Smiling Proud Wanderer Chapter 6-10

Chapter 6: Hand-Washing

With a bright smile on his face, Liu Zhengfeng rolled up his sleeves and got ready to put his hands into the golden basin, when suddenly someone shouted sharply outside, “Stop!”

After Yue Buqun took Lin Pingzhi as his new apprentice, the Huashan group, led by Yue Buqun, arrived at the Liu House. When Liu Zhengfeng heard the news from his servants, he was overwhelmed by both surprise and joy – even the world renowned “Gentleman Sword” in the Martial World,

Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, came himself. Wasting no time, he rushed to the door to greet, expressing his gratitude again and again. Yue Buqun appeared to be very polite and modest. After congratulating Liu Zhengfeng with a big smile, he entered the gate with Liu Zhengfeng

abreast. Priest Tian-Men, Sister Dingyi, Yu Canghai, Mr. Wen, and He Sanqi all greeted at the door of the hall.

Yu Canghai had his own interpretation. He thought to himself, “Liu Zhengfeng certainly does not have the kind of fame that will get the Head Master of Huashan Sword School to come himself. Yue Buqun must have

come for me. Humph! The Five Mountains Sword Alliance does outnumber me here, but my Qingcheng Sword School is not easy to be trifled with

either. If Yue Buqun starts to criticize me, I’ll cut him off and question him about Linghu Chong sleeping with prostitutes. When it comes down to blows, we’ll just have to fight it out.” But when Yue Buqun saw him, Yue just bowed down like how he did to all the others and greeted.

“Master Yu, long time no see. You are even in better shape now.” “Mr. Yue, how are you?” Yu Canghai bowed back.

After the masters exchanged some short chats, more guests showed up at the gate. This was the day set for Liu Zhengfeng’s “Gold Basin Hand Washing” ceremony. At one hour before noon, Liu Zhengfeng went back to the inner rooms to prepare himself for the ceremony, while his apprentices took over the tasks of catering the guests. Close to noon, over five hundred more guests from distant locations flooded in. Among the guests, there was Vice-Chief of the Beggars Clan – Zhang Jin’ao, Master Xia of Zhengzhou Six Harmonies Style Studio together with his three sons-in-law, Granny Tie from the Holy Maiden Peak of the Three-Gorges, Chief of the Sea-Sand Clan from the East Sea – Pang Roar, the Dual of the River Qu – Magic Blade, Bai Ke, and Magic Brush, Lu Xisi. Some of them had known each other before, and some had only heard about each other’s names, never having the chance to meet. The Big Hall soon was filled with greetings and chats, almost sounding like a big marketplace.

Priest Tian-Men and Sister Dingyi stayed inside their rooms to rest, not bothering going out to greet the crowd. They both thought, “Among the guests here today, some have good reputations in the Martial World, but

some others are obviously people with doubtful characters. Liu Zhengfeng is a Master of the Hengshan Sword School. Why doesn’t he conduct himself with dignity, instead, associating himself with all kinds of people indiscriminately? Wouldn’t that lower the reputation of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance?” Yue Buqun, on the other hand, was very fond of making friends. Even when many nobodies or even people with not-so-good reputations came by to chat with him, he always chatted and joked with them without any arrogant posture as the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School – a famous one in the Martial World.

Meanwhile, directed by apprentices of the Liu House, the servants had set up over two hundred banquet tables inside and outside the Big Hall. Liu Zhengfeng’s relatives, subordinates, bookkeepers, and apprentices including Xiang Danian and Mi Weiyi started seating the guests. Based on the fame and seniority in the Martial World, Priest Tian-Men, the Head

Master of the Taishan Sword School, should be seated at the head of the table, but since the five Sword Schools were all part of the Sword Alliance, Priest Tian-Men, Yue Buqun, and Sister Dingyi were all half-hosts as well, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to be seated in the seats of honor.

Other senior masters all yielded to each other; no one wanted to sit at the head of the table.

Suddenly two shots of blunderbuss came from outside the gate, then strains of music accompanied by drumbeats followed, together with sound

of gongs clearing the way.44 Apparently, some kind of a government official

had just arrived at the gate. While the guests were still in surprise, Liu Zhengfeng rushed out in his brand new silk robe from the inner room. All the guests started congratulating and cheering for him, but Liu Zhengfeng only put out a brief salute, and walked straight out. A few moments later, he walked back in accompanying a government official in government uniform respectfully.

All the guests were stunned. “Is that official a first-class master in the Martial World?” Although his uniform looked very impressive, his sleepy

eyes and unhealthy complexion all indicated that he did not have any martial arts skills. Yue Buqun and the bunch all thought, “Liu Zhengfeng is a very wealthy man in the town of Hengshan, of course he would be making friends with the local government officials. Since today is the day of great rejoicing for Liu Zhengfeng, it would be no surprise for a local official to

come by and congratulate out of perfunctory.”

The official walked straight into the hall and stopped in the middle. A subordinate of his knelt down on his right leg and raised the tray in his hands high above his head. The tray was covered by a piece of yellow satin with a scroll in the middle. The official bent slightly to pick up the scroll

and shouted loudly, “The Imperial Decree is here! Liu Zhengfeng, greet the Imperial Decree!” All the guests were astonished! “Liu Zhengfeng’s hand-washing and giving up using his sword were purely events only related to the Martial World. What has that got to do with the imperial government? Why did the emperor send an Imperial Decree? Could Liu Zhengfeng have plotted

against the imperial government and was found guilty? That would be a crime punishable by beheading everyone in the whole family.” Soon,

everyone had reached the same conclusion and stood up. Some impatient ones had already grabbed their weapons. Everyone thought that since this official was announcing the Imperial Decree, then soldiers must have

surrounded Liu House in all directions, and a big fight had become inevitable. As friends of Liu Zhengfeng, no one would be standing by unconcerned. In addition, when a nest got demolished, no eggs would

escape unbroken; by coming to the event at Liu House, one had already become accessory of the rebels. It was already too late to stay aloof from the affair anyway. Everyone waited for Liu Zhengfeng’s signal. As soon as he started yelling, all the blades in the Big Hall would chop the official into ten thousand pieces in no time. But Liu Zhengfeng appeared to be very

calm and relaxed. He knelt down in front of the official, and after three kowtows, he said loudly, “Liu Zhengfeng greets the Imperial Decree.

Thanks to his great Majesty!” All guests were stunned.

The official opened the scroll and started reading. “His great Majesty said: According to the report from Governor of Hunan Province, civilian Liu Zhengfeng of Hengshan County, who is zealous for the common weal and possesses good skills in horse-riding and archery, is worth of government services. Now you will be promoted to the rank of a Sergeant. From now on, you will render your service to the Imperial Court with no reservation to repay the Majesty’s kindness. His Majesty!” “Liu Zhengfeng thanks for his Majesty’s great kindness. Thanks to his great Majesty!” Liu Zhengfeng answered while kowtowing several more times. He stood up and then bowed to the official. “Many thanks for the patronization from your Excellency Zhang!” Liu Zhengfeng exclaimed.

“Congratulations! Congratulations! Sergeant Liu, we are both serving for his Majesty now. You are being too modest!” The official stroked his goatee with a smile.

“I am just a reckless man of the bush,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “Today I am being promoted by the Imperial Court, of course that attributes to the great kindness of his Majesty, bringing honors to all my ancestors, but that also attributes to the outreaching patronization of the Governor’s Excellency and your Excellency Zhang.”

“Not really. Not really,” the official said with a smile.

“Brother Fang, where are the gifts for his Excellency Zhang?” Liu Zhengfeng turned to Fang Qianju.

“They are all here.” Fang Qianju turned around and took out a round tray. A brocade wrapped package lay in the middle of the tray.

Liu Zhengfeng took the tray with both of his hands. “Here are some small gifts, just to show a small portion of our respect. Please accept them, your Excellency!” he said with a big smile.

“We are all brothers, there’s really no need for gifts.” The Zhang- named official grinned while tipping his subordinate a wink. The

subordinate by his side immediately stepped forward and took the tray. As soon as the tray was handed over, his arms lowered. Obviously the package in the tray was something heavy. It had to be gold, not silver.

Beaming with joy, the Zhang-named official excused himself, “Bro, I still have government duties to take care of. I really shouldn’t stay any longer. Come, let’s fill three cups of wine and congratulate Sergeant Liu’s promotion today. Wish him more promotions in the near future, and enjoy his Majesty’s kindness once more.” The servants had already prepared the wine. The Zhang-named official drank all three cups of wine swiftly, and then cupped his palms for a salute and walked out of the gate. Liu Zhengfeng walked him all the way out with heaps of smiles on his face.

Gong sounds rose again, and shots of blunderbuss were set of by Liu House again to see the official off.

This scene was really not expected by any of the guests. They all just stared at each other, not knowing what to say. Everyone’s face was covered by embarrassment and surprise.

Although the guests that came to Liu House were neither from the dark side of the Martial World, nor rebellions, they all had some fame in the Martial World and considered themselves the type with exceptional abilities that would looked down upon local governments. When they saw how Liu Zhengfeng curried favor with the powerful, and acted so nauseatingly just for the promotion to Sergeant such a low rank from the emperor, and even bribed the official in public, some couldn’t help showing disgusts on their faces. Some elder guests all thought, “He probably bought his promotion.

How much gold and silver would he have to spend to get the recommendation from the Governor? Liu Zhengfeng was a man of integrity, why would he let covetousness overcome him and buy a title so unscrupulously?”

Liu Zhengfeng walked back to his guests with a big smile and invited everyone to be seated. Since no one wanted to sit at the head of the table, the armchair in the middle was left empty. Seated at the head seat by the left was Master Xia of Six Harmonies Style Studio, the oldest one among the group, and seated at the head seat by the right was the Vice-Chief of the

Beggars Clan, Zhang Jin’ao. Zhang Jin’ao, himself, did not have any outstanding fame, but since the Beggars Clan is the largest clan in the Martial World, and the Chief of the Beggars Clan, Xie Feng, had

outstanding martial arts skills and fame, so everyone showed their respect.

After everyone was seated, servants brought out various dishes and wines. Mi Weiyi took out a tea table covered by brocade. Xiang Danian held a shinning gold basin in his arms. The basin was already filled with water. Three shots of blunderbuss came from outside, followed by eight loud “bangs” from firecrackers. All the junior apprentices at the Back Hall and the Flower Hall all rushed into the Big Hall to see the fun. Liu Zhengfeng stepped to the middle of the hall with a bright smile and bowed

to all directions with his palms cupped. All the guests stood up to salute him back.

“All the senior heroes, good friends and young friends,” Liu Zhengfeng said in a loud voice, “thank you for coming such a long way. You really have given Liu Zhengfeng great due respect. I truly appreciate that! After today’s Gold Basin Hand Washing, I will no longer be involved in the Martial World. You probably have all seen the reason why. Thanks to the great kindness of the Imperial Court, I have been awarded a small government post. As the saying goes: On his Majesty’s payroll, then show his Majesty your loyalty. In the Martial World, people do things following the code of brotherhood, but to fulfill government duties, one has to follow the laws and regulations of the government to show loyalty to his Majesty.

When there is a conflict between the two, it would put me in a very

awkward position. Starting from now on, Liu Zhengfeng will be quitting the Martial World. If my apprentices want to submit themselves to other

schools or clans, it’s totally up to their own decisions. I invited all you friends here to be my eyewitnesses. Later when you come to the town of Hengshan again, you are still good friends of mine, but regarding the various kinds of dispute and clash in the Martial World, I will have to excuse myself.” He bowed again after the words.

All the guests had expected those words out of him. “He really

wanted to be a government official. That’s his own will, and no one can force him to give that up. He has never offended me; I guess I’ll just pretend there’s no more Liu Sir in the Martial World,” they all thought.

“Such a behavior would really hurt Hengshan Sword School’s fame, no wonder the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo, did not show up. He must be quite mad about it,” some also thought.

“The Five Mountains Sword Alliance has done many chivalrous acts recently, and is well respected by everyone. Now with such a behavior from Liu Zhengfeng, people probably won’t say anything up front, but behind the scenes, there might be all kinds of comments,” some others thought.

There were also people who took pleasure out of the scene, thinking, “And the people of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance still call themselves a chivalrous group? As soon as he has a chance to gain promotion and get rich, he kowtows to an official in such a begging manner. How could that be called chivalrous?”

These thoughts boggled each of the guests’ minds. In the meantime, silence swept the entire Big Hall. Under such circumstance, everyone

should have already congratulated Liu Zhengfeng, and complimented with something like “Retire with happiness and a long life,” “Great courage and great wisdom,” etc. etc., but with over a thousand guests around, none said a word.

Liu Zhengfeng turned to face the outside and said loudly, “Thanks for the respectful Master’s kindness, I, Liu Zhengfeng, was taken as an

apprentice of the Hengshan Sword School, and was taught martial arts

skills. I am very ashamed that I could not expand the fame of the Hengshan Sword School. Luckily, our school still has apprentice brother Mo to manage things. Liu Zhengfeng is just mediocre in the school. The school wouldn’t miss anything without me. Starting from now on, after I wash my hands in the gold basin, I will be focusing on my governmental career. I

will never use the martial arts skills I learned from my Master to work toward my promotion. Regarding disputes and clashes in the Martial World, or arguments between schools and clans, Liu Zhengfeng will never be involved again. If I ever break my promise, I will end up like this sword.”

He turned his right palm over and drew a long sword from under his robe. Bending the sword slightly with his hands, “Crack,” he had broken the blade into two pieces. He simply let the two broken parts fall to the floor,

and the broken blades pinned into the green brick on the floor without any noise.

Seeing the scene, everyone was well shaken. The broken blade had penetrated the brick so quietly; apparently, the sword had an extraordinarily sharp blade. For someone like Liu Zhengfeng, to break a normal steel

sword with one’s hands was nothing extraordinary, but to break such an outstanding sword so effortlessly, the strength required from one’s fingers could only come from someone who had the skills of an elite fighter in the Martial World.

“What a pity!” Mr. Wen gave out a deep sigh. No one was clear if he was feeling sorry because of the loss of such an outstanding sword, or because such a great master as Liu Zhengfeng would willingly barter away his honor for the government’s patronage.

With a bright smile on his face, Liu Zhengfeng rolled up his sleeves and got ready to put his hands into the golden basin, when suddenly

someone shouted sharply outside, “Stop!” Slightly surprised, Liu Zhengfeng looked up and saw four men in yellow robes walking through the gate. After entering the gate, the four split into groups of two and stood still on each side of the path, when a tall man, also in a yellow robe, walked straight in with his head held high and a silk flag in five colors raised high in his hand. The flag was studded with pearls and diamonds, so when the flag flapped, magnificent twinkles flashed.

While in shock, many guests recognized the silk flag: “It’s the Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief’s Command Flag!”

The man walked until he was right in front of Liu Zhengfeng, and then raised the flag high in the air. “Uncle-Master Liu, here’s Five

Mountains Sword Alliance Chief Zuo’s order: Please temporarily postpone the ceremony of Uncle-Master Liu’s ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’,” he

announced.

Liu Zhengfeng bowed to the flag. “May I ask why Alliance Chief would give such an order?” he asked.

“I am just following my orders. I really don’t know the reason behind Alliance Chief’s decision. Will you, Uncle-Master Liu, please pardon me?” the man answered.

“You are being too modest! Nephew apprentice, you must be ‘Ten Thousand Feet Pine’ Nephew Shi, am I right?” he asked. Although he had a smile on his face, his voice had already slightly trembled. Obviously, even as one who had experienced many confrontations, he was greatly shocked because of the sudden change.

The man was none other than the apprentice of the Songshan Sword School, “Ten Thousand Feet Pine” Shi Dengda. Realizing that Liu Zhengfeng knew about his name and nickname, he was immensely proud.

“Apprentice Shi Dengda here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Liu,” he said, bowing slightly. Taking a few steps forward, he also saluted Priest Tian-Men, Yue Buqun, Sister Dingyi, and the bunch. “Apprentice of Songshan Sword School here shows his respect to Uncle-Masters.” The other four men in yellow also bowed to salute.

Sister Dingyi was quite pleased. “It’s great that your Master decided to step in and stop this ceremony,” she said while slightly bowing back.

“All we martial people care about is the virtue of chivalry. I think one should just enjoy the Martial World leisurely and carefree; why bother

becoming a government official? But I knew brother Liu had everything arranged already and would never have listened to the old nun, me, so I simply decided to save my breath.”

Liu Zhengfeng said with a solemn face, “In the old days when our five sword schools formed the alliance, we agreed to help each other when attacking or attacked upon, to uphold justice in the Martial World as a

whole. When there are matters related to the five schools, we should all follow the Alliance Chief’s command. Our five schools made this five-

colored Command Flag together. It is true that when seeing the Command Flag, it’s like seeing the Alliance Chief himself, but today’s ‘Gold Basin

Hand Washing’ ceremony is only my private matter. It is neither against any martial rules, nor related to the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, so I am not restricted by the Alliance Chief’s Command Flag. Nephew Shi, please tell your respectful Master that I will not follow the order and ask for his pardon.” He walked toward the gold basin.

Shi Dengda rushed forward and blocked in front of the gold basin. “Uncle-Master Liu, my Master urged me again and again to ask

Uncle-Master you to temporarily postpone your ‘Gold Basin Hand

Washing’ ceremony. Master said that the Five Mountain Sword Alliance has the same root with different branches; we members are like brothers to each other. By sending out this Command Flag with the order, he was not only taking the inter-school relationship into consideration, but also to uphold the justice in the Martial World, and also for the good of Uncle-

Master Liu,” he exclaimed while raising the silk flag even higher in the air. “I am a bit confused here,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “The invitation for

my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony was sent to Mount Songshan with great manners way ahead of time. A long letter was also sent together to

apprentice brother Zuo explaining everything in detail. If apprentice brother Zuo really had such good intentions, why didn’t he stop me earlier, and

waited till now to stop me with the Command Flag? Obviously he wants me to go back on my words in front of all the heroes in the Martial World, so I would be laughed at by every martial people!”

“Master said that Uncle-Master Liu is a man of iron will in the

Hengshan Sword School, with righteousness as broad as the sky and well respected by all fellow martial people. Master himself well admires you as well, so he exhorted us to never act with impoliteness, or to face strict punishment. Uncle-Master Liu, you have great fame spreading around the Martial World, so there’s really no worry regarding that,” Shi Dengda said.

“Chief Zuo was flattering me. I don’t have such great fame.” Liu Zhengfeng smiled.

Seeing that neither would give in, Sister Dingyi couldn’t help cutting

in.

“Brother Liu, why don’t you just postpone it for a little while?

Everybody here today is a good friend of yours; who would be laughing at you? Even if there are really a few jerks that are bold enough to ridicule you, you don’t have to worry about it, because I won’t let them get off.” She glanced at everyone’s face challengingly to see who was going to be so bold to offend her fellow master in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. Liu Zhengfeng nodded. “Well, since Sister Dingyi also said so, let’s postpone my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony till noon tomorrow. All of my good fiends, please stay one more day in the town of Hengshan, and wait for me to discuss this more with these nephew apprentices of the Songshan Sword School.”

Suddenly, a girl’s shouting voice came from the direction of the inner rooms. “Hey, back off! What are you doing? Who I want to play with is none of your business!”

Stunned, everyone recognized her voice. It was the young girl Qu Feiyan who confronted Yu Canghai the day before.

A man’s voice rose, “Sit down tight and shut up. I will let you go later.”

“Huh, how strange! Is this your home? Why are you blocking sister Liu and I from going to the back garden to catch butterflies?” Qu Feiyan’s voice rose again.

“Fine! If you want to go, go by yourself. Miss Liu has to stay here for a while,” the man answered.

“Sis Liu thinks you are disgusting! Why don’t you just go away and leave us alone? Sister Liu doesn’t even know you,” Qu Feiyan snapped.

Another girl’s voice came, “Sister, let’s go. Don’t pay any attention to him.” 

“Miss Liu, please stay here for a while,” the man ordered.

Liu Zhengfeng’s anger started growing. “Which jerk is being bold enough to cause trouble in my house and tease my Jing’er?” he thought.

Second senior apprentice of Liu House, Mi Weiyi, rushed into the inner rooms toward the direction of the voices and saw his apprentice sister, hand in hand with Qu Feiyan, standing in the courtyard, while a young man in a yellow robe extended his arms and blocked their way. From the robe the young man was wearing, Mi Weiyi recognized him as an apprentice of the Songshan Sword School. With anger, he faked a cough and said loudly, “Are you an apprentice brother of the Songshan Sword School? Why didn’t you take a seat in the Big Hall?”

“No need for that. I am following Alliance Chief’s order to keep an

eye on Liu’s family members, and not to let anyone get away,” the man said arrogantly. His voice was not loud, but it had a clear tone of haughtiness.

From his words, all the guests were stunned.

Liu Zhengfeng’s anger exploded. “What’s all this about?” he questioned Shi Dengda.

“Apprentice brother Wan, you can come out now. Watch your words; Uncle-Master Liu has already agreed to stop the Hand Washing ceremony,” Shi Dengda urged.

“Yes. That would be the best,” the man in the inner room answered. He entered the Big Hall from the inner room and bowed to Liu Zhengfeng. “Songshan apprentice Wan Daping here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Liu.”

Liu Zhengfeng’s body trembled from of anger. “How many Songshan apprentices are here today? Why don’t you all show yourselves now?” he yelled.

Right after his last word, voices of dozens of people suddenly

answered in unison from above the roof, outside of the gate, around the corner of the hallway, in the backyard, and all other directions, “Sure.

Songshan apprentices show their respect to Uncle-Master Liu.” The

shouting of dozens of voices came at the exact same moment, loudly and unexpectedly. That really caught all the guests in the Big Hall completely off guards. The dozen people standing on the roof were all in yellow robes, but the others in the Big Hall each dressed differently, and obviously had sneaked into the Big Hall a while back to keep watch on Liu Zhengfeng in secret. They mixed themselves in the over one thousand guests, and no one had suspected them at all.

Sister Dingyi was the first one to lose her calmness. “What…what’s this about? This is too much!” she called out.

“Please excuse us, Uncle-Master Dingyi,” Shi Dengda explained.

“Our Master gave the specific order that we should stop Uncle-Master Liu’s hand washing ceremony at all costs. We were afraid that Uncle-Master Liu wouldn’t follow the order, so had to give offense. Please pardon us.”

Right at that moment, over a dozen people walked out from the inner rooms. They were Liu Zhengfeng’s wife, his two young children, and seven apprentices of the Liu House, each with a Songshan apprentice behind holding a dagger against each one’s back.

“Dear friends,” Liu Zhengfeng said loudly, “Liu Zhengfeng is not someone who would cling obstinately to his course, but today with such

intimidation from apprentice brother Zuo, if I have to bend my will because of force, my reputation will be ruined, then why should I even live?

Apprentice brother Zuo will not allow me to have my Gold Basin Hand Washing; humph, my head can be cut off, but my will can not be bent.” He took a step forward and reached for the gold basin.

“Hold it!” Shi Dengda yelled out. He waved the Command Flag and blocked the way.

Reaching his left hand out, Liu Zhengfeng poked at Shi’s eyes. She Dengda raised both of his arms to block when Liu Zhengfeng abruptly pulled his left hand back and poked with his right hand. With no other options, Shi Dengda had to take a step back.

After forcing Shi Dengda back, Liu Zhengfeng reached for the gold basin again, when he heard some kind of swooshing sounds from behind his back – and two people had jumped on him. Without turning around, Liu Zhengfeng threw a swift back kick with his left foot. “Bang,” a Songshan apprentice flew into the air. Then he grabbed back with his right hand following the direction of the sound and grabbed at another Songshan

apprentice’s collar. Pulling toward the direction of the force, he lifted the

second apprentice over his shoulder and threw him toward Shi Dengda. The back kick with his left foot and the back grab with his right hand were

executed so swiftly and accurately that it was almost like he had eyes on his back. The unusual skills of an elite fighter were clearly shown in those moves.

In shock, no more Songshan apprentices dared to come at Liu Zhengfeng again. The Songshan apprentice behind Liu Zhengfeng’s son

shouted, “Uncle-Master Liu, if you don’t stop right now, I will have to kill your son.”

Liu Zhengfeng turned his head back and threw a glance at his son. “With so many heroes here today, if you dare to touch a single hair of my son, all you dozens of Songshan apprentices will be grounded into ten thousand pieces,” he said coldly.

These were not bluffing words. If this Songshan apprentice had really hurt his young son, it would certainly arouse public indignation, and cause all of the guests to attack the Songshan apprentices, and then none of the

Hengshan apprentices would make it out alive. He turned back and reached for the gold basin once again.

It seemed that no one would be able to stop Liu Zhengfeng this time, when suddenly, with a silver flash, a tiny missile flew over. Liu Zhengfeng took two steps back; “Ring,” the missile hit the edge of the gold basin and knocked it down to the ground. “Clank,” the gold basin flipped over and landed bottom up; water splashed all over the floor. Meanwhile, a yellow shadow jumped off the rooftop, and in a flash, had rushed by the fallen gold basin. He stomped on the gold basin; the gold basin collapsed under his foot and was flattened.

In his forties, the man had medium height. He was an extremely thin man with ugly mustaches under his nose. “Apprentice brother Liu, I’ve got orders from the Alliance Chief to not let you have your Gold Basin Hand Washing,” he said, cupping his hands toward Liu Zhengfeng.

Liu Zhengfeng knew the man in front of him. His name was Fei Bin, and he was the fourth apprentice brother of Zuo Lengchan – the Head

Master of the Songshan Sword School. His outstanding skills in “Great Songyang Palm” earned him great fame in the Martial World. Obviously, people sent by Songshan Sword School to deal with him included more than just second-generation apprentices. Since the gold basin had been destroyed, there was no way to continue the Gold Basin Hand Washing

ceremony. Should he fight with all his might or temporarily endure humiliation? Liu Zhengfeng could not make up his mind. Then he quickly thought, “Even though the Songshan Sword School has the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, they are so overbearing. Among the one thousand or so heroes here today, someone had got to stand out and uphold justice.” So he cupped his hand to salute back.

“Apprentice brother Fei, why didn’t you join us and enjoy a cup of wine, but would rather hide on top of the roof to suffer from the sun?

Probably there are even more masters from Songshan Sword School here today. Please all come out now. If you want to deal with me, apprentice brother Fei is more than enough. If you want to wipe out all these heroes here today, the power of the Songshan Sword School probably is not yet enough.” “Apprentice brother Liu,” Fei Bin said with a slight smile, “you don’t need to foment discord. Just to fight apprentice brother Liu you alone, I

wouldn’t have a chance defending myself against the ‘Slight Geese Landing’ Kung Fu you have just showed. The Songshan Sword School

would never dare to offend the Hengshan Sword School, and would never dare to offend any hero here today either; we wouldn’t even dare to just offend apprentice brother Liu. We are only here to beg apprentice brother Liu to not Wash Hands for the sake of thousands of fellow martial people’s lives.”

Hearing these words, everyone in the Big Hall was greatly surprised. “Whether or not Liu Zhengfeng has his Gold Basin Hand Washing, how

could it affect thousands of fellow martial people’s lives?” They all pondered the question.

“Well,” Sister Dingyi cut in again, “brother Liu wants to wash his hands and accept that tiny sergeant title. To be frank, I really didn’t approve that idea. But everybody has his own will. Heck, if he wants to win promotion and get rich, as long as he does not harm people and do not go

against the chivalry side, then no one has the right to prevent him. I don’t think brother Liu has the kind of ability to harm so many fellow martial people.”

“Sister Dingyi,” Fei Bin said, “you are a devout Buddhist, that’s why you don’t understand the kind of dirty tricks that are used by others. If this big conspiracy got through, then not only will countless of fellow martial people die, a lot of innocent citizens will also be greatly harmed. Please think about it, Liu Sir of the Hengshan Sword School is a famous and well- respected hero in the Martial World. Why would he lower himself and

endure the kind of ill treatment by those filthy government officials? Liu Sir already has tons of money, why would he hanker after promotion and money? There is really a sinister reason here.”

“That sounds reasonable,” everyone thought to himself or herself. “I have felt suspicious earlier: why would someone like Liu Sir accept such a tiny government title? How odd?”

“Apprentice brother Fei, if you want to throw maliciously slanders at me, at least make it sound right,” Liu Zhengfeng said with a laugh, holding his anger back. “Other apprentice brothers of the Songshan Sword School, why don’t you show yourself now?”

“Fine!” voices came from both the east side and the west side of the roof. Two yellow shadows flashed by in front of everyone’s eyes and two men appeared at the entrance of the hall. The Qing-Gong they used was the exactly same type Fei Bin had used earlier when he jumped down the roof. The one standing to the east was a big fatty with broad shoulders. Sister

Dingyi and others recognized him to be the second apprentice brother of the Songshan Sword School Head Master, “Tower Holding Palm” Ding Mian.

The one standing to the west was a tall and thin man. He was the third

apprentice of the Songshan Sword School, “Crane Hands” Lu Bai. “Hi, Liu Sir. Hi, everyone,” the two cupped their hands slightly to greet. Ding Mian and Lu Bai both had great fame in the Martial World; everyone stood up to greet back.

Seeing that more and more first-class Songshan masters showed up, all had a gut feeling that this whole thing was not going to end pleasantly. Most likely Liu Zhengfeng would get the worst of it.

“Brother Liu, don’t worry. All things in this world cannot go against righteousness. Even though they have an overwhelming number of guys, the friends from our Taishan Sword School, Huashan Sword School, and Heng-Shan Sword School aren’t just a bunch of good-for-nothing guys either,” Sister Dingyi said angrily.

“Sister Dingyi,” Liu Zhengfeng said with a wry smile, “this is so embarrassing. It is really an internal affair with my Hengshan Sword School, yet it caused worries for so many friends. It is very clear in my mind that my senior apprentice brother Mo must have complained to

Alliance Chief Zuo of the Songshan Sword School, which brought so many apprentice brothers of the Songshan Sword School here to denounce my

wrong deeds. Fine, fine, fine! It was my fault that I have not shown good manners to senior apprentice brother Mo. I will apologize to senior

apprentice brother Mo and ask for his forgiveness.”

Fei Bin glanced around the hall, his eyes squinting, yet appearing to be bright and piercing, clearly showing his great inner energy.

“What does this have anything to do with Great Mr. Mo? Great Mr.

Mo, please come out, so we can straighten this out,” he demanded.

After his words, the entire hall quieted down, but after quite a while, “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” – Great Mr. Mo still did not step out.

Liu Zhengfeng let out a wry smile. “Everyone in the Martial World has already known that my apprentice brother Mo and I don’t get along, so I really don’t have to hide this fact. I am lucky to have been born in a rich family and inherited quite a few assets from my ancestors. My apprentice brother Mo, on the other hand, came from a very poor family. Normally

speaking, even friends should be giving loans to each other, not mentioning apprentice brothers, but just because of the difference here, senior

apprentice brother Mo loathed about it and never come to my home. We have not seen each other or contacted each other for years. Of course senior apprentice brother Mo would not come here today. What really ticked me off was the fact that simply with the one-sided story from my senior apprentice brother Mo, Alliance Chief Zuo had sent so many apprentice brothers here to deal with me today, even taking my wife and my children prisoner. Don’t…don’t you think you are making a fuss over a trifling matter?”

“Raise the Command Flag,” Fei Bin said to Shi Dengda.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered and raised the Command Flag high in the air by the side of Fei Bin.

“Apprentice brother Liu,” Fei Bin said grimly, “the matter today has nothing to do with the Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo. You don’t need to mix him into this. Alliance Chief Zuo has ordered us to investigate what secret collaboration does apprentice brother Liu have with the Demon Cult Chief – Dongfang Invincible, and what plot you are developing to attack our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and other chivalrous martial fellows.”

Everyone in the Big Hall was greatly stunned by those words. Many could not help but utter a cry of surprise. The Demon Cult was the ultimate enemy of all the martial people on the good side of the Martial World. The two sides had scores tracing back to a hundred year, fighting continuously

all these years with exchanging triumphs. Among the thousand or so people in the Big Hall, at least half of them had old scores to settle with the Demon Cult – some lost family members in the fights, and others lost senior masters. Every time the name Demon Cult was mentioned, all would bite their lips hard with hatred. The ultimate reason why the Five Mountains

sword schools had formed an alliance was to unite together to fight the Demon Cult. Demon Cult had many followers and did not lack highly

skilled elite fighters; that was why even though the chivalrous schools all had unique skills of their own, they still failed to defeat the Demon Cult. Furthermore, Demon Cult Chief, Dongfang Invincible, maintained the title of “Number One in the Martial World.” His name was Invincible, and he had never lost a single fight after he completed his apprenticeship; that was simply incredible. So when everyone heard Fei Bin criticizing Liu Zhengfeng for collaborating with the Demon Cult, which did relate to

everyone’s own life, the sympathy they had toward Liu Zhengfeng evaporated instantly.

“I have never seen Demon Cult Chief Dongfang Invincible before in my whole life. Where did you get the idea of the so-called collaboration and the so-called plots?” Liu Zhengfeng asked.

Fei Bin turned his head to the side and stared at his third apprentice brother Lu Bai, waiting for him to speak.

“Apprentice brother Liu, what you just said might be a bit shallow.

There’s an Elder in the Demon Cult named Qu Yang. I wonder if apprentice brother Liu knows him?” Lu Bai said in a soft voice.

Liu Zhengfeng had remained calm since the beginning of the disturbance, but as soon as he heard the name “Qu Yang” mentioned, his face changed color. He shut his mouth tight and did not answer the question.

The fatty Ding Mian had not said anything since he entered the hall, but now he suddenly shouted harshly, “Do you know Qu Yang?” His voice sounded like a thunder, echoing in everyone’s ears. He was a big and tall guy, yet now he seemed to be even bigger and taller in everyone’s eyes, looking like a majestic giant.

Liu Zhengfeng still did not answer. Thousands of eyes stared at his face. Everyone thought the same thing – if he could not think of an answer, then he was really admitting to it.

After a long while, Liu Zhengfeng finally nodded. ‘That’s right! I not only know big brother Qu Yang, but also consider him the only person that knows my heart and is my best friend.”

Instantly, the big hall was taken over by uproar. These words of Liu Zhengfeng caught everyone by surprise. Everyone had thought that he

would at least try to deny the allegation, or only admitting that he probably had met that Qu Yang once or twice. No one expected him to claim that this Demon Cult Elder was actually his best friend.

Fei Bin let out a relaxed smile. “It’s great that you admit it. A true man takes on his own responsibilities. Liu Zhengfeng, Alliance Chief Zuo has given you two options to choose from.”

Liu Zhengfeng paid no attention to him as if he had not heard any

word from Fei Bin. He sat down slowly with no specific expression on his face, and poured himself a cup of wine. Raising the cup to his lips, he drank the wine slowly. Everyone could see that his robe and his long sleeves remained dead still, no trembling what’s so ever. That was a good indication that he had a very good grip of himself, even in such an emergent situation. It was clearly shown that his courage and his Kung Fu skills were both first- class. Without any one of the two, he would not have behaved in such a

calm way. Inwardly, everyone could not help but praise him.

“Alliance Chief Zuo said: Liu Zhengfeng is one with extraordinary talents in the Hengshan Sword School. He just made friends with the wrong kind of people and tumbled down the wrong way. We, as friends of the

chivalrous side in the Martial World, only want to help him, so of course we will give him a way to correct his errors. Alliance Chief Zuo asked me to take a message to apprentice brother Liu: If you want to take this option, then within the next month, slay the Demon Cult Elder Qu Yang. Once you come back with his head, we will all forget about this incident, and be good friends and good brothers again,” Fei Bin said loudly. Everyone in the Big Hall thought, “Good and evil are mutually

exclusive. Every single time when people from various heretical sects that belong to the Demon Cult meet people from the chivalrous side of the

Martial World, fierce fights break out. It was not too much of a request from Alliance Chief Zuo to ask Liu Zhengfeng to kill Qu Yang to show his

sincerity.”

A sad smile flashed by Liu Zhengfeng’s face. “Big brother Qu and I already felt like old friends when we first met,” he said. “During the dozen of times when we had long chats late into the night, occasionally we would talk about the different opinions between schools and clans. He would

always sigh deeply and consider such fights and conflicts unproductive and ineffective. I only made friends with big brother Qu for the sake of music. He is an expert in zither; I like to play the bamboo flute. Most of the times when we get together, we just played the zither and flute, never discussing Kung Fu skills.” He paused, smiled, and then went on, “Maybe you don’t believe this, but in the entire world today, I think no one plays the zither better than big brother Qu; and regarding bamboo flute skills, I also

consider myself not inferior than anyone else. Although big brother Qu is a member of the Demon Cult, from the music of his zither play, I could tell that he had noble character and the breadth of a man with integrity. Liu Zhengfeng not only admires him, but also looks up to him. Although I am just a coarse guy, I would never agree to harm such a gentleman.”

Everyone was greatly surprised by these words. No one had

anticipated that he actually made friends with Qu Yang all because of music. From the honest look on his face without a single trace of deceiving, one simply could not help but believe him. Since many people in the

Martial World had unusual or out of the ordinary behaviors, music was well known to have fascinating power upon people; it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that Liu Zhengfeng had such a hobby. People who knew the

Hengshan Sword School well also thought, “Many generations of Hengshan Masters all loved music. Even the current Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School, Great Mr. Mo, has a nickname of ‘Night Rain of Xiao

Xiang’ – a famous music title. He never lets his huqin45 leave his side, and

people described his Kung Fu as ‘sword hidden in the Huqin, sword plays the music.’ Then it is definitely possible that Liu Zhengfeng made friends with Qu Yang because of his love of playing the bamboo flute.”

“Alliance Chief Zuo clearly knows that you made friends with Devil Qu for the sake of music based on his own investigation,” Fei Bin did not object. “He said: The Demon Cult has secret and evil plots. They know that our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is gaining more and more prosperities these last couple of years, and might grow into an opponent they cannot fight. That is why they are trying all kinds of tricks to try to hurt us by fomenting discord. They tempt some with gold and treasure, others with beautiful women. Apprentice brother has been a man of integrity, so they tried to cater your tastes and sent Qu Yang to work you with music.

Apprentice brother Liu! Please wake up! Don’t you remember how many people on our side had been slain by the Demon Cult? Don’t you see that you have fallen into evil’s trap?”

“That’s right!” Sister Dingyi agreed. “Apprentice brother Fei is right. The terror of the Demon Cult wasn’t really because of any high level Kung Fu of theirs. It was because of their various cunning schemes that are so hard to guard against. Apprentice brother Liu, you are a man of integrity.

It’s all right that you got tricked by an evil villain. You can kill Qu Yang the devil with a single blow. It’s just as simple as that. Our Five Mountains Sword Alliance has the same root with different branches. You must not let the villains of the Demon Cult drive a wedge between our fellow martial friends and damage our relationship.”

Priest Tian-Men nodded with concord. “Apprentice brother Liu, a gentleman’s mistake is as easy to spot as the sun and the moon. Once he learns about the mistake and corrects himself, the gain suppresses the harm.

All you need to do is to kill that Qu-named devil, then people in the

chivalrous side will all raise their thumbs and praise, ‘Liu Zhengfeng of the Hengshan Sword School is a true man who can distinguish between good

and evil.’ And we, as your friends, would look good too.”

Liu Zhengfeng did not answer. He turned and stared right into Yue Buqun’s eyes.

“Apprentice brother Yue, you are a true gentleman who can distinguish between right and wrong. Many of the masters here are forcing me to sell out my friend. What would you say?”

“Brother Liu,” Yue Buqun answered, “if he were a true friend, then we martial people wouldn’t even frown if we have to die for friends. But

that Qu of the Demon Cult obviously has evil intent behind his smiles. With honey on his lips, he really has murder in his heart when he catered to your tastes. This kind of enemy is the evilest kind. His object is to bring disgrace and ruin upon you and destroy your family. The evil intention of him is to the extreme. If such a person can still be called a friend, then isn’t it a disgrace to the definition of ‘friend?’ In history, there were many examples of people placing righteousness above family loyalty. Even family can be disregarded, why cannot such a big devil and a big villain that should have never be considered as a friend be disregarded?”

Hearing his theory, everyone cheered. “Mr. Yue’s words have said it clearly. With friends, one of course should consider the code of honor, but with enemies, one should strike down with no mercy. Why restrict oneself with the code of honor?”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a sigh. He waited till the Big Hall quieted down before speaking again slowly.

“At the very beginning when I decided to make friends with big brother Qu, I had expected something like this to happen. After some

careful observations, I came upon the conclusion that there will be a big fight between our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and the Demon Cult soon. Once the fight breaks out, there will be apprentice brothers in the alliance on one side and a good friend on the other side. It would be

impossible for me to help either side. That’s why I came up with this dumb idea to have my Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony. I just wanted to tell everyone in the Martial World that Liu Zhengfeng would be leaving the

Martial World and never be involved in any of the score-settling fights. I just wished I could stay out of everything, and not get involved. Buying this tiny army sergeant title was just a way to disgrace myself and hide my true intentions. But Alliance Chief Zuo is certainly resourceful. This move of mine simply could not fool him.”

Hearing his explanation, everyone finally understood. All thought, “So he really had secret intensions behind the Gold Basin Hand Washing

event. I figured there would be no way that such a master of the Hengshan Sword School would be willing to accept such a tiny title from the government.” After the explanation, everyone found himself or herself having the foresight way ahead of time.

Fei Bin, Ding Mian, and Lu Bai looked at each other and all felt quite contended. “If it weren’t for apprentice brother Zuo, who saw through your conspiracy and stopped you in time, your plan would have succeeded,” they all thought. Liu Zhengfeng continued, “For the last one hundred years, the Demon Cult and our chivalrous side have been fighting with each other back and forth. It would be impossible to go over the reasons behind all these fights. All I want is to stay away from such violent and fierce fights, and live my remaining years in a quiet place, playing the flute and teaching some kids, just like an average law abiding citizen. I think this wish of mine does not violate my school rules and the alliance treaty of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.”

“If everyone thinks like you do, and desert on the eve of a battle, then do we just let the Demon Cult control the Martial World and harm

everybody? If you wanted to stay out of this, then why didn’t the Qu-named devil stay out of everything?” Fei Bin sneered.

With a slight smile, Liu Zhengfeng answered, “Big brother Qu had vowed to the ancestors of the Demon Cult right in front of my eyes a while back, promising that no matter how the Demon Cult fights with the

chivalrous side, he would always stay out of it and never interfere. As long as no one attacks him, he will not attack anyone!”

“Huh, how wonderful!” Fei Bin sneered again. “What if someone from the chivalrous side does attack him?”

“Big brother Qu said that he would try his best to endure and never fight anyone for fame and victory. He would even try his best to mend the gap of misunderstanding between the two sides. Just this morning, big brother Qu sent me a message saying that Huashan apprentice Linghu

Chong was wounded terribly by others, and was on the verge of dying. It was him who took the initiative and saved Linghu Chong.”

Noises broke out in the crowd again, especially among ones belonging to the Huashan Sword School, Heng-Shan Sword School, and Qingcheng Sword School, who immediately started whispering to each other’s ears. Yue Lingshan from the Huashan Sword School could not help asking, “Uncle-Master Liu, where is my big apprentice brother? Is it really…that Qu-named…Qu-named senior master who saved his life?”

“If big brother Qu said so, then of course it’s true,” Liu Zhengfeng

answered. “When you see nephew Linghu later, you can ask him yourself.” “What’s so strange about that?” Fei Bin mocked. “Demon Cult

members always try to foment discord, using any means they could get their hands on. If he could use every possible means to draw you in, of course he would use every possible means to draw a Huashan apprentice. Maybe Linghu Chong would feel so grateful and want to return the favor. Then we would have another traitor in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance.” He then turned to Yue Buqun and explained, “Apprentice brother Yue, I am just using this as a way of analogy. Please don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind,” Yue Buqun answered with a smile.

“Apprentice brother Fei,” Liu Zhengfeng raised his eyebrows and asked loudly, “you said another traitor. What do you mean by ‘another’?”

Fei Bin sneered, “You understand it very well. Do I still need to explain?”

“Humph, so are you calling me a traitor of my own school?” Liu Zhengfeng yelled. “It’s my private matter who I want to make friends with. It’s none of other people’s business. Liu Zhengfeng does not dare to betray my Master and my Hengshan Sword School. I’ll send the word ‘traitor’ right back to you.”

Before, he had acted with good manners, just like a local gentleman, rich yet rustic. But now, he had shown a quite different image – one filled with vitality and heroic spirit. Seeing his tit for tat argument with Fei Bin and not giving away any ground, everyone admired his courage. “I suppose apprentice brother Liu is not interested with this option, right? Are you sure you don’t want to rid the evil and kill that big devil Qu Yang?” Fei Bin asked.

“If Alliance Chief Zuo has given you the order, then go ahead,

apprentice brother Fei, go ahead and kill my entire family!” Liu Zhengfeng answered with no hesitation.

“Are you thinking that just because so many heroes are visiting you in your home, our Five Mountains Sword Alliance would have scruples and give up on purifying our own group?” Fei Bin mocked.

“Come here!” he beckoned Shi Dengda.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered and took three steps forward.

Fei Bin took the five-colored Command Flag from Shi and raised it high. “Liu Zhengfeng, listen carefully: Alliance Chief Zuo has ordered that if you don’t agree to kill Qu Yang within a month, then the Five Mountains Sword Alliance will have no choice but to purify our own group. To prevent any future problem, we will have to rid the branches together with the root. You’d better think it through!”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a sad smile. “When I make a friend, I value the utter devotion. How could I kill a friend in exchange for my own protection? Since Alliance Chief Zuo does not allow this, I, Liu Zhengfeng, with only little power and backing, do not even stand a chance resisting

Alliance Chief Zuo. Your Songshan Sword School has planned everything beforehand, probably even got my coffin ready. If you want to do it, then go ahead and do it. What are you waiting for?”

Fei Bin waved the Command Flag and said in a loud voice,

“Apprentice brother Tian-Men of the Taishan Sword School, Apprentice brother Yue of the Huashan Sword School, Sister Dingyi of the Heng-Shan Sword School, and apprentice brothers and nephew apprentices of the Hengshan Sword School, according to Alliance Chief Zuo’s order: Good and evil can never coexist. The Demon Cult has heaps of scores with our Five Mountains Sword Alliance; the hatred is as deep as the ocean. Liu Zhengfeng associated himself with the devil and submitted himself to the enemy. Everyone in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance is obligated to

attack him and kill him. All the ones that will follow the order please stand to the left.”

Priest Tian-Men stood up and strode to the left without even looking at Liu Zhengfeng. Priest Tian-Men’s Master had been slain by a female

Demon Cult Elder, which was why he hated the Demon Cult to the very marrow of his bones. Once he walked to the left side, all his apprentices followed him over.

“Brother Liu,” Yue Buqun stood up, “all you need to do is nod, and I, Yue Buqun, will take care of the business of Qu Yang for you. You said that a true man should not betray his friends, but is Qu Yang your only friend in this world? Aren’t people in our Five Mountains Sword Alliance and many people here today your friends too? The thousands of fellow martial people here traveled long ways to congratulate you sincerely when they heard you were having your Gold Basin Hand Washing ceremony. They’ve shown their friendship. Don’t the lives of your entire family, kindness and friendship of your friends in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, and the friendship of those hundreds of fellow martial people outweigh this one individual Qu Yang?”

Slowly shaking his head, Liu Zhengfeng answered, “Apprentice brother Yue, you are a scholar, you should have heard the saying of ‘a true man has things he will not do.’ I am grateful for your advice and your good words. When others force me to kill Qu Yang, I won’t agree. Just like when someone forces me to kill you, apprentice brother Yue, or any one of the friends here, I would never agree even if my entire family would be wiped out as the consequence. It’s true that big brother Qu is a good friend of mine, but apprentice brother Yue is also a good friend of mine. If big brother Qu has ever even mentioned about plotting against any friend of mine in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, I would have looked down upon his character and not consider him a friend.” These words were said in a very sincere way and moved many people in the Big Hall. Brotherhood

was a greatly valued virtue in the Martial World, so even though these martial people did not like the fact that Liu Zhengfeng defended his relationship with Qu Yang, they all praised Liu Zhengfeng inwardly.

Yue Buqun shook his head and argued, “Brother Liu, you said it wrong. Your valuing of brotherhood is very admirable, but you did not distinguish between good and evil or right and wrong. The Demon Cult

committed countless number of crimes and harmed many gentlemen and innocent people. Just for the sake of your interest in music, giving your wholehearted devotion to him is a terrible misunderstanding of the definition of ‘brotherhood’.”

“Apprentice brother Yue, you don’t play any instrument, that’s why you don’t understand me here,” Liu Zhengfeng explained with a smile. “A person can lie using words, but the sound of flute or zither is directly from one’s heart and can’t lie. Big brother Qu and I have played the flute and

zither together. We fully understand each other wholeheartedly. I can guarantee you with my life and my reputation that although big brother Qu is a member of the Demon Cult, he does not have any trace of evil of the Demon Cult.”

With a long sigh, Yue Buqun walked by Priest Tian-Men’s side. Lau Denuo, Yue Lingshan, Lu Dayou, and the bunch all followed him over. Sister Dingyi stared at Liu Zhengfeng. “Starting from now on, should I call you brother Liu or Liu Zhengfeng?” she asked.

“Liu Zhengfeng is bound to die any minute now. Sister, there’s no need for either one,” Liu Zhengfeng replied with a wry smile.

Sister Dingyi put her palms together, forming a Buddhist greeting posture, and then prayed, “May Buddha preserve us!” She slowly walked by Yue Buqun, saying, “The Demon has added more crimes into the world. What a sin, what a sin!” Her apprentices also followed her over.

“This is the personal matter of Liu Zhengfeng. It has nothing to do with other people. Apprentices of Hengshan Sword School, if you don’t want to follow the traitor, you can stand to the left side too,” Fei Bin declared.

After a short silence, a young man murmured, “Uncle-Master Liu, please pardon us apprentices.” Then thirty or so Hengshan apprentices

walked to the side of the nuns of the Heng-Shan Sword School. Those were all Liu Zhengfeng’s nephew apprentices, since none of the other senior masters of the Hengshan Sword School came to the ceremony.

“Apprentices of Liu House stand to the left side too,” Fei Bin yelled again.

Xiang Danian answered loudly, “We value the grace of our Master.

We will never betray him. We as apprentices of Liu will always be with our beloved Master, dead or alive.”

Warm tears swamped Liu Zhengfeng’s eyes. “Good, good! Danian, your words are already great comforts for your Master. Why don’t you all walk over? It was your Master, I, who made the friend. It has nothing to do with any of you.”

With a loud “clank” sound, Mi Weiyi drew his sword out. “The Liu House undoubtedly is no match for the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. But what more could we lose other than our lives. Whoever wants to harm my Master has to kill me first,” he exclaimed while standing right in front of Liu Zhengfeng, blocking him protectively.

Ding Mian waved his left hand slightly, and a silver flash zipped out in extreme speed. In shock, Liu Zhengfeng pushed Mi Weiyi’s right

shoulder hurriedly using his inner energy. Mi Weiyi was pushed to the left, and the silver flash headed directly toward Liu Zhengfeng’s chest. Eager to protect his Master, Xiang Danian jumped forth to block, and the silver needle penetrated his heart squarely. He only had enough time to let out a painful groan before falling dead. Liu Zhengfeng lifted Xiang’s body with his left arm and checked his breath. He then turned to Ding Mian. “Ding

second, it is your Songshan Sword School who has killed my apprentice first!”

“Precisely. We killed first. So what?” Ding Mian mocked coldly.

Liu Zhengfeng picked up Xiang Danian’s body with both arms; it

seemed as if he was going to throw the body toward Ding Mian. Ding Mian had long known that the Hengshan Sword School inner power style had

some unique traits. Liu Zhengfeng was a first-class elite fighter in the

Hengshan Sword School; from the way he gathered his strength, Ding Mian could tell that the strength of the throw must be tremendous, so he gathered his inner energy and readied himself to catch the body, so he could throw it right back. Although it appeared that Liu Zhengfeng picked up the body to throw it forward, he suddenly jumped to the side, holding the body in his hands and sent it toward Fei Bin’s chest. The change was so swift and dramatic that Fei Bin was caught by a total surprise. He had to raise both of his palms and blocked the body with double knife hands, when suddenly he felt numbness from his ribs – Liu Zhengfeng had sealed his acupoints. After the successful move, Liu Zhengfeng grabbed the Command Flag from Fei Bin’s grip using his left hand, while drawing Fei’s sword with his right hand and placed the blade right on Fei Bin’s throat. Then he struck Fei Bin’s back on multiple spots with his left elbow rapidly and sealed

another three acupoints on Fei’s back. He moved so fast that he completed the entire series of moves before Xiang Danian’s body even landed on the floor.

After Fei Bin was taken prisoner and the Command Flag exchanged hands, everyone finally realized that the moves Liu Zhengfeng used were from the unique Kung Fu of the Hengshan Sword School called “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.” People had heard about it for a long time, and now they were lucky enough to actually see it with their own eyes. Yue Buqun had heard from his Master many years ago that a great master from the last generation of the Hengshan Sword School created the “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.” That great master made a living by traveling around performing magic shows. Magic tricks relied on illusions and redirecting audiences’ attentions. When that great master was in his old age, his Kung Fu skills became higher, and so did his skills with magic tricks. He was actually able to use his inner energy and Kung Fu skills in his magic tricks, entertaining a great amount of street audiences. Then later, he was able to merge his magic trick skills into his

Kung Fu skills. He was a funny guy and created this set of Kung Fu just for fun, having no idea that the set of Kung Fu would become one of the three unique sets of Hengshan Kung Fu skills. Although the set of Kung Fu had very odd and unexpected moves, it actually was not very useful in a real

serious fight because when masters fight, each would be guarding himself carefully and protect his own vital parts well, thus rendering these tricky and flashing moves useless. That was why even the Hengshan Sword School didn’t emphasize on teaching it. If the apprentice appeared to be a flashy one, then the master would not teach him that set of Kung Fu so that the apprentice won’t be relying on fake and flashy moves and lose focus

with the real rudimentary type of Kung Fu skills. Liu Zhengfeng was the quiet and deep type. After he learned that set of Kung Fu from his Master, he had not used it ever until today. Now when he used it in such an

emergent situation, it actually worked wonders and helped him take control of the notable “Great Songyang Palm” Fei Bin, whose real Kung Fu skills were definitely no less than his.

Lin Zhengfeng held the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword alliance high with his right hand and grabbed tight the sword that was on Fei Bin’s throat with his left hand, then said firmly, “Apprentice brother

Ding, apprentice brother Lu, I made bold and took the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. I dare not threaten the two of you; I just want to beg mercy from you.”

Ding Mian and Lu Bai looked at each other, both thinking, “Since

apprentice brother Fei had fallen for his tricky attack, we’d better listen to what he has to say first.”

“What kind of mercy?” Ding Mian asked.

“Would you two please take a message to Alliance Chief Zuo for me,” Liu Zhengfeng said, “Asking for his permission to let me and my family to withdraw from civilization and live in solitude without ever getting involved in any matter of the Martial World? I will not see big brother Qu Yang ever again, and I will be leaving you, the apprentice brothers and friends here today…as well. I will bring my family and my apprentices to leave the country and live a hermit’s life. As long as I am alive, we will never step on the ground of China again.” “Apprentice brother Lu and I can not make a decision on that. We will have to report this to apprentice brother Zuo to get his judgment,” Ding

Mian hesitated for a second and then replied.

“We have the Head Masters of the Taishan Sword School and the

Huashan Sword School here, plus Sister Dingyi from the Heng-Shan Sword School, who should be able to make a decision representing her Head

Master apprentice sister. In addition, all the fellow martial people and heroes here today can act as eye witnesses,” Liu Zhengfeng argued. He glanced around everybody and said in a deep voice, “I am begging for a favor from all you friends. Please let me save my family and my

apprentices while not betraying my belief in brotherhood.”

Sister Dingyi was the type who acted tough with a hot-temper, yet very kind in one’s heart. She first agreed.

“That would be great, thus we won’t damage our good relationship. Apprentice brother Ding and apprentice brother Lu, let’s agree to brother Liu. Since he wouldn’t be seeing any member of the Demon Cult, and he

will be far away, it’ll be like there isn’t a Liu Zhengfeng in this world at all. Why do we have to commit more killing?”

“That sounds good.” Priest Tian-Men also nodded. “Brother Yue, what do you think?”

“Brother Liu’s words are as solid as a mountain,” Yue Buqun said. “If he said so, of course we all trust him. Come on! Let’s turn hostility into friendship. Brother Liu, you set brother Fei free, and then we’ll all drink a

cup of friendly wine. Tomorrow morning, you can take your family and your apprentices to leave the town of Hengshan!”

“Even the Head Masters of Taishan and Huashan said so, plus Sister Dingyi is also pleading for Liu Zhengfeng, how can we dare to oppose? But because apprentice brother Fei fell for Liu Zhengfeng’s tricks, if we just agreed like that, everyone in the Martial World will be saying that the Songshan Sword School was taken hostage by Liu Zhengfeng and had to give in. When rumors like this spreads out, what would happen to our reputation?” Lu Bai said.

“It is brother Liu who is begging for mercy from the Songshan Sword School. He wasn’t threatening or forcing you. Talk about ‘give in’, it is Liu Zhengfeng who is giving in, not the Songshan Sword School. And you’ve

already killed an apprentice of the Liu House,” Sister Dingyi said. “Di Xiu, get ready!” Lu Bai said after a disgruntled snort.

“Yes!” Songshan apprentice Di Xiu answered. He pushed the short sword in his hand forward a bit, until the tip of the blade penetrated the cloth and reached Liu Zhengfeng’s eldest son’s back muscle.

“Liu Zhengfeng, if you want to beg for mercy, then come back with us to Mount Songshan and see Alliance Chief Zuo. You can beg him for mercy yourself. We are just following orders. We can’t make decisions.

Give me back the Command Flag and set my apprentice brother Fei free,” Lu Bai demanded.

With a sad smile, Liu Zhengfeng turned to his son. “Son, are you afraid to die?”

“I am with you, Dad. I am not afraid!” Liu’s son exclaimed. “Good kid!” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“Kill him!” Lu Bai yelled.

Di Xiu pushed the sword forward. The tip of the short sword went all the way until it penetrated the heart. Then he pulled the short sword out as Liu’s son collapsed onto the floor, blood gushing out from the wound on his back.

Madam Liu, Liu Zhengfeng’s wife, screamed and rushed by her son’s

body. 

back. “Kill her too!” Lu Bai yelled again.

Di Xiu thrust his sword forward. The blade penetrated Madam’s Liu’s

Sister Dingyi’s anger exploded. “Swoosh,” she slammed her palm toward Di Xiu while swearing, “You monster!” Ding Mian rushed forward and also pushed out with his palm. The two palms met squarely in the midair, sending Sister Dingyi stumbling three steps back. Sister Dingyi felt a great pain from her chest, with blood gushing out of her throat into her mouth. She was the type that would always try to best others, so she immediately swallowed the blood back in, not showing any weakness.

“Thanks for your grace!” Ding Mian smirked.

Sister Dingyi’s Kung Fu was not specialized in her palm strength; in addition, she didn’t put a lot of strength into her palm strike toward Di Xiu, because she, as a senior, did not want to kill Di Xiu, a junior. But when

Ding Mian suddenly took on her palm strike with all his strength, and at the time when the two palms met, it was already too late for Sister Dingyi to

add more strength to the strike. Ding Mian’s strength overwhelmed Sister Dingyi like a huge wave and injured her badly. In great rage, Sister Dingyi wanted to strike out with her palm again, but when she tried to gather her inner energy, great pain came from her abdomen. It almost felt like that

someone was cutting her flesh with a knife. Realizing how severely she had been injured, she clearly knew that she would have no chance of winning the fight with Ding Mian today, so she beckoned her apprentices and said

angrily, “Let’s go!” then strode out of the gate. All her apprentices followed her.

“Kill more!” Lu Bai yelled again.

Two Songshan apprentices pushed their short swords forward and killed two more apprentices of Liu House. “Listen carefully, Liu House apprentices,” Lu Bai said. “If you want to live, then kneel down now and beg for mercy. Whoever is willing to

condemn Liu Zhengfeng, his life will be spared.”

“You filthy murderers! Your Songshan Sword School is ten thousand times eviler than the Demon Cult!” Liu Zhengfeng’s daughter Liu Jing

swore angrily.

“Kill!” Lu Bai yelled.

Wan Daping raised his long sword and chopped downward. The blade cut through Liu Jing’s right shoulder and went all the way down to her

waist. Shi Dengda and other Songshan apprentices also thrust out their

swords and killed the Liu House apprentices whose acupoints were sealed earlier.

Although the people in the Big Hall were used to dangerous lives, yet all were greatly shocked by the massacre scene. Some senior masters had wanted to call them to stop, but the Songshan Sword School had acted so fast that within the moment of hesitation, the hall had been filled with dead bodies. Everyone then thought, “Good and evil can never coexist. The Songshan Sword School’s acts weren’t really for any private score they have with Liu Zhengfeng, but acts to fight with the Demon Cult. Although the acts were kind of brutal, one really could not criticize them. In addition, at the moment, the Songshan Sword School had controlled the entire

situation, even Sister Dingyi took a hit and left the scene, and Priest Tian- Men, Yue Buqun, and other first-class masters all kept their silence. This was the matter within the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. If any outsider pokes his nose into other people’s business and jumps out to stir things up, he would be planting a dangerous seed for himself, and might get killed

because of that. The best thing to do was to be worldly wise and play safe.” By then, among Liu House relatives and apprentices, all was left was Liu Qin, Liu Zhengfeng’s youngest and favorite fifteen-year old son.

“Ask this lad whether he wants to beg for mercy. If he refuses, then cut his nose off first, then his ears, and then cut out his eyeballs. Let him have the pain in small dozes,” Lu Bai directed Shi Dengda.

“Sure!” Shi Dengda answered. He turned to Liu Qin and asked, “Are you going to beg for mercy?”

Liu Qin’s face was as white as a sheet. He couldn’t help his trembling.

“Good kid, see how tough you brother and sister were. It’s only death, nothing to be scared of,” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“But…Dad,” Liu Qin said with a trembling voice, “they want to… want to cut off my nose, and cut out…cut out my eyeballs….”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a laugh. “By now, do you still think they will let us live?”

“Dad, can’t you…can’t you just agree to kill Uncle…Uncle Qu…?” Liu Qin begged.

Liu Zhengfeng was enraged. “Garbage! You little bloody pig, what did you say?” he yelled.

Shi Dengda raised his long sword and moved the tip of the sword back and forth right in front of Liu Qin’s nose. “Hey lad, I am going to cut down now if you don’t kneel down and beg for mercy. One…two….”

Before the word “three” came out of Shi’s mouth, Liu Qin had

already knelt down on the floor. Trembling hard, he begged, “Don’t…don’t kill me….”

“Good! We’ll spare you, only after you condemn Liu Zhengfeng in front of all the people here today.” Lu Bai laughed. Liu Qin stared at his father, his eyes filled with begging and pleading. Liu Zhengfeng had been able to maintain his calmness all the way through; even when his wife and children were slain right in front of his eyes, he kept a still face, but now he simply could not hold his anger. “You little bloody pig, aren’t you ashamed of yourself right in front of your mother’s dead body?” he yelled loudly.

Seeing his mother, brother and sister’s bodies lying in the blood pool, also seeing Shi Dengda’s long sword moving back and forth right in front of his face, Liu Qin was scared out of his wits.

“Please, please, I beg of you to spare my life, and spare…spare my dad’s life,” he said to Lu Bai.

“Your dad collaborated with the villains in the Demon Cult. Do you think it’s right or wrong?” Lu Bai pressed.

“It’s…wrong!” Liu Qin murmured.

“Should this kind of people be executed?” Lu Bai asked. Liu Qin lowered his head and dared not to answer.

“The lad doesn’t want to talk. Kill him!” Lu Bai ordered.

“Yes!” Shi Dengda answered. Knowing that Lu Bai really meant to just scare the kid, he raised his sword high and pretended to be chopping down.

“Yes…yes, they should!” Liu Qin muttered immediately.

“Very good! Starting from now on, you are not part of the Hengshan Sword School, neither are you Liu Zhengfeng’s son any more. I spare your life,” Lu Bai declared.

Liu Qin just remained in his kneeling position, not able to stand up with his scared to weak legs. Seeing that, people in the hall could not help but feel ashamed for him. Some turned their heads away, not able to bare themselves to such an embarrassing scene. Liu Zhengfeng let out a long sigh. “Lu, you won!” Waving his right hand, he threw the Command Flag toward Lu Bai, at the meanwhile, raised his left leg and kicked Fei Bin away. “I’ll finish it off on my own. No need for more killing now,” he said loud and clear, turning the sword in his left hand and slashed it toward his own throat.

Right at the instant, a shadow in black robe glided down from underneath the eaves. The shadow moved as swift as a breeze and quickly grabbed onto Liu Zhengfeng’s left wrist. “A wise man can wait ten years for his revenge. Let’s go!” the shadow yelled out loud. His right hand

waved in a circular motion toward his back, and then dragged Liu Zhengfeng toward the outside hurriedly.

“Big brother Qu…you…!” Liu Zhengfeng blurred out in shock.

Hearing the words “big brother Qu,” everyone instantly realized that the man in black robe was none other than the Demon Cult Elder Qu Yang. All felt a shiver inside.

“No time for discussion!” Qu Yang shouted, running even faster. But only after running three steps, Ding Mian and Lu Bai’s four palms had

arrived toward the backs of the two.

“Run! Hurry!” Qu Yang yelled to Liu Zhengfeng, pushing hard on Liu Zhengfeng’s back with his palm while gathering his own inner energy around his back. He took the solid strikes of the combination of Ding Mian and Lu Bai, the two first-class elite fighters, squarely on his back. “Bang!” Qu Yang’s body was knocked flying in the air toward the gate.

Still in the air, Qu Yang spat out a spray of blood toward the back while waving his hands continuously. A cluster of black needles rained toward everybody behind him.

“Those are the Black Blood Sacred Needles, move away fast!” Ding Mian shouted while dodging to the side hurriedly. Seeing the cluster of black needles flying toward them and knowing the great fame of the Black Blood Sacred Needles of the Demon Cult, people in the hall were all astounded. The crowd became a mass. In chaos, voices from dozens of people echoed in the hall: “Ouch!” “Wow!” Since there was quite a crowd in the hall and the Black Blood Sacred Needles

were in great amount and great speed, the poisonous needles hit many. In the hubbub, Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng had escaped.

Chapter 7: Music Score

Three shadows walked out from behind the big rock. Under the dim starlight, it appeared to be two tall ones and a short one. The tall ones were two guys and the short one was a girl. Although Linghu Chong’s injuries were very severe, with the help of the Heng-Shan Sword School’s great medicines, “Heavenly Connecting

Glue” applied outside and “White Cloud Bear Gallbladder Pills” taken orally, after just a day and two nights’ sleep by the waterfall, his wounds had started to heal. The fact that Linghu Chong was a strong man still in his youth, and the good amount of inner energy developed from his martial arts training both contributed greatly to his fast recovery.

During the day and two nights, all they had were watermelons.

Linghu Chong had begged Yilin to catch some fish or wild rabbits for a

change, but she would not give any ground, saying that only because of the blessing from the Buddha, had Linghu Chong been able to narrowly escape from death, and it would be the best if he would become a vegetarian for a few years to show his grace to the Buddha. There was absolutely no way that she would violate the prohibition of killing. Linghu Chong laughed at her pedantry, yet could not force her, so he had no choice but to give it up.

It was already dark. The two of them rested with their back against a big rock and looked at the many fireflies flying in and out of the bushes.

The flickering of the many fireflies painted a beautiful picture of the midsummer night.

“In the summer before the last one, I once caught thousands of fireflies and placed them in dozens of gauze bags to hang in the room. That was a lot of fun!” Linghu Chong said.

Figuring with his kind of temper, he would never have made dozens of gauze bags out of his own will, Yilin asked, “It was your little apprentice sister, who had asked you to catch those fireflies, wasn’t it?”

“You are smart!” Linghu Chong smiled. “You got it right! How did you know my little apprentice sister asked me to do it?” “You have such a hot-temper; besides, you are no longer a kid. How could you have such patience to catch thousands of fireflies just for fun?” Yilin answered with a smile. “So what happened afterwards?” she asked.

“Little apprentice sister hung all these gauze bags inside her bed

curtains. She said that with so many twinkling around her bed, she would feel like sleeping above clouds. Every time when she opened her eyes, she would be seeing stars all around her.”

“Your little apprentice sister certainly knows how to have fun. And she also got you, the apprentice brother, to join in with her. If she had

wanted you to catch the stars in the sky, you probably would have agreed just the same,” Yilin commented.

“Talk about catching the stars in the sky, that was actually the reason why we caught so many fireflies,” Linghu Chong explained. “That night,

she and I went out to enjoy the cool breezes of the night. When she saw the twinkling stars in the sky, little apprentice sister took a deep breath. ‘It’s too bad that a bit later I’ll have to go to bed,” she said. ‘I’d rather sleep outside under the night sky, so when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll see all the stars blinking at me. That’ll be so much fun! But Mother definitely

won’t allow that to happen.’ So I suggested, ‘Why don’t I go catch some fireflies, and then put them in your bed curtain. They would look just like stars.’”

“So it was your idea after all,” Yilin murmured gently.

“‘But the fireflies would be flying in all directions,’ Little apprentice sister said. ‘It would be so annoying if some of them landed on my face. I got it! Why don’t I sew some gauze bags and put the fireflies in those.’ So she started making gauze bags while I worked on catching fireflies. We

worked for an entire day and an entire night to get everything ready. It was too bad that we were only able to enjoy it for the first night. By the second night, the fireflies all died.”

Yilin’s body shook at these words. “All the thousands of fireflies died? How…how could you…?” her voice quivered.

Linghu Chong grinned. “You wanted to say that we were too cruel, didn’t you? Ah, you are a Buddhist with a very kind heart. When it gets

cold, those fireflies would have frozen to death, anyway. They only died a couple days earlier. What’s the big deal?”

“Actually it’s no different for us human beings,” after a long silence, Yilin finally said quietly. “Some will die sooner, and some will die later.

Whether one dies sooner or later, he will die eventually. Buddha says that no one can escape the suffering of death, either by old age or by illness. It is so difficult to understand the ultimate truth regard the cycle of life.”

“Well said! That’s why there’s no need for you to worry about all those rules and regulations, such as no killing, no stealing, and so on. If the Buddha had to watch out for every little thing out there, he would probably become exhausted,” Linghu Chong exclaimed.

Speechless, Yilin turned her head away, just as a shooting star flashed across the night sky to their left, leaving a long beautiful light trail.

“Apprentice sister Yijing once said, that when you see a shooting star, if you can tie a knot using the ribbon on your robe and make a wish at the

same time, then the wish will come true, as long as you can finish both of them before the shooting star disappears. Do you think that’s real?” Yilin asked.

“I don’t know,” Linghu Chong answered. “Why don’t we give it a try? But I don’t think I can be that fast.” He picked up the ribbon of his robe. “Better get ready yourself. One second slower, you wouldn’t make it.” Yilin picked up the ribbon of her robe and gazed at the night sky. Shooting stars were not rare in summer nights. Only a few minutes later, another one streaked across the sky. In a flash, it had vanished. Yilin only had enough time to move a finger, and the shooting star was already gone. “Ah.” She let out a gentle cry and then waited again. Soon, another

shooting star appeared. It streaked from the west to the east and lasted a short while. Yilin had very quick fingers and actually tied a knot in time.

“Remarkable! Excellent! You finished the knot! Buddha Guanyin will surely bless you and make your wish come true!” Linghu Chong cheered.

“All I thought about was how to tie the knot in time. I forgot to make a wish.” Yilin heaved a sigh.

“You’d better think of your wish ahead of time.” Linghu Chong grinned. “Recite it a few times in your heart, so you won’t forget to make your wish when you tie the knot.”

“What should I wish for? What should I wish for?” holding the ribbon in her hands, Yilin thought inwardly. She glanced at Linghu Chong and

suddenly flushed, immediately jerking her head around. By then several more shooting stars had streaked across the star-strewn indigo sky.

“Oops, another one! Wow, that was a long one. Did you tie the knot in time? You had enough time for that one,” Linghu Chong shouted in

excitement.

But Yilin’s mind was as confused as a tangled skein. Deep in her heart, she had a vague wish, but that was a wish that she didn’t even dare to think of, not to mention asking the Buddha to grant the wish. Her heart thumped hard as the feeling of unspeakable fear mingled with unspeakable joy washed over her. Then she heard Linghu Chong’s voice.

“Have you gotten your wish yet?” Yilin asked herself gently in her heart, “What should I wish for? What should I wish for?” Raising her head slightly and watching one shooting

star after another flashing across the night sky, she found herself lost in thought.

“You are not gonna tell me, are you? Let me guess.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“No, no, don’t!” Yilin objected in a hurry.

“It’s alright! Let me give it three tries, and see if I can get it.” Linghu Chong said with an even bigger grin on his face.

“If you don’t stop, I am leaving.” Yilin stood up.

Linghu Chong burst into laughter. “Fine, I’ll stop. There’s nothing

embarrassing about wishing to be the Head Master of the Heng-Shan Sword School.”

Yilin was caught by surprise. “He…he thought I wanted to be the

Head Master of the Heng-Shan Sword School? I never thought of anything like that. How would I ever be capable of being a Head Master?” she thought to herself.

Suddenly, the dim sound of a string instrument floated in from a distance. It seemed that someone was playing a zither. Linghu Chong and Yilin exchanged a surprised look, both taken aback: “Why would someone play the zither in such wilderness?”

The sound of the zither continued, smooth and graceful, and moments later, a few subdued sounds of a bamboo flute started playing

accompanying the zither music. The sound of the seven-stringed zither was pastel and placid, when blended with the clear and elegant flute play, the tone seemed to have become even more soothing and touching. The music was played as though the zither and the flute were holding an intimate

conversation, and gradually, the sound of music came closer and closer. “Playing music here at this moment is kind of odd,” Linghu Chong leaned toward Yilin and whispered to her ear. “I am afraid they might be hostile. No matter what happens, don’t make any noise.” Yilin nodded.

The sound of the zither gradually become louder and more sonorous, while the sound of the flute became lower and deeper, but the notes played by the flute were low yet unceasing, almost like a silk thread swaying in the breeze, incessant and soul stirring.

Amid the music play, three shadows walked out from behind the big rock following a small path. At the moment, a shallow cloud blocked the moon, so everything was enveloped in a shade of blur, and Linghu Chong could vaguely tell that the group consisted of two tall ones and a short one.

The tall ones were two men, and the short one was a girl. The two men walked by a big rock in easy ambles and sat down, one playing the zither and one playing the flute. Quietly, the girl stood by the side of the zither- playing man. Slowly, Linghu Chong retracted himself back into hiding

behind the rock wall, afraid that those three might see him. The melodious play of zither and flute continued in great harmony.

“There’s a waterfall right next by, yet the thundering of the falling

water still cannot cover the soft and smooth music,” Linghu Chong thought. “These two players’ inner energy must have reached a remarkable height.

Oh, I see. The sound of the waterfall is exactly the reason why they came here to play the music. It has gotten nothing to do with us.” At that thought, he felt more relaxed.

Suddenly, the sound of the zither turned loud and forceful, with the implication of battle and fights, but the flute play remained elegant and graceful. After a while, the zither play also turned mild and gentle, and both the zither and the flute switched between high notes and low notes back and forth. All of a sudden, the sounds of both the zither and the flute changed completely, as though there were many zithers and many flutes playing together in an orchestra. Although the music had changed into something magnificent with many complex florid notes, each tone and cadence stayed clear and meaningful and the melody remained pleasing and moving.

Linghu Chong could feel that his mind had been completed captured by the music, and almost couldn’t help but stand up. After another while, the tone of the zither and the flute changed again. This time the flute took over the lead and the zither simply accompanied with soothing chords. Soon, the

sound of the flute play ascended higher and higher. Out of nowhere, the feelings of grieve and sadness rose and washed over Linghu Chong’s heart.

He turned to look at Yilin, only to find tears rolling down her cheeks like streams. A loud “ring” echoed suddenly, then the zither and the flute fell silent at the exact same instant. Silence swept across in all directions; all

there left were the moon, shinning high and bright in the indigo sky, casting still shadows from the endless of trees on the ground.

A voice said slowly, “Brother Liu, it must be fate that you and I have to die here today. It was really my fault that I didn’t act sooner; otherwise, your entire family and all your apprentices wouldn’t have lost their lives. I am so deeply disturbed.”

“We are friends with unsurpassed devotion. There’s really no need to explain….” another voice replied.

Hearing that voice, Yilin suddenly remembered. “That’s Uncle- Master Liu Zhengfeng,” She whispered at Linghu Chong’s ear.

Neither of them had any idea about what had just happened inside Liu House, so both were stunned beyond words when they suddenly made out Liu Zhengfeng in the remote valley and hear his companion saying

something like “you and I have to die here today” and “your entire family and all your apprentices have lost their lives.” “No one can escape the destiny of death,” Liu Zhengfeng said.

“Having met the soul-mate in his living, one would die with no regrets.”

“Brother Liu, your flute play today seemed to have the implication of some kind of regret. Are you regretting about how your son cravenly clung to life instead of brave out death in the face of danger, and brought humiliation to your reputation?” the other man asked.

“Big brother Qu, you guessed it right. I have really spoiled the child too much and didn’t teach him well, shaping him into such a coward with no integrity.” Liu Zhengfeng sighed deeply.

“With or without integrity, it’s all the same,” Qu Yang comforted him. “A hundred years later, we all will rot into dusts. What’s the difference?

When I was hiding on the rooftop, I should have acted sooner, but I figured you wouldn’t want me to ruin your relationship with your friends in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance for my sake. I also thought about the vow I had with you that I would never hurt anyone in the Chivalrous Side. That’s why I waited and waited. Who would have expected that the Songshan Sword School, the school housing the Alliance Chief, would act so viciously?”

Liu Zhengfeng did not answer and, for a long while, kept his silence.

Eventually, with a deep sigh, he spoke again.

“How would any of these vulgar people ever understand the high spirits and graceful friendship of ours in music? Appraising with normal

sense, they of course are convinced that our association would greatly harm the Five Mountains Sword Alliance and the Chivalrous Side. Alas, they don’t understand, and we cannot really blame them. Big brother Qu, were you hit at your Da-Zhui Acupoint, which shook your heart arteries?”

“Yes,” Qu Yang answered. “Songshan style inner energy is truly outstanding. When I took the hit on my back, I had no idea that the inner energy would be so strong to have passed through my body and broke your heart arteries with the shock, too. If I’d known earlier that you couldn’t have escaped the hit, either, I wouldn’t have shot out that cluster of ‘Black Blood Sacred Needles.’ Hurting more innocent people wouldn’t have helped any bit. Luckily, those needles were not poisonous.”

Hearing the name “Black Blood Sacred Needles,” Linghu Chong felt his heart skip a beat. “This man saved my life. Could he have been an elite fighter of the Demon Cult? If that’s true, why would Uncle-Master Liu befriend him?”

Liu Zhengfeng let out a slight smile. “But thanks to that, we got to play the zither and the flute together one last time. From now on, there will never be any zither and flute play like that.”

Qu Yang heaved a deep sigh. “Legend has it that before Ji Kang was executed, he played his zither one last time, and regretted that the ‘Guang- Ling Song’ music would be lost forever after his death. The ‘Guang-Ling Song’ sure is wonderful, but how can it compare to the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song we just played? However, Ji Kang probably felt just the

same like how we feel today.”

“Big brother Qu, you were quite enlightened just minutes ago, how

come you just turned rigid again?” Liu Zhengfeng smiled. “Our play of the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song, tonight, has brought out the best of the music. The music had already existed once in the world, and we have

already played the song together once. What more could we ask for?” “You are right!” Qu Yang clapped his hands gently. Then a short

moment later, he sighed again.

“What’s the matter, big brother? Ah, I see. You are worrying about Feifei,” Liu Zhengfeng said. “Feifei? Could that be the same Feifei?” Yilin thought to herself.

Then, sure enough, she heard Qu Feiyan’s voice.

“Grandpa, after Grandpa Liu and you gradually recover from your injuries, we’ll wipe out every one of those Songshan villains and avenge granny Liu and the rest of them!”

Suddenly a long laugh rose from behind the rock wall. Amid the echoing of the loud laugh, a dark shadow had jumped out. Light of reflection flashed, and the next moment, a man appeared in front of Qu

Yang and Liu Zhengfeng, holding a long sword in his hand. He was none other than the “Great Songyang Palm” Fei Bin of the Songshan Sword School.

“Hey, this little girl certainly likes to talk big. She wants to wipe out the entire Songshan Sword School. But I doubt everything will go as you had wished,” Fei Bin said with a cold sneer.

“Fei Bin, you have already killed my entire family, and I could die any minute now thanks to the palm strikes from your two apprentice brothers. What else do you want?” Liu Zhengfeng stood up.

“Didn’t this little girl say to wipe everyone out? I am here to wipe everyone out!” he said with an arrogant grin. “Little girl, why don’t you come here, and be the first one to die?”

“Feifei and her grandpa saved your life. You have to think of something to save them!” Yilin pleaded Linghu Chong in whisper.

Even before she had said anything, Linghu Chong had already thought hard about ways to help them, thus repay the favor to the grandpa and granddaughter. But firstly, the opponent was an elite fighter of the Songshan Sword School; even if he hadn’t incurred any injuries, he still

would be no match for Fei Bin. Secondly, he had already found out that Qu Yang was a member of the Demon Cult. The Huashan Sword School had always considered the Demon Cult an evil enemy. How could he help an

enemy? The conflicting thoughts wavered in his mind, and he simply could not decide what to do.

“Fei Bin, you are a well known master in a famous sword school.

Since Qu Yang and I are in your hands now, you can kill us or torture us all you want. But what would you become if you bully a little girl? Feifei, go! Leave!” Liu Zhengfeng urged.

“I’d rather die together with Grandpa and Grandpa Liu. I won’t live alone,” Qu Feiyan exclaimed.

“Hurry up! Go now!” Liu Zhengfeng urged again. “This is a matter between adults. It has nothing to do with a child like you.”

“I won’t go!” Qu Feiyan insisted.

Drawing two short swords by her waist, she rushed forth to hide Liu Zhengfeng behind her.

“Fei Bin, Grandpa Liu spared your life earlier, and now you are still requiting kindness with enmity. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” she

shouted.

“You said you would wipe out our entire Songshan Sword School.

Are you starting already? Do you expect me to just stand here and get

slaughtered, or should I turn around and run away?” Fei Bin mocked in a chilling tone.

Liu Zhengfeng grabbed at Qu Feiyan’s arm. “Hurry up! Go now!” he said hastily. But because the shock from the Songshan style inner energy had broke his heart arteries, and the play of the “Smiling Proud Wanderer” had also used up his last bits of strength, the grab became so weak. With an easy pull, Qu Feiyan had freed her arm from Liu Zhengfeng’s hand.

Suddenly, reflections flashed in front of her eyes and Fei Bin’s long sword was already on its way toward Qu Feiyan’s face. She blocked the thrust with the left short sword and immediately thrust out the right short sword.

Fei Bin sneered as he circled his sword tip back and smacked it

against Qu Feiyan’s sword in her right hand. A stream of numbness and pain shot through Qu Feiyan’s right palm and her entire right arm; the

sword in her right hand flew out of her grip instantly. Fei Bin shook his sword in an angle and then poked backward. “Clank!” The sword in Qu Feiyan’s left hand was also knocked out and flew dozens of feet away.

Before Qu Feiyan even had any chance to react, Fei Bin’s long sword was already pointed at her throat.

Fei Bin turned to Qu Yang, a cold grin on his face.

“Elder Qu, how about I first prick out your granddaughter’s left eye, then cut off her nose, and then cut off her two ears….”

Qu Feiyan screamed loudly. She jumped forward and threw herself at the long sword.

Fei Bin retracted the sword swiftly as he poke out with his right index finger, and Qu Feiyan fell to the ground like a rock.

Fei Bin burst into loud laughter. “You wicked demons,” he yelled, “with so many crimes you have committed, I am not going to let you die this easy. Let me first prick out your left eye.” He raised his sword and pierced it down toward Qu Feiyan’s left eye.

“Hold it!” someone shouted from behind him suddenly. Astounded, Fei Bin quickly turned around and waved his sword about to block any possible attacks. He had no idea that Linghu Chong and Yilin were actually hidden behind the rocks even before he arrived; otherwise, with his outstanding Kung Fu skills, nobody could have sneaked behind him without him noticing it. Under the dim moonlight, he saw a young man standing

still, his hands on his hips. “Who are you?” Fei Bin asked in a yell.

“Linghu Chong of the Huashan Sword School here shows his respect to Uncle-Master Fei,” Linghu Chong answered. He bowed to salute, but his body started shaking and he had a hard time keeping himself balance.

“Fine! So it’s the senior apprentice of apprentice brother Yue.” Fei Bin nodded. “What are you doing here?”

“I was injured by a Qingcheng apprentice, and was healing my wounds here, thus having the honor to meet you, Uncle-Master Fei.”

“Hmm, it’s perfect that you’re here.” Fei Bin snorted. “This little girl is an evil member of the Demon Cult. She deserves being executed. If I have to finish her off myself, it would look like a senior bullying a junior. You go ahead and kill her.” He pointed at Qu Feiyan.

Linghu Chong shook his head. “This little girl’s grandpa calls Uncle- Master Liu of the Hengshan Sword School a brother. So that would make her even one generation lower than I am. If I kill her, people would say that a Huashan Sword School senior bullied a junior. Once the news gets out, it probably wouldn’t do much good for our reputation. Besides, this senior master Qu and Uncle-Master Liu are both badly wounded; to bully a junior of theirs right in front of them wouldn’t be the right kind of behavior for a true gentleman. Our Huashan Sword School certainly wouldn’t do anything like that. Uncle-Master Fei, will you please pardon me?”

He had clearly implied that if the Songshan Sword School did the thing the Huashan Sword School disdained to do, that would obviously make the Songshan Sword School far less graceful than the Huashan Sword School.

Fei Bin knitted his brows, and a ferocious look appeared in his eyes. “So you are secretly collaborating with the Demon Cult, too!” he

bellowed in a stern voice. “That’s right, Liu Zhengfeng mentioned earlier that this Demon Qu had helped with your wounds and saved your life. I certainly did not expect an impressive Huashan apprentice to have

submitted himself to the Demon Cult so quickly.”

The sword in his hand started to vibrate, and cold reflections flashed from the blade. He was about to thrust his sword at Linghu Chong.

“Nephew Linghu, you have nothing to do with this. There’s no need for you to mix yourself up in this. You should leave quickly to avoid getting your Master into an awkward position,” Liu Zhengfeng urged.

Linghu Chong laughed. “Uncle-Master Liu, we all consider ourselves part of the Chivalrous Side and irreconcilable with the Evil Side. What does the word ‘chivalrous’ really mean? Is it considered chivalrous to bully

someone who has severe injuries? Is it considered chivalrous to kill an innocent little girl? If we were capable to lower ourselves to commit such deeds, what makes us different from the Evil Side?”

“Even our Demon Cult doesn’t do things like that,” Qu Yang said with a sigh, “Little brother Linghu, why don’t you leave now? If the Songshan Sword School likes to do such things, then just let them do as they wish.”

“I am not leaving!” Linghu Chong refused, a broad grin emerging on his lips. “‘Great Songyang Palm’ Hero Fei enjoys a great reputation in the Martial World. He is one of the best Masters in the Songshan Sword School. I am sure he was just trying to scare the little girl with harsh words. How could he actually commit such shameless deeds? Uncle-Master Fei is not that kind of guy.” He folded his arms in front of his chest and leaned onto the trunk of a pine tree.

A strong wish to kill washed over Fei Bin, and he grinned hideously. “You think you can just tie me up with your words, so I have to let

these three devils walk free? Keep on dreaming! Well, since you have submitted yourself to the Demon Cult, what difference does it make for me to kill four instead of three?” He took a step forward.

Seeing the hideous look on his face, Linghu Chong was astounded, yet he kept the same face as he pondered hard for an idea to get out of trouble.

“Uncle-Master Fei, you are thinking about killing me to rid the witness, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Hey, you’re smart. That’s right!” Fei Bin had no intention to deny.

He took another step forward forcefully.

Suddenly, a young nun walked out from behind the rocks.

“Uncle-Master Fei, the sea of bitterness has no bounds; repent and the shore is at hand. You only have the intent to commit a crime, yet the crime has not been committed. It’s still not too late to rein in at the brink of the precipice.”

That was Yilin. Although Linghu Chong had instructed her to hide behind the rocks and not to let anyone see her, seeing the danger Linghu

Chong was in, she immediately walked out without much thinking, hoping to convince Fei Bin to stop with her sincere advice.

Fei Bin was caught in great surprise. “You are from the Heng-Shan Sword School, right? Why are you hiding here in such a sneaky way?” he demanded.

“I…I….” Yilin blushed and could only murmur.

Qu Feiyan lay on the ground still. She could not move any of her limbs because of her sealed acupoints, but she could still talk.

“Sister Yilin,” she shouted, “I knew you’d be together with big brother Linghu. So you did heal his wounds. Too bad…too bad we are all going to die soon.” “No, we won’t.” Yilin shook her head. “Uncle-Master Fei is a renowned hero in the Martial World. How could he hurt a severely wounded man or a little girl like you?”

“Is he really a renowned hero, a true man?” Qu Feiyan only sneered. “The Songshan Sword School houses the Alliance Chief of the Five

Mountains Sword Alliance, the leader of the Chivalrous Side of the Martial World. They would, of course, follow the chivalrous rules first no matter

what they do,” Yilin emphasized.

She had really said those words sincerely and honestly, but in Fei Bin’s ears, it all sounded like sarcastic ridicules. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he thought secretly. “If I let anyone of them leave here alive, my

reputation would be ruined forever. Even though I am killing demons of the Demon Cult, killing wounded people and prisoners is not the kind of act of a true man, and will surely be looked down upon by others.” At that thought, he pointed his sword at Yilin.

“You are neither severely wounded, nor a little girl that cannot move; I guess it’s alright to kill you then.”

Greatly stunned, Yilin took several steps back.

“Me…me…me? Why do you want to kill me?” in a trembling voice, she asked in disbelief.

“You ganged up with the demons of the Demon Cult. That little devil even called you a sister; you are obviously taking the demons’ side. Of

course I won’t let you go.” He took another step forward and was ready to thrust his sword at Yilin.

Linghu Chong hurriedly rushed in front of Yilin, hiding her behind him. “Apprentice sister, run! Quick! Ask your Master to come save us,” he shouted loudly. He knew clearly that water a mile away wouldn’t extinguish the fire close by. Asking Yilin to go seek help was just another excuse to get her out of here, staying away from danger.

Fei Bin waved his sword and thrust the tip of the blade toward Linghu Chong’s right shoulder, which Linghu Chong dodged by turning to the side hurriedly, then, Fei Bin thrust out three more continuous moves, which Linghu Chong was only able to escape barely.

Yilin was extremely worried. She drew the broken sword by her waist in a hurry and thrust it at Fei Bin’s shoulder.

“Big brother Linghu, you have injuries. Stay back!” she shouted. “I see. The little nun has forgotten about all the prohibitions. After

seeing a handsome lad, she doesn’t even care about her own life any more.” Fei Bin let out a stream of laughter. He slashed his sword straight down.

“Clank!” The two swords collided and Yilin’s broken sword was instantly knocked out of her grip. Fei Bin pushed his sword forward, and the sword headed straight toward Yilin’s heart.

Fei Bin figured that he had as many as five people to kill. Even though none of them could really put up a decent fight with him, but a long delay would mean many hitches, and he couldn’t afford to let any one of them escape, otherwise, there would be endless trouble. That was why he was so determined to use deadly moves.

Linghu Chong jumped on Fei Bin, poking two fingers of his left hand at Fei Bin’s eyes. Fei Bin pushed the ground with his toes and leapt backward, slicing his sword conveniently following his body movements, which left a long cut on Linghu Chong’s left arm.

Linghu Chong’s fierce attack with disregard to his own life saved Yilin from being stabbed, but it also exhausted all his strength that he could hardly breathe, his body trembling hard, as if he could collapse any second. Yilin rushed forward and held onto his arms. “He will have to kill the both of us!” she exclaimed in a sobbing voice.

“Run…run away now…hurry up…!” although totally out of breath, Linghu Chong managed to squeeze out these words.

“You dummy!” Qu Feiyan grinned. “Don’t you understand what she wants? She wants to die with you…!” Before she could finish, Fei Bin’s

sword had already penetrated her heart.

Qu Yang, Liu Zhengfeng, Linghu Chong, and Yilin all screamed in disbelief.

With a hideous grin on his face, Fei Bin slowly took a step toward Linghu Chong and Yilin, then another step, then another. Blood dripped down from the tip of the sword one drop after another.

Linghu Chong’s mind fell into a state of chaos: “He…he actually killed the little girl. How vicious! I am going to die, too. Why does

apprentice sister Yilin want to die together with me? Yes, I’ve saved her before, but she has saved me, too, and has repaid the favor she owed me. I had never known her before. We are just apprentice brother and sister of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. There is of course the code of honor in the Martial World, but she doesn’t have to sacrifice her life for that. I’d never thought an apprentice of the Heng-Shan Sword School would take brotherhood of the Martial World so seriously. Sister Dingyi must be a remarkable person. Ah, it’s this apprentice sister Yilin who will die together with me, not my little apprentice sister Lingshan. Talking about Lingshan, what is she…doing right now?” With a gentle sigh and a slight smile, he

shut his eyes tight and completely ignored the dreadful face of Fei Bin that was getting closer and closer.

All of a sudden, several faint sounds of a huqin came into his ears.

The tone was filled with sadness, almost sounded like a sigh, yet also sounded like a sob. The sounds quivered, like drops of rain falling on leaves. Very surprised, Linghu Chong opened his eyes.

A shock went through Fei Bin’s heart: “‘Night Rain of Xiaoxiang’ Great Mr. Mo is here.”

The music played by the huqin became even more depressing, but Great Mr. Mo remained behind the trees.

“Great Mr. Mo, why don’t you come out?” Fei Bin yelled.

Music from the huqin stopped. A thin figure walked out from behind a pine tree. Linghu Chong had long heard of the fame of “Night Rain of

Xiaoxiang” Great Mr. Mo, but he had never seen him in person before.

Now in the dim moonlight, he could see a man standing in front of Fei Bin. He was so thin that he was mere skeleton, and his back arced badly. He looked almost like someone who was so ill that he could collapse down and die any second. Who would have thought that the well-known Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School had such a wretched appearance?

Great Mr. Mo cupped his hands toward Fei Bin, still holding the huqin in his left hand. “Apprentice brother Fei! How is Alliance Chief Zuo?” he greeted.

Seeing that Great Mr. Mo hadn’t come with any ill intentions, and also knowing that he didn’t get along with Liu Zhengfeng, Fei Bin

answered, “Thanks for asking, Great Mr. Mo. My apprentice brother Zuo is just fine. Liu Zhengfeng of your respectful school collaborated with the

Demon Cult and had plotted against our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. Great Mr. Mo, what do you think we should do?”

Great Mr. Mo took two steps toward Liu Zhengfeng and said in a chilling tone, “We should kill!” Right after the word “kill,” a thin and

narrow long sword appeared in his hand out of nowhere. Cold reflections flashed when he thrust the sword hard backward; the tip of the blade went straight toward Fei Bin’s chest. His sudden attack was so fast and swift that it almost looked unreal. That was one of the unique moves of the “Magical Thirteen Phantom Stances of Hengshan Mist.”

Fei Bin had fallen for this unique style of Kung Fu from Liu Zhengfeng earlier in Liu House, and now he fell for it again. In great

astonishment, he jumped back as quickly as he could, but it was still not quick enough. In a tearing sound, the sword sliced across his chest; his robe was cut open and a long cut appeared on his chest. Although the wound was nothing serious, because of his surprise and anger, he had lost his edge in

spirit.

Fei Bin immediately started his own attack, but Great Mr. Mo had taken control of the initiative with his first move, and his attacks poured out continuously, one wave after another. The thin sword twisted and vibrated like a serpent, flying swiftly in between Fei Bin’s sword flashes. Fei Bin

was forced to retreat back a step, then another, without a chance to utter a cry or swear.

Qu Yang, Liu Zhengfeng, and Linghu Chong were all taken aback by the magical and ghost-like sword moves of Great Mr. Mo. Liu Zhengfeng had studied with him in the same school, and had been his apprentice brother for decades, but even he did not expect such outstanding and magnificent sword skills out of him.

Drops of blood splashed out between the two swords. Fei Bin jumped and dodged and ducked, trying his best to block away the attacks, but he

still couldn’t escape the cage of light created by Great Mr. Mo’s fast sword. The splashing blood gradually made a red circle around them.

Suddenly, Fei Bin uttered a long scream and jumped high in the air as Great Mr. Mo took a few steps back. Shoving his sword into the huqin,

Great Mr. Mo turned on his heels and strolled away. A song of “Night Rain of Xiaoxiang” rose from behind the pine trees, and soon the music fainted into the distance.

Fei Bin collapsed onto the ground after his jump. Blood sprang out from his chest and up into the air like a fountain. In the fierce fight, he had loaded the Songshan style inner energy. When his chest was stabbed, the inner energy was still circling inside his body, and started pumping blood out from the wound. Such a scene was strange yet horrifying.

Yilin held onto Linghu Chong’s arm, her heart thumping like a drum. “You didn’t get injured again, did you?” she asked in whisper.

Qu Yang heaved a sigh. “Brother Liu, you had mentioned before that you don’t get along with your apprentice brother. Who would have thought that he would save us when we are in danger.”

“My apprentice brother always behaves in such odd ways. I really have no idea beforehand what he might do. We don’t get along. It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m rich and he’s poor. It’s just that our temperaments don’t agree with each other,” Liu Zhengfeng explained.

“His sword skills are so outstanding, but the music he played with his huqin only showed sadness and depression that will move the audience into tears. His music play is too vulgar; he still cannot get rid of the sordid street tone in his music.” Qu Yang shook his head.

“Exactly!” Liu Zhengfeng couldn’t agree more. “Apprentice brother’s huqin play has no circulation in the chords, and the tone always goes far too deep into the sadness. Good poems have regards about joyful but not fancy, sad yet not depressing. What’s so different about music? Every time when I hear his huqin play, all I want to do is to run as far away as possible from it.”

Linghu Chong couldn’t help thinking to himself, “These two are

simply obsessed with music. Even in such a life threatening situation, all they could think of are ‘sad yet not depressing’ and ‘vulgar versus graceful.’ If it weren’t Uncle-Master Mo who got here in time, we would all be dead. What a pity that the little girl Qu had to be murdered by Fei Bin.”

Liu Zhengfeng continued. “But regarding sword skills and Kung Fu skills, I am really far behind. In the old days, I haven’t really showed a lot of respect for him. Now when I think about it, I truly regret it myself.”

“The Head Master of the Hengshan Sword School really lives up to his reputation.” Qu Yang nodded in agreement. He turned to Linghu Chong. “Little brother, I have a favor to ask of you. Will you do me this favor?”

“Senior Master, please! Of course I will,” Linghu Chong answered. Qu Yang cast a side-glance at Liu Zhengfeng and then said, “Brother

Liu and I love music to the extreme. We spent several years writing this

song called ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer.’ We believe this piece of music is so unique that during the past millennium, there was nothing even close to it. From now on, even if there will be someone like Qu Yang again, there might not be a Liu Zhengfeng; if there will be someone like Liu Zhengfeng, there might not be a Qu Yang. If there will be people like Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng, the two of them might not be born during the same period of time to meet and become friends. To find two who are good not only in music, but also in inner energy, yet have the same tastes and similar level of Kung Fu skills, to create a piece of music like this, is more difficult than finding a needle in a hay stack. If this piece of ultimate music gets buried into oblivion, brother Liu and I will undoubtedly sigh with regret in the underworld.” Taking a book of manuscripts out from his chest pocket, he

continued, “This is the music score of the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song. Little brother, for the sake of the great devotion and efforts the two of us put in this, will you please find the right kind of people to give this to?” “If the world gets to know the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song, then big brother Qu and I will be able to die content,” Liu Zhengfeng added.

Linghu Chong bowed and took the music score manuscripts from Qu Yang with both of his hands, and put it into his own pocket.

“Please rest assured. I will definitely try my best,” he promised. When Qu Yang had said that he had a favor to ask of him earlier,

Linghu Chong thought it was going to be something very difficult and dangerous. He also worried that to accomplish such a task might require

action that would violate his school rules and offend fellow martial people in chivalrous schools. But he really could not refuse in the circumstance by then. Learning now that all they wanted was for him to find two guys to play zither and flute, he immediately felt much relaxed, and heaved a sigh of relief.

“Nephew Linghu, this piece of music not only is the ultimate lifelong work of the two of us, it is also related to a historical figure. A good amount of the melody in the ‘Smiling Proud Wanderer’ song was modified by big brother Qu Yang based on the Jin Dynasty musician Ji Kang’s ‘Guang-Ling Song’,” Liu Zhengfeng elaborated.

Qu Yang was quite proud of himself for this one. “It has always been said that after Ji Kang had died, the ‘Guang-Ling Song’ was lost for ever. Do you have any idea where I got it?” he beamed at Linghu Chong.

“I don’t have the slightest idea about music. And since you two do things so differently from other people, how would I have any clue about the answer?” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “Senior Master, will you please tell us?” he requested.

Qu Yang grinned. “Ji Kang was a very interesting guy. According to history books, he liked to ‘speak with magnificent style, quoting from Lao and Zhuang46 and enjoying the company of unusual people.’ His character was the type that I would have gotten along with. Zhong Hui was a high official at that time. Hearing about Ji Kang’s great reputation, he went to visit Ji Kang, but Ji Kang just went on with his blacksmith work, and paid no attention to him. Put out by Ji Kang’s indifference, Zhong Hui had to leave. Ji Kang asked him, ‘what did you hear before you came, and what did you see before you leave?’ Zhong Hui answered, ‘I heard what I heard before I came, and I saw what I saw before I leave.’ Zhong Hui the fellow was really a smart guy, but he was too narrow-minded. Because of this

embarrassing encounter, he became angry and spoke ill of Ji Kang to Sima Zhao.47 Sima Zhao then ordered Ji Kang to be killed. Before Ji Kang was executed, he played a song with zither. That was really a good display of

elegance. But when he said that the ‘Guang-Ling Song would be lost for

ever from now on,’ he really underestimated everybody after his generation. He wasn’t the composer of this piece of music. He lived during the Western Jin Dynasty, even if it really became extinct after the Western Jin Dynasty, what about the dynasties before the Western Jin Dynasty?”

Linghu Chong was confused. “Before the Western Jin Dynasty?” he repeated in a mutter.

“Yep!” Qu Yang nodded. “I really didn’t agree with that comment of his, so I started digging in the tombs of Emperors and high officials in

Western Han Dynasty and Eastern Han Dynasty. After digging in twenty- nine different ancient tombs, I finally found the music score manuscripts in Cai Yi’s tomb.” He burst into loud laughter and was very content with himself.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded: “Just for the manuscripts of a single piece of music, this Senior Master actually dug into twenty-nine different tombs.” Qu Yang’s smile gradually disappeared, and a bit of depression

climbed onto his face. “Little brother,” he said, “I know you are the senior apprentice of a famous chivalrous school, and I really shouldn’t be asking you for this favor, but in such urgency, I really have no other choice but to get you involved. Please pardon me.” Then he turned to Liu Zhengfeng.

“Brother, we can go now.”

“Right!” Liu Zhengfeng answered and extended his hand out.

The two grabbed hold of each other’s hand and laughed loudly. Amid the loud laughter, both gathered the remaining inner energy still left in them and burst the main arteries in their bodies. Within seconds, both shut their

eyes tightly and passed away.

“Senior Master! Uncle-Master Liu!” Linghu Chong shouted in shock and reached out to check the two’s breathing, but found none.

“They…they are all dead?” Yilin asked in shock, and Linghu Chong answered with a nod.

“Apprentice sister, let’s bury the four bodies quickly, in case someone comes over searching for them and causes more trouble. We must under no circumstances ever let out the news that Great Mr. Mo killed Fei Bin.” He lowered his voice and said, “If this ever gets leaked out, Great Mr. Mo

would know for sure that it was us who leaked the news. That would create major problems.”

“Yes,” Yilin agreed. “But what if my Master asks about it? Should I

tell?”

“You can’t tell any one. If you ever tell this to your Master and Great

Mr. Mo comes to pick a sword fight with your Master, that would be disastrous,” Linghu Chong emphasized.

Remembering the outstanding and magical sword skills that Great Mr.

Mo had demonstrated earlier, Yilin couldn’t help but shiver. “I won’t tell,” she promised hurriedly.

Linghu Chong slowly bent over to pick up Fei Bin’s long sword, and then started poking holes on Fei Bin’s dead body with it. Yilin didn’t have the heart to watch.

“Big brother Linghu, he is already dead, why do you still hate him so much and want to torture his dead body?” she asked hesitantly.

“Great Mr. Mo’s sword is very thin and narrow. It would take a master no time to figure out who had executed the kill by checking the

wounds on Uncle-Master Fei’s dead body. I am not torturing his dead body; I am just messing up every wounds on his body, so no one would be able to tell,” Linghu Chong explained.

Yilin gasped. “Why are there so many schemes in the Martial World?

It’s really…really difficult,” she couldn’t help thinking.

Seeing that Linghu Chong had thrown down the long sword and was picking up stones to throw on top of Fei Bin’s body, she said hurriedly,

“Don’t work too hard. Why don’t you sit down? Let me do it.” Picking up a stone, she placed it on Fei Bin’s body, so gently as if the body still had

senses and could feel the pain because of the stones.

Yilin kept on picking up stones and soon covered the four bodies of Liu Zhengfeng and the others. Affectionately placing one more stone on Qu Feiyan’s grave, she murmured.

“Little sister, if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have to suffer so much pain. I wish you would ascend into the Heaven to enjoy all the happy things, and then in your next life, get reborn as a male, performing many

charitable and pious deeds, so eventually you would be able to enter the western paradise. May the merciful Buddha preserve us all….”

Linghu Chong sat on the ground leaning against a rock. Thinking about how Qu Feiyan had saved his life, yet had to die a terrible death at such a young age, he couldn’t help but feel sad. Even though he never believed in Buddhism, he still recited some ‘may the merciful Buddha preserve us all’ together with Yilin.

After some good rest, the pain from Linghu Chong’s wounds lightened, so he took the book of manuscripts of the “Smiling Proud

Wanderer” music score out from his pocket and opened it up. The book was filled with strange symbols, and he didn’t even know a single one of them. His reading capabilities were very limited. Having no idea that music scores all used this kind of strange symbols, he thought that these were difficult

words and characters he had never learned before. So he put the music book back into his robe pocket. He raised his head slightly while taking a deep breath, thinking, “Uncle-Master Liu had given up everything, including his own life, for his friend. Even though the friend was an Elder in the Demon Cult, both of them showed zealous passion and great courage, and deserved to be called true men. They are so admirable! I thought Uncle-Master Liu

was going to have his ‘Gold Basin Hand Washing’ ceremony, and quit the Martial World today. What really happened? How did he become an enemy of the Songshan Sword School? How strange?”

Still lost in his wild imagination, Linghu Chong suddenly noticed

some flashes of sword reflections from the northwest corner in the distance. The sword moves looked very familiar. It seemed that an elite fighter in his own sword school was in a sword fight with someone else. A shiver ran through his heart.

“Apprentice sister, wait here for a while. I will be right back,” he muttered to Yilin,

Yilin was still working on piling the stones for the graves, and didn’t even notice the sword flashes. She thought Linghu Chong was just in need of nature’s call, so she nodded. Using a fallen branch as his crutch, Linghu Chong stepped forward. Picking up Fei Bin’s long sword on his way, he hung it by his waist, and then walked toward the direction of the sword flashes. After a short while, he could already vaguely hear the weapons colliding noises. The noises

were so dense that they sounded nonstop; obviously it was a fierce fight.

“Which senior master in our school is in the fight?” he asked himself. “The fight has lasted for quite a while. Apparently the opponent is an elite fighter, too.”

He bent his back and slowly sneaked closer. Hearing the colliding

sounds get louder, he knew he was already very close to the scene, so he hid behind a big tree and peeked out. In the bright moonlight, he could make out a scholarly looking man standing in the middle of the open field, holding a long sword. It was his Master, Yue Buqun. A short Taoist priest

circled around Yue Buqun in blazing speed and continuously thrust his sword toward him. In the time of one circle, he would have made over a dozen thrusts. This man was the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Yu Canghai.

Seeing his Master in a fight with someone so unexpectedly, and the opponent being the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School, Linghu Chong felt very excited. He could tell that his Master fought in a very relaxed and graceful way. Every time when Yu Canghai thrust his sword out, Yue Buqun would simply block it leisurely. When Yu Canghai circled behind his back, he didn’t turn around, but only waved his sword to protect his back. Yu Canghai’s sword attacks became faster and faster, yet Yue

Buqun only defended and didn’t attack back.

Linghu Chong watched on with great admiration. “Master’s nickname is ‘Gentleman Sword,’ and he really is behaving like a polite, graceful, and elegant gentleman. Even when he is in a fight with someone, he didn’t show any trace of violent brutality, none whatsoever.” He watched some more

and then thought, “Master is able to control his temper well because he has not only poise, but also outstanding Kung Fu skills.”

Yue Buqun rarely got into fights with anyone. In normal days when Linghu Chong watched him fight, it would always be a demonstration fight with Master-Wife for the apprentices. Those were all fake fights. But this time it was a real one, so of course it was quite different from all the demonstration fights.

Linghu Chong could hear the whistles made by Yu Canghai’s sword every time he thrust the sword out, clearly showing the great strength behind each sword attack. “I’ve always looked down upon the Qingcheng Sword School. But this short Taoist priest actually is a very tough opponent! Even if I were healthy, I still wouldn’t last one minute fighting against him. The next time I meet him again, I’d better watch out for myself. The best thing to do would be keeping a safe distance from him.” Linghu Chong told himself inwardly as he went on watching.

By then, Yu Canghai had accelerated his circling around Yue Buqun. It almost looked as if a purple shadow had surrounded Yue Buqun and was rotating around him. The noises of swords colliding into each other had become so dense that all the sounds echoed continuously, and making a long ringing sound.

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think, “If those dozens of attacks were aimed at me, I probably won’t be able to block a single one, and

would end up enjoying dozens of holes in my body. This short Taoist priest probably has even better Kung Fu than Tian Boguang.”

Seeing that his Master still was not attacking back, he became

worried. “That short Taoist Priest’s sword skills are so stunning, I hope Master won’t lose to him because of any small oversight.” Suddenly a loud “ring” echoed in the air, and Yu Canghai had slid back like a shooting arrow. He stopped at about a dozen feet away and

stood there still; Linghu Chong didn’t even catch a glimpse of him shoving his sword back to his sheath. Greatly astonished, Linghu Chong immediately glanced at his Master. Yue Buqun had also put his sword back into the sheath and just stood there quietly. The change happened in such an abrupt manner that Linghu Chong had no idea who had won and who had lost the fight. He wasn’t even sure if anyone had been injured internally or not.

For a moment, the two just stood there quietly, then eventually Yu Canghai sneered coldly, “Very well! I am sure we will meet again!” After these words, he sprinted toward his right side without any further delay.

“Master Yu, wait!” Yue Buqun yelled loudly. “What about the Lin

Couple?” He quickly chased after Yu Canghai following the same direction. Before their voices fainted down, the two had vanished from sight.

From the dialogue between the two, Linghu Chong could tell that his Master had won the fight with Yu Canghai. He couldn’t help but feel great joy. But because of all his wounds and all the excitement, fatigue soon

started to sink in, and he felt totally exhausted.

“Ah, Master has gone after Yu Canghai. With the level of Qing-Gong they have, they are probably a mile away by now!” he thought.

He leaned on his crutch and started walking back to meet Yilin again when suddenly a long scream floated out from within the woods to his left.

The scream sounded miserable. Astounded, Linghu Chong took several steps toward the woods. A yellow wall could vaguely be seen behind the

trees, and it looked like the kind of wall of a temple. Fearing that his fellow apprentices of the Huashan Sword School might be injured in fights with the Qingcheng apprentices, he strode in the direction of the yellow wall. When he was only about dozens of feet away from the temple, he heard an old and shrill voice speaking from inside the temple.

“Where is the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’? If you tell me

where it is with no tricks, then I promise to wipe out the entire Qingcheng Sword School for you, and avenge the couple of you two.”

Linghu Chong had heard this voice before. That was when he was on the bed in “Jade House.” So he recognized the man easily. It was

“Hunchback of the North” Mu Gaofeng.

“Master is looking for the whereabouts of the Lin Couple right this moment. Turned out the two actually are in the hands of Mu Gaofeng!” he thought to himself.

“I don’t know if there is actually an ‘Evil-Resisting Sword

Manuscript’,” a man’s voice replied. “The sword art of our Lin family had

always been passed down orally throughout the generations. I’ve never seen a sword art manuscript.”

“This one must be apprentice brother Lin’s father, the Chief Escort of the Fortune Prestige Escort House – Lin Zhennan,” Linghu Chong told himself.

Then the voice continued, “Senior Master, I thank you for considering seeking revenge for us. Yu Canghai of the Qingcheng Sword School had

committed so many evil crimes; he will definitely have a terrible death. Even if he could escape you, Senior Master, he would die under someone else’s blade for sure.”

“Are you saying that you are determined to keep this to yourself? I

am sure you’ve heard about the reputation of the ‘Hunchback of the North’ before, haven’t you?” Mu Gaofeng screeched with a threatening tone.

“Of course everyone knows about your great reputation, Senior Master Mu,” Lin Zhennan answered. “Excellent! Excellent!” Mu Gaofeng said. “I wouldn’t call it a great reputation, but you probably have heard about how cruel and merciless I can be, haven’t you?”

“I knew you would be torturing me, Senior Master Mu. Even if we really had the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ I would have never given that out no matter how others combine threats with inducements. Ever since I was taken prisoner by the Qingcheng Sword School, I’ve been tortured

every single day. I don’t have high Kung Fu skills, but I do have some hard bones,” Lin Zhennan said firmly.

“Well, well, very well!” Mu Gaofeng pondered upon himself.

Outside the temple, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Why is he saying ‘well, very well?’ Oh, I see. That’s why!” Then he heard Mu

Gaofeng’s voice again.

“You claim that you have hard bones and can take tortures. The short bull-nose of the Qingcheng Sword School tortured you left and right, and you still didn’t let the words out. If your Lin family never had the ‘Evil-

Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ then you would simply have no words to let out, and wouldn’t have to rely on your hard bones. I see. You do have the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript.’ You just won’t give it out no matter

what.”

After a short while, he heaved a sigh. “You are really dumb, you know that?” he muttered. “Chief Master Lin, why won’t you give the sword art manuscript up? The sword art manuscript won’t do you any good. You know what I think? I think the sword arts recorded on that sword art manuscript must be really ordinary. Otherwise why you cannot even beat a couple of Qingcheng apprentices? This type of sword art skills is really not worth mentioning, you know what I am saying?” “That’s right! Senior Master Mu, you said it right! Even if I really had this ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ such ordinary good-for-nothing

sword art wouldn’t even enable one to protect his own life, why in the

world would you, Senior Master Mu, be interested in it?” Lin Zhennan said. “I am only curious,” Mu Gaofeng said. “Since that short bull-nose

made such a fuss about it and dragged in so many people to pressure you, there’s got be something strange here. Maybe the sword art recorded in that sword manuscript is really high-level stuff; it’s just that you are too stupid to understand it, and had to bring disgrace to the ancestors of your Lin Family. Why don’t you take it out and let me, a senior master, have a look at it, and point out all the advantages and good tricks of your Lin family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’, so everyone in the Martial World will know

about them? Wouldn’t that be better for your Lin family’s reputation, too?” “Thanks for your kind regard, Senior Master Mu,” Lin Zhennan

answered. “Why don’t you search me and see if I really have the ‘Evil- Resisting Sword Manuscript’?”

“Nah, no need for that!” Mu Gaofeng declined. “You’ve been the

Qingcheng Sword School’s prisoner for many days. They must have frisked you up and down dozens of times. Chief Master Lin, you are really dumb.

Did you know that?”

“I am really dumb. I’ve got that part figured out a long time ago. I don’t need others to point that out for me,” Lin Zhennan responded.

“Well, you don’t understand, but maybe Mrs. Lin will. Who knows?

Mothers tend to love their kids more than fathers,” Mu Gaofeng said.

“What are you talking about? What has it got anything to do with my Pingzhi? What happened to him? Where…where is he?” Mrs. Lin shrieked.

“The lad Lin Pingzhi is quite bright. I liked him the first moment

when I laid my eyes on him. That kid surely knows how to behave himself. He knows that my Kung Fu skills are tough, so he had submitted himself to be my apprentice,” Mu Gaofeng said.

“So my son had asked you to be his Master, Senior Master Mu?

That’s really his good fortune. Because of injuries from the cruel tortures, the two of us could die any moment now. Will you please call our son over to see us one last time?” Lin Zhennan asked.

“It is only natural that you want your son to attend upon dying parents. That’s easy.” Mu Gaofeng smirked.

“Where is Pingzhi? Senior Master Mu, I beg of you! Please ask our son to come. I’ll never forget your kindness,” Mrs. Lin pleaded.

“Very well! I’ll go get him right away. But Mu Gaofeng never likes to be ordered around by others. To get your son here is as easy as falling off a log, but you’ll have to first tell me the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ truthfully.”

“If you don’t believe me, there’s really nothing I can do to convince you. The two of us are already on the verge of dying; all we want is to have one last look at our son. If there were really an ‘Evil-Resisting Sword

Manuscript,’ I would have asked you to tell my son without your asking about it.” Lin Zhennan sighed.

“That’s exactly why I think you are dumb,” Mu Gaofeng explained. “Your heart arteries are already busted. I don’t even have to touch you with a little finger; you’d be dead, anyway. You simply won’t last another hour, why are you so stubborn and simply refuse to tell me where the sword art manuscript is? Obviously, it’s because you want to reserve the Lin family

Kung Fu that was passed down from your ancestors. But after you are dead, Lin Pingzhi would be all there is left in the Lin family. If he’s dead too, then there’s this sword manuscript, but there won’t be any Lin family’s descendents left to practice it; what good would that do your Lin family to leave the sword manuscript in this world?”

“Is my son…my son alright?” Mrs. Lin asked in terror.

“Right now, of course he is alright. Once you tell me where the sword art manuscript is, and after I get it, I promise I will give it to your son. And when he has questions when he studies it, I can also give him some good pointers, so he won’t be like his dad, Master Chief Lin, who studied the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art’ for his entire life and still had no clue about how to use it whatsoever. Wouldn’t that be a better choice than smashing him dead with a knife hand chop?” Smashing sounds rose from inside the temple. Apparently he had just smashed some big object into pieces.

“Why…why do you want to smash him dead?” Mrs. Lin asked fearfully.

Mu Gaofeng burst into loud laughter. “Lin Pingzhi is my apprentice.

If I want him alive, he will stay alive. If I want him dead, he will die.

Anytime I feel like smashing him dead, all I need to do is to raise my hand.” Some more smashing sounds came. He had smashed some more things.

“Wife, enough talks. He doesn’t have our son, otherwise, why

wouldn’t he bring him here and threaten to kill him right in front of our eyes?” Lin Zhennan said.

Mu Gaofeng laughed out loud. He said, “I said you were dumb, and you really, really are dumb. If the ‘Hunchback of the North’ wants to kill your son, is it that hard? Let’s assume that he is not in my hands right now, but if I am really determined to find him and whack him, you really think it’s going to be that difficult for me? I have friends and information sources all over the Martial World. To find your darling baby son is like a piece of cake.” “Husband, if he really decides to give our son trouble….” Mrs. Lin said to Lin Zhennan in a low voice.

“Yeah! Once you tell me, even if the both of you cannot survive, you still have Lin Pingzhi to carry on with your name. Wouldn’t that be nice?” Mu Gaofeng encouraged.

Lin Zhennan laughed. “Wife, if we tell him where the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ is, the first thing he’ll do is get the sword art manuscript; the second thing on the list will be to kill our son. If we don’t tell him, in order to get the sword art manuscript, the hunchback would have no other choice but to protect Pingzhi’s life. As long as Pingzhi doesn’t tell him, the hunchback would never dare to harm him. You must understand the trick here.”

“You are right!” Mrs. Lin said in agreement. “Hunchback, go ahead and kill us,” she yelled at Mu Gaofeng.

By then, Linghu Chong knew that Mu Gaofeng must be infuriated. If he couldn’t figure out a way to draw Mu Gaofeng away, then the Lin couple would be dead in no time for sure. So he said loudly, “Senior Master Mu, following my Master’s order, Huashan Sword School apprentice Linghu

Chong here invites Senior Master Mu to come out. We have something important to discuss with you.”

In great rage, Mu Gaofeng had raised his hand, ready to strike down on Lin Zhennan’s head, when he suddenly heard the words from Linghu Chong outside of the temple. He was dumfounded. It was rare for him to ever give ways to others, but the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School, Yue Buqun, surely made him think twice, especially after his dreadful encounter with the “Divine Art of Violet Twilight” of Yue Buqun outside of the “Jade House” the other day. Probably Yue Buqun and his

apprentices had been eavesdropping outside the temple for quite a while when he threatened the Lin couple. That type of deeds was really looked down upon by all the chivalrous schools.

“Yue Buqun asked me out to discuss something? He will probably pretend to make peace between the Lin couple and I, while actually casting sarcastic remarks. A wise man will never put himself in a disadvantageous situation. I’d better take off now,” he told himself.

“Sorry,” he said after making up his mind, “I really don’t have any time. I already have previous arrangements. Please tell your Master that whenever he gets some free time, he is welcome to visit me near the northern border. I will be humbly awaiting for him!”

He jumped out of the hall into the courtyard. Pressing hard on the ground with his left foot, he had jumped up the roof and then down to the back of the temple. Afraid to be stopped and questioned by Yue Buqun, he disappeared in an instant.

Hearing that Mu Gaofeng had fled, Linghu Chong was so glad.

“Wow, this hunchback is really scared of my Master. If he hadn’t run away and decided to fight me, I wouldn’t stand a chance.”

With the help of the branch, he slowly walked into the tiny temple housing the village god. The hall was enveloped in darkness. There was no lights or candles. He could only make out two shadows of a man and a

woman sitting on the floor leaning against each other.

“I am Linghu Chong of the Huashan Sword School. Apprentice brother Pingzhi has also joined our sword school just recently. I am here to pay my respect to Uncle Lin and Auntie Lin,” he said with a bow.

Lin Zhennan burst with joy. “Young sir, you are really flattering us. We are both injured severely, so please pardon us for greeting back. Is our son really an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School’s Hero Yue now?” His voice trembled in the last couple of words. Yue Buqun had a much bigger fame in the Martial World than Yu Canghai. Every year, Lin Zhennan had been sending presents to the

Qingcheng Sword School to fawn on Yu Canghai, but he dared not to send any present to the Huashan Sword School, knowing that he would be in no position to make friends with one of the Head Masters of the Five

Mountains Sword Alliance. Now seeing that even such a ferocious Mu

Gaofeng fled as soon as he heard the name of the Huashan Sword School mentioned, and his son so fortunate to have become an apprentice of the

Huashan Sword School, he found himself in high spirits and his heart filled with joy.

“Yes,” Linghu Chong answered. “The hunchback Mu Gaofeng was forcing your son to become his apprentice, but your son simply wouldn’t agree. The hunchback got mad and was about to harm your son when my Master happened to be passing by. So Master was able to save him. Your son begged Master sincerely to take him in as an apprentice. Seeing his

sincerity and that he would make a good apprentice, Master did not object. Earlier Master just had a sword fight with Yu Canghai and defeated him in the fight. Yu Canghai ran away, and Master chased after him in order to get the whereabouts of you two, Uncle and Auntie. But he didn’t know that you two are actually right here.”

“I wish…wish Pingzhi could get here soon. We don’t have much time left.” Lin Zhennan murmured. He breathed hard, but it still seemed that more air was breathed out than in; he was really on the threshold of meeting death.

“Uncle Lin, don’t talk. After my Master takes care of the business with Yu Canghai, he’ll come back looking for you. The respectful Master must have a way to heal you,” Linghu Chong comforted him. Lin Zhennan let out a wry smile and then closed his eyes. After a few moments, he spoke again in a low voice, “Little brother Linghu, I…I…I am not going to make it. I am overjoyed to know that Pingzhi was taken into the Huashan Sword School. Will you…you please help take care…care of him?”

“Uncle, please don’t worry. Apprentice brother Lin will be studying together with us, and we will be like brothers in a family. I will put in extra effort to take good care of him,” Linghu Chong assured him.

“Thanks to your great kindness, we will be remembering it even after we head to the underworld,” Mrs. Lin cut in.

“Please, don’t talk much. Concentrate on your breathing and you will feel better,” Linghu Chong suggested.

Lin Zhennan appeared to be short of breath. Disjointedly, he said, “Will you…will you please tell my son? The thing in the basement of the old Lin House in the Xiang-Yang Alley of Fuzhou has…has been handed

down in the family from generation to generation. He must…he must take good care of it. But…but his great grandfather Sir Yuantu had said in his last words: ‘for all my descendents, you shall never read it, or great misfortune will fall upon you.’ Please tell…tell him to remember that well.”

Linghu Chong nodded. “All right! I will take the message to him,” he promised.

Lin Zhennan murmured, “Many…many…many….” The word “thanks” never made it out of his mouth before he fell dead.

Wishing to see his son one last time and tell him these important words himself, Lin Zhennan had been struggling to hold out. Now after

Linghu Chong gave his word that he would take the message, and knowing his son had found such a good home, in great joy, he had no regrets left. As soon as he gave up on the struggle, he departed with the living world. “Young hero Linghu,” Mrs. Lin said, “I hope you will tell my son never to forget seeking revenge for his parents.” She threw herself toward the stone steps under the columns of the temple and bumped her head hard onto one of the steps. With her previous fatal injuries, the bump killed her instantly.

Linghu Chong heaved a deep sigh, and couldn’t help thinking to himself, “Yu Canghai and Mu Gaofeng both tried to force the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ out from Lin Zhennan, but he

would rather die than speak out the secret. Only when he knew he was going to die right away, he had no choice but to ask me to take a message. But he still feared that I would go take out the sword art manuscript of his Lin family, so he said something like ‘you shall never read it, or great misfortune will fall upon you.’ Humph, what kind of person did you think Linghu Chong was? Did you actually think I would covet the sword art manuscript of your Lin family? You were really worrying yourself for nothing…?”

By then he was totally exhausted, so he sat down leaning against a column and rested with his eyes shut.

A good while passed when Yue Buqun’s voice finally rose outside the temple, “Let’s check out this temple.”

“Master, Master!” Linghu Chong shouted out loud. “Is that Chong?” Yue Buqun asked in delight.

“Yes, it’s me!” Linghu Chong answered. He propped himself up slowly against the column.

It was already near dawn, so when Yue Buqun entered the temple, he easily spotted the bodies of the Lin Couple. “Are they Chief Master Lin and his wife?” he asked with a frown. “Yes.” Linghu Chong answered and then went ahead and told

everything: how Mu Gaofeng had compelled the Lin couple, and how he

scared Mu Gaofeng off but the Lin couple still died because of the injuries. He also told his Master the last words of Lin Zhennan.

“Ah, Yu Canghai had really committed some terrible sins this time, yet he got nothing,” Yue Buqun muttered to himself.

“Master, did that dwarf Yu asked you for mercy?” Linghu Chong asked in an excited tone.

“Master Yu has very fast legs. I chased him for quite some time, yet was only getting further and further behind him. The Qing-Gong of the

Qingcheng Sword School is, I guess, somewhat better than ours of the Huashan Sword School,” Yue Buqun replied.

“The Qingcheng Sword School’s ‘bum bum back fleeing’ Kung Fu is definitely better than other schools.” Linghu Chong burst into laughter.

Yue Buqun pulled a long face and reproached, “Chong, you’ve really gotten a glib tongue with no decency. How would you be a role model for all your apprentice brothers and sisters if you keep acting like this?”

Linghu Chong turned his head aside, stuck his tongue out and made a face. “Yes, Master!” he answered

“If you agree, then agree. Why did you stick your tongue out when you answered? You are not being honest,” Yue Buqun criticized.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong replied.

Yue Buqun had brought him up since he was little. To him, Yue

Buqun was almost like a father figure. Although he revered the Master, he never reserved himself much in front of the Master.

“Master, how did you know that I stuck my tongue out?” he asked with a grin. Yu Buqun snorted. “The muscles under your ear were retracting, so of course you were sticking your tongue out. You always like to run wild. See, you’ve come to a good grief this time! Are your wounds better now?”

“Yes, they are much better now,” Linghu Chong answered. He then added, “Well, the more grief this time, the smarter next time!”

Yue Buqun scolded, “Don’t you think you are too smart already?”

He took a signal flare out from his pocket and walked into the

courtyard. Lighting the fuse with a match, he threw the flare up into the air. The flare rocketed high into the sky, and with a loud “Bang,” it exploded in the air, leaving a trail of silver light in the shape of a long sword, hanging in the sky for a long while. Then the sword shaped light trail descended slowly for a couple hundred feet before finally bursting into hundreds of glitters.

That was the type of signal flare used by the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School to call on all school members.

Soon footsteps from a distance rose as someone ran toward the tiny temple.

“Master, are you here?” Gao Gengming’s voice shouted from outside. “Yes, I am in the temple,” Yue Buqun answered.

Gao Gengming came into the temple and bowed to Yue Buqun.

“Master!” Seeing that Linghu Chong was standing next to the Master, he

said cheerfully, “Big apprentice brother! Are you alright? We became really worried when we heard that you were severely wounded.”

“I guess I am plain lucky this time. I am still alive,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

More sounds of footsteps came from the distance. It was Lao Denuo

and Lu Dayou this time. As soon as Lu Dayou saw Linghu Chong, spending no time greeting the Master, he rushed straight forth toward Linghu Chong and gave a big hug to him while shouting happy words wildly. Then third apprentice Liang Fa and fourth apprentice Shi Daizi came into the temple one after another. After a few moments, seventh apprentice Tao Jun, eighth apprentice Ying Luobai, Yue Buqun’s daughter Yue Lingshan, and the new apprentice Lin Pingzhi came all at once.

Seeing his parents’ bodies, Lin Pingzhi threw himself onto them and began crying bitterly. All the fellow apprentices felt real sorry for him.

Yue Lingshan was gleefully surprised when she saw that Linghu Chong was all right. But seeing Lin Pingzhi’s bitter grief, she knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to express her cheerfulness out loud at this moment, so she walked by Linghu Chong and slightly pinched his right hand.

“Are…are you all right?” she whispered. “I am fine!” Linghu Chong answered.

For the last couple of days, Yue Lingshan had been worried to death about her big apprentice brother, and now when she finally bumped into him all of a sudden, she could no longer control the excitement that had been growing inside her these days. She grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s

sleeve and burst out crying.

Linghu Chong gently padded her on the shoulder. “Little apprentice sister, why? Did someone pick on you? I’ll go whoop his ass for you!” he whispered.

Yue Lingshan did not answer and went on weeping. After shedding some more tears, she finally felt better. Wiping off the tears with Linghu Chong’s sleeve, she murmured, “You are not dead. You are not dead!”

“I am not!” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“I heard that you took a palm strike from that Yu Canghai of the

Qingcheng Sword School,” Yue Lingshan whispered. “That man’s ‘Heart Crushing Palm’ can kill without spilling blood. I’ve seen him kill many people with my own eyes. I was so scared that…that….” Remembering all the agonizing suffering and torturing she had to go through in the last

couple of days, she could not help but start weeping again.

“I was really lucky that his palm strike missed me narrowly. It was such a cool scene earlier when the Master was fighting Yu Canghai and

scared him so much that he ran away so fast. Too bad you missed that one,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

“Let’s not mention this to any outsiders,” Yue Buqun ordered. Linghu Chong and the rest of the apprentices all complied in unison.

Yue Lingshan stared at Linghu Chong through her tearful eyes.

Linghu Chong looked so wan and sallow. There was little color in his

cheeks. Feeling very pitiful for him, she sniveled, “Big apprentice brother, this time…this time you are so badly wounded. You should have some good rest and recovery once we get back to Mount Huashan.”

Seeing that Lin Pingzhi was still sobbing bitterly by his parents’ bodies, Yue Buqun said, “Pingzhi, cry no more. We should make

arrangements for the funeral now.”

“Yes, Master!” Lin Pingzhi stood up and answered. But seeing blood all over his mother’s face and forehead, he could not help but shed more tears. “When Mom and Dad passed away, they couldn’t even see me one last time. They must…they must have wanted to give me some last words of advice,” he murmured, sobbing.

“Apprentice brother Lin,” Linghu Chong said, “I was here when your parents passed away. The two of them wanted me to take care of you. That’s something I should be doing anyway, there’s not much to talk about that.

Your father had some other words that he wanted me to pass on to you.”

“Big apprentice brother, at the time…when my mom and dad passed away, fortunately they had you as accompany. Otherwise, they would have had no one around them when they left this world. I…I am truly grateful!” Lin Pingzhi bowed.

“The rascals of the Qingcheng Sword School tortured your parents cruelly in order to force the whereabouts of the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword

Manuscript’ out of them, but they never gave in. The torturing busted their heart arteries. Later that Mu Gaofeng also tried to force information out.

Mu Gaofeng is a mean villain; doing what he did was not something out of his character. But Yu Canghai, as the Master of a big school, had acted in

such a despicable way. Everybody will hold him in contempt for sure,” Linghu Chong said.

“If I cannot seek my revenge, I will be no better than a pig!” Lin Pingzhi vowed with his teeth gnashed. He punched hard on the column.

Although his Kung Fu skills were ordinary, yet because of the great hatred, the punch carried much strength and even the dirt atop the cross beam in the temple started to fall down.

“Junior brother Lin,” Yue Lingshan said, “this matter really started because of me. When you settle your score later, as your senior apprentice sister, I definitely won’t just stand by with folded arms.”

“Many thanks, senior apprentice sister!” Lin Pingzhi bowed.

“The tenet of our Huashan Sword School has always been ‘if others don’t offend us, we won’t offend them’.” Yue Buqun sighed. “Other than our deadly enemy the Demon Cult, there’s no grudge between any of the

schools or clans in the Martial World and us. But starting from now on, the Qingcheng Sword School…the Qingcheng Sword School…Well, as a part of the Martial World, not offending anyone is so much easier said than done.”

“Little apprentice sister and junior brother Lin,” Lau Denuo said, “this misfortune wasn’t really caused by junior brother Lin, because he killed the wicked son of Yu Canghai to defend justice. It was really because Yu Canghai coveted the ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript’ of the Lin family. Many years ago, when the Head Master of Qingcheng, Evergreen, lost to junior brother Lin’s great grandfather’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Art,’ the root of the trouble was already planted.”

“That’s right,” Yue Buqun said. “Most martial people tend to

scramble for supremacy and victory. So as soon as they hear about some kind of secret manuscripts of Kung Fu, not even bothering to check if it’s real or not, they would all try to secure it by force or by trickery, by hook or by crook. People like Master Yu or Hunchback of the North, who already have elite skills and fames, really have no need to covet the sword art manuscript of your Lin family.”

“Master, my family really do not have any kind of Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,” Lin Pingzhi said. “My dad taught me the seventy-two moves of the Evil-Resisting Sword Art personally and orally. He told me to memorize everything in my head. If there was some kind of sword art manuscript, of course my dad wouldn’t tell outsiders anything about it, but why would he keep it a secret from me? There’s no reason for that.”

Yue Buqun nodded in agreement. “I never believed that there was some kind of Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript. Otherwise, Yu Canghai would be no match for your father. It’s just so clear and simple.”

“Junior brother Lin, your father wanted me to tell you: In the Xiang- Yang Alley of Fuzhou…,” Linghu Chong said.

Yue Buqun waved him off. “These are the last words of Pingzhi’s father. You can tell Pingzhi alone. There’s no need for others to hear about it.”

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered. “Denuo, Gengming, you two go buy two coffins in the town of Hengshan.” Yue Buqun instructed.

After putting the Lin couple into the coffins, they hired some porters to carry the coffins to the river wharf. The group hired a big ship and headed north by water.

When they arrived at west Henan Province, they changed into traveling by land. Linghu Chong rested in a wagon through the trip, while his wounds slowly recovered. Days later, they arrived afoot the Jade

Maiden Peak of Mount Huashan. The Lin couple’s coffins were temporarily placed in a small temple by the side of the peak, so an appropriate date for burial can be decided on later. Gao Gengming and Lu Dayou went up the peak ahead of everyone else to inform about the return of the group. Soon the rest of the Huashan apprentices that stayed on Mount Huashan, about twenty of them or so, came down to greet the Master. Lao Denuo introduced them to Lin Pingzhi one by one. Some elder ones were well over thirty years of age; some younger ones were only about fifteen or sixteen.

Among them were six female apprentices. As soon as they spotted Yue Lingshan, they immediately went into chitchats. The rule of the Huashan Sword School’s apprenticeship was that seniority would be based on the date order when each one became an apprentice, so with even the youngest one Shu Qi, Lin Pingzhi had to call him senior apprentice brother. Yue Lingshan was the only exception. She was the daughter of Yue Buqun, so

she couldn’t be ranked using the same ordering system, and had to be called based on age. People older than her called her junior sister. She was really a couple of years younger than Lin Pingzhi, but she firmly insisted on being Lin Pingzhi’s senior apprentice sister. Since Yue Buqun did not object, so Lin Pingzhi called her “senior apprentice sister.” After they all climbed up the peak, Lin Pingzhi followed behind all the senior apprentice brothers. The mountain was very precipitous, yet

appeared to be graceful and elegant because of the many ancient trees. Bird tweeting and stream gurgling echoed, making the place a lively

environment. Several big houses stood on the side of the hill, some tall,

some short, built following the slope of the hill, and all with whitewashed walls.

A middle-aged, pretty lady slowly walked toward them, and as soon as Yue Lingshan caught the sight of her, she dashed into her arms and

shouted excitedly.

“Mom, I’ve got a new junior apprentice brother!” She pointed at Lin Pingzhi, smiling.

Lin Pingzhi had heard from his senior apprentice brothers that

Madam Yue, Ning Zhongze, or Master-Wife, as how all the apprentices

called her, was really a junior apprentice sister of the Master under the same master, and her sword skills were really no less than the Master. So he rushed forward and kowtowed.

“Lin Pingzhi here shows his respect to Master-Wife.”

“That’s wonderful! Get up, get up!” Madam Yue said with a bright smile. She turned to Yue Buqun with a grin. “Every time when you go down the mountain, you always seek a couple treasures to satisfy your

craving. This time when you headed for the Hengshan Meeting, I figured that you’d be getting at least three or four new apprentices. How come you only came back with one?”

“Didn’t you always say quality is more important than quantity?

What do you think about this one?” Yue Buqun grinned.

“This one is way too handsome. He doesn’t look like the kind of material for Kung Fu training. Why don’t you have him study the Four Books and the Five Classics48 from you, so he will pass the Xiucai49 test

someday, and maybe become a Zhuangyuan50 later?” Madam Yue said with a big smile.

Lin Pingzhi blushed. “Master-Wife is not taking me seriously because I look gentle and frail. I’ll have to work extra hard, so I won’t be looked down upon because my performance is inferior to the other senior

apprentice brothers,” he told himself.

“That’s a wonderful idea. If the Huashan Sword School could actually produce a Zhuangyuan, then we would be creating legends for our descendents,” Yue Buqun answered with a grin.

Madam Yue glared at Linghu Chong. “You got into fights with others and got wounded again, didn’t you? How come you don’t look too well right now? Were you severely wounded?” she asked.

“It’s already much better now. If I hadn’t been lucky this time, I probably wouldn’t even make it back to see you again,” Linghu Chong replied with a light smile.

Madam Yue gave him another glare. “It’s a good lesson for you to learn that there’s always stronger than the strong. Did you think you lost in a fair fight?”

“I couldn’t fend off the fellow Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops. Master-Wife, will you please give me some pointers?” Linghu Chong requested.

Hearing that it was Tian Boguang who had injured Linghu Chong,

Madam Yue nodded, while a big smile blossomed on her face. “So you

were fighting the villain Tian Boguang. That’s great! I thought you stirred up dispute and got into trouble again. How were his fast knife chops? Let’s think it over and refine your techniques, so you can fight him again.” During the trip back home, Linghu Chong had asked several times for advice from his Master about techniques to counter Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops, but Yue Buqun had not said any word in regard, and simply told him to ask his Master-Wife once they were back to Mount Huashan.

Sure enough, as soon as Madam Yue heard about it, she got so excited that she almost wished she could get onto it the very moment.

The bunch went into the house Yue Buqun lived in – “House of Integrity,” and talked about events that had happened since the two groups separated. The six female apprentices really envied Yue Lingshan when they heard about her adventure in the town of Fuzhou and in the town of Hengshan. Lu Dayou, on the other hand, really bragged about how the big

apprentice brother had fought the fierce fights with Tian Boguang and how he had slain Luo Renjie, to the bunch of junior apprentice brothers. He

added many inflammatory details to the story, and it sounded as if big apprentice brother had defeated Tian Boguang instead of suffering a

crushing defeat. After they had some snacks and tea, Madam Yue asked Linghu Chong to emulate Tian Boguang’s knife moves and also inquired about how he had countered them.

“That chap Tian Boguang’s knife skills are excellent. I was simply dazzled just looking at the chops, having a hard time fending them off. How could I have countered them?” Linghu Chong answered with a grin.

“If you couldn’t fend them off, then you must have used all kinds of tricks in a slick way to cheat your way through,” Madam Yue concluded. She had raised Linghu Chong up, so of course, she had a very good idea of Linghu Chong’s character.

Linghu Chong blushed. “When I fought Tian Boguang outside the cave, the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School had left, and I no longer had any scruple, so I fought the chap Tian Boguang with all my heart. But not far into the fight, he started using his fast knife chop moves. After fending off only two of those moves, I was already groaning inwardly: ‘Looks like I am dead meat!’ So I started laughing loudly.

“Tian Boguang pulled his knife back. ‘What’s so funny?’ he asked. ‘Do you think you can fend off my thirteen stances of ‘Wind Storm’ knife chops?’

“I said, ‘Aha, so the well-known Tian Boguang is actually an expelled apprentice of our Huashan Sword School. I had no idea! Really no idea! I got it. You must have been kicked out of our school because of your dreadful personal character.’

“Tian Boguang said, ‘Expelled Huashan apprentice? What kind of nonsense is that? My Kung Fu is of its own style. What the hell has it got anything to do with your Huashan Sword School?’

“I said, ‘This set of knife moves has a total of thirteen stances, right? ‘Wind Storm?’ Did you just pick a nice random name for it? I’ve seen my Master and Master-Wife use those during practices before. My Master-Wife created those out of a sudden inspiration when she was embroidering. You must know that we’ve gotten a Jade Maiden Peak in Mount Huashan, don’t you?’

“Tian Boguang answered, ‘Yeah. Everybody knows there’s a Jade Maiden Peak in Mount Huashan. What about it?’

“I answered, ‘This set of sword art created by my Master-Wife is called ‘The Thirteen Stances of Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle.’ One of them is called ‘Threading the Needle;’ another one is called ‘Seamless

Heavenly Robe;’ there’s also another one called ‘Late Night Embroidering of the Loving Birds.’

“Then I started counting with my fingers as I spoke. I said, ‘That’s right, the two moves you just used were evolved from the eighth move created by my Master-Wife: ‘Weaving Goddess Throwing the Shuttles.’

Why would a valiantly and hefty fellow like you imitate the manners of my affectedly sweet Master-Wife and throw the shuttle with the pretty hands from left to right, then right to left, like how the gorgeous looking Weaving Goddess would have when she is sitting by a weaving loom. Don’t you think that’s just hilarious…?’” Before he even finished, Yue Lingshan and the bunch of female apprentices all started giggling.

“That’s too mischievous!” Yue Buqun scolded, yet could not help but

grin.

“Bah,” Madam Yue spat at Linghu Chong. “Why couldn’t you use

some other materials for your nonsense, and had to get your Master-Wife involved? You really deserve a good beating.”

“Master-Wife, you don’t understand.” Linghu Chong grinned. “That Tian Boguang is rather conceited. When he heard that I was comparing him to a woman and that my Master-Wife created her own magical knife moves, he had to argue about it and definitely wouldn’t just kill me right away. Sure enough, he started to show me the moves of that set of knife chops one by one slowly. Each time when he was demonstrating one, he would ask, ‘Did your Master-Wife create this one?’

“I pretended to be very secretive about it and kept my silence while secretly memorizing his knife moves. I waited till he was done demonstrating all thirteen stances and then said, ‘This set of knife art of yours only has very slight deviations from the one created by my Master- Wife, but the majority of it is still the same. This is really odd? How did you steal it from our Huashan Sword School?’

“Tian Boguang said angrily, ‘You couldn’t fend off this set of knife art of mine. That’s why you simply made things up to stall time so you can investigate the moves of my knife art. Did you think I am stupid? You said your school has the same set of knife art, then please show them to me and help me broaden my horizon.’

“I said, ‘First of all, our school uses swords, not knives. Secondly, this set of ‘Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle Sword’ of my Master-Wife is only taught to female apprentices, not male apprentices. If we hefty guys had to use such sissy looking sword art, wouldn’t we become the laughing stocks of the entire Martial World?’

“Tian Boguang became even more angry. He yelled, ‘Whether I become the laughing stock or not, I am going to make you admit that the

Huashan Sword School does not have this set of Kung Fu. Brother, I admire your courage, but you shouldn’t wag your tongue so freely and make fun of me.’”

“Who cares if such a shameless villain admires you or not? He deserves to be made fun of,” Yue Lingshan interrupted.

“But in that circumstance,” Linghu Chong said, “if I did not demonstrate this made-up set of ‘Jade Maiden’s Golden Needle Sword’ in front of him, I’d be dead by now. So with no other choices, I had to add

some affectedly bashful moves at random based on his knife art and demonstrated the moves.”

“Did these affectedly bashful moves of yours look real?” Yue Lingshan giggled.

“I’ve seen you use your sword many times, so how could they not look real?” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Ah, you are making fun of me saying that I use my sword in an affectedly bashful way. I am not going to talk to you for three days!”

Madam Yue had been quiet for the time being, and finally she spoke

out.

“Lingshan, give your sword to big apprentice brother.” Yue Lingshan drew her long sword and handed it to Linghu Chong with the handle first.

“Mom wants to see the wicked look of yours with those affectedly bashful moves,” she said with a grin.

“Chong, don’t pay attention to Lingshan. How did you demonstrate the moves at that time?” Madam Yue asked.

Linghu Chong knew that Master-Wife meant to see Tian Boguang’s knife moves. He took the long sword and then bowed to the Master and Master-Wife.

“Master! Master-Wife! May I demonstrate Tian Boguang’s knife moves now?”

Yue Buqun nodded.

“Junior brother Lin,” Lu Dayou said to Lin Pingzhi, “this is a rule of our school. Every time before an apprentice performs moves in front of

elders, he must first ask for permission.”

“I see. Thanks for telling me, sixth apprentice brother,” Lin Pingzhi

said.

Linghu Chong yawned languidly with a slight smile on his face and

then held up his arms sluggishly as if he was going to stretch himself, but suddenly, he snapped his right wrist speedily and chopped three chops

continuously. The chops were almost as fast as flashes, and whistles from the sword slashes echoed. All the apprentices were shocked, and a few of the female apprentices uttered a cry of surprise almost in unison. Linghu

Chong started to chop, slice, slash and stab the long sword in all directions. The moves appeared as if they were going in all directions randomly and disorderly, but in Yue Buqun and Madam Yue’s eyes, the dozens of moves were clear and distinct; every hack, thrust, slash or chop was vicious yet accurate. Only moments later, Linghu Chong had pulled the sword back and stood still to bow to the Master and Master-Wife.

Yue Lingshan was a bit disappointed. “That fast?” she said.

“It has to be that fast.” Madam Yue nodded. “Within those thirteen

stances of fast knife chops, each stance has three or four moves of variation. Over forty moves had passed within such a short period of time. This is really an exceptional set of fast knife art.”

“When the chap Tian Boguang used it, he was way faster than what I’ve just demonstrated,” Linghu Chong added.

Madam Yue and Yu Buqun looked at each other, both couldn’t help but feeling some admiration and surprise inwardly.

“Big apprentice brother, how come you didn’t look anything close to affectedly bashful?” Yue Lingshan asked mockingly.

“For the last several weeks, I’ve been thinking about this set of fast knife chops all the time, so of course when I showed them I was able to do it a little bit faster. That day when I was showing them to Tian Boguang in the remote mountain area, I wasn’t doing it as fast. I had to intentionally make those moves similar to his moves yet different, as well as putting on an act with many postures of a lady, therefore it was even slower,” Linghu Chong explained with a smile.

“How did you put on the postures of a lady? Show me! Show me!” Yue Lingshan requested, her face split into a big grin.

Madam Yue turned to her side and drew a long sword from one of her female apprentices. “Use the fast knife chops!” She demanded.

“Yes,” Linghu Chong answered, and with a loud “Swoosh,” his long sword circled around Madam Yue’s body and the blade chopped toward her lower back.

“Mom, look out!” Yue Lingshan cried out in shock. Madam Yue threw herself forward, completely ignoring Linghu

Chong’s chop from her back, and her sword tip went straight toward Linghu Chong’s chest, also extremely fast and swift.

“Big apprentice brother, watch out!” Yue Lingshan uttered another

cry.

Linghu Chong didn’t block either. “Master-Wife, he was way faster,”

he said as he chopped backward with his sword.

Madam Yue attacked with another three thrusts, and Linghu Chong also returned the attacks with three chops. The two both fought with fast attacking moves, and none used any defending moves to block. Within a short moment, the two had exchanged over twenty moves.

Lin Pingzhi was dumbstruck. “Big apprentice brother speaks and acts like a lunatic, but his Kung Fu skills are excellent. I’ll have to train really hard, with no slack anytime whatsoever, so others won’t belittle me,” he told himself.

Right at the moment, with a quick thrust, Madam Yue’s sword tip had touched Linghu Chong’s throat. Not able to dodge that, Linghu Chong muttered, “He can block that.”

“Fine!” Madam Yue shouted. She waved her sword and a couple of moves later, her sword tip stopped next to Linghu Chong’s heart.

“He can block that,” Linghu Chong muttered the second time.

What he meant was that even though he wasn’t able to block it, Tian Boguang would have been able to block those two moves because his knife chops were a lot faster.

The two fought faster and faster, and soon, Linghu Chong didn’t even have any time to spill the words ‘he can block that.’ Whenever Madam Yue’s sword tip pointed next to his vital body parts, he simply shook his head to signal that the move would not have worked on Tian Boguang. Madam Yue was really in the mood now; she was totally carried away. Suddenly with a loud and clear roar, she thrust the sword rapidly around Linghu Chong’s body, the sword tip flashed about as if it was

everywhere; the silver reflection circled around and blurred the audiences’ eyes. Suddenly she pushed the sword straight toward Linghu Chong’s heart in the speed of light, with the strength of a thunder.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “Master-Wife!” he cried.

By then the sword tip had already penetrated his robe. Madam Yue’s right hand still pushed forward until the hand guard of the long sword touched Linghu Chong’s chest. It seemed as though the sword had went through Linghu Chong’s body all the way till the end of the sword.

“Mom!” Yue Lingshan screamed. Then sounds of clatter and jingle echoed when pieces of inch-long steel fell down to the floor by Linghu

Chong’s feet. Madam Yue smiled as she pulled her hand back. In her hand, all there was left of the long sword was only the sword handle.

“Junior apprentice sister, your inner energy has really progressed, and you kept it well from me,” Yue Buqun said happily.

The two of them had studied under the same Master. They were used to the way they had called each other in their youth, so after they got married, they still called each other apprentice sister and brother.

“Senior apprentice brother is really flattering me. These were just insignificant skills. Nothing to be mentioned about!” Madam Yue said with a smile.

Staring at the pieces of broken sword, Linghu Chong gasped with

astonishment. Master-Wife must have thrust the sword out with her whole might, otherwise, without the full strength of her inner energy, the sword thrust would not have had such extraordinary speed. As soon as the sword tip reached the skin, she immediately retracted the vigorous inner energy and changed the direction of the strength from horizontal to vertical, and the great shock from the inner energy strength broke the long sword into inch- long pieces. The superb inner energy manipulation had really reached the level of perfection. In great admiration, he said, “Even if Tian Boguang’s knife chops were faster, he still would not have escaped this thrust of yours, Master-Wife.”

Lin Pingzhi stared at the many holes all over Linghu Chong’s robe, which all came from Madam Yue’s sword thrusts, and almost couldn’t believe his own eyes. “There are actually sword arts this fantastic in the world. All I need is a portion of that and I’d have enough skills to avenge my parents.” He then thought, “The Qingcheng Sword School and Mu

Gaofeng both coveted our family’s ‘Evil-Resisting Sword Manuscript,’ but when comparing our family’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art to the sword art of Master-Wife, they are as far apart as from heaven to earth!”

Madam Yue was quite contended. “Chong, since you say this move can kill Tian Boguang, if you train hard, I’ll teach it to you,” she said.

“Thanks to Master-Wife!” Linghu Chong replied.

“Mom, I want to learn it too,” Yue Lingshan demanded.

“Your inner energy is not there yet. You won’t be able to learn this move.” Madam Yue shook her head.

Very discontented, Yue Lingshan pouted her lips. “Big apprentice brother’s inner energy is not that much better than mine. Why can he learn it, but not me?” she complained.

Madam Yue did not answer and only smiled.

Yue Lingshan grabbed onto her father’s sleeve and begged, “Father, you teach me a Kung Fu that will counter that sword move, in case big

apprentice brother picks on me after he learns that sword move.” “This sword move of your mom’s is called ‘Unrivaled and

Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning.’ Since it’s unrivaled, how could I have anything to counter it?” Yue Buqun shook his head and grinned.

“That’s nonsense. It’s alright that you flatter me, but once the name spreads out, fellow martial people will laugh their teeth off for sure.”

Madam Yue smiled.

This sword move was really created out of a sudden inspiration of Madam Yue. It contained the Huashan inner energy style, the Huashan sword techniques, plus some of her clever inventions, so it was indeed a

devastating move. But since it had just been created, there was no name for it. Yue Buqun had thought of naming it “The Unrivalled Thrust of Madam Yue,” but then he thought that his wife had always been valuing her own pride; even after they got married, she still liked when fellow martial people called her “Heroine Ning” instead of “Madam Yue.” Calling her “Heroine Ning” would be praising her own skills and behavior, and calling her

“Madam Yue” would only make it sound like she was relying on her world- renowned husband.

Although Madam Yue called her husband’s words nonsense, she truly liked the name “Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning,” and praised inwardly that her husband, as a scholar, had really thought of a

wonderful name for her new move.

“Father, when are you going to create the ‘Incomparable and Unparalleled, The Ten Thrusts of Yue,’ and then teach them to your

daughter, so I can challenge big apprentice brother?” Yue Lingshan asked. “No, I cannot. Dad is not as smart as your mom. I don’t know how to

create new moves!” Yue Buqun shook his head.

“It’s not that you don’t know. It’s just that you are afraid of your wife, and dared not to create any,” Yue Lingshan whispered at her father’s ear. Yue Buqun burst into loud laughter. “Total nonsense,” he denied as he gave a gentle pinch to Yue Lingshan’s cheek.

“Lingshan, don’t get wild with your father. Denuo, go arrange the ritual so your apprentice brother Lin can pay his respects to the spirits of all the former grandmasters of our sword school,” Madam Yue instructed.

“Yes!” Lau Denuo answered and soon had everything ready.

Yue Buqun led the group into the Back Hall. Lin Pingzhi could see a banner board hanging high in the middle of the room, and the words “Inner Energy Drives the Sword” were inscribed onto the board. The hall was decorated in a very serious and solemn manner. Swords after swords hung by the two sidewalls. The sheaths were pitch black and the tassels all

appeared to be ancient. Lin Pingzhi figured that those swords must have been the swords of all those former grandmasters of the Huashan Sword School. He thought to himself, “Huashan Sword School has such a great fame and reputation in the Martial World today. There must be heaps of evil villains who died from these grandmasters’ long swords.”

Yue Buqun knelt in front of the incense burner table and kowtowed four times.

“Apprentice Yue Buqun is taking Lin Pingzhi of Fuzhou as my

apprentice today. All the ancestors’ spirits in Heaven, will you please bless Lin Pingzhi and watch out for him, have him study and train hard, preserve his purity, follow the school rules, and never harm the reputation of the

Huashan Sword School?” he prayed.

Hearing these words from Yue Buqun, Lin Pingzhi knelt down behind him respectfully.

Yue Buqun stood up. “Lin Pingzhi,” he said coldly, “you are taken into our Huashan Sword School today. You must follow the school rules

strictly. If you ever violate any of them, you will be punished based on the severity. If the violation were severe, you would be beheaded with no pardon. Our sword school has been in the Martial World for hundreds of years. Although we are capable of striving for supremacy with other

schools using our Kung Fu skills, temporary victories are really not worth mentioning. The real important thing is that members of our school all greatly value the reputation of our school. You must remember that well.”

“Yes, Master. I will always keep your advice and instruction in my heart,” Lin Pingzhi promised.

“Linghu Chong, recite the school rules to Lin Pingzhi,” Yue Buqun ordered.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered. “Apprentice brother Lin, listen carefully. Firstly, any deceiving behavior to the Master and any disrespectful behavior to the seniors is prohibited; secondly, bullying the weak and hurting the innocent is prohibited; thirdly, assailing of women

with obscenities is prohibited; fourthly, jealousy and killing between school members are prohibited; fifthly, stealing and forsaking righteousness for the lust of gain is prohibited; sixthly, conceited and arrogant attitudes when dealing with fellow martial people are prohibited; seventhly, reckless

collaboration with gangsters or evil and wicked is prohibited. These are the seven prohibitions of Huashan. All members of the Huashan Sword School have to follow them.”

“Yes. I promise to remember the seven Huashan prohibitions that big apprentice brother just informed me. I will follow all the rules and never dare to violate any of them,” Lin Pingzhi promised sincerely.

“Well, that’s it.” Yue Buqun smiled. “Our school is not like most other schools that have many rules and regulations. As long as you remember these seven prohibitions well and always remember to uphold humanity and righteousness above everything else, behaving like a true gentleman, you’ll keep the Master and the Master-Wife happy.”

“Yes, Master!” Lin Pingzhi answered. He kowtowed to the Master

and the Master-Wife, then bowed to and saluted all apprentice brothers and sisters.

“Pingzhi, let’s first bury your parents to let you fulfill your duty as the son, then I will start teaching you the basic drills of our sword school,” Yue Buqun said.

Tears instantly filled Lin Pingzhi’s eyes. “Many thanks to Master and Master-Wife,” He said, kneeling down on the floor.

Yu Buqun propped him up. “In our school,” he said kindly,

“everybody is like a member of a big family. When one has a matter to deal with, it becomes a matter for the entire group. You don’t have to be so

courteous.”

Yue Buqun turned around and looked at Linghu Chong up and down.

After quite a while he finally said, “Chong, this time after you left Mount Huashan, how many prohibitions have you violated?”

Linghu Chong’s heart skipped a beat. He knew that in normal days the Master was always kind and loving to all the apprentices, but if anyone violated school rules, he would be punishing the violator severely without any mercy. So he knelt down in front of the incense burner table.

“I have realized my mistake,” he said. “I did not listen to the advice from Master and Master-Wife. I violated the sixth prohibition of being

conceited and arrogant when dealing with fellow martial people. I killed Luo Renjie of the Qingcheng Sword School on top of the Huiyan Wine House in the town of Hengshan.”

Yue Buqun let out a snort with a stern face. “Father, it was Luo Renjie who had bullied big apprentice brother. At that time big apprentice brother just had a fierce fight with Tian Boguang

and was severely injured. Luo Renjie took advantage of big apprentice brother. How could big apprentice brother just let himself get killed like that?” Yue Lingshan argued.

“This matter does not concern you. This really started because Chong kicked the two Qingcheng apprentices earlier. If it weren’t because of the grudge before, why would that Luo Renjie take advantage of Chong when everything is perfectly alright?” Yue Buqun reproved.

“When big apprentice kicked the Qingcheng apprentices, you had already given him thirty sticks of beating as punishment. That matter was

over; you cannot count that one in again. Big apprentice brother is so badly injured, he can’t take any more beating now.” Yue Lingshan pleaded.

Yue Buqun gave a strict glare at his daughter. “We are talking about school prohibitions right now. You are an apprentice of the Huashan Sword School. Shut up and don’t interrupt me,” he yelled sharply.

Yue Lingshan rarely received any harsh words or stern looks from her father; feeling the grievance, her eyes reddened and she almost fell into a

cry.

During normal days, even if Yue Buqun ignored his daughter, Madam Yue would have comforted her with kind words, but since Yue Buqun was judging school matters as the Head Master at the moment, it wouldn’t be

appropriate for Madam Yue to help her daughter, so she had to pretend that she didn’t see or hear anything.

Yue Buqun continued with Linghu Chong, “When Luo Renjie took advantage of you and humiliated you, you would rather die than submit. That was something a true man would have done. But why did you offend the Heng-Shan Sword School in your words and said something like ‘Once seeing a nun, one loses all bets,’ and that even I was afraid of seeing nuns?”

Yue Lingshan burst into laughter. “Father!” she yelled. Yue Buqun waved her off, but had dropped his stern look.

Linghu Chong explained, “I only wanted to get the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School to leave at that time. I knew I was no match for Tian Boguang in a fight, and would have no way to rescue the apprentice sister of the Heng-Shan Sword School, but she valued the

brotherhood of fellow martial people and didn’t want to leave first, so I had to make up some nonsense. That kind of nonsense is truly disrespectful to the Uncle-Masters of the Heng-Shan Sword School.”

“You wanted to get nephew apprentice Yilin to leave; the intention was good, but why can’t you say something else instead of such harmful words? It was all because you are used to being frivolous in normal days.

By now, everybody in the Five Mountains Sword Alliance has heard about this incident. Others must be saying behind our backs that you are not a true gentleman, and blame me for not disciplining you properly,” Yue Buqun reproached.

“Yes, Master. I was wrong,” Linghu Chong admitted.

Yue Buqun continued. “When you were recovering in the ‘Jade

House,’ we understand that you had no other options. But when you hid nephew apprentice Yilin and that little demon girl of the Demon Cult under the quilt, and claimed that it was a prostitute in the town of Hengshan,

weren’t you risking too much? If they had actually found out about the truth, losing face and hurting the reputation of our Huashan Sword School would be secondary; wouldn’t you do a disservice to the entire Heng-Shan Sword School by ruining their hundreds of years of reputation?” Cold sweat broke out on Linghu Chong’s back. “Later when I thought more about it, I was also breathless with anxiety. So Master, you have

already known about it,” he said with a trembling voice.

“I only heard about how Qu Yang of Demon Cult sent you to the ‘Jade House’ to recover later,” Yue Buqun said, “but when you told those two girls to hide under the quilt, I was already outside of the window.”

“Fortunately, Master, you know that I am not a reckless loafer,” Linghu Chong said.

“If you had actually been sleeping with the prostitutes, I’d have

chopped off the head on your neck a long time ago. How could I still let you live ‘til now?” Yue Buqun said in a chilling tone.

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered.

Yue Buqun’s face turned more and more serious. After quite a while he spoke again. “You already knew that the Qu-named girl was a member of the Demon Cult, why didn’t you kill her with a single sword blow?

Although her grandfather had saved your life, it was obviously an evil plot the Demon Cult had put together using favor as bait to foment discord

among our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. You are not stupid. You had to have figured that part out. There was actually a bigger conspiracy, and

saving your life was only a small part of it. Even Liu Zhengfeng, such a smart and experienced senior master, fell into their trap, and ended up ruining his reputation and getting his entire family killed. You have seen such vicious and evil acts of the Demon Cult with your own eyes. But on

our way from Hunan back to Mount Huashan, I didn’t hear a single word of condemnation to the Demon Cult out from your mouth. Chong, I think after he saved your life, you are getting really confused about the distinction between good and evil, honesty and treachery. This matter is the key matter that will affect the rest of your entire life. There’s no middle ground for you to muddle with.”

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but remember the night in the remote valley when he listened to the zither and flute music played by Qu Yang and Liu Zhengfeng. It didn’t seem like that Qu Yang had any evil thoughts and intentionally harmed Liu Zhengfeng at all.

Seeing the hesitation on Linghu Chong’s face, obviously suspicious about his words, Yue Buqun said, “Chong, this matter is related to the future of our Huashan Sword School. It is also related to your future

success or failure of your entire life. You cannot hide anything from me. Let me ask you: when you meet a member of the Demon Cult later, are you going to be treating evil as your enemy and slay evil with no hesitation?”

Linghu Chong stared at his Master blankly; a thought kept flashing

around in his mind: “Later when I meet with a member of the Demon Cult, should I simply draw my sword and kill him without checking if it’s right or wrong?” He really couldn’t decide for himself, so he didn’t know how to

answer the Master’s question.

Yue Buqun stared at Linghu Chong for a long while but still did not get an answer out from him. He heaved a deep sigh.

“It would be useless to force an answer out of you. When you left

Mount Huashan this time, you greatly damaged the reputation of our sword school. I hereby punish you to meditate facing the wall for an entire year, so you can think the matter through thoroughly.”

“Yes, Master! I accept my punishment.” Linghu Chong bowed down. “Meditating facing a wall for an entire year? Then throughout the

year, how many total hours does he have to meditate?” Yue Lingshan asked. “What total hours? Everyday from morning to night, other than eating

and sleeping, he will be meditating to go over his mistakes.” “That’s terrible! Wouldn’t he be bored to death? Will he even be allowed to go to bathroom?” Yue Lingshan said in worry.

“Watch your manners, young lady!” Madam Yue reproved.

“What’s the big deal about meditating for a year?” Yue Buqun said. “Years ago when your grandmaster made some mistakes, he was punished to meditate facing a wall for three years and six months. During that entire

period of time, he did not take one single step down the Jade Maiden Peak.”

Yue Lingshan stuck her tongue out in disbelief. “So meditating for an entire year is actually a light punishment? Big apprentice brother said the ‘Once seeing a nun, one loses all bets’ completely out of good intentions.

He wasn’t really saying bad words!”

“Just because he had good intentions, I am only punishing him with one year of meditation. If he had any ill intentions, I’d have knocked off all his teeth and cut off his tongue,” Yue Buqun said.

“Lingshan, stop bothering your father,” Madam Yue said. “When your big apprentice brother starts meditating on top of the Jade Maiden Peak, you’d better not go up there to chat with him, otherwise, the good intention of your father would be ruined by you for sure.”

“Big apprentice brother is going to be a prisoner on top of the Jade

Maiden Peak, and you still call that a good intention? If you don’t allow me to chat with him, then when big apprentice brother gets lonely, who’s going to cheer him up? And within the entire year, who’s going to practice sword arts with me?” Yue Lingshan whined.

“If you go chatting with him, then how will he be able to meditate and how can he think his mistakes through? All the many apprentice brothers

and sisters can practice sword arts with you,” Madam Yue said.

Yue Lingshan leaned her head to the side and thought for a while.

“Then what’s big apprentice brother going to eat? If he doesn’t come down the peak for an entire year, isn’t he going to be starved to death?” she asked. “You don’t have to worry. We will have people bringing food up the

mountain for him,” Madam Yue answered.

Chapter 8: Meditation

Out of desperation, Linghu Chong grabbed at her left sleeve. “Let it go!” yelled Yue Lingshan angrily. She pulled hard, and with a loud tearing sound, the whole sleeve was torn off and her entire arm was exposed.

At dusk that night, after bowing to Master and Master-Wife and bidding his farewell to all the apprentice brothers and sisters, Linghu Chong climbed up the steep cliff on the very top of the Jade Maiden Peak, bringing only a long sword with him. There was a cave on top of the cliff. It was the spot used for punishing generations of Huashan Sword School apprentices who had violated school rules. The cliff was completely bare, with neither a single blade of grass, nor any trees. Other than the cave, there was nothing else on the cliff. Mount Huashan has many beautiful locations of scenery

and resourceful of trees and grasses, but this steep cliff was an exception. Legend told that the cliff was a pearl studded on the Jade Maiden’s hairpin.

The reason why earlier generations of Huashan grandmasters picked this

steep cliff as the place for punishing apprentices was mainly because it was such a bare place that even birds or insects didn’t want to live here.

Therefore, when the punished apprentice meditated and thought through his mistakes, he wouldn’t be distracted by other things and would be able to

stay focused.

Linghu Chong entered the cave, and a big smooth rock on the floor soon caught his eyes.

“For the last several hundred years, many grandmasters of our

Huashan Sword School must have sat on this rock before, which really smoothed out the rock surface. I, Linghu Chong, am the number one troublemaker of Huashan Sword School nowadays, so of course I am destined to sit on this rock. Master has been really kind to me. He had waited until today to send me here to sit on this rock,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “Hello rock!” He patted on the big rock gently and muttered. “You’ve probably been lonely for many years. But Linghu Chong is here to be your company now.”

Sitting down on the rock, he found his eyes only one foot away from the rock wall. Then something caught his attention. The words “Feng

Qingyang” were carved on the left side of the rock wall. Those must have been carved using a sharp blade – the vigorous strokes were almost half-an- inch deep into the rock.

“Who’s this Feng Qingyang?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ask himself. “He is probably a senior master of our school who was once punished to meditate here. Oh, I see. My Grandmaster’s name has a ‘Qing’ in it and he belongs to the ‘Qing’ generation of Huashan masters. This

senior master named Feng must be my Grand Uncle-Master then. It takes great strength to carve something like that. His Kung Fu must have been outstanding. How come Master and Master-Wife never mentioned him before? I guess this senior master must have passed away a long time ago.”

He closed his eyes and worked on his breathing exercises for about an hour before standing up again to stretch out. Going back into the cave and

sat back down on the rock, he started pondering upon the question, “When I meet people from the Demon Cult, should I simply draw my sword and kill him right away with no questions asked and with no regards? Doesn’t the

Demon Cult even have a single good person? But if he were a good person, why would he join the Demon Cult in the first place? Even if he had joined the Demon Cult by mistake, he could have quit immediately. If he didn’t quit, then he must be willing to collaborate with evil and harm innocent people.”

Instantly, many scenes appeared in his mind. Those were all scenes

Master, Master-Wife, and other senior masters in the Martial World had told him before, things about the many kinds of murders the Demon Cult members had committed: The entire family of Master Yu in Jiangxi Province, a total of twenty-three, were taken prisoner by the Demon Cult and all were nailed onto tree trunks. Even the three-year-old child was no

exception. Two of Master Yu’s sons groaned for three days and three nights before finally passing away. When the Head Master of Dragon-Phoenix Saber in Jinan, Zhao Dengkui, held the wedding ceremony for his son, members of the Demon Cult forced their way into the crowds, beheaded the newly weds and placed their heads on top of the gift table claiming them to be wedding gifts. When old Hero Hao in Hanyang had his seventieth birthday party and invited many friends in the Martial World over, no one had known that the Demon Cult had planted bombs right underneath the room for the ceremony. The sudden explosion killed and wounded countless number of people, including Uncle-Master Ji from the Taishan Sword School, who lost an arm in this tragedy. Uncle-Master Ji had told this story himself, so it had to be true. Then he remembered when he met Uncle-

Master Sun of the Songshan Sword School, whose both arms, feet and eyes were cut out. He was screaming nonstop, “The Demon Cult did this. Seek revenge for me! The Demon Cult did this. Seek revenge for me!” At that time the Songshan Sword School had already sent people to help, but with such severe wounds, there was really not much to be done. Remembering the image of two empty holes on Uncle-Master Sun’s face with blood gushing out continuously, Linghu Chong could not help but quiver.

“Demon Cult members really have committed too many cruel

crimes,” he thought. “So when Qu Yang and his granddaughter saved me, they must have had ill intentions. When Master asks me again if I will kill with no hesitation when I see members of the Demon Cult, my answer will be: Why should I hesitate? Of course I will draw my sword and attack with no question asked.”

Finally able to think it through, Linghu Chong had an ease of mind.

With a long roar, he jumped backwards toward the opening of the cave.

Turning his body around while still in mid-air, he opened his eyes again

after landing squarely on the ground. Looking down at his feet, he found his feet almost on the edge of the steep cliff, only two feet from the very brink of the cliff. If he had used just a little more strength when he jumped up and had landed two more feet further, he would have fallen into the bottomless

abyss and have his body smashed into pieces. He had actually calculated the distance well in his head before he closed his eyes and jumped backwards.

Since he had made his mind up to kill the Demon Cult members on first

sight and didn’t have any more burdens on his mind, he just wanted to have a little risky fun.

“I am still not brave enough. I should have jumped at least another feet closer to the edge for the real fun,” Linghu Chong thought, when

sounds of giggles and clapping suddenly rose from behind.

“Big apprentice brother! That was so cool!” It was the voice of Yue Lingshan.

Linghu Chong was very delighted. He turned around and saw Yue Lingshan carrying a meal basket.

“Big apprentice brother, I’ve brought you your dinner,” Yue Lingshan announced happily. She sat the meal basket on the ground, went into the

cave, and sat on the big rock facing the rock wall. “This is a really cool trick of yours! Let me give it a try.”

Linghu Chong knew that this trick was indeed a very dangerous one. Even when he tried it earlier, he was ready to give it all up. Yue Lingshan’s Kung Fu skills were much less compared to his, and if she couldn’t calculate her strength right, it would be disastrous. But because she was really in the mood at the moment, he couldn’t hold her back. So he stood right next to the brim of the cliff and waited.

Intending to make sure she could beat the big apprentice brother, Yue Lingshan went over the calculation in her head quickly and then pushed the ground hard with her toes. After her body had left the ground, she also turned her body around in the mid-air. Hoping to land closer to the edge of the cliff than Linghu Chong did, she used a little bit extra strength, but

when her body started to fall, fear suddenly overwhelmed her and she had to open her eyes. Seeing the bottomless abyss right in front of her eyes, she screamed in terror.

Linghu Chong reached out and caught her left arm while she was still in the air. When Yue Lingshan landed back onto the ground, she found her feet only one foot away from the very brink of the cliff. It was indeed closer than what Linghu Chong had achieved. Before her heart even had time to fall back into her chest, she was already claiming her victory.

“Big apprentice brother, I landed further than you did!”

Seeing her frightened face as white as a sheet, Linghu Chong patted her gingerly on the back. “Better not try this trick again. If Master or

Master-Wife ever hear about this, they would definitely scold me harshly, maybe even punish me for another year of meditation facing the wall here.”

Yue Lingshan felt a little better now. She took two steps back and said with a big grin, “Then I need to be punished too. We can meditate facing the wall here together. Wouldn’t that be fun? We can have a contest

everyday to see who can jump further.”

“Us two, meditate here together everyday?” Linghu Chong repeated the words while throwing a glance at the cave, a breeze of happiness

swelling in his heart, thinking, “If I get to spend an entire year together with the little apprentice sister, here, without any disruptions, then I’d be as happy as a worry-free fairy. Alas, it will never happen.”

“I am afraid that Master will have you meditate in the ‘House of Integrity’ and ban you from leaving there, then we won’t be able to see each other for an entire year,” he said.

“That’s not fair!” Yue Lingshan immediately complained. “How come you can have fun here, and I have to be a prisoner in the ‘House of Integrity’?” Knowing clearly that her parents would have never allowed her to accompany the big apprentice brother here on the cliff, she changed the

subject.

“Big apprentice brother, Mom told Monkey Six to bring you food

everyday at first. I told Monkey Six, ‘Sixth apprentice brother, I know you are a monkey and all that, but climbing up and down the ‘Cliff of

Contemplation’ is no easy task. Why don’t you let me help you and do it for you? So, how are you going to repay me for this favor?’ Monkey Six said, ‘I dare not to loaf on the job given by Master-Wife. Besides, big apprentice brother is the one that treats me the best. I am so glad that I’ll be bringing food to him for an entire year and will be able to see him once everyday. I don’t mind even if it’s no easy task.’ Big apprentice brother, don’t you think Monkey Six is very mean?”

“Well, he was telling the truth.” Linghu Chong smiled.

Yue Lingshan continued. “Monkey Six also said, ‘I’ve always wanted to ask for advice from big apprentice brother about Kung Fu questions. But every time as soon as you show up, you’d be kicking me away, not allowing any more conversation with the big apprentice brother.’ Big apprentice brother, do I ever do things like that? Isn’t Monkey Six talking garbage here? He then said, ‘Hey, for the entire next year, I will be the only one who can go up the ‘Cliff of Contemplation’ to see big apprentice brother. You won’t even have a chance.’ I got mad, but he paid no attention. Later… later….”

“Later you threatened him with your sword?” Linghu Chong guessed. “No.” Yue Lingshan shook her head. “Later I got real upset and

started crying. Monkey Six then came to me and begged me to bring food to you.”

Staring at her cute little face, Linghu Chong could see the slight

swelling right next to her eyes. Sure enough, she must have had quite some weeping. Deeply moved, he thought, “She is so good to me. I’d be willing to die a thousand times for her.”

Yue Lingshan opened the meal basket. Taking out two plates of dishes, together with two pairs of chopsticks and two rice bowls, she set them on a big rock with a flat top.

“Two sets of chopsticks?” Linghu Chong uttered.

“I’ll eat together with you. Look, what’s this?” Yue Lingshan’s face split into a big grin when she took out a small wine-calabash from the bottom of the meal basket.

Linghu Chong was very addicted to wine. Seeing the calabash of

wine, he stood up and bowed deeply to Yue Lingshan. “Thank you so-o-o much!! I’ve been worrying about having no wine to drink for an entire year. You just saved my life!”

Yue Lingshan uncorked the wine-calabash and then passed it to Linghu Chong. “There’s not much here. I can only steal one small calabash of wine for you everyday. If I try to steal too much, my mom might find out about it,” she explained with a smile.

The Huashan Sword School rule said that an apprentice meditating on the “Cliff of Contemplation” would be prohibited from eating any meat,

which was why the kitchen only prepared a big plate of boiled vegetables and a plate of Tofu for Linghu Chong. But considering herself going through the punishment together with her big apprentice brother, Yue Lingshan found the dishes quite enjoyable. After dinner, the two chatted with no specific topics for another hour. Only when it was already in the nightfall, did Yue Lingshan go down the cliff.

From then on, Yue Lingshan would bring food up the cliff around dusk everyday, and the two would have dinner together. At noon the next day, Linghu Chong simply ate the leftovers from previous day’s dinner as his lunch.

Although Linghu Chong lived alone atop the cliff, he didn’t feel lonely at all. Every morning after he woke up, he would meditate with breathing exercises and also practice the Huashan style inner energy and the sword arts taught by his Master. He also spent time pondering upon and going over Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops and the move created by

Master-Wife – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. There was only one thrust in this The Thrust of Ning move, but it contained many techniques from Huashan style inner energy and Huashan sword arts.

Linghu Chong knew that he was not at the level to execute this move yet. If he had tried to use it, he would only make a fool out of himself, so he

worked hard everyday in advancing himself with his Kung Fu skills. Thus, although he was punished to meditate by facing the wall to think over his mistakes, he didn’t do any of those. Other than having some chats with Yue Lingshan every evening, he simply worked hard on his Kung Fu skills with dedication. Two months passed like that, and it started to get colder and

colder each day atop the cliff. Some more days later, Madam Yue finished making Linghu Chong a new set of cotton-padded coat and had Lu Dayou bring it to him up the cliff. One day, a windstorm swept by in the morning, and by noon, big

snowflakes had started swirling out of the sky. Seeing the heavy dark clouds gathering in the sky, Linghu Chong could tell that the snow would be lasting for quite a while. “The road up the cliff is very steep and dangerous. By dusk the road must be very slippery. Little apprentice sister shouldn’t try to bring me any food in a day like this,” he couldn’t help thinking. But there was no way of communication for him to send the message. In great

worries, he could only wish that Master and Master-Wife would know about this and stop little apprentice sister from coming.

“How could Master and Master-Wife not know about the fact that little apprentice sister has been bringing food for me instead of sixth

apprentice brother? Maybe they just pretended to not know and paid no

attention. If little apprentice sister tried to climb up the cliff today, a single slip would cost her life. I guess Master-Wife would ban her from climbing up the cliff for sure,” he thought.

Linghu Chong waited anxiously until dusk, casting a glance down the cliff every once a while. Seeing that it was getting darker and darker and Yue Lingshan never showed up, Linghu Chong felt a bit relieved.

“Tomorrow morning, sixth apprentice brother will bring the food up. I hope little apprentice sister will never take on the risks.”

He was about to go back in the cave to sleep when rustling sounds of somebody climbing the snow-covered road to the cliff came to his attention. Then Yue Lingshan’s voice rose, “Big apprentice brother…big apprentice brother…!”

Greatly surprised but also greatly delighted, Linghu Chong rushed by the side of the cliff. In the shower of the big snowflakes, he could see Yue Lingshan struggle her way up the cliff in slips and skids. Restricted by the order from the Master, Linghu Chong dared not to step even one step down the cliff, only reaching out with his hand to try to catch Yue Lingshan. As soon as Yue Lingshan’s left hand touched his right hand, Linghu Chong grabbed onto her wrist and pulled her up the cliff. Under the dim light, Yue Lingshan appeared to have snow all over her; even her hairs were covered

in snow. There was a big swelling on the left side of her forehead and blood was still dripping down slowly from the cut. “You…you….” Linghu Chong was lost in words.

Yue Lingshan bit her lip as if she was going to start crying. “I fell, and the meal basket fell into the valley. You…you’ll be hungry tonight.”

Linghu Chong’s heart was swelled with gratefulness and with

compassion. He pressed gingerly on her wound with his sleeve and said

affectionately, “Little apprentice sister! The mountain road is too slippery. You shouldn’t have come up here.”

“I don’t want you to starve. And…and, I wanted to see you,” Yue Lingshan muttered.

“But if you had fallen into the valley as a result, how could I ever face Master and Master-Wife again?” Linghu Chong said.

“Get rid of that worrying face of yours! See, I am fine here. It’s just that I am too impotent. I lost the meal basket and the wine-calabash right before I almost made it up the cliff,” Yue Lingshan said.

“I only want you to be safe. I don’t mind if I have to starve for ten days,” Linghu Chong said compassionately.

“Half way up, the road was so slippery. I gathered all my inner energy and jumped a couple of times. Hey, I actually made it up that real steep

slope by the ‘Five Pine-Trees.’ I was so scared of falling down into the valley at that moment.” Yue Lingshan gasped.

“Little apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong demanded, “promise me that you’ll never risk your life for me again. If you had really fallen down into the valley, I would have jumped down after you for sure.”

Yue Lingshan looked at Linghu Chong with warmth and happiness blazing in her eyes. “Big apprentice brother, why do you worry so much? If I had fallen down on my way to bring you food, it would be the result of my own carelessness. Why would you feel so guilty?”

“It’s not about feeling guilty.” Linghu Chong shook his head slowly. “If it were sixth apprentice brother who was bringing food to me and fell down into the valley and got killed, will I jump down the valley after him?”

He shook his head slowly as he spoke. “I will try my best to take good care of his parents and his family. But I won’t jump off the cliff to die along with a friend.”

“But if I had died, then you wouldn’t want to live any more?” Yue Lingshan asked slowly.

“That’s correct. Little apprentice sister, it wasn’t because you were bringing me food. Even if you were bringing food for someone else and died because of that, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay alive.”

Yue Lingshan gripped onto Linghu Chong’s hands tightly, her heart filled with tenderness and affection. “Big apprentice brother!” she called out gently.

Linghu Chong had an urge to embrace her in his arms, but still

couldn’t gather enough courage to do so. The two of them simply stared at each other quietly, neither one moved an inch. Big snowflakes kept pouring down from the sky and soon the two looked almost like two snowmen.

After a long while, Linghu Chong finally broke the silence. “You

can’t go down the cliff all by yourself tonight. Did Master and Master-Wife know that you came up here? It would be better if they can send someone up to get you.” “This morning, out of the blue, Dad received a letter from the Songshan Sword School’s Alliance Chief Zuo, saying that they need to discuss something urgent, so he and Mom had left Mount Huashan today,” Yue Lingshan said.

“Then does anyone else know that you came up here?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Nope. Nobody. Second, third, forth apprentice brothers and Monkey Six all headed to Mount Songshan together with Mom and Dad, and no one knows that I came up the cliff to see you. Otherwise, Monkey Six would have fought with me for the chance to bring food up for you, and that would be very troublesome! Oh, that’s right. The chap Lin Pingzhi saw me coming up. But I told him to shut his mouth if he wanted to be spared of a good beating tomorrow.”

“Wow, what an impressive senior apprentice sister.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“Of course!” Yue Lingshan let out a big smile. “Somebody is finally calling me senior apprentice sister now. If I don’t put on the manner of a

senior, what a waste would that be? It’s not like you. Everybody calls you the big apprentice brother. What do you care?” The two of them broke into a laugh.

“Well, then you can’t go back down tonight. Why don’t you spend the night in the cave and plan on going back down tomorrow morning?”

Linghu Chong held Yue Lingshan’s hand and walked her into the

cave. The cave was quite small, just big enough for the two of them to stay in, and not much room left after that. The two of them sat down facing each other and chatted until late night. Yue Lingshan finally dozed off and fell

asleep. Afraid that she might catch a cold, Linghu Chong took off the cotton-padded coat he was wearing and tucked it around her. In the dim light reflected by the snow outside, he could vaguely see her cute little face.

“Little apprentice sister has such deep affection for me. Even if I have to die for her and be smashed into ten thousand pieces, I will not regret it,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

In the silence, he soon fell into an even deeper thought. “I lost my parents when I was still little. Luckily, Master and Master-Wife brought me up and treated me like their own son. I am the head apprentice of the

Huashan Sword School. Not only did I become an apprentice earlier than everybody else, but also my Kung Fu skills were way above the rest of the apprentice brothers. One day I will probably take over the responsibility from Master and become the Head Master of Huashan. Now with little

apprentice sister treating me like this, it would be impossible for me to ever repay the great kindness from my Master. But I’ve always been doing things with no restrain and have kept Master and Master-Wife angry with me. I’ve really disappointed their expectations. I must thoroughly rectify my errors starting from now on. Otherwise, I would be failing not only

Master and Master-Wife, but also little apprentice sister.”

Staring at the lovely hair of Yue Lingshan, which rustled gently from her breathing, Linghu Chong drifted into deep thoughts when he suddenly heard Yue Lingshan murmuring, “Hey, chap Lin, you are not behaving yourself! Come over here to let me give you a good beating!”

Linghu Chong was surprised. But seeing Yue Lingshan turning her body to the side with her eyes shut tight and her breathing falling back into a normal rhythm, he realized that she was just having a dream. Quite

amused, he thought, “Finally getting to be a senior apprentice sister to

someone, she probably has been acting in a real cocky way. During these days, apprentice brother Lin must have been ordered around left and right, and probably had enough of suffering. She can’t even stop bullying him in her dreams.”

Guarding by Yue Lingshan’s side, Linghu Chong did not sleep at all. Yue Lingshan had been totally exhausted the previous evening, so she slept till late the next morning before waking up. Finding Linghu Chong staring at her with a smile, she returned with a smile and then said with a yawn,

“Did you wake up early in the morning?”

Linghu Chong didn’t tell her that he had not slept at all during the night. “What dream did you have? Did you beat up apprentice brother Lin?” he asked with a grin.

“Did you hear me talk in my dreams?” Yue Lingshan asked after thinking for a moment. “This chap Lin is so stubborn. He just doesn’t want to listen to me. Ha-ha, I scold him not only in day times, but also when I am sleeping.”

“How did he get on your nerves?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I dreamed that I had asked him to go practice sword skills with me in the waterfall, but he had all kinds of excuses and simply didn’t want to go with me. I finally tricked him into going. And as soon as he got to the

waterfall, I pushed him down the waterfall.”

“Oops, you can’t do that. You are going to get him killed,” Linghu Chong commented with a smile.

“It’s only a dream. It’s not real. Why are you worrying so much? Are you afraid that I really might kill this chap?”

“Well, what one thinks about in day time, one dreams about it at night. You must have really thought about killing apprentice brother Lin during the day, and you kept thinking about it, that’s why you dreamed about it at night.” Yue Lingshan showed a winkled nose. “This chap is useless. He has been practicing the entry-level sword art form for three months now, and it still looked far from right. Yet he is the dedicated type and kept practicing days and nights. I get mad just looking at him practicing. What do I have to think about if I want to kill him? All I need to do is to raise my sword and then bring the sword swishing sideway. A sure kill with a single blow!” She slashed out with her right hand and performed a move of Huashan sword

arts.

“Cloud by the Hill – Chap Lin’s head falls off!” Linghu Chong burst into laughter.

“If I actually use this Cloud by the Hill move, his head will fall off for sure.” Yue Lingshan giggled loudly.

“You are the senior apprentice sister. When a junior apprentice brother has problem with his sword practice, you should be giving him

some pointers, not drawing your sword to kill for no specific reasons. All new apprentices of the Master will be your junior apprentice brothers. What if when Master takes in one hundred new apprentices, and you decided to kill ninety-nine of them in a couple of days? What are we going to do then?” Linghu Chong joked.

“You are absolutely right about that! I’ll only kill ninety-nine of them and make sure I leave one alone. If I kill all of them, then who is going to

call me senior apprentice sister?” Yue Lingshan held onto the side of the rock wall and almost laughed herself silly.

“If you killed ninety-nine junior apprentice brothers, the one hundredth one would be running away for sure. You still won’t be able to maintain your senior apprentice sister status.” Linghu Chong suggested.

“By then I’ll make you call me senior apprentice sister.” Yue Lingshan grinned. “I have no problem calling you senior apprentice sister. But are you going to kill me or not?” Linghu Chong asked jokingly.

“If you listen to my orders, then I won’t kill you. If you don’t, then I will.” Yue Lingshan also said jokingly.

“Little apprentice sister, I beg you to show some mercy with your sword!”

It had stopped snowing by then. Afraid that when apprentice brothers and sisters found out that Yue Lingshan had been missing they might start slanderous gossips, which could be disastrous for little apprentice sister’s reputation, Linghu Chong urged Yue Lingshan to go back down after some short chats.

“I want to stay here a bit longer to play. Mom and Dad are both not at home. It’s very boring!” Yue Lingshan still didn’t want to go.

“My good apprentice sister, in the last couple of days, I just created some more moves for the Chong-Ling Sword Art. As soon as I can leave the cliff, I’ll go with you to practice sword skills in the waterfall. Alright?”

After quite some coaxing, Linghu Chong finally succeeded in getting her off the cliff back home.

At dusk that day, Gao Gengming brought food up the cliff instead. He said that Yue Lingshan caught a cold and was having fevers. She had to rest in bed, but she thought about the big apprentice brother and had asked him to make sure not to forget bringing some wine when he brought the food up. Linghu Chong was greatly shocked and became extremely worried. He knew that she had a terrible fall the previous evening and was probably terribly scared, which caused all the illness, and wished dearly that he

would be able to rush down the cliff to pay a visit to her. Although he had

starved for two days, with the meal right in front of him, he only felt a lump in his throat and could hardly swallow. Gao Gengming knew that big apprentice brother and the little

apprentice sister were a loving couple, and that was why as soon as Linghu Chong heard about her illness, he became very worried. So he tried to

comfort him.

“Big apprentice brother, don’t be too worried. Yesterday we had a lot of snow. Little apprentice sister must have spent too much time in the snow playing and caught a cold. For people who practice inner energy like us,

such a little cold is really nothing. After taking some medicines, it will be gone in no time,” he persuaded.

But Yue Lingshan remained sick for over two weeks. Only after the Yue couple had returned to Mount Huashan and rid the fever for her using Huashan style inner energy was she able to recover slowly. By the time she was finally able to get up to the cliff, it was already over twenty days later.

After suffering such a long parting, both felt great joy tempered with sorrow. Yue Lingshan stared at Linghu Chong’s face and burst out a cry,

“Big apprentice brother, did you get sick too? How come you look so thin?” Linghu Chong shook his head. “I didn’t get sick. I…I….”

“You…you were thinking of me. And you lost weight because of the worries.” Yue Lingshan suddenly realized. She burst into tears. “Big

apprentice brother, I am all recovered by now.”

“I watched the road days and nights waiting for this very moment. Thank Heavens! You came at last!” Linghu Chong muttered, holding Yue Lingshan’s hand tightly.

“Actually, I saw you many times,” Yue Lingshan said.

“What? You saw me many times?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise. “Yeah! While I was ill, I saw you all the time when I closed my eyes.

That day when my fever worsened, Mom said that I kept talking to you in my dreams. Big apprentice brother, Mom has learned about that night when I spent the night up here.”

Linghu Chong blushed and felt some uneasiness. “Was Master-Wife angry?” he asked.

“Mom wasn’t angry about it. But…but….” Yue Lingshan suddenly blushed and stopped abruptly.

“But what?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I am not telling you,” Yue Lingshan declared.

Noticing the affected shy expression on Yue Lingshan’s face, Linghu Chong’s heart quivered. He immediately pulled himself together and said, “Little apprentice sister, you just got better. You really shouldn’t come up

here so soon. I knew you were gradually getting better. Everyday when fifth apprentice brother or sixth apprentice brother brought food up for me, they all told me about you.”

“Then how come you are still so thin?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“Well, as soon as you fully recover, I will gain my weight back.” Linghu Chong answered with a smile.

“Tell me the truth. How much did you eat at each meal these days?

Monkey Six said that you didn’t touch your food at all and only drank a lot of wine. He tried to persuade you, but you simply wouldn’t listen to him.

Big apprentice brother, why don’t you…take good care of yourself?” At those words, tear drops started rolling in her eyes again.

“Nonsense! Don’t listen to him. Monkey Six always likes to

exaggerate. Why would I only drink wine and not eat?” Linghu Chong denied.

A breeze of cold wind swept by and sent Yue Lingshan shivering. It was a very chilly day. The cliff didn’t even have a single tree to block the cold wind. It was already very cold on top of Mount Huashan; it was even colder here on the cliff.

“Little apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong said quickly, “you have not fully recovered yet. You’d better not catch a cold again. Go back down the cliff. Wait till one day when the sun comes out and after you have fully recovered, then you can come up to see me again.”

“I’m not cold. We are getting snow and windstorms everyday. Who knows when we will have sunshine again?” Yue Lingshan complained.

“But what if you get sick again? I…I…,” Linghu Chong said in a worried tone.

Seeing the thin and pallid face of Linghu Chong, Yue Lingshan thought, “If I get sick again, he’ll get sick too for sure. That will surely get him killed with no one here taking care of him at all.” So she had to agree. “Fine. I am leaving now. You take good care of yourself. Don’t drink that much wine. Have at least three bowls of rice every meal. I’ll go talk to Dad and tell him that you are not feeling well. You need more nutritious food.

You can’t live off only vegetables.”

“I will not violate the prohibition. Seeing you getting better is enough nourish for me already. I am sure I will start gaining weight in a couple of days. My dear, please go back now,” Linghu Chong urged.

“What did you call me?” Her cheeks going red, Yue Lingshan asked in a low voice, love and affection swelling in her eyes.

Feeling a little bit shy, Linghu Chong immediately answered, “I just blurted that out. Little apprentice sister, please don’t mind.”

“Why would I mind? I like you to call me that.” Yue Lingshan replied.

Linghu Chong felt a warm current coursing through his heart. All he could think of was to embrace her tightly in his arms. But he immediately told himself, “She has shown me such affection. How could I ever disgrace her with such disrespectful behavior?” So he turned his head aside in a hurry, and only said in a soft voice, “Walk slow when you go down the cliff, one step at a time. Take a rest if you need to. Don’t just run all the way down like you used to do in other days.”

“I won’t,” Yue Lingshan answered as she turned around slowly and walked toward the road down the cliff.

Hearing the sound of her steps getting further and further, Linghu Chong turned his head back, only seeing Yue Lingshan standing a few

dozen feet away down the road staring at him. For a long while, the two just stared at each other silently.

“Walk slow. It’s time for you to get back,” Linghu Chong finally said. “Yes,” Yue Lingshan answered and this time really started heading

back.

In that day, Linghu Chong felt a kind of joy he had never experienced

before in his entire life. Sitting on the rock, he couldn’t resist his urge to laugh out loud. He suddenly burst out a long roar, and it echoed around the valley again and again. The roar seemed to be shouting the words, “I am so happy! I am so happy!”

The next day, it snowed again, and sure enough, Yue Lingshan did not come up. Linghu Chong heard from Lu Dayou that she was enjoying a

speedy recovery and was getting better and better everyday. That truly cheered him up.

Another twenty or so days passed before Yue Lingshan came up the cliff again. She had a basket full of Zong-Zi51 this time. After looking at Linghu Chong’s face carefully for a moment, she smiled. “You didn’t lie. You sure gained quite a few pounds back.”

“You’ve recovered well. I am so happy to see you healthy.” Seeing the ruddy complexion on Yue Lingshan’s cheeks, Linghu Chong also

smiled.

“I’ve been bugging Mom every day so that I could bring your food up, but Mom just wouldn’t let me. She kept saying that it was too cold, or it was too humid. She almost sounded as if as soon as I come up the cliff, I’ll drop dead. I said that big apprentice brother has stayed on the cliff for days and nights. I don’t see him getting sick. Mom said that big apprentice brother has very high inner energy; I am simply not in the same league.

Hey, Mom was praising about you. Aren’t you happy to hear that?”

Linghu Chong nodded. “I really miss Master and Master-Wife. I wish I could see them soon.”

“Yesterday I spent a whole day helping Mom wrapping Zong-Zi. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice if I could bring you some? And guess what? Before I even opened my mouth to ask today, Mom had already said to me, ‘Take this basket of Zong-Zi to Chong.’ What a surprise!”

Linghu Chong felt a lump in his throat, thinking, “Master-Wife is so nice to me.”

“These Zong-Zi just came out of the pot; they are still hot. Let me peel some for you.” Yue Lingshan went in the cave and started unwrapping the bamboo leaves outside of the Zong-Zi. Soon, an appetizing smell filled the small cave.

Taking the unwrapped Zong-Zi Yue Lingshan handed to him, Linghu Chong took a bite. Even though the Zong-Zi only had vegetarian stuffing, the mixture of straw mushrooms, lotus seeds, broad beans and other ingredients gave it a very delicious flavor.

“Little Lin and I picked those straw mushrooms the day before yesterday…,” Yue Lingshan bragged. “Little Lin?” Linghu Chong was lost.

“Oh, That’s junior apprentice brother Lin. I’ve been calling him Little Lin these days. He came to me the day before yesterday and told me that there was straw mushrooms under those pine trees at the east slope. He

even went with me and spent half a day picking them. But we only found

enough to fill a half basket. While there’s not much, it sure is tasty, isn’t it?” “Yummy! I almost swallowed my tongue together with it. So, little

apprentice sister, you don’t yell at him now?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Why not! Anytime he doesn’t listen to me, I yell at him. But he sure learned how to behave himself these days, so I don’t yell at him as much now. And when he works hard and progress a little with his sword practice, I praise him a little, ‘Aha, Little Lin, this move looks not too shabby, much better than yesterday. But it’s still not fast enough. Practice more! Practice more!’ Ha-ha!” Yue Lingshan said amusingly.

“Are you teaching him sword arts?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Yep! He speaks Fujian dialect. Apprentice brothers and sisters are having a hard time understanding him. I’ve been to Fuzhou before and it’s easier for me to understand his words, so Dad asked me to help him with his sword art whenever I have time. Big apprentice brother, since I can’t

come up here to see you all the time, when I get bored, I might as well teach him a couple of moves. Little Lin is no dummy. He can learn quickly.”

“I see. So you are the senior apprentice sister and the instructor. No wonder he dares not to disobey you.” Linghu Chong laughed.

“I wouldn’t say that. Yesterday when I asked him to go hunt pheasants with me, he didn’t want to go, and said that he had not gotten the moves White Aurora Shooting to Sun and Heaven Hanging Upside Down right and needed to practice more.” Linghu Chong was a bit surprised. He asked, “He has only been in our Huashan Sword School for several months, how come he is already practicing moves like White Aurora Shooting to Sun and Heaven Hanging Upside Down? Little apprentice sister, our Huashan sword arts require the practitioner to follow each of the steps. It would be harmful to try to

advance too quickly.”

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t be teaching him irresponsibly,” Yue Lingshan explained. “Little Lin is always eager to excel. He practices days and nights. Every time when I want to chat a little, in less than three

sentences, he would start asking questions about sword arts. Sword forms that will take others three months to grasp will only take him half a month. When I wanted him to go play with me, he would never agree frankly.”

Linghu Chong fell silent, and all of a sudden, some kind of indescribable annoyance filled his heart. He took another bite, and then just stared at the Zong-Zi in his hand blankly.

“Big apprentice brother, did you swallow your tongue? Why have you stopped talking?” Yue Lingshan pulled at Linghu Chong’s sleeves.

Absentmindedly, Linghu Chong put the remaining of the Zong-Zi in his mouth. Somehow, the supposedly delicious Zong-Zi got stuck in his mouth and he couldn’t swallow it down.

Yue Lingshan pointed at him and giggled hard. “Aren’t you too impatient? See, you got it stuck to your teeth.”

With a wry smile, Linghu Chong swallowed hard and finally managed to send it down his throat. He thought to himself, “I am really being stupid! Little apprentice sister loves to play. Since I can’t go down the cliff, she wanted apprentice brother Lin to be her company. That’s really quite normal. Why am I being so narrow-minded and getting mad at that?” So he relaxed a little and said with a smile, “You must have worked on this one. See how tight did you wrap it? It got my tongue and my teeth all stuck together.”

Yue Lingshan burst into loud laughter. After a few moments, she

commented, “Poor big apprentice brother, who has to be a prisoner on top of the cliff. See how gluttonous you are!”

The next time when she came up the cliff again, it was already over ten days later. Other than the meal basket, she also brought a small basket with half basket of pine nuts and chestnuts.

During the ten days, Linghu Chong’s neck probably had gotten longer from all the anxious looking down the cliff. Every time he asked about little apprentice sister from Lu Dayou when he brought food up, Lu Dayou

would always look queer and speak in an odd way. Linghu Chong got suspicious, but simply couldn’t get a straight answer out of him. When Linghu Chong pressed really hard sometimes, Lu Dayou would always answer, “Little apprentice sister is doing great. She practices sword art diligently everyday. Maybe Master didn’t want her up the cliff so she wouldn’t be disturbing big apprentice brother’s meditation here.”

Now when he finally saw Yue Lingshan again after all the waiting, his joy was unspeakable. She seemed to be glowing with health and radiating vigor, looking even prettier than how she looked before the illness. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but think, “She has fully recovered. Why did she wait so long before coming up the cliff again? Did Master or Master-Wife ban her from coming up here?”

Seeing the puzzled look in Linghu Chong’s eyes, Yue Lingshan

suddenly blushed. “Big apprentice brother, I hadn’t come up to see you for so many days. Are you mad at me?” she asked.

“Why would I be mad? Master and Master-Wife must have told you not to come up, haven’t you?” Linghu Chong said. “Yeah. Mom just taught me a new sword art form. She said that this sword art form has so many complicated variations, if I had come up the cliff to chat with you, I’d lose my focus.”

“Which sword art form?” Linghu Chong asked curiously. “Take a guess!” Yue Lingshan challenged.

“Yang-Wu Sword Form?” “Nope.”

“Xi-Wu Sword Form?”

“Try again!” Yue Lingshan shook her head. “Could it be the Fair-Maiden Sword Form?”

“That’s my mom’s specialty. I am not even qualified to give the Fair- Maiden Sword Form a try yet.” Yue Lingshan stuck her tongue out and made a face. “Ok, let me tell you. It’s The Nineteen Stances of the Jade

Maiden Sword!” she said triumphantly.

Linghu Chong was taken by slight surprise. “You start to learn The Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword now? Oh, that really is a very complicated sword form,” he said happily. All his suspicion melted away.

Although the set of Jade Maiden Sword form only had nineteen

stances, every stance had very complicated changes and variations. If the practitioner couldn’t memorize all those, he wouldn’t even be able to fully use just one stance. He had heard from Master about it before, “The

Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword mainly focus in the fancy variations and changes. The form is quite different from our school’s main focus – Inner Energy Drives the Sword. Since female apprentices tend to have less strength from their arms, when they encounter with a tougher opponent, they can use this sword form to counter with artful moves. But all the male apprentices have no need to learn it.” That’s why even Linghu

Chong himself had not learned it before. Based on Yue Lingshan’s current skill level, it seemed that she was not ready to learn this sword form yet. Before, Linghu Chong, Yue Lingshan and some other apprentice brothers and sisters had watched how Master and Master-Wife showed the set of

sword form. Master had attacked using many different sword art forms from different sword schools and styles, but Master-Wife only defended with this Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword form. The Nineteen Stances of

Jade Maiden Sword were actually well matched with the hundreds of excellent sword moves in a dozen different styles. All the apprentices

watching by the side were dumbfounded in amazement. Yue Lingshan had begged her mother to teach her this sword form by then, and Madam Yue had answered, “You are still too young. First, you don’t have the skill level yet. Secondly, this sword art form requires a lot of brainpower. You should probably wait till you are twenty years old before learning this sword form. In addition, this sword form is used for countering sword moves from other sword schools. If you only work with apprentice brothers and sisters in our own school, you’d end up practicing how to counter Huashan sword art.

Chong knows a lot of different Kung Fu and he probably remembers many different sword moves from other sword schools. He can probably practice with you in the future.” This was an episode that happened about two years ago, and nobody ever mentioned it again. Who’d expect that Master-Wife actually taught her this sword form?

“Master must be in a real good mood these days to practice sword art with you everyday,” Linghu Chong said.

This sword form focused on adapting itself to changing conditions

and not restricting oneself to certain moves or postures, that was why right from the beginning, the practitioner would need to practice with a partner. Within the Huashan Sword School, Yue Buqun and Linghu Chong were the only two having good knowledge about sword arts from other sword schools. Thus, since Yue Lingshan was learning The Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword, Yue Buqun had to be working with her to attack her with other sword school’s sword moves.

Yue Lingshan flushed slightly again. “Dad doesn’t have that much time. It was Little Lin who helped me to practice,” she said bashfully.

“Apprentice brother Lin? Does he know many sword moves from other sword schools?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise.

“He only knows the family Kung Fu of his – Evil-Resisting Sword Art. Dad said that even though the Evil-Resisting Sword Art isn’t that powerful at all, it has some interesting variations in the moves, which

would be good for me to compare to. He wanted me to counter Evil-

Resisting Sword Art as the starting point for my Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword training.”

“I see.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“Big apprentice brother, are you upset?”

“No. Why would I be upset? You are learning an advanced form of our Huashan sword arts now. I feel very happy for you! Why should I be upset?”

“But you don’t look very happy.”

“Which stance are you on now?” Linghu Chong squeezed out a smile and asked.

Yue Lingshan didn’t answer. After a long time, she finally said, “I

see. Mom said to let you help me practice, but I am having Little Lin do it, that’s why you are upset. Am I right? But think about it, big apprentice brother, in the short while, you won’t be able to come down from the cliff, and I am just too anxious to learn this sword form. I just can’t wait for you any longer.” “You are talking childishly again. We are all apprentice brothers and sisters, so it’s all the same no matter who practices with you,” Linghu

Chong said in laughter. He paused for a second and then went on, “I know you’d rather have apprentice brother Lin practice with you than having me.”

“Nonsense!” Yue Lingshan blushed again. “Compared to you, Little Lin’s skill level is miles away. What good does it do me practicing with him?”

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Apprentice brother Lin has only joined the Huashan Sword School for several months. Even if he were a

super genius, how good could he get?” So he said, “Of course there’s benefit here. Wouldn’t you feel great when you can beat him with every single one of your moves?”

“Humph, just with his clumsy Evil-Resisting Sword Art, does he actually expect to defeat me?” Yue Lingshan giggled.

Linghu Chong had long known that the little apprentice sister was the type who always wanted to win. When she sparred with Lin Pingzhi, most likely she was able to use the newly learned sword art with facility, and was able to enjoy advantage with every single move. Lin Pingzhi’s Kung Fu level was very low, and he probably made a perfect spar partner. When Linghu Chong thought about that, his depression went away immediately.

“Then let me try a couple moves with you. Let’s see how good you are with your Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword,” he suggested, smiling.

Yue Lingshan was overjoyed. “Wonderful! Today…today before I came up…I actually planned….” With a shy smile, she drew her long

sword.

“You came up the cliff today just to show me the sword art you just learned? Good, go ahead!” Linghu Chong said. “Big apprentice brother, your sword skills have always been better than mine. But after I learn this set of Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword well, you won’t be able to bully me anymore.” Yue Lingshan grinned.

“When did I ever bully you? You are wronging the good guy here.” “Don’t you want to draw your sword?” Yue Lingshan got into her

starting position.

“Not so soon!” Linghu Chong said. He shifted his left hand into the

starting position and then thrust his right hand out quickly. “This is from the Qingcheng Sword School’s Pine-Wind Sword Art. This move is called Thundering Pine Wave!” He pretended that his hand was a sword and thrust it toward Yue Lingshan’s shoulder.

Yue Lingshan turned to the side and stepped back while waving her sword to block toward Linghu Chong’s hand. “Look out!” she called out.

“Don’t try to be nice. I’ll draw my sword when I can’t defend myself.”

“How dare you fight my Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword with your bare hands?” Yue Lingshan snapped.

“That’s because you have not mastered it. Once you master it, I won’t be able to fight you with my bare hands.”

Yue Lingshan had been practicing the Nineteen Stances of Jade

Maiden Sword very hard these days. She felt that she had advanced quite a lot in her sword skills, and even if compared to first class sword masters in the Martial World, she would be no less. The reason why she didn’t come up the cliff for the last ten days was to keep this a secret from Linghu

Chong, so she could give him a big surprise with one brilliant feat, and thus make Linghu Chong think highly of her. But now he was actually belittling her and only wanted to fight her Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword with his bare hands, she couldn’t help but feeling annoyed.

“If by accident I cut you or something, don’t blame me. Don’t tell my mom or dad either.” She pulled a long face.

“That’s of course. You do your best. If you give ground in anyway, you wouldn’t be showing your true skills.” Linghu Chong’s left hand

suddenly chopped out as he spoke. “Look out!” he yelled.

“What…what! Is your left hand a sword too?” Yue Lingshan shouted in astonishment.

If Linghu Chong had really chopped down, Yue Lingshan would have been injured in the shoulder. He held on his strength and explained, “Some people in the Qingcheng Sword School do use double swords.”

“That’s right! I’ve seen some Qingcheng apprentices carrying double swords. How did I forget that? Watch out!” Yue Lingshan launched a

counter attack.

Seeing that the thrust drifted swiftly, Linghu Chong figured this must be an advanced move out of the Jade Maiden Sword. He praised, “This one is very good. Just not fast enough.”

“Still not fast enough? A little bit faster, I would have chopped off your arm.”

“Go ahead and try to chop it off.” Linghu Chong used his right hand as the sword and chopped toward her left arm.

Yue Lingshan was a bit annoyed. She waved her sword quickly and swiftly and started using the Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword she had been practicing one move after another. Out of the total nineteen

stances of moves, she could only remember nine, and within the nine

stances, she could really only use six. But these six stances were already quite powerful. Whenever she pointed the sword somewhere, Linghu Chong would have a hard time getting close to her in that direction. Linghu Chong circled around her as they fought. Every time when he tried to attack his way in, he was forced back by her sharp sword moves. Once he had to jump backward quickly and ended up bumping his back on a piece of rock that was sticking out.

Yue Lingshan was very pleased with herself. She asked in a grin, “Don’t you want to draw your sword now?”

“Just a little bit longer,” Linghu Chong said, as he lured her into using one move after another out of the Jade Maiden Sword form. After a few more moments of fighting, noticing Yue Lingshan used the same six stances again and again, Linghu Chong figured it out. He abruptly stepped forward and chopped with his right knife hand. “Killer move from the Pine-Wind Sword Art! Watch out!” he yelled. The chop looked as if it had a lot of

strength in it.

Seeing the knife hand swishing down toward her head, Yue Lingshan slashed her sword upwards. That was exactly the move Linghu Chong had expected. He reached out his left hand in a flash and flicked out with his middle finger. “Ring,” his finger knocked on the blade of the long sword.

Yue Lingshan only felt a burning pain in her palm and could no longer hold on to the sword. The sword flew out of her grip and fell straight down the bottomless abyss.

Her face as pale as a white sheet, Yue Lingshan stared silently at Linghu Chong in disbelief and astonishment, biting her lower lip hard with her upper teeth. “Oops!” Linghu Chong cried, and immediately rushed by the edge of the cliff, but the sword has disappeared in the bottomless valley and could no longer be seen. Suddenly, a green shadow flashed by the side of the cliff. It seemed to have been a piece of a robe. But when Linghu

Chong looked more carefully, it was already gone. His heart thumped hard as he thought inwardly, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? I’ve practiced and sparred with little apprentice sister thousands of times before. Every time I would give ground to her and had never acted so mercilessly like today. I am really being ridiculous!”

Yue Lingshan cast a sideway look down the valley as she cried out loud, “The sword! The sword!”

Linghu Chong was stunned when he suddenly remembered that little apprentice sister’s long sward was an exceptional sword that could cut steel. It was called “Sword of the Green Pool,” and was acquired by Master in

Dragon-Spring, Zhejiang Province52 three years ago. Ever since little

apprentice sister laid eyes on it, she could not keep her mind off it. She had begged for it from Master many times and Master never agreed until her

eighteenth birthday this year when Master gave the sword to her as her birthday present. Now the sword had fallen into the bottomless valley, there would be no way to retrieve it back.

“What a terrible mistake have I made?” Linghu Chong regretted full heartedly.

Tears rolling in her eyes, Yue Lingshan stomped her left foot in frustration and then turned around to leave.

“Little apprentice sister!” Linghu Chong called out, but Yue Lingshan ignored him and started heading off the cliff. Linghu Chong chased her to the side of the cliff and reached out for her arm, but as soon as his fingers touched Yue Lingshan’s sleeve, he drew his arm back and watched her leave without ever looking back.

Feeling very depressed, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Normally I would have put up with her and give in to her, but why did I flick away her sword today? Am I envying her because Master-Wife taught her the

Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword? No, no way. It can’t be! The Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword were meant for female

apprentices, and wouldn’t I be happier that little apprentice sister is learning more Kung Fu? Ah, probably it’s because I have been alone on the cliff for too long and have become ill tempered. I only wish she would come up the cliff again tomorrow so I can apologize to her sincerely.”

That night Linghu Chong could not sleep. He sat cross-legged on a rock and tried to work on his breathing exercise, but he simply could not stay focus, and he dared not to continue. Moonlight shone through the opening of the cave and lit the rock wall. Noticing the words “Feng

Qingyang” carved on the rock wall again, Linghu Chong reached out and

started writing following the strokes carved on the rock wall. Suddenly, the wall darkened as a shadow was cast upon the rock wall. In astonishment, Linghu Chong picked up the sword by his side, with no time to unsheathe the sword, he just thrust it toward his back. When it was half way out, he

suddenly retracted his strength and turned around as he called out in joy, “Little apprentice sister!” But it wasn’t his little apprentice sister.

A thin and tall man stood about a dozen feet away from the cave. Dressed in a green robe, he stood with his back toward the moonlight; a piece of green cloth covered his face, leaving only his eyes showing.

Linghu Chong didn’t recall ever seeing this man before, so he yelled, “Who are you?” and jumped out of the cave with his sword drawn. The man didn’t answer, but raised his right hand and chopped twice toward his front-right, which turned out to be two moves out of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword Yue Lingshan had used in the day. Linghu Chong was greatly surprised, although by now he had dropped most of his animosity toward the man.

“Are you a senior in our sword school?” he asked, when suddenly a strong wind of energy came upon his face. With no time to think, Linghu Chong slashed out with his sword, but at the meantime, a slight pain came from his left shoulder. It had been hit by the man’s hand. It seemed that the man did not use any inner energy when he struck with his hand. In great fear and astonishment, Linghu Chong hurriedly slid a couple of steps toward his left. The man did not follow up, and simply used his hand as a sword, and within moments of time, he had shown the dozens of moves included in those six stances of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden

Sword smoothly with no interruptions. The dozens of moves were executed as if they were all part of one big move. The speed he had shown was

simply unthinkable. Under the moonlight, Linghu Chong could see clearly that every move had been used by Yue Lingshan during the day. But how could he have executed all those dozens of moves as if it was just one big move? Linghu Chong’s jaw dropped and his body seemed to have frozen.

The man flicked his long sleeves and walked off around the back of the cliff.

It was already a good while later when Linghu Chong was finally able to regain himself. “Senior Master! Senior Master!” he called out loud, but by the time he ran to the backside of the cliff, all he found was the sliverish moonlight reflected by the ground. There was no one to be found.

“Who is he?” Linghu Chong gasped and thought to himself. “When he showed the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, I would stand no chance flicking away his sword, and every move from him could have

chopped my hand off. No, it’s not only my hand. He could have stabbed me anywhere he wants or cut me anywhere he wishes. With those six stances of the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, I would be like a piece of meat on somebody’s chopping block – be totally at his mercy. It turned out that this sword form is actually so powerful.” He pondered upon it a bit more and then thought, “Apparently the power didn’t come from the sword moves but the way he used his sword. With such a method, I wouldn’t be

able to defend myself no matter what kind of ordinary moves he uses. Who is this man? Why is he on top of Mount Huashan?”

He pondered upon the question for a long time but still had no clue.

Finally he gave up, thinking that Master and Master-Wife must know about this man, and when little apprentice sister comes up the cliff again tomorrow, he could ask her to inquire about it from Master and Master- Wife.

But Yue Lingshan didn’t come up the next day, nor did she come the third day or the forth day. Only after a total of eighteen days, she finally

came up the cliff together with Lu Dayou. Having longed for Yue Lingshan for eighteen days and nights, Linghu Chong had a stomach full of words to tell her, but with Lu Dayou by the side, he simply could not spill them out.

After dinner, knowing Linghu Chong’s feelings, Lu Dayou suggested, “Big apprentice brother, little apprentice sister, since you two haven’t seen each other for many days, why don’t you two have a good chat here. I’ll take the basket down first.”

“Monkey Six, are you trying to run away from me? We came together, so we’ll leave together too,” Yue Lingshan said with a grin as she stood up.

“Little apprentice sister, I have something to talk to you about,” Linghu Chong said.

“Sure. Monkey Six, stop right there. Big apprentice brother has some advice for us,” Yue Lingshan said to Lu Dayou.

“It’s not about advice.” Linghu Chong shook his head. “That ‘Sword of the Green Pool’ of yours….”

Yue Lingshan cut him short quickly. “I’ve told Mom that I was being too careless and the sword slipped out of my hand down the valley when I was practicing the Nineteen Stances of Jade Maiden Sword. It’s nowhere to be found now. I had a good weep. Mom not only didn’t yell at me, but she also comforted me and promised to get me another good blade next time.

This really is history now. There’s no need to mention it again.” She shrugged with a smile on her face.

The more easily she acted, the more disturbed Linghu Chong felt.

“After I fulfill my punishment so I can get down the cliff again, I’ll find a good blade to repay you.” Linghu Chong promised.

“We are apprentice brothers and sisters. Don’t worry about the sword.

And it did fall into the deep valley because I couldn’t hold on to it. It’s all because I didn’t really master my Kung Fu skills. Who else is there to blame? Let’s just ‘gi’ton witit’n falla ya’n distini’.” Yue Lingshan started giggling.

“What did you say?” Linghu Chong was lost.

“Oh, yeah, you don’t know. Little Lin always liked to say ‘get on with it and follow your own destiny,’ but he’s got a heavy accent, so I imitate him to make fun of him. Ha-ha! ‘Gi’ton witit’n falla ya’n distini’!”

Linghu Chong squeezed out a dry smile. He suddenly remembered something. “That day when little apprentice sister used the Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword, why did I pick the Pine-Wind Sword Art of the Qingcheng Sword School as the counter? In my subconscious,

did I actually want to counter apprentice brother Lin’s Evil-Resisting Sword Art? His entire family and the Fortune Prestige Escort House of his Lin family were completely ruined by the Qingcheng Sword School. Was I intentionally being sarcastic? Why was I so harsh and mean?” Then he thought some more about it. “The other day, in the Jade House of Hengshan Town, I almost got killed from Yu Canghai’s palm strike. It was all because of apprentice brother Lin’s yelling of ‘A senior bullies a junior, how shameless’ with disregard of his own safety, Yu Canghai held back the

strike. I really owe apprentice brother Lin the big favor of life and death.” At that thought, he felt very ashamed of himself as he heaved a long breath out.

“Apprentice brother Lin is very bright and he also works hard. After the last couple of months of training by little apprentice sister, he probably has progressed very rapidly. It’s a pity that within the year of my punishment, I can’t leave the cliff. Otherwise, because of the favor I owe him, I really should have helped him with his sword training myself.” Linghu Chong sighed.

“How did Little Lin do you a favor? How come I have never heard anything about it from him?” Yue Lingshan raised her eyebrows.

“Of course he won’t be bragging about it himself.” Linghu Chong explained and then told the story about that day at the Jade House.

Yue Lingshan seemed to have lost in her thought for a moment. “No wonder Dad said that he had the character of the chivalry kind, and that’s why Dad saved him from the ‘Hunchback of the North.’ He is so muddle- headed. So he actually came out boldly for you, too, with that loud yell of his.” At these words, she couldn’t help and giggled some more. “With his little Kung Fu skills, he actually saved the big apprentice brother of

Huashan Sword School, and also came forward for the sake of Huashan Head Master’s daughter and whacked the beloved son of the Head Master of the Qingcheng Sword School. Just with those two achievements, he

could have gained a lot of fame in the Martial World. But nobody would have guessed that such a big hero, who likes to defend people against an injustice, ha-ha, Big Hero Lin Pingzhi, has such terrible Kung Fu skills?”

“One can learn Kung Fu skills, but the character of the chivalry type comes when one gets born. And that’s what differentiate people’s moral standings,” Linghu Chong said.

“Dad and Mom said the same thing about Little Lin.” Yue Lingshan smiled. “Big apprentice brother, other than the character of chivalry, there’s one more thing that both of you have.”

“What other thing? Bad temper?” Linghu Chong asked.

“It’s the feeling of pride. Both of you are quite proud of yourself,” Yue Lingshan answered.

Lu Dayou suddenly cut in the conversation. “Big apprentice brother is the leader of all the apprentice brothers and sisters, it’s natural for him to feel the pride. Who the heck does that chap Lin think he is? What makes him think he is worthy to show his pride in the Huashan Sword School?” A tone of hostility toward Lin Pingzhi was clearly shown.

“Monkey Six, when did apprentice brother Lin offend you?” Linghu Chong asked in shock.

“He never offended me. It’s just that we apprentice brothers don’t like his attitude,” Lu Dayou said irritably.

“Sixth apprentice brother, what’s the matter with you? Why are you always so hard on Little Lin? He is your junior apprentice brother. As a

senior, you should treat him nice and not pick on his mistakes,” Yue Lingshan said.

“If he knows his place and behaves himself, I’d have no problem with him, otherwise, I would be the first one to jump on to him.” Lu Dayou grunted.

“How did he not know his place and behave himself?” Yue Lingshan challenged.

“He…he…he…,” Lu Dayou answered but stopped short.

“What are you trying to say? Why are you hesitating?” Yue Lingshan charged. “I hope I got it wrong and thought of it in the wrong way,” Lu Dayou croaked.

Yue Lingshan blushed slightly and stopped asking. Lu Dayou said that he wanted to go back now, and Yue Lingshan left the cliff together with him.

Seized with gloominess, Linghu Chong stood by the edge of the cliff and gazed at their receding figures until they turned around the shoulder of the pass. Soon, Yue Lingshan’s loud and clear singing wafted up the cliff from behind the mountain shoulder. It was a lively and smooth tune. Linghu Chong grew up together with Yue Lingshan and had listened to her singing for many times, but he had never heard of this tune before. Yue Lingshan had always been singing Shanxi53 folk songs – the kind that had a long

ending sound that would be echoing around the valleys. But this one

sounded more like water drops dripping down a fountain and each word was short and clear. Linghu Chong tried to listen to the lyrics, but could

only hear something like “sisters, let’s go uphill to pick tea.” She had some odd pronunciations; Linghu Chong could hear the words, but he could only recognize probably the meaning of one out of ten words. He thought,

“When did little apprentice sister learn this new song? It is a very pleasant song. I’ll have to ask her to sing this one again from the beginning next time when she comes up the cliff.”

Suddenly, he almost felt like a hammer had just smashed his chest as he realized, “This is a Fujian54 folk song. Apprentice brother Lin must have taught her this one!”

That night, Linghu Chong couldn’t sleep. Disquieting thoughts surged in his mind. It seemed as if Yue Lingshan’s lively but hard to understand

singing still echoed around his ears. “Linghu Chong! You’ve always been

so unrestrained and carefree before, but today you can’t even put aside your worry just because of a song. How can you still call yourself a true man?” he kept blaming himself.

Knowing very clearly that he shouldn’t be still thinking about it, but the Fujian folk song sang by Yue Lingshan kept wafting around his ears.

Linghu Chong felt great pain in his heart. In frustration, he picked up his sword and chopped and slashed toward the rock wall like a mad man.

Feeling a stream of inner energy rising from his abdomen, he thrust the

sword out, the posture and the way he used his energy happened to be just like the move taught by Madam Yue – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. With a piercing sound, the sword surprisingly went into the rock wall all the way to the sword handle.

Linghu Chong was astounded. He knew too well that no matter how quickly he had advanced his Kung Fu skills in the last several months, it would still be impossible for him to jab his sword into the rock wall all the

way to the handle. That would require putting superb inner energy onto the sword blade so that the blade could be jabbed into a rock as if the rock was a rotten piece of wood. Even Master or Master-Wife wouldn’t have such magical skills. He stood there as if he was in a trance, then he pulled at the sword handle and drew the blade out when he suddenly realized from the feel with his hand: the rock wall was only a very thin layer of rock. It was empty after about two or three inches deep – there was a cave on the other side of the rock wall.

Linghu Chong’s mind was now filled with curiosity. He lifted his

sword and thrust again. “Clank!” This time the long sword broke in half. It turned out that because he didn’t use enough inner energy, the sword

couldn’t even penetrate a two or three inches thick layer of rock. He spilled out a couple swears and then picked up a big rock from outside the cave.

This time he used all his might and threw the rock at the rock wall, which smashed the rock wall hard and produced some vague echoes from behind the rock wall – apparently there was quite some spacious room behind it. He smashed the rock against the rock wall once again, and this time with a loud bang, the rock went through the rock wall and landed on the floor in the other side. Loud bangs kept rising from the other end as the rock rolled on the floor.

The discovery of such a secret cave drove all his depression and worries completely out. He picked up another rock and started smashing

again. Soon, a hole big enough for his head to go through appeared on the rock wall. He widened the hole some more and then climbed in with a lit torch. Inside was a narrow corridor kind of pathway. Suddenly, he broke into a cold sweat as he looked down. A skeleton lay still on the ground facing down right next to his feet. This scene was far from what Linghu Chong had expected.

He calmed himself down a bit and thought, “Could this be a tomb? But why would the skeleton lay on the floor facing down instead of lying facing up? And this narrow corridor doesn’t look like a tomb corridor

either.”

He looked down at the skeleton again. The clothing on the skeleton had rotten into dusts. Two huge axes lay on the ground next to the skeleton, shining as they reflected the light from the torch. He picked one of the axes up. It was very heavy, at least over forty pounds. He raised the axe and

chopped it at the rock wall by his side. “Clank!” A big chunk of rock was chopped off. He was stunned.

“This axe is too sharp to be a normal axe. It must have belonged to a senior master in the Martial World as his weapon.” The spot where the axe had just chopped by looked very smooth, almost as smooth as a Tofu Cube being cut by a knife, and there were many chop marks on all sides of the corridor. He thought about it for a short moment and was stunned by his

conclusion. He walked down the path a bit more with the torch raised high, only finding axe chopping marks all over the cave. He found himself

stupefied.

“So the pathway was actually made by chops from this man using his sharp axes. Right, he was taken prisoner in the middle of the mountain, so he tried to use his sharp axes to dig a way out of the mountain. But he fell

short of success and died exhausted with only inches from breaking out. Alas, he was certainly very unfortunate.”

He walked about another one hundred feet and the pathway still did not end. He thought, “That man dug such a long pathway. Such strong will and determination together with his superb Kung Fu level must have been extraordinary.” He couldn’t help but feel great respect toward the mysterious man.

Some steps deeper down the path, two more skeletons appeared, one sitting down leaning against the wall, the other one huddled up and lay on

the floor. “So there were actually more than one trapped in the middle of the mountain,” Linghu Cong figured. “But this is an important site of our

Huashan Sword School; outsiders shouldn’t be able to have access here. Could all these skeletons be senior masters of our Huashan Sword School who violated school rules and were punished to die here?”

He walked another one hundred feet and followed the pathway when it swerved to the left. Suddenly, a huge cave, spacious enough to hold over a thousand people, appeared right in front of his eyes. There were seven more skeletons in the cave, some sitting down, some lying on the floor. All of them had weapons lying next to them. Among those weapons were a pair of iron plates, a pair of Judge-Pens, an iron staff, a copper club, a weapon that looked like a thunderbolt mace, a fanged tri-tip and double-blade halberd, and also some kind of a weapon that looked like a combination of knife and sword that he had never seen before.

“These people with those special weapons and the one using the axes couldn’t have been apprentices of our sword school,” he told himself.

Not far from where he stood, over a dozen long swords piled on the ground in disorder. He walked by and randomly picked one up. The sword was shorter than average but the blade had double the width of a regular

sword; it was also much heavier. He thought, “This is the kind of sword used by the Taishan Sword School.” Among the rest of the swords, some were light and very flexible, which was the type of sword used by the

Heng-Shan Sword School. Some had crooked blade and were among one of the three types of swords used by the Hengshan Sword School. Some had very blunt edges and a very sharp tip, which was the type of popular

weapon used by some senior masters from the Songshan Sword School. There were also three swords that had the same length and weight of a regular Huashan style sword. More and more questions popped out in his head, “Why is there a pile of weapons from the Five Mountains Sword

Alliance?”

Linghu Cong raised the torch high and looked around the walls of the cave. There was a big rock sticking out dozens of feet above the ground from the rock wall on the right side. It looked like a platform. Underneath the big rock, some words were carved onto the rock wall in large fonts,

saying “THE FIVE MOUNTAINS SWORD ALLIANCE, YOU SHAMELESS AND DESPICABLE BUNCH, CAN’T WIN IN A FAIR

FIGHT, DIRTY TRICKS ARE YOUR SPECIALTY.” There were a total of four lines of words and each character was about a foot tall. The strokes

went inches into the rock. Obviously they were carved in with a very sharp blade. All the words were written in a bold and tense hand, with strokes extending in all directions. Then he noticed many smaller characters carved next to the huge characters with words like “dirty scoundrel”, “ignominious cowards”, “filthy pigs”, and “incompetent chickens” etc. All of them were cursing or swearing words.

The more Linghu Chong read, the angrier he became. “So all those people were prisoners of our Five Mountains Sword Alliance. They were all completely irritated, but had no other way of venting their anger, so had to

carve those words onto the rock wall. I’d say what they did was the real

shameless and despicable thing. But I wonder who would they be? If they were enemies of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, then they mustn’t be good.”

He looked at the rock wall again and saw a line of words that read, “Fan Song and Zhao He defeat Heng-Shan sword art here.” Right next to the text, there were many sketches of human forms drawn in pairs, one wielding a sword and the other wielding an axe. After a quick count,

Linghu Chong estimated that there were at least five or six hundred of

sketch drawings. Apparently the axe wielding one was countering the sword wielding one’s sword art forms. By the side of those human form drawings, there was another line of words saying, “Zhang Chengyun and Zhang

Chengfeng defeat all Huashan sword art here.”

Linghu Chong was furious. “You shameless scoundrels, how wildly presumptuous you are! Huashan style sword art is meticulous and profound. There is very few in the world that can actually block it; who would have dared claiming to be able to not only “defeat”, but “defeat all” of the

Huashan sword art?” he thought.

He picked up the heavy sword of the Taishan Sword School and

smacked it hard against the line of text. With a loud bang and a shower of sparks, he smacked a part of the word “all” off. But from the smacking, he realized that the rock belonged to a very hard type, and even with sharp blades, it would still be very difficult to draw sketches or write on the rock wall.

He looked more closely and saw a drawing by the line of text. The sword wielding man were drawn with only a few simple and crude lines, but from the posture he could tell that it was one of the moves in the basic

sword form of the Huashan sword art called Graceful Phoenix. In the move, the sword would be dancing with lithe and graceful movements. The

countering human shape was wielding a straight line shaped weapon that

could have been either a staff or a spear, with the tip of the weapon pointing directly at the swordsman’s sword tip, looking very clumsy.

Linghu Chong sneered. “The Graceful Phoenix move of Huashan has five additional hidden techniques. How could it ever be defeated by such a clumsy move?”

But when he looked at posture of the man in the drawing again, out of the dullness, there seemed to have more continuous flow in it. Although the move Graceful Phoenix had five additional techniques, but the staff move

seemed to faintly have six or seven additional techniques, more than

enough to counter the various techniques from the Graceful Phoenix move. His eyes fixing on the quick drawn human sketch, Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “This Graceful Phoenix move of our sword school looks like

an ordinary move, but the additional techniques hold great power. A smart opponent would have simply blocked it and dodged aside. If he had tried to counter it, he would be suffering great losses. But that staff move in the drawing really can defeat the Graceful Phoenix move of ours. That…that… that….” Gradually, his astonishment transformed into admiration. Deep in his heart, he also felt great terror. He stared blankly at the two human sketches, lost in thought and time completely forgotten. Suddenly, a great pain came from his right hand and woke him. It turned out to be the torch, which had burned almost to the end and the flame caught his hand. He threw it down, thinking, “It’s going to be completely dark if the torch burns down.” So he rushed to the front cave, took over a dozen of the pine branches that were meant to be firewood for heating purposes, and then returned to the back cave in a dash.

He lit a pine stick from the about to extinguish torch and gazed at those two human shape sketches again, thinking, “If the staff wielding guy has the same level of Kung Fu as the swordsman from our sword school, then the swordsman might incur some serious injury. If the opponent has

slightly better Kung Fu, then when the two moves clashes, the swordsman will see his own life perishing in front of his own eyes within the time of a flash. That Graceful Phoenix move of ours…has truly been defeated by the staff wielding man and has been rendered useless!”

He turned a little and started studying the second group of drawings and soon recognized that the swordsman was using a Huashan move called Green Pines Welcoming Guests. He immediately felt his spirits buoyed up. When he had learned that move in the old days, it had taken him a full month to be able to execute it proficiently. That move had become one of his favorite killer moves. Feeling excited yet slightly frightened, fearing that this move might be defeated again, he looked at the staff wielding man drawing. But to his surprise, he saw five staffs in the man’s hand striking toward five different parts of the swordsman’s lower body.

“Why does he have five staffs?” he pondered.

After looking at the staff wielding man’s posture some more he understood it. “These aren’t five staffs. He is striking out five times quickly in one instant to hit five of the opponent’s lower body. But if he’s fast, I can be fast too. He might not be able to strike out five times fast enough. So this Green Pines Welcoming Guests can’t be defeated after all.”

Just when he was feeling great, he suddenly realized, “He is not

striking out with his staff five times. He could have struck out in any one of the five positions, and how would I dodge that?”

He picked up one of the Huashan style sword and performed the move Green Pines Welcoming Guests. Then he studied the drawings

carefully and imagined in his head how the opponent would have struck out with his staff. He figured that since he already knew where the staff would be striking to, he should be able to figure out a counter. But when that staff struck out from any one of the five positions, his sword would have been fully thrust out with no chance of withdrawing it back in time. Unless the thrust could kill the opponent, otherwise his lower body would for sure get hit. And the opponent most likely would be a skilled fighter, how could one expect to kill the opponent with one single thrust? And with the sliding posture and a lowered shoulder in the drawing, the enemy for sure would be able to dodge the thrust in that fraction of time. Once the enemy dodged the sword thrust and struck back, he would have no chance to evade. Thus, the unique Huashan move of Green Pines Welcoming Guests had been defeated as well.

Linghu Chong remembered that he had won three times in various fights using that move of Green Pines Welcoming Guests. If his opponents had seen the drawing on the rock wall before, and knew how to counter

attack, then it wouldn’t matter whether the opponent had used a staff or a spear, he would have either get wounded or get killed. Probably there

wouldn’t even be a Linghu Chong left in the world today.

The more he thought about it, the more terrified he became. He murmured to himself as cold sweat streamed down his forehead, “That’s impossible! That’s impossible! If the move Green Pines Welcoming Guests could be defeated this way, how come Master knows nothing about it? Why didn’t he ever warn me about it?” He knows all the key aspect of that move from inside out, so he knew to the full extent how detrimental those five

staff strikes were. Although those were just five short lines on the rock wall, he could almost feel every strike smacking heavily onto his ankles and

shins.

Linghu Chong looked on. The sword moves carved onto the rock wall were all unique moves of the Huashan Sword School, and the opponent

always had ultra-clever and vicious moves that would defeat them. The more moves he checked out, the more he gasped, until a move called

Boundless Falling Leaves. The enemy’s staff move against this one

appeared to be very weak and powerless. The entire counter move had taken the defending initiative. Linghu Chong heaved a long sigh of relieve, thinking, “There’s finally one you can’t defeat!”

He remembered a scene in January last year. It snowed that day.

Countless of snowflakes swirled in the air. Master was in a very good mood. He gathered the apprentices for a sword art lesson. At the end of the lesson, he demonstrated the move Boundless Falling Leaves. His every thrust became even faster than the previous one and every thrust hit a

swirling snowflake in the air. Even Master-Wife applauded and cheered, saying, “Apprentice brother, I am convinced from this move that you are qualified to be the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School.” Master

answered with a smile, “It takes moral integrity, not shear power to lead the Huashan Sword School. It’s not necessary that with just one proficient move, someone would become qualified for the post of Head Master.”

Master-Wife rebuffed in a grin, “Hey, aren’t you ashamed? What moral integrity of yours is better than mine?” Master smiled and did not argue. Master-Wife seldom submitted to other’s Kung Fu and loved to compete with Master. Even she had to admit her admiration that time, so it was obvious that the move Boundless Falling Leaves was a superior move.

Master explained about the move later. The name of the move came from a poem and the poem had a line saying something like “boundless falling leaves”. Master had recited it at the time, but Linghu Chong couldn’t remember it. It seemed to be describing how leaves from thousands of trees had fallen and swirled in the air in all directions. That was why this sword move needed to cover all directions.

Looking at the staff wielding human sketch, he found a human shape drawing huddled himself up in a rather unsightly posture that looked as if he had no way of avoiding a good beating. Linghu Chong was about to laugh out loud when his smile suddenly froze. He felt a chill run down his back and the fine hairs on his back almost all stood up. He gazed at the staff in the man’s hand on the sketch without blinking. The more he gazed at it, the more he felt that the staff was at an ingenious position. All the nine thrusts, ten thrusts, eleven thrusts, or twelve thrusts…out of the move

Boundless Falling Leaves would inevitably land on the staff. The position of the staff appeared to be dull when one first looked at it, but was actually very clever; the staff move appeared to be very weak, yet it was actually

extremely strong. The move really had attained the lofty realm of martial arts that is to “counter motion with standstill and defy cleverness with dullness.”

Instantaneously, he had lost all his confidence in the Kung Fu of his own sword school. All he could think of was that even if he could perfect his sword art so it was as good as his Master’s, when he encountered the man with the staff, he would still stand no chance of possibly defending himself. In that case, what good would it do for him to continue learning this style of sword art?

“Is Huashan style sword art really so fragile that it wouldn’t even withstand a single blow? Those skeletons must have been decaying in the

cave for at least thirty or forty years. How could the Five Mountains Sword Alliance still be dominating the Martial World since then, and no one had

ever mentioned that the sword art of any one of the five sword schools

could be defeated? Are those drawings just idling theories? Well, it doesn’t seem so.”

Although he couldn’t tell if the sword arts of the Songshan Sword School and the rest members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance were truly defeated, he knew Huashan style sword art from inside out, and he knew too well that if he had encountered such brilliant moves in a real fight all of a sudden, he would undoubtedly be suffering a crushing defeat.

He stood still, seized in terror, almost as if someone had sealed his acupoints. Endless of thoughts flashed by his mind, and he totally forgot about time.

Time went by, and finally, someone’s voice rose. “Big apprentice brother, big apprentice brother, where are you?”

Stunned, Linghu Chong immediately turned and ran through the narrow pathway until he passed through the hole on the rock wall and got back into his own cave compartment. It was Lu Dayou calling out around the cliff. Linghu Chong leapt out of the cave and turned behind a big rock at the back of the cliff. After sitting down cross-legged, he called out, “I am here meditating. Sixth apprentice brother, what’s the matter?”

Lu Dayou followed the direction of the sound and came by. “Big

apprentice brother! Here you are! I’ve brought your dinner up for you,” he said happily. Ever since Linghu Chong started studying the moves on the rock wall before dawn, he had totally lost track of time because of his focus on the drawings. It was already in the late afternoon by now. The cave he lived in was specifically used for meditation and contemplation, so Lu Dayou dared not to enter without permission. The cave was a shallow one. Since he didn’t see Linghu Chong inside the cave, he started looking around the cliff.

Linghu Chong noticed that Lu Dayou’s right cheek was covered with a layer of herbal medicine, with blood still oozing out of the green dressing. Evidently, he was wounded pretty badly. So he asked hurriedly, “Hey, what happened to your face?”

“This morning when I was practicing sword art, I accidentally cut myself. How stupid was I!” Lu Dayou answered.

Seeing more irritation than embarrassment in Lu Dayou’s eyes, Linghu Chong figured that there must be something else. “Sixth apprentice brother, how did you really get hurt? Can’t I be trusted with the truth?” he asked.

“Big apprentice brother, I don’t want to hide the truth from you. I didn’t say the truth because I am just afraid that you might get mad,” Lu Dayou growled.

“So who cut you?” Linghu Chong inquired. He felt quite surprised.

Apprentice brothers in Huashan Sword School had always been getting along comfortably well, and had never got into any fights among each other. Did outside enemies come to Huashan to cause trouble?

Lu Dayou explained. “This morning I sparred with junior apprentice brother Lin. He just learned that move Graceful Phoenix. I wasn’t paying enough attention and got a cut on my face.”

“It’s normal for somebody to make a mistake occasionally when

apprentice brothers spar each other. Don’t get mad. Apprentice brother Lin probably just learned that move recently and couldn’t control the move too well. You can’t really blame him. But you probably were a bit too careless. That move Graceful Phoenix is a powerful one. You should have treated it more carefully,” Linghu Chong said.

“That’s right. But how would I know that…that chap Lin have learned the Graceful Phoenix after only several months of apprenticeship? It was after my fifth year in Huashan that Master finally permitted you to teach me that move,” Lu Dayou grumbled.

Linghu Chong was slightly surprised. He thought to himself,

“Apprentice brother Lin has only been in Huashan Sword School for several months, and now he has already learned the move Graceful

Phoenix. He has progressed too fast. If he didn’t have the brain of a super smart genius, then he wouldn’t have a good foundation. To progress this

fast is actually detrimental for his later progress. Why did Master teach him this move so early?”

Lu Dayou continued, “When I saw it all of a sudden, I was shocked, that’s how I got cut by him. Little apprentice sister applauded and cheered by the side. She said, ‘Monkey Six, you can’t even beat my student. How are you going to pose as a hero in front me again?’ That chap Lin knew he

was wrong and tried to come by and bind up the wound for me, but I kicked him to the ground. Little apprentice sister snapped, ‘Monkey Six, he is trying to be nice to bind up your wound. Are you shamed into anger because you can’t beat him?’ Big apprentice brother, it turned out that little apprentice sister secretly taught him that move.”

Instantly, Linghu Chong’s heart was filled with strong grief. That Graceful Phoenix move was a very difficult one. The five additional techniques had complicated variations, and on top of that, the practitioner

also needed to memorize a lot of formulas that went with the techniques. In order to help apprentice brother Lin understand that move, little apprentice sister must have racked her brain out and put in a lot of work. So the reason why she didn’t come up the cliff all those days is because she spent the

entire time with apprentice brother Lin. Yue Lingshan was the impatient type. She always had a hard time staying still and hated tasks that would require meticulous cares. She always wanted to be better than others. That was why she was able to gather enough patience when she was learning

sword arts herself. But if she were teaching someone else, she would never have taught carefully. But now she actually taught that complicated move Graceful Phoenix to Lin Pingzhi. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how much

she cared about this junior apprentice brother of hers. Only after a while did he finally managed to calm down.

“Why did you go sparring with apprentice brother Lin?” he asked

dryly.

“Yesterday when I said those words to you, little apprentice sister

wasn’t very happy about it and croaked at me all the way down the cliff. Then early this morning, she dragged me to go sparring with apprentice brother Lin. I didn’t think too much about it and thought that it was just a practice. But who would have expected that little apprentice sister secretly taught several unique moves to the chap Lin. I was caught totally off guard and became a prey of their plot.”

Linghu Chong understood now: When Yue Lingshan and Lin Pingzhi got into an intimate relationship in those past days, since Lu Dayou was very close to me, he couldn’t take it anymore, so he must have spilled out many satirical comments. Linghu Chong wouldn’t be surprised if Lu Dayou had even made trouble and swore at Lin Pingzhi. So he asked.

“You’ve swore at apprentice brother Lin several times already, haven’t you?” “That dirty shameless sissy. Of course I’d be swearing at him. He got scared of me. Every time I swore at him, he dared not swear back at me and always turned away immediately to avoid me. But I would never have thought…thought that this chap is so vicious. Humph! He can’t get

anywhere by himself. If it weren’t because little apprentice sister was behind him, how could he have wounded me?” Lu Dayou grunted.

Linghu Chong couldn’t help but feel a kind of indescribable bitterness in his heart. He suddenly remember the move drawn on the rock wall in the back cave that was created to defeat the move Graceful Phoenix, so he picked up a branch from the ground and was ready to teach that move to Lu Dayou, but then he thought better of it.

“Sixth apprentice brother hates that chap Lin so much right now, once he uses this move, he would almost certainly wound Lin Pingzhi severely.

Then when Master and Master-Wife look into the incident, the two of us would be severely punished for sure! I can’t do that!” At that thought, he said, “Well, a fall to the pit, a gain in your wit. Just don’t get tricked again next time. We are all apprentice brothers. A small loss in a spar practice is really nothing. Why don’t you take it easy?”

“Sure. But big apprentice brother, I can take it easy. Can you…you take it easy, too?” Lu Dayou rebuffed.

Linghu Chong knew that he meant Yue Lingshan. A great pain came from his heart, and even his face twitched because of the pain.

“Sorry, I…I shouldn’t have said that.” As soon as the words came out, Lu Dayou realized how much damage he has done, so he immediately regretted it.

Linghu Chong held tight Lu Dayou’s hands and said slowly, “You

said it right. How can I not care? But…but….” After a long pause, he said, “Sixth apprentice brother, let’s not talk about this anymore.” “Sure!” Lu Dayou replied. “Big apprentice brother, you have taught me that move Graceful Phoenix before. I just didn’t pay enough attention and fell into that chap’s trap. I’ll practice more dedicatedly with all my heart. I have to let that chap know who’s better, the one taught by big

apprentice brother or the one taught by little apprentice sister.”

Linghu Chong let out a sad smile. “The move Graceful Phoenix, alas, it really is nothing,” he said.

Lu Dayou could see the sad expression on Linghu Chong’s face. He figured that Linghu Chong only got so disheartened because little

apprentice sister started to treat him coldly, so he dared not to say another word. After the two finished the meal, Lu Dayou cleared away the bowls and chopsticks and then left.

After a slight rest, Linghu Chong lit a torch and went back to the back cave to study those sword art drawings on the rock wall again. At the beginning, all he could think of was still how Yue Lingshan taught Lin Pingzhi sword arts, so he simply could not concentrate on the drawings on the rock wall. All the human forms in simple sketches seemed to have transformed into Yue Lingshan and Lin Pingzhi, one teaching, the other learning, in a very affectionate way. And no matter which direction he looked at, he could always see the handsome face of Lin Pingzhi flashing in front of his eyes again and again. He heaved a long sigh, thinking,

“Apprentice brother Lin is ten times more handsome than I am, and he is much younger than me, only one or two years older than little apprentice sister. Of course it is natural for the two to become close.”

Suddenly, a drawing on the rock wall caught his attention. The

swordsman in the drawing thrust his sword out, and the way he thrust the

sword out and the route of the sword greatly resembled the move of Madam Yue’s – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. Linghu Chong was astounded. He thought, “This move of Master-Wife clearly was created by her. How come it was carved on the rock wall way ahead of time? How

could this have happened?”

He looked at the drawing more closely and then found out that the thrust drawn on the rock wall and the move created by Madam Yue were actually quite different. The sword move on the rock wall was bold and vigorous, simple and unadorned, apparently executed by a man. Once the

thrust was out, there was only one thrust, not like how Madam Yue’s move had all those extra hidden techniques. But because it was simpler, it was

also more swift and fierce. Linghu Chong nodded as he thought to himself, “It’s actually not surprising at all. The sword move created by Master-Wife used an idea that matched with earlier people’s idea. Since both moves

came from the basic theory of the Huashan style sword arts, and the two

creators had about the same level of Kung Fu and comprehension, of course the creations would have been alike with only minor differences.” Then he realized, “In that case, even Master and Master-Wife didn’t know many of the sword moves drawn here. Didn’t Master learn the entire set of the

advanced sword arts of our Huashan Sword School?” The opponent’s staff also thrust out straight with the staff tip aiming right at the sword tip. The staff and the sword made a perfect straight line.

Seeing the straight line made, Linghu Chong cried out loud, “Oh, no!” The torch in his hand fell down to the floor and the cave was instantly covered by complete darkness. He was completely taken by terror and

could only murmur, “What do I do? What do I do?”

He could see clearly that since the staff and the sword were in a tit- for-tat fight, and the staff is rigid and solid while the sword being flexible, when the two fighters both thrust out with all their strength, the long sword would have no choice but to break from the middle. In this move, both fighters would have continuous energy flow going together with the thrust, and the staff would be taking the advantage of the situation and keep going forward while the energy on the sword would come right back to haunt the swordsman. There was really no way out of it.

A thought suddenly flashed by his mind, “Is there really no way out of it? I guess not. After the sword breaks in half, and when the opponent’s staff jabs by, the swordsman can either drop the broken sword, kneel down

with both legs, or he can dive forward to avoid the strike from the staff. But Master and Master-Wife are both well-known sword masters in the Martial World, how could they even consider using such body positions? They

would rather die than take on such humiliation. Alas, what a crushing defeat! What a devastating defeat!”

He stood there silently for a good while, and then finally took out the flint stone and lit the torch again. He continued studying the rock wall and saw that the sword moves were getting more and more exquisite and intriguing, especially the last dozens of moves simply fluctuated unpredictably and appeared to be mysterious and profound. But no matter how brilliant each sword move was the opponent’s staff would always have an effective way to counter it. At the end of the Huashan sword move drawings, pictures of the swordsman kneeling on the floor in front of the

staff wielding man, heading down, sword being thrown away, were carved on the rock wall. Feelings of anger and rage had slipped away from Linghu Chong’s mind long ago. All there was left was the deep feeling of despair. Although the picture was totally arrogant and harsh, there was no doubt that Huashan style sword art had been completely defeated by him, and the

swordsman would never be able to compete with him. It was sadly so very true. That night, he wandered around the back cave back and forth for

countless of circles. He had never been hit with such a devastating strike before in his entire life. He kept thinking, “Huashan Sword School is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. It is a world-renowned big sword school with great fame in the Martial World. But the Kung Fu of our sword school is actually so pathetic. Among those sword moves drawn on the rock wall, there were at least over a hundred moves that even Master

and Master-Wife didn’t know about. Even if I could master the entire most advanced sword moves of the Huashan Sword School, and become way better than my Master, what difference would it make? As long as the opponent knew about the counter moves, even the best and toughest

swordsman of Huashan Sword School would still have to throw down his sword and surrender. If he didn’t want to surrender, then the only other

choice was to commit suicide.”

He paced up and down, feeling deeply vexed and frustrated. The torch had extinguished a while back. He lit the torch again. Staring at the kneeling and surrendering human shape sketch, he felt more and more

annoyed. Raising his sword high, he wanted to chop at the picture, but right before the tip of the sword touched the rock wall, he held it back, thinking, “A true man is open and aboveboard. A win stays a win and a loss stays a loss. Our Huashan Sword School truly has inferior Kung Fu skills. We really have no excuses.” He threw down his sword with a deep sigh.

He went ahead and looked at some other drawings on the rock wall, and not to his surprise, the sword moves of Songshan, Hengshan, Taishan, and Heng-Shan Sword Schools were also completely defeated, and the

swordsman sketch always ended up kneeling down to surrender. Linghu Chong had been in Huashan Sword School for a long time and had a good

amount of knowledge about many other sword schools. Although he didn’t know the key aspects of the other four member sword schools’ sword moves, he had at least heard about the basic ideas behind them. Every one of the sword moves from the other four member sword schools drawn on the rock wall was truly magnificent, but still, the man in the drawing defeated every one of them.

In his heart, other than terror, some unanswered questions also troubled him. “Fan Song, Zhao He, Zhang Chengfeng, Zhang Chengyun. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Why did they work so hard to carve on the rock wall all those moves that can defeat our Five

Mountains Sword Alliance’s sword arts, yet they themselves were so unknown to the Martial World? And how could our Five Mountains Sword Alliance have still maintained such a great fame today?” He faintly felt that the Five Mountains Sword Alliance had been enjoying a quite undeserved and deceiving fame in the Martial World today, or they were just too fortunate. The thousands of masters and apprentices in the five sword

schools were only able to survive in the Martial World because luckily the drawings on the rock wall were unknown to the public.

A thought suddenly popped into his mind, “Why don’t I use that sharp axe to chop all those drawings down and leave no trace of it

whatsoever, so it would be as if those counter moves had never even existed in the world? Then, for sure, the fame of the Five Mountains Sword

Alliance would be saved. I’ll just pretend that I’ve never found this back cave. That’s all.”

He went in to the narrow pathway, picked up the axe, and came back by the rock wall. But after staring at those exquisite and brilliant moves for a good while, he simply could not raise the axe to chop at the drawings. He stood there and pondered upon the decision back and forth. Finally, he said to himself loudly, “I, Linghu Chong, will never do such shameless and undignified things!”

All of a sudden, he remembered about the masked man in green robe. “That man has such excellent sword skills. He probably had something to do with the drawings in the cave. Who is he? Who is he?”

He stepped back to the front cave and pondered upon the question for half a day, then went back again to the back cave to study the drawings on the rock wall. He went back and forth between the front and the back cave until it was getting late in the day.

Sounds of footsteps came, and it was Yue Lingshan who came with the meal basket in her hand. Linghu Chong was overjoyed. He rushed by the edge of the cliff to greet. “Little apprentice sister!” His voice trembled from joy.

Yue Lingshan didn’t answer. She climbed up the cliff and threw the meal basket on to the big rock heavily. Without even looking at Linghu Chong, she turned around and started walking away.

“Little apprentice sister, little apprentice sister, what’s the matter?” Linghu Chong called out in despair.

Yue Lingshan gave a snort and then leapt off the cliff onto the path going back. And no matter how Linghu Chong called her again and again, she never answered or even looked back.

With thoughts surging through his mind, Linghu Chong didn’t know what to do. He opened the meal basket and found one bowl of rice and two bowls of vegetarian dishes, without the small calabash of wine. He stared at them blankly, lost in thought. For several times he had wanted to start

eating, but each time after the first bite, he would feel bitterness in his mouth and totally lose his appetite. He finally gave up, thinking, “If little apprentice sister is mad at me, why did she bring the food up for me herself? If she is not mad at me, why didn’t she say a word and didn’t even cast a glance at me? Is sixth apprentice brother sick so she had to bring food up? But if sixth apprentice brother can’t bring food up, fifth, seventh, eighth apprentice brothers or any other person can do it. Why did little apprentice sister come by herself?” He pondered hard upon the question and

completely forgot about the sword moves on the rock wall in the back cave.

At dusk the next day, Yue Lingshan brought food up again. As same

as the day before, she didn’t look at Linghu Chong or say anything to him at all. On her way down the cliff, she even started singing Fujian folk songs loudly. Linghu Chong felt like someone was stabbing him hard in the heart. He thought to himself, “So she came to annoy me intentionally.”

At dusk the day after, again, Yue Lingshan threw the meal basket on the big rock and immediately turned around and left. Linghu Chong could not hold it any longer and called out, “Little apprentice sister, please stop. I need to talk to you.”

“Speak out, please.” Yue Lingshan turned around. Her face looked as if it was covered by a layer of frost. There was no trace of a smile at all.

“You…you…you….” Seeing the expression on Yue Lingshan’s face, Linghu Chong stammered.

“What about me?” Yue Lingshan demanded.

“I…I….” On normal days, he was the unrestrained and unconventional type, and would have been clever and fluent, but now he was completely lost in words.

“If you don’t have anything to say, I am leaving,” Yue Lingshan said as she turned around to leave.

Linghu Chong was greatly worried, thinking that once she had left, she wouldn’t be back until dusk the next day, and if he couldn’t get an

answer out of her today, how could he ever endure the anxiety for another night? And judging from the look on her face, maybe she wouldn’t even come the next day, and it wouldn’t be surprising that she might not come for an entire month. In the moment of desperation, he reached out and grabbed onto her left sleeve.

“Let go of me!” Yue Lingshan snapped, as she pulled back hard. With a tearing sound, the sleeve was tore off completely and half of her left

shoulder was exposed. Greatly nettled and embarrassed, Yue Lingshan didn’t even know how to place her exposed shoulder and arm. As a martial arts student, Yue Lingshan didn’t bother with small matters as much as an average girl, but when a potion of her shoulder and her arm suddenly became exposed, she found herself in a very awkward position.

“How…how dare you!” she yelled.

“Little apprentice sister, sor…sorry, I…I didn’t mean to do that.” Linghu Chong explained hurriedly.

Yue Lingshan placed her right sleeve on her left shoulder to cover it up. “What exactly are you trying to say?” she ranted.

“I just don’t understand,” Linghu Chong said, “why are you treating me like this? If I really somehow offended you, little apprentice sister, you…you…can just draw your sword and stab me a dozen times or

something, and I’ll die with no grievance.”

“You are the big apprentice brother, how dare us to offend you, not mentioning stabbing you a dozen times?” Yue Lingshan sneered. “We are your junior apprentice brother and sister. As long as you don’t discipline us with punishment, we’d be thanking Heavens already.”

“I’ve been thinking very hard, but I still can’t figure out how I offended my apprentice sister,” Linghu Chong said.

“You can’t figure it out? Didn’t you figure out how to have Monkey Six complain to Dad and Mom?” Yue Lingshan said furiously. “I had Monkey Six complain to Master and Master-Wife?

Complain…complain about you?” Linghu Chong asked in great surprise. “You knew Dad and Mom love me dearly and it would be useless to

complain about me. How clever of you to complain about…complain

about…humph! Why are you still pretending? Don’t you know what you did?”

It only took Linghu Chong an instant to guess what really happened, but that only brought more bitterness. “Master and Master-Wife found out about Lu Dayou’s wound from his sparring with apprentice brother Lin and punished apprentice brother Lin, didn’t they?” he asked, but in his heart, he thought, “Because Master and Master-Wife punished apprentice brother Lin, you actually become this mad at me?”

“It was only an accident in a sword spar between apprentice brothers.

He didn’t do it intentionally. But Dad sided with Monkey Six and gave Little Lin a good scolding, saying that Little Lin didn’t have enough skills and shouldn’t have learned the kind of moves like Graceful Phoenix. He banned me from teaching him sword skills. Fine, you won! But…but…I… I’ll never pay attention to you again! Never ever ever!”

The phrase “never ever ever” was something Yue Lingshan used quite often when she joked with Linghu Chong in normal days. When she had

said it before, she would always be casting a sideway glance at him with a big grin on her face. But this time she looked so serious and sincere, and from the way she said it, it seemed as if she really was determined to end her relationship with him.

Linghu Chong took a step forward and said, “Little apprentice sister,

I….” He had wanted to say, “I really didn’t ask sixth apprentice brother to

complain to Master and Master-Wife.” But then he thought, “I didn’t do it. I have a clear conscience. Why should I beg pity from you?” So after the word “I”, he stopped abruptly.

“You what?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“I nothing.” Linghu Chong shook his head. “I just thought, even though Master and Master-Wife banned you from teaching apprentice brother Lin sword arts, that’s nothing major, why did you get so mad at me?”

Yue Lingshan blushed. “I am mad at you! I am mad at you! You’ve got ill will in your heart. You figured that since I can’t teach apprentice brother Lin sword arts anymore, I would be your company everyday.

Humph, I’ll never pay attention to you again! Never ever ever!” She stomped her foot on the ground heavily and then stormed off.

This time Linghu Chong dared not to pull her clothes again. With a

stomach full of grievance and bitterness, he heard her loud and clear singing the Fujian folk song again. He walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down, only seeing her slim receding figure turning around the shoulder of the peak. Vaguely, he could see her left arm and shoulder still covered by her right sleeve. He became worried.

“I tore her sleeve off. If she runs to Master and Master-Wife to

complain, the respectful Master and Master-Wife might think that I was taking liberties with her, then…then…what’s going to happen? If this gets

spread around, even the bunch of apprentice brothers and sisters would look down on me.”

But then he reconsidered, “I wasn’t taking liberties with her. What do I care how others would think of it?” But when he thought that she got so mad at him just because she couldn’t teach Lin Pingzhi sword skills

anymore, he couldn’t help but feel great sorrow. At the beginning, he was still able to comfort himself by thinking,

“Little apprentice sister is young and playful. Since I am meditating on the cliff, and there is no one else who would chat with her and play with her,

she just wanted apprentice brother Lin, who happened to be about the same age as her, to be her companion. She doesn’t have any other thoughts.” But then after reconsideration, he thought, “I grew up together with her. That’s a much deeper relationship and affection. Apprentice brother Lin has only been on Mount Huashan for several months, but she has treated us so differently, so out of ordinance.” At that thought, he felt even more bitterness.

That night, he paced up and down, from the cave to the edge of the cliff, then back from the edge of the cliff to the cave, again and again, for thousands of times, and the same the next day. All he could think of was

Yue Lingshan. The drawings on the rock wall in the back cave and that man in the green robe who showed up that night were all completely forgotten from his mind.

At dusk, it was Lu Dayou who brought the food up. He set the food on the rock and filled the bowls with rice. “Big apprentice brother, let’s

eat,” he said.

Linghu Chong merely answered a slight snort as he picked up the bowl and the chopsticks. He placed some food in his mouth but had no appetite whatsoever. After casting a glance down the cliff, he slowly set down his bowl.

“Big apprentice brother, you don’t look too good. Are you feeling alright?” Lu Dayou asked.

“It’s nothing.” Linghu Chong shook his head.

“I picked those mushrooms for you yesterday. Have some and see how they taste?” Lu Dayou suggested. Not having the heart to go against Lu Dayou’s good will, Linghu

Chong ate two mushrooms. “Very good,” he said. Actually, the mushrooms were quite tasty, but he didn’t even notice.

“Big apprentice brother, I’ve got good news for you!” Lu Dayou said with a grin. “Starting from yesterday, Master and Master-Wife banned Little Lin from learning sword arts with little apprentice sister.”

“You couldn’t beat apprentice brother Lin in a sword fight, that’s why you complained to Master and Master-Wife, didn’t you?” Linghu Chong

said coldly.

Lu Dayou jumped onto his feet. “Who said that I couldn’t beat him?

I…I was doing it for….” He suddenly stopped.

Linghu Chong knew very well that even though Lin Pingzhi wounded Lu Dayou with a move of Graceful Phoenix by surprise, Lu Dayou still had been in the school much longer, and Lin Pingzhi would be no match for him. The reason he complained to Master and Master-Wife was really for Linghu Chong’s sake. He suddenly came upon a thought, “So all the

apprentice brothers and sisters were pitying me in their hearts. They all know that little apprentice sister is breaking up with me. Only because sixth apprentice brother is close to me, he managed to do something about it.

Humph, a true man does not need pity from others!”

All of a sudden, he jumped up like a mad man. Picking up the bowls

and the plates, he threw them off the cliff one by one, shouting, “Who asked you to poke around? Who asked you to poke around?”

Lu Dayou was shocked. He had always respected and admired the big apprentice brother, and had no idea that Linghu Chong would be provoked into such an outrage. Flurried, he kept stepping back, murmuring, “Big

apprentice brother, big…apprentice brother.” After throwing all the bowls and dishes into the deep valley, Linghu Chong didn’t feel any better, so he randomly picked up one rock after

another and kept throwing them into the deep valley.

“Big apprentice brother, it’s my fault. Why…why don’t you give me a beating,” Lu Dayou said.

Linghu Chong was just about to throw a rock when he heard Lu Dayou’s words. He turned around and asked in a stern voice, “Why is it your fault?”

Lu Dayou took another step back in fear and murmured, “I…I…I don’t know!”

Linghu Chong heaved a deep sigh. He threw the rock in his hand far away and then grabbed Lu Dayou’s hands. “Sixth apprentice brother, I am sorry. I am just depressed myself. It has nothing to do with you.”

Lu Dayou let out a breath of relief. “Let me get down and bring up some food again,” he suggested.

“No, don’t bother. I don’t feel like eating.” Linghu Chong shook his

head.

Seeing the food in yesterday’s meal basket still untouched, Lu Dayou

became worried. “Big apprentice brother, you didn’t eat yesterday either, did you?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about it. I just don’t have good appetites these days.” Linghu Chong forced out a smile.

Lu Dayou dared not to argue, but the next day when it was still early in the afternoon, he had already brought food up the cliff. He thought, “I’ve managed to get a big calabash of good wine today together with two delicious dishes. I’ll have to get big apprentice brother to eat some more.” But after he climbed up the cliff, he found Linghu Chong sleeping on the rock in the cave, looking very wan and sallow. “Big apprentice brother, see what this is?” Slightly shocked, he said, as he swayed the wine-calabash in front of Linghu Chong. After he opened the lid, the entire cave was soon filled with the wonderful scent of wine.

Linghu Chong took the calabash and drank half of the wine in just one breath. “The wine is not bad!” he praised.

“Let me fill your bowl with rice,” Lu Dayou said happily. “Nah. I don’t feel like eating.” Linghu Chong objected.

“How about just one bowl?” Lu Dayou suggested, as he filled the bowl full with rice.

Not having the heart to go against Lu Dayou’s good will, Linghu Chong had to agree. “Ok, I will eat it after I finish drinking.”

But Linghu Chong didn’t eat the bowl of rice after all. The next day when Lu Dayou brought food up again, he found the bowl of rice sitting on the rock untouched and Linghu Chong sleeping on the floor. Lu Dayou noticed some redness on Linghu Chong’s cheeks, so he reached out and felt Linghu Chong’s forehead with his hand. It was burning hot. Linghu Chong must be running a high fever. He became very worried.

“Big apprentice brother, are you feeling sick?” he asked gently. “Wine, wine! Give me wine!” Linghu Chong mumbled.

Although Lu Dayou brought some wine with him, he didn’t give it to him. Instead, he poured a bowl of water and sent it next to Linghu Chong’s lips.

Linghu Chong sat up and drank the big bowl of water in one swallow. “Good wine, great wine!” he yelled, and then fell down on his back heavily, still mumbling, “Good wine! Great Wine!”

Knowing that Linghu Chong’s illness was quite serious, Lu Dayou

was very concerned, but it happened that Master and Master-Wife had some business to take care of and had left Mount Huashan early in the morning. So he ran down the cliff and told Lao Denuo and the other senior apprentice brothers.

Yue Buqun had set up a strict rule that other than the once a day task of bringing food up the cliff, no one would be allowed to go up the cliff to see Linghu Chong. But now since he was seriously ill, to go up the cliff to

check on him probably wouldn’t be counted as a violation. Yet the bunch of apprentices still dared not to go up the cliff all at once and decided to go up the cliff to check on Linghu Chong in groups and in different days. Lao

Denuo and Liang Fa were the first two to go up.

Lu Dayou then went and told Yue Lingshan about it. Yue Lingshan was still quite angry at Linghu Chong, so she said coldly, “Come on, big apprentice brother has excellent inner energy, how could he become ill? You can’t fool me.”

The illness of Linghu Chong broke with such a tremendous force. For four days and four nights, Linghu Chong stayed in a coma. Lu Dayou begged Yue Lingshan to go up the cliff to pay a visit. He almost knelt down in front of her when she finally realized he was speaking the truth and also got greatly worried. She went up the cliff together with Lu Dayou, only finding a Linghu Chong with deeply sank cheeks and disheveled beard all over his face, nothing even close to the unrestrained and unconventional one he used to be.

With remorse in her heart, Yue Lingshan walked by his side and said gently, “Big apprentice brother, I’ve come to see you. Don’t be mad at me any more, alright?”

Linghu Chong’s face looked indifferent. His eyes wide open, he

stared at her with a confused look, as if he didn’t know who she was at all. “Big apprentice brother, it’s me. Why don’t you answer me?” Yue

Lingshan said. Linghu Chong kept staring at her blankly. After a while, he closed his eyes and fell asleep. Till Lu Dayou and Yue Lingshan had left, he still did not wake up.

Only after well over a month, Linghu Chong finally started to recover.

During the one month, Yue Lingshan had come to visit him a total of three times. The second time she came, Linghu Chong had already regained his consciousness and was very happy to see her. The third time she came, Linghu Chong had already been able to sit up to eat a couple of the cookies she brought with her. But after that visit, she stopped coming. After Linghu Chong was able to stand up and walk around, he would be waiting by the

edge of the cliff most of the day for little apprentice sister’s pretty figure to show up, but every time all he could see was either the quiet and empty valley, or the sight of Lu Dayou bending his back to climb up the cliff in a hurry.

Chapter 9: Invitation

Linghu Chong’s hand happened to come upon the sheath by his waist, without thinking, he pointed the sheath at Mrs. Yue’s long sword in a straight line. “Clank,” Mrs. Yue’s long sword snapped into the sheath perfectly.

At dusk one day, Linghu Chong looked down from the cliff as usual and saw two figures coming toward the cliff in great speed. The one in front was in a skirt and obviously was a woman. Both of them had excellent

Qing-Gong55 skills. To them, the steep slope and precipices were just like leveled ground. Linghu Chong stared some more and then realized that they were actually none other than Master and Master-Wife.

“Master, Master-Wife!” in great joy, he called out loudly.

Only a few moments later, Yue Buqun and Madam Yue leapt onto the cliff. Madam Yue had a meal basket in her hand. According to generations of traditional Huashan Sword School rules, when someone was being punished to meditate on the “Cliff of Contemplation,” other than bringing food to him, none of his apprentice brothers would be allowed to come up the cliff to chat with him. Even the apprentice student of the one being punished would be restricted from coming up to pay his respect to his

Master. Who would have thought that the Yue Buqun couple actually came up the cliff themselves?

Unable to hide his shear joy, Linghu Chong rushed forward and knelt down, embracing Yue Buqun’s legs into his arms.

“Master, Master-Wife, I missed you so much!” he cried out.

Yue Buqun’s eyebrows knitted into a straight line. He always knew that this top apprentice of his was forthright and sincere with his feelings

and was never strong at self-discipline, which was exactly the major barrier for studying advanced Huashan style Qi-Gong.56 Before the Yue couple

came up the cliff, they had already inquired about the cause of his illness. Although none of the apprentices had a straightforward answer, from the combined information from everybody’s words, they had already figured out that it must have something to do with Yue Lingshan. After checking in details with their daughter and only getting hums and haws as her answer, they came to the same conclusion. Now seeing the revelation of Linghu

Chong’s true feelings, Yue Buqun could tell that apparently in the last half a year, Linghu Chong had not progressed at all during his stay on the “Cliff of Contemplation”. Feeling somewhat displeased, he let out a snort.

Madam Yue reached out and propped Linghu Chong up. Seeing Linghu Chong’s thin and pallid face, so different from the face that had glowed with health and radiated vigor on normal days, she couldn’t help but pity him.

“Chong, your Master and I just got back from the far northeast and heard that you have been quite ill. Have you recovered yet?” she asked in a soft tone.

“I am all recovered now.” Linghu Chong felt a stream of warmth coursing through his body and teardrops starting to emerge in his eyes.

“Master, Master-Wife, you two must have had a tiring journey, and as soon as you got back today, you are already coming up…coming up to see me.” In great excitement, he choked with sobs and turned his head away to wipe off his tears.

Madam Yue took out a bowl of ginseng soup from the meal basket.

“The soup is made with stewed wild ginsengs from the far northeast. It will be very good nourishment for you. Go ahead and drink some,” she said.

Realizing that Master and Master-Wife had carried the ginsengs over a very long distance from the far northeast and had thought of letting him take it before everyone else, he was so grateful that when he took the soup from Master-Wife, his hand trembled slightly and spilled a little of the ginseng soup. Madam Yue reached for the bowl so she could feed him, but Linghu Chong quickly finished the soup in big swallows. “Many thanks, Master and Master-Wife!” he uttered.

Yue Buqun stretched his arm out and placed his finger on Linghu Chong’s wrist to check on his pulse, but his pulse was slick and speedy, which could only mean that Linghu Chong’s inner energy level actually

slipped back quite a bit. Yue Buqun was even more displeased, but he only said dryly, “Yeah, he has recovered.”

After a short while, Yue Buqun asked, “Chong, what did you do during the several months you spent on the ‘Cliff of Contemplation?’ How come your inner energy level not only did not progress, and quite on the

contrary, has slipped a lot?”

“Master and Master-Wife, please pardon me!” Linghu Chong said, bowing his head down.

“Chong had fallen ill. He hasn’t fully recovered yet. Of course his inner energy would suffer. Do you actually expect the more severely he had fallen ill, the better his Kung Fu would have become?”

Yue Buqun shook his head and explained, “I wasn’t talking about if he’s healthy or not. I am talking about his mastery of inner energy, which has nothing to do with whether he falls ill or not. Our school’s Qi-Gong is quite different from other schools. As long as one keeps practicing it with devotion, he can progress even in his sleeps, let along the fact that Chong has been practicing our school’s Qi-Gong for over ten years. He shouldn’t have gotten sick unless he has incurred external wounds. In short…in short, it would still attribute to his not being able to control his emotions and desires.”

Madam Yue knew her husband was right, so she said to Linghu

Chong, “Chong, your Master has repeatedly advised you to practice Qi-

Gong and sword arts diligently. He punished you to meditate on top of the ‘Cliff of the Contemplation,’ but it isn’t really a punishment. He just wished that without any outside interference, your Qi-Gong and your sword skills would advance by leaps and bounds within the one-year period. Who would have thought…thought…alas…!”

Linghu Chong felt very embarrassed. “I am sorry. I realize my mistake now. I will practice with all my heart starting from today,” he said with his head down.

Yue Buqun spoke again. “There have been more and more turmoil in the Martial World these days. During the last several years, your Master- Wife and I went on many journeys and tried to smooth things up, but the root of the trouble remains and is difficult to get rid of. We believe that in the near future, big disasters are simply inevitable. We were both deeply

concerned.” He paused for a moment and then continued. “You are the first apprentice of our sword school. Master-Wife and I both have great

expectations for you. We hope that one day you’ll be able to share some of the responsibilities and tasks with us and gain great fame for our Huashan Sword School. But all you did was to tangle yourself with love affairs, neglecting your existing Kung Fu, not striving to make progress. You have really disappointed us.”

Seeing the deeply worried expression on his Master’s face, Linghu Chong felt even more frightened and embarrassed. He immediately knelt down. “I…I am so sorry that I disappointed Master and Master-Wife!”

Yue Buqun reached out and propped him up, smiling. “It’s good that you realize your mistake. Half a month from now, I will come back to

check on your sword skills.” Right after those words, he turned around and headed down the cliff.

“Master, there’s this…,” Linghu Chong called out, wanting to report the drawings in the back cave and the man in the green robe. Yue Buqun waved him off and then walked away. “You must practice hard and truly master the sword moves. This is something that will affect your entire future life. You must not take it lightly,” Madam Yue urged in a low voice.

“Yes, Master-Wife…,” Linghu Chong answered and was about to tell her the sword moves on the rock wall and the man in the green robe.

Madam Yue pointed at Yue Buqun’s receding figure in a smile and waved her hand. She then turned around and caught up with her husband in big

strode.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Why did Master-Wife say that how I practice sword moves would affect my entire future life and that I must not take it lightly? Why did Master-Wife wait till Master had left and then urged me behind Master’s back? Could it be…could it be…?”

A thought suddenly emerged in his head and his heart started thumping heavily while his cheeks burned with embarrassment. He didn’t dare to develop that thought, but hope still rose in his heart.

“Is it possible that because Master and Master-Wife know I got ill for little apprentice sister’s sake and have decided to betroth little apprentice

sister to me? But the criteria is that I must work hard on my Kung Fu skills, and become capable of carrying on Master’s legacy in both Qi-Gong and

sword arts. Master probably thought that it was inappropriate to speak it out. Master-Wife considers me her own son, that’s why she urged me behind his back. Otherwise, what else could have effects on my entire future life?” At that thought, he found himself in high spirit.

He drew his sword and picked a couple of the most advanced sword art forms Master had taught him to practice. But the drawings on the rock wall in the back cave had been so deeply engraved in his mind, regardless of which move he used he would naturally remember the many ways how others could break the move with. In the middle of the form, he withdrew his sword and held it still in the air, thinking, “I didn’t get a chance to tell Master and Master-Wife about the drawings on the rock wall in the back cave this time. When they come up the cliff again half a month later, they

must be able to answer my questions and rid my doubts after they study the drawings carefully.”

Even though Madam Yue’s words greatly encouraged him, he didn’t progress much with his practice of Qi-Gong and sword arts during the half- month period. He kept going off into wild flights of fancy everyday.

“If Master and Master-Wife betrothed little apprentice sister to me, I wonder, in her own mind, whether she would agree to it or not. If we can really become husband and wife, would she forget her love to apprentice brother Lin? Well, apprentice brother Lin has only joined our school recently. He was only asking her for her advice on sword arts and

sometimes chatting with her so she doesn’t get bored. They don’t really have true love between them. And how could that relationship compare to the relationship between little apprentice sister and I, when we grew up together and spent over ten years together everyday? That day, I almost got killed by Yu Canghai’s palm strike, and thanks to apprentice brother Lin’s interference with his shouting, I barely escaped death. I’d better never forget that and treat him well. If he ever gets into danger, even if I have to risk my own life, I’ll definitely step forward to save him.”

Half a month went by quickly. In an afternoon, the Yue Buqun couple came up the cliff again. Coming together with them were also Shi Daizi, Lu Dayou, and Yue Lingshan. Noticing that the little apprentice sister came together with them, Linghu Chong’s voice trembled when he greeted

Master and Master-Wife.

Madam Yue could tell that Linghu Chong had a high morale. His

complexion was also completely different compared to half a month ago. She nodded with a smile and said, “Lingshan, go fill the rice bowl for your big apprentice brother. Let him have a full stomach before he demonstrates his sword skills.”

“Yes.” Yue Lingshan answered. She carried the meal basket into the cave and sat it on the big rock. After taking out the bowls and utensils, she filled a bowl with rice.

“Big apprentice brother, you can eat now!” she said with a smile. “Many…many thanks!” Linghu Chong replied.

“Why? Do you still have a fever? Why is your voice trembling when you speak?” Yue Lingshan grinned.

“It…it’s nothing,” Linghu Chong answered as he thought to himself, “If you will always be by my side when I eat for the many days and nights after, I won’t be asking for anything else in my entire life.” Not in the mood for food at the moment, he quickly finished the bowl of rice.

“Let me fill you another one,” Yue Lingshan suggested.

“No, thanks! Master and Master-Wife are still waiting for me outside.” Linghu Chong declined.

After Linghu Chong came out of the cave, he found Master and Master-Wife sitting on a big rock abreast. He went in front of them and bowed to salute. He wanted to say something, but then decided that no

words would be appropriate. Lu Dayou winked at him with happiness piled upon his face.

“Sixth apprentice brother must have gotten some inside information and is feeling happy for me,” Linghu Chong thought.

Yue Buqun had his eyes fixed onto Linghu Chong’s face. After a long while he finally said, “Gengming came back from Chang-An57 yesterday

and said that Tian Boguang has just committed several big crimes in Chang- An.” “Tian Boguang has come to Chang-An? He won’t be doing anything good for sure.” Linghu Chong was surprised.

“Of course not! He burglarized seven families in a single night in the town of Chang-An. I wouldn’t have minded that much if he was simply

stealing, but he left his handwriting on every family’s walls saying, ‘Borrowed by Ten Thousand Miles Loner – Tian Boguang’,” Yue Buqun exclaimed.

“What?” Linghu Chong uttered a cry. He said angrily, “The town of Chang-An is right next to Mount Huashan. He obviously left those words to defame our Huashan Sword School. Master, let’s….”

“Do what?” Yue Buqun asked.

“Master and Master-Wife are honorable masters, and it’s not worthy to dirty your sword for such a low life scoundrel. But my Kung Fu is not good enough to match the villain, besides that I am still being punished and can’t go down the cliff to look for him. That gives the villain the freedom to be on a rampage at the foot of Mount Huashan. This is so exasperating!”

“If you do have the confidence to kill that villain, of course I will let you go down the cliff and make amends for your faults with good deeds,” Yue Buqun replied. “Go ahead and show us the ‘Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning’ your Master-Wife taught you. In the last half a year, you probably have grasped sixty to seventy percent of it. Once your Master- Wife gives you some more pointers, you might not lose to the villain Tian.”

Linghu Chong was taken by a shock. He thought to himself, “Master- Wife never taught me that move.” But after thinking about it a bit more, he understood, “On that day when Master-Wife demonstrated that move, even though she didn’t pass it on to me formally, with my training and knowledge in our school’s Kung Fu skills, I should have understood the key aspects of the sword move. Master reckoned that during the half year of practicing and polishing, I should have mastered most of it.”

He repeated the name “Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of

Ning” back and forth in his head, and cold sweats started to emerge on his forehead. When he had first come up the cliff, he did ponder upon the fascinating techniques of that move many times and also practiced it several times. But ever since he discovered the drawings on the rock wall in the back cave, in his heart, he had been convinced with no doubt that each and every sword moves of the Huashan Sword School could be defeated. The move “Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning” would especially

suffer a crushing defeat. So, naturally, he had lost confidence in the sword move. Several times when the words “That move is useless. Others can break it easily.” came to his tongue, he swallowed them back. He really

couldn’t criticize Master-Wife’s highly valued sword move in front of Shi Daizi and Lu Dayou.

“You haven’t mastered that move yet? That’s quite alright. That sword move represents the most advanced techniques and skills of our

Huashan style Kung Fu. Your Qi-Gong is not that advanced yet, it’s only natural that you haven’t gotten it right. Give it some time, and you will get there,” noticing the strange expression on Linghu Chong’s face, Yue Buqun commented.

“Chong, don’t you want to thank your Master? He has agreed to teach you the secret formula for the Divine Art of Violet Twilight,” Madam Yue

said with a smile.

“Yes! Many thanks to you, respectful Master!” Linghu Chong said in shock and quickly knelt down.

Yue Buqun reached out and stopped Linghu Chong from kneeling down. “Divine Art of Violet Twilight is our school’s most advanced Qi- Gong technique,” he said with a bright smile. “The reason why I didn’t teach you that rashly wasn’t because I wanted to keep it to myself. It was because once someone starts training with this Qi-Gong, he mustn’t have

any distracting thoughts and must stay focused on advancing the skills. Any delay in the middle of the training would cause great harm to the practitioner and usually send him into a self-conflicting state. Chong, let me first see how your Kung Fu skills have progressed in the past half a year, then I will decide if I’ll teach you the secret formula for the Divine Art of Violet Twilight.”

Shi Daizi, Lu Dayou, and Yue Lingshan all showed great admiration on their faces when they heard that the big apprentice brother got to learn the Divine Art of Violet Twilight. All three of them knew that the Divine Art of Violet Twilight had magnificent powers. It was well said, “Nine

skills of Huashan, Violet Twilight leads them all.” Although they were all aware that among all the apprentices, nobody’s Kung Fu skills were even

close to Linghu Chong’s. There was no doubt that Linghu Chong would get the mantle from the Master and become the Head Master of Huashan Sword School in the future, they still didn’t expect Master to teach him the number one skill of Huashan Sword School so soon.

“Big apprentice brother works very hard. Every time when I bring the food up, I always saw big apprentice brother meditating to practice breathing exercises or practicing sword arts,” Lu Dayou claimed.

Yue Lingshan threw a sharp, sideways glance at Lu Dayou and made a face to him behind everyone’s back, thinking, “You Monkey Six! You are lying to their faces. You just want to help big apprentice brother anyway you can.”

“Chong, draw you sword! The three of us will be fighting Tian

Boguang soon. We are really making a frantic last-minute effort here. Even though we are sharpening the spear only before going into battle, it is still better than not sharpening it at all.” Madam Yue grinned.

“Master-Wife, did you say the three of us are going to be fighting Tian Boguang?” Linghu Chong asked in shock.

“You challenge him in the front, and your Master and I will help you behind the scenes. No matter who kills him, we will all say that you killed him, so our fellow martial people in the Martial World won’t say that your Master and I were lowering ourselves to pick a fight with him.” Madam Yue explained.

“That’s awesome!” Yue Lingshan put her hands together and grinned. “Since Dad and Mom are going to help out behind the scenes, then I’d have the courage to challenge him too! After he’s dead, we’ll just all say that I

am the one who did it. That would be so nice!”

“Are you jealous? You want to enjoy the unearned gain, don’t you?” Madam Yue laughed. “Your big apprentice brother has embraced untold dangers and fought with the fellow Tian Boguang for several hundred rounds. He knows Tian Boguang’s actual skills very well. Can you do that with just your little bit of Kung Fu? You are just a little girl. I don’t even want to hear the villain’s name mentioned out of your mouth, not mentioning having you fight him.”

All of a sudden, she thrust her sword at Linghu Chong and the sword tip almost reached Linghu Chong’s solar plexus. A second ago, she had been talking to her daughter in smiles, who would have expected that a

second later, she had already drawn her long sword and thrust it at Linghu Chong’s vital point.

Linghu Chong also reacted very quickly. In an instant, he had drawn his own sword and blocked away the attack. With a loud clanking sound, the two swords clashed in the air and Linghu Chong took a step back with his left foot.

“Swish, swish, swish, swish, swish, and swish!” Madam Yue attacked six times continuously.

“Clank, clank, clank, clank, clank, and clank!” Linghu Chong blocked six times.

“Start your counter-attack!” Madam Yue yelled out and suddenly changed her fighting style by raising the sword high and slashing and

chopping it down in great speed. Those weren’t a part of Huashan style sword arts.

Linghu Chong understood immediately that Master-Wife was performing Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops to help him comprehend ways to break them and thus put the enemy to death. Madam Yue’s attacks became faster and faster and it was almost impossible to distinguish the

connection between each moves.

“Dad, Mom’s moves are really fast, but aren’t those still sword moves, not knife moves? I am afraid Tian Boguang’s knife chops won’t be like that,” Yue Lingshan said to her father.

“Tian Boguang has outstanding Kung Fu skills. It’s not an easy task to imitate his knife chop moves,” Yue Buqun explained with a slight smile. “Your mother is not really imitating his knife arts. She is only focusing on the ‘fast’ part of it and performing the ‘fast’ part incisively and vividly. In order to rid Tian Boguang, the key lies not in how to break his knife arts, but in how to restrain the speed of his knife moves. Look at that, perfect timing! Graceful Phoenix!”

Yue Buqun noticed that Linghu Chong had slightly lowered his left shoulder while retracting his right elbow and pointing his left hand fingers to the side, then the move Graceful Phoenix immediately followed. That was the perfect move to use at the exact moment. In immense joy, he

shouted out the name of the move. But as soon as the words came out of his mouth, Linghu Chong’s thrust appeared weak and crooked. The thrust failed to penetrate the net weaved by Madam Yue’s sword.

“What a terrible execution of the move,” Yue Buqun heaved a sigh and thought to himself.

Madam Yue showed no mercy whatsoever. With three quick thrusts, she sent Linghu Chong into a frantic rush. Seeing that Linghu Chong had executed every sword move in a flustered way and that none of the moves were well organized, three out of ten moves were actually not Huashan

style sword art moves at all, Yue Buqun soon had a ghastly expression on his face.

Although Linghu Chong’s sword moves were really disorganized, he managed to block the swift and fierce attacks by Madam Yue. After he retreated next to the rock wall and had no more space to retract to, he gradually started his counter-attack. When a chance suddenly presented itself, he immediately attacked with the move Green Pines Welcoming

Guests. His sword tip seemed to have transformed into countless sparks and pelted toward Madam Yue’s tempos.

A loud bang exploded as Madam Yue blocked the attack with her sword. She quickly waved her sword in front of herself for protection.

Madam Yue knew well that the move Green Pines Welcoming Guests had several powerful additional techniques. Although Linghu Chong had

mastered that move well and would never really hit her with it, it was still a tough move to defend, so she changed into a defending stance from the previous attacking stance and waited in great focus. But who would have thought that Linghu Chong’s long sword came in such a slow speed with no strength attached – it didn’t even pose a threat. “Execute your moves attentively. What the heck are you imagining in your head?” Madam Yue yelled and slashed her sword three times. Seeing that Linghu Chong jumped around and dodged those moves, she shouted,

“What kind of Green Pines Welcoming Guests was that? Have you returned all your sword training back to your Master because of your illness?”

“Sorry!” Linghu Chong replied as he returned the attack with two of his own thrusts. His face was covered with embarrassment.

Noticing that Master’s face look more and more discontented, Shi Daizi and Lu Dayou were both worried. Rustling sounds rose suddenly as

Madam Yue began circling around the field. Her green skirt seemed to have transformed into a blurry green shadow. Reflections from her sword glimmered, and because of her great speed, all of her sword moves became indistinct.

Linghu Chong’s brain seemed to have become a pool of muddle. All kinds of thoughts flashed by in his head and created chaos. “If I use

Galloping Steeds, the opponent can use the brilliant level blocking move to overcome it. If I use the sideway thrust, I’d undoubtedly be getting a terrible wound.” As soon as he thought of a sword move from the Huashan sword art, he couldn’t help but remember a move on the rock wall that

would break the sword move. The reason why he gave up halfway when he used the moves Graceful Phoenix and Green Pines Welcoming Guests was because he had remembered the different ways that can be used to break those two moves. He had become very scared, thus instinctively, he would stop half way through the execution and retract into a defending stance.

Madam Yue had used the fast sword moves hoping to lead him into using the “Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning” to beat the opponent and claim victory, but Linghu Chong simply blocked using random moves. He simply wasn’t focused. It appeared as if he was completely terror-stricken and scared out of his wit. She had long known that Linghu Chong had great courage and was the fear-nothing type. She had never seen him fight like this before.

“Don’t you want to use that move?” greatly annoyed, Madam Yue yelled out loudly.

“Yes Ma’am!” Linghu Chong answered as he thrust his sword

straightforward. The way he used the technique and the way the sword traveled matched the move created by Madam Yue – Unrivaled and

Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning – exactly.

“Good!” Madam Yue shouted. She knew this move was an ultimately swift and fierce one, so she dared not to take it head on, but instead, dodged to the side and shot out a back prick.

But meanwhile, Linghu Chong was actually thinking to himself,

“This move is not going to work. It’s useless. It will only get me a crushing defeat.”

Suddenly, a tremendous shock came from his wrist and his long

sword flew out of his grip into the air. “Ah…!” in astonishment, Linghu Chong burst out a cry.

Wasting no time, Madam Yue immediately thrust her sword straight forth. The force of the thrust sent the blade whistling through the air. It was none other than the move she had created – Unrivaled and Unmatched, The Thrust of Ning. But this time, the power of the move was even greater than when she first created the move the other day.

Ever since she created that proud move of hers, she had been pondering over the move every single day about how to make it faster and how to make it more powerful so that the thrust would guarantee a hit that the enemy would have no chance of dodging or blocking. She was

completely outraged when she saw how Linghu Chong executed this proud move of hers – the beginning part looked similar, but half way through, the core part turned out to be completely different. It was almost like someone tried to draw a tiger and ended up with the likeness of a dog. Linghu Chong had acted like a good-for-nothing fellow and had executed an extremely powerful killer move in a wretched and sloppy way. In great rage, she decided to execute the move herself instead.

Although she didn’t intend to hurt her apprentice, the move was

simply too powerful. Before the tip of the sword even reached the target, the energy coming from the sword had completely enveloped Linghu

Chong’s entire body.

Yue Buqun could tell that Linghu Chong had no way of dodging or blocking the attack, not mentioning putting together a counter-attack. On the other day when Madam Yue’s sword touched Linghu Chong’s clothes, she immediately shocked the sword into pieces with her inner energy. But the thrust today had all the energy focused right on the sword tip. In that mode, Madam Yue might not be able to pull it back.

“Oh, no!” Yue Buqun groaned inwardly as he drew the sword by his daughter’s waist in a rush and took a step forward. He was ready to jump forth to block Madam Yue’s sword if it would reach half a foot further. He and Madam Yue had been fellow apprentice before, so their skill levels

weren’t that far apart from each other. Even though Yue Buqun was slightly better, since Madam Yue was already half way into her move, he had no

certainty of successfully blocking the thrust away. All he could do was to wish inwardly that Linghu Chong would only be slightly wounded.

In the nick of time, Linghu Chong’s fingertip happened to touch the sheath hung by his waist. He slightly bent his knees to lower his body and then aimed the sheath straight at Madam Yue’s sword tip. This posture was exactly the same one as the drawing on the rock wall in the back cave – the staff wielding man aimed his staff straight at the opponent’s sword tip so the staff and the sword made a perfect straight line; once the two forces

collided, the sword would have to break in half. Linghu Chong’s head was already in chaos with the many images of the moves drawn on the rock wall flashing back and forth. After his sword was knocked out of his grip, seeing Madam Yue’s thunder-like attack heading toward his way, he had no idea how to dodge the attack, so in order to save his own life, he naturally remembered the move drawn on the rock wall without thinking. The attack came in great speed; his counter move also happened in great speed. There was really no time for him to even think much about it, much less looking for a staff. Since his fingertip happened to touch the sheath, he immediately aimed the sheath at the sword in a straight line. Even if his fingertip had happened to touch a block of mud or a straw, he would have used the same move to aim it at the sword in a straight line. Once the move was out, it naturally gathered his strength around his arms, and with a clanking sound, the sword went right into the sheath. It turned out that in panic, Linghu

Chong didn’t even think about turning the sheath around. As soon as he grabbed onto the sheath, he immediately aimed it at the coming sword tip, and had actually aimed the opening end of the sheath at the sword; that was why Madam Yue’s long sword didn’t break in half but instead went straight into the sheath.

In great bewilderment, Madam Yue only felt a great pain coming from her palm while her sword being taken out of her grip by Linghu

Chong using the sheath. The move Linghu Chong used contained many additional techniques, and by then Linghu Chong had lost control of

himself. Almost instinctively, he jabbed the sheath forward toward Madam Yue’s throat, and the weapon on its way toward Madam Yue’s throat was none other than the handle of her own sword. Half astonished and half outraged, Yue Buqun waved his long sword and knocked it onto the sheath in Linghu Chong’s grip. He used the Divine Art of Violet Twilight with this hit. Linghu Chong only felt a stream of

warmth surged through his body and had no choice but to stumble three big steps back until he lost his balance and sat down on the ground heavily. The sheath, together with the sword in it, broke into several pieces before falling to the ground. Right at the instant, in a white flash, the long sword in the air fell with its tip pointing down and went all the way into the ground, leaving only the handle showing above ground. Shi Daizi, Lu Dayou, and Yue Lingshan were simply dazzled by the unexpected scene.

Yue Buqun rushed in front of Linghu Chong. Reaching out with his right hand, he slapped Linghu Chong hard on each of his cheeks.

“You dirty swine! What were you doing?” he yelled in rage.

Linghu Chong felt dizzy and almost fell to the ground. As soon as he regained himself, he knelt down on the ground.

“Master, Master-Wife, please forgive me.”

Yue Buqun’s anger exploded. “In the last half a year, what

contemplation have you been pondering over and what Kung Fu have you been practicing?” he shouted furiously.

“I…I didn’t…didn’t practice any Kung Fu,” Linghu Chong answered in terror.

“Where did you get your wild imagination to create that move against your Master-Wife?” Yue Buqun asked again in a stern voice.

“I…I didn’t think. In the urgency, I just happened…happened to use it,” Linghu Chong answered haltingly.

Yue Buqun heaved a sigh. “I figured that you just happened to use it without much thinking. That’s why I am getting very angry. Do you know that you have gone on to the evil way and might not be able to extricate yourself?”

“Master, would you please explain?” Linghu Chong bowed his head down.

After quite a long while, Madam Yue finally calmed herself down.

Seeing Linghu Chong’s swollen cheeks in black and purple from her husband’s heavy slaps, she couldn’t help but feel pity and sorry for him.

“You can get up now! You didn’t know the crux of the matter anyway,” she said to Linghu Chong.

Turning toward her husband, she said, “Apprentice brother, Chong is a very bright boy. In the past half a year, he trained all by himself and

couldn’t reach the two of us for any advice. That’s probably why he got onto the evil way. But he hasn’t gone very far in that evil direction. It’s still not too late to correct him and get him back to the righteous way.”

Yue Buqun nodded. “Get up now,” he said to Linghu Chong.

Linghu Chong stood up slowly. Staring at the long sword and the

sheath on the ground each broken in three pieces, he was dazzled, having no idea why Master and Master-Wife both said that his training had gone onto the evil way.

“Come over here, all of you.” Yue Buqun waved at Shi Daizi and the bunch.

“Yes, Master,” Shi Daizi, Lu Dayou, and Yue Lingshan answered in unison and walked by Yue Buqun’s side.

“Twenty-five years ago, our Huashan Sword School’s Kung Fu used to be in two styles: the righteous style and the evil style,” Yue Buqun sat down on a big rock and explained slowly.

Linghu Chong and the rest of the apprentices became very confused, each thinking, “Huashan Sword School Kung Fu is Huashan Sword School Kung Fu. How could there be the distinctively righteous style and the evil style? Why hasn’t Master ever mentioned this to us before?”

“Dad,” Yue Lingshan interrupted, “the Kung Fu we learned naturally is the righteous style Kung Fu, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is! Why would someone go on with his training knowing that he was learning the heterodox style Kung Fu?” Yue Buqun affirmed. “But the heterodox branch claimed that they were the real

orthodox branch and called our branch the heterodox branch. Time became the best judge to decide which one is righteous and which one is evil. The heterodox branch eventually vanished like mist and smokes and has been gone for the last twenty-five years.”

“No wonder I had never heard about it before. Dad, since the heterodox branch had been long gone, I guess we don’t have to worry about them anymore,” Yue Lingshan commented.

“What do you know?” Yue Buqun mocked. “The heterodox branch wasn’t really like those evil heterodox clans and cults out there today. They were still using our school’s own Kung Fu skills, but they had a different focus in their training. When I teach you Kung Fu skills, what do I teach you at the very beginning?” He fixed his stare on Linghu Chong’s face.

“You first taught us the formula and techniques on how to control and manipulate our inner energy. We start training with Qi-Gong,” Linghu

Chong answered.

“That’s correct. In our Huashan Sword School style Kung Fu, the key lies in the words ‘Inner Energy.’ Once your inner energy is developed with Qi-Gong practices, then regardless of what you use as your weapon, let be your fists and legs, or knives and swords, you will succeed whenever you go. That is the righteous way for training in our school. But among the

senior grandmasters of our school, there were a group of people who believed that the key of our school’s Kung Fu lied in the word ‘Sword,’ and that once someone developed his sword skills, even with ordinary level of inner energy, he could still defeat the enemy. The main divergence between the righteous branch and the evil branch lies right here.”

“Dad, I have a comment. Promise me that you won’t get mad at me,” Yue Lingshan interrupted again.

“What comment?” Yue Buqun asked.

“I think in our school’s Kung Fu, no doubt inner energy part is

critical, but we can’t overlook sword skills either. If one only has great inner energy, but doesn’t have good sword skills, he still won’t be able to demonstrate the power of our Huashan style Kung Fu,” Yue Lingshan said.

Yue Buqun let out a snort. “Who said that sword skills weren’t important? The main point here is about which drives which. Inner energy is the driving force here after all.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if both inner energy and sword skills were the driving forces?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“This comment of yours alone is sending you closer to the evil way.

When you say both of them are the driving forces, you are really saying that neither of them is the driving force. The old saying said, once the head-rope of a fishing-net is pulled up, all its meshes open. Which is the key link and which is the mesh? We must be very clear about it. In those years when they had the discussion about the righteous style and the evil style, our school had earthshaking changes that turned the entire Huashan Sword School upside down. If you said those words thirty years ago, your head probably wouldn’t be still on your neck longer than half a day.”

“Just because a wrong comment, they’d chop people’s heads off?

Wow! Aren’t they too overbearing or what?” Yue Lingshan stuck her tongue out in disbelief. “When I was still a teenager, the fight between the Qi-Branch and the Sword-Branch in our Huashan Sword School hadn’t produced a winner,” Yue Buqun explained. “If you had said that comment in public during that period of time, people from the Qi-Branch would want to kill you, and people from the Sword-Branch would want you dead just the same. You

said that inner energy and sword skills were as important as each other and both should be the driving forces. The Qi-Branch would of course interpret that as that you were elevating Sword-Branch’s position above them; the Sword-Branch would think that you mixed up the key line with the meshes and would still blame you for treason and heresy.”

“What’s there to argue about? If they wanted to know who was right and who was wrong, have a contest, then they’d know right away!” Yue Lingshan said.

Yue Buqun heaved a long sigh and said slowly, “Over thirty years

ago, our Qi-Branch was the minority. Uncle-Masters in the Sword-Branch were the majority. In addition to that, Sword-Branch Kung Fu skills can be mastered easily and quickly. If everyone trains for ten years, then the Sword-Branch will definitely have the lead. If every one trains for twenty years, then each side would have an equal opportunity to claim victory.

Only after twenty years and more training, people trained with Qi-Branch Kung Fu would gradually become better and stronger. After thirty years of training, people trained with Sword-Branch Kung Fu would then be left far behind and never stand a chance to compete again. But that means it takes at least twenty years to actually find out which one is better. You could probably imagine how fierce and intense the fight was during the twenty years or so time period.”

“So at the very end, the Sword-Branch people admitted their mistakes and their failure, didn’t they?” Yue Lingshan asked. Yue Buqun shook his head silently. After a long while, he finally spoke again.

“They all insisted on their theory stubbornly and never admitted their failure. Even though they suffered a crushing defeat in the big sword

contest on the Jade Maiden Peak, most of them …most of them took their own lives with their own swords. The remaining ones all quietly withdrew from society and lived in solitude and never showed themselves in the

Martial World again.”

“Ah!” Linghu Chong, Yue Lingshan and the bunch of apprentices all uttered a cry of astonishment.

“They were all apprentice brothers in the same school. It was just a sword contest. What was that big of a deal? Why did they take it so hard?” Yue Lingshan asked.

“It was concerning the foundation of martial arts theories. It wasn’t just a small matter as apprentice brothers sparring each other,” Yue Buqun said seriously. “In that year when the Five Mountains sword schools fought for the hosting right of the Alliance Chief, our school really had the most talented people with the highest Kung Fu skills. But because of the fierce internal fight in our school, over twenty elite senior masters got killed in

that big sword contest on top of Jade Maiden Peak. Sure, the Sword-Branch had a crushing defeat, but many elite fighters in the Qi-Branch lost their lives also. That’s how Songshan Sword School took the Alliance Chief title eventually. The fight between the Qi-Branch and the Sword-Branch of the Huashan Sword School was really the root of the trouble.”

Linghu Chong and the rest all nodded again and again.

“It’s all right that our school didn’t get to be the host for Alliance Chief. It’s also all right that the Huashan Sword School’s fame was damaged dramatically. But what was not all right was the fact that apprentice brothers in our own school were killing each other ruthlessly because of the internal dissension. Those apprentice brothers used to be like real brothers to each other, but it turned so cruel and brutal, either you kill me or I’ll kill you. When I think about the scenes on Mount Huashan in those years, how everyone felt they could die at any minute, my heart still flutters with fear.” At those words, he cast a glance at Madam Yue.

Madam Yue’s face slightly twitched. She couldn’t help but feel the terror when she remembered many years ago how the elite fighters in

Huashan Sword School had slaughtered each other.

Yue Buqun slowly unbuttoned his clothes and exposed his chest as Yue Lingshan shouted in shock.

“Oh my God! Dad, you…you…!”

A two feet long scar lay across his chest from his left shoulder reaching all the way to his right chest. The wound had healed a long time ago, but a pale reddish line still showed clearly. Apparently the wound was so severe that Yue Buqun almost lost his life because of it. Both Linghu

Chong and Yue Lingshan had grown up by Yue Buqun’s side, but neither of them had known about the scar until now.

Yue Buqun explained as he started to button his clothes. “In that day of the big sword contest atop Jade Maiden Peak, an Uncle-Master in our

school hit me with a strong sword slash. I fainted immediately. He probably thought I was already dead and paid no more attention to me. If he had

conveniently stabbed me again, hmm!”

“Then undoubtedly that you, Father, wouldn’t be sitting here today, and who knows where I, Yue Lingshan, would be at?” Yue Lingshan grinned.

Yue Buqun let out a slight smile but his face soon turned solemn

again. “This is a big secret of our Huashan Sword School. Don’t any of you let it out! Although people from other schools knew that the Huashan Sword School had lost over twenty elite masters in a single day, none of them knew the truth lying behind it. We only claimed to the outside world that a plague suddenly broke out and almost wiped out our entire Huashan Sword School. We should never let others know about this disgraceful event that happened to our school. The reason why I had to tell you all the cause

and effect today is because the consequences could be very severe. If

Chong followed the current path and went on with his training, then within three years, he would think ‘sword skill is more important than inner

energy’ and get trapped in an extremely dangerous state of mind. That will not only destroy you and the ultimately true orthodox Kung Fu of our

Huashan Sword School, earned by many senior masters sacrificing their lives, but also our entire Huashan Sword School.”

Cold sweats broke out all over Linghu Chong’s body as he listened in. “I’ve made a terrible mistake. Master and Master-Wife, please punish me heavily,” He bowed his head down in shame.

“Well,” Yue Buqun said with a sigh, “it is really an unintentional mistake you have made. You are really not to blame. But think about the many Uncle-Masters of the Sword-Branch. They all had good intentions to build great fame for our school using extreme Kung Fu, yet once they went on the wrong way and had gone too far down the road, they simply couldn’t extricate themselves any more. If I don’t give you a blow and shout right now, with your intelligence and temper, you could easily end up taking the evil route to try to find shortcuts for quick effects.”

“Yes, Master!” Linghu Chong answered.

“Chong, how did you think of the earlier move that used the sheath to take away my sword?” Madam Yue asked. “I only wanted to get out from Master-Wife’s extremely powerful attack. Who would have thought…who would have thought…?” Linghu Chong felt so ashamed and embarrassed.

“That’s it. By now you probably understand which one is truly

superior between Qi-Branch and Sword-Branch. This move of yours is

surely a clever one, but as soon as it met with your Master’s first-class Qi- Gong, despite of how clever it is, it would be rendered useless. When the two branches had the big sword contest on Jade Maiden Peak that year, elite fighters from the Sword-Branch had dazzling magical moves that were ultimately brilliant, but your Grandmaster relied on his Divine Art of Violet Twilight to counter motion with standstill and defy cleverness with dullness. He was able to defeat over ten elite fighters from the Sword-

Branch and affirmed the foundation of our school’s orthodox Kung Fu. All of your must take your Master’s advice to your heart and ponder over it

again and again. The Kung Fu of our school uses inner energy as the foundation and sword skills as the implementation; inner energy is the driving force and sword skill is the secondary; inner energy is the key line and sword skill is the mesh. If you can’t succeed with your inner energy

development, despite of how strong you are with your sword skills, it is still useless after all.”

Linghu Chong, Shi Daizi, Lu Dayou, and Yue Lingshan all bowed down for the preaching of Madam Yue.

“Chong, I had planned to teach you the entry formula for the Divine Art of Violet Twilight today and then bring you down Mount Huashan to kill the villain Tian Boguang, but we’d better postpone that for now,” Yue Buqun said. “During the next two months, you can practice the breathing exercise for Qi-Gong training I taught you before diligently and forget all about those heterodoxy and weird sword moves. I will check on you again later to see if you have any progress.” At those words, he suddenly put on a stern tone, “But if you obstinately stick to the wrong course and stay on Sword-Branch’s evil route, humph, a harsher punishment would be to take your life, and a lighter punishment would be to destroy all the Kung Fu you have and banish you out of our school once and for all. By then, it would be too late to beg for mercy, and don’t you blame me for not explaining

everything clearly to you beforehand!”

Cold sweat streamed down Linghu Chong’s forehead. “Yes, Master. I would never dare to do so,” he said.

“Lingshan,” Yue Buqun turned to his daughter, “Dayou and you are both the impetuous type. You two should also remember what I just said to your big apprentice brother.”

“Yes, Master!” Lu Dayou answered immediately.

“Sixth apprentice brother and I are impatient, but we are not as smart as big apprentice brother and won’t be able to create sword moves of our own. Dad, you can relax,” Yue Lingshan argued.

“You won’t be able to create sword moves of your own? Didn’t you create a sword form called Chong-Ling Sword Art with Chong?” Yue

Buqun snorted.

Linghu Chong and Yue Lingshan both blushed.

“Sorry Master, we were being mischievous.” Linghu Chong asked for forgiveness.

“That was a long, long time ago. I was still a kid by then who didn’t know anything and was just playing with big apprentice brother. How did you hear about it?” Yue Lingshan grinned.

“My apprentices wanted to create sword art of their own and start a new style. If I, the Head Master, still had no clue, wouldn’t I have become a muddle-head?” “D-a-a-a-d, you are still making fun of me!” Yue Lingshan pulled onto her father’s sleeve and whined.

Linghu Chong, on the other hand, felt a great shock in his heart when he noticed that there was no sign of joking from the Master’s tone of voice or the expression on his face.

Yue Buqun stood up. “When someone advanced into the higher level of our school’s Kung Fu, even a petal of flower or a leaf could be used as a weapon to injure the enemy. Others might think that the Huashan Sword School is only good at its sword skills. They have really belittled us.”

Yue Buqun flicked his left sleeve, and the long sword by Lu Dayou’s waist jumped out of the sheath as the stream of energy reached it. He then followed with a flick from his right sleeve. As soon as the sleeve touched the blade, the sword broke in half with a loud cracking sound.

Linghu Chong and the rest of the apprentices were seized by terror while Madam Yue eyed her husband with tremendous admiration and respect.

“Let’s go!” Yue Buqun said and walked off the cliff together with Madam Yue. Yue Lingshan, Shi Daizi, and Lu Dayou followed behind them.

Staring at the two broken swords laying still on the ground, Linghu

Chong was half stunned and half thrilled. He thought, “It turned out that our school’s Kung Fu is really powerful. No one would be able to defeat our

sword art regardless of which move Master uses. All those drawings on the rock wall in the back cave claimed that the unique sword moves of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance were defeatable, yet the Five Mountains Sword Alliance is still able to enjoy great fames in the Martial World today. Hence every sword school has advanced Qi-Gong as the foundation, and once the sword move is executed with vigorous inner energy, it would be difficult to defeat. This is actually a very simple principle, but I had forgot about it when my thoughts were on the wrong track and went to a dead end. With

the same move of Graceful Phoenix, how could I treat the one executed by apprentice brother Lin and the one executed by Master as the same? The

staff wielding man can defeat apprentice brother Lin’s Graceful Phoenix, but he would stand no chance defeating Master’s Graceful Phoenix.”

Finally able to figure out the answer to his puzzled mind, Linghu

Chong ridded himself of all shadows of anxiety. Even though Master didn’t teach him the Divine Art of Violet Twilight, nor did he say anything about betrothing Yue Lingshan to marry him, Linghu Chong didn’t feel depressed in any way. On the contrary, he was gratified for gaining back his

confidence in the Huashan Sword School’s Kung Fu. But when he remembered how he had had the wildest fantasy thinking that Master and Master-Wife would betroth their daughter to marry him, he blushed in great embarrassment.

At dusk the next day, Lu Dayou brought food up the cliff.

“Big apprentice brother, Master and Master-Wife left for Northern Shanxi early this morning.”

“Northern Shanxi? Why not Chang-An?” Linghu Chong asked with a bit of surprise.

“The chap Tian Boguang committed several more crimes in the town of Yan-An. It turned out that the villain is no longer in Chang-An,” Lu

Dayou explained.

“Oh!” Linghu Chong replied.

He thought that since Master and Master-Wife had attended the matter personally, Tian Boguang would have no chance of surviving, but deep in his mind, he couldn’t help but feel sorry for Tian Boguang. “For a guy like Tian Boguang, who loves porn and lewd obscenities, and has been committing crimes after crimes against innocent people, even death would not expiate all his sins. He surely has high Kung Fu skills, and in the two fights between the two of us, he acted open and upright and

showed the qualities of a true man. What a pity that he chooses to commit evil deeds and thus become a public enemy of the entire Martial World.”

Throughout the next two days, Linghu Chong focused on practicing his Qi-Gong and never went back into the back cave to study the drawings on the rock wall. Whenever thoughts about the drawings came into his mind, he would force them out instantly with no hesitation and tried his best to avoid them. He kept thinking, “Fortunately Master shouted his advice to me in time. Otherwise, I’d be going on the wrong road and become a sinner of our Huashan Sword School. What a close call!”

One day, after dinner, Linghu Chong meditated for a couple of hours when he suddenly heard someone climbing up the cliff. The sounds of footsteps appeared to be swift and agile. It was obvious that the person had great Kung Fu skills. Linghu Chong felt a shock in his heart.

“He’s not someone from our sword school. Why is he coming up the cliff? Could he be the masked man in the green robe?”

He rushed into the back cave and picked up a Huashan sword to hang by his waist before rushing back to the front cave. Only moments later, the person had climbed up the cliff.

“Brother Linghu, your old friend is here to visit you!” the fellow shouted.

The voice sounded very familiar to Linghu Chong and it only took him a short moment before realizing that it was the voice of “Ten Thousand Miles Loner” Tian Boguang. In astonishment, Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Master and

Master-Wife went down Mount Huashan to go after you, yet you are still so bold to come up Mount Huashan yourself. What do you want here?”

He walked out from the cave and greeted with a smile. “Brother Tian, what a big surprise that you have come such a long way to visit me!”

Tian Boguang carried two large bamboo baskets on a shoulder pole. He sat the bamboo baskets on the ground and then took out a large jar from each of the basket, a big smile on his face.

“I heard that brother Linghu had become a prisoner on top of Mount Huashan, so I figured that he must have been drooling for a good drink of wine, that’s why I took two jars of one hundred and thirty year old mellow wine from the cellar of Chang-An Banished Fairy Wine House, so I can drink my fill together with brother Linghu,” he said.

Linghu Chong took several steps closer. Sure enough, under the moonlight, the trademark in golden characters on red papers “Banished Fairy Wine House” could be clearly seen glued to the two huge wine-jars.

The trademark papers and the seals on the wine-jars appeared to be quite

aged. It was obvious that those two wine-jars weren’t anything current. He couldn’t help but feel delighted.

“Wow, to carry a hundred pound of wine all the way up Mount

Huashan, what a big present! Come! Come! Let’s have a drink!” His face split into a big smile.

Linghu Chong took two big bowls out from inside the cave. As soon as Tian Boguang opened the seal, the wonderful smell of the mellow wine filled the air. Before he even had a chance to taste it, Linghu Chong already felt tipsy.

“Have a taste! What do you think?” Tian Boguang poured a bowl of wine from the wine-jar. Linghu Chong took the bowl and drank a big swallow. “This is superb!” he praised and then poured the entire bowl of wine down his throat. Raising his thumb up, he said, “Famous wine! It’s really

exceptional!”

“I’ve heard that out of all the famous wines, Fen-Wine ranks number one in northern China, and Shao-Wine leads the rest in southern China.

Actually the best Fen-Wine is not in Shan-Xi58 Province but in the town of Chang-An. And in the town of Chang-An, the best one would be none other than the ‘Banished Fairy Wine House’ where Li Taiba59 used to get drunk

all the time many years ago. And in the entire world, other than these two jars of wine, no one will be able to find a third one left,” Tian Boguang grinned.

“Are you saying that they only had these two jars of wine left in the

cellar of the Banished Fairy Wine House?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise. “After I took these two wine-jars, there were still about two hundred

jars left in the cellar. I figured that if all those high officials and noble lords in the town of Chang-An, the ordinary and vulgar ones, could go to the

Banished Fairy Wine House to enjoy such wonderful wine as long as they have money in their pockets, then how could the Big Hero Linghu of the

Huashan Sword School stand out from all the ordinary? Therefore I banged and whammed, and soon the entire cellar was filled with the wonderful

smell of wine as the flood of wine went up almost to my waist,” Tian Boguang explained in amusement.

“Are you saying that you actually smashed two hundred or so jars of wine into pieces?” Linghu Chong was half stunned and half amused.

“Wouldn’t it be more valuable if there were only two jars left in the entire world? Ha-ha! Ha-ha!” Tian Boguang burst into loud laughter. “Thanks! Many thanks!” Linghu Chong drank another bowl. “It is so troublesome for you to carry these two jars of wine all the way from Chang-

An to Mount Huashan, brother Tian. Even if they were filled with pure water, I’d owe you a debt of gratitude, anyhow, not mentioning that they were filled with famous wine.”

“You are a good man! A real man!” Tian Boguang praised loudly with his thumbs up.

“Why are you praising me all of a sudden?” Linghu Chong asked.

“I am an infamous evil rapist who commits all kinds of crimes. I’ve

severely wounded you before and have also committed several crimes right by the foot of Mount Huashan. Everyone in the Huashan Sword School

wished to kill me. But when I carried the wine here today, brother Linghu drank it with complete ease, without ever worrying that I might plant poison in the wine. Only a true man with such breath of mind is worth enjoying

such worldly famous wine.”

“Brother Tian, you are making fun of me now. I have fought you twice and knew well that even though brother Tian has very bad conducts, you would disdain to stab anyone on the back. Besides, your Kung Fu skills are way higher than mine. If you want to kill me, all you have to do is to draw your knife and chop down. What’s so difficult about that?” Linghu

Chong said.

“Brother Linghu, you said it right!” Tian Boguang laughed some more. “But did you know that I didn’t carry these two jars of wine directly from Chang-An to Mount Huashan? I carried these hundred-pound wine first to Northern Shanxi for two robberies, and then to Eastern Shanxi for another two robberies before I finally came up Mount Huashan.”

Linghu Chong was stunned. He pondered over it and quickly understood. “So brother Tian continuously committed many crimes just to divert my Master and Master-Wife away, so you can come and see me. You’ve used the strategy of luring the enemy away from the base. Brother Tian, after going through all these trouble, what do you exactly want from me?” he said.

“Brother Linghu, why don’t you give it a wild guess?” Tian Boguang suggested with a smile.

“No way!” Linghu Chong rejected. He poured a bowl full of wine and then said, “Brother Tian, you are a guest here at Mount Huashan. I don’t have anything in exchange for your present here on the barren cliff. I am just going to borrow something to make a gift of it. Please enjoy a bowl of number one wine in the world.”

“Thanks!” Tian Boguang answered and poured the bowl of wine down his throat.

Linghu Chong also drank a bowl of wine as accompany. After

showing each other the empty bottom of the bowls, the two set the bowls down and broke into a laugh at the same time. All of a sudden, Linghu

Chong kicked out with his right leg, and with two loud bangs, the two large wine-jars were kicked down the deep valley. Only after a long while, two muffled smashing sounds came back from the bottom.

“Why did you kick the wine-jars down, brother Linghu?” Tian Boguang asked in shock.

“Tian Boguang,” Linghu Chong answered, “we don’t belong to the same sides of the society. You have committed numerous crimes and harmed many innocent people. Everyone in the Martial World hates your

guts. I drank three bowls of wine with you because I think you are someone upright and not some kind of shameless filthy scoundrel. Our relationship

stops right here. You’ve brought me two jars of great wine, but even if you put all the precious jewels and treasures right in front me, do you think you can buy Linghu Chong to be your friend?” He yelled as he drew his long sword, “Tian Boguang, let me try your fast knife chop moves one more time!”

Tian Boguang didn’t draw his knife. He shook his head with a slight smile on his face. “Brother Linghu, your respectful school’s sword art is brilliant, but you are still too young and haven’t grasped the depth of it.

Right now with your sword skills, you are still no match for me.” Linghu Chong thought for a second and then nodded in agreement.

“What you said is very true. Within the next ten years, Linghu Chong would stand no chance of ever killing you, brother Tian.” With a loud clanking sound, he sent his long sword back into the sheath.

“Whosoever understands the times is a great man!” Tian Boguang burst into loud laughter.

“Linghu Chong is only a nobody in the Martial World. I suppose you made nothing of hardships to Mount Huashan not for my head on my neck. We are enemies, not friends. No matter what you want me to do, I won’t do it.” Linghu Chong announced.

“But you haven’t even given yourself a chance to hear my proposal yet.” Tian Boguang was amused.

“Precisely!” Linghu Chong said. “No matter what you propose, I

won’t agree. Since I can’t beat you in a fight, I’d better lubricate my heels and have the run for it.” Before the word even faded in the air, he had

already turned around the corner to the back of the cliff.

Linghu Chong knew well that Tian Boguang could run very fast. That was how he got his nickname “Ten Thousand Miles Loner.” He had good knife skills, but there were plenty of people in the Martial World who could beat him. He had been committing various crimes for the last ten years or

so. Yet because he was always on good alert and had first-class Qing-Gong skills, during the several times when the Chivalry Side gathered a good amount of people to hunt him down, no one was even able to touch him. For this reason when Linghu Chong started running, he ran with all his strength.

He thought he was fast, but Tian Boguang was even faster. Only after Linghu Chong dashed out some thirty feet, he already found Tian Boguang blocking the way in front of him. He turned around immediately heading toward the front of the cliff, thinking that he might be able to jump down the cliff to the lower slope, but only after about ten steps, Tian Boguang had caught up with him again and blocked in front of him with his arms

stretching out, laughing hectically.

“No chance of running away, I guess we’ll have to pick a fight!

Brother Tian, you can’t blame me if I call for help now!” Linghu Chong took three steps back and shouted.

“Well,” Tian Boguang said with a grin, “if your respectful Master can come, then it would be my turn to lubricate my heels and take the run for it. Too bad Mr. and Madam Yue are in Eastern Shanxi right now, which is at least a hundred and fifty miles away from here, and would have no chance of coming back to save you. You do have some apprentice brothers and

sisters, but if they come up the cliff, none of them would make a decent opponent. All the guys would lose their lives for nothing, and all the girls… ha-ha, ha-ha.” The tone of his laughter was filled with ill intentions.

Linghu Chong gasped. He thought to himself, “The ‘Cliff of

Contemplation’ is far away from the Huashan Sword School’s main hall. Even if I shout with all my might, the apprentice brothers and sisters probably still won’t be able to hear a thing. This fellow is an infamous rapist, what if he bumped into little apprentice sister…oops! That was a

close call! Luckily I wasn’t able to run away earlier, or else, Tian Boguang would have gone to the main hall of Huashan Sword School to look for me for sure, and then naturally he would bump into little apprentice sister. If the pretty and lovely little apprentice sister had fallen into the evil rapist’s hands, I…I’d deserve ten-thousand deaths.” He rolled his eyes and quickly made up his mind. “Right now the best thing to do probably is to muddle

with him perfunctorily and to stall him for more time. Hence I can’t take him by force, I’ll have to take him by strategy. As long as I can stall him till Master and Master-Wife make it back to Mount Huashan, then everything would be fine.”

“Fine! I can’t win in a fight, nor can I run away, nor can I find any help….” Linghu Chong put his hands out and shrugged, signaling that he had given up and Tian Boguang could do anything as he please.

“Brother Linghu, you must have misunderstood me and thought that I am here to give you trouble. It is actually something that will benefit you in a good deal, and you will definitely thank me sincerely for that later,” Tian Boguang said with a broad smile.

“You have done many evil deeds and gained yourself a notorious reputation. Despite how beneficial this thing you speak about is for me, I, Linghu Chong, will preserve my own purity and never wallow in the mire with you.” Linghu Chong waved him off.

“I am the infamous evil rapist, but brother Linghu is the proud disciple of the number one gentleman in the Martial World – Mr. Yue. Of course you can’t wallow in the mire with me. But if that’s the case today, why not before?” Tian Boguang grinned.

“What do you mean by ‘if that’s the case today, why not before’?” Linghu Chong asked.

“In the Huiyan Wine House of Hengyang, brother Linghu, you and I had the companionship of drinking on the same table,” Tian Boguang claimed.

“Linghu Chong is a big alcoholic. We were just having a couple of drinks together. It was nothing.”

“In the Jade House of Hengshan, brother Linghu, you and I had the same aesthetic pleasure of visiting prostitutes in the same brothel.”

“Bah!” Linghu Chong spit to the ground. “At that time I was severely wounded and had been rescued. I was just recovering in the Jade House temporarily. What has that got anything to do with visiting prostitutes?”

“But in the Jade House, didn’t you have the great pleasure of sleeping with two gorgeous and lovely girls under the same quilt?” Tian Boguang

split into a big grin.

Linghu Chong felt a great shock in his heart. He yelled out loud,

“Tian Boguang, you’d better watch you mouth! I have a clean reputation, and those two girls are also as pure as crystal and jade. If you keep spilling out such filthy lies, I won’t be so easy on you.”

“What good does it do if you don’t go easy on me today? If you want to uphold the clean reputation of the Huashan Sword School, you should have treated those two girls with some respect. Why did you get under the

same quilt with those two girls and rubbed up and down in front of all those heroes of the Qingcheng Sword School, Hengshan Sword School, and

Heng-Shan Sword School, stopping at nothing? Ha-ha, ha-ha!” Infuriated, Linghu Chong threw a fist at him fiercely, which Tian

Boguang easily dodged with a big grin.

“It’s no good trying to deny it! If you hadn’t gotten petty advantages of those two little girls on the bed under the quilt, why would they all get lovesickness for you today?”

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “This man is a shameless rascal. It is possible that anything would come out of his mouth. If I tangle myself with him in such an inexplicable way, who knows what more garbage is going to come out of his mouth? That day in Huiyan Wine House of

Hengyang, he fell for my trick. That was the most galling shame and humiliation he has ever had in his entire life. It’s the only thing I can use to shut him up.” At that thought, instead of getting outraged, he smiled.

“I was wondering why did brother Tian come such a long distance to Mount Huashan. Who would have thought that your Master, the little nun Yilin, had sent you to bring two jars of great wine to me, thanking me for finding her such a well-behaved apprentice? Ha-ha, ha-ha!”

Tian Boguang flushed, but soon calmed down. “The two jars of wine are tokens of my own regard. But my coming to Mount Huashan surely is related to Little Sister Yilin,” putting on a serious face, he said.

“Little Sister? No, no, no! Isn’t she your Master now? What a true man says cannot be unsaid. Are you trying to go back on your own words? Apprentice sister Yilin is an outstanding apprentice from a famous school. It was really your good fortune to have found such a Master. Ha-ha!”

Tian Boguang was outraged. He grabbed onto his knife handle and almost drew the knife. But he pulled himself together and spoke coldly.

“Brother Linghu, you don’t have good Kung Fu with your hands, but you surely have outstanding Kung Fu with your tongue.”

“Since I am no match for you in a fight with sword, knife, punches, or kicks, all I can do is to take some petty advantage from you with my tongue, brother Tian.” Linghu Chong grinned.

“In the fight with the tongue, I candidly admit my defeat. Brother Linghu, it’s time for you to come with me now,” Tian Boguang demanded.

“No way! I am not going even if I have to die!” Linghu Chong declared.

“Do you know where I am asking you to go to?” Tian Boguang asked. “I don’t know and I don’t care. Either to go up the heavens or go down to hell, wherever Tian Boguang goes, Linghu Chong won’t go.”

Tian Boguang shook his head slowly. “Brother Linghu, I am here to invite you to pay a visit to Little Sister Yilin,” he said.

“You rascal, has apprentice sister Yilin fallen into your hands again?

How dare you offend your superior and be so disrespectful to your own Master?” Linghu Chong was shocked.

Tian Boguang yelled angrily, “My Master is someone else. He had passed away many years ago. Don’t you ever mix up Little Sister Yilin in this matter again.” He paused for a moment to calm himself down and then said, “Brother Linghu, Little Sister Yilin misses you very much. She thinks of you days and nights. I consider you a friend, that’s why I will never dare to be disrespectful to her again. You can relax. Shall we go now?”

“I am not going! How many times do I have to repeat myself, one thousand times, ten thousand times?” Linghu Chong claimed.

Tian Boguang showed a slight smile but didn’t say a word.

“What are you smiling about? Because your Kung Fu is better than mine, you think you’ll just force your will upon me and take me down as a prisoner?” Linghu Chong mocked.

“I have no hostility toward you, brother Linghu, and really don’t want to offend you in anyway. But I surely don’t want to set out in high spirits

and return disappointed.”

“Tian Boguang, you have excellent knife skills, and it would be a piece of cake for you to kill me or wound me. You can kill Linghu Chong, but you won’t succeed in humiliating Linghu Chong. At most, I’ll just let you take away my life, but to take me prisoner so you can take me down Mount Huashan, that’s absolutely impossible!” “I am just doing a favor for someone inviting you to pay a visit to Little Sister Yilin. That’s the true and only intention. Why are you so uptight?” Tian Boguang turned his head and eyed Linghu Chong from the corner of his eyes.

“If it’s something I don’t’ want to do, even my Master, Master-Wife,

Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief, or the Emperor himself won’t be able to force me, not mentioning you. Here’s my final answer: I am not

going! Even if I have to say it ten thousand times or one hundred thousand times, the answer is still the same,” Linghu Chong said with determination.

“You are too stubborn. I am afraid I’ll have to give offense now.” With a loud clank, Tian Boguang drew his knife.

“You have offended me at the very beginning when you planned to take me prisoner,” Linghu Chong rebuffed angrily. “I guess the ‘Cliff of Contemplation’ on top of Mount Huashan is going to be the place where I depart this life.” He let out a clear roar and also drew his sword.

Tian Boguang took a step back and slightly frowned. “Brother Linghu, we have neither scores to settle nor grudges between the two of us. Why do we have to fight in the expense of our lives? Why don’t we have a bet?”

Linghu Chong secretly felt pleased. He thought to himself, “A bet? That’s perfect! If I lose, I can still argue my way out, even if I have to use some lame excuses.” But instead, he said, “What bet? If I win, I won’t go, and if I lose, I won’t go just the same.”

“I see,” Tian Boguang said with a smile. “The head apprentice of the Huashan Sword School is so scared of Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops, he doesn’t even have the guts to take on thirty knife moves of mine.”

“What am I scared of? What’s the worst, me dying under your blade?

So what?” Linghu Chong mocked angrily. “Brother Linghu, it’s not that I look down upon you or anything, but I am afraid that you won’t be able to fend off even thirty moves of my fast knife chops. As soon as you fend off thirty moves of my fast knife chops, I’ll turn my butt around and get out of here right away. No more babbling. But if I get lucky and beat you within thirty moves, you’ll have to go down Mount Huashan with me and pay a visit to Little Sister Yilin,” Tian

Boguang declared.

In the instant, Linghu Chong had gone through Tian Boguang’s knife moves once in his head. He thought, “After the last two fights with him, I’ve pondered over all the powerful techniques of his fast knife chops many times. And on top of that, I’ve also asked Master and Master-Wife about them. If all I need to do is to guard myself so I don’t lose, couldn’t I even fend off thirty moves of his?”

“Fine, I’ll see your thirty moves!” Linghu Chong yelled as he thrust his sword toward Tian Boguang. He had used an advanced move of the

Huashan sword art called Graceful Phoenix right at the beginning. The blade of his sword vibrated and made a buzzing sound as rays of reflection covered Tian Boguang’s entire upper body.

“Nice sword move!” Tian Boguang praised as he blocked it with his knife and took a step back.

“That’s one!” Linghu Chong shouted out and immediately followed with another attack – Green Pines Welcoming Guest.

“Another nice one!” Tian Boguang praised again.

He knew that there must be numerous additional techniques hidden in the move, so he dared not to fend it off with his knife and simply dodged to the side in a slide. The dodge shouldn’t really be counted as a move, but Linghu Chong immediately shouted.

“That’s two!” Before the words even faded, he had already started another attacking move. Soon, Linghu Chong had already launched five attacking moves

continuously. Tian Boguang either blocked them or dodged them, never starting his counter-attack, yet Linghu Chong had already counted up to number five. When Linghu Chong started his sixth move by thrusting his sword upward from a lower angle, Tian Boguang gave a loud roar and

brought his knife swishing down through the air. The knife and the sword clashed in the midair and Linghu Chong’s long sword was knocked down instantly.

“Sixth move, seventh move, eighth move, ninth move, tenth move!” Tian Boguang yelled out.

Every time when he counted one, he would throw a chop at the same time. He counted five moves, and he chopped five times. Every chop

swished straight down through the air; he didn’t even change his move at all. Each chop landed heavier than the previous one. When the sixth chop

came down, Linghu Chong felt that his entire body had been trapped in the energy stream from the blade slicing down and he couldn’t even breathe, but he gathered all the strength he could and blocked upwards anyway. With a loud clank, the knife and the sword smashed into each other. Linghu

Chong’s arm instantly went numb and the long sword fell from his hand and landed on the ground. Tian Boguang threw another chop. Linghu Chong

simply closed his eyes and ignored it.

“How many moves now?” Tian Boguang asked, laughing loudly.

Linghu Chong opened his eyes and answered, “Not only your knife

skills are better than mine, your arm strength and inner energy are also way better than mine. Linghu Chong is no match for you.”

“Then let’s go!” Tian Boguang smiled in triumph.

“Nope. I am not going!” Linghu Chong shook his head again. “Brother Linghu, I consider you a true man who keeps his own promises. You have lost within thirty moves. Why are you going back on your words?” Tian Boguang pulled a long face.

“At first, I didn’t believe that you can beat me within thirty moves. Sure, I have lost, but I never said that I would go with you if I lose to you, did I?” Linghu Chong argued.

Tian Boguang thought that it was really he himself who had said that and Linghu Chong surely never said anything close, so he placed his knife across in front of him and said with a sneer, “There’s a character ‘Hu’ in your name and the name sure fits the person.60 Ok, you didn’t say it, so

what?”

“When I lost to you earlier, it was only because you had more

strength than me. I am not giving in yet. Let me take a rest, then we can try it again,” Linghu Chong said.

“Fine. I’ll wait till you admit your loss, yourself.” Tian Boguang sat on a rock with his hands on his hips and looked at Linghu Chong with a big smile.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “This villain is insisting on having me leave Mount Huashan. I wonder what kind of evil plan he has. The real reason must have nothing to do with paying a visit to apprentice sister Yilin. He isn’t a real student of apprentice sister Yilin, and apprentice sister Yilin would be scared out of her wit as soon as she sees him, how could she ever maintain contacts with him? But he keeps pestering me at the moment. How can I get out of it?”

He remembered the six chops from Tian Boguang just a minute ago. Those chops had no special techniques to go with them yet the power of the chops was tremendous, and he really had no idea how to fend them off. He suddenly got an idea. “That night when Great Mr. Mo killed Great Songyang Palm Fei Bin in the remote valley, Great Mr. Mo used the flashy and unpredictable

Hengshan style sword art. If I use that to fight Tian Boguang, I am sure I

won’t lose. There are many deadly moves amount the Hengshan style sword art drawn on the rock wall in the back cave. If I go back there and learn

some thirty or forty moves, I should be able to put up a decent fight with Tian Boguang.” But then he thought, “Hengshan style sword art is a fine and ingenious sword art. How can I master it in such a short time? Alas, that was just my wishful thinking.”

Seeing the fast changing expression on Linghu Chong’s face, in one minute being happy, but in the next minute looking totally worried, Tian Boguang grinned.

“Brother Linghu, have you thought of a CUNNING TRICK to defeat my knife moves?”

Hearing that Tian Boguang raising his voice specifically at the words “cunning trick”, Linghu Chong’s anger rose. “There’s no need for any

CUNNING TRICKS just to defeat your knife moves. You are being really wordy and annoying here. I can’t think well when you keep distracting me like that. I am going to go inside the cave now to think it through. Don’t you come and disturb me.”

“Fine! You go ahead and think REAL HARD. I won’t disturb you.” Tian Boguang agreed.

Linghu Chong noticed that Tian raised his voice again at the words

“real hard.” He cursed in a whisper to himself and entered the cave. He lit a candle and then climbed back into the back cave. Wasting no time, he went straight to the side of the rock wall with drawings of Hengshan style sword art. Seeing all the different forms of magical and profound sword moves

with endless variations, he was dumbfounded. If he hadn’t seen them with his own eyes, he would never have believed that such brilliant and fluctuating moves actually existed in the world.

“In such a short time, it’s simply impossible for me to learn the sword art well. I’d better pick several of the most unpredictable and weird variation techniques and memorize them well. When I go out again, I’ll use them with no specific order whatsoever and fight indiscreetly. Who knows? I might be able to make a surprise attack on him,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

Once decided, he immediately started reading and memorizing. Even though the other figure in the drawings had already defeated every move of the Hengshan sword art, thinking that Tian Boguang would have no chance of knowing any of those techniques, he wasn’t worried at all.

He worked on memorizing all the techniques while trying them out with his hands, and after he had learned about twenty or so moves, an hour had already passed. Tian Boguang’s voice rose from outside the cave.

“Brother Linghu, if you don’t come out, I am going to charge in

now.”

Linghu Chong leapt out with his sword in his hand and shouted,

“Fine! Let me take another thirty moves of yours!”

“So brother Linghu, what if you lose again this time?” Tian Boguang asked with a beam.

“At least it wouldn’t be the first loss for me. Just one more loss, no big deal!”

Before he even finished talking, he had already launched a storm of attacks with seven continuous moves. All those seven moves were ones he

had newly learned from the rock wall in the back cave, and all of them were fluctuating and unpredictable to the extreme. Tian Boguang had not expected such unpredictable variations from Huashan style sword art. Caught in a surprise, he had to take one step back after another. When it was the tenth move, still being greatly amazed, he roared loudly and waved his knife to start his counter attack. He had great strength with his knife chops, which prevented Linghu Chong from

executing many of the variations in his sword moves. At the nineteenth move, the two weapons clashed, and Linghu Chong’s long sword was once again knocked out of his grip.

Linghu Chong leapt two steps to the side and shouted, “Brother Tian, you only have stronger arms than me. You didn’t win with your knife moves. I am still not convinced this time. Let me figure out another thirty

sword moves and then I’ll fight you again.”

“Your Master is still a hundred and fifty miles away at this very moment, searching for traces of me. He probably won’t make it back to Mount Huashan for another ten to fifteen days. This delaying strategy of yours is not gonna work,” Tian Boguang said with a smirk.

“Who said that I have to rely on my Master to take care of you? I just recovered from my illness and am very weak in my strength, that’s how you got the advantage. If we are only comparing our moves, you think I can’t

even block thirty moves of yours? I don’t think so!”

“I am not going to fall for you again. Either I win by knife moves or by arm strength, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. What good does it do to find all the excuses?” Tian Boguang disagreed.

“Fine! You wait for me here. Be a true man. Don’t you get scared and decide to run away. But if you do, I won’t be chasing after you!” Linghu

Chong said.

Tian Boguang burst into loud laughter. He took two steps back and sat on a big rock. Linghu Chong went back into the back cave. He figured, “Tian

Boguang has fought Priest Tian-Song of the Taishan Sword School before, and also wounded him quite good. He has also fought with apprentice sister Yilin of the Heng-Shan Sword School. And I just fought him using the

Hengshan style sword art. He probably doesn’t know anything about the Songshan style sword art.”

He found the drawings of the Songshan Sword School’s sword moves and learned about ten moves or so. “I still have over ten Hengshan style lethal moves that I didn’t have a chance to use earlier,” he thought to himself. “If I mix them up in Songshan style sword art moves and then use several moves of my own sword school all of a sudden, I might be able to really confuse the hell out of him.”

He didn’t even wait for Tian Boguang to call for him, and rushed

straight into the fight as soon as he went out of the cave. The sword moves he used would be a minute in Songshan style, the next minute in Hengshan style, with Huashan style deadly moves mixed up in between.

“Weird! This is so weird!” Tian Boguang kept yelling out loud. But on the twenty-second move, he was still able to place the blade of his knife right next to Linghu Chong’s neck and forced him to throw down his sword.

“In the first time, I was only able to take on five moves of yours. But after I thought about it for a little while, I was able to take on eighteen moves of yours. After thinking for another while, I was already able to take on twenty-one moves of yours. Brother Tian, aren’t you a bit scared by now?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Why should I be scared?” Tian Boguang beamed.

“If I keep pondering over it and think a couple more times, I will then be able to take on thirty of your moves. And after thinking some more, I will be able to turn the tide and claim victory. Even if I decide to not kill you, wouldn’t it be terrible for you?” Linghu Chong deduced.

“I have been wandering around the Martial World for many years, and brother Linghu, you are certainly the smartest one out of all the adversaries I ever had. It’s a pity that your Kung Fu is still a good deal far too lower than mine. Say that you can progress really fast, but it would still be impossible for you to defeat me within hours.” Tian Boguang claimed.

“Brother Tian, you are certainly the most reckless one out of all the adversaries I ever had. Seeing that Linghu Chong is getting stronger and stronger in the fights, yet you still decide not to run away. It’s so rare.

Brother Tian, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go inside to think a bit more.”

“Help yourself!” Tian Boguang only grinned.

Linghu Chong walked in the cave slowly. Although he had been raving with Tian Boguang as if he had nothing to worry about, in his heart, he was actually getting more and more worried. “This villain must have

come to Mount Huashan with evil plans. He knows very well that Master

and Master-Wife went after him in the hope to get rid of him, why would he still have leisure time to have the contests with me? After he took me prisoner each time, even if he doesn’t want to kill me, he should at least have sealed my acupoints to restrict me from moving about. Why did he let me go free again and again? What does he want?”

He was determined that Tian Boguang must have come to Mount

Huashan with a terrifying evil plot, but he had no clue what the plot might be. “Could it be that he wanted to keep me here so somebody else can take care of all my apprentice brothers and sisters? But why doesn’t he simply kill me right away? Wouldn’t that be a lot easier?” he couldn’t help but ask himself. He thought for quite a while and finally jumped up onto his feet, thinking, “No matter what, it appears that our Huashan Sword School is in great danger today. Master and Master-Wife are not home, and I am the head of the sword school right now. I’ll have to carry the heavy burden all by myself. Despite whatever Tian Boguang’s purpose is, I must use all my brain to keep pestering him, and if there’s ever an opportunity that I can take advantage of him, I should kill him without hesitation.”

After making up his mind, he went on studying the drawings on the rock wall, but this time he intentionally picked the fiercest and most vicious and fatal moves to memorize. By the time he walked out of the cave, it was daybreak the next day already. Although Linghu Chong had the intent to kill, his face looked very relaxed.

“Brother Tian, you have come to Mount Huashan as a guest, and I am so sorry that I haven’t really fulfilled my duty as a host. After this contest, regardless of who wins and who loses, I’ll invite you to try out some of our local products,” Linghu Chong suggested.

“Thanks a lot!” Tian Boguang smiled.

“But when we meet again down Mount Huashan in the future, we would still be fighting for our lives. Nothing will be like today’s polite contest with counted moves ever again,” Linghu Chong declared.

“It would be a real pity to kill the kind of friend like you, brother Linghu. But if I don’t kill you, your Kung Fu would progress too fast and one day when your skills are better than mine, you probably wouldn’t let me, the evil rapist, go easily,” Tian Boguang said.

“Precisely. It is such a rare opportunity for us to swap pointers in

Kung Fu like today. Brother Tian, I am going to attack now. Will you please give me some advice?” “You flatter me! Brother Linghu, please!” Tian Boguang said courteously.

“The more I think about it, the more I feel that I am no match for you, brother Tian,” Linghu Chong said with a big smile.

Before he even finished the sentence, he had already thrust his sword forward. By the time his sword tip was about three feet from Tian

Boguang’s body, the sword went toward the left side and then turned into a sudden side stab. Tian Boguang raised his knife and blocked. Not waiting for the sword blade to clash with the knife blade, Linghu Chong suddenly

slashed up from Tian’s crouch. This move was both sinister and fierce to the extreme. Tian Boguang was astounded and immediately jumped back.

Linghu Chong followed the initiative and thrust out three attacks, each one heading toward Tian Boguang’s vital parts with all his might. Losing the initiative, Tian Boguang found himself in disadvantage and had to block left and right with his knife. A tearing sound rose as Linghu Chong’s long

sword penetrated his pants right next to his right leg, leaving a hole in his pants. The fast sword thrust landed only a mere inch from his leg.

Tian Boguang threw a punch with his right fist, which knocked Linghu Chong rolling on the ground. “Every move of yours is aimed at killing me. What kind of swapping pointers is that?” he yelled in rage.

“Well, no matter how hard I try, I still wouldn’t stand a chance even harming a hair of yours. You surely have a lot of strength with your left fist.” Linghu Chong leapt back onto his feet.

“Sorry for that!” Tian Boguang said.

“I think you broke two of my ribs.” Linghu Chong stepped forward with a big smile on his face.

As he got closer, all of a sudden, he passed the sword to his left hand and thrust it out backward in a flash. This unimaginably queer move turned out to be a deadly move of the Heng-Shan Sword School. In immense

astonishment, Tian Boguang found the sword tip only inches from his lower stomach. In a great hurry he rolled onto the ground and was able to barely dodge it. Occupying the commanding position, Linghu Chong continued

with four more thrusts, which put Tian Boguang in an extremely awkward position. It almost looked as if within a couple more moves, Linghu Chong would succeed nailing Tian on the ground with his sword. But unexpectedly, Tian Boguang threw a kick with his left foot all of a sudden, which landed on Linghu Chong’s wrist. He then instantly followed with

another kick, his right foot striking Linghu Chong’s stomach heavily. Linghu Chong could no longer hold on to his sword. The sword flew out of his grip as he fell down to the ground facing up. Tian Boguang leapt up and rushed forward, placing his blade right on Linghu Chong’s throat.

“Very sinister sword moves indeed! I almost got killed. Are you convinced yet?” Tian Boguang sneered.

“Of course not! We agreed to a contest between my sword moves and your knife chops. Didn’t you just use your fists and legs to throw punches

and kicks at me? How should we count the moves now?”

“Even if we count the punches and kicks, it is still less than thirty moves.” Tian Boguang moved his blade away and said with a sneer.

Linghu Chong stood up and said angrily, “You beat me within thirty moves. You have excellent Kung Fu. So what? If you want to kill me, then kill me, why are you laughing at me? If you want to laugh, then laugh. Why are you sneering?”

Tian Boguang took a step back. “Brother Linghu, you have a good accusation. Yes, I am wrong.” He cupped his hands and said, “I apologize sincerely. Will you, brother Linghu, please forgive me?” Linghu Chong was struck dumb. Tian Boguang just had a brilliant victory, yet he was willing to apologize. That’s far from what Linghu

Chong had expected. So he too cupped his hands and saluted back.

“That’s quite alright!” he said as he pondered upon the question, “When someone shows great courtesy to his inferior, he must have his purpose. I wonder why he is treating me with such great respect.”

He pondered over the question but still couldn’t figure it out, so he decided to simply ask about it straight forth.

“Brother Tian, I have a question in my mind. Will you give me a straight answer?” he asked.

“I have no problem telling anything to anyone. For things like raping and looting, murdering and arson, others might try to hide or deny them.

When I, Tian Boguang, want to do something, I’ll do it and admit to it! Why bother denying it?” Tian Boguang declared.

“Then, brother Tian, you are really an open and aboveboard true man,” Linghu Chong commented.

“A true man? You are really flattering me. But at least I am an honest villain whose deeds match his words.” Tian Boguang said.

“Aha, brother Tian, people of your type are really rare in the Martial World. Will you please answer this question for me? You had planned

carefully to lure my Master far away from Mount Huashan, and then you

came to Mount Huashan and insisted on having me leave together with you. Where on earth do you want me to go and what’s your purpose?”

“I’ve told you right at the beginning that I am here to invite you to pay a visit to Little Sister Yilin so she won’t be hurting from lovesickness.”

“That is just so too absurd and bizarre. I am not a three-year old kid.

How can I believe you?” Linghu Chong shook his head. Tian Boguang was enraged. “I consider you a true hero, but you are treating me like I am the shameless low life scoundrel. Why can’t you trust my words? Are you thinking that all the words that are coming out of my mouth are just crap? If there were anything untrue in my words, I would be even lower than a filthy pig,” he snapped.

Feeling the sincerity in his words, Linghu Chong had to believe in him, and at the meantime, he was totally amazed. “Brother Tian, your

submitting to become Little Sister Yilin’s apprentice was just a joke, not to be taken seriously. Why did you come such a long way to invite me for her sake?” he asked in disbelief.

“Of course there are other reasons involved. Just with her little Kung Fu, how could she ever be worthy to be my Master?” Tian Boguang looked quite embarrassed.

Linghu Chong suddenly got an idea. He thought to himself, “Could it be possible that Tian Boguang has fallen in love with apprentice sister Yilin, and all his previous ill intention has transformed into deep affection?”

“Have you fallen in love with Little Sister Yilin at first sight and are most willing to do what she tells you?” Linghu Chong asked.

“You can stop imagining things. There’s nothing even close to that!” Tian Boguang shook his head.

“Then what are the other reasons involved? Brother Tian, will you please share those with me?” Linghu Chong demanded.

“This is the worst luck for me. Why ask so much? In short, if I can’t invite you down Mount Huashan, I will die a dreadful death,” Tian

Boguang answered.

“How could that be possible?” Linghu Chong was shocked, yet he didn’t even bat an eyelid. “Tian Boguang pushed up his clothes and exposed his chest. Pointing at two red spots as big as a coin right below his two nipples, he exclaimed, “Somebody has sealed my Death Acupoints here and also planted strong poison in my body so he can force me to come and invite you to pay a visit to the Little Sister. If I fail to accomplish the mission, then the two red spots will start to deteriorate and fester. By then, there will be no cure whatsoever and they will gradually expand all over my body until my entire body starts to decompose. After three years and six months I will eventually die because of the rotting.”

With a very serious look on his face, he spoke again, “Brother Linghu, I am telling you the truth not because I want to earn your pity or anything. I just want you to know that no matter how persistent you are, I

am determined to have you comply. I am open at all options at all cost. On normal days, I already stop at no evil. At a life-threatening moment like this, I would have no scruples.”

“It seems like he is telling the truth,” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “Then all I need to do is to not go down Mount Huashan with him. A month later when the poison in his body activates, the world will be rid of a big villain. There is really no need to kill him myself.” So he said to Tian Boguang with a smile, “Which elite master was so mischievous to have done such a practical joke and gave you such a puzzle to solve? I

wonder what kind of poison was planted in your body. Even the most dangerous poison can be detoxified somehow.”

“There’s no need to mention the one who sealed my Death Acupoints and planted poison in me. Other than the one who did it, there’s only one other person in the entire world who might be able to detoxify the poison in my Death Acupoints – ‘Killer Doctor’ Ping One-Finger. But why would he want to work on me?” Tian Boguang said irritably. “You can either beg him with polite words or threaten him with your knife on his neck. Maybe he might consider working on you,” Linghu

Chong said with a small grin.

“You can save all your sarcasm to yourself. In brief, if I can’t get you to go with me, then I will be dead for sure, but you won’t be able to stay

safe either.”

“Of course! Brother Tian, all you need is to beat me fair and square and make me feel sincerely convinced. Then in consideration of your great Kung Fu skills that took you quite some hard work to master, I might just agree to go down Mount Huashan with you. Will you please wait for me a bit more? I am going to enter the cave to think again.

He entered the cave, thinking to himself, “That day when I fought

with him for several times, I was able to fight over thirty moves every time. How come I’ve actually slipped back now and simply can’t take thirty of his moves any more?” Soon, he figured it out. “That’s right! That day when I fought with him, ready to die any moment, I never cared if it was thirty moves or forty moves. Right now I keep counting the first move, the second move, the third move. All I care about is how to take on the full set of thirty moves. With such distraction, then inevitably my sword skill is only half good compared to the last time. Linghu Chong, Linghu Chong! How dumb you are!”

After figuring the problem out, he was greatly encouraged and went on to study the Kung Fu on the rock wall. This time he focused on Taishan style sword art. Taishan style sword art was distinctively strong in its

stableness and steadiness. Within such a short time, it would be impossible to truly grasp the essence of it. Besides, Linghu Chong wasn’t too fond of the rigorous and well-behaved sword style either. He looked at the moves for a little while and was ready to leave when the nimble and agile moves of a short spear used to break Taishan style sword art caught his eyes. The more he studied them, the more fascinated he became, and soon he was so focused in it that he lost track of time, until Tian Boguang became impatient about the waiting and called him.

The two fought again. By then Linghu Chong became a little bit wiser and never bothered to count the moves again. As soon as the fight broke out, he waved his sword in different directions and launched a storm of

attacks upon Tian Boguang. Seeing new sword moves emerging out of Linghu Chong in an endless stream and that every time after he thought

about it in the cave, he would add many new meanings to the moves, Tian Boguang dared not to slack off. The two countered fast with faster, and

exchanged many moves within a short moment. Suddenly Tian Boguang took a step forward, reaching out and grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s wrist in the speed of a flash. He twisted Linghu Chong’s arm back and pointed the

sword tip right at Linghu Chong’s throat. If he had wanted to, he could have pushed the sword forward and the long sword would have penetrated Linghu Chong’s throat.

“You lost!” Tian Boguang yelled out.

“It was you. You lost!” Linghu Chong claimed as great pain came from his wrist.

“How did I lose?” Tian Boguang asked.

“This is the thirty-second move.” Linghu Chong declared. “Thirty-second move?” Tian Boguang asked in disbelief.

“Yep! Thirty-second move, precisely.” Linghu Chong acknowledged. “You weren’t counting.” Tian Boguang didn’t buy it.

“Well, I wasn’t counting with my tongue, but I was counting in my heart. It was plain and clear. This is the thirty-second move.” Linghu Chong affirmed. Actually he never really counted in his heart. The thirty-second move thing was just something he made up on the spot.

“That can’t be true!” Tian Boguang let go of Linghu Chong’s wrist and argued. “You thrust like this with your first move and I counter-

attacked like this. You then blocked it like this and I chopped like this. That was the second move.” He went on and on and was actually able to demonstrate every single move used in the last fight from the very beginning to the very end. After he counted till the move when he grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s wrist, it was only the twenty-eighth move.

Linghu Chong was immensely amazed at Tian Boguang’s ability in memorizing. The two of them had both fought with tremendous speed, yet he was able to memorize every single move so clearly in the exact order.

That’s some kind of talent one simply wouldn’t see very often in the Martial World. Linghu Chong couldn’t help but admire. He stuck his thumb out.

“Brother Tian, you have superb memory! I must have counted wrong.

Let me go to think them over again.”

“Wait!” Tian Boguang stopped him. “Something is really odd about this cave. I’d like to go in and take a look. Are there secret Kung Fu manuscripts hidden in the cave? Why is it that every time after you come out of the cave, you add many strange moves to your collection?” He

started walking toward the cave.

Linghu Chong was stunned. He thought quickly, “If he finds out about the drawings on the rock wall, it would be disastrous.” He immediately showed a brief trace of happiness on his face and soon

replaced it with a sad and worried look as he extended his arms out to block Tian Boguang’s way.

“We have our school’s secret Kung Fu manuscripts in the cave.

Brother Tian, you are not a member of our Huashan Sword School. You can’t go in there to tour around. Sorry!”

Noticing the very brief happy look on Linghu Chong’s face that was quickly replaced by some kind of very exaggerated worried look, probably something he put out as a show, Tian Boguang pondered, “Why was he so happy as soon as he heard that I wanted to go in the cave? He pretended to be worried immediately afterwards. Obviously he was trying the hide his true feelings and hoped that I would rush into the cave recklessly. There must be something in that cave that would be detrimental to me. Probably some kind of booby-trap or ambush. Or maybe some kind of poisonous

serpent or monster he has tamed. I am not going to fall for it!”

“I see. So there are secret Kung Fu manuscripts of your respected

school. Then it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go tour around indeed,” Tian Boguang pretended to agree.

Linghu Chong shook his head and appeared to be very disappointed. Later, he went back in the cave several more times and learned many more strange and weird moves, not only unique moves of the Five Mountains

sword schools, but also many of those odd moves that would break the sword arts of the Five Mountains sword schools. But in the rush, he

couldn’t truly understand the essence of them, and because he had used them right after he picked them up minutes ago, their power was dramatically reduced and he still couldn’t take on thirty moves of Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops.

Tian Boguang couldn’t understand why every time after Linghu

Chong entered the cave to think more, he would be able to perform many odd and strange moves. Those odd and strange moves weren’t really very useful in countering his own knife moves, but they were all so clever and brilliant that he had never seen anything like them in his entire life. It was almost like an amazing demonstration, and he secretly wished that the contest would go on so he would be able to observe more of the fantastic sword moves.

After Tian Boguang subdued Linghu Chong another time, noticing that it had already passed noon, he suddenly thought of something. “Most of the moves he used this time seemed to have been moves of Songshan

style sword art. Could it be possible that there are elite grandmasters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance hiding in that cave? Every time when he goes into that cave, those elite grandmasters would then teach him some new moves and then send him out to fight me. Oops, luckily I didn’t rush in that cave recklessly. How can I stand a chance fighting the many elite grandmasters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance?” At that thought, he blurted out.

“Why don’t they come out?” “Who?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Those elite senior grandmasters in the cave who taught you all those sword moves,” Tian Boguang answered.

Linghu Chong was taken by surprise, but then immediately understood what Tian Boguang meant. He let out a big smile.

“Those senior grandmasters, they don’t…don’t feel like fighting you, brother Tian.”

Tian Boguang was outraged. He gave a very disgruntled snort and then yelled out loudly, “I know these kinds of people. They fish for fame and compliments and profess to be above politics and worldly

considerations. They feel it’s beneath their dignity to fight me, the evil rapist Tian Boguang. You let them out. As long as we are fighting one on one, regardless of how big of a reputation he has, he might not be able to beat me!” “Brother Tian, if you are interested, go ahead and enter the cave to consult those eleven senior grandmasters. They actually think your knife skills are quite excellent,” Linghu Chong shook his head and said with a grin.

Linghu Chong knew that hence Tian Boguang had committed many crimes in the Martial World and had made many enemies, he had always been very careful in normal days. Now since he has assumed that there are elite masters from various schools in the cave, he would never risk going in the cave no matter how he was goaded. He intentionally used such an odd number eleven instead of ten to make it sound real.

Surely enough, Tian Boguang snorted and said, “What elite senior grandmasters? I am afraid they are all the ones with underserved reputation, otherwise, why after teaching you all kinds of moves again and again, you

still can’t even take on thirty moves of mine?”

He was quite confident about his Qing-Gong skills and thought that even if those eleven elite masters all rushed out at the same time, although

he wouldn’t stand a chance winning the fight, at least he would stand a very good chance of running away successfully. And besides, because all of them were elite senior grandmasters of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, they would value their own dignity dearly and never launch a joint attack at him.

Linghu Chong put on a serious face. “That’s only because I am dumb and clumsy with very limited inner energy and couldn’t grasp the essence of those senior grandmasters’ Kung Fu. Brother Tian, you’d better watch your mouth and not upset them. If any one of them decided to fight you, you don’t even have to wait for your poison to activate a month from now; your head would be missing from your neck on top of the ‘Cliff of

Contemplation’ instantly.” “Why don’t you tell me who those senior grandmasters are in the cave?” Tian Boguang demanded.

“Those senior grandmasters have lived in seclusion and lived a hermit’s life for a long time already. They have withdrawn from society for many years. Their gathering here has nothing to do with you, brother Tian. Their names can’t be revealed. But even if I do tell you who they are, you wouldn’t have heard of their names anyways. There’s no need to tell! No need to tell!” Linghu Chong had a very secretive look on his face.

Seeing the odd expression on Linghu Chong’s face, Tian Boguang

was almost sure that Linghu Chong was trying to hide the truth. So he said, “Within Songshan, Taishan, Hengshan, and Heng-Shan the four schools, there may be some exceptional senior grandmasters. But in your respectful school though, there isn’t any grandmasters left at all. Everybody knows

about that in the Martial World. You must be talking irresponsibly and making things up. It’s hard for me to believe you.”

“That’s right. There really isn’t any elite senior grandmaster left in the Huashan Sword School. Many years ago, our sword school was so unfortunately hit by plagues, and all the elite fighters in the last generation withered and passed away. Brother Tian, you have said it correctly. There is really no grandmaster of our Huashan Sword School in the cave.” Linghu

Chong affirmed.

Tian Boguang was convinced that Linghu Chong must have been lying to him. When he said something is false, then it should be true. If he had said that there weren’t any senior grandmasters left in Huashan Sword School, then there must be someone. He pondered over it for a long time

and suddenly remembered something. He slapped his thigh with his palm and shouted out loud.

“Aha! I remember now! So it is senior grandmaster Feng Qingyang!” Linghu Chong instantly remembered the characters “Feng Qingyang” carved on the rock wall in the cave and couldn’t help but utter a cry of

surprise. He wasn’t pretending this time and was stunned when he thought that the senior grandmaster Feng might still be alive. Regardless of what the truth was, he waved his hand in denial hurriedly.

“Brother Tian, please don’t talk irresponsibly. Feng…Feng….” He figured that since the name “Feng Qingyang” has a “Qing”

character in it, then he must be from a more senior generation than Master’s “Bu” generation. So he continued with his sentence.

“Grand Uncle-Master Feng has quit the Martial World to live in

seclusion many, many years ago. Nobody knows where he is, and no one is even sure that the respectful Grand Uncle-Master is still alive or not. How can he be on Mount Huashan right now? If you don’t believe me, then you’d better go in the cave and take a look yourself, then you will know the truth.”

The more Linghu Chong wanted Tian Boguang to go in the cave, the more Tian Boguang believed that it was a trap. He thought to himself, “He looks so panic-stricken. I must have figured it out right. I heard that many of the senior Huashan Sword School grandmasters all died unusual deaths in a single night except Feng Qingyang who happened to be away from

Mount Huashan at the time and escaped that doom. So it turned out he is

still alive. But he would be at least somewhere between seventy and eighty years old. No matter how high his Kung Fu level is at, he would have

exhausted his strengths after all. The hell with him. Why would I be afraid of such an rotten old man?”

At that thought, he said to Linghu Chong, “Brother Linghu, we have already fought an entire day and an entire night. Even if we keep fighting, you wouldn’t stand a chance beating me. Although you have your Grand Uncle-Master Feng to give you pointers continuously, it’s useless after all. Why don’t you just behave yourself and follow me down Mount Huashan?”

Before Linghu Chong had a chance to answer, a cold voice suddenly rose from behind his back.

“If I had really given him some pointers, you don’t think he can even take care of a chap like you? I doubt that!”

Chapter 10: Sword Training

The old man nodded, let out a sigh, and then slowly walked to the front of the big rock to sit down. Tian Boguang yelled, “Here’s the chop!” and then slashed his knife at Linghu Chong. Linghu Chong turned to the side to dodge and then fought back with a thrust.

Linghu Chong was thunderstruck. He turned around and saw an old man with a gray beard in a green robe standing in front of the cave’s opening. The old man had a somewhat depressed expression on his face, which was as white as a sheet.

“Could this old man be the masked man in green robe I saw the other night? Where is he from? When did he come right behind my back? How

come I didn’t feel a thing and had no idea about it?” He couldn’t help but feel bewildered.

“Are you…are you really Grandmaster Feng?” Tian Boguang asked in a trembling tone.

“It has gotten to be rare for people in this world to still remember my name.” The old man heaved a sigh.

In the instant, many thoughts flashed through Linghu Chong’s mind. “There is still a senior grandmaster of our Huashan Sword School alive today? Why haven’t I ever heard Master or Master-Wife mentioning

anything about it? What if he is just an imposter who took the opportunity from Tian Boguang’s words? Wouldn’t everyone in the Martial World laugh at our Huashan Sword School if I recklessly salute him as a junior? Besides, what a big coincidence is this? As soon as Tian Boguang mentioned the name ‘Feng Qingyang,’ a ‘Feng Qingyang’ suddenly shows up right

away?”

“Linghu Chong, what an useless lad you are!” The old man shook his head with another sigh. “Let me teach you. Use the move White Aurora Shooting the Sun first and follow up with Graceful Phoenix, then use

Golden Geese Crossing Sky followed with Sword Interception Stance….” He talked on and on in a flow of eloquence and soon mentioned the names of thirty different moves.

Linghu Chong had learned all the thirty moves before, but the sword positions and the stances of those moves didn’t seem to connect at all.

“What are you waiting for? Oh, I see. With your current understanding of martial arts, it isn’t easy to just perform all thirty of them at once, indeed. Why don’t you try them out slowly, first?” The old man instructed.

His voice was low and deep, and his face looked desolate. It almost

appeared as if he had infinite grievance, yet there was a certain majestic feel in his tone.

“Well, there’s nothing to lose if I give it a try,” Linghu Chong thought to himself.

So he performed the White Aurora Shooting the Sun move and thrust his sword with the sword tip pointing up. Then he got stuck, having no clue how to connect the second move Graceful Phoenix to it.

“Alas! Idiot! Idiot! Only able to rigidly adhering to formalities with no adaptation, no wonder you are an apprentice of Yue Buqun. The art of

swordplay calls for fluency like floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely. After you finished the move White Aurora Shooting the Sun and had your sword tip pointing up, couldn’t you just follow the flow and slash it downwards? Even though there’s no such posture in the move, why can’t you adapt to the flow and make it more

convenient for yourself?”

The words struck Linghu Chong’s ears like bell rings and woke him. Slightly pulling the sword back with a slash, he naturally transformed it into the move Graceful Phoenix. Before it was entirely done, he had already

changed it again and smoothly transformed it into the move Golden Geese Crossing the Sky. The long sword swished across above his head, and then with a hook and a jab, it easily turned into Sword Interception Stance – all the connections and transformations appeared to be smooth and flawless. With the ease of mind, he continued performing one move after another following the old man’s instruction. By the time he stopped at the move

Ringing Bells and Drums, it was exactly a total of thirty moves. All of a sudden, Linghu Chong felt indescribable joy. On the old man’s face, however, there was no trace of approval whatsoever.

“You got them connected alright, but see how stiff and rigid they are, also very clumsy. Even though you are still far from capable of fighting a master hand, it would be enough to deal with that little chap over there. Go ahead and try them out on him!” he demanded.

Linghu Chong still didn’t quite believe that the old man was his

Grand Uncle-Master, but he was quite convinced that the old man had to be an elite Kung Fu master. His sword pointing down at the ground, he bowed to salute to the old man, then turned to face Tian Boguang.

“Brother Tian, please go ahead!”

“I’ve seen you perform all thirty moves. What’s there to fight about?” Tian Boguang questioned.

“If brother Tian doesn’t want to fight, that’s totally alright. Will you please leave now? I’d like to ask for some more advice from this senior master here. Sorry, can’t be your company now,” Linghu Chong said.

“What are you talking about? Do you expect me to just die for nothing only because you don’t want to go down Mount Huashan with me?” Tian Boguang objected loudly. He turned to the old man.

“Grandmaster Feng, Tian Boguang is only a junior here. I am not worthy to exchange moves with you, the respectful one. If you join in the fight, it would really be beneath your dignity.” The old man nodded his approval with another sigh. He slowly walked by a big rock and sat down.

Tian Boguang felt great relief. “Look out!” he yelled and brought his knife swishing down upon Linghu Chong’s head.

Linghu Chong dodged to the side and stabbed back with his long

sword. The move was the fourth move Sword Interception Stance the old man had told him earlier. Once starting his attack, he poured out many

continuous moves with ease. Some of the moves he used were among the ones named by the old man, and some were outside of those thirty moves the old man had told him. Since he had comprehended the essence of the phrase “floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely,” his sword skills improved dramatically, and the fight went on well over a hundred moves.

All of a sudden, Tian Boguang roared loudly and chopped straight down. Knowing that it would be very difficult to dodge out of that one in time, Linghu Chong snapped his wrist and pointed his long sword toward Tian Boguang’s chest. Tian Boguang turned his knife around and smacked it at the sword. “Clank,” the knife and the sword clashed. Tian Boguang didn’t wait for Linghu Chong to pull back his sword. He simply let go of his own knife and jumped forward. Reaching out with his two hands, he seized Linghu Chong’s throat in a strangle hold. Linghu Chong was almost

suffocated. In the rush, he dropped his long sword as well.

“If you don’t come with me, your old man here will choke you to death.” Tian Boguang yelled out.

He had been calling Linghu Chong a brother earlier with a very respectful tone. After the fierce fight of over a hundred moves, he really lost his temper and started calling himself Linghu Chong’s “old man” after he

seized Linghu Chong’s throat. Not able to breathe, Linghu Chong still shook his head as his face went purple from the choking.

“One hundred moves or two hundred moves, it doesn’t matter. As long as I am winning, you’ll have to go down Mount Huashan with me. The hell with the bet on the thirty moves thing. Your old man I don’t care!” Tian Boguang cursed between his teeth.

Linghu Chong wanted to laugh, but with Tian Boguang’s hands choking onto his throat hard, he couldn’t make any sound.

“You idiot! Your finger can be used as a sword, too. Do you

absolutely have to use a real sword for that Treasures All Over the Room move?” The old man reproved.

Those words worked the magic as a flash lighted in Linghu Chong’s mind. He thrust out with his right hand and used the move Treasures All Over the Room. His middle finger and index finger struck the Tan-Zhong

Acupoint on Tian Boguang’s chest in a jab; Tian Boguang uttered a muffled groan and collapsed onto the ground, his hands letting go of Linghu

Chong’s throat.

Linghu Chong had no idea that such a casual jab would actually

subdue the “Ten Thousand Miles Loner” Tian Boguang, a man who enjoyed great fame for his Kung Fu skills in the martial world, in such an easy manner. He gently rubbed his own throat, which was still hurting uncomfortably from Tian Boguang’s choking, and then looked down at the evil rapist, who laid on the ground huddled up, twitching involuntarily.

Seeing Tian Boguang showing the whites of his eyes and having lost his

consciousness, Linghu Chong found himself deeply amazed and overjoyed. Instantly, he felt tremendous admiration toward the old man. Rushing by the old man’s side, he knelt down and kowtowed. “Grand Uncle-Master! Will you please pardon me! I have treated you with such disrespect.”

“You don’t think I am just swindling and bluffing now?” The old man let out a slight smile.

“I dare not! Grandmaster Feng, I am so fortunate to be able to meet a senior grandmaster of our school! This is so marvelous.” He kowtowed more.

“You can get up now,” the old man Feng Qingyang said.

Only after another three respectful kowtows, Linghu Chong stood up.

Noticing that the old man had a very pale and pallid complexion, looking wan and sallow, he asked, “Grand Uncle-Master, are you hungry? I have

some food in the cave. Let me go get them.” He turned around and headed toward the cave.

“No need for that!” Feng Qingyang shook his head.

He squinted at the sun and then murmured, “The sunshine is so warm!

It has been a long time since I last basked in the wonderful sunshine.” Linghu Chong was taken by surprise, but he dared not ask.

Feng Qingyang threw a glance at the huddled up Tian Boguang on the ground. “You have jabbed onto his Tan-Zhong Acupoint,” he said. “With his mastery of martial arts skills, he will probably regain his consciousness in two hours. By then, he’ll start another round of harassing. Once you beat him one more time, he would have no choice but to behave and leave. After you subdue him, you must force him to swear a deadly oath that he would never mention to anyone that he had seen me.”

“When I won earlier, it was only because I got lucky and took him by surprise. I am still no match for him with my sword skills. To be able to

subdue him…subdue him…,” Linghu Chong murmured. Feng Qingyang shook his head. “You are Yue Buqun’s apprentice. I really shouldn’t teach you any Kung Fu. That day…that day…I swore an oath that I would never fight anyone in the remaining of my life. When I demonstrated the sword moves to you the other night, I just wanted to let you know that if one executes the Huashan Sword School’s Nineteen Stances of the Jade Maiden Sword the right way, how can anyone ever flick the sword out of your grip? I suppose if I don’t make you do the work, I

won’t be able to force a deadly oath out of Tian Boguang, promising not to let out the secret. You, follow me.”

Feng Qingyang walked in the cave and entered the back cave through the hole on the rock wall. Linghu Chong followed in behind him.

“You have studied and memorized all those drawings of Huashan

style sword art on the rock wall. When you used them though, they were all totally off. Alas!” Feng Qingyang pointed at the rock wall and shook his head.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “So when I was studying those drawings here during those many times, Grand Uncle-Master had been

watching me. I guess every time I was simply too focused in studying and didn’t even notice that someone else was actually in the cave as well. If…if Grand Uncle-Master had been an enemy…hmm, if he were an enemy, even if I had found out about it, would I then have any chance of surviving?”

“The chap Yue Buqun is a total moron. You are very good apprentice material, but he turned you into a dumb fool with his teaching.” Feng

Qingyang continued.

Hearing Feng Qingyang’s humiliating words to his respectful Master, Linghu Chong was very displeased.

“Grand Uncle-Master, I don’t want you to teach me any more. I’ll just go outside and force Tian Boguang to swear the oath, promising that he will never let out Grand Uncle-Master’s secret,” he said in a bold tone.

Feng Qingyang was seized by surprise, but it only took him an instant to understand the reason behind. “What if he won’t agree? Are you going to kill him?” he asked dryly.

Linghu Chong hesitated and didn’t know how to answer. He thought that since Tian Boguang had never intended to kill him even when he won the many fights, how could he himself be so cruel to kill Tian Boguang immediately after he got the upper hand?

“You are blaming me for swearing at your Master, aren’t you? Fine. I won’t mention his name any more. He calls me Uncle-Master. It should be alright for me to call him a ‘chap,’ shouldn’t it?” Feng Qingyang asked.

“Grand Uncle-Master, if you stop scolding my respectful Master, of course I will listen to your advice cautiously,” Linghu Chong replied.

“This is almost like I am begging you to learn from me.” Feng Qingyang was amused.

“I dare not. Grand Uncle-Master, I beg for your pardon.” Linghu Chong bowed.

Feng Qingyang pointed at the drawings of the Huashan style sword art on the rock wall and started explaining.

“These moves are indeed the unique moves among our school’s

sword arts. Most of them have long been lost, and even Yue…Yue…hmm… even your Master doesn’t know them. Even though they are brilliant moves, when you use them one move at a time, others would still be able to overcome them….”

Hearing these words, Linghu Chong felt a sudden inspiration and vaguely understood an ultimate principle of sword art. He couldn’t help but show a wild, joyful face. “What have you figured out? Tell me about it.” Feng Qingyang requested.

“Grand Uncle-Master, are you saying that if all the moves become an integral whole, then the enemy would have no way of breaking them?” Linghu Chong stated.

“Didn’t I say that you are good material? You have very good

comprehension.” Feng Qingyang nodded happily. “Those Demon Cult Elders….” He pointed at the staff-wielding figure on the rock wall as he spoke.

“Is that an Elder of the Demon Cult?” Linghu Chong asked in bewilderment.

“Didn’t you know? The ten skeletons are the remains of the Demon Cult Ten Elders,” Feng Qingyang said while pointing at a skeleton on the ground.

“Why did all the Demon Cult Ten Elders fall dead here?” Linghu Chong became quite curious.

“Tian Boguang will wake up in two more hours. If you keep asking about these past events of many years ago, do you think you’ll still have time left to learn some Kung Fu?” Feng Qingyang reproved.

“Right! Right! Grand Uncle-Master, please go on.” Linghu Chong replied.

“Those Demon Cult Elders had truly outstanding and brilliant minds.

They were actually able to defeat the advanced moves of the Five

Mountains Sword Alliance cleanly and completely.” Feng Qingyang sighed. “They didn’t know, however, that the most devastating move in the world is not inside Kung Fu, but in setting up schemes, intrigues, and traps. If one falls into someone’s clever trap, regardless of how brilliant his Kung Fu moves are, it would still be completely useless….” At these words, he raised his head and fell into a daze. Apparently he had remembered many things from the past.

Hearing the bitterness in his tone and seeing the anguish look on his face, Linghu Chong dared not interrupt and only thought to himself, “Could it be true that the Five Mountains Sword Alliance really had ‘no way to win in a fair fight,’ so they tricked the enemy into a trap? Grand Uncle-Master Feng is a member of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance, but he probably didn’t object to such contemptible means. I guess in order to counter the

enemies from the Demon Cult, it is probably necessary to use some contemptible means.”

Feng Qingyang went on talking. “If we judge them by their understanding of advanced Kung Fu theories, these Demon Cult Elders

shouldn’t be counted as ones who have entered the realm of top level Kung Fu. They didn’t know that moves are static, but the one executing the moves is alive. No matter how clever the counter-move is for breaking

static moves, as soon as they encounter moves performed in a lively way, they would feel like their arms and legs are all tied up and would have no other choice but to give themselves up to the opponent’s mercy. You must remember the keyword ‘lively’ here. When you learn a move, you need to learn it in a lively way; when you execute a move, you also need to execute it lively. If you only rigidly adhere to formalities without adding your own lively elements, even if you have mastered thousands or tens of thousands unique moves, as soon as you encounter a true elite master hand, he would still be able to overcome every single one of them.”

Linghu Chong felt tremendous joy in his heart. He was the unrestrained and unconventional type. Each of Feng Qingyang’s word

struck a chord in his heart. He kept agreeing and agreeing, “Yes, yes! One must learn it lively and use it lively.” “Each of the Five Mountains sword schools have countless number of idiots who believed that as long as they become proficient with the sword moves taught by their masters then naturally they would become elite fighters.” He paused the let out a disgruntled snort. “You must have heard of the saying, ‘Once memorizing three hundred poems well, one will be

capable to write poems himself!’ After memorizing others’ poems well, one might be able to write a couple of ragged verses, but without being original in conception, can he ever become a real poet?” Feng Qingyang criticized.

His criticism naturally included Yue Buqun as one of the “idiots” he had mentioned, but since firstly, Linghu Chong felt the comments were quite convincing, and secondly, Feng Qingyang didn’t mention Yue

Buqun’s name specifically, he didn’t argue.

“Learn it lively and use it lively is only the first step. Only when you can fight with no moves, you will eventually reach the realm of a true elite fighter. When you said ‘all the moves become an integral whole, then the enemy would have no way of breaking them’ earlier, you’ve only gotten less than half right. It’s not ‘an integral whole’ but simply no moves. No

matter how hard you work on making the moves an integral whole, as long as there’s a trace of the connection, your enemy would have a flaw to

exploit. If you don’t have any moves at all, then how is your enemy going to break your move?”

Linghu Chong’s heart thumped wildly and even his palms became burning hot as he mumbled, “No move at all, how do you break it? No move at all, how do you break it?” Suddenly, a whole new world he had never seen before or even dreamed about appeared in front of his eyes.

Feng Qingyang continued. “If you want to slice a piece of meat, you need to have the piece of meat before you can slice it; if you want to cut

some firewood, you need to have the firewood before you can cut it; if your enemy wants to break your sword move, he needs to have your sword move before he can break it. When an ordinary person who has never learned any Kung Fu waves a sword wildly, no matter how knowledgeable you are, you still wouldn’t be able to predict where his next thrust or chop will land.

Even someone with the most advanced sword skills still wouldn’t be able to defeat his move. Because there is no move, it’s impossible to break the move. If this person has never learned any Kung Fu, then even though he doesn’t have a sword move, others can still knock him down easily. True first-class sword art, on the other hand, will enable you to control others, not controlled by others.”

He picked up a shinbone from the ground and randomly pointed one end of it at Linghu Chong. “How are you going to break this move of mine?”

Linghu Chong had no idea what move that was. After a pause, he said, “This is not a move, so there’s no way I can break it.”

“That’s correct.” Feng Qingyang smiled. “When a Kung Fu practitioner uses a weapon or throw punches and kicks, he would always have moves. All you need to know is how to overcome it, and once you do know how, you can easily defeat his move and subdue him.”

“But what if the enemy didn’t have any move either?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Then he must be a first-class elite fighter also. The result of the fight could go either way. Maybe you are better, or maybe he’s better,” Feng

Qingyang answered. He let out a sigh and said, “In today’s world, it’s very difficult to find such an elite fighter. If by chance you meet one or two, then you have really good fortune. During my entire life, I’ve only met three of them.”

“Who are these three?” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but ask. Feng Qingyang stared at him for a short while and then split into a

smile. “Among Yue Buqun’s apprentices, there’s actually one who likes to poke his nose everywhere and not willing to devote himself to sword training. Great! Wonderful!”

“Sorry, I am wrong.” Linghu Chong blushed and quickly bowed for forgiveness.

“No, you are not wrong.” Feng Qingyang smiled. “You are a lively lad, just the type to my liking. We don’t have much time left. You go ahead and work on merging all the thirty to forty Huashan style sword art moves together. Think how you can get them going smoothly with no interruption, and then try to forget all of them. You need to forget all of them completely without leaving a single one in your head. Then, a bit later, you can use the Huashan Style Sword Art With No Moves to fight Tian Boguang.”

“Yes!” Linghu Chong answered, feeling half surprised and half pleased.

Linghu Chong studied the drawings on the rock with rapt attention.

During the past several months, he had memorized the Huashan style sword moves on the rock wall well, so he didn’t have to spend any time learning the moves. All he had to do was to try to connect all the distinct and

separate sword moves together.

“Everything must be following the natural rhythm. Act when you have to act and stop when you have to stop. If you simply can’t connect some of them, then don’t connect them. In short, don’t force anything,” Feng Qingyang pointed out.

Linghu Chong nodded. Since all he had to do was to follow the natural flow, it became an easy task for him regardless of connecting them cleverly or clumsily. Soon, he had connected all the thirty to forty moves of Huashan style sword art together. But to merge all of them into one with no traceable rigid gaps was not so easy. He waved his sword, sometimes

slashing to the left, sometimes chopping to the right, without thinking about any moves drawn on the rock wall. He didn’t care if his posture or position was close to the drawing or not and simply followed his own will.

Occasionally when he had a smooth one, he couldn’t help but feeling quite pleased with himself.

He had been in sword training for over ten years. Every time when he practiced, he would always stay very focused with all his heart, not daring to slack in any way. Yue Buqun was a very strict teacher. When his

apprentices practiced forms or sword arts, if anyone’s arm or leg were

slightly off from the perfect position, he would immediately correct them. Everyone’s every move or posture had to be in the absolutely perfect position without a single error to get his approval. Linghu Chong was the first and most senior apprentice, besides, he was always eager to do well in everything and excel others. In order to gain praises from Master and

Master-Wife, he always put in extra efforts to be strict with himself. Feng Qingyang, on the other hand, had taught in a totally opposite way – the more casual the better. That fitted in with his personality just perfectly. He felt the kind of carefree and joy beyond words, and it seemed as if the pleasure was even more enjoyable than drinking ages old good wine. While he was still intoxicated in practicing, Tian Boguang had shouted from outside.

“Brother Linghu, will you please come out so we can have another contest.”

That brought Linghu Chong back to reality. He stopped and stood

still.

“Grand Uncle-Master, do you think this random slashing and

chopping style sword form of mine will enable me to block his fast knife chops?” Linghu Chong asked hopefully.

“If you want to block, of course it won’t help you much. But why do you have to block?” Feng Qingyang said.

Linghu Chong immediately got the idea and the feeling of joy washed over him.

“That’s right. He is begging me to go down Mount Huashan with him, so of course he dared not to kill me. In that case, despite what knife moves he uses, I can simply ignore them and just focus on my own attacks.”

Linghu Chong stepped out of the cave with his sword in his hand and saw Tian Boguang waiting with his knife drawn.

“Brother Linghu, after Grandmaster Feng gave you some knacks and pointers, your sword skills surely improved a lot. However, when you

sealed my point just now, it was only because of my oversight. I am not convinced yet. Let’s have another fight,” Tian Boguang suggested.

“Fine!” Linghu Chong answered as he thrust his sword out in a

crooked manner. The blade wobbled as it moved forward; there was no strength attached in the thrust at all.

“What kind of move is that?” Tian Boguang was bewildered.

Seeing Linghu Chong’s sword getting closer, Tian Boguang was just about to fend it off using his knife when Linghu Chong suddenly pulled his right hand back and jabbed the sword toward an empty space. Then following the jab, Linghu Chong retracted the sword quickly. The sword handle almost struck his own chest when he flicked his wrist, which sent the sword handle to another empty space to his right. Tian Boguang was

even more bewildered. He threw a gentle probing chop cautiously. Linghu Chong didn’t even care to dodge and simply drove his sword tip toward his opponent’s lower stomach in an angle. “How weird!” Tian Boguang shouted as he turned his knife around to block it.

After the two exchanged several moves, Linghu Chong started using the Huashan style sword moves on the rock wall, attacking without any defending, almost as if he was just practicing sword form all by himself.

The continuous attacks sent Tian Boguang into a frantic rush.

“If you decide to ignore this chop of mine again, don’t blame me when I chop your arm off!” Tian Boguang shouted.

“It’s not going to be that easy!” Linghu Chong grinned as he initiated another three thrusts, all attacked from very odd and unusual positions.

Relying on his fast eyes and quick hands, Tian Boguang successfully fended all of them off. Just when he was about to start his counter-attack, Linghu Chong suddenly threw his long sword straight up in the air. Tian Boguang looked up at the sword in the air when suddenly a heavy punch

landed squarely on his nose. Blood immediately gushed out from his nose. While Tian Boguang was still in shock, Linghu Chong used his hand as a sword and stabbed it out, and it struck Tian Boguang on his Tan-Zhong

Acupoint once again. Tian Boguang slowly collapsed down, his face covered with a mixture of confusion and anger.

Linghu Chong turned around and Feng Qingyang called him back into the cave.

“You just got yourself another three hours for sword training. He is hurt even worse this time. He won’t be able to wake up as easily as the last time. Only that when you fight him the next time, maybe he’ll go all out

and might not yield to you any more. You must be very careful. Go ahead and try out those Hengshan style sword art moves.” Feng Qingyang

suggested. After getting more pointers and advice from Feng Qingyang, Linghu Chong used each move as if there was no move – with the essence of the move but without the form of it. Those unique Hengshan style sword moves by themselves were already extremely unpredictable and volatile, now it

was even more difficult to find any trace of gap among them.

After Tian Boguang woke up, the two of them fought another seventy to eighty moves before Tian Boguang got knocked down once again.

It was already quite late in the day. Linghu Chong placed Tian

Boguang, who was unable to move at all because of the sealed acupoints, behind some big rocks when Lu Dayou brought food up the cliff, while Feng Qingyang stayed inside the back cave.

“Sixth apprentice brother, I am having some real good appetites these days. Will you please bring some extra food tomorrow?” Linghu Chong

asked.

Lu Dayou could tell that his big apprentice brother’s face glowed with health and radiating vigor, quite different from the depressed and upset one in the last couple months. He couldn’t help with his joy. He also noticed that Linghu Chong’s robe was soaked with sweat and thought that Linghu

Chong must have been practicing assiduously with his sword techniques. “Great! I’ll bring up a large basket full of food tomorrow,” he said.

After Lu Dayou left, Linghu Chong opened Tian Boguang’s sealed

acupoints and invited him and Feng Qingyang to have dinner together. Feng Qingyang had enough after only a half bowl full of rice. Tian Boguang on the other hand, felt very aggrieved and had no appetite at all, raking the food in his mouth and pouring out streams of abuses at the same time.

Suddenly, with a loud crack, the china bowl in his hand smashed into pieces from the tremendous forces coming from his grip. Broken china pieces and rice fell all over his clothes and the floor. “Brother Tian, why are you being so hard on a rice bowl?” Linghu Chong burst into loud laughter.

“Damn it, I am being hard on you,” Tian Boguang yelled in rage. “When we fought, you took advantage of me and spared no effort in

defending yourself whatsoever, only because I didn’t want to kill you. Tell me, you think this is fair? If I hadn’t given ground to you, I’d have chopped your head off within thirty moves. Humph! Humph! Damn the little… little….”

Obviously he had wanted to scold Yilin, the little nun, but for some reason he stopped short, instead, he stood up and drew his knife.

“Linghu Chong, come and fight me again if you’ve got guts,” he yelled out.

“Fine!” Linghu Chong replied and stepped forth, sword in hand. Using the same strategy again, Linghu Chong paid no attention to

Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops and simply stabbed his sword at Tian Boguang with clever moves. But this time Tian Boguang was quite

relentless. After they exchanged about twenty moves or so, he threw two

chops – one landed on Linghu Chong’s thigh and the other one left a cut on Linghu Chong’s left arm. He had shown some mercy after all – neither of the two wounds was critical. In astonishment accompanied by great pain, Linghu Chong found himself in a very awkward situation. His sword techniques became very sluggish and only a few move later, Tian Boguang kicked him down to the ground.

“Do you want more fights?” Placing the sharp blade right next to Linghu Chong’s throat, Tian Boguang yelled. “Humph, I’ll make sure to leave a couple of cuts on you every time, so even though you won’t die, your blood will drain and your arms and legs will look really good.” “Of course I want more fights! Even if I can’t beat you, do you think my Grand Uncle-Master Feng would just look on with folded arms and let you ride roughshod?” Linghu Chong rebuffed with a smile.

“He is a senior grandmaster. He won’t pick a fight with me,” Tian Boguang said as he moved his knife away.

Fearing that Feng Qingyang might start a fight out of anger because he had wounded Linghu Chong, Tian Boguang was actually quite

apprehensive. Even though Feng Qingyang looked very old, he sure wasn’t rotten. From Feng’s piercing eyes, Tian Boguang could tell that Feng must have excellent inner energy, not mentioning his god-like sword skills. He figured that Feng didn’t even have to kill – all Feng needed to do was to drive him down Mount Huashan, and that would be just as bad.

Linghu Chong tore a piece of his robe off and used it to wrap up the two wounds before entering the cave.

“Grant Uncle-Master, that chap has changed his strategy and decided to cut me for real now! If my right arm gets wounded and can’t use a sword anymore, it would be impossible to beat him.” Linghu Chong shook his head in a wry smile.

“Luckily it’s late already. You can tell him that you’ll fight him again tomorrow morning. Let’s not sleep tonight. I’ll use the entire night to teach you three sword moves,” Feng Qingyang instructed.

“Three moves?” Linghu Chong repeated, not understanding why a mere three sword moves would take up an entire night to learn.

“You look like a smart one. I wonder if you are really that smart or only look like one. If you are truly smart, then you might be able to learn the three sword moves within the night. If you aren’t smart and only have ordinary comprehension, then…then…there would be no need to fight him again tomorrow morning, and you can simply admit your failure and follow him off Mount Huashan!” Feng Qingyang said.

Hearing those words from his Grand Uncle-Master, Linghu Chong knew that the three sword moves must be very extraordinary and

sophisticated. That actually aroused his willingness to take on the challenge.

“Grand Uncle-Master,” he said fearlessly, “if I can’t learn these three sword moves within one night, then I’d rather die from his blade than

surrender and leave Mount Huashan with him.”

“Good.” Feng Qingyang smiled. He raised his head and thought for quite a while before finally saying, “To learn three moves within one night is really asking for the impossible. You won’t need the second move just yet. We can work on only the first one and the third one. But…but…many of the variations in the third move come from the second move. Very well! Let’s ignore all the related variations and see if it will work.”

He was more like talking to himself. But after thinking about it for a moment, he shook his head.

Seeing the worried look on Feng Qingyang’s face, Linghu Chong became very anxious. The harder it is to learn a type of martial arts, of course, the more powerful it will be. Then he heard Feng Qingyang murmuring again.

“If he forgets one of the three hundred and sixty variations in the first move, then he would get the third move wrong. That’s not going to work.”

Linghu Chong was astonished when he heard that only the first move already contained three hundred and sixty variations.

Feng Qingyang started counting with his fingers. “Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu-Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You. Jia turns into Bing, Bing turns into Geng, Geng turns into Kui. Zi connects Chou, Chen connects Si, Wu connects Wei. Wind to thunder is one change, mountain to lake is one change, water to fire is one change. Qian and Kun activate each other, Zhen and Dui activate each

other, Li and Si activate each other. Three increases to five, five increases to nine….”

The more he counted the more worried he looked. Finally he said with a heavy sigh, “Chong, when I learned this move, it took me three

months. To expect you to learn two moves in one night is really like a joke. Think about it, ‘Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang….’”

At those words, he stopped talking and apparently was lost in deep thought. After a long while, he asked.

“Now, where was I?”

“Grand Uncle-Master, you said Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu- Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You,” Linghu

Chong answered.

“Ha, you’ve got good memory. What’s next?” Feng Qingyang raised his eyebrows.

“Grand Uncle-Master said, ‘Jia turns into Bing, Bing turns into Geng, Geng turns into Kui….’” Linghu Chong recited along and was actually able to repeat almost half of what Feng Qingyang said, but he could no longer remember the rest of it.

“Have you learned the General Index of the Dugu Nine Swords before?” Feng Qingyang was astonished.

“No. I have never learned anything like that before. I had no idea that this is called the Dugu Nine Swords.” Linghu Chong replied.

“If you haven’t learned it before, how come you are able to recite it?” Feng Qingyang asked. “I just memorized it when you read it just now,” Linghu Chong answered.

“Hey, this might work!” Feng Qingyang slapped his thigh in

excitement. “Although you won’t be able to learn the whole thing, you can simply memorize it. It would be alright if we only learn half of the third move. Now remember these: Gui-Mei tends toward Wu-Wang, Wu-Wang tends toward Tong-Ren, Tong-Ren tends toward Da-You….”

He went on and on and recited over three hundred words before finally saying, “Give it a try. Recite it.”

Linghu Chong had been staying very focused trying to memorize the script. After getting the go, he started reciting and only missed ten words or so. Feng Qingyang corrected them. The second time when Linghu Chong recited them, he only missed seven words. By the time he finished reciting the script a third time, he didn’t miss any word at all.

“Excellent! Excellent!” Feng Qingyang was very pleased. He then taught Linghu Chong another section of the script about three hundred

words long. After Linghu Chong memorized those well, he taught the next section of about three hundred words to Linghu Chong.

The General Index of the Dugu Nine Swords had a total of over three thousand words, besides, the contents of the script weren’t really connected to each other logically, so even though Linghu Chong had extraordinary memorizing abilities, he still couldn’t help but remember parts of it while forgetting other parts of it. It took him over two hours and many reminders from Feng Qingyang to finally memorize the entire script with no errors.

Feng Qingyang made him recite the script from the very beginning to the very end another three times and was finally convinced that he had memorized all of them. “The General Index is the key and foundation of the Dugu Nine Swords. Even though you have memorized it at the moment, you only did it by ear for the sake of saving time while having no idea about the theories behind. You can forget about it as easily. From now on, you must recite it days and nights.”

“Yes!” Linghu Chong answered.

“The first move of the Dugu Nine Swords, General Index Stance, has many variations to implement the General Index Script. Let’s not rush into that one yet. The second move, Sword-breaking Stance, can be used to overcome sword arts from every single school or cult in the world. No need to rush into that one either. The third move, Knife-breaking Stance, can be used to overcome knife moves of Single Knife, Double Knives, Willow- Leaf Cutlass, Ghost-Beheaded Saber, Large Cleaver, Horse-Cutting Blade, and so on. Tian Boguang is using the Fast Knife Chops technique out of the Single Knife moves. Let’s focus on learning the part about how to overcome his knife techniques specifically tonight.”

Realizing that the second move of the Dugu Nine Swords could overcome all the sword arts from all the schools and clans out there, and the third move of the Dugu Nine Swords could overcome all the knife moves, while feeling stunned, Linghu Chong couldn’t help but show his joy.

“The nine stances must be very brilliant. I have never heard of it before.” Because of the great excitement, his voice trembled.

“Your Master probably has never seen the moves of the Dugu Nine Swords, but he sure has heard about the name Dugu Nine Swords before. He just doesn’t want to mention it to you, that’s all,” Feng Qingyang said.

“Why’s that?” Linghu Chong asked with surprise.

Feng Qingyang didn’t answer the question and went on explaining the moves. “The third move, Knife-breaking Stance, stresses on using light to resist heavy and using fast to overcome slow. The chap Tian Boguang’s fast knife chops are surely very fast, so you will have to be even faster than him. For a young lad like you, it’s probably ok to try to be faster than him; you might win or you might lose. There’s no guaranteed success. For an old rotten folk like me, if I still wanted to be faster than him, then the only

solution would be launching my attack before he even starts his. If you can foresee what kind of a move he will be using and then scramble before him, before the enemy even raised his hand, your sword is already pointing at his vital parts. That way no matter how fast your enemy is, you will still be faster.”

“Yes, yes! So it teaches about how to anticipate the enemy beforehand.” Linghu Chong nodded again and again.

“Good, good! You got it!” Feng Qingyang praised as he applauded. “‘Anticipating the enemy beforehand’ is precisely the key to this set of

sword techniques. Before anyone executes a move, there will always be many signs that you can catch. If he plans to slash toward your left arm

with his next chop, he will certainly cast a glance at your left arm, and if his knife is in the lower right part at the time, then of course he will raise his knife in an arc before swishing his blade down in an angle.”

Feng Qingyang went on and explained all the variations in the third sword stance that would overcome fast knife chops, one by one in great

details. Linghu Chong felt so relaxed and happy as he listened in. He almost felt like that he was a country boy who had just entered the inner circle of the royal palace, and every single thing he saw or heard was new and interesting. The third sword stance had very complicated variations, and

within the limited time, Linghu Chong was only able to comprehend about twenty percent of it. He simply worked hard on memorizing the rest. The teacher taught enthusiastically and the student studied

energetically; both of them lost track of time completely. Suddenly, Tian Boguang shouted outside of the cave.

“Brother Linghu, it’s daybreak now! Are you awake yet?” “Wow, it’s daybreak already,” Linghu Chong uttered.

“It’s a pity that we had so little time.” Feng Qingyang sighed.

“You’ve learned very quickly, way beyond my expectation already. Go ahead and fight him,” he said.

“Yes.” Linghu Chong answered. He closed his eyes and went through the gist of all the things he had learned during the night in his head.

Suddenly he opened his eyes and asked.

“Grand Uncle-Master, I still have one more question. Why are all the variations attacking techniques with no defending ones at all?”

“Dugu Nine Swords, once stepping in, never steps back! Every technique is an attacking technique. When you force your enemy to have no other choice but to defend himself, of course there’s no need to defend yourself. Senior master Dugu Seeking-A-Loss, who created this set of

sword techniques, had a name ‘Seeking-A-Loss.’ He had been seeking a loss all his life and still couldn’t get one. Once the sword techniques were executed, he would become unmatched anywhere in the world. Why would

he have to defend? If anyone could have forced him to draw his sword back and defend himself, the respectful master would have burst with joy and be delighted beyond measure.” Feng Qingyang said.

“Dugu Seeking-A-Loss, Dugu Seeking-A-Loss,” Linghu Chong muttered as he imagined how the senior master had wandered about the Martial World, unmatched anywhere, with only his sword, and couldn’t even find a single one who was capable of forcing him into a defending stance. That was truly admirable. “Hurry up! Come out! Let me give you two more cuts!” Tian Boguang’s voice rose again.

“I am coming!” Linghu Chong replied.

“I am very concerned about one thing right now.” Feng Qingyang knitted his eyebrows together. “When you go out to fight him, if he injures your right arm or right wrist as soon as the fight breaks out, then you would be incapable to fight and leave yourself at his mercy. I am quite worried

about that.”

“I’ll do my best, Grand Uncle-Master! You didn’t waste all that time teaching me with all your heart. I won’t let you down no matter what,” Linghu Chong said fearlessly, in high spirits.

As soon as he stepped out of the cave, he immediately put on a dejected and apathetic face. After a yawn, a stretch, and then some rubbing into his eyes, he finally said to Tian Boguang.

“Hey, brother Tian, you got up too early. Didn’t you have a good rest last night?”

In the mean time, he was actually thinking to himself, “All I need is to hold out through this current one. If I get to study several more hours, I would never be afraid of him again.”

“Brother Linghu,” Tian Boguang said as he raised his knife, “I really don’t intend to hurt you, but you are simply too stubborn and won’t go down Mount Huashan with me. If we continue fighting like this, I’ll be forced to add ten or twenty more cuts on you and have you beaten black and blue. Wouldn’t that be too bad for you?”

Linghu Chong suddenly got an idea. “You don’t even need to add ten or twenty more cuts on me. All you need to do is to cut my right arm off or injure my right hand, so I can’t use a sword. Then wouldn’t I be at your disposal as you wish? Either to kill me or take me prisoner?” “I only want you to admit your loss. Why do I want to injure your right arm or right hand?” Tian Boguang shook his head.

Linghu Chong was overjoyed, yet he put on a very depressed face. “I am afraid that you are just saying it right now. Once you get mad because of your losses, you would spare no effort in using all kinds of cruel and vicious tactics,” he complained.

“You don’t have to goad me. First, I have no grudges against you;

secondly, I respect you as a true man with integrity; thirdly, if I injure you too badly, I am afraid someone might come and give me trouble. Go

ahead!” Tian Boguang said.

“Alright! Brother Tian, please go ahead.” Linghu Chong replied.

Tian Boguang gave a fake slash and immediately followed it with a tilted chop. His blade flashed in the sunshine with blinding reflections and the chop looked very vicious. Linghu Chong was about to overcome it with one of the variations in the third sword stance out of the Dugu Nine Swords, but Tian Boguang’s knife moves came too fast, by the time he was going to attack, the knife move had already changed. He was just one step too slow.

“How terrible! How terrible! I can’t even be fast enough to use the newly learned sword techniques. Grand Uncle-Master must be calling me an idiot right now,” Linghu Chong groaned inwardly in great worries.

After a few more moves, cold sweats started rolling down Linghu

Chong’s forehead. But in Tian Boguang’s eyes, his sword techniques looked extremely fierce, and every move seemed as if it was the exact restraint to Tian’s knife moves. Tian Boguang couldn’t help but feel worried.

“He could have killed me with the last several sword techniques. Why did he slow it down just a little bit intentionally?” he thought to himself.

“Oh, I got it. He is being lenient and wants to beat me into a retreat in the face of difficulties. But even though I see the difficulties, I can’t simply retreat. I have to hold out with all my might.”

Because of these thoughts, with every chop, he dared not to use all his strength and made sure he would always have extra energy left in case of an emergency. The two dreaded each other and both fought in a very cautious manner.

After a while, Tian Boguang gradually increased his knife chopping speed, and Linghu Chong also became more familiar with the variations of the Dugu Nine Swords third sword stance. While lights of the knife and the sword flashed, the two fought faster and faster.

Suddenly Tian Boguang let out a loud roar as he threw a kick with his right foot, which struck Linghu Chong in the stomach. Linghu Chong fell down facing up.

In the split of a second, Linghu Chong thought, “All I need is another day and night. This time tomorrow I am sure I can beat him.” He let go of his sword, shut his eyes tight, held his breath, and pretended to be knocked out cold.

Seeing that Linghu Chong laid on the ground unconscious, Tian

Boguang was stunned. But knowing that Linghu Chong was cunning and crafty, he dared not to bend over to check, afraid that Linghu Chong might jump up and attack all of a sudden to seek a victory from a defeat. So he

crossed his blade in front of him and then took a couple of steps closer. “Brother Linghu? Are you alright?” he called out.

He called a few more times and found Linghu Chong finally regaining himself slowly with little breathing.

“Let’s…let’s fight again.” Linghu Chong said in a trembling voice.

He struggled to stand up, but half way up, his left leg gave out and he fell on the ground again. “You are not going to make it. Why don’t you have a good rest for a day and then follow me down Mount Huashan tomorrow?” Tian Boguang suggested.

Linghu Chong didn’t express any opinion of his and pushed the ground with one hand, trying to stand up while panting hard.

With no more doubts, Tian Boguang took a step forward and grabbed onto Linghu Chong’s right arm to prop him up, but when he took the step forward, his foot “happened” to step on top of Linghu Chong’s long sword on the ground, and while guarding himself with the knife in his right hand, his grip also happened to grab onto a acupoint on Linghu Chong’s right arm to make sure Linghu Chong couldn’t play any tricks. Linghu Chong’s entire body weight hung onto Tian Boguang’s left arm and he appeared to be

completely weak and frail.

“Who asked for your help? Damn it!” Linghu Chong swore and then limped back into the cave.

“Hey, you just gained an entire day and night without any extra effort.

Don’t you think it was a bit despicable and shameless?” Feng Qingyang said with a smile.

“Well, when you are dealing with despicable and shameless people, I suppose a small despicable and shameless trick would be acceptable.” Linghu Chong laughed.

“What if you are dealing with a gentleman?” Feng Qingyang asked with a serious face.

“A gentleman?” Linghu Chong was taken by surprise and became speechless.

“What are you going to do if you are dealing with a gentleman?” Feng Qingyang fixed his piercing eyes on Linghu Chong’s face and asked coldly. “Well, even though he is a gentleman, if he wants to kill me, I can’t just let him. When I have to, I guess I will have to use a little bit of the despicable and shameless tricks,” Linghu Chong answered.

Feng Qingyang was delighted beyond measurement. “Great! Great! If you can say that, then you are not a hypocrite who only pretends to do good,” he said loudly. “A true man does things to his own like, just like floating clouds and flowing water – natural and smooth, come and go freely. Rules of the Martial World or regulations of schools and clans are all complete bull!”

Linghu Chong let out a slight smile. Every word of Feng Qingyang had struck a chord in his heart and made him feel indescribable joy. But

since Master had been repeatedly admonishing him that even if one had to give up his own life, he should never defame the great reputation of the

Huashan Sword School by breaking school rules or violating regulations of the Martial World, he really couldn’t echo Grand Uncle-Master’s point publicly; besides, the words “hypocrite who only pretends to do good”

seemed to be satirizing his Master’s nickname of “Gentleman Sword,” so he only let out a slight smile and didn’t chime in.

Feng Qingyang reached out with his wizened fingers and stroked Linghu Chong’s hair gently, a bright smile blossoming on his face.

“Among Yue Buqun’s apprentices, there are actually good talents like you. That chap does have some taste. He wasn’t a complete loser.” The

“chap” he had mentioned of course meant Yue Buqun.

“Kid, you really suit my taste. Come on, let’s practice some more of Great Hero Dugu’s first sword stance and the third sword stance.” Feng

Qingyang patted on Linghu Chong’s shoulder.

Feng Qingyang went ahead and picked some key issues in the first sword stance of the Dugu Nine Swords to explain to Linghu Chong. After Linghu Chong comprehended them, he then explained in detail the related variations in the third sword stance with both words and gestures. There were some long swords in the back cave, so both of them used Huashan

style long swords to demonstrate and perform. Linghu Chong memorized everything with all his heart, and every time when he had a question, he

would ask it right away. Because they had plenty of time during the day, the learning process wasn’t as intense as the night before, and each stance and variation could be explained and demonstrated in great details.

After dinner, Linghu Chong slept for four hours and then continued with the learning. The next morning, Tian Boguang was convinced that Linghu Chong had been injured pretty badly the previous day, so he didn’t even press with his shouts outside this time. Linghu Chong was just happy that he could continue learning sword techniques at the back cave. By the time of about two o’clock in the afternoon, Linghu Chong had learned all the variations in the third sword stance of the Dugu Nine Swords

completely.

“It’s no big deal if you still can’t beat him today. If you get to study for another day and night, I am sure you will win tomorrow no matter

what,” Feng Qingyang declared.

Linghu Chong nodded and then walked out of the cave slowly with the long sword left by a senior grandmaster of the Huashan Sword School in hand. When he saw Tian Boguang looking into the distance from the

edge of the cliff, he put on a pretended surprised face.

“Why, brother Tian? How come you are still here?”

“I am waiting for you. Sorry about the offense yesterday. Are you feeling better today?”

“I didn’t see anything getting better. The wound on my leg from your knife chop is still hurting really badly.” “Ha-ha, that day when we fought in Hengyang Town, your wounds were a lot more severe than today, yet you never said anything to give the impression of weakness. I know you have a whole bag of tricks. When you strike a pose to show your weakness, you probably are thinking about a

surprise attack. I am not going to fall for it,” Tian Boguang said with a smile.

“You have already fallen for it. Even if you can figure it out right now, it would still be too late!” Linghu Chong’s face split into a big smile. “Brother Tian, look out!”

At the exact moment of his last word, Linghu Chong thrust his sword at Tian Boguang’s chest. Tian Boguang raised his knife hurriedly to parry it, but his knife hit nothing. Meanwhile, Linghu Chong’s second thrust had

arrived.

“Excellent speed!” Tian Boguang praised as he crossed his knife to block the attack, but Linghu Chong had already launched his third and forth thrusts.

“I’ve got some even faster ones,” Linghu Chong declared.

He immediately thrust out the fifth and the sixth attacks. Once he

started his attacks, each thrust was followed by another continuous thrust, and each thrust was faster than the previous one. He had really grasped the essence of the Dugu Nine Swords – once stepping in, never step back, and every thrust is an attack.

After ten moves or so, Tian Boguang became terror-stricken. He had no clue how to fend off the endless of attacks. Every time when Linghu

Chong lunge a thrust, he would take a step back. After another ten thrusts, he had retreated to the very brink of the cliff. Linghu Chong didn’t slow down his attack one bit and with four whistling sounds, he lunged another four thrusts, all of which pointing at Tian Boguang’s vital parts. Tian Boguang worked his best and parried two of the thrusts away, but could not fend off the third thrust in any way. He stepped back with his left foot but his foot only landed on emptiness. He knew clearly that it was a bottomless abyss behind him and anyone falling down it would be smashed into pieces. At the critical moment, he chopped down at the ground with all his strength and was able to stable himself right on the edge. By then, the fourth thrust from Linghu Chong had arrived and the tip of the sword stopped inches

short from his throat.

Tian Boguang’s face was as white as a sheet of paper. Linghu Chong didn’t let out a sound either and simply remained still with the sword tip right next to Tian’s throat.

“Go ahead and kill me. What are you waiting for?” Tian Boguang yelled angrily after a long silence.

Linghu Chong pulled his right hand back and leapt several big steps backward.

“Brother Tian, you just had an oversight and permitted me to take the initiative. This one doesn’t count. Let’s fight again,” he said.

Tian Boguang let out a loud snort and then waved his knife madly in a thunderstorm-like attack toward Linghu Chong.

“I’ll attack first this time. I am not going to let you take advantage again,” he shouted.

Seeing the fierce chop of the steel blade coming toward him, Linghu Chong jabbed his sword in an angle toward Tian Boguang’s lower stomach while turning his upper body to dodge away from the sharp knife blade.

Realizing that Linghu Chong’s thrust was quickly approaching him, Tian Boguang hurriedly turned his knife around and smacked it toward Linghu Chong’s sword. Relying on his own exceptional strength, he thought that as soon as the knife and the sword collided, for sure he would be able to knock the long sword out of Linghu Chong’s grip.

With the first thrust Linghu Chong was already able to take on the initiative. The second and the third thrust shot out continuously. Each thrust was accurate and effective, and his sword tip was never a second apart from his opponent’s vital parts.

Tian Boguang didn’t have enough time to parry off the attacks and had to take one step back after another. Who would have expected that after ten moves or so, he actually followed the same old disastrous road and once again retreated to the very edge of the cliff?

Linghu Chong slashed down with his sword and forced Tian Boguang to wave his knife down to guard his lower portion body. At the meantime he reached out with his left hand and struck out in a claw hand. The claw hand struck with perfect timing and broke through from a flaw in Tian Boguang’s defense line. Linghu Chong held the claw hand still, when his fingers were only two inches from Tian Boguang’s Tan-Zhong Acupoint on his chest. He had sealed Tian Boguang’s Tan-Zhong Acupoint twice before. Tian

Boguang knew very well, that if Linghu Chong had struck out with his claw hand, he would have collapsed and his body would have fallen into the bottomless abyss this time instead of falling onto the ground. When Linghu Chong held his hand still, he was obviously giving ground.

The two both stayed still for a brief moment before Linghu Chong once again leapt back to yield.

Tian Boguang sat on a rock and meditated a short while with his eyes shut. Suddenly he shouted a loud roar as he launched his attack, chopping down vertically with mighty force. This time he took the surroundings into consideration and made sure his back was facing the mountain. He figured that even if he were forced into retreat, he would end up retreating into the cave. And without worrying about falling down the cliff, he could really fight it out.

By now Linghu Chong had a good grasp of the various variations in Tian Boguang’s knife moves. When Tian’s chop came, he dodged to the right, and at the meantime, slashed his long sword toward Tian Boguang’s left shoulder. Tian Boguang circled his knife back to block, but Linghu

Chong had already retracted his sword and thrust it at his left waist. Tian Boguang’s left arm was only less than a foot away from his left waist.

When he had circled his knife back, he was actually defending and launching a counter-attack at the same time, and to be able to execute his counter-attack, he had attached much strength with the move, which sent the knife chopping out. In a hurry, he didn’t have enough time to pull his

knife back to guard his waist, so with no other choice, he took a half step to his right. Linghu Chong threw another thrust at Tian’s right cheek. Tian

Boguang hurriedly raised his knife to block when Linghu Chong’s sword suddenly pointed at his left leg. Not able to block this one in time, either, Tian Boguang had to take another step to his right.

Linghu Chong continued with endless thrusts, all of which aimed at Tian Boguang’s left side and forced him to retreat to his right one step after another. After about ten steps, Tian Boguang found himself near the end of the cliff where a big rock blocked his retreating route. Leaning his back

against the rock wall, Tian Boguang simply waved his knife all around himself and paid no attention to how Linghu Chong might thrust his sword out. Tearing sounds came into his ears continuously as Linghu Chong’s

sword slashed six times on his left sleeve, left side of the robe, and the left leg of his pants. The entire six slashes only left cuts on his clothing without really touching his skin. Tian Boguang knew too well that any one of the

six slashes could have cut his belly open or cut off his arm and leg. In the instant, Tian Boguang felt so disheartened and dispirited that it seemed as if all his hopes had died out. In unspeakable despair, he spewed out a mouthful of blood.

Within the short moment, Linghu Chong had succeeded in forcing Tian Boguang to the very edge between life and death three times in a roll. Linghu Chong almost couldn’t believe it, himself. Just a few days ago, his opponent still had much superior Kung Fu than him, yet right now he had taken the lead and had his opponent completely in his power. He had won so easily that he didn’t even have to use all his strength. Although he maintained his composure, deep in his heart, he was really enlightened beyond words. By the time Tian Boguang spurted out a mouthful of blood after the crushing defeat, remorse welled up in Linghu Chong’s heart.

“Brother Tian,” he said, “victories and defeats are normal and

common. Why are you taking it so hard? Didn’t I lose to you many times before?”

Tian Boguang threw his knife down and shook his head. “Senior grandmaster Feng has miraculous sword skills. No one will be a match for him in the entire world. I will never be a match for you again.”

“Brother Tian, you said it right. It was all because of Grand Uncle-

Master Feng’s great advice, I was able to gain victory.” Linghu Chong picked up the knife and handed it back respectfully with both hands. “Grand Uncle-Master Feng hopes that you can grant him a request.”

“My life is at your mercy, what’s there to talk about?” Tian Boguang didn’t take the knife and mocked in a sad tone.

“Grand Uncle-Master has withdrawn from society and lived a hermit’s life for many years. He prefers not to be disturbed by vulgar people. When you, brother Tian, leaves Mount Huashan, would you please not mention the respectful Grand Uncle-Master’s name to anyone? I would really appreciate that,” Linghu Chong said.

“Why don’t you just stab me with your sword to rid the witness?

Wouldn’t that be a lot easier?” Tian Boguang mocked coldly.

Linghu Chong took two steps back and slid his sword back to the sheath.

“Brother Tian, earlier when your Kung Fu skills were way ahead of mine, you could have whacked me with a single chop, and then this would never have happened. I am only asking a favor from you to not tell anyone else the whereabouts of my Grand Uncle-Master Feng. I dare not to mean any intimidation or offense,” he explained sincerely.

“Fine. I won’t.” Tian Boguang agreed.

“Many thanks to you, brother Tian!” Linghu Chong bowed deeply down.

“I have come to invite you down Mount Huashan as instructed. I guess that’s not going to work now, but we are not done yet. I probably will never be able to beat you in a fight again in this life. I am not giving up though. This concerns my own life, so I would have no choice but to keep pestering you. You can’t blame me for not being a true man. Brother Linghu, farewell for now.” At the last word, Tian Boguang cupped his hands with a salute and then walked off.

Linghu Chong remembered the deadly poison that was planted in Tian Boguang’s body. After Tian left Mount Huashan, the poison would soon become active and kill him. After so many fierce fights with him,

Linghu Chong felt as if they were much closer unwittingly. He almost

called out with an impulse, “I’ll go with you.” Then he remembered that he was still being punished on the “Cliff of Contemplation”, and without

Master’s permission, he was not allowed to even take a step off the cliff. Besides, Tian was a rapist who did all kinds of evil. If he had left together with Tian, wouldn’t he be wallowing in the mire with Tian? That would

surely bring disgrace and ruin upon him and lead to endless trouble. With those thoughts, he held the words back and simply looked on as Tian

Boguang descended down the path.

Linghu Chong went back into the cave and bowed down to the ground.

“Grand Uncle-Master, you not only saved my life, but also taught me superb sword techniques. How can I ever repay you for the kindness and grace?”

“Superb sword techniques, superb sword techniques! Hmm, it’s still far from that.” Feng Qingyang let out a smile, yet the smile was really in a mood of loneliness and depression.

“May I make bold to ask Grand Uncle-Master to teach me all of the Dugu Nine Swords techniques?” Linghu Chong pleaded.

“Are you sure you won’t regret it later for learning the Dugu Nine Swords?” Feng Qingyang asked.

Linghu Chong was confused for a moment, thinking that why would he regret it later, then he quickly found an answer and thought, “I see. The Dugu Nine Swords are not sword techniques from our own school. Grand Uncle-Master meant that Master might not approve it and punish me once he finds out about it. But Master never restricts me from learning other

school’s techniques for references. He has said before that stones from other hills may serve to polish the jade on this one – advice from others may help one overcome one’s shortcomings. Besides, I have already learned many

Heng-Shan, Hengshan, Taishan, and Songshan Sword Schools’ sword moves from the drawings on the rock wall. I even learned some Demon Cult Ten Elders’ Kung Fu. The Dugu Nine Swords Kung Fu is so magnificent. It is the kind of unraveled skill that us martial arts practitioner would crave about even in our dreams. I am really very lucky to have a

senior grandmaster in our school who is willing to teach it to me.”

“This is the most fortunate thing in my entire life. I would only feel grateful, never regrets,” he said as he knelt down.

“Very well, I will teach you then. If I don’t teach the Dugu Nine Swords to you, there probably wouldn’t be Dugu Nine Swords left in this world a few years from now,” Feng Qingyang said with a smile.

For a moment, his face showed traces of great delight, but soon they were replaced with a dreary expression. After a long pause, he finally

continued.

“Tian Boguang definitely won’t just give up so easy. Even if he decides to come back again, it’s going to be at least ten to fifteen days from now. Your Kung Fu is already better than his, and you certainly have more tricks than he does. I don’t think you’ll ever be afraid of him again. We have plenty of time now, so you must study from the very beginning to

ensure a solid foundation.”

This time Feng Qingyang went through the script of the General Index Stance, the first stance of the Dugu Nine Swords, one sentence at a time, and explained in great details bundled with various variations that

were implementations of the script. Linghu Chong had simply memorized the script by ear without understanding most of the ideas and theories behind it. Now with Feng Qingyang’s calm and unhurried explanation, he was able to comprehend many principles of advanced-level Kung Fu and several brilliant and profound variations every moment of it. He couldn’t

help but show his great happiness and great admiration throughout the time. The old and the young went over the brilliant sword techniques in the

Dugu Nine Swords atop the “Cliff of Contemplation.” They started from General Index Stance and went on with Sword-breaking Stance, Knife- breaking Stance, Spear-breaking Stance, Mace-breaking Stance, Whip- breaking Stance, Palm-breaking Stance, and Missile-breaking Stance all the way till the ninth stance, Energy-breaking Stance.

The Spear-breaking Stance included techniques to overcome long weapons such as long-handled spear, long-handled halberd, snake-shaped spear, staff, fanged cudgel, white wax stick, Buddhist monk’s staff, and

Buddhist monk’s spade.

The Mace-breaking Stance was used to overcome short weapons such as steel club, iron mace, acupoint-sealing peg, crutches, Emei1 sting, dagger, war axe, iron plate, octagonal hammer, and iron awl.

The Whip-breaking stance was able to overcome flexible weapons such as long cord, whip, three-sectioned staff, chain spear, iron chain, fishing net, and meteor hammer.

Although each move was just one stance, it had endless variations.

The more Linghu Chong learned, the more powerful it became when he

comprehended the connections between each stance. The last three stances were the most difficult ones.

The Palm-breaking Stance overcame Kung Fu skills related to one’s fists, legs, fingers, and palms. If the opponent were brave enough to fight against a sword with bare hands, he had to have superb Kung Fu skills and

that using a weapon or not was really no difference for him any more. There are many fist forms, leg forms, finger forms, and palm forms in the world,

and all of them are very complex. The Palm-breaking Stance included techniques to overcome boxing and grappling, joint manipulation and

acupoint sealing, demon claw and tiger claw hands, iron sand divine palm, and the type of barehanded Kung Fu skills. The word “Missile” in the name of the Missile-breaking Stance included the many different kinds of missiles and projectiles. To be able to learn this stance, the practitioner must first learn the skill of distinguishing the type of the missile by ear. He not only should be capable of blocking the many kinds of missiles coming from the enemy with his long sword, but

also redirecting the force in the missiles to send them back and injure the enemy with his own missiles.

When it came to the ninth stance, Energy-breaking Stance, Feng Qingyang only taught Linghu Chong the script and formula of how to practice it.

Feng Qingyang explained, “This stance is used to overcome opponents who have great inner energy. The essence of the move really depends on your own interpretation. When senior master Dugu took on the entire Martial World with this set of Dugu Nine Swords many years ago, he couldn’t even find a single person that could defeat him, that was all because he had reached the acme of perfection with the set of sword techniques. The same sword technique from the same Huashan style sword art could have very different effect and power. It’s the same with the Dugu Nine Swords. Even though you have learned the sword techniques, if you

can’t perfect your skills, you would still be no match for first-class elite fighters in today’s world. You have already entered the field. If you prefer to win than lose, go practice hard for another twenty years, then you will be capable of competing with the key players in the world.”

The more Linghu Chong studied, the more he realized that there were endless variations in the nine stances, and it will take a very long time for him to actually probe all the profound knowledge in them. When he heard his Grand Uncle-Master saying that he still needed to work hard on practicing the sword techniques for at least twenty more years, he wasn’t surprised at all.

“If I’m able to fully understand the idea left by senior master Dugu when he created the nine stances of Dugu Nine Swords, I would be overjoyed,” he said.

“You don’t have to unduly humble yourself. Great Master Dugu was one with extraordinary intelligence. To be able to master his sword techniques, the key lies on the word ‘comprehension,’ not simply memorizing mechanically. Once you understand the essence of the sword techniques, you can use it anyway you want. Even if you have forgotten all the variations completely, it wouldn’t matter anyway. And when you are in a real fight, the more you forget about them, the less you will be restricted by the original sword stances. You are good Kung Fu material, just the right kind to learn this set of sword techniques. Humph, in today’s world, I doubt that there’s really any extraordinary hero out there. You should remain diligent in your studies. I am leaving now,” Feng Qingyang said.

Linghu Chong was dumbfounded. “Grand Uncle-Master, where… where are you going?” his voice quivering, he asked anxiously.

“I have been living by the back side of Mount Huashan for decades. I just had a sudden impulse earlier and came out of my cave to teach you the set of sword techniques, hoping that senior master Dugu’s unrivalled and

superb Kung Fu wouldn’t get rotten together with me. Of course it’s time to go back now,” Feng Qingyang said.

“Grand Uncle-Master, so you live right by the back side of the mountain. That’s wonderful! I can serve upon you days and nights to help rid your lonesomeness,” Linghu Chong said happily.

“Starting from now on, I will never see anyone from the Huashan Sword School. Even you are not an exception,” Feng Qingyang said sternly. Seeing the frightened and confused look on Linghu Chong’s face, he changed into a softer tone.

“Chong, fate brought us together, and you are very to my liking. I am truly very delighted to have you, such a wonderful boy, to carry on my

sword techniques in my old age. If you still think I am your Grand Uncle- Master, then don’t come looking for me to make things difficult.”

“Grand Uncle-Master, why?” Linghu Chong felt great sorrow in his

heart.

“Don’t even tell your Master that you have seen me.” Feng Qingyang

shook his head.

“I will follow your instructions,” Linghu Chong said as tear started to emerge in his eyes.

“Good kid, good kid!” Feng Qingyang stroked Linghu Chong’s head gently and then turned around to go down the cliff.

Linghu Chong followed him all the way till the edge of the cliff.

Seeing Feng Qingyang’s thin figure receding down the cliff and eventually disappearing in the back mountain, he couldn’t help but feel deep sorrow

and grief.

During the ten days or so Linghu Chong spent with Feng Qingyang, even though all they discussed about were sword techniques, he admired Feng Qingyang’s demeanor with all his heart. On top of that, he also felt that Feng seemed to be so close to him and the two were indescribably

congenial. Feng Qingyang was really a Grand Uncle-Master of his who was two generations higher than him, yet deep inside Linghu Chong’s heart, he vaguely felt a kind of affection as if Feng was a good friend in his same age group who he had wished to meet all along. Comparing to his relationship to his respectful Master, Yue Buqun, this one seemed to be much closer instead. “When this Grand Uncle-Master was still young, he probably had the same kind of temper just like me, fearing nothing, carefree, and tending to do things following one’s free will,” Linghu Chong thought. “When he taught me sword techniques, he always liked to say that ‘it’s the person using the sword techniques, not the sword techniques using the person’ and ‘a person is alive, but sword techniques are not, so an alive person shouldn’t be restrained by dead sword techniques.’ That principle is so true. Why did Master never say anything close to that?” He pondered over it for a while

and then got his own answer. “Of course Master knows about this principle. It’s just that he knows well that I am too carefree and is afraid that once he tells me the principle, I would go on wild imaginations to create a mass and won’t follow the rules step by step when I practice sword art. Once I get to a certain level with my sword skills, Master will then explain everything in details. Apprentice brothers and sisters aren’t there with their level of Kung Fu skills, so of course it would be even more difficult for them to understand the principle of advanced sword art. It would be a waste of time telling them.” Then his mind slipped into a different thought. “Grand

Uncle-Master’s sword skill has really reached the acme of perfection. What a pity it is that he never showed his true skills so I could broaden my horizons. Compared to Master, Grand Uncle Master’s sword skill must be another level up.”

He remembered that Feng Qingyang’s face was always covered by depression. He figured, “During the last ten days or so, Grand Uncle-Master would occasionally heave deep sighs. Obviously he had some kind of a big tragedy in his mind. I wonder what happened to him.” He heaved a sigh himself and then went out the cave to practice.

He practiced for a while and then randomly threw out a thrust. It turned out to be the Graceful Phoenix move from Huashan style sword art. He paused for a second and shook his head in a wry smile.

“Wrong!” he said to himself and then continued on. Not long after, he threw out another random thrust, and it turned out to be Graceful Phoenix once again. He couldn’t help but get mad at himself.

“Because I know sword moves from our sword school very well, and all those moves are already deep-rooted in my mind, as soon as I become

careless, I would naturally add the familiar moves from our school into it. Then it’s not Dugu Nine Swords anymore.”

Suddenly a thought flashed by his mind. “Grand Uncle-Master told me to have no restraints and follow the natural flow, then why couldn’t I use sword moves from my own school? And furthermore, why couldn’t I add Hengshan, Taishan, or other schools’ sword moves, or even Demon Cult Ten Elders’ Kung Fu into it? If I insisted on separating them, using

only certain type of sword art, not another certain type of sword art, then I am really putting restraints onto myself.”

After figuring that out, he just randomly threw out different moves. If it followed the natural flow, he would mix sword moves from his own

school or moves from the rock wall together. Instantly, he felt endless fun. The sword moves from the five different mountain sword schools were quite different from each other, and the ten Demon Cult Elders also came from six or seven different sects. It was almost impossible to mix moves from so many different styles. After practicing for some moments, he was still not able to merge them together.

“If I can’t merge them together, so what? Why do I have to?” he

suddenly realized. So he stopped worrying about what move it was and as soon as he thought of a move, he would simply mix it into the Dugu Nine Swords as he pleased. However, out of all those moves, Graceful Phoenix was still the one he used the most. He practiced some more and then threw another random thrust. Not to his surprise, it was Graceful Phoenix once again.

“What might little apprentice sister say once she sees how I am executing that Graceful Phoenix?” he suddenly thought.

He held his sword still as a gentle and soft smile broke out on his face. During the last few days, he had been studying and practicing sword arts with all his heart, even in his dreams he had been only thinking about the various variations of the Dugu Nine Swords. Now when he suddenly remembered Yue Lingshan, lovesick quickly welled up in his heart.

“I wonder if she is still teaching apprentice brother Lin sword art

secretly. Master has strict orders, but little apprentice sister has always been very bold. Relying on Master-Wife’s spoiling, she probably started teaching again. Even if she’s not teaching sword art, they see each other days and nights, so of course they will become even closer.”

Gradually, the gentle smile changed into a wry smile, and eventually there was not a trace of happiness left on his face. Feeling quite depressed, he slid his sword back into the sheath slowly.

Suddenly Lu Dayou’s shouting voice rose. “Big apprentice brother!

Big apprentice brother!” His voice was filled with worry.

“Oh no! Tian Boguang went down the cliff after a crushing defeat. He had said that he was not going to give up and would keep pestering to the very end. Could it be that since he can’t beat me in a fight, he had taken little apprentice sister into hostage so he could force me to surrender?” Linghu Chong was stunned.

He rushed by the edge of the cliff and looked down. Flustered and exasperated, Lu Dayou ran toward the cliff, the food basket in his hands. “Big…big apprentice brother…big…apprentice brother, this is not

good!” Lu Dayou shouted. “What? What happened to little apprentice sister?” Linghu Chong asked hurriedly, even more worried.

Lu Dayou jumped up the cliff, and after sitting the food basket on a big rock, he said, “Little apprentice sister? Little apprentice sister is just fine. This is terrible. I think it’s going to be trouble.”

Hearing that little apprentice sister was just fine, Linghu Chong felt quite relieved. “What trouble?” he asked.

“Master and Master-Wife came back.” Lu Dayou panted.

Linghu Chong was quite delighted. “Bah! Isn’t it a great thing that Master and Master-Wife have come back? Why are you saying that it’s going to be trouble? Nonsense!” he reproached.

“No, no, you don’t understand. Right after Master and Master-Wife

came back, before they even had a chance to rest, many people came to pay a visit, and among the people coming, there are ones from the Songshan Sword School, the Hengshan Sword School, and the Taishan Sword School,” Lu Dayou explained.

“Our five sword schools are all members of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance. It’s quite normal when people from the Songshan Sword School and the others come to pay a visit to Master,” Linghu Chong said.

“No, no…you don’t know. There are three others that came together with them and claimed to be part of our Huashan Sword School, but Master doesn’t call them apprentice brothers.”

“Really? What do those three look like?” Linghu Chong asked, feeling slightly surprised.

“One of them has a yellowish face and claimed to have a surname of Feng,2 and called something like Feng Buping. Then another one is a Taoist priest; the third one is a short guy. Both of them are called ‘Bu’ something. I guess they are really ones in the ‘Bu’ class.” “Maybe they are traitors of our school and had been expelled out of the school a long time ago.” Linghu Chong nodded.

“Yeah! You guessed it right. As soon as Master saw them, he became very displeased and said to them, ‘Brother Feng, all three of you have had your connection with Huashan Sword School dropped a long time ago.

Why are you coming back to Mount Huashan again?’ Then that Feng

Buping said, ‘Apprentice brother Yue, did you buy out Mount Huashan? Are you not allowing other people to come up Mount Huashan? Or did the Emperor grant it to you?’ Master snorted and then said, ‘If you are just touring around Mount Huashan, of course you have your freedom. Yue

Buqun is no longer your apprentice brother. I’ll have to send the words ‘apprentice brother Yue’ right back to you.’ Feng Buping said, ‘Your Master used schemes and intrigues to seize control of the Huashan Sword School many years ago. We’ll have to square the old accounts today. You don’t

want me to call you ‘apprentice brother Yue.’ Humph, after we square the old accounts, even if you kneel in front of me to beg for it, I wouldn’t grant you the wish.’”

“Oh,” Linghu Chong replied, thinking that Master really had trouble this time.

“Us apprentices all got angry at those words.” Lu Dayou continued. “Little apprentice sister was the first one to yell out. Who would have thought that Master-Wife had a real soft temper this time? She didn’t allow little apprentice sister to make any noises. Master obviously didn’t take them too seriously. He said dryly, ‘You want to square accounts? What

accounts do you want to square? How do you want to square?’ Feng Buping said loudly, ‘You have usurped the Head Master post of the Huashan Sword School for over twenty years. Haven’t you had enough of it already? Don’t you think it’s time to step down now?’ Master answered with a smile, ‘So all of you took on all the trouble to line up here just so that you can seize my post of Head Master. What’s there to cherish? Brother Feng, if you think you are capable of the Head Master post, of course I can step aside.’ Feng

Buping said, ‘Your Master usurped our sword school’s Head Master post using schemes and intrigues many years ago. I have already petitioned to the Five Mountains Sword Alliance Chief Zuo and received the Command Flag to become the new Head Master of the Huashan Sword School in his command.’ He took out a small flag from his chest pocket and extended it

out. It is indeed the Command Flag of the Five Mountains Sword Alliance.” “Isn’t Alliance Chief Zuo a bit too impetuous to think he has the

authority here? This is an internal affair of the Huashan Sword School. We don’t need him to poke his nose in that matter. What right has him to decide who should be the Head Master of our Huashan Sword School?” Linghu

Chong shouted angrily.

“That’s right! Master-Wife said the same thing. But that Lu-named old guy from the Songshan Sword School, Crane Hands Lu Bai, you know, the old folk we saw at Uncle-Master Liu’s house in Hengshan, he spared no effort backing up that Feng Buping saying that the Feng-named guy should become the Head Master of the Huashan Sword School and argued again

and again with Master-Wife. And those two guys from the Taishan Sword School and the Hengshan Sword School, this is so annoying, also ganged up with Feng Buping. The three schools of theirs have decided to gang up to give trouble to our Huashan Sword School. Heng-Shan Sword School is the only one that doesn’t have anyone involved. Big…big apprentice brother, I figured this is going to be big trouble, that’s why I came in a rush to let you know.”

“When our school has trouble, as long as us apprentices can still breathe, we are all willing to die for Master. Six apprentice brother, let’s go!” Linghu Chong shouted.

“Right! When Master sees that you are working for him, for sure he won’t blame you for leaving the cliff without permission,” Lu Dayou

exclaimed.

“It’s alright even if Master do blame me. Master is a courteous gentleman, and he doesn’t like to argue with others. Maybe he will actually let someone have the post of Head Master. Wouldn’t that be terrible…?” Linghu Chong started rushing down the cliff using his Qing-Gong.

In the middle of running, Linghu Chong suddenly heard somebody shouting from the mountain path in front of him.

“Linghu Chong! Linghu Chong! Where are you?” “Who is calling my name?” Linghu Chong asked.

“Are you Linghu Chong?” several voices asked in unison. “That’s right!” Linghu Chong answered.

Suddenly two shadows flashed by and blocked in the middle of the road. The mountain path was very narrow and on one side of the path was the ten-thousand-feet deep bottomless valley. When the two men showed up so abruptly on the mountain path all of a sudden, Linghu Chong was in the middle of a fast dash and almost bumped into them. He stopped abruptly

and found himself only a foot away from the two. The two faces were both very bumpy and wrinkly and looked very frightening. In great surprise, Linghu Chong immediately turned around and leapt back ten feet or so,

shouting, “Who are you?” But to his great astonishment, he found another two extremely ugly faces, also bumpy and wrinkly, blocking his way. The two faces were less than half-a-foot from his face, and their noses almost touched his nose. Linghu Chong immediately took a step to his side and

again found two more people standing by his side between him and the bottomless abyss. Their faces were also very similar to the previous four. Having bumped into six freaks all of a sudden, Linghu Chong was at a loss as what to do, and his heart pounded like a drum. Within the split of a second, the six freaks had jostled him into a three-inch wide small space.

The breaths of the two in front of him had already reached his face. He

could also feel warm air on his back neck. Apparently it was because of the breathing from the two behind him. In a hurry, he reached for his sword.

However, as soon as his finger touched the handle of the sword, the six freaks took a half step forward all at the same time and jostled with their bodies toward the middle. Instantly, Linghu Chong was squeezed into such a tight space that he couldn’t even move an inch.

“Hey, hey! What are you guys doing?” Lu Dayou’s voice rose from behind him.

Even though Linghu Chong had a bag full of tricks, at the moment, he was scared out of wits. Those six freaks looked almost like trolls or monsters, and not only did they have scary looks, their behaviors were even more freaky. Linghu Chong tried hard to open his arms so he could push

away the two in front of him, but with his arms being jostled down, he had no way of pushing.

“They must be villains together with Feng Buping’s group,” he thought to himself hurriedly.

His entire body felt the great pressure; he couldn’t even breathe. The four freaks kept jostling toward the middle and soon Linghu Chong’s joints started popping. Not daring to stare right into the eyes of the freak right in front of him, Linghu Chong quickly shut his eyes tight. Then he heard a

screeching voice.

“Linghu Chong, we’ll take you to see the little nun.”

“Oh, no! So they are Tian Boguang’s gang.” Linghu Chong thought to himself. “If you don’t let go of me, I’ll commit suicide with my sword! Linghu Chong would rather die…!” he shouted.

Suddenly, Linghu Chong felt two hands grabbing onto both of his arms. The grips were as tight as clamps. Even though he had learned the

Dugu Nine Swords, he had no means of using it at all. He groaned inwardly. “The good little nun wants to see you. Behave yourself. Be a good

kid, too,” another voice rose.

“It would not be good if you become dead. If you commit suicide, I’ll beat you half dead half alive,” a third one said.

“He would be completely dead already. Why would you still beat him half dead half alive?” someone else argued.

“If you want to scare him, don’t let him hear you. Once he hears it, he won’t fall for it,” another one commented.

“I just like to scare him, what are you gonna do about it?” the previous one mocked.

“I think it’s better to talk him into behaving himself,” another one suggested.

“I said to scare him, and I will scare him,” the previous one said. “I like to talk him out of it,” that another one insisted.

The two actually went on arguing against each other nonstop.

Linghu Chong listened as the two argued foolishly. He was both greatly shocked and annoyed. He thought to himself, “The six freaks have very high Kung Fu skills, however, they seemed to be really stupid.” So he shouted, “It’s useless to try to scare me or talk me out of it. If you don’t let go of me, I’ll bite off my tongue and kill myself.”

Suddenly, great pain came from his cheeks. Someone had grabbed onto his jaw. “This guy is really stubborn. If he bites off his tongue, he won’t be able to talk. The little nun won’t like that for sure,” one voice said.

“If he bites off his tongue, he would be dead. Why would it matter if he can still talk or not?” another one argued.

“He might not die. If you don’t believe me, you can bite your own to try it out,” a third one suggested.

“I said he would die, so I won’t bite off my own tongue. Why don’t you try it out?” the previous one mocked.

“Why should I bite my own tongue off? I got it. Let him try it,” the one spoke before him replied.

There came a loud cry from Lu Dayou. Apparently those freaks had captured him.

“You, bite off your own tongue and let’s see if you will die or not?

Hurry up! Bite!” one freak yelled.

“I won’t! If I bite my tongue off, I’d be dead for sure,” Lu Dayou shouted.

“That’s right! If one bites his tongue off, he would be dead for sure!

Even he said so too,” one of the freaks said.

“He’s not dead yet. His words are not dependable,” another one argued.

“He didn’t bite off his tongue, so of course he won’t die. If he did, he would die!” a third one commented.

Linghu Chong gathered his strength and jerked his arms abruptly.

Instantly the pain from his wrists went deep into his marrow, yet he was still not even able to move a single bit. In the instant, he suddenly hit upon a

way out of the trouble. He let out a loud scream and then pretended to be out cold. The six freaks all cried out in surprise. The one who grabbed at Linghu Chong’s cheeks immediately let go of them. “He was scared to death!” a freak commented.

“He can’t be scared to death. He’s not that big of a loser,” another one disagreed.

“Even if he’s dead, he wasn’t scared to death,” a third one suggested. “Then how did he die?” the previous one asked.

Lu Dayou actually believed that they had tortured big apprentice brother to death and burst into a loud cry.

“I think he was scared to death,” a freak insisted.

“You grabbed him too hard. He was grabbed to death,” another one suggested.

“How on earth did he die?” a third one questioned.

“I shut down my arteries and killed myself!” Linghu Chong shouted loudly.

The six freaks were shocked when they suddenly heard Linghu

Chong talking, then they all broke into loud laughs and said, “Aha, he’s not dead. He was pretending to be dead.”

“I wasn’t pretending. After I died I came back to life again,” Linghu Chong claimed.

“Do you really know how to shut down your arteries? That must be a very difficult Kung Fu. Will you teach me?” a freak asked.

“The Shut Down Your Own Arteries Kung Fu is very advanced. This dude doesn’t know it. He’s lying to you,” another freak said.

“Did you say I don’t know it? If I don’t know it, how could I have shut down my arteries and killed myself earlier?” Linghu Chong

challenged.

“Well…well…that’s really odd.” The freak scratched his head and didn’t know how to answer. Linghu Chong now was sure that even though the six freaks had excellent Kung Fu skills, their brains were certainly dull-witted to the

extreme. So he said, “If you don’t let go of me, I am going to shut down my arteries again. After I die this time, I won’t be able to come back to life any more.”

The two freaks that had been grabbing onto Linghu Chong’s wrists tightly immediately let go of him and said in unison, “You can’t die. If you die, it would be terrible.”

“Well, if you don’t want me dead, you’ll have to move aside and let me through. I got to take care of some important business,” Linghu Chong suggested.

The two freaks blocking his way shook their heads at the same time, both to the left and then both to the right. “No way! No way! You have to come with us to see the little nun,” they said in unison.

Linghu Chong gathered his inner energy and jumped up, hoping to be able to jump over the two freaks’ heads. But to his surprise, the two freaks also jumped up in great speed and their two bodies made a flying wall that

blocked Linghu Chong’s path again. Linghu Chong’s body bumped with the two freaks’ bodies and fell back down to the ground.

While still in mid-air, Linghu Chong had already grabbed hold of his sword handle. He waved his arm to draw his sword, but suddenly felt great burdens on both of his shoulders. The two freaks behind him had each reached out with an arm and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. His

sword was only about a foot out of the sheath and he simply could not draw it out. The two hands on his shoulders each seemed to have weighed hundreds of pounds. His body was immediately pushed lower. He couldn’t even stand straight, not mentioning drawing his sword. “Let’s carry him away!” after the two freaks pushed him down onto the ground, they suggested with big smiles.

The two freaks in front of Linghu Chong each reached out with a hand to grab onto his ankles and picked him off the ground.

“Hey! Hey! What are you doing?” Lu Dayou shouted.

“This chap is so annoying. Let’s kill him!” a freak suggested and raised his palm high, ready to strike down onto Lu Dayou’s head.

“Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” Linghu Chong cried out loudly. “Alright, I’ll listen to you. I won’t kill him. I’ll seal his Mute

Acupoint instead,” that freak replied. He didn’t even bother turning around and simply pointed backward with his finger. In a whistling sound, he had sealed Lu Dayou’s Mute Acupoint with a beam of energy. Lu Dayou was in the middle of screaming, but the scream suddenly stopped abruptly as if

someone had cut his scream off using a pair of scissors, and his body immediately huddled up.

Linghu Chong had rarely seen such accuracy and mighty power demonstrated in the freak’s acupoint-sealing skills; he couldn’t help but show great admiration.

“Excellent Kung Fu!” he praised.

The freak was greatly pleased. “This is nothing! I have a lot more cool Kung Fu skills. Let me demonstrate a few of them for you,” he said with a big smile.

If it were in normal days, Linghu Chong would have wanted to broaden his horizons, but at the moment he really worried about his Master’s safety and was very anxious.

“I don’t want to watch!” he shouted.

“Why don’t you want to watch? You’ll have to watch!” the freak said angrily. He jumped into the air and flew over Linghu Chong and the four freaks holding Linghu Chong like a big bird. His body maintained a horizontal position when he flew in the air and looked as if he was a

swallow gliding in the air with beautiful postures.

“Beautiful!” Linghu Chong couldn’t help but blurt out another praise.

The freak landed back to the ground smoothly and gently, without

even bringing up any dust. By the time he turned around, great smiles piled up on his long horsy face.

“This is really nothing! I’ve got a lot more even better than that,” he said happily.

He was at least somewhere close to sixty or seventy years old, yet his temper and the way he behaved was just like a little kid that wanted to keep showing off as soon as someone praised him. The superb and profound

Kung Fu and the childish and naïve behavior of him happened to be on the exact opposite in extreme.

Linghu Chong thought, “Master and Master-Wife are in trouble right now surrounded by tough enemy. The enemy has all those Songshan Sword School, Taishan Sword School, and the bunch of elite fighters to back him, even if I go over there, the situation wouldn’t be approved much. Why don’t I trick these freaks into going over there to help Master and Master- Wife out?” So he shook his head and said, “You guys’ little Kung Fu is far from good enough to show off here on Mount Huashan.”

“Far from good enough? What are you talking about? You got caught by us, didn’t you?” that freak rebuffed.

“I am just a nobody in the Huashan Sword School. What’s so difficult to beat me? Right now, there are many elite master hands from Songshan Sword School, Taishan Sword School, Hengshan Sword School, and

Huashan Sword School gathered here at Mount Huashan. Of course you guys wouldn’t be brave enough to go provoke them, would you?” Linghu Chong bluffed.

“Why would we be afraid to provoke them? Where are they?” the freak asked.

“We won the bet with that little nun, so the little nun asked us to come get Linghu Chong. She never asked us to provoke any elite master hands from the Songshan Sword School or the Taishan Sword School. We should only do one favor for one win. If we do too many favors, it’s not worth it.

Let’s go,” another one suggested.

Hearing those words, Linghu Chong felt very relieved. “It turned out that they were sent by little apprentice sister Yilin. Then they must not be enemies of mine. It seemed that they had lost a bet and thus had to come to get me. It’s funny that they still want to save their faces and claim to have actually won the bet instead.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “The elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School said that he looked down the most upon those six old freaks with horsy faces that looked like tangerine skins, and as soon as he sees the six of them, he would nip them dead one by one like nipping puny ants. Too bad that as soon as those six old freaks hear his voice, they all immediately ran far way and there was no way for him to find them.”

At these words, the six freaks roared in great outrage. The four of them who had been carrying Linghu Chong sat him back down on the ground and then shouted all together.

“Where is this guy? Take us to him. We’d like a fight with him.” “What about the Songshan Sword School or the Taishan Sword

School? Humph! Peach Valley’s Six Fairies think nothing of them.”

“Is he insane or something? How dare he nip Peach Valley’s Six Fairies dead like nipping puny ants?” “Well, you call yourselves Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, but he kept on calling you Peach Valley’s Six Trolls, or sometimes Peach Valley’s Six

Kids. I’d advise the Six Fairies of you to better stay as far away from him as possible. That guy’s Kung Fu is so vicious. You don’t stand a chance fighting him,” Linghu Chong added.

“No way! No way! Let’s go fight him and see who’s better,” a freak shouted out.

“I think this doesn’t look too good. If that elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School dares to say so, he must have superb skills to back himself up. He had called us Peach Valley’s Six Kids, then he probably is a senior master of ours, and we probably can’t beat him in a fight. The less trouble we have to deal with, the better. Why don’t we go back now?”

another freak suggested.

“Sixth brother has the least guts. We haven’t even had the fight yet.

How do you know we can’t beat him?” another one exclaimed.

“What if he really can nip us dead like nipping ants? Wouldn’t that be real bad luck? And after we fight him, we’d all be nipped dead already, how could we run away by then?” the coward freak asked.

“That’s right!” Linghu Chong laughed out loud inwardly. “If you

want to run away, you need to hurry up. If he gets the news and then comes after you, you won’t have enough time to run away by then.”

Hearing these words, the coward freak immediately started running. Only after a blurry flash, he had already vanished from everyone’s sight.

“Wow, he’s gotten really excellent Qing-Gong skills.” Linghu Chong thought to himself in surprise.

“Sixth brother has no guts. It’s alright that he ran away. We’ll go fight that elite master hand from the Songshan Sword School,” a freak proposed. “Let’s go! Let’s go! Peach Valley’s Six Fairies are undefeatable! Why would we be afraid of him?” the rest of the freaks all agreed.

“Hurry up and take us over there. Let’s see how he’ll nip us dead like nipping puny ants,” a freak said as he patted on Linghu Chong’s shoulder gently.

“Well, I can take you over, but as a true man, I, Linghu Chong, will never let others force me into doing things. I really resented it when I heard that Songshan Sword School elite master hand ridicule the six of you left

and right. Also because I admired the superb Kung Fu of yours very much, that’s why I am volunteering to take you over there from a sense of justice so you can get even with him. If you force me to do this or that simply because you have more bodies here, I’ll never do it even if I have to die!” Linghu Chong announced.

“Great! You have quite some integrity and sharp eyes too to be able to see that the six brothers of us have superb Kung Fu skills. We brothers

admire you too!” the five freaks all applauded.

“If so, I’d be glad to take you guys over there. When you see him, you must not speak or act irresponsibly, so people in the Martial World

won’t hold you guys for ridicule and say that Peach Valley Six Fairies are naive, childish and lack common sense. You have to all listen to my instructions, otherwise, you will make me lose face greatly and we’ll all look stupid,” Linghu Chong said.

He was just testing water here. Who would have thought that the five freaks immediately agreed with no complaints whatsoever?

“That’s perfect! We can’t ever let others call us, Peach Valley’s Six Fairies, naive, childish and lack common sense!” the five of them answered in unison. Apparently they have heard those words “naive, childish and lack common sense” many times already, and considered them very

embarrassing comments. Linghu Chong’s words were almost like music to their ears.

“Good. Will you please follow me?” Linghu Chong nodded at them and then hurried down the mountain path.

The five freaks followed right behind Linghu Chong carrying Lu

Dayou with them. Only after a couple of miles, they found the coward freak popping his head up and down to peek out from behind a big rock. Linghu Chong figured that this one definitely needed some encouragement, so he

said to him.

“That Songshan Sword School’s old folk’s Kung Fu is far from yours. You don’t need to be afraid of him. We are going there to kick his ass. Why don’t you come with us?”

“Great! I am going too!” the freak said with great joy. However, he immediately asked again, “Well, you said that his Kung Fu is far from mine. Is his Kung Fu far better than mine or far worse?” He was quite timid, so naturally he was very cautious.

“Of course yours is far better than his. When you were running

earlier, I could tell that you have outstanding Qing-Gong skills. That old folk from the Songshan Sword School will never be able to keep up with you,” Linghu Chong said with a grin.

That freak was very pleased and decided to join the group, walking next to Linghu Chong, but he still wasn’t too sure about it, and asked,

“What if he did catch up with me? What then?”

“I’ll always be by your side, and if he ever dares to catch up with you, humph! Humph!” Linghu Chong pulled his sword half a foot out of the sheath and then snapped it back in with a forceful push. “I’ll whack him with a single thrust!” he said.

“Wonderful! Wonderful! Hey, you have to keep your words!” the freak said with great joy!

“Of course! If he can’t keep up with you, then I don’t need to kill him,” Linghu Chong promised.

“Sure! If he can’t keep up with me, then we’ll let him go.” The freak smiled happily.

Linghu Chong laughed hard inwardly. He thought to himself, “Once you start running, I am sure it wouldn’t be an easy task to keep up with you!” He then figured, “These six old folks are unsophisticated and honest. They aren’t bad guys. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make acquaintances with them.” So he spoke again.

“Six Fairies, your names have long resounded in my ears! Today I finally get to meet all of you. And sure enough, you all live up to your reputation. I was wondering what are the respectful names of the six of you?”

The six freaks had no idea that what Linghu Chong just said was totally illogical, and as soon as they heard him saying that their names had long resounded in his ears, all were wild with joy.

“I am the big brother. My name is Peachtree Root Fairy,” one said. “I am the second. My name is Peachtree Trunk Fairy,” another one

said.

“I am either the third or the fourth. My name is Peachtree Branch

Fairy,” a third one said. He pointed at a fourth one and said, “He is either the third or the fourth. His name is Peachtree Leaf Fairy.”

“How come you don’t even know if you are the third or the fourth yourselves?” Linghu Chong asked in surprise. “It’s not that we don’t know. It’s because my mom and dad forgot about it,” Branch Fairy explained.

“When your mom and dad gave birth to you, if they forgot that they had ever given birth to you, as a little kid, how would you know if there’s a you in the world?” Leaf Fairy interrupted.

“Right! Right! Luckily my parents remembered that they gave birth to me.” Linghu Chong nodded while working hard to hold his laugh.

“Here you go!” Leaf Fairy said.

“So how did your parents forget about it?” Linghu Chong asked.

“At the time when Mom and Dad gave birth to us, the two brothers, they remembered who was the elder one and who was the younger one, however, they forgot about it a few years later. That’s why we don’t really know who is the third and who is the fourth,” Leaf Fairy said. He pointed at Branch Fairy and said, “He really wanted to be the third, and if I don’t call him third brother, he would start a fist fight with me. So I had to let him have it.”

“So you are two brothers.” Linghu Chong smiled. “Yeah! We are six brothers!” Branch Fairy said.

Linghu Chong thought to himself, “Well, parents are dumb parents, no wonder they gave birth to six dumb sons.”

“What are you two’s names?” Linghu Chong asked the rest two.

“Let me tell him. I am the sixth. My name is Peachtree Fruit Fairy.

My fifth brother is named Peachtree Flower Fairy,” the coward freak announced.

Linghu Chong was unable to stifle a laugh, thinking, “The Peachtree Flower Fairy has such an ugly face. He really has nothing even comparable to a peach tree flower.” Seeing Linghu Chong’s smiling face, Flower Fairy said happily,

“Among the six brothers, my name is the most beautiful one. Theirs are no match for mine!”

“Peachtree Flower Fairy is such a pleasant name, and Peachtree Root, Peachtree Trunk, Peachtree Branch, Peachtree Leaf, and Peachtree Fruit are all beautiful names too. Wonderful! Wonderful! If I could have a name so beautiful and pleasant, I’d be delighted beyond words.”

Every one of the six Fairies felt unspeakable happiness and couldn’t help but dance with joy, feeling that Linghu Chong was truly the number one nice guy in the world.

“Let’s keep going now. Will one of the Peachtree brothers please open my apprentice brother’s acupoint? Your acupoint-sealing techniques are

way too advanced for me. There’s no way I’ll be able to open his acupoint all by myself,” Linghu Chong said with a smile.

Each getting a flattery, Peach Valley Six Fairies immediately vied with each other in rushing by Lu Dayou to open his sealed acupoints.

From the “Cliff of Contemplation” to the “House of Integrity” of the Huashan Sword School, it was somewhere between three or four miles.

Other than Lu Dayou, everybody had good Qing-Gong skills and it took them almost no time to arrive at the outside of “House of Integrity.” As

soon as they got there, Linghu Chong saw Lao Denuo, Liang Fa, Shi Daizi, Yue Lingshan, Lin Pingzhi, and the bunch of dozens of apprentice brothers and sisters all standing outside of the hall way looking quite worried.

Seeing that the big apprentice brother had arrived, everyone felt a bit relieved.

Lao Denuo greeted them and whispered to Linghu Chong, “Big

apprentice brother, Master and Master-Wife are greeting guests inside.” Linghu Chong turned his head back and signaled Peach Valley Six Fairies to not make any sound while they stand there waiting.

“Those six are my friends. You don’t have to worry about them. Let me go have a look,” he whispered to Lao Denuo and then peeked inside from the crack of the hall windows.

Normally when Yue Buqun and Madam Yue greet guests, apprentices would never have peeked in from the outside, however, since the Huashan Sword School was in great trouble right now, all the apprentices didn’t think what Linghu Chong did was anything inappropriate at all.

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