at least a hundred different types of catholicon to the Five-Tyrant Ridge. The little injury of yours will be cured in no time. In no time! Ha-ha!

Wonderful! Wonderful!” He took Linghu Chong’s hands into his own and swayed gently as he spoke, looking utterly intimate.

“What dozens of chiefs and leaders from various sects, clans, caves, and islands? What one hundred types of catholicon are you talking about? I am at a complete loss,” astounded, Linghu Chong asked hurriedly. “Don’t let unnecessary worry trouble you, Young Master Linghu.

Even if my guts were as large as the Heavens, I would still dare not to talk recklessly about the reason behind. Young Master, you can just rest assured, ha-ha. I certainly dare not to talk nonsense. Even if you don’t take offense, when the words get out and get into other people’s ears, how many heads do I have? Even if I were ten times more slippery, sooner or later, somebody

would have pulled my head off all the same.”

“If you truly dare not talk nonsense, why have you brought this thing up again and again?” Madam Zhang snubbed with a gloomy face.

“Whatever is happening on the Five-Tyrant Ridge, Young Master Linghu will see with his own eyes in just a short while. There is no need for you to be long-tongued here. Now, let me ask you one more time. Who on earth has that ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ at this very moment?”

You Xun pretended that he didn’t hear the words from Madam Zhang.

Turning toward the Yue Buqun couple, he grinned.

“Ever since I walked in the door and saw the two of you, I’ve been muttering to myself: This mister and this madam both looked so dignified and elegant, showing a very distinguished demeanor. Which two eminent

masters could the two of you have been? Since you are together with Young Master Linghu, I guess you must be the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, the world-renowned ‘Gentleman Sword,’ Mr. Yue and Madam Yue.”

“You flatter me,” Yue Buqun replied with a slight smile.

“The common saying says: Have eyes but fail to see mount Taishan; entertain angel unawares. Today, I am really having eyes but fail to see mount Huashan,” You Xun continued. “Recently, Mr. Yue blinded fifteen

formidable foes with a simple swing of his sword. That feat shook the entire Martial World. I simply couldn’t help but prostrate myself before you in admiration. What brilliant sword skills! Brilliant, indeed!”

He said these words so sincerely as though he had witnessed

everything with his own eyes. Yue Buqun gave a suppressed snort as a gloomy look quickly flashed across his face.

“And Madam Yue, Heroine Ning…,” You Xun went on, but was suddenly cut shot by Madam Zhang.

“Are you ever gonna stop rambling? Speak up, who has the ‘Evil- Resisting Sword Manuscript’?” Madam Zhang barked. She had heard the names of Yue Buqun and Madam Yue, yet didn’t show a slight sign of

concern.

“Give me one hundred taels of silver, and I’ll tell you.” You Xun stretched his hand out, his face split into a wide grin.

“You must have never seen money in your past life. It always has to do with money. Money this and money that!” Madam Zhang croaked.

The one-eyed man took a silver ingot out from his chest pocket and tossed it at You Xun. “This has got to cover it. Now, speak up!” he demanded.

Catching the silver ingot into his grip, You Xun weight it in his hand. “Many thanks! Come, let’s go to the outside and I’ll tell you.”

“Why go to the outside? You can tell us right here, so we can all hear about it,” the one-eyed man replied.

“Yeah! That’s right! Why do you have to be so sneaky?” all the audiences agreed in unison.

“No way! No way!” You Xun shook his head back and forth. “I asked for one hundred taels of silver. That’s one hundred taels of silver per person, not that this piece of important news is only worth one hundred taels. How can I have sold it for so cheap? That’s just outrageous!” The one-eyed man gave a wave with his right hand, and at that signal, Chou Songnian, Madam Zhang, Yan Sanxing, Monk Xi Bo, and the rest of the group immediately stepped forward, circling You Xun in the middle the same way they had surrounded Yu Canghai a few minutes ago.

“His nickname is Slippery and Hard to Grip. We shall not fight him with bare hands. Let’s use our weapons,” Madam Zhang exclaimed grimly.

Priest Yu Ling picked up his octagonal shaped Wolf-Fanged Hammer and waved it. “Swoosh!” The hammer made a circle in the air.

“Let’s see if his head is any slippery against my hammer.”

The sharp and pointy wolf-fangs on the hammer glinted with reflection. Taking a good glimpse of the hammer, and then taking a good look at the shining and puffy head of You Xun, everybody came to the same conclusion – You Xun’s head did not seem to have a very promising prospect.

“Young Master Linghu, only a few moments ago, a young friend from your respectful school helped Master Yu out of the tight spot with just a few words. Now when I am in deep trouble, why haven’t you said anything to help, as though you didn’t see anything or hear anything?” You Xun asked.

“If you don’t speak out the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ I am afraid I’ll have to wade in and won’t be so easy on you,” Linghu Chong replied. At that word, a dull and depressing sensation rose from his stomach, and he couldn’t help but cast a side glance at Yue Lingshan, thinking, “Even you are wronging me for appropriating Little Lin’s sword art manuscript.”

“Excellent! Excellent! Young Master Linghu, please go ahead!” Madam Zhang and the rest of the group cheered all together.

You Xun heaved a deep sigh. “Fine, I’ll speak it out. Go on, return to your seats. Why are you still surrounding me?” “We’d better be extra cautious when dealing with the Slippery and Hard to Grip,” Madam Zhang spat out.

“Alas, why did I bring trouble to myself? Why didn’t I just wait on the Five-Tyrant Ridge to join the fun, and would rather come here to court death?” You Xun heaved another sigh.

“Are you gonna speak it out or not?” Madam Zhang snapped.

“I will! I will! Why not!” You Xun answered. “Hey! Chief Dongfang!

When did your Excellence decide to show your gracious presence, here?” He said the last two sentences very loud and clear, and as he spoke, he fixed his eyes toward the west end of the street outside the restaurant with such a bewildered star.

Astounded, everyone peered down the street following his gaze, and soon spotted a man strolling closer and closer along the long street, a vegetable basket hanging on his left arm. This man was a marketplace

monger; how could he have been the Chief Dongfang with resounding fame

– Dong Fang Invincible? By the time everybody remembered to turn back at You Xun, he had vanished from sight. By then, everyone finally realized that all had just been terribly fooled. Madam Zhang, Chou Songnian, and Priest Yu Ling all started pouring out streams of abuses, knowing well that with his outstanding Qing-Gong skills and crafty mind, there would be no way to catch him back once he had run off.

“I see! Turned out it is You Xun who has the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ I didn’t expect that at all!” Linghu Chong said loudly.

“Really? Is it really in You Xun’s hands?” everyone asked in shock. “Of course it’s in his hands. What else? Otherwise, why would he

never speak out the whereabouts of the sword art manuscript, and try so hard to run away?” Linghu Chong elaborated. He spoke these words in a very loud voice, and after spitting out the last few words, he had almost used up all his strength.

“Young Master Linghu, why have you shifted the blame on me?” You Xun’s voice suddenly rose from outside the door, loud and clear. And only seconds later, he had already walked back in.

Madam Zhang and the rest of the group were filled with joy. Wasting no time, they quickly surrounded You Xun in a circle, once again.

“You just fell for Young Master Linghu’s stratagem!” Priest Yu Ling said, a big grin blossoming on his face.

“Alas, do I have any choice? If this piece of news had gotten out into the Martial World, saying that You Xun were the one who had the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ do you think I’d have another day of peace in the rest of my life? I wonder how many people would be after me and give me trouble. Even if I had three heads and six arms,51 I’d still be no match for that kind of trouble. Young Master Linghu, you are good! Just a few

words of yours are powerful enough to capture the Slippery and Hard to Grip.” You Xun pulled a long face.

Letting out a wry smile, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “It’s not that I am good. It’s only that I had been wronged just like that, before.”

He couldn’t help but cast a glance at Yue Lingshan, and Yue Lingshan just happened to be casting a glance at him, as well. When their eyes

clapped, both blushed, and turned their heads away quickly.

“Brother You, when you left a moment ago, were you hiding the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ somewhere else so we won’t be able to find it?” Madam Zhang mocked.

“That’s too bitter!” You Xun protested. “Madam Zhang, if you speak like this, you are going to cost me my old life. Please think about it, all of you. If I have had the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ I undoubtedly should be using a sword, and my sword skills should have been outstanding. Then, why firstly, I don’t even have a sword with me;

secondly, I don’t fight with a sword; and thirdly, my Kung Fu skills are extremely ordinary?”

When everyone pondered over his words, all had to agree that he did sound reasonable.

“Well, maybe you never had time to study the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ after you obtained it. Maybe you tried to learn it but failed miserably. You don’t have a sword with you. Maybe somebody stole it,”

Root Fairy speculated.

“Isn’t that folding fan in your hand a short sword? When you pointed it that way just a moment ago, didn’t you use a move from the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript’?” Trunk Fairy exclaimed.

“That’s right! Look at him. His fan is pointing at an angle right this moment. That’s the fifty-ninth move of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art,

“Pointing At Crafty and Evil.’ Whoever he points his sword to, whom he will kill.” Branch Fairy also joined in.

At the time, the folding fan in You Xun’s hand happened to be pointing toward Chou Songnian. The impetuous monk let out a thunderous roar and swung his two machetes at You Xun at once.

“Hey! Hey! He is only joking! Don’t take him seriously!” You Xun shouted hastily, dodging to the side.

Four clanking sounds echoed as Chou Songnian chopped twice with each of his machetes and You Xun blocked all of them with his folding fan. Apparently, his folding fan was made of steel. Although You Xun looked like a lord in clover, chubby with light skin tones, his movement was

surprisingly agile. And only a gentle prod with his folding fan had sent the Tiger-Head Machetes swaying several feet away. One could well perceive that his Kung Fu skills had to be superior to the longhaired mendicant monk. It was only because he was in the middle of a tight encirclement that he dared not to launch his counter attack.

“This move is the thirty-second move, ‘Hard-shelled Tortoise

Breaking Wind.’ Hmm, this move blocked a chop. It is the twenty-fifth move, called ‘Soft-shelled Tortoise Turning Over’,” Flower Fairy shouted along.

“Mr. You, if the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ is really not in your possession, then who has it?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Yeah! Speak up! Who has it?” Madam Zhang, Priest Yu Ling and the rest people all asked anxiously.

“The only reason I am keeping this to myself is to be able to make a few thousand taels of silver,” You Xun squeezed out a grin. “But since you are so stingy and have made up your mind to save money, fine, I’ll tell you. But don’t say that I didn’t warn you. Once you hear about it, you’ll only be able to itch in your heart and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. If it were somebody else who had laid his hands on the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ at least you’d still have some hope. But it is so unfortunate that it had to be this one who has it in his possession, there’s… there’s…well, well…”

Everybody held his breath and listened on anxiously for You Xun to tell the name of the person, who had the sword art manuscript in his possession. Suddenly, sounds of hoof beats mixed up with sounds of horse- drawn wagons broke out on the street and came closer and closer. You Xun seized the opportunity and stopped telling. Turning his head sideways, he listened, and then asked, “Err, who’s that?”

“Speak it out! Who has the sword art manuscript?” Priest Yu Ling pressed on. “There’s no need to be impatient. Of course I’ll tell you,” You Xun replied.

The sounds of hoof beats and wagons stopped abruptly outside the small restaurant. “Is Young Master Linghu here? Our faction has prepared horses and wagons to greet your gracious presence,” an aged voice

announced.

Linghu Chong was anxious to find out the whereabouts of the “Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript,” thus, prove his innocence and remove the suspicions from Master, Master-Wife, fellow apprentices and little

apprentice sister. Therefore, he didn’t reply to the call from the outside and urged You Xun again, “There are other people coming. Hurry up, tell us!”

“I beg your pardon, Young Master. Just because other people are coming, it wouldn’t be a good idea to tell now,” You Xun replied.

Sound of more hoof beats rose from the distance, and soon another seven or eight riders arrived and stopped right in front of the restaurant.

“Chief Huang, are you here to greet Young Master Linghu?” a gallant voice asked.

“Yes, I am. What have brought Chieftain Sima here today?” the old man replied.

The man with the gallant voice snorted, and soon heavy footsteps echoed as a giant man entered the restaurant in big strides.

“Which of you is Young Master Linghu? I am Sima Big. I’ve come to greet Young Master and bring him to Five-Tyrant Ridge to meet the many heroes,” he announced loudly.

Having no alternatives, Linghu Chong cupped his hands in greeting. “I am Linghu Chong. I certainly do not deserve such gracious amenity from Chieftain Sima.” “Because I’ve always been big and tall since I was only a kid, my parents named me Sima Big. Young Master Linghu, you can call me Sima Big, or just Biggy. Don’t call me Chieftain. I don’t deserve it in front of you,” Chieftain Sima exclaimed.

“You flatter me,” Linghu Chong replied. Pointing at Yue Buqun and Madam Yue, he introduced, “These are my Master and my Master-Wife.”

“Hello there!” Sima Big cupped his hands and greeted. Turning back toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Young Master, I apologize for not having greeted you earlier. Will you please pardon me?”

Yue Buqun had held the Head Master post of the Huashan Sword School for over twenty years and had always been well respected by people in the Martial World. But people like this Sima Big, Madam Zhang, Chou Songnian, Priest Yu Ling, or the rest of the bunch, who showed great respect to Linghu Chong, all had very little concern about the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School. Even if they did show him a little bit of respect, occasionally, it was all for the sake of Linghu Chong, and they didn’t even try to hide that. To Yue Buqun, this was even worse than

cursing him to his face, and he was exasperated. But Yue Buqun was a very civilized man, and didn’t show any of his irritation on his face.

By then, the chief named Huang had also entered the room. He was well over eighty years of age. The bush of completely grey beard under his chin almost reached his chest, but he looked hale and hearty. Bowing

slightly toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Young Master Linghu, the many brothers in our faction make our living right around this region. We’ve failed terribly to put up a good reception for you. Even death cannot atone our offense.”

“Could this have been him?” Yue Buqun felt a big shock in his heart.

He had known for a long time that there was a faction named “Heavenly River Faction” around the lower reaches of the Yellow River, and the chief, Huang Boliu, was a very senior master in the Martial World. But the faction lacked strict rules and regulations, and among the many members, the good and bad were intermingled. It was simply unavoidable to have members violate laws and commit crimes. Therefore, the reputation of the “Heavenly River Faction” was not that great. However, the many hands provided great strength, and the faction did not lack first class fighters. It was a very large faction in the region of four provinces. Could this old man in front of him have been the “Silver-Bearded Dragon,” Huang Boliu, who commanded over ten thousand faction members? If this were him, indeed, then why had he shown such great respect toward Linghu Chong, a young lad who was only at the beginning of his career?

The doubts and suspicions that boggled Yue Buqun’s mind didn’t last very long, when the Double-Snake Ruthless Beggar Yan Sanxing spoke to the old man.

“Hi, Silver-Bearded Old Dragon, you are the local bully. Aren’t you going to welcome us, the bunch of visitors?”

The grey-bearded old man was indeed the “Silver-Bearded Dragon” Huang Boliu. “We’ll have to thank Young Master Linghu,” he said, smiling. “If it weren’t for his sake, how could I ever have so many masters and heroes spare their gracious presence. Now that you are all here, you are all noble guests of the ‘Heavenly River Faction.’ Of course we welcome you.

Our faction has prepared a big feast on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge. May I ask Young Master Linghu and the rest of the friends here to set out and head over there?”

The small restaurant had become so crowded by now. Linghu Chong knew that You Xun would never speak out the secret in such a completely packed and noisy place. Luckily, after this incident with You Xun, the suspicions Master, Master-Wife, and all the fellow apprentices had should have been greatly diminished. He was sure that the whole thing would, one day, come to obvious. Having that in mind, he was no longer in an urgent rush to clear himself of the blame.

“Master, should we go or not? Will you please direct us,” turning to Yue Buqun, he asked.

Yue Buqun thought to himself, “It’s apparent that among the bunch of people gathering on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge, there isn’t going to be a

single one from the orthodox schools. How can I mix myself up with them?

It almost seems that these people are tempting Chong to join them using courtesy and respect. The incident with Liu Zhengfeng of the Hengshan Sword School had set a good example. If one becomes close with evil

people, then he cannot escape the fate of being utterly discredited, himself. But under the current circumstance, how could I say no?”

“Mr. Yue, the Five-Tyrant Ridge is bustling with people and activities at the moment! Many chiefs of different caves and islands haven’t made an appearance in the Martial World for ten, twenty, or even thirty years.

Everyone came for the sake of Young Master Linghu, and it is you, Mr. Yue, who have shaped him into such a wonderful young hero of both civil and military ability. You have brought great glory to yourself for

accomplishing such a great feat. Of course you’d want to go to the Five- Tyrant Ridge. If Mr. Yue doesn’t go, wouldn’t that disappoint a lot of people?”

Before Yue Buqun even had a chance to answer, half supporting and half carrying, Sima Big and Huang Boliu had ushered Linghu Chong out of the restaurant door and into one of the horse-drawn wagons. Chou Songnian, Yan Sanxing, the Tung Cypress Whiz Duo, the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, and the rest of the bunch also rushed out of the door in a hubbub.

Yue Buqun and Madam Yue stared at each other and both squeezed a wry smile. “These people only wanted to make sure that Chong would go there. Whether we are going or not, they didn’t care at all,” they thought.

“Dad! Why don’t we go and have a look? Let’s find out what kind of tricks these weird people are playing with big apprentice brother,” Yue Lingshan proposed, her curiosity growing by the minute. For a while, she remembered the human-flesh-eating Black Bear and White Bear, and her heart hammered frantically. Figuring that if they were able to set her free for big apprentice brother’s sake, then logically, they shouldn’t be coming back to chew on her fingers, she relaxed a little. But she still made up her mind that after they arrived at the Five-Tyrant Ridge, she would make sure to keep a close distance with her father.

Yue Buqun nodded his approval and then walked out of the door.

After the miserable vomiting experience, he didn’t eat or drink anything, and now when he walked about, it almost felt as if he was slightly disoriented and could not stand in a solid stance. A quick check with his

inner energy confirmed that the inner energy he was able to gather was not as pure as it used to be, and Yue Buqun couldn’t help feeling stunned.

“The poison from Blue Phoenix of the Five-Sylph Sect is truly powerful,” he muttered to himself.

The group with Huang Boliu and the group with Sima Big both came with many horses, so they were able to spare some horses for Yue Buqun, Madam Yue, Madam Zhang, Chou Songnian, the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, and the rest of the bunch to ride. Some male apprentices of the

Huashan Sword School didn’t have any horse left for ride, and had to walk together with members of the “Heavenly River Faction” and subordinates of the Chieftain Sima Big of the Long-Whale Island. Everything ready and set, they set out toward the Five-Tyrant Ridge.

Chapter 17: In Love

Half of the girl's face could be seen from the reflection in the water. Her eyes were shut tight. Long eyelashes swayed in the wind. She was a gorgeous-looking girl seventeen or eighteen years of age.

The Five-Tyrant Ridge lay right at where the Shandong Province and the Henan Province bordered each other, west to Heze and Dingtao in the Shandong Province, and east to Dongming of the Henan Province. The terrains around the region were mostly made up of flat lands with swamp

country. From a distance, the Five-Tyrant Ridge didn’t appear to be a tall mountain but rather just a small hill. The group of horse riders and wagons galloped toward the east and after every few miles or so, there would

always be several riders coming from the east to greet them. Dismounting from their horses right next to the wagon, they would shout their greetings to Linghu Chong with raised voices, acting very respectfully with great

courtesy.

The closer they were from the Five-Tyrant Ridge, the more people greeted them alongside the road. Although every one of them gave a brief self-introduction of himself, Linghu Chong could not remember the great amount of information. Finally, the horse-drawn wagon stopped in front of

a tall ridge. The ridge of hill was covered by a dense mass of pine trees, and a mountain road zigzagged upward, leading to the top.

Huang Boliu helped Linghu Chong out of the horse-drawn wagon to the side of the road, where two big fellows carrying a bamboo carriage had been waiting. Thinking that Master, Master-Wife and little apprentice sister would have to climb up the ridge on foot while he took the carriage, Linghu Chong felt uneasiness brewing inside him.

“Master-Wife, why don’t you take the wagon? I can walk by myself,” he suggested.

“The Young Master Linghu is the one they are greeting, not your Master-Wife,” Madam Yue replied with a grin before striding up the

mountain road, followed by Yue Buqun and their daughter, Yue Lingshan. Having no other alternatives, Linghu Chong sat down in the bamboo carriage chair. The two carriers lifted the carriage and soon entered a large clearing in the middle of the woods on top of the hill, where patches of

crowds had scattered about all over it. Judging from the looks and

expressions of these people, Linghu Chong knew that these were all the kind of rough fellows from the unorthodox factions of the Martial World.

At the sight of Linghu Chong’s arrival, the crowd rushed forward like a swarm of bees.

“Is this the Young Master Linghu?” many asked eagerly.

“Here are some panaceas passed done from my ancestors that can return the dead to life,” a man shouted.

“I dug this matured, human-shaped ginseng52 out in Mount Changbai twenty years ago. Young Master Linghu, will you please have it!” another one offered.

“These seven men are the most skilled and renowned doctors in the eastern Shandong Province. I’ve invited them here to check on Young

Master Linghu’s pulse,” a third person announced.

All seven doctors were tied up tightly around their wrists, and a rope stringed them all together. Looking wan and sallow, each of them showed a gloomy face, none had any trace of superiority, the kind normally displayed on the face of a renowned doctor, left in him. Obviously the man had kidnapped them all, and the word “invitation” was far from the truth.

“I’ve taken a little bit of every kind of precious medicine in the entire Jinan City, so if Young Master Linghu needs anything specific, we won’t be unprepared,” carrying two large bamboo basket on his shoulders, a man declared.

Most of the people in the crowd are rough and coarse fellows, and many dressed in strange and unusual outfits, but Linghu Chong had no doubt about their sincerity and was utterly grateful. Having suffered many setbacks just lately and having been living on the brink of death for the last many days, Linghu Chong found himself much more emotional. At the

sight of the many caring faces, a warm feeling swelled in his heart, and soon big drops of tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Dear friends, Linghu Chong is only a nobody in this world, yet the many of you…have shown me great care and concern…I really don’t know…don’t know how I’ll ever be able to repay your kindness….”

cupping his hands in greetings, Linghu Chong spoke, but only after a few sentences, he choked with sobs. Not able to express his gratitude with

words, he knelt down and bowed his head to solute, which immediately caused uproar in the crowd.

“We certainly don’t deserve such high honor!” “Please, please stand up!” “You are really embarrassing us now.” Amid the many scattered replies, people in the crowd also knelt down on their knees and saluted back. Within moments, except Yue Buqun, the group of Huashan

apprentices, and the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, the over one thousand people atop the Five-Tyrant Ridge were all on their knees. Didn’t want to give the misimpression of taking the salute from the many people, Yue

Buqun and the rest of the Huashan members turned sideways and took a few steps back, while the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies pointed their fingers at the crowd in total amusement, spilling streams of drivels and laughing their heads off.

After several bows, Linghu Chong stood back up, tears streaming out from his eyes. “Regardless of what intention these friends have, I am

willing to risk any danger for their sake, even if I’ll have my body smashed into pieces,” he thought to himself. “Young Master Linghu, this way please. You can take a rest at the shack over there,” Chief Huang Boliu of the Heavenly River Faction

proposed and then ushered Linghu Chong and the Yue Buqun couple into a shack.

The shack was made of straws and appeared to have just being built very recently. A table and a few chairs occupied the middle of the shack, and a teakettle and a set of teacups sat on top of the table. Huang Boliu

waved his hand, and immediately, his subordinates brought in wine and poured a cup for each of them. More people walked in and brought plates of beef jerky, ham, and the kind of snacks that goes well with wine. Linghu

Chong picked up the cup in front of him and then walked out of the shack. “Dear friends,” he spoke out loud, “this is the first time I’ve met

many of you, so naturally we need a toast for the new friendship. From now on, you are all good friends of Linghu Chong. Starting from today, we’ll

share joy and sorrow, weal and woe. Let all of us, all good friends here,

start by sharing this cup of wine first!” At that word, he swung his right arm and poured the wine in the cup toward the sky, which immediately

separated into thousands of small drops and splashed everywhere.

“Young Master Linghu said it right! Starting from today, we’ll share joy and sorrow, weal and woe, with you!” cheers resounded like rolls of thunder as the crowd replied in unison.

Yue Buqun knitted his brows as he thought to himself, “Chong is behaving so rashly and unruly, having no concern about the consequences of his action. When he saw that these people cared for him, he didn’t even think before saying that he would share joy and sorrow, weal and woe with them. Among these people here, most likely not even a single one of them is a law-abiding citizen, and many might have easily fallen into the same league as the notorious Tian Boguang. When they raid homes and plunder houses, rape and loot, are you going to share the joy? When we, people of the orthodox schools, exterminate these hoodlums, are you going to share the sorrow?”

“Why all the friends here, today, are caring so much for me, Linghu Chong, I have no clue,” Linghu Chong went on. “But whether I know, or don’t know, that doesn’t matter. Whatever the puzzledom is, you can tell it to my face. A true man is as open as the day, and always speaks out his mind. If there’s anything Linghu Chong can do for you, even if I have to

climb a hill of knifes or go through a forest of swords, I dare not to decline.”

He had thought that these people didn’t even know each other before, yet all tried very hard to befriend him, then naturally they must have

something very important that needed his help. Since he was going to give his word anyhow, even if that was something he was incapable of doing, so what? He was going to die very soon anyway.

“Where did you get that idea, Young Master Linghu,” Huang Boliu answered. “The many friends here heard that Young Master was coming, and out of admiration and respect, all of us just happen to coincide and gathered here, so we can have a look at your elegant demeanor with reverence. We also heard that Young Master was not feeling well, that’s why some of us invited renowned doctors, and some others gathered different kinds of medicine. We definitely have no request of any kind for Young Master. We are not from the same group. Many of us have only heard about each other before, and some didn’t even get along. But since

Young Master have said that we should share joy and sorrow, weal and woe, starting from today, even if we weren’t good friends before among ourselves, we are good friends now.” “Naturally! Chief Huang said it perfectly,” the crowd replied all together.

“Young Master, why don’t you go back in the shack and have these

seven renowned doctors check out your pulse?” the man who pulled a string of doctors behind him stepped forward and suggested.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Even Doctor Ping One-Finger, such an extraordinary doctor has concluded that there’s no cure for my injuries, what else could the seven doctors of yours find?” But for fear of

hurting the man’s good intension, he could not object, and had to step back inside the shack. The man dragged the seven doctors into the shack as if they were a string of frogs, which brought a grin on Linghu Chong’s face.

“This brother, why don’t you set them free. I am sure they won’t be able to run away,” Linghu Chong proposed.

“If Young Master says so,” the man answered, and soon broke the rope into pieces with six popping sounds. “If you can’t cure Young Master Linghu, I’ll break your necks the same way,” he yelled at the doctors.

“I…I’ll try my best. But there’s…there’s no doctor who can always guarantee a cure,” one of the doctors muttered.

“Young Master here is glowing with health and radiating vigor. I am sure his illness can be easily rid off with a dose of medicament,” another doctor added immediately as all of them rushed forward to check Linghu Chong’s pulse.

Suddenly someone shouted at the shack’s doorway, “Get out of here, all of you! You useless quacks!”

Linghu Chong turned his head around and immediately spotted “Killer Doctor” Ping One-Finger.

“Doctor Ping, you’ve come too. I thought none of these doctors would have been of any use,” he said happily. Ping One-Finger entered the shack. Raising his left foot, he suddenly threw a kick at one of the doctors. Bang! The doctor flew out of the shack.

Without any delay, he raised his right foot. With another loud bang, a second doctor was kicked out of the shack.

The man who had brought all the doctors along seemed to have quite an awe against Ping One-Finger. Turning toward the group of doctors, he yelled loudly.

“Doctor Ping, the number one doctor in the world, has arrived. How dare you show yourselves up in front of him?”

Another two loud bangs rose as the man also kicked two of the doctors out of the shack. Terrified, the rest three doctors staggered out of the shack. The man bowed timidly with a smiling face, obviously trying to please Ping One-Finger.

“Young Master Linghu, Doctor Ping, I wasn’t thinking right. Will you please pardon…?” he said, when suddenly, Ping One-Finger raised his left foot, and with another loud bang, sending the man flying out of the shack.

Linghu Chong was astounded, having not expected such a result at all. Without saying another word, Ping One-Finger took a seat next to Linghu Chong and placed his fingers on Linghu Chong’s right wrist to

check his pulse. After a good while, he switched to Linghu Chong’s left wrist and began checking this one instead. After another good while, he switched back to Linghu Chong’s right wrist once again. Thus, switching

back and forth, he checked Linghu Chong’s pulse again and again. Knitting his brows almost into a straight line, he pondered with all his might, his

eyes shut tightly.

“Doctor Ping!” Linghu Chong finally broke the silence. “Life and death lie in the lap of fate. My injury is just too severe to cure. It has already troubled you twice, and I simply can’t be thankful enough for your kindness. There is really no need to trouble you any further.”

Loud noise and excitement rose from the outside, soon followed by the sounds of people playing wine games on top of their tongues –

apparently people from the “Heavenly River Faction” had brought in

shipments of food and wine to supply the crowd. Linghu Chong’s mind seemed to have slipped out from the shack so he could join the crowd

outside to have a jolly time, but Ping One-Finger switched back and forth with his two wrists, as though there was never going to be an end to it.

“Doctor Ping’s name is Ping One-Finger,” Linghu Chong thought to himself secretly, “and he always claimed that he only needed one finger to check one’s pulse for a cure and only one finger to seal one’s acupoint for a kill. But look how many fingers is he using on me now? If I am not mistaken, he is using all ten of them.”

A loud cracking sound suddenly interrupted his thought. A man stuck his head inside the shack, and it turned out to be the Trunk Fairy.

“Linghu Chong! Why aren’t you drinking wine with us?” Trunk Fairy asked.

“I’ll be right there. You’d better wait for me! Don’t get yourself filled up too quickly,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Sure!” Trunk Fairy replied. “Doctor Ping, you’d better hurry up!” At that word, he pulled his head out.

Slowly, Ping One-Finger drew his hands away from Linghu Chong’s wrists. Eyes still shutting tight, he drummed his right index finger on the table gently as though greatly puzzled. Opening his eyes after a long while, he finally spoke.

“Young Master Linghu! There are seven types of energy streams inside your body, constantly crashing against each other. There is no passageway for them to exit out, and there’s no hope to tame them either. This is neither a case of poison, nor a wound inflicted by a blade, much less illness caused by cold or fever, thus not something treatable with medicine or acupuncture.”

“Right,” Linghu Chong acknowledged.

“Since that day when I checked your pulse in the town of Zhuxian, I’ve already figured out a solution, which, with some luck, might work the wonder. I was going to gather seven martial arts masters, who have superb and resourceful inner energy, to work on you all at once, and eradicate the seven types of energy streams once for all. I’ve already invited three of

them to come here today. It shouldn’t be difficult to find two more qualified masters among the crowd. Then when you count your Master, Mr. Yue, and I in, everything would have been ready. But when I checked your pulse just now, I couldn’t help noticing some dramatic changes in the situation, which completely complicated things to the extreme.”

“Oh!” Linghu Chong responded.

“During the last several days, four dramatic changes had taken place. Change number one: Young Master took dozens of ultra-nutritious tonics, among which were precious medicaments such as ginseng, Polygonum multiflorum, Glossy Ganoderma, Tuckahoe, and the like. But the effects of these tonics were actually intended for female patients.”

“Wow!” Linghu Chong exclaimed. “You are absolutely right! That’s amazing! Such excellent skills had to be rare in all ages.”

“Why did Young Master take these tonics?” Ping One-Finger went on. “Most probably a quack was to blame. How detestable and irritating!”

“Zu Qianqiu thought he was doing me a favor when he stole Old

Man’s ‘Life-Extending Eight Pills’ to feed me,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “How could he have known that there are different tonics between male and female? If I spill the beans, for sure Doctor Ping would blame him. It’s probably better if I just keep this to myself.” At that thought, he said, “It’s my own fault. I can’t really blame anybody else.”

“You didn’t lack any energy. Quite on the contrary, you had too much energy in you. Now when you suddenly took so much of these tonics, you’ve worsened the case. Think about it. If the water in the Yangtze River has already risen to a dangerous height, what will happen if the water

controller keeps directing even more water into it from the Dongting Lake and the Boyang Lake? A Disaster! These types of tonics would only have benefited congenitally deficient young females. Unfortunately Young

Master took them. Alas! How Harmful!”

“I just hope Miss Old Not-Dead, the daughter of Old Man, will eventually recover after drinking my blood,” Linghu Chong thought.

“Change number two: Young Master, you have lost a great amount of blood all of a sudden. How could you have gotten yourself into fights and brawls so recklessly with your already injured body? Scrambling for

supremacy with fierce means in no way leads to a prolonged life. Alas, that one thought so highly of you, yet you have no regard for yourself. A true man can wait ten years before seeking his revenge; why couldn’t you have waited a bit longer and had to seek the instant pleasure?” Ping One-Finger shook his head again and again as he spoke, a disapprobatory expression brewing on his face. If his patient weren’t Linghu Chong, he would probably have smacked him hard on the face, or, at least, have poured out endless of invectives.

“You are absolutely right, senior master,” Linghu Chong replied.

“If your losing much blood were the only problem we have to worry about, it would still have been manageable. But why did you mix yourself up with people from the Yunnan Five-Sylph Sect and drank their Five- Sylph Mega-Nourishing Wine?” Ping One-Finger’s voice became more and more irritated.

“Five-Sylph Mega-Nourishing Wine?” Linghu Chong repeated in surprise.

“Yes, the Five-Sylph Mega-Nourishing Wine – brewed using the secret formula of the Five-Sylph Sect passed down generation after

generation,” Ping One-Finger murmured. The five venomous pests in the wine were extremely precious. It was said that each one takes decades to cultivate. There are also dozens kinds of rare plants in the wine, together

with the five venomous pests, they produce a strange yet powerful balance. The drinker of this wine will be void of harm from all diseases and poisons, and also gain inner energy worth ten years of training. It is the most miraculous tonic existing in the world. I’ve yearned for a chance to see it for many years. I heard that Blue Phoenix the girl always maintains a good moral integrity and never even looks encouragingly to any man. Who

would have expected that she would give you the most precious medicated wine of her sect? Alas, the loose youth, stealing young girls’ hearts

wherever he goes, ignorant of the harm this has brought upon himself!” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but let out an embarrassed smile. “Chief

Blue and I have only met once before. It was on our boat when we sailed east along the Yellow River. I am indebted to her for presenting me the Five-Sylph Wine. But other than that, we had no association whatsoever,” he explained.

After gazing at him for a good while, Ping One-Finger nodded.

“In that case, I suppose it was only for the sake of that one, did Blue Phoenix give you the Five-Sylph Mega-Nourishing Wine. But the extra nourishment only resulted in more energy inside you, which, in turn, caused more damage. Besides, even though the wine is mega-nourishing, it is mega-poisonous, also. Damn! What a big mess this is! All they have at the Five-Sylph Sect are a few odd prescriptions passed down from past generations. What stinking nonsense medical principles did Blue Phoenix the little chick understand? What a god damned big mess this is in!” Ping One-Finger went frantic.

Linghu Chong listened on as Ping One-Finger poured out streams of profanities. “He’s certainly gotten an unusually hot temper,” he couldn’t help thinking. But then as soon as he noticed Ping One-Finger’s gloomy face and the fluctuating chest below, obviously from the sincere caring for his well being, he regretted it.

“Senior master Ping, Chief Blue only had good intentions….” he said. “Good intentions! Good intentions! Humph! When the many quacks

misdiagnosed their patients and got them killed, which one of them didn’t have good intentions? You tell me! Did you know that people die everyday because of misdiagnoses from quacks are far more than people who die from a blade in the Martial World?” Ping One-Finger snarled.

“There’s a good possibility that might happen,” Linghu Chong replied.

“What possibility? That’s the fact,” Ping One-Finger bellowed. “What makes Blue Phoenix think that she can just stick her nose in this? Who the hell does she think she is, messing with my patient? At the moment, your blood contains severe poisons. If I attempt to neutralize them one by one, they would clash violently with the seven types of energy streams inside you, and you wouldn’t even last three hours.”

“Those severe poisons in my blood probably have nothing to do with the Five-Sylph Wine I drank,” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think.

“Chief Blue and those four Miao girls used their own blood when they gave blood to me. They live and deal with poisonous pests day and night, even their food has poisonous element, then naturally their blood must have

contained various poisons. Only that they’ve grown accustomed to that, and the various poisons could no longer affect their bodies. I’d better not mention a word about this, or else, he might lose his temper completely.” At that thought, he said, “Medical principles and pharmacology are subtle and abstruse subjects. It’s only naturally that a common person won’t be able to understand them thoroughly.’

Ping One-Finger heaved a sigh and then went on. “If taking the tonics by mistake, losing a great deal of blood, and drinking the medicinal wine

were all the problems there are, I can still manage to overcome. But the fourth dramatic change has really left me at a loss as to what to do. Alas, you’ve only have yourself to blame for that!”

“Yes, I have only myself to blame,” Linghu Chong echoed. “In the last several days, why have you suddenly become so

downhearted and completely lost the will to live? What happened? What caused the grievance? Last time when I checked your pulse at the town of Zhuxian, even though you were severely injured, I could still feel the vigorous flow in your heart arteries with thriving vitality. That was when I

decided to extend your life for another one hundred days, so I could try my best to find a way to cure your bizarre injury within the one hundred days. At that time, I was not one hundred percent certain about the solution, and didn’t have the need to explain everything to you. But why have you

completely lost the thriving vitality?”

At that question, a strong feeling of sorrow instantly swelled up in Linghu Chong’s heart as he thought to himself, “Before, when Master had suspected me of embezzling Little Lin’s Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript, it was still alright. With a clear conscience, I felt no qualms. Eventually doubts will clear up when facts are known. But…but even little apprentice sister began suspecting me, and thought of me as a worthless thief deep in her heart for the sake of Little Lin. That snuffed the last bit of life out of me. There would be no joy for me to continue living in this world.”

But Ping One-Finger did not wait for him to answer and spoke again. “Your pulse is telling me that this, again, has something to do with the remorse of love. Can’t you see that all women in the world have a detestable face and a dull tongue? It would be best if you can keep your distance from them. Only when you fail at avoiding them should you tolerate with utmost effort and deal with them courteously but without

sincerity. Why are you so muddleheaded and longing for them day and night, instead? That’s so very much wrong! Although, although that one… alas, I don’t know what I should say about that!” At that word, he shook his head wearily.

“Your wife certainly has a detestable face and a dull tongue,” Linghu Chong thought, “but it’s not necessary that women in the world are all like that. It’s so funny that you are using your own wife to generalize all women in the world. If little apprentice sister were to have a detestable face and a dull tongue…”

His thoughts were interrupted when Flower Fairy suddenly showed up at the entrance of the shack, each hand holding a large bowl filled with wine.

“Hey, Doctor Ping! Have you cured him yet?” Flower Fairy asked. “He is incurable!” Ping One-Finger grunted, pulling a long face.

“Incurable?” Flower Fairy was taken by surprise. “Whacha gonna do then?” Turning toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Why don’t you come out and drink with us then.”

“Sure!” Linghu Chong replied. “No, you won’t! You stay here!” Ping One-Finger bellowed in a croaked voice.

That gave Flower Fairy a good fright. Turning on his wheels, he left in a hurry, splashing the bowls of wine all over himself.

“Young Master Linghu,” Ping One-Finger spoke again, this time in a much calmer voice. “Even God himself would probably have a real hard time healing you completely. It is still possible to extend your life for

several more months or even several more years, though. But you must listen to my advice. Firstly, you must abstain from wine. Secondly, you must stop being fanciful and fickle. Stay away from all women. You can’t even fancy any woman, period. Thirdly, you must not get into fights with others. If you successfully abstain yourself from wine, women, and fights, then you can probably live a few years longer.”

Linghu Chong suddenly broke into a loud laugher. “What’s so funny,” Ping One-Finger snarled.

“When a man lives his life, he has got to enjoy himself carefree. If he couldn’t even drink wine, fancy women, or defend himself when bullied,

what good is he? He’d rather die before it’s too late, to end it quickly.”

“I demand you to abstain yourself. If I can’t cure you, my reputation will be completely ruined,” Ping One-Finger snapped.

Reaching out with his left hand, Linghu Chong held onto the back of Ping One-Finger’s right hand. “Senior master Ping, I am utterly grateful for your great kindness. But life and death lie in the lap of fate. Even with your most excellent skills, it is still no use to try to cure someone destined to die. Not being able to cure my injury will not affect senior master’s reputation in the least.”

Crack! Another man stuck his head inside the shack, and it was Root Fairy this time. “Linghu Chong, are you all cured?” he shouted. “Doctor Ping’s skills are miraculous! He has already cured me,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Root Fairy cried. Rushing into the shack

and grabbing Linghu Chong by his sleeves, he pulled. “Let’s go drink! Let’s go drink!”

“Senior master, many thanks!” Linghu Chong bowed deeply toward Ping One-Finger, who totally ignored Linghu Chong and only murmured indistinguishable to himself.

“I knew he’d be able to cure you. He is the ‘Killer Doctor’, isn’t he? Every time when he cures one, he has to kill on. If he can’t cure one, what is he gonna do, then? Wouldn’t that be troublesome?” Root Fairy grinned. “Nonsense!” Linghu Chong also grinned, and hand in hand, the two

of them walked out of the shack.

People in the clearing had all been drinking merrily in clusters for a good while by now. When Linghu Chong walked among them, they kept presenting more and more wine to him, and to everybody’s greatest

satisfaction, Linghu Chong would pour it straight down his throat every time. Seeing how Linghu Chong laughed and joked together with them at ease and kept drinking to the limit of his capacity, everybody was overjoyed. “Young Master Linghu’s heroic spirit shines above the ninth heaven! We are filled with heartfelt admiration,” they all said.

After drinking over a dozen bowls of wine in succession, Linghu

Chong remembered Ping One-Finger. Filling a bowl with wine and singing “Enjoy the wine today while you still can” loudly, he walked back into the shack.

“Senior master Ping, I propose a toast for you!” he said, but what he saw startled him, and the shock instantly sobered him up. Under the fluttering candlelight, Ping One-Finger’s face appeared to have gone through dramatic changes. A more careful glance soon revealed the differences. The entirely dark hair on his head just moments ago had turned completely gray, and his once smooth and silky face now had deep wrinkles all over it. Within the mere half-an-hour, Ping One-Finger seemed to have aged twenty years. Huddled up by the corner of the table, he was

still murmuring to himself.

“When I cure one, I have to kill one. When I can’t cure one, what do I do, then?”

“Linghu Chong’s life does not really worth much. Senior master, why can’t you just let it go?” Burning with the utmost gratitude, Linghu Chong exclaimed loudly.

“If I can’t cure one, I’ll just have to kill myself, to suit the name ‘Killer Doctor’,” Ping One-Finger murmured. He stood up all of a sudden, and after swaying slightly a few times, he spat out a mouthful of blood and then collapsed to the ground.

Astounded, Linghu Chong ran forward and propped Doctor Ping’s head in his arms, only to find that Ping One-Finger had stopped breathing.

Carrying the body in his arms, Linghu Chong stood up slowly, sorrow welling up in his chest. Gradually, the noises of drinking and partying outside died away as silence slowly swept across, and the feeling of

loneliness and desolation soon filled his heart. He just stood there quietly as drops of tears rolled down his cheeks and fell to his feet. Ping One-Finger’s body seemed to have become heavier and heavier; feeling completely

exhausted, he no longer had enough strength to carry it, and had to put it back down to the ground gently.

“Young Master Linghu!” a man walked into the shack quietly and called out in a whisper. With a quick glance, Linghu Chong recognized him immediately. It was Zu Qianqiu.

“Senior master Zu! Doctor Ping has just passed away,” he murmured in a mournful voice. But Zu Qianqiu didn’t seem to care much about it, and only whispered to him again.

“Young Master Linghu, I’ve come to ask you for a favor. If anyone asks you about me, would you mind saying that you’ve never met Zu

Qianqiu before?”

“Why’s that?” Quite taken aback, Linghu Chong asked.

“It’s really nothing. Only that…only that…er…I’ll see you,” Zu Qianqiu replied.

As soon as Zu Qianqiu walked out of the shack, another man entered.

It was Sima Big this time.

“Young Master Linghu, I have this really embarrassing…er…

embarrassing favor…well…if anyone asks you who have gathered on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge, would you please don’t mention my name? I’d really, really appreciate that.”

“Sure, but what for?” Linghu Chong replied.

Sima Big’s face suddenly turned bashful, as if he were a kid who had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “That…er…that…,” he murmured haltingly.

“If Linghu Chong is not worthy to be your friend, I certainly dare not to claim kinship,” Linghu Chong said coldly.

At those words, Sima Big’s face turned scarlet, and in the next minute, he was already on his knees, bowing down deeply.

“Young Master Linghu, that’s not how I feel at all. I was only asking you to not mention about my coming to the Five-Tyrant Ridge so I don’t make someone angry. If Young Master is still doubtful, then just forget about what I said. I was just breaking wind.”

“You are been too courteous,” Linghu Chong prodded Sima Big up and said hurriedly. “May I ask you a question, Chieftain? Why is it that your coming to the Five-Tyrant Ridge to see me would make someone

angry? If this someone detests Linghu Chong so utterly, he can feel free to come after me, and me only….”

Sima Big shoot his hands disapprovingly at once. “What are you talking about, Young Master?” He grinned. “This someone couldn’t have been more fond of you. Why would there be any ill feelings? Alas, I am so crude, putting my foot in my mouth again. Goodbye, Young Master. Well, in a word, Sima Big likes you very much! If there’s anything you ever need me for, anything at all, just give me a howl, and even if I have to step through water or fire to get there, I’ll be there. If I even show a slight frown, I am a stinking, rotten tortoise egg!” He gave a hard smack to his own chest and then strode out of the shack, leaving a very confused Linghu Chong inside, alone.

“It’s unquestionable that he was all sincere about what he said to me,” Linghu Chong thought to himself, “but why is it that his coming to the

Five-Tyrant Ridge would make someone angry? Yet, the one who is angry about it not only has no ill feelings about me, but also cared for me very much. This is really weird! If that someone is truly fond of me, he should have been very pleased that I’ve made so many friends.” Suddenly an idea came upon him. “Oh, I got it. This someone must have been a senior master from an orthodox school, that’s why he was very fond of me, yet did not

want me to befriend people from the unorthodox sects. Could he be Grand Uncle-Master Feng? But people like that Chieftain Sima are simple and frank. What’s wrong about making friends with them?” “Young Master Linghu?” Someone cleared his throat and called out in a low voice.

“Chief Huang, come in please,” Linghu Chong replied, recognizing Huang Boliu’s voice.

“Young Master Linghu, several friends wanted me to take a message to you. They had to run in light of some urgent matters that just suddenly arose and didn’t have any time to spare for a proper farewell. They ask for your pardon,” Huang Boliu said after entering the shack.

“That’s no problem,” Linghu Chong replied. And sure enough, the noises from outside had become barely auditable and most of the people probably have already left.

“Well,” Huang Boliu continued hesitantly, “this time, we’ve really rushed our fences. First of all, everybody was a bit curious; and secondly, all just wanted to make up to the…Who would have thought…well, of

course, a thin-skinned one naturally wouldn’t want to make this widely known. But we are just a bunch of boors and none had a clue. Besides, Chief Blue is a Miao girl, that….”

Huang Boliu just kept uttering words that did not even hang together, and Linghu Chong found himself bewildered.

“Chief Huang, are you trying to ask me to not mention what happened here on the Five-Tyrant Ridge to anyone?” he finally asked.

“Well, others can deny it, but I am stuck. That’s what you get for being the host. I simply have no choice but to admit that the Heavenly River Faction had entertained Young Master on the Five-Tyrant Ridge.” Huang

Boliu let out a few hollow laughs, looking very much embarrassed.

“It’s not like that entertaining me with wine is a crime guilty beyond forgiveness. Be a true man, what’s this denying nonsense?” Linghu Chong grunted. “Young Master, it’s not like that,” Huang Boliu smiled apologetically. “Alas, I’ve always been a blockhead. If I had asked my daughter-in-law first, or even my granddaughter, we wouldn’t have offended others and still haven’t gotten a clue. Alas, I married my wife when I was seventeen years old. If it weren’t because my wife was so short-lived and died young, I

wouldn’t have been so ignorant of a girl’s concern.”

“No wonder Master always says that these people are heterodox,”

Linghu Chong thought. “This man is so incoherent. Just to entertain me

with wine, he had to talk to his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter first, then he blames his wife for being too short-lived.”

“Well, what’s done is done. I guess there’s only one way out of this. Young Master, would it be all right if you just say that you knew the Old Huang from before and we have been acquaintances for decades? Wait, that’s not right. Would you please just say that our acquaintance can be traced back to eight or nine years back and that you started drinking and gambling with the Old Huang since you were fifteen or sixteen years old?” Huang Boliu continued.

“Didn’t I gamble and drink with you the year I was six? How could you have forgotten? That’s a total of twenty years of acquaintance,” Linghu Chong grinned.

Huang Boliu was taken by surprise, but it didn’t take him long to realize that Linghu Chong was just been sarcastic.

“That’s of course great if Young Master will say so, but…but twenty years ago I was in the business of raiding homes and plundering houses, things one wouldn’t be very proud of. How could Young Master have made fiends with me? Well…that….” Huang Boliu squeezed out a wry smile.

“Chief Huang, your frankness about it just shows that you are as open as the day. I simply must have made you a friends of mine twenty years ago!” Linghu Chong exclaimed.

“Excellent, excellent! Twenty-year long friends we are!” Huang Boliu was ecstatic. After throwing a quick glance back over his shoulder, he

whispered, “Please take care, Young Master. You have a very kind heart. Even though you are not feeling well at the moment, I am sure your illness can be cured eventually. Besides, the Holy…Holy…is infinitely resourceful…ouch!” With a loud cry, he suddenly turned on his heels and walked off in big strides.

“What holy…holy…infinitely resourceful? This is so bizarre!” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think.

Sounds of hoof beats became further and further away, and in the end all the noises died down. After staring blankly at the corpse of Ping One- Finger for some moments, Linghu Chong walked out of the shack and immediately found himself thunderstruck. The ridge was entirely deserted by now; there wasn’t even a shadow anywhere, and all it was left was the utter silence that had swept across everything. He had thought that even though the many people had stopped drinking and some were leaving the ridge, they wouldn’t have all left so abruptly.

“Master! Master-Wife!” he called out, raising his voice, but no one answered. “Second apprentice brother! Third apprentice brother! Little

apprentice sister!” he called out again, but still no one answered. Other than the crescent moon shining sideways from a corner of the sky, he was the only one atop the spacious, yet breezeless Five-Tyrant Ridge.

Wine kettles, bowls, and plates scattered all over the ground, moreover, many kinds of hats, cloaks, and capes were littered everywhere. Apparently everyone had left so hastily that they didn’t even have a spare moment to collect their belongings. Feeling completely bewildered, Linghu Chong thought to himself,

“They have left in such a hurry, as though some kind of great scourges were coming this way and they had to flee right away. When I first met them, these people all looked as though they feared nothing in this world at all.

Why have they suddenly all turned timid? This is so bizarre! And where on earth have Master, Master-Wife, little apprentice sister and the others gone to? If danger is really coming this way, why didn’t anyone warn me?”

Suddenly, a sensation of dreariness and loneliness rolled over him as he moaned at the thought that even though it was a big world he lived in, yet no one really cared about him or his safety. Just moments ago, there had been crowds of people who lined up to make up to him, but now, even the Master and Master-Wife, who had always been on intimate terms with him, had abandoned him, just the same.

A cold, plunging sensation in his stomach soared, which subsequently triggered the energy streams inside him to suddenly surge up. He swayed,

and then collapsed to the ground. A few groans escaped him as he struggled to get back onto his feet vainly, feeling completely feeble in all his limbs.

Closing his eyes, he rested for a few moments, and then struggled again to try to get up, but this time he tried too hard – everything seemed to have

suddenly faded into a complete darkness as a buzzing sound ringed loudly in his ears. Before he knew it, he had fallen unconscious.

Still in a state of wooziness and completely unaware of how long he had been out cold, Linghu Chong heard the soft strokes of a zither echoing in his ears indistinctly. Little by little, he regained his senses, and the

elegant and soothing sounds of the zither play also became clearer and

clearer, which put his mind at complete ease. The song was none other than the “Song of Peace and Serenity,” which the granny at Luoyang had played for him before. As soon as Linghu Chong recognized the music, he felt as though he had been drifting in the boundless ocean for days and had

suddenly taken in the glimpse of an island in the near distance. Feeling utterly cheerful, he got back onto his feet.

The sound of the music seemed to have come from within the shack made of straws, so Linghu Chong staggered his way toward the shack. The shack door had been shut, and Linghu Chong stopped about six or seven paces from it, thinking, “The sound of the zither could only mean one thing

– the granny from the Bamboo-Green Alley in the Luoyang City must have come. Even back in the Luoyang City, she didn’t want me to see her face, how could I just push open the door and enter without her permission?” At that thought, he said with a bow, “Linghu Chong is here to show his respects to the senior master.”

The zither made a few tinkling sounds, as though replying to Linghu Chong, and then resumed playing the song. Linghu Chong felt as though the song had carried much comforting and consoling meanings, which gave him ineffable ease. Realizing that after all, there was at least one person

who still cared for him, he found himself washed over by the sentiment of gratitude.

“Someone is playing the zither! Those heterodoxy, evil scoundrels haven’t all left, yet,” a voice suddenly rose from a distance.

“How dare these evil, lewd devils to come to Henan Province and act unruly? Are they stupid enough to think nothing of us?” a resonant voice replied, and after saying these word, he snarled, raising his voice even higher, “What kind of scumbags and slimeballs are you, huh, running wild on the Five-Tyrant Ridge? Give me your names, all of you!” With resourceful inner energy, these words exploded like thunders.

“No wonder Sima Big, Huang Boliu, Zu Qianqiu and the others were scared off at once. There are really master hands from the orthodox schools coming to challenge them,” Linghu Chong thought. But deep in his heart, he couldn’t help thinking that running away like this was not something a true man would have done. “But if the people coming could have scared away so many people, they had to be senior masters with extraordinary

martial arts skills. What if they ask me about it? How would I answer? It’s probably better if I don’t let them see me.”

At that thought, he walked hurriedly behind the shack.

“And in regard of the old granny inside the shack, they probably won’t trouble her,” he thought to himself.

By then, the zither inside the shack had stopped playing. Sounds of footsteps rose as three men walked onto the ridge. As soon as they arrived at the top of the ridge, all three uttered a cry of surprise. Obviously none of them had expected to see such a silent and empty scene atop the ridge.

“Where did the scoundrels go?” the man with the thunderous voice asked.

“Obviously, after hearing that the two master hands from the Shaolin School were coming to rid evil, they had all fled, tails between their hind legs,” a man in a soft voice answered.

“Don’t mention it! I say mostly it had something to do with the prestige of brother Tan of the Kunlun School,53” another man said with a big smile, and all three broke into loud laughter.

“I see. So two of them are from the Shaolin School, and the third one is from the Kunlun School,” Linghu Chong thought. “The Shaolin School has always been the most reputable school in the Martial World even since the early Tang Dynasty. Just the Shaolin School alone already enjoys a much more renowned name than the entire alliance of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, and their strength perhaps was stronger as well. And furthermore, the Head Master of the Shaolin School, Abbot Fang-Zheng, is well respected by the entire Martial World. As regard to the Kunlun School, Master mentioned many times before that the sword arts of the Kunlun School fly its own colors and have qualities of both power and speed. When these two schools have joined forces, the combined power can be devastating. Most probably they are only vanguards, and more reinforcement are just on their way. But why did Master and Master-Wife have to avoid them?” Then he thought better of it, “I got it. Master is the

Head Master of a reputable orthodox school. It would be embarrassing for him to be seen mixed up with people like Huang Boliu who don’t have a good reputation.”

“Didn’t we just hear someone playing the zither a moment ago?

Where is that one hiding then? Brother Xin and Brother Yi, there’s

something odd here,” the man named Tan from the Kunlun School spoke again.

“That’s right! Brother Tan, you are so attentive. Let’s search around and ferret him out,” the man with the thunderous voice suggested.

“Senior apprentice brother Xin, I’ll check out that shack over there,” another voice replied.

From these words, Linghu Chong could tell that the man’s surname was Yi, and the man with the thunderous voice had a surname of Xin and was the man’s senior apprentice brother. Then he heard the man named Yin walking toward the shack.

“I am alone by myself. It’s already late at night; it would not have been appropriate manners for a female to greet male visitors,” a clear voice of a female rose from inside the shack.

“She’s a woman,” Xin uttered.

“Was it you who played the zither earlier?” the man named Yi asked. “That’s right,” the granny answered. “Why don’t you play a few notes for us?” Yi proposed.

“I did not know you before; how could I play the zither for you, sir?” the granny replied.

“Who cares,” Xin let out a disgruntled snort. “So many excuses. I bet there’s something odd inside the shack. Let’s get in there and find out.”

“What is a woman, alone, doing on the Five-Tyrant Ridge so late at night? Most likely you are of the same kind as those heterodoxy devils. We are coming in for a search,” Yi exclaimed and walked toward the shack door.

“Hold it!” Linghu Chong stepped out from his hiding place and yelled, blocking the entrance to the shack.

Having not expected this at all, the three men were slightly taken aback. But when they saw that it was only a young man, they didn’t care much.

“Who are you, young man? What are you doing hiding so sneakily in the dark?” Xin yelled loudly.

“I am Linghu Chong, an apprentice of the Huashan School. I am here to pay my respects to senior masters of the Shaolin School and the Kunlun School,” Linghu Chong replied, bowing deeply toward the three.

“Oh, you are from the Huashan School. What are you doing here?” Yi let out a snort and inquired.

Linghu Chong glanced at the three men. The man named Xin was not particularly tall, but his chest protruded out like a drum; no wonder he had such a thunderous voice. Another middle-aged man wore the same type of dark reddish brown long robe; then he had to be the one named Yi from the same school. The man named Tan from the Kunlun School carried a sword on his back. With a loose robe with long sleeves, he dressed with negligent grace. Instead of waiting for Linghu Chong to answer, Yi asked again, “If you say you are an apprentice of an orthodox school, why are you on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge?”

Ever since Linghu Chong had heard them cursing wildly without a qualm, he had been greatly annoyed. Now when he heard the incivility in the man’s tone, he rebuffed, “The three senior masters are also members of the orthodox schools. Aren’t you on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge as well?”

“Well said,” the man named Tan laughed. “About this zither playing woman in the shack, do you know who she is?”

“She is an elderly granny with eminent virtues who stands aloof from the worldly affairs,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Nonsense!” Yi reproved. “Listen to her voice. How can she be that old. What granny rubbish!”

“So this granny has a melodious voice. That’s nothing strange! Even her nephew is twenty or thirty years older than you, not mentioning granny herself.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Move aside! We’ll go in and take a look, ourselves,” Yi demanded, but Linghu Chong stretched his arms and blocked the way.

“Granny has already said it. It’s already late at night, and it would not have been appropriate manners for a female to greet male visitors. She doesn’t know any of you. Why would she want to see you for no reasons?”

Yi suddenly whisked his sleeve, which sent a stream of force

sweeping toward Linghu Chong. Having lost all of his inner strength, Linghu Chong had no way of withstanding the strike. Thump, he collapsed down.

Yi did not expect him to have no inner strength at all, and was taken by quite a surprise. “You say you are an apprentice of the Huashan School? I am afraid you are just blowing your own horn!” he sneered and then walked toward the shack, again.

Linghu Chong stood back up, a scratch mark on his face – apparently from the sharp rocks on the ground.

“Granny does not want to see you. How can you be so insolent? Back in the city of Luoyang, I talked with granny for many days and still didn’t get to see her.”

“Hey chap, watch out for your manners. You’d better move aside, or you’ll only end up with another big fall,” Yi said with a menacing grin.

“The Shaolin School is the most reputable orthodox school in the

entire Martial World. The two of you must have been elite laymen masters of the Shaolin School. And this one must have been a renowned master of the Kunlun School. But bullying an elderly granny late at night? Aren’t you afraid to become the laughing stock for the entire Martial World?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Where do you find so much rubbish?” Yi bellowed. Suddenly, he

shot his left hand out and with a loud smack, slapped Linghu Chong heavily in the left cheek.

Although Linghu Chong had lost all of his inner strength, seeing Yi lowing his right shoulder slightly, he knew immediately that Yi was going to strike him with his left hand. He wanted to dodge out of the way hurriedly, except that his body did not comply, and the strike landed on his face, solid and square. The force sent his body spinning and he fell down once again.

“Junior apprentice brother Yi, this man doesn’t know martial arts. There’s no need to lower yourself to the same level as him. Those evil devils have all ran away. Let’s go!” the man named Xin proposed. “All the heterodoxy evil devils in the Shandong Province and the Henan Province congregated on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge all of a

sudden, and then dispersed into nowhere so abruptly. The congregation was strange, and the dispersion was also peculiar. We must get to the bottom of it. I think there’s a good chance we’ll be able to find some clues inside that shack,” Yi replied.

Linghu Chong stood up again, a sword now emerging in his grip.

“Senior master Yi, I owe this granny in the shack great favor. As long as I am still breathing, I won’t let you offend her,” he declared firmly.

“With what? Just with the sword in your hand?” Yi burst into loud laughter sarcastically.

“I am a junior with only insignificant skills. How can I ever be a match for an elite fighter of the Shaolin School? However, nothing can weigh more than righteous reasons. If you want to enter the shack, you’ll have to kill me first,” Linghu Chong replied with dignity.

“Junior apprentice brother Yi, this chap certainly has moral integrity.

Why don’t we have it his way and just let it go?” Xin urged.

‘I heard that the sword arts of your Huashan School are rather original, and there’s also the break up of the Sword-Branch and the Qi- Branch. Now, do you belong to the Sword-Branch, or the Qi-Branch, or, rather, the Fart-Branch? Ha-ha! Ha-ha!” Yi grinned an evil grin and then broke into a loud laughter. At the sound of his laughter, Xin and Tan also joined him and laughed out loud.

“Use one’s strength to bully the weak, what kind of reputable orthodox schools are you? Did you say that you were members of the Shaolin School? You probably are only boasting!” Linghu Chong spoke again, loud and clear. Exasperated, Yi raised his right hand and was ready to strike it toward Linghu Chong’s chest. If this strike got launched, for sure Linghu Chong

would be killed on the spot.

“Hold it!” Xin stopped Yi from striking out. “Linghu Chong, are you saying that apprentices of a reputable orthodox school can not fight the others?”

“Apprentices of a reputable orthodox school always have legit reasons behind each fight,” Linghu Chong answered.

Yi stretched his palm out slowly. “I’ll count one, two, three. By the time I count to three, if you still don’t move aside, I’ll break three ribs of yours. One!”

“Breaking three ribs of mine? That’s nothing!” Linghu Chong let out a slight smile.

“Two!” Yi counted loudly.

“Little friend, this junior apprentice of mine really put words into deeds. I think you’d better move aside quickly,” Xin suggested.

“But words coming out of my mouth also count. Linghu Chong is not dead, yet. How can I let you insult the granny?” Linghu Chong replied with a smile.

After these words, Linghu Chong knew that Yi’s palm strike would be soon coming. Taking a deep breath secretly, he put all his strength onto his right arm. But the effort immediately brought a violent pain to his chest as thousands of imaginary golden stars started flickering wildly in front of his eyes.

“Three!” Yi snarled and took a step forward with his left foot. Seeing that Linghu Chong had his back leaning against the door plank of the shack, a sneer brewing on the corner of his mouth, having no intention to move

aside, Yi struck out with his right palm. Linghu Chong almost suffocated when the force carried by the strike reached him. He pushed his long sword out, the tip of his sword pointing at the middle of Yi’s palm. The positioning and the timing of the push were

simply brilliant! Yi’s palm strike was already fully executed and it was already too late for him to withdraw the strike. A light dull sound and a

loud cry of pain echoed as the tip of the long sword penetrated the middle of Yi’s palm. Pulling his palm backward hastily, with another dull sound, he had drawn his hand off the sword tip, but the damage was done. He had inflicted a severe injury. Leaping back dozens of feet, he drew his long

sword by his waist with a mixed feeling of shock and fury.

“The damn chap was only acting dumb. So you actually have outstanding Kung Fu. I…I’ll fight you to the end!” he growled.

Xin, Yi, and Tan, all three of them, were experts in sword arts. Seeing that when Linghu Chong pushed his sword put, he wasn’t using any move, and only with his control of the positioning and timing of his sword, he had managed to have his opponent sending his palm onto the tip of the sword of his own accord. His attainments in sword arts had truly reached the highest stage of the realm.

Although Yi was infuriated, he dared not to underestimate Linghu Chong. Holding the long sword in his left hands, he shot out three quick thrusts, all of which were fake attacks to test the opponent. Each of the thrusts only went half way before he drew the sword back.

That night when Linghu Chong had blinded fifteen elite fighters outside of the Buddha of Herb Monastery, even though he had already lost all his inner strength by then, he had still been in a much better shape

compared to now. The several ordeals since then had really done him in. By now he almost felt incapable of raising his sword. Seeing the three fake

attacks from Yi and how the sword tip vibrated continuously, he knew those must have been superior sword moves of the Shaolin School, which only made him more reluctant of making Yi an enemy.

“I intend absolutely no offense to three senior masters. If the three of you would walk away, I…I will apologize most sincerely.”

“It’s too late to beg for mercy now!” Yi grunted. Thrusting his sword forward in lightning speed, he shot the sword tip toward Linghu Chong’s throat.

Linghu Chong knew too well that with his current weak physical

condition, there was not a chance that he would be able to dodge out of this attack. Having no alternatives, he also thrust his sword forward. Even though his thrust was launched after Yi’s thrust, it reached the target earlier. With a thud, the tip of his sword struck Yi on the vital acupoint on his left wrist. Yi opened his palm in pain, and his long sword fell to the ground.

By then, the light of dawn had already appeared from the east. Staring at the drops of blood rolling down his left wrist and then dripping down to the ground, Yi couldn’t even believe his eyes. After a long while, he heaved a deep sigh, turned around, and strode away. The man named Xin never

wanted to become enemies of the Huashan School to start with. Now after he witnessed this brilliant and unsurpassed thrust Linghu Chong had just put on display, he knew he wouldn’t even stand a chance fighting Linghu Chong. Concerned about his apprentice brother’s injury, he called out,

“Apprentice brother Yi,” and then ran after Yi.

“Are you really an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School?” the man named Tan finally asked after gazing at Linghu Chong for a good while.

“Yes, I am!” Linghu Chong answered as he struggled to maintain his balance on the verge of a total collapse. Tan could tell that Linghu Chong was suffering from very serious internal injuries. Even though Linghu Chong had showed outstanding

sword skills, all he had to do was to wait a few moments more. He didn’t even have to attach, and Linghu Chong would just collapse on his own.

“One injured and one scared away, both elite fighters from the Shaolin School suffered setbacks because of this young man from the

Huashan School. If I can knock him down and then seize him, bringing him to the Shaolin Temple, not only would I have done the Shaolin School a great favor, our Kunlun School would also look real good in the central region of the Martial World,” Tan thought inwardly as he took a step forward and then said with a smile.

“Young man, you sword skills are not too shabby at all. How about a contest in the realm of palm and hand techniques between the two of us?

What do you say?”

Just a glance at Tan’s face had given Linghu Chong enough idea

about what Tan had in his mind. “This man is so deceitful. He is even more detestable than that Yi from the Shaolin School,” he couldn’t help but think. Raising his sword, he stabbed it out toward Tan’s shoulder, but his strength drained out of him so quickly that the stab only traveled halfway before he lost the grip of the sword. “Clank!” His sword fell to the ground.

Tan was almost ecstatic. Wasting no time, he struck out with a powerful palm strike, and the strike landed heavily on Linghu Chong’s

chest. Linghu Chong’s body jerked back violently as blood spurted out from mouth. There was only a short space between the two, and the spurt of blood splashed all over Tan’s face, leaving even a few drops inside his mouth. Tan felt the taste of blood inside his mouth, but he didn’t pay much attention to it, and raised his right palm, ready for another palm strike, deeply afraid that Linghu Chong might pick up his sword and launch a counterattack. But suddenly he felt great dizziness, and before he knew it, he had dropped to the ground.

Seeing that Tan had suddenly fainted when he, himself, was at his last gasp, Linghu Chong was taken by total surprise. But at the meanwhile, he

couldn’t help feeling very lucky. Tan’s face now showed a shade of dark color, and the muscle on his face twisted and twitched, making his face looking utterly strange and horrible.

“You have only yourself to blame for not initializing your inner strength properly!” Linghu Chong muttered.

He looked around him in all directions. It was indeed a very strange scene. There was not another person on the Five-Tyrant Ridge. The only

sound was the chirping from the many birds on treetops, and the only things left were the many wine kettles, bowls, and dish plates, which scattered all over the place.

“Granny, how have you been these days?” after wiping the blood off his lips with his sleeves, he asked.

“Young Master, you are too fatigued right now. Please sit down and take a rest,” the granny replied.

Linghu Chong was truly exhausted by now. Hearing the granny’s

words, he sat down to the ground. The zither music rose gently in the shack once again. It almost felt like a stream of clear spring, which had washed over his entire body, and then flew through him. Linghu Chong felt as though his body had become lighter and lighter, and had floated on top of the white clouds that felt like cotton wool. After a long time, the sound of the zither became lower and lower, until eventually it was so dim that it was barely audible.

Linghu Chong felt much rejuvenated. Getting back onto his feet, he bowed deeply. “Many thanks, Granny. I have benefited a great deal from your kind music.”

“You risked your life to repel powerful enemies, saving me from being humiliated by rascals. It is I who feel thankful for you,” the granny replied.

“Don’t mention it. I was only doing the right thing.”

The granny fell silent, and a few tender sounds from the zither echoed, as though the granny was plucking the strings of the zither

randomly while wavering upon something in her mind. After a while, she asked.

“Where…where are you going now?”

Feeling of desolation welled up in Linghu Chong’s heart, which

almost choked him and made him cough uncontrollably for a good while. It just seemed that there was not a place between heaven and earth he could

shelter himself.

“I…I have nowhere to go,” after finally catching his breath, Linghu Chong murmured.

“Aren’t you going to look for your Master and Master-Wife? How about your apprentice brothers and apprentice…sister?”

“Them…I don’t know where they went. With my injury, the chance of finding them is too slim. Besides, even if I do find them, alas!” Linghu

Chong heaved a deep sigh, thinking, “Even if I do find them, so what? They don’t want me now.”

“You injury is very severe. Why don’t you visit some beautiful

scenery to relieve boredom? Wouldn’t that be better than feeling miserable in vain?”

“Granny, you are right!” Linghu Chong let out a few laughs. “I never really cared much about life and death to begin with. Farewell for now! I guess I’ll be strolling about for some fun!”

After bowing toward the shack one more time, Linghu Chong turned around and walked away. But only after three steps, he heard the granny’s voice again.

“Are you…are you leaving already?” “Yes.” Linghu Chong halted his steps.

“But you have severe injuries. If you travel by yourself, there will be no one to tend upon you along the trip. That won’t be appropriate.”

Sensing the caring and concern in the granny’s words, Linghu Chong felt another surge of warmth in his heart.

“Thank you, granny, for your kind concern. My injury is incurable.

It’s really no difference whether I die earlier or later, here or there.”

“Hmm, I see. But…but…” the granny paused for quite a while before finishing her sentence, “what if those two rascals from the Shaolin School

come back to cause more trouble? What should I do? And that Tan Diren from the Kunlun School is only unconscious temporarily. Once he wakes up, I am afraid he’ll trouble me more.”

“Granny, where are you going? Why don’t I escort you for a stage of the journey?” Linghu Chong suggested.

“That would have been great, except that there’s a big difficulty involved. I am afraid that it will trouble you a great deal,” the granny answered.

“Granny, you saved my life. It’s no trouble at all.”

The granny heaved a sigh and then said, “A very formidable enemy of mine came to the Bamboo-Green Alley to give me trouble, that’s why I have come here to hide. But I am sure he would trace me down in no time.

Your injury has not recovered and won’t be able to fight him. I only want to find a secluded place to hide from him temporarily, so I can wait till all my helps arrive before settling accounts with him. If I ask you to escort me, then firstly, you are injured, and secondly, wouldn’t it bore you to death for such an active and lively young man to accompany such an old granny?”

Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter.

“Is that it? That’s a piece of cake. Where are you headed? I’ll go with you. Even if it’s the end of the earth, as long as I am not dead, I’ll

accompany you there.”

“I’ll be troubling you then. Are you serious that even if it’s the end of the earth, you’ll still accompany me there?” the granny asked, her voice filled with joy.

“That’s right! Even if it’s the end of the earth, Linghu Chong will accompany Granny there,” Linghu Chong promised.

“But there’s another difficulty here,” the granny added. “What is that?” Linghu Chong asked.

“My face is very ugly. Anyone seeing my face will be very much frightened. Therefore I do not wish anyone to see my face. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have objected those three men when they wanted to enter the

shack to see me. You must promise me that under any circumstance, you

will never cast a look at me. You can’t look at my face, my body, my hands, my feet, or even my clothes.”

“I am grateful that Granny cared for me and I respect Granny very much. What has Granny’s appearance has anything to do with it?” Linghu Chong replied.

“If you can’t promise that, please leave now.”

“Fine, fine! I promise. I promise that I’ll never cast a look at you under any circumstances,” Linghu Chong agreed hurriedly.

“You can’t even cast a look at my back,” the granny added. “Could your back have been utterly ugly as well?” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “The ugliest back had to be from a midget, or a hunchback. But even those are no big deal. It’s not gonna be easy if I can’t even look at your back throughout such a long journey.”

“You can’t do it?” the granny asked, sensing Linghu Chong’s hesitation.

“I can. I can. If I cast even one look at Granny, I’ll cut my own eyes out,” Linghu Chong answered.

“You’d better remember that. You go first. I’ll follow behind you.”

“Sure!” Linghu Chong answered and then began taking the path down the ridge. Sounds of footsteps rose behind him. The granny followed.

After walking for a few dozen of feet, the granny handed Linghu Chong a branch from behind.

“You can use this branch as your crutch.” “Okay,” Linghu Chong answered.

Using the branch as a crutch to support himself, he walked down the ridge slowly. After some more walking, he suddenly remembered

something.

“Granny, you know that name of that Tan from the Kunlun School?” he asked.

“Oh, that Tan Diren is a good hand amount the second generation of apprentices in the Kunlun School. He mastered about sixty to seventy percent of his Master’s sword skills. But compared to his big apprentice brother and second apprentice brother, he is still far behind. That big fellow Xin Guoliang from the Shaolin School has better sword skills than him.”

“So that man with a loud voice is named Xin Guoliang. He seemed to be reasonable.” “His junior apprentice brother’s name is Yi Guozi. That one was a total jerk. Those two thrusts of yours, one penetrating his palm, the other one injuring his left wrist, were quite handsome.”

“I had no choice. Alas, now I’ve started a feud with the Shaolin School. That can only bring endless of future trouble.”

“What about the Shaolin School? There’s a good chance we can beat them. I didn’t expect that Tan Diren would hit you with a palm strike, and I had no idea that you would spurt blood.”

“Granny, you saw everything? I wonder why that Tan Diren suddenly passed out cold.”

“Didn’t you know? Blue Phoenix and the four Miao Girls under her command gave you a lot of blood. They are around venomous pests days and nights, so naturally their blood contained poison. Besides, the Five- Sylph Wine is utmost toxic. When your poisonous blood splashed into his mouth, of course he could not stand it.”

“Oh!” Linghu Chong finally understood. “How could I stand it, then?

How odd! I never had any grudges against that Chief Blue. I wonder why she would want to harm me.”

“Who said she wanted to harm you? She had all good intentions, humph, wishful thinking, wanting to cure your injury and all. To poison your blood yet preserve your life is the trick her Five-Sylph Sect is really good at.”

“I see. I thought that Chief Blue had no ill wills toward me. Doctor Ping One-Finger said that her medicinal wine was the utmost tonic.”

“Of course she had no ill wills toward you. She couldn’t have had more good wills,” the granny exclaimed, which was returned by a smile on Linghu Chong’s face.

“Do you think that Tan Diren will survive it?” “That depends on his own internal strength and how much poisonous blood splashed into his mouth.”

Remembering the expression on Tan Diren’s face after he was poisoned, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but shiver. After walking another hundred of feet, he suddenly remembered another thing and shouted out immediately.

“Oops, Granny, will you please wait here for me? I need to get back onto the ridge.”

“Why?” the granny asked.

“The remains of Doctor Ping’s body is still on the ridge and have not been buries yet.”

“No need to go back. I’ve already handled his body.”

“Oh, so Granny has already given Doctor Ping a burial.”

“Nah, it wasn’t a burial. I dissolved his body using dissolvent powder. Did you expect me to stare at a dead corpse all night long? Ping One-Finger didn’t look that great when he was still alive. After he turned into a corpse, you can imagine how he looked.”

Linghu Chong answered with a snort, but he couldn’t help thinking that the granny’s behavior was beyond all expectations. He owed Ping One- Finger great favor, and after Ping One-Finger passed away, he should have given him a proper burial, but this Granny opted to dissolve the body using dissolvent powder. The more he thought about this, the more uneasy he became, but as to why it was wrong to dissolve the body using dissolvent powder, he could not say.

After the both of them traveled for over a mile, they had arrived at the plain at the foot of the ridge.

“Open your palm!” the granny demanded. “Okay!” Linghu Chong answered, feeling surprised, wondering what kind of trick she was going to play this time. He opened his palm as directed, and then with a small pop, a small object was thrown from behind his back and fell right in the middle of his palm. It was a yellow pill about the size of one’s little finger.

“Swallow it and then take a rest under that big tree,” the granny directed.

“Sure!” Linghu Chong answered and then swallowed the pill down his throat.

“I gave you medicine to extend your life only because I rely on your brilliant sword skills for a safe journey, so you won’t suddenly die on me and make me lose my escort. It’s not because I have any good intentions

for…for you, much less an attempt to save your life. You’d better remember that,” the granny exclaimed.

Linghu Chong acknowledged with a snort. Walking by the tree he sat down, leaning against the trunk of the tree, when a stream of warmth rose up from his lower abdomen and then flowed into the many passages and

channels inside his body. It felt as though the stream of warmth also carried much energy and rejuvenated all his internal organs and arteries.

“This pill obviously is of great benefit for me, but the granny just wouldn’t admit that she cared for me, and kept saying that she was only taking advantage of me. There are only people who deny everything once

they took advantage of others. Why does she speak the opposite?” Linghu Chong pondered. “And when she threw the pill into my palm, the pill did not even bounce. Apparently she threw it with a sinking force, which could only have been executed with very high-level inner energy. Her Kung Fu

skills are much higher than mine. She doesn’t need me to protect her. Well, if this is what she wants, I’ll just comply.” “Granny, are you tired? Let’s go now,” after a brief rest, Linghu Chong stood up and said.

“I am tired. I need a bit more rest,” the granny answered.

“Okay,” Linghu Chong replied as he thought to himself, “For elder people, despite how excellent their Kung Fu skills might be, they still lack the level of vigor a youth possesses. I really should have shown more

solicitude for the granny instead of only thinking about myself.” At that thought, he sat back down.

“Let’s go,” the granny finally said after a long while.

Linghu Chong answered with a nod, and then walked at the front while the granny followed him behind. The pill certainly made a great

difference. Linghu Chong found himself walking at a brisk pace. Following the granny’s instructions, he always picked desolated mountain trails. After a few miles of walking, the mountain trail gradually turned more and more rugged and rough, which made Linghu Chong breath more heavily.

“I am tired. I need to take a break,” the granny suddenly announced. “Sure,” Linghu Chong responded and then sat down on the ground,

thinking to himself, “Her breathing is still deep and calm. She can’t be tired at all. She obviously wants me to take a break, but would rather claim that she was the one tired.”

After resting for about ten minutes, the two set out walking again. After turning a mountain ridge, they suddenly heard a loud voice talking.

“Everybody hurry up with your meal. We need to get out of here as

soon as possible. This place is apt to get into trouble,” the voice exclaimed, which was answered by dozens of people all together.

Linghu Chong paused his steps and glanced over, then saw dozens of men sitting in a circle eating their food on a stretch of meadow by the mountain stream. By then, these men had also spotted Linghu Chong and someone had already shouted out.

“It’s Young Master Linghu!”

Linghu Chong vaguely remembered seeing them on top of the Five- Tyrant Ridge the night before. Just when he was about to shout his greetings, suddenly, the dozens of men all froze and goggled toward the direction behind his back in dead silence, their faces looking totally

awkward. Some looked terrified, while some others looked perplexed and alarmed, as though they had suddenly encountered something so inexpressibly peculiar, something they did not know how to deal with.

As soon as Linghu Chong saw the bizarre scene, he wanted to look back over his shoulder to find out what on earth had happened behind him that would have turned the dozens of people into clay idols and wooden dummies, but he suddenly realized: these people only reacted like this because they saw the Granny behind him, and he had promised the granny that he would never cast a look at her. At that thought, he hurriedly jerked his head to look forward again. The strength he put in was so overwhelming that his neck muscle ached because of it. But meanwhile, his curiosity

soared.

“Why are they so terrified at the sight of the granny? Could the granny have really been so gruesome looking that it makes her totally out of this world?” he couldn’t help but think.

Suddenly, a man raised the dagger he had been using to slice meat and stabbed toward his two eyes. Instantly, blood gushed out of his eye sockets.

“What are you doing?” astonished, Linghu Chong shouted out.

“I lost my eyes three days ago, and have not been able to see anything ever since,” the man exclaimed loudly. Within seconds, another two men also drew their short knives and blinded themselves with a few quick stabs. “We’ve been blind for ages. We could not see a thing,” they also exclaimed.

Linghu Chong was dumbstruck. Seeing that the rest men in the group also each drew out their daggers and awls and were about to blind themselves just the same, he yelled out hastily.

“Hey! Hey! Hold it! Let’s talk it over. Don’t hurt yourselves. Why… why do you do that?”

“I was going to swear an oath that I’ll never dare talk about it, but I am afraid that it would not be convincing,” a man answered in a saddened voice.

“Granny, please do something. Ask them to stop blinding themselves, will you?” Linghu Chong shouted.

“Very well, I trust you. There’s an island called Twine-Dragon Island in the East Sea. Has any of you heard of it before?” the granny asked.

“There’s an island called Twine-Dragon Island about two hundred miles from the Quanzhou City in Fujian. I heard that it’s an untraversed and desolated island,” an old man answered.

“That’s the one. Why don’t you set out right away to have some fun on the Twine-Dragon Island? There’s no need for you to ever come back to the central region again,” the granny said.

“We’ll set out right away!” the dozens of men answered in unison, all looking very pleased.

“We’ll never speak to anybody else on our way there,” someone added.

“Whether you speak or not, what has that gotten anything to do with me?” the granny spoke in a chilling tone. “Right! Right! I was just talking rubbish,” the man answered immediately, and raising his hands high, he began slapping his own face.

“Go now!” the granny ordered.

At the command, the dozens of men broke into a gallop. The tree blind fellows, helped by the arm by their fellow companions, also walked away in strides. Within moments, all of them had vanished from sight.

Linghu Chong gasped with astonishment. “Just a few words from the granny have banished all those people to a desolate island in the East Sea, with no hope of returning within this life, yet all these people appeared highly delighted at the punishment as though they have just received their pardoned. This is just so inconceivable.”

He walked on silently, many thoughts surging in his mind, thinking that the granny following behind him had to be the most eccentric oddball he had ever seen.

“I just hope we won’t walk into more friends from the Five-Tyrant Ridge along our way,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “They all came warmheartedly for curing my injury. If by any chance they bump into the granny, then either they had to blind themselves, or be banished to some

barren island in the sea. That would certainly not be worthwhile. It looks as if the reason why Chief Huang, Chieftain Sima, and Zu Qianqiu asked me to pretend that I had never met them, and the reason why the many people on the Five-Tyrant Ridge dispersed all of a sudden, were all because of this granny. They were scared of this granny. So what…what kind of horrible monster is she?” At that thought, he couldn’t help but shiver.

After they had walked another three or four miles, a voice suddenly shouted a distance away behind them, “That’s Linghu Chong over there.” The voice was extremely loud and thunderous. Linghu Chong didn’t even have to guess whose voice that had belonged to – Xin Guoliang from the Shaolin School.

“I don’t want to see him. You muddle with him,” the granny declared. “All right,” Linghu Chong answered as the scrubs by his side rustled.

The granny had hidden herself among the bushes.

“Uncle-Master, that Linghu Chong is wounded. He can’t walk very fast,” Xin Guoliang’s voice rose again.

There was actually still quite a distance between them, but because Xin Guoliang’s voice was simply too loud, even just a casual remark from him would make its way into Linghu Chong’s ears clearly.

“So he came with his Uncle-Master,” Linghu Chong thought. Since they’ve already seen him, he decided to just sit by the side of the path and wait for them.

After a short while, sounds of footsteps echoed as several men walked along the path in quick strides. Xin Guoliang and Yi Guozi were both

among the group. There were also two monks and a middle-aged man. One of the monks was a very old man with many wrinkles across his face. The other monk was about thirty years of age and held a Buddhist’s Spade in his hand.

Linghu Chong stood up and then bowed down deeply.

“Linghu Chong, a junior of the Huashan School here shows his respects to the many senior masters of the Shaolin School. May I have the honor to hear senior masters’ names?” he greeted.

“Chap…” Yi Guozi yelled but interrupted by the old monk.

“Old monk’s Buddhist’s name is Fang-Sheng,” the old monk replied. As soon as the old monk spoke out, Yi Guozi held his tongue, but the glooming expression on his face clearly showed that he was still infuriated

about the setback he suffered moments back. “I pay my respects to the Great Master!” Linghu Chong put his palms together and bowed.

“Young Hero, please don’t be over-courteous. How is your respectful master Mr. Yue?” Fang-Sheng nodded and then spoke with a kind and pleasant countenance.

At first, when Linghu Chong heard the group bearing down after him so menacingly, he was alarmed and on tenterhooks. After seeing Monk Fang-Sheng speaking and behaving with the demeanor of a sensible and

accomplished monk, also knowing that monks of the “Fang” generation were the most senior ones in the Shaolin Temple as apprentice brothers of

the temple abbot, Great Master Fang-Zheng, he reckoned that Monk Fang- Sheng was not someone who persisted unreasonably like that Yi Guozi and felt some relief at once.

“Thank you for asking, Great Master! My Master is well and sound,” he answered respectfully.

“These four are all my Nephew-Apprentices. This monk’s Buddhist’s name is Jue-Yue, this is Nephew-Apprentice Huang Guobo, this is Nephew- Apprentice Xin Guoliang, and that’s Nephew-Apprentice Yi Guozi. I believe you have met Xin and Yi before,” Fang-Sheng introduced.

“Ah, yes! Linghu Chong here shows his respects to four senior masters. I have severe wounds and cannot move about freely. If there’s any lack of manners on my side, I beg for senior masters’ pardon.” Linghu

Chong cupped his hands.

“You have severe wounds?” Yi Guozi let out a disgruntled snort.

“Do you really have severe wounds? Guozi, was it you who wounded him?” Fang-Sheng asked.

“It was just a misunderstanding. There’s nothing to it. Senior master Yi threw me to the ground with a brush of his sleeve and then hit me with a palm strike also. But don’t worry. I can probably still hang on to my life for a short while. Great Master, you don’t need to reproach senior master Yi,” Linghu Chong said.

He intentionally mentioned about his severe wounds at the very beginning, and also blamed it all on Yi Guozi, thinking that Fang-Sheng, the capable and senior monk, would certainly not allow those four Nephew- Apprentices of his to make trouble for him again.

“Senior master Xin saw everything with his own eyes on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge,” he continued. “But since Great Master has come yourself. That’s a great favor for a junior like me. I promise you that I’ll never mentioned this incident in front of my Master. You can rest assured, Great Master, that even though my wounds are incurable, this incident will not stir up any dispute between the Five Mountains Sword Alliance and the Shaolin School.”

With these words, it sounded as though it was all Yi Guozi’s fault that he had suffered severe and incurable injuries.

“That…that…that’s total nonsense! You were severely injured all along. What have I gotten anything to do with it?” Yi Guozi snarled.

“Well, senior master Yi, I don’t think it’s a good idea to mention that to anybody. If the story gets out, wouldn’t that have stained the clean fame of the Shaolin School?” Linghu Chong let out a gentle sigh and then said quietly.

Xin Guoliang, Huang Guobo, and Jue-Yue all nodded slightly, fully understanding what Linghu Chong had meant. The “Fang” generation monks of the Shaolin School had extreme seniority in the Martial World. Although the Shaolin School is a separate school from the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, when ranked by seniority, they would have equated to masters one generation above the Head Masters of each of the Five Mountains sword schools. Therefore, Xin Guoliang and Yi Guozi’s

seniority would also be one generation above Linghu Chong. When Yi Guozi had fought Linghu Chong, one could have already called that a senior bullies a junior, not mentioning that the Shaolin School had two

masters at the scene, and on top of that, Linghu Chong had already been

severely injured before the fight. The Shaolin School had very strict school rules. If Yi Guozi had really slain a junior from the Huashan School, the punishment could have been as severe as the capital punishment to pay with his life. At least, he would have been stripped off all his Kung Fu skills and be expelled from the school. When Yi Guozi thought of the consequences, his face whitened from fear.

“Young hero, please come closer. Let me take a look at your wounds,” Fang-Sheng proposed.

Linghu Chong stepped closer. Fang-Sheng reached out with his right hand and then gripped Linghu Chong’s wrist. As soon as he placed his fingers on the “Da-Yuan” and the “Jing-Qu” acupoints on Linghu Chong’s wrist, he felt a stream of peculiar inner energy inside Linghu Chong’s body, which gave his fingers a violent jolt and made them slip off the acupoints.

Fang-Sheng felt a shock in his heart. He was one of the few top fighters among the highest generation of Shaolin monks. It was simply unimaginably queer that the inner energy inside the young man was powerful enough to jolt away his fingers. How could he have known that there were inner energy streams from the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and Monk No Commandment inside Linghu Chong’s body? Although he had

top notch Kung Fu, himself, when caught off guard, he still could not stand the combined force from those seven elite fighters. He couldn’t help but utter a light cry of surprise. Fixed his stare on Linghu Chong’s eyes, he

spoke slowly. “Young hero, you are not from the Huashan School.”

“I am really an apprentice of the Huashan School. I was the first apprentice my master Mr. Yue ever took in,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Then why did you learn the heretical Kung Fu from heterodoxy people afterwards?” Fang-Sheng requested.

“Uncle-Master, this chap is without a doubt using heterodoxy Kung Fu. There’s no point denying it. Didn’t we see a woman follow behind him just now? Where is she hiding now? I bet she is no good egg, acting so

clandestine and all!” Yi Guozi cut in.

“You are a member of a renowned school. How can you be so out of manners?” hearing Yi Guozi insulting the granny, Linghu Chong yelled

angrily. “Granny just doesn’t want to see you so as not to get angry over you.”

“You tell her to come out. Whether she is good or evil, my Uncle- Master can tell with his sharp eyes,” Yi Guozi dared him.

“Our dispute started because you were disrespectful to my granny.

Haven’t you spoken enough nonsense?” Linghu Chong rebuffed.

“Young hero Linghu,” Jue-Yue joined in, “earlier when I looked by the hill, I could see that the woman following behind you walked in very nimble steps, and didn’t seem to be an aged woman.”

“Granny is a member of the Martial World. It’s only natural that she had nimble steps. What’s so odd about that?” Linghu Chong disagreed.

“Jue-Yue, we are members of the Buddha’s order. How can we insist on seeing the elder, female member of other people?” Fang-Sheng reproved. Turning toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Young hero Linghu, there are many doubtful points in this matter that I could not figure out. You are indeed severely wounded. But your internal wounds are completely out of the ordinary. It could not have been my Nephew-Apprentice Yi who had caused the injuries. It is fate that has brought us here together today. I wish you a speedy recovery. Farewell for now. Your internal injury is very

serious. I have two pills here that you can take. But I am afraid they won’t cure….” Fang-Sheng reached into his chest pocket.

Linghu Chong felt his admiration soar in his heart. “An accomplished monk from Shaolin shows extraordinary bearings indeed,” he thought to himself. Bowing toward Fang-Sheng, he said, “It is so fortunate that I can meet Great Master….”

Before he had a chance to finish his words, suddenly a loud ring echoed and Yi Guozi had unsheathed his sword.

“Here she is!” Yi shouted excitedly and then dived into the bush where the granny had been hiding, sword first.

“Nephew-Apprentice Yi, don’t be rude!” Fang-Sheng shouted.

With a loud whoosh, Yi Guozi had flown back out from the bush and after gliding tens of feet in the air. Smack, he dropped to the ground like a log, facing upwards. His arms and legs twitched a few times and then he became still.

Fang-Sheng and the rest of the people were astounded. A hole had appeared on Yi’s forehead, from which blood gushed out. He still held a tight grip of the long sword in his hand, but he had already stopped breathing.

Xin Guoliang, Huang Guobo, and Jue-Yue roared in unison. Each gripping his weapon tightly they made at the bush in fury. Fang-Sheng

extended his arms to his sides, and as the loose sleeves of the monk’s robe spread open, a powerful yet soft stream of energy force blocked the three men like an invisible wall.

“May I ask which friend from the Dark-Wood Cliff has come here?” turning toward the bush Fang-Sheng asked gravely, his voice loud and clear. But only silence followed, complete silence, which swept all over the hundreds of shrubs and bushes.

“Our school never had any imbroglio with the Dark-Wood Cliff. Why have you slain Nephew-Apprentice Yi with such murderous scheme?” he

asked again, but still, no one responded from within the bushes.

“The Dark-Wood Cliff? The Dark-Wood Cliff is where the Demon’s Cult is headquartered. Could…could this granny have been a senior member of the Demon’s Cult?” Linghu Chong was thunderstruck.

“I’ve had the chance to make acquaintance with Chief Dongfang once many years ago. Friend, now that you have committed the murder, we must settle the discord once for all. Why don’t you show yourself?” Fang-Sheng urged.

“Chief Dongfang? Is he talking about the chief of the Demon’s Cult, Dongfang Invincible? That man was known as the number one fighter in the entire world. Then…then this granny really is a member of the Demon’s Cult.” Linghu Chong felt another shock shooting up his spine.

But the granny stayed behind the bushes and would not respond.

“Friend, if you insist on not showing yourself, please excuse the old monk’s discourtesy then!” Fang-Sheng exclaimed as he retracted his arms slightly, and immediately, energy soared inside his two sleeves, inflating them like two large balloons. He pushed his arms forward and the powerful force shot out from his palms. A loud crack exploded in the air as the dozens of scrubs all broke from the middle and small branches and leaves

swirled in the midair. Right at that moment, a shadow leapt out from the remains of the bushes.

Even though Linghu Chong really wanted to take a look at the granny’s appearance, he still remembered the promised he had made and quickly turned his back to it. He could hear the roaring and bellowing from Xin Guoliang and Jue-Yue, together with the sounds of weapons clashing with each other, so dense and so speedy that it sounded as though the raindrops from a thunderstorm bouncing off the window. Apparently the granny had already engaged in the right with Fang-Sheng and his group.

It was about 10 o’clock in the morning, and the sun hung in a corner of the sky, casting rays of sunshine down from an angle. Although Linghu Chong found himself tormented by anxiety and curiosity, in order to keep his promise, he dared not turn his head around to glance at the fight, and only looked down at the ground where dark shadows cast by the five fighters fluttered wildly. Fang-Sheng and his three Nephew-Apprentices had surrounded the granny. Fang-Sheng was not holding any weapon in his hands; Jue-Yue was using a Buddhist’s Spade; Huang Guobo used a knife;

Xin Guoliang wielded a long sword. The granny had a pair of very short weapons in her hands. They looked like daggers, yet also assembled the

shapes of Emei Stings. The weapons were short and thin, and almost looked as though they were transparent. Looking only based on the shadow from the sun Linghu Chong could not make out what kind of weapons they were. The granny and Fang-Sheng both fought quietly, whereas Xin Guoliang and the rest two all bellowed at the top of their lungs, which seemed to have made their attacks more menacing.

“Can’t we talk this over? This is outrageous, four guys attacking an elderly granny at the same time!” Linghu Chong protested.

“An elderly granny? Ha-ha, this chap must be daydreaming. She…” Huang Guobo scoffed when Fang-Sheng suddenly shouted to him,

“Huang…watch out!”

Huang suddenly uttered a painful cry. Evidently he had just taken a hard hit. Linghu Chong was almost struck dumb with amazement. “This granny’s Kung Fu must have been terrific!” he thought. “Earlier when Great Master Fang-Sheng broke those scrubs with shear energy force, he showed astonishing inner strength. But this granny is still able to get the upper hand one against four!”

Suddenly, Jue-Yue also cried loudly in pain. The Buddhist’s Spade flew out of his grip, over Linghu Chong’s head, and then fell to the ground dozens of feet away. By then, there were only three fluttering shadows on the ground. Both Huang Guobo and Jue-Yue had collapsed, and it was only Fang-Sheng and Xin Guoliang still left in the fight against the granny.

“What a sin! What a sin! You are too ruthless, killing my three

Nephew-Apprentices one after another. I can no longer hold my hands. You give me no choice but to do everything in my power to contend with you,” Fang-Sheng exclaimed.

Loud clapping sounds followed. It appears that Great Master had wielded his weapon, which seems to have fallen under the category of a wooden club or staff. Linghu Chong only felt the turbulence of energy behind his back became swifter and fiercer, which compelled him to take steps forward again and again.

An accomplished Shaolin Monk was certainly no trivial matter. As

soon as Great Master Fang-Sheng began using his weapon, the situation of the fight changed immediately. Linghu Chong could vaguely hear the granny gasping heavily as though she had used up her inner strength.

“Throw down your weapons! I won’t make this difficult for you. I only want you to come with me to the Shaolin Temple, so I can tell the abbot apprentice brother what happened and then awaits his judgment,” Great Master Fang-Sheng said. The granny did not respond, instead, she suddenly launched a series of quick attacks toward Xin Guoliang, who had a hard time fending them off and retreated from the fight, letting Great Master Fang-Sheng to take it over. After taking a short moment to collect himself, Xin Guoliang rejoined the fight, waving his long sword fiercely. After a few more minutes, the

clanking sounds from the weapons clashing against each other gradually slowed down while the turbulence created by the inner energy streams turned louder and louder.

“Your inner strength is no match for me. If I were you, I would have thrown down the weapons and then go to the Shaolin Temple with me.

Forcing yourself to go on with the fight would only result in severe internal injury,” Great Master Fang-Sheng persuaded.

The granny only replied with an angry snort. But suddenly she

shrieked and Linghu Chong felt some kind of watery substance splashing onto the back of his neck. He wiped it with his hand and then looked at the hand, which was now in a color of dark red. What had splashed onto the back of his neck turned out to be blood.

“What a sin! What a sin! With your new wound, you won’t be able to hold out much longer. You should know that I have been holding back all

along,” Great Master Fang-Sheng spoke again.

“This woman is an evil demon. Uncle-Master, please eradicate the

evil and avenge the three apprentice brothers. How can we who any mercy to an evil monster?” Xin Guoliang snarled.

Linghu Chong could hear the heavy panting and the staggering footsteps of the granny, and it sounded as if she could be collapsing any minute. “The granny asked me to be her escort so I can protect her. How could I just stand by the side when she is in great danger?” he thought to himself. With an echoing ring, he had unsheathed his long sword. “Great Master Fang-Sheng, senior master Xin, please stop the fight, or else I’ll have no choice but to offend you,” Linghu Chong exclaimed loudly.

“We’ll just eradicate this evil along with the other evil then,” Xin Guoliang bellowed as he thrust his sword toward Linghu Chong’s back.

Afraid that he might cast a glance at the granny, Linghu Chong dared not to turn around and simply dodged to the side.

“Watch out!” the granny shouted as Xin Guoliang also adjusted the angle of the thrust and still pushed his long sword toward Linghu Chong’s back.

Suddenly Xin Guoliang screeched loudly as his body flew over Linghu Chong’s left shoulder with an angle. Then a loud thump followed when his body hit the ground. His limbs twitched a few times before he finally stopped moving. Somehow the granny had managed to hit him with

a lethal blow. Only seconds later, there was another loud thump. The granny had been hit with a palm strike from Great Master Fang-Sheng, which sent her flying in the air and then falling into the bushes.

“Granny, Granny! Are you alright?” Linghu Chong yelled in astonishment, then he heard the granny groaning in an undertone.

Feeling somewhat relieved that the granny was still alive, Linghu

Chong turned slightly and then shot a thrust at Fang-Sheng. The positioning of the thrust was extremely clever and Fang-Sheng was forced to leap back. Linghu Chong immediately followed with another thrust, which Fang-

Sheng managed to block with his weapon. By the time Linghu Chong

withdrew his long sword, he had already turn completely around and was now standing in front of Great Master Fang-Sheng face to face. Now he finally saw the weapon Great Master was using: a three-foot long worn

staff. “Who would have expected his weapon to be simply a short staff?” Linghu Chong was taken aback. “This Shaolin monk’s inner strength is too overwhelming. If I don’t subdue him with my sword arts, the granny would die for sure.” At that thought, he quickly thrust up once, down once, and then up another twice, all using techniques taught by Feng Qingyang.

“You…you….” Great Master Fang-Sheng croaked, his face turning completely white.

Linghu Chong dared not to slow down in anyway, knowing too well what consequences that would have brought. He did not have any internal strength, so any slack would give his opponent the opportunity to overwhelm him with resourceful inner energy. Then undoubtedly he would be killed instantly and the granny would for sure be taken to the Shaolin Temple as a prisoner and later executed. He cleared his mind completely,

and then poured out techniques after techniques from the profound “Dugu Nine Swords” at will. The “Dugu Nine Swords” sword art was the utmost fine and ingenious sword art. Although Linghu Chong had lost all his inner strength and had not fully understood all the subtleties of this sword art, his sword attacks forced Great Master Fang-Sheng to back up step after step.

Soon, Linghu Chong felt the energy streams soaring inside his chest once

again and his arms aching and limp; his sword moves also grew weaker and weaker.

“Drop your sword,” Fang-Sheng suddenly shouted out as his struck his left palm toward Linghu Chong’s solar plexus.

By then, Linghu Chong was already done up. He thrust his sword out, but only half way through with the thrust, his arm dropped down from

exhaustion, which also lowered the sword. Grinding his teeth, Linghu

Chong pushed the thrust forward anyway, but this slight delay had slowed his thrust quite a bit, and Great Master Fang-Sheng had already placed his left palm on Linghu Chong’s soar plexus, holding his inner strength back, asking, “Dugu Nine Swords! Where…?”

But right at that split of a second, Linghu Chong’s sword also pierced into Fang-Sheng’s pit of stomach. Ever since he met the Shaolin monk,

Linghu Chong had held him in the highest regard. As soon as he felt the

sword tip touching Fang-Sheng’s skin, he pulled hastily with all his strength and withdrew his sword. Having used too much strength at the pull, he lost his balance and fell to the ground, blood gushing out from his mouth.

“Brilliant sword arts!” Great Master Fang-Sheng pressed his hand onto the wound on his chest and praised brightly. “If young hero had not

shown mercy with your sword, my life would have perished right in front of my own eyes.”

He did not mention a word about the fact that he had shown great mercy by holding back the power from his palm strike and began coughing wildly after speaking these words. Although Linghu Chong worked his best to withdraw the sword, the tip of the sword still cut into Fang-Sheng’s

chest, leaving a wound over an inch deep, injuring Fang-Sheng seriously. “I am…am terribly…sorry that I…I have offended you, Great

Master,” Linghu Chong gasped.

“I certainly had not thought that senior master Feng Qingyang of Huashan had found a disciple for his brilliant sword arts. I had once received great graciousness from senior master Feng many years ago.

Today’s matter, I…I can not decide for myself,” Great Master Fang-Sheng speak softly. Reaching into his rope slowly, he took out a small paper bag and then unwrapped it, showing two pills in the size of two longans inside. “These are healing panaceas of the Shaolin Temple. You can take one,” he said. After a slight hesitation, he said, “Give the other one to that woman.” “My injuries are incurable; why waste a perfectly good pill? Great Master, I think you should take the other pill yourself,” Linghu Chong replied.

“I have no need of it.”

Great Master Fang-Sheng shook his head and then set the two pills down in front of Linghu Chong. Turning his head around, he looked at the four corpses on the ground one by one, his face now looking mournful and grieved. Putting his palms together, he began reciting some Buddhist

scriptures in a gentle voice, and gradually, a look of harmony started to blossom on his face, and eventually, his face appeared so peaceful as though it was glowing with a divine halo, looking “infinitely merciful.”

Feeling awfully lightheaded, Linghu Chong knew that he could not hold out much longer, so he picked up the two pills and took one down his throat.

When Great Master Fang-Sheng finally finished reciting the scriptures, he turned to Linghu Chong again.

“The disciple of senior master Feng’s Dugu Nine Swords can not have been a follower of evil. Young hero, you have great chivalry deep in your heart. Reasonably speaking, you should not die an untimely death. But the internal injury you are suffering is extremely peculiar and cannot be

cured with medicine or acupuncture. The only way for you to stay alive would have to be studying advanced internal Qi-Gong, yourself. If you listen to an old Buddhist monk, I suggest you come to the Shaolin Temple together with me, and then I’ll entreat the Head Master apprentice brother

to teach you the utmost supreme internal energy techniques of our Shaolin School. I am sure, then, your internal injuries can be cured.”

After some more coughs, he continued, “Only the few who possess the right Karma can study this set of Qi-Gong techniques. I, for example, do not have such fortune. The Head Master of the Shaolin School, my senior apprentice brother, is especially large-minded. He might find you the one with the right Karma to teach this supreme Kung Fu to.”

“Great Master, many thanks for your kindness. After I’ve escorted

Granny to a safe place, if I were lucky to be still alive, I would pay a visit to the Shaolin Temple and pay my respects to Great Master and the Head

Master Abbot,” Linghu Chong replied respectfully.

“You…you call her Granny?” A look of surprise spread over Fang- Sheng’s face as he muttered. “Young hero, you are an apprentice of a reputable and orthodox school. You should not associate with evil. My

suggestion is for your own good. It will be wise to reconsider.”

“A true man always keeps his words. How can I break my promise to others,” Linghu Chong exclaimed.

“Very well! I look forward to seeing young hero again in the Shaolin Temple.” Great Master Fang-Sheng sighed. Casting a quick glance at the four corpses on the ground, he murmured, “Four abandoned vessels,54 burial or no burial, what difference does it show. When a soul leaves the mortal world, death ends it all.” Turning on his heels, he strolled away.

“Granny, are you…are you alright?” Linghu Chong asked while

sitting on the ground, unable to move. He gasped wildly, his entire body aching.

Rustling sounds rose from behind his back as the granny came out of the bushes.

“I won’t die!” she replied. “You’d better go with that old monk. He said he could cure your internal injuries. The internal Qi-Gong techniques of the Shaolin School are absolutely matchless in the world. Why are you still here?” “I promised to escort Granny, then of course I’ll escort all the way,” Linghu Chong answered.

“You’ve been wounded badly. How can you escort me?”

“Aren’t you wounded as well? We’ll see!” Linghu Chong grinned. “I am an evil, heterodox monster, and you are an apprentice of a

reputable, orthodox school. If you associate with me, aren’t I ruining the clean name of an apprentice of a reputable school?”

“I never had any clean name to start with. What do I care how others think of me? Granny, you have been so kind to me. Linghu Chong is not one who doesn’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. You have been

severely wounded. If I leave you just like that, how can I ever see my own face in a mirror?”

“So you are saying that if I had not incurred any wounds, you would have left me just like that, aren’t you?” the granny snapped.

Linghu Chong was slightly taken aback, but he smiled.

“If Granny you don’t dislike me, a young and ignorant lad, and would prefer to have me around as company, then Linghu Chong is willing to stay by your side and be your chat partner. But I am afraid that I have always been a crude one who commits all kinds of outrages at will, and maybe only a few days into it, Granny would not want to talk to me any more.”

The granny let out a snort but did not answer. Extending his arm backward, Linghu Chong handed the pill given by Great Master Fang- Sheng toward the granny.

“That Shaolin monk is truly remarkable. Granny, you killed four

apprentices from his school, but he would rather spare the healing panacea for you instead of taking it himself. When he fought with you earlier, he probably held back some,” he said. “Humph! If he did hold back, how come he still wounded me? People like that pose as members of the reputable and orthodox school, hypocritically pretending to be the good guys. I despise them,” the granny replied angrily.

“Granny, why don’t you take this pill? After I took one, I did feel much better around my chest and my stomach,” Linghu Chong suggested.

The granny acknowledged, but did not take the pill.

“Granny…,” Linghu Chong spoke again but was cut off by the granny abruptly.

“We are the only two here. Why do you keep calling ‘Granny,’ ‘Granny?’ Can’t you give it a rest?”

“Sure. That’ll be fine. Why aren’t you taking the pill?” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Since you think the healing pill of the Shaolin School is great, and the healing pill I gave you is no good, why didn’t you take this pill from the old monk together with the one you took earlier?” the granny mocked.

“What? When did I ever say that your healing pill is no good? You

are really wronging me. Besides, the Shaolin School’s healing pill is great, and that’s why I want you to take it, so you can gather up some strength

sooner for the journey.”

“I see, so you think it’s too boring to be my company, don’t you? Go ahead! Leave! Nobody is stopping you,” the granny snapped again.

“Why is the granny so grumpy all of a sudden, always at odds with me? Oh, I got it. She is suffering from severe wounds and is not feeling

well, then naturally her temper went high. I can’t really blame her,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. Grinning brightly, he said, “But I am too

exhausted to even move half a step. Even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t. Besides…besides…ha-ha….” “Besides what? Ha-ha what?” the granny asked in an annoyed tone. ‘Ha-ha is ha-ha. Besides, even if I could go, I wouldn’t have wanted

to go, unless you’ll go together with me,” Linghu Chong beamed.

At first, he had always maintained good manners when talking with the granny, but when she started to throw a fit and became unreasonable, he also became unbridled. But to his surprise, the granny did not get angry and suddenly fell into a silence, lost in thought.

“Granny…,” Linghu Chong called out.

“You are calling me Granny again! Have you never called others ‘Granny’ before? Don’t you get tired of calling that?” the granny reproved.

“From now on, I won’t call you granny any more. How should I call you then?” Linghu Chong asked with a smile.

The granny did not answer him right away. Only after a few moments, she finally said, “We are the only two here. Why bother? As soon as you open your mouth, I’ll know that you are talking to me. Could you have been talking to anybody else?”

“Sometimes I like to talk to myself. I hope you don’t misunderstand,” Linghu Chong smirked.

“Always talking so roguishly, no wonder your little apprentice sister doesn’t want you.” The granny snorted.

These words struck Linghu Chong right on the spot in his heart where it hurt the most. His heart sinking horribly, he couldn’t help but think,

“Little apprentice sister dislikes me and likes apprentice brother Lin. Maybe that really is because I am always roguish in doing things and saying things. That’s why she was unwilling to commit her life to my care. That’s right.

Apprentice brother Lin always toes the line and acts like a perfect gentleman, almost an exact duplicate of Master. If I were a girl, I would have liked him and not the always ill-behaved prodigal, let alone little apprentice sister. Alas, Linghu Chong! Linghu Chong! You always get drunk and run wild, pay no attention to school rules and regulations. You

are beyond redemption. I made friends with the evil rapist Tian Boguang; I slept inside the brothel in the town of Hengyang. Little apprentice sister must have felt awful!”

“Why? Did I touch a sour spot? You are angry now, aren’t you?” didn’t hear a reply from Linghu Chong, the granny asked.

“No, I am not angry. You said it right. I always talk roguishly and doing things roguishly. No wonder little apprentice sister dislikes me, and Master, Master-Wife also dislike me.” Linghu Chong answered, his voice gloomy.

“Don’t be depressed. Your Master, Master-Wife, and your little

apprentice sister dislike you doesn’t mean that there’s…there’s no one else who likes you,” the granny comforted him, her voice so soft and gentle, filled with consolation.

Linghu Chong was utterly grateful. A feeling of warmth washing over him; he felt something choking in his throat.

“Granny, you are so kind to me, so even if nobody else in this world likes me, that…that would be all right.”

“You surely have a honey mouth, always speaking pleasant things. No wonder even people like Blue Phoenix of the Five-Sylph Sect was full of praises when talking about you. Very well, you can’t walk, and I can’t walk either. We’ll just have to spend the night over there under that cliff. I

wonder whether we’ll die today.”

“If we survive today, I wonder whether we’ll die tomorrow. If we

survive tomorrow, I wonder whether we’ll die the day after.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Drop it! You crawl over there slowly and I’ll be right after you.” “But if you don’t take this pill from the old monk, I am afraid I don’t even have enough strength to crawl one step,” Linghu Chong whined.

“You are talking nonsense again. If I don’t take that pill, why are you the one having no strength to crawl?” the granny asked.

“This is definitely not nonsense. If you don’t take the pill, your injury won’t recover soon, and for sure you would not be in a mood to play the

zither. Then I’d be all worried to death and where do you expect me to find strength to crawl over? I won’t even have any strength to just lie here, much less crawling over,” Linghu Chong explained.

“Even lying here requires your strength?” The granny chuckled.

“That’s of course. This is a slope here. If I don’t use my strength to hold myself still, I would have rolled all the way down it and fallen into the mountain gully down below. Then either I’ll smash myself to pieces or drown.”

“Even when you are so severely injured, not knowing whether you can make it till tomorrow, you are still in such a merrily mood to joke

about. People as cheeky as this had to be rare in this world.” The granny sighed.

Linghu Chong threw the pill back behind his back gently. “Will you just take it, please?” he pleaded

“Anyone who poses as a member of the reputable and orthodox

schools can not be an good egg. If I take this pill of the Shaolin School, it will only dirty my mouth,” the granny let out an irritated snort.

“Ouch!” Linghu Chong suddenly cried as he leaned his upper body to the left and then rolled toward the mountain gully down the slope.

“Look out!” astounded, the granny shouted.

Linghu Chong kept on rolling. The slop was not very steep, but very long. It took Linghu Chong a good while to finally roll to the edge of the gully. Spreading his arms and legs widely Linghu Chong stopped himself from rolling any further.

“Hey? Hello? Are you all right?” the granny shouted.

The sharp rocks along the slope gave Linghu Chong’s face and arms quite some cuts and bruises, but he kept his silence in spite of the fierce pain.

“Fine! I’ll take the old monk’s stinking pill. Get…get back up here,” the granny shouted again.

“You’ve said it. You can’t go back to your words,” Linghu Chong replied.

At the moment there was already quite a distance between the two. Linghu Chong didn’t have any inner strength, so his voice couldn’t reach very far. The granny only vaguely heard some indistinct sounds, but

couldn’t make out what he had said. “What did you say?” she asked.

“I…I…,” Linghu Chong wanted to answer, but had to gasp for air. “Hurry, come up here! I promise I’ll take the pill,” the granny

shouted.

Linghu Chong tottered back onto his feet and tired to climb up the

slope, but to roll down the slope was way much easier than climbing back up it again. Only after two steps, his leg suddenly gave out under him, and after some staggering, thump, he really fell into the mountain gully.

Seeing how Linghu Chong fell into the mountain gully from high

above with a good view, the granny was stunned. Giving it no thought, she also rolled downward along the slope. When she finally rolled by Linghu Chong’s side, she reached out and grabbed onto his left ankle with her left hand. After taking in a few deep breaths, she clutched his back robe and then pulled a dripping-wet Linghu Chong out of the water. By then Linghu Chong had swallowed many gulps of water and golden sparkles danced in front of his eyes. He shook his head slightly trying to pull himself together when suddenly he noticed the two inverted images reflected in the water: a young girl clutching his back robe tightly in her hand. Feeling very muddleheaded, he then heard the girl uttering a painful cry from behind his back, spilling a mouthful of warm blood onto the back of his neck. The girl bent over his back as though she had been paralyzed. Feeling the girl’s soft body leaning on his back and her long hair brushing against his face, Linghu Chong found himself at a loss, as though all his emotions had been emptied out of his heart. He took another look at the reflection in the water. Half of the girl’s face could be seen from the reflection in the water. Her eyes were shut tight, and her long eyelashes

swayed in the breeze. Even though he could not see very clearly from the reflection in the water, he could still tell that she was a gorgeous-looking girl seventeen or eighteen years of age.

“Who is this girl? Why did a young girl suddenly come out of nowhere to rescue me?” he was deeply amazed. The reflection in the water and the feeling on his back were both telling him that the girl had fainted. Linghu Chong wanted to turn around and prop the girl up, but his entire body felt weak, and he didn’t even have enough strength to raise a finger. It felt as though he was in the middle of a dream. He gave another look at the graceful appearance in the reflection of the water and could not decide if he had arrived at a wonderland. All he could think was, “Am I dead already?

Am I in heaven?”

A long while passed when the girl on his back finally came around. “Were you just trying to scare me, or did you really…really want to

kill yourself?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly. As soon as Linghu Chong heard her voice, he almost jumped out of his skin. The voice he had just heard was completely identical to the voice of the granny. Shocked beyond description, he muttered, trembling, “You… you…you….”

“What? I just won’t take the old monk’s stinking pill. Go ahead, commit suicide and show me,” the girl snapped.

“Granny, so you are a…a pretty, little…little girl!” Linghu Chong muttered.

“How did you know?” the girl screeched. “You…you promise- breaker! Have you peeped?”

As soon as she looked down and then saw a clear reflection in the mountain gully of herself leaning on Linghu Chong’s back, her face turned completely scarlet, and she hurriedly struggled to stand up. But right after she straightened her back, her knees became weak and she fell right onto Linghu Chong’s bosom. After a few frantic try to prop herself backup,

which almost made her faint once more, she had to lay still.

Linghu Chong’s heart was filled with puzzlement. “Why did you disguise as an elderly granny to fool me? Pretend to be a senior master, and caused me…caused me…” he asked eagerly.

“Caused you what?” the girl asked.

The girl’s cheek was only about a foot from Linghu Chong’s eyes.

Her skin was so white as though it was made out of crystal, and dimly showing a shade of flush beneath the skin.

“Caused me to call you granny this and granny that all the way.

Humph, shame on you! You aren’t even old enough to be my younger sister, yet you want to be my granny! If you want to be a granny, better wait at least another eighty years!” “When did I ever say that I was a granny?” the girl chuckled. “It was you who wanted to call me granny. Didn’t I get mad at you because you kept calling me ‘Granny’ just now? Told you to not call me that, but you just wouldn’t listen. Am I right?”

Linghu Chong had to agree inwardly that these words were very true. But having been hoodwinked for so long and having acted like a complete fool on his part, he couldn’t just let it go easily.

“You deceived me on purpose when you disallowed me from looking at your face. If I had looked at you face to face, would I have called you a granny? It even goes all the way back to the city of Luo Yang. Even back then you intentionally tricked me, colluding with Elder Bamboo-Green that old goat and asking him to call you auntie. He was already so old, and since you were his auntie, how can I not call you a granny?”

“Elder Bamboo-Green’s Master calls my dad Uncle-Master, then what should Elder Bamboo-Green address me as?” The girl grinned.

Linghu Chong was taken by surprise. “Are you really Elder Bamboo- Green’s auntie?” he asked hesitantly.

“That bloke Elder Bamboo-Green is not someone extraordinary. Why would I want to pretend to be his auntie? What’s so great about been an

auntie?”

“Well! I am so stupid. I should have already known.” Linghu Chong heaved a sigh.

“Have already known what?” the girl asked, giggling.

“Your voice is so pleasant. How can there be any eighty-year old granny in this world with such a tender and melodious voice?”

“My voice is so coarse and hoarse, like the croaks of a crow. No wonder you thought I was an old granny,” the girl said, beaming. “Your voice is like the croaks of a crow? Wow, the world has really changed. So croaks of crows nowadays actually sound more pleasant than the singing of the orioles.”

The girl knew that Linghu Chong was praising her. A quick flush shot across her cheeks as her heart thumped with joy.

“Alright, alright! Grandpa Linghu! Senior master Linghu! You’ve called me Granny for so long, now I’ll call you back. Will that even it up for you? Are you happy now?” the granny reconciled.

“If you are Granny, and I am Grandpa, then we are the Grandpa and Granny. Aren’t we…?” Linghu Chong said in a big grin.

He had always been the unrestrained and uninhibited type, having no scruples when he talked. He was just about to say “aren’t we a couple then” when he suddenly noticed the knitted eyebrows and the angry look on the girl’s face, so he shut up abruptly.

“What kind of nonsense are you talking about?” the girl growled.

“I said that if we are the Grandpa and Granny, aren’t we…aren’t we both senior masters of the Martial World?” Linghu Chong answered.

The girl knew very well that he had just gone out of his way to

change his wording, but decided to not pursue the case, afraid that he might spill out even more coarse terms. Learning on Linghu Chong’s bosom and sensing the strong scent of a male in her nose, she had already felt great

distractions in her heart. She really wanted to stand up, but her limbs simply would not comply. With a blushed face, she demanded, “Hey, give me a push!”

“Give you a push for what?” Linghu Chong asked.

“The way…the way we are…is very inappropriate,” the girl said. “It’s appropriate for Grandpa and Granny,” Linghu Chong grinned. “If you keep talking rubbish, I’ll kill you!” the girl yelled in a stern voice.

Linghu Chong felt a chill on his back as he remembered how she had made dozens of men cutting out their own eyes and then banished them to the Twine-Dragon Island in the East Sea, and he dared not making any more jokes. Then he remembered, “Even in such a young age, she was able to kill four apprentices of the Shaolin School with simply a raise of her hand. Such excellent Kung Fu skills combined with such ruthless conducts, it is so hard to believe that these traits all belonged to this delicately pretty girl right in front of my eyes.”

“You are getting angry again, aren’t you? You are a man, how come you are so intolerant?” receiving no answer from Linghu Chong, the girl spoke again.

“I am not angry. I am feeling afraid, afraid that you’ll kill me,” Linghu Chong answered.

“If you remain well-behaved from now on, why would I want to kill you?” The girl cackled.

‘But I was born one with a nature of not behaving well, it’s not like that I had a choice. I guess I am doomed to die in your hands.” Linghu

Chong sighed.

“When you were calling me Granny, you showed a lot of respect to me. That was good, very well behaved. Just keep that going and you’ll be fine,” the girl said with a snigger.

“No way! Once I know that you are a little girl, I can no longer regard you as a granny.” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“What…what…?” the girl muttered, but suddenly she seemed to have thought of something; she blushed and shut her mouth. Linghu Chong bent his neck slightly, and took in a good view of the girl’s face. It was a beautiful face, so sweet and charming, still carrying the tender coyness of a young girl, prettier than anything else in the world. In an almost dreamlike state, he felt a slight tickle in his heart, and before he

knew it, had already moved his head closer and kissed the girl gently on the cheek.

The girl was shocked, and out of nowhere, she suddenly found some strength inside her that wasn’t there a minute ago. Turning her hand over, she slapped Linghu Chong heavily in the face, and immediately after, she sprang up. But the strength disappeared as abruptly as it had come; still in

the midair, she found herself just as weak as a second ago, and a faction of a second later, she fell back onto Linghu Chong’s bosom once again, only this time she felt even feebler than the last time, and could no longer move a muscle.

“If you…if you do that again, I’ll…kill you,” afraid that Linghu Chong might take even more liberties with her and feeling utterly

apprehensive, she muttered sternly.

“Whether you kill me or not, I have not much time left in this life, anyway, I think I’d rather do it again,” Linghu Chong grinned.

“I…I…I…,” the girl gasped in great worry, yet found herself at her wit’s end.

After working hard to gather some strength, Linghu Chong propped the girl’s shoulder slightly and then rolled away to the side.

“Whatcha gonna do?” he asked with a grin, but right after these words, he coughed violently and spilled out a few mouthful of blood.

Having become enamored all of a sudden and kissed the girl, he regretted immediately. Then after getting hit on the face, even though he was still firm in speech, he knew he shouldn’t have done so and dared not to stay close to her any longer.

Linghu Chong rolling away from her all of a sudden took the girl by great surprise. Seeing blood coming out of his mouth once again after he used his strength, she felt regretful secretly, but thin-skinned as she was, she could not bring herself to speak any of it.

“Your…your chest is hurting pretty bad, isn’t it?” she finally asked gently.

“It’s not my chest that’s hurting, it’s somewhere else,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Where are you hurting then?” the girl asked hurriedly, her voice filled with concern.

“Here!” Linghu Chong stroked his cheek where the girl had slapped

him.

“If you want me to apologize to you, alright, I am sorry.” The girl

smiled.

“It’s my fault. Granny, will you please forgive me?” Linghu Chong said. 

Hearing him calling her “Granny” again, the girl burst into giggles.

“Where’s that stinking pill from the old monk? You never took it, did you?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I didn’t have time to pick it up,” the girl replied and then pointed at the top of the slope. “It’s still up there.” She paused for a second and then

continued, “I’ll listen to you and take it when we get back up there, and not think about the stinking part.”

The two of them lay at the bottom of the slope and looked up. If it had been normal days, a simple leap would have gotten them up the slope, but now it looked almost like a ten-thousand-foot perilous peak that could never be reached. After exchanging some stares between each other, both of them sighed at the same time.

“I’ll mediate for a while. Don’t interrupt me, alright?” the girl finally

said.

“Alright!” Linghu Chong answered and then watched the girl leaning

against the slope, closing her eyes, holding her thumb, index finger, and middle finger in a unique pose, and froze in a trance. “Even the way she meditate is so different from others. She didn’t need to sit up with crossed legs at all.”

He tried to calm himself and also take a rest, but the energy streams inside him rolled over and over and he could only struggle in vain.

Suddenly a few croaks from a frog broke the stillness, and soon a corpulent frog hopped by him along the bank of the gully. Linghu Chong was delighted. After the much fuss over the last half a day, his stomach had been keen for some food, and now food had just hopped right next to him, how perfect! Wasting no time, he reached for the frog, but his aching and limp

arm obviously not cooperating, and he missed the target. With another hop, the frog jumped away from him, croaking loudly as though it was quite pleased with the getaway and jeering at Linghu Chong for his incapability, which Linghu Chong returned with a sigh. But there turned out to be quite a few frogs along the gully, and soon another two frogs hopped by Linghu

Chong, who still failed to catch either of them. Suddenly, a thin and delicate hand reached out by his waist and with an easy grip, caught the frog. After meditating for a while, the girl had regained her mobility. Although she still felt feeble and weary, it didn’t pose any challenge for her to catch a few frogs.

“Wonderful! Wonderful! We can have a feast of frogs now!” Linghu Chong cheered, which the girl returned with a small grin. She went on catching more frogs, catching a frog with each stretch of her arm. Only a few moments later, she had already caught over twenty frogs.

“That’s plenty! Will you please go collect some branches for the fire?

I’ll clean these frogs,” Linghu Chong directed.

The girl went in compliance and soon returned with enough branches.

Linghu Chong drew his long sword and began chopping the heads of the frogs off and cleaning out the internal organs.

“The ancients killed the chicken with a cattle knife,55 and today our Big Hero Linghu kills frogs with the Dugu Nine Swords!” the girl said jokingly, and Linghu Chong broke into a loud laugh.

“If Big Hero Dugu could hear this in the underworld, knowing that his disciple was so unworthy, he had to be enraged to….” he stopped

abruptly, thinking that Dugu Seeking-a-loss had been dead for many years, how could he have been enraged to death again?

“Big Hero Linghu…,” the girl spoke again.

“I really don’t deserve the name Big Hero. Where do you go find a Big Hero who slaughters frogs?” Linghu Chong shook his hand together with the dead frog in it.

“Well, there was a Dog-Butchering Champion56 in the ancient times, why can’t we have a Frog-Slaughtering Hero today?” the girl chuckled.

“This Dugu Nine Swords of yours is marvelous. Even the old monk from the Shaolin School couldn’t beat you. He said that the senior master named Feng, who taught you the sword art, is his benefactor. What was that

about?”

“The senior master who taught me the sword art is a grandmaster of our Huashan School,” Linghu Chong explained.

“This senior master’s sword skills must have been almost magical.

How come he is so nameless in the Martial World?” the girl asked. “Well…well…I promised the grandmaster that I’ll never let out his story and his whereabouts,” Linghu Chong muttered.

“Humph, who cares? Even if you do tell me, what makes you think I’d be interested? Do you know who I am and what kind of backing I have?” the girl challenged.

“I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s your name,” Linghu Chong answered, shaking his head.

“You are holding things back from me, so I won’t tell you, either!” the girl exclaimed.

“Although I don’t know, I’ve figured most of it out,” Linghu Chong replied.

“You figured it out? How did you figure it out?” The girl’s face changed color slightly.

“Well, I am not a hundred percent sure yet, but it will be all crystal clear tonight.”

“How would it be crystal clear tonight?” the girl couldn’t help but ask, feeling even more surprised.

“I’ll just look up in the sky and see which star is missing, then I’ll know which goddess has decided to descend to the world. You are as beautiful as an angel, and angels don’t come from the secular world.”

“Bah!” the girl spit at him, blushing wildly, yet feeling immense pleasure inward. “You are talking nonsense again,” she murmured gently.

By then, she had already lit the fire with the dead twigs and fuzz

sticks. Stringing the already cleaned frogs onto a sharp stick, she roasted them above the bonfire. Frog grease dripped into the bonfire and made funny sounds as the wonderful smell of roasted frogs soon filled the air. Staring at the white smoke rising from the bonfire, she spoke gently. “My name is ‘Ying-Ying.’ Now that I’ve told you, I wonder if you’ll still remember it as days go by.”

“Ying-Ying? That’s a pretty name. If I had know that your name was Ying-Ying, I would never have called you Granny,” Linghu Chong uttered.

“Why’s that?” Ying-Ying asked.

“The name Ying-Ying obviously is the name of a little girl, then of course you can’t have been an old granny.”

“When I get old and really become an old granny, I wouldn’t change my name. I’d still be called Ying-Ying,” Ying-Ying smiled.

“You wont’ become an old granny. You are so pretty, even when you are eighty years old, you’ll still be a very beautiful little girl.”

“Wouldn’t that make me a monster?” Ying-Ying beamed. She waited for a few seconds and then said with a serious face, “I’ve told you my name, but you are not allowed to use it to call me.”

“Why?”

“You are just not allowed. I don’t want you to.”

Linghu Chong stuck his tongue out and made a face. “This is not allowed, and that is not allowed. Later whoever becomes your….” he muttered. Then at the sight of Ying-Ying pulling a long face, he quickly stopped, and Ying-Ying grunted heavily.

“Why are you getting angry again? I was saying that later whoever becomes your apprentice has gotten to be suffering some hardship.” He had wanted to say “husband” at first, but after sensing trouble ahead, he quickly changed it to “apprentice.”

Ying-Ying of course had a very good idea what he had wanted to say at the first place. “You are neither serious nor honest,” she exclaimed. “Out of every three sentences of yours, there are at least two of them incoherent. I…I won’t force anyone to do anything. If he likes to listen to my words, then he’ll listen. If he doesn’t, that’s his choice.”

“I like to listen to your words,” Linghu Chong beamed at her. Even this sentence had some teasing elements in it.

Ying-Ying knitted her beautiful eyebrows in a straight line as though she was about to have a fit of anger, but suddenly her face turned scarlet

and she turned her head away. For a good while, the both of them just set there, neither one said a word.

Suddenly, they smelled a terrible scent. Something was burning.

“Oops!” Ying-Ying cried out when she realized that the burning smell had come from the string of frogs on the stick in her hands. They had been terribly scorched.

“This is all your fault!” she complained.

“You should have said that thanks to my joking with you and making you mad, you were finally able to make such splendid scorched frogs!” Linghu Chong grinned. Pulling a scorched frog off the stick, he tore the frog leg off and then gave it a good chew. “Delicious! Delicious! Only this degree of heating would be just right, adding a little bit of bitter into sweet, and then the sweet taste really comes out when the bitter wears out. This has gotten to be the most delicious food in the world!” he praised.

Amused, Ying-Ying broke into a giggle, and also started eating.

Linghu Chong hurried and ate the most burnt frog meat and left the not too badly burnt part for her.

After the two of them finished the roasted frog meat, they lay down to the ground. Bathing in the warm sunshine of the afternoon, both of them

were taken over by fatigue and before they knew it, they both closed their eyes and fell asleep. Since both of them had stayed up through the previous night, and both had injuries, the nap was deep and sound for each of them. In his dream, Linghu Chong found himself practicing sword arts in the waterfall together with Yue Lingshan. But suddenly another man showed up, and it was Lin Pingzhi. Then he had a sword contest with Lin Pingzhi, but he had no

strength in his arms, and when he tried hard to use techniques of the Dugu Nine Swords, he just couldn’t remember any of it. Again and again, Lin Pingzhi stabbed him in his solar plexus, his stomach, his head, and his

shoulders. Then he saw Yue Lingshan bursting into loud laughter. Feeling both shocked and infuriated, he shouted loudly, “Little apprentice sister! Little apprentice sister!” Only after a few cries, he woke up from the dream abruptly. Then he heard a soft voice say, “Did you dream of your little

apprentice sister? How was she treating you?”

“Someone wants to kill me. Little apprentice sister not only ignored me, but also…also laughed at me!” Linghu Chong said, his inside writhed with bitterness.

“You have sweat all over your forehead,” Ying-Ying sighed and said tenderly.

Raising his arm, Linghu Chong wiped the sweat off with his sleeve. A cold breeze suddenly blew by him and he shivered. Then he noticed the star filled sky. It was at night already.

As soon as Linghu Chong regained his consciousness, he calmed down. Just when he was about to open his mouth and speak, Ying-Ying reached her hand out and covered his mouth.

“Someone is coming,” she whispered.

Linghu Chong concentrated his attention and listened carefully. Sure enough, sounds of three men’s footsteps rose from a distance. “There are two more dead bodies,” a while later, one of them spoke, and Linghu Chong recognized that to be Zu Qianqiu’s voice.

“Ah, this one is a monk of the Shaolin School,” another one uttered. It was Old Man who had just discovered Jue-Yue’s body.

Ying-Ying slowly withdrew her hand, and then they heard Ji Wushi’s voice.

“These three are also laymen apprentices of the Shaolin School. Why have they all died here? Oh, this man is Xin Guoliang. He was an elite fighter of the Shaolin School.”

“Who could be so powerful, killing four elite fighters from the Shaolin School all at once?” Zu Qianqiu asked.

“Unless…unless it was someone from the Dark-Wood Cliff? Maybe it was Chief Dongfang, himself?” Old Man murmured haltingly.

“That could well be,” Ji Wushi agreed. “We’d better bury these four bodies in a hurry, so people from the Shaolin School wouldn’t find it out,” he suggested.

“But if it were really someone from the Dark-Wood Cliff who had done this, they wouldn’t be afraid of the Shaolin Temple finding out about this. Perhaps they had left these corpses here on purpose to put on a show of force,” Zu Qianqiu speculated.

“If they had wanted to put on a show of force, they wouldn’t have left these corpses in the middle of nowhere. If we weren’t just happen to pass by here, these corpses would have been eaten by wild animals, and no one would have found out about it. When the Sacred Sun Moon Cult wanted to put on a show of force, most likely they would have hanged these corpses in the middle of the capital city and then marked clearly on the bodies that they are members of the Shaolin School to humiliate the Shaolin School.” Ji Wushi said. “I think you are right! Most likely when people from the Dark-Wood Cliff killed these four, they were in a hurry to pursue more enemies, and didn’t have time to bury the bodies,” Zu Qianqiu concurred.

Soon, sounds of digging rose as the three began to dig the ground with their weapons, ready to bury the bodies.

“These three men had to be somehow related to Chief Dongfang of the Dark-Wood Cliff, otherwise, they wouldn’t have gone through so much trouble,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

Suddenly, Zu Qianqiu uttered a cry of surprise. “What’s this? It’s a healing pill,” he said.

“This is the healing panacea of the Shaolin School. It has the power to return dead to life. I bet that it must have fallen out of a pocket of these Shaolin apprentices,” Ji Wushi concluded after sniffing the pill a few times.

“How would you know?” Zu Qianqiu asked.

“Many years ago, I saw one just like this at an old monk from Shaolin,” Ji Wushi explained.

“That’s just wonderful. Brother Old, since this is a healing panacea, you can let your daughter Not-Dead take this and it will cure her disease,” Zu Qianqiu suggested.

“Well, my daughter’s fate would only be the second priority. We

should hurry to find Young Master Linghu and let him take this pill,” Old Man replied, which made Linghu Chong feeling utterly grateful.

“That’s the pill Ying-Ying dropped earlier. How can I ask for it back from Old Man, so she could take it?” he thought over.

He turned his head and looked at Ying-Ying. Under the dim moonlight, Ying-Ying grinned at him. She suddenly made a face, looking almost childlike, bearing a most charming smile on her lips. It was so hard to believe that she had just killed four master hands from the Shaolin School not too long ago. Then he heard the sounds of the three filling the grave they just dug up with rocks and soil to cover up the corpses.

“There’s a big problem though. Night Owl, help me think here,” Old Man muttered.

“What problem?” Ji Wushi asked.

“Right now, Young Master Linghu must be together with…with the Sacred Lady. If I bring the pill over, I’ll bump into the Sacred Lady inevitably. It’s all right if the Sacred Lady kills me out of annoyance, but for sure she would have felt very offended and displeased, and that would not be a good thing.” Old man murmured.

“So they are referring you as the Sacred Lady, and are just completely fearful of you. Why are you so apt to kill people?” casting a glance at Ying- Ying, Linghu Chong thought to himself.

“Well, I think those three blind men we saw on the road could be very useful then. We’ll catch up with those three and ask them to deliver the pill to Young Master Linghu. Since they are blind already, even when they find Young Master Linghu together with the Sacred Lady, it wouldn’t end up a fatal disaster,” Ji Wushi replied.

“But I suspect that their eyes were cut out because they saw the Sacred Lady together with Young Master Linghu,” Zu Qianqiu added.

“That’s got to be it!” Old Man struck his own thigh and uttered. “If not, why would three perfectly fine men suddenly went blind? I bet you these four Shaolin apprentices must have had the same kind of misfortune of bumping into the Sacred Lady and Young Master Linghu.”

At that word, the trio fell silent, and Linghu Chong finding himself with more doubts and suspicious. Then he heard Zu Qianqiu spoke again after a sigh. “I just hope Young Master Linghu would have a speedy recovery from his injury, so the Sacred Lady can make a happy loving couple with him soon. As long as they are not married, there is no peace in the Martial World.”

Linghu Chong was astounded. He sneaked a peek toward Ying-Ying. Under the dim night-light, he could vaguely make out a scarlet face and a pair of bright eyes, which blazed with irritation. Afraid that Ying-Ying

would leap out and hurt the three, he extended his right hand and then held onto her left hand gently. He could feel that Ying-Ying’s entire body was

shaking wildly, but he could not tell if it was because of rage or shyness. “Who would have thought the Sacred Lady would get so mad at us

for our gathering on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge,” Zu Qianqiu went on.

“Alas, a man and a woman finding themselves in a passion of love is really the most natural thing, and for someone like Young Master Linghu, an

exceptional young hero so unrestrained and benevolent, only a girl as beautiful as the Sacred Lady would be suitable as the counterpart. Why would the Sacred Lady, someone so marvelous, act so bashful like any

other vulgar girl? She obviously likes Young Master Linghu very much, yet would not allow anyone to mention that, or to see that together. Wouldn’t that have been…been a bit unreasonable?”

“Really? I wonder if these words of his are true or not,” Linghu Chong thought.

Suddenly, he felt a strong jerk from Ying-Ying’s hand in his palm, trying to break free of his grip. He immediately grabbed even tighter, very afraid that Ying-Ying would kill the three of them instantly out of fury.

“Although the Sacred Lady enjoys exceptional status on the Dark- Wood Cliff, even Chief Dongfang never defied her wish, she is just a young girl after all,” Ji Wushi said. “When a young girl falls in love with someone the very first time in her life, even though she likes him so very much in her heart, she would still feel very shy and sensitive about it. This time when

we tried to fawn on her, though we had good intention, we still made her very displeased. Too bad that all of us are crude fellows and had no idea

about young girls’ feelings. There were a few dozen girls and ladies on the Five-Tyrant Ridge, but unfortunately, their dispositions were not that different from any man. The Five-Tyrant Ridge get-together, the brownnosing the Sacred Lady did not like. When this episode gets out, those bastards from the orthodox schools are going to laugh their ass off.”

“The Sacred Lady has done us great favor, and all of us are grateful to her and only wanted to seek ways to repay her kindness by curing her lover’s injury. A true man remembers his gratitude and his grudges; to a benefactor he pays a debt of gratitude, and to an enemy, he seeks his revenge. What’s wrong with that? If any bastard dares to laugh at us, I’ll

skin him alive,” Old Man declared solemnly.

By then, Linghu Chong finally understood. The so many people flattering and fawning on him along his way did so all for the sake of this Sacred Lady named Ying-Ying. And the over one thousand people breaking up a hubbub and leaving in a hurry on top of the Five-Tyrant Ridge was

also because the Sacred Lady didn’t want any others to know her feelings

and became very displeased when this was made widely known in the entire Martial World. Then he thought of something else: If this Sacred Lady, such a young girl, could make so many fellows of the Martial World to fawn on him, she had to be a world-shaking figure in the Demon’s Cult. According to Ji Wushi, even Dongfang Invincible, the one known as the “Number One in the Martial World” never defied her wishes. Linghu Chong was only a nobody in the Martial World, and happened to made her acquaintance by learning the zither from her with a curtain in between at a small alley in the Luoyang city. There was never any feeling of love involved. Could it be that Elder Bamboo-Green had misunderstood it and let the rumor out,

which made the Sacred Lady very angry? Then he heard Zu Qianqiu’s voice again.

“Old Man said it right. The Sacred Lady granted us great favor and kindness. If there is anything we can do to help to bring them together and make her happy all her life, even if we have to have our body smashed to pieces, we will die with nothing to regret. Being snubbed on the Five-Tyrant Ridge is really nothing. But…but Young Master Linghu is the Head

Apprentice of the Huashan School, which is at daggers drawn with the

Dark-Wood Cliff. I am afraid that there will probably be many obstacles to overcome before this marriage would work out.”

“I’ve gotten an idea. Why don’t we take Yue Buqun, the Head Master of the Huashan School, hostage, and then at knife’s point, coerce him into upholding this marriage?” Ji Wushi suggested.

“That’s an wonderful idea, Night Owl!” Zu Qianqiu and Old Man cheered together. “There’s no time to lose. Let’s set off right now for the capture of Yue Buqun,” they said.

“But that Mr. Yue is the Head Master of a renown school. He must have great attainments in both the inner energy department and the sword art department. If we fight him, firstly, we don’t have a sure win, and

secondly, even if we do catch him, I am sure he would rather die than submit. What are we gonna do then?” Ji Wushi asked.

“Then we’ll just have to kidnap his wife and daughter to add pressure for him,” Old Man replied.

“I agree! But we must do everything in secret, and not let anyone else know about it to make Huashan School lose face. Young Master Linghu would for sure be very displeased if he ever finds out that we have offended his Master,” Zu Qianqiu added.

In the next moment, the three began discussing details as to how they could kidnap Madam Yue and Yue Lingshan.

“Hey, you three reckless chaps, get out of here right now and stop bothering me!” Ying-Ying suddenly spoke, her voice loud and clear.

Seeing her opening her mouth and speak all of a sudden, Linghu

Chong was stunned. He held her hand with an even tighter grip. Ji Wushi, Zu Qianqiu, and Old Man were simply thunderstruck.

“Yes, yes…I…I…I….” Old Man muttered, but after saying the word “I” three times, the terror started to sink in, and he froze.

“Yes, yes, your highness! We were only talking nonsense. The Sacred Lady will not take that seriously. We’ll head straight to the Western Regions tomorrow and never return to the Central Plains,” Ji Wushi muttered.

“That’s three more who have just been banished for life,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

“Who asked you to go to the Western Region? I have something I’d like the three of you handle for me,” getting back onto her feet, Ying-Ying said coldly.

“The Sacred Lady speaks the word, and we’ll do it with all our heart,” the trio replied in unison, each feeling overjoyed.

“I want to kill a person, but could not find him right away. You can

spread the word out: whoever kills this man will be guaranteed a handsome reward from me,” Ying-Ying instructed.

“We really don’t deserve any reward. If the Sacred Lady wants this person dead, even if the three brothers of us have to chase him to the end of the world, we’ll find him and kill him. May I ask the Sacred Lady the name of the stupid scoundrel who was so audacious to offend the Sacred Lady?” Zu Qianqiu asked.

“With only the three of you, you would not have enough eyes and ears to trace him. You must spread the word to the entire Martial World immediately,” Ying-Ying ordered.

“Yes, yes, your highness,” the three replied all together. “Get on to it, then,” Ying-Ying demanded.

“Yes, your highness. Will the Sacred Lady please inform us which daring rascal does she wish to kill?” Zu Qianqiu asked.

“This person’ surname is Linghu and his name is Chong. He is an apprentice of the Huashan School.” Ying-Ying let out an irritated snort.

These words struck Linghu Chong, Ji Wushi, Zu Qianqiu, and Old Man like thunderbolts, and none of them knew what to say. A good while later, Old Man finally managed to mumble a few words out of this mouth, “That…that….”

“What about that? Are you afraid of the Five Mountains Sword

Alliance and have not the courage to touch an apprentice of the Huashan School?” Ying-Ying snapped in a stern voice.

“When we serve the Sacred Lady, even the Jade Emperor57 or the Lord of the Underworld can be subject to our wrath, much less the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. We’ll try to capture Linghu…Linghu Chong and bring him to the Sacred Lady’s judgment. Old Man, Zu Qianqiu, let’s go,” Ji Wushi answered.

“Young Master Linghu must have somehow offended the Sacred Lady in their conversations,” Old Man thought to himself. “The more intimate a young couple are, the easier they are at odds with each other.

Many years ago when Not-Dead’s mom and I loved each other so deeply like honey mixed with oil, didn’t we also quarrel and fight everyday? Alas, if it weren’t because I punched Not-Dead’s mom so hard on the stomach when she still had the baby inside her that had messed up the pregnancy, Not-Dead the girl wouldn’t have gotten the disease before she was even born. I guess I’ll have no choice but to invite Young Master Linghu to see the Sacred Lady and let her deal with him, herself.”

Just when Old Man was still in the middle of wild flights of thoughts, Ying-Ying bellowed, “Who asked you to capture him? Every minute this Linghu Chong stays alive will only add more stains my unblemished reputation. The earlier he is killed, the earlier I can vent my resentment.”

“Your highness…,” Zu Qianqiu stumbled over his words.

“I see. You’ve developed good friendship with Linghu Chong and

simply don’t want to handle this for me. That’s fine. I’ll ask somebody else to spread the word,” Ying-Ying said with chill in her tone.

Noticing the graveness in her voice, the three had no choice but to bow in compliance. “Your command is our wish, your highness!” they replied in unison.

But Old Man thought to himself, “Young Master Linghu is a man with kindheartedness and justice. Today I have an order from the Sacred Lady and have no choice but to kill him. But after I do so, I shall commit

suicide to accompany him on his way to the underworld.” He took the pill out from his chest pocket and then placed it on the ground.

The three of them turned around and set off. Gradually, their receding figures grew more distant and eventually merged into the dark shades of the night.

Linghu Chong cast a sideway look at Ying-Ying, finding her

contemplating silently with her head down. “She wants me dead in order to preserve her reputation. How hard could that be?” he thought to himself. “If you want me dead, you can just take care of it yourself. Why stir up so many people?” Linghu Chong asked as he unsheathed his long sword slowly, turning it and then handed it over, sword handle first.

Taking the long sword, Ying-Ying turned her head slightly and then fixed her stare at Linghu Chong, who straightened his back and burst into a laugh.

“Your end is imminent. Why are you still laughing?” Ying-Ying asked.

“That’s exactly why I am laughing – my end is finally coming,” Linghu Chong replied.

Raising the long sword, Ying-Ying recoiled her arm in an attacking posture, ready to strike out, but suddenly she turned on her heels and with a strong wave of her arm, threw the long sword in the air. The blade shined profoundly from the reflection of the dim starlight as it flew across the darkness, and with a clank, fell to the ground in a distance.

“It’s all your fault!” Ying-Ying stamped her feet on the ground hysterically. “It’s all your fault that so many people are laughing at me, as though that nobody…nobody will ever want me for the rest…the rest of my life, and I am trying every possible way to make you like me. What…

what’s so terrific about you? How can I ever see another person without feeling ashamed of myself?”

Linghu Chong let out another laugh.

“And you are still laughing at me? Mocking me?” Ying-Ying yelled heatedly. Suddenly, with a loud cry, she broke down in tears.

Linghu Chong immediately felt sorry as tender affections rising in his heart. He suddenly came to realization. “She has very high status in the

Martial World, with the many people always holding her in awe and veneration. Then of course she has a very sensitive pride. Besides, she is a girl, and girls are always born shy. Now when suddenly everybody says that she fell in love with me, it’s only natural that she becomes very displeased. She told Old Man and the rest to spread the word only to refute a rumor.

She didn’t really want me dead. Once everyone hears what she said, of course no one would believe that we are a couple, and the rumor would have no ground.”

At that thought, he spoke softly, “It is really my fault, causing damage to your clean name, Miss! I’ll be on my way. Goodbye.”

“Where are you going?” Ying-Ying wiped the tears off her eyes with her sleeve and asked.

“Anywhere my legs bring me to,” Linghu Chong answered.

“But you promised to escort me. How can you just walk away like

that?”

“I must have had an inflated opinion of my abilities to say words like

that. I’ve really made a fool out of myself in front of you, Miss. With such outstanding Kung Fu skills you really have no need for any protection.

Even one hundred Linghu Chong putting together would be no match for you,” Linghu Chong answered with a smile, and as soon as the last word left his mouth, he had already turned on his heels to walk away.

“You can’t go!” Ying-Ying yelled hastily. “Why is that?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Zu Qianqiu and the other two have already set out to spread the word out. It will only take a few days for it to become publicly known. Then

everybody will be on your heels trying to kill you. It will be like walking on thorns every step of the way. You wouldn’t be able to escape the fatal disaster even if you are perfectly fit, much less when you are so badly injured.” “Linghu Chong dying from Miss’s words, that’s fine,” Linghu Chong grinned indifferently.

He walked over to pick up the long sword on the ground and then

shoved it back into its sheath. Feeling pretty sure that he would not be able to climb up the slope, he decided to walk alongside the mountain gully.

“Hey, stop! You!” seeing that Linghu Chong was walking further and further, Ying-Ying ran after him, shouting.

“It will only bring you trouble if Linghu Chong stays with Miss. It will be much better if I leave by myself,” Linghu Chong said.

“You…you…,” Ying-Ying muttered, biting her lip hard, feeling the distraction growing inside her by the second. Seeing that Linghu Chong simply would not stop walking away, she ran a few steps closer and then uttered, “Linghu Chong, you just want to force me to say it myself, don’t you?”

“What? I don’t understand?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise.

Ying-Ying bit her lip again and finally said, “I asked Zu Qianqiu and the group to spread the word, because I want you…I want you to stay by my side forever, and never leave me.” After these words, she trembled so frantically as though she could collapse any moment.

“You…you want to be with me?” Linghu Chong stood in amazement. “Yes! After Zu Qianqiu and the other two spread the word out, you

can only stay alive if you stay by my side. Who would have thought you didn’t care about your life any bit and were not afraid at all. Wouldn’t that…wouldn’t that have done you for good?”

“So you do care for me very much, but just wouldn’t admit any of it in front of those other fellows,” Linghu Chong thought to himself as a

stream of gratitude washed over him. He turned around and walked next to her, holding both of her hands into his own. Ying-Ying’s hands were icy cold; Linghu Chong could feel that both her palms were covered in cold sweats.

“Your hands are cold.” Linghu Chong said gently. “I am afraid,” Ying-Ying answered.

“What are you afraid of?”

“I am afraid this fool right here won’t listen to me and would rather risk his life out there. I am afraid that you might not even make it to the end of tomorrow and end up dying under those worthless, rotten lowlifes’ murderous hands.”

“They are all courageous and straightforward guys who respect you very much. Why do you despise them so much?” Linghu Chong sighed.

“They laugh at me behind my back and they want to kill you.

Wouldn’t that make them rotten lowlifes?” Ying-Ying argued.

“But it was you who had ordered them to kill me. How can you blame this on them?” Linghu Chong could not hold his grin back. “Moreover, they never laughed at you behind your back? Remember when Ji Wushi, Old

Man, and Zu Qianqiu mentioned in their conversation, how respectful they were in their tones? What made you think they were laughing at you behind your back?”

“They weren’t laughing on their faces, but they were laughing in their

guts.”

Hearing the girl persist unreasonably, Linghu Chong found it hard to

refute, so he said, “All right! If you don’t allow me to leave, I’ll stay here and be your company. Alas, it probably wouldn’t feel that great to be

chopped into pieces.”

“Wouldn’t feel great? You’ll feel awful,” Ying-Ying replied, feeling wild with joy to hear Linghu Chong agree to stay. She turned her face to the side when she spoke these words, and illuminated under the dim starlight of the night, the snow-white face

seemed to be glowing in a soft radiance. Linghu Chong felt a tickle in his heart.

“This girl in fact is much more beautiful than the little apprentice sister, and she treats me with great care and affection. But…but…why couldn’t I forget little apprentice sister even for a single moment?” he thought to himself.

But Ying-Ying had no idea that he was thinking of Yue Lingshan. “Where’s the zither I gave you? You lost it, didn’t you?” she said.

“That’s right! I ran out of money on the way, so I pawned the zither in the pawnshop for some silver,” Linghu Chong answered as he took off the pack on his back, opened it, and then took out the short zither.

Ying-Ying could see the tight wrap around the zither in the pack.

Knowing that Linghu Chong had always treasured this present from hers, she was very pleased.

“How many lies do you have to make everyday to make yourself happy?” she reproved.

Getting the zither from Linghu Chong, she gave a few plucks to the strings, and then began playing that “Song of Peace and Serenity.”

“Have you learned the entire piece yet?’ she asked. “Far from that!” Linghu Chong answered.

Quietly, he listened to the gentler zither sounds, feeling relaxed and joyful. After a while, he noticed that the notes of music were quite different from the ones she had played in the Bamboo-Green Alley in Luoyang. Now they almost sounded like chirps from birds on top of the branches or spurt from mountain strings, with continuous jingles and tinkles, sounding very interesting and pleasant. “Same melody, but different notes. So this ‘Song of Peace and Serenity’ can have so many variations,” he thought.

Suddenly a loud ring echoed as the shortest string of the zither broke in half. Ying-Ying frowned but continued to play. But only minutes later,

another string snapped. Linghu Chong could sense much fidgety carried in the zither play, which were totally contrary to the intention the music was supposed to depict. Before he had any success to think it through, another crack echoed as a third string snapped in half.

“You sit right next to me and keep disturbing me. How can I play the zither well like that?” Pushing the zither aside, Ying-Ying protested.

“I’ve been sitting here very quietly since the beginning. When did I ever disturb her?” Linghu Chong thought to himself. But he figured it out

right away. “So she could not find peace of mind and she is blaming that on me.”

He didn’t even try to argue, and simply lay down on the meadow in repose with his eyes closed. Soon his fatigue caught up with him and before he knew it, he had fell asleep.

By the time he woke again, it was already the next day. He looked around and then found Ying-Ying washing her face on her knees by the

mountain gully. He watched on as Ying-Ying began combing her hair after she finished washing her face. The skin on her arms was so white as though the arms were made out of pure jade, and the beautiful long hair almost touched the ground. The picture was so beautiful that Linghu Chong forgot about everything else and just sat there, watching in a daze.

Ying-Ying looked back over her shoulder and then blushed when she found Linghu Chong gazing at her in a trance.

“Lazy bum! Getting up so late!” she grinned. “I’ll go catch some frogs. Let’s see if I’ve build up enough strength,” feeling quite embarrassed to be caught gazing at her, Linghu Chong uttered awkwardly.

“Why don’t you stay lying down and rest some more? I’ll go catch some,” Ying-Ying suggested.

Linghu Chong struggled to get back onto his feet, but all his limbs

were sore and limp, and the energy streams inside him seethed the moment he tried to use his strength.

“Either let me die or let me live,” Linghu Chong thought to himself, feeling very irritated. “Staying half dead and half alive like this, I am pretty much a good-for-nothing. Even I am disgusted with myself, not mentioning how others would think of me as a complete nuisance.”

“Your internal injuries might not be so hard to heal. This is a very

secluded area. We have nothing else, anyway. You can just let time take it’s course and let the wounds heal slowly. There’s no need to be impatient,” noticing the displeased expression on Linghu Chong’s face, Ying-Ying

comforted him.

The valley the gully flow through was located in a remote section of the mountain range. Ever since the night when Ji Wushi and the rest of the group passed by, no one else ever showed up. The two of them lived in the valley for almost a fortnight. Ying-Ying’s internal wounds had healed early on, and every day she would pick wild fruit and catch wild frogs for food, but Linghu Chong only became thinner and thinner as days go by. She forced him to take the pill left by Great Master Fang-Sheng, and played the zither for him everyday to help him fall asleep, but these did not seem to have an effect on his injuries. Linghu Chong knew that his final day would be coming soon, but having always been open-minded all his life, he did not let that bother him, and kept talking and joking with Ying-Ying every day. Although Ying-Ying had always been arrogant and willful before, at the thought that Linghu Chong could be suddenly gone any moment now, she became even more gentle and soft, docile and obedient, and attended upon Linghu Chong with all her heart. Even at times when she got angry over trifles occasionally, she would immediately regret it and apologize to him.

One day after eating two peaches, Linghu Chong was exhausted already, and soon, he fell asleep. In the ooziness, he heard the sound of

somebody sobbing. Opening his eyes slightly, he found Ying-Ying bending over by his side sobbing uncontrollably. Stunned, Linghu Chong was just

about to ask the reason for her grief when he stumbled across the answer, “She knows that I am dying. That’s why she is so grieved.”

“Don’t cry! Don’t cry! I can live for at least another eighty years. I am not leaving this world in any hurry,” reaching out his left hand, he

stroked her beautiful hair and said with a forced smile.

“You are getting thinner and thinner every day. I…I…I don’t want to live anymore…,” Ying-Ying whimpered.

Linghu Chong could feel the utter sincerity and deep sorrow in her voice, and immense gratitude immediately filled his heart. A strong surge of warmth suddenly shot up his throat, and blood immediately gushed out of his mouth. The entire world seemed to have started to swirl around him, and before he knew it, he lost consciousness.

Chapter 18: Collaboration

The old man turned his head back and glared at Linghu Chong coldly. With a trace of surprise shown on his face, he snorted. Linghu Chong raised his cup. "Please!" he said. During the next many days, Linghu Chong remained in a coma.

Occasionally, he would regain slight consciousness, feeling as though his body was drifting high in the clouds, before slipping right back into the

coma only moments later. Sometimes, it felt as if someone was forcing

water down his throat, while some other times, he felt as though his entire body had been roasted on fire. Not only couldn’t he move a muscle in his arms or legs, he didn’t even have any strength to open his eyes.

Then, one day, when he was finally in his right mind, he felt someone grabbing tightly around his wrists and infusing two streams of burning hot energy into his body, each through an acupoint on one of his wrist. And instantly, they clashed and collided fiercely with the streams of energy

already inside his body. Feeling the ineffable pain, he opened his mouth and cry out loud, yet no sound came out of it, while the pain only worsened as though he was experiencing the combination of all tortures known to mankind at the same time.

This went on and on. In his ooziness, Linghu Chong didn’t know how many days passed by like that; all he knew was that every time after more inner energy was infused inside him, the excruciating pain and suffering

would reduce slightly compared to the last time. Eventually his brain began to function normally once again and it didn’t take him long to figure out that someone with very resourceful inner power must have been working on him, curing his internal injuries.

“Could Master and Master-Wife have found a senior grandmaster to save my life?” he thought, “But where did Ying-Ying go? And where are Master and Master-Wife? How about little apprentice sister?” As soon as the thought of little apprentice sister came into his mind, the energy flow in his chest seethed hysterically, and he lost consciousness instantaneously. Thus everyday, someone came and infused more inner energy into his body, and at last the day came when he was much more clear-headed and

was able to open his mouth to speak.

“Many…many thanks to the senior master! Where…where am I?” He opened his eyes slowly, and then took in the glimpse of a much-

crinkled face, which smiled gently at him. This face looked very familiar. Still in a daze, Linghu Chong gazed at him to take a better look, and before long he noticed that there was no hair on the man’s head, only burning scars from incense sticks58 – the man was a Buddhist monk. The indistinct image of a man came to his mind.

“You…you are Great…Great Master…Fang,” he muttered.

“Very good! Very good! You can recognize me now. I am Fang- Sheng,” the old monk replied in a smile, looking utterly gratified.

“Yeah, yeah! You are Great Master Fang-Sheng,” Linghu Chong repeated.

By then, he had just realized that he was inside a small room. A small oil lamp on the table lit the room with dim yellowish glow, and he was lying on bed under a cotton-padded quilt.

“How do you feel?” Fang-Sheng asked.

“I feel better now. Where…where am I?” Linghu Chong asked. “You are inside the Shaolin Temple,” Fang-Sheng answered.

“I…I am inside the Shaolin Temple? Where’s Ying-Ying? How did I come to the Shaolin Temple?” Linghu Chong asked in amazement.

“You have only regained your consciousness a moment ago. It would be wise to restrain your thoughts so as to not exhaust yourself and to avoid any possibility of relapse. Everything can wait till later.” Fang-Sheng

smiled. Henceforth, Fang-Sheng would come to the small room everyday to work on Linghu Chong’s injuries using his own inner energy, once in the morning and once in the evening. A fortnight later, Linghu Chong was

already able to sit up and eat, drink without any help. But every time when he asked about the whereabouts of Ying-Ying and how he had ended up in the temple, Fang-Sheng would not answer but only smile.

One day, after Fang-Sheng had infused his inner energy into Linghu Chong’s body, he said, “Young hero Linghu, by now, your life has been temporarily preserved, but the old monk’s Kung Fu is only limited and still could not dissolve the heterogeneous energy streams inside your body. At the moment any deferral would count as a gain. But I am afraid that within the period of one year, your internal injuries would have a relapse, and by then, even the Buddha, himself, would not be able to save you.”

“Ping One-Finger, Dr. Ping, told me the same thing that very day.

Great Master has done his utmost to cure me, and I can never be thankful enough to what Great Master has done for me. The lifespan of any man is his destiny. Even if Great Master had greater inner energy, you wouldn’t have been able to turn Heaven’s will.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“We members of the Buddhist order only believe in Karma, not

Heaven’s will.” Fang-Sheng shook his head. “I’ve already told you that day when we first met that the Abbot of our temple, senior apprentice brother Fang-Zheng, has profound inner power. If he finds you a part of his Karma and is willing to teach you the secret of the Tendon-Altering Sutra, then

even one’s tendons and muscles can be altered, much less dissolving heterogeneous energy inside. I’ll bring you to pay a formal visit to the Abbot. I hope you will answer him wisely.”

Linghu Chong had long heard of the grand name of the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Great Master Fang-Zheng. “Thank you very much for introducing me, Great Master,” he said joyously. “Even if it’s not in my

Karma for Great Master Abbot to look upon me with favor, just being able to pay a visit to this accomplished hierarch of the present age is already good luck that is hard to come by.”

Slowly, he got off the bed, dressed himself, and then followed Great Master Fang-Sheng out of the small room.

As soon as he stepped out of the small room, he was bathed in the warm and dazzling sunshine. It almost felt as though he had just entered into another world, and his spirit soared. Still feeling sore and limp in his

legs, he walked in slow paces and looked around along the way. The temple had many hall buildings, and each of the hall buildings looked majestic and magnificent. They met many monks on their way, and every time far before they even got there, those monks would move out of the way and bow to Fang-Sheng with their palms together in a Buddhist greeting, holding him in reverence and sticking to etiquette. After walking through three long

corridors, they arrived outside a stone building.

“Fang-Sheng requests an audience with apprentice brother Abbot,” Fang-Sheng said to the young Buddhist novice standing outside of the building.

The young Buddhist novice went inside to report and soon returned. “Abbot is happy to have your presence,” he said, putting his palms

together in greeting.

Linghu Chong followed Fang-Sheng and entered the building. Then a short, old monk sitting on a cattail hassock in the middle caught his

attention.

“Fang-Sheng here shows his respect to apprentice brother Abbot, and I’d like you to meet the Head Apprentice of the Huashan School, young hero Linghu Chong,” Fang-Sheng bowed and saluted. Linghu Chong knelt down on his knees right away and kowtowed respectfully. Abbot Fang-Zheng raised himself slightly and extended his right arm in greeting.

“Young hero, no need for excessive courtesy. Please sit down.”

After Linghu Chong finished kowtowing, he took a seat on the cattail hassock to the right of Fang-Sheng and shot another glance at Abbot Fang- Zheng. The man had a thin face with a kind and amiable look, which gave no indication as to how old the man really was.

“Who would have thought that this so well-known hierarch looks so mediocre? Without prior knowledge, who would have believed that he turns out to be the Head Master of the Number One martial arts school in the

entire Martial World?” Linghu Chong thought to himself secretly. Then he heard Great Master Fang-Sheng’s voice.

“After the last three months of nursing and nourishing, young hero Linghu is feeling much better now.”

“Did I stay in a coma for over three months? I thought it was only twenty some days.” Linghu Chong thought to himself, feeling astounded.

“Excellent,” Fang-Zheng replied. Turning his head toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Young hero Linghu, your respectful master Mr. Yue, the

Head Master of the Huashan School, is an upright man who never stoop to flattery. His clean fame is well known to the entire Martial World. I’ve

always admired him very much.”

“Thank you for your kind words!” Linghu Chong stood up and bowed. “I had been unconscious due to my severe injuries, and I owe a great debt of gratitude to Great Master Fang-Sheng for saving my life. But I had no idea that three month have passed. May I ask you if my Master and Master-Wife are well?” Even though that he shouldn’t have asked an outsider about the well being of his own Master and Master-Wife, feeling very concerned about them, he still couldn’t help but ask.

“I heard that Mr. Yue, Madam Yue, and the Huashan apprentices are in the Fujian Province at this moment,” Fang-Zheng replied.

“Many thanks, Great Master Abbot!” Linghu Chong felt relieved right away. But then immediately after, a feeling of sadness welled up in this heart. “So Master and Master-Wife have brought little apprentice sister to apprentice brother Lin’s home at last,” he thought to himself.

“Young hero Linghu, please sit down,” Fang-Zheng said gently. “Apprentice brother Fang-Sheng told me that young hero showed most excellent sword art skills and has truly mastered the skills taught by

Grandmaster Feng of Huashan. That is so gratifying.” “You flatter me,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Grandmaster Feng has lived in seclusion for many years. I had thought that the venerable grandmaster had passed away. It is such pleasure to hear that he is still with us in this world,” Fang-Zheng said.

“Yes!” Linghu Chong acknowledged.

“Young hero, after you had your injuries, your healer had gone about the wrong way in curing you, leaving the many conflicting energy streams inside you that can not be easily dissolved. Apprentice brother Fang-Sheng has explained all these to me. After careful consideration, I came to realization that only after you begin training in the secret Kung Fu of our

school, the Tendon Altering Sutra, will you be able to use your own internal power to dissolve them gradually. If we use any external source of inner

energy and force it upon young hero’s body, it would be like drinking poison to quench thirst and cause more suffering. For the last three months, apprentice brother Fang-Sheng used his own inner energy to extend your life. But after he infused his inner energy into your body, he had only added another heterogeneous energy stream inside you. If you try gathering your inner energy, you’ll see what I mean.”

Linghu Chong gave it a try, and just as Fang-Zheng had said, he immediately felt waves of inner energy surging inside his lower stomach, clash with each other, completely out of his control. Agonizing pain soon swept over him, his body trembling wildly as cold sweats streamed down his forehead.

“The old Buddhist monk is so incompetent and only caused young hero more pain and suffering,” Fang-Sheng said apologetically, putting his palms together.

“Please don’t say that, Great Master,” Linghu Chong replied hurriedly. “For my well being, you worked with all your heart and did

everything you could do, exhausting precious inner energy of your own that took a long time to cultivate. I have only been granted a new lease of life thanks to Great Master’s kindness.”

“I really don’t deserve that,” said Fang-Sheng. “Grandmaster Feng granted me great benevolence many years ago. What I did couldn’t even repay a fraction of my debt of gratitude to Grandmaster Feng.”

At these words, Fang-Zheng held up his head.

“Why haven’t you ascended the meanings of benevolence and rancor?

Benevolence is Karma while rancor is also Karma. Rancor should not be persisted in while benevolence need not be persisted in, either. All things in the mortal world are as transient as a fleeting cloud. There is no benevolence or rancor after death.”59

“Yes, many thanks for the advice, senior apprentice brother,” Fang- Sheng answered. “We members of the Buddhist order believe that compassion is the principle of life, so with the knowledge of young hero’s internal injuries, we will aid to the best we can,” Fang-Zheng said slowly. “The divine art of the Tendon Altering Sutra was written by the venerable Bodhidharma,60 the First Ancestor of the Zen Sect of Mahayana in the East Region, and inherited by the Second Ancestor of the Zen sect, Great Master Hui-Ke.

Great Master Hui-Ke had a previous Buddhist name called Shen-Guang. He was from Luoyang. Having been an expert in the Doctrine of Confucius and Mencius since young, he was especially proficient in understanding profound theories. At the time when First Ancestor Bodhidharma resided in the Xiben Temple, Great Master Shen-Guang went to the temple to make an application for increase. Seeing that Great Master Shen-Guang had been

studying heterogeneously with many preconceived ideas rooted deeply and was too self-assured, which would make a great obstacle in learning the true ideas of Zen, First Ancestor Bodhidharma refused him at once. Great

Master Shen-Guang entreated for a long time, yet still could not cross the threshold, so he drew his sword and chopped his own left arm off.”

Linghu Chong uttered a cry of shock, thinking to himself, “That was some fortitude Great Master Shen-Guang had shown in search of Buddhist principles and truths.”

“His whole heartedness finally moved First Ancestor Bodhidharma,” Fang-Zheng continued, “who accepted him as his student and renamed him to Hui-Ke. Thus, Second Ancestor Hui-Ke was able to inherit the mantle of First Ancestor Bodhidharma and carry on the teaching of Zen principles.

What the Second Ancestor had learned from the First Ancestor

Bodhidharma was the correct reason of the Buddhist doctrine, using the teaching in the Lankavatara Sutra for introspection and for realizing one’s nature. Even though the name of our school’s martial arts skills is widely known, it is, in fact, only a superficial study that is extremely insignificant.

First Ancestor Bodhidharma only taught his apprentices ways to strength and invigorate their bodies. When the body is strengthened, the mind becomes clever, and when the mind becomes clever, the easier it is to

comprehend. But many later disciples often became infatuated with martial arts, so as to attend to trifles and neglect the essentials, therefore, gave no

consideration to the original purpose of First Ancestor’s martial arts teaching. Pity, what a pity!”

At that word, Fang-Zheng shook his head again and again with emotion. After a long pause, he finally went on.

“After First Ancestor passed away and returned to Heaven, Second Ancestor stumped upon a volume of Buddhist scripture by First Ancestor’s cattail hassock, and that was the Tendon Altering Sutra. This volume had

very abstruse argumentation and principles, and even after Second Ancestor studied it assiduously, he still could not understand it. But he knew that if First Ancestor Bodhidharma had left this volume of scripture next to the

stonewall after nine years of strict meditation it simply had to be

extraordinary, even though it had few words. So Second Ancestor traveled all over many famous mountains and peaks in search of well-accomplished and eminent monks who could understand the true significance within. But at the time, Second Ancestor, himself, was already a well-accomplished and eminent monk. Even he couldn’t understand the scripture after cudgeling his brain, it was only harder to try to find someone with even higher intelligence and more profound understanding than him. Hence, for twenty years, Second Ancestor searched in vain, and the mystery in the volume of scripture remained unsolved. One day, with the ultimate Karma, Second

Ancestor was able to meet an Indian monk named Bancimidi on Mount Emei in Szechwan, and when they discussed Buddhist studies, they were congenial to each other. So Second Ancestor took out the Tendon Altering Sutra and studied intensively together with Bancimidi on top of the Golden Peak of Mount Emei. The two eminent Buddhist monks enlightened and inspired each other a great deal and were able to gain a thorough understanding after forty-nine days.”

“Merciful Buddha! Thank Buddha!” putting his palms together, Fang- Sheng praised.

“But what Great Master Bancimidi explained were mostly theories of Zen. It was after another twelve years, when Second Ancestor chanced upon a young martial arts expert in the city of Chang-An and after a thorough discussion that lasted three days and three nights, was he able to

apprehend the profound martial arts theories in the Tendon Altering Sutra to the full extent.” After a pause, he said, “And that young man was none other than Li Jing, who was made Wei-Lord for rendering his outstanding

service to the founding of the Tang Dynasty and later assisting Emperor Tai-Zong in putting down the Turks rebellion. Wei-Lord Li’s exceptional achievements probably will also have to be attributed to the benefits he received from reading the Tendon Altering Sutra.”

“Wow,” Linghu Chong muttered as he thought to himself, “Turned out the Tendon Altering Sutra had such historical background.”

Fang-Zheng continued, “The Tendon Altering Sutra Kung Fu utilizes all the channels, passages of one’s body and bonds the spirits of the five internal organs. Comprehensive yet does not disperse, cycling through yet incessant. Energy originates from the within, while blood nourishes from the outside. Once the practitioner masters the Tendon Altering Sutra Kung Fu, power can be launched at a change of thought. The assembly and the release become part of a natural course, and complete themselves without conscious commands, just like the rising of the tide or the exploding of the thunder. Young hero, once one masters the Tendon Altering Sutra, it is

almost like a small boat floating among gigantic waves of the ocean. When the angry waves surge about, the small boat naturally moves high and low accordingly, never makes an effort. Even if the boat had wanted to make an effort, where would the strength be coming from and where would the

strength be used upon?”

Linghu Chong nodded again and again, knowing that the principle in the metaphor was broad and deep, and was also interlinked with the sword art theory Feng Qingyang had explained to him before.

“Just because the Tendon Altering Sutra contains such immense power, in the last several hundred years, it has not been taught to anyone except the right ones and the ones who had the Karma,” Fang-Zheng went on. “Without the blessed Karma, even outstanding and exceptional

members of our own school can not be taught the secret of the sutra. Junior apprentice brother Fang-Sheng would make a good example. He already has high Kung Fu skills, and has always held his abstains rigorously. An outstanding disciple of our school he is, indeed. Yet, our Master didn’t teach him anything from the sutra.”

“Yes. Linghu Chong does not have such blessed Karma. I dare not ask for it absurdly,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Not so. Young hero is one with the Karma.” Fang-Zheng shook his

head.

A mixed feeling of shock and delight surged in Linghu Chong’s chest.

His heart thumped heavily, and he couldn’t believe that he actually was one with the Karma for this ultimate Kung Fu of the Shaolin School when

eminent monks such as Great Master Fang-Sheng didn’t even have the fortune to learn it. “The Buddha opens his wisdom to the vast audiences, but only ones with the Karma can attain the truth,” Fang-Zheng spoke slowly. “Young hero is the disciple of the venerable Grandmaster Feng – that is the one

element of the Karma; young hero ended up coming to our Shaolin Temple

– that is another element of the Karma; young hero will die unless he

studies the Tendon Altering Sutra while apprentice brother Fang-Sheng

could benefit from learning the sutra but wouldn’t suffer from not learning the sutra, either, and the difference in between is yet one more element of the Karma.”

“Young hero Linghu is blessed with the ultimate fortune. Fang-Sheng is gratified for you,” Fang-Sheng said, putting his palms together in a

Buddhist greeting.

“Junior apprentice brother,” Fang-Zheng said, “it is in your nature that you always persist in things. You have never been able to see through the ultimate principle in the three ways of vimukta: ‘Void, Markless, and

Non-action,’ thus not able to overcome the barrier of understanding the true meaning of life and death. It’s not that I am not willing to teach you the

Tendon Altering Sutra. I am only afraid that once you start training in this superior Kung Fu, you will become infatuated with it, hence neglect the proper duties of Buddhist meditation.”

“Thank you, senior apprentice brother for the edification.” A look of anxiety appeared on Fang-Sheng’s face as he stood up and spoke in an utterly respectful voice.

Fang-Zheng nodded slightly to show his encouragement. He waited for a good while until a smile crept back onto Fang-Sheng’s lips before giving another nod and letting a small smile blossom on his own face.

Turning his head toward Linghu Chong, he spoke again. “There was originally a significant obstacle in this matter, but this obstacle no longer stood in our way. Even since First Ancestor

Bodhidharma, this Tendon Altering Sutra was only taught to members of the Shaolin School, never anyone outside. I cannot let this stipulation end in my hands. That’s why young hero must join the Shaolin School of Mount Songshan and become a laymen apprentice of the Shaolin School.” After a short pause, he spoke again, “If young hero does not find the old monk loathsome, then you can become an apprentice of mine as a member of the ‘Guo’ class. You can change your name to Linghu Guochong.”

“Congratulations, young hero,” Fang-Sheng uttered a cry of joy.

“Senior apprentice brother has only taken in two apprentices all his life, and that happened over thirty years ago. As the final apprentice of apprentice brother Abbot, not only would you be able to learn the superior Kung Fu of the Tendon Altering Sutra, the twelve consummate Shaolin Skills my

apprentice brother is expert in, can also be passed down to you according to your abilities. By then, young hero will certainly be able to brighten the name of our school and add an extraordinary splendor to the Martial World.”

“Great Master Abbot, I can’t be thankful enough to your great kindness. But I am already an apprentice of the Huashan School and it

would be inappropriate for me to join another school and study under a new Master,” Linghu Chong stood up and replied respectfully.

“Well, that is exactly the significant obstacle I had just mentioned.” Fang-Zheng let out a slight smile. “Young hero, you probably don’t know it yet, but you are no longer an apprentice of the Huashan School.”

Linghu Chong was thunderstruck. “Why…why…why do you say that I am no longer an apprentice of the Huashan School?” His voice trembled

as he spoke. “Young hero, please take a look at this,” taking a letter out from his sleeve pocket, Fang-Zheng answered. He gave his palm a gentle wave, and the letter glided toward Linghu Chong in a straight line.

As soon as Linghu Chong caught the letter in his hands, a shock shot down his spine. Gasping with astonishment, he couldn’t help but think,

“This Great Master Abbot has fathomless inner energy, indeed. Even with just a thin letter was he able to pass over such vigorous inner energy. How amazing!”

Looking down at the letter in his hands, he saw the red seal on the

envelope that carried the words “Seal of the Huashan School Head Master.” There were also characters in the middle of the envelope that said, “To

Great Master Abbot of the Shaolin School.” These characters were written with an upright form in a dignified style, and were precisely the handwriting of his Master, Yue Buqun. Faintly feeling a foreboding

sensation, he drew the letter out with trembling hands and read it. The

sinking feeling in his stomach settled in as he read on, not able to believe that this would ever happen. After reading it the second time, he suddenly felt everything around him began spinning uncontrollably, and before he knew it, he had already collapsed to the floor with a loud thump. By the time he woke up again, he found himself in the arms of Great Master Fang- Sheng. Struggled back to his feet, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but break into a loud cry.

“May I ask the reason for young hero’s sorrow? Had any mishap happened to your respectful master?” Fang-Sheng asked.

“Great Master, please take a look,” handing the letter to Fang-Sheng, Linghu Chong muttered, choking with sobs.

Taking the letter from Linghu Chong, Fang-Sheng took a good look at the letter, which said: “Yue Buqun, the Head Master of the Huashan School, here presents his greetings to the Head Master of the Shaolin School: As the Head Master of the Huashan School with unmerited reputation, I have not being sending my regards to your highness, so as not to disturb your peace. This letter is in regard to the defiant apprentice of our school, Linghu Chong, who, with the disobedient character, had been repeatedly breaking school rules and even took up with evildoers and associated with brigands. Buqun must have been an inept Master, because even after strict reprimands and stern punishments, I still failed to show effect. In order to uphold the righteousness of the

Martial World and the clean name of an orthodox school, I hereby expel the defiant apprentice Linghu Chong from the Huashan School. From now on, this defiant apprentice is no longer a member of our school. If he continues to collude with evil and bring calamity to the world, I request all friends of the orthodox schools to eliminate him with no mercy. With great anxiety

and shame, I am writing this letter, and the words could not express my feelings to the full extent. I wish for your forgiveness.”

This also took Fang-Sheng by great surprise. He wanted to comfort Linghu Chong but failed to find any words. Giving the letter back to Fang-

Zheng, he took a glance at Linghu Chong, whose face was now covered with streams of tears, and heaved a long sigh.

“Alas, young hero, you really shouldn’t have affiliated with members of the Dark-Wood Cliff.”

“Every Head Master of the orthodox schools must have received

similar letters from your respectful master and have already informed all their members. Even if you were perfectly fit, as soon as you walk out of this door, it will be like walking on thorns every step of the way, and all members of the orthodox schools will consider you a fatal enemy,” Fang- Zheng spoke again. These words stunned Linghu Chong. He immediately remembered hearing similar words from Ying-Ying by the mountain gully. By now, not only all the heterodox school members would be on his heels with a mission to kill him, all the orthodox school members would also consider him a fatal enemy. As vast as the world under heaven was, there seemed to have not a place he could shelter himself. Then he remembered the deep love of Master and Master-Wife, who could almost be considered his foster parents. They not only taught him Kung Fu, but also brought him up from a child.

But he had been willful and committed all kinds of outrages, which ultimately caused his expulsion from the Huashan School. He could imagine in his mind how Master must have felt more pain and sorrow than him when he wrote these letters. Feeling of grief and shame welled in his heart; he almost itched to just bump his head against a wall to kill himself.

Out of his tear-filled eyes, he could vaguely make out the expression of deep pity on Fang-Zheng and Fang-Sheng’s faces, and suddenly he remembered something: Liu Zhengfeng wanted to have his Gold Basin

Hand Washing ceremony so he could quit the Martial World, but only because he had taken up with the Demon’s Cult Elder Qu Yang, he ended up dying under the Songshan School’s sword. It was obvious that

Righteousness and Evil were not irreconcilable. Even someone as powerful and prestigious as Liu Zhengfeng could not escape the fatal destiny, much less he, an isolated young man not worth mentioning and without any help, let alone the fact that the Five-Tyrant Ridge gathering of heresy could only be worse.

“The sea of bitterness has no boundaries, if one only turns his head, there is the shore,” Fang-Zheng said slowly. “As long as one awakes to his errors, even if he were an unpardonably wicked person, Buddha will not turn his back to him. You are still young, and only took a wrong step in life for a moment and affiliated with the wrong kind of people mistakenly.

That’s not to say that you won’t be able to make a fresh start. Your

affiliation with the Huashan School has made a thorough break. Henceforth, as a member of our Shaolin School, you can thoroughly rectify your errors and be reborn again. I am sure it’s not likely that someone in the Martial World would want to make trouble for you.” He had spoken these words in a very casual manner, yet these words showed a sign of stateliness.

“Right now I have nowhere to go,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “If I rely upon the Shaolin School for protection, not only would I be able to learn the superior Kung Fu to save my life, with the prestige of the Shaolin School, indeed, no one would dare to make trouble for Great

Master Fang-Zheng’s apprentice.” But right at the moment, a feeling of unyielding suddenly rose from within his chest. He thought, “If a man

cannot even stand on his own feet between heaven and earth and has to rely upon another school for protection in shame, how can he be called a true man ever again? If the thousands of people in the Martial World want to kill me, so be it. I’ll just let them come and kill me. Master doesn’t want me

anymore and has expelled me from the Huashan School. So what? I’ll simply wander about alone by myself.”

At that thought, he couldn’t help but feeling righteous ardor surging up his throat, making him thirsty. All he wanted to do now was to drink a few dozens of strong liquor, and the thoughts about life, death, school or faction were all cast behind his back. At the instant, even Yue Lingshan, the one he had always borne in mind constantly, seemed to have become a

complete stranger. Getting back onto his feet, he knelt down in front of Fang-Zheng and Fang-Sheng and then kowtowed respectfully. Believing that he had made up his mind to join the Shaolin School, Fang-Zheng and Fang-Sheng both revealed a smiling face. “Since I am not even wanted by my own Master, I am too shamed to join another school. I can’t thank the two Great Masters enough for your great kindness and mercy. Please accept my farewell,” Linghu Chong stood up and declared in a loud voice.

Fang-Zheng was astounded, having not expected this young man to show no fear of death.

“Young hero, this matter concerns your life and death. Please don’t be swayed by personal feelings,” Fang-Sheng persuaded sincerely.

But Linghu Chong only replied with a burst of laughter. Turning on his heels, he walked out of the room. With his chest filled with grievance, his steps became unexpectedly nimble, and he went out of the Shaolin

Temple in big strides.

As soon as he stepped out of the temple, feeling of desolation welled up in his heart. Looking up into the sky he laughed, thinking, “All the orthodox members consider me a vital enemy, while all the heretical members want to kill me. Linghu Chong most likely won’t even make it to the end of the day. I’d like to see who would be the one taking away my life.”

He checked his pockets. There was no money in his pocket, no sword by his waistband, and even the short zither given to him as a present by Ying-Ying was nowhere to be seen. It wouldn’t have been overstating to say that by then he owned nothing in this world and had not a concern about

anything whatsoever.

He began walking down Mount Songshan. At the time of dusk, he

was already far from the Shaolin Temple. The walk exhausted him and also made him feel very hungry.

“Where should I go about finding something to eat?” he thought to himself. Suddenly, sounds of footsteps thumped as seven or eight men ran toward him in quick steps from the west. All of them were dressed up in tight robes, their weapons tying to their backs.

“If you want to kill me, it’s better that you attack now, so as to save me the trouble of looking for food. Even if I eat my fill I am going to get killed anyway. Why hold the candle to the sun?” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

Stopping at the middle of the road, he stood, arms akimbo, and shouted, “Linghu Chong is right here! Go ahead! Come and kill me!”

But quite to his surprise, when these men ran by him, they simply cast a quick glance at him before making a detour around him.

“This man is a retard,” one man muttered.

“Right! We’d better not let unnecessary incidents delay the more important matter,” another man answered.

“It’ll be terrible if we let him get away,” a third man said.

Only moments later, the group of men had run into the distance.

“Turns out that they are after somebody else,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

Just when the sounds of footsteps from those men finally died down, sounds of hoof beats suddenly rose from the west, and soon five horses galloped by him like a gust of wind. After the horses had dashed out

another one hundred feet or so, one of the horses turned around all of a sudden. The rider was a middle-aged woman.

“Excuse me, mister, you didn’t happen to see an old man in a white robe, did you? He is quite thin and tall, and also carries a scimitar by his waist,” she asked.

“No, I didn’t.” Linghu Chong shook his head. Without another word, the woman turned the horse around and raced after the other four riders.

“Well, it seems that they are pursuing an old man in a white robe. I don’t have anything to do, anyway. I might as well just go watch the fun,” Linghu Chong thought to himself, and at that thought, he began walking toward the east.

He walked for about half an hour when another group of men, over a dozen of them, caught up with him in a small trot and then went past him.

“Howdy, bro, did you happen to see an old man in a white robe? He is quite thin and tall and has a scimitar by his waist,” a man in his fifties turned his head back and asked.

“No, I didn’t,” Linghu Chong answered.

After another while, when he arrived at a fork in the road, sounds of horse bells61 rose from the northwest corner as three horses dashed along the road at high speed. All three riders were young men in their twenties.

“Hey, I’ve got a question! Have you seen a…?” the leading rider waved his horsewhip in the air and asked.

“…a thin, tall, old man in a white robe with a scimitar by his waist, right?” Linghu Chong finished the sentence for him.

“That’s right! You know where he is?” all looking utterly joyful, the three asked in unison.

“Sorry, I have not seen him,” Linghu Chong said with a sigh.

The leading rider’s temper hit the roof. “God damn it! Are you making fun of me? If you haven’t seen him, how could you have described him?” he bellowed.

“Why couldn’t I know the description before actually seeing him?” Linghu Chong grinned. The leading young man raised the horsewhip in his hand and was

about to whip it at Linghu Chong’s head when another young man’s voice rose.

“Second brother, don’t complicate things. Let’s get back to the chase, hurry!”

The young man holding the horsewhip let out a disgruntled snort as he waved the whip and hit the air then rode off together with the other two.

“Why are all these people going after an old man in a white robe.

What did he do?” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “To follow them and watch the fun will certainly be entertaining, but if they realize that I am Linghu Chong, I bet they would kill me on the spot.” At that thought, feeling of fear started stewing in his chest, but then he thought better of it. “At this stage, both the orthodox schools and the heretic schools want me dead. Dodging about might enable me to eke out a miserable life for a few more days, but eventually, I’ll still have to face my bitter end, the final deathblow. What good is it to live a few more days of a life filled with dread? I’d rather accept the circumstances with good will and see who I’ll lose my life to.”

Having made up his mind, he walked on following the dust kicked up by the three horses right away. Later, several more groups of people went pass him in the same direction and all asked him about the “thin, tall, old man in a white robe with a scimitar by his waist.”

“All of these different groups of people are chasing after the old man in white robe. None of them knows where he is, yet all of them are following the same direction. That is so strange!” Linghu Chong thought.

He walked on for another mile or so, crossing through a wood of pine trees, when suddenly a vast wilderness and a dense mass of people appeared in front of his eyes. There were at least six or seven hundred people in the crowd, but the wilderness was so large that the six or seven hundred people in the middle appeared to have only occupied a tiny spot of it. A straight, broad road led directly to the large crowd, so Linghu Chong simply walked forward along the road, and as he walked closer, the scene became clearer.

In the middle of the crowd stood a small pavilion, the kind used as a wayside shelter for travelers to take a rest in. The build of the pavilion

appeared simple and crude. The large crowd of people surrounded the pavilion in a circle yet kept a good distance from it, dozens of feet or so,

and nobody closed in on it. After walking another one hundred feet closer, Linghu Chong finally saw him. An old man in a white robe sat in the middle of the pavilion all by himself, drinking wine next to a small table. Whether he had a scimitar by his waist, Linghu Chong could not tell from the distance. Even though he was sitting down, he still looked as tall as a person in average height standing up.

Feeling of reverence swelled up in Linghu Chong’s heart. Surrounded by so many enemies, the old man was still able to drink his wine in such a

calm and unhurried manner. Among all the heroes Linghu Chong had seen or heard of throughout his life, rarely had one displayed such exceptional heroic spirit. He slowly walked forward and shouldered his way into the

crowd. Everyone in the crowd stared at the old man in white robe with fixed eyes and no one paid the slightest attention to Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong took a good look at the old man. He had a thin face. A bush of sparse, gray beard, long enough to reach his chest, fluttered under his chin in the breeze. Holding the wine cup in his hand, he gazed at the distance where the horizon met with the blue sky without casting even a glance at the crowd surrounding him. He carried a pack on his back, but there was no scimitar by his waist. Turned out that he didn’t even have a

weapon with him. Linghu Chong had no idea about the old man’s name or origin, nor any clue why so many fellow martial people would come after him, nor whether the man was good or evil. He simply admired the heroic spirit the old man had put on display, the self-assurance he had shown as though he was just drink by himself alone and there was no one else even present. And unconsciously, the feeling of mutual sympathy as a fellow

sufferer also swelled up in his heart and consumed him. Taking big strides forward, he spoke loudly.

“Hello there, Senior Master. Don’t you feel lonely drinking all by yourself? Let me be your accompany and drink with you.” Walking straight into the pavilion, Linghu Chong cupped his hands toward the old man in greeting and then sat down by the table.

The old man turned his head around and shot a sharp side-glance toward Linghu Chong. What met his eyes was a weaponless and sick-faced young man he had never met before. He let out a snort as a slight look of

surprise flashed by his face but did not answer.

Linghu Chong picked up the wine kettle and filled the wine cup in front of the old man before filling a wine cup for himself.

“Cheers!” he raised his cup and toasted. Emptying the content of the wine cup down his throat in a swift swing, he drank it up in one gulp. The wine turned out to be very strong liquor; not only did he feel as though his mouth had just been cut with sharp knives as soon as the wine was poured in, he felt as though his entire stomach was on fire now. “Excellent wine!” he praised in a loud voice.

“Hey idiot! Get out! We are here to fight old Xiang to death. Don’t be a hindrance,” a big fellow outside the pavilion bawled in a husky voice.

“I am only drinking together with Senior Master Xiang. How did I become a hindrance for you?” Linghu Chong replied with a grin.

He filled his cup and then poured the wine into his mouth once again. “Excellent wine!” he said with a thumb up.

“Move aside, chap, if you don’t want to die for nothing. We have Chief Dongfang’s order to capture renegade Xiang Wentian. If anyone wants to make trouble or interfere, he is guaranteed a horrible death,” a chilling voice rose from the left side.

Linghu Chong cast a glance at the origin of the voice then caught

sight of a thin, short man with a white face. The man was dressed in a black robe with a yellow band around his waist. There were two or three hundred people standing next to him all dressed in black robes, but their waistbands were in all kinds of different colors. Linghu Chong suddenly remembered: when he had met Elder Qu Yang of the Demon’s Cult outside of the town of Hengshan, Qu was also dressed in the same kind of black robe, and he

could vaguely remember that Qu also had a yellow band around his waist. The thin man said that he was following Chief Dongfang’s order to capture a renegade, then, of course, these people were all cult members of the

Demon’s Cult. Could this thin man have been an elder of the Demon’s Cult as well?

Filling his cup with wine, he drank it up a third time. “Excellent wine!” he praised and then said to the old man in white robe, Xiang

Wentian, “Senior Master Xiang, I’ve drunk three cups of your wine. Many thanks! Many thanks!”

“That chap is the expelled apprentice of the Huashan School, Linghu Chong!” someone suddenly shouted out loud from the east end.

Linghu Chong cast a glance toward the direction of the voice and immediately recognized the man who had spoken out: it was Hou

Renxiong, the apprentice of the Qingcheng School. Since he paid more attention to the crowd with this glance, he also realized that among the people standing next to Hou Renxiong, many were also members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.

“Linghu Chong,” a Taoist Priest spoke in a loud and clear voice,

“your Master said that you have taken up with evildoers, and he certainly said it right. This demon Xiang Wentian’s murderous hands are both

covered with blood of chivalry members of the orthodox schools. What are you doing staying together with him? If you don’t get lost right now, we’ll chop you into bits and pieces.”

“Are you an Uncle-Master of the Taishan School? I have never met this Senior Master Xiang before in my entire life. I’ve only stepped out because I saw the hundreds of you surrounding a man who was all by himself. What is that? And when did the Five Mountains Sword Alliance decided to collaborate with the Demon’s Cult? Aren’t you afraid to become the laughing stocks of all the heroes under Heaven taking on Senior Master Xiang, a single man, with the combined force of both the orthodox and the heretic schools?” Linghu Chong replied.

“When did we ever collaborate with the Demon’s Cult? The Demon’s Cult is here to capture a renegade of their cult; we are here to avenge for friends who have died under the devil’s murderous hands. They do their thing and we do our thing. There’s no relevance whatsoever!” the Taoist Priest rebuffed furiously.

“Good, good! As long as you fight him one on one, I’ll just sit here, drink my wine and watch the fun,” Linghu Chong said.

“Who the hell do you think you are? Everybody, let’s kill this chap before we get even with that devil Xiang,” Hou Renxiong yelled.

“There would be no need to trouble so many people just to kill Linghu Chong, a single man. Brother Hou, you can just come and do it yourself,” Linghu Chong said with a grin. Hou Renxiong knew very well that his own Kung Fu skills were inferior to that of Linghu Chong’s learning from his past experience with Linghu Chong in the wine house when Linghu Chong had sent him rolling down the stairs with a single kick and certainly dared not to challenge Linghu Chong all by himself. But he had no idea that the Linghu Chong now was far from the Linghu Chong then and had lost all his internal

strengths. The others in the group seemed to have great scruples about

Xiang Wentian’s Kung Fu skills and none was bold enough to charge into the pavilion.

“Xiang Wentian, when things have come down to this extent, you’d better go see the chief with us and ask for pardon from his Highness.

There’s still a chance that his Highness might spare your life. You are a great man in our cult. Would you rather see flesh and blood flying in all directions when we fight to death so the outsiders can laugh their heads off?” the thin man from the Demon’s Cult shouted.

Xiang Wentian only answered with a snort and gave a sip to the wine in his cup. As he raised his cup, something clanked, and that was when Linghu Chong noticed the iron shackles chained around his two wrists in

astonishment.

“So he just escaped from his prison and hasn’t even removed the shackles around his wrists,” Linghu Chong thought to himself as

compassion swelled up in his heart. “This man is unable to defend himself.

Why don’t I help him fend off the attacks for a little while and just give away my life here in this muddled fight?”

At that thought, he stood up, arms akimbo, and said loudly, “How can Senior Master Xiang fight you with his hands tied up in iron chains? Since I drank three cups of his great wine, I guess it will have to be my duty to give him a hand in his defense. Anyone who wants to lay a finger on Senior Master Xiang will have to kill Linghu Chong first.”

Seeing how Linghu Chong had come forward for him for no apparent reason in such a lunatic manner, Xiang Wentian was taken by complete

surprise. “Hey boy, why do you help me?” he asked in a whisper.

“Upon seeing injustice, draw one’s sword to set right a wrong,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Where’s your knife then?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“Oh, I use a sword. Too bad I don’t have one,” Linghu Chong replied. “How are your skills in the sword art? Aren’t you from the Huashan

School? Then I am afraid your skills in the sword art won’t be anything exceptional.”

“Nothing exceptional. Besides, I have very severe injuries and have lost all my internal strengths. That only makes the matter worse!” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Man, you are an oddball. Did you know that? Fine, I’ll go get a sword for you,” Xiang Wentian replied.

A white shadow suddenly flashed in front of everybody’s eyes as Xiang Wentian charged toward the crowd. Instantly, reflections from various blades twinkled as over a dozen weapons struck toward him. But Xiang Wentian unexpectedly accelerated sideways and pounced on the Taoist Priest from the Taishan School. The Taoist Priest thrust his sword

forward at once. With an agile sway, Xiang Wentian dodged the thrust and stepped behind the Priest’s back. He quickly threw his left elbow backward, which struck the middle of the Taoist Priest’s back in a loud thud. Waving his two arms slightly immediately after, he caught the Taoist Priest’s long

sword with the iron chain, and with a swift push to the ground using his left foot, he had leapt back into the pavilion. The entire series of moves were executed in such lightning fast speed. The many fighters of the orthodox schools had the intension of intercepting him but simply had the time for the reaction. One man was the fastest to react and chased after Xiang

Wentian instantly. At the time Xiang Wentian had returned to the pavilion, he was only several feet from the pavilion. Raising the broadsword in his hand, he swung the blade at Xiang Wentian’s back. But it was as if Xiang Wentian had eyes on his back; without even looking back, he threw a back kick with his left foot, which struck right in the man’s solar plexus, sending him flying in the air in a painful cry. The man had put all his strength into the fierce swing of his blade and had no way of retracting the force in time. With a heavy thud, the knife followed through its course and cut off the man’s own right leg. Meanwhile, the Taoist Priest from the Taishan School swayed a few times and then collapsed to the ground, blood gushing out

continuously from his mouth.

Thunderous cheers exploded among the Demon’s Cult crowd. “That’s some handsome skills, Right Counselor Xiang!” dozens of excited voices

shouted in unison.

Xiang Wentian let out a slight grin and clenched his fist in greetings toward the crowd of the Demon’s Cult members, acknowledging the loud cheers. The iron chain tied around his wrists clanked loudly. With a swing of his arm, Xiang Wentian threw the sword toward the table, and with a

clatter, the sword tip cut into the table. “Here you go!” he said.

Linghu Chong felt admiration growing inside him. “This man dares to outface so many first-class masters. Turned out he truly has extraordinary

skills,” he thought inwardly. But he didn’t reach out for the sword.

“Senior Master Xiang possesses such superior Kung Fu skills. There is really no need for me to make a fool of myself. Goodbye,” he said, clenching his fist in greetings.

Before Xiang Wentian had a chance to reply, cold flashes from naked blades flickered as three long swords shot toward the pavilion – three

apprentices of the Qingcheng School, Hou Renxiong among them, had launched their attacks. All three long swords were aimed at Linghu Chong: one pointed at the middle of his back while the other two pointed at his lower back. The tips of all three swords were less than a foot from Linghu Chong.

“Linghu Chong, on your knees!” Hou Renxiong bellowed. After the shout, he pushed his long sword forward and the sword tip touched Linghu Chong’s skin.

“Linghu Chong is a man of high virtues. Even though death is my destiny today, there’s no way I’ll let myself die from these despicable

Qingcheng people’s swords,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

At the moment, he was completely enveloped by the forces from the three swords. If he tried to turn around, then instantly, one sword would penetrate his chest and the two other swords would cut into his lower

abdomen. So he immediately let out a few loud laughs. “Fine, I’ll be on my knees!” he replied.

Bending his right knee slightly, Linghu Chong quickly retrieved the long sword on the table and gave it a swift swing behind his back.

Instantaneously, the three hands of the Qingcheng apprentices were cut off from their wrists and fell to the ground together with their three long

swords. Their faces turning completely pale, the three Qingcheng

apprentices couldn’t even believe their eyes. Only freezing there for a moment from panic, they finally remembered to leap back. One of the

Qingcheng apprentice among the three was only about eighteen or nineteen years of age and instantly broke into a loud cry from the excruciating pain. “Brother, it was you who wanted to kill me first!” Linghu Chong sighed.

“Excellent sword art!” Xiang Wentian cheered. But then he said, “The strength is too weak. Terrible inner strength!”

“It’s not terrible inner strength; there’s no inner strength at all,” Linghu Chong replied with a grin.

Suddenly Xiang Wentian let out a loud shout, then dense clanking sounds from the iron chain followed – two men in black robes had leapt

into the pavilion and launched a full out attack at him. One wielded a pair of wrought iron maces while the other one held a pair of iron plates in his hands – both men used weapons of the ultra heavy type. Sparks flew in all directions as the four pieces of weaponry clashed with Xiang Wentian’s iron chain. Xiang Wentian dodged a few times in an attempt to get behind the man with iron maces, but the man put up a good defense line with his two maces, shielding all his vital points around his body. Having his two hands tied up in the iron chain, Xiang Wentian obviously had lost quite some

agility and speed.

More berating shouts rose exploded from within the crowd of the

Demon’s Cult members as another two men charged into the pavilion. Both of these two used octagonal copper hammers as their weapons and both

smashed their hammers downwardly at Xiang Wentian again and again. As soon as the two with four hammers joined the fight, the man wielding a pair of wrought iron maces immediately turned from defense to offense. Xiang Wentian ducked and darted within the limited space; even though his movements were utterly clever and nimble, he still could not injure any one of his opponents. Every time when there was a crack for Xiang Wentian to take use of, as soon as he tried to exploit it and attacked one with his iron

chain, the other three would throw themselves on him like mad men with no regard of their own safety. Such fighting techniques were as fierce as it could be.

After they have exchanged a dozen or so moves, the leader of the Demon’s Cult crowd shouted, “Eight spears, charge, all together!”

At that command, long spears in their tight grips, eight men in black robes rushed into the pavilion from all four directions. North, south, east

and west, two long spears in each direction, all aimed at Xiang Wentian.

“Little friend, you’d better get out of here!” Xiang Wentian shouted at Linghu Chong. Before his voice even died out, the eight long spears had

stabbed toward him all at once; in the meantime, the four copper hammers pounded toward his chest and stomach, the two iron maces swept toward his shinbones, and the two iron plates smashed toward his face – all vicious moves in all directions. At the moment, the twelve first-class fighters of the Demon’s Cult had spared neither effort nor mercy; apparently every one of them knew too well that fighting Xiang Wentian was the most dangerous thing in the entire world, and any second longer the fight lasted would only translate to another step closer to the gate of hell.

“How shameless!” seeing the many people attacking Xiang Wentian so ruthlessly and the chance for Xiang Wentian to come through with this getting slimmer by the second, Linghu Chong bawled.

All of a sudden, Xiang Wentian spun his body in tremendous speed, and the iron chain around his wrists swung up and clanked loudly as it

collided with the many weapons. His body almost looked like a peg-top,

spinning so rapidly that all everyone could see was a white blurry shadow. Two loud clanks exploded when his iron chain collided with the two iron plates, sending them flying out of the pavilion through the top, leaving two big holes in the ceiling. By then, Xiang Wentian didn’t even bother looking at the moves of his opponents and simply spin faster and faster, knocking the eight long spears away from him.

“Slow down your attack and let him exhaust himself!” the Demon Cult leader ordered.

“Yes!” the eight spear-wielding men answered all together and then each took two steps back, waiting for the chance of another full out attack when Xiang Wentian would show cracks in his defense shield from any

slight exhaustion.

Among the watching audiences, the ones who had a little bit of

experience could all tell that Xiang Wentian would not spin like this for very long no matter how extraordinary his Kung Fu skills were. Continue fighting like this, Xiang Wentian would only end up exhausting all his

strength and wait for capture with tied hands.

Xiang Wentian broke into loud laughter. Suddenly, he squatted

slightly and struck out with the iron chain. The end of the iron chain hit one of the men wielding copper hammers right in the waist. The man cried out loud in pain, and the copper hammer in his left hand swung back toward himself and smashed his own head. The eight spearmen thrust their spears out in unison, attacking all around Xiang Wentian’s body. Xiang Wentian

swung his iron chain and knocked two spears out of the way, while the other six spears stabbed toward the right side of his rib cage as though

agreed upon beforehand. At the instant, even if Xiang Wentian could dodge the first spear, he would not be able to dodge the second one, or even if

Xiang Wentian could manage to dodge the second spear, there was no way for him to dodge the third one, much less when there were a total of six

spears thrust at him at the same time.

Watching by the side, Linghu Chong saw the simultaneous stabs from the six spears and knew that Xiang Wentian had no chance of dodging them. Before he knew it, he was seized by a sudden impulse and remembered the fourth stance of the Dugu Nine Swords, Spear-breaking Stance. The extremely critical situation did not allow him to think any further; with a cold flash, he thrust out his long sword. A loud clank echoed as the eight spears fell to the floor. There were eight spears falling down to the floor, yet there was only one clank, as though the eight spears had fallen to the floor at the exact moment. Since the move from Linghu Chong was

aimed at eight different wrists, of course it could not hit eight wrists at the exact instant, but the thrust was so fast that it almost felt as though the thrust prodded all eight wrists simultaneously.

Once the sword moves started, Linghu Chong simply followed the flow and launched the fifth move, Mace-breaking Stance. The name “Mace- breaking Stance” was a general title and contained many variations of techniques. It can be used to counter short handled weapons ranging from

steel club, iron mace, acupoint-sealing peg, judge’s-pens, crutches, Emei

sting, dagger, war axe, iron plate, octagonal hammer, and iron awl. After a few quick flashes, the two iron maces and the two copper hammers also fell to the floor. Out of the total of twelve Demon’s Cult members charging into the pavilion, except one that had been killed by Xiang Wentian and one

whose iron plates had been knocked out of his grips, the rest ten men all took a prod on their wrists and dropped their weapons. After a cry in panic, the eleven men ran back to their own crowd in a fluster while the crowd of orthodox school members couldn’t help but cheer loudly.

“Excellent sword art!”

“The sword art of the Huashan School has really widened our views!”

The Demon Cult leader gave another command and a group of five

charged into the pavilion at once – a middle-aged woman wielding two long knives came running directly toward Linghu Chong and the other four men began attacking Xiang Wentian in a circle. The woman’s knife moves were extremely speedy. She had one knife in defense and one knife in quick offense. When the left knife was attacking, she would use the right knife to defend, and vise versa, when the right knife was attacking, she would use the left knife to defend. So by using both knives, every move was attacking the enemy while every move was also defending herself. The defense was tight and secure while the attack was vivid and through. Linghu Chong

couldn’t see the moves clearly and had to take four steps back in a row.

Then he heard loud swooshing sounds. It looked as though someone was

attacking Xiang Wentian with a flexible weapon. While busying himself in dodging the chops from the woman, Linghu Chong still managed to take a peer with a squint. What he saw were two men, each wielding a chained mallet, and two men using whips in a fierce fight with Xiang Wentian, who still only had the iron chains around his wrists. The steel chain on a chained mallet was very long, and when one swung the chained mallet, it could reach up to ten feet away. For several times, the mallet actually flew over Linghu Chong’s head only a few feet above him.

“Dammit!” Xiang Wentian cursed.

“Right Counselor Xiang, pardon me!” a man yelled in reply.

Turned out that the iron chain around Xiang Wentian’s wrists had been entwined with the steel chain from one of the chained mallet. And in a snap of a second, the other three weapons from the rest three attackers

struck at Xiang Wentian’s body concurrently. Xiang Wentian sneered. He pulled with tremendous force, pulling the man wielding the chained mallet right in front of him just in time, and the two whips together with the

second chained mallet all landed squarely on the man’s back.

Linghu Chong thrust his sword out in a tilted angle, and the sword tip drifted a few times before hitting the woman’s left wrist. But the blade of the sword actually bent into an arc with a loud clang, and instead of falling out of the grip from the woman’s hand, the long knife chopped right back at Linghu Chong from sideways.

Linghu Chong felt a shock, but soon understood, “She is wearing a

wrist cuff made of steel. That’s why the sword tip could not cut through it.” Rotating his wrist slightly, he turned the thrust into an upward poke.

Thud! The sword tip pierced the Jian-Zhen Acupoint on the woman’s left shoulder. The woman froze for a split second, but being a bold and tough fighter, she still slashed the knife in her right hand with all her strength despite the great pain coming from her left shoulder. Linghu Chong

snapped his wrist gently and with a quick flash, the woman’s Jian-Zhen

Acupoint on her right shoulder was also hit and she could no longer hold on to her weapons. She used all her remaining strength to throw the two knives at Linghu Chong, but her two arms had already lost most of their strengths; the two knives only went as far as a little bit over one foot before losing their momentum and falling to the floor.

Right after Linghu Chong had defeated the woman, a Taoist Priest stepped out of the crowd of the orthodox school members.

“I am afraid that the Huashan School probably doesn’t have such bewitched sword art,” he bawled out.

From his attire, Linghu Chong could tell that he must have been a senior master in the Taishan School. He also figured that the Taoist Priest must have loathed how Xiang Wentian had injured his fellow apprentice

and decided to step forward to get even. Although Linghu Chong had been expelled from the Huashan School by his Master, having grown up in the Huashan School, he always remembered the motto: the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, same root different branches. So upon seeing this senior master from the Taishan School, naturally he reacted respectfully. Turning his long sword to point the sword tip downward, he cupped his hands in greetings.

“Linghu Chong dares not to offend Uncle-Master of the Taishan School.”

The Taoist Priest’s name was Tian-Yi and was in the same generation of apprenticeship with Priest Tian-Men and Priest Tian-Song.

“What kind of sword art did you just use?” he asked coldly.

“The sword art Linghu Chong just used was taught by a senior master of the Huashan School,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Total nonsense!” Priest Tian-Yi let out a disgruntled snort. “Where did you find a devil to teach you that? Watch out!”

As soon as the last word went out of his mouth, Priest Tian-Yi thrust his sword directly at Linghu Chong’s chest. The naked blade flashed

accompanied by a continuing buzzing sound. Just with this one thrust, the forces carried on the sword had already covered the Tan-Zhong, Shen-Zang,

Ling-Xu, Shen-Fen, Bu-Lang, Yu-Man, and Tong-Gu these seven major acupoints on Linghu Chong’s chest, and regardless of which way he dodged, the sword tip would always be able to penetrate one of the seven acupoints.

This sword move was named “Seven Stars in the Vast Sky” and was the cream of the crop in the entire Taishan School Sword Art. Once the move had started, the only way to evade it was to leap back over a dozen feet instantly. Not only would it require the opponent to possess very

advanced Qing-Gong skills, the opponent also needed to be fully aware of the potential power of this “Seven Stars in the Vast Sky” move and leap backward without any hesitation as soon as the move was executed in order to escape the fatal injury from a chest penetration. And as soon as the opponent landed back onto his feet, he must be ready to parry the three swift and fierce consecutive moves that came immediately after. These three consecutive moves, each one more vicious than the previous one and all interlinked, would be very difficult to cope with. Since Priest Tian-Yi

saw with his own eyes how excellent Linghu Chong’s sword art skills were, he decided to use this move with his first thrust. Ever since the senior master of the Taishan School invented this sword move, it probably had never been used in the first round of fight before today.

Astonished by the sudden attack, Linghu Chong suddenly had a brainwave and remembered seeing this move on the rock wall inside the back cave on top of the Cliff of Contemplation. That day he actually studied this move so he could use it against Tian Boguang. Even though he had failed to imitate it correctly and hadn’t beat Tian Boguang with the move, he had a clear understanding of the flow of this sword move. At the instant when the cold blade almost touched his body, having no spare time to think it through, he thrust his sword at Priest Tian-Yi’s lower abdomen at once.

This thrust was none other than the thrust depicted in the drawing on the rock wall, the one created by the Demon’s Cult Elder to counter this move. At the first glance, it seemed that this thrust would allow the practitioner to end in common ruin together with his enemy, but in fact, this move “Seven Stars in the Vast Sky” of the Taishan School actually had two sections: in the first section the force of the sword would cover the seven vital acupoint on the enemy’s chest, and while the enemy was scared out of his wits, the practitioner would use the techniques in the second section to penetrate one of the seven acupoints he saw fit. Even though the force from the sword

covered seven acupoints, but to kill the enemy, one stab would do the job.

Regardless of which acupoint the sword penetrated, the resulting victory

would have been all the same, that was why there would have been no need to penetrate all seven acupoints, and it would have been impossible to penetrate all seven acupoints at the same instant. One move containing two sections was actually the key of success for this sword move, but after the Demon’s Cult Elder deliberated it carefully many years back, he was able to find the flaw from within: as soon as the first section of the sword move

was executed, if the opponent immediately thrust at the lower abdomen of the enemy, the move “Seven Stars in the Vast Sky” would have been broken, and the second section would never happen.

As soon as Priest Tian-Yi saw the profound counter move from Linghu Chong, he knew too well that he had no way of dodging it. Turning completely pale with fright, he screamed in fear, figuring that by then the long sword must have penetrated his abdomen. In the utmost panic, he

could no longer feel any pain, and his brain also seemed to have seized functioning. Convinced that he must have died already, he collapsed to the ground. At the time when his sword tip was almost touching Priest Tian- Yi’s lower abdomen, Linghu Chong had stopped the thrust midway; who would have thought that the Priest Tian-Yi would be scared unconscious from the tremendous shock.

Watching Priest Tian-Yi collapsing to the ground, members of the

Taishan School in the crowd were convinced that Linghu Chong must have seriously injured Tian-Yi and immediately shouted loud curses. Five young Taoist Priests ran out of the crowd and charged at Linghu Chong. These five men were all apprentices of Priest Tian-Yi. Consumed by blinding rage and the determination to avenge for their Master, they waved their five long

swords about madly and swept toward Linghu Chong like a thunderstorm. Linghu Chong poked out with his long sword in quick succession and the five Taoist Priests each took a cut in his wrist. Loud clanking echoed when five long swords fell to the floor. Scared out of their wits, the five men leapt back when Priest Tian-Yi tottered back onto his feet, screaming at the top of his lungs.

“I am dead! I am dead!”

The five apprentices were thunderstruck. They couldn’t find any

wound on their Master’s body, but hearing their master screaming again and again, they were not sure whether their master was dead already or still

alive.

After several loud screams, Priest Tian-Yi’s body gave a violent shake and he collapsed to the ground once again. Two of his apprentices rushed by his side and propped him up, then retreated back to the crowd in sore straits.

With only half a move, Linghu Chong had defeated Priest Tian-Yi, an elite fighter of the Taishan School. The audiences found themselves in

complete shock. By then, the attackers around Xiang Wentian had changed. The two men wielding long swords were members of the Hengshan School. Their two swords rose and fell speedily, always looking for gaps in Xiang Wentian’s defense with the iron chain. Another man held a shield in his left hand and a knife in his right hand. He was someone from the Demon’s Cult. Using the shield to protect his body, the man fought with a Ground- Snuggling Knife Form. He would roll close to Xiang Wentian’s feet and then attack his lower body from close to the ground. Twice, Xiang Wentian struck the man’s shield heavily with his iron chain, which had no effect the man under the shield. But the knife under the shield kept stretching out and drawing back, one vicious move after another.

“With the shield to protect his body, this man’s defense is very tight.

But when he stretches his arm out to attack, that’s when the weakness

exposes. His opponent can then break his arm,” Linghu Chong thought.

“Hey, buddy, do you want to die?” suddenly, a voice rose from behind his back. The voice was not particularly loud, but it was very close to him, probably only a foot or so from his ear. Astounded, Linghu Chong turned

around and then found himself standing face to face next to a man, so close that their noses almost touched each other. Just when he was about to duck, the man had placed his two palms on Linghu Chong’s chest.

“If I strike with my inner energy, it will break all your ribs,” the man said in a chilling voice.

Linghu Chong knew the man was not exaggerating, and stood still, his heart almost stopped beating. The man gazed into Linghu Chong’s eyes.

Since the two of them were so close to each other, Linghu Chong couldn’t see the man’s face. All he could see were two sharp and shining eyes with a stern stare.

“So this is the man who will kill me,” Linghu Chong thought, feeling much at ease now that the matter of his life would finally be settled once for all.

The man also noticed the mood change. At first, Linghu Chong’s eyes were filled with terror, but only instants later it was already replaced by a look of unconcern and indifference. Facing death with assurance was

something even masters with superior attainments in the Martial World

could rarely achieve. He couldn’t help but feel respect spewing in his heart. “I subdued your vital acupoint only by a sneak attack. If I kill you like

this, I am sure you’ll refuse to take defeat!” he said with a laugh before retreating his palms and taking three steps back.

Now Linghu Chong could finally take a good look at him. What he saw was a short, chubby man with a yellowish, fat face in his fifties. His two fat palms were both small and thick. With one palm up and one palm down, the man showed a stance of the “Songyang Palm.” “Senior master of the Hengshan School, may I ask for your respectful name? Many thanks for showing mercy with your palm strike,” Linghu

Chong said with a smile.

“I am Yue Hou,” the man replied. After a short pause, he spoke again, “Your sword skills are outstanding, indeed. But your combat experience is too little.”

“How embarrassing! ‘Great Yin-Yang Palm’ Uncle-Master Yue, you are too fast for me,” Linghu Chong said.

“Uncle-Master? I really don’t deserve that!” Yue Hou replied.

Bringing his left hand upward, he threw a knife-hand chop with his right hand. Though his appearance was ugly, as soon as his move started, his entire body looked as solemn as a mountain with imposing bearings and became indescribably attractive. Linghu Chong couldn’t find a single flaw around his entire body.

“Excellent palm skills!” Linghu Chong acclaimed and swung his long sword upward. Because he couldn’t find a single flaw in Yue Hou’s palm form and his movement, this thrust of his had both defense and offense, ninety percent of it was false while only ten percent of it was real.

But in Yue Hou’s eyes, this upward swing was brilliant. Regardless of which part of Linghu Chong’s body he planned to strike using his two palms, he would always end up sending the center of his palm toward the tip of the sword. So only half way through the palm strikes with his two hands, he immediately retracted his palms and leapt backward.

“Excellent sword art!” he shouted.

“Pardon me!” Linghu Chong replied humbly.

“Watch out!” Yue Hou yelled as he pushed out with both palms and a strong gust of energy force blasted toward Linghu Chong.

“Oh no!” Linghu Chong groaned inwardly. At the time Yue Hou was at a good distance from him. When Yue struck out with his two palms remotely, he had no way of warding the

attack off using his long sword. Just when the thought of jumping out of the way popped in his mind, a freezing sensation had shot up his entire body.

He couldn’t help but shiver. The palm strike from each of You Hou’s hands had different attributes. One had the force of Yin while the other had the force of Yang. The Yang palm strike was launched earlier, yet the Yin force reached the target first. Linghu Chong only had a fraction of a second to pull himself together when the burning hot energy force struck his body and shook his body violently, almost knocked the wind out of him. When one

was struck with both the Yin energy force and the Yang energy force, normally he would have no chance of surviving, but in Linghu Chong’s case, though he had lost all his inner energy, his body was filled with

abundant inner energy, among which were the inner energy from the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, also the inner energy from Monk No Commandment, and when he was in the Shaolin Temple, he also received a good amount of inner energy from Great Master Fang-Sheng. Any one of those energy

streams was vigorous enough, not mentioning he had many of them inside him. When the two energy forces, one Yin and one Yang, struck his body, the inner energy streams inside him naturally reacted by creating energy

shields around his internal organs and his vital channels, preventing any injuries. But the strike still gave a tremendous shake to his entire body and he felt indescribable suffering. Afraid that Yue Hou would strike him again with energy forces, he dashed out of the pavilion and thrust his sword out rapidly.

Succeeded with his remote palm strikes, You Hou figured that his opponent would at least drop down with severe injuries if not drop dead. He had not expected to see Linghu Chong getting off without a scratch. Then immediately after, many reflections from the sword tip flashed, all aiming at the center of his palms. Astounded, he crisscrossed his palms and struck out, one striking toward Linghu Chong’s face, the other one striking toward Linghu Chong’s lower abdomen. Just when he was about to release the

energy forces for the strikes, he suddenly felt a violent pain: his one palm on the back of the other, both had been stringed together by the blade of Linghu Chong’s long sword. It was unclear whether Linghu Chong had penetrated his two palms consecutively or he had struck his palms to the tip of the sword himself. All he could see was that his left palm was in front, his right palm was behind, and the exposing blade behind the back of his right palm was as long as five inches.

If Linghu Chong took advantage of the situation and push his sword forward, the sword tip would instantly penetrate Yue Hou’s chest, but with consideration of how Yue had showed him mercy with the palm strike

earlier, he held his sword still after the blade penetrated Yue’s two palms. You Hou let out a loud cry, pulled his palms off the blade, and leapt backward.

“Sorry!” Linghu Chong called out, feeling very regretful.

The move he had just used was one of the techniques in the Palm- breaking Stance of the Dugu Nine Swords. Ever since Feng Qingyang went into seclusion, this move had never emerged in the entire Martial World.

Suddenly loud cracking sounds exploded from behind Linghu Chong. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder and saw seven or eight men

attacking Xiang Wentian all together. Two men in the group had very fierce palm power and the forces from their palm strikes had broke the pillar and the girder of the pavilion. Rafters and tiles started falling off the roof one

after another, but the fighters were so involved in the fight, even when tiles fell on their heads, none paid any attention. Within the brief moment when Linghu Chong looked back over his shoulder, Yue Hou had charged at him and struck out with a palm strike.

The force from the palm strike hit Linghu Chong squarely on his chest and sent him flying in the air, his long sword also falling out of his grip. Before his back even landed back to the ground, seven or eight men had dashed toward him, raising their weapons high in the air and striking down toward him all together.

“Hey, you cherry pickers!” Linghu Chong grinned.

Suddenly, he felt something tightening around his waist – an iron

chain had just flown by, wrapped around his body, and pulled hard. And in the next moment, he was already flying in the midair as though he had the magical power of mounting the clouds and riding the mist. It was none other than the master-hand of the Demon’s Cult, Xiang Wentian, who had just saved his life.

Having been chased around and beleaguered by both the Demon’s Cult and the orthodox schools, Xiang Wentian had been on the brink of

exhaustion. Then, all of a sudden, a fear-for-nothing young man stepped out of nowhere to defend him against injustice. Naturally he had a high opinion of the young man. After watching how Linghu Chong had fought with his opponent, Xiang Wentian had made out that the young man had

extraordinary sword art skills yet had terrible inner strength; and with so many tough enemies attacking him all together, he was really in an

extremely dangerous state. Therefore, while contending with his own

enemies, he never ceased paying attention to Linghu Chong’s condition.

When he saw Linghu Chong being knocked into the air, he swung his iron chain at him right away and began scurrying, pulling Linghu Chong behind him. Once Xiang Wentian began running using his Qing-Gong, it was as though he had turned into a galloping horse, and within only seconds, he was already scores of feet away. Dozens of people chased behind him, and many shouted out loudly.

“Xiang Wentian escaped! Xiang Wentian escaped!”

Xiang Wentian was exasperated. Turning around all of a sudden, he charged a few steps back. The men chasing him were taken completely by surprise and paused their steps at once. One of them had slightly weaker Qing-Gong skills. Not able to stop his running so abruptly like everybody

else, he ran directly into Xiang Wentian’s left foot flying kick and flew right back toward the chasing crowd.

Turning around once again, Xiang Wentian resumed running, and the crowd behind him also resumed their chase. By now, none of the followers was bold enough to dash at full speed, and the distance between Xiang

Wentian and them furthered gradually.

“This young man was never acquainted with me yet was ready to die for me. Friends like this are too hard to come by. But those bastards simply would not leave me alone. How can I get rid of them?” Xiang Wentian thought to himself without slowing down with his running.

After a moment of running, he suddenly remembered a place and felt very pleased. “That place would be just perfect.” But another thought immediately popped out, “That place is far from here. I wonder if I have

enough strength to run over there. No worries! If I run out of strength, those bastards would only run out of strength before I do.”

He looked up at the sun to make out the directions, and then crossed the wheat field in a diagonal line and headed straight toward the northeast corner. After running another five miles or so, he had returned to the main road. Suddenly three galloping horses dashed past them narrowly missing them.

“God damn it!” Xiang Wentian cursed.

He suddenly took in a long breath and accelerated until he was right behind the last horse. Leaping into the midair, he kicked the rider off the horseback with a swift flying kick and then landed on the horseback himself. After placing Linghu Chong across the saddle in front of him, he swung his iron chain in a sweeping motion and knocked the two riders off

their horsebacks. The strike broke the two riders’ many bones and evidently they would not survive it. Judging from their attires, all three riders were

common people, none had anything to do with the Martial World. It was very unfortunate that they happened to bump into Xiang Wentian the malefic at the nick of time and lost their lives for no reason. The two horses kept galloping forward even though their riders had fallen off. Xiang

Wentian shot the iron chain out and caught the reins. He was able to utilize the iron chain free at will as though it was an extra long arm of his.

Witnessing his indiscriminate killing of innocent people, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but groan inwardly.

Having seized three horses, Xiang Wentian found himself in high spirits. He looked up at sky and burst into loud laughter.

“Little brother, those bastards won’t be able to keep up with us now!” he exclaimed.

“Not for today. But what about tomorrow?” Linghu Chong let out a slight smile.

“God damn it! The hell with them! I’ll whack them one by one,” Xiang Wentian cursed.

Riding the three horses in turns, Xiang Wentian speeded down the main road for a good while and then turned into a mountain road. The mountain road became steeper and steeper. Eventually, it was too steep for the horses to climb.

“Are you hungry?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“En,” Linghu Chong nodded. “Do you have any food?” he asked. “Nope. But we have horse blood!” Xiang Wentian answered.

He dismounted his horse, and clawed the neck of the horse with his right hand, instantly creating a big hole in it and thick streams of blood gushed out at once. Moving his mouth next to it, Xiang Wentian swallowed several gulps of horse blood.

“Your turn!” he said.

Linghu Chong was in shock, completely astonished by the unusual scene.

“If we don’t drink horse blood, how do we gain our strength for more fights?” Xiang Wentian said again.

“More fights?” Linghu Chong muttered. “Are you afraid?” Xiang Wentian asked.

Linghu Chong’s heroic spirit soared at once. He let out a few loud laughs and replied, “What do you think?”

Moving his mouth next to the horse neck, he felt the horse blood gushing toward his throat. Without hesitation, he swallowed it down. At first, the horse blood tasted with a strong fishy smell, but after several mouthful of it, it no longer smelled that bad. Linghu Chong drank over a dozen mouthful of horse blood one after another and did not move his mouth away until he felt completely full in his stomach. Xiang Wentian followed suit and drank more blood. Before long, the horse could no longer hold out and collapsed in long, painful neighs. Raising his left foot, Xiang Wentian booted the horse into the ravine. Linghu Chong gasped with astonishment. The horse, a large beast, weighed at least five hundred pounds. He almost couldn’t believe his eyes when he watched Xiang Wentian booting it into the ravine with such a

casual kick.

After booting the second horse into the ravine, Xiang Wentian turned around and threw a knife hand chop at the third horse, which chopped one of the hind legs off the horse. In the same way, he chopped the other hind leg off. The horse neighed deafeningly; even after it was booted into the ravine by Xiang Wentian’s kick, the painful neighs continued on.

“This leg is yours! If you eat it slowly, there should be enough for ten day’s worth,” Xiang Wentian said.

By then, Linghu Chong finally came to realization that Xiang Wentian had only chopped the hind legs off for food and wasn’t being

brutal simply for the fun of it. So he took a horse leg in compliance and once Xiang Wentian began climbing the mountain path with a horse leg in his hand, he followed behind quietly.

Xiang Wentian slowed down his paces and walked unhurriedly.

Because Linghu Chong had lost all his internal strength, only half a mile into the walk, he was already falling far behind, wheezing uncontrollably, his face turning completely pale, and Xiang Wentian had to stop to wait for him. After another mile or so, Linghu Chong couldn’t walk any further and had to sit down to catch his breath.

“Little brother, you are certainly very unusual. Your inner strength is so terrible, however, after taking two hits from Yue Hou that scumbag’s

Great Yin-Yang Palm strikes, you look as though nothing had happened to you. This is really beyond me,” Xiang Wentian remarked.

“What makes you think nothing happened to me? My internal organs have all turned upside down from the shockwave, and who knows how many dozens of internal injuries it must have inflicted upon me. You know, I was just wondering about this thing myself? How come I am still not dead yet? Maybe I’ll be collapsing down any second now and not be able to ever get up again,” Linghu Chong replied with a wry grin.

“Well, let’s rest a bit longer then,” Xiang Wentian said.

At first, Linghu Chong had wanted to explain to Xiang Wentian that there was really no need to wait for him any longer and let the enemies

catch up with Xiang Wentian, since he wasn’t going to live for long any way, but then thought better of it. Xiang Wentian was a heroic man; he

would never have abandoned him so he could flee for his own life. If he had said something along that line, he would have really insulted Xiang

Wentian.

“Little brother, how did you lose your internal strength?” Xiang Wentian sat down on a big rock and asked.

“Well, this is a very funny story.” Linghu Chong let out a light grin and began explaining in short how he had been injured, how the Peach

Valley’s Six Fairies injected their inner energy into his body in an attempt to heal him, and how Monk No Commandment injected more inner energy into his body later.

“I’ve never heard of anything weirder than this one!” Xiang Wentian broke into a loud laugh, and his thunderous laughter echoed round the valley.

Suddenly, sound of loud bawling rose from a distance amongst Xiang Wentian’s loud laughter.

“Xiang Wentian, you can’t run away. You’d better behave yourself and surrender now.”

But Xiang Wentian kept laughing out loud. “Funny! Very funny! The Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and the Monk No Commandment are all first- class idiots!” he exclaimed. After another three laughs, he knitted his brows and scolded, “God damn it! Large crowd of bastards have caught up with us.”

He reached out and picked Linghu Chong up into his arms. Having no spare hand to carry the horse leg, he left it by the side of the road and began running. Once he picked up speed, Linghu Chong felt as though he was flying above the cloud. And soon after, Linghu Chong suddenly found himself inside a vast expanse of whiteness – they had actually run into a large cloud of mist.

“Wonderful!” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “We’ve climbed onto a peak. Now those several hundred people can’t charge forward

altogether. As long as they fight us one on one, this Mr. Xiang and I, for sure, can deal with it.”

The shouting behind them came closer and closer. Apparently the people right behind them were also masters in Qing-Gong. Even though their Qing-Gong skills were inferior to that of Xiang Wentian’s, carrying a man in his arms, Xiang Wentian unavoidably slowed down after running for an extensive period of time.

After reaching a turning corner of the road, Xiang Wentian placed Linghu Chong on the ground and whispered, “Be quiet.”

Both of them stood quietly, pressing their backs against the precipice wall. Only a moment later, sounds of footsteps rose as someone closed in.

The men in pursuit dashed at full speed. In the thick mist, neither of them

saw Xiang Wentian or Linghu Chong. Only after they had run pass the side of them did they notice the two of them, and before they had a chance to

stop and turn around, Xiang Wentian had struck out with his two palms. The palm strike was both resolute and accurate. The two men fell into the ravine without even a groan, and a short while later, two muffled flops came as their bodies hit the bottom of the ravine.

“Why didn’t these two scream when they were falling?” Linghu

Chong asked himself. “Oh, I see. Before they fell down, the force from the palm strike had killed them instantly.”

“Those two scumbags loved to swagger around, calling themselves ‘The Diancang School Duo Swordsmen, Forces of Sword Towering the

Heaven.’ Now they can rot in the abyss, their stinks towering the Heaven! Ha-ha!” Xiang Wentian sneered.

Linghu Chong had heard the fame of the “Diancang School Duo Swordsmen” mentioned to him before. He heard that the two men had

excellent sword skills and had slain many formidable outlaws. Little had he expected to see them die so muddleheaded here today and didn’t even get a chance to see their faces.

“There are still about five miles from here to Xianchou Gorge. Once we get to the gorge, we won’t have to worry about those scumbags any more,” picking Linghu Chong up once again, Xiang Wentian said.

He resumed running with faster and faster paces, but sounds of footsteps rose from behind as several more people began catching up with them. At the time, the mountain path turned eastward and no longer had the cliff by the side. Xiang Wentian couldn’t play the same old trick again by hiding next to the precipice wall for sneak attacks and could only keep running with all his strength.

A swooshing sound suddenly broke out as a projectile flew toward Xiang Wentian’s back. It sounded loud and strong – apparently the projectile was something very heavy. Xiang Wentian put Linghu Chong on the ground and turned around, catching the projectile in the air. “Mr. He, when did you decide to get involved with this? Has this gotten anything to do with you?” he cursed.

“You have become the bane of the Martial World, and everyone has the very right to kill you. Now take this flying awl from me,” a voice

shouted from within the mist followed by continuous swooshing sounds. He had said “this flying awl” but at least seven or eight flying awls had been

shot forward.

Hearing the loud and shrill sounds made by the projectiles tearing through air, Linghu Chong was deeply concerned.

“Even though the sword techniques taught by Grand Uncle-Master Feng can be used to block any projectiles or missiles, the forces carried by the awls are simply too strong. I can hit them, but the tremendous force

would break the sword for sure,” he thought to himself.

He cast a glance at Xiang Wentian, who was now squatting in a horse stance, his upper body leaning forward slightly, his face looking nervous, very different from the unconcerned face he had had when he was still in the pavilion surrounded by hundreds of enemies. When the flying awls reached Xiang Wentian, they silenced one after another. Linghu Chong figured that they must have all been caught by Xiang Wentian. All of a

sudden, many swooshing sounds broke out all together as numerous awls were shot out at once. Linghu Chong knew that this was a projectile throwing technique named “Raindrops All Over the Sky.” Normally when someone shot projectiles using this technique, the projectile he used must have been small ones such as coin-darts, or iron lotus seeds. Judging from the loud sounds made by the flying awls, each one had to be at least half a pound, if not a full pound. How could dozens of them be shot out at once?

After hearing the loud and shrill sounds, he took a prone spontaneously, and then he heard a loud “ouch” from Xiang Wentian as though he had been wounded severely. In great astonishment he leapt forward and hid Xiang Wentian behind his back.

“Mr. Xiang, are you wounded?” he asked hurriedly.

“I…I won’t make it. You…you…you’d better run…for yourself….” Xiang Wentian replied in fits and starts.

“We live and die together. Linghu Chong won’t abandon you just to save his own life!” Linghu Chong replied loudly.

“Xiang Wentian has been hit by the flying awls!” the chasing enemies shouted out loudly and dimly, over a dozen shadows closed in upon them little by little.

Suddenly, Linghu Chong felt a strong gust blowing past him by his right side, then came Xiang Wentian’s loud laughter as the dozen shadows in front collapsed to the ground. Turned out that Xiang Wentian caught the dozens of flying awls all into his hands but pretended to get hit, then when the enemies were off guard, he shot the many flying awls back also using the “Raindrops All Over the Sky” technique. Because they were in a very heavy mist and no one could see clearly, besides, Linghu Chong’s worried voice was completely sincere, so every one of the chasing enemies believed it wholeheartedly, in addition, no one had expected that Xiang Wentian was also capable of shooting out such heavy projectiles using the “Raindrops

All Over the Sky” technique, so none of the dozen or so people at the front was able to dodge the attack, resulting in several dead corpses and severe injuries for the rest of them.

Xiang Wentian picked up Linghu Chong and turned around to run once again.

“Very good! Little brother! You are a good brother,” he praised, thinking to himself that when Linghu Chong had stepped forward to defend him recklessly, it could be accounted to the eccentric temper of a young man, but when he pretended to be wounded severely a moment ago, Linghu Chong would not run for his own life and was determined to live or die together with him. That was indeed the most precious virtue in the Martial World – “code of brotherhood.”

After a short while, once again, the enemies gained on them bit by bit.

Swooshing sounds resumed continuously as projectiles, darts were pelted toward them nonstop. Because Xiang Wentian had to keep bending over or jumping up and down to dodge them, the enemies were able to quickly

shorten the distance.

Putting Linghu Chong down on the ground, Xiang Wentian suddenly dashed into the chasing crowd with a loud roar. Several loud clanking

sounds exploded and Xiang Wentian quickly returned, not just by himself, but also with a man on his back. After tying the man’s hands with his iron chain and carrying him on his back, Xiang Wentian placed Linghu Chong back in his arms and resumed running.

“We’ve got ourselves a live shield!” he grinned.

“Stop shooting projectiles! Stop shooting projectiles!” the man screamed loudly, but the chasing enemies ignored his plea and kept shooting projectiles and darts forward.

“Ouch!” the man suddenly groaned loudly as a projectile hit him on the back.

With both the live shield on his back and Linghu Chong in his arms, Xiang Wentian kept running with good agility, while the man on his back cussed loudly.

“Wang Conggu, damn you, you son of a gun. You know it’s me… ouch! It’s a sleeve-arrow!62 God damn it! Zhang Furong, you bitch! You… you are just getting back on me, aren’t you?” After some continuous popping sound, the man’s cussing voice went lower and lower gradually, and eventually fell silent.

“Oops, our live shield is a dead shield now,” Xiang Wentian grinned.

Without any scruples for projectiles, Xiang Wentian ran as fast as he could and after turning two mountain ridges, he finally said, “We are here!” Letting out a long breath, he broke into loud laughter, his mind completely free from any worries. The last five miles of running was extremely dangerous. He really had had no confidence that he would be able to shake off the chasing enemies.

Linghu Chong scanned the surroundings widely and felt a slight surprise. A narrow stone beam lay in front of his eyes, leading into a

bottomless abyss. The stone beam only had a visible part of eight or nine feet long; anything further was completely concealed in thick mist. He

couldn’t tell how long the stone beam was and where it led to.

“It’s an iron chain in the mist. Don’t step onto it carelessly,” Xiang Wentian whispered.

“Got it,” Linghu Chong answered, his heart thumping rapidly. “This stone beam’s width is no wider than a foot with a bottomless abyss right below it. This is already extremely dangerous. With an iron chain in the place of the stone beam, it is impossible for me to cross it with my current Kung Fu,” he thought inwardly.

Xiang Wentian untied the iron chain around the hands of the “dead

shield,” and then drew a long sword by the man’s waist and handed it over to Linghu Chong. Placing the “shield” in front of himself, he waited for the enemies silently. Within a few minutes, the first block of enemies had

arrived. Among them were both members of the Demon’s Cult and members of the orthodox schools. Seeing the precipitous terrain and Xiang Wentian’s “fighting with one’s back to the river”63 stance, none of them was bold enough to charge forward. After a while, more and more enemies

arrived. Gathering at about fifty or sixty feet away from Linghu Chong and Xiang Wentian, they shouted their curses for a while and began shooting all kinds of projectiles, darts, migratory locust rocks, sleeve-arrows, and so on and so on. Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong hid behind the “shield” and none of the projectiles could reach them.

Suddenly, a thunderous roar blasted as a boorish mendicant monk

charged forward, leaving booming echoes reverberating in the deep valley. The mendicant monk smacked his over seventy-pound iron Buddhist staff toward Xiang Wentian’s waist. Xiang Wentian bent forward and swung his iron horizontally barely above the ground simultaneously. By the time the Buddhist staff passed by from above his head, his iron chain also swept toward the mendicant monk’s right ankle. The mendicant monk had put great strength into the smack and could not draw the staff back in time to block the iron chain; having no other choice, he leapt upward to dodge it. But Xiang Wentian’s iron chain suddenly turned around, wrapped around the mendicant monk’s right ankle, and swung upward, following the

mendicant monk’s upward momentum using his own force against him. The mendicant monk lost his balance at the landing and tottered forward only finding himself falling toward the bottomless abyss. With a snap of his

wrist, Xiang Wentian unwrapped his iron chain from the mendicant monk’s ankle. Miserable screams echoed as the mendicant monk fell down and

continued all the way down into the abyss, which made the hairs on the back of everybody’s neck standing on their ends as they took several steps back spontaneously.

The deadlock lasted for a good while until two men finally stepped forward. One had a pair of halberds and the other one was a monk, holding a crescent spade in his hands. The two men launched their attack shoulder to shoulder: the two halberds, one on the top and the other one below it,

struck toward Xiang Wentian’s face and lower abdomen while the crescent spade struck forward aiming at his left rib cage. All three weapons were the heavy type, and with resourceful inner energy attached to them, they

appeared to be ultra powerful. The two men had the landform in their minds when they launched the attack so that Xiang Wentian would not be able to dodge to the side and would have no choice but to block the attack with his iron chain in a contest of strength. Sure enough, Xiang Wentian waved his iron chain and with three loud bangs, knocked the two halberds and the

crescent spade back. Sparkles flew in all directions from all four weapons, proving that this round of fight was sheer strength against sheer strength

and there was no room for any trickery. Loud cheers exploded in the audiences at once.

After their weapons were knocked aside by the iron chain, the two men launched another wave of attack. Three loud bangs exploded again as the four weapons collided with each other. Both the monk and the man

wobbled a few times from the collision of the forces, but Xiang Wentian stood firmly, and before his enemies even had a chance to take a breather, Xiang Wentian roared in a deafening voice, striking out his iron chain rapidly. In a hurry, the two men each raised his weapon to block. Three deafening bangs broke out once again, short and quick. The monk snarled

loudly and threw his crescent spade to his side, when all of a sudden blood spurted out from his mouth. The other man raised his two halberds and

stabbed them toward Xiang Wentian. Instead of blocking the approaching halberds, Xiang Wentian squared his shoulders and laughed out loud. When the tips of the halberds were still half a foot from Xiang Wentian’s chest, they suddenly sank weakly, and following the fall of the halberds, the man also fell forward to the ground and became motionless. Turned out that he had been shaken to death by Xiang Wentian’s overwhelming strength. The many people gathered in front of the gorge stared at each other in terror and none had the courage to step up.

“Little brother, we’ll just drag it on with them. Why don’t you sit down and have a rest?” Xiang Wentian suggested.

At that word, he sat down himself, embracing his own knees into his arms and casting not a glance toward the crowd.

“Audacious devil, how dare you belittle all the worldly heroes like that?” Someone suddenly spoke loudly.

Naked blades in their hands, four Taoist Priests stepped out from the crowd and walked in front of Xiang Wentian, all four swords turning

crosswise in unison. “Get up, let’s fight!” they yelled.

“What did Xiang Wentian do to have provoked your Emei School?” Xiang Wentian said coldly with a sneer.

“Evil demons and heretics are misfortunes of the Martial World. We Taoist Priests believe in cultivation of moral character and promotion of righteousness. Eradicating the wicked and destroying the evil is our duty,” a Taoist Priest on the left stated.

“Eradicating the wicked and destroying the evil is your duty, indeed! Look at the people behind you. Half of them are members of the ‘Demon’s Cult,’ why aren’t you eradicating the wicked and destroying the evil?”

Xiang Wentian mocked with a grin.

“The principle culprit first!” the Taoist Priest answered.

But Xiang Wentian remained his sitting position, his knees in his

arms. “Oh, I see. Very well, very well!” he said as he held up his head and stared at the floating clouds indifferently.

Suddenly Xiang Wentian leapt up in a loud roar and swung his iron chain, which swept toward the four men’s waist speedily like a mounting dragon. This surprise attack came so abruptly and would have worked if the four Taoist Priests weren’t top-notch fighters of the Emei School. Hastily, three Taoist Priests planted their long swords downward in front of their

waists while the fourth Taoist Priest on the right most thrust his sword directly at Xiang Wentian’s throat.

“Clank!” the three long swords bent all together from the iron chain’s heavy strike while Xiang Wentian inclined his head and avoid the stab from the forth sword. Waving his sword about swiftly, the fourth Taoist Priest immediately followed with three incessant sword attacks, which stalled

Xiang Wentian just long enough, while the rest three Taoist Priest retreated back and rejoined the battle after replacing their long swords. The sword moves from the four Taoist Priests coordinated with each other as though they had put up a small sword formation. Four swords fluttered gracefully in the air, gathering in one second then dividing in the next.

Linghu Chong watched the fight for a little while and soon realized that Xiang Wentian had to move both of his hands together every time when he waved the iron chain about, which was far slower compared to the

agility he would have achieved had he been able to moving his hands freely, and as the fight dragged on longer, a defeat would be simply inevitable.

Taking a step forward from Xiang Wentian’s right side, he thrust his sword out, aiming toward a Taoist Priest’s ribs. The direction and position of the thrust was most peculiar. The Taoist Priest had no way of evading it, and with a slight thump, he took a hit on the side of his body.

At that exact instant, a thought flashed by Linghu Chong’s mind like a lightning, “I’ve heard that people of the Emei School has always preserved their moral integrity with an extremely fine reputation, paying no attention to other people’s business in the Martial World. I’ll help Mr. Xiang out of the predicament, but I shall not kill the Taoist Priest.” So as soon as the tip of his sword pierced the Taoist Priest’s skin, Linghu Chong pulled his sword back at once. But because of this hard pull out of a sudden impulse, the sword move became deficient, and to his

surprise, the Taoist Priest brought his elbow inward in an attempt to hold the long sword under his arms with force in spite of the great pain. Linghu Chong gave the sword a tug and the blade of the sword instantly left a long cut on the man’s arm and the side of his body, but because of this slight holdup, another Taoist Priest’s long sword had already struck over and

smacked onto Linghu Chong’s sword.

Linghu Chong felt his entire arm going numb and almost let go of the sword, but knowing that without his sword, he would have become a disabled person, he held onto the sword handle desperately as waves of force reached him through the long sword and crushed toward his heart

channel in multiple bursts.

When the first Taoist Priest took a stab under his arms, the injury had not been very serious, but then when he brought his elbow inward to hold the long sword with his arms, Linghu Chong’s tug created a cut so deep that even his bones were exposed. Blood spurted out from the wound, which basically forced him out of the fight. The rest two Taoist Priest were both behind Linghu Chong’s back by now, fighting a fierce battle with Xiang

Wentian. The two Taoist Priests had fine and marvelous swords moves, and the two swords worked in coordination, putting up an extremely tight defense shield.

In every few moves, Xiang Wentian would take a step backward, thus after ten steps or so, his entire body was already inside the white mist. But the two Taoist Priests kept charging forward, and soon the front half of their long swords also disappeared in the heavy mist. “Watch out! It’s the Iron Chain Bridge down there,” someone in the crowd suddenly shouted out, but that was too late. The two Taoist Priest

screeched in terror as both of them plunged forward into the white mist, obviously being pulled forward involuntarily by Xiang Wentian. Sound of scream sank rapidly into the valley and fell silent only seconds later.

Laughing out loudly, Xiang Wentian emerged out from behind the white mist, but his laughter halted abruptly when he caught sight of a tottering Linghu Chong.

Back at the pavilion, the four Taoist Priests of the Emei School had witnessed how Linghu Chong injured his opponents one after another with the “Dugu Nine Swords” and knew very well that they would be no match for him in a contest of sword arts. But they were also able to tell that Linghu Chong’s inner strength was plain ordinary. Now when the Taoist

Priest shot his inner strength toward Linghu Chong wave after wave, even if Linghu Chong were still in the same state of health before he was injured, his cultivation of inner strength would have been very shallow, after all, due to limited amount of training, and would have stood no change against the Taoist Priest’s over thirty years worth of inner strength cultivation using the breathing techniques of the Emei School, much less that Linghu Chong had lost all his inner strength. Fortunately, he had abundant other people’s inner energy inside him, which enabled him to withstand the energy attack for a little while and protected him from an instant injury. However, he still felt the energy streams inside him rolling and clashing against each other over

and over as golden sparks twinkled in front of his eyes. Suddenly, he felt a stream of hot energy penetrating his back through the “Da-Zhui Acupoint” and the stress coming from his hand lightened at once.

Linghu Chong’s spirit surged. He knew that Xiang Wentian must have lent him a helping hand. Then he immediately realized that Xiang Wentian had redirected the attacking energy force downward so it would flow from his arm to his waist, then to his heels, and eventually dissolving into the ground.

The Taoist Priest felt the sudden dissolution of his attacking energy force. He let out a loud yell and leapt backward, withdrawing his own

sword.

“It’s the Evil Art of Essence Absorbing! It’s the Evil Art of Essence Absorbing!” he cried out loud.

At the mentioning of the phrase “Evil Art of Essence Absorbing,” many in the crowd changed their countenances.

“That’s right! It’s the Magical Art of Essence Absorbing. Now who else is interested to try it out?” Xiang Wentian said with a broad grin.

“Could that Ren…Ren…have come out again?” the Demon’s Cult Elder with a yellow waistband muttered in a croaked voice. “Let’s report back to the Chief and let him decide,” he ordered.

The Demon’s Cult members acknowledged the command in chorus and all turned around to leave. After a short moment, half of the crowd of

several hundred people had dispersed away. The rest people of the orthodox schools talked among themselves in whispers for a little while, and then

also began to disperse one after another. In the end, only a dozen or so people remained.

“Xiang Wentian, Linghu Chong! By using the Evil Art of Essence Absorbing, you have sunk beyond redemption. Hereafter, when fellow members of the Martial World cope with the two of you, we no longer

restrict ourselves to only just means. You have only yourselves to blame for such a consequence. I hope you won’t regret today when that happens,” a

clear voice declared. “When did I ever regret for what I did? Are you saying that it is

actually a just means for the several hundreds of you to jointly attack the two of us? How funny is that! Ha-ha!” Xiang Wentian replied in laughter.

Sounds of footsteps rose and soon the remaining dozen or so people also vanished from sight. Xiang Wentian inclined the head and listened

carefully. When he was sure that the enemies had indeed walked away, he whispered to Linghu Chong.

“I bet you these bastards will come back in no time. Come here and get on my back.”

Seeing the solemn expression on Xiang Wentian’s face, Linghu

Chong decided to simply comply without asking any questions and climbed onto Xiang Wentian’s back. To his slight astonishment, Xiang Wentian bent down, extended his left foot forward slowly, and began walking down the deep valley.

Xiang Wentian swung his iron chain out and wrapped the end of it

around a tree bough by the edge of the cliff that protruded beyond the cliff.

After verifying that the bough was strong enough to hold the combined

weight for both of them, he jumped down gently, and the two of them were now hanging in the midair. Xiang Wentian swung back and forth a few times. As soon as he found a spot to set his feet, he snapped his wrist with a reverse swing, which unwrapped the iron chain from the bough. After pressing down on the mountain wall with his hands to stabilize himself for a brief second, Xiang Wentian immediately swung out the iron chain again,

and this time, it wrapped around a protruding rock underneath them, thus, they were able to descend another ten feet. Using the same technique, the descended further and further down the deep valley. Sometimes when there was only bare mountain wall without any trees or protruding rocks, Xiang Wentian would then run the risk by keeping his body close to the mountain wall and simply slide downward. Each slide would run about one hundred feet. As the slide accelerated, as soon as Xiang Wentian saw a spot that

could be used to leverage the slide, he would use his outstanding Kung Fu skills, sometimes striking down with his palms, sometimes stomping with his feet, to slow down the slide.

This was certainly a very stunning experience for Linghu Chong. The danger and risk of sliding down the cliff was really no less than the danger and risk in the fierce battle a moment ago. This kind of experience was indeed peculiar and risky to the extreme. If he had not met an eccentric like Xiang Wentian, it probably would never happen in one hundred incarnations. So when Xiang Wentian’s feet touched the bottom of the valley in the end, he was actually slightly disappointed and wished that the valley were another thousand feet deeper. He looked up at the top of the valley. The stone beam looked like a thin blurry shadow, and white clouds concealed everything else.

“Mr. Xiang…,” Linghu Chong said, but Xiang Wentian reached his hand out quickly and covered Linghu Chong’s mouth while pointing his right index finger upwards.

Linghu Chong understood at once. The enemies must have returned. But when he looked up as far as he could, he didn’t see any shadow on the stone beam.

Xiang Wentian drew his arm back. Placing his ear right next to the mountain wall, he listened attentively. After quite a while, he finally said with a grin, “God damn it! Some are taking guards while some others are

searching all over the place.” Turning toward Linghu Chong, he goggled at him for a moment and then spoke again, “You are an apprentice of a famous, orthodox school. I, on the other hand, am a so-called evil heretic. The two sides have always been mortal enemies. Why were you willing to offend your friends at the orthodox schools and come to save my life with no regard for your own safety?”

“I just happened to be at the place at the nick of time and were able to join forces with you, Mr. Xiang, and contended with the many elite fighters of both the orthodox schools and the Demon’s Cult. I had not expected to

come through this alive. I must have had incredible luck on my side. What you said about me saving your life is really…well, well…is really…,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Is really rubbish, isn’t it?” Xiang Wentian finished the sentence for

him.

“I dare not say Mr. Xiang is talking rubbish. But it would be

completely incorrect if you say that I saved your life,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Xiang Wentian never goes back on his own words! I said that you saved my life, then you did save my life,” Xiang Wentian concluded.

Linghu Chong let out a smile and did not argue.

“Just now, those god damned bastards kept yelling about the ‘Magical Art of Essence Absorbing’ and were scared out of their wits. Do you know what kind of Kung Fu this ‘Magical Art of Essence Absorbing’ is? And

why are they so afraid of it?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“Linghu Chong, a junior, is just about to ask for your advice, Mr.

Xiang,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Drop the junior, senior, elder, mister crap, will you? That’s really getting on my nerves. You can simply call me Brother Xiang, and I’ll call you Brother Linghu,” Xiang Wentian said with a frown.

“Linghu Chong dare not do so,” Linghu Chong declined.

“I see! You despise me because I am part of the Demon’s Cult.

You’ve saved my life, but my life is the least concern on my mind. If you despise me, we can dispute this over a fight,” Xiang Wentian exclaimed

angrily. Though he spoke these words in a muffled voice, the anger blazing on his face clearly showed his irritation.

“There’s no need for a fight. If Brother Xiang insists, of course I’ll comply,” Linghu Chong replied with a beam. He thought to himself,

“Didn’t I make friends with the evil rapist Tian Boguang? Might as well add Xiang Wentian to my list of friends. This man was free and easy and holds the characteristics of a true man. I’ve always liked people with such demeanors.” At that thought, he bowed down and saluted Xiang Wentian, saying, “Brother Xiang, I salute you.”

Xiang Wentian’s face split into a wide smile. “Just bear in mind that you are the only sworn brother Xiang Wentian ever had in the entire world,” he added.

“I am extremely flattered!” Linghu Chong grinned.

According to the tradition in the Martial World, when two men became sworn brothers, they should at least get on their knees, pinch some soil in front of them in place of the incense sticks, and then swear an oath along the line of sticking together through thick and thin and sharing weal and woe. But since both of them were the unconventional type, and after going through this fierce battle together, each found the other congenial

with the utmost sincerity, neither bothered about the over elaborate formalities. Once they called each other a sworn brother, then sworn brothers they were.

Xiang Wentian was a member of the Demon’s Cult, but there were very few fellow cult members he would think much of. Having made Linghu Chong his sworn brother, he found himself in a state of bliss.

“Too bad we don’t have any wine here, or else we could have drunk twenty or thirty bowls of god damned liquor to celebrate!” Xiang Wentian grumbled.

“Absolutely!” Linghu Chong immediately agreed. “My throat had been itching madly from the cravings. Now that you mentioned it, it only got worse.”

“Those bastards haven’t left yet. I guess we’ll just have to hold out for a few days at the bottom of the valley,” Xiang Wentian suggested, pointing his finger upward. “Brother, just now, when that cow-nose of the Emei School attacked you with his inner energy, what happened to the cow- nose’s inner energy force when I helped you with my inner strength?” he

asked.

“Brother Xiang, I felt as though you redirected that Taoist Priest’s inner energy force into the ground,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Yes, yes!” Xiang Wentian smacked his own thigh in excitement. “Brother, your comprehension is excellent. This Kung Fu of mine was

something I created by chance and nobody else in the Martial World knew about it. I gave it a name and called it the ‘Minor Art of the Energy

Absorbing to the Ground’.”

“That’s a strange name!” Linghu Chong uttered.

“Well,” Xiang Wentian explained, “that’s because the ‘Magical Art of Essence Absorbing’ can change the countenance on anyone’s face in the

Martial World just by the sound of it, and this Kung Fu of mine would pale into utter insignificance in comparison with it. That’s why I had to call it a ‘Minor Art.’ This Kung Fu of mine only utilizes simple techniques to graft one twig on another and redirects the opponent’s attacking inner force to the ground instead of causing any harm. I don’t have the least gain from it, myself. Besides, this Kung Fu is only useful when the opponent is attacking with his inner energy and can’t be used to attack in offense. At the time

when the opponent suddenly felt that his inner energy was discharging in a steady stream, undoubtedly he would turn pale with fright, but it doesn’t take long for that amount of inner energy to regenerate. Why was I so sure that they would definitely return? Because as soon as the cow-nose found out that he didn’t really lose any bit of his essence, he would know that my ‘Minor Art of Energy Absorbing to the Ground’ is only bluffing and there’s nothing dreadful about it. I never liked playing deceiving tricks, that’s why I never used it before.”

“Xiang Wentian never deceives people, but for his sworn brother’s sake, he made an exception today,” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Nah, I wouldn’t say that I never deceive people. But for insignificant players like that Priest Song-Wen, I would really disdain to deceive him,”

Xiang Wentian showed a grin before continuing. “If I want to deceive someone for some reason, it has to be something huge, something

earthshaking, something everybody will be talking about afterwards.”

At those words, the two of them broke into laughter. Even though they held their laughter low so as not to be heard by the enemy above, but the laugh was thoroughly delighted.

Chapter 19: The Wager

Mr. Black-White extended his index finger and middle finger rapidly and gripped towards the blade of the thrusting sword. The five spectators couldn't help letting out a cry of surprise. By now both of them were very exhausted, and each took a spot to sit in repose with their eyes closed, leaning against a big rock. Soon Linghu

Chong began to doze off. In the sleep, he suddenly saw Ying-Ying placing three roasted frogs into his hands and asking him, “Have you forgotten me?”

“I have not! I have not! Where…where have you been?” Linghu Chong replied loudly. But all of a sudden, Ying-Ying’s image vanished

before his eyes. “Don’t go! I have a lot to tell you,” he shouted hastily. But all he could see now were countless of knives, swords, and various weapons striking toward him one after another. He cried out loudly and then woke up.

“Have you dreamed of your sweetheart and had a lot to tell her?” Xiang Wentian said with a big grin.

Linghu Chong’s face went red. He wasn’t sure what else he had said in his dream that Xiang Wentian might also overheard.

“Brother, if you want to see your lover, you’ll have to recuperate your injury and cure yourself before going looking for her,” Xiang Wentian

suggested.

“I…I don’t have a lover. Besides, my injury is incurable,” Linghu Chong replied, his face looking gloomy.

“I owe you a life. Although you are my sworn brother, it still doesn’t feel right, and I simply must repay you with a life. I’ll take you to a place. There, you will be cured,” Xiang Wentian exclaimed.

Linghu Chong had long disregarded his own life, but that was really because he didn’t have a choice after all and had to treat it with indifference. Now when he heard Xiang Wentian saying that his injury was actually curable, a mixed feeling of hope and bliss began swelling in his

chest. If these words had come out of someone else’s mouth, he would not have let his hope go up. But Xiang Wentian was a man with extraordinary abilities, and his Kung Fu skills were so amazing that other than Grand

Uncle-Master Feng, Linghu Chong had not seen anyone possessing such exceptional skills. Even a casual remark from him could have weighed more than a thousand pounds.

“I…I…,” Linghu Chong murmured but found himself lost in word from the sudden surge of spirit.

By now, the crescent shaped moon had climbed up the opening of the valley and shone over it silently, casting rays of cold light into the bottom of the valley. Although the valley bottom still looked dark and gloomy, in Linghu Chong’s eyes, everything seemed to have brightened up all of a

sudden as though it was sunshine everywhere.

“We’ll go see a man. But this man has a very eccentric temperament, so it’s better that we don’t let him know beforehand. Brother, if you trust me, just let me arrange everything,” Xiang Wentian explained.

“What’s there to not trust? Brother Xiang, your trying to cure my injury is just like that old saying, ‘Working on curing a dead horse as though the horse was still alive.’ It was a hopeless thing to start with

anyway. If it can be cured, then praise the lord! If it can’t be cured, then it is just the way it should have been.”

Xiang Wentian licked his lips at these words. “I wonder where we dropped that horse leg. God dammit! We killed so many bastards, and there’s not even a single one down here.”

From the expression on Xiang Wentian’s face, Linghu Chong could tell that he must be thinking about finding some corpses for food. Gasping with astonishment, he dared not say another word and closed his eyes to

sleep. The next morning, Xiang Wentian said, “Brother, other than moss and grass, there’s nothing here. If we stay here and drag on like this, we’ve got to find some dead corpses for food. But the ones that fell down the valley yesterday were all old and stringy. I think your won’t have too good of an

appetite eating those.”

“I won’t have any appetite at all,” Linghu Chong replied hurriedly. Xiang Wentian grinned. “Then we’ll have to find a way out of here.

Let me change your looks a little bit.”

He scooped some slime from the ground and smeared it onto Linghu Chong’s face. Then he put his hands on his own chins and rubbed. As soon as his inner strength radiated out from his palms, his long beards began falling off completely. Next, he placed his hands on his own head and rubbed, and soon all the gray hair on his head also fell off entirely, turning his head into a shinny, bald head.

Within moments, he had changed his appearance completely. Linghu Chong found it amusing yet amazing. Xiang Wentian scooped some more slime and then made his nose bigger, his chins chubbier. Now even if

someone looked at Xiang Wentian carefully face to face, he would still have a difficult time recognizing him.

Xiang Wentian leading the way, they began looking for a way out of the valley. Xiang Wentian put his hands together and hid them in the

sleeves, which also covered up the iron chain tied around his wrists. As long as he didn’t draw his hands out, nobody would have been able to recognize that this bald fatty was actually the hale, hearty, and degage Xiang Wentian.

The two of them explored the valley from one side to the other, and by noon, they caught sight of a small, wild peach tree in a small col. Even though the peaches were far from ripe and tasted sour and astringent, they couldn’t care less and each had a stomach full. After resting for about two hours, they resumed their walk. By the time of dusk, Xiang Wentian finally found the right place to get out of the valley, only that they had to climb over a precipice a few hundred feet high. Xiang Wentian carried Linghu

Chong on his back and then climbed upward.

After they climbed up the cliff, a small path appeared in front of their eyes, winding through the long grasses covering the wild country land.

Although the scenery was bleak, at least they had gotten out of the tight spot where even traces of wild birds or animals were lacking, and both heaved a long sigh of relieve.

The next morning, they traveled east. When they finally arrived at a good-sized town, Xiang Wentian took out a piece of Golden Leaf64 from his chest pocket and asked Linghu Chong to exchange that into silver at a local money market. When that was all taken care of, they put up at an inn. Xiang Wentian ordered a lavish feast and also asked the servant to bring out a big jar of wine. The two of them both drank to heart’s content until over half jar of the wine had gone. Then without paying any attention to the food on the table, one simply fell asleep at the table while the other one fell into a fuddle and passed out in bed. Not until the next morning when the warm

sunshine had covered the full window did they wake up one after another. They exchanged a few grins as they recollected the fierce fight inside the pavilion and on the stone beam, almost feeling as though those events had only happened in their last incarnation.

“Brother, you wait here. I’ll be right back,” Xiang Wentian said.

But Xiang Wentian did not return until over two hours later. Linghu Chong was just starting to worry, fearing that he might have encountered enemies, when Xiang Wentian reappeared with many packages in various sizes in his hands and under his arms. The iron chain that had shackled around his waists also disappeared. He must have asked a blacksmith to chisel it off. Xiang Wentian opened the packages. It turned out each and every one of them contained luxurious garments and apparels.

“We’ll disguise into rich merchants. The more extravagant, the better,” Xiang Wentian explained.

The two of them changed into the brand new clothes from inside out completely. When they walked outside, the inn servant lead two tall horses in bright saddles and bridles to them which apparently Xiang Wentian had also just purchased. They traveled slowly further east on horsebacks. After two days into the journey, Linghu Chong had already felt worn out, so

Xiang Wentian hired a horse-drawn wagon for him to ride in. After arriving by the Grand Canal,65 they simply gave up the idea of traveling by horse

and hired a boat, traveling south by water, instead.

Along the journey, Xiang Wentian kept the spending spree, as though he had infinite number of Golden Leaves with him. After they crossed the Yangtze River, more and more markets and shops bustled along both banks of the canal. The apparels Xiang Wentian purchased also turned more and more extravagant. During the long days spent on the boat, Xiang Wentian told many anecdotes and tales of the Martial World, most of which were

stories Linghu Chong had never heard of before and brought great gusto out of him. But if there was anything relating the Dark-Wood Cliff or

concerning matters of the Demon’s Cult, Xiang Wentian would not mention any word of it, and Linghu Chong would not ask any question, either.

This day, they arrived outside the city of Hangzhou. With extra

attention, Xiang Wentian worked on the disguises of Linghu Chong and himself one more time before getting off the boat, then after acquiring two fine horses, they rode into the city of Hangzhou. The city of Hangzhou, which used to have the name of Lin-An, was the capital city during the Southern-Song Dynasty, and had always been a great place for residence. As soon as they entered the city, they were greeted by boisterous pedestrians crowding the streets shoulder to shoulder while faint music and songs from alleys and courtyards echoing faintly in the background. Linghu Chong followed Xiang Wentian until they had

arrived at the bank of the West Lake, and what greeted his eyes were a beautiful slate of blue water reflecting the blue sky like a huge mirror and the many weeping willows stroking the lake surface with their long soft branches. The magnificent beauty of the scenery could have easily made one wonder if he had just stepped in a fairyland.

“I’ve heard many people say: Suzhou and Hangzhou are Heavens on earth. I’ve never been to Suzhou so have no idea about it. Today, after

seeing the West Lake with my own eyes, I have to agree that using Heaven on earth to describe its beauty is certainly no exaggeration,” Linghu Chong exclaimed.

Xiang Wentian showed a smile as his reply and then led Linghu

Chong to a remote corner, which, with a small hill on one side and a long causeway separating it from the outer lake on the other, seemed even more secluded and peaceful. The two of them dismounted their horses and then

after tying the reins to the willow trees by the bank, they ascended the flight of stone steps leading up the small hill. It seemed as though Xiang Wentian had returned to a formerly visited place and was very familiar with the pathways. After several turns, suddenly, there were plum trees everywhere. Aged boughs slanted to the side with dense branches and leaves on the top, making one wonder what a splendid view it would be in the early spring

when they were all covered in the countless of beautiful, snow-white plum blossoms. They walked through the large stretch of plum forest and then followed the main stone slab path. Soon a large manor with a red gate and white walls came into their view. Once they came closer, Linghu Chong

could see two large characters, “Plum Manor,” written outside of the gate; and by the side, the words “signed by Yu Yunwen” were inscribed in

smaller fonts. Even though Linghu Chong did not have much education and didn’t know that Yu Yunwen was the famous Southern-Song general that had defeated Jin’s invading army, he could still sense the vigorous, heroic

spirit behind the elegant and graceful handwriting.

Xiang Wentian stepped forward and grabbed onto the shiny copper ring hanging from the gate. “Leave everything to me,” he turned his head over his shoulder and whispered.

Linghu Chong nodded, thinking to himself, “This Plum Manor obviously is the residence of a very rich family in the city of Hangzhou. Could this have been the home of an exceptional doctor?” Then he heard Xiang Wentian knocking on the gate using the copper ring. He knocked four times at first then paused for a moment before knocking twice again. Then after another short pause, he knocked five times, then another pause before three more knocks. Letting go of the copper ring, Xiang Wentian took a step back and waited.

After a while, the gate opened slowly, and two old men in servant’s clothes walked out abreast. Linghu Chong felt a slight shock at the sight of

the two old men. Their eyes shining with sharp stares and their steps steady and firm, apparently both of them had excellent Kung Fu. Why would they allow themselves to be employed to such lowly posts as servants? Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ask himself inwardly.

“May I ask what business has brought you to our humble manor?” the man on the left asked with a slight bow. “Members of the Songshan School and the Huashan School would like to request an audience with the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan,66 the four respectful Manor Masters,” Xiang Wentian said.

“The Manor Masters do not wish to receive any guests,” the man replied and made for closing the gate, but Xiang Wentian took something out of his chest pocket and then opened it up.

Linghu Chong felt another shock. Inside Xiang Wentian’s hand was a brocade flag in five colors stubbed with shining pearls and precious gemstones, and in the bight sunlight they twinkled magnificently. Linghu Chong knew that this flag was the Five Mountains Sword Alliance

Command Flag of the Songshan School’s Chief Zuo, and wherever the flag showed up, it was as if Chief Zuo had also come, himself, and all members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance would hold the carrier of the

Command Flag to the highest esteem and follow his command strictly.

Linghu Chong faintly felt that this was inappropriate. He was almost sure that Xiang Wentian must have not obtained the flag through proper means. Maybe he had killed some important members of the Songshan School and then had robbed the flag of him, and maybe the flag was the very reason why orthodox school members chased after him. Now he

claimed to be a member of the Songshan School, what kind of scheme was he planning to pull? But since Linghu Chong had agreed to let him arrange everything, he had no choice but to maintain his silence and observe by the side.

At the sight of the Command Flag, the two servants’ countenance

changed slightly. “The Command Flag of Songshan School’s Chief Zuo?” they muttered together.

“Yes, it is,” Xiang Wentian confirmed. “The Four Playfellows of Jiangnan and the Five Mountains Sword

Alliance never had the chance to make the acquaintance. Even if Songshan School’s Chief Zuo had come, himself, our Masters wouldn’t necessarily… necessarily…well!” the servant on the right replied. He didn’t finish his

sentence, but everyone knew what he meant: “Even if Chief Zuo had come, himself, our Masters wouldn’t necessarily grant an audience just the same.”

Chief Zuo of the Songshan School was, after all, a man of high post and high prestige, and the man did not want to say anything contemptuous. But he apparently considered the status of the “Four Playfellows of the

Jiangnan” to be much higher compared to that of the Chief Zuo.

“Who are these ‘Four Playfellows of Jiangnan’? Suppose they really have such prestigious status in the Martial World, why have I never heard Master or Master-Wife mention their names? And when I wondered about the Martial World, I’ve heard people talking about many exceptional senior masters, how come I’ve never heard the name ‘Four Playfellows of

Jiangnan’ mentioned before?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ponder.

“This Command Flag of My Nephew-Apprentice Zuo was only good for bluffing. The four senior masters of Jiangnan are all prestigious masters.

Of course they would think nothing of this small flag….” Xiang Wentian

showed a slight grin and put the Command Flag back into his chest pocket.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “‘Nephew-Apprentice Zuo’? Are you actually pretending to be Chief Zuo’s Uncle-Master? This is really getting out of hands.”

“I’ve never had the privilege of paying a formal visit to the four respectful masters of Jiangnan, I just thought that this Command Flag might be used as a token of verification,” Xiang Wentian continued.

“Oh,” the two servants acknowledged. Hearing how Xiang Wentian had really elevated the position of the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan in his speech, both eased up in the face.

“Are you Chief Zuo’s Uncle-Master?” one man asked.

“Yes, I am!” Xiang Wentian let out another grin. “I am only a nobody in the Martial World; naturally you would never have heard about me. But I’ve long heard abut the great feats you have accomplished. Brother Ding, that year at the foot of Mount Qilian, didn’t you single-handedly wipe out the entire band of four tyrants and subdued two prestigious Kung Fu masters with a single swing of your sword? And Brother Shi, didn’t your Eight-Diagram Golden Saber drink the blood of the Green-Dragon Clan’s

all thirteen ringleaders on the Han River in Hubei Province just so that you could save the life of an orphan? Such feats are definitely hard to forget.”

The two men in servant’s clothes were named Ding Jian and Shi Lingwei respectively. Before retiring to the Plum Manor, they had been two ruthless figures in the Martial World, chivalrous sometimes and wicked

some other times. They had one thing in common: seldom had they revealed their names in the many battles they had fought. Consequently, despite their extraordinary martial art skills few had heard of their names.

The two incidents Xiang Wentian just brought up were none other than

what they had considered the true masterpiece in their lives. In both cases, their opponents had been elite Kung Fu masters and they had to fight many enemies alone, nevertheless each of them claimed a neat victory. Besides, they had been the chivalrous heroes upholding justice while their opponents were the villains in both incidents, which had been very rare occurrences throughout their lives. Generally when someone performs a good deed,

even though he wouldn’t go out of his way to publicize it, he would still feel utterly pleased if others learn about it accidentally. Both Ding and Shi’s faces lit up at Xiang Wentian’s words. “Such trivial matters really do not worth mentioning. Mister, your knowledge of the Martial World is very impressive,” Ding Jian spoke with a faint smile.

“The Martial World certainly does not lack people who fish for fame and compliment, but lofty gentlemen with genuine abilities and learning that would rather remain anonymous after doing great deeds are very hard to come by,” Xiang Wentian continued. “I’ve always admired the great fame of ‘Straight Line Lightning Sword’ Brother Ding and ‘Wulu God’

Brother Shi. When Nephew-Apprentice Zuo mentioned about consulting the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan in regard to certain matters, I agreed to make the trip to Hangzhou. I figured that even if I might not have the luck to meet the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan, as long as I get to meet the ‘Straight Line Lightning Sword’ and the ‘Wulu God,’ it would have been a worthy trip. Nephew-Apprentice Zuo said that if he had come, himself, he was afraid that the four senior masters might not want to receive him, having an aversion to the undeserved reputation he had attained in recent years. But in my case, since I usually stayed in and kept myself away from Martial World matters, maybe I won’t look too repugnant in their eyes. Ha- ha! Ha-ha!”

Very pleased to hear Xiang Wentian flattering both the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan and the two of them, Ding and Shi also

accompanied him with a few laughs. Although the bald fatty looked repulsive in appearance, his speech and demeanor showed great manner and elegance, which convinced Ding and Shi that he was not just any ordinary visitor. And since he was Zuo Lengchan’s Uncle-Master, his Kung Fu skills had to be extraordinary. Ding and Shi felt their respect growing.

By then, Shi Lingwei had decided to report them to the Manor

Masters. Turning toward Linghu Chong, he asked, “Is this mister a member of the Huashan School?”

“This is Brother Feng. He is the Uncle-Master of the current Huashan School Headmaster, Yue Buqun,” Xiang Wentian replied swiftly before Linghu Chong had any chance to open his mouth.

From the much nonsense Xiang Wentian had made up, Linghu Chong had guessed that Xiang would vamp up a fake name and identity for him, but he had no idea that Xiang would make him the Uncle-Master of his own Master. Even though Linghu Chong was a man that did not care a rush, pretending to be a senior of his respectful Master made him very uneasy. He couldn’t help but shudder. Luckily his face was covered under a thick layer of yellow powder, which effectively concealed his startled face.

Ding Jian and Shi Lingwei exchanged a suspicious stare, both thinking, “Although we can’t tell this man’s true age, he is most likely under forty. How could he be Yue Buqun’s Uncle-Master?”

Xiang Wentian had made Linghu Chong look much older with the help of the disguise. However, Linghu Chong still looked far from an aged man, and any excessive make up would have given him away completely.

“This Brother Feng here is actually younger than Yue Buqun, but he is the only disciple of apprentice brother Feng Qingyang and the only heir of apprentice brother Feng’s unique sword arts. His skills in sword arts are so exceptional that few in the Huashan Sword School could be his match,” Xiang Wentian explained.

Once again, Linghu Chong found himself astounded. “How would Brother Xiang know that I am the disciple of Grand Uncle-Master Feng?” he pondered and found the answer only a moment later, “With his

exceptional sword art skills, Grand Uncle-Master Feng must have had a prestigious fame in the Martial World many years ago. Brother Xiang is a very knowledgeable man. Once he saw the sword arts I used, naturally he was able to deduce the origin of the sword arts. If Great Master Fang-Sheng can recognize it, so can Brother Xiang.”

Ding Jian uttered a cry of surprise. He was an expert in

swordsmanship, and upon learning that Linghu Chong was an excellent

sword master, he itched for a contest. But the man standing in front of him had such a yellowish, swollen face and a completely wretched look, he had a hard time linking the man to an outstanding master in sword arts.

“May I have the honor to hear your names?” he asked.

“My surname is Tong, and my full name is Tong Huajin. This Brother Feng’s first name is Er-Zhong,” Xiang Wentian answered.

“We’ve been looking forward to meeting you for a long time.” Both Ding and Shi cupped their hands in greetings.

Xiang Wentian couldn’t help but chuckle inwardly. The name he made up, “Tong Huajin,” meant copper turning into gold, which, of course, clearly stated that it was fake. And the name “Er-Zhong” simply came from separating the two radicals in the character “Chong.” There was no one in the Martial World with any of those two names, yet the two of them still looked forward to meeting them. Why would they be looking forward to it, much less looking forward to it for a long time already?

“Please come in and have some tea while I report to my Masters. But whether our Masters will see you or not, I won’t promise anything,” Ding Jian said.

“Even though you humbly call yourselves servants of the Manor, you are more like intimate brothers to the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan. I am

sure the four senior masters will not go against your suggestions,” Xiang Wentian said with a grin.

Ding Jian returned with a grin, shifting to the side to make way, and Xiang Wentian stepped into the manor, followed closely by Linghu Chong. They walked through a big courtyard following the path, alongside which stood two aged plum trees, one on each side, their limbs extending vigorously in all directions. After entering the reception hall, Shi Lingwei invited the guests to be seated and stood by the side in accompany while Ding Jian went inside to report to the Manor Masters. Seeing that Shi Lingwei stood by the side, Xiang Wentian felt rather irreverent to remain sitting, himself. But Shi was a servant of the Plum Manor, and it would

have been inappropriate for him to invite Shi to sit down. And then, he had an idea.

“Brother Feng,” Xiang Wentian said to Linghu Chong, “Look at that painting there. Although it’s made up of only a few simply strokes, it

certainly depicts great momentum.” At these words, he stood up and walked in front of the central scroll hung in the middle of the hall.

Having traveled alongside Xiang Wentian for many days, Linghu

Chong knew very well that Xiang was not adept at painting and calligraphy despite his resourceful wits. Now when he suddenly began praising the painting, there had to be something more to it. At that thought, he

acknowledged with a snort and also walked in front of the painting. The painting contained the drawing of a celestial man’s back. It almost felt as though the ink on the painting was still dripping wet, clearly showing the powerful vigor of each of the strokes. Even though Linghu Chong was no expert in the art of painting, he could still tell that this had to be a true masterpiece. The autograph on the painting read, “Mr. Paint Splashing Paints In a Big Fuddle.” These words were written in a very stern style, as though each brushstroke came from a prod or swing of a long sword.

“Brother Tong, I am very attracted to this word ‘Fuddle’ on the painting. It almost felt as though the painting and the writing contained some kind of very brilliant sword arts,” after staring at the painting for some time, Linghu Chong commented. The brushstrokes in the writing and the gesture of the celestial man seemed to have reminded him of the sword arts carved on the rock wall in the back cave atop the Cliff of

Contemplation.

Before Xiang Wentian had a chance to reply, Shi Lingwei had already spoken out, “Mr. Feng is truly an expert in sword arts. Our Fourth Master

said: He painted this painting after he became completely inebriated one day and unconsciously included the spirit of sword arts in the artwork. This is the best artwork he had ever created. Once he became sober, he could never paint anything like this again. Mr. Feng can actually make out the

spirit of sword arts in the painting. Fourth Master will definitely think of you as a bosom friend. Please allow me to excuse myself so I can report this to him.” Beaming with joy, he went inside.

“Brother Feng, turned out you know the art of painting,” Xiang Wentian cleared his throat and said.

“I don’t know anything about painting. I was just making wild guesses, and happen to hit the target by accident. If this Mr. Paint wants to discuss the art of painting with me, I’ll end up making a fool out of myself,” Linghu Chong replied.

Suddenly a loud voice rose from outside the door, “Did he really, did he really recognize the spirit of sword arts in my painting? He must be a very insightful man. He must be!” Amid the clamor, a man entered the room, holding a wine cup in his left hand, his face tipsy and his long beard almost reaching all the way to his bosom.

Shi Lingwei followed right behind the man. In a hurry, he introduced, “These two guests are Mister Tong from the Songshan School and Mister Feng from the Huashan School. This is the Fourth Master of the Plum

Manor, Mr. Paint. Fourth Master, as soon as this Mister Feng saw your Splash-Ink painting, he said that the painting contained brilliant sword arts.”

The Fourth Master, Mr. Paint, glanced at Linghu Chong up and down from the corner of his tipsy eyes. “You know painting? You know sword

arts?” he suddenly asked. The two questions sounded very insolent and impolite.

Linghu Chong noticed that the wine cup in his hand was a jade green Emerald Cup; he could also tell from the smell that the wine inside the cup was Pear-Blossom Wine. Suddenly, Zu Qianqiu’s speech on the boat when they traveled in the Yellow River came to his mind.

“Bai Juyi wrote in his poem Spring View of Hangzhou, ‘The red

sleeves of the silk weaving girls reflected the persimmon leaves, and the emerald green flag of the wine shop sets off the Pear-Blossom Wine.’ To drink the Pear-Blossom Wine, Emerald Cup would be the natural choice. Fourth Master is truly an expert in the art of wine-drinking.”

Linghu Chong did not have much education and knew little about poetry and literature. But being a very intelligent man, he was gifted with an extraordinarily retentive memory and could recite other people’s words

after hearing them over once. So easily, he copied Zu Qianqiu’s exact words over.

Mr. Paint’s eyes became wide open at these words. Suddenly he held Linghu Chong into his arms.

“Good heavens!” he cried out loud, “A bosom friend has arrived.

Come! Follow me! Let’s go drink at least three hundred cups. Brother Feng, I am addicted to the art of wine, the art of painting, and the art of sword.

People call me Lord of the Three Arts. But among the three arts, the art of wine is at the top of the list. Art of painting is the second and art of sword is the last.” These words sounded like music in Linghu Chong’s ears. “I know nothing about the art of painting,” he thought to himself, “I’ve come to seek help in healing my injuries. It’s the last thing I want to do to get into a

sword fight with them. But drinking, that’s just down my alley. What more could I have asked for?”

Without hesitation, he followed Mr. Paint inside followed by Xiang Wentian and Shi Lingwei. Down a winding corridor, they came to a room to the west, and as soon as the portiere was lifted, a strong fragrance of wine

assailed their nostrils.

Linghu Chong had been fond of drinking since childhood. Only because his Master and Master-Wife hadn’t given him much pocket money, he had not the luxury to distinguish the good from the bad and simply drank whatever he could get. Not until he listened to Elder Bamboo-Green discussing the art of drinking in detail in the city of Luoyang, and was

shown the many kinds of great wines, was he able to appreciate quality

wines and the art of drinking. Firstly, this was congenial for him; secondly, he had a good teacher to give him directions. So as soon the scent of wine hit his nostrils, he praised.

“Wow! I smell the scent of aged High Grade Fen-Wine. Hmm, the Hundred-Grass Wine probably is around seventy-five years old. And that Monkey Wine is even harder to come by.”

As soon as he recognized the aroma of the Monkey Wine, he instantly remembered Lu Dayou, his sixth apprentice brother, and sorrow swelled in his heart.

“Excellent! Excellent! Brother Feng, as soon as you stepped into my wine room, you have already recognized the best three brews in my

collection. You are really an expert! Amazing! Amazing indeed!” Mr. Paint clapped his hands with a big smile blossoming on his face. Linghu Chong glanced around the room. What met his eyes where wine jars, wine bottles, wine calabashes, and wine cups everywhere.

“I really doubt Senior Master’s collection stops at the three great brews I’ve just mentioned. The Shaoxing-Red Wine is definitely first-class, and the Grape-Wine from the Western Region city Turfan,67 which requires four cycles of distillation and ferments, is second to none in the entire

world.”

“My Turfan four cycles of distillation and ferments Grape-Wine is still sealed off in the wooden barrel. How could you have sniffed it out?” Mr. Paint uttered, half shocked and half pleased.

“Come on! With such quality wine, even if you hide it in a cellar twenty feet below ground, the sweet scent would still make it all the way here,” Linghu Chong said with a grin.

“Right on! Let’s drink this four cycles distillation and ferments Grape-Wine, then!” Mr. Paint shouted.

Soon, he took out a big barrel from a corner of the room. The barrel had begun to turn black from its old age and was covered with wriggling Western Region scripts. The wooden stopper was sealed off by sealing wax, which carried the sign of a solemn looking stamp. Mr. Paint held the

wooden stopper and gave it a gentle pull. All of a sudden, the room was filled with the scent of great wine. Shi Lingwei was a man who never touched alcohol, and at the strong smell from the wine, he immediately felt tipsy. Mr. Paint waved him off with a grin.

“Go out! Go out! You don’t want to get drunk, do you?”

Placing three wine cups in a row, he picked the barrel up and poured the wine toward the wine cups. The wine’s color was dark red and almost looked like blood. When the cups were full, the top of the liquid was

actually slightly higher than the edge of the cup, yet not a drop spilled out. “This man has extraordinary Kung Fu skills,” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but cheer inwardly. “Holding the over one-hundred pounds big barrel in his arms and pouring wine into the small wine cups, he was still able to fill the cups perfectly to their capacities. That is no easy task.”

“Cheers! Cheers!” Holding the wooden barrel under his right arm, he raised his wine cup with his left hand and stared at Linghu Chong’s face

with unblinking eyes, waiting to see his reaction after he tasted the wine.

Linghu Chong raised his own cup and then drank half of its content down his throat, smacking his lips as he tasted the flavor, his eyes closed.

But because of the thick layer of powder on his face, the only express on his face was indifference, as though he didn’t quite like the taste. Mr. Paint’s face, on the other hand, had anxiety written all over it, as if he was afraid that this expert in wine-appreciation would only rate his wine mediocre.

After a long while, Linghu Chong finally opened his eyes. “Very strange! Very strange indeed!” he muttered.

“What’s strange about it?” Mr. Paint asked.

“Well, this is so confusing. This is really beyond me,” Linghu Chong answered.

“You are saying…,” Mr. Paint said, his eyes flickering with joy.

“I’ve only had the fortune to taste this wine once before, and that was in the city of Luoyang. Even though the wine was utterly mellow and pure, one could still feel the slight sourness in its flavor. According to a grandmaster in the art of wine, that was because of the bumping and jolting along the transportation route. With the four cycles distillation and ferments Turfan Grape-Wine, the more you move it, the more of the excellence will be impaired. There are many thousands of miles between Turfan and

Hangzhou, but Senior Master’s wine doesn’t even have the slightest sourness in its flavor. Well….” Mr. Paint broke into loud laughter, looking very pleased of himself. “This is my utmost secret. I had to use three sword moves in

exchange for the secret recipe from Moore Watson, the Western Region Swordsman. Do you want to hear it?”

“I am already perfectly satisfied for the chance to enjoy such

wonderful wine. I certainly dare not to ask about Senior Master’s secret recipe.” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“Let’s drink! Let’s drink!” Mr. Paint filled the three wine cups once again. Linghu Chong’s no desire for the secret recipe actually made his heart itch more. He couldn’t help but mutter, “Actually the recipe is not worth a dime. It’s amazingly simply, you know.”

Linghu Chong knew that the less he desired to hear the secret, the more Mr. Paint would want to share it. So he shook his hands hurriedly.

“Senior Master, please, please don’t speak the secret out. I can imagine that the three sword moves you gave out must have been no small matter. If I take away your secret recipe, which you had to pay a great price in exchange, so easily, I’ll never feel right about it. It is well said that there’s no receiving a reward without making a merit….”

“Didn’t you drink with me? Didn’t you recognize the origin of the wine? That’s plenty of merit already. You must listen to the secret recipe,” Mr. Paint insisted.

“I feel great gratitude that Senior Master is willing to grant me an

audience and bestow on me your most valuable wine collection. How could I…?”

“But I want to tell you. You can listen.”

“This is Fourth Master’s goodwill. Brother Feng, you need not decline,” Xiang Wentian also chimed in. “Exactly! Exactly!” Mr. Paint concurred. “Let me ask you. Can you tell how old the wine is?” he asked with all smiles.

Linghu Chong drank up his wine and tasted it carefully. After a long while he spoke again.

“There is another thing strange about this wine. It tastes like it’s one hundred and twenty years old, yet it also tastes as though it is only twelve or thirteen years old. There’s old flavor in the recent taste and there’s also new flavor in the old taste. Comparing to normal, over one hundred years old wine, it seems to have a unique essence.”

Xiang Wentian knitted his brows slightly as he thought to himself,

“Now he has really made a fool of himself. There’s over one hundred years difference between one hundred and twenty years and twelve or thirteen years. How could they be mentioned in the same breath?”

He was afraid that Mr. Paint would be displeased to hear these words, but quite to the contrary, the old fellow Mr. Paint broke into loud laughter, his long beard fluttering back and forth.

“Good brother! You are as sharp as a razor. That’s exactly where the secret lies. Let me tell you. That Western Region Swordsman, Moore

Watson, gave me ten barrels of one hundred and twenty years old Turfan Grape Wine that had gone through three cycles of distillation and ferments and had five fine horses carry them all the way to Hangzhou. And then I went through the fourth cycle of distillation and ferments and brewed one barrel of fine wine using the ten barrels Grape Wine. If we count the days, that was exactly twelve and a half years ago. That’s why the Grape Wine didn’t go sour after such a long journey and why there’s old flavor in the recent taste and new flavor in the old taste.”

“That’s why!” Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong both put their hands together. “Even if you were to use ten sword moves in exchange for the secret of making such wonderful wine, it would have been worth it. And you only had to use three moves. What a steal!” Linghu Chong added.

Mr. Paint was even more pleased. “Little brother, you really understand me well. At that time, both Big Brother and Third Brother grumbled about it and complained that by exchanging sword moves for wine brewing technique, I had let the secret of our Central Region unique skills into the Western Region. And even though Second Brother only

smiled without saying anything, I bet he didn’t approve it in his mind,

either. Only you, little brother, understand that I’ve made a kill in this deal. Lets have a toast for that!”

Seeing that Xiang Wentian obviously didn’t know anything about the art of drinking, he paid no more attention to him.

“Fourth Master, there’s actually another way to enjoy this wine. Too bad we won’t be able to at this moment,” Linghu Chong said after drinking up another cup of wine.

“How? Why can’t we?” Mr. Paint asked anxiously.

“Turfan is the hottest place in the world. I heard that when Great Master Xuan-Zang68 journeyed to India to retrieve the true Buddhist Scriptures, he went by the Mountain of Blaze, which is exactly where Turfan is located,” Linghu Chong explained.

“Yes. That place is very hot, indeed. In the summertime, even after you immerse yourself in a bucket of cold water, you’d still feel the unbearable heat. And in the wintertime, it’ll freeze you to the bone. But just because of that, the grapes they produce there are out of the ordinary,” Mr. Paint remarked.

“When I tasted this wine in the city of Luoyang, it was still very cold.

That grandmaster in the art of drinking brought out a big piece of ice and then set the wine cups on top of the ice. Once the wine was iced, it had a different kind of taste. It is already in the early summer now, that’s why I said we wouldn’t be able to taste it that way,” Linghu Chong said.

“When I was in the Western Region, unfortunately it was in the

summertime also. Moore Watson also mentioned about the wonderful taste of Iced Grape Wine. Little brother, that’s easy. All you have to do is to stay in our Plum Manor for another half a year. Then when it is in the winter, we can taste the wine together,” Mr. Paint suggested. After a short pause, he

went on, his eyebrows slightly knitted, “But we’ll have to wait for such a long time. What a torment!”

“It’s a pity that there’s no one here in Jiangnan who specializes in ‘Icy Palm’ or ‘Cold-Wind Claw’ the kind of Kung Fu that focuses on the negative principles, or else…,” Xiang Wentian joined in.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” before Xiang Wentian even finished his sentence, Mr. Paint had shouted out cheerfully. Setting the wine barrel down to the floor, he walked out of the room excitedly.

Linghu Chong cast a glance at Xiang Wentian with a stomach full of questions, but Xiang Wentian only grinned back in silence.

Not long after, Mr. Paint had returned, dragging a very tall and very thin, old man in black robe behind him.

“Second Brother, you’ve got to do me a favor this time no matter what,” he pleaded.

Linghu Chong looked at the man. What he saw was a man with delicate features, only that his face looked unnaturally white as though the face of a corpse, which would send a chill down one’s spine at the sight of it. After Mr. Paint introduced him, Linghu Chong learned that the old man was the Second Master of the Plum Manor, Mr. Black-White. His hair looked extremely black while his skin looked extremely white. They were certainly in sharp contrast.

“What favor?” Mr. Black-White asked in a cold tone.

“To demonstrate your Turning-Water-Into-Ice Kung Fu to these two good friends of mine,” Mr. Paint said.

“That’s just an insignificant skill not even worth mentioning. It would only make the true experts laugh,” Mr. Black-White said coldly, rolling his black eyeballs around the white of the eye as he spoke.

“Second Brother, to tell you the truth, this Brother Feng, here, said that if we ice the Turfan Grape Wine, it would have an interesting taste. But where the heck can I find ice in the middle of the summer?” Mr. Paint

confessed.

“The wine is already very mellow and savory. There’s no need to ice it,” Mr. Black-White replied.

“Turfan is a place of sweltering heat…,” Linghu Chong explained. “Totally! Very hot!” Mr. Paint added.

“’Although the grapes produced there are excellent, inevitably, they also carried some of the summer heat,” Linghu Chong went on.

“Totally! That’s of course!” Mr. Paint added again.

“The summer heat was then brewed into the wine. Though after one hundred years, the effect had reduced dramatically, the little bit of bitter is simply inevitable, after all,” Linghu Chong concluded.

“Totally! Totally! If you had not mentioned it, I would have thought that it was because the flame was too high at the time of the distillation.

I’ve really blamed that royal cook wrongly,” Mr. Paint said. “What royal cook?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Well, I was afraid to spoil the ten barrels of great wine with incorrect degree of heating at the time of the distillation, so I made a special trip to the imperial palace in Beijing and grabbed the royal cook to come back with me so he could make the fire and brew the wine for me.” Mr. Paint grinned.

“Making a mountain out of a molehill?” Mr. Black-White shook his

head.

“I see,” Xiang Wentian cut in the conversation. “If it were for just

ordinary ones, it wouldn’t matter much for them to have the bitterness in their drink. But Second Master and Fourth Master are lofty hermits that retreated to the lakeside of the scenic West Lake, completely different from the rough fellows in the Martial World. Once the wine is iced and rid of the roughness, then it would match perfectly with the status of the two lofty masters. It is just like the gamesmanship in the game of Go.69 Combating with shear strength would only fall into the ninth grade of gamesmanship while masters in the first or second grade of gamesmanship would seek a

contest of spirit and understanding….”

“You know the game of Go?” rolling his queer eyes once again, Mr.

Black-White suddenly grabbed at Xiang Wentian’s shoulder and asked eagerly.

“The game of Go is the favorite in my life. Unfortunately my skills are just ordinary. So I traveled all over the country in pursuit of Go

manuals. Throughout the past thirty years, I’ve managed to memorize quite a few of the famous games of all ages,” Xiang Wentian replied.

“Which famous games have you memorized?” Mr. Black-White asked excitedly.

“For example: The game Wang Zhi watched when he encountered

celestial beings on Mount Decayed Helve,70 the game Liu Zhongpu played against the Fairy Granny on Mount Li,71 and the game Wang Jixin heard between the mother and the daughter-in-law fairy foxes72….” Before he even finished, Mr. Black-White had begun shaking his head in disappointment. “Those are only myths. How can they be credible? And how could there be real game manuals from those myth stories?” At that

word, he let go of Xiang Wentian’s shoulder.

“Well, at first, I also thought these were just stories made up by busybodies, but twenty-five years ago when I saw the game manual for the game between Liu Zhongpu and the Fairy Granny of Mount Li with my own eyes and realized how pointed and profound each move was, nothing an ordinary person could have made up, that was when I believed whole heartedly that the myth story was real. Is Senior Master also fond of this game?”

Mr. Paint suddenly burst into an uncontrolled laugh, his long beard fluttered about once again.

“Why are you laughing?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“Didn’t you ask my Second Brother if he is fond of the game of Go? Ha-ha-ha! My Second Brother’s name is Mr. Black-White. You tell me if he likes the game or not. They way Second Brother loves the game of Go is just like how I love the art of drinking,” Mr. Paint said in amusement.

“Good heavens! Second Master, please excuse my random talk.

That’s like displaying one’s slight skill before an expert,” Xiang Wentian said hurriedly.

“Did you really see the game manual for the game between Liu Zhongpu and the Fairy Granny of Mount Li?” Mr. Black-White asked. “I’ve seen recordings from ancient journals about this story. It said that Liu Zhongpu was the national champion at the time, but he lost miserably to a

countryside granny at the foot of Mount Li and spat out several liters of blood from the frustration. That’s why this famous game manual was named the ‘Blood-Spitting Manual.’ Could this ‘Blood-Spitting Manual’ really exist in this world?”

When he first entered the room, his face had looked completely indifferent, but now it was covered with excitement.

“Twenty-Five years ago, I had the chance of reading it in the old residence of a well-known family in Chengdu, Szechwan. Because it was such a stunning battle, even after twenty-five years, I could still remember every single one of the entire one hundred and twelve moves,” Xiang

Wentian elaborated.

“There are a total of one hundred and twelve moves? Why don’t you show it to me? Come on, let’s go to my game room to set it up,” Mr. Black- White proposed anxiously.

Mr. Paint stretched his arms out and blocked the way.

“Hold it! Second Brother, if you don’t make ice for me, see if I’ll ever let you leave,” he said as he took out a white china basin filled with clear

water.

“Alas, each of the four brothers has his own ‘thing’ to be crazy about.

It’s hopeless,” Mr. Black-White sighed.

He stretched out his right hand and inserted his index finger into the water. Only a short moment later, faint traces of white mist began rising from the water surface, and soon, hoar frost began forming along the edges of the basin. Before long, a thin layer of ice appeared at the water surface. The ice grew thicker and thicker and only minutes later, the water inside the basin had all turned into cold ice. Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong both

cheered loudly.

“I heard that the ‘Violent Wind Finger’ Kung Fu had been long lost in the Martial World. Who would have thought that the Second Master…?”

Xiang Wentian said. “This is not the ‘Violent Wind Finger.’ This is called the ‘Profound Heavenly Finger,’ which is a much more advanced Kung Fu in comparison with the truculent ‘Violent Wind Finger’ Kung Fu,” Mr. Paint clarified

promptly. Without any delay, he had placed four wine cups on top of the ice as he spoke and filled them with Grape Wine. Shortly afterwards, traces of white mist began rising from the surface of the wine.

“Now!” Linghu Chong said.

Picking up a wine cup, Mr. Paint tossed the wine down, and sure enough, the wine tasted thick and mellow and there was not a trace of

bitterness. In addition, a taste of cool and refreshing was also added to the wine and made it even more delicious. He couldn’t help but praise.

“How marvelous! Now I did a great job brewing the wine; Brother Feng did a great job explained it; Second brother did a great job made the ice. Well, what about you? Hmm….” He grinned at Xiang Wentian. “You did a great job stooging alongside.”

Mr. Black-White drank up his wine casually, didn’t even pay any attention to the flavor of it. Grabbing Xiang Wentian’s arm, he pulled.

“Come on! Come on! Show me how Liu Zhongpu’s ‘Blood-Spitting Manual’ looks like.”

Xiang Wentian gave Linghu Chong’s sleeve a gentle pull, and Linghu Chong immediately understood. “I’d like to go take a look, myself.” he

said.

“I bet you there’s nothing interesting about it. Why don’t you and I stay here and enjoy our wine?” Mr. Paint suggested.

“We can watch the game and enjoy our wine at the same time,” Linghu Chong replied and began walking following behind Mr. Black- White and Xiang Wentian. Mr. Paint had no choice but follow them into the game room, holding the big wine barrel under the arm.

The game room was a very spacious room, but other than a stone table and two soft chairs in the middle of the room it was completely empty. The top of the stone table had been carved into a game board with a grid of nineteen vertical and nineteen horizontal lines. On the two ends of the

checkerboard sat two baskets, one filled with black game pieces and one

with white ones. Apparently having no other articles in the room except the table, the chairs and the game pieces was to minimize distractions for the players.

Xiang Wentian walked to the stone table and then placed one game piece on each of the “star” points on the four corners of the game board. Next, he set a white game piece on the six-three intersection, then a black game piece on the nine-three intersection, a white game piece on the six-

five intersection, a black game piece on the nine-five intersection. He went on and on and placed one game piece after another onto the game board, gradually slowing down as he went.

The black side and the white side began a fierce dogfight from the very beginning of the game, and neither side had even one poor move. Mr.

Black-White looked at the game board with fixed stares and soon sweat streamed down his forehead.

Linghu Chong found himself baffled by the scene. He had witnessed how Mr. Black-White turned water into ice with his “Profound Heavenly Finger” Kung Fu, which would have required extraordinary inner energy

cultivation, but he didn’t even break a sweat; playing Go game was only an unorthodox school,73 yet he was sweating profusely just watching a game. When one had great concern about something, he would more likely to lose his rational. This man was crazy about the game of Go, and Xiang Wentian most probably had picked this weakness of his intentionally as a breakthrough.

Sure enough, when Mr. Black-White noticed that Xiang Wentian hadn’t put any game piece down a long while after he showed the sixty- sixth move, he turned impatient.

“What about the next move?” he asked.

“That is a key step of the game. Where do you think the next game piece should be at?” Xiang Wentian grinned.

Mr. Black-White pondered upon the question for quite a while and finally muttered, “Well, where do I want to put this one? A Tsuke move would be inappropriate; a Dame move would not be right; a Sagari move wouldn’t make it through; to make two eyes seems impossible.74 Well… well…well….”

Holding a white game piece with his index finger and middle finger, he rapped on the stone table with it, but after almost half an hour, he was

still unable to decide where on the game board to put this game piece. By then Mr. Paint and Linghu Chong had each drank up seventeen or eighteen cups of wine, already.

“Brother Tong, isn’t this the ‘Blood-Spitting Manual?’ Do you really want my Second Brother to spit up blood because of it? Whatever the next step is, why don’t you just tell us what it is straightforward?” noticing that Mr. Black-White’s face began turning livid, Mr. Paint proposed.

“Alright! The sixty-seventh move should be right here,” Xiang Wentian replied as he placed a game piece at the seven-four intersection.

“Splendid!” Mr. Black-White called out as he smacked his thigh with excitement. “To place the game piece there is a brilliant move, indeed.”

“Liu Zhongpu’s this move is, of course, a brilliant move. But it’s only a clever move from a mortal champion. When compared to the divine move from the Mount Li Fairy Granny, it is far inferior,” Xiang Wentian said with a smile.

“What about the divine move from the Mount Li Fairy Granny?” Mr.

Black-White inquired eagerly.

“Second Master might as well give it a try,” Xiang Wentian said.

Mr. Black-White pondered upon it deeply but could only conclude that this was destined to be a losing battle, and it would have been impossible to turn the tide. So he shook his head.

“Since it’s a divine move, how can any one of us mortals figure it out? Brother Tong, there’s no need to sell the climax.”

“This move contained wonderful foresight. It really takes an immortal to figure it out,” Xiang Wentian grinned again.

Mr. Black-White was an expert in gamesmanship, thus also became very proficient in reading an opponent’s minds. Since Xiang Wentian

wouldn’t just speak out the game manual frankly, which made his heart itchier by the second, he reckoned that Xiang must had something he wanted in return.

“Brother Tong, if you tell me this game manual, I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.”

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Is it possible that Brother Xiang knew this Second Master’s ‘Profound Heavenly Finger’ Kung Fu can cure my injuries, that’s why he went around in such a big circle for the request?”

“Brother Feng and I have nothing to request of the four Manor Masters. Second Master’s words have really put us two down,” Xiang Wentian raised his head and said.

“I beg your pardon for my discreet remark.” Mr. Black-White bowed deeply. Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong also bowed in return. “The two of us came to the Plum Manor because we’d like to make a wager with the four Manor Masters,” Xiang Wentian said.

“”Make a wager? What kind of wager?” Mr. Black-White and Mr.

Paint asked in unison.

“I want to make a wager that no one in the Plum Manor can beat Brother Feng here in sword arts,” Xiang Wentian answered.

At those words, Mr. Black and Mr. Paint both turned to look at Linghu Chong. Mr. Black-White’s face looked apathetic and with no sign of approval or disapproval. Mr. Paint, on the other hand, broke into a loud laugh.

“What’s the stake then?” Mr. Paint asked.

“If we lose, I’ll give this painting to Fourth Master,” Xiang Wentian replied as he untied the package on his back and opened it, inside which were two scrolls.

Xiang Wentian opened one of the scrolls and a very antiquated painting appeared in front of everyone’s eyes. At the upper right corner of the painting the autograph read, “Traveler in Mount Brook, Painted by Fan Zhongli of the Northern Song.”75 In the painting, a towering mountain shot up to the sky, steep and magnificent, well illustrated with the thick ink style.

Even though Linghu Chong had little knowledge about painting, he could still tell that this scenery painting was an excellent piece of art. The awe-

inspiring mountain stood tall and upright. Although it was only a picture on the canvas, one still couldn’t help but feel the admiration soaring in his heart.

“Holy cow!” Mr. Paint cried out. Fixing his eyes upon the painting, he could no longer look away. After a good while he finally spoke again, “This is the authentic work of Fan Kuan in the Northern Song era. Where…where did you get it?” Xiang Wentian smiled but did not answer. Slowly, he began rolling the painting into a scroll.

“Wait,” Mr. Paint called out.

He reached out and pulled Xiang Wentian’s arm, trying to stop Xiang from rolling the painting. But as soon as his hand touched Xiang’s arm, a

stream of soft yet vigorous inner energy shot out of Xiang’s arm and gently pushed his palm away. Xiang Wentian looked as though he had no idea

about what had just happened and slowly rolled the painting back into a

scroll. Mr. Paint was amazed. When he had pulled Xiang Wentian’s arm just now, he had not really put much strength into the pull, afraid that he might damage the painting. But the inner energy push from Xiang’s arm clearly

showed very advanced inner energy cultivation. Moreover, apparently

Xiang had not used his inner energy to the full extent. He felt his admiration growing inwardly.

“Old Tong, turned out your Kung Fu is so excellent! It’s probably on par with mine,” he praised.

“Fourth Master must be joking! Aside from the skills in sword arts, the four masters of the Plum Manor are invincible in any other kind of

Kung Fu. I, Tong Huajin, am just a nobody. How could I ever be compared to the Fourth Master?” Xiang Wentian replied.

“Why did you say ‘aside from the skills in sword arts’? Are you so

sure that my swordsmanship is not up to his?” Mr. Paint pulled a long face. “Two Masters, what do you think of this work of calligraphy?” Xiang

Wentian let out a slight smile and then unrolled the other scroll, which turned out to be a piece of Crazy Grass76 style calligraphy with extremely cursive scripts.

“Oh, oh, oh!” Mr. Paint cried out in surprise. After the three “oh” he suddenly shouted out at the top of his lungs, “Third Brother! Third Brother! The treasure of your life is here!”

The shout was so loud and explosive that even the walls, the windows and the door jolted while dusts on top of the rafters and beams on the

ceiling began falling. Additionally, the shout was so sudden that Linghu Chong was completed astounded.

“What’s the fuss?” a man asked from a distance.

“If you don’t hurry up to take a look, once they put it away, you are gonna regret it for the rest of your life!” Mr. Paint shouted.

“You’ve found another counterfeit calligraphy work, haven’t you?” the man outside replied.

The portiere was raised and a man stepped into the room. This was a short and stout man, the top of his head completely bald without a single hair, which shined profusely under the light as though it had been polished. There was a big brush in his right hand and there were ink marks all over his robe. He walked closer to take a look at the calligraphy work, and

suddenly, his eyes became wide open and he began breathing heavily.

“This…this is authentic! It really…really…is the ‘Willful Book’ by Zhang Xu of the Tang Dynasty. It can’t…can’t…can’t be fake!” he muttered, his voice trembling.

The strokes of the Grass Style writing on the paper appeared unrestrained and extensive, as though a Kung Fu master was performing the martial arts of Qing-Gong, leaping up sometimes and bending low some other times, swift in the movement, yet exquisite in the poise.

Out of each ten characters, Linghu Chong could only recognize one at his best. But the many stamps of seals and postscripts at the bottom of the

calligraphy book easily convinced him that this calligraphy artwork was no trivial matter. “This is my third brother Mr. Bald-Brush,” Mr. Paint introduced. “He picked this name because calligraphy is his ultimate passion and thousands of writing brushes had turned bald in his hands from practicing. It is not because he is baldheaded. Please don’t confuse one with the other.”

“Got it!” Linghu Chong acknowledged with a smile.

Reaching out with his right index finger, the man named Mr. Bald- Brush stared at the “Willful Book” and began writing in the air following the ticks and strokes in the calligraphy work, his mind completely imbedded in his own world. Not only didn’t he cast a single glance toward Xiang Wentian or Linghu Chong, apparently he didn’t even hear a word from Mr. Paint’s introduction.

Suddenly, Linghu Chong felt a shock in his heart. “Brother Xiang must have planned this way beforehand. When I first met him in the roadside pavilion, he was already carrying this package behind his back,” he thought to himself. But then he had a second though. “At that time, the package did not necessarily contain those two scrolls. Maybe, along our journey, in order to get the four Plum Manor Masters to treat my injury, he went outside and bought them, or even stole or snatched them, when I was resting in the inn. Hmm, he most likely stole them. Where can he find such invaluable artwork for sale anywhere?”

He could hear the slight sound made by strong energy force tearing through air when that Mr. Bald-Brush wrote in the air with his finger. The powerful internal strength shown was in par with that of Mr. Black-White. “My internal injury was caused by the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and Great Master No Commandment,” he thought. “It seems that the internal strength cultivation of the three Plum Manor Masters is no less than that of the Peach Valley’s Six Fairies and Great Master No Commandment. The First Manor Master of the Plum Manor might be even more powerful. Together with Brother Xiang, all five of them working together, they perhaps can heal my injury. I certainly hope it would not cost them great inner energy exhaustion.”

Xiang Wentian did not wait for Mr. Bald-Brush to finish. He quickly rolled the “Willful Book” back into a scroll and put it back into the package.

Mr. Bald-Brush stared at Xiang Wentian in great disbelief. After a long while, he finally said, “What do you want in exchange?”

“I don’t want to exchange it for anything.” Xiang Wentian shook his head. 

“How about the twenty-eight moves of Stone-Drum77 Acupoint- Hitting Brush Kung Fu?” Mr. Bald-Brush proposed.

“No!” Mr. Black-White and Mr. Paint shouted in chorus.

“Yes! Why not? If I could use it in exchange for this genuine Crazy Grass work of Zhang Xu, why should I feel pity for losing my Stone-Drum Acupoint-Hitting Brush Kung Fu?” Mr. Bald-Brush disagreed.

“No!” Xiang Wentian shook his head once again.

“Then why did you show it to me?” Mr. Bald-Brush asked anxiously. “Well, my mistake then. Third Master, just pretend you have never

seen it before,” Xiang Wentian answered.

“But I have. How can I just pretend I have never seen it?” Mr. Bald- Brush objected.

“If Third Master really wants to acquire this genuine work of Zhang Xu, it’s not difficult at all. All you have to do is to accept our wager,” Xiang Wentian said.

“What’s the wager?” Mr. Bald-Brush asked hurriedly.

“Third Brother,” Mr. Paint cut in, “this mister here is a little bit out of his mind. He wants to make a wager that no one in our Plum Manor could beat the sword arts of this friend Feng from the Huashan School.” “What if someone could beat his sword arts? What then?” Mr. Bald- Brush asked.

“If someone in the Plum Manor, regardless of whom, can beat my Brother Feng’s long sword, then I’ll give this genuine ‘Willful Book’ of Zhang Xu away to the Third Master for free, and leave that authentic painting by Fan Kuan, ‘Traveler in Mount Brook’, to Fourth Master as a gift. I’ll also write down the twenty famous Go games played by fairies, ghosts, and immortals that I’ve memorized and give them to the Second Master,” Xiang Wentian explained.

“How about our Big Brother? What are you giving to him?” Mr.

Bald-Brush asked.

“I have this music score of the ‘Guang-Ling Song’. Maybe the First Master….”

“Guang-Ling Song?” the three Masters of the Plum Manor cried out all together before Xiang Wentian even finished his sentence.

Linghu Chong also felt a shock. “Wasn’t it Elder Qu who found the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ music score after digging through numerous ancient tombs and composed it into the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song? Where did Brother Xiang get it?” he couldn’t help but ponder. Then he realized,

“Brother Xiang was the Right Counselor of the Demon’s Cult, and Elder Qu was an Elder of the Demon’s Cult. They were probably on friendly terms

with each other. And when Elder Qu got hold of this music score, in the great joy, he of course would tell Brother Xiang about it. If Brother Xiang had wanted to borrow it and make a copy, Elder Qu, for sure, wouldn’t have any problem with it.” At the thought that the music score was still present while the founder had perished, he couldn’t help but sigh inwardly.

“Ever since Ji Kang died, the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ had been lost forever. Brother Tong, aren’t these words of yours a bit deceitful?” Mr. Bald-Brush shook his head in disbelief.

“I have an intimate friend, who is obsessed with zither music. He said that everybody believes that after Ji Kang died, there is no more ‘Guang- Ling Song’ under the sun. Undoubtedly, this music score had fallen into oblivion after the Western Jin Dynasty, but what about before the Western

Jin Dynasty?” Xiang Wentian grinned.

Mr. Bald-Brush and the other two Manor Masters glanced at each other blankly; none could understand what Xiang Wentian’s words meant.

“This friend of mine possesses extraordinary mentalities.

Furthermore, he is not the kind who shies from committing all kinds of outrages. So he began excavating in famous Pre-Jin Dynasty zither players’ tombs. A willful man will have his way. After digging through dozens of

ancient tombs, he finally found the music score manuscripts in the tomb of Cai Yi, the famous musician of the Eastern Han Dynasty.”

Both Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint let out a slight cry of surprise. Mr.

Black-White nodded slowly and exclaimed, “Intelligent and courageous! Extraordinary!”

Xiang Wentian opened his package and then took out a booklet with the words “Guang-Ling Song Music Score” written on the cover. He turned a few pages through it casually. Sure enough, it had music notes recorded in it.

“Brother Feng,” Xiang Wentian said after he handed the booklet to Linghu Chong, “if anyone in the Plum Manor beats your sword arts, please give this music score to the First Master of the Plum Manor.”

Linghu Chong took the booklet and placed it into his chest pocket. “This could have been Elder Qu’s relic. Since Elder Qu has passed away, what’s so difficult if Brother Xiang wanted to pick out the music score, himself?” he thought to himself. “Brother Feng, here, is well accomplished in the art of wine; his sword skills must be just as excellent. But he is only a young man; it’s hardly possible that within our Plum Manor…ha-ha, isn’t that a bit ridiculous?” Mr. Paint grinned.

“If it is true that no one within our Plum Manor can overcome young hero Feng, what do we lose?” Mr. Black-White asked.

Although Linghu Chong had the agreement with Xiang Wentian beforehand that he would let Xiang arrange everything, he didn’t expect things to turn out this way and felt that Xiang Wentian had gone a bit too far. Weren’t they here to ask for a healing treatment? How could they be so arrogant and belittling the hosts so much? Besides, he had lost all his inner strength. How could he be a match for these very capable Masters of the Plum Manor? At that thought, he opened his mouth.

“Brother Tong always likes to make jokes. How dare I, an insignificant junior who lags greatly behind in the understanding of martial arts, deliberate sword arts and exchange moves with the Masters of the Plum Manor?”

“These polite remarks are, of course, necessary; otherwise people would have called you a conceited swordsman,” Xiang Wentian said.

Mr. Bald-Brush didn’t seem to have heard any of these words, instead, he muttered, “‘Three drinks turns Zhang Xu into Sage of Grass; baring his head before nobility he showed no class; wielding his writing brush he pours clouds onto papers in a blast.’ Second Brother, Zhang Xu was known as the Sage of Grass, the ultimate master in Grass Style

calligraphy. This is how Du Fu wrote about him in the poem ‘Eight

Drinking Saints Song’. He was also one of the ‘Eight Drinking Saints’. Just by looking at the ‘Willful Book’ you can probably imagine how he waved his writing brush about after drinking to his heart’s content. Well, it is so powerful and unstrained like a heavenly steed soaring across the skies. Just Brilliant! Just Brilliant!”

“Yep! If he likes to drink, then he must be an awesome guy, and of course the stuff he writes can’t be bad at all,” Mr. Paint agreed.

“Han Yu78 also wrote about Zhang Xu in his poem: ‘Joy, anger,

shame, or uneasiness; depression, sorrow, happiness, or leisure; hatred or

aspiration. Inebriated and tipsy, when discontent is felt in the heart, he let it flow through his writing brush in Grass Style.’ This mister and we are just of the same kind. When discontent is felt in the heart, let it flow in writing the Grass Style, as if with a flick of the sword, happy we become!” Mr.

Bald-Brush continued. Raising his finger once again, he began writing in the air. After a few strokes, he said to Xiang Wentian, “Hey, come on, let me take another look.”

Xiang Wentian shook his head. “Once Third Master wins the contest, this calligraphy book would have become yours. There is no need to be impatient.” He grinned.

Mr. Black-White was an export in gamesmanship and always had careful consideration of the overall situation. Before thinking about

winning, he was already considering the consequences of a defeat.

“If on one within the Plum Manor could defeat Brother Feng’s sword arts, what kind of stakes would we be losing?” he inquired again.

“We have come to the Plum Manor with no intent for any favor or any item. All Brother Feng wants is to come to the ultimate summit of world martial arts and have the opportunity to exchange the understandings of

sword arts with the best martial artists in this world. If, with any luck, we

end up winning the contest, we’ll turn around and leave right away without asking for any stake from you,” Xiang Wentian answered. “I see. This Hero Feng has come for fame. Defeating the ‘Four Playfellows of Jiangnan’ in succession will, indeed, gain him great fame in the Martial World,” Mr. Black-White said.

“Second Master, you’ve thought it wrong,” Xiang Wentian replied as he shook his head. “After today’s sword contest in the Plum Manor, regardless of who the winner is, if even one word about it leaks out, Brother Feng and I will stand condemned by Heaven, and we are no better than dog’s droppings.”

“Good, good! I like your frankness,” Mr. Paint remarked. “This room here is very spacious. Let me exchange a few moves with Brother Feng right here then. Brother Feng, where is your sword?”

“We are not bold enough to bring weapons to the Plum Manor,” Xiang Wentian replied with a smile.

“Bring me two swords,” Mr. Paint shouted out.

Someone answered from outside the room and soon Ding Jian and Shi Lingwei returned, each holding a sword with both hands. Walking in front of Mr. Paint, they bowed and presented the swords. Picking up the sword from Ding Jian’s hands, Mr. Paint said to Shi Lingwei, “Give that sword to him.”

“Yes,” Shi Lingwei acknowledged and then walked in front of Linghu Chong, holding the sword high with both hands.

Feeling very embarrassed about this entire matter, Linghu Chong turned his head and glanced at Xiang Wentian.

“The Fourth Master of the Plum Manor has reached the acme in the understanding of sword arts. Brother Feng, even if you could only learn one move or one technique from him, you would still benefit from it the rest of your life,” Xiang Wentian affirmed. Linghu Chong knew that under the current circumstance, this sword contest had become inevitable. Having no other alternatives, he took the

sword with both hands, bowing slightly.

“Hold it, Fourth Brother,” Mr. Black-White spoke up suddenly. “This Brother Tong here has put up a wager that no one in our Plum Manor can defeat Brother Feng. Ding Jian also knows how to use a sword, and he is

also part of the Plum Manor. You don’t necessarily have to do it yourself.” The more confident Xiang Wentian sounded, the more worried he became. So he decided to let Ding Jian take the challenge first and test the water. He knew that Ding Jian possessed excellent skills in sword arts; besides, Ding was only a servant in the Plum Manor. Even if Ding lost the fight, there

would have been no harm done to the great name of the Plum Manor. And with this test, they would be able to tell how good or bad this Feng Er- Zhong’s skills in sword arts actually were.

“Sure, sure! As long as a person from the Plum Manor defeats my

Brother Feng’s sword arts, it counts as our defeat. It doesn’t have to be the four Manor Masters themselves. Brother Ding here has earned the nickname ‘Straight Line Lightning Sword’ in the Martial World. His sword moves are so fast. Such speed is rarely seen in the world. Brother Feng, it will be good for you if you check out Brother Ding’s Straight Line Lightning Sword first.” Xiang Wentian did not object.

Mr. Paint tossed his long sword toward Ding Jian. “If you lose, you’ll be going to Turpan to transport wine for me as your punishment.” He grinned.

Ding Jian caught the long sword with a blow and turned toward Linghu Chong. “Ding Jian here thanks Mister Feng for the chance of the sword match,” he said. A short ring echoed as he drew his sword. 

table. Linghu Chong also drew his sword and set the sheath on the stone

“Three Masters, Brother Ding, this is a contest of sword arts, so there’s no need to compete in the inner strength department,” Xiang Wentian spoke up again.

“Of course both sides will know when to stop,” Mr. Black-White commented.

“Brother Feng,” Xiang Wentian turned to Linghu Chong, “you have to promise to not use any inner strength in the match. We are having a

contest of sword arts. The one with fine and intimate moves wins the match and the one with crude and sluggish moves loses it. The inner energy

cultivation method of your Huashan School is very well-known in the Martial World. If you use your inner strength to achieve victory, then it counts as our defeat.”

Linghu Chong almost laughed at these words. He thought to himself, “Brother Xiang knew very well that I don’t have any bit of inner strength.

He is using these words to trick them.” So he said, “If I use my inner strength, for sure the three Masters, Brother Ding and Brother Shi will laugh their teeth off. I certainly dare not to use any bit of it.”

“We’ve come to the Plum Manor with complete sincerity. If Brother Feng keep sticking to etiquette and being too modest, that would be disrespectful to the four senior masters. Everyone in the Martial world knows that the ‘Divine Art of Violet Twilight’ of your Huashan School is far superior to the inner strength cultivation method of our Songshan School. Brother Feng, why don’t you stand in these two footprints of mine when you spar with Brother Ding and make sure you don’t move your feet?” After these words, Xiang Wentian took a few steps aside, and two footprints, each almost two inches deep, appeared on two bricks on the floor. It turned out that while he was speaking he had shifted his inner

strength to his feet and stamped two footprints on the bricks with shear force.

“Excellent Kung Fu!” Mr. Black-White, Mr. Bald-Brush, and Mr.

Paint cheered in chorus.

Seeing how Xiang Wentian had shifted his inner strength to the bottom of his feet as he spoke without turning a hair, and there was not a

single broken brick piece in the footprints he created, while the depth of the two footprints were exactly identical and the footprints were so smooth as though someone had carved it out carefully, they could tell that Xiang

Wentian’s inner strength had reached an incredible level, which was way above the inner strength level of their own. They all thought that Xiang

Wentian was just showing off his inner strength. Although such an affected performance appeared shallow, not something a true martial arts master

would have done, his amazing inner strength cultivation was still very admirable. None had a clue that Xiang Wentian actually had profound meaning in his action.

Linghu Chong had no problem understanding Xiang Wentian’s behavior. Xiang had been propagating that his inner strength cultivation was superior to that of Xiang’s. If Xiang’s inner strength had been so

extraordinary, then his could only have been more formidable, then when the match started, his opponents would not be bold enough to use inner

strength against him, fearing of bringing disgrace to oneself. Besides,

except for the skills in sword arts, he was no good in any other Kung Fu

skills, and leaping and springing about were certainly not his good qualities. By standing in the two footprints and only use sword arts in the spar, he could easily hide his inadequacy.

When Ding Jian heard Xiang Wentian suggesting Linghu Chong to have the sword fight with him while standing still in the two footprints, he couldn’t help but feel greatly annoyed by the obvious contempt. But the profound inner strength Xiang Wentian showed by leaving footprints on bricks also astounded him. “If they are bold enough to challenge our four Masters, they could not have been ordinary. If I can get a draw out of the fight, I would have made a great contribution to the Plum Manor of the Lone Hill,” he thought to himself.

He used to be an extremely arrogant swordsman in former years, but later he encountered a very formidable enemy. He was taken prisoner and was put through many torments. Fortunately the “Four Playfellows of

Jiangnan” rescued him and set him free. That was when he decided to join the Plum Manor and willingly took on the job of a servant. After so many years, the fierceness and boldness inside him had almost died out entirely.

“Brother Ding, please!” Linghu Chong stepped into the footprints made by Xiang Wentian and said with a smile.

“Please excuse my lack of manners,” Ding Jian apologized. He brandished his long sword transversely and suddenly, a long, white flash shot across everyone’s eyes like a lightning, accompanied by the slight

sound of the blade cutting through the air.

Although he had been living in seclusion in the Plum Manor for over ten years, his Kung Fu skills had not declined a bit. The sword art he used was named the “Straight Line Lightning Sword Art,” and every time when a move in the sword art form was executed, it looked as though a lightning had just shot across the sky. The dazzling effect was so dramatic that it

would have easily stunned the opponent and put fear in his heart. The formidable enemy that had once defeated him was a blind loner robber.

Because the man was completely blind and used his hearing to detect Ding Jian’s sword moves, the awe-inspiring atmosphere created by the “Straight Line Lightning Sword” had no effect on him. At this moment when he put the sword art to good use, suddenly, the entire room had been filled with dazzling lightning flares.

But only after the first move of the “Straight Line Lightning Sword” was put to display, Linghu Chong had identified three major flaws in the

sword art. Ding Jian didn’t rush with his attack and simply waved his sword about as though he was showing a good amount of manners to a guest of the manor when in truth, he really intended to dazzle and slacken Linghu

Chong so he would not be able to withstand the sharp attacking moves following behind.

By the time Ding Jian was on his fifth move, Linghu Chong had

already counted a total of eighteen flaws in his sword moves. “Excuse me,” he said as he thrust his long sword out at an oblique angle.

At the moment Ding Jian was in the middle of sweeping his sword from the left to the right in a rapid swing. Although the blade of Linghu Chong’s sword was still two feet and six inches from his wrist, but the

swing would have sent his own wrist toward the naked blade, and since the sweep was too rapid and carried too much strength, it was already impossible to take it back.

“Look out!” the five bystanders called out in unison as if by prior agreement.

Mr. Black-White happened to be holding two game pieces, one black and one white, in his palm. Just when he was about to shoot them at Linghu Chong’s long sword to save Ding Jian’s hand from being cutting off, a thought popped into his head, “If I help Ding Jian out by interfering with the contest, that would make the fight two against one, then clearly the Plum Manor would have lost the match and there would be no need for any further contest.” Amid his hesitancy, Dian Jian’s wrist had swept toward the sword blade speedily while Shi Lingwei uttered a loud cry of panic.

At the faction of the second, Linghu Chong turned his wrist gently, turning the blade of the sword sideways. With a light clap, Ding Jian’s wrist hit the flat side of the sword, and to all the audiences’ pleasant surprise, his wrist didn’t suffer even the slightest damage. Only after a short daze did

Ding Jian realize that his opponent had really shown great leniency. Within that fraction of a second, he had been fortunate enough to keep his hand. If his wrist had been cut, all his Kung Fu skills would have been ruined.

Covered with cold sweat, he bowed down deeply.

“I am utterly grateful for the mercy Hero Feng has shown with his sword.”

“I don’t really deserve it!” Linghu Chong also bowed back. Witnessing how Linghu Chong had turned his long sword to spare

Ding Jian from bloodshed, Mr. Black-White, Mr. Bald-Brush, and Mr. Paint all felt their favor toward Linghu Chong growing rapidly. Mr. Paint poured a cup with wine and then raised it with both hands.

“Brother Feng, your sword skills are marvelous. Here’s a toast for you!” he said.

“You flatter me!” Linghu Chong replied. Taking the wine cup from Mr. Paint, he drank it up.

Mr. Paint also drank a cup of wine in accompany. Filling the wine cup in Linghu Chong’s hands again, he said, “Brother Feng, you are a man with great mercy and spared Ding Jian’s hand. That calls for another toast.”

“It was just a coincident. There’s nothing to it,” Linghu Chong answered and drank up his wine, holding the cup with both hands. After drinking a cup in accompany, Mr. Paint filled the cup once again.

“Let’s hold on to the third cup here, shall we? Let’s have our play first, and whoever loses the match will have to drink the third cup as his penalty,” he said.

“I’ll be losing the match naturally. Why don’t I drink it first?” Linghu Chong showed a big grin.

“No hurry! No hurry!” Mr. Paint shook his hand in disapproval.

Setting the wine cup onto the stone table, he grabbed the long sword from Ding Jian’s hands. “Brother Feng, you go first.”

At the time of the first two cups of wine, Linghu Chong had already been deliberating inwardly, “He claims that he is addicted to, firstly, the art of wine, secondly, the art of painting, and thirdly, the art of sword, then his skills in the sword art had to be very exceptional. Judging from that

celestial beings painting of his at the reception hall, the strokes are no doubt swift and fierce, however, it seems that he had some problem discipline himself. If his sword moves are comparable to his painting techniques, then they must have many flaws.” Bowing down respectfully, he said, “Fourth Master, I beg for your clemency.”

“Don’t be too modest. Go ahead, show your moves,” Mr. Paint said. “Yes!” Linghu Chong answered.

Raising his long sword, he thrust it at Mr. Paint’s shoulder. The thrust was both skewed and tremulous. It obviously carried no strength, nor did it follow any methodical sword art principles. There simply could not have had a sword move like this amongst all possible sword arts in the entire

world.

“What the hack is this?” Mr. Paint cried out, astounded. Since he knew that Linghu Chong was a member of the Huashan Sword School, he had been pondering over the many sword art forms of the Huashan School in his mind. Who would have thought that when the first move was shown, it was nothing like it? Not only wasn’t it a move from the Huashan Style Sword Arts, it couldn’t even be called a sword move.

Ever since Linghu Chong studied the art of sword from Feng

Qingyang, he not only learned the world-prominent “Dugu Nine Swords,” but also grasped “overcoming a move without a move” the ultimate gist in the art of sword. This gist and the theory behind the “Dugu Nine Swords”

supplement each other. Though the profoundness and subtlety of the “Dugu Nine Swords” had reached the extreme as a sword art form, it contained moves and techniques after all, which were still traceable. But once one

applied the principle of “overcoming a move without a move” to it, it became even more volatile and unpredictable, leaving no mark for the opponent to fathom. Therefore, when Linghu Chong made the thrust, Mr. Paint was immediately stunned, not knowing what would be the right way to block it using his own sword. Very confused, he took two paces back to dodge it.

When Linghu Chong made Ding Jian threw down his sword and gave in with only one move, although Mr. Black-White and Mr. Bald-Brush both praised Linghu Chong’s sword skills inwardly, neither of them found the result surprising, thinking that if he was bold enough to challenge the Plum Manor, it would have been ridiculous if he couldn’t even defeat a servant of the Plum Manor. After seeing how Mr. Paint was forced to retreat two steps by his first thrust, they found themselves astounded.

After retreating two paces back, Mr. Paint charged two paces forward right away. Linghu Chong sent another thrust out with his long sword, this time aiming at the upper left side of Mr. Paint’s body. This thrust was, again, just a random thrust that did not follow any of the general sword art principles. Mr. Paint wanted to fend it off with a side swing of his sword, but before the two swords even collided, he immediately realized that the opponent’s sword tip had shifted into a slanting angle pointing toward the lower right costal region, which was wide open, and if the opponent took advantage of this weakness in defense, the situation would be beyond

redemption. That meant the block would be very unwise. In desperation, he changed his move instantly. With a quick push to the ground, he sprang backward over ten feet.

“Excellent sword skills!” he shouted out and charged forward once again without any delay. Putting his entire weight behind the sword, he

drove the blade toward Linghu Chong in great speed. This was a thrust with overwhelming power.

Noticing an obvious flaw at Mr. Paint’s bending right arm, Linghu Chong swung the long sword in no time and chopped toward his right

elbow. If Mr. Paint did not change his move midway, then his right elbow

would be cut off before he could incur any damage to his opponent. But Mr. Paint was a true swordsman with great skills. In the great hurry, he quickly lowered his wrist and thrust his sword at the floor. Relying on the

counterforce from the floor, he flipped backward and landed steadily in over twenty feet. At the time his back was only a few inches from the wall. If he had used a little bit more strength when he executed the back flip, his back would have collided with the wall, which would have undoubtedly put a big dent on his reputation as a Martial Arts Grandmaster. But even so, the escape was simply too awkward, and his face showed some slight purplish red from the rush.

Being an open-minded and generous person, Mr. Paint laughed out, instead. Raising his left thumb, he uttered, “Excellent sword skills!” Waving his long sword vigorously, he launched a move “White Aurora Shooting the Sun,” which was then changed to “Willow Wickers Fluttering in the Spring Breeze,” which in turn changed to the “Mounting Flood-

Dragon and the Soaring Phoenix.” The three moves were completed

without any letup. It looked as though he didn’t ever move his feet, but once the three moves were executed, the tip of his long sword had reached Linghu Chong’s face.

Linghu Chong tilted his sword and smacked down gently, the flat side of his sword pushing down against the middle ridge of Mr. Paint’s long

sword. The gentle smack was executed with such accuracy in its positioning and timing. At that exact moment when Mr. Paint thrust his sword forward, his strength and energy were all concentrating on the tip of the sword, and the middle ridge of the sword carried no strength at all. As a light clank

echoed, the long sword in his hand sank helplessly. Linghu Chong snapped his wrist gently and sent his long sword forward, pointing directly at Mr.

Paint’s solar plexus.

“Ah!” Mr. Paint cried out and leapt to the left. Folding his left hand into a sword finger form, he charged forward, waving the long sword in his right hand fiercely. This time he resorted to forceful hacks and chops, bringing his sword swishing down through the air. “Watch out!” he shouted.

He didn’t really want to injure Linghu Chong. But this strike named “Jade Dragon Hanging Upside Down” was extremely swift and fierce. If the opponent had overlooked it and he couldn’t rein in his own force in time, he was afraid that the strike might actually wound the opponent.

“Got it!” Linghu Chong acknowledged as he poked his long sword upward. With a slight rustle, the edge of his sword sliced upward right next to the side of Mr. Paint’s sword. If Mr. Paint followed through with the sword strike, before his blade could reach Linghu Chong’s head, his five fingers holding his long sword would have been sliced off first. As he watched his opponent’s long sword sliding upward against his own blade, a move that could not be countered, having no other alternative, he struck down heavily with his left palm. The energy shot out from his palm hit the floor with a loud boom, and utilizing the counterforce, he leapt backward and landed over ten feet away.

Before he even recomposed to a firm stance, he had drew three circles in front of him with his long sword, which magically changed into three

circles of light. The three circles of light looked as though they’d actually materialized. After freezing in the air for a moment, they began moving toward Linghu Chong gradually. At the first look, these sword energy turned circles of light did not appear as swift or fierce as the “Straight Line Lightning Sword,” but the energy released easily filled the entire room and everyone felt the chilling force coming from them.

Linghu Chong extended his long sword and then sliced out from the left side of the light circle with an inclined angle, which was exactly an

energy gap when the power from Mr. Paint’s first move was just about to die and the power from the second move was just about to be released.

“Oh?” Mr. Paint uttered and retreated. The light circles made from the sword energy also retreated together with him. But all of a sudden, the light circles shrank briefly before growing into enormous shapes rapidly and gushing speedily toward Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong shook his wrist and thrust out his long sword; once again, with another cry of surprise, Mr. Paint leapt away in a hurry.

Thus with numerous quick charging forwards and quick retreats, within moments, Mr. Paint had attacked with eleven moves and retreated

eleven times. By then, the reflections from his sword had grown severely from the accelerated attacks and painted a layer of blue on his face. His beard and mustache also looked as though they were all standing on their ends from the tense atmosphere. Amid a loud roar from Mr. Paint, dozens

of light circles, some big and some small, shot toward Linghu Chong at the same time. This was the very peak of perfection in his sword art, with

which he had combined dozens of sword moves into one. Every single one out of the dozens of sword moves contained fierce killer techniques, and

each move had several variations. Once combined, the complexity was simply unrivaled.

Resisting complexity with simplicity, Linghu Chong squatted slightly and prodded his sword tip up from under the dozens of light circles, pointing directly at Mr. Paint’s lower stomach. With another loud cry, Mr.

Paint leapt backward with all his strength. “Bang!” he sat heavily on the

stone table from the fall. Next, several clatters echoed as the wine cups on the stone table fell to the floor from the sudden shake and smashed to pieces.

“Marvelous! Marvelous!” Mr. Paint broke into a loud laughter.

“Brother Feng, your skills in the art of sword are much, much better than mine. Come, come, come! I propose three toasts for you!”

Mr. Black-White and Mr. Bald-Brush knew very well about their fourth brother’s attainments in the art of sword. But without ever stepping out of the footprints made by Xiang Wentian, Linghu Chong successfully forced Mr. Paint back eighteen times during his sixteen attacking moves. The incredible sword skills Linghu Chong had shown were both admirable and frightening. Mr. Paint filled the wine cups and drank three cups together with Linghu Chong.

“Among the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan, my Kung Fu is the

weakest. Although I admit my defeat, Second Brother and Third Brother won’t admit theirs. Probably they’ll want to check you out themselves,” he said.

“We did exchange many moves, but Fourth Master didn’t lose in any one of them, how can we conclude the match with a winner?” Linghu

Chong disagreed.

“I lost after the first move. The rest seventeen moves were all unnecessary. Big Brother says that I need to improve my demeanor. He is absolutely right.” Mr. Paint shook his head.

“Fourth Master’s demeanor is in very high standard, just like your tolerance of wine is also in very high standard,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

“Yeah! Yeah! Let’s drink some more!” Mr. Paint grinned.

Being a man who thought highly of himself in the art of sword, Mr.

Paint didn’t have a single trace of irritation after losing to a not well-known at all junior swordsman. The negligent and open-minded grace he had

shown was undoubtedly first-class. Both Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong felt great admiration for him.

“Shi, will you please go and get me my bald brush?” Mr. Bald-Brush said to Shi Lingwei.

Shi Lingwei answered and went out. Soon, he returned with a weapon and then presented the weapon to Mr. Bald-Brush with both hands respectfully.

Linghu Chong took at look at it, which turned out to be a Judge’s Pen, one foot and six inches in length, cast in fine steel. The funny thing was that there was actually a bundle of wool, still with ink, tied to the end of the

Judge’s Pen, as though it was a real brush used for writing. For ordinary

Judge’s Pens, the head section was used to seal the enemy’s Acupoints. But this pen here used the soft lamb wool as the pen’s head. When it was used to strike people’s Acupoints, how could it help in defeating the enemy in a real battle? Linghu Chong figured that Mr. Bald-Brush must know some

special kind of Kung Fu; besides, he must possess very resourceful inner strength, so as soon as the inner energy is released, even lamb wool could be used to wound the enemy.

“Brother Feng, are you still going to stay in those two footprints?” taking the Judge’s Pen into his hand, Mr. Bald-Brush asked with a grin.

Linghu Chong took two steps back at once. “I dare not! I am a junior asking pointers from a Senior Master, how dare I be overconfident?” He bowed.

“There you go!” Mr. Paint nodded. “When you had the sword contest with me, it was okay for you to stay put. But to fight my Third Brother, that wouldn’t be wise.”

Mr. Bald-Brush raised the Judge’s Pen and smiled. “My stroke forms are all created from variations of famous calligraphy artists’ masterpieces.

Brother Feng is a man well versed in both polite letters and martial arts. I am sure you can easily recognize the way of my Judge’s Pen moves.

Brother Feng is a good friend, therefore, I won’t dip this bald brush in ink.”

Linghu Chong was slightly taken aback, thinking to himself, “If he didn’t consider me a good friend, then he would have dipped his brush in ink. What’s going to happen if he does dip his brush in ink?”

He was unaware that the ink Mr. Bald-Brush dipped his brush in during real combats was actually made from stewing very special medicinal materials, and after the ink got on one’s skin, the color would imprint deeply under the skin and could never be removed, whether by washing or scraping with a knife. In the former years when Martial masters had fought the “Four Playfellows of Jiangnan,” Mr. Bald-Brush had been the one giving them the most headaches. If anyone had not been extra careful, he would end up with a circle, a cross, or even a word or two written on his face by the Mr. Bald-Brush, and then the rest of his life would have been

completed ruined. People would rather take a hack or even lose an arm than having him drawing things on the face. Only because Mr. Bald-Brush saw how Linghu Chong showed great leniency in his match against Ding Jian

and Mr. Paint, had he decided to not dip his brush in ink.

Even though Linghu Chong had no idea what Mr. Bald-Brush had meant, he figured that it must have been some kind of good intention. So he bowed.

“Many thanks for the great kindness. Unfortunately I am not very literate; I am sure I won’t be able to recognize Third Master’s brush

strokes.”

Mr. Bald-Brush was slightly disappointed. “You don’t know

calligraphy?” he said. “Okay, let me explain it to you first. The stroke form I am about to use is called ‘General Pei Poem,’79 which transformed from Yan Zhenqing’s80 calligraphy book. There are a total of twenty-three

characters, and each character contains between three and sixteen moves. Now listen carefully: ‘General Pei! The great lord that ruled the Six

Directions!81 The valiant general that guarded peace in the Nine Fields!82 His war-horse as valorous as the dragon or tiger, galloping above the high mound with grand and heroic spirit!’”

“Thanks for the guidance,” Linghu Chong replied, but inwardly, he thought, “You can explain about the poem or the calligraphy all you want. I know nothing about them anyhow.”

Mr. Bald-Brush swung the big pen and pecked three times toward Linghu Chong’s left cheek. These were none other than the first three

strokes of the character “Pei.” These three pecks were actually fake moves. Raising his big pen high in the air, he was just about delineate down from the top, when Linghu Chong suddenly thrust his long sword out in a preemptive strike and stabbed toward his right shoulder. Mr. Bald-Brush was forced into holding his big pen crosswise to block the strike, but by

then Linghu Chong had already retracted his sword. Their two weapons did not collide with each other; both moves turned out to be fakes. But Mr.

Bald-Brush was only able to execute half of the first move of the “General Pei” form and couldn’t complete it.

After blocking only to thin air, Mr. Bald-Brush immediately launched the second move. Before the head of the pen had a chance to strike forward,

Linghu Chong had already thrust at another spot where he had no

alternative but to defend. Without delay, Mr. Bald-Brush swung his pen backward to fend it off, but Linghu Chong had retracted his long sword once again, and Mr. Bald-Brush’s second wave terminated again only half way through.

Right from the beginning, Mr. Bald-Brush’s two moves were both interrupted midway through. Not able to complete the pen form he was very proud of, Mr. Bald-Brush couldn’t help but feel quite annoyed, as though a calligrapher had just picked up his brush to write, but only a few strokes into it, a naughty kid began catching his penholder or pulling his arms, and prevented him from finishing writing a character smoothly.

“I have already read the entire poem of ‘General Pei Poem’ to him beforehand. He knows the order of my strokes and is able to predict my moves and stop me ahead of time. I’d better not follow the order of the

characters with my later moves,” Mr. Bald-Brush thought inwardly. After a fake dot, the big pen curved downward from the upper right corner to the lower left corner with abundant strength, writing the character “As” in the Grass Style. But Linghu Chong quickly pushed his long sword forward and pointed at his right rib cage. Astounded, Mr. Bald-Brush reversed the movement of the Judge’s Pen and smash it toward Linghu Chong’s long

sword. Who would have expected that this stab of Linghu Chong’s was not a real stab? All he really did was just showing the posture, but once again, Mr. Bald-Brush was only able to execute half of his move. With this Grass Style stroke, he had put out a great amount of energy and strength. When

suddenly the movement was redirected, not only did the stroke become

stagnant, his internal strength was also forced to reroute, which stirred up quite some energy disruption inside his lower stomach and caused indescribable discomfort.

After taking a deep breath, he waved his Judge’s Pen rapidly in an attempt to finish the “Galloping” move, but only half way into it, he was

forced to retract his Judge’s Pen in defense by Linghu Chong’s attack just as usual.

Mr. Bald-Brush was greatly irritated. “Hey chap! Stop putting sand in the wheels!” he bellowed as he accelerated his Judge’s Pen’s movement.

But no matter how he sprang left and right transforming his moves, he was only able to write up to the second stroke with each character before being forced to stop by Linghu Chong’s sword strikes.

Mr. Bald Brush uttered a loud roar, and suddenly the writing style changed completely. Before, the flow of the strokes was free and

unrestrained; now the strokes turned thick and heavy, with the vigor passing through the center while the cutting edge appeared blustering and

aggressive. The strokes looked straightforward yet grand at the same time.

Linghu Chong of course had no way of knowing that this stroke form was inspired by the calligraphy book “Mount Bameng Maxim” written by the famous Shu General Zhang Fei,83 but he also noticed the dramatic

change in the writing style. He couldn’t care for less as to what move his opponent was using, and every time as soon as he saw the Judge’s Pen move, he would attack its flaw.

Mr. Bald-Brush croaked in frustration, but regardless of his movements, he was only able to execute half of his move and never succeeded in completing the full move.

Suddenly, Mr. Bald-Brush’s writing style changed again and began writing the Grass Style in “Huai Su Self-Stating Book”84 Now the strokes flutters in all directions and the flow of the writing became much unpredictable.

“Huai Su’s Grass Style calligraphy, by itself, was already very difficult to read. Now I am adding even more Grass Scripts to the Grass Style, I bet this chap won’t be able to recognize this self-made Grass Scripts of mine,” he thought to himself.

How could he have known that Linghu Chong couldn’t even read many characters written in the square-shaped regular scripts, not mentioning the unrestrained Grass Scripts? He had assumed that the only reason Linghu Chong succeeded in predicting his movement and stopping him ahead of time was because Linghu Chong had been able to read his

writing, when in fact all Linghu Chong saw in his eyes were weapon moves and forms, and his successful striking to the cracks all attributed to

attacking the flaws in the opponent’s moves.

Even with the Crazy Grass Style, Mr. Bald-Brush still could only go as far as half a move with each of his moves. Feeling the indignation growing rapidly inside his chest, he suddenly shouted out loudly.

“No more fight! No more fight!”

Leaping backward, he picked up that barrel of grape wine Mr. Paint had brought along and poured the wine onto the stone table. Dipping his big pen in the wine, he began writing on the white wall, and it was none other that “General Pei Poem.” All twenty-three characters appeared full of passion, especially the character “As,” which looked as though it could have flown off the wall any minute.

After finishing off the writing, Mr. Bald-Brush finally let out a breath of relief. Turning his head sideways slightly, he admired the large characters on the white wall in dark red color, and laughed out loudly.

“Wonderful! Among my life-long artworks, this one is the finest,” he concluded.

The more he looked at it, the prouder he became.

“Second Brother, can I take this game room from you? I’d hate to part with this calligraphy work. I am afraid that I’ll never be able to write

anything as good in the rest of my life,” he requested.

“Fine,” Mr. Black-White answered. “Other that the stone table, there’s nothing else in this room anyway. Even if you don’t want it, I’d have to move all the same. How can I ever focus on the game of go while facing the vigorous calligraphy of yours everyday?”

Mr. Bald-Brush stared at the several lines of calligraphy and wagged his head back and forth, feeling very pleased of himself.

“Even if the revered Mr. Yan was reborn, I am afraid he wouldn’t be able to write something like this,” he praised himself. Turning his head toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Hey buddy! It all thanks to you for keeping my ardors inside my belly until it was filled to the point of bursting, and then all of a sudden, they poured out from my heart through my hand and

enabled me to create such splendid and unparalleled work under heaven. Your sword skills are excellent, and my calligraphy skills are also excellent. This is called each has his specialty and no winner can be claimed in this match.” “Exactly! Each has his specialty and no winner can be claimed in this match,” Xiang Wentian agreed.

“Moreover, it was also because of my excellent wine!” Mr. Paint added.

“This Third Brother of mine is as innocent and artless as a child.

Please note that he is simply crazy about calligraphy; it’s not that he does not admit he had lost the match.” Mr. Black-White explained.

“I understand,” Xiang Wentian answered. “The wager is that no one in the Plum Manor can beat Brother Feng’s sword art anyway, so as long as no winner can be claimed, we don’t lose our wager.”

“That’s correct!” Mr. Black-White nodded.

Reaching under the stone table, Mr. Black-White drew a square-

shaped iron board from underneath. The iron board had nineteen horizontal lines and nineteen vertical lines engraved onto it. Turned out this was a game board cast in iron. Holding a corner of the iron game board, he said, “Brother Feng, let me using this game board as my weapon to check out your brilliant moves.”

“I’ve heard that Second Master’s game board is a magical treasure item that can control many kinds of weapons and projectiles,” Xiang Wentian said.

Mr. Black-White cast a long glance at him and then replied, “Brother Tong certainly has wide learning and a retentive memory. Very admirable! Very admirable! In fact, this weapon of mine is no magical item. It was made from magnets, so it would be able to attract game pieces made of iron, this way when I played games with other people while boarding boats or on horsebacks in former years, the game pieces would stay and allow us to continue with the game.”

“I see,” Xiang Wentian answered. Hearing these words, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Luckily

Brother Xiang gave me the pointer ahead of time, otherwise, my long sword would have been attracted to his game board right from the start, and I’d have lost the match without the real fight. When I spar with this person, I have to make sure that I don’t let his game board touch my long sword.” At that thought, he pointed his long sword to the floor and then cupped his hands in salute.

“Second Master, thanks for giving me the opportunity to ask advice from you.”

“I dare not. Brother Feng’s understanding in the art of sword is brilliant. I have never seen extraordinary sword skills in my life. Please start!” Mr. Black-White said.

With a random slice Linghu Chong let his long sword wiggled in the air following an squiggly line.

“What kind of sword move is this?” Mr. Black-White hesitated for a fraction of a second. Seeing that the tip of the sword quickly approaching his own throat, he swung his game board and blocked. But Linghu Chong had redirected the stab and thrust his long sword toward his right shoulder. Without much thinking, Mr. Black-White moved the game board and blocked again. Before the long sword even approached the game board,

Linghu Chong had retracted it and thrust it at Mr. Black-White’s lower stomach instead, which Mr. Black-White blocked once again.

“If I don’t counter attack, how do I take over the initiative?” Mr.

Black-White thought inwardly.

In the game of go, it is very important to control the initiative of the game; in a martial arts competition, it is also critical to control the initiative. As an expert in the gamesmanship, Mr. Black-White of course was very familiar with this idea, so not wasting another moment, he raised his game board and pounded it toward Linghu Chong’s right shoulder. The game board was about two feet wide and one inch thick. It was a very heavy piece of weapon. If it smashed into the long sword, even if the iron board didn’t have magnetism, the long sword would still have been broken.

Turning his body slightly toward the side, Linghu Chong drove the sword toward the Mr. Black-White’s lower rib cage. In Mr. Black-White’s

eyes, this thrust didn’t look like a legitimate move at all, but the spot it was attacking certainly required attention. So he swung the game board in a tilted angle to knock toward the long sword and at the same time pushed the game board forward. This move “Big Hosi”85 was one that contained

counterattacking in the defending. If Linghu Chong had to respond to this move, then his following moves would pour out in a steady stream. Who would have thought that Linghu Chong paid no attention to his move?

Jabbing his long sword with an angle, Linghu Chong had launched a forestalled attack. Thus, Mr. Black-White’s defending move containing counterattacking function only had half the effect: the defending part worked but the counterattacking didn’t.

Afterwards, one thrust after another, Linghu Chong attacked over forty times without any delay. Mr. Black-White blocked left and warded right and defended his front and protected his back, putting up a defense

shield so tight as though if one splashed water toward the shield, not even a drop of water would make it through, a very firm shield indeed. But they

exchanged over forty moves, and Mr. Black-White’s over forty moves were all defending moves. He didn’t even have a spare second to launch one

counterattacking move.

Mr. Bald-Brush, Mr. Paint, Ding Jian, and Shi Lingwei were

completed stupefied. They could all see with their own eyes that Linghu Chong’s moves were neither quick, nor overwhelming, nor fierce, and the transformation between moves didn’t seem tricky or crafty, but every time when he thrust his long sword out, it would always put Mr. Black-White into straitened circumstances and make him work to make up for his flaws. Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint both understood it very well that there is flaw in every single martial arts move. But if one could forestall and attack the opponent’s vital points first, then his own flaws would not have become flaws, and even if he had hundreds or even thousands of flaws, it would not have mattered. And the forty or so continuing attacking moves Linghu

Chong showed simply followed this principle.

Mr. Black-White also felt the shock growing bigger and bigger in his heart. He really wanted to launch his own counterattack, but as soon as he moved the game board slightly, the sword tip of the opponent was already pointing toward the flaws in his own moves. Within the forty moves also, he simply had no chance to improve the situation, as though he was playing a game of go with someone who had much, much higher skills, and for

every single one of the forty or so game pieces the opponent played, he had no choice but to respond. Mr. Black-White knew that if the fight had

continued like this, then even after another one hundred or two hundred moves, he would still be in the same boat where he would keep taking hits and never be able to fight back.

“If I don’t take on some risks for a chance of success, then my illustrious name would have been completely ruined,” he thought to himself. Swinging his game board forward horizontally, he smashed it toward Linghu Chong’s left side waist in high speed. Once again, without dodge for the strike, Linghu Chong thrust his long sword toward Mr. Black- White’s lower stomach, but this time, Mr. Black-White didn’t retrieve his game board to defend and still smashed the game board forward as though he was ready to risk his life and have a common ruin with his opponent. At the time when the sword tip approached his stomach, he suddenly reached out with his left hand and clipped at the sword blade with his index finger and middle finger. He had mastered the “Profound Heavenly Finger” Kung

Fu, and the two fingers carried immense inner strength, which was really no less than another powerful weapon.

Seeing Mr. Black-White using such a risky move, the five bystanders all cried out in shock. Such move would no longer qualify as a contest of

skills, but rather a game of life and death. If he failed to catch the sword with his fingers, then the sword tip would undoubtedly end up penetrating his stomach. Within the fraction of an instant, all five of them felt cold

sweat in their palms. Mr. Black-White’s two fingers were almost touching the sharp blade of the sword, and whether he could catch the blade or not, one out of the two sparring pair would for sure get wounded or get killed. If he did catch the blade, then Linghu Chong’s long sword could not go any further, the game board would strike him in the waist, and he would not have any time to evade it. If he failed to catch the blade, or if he did catch the blade but failed to stop the long sword from going forward, then the long sword would continue with the thrust and even if Mr. Black-White

wanted to leap back, he would have no time to do so.

Just at the instant when Mr. Black-White’s finger barely touched the blade of the sword, the tip of the sword suddenly went upward and pointed at his throat. This change simply exceeded everybody’s wildest imagination. Throughout all the martial arts in the history, there couldn’t have ever had a move like this, because this would have meant that the first thrust toward the lower stomach was actually a fake. Using such a fake move in a fight between two top-notch martial artists would have been a joke. But even though this move did not comply with any orthodox principle in the art of sword, it did come out through Linghu Chong’s hand. The sword tip prodded upward toward Mr. Black-White’s throat. If Mr. Black-White’s game board continued with the strike forward, the prod would have penetrated his throat first.

Utterly dumbstruck, Mr. Black-White used all his strength and held the game board still. He was a man with very quick wits and a master in gamesmanship, at the moment of the imminent peril, he immediately figured out the opponent’s intention: if he aborted his strike with the game board, then the opponent’s long sword would not prod forward either.

Sure enough, seeing that he held the game board still, Linghu Chong also froze the thrust with the long sword. The tip of the sword was only inches from his throat while his game board was also only inches from Linghu Chong’s waist. Both of them held their positions steady and froze like two lifeless statues.

Although it looked as if neither was willing to budge, Linghu Chong was really the one with all the advantages. The game board was a heavy item; only when it was striking down from several feet afar would it incur

any damage. At present, it was only inches from Linghu Chong, even if Mr. Black-White decided to push it forward with lots of power, it wouldn’t do Linghu Chong much harm, but all Linghu Chong had to do was to prod forward gently, and the sword tip would easily kill his opponent. It was pretty obvious for everyone to tell who was in better shoes.

“Well, neither dares to move first. That’s called ‘Dual Life’ in the rule of go. Second Master is really both intelligent and courageous. You have

ended up a draw in the match against Brother Feng,” Xiang Wentian declared with a grin.

Linghu Chong withdrew his long sword and took two steps back. “Please excuse my boldness.” He bowed. “Brother Tong must be joking. How can one call this a draw? Brother Feng’s understanding in the art of sword is incomparable. I just had a

crushing defeat,” Mr. Black-White muttered.

“Second Brother, your Kung Fu with your game piece darts is a unique skill in the Martial World. Nobody could ever escape it when you shoot out the three hundred and sixty-one black and white game pieces. Why don’t you check out this Brother Feng’s Kung Fu in breaking darts?” Mr. Paint suggested.

Mr. Black-White felt a throb in his heart. He glanced at Xiang Wentian, who nodded slightly a few times. Turning his head to look at Linghu Chong, he found no expression on Linghu Chong’s face.

“This one’s sword skills are to the extreme,” he thought secretly, “in the entire world, that person probably is the only one who could defeat him. The look on those two’s faces suggested that they had great confidence. If I have another contest of darts, most probably I’ll end up making myself a fool one more time.”

At that thought, he shook his head and showed a wry smile, “I have already admitted my defeat. What’s the need for another match of darts?”

Chapter 20: Imprisonment

Linghu Chong picked up the bamboo flute and waved gently. Air flew through the holes on the flute and made several soft tones. Mr. Huang- Zhong plunked the strings a couple of times with his right hand, in the echoing, the end of the zither was already on it's way towards Linghu Chong's right shoulder. 

“Brother Tong, will you please let me take another look at your

calligraphy book?” still concerned about the “Willful Book” by Zhang Xu, Mr. Bald-Brush begged.

“As soon as First Master defeats my Brother Feng, the book will be part of Third Master’s private collection. Even if you want to look at it for three days and three nights in succession, that’s your own call,” Xiang

Wentian said with a grin.

“I’ll look at it for seven days and seven nights in succession!” Mr.

Bald-Brush exclaimed.

“Okay, you’ll look at it for seven days and seven nights then,” Xiang Wentian replied.

Mr. Bald-Brush felt his heart itching with that possibility. “Second

Brother,” he called out, “I’ll go ask Big Brother to have the match. What do you think?”

“You two stay here to accompany our guests. I’ll go talk to Big Brother,” Mr. Black-White arranged and then stepped out of the room.

“Brother Feng, let’s drink,” Mr. Paint suggested. “Alas, much of this barrel of wine was wasted by Third Brother.” He poured the wine into the wine cups.

“Wasted?” Mr. Bald-Brush rebuffed angrily. “When you drink the wine into your belly, it will only turn into urine and get relieved. How can

that even be comparable to the fact that it will now stay on the white wall as calligraphy artwork and last for the eternity? Your wine will only live on because of the calligraphy. One thousand years later, only when people have seen my calligraphy art would they be able to know that this barrel of Turpan red wine ever existed.”

Facing the white wall, Mr. Paint raised his cup. “Hello wall, you are so fortunate to be able to taste the wonderful wine brewed by your Fourth Master, himself. Even if my Third Brother didn’t write calligraphy on your face, you…you…you would have lasted for the eternity.”

“Compared to this ignorant wall, I am much more fortunate to be able to taste such wonderful rare-even-in-one-thousand-year wine,” Linghu

Chong showed a big smile. Raising his own cup, he drank it up.

After drinking two cups in accompany by the side, Xiang Wentian

stopped drinking, but Mr. Paint and Linghu Chong kept pouring wine down their throats and found their exhilaration surging.

After they each had at least another seventeen or eighteen cups, Mr.

Black-White finally returned.

“Brother Feng, my Big Brother would like to meet you. Please come with me. And is it okay if Brother Tong stays here and enjoy some more wine?” he said.

“Well…,” Xiang Wentian was taken by surprise. He could see clearly that Mr. Black-White had no intention of inviting him to tag along, and he

couldn’t insist on going after all. “What a pity for life that it’s not my karma to have the honor in meeting First Master,” he sighed.

“Please pardon me, Brother Tong. My Big Brother has been living in seclusion for many years and has repeatedly declined our guests’ requests for an audience. It is only because he heard that Brother Feng’s skills in the art of sword have reached the extreme and felt his admiration soaring, did he decide to invite Brother Feng for a private meeting. We certainly dare not to show any disrespect to Brother Tong,” Mr. Black-White explained.

“I understand. I understand,” Xiang Wentian replied.

Setting his wine cup down on the table, Linghu Chong followed Mr. Black-White out of the game room. He went empty-handed, thinking that it would be inappropriate to bring a long sword with him in the meeting with the lord of the manor. They crossed through a long corridor and soon arrived at a moon- shaped entry. The tablet above the entry read “Zither Spirit.” The words

were made of blue colored glaze and showed vigorous style, most likely the creation of Mr. Bald-Brush. After the moon-shaped entry, a quiet and deep flower-strewn pathway extended further. On both sides of the pathway, thin and long bamboos swayed leisurely in the breeze. The cobblestones in the pathway were covered by moss, clearly indicating that this was a path

seldom used. At the end of the pathway were three stone buildings. Seven or eight dark green pine trees stood at the front and the back, each towering high with their branches extending gracefully in all directions, casting a layer of gloom to the surroundings.

Mr. Black-White slowly pushed the door open. “Please come in,” he said in a gentle voice.

As soon as Linghu Chong entered the room, he smelled the pleasant fragrance of sandalwood.

“Big Brother, Huashan School’s Young Hero Feng is here,” Mr.

Black-White introduced.

An old man walked out from the bedroom, cupping one hand in the other. “Please excuse my lack of manners for having not greeted Young Hero Feng properly. It is a great honor to have Young Hero Feng in our humble manor.”

The old man appeared to be about sixty years of age. Thin as a lath, and with the muscles on his face sinking deeply, he looked more like a

skeleton with the exception of the two bright piercing eyes.

“It was I who took the liberty for the unannounced visit. I’ll have to ask for Senior Master’s pardon,” Linghu Chong said with a bow.

“That’s quite alright,” the man answered. “My Big Brother’s name is Mr. Huang-Zhong.86 I am sure Young Hero Feng has known that already,” Mr. Black-White said.

“I have long heard the great names of the four Manor Masters. It is so fortunate that I finally get to meet you in person today,” Linghu Chong said as he thought to himself, “This is quite a joke that Big Brother Xiang has played on me. He didn’t tell me anything beforehand and only told me to let him arrange everything. But now he is nowhere near me. If this First Master here gives me some difficult puzzles to solve, I wonder how I should handle them.”

“I heard that Young Hero Feng is the very disciple of the venerable Grandmaster Feng of the Huashan School and possesses brilliant sword

skills,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said. “I’ve always admired Grandmaster Feng’s conducts and his martial arts skills very much. It is such a pity that I never had the honor to meet him. Some time back, it was said around the Martial World that the venerable Grandmaster Feng had passed away. The news brought deep sorrow in my heart. Today, to have the opportunity to meet venerable Grandmaster Feng’s disciple is very gratifying. Is Young Hero Feng a descendent of Grandmaster Feng?”

Linghu Chong thought inwardly, “Grand Uncle-Master Feng

earnestly exhorted me to not reveal his whereabouts. Once Big Brother Xiang saw my sword techniques, he figured out that it must have been

Grand Uncle-Master who taught me those. He not only wantonly made that widely known, but also claimed that my last name was none other than Feng, which probably had a good amount of swindle and bluff. But if I tell the truth straightforward, it wouldn’t be appropriate, either.” At that thought, he gave an ambiguous answer, “I am a junior of his later generation. I’ve only studied from him for a short while. Being a slow learner, simple and uninformed, I haven’t even mastered ten or twenty percent of his sword arts.”

“If it is true that you have only learned ten to twenty percent of

Grandmaster Feng’s sword arts, yet my three brothers have all lost to your long sword, then venerable Grandmaster Feng’s attainments had to be fathomless,” Mr. Huang-Zhong sighed.

“The three Masters only each exchanged a few random moves with me, and before any of the matches had any result, they had already held back their hands,” Linghu Chong said.

Mr. Huang-Zhong nodded, his skinny face revealing a slight smile. “It is rare to see a young man free from arrogance and rashness. Please come in to the Zither Hall and have some tea,” he said.

Linghu Chong and Mr. Black-White followed him into the Zither Hall and seated. Soon, a servant boy brought out green tea.

“I heard that Young Hero Feng has the ancient music score of the ‘Guang-Ling Song.’ Is it true?” Mr. Huang-Zhong asked. “I am rather fond of music. And I’ve always bemoaned when I thought of how Ji Kang played the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ with his zither one last time just before his execution, exclaiming, ‘Guang-Ling Song would be lost for ever from now on.’ If this music can reappear in the world, and I get to follow the music

score and play it once in my old age, I would have no regret left in this life.” At these words, his pale face actually showed some redness of skin, looking earnest and anxious.

“Big Brother Xiang’s one lie after another really fooled them well,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “I can tell that these four Masters of the Plum Manor of the Lone Hill are no ordinary people. Besides, I am here to ask them to treat my injury. How can I keep them guessing? If this music

score is really the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ Senior Master Qu Yang obtained from the tomb of that Cai-Somebody of the East Han Dynasty, I should let him take a look.”

Retrieving the music score from his chest pocket, he stood up and then presented it with both hands. “Please take a look, First Master.”

Mr. Huang-Zhong raised himself slightly and took the booklet. “The ‘Guang-Ling Song’ music had been long lost in the world. It is so

exhilarating to be able to take a look at the legendary ancient score. But… but I wonder….” He seemed to implicate that how would he be sure that this music score was the authentic “Gang-Ling Song,” not a counterfeit

some busybody had faked to fool people.

He thumbed through a few pages at random and then muttered, “Oh, this is a long piece.” Turning back to the first page, he began reading the details. Only moments into it, his face had changed color. Flipping through the music score with his right hand, he set his left hand on the table and the five fingers plucked, twiddled, and pressed as though he was playing an invisible zither.

“Marvelous! Peaceful and fair, yet melodious and deep to the extreme,” he praised.

Turning to the second page, he read for a little while and then praised again, “Lofty and elegant, profound and abstruse. Just by imagining the

sounds in my head, I can already feel the utter exhilaration.”

Seeing how Mr. Huang-Zhong was already slightly out of his mind

after reading only two pages of the music score, Mr. Black-White knew that if he kept reading, it would be hours before he’ll even take a break. So he

cut in.

“This Young Hero Feng here and a Brother Tong from the Songshan School came here and said that if someone in the Plum Manor can defeat his sword art….” “Um, only if someone can defeat his sword art will he be willing to loan me the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ and make a copy, is that right?” Mr.

Huang-Zhong asked.

“That’s right! All three of us have lost our matches. Unless Big

Brother takes the field, our Plum Manor of the Lone Hill…well…,” Mr. Black-White replied.

“If you can’t do it, I can’t either,” Mr. Huang-Zhong let out a light smile.

“How can the three of us be comparable with Big Brother?” Mr.

Black-White said.

“I am too old. I am of no use now,” Mr. Huang-Zhong replied. Linghu Chong got back onto his feet. “First Master’s name is ‘Mr.

Huang-Zhong,’ then naturally you are an expert in the art of zither,” he said. “Although this music score is rare, it is not classified secret or anything.

First Master, please feel free to hold on to it and make copies. I can come back to pick it up three days from now.”

Mr. Huang-Zhong and Mr. Black-White were both taken aback. Mr. Black-White had witnessed, himself, how Xiang Wentian had worked hard at baiting them, deliberately making things more difficult and made his heart itchy as hell. He certainly did not expect to see such a generous Feng Er-Zhong. Being an expert in the art of gamesmanship, he immediately

concluded that this had to be a trap Linghu Chong was setting up to trick Mr. Huang-Zhong, but no matter how hard he tried, he still failed catch any clue.

“One does not receive a reward without making a merit. You and I don’t have any prior association. How could I accept such a generous gift from you? Will you please be very frank with me and tell me the real reason for you and your companion’s visit to our humble manor?” Mr. Huang- Zhong asked.

Linghu Chong thought, “Big Brother Xiang didn’t mention a word to me about why we are visiting the Plum Manor beforehand. I suppose it must have something to do with asking the four Manor Masters to treat my injury. But all his arrangements seemed so secretive. Besides, the four

Manor Masters are all very unusual people. Perhaps telling them the truth isn’t the right way to address the issue. I honestly don’t have a clue about the intention of Big Brother Xiang’s visit, anyway. I guess telling them this part frankly wouldn’t count as trying to deceive them intentionally.” So he said, “I was only accompanying Big Brother Tong in the visit to your respectable manor. To be very honest with you, before stepping into your respectable manor, I have never heard of the names of the four Manor

Masters, nor was I ever aware of the existence of the Plum Manor of the Lone Hill.” After a short pause, he added, “That is, of course, only because I am ignorant and ill-informed, and consequently failed to recognize the many respectable senior masters in the Martial World. I beg the two

Masters’ pardon.”

Mr. Huang-Zhong cast a glance toward Mr. Black-White and a smile crept onto his face.

“Young Hero Feng is very candid, and I am very thankful. Us, the four brothers, retired to the city of Lin-An to live a hermit’s life; few people in the Martial World knows about it. Besides, the Five Mountains Sword

Alliance never had any association with us, so I was quite surprised to learn about your visit. So Young Hero Feng really has no idea about the origin of us the four brothers, have you?”

“This is so embarrassing. When I said earlier that ‘I have long heard the great names of the four Manor Masters,’ actually…actually…well…,” Linghu Chong murmured.

Mr. Huang-Zhong nodded. “Mr. Huang-Zhong, Mr. Black-White and so forth are only nicknames we picked for ourselves. Our true names have long been abandoned. It is only natural that Young Hero Feng has never heard of our names,” he said. Turning the music score booklet with his right hand, he asked, “Are you sincere about loaning this music score to me and let me make copies?”

“Yes,” Linghu Chong affirmed. “I said loaning the book to you only because the music score belongs to Big Brother Tong. Otherwise, you can just go ahead and take it. Like the old saying says, ‘A precious sword

should be presented to a person of high endeavor.’ Once presented, there’s no need to return it.”

Mr. Huang-Zhong let out a long breath, and a trace of joy quickly flashed across his emaciated face.

“You agree to loan the music score to my Big Brother. But will that Brother Tong agree as well?” Mr. Black-White asked.

“Big Brother Tong and I are friends until death. He is bold and generous. If I agree to something, no matter how important the matter is, he wouldn’t mind at all,” Linghu Chong assured, to which Mr. Black-White gave a nod.

“I am very grateful for Young Hero Feng’s kindness. But since

Brother Tong did not give his consent, himself, I am still very uneasy about it. That Brother Tong said that in order to get the music score, someone from our manor must be able to defeat your sword arts. It would be unfair for me to take advantage of your generosity. Why don’t we exchange a few moves?” Mr. Huang-Zhong proposed.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “The Second Master said just a moment ago, ‘How can the three of us be comparable with Big Brother?’ Then the Kung Fu skills of the First Master must have been superior to the other three Manor Masters. The three Manor Masters each had unsurpassed Kung Fu skills, and only with the sword techniques I learned from Grand

Uncle-Master Feng was I able to get the upper hand in the matches. If I spar with the First Master, I may not win again. Why bother bringing shame onto myself for no reason? Even if I could beat him in the match, what good does it do?” At that thought, he said, “Big Brother Tong was just

seized by a whim and being meddlesome when he said something like that, which only embarrassed me more. I am already thankful that the four

Manor Masters decide to spare me of reprimand for my arrogance. How dare I spar again with the First Master?”

“You are quite all right,” Mr. Huang-Zhong smiled. “Let’s exchange a few moves, and it’ll just be a harmless contest. That is all. What’s there to worry about?”

He turned around, removed a jade flute from the wall and handed it to Linghu Chong. “You can use the flute as your sword. I, on the other hand, will use my zither as my weapon.” Picking up a zither from the bedside table, he said with a grin, “I wouldn’t say that these two musical instruments of mine are invaluable, but each of them is one in a thousand. I certainly do not want them to smash into pieces. Let’s just put out some

stances for the act. That’s all.”

Linghu Chong took a closer look at the flute in his hand. The entire body of the flute was in emerald green. Turned out that it was made of top- quality jade. The several spots close to the mouthpiece were in bright

scarlet, and perfectly set off the striking green of the jade flute. The zither held in Mr. Huang-Zhong’s hands appeared dark and ancient. It must have been an antique over one thousand years old. A gentle bump of the two musical instruments would have broken them into pieces. They of course couldn’t be used in a real fight. Having no other excuses, he held the jade flute with both hands and spoke respectfully.

“I await First Master’s advice.”

“The venerable Grandmaster Feng was the ultimate swordsman of the generation. I’ve always had great admiration for him. The sword arts he taught must be extraordinary. Young Hero Feng, please!” Mr. Huang-Zhong said.

Holding the flute in his palm, Linghu Chong gave it a gentle swing. A few soft sounds echoed pleasantly as air went through the holes on the flute.

Mr. Huang-Zhong gave a few plucks to the strings of the zither. Amid the musical sounds, he pushed the end of the zither toward Linghu Chong’s right shoulder.

At the sound of the zither, Linghu Chong felt a slight thump in his heart. He slowly dabbed the jade flute toward the back of Mr. Huang- Zhong’s elbow. If the zither continued its course toward his shoulder, then the acupoint at the back of Mr. Huang-Zhong’s elbow would have been hit first.

Turning the zither upside down, Mr. Huang-Zhong shoved it toward Linghu Chong’s waist, instead. And as the zither struck forward, he plucked the strings and made more sounds.

Linghu Chong thought quickly, “If I block this strike with the jade flute, once the two precious instruments clashes, both would be damaged. In order to preserve the musical instruments, he will certainly withdraw the zither. But fighting like that is really no different from the shameless act of a rascal.”

With that in mind, he drew an arc with the jade flute and stabbed it below the opponent’s armpit. Mr. Huang-Zhong raised his zither in an

attempt to ward it off, but Linghu Chong quickly drew his flute back. Suddenly, Mr. Huang-Zhong played several consecutive notes with the zither and the sound of the music turned pressing and the complexion on Mr. Black-White’s face changed slightly. Slowly, Mr. Black-White backed out of the Zither Hall, shutting the door on his way out. knowing that Mr.

Huang-Zhong was, by no means, showing his leisure when he made the musical notes with the zither. He had actually infused superior inner

strength into the zither sounds in order to disrupt his opponent’s

concentration. Once the opponent’s internal strength resonated with the zither sounds, then he would be controlled by the zither sounds involuntarily. When the zither music slowed down, the opponent’s movement would also slow down; when the zither music hurried, the opponent’s movement would also hurry. But the tempo of Mr. Huang-

Zhong’s zither moves would be just the opposite to the tempo of the zither music. His strikes would become faster and faster while the zither music turned more soothing and relaxing, as a result, the opponent would stand no chance of withstanding his attacks. Mr. Black-White knew very well that this Kung Fu of Mr. Huang-Zhong was no trivia matter. Afraid that his own internal strength would be worn off, he receded out of the Zither Hall.

Although the door plank separated him from the Zither Hall, he could still vaguely hear the zither music slowing down and going faster from time to time. Sometimes, the zither sound would suddenly silence, while some other times, the zither sound would all of a sudden clang very loudly. After a while, the tempo of the zither music became faster and faster. Mr. Black- White only felt his heart fluttering with uneasiness and even his breathing became somewhat uncomfortable. Backed out of the front door, he, once

again, shut the front door tight. Now with two doors in between, the sound of the zither was almost inaudible. But occasionally when the sound of the zither turned sonorous and passed through all the barriers, it always made his heart thump faster.

He stood there for a good while but the zither sounds kept going and going. He was astounded. “This young man named Feng, no doubt, has

excellent sword skills. But it turned out that his cultivation in inner strength is also so capable. How is he able to hold out for so long under the attack of my Big Brother’s ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’?” he thought. As he pondered upon the question, Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint arrived side by side.

“How did it go?” Mr. Paint asked in a low voice.

“The fight has lasted a long time. That young man is still struggling to keep up. I am afraid Big Brother will end up injuring him,” Mr. Black-

White said.

“I’ll go ask Big Brother to show leniency. We can’t hurt this good friend,” Mr. Paint suggested.

“We can’t go in there,” Mr. Black-White shook his head.

Just at that moment, loud clanking sounds from the zither suddenly exploded in the air. At the first sound, the three of them each took one step back. So after five consecutive zither sounds, the three of them took a total of five steps back involuntarily.

Mr. Bald-Brush’s face turned as white as a sheet. After taking a few seconds to collect himself, he said, “This ‘Six-Ding-God Quarry a

Mountain’ move of Big Brother’s Invisible Sword Art is too powerful. The six consecutive notes continue to wallop and strike one after another. How can that young man Feng withstand it?”

Before he even finished his sentence, another loud clank exploded, and immediately after that, several cracking sounds followed, as though

several zither strings had suddenly snapped. Astounded, Mr. Black-White and the other two pushed the front door wide open and dashed in. As soon as they opened the door of the Zither Hall, they saw a dispirited Mr. Huang- Zhong standing still in silence. All seven strings of the zither in his grip had snapped and drooped by the side of the zither. Standing by his side was Linghu Chong, holding the jade flute in his hand.

“Please pardon me!” Linghu Chong said, bowing down slightly.

Obviously, just like the others, Mr. Huang-Zhong had lost the match. Mr. Black-White and his two junior brothers gasped in astonishment.

They knew very well that their Big Brother had very vigorous and resourceful inner strength and was, in fact, an extraordinary figure in the Martial World. Who would have expected that he would lose to this young man from the Huashan School just as well? If they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, they would never have believed it.

“Not only is Young Hero Feng’s sword art the most ingenious sword art I have ever seen in my life, his inner strength cultivation is also so incredibly capable. It is very admirable, indeed,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said with a wry smile. “I had always thought that this ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’ Kung Fu of mine could be regarded as a consummate skill in the

Martial World. Who would have thought that it looked merely like a child’s play in front of Young Hero Feng? We, the four brothers, have been living a hermit’s life in the Plum Manor and haven’t set foot in the Martial World for more than ten years. Alas, turned out we have all become frogs living at the bottom of a well.”87 His voice turned bleak.

“I had to do my utmost to keep up. Thanks for Senior Master’s leniency,” Linghu Chong said.

Mr. Huang-Zhong heaved a long sigh, but did not answer. Shaking his head dishearteningly, he sat down, his face dreary and desolate. Seeing the utter gloominess on Mr. Huang-Zhong’s face, Linghu Chong felt very sorry. He thought to himself, “Big Brother Xiang

apparently did not want to review the fact that I have lost all my inner

strength, so as not to make them aware of my intent to ask for treatment, thus, void any obstacles that might arise. But a real man should be as open as the day. I can’t take advantage of him like that.” At that thought, he said, “First Master, there’s something I must tell. The reason why I was immune to the invisible energy attacks coming out of your zither was not because of advanced inner strength cultivation on my part. It was really because I have no inner strength in me, none whatsoever!”

“What did you say?” Mr. Huang-Zhong stood up, taken by surprise. “I was injured many times and have lost all my inner strength. That’s

why the sound of your zither had no effect on me,” Linghu Chong explained.

“Are you serious?” Mr. Huang-Zhong asked, his voice quavered from mingled shock and joy.

“If Senior Master does not believe me, check my pulse and you’ll see,” Linghu Chong replied and extended his right hand forward.

Mr. Huang-Zhong and Mr. Black-White were both taken completely by surprise. In their minds, although Linghu Chong’s coming to the Plum Manor was not hostile, he must have been up to no good, after all. How

could he give out his hand so unperturbedly and hand his lifelines over to others? If Mr. Huang-Zhong suddenly grabbed hold of the acupoint on his wrist using the pretext of checking his pulse, then even if he had all the

skills in the world, he would not be able to use any of them and wind up being at the mercy of others like a piece of meat sitting on the chopping block. Earlier, when Mr. Huang-Zhong had initiated his “Six-Ding-God

Quarry a Mountain” Kung Fu, not only had it failed to affect Linghu Chong in the least, at the peak of his inner strength discharge when all seven

strings resonated, he actually ended up breaking seven strings all together. Such a crushing defeat was certainly hard to resign to. “If you want me to reach my hand forward so you can clasp the acupoint on my wrist, then

we’ll just have another contest in the inner strength,” he made up his mind and then slowly stretched his right hand forward toward the artery on Linghu Chong’s right wrist. In the stretch, he had secretly included the

“Tiger Claw Technique”, the “Dragon Claw Skill”, and the “Small Joints Eighteen Holding Positions” these three advanced joint manipulation Kung Fu, so regardless of what moves the opponent might execute, when worst

comes to worst, he would simply fail to grab the opponent’s wrist, but his opponent would not be able to take any advantage of him, either.

But when Mr. Huang-Zhong’s five fingers touched Linghu Chong’s wrist, Linghu Chong didn’t even move a muscle, showing no sign of an

attack. Slightly taken aback, Mr. Huang-Zhong quickly noticed how feeble and frail Linghu Chong’s pulses were, clearly indicating that he had no inner strength at all. After a short daze, he suddenly broke into loud laughter.

“I see! So that’s how it is! You bamboozled me! You have really bamboozled me well!”

Although he kept saying that he was bamboozled, the expression on his face was actually very delightful. His “Seven-String Invisible Sword”

Kung Fu was only made up of zither sounds. The sound itself of course

could not injure the enemy. All it did was to stimulate and manipulate the enemy’s inner strength, thus disrupting the enemy’s moves. The stronger

the enemy’s inner strength was, the stronger his reaction to the zither sound would turn out. He certainly had not expected Linghu Chong to have no inner strength at all, and consequently, the “Seven-String Invisible Sword” having the least bit of effect on him. Having suffered a severe defeat, Mr.

Huang-Zhong had been completely disheartened. But after he found out that the reason he lost the match was not because his unique skill, which he trained for many decades diligently, was no good, he found himself wild

with joy. Grabbing Linghu Chong’s hand tightly, he shook it back and forth in excitement.

“Good Brother! Good Brother! Why are you telling me your secret?” he asked, beaming.

“Well, during our match, it was already quite selfish of me to conceal the fact that I lost all my inner strength. How could I keep deceiving you on that? Senior Master was playing music to an ox, and I just happen to be the ox that understood none of the elegance.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“I guess my ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’ is no garbage after all.

For a moment, I thought my ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’ actually turned into ‘Broken-String Unusable Sword’. Ha-ha! Ha-ha!” Mr. Huang-Zhong

stroked his long beard and let out more laughter.

“Young Hero Feng! We, the four brothers, are very grateful for your honesty. But didn’t you know that once you reveal your own weakness, if we want to take your life, it would be as easy as turning our hands over?

Although you have excellent sword skills, without any inner strength, you will be no match for us after all,” Mr. Black-White said.

“Second Master is absolutely right. I only told the truth because I can tell that the four Manor Masters are all trustworthy heroes,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Well said! Well said!” Mr. Huang-Zhong nodded at those words. “Brother Feng, you might as well speak frankly and tell us your intention for your visit. We, the four brothers feel like you are almost an old friend of ours even though this is the first time we ever meet. As far as our capacity allows, you can ask us for anything.”

Mr. Bald-Brush also said, “You lost all your inner strength most probably because of a severe injury. I have a very intimate friend whose medical skills are almost godlike. Only that he is kind of eccentric and

wouldn’t take in patients easily. But for my sake, I am sure he’d be willing to treat you. The ‘Killer Doctor’ Ping One-Finger and I have been good friends….”

“Did you say Ping One-Finger, Doctor Ping?” Linghu Chong cried out involuntarily.

“That’s right. You’ve heard of his name before, haven’t you?” Mr.

Bald-Brush answered.

“Doctor Ping passed away on the Five-Tyrant Ridge in Shandong Province several months ago.” Linghu Chong’s voice turned gloomy.

“What?” Mr. Bald-Brush cried out in shock. “He…he died?”

“He could have cured any disease in the world. How come he wasn’t able to cure his own illness? Oh, was he killed by his personal enemy?” Mr. Paint asked.

Linghu Chong shook his head. He had always felt ashamed of himself for the death of Ping One-Finger.

“Doctor Ping checked my pulse right before he passed away. He said that my injury was too weird and he could not cure me.”

The sudden news of Ping One-Finger’s death struck Mr. Bald-Brush hard. He stared blankly in front of him and soon tears emerged from his

eyes.

“Brother Feng, let me point you a direction. But whether he’ll do it or not, it’s hard to say,” after pondering for a long while, Mr. Huang-Zhong finally said. “I’ll write you a letter, and you can take the letter with you and request an audience from the Head Master of the Shaolin Temple, Great

Master Fang-Zheng. If he agrees to teach you the ultimate inner strength Kung Fu of the Shaolin School, the Tendon Altering Sutra, then there is a good chance that you’ll be able to regain your inner strength. The Tendon Altering Sutra is the most valued Kung Fu of the Shaolin School, which is not to be taught to any outsider. But many years ago, Great Master Fang-

Zheng owed me some gratitude. Maybe he’ll do me a favor for personal consideration and make an exception.”

Linghu Chong knew that both Mr. Bald-Brush’s recommendation of Ping One-Finger and Mr. Huang-Zhong’s direction to Great Master Fang- Zheng were both right to the core of the problem, and both recommendations were made wholeheartedly. It was obvious that the two Manor Masters were not only exceptionally insightful, but also sincerely

zealous about his wellbeing. Feeling utterly grateful, he said, “Great Master Fang-Zheng only teaches the ‘Tendon Altering Sutra’ to apprentices of his own school, but it wouldn’t be proper for me to join the Shaolin School. It is very difficult situation.”

After standing up and making a deep bow, he spoke again, “I am very grateful for the four Manor Masters’ kindness. Life and death lie in the lap of the gods. My injury is really not a big deal, and it is certainly not my intention to worry the four Manor Masters. I think it’s time for me to say good-bye.”

“Please wait,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said. Turning around, he went into the inner room, and not long after, he returned with a small china bottle in his hand. “Here are two herbal pills bestowed upon me by my respectable Master many years ago. They are quite effective in nourishing health and healing wounds. Please accept them as my gift, little brother, as a small token to celebrate our meeting today.”

The cork on the small bottle appeared worn and ancient. Linghu

Chong knew that if Mr. Huang-Zhong had kept this relic from his deceased Master for all these years, they had to be very precious. So he replied immediately, “These pills were bestowed from Senior Master’s respectable Master, not just any ordinary pills. I dare not accept it!”

Mr. Huang-Zhong shook his head. “The four of us have separated ourselves from the Martial World for many years and no longer strive with other people. These catholicons for injuries are really no good to us. The four brothers of us have neither apprentices, nor children. If you insist on declining, I suppose these two pills would only end up accompanying me in my coffin.”

Sensing the bleakness in Mr. Huang-Zhong’s voice, Linghu Chong did not insist any further and accepted the gift, thanking him earnestly.

After bidding his farewell, he headed back to the Game Room with Mr.

Black-White, Mr. Bald-Brush, and Mr. Paint accompanying by the side. As soon as Xiang Wentian spotted the solemn expression on the four’s faces, he knew immediately that Linghu Chong must have won yet another sword match against the First Master of the manor. If the First Master had won the match, then even though Mr. Black-White might still maintain his

composure, Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint, fore sure, would have turned daring and militant, demanding Zhang Xu’s calligraphy book and Fan Kuan’s painting from him at the first sight of him.

“Brother Feng, did First Master give you some good pointers as regard to your sword skills?” he asked, pretending he had not a clue.

“The prowess of First Master’s inner strength was simply unimaginable. But it just happens that I have lost all my inner strength and therefore, did not react to the inner strength released from First Master’s zither at all. It was such incredible luck on my side,” Linghu Chong

explained.

“This Brother Feng here is an honest gentleman and did not keep back anything. Why did you say that his inner strength was far superior to yours and deceive my Big Brother big time?” Mr. Paint reprehended, glaring at Xiang Wentian as he spoke.

“But at the time when Brother Feng still had his inner strength, his inner strength was indeed far superior to mine. I was referring to before, not now,” Xiang Wentian grinned.

“You are a bad person!” Mr. Bald-Brush grunted.

“Well, since no one in the Plum Manor can defeat my Brother Feng’s sword. Three Manor Masters, I think it’s time for us to say good-bye,”

Xiang Wentian cupped his hands. Turning toward Linghu Chong, he said, “Let’s go.”

Linghu Chong also cupped his hands and bowed. “It was a great pleasure to meet the four Manor Masters today. If the chance rises up in the future, I’ll visit your Manor once again.”

“Brother Feng, if you feel like coming over to drink some wine, you can come any day. I’ll let you taste all the great wines I collected throughout the years. But in regard to this Brother Tong here, well! Well!” Mr. Paint said.

“With my small capacity for liquor, I certainly dare not to come and ask for trouble.” Xiang Wentian showed a smile.

After cupping his hands one more time, he walked out, holding Linghu Chong’s arms. Mr. Black-White and the others also walked out.

“Three Manor Masters please don’t bother to see us out,” Xiang Wentian said. “Ha, do you think we are seeing you out? We are here to see Brother Feng off. If you had come all by yourself, Brother Tong, just watch us and see how many steps we’ll take to see you off,” Mr. Bald-Brush said.

“I see,” Xiang Wentian grinned.

Mr. Black-White and the others walked all the way out of the manor gate before saying good-bye to Linghu Chong. Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr.

Paint stared at Xiang Wentian all the way out. How they wished they could just snatch the package off Xiang Wentian’s back.

Holding Linghu Chong’s hand, Xiang Wentian walked deep into the willow woods. When they were far from the Plum Manor, he finally asked, smiling, “Brother, the First Master’s ‘Invisible Sword’ energy from his

zither is very powerful. How did you manage to defeat him?”

“Oh, so Big Brother knew everything already. Luckily I have lost all my inner strength, or else I am afraid I probably would have lost my life over that. Big Brother, did you have some scores to settle with these four Manor Masters?” Linghu Chong asked.

“No. I’d never even met them before today, what scores could there be?” Xiang Wentian answered.

Suddenly, shouts came from behind. “Brother Tong! Brother Feng!

Please come back.”

Linghu Chong turned around and then saw Mr. Paint running toward him in quick trots. He held a bowl in his hand, which was more than half full with wine.

“Brother Feng, I have half a bottle of more than one-hundred-year old Bamboo-Green. You’d really regret it if you didn’t have a taste,” he said, handing the bowl over as he spoke.

Linghu Chong took the bowl and then took a look. The wine inside the bowl was so green that it almost looked like one solid emerald stone and he couldn’t even see the bottom of the bowl. The strong and mellow smell of the wine soon filled his nostrils. “Great wine, indeed!” he praised.

“Excellent!” after a small sip of the wine, he praised again. Then with another four quick gulps, he poured the entire content of the bowl down his throat. “The flavor of the wine tastes mild yet rich at the same time. It had to the product from around the city of Yangzhou or Zhenjiang,” he

commented.

“Right on!” Mr. Paint beamed with delight. “This is the ultimate treasure of the Golden-Hill Temple in Zhenjiang. They had a total of six bottles. The monks in the temple abide by their commandment and do not drink, so they gave me one bottle as a present. After enjoying half of the bottle myself, I begrudged drinking any more of it. Brother Feng, I have

several more great wines at my place. I’d really like you to come over and judge them for me. What do you say?”

Linghu Chong was already feeling great intimacy toward the “Four Playfellows of Jiangnan,” now with the prospect of tasting some great wine in addition, he found himself all jubilant. Turning his head over, he looked at Xiang Wentian for his reaction.

“Brother Feng, Fourth Master wants to invite you for some wine. You go ahead. As for me, since Third Master and Fourth Master gets grouchy

when they see me, I think I’d better…um, well,” Xiang Wentian said.

“Who said I get grouchy when I see you? Let’s go. All of us! You are Brother Feng’s friend, and you are invited too!” Mr. Paint smiled.

Before Xiang Wentian had any chance to decline, Mr. Paint had

already coiled his left arm around Xiang Wentian’s right arm and his right arm around Linghu Chong’s left arm and began walking. “Come on! Come on! Let’s have some more drinks!” he insisted, beaming brightly. “When we bid our farewell to the Manor Masters earlier, Fourth

Master showed a very unfriendly attitude toward Big Brother Xiang. Why has he turned so intimate all of a sudden? Is it possible that he simply

couldn’t forget the painting in the package on Big Brother Xiang’s back for a moment and decided to fetch it using some other ways?” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

Soon, the three of them returned to the gate of the Plum Manor, at which Mr. Bald-Brush had been waiting for them.

“Brother Feng is back! Excellent! Excellent!” Mr. Bald-Brush uttered.

The four of them returned to the Game Room where Mr. Paint brought out many kinds of great wine and had a good drink with Linghu Chong. But Mr. Black-White never showed his face all the while.

The time was getting late now. It seemed as though Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint was waiting for someone, since both of them kept glancing

toward the entrance from the corner of their eyes. Xiang Wentian took leave of them several times, but the two hosts repeatedly urged him to stay.

Linghu Chong, on the other hand, paid no attention to it and kept drinking his wine.

“If two Manor Masters do not invite us for dinner, I’ll starve to death!” Xiang Wentian checked the color of the sky and then complained with a big grin.

“Right! Right!” Mr. Bald-Brush replied and then called out loudly, “Steward Ding, arrange the banquet! Hurry!”

Ding Jian acknowledged from outside when suddenly, the door was pushed open and Mr. Black-White stepped into the room.

“Brother Feng, there is another one in our manor who would like to have a sword contest with you,” he said to Linghu Chong. As soon as Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint heard these words, they jumped back onto their feet in unison, beaming with joy. “Big Brother has agreed!”

“So First Master had to give his permission before that person can have a sword contest with me,” Linghu Chong thought inwardly. “It seems that they had kept me here so the Second Master could talk it over with the First Master. And only after a long plead did the First Master finally

consent. Then this person must be either a junior in First Master’s family or his disciple or underling of some sort. Is this person’s sword skill really

even better than that of the First Master?” Suddenly another thought popped into his brain and he groaned inwardly, “Oh no! They knew that I have lost all my inner strength. In consideration of their own status, they feel unbefitting doing it themselves. But if they send a junior or an subordinate to fight me and specially challenge me in the department of inner strength, it would take him no time to finish me off!” But then he thought, “These four Manor Masters are all fair champions. How could they commit such despicable act? But Third Master and Fourth Master are simply crazy about that painting and that calligraphy book, and although the Second Master looked calm from the outside, he would certainly not rest contented until he gets his hands on those game manuals. Well, using such a bad method for the sake of those painting, calligraphy book, and game manuals is still well within the logic. If anyone really wants to injure me using inner strength, I’ll just stab his joints or some crucial key points on his body first.”

“Young Hero Feng, May I trouble you with another short trip?” Mr.

Black-White asked.

“In regard to genuine Kung Fu skills, I am really no match for Third Master or Fourth Master, much less Second Master and First Master. The four senior masters of the Plum Manor of the Lone Hill all have unsurpassed Kung Fu skills. Only because of the congeniality you felt with me, you have been very tolerant and considerate. It is really needless for me to show my immature and shallow skills again,” Linghu Chong declined.

“Brother Feng, of course that person’s Kung Fu is higher than yours. But you don’t need to be afraid. He…,” Mr. Paint said, which was promptly cut off by Mr. Black-White.

“In our humble manor, there is yet another grandmaster who is an

expert at the art of sword. Once he heard about Young Hero Feng’s brilliant sword skills, he longed for a sword contest. I hope Young Hero Feng

wouldn’t mind having just one more match.”

Afraid that he might be forced into injuring his opponent in the

additional match and thus have a fall out with the “Four Playfellows of

Jiangnan,” Linghu Chong said, “Four Masters have been very kind to me. If I have this additional match, I wonder what kind of temper this grandmaster might have. If, for any reason, this ends in discord, or maybe I get injured from this grandmaster’s sword, that would, for sure, hurt the friendly feelings.”

“No worries! He won’t…won’t…,” Mr. Paint tried to comfort him, but again, Mr. Black-White didn’t let him finish.

“No matter what happens, the four of us will never blame you, Young Hero Feng,” Mr. Black-White assured him.

“Fine! You might as well have another match,” Xiang Wentian said. “But I have some things I need to take care right away and can’t stay any longer. Brother Feng, I’ll see you again in the city of Jiaxing.”

“Are you leaving already? You can’t leave yet!” Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint cried out in unison.

“Unless you leave Zhang Xu’s calligraphy book behind,” Mr. Bald- Brush demanded. “If you leave now, where are we going to find you to get your painting, calligraphy book, and game manuals after Young Hero Feng loses the match? No, no, you’ll have to stay just a little bit longer. Steward Ding, hurry up with the banquet!” Mr. Paint shouted.

“Young Hero Feng, I’ll go with you. Brother Tong, please have

something to eat. We’ll be right back to accompany you. It won’t take very long,” Mr. Black-White said.

But Xiang Wentian shook his head again and again. “You are after a sure triumph with this match. Although my Brother Feng has excellent mastery in the art of the sword, his experience in confrontations is still very shallow. Besides, you have already found out that he has lost all his inner

strength. Without me guarding onsite, even if we lose this match, we would not be reconciled to the defeat.”

“What is Brother Tong saying here? Do you really think that we would cheat in the match?” Mr. Black-White asked.

“The four Masters of the Plum Manor of the Lone Hill are all people of exceptional virtues. I’ve always held the four masters in great reverence and, of course, have faith in you. But Brother Feng is having the sword match with someone else. I really had no idea that there’s actually another grandmaster in the Plum Manor besides the four Manor Masters. May I ask Second Master here who is this person? If I know that this person is an honest had straightforward champion just like the four Manor Masters, then I’ll feel much more at ease,” Xiang Wentian said.

“The Kung Fu skills and the fame of this person are only higher than the four brothers of us. There is simply no comparison between him and us,” Mr. Paint said.

“In the Marital World, there are only a few people whose fame could be in comparison with that of the four Manor Masters. Then I am sure I must have heard of his name before,” Xiang Wentian said.

“But we can’t tell you his name,” Mr. Bald-Brush answered.

“Then I must guard onsite during this match. Otherwise we can just forget about the match,” Xiang Wentian insisted.

“Brother Tong, why are you so stubborn? It’s not gonna do you any good coming to this match. This person has lived in seclusion for a long time and would rather not let any other people see his face,” Mr. Paint

explained.

“How does Brother Feng have the sword contest with him, then?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“Each side will be wearing a mask, exposing only the eyes. That way, neither could see the other,” Mr. Black-White clarified.

“Will the Four Manor Masters be wearing masks as well?” Xiang Wentian asked.

“That’s correct. This person has very eccentric tempers. If we don’t, he would not fight,” Mr. Black-White affirmed.

“I’ll just wear a mask as well,” Xiang Wentian persisted.

After a long hesitation, Mr. Black-White finally said, “If Brother Tong is determined to watch the match onsite, I suppose we have no choice. But Brother Tong must make a promise that you’ll not make any sound through out the match.”

“Pretending to be deaf and dumb, that’s easy!” Xiang Wentian grinned.

So Mr. Black-White lead the way in the front, Xiang Wentian and Linghu Chong followed in the middle and Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint followed behind. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but notice that they were actually following the same path that led to First Master’s house earlier.

Soon, they arrived outside of First Master’s Zither Hall. After three gentle knocks on the door, Mr. Black-White pushed the door open and stepped in. A man already stood in the middle of the room, a mask made of black cloth covered his head. Linghu Chong easily recognized him as Mr. Huang-

Zhong from his clothing. Mr. Black-White walked next to him and then

whispered some words in his ears. Then Mr. Huang-Zhong shook his head and whispered some words back, obviously unwilling to let Xiang Wentian participate. Mr. Black-White gave a nod and then turned to the group behind him.

“My Big Brother thinks that the sword match is only a small matter. But if we provoke that friend in any way, there will be much unnecessary trouble. Let’s call the match off.”

The five of them bowed to Mr. Huang-Zhong and then went out of the

room.

“Brother Tong, you are really an oddball, you know that?” Mr. Paint

said irritably. “Did you think that we would just all swarm forward and bully Brother Feng? Well, your insisting on looking on the match has really cost us the match. Thank you for ruining the day for us!”

“It took Second Brother a great effort to convince Big Brother and get his permission. You’d rather make more trouble,” Mr. Bald-Brush grunted.

“All right! All right! I’ll yield a step. I won’t insist on watching this match. But you have to promise that it’s going to be a fair match and you won’t deceive my Brother Feng,” Xiang Wentian said with a grin.

“What kind of people did you think we were? We’d never deceive Young Hero Feng!” Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint cried out with joy in unison.

“I’ll wait for you guys in the Game Room,” Xiang Wentian said,

smiling. “Brother Feng, I don’t know what kind of clandestine tricks they are trying to pull here. You’d better keep a weather eye open all the time and be very careful.”

“The Plum Manor only has gentlemen with lofty virtues. How can there be anyone resorting to trickery and swindle?” Linghu Chong replied with a smile.

“Right on! Young Hero Feng is not like you, who measure others’ corn by one’s own bushel.” Mr. Paint showed a broad grin.

Xiang Wentian took a few steps and then turned around and waved at Linghu Chong. “Brother Feng, come over here. I’d better exhort you some more so you wouldn’t fall for other’s tricks,” he said, at which Mr. Paint

sneered but paid no attention.

“Big Brother Xiang is being too careful. I am not a three-year-old kid.

Even if they really plan on fooling me, it’s not gonna be easy,” Linghu Chong thought to himself as he walked toward Xiang Wentian.

Xiang Wentian grabbed hold of Linghu Chong’s hand, and immediately Linghu Chong felt a paper ball placed in his palm. A quick squeeze told Linghu Chong that there was a piece of hard object wrapped

inside the paper ball. With a broad smile, Xiang Wentian pulled him closer and then whispered to his ears.

“After you see that person, shake his hands to show your proximity, and then secretly place this paper ball together with the object inside into his palm. This is a very important matter. Don’t take it lightly. Ha-ha! Ha- ha!”

When he said these words, the tone of his voice was very solemn, but he kept the broad smile on his face. The laughter at the end simply had nothing to do with his words. Mr. Black-White, Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr.

Paint all presumed that he must have been ridiculing the three of them. “What’s so funny? Young Hero Feng, no doubt, has excellent sword skills, but we haven’t had a chance to check out the sword skills of Brother Tong,” Mr. Paint challenged.

“My sword skills are most ordinary. There’s no need to check it out,” Xiang Wentian laughed out before waddling out of the room.

“Great! Let’s go see Big Brother again,” Mr. Paint said merrily.

The four of them entered Mr. Huang-Zhong’s Zither Hall once again. Mr. Huang Zhong did not expect their return and had already removed the mask from his head.

“Big Brother, we have finally convinced that Brother Tong. He has agreed to not watch the match,” Mr. Black-White said.

“Good,” Mr. Huang-Zhong replied. Picking up the black cloth mask, he put it back onto his head.

Mr. Paint pulled out a drawer from the wooden cabinet and took out three black cloth masks. He handed one of them to Linghu Chong and said, “This one is mine. You can wear it. Big Brother, I am borrowing your pillowcase.”

He went inside the bedroom and soon returned with a green cloth pillowcase over his head. Two holes had been cut off the pillowcase,

showing his two eyes.

Mr. Huang-Zhong nodded his approval and then said to Linghu

Chong, “When you have the sword context later, both of you will be using wooden swords in case inner strength is used is used and put Brother Feng into disadvantage.”

“That would be great!” Linghu Chong said happily.

“Second Brother, bring two wooden swords,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said to Mr. Black-White, who, in turn, pulled another drawer from the cabinet

and took out two wooden swords. “Brother Feng, regardless of who wins this contest, will you please not mention a word to anyone else?” Mr. Huang-Zhong said to Linghu

Chong.

“That’s of course! I’ve said before that I didn’t come to the Plum

Manor to make a name for myself. Why would I want to go out and make it widely known? Besides, there’s a high probability that I’ll be losing this match. What’s there to brag about?” Linghu Chong answered.

“Well, that’s not necessarily a sure thing, but I believe Brother Feng is a man of his words and won’t let the word out. Will you please also not mention a word about anything you see afterwards, not even to that Brother Tong? Do you think you can do that?” Mr. Huang-Zhong asked.

“Not even Big Brother Tong? After the sword contest, naturally he would ask me about the entire course. If I keep my mouth completely shut, isn’t it rather harsh for our friendship?” Linghu Chong hesitated.

“That Brother Tong is a worldly-wise man. Once he is made aware that Brother Feng has made a promise to me, he would understand that a true man’s promise is worth one thousand gold and you must make good your promise, then naturally he won’t force you to tell against your will,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said.

“That’s true. I promise you,” Linghu Chong agreed.

Mr. Huang-Zhong cupped his hands together. “Thank you for your understanding, Brother Feng! Let’s go.”

Turning on his heels, Linghu Chong began walking toward the outside. So when Mr. Paint pointed toward the bedroom and said, “This

way,” Linghu Chong was completely taken by surprise. “How come we are going into the bedroom?” he thought, but then he immediately came up

with an answer, “Oh, I see. The person who will have the sword contest

with me is a woman. Maybe she is First Master’s wife or a female relative. That’s why they insisted on not having Big Brother Xiang watching the match by the side. They don’t want her to see my face and don’t want me to see her face, either, all because males and females should be distinguished.

And First Master urged me again and again to not mention a word to

anybody else, not even to Big Brother Xiang. If it weren’t because it had something to do with a female, why would they be so serious?”

Once he figured this part out, all his suspicions suddenly cleared

away, then when he felt the paper ball and the small hard object inside in his palm, he thought inwardly, “It looks as though all Big Brother Xiang’s careful and shrewd arrangement only are for one purpose: to enable him to pay a visit to that woman. Since he couldn’t see her himself, he entrusted me to pass a letter and a keepsake to her. Then there must have been some kind of an obscure affair between them. Even though Big Brother Xiang is my sworn-brother, the four Manor Masters have also been very kind to me. If I pass these along, it would really be unfair to the four Manor Masters.

What should I do?” Then he thought, “Big Brother Xiang and the four

Manor Masters are all people well above their fifties or sixties. That woman must have not been young, either. Even if there was intertwined love relationship involved here, it had to be a past thing many years ago. I

suppose passing this letter along wouldn’t damage the woman’s chastity.”

While he was muttering to himself, the five of them had entered the inner bedroom. The arrangement in the room was very simply, with only a bed and a small table. The gauze bed-curtain hung above the bed appeared antiquated and showed slight yellow. On top of the small table sat a short zither, completely black as though it was made of iron.

“Everything panned out as Big Brother Xiang planned. Alas, his love is so deep, how can I not help him fulfill this wish?” Linghu Chong thought. He always had a carefree disposition and never cared much about the Confucian code of etiquette. At the moment, he vaguely felt as though that woman had turned into his little apprentice sister, Yue Lingshan, who had married her junior apprentice brother Lin Pingzhi, and he was Xiang

Wentian, who was trying every possible way to pay another visit to little apprentice sister after several decades. When a meeting turned out to be impossible, he then tried to pass along a keepsake from the old days to

merely express his feelings and slightly relieve the decades of lovesickness. “Maybe it was also because of this old lover of his, Big Brother

Xiang broke away from the Demon’s Cult and didn’t hesitate to have a complete fall out with the Chief and his fellow members in the cult,” Linghu Chong thought.

Amid his reverie, Mr. Huang-Zhong had already lifted the beddings on the bed, removed the bed board off the bed, exposing an iron plate with a copper ring attached to the top of it. With a tight grip at the copper ring, Mr. Huang-Zhong pulled upward, and a four-foot wide and five-foot long iron board rose up slowly, revealing a large rectangular-shaped opening. The iron plate was at least half-a-foot thick and appeared to be extremely heavy.

After placing the iron plate on the floor, Mr. Huang-Zhong said to Linghu Chong, “This person’s residence is kind of strange. Brother Feng, please follow me.” At those words, he jumped into the opening.

“After you, Young Hero Feng,” Mr. Black-White urged.

Very surprised, Linghu Chong followed suit and also jumped into the opening. What he saw next was an oil lamp hanging from a wall, which illuminated the surroundings indistinctly. Where he stood now seemed to be the beginning of a tunnel. Following behind Mr. Huang-Zhong he walked forward, and soon Mr. Black-White and the rest of the people also jumped down one after another. About twenty feet following the passageway, the tunnel seemed to have come to an end. Mr. Huang-Zhong took out a string of keys from his chest pocket and inserted one of them into a keyhole. Turning the key

several times, he pushed forward; amid a series of scrunches, a stone gate slowly opened up.

Linghu Chong found himself more and more astounded, and at the meantime, felt more and more sympathy toward Xiang Wentian. “They have locked the woman up in a dungeon, then of course she was imprisoned against her will. These four Manor Masters all appeared to be man of kindheartedness and justice; how could they have committed such a

contemptible deed?” he pondered.

He followed Mr. Huang-Zhong and entered the stone gate. The tunnel began to descend as the passageway extended in front them. After several hundred feet, another gate appeared in front of them, this time, an iron-gate. Taking the string of keys out once again, Mr. Hung-Zhong opened the iron- gate.

The tunnel kept descending deeper and deeper under the ground. By then they were probably over one thousand feet below the surface. The tunnel made a few turns when another gate met Linghu Chong’s eyes.

“I had thought that since the four Manor Masters are adept at music, gamesmanship, calligraphy, and painting, the ‘Four Arts’, they must have been persons of lofty virtues and poetic temperament. Who would have thought that they would set up private prisons and imprison a woman in

such a hellhole that’s completely void of daylight and sunshine?” Linghu Chong felt resentment brewing inside his chest.

When he first entered the tunnel, he had no intention to watch out for the four Manor Masters, but at the moment he simply couldn’t help feeling his vigilance growing considerably. “They couldn’t defeat me in sword tests. Could it be possible that they have lured me down here so they could imprison me here? There are gates after gates inside the tunnel, no one

would be able to escape even if he was furnished with wings.” That thought almost made him shudder. But with Mr. Huang-Zhong in front of him, Mr.

Black-White, Mr. Bald-Brush, and Mr. Paint behind, and not a single weapon in his hands, he found himself quite helpless.

The third gateway actually consisted of four separate doors. Behind the iron door was a wooden door covered with cotton wadding nailed onto the door plank. Behind the wooden door stood another iron door, behind which was another wooden door covered with cotton waddling.

“Why have they placed two wooden doors covered with cotton

wadding in between the two iron doors?” Linghu Chong wondered. “I got it. I suppose the prisoner has very formidable inner strength. The cotton

wadding was used to absorb the fierce power from her palm and prevent her from breaking down the iron doors.”

For the next one hundred feet or so, there were no more gates along the way. The oil lamps hung from the tunnel wall stood further and further from each other. In some sections of the tunnel, the oil lamps had long

extinguished, leaving only complete darkness, and the pack had to feel their way forward for dozens of feet before seeing the next light.

The further they went, the harder it was to breathe, Linghu Chong found. Moreover, the tunnel wall and the tunnel floor had turned awfully damp. Suddenly, a thought came to his attention, “The Plum Manor sits on the bank of the West Lake. After walking for so long, we are probably deep underneath the West Lake by now. This person is locked up underneath the West Lake, not only is it impossible for her to escape by herself, it is also impossible for others to rescue her, because as soon as they dig open the tunnel wall, water from the lake would have poured in from above.” After another thirty or forty feet forward, the tunnel suddenly turned very narrow, and they had to bend their backs to proceed forward. The further they went, the lower they had to bend their backs. Another twenty feet later, Mr. Huang-Zhong finally held his steps and took out his flint to light up the oil lamp on the tunnel wall. Before long another iron-door came into view under the dim light, an iron-door with a square-shaped opening one-foot wide.

“Mr. Ren, Huang-Zhong and his brothers have come to visit you!”

Mr. Huang-Zhong spoke toward the square-shaped opening, loud and clear. “What? How could it be Mr. Ren? Shouldn’t the person locked inside

a female?” Linghu Chong was taken aback. But no response came from the inside.

“Mr. Ren, we are very regretful for not having sent our respects to you often. We have come today to inform you of an important matter,” Mr. Huang-Zhong spoke again.

Suddenly a hoarse voice bellowed from inside the cell, “Important matter my ass! If you’ve got horseshit, unload it now! If not, get the hell out of here!”

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. Instantly, all his previous fancy disappeared like mist and smoke. Not only did the voice belong to an old man, the words this man used were also so crude that they had to come from the mouth of a street vulgar.

“Before, we had always thought that when talking about exceptional sword masters of our time, Mr. Ren would undoubtedly be ranked as the number one on the chart. But how wrong we were! Today we had a visitor to the Plum Manor. The four brothers of us certainly were no match for him; even Mr. Ren’s sword art would pale into insignificance by

comparison,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said. “He is using mocking words to goad that man into entering a sword context with me,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

The man burst into loud laughter. “You four sons of bitches couldn’t beat him, so you goaded him into sparring with me and hoped that I would take care of this tough enemy for you, didn’t you, you scumbags? Ha-ha, what wishful thinking! Too bad that I haven’t touched a sword for over ten years and have completely forgotten all my sword skills. Why don’t you just put your tail between your legs and get the hell out of here, you bloody bastards!”

Linghu Chong gasped with astonishment. “This man is so incredibly sharp-witted and could predict with miraculous accuracy. Just from Mr.

Huang-Zhong’s words he had figured everything out,” he thought to himself.

“Big Brother, in no way would Mr. Ren be this person’s rival. This person said that nobody in the Plum Manor could defeat him, and he wasn’t overstating the case. There’s no need to talk further with Mr. Ren,” Mr.

Bald-Brush said.

“Give it up! Provoking me won’t cut it. Did you actually think I would do anything for you four bastards?” the man named Ren snarled.

“This person has truly mastered the sword skills taught by the venerable Grandmaster Feng Qingyang of the Huashan Sword School. Big Brother, I heard that years ago when Mr. Ren roamed the Martial World, he feared neither Heaven nor Earth, except one person – Grandmaster Feng.

Mr. Ren’s nickname was something like ‘Flee at the Sight of the Wind’, and the word ‘wind’ here refers to the venerable Grandmaster Feng Qingyang.88 Is that true?” Mr. Bald-Brush asked.

“What stinking fart! Rubbish!” the man named Ren roared at these words. “Third Brother said it wrong,” Mr. Paint joined in. “Why?” Mr. Bald-Brush asked.

“You got one word wrong,” Mr. Paint elaborated. “Mr. Ren’s nickname is not ‘Flee at the Sight of the Wind’. It is ‘Flee at the Sound of the Wind.’ Now think about it. If Mr. Ren had already had Grandmaster Feng in his sight, the two of them couldn’t have been very far from each other, and how could Grandmaster Feng have allowed him to get away?

Only that as soon as he heard Grandmaster Feng’s name mentioned he starts running right away, restless like a cur stray from his pack….”

“…and hasten like a fish slipping out of the net…,” Mr. Bald-Brush added.

“…is he able to keep his head on his neck all the way till today!” Mr.

Paint completed the sentence.

The man named Ren seemed to be quite amused by these words and laughed out loud. “You four stinking bastards found yourself driven from pillar to post by him, and then thought that you could beg me to take him on. Go jump in the lake. Did you think I am so stupid to fall for your tricks?”

Mr. Huang-Zhong heaved a sigh. “Brother Feng,” he said to Linghu Chong, “this Mr. Ren here is already frightened out of his wits simply at the mentioning of the ‘Feng’ in your name. There’s no need for another sword match. We’ll just admit that you are the number one sword master in the

entire world.”

Although Linghu Chong knew that he had imagined everything wrong when he found out that the person was not a woman, seeing him stuck in the dungeon, and obviously for a very long time, the feeling of

sympathy soared in his heart spontaneously. From the tone of everybody, he deduced that this person had to be a very senior master with extraordinary Kung Fu skills. So when he heard Mr. Huang-Zhong’s words, he objected.

“First Master, it is not true. When Grandmaster Feng discussed sword arts with me, he held this…this venerable Mr. Ren in very high esteem. He said that in regard to sword masters of our time, the revered Mr. Ren was the only person he had admiration for and that if I were lucky to meet this Mr. Ren someday, I must kowtow to him with utter respect and ask for his advice with sincere desire.”

These words sent Mr. Huang-Zhong and his sworn brothers in complete shock while that Mr. Ren found himself on the high ropes.

Laughing loudly, he said, “Little friend, what you said is very correct. Feng Qingyang is no ordinary swordsman. He, and only he, is capable of recognizing the subtlety of my sword arts.”

“Grand…Grandmaster Feng knows that he…he is here?” Mr. Huang- Zhong uttered. His voice quivered and Linghu Chong almost felt he sensed dread in his voice.

“Grandmaster Feng thought that the revered Mr. Ren had retired to a scenery spot in a famous mountain,” Linghu Chong decided to run wild

with his made-up story. “During the time when he trained me in the art of

sword, he had frequently mentioned about the revered Mr. Ren. He said that the only purpose of training in these sword moves was to fight revered Mr. Ren’s students. If revered Mr. Ren never existed, then it would have become completely unnecessary to learn these very complicated sword moves.”

By then he had become very discontented with the four Masters of the Plum Manor, thinking that the man named Ren must have been a champion of the past, and his captivity in the dark and degrading prison must have resulted from some sort of a despicable plot in secret set up by the four Manor Masters, so even his words carried much ridicule and sarcasm.

“Um, that’s right, my little friend! Feng Qingyang really has some good insights. You got the better of these folks in the Plum Manor, didn’t you?” The man named Ren asked.

“Well, since my sword skills were taught my Grandmaster Feng, himself, then unless it was you, Mr. Ren, or unless it was a student of yours, ordinary people of course wouldn’t stand a chance,” Linghu Chong replied.

By saying these words, he had publicly denounced Mr. Huang-Zhong and the bunch. The more he felt how dark, damp, and gloomy the dungeon was, the angrier he was at the four Manor Masters. He had only stayed here for a very short while and was already feeling awfully uncomfortable, but they had locked this senior master in this appalling place, a place

completely unsuitable for human inhabitation, for god knows how many years. That was just atrocious. As the moral indignation grew rapidly inside him, he had no more scruple with the choice of his words, thinking that

even if worst came to worst and they killed him on the spot, he wouldn’t have cared any more.

When Mr. Huang-Zhong and the rest Manor Masters heard these words, they of course felt much snubbed. But they did lose their matches and had nothing to contradict.

“Brother Feng, what are you…?” Mr. Paint muttered, but after Mr.

Black-White gave his sleeve a tug, he held his tongue.

“Very good! Very good! Little friend, you’ve really given me a vent to my anger. Now tell me, how did you beat them?” the man asked.

“The first person from the Plum Manor to have sword match with me was a friend named Ding Jian with a nickname called something like ‘Straight Line Lightning Sword’,” Linghu Chong said. “His sword moves are flash and without substance. He doesn’t have any true skills, and all he does is to try to scare people with his sword

flashes. You don’t have to use any move sparring him. Just place your blade there and he’ll send his fingers, wrists, or arms onto your blade and have them cut off, himself,” the man said.

Feeling utterly astounded, the five listeners cried out in unison. “What? Was I not right?” the man asked.

“You are absolutely right. It’s almost like you have seen it with your own eyes,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Great! Then did he cut off his five fingers or a hand?”

“I turned my sword blade a little bit,” Linghu Chong said.

“Wrong! Wrong! Why be so nice to your enemy? You are too kindhearted and one day you’ll for sure get the worse of it. So who was your second opponent?”

“It was Fourth Master.”

“Um, Fourth’s sword skills of course are better than that ‘Straight Line Fart Sword’, but not by much. After he saw you defeat Ding Jian, I bet that he’d be using that unique stun of his, which he prided himself on. Ah, what was that sword art called? Oh, yeah. It’s called the ‘Splashing Ink Slicing Hemp Sword Art’, with something like ‘White Aurora Shooting the Sun,’ or ‘Mounting Flood-Dragon and the Soaring Phoenix’, or something like ‘Willow Wickers Fluttering in the Spring Breeze’.”

Hearing that the man was able to spell out his prided sword moves with such accuracy, Mr. Paint found himself in an even bigger shock.

“Fourth Master’s sword art was actually quite clever, except that it has too many flaws when he attacks,” Linghu Chong said.

“Ha-ha, Old Feng’s student certainly has a few tricks of the trade. You hit the mark with a single comment and have identified the deadly flaw in this ‘Splashing Ink Splitting Hemp Sword Art’ of his. Within this sword art of his, there’s one move, which he always thought to be the most formidable killer move in the entire sword art, called ‘Jade Dragon Hanging Upside Down’ where he would bring the sword swishing down from above with shear force. If he indeed launched this move against a student of Old Feng, then all the opponent had to do was to slice the long sword upward right next to his sword blade, and all his five fingers would have been sliced off, and the blood from his hand would splash everywhere like splashing ink. It’s called the ‘Splashing Blood Slicing Fingers Sword Art’! Ha-ha!

Ha-ha!”

“Senior Master can predict with miraculous accuracy. I did defeat him on this move exactly as Senior Master has described. But I have no grudges against him; besides, Fourth Master had feasted me with great wines and treated me very kindly. So in regard to the five fingers, there’s no need to

slice them off. Ha-ha! Ha-ha!” Linghu Chong said.

By then, Mr. Paint’s face looked as though someone had painted it

scarlet and violet, and he was well worthy of the name “Mr. Paint”. Except that his head is covered by a pillowcase, so no one could actually see his face.

“Bald-headed Third uses a Judge’s Pen. His handwriting is no better than a three-year-old kid, yet he loves posing as a lover of culture and even claims that his Kung Fu contains conception from famous calligraphers.

Little friend, I am sure you understand that combat with your enemy is an important matter that distinguishes between life and death. Even if one

wrestles with all his strength, he is not guaranteed a triumph, where would he find such leisurely and carefree mood to be particular about the style of the inscription or script? Only when your opponent’s Kung Fu is far inferior to that or yours, you might be able to tease him or play him, but if the two sides’ Kung Fu skills are comparable and you still try to write words with your Judge’s Pen, you are only offering your own life with both hands to the mercy of your enemy.”

“Senior Masters’ words are very precise. The Third Master is a bit too casual when he fights others,” Linghu Chong agreed.

When Mr. Bald-Brush first heard the man’s comments, he was furious. But the more he thought about these words, the more he found them to be in the right. It was a lot of fun when he permeated calligraphy in his Judge Pen moves, but the power from his weapon did decrease dramatically after all. If it weren’t because Linghu Chong held back, even ten Mr. Bald-Brush would have been slain easily. At that thought, he broke into cold sweat.

“To beat Bald-headed Third is as easy as a walkover,” the man said

with a laugh. “His Judge Pen Kung Fu used to be quite worthy, but he is too bigheaded and would rather add some kind of calligraphy in his Kung Fu.

Humph, when elite fighters exchange moves, the outcome is determined from very minor aspects. Treating his own life as a joking matter, it is really a miracle in the Martial World that he was able to stay alive till today. Bald- headed Third, for the last ten years you just holed up and didn’t go around the Martial world, didn’t you?”

Mr. Bald-Brush let out a snort but didn’t answer, when, in fact, a chill just shot down his spine. “He is absolutely right. If I had been wandering in the Martial World in the last ten years, there’s no way I’d still be alive today,” he thought inwardly.

“Second’s Kung Fu with his Magnetic Iron Game Board is genuine talent, though,” the man continued. “Once he starts his attack, each move becomes faster than the previous one, and the attack would swamp his opponent like a gust of blizzard or a sudden downpour. It is indeed not easy to withstand for ordinary martial artists. Little friend, tell me how you broke his attack?”

“Well, I certainly dare not to use the word ‘break’ here. Only that as soon as the fight broke out, I initiated my attack as well as the Second

Master and was able to force him into defense,” Linghu Chong replied. “Excellent! How about the second move?” the man asked.

“With the second move, I used a forestall attack again, and Second Master took a defending stance again.”

“Excellent! Then how about the third move?”

“With the third move I was still attacking and he was still defending.” “Incredible! In the old times, Black-White was indeed awe-inspiring

in the Martial World. By then he used a regular Iron Board, and if anyone could withstand his three consecutive strikes, Black-White would spare his life. Later he changed his weapon to the Magnetic Iron Game Board and gained great advantage in his weapon, consequently, became even more

capable. Little friend, you were actually able to force him into three

consecutive defending moves, that’s excellent! So on the fourth move, how did he counterattack?”

On the fourth move, again, I attacked and Second Master defended.” “Is Old Feng’s sword art really this brilliant? Even though to defeat

Black-White is not difficult, you were actually able to force him into a defending stance again on the fourth move? Hmm, excellent! Excellent! On the fifth move, it must have been him who attacked?”

“On the fifth move, the situation remained the same.”

“Oh!” the man named Ren fell silent. Only after a long pause did he speak again. “After how many of your attacking moves Black-White was able to counterattack?”

“Um…well…I don’t remember how many,” Linghu Chong answered. Mr. Black-White picked it up and said, “Senior Master, Young Hero Feng’s sword skills are so brilliant that from the beginning all the way to the end, I was not able to attack even once. After over forty moves, I knew I was no match for him so I stopped the match and admitted my defeat.”

Only by then did he speak to the man named Ren and the tone of his words was unexpectedly respectful.

“Ah!” the man cried out loudly. “This is ridiculous! Although Feng Qingyang is an exceptional talent in the Sword Branch of the Huashan Sword School, Huashan Sword Branch’s sword art still has its limit. I’d never believe that someone from the Huashan School can attack Black- White with over forty moves and not let him return even a single blow!”

“Revered Mr. Ren is really flattering me, a junior! This Brother Feng here has well surpassed his teacher. The level of his sword skills has far

exceeded the extent of Huashan Sword Branch. When we look around the entire Martial World, only someone like the Revered Mr. Ren, someone to be considered the mightiest fighter of our time, is capable of giving him

some pointers,” Mr. Black-White said.

“Mr. Huang-Zhong, Mr. Bald-Brush, and Mr. Paint all sounded very rude while Mr. Black-White spoke with the utmost esteem. But whether they were provoking words or flattering words, their intention remained the same, that is to let this Mr. Ren have a sword contest with me,” Linghu

Chong thought to himself.

“Humph! Your fawning stinks just the same!” the man reprimanded. “Huang-Zhong’s moves and techniques are only on par with that of Black-

White’s, but his cultivation in inner strength is not bad at all. Little friend, is your inner strength stronger than him, too?”

“I had incurred prior injuries and had lost all my inner strength, that was why First Master’s ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’ had no effect on me at al,” Linghu Chong replied.

The man burst into loud laughter. “That is very interesting. Little friend, I think I’d like to check out your sword art,” he said.

“Senior Master, please don’t fall for their scheme. The Four Playfellows of Jiangnan want to goad you into having the sword match. But they actually have ulterior motives,” Linghu Chong urged.

“What ulterior motives?” the man asked.

“They made a wager with a friend of mine that if any one in the Plum Manor can defeat my sword art, then that friend of mine would have to lose a few things to them,” Linghu Chong explained.

“Lose a few things? Um, I suppose they must be rare music scores, game manuals, or probably authentic calligraphy books or paintings from ancient times,” the man said.

“Senior Master can foresee with divine accuracy!” Linghu Chong

said.

“I only want to see your sword art; we are not having a real fight.

Besides, who said I’d be able to beat you for sure?”

“It’s practically certain that Senior Master would prevail over me. But we must ask the four Manor Masters to give their words on one condition,” Linghu Chong said.

“What condition?” the man asked.

“If Senior Masters defeats the long sword in my hand and win those several treasures for them, the four Manor Masters must open the cell door and let Senior Master leave this place,” Linghu Chong explained.

“Little friend has a very fantastic idea. Did Feng Qingyang teach you that?” the man grinned.

“Venerable Grandmaster Feng has no idea that Senior Master is imprisoned here. And I had absolutely no clue about it as well,” Linghu Chong said.

“Young Hero Feng,” Mr. Black-White suddenly called out. “What is the name of this Revered Mr. Ren? What nickname has he gained from fellow martial masters in the Martial World? Which school was he the Head Master of? Why is he locked up here? Did the Venerable Grandmaster Feng tell you anything about it?”

Facing these four sudden questions from Mr. Black-White, Linghu

Chong found himself tongue-tied. Before when Linghu Chong had attacked forty or so moves in quick successions, Mr. Black-White had been able to ward them of with forty or so defending moves. But now when Mr. Black- White suddenly asked him four questions in quick successions as though he was attacking with four moves, Linghu Chong couldn’t even fend off any one of them. After some indistinct falters, he said, “Well, I haven’t heard

any of those from Grandmaster Feng. I…I really don’t know the answers to those.”

“Right! I bet you don’t have a clue,” Mr. Paint joined in. “If you had known the cause here, you wouldn’t have wanted us to release him. If this man gets to leave this place, then the entire Martial World would have been turned upside down. Countless of people would die under his hands and there will never be another peaceful day in the entire Martial World.”

“That’s correct!” the man guffawed. “No matter how daring the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan are, they’d never have the guts to let me out of the prison cell. Besides, they are only following orders to watch over this place, nothing more than four puny prison guards. How could they have the

authority to release me? Little friend, this request of yours has really elevated their status too much!”

Linghu Chong kept his silence, thinking, “I had the least bit of idea

about any of these implications. No wonder only a few sentence into it, I’ve already given myself away.”

“Brother Feng,” Mr. Huang-Zhong said, “when you saw how gloomy and damp the dungeon is, naturally you sympathized with this Mr. Ren, therefore, felt resentment toward us four brothers. That only shows the

errantry in your heart, and I don’t blame you. But did you know that if this Mr. Ren returned to the Martial World, just in your Huashan School, at least half of your people would have been wiped out. Mr. Ren, am I correct on that?”

“You are correct! Is Huashan School’s Head Master still Yue Buqun? He is a complete hypocrite. Too bad at first I was too busy, and then fell for a secret plot afterwards, otherwise, I would have tore his hypocritical mask off a long time again,” the man scoffed.

Linghu Chong felt big shock in his heart. Though his Master expelled him from the Huashan School and also proclaimed to the entire world, making him the public enemy of all orthodox schools in the Martial World, he always recalled with emotion the kindness his Master and Master-Wife had shown him bringing him up and treating him like their own son. When he heard the man named Ren fouled and insulted his Master, he couldn’t help but roar, “Shut up! My Mas….” But he immediately swallowed the rest of the word down, remembering that when Xiang Wentian brought him to the Plum Manor, he had been introduced as the Uncle-Master of his

Master. Before knowing whether these people were good or evil, it would have been unwise to reveal the truth.

The man named Ren, of course, did not know the true meaning behind Linghu Chong’s roar. While laughing loudly, he continued, “Within the Huashan School, there are of course people I think much of. Reverend Feng is one; you, little friend, is another. And there is another junior of yours called something like ‘Jade Maiden of Huashan’ Ning…Ning something. Oh, I got it. Her name is Ning Zhongze. That little girl is

actually straightforward and heroic. She is a talent. What a pity it is that she had to marry that Yue Buqun like a beautiful flower stuck on a pile of cow dung.”

Linghu Chong didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry when he heard the man referring to his Master-Wife as a “little girl,” so he didn’t respond. At least he had favorable comment for Master-Wife and called her a talent.

“Little friend, what’s your name?” the man asked.

“My surname is Feng, and my first name is Er-Zhong,” Linghu Chong replied.

“Anyone with the surname Feng in the Huashan School can’t be bad. Come in here. Let me check out Reverent Feng’s sword art,” the man said.

He had been referring to Feng Qingyang as “Old Feng” at first, but then

changed it to “Reverent Feng” later. He must have been quite pleased with the way Linghu Chong talked and turned courteous toward Feng Qingyang in his words.

Linghu Chong’s curiosity had been growing constantly for a good

while and was very eager to meet this man, to take a look at how he looked and to find out how great his Kung Fu was.

“My shallow sword art is only good for bluffing some people on the outside. But in front of Senior Master, it is nothing more than a laughing matter. But the Revered Mr. Ren is a man with exceptional abilities. Since I am already here, how can I not pay a visit?” he said respectfully.

Mr. Paint moved closer and then whispered to his ears, “Brother Feng, this man’s Kung Fu is very bizarre, and the methods he employs are also very sinister. Be very careful. If anything doesn’t feel right for you,

come back out immediately.” His voice was very low, but the caring and concern obviously came from complete sincerity. “Fourth Master is treating me like a true friend!” Linghu Chong thought inwardly. “I ridiculed him with my words just a moment ago. Not only didn’t he bear grudges at all, on the contrary, he sincerely cared for my safety.” At that thought, secretly, he couldn’t help but feel ashamed.

“Come in! Come in! What are they talking about on the outside, talking so furtively? Little friend, the Four Clowns of the Jiangnan are no good apples. All they want is to have you fall for their trick. Nothing good will come out of their mouths. Don’t trust a word from them,” the man said loudly.

Linghu Chong found himself wavering, not sure which side he should trust and which side he should help. Mr. Huang-Zhong took out another key from his chest pocket and then turned it several times after inserting it into the keyhole on the iron-door. Linghu Chong had thought that after he unlocked the door, he would go ahead and push the iron-door open, but quite to his surprise, Mr. Huang-Zhong stepped back and Mr. Black-White stepped forward, who also took out a key from his own chest pocket, inserted the key into the keyhole, and then turned a few times. After him, Mr. Bald-Brush and Mr. Paint each took out his key and turned the key in the keyhole respectively.

Linghu Chong suddenly realized, “This Senior Master’s status must have been very prestigious. The four Manor Masters each is holding a

separate key and it takes all four keys combined to be able to open the iron- door. The Four Playfellows of Jiangnan are as intimate as real brothers, and the four of them are almost like one unity. How come they don’t even trust each other?” Then he thought, “A moment ago, that Senior Master said that the Four Playfellows of Jiangnan are only acting under orders like prison guards. They have no authority to release him at all. Maybe it was the same person who appointed them the guard duty who ordered them to each holds a separate key. The turning sounds of the keys were strident and unsmooth, obviously the lock was covered with rust and it has been a long time since the iron-door was last opened.”

After Mr. Paint turned his key in the keyhole, he grasped onto the door handle, shook it a few times, and then pushed hard. Amid the loud

scrunching sounds, the iron-door opened for a few inches inward. As soon as the door opened, Mr. Paint leapt backward. Mr. Huang-Zhong and the other two Manor Masters also leapt back many feet. Instinctively, Linghu Chong also took a few steps back.

“Little friend, they are afraid of me, but why would you be?” the man laughed loudly.

“Right!” Linghu Chong answered and then stepped forward.

Reaching his hand out, he pushed on the iron-door. The hinges on the door were so rusted that he pushed very hard and only was able to open the door two feet wide. Immediately, a strong stale smell filled his nostrils.

Mr. Paint stepped forward and then handed him two wooden swords. Linghu Chong took the wooden swords and held them tightly with his left hand.

“Brother Feng, take an oil lamp with you,” Mr. Bald-Brush suggested, taking an oil lamp off the wall.

Linghu Chong took the oil lamp with his right hand and then entered the room. The prison cell was about ten-foot long and ten foot wide. A narrow and long bed lay next to a wall, on which sat a man. Long whiskers and mast aches covered the man’s face, making it impossible to see his look. The long beard under his chin almost reached his waist. But his hair, beard, and eyebrows were jet black without even a grain of grey.

“It is so fortunate of me to be able to meet the Senior Master Ren today. I hope I’ll be getting many good advice from you,” Linghu Chong bowed.

“Don’t be modest. I’ll have to thank you for coming here to dispel my loneliness,” the man grinned.

“You flatter me. Should I put the oil lamp on the bed?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Fine!” the man answered but didn’t reach out to get the lamp.

“This prison cell is too small to have a sword fight here?” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

He walked next to the bed and set the oil lamp down. Expediently, he gently tucked the paper ball and the hard object inside into the man’s palm. The man was slightly taken aback but still took the paper ball as he asked in a loud voice, “Hey, you four chaps! Are you coming in to watch?”

“The space is too limited. There’s no room,” Mr. Huang-Zhong replied.

“Suit yourself! Little friend, shut the door,” ” the man said. “Yes,” Linghu Chong answered and then shut the cell door.

The man stood up and immediately a series of slight clanking sounds clanged from around his body as though many thin steel chains were

clanking against each other. Reaching out with his right hand, he took a wooden sword from Linghu Chong and heaved a long sigh.

“I have not touched a weapon for over ten years. I wonder if I still remember the sword arts I learned many years back.”

Linghu Chong noticed a steel circle around his wrist, and a steel chain attached to it connected all the way to the wall behind him. Another glance quickly confirmed that there were also steel chains shackling the man’s other hand and both of his ankles to the wall behind him. Then the four

walls grabbed his attention. Under the dim light from the oil lamp, they

shined in dark green – turned out the four walls were all made of pure steel. He figured that the chains and shackles on the man’s wrists and ankles must have been made of pure steel, or else, chains this thin wouldn’t have been

able to restrain a top notch Kung Fu master like him.

The man gave the wood sword a swing. The swing came from above to below and the sword merely moved about two feet in the air, but

suddenly loud buzzes echoed in the small room.

“Senior Master, what incredible strength!” Linghu Chong praised.

The man turned around, and Linghu Chong could vaguely see that he opened the paper ball, saw the hard object wrapped inside, and began reading the writings on the paper. Taking a step backward, Linghu Chong intentionally blocked the square hole on the iron-door with his head, so no one from the outside could see what the man was doing. The man’s body trembled slightly as though the writings on the paper had greatly agitated him, and the steel chains clanged again and again. But only moments later, he had already turned around, and sharp stares shot out of his eyes.

“Little friend, although my hands cannot move freely, it is not necessarily true that I cannot win over you!”

“As a young and green junior, I, of course, is no rival for Senior Master,” Linghu Chong said.

“You attacked Black-White over forty moves in succession and didn’t give him any chance to launch his counterattack. You want to give me try?” the man demanded.

“Please forgive my audacity!” Linghu Chong replied and then thrust his sword at that man. The move he used was none other than the exact

same first move he had used in the match against Mr. Black-White.

“Excellent!” the man commended and thrust his wooden sword at Linghu Chong’s left chest at an angle. It was a defending move that carried strong offence, and an offence move backed by strong defense at the same time, a swift and fierce sword move indeed.

Mr. Black-White watched the fight through the square shaped hole on the iron-door. As soon as he saw this move, he couldn’t help but shout,

“Brilliant move!”

“Today is you four chaps’ lucky day. I am going to really widen your view now,” the man chortled.

By then, Linghu Chong’s second sword attack had arrived. The man swung his wooden sword outward and pointed it at Linghu Chong’s right shoulder, another smart move that had both strong defense and strong offense. Linghu Chong’s heart thumped. It felt as though there was not a

single flaw in the man’s move that he could explorer to thrust forward and attack the opponent’s vital points. Having no alternative, he leveled his own

sword in a block, tilting his sword tip, implying a possible attack toward the opponent’s lower stomach, a defending move that also carried much offense.

“Very clever move!” the man smiled, retracting his sword and swept it to the side.

The two of them went back and forth, and within just a few moments had already exchanged twenty moves or so. But during the entire course, the two wooden swords never even touched each other. The man’s sword moves had such complicated variations and movements; ever since Linghu Chong had learned the “Dugu Nine Swords,” he had never run into an opponent so formidable and powerful. It wasn’t that his opponent’s sword moves were void of flaws, but because the moves fluctuated so unpredictably he simply couldn’t attack the flaw or crack within. But he

sincerely followed the gist in Feng Qingyang’s teaching, which was to

“conquer a move with no move,” and shifted his moves at will. Although the “Sword-Breaking Stance” was only one stance in the “Dugu Nine Swords,” it was a combination of the essentials in all the sword arts of various schools and factions in the world. So even though it was “no move,” when in fact it built its foundation on all the moves in all sword arts.

The man also noticed that Linghu Chong’s new sword moves

emerged one after another, and every change seemed completed new to him. Relying on his abundant experience and profound Kung Fu skills, he was able to resolve them one after another, but after over forty moves, he

could already feel a slight sluggishness in his sword movement. Slowly, he attached more and more inner strength onto his wooden sword, and every swing of his sword seemed to have created vague echoes of gust and thunder.

But no matter how resourceful the opponent’s inner strength was, when those moves met the profound and subtle sword techniques of the “Dugu Nine Swords,” they all came to nothing. Only that the man’s outstanding prowess in inner strength and his superb ingeniousness in

sword techniques had become simply inseparable from each other. Several times the man had already forced Linghu Chong into extremities, where Linghu Chong should have had no choice but to throw down his sword and submit, but Linghu Chong would always be able to suddenly come up with some bizarre moves, which not only rescue himself out of the dead-end position, but also enable him to use the opportunity to launch his

counterblow. The brilliance of these moves was simply unimaginably queer.

Mr. Huang-Zhong and the rest three Manor Masters crowded over the iron door and watched through the square-shaped hole. The hole was so

small that there was only space for two persons to watch at the same time,

and even with the two persons watching, one had to watch only with his left eye while the other one watched only with his right eye. So two of them would watch for a while before moving aside to let the other two watch for the next while.

At the beginning, the four of them gasped in admiration when they watched the marvelous sword moves exchanged between the man and Linghu Chong, but soon afterwards, they could no long understand the brilliance in the two’s sword moves. Sometimes after Mr. Huang-Zhong

saw a move, he had to ponder upon the subtlety within the move with all his might. Only after a long contemplation was he able to comprehend. But by then, the two men inside had already exchanged another dozen moves, and he pretty much had been turning a blind eye on how those next dozen moves had panned out. After he finally got over the initial amazement, he

couldn’t help but wonder.

“It turned out that Brother Feng’s sword skills have reached such an extreme. When he fought me earlier, he probably only utilized thirty or

forty percent of his true skills. I had thought that my ‘Seven-String Invisible Sword’ from my zither failed to subdue him only because he had no inner

strength. But even if he does have resourceful of inner strength, my

“Invisible Sword” wouldn’t have had any impact just the same. All he had to do was to launch three quick attacking moves, and I would have no

choice but to drop my zither and admit defeat. If it had been a fight for

survival, he could have easily blinded my eyes with the jade flute in his first move.”

Mr. Huang-Zhong, of course, had no idea that he had really overrated Linghu Chong’s sword skills. The “Dugu Nine Swords” was a Kung Fu that turned more powerful when the opponent was stronger. If the opponent

were not adequate, then the brilliant techniques in the “Dugu Nine Swords” would not have been applicable. The man Linghu Chong was fighting today was a world-shaking figure in the entire Martial World. The aptitude of his Kung Fu had reached a level that’s well out of people’s imagination. Only with the stimulation from his extraordinary Kung Fu, were the many profound and subtle aspects of the “Dugu Nine Swords” able to make the most revealing performance. Even if Dugu Seeking-A-Loss could come back to life, or if Feng Qingyang had come himself, they would have found great joy fighting such a capable opponent. To successfully use the “Dugu Nine Swords” relied on not only a very good understanding of the sword techniques and variations, but also the intelligence of the practitioner, where the second part played even a bigger part. Once the practitioner had reached a stage where he could extend at will with no restraints and no boundaries, then the more intelligent the practitioner was, the more brilliant the sword

art would become, and to him, each sword contest would have been like a poet composing a wonderful poem after following his greatest inspirations.

After another forty moves or so, Linghu Chong found himself fighting with greater and greater facility. Many of the clever knacks he used were ones that even Fang Qingyang had never mentioned before. On

encountering the brilliant sword moves from his opponent, the “Dugu Nine Swords” spontaneously originated corresponding moves to counter. At the moment fear had been completely cleared off his mind, or in another word, he had been concentrating wholeheartedly in the art of sword, having no leisure for any feeling of fear or delight on his mind. That man changed into eight different styles of advanced sword arts in succession, some uninterrupted and unbroken, some delicate and swift, some others firm and forceful, but regardless of how he changed his moves, Linghu Chong was

able to handle the with ease, as though these eight sword arts were ones he had been trained to spar against ever since he was young.

The man suddenly swung his sword in a block and yelled out loud, “Little friend, who on earth taught you your sword art? I don’t think Reverend Feng has that capability.”

Linghu Chong was slightly surprised. “If this weren’t taught by Reverend Feng, who else could have it been?” he uttered.

“That is true! Why don’t you try this sword form of mine?” the man demanded.

He let out a long howl and suddenly brought his wooden sword

swishing down from above. Linghu Chong thrust out in a tilted angle and forced him to withdraw his attack to block. The man roared again and again as though he had gone completely mad. The more pressing his roars were, the faster his attacks became. Linghu Chong didn’t find anything peculiar

about this sword form, but each of the thundering roars made his ears buzz uncomfortably and made him feel annoyed and perplexed. He tried to hold his calm with difficulty and continued breaking the opponent’s attacks, but suddenly, the man let out an earth-shattering and heaven-battering howl.

Linghu Chong felt a loud ring in his ear as though his eardrums had been shattered by the thunderous shock. A strong dizziness quickly consumed him and before he knew it, he had collapsed to the floor and lost his

consciousness.

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