The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 16-20

Chapter 16 – The Nine Yin Manual

Guo Jing and Huang Rong left the Cheng’s residence and were very tired since they have not had any sleep that night. They had wanted to go back to the inn to rest, but suddenly heard the sound of hoof beats galloping fast from the south heading north. The sound was coming nearer but suddenly it stopped. Huang Rong’s curiosity was piqued, “There must be something unusual happening. It sounds interesting.” Utilizing her lightness kungfu she immediately went to take a look. Guo Jing followed closely.

To their surprise, what they saw was Yang Kang standing at the roadside, holding a horse’s reins and talking to Ouyang Ke. Guo and Huang did not want to come any closer because they did not want to be detected. They hid themselves quite a distance away. Those two spoke in low voices so all Huang Rong could hear was bits and pieces. Ouyang Ke mentioned ‘Yue Fei’ and ‘Lin’an government office’, while Yang Kang did say ‘my father’. Huang Rong was curious, she wanted to go nearer, but at that moment Ouyang Ke cupped his fists and headed east along with all of his female disciples/concubines.

Yang Kang stayed behind. He stared blankly for a while; then let out a long sigh and mounted his horse. “Xian Di [Worthy Brother], I am here,” Guo Jing called. Yang Kang heard his voice and was startled but stopped his horse anyway. “Elder Brother, you are here as well?” he replied.

“I ran into Miss Huang and we fought Ouyang Ke, that’s why we were delayed,” Guo Jing explained. Yang Kang’s face turned red; he felt uneasy since he wasn’t sure if Guo Jing heard his conversation with Ouyang Ke. Guo Jing’s face remained calm; so Yang Kang felt better. “This man does not know how to deceive,” he thought, “He wouldn’t be this calm if he had heard me.”

“Elder Brother,” he said, “shall we hurry up and continue our trip tonight, or shall we spend the night here? Will Miss Huang go to Beijing with us?”

“It’s not I who goes with you, it is you who follows us,” Huang Rong said. “What’s the difference?” Guo Jing smiled. “Let us go back to the ancestral temple and have some rest. Tomorrow evening we will enjoy the Beggar Clan’s banquet and then we can continue our trip.”

Then the three walked back to the temple. Huang Rong lit a candle. As she carried the candle she picked up the needles she shot out minutes ago. At this time of the year the weather was got hotter, so they took down the doors and took them outside. They intended to sleep in the courtyard.

Just before they fell asleep, the sound of horses’ hoof beats could be faintly heard from the distance. They tilted their heads to listen. The sound was coming fast and sounded like it was more than one horse.

“Three horses in front, pursued by more than ten people,” Huang Rong guessed. Guo Jing literally grew up on horseback; he knew exactly the number of the horses.

“There are sixteen pursuers altogether,” he said. ”Well, well, well … what do you know?” “What?” Huang Rong asked.

“The three at the front are on Mongolian horses, but the pursuers are not,” Guo Jing answered. “What in the world are Mongolian horses doing in this area?” he wondered.

Huang Rong tugged Guo Jing’s hand and they walked outside the temple gate. Suddenly a swishing sound was heard as an arrow flew above their heads. The three riders rushed towards the temple. An arrow flew from the pursuers and hit the last horse’s thigh. The horse uttered a sad neigh as its leg buckled. The rider’s equestrian skill was superb; he managed to leap clear just before the horse hit the ground. It seemed the rider did not know any lightness kungfu and his steps were heavy. The other two riders stopped their horses and turned back.

“I am all right,” shouted the one now on foot. “Quickly, go! I’ll try to slow the enemy!”

“I will help you with the enemy. Fourth Prince, you go ahead,” shouted one of the other two. “How can you do that?” asked the Fourth Prince.

Those three were speaking Mongolian. Guo Jing, as he listened, thought he knew those voices. They sounded like Tolui, Jebeh, and Borchu. He was really surprised. “What are they doing here?” he thought. He wanted to go nearer, but the pursuers had already surrounded the three riders. The three Mongolians were experts at shooting arrows, so the pursuers did not dare to come too close and shot their own arrows from a distance.

“Let’s go up!” one of the Mongolians shouted, his hand pointing to a flagpole. The three scurried to the flagpole and climbed up. They were trying to gain a better position.

The pursuers dismounted and surrounded the flagpole on all sides. Somebody shouted an order and four soldiers lifted high their shields, came near the flagpole and tried to chop it down with their swords.

“You are wrong,” Huang Rong whispered, “There are only fifteen pursuers.”

“No, I can’t be wrong,” Guo Jing countered. “Maybe one of them was killed.” He’d just closed his mouth when a horse came wandering in. There was a rider with it but he was dead with an arrow sticking out from his chest; his foot was stuck in the stirrup so the horse was dragging him along.

Guo Jing crawled towards the corpse and pulled the arrow out. As soon as he felt the arrow with his fingers he could feel that it was made of wrought iron and had the engraving of a leopard’s head. It was an arrow used by the Master Archer Jebeh and was heavier than average arrows. His suspicion was gone; he called out, “You on the flagpole, are you Master Jebeh, Brother Tolui and Master Borchu? This is Guo Jing!”

The three were delighted. “How can you be here?” they asked. “Who pursues you?” Guo Jing asked.

“Jin soldiers!” Tolui answered.

Guo Jing grabbed the dead Jin soldier’s body, lifted it up, and rushed forward. He threw the corpse toward the soldiers at the foot of the flagpole. The corpse did knock down two soldiers and the other two were frightened and ran away.

Out of the blue two white shadows swooped down to Guo Jing. He recognized his two eagles, which he and Hua Zheng raised back in Mongolia. The two birds recognized their master even in the dark night; they uttered a loud cry and came down on Guo Jing’s shoulders.

Huang Rong had heard Guo Jing’s story of how he had shot two eagles and how he raised a pair of eagles as his playmates. Now, suddenly seeing the white eagles, she ignored the surrounding soldiers. She came running towards Guo Jing and called out, “Let me play with them!” She held out her hand to stroke one eagle’s feathers. But the eagle did not know Huang Rong, so it moved its head to hit Huang Rong’s hand with its beak. Luckily Huang Rong was quick; if not, the back of her hand would’ve been injured. Guo Jing hurriedly pulled the birds away. Huang Rong sulked, “Your pet birds are bad!” But actually she was happy, she bent her head to take a closer look at them.

“Rong’er, watch out!” Guo Jing shouted suddenly. Two fast arrows flew toward Huang Rong’s chest. She ignored the arrows and nonchalantly reached towards the dead soldier’s pocket. The arrows were right on target, but they hit the soft hedgehog armor and simply fell down near her foot. Huang Rong continued groping in the pocket until she found some dried meat and fed it to the birds.

“Rong’er, play with the eagles, I am going to kill some Jin soldiers!” Guo Jing said. He jumped to strike an arrow flying towards him, stretched his left palm and with a cracking sound broke a nearby Jin soldier’s arm.

“Where did the dog that creates trouble come from?” a voice called out suddenly in the dark. Surprisingly, he was speaking Chinese. Guo Jing was startled, “That voice sounds familiar,” he thought. At that time a couple of metal weapons came flashing his way as two short hatchets came chopping down at him, one slashing at his chest, the other slashing towards his lower abdomen.

Guo Jing saw the incoming force was fierce and he knew the attacker was not an ordinary officer. He immediately shot out his palm using the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’. His palm hit the man on the shoulder shattering the shoulder blade into pieces and sent the man flying backwards a few feet. The man cried out pitifully. Suddenly Guo Jing remembered, “This is one of the ‘Four Demons of the Yellow River’ [Huang He si gui], the ‘Axe Buries Family’ [sang men fu] Qian Qingjian.”

Guo Jing knew that his martial arts skill had improved tremendously these past several months and of course he was in an entirely different league compared to when he fought the Four Demons of the Yellow River in Mongolia a while back. But to be able to knock the enemy back more than ten feet with only one palm? He was amazed. While he was still thinking about it, more metal objects came flashing toward him. This time it was a saber and a spear.

Guo Jing guessed they must be ‘Saber Breaks Down the Soul’ [duan hu dao] Shen Qinggang and ‘Lance Seizes Life’ [zhui ming qiang] Wu Qinglie. With his right hand forming a hook he caught the spear near its head and pulled it hard. Wu Qinglie tried to resist, but he was pulled along and fell face down in front of Guo Jing. Right at that moment as Guo Jing was stepping back to elude the chopping saber, Shen Qinggang’s blade was hacking toward his martial brother’s skull. Guo Jing’s leg flew up and kicked Shen Qinggang’s right wrist. A streak of blue light flashed in the dark night as his saber flew from his hand; Wu Qinglie’s life was saved. Guo Jing then picked up Wu Qinglie and whirled him at his martial brother. With a ‘bang’, two brothers collided and both passed out immediately.

Of the Four Demons of the Yellow River, only three were left, since ‘Whip Capture Spirit’ [duo po bian] Ma Qingxiong was killed by Lu Guanying when he was trying to infiltrate the pirate gang of Lake Tai. These three people were the elite fighters of the Jin soldiers who pursued Tolui and his companions. The rest of the Jin soldiers were not aware that their leaders had fallen due to the darkness. They were still engaging Tolui, Jebeh and Borchu in a shooting battle.

“You are not running away, do all of you want to die here?” Guo Jing roared. He rushed towards the enemy soldiers, hitting here and grabbing there, throwing bodies everywhere. Very soon the soldiers panicked and scattered in all directions. Shen Qinggang and Wu Qinglie slowly came to their senses, each with a splitting headache. Their vision was still fuzzy, but they realized that their company had scattered so they also ran away without hesitation. They accidentally stumbled upon Qian Qingjian and woke him up. He mumbled indistinctly, but seeing the rest of the soldiers had run away, he ignored his pain and they ran in different directions.

Jebeh and Borchu were skilled archers; they kept shooting arrows and managed to kill three more Jin soldiers. Tolui looked down and saw that his sworn brother had scattered the enemy. He was delighted and called out, “Anda [Mongolian term for sworn brother]! How are you?” He slid down the flagpole to the ground.

Guo Jing and Tolui held each other’s hands; they were so happy that they were speechless for a while. A moment later Jebeh and Borchu joined them. “Those three Han holding shields blocked our arrows, preventing us from shooting them,” Jebeh said. “If Jing’er had not come to rescue us, we wouldn’t be able to drink the Onon River’s clear water anymore.”

Guo Jing pulled Huang Rong’s hand to let her meet Tolui and company. “This is my sworn sister,” he introduced her.

“Will you give me these two white eagles?” Huang Rong asked, smiling. Tolui did not understand Chinese and his translator had run away when they were being attacked by the Jin soldiers. He’d noticed that Huang Rong’s voice was clear and sounded pleasant to his ears, but he actually had no idea what she was saying.

Guo Jing ignored Huang Rong’s request. “Anda, why did you bring the eagles here?” he asked.

“Father sent me to see the Song Emperor; we want to make an agreement between the north and south, so that we can dispatch troops together and attack the Jin from both directions,” Tolui explained. “My sister thought I might meet you here, so she sent these eagles to you. She guessed right, I did meet you here.”

When Guo Jing heard him mentioning Hua Zheng, he was speechless. He knew he was in love with Huang Rong; when he sometimes thought of Hua Zheng he felt it wasn’t right. However, he did not know how to resolve the matter, and tried not to think too much about it. But now, hearing what Tolui said, he was at a loss. His only thought was, “Within a month I am going to Peach Blossom Island where Rong’er’s father might kill me. There’s no point thinking about it now.” Therefore, he turned toward Huang Rong and told her, “These two birds are mine. You can have them to play with.”

Huang Rong was delighted; she found more dried meat to feed the eagles.

Tolui proceeded by telling how his father, Genghis Khan, had gained victory over the Jin on several fronts; but the Jin army was strong in numbers. They’d consolidated themselves and for many years strengthened their forts so that, for a while, they’ve managed to defend their borders. Therefore Genghis Khan had sent Tolui to make contact with the south to form an alliance with the Song to attack the Jin. Unfortunately they ran into a brigade of the Jin army and could not avoid a battle. Their company perished and only the three of them managed to escape and run here.

Guo Jing remembered that day at Cloud Manor he heard Yang Kang asking Mu Nianci to go to Lin’an and see the Prime Minister Shi Miyuan, to ask him to kill the Mongolian messengers. At that time he did not know anything specific, but now he knew that the Jin had discovered the conspiracy and had sent Yang Kang to prevent the Song and Mongols from forming an alliance.

Tolui continued, “Looks like the Jin have determined to kill me to avoid Mongolia and the Song Dynasty from successfully forming an alliance; the Sixth Prince himself personally led the troops to capture me.”

“Wanyan Honglie?” Guo Jing asked in surprise.

“That’s right!” Tolui answered. “He was wearing a golden helmet; I saw him clearly and even shot three arrows at him. Too bad they were blocked by his bodyguards’ shields.”

Guo Jing was ecstatic, “Rong’er, Brother Kang! Wanyan Honglie is here. Let us quickly find him.” Huang Rong quickly agreed, but Yang Kang was nowhere to be seen. Guo Jing was impatient, he shouted, “Rong’er, you go to the east, I will search to the west.” The two people used their lightness kungfu and ran very fast in opposite directions.

After several li Guo Jing managed to catch up with several runaway Jin soldiers. He captured one of them and found out that it was indeed the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie who personally led the pursuers; but the soldier did not know his whereabouts.

“We have deserted the Prince without any regard for his safety; if we go back, we will be executed. Therefore we are throwing away our uniforms and trying to hide among the common people,” the soldier said.

Guo Jing turned and resumed his chase. It was almost dawn, but where was Wanyan Honglie? He knew the enemy who killed his father was near but seemed to be unreachable. He was anxious.

He rushed forward a little bit further and arrived at a small wooded area where he saw a white shadow flashing by. It was Huang Rong. The two met, looked at each other and knew they had not found him. Dejectedly they decided to go back to the temple.

“Wanyan Honglie led quite a number of troops pursuing us; he was riding a fast horse. I think by now he must be going back to fetch reinforcements to capture us,” Tolui reasoned. “Anda, I am bearing my father’s decree; I can’t stay for long. Let us part here. My little sister asked me to deliver this message to you: Please come back home to Mongolia as soon as possible.”

Guo Jing agreed to what he said, but feared that it would be difficult for them to meet again in the future. His heart was heavy. He hugged Tolui, Jebeh and Borchu and bade them farewell, saying very little. They mounted their horses and galloped away. The sound of hoof beats gradually vanished; men and horses hidden behind a cloud of yellow dust.

“Let us hide and wait for Wanyan Honglie to come back,” Huang Rong proposed. “If the troops are numerous, we will simply follow them and try to assassinate him in the evening. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?”

Guo Jing was delighted. He praised Huang Rong endlessly. Huang Rong was very happy too, she smiled and said, “It was nothing, I was just using the common tactic of ‘leaving the shore to move to a ship’ [yi an jiu chuan].”

“I’ll go to the woods to hide our horses,” Guo Jing said. He walked towards the backyard of the temple and suddenly saw something gleaming in the grass in the morning sun. He bent down to take a closer look and found that thing was a golden helmet, inlaid with three big jewels. Guo Jing picked it up and walked back to Huang Rong. “What do you think this is?” he quietly asked.

“Wanyan Honglie’s golden helmet?” Huang Rong guessed.

“Exactly!” whispered Guo Jing. “I believe he is still hiding somewhere close to this temple. Let’s spread out and find him.”

Huang Rong turned, her hands pressed down on the wall and she floated atop the wall in no time. “I’ll search from above, you from below,” she called out. Guo Jing entered the temple.

“Was my lightness kungfu good?” Huang Rong called.

Guo Jing was taken aback, he stopped in his tracks. “It was very good! Why?” he asked. “Then why didn’t you praise me?” Huang Rong said with a laugh.

Guo Jing stomped his feet. “You’re a mischievous kid! You still want to joke at a time like this,” he said. Huang Rong simply laughed; raising her hands, she flew to the rear courtyard.

When Guo Jing was fighting the Jin soldiers, Yang Kang had observed from one side. Despite the darkness he could recognize the Sixth Prince Wanyan Honglie. Although Yang Kang knew by now he was not his father, he nonetheless had raised Yang Kang for more than eighteen years. He had been a father figure to Yang Kang all this time. Yang Kang saw how Guo Jing dispersed the Jin soldiers; if Wanyan Honglie was seen by Guo Jing, he would surely lose his life. It was a critical moment and Yang Kang did not have too much time to think; so he jumped onto the battleground. At that time Guo Jing was hurling a Jin soldier’s body into the air. Wanyan Honglie’s horse got frightened, so he was busy holding the reins. Yang Kang grabbed him from behind and pulled him to safety.

“Fu Wang [Father King], it’s me, Kang’er. Don’t make a sound!” Yang Kang whispered urgently. Guo Jing was still fighting and Huang Rong’s attention was occupied by the eagles. The night was dark, so nobody saw him with Wanyan Honglie moving towards the rear courtyard of the temple.

Yang Kang quietly pushed open the door to the west wing and, equally quietly, the two hid themselves there. Their ears could still hear the battle cries outside, followed by the sounds of Jin soldiers scampering away; finally they heard the mumbled sounds of the three Mongolians talking to Guo Jing.

Wanyan Honglie thought he was dreaming, “Kang’er,” he whispered, “What brought you here?”

“It was a fortunate coincidence,” Yang Kang replied. “Ah … but that man surnamed Guo means you harm.”

By then Wanyan Honglie heard Guo Jing and Huang Rong were going to go separate ways to look for him. He also saw how Guo Jing had defeated the ‘Three Ghosts of the Yellow River’ and how fiercely and swiftly he had beaten and killed numerous Jin soldiers. If he were discovered by those two, what would happen? He shuddered involuntarily.

“Fu Wang, if we go now, I am afraid we’ll run into them. Let’s just hide here; they will leave eventually. We’ll wait until they are far away, then we can carefully leave,” Yang Kang said.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Wanyan Honglie said. He paused, then said, “Kang’er, why did you call me Fu Wang and not dad [die]?” Yang Kang was silent. He remembered his late mother’s fate and his heart was filled with turbulent emotions.

Wanyan Honglie said slowly, “You were thinking of your mother, were you not?” He stretched his arm to hold Yang Kang’s hand and that hand was icy cold with Yang Kang’s sweat.

Yang Kang gently pulled his hand away. He changed the subject, “Guo Jing’s martial arts are high. He is seeking vengeance for his father; he is determined to find and kill you. He also has befriended many, many experts in martial arts; it will be impossible for you to guard against him. I think it will be to your benefit if you do not go back to Beijing for the next six months or so.”

Wanyan Honglie recalled what happened at Ox Village near Lin’an nineteen years ago; he was saddened. Yet there was a tinge of guilty feelings in him, so he was silent for quite a while. “Very well,” he finally said, “I’ll avoid Beijing for a while. Have you gone to Lin’an yet? What did Prime Minister Shi say?”

“I haven’t been there,” Yang Kang coldly replied.

Wanyan Honglie heard the tone of his voice and guessed that Yang Kang had probably found out about his own life story; but why did Yang Kang save him? Could he have another plan in mind?

Those two men had lived together for eighteen years as father and son; they loved each other dearly. But now that they were together in that small room, Yang Kang suddenly thought there was a deep hatred between them. There was a raging battle inside his heart: “With just a whack of my palm I will avenge my father and mother; but how can I do that? Yang Tiexin was my biological father, but what did he give me? Mama normally treated Fu Wang well and if I kill him now, would Mama like it? Besides, if I really forsake being a prince, will I end up wandering around in the wilderness, destitute like Guo Jing?”

He was still having these disquieting thoughts when Wanyan Honglie said, “Kang’er, we have had a father-son relationship. No matter what, you are my son and I love you. Within ten years our great Jin will conquer the Song. At that time I will have enormous power and authority in my hands, with unlimited riches and honor. This beautiful country, this mortal world, will eventually fall into your hands.”

Yang Kang understood the implications of his speech; Wanyan Honglie aimed to be the emperor. Thinking about ‘unlimited riches and honor’, his heart was thumping loudly and he secretly thought, “With the power of the Great Jin, it will not be difficult to crush the Song. Mongolia will pose another problem, but it will be temporary. They are just a bunch of barbarians with excellent riding and archery skills; nothing refined. Fu Wang’s management skill is superb. Which other Great Jin prince can be compared to him? When all’s said and done, I will definitely become the crown prince of this world.” Thinking thus, his blood boiled. He stretched his hand to grab Wanyan Honglie’s. “Dad, your child will certainly help you in this great undertaking.”

Wanyan Honglie noticed Yang Kang’s hand had become warm; he was delighted. “I am Li Yuan, you are Li Shi Min.” [Translator note: Li Yuan and Li Shi Min were the father and son founders of the Tang Dynasty]

Yang Kang was about to reply when they suddenly heard a noise behind them. The two men froze. Quickly they turned their heads. It was already morning and bright sunlight came through the window. They saw seven or eight coffins scattered throughout the room. It turns out that this west wing was the temporary place for the dead before burial. They listened carefully; the noise sounded like it came from one of the coffins.

“What was that?” Wanyan Honglie asked.

“Probably a mouse,” Yang Kang replied. At that moment they heard Guo Jing and Huang Rong talking outside about the golden helmet; then joking around as they looked for them.

“Confound it!” Yang Kang thought, “Father’s golden helmet was left outside! This could be bad.” With a low voice he said, “I am going to lead them away.” Quietly he opened the door and jumped outside, towards the roof.

Huang Rong was on the roof when she suddenly saw a shadow flash by on the roof’s peak. “Good! He is here!” She dashed toward that shadow, but the shadow quickly jumped down and disappeared around a corner.

Guo Jing heard her voice and came. “He can’t run far and must be hiding in the woods,” Huang Rong said.

The two were about to run into the woods when suddenly there was a noise from the bush and out came Yang Kang. Guo Jing was pleasantly surprised. “Xian di, where did you come from?” he asked. “Did you see Wanyan Honglie?”

“Wanyan Honglie is here?” Yang Kang feigned surprise.

“He was the commander of those troops. Look, his golden helmet is here,” Guo Jing said. “So that’s how it is,” Yang Kang said.

Huang Rong noticed his expression was unusual; she also remembered he was speaking with Ouyang Ke earlier so she was suspicious. “We were looking for you everywhere just a moment ago. Where were you?” she asked.

“I ate too many strange foods yesterday, I think I suffered food poisoning, so I relieved myself over there,” Yang Kang said, pointing to a small wooded area.

Huang Rong did not believe him, but she was too uncomfortable to challenge him. “Xian di,” Guo Jing said, “Let’s look together.”

Yang Kang was worried; he was not sure if Wanyan Honglie had run away or was still here; but his face did not show anything. “He came here to die! We could not have asked for anything better,” he said, “Why don’t you two search to the east, I’ll go to the west.”

“Very well.” Guo Jing said, immediately walking to the east and pushing open the door to the ‘Clemency and Filial Hall’ [jie xiao tang].

“Brother Yang,” Huang Rong said, “I think that man is hiding in the west wing; let me come with you.”

Yang Kang groaned inwardly, but his face feigned happiness. “Let us go, quickly!” he said, “Don’t let him run away.” Immediately the two searched from room to room.

The Liu family of Baoying was originally an important family during the Song Dynasty; naturally their ancestral temple was huge. Because of the war with the Jin, this temple was partially burned and some of the Liu family killed. Therefore parts of temple were left in ruins without any effort to rebuild it.

With a cold look Huang Rong watched Yang Kang open dust-laden and spider-webbed doors one by one. He searched each and every room. Finally they arrived at the west wing. Huang Rong saw thick dust on the floor and in that dust there were several footprints, which – from the look of them, were recently made. There were a couple of handprints on the closed door too. “In here!” she shouted excitedly.

Guo Jing and Yang Kang both heard her shout; Guo Jing was delighted, while Yang Kang was anxious; both rushed towards her. Huang Rong kicked the door open, but to her surprise, all she saw were several coffins with no sign of Wanyan Honglie.

Yang Kang was greatly relieved, he knew Wanyan Honglie must have escaped; but he entered the room and loudly shouted, “Wanyan Honglie, traitor! Where do you hide? Come out!”

“Brother Yang, he must have heard us a long time ago. You don’t have to be so kind as to let him know we are here,” Huang Rong snickered.

Yang Kang was embarrassed, his face flushed, “Miss Huang, why do you joke with me?” His embarrassment turned to anger.

“Never mind her, Xian di; Rong’er likes to joke,” Guo Jing smiled. He lowered his head and said, “Look here, someone must have left all these footprints. Indeed he was here.”

“Quick, we must pursue him!” Huang Rong urged. Just as she turned her head, there came a noise from behind her. All three were frightened. They saw a coffin move slightly.

Huang Rong had always been afraid of coffins and ever since she entered this room, she had been feeling queasy; now a coffin suddenly moved by itself, she uttered a cry and tightly held Guo Jing’s arm. But even though her heart was scared, her brain was still working. “That traitor … that traitor hides in the coffin,” she said with a trembling voice.

Yang Kang suddenly pointed his finger outside, “Hey! He is over there!” Without waiting for a reply he readied to run outside. But Huang Rong was quick, she reached backward and grabbed Yang Kang’s main artery. “You have seen a ghost?” she sneered.

Half of Yang Kang’s body was numb; he could not move. “You … what are you doing?” he asked anxiously. Guo Jing was delighted. “Right…that traitor must be hiding in the coffin.” With big strides he walked towards the coffin and lifted his hands, ready should Wanyan Honglie came out.

“Elder Brother, be careful!” Yang Kang called out. “There could be a zombie inside.”

Huang Rong twisted Yang Kang’s hand so that he fell to the floor. “You still want to scare me?” she asked angrily. She was certain that it was Wanyan Honglie hiding inside the coffin, but still, she was scared. What if it really was a zombie inside? You never know, do you?

“Jing ge ge, not so fast!” she tremblingly said. Guo Jing halted and turned his head, “What is it?”

“Just hold the lid down,” Huang Rong said. “Don’t let … don’t let that thing come out.”

Guo Jing smiled, “How can it be a zombie?” But he saw that Huang Rong was really afraid, so he jumped toward the coffin and comforted her, “He won’t be able to crawl out!”

Huang Rong was still anxious, she hesitated a little bit, and then said, “Jing ge ge, let me hit the coffin using the ‘Empty Splitting Palm’ [pi kong zhang] while you keep your eyes open. Whether it is a zombie or Wanyan Honglie, I will split the coffin. Then we’ll see whether it is a person crying or a zombie wailing!”

As soon as she finished speaking she exerted energy to her palms, took two steps and sent the palms at the coffin. Her ‘Empty Splitting Palm’ was not as strong as Lu Chengfeng’s; therefore, she needed to hit the coffin directly. Actually it could be launched from a distance with empty air between her and the target.

“That’s not right!” Yang Kang said anxiously, “You hit the coffin’s lid and a zombie might poke his head out and bite your hand, that won’t be good!”

He was successful in making Huang Rong more frightened than ever. She was shivering and halted her movement. Suddenly a cry came out from the coffin; it was a woman’s voice. Huang Rong jumped. She was extremely terrified. “A female ghost!” she cried. Flailing her hands she ran outside and cried, “Quick! Get out of here!”

Guo Jing was brave, “Brother Yang, let us lift the coffin lid and take a look,” he said.

Yang Kang was drenched in a cold sweat, but how could he refuse Guo Jing’s request? Surely he could not make himself an enemy of this Guo-Huang couple. But then he heard that woman’s voice again, so he rushed ahead to raise the coffin lid. They used a knife to jack the lid up and together they opened the lid, which actually had not been nailed to the coffin.

Guo Jing had directed his strength to his arms, ready to strike the zombie’s head; but when he looked down, he was stunned. There was no zombie; it was a good-looking young girl, with a pair of big eyes looking up at them. It was none other than Mu Nianci.

Yang Kang was pleasantly surprised and quickly he held out his hand to help her out. “Rong’er, come here, quick!” Guo Jing called out. “Look who’s here?”

Huang Rong turned her head with her eyes closed. “I don’t want to see!” she shouted back. “But it’s Elder Sister Mu!” Guo Jing urged.

With her left eye still closed, Huang Rong took a peek with her right eye. She saw Yang Kang embracing a woman who looked like Mu Nianci. She felt relieved and timidly entered the room again. Who was that woman if not Mu Nianci?

Huang Rong saw Mu Nianci’s face looked haggard and two streams of tears flowed down her cheeks. She was unable to move. Huang Rong unsealed her acupoint and asked, “Elder Sister, why are you here?”

Mu Nianci’s acupoint had been sealed for quite a while; her whole body was stiff and her breathing was uneven. Huang Rong helped by rubbing her back. After a while [about the time needed to drink a cup of tea] Mu Nianci told her, “I was captured and held prisoner.”

Huang Rong noticed that the sealed acupoint was located at the center of the sole of the foot; the ‘Bursting Fountain’ [yong quan] acupoint. This was rarely used by the wulin characters of the Central Plains. So with eighty to ninety percent certainty she guessed, “Was it that bastard Ouyang Ke?” Mu Nianci did not answer, but she nodded.

That day when she was trying to contact Mei Chaofeng for Yang Kang’s sake she was captured by Ouyang Ke near the pile of skulls and her acupoint was sealed. After Huang Yaoshi played his jade flute to disperse the snakes and help Mei Chaofeng; Ouyang Ke’s concubines and his three snake herders were left unconscious by the flute’s sound and Ouyang Ke ran away in distress. At daybreak the concubines and the snake herders woke up and found Mu Nianci lying on her side, unable to move. They took her to their master. Ouyang Ke tried to rape her, but she was determined to fight to her death. Although Ouyang Ke was conceited and lecherous, he always prided himself as being an elegant and cultured man; his martial arts skill was high, so he could easily melt women’s hearts. If he resorted to violence and brute force, he would certainly succeed in raping her; but then he would mar the name of the White Camel Mountain. Because of this pride, Mu Nianci was fortunate and able to keep her purity. Afterwards they arrived at Baoying and Ouyang Ke hid her inside one of the Liu ancestral temple’s coffins. He then sent his concubines to ‘invite’ several beautiful young women from rich families, including Miss Cheng. It was then that the Beggar Clan intervened which resulted in a battle. Ouyang Ke left in a hurry. He’d had several women these past few days, so he did not remember Mu Nianci was still inside one of the coffins. If Guo Jing and the others had not been looking for Wanyan Honglie, she would have starved to death inside the coffin.

Yang Kang was unexpectedly happy to see his beloved here. With a compassionate face he said, “Little sister, just rest here, I am going to boil some water for you to drink.”

“How can you boil some water?” Huang Rong smiled, “I’ll go. Jing ge ge, come with me.” She had thought to leave those two alone to alleviate their lovesickness, but Mu Nianci sat straight up, “Hold a moment!” she said without a smile, “Mister Yang, I congratulate you on your unlimited riches and honor in the future.”

Yang Kang felt a flush creeping onto his whole face, but his heart turned cold. “She must have heard my conversation with Fu Wang in here.” He stood still not knowing what to do.

Mu Nianci saw he was distressed and her heart melted; she did not have the heart to reveal the secret that he was the one who let Wanyan Honglie go, for fear that Guo Jing and Huang Rong would kill him out of anger.

“You called him ‘Dad’, wasn’t that better? It is much more intimate than if you call him ‘Fu Wang’, isn’t it?” she coldly said. Yang Kang felt so ashamed; he hung his head and did not say anything.

Huang Rong did not know what was going on; she thought this young woman was upset and blamed Yang Kang for not coming earlier to rescue her. She pulled Guo Jing’s sleeve and whispered, “Let’s go out, I am sure those two will make up immediately.” Guo Jing smiled and went along with her.

“Let’s eavesdrop on what they’re saying,” Huang Rong said as soon as they reached the courtyard. Guo Jing smiled, “Don’t intentionally create trouble. I don’t want to listen.”

“Very well!” Huang Rong sulked. “Just don’t be disappointed if I hear something interesting and I don’t tell you about it.” She leaped to the roof and walked quietly back to the west wing only to hear Mu Nianci speaking harshly.

“You called an enemy your father. I can understand that considering your past relationship; you will get over it. But who would have thought you also have delusional thoughts; you want to destroy the country of your own parents, this … this …” Reaching this point she was so furious that she could not continue.

Yang Kang smiled nervously. “Little sister, I …” he said softly, but Mu Nianci cut him short. “Who’s your little sister? Don’t touch me!” she screamed. ‘Slap!’ her hand left a red imprint on Yang Kang’s face.

Huang Rong was surprised. “They’re fighting, I must stop them,” she thought. Entering through a window she laughed and said, “Aiyo! Even if you don’t agree with each other, please don’t resort to violence.” But she stopped dead in her track at seeing Mu Nianci’s fiery red cheeks while Yang Kang was very pale. She was about to open her mouth again when Yang Kang suddenly shouted, “Good! You have met the new one and abandoned the old. Your heart is already occupied by another and so you treat me like this.”

“You … what did you say?” Mu Nianci stammered. Yang Kang snickered, “You and that fellow named Ouyang. His martial arts are ten times better than mine; of course you would immediately brush me from your heart.”

Mu Nianci was so angry that her hands and feet went icy-cold; she nearly passed out.

Huang Rong interrupted, “Brother Yang, you must not speak nonsense; if Sister Mu liked him, why would that bastard seal her acupoint and leave her starving inside the coffin?”

Out of shame Yang Kang became indignant. “The truth is good, yet hypocrisy is also good. She was held by that bastard for quite some time and she has lost her innocence. How could she and I be together again?”

Mu Nianci was outraged, “I … I … What innocence have I lost?”

“You were in that man’s possession for many days; he must have cuddled you, you must have embraced him. How could you keep your crystal clear purity?” Yang Kang mocked.

Mu Nianci really could not hold herself back any longer. She was tired and angry. This last attack was too vicious for her to bear. With a ‘wah’ sound she spit some blood and fell backwards.

Yang Kang realized his words were too vicious; seeing her like that he felt remorse and wanted to embrace and comfort her. Then he remembered she knew his secret. Huang Rong had voiced her suspicions earlier; if Mu Nianci should open her mouth, his life would be in danger. Moreover, he was worried about his father; so without saying anything he turned around, rushed outside and leaped over the wall.

Huang Rong had to massage Mu Nianci’s chest for quite a while before she finally came to. She was unusually composed and did not even cry. “Little Sister,” she calmly said, “Let me borrow the dagger I gave you earlier.” “Jing ge ge!” Huang Rong called out loudly, “Can you come here, please?” Guo Jing quickly came. “Please give the dagger that belongs to Brother Yang to Elder Sister Mu,” Huang Rong said.

“Certainly,” Guo Jing complied. He pulled the dagger out of his pocket; it was the dagger taken by Zhu Cong from Mei Chaofeng. It was wrapped in, what would appear to the casual observer, a thin sheet of leather. The leather was full of characters tattooed with a needle. Guo Jing was not aware that the characters were actually the second part of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He casually unrolled the leather sheet and gave the dagger to Mu Nianci.

Huang Rong also took a dagger out from her pocket; she softly said, “Jing ge ge’s dagger is in my possession; Brother Yang’s dagger is now in yours. Elder Sister, this is a destiny that will bring you two together. You have had a disagreement, but for the moment, please don’t be sad. My father and I are also having some disagreements. Jing ge ge and I are going to Beijing to look for Wanyan Honglie. Elder Sister, please don’t let your heart be troubled. Why don’t you come with us? We can walk leisurely together. I am sure Brother Yang will come back to you.”

Guo Jing was puzzled, “Brother Yang?” Huang Rong stuck out her tongue. “He provoked Elder Sister; Elder Sister slapped him hard. Elder Sister Mu, if Brother Yang did not like you, how come he did not retaliate when you slapped him? His martial arts are stronger than yours. The fight between you …” She wanted to say ‘the fight between you two must be a habit’ (she was referring to the ‘Joust to Find a Spouse), but she saw Mu Nianci was grieving and she did not have the heart to make a joke.

“I am not going to Beijing,” Mu Nianci said, “You also don’t have to go. For the next half a year that traitor Wanyan Honglie won’t be in Beijing. He is afraid of you. Brother Guo, Little Sister, you are good people, your life must also be good …” She choked up; covered her face and rushed towards the door. With a leap she was gone.

Huang Rong looked down and saw the blood Mu Nianci spit up earlier. She hesitated for a moment, and in the end did not feel comfortable doing nothing, so she also leaped over the wall and chased after her, only to see Mu Nianci under a big willow tree in the distance. The sunlight reflected on the dagger’s naked blade. Mu Nianci lifted the dagger high above her head. Huang Rong was anxious; she thought Mu Nianci was going to kill herself. She shouted loudly, “Elder Sister! Please don’t …” But the distance between them was too great; she would not be able to stop her. Luckily Mu Nianci only raised her left hand holding up her hair. With a slash of the dagger in her right hand she sheared off a big clump of hair, threw it to the ground and ran away.

“Elder Sister! Elder Sister … !” Huang Rong called out. Mu Nianci turned a deaf ear and kept going.

Huang Rong stared blankly in the distance, she was lost in thought. She saw the clump of soft hair dancing in the morning breeze. A short time later some of the hair was scattered to a rice field, some went into a creek, some flew up into the trees lining the pathway and some followed the blowing dust, going who knows where. Huang Rong had always been tender, carefree and mischievous since her childhood. She laughed when happy, cried or sulked when not; the word ‘anxiety’ was never in her vocabulary. But now that she saw what had just happened, she could not keep sadness from creeping into her heart. Now, she found out about the world of anxiety.

She slowly walked back to the temple and told Guo Jing what had happened to Mu Nianci. Guo Jing did not know why those two people were having a disagreement; he simply said, “I don’t understand why Elder Sister Mu made such a big deal out of it. I think her character is just too rigid.”

“How could a woman hugged by a stranger lose her innocence? Even her loved one did not respect her anymore or care about her any longer.” Huang Rong thought. She did not have a clue as to the reasoning behind all it, so she brushed it off as ‘that was the way it was’ and left it at that. She slowly walked to the rear courtyard and sat against a pillar. Her mind was heavy with thoughts. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.

That very evening Li Sheng and other Beggar Clan members threw a banquet in honor of their leader, Hong Qigong, and also to congratulate Guo Jing and Huang Rong. They waited until around midnight but Hong Qigong still had not shown up. Li Sheng knew his Leader’s unusual habits so he did not give it any thought; he kept serving wine to Guo Jing and Huang Rong and they drank to their hearts’ content. The people of the Beggar Clan had high respect for these two people, so their conversations were congenial. Miss Cheng had personally prepared some food, provided four big pots of good quality wine, and delivered everything via her servants.

After the banquet was over Guo Jing and Huang Rong discussed what to do next. Wanyan Honglie would not be in Beijing, so it would be difficult to find him in a short period of time. The Peach Blossom Island appointment was drawing near. Guo Jing needed to go back to Jiaxing immediately and consult with his six masters on what action they would take.

Huang Rong nodded her head in agreement. “I think it is best for your six masters not to go to Peach Blossom Island,” she added. “You fought with father and received quite a beating; for him to hit a few more heads is no big deal, is it? If you don’t agree with me, let me hit you a few more times on the head. If your six masters meet my father again, what good will it bring?”

“You’re right,” Guo Jing said. “But you don’t need to hit my head.”

Early the next morning the two rode south. It was the beginning of the sixth month and the weather was burning hot. Natives of Jiangnan had a saying, ‘the sixth day of the sixth month, a duck egg was cooked by the sun.’ Traveling under the hot sun they were very miserable. So they would hurry along early in the mornings and later in the evenings and rested at noon.

A few days later they arrived at Jiaxing. Since it was earlier than the appointed time, the Six Freaks were not there yet. Guo Jing wrote a letter and left it with the innkeeper of the Pavilion of the Drunken Immortal, asking him to deliver the letter in person to the Six Freaks of Jiangnan when they arrived at the beginning of the seventh month. In the letter he explained that he had met Huang Rong and was going to Peach Blossom Island to fulfill his promise and that with Huang Yaoshi’s beloved daughter’s company, he should not come across any problems. He asked his six masters to not be anxious and that they need not accompany him, and so on.

Even though he said that, he was actually afraid since Huang Yaoshi was very peculiar. He thought he would more likely meet misfortune than good fortune. He was afraid Huang Rong would feel anxious for him, so he did not tell her anything. Knowing that his six masters did not have to go into harm’s way was his only consolation.

The couple headed east. After Zhoushan, they hired a boat and continued by sea. Huang Rong knew that local sailors were afraid of Peach Blossom Island, like some people are afraid of vipers or scorpions. Nobody dared to sail within forty li of the island. If she mentioned the name of Peach Blossom Island, no matter how much money she offered, nobody would be willing to take them. So she said they were going shrimp fishing at a nearby island. It was only after they were quite a distance from shore did she tell the boatman to change course to the north. The boatman was terrified, but Huang Rong wielded a dagger in front of his chest; a cold and bright sparkle emanated from the blade so he had no choice but to comply with their request.

As the boat was nearing the island, Guo Jing smelled a flowery fragrance amidst the salty smell of the sea. He turned his gaze towards the island. It was green and lush with colorful trees and shrubs. Some were green, some red, some yellow, and some purple. The island looked like a massive flower garden.

Huang Rong smiled. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked.

Guo Jing sighed, “I have never seen so many beautiful flowers in my whole life,” he answered.

Huang Rong was very pleased; she smiled and explained, “Come the third month, the peach blossoms are in full bloom. That is really beautiful. Shifu did not want to admit that my father’s martial arts are number one in the world, but he cannot deny the fact that my father’s gardening skill is unrivaled. Too bad he is only interested in food and drink; he doesn’t even know what a good flower or plant is. He’s such an uncouth person.”

“You are talking about Shifu behind his back,” Guo Jing scolded, “Not a good habit.” Huang Rong stuck her tongue out and made a face.

They waited until the boat was closer before they leaped ashore. Guo Jing’s red horse also jumped to the shore. The boatman had heard many horror stories about the island; it was said that the Master of Peach Blossom Island would kill without batting an eye, that he liked to dig out people’s hearts, lungs, livers and intestines. As soon as his passengers disembarked, he turned the rudder, wanting to leave the island as soon as possible.

Huang Rong took out a silver ingot of ten ‘liang’ [ounces] and tossed it to the boat. With a clanking noise it landed on the bow. The boatman did not expect such a generous recompense; he looked ashore delighted, but still did not dare to stay near that island much longer.

Being home again, Huang Rong’s was ecstatic. “Father! Father! Rong’er is back!” she shouted loudly. Beckoning Guo Jing to come, she then dashed forward.

Guo Jing saw her turning east and dodging west amongst the flowers and very soon disappeared from his sight. He hastily chased her, but after several ‘zhang’ he had already lost track of her. He saw there were trails heading east, south, west and north; but did not know which one he should take.

When he arbitrarily took a path and walked for while and he seemed to be returning to where he’d started. He recalled the pathways of Cloud Manor Manor; Huang Rong had said that although that manor’s layout was wonderfully arranged it still paled in comparison with Peach Blossom Island, whose design was based on yin-yang and open-closed elements. If he forced himself to walk in this wonderful, almost magical place he would end up wasting his strength in vain. So he decided to just sit underneath a peach tree and wait for Huang Rong to fetch him. Who would have thought that after waiting for half a day Huang Rong still had not come. He looked around in all directions but did not see even the shadow of a human being; not even a single sound was heard. He was lost!

Anxiously he stood up and climbed atop a nearby tree. Again he looked everywhere; to the south of him was the sea, to the west was a barren rock hill, to the north and east were forests of flowers of all kinds and colors; he could not even see the end of it. His head became dizzy. He did not see anything that resembled a wall or a chimney; he did not even hear a dog’s bark. It was so extremely quiet and lonely that it scared him.

Quickly he slid down the tree and ran in panic towards the dark forest. He suddenly stopped in his tracks and anxiously cried, “Not good! I am running around aimlessly! If Rong’er comes looking for me, she won’t find me!” Having had this thought he turned around and ran back; but he was lost again! He couldn’t even find the place where he started.

The little red horse was following him closely, but when he ran among the bushes and climbed trees and soon the horse was also lost. The sky was growing dark and Guo Jing did not know what to do; so he simply sat on the ground and waited for Huang Rong. It was a good thing that that place was covered with thick green grass, so he was quite comfortable sitting down.

He started to get hungry and thirsty too. His mind wandered to the delicious food Huang Rong used to prepare for Hong Qigong and he was getting hungrier. Suddenly a thought came into his mind. “What if Rong’er’s father locked her up? She won’t be able to rescue me. How can I let myself starve to death in this forest?” He recalled he still had to sort out the enmity with Huang Rong’s father; he also remembered he had not paid back his masters’ kindness. Then his mind wandered to his mother in far away Mongolia; if he died here, who would take care of her? With these heavy thoughts he became tired and fell asleep.

It was deep into the night when he dreamt he was on a trip with Huang Rong. They visited a lake near Beijing. They got to a beautiful spot and Huang Rong was singing a tune in a soft voice. Out of the blue there came another sound singing along; it was a bamboo flute. He woke up, startled. The flute sound still lingered in the air. Guo Jing got up and looked around. The moon shone brightly in the sky, and the sweet fragrance of the flowers was thickened by the dark night. The flute sound came from a distance; he was not dreaming!

Guo Jing was delighted. He walked towards the flute sound following the path in front of him. It was a winding path, and sometimes there was no path in front of him, but the flute sound was still coming from the front. He remembered the pathways of the Cloud Manor; so he ignored the winding path and just went straight to the sound. If a tree or shrubs were in front of him, he simply climbed or jumped over them.

The flute sound was getting clearer. Guo Jing walked faster. Rounding a bend, he arrived at an area of white flowering shrubs. Layer upon layer of flowers glistened in the bright moonlight; so many they looked like a small white lake. In the middle of these white flowers he saw something big and tall, looking massive. Here the sound of the flute suddenly changed. Sometimes high, sometimes low; sometimes the sound came from his front, sometimes it moved to his back. He thought the sound was coming from the east, but when he rushed to the east, the sound moved to the west; when he chased to the north, the sound swiftly moved to the south. It sounded like more than ten people were playing flutes all around him. This flute sound really drove him crazy.

After running around like that for a while Guo Jing’s head was spinning, so he decided to quit running and walked directly towards that massive thing in the middle of white flower lake. It turned out it was a grave site. There was a stone in front of the tomb with this inscription: ‘The Fragrant Burial Ground of Mistress Feng of Peach Blossom Island’ [tao hua dao nu zhu feng shi mai xiang zhi zhong], in eleven large characters.

“This must be Rong’er’s mother’s tomb,” Guo Jing thought. “Rong’er lost her when she was very small, it was really sad.” He knelt down in front of the tomb and kowtowed four times to pay his respects.

The flute sound suddenly stopped when Guo Jing was kneeling. Everything around him was very quiet; but as soon as he stood up, the flute sound resumed in front of him. “I don’t care if it brings luck or misfortune, I will follow the sound,” Guo Jing thought.

Again he walked amongst the vegetation following the flute. And again sound of the flute changed its personality. First it sounded like laughter, but suddenly changed into anger; it affected his feelings no end. Guo Jing’s pulse quickened, “How come this tune is so pleasant to my ears?” he was fascinated.

The tune increased its tempo, urging him to get up and dance. Guo Jing felt the urge, his face flushed and he felt his blood flowing ever faster through his hundreds of arteries. He immediately sat on the ground and meditated as Ma Yu had taught him: circulating his internal energy.

At first his heart was shaken, several times he felt the urge to stand up and dance to the tune. After breathing in and out several times, his heart calmed down, his mind became clear. No matter how the flute song changed, he heard it like the sound of the waves of the sea, or like a breeze in the tree tops. He felt his ‘dan tian’ bursting with energy; his whole body felt comfortable. No longer did he feel hunger or thirst. He knew that as he reached this state, external elements would not be able to affect him any longer; he slowly opened his eyes only to see in the darkness, about two ‘zhang’s away, a pair of bright eyes looking straight at him.

He was startled, “What kind of beast is that?” he thought while leaping back several steps. But suddenly those eyes disappeared. “This Peach Blossom Island is really strange,” he thought, “even a fast leopard or a swift fox won’t be able to move that fast.” He hesitated for a moment and then heard fast breathing; it was a human’s breathing. Then he realized, “It was a human being! Those sparkling eyes were his. I didn’t see them anymore because he shut his eyes, but he is actually still here.” Having this thought he laughed at his own foolishness; but it was unclear to him whether that person was a friend or a foe, so he did not dare to make a sound and just opened his eyes wide to observe quietly.

At this time the floating flute song carried a passionate, seducing feeling resembling a woman sighing and groaning, then murmuring softly; then at other times it raged wildly with desire.

Guo Jing was still young and although he had trained in martial arts since his childhood he did not know much about sexual relationships. He felt the flute affecting his emotions and the melody was enchanting to the soul, but he did not it give too much thought. But it was not so with the other man; he was gasping for breath and groaning softly. It sounded like he was struggling with all his strength just to resist the enticement coming from the flute.

Guo Jing’s heart was moved with compassion towards this man and slowly he went to him. The trees in this place were dense and the moon was bright, but the moonlight could not penetrate the thick branches and leaves. Guo Jing walked closer and only then he could vaguely see the man’s appearance. He was sitting cross-legged. His hair was long, almost touching the ground and his eyebrows, moustache and beard were long also, covering his mouth and nose. His left hand was on his chest, his right hand on his back.

Guo Jing knew that it was one of the positions for cultivating internal energy that ‘Scarlet Sun [dan yang zi], Ma Yu had taught him atop that barren hill on the Mongolian steppes. It was the technique for closing one’s heart and mind. Whenever someone masters it to perfection, even if thunder rumbles and lighting flashes, or water gushes and creates landslides, it would not bother him at all. This man looked like he knew this advanced skill of internal energy cultivation; but why couldn’t he control himself and feared the sound of the flute?

The flute music quickened and that man’s body was swaying and twitching. Several times he jumped a few feet off the ground and after struggling with all his might he was finally able to sit down again. Guo Jing saw this cycle happen several times: he would be calm for a moment, then agitated, before calming down again, but the cycle was getting shorter and shorter. Guo Jing knew that man was fighting a losing battle, so he started to worry for him.

The flute played two more intricate melodies softly. Suddenly the man shouted, “All right! All right!” and was about to jump up. Guo Jing realized the time was critical; without thinking he rushed forward and stretched out his hands pushing down on that man’s shoulder. His right hand tapped the ‘Big Spine’ [da zhui xue] acupoint on his neck. He remembered when he was training on that Mongolian cliff; whenever his mind was troubled and could not achieve tranquility, Ma Yu would gently stroke him on his ‘Big Spine’ acupoint and that helped calm him. His internal strength was not as strong as Ma Yu’s so he could not help this man to overcome the flute’s sound; but because he struck the right spot the long-haired old man was able to calm himself. He closed his eyes and seemed like he was in control.

Guo Jing was happy inside; then someone scolded him. “Little beast! You ruined my great effort!” The flute had suddenly stopped. Guo Jing turned his head and did not see anyone, but that voice sounded like Huang Yaoshi. He became anxious and regretted his actions. “I don’t know if this long-haired old man is good or bad and I thoughtlessly helped him. I’ve surely increased Rong’er’s father’s anger. If this old man is a monster or evil witch, then I just committed a big mistake?”

He heard the old man’s breathing slowing down to steady breathing. Guo Jing refrained himself from asking the old man questions. He simply sat quietly opposite him, closed his eyes and used that time to meditate. Soon he was able to calm himself and achieve a state of emptiness. He lost track of time and opened his eyes when the morning stars began to dim in the dawn light.

The morning sun shone through the trees and flowers, illuminating the old man’s face. Guo Jing could see him clearly now; his hair and beard were not entirely white and God only knows how many years a shaving knife had not touched his head. He looked like a cave man.

Suddenly the old man’s eyes opened. His eyes were bright and twinkling. He smiled faintly and asked, “Which one of the Quanzhen Seven Masters is your master?”

Guo Jing saw his kindly countenance and was put at ease. He stood up and bowed respectfully, “Disciple Guo Jing pays his respect to Senior. I am the disciple of the Seven Heroes of Jiangnan.”

The old man seemed surprised. “The Seven Heroes of Jiangnan; is that Ke Zhen’E and the others? How could they teach you the internal energy cultivation of the Quanzhen Sect?” he asked.

“Actually, Ma Dao Zhang [Taoist Priest Ma] spent two years teaching this disciple, but he did not permit me inside the Quanzhen Sect’s gate and wall,” Guo Jing answered. [Guo Jing meant that he was not taken as Ma Yu’s official disciple.]

That old man laughed heartily and then made faces. He looked so funny, like a child playing jokes. “So that’s how it is” he said, “How did you come to Peach Blossom Island?”

“Master Huang told me to come,” replied Guo Jing.

The old man’s face suddenly changed, “What for?” he asked.

“This disciple offended Master Huang,” Guo Jing answered. “I come here to accept my fate.” “Are you telling the truth?” the old man asked.

“Disciple does not dare to lie,” answered Guo Jing.

The old man nodded, “Very good! Sit down!” he commanded.

Guo Jing sat on a big rock and he could see clearly that the old man was sitting inside a cave in a rock wall. “Other than your Masters who else taught you martial arts?” the old man asked again.

“The Nine-fingered Divine Beggar, Benevolent Master Hong …” Guo Jing said.

The old man’s face changed again, it was strange, like he was going to smile but restrained himself. “Hong Qigong also taught you martial arts?” he interrupted.

“Yes,” replied Guo Jing. “Benevolent Master Hong taught me the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.”

The old man’s face showed happiness and envy at the same time, “You know the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’? That martial art is so amazing. How about teaching it to me? I will take you as my master.” But then he shook his head and said, “Won’t do! Won’t do! As the Old Hong’s disciple your energy must not be that strong. Did Old Beggar Hong teach you internal energy?”

“He did not,” Guo Jing answered truthfully. The old man looked up and thought aloud, “He looks so young. Even if he cultivated his internal energy inside his mother’s womb, it would be at most eighteen or nineteen year’s worth of internal energy. How could he resist the flute sound, while I could not?” He was deep in thought for a moment; then he looked at Guo Jing from top to bottom and again from bottom to top. He stretched out his right palm and said, “Push my palm; I want to test your martial arts.”

Guo Jing complied; he extended his right palm and pushed. The old man said, “Qi’ [internal energy] in your ‘dan tian’ [lower stomach region] and push hard!” Guo Jing exerted his strength. The old man pulled back his palm slightly then pushed hard while calling out, “Be careful!”

Guo Jing sensed a powerful force pushing him. He could not resist it, so he used his left hand to reinforce his right palm. Surprisingly, old man flipped his palm and pushed Guo Jing’s wrist with four fingers. The power of these fingers was enough to send Guo Jing flying backwards seven or eight steps until his back hit a tree. Only then did Guo Jing manage to stand steady.

“His martial arts are not bad, but nothing extraordinary either,” the old man muttered, “But how could he resist the Old Heretic Huang’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave song’ [bi hai chao sheng qu]?”

Guo Jing felt his chest tighten; he was astonished, “This man’s martial arts are about the same level as Shifu’s and Master Huang’s. How could there be an expert of his caliber on Peach Blossom Island? Could it be he is the Western Poison or the Southern Emperor?” As soon as he remembered ‘Western Poison’ his heart turned cold, “Did I fall for his trickery?” Quickly he lifted his palm in the sunlight and checked it. He did not see any inflammation or black marks and was relieved; at least he wasn’t being poisoned.

“Can you guess who I am?” the old man laughed.

“Disciple heard people say that in the martial arts realm there are five experts. The Quanzhen’s founder Venerable Wang has passed away; the disciples have met the ‘Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’ Benevolent Master Hong and the Master of Peach Blossom Island. Could you be the Senior Ouyang or the Emperor Duan?”

“You thought my martial arts are comparable to the Eastern Heretic and Northern Beggar didn’t you?” the old man smiled.

“This disciple’s martial arts are mediocre and my experience modest, I do not dare to speak nonsense. But when Senior pushed me a moment ago, I can say with confidence that other than Benevolent Master Hong and Master Huang, I have never experienced such force,” Guo Jing said.

The old man was delighted with Guo Jing’s praise; his face looked like a child’s happy face. “I am neither the Western Poison Ouyang Feng, nor the Emperor Duan,” he smiled broadly. “Guess again.”

Guo Jing hesitated. “This disciple has met somebody whose name was as well known as Benevolent Master Hong, Qiu Qianren. But that person’s martial arts are just ordinary. Disciple is really not smart, I cannot guess Senior’s honored name,” he said.

That old man laughed heartily, “My surname is Zhou; can you guess now?” he asked.

“Ah, you are Zhou Botong?” Guo Jing blurted. As the words came out of his mouth Guo Jing froze. Mentioning someone’s name, especially a Senior, could be considered disrespectful. He quickly bowed and apologized, “Disciple has shown disrespect, will Senior Zhou please forgive me.”

he old man laughed, “You are right! I am Zhou Botong. My name is Zhou Botong, and you called me Zhou Botong; when did you show me disrespect? The Quanzhen Sect’s founder, Wang Chongyang, was my martial brother; Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others are my martial nephews. You are not a Quanzhen disciple, you don’t have to call me Senior this or Senior that; just call me Zhou Botong.”

“How would disciple dare?” Guo Jing asked.

Zhou Botong had lived on Peach Blossom Island for a long time; he was bored and now Guo Jing suddenly came along. Talking with him he found relief; he was thrilled. Suddenly a strange thought came into his mind. “Little friend, what do you say you and I become sworn brothers?” he asked.

No matter how strange his words were, this was the strangest of all. Guo Jing’s jaw dropped and he looked at Zhou Botong in disbelief; he thought Zhou was joking. After a while he opened his mouth, “This disciple is Priest Ma and Priest Qiu’s junior; I should address you as my grand martial master.”

Zhou Botong waved his hands. “My martial arts skill came from my martial brother. Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others do not consider me their senior; they also did not respect me as a senior. You are not my son, I am not yours; we do not have older-younger generation difference.” As he spoke he heard footsteps approaching; an old servant appeared carrying a food basket. Zhou Botong beamed, “Our food is here!”

The servant opened the basket and took out four dishes of food, two pots of wine and a woven basket full of rice. He placed the food in front of Zhou Botong on top of a big rock, poured out two cups of wine and stood silently to one side.

“Where is Miss Huang? Why doesn’t she come looking for me?” Guo Jing asked. That servant shook his head, pointing to his ear and his mouth, signaling that he was deaf and mute.

“Huang Yaoshi punctured his ear drums. You can ask him to open his mouth wide and take a look,” Zhou Botong chuckled. Guo Jing made a signal, asking that servant to open his mouth. Guo Jing was startled and frightened; that servant’s tongue had been cut in half.

“The servants of Peach Blossom Island are all like that,” Zhou Botong said. “You have come here and if you don’t die, you will end up like them.”

Guo Jing heard what he said and he was silent for a long time. “How could Rong’er’s father be so cruel?” he thought.

“That Old Heretic Huang tortures me every night,” Zhou Botong continued, “I don’t want to admit defeat to him. Last night I almost fell into his hands; if not for you, little brother, my more than ten plus years of effort resisting him might have crumbled in one evening. Come little brother, we have wine and food. Today we will take an oath to be sworn brothers; in the future we will share fortune and bear difficult times together. The year when Wang Chongyang and I became sworn brothers he also resisted in every way … Why? Do you really not know? My sworn brother Wang Chongyang’s martial arts were much higher than mine; that was why he was not willing to swear brotherhood with me. Are your martial arts also much higher than mine? I don’t think so.”

“Junior’s martial arts are way below yours,” Guo Jing answered. “I don’t deserve to swear brotherhood with you.”

“If you say to swear brotherhood you have to have the same level of martial arts, then I have to swear brotherhood with Old Heretic Huang, or Old Poison,” Zhou Botong said. “That’s ridiculous! I only like to fight with them! Do you want me to swear brotherhood with this deaf and mute fellow?” He pointed to that old servant and jumped up and down in a fit of rage.

Guo Jing saw his red face and he quickly said, “Disciple and Senior are two generations apart. If I follow Senior’s directions, people will laugh at us and ridicule me. When I meet Priest Ma and Priest Qiu, how can I not be ashamed?”

“You have these many considerations. You certainly don’t want to swear brotherhood with me because I am too old”, he sputtered. Zhou Botong covered his face and cried while unconsciously pulling his beard.

Guo Jing nervously waved his hands, “Disciple will do whatever Senior instructs.”

Zhou Botong cried even harder. “You said that because of my coercion, you reluctantly agreed; that doesn’t count. When someone asks in the future, you will say that it was entirely my fault. I know you are not willing to call me your sworn brother.”

Guo Jing was secretly amused. How could such an old man not act his age? He saw him pick up a dish and toss it outside; he did not want to eat any longer. The old servant promptly picked it up; he didn’t know what was going on and he was terrified.

Guo Jing had no choice; suppressing a laugh he said, “Since Elder Brother had shown kindness, how could Little Brother not accept? Let us use earth in place of incense and become sworn brothers.”

Zhou Botong smiled through his tears. “I have sworn to Old Heretic Huang that as long as I cannot defeat him, I will never leave this hole except for bowel movements or urinating. I will kowtow inside, you kowtow outside,” he said.

“If you can’t defeat Master Huang, then you will live in this hole all your life?” Guo Jing thought; but he did not say anything and simply knelt down on the ground.

Zhou Botong knelt alongside; with a clear voice he said, “Today the Old Urchin Zhou Botong and Guo Jing are swearing a brotherhood [lit. ‘jin lan’ – golden orchid]. We will share good fortune together and will face difficulty together. If I break this oath, may my martial arts perish so that I can’t even fight a puppy or a kitten.”

Guo Jing heard him call himself ‘Old Urchin’, and his oath was sort of peculiar; he could not restrain a smile. Zhou Botong stared at him. “What are you smiling at? Quickly say your oath.” Guo Jing quickly recited his oath; then two people poured wine on the ground. Guo Jing then paid his respects to his elder brother.

Zhou Botong laughed heartily and loudly shouted, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” He poured some more wine and drank. “The Old Heretic Huang is very stingy; he serves me insipid wine only. One day a little miss came and brought me some good wine; it’s a pity she never came back.”

Guo Jing remembered Huang Rong had told him how she stole some wine and brought it to Zhou Botong; because of that she was scolded by her father. This caused her to leave the island in anger. It seemed like Zhou Botong was not aware of it. Guo Jing had been hungry for the whole day; he did not want to drink any wine but he ate five big bowls of rice. Now at least he was full. As soon as the two finished eating, the old servant cleaned up and took the leftovers back.

“Brother,” Zhou Botong asked, “How did you offend the Old Heretic Huang? Tell your big brother.”

Guo Jing then narrated how he accidentally killed Chen Xuanfeng in his childhood; how at the Cloud Manor he had fought and defeated Mei Chaofeng; how Huang Yaoshi made things difficult for the Six Freaks of Jiangnan; how because of that he had made a promise to come to Peach Blossom Island within a month to die; he told Zhou everything.

Zhou Botong loved to listen to stories; he bent his head, squinted, and listened with enthusiasm. When Guo Jing only recounted something briefly he would ask for every detail of it. Every time Guo Jing paused even for the slightest time he urged him, “Then what happened?”

“Then I arrived here,” Guo Jing finally said. Zhou Botong hesitated a moment. “Hmm…so turns out that pretty little girl is the Old Heretic Huang’s daughter. She is good to you. Why did she disappear soon after arriving on the island? There must be a reason, maybe Old Heretic Huang locked her up.”

Guo Jing’s anxiety showed on his face, “This disciple also had this thought …” “What did you say?” Zhou Botong snapped as his face changed color.

Guo Jing knew he made a mistake and quickly said, “Little brother made an indiscreet remark, please don’t mind me, Big Brother.”

Zhou Botong smiled. “The way you address me cannot be wrong. If you call me any name, then you’d better call me ‘wifey’, or ‘mommy’, or ‘daughter’. No, don’t make a mistake,” he said. Guo Jing agreed.

Zhou Botong leaned his head and asked, “Can you guess how I ended up here?” “Brother is just about to ask,” Guo Jing said.

“It’s a long story, I will tell to you completely,” Zhou Botong said. “Do you know when the five experts, the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, Northern Beggar and the Central Divinity, were having a sword meet on Mount Hua?”

Guo Jing nodded, “I’ve heard people talk of it.”

“It was in the dead of winter at Mount Hua,” Zhou Botong continued. “The peak was covered with a heavy snow. Five people were having a meet there; their hands contended in martial arts for seven straight days and nights. In the end the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor, and the Northern Beggar admitted that my martial brother, Wang Chongyang’s martial arts was number one in the world. Do you know why those five people were having that sword meet at Mount Hua?”

“This, brother has not heard,” Guo Jing replied.

“It was because of a scripture …” Zhou Botong said. “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“That’s right!” Zhou Botong said. “Brother, you are young, but your knowledge of Wulin matters is not shallow. Do you know the origin of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, then?”

“That I actually do not know,” Guo Jing replied.

Zhou Botong playfully pulled his ears and long hair and his face showed that he was very pleased with himself. “A moment ago you told me a very interesting story, now …”

“What I told you was not a story; that really happened to me,” Guo Jing interrupted.

“What is the difference? As long as it is good to listen to,” Zhou Botong said. “Some people spend their lives eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating. If those people tell me every single detail of their life, the Old Urchin will die of suffocation.”

Guo Jing nodded his head. “That’s true,” he said. “Then why doesn’t Big Brother tell the story of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ for little brother to hear.”

“The Emperor Hui Zong in the year of Zheng He wanted to compile Taoist books and scriptures from all over the world. He wanted to publish the work, which consisted of 5481 Chapters altogether. They were called the ‘Taoist Canon of Everlasting Life’ [wan shou dao zang]. The Emperor commissioned someone to do the work; he was called Huang Shang …”

“He was also surnamed Huang?” Guo Jing asked.

“Bah! What’s so special about the family name Huang?” Zhou Botong spat. “This person had nothing to do with the Old Heretic Huang Yaoshi; don’t get any wrong ideas. There are numerous people surnamed Huang in this world; the ‘yellow’ [huang] dog or yellow cat are also surnamed Huang.”

Guo Jing thought that a yellow dog and a yellow cat did not necessarily have ‘huang’ as their surnames, but he did not want to debate him; so he let him continue with his story.

“This Old Heretic Huang is not as smart as that Huang Shang. He was extremely intelligent …” Zhou Botong continued. Guo Jing wanted to say, “It turns out he was also an extremely intelligent person,” but that thought stopped at his mouth.

“This Huang Shang was very afraid he might make a mistake in the writing of the canon; because if the Emperor found out later, he would surely lose his head. Therefore, he read and re-read each volume to make sure his work was error-free. Unexpectedly, after several years of studying the scriptures, he became very proficient in the Taoist doctrines; he had found the profound truths of martial arts. He did not have a master, so he trained himself in internal and external energy cultivation and became a grand master of martial arts. Brother, this Huang Shang was many times smarter than you are. I don’t have his kind of intelligence and I don’t think you do either.”

“Naturally,” Guo Jing said. “If I were to study more than five thousand chapters of scripture, it will take me a life time just to read them from beginning to the end. How would I comprehend the martial arts inside them as well?”

Zhou Botong sighed. “These kinds of intelligent people still exist in the world today,” he said, “But if you meet this kind of people, chances are, you will face unfortunate events.”

Guo Jing did not agree with his view and secretly thought, “Rong’er is very intelligent; but since I met her I have always found good luck. How can he say ‘unfortunate’?” But he was not the kind who liked to argue, so he kept his thoughts to himself.

“Huang Shang had mastered the martial arts, yet he still held an office in the government,” Zhou Botong continued. “There came a time when there suddenly arose a religious movement in the kingdom; they called themselves the ‘Ming Cult’ [ming jiao]. It was said that this movement originated in central Asia; a place called Persia. The followers of this Ming Cult: first – did not worship the ‘Supreme Master Lao’ [tai shang lao jun translator note: I think he was a Taoist Deity]; second – did not worship ancestor spirits; third

– did not worship Buddha. They only worshipped an old foreign devil. They did not eat meat or drink wine; they were vegetarians. The Emperor Hui Zong only believed in Taoism; so as soon as he found out about this devil cult he issued an imperial decree assigning Huang Shang to eradicate it. Unexpectedly, there were many martial arts masters among the members of the cult. They were fearless of death and fought Huang Shang and his troops, rendering them useless. After several battles Huang Shang and his troops suffered heavy losses. Huang Shang was indignant. He went out and challenged the Devil Cult’s martial arts masters to a one-to-one combat. He personally killed several ‘imperial priests’ [fa wang] and some envoys. How could he know that the people he killed were disciples of well-known Wulin characters; some were their martial uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters or their immediate families. Of course those people were enraged and they came together to face him. They scolded him for not handling the affairs according to Wulin customs, to which Huang Shang replied, ‘I am a government officer and not part of the Wulin world. What do I know about your Wulin customs?’ Those whose family or relatives were killed argued, ‘If you are not part of the Wulin world, then how do you know martial arts? Are you saying that your master only taught you martial arts but did not tell you anything about the Wulin customs?’ Huang Shang replied, ‘I didn’t have a master.’ Of course they did not believe him; so they became involved in a heated argument. What do you think happened?”

“They began to fight each other,” Guo Jing said.

“Obvious, wasn’t it?” Zhou Botong said. “Huang Shang’s martial arts were strange and none of his enemies had seen it before. Because of this he could kill some of them quite easily. However, his enemies were numerous and he was also injured in the fight, so in desperation he ran away. Those enemies then wiped out his parents, wife and children completely.”

Listening to this part Guo Jing heaved a sigh. He thought that people who practiced martial arts would inevitably kill others. This Huang Shang was no different; had he not practiced martial arts, he would not have experienced such tragedy.

“That Huang Shang fellow ran away to a deserted place and hid himself there,” Zhou Botong continued. “There he tried to recall his enemies’ martial arts one by one. He painstakingly pondered as to how to defeat each and every one of them. He decided that as soon as he succeeded in developing the countering martial arts, he would go back and seek his revenge. A long time passed before he finally was able to master the new martial arts. He was very happy and expected that very soon he would be able to avenge his family. Thereupon he left the mountain to seek his enemies. Unexpectedly, the people he was looking for had disappeared. Can you guess what happened to them?”

“Perhaps his enemies found out his intentions and they knew his martial arts were very good, so they were frightened and hid from him,” Guo Jing guessed.

Zhou Botong shook his head, “No, no. When my martial brother told me this story he also asked me to guess what happened and I also said the same thing. I even made seven or eight other guesses but none of them was right.”

“Well, if Big Brother guessed seven or eight times yet did not hit the target then I don’t have to make any other guesses at all. Even if I guess seventy or eighty times I will certainly guess incorrectly,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong roared with laughter, “No chance, you have no chance at all! All right, since you admit defeat I won’t ask you to guess anymore. Actually several dozens of his enemies had died.”

Guo Jing uttered a cry of disbelief. “That’s strange! Could it be that his friends or maybe his disciples avenged him and killed all his enemies?” he asked.

Again Zhou Botong shook his head, “No, no. You missed by a hundred and eight thousand li. He did not have any disciples. He was a government official and his friends were scholars, not martial artists; how could they avenge him?”

Guo Jing scratched his head. “Could it be that they were plagued by some disease and died in some kind of epidemic?”

“Also incorrect. His enemies were scattered; some lived in Shandong, some came from Huguang, several were from Hebei and Liangzhe. How could they die in the same epidemic?” Zhou Botong asked; but then he exclaimed. “Ah! Yes, yes! That’s right! Some epidemics could kill you no matter where you are, even if you ran to the ends of the earth. Can you guess what kind of epidemic was it?”

Guo Jing mentioned typhus, smallpox, dysentery and six or seven other types of diseases; but Zhou Botong shook his head every time. Finally Guo Jing exclaimed, “Foot-and-mouth disease!” Then he faked surprise, covered his mouth, stood up and tapped his head with his left hand and burst into laughter. “I was kidding! Foot-and-mouth disease is the plague of cattle on the Mongolian steppe; it won’t attack humans.” Zhou Botong also burst out in laughter. “The more you guess the weirder you become. Huang Shang looked everywhere before he finally found one of his enemies. It was a woman. When they fought originally, she was only a sixteen or seventeen year old girl, but when Huang Shang found her, she was a sixty-year old granny …”

Guo Jing’s jaw dropped. “This is really weird! Ah, right, she must have disguised herself as an old lady so Huang Shang wouldn’t recognize her.”

“She did not disguise herself,” Zhou Botong answered. “Just think: Huang Shang had several dozen enemies and each one of them was a martial arts expert; each came from a respectable martial arts school or family. Can you imagine how profound and complicated each of their skills were? He wanted to defeat each person’s unique skill; just how much time did he painstakingly spend to achieve such a result? He was hiding in a remote mountain area and diligently trained. Day and night only martial arts occupied his mind, he did not care about anything else; without him realizing it, it had taken more than forty years altogether.”

“More than forty years?” Guo Jing was astonished.

“That’s right,” Zhou Botong asserted. “When you are totally absorbed in learning martial arts, forty years will pass quite quickly. I have been here for fifteen years yet it did not feel like it was that long. When Huang Shang saw that young girl had turned into an old granny, his heart was heavy with emotions. That old lady was sick, bedridden and was dying. Without him raising a hand she would die in a few days. The heartache and hatred of dozens of years just vanished without a trace. Brother, everybody has to die. The epidemic I was asking you about earlier was death. When your time comes, you cannot run away.”

Guo Jing silently nodded. Zhou Botong continued, “My martial brother and his seven disciples’, day in and day out, dedicate themselves to achieving the perfection of life. But tell me: is it really possible to cultivate a divine body that won’t see death? That was the reason I did not want to follow the ox-nosed way of living.”

Guo Jing was lost in thought. Zhou Botong continued, “Some of Huang Shang’s enemies had been about forty or fifty years of age; add another forty years plus, how could they not die? Ha ... ha ... ha ... Actually he did not have to trouble himself by training his martial arts and developing new techniques; all he had to do was outlive his enemies. Forty plus years and Heaven would take care of his personal enemies for him.”

Guo Jing nodded. “Well then, should I look for Wanyan Honglie to avenge my father or not?” he wondered in his heart.

Zhou Botong again said, “However, learning martial arts diligently could bring endless pleasure to one’s life. If one did not practice martial arts, what other interesting thing is worth doing? There are endless toys and gadgets in the world, but after playing with them for a while you will get bored eventually. With martial arts, the more you play, the more interesting it becomes. Brother, don’t you agree?”

Guo Jing only made an ‘hmm’ sound noncommittally, showing neither his approval nor disapproval. He admitted that knowing martial arts could be fun; but it was also hard work. He had trained in martial arts since he was very young and he could not say the training was ‘fun’. He had to work hard and suffer, without a single day of leisure.

Zhou Botong saw he was not showing much enthusiasm, “Why didn’t you ask me what happened next?” he asked. Guo Jing hastily said, “Right! What happened next?”

Zhou Botong was sulking, “If you don’t prompt me every now and then I will lose my eagerness for telling you the story.” “Yes, yes, Big Brother, what happened next?” Guo Jing prompted.

“Huang Shang thought, ‘I realize I am old now and do not have too many years for good works.’ He had taken those several dozens of years of pain to master the martial arts techniques of almost every martial arts school in the world. But after all those years, who would enjoy his work? How could he let his life-long work be wasted just like that? Therefore, he decided to compile the techniques he had mastered into a two-volume book. What would that be?”

“What is it?” Guo Jing asked.

“Ay! Don’t tell me you cannot guess this one,” Zhou Botong said.

Guo Jing thought for a moment, then asked, “Is it the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?”

“We have talked for half a day about the origin of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; why do you still ask?” Zhou Botong scolded. Guo Jing smiled, “Well, Little Brother was afraid to make another incorrect guess.”

Zhou Botong continued, “After compiling the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, Huang Shang wrote it as a disguised literary book; my martial brother later found out about it. Huang Shang had hidden the book in a very secret place so that for dozens of years nobody knew of its existence. For some reason this book appeared later and the Wulin world was troubled. Everybody wanted to get hold of it. It was a dog-eat-dog situation. My martial brother said that the heroes who fought over this book and lost their lives came from all parts of the Wulin world; the number was over a hundred people. Every time someone got hold of it and practiced for half-a-year or a year, somebody else would find that person and snatch the book. Who knows how many times the cycle repeated or how many lives it cost. The one who got it would try to avoid others, but the pursuers were so numerous and in the end they would always find that person. Sometimes they used force, sometimes trickery and I don’t know how many times the book changed hands.” “If that’s the case, then this book is actually the most damned thing for mankind,” Guo Jing said. “If Chen Xuanfeng did not have this book he would have been able to live peacefully with Mei Chaofeng in some remote village and Island Master Huang would not have looked for him. If Mei Chaofeng did not have this book, she would not be in her wretched condition today.”

“Brother, why do you have such a negative feeling towards the book?” Zhou Botong asked. “The martial arts contained inside the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ are very profound and divinely wonderful. If someone is able to learn even a little bit of it, how could that someone’s life not be changed? Even though it has created disasters, what does that have to do with it? Didn’t I say that not everybody was dead because of it?”

“Big Brother,” Guo Jing said, “That is because you are so fascinated with martial arts.”

“That goes without saying,” Zhou Botong smiled. “Those who practice martial arts have endless pleasure. Common people are so foolish; some love to study to become government officials; some love gold or exquisite jewels; some love beautiful women; but those who find pleasure in martial arts, won’t those people be able to do much more in times of emergency?”

“Little Brother has practiced a little bit of shallow martial arts, but I have not yet learned to have any endless pleasure from it,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong sighed. “Silly kid, silly kid; then why did you practice martial arts?” he asked. “Masters wanted me to practice, I practiced,” Guo Jing replied.

Zhou Botong shook his head. “You are really dumb,” he said. “I am telling you: a man may not like the food he eats; he may not love his own life, but he cannot not practice martial arts.”

Guo Jing replied while thinking, “This Brother of mine is really addicted to martial arts and that’s why he acts so crazy.” He said, “I noticed that the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ practiced the martial arts of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; it was completely evil. Those absolutely cannot be practiced.”

Zhou Botong shook his head. “Those ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ did not train correctly. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is upright and honest, how could it be evil?”

Guo Jing had seen Mei Chaofeng’s martial arts with his own eyes, so he did not believe what he heard. Zhou Botong asked, “Where were we in the story?”

“You talked about the heroes of the world fighting over the ‘Nine Yin Manual’,” replied Guo Jing.

“That’s right!” Zhou Botong said. “Afterwards, the troubles kept getting bigger and more complicated so that the likes of the Quanzhen Sect’s Leader, Peach Blossom Island Master Old Heretic Huang and Beggar Clan Leader Hong had to intervene. Those five people agreed to meet at Mount Hua and have a contest. Whoever possessed the highest martial arts skill would get the book.”

“And the book fell into your martial brother’s hand,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong’s eyes lit up. “That’s right! My martial brother Wang and I were good friends; he had not yet become a priest when we became good friends. Later on he taught me martial arts. He said I practiced martial arts like crazy and was too determined; it did not fit well with the Taoist way of seeking peace and perfection. That is the reason why, though my martial arts are from Quanzhen, my martial brother did not let me become a Taoist priest. That, precisely, was what I expected. Amongst my martial brother’s disciples, Qiu Chuji was the one with the highest martial arts skill. My martial brother did not like it and said Qiu devoted too much time practicing martial arts and neglected to cultivate his Taoist faith. He said that whoever wanted to practice martial arts must do so diligently; while those who entered the Taoist way must do so with a simple heart. Those two did not go together very well. Ma Yu inherited my martial brother’s Taoist faith, but his martial arts are actually inferior to Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi.”

“The Quanzhen Sect Master Wang, how did he become both a Taoist saint and a martial arts master?” Guo Jing asked.

“His natural talent was that incredible. He was able to master martial arts quite easily, while I had to practice hard and diligently.” Zhou Botong answered. “Where were we in the story? Why did you divert my attention with your question?”

Guo Jing smiled. “You were talking about your martial brother obtaining the ‘Nine Yin Manual’.”

“That’s right,” Zhou Botong said. “After he had the book in his possession, he did not learn anything from it. He put the book inside a stone box and buried it underneath the flagstone where he sat meditating daily. It seemed strange and I asked him what was going on. He smiled but did not say anything. I became anxious, but he simply told me to go and think about it. Go ahead and try to guess… why did he do that?”

“Was he afraid somebody might come and steal it from him?” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong repeatedly shook his head, “No, no! Who would dare to steal a Quanzhen Sect Master’s belongings unless that person was bored of his own life?”

Guo Jing pondered for a long time. Suddenly he jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s right! That book should be hidden away really well; better yet, it should have been burned.” Zhou Botong was astonished; he stared hard at Guo Jing. “My martial brother at that time said the same thing; but every time he was going to do it, he hesitated at the last moment. Brother, you are not that smart, how did you guess correctly?” he asked.

Guo Jing blushed. “I thought that Venerable Wang’s martial arts were already number one in the world; even if he trained from the manual himself, he would still be number one. I also thought that his intentions at the sword meet on Mount Hua were not to be the number one but to obtain this ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He wanted it, not to benefit from it, but rather to avoid further bloodshed amongst the heroes of Wulin.”

Zhou Botong raised his head and looked up to the sky; he looked like one whose spirit had left him. He was silent for a long time. Guo Jing became anxious, he was afraid he had said something wrong and had offended this new brother of his with the strange temperament. Finally Zhou Botong sighed and asked, “How could you think of this truth?”

“I don’t know,” said Guo Jing, scratching his head. “I just thought that because this book had caused numerous deaths; even if it was a precious book, it would still be better if it were destroyed.”

“I know his reasoning, but I have never understood it,” Zhou Botong said. “My martial brother often times said that I am smart and have a natural talent for learning martial arts; also I have the determination to achieve success; but, he said, first of all I am too fascinated with it, and second, I do not have a caring heart towards other people. Even if I had a lifetime to train myself hard; I will never achieve perfection. At that time I listened to him, but did not believe him and thought, ‘What does training myself to move my fist or kick or use a blade have to do with the state of my heart?’ These past ten years or so I have been pondering over it and I can no longer believe it. Brother, your heart is upright, your mind is broad. It’s a pity that my martial brother is dead, otherwise I am sure he would have liked what he saw in you and I am sure he would have bestowed his unparalleled martial arts on you. If only he hadn’t died

…” Remembering his late brother, he suddenly bent over a rock and wept bitterly.

Guo Jing did not really understand what he was saying, but seeing his brother crying miserably could not help but feel grief in his own heart. After a while, Zhou Botong suddenly raised his head and said, “Ah! Our story is not finished yet; let us finish it, then we can cry some more. Where were we? Why didn’t you persuade me not to cry?”

Guo Jing smiled and said; “You were telling me about how Venerable Wang hid the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ underneath a flagstone.”

Zhou Botong slapped his thigh and said, “That’s right! He had hidden the book underneath a flagstone. I asked him if I could take look at it, but he scolded me; afterwards I did not dare to ask him again. The Wulin world again enjoyed peace and quiet for some time. Then martial brother died; and at the time of his death there was quite a disturbance in the martial arts world.”

When Guo Jing heard the tone of his voice he became anxious, knowing that the disturbance must not be small. He opened his ears and listened attentively. Zhou Botong continued, “Martial Brother was aware that he could not avoid his imminent death; therefore, he arranged for us to take care of his unfinished business. He even asked me to take the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ out and bring it to him. He prepared a fire and was about to burn the book. But after stroking the book for a long time he heaved a deep sigh and said, ‘This book is a Senior’s lifelong effort; how can it be destroyed by my hand? Water can float a boat, yet it can also sink a boat; we’ll have to see if the future generations make good use of it. However, I forbid our Sect’s disciples from practicing what is in this book, so that people cannot accuse me of having wanted to own this book for personal gain.’ After saying those words he closed his eyes and died. That very evening, it was not even the third hour yet, something happened in the temple.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing uttered a cry; Zhou Botong continued, “That night I stayed up with the Quanzhen’s seven first generation disciples and kept a vigil at the side of the coffin. Around midnight enemies came. They were all skilled pugilists. The Quanzhen Seven Masters immediately went out and engaged the enemies in battle. They were afraid the enemies would desecrate their master’s remains. I was the only one left guarding the coffin. I heard someone outside shouting, ‘Hand over the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ quickly, otherwise your temple will be burned to the ground.’ I looked outside and could not help feeling cold fear in my stomach. I saw a man standing on a tree branch and his body was swaying following the branch movements. It was an extraordinary demonstration of lightness kungfu. At that time I thought, ‘This lightness kungfu is superior to mine; if he is willing, I’d like to take him as my master.’ But then I changed my mind, ‘It’s wrong! It’s wrong! This man must have come here to steal the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; not only can I not bow to him to become his disciple, but I must fight him.’ I did not know him, but whether I wanted it or not, I had to fight him. So I jumped outside and fought with him on the tree. I fought him for thirty or forty moves and I was getting frightened; the enemy was a few years younger than I was, but his martial arts were so fierce that I had a hard time keeping up with him. Finally I got hit on my shoulder by his palm and fell down from the tree.”

“You have such high martial arts skills, yet you lost to him. Who was that?” Guo Jing wondered. Zhou Botong answered his question with another question, “Can you guess?”

Guo Jing thought for a while then exclaimed, “Western Poison!” “Ah!” Zhou Botong was amazed. “How did you guess?”

Guo Jing replied, “Little Brother thought that the people whose martial arts were higher than yours must be the people who were involved in the sword meet at Mount Hua. Benevolent Master Hong is straightforward and honest. The Emperor Duan is an Emperor, he would not stoop so low to steal someone else’s possession. Little Brother does not know Island Master Huang’s real character very well, but he is a proud man and not the kind of person who would take advantage of someone else’s precarious condition and make a thief of himself!”

From the flower shrubs outside a shout suddenly came, clear and loud, “The little animal has good judgment!” Guo Jing leaped towards that voice, but that person’s movements were too swift. Guo Jing could not even see his shadow; only the trees were still swaying and flower petals fell down to the ground in abundance.

“Brother, come back!” Zhou Botong called out. “That was the Old Heretic Huang. He’s already far away.”

Guo Jing returned to the front of the cave, while Zhou Botong commented, “Old Heretic Huang is proficient in the amazing and weird five-element techniques; he arranged this vegetation according to Zhuge Liang’s maze-laying arts of the past.” [For those interested in more background on the eight trigrams (ba gua) one source on the net is the Feng Shui Institute.]

“Zhuge Liang’s laws?” Guo Jing was amazed.

Zhou Botong sighed, “That’s right. Old Heretic Huang is well versed in music, chess, calligraphy and painting, medicine, divination and astronomy; as well as farming and irrigation; economics and military strategy. Nothing is hidden from him, nothing that he is not proficient at. It’s too bad he likes to give the Old Urchin a hard time and when we fight, I will not necessarily win. Once he flies east and west amongst this vegetation nobody will be able to catch him.”

Guo Jing was silent for a long time. He was thinking about how amazing Huang Yaoshi was and was unable to restrain feeling captivated. After a while he remembered the story and asked, “Big Brother, you were hit by the Western Poison and fell down from the tree. What happened next?”

Zhou Botong slapped his thigh. “Right! This time you did not forget to remind me about the story,” he exclaimed. “I was hit by Ouyang Feng’s palm; the pain entered my heart and lungs and I wasn’t able to move for half a day. I saw him rushing into the mourning hall, but I couldn’t do anything; I was badly injured. Then I gritted my teeth and, risking my own life, I chased him. I saw him standing in front of my martial brother’s coffin. He stretched his hand to take the book from the table in front of the coffin. I was groaning inwardly; I was not his match and my martial nephews had not come back from fighting the other enemies outside. At this critical moment there was a loud cracking sound; the coffin’s wooden lid burst open and flew away, leaving a gaping hole in the coffin.”

“Did Ouyang Feng use his palm to destroy Venerable Wang’s coffin?” Guo Jing asked.

“No, no!” Zhou Botong replied. “It was my own martial brother who used his palm strength to break open the lid.” After listening to this strange and absurd tale Guo Jing’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. He was speechless. 

Chapter 17 – Mutual Hands Combat

“Did you think my martial brother became a ghost?” asked Zhou Botong, “Or did you think he came back to life again? No not at all. He was faking death.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing gasped. “Faking death!”

“Yes,” Zhou Botong answered. “A few days before he died, my martial brother found out that the Western Poison had been lurking around the temple and waiting for him to die so he could steal the book. Therefore, my martial brother stopped his breathing by using his excellent internal energy and feigned death. He knew that if he told his disciples they would not grieve convincingly. Then, since Western Poison is so crafty, he would see through the ruse straight away; that was the reason nobody knew martial brother’s plan. Anyway, my martial brother flew out from the coffin and struck Western Poison with the ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ [yi yang zhi]. Ouyang Feng clearly saw me from outside the window as I was beside my martial brother’s death bed. He obviously saw us placing the body inside the coffin. Now, suddenly, my martial brother jumped out of the coffin; he was so shocked that the blood drained from his body. He was so frightened by my martial brother that he did not move. My martial brother’s ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ hit him on the eyebrow and broke his many years of training the ‘Toad Stance’ [ha ma gong]. Ouyang Feng then escaped back to the west and I’ve never heard of his returning to the Central Plains. My martial brother laughed long and hard as he sat cross-legged on a table. I knew launching the ‘’Solitary Yang Finger’ consumed a lot of his energy, so he needed to meditate and restore his strength and I did not bother him. I ran outside and helped my martial nephews get rid of the other attacking enemies. When my nephews heard that their master was not dead, their happiness was beyond belief. We rushed back into the temple but then stopped dead in our tracks …”

“What happened?” Guo Jing asked nervously.

“I saw my martial brother’s body skewed to one side and his face looked strange,” Zhou Botong said. “I rushed to him and checked his pulse; his body was cold as ice. He was really dead this time. Martial brother’s last words were for us to divide the ‘‘Nine Yin Manual’’ into two parts, so that if somebody should steal one, the whole book would not be lost. I took the first part with the intention of hiding it later on, and brought the second part to the south to hide it on a mountain peak somewhere. On my way south I came across the Old Heretic Huang.”

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“Even though Old Heretic Huang’s behavior is queer and he is very arrogant, he is unlike the Western Poison who knows no shame and dared to come to steal the book,” Zhou Botong said. “Old Huang happened to be with a lady who turned out to be his wife.”

“That must be Rong’er’s mother,” Guo Jing thought, “I wonder if she knows that her mother was involved in this matter?”

“I saw them so happy together,” he heard Zhou Botong continue. “He said they were just married. I thought Old Heretic Huang was smart, what good would a wife do for him? So I teased him about the marriage. Old Heretic Huang did not get angry; he even invited me to have a drink. I told him about my martial brother playing dead and wounding Ouyang Feng. Old Heretic Huang’s wife was listening to my story; she asked me if she could take a look at the book. She told me she did not understand any martial arts, she was merely curious as to what kind of book had caused the deaths of numerous masters of the Wulin world. Naturally I did not let her. Now the Old Heretic Huang loved his young wife very much and he wanted to make her happy, so he said to me, ‘Botong, this woman does not know any martial arts at all. She is still young and loves to see amusing things. What’s the problem with letting her take a look? If I, Huang Yaoshi, cast a single glance toward your book, I will immediately gouge out my eyeballs and give it to you.’ Old Heretic Huang is a man who can be ranked among the best if this present age; his words, without doubt, carry a lot of weight. But to let somebody see the book is a grave matter, so I shook my head. Old Heretic Huang was not happy. He said, ‘How can it be that I don’t understand your difficulty with the book? If you agree to let my wife take a look, there will be time when this old Huang repays the Quanzhen Sect’s kindness. But if you don’t agree, that is entirely up to you. Who said that I have to have your friendship? I don’t even know any of your Quanzhen disciples.’ I understood very well his meaning. This man will do what he says. He felt uncomfortable giving me a hard time, but he could make things difficult for Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others. His martial arts skill is too high; it was not a good idea to provoke his anger.”

“That’s true,” said Guo Jing. “Priest Ma, Priest Qiu and the others are not his match.”

Zhou Botong continued, “At that time I said to him, ‘Old Heretic Huang, if you are angry come and find me, the Old Urchin. Why do you have to look for my martial nephews? Won’t that make you ‘the big bully the little’?’ When his wife heard me mentioning my nickname, ‘the Old Urchin’, she burst into laughter and said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you love to play around; let us forget this whole thing and let us play around together. I don’t want to see your precious book anymore.’ She turned her head to Old Heretic Huang and said, ‘I think the ‘‘Nine Yin Manual’’ was stolen by that Ouyang fellow, that’s why Big Brother Zhou could not show it to me. If you keep pestering him I am afraid you will only make him lose face.’ Old Heretic Huang smiled and said, ‘That’s right. Botong, let me help you find that Old Poison and deal with him. His martial arts are above yours.’”

“Looks like Rong’er inherits her mother’s odd intelligence,” Guo Jing thought. To Botong he said, “They were just provoking you!”

“I know that!” said Zhou Botong, “But I didn’t want to lose to them. So I said, ‘The book is in my possession and I have no problem with letting sister-in-law taking a look. But you inferred the Old Urchin cannot defend the book; you have to prove it to me.’ The Old Heretic Huang smiled, ‘If we fight, we might injure our friendship. You are the Old Urchin; let us play like little kids.’ His wife clapped her hands and called out, ‘Goody, goody! Why don’t you two compete by playing with marbles?’ before I could answer him.”

Guo Jing showed a faint smile. Zhou Botong continued, “I am an expert in playing marbles; so I shouted, ‘Let’s play marbles then, do you think I am afraid of him?’ Madame Huang smiled and said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, if you lose, you will let me take a look at your book. But if you win, what do you want in return?’ The Old Heretic Huang immediately said, ‘The Quanzhen Sect has its treasure, don’t you think Peach Blossom Island also has one?’ He took out a shiny black cloth completely covered with thorns. Can you guess what it is?”

“Soft Hedgehog Armor [ruan wei jia],” Guo Jing said.

“That’s right, so you know of it,” Zhou Botong said. “The Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Botong, your martial arts are outstanding so naturally you don’t need any protection; but someday you will meet a girl urchin and soon have little urchins. This ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ will be invaluable for protecting the child; nobody will bully him. If you can beat me at marbles, this Peach Blossom Island treasure will be yours to keep.’ I said, ‘I won’t meet any girl urchin so naturally a little urchin will not be born; but your ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ is famous in the Wulin world. If I win it, I will wear it outside my clothing and then I will wander around Jianghu and let the people know that the Peach Blossom Island Master lost to the Old Urchin.’ Madame Huang interrupted, ‘Stop talking, after both brothers’ play then we can talk again.’ So we reached an agreement. Each man had to put nine marbles into nine holes, so I made eighteen holes altogether. Whoever put in nine marbles first will win the game.”

Listening to this part Guo Jing recalled his own childhood playing marbles with his sworn brother Tolui on the steppe, a smile broke out on his face. Meanwhile Zhou Botong continued, “I always carry plenty of marbles in my pocket, so we went outside to play our game. I paid close attention to Madame Huang’s movements and I found out she really did not know any martial arts. I went down and made some holes in the ground. I let Old Heretic Huang choose his marbles first, and he did. Then we started our game. His special hidden projectile skill, the ‘Divine Flicking Finger’ [tan zhi shen tong] is well known throughout the world. He knew his skill with small objects was superior to mine. But he did not know that this game had a secret; there was a slight difference in the way I made the holes. I made them in such a way that when a marble went in, it would jump right back out. You have to shoot the marble with the perfect amount of strength; it had to be just right with a little bit of pulling force behind it, so the marble will stay in the hole.”

Guo Jing never thought that playing marbles on the Central Plains would be so complicated; Mongolian kids would never be able to compete. He heard Zhou Botong proudly continue, “The Old Heretic Huang launched three marbles and all were right on target. But as soon as they entered the holes they would jump back out. He did not know my secret. In the meantime I flicked five marbles and all went into the holes and stayed. His secret projectile skill was very good; he tried hard to catch up to me by flicking three more marbles, while I put another marble in a hole. I was already in the lead, how could I let him catch up? He was having a hard time with the marbles. Secretly I was smug, thinking that his defeat was imminent; even the Heavens wouldn’t be able to help him. Ay! Who knew that the Old Heretic Huang would use a dirty trick to gain victory? Can you guess what he did?”

“He hurt your hand using his superior martial arts?” Guo Jing guessed.

“No, no,” Zhou Botong said. “The Old Heretic Huang is bad, but he is not stupid; he wouldn’t use such a foolish method. He knew he was going to lose, so he sent his energy into the marbles; he flicked three marbles and hit my last three. Mine were smashed while his marbles stayed intact.”

“Ah! Then you didn’t have any marbles left!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

“I had to helplessly watch him put his marbles into the holes one by one. Thus, I lost!” Zhou Botong said. “But that doesn’t count!” Guo Jing said.

“That was what I said,” Zhou Botong answered. “But Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Botong, we have agreed that whoever got all nine marbles inside the holes, he wins. Blame your own inadequacy! It was your own fault that you don’t have enough marbles to put into the holes. Therefore, you lost!’ I still think he was being deceitful, but I had to admit I didn’t expect his move. Also, even if I wanted to destroy his marbles I couldn’t do what he did; I can’t hit a marble without smashing my own. So I secretly admired his ability. I said, ‘Sister-in-law Huang, I will let you see the book but I want it back by sundown.’ I said that because I was afraid they would say, ‘We didn’t say how long we might borrow the book; we haven’t finished looking at it so why are you taking it back?’ If that happened, the book would be in their hands for ten or even a hundred years.”

Guo Jing nodded his approval. “Right! Luckily Big Brother is smart and could foresee this. If it was me, I would fall for their scheme.”

Zhou Botong shook his head, “Speaking of intelligence, who on earth can be compared to the Old Heretic Huang? I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to find a wife who was as smart as he is. At that time Sister-in-law Huang only showed a faint smile, she said, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you are known as the Old Urchin, but you are smart. You are afraid it will be the same as Liu Bei borrowing the city of Jingzhou forever, aren’t you? Don’t you worry; I will sit right here in front of your eyes and I won’t hide in a secret place. If you are feeling uneasy, you can stay by my side and stand guard.’ I listened to her say this and I took the book from my pocket and handed it over to her. Sister-in-law Huang took it and walked to a tree and sat on an upturned rock.

The Old Heretic Huang saw I still showed some trepidation on my face and said, ‘Old Urchin, in this present age, how many people can defeat us two in martial arts?’ I replied, ‘Nobody can necessarily defeat you; but to defeat me, including you there are four or five people!’ Old Heretic Huang smiled, ‘You flatter me. Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar are four people and each one has his own strengths; none could defeat any of the others. Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ has already been broken by your martial brother, so for ten years he won’t be able to compete with us. There is ‘Iron Palm Floating on Water’, Qiu Qianren and I’ve heard his martial arts are good, but because he did not attend the ‘Sword Meet on Mount Hua’ [hua shan lun jian], I am not sure that his martial arts are superb. Old Urchin, I believe that other than these people, you are number one in terms of martial arts. If we combine our strength, nobody can beat us.’ I said, ‘Naturally!’ Old Heretic Huang then asked, ‘Why then, are you so anxious? With both of us standing right here; who in the world could come and steal your precious book?’ He was very reasonable, so I felt better.

I saw Madame Huang flipping one page after another and she read attentively from the beginning; her lips moved slightly which I found a little funny. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contains high-level secrets of martial arts; even if she was well versed in literature, I am afraid she wouldn’t comprehend even half a word. She read slowly from the beginning to the end, taking her time. I waited impatiently until she finally flipped the last page. I thought she was done, but she unexpectedly turned to the first page and read again. But this time she read quickly and finished in the time needed to drink a cup of tea. She gave the book back to me and smiled, ‘Big Brother Zhou, you have been deceived by the Western Poison; this is not the ‘Nine Yin Manual’!’ I was shocked. I asked, ‘What do you mean it isn’t? Obviously this was left behind by my martial brother and it looks good to me!’ Madame Huang replied, ‘What use is this book? Ouyang Feng obviously swapped your book for this cheap copy on how to do fortune telling and divination’.”

“Could it be that Ouyang Feng swapped the books before the Venerable Wang came out of the coffin?” Guo Jing asked.

“That was what I thought at first,” Zhou Botong replied. “But I’ve known for some time that Old Heretic Huang is very shrewd; I could not really believe what his wife said either. Madame Huang saw me standing silently; she knew I doubted her words, so she asked, ‘Big Brother Zhou, how do you know this is the real ‘Nine Yin Manual’?’ I told her, ‘Ever since my martial brother took possession of the book, nobody has ever seen its contents. Martial Brother had said that he fought for seven days and seven nights to avoid further bloodshed in the Wulin world, not for his personal gain. Therefore, he forbade the Quanzhen disciples from learning any martial arts from the books. Madame Huang then said, ‘Venerable Wang had a just and upright heart, truly deserving of endless admiration. Even so, there are other people who would not hesitate to deceive him. Big Brother Zhou, you go ahead and take a look at the book.’ I hesitated, remembering my deceased martial brother’s last words that I did not dare to defy. Madame Huang continued, ‘This is a book of divination that is available anywhere in Jiangnan and not worth half a ‘wen’ [Chinese coin]. Besides, even if this book is the real ‘Nine Yin Manual’, it is all right to look as long as you do not learn anything from it, isn’t it?’

So I opened the book and looked at the first page. To me the book seemed to be describing methods and techniques for practicing martial arts; where was fortune telling and divination stuff? Madame Huang said, ‘I have played with this kind of book since I was five; I know the contents from the beginning to the end. Of we Jiangnan kids, nine out of ten are familiar with it. If you don’t believe me, just listen to this.’ Having said that, words started flowing like water from her mouth; she recited the book from the beginning to the end. I looked at the book to see if she really was reciting it from memory. Indeed, not a single word was wrong. My body turned cold, as though I’d been plunged into a hole full of ice. Madame Huang also said, ‘No matter which page you want me to recite, as long as you read the beginning, I can recite the rest for you. I have read this kind of book since I was little, so I won’t forget its contents.’ I chose several sections just as she said and she did recite them without hesitation.

The Old Heretic Huang burst out in laughter. I was really angry; I tore the book to pieces and then burned it. Old Heretic Huang said, ‘Old Urchin, you don’t need to lose your urchin’s temper. Let me give you the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’.’ I wasn’t aware I’d fallen for his scheme; I thought I looked so upset to him that he wanted to ease my feelings. I was upset, but how could I take the treasure of Peach Blossom Island? So I thanked him without taking his gift. I went back to my hometown and closed the door on the world. I wanted to practice my martial arts. I knew at that time that I was not Ouyang Feng’s match, so I was determined to train hard for five years. I thought I would go to the west to take the book back from the Western Poison. My martial brother entrusted me with the book and the Old Urchin could not keep it safe. How could I face martial brother in the underworld?”

“The Western Poison is so crafty. I know you must deal with him; but wouldn’t it be a lot better if you take Priest Ma, Priest Qiu and the others with you?” Guo Jing asked.

“Ay! I can only blame my own arrogance,” Zhou Botong said, “After suffering from that humiliation I did not want to talk to Ma Yu and the others. If I did they would certainly see something was amiss. Several years later there arose a rumor amongst the Jianghu people that the Peach Blossom Island disciples, the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ had gotten hold of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. They had mastered several kinds of exquisite martial arts from the book and created havoc everywhere. At first I did not believe it, but the rumor got stronger. A year later, Qiu Chuji came to my home. His visit was in connection with the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ affair. He said that the book really had fallen into the Peach Blossom Island disciples’ hands. I was fuming mad and said, ‘Old Heretic Huang is not worthy to be my friend!’ Qiu Chuji was taken aback, ‘Martial Uncle, why did you say Huang Yaoshi was not worthy to be your friend?’ I told him, ‘He went to get the book back from Western Poison without consulting me and did not give it back to me.’”

“I think he intended to do it, but right after he got the book back it was stolen by his renegade disciples,” Guo Jing reasoned. “I know he was quite angry because of this, so he cut the ligaments in the legs of his other innocent disciples and expelled them from his school.”

Zhou Botong shook his head. “You are as naive as I was; if this affair happened to you, you would surely be bullied without knowing it,” he said. “That day Qiu Chuji discussed martial arts with me and we talked at length before he finally left. Two months later he suddenly reappeared. He had visited Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng, the couple that had stolen the Old Heretic Huang’s book. They were practicing the ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ and ‘Heart Destroying Palm’, two evil martial arts. He took a big risk to eavesdrop on the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ conversation and found out that Old Heretic Huang did not get the book from Ouyang Feng. Not at all … he’d stolen it from my hands.”

“You burned the book. Did Madame Huang swap the book and gave you a fake one?” Guo Jing asked.

“I guarded against that possibility from the beginning,” Zhou Botong said. “When Madame Huang looked at the book, I did not dare to move even half a step from her side. She did not know martial arts. Even if her hands and feet were swift she could not get away from we who practice hidden projectiles. No, she did not make a swap; she merely recorded it in her mind!”

Guo Jing did not understand. “How did she record it?” he asked.

Zhou Botong answered his question with another, “Brother, when you are reading a book, how many times do you have to read it until you commit what you read into your memory?”

“If it is easy … maybe thirty or forty times. If it is difficult or long, probably seventy or eighty times, or even a hundred times. Even after I read it a hundred times, I still cannot guarantee its accuracy,” Guo Jing replied.

“Speaking of brain power, I am afraid you cannot be considered smart,” Zhou Botong said.

“Your Brother is dumb by nature,” Guo Jing admitted. “It doesn’t matter whether I am studying literature or martial arts, I am always very slow.”

Zhou Botong sighed. “Let’s not talk about studying literature,” he said. “Just talk about practicing martial arts. When you learned a fist or palm technique, didn’t your masters have to teach you dozens of times before you could understand it?”

Guo Jing’s face was red with shame. “That’s true,” he said. “Sometimes I knew it but couldn’t recall it, and sometimes I remembered it but could not apply it.”

“But there are people in the world who, simply by watching other people do a stance, will be able to remember it forever,” Zhou Botong said.

“Totally correct!” Guo Jing exclaimed. “Island Master Huang’s daughter is just like that. When Benevolent Master [Enshi] Hong taught her martial arts, at most he would teach her twice; it was very seldom that he had to repeat the lesson three times.”

“That girl is so smart,” Zhou Botong slowly said, “Let’s just hope she won’t share her mother’s short life! That day when Madame Huang borrowed my book she only read it twice, yet she did not miss a single word. After we bade farewell she wrote down everything for her husband to see.”

Guo Jing could not restrain his amazement. He was silent for a while only to say, “Madame Huang did not understand what she was reading; yet she was able to memorize the whole thing. How can there be such an intelligent person on the earth?”

“I am afraid your little friend, that Huang girl, is also capable of doing that,” Zhou Botong said. “Anyway, after listening to Qiu Chuji I was ashamed. I immediately summoned the Quanzhen Sect’s seven first generation disciples to discuss this matter. Everybody agreed we should deal with the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ and get the book back from them. Qiu Chuji said, ‘The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ martial arts skills may be high, We are your juniors so Martial Uncle does not need to go into action personally; otherwise the heroes of Jianghu would say that the older generation bullied the younger one.’ I thought he was right, so I assigned one or two of them to find the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ while the rest shadowed from out of sight to guard against the ‘Twin Killers’ escaping.”

Guo Jing nodded his head in agreement, “If all the Quanzhen Seven Masters went into action the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ wouldn’t have a chance.” His mind wandered to the time when Priest Ma Yu along with his six masters masqueraded as the Quanzhen Seven Masters atop the barren Mongolian hill.

“They pursued the ‘Twin Killers’ as far as Henan, when the two unexpectedly disappeared,” Zhou Botong continued. “The Quanzhen Seven tried to get information and as it turned out another disciple of Old Heretic Huang, Lu Chengfeng had gathered dozens of heroes and valiant people of the Central Plains to fight those two with the intention of capturing them, sending them back to Peach Blossom Island and handing them over to the Old Heretic Huang. Nevertheless, they were still able to escape and vanished without a trace.”

“No wonder Village Master Lu hated his martial brother and martial sister so much; he was unjustly expelled from his school,” Guo Jing said.

“Since I couldn’t find the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, naturally I looked for Old Heretic Huang. I carried the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ because I was afraid I might lose this one as well. Upon arrival at Peach Blossom Island I scolded the Old Heretic Huang, but he said, ‘Botong, Huang Yaoshi always means what he says. I said I wouldn’t cast a glance at ‘your’ book and when did I look at it? The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that I saw was the one recorded by my wife, certainly not your book.’ His words sounded reasonable, but I was furious so I spoke harsh words to him and asked to talk to his wife. He smiled bitterly and led me to the main hall. As soon as we were there I was shocked. It turned out Madame Huang had passed away. There in the main hall was her memorial tablet.

I was going to pay my respects to her spirit but Old Heretic Huang sneered and said, ‘Old Urchin! You don’t have to be pretentious on my behalf. If not for your damned ‘dog fart manual’ [gou pi zhen jing] my wife wouldn’t have left me.’ I was startled, ‘What?’ I asked. He didn’t answer and only looked at me with angry eyes; then tears started rolling down his cheeks. After a long while, he began to tell me what really happened.

Madame Huang wrote down the book the first time for her husband’s sake. Huang Yaoshi then found out that the book in his hands was the second volume which was harmful if used without knowing the first volume. So he decided to set the book aside while he was trying to get hold of the first volume. Who would have thought that the book would be stolen by Chen Xuanfeng and Mei Chaofeng? Madame Huang wanted to comfort her husband and she was quietly determined to rewrite the whole book.

First of all, she did not understand the meaning of what she wrote; she merely memorized the words. Secondly, it had been several years since she wrote it the first time; how could she remember everything? At that time she was entering the eighth month of her pregnancy. After much painstakingly hard thought she was able to re-write about seven or eight thousand words, but not every word was accurate. Her heart and mind were exhausted and because of that she gave birth to a baby girl prematurely. The baby was healthy, but her own condition was like a lantern that had run out of oil. Even though Huang Yaoshi’s medical skill is peerless, in the end, he was not able to save his beloved wife’s life.

Old Heretic Huang always loved to vent his anger and blame others; during this time after his wife passed away, he was like a madman and talked incoherently to me. I knew he was grieving so I did not want to argue with him. I simply smiled and said to him, ‘You are a pugilist, yet you invest so much feeling towards the husband and wife relationship. Aren’t you afraid you are becoming the laughing stock of other people?’ ‘My wife was different,’ he said. I told him, ‘Your wife died and now is the best time to train your martial arts. If it were me, that is exactly what I would expect of myself. The earlier your wife died the better. Congratulations! Congratulations!’”

“Ah!” Guo Jing gasped. “How could you say such thing?”

Zhou Botong eyes rolled, “I said what I was thinking; what’s wrong with that?” he snapped. “But that Old Heretic Huang got angry and without saying anything he struck me with his palm and we fought. In the end I had to stay in this stupid place for fifteen years.”

“Did you lose to him?” Guo Jing asked.

Zhou Botong smiled, “If I’d won, I wouldn’t be here. He hit me until I was spitting up blood. I ran away until I found this cave. He pursued me, wanting to break my legs. He also wanted to snatch the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ and burn it in front of his wife’s memorial tablet. I hid the book in a hole and sat at the cave entrance guarding it. I said that if he resorted to force I would destroy the book immediately. He said, ‘I will find a way to force you out of there.’ I said, ‘We’ll see!’

Just like that and I have been here for fifteen years. That man is arrogant, but he is not desperate yet, so I am sure he won’t put poison in my food. But he has used every means possible to force me out of here. I leave the cave only to urinate and defecate so he won’t have any opportunity to sneak in. Only I have to live with this stench. Sometimes I pretend to have a bowel movement. His heart itches to lay his fingers on it, but he ended up enjoying the smelly thing.” He ended his narration by laughing heartily.

Listening to his story Guo Jing was fascinated. He found this big brother of his to be smart and witty. Zhou Botong continued, “After fifteen years he started to attack my heart and mind, but so far I’ve been able to defend myself. Last night I was almost broke; fortunately a ghost or angel brought you here and you helped me. If not, this book would certainly have fallen into Old Heretic Huang’s hands. Ay! Old Heretic Huang’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave Song’ contains strong internal energy, very profound.”

Guo Jing listened to him recounting this tale of gratitude and grudges; his heart was troubled. “Big Brother, what will you do now?” he asked.

Zhou Botong smiled, “I will continue our competition. We’ll see if Old Heretic Huang outlives me, or I’ll live a few years longer than him. I told you the life story of Huang Shang a while ago; he outlived all his enemies.”

Guo Jing felt this was not a good idea, but he didn’t have anything better, so he asked, “How come Priest Ma Yu and the others did not come to rescue you?”

“Most probably they don’t even know I am here,” Zhou Botong said. “Even if they do, the vegetation on this island is so strange that unless Old Heretic Huang himself gives consent, other people won’t be able to enter Peach Blossom Island. Also, even if they come to rescue me, I won’t go. I haven’t finished the competition with Old Heretic Huang yet.”

After talking with Zhou Botong for half a day, Guo Jing decided that even though this man was old, he was filled with childlike innocence and always spoke straightforwardly and without any pretensions.

In the meantime the sun had climbed high in the sky. The old servant came to deliver their meal. After finishing eating Zhou Botong continued, “I have stayed on Peach Blossom Island for fifteen years, yet my time was not totally wasted. Here my heart and mind are clear, without any distractions. Here I have achieved what would take twenty-five years to achieve elsewhere. Although I know I have advanced greatly, it’s too bad I didn’t have a sparring partner. I had to use my left hand to fight my right hand.”

Guo Jing was astonished. “How can the left hand fight with the right hand?” he asked.

“I pretend my right hand is the Old Heretic Huang and the left hand is the Old Urchin. The right hand attacks, the left hand neutralizes that attack and launches a counterattack, like this,” Zhou Botong said, then moved his hands to battle each other.

At first Guo Jing thought it was very funny; but after several moves he realized that the stances were wonderfully mysterious. He couldn’t help but feel great admiration. People who practice martial arts, regardless as to whether they are barehanded or wield a saber or thrust a spear, will always use both hands either to attack or to defend. But Zhou Botong was different. He used one hand to attack and the other to defend; each attack was fierce and always aimed at vital points, while the defending hand would parry and counterattack with no less fierceness. It truly was like two people fighting each other. Guo Jing had never seen nor heard of anything like this before.

After watching Zhou Botong fight himself for a moment Guo Jing commented, “Big Brother, why don’t you use your feet too?”

Zhou Botong halted and smiled, “Not a bad observation! You could see through my moves. Come, come! You try!” While speaking thus he stretched his palm to attack. Guo Jing also stretched his to parry.

“Careful! I am going to push you to the left,” Zhou Botong said. As soon as he finished speaking he exerted his energy. Guo Jing was ready, even before Zhou Botong warned him he had prepared himself to use the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. Two great forces collided and Guo Jing staggered back seven or eight steps. He felt his arm become sore and numb.

“This time I borrowed strength from my feet and you were pushed back,” Zhou Botong said, “Now I am not going to use my feet. You try again.”

Guo Jing followed his bidding to attack again, but suddenly he felt a pushing and pulling force. He was unable to keep steady, so he fell forward and his forehead hit the ground. He crawled as he tried to stand up; he was in a daze.

Zhou Botong smiled, “Do you understand?” “No, I don’t,” Guo Jing replied.

“I developed this technique through training and meditation after toiling for more than ten years inside this hole,” Zhou Botong said. “My martial brother once told me about the technique of using emptiness to gain victory. At that time my understanding of Taoist principles was still shallow. I heard him but I didn’t understand. About five years ago I was moving my hands when it suddenly dawned on me that I could develop a palm technique using that principle. I was unsure about it since it was only a theory and I have never tried it in real combat. Brother, come and fight me again. Please don’t fear the pain. I am going to make you fall a few more times.”

He saw Guo Jing hesitate, so he tried to persuade him again, “Good Brother, I have been here for fifteen years and always longed for someone to come and train with me. Several months ago Old Heretic Huang’s daughter came and talked with me to ease my boredom. I was thinking of training with her, but she did not return the next day. Good Brother, I’m certainly not going to hit you too hard.”

Guo Jing saw both of his hands were itching to move and his face showed eagerness that was hard to resist, so he agreed and said, “So what if I fall a few more times?” He launched his palm and fought a few stances; but it seemed that Zhou Botong’s palm was sometimes void of strength. He was about to fall again when Zhou Botong’s left hand suddenly hit his shoulder from below. His body was sent somersaulting in the air and he fell to the ground hard. His shoulder was hurting badly.

Zhou Botong’s face showed regret and he said, “Good Brother, I can’t let you fall for nothing. Hear me out and I’ll teach you this technique.” Guo Jing endured the pain and crawled near to him.

Zhou Botong said, “In Lao Tse’s [the founder of Taoism] ‘The Book of the Way’ [dao de jing] there is a saying: ‘a clay utensil is useful because it is empty, a room is useful because it is empty.’ Do you understand this saying?” [There are several spellings Lao Tse’s name and several translations of the name of his book. I chose these.- ed]

Guo Jing’s literary knowledge was limited so naturally he did not understand the saying. He smiled sheepishly and shook his head.

Zhou Botong took a rice bowl they’d used earlier. “This bowl is empty inside, that’s why we can fill it with rice. If it was a solid clump of clay, how could we put food inside it?” he asked.

Guo Jing nodded and thought, “It is a very simple truth, but I’ve never thought about it.”

“Likewise a house can be occupied by people because it has four walls and windows and doors in those walls,” Zhou Botong added. “What good is it if the building is made of solid brick without windows and doors?

Guo Jing nodded again; his heart was more open to this truth.

Zhou Botong continued, “Our Quanzhen Sect’s highest martial art is based on these two characters ‘empty’ [gong] and ‘soft’ [ruo]. It was called so because ‘lacking accomplishment does not necessarily mean weak, lacking fullness does not necessarily mean empty.’”

Following these deep and profound thoughts Guo Jing listened attentively and pondered deeply.

Zhou Botong added, “In terms of energy exertion, your master Hong Qigong’s martial arts are on the external side of the spectrum. Even though I know Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts, I am not his match. But I am afraid that once you reach certain level of external type martial arts you cannot go much higher. Not so with the internal type of martial arts, the type that my martial brother practiced. The time when my martial brother won the title ‘Number One in the Martial Arts World’ he was not just lucky. If he was still alive today and with the additional ten years of training, if he again fought Eastern Heretic, Western Poison and the others, I believe he would probably only need half a day, not seven whole days and nights, to subdue them.”

“Founder Wang’s martial arts were truly amazing; Brother is unfortunate not to have made his acquaintance,” Guo Jing said. “Benevolent Master Hong’s ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ are the pinnacle of the ‘hard’ type of martial arts; but a moment ago Big Brother made me fall to the ground using the worlds ‘softest’ type of martial arts, isn’t that so?”

Zhou Botong laughed. “That’s true, that’s true,” he said. “Although the soft can subdue the hard, I wouldn’t be able to push you that easily if your ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ was as fierce as Hong Qigong’s. It all depends on the depth of your comprehension. Do you remember the move I used to push you down just a moment ago? Try to remember it well.” And then he carefully explained how to move the hand and how to exert the energy. He knew Guo Jing’s comprehension was slow, so he took his time explaining everything.

Guo Jing tried the move dozens of times; fortunately he had a good foundation in profound internal energy techniques from the Quanzhen Sect, so he was able to grasp it, albeit slowly.

Zhou Botong was elated and said, “Brother, if your pain has lessened, let me make you fall one more time.”

Guo Jing laughed. “Pain is nothing,” he said, “But I am afraid I won’t be able to remember your lesson.” While speaking he was still trying hard to memorize everything.

Zhou Botong had childlike enthusiasm so he kept urging, “Is it enough? Have you memorized it? Come on, quickly!”

But his nagging was actually disturbing Guo Jing’s mind. After some time was he finally able to memorize the move. So again he charged towards Zhou Botong and again he fell down.

Day and night those two trained together. Guo Jing was a young man, so he did not need too much sleep; but even when he did, Zhou Botong wouldn’t let him. He kept urging him to train. Guo Jing fell down seven or eight hundred times. His body was swollen, hurt all over and covered with purple bruises. Fortunately he was strong, so he just gritted his teeth and doggedly learned and finally mastered Zhou Botong’s special skill which he’d created during his fifteen years inside the cave, the seventy-two move ‘Vacant Fist’ [kong ming quan].

The two were so engrossed in training their martial arts that they did not know how many days passed. Guo Jing thought about Huang Rong all day, but since he was unable to seek her, he had to be content with waiting patiently. Several times he wanted to go with the mute servant who delivered their meals to find her; but every time, Zhou Botong called him back.

One day right after lunch Zhou Botong said, “You have mastered the entire ‘Vacant Fist’. After this I won’t be able to make you fall so easily; so we have to change the way we play.”

“Very well. How should we play?” Guo Jing asked, laughing.

“We will play as though four people were fighting each other,” Zhou Botong replied. “Four people?” Guo Jing was perplexed. “Absolutely,” Zhou Botong said. “Four people! My left hand is one person, my right the other and your pair of hands are the two other people. Four separate individuals and nobody help anybody. Four people in a tangled battle! That should be more interesting.”

Guo Jing’s interest was piqued. “It certainly is interesting; too bad I cannot separate my left and right hands,” he smiled as he said it.

“I mean to teach you that later,” Zhou Botong said. “For now, let us just have a three-way fight.” His hands made two people and attacked Guo Jing immediately. He separated himself into two different entities and each hand launched a different stance. They did not complement each other and it was completely different to one person using two hands. When his left hand was giving Guo Jing a hard time, his right hand would come to Guo Jing’s rescue. Likewise when his right was gaining the upper hand, his left fought his right. When Guo Jing gained the upper hand, Botong’s hands would fight together like two people facing one opponent. In short, it was like three separate individuals fighting with each other. After fighting for a while they stopped for a rest.

Guo Jing thought this way of playing was very amusing; but he could not help but remember Huang Rong. He thought that if she was here, the three people would be able to fight as six individuals. He was sure Huang Rong would be very interested.

Zhou Botong was full of enthusiasm. As soon as Guo Jing caught his breath he taught him how to divide his hands into the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’. This technique was actually more difficult than the ‘Vacant Fist’.

There is a saying, ‘The mind cannot be divided,’ and something along the same line, ‘The left hand drawing a square, the right hand drawing a circle, is not a good habit.’ But this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique was exactly that: dividing one’s mind into two. And the way to train it was by drawing a square with the left hand and a circle with the right hand. Guo Jing practiced doing the drawings. Initially his square resembled a circle and his circle looked like a square. He painstakingly practiced for a long time before he finally got the hang of it and both hands could simultaneously draw a perfect square and circle at will.

Zhou Botong was very excited. “If you hadn’t practiced our Quanzhen’s internal energy cultivation, which enables you to combine inner and outer strength, how could you master this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique so quickly?” he said. “Now, use your left hand to launch the ‘South Mountain Fist’ technique [nan shan quan] and your right hand the ‘Yue Maiden Sword’ technique [yue nu jian].” These were the martial arts Guo Jing learned from Nan Xiren and Han Xiaoying. Guo Jing knew these techniques by heart, but launching them at the same time, one with each hand, was actually very difficult.

Zhou Botong was dying to play the ‘four persons mutual combat’, so he urged Guo Jing to train and he did not stop giving instructions and pointers. A few days later Guo Jing had mastered the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique. Zhou Botong’s delight was boundless. “Come, come!” he urged, “Your left hand and my left one form an alliance against your right hand and mine. Let us have a martial arts contest.”

Guo Jing was still young, how could this kind of game not interest him? Immediately his right hand fought Zhou Botong’s left while his left hand fiercely fought Zhou Botong’s right. No one had ever seen or heard of this kind of battle.

While they were fighting each other and themselves, Zhou Botong gave Guo Jing pointers unceasingly on how to attack swiftly and fiercely and how to form a stable defense. Guo Jing listened and committed each and every one of them to memory.

Zhou Botong only wanted to have an interesting playtime, but Guo Jing’s mind came up with other thoughts. One day when they were playing, he thought, “If our legs can also be divided, wouldn’t two people be able to fight as eight individuals?” But he knew if he brought this up, Zhou Botong would go on indefinitely, so he refrained from saying anything.

Several more days passed. Guo Jing and Zhou Botong fought as four separate individuals. Zhou Botong was having fun; he fought and laughed heartily. Guo Jing’s skill was still shallow, so when one of his hands was unable to defend, the other involuntarily would come to its rescue. Zhou Botong’s fists moved rapidly and Guo Jing was not able to keep fighting as separate individuals, so he often became one individual fighting two people, as in the ‘three person mutual combat’. But his two hands launched different moves, so it was like two Guo Jings fighting together hand-to-hand against two opponents.

Zhou Botong laughed heartily, “You are fighting without regard to the rules,” he said.

Guo Jing jumped back. He was silent for a while then opened his mouth, “Big Brother, I have been thinking of something.” “What is it?” Zhou Botong asked.

“Well, your hands can launch completely different moves. Why can’t they work together like two people facing a common enemy? This technique can be very useful; if your enemy is strong, you can divide your mind and help yourself. Although the force won’t be doubled, the stances would enjoy a great advantage.”

Zhou Botong had created the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique out of boredom while living in the cave alone. It never occurred to him that he could actually use the technique in real combat. Now that Guo Jing reminded him of it a thought suddenly flashed back and forth in his mind. He suddenly leaped out of the cave and walked back and forth at the cave entrance, laughing incessantly.

Guo Jing saw the sudden change in his actions, like an evil spirit possessed him; he became anxious and called out, “Big Brother, what happened to you? What is it?”

Zhou Botong did not answer but kept laughing. After a while he said, “Brother, I am coming out of this hole! I am not going to urinate, I don’t need to have a bowel movement, but I am coming out.” “You are!” Guo Jing exclaimed.

Zhou Botong smiled, “Right now my martial arts are number one in the world, why should I fear Huang Yaoshi? I only hope he will show up so I can beat him really good.”

“Are you sure you can defeat him?” Guo Jing asked.

“Actually my martial arts are still a notch below his, but by dividing my mind I can be two people against one; nobody can defeat me. Huang Yaoshi, Hong Qigong, Ouyang Feng, their martial arts are superb; but how can they defeat two Zhou Botongs?” Guo Jing was delighted; what Zhou Botong said seemed very reasonable.

“Brother,” Zhou Botong continued, “You understand this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique; all you need is just a few more years of practice and then your martial arts skills will be doubled.” As they chatted, the two became more and more excited.

Before this time, Zhou Botong was afraid Huang Yaoshi would come and make things difficult for him; but now he hoped Huang Yaoshi would show up. He would beat him up and leave this awfully smelly cave forever. He impatiently looked outside hoping to catch a glimpse of Huang Yaoshi’s shadow. He would’ve dashed out to seek him if he hadn’t known the pathways on the island were arranged mysteriously.

That night the mute servant came to deliver their dinner. Zhou Botong grabbed his neck and said, “Quickly tell Huang Yaoshi to come, tell him to test my new technique!” But the old servant only shook his head.

Zhou Botong swore and uttered some indistinct remark before he suddenly realized, “Bah! I forgot you are deaf and mute!” Turned his head to Guo Jing he said, “Tonight we must eat really well.” Then he reached out to grab the food basket.

Guo Jing’s nostrils caught a delicious smell coming from the basket, unlike the meals they usually got. He hastily opened the basket and saw two small dishes of vegetables with a big bowl of chicken cooked with winter-picked mushrooms…one of his favorites. With a thumping heart he took a porcelain spoon to scoop a spoonful of the soup. It tasted exactly like the one Huang Rong prepared for him, so he was certain it was from Huang Rong. His heart thumped even harder. Quickly he looked at the basket to see if there was anything unusual. He found a box with ten steamed buns inside. One of them had the image of a gourd, carved with a nail. The marking was so subtle that if he had not paid attention he would surely have missed it. Guo Jing knew this bun was unusual. With a trembling hand he picked up the bun, broke it into halves, and found a wax pill inside. Guo Jing observed that Zhou Botong and the old servant were not looking his way, so he quickly slipped the pill inside his pocket.

This time the two men ate their dinner without caring about its taste: one was eating while thinking of how to have the peerless martial art in the world. While the right hand grabbed a steamed bun the left hand threw some fists, so both hands were very busy. Sometimes they fought each other while the mouth was chewing. The other person wanted to eat as fast as he could so that he could see what Huang Rong had hidden inside the wax pill.

Zhou Botong ate the last steamed bun with some effort and with a noisy slurp he finished the soup too. The old servant cleaned up and took the basket away. Guo Jing hurriedly pulled out the wax pill, crushed it, and took out the paper hidden inside. It was indeed Huang Rong’s handwriting. It said, ‘Jing ge ge, please do not worry. Father and I are reconciled. I will carefully arrange to ask him to release you.’ The letter was closed with two characters, ‘Rong’er’. Guo Jing was ecstatic; he showed the letter to Zhou Botong.

Zhou Botong laughed. “Leave it to me,” he said. “He can’t refuse to release you; we will compel him to, so there’s no need to ask him nicely. If he refuses, I will imprison him in this hole for fifteen years. Aiyo! That’s not right! What if, in fifteen years, he finds the secret of the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’?”

The sky was gradually becoming dark. Guo Jing sat cross-legged and was going to practice internal energy. But his mind kept wandering back to Huang Rong. For a long time he could not concentrate. Finally he was able to calm himself and his chest relaxed; he started to breath evenly. A sudden thought came to his mind: if he could divide his mind to control two hands and use two different martial arts, why not try dividing his breathing into two? So he closed one of his nostrils and practice breathing using only one nostril.

He had practiced for about an hour and felt that he had made some progress when he heard some rustling sounds. He opened his eyes and could see in the dark somebody with long hair and a long beard moving around; Zhou Botong was practicing martial arts. He opened his eyes wide and looked closely. He saw Zhou Botong’s left hand was doing the seventy-two stance ‘Vacant Fist’, while his right hand was doing some other Quanzhen Sect fist technique. The fists moved slowly, but they created gusts of wind that had created the rustling sound he heard earlier. Guo Jing admired his amazing skills.

While he was half watching and half lost in thought, he suddenly heard Zhou Botong call out anxiously, “Aiyo!” then hastily brush something from his body. A long black and shiny thing flew from his body and hit a distant tree like he was throwing a hidden projectile of some sort. Guo Jing noticed Zhou Botong shaking and he was startled. Hurriedly going to him he called out, “Big Brother, what happened?”

“I was bitten by a viper! I am dying!” Zhou Botong shouted.

Guo Jing was shocked as he held Zhou Botong’s body. His expression had changed; he leaned on Guo Jing’s shoulder and slowly walked back to the cave. Guo Jing quickly tore a piece of his clothing and tightly wrapped it around Zhou Botong’s thigh to prevent the venom from reaching the heart.

Guo Jing took a piece of flint from his pocket and lit a fire. In the bright firelight he could see more clearly. His heart jumped to his throat. Zhou Botong’s calf was swollen very badly.

“This island does not have this kind of venomous green viper. I wonder where it came from?” Zhou Botong said weakly. “The snake wouldn’t be able to bite me when I practice normally. But this time I was practicing two sets of fist techniques; I had all my attention on my movements … Ay!”

Guo Jing heard his trembling voice and knew the poison was severe. If Zhou Botong had not possessed a profound internal energy he would have died earlier. Nervously he bent over and sucked on the wound.

“You can’t do that!” Zhou Botong cried out. “The snake’s venom is extraordinary. It will kill you.”

But Guo Jing was only thinking of saving Zhou Botong’s life; he did not even think of his own safety. His right arm held Zhou Botong’s body firmly, while his mouth continued sucking. Zhou Botong tried to struggle, but his body was weak and he could not move. A little while later he passed out.

Guo Jing kept sucking the venom out and spat it on the ground. With the poison drained out of his body, plus his profound internal energy Zhou Botong slowly regained consciousness. His eyes were still heavy lidded. Half awake he said, “Brother, your Big Brother is going to return to heaven today. But before leaving this world I gained your friendship, my heart is extremely happy.”

Even though Guo Jing had only crossed Zhou Botong’s path a short while ago, because they were of the same straightforward and honest nature, they hit it off immediately. He felt like they had known each other for dozens of years. Right now, as he looked at his dying face, he couldn’t prevent tears from flowing down his cheeks.

Zhou Botong smiled sadly and said, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is hidden inside a box beneath the stone where I usually sit. I was going to give it to you; but since you sucked the deadly snake venom, you will not live long. We two will walk hand in hand to the underworld. No need to fear that we won’t have someone to play with. We will play as four people in the clouds … No, as four ghosts

… that would be interesting. The bigheaded ghost and the grim reaper will be baffled watching us. The ghost world won’t be the same.” Speaking like this made him quite happy.

Guo Jing heard Zhou Botong say that he too was going to die, but he did not feel anything unusual. He used the fire to examine himself. The fire was about to burn out, so he took Huang Rong’s letter and burned it. He then looked around the cave entrance to find a dried branch or grass, but in the hot summer weather the vegetation around him was green and lush.

He was getting more and more anxious. He groped in his pocket to find something that could be used as a torch. But he found nothing, except that leather-like thing wrapped around his dagger that came from Mei Chaofeng. Without giving it a second thought he lit that thing and extended it to examine Zhou Botong’s face. He saw his face turning gray, no longer ruddy like a child’s.

Zhou Botong saw the flickering fire and showed a faint smile. He saw Guo Jing’s countenance had not changed; there was no sign of poison at all. He was confused. He blinked his eyes and looked at the fire. He saw the thing that Guo Jing used as a torch had characters written all over it. He squinted, trying to read what was written; after reading about ten characters or so he was startled. He recognized that the words were taken from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He didn’t have time to ask any questions so he just raised his hand and struck out the fire, asking, “Brother, what kind of medicine did you take? How come the deadly poison did not affect you?”

Guo Jing guessed it was because he’d drunk the blood of Liang Ziwong’s big ginseng-fed snake. So he said, “I once drank a big snake’s blood; perhaps that is why I can resist the snake’s venom.”

Zhou Botong pointed to the leather on the ground, “That is a very precious thing; it absolutely cannot be destroyed …” he passed out before he could finish his sentence.

At this time Guo Jing did not care about any precious objects; he was busy sealing Zhou Botong’s ‘Palace Crossing’ [gong guo] acupoint, but it did not help. He felt Zhou Botong’s calf; it was hot and very swollen.

“Four weaving machines, mandarin ducks fly in pairs …” he heard Zhou Botong mutter indistinctly. “What did you say?” Guo Jing asked.

“Too bad that old fellow’s head has turned white, too bad …” Zhou Botong sighed.

Guo Jing knew he was delirious from the poison and he was very anxious. He dashed out of the cave and climbed a tree outside, shouting loudly, “Rong’er! Rong’er! Island Master Huang! Island Master Huang! Help…help!” But Peach Blossom Island encompassed an area of more than ten li across; it was a big island. Huang Yaoshi’s residence was located on the other side of the island. Guo Jing’s shout was in vain. The only response he heard was his own voice echoing from the mountain and valley ahead, “ … Island Master Huang! Help! Help …!”

Guo Jing jumped down from the tree, at a loss. In that critical moment an idea flashed into his mind, “Snake’s venom cannot harm me; perhaps my blood contains an antidote to the snake’s poison.” Without wasting another second he fumbled about on the ground, looking for the big green bowl that Zhou Botong used to drink tea from everyday. He took his dagger and without hesitation sliced his left arm and let his blood drip into the bowl until the dripping stopped by itself. He made another cut until blood filled the bowl. Then he propped Zhou Botong up on his knee and with his left hand he forced Zhou Botong’s mouth open and with his right hand fed him the blood. Although he was young and his body strong, losing that much blood had drained his energy. After feeding it all to Zhou Botong he leaned against the cave wall and closed his eyes; he fell asleep not long afterward.

He didn’t know how long he slept, but he felt someone tending his wounds. He opened his eyes and saw Zhou Botong’s white hair and beard. Guo Jing was delighted. “You … you … are you well?” he called out.

“I am well, Brother. You have sacrificed yourself to save my life,” Zhou Botong said. “I am sure the grim reaper is greatly disappointed; I am not that easy to kill.”

Guo Jing looked at Zhou Botong’s calf and saw that the dark swelling was no longer there, only a red inflammation that was not life threatening.

That morning the two sat together to meditate, cultivate their inner strength and revitalize their bodies. After lunch Zhou Botong asked Guo Jing the origins of the leather wrap. Guo Jing gathered his thoughts for a moment then started narrating how his Second Shifu at Cloud Manor had taken some things from Mei Chaofeng; the dagger was amongst those things and the leather was wrapped around it. Later he also noticed the characters, but he did not know what they were so he simply kept it in his pocket without giving it another thought.

Zhou Botong mumbled and was lost in thought for a long time. “Big Brother, you said it was a very precious object, what is it?” Guo Jing asked.

“I have to examine it before I can answer your question. I don’t know if it is the real thing; but since it came from Mei Chaofeng, I have strong reasons to believe it is,” Zhou Botong replied. Taking the leather he looked at it from top to bottom.

Wang Chongyang won the book, not for his personal gain, but to avoid bloodshed amongst the people of Wulin; therefore, he had strictly forbidden his disciples from ever learning any martial arts from the book. Zhou Botong naturally did not dare to disobey his martial brother’s last words. But he recalled what Madame Huang said, ‘Simply taking a look without training it can not be considered disobeying.’ He’d spent fifteen years in the cave without anything to do, so out of boredom he had read the first volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that was in his possession. However, the first volume only contained the methods of cultivating internal energy as well as the basics of swordsmanship; there were no real profound martial arts to defeat an opponent. It was useless if one did not learn the second volume.

Over these past ten years or so, Zhou Botong read the first volume over and over again; he even made some guesses as to what the second volume contained. As soon as he read the leather wrap, he immediately knew it was related to what he had already memorized.

Zhou Botong raised his eyes to the distant hills and was deep in thought. He loved martial arts; in fact he was obsessed with them. Now he had in his hand the world’s greatest and most profound martial arts manual. In all honesty he wanted very much to learn what was in the book; not to build up his own reputation, not to seek vengeance, also not to show off his prowess or to rule the world; he was simply and purely curious to see how profound the martial arts in the book actually were.

He recalled his martial brother’s story of Huang Shang compiling the 5481 chapters of the Everlasting Life Taoist Canon [aka The Book of Salvation]; then later on he spent forty years painstakingly studying various exquisite martial arts from various schools. This was no small matter. The ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ only got hold of the second volume and they only managed to learn two techniques among the many; yet they were able to wreak havoc in Jianghu. What if they had been able to learn the entire second volume? The result would be inconceivable. But martial brother’s last words could not be disobeyed. Zhou Botong pondered these things in his heart; he heaved a heavy sigh, put the leather inside his pocket, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

After having a good rest, he took a tree branch to dig a hole in which he intended to bury both volumes. He was digging and sighing at the same time. Suddenly an idea came to him and he exploded in laughter and cheers, “That’s right! That’s right! I can have it both ways!” He was so ecstatic that he startled Guo Jing, “Big Brother, what both ways?” But Zhou Botong merely laughed without saying anything. It looked like he’d come up with a really great idea.

“Brother Guo is not my Quanzhen Sect’s disciple. I will teach him and let him train; then I will see the results,” he thought. “That way I can satisfy my curiosity and follow martial brother’s dying wish at the same time.” He was going to tell this idea to Guo Jing when he suddenly had another thought, “From the way he speaks I gather he detests the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He thinks it is an evil martial art; but that is because the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’ who only looked at the second volume. They did not learn the first volume. It would have told them how to cultivate their inner energy and build a foundation for the subsequent techniques. They only took the fiercest martial arts they could find and that resulted in the monstrosity of their martial arts. I’d better not tell him anything; I’ll let him practice and let him know afterwards. By that time he will have mastered the books’ martial arts and even if he wanted to get rid of them he won’t be able to do anything about it. Won’t that be interesting?”

By nature he was mischievous; other people would scold him or get mad at him, he did not care. Other people loved him or showed him favor, but he did not give it a thought. As long as he could play or make practical jokes and have fun, he would be happy. Now that he had thought of this idea he maintained his composure and with a straight face he told Guo Jing, “Younger Brother [Xian Di], during my fifteen years inside this cave I have created not only the ‘Vacant Fist’ and the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ techniques, but also some other ones. Now that we don’t have anything to do, what do you say to me teaching you some more to pass the time away?”

“Nothing could be better,” Guo Jing said, “But Rong’er said she is thinking of a way to get us out of here …” “Has she found a way out for us?” Zhou Botong asked. “Not yet,” Guo Jing replied.

“Then what’s wrong with learning new things while waiting for her?” Zhou Botong suggested. Guo Jing happily complied, “That will work. Big Brother’s other martial arts must be marvelous.”

Zhou Botong laughed inside, “Don’t you be happy yet,” he thought, “You have fallen for my scheme!” So he immediately passed on the essence of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ a little at a time from his memory. Naturally Guo Jing did not immediately understand it, but Zhou Botong was very patient. He would repeat the lesson as many times as needed. As for the lessons from the second volume on the leather wrap, he would memorize it first when Guo Jing was not looking, and then he would pass it on as he had memorized it.

The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained various martial arts techniques which were different from each other. Zhou Botong taught the theory but did not give any examples on how to do it. He let Guo Jing ponder them and find out on his own. Afterward he would test the newly learned technique against his Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts.

After several days he started to see the marvelous martial arts of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ which Guo Jing was gradually mastering; however, Guo Jing was still completely unaware that he was learning the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. Zhou Botong was very happy; he would often smile in his sleep.

In the meantime Huang Rong kept preparing food for Guo Jing, although she did not show up personally. Guo Jing’s heart became contented and his skills advanced more quickly.

One day Zhou Botong was teaching the ‘Nine Yin Divine Claw’ [jiu yin shen zhua]; he instructed Guo Jing to use all of his fingers to practice against the cave’s wall. Guo Jing had practiced this several times when he suddenly realized something. “Big Brother,” he said, “I think Mei Chaofeng also learned this kind of martial arts, only she practiced against humans. She could insert her five fingers inside someone’s skull. It was very cruel.”

Zhou Botong was startled, “That’s true,” he thought, “Mei Chaofeng did not know the first volume’s contents so she followed the instructions literally. The second volume only stated ‘concentrate the energy in the five fingers and firmly attack the enemy’s head.’ She did not know that ‘the enemy’s head’ means the enemy’s vital points and not literally to insert five fingers into the enemy’s skull. It’s no wonder she thought she had to train using real skulls. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contains lessons for spiritual purity to chase evil spirits away; how could it teach anyone to practice her type of cruel and ferocious martial arts? That old hag strayed too far from the truth. Brother Guo is already suspicious so I’d better not teach him that kind of martial arts.” Thereupon he smiled and said, “Mei Chaofeng practices a demonic type of martial arts; how can she be compared with our true orthodox school of martial arts? All right, we won’t train this ‘Divine Claw’ martial art for the time being; instead, I will teach you more of our Quanzhen heritage martial arts.”

While speaking he hatched another good idea, “I will teach him the first volume until he really comprehends everything. Then I will continue with the second volume. He will see the logical connection between the first and the second and he won’t be suspicious any longer.” So he started to recite the theory from the first volume and told Guo Jing to memorize it.

The lessons in the manual were very deep and profound; how could Guo Jing comprehend everything? Zhou Botong realized Guo Jing was slow, so he told him to recite it aloud. After repeating them dozens of times Guo Jing was able to memorize almost everything. He did not understand the meaning of some of it, but he memorized it anyway. Several days passed and Zhou Botong had passed on most of the book, so he told Guo Jing to start practicing his internal energy cultivation.

Guo Jing felt that the internal energy cultivation method was similar to the one he’d learned from Ma Yu, only this one was deeper and more difficult. He credited that to the fact that Zhou Botong was Ma Yu’s martial uncle, so naturally his way of cultivating internal energy would be profounder than Ma Yu’s. He also recalled that when Mei Chaofeng sat on his shoulder battling enemies in the Zhao palace she’d asked him some questions about internal energy cultivation which he was able to answer. He did not suspect anything at all. Although he frequently noticed Zhou Botong’s funny expression, as though he was amused by something, he thought it was Zhou Botong’s natural disposition to play jokes. Maybe he was thinking of other amusing things.

The manual contained more than one thousand gibberish characters without any clear meaning. For the past several years Zhou Botong had repeatedly pondered over those words in the cave, but he still did not have a clue as to what they meant. Nevertheless he passed them on to Guo Jing anyway. When Guo Jing asked what they meant, Zhou Botong simply said, “This secret can’t be divulged right now, you will understand it when the time comes.”

Memorizing those thousand or so words without understanding what they meant was a hundred times more difficult than memorizing a regular book. It might not be too difficult for a sharp minded person; but even though Guo Jing was slow, he had strong determination. After more than a thousand times of reciting those words he eventually was able to memorize everything.

Guo Jing woke up early one morning and immediately started practicing his martial arts. When breakfast came he noticed another unusual steamed bun. Without waiting to finish his meal he took the bun into the forest and immediately crushed the wax pill inside to get the letter. Once he had taken a glance he could not help but feel very anxious. The letter said, ‘Jing ge ge, Western Poison has proposed to Father to give my hand in marriage to his nephew, and Father answered …” The letter was not finished, indicating that she was writing it in a hurry. It looked like the word after ‘answered’ was ‘yes’.

Guo Jing’s mind was frantic; he waited impatiently for the old servant to clean up then he hastily showed the letter to Zhou Botong. “Her father gave his consent, that’s good. It’s none of our business,” Zhou Botong said. “I can’t go along with that,” Guo Jing said, “Rong’er has promised to be with me. She must be frantic right now.”

“If you take a wife, there are some martial arts you cannot practice. That will be too bad,” Zhou Botong said. “I … I feel deep remorse that I didn’t listen to good advice. Good Brother, listen to my advice: you’d better not to take a wife.”

Guo Jing felt the more Zhou Botong spoke, the more unreasonable he became; that made Guo Jing more concerned than ever. Zhou Botong continued, “If I hadn’t lost my virginity and therefore could not practice my martial brother’s fiercest martial arts, how could Old Heretic Huang have imprisoned me in this confounded hole? You see, if your thoughts are focused on your wife, your heart is divided. I am sure today’s martial arts practice will not get you anywhere. If you really marry Old Heretic Huang’s girl… ay! That will be too bad! If only I … ay! Never mind that. In short, if you let yourself get entangled in an affair with a woman, you won’t reach the pinnacle of perfection. Moreover, you will offend your friend and disobey your martial brother. It is very difficult for you to forget her. I wonder how she is … Anyway, don’t ever look at her pretty face, don’t ever caress her beautiful body and don’t teach her acupoints sealing techniques, because she will feel your body to find those acupoints. Those are great taboos … worse yet, don’t ever ask her to marry you ... ”

To Guo Jing Zhou Botong was just mumbling illogically, but it was troublesome. “Whether I marry her or not, we’ll sort that out later,” he said, “Big Brother, we have to help her now.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “Western Poison is very evil; his nephew cannot be different. Old Heretic Huang’s daughter is pretty, but she must have the same character as Old Heretic Huang: a perverted mind. Let Western Poison’s nephew take her as his wife; let them both suffer and let their martial arts not go anywhere. That way we kill two birds with one stone. No, more precisely…lose two birds with one stone. There’s nothing good in either one of them. Don’t you think this is a good idea?”

Guo Jing sighed, walked into the woods, and sat on the ground. His mind was jumbled, “Even if I have to die on Peach Blossom Island’s pathways, I must find her,” he thought. Once his mind was set he leaped up and started moving. At that moment he heard two loud calls from the sky and two white forms swooped down towards him. They were the white eagles Tolui brought him from the steppes. Guo Jing was delighted and extended his arm to let the eagles perch. Only then did he see a bamboo tube tied to the male eagle’s leg. Hastily he loosened it and found a letter inside. It was from Huang Rong. She told him the latest developments - how Western Poison would arrive in a few days to arrange the betrothal; how her father was closely guarding her and not letting her out of her quarter’s even half a step. That included preparing food for Guo Jing. In the end she said that if she could not get away from all of this, she would commit suicide to show her love for him. She also told Guo Jing that the pathways on the island were dangerous and mysterious and full of booby traps, so she warned Guo Jing not to try to find her.

Guo Jing was dumbstruck. He pulled out his dagger and carved these six characters on the bamboo tube, ‘live together, die together’ [yi qi huo, yi qi si]; then he tied the tube back on the eagle’s leg and raised his arm and pointed north. The eagles circled him several times, and then they flew north. Once he’d made this decision his heart was calm. He walked back to Zhou Botong, sat on the ground in front of him and listened to him imparted more lessons on martial arts.

The next ten days passed without any word from Huang Rong. Guo Jing had managed to memorize the first volume in its entirety. Zhou Botong was inwardly delighted; he proceeded to recite the second volume for Guo Jing to memorize. Again, he did not give any examples or instruction on how to practice them for fear that Guo Jing would see through his scheme. Guo Jing diligently studied and committed each and every word to his memory. Several hundred times worth of reciting later he had both the first and second volumes down pat in his mind, including all the gibberish words such as ‘ang li na de’ and ‘ha hu wen bo ying’ [translator’s note: these characters don’t make logical sentences, so I leave them as they are]. He did not miss a single word.

Listening to Guo Jing Zhou Botong’s heart was filled with admiration. “This dumb kid can actually memorize the entire dumb martial arts manual. Old Urchin salutes him.”

That night the sky was clear and the sea was calm reflecting the bright silver moon shining over the island. Zhou Botong just finished checking Guo Jing’s progress. He discovered that Guo Jing had made tremendous advancements in his martial arts without even realizing it. He was very happy and believed that the manual really did contain profound martial arts techniques. He thought that if he were to learn the techniques from books, he would eventually surpass Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong.

The two were sitting on the ground, idly chatting when they suddenly heard rustling noises coming from the distance. Zhou Botong jumped up in alarm, “Snakes!” he cried. He’d just closed his mouth when hissing sounds reached their ears. It sounded like there was a swarm of snakes coming their way. Zhou Botong’s face turned pale and he dashed into the cave. He was a courageous man and his martial arts might be superb, but not when facing snakes. Guo Jing immediately moved some big rocks and covered the cave entrance.

“Big Brother,” he said, “I’ll go take a look. Don’t come out.”

“Be careful and return quickly,” Zhou Botong answered. “But I’d say you don’t need to take a look. What’s so interesting about vipers? How … how can there be so many snakes on this island? I have lived here for fifteen years and haven’t seen a single snake. Look how bad this island has become! Old Heretic Huang always boasts of his vast knowledge and resourcefulness but look how dirty this Peach Blossom Island has become. Sea turtles, vipers, centipedes and all kinds of creepy-crawlies are coming here.” 

Chapter 18 – The Three Tests

Guo Jing went towards where the snake noises were coming from. After dozens of steps in the bright moonlight he saw millions of green snakes slithering together as a mass. With them were more than ten men wearing white clothing and carrying long poles herding the snakes.

Guo Jing gulped; he was greatly surprised, “What are those people with so many snakes doing here? Could it be that Western Poison has arrived?” Without regard to his own safety he came closer, snuck behind trees and followed them north. Luckily the men who herded the snakes did not have a high level of martial arts, otherwise he would be detected.

A deaf and mute servant of Huang Yaoshi could be seen in front of the mass, showing the way. They walked on the winding path for several li through the forest and crossed a small hill before finally arriving at a large stretch of grass meadow. To the north of the meadow was a bamboo forest. As soon as they were all on the meadow, the men in white blew their whistles and the snakes stopped with their heads raised high in the air.

Guo Jing knew there must be something in the bamboo groove and he wanted to take a look, but he did not dare to reveal his presence by walking across the meadow. So he stealthily walked to the east and then circled back north, keeping his ears open at all times; but the forest was quiet. He finally arrived and immediately entered the thick green bamboo groove.

Inside the groove there was a small pavilion built from bamboo. Under the bright moonlight Guo Jing could see, written across the pavilion opening, these three characters, ‘Old Jade-Green Pavilion’ [ji cui ting]. On either side hung two couplets: ‘under the shadow of peach blossom the divine sword flew’ [tao hua ying li fei shen jian] and ‘with the jade-colored ocean tide the jade flute arose’ [bi hai chao sheng an yu xiao].

Several bamboo chairs were placed inside the pavilion; the chairs looked rustic and old. In the bright moonlight the bamboo looked no longer green but smooth and shiny yellow. The pavilion was built between two big pine trees. Their trunks and branches spread out looking like dragons lurking in the dark. The trees were several hundred years old. The dark green bamboo surrounding the bamboo pavilion and the trees gave a feeling of serenity and beauty.

Guo Jing looked back and saw that the snakes had arranged themselves in row after row, on the meadow. Only now did he realize that the snakes were not only green but other types of snakes as well: there were rattlesnakes, golden-scaled snakes, black snakes and other kinds of venomous snakes. The snakes kept moving their heads, which made the meadow appear to ripple like ocean waves. The snakes’ tongues flicked in and out of their mouths, looking like tiny dancing chaotic flames.

The snakes’ herders divided the mass to open up a pathway through the middle. Dozens of females dressed in white walked through carrying red lanterns. Several zhang [1 zhang is approximately 10 feet/3 meters] behind them two men walked slowly. The first was wearing a long white satin gown, embroidered with gold thread and held a folding fan in his hand. It was none other than Ouyang Ke.

Arriving at the bamboo groove he said in a loud and clear voice, “Mr. Ouyang from the Western Region pays a visit to the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang.”

“It really is Western Poison,” Guo Jing thought, “No wonder all this pomp and fanfare.” He turned his eyes to the man beside Ouyang Ke. He was big and tall and also wore white clothing, but because the light was coming from behind him, Guo Jing could not see his face clearly.

Those two people stood there waiting. Out from the bamboo grove came two people. Guo Jing’s heart leaped to his throat and he almost called out in alarm; it was none other than Huang Yaoshi holding Huang Rong’s hand coming to welcome the guests.

Ouyang Feng rushed forward and raised his hands in salute. Huang Yaoshi reciprocated by cupping his fists. Ouyang Ke actually knelt down where he was, kowtowed four times and said, “Son-in-law kowtows to the Honorable Father-in-law and wishes Honorable Father-in-law peace and prosperity.”

“Enough!” Huang Yaoshi said, extending his hand to raise him up. Guo Jing could hear clearly what these two people were saying; his heart was in a tumult and he didn’t know what to do.

Ouyang Ke anticipated that Huang Yaoshi would certainly test his martial arts, so he was prepared; even when kowtowing he was fully alert. Suddenly he felt his own right hand moving toward his left hand and pushing it upward. He stumbled and almost fell face down on the ground; only by exerting his internal energy was he finally able to stay standing, but he still staggered. “Aiyo!” he called out. Ouyang Feng immediately stretched the staff in his hand and tapped gently on his nephew’s back. Ouyang Ke took advantage of this force and steadied himself.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “Good!” he said, “Brother Yao [Yao Xiong] (translator’s note: different character, more respectful than Huang Rong’s ‘Jing ge ge’ ‘Brother Jing’), was that your way of greeting your son-in-law at your first meeting ….by making him do a somersault?”

Huang Yaoshi sneered. “Once he helped others bully my blind disciple; another time he frightened her with his snakes. I wanted to see what abilities he possesses.”

Ouyang Feng laughed. “That was a small childish misunderstanding, Brother Yao, please don’t mind him. This child of mine, is he worthy enough to be your precious daughter’s match?” He turned toward Huang Rong to check her out; clucking his tongue in admiration, he continued, “Elder Brother Huang [lao ge], with this beautiful young lady, your life lacks nothing.”

He groped in his pocket and produced a small embroidered box. He opened the box revealing a pigeon-egg sized sphere. The sphere shone brightly in the dark and was dazzling to the eyes. He turned to Huang Rong and smiled, “This is the ‘Rhinoceros Dragon Pill, made from the Western Region’s rarest animal. I further refined it with some other medicinal substances. When you wear it, you won’t be affected by hundreds of types of poison. It is one-of-a-kind in the whole wide world. Later on when you become my nephew’s wife, you need not fear your uncle’s venomous snakes and insects. This ‘Dragon’ pill’s usefulness is not negligible, but it cannot be regarded as the most precious treasure in the world. Your father has traversed the world; what kind of treasures he has not seen? This is only a countryman-from-a-remote-area’s gift of first meeting. I am afraid he would laugh at it.” Then he presented the box to Huang Rong.

Ouyang Feng was an expert at using poison; by giving this precious poison repellent as a dowry he showed his sincerity and was hoping to win Huang Yaoshi’s heart.

Guo Jing saw everything. “Rong’er has always been good to me; she won’t change her mind. Surely she doesn’t want that first meeting gift of yours,” he thought. But unexpectedly he heard Huang Rong say with a smile, “Many thanks to you!” and extended her hand to receive it.

As soon as Ouyang Ke saw Huang Rong’s snow-white skin and face as pretty as a flower his soul had already been bought; now that she was smiling at him, his whole body melted as he thought, “Since her father has given her hand in marriage to me, her attitude towards me is naturally not the same as it was before.” He felt smug. But suddenly something metal flashed towards him. “Not good!” he cried, and immediately bent his body backwards using the ‘Iron Bridge’ [tie ban chiao] stance.

“What are you doing?” Huang Yaoshi scolded. His left sleeve flicked and struck down most of the steel needles shot from Huang Rong’s hand, while with the back of his right hand he pushed her shoulder back.

“Wah!” Huang Rong bawled. “Father, you’d better kill me,” she cried. “I’d rather die than marry this bad thing.” Ouyang Feng thrust the ‘Dragon’ pill into Huang Rong’s hand while his other hand gently fended off Huang Yaoshi’s palm. “Your daughter is just testing my nephew’s martial arts, why are you so serious?” Because he was striking his own daughter, Huang Yaoshi’s palm naturally did not carry a lot of strength. Ouyang Feng’s hand also did not carry a lot of force.

As Ouyang Ke straightened his body, he felt pain in his left chest; he knew he’d been hit by one or two needles. However, he was proud and did not want anyone else to know, so he kept a straight face. But he was embarrassed. “She does not want to marry me after all,” he thought.

Ouyang Feng smiled, “Brother Yao, since our last meeting at Mount Hua, we haven’t seen each other for more than twenty years. Now that you have accepted my nephew’s proposal, should you have some business to complete, your brother will not dare to refuse his assistance.”

“Who dares to provoke you, Old Poison?” Huang Yaoshi replied. “You have stayed in the Western Region for twenty years, what fierce new martial arts have you mastered? Come, let me see.”

As soon as Huang Rong heard her father mention ‘new martial arts’ her interest was piqued. She wiped her tears away and leaned on her father. Her eyes looked closely at Ouyang Feng. She saw a curved black staff in his hand and looked like it was made of steel. The head of the staff resembled a man’s face with its mouth open showing two rows of sharp teeth. The face looked ugly and fearsome. What was more amazing was that there were a couple of silver-scaled snakes slithering up and down the staff.

Ouyang Feng smiled. “I was inferior to you then, and now that I have wasted more than twenty years, I certainly still won’t be your match,” he said. “We’ve become in-laws now. I am thinking of staying on Peach Blossom Island for a few days and asking your advice.”

When Ouyang Feng sent an envoy to propose marriage for his nephew, Huang Yaoshi thought that Ouyang Feng was one of only a handful of people whose martial arts could be compared to his own. Since Ouyang Feng was an educated man, so his nephew must be as well. He knew his daughter was stubborn and strong-willed. If she married just anybody, he was afraid she would bully her husband. Besides, he loathed that Guo kid whom his daughter liked. Ouyang Ke was not only highly educated, but was highly skilled in martial arts as well; not too many young men would hold a candle to him. That was the reason he accepted their proposal. But now as he listened to Ouyang Feng’s sweet mouth, he could not help but feel suspicious. He knew Ouyang Feng was crafty and sly and Ouyang Feng would not easily admit defeat to others in term of martial arts. His Toad Stance had been neutralized by Wang Chongyang’s Solitary Yang Finger; could it be that he had recovered it completely? Huang Yaoshi took out his jade flute and said, “Honored guests who come from afar, Little Brother is going to play a tune to entertain you. Please sit down and listen to this song.”

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Yaoshi was going to play the ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave song’ to test his internal strength, so he showed a faint smile and waved his left hand. The thirty-two white-dressed lantern-carrier maidens immediately stepped forward and kneeled before them. Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Your brother has acquired these thirty-two maidens from various regions in the west. Please accept them as my gift to an old friend. They are trained in singing and dancing even though they come from uncultured places; of course they can’t be compared to Jiangnan’s beautiful maidens.”

“Your Brother does not enjoy this kind of gift very much,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Since my wife passed away, I regard the world’s beautiful women as dung. I do not dare to accept Brother Feng’s generous gift.”

“What’s the harm in some entertainment to pass the time?” Ouyang Feng laughed.

Huang Rong noticed that these women’s skin was fair and light in color. They were tall in stature and some had blond hair and blue eyes; their noses were high and their eyes deep so they were totally different from the women of the Central Plains. But they were beautiful and had a seductive look that would attract casual onlookers.

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands three times and eight women brought out various musical instruments. They started playing while the other twenty-four women started dancing to the tune. The musical instruments as well as the tune were different from the ones commonly played in the Central Plains and they sounded weird to Huang Rong’s ears. She watched the front row women bend down, turn to the left and then back to the right; their bodies were very supple. The next row did the same as row after row danced in succession, resembling a large snake. After a while each woman spread both hands apart; from the tip of their left hand to the tip of their right hand, their bodies swayed following the tune reminding her of snakes slithering on the ground.

Huang Rong remembered Ouyang Ke’s ‘Spirit Snake Fist’, so she cast a glance towards him only to see that Ouyang Ke was staring intently at her. She hated him deeply and wished that her father had not intercepted her needles. She would find another way of taking his life and even if her father should force her to marry, that person was already dead. It was called the ‘Remove the Firewood from Under the Pot’ tactic. Having had this thought she was happy and a smile broke out on her face. Ouyang Ke saw her sudden smile and thought that she was smiling at him. He was so elated that he momentarily forgot the pain in his chest.

By now the dance movements of the women were getting more intense. Their bodies moved erotically as their hands caressed their own buttocks, then moved upwards to their breasts; then they unfastened their dresses so they showed their upper bodies and posed in various postures.

The men who herded the snakes had closed their eyes tightly; they did not dare to look. Even then their minds were disturbed.

Huang Yaoshi simply smiled, put the flute to his lips, and he started playing a tune. The women’s bodies suddenly shook and their dance movements became chaotic. A few bars later both their music and their dance were following the flute’s sound. Ouyang Feng knew something was amiss; he clapped his hands and a maiden stepped forward carrying an iron zither [zheng]. Ouyang Ke began to feel his heart beating faster. The eight women playing the musical instruments had lost their self-control and followed the flute’s tune. The men in charge of the snakes jumped up and down like crazy men amongst the snakes.

Ouyang Feng played a few notes on his zither producing metallic sounds like an iron horse charging toward the enemy; the complete opposite to the soft murmuring sound of the flute. Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “Come, come! Let us play a duet.” As soon as the flute left his lips, everyone was released from their hysterical condition.

“Everybody block your ears! Island Master Huang and I will play some music,” Ouyang Feng shouted. The people who came with him knew the song would not be an ordinary one; they immediately grabbed anything, including pieces of their own clothing that could be used to cover their ears. They put layer after layer of cotton and pieces of clothing over their ears; yet they still feared the sound would penetrate that barrier. Ouyang Ke also took out some cotton balls to plug his ears.

“My father plays his flute for your listening enjoyment; this is a big honor for you, yet all of you cover your ears. That is so rude! You come to Peach Blossom Island as guests, yet you dare to insult the host!” Huang Rong mocked.

“Don’t be rude!” Huang Yaoshi scolded her. “The ones who do not dare to listen to my flute actually have more sense. They have learned their lesson … ha … ha … Your uncle’s iron zither skill is considered the best in the world, yet you dare to listen to him? Do you want to test yourself?” Then he took a silk handkerchief from his pocket, tore it in halves and told Huang Rong to cover up her ears with them.

Guo Jing was curious about the world’s best iron zither; he wanted to hear Ouyang Feng’s fierce method, so he came a few steps closer.

Huang Yaoshi turned to Ouyang Feng, “Your snakes cannot cover their ears.” Then he turned his head towards his deaf and mute servant. He made some gestures and the servant nodded his head. The servant then signaled the snakes’ herders to leave by waving his hand. These men had been waiting for an opportunity to get away from that place; as soon as Ouyang Feng nodded his head in approval, they hurriedly drove the snakes away with the deaf and mute servant leading the way.

Ouyang Feng said, “Your Brother’s martial arts are not good enough. I must ask Brother Yao to reduce your strength by thirty percent.” He sat cross-legged on a big rock with the zither on his lap and immediately used his right fingers to pluck some strings.

The original ‘qin zheng’ [a zither from the short-lived Qin dynasty 221-207 BC] produced a sad and shrill tone. This Western Region iron zither produced an even more intensely sorrowful sound. Guo Jing did not understand music, but the zither’s tune affected his feelings. The louder the zither’s sound, the harder his heart beat. The quicker the zither’s tune, the faster his breathing became. His heart was thumping very hard, almost jumping out of his throat. It was an intensely uneasy feeling. After listening a while longer he felt his heart beat intensify and he had to struggle hard to stay conscious. “If this zither keeps getting stronger and stronger, how can I not be killed by its music?” he thought. He immediately retreated a few steps and circulated his ‘chi’ according to the Quanzhen method. After a while he managed to calm his heart and the zither’s music no longer adversely affected him very much.

The zither’s music was getting more intense and in Guo Jing’s mind it resembled the metallic clamor of armored cavalry charging at full speed. The thin tune of the jade flute seemed to ride smoothly in the midst of the clamoring zither’s tune. Guo Jing was trembling; his face was red from heat and he was sweating profusely. Again he quickly circulated his internal energy trying to further calm himself.

Although the zither was loud, it was not able to drown out the flute. Two distinct tunes intermingled, creating an eerie melody. The iron zither screamed like an ape from the Wuxia Gorge [one of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River] or a ghost’s cry in the dead of the night, while the flute sang like a Phoenix from the Kunlun Mountains or the soft murmur of a woman inside her chamber. One resembled the heartrending cry of a mournful soul, while the other carried the feeling of someone leisurely wandering through the wilderness. One high, the other low; one rushing forward, the other leisurely retreating; neither overpowered the other.

Initially Huang Rong watched as these two played music with smile on her face; but later she saw their expressions were getting serious. Her father stood up and started to walk around while playing his flute. His steps were actually following the ‘Eight Trigrams’ [ba gua]. She knew this was the footwork her father followed when he was cultivating his internal energy; it showed her how fierce the battle was for her father as he was forced to use all his strength. Turning toward Ouyang Feng she did not see anything better. Thick steam was coming from the top of his head as his sleeves fluttered following movements of his hands as he plucked the strings. Gusts of wind blew everywhere. His face looked totally focused on his zither playing; obviously he did not dare to be careless.

In the bamboo groove Guo Jing listened to the music attentively. He was pondering in his heart what these two instruments – the iron zither and the jade flute – had to do with martial arts? They sounded so evil to him; how could the sounds affect other people’s hearts and minds? At first he was too busy circulating his ‘chi’ and calming his heart and mind, but gradually he was able to control himself and follow the flow of flute and zither sounds. A little while later he began to realize that those two sounds were actually battling each other. When one sound was on the offensive, the other took a defensive position. Sometimes one attacked the other furiously, while the other blocked the attack while waiting for a good opportunity to counterattack. It really was no different than a battle between two martial arts masters. After pondering some more it suddenly dawned on him, “That’s right! Island Master Huang is having an internal energy match with Ouyang Feng.” Because he wanted to understand better, he closed his eyes and gave his ears full attention.

He began to hear the two sounds were alternately gaining victory or suffering defeat. Being musically illiterate the sound of the music could not affect his spirits; but he did feel openness in his heart as though he was looking at something bright. His mind wandered back to when Zhou Botong taught him the seventy-two stance ‘Vacant Fist’ whose origins stemmed from the words ‘empty/vacant/open’ and ‘clear/bright’. With his mind fully receptive and uncluttered, he could clearly ‘see’ every detail of the internal energy fight between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng. True, his internal energy was still inferior to those two experts, but he had improved greatly without even realizing it. Besides, as a spectator, he could see better than those two who were involved in the battle. He’d often wondered why Zhou Botong could not resist the flute’s sound while with inferior internal strength he could. He did not know that Zhou Botong carried heavy guilt in his heart because of what he had done in the past. Therefore it was not purely due to one’s internal energy strength that one could withstand the flute’s sound.

Now Guo Jing heard Ouyang Feng’s zither crushing Huang Yaoshi’s flute with a force as powerful as a thunderbolt. The flute evaded to the east and dodged to the west and as soon as there was a gap in the zither’s tune the flute would counterattack immediately. After a while the zither gradually slowed down, while the flute got more intense. Suddenly Guo Jing remembered the theory behind the ‘Vacant Fist’ which he’d memorized. It said, ‘hard must not last long and soft must not defend long’. He thought, “In not too long the zither will launch a counterattack.” Sure enough, when the flute slowed a little bit, an abrupt clank was heard as the iron zither again assumed the offensive.

Guo Jing had memorized the theory well, but his perception of it was still low. Zhou Botong did not explain the meaning of the words he passed on to Guo Jing so his overall comprehension was perhaps only about ten percent. Now, as he listened to the music battle between Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng, he began to understand who was doing what. It followed the theory he had memorized so well. Inwardly he was delighted. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained some very advanced martial arts theories. If it were left to him to dissect the theory, even with someone’s assistance, he would probably spend more than a year trying to understand what it said. But as he listened to the two tunes colliding he kept comparing the battle to the theory. However, he saw some discrepancies between the theory and a real battle situation and he attributed those discrepancies to his own shallow comprehension. For example, there were several occasions where Huang Yaoshi was obviously gaining the upper hand as long as he kept the flute’s tune constant. Then, Ouyang Feng was not able to withstand it. But Ouyang Feng also missed several opportunities to exploit to his advantage. Guo Jing had initially thought they were being modest and had backed off; but as he listened more, that didn’t appear to be the case.

His intelligence might not be high, but after those two people repeatedly made similar mistakes he began to realize that the flute and zither had a lot of holes in their defenses. After listening for a little bit more a thought came into his mind, “Compared to the theory of the ‘Vacant Fist’, their offense and defense have flaws and deficiencies; could it be that the theory passed on by Brother Zhou is better than both Island Master Huang’s and Western Poison’s martial arts?” But then he changed his mind, “Nah! It couldn’t be! If Brother Zhou’s martial arts are really better than Island Master Huang’s, how could those two fight countless battles over fifteen years and he still be stranded inside that cave?”

He racked his brain for a long time without coming to any conclusions; then he heard the flute tune climbing higher and higher until, if it went still higher, Ouyang Feng’s defeat would be decided. But the flute was not able to climb any higher; it had reached its peak. Guo Jing stifled a laugh, “I was really dumb! There is a limit to what one can achieve. Among the desires of the heart, nine out of ten cannot be achieved. I know that if my fist could generate a ten thousand catty force [5000kg / 11,000+lb], I will be able to crush my opponent to dust; but how can my fist develop that ten thousand catty force? Seventh Master often said, ‘Looking at others easily carrying a burden on a pole does not mean we can do the same without breaking our back.’ If merely carrying a burden follows this principle, how much more so do martial arts?”

The sounds of music became increasingly fierce and it sounded like those two were engaged in hand-to-hand combat, or fighting at very close quarters with naked blades. Victory or defeat would be decided very soon. Guo Jing was worried for Huang Yaoshi when he suddenly heard a long and loud whistle coming from the direction of the sea.

Both Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were startled and the flute and the zither slowed down. The whistle came nearer and nearer. It sounded like someone was on a boat coming towards the island. Ouyang Feng moved his hand and stroked two metallic notes, ‘clank, clank.’ The distant whistle went higher to overpower the zither. Not too long afterwards Huang Yaoshi’s flute joined in. Sometimes the flute was fighting the long whistle and sometimes it tangled with the zither in a close fight. The three distinct sounds were fighting each other.

Guo Jing had played ‘four-people combat’ with Zhou Botong, so he did not have any problems dividing his mind to distinguish between the different sounds. He knew a senior with a very high level of martial arts had arrived.

Soon the person uttering the long whistle had arrived at the forest. The whistle rose high then low. It sometimes sounded like a dragon’s cry or a lion’s roar and sometimes resembled a wolf’s howl or an owl’s cry. Then it sounded like a strong wind blowing through the forest which suddenly turned into a gentle rain showering the flowers. It was constantly changing.

The flute sound was clear and bright, the zither sound was intensely mournful, yet the combination of the three made a mysteriously wonderful sound which did not sound too bad at all. The three different sounds engaged each other in a close fight.

Guo Jing was amazed and could not help exclaiming, “Wonderful!” But once he closed his mouth he realized he had made a big mistake. He scurried away, but it was too late! A green shadow flashed by and Huang Yaoshi was standing in front of him. The three sounds were no longer heard. Huang Yaoshi lowered his head and said, “Good Boy, come with me.”

Guo Jing did not have a choice and meekly greeted, “Island Master Huang.” With the hair on the back of his neck raised he followed Huang Yaoshi back towards the bamboo pavilion.

Huang Rong still had her ears covered with silk, so she did not hear Guo Jing’s exclamation. Now Guo Jing suddenly appeared and she was pleasantly surprised. “Jing ge ge! You have finally come ...” she called out. She was joyful, yet sad at the same time; before she could finish speaking tears were already rolling down her cheeks. She rushed forward and threw herself onto Guo Jing’s chest. Guo Jing opened his arms and embraced her tightly.

Now that Guo Jing had appeared, Ouyang Ke was annoyed; then as he saw how intimate Huang Rong was with Guo Jing and his heart burned hot with hatred. With a gust of wind his fist flew toward Guo Jing’s face. “Stinky kid … you are here too!” he shouted.

He thought his martial arts skill was higher than Guo Jing’s and furthermore, his attack could be considered a sneak attack and Guo Jing was unprepared. Lashing out in hatred, he thought he might break Guo Jing’s nose. Not in his wildest imagination could he know that the Guo Jing now was not the same Guo Jing as when they fought each other at the Baoying Ancestral Hall. Guo Jing saw a fist coming and he leaned to the side to evade; then his left hand launched the ‘Swan Gradually Lands’ [hong jian yu liu] while his right hand launched the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’; both from the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.

The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ were unparalleled in the world; one move was very difficult to withstand, much less two stances at the same time. How could Ouyang Ke face them? Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng were actually standing close-by, but they did not anticipate Guo Jing’s counterattack. Both were startled and were unable to do anything.

Ouyang Ke saw his opponent’s left hand threatening his right side. He knew the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ were very fierce and he could evade but could not parry. Quickly he leaned his body to the left at exactly the same time as Guo Jing’s right hand’s ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ came in. ‘Crack!’ his upper torso was squarely hit and one of his ribs was broken.

He was aware of the fierceness of his opponent’s attack, so when Guo Jing’s hand arrived he had already focused his internal energy into his chest to protect his heart and lungs against the incoming force. Furthermore, as soon as he was hit he tried to lessen the injury by trying to jump up. The incredible force from Guo Jing’s hand had added to his own energy and sent him flying towards the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He managed to land standing, albeit staggering badly; then slowly slid down. He was terribly embarrassed and his chest hurt badly. He walked back slowly.

Guo Jing’s counterattack had surprised both the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison and taught Ouyang Ke a lesson he wouldn’t easily forget. It also received Huang Rong’s accolades. She clapped her hands and bounced up and down with great happiness. Guo Jing himself did not realize that his martial arts had improved tremendously. He simply thought that Ouyang Ke was being careless and was caught off guard. He was afraid Ouyang Ke would launch a counterattack, so he withdrew two steps and waited for his opponent with rapt attention.

Ouyang Feng glared angrily at Guo Jing as he called out loudly, “Old Beggar Hong … congratulations on your fine disciple!”

Huang Rong had removed the silk handkerchief from her ears and upon hearing Ouyang Feng’s loud call she knew Hong Qigong had arrived. Truly a savior sent from heaven. She rushed outside the bamboo groove and loudly called, “Shifu! Shifu! [Master]”

Huang Yaoshi was astounded, “Why did Rong’er call the Old Beggar Hong ‘Shifu’?” Right at that moment Hong Qigong appeared with a scarlet wine gourd on his back, a bamboo staff in his right hand, Huang Rong’s hand in his left and smiling broadly as he entered the bamboo groove.

Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong greeted each other and exchanged some pleasantries. Then Huang Yaoshi turned to his daughter and asked, “Rong’er, what did you call Qigong?”

“Senior Qigong has taken me as his disciple,” Huang Rong replied.

Huang Yaoshi was delighted. He turned to Hong Qigong saying, “So Brother Qi [Qi Xiong] has accepted my daughter; your brother appreciates that very much. But my daughter is mischievous; I do hope Brother Qi will teach her some lessons.” Speaking thus he raised his hands in respect.

Hong Qigong smiled. “Brother Yao’s martial arts are both broad and profound. This girl won’t be able to learn them all in her lifetime; why would I need to meddle? But since you asked, the reason I took her as my disciple was so that I can eat for free. She prepared a lot of good food for me, so you don’t need to thank me,” he said. Huang Yaoshi and Hong Qigong both laughed heartily.

Huang Rong pointed her finger at Ouyang Ke and said, “Father, this bad man bullied me. If not for Senior Qigong looking after me on your behalf, you wouldn’t have seen Rong’er so soon.”

“Nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi reprimanded her, “How could he bully you for no reason?”

“If you don’t believe me, ask him!” Huang Rong replied. Turning her head towards Ouyang Ke she said, “You have to swear an oath that if you answer my father’s question with even half-a-lie there will come a day when the vipers on your uncle’s staff will bite you.”

Listening to her words Ouyang Feng and Ouyang Ke’s faces changed. Ouyang Feng had spent more than ten years raising the vipers on his staff. They were a mixed-breed of various venomous snakes so their poison was extremely lethal. Ouyang Feng used to punish his rebellious disciples or his enemies with a bite from these snakes. Once the poison entered somebody’s system, the victim would suffer a terrible itch all over, followed by a violent painful death. Ouyang Feng did have the antidote; but after the poison entered one’s body, even if the antidote saved one’s life, one would lose all his martial arts and would live forever as a cripple. Huang Rong of course did not know this; she simply felt that the snakes entwined on Ouyang Feng’s staff were peculiar so she capriciously mentioned them. Who would have thought that she had touched exactly on the main taboo subject of the Western Poison family?

“I dare not answer Honorable Father-in-law’s questions untruthfully,” Ouyang Ke promised.

“You are speaking nonsense again!” Huang Rong spat. “You make me want to slap your ears really hard. Let me ask you this: Did you or did you not see me in Beijing at the Zhao Palace?” Ouyang Ke had a broken rib and his chest had been hit by her steel needle, so the pain was nearly unbearable; but he was too proud to show his weakness in front of others. He gritted his teeth and was able to speak, but the pain was getting worse and resulted in a cold sweat showing on his forehead. Even though he wanted to answer Huang Rong, he did not dare to open his mouth. All he could do was nod in the affirmative.

“At that time you, along with Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi, surrounded and bullied me, did you not?” Huang Rong asked again.

Ouyang Ke wanted to defend himself by explaining that he was not a collaborator with those people to bully her; but all he could say was, “I … I did not collaborate with them …” His chest was in so much pain that he could not say another word.

“Very well,” Huang Rong said, “I don’t need your answer; all you need to do is nod or shake your head in reply to my questions. Let me ask you this: Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu, Liang Ziweng, and Monk Lingzhi meant to harm me, did they not?” Ouyang Ke nodded.

“They wanted to capture me, but failed miserably. Then you showed up and went into action, did you not?” Huang Rong asked again. Ouyang Ke had no choice but to nod his head again.

“At that time I was alone inside the Zhao Palace; I had nobody to help me and my situation was precarious. My father did not know my whereabouts, so even had he wanted to rescue me, he would not have been able to. Isn’t that right?” Huang Rong continued. Ouyang Ke knew she was trying to win sympathy from her father and incite her father’s hatred toward him, but what she said was a fact, so he had no choice but to nod his head again.

Huang Rong reached out for her father’s hand and said, “Father, you don’t love Rong’er anymore. If Mother was still alive you wouldn’t treat me like this …” Huang Yaoshi heard her mention his beloved wife and he felt a stab of pain in his heart. He reached out his left arm and hugged her.

Ouyang Feng was smart and he felt something was not right; before Huang Rong could ask another question he interrupted her. “Miss Huang,” he asked, “Those well-known martial arts characters wanted to capture you; but since you have mastered your family’s peerless skills in wushu [kung fu] they could not overcome you, could they?” Huang Rong nodded her head and smiled sweetly. Huang Yaoshi listened to Ouyang Feng praising his family’s martial arts and showed a faint smile.

Turning to Huang Yaoshi, Ouyang Feng said, “Brother Yao, ever since my nephew first saw your daughter his heart was captivated by her beauty and excellent skills. He sent a pigeon to summon me and I came from the White Camel Mountain, thousands of li away, crossed the Central Plains and the sea to Peach Blossom Island to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage. You have considered my haste and, although unworthy, have received me well. Other than Brother Yao, there is no one in this present age that would do such thing.”

“I do not dare to accept such compliments,” Huang Yaoshi smiled. He thought that even with his high position, Ouyang Feng was still willing to travel a long way to see him and he felt honored.

Ouyang Feng then turned to Hong Qigong and said, “Brother Qi, we uncle and nephew admire Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts; but you…how could you belittle us by bullying the juniors? If my nephew had been unfortunate, he could have died from your unique skill of the ‘Steel Needle Rain’.”

Actually, it was Hong Qigong who saved Ouyang Ke from the ‘Steel Needle Rain’ launched by Huang Rong, but now Ouyang Feng had placed the blame on him. He knew Ouyang Ke must have lied to his uncle and his uncle was using that to discredit him. Hong Qigong was an honest, straightforward man and he did not want to argue; he simply laughed a big laugh, unplugged his wine gourd and took a big gulp.

Guo Jing could not keep his patience any longer, “It was Senior Qigong who saved your nephew’s life; how could you say such thing to blame him?”

“Kid, we are still talking, how dare you interrupt?” Huang Yaoshi barked.

“Rong’er, tell him … tell your Father what happened to Miss Cheng,” Guo Jing hastily said.

Huang Rong knew her father’s temperament very well; he was not one who followed customs and traditions. He often said, “What do those customs have to do with us?” His way of thinking was different from the common people of his time. What other people thought to be right, he would consider it wrong; what other people thought to be wrong, he might think it to be right. That was how he earned his title ‘Eastern Heretic.’ Huang Rong thought, “Ouyang Ke’s behavior is really disgusting, but Father might think that he did what any normal romantic young man would do.” She noticed that her father was looking at Guo Jing with fiery eyes so she hastily came up with an idea.

“I am not done with you,” she said turning to Ouyang Ke, “That day when we were having a martial arts contest at the Zhao Palace you tied both your hands behind your back and said that you didn’t need any hands to subdue me, did you not?” Ouyang Ke admitted with a nod of his head.

“Later on after I took Senior Qigong as my master we met again in Baoying,” Huang Rong continued. “You said that no matter what kind of martial arts I used, whether it be from my father or the ones taught by Hong Qigong; you would only use your Uncle’s martial arts to defeat me, didn’t you?” Ouyang Ke thought, “It was your own idea; I did not say such thing.”

Seeing his hesitation Huang Rong quickly continued, “You drew a circle on the ground with your feet and said that if I could get you out of the circle using the martial arts I learned from my father you would admit defeat, didn’t you?” Ouyang Ke nodded again.

Turning to her father Huang Rong said, “Father, did you hear that? He did not have any respect for Hong Qigong and he did not have any respect for you. He said that the martial arts of the two of you are inferior to his uncle’s and even if you two came together you still cannot defeat his uncle. I don’t believe it.”

“The little girl has a long tongue [she’s stretching the truth],” Huang Yaoshi said. “Who among the people under the heavens do not know that Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar’s martial arts are like a pound to sixteen ounces? No one is superior to the others.” Although his mouth said those words, he resented Ouyang Ke’s arrogance, but he did not want to discuss this matter anymore. He turned his head to Hong Qigong and asked, “Brother Qi, your presence has brought honor to Peach Blossom Island. I wonder if there is anything I can do for you?”

“I’ve come here to ask you for a favor,” Hong Qigong replied.

Although Hong Qigong loved to joke around, he was an honest and straightforward man, always upholding justice. His martial arts skill was very high, so Huang Yaoshi had always respected him. Huang Yaoshi knew that whatever business Hong Qigong was dealing with, it was always taken care of, if not personally, then with the help of his numerous Beggar Clan members. This time Hong Qigong was asking him for a favor. He was extremely delighted and said, “We have been friends for dozens of years; if Brother Qi has anything to ask, how can your younger brother not oblige?”

“Don’t comply too quickly,” Hong Qigong said, “I am afraid this matter is not easy to manage.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “If the matter was easy, Brother Qi wouldn’t think of asking your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong clapped his hands. “That’s right!” he laughed, “That is the sign of a real friendship! You have decided to comply to my request then?”

“Speak up!” Huang Yaoshi said. “Even if it means going through fire or water, I’ll do it.”

Ouyang Feng swung his snake staff and opened his mouth, “Slow down Brother Yao, first we must ask Brother Qi what it is that he wants.”

Hong Qigong laughed. “Old Poison, this matter does not concern you. You are being nosy. You’d better prepare your belly to drink ‘celebratory wine’.” [xi jiu - the term used for wine served at a wedding banquet.]

“Drink ‘celebratory wine’?” Ouyang Feng wondered.

“That’s correct,” Hong Qigong replied, “‘Celebratory wine’.” Pointing to Guo Jing and Huang Rong he continued, “These two are my disciples; I have agreed to ask Brother Yao on their behalf to let them marry each other. Brother Yao has agreed to it.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were both frightened and happy at the same time. They exchanged glances with each other. Ouyang Feng and his nephew, as well as Huang Yaoshi, were startled.

“Brother Qi!” Ouyang Feng said, “You are wrong! Brother Yao’s ‘precious one’ [qian jin - thousand gold’] was betrothed to my nephew earlier. We came to Peach Blossom Island today to deliver the dowry and arrange for the ceremony.”

“Brother Yao,” Hong Qigong asked, “Is that so?”

“I am afraid so,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Brother Qi, please don’t play jokes on your younger brother.”

Hong Qigong put on a sour face. “Who plays jokes on you?” he said. “You have betrothed your daughter to two families; your family’s reputation is at stake here.” Turning his head to Ouyang Feng he asked, “I am the Guo family’s primary matchmaker, where is yours?”

Ouyang Feng was dumbfounded; he did not expect Hong Qigong to ask him that question. Stammering he tried to answer, “Brother Yao has consented to this marriage, I have also consented; why would we need a matchmaker?”

“Are you aware that there is somebody who has not consented to this arrangement?” Hong Qigong cut him off. “Who?” Ouyang Feng asked.

“Ha ... ha … it’s yours truly, the Old Beggar Hong!” Hong Qigong laughed.

As soon as Ouyang Feng heard this and knowing Hong Qigong’s character to be strong-willed and his conduct to be firm and resolute, he knew a fight was unavoidable; his face did not show even a slight change but he delayed saying anything.

Hong Qigong smiled, “Your nephew’s behavior was improper. How could he be compared to Brother Yao’s beautiful-as-a-flower daughter? If you force them to get married, they will fight over all kinds of things everyday and they might end up killing each other. What good would it do?” Huang Yaoshi listened attentively and his heart was stirred. He looked at Huang Rong, who was gazing lovingly at Guo Jing. Then he looked at Guo Jing. He hated this dumb kid to the core…Guo Jing’s intelligence was questionable; he knew nothing of literature or martial arts or music, chess, calligraphy and painting. He would not be a talented scholar or a gallant knight. Both he and his wife were intelligent people and he knew their only daughter’s brainpower was not far below theirs. If he let this scatterbrain marry his daughter, it would be like throwing a fresh flower into cow dung.

Right now he saw Guo Jing standing alongside Ouyang Ke; he could not help but compare those two. Ouyang Ke’s intelligence and smart appearance was a hundred times better than Guo Jing’s. His mind was set to take this young man as his son-in-law. But Hong Qigong’s face showed he would not easily give up; so he cooked up a scheme and said, “Brother Feng [Feng Xiong], your nephew is injured. You’d better take care of that first; we will discuss this matter further later.”

Ouyang Feng had been worried about his nephew’s condition for a while and was hoping Huang Yaoshi would give them a chance to take care of his injuries. He immediately beckoned his nephew and the two walked back into the bamboo groove. Huang Yaoshi then engaged Hong Qigong in some pleasantries.

In about the time needed to cook some rice later, the uncle and nephew returned to the pavilion. Ouyang Feng had extracted the steel needles from his nephew’s body and mended the broken rib as well.

“My daughter’s posture is as weak as a willow tree; she is stubborn, disobedient and hardly worthy to be a gentleman’s wife. But Brother Qi and Brother Feng have both unexpectedly given me the highest honor by asking her hand in marriage. My daughter was already betrothed to Mr. Ouyang, but Brother Qi’s request is also difficult not to accept. I have an idea and I wonder if you two brothers would tell me if this idea will work or not?” Huang Yaoshi said.

“Say it quickly … say it quickly!” Hong Qigong interrupted. “The Old Beggar doesn’t like listening to your twisting and flowery words.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled faintly. “Brothers, even though this daughter of mine is unworthy, I still hope she will find a good husband,” he continued. “Mr. Ouyang is Brother Feng’s honorable nephew, while Mr. Guo is Brother Qi’s outstanding disciple. Both are very fine gentlemen and it is very difficult to choose one of them. I have no alternative but to come up with a three-subject test and I will betroth my daughter to whoever passes this test. I will not favor either one of them. Will both old friends tell me if this idea is good?”

Ouyang Feng clapped his hands. “Clever! Wonderful!” he called out. “The only thing is, my nephew is injured; if the test involves martial arts then we have to wait until he is fully recovered.” He had seen the fierceness of Guo Jing’s attack that injured his nephew; he knew that if they contended in martial arts his nephew would no doubt lose. So he used his nephew’s injury to their best advantage.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi said. “A martial arts contest would harm the good relationships between two families anyway.”

Hong Qigong thought in his heart, “This is so typical of Old Heretic Huang. We all are Wulin people; if the test involves literary and not martial arts skill, do you expect an ‘academic scholar’ [zhuang yuan] to become your son-in-law? If you come up with music or poetry, even if he was reincarnated, my stupid disciple will not be able to take the test. Your mouth says no favorites, but obviously you totally favor the other side. My stupid disciple will lose for sure. This is confounding! I will fight Old Poison first and talk later.” He looked upwards and laughed hard; then, staring at Ouyang Feng he said, “We are all martial arts practitioners; instead of a contest of martial arts, would you prefer to have an eating contest or defecating race? Your nephew is injured, but you are not. Come … come … come! We will fight in their stead.”

Without waiting for an answer he sent his palm towards Ouyang Feng’s shoulder. Ouyang Feng stepped back several feet. Hong Qigong put his bamboo staff down on a small bamboo table. “Watch out for this!” he shouted. While his words were still hanging in the air both his palms had already moved seven times in rapid succession.

Ouyang Feng dodged to the left and evaded to the right and all seven attacks flew past. His right hand shoved the snake staff into the bricks in front of the pavilion, and in a flash his left hand had also sent seven counterattacks.

Huang Yaoshi cheered, but did not prevent them from fighting. He wanted to watch these two world-class martial arts masters, who were his peers, and see what kind of improvements had they made twenty years after their last meeting.

Both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were the experts of their respective martial arts schools. They had reached the pinnacle of their martial arts twenty years ago. After the Sword Meet of Mount Hua both had trained hard and improved their skills tremendously. Their skills were incomparable to when they had their meet on Mount Hua and now they meet again on Peach Blossom Island. Each launched swift attacks and counterattacks, but they were actually still probing their opponent’s skills. Both combatants exchanged fast and forceful palms and fists so that the gusts of wind created swayed the bamboo leaves around them. Although they were only testing each other, their moves carried profound martial arts techniques.

On the sideline Guo Jing was watching with full attention; whether it was an attack or a defense, every single move was a wonderful one and beyond his wildest imagination. The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained the deepest martial arts theory in the world whether it be internal or external energy cultivation, bare hands or swordplay, and other kinds of the most profound martial arts imaginable. After Guo Jing memorized the content by heart and even though he did not understand every single one of them, those theories were actually ingrained in his brain. Now as he watched those two combatants exchanging exquisite moves, those theories came flooding back into his mind, forming a fuzzy shadow in his brain.

Earlier he’d listened to Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng’s flute versus zither battle. That was an invisible internal energy battle and it was extremely difficult to clearly see their relationship to the theory in the manual. This time the battle was fists and kicks and much easier to perceive. In his delight, his heart was itching to try what he had seen.

Very quickly Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng had exchanged more than three hundred stances. Both were surprised at their opponent’s skill and could not help but praise each other in their hearts. On the side-lines Huang Yaoshi looked on with a sigh and thought, “I have trained myself painstakingly on Peach Blossom Island and I thought, after Wang Chongyang passed away, my martial arts would be number one in the world. Who would have thought that the Old Beggar and Old Poison have both taken their own paths and reached these frightfully respectable levels of martial arts?”

Both Ouyang Ke and Huang Rong were deep in their own thoughts and each hoped that their side would gain a quick victory. But they actually could not comprehend the exquisiteness of the martial arts being displayed in front of their eyes. From the corner of her eye Huang Rong saw a black shadow dancing erratically with flailing hands and feet moving constantly. She turned her head and discovered that the shadow was Guo Jing. Guo Jing’s expression was strange and it looked like he was in ecstasy. Her heart skipped a beat. “Jing ge ge!” she called with a low voice.

Guo Jing did not hear her; he was too busy moving his hands and feet. Huang Rong felt anxious, so she watched attentively and discovered that Guo Jing was actually imitating Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng’s movements.

By now those two had changed the way they were fighting; every fist and every kick was sent out slowly. Sometimes they would stand still for a moment, and then send out a fist. After they exchanged one stance, they would sit down on the ground to take a rest; then stand up and exchange another move. In fact, the way they were fighting was slower than two disciples practicing martial arts. But looking at their faces, one could see the seriousness of their expressions, almost to the point of being very tense.

Huang Rong glanced towards her father and saw him looking intently at those two and his face was also unusually tense. Ouyang Ke was the only person around who’d maintained his calmness. He looked at her flirtatiously while lightly waving his folding fan.

Guo Jing saw an unconventional move and he could not restrain from cheering loudly. Ouyang Ke was irritated, “Your dirty kid does not understand anything, what is he shouting about?”

“Just because you don’t understand, how would you know whether or not other people understand?” Huang Rong shot back.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “He’s just flailing his hands and feet foolishly. Given his young age, how would he know the wonder of my uncle’s divine martial arts?”

“You are not him; how would you know what he knows?” Huang Rong replied.

While the two were bickering on the side, Huang Yaoshi and Guo Jing turned a deaf ear on them; they were watching the fight with rapt attention.

By that time both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were squatting on the ground; one with his left middle finger pointed to his forehead and the other used both hands to cover his ears. Both were thinking very hard with their eyes closed. Suddenly they shouted and simultaneously leapt towards each other; one sent his fist and the other used his leg; then they separated again.

Those two people had reached the level where each and every single one of the martial arts belonging to their own family or school had no flaws whatsoever. However, they both knew that no matter how fierce their stance was, the opponent would easily break it. Therefore, they had to create a new and unknown move in order to gain the upper hand.

After their sword meet twenty years ago, both men, one residing on the Central Plains, the other from the Western Regions, had not met or even heard of the other’s present state, so they did not know how much the other man had improved his martial arts. Now that they were fighting each other, the situation was not much different. Each had his own strengths; each had his own weaknesses and neither could tell who would overcome who. In the meantime the moonlight had faded and one could see a streak of sunlight glowing in the east. Both had racked their brains and had created innumerable new and wonderful moves; fist or palm techniques along with tens of thousands variations thereof, but still, no one could tell which one was better.

Guo Jing witnessed the fight between two top experts of the present age’s martial arts world; wonderful moves and exquisite techniques came one after another. Sometimes he understood, but more often he did not. Sometimes he saw something that was related to the theory taught him by Zhou Botong which made him excited and he wanted to try. But before he could finish half a stance, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng had already launched new moves and Guo Jing had already forgotten the previous move he was trying to master.

When Huang Rong saw Guo Jing like that, she was alarmed. “I have not seen him for dozens of days; could it be that he’s had some profound martial arts lessons from a divine being?” she thought, “I’m watching the fight and I got confused; how could he exclaim in admiration?” But then another thought came to her mind, “Could it be that this silly brother of mine missed me so much that he went insane?”

She had not seen Guo Jing for quite some time and now that they’ve seen each other again, the situation was not conducive for them to be affectionate. She moved forward, wanting to hold Guo Jing’s hand. Right at that moment Guo Jing was imitating Ouyang Feng’s palm technique; he was turning his body around and launched a palm attack. It looked ordinary, but in actuality it carried enormous hidden energy. Her hand barely touched Guo Jing’s palm when she suddenly felt a surge of incredible energy pushing her. She was sent flying upward.

After touching Huang Rong’s hand, Guo Jing came back to reality. “Aiyo!” he shouted and jumped up to grab Huang Rong’s waist. While falling back down to the ground, Guo Jing’s left hand grabbed the bamboo pavilion’s eave. He swung their bodies and they landed on the roof. The two sat shoulder to shoulder on top of the bamboo pavilion watching the fight on the ground.

By that time the battle situation on the ground had changed again. Ouyang Feng was squatting on the ground with both arms bent at the shoulder, resembling a big frog about to strike at its enemy. His mouth created some deep rumbling noises like a cow mooing; sometimes it was audible and sometimes it wasn’t.

Huang Rong was amused; she smiled and with a low voice asked, “Jing ge ge, what is he doing?”

“I don’t know,” Guo Jing replied. But suddenly he remembered Zhou Botong’s story about Wang Chongyang’s ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ breaking Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’. “That must be it!” he exclaimed, “This is his fiercest martial art; it is called the ‘Toad Stance’.”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and laughed, “He does look like a toad!”

Ouyang Ke had observed the two sitting close and leaning toward each other, talking and laughing; his heart was burning with jealousy. He wanted to leap up and fight Guo Jing, but his chest was still hurting and he could not exert any strength. Besides, he did not have any confidence that his martial arts were superior to Guo Jing’s. But hearing Huang Rong say ‘he looks like a toad’ he thought they were ridiculing him and saying that he looked like a dirty toad desiring to eat swan’s meat [a lascivious man lusting after an innocent maiden?]; he was furious. With his right hand holding three hidden projectiles he quietly walked around toward the back of the bamboo pavilion. Gritting his teeth he moved his hand and three silvery streaks flew towards Guo Jing’s chest.

In the meantime Hong Qigong was launching his palms to the front and to the back, busily fighting Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ with his Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms. These two martial arts were the highest skills of each combatant, so the fight was no longer slow and sluggish like it was before. Now it became fierce as the two used their dozens of years of martial arts training trying to gain victory; life or death could be decided in the twinkling of an eye. Guo Jing had learned the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms, but he had not seen his master using this technique before. It sent shivers along his spine to see how wonderful the palm techniques were, with infinite variations in them. It was truly incomparable to the ones he had already mastered. He was completely captivated with what was happening on the ground; why would he expect that someone would sneak in from behind and stealthily attack him?

Huang Rong was not aware that the two fighting on the ground were using their highest martial arts skills; she was still laughing and joking around when she suddenly realized one person was missing from the bamboo pavilion. Her mind immediately went to Ouyang Ke since she was afraid of his craftiness. Her eyes scanned the area, but it was her ears that heard the wind generated by the hidden projectiles coming towards Guo Jing’s back. From the corner of her eye she could see three silvery streaks coming fast. She did not have time to think and immediately threw herself behind Guo Jing’s back. “Puff…puff…puff!” three hidden projectiles landed squarely in her back. She was wearing the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ [ruan wei jia] so she was not injured, but she felt some pain nonetheless.

Her hand reached back and grabbed the hidden projectiles. She turned around and smiled sweetly, “You are scratching the itch on my back, aren’t you? Thank you, but I need to give these back to you.”

Ouyang Ke saw how she intercepted the projectiles with her own body to protect Guo Jing and he was more jealous than ever. Hearing what she said he thought she was going to throw the projectiles back his way, so he readied himself. But after a moment he saw Huang Rong holding the projectiles in her hand palm up, as though she was expecting him to take them back from her hand.

Ouyang Ke kicked his left foot and leaped to the bamboo pavilion’s roof. He intended to show off his lightness kungfu and, lightly perched on the edge of the roof, he looked like a white shadow swaying gently in the wind. It was indeed an excellent skill; as elegant as that of a deity.

“Your lightness kungfu is truly wonderful!” Huang Rong exclaimed. She stood up and walked towards him, arm extended with the projectiles in her hand.

Ouyang Ke saw her white complexion and he was mesmerized. Absentmindedly he stretched out his hand to take the projectiles, with the ill intention of rubbing her hand. Suddenly some metallic streaks came his way. He had twice fallen for Huang Rong’s tricks and did not want to repeat it. He somersaulted down from the roof waving his sleeve and parrying an abundance of Huang Rong’s steel needles.

Huang Rong giggled and threw the three silver projectiles to the ground, right in front of the squatting Ouyang Feng.

“NO! Don’t!” Guo Jing shouted in alarm. He grabbed Huang Rong’s waist and jumped down from the roof. Before his feet even touched the ground he heard Huang Yaoshi’s anxious shout, “Brother Feng have mercy!”

Guo Jing felt an earth-shattering force coming his way. Quickly he pushed Huang Rong aside and exerted all his strength to his hands with one of the Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms, the ‘Sighting a Dagon in the Fields’ [jian long zai tian].

A loud ‘bang’ was heard as his force collided with Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’. As a result he staggered back seven or eight steps. Guo Jing felt blood rising from his chest to his throat. He was alarmed and also afraid Ouyang Feng would send another attack, so he forced himself to move and stood in front of Huang Rong, ready to take another blow. Then he saw Hong Qigong and Huang Yaoshi had already stepped in between them.

“I’m so sorry! I am so ashamed!” Ouyang Feng said as he stood up. “I was not able to retract my force. I hope I did not hurt the young lady, did I?” he called out. Actually Huang Rong was frightened and her beautiful face was pale; but hearing him say such a thing, she put on a bold face and laughed, “With my Father around, how could you hurt me?”

Huang Yaoshi was very anxious; he took her hands and quietly asked, “Do you feel anything different in your body? Quickly breathe in and out a few times.” Huang Rong listened to her father and quietly circulate her ‘chi’ but did not feel anything unusual, so she laughed and shook her head.

Huang Yaoshi was relieved. “Your two uncles are practicing their martial arts just now, what was a little girl like you doing carelessly intervening?” he reprimanded. “Uncle Ouyang’s ‘Toad Stance’ is not a small matter; if he had not shown you mercy, do you think your little life would be spared?”

In order to launch the powerful ‘Toad Stance’, Ouyang Feng had to concentrate all of his strength in the whole of his body. As soon as the opponent attacked, he would be able to counterattack by launching the full power already stored. That was exactly what happened when he was waiting for Hong Qigong to attack; his strength was concentrated, ready to be launched like an arrow on a completely drawn bow. Unexpectedly Huang Rong tossed something at him that he instinctively counterattacked towards her.

When he realized it was Huang Rong he was extremely shocked; but his force had already being released so there was no way he could pull it back. He sighed inwardly, thinking he had created a terrible disaster and that this beautiful flower-of-a-girl would die a violent death at his hands. Moreover he’d heard Huang Yaoshi call out, ‘Brother Feng, have mercy!’ He frantically tried to divert his force, but there simply was not enough time. Then he suddenly felt another force colliding with his. He took this opportunity to retract his force. When he looked carefully, he discovered that the person who rescued Huang Rong was Guo Jing! He secretly admired Hong Qigong, “The Old Beggar is very good; he has succeeded in teaching this young disciple to such a high level of martial arts!”

Huang Yaoshi had seen Guo Jing’s martial arts at Cloud Manor; he thought, “This youngster did not know the height of the sky or the depth of the earth, yet he dared to parry Ouyang Feng’s fierce ‘Toad Stance’. If Ouyang Feng had not seen my face and showed him mercy, his bones would have been shattered.” He did not know that the Guo Jing he met at Cloud Manor was not the same Guo Jing as now. However, he acknowledged that Guo Jing had selflessly saved Huang Rong’s life without any regard for his own safety. His hatred towards him was, for the most part, gone. He thought, “This kid really has a good heart and he really loves Rong’er. I can’t give Rong’er to him, but I can certainly reward him by teaching him something.” The rascal in front of him looked rather stupid and the word ‘foolish’ had stirred up anger in him.

“Old Poison…you are really good!” Hong Qigong called out, “But victory or defeat has not been decided yet; let us fight again!” “Very well!” Ouyang Feng replied, “I will risk my life to accompany a gentleman’s play!”

“I am not a gentleman,” Hong Qigong laughed. “You are risking your life to play with a beggar!” With a jump he was standing in the courtyard again.

Ouyang Feng was about to join him when Huang Yaoshi suddenly lifted his left hand, “Hold it!” he called out, “Brother Qi, Brother Feng, you have fought for more than one thousand moves and you two are equally strong. Today the two of you are Peach Blossom Island’s honored guests; you are entitled to drink several cups of your brother’s own wine. The sword meet at Mount Hua is at hand. At that time not only will you two see who will gain a victory, but your brother, along with the Southern Emperor will be there to practice our martial arts. Why don’t we end today’s contest right now?”

“That’s fine with me!” Ouyang Feng laughed, “If this fight continues, I will be forced to admit defeat very soon anyway.”

Hong Qigong turned back and laughed, “Old Western Poison is crafty; when he said he will admit defeat, he actually means he’s going to win. I don’t believe what he said one bit.”

“Well, then,” Ouyang Feng replied, “Let me ask Brother Qi’s expert opinion again.” Hong Qigong flicked his sleeve and said, “Nothing would be better!”

“I see,” Huang Yaoshi interrupted, “So your arrival on Peach Blossom Island today is actually to show off your martial arts,” he said with a smile.

Hong Qigong roared in laughter. “Brother Yao is right! We came here to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage, not to fight each other.”

“I said earlier that I am going to provide three subjects to test both gentlemen,” Huang Yaoshi continued, “The one that passes the test will be my son-in-law; but the one fails won’t be going home empty handed either.”

“What? Do you have another daughter?” Hong Qigong asked.

Huang Yaoshi smiled, “No, I don’t. Even if I found another wife, I don’t think we want to wait that long do we? Your brother has many other skills: medical, astrology and a lot of other stuff. To the gentleman who fails the test, so long as he does not belittle my shallow knowledge and is willing to learn one particular subject, I will devote my time and teach him with all of my heart so that he won’t leave Peach Blossom Island empty handed.”

Hong Qigong was fully aware of Huang Yaoshi’s abilities; he thought that if Guo Jing could not be his son-in-law but managed to learn just one skill from him, he would gain a lifelong benefit nonetheless. He thought that whatever subjects the tests would be, Guo Jing would undoubtedly suffer a loss and he felt badly for him. Ouyang Feng, noticing Hong Qigong’s reluctance, took the opportunity to say, “Good…let it be that way! Brother Yao has actually accepted my nephew’s proposal, but he honored Brother Qi’s face. So let these two kids be tested. That way it won’t damage our friendship.” Turning towards Ouyang Ke he said, “Later, should you lose, you will only have your own lack of ability to blame and you cannot blame anyone else. We will happily drink Brother Yao’s vintage wine [xi jiu]. If you later have a mind to create other problems, not only will these two seniors not let you off easily, but I myself will not spare you.”

Hong Qigong looked up and burst out in laughter, “Old Poison, you are ninety percent sure that you are going to win. Your speech was actually directed at me and my disciple; what you are saying is ‘be a dear and just admit defeat’.”

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Who wins and who loses, how would you know in advance? Even for people of our level, do you think it is easy to claim victory so shamelessly? Brother Yao, please present the subjects of your test.”

Huang Yaoshi had determined to give his daughter to Ouyang Ke, therefore, he had to come up with three subjects that would guarantee victory for Ouyang Ke. But first of all, a man of his stature could not be blatantly one-sided; secondly, he did not want to offend Hong Qigong. But while he was still carefully considering what he was about to say, Hong Qigong opened his mouth, “We all live by our fists and kicks, the test Brother Yao will administer must be related to martial arts. If your subjects are poetry, music, reciting scriptures or painting, then we – master and disciple, will simply admit defeat and take our butts out of here; there’s no need to lose face.”

“Naturally,” Huang Yaoshi assured him, “The first subject is a martial arts competition.” “That won’t do,” Ouyang Feng said, “My nephew is injured at present.”

Huang Yaoshi smiled. “I know that,” he said, “I cannot let two brothers have a martial arts contest on Peach Blossom Island and damage their friendship.”

“They are not going to fight?” Ouyang Feng was baffled. “That’s correct,” Huang Yaoshi answered.

“Ah!” Ouyang Feng smiled, “Then the test giver will try each person’s martial arts?”

Huang Yaoshi shook his head, “No, if I do that, no one can guarantee that I will be fair since I can make my moves heavy or light at will. Brother Feng, you and Brother Qi have reached the pinnacle of your respective martial arts skills and the fight just now was the proof. You have fought for more than a thousand moves, yet nobody knows who gained victory or suffered defeat. Brother Feng, you test Brother Guo, and Brother Qi, you try Brother Ouyang.”

Hong Qigong thought to himself, “This is very fair indeed. Old Heretic Huang is really smart to have thought of this method. Old Beggar would never come up with something like that.” He laughed and said, “This method is not bad! Come…come…come! Let us play!” He beckoned Ouyang Ke.

“Wait!” Huang Yaoshi said, “There are some rules for the game we need to address. Rule number one: Brother Ouyang is injured and he cannot exert any energy; both of them, therefore, will be tested in terms of martial arts, not in terms of strength. Rule number two: The four of you will fight on top of these pine trees,” he pointed to two big pine trees outside the bamboo pavilion, “The junior who falls to the ground first will lose. Rule number three: Brother Feng and Brother Qi, if one of you puts too heavy a pressure on the junior and accidentally injures him, he will lose.”

“Injuring a junior is considered losing?” Hong Qigong mused.

“Certainly,” Huang Yaoshi explained, “The two of you have such high skills, so if I didn’t have this rule, should you put forth a heavy hand, do you think the junior will live? Brother Qi, if you even scratch Brother Ouyang’s skin, you lose. The same goes for Brother Feng. Of these two juniors, one will be my son-in-law; how can they be injured by your hands?”

Hong Qigong scratched his head and laughed, “Old Heretic Huang is quite strange and really lives up to his reputation. Injuring an opponent will be considered a loss; this strange rule has never been heard of in thousands of years. Fine! As long as it is fair, the Old Beggar will comply.”

Huang Yaoshi gave a hand signal and the four of them jumped up into the pine trees, forming two parties. Hong Qigong and Ouyang Ke were in the right tree and Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing in the left. Hong Qigong still had an amused look on his face, while the other three looked serious, almost tense.

Huang Rong knew Ouyang Ke’s martial arts were actually higher than Guo Jing’s, but luckily he was injured. However, the competition on top of the pine trees relies heavily on lightness kungfu, in which Ouyang Ke obviously had some advantages over Guo Jing. She was unable to avoid feeling anxious. In the meantime she heard her father’s loud and clear voice, “I will count to three, then you can start. Brother Ouyang, Brother Guo, whoever falls to the ground first will lose!”

Huang Rong thought of helping Guo Jing somehow, but Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were very high; how could she fight him with her present abilities?

Huang Yaoshi had started counting, “One…two…three!” Four shadows danced on top of the pine trees; they had begun.

Huang Rong’s gaze never left Guo Jing and saw him fight more than ten stances against Ouyang Feng in the blink of an eye. Both Huang Rong and Huang Yaoshi were secretly surprised, “How did his martial arts suddenly improve by leaps and bounds? He’s managed to fight this many moves without showing any signs of losing.”

Ouyang Feng was anxious, so he gradually increased his strength bit by bit. But he was afraid to injure Guo Jing. Suddenly an idea came into his mind and his legs rotated like a wheel, trying to sweep Guo Jing from the pine tree. Guo Jing used the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian] from his Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms; he repeatedly leaped high with both palms hacking down like knives trying to hit his opponent’s legs.

Huang Rong’s heart was thumping madly. She turned her gaze toward Hong Qigong only to see his fight taking a different path. Ouyang Ke was using his lightness kungfu and leaped to the east and dodged to the west; he did not want to engage with even half of Hong Qigong’s moves. Hong Qigong was compelled to chase him, but Ouyang Ke kept running around. Hong Qigong thought, “This stinky creature is cunning and he is trying to buy time. Guo Jing is a dumb kid; he actually fights the Old Poison. If he keeps it up, he will certainly fall to the ground first. Humph! Little rapist! Do you think the Old Beggar cannot fold you under my arm?” Suddenly he leaped high into the air and with fingers like two steel claws he struck towards Ouyang Ke’s head.

Ouyang Ke saw that this incoming force was swift and fierce; it was certainly not a contest type attack but was intended to take his life. He was shocked and hastily tried to flee to the right. Unbeknownst to him, Hong Qigong’s attack was a feint. Hong Qigong had anticipated this movement and as soon as Ouyang Ke turned right, Hong Qigong bent over mid-air and flew to the right. His hands came fast towards Ouyang Ke and he shouted clearly, “I don’t care if I lose; today I am going to kill you stinky kid.”

Ouyang Ke was startled because Hong Qigong was able to turn his body in mid-air; he was frightened and froze for a moment after hearing Hong Qigong’s shout. He did not dare to parry this attack, so he frantically stepped back onto empty air. He fell down from the tree with this thought in his mind, “I’ve lost the first test!” Suddenly he heard a rustling noise beside him as Guo Jing also fell down from the tree next to him.

After fighting Guo Jing for quite a while, Ouyang Feng lost patience, “If I let this kid fight me for another fifty moves, how can I maintain the Western Poison’s pride?” he thought. Suddenly a wicked thought came into his mind. His left hand moved lightning fast towards Guo Jing’s neck while shouting loudly, “Down you go!”

Guo Jing ducked this attack and lifted his left hand and tried to parry with the back of his hand. But Ouyang Feng suddenly put more force into his hand. “You … you …” Guo Jing stammered. He was going to say, “You don’t follow Huang Yaoshi’s rules?” but was not able to say it because he was forced to use all his energy to withstand this attack. Ouyang Feng smiled and coldly said, “I what?” and put even more force into his hand.

Guo Jing tried to get a strong foothold for fear that he might be internally injured by this ‘Toad Stance’ force. Who could have imagined that the tremendous force pushing him down would suddenly disappear? It was fortunate for him that his skills had improved; if not, he wouldn’t have been able to withstand Ouyang Feng’s force which suddenly got stronger, then suddenly disappeared. Luckily it was similar to the seventy-two moves of the ‘Vacant Fist’ he learned from Zhou Botong, in which a hard force contained softness in it. If not for this knowledge he would’ve been injured just like when he fought Huang Yaoshi at Cloud Manor and his hand was caught and broken. Nevertheless, he lost his balance and was thrown down from the tree head first.

Ouyang Ke fell down right side up, while Guo Jing fell upside down and both men saw the ground approaching fast. Seeing Guo Jing falling beside him Ouyang Ke had an idea; he stretched his hands toward Guo Jing’s legs. He wanted to use Guo Jing as a stepping stone, so he would be able to jump back up while Guo Jing would certainly fall faster to the ground. Or so he thought.

Huang Rong noticed Guo Jing’s precarious situation and called out, “Aiyo!” But incredibly it was Guo Jing who she saw jumping back up into the tree while, with a loud crash, Ouyang Ke was hitting the ground. Guo Jing landed on a tree branch out of breath and panting hard.

Huang Rong was extremely delighted. She did not see clearly how it happened or how, at the critical moment, Guo Jing was able to turn defeat into victory, but she was delighted nonetheless and was unable to restrain herself from crying out, “Aiyo!” But those two ‘aiyos’ carried entirely different emotions.

By that time Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong had already come down from the trees. Hong Qigong was laughing hard and repeatedly uttered, “Wonderful! Wonderful!” Ouyang Feng’s face was green with anger. “Brother Qi,” he said gloomily, “Your smart disciple’s martial arts are so diverse as to even include Mongolian wrestling skills.”

Hong Qigong laughed and said, “I don’t know how to wrestle, so it wasn’t me who taught him. You can’t blame me.”

What really happened was: as Guo Jing was pushed down by Ouyang Ke, he fell faster. He saw Ouyang Ke’s legs flying up right in front of him. He did not have time to think. In that critical moment he instinctively stretched out both arms to grab Ouyang Ke’s calves and pulled himself up by twisting his body from the upside-down position to the upright one. It was precisely a wrestling technique the Mongolians used.

The Mongolians had trained and perfected their wrestling techniques for generations; they were considered one of the best. Guo Jing grew up on the Mongolian steppes and before he even learned martial arts from the Six Freaks of Jiangnan he had played and wrestled everyday with Tolui and his friends. Mongolian wrestling was to him as natural as eating rice. He was slow by nature and he was falling down fast; even though he knew Mongolian wrestling techniques he would not have had enough time to think. He didn’t consciously think: “Oh, a pair of legs, nice! Hey, why don’t I use those legs to jump back up into the tree?” It happened so fast so that even after he managed to land on his feet on a tree branch he did not know what had happened! And so he won against all odds. Huang Yaoshi shook his head slightly and thought, “This Guo Jing is a slow-witted kid. This victory is obviously due to sheer luck.” He gave his decision, “The first test was won by Worthy Nephew Guo [Guo Xianzhi]. Please do not to worry Brother Feng, you have taught your honorable nephew well. Who knows, maybe he will score victories in the second and third tests.”

“Brother Yao, please present the second test,” Ouyang Feng replied.

“The second test will be …” Huang Yaoshi started, but before he could finish Huang Rong cut him off, “Father, you are obviously being one-sided. Just a moment ago you said you would only test their martial arts skill, how come you want to test with other subjects? Jing ge ge, you might as well admit defeat and leave.”

“What do you know?” Huang Yaoshi said, “After reaching a certain level of martial arts skills, do you still want to fight everyday? Yes, we are martial arts people; but unlike ordinary military people, we don’t live day after day for martial arts alone. Also, we don’t amuse ourselves by jousting to find a spouse …” After listening to this part, Huang Rong stole a glance at Guo Jing. Guo Jing was also looking at her. They were thinking of the same thing: Mu Nianci and Yang Kang, who met each other in the capital by ‘jousting to find a spouse’. In the meantime Huang Yaoshi continued his speech, “… My second test subject therefore is to ask these two nephews to listen to this old man playing a tune on my flute.”

Ouyang Ke was ecstatic; he thought, “What does this stupid kid know about wind or string instruments? The victory is mine for sure.”

Ouyang Feng on the other hand was not so sure. He suspected that Huang Yaoshi was going to test these two peoples’ internal energy strength with the flute’s sound. He knew Guo Jing’s level of internal energy to be quite strong and his nephew would not necessarily exceed him. Also, he was afraid his nephew would be internally injured by Huang Yaoshi’s flute sound. He said, “The Juniors’ internal energy cultivation is shallow and I am afraid they won’t be able to listen to Brother Yao’s elegant melody. I wonder if Brother Yao would consider …”

Huang Yaoshi did not give him a chance to finish, “My song is an ordinary one without any high level of internal energy. Brother Feng, set your heart at ease.” Towards Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing he said, “Nephews, please take a bamboo stick and follow my music by tapping it to the rhythm. The one who can follow best will win the second test.”

Guo Jing stepped forward and cupped his hands, “Island Master Huang, disciple is very slow and stupid. I know nothing about music, so let me admit defeat in the second test.”

“Don’t be hasty…don’t be hasty,” Hong Qigong intervened, “At worst you will lose, so why don’t you try? Are you afraid that others will laugh in your face?”

Guo Jing thought his master made some sense; seeing Ouyang Ke take a bamboo stick he did the same.

“Brother Qi, Brother Feng,” Huang Yaoshi smiled, “Younger brother will show off his lack of ability.” Lifting the jade flute to his lips he started to blow. This part of his song did not carry any internal energy and it wasn’t any different than what an ordinary person would play.

Ouyang Ke listened attentively, trying to follow the rhythm; then he started tapping his bamboo stick correctly. Guo Jing did not have a clue, so he held his bamboo stick high in the air but did not dare tap it. It was only after Huang Yaoshi had played for about the time needed to drink a cup of tea, he began to move his stick.

The Ouyangs, uncle and nephew, were very smug. They thought that this time victory was guaranteed. Since the third subject would be literary, they were ninety percent sure they would win.

Huang Rong was feeling anxious so she lightly tapped her right hand finger on her left knuckles with the hope Guo Jing would follow. Who would have thought that Guo Jing would sit staring blankly at the sky, lost in thought; obviously he did not see her signal.

Huang Yaoshi kept blowing the flute. Guo Jing raised his hand and struck the bamboo stick in between two beats of the music. Ouyang Ke stifled a laugh, thinking that this stupid kid strikes on the wrong beat. Guo Jing struck again, still in between two music beats. He had struck four times with his bamboo stick, all in the wrong places.

Huang Rong shook her head in dismay, “My stupid brother does not understand anything about music,” she thought, “Father shouldn’t have tested him.” Having had this thought, she racked her brain, trying to find a way to disrupt the test. But when she turned her gaze toward her father she was surprised; her father was showing astonishment in his face. She heard Guo Jing tap several more times and the flute sound suddenly became a little bit slow, but then it immediately resumed its original tempo.

Guo Jing kept tapping his bamboo stick, always on the off-beat: sometimes tapping faster, sometimes slower. He drove the tempo faster, and sometimes slower. On several occasions the music from the flute almost could not maintain its steady rhythm and was nearly forced to follow the bamboo stick’s erratic tempo. Huang Yaoshi was not the only one who was astounded; Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng also felt something strange was happening.

Actually Guo Jing remembered listening to the battle between the three people earlier: the flute, the zither and the whistle. He noticed that the sounds fought each other systematically, like a battle strategy in war. He did not have the slightest degree of comprehension about music theory, but listening to Huang Yaoshi’s flute he wanted to try to battle that sound and thus he struck the bamboo stick erratically to disrupt the melody. He tapped the bamboo stick against an old bamboo tree, creating a loud ‘bonk, bonk’ sound. The sound made Huang Yaoshi feel like he was inside a hot furnace and the fire was glowing white hot, forcing the flute to surrender and follow the erratic tempo of the bamboo stick. Huang Yaoshi’s spirits were roused as he thought about this kid unexpectedly possessing this kind of ability. The flute sound changed again; this time it flowed faster and slower seemingly having infinite variations. Ouyang Ke only stopped to listen for a moment, then he could not resist lifting his bamboo stick and brandishing it erratically in the air. Ouyang Feng heaved a sigh, quickly took his nephew’s hand, and pressed the main artery on his wrist. Then he took out a silk handkerchief, tore it into two pieces and plugged Ouyang Ke’s ears. After a while Ouyang Ke started to calm down and Ouyang Feng let his hand go.

Since her childhood Huang Rong had listened to her father’s ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave Song’; one time Huang Yaoshi even explained, in detail, every variation there was. The father and daughter’s minds were like one so this song did not affect her at all, but she was fully aware that her father’s flute carried enormous power. Therefore, she was worried that Guo Jing would not be able to defend himself.

This song simulated the vastness of the ocean with its thousands of waves, coming slowly from afar, and then crashing on the shores. The wave was foamy white and high as a mountain; but in the tide the fish leaped and the whale floated, while above the water seagulls flew. In a moment the water turned wild, like a group of devils was stirring it; the weather turned cold and icebergs came floating by. In another moment it turned hot, extremely hot, so that the sea was rippling and bubbling like boiling water. The next moment, just as quickly, the sea became calm and the surface was as smooth as a mirror. The water flowed strongly, yet quietly; but beneath the surface there was a very strong current threatening those who were unwittingly brave enough to enter and challenge its power. Such were the complexities of the song.

Guo Jing sat cross-legged on the ground as he exerted the Quanzhen Sect’s internal energy to suppress the turmoil in his heart and refresh his spirit, all the while resisting the temptation of the flute’s sound. At the same time he kept tapping the bamboo stick disrupting the flute’s song.

When Huang Yaoshi, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were battling each other with sounds earlier, they were on the offensive and defensive alternately. They had to guard their own hearts and minds while looking for an opportunity to launch a counterattack; each trying to subdue the other’s hearts and minds. Guo Jing’s internal energy was much inferior to those three; he was only able to put up a strong defense, without being able to launch a counterattack. But Huang Yaoshi was not able to penetrate his defense either.

After a long while, the volume of the flute gradually decreased, making it difficult to hear. Guo Jing stopped tapping to listen. This was the moment Huang Yaoshi was waiting for; unexpectedly, as the sound became softer, the stronger the energy it carried. Because Guo Jing was listening attentively, his heart began to follow the rhythm of the flute. Had this happened to someone else, they would fall into the trap and would not be able to escape; but Guo Jing was different. He had learned the ‘Left/Right Mutual Hands Combat’ and he was capable of dividing his mind. He used his left hand to take the shoe from his left foot to knock on the bamboo pole. “Knock! Knock! Knock!” again, disrupting the flute’s sound.

Huang Yaoshi was startled, “This kid possesses some extraordinary skills; he truly cannot be underestimated.” He started to walk around according to the ‘Eight Trigrams’ while he continued playing.

Both of Guo Jing’s hands were striking the bamboo pole with an erratic tempo opposing the flute’s rhythm. His hands were like two people joining forces to defend against Huang Yaoshi’s attack. “Bonk…bonk…bonk! Knock…knock…knock!” His defensive power was doubled.

Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were quietly focusing their attention and energy guarding themselves against the internal energy battle between these two people. Even though one party was only on the defensive, they did not dare to carelessly ignore the offensive energy from the flute.

The flute sound suddenly ran from high to low; ever changing, strange yet wonderful. Guo Jing suddenly felt a burst of cold air carried by the flute’s sound. He felt like his body was wrapped in a thick layer of ice, which had him shivering violently.

The flute sound gently climbed up the hill, getting more and more intense. Guo Jing felt cold to his bones. He struggled hard to divert his mind and to think about a burning sun in the sky, or of touching iron exposed to the heat of the day, or of holding a burning coal in his hand, or that he was entering a very hot stove; in short, any kind of heat inducing thoughts. He succeeded. Huang Yaoshi saw Guo Jing’s left side was blue and shivering from the cold, while his right side was red, sweltering from the heat.

Huang Yaoshi was inwardly amazed. Once again he changed the flute’s sound: now winter had passed and summer came around. Guo Jing struggled hard to resist, but his clapping tempo began to follow the flute’s rhythm. Huang Yaoshi said in his heart, “If this kid keeps on resisting like this – even though he is still young, he won’t be able to withstand hot and cold successively and he will suffer a severe illness in the future.” The flute sound became graceful, dispersing into the forest then stopped.

Guo Jing exhaled a long breath, stood up, staggered and nearly fell again to the ground. Only after taking several deep breaths did he manage to steady himself. He knew Huang Yaoshi was showing mercy; so he stepped forward, bowed and thanked him. “Thank you very much for showing mercy, Island Master Huang,” he said, “Disciple is very grateful.”

Huang Rong noticed Guo Jing’s left hand was still holding his shoe and could not stifled a laugh, “Jing ge ge, put your shoe back on,” she said.

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied, and put the shoe back on his left foot.

A thought suddenly came into Huang Yaoshi’s mind, “This kid is so young, yet his martial arts are actually quite profound. Could it be that he is just pretending to be a fool, but is in reality a very intelligent person? If that’s the case, what would hinder me if I wanted to give my daughter to him?” A faint smile appeared on his face and he said, “You are very good, why do you still call me Island Master Huang?” What he was saying was, that since Guo Jing had won two out of three tests then Guo Jing should call him ‘Father-in-law’.

Who would have thought that Guo Jing really did not have a clue as to what he was talking about, so he only stammered, “I … I …” his eyes looked at Huang Rong; asking for help. Huang Rong was in seventh heaven; she bent her right thumb, signaling Guo Jing he should kowtow. Guo Jing understood this signal, so he bent his knees and kowtowed four times to Huang Yaoshi, but he still did not open his mouth to speak.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and asked, “What do you kowtow to me for?” “Rong’er told me to,” Guo Jing answered honestly.

Huang Yaoshi sighed silently, “A dumb kid is a dumb kid,” he thought. Extending his hand he took the silk handkerchiefs from Ouyang Ke’s ears, and gave his decision. “Regarding internal energy, Nephew Guo is stronger; but my test subject was music knowledge, in which Nephew Ouyang is much better … Let’s just say that the second test was a draw. I am going to present the third subject and let the two Nephews decide victory or defeat.”

Ouyang Feng knew his nephew had lost, but he did not expect Huang Yaoshi would do him a favor, so he quickly replied, “True, true! Let them compete one more time.”

Hong Qigong was upset but didn’t say anything, he thought, “The girl is your daughter and others can’t meddle. You want to give her to that rotten playboy. I’ve always wanted to fight you, but right now it is difficult for my two fists to fight your four hands. Wait until I ask Emperor Duan to help me. Then we’ll see …”

Huang Yaoshi produced a thin book with a red silk cover from his bosom and said, “My wife and I only had this one daughter. Unfortunately she died prematurely. Today Brother Feng and Brother Qi are both here to ask her hand in marriage. If my wife were here, I am sure she would be very delighted …” Listening to her father speak, Huang Rong’s eyes turned red. Huang Yaoshi continued, “This book was written by my wife the same year she passed away. It was the fruit of her hard work. I am going to let both Nephews read it and then recite it from memory. Whoever manages to recite the most will be betrothed to my daughter.” He caught sight of Hong Qigong with a slight cold smile on his face, but he continued on, “Actually, Nephew Guo has won by one subject, but this book has impacted my life tremendously since my wife died because of it. Now I silently wish her soul in heaven will personally choose our son- in-law and that she will bless the Nephew that wins.”

Hong Qigong could no longer maintain his patience. He shouted loudly and clearly, “Old Heretic Huang! Who wants to listen to your sentimental ghost story? You know perfectly well that my disciple is a dummy and does not know books or poetry, yet you insist on testing him on that very subject. Then you frighten him with talk of your dead young wife. You are shameless!” He brushed his long sleeve and turned his body to walk away.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “Brother Qi, if you came to Peach Blossom Island to flaunt your power, you still need to practice for several more years,” he said coldly.

Hong Qigong stopped dead in his tracks, “What?” he raised his eyebrows, “You want to fight me?” he asked.

“You don’t understand the ‘Five Elements Strange Gates’ [wu xing chi men…referring to the maze-like pathways on the island] techniques,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Don’t even think of leaving this island alive without my permission.”

Hong Qigong was angry, “I am going to burn down your smelly trees and flower bushes!” “If you have the ability, go ahead and try!” Huang Yaoshi coldly challenged.

Guo Jing knew those two were about to fight and he also knew that Peach Blossom Island was not to be trifled with; he was afraid his master would fall into a trap on the island. He quickly stepped forward and said, “Island Master Huang, Shifu, let this disciple and big brother Ouyang compete in this book memorization contest. Disciple is really stupid; if I lose, I lose.” But in his heart he was thinking, “I’ll wait until Shifu is safe, then Rong’er and I will jump into the sea and swim as far as our strength will take us. Then we will die together in the sea.”

“Great!” Hong Qigong said mockingly, “You just can’t wait to lose face, can you? Be my guest, then! Be my guest.” His thought was, ‘if you are going to lose anyway, why compete?’ He intended to take his disciples along and walk away to the seashore, snatch a boat and sail away from the island. Who would have thought that this stupid disciple of his would not act according to the circumstance? He had no alternatives but to concede.

“Be a good girl and sit quietly. Don’t get any weird ideas,” Huang Yaoshi told his daughter.

Huang Rong did not say anything, but she expected Guo Jing would fail this next test. Her father said that he would let her deceased mother pick their son-in-law; that meant the previous two tests Guo Jing had won did not count at all. Of the three tests, Guo Jing had obviously won the second one, so the decision that it was a draw was hard to accept. In short, she believed that the reason her father insisted on administering the third test was so that Ouyang Ke would win. She started to cook up an escape plan as to how she would get Guo Jing off the island.

Huang Yaoshi told Ouyang Ke and Guo Jing to sit side by side on a big rock; then he presented the book in front of them. Ouyang Ke saw the cover was written in seal characters [the ones found on official documents] with the six characters, ‘Nine Yin Manual’ [jiu yin zhen jing]; he was ecstatic. “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is the world’s most profound martial arts manual; Father-in-law must be very fond of me to let me read this wonderful book.” Guo Jing, on the other hand, also saw the six characters but had no idea what they were; he thought, “He intentionally wants to make things difficult for me. How would I know those kinds of curving-tadpole characters? In any case I am going to admit defeat.”

Huang Yaoshi opened the cover and the book was actually written in normal characters. The handwriting was graceful and obviously written by a female hand. Guo Jing started to read and his heart skipped a beat. The first line read, “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one.” It was exactly like a sentence Zhou Botong told him to memorize. He looked further down and to his surprise, the sentences were the ones he already knew by heart.

Huang Yaoshi waited a moment, and when he thought the two had finished, he flipped the page. On the second page the words and phrases were slightly out of order, and further into the book, the sentences were becoming more confusing and the characters looked soft and weak.

Guo Jing’s heart was shaken again as he recalled Zhou Botong’s story of how Madame Huang had re-written the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from memory and how it drained her emotionally and physically so that she died while giving birth to her child. This book was obviously the one she wrote before she died. “Could it be that what Big Brother Zhou taught me was the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” he wondered in his heart. “No. It can’t be. The second volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ was lost by Mei Chaofeng; where did he get it from?”

Huang Yaoshi saw him staring blankly, lost in thought and even looking dazed. He did not pay any further attention and slowly turned the pages one by one. At first Ouyang Ke was able to memorize what was written, but later on when it got to the training methods the sentences were garbled and there was no clear relationship between the previous and the next ones. Further into the book, even the characters were unclear. His heart sank and he could not help sighing inwardly, “It seems he is still unwilling to show me the real full- text Manual.” But then he had another thought, “Even though I can’t see the full Manual, compared to this dumb kid I am sure I have memorized more of the text. With this test my victory has been decided.” Having had this thought he felt smug and could not help but cast a glance towards Huang Rong.

Huang Rong caught his glance and she stuck her tongue out while making an ugly face. “Brother Ouyang,” she said, “You captured Sister Mu and put her inside the coffin at the ancestral temple. You suffocated her to death. She came into my dreams last night; her hair was disheveled, her face covered with blood and she told me she is looking for you; she wants to take your life.”

Ouyang Ke had forgotten about her long ago and now, out of the blue, Huang Rong mentioned her name; he was startled, “Aiyo! I forgot to get her out of there!” He thought in his heart, “It’s a pity a young girl like her died of suffocation.” But then he noticed Huang Rong was smiling; apparently she was joking. “How did you know she was in the coffin? Did you rescue her?” he asked.

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Rong was trying to muddle his nephew’s mind, so that he would not be able to remember the text. “Ke’er,” he said, “Don’t bother with other matters; just concentrate on the book.” Ouyang Ke shivered. “Yes,” he said; and quickly turned his eyes back to the book.

Guo Jing noticed that the sentences in the book were nearly the same as the ones Zhou Botong taught him. The ones in his memory had even more integrity than the ones in this book. This book contained many holes, incomplete sentences and missing words, in it. He raised his head and looked up at the tree branches, trying to make some sense out of it all.

A little while later Huang Yaoshi turned the last page. “Who will recite first?” he asked.

Ouyang Ke thought, “This book is confusing and very difficult to memorize. I’d better recite it while it is still fresh in my memory.” Snatching the opportunity he said, “I will.”

Huang Yaoshi nodded his head, then to Guo Jing he said, “Please go to the bamboo groove over there. You cannot listen to him reciting.”

Guo Jing obeyed him and walked a few dozen steps towards the bamboo groove. Huang Rong saw this as a good opportunity for them to escape together, so she quietly walked towards him. Huang Yaoshi suddenly called out, “Rong’er, come here! You have to listen to them recite, otherwise you’ll say I am one-sided.”

“You are one-sided,” Huang Rong replied, “You don’t need other people to say that.” “That’s nonsense!” Huang Yaoshi laughed, “Come here!”

With her mouth Huang Rong silently said, “I don’t want to come,” but she knew her father’s temperament very well; once he’d decided to keep her under his watchful eyes, it would be even more difficult for her to escape. Slowly she walked back towards them, giving Ouyang Ke her sweetest smile and said, “Brother Ouyang, what’s so good about me that you like me so much?”

Ouyang Ke’s heart melted and his vision blurred. Grinning widely he replied, “Little sister, you … you …” he could say no more than that.

“Don’t go back to the West too soon,” Huang Rong added, “Stay on Peach Blossom Island for several days. The west is very cold, isn’t it?”

“The west is much bigger than you think. There are some cold regions, no doubt, but other parts are warm and sunny, much like the south (Jiangnan),” Ouyang Ke replied. “I don’t believe you,” Huang Rong smiled, “You love to deceive people.”

Ouyang Ke was about to debate with her, but Ouyang Feng coldly said, “Child, you can chat again later; right now you need to recite the book.”

Ouyang Ke was startled; he realized that Huang Rong’s conversation was intended to confuse him, and indeed he had now forgotten many characters from the confusing parts. He therefore refocused his attention and slowly recited the book. “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one ...”

His memory was quite good; he managed to remember most of the theory in the front part, but towards the latter part of the book – where the training methods were explained, he missed a lot. It was not surprising actually, since Madame Huang did not know martial arts and it was some time later that she re-wrote the book from memory, so the words were unknowingly jumbled. Ouyang Ke only managed to recall about ten percent of this latter part. All the while Huang Rong kept trying to divert his attention by saying, “Not right! You remembered wrong!” He could not even remember ten percent towards the end of the book.

Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “You remembered that much and that was very good!” Raising his voice he called out, “Nephew Guo, it’s your turn to recite.”

Guo Jing walked back and, seeing the smug expression on Ouyang Ke’s face, he thought, “This man is really smart, he only read it once, yet he can still recite this mumbo-jumbo text. I don’t have that capability, so I’d better recite the ones Big Brother Zhou taught me. If it is incorrect, oh well ... I don’t have any choice.”

Hong Qigong said, “Stupid kid, they intentionally want to make fools out of us; they planned it all.”

Huang Rong suddenly kicked the ground and leaped to the top of the bamboo pavilion. With a flick of her hand she pointed a dagger at her own chest and said, “Father, if you insist on my going to the West with that stinky boy, I will die right here right now in your presence.”

Huang Yaoshi knew his precious daughter would do what she said so he called out, “Put that dagger down! We can talk it over.”

Ouyang Feng thrust his staff onto the ground and with a humming sound something flew from the staff straight towards Huang Rong. The hidden projectile was very fast; before Huang Rong could see what it was, she’d already heard a clanking sound and the dagger flew from her hand, falling to the ground. At the same time Huang Yaoshi leaped to the roof, stretched his hand, grabbed his daughter’s shoulder and softly said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to get married. You can stay on Peach Blossom Island and accompany your father for the rest of your life.”

Huang Rong flailed her arms and legs, crying, “Father, you don’t love Rong’er! You don’t love Rong’er!”

Hong Qigong was amused to see Huang Yaoshi, who roamed the lakes and the sea fearlessly, who killed people without batting an eye, was actually having trouble controlling his own daughter. He could not help laughing very hard.

Ouyang Feng thought, “I will wait for the final decision and then I’ll take care of this Old Beggar and that boy surnamed Guo. We’ll sort out the other things later. If this girl acts like a spoiled brat, what do I care?” Therefore he said, “Nephew Guo’s martial arts skill is excellent; he is a real young hero. His intelligence must be excellent as well. Brother Yao, you’d better ask him to recite.”

“Exactly!” Huang Yaoshi said, “Rong’er, if you keep babbling you will disturb Nephew Guo’s concentration.” Huang Rong closed her mouth immediately.

Ouyang Feng wanted to humiliate Guo Jing very much. “Nephew Guo, please start reciting. We are going to listen respectfully,” he urged.

Guo Jing’s face reddened as he thought, “I can’t do it; I’d better recite what Big Brother Zhou taught me.” Thereupon he started reciting, “The way of Heaven: A simple fix is not enough to repair damage; it truly is an empty victory, insufficient for a real one ...” He had recited the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from beginning to end hundreds of times before; by now it was deeply imbedded in his brain. He recited slowly but steadily with no hesitation at all.

About half a page later everybody was stunned and they thought, “This kid seems slow and dim-witted, who would have known that he is actually very smart.”

Very soon Guo Jing had reached the fourth page. Hong Qigong and Huang Rong knew very well that Guo Jing did not have that kind of intelligence and they did not know what had possessed him, but they were extremely and pleasantly surprised.

Huang Yaoshi listened attentively and compared every word with the ones in the book. He discovered that Guo Jing’s sentences were ten times more logical; firmly resembling the original text that he remembered. His heart turned cold and he unknowingly broke into a cold sweat. “Could it be that my deceased wife’s spirit in the underworld is so smart that she managed to recall the full text and passed it on to this boy?” The words kept coming out of Guo Jing’s mouth like trickling water. Huang Yaoshi was beginning to be convinced that his wife’s spirit was helping this youngster; he looked up to the sky and softly muttered, “A Heng, A Heng, you loved me so much that you have used this boy’s mouth to impart the manual to me. But why don’t you let me have a glimpse of you? I’ve played my flute every night for you; did you hear it?”

‘A Heng’ was Madame Huang’s nickname and nobody else but him knew this; naturally no one else knew what he was talking about. They saw that his face looked different; his eyes were glazed with tears, his mouth quivered but nothing came out of it; they were puzzled.

After being in that dazed condition for a while Huang Yaoshi suddenly had another thought. He waved his hand to stop Guo Jing. His face was as cold as if there was a layer of frost on it; fiercely he asked, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ that Mei Chaofeng lost, where did you find it?”

Guo Jing saw his eyes had a murderous look and he was really frightened. “Disciple really does not know Mei … Senior Mei’s Manual’s whereabouts. If I did, I will gladly help retrieve it and return it to the Island Master.”

Huang Yaoshi looked at him with his penetrating gaze yet did not see even the slightest bit of deceitfulness on Guo Jing’s face. He was compelled to believe it was his late wife from the underworld who’d taught Guo Jing; he felt joy and grief at the same time. With a loud and clear voice he gave his verdict, “Very well. Brother Qi, Brother Feng, it was my deceased wife who chose our son-in-law; your brother does not have anything else to say. Child, I betroth Rong’er to you. Treat her well. I have spoiled Rong’er badly, so you need to yield thirty percent of the time.”

Huang Rong was ecstatic and she grinned from ear to ear, “I am a completely well-behaved girl; who said I am spoiled badly?”

Guo Jing might be stupid, he might be slow, but this time he did not need Huang Rong to prompt him; he immediately kneeled down and kowtowed, “Father-in-law!”

He had not yet stood back up when Ouyang Ke suddenly called out, “Hold on!” 

Chapter 19 – Great Waves, School of Sharks

Not in his wildest dreams did Hong Qigong think the memorization contest would end up this way. Guo Jing beating Ouyang Ke and making him roll around on the ground seventeen or eighteen times would be ten times more believable to him. He was so happy that he could not wipe the smile off his face. Hearing Ouyang Ke protesting he snapped, “What? You are not convinced?”

“What Brother Guo recited was a lot more than what was written in the book,” Ouyang Ke said, “He must have the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ in his possession. Junior has the courage to ask to search him.”

“Island Master Huang had accepted his proposal,” Hong Qigong said, “What other business is there to discuss? Didn’t you hear what your uncle said before the tests?”

Ouyang Feng glared. “Do you think a man surnamed Ouyang would be easily deceived?” he said. He heard what his nephew just said and was convinced that Guo Jing knew the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He wanted very much to get the book for himself. Whether Huang Yaoshi accepted his marriage proposal or not became secondary to him.

Guo Jing took off his belt and opened up his clothing, saying, “Senior Ouyang, you can search me if you want to.” He immediately took everything out of his pockets and placed them on top of a big rock nearby: silver coins, a handkerchief, a flint and the like.

“Humph!” Ouyang Feng snorted and began searching Guo Jing’s body. Huang Yaoshi had known Ouyang Feng as a ruthless man for a long time and he would do unpredictable things when angry. His strength was profound and if he put forth a violent hand, nobody would be able to rescue Guo Jing. Huang Yaoshi coughed, stretched out his left hand and placed it on Ouyang Ke’s neck close to his spine; it was a vital point. Should Huang Yaoshi put some force into it, Ouyang Ke’s spine would break and Ouyang Feng could give up any ideas of saving him.

Hong Qigong knew his intentions very well and he was fascinated, “Old Heretic Huang is really one-sided. Now that he gives favor to his daughter and future son-in-law he wants to protect this dumb disciple of mine. Ay! He was capable of reciting the whole book, so I can’t call him dumb anymore.”

Originally Ouyang Feng was going to strike Guo Jing’s lower abdomen with his ‘Toad Stance’ energy and let him suffer for three years before he finally died. Seeing that Huang Yaoshi had guarded against his scheme he did not dare to strike. He searched Guo Jing’s body without any results. All he could do was stay silent for a long time, thinking really hard. He did not believe all this nonsense about Madame Huang’s spirit choosing her son-in-law. He recalled that this kid was dumb, slow and apparently he could not lie. Perhaps he could coerce the whereabouts of the Manual from him. He shook the staff in his hand and with a scratching sound the two weird looking snakes slithered up the length of the staff.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing had seen these strange animals; they were frightened and moved back one step. Pointing at Guo Jing’s throat, he asked, “Nephew Guo, where did you learn the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” His eyes were blazing red as he looked at Guo Jing with a penetrating glare.

“I know about the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, but I have never seen it,” Guo Jing said. “The first volume is in the hands of Zhou Botong, Big Brother Zhou …”

“Why did you call Zhou Botong ‘Big Brother Zhou’?” Hong Qigong asked, “Have you met the Old Urchin Zhou Botong?” “Yes,” Guo Jing replied, “Big Brother Zhou and your disciple have become sworn brothers.”

“One is old and the other young,” Hong Qigong mocked, “That’s really preposterous!” “What about the second volume?” Ouyang Feng asked.

“The second volume was in Mei Chaofeng … Mei … Mei Shijie’s hands, but it was lost at Lake Tai,” Guo Jing explained. “Right now she is under Father-in-law’s orders to search for it everywhere. Disciple was thinking that after everything is done here, I will go and lend her a helping hand.”

Ouyang Feng asked fiercely, “If you have not seen the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, how can you recite it so well?”

Guo Jing was puzzled. “Did I recite the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” he asked, “That can’t be. I recited a text Big Brother Zhou taught me; he said it was his own secret martial arts creation.”

Huang Yaoshi inwardly sighed. He was dismayed and thought, “Zhou Botong received his late martial brother’s order to guard the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. We played with marbles and he lost to me; I tricked him and in the end he burned the book. Up to that time he had not looked at the contents of the book at all, which was not at all strange. But now there seems to be some divine intervention; everything has happened so coincidentally that my daughter ended up betrothed to him. Isn’t he very lucky?”

Huang Yaoshi was still deep in thought as Ouyang Feng pressed on, “Where is Zhou Botong now?” he asked.

Guo Jing was about to answer when Huang Yaoshi cut him off, “Jing’er, there’s no need to say more.” Turning his head to Ouyang Feng he said, “It is such a trivial matter, why do you care so much? Brother Feng, Brother Qi, we have not seen each other for twenty years. Let us spend three days together on Peach Blossom Island, drinking to our hearts’ content.”

“Shifu, I am going to prepare some food for you,” Huang Rong said, “The lotuses on this island are superb; so how about some chicken steamed in lotus petals, or some fresh water chestnut and lotus leaf soup? I am sure you’ll like it.”

Hong Qigong smiled widely, “Now that you’ve gotten your heart’s desire, look how happy you are!”

Huang Rong just gave him a faint smile. “Shifu, Uncle Ouyang, Brother Ouyang, please,” she said. She was extremely happy to be betrothed to Guo Jing so that her animosity toward Ouyang Ke had vanished into thin air. At this very moment everybody in the whole wide world was, to her, a good person.

Ouyang Feng raised his hands in respect to Huang Yaoshi, “Brother Yao, I must decline your great hospitality. Many thanks. Let us part today.”

“Brother Feng has come a long way,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Brother has not fulfilled my responsibility as a good host; how can I let you leave?”

Ouyang Feng had come from thousands of li away, not only for his nephew’s sake, but for another grand scheme as well. He’d received his nephew’s carrier pigeon message which said that the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ had reappeared and was in the hands of Huang Yaoshi’s renegade blind female disciple. After the wedding he planned to join forces with Huang Yaoshi and obtain the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. But now the marriage proposal failed; his nephew lost the competition and he felt really dejected, so he insisted on leaving.

“Uncle!” Ouyang Ke suddenly said, “Your nephew is useless and I have made you lose face. But Uncle Huang has promised that he will teach Nephew some skills.”

“Humph!” Ouyang Feng muttered. He was aware his nephew had not given up hope on the Huang family’s girl, so he’d found some excuse to stay longer to be close to Huang Rong and try to win her heart. Who knows, she might eventually fall into his hands?

Huang Yaoshi was upset. He erroneously thought that Ouyang Ke would win the three tests and that was why he made that promise to reward Guo Jing. But it was Ouyang Ke who unexpectedly failed the tests. Apologetically he said, “Nephew Ouyang, your uncle’s martial arts are unparalleled in the world; others cannot hold a candle to him. You have mastered your own family heritage skills, what need do you have to learn somebody else’s? This old dog was lucky to master some ‘back door second rate’ [zuo dao pang men] techniques. If Nephew does not think it too superficial, then whichever skill you’d like to learn, this old dog will be happy to teach it to you.”

Ouyang Ke thought, “I must choose the one that needs the longest time to master. I have long heard about Peach Blossom Island’s ‘Five Elements Open Gateway’ [wu xing qi men] as being number one in the world. I am sure he won’t be finished in a day.” Thereupon he bowed and said, “Young Nephew admires your ‘wu xing qi men’ techniques so much. I am asking Uncle to kindly bestow that on me.”

Huang Yaoshi did not answer immediately; he hesitated with an awkward feeling in his heart. The technique requested was the one he was most proud of. Apart from it being complicated to begin with, he had expanded and developed new interpretations and variations of the original technique he learned from his ancestors. His own daughter, because of her young age, had not learned this technique so how could he pass this knowledge to a total stranger? But he had given his promise and it was impossible to take back, so reluctantly he asked, “The ‘wu xing qi men’ technique is very broad and deep. Which one do you want to learn?”

Ouyang Ke wanted to stay on Peach Blossom Island as long as possible, so he requested, “Young Nephew saw the winding pathways of Peach Blossom Island; the vegetation arrangement is very complicated. My heart admires this arrangement to no end. I am asking Uncle to allow young nephew to stay on the island for several months and thoroughly study the mystery of these complicated pathways and their variations.”

Huang Yaoshi’s face changed slightly and he cast a glance towards Ouyang Feng. He thought, “So you want to investigate and find out about Peach Blossom Island’s ingenious arrangements. What is your real intention?”

Ouyang Feng saw his expression and could guess what was in his heart, so he chided his nephew, “You don’t know how high the heavens are or how deep the earth is! Uncle Huang has spent half of his life painstakingly arranging the island. It is his defense against intruders; how could he divulge this mystery to you?”

Huang Yaoshi laughed coldly, “Peach Blossom Island is only a barren and rocky hill; I doubt if anybody would come and harm me.” Ouyang Feng smiled apologetically, “Little Brother rudely made an indiscreet remark, Brother Yao, please don’t be offended.” Hong Qigong laughed, “Old Poison! You are very sly; this is what you planned from the start. Quite brilliant!” he mocked.

Huang Yaoshi slipped the jade flute into his belt and said, “Everyone, please follow me.”

Ouyang Ke saw the indignation on his face, so he looked to his uncle for guidance. Ouyang Feng nodded his head and started to walk behind Huang Yaoshi. Everybody followed not too far behind.

Winding through the bamboo grove they arrived at a big lotus pond. The lotuses were white, emitting a fragrant scent. The pond’s surface was covered with lotus leaves and there was a strip of causeway made of small stones winding through the center of it. Huang Yaoshi walked along the causeway leading everyone to a building on the other side of the pond. The building was made from pine logs and a rattan tree climbed the outside wall. It was midsummer and the weather was hot, but as soon as they saw that building everyone felt a burst of cool air. Huang Yaoshi led the four people into his study. A deaf and mute servant immediately came and served tea. The tea was dark green and as cold as snow. As soon as it entered their mouths the cold seeped into their bones.

Hong Qigong laughed and made a comment, “People say: ‘after being a beggar for three years one would not be willing to be a government official’. Brother Yao, if I stayed in your cool place for three years, I wouldn’t be willing to be a beggar any longer!”

“If Brother Qi is willing to stay to drink and talk to our hearts’ content, that would truly be my wish come true,” Huang Yaoshi said.

Hong Qigong could hear the sincerity in his voice and his heart was touched. “Many thanks,” he said, “It’s a pity the Old Beggar leads a busy and laborious life; I don’t have the luxury of enjoying a peaceful life like Brother Yao.”

Ouyang Feng said, “With the two of you living in the same place, as long as you don’t fight each other, I’ll bet within two months you will have created several sets of fist techniques or sword stances.”

Hong Qigong laughed, “Are you jealous?”

“This room is a big hall for studying martial arts,” Ouyang Feng explained, “It’s natural that I would come to that conclusion.” Hong Qigong laughed, “Ha … ha …! It’s another one of those, ‘what-you-say-is-not-what-you-were-thinking’ sort of speech.”

Although these two men did not hold deep animosity towards each other, their minds were worlds apart and that was why they did not like each other. Ouyang Feng’s feelings were hidden behind a thick wall, unlike Hong Qigong who was open and outspoken. When Ouyang Feng heard Hong Qigong’s comment he wanted to send Hong Qigong to the grave with one strike…but his face did not show it. He laughed but did not say anything.

Huang Yaoshi pressed something on the side of the table and a landscape painting on the west wall slowly rose, revealing a secret compartment behind it. He walked towards the wall, opened up the door to the compartment and took out a roll of paper. He gently ran his fingers on the scroll several times before he faced Ouyang Ke and said, “This is the map of Peach Blossom Island, complete with all the five elements variations, the yin and yang elements and the eight-trigram changes; everything is there. Take this and study it thoroughly.”

Ouyang Ke was disappointed; he was hoping he could stay on Peach Blossom Island for a while. He did not expect that Huang Yaoshi would only give him a map to look at. He knew it would be a difficult topic to learn; since he did not have a choice, he bowed respectfully and stepped forward to take the scroll from his hand.

“Hold on!” Huang Yaoshi suddenly said. Ouyang Ke was startled, he pulled his hand back. “When you take this drawing, I want you to go to Lin’an and find an inn or a temple to stay in. After three months I will send someone to retrieve it. You can memorize everything on the map; but I forbid you to make any copies,” Huang Yaoshi continued.

Ouyang Ke thought, “You won’t allow me to stay on Peach Blossom Island; it’s just as well since I don’t care much about your weird skills anyway. For the next three months I will be responsible for this chart. If I’m not careful I might lose or damage it; then what would I do? No, I’d better not take it!” He was going to say some nice words to decline the offer when suddenly another thought came into his mind, “He said he is going to send someone to retrieve it; that someone must be his daughter. That will be a great opportunity to get intimate with her.” He was delighted with this thought and immediately held out his hand to receive the scroll while uttering some grateful words.

Huang Rong took the small box with the dragon pill and gave it back to Ouyang Feng. “Uncle Ouyang,” she said, “This is your poison antidote pill; your niece does not dare to accept it.”

Ouyang Feng thought, “If this thing fell into the Old Heretic Huang’s hands, he will be impervious to my poisons. Although taking it back again seems so petty, I can’t afford to let him have it.” Therefore, he held out his hand to take the pill and immediately raised his hands to say goodbye to Huang Yaoshi.

Huang Yaoshi did not hold him back and sent them on their way. Walking to the door Hong Qigong said, “Poison Brother [Du Xiong], our Sword Meet on Mount Hua is at the end of next. You have to conserve your energy well since we are going to have a very tight competition.”

Ouyang Feng simply smiled casually, “The way I see it, we needn’t waste our energy fighting. The title ‘the world’s number one martial artist’ has already been decided.”

Hong Qigong was taken aback, “Already been decided? Could it be that Du Xiong has mastered a matchless and unique skill?”

Ouyang Feng showed a faint smile, “With such mediocre skills, how would Ouyang Feng dare to covet the title ‘the world’s number one martial artist’? I am talking about the person who taught our Nephew Guo.”

Hong Qigong laughed, “Are you talking about the Old Beggar?” he said, “I’d like that, but Brother Yao’s martial arts improve daily. For you, Poison Brother, advancing years also mean advancing skills. I am afraid Emperor Duan’s martial arts skill is not getting weaker either. I don’t think the Old Beggar will have any advantage.”

Ouyang Feng coldly said, “Of the people who taught Nephew Guo, it’s not necessarily Brother Qi’s martial arts that were the finest.”

“What?” Hong Qigong had barely closed his mouth when Huang Yaoshi interrupted, “Uh, are you talking about the Old Urchin Zhou Botong?”

“That’s right!” Ouyang Feng replied, “Since the Old Urchin has mastered the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, then all of us: the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar, are no longer his match.”

“That is not necessarily true,” Huang Yaoshi said, “A manual is dead, but martial arts are alive.”

Ouyang Feng noticed earlier that Huang Yaoshi had diverted his question and he did not let Guo Jing tell them Zhou Botong’s whereabouts. He knew something was amiss; so he decided to mention it again just before he left. Hearing what Huang Yaoshi said, he knew his suspicions were not unsubstantiated; but he was crafty, so his face did not show any change. Nonchalantly he said, “We all know the quality of the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts; we even need to ask for their advice. Now that the Old Urchin has added the skills of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ to that, even if Wang Chongyang were alive, I doubt even he would be his match, no need to mention us. Ay! The Quanzhen are very good; even if the three of us worked hard for a lifetime, we are still a notch below them.”

“The Old Urchin’s martial arts are a lot better than mine,” Huang Yaoshi said, “But it has not reached Brother Feng or Brother Qi’s level. I know this for a fact.”

“Brother Yao does not need to be modest,” Ouyang Feng said, “You and I are ‘ban jin ba liang’ [lit. half a ‘jin’ to eight ‘liang’ = comparable or equal]. You have said yourself that Zhou Botong’s martial arts are not as good as yours. However, I am afraid …” He shook his head.

“Brother Feng will find out next year at the Sword Meet on Mount Hua,” Huang Yaoshi smiled.

Ouyang Feng was serious, “Brother Yao, I usually respect your martial arts, but I doubted it when you said you can defeat the Old Urchin. When it comes to him, you’d better watch out.”

It was not that Huang Yaoshi did not know that he was being provoked, but he was a proud man, so of course he did not want anyone to belittle him. Seething with indignation he said, “The Old Urchin is actually on Peach Blossom Island. Brother has imprisoned him here for fifteen years.”

Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong were dumbstruck. Hong Qigong simply raised his eyebrows, but Ouyang Feng actually broke out laughing, “Brother Yao…that is a very good joke!”

Huang Yaoshi did not say anything but pointed his finger as if showing the way; then he exerted strength to his feet and flew back to the bamboo groove. Hong Qigong followed with his left hand holding Guo Jing’s arm, his right hand Huang Rong’s. Ouyang Feng took Ouyang Ke’s arm and together they used their lightness kungfu. Not too long afterwards they arrived in front of Zhou Botong’s cave.

When they were still quite a distance away Huang Yaoshi noticed that the cave was empty. “Ah!” he uttered in surprise. With his body as light as a feather, he leaped up into the sky and after several jumps he arrived at the cave’s mouth. His left foot landed first, only to feel as if he’d stepped on an empty space. Even encountering this situation suddenly, he did not panic; he kicked his right foot into the air and jumped vertically. Again he landed gently with his left foot, but again felt he was stepping onto empty air. This time he was not able to use anything as a stepping stone, so with the backward flick of his hand he pulled the jade flute from his belt and in one fluid motion struck the cave wall with the flute. With one push his body flew out of the cave like an arrow.

That vertical leap, pulling out the jade flute and flying backwards outside of the cave was done in a flash. Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng, seeing his wonderful skill, cheered…only to hear a “Splotch!” sound. Huang Yaoshi’s feet had landed in a hole in the ground outside the cave.

Huang Yaoshi felt his feet stepping on something wet and soft. With a light kick once again his body flew up. While he was still in the air he saw Hong Qigong and the rest had arrived and they did not fall into any traps. He landed gently at his daughter’s side. Suddenly a foul stench attacked his nostrils; he looked down and, to his dismay, he saw his feet were covered with faeces.

Everyone was puzzled. With his high level of martial arts skill, plus his intelligence, how could Huang Yaoshi fall into someone’s trap?

Huang Yaoshi was furious; he took a tree branch to test the ground, poking to the east and striking to the west. To his surprise, only those three holes were there, the rest was solid ground.

Obviously Zhou Botong had expected him to come rushing into the cave, so he’d prepared the first hole. He had carefully calculated that with his level of lightness kungfu Huang Yaoshi would leap up vertically to avoid falling into that hole; therefore, he prepared the second hole. Again, he knew that this second hole would not trap Huang Yaoshi. So he cleverly placed the third hole, knowing Huang Yaoshi would leap backwards out of the cave, and filled this hole with faeces.

Huang Yaoshi carefully entered the cave, looked in all directions, and saw nothing except some clay jars and clay bowls. He vaguely noticed several lines of characters written on the cave wall.

Watching Huang Yaoshi fall into a trap, Ouyang Feng laughed inside. But now he saw Huang Yaoshi walking towards the cave wall to take a look; he thought there was a slight possibility that the’ Nine Yin Manual’ was written on that wall, so he threw caution to the wind and hurriedly went forward to take a closer look. What he saw was several characters carved with a needle which read, “Old Heretic Huang, you have broken both of my legs and imprisoned me inside this cave for fifteen years. I should have broken both of your legs to vent my anger. But after some thought I decided to let it pass. I give you this pile of faeces and a pot of stinky urine instead. Please, please …” The characters below the ‘please’ were covered by a leaf.

Huang Yaoshi casually stretched his hand to lift the leaf up, but the leaf was tied to a string. Without thinking he pulled the string only to hear a knocking noise above him. Realizing what was happening Huang Yaoshi quickly jumped to the left. Right next to him Ouyang Feng was also quick; seeing Huang Yaoshi move, he jumped to the right. Who would have thought that following a series of clanking sounds, a bunch of clay jars fell from both sides? Both men were drenched in smelly urine!

Hong Qigong burst out in laughter, “How sweet! How sweet!” he shouted. Huang Yaoshi was fuming mad and shouted some curse words. Ouyang Feng was very good at concealing his feelings, so he merely smiled.

Huang Rong dashed back to the house and brought a change of clothes for her father. She also brought one of her father’s robes for Ouyang Feng.

Huang Yaoshi decided to look inside the cave one more time, being very careful not to trip on any more booby-traps. He took down the leaf and saw two lines of very fine characters, “… don’t pull the leaf. There is smelly urine above to drench you. This is the absolute, one hundred percent, truth! Don’t ever say that I didn’t warn you.”

Huang Yaoshi was angry, but also amused. Suddenly he remembered that the urine was still a little bit warm; he turned and walked out the cave. “The Old Urchin did not leave too long ago; we can still catch up with him.”

Guo Jing was wary, “As soon as those two see each other they will certainly engage in a fierce battle,” he thought. But before he had a chance to voice his opinion Huang Yaoshi had already flown to the east.

Everybody knew the pathways of the island were mysterious and nobody dared to be left behind; so they followed closely. Not too far ahead they could see Zhou Botong leisurely strolling along. Huang Yaoshi exerted his strength to his feet and flew like an arrow leaving its bow and in a flash he approached Zhou Botong. He stretched out his hand to grab Zhou Botong’s neck.

Zhou Botong evaded to the left. Turning his body around, he called out, “Wow! It’s the sweet smelling Old Heretic Huang!” In this one grab Huang Yaoshi had used the skill he’d painstakingly trained for decades; it was swift and fierce. He was angry because of the urine and dung, so he’d used one hundred percent of his strength in that one attack. Who would have thought that Zhou Botong was able to evade his attack casually, as though it took not too much effort at all. Huang Yaoshi’s heart turned cold and he stopped his attack. He calmed himself and looked at Zhou Botong. To his surprise Zhou Botong’s hands were tied in front of his chest; but he was smiling happily and his face showed contentment.

Guo Jing rushed forward and said, “Big Brother, Island Master Huang has become my father-in-law; now we belong to the same family.”

Zhou Botong sighed, “What Father-in-law? Why didn’t you listen to me? Old Heretic Huang is wicked and weird; how can his daughter be any better? You will suffer the consequences for the rest of your life. Good Brother, let me tell you this: No matter what happens, you cannot take as your wife the daughter of someone who loves to drench himself in urine everyday. It’s a good thing you haven’t yet bowed to heaven and the earth to marry her; you can still slip away. Quickly, run away as far as you can, otherwise she’ll come looking for you …”

He was still babbling when Huang Rong stepped forward and smiled, “Big Brother Zhou, look who’s coming behind you?”

Zhou Botong turned his head, but of course he did not see anyone. Huang Rong raised her father’s smelly clothes and threw them towards his back. Zhou Botong heard the swishing sound and stepped sideways. “Splat!” the bundle of clothes fell to the ground dispersing its foul odor everywhere.

Zhou Botong doubled up with laughter. “Old Heretic Huang,” he said, “Even though you imprisoned me for fifteen years and broke both of my legs, I only let you to step in my faeces and drenched you with my urine. Don’t you think that is a fair trade?”

Huang Yaoshi pondered for a moment and felt Zhou Botong was right. He did not give it another thought and asked, “Why did you tie up your hands like that?”

“I have my reasons, which I can’t tell you,” Zhou Botong said, repeatedly shaking his head and looking solemn.

Actually when Zhou Botong was forced to endure suffering in that hole, he thought several times of coming out and fighting Huang Yaoshi. However, he realized that he was still not Huang Yaoshi’s match. Besides, if he got killed or heavily injured, who would defend the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ entrusted to him by his martial brother? Therefore, he had to swallow his pride and endure everything patiently. Then Guo Jing came onto the scene. Together they played four-hand mutual combat until one day he had the idea of fighting as two Zhou Botongs against one Huang Yaoshi. He was confident that no matter how high Huang Yaoshi’s skills were, he would be able to exact revenge for his fifteen years of suffering.

After Guo Jing left, he sat on the ground and all kinds of memories came flooding back to his mind: dozens of years of gratitude, grudges, love and hate came until he felt like a thick curtain was covering his mind. Suddenly he heard from the distance the flute, zither and whistle sounds battling each other. His spirits were stirred; he became agitated, wanted to dash out, and had difficulty controlling his emotions. He had been pondering his own set of questions for a while, “My little brother’s martial arts are still far below mine, but why is it that Old Heretic Huang’s flute sound did not affect him at all?” After he’d befriended Guo Jing for many days he started to understand Guo Jing’s personality. That day, after thinking deeply for a while, it suddenly dawned on him; “That’s right! That’s right!” he exclaimed, “He is young, does not understand the relationship between a man and a woman and does not know its pleasures and heartaches. Moreover, he is simple-minded, not ambitious, has a naïve personality and a pure heart. I, on the other hand, am old; but why do I still think about revenge? I am so narrow-minded. It really is ridiculous!”

Although he belonged to the Quanzhen Sect, he had never become a Taoist Priest; still, the Taoist principles were deeply ingrained in his heart: ‘peace and tranquility’ [qing jing wu wei], lead a simple life and suppress ambition, all those Taoist teachings. It was like a light bulb suddenly turned on in his head. He let out a long breath, stood up and walked outside of the cave. For the first time in many years he realized that the sky was so blue and the clouds so white. His heart became clear and bright. The suffering he experienced from Huang Yaoshi for the past fifteen years simply became a small matter in his mind.

Once outside he thought aloud, “Once I leave Peach Blossom Island I am not coming back. But if I don’t leave some souvenirs for the Old Heretic Huang, how will he remember me in the days to come?” Therefore, with much eagerness, he dug some holes and filled them with his faeces and found some jars and filled them with his urine. After working hard for half a day he finally left the cave.

He’d only walked several steps when he suddenly remembered something, “The pathways of Peach Blossom Island are strange, so how will I know the right path to take? If I leave Brother Guo on this island, chances are that more harm will come his way; I must take him with me. If the Old Heretic Huang tries to stop, ha … ha …, should the Old Heretic Huang want to fight, one Old Heretic Huang won’t be a match for two Old Urchins!” After thinking about that he casually swung his hand and ‘Crack!’ a small tree by the pathway broke in two. He was stunned! “How come I am so strong? This has nothing to do with the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique.”

He swung his hand several more times and ‘Crack! Crack! Crack!’ without too much effort he broke seven or eight small trees along the way. He was horrified. “This … this is the energy cultivation from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. I …when…when did I learn it?” All of a sudden his body was drenched in a cold sweat. “Strange, really strange!” he muttered.

He clearly remembered his late martial brother’s death wish; that no one from Quanzhen was allowed to learn anything from the manual. He hadn’t thought that in order to teach Guo Jing he had to recite the text to him everyday and used his hands to provide a clearer explanation; unexpectedly, the manual had become ingrained in his mind. Even in his sleep he would dream about the manual, so he subconsciously cultivated his energy based on the text. Since his martial arts were already high, his understanding of martial arts theory was also profound. Because the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ was based on Taoist principles which he had already learned, the manual became intertwined with his own basic knowledge. He did not wish to learn these martial arts, but it came to him anyway.

He vented his frustration by shouting loudly, “Bad! It’s really bad! This is called ‘once the ghost inhabits your body, you cannot drive it out’. I wanted to play a big joke on Brother Guo, but who knew that by smashing a big rock, the debris would hurt your own foot.”

He was depressed for a long while and kept knocking his head. Afterwards an idea came into his mind; he peeled off some tree bark, made a rope, then with his teeth he tied his own hands while muttering loudly, “From now on, since I cannot forget the manual completely, I must not resort to violence towards anyone. Even if the Old Heretic Huang chases me, I cannot fight him and therefore disobey my martial brother’s death wish. Ay, Old Urchin, Old Urchin, you reap what you sow!”

Of course Huang Yaoshi could not guess the reason. He only knew the Old Urchin was naughty and strange, so he simply said, “Old Urchin, this is Brother Ouyang, who I believe you have met, this is …” Before he could finish, Zhou Botong had walked around them all, sniffing here and there, and then he laughed, “This must be the Old Beggar Hong Qigong. I know he is a good man. ‘Heaven’s nets do not miss’! My stinky urine only drenched two people, the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison. Ouyang Feng, you fought with me once and now I’ve soaked you with my urine; we are even now and nobody suffers a loss.”

Ouyang Feng merely smiled but did not say anything. He came close to Huang Yaoshi and whispered in his ear, “Brother Yao, this man’s martial arts are amazing; he’s already surpassed both you and me. I think it best not to provoke him.”

Huang Yaoshi thought, “We haven’t seen each other for twenty years, how would you know my martial arts are inferior to his?” To Zhou Botong he said, “Botong, I have asked you over and over to let me burn the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ as a sacrifice in front of my late wife’s memorial. As soon as you hand it to me, I am going to let you go. Where did you think you were going just now?”

“I am tired of living on this island,” Zhou Botong said, “I am going outside to take a stroll.” “And where is the manual?” Huang Yaoshi said holding out his hand.

“I gave that to you earlier,” Zhou Botong said.

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Huang Yaoshi said, “When did you give it to me?”

Zhou Botong smiled, “Guo Jing is your son-in-law, is he not? Then he belongs to you, does he not? I have passed on the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from beginning to end to him; isn’t that the same as giving the manual to you?”

Guo Jing was surprised. Panic stricken he called out, “Big Brother, this … this … you taught me the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” Zhou Botong burst out laughing, “Do you think it was a fake?”

Guo Jing was dumbstruck and he felt like a fool. Zhou Botong was so happy. It was exactly for this moment that he was willing to expend immense efforts to get Guo Jing to memorize the ‘Nine Yin Manual’; he wanted to see Guo Jing’s expression when he found out that he’d learned the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ in spite of his earlier refusal. Now that this goal was achieved, how could Zhou Botong be not as happy as he was crazy?

“The first volume was always in your hands, but where did you get the second volume?” Huang Yaoshi asked. “Didn’t your good son-in-law deliver it to me personally?” Zhou Botong smiled mischievously.

“I … I did not!” Guo Jing was taken aback.

Huang Yaoshi was very indignant and thought, “This kid Guo Jing dares to deceive me and poor blind Mei Chaofeng is still desperately looking for that book.” He shot an angry glare towards Guo Jing, then turned his head towards Zhou Botong, “I want the original manual.”

“Brother,” Zhou Botong called Guo Jing, “Help me take the book from my pocket.” Guo Jing stepped forward and groping inside Zhou Botong’s pocket he took out a book about half an inch thick. Zhou Botong held out his hand to receive the book and said to Huang Yaoshi, “This is the first volume of the manual; the second volume is folded inside it. If you have the skill, come and take it.”

“What kind of skill are you talking about?” Huang Yaoshi asked.

Zhou Botong held the book tightly in his hands, bent his head and said “Wait, let me think …” Quite a while later he smiled and said, “Pasting skill!”

“What?” Huang Yaoshi was puzzled.

Zhou Botong lifted his hands high in the air, and soon the book became a million pieces. A flurry of paper pieces flew from his hands like a flock of butterflies flying in all directions, carried by the sea breeze, floating to the east and scattering to the west. It would be impossible to track them down.

Huang Yaoshi was startled, angry and at the same time, surprised that Zhou’s internal energy was so profound. In that short period of time the book was completely gone. Remembering his late wife, Huang Yaoshi felt a stab of pain in his heart. “Old Urchin, you played a trick on me! Don’t ever think of leaving this island alive!” he shouted angrily. Flying forward his palm got very close to Zhou Botong’s face. Zhou Botong moved his body just a little bit and like a pendulum he swung to the left and to the right. With a swish, swish sound Huang Yaoshi’s palms danced in the air, very close to Zhou Botong’s body, but were not able to touch him. It was Huang Yaoshi’s specialty, the ‘Peach Blossom Divine Sword Palm’ [tao hua shen jian zhang]; who would have guessed that after about twenty stances, it seemed the palm technique was useless against Zhou Botong.

Huang Yaoshi was puzzled because Zhou Botong did not launch any counterattacks, while he had used all of his strength compelling Zhou Botong to withstand his attack. He was suddenly alarmed, “How could I, Huang Yaoshi, fight someone who has both his hands tied?”

Leaping back three steps he called out, “Old Urchin, I have done something inappropriate to you, but your legs have healed. Quickly break the rope binding your hands and let me fight your ‘Nine Yin Manual’ martial arts.”

Zhou Botong looked dismayed and repeatedly he shook his head, “I don’t want to lie to you, but I have my own difficulties. No matter what happens, I can’t take off the ropes.”

“Then let me take it off for you,” Huang Yaoshi said, immediately moving forward to touch his hands. “Aiyo! Help! Somebody help me!” Zhou Botong cried out and rolled around on the ground.

Guo Jing was shocked. “Father-in-law!” he called out. He was about to dash forward to block Huang Yaoshi when Hong Qigong held him back. “Don’t act foolishly!” he hissed. Guo Jing halted and watched. Even though Zhou Botong was rolling around on the ground, he was very agile. Huang Yaoshi grabbed and kicked but was unable to even touch his body.

“Look closely at how his body moves,” Hong Qigong whispered.

Only then did Guo Jing realize that Zhou Botong was moving according to the ‘Snake Slithers, the Wild Cat Flips’ [she xing li fan] from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He watched with a rapt attention. Every time he saw an exquisite move he would cheer, “Good!”

Huang Yaoshi was getting angrier; his hands flew everywhere, resembling a hatchet or a knife hacking in every direction. Zhou Botong’s long sleeve and part of his robe had been slashed by the strength of Huang Yaoshi’s hand. A moment later his long beard and long hair were also cut. Although he was not injured, Zhou Botong knew that if the fight was prolonged he might not stay so lucky. In perhaps half a move later he would be dead or at least heavily injured.

At that moment Huang Yaoshi’s left hand swept horizontally, while his right hand slashed down diagonally and each palm contained three deadly variations within. Zhou Botong knew that no matter how quickly he could move, it would be difficult to avoid this attack. He had no other choice but to exert his strength in both hands and break the rope. As soon as his hands were free, his left hand parried the attack, while his right hand went to his own back and scratched, “Aiyo! The itch is unbearable,” he said.

Huang Yaoshi was inwardly alarmed when he saw Zhou Botong acting so casually, even to the point of playfulness, while they were fighting ferociously. Huang Yaoshi sent out three more fierce stances and all three were his best ones.

“I can’t fight you with one hand,” Zhou Botong said, “Ay! I can’t help it. No matter what, I can’t let my martial brother down.” He put all his strength into his right hand and parried the attack; while his left hand hung loosely at his side. His strength was still inferior to Huang Yaoshi’s pure internal energy, so as soon as the two hands collided, Zhou Botong was shaken and he staggered back a few steps.

Huang Yaoshi flew forward with both palms surrounding Zhou Botong’s body. “Use both hands! With one hand you are not my match,” he called out.

“I can’t,” Zhou Botong said, “I have to use only one hand.”

Huang Yaoshi was indignant, “All right then, try this!” Both of his palms struck forward with full strength. A loud bang was heard and Zhou Botong fell down to the ground. He sat still with both eyes closed. Huang Yaoshi withheld his hands and saw Zhou Botong coughing and spurting blood from his mouth; his face was paper-white.

Everyone thought it was strange; had he really fought with Huang Yaoshi, even if he couldn’t win, he certainly wouldn’t have suffered so badly. Why did he insist on using only one hand?

Zhou Botong stood up slowly and said, “The Old Urchin has suffered the consequences of his own actions. Even though I had no intention to, I unexpectedly learned the martial arts from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ and I violated my martial brother’s death wish. If I used both of my hands, Old Heretic Huang, you are not my match.”

Huang Yaoshi was aware that what he said was the truth; he was silent. He realized he had no reason to imprison Zhou Botong on the island for fifteen years and he also had no reason to injure him just now. He took a jade box from his pocket, opened it and produced three blood-red pills; he gave the pills to Zhou Botong and said, “Botong, there is no medicine under the heavens that can surpass these Peach Blossom Island red pills. Take one right now and then take the next two seven days apart and your internal injury won’t be a problem any longer. Let me take you away from this island.”

Zhou Botong nodded, took the pills and swallowed one; after circulating his breath for a while he vomited some congealed blood. He said, “Old Heretic Huang, your red pill is very effective; no wonder you are called ‘Yaoshi’ [master pharmacist]. Eek! Strange! Very strange! My name is ‘Botong’, I wonder what that means?” After pondering that question for a while he shook his head and said, “Old Heretic Huang, I must go now. Are you or aren’t you going to let me go?” “I do not dare stop you,” Huang Yaoshi replied, “It’s up to you if you stay or go. Brother Botong, from today, if you ever have the desire to come here, I will welcome you wholeheartedly. Now let me walk you to the boat which will take you back to the mainland.”

Guo Jing squatted to pick up Zhou Botong and carried him on his back as he followed Huang Yaoshi and walked to the seashore. Arriving at the dock he saw six or seven boats, both large and small.

“Brother Yao,” Ouyang Feng said, “You needn’t send a boat to take Big Brother Zhou home. He can ride on Little Brother’s boat.”

“In that case do as Brother Feng desires,” Huang Yaoshi said. He made a hand signal to a deaf and mute servant and that servant went onto a big boat nearby. When he reappeared he had a tray full of gold coins.

“Botong,” Huang Yaoshi said, “Take this money and use it to play around. Your martial arts are better than Old Heretic Huang’s. I admire you very much.”

Zhou Botong’s eyes shone with a mischievous twinkle. He looked towards Ouyang Feng’s big boat and saw a white flag on the bow. On the flag was embroidered a strange looking snake with two heads and both mouths were open showing forked tongues. He was not happy at all.

Ouyang Feng took a wooden whistle from his pocket and blew some notes; before long there came strange noises from the forest ahead. Two Peach Blossom Island servants came leading some White Camel Mountain snake herders out from the forest, followed by row after row of snakes which slithered onto the gangplank and went into the boat’s hold.

“I am not riding on Western Poison’s boat!” Zhou Botong cried out, “I’m scared of snakes!”

Huang Yaoshi smiled faintly, “That is all right too; you can ride on that boat.” He pointed to a boat nearby. Zhou Botong shook his head no, “I don’t want that boat, I want that BIG boat.”

Huang Yaoshi’s face changed a little. “Botong, that ship is damaged, it is not fixed yet. You can’t have it.”

Everybody could see that the boat’s stern was tall and the hull was painted blue and gold; it was very beautiful. It looked new and strong, why did he say it was damaged?

“Why can’t I ride on that boat?” Zhou Botong asked, “Old Heretic Huang, how come you are so stingy?”

“That is a most ill-fated boat, that’s why it is always anchored here,” Huang Yaoshi explained. “Since when have I been stingy? If you don’t believe me, I’ll have the boat burned for you to see.” After making some hand signals, four deaf and mute servants lighted some torches and rushed to the boat to burn it.

Zhou Botong suddenly sat on the ground, flailing his hands and feet, pulling his hair and beard and bawling loudly. Seeing him acting like that startled every one. Guo Jing was the only one who really knew his temperament so he was just fascinated. Zhou Botong pulled his beard and rolled around on the ground, “I want to ride on the new boat; I want to ride the new boat.” Huang Rong quickly moved forward to stop the four servants.

Hong Qigong smiled, “Brother Yao,” he said, “For all of my life the Old Beggar has been ill-fated. Let me accompany the Old Urchin on this ill-fated boat. We can use poison to combat poison. Let us see whether the Old Beggar’s unlucky aura wins, or if your ill-fated boat prevails.”

“Brother Qi, I thought you were going to stay on the island for several days,” Huang Yaoshi said, “Why such a hurry to leave?”

“Within a few days the world’s big beggars, medium-sized beggars, and little beggars will gather at Yueyang in Hunan province. They will look to the Old Beggar to appoint a new leader. Should the Old Beggar meet a calamity and return to heaven before appointing a successor, who will lead the world’s beggars? That’s why the Old Beggar has to go, whether he wants it or not. Your brother truly appreciates Brother Yao’s generosity. When your daughter and son-in-law get married, I will come back to disturb the wedding.”

Huang Yaoshi sighed, “Brother Qi, you are truly an ardent man; you dedicate your life toiling for others, like a horse that never stops galloping.”

Hong Qigong laughed, “The Old Beggar never rides a horse and my feet can’t be compared to a horse’s hoofs. Aiyo! Something’s wrong! You are indirectly scolding me by saying that my feet are hoofs; wouldn’t that mean you are saying I am a horse?”

Huang Rong laughed, “Shifu, you said it yourself, my father didn’t scold you.”

“Of course, a Shifu will always be inferior to a father,” Hong Qigong said, “Just for that I am going to take a Mistress Old Beggar and we’ll have a baby girl beggar for you to look after.”

Huang Rong clapped her hands, “That’s great! I will have a little beggar martial sister to play with. Won’t that be fun?”

Ouyang Ke stole a glance at her; in the bright sunlight she looked so beautiful with her pink cheeks like a spring flower and as colorful as the rosy-colored clouds at dawn. He couldn’t help but feel crazy about her. However, from her, his thoughts went to Guo Jing and his pulse quickened. Knowing she only had eyes for Guo Jing, his anger rose and he swore in his heart, “There will come a day when I will kill this stinky kid.” Hong Qigong held out his hand to help Zhou Botong onto the boat as he said, “Botong, I will accompany you on this new boat. Old Heretic Huang is so weird and we shouldn’t pay any attention to him.”

Zhou Botong was delighted, “Old Beggar, you are a very kind man, what do you say we become sworn brothers?”

Hong Qigong had not yet answered before Guo Jing interrupted, “Big Brother Zhou, you and I have become sworn brothers so how could you take my master as your sworn brother as well?”

Zhou Botong laughed, “What’s the problem? If your father-in-law is kind enough and lets me ride on this new boat, I might be so happy as to take him as my sworn brother too.”

“What about me?” Huang Rong laughed.

Zhou Botong squinted his eyes, “I am not too keen to take on a baby girl; if I look at pretty women too much, they turn into trash.” Taking Hong Qigong’s arm he walked to the boat.

Huang Yaoshi quickly blocked their way, stretching both arms and saying, “Old Huang does not dare to take advantage of others. Riding on this boat will bring more harm than good. Gentlemen, you don’t need to prove your courage, it is well known on the Central Plains.”

Hong Qigong laughed heartily, “You have repeatedly warned us; even if the Old Beggar returns to heaven due to seasickness I will still appreciate Brother Yao’s friendship.” Although he said those things jokingly, in his heart he was quite wary since Huang Yaoshi had twice tried to stop them from boarding the boat. He knew something was wrong with that boat, but Zhou Botong was insistent on going aboard. He’d seen with his own eyes how stubborn Zhou Botong was. If something really went wrong, Zhou Botong could not possibly face the danger alone with his internal injury and all. That was the reason he made up his mind to go with Zhou Botong.

Huang Yaoshi made a ‘humph’ sound and said, “You two gentlemen are experts in martial arts; I am sure you would be able to turn bad luck into good. Old Huang worries too much. You, the boy named Guo, you are going with them.”

Guo Jing was startled. When he became Huang Yaoshi’s son-in-law he was called ‘Jing’er’ but now Huang Yaoshi suddenly changed the way he called him; moreover, his expression was so stern. Looking at Huang Yaoshi he said, “Father-in-law …”

“Who’s your Father-in-law?” Huang Yaoshi cut him off with a harsh voice, “You are a greedy lying boy! If you ever set foot on Peach Blossom Island again, even half a step, don’t blame Old Huang for being ruthless.” Reaching backwards he grabbed a servant’s collar and shouted, “This is your example!” The deaf and mute servant’s tongue had been cut out, so only a low deep gurgling was heard from his throat as his body flew into the sea. His internal organs had been crushed by Huang Yaoshi’s palm. He dropped to the sea and in an instant disappeared without a trace among the waves.

The other deaf and mute servants were extremely terrified and they all knelt down at once. All were originally criminals and Huang Yaoshi had investigated their backgrounds carefully before capturing them one by one and taking them to the island. He cut out their tongues and pierced their ear drums, making them his slaves. He once said, “Old Huang is not a gentleman, so Jianghu people call me the Eastern Heretic. Naturally I don’t like gentlemen as my companions and I prefer wicked people to be my servants. The more wicked they are, the more I like them.” Seeing that servant, even though he deserved to be condemned, struck by his palm and thrown out into the sea without any reason, had shaken everyone. They could not help but sigh inwardly, “The Old Heretic Huang is really wicked.”

Guo Jing was frightened; he also knelt down on the ground. “What did he do to offend you?” Hong Qigong asked.

Huang Yaoshi did not answer his question, instead, he sternly asked Guo Jing, “Did you or did you not give the second volume of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ to Zhou Botong?”

“I did give something to Big Brother Zhou, but I really did not know it was the manual,” Guo Jing said, “If I’d known …”

“What do you mean you didn’t know?” Zhou Botong interrupted. He was always ignorant as to what was serious and what was not. The more other people were upset, the more he wanted to play practical jokes on them. Without waiting for Guo Jing to explain he said, “You said it yourself, that you took that manual from Mei Chaofeng and said you were lucky that old man Huang Yaoshi didn’t know. You also said that after you mastered the manual, you will become the number one martial arts expert in the world.”

Guo Jing was stupefied. “Big Brother, I … when did I say that?” he said with a trembling voice. Zhou Botong’s eyes glittered and with a stern voice he said, “You certainly did say that.”

The fact that Guo Jing was able to recite the book was well-known to those present; whether he knew it was the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ or not, nobody cared. Now that Zhou Botong had confirmed it, Huang Yaoshi was very, very angry. Why would he think Zhou Botong was only joking? He forgot that Zhou Botong was childish and always liked to make jokes, while Guo Jing was naïve and unable to tell lies. He was so wild with rage that he was afraid he would rip Guo Jing apart and thus smear his own reputation; so instead he raised his hands in respect towards Zhou Botong, Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng, saying, “Please forgive me!” Pulling Huang Rong’s hand he turned around and walked away.

Huang Rong still wanted to have a few words with Guo Jing. “Jing ge ge …” she called; but she was pulled by her father and in a blink of an eye they had traveled dozens of feet, disappearing into the forest.

Zhou Botong burst out in laughter, but stopped abruptly because his chest hurt. Finally he chuckled and said, “The Old Heretic Huang has fallen into my trap. I spoke nonsense to deceive him and he took it seriously. Amusing…very amusing!”

Hong Qigong was taken aback. “Then Jing’er really didn’t know beforehand?” he asked.

Zhou Botong laughed, “Of course he didn’t know! He thought the ‘Nine Yin’ martial arts were evil; had he known, he wouldn’t have wanted to learn it with me. Brother, you memorized the manual really well didn’t you? Even if you want to forget it, you can’t, can you?” He held his stomach and burst out into laughter again and didn’t care if it hurt his chest, so his expression was really distorted.

Hong Qigong stomped his foot. “Ay! Old Urchin! Don’t you think this joke is too much? I am going to talk to Brother Yao.” Moving his feet he dashed into the forest, but the pathways were confusing and he did not know which way Huang Yaoshi had gone. As for the deaf and mute servants, as soon as their master left, they scampered away following him. Hong Qigong had no one to lead him, so he was compelled to come back. Then he suddenly remembered that Ouyang Ke had the detailed map of Peach Blossom Island. “Nephew Ouyang, can I borrow the Peach Blossom Island map, please?” he asked urgently.

Ouyang Ke shook his head, “Without Uncle Huang’s permission little nephew does not dare to let other people see it; Uncle Hong please don’t blame me.”

“Humph!” Hong Qigong snorted. In his heart he said, “I am really stupid; how can I borrow the map from this kid? He earnestly wishes for Old Heretic Huang to hate my dumb disciple.” While he was still staring at the forest he suddenly saw some white shadows coming. It turned out they were Ouyang Feng’s thirty-two white clothed dancing girls.

As they came close to Ouyang Feng, they bent their knees and one of them said, “Master Huang told us to go back with Master.”

Ouyang Feng did not even look their way; he simply waved his hand telling them to board his boat. To Hong Qigong and Zhou Botong he said, “I am afraid Brother Yao might have put some booby-traps on board. Don’t you two gentlemen worry, Little Brother will follow closely in my boat. In case of an emergency we can lend you a hand.”

Zhou Botong angrily said, “Who wants your charity? I want to see what kind of gadgets Old Heretic Huang put on his boat. If you follow us the danger won’t be there; where is the fun part then? If you mess with me, the Old Urchin will drench you with urine one more time!”

Ouyang Feng laughed, “Very well! In that case, until we meet again.” He cupped his fists and took his nephew aboard his boat.

Guo Jing was still staring blankly at where Huang Rong had disappeared, lost in thought. Zhou Botong laughed, “Brother, let us board the boat. I wonder if this ill-fated boat will swallow the three of us alive” His left hand took Hong Qigong’s arm and his right hand pulled Guo Jing along and together they boarded the new boat.

The boat came with seven or eight sailors who waited to serve them; they were all mute. Zhou Botong laughed, “One day Old Heretic Huang will be so angry that he cuts out his precious daughter’s tongue. Only then will I admire him for having guts.” Listening to this Guo Jing could not help but shiver. Zhou Botong saw him and laughed heartily, “Are you afraid?” he asked, and then made a hand signal to the sailors to start sailing. The sailors hoisted the anchor and raised the sail; under a southern wind they headed north.

“Come,” Hong Qigong said, “Let us take a look at this boat and see what is so strange about it.” Three men walked the boat from stem to stern; from the deck to the bottom of the hold. The boat was painted in bright and clear paint and the hold contained a supply of food and drinks…water, white rice, wine, meat and vegetables in abundance. But nothing was out of the ordinary.

“Old Heretic Huang deceived us!” Zhou Botong said hatefully, “Where is the strange thing on this boat he was talking about? He is such a liar!”

Hong Qigong, however, still had doubts. He leaped to the mast and with his strength tried to rock the masts and the sails, but again, he found nothing out of the ordinary. He lifted his eyes and looked in the distance; he saw seagulls flying, the waves rolling and the horizon where the sea met the sky. The boat’s three sails were fully raised as they headed north. He opened his collar and enjoyed the invigorating wind. Turning his head he saw Ouyang Feng’s boat following approximately two li [about 1 km] behind.

Hong Qigong leaped down from the mast and made a hand signal to the sailor at the rudder telling him to change course to the northwest. A moment later he looked again and saw that Ouyang Feng’s boat had also changed direction to the northwest.

“What is he following us for?” Hong Qigong muttered under his breath, “Can he really have good intentions? The day Old Venom shows kindness of heart, the sun may have to rise in the west.” He was afraid if Zhou Botong knew he would throw a fit of temper. He didn’t say anything, but signaled the sailor to change course to the east.

The boat made such an abrupt turn that the sails were almost touching the water and they slowed down. In approximately the time needed to drink a cup of tea Ouyang Feng’s boat also changed direction to the east. “If you want to settle our score on the sea, that’s all right with me,” Hong Qigong thought.

He left the deck to enter the cabin and saw Guo Jing looking depressed; he was quiet and lost in thought. Hong Qigong said, “Tu’er [disciple], let me teach you how a beggar begs for rice: if the master of the house does not give you anything, you hang around his door for three days and three nights and see if he still refuses to give you anything.” Zhou Botong laughed, “What if the master of the house owns a vicious dog? What if he told the dog to bite you because you don’t want to go? What would you do?” he asked.

Hong Qigong laughed, “In that case he is a heartless rich man. If you come again at night and steal his belongings, you are not violating heaven’s law.”

Zhou Botong turned to Guo Jing. “Brother, do you understand your Master’s speech? He taught you to be persistent in front of your father-in-law. If he still won’t give his daughter to you and beats you for no reason, then you can steal her at night,” he said, “But if you really want to steal that treasure, you don’t have to do it yourself; all you need to do is call out, ‘bao bei er [Treasure, precious], come!’ And she will come out and follow you.”

Listening to him Guo Jing was unable to restrain a smile. He watched Zhou Botong pacing up and down the cabin; he could not stay still even for a moment. Suddenly a thought came into his mind, “Big Brother, do you have a destination in mind?” he asked.

“I don’t have one,” replied Zhou Botong, “I will go where my heart tells me to. I stayed on Peach Blossom Island for too long and I felt cooped up.”

“I have a favor I’d like to ask Big Brother,” Guo Jing said.

Zhou Botong shook his head. “No, I am not going to Peach Blossom Island to help you steal a wife, I don’t want to.” Guo Jing blushed, “No, not that,” he said, “I want to bother Big Brother to visit Cloud Manor in Yixing, by Lake Tai.” “What for?” Zhou Botong asked.

“The Cloud Manor Master, Lu Chengfeng is a brave hero,” Guo Jing explained, “He was Father-in-law’s disciple. Because of the ‘Twin Killers of the Dark Winds’, Father-in-law broke his legs and he became a cripple. Big Brother’s legs recovered, so I want to ask Big Brother to teach him the technique of healing his legs.”

“That’s easy,” Zhou Botong said, “Even if Old Heretic Huang broke my legs again, I know how to heal myself. If you don’t believe me, go ahead, break my legs.” After saying that, he sat on a chair and stretched out his legs with a challenging look on his face.

Guo Jing smiled, “I don’t need to try, I know Big Brother has this ability,” he said.

While they were still talking a loud crashing noise was suddenly heard. The door burst open and a sailor came rushing in with a terror- stricken expression. He could not speak, so he just gesticulated in panic. Three of them knew something was terribly wrong, so they dashed out of the cabin.

o0o

Huang Rong wanted to have a word with Guo Jing but was pulled away by her father. She was very upset. As soon as they arrived at their home she went straight to her room and locked the door, crying uncontrollably. In anger Huang Yaoshi had expelled Guo Jing from the island; now that his anger had subsided he regretted his rash decision. He realized he had sent Guo Jing to his death. He wanted to comfort his daughter, but no matter how hard or how long he knocked on her door, she just turned a deaf ear to him. During supper he called for her, but she did not appear; he sent a servant with Huang Rong’s dinner but she threw it to the floor and even hit the servant a couple of times.

“Father said that if Jing ge ge ever sets his foot on this island again he will kill him. I want to go and find him, but how can I leave Father alone here? He will definitely be grieved,” Huang Rong pondered it back and forth, but could not come up with any ideas until her stomach hurt.

Several months ago Huang Yaoshi scolded her and she ran away from the island; with childish thoughts she did not want to go back. Afterwards, when she met her father again, she saw that the number of white hairs on his temple had suddenly increased. It had only been several months, but he looked ten years older than she remembered him. She felt really sorry, and promised in her heart never to leave him again. Who would have thought that she would now face this difficult situation? She stayed on her bed all day, crying. She thought, “If Mother were still alive, she would take care of me; would she allow me to suffer like this?”

While thinking about her mother she decided to get out of the room and walked through the hall to the front door. Her house on Peach Blossom Island had a front door that was always open, night and day, unless there was storm coming. Huang Rong went out into the yard. There was a starry sky and the air was heavy with the scent flowers. “Jing ge ge must be many li away by now; I wonder when we are going to see each other again,” she wondered in her heart. She heaved a deep sigh, wiped the tears from her eyes with the end of her long sleeve, and walked toward the flower bushes at the end of their yard. Entering the bushes and brushing away the leaves she arrived at her mother’s tomb.

The exquisiteness of the coffin’s wood, the various plants and rare orchids and the different flowers that bloomed at different seasons, were all Huang Yaoshi’s personal choices. They glowed in the moonlight with each radiating its own unique scent. Huang Rong pushed the entrance stone three times to the left and three times to the right; then exerting her strength she pushed it. The entrance stone slowly moved to the side, revealing a long and narrow stonewalled tunnel. She went in, and after making three turns, she arrived at another secret door. Beyond this door was where the coffin was placed. The room was lit by an oil lamp inside a precious stone container, illuminating Huang Rong’s mother’s memorial tablet. Alone in that small underground room and seeing the painting of her deceased mother made by her father’s own hand, Huang Rong’s heart was filled with a roller coaster of emotions. She thought, “I have never seen Mother. I wonder if, after I die, will I meet her? Was she really that young and beautiful as in the picture? Where is she right now? Is she in the heaven above, in the earth below, or still in this room? I am going to stay here forever to accompany her.”

Along the walls of this tomb there were precious jewels, antique collections, paintings and calligraphy from famous artists; each worth a fortune. After his wife died, Huang Yaoshi roamed the sea and lakes to collect these precious articles. Whether it was inside the imperial palace, inside the house of some rich government official, or in a robbers’ den high up in the mountains, as long as he knew there was a treasure, he would come and steal it or take it by force. His martial arts were high and he had keen eyes and sophisticated tastes, so he managed to collect quite a few treasures which he piled up inside his wife’s tomb.

Huang Rong could see bright pearls, beautiful jade, emeralds and amethysts glimmering in the firelight; she thought, “These precious jewels don’t have any feelings, yet they will last for millions of years. Today I am looking at them in here, but in the future my body will turn into dust and they will still be here. Is it true that among living things, the smart and intelligent won’t have a long life? Was it because she was so smart that my mother died when she was only twenty?”

Huang Rong stared at her mother’s picture for a moment, heaved a sigh, then blew out the light and walked to her mother’s coffin. She stroked the coffin lovingly and sat on the floor. Her heart was heavy with self-pity. She was leaning on the coffin, pretending she was being cuddled at her mother’s side, relying on her for consolation. Earlier that day she experienced great joy and great anxiety; that night she was completely exhausted and after a while she drifted off to sleep.

She dreamt she was inside the Zhao Palace in Beijing, all alone and fighting a group of martial artists; then the scenery changed, she was in the northern area and unexpectedly met Guo Jing there. She’d barely said a few words to him when her mother suddenly showed up. She just knew it was her mother even though, try as she might, she could not see her face clearly. Then her mother started to fly into the sky while she called and pursued on the ground. Her mother was flying higher and higher and she was so scared. Then out of the blue she heard her father’s voice calling her mother. At first it was a distant sound, and then the voice got nearer and clearer. Huang Rong awoke with a start but her father’s voice could still be heard, mumbling indistinctly in front of the curtain. Then she calmed herself and realized that it was not a dream; her father was indeed inside the tomb, talking to her mother’s spirit.

When she was little her father often brought her here; he would tell her mother anything that happened outside, regardless of how trivial those matters were. For the past several years she did not go with her father as often, yet it did not surprise her to hear her father talking in front of the coffin. She was still upset with him and did not want to see him. She wanted to wait quietly until he left, but what she heard next surprised her.

“I have found your heart’s desire,” he said, “I know you suffered a lot that year you rewrote the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. I wanted to find it and burn it in your presence, so your spirit in heaven will be consoled. I have searched in vain for fifteen years, but today I found it.”

Huang Rong was surprised, “Where did Father get the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” she wondered.

“I did not intentionally want to kill your son-in-law,” she heard her father continue. “But it was they who insisted on riding on that boat.”

Huang Rong was puzzled, “Mother’s son-in-law? Is he talking about Jing ge ge? He’s on that boat, then what?” She opened her ears and listened attentively.

Huang Yaoshi recounted how miserable and lonely his life had become since his wife passed away and how badly he missed her. Huang Rong listened to him pouring out his heart and her own heart was filled with sorrow. “Jing ge ge and I are mere youngsters and we love each other. I don’t think it will be impossible to see each other in the future; but I cannot leave my father,” she thought.

Once her mind was set, she continued listening to her father. “The Old Urchin destroyed the entire ‘Nine Yin Manual’ with the strength of his hands. I thought my hopes of sacrificing the manual to you were shattered. Who would have thought that, perhaps by divine intervention, he would insist on riding the boat I made for our future meeting?” he said.

“Every time I wanted to play aboard that boat Father always sternly prohibited me; how would he use the boat to meet Mother?” Huang Rong wondered.

Huang Yaoshi loved his wife very much. Moreover, his wife died because she wanted to make him happy. Therefore, he wanted to commit suicide as a sacrifice to her. But he knew his martial arts were profound, so he could not die easily by hanging himself or simply drinking a poison. Besides, if he died on the island, he was sure his deaf and mute servants would mutilate his body. Therefore he went to the mainland and kidnapped a highly skilled boat builder to build him this fancy boat.

This boat’s keel was no different than a regular boat’s, except that the bottom of the boat was not nailed together with metal nails, but put together with ropes and glue. Moored at the marina it looked like an extremely magnificent and beautiful yacht; but as soon as it sailed onto the sea, the waves would destroy the ropes and glue, and the boat would certainly sink.

Originally he intended to put his wife’s coffin on the boat, take the boat onto the sea and while the waves rocked the boat, he would play on his jade flute the ‘Jade-Colored Tidal Wave’ song. Together with his wife they would be buried thousands of feet beneath the sea. That way he would make a clean end to his life without disgracing his reputation as the martial arts master of his age. However, every time he wanted to go, he could not bear the idea of taking their daughter along, but who would raise her if he died? Finally he decided to build a tomb and placed his wife in it. He repainted the boat every year, so it always looked new. He was going to wait for their daughter to grow up before taking his last voyage. Of course Huang Rong did not know of her father’s plan. But she kept listening anyway. “The Old Urchin was able to recite the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ completely and that Guo kid could also recite it from memory. If I sink those two into the sea, it would be the same as though I was burning the two manuals for you. If your spirit in heaven knows this, you can then rest in peace. My only regret was that the Old Beggar Hong will lose his life in vain; it is rather unfair to him. Within one day I have killed three martial arts masters for your sake. When we meet again, you can certainly say that your husband has fulfilled his promise to you. Ha ... ha … !”

After listening to this last part, the hair on Huang Rong’s neck stood up and her heart turned very cold. She did not completely understand what was going on, but knowing her father’s abilities very well, she was sure that there must be something terribly wrong with that boat. She was anxious for the safety of Guo Jing and the other people on board. Her heart was filled with shock and sorrow at the same time. She wanted to stand up and beg her father to save them, but she was neither able to stand nor speak; her legs were weak and her throat dry from fear. She only heard her father’s long and mournful laughter – sounding like a song or a cry, as he walked out of the tomb.

Huang Rong tried to calm herself down and thought out loud, “I must go to rescue Jing ge ge. If I can’t make it, I will still die with him.” She knew her father’s strange temper well; he’d become crazy because of his excessive love for his deceased wife and it would be useless to ask him for help. She dashed out of the tomb towards the seashore where she jumped on a boat, woke up the deaf mute servants in charge of the boat and immediately set sail.

Suddenly she heard hoof beats coming her way and at the same time she could hear her father’s jade flute in the distance. Huang Rong looked back; it was Guo Jing’s little red horse, galloping in the moonlight. It had been wandering aimlessly on the island and that particular night it ran towards the seashore. Huang Rong thought, “Where can I find Jing ge ge on this boundless sea? The little red horse has divine abilities on dry land, but on the water it is completely useless.”

o0o

Hong Qigong, Zhou Botong and Guo Jing dashed out of the cabin only to find their feet submerged in water almost to their knees. They were extremely shocked. Immediately they jumped up onto the mast; Hong Qigong even remembered to snatch a couple of deaf and mute sailors. They looked down and saw the turbulent water rising fast. It all happened so fast that they were at loss as to what to do.

“Old Beggar,” Zhou Botong called, “Old Heretic Huang is so amazing! I just wonder how he built this boat?” “I don’t know!” replied Hong Qigong, “Jing’er, hold the mast tightly, don’t let go …”

Guo Jing was about to answer when a loud crack was suddenly heard; the boat broke in two and both halves slowly sank into the water. The two sailors were so shocked that they lost their hold on the mast and fell down into the raging water below. Zhou Botong flexed his muscles and jumped into the water.

“Old Urchin!” Hong Qigong called, “Do you know how to swim?”

Zhou Botong’s head came out of the water, “I guess I’ll just have to try …” he laughed. These exchanges happened in the midst of howling winds and they could not hear each other clearly.

By this time the mast was leaning far enough that it would hit the water very soon. Hong Qigong called out, “Jing’er, the mast is joined to the hull; let’s break it free. Come on!” The two gathered their strength and struck the mast near its center. Although the mast was made from solid wood, how could it withstand the combined forces of Hong Qigong and Guo Jing? After several strikes, with a ‘Crack’, the mast gave way. The two held on to it and together they fell into the sea below.

They were already many li away from Peach Blossom Island and looking in all directions there were towering waves as high as a mountain; there was no land in sight. Hong Qigong was secretly very anxious. Drifting on the sea like this, without food or fresh water, should nobody rescue them, they would certainly die in less than ten days no matter how high their martial arts skills were. Hong Qigong tried looking for Ouyang Feng’s boat but it was nowhere to be seen. He heard someone laughing hard to the south of them, it was Zhou Botong.

“Jing’er,” Hong Qigong said, “Let’s try going to him.” With one hand holding the mast, the other hand paddled towards Zhou Botong. The waves were quite strong, so as they moved dozens of zhang they were pushed back dozens of zhang.

“Old Urchin, we are coming!” Hong Qigong laughed. Due to his strong internal energy, his voice could be heard amidst the sound of the roaring waves around them. They heard Zhou Botong calling out, “The Old Urchin has become a dog in the water; sort of like an old dog in salty soup!”

Guo Jing was amused that in a situation as dangerous as this, he still had the urge to goof around; truly he did not bear the title ‘the Old Urchin’ in vain.

The sea was raging wildly around them and no matter how hard they tried, they were still dozens of zhang apart from each other. Only after working hard for a long time did they finally manage to get together on the broken mast. As soon as Hong Qigong and Guo Jing saw Zhou Botong, they were unable to stifle their laughter; Zhou Botong had used sail rope to tie a piece of board to his feet and used his excellent lightness kungfu to tread on the waves. Unfortunately the waves were too strong. Even though his body was going up and down with the waves, free and unrestrained, it was actually very difficult to move forward. Zhou Botong played on the water enthusiastically, seemingly oblivious of the danger they were facing. Guo Jing looked around to see their boat was gone along with all the crew; they were buried under the sea. Suddenly he heard Zhou Botong call out in alarm, “Aiyo! This is serious! The Old Urchin might meet a cruel death.”

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing heard his frightened voice and asked, “What is it?” Zhou Botong pointed his finger and said, “Sharks…a school of sharks!”

Guo Jing grew up on the steppes so he did not know how fierce a shark was. He turned around to see Hong Qigong’s face looking strange. He wondered what kind of monster a shark was that would make his master and big brother Zhou, who were used to facing danger with smiles on their faces, look so nervous.

Hong Qigong sent his strength to his palm and broke the end of the mast; then he divided the broken pieces further into two halves. Suddenly he saw a shark’s head appear amongst the white foam of the waves; its two rows of sharp white teeth glistening in the sunlight. It was only for a moment, and then it disappeared under the water. Hong Qigong threw a wooden stick to Guo Jing. “Aim for their heads!” he called out.

Guo Jing groped in his pocket and produced a dagger. “Disciple has a dagger!” he called back and threw the wooden stick toward Zhou Botong.

By now there were four or five sharks circling around Zhou Botong; it looked like they were assessing the situation, but no shark had attacked yet. Zhou Botong leaned over and struck; a shark’s head split open. As soon as the other sharks smelled blood they all attacked their dead comrade.

Guo Jing saw the water’s surface bubbling like boiling water; he wondered how many thousands of sharks were there. He saw white teeth flashing and in a very short moment, nothing was left of that dead shark. He was horrified. Suddenly he felt something bump his feet. Nervously he kicked around and a big shark shot up from the water towards him. With his left hand holding the mast he sent all his might to his right hand and with unmatched accuracy his extremely sharp dagger made a hole in the shark’s head. Again the water boiled as a group of sharks feasted on their dead companion. Thousands of sharks were moving and biting randomly in the water.

The three men’s martial arts were superb; surrounded by thousands of sharks they moved to the west and dodged to the east. Every time their hands struck, a shark was either dead or heavily injured while their own bodies were not even scratched. As soon as a shark bled, it became the other sharks’ food and in a flash it became a pile of cartilage sinking in the sea. Although the three’s martial arts were profound and they had great courage, when they saw this sight, they could not help feeling frightened. The sharks were uncountable and seemed like they were killing them endlessly. They did not have time to think of anything else; they needed all their energy and concentration to fight and fight and fight …

After hours of fighting they’d killed more than two hundred sharks, then fog began rising from the water as the sun slowly fell to the western horizon. Zhou Botong called out, “Old Beggar, Brother Guo, once the sky is dark all three of us will go into the sharks’ tummies. Shall we make a bet? Who will be first to be eaten?”

“Is the first to be eaten the winner or the loser?” Hong Qigong asked. “The winner, certainly,” Zhou Botong replied.

“Aiyo, in that case I’d rather be the loser,” Hong Qigong said. With the back of his hand he launched the ‘Divine Dragon Swings its Tail’ and hit a big shark on its side. That big shark weighed approximately 200 jins [100kg / 220 lbs], but because of Hong Qigong’s strength, it flew into the air, rolled twice, before it fell back into the water, creating a big splash. That shark turned belly up; it had been killed instantly.

“Excellent palm technique!” Zhou Botong praised, “I’ll bow to you and take you as my master so you can teach me the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. It’s too bad I won’t have time to learn it. Old Beggar, do you want to compete with me?”

“I am sorry I can’t accommodate you right now,” Hong Qigong said.

Zhou Botong laughed heartily, “Brother, are you scared?” he asked Guo Jing.

In his heart Guo Jing was really scared; but seeing these two people were still able to chat and make jokes in a life and death situation his spirits were lifted. “I was scared, but not anymore,” he replied. Suddenly he saw a monstrous shark charging his way. He leaned sideways then lifted his left hand high in the air as bait. That big shark turned around and leaped out of the water to bite his hand. The dagger in Guo Jing’s right hand moved upward and stabbed beneath the shark’s mouth. Because the shark was moving forward, the dagger made a long cut along the shark’s body. Blood gushed and the contents of its stomach spilled out.

By that time Zhou Botong and Hong Qigong had each killed another shark. Zhou Botong had not yet recovered from Huang Yaoshi’s blow earlier; after fighting for such a long time he began to feel a severe pain in his chest. He laughed loudly and said, “Old Beggar, Brother Guo, I am so sorry I can’t continue much longer, I’ll have to be the first one going into a shark’s belly. Ay! Too bad you two didn’t want to bet. I would’ve won!”

Even though he was laughing, Guo Jing could hear the desperation in his voice. “All right!” he shouted, “I’ll bet with you!”

“At least now I can die an interesting death!” Zhou Botong laughed. As he turned around to avoid the converging attacks of two sharks charging in together he suddenly saw a high white sail far away. In the dim light of dusk a big private boat was cutting through the waves and coming their way.

Hong Qigong also saw the boat; it was Ouyang Feng’s. They were exuberant knowing that help was on the way. Guo Jing immediately came near Zhou Botong to help him fight the sharks. A moment later the boat arrived and lowered two small boats to rescue the three people. Zhou Botong vomited some more blood, but he would not stop talking and laughing. He was waving his finger at the sharks and cursing them incessantly.

Ouyang Feng and Ouyang Ke stood on the bow of the big boat to welcome them. As far as their eyes could see, the water was full of shark fins; they were inwardly alarmed.

Zhou Botong was unwilling to admit indebtedness, he said, “Old Poison, it was you who came and rescued us; I did not call you for help so I don’t owe you anything.”

“Naturally you don’t owe me anything,” Ouyang Feng replied, “Today I come across the three of you engaged in a shark killing spree; Little Brother was fascinated.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “You came across us and prevented us from playing inside the sharks’ bellies, so I will still call it even; we don’t owe anybody anything.”

Ouyang Ke and a snake herder put some big chunks of beef on an iron hook as bait and in a short period of time had hooked seven or eight big sharks.

Hong Qigong pointed at the sharks and laughed, “Good, you didn’t eat us, but it looks like we are going to eat you.”

Ouyang Ke laughed, “Little Nephew has a way to avenge Uncle Hong.” He quickly cut some short sticks, sharpened both ends, then pried open a shark’s mouth with a spear and stuck the wooden stick in the shark’s mouth. Then he kicked the shark back into the water.

Zhou Botong laughed, “That way the shark won’t be able to eat anything ever; I bet it will die within eight to ten days.”

Guo Jing thought, “Only he would think of such an evil plan. This gluttonous shark will starve to death in the sea. That is so cruel.”

Zhou Botong saw Guo Jing’s face showing a disgusted look, he laughed, “Brother, such a malicious trick is not pleasing to the eye, is it? Well, this is called ‘a poisonous uncle results in a poisonous nephew’.”

Hearing others cursing him as evil did not bother Western Poison Ouyang Feng at all; on the contrary, he was pleased. Listening to Zhou Botong he showed a faint smile and said, “Old Urchin, this small trick is nothing compared to what the Western Poison can do. You three are out of breath from fighting this bunch of baby sharks. Even though they are many, to me they are nothing.” After saying that he faced the sea, stretched out his right hand, moved it in a sweeping motion from left to right and said, “Even if there were ten times more sharks than these, I can annihilate them all without breaking a sweat.”

“Ah!” Zhou Botong exclaimed, “The Western Poison blows his horn really loud! If you can prove your great prowess and really kill the sharks, the Old Urchin will kowtow to you and will call you ‘Grandfather’ three hundred times.”

“I do not dare to accept that,” Ouyang Feng said, “If you don’t believe me, why don’t we make a bet?” “All right,” Zhou Botong almost shouted, “I’ll bet you my head!”

Hong Qigong, on the other hand, was suspicious, “Even if his skills are as high as the sky, it is impossible to kill millions of sharks at once,” he thought, “I am afraid he has another evil scheme up in his sleeve.”

“I don’t need your head,” Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “If I win, I want you to do something for me and you must comply with it. If I lose, I won’t decline whatever difficult matter you want me to do. What do you think?”

“I don’t care, whatever you say!” Zhou Botong shouted.

Ouyang Feng turned to Hong Qigong, “I am asking Brother Qi to be our witness,” he said.

Hong Qigong nodded, “Very well,” he said, “But what if the winner assigns the loser something and he is not able to do it?” “Then the loser must jump into the sea to be eaten by the sharks,” Zhou Botong said.

Again Ouyang Feng showed a faint smile but he did not say anything. He signaled a servant to bring a small wine cup. Two of his right fingers pinched the neck of the strange looking snake on his staff, forced it to open its mouth and venom gushed from its teeth. Ouyang Feng held out the wine cup and caught the venom in it, black and thick like China ink, almost filling half the cup. As soon as this snake ran out of venom, he pinched the other one and did the same, filling the whole cup with snake’s venom. When he was finished the two snakes wrapped around the staff quietly, no longer slithering up and down, like they were very tired.

Ouyang Feng’s servant hooked another big shark and placed it on the deck. With his left hand Ouyang Feng gripped the shark’s upper jaw, while his right foot stepped on the lower jaw, prying the jaws open. That shark was about two zhang’s long [approximately 20 feet or 7 meters], but it could not prevent its mouth being opened revealing two rows of dagger-sharp teeth. Then he poured the cup of venom into the shark’s mouth, right where the gaping wound caused by the iron hook was. With an abrupt movement his left hand lifted the shark by its belly and without much trouble swung it up. The 200 catty [about 100 kg / 220lbs] shark flew into the air and with a loud splash fell into the sea.

Zhou Botong laughed, “Aha! I understand now,” he said, “This is the old monk’s method of killing bedbugs.” “Big Brother,” Guo Jing asked, “How did the old monk kill the bugs?”

“There was once an old monk who hawked concoctions for getting rid of bedbugs in a Bianliang [a city in Henan province] street market,” Zhou Botong told him, “He claimed his concoction to be very effective; once the bugs ate his product they would surely die. If not, he was willing to reimburse the customer’s money tenfold. Of course with this kind of guarantee his business was brisk. One of his customers went back home and scattered the concoction on his bed. Heh, heh … that night the bedbugs still came by the thousands, biting him half to death. That customer was upset and early the next morning he went back to the market to find that old monk, wanting him to refund his money. That old monk said, ‘My concoction is very effective; if it did not kill your bugs, perhaps you did not use it correctly.’ The customer asked, ‘How do you use it?’” Reaching this point Zhou shook his head with a mischievous smile on his face, but did not continue.

“Then how do you use it?” Guo Jing asked.

With a straight face Zhou Botong said, “That old monk said, ‘You catch the bug, pry open its mouth and feed just a little bit of this concoction to it. If it doesn’t die, then you can come to the old monk again.’ The customer was mad, he said, ‘If I can catch the bug, I can crush it to death with my fingers, why would I need your effective concoction?’ To which the old monk replied, ‘Of course, I never said you can’t crush it to death, did I?’”

Guo Jing, Hong Qigong, Ouyang Feng and his nephew, along with everyone who listened to Zhou Botong, burst into laugher. “My concoction is somewhat different than that of the old monk,” Ouyang Feng said with a smile.

“I don’t see much difference,” Zhou Botong said.

Ouyang Feng pointed his finger to the sea and said, “Well, just take a look.”

The shark fed the venom went belly up, and of course seven or eight other sharks were having a feeding frenzy over it. The strange thing was that the seven or eight sharks which ate their comrade’s flesh were also belly up not too long afterwards. Each dead shark was immediately eaten by another group of sharks, which, in turn, also went belly up in the water. One shark killed ten others, ten sharks killed a hundred, a hundred killed a thousand; in not too long the sea was full of floating dead sharks. The remaining sharks were not too many, but they were still feeding on their dead comrades. A while later the sea became calm, there were no more sharks left alive. When Hong Qigong, Zhou Botong and Guo Jing saw this chilling scene their faces paled. Hong Qigong sighed and said, “Old Poison, Old Poison…your evil plan was truly evil; only a small amount of poison from your two snakes is extremely deadly.”

Ouyang Feng chuckled and looked at Zhou Botong with a smug expression. Zhou Botong wrung his hands, stomped his foot, and pulled his beard and hair erratically. As far as anyone could see, the sea’s surface was full of dead sharks with their white bellies upward, floating and bobbing on the waves.

“Looking at so many white bellies makes my tummy sick; thinking about that many sharks being killed by the Old Poison’s venom, also makes my tummy sick,” Zhou Botong said, “Old Poison, you need to watch out; once the ‘Dragon King of the Sea’ [hai long wang] finds out, he is going to send his shrimp army and crab generals to deal with you.” Ouyang Feng simply smiled without saying anything.

“Brother Feng, little brother is unclear about something and I beg you to explain it to me,” Hong Qigong said. “I don’t dare,” Ouyang Feng replied.

“It was only a small cup of venom; even if the poison was extremely deadly, how could it kill thousands of sharks?” Hong Qigong asked.

Ouyang Feng laughed, “This type of venom is very special,” he explained, “As soon as it enters the blood the blood became poisonous. If this blood enters another shark’s system, that second shark’s blood will also be poisonous. Just imagine the amount of venom increasing a hundredfold. Each dead shark would multiply that amount another hundredfold; very soon you’ll have an infinite amount of venom able to kill forever.”

“That is called perpetual killing,” Hong Qigong commented.

“Exactly,” Ouyang Feng replied. “Little brother’s title is ‘Western Poison’; if my skill in using poison is somewhat lacking, then I’m afraid I’m not worthy to hold that title.”

While they were still talking the remaining sharks had already died. The other smaller fish were also gone; though not being eaten by the sharks, they still had disappeared so the sea was eerily calm.

“Sail away quickly…sail away quickly! The air here is too thick with poison,” Hong Qigong urged.

Ouyang Feng gave a signal and the boat moved away at full speed; all the triangle shaped sails were raised. With the wind coming from the south they headed northwest.

“The Old Poison really sells effective concoctions to get rid of bedbugs,” Zhou Botong said. “What do you want me to do?” “I’d like to welcome the three of you into my cabin first,” Ouyang Feng said, “You need to change into dry clothes, eat something, and then take a rest. About the bet, it won’t be too late to talk about later.”

Zhou Botong was really impatient, “That won’t do, that won’t do!” he called out, “Just say it! You won’t gain anything by waiting. If the Old Urchin dies of suffocation, then it will be your loss for not telling me what you want.”

Ouyang Feng smiled, “In that case, Brother Botong, please come with me.” 

Chapter 20 – The Altered Manual

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing watched Ouyang Feng and his nephew lead Zhou Botong to a cabin in the back, while they were taken to a different cabin to change their clothes. Four white-dressed maidens served them. Hong Qigong laughed, “The Old Beggar has not had the luck to enjoy this kind of treatment,” he said. After taking off all his clothes a maiden dried him with a clean towel.

Guo Jing felt blood flowing up his neck and face and he did not dare to take his clothes off. Hong Qigong laughed, “What are you afraid of? They won’t eat you alive!” he said. Two maidens approached him to take his boots off and loosen his belt. Guo Jing quickly took back his boots and upper garment, jumped onto the bed and while hiding underneath a blanket, changed his clothes. Hong Qigong burst out laughing and the four maidens also giggled.

Once they were finished, two other maidens entered the cabin carrying trays full of wine, meat dishes, vegetables, and some white rice, saying, “Please gentlemen, quickly eat what we prepared.”

Hong Qigong waved his hand, “All of you get out of here, please. When the Old Beggar sees good-looking ladies I can’t get food into my tummy.” The maidens smiled and complied, closing the door on their way out.

Hong Qigong lifted the wine and the dishes to his nose and sniffed them, “Don’t eat or drink this,” he whispered, “The Old Poison is so crafty. Just eat the plain white rice.” He took the gourd from his back, pulled the plug and took two mouthfuls of wine. Then he quickly ate three big bowls of rice. Guo Jing followed his lead and dumped the other dishes under the deck-boards.

“I wonder what they want Big Brother Zhou to do?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice.

“Can’t be anything good,” Hong Qigong replied, “This time the Old Urchin really got himself in trouble.”

The cabin door was suddenly pushed open and a maiden said, “Master Zhou asks Young Master Guo to come to the rear cabin. He has something to discuss with you.” Guo Jing looked at his master and walked out of the cabin following the maiden. They walked along the port side of the boat towards the back. The maiden lightly knocked on the cabin door and after waiting a moment, shoved the door open, announcing, “Young Master Guo has arrived.”

Guo Jing entered the cabin and the door was closed behind him. There was no one inside the cabin. Guo Jing felt uneasy, but then a small door to his left opened and Ouyang Feng and his nephew walked in.

“Where is Big Brother Zhou?” Guo Jing asked.

Ouyang Feng closed the door with the back of his hand then took two steps forward and grabbed Guo Jing’s wrist. His movement was very swift; not in a million years would Guo Jing have guessed that Ouyang Feng would do that. He felt like his wrist was grasped by a pair of tongs; he could not move. Ouyang Ke pulled a steel-spined folding fan from his sleeve and placed it on a vital acupoint on Guo Jing’s back. Guo Jing was dumbstruck; he could not guess what the uncle and nephew wanted from him.

“The Old Urchin lost a bet with me, but when I asked him to do something for me he refused,” Ouyang Feng coldly said. “Hmm?” Guo Jing was confused.

“I told him to rewrite the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ from memory for me to read, but he unexpectedly did not keep his word,” Ouyang Feng explained.

“How could Big Brother Zhou give the manual to you?” Guo Jing thought; and again he asked, “Where is Big Brother Zhou?”

“It was he who said that whoever did not keep his word must jump into the sea to be eaten by the sharks. Humph! He finally made up his mind and did what he said he would,” Ouyang Feng said coldly.

Guo Jing was shocked. “He … he …” he stammered. He tried to pull his hand free and dash to the door, but Ouyang Feng’s grip was very tight, forcing Guo Jing to stop. Ouyang Ke pushed his fan slightly harder against Guo Jing’s ‘Most Positive’ [zhi yang] acupoint.

Ouyang Feng pointed to a table with a stack of paper, a brush and some ink on it and said, “In the whole wide world you are the only one who knows the manual’s full text. Write it down for me quickly.”

Guo Jing shook his head. Ouyang Ke smiled and said, “The food and wine you and the Old Beggar ate just now was poisoned. If you don’t take my Uncle’s antidote you will die within twelve hours, just like the sharks you saw earlier. If you comply, we will spare both you and your master’s lives.”

Guo Jing was quite shocked, “Had Master not been so alert we would certainly have fallen into their trap.” He stared at Ouyang Feng and thought, “You are a great master of martial arts, yet you commit a despicable act like this.”

Watching Guo Jing starring at him without saying anything Ouyang Feng said, “You have memorized the manual anyway. You won’t lose anything by writing it down. What are you waiting for?”

Guo Jing shivered with rage, “You have harmed my sworn brother; now there is hatred as deep as the ocean between you and I. If you want to kill me then go ahead. But if you think you can force me, keep on dreaming!”

“Humph!” Ouyang Feng said, “Good, you have guts kid! You are not afraid of death, but does your master’s life mean nothing to you?”

Before Guo Jing could reply a sudden loud bang was heard as the cabin door was shattered and wood fragments flew everywhere. Ouyang Feng turned his head to see Hong Qigong with a couple of wooden water barrels in his hands. Hong Qigong threw the water out from the barrels and two deep green transparent columns flew toward Ouyang Feng and his nephew. Ouyang Feng knew the fierceness of this water attack; he leaped to the left to elude it while his left hand still tightly held Guo Jing’s wrist. The water hit the cabin’s wall and splashed in all directions. Ouyang Ke loudly called out in alarm because Hong Qigong had grabbed the back of his head.

Hong Qigong laughed loudly, “Old Poison, you’ve always wanted to kill me by any means possible, fortunately the Heavens won’t allow that to happen!”

Ouyang Feng saw his nephew had fallen into Hong Qigong’s hands so he smiled and said, “Brother Qi, are you going to challenge me again? It won’t be too late if we wait until we are ashore.”

“I see you like my disciple so much that you won’t let his hand go,” Hong Qigong laughed.

“I made a bet with the Old Urchin and I won, didn’t I?” Ouyang Feng asked, “You are our witness, are you not? Let me ask you this: The Old Urchin did not keep his word, did he?”

Hong Qigong repeatedly nodded his head in answer to his questions, “That’s correct. Where is the Old Urchin?” Guo Jing was grieved, he shouted, “Big Brother Zhou was … he was forced to jump into the sea and die!”

Hong Qigong was startled; with Ouyang Ke still in his grip he jumped out of the cabin. He looked in all directions but all he could see were the billowing waves and not a glimpse of Zhou Botong.

Ouyang Feng, still gripping Guo Jing, also walked out onto the deck. Loosening his grip he said, “Nephew Guo, your skills are still quite far from being adequate. You let someone grab your hand without being able to do anything about it. Go and learn from your master for ten more years, then you can roam Jianghu again.”

Guo Jing was worried about Zhou Botong’s safety; he ignored his derogatory remarks and climbed the mast, looking at all directions.

Hong Qigong lifted Ouyang Ke and tossed him towards Ouyang Feng. He shouted, “Old Poison, you forced the Old Urchin to his death; the people of Quanzhen will deal with you. Your martial arts may be profound, but I don’t believe you’ll survive the Quanzhen Seven’s combined force.”

Ouyang Ke did not let his body to touch the deck; his right hand pushed the deck and he somersaulted into an upright position while inwardly cursing, “Stinky beggar! By this time tomorrow you will crawl in front of me, begging me to save your life.”

Listening to Hong Qigong’s remark Ouyang Feng simply smiled faintly, “I am afraid you won’t be able to witness it when it happens.”

“Very well!,” Hong Qigong said, “Until that time comes, I am going to use my dog beating stick to beat some wet dogs.” Ouyang Feng raised his hands in salute then entered the cabin.

After looking around for a while without seeing anything Guo Jing climbed back down to the deck and told his master how Ouyang Feng had tried to force him to write out the manual. Hong Qigong nodded without saying anything as he quietly pondered, “Once the Old Poison sets his mind to something, he won’t easily let go. Until he gets hold of the manual he will harass my disciple continually.”

Guo Jing, thinking of Zhou Botong’s death, cried mournfully. Hong Qigong also grieved. He knew the boat was sailing fast to the west and within two days they were going to reach land. He was afraid Ouyang Feng would poison their food again, so he went to the kitchen and plundered some dishes and plenty of rice. After eating it with Guo Jing, his head nodded and then he snored.

Ouyang Feng and his nephew waited until the afternoon of the next day; after nearly sixteen or so hours passed, they had not heard Hong Qigong or his disciple made any sounds. Ouyang Feng was afraid his poison was too strong and had killed them. Killing Hong Qigong was not a big deal, but killing Guo Jing meant the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ would be lost forever. He secretly took a peek through a crack in the door, only to see two people sitting comfortably and chatting amiably. Hong Qigong’s voice was loud and clear. Ouyang Feng was enraged, “It seems the Old Beggar was alert. They weren’t poisoned after all.” His poison collection was vast, but in order to poison Hong Qigong without harming Guo Jing, he had to think of a better plan.

Hong Qigong was telling Guo Jing the ins and outs of the Beggar Clan. He said that although they begged for a living, every member actually had the responsibility to uphold justice, to help those in distress, and to follow their predecessors’ good deeds and not the bad ones. These facts were mostly hidden from the public eye. He talked further about the election procedure of the Beggar Clan Leader when the time came to find a successor. “It’s a pity you don’t like being a beggar,” he said, “Otherwise you have the perfect character to be a leader; there is no one inside the clan superior to you. I’d really like to bestow the ‘Dog Beating Stick’ [da gou bang] on you.” While they were still chatting there came a sudden banging noise from outside, it sounded like a hatchet or a chisel hitting the wall.

Hong Qigong jumped up in alarm, “Not good! That stinky snake is going to sink the boat,” he shouted. Rushing towards the door he yelled to Guo Jing, “Quickly go to the small life boat at the back!” He had just finished shouting when, with a loud crash, a big hole appeared in a wooden partition, followed by loud hissing noises; it was not seawater that came rushing in, but dozens of venomous snakes.

“So it’s the Old Poison’s snake attack!” Hong Qigong mocked. His right hand swept, scattering dozens of steel needles and dozens of snakes were pinned to the wooden deck; with loud hissing noises their bodies coiled but they were not able to move forward any longer.

“Rong’er is very good at this needles scattering technique, but compared to Master she still falls far short,” Guo Jing thought.

By that time dozens more snakes came through the hole in the wall. Hong Qigong kept shooting steel needles and more and more snakes were nailed to the floor. The sound of a wooden whistle was heard outside as more and more snakes were herded into the cabin.

Hong Qigong shot more and more needles, “The Old Poison kindly sends all these targets for me to practice my martial arts skill on; it is truly a rare opportunity,” he said. But when he put his hand into his pocket to grab more needles he was startled to find only a few left. Inwardly he was alarmed considering that the snakes kept coming. He was thinking hard as to what to do next when a loud crash was suddenly heard as the wall behind him fell down and a palm swiftly moved towards his back.

Guo Jing was standing beside his master when he heard the swift and fierce wind; he turned around and using both hands he blocked the sneak attack. The incoming attack was so strong that he felt his stomach turning upside down and he almost passed out.

Having his attack unexpectedly blocked Ouyang Feng uttered a cry of surprise. He stepped back a little bit and then hacked horizontally with the back of his hand.

Guo Jing knew this attack would be hard to defend against, so with his left palm he parried the attack, while his right hand launched a counterattack towards Ouyang Feng’s side, forcing him to withdraw. Ouyang Feng did not dare to take Guo Jing’s palm hit on his side, so he ducked while sending out a hand in a chopping motion toward Guo Jing’s lower body.

Guo Jing was aware that the situation was extremely critical. The snakes would keep coming in as long as Ouyang Feng could control the entrance; he and his master would be in grave danger. He gritted his teeth and to the utmost of his ability used one hand to fend off the incoming attacks while the other hand tried to deliver counterattacks. When his left hand defended his right hand attacked; when his right hand was void his left hand was solid, following Zhou Botong’s ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique. Ouyang Feng had never seen this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique before, so he was confused for the moment, giving Guo Jing a chance to use several stances. When comparing true martial arts skill, Ouyang Feng was two times superior to Guo Jing, but this ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique was so strange to him and it took him by surprise. Guo Jing was able to gain the upper hand for a while. But the Western Poison Ouyang Feng had enjoyed his title as a ‘Great’ for dozens of years; he was a great martial arts master, so he was confused only for a short time and soon thought of a method to deal with this strange technique. “Ugh!” with a loud grunt both his palms shot forward.

Guo Jing would not be able to block this attack single handedly; he was forced to step back, but behind him a mass of snakes could be heard hissing loudly.

“Wonderful…wonderful!” Hong Qigong shouted loudly, “Old poison, you can’t even defeat my disciple; how can you boast about yourself as a great hero?” With the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian] he leaped over both Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing’s heads, towards Ouyang Ke. With one kick he knocked Ouyang Ke down. Hong Qigong then used his elbow and sent Ouyang Ke somersaulting towards Ouyang Feng’s back. Ouyang Feng leaned sideways to avoid his nephew and because of that, Guo Jing escaped his vicious attack.

“Master’s martial arts skill is at par with his, while his nephew’s is below mine and he is injured. With two against two, we should certainly win,” Guo Jing thought. His spirits rose and with renewed vigor his hands and feet attacked Ouyang Feng like a violent storm.

While fighting violently with the enemy Hong Qigong kept his eyes open in all directions. He saw dozens of snakes approaching Guo Jing’s back, ready to strike. Once Guo Jing got bitten he would certainly die. Hong Qigong called out anxiously, “Jing’er, get out of here, quickly!” He increased the intensity of his attack against Ouyang Feng, forcing him to move away from Guo Jing.

Ouyang Feng was facing attacks from both his front and rear; he was feeling the strain. Hong Qigong’s attack had forced him to lean sideways, thus giving Guo Jing an opportunity to dash out of the cabin while Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong remained in a fierce battle. Meanwhile hundreds of snakes slithered around the deck surrounding the two. “Fighting with pets as your helpers? You are shameless!” Hong Qigong mocked, but in his heart he was nervous. The snakes were countless and they were everywhere. With the dog beating stick in his right hand he crushed dozens of snake’s heads. Pulling Guo Jing’s hand they headed for the mast.

Ouyang Feng was inwardly alarmed, “This is not good! If those two leap onto the mast they will be unreachable for a while.” He flew out to block them.

Both of Hong Qigong’s palms made a ferocious chopping motion creating a roaring gust of wind. Ouyang Feng’s fist swept horizontally to parry. Guo Jing stepped forward to help his master, but Hong Qigong called out, “Just go to the mast, quickly!”

“I want to kill his nephew to avenge Big Brother Zhou,” Guo Jing replied. “The snakes…the snakes!” Hong Qigong urgently warned him.

Guo Jing saw vipers slithering all around him, so he did not dare to linger much longer. With the back of his hand he grabbed Ouyang Ke’s ‘Flying Swallow Silver Shuttle’ [fei yan yin suo], then, leaping dozens of feet upwards, his left hand grasped the mast. At that very moment he heard the sound of an incoming projectile, so he shot the ‘yin suo’ from his hand and, with a loud clang, the two projectiles met midair; both changed directions towards the sides of the boat and fell into the sea. Guo Jing moved his hands and feet and in a short time he had reached the middle of the mast.

Ouyang Feng knew Hong Qigong also wanted to go up the mast so he intensified his attacks. Even though Hong Qigong was able to hold his ground he could not move towards the mast.

When Guo Jing saw the snakes crowding around his master’s feet he was very anxious; with a loud shout he wrapped his legs around the mast and hung his body down. Hong Qigong understood his intentions; his left foot kicked the deck, his right foot flew toward Ouyang Feng’s face while extending his dog beating stick towards Guo Jing. Guo Jing grabbed the end of his stick, pulled it upwards, and Hong Qigong’s body flew into the air. With a loud laugh Hong Qigong’s left hand caught the mast above Guo Jing. Now the two were high in the air looking down on their opponents and occupying a superior position.

Ouyang Feng knew that if he tried to climb the mast he would certainly be at a disadvantage, so he called out loudly, “Very well! We lost this time. Turn the rudder to the east!” With an abrupt turn the boat sailed to the east.

From high above the deck Hong Qigong and Guo Jing could see that the snakes were very dense on the deck. Hong Qigong sat comfortably on the sail yardarm while he loudly sang the ‘Falling Lotus Flower’ [lian hua luo], a song beggars sang when begging for food. His face showed calmness, but he was actually very anxious. “How long can we stay on this mast?” he wondered, “Even if the Old Poison doesn’t chop it down we still can’t climb down if he does not call off the snakes. Those two can drink wine and sleep, but all the two of us can do up here is eat wind and urinate. That’s it!” As soon as he remembered urinating, he stood up, pulled his pants down and sprayed his urine onto the snakes. “Jing’er,” he shouted, “Let those scoundrels drink your urine and quench their thirst.”

Guo Jing still enjoyed his childish side; he followed his master’s instructions while shouting happily, “Please! Be my guests!” Both master and disciple sprayed their urine about.

“Get the snakes out of here…quickly!” Ouyang Feng barked while at the same time leaping back several steps. He moved so fast that Hong and Guo Jing’s urine did not touch his body. Ouyang Ke, on the other hand, was startled upon hearing his uncle’s anxious call and some drops of urine splashed on his face and neck. He was a neat and fastidious person, so naturally he was indignant; then he suddenly remembered, “Our snakes fear urine!” Amidst the sounds of the wooden whistle the snakes slowly slithered away, but dozens of them closest to the mast were drenched in urine. These vipers were all hybridized in the snake valley of the Western Region where the White Camel Mountain was; their toxicity was extreme. Ouyang Feng had used big bamboo baskets hung between several hundred pairs of camels to transport these vipers thousands of li to the Central Plains. He intended to use them as weapons to dominate the Wulin world, but the snakes were affected by human excretions. As soon as they were wet they started to squirm around, coiling in confusion and biting each other; the snake herders were unable to control them.

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing laughed long and hard at seeing the chaotic situation they’d caused. Guo Jing thought, “If Big Brother Zhou saw this I am sure he would be very happy. Ay! A major martial arts expert of this age had to die in the sea. Even with their level of martial arts skills, Island Master Huang and the Old Poison were still drenched by his urine; but my master’s and my urine did not even touch the Old Poison.”

About four hours later the sky gradually turned dark. The boat crew prepared banquet tables on the deck; meat and wine flowed freely and the sweet smelling aroma drifted upward assailing Hong Qigong and Guo Jing’s nostrils. Ouyang Feng was very shrewd; how long could a glutton like Hong Qigong endure this kind of torture? The gourd on Hong Qigong’s back was emptied only a short while later.

That night Hong Qigong and Guo Jing took turns on night watch duty. On the deck below them the crew lit dozens of lanterns, while a mass of snakes stayed on guard around the mast. They really did not have a chance of breaking this formidable defense, and they certainly could not urinate continuously.

Hong Qigong cursed Ouyang Feng’s ancestors back eighteen generations, creating every fabricated scandal he could think of while adding some spice to make the scandals even more dramatic; but Ouyang Feng did not even come out of his cabin. Hong Qigong cursed until his jaws were tired and he finally fell asleep.

Early the next morning Ouyang Feng sent a servant to shout loudly under the mast, “Hong Bangzhu, Guo Xiaoye [Clan Leader Hong, Young Master Guo], Master Ouyang has prepared a superb wine and food banquet for you to enjoy; please come down and enjoy it.”

“You go and invite Ouyang Feng to come out and we will serve him our urine!” Hong Qigong shot back.

Not long afterwards the banquet table was readied below the mast. The foods were steaming hot and looked like they were fresh from the kitchen. They placed two chairs on each side of the table; it seemed they were waiting for Hong Qigong and Guo Jing to come down and enjoy their banquet.

Several times Hong Qigong wanted to slide down the mast and gobble down the food, but he knew it must be poisoned; he had no choice but restrain himself. He was so upset and started his ‘your mother is a bitch’ and ‘you are a male dog with a bird’s brain’ series of curses.

By the third day the two were so hungry and thirsty that their heads began to spin. “If only my female disciple was here,” Hong Qigong sighed, “She is so smart that I am sure she would come up with something to counter the Old Poison’s tactics. All we can do is just stare and swallow our own saliva.” Guo Jing also sighed.

About noon that day as the sun shone brightly, Guo Jing suddenly saw two white dots on the horizon. He thought they were a couple of white clouds, but the dots moved much too fast for clouds. They grew closer and got bigger and bigger and uttered loud cries. It was two white eagles. Guo Jing was ecstatic; he curled his left fingers, put them in his mouth, and whistled repeatedly.

The eagles circled above the boat several times before diving down and perched on Guo Jing’s shoulders. They were indeed the pair of eagles Guo Jing had raised on the Mongolian Steppe. “Master, could it be Rong’er is sailing this way?” he asked happily.

“That would be wonderful!” Hong Qigong replied, “Too bad these eagles are too small and can’t carry us away from here. We are stuck here, at loss as to what to do. Quickly tell her to come here and think of something.”

Guo Jing took out his dagger and cut two five inch square pieces from the sail and cut out two characters ‘you nan’ [lit. having trouble] on one and the outline of a gourd on the other piece. Then he strapped those pieces, one on each white eagle’s leg, and said, “Fly back quickly and get Miss Huang to come here.” The white eagles made some chirping sounds, stretched their wings, and flew from Guo Jing’s shoulders. They circled the boat once then flew towards the west.

About an hour after the white eagles left, Ouyang Feng again tried to entice Hong Qigong and Guo Jing into coming down from the mast by preparing another banquet table, loaded with food and wine. Hong Qigong was indignant, “The Old Beggar is a glutton and the Old Poison is using this dirty trick to torture me. I’ve practiced martial arts my whole life, but I have to admit my spiritual strength is rather lacking. Jing’er, what do you say we go down and beat them up real good?”

“The white eagles will have already delivered our message; I believe the situation will change very soon. Please be patient and wait a little bit longer,” Guo Jing replied.

Hong Qigong smiled. A while later he asked, “Among the world’s disgusting aromas, what do you say is the worst?” “I don’t know. What is it?” Guo Jing replied.

“There was one time I wandered way up north. I was caught in a heavy snowstorm for eight days without any food; not even a squirrel could be found. I wanted to eat tree bark, but I couldn’t find any of that either. I randomly dug around in the snow-covered ground and was lucky enough to find five living things, so I could extend my life another day. The next day I found a yellow wolf and that was able to satisfy my hunger.”

“What were those five living things?” Guo Jing asked.

“They were earthworms, fat juicy earthworms. I just swallowed them alive, and did not dare to chew them,” Hong Qigong replied.

When Guo Jing recalled how the slimy earthworms wiggled, he almost threw-up. Hong Qigong laughed heartily. He intentionally talked about the world’s dirtiest and smelliest things to battle the aroma coming from the food and wine below them. He talked some more and cursed some more, before finally saying, “Jing’er, the Old Beggar has eaten earthworms, but there is something even more disgusting than them and the Old Beggar would rather eat my own toes than eat that thing. Do you know what it is?”

Guo Jing smiled, “I know…it’s dung!” he exclaimed.

Hong Qigong shook his head, “No, it is dirtier that that.” He let Guo Jing make some more guesses before bursting out in laughter, “I’ll tell you what it is; the world’s dirtiest and most disgusting thing is the Western Poison Ouyang Feng!”

“Right…that’s right!” Guo Jing also burst out laughing.

After they’d suffered the whole afternoon, that evening Ouyang Ke came out and stood amidst his mass of vipers. He smiled and said, “Uncle Hong, Brother Guo, my uncle wants to borrow the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ just to take a look, nothing else.”

Hong Qigong cursed under his breath, “That son-of-a-bitch….he has such good intentions!” In the midst of his anger an idea suddenly came into his head; but he kept a straight face and shouted loud and clear, “Little Rascal, the old man admits defeat to your dog-like uncle’s evil scheme. Quickly prepare some food and wine and we’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Ouyang Ke was delighted; he knew Hong Qigong’s word was as firm as a mountain and he certainly would live up to his promise. He gave the command to withdraw the snakes immediately. Hong Qigong and Guo Jing slid down the mast and went into the cabin; where Ouyang Ke’s servants delivered all kinds of food and wine. As soon as the door was closed Hong Qigong immediately drank half a pot of wine, ripped apart half a chicken and started to chew.

“Is this food and wine free of poison?” Guo Jing asked with a low voice.

“Stupid kid,” Hong Qigong said, “That bird brain wants you to write out the manual, he won’t harm you just yet. Quickly eat as much as you can; we have things to discuss afterwards.” Guo Jing silently agreed and in one breath he ate four big bowls of rice.

After eating and drinking to his heart’s content Hong Qigong used the end of his sleeve to wipe his greasy mouth, then whispered in Guo Jing’s ear, “The Old Poison wants the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ [jiu yin zhen jing] from you, so you will write a ‘Nine Yin Altered Manual’ [jiu yin jia jing] for him.” [Note: ‘zhen’ means real and ‘jia’ means fake.]

Guo Jing was puzzled, “Nine Yin Altered Manual?” he asked in a low voice.

Hong Qigong smiled, “That’s right!” he said. “In this whole wide world, you are the only one who knows the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. Whatever you want to write, just write. Who is going to say that what you write is not the real manual? You will intentionally alter and mix up the sentences and let him use that to train himself in that martial art. I am sure that if he practices for a hundred years he won’t master even one fart of it!”

Guo Jing was delighted and thought, “This is really a clever trick; the Old Poison will surely fall for it.” But then he remembered something, “Ouyang Feng’s martial arts are profound and he is also crafty and vigilant; if disciple just scribbles some nonsense, he will find out eventually, then what?” he asked.

“You have to write something that appears right but is actually wrong,” Hong Qigong explained, “Write three correct sentences then alter the fourth one. Add or subtract some numbers, for example, if the manual says you need to do it eight times, change it to six or perhaps ten. As smart as he is, he will never find out. I am willing to spend seven days and seven nights without food or wine just to watch him train from the fake manual.” Speaking to this point he could not restrain a smile.

Guo Jing laughed, “If he really practices according to the altered manual, not only will he waste his time and energy, but he could suffer some internal injuries as well,” he said.

“Now quickly think carefully about how you are going to alter the manual; if he once gets suspicious, our plan will be foiled,” Hong Qigong said with a smile; then he added, “The contents of the second volume was read and rewritten by Huang Yaoshi’s wife; moreover, that little rascal read it on Peach Blossom Island and therefore you can’t change that part too much, just add some incorrect words here and there. I am sure the little rascal won’t know the difference.”

Guo Jing silently recited the manual in his head, trying to think which sentences he could alter and where he could insert some misleading sentences. He replaced hold with move, above with below, and other simple alterations that did not require him to recompose a whole sentence; in short, he was following his master’s instructions to make subtle changes everywhere in the manual. For example, he changed the sentence ‘hand and mind toward the sky’ to ‘foot and buttock toward the sky’; or ‘feet firmly on the ground’ into ‘hands lightly moving on the ground’. On the internal energy cultivation he changed ‘concentrate ‘qi’ in the pubic region (dan tian)’ into ‘concentrate ‘qi’ in the chest and throat’.

While thinking about all these changes he could not restrain from heaving a heavy sigh and saying in his heart, “Playing practical jokes like this is Rong’er and Big Brother Zhou’s greatest delight. It’s a pity that one is nowhere near and the other is already dead. Someday I will see Rong’er again, but I will never be able to tell this story to Big Brother Zhou.”

Early the morning on the next day Hong Qigong called Ouyang Ke and proudly told him, “The Old Beggar’s martial arts are already unique; I don’t need to know the kinds of ‘Nine Yin Manual’ arts. As a matter of fact, even if you hold the manual in front of my face I won’t even cast a glance at it. Only some bird brain whose martial arts are useless would be dying to steal all sorts of gold and silver [play of words here: shen jing – divine scripture, shen jin – pure gold, shen yin – pure silver]. Tell your dog-of-an-uncle that the manual will be written just for him. Tell him to shut himself up and train hard; when he’s done, to come to the Old Beggar to test his newfound skills. The Manual is naturally a good thing, but I don’t even want to give it a single glance. I want to see, if with the Manual’s help, he will be able to defeat the Old Beggar. I want to see, if after he has painstakingly practiced the martial arts from the manual, whether he’ll even be equal to [ban jin ba liang] the Old Beggar? I’d say he’s just taking off his pants to fart; it’s totally useless!”

Ouyang Feng was actually standing behind his cabin door, so he heard everything, but he was delighted instead of getting angry. “It’s a very good thing the Old Beggar is so proud that he doesn’t mind letting me have the manual,” he thought, “Otherwise, even if I fought him, threatened him with snakes or poison, or starved him to death, it would still be difficult to force him.”

“Uncle Hong, you are wrong!” Ouyang Ke said, “My Uncle’s martial arts have reached perfection. With Uncle Hong’s ability, you could not gain even half a move advantage; so why would Uncle want to learn the ‘Nine Yin Manual’? My Uncle once told little nephew that he is convinced the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ has enjoyed an undeserved reputation. Otherwise, when Wang Chongyang won the book, why didn’t he learn anything from it and demonstrate it in front of everybody? My Uncle wants to take a look at it to point out the errors and prove that the manual is actually a hoax. Wouldn’t you say that it will benefit the Wulin world tremendously?”

Hong Qigong burst out in laughter, “You are foolishly blowing your horn too hard!” he mocked. “Jing’er, go ahead and write the manual from your memory. If the Old Poison can point out any errors in the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, the Old Beggar will kowtow to him.”

Guo Jing agreed and went out. Ouyang Ke led him to the big cabin where there was a stack of paper, some ink sticks and a brush; he’d even prepared the ink himself and respectfully waited at one side.

Guo Jing’s had not had much schooling and his handwriting was shoddy; he often had to think about the characters he had to write so he worked very slowly. More than once he did not know how to write a certain character, so he had to ask Ouyang Ke to write it for him. Working until noon that day he’d barely finished the first half of the first volume.

Ouyang Feng did not show himself at all, but every time Guo Jing finished writing a page Ouyang Ke would take that page and give it to his uncle. Ouyang Feng looked at them carefully. Some sentences did not make any sense to him, but even though sloppy, the characters were clear. He thought those sentences must have very deep meanings behind them; when he returns to the west he will then slowly digest the manual. He believed that with his intelligence and ability he would eventually understand the manual thoroughly. After a dozen years or so he would master all of the martial arts in the manual. He could not help but feel elated. He knew Guo Jing was dumb, he also noticed Guo Jing’s handwriting was plain and simple, almost child-like. He believed that a person like him would not be able to fabricate a complex manual such as this one. Besides, his nephew had told him that for many characters Guo Jing knew the sounds, but did not know how to write them, so his nephew had to teach him or write the characters himself. This was the real manual without a doubt. How could he know that this dumb kid had conspired with his master to deliberately alter the manual to deceive him? As for the confusing sentences, he blamed that on Guo Jing’s inability to remember the text correctly.

Guo Jing did not stop writing even though the sky had turned dark and he’d finished more than half of the second volume. Ouyang Feng did not allow him to return to his cabin for fear that Hong Qigong would convince him to change his mind and make things difficult for him. Even though he already had most of the manual in his hands, he wanted the complete manual. Therefore he arranged for a sumptuous meal and wine to be brought to Guo Jing and let Guo Jing continue to write without interruption.

Hong Qigong waited until about the end of the eleventh hour or early twelfth hour [about 9 pm] but Guo Jing did not come back. He felt queasy and afraid that Ouyang Feng had discovered their scheme and his dumb disciple might suffer the worst. He snuck out of his cabin and quietly walked towards the main cabin. There were two snake herders standing guard in front of the main cabin. Hong Qigong sent his left palm forward creating a gust of wind making the sail ropes move. The two snake herders heard the noise and looked around while Hong Qigong moved to the right. His movement was so quick that the two did not see a thing; they thought it was a ghost or something. Very soon Hong Qigong was at the starboard side of the main cabin.

Hong Qigong could see a faint glow coming out of the main cabin’s window. He took a peek inside and saw Guo Jing still crouched at the desk, writing. Two white-clothed maidens stood beside him, keeping busy serving tea or lighting incense or replenishing the paper or preparing more ink. Guo Jing was well taken care of. Hong Qigong was relieved. Then his nostrils caught the scent of the wine. He fixed his gaze on it and saw in front of Guo Jing a cup of amber brown aged wine, almost rouge in color; the sweet fragrance assailed his nose mercilessly.

Hong Qigong cursed inside, “The Old Poison is very stingy; because my disciple writes for him he serves him the best wine, but to the Old Beggar he only serves a very average cheap wine.” He was the world’s number one glutton and wine connoisseur; seeing his disciple with this excellent wine, how could he restrain himself from wanting some of it? “The Old Poison must store the good wine in the boat’s hold; I am going to drink to his happiness, then replace the wine with my urine. Let him taste the Old Beggar’s own vintage urine wine. Compared to what the Old Beggar and his disciple went through with the sharks, the Old Poison drinking some urine in his wine won’t be too bad. At least he won’t die because of it.”

Having had this thought he could not help but smile; stealing wine and food was the skill he’s most proud of. He once spent three whole months inside the Imperial Palace in Lin’an; he hid on a beam in the Imperial kitchen and tasted practically every single dish or wine that was to be served to the emperor. The Imperial Palace was heavily guarded, yet he was able to come and go like there were no other people there. Stealing food and wine from a boat’s kitchen certainly would not give him any trouble.

He looked for the stairs that would lead him below and, after making sure nobody was watching, he carefully went down, relying on his nose to find where the food supply was. Even though the hold was pitch black, Hong Qigong’s nose was able to smell food from a mile away. He slowly walked along the wall, lit a torch and saw six or seven wooden barrels piled up in the corner. Hong Qigong was delighted; he extinguished the torch after picking up a broken bowl he found laying around and put it in his pocket. He groped around towards the barrels and tried to lift one. The barrel was very heavy; it could contain anything.

With his left hand he found the plug, while his right hand placed the bowl under it. He was about to pull the plug when his sensitive ears suddenly heard footsteps. It seemed like there were two people walking towards the hold. Their steps were very light, so Hong Qigong knew it was Ouyang Feng and his nephew since nobody else on board had that kind of ability. He thought if those two came to the hold late at night, they must have some evil intentions, like poisoning the food to harm others. He shrank his body and hid curled up among the barrels. He heard the door open quietly, a flame flared, and two people walked in; they stopped right in front of the barrels. Hong Qigong’s heart skipped a beat, “Are they going to poison the wine?” he wondered inside; but what he heard next turned his heart cold.

“Have you placed oil, firewood and sulfur in each cabin?” he heard Ouyang Feng ask.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “Everything is ready; as soon as we start the fire this boat will turn into ashes and the stinky Beggar will be scorched to death instantly.”

“They are going to burn the boat?” Hong Qigong was shocked.

“We must wait a little bit longer,” Ouyang Feng said, “As soon as that kid named Guo falls asleep you go to the life boat; just be really careful not to wake the Old Beggar up. I’ll come here and light the fire.”

“What are we going to do with the maidservants and the snake herders?” Ouyang Ke asked.

“The stinky Beggar is a great master of this age; it’s worthy of his reputation to sacrifice some people to accompany him in death,” Ouyang Feng said coldly.

While they talked their hands were not idle; they unplugged a barrel and the smell of oil reached Hong Qigong’s nose. It turned out the barrels were full of vegetable oil. Ouyang Feng and his nephew also took some sulfur from a stack of wooden boxes, some firewood and sacks of wood shavings from the shelves, then scattered them on the floor.

Not too long afterwards they’d finished their job and turned around to go when Ouyang Ke laughed and said, “Uncle, in less than twelve hours that Guo kid will be buried at sea and the only person who knows the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ will be you.”

“No, there will be two. Won’t I pass it on to you?” Ouyang Feng replied. Ouyang Ke was delighted; he closed the door with the back of his hand.

Hong Qigong was furious and shocked at the same time, he thought, “If there was no ghost or spirit urging me to steal some wine how would I have found out about the two’s treacherous plan? When the boat suddenly caught fire, how would I’ve escaped the disaster?” When he could not hear the footsteps of those two anymore, he carefully snuck out and went back to his own cabin. Guo Jing had already come back and was sleeping soundly on the bed. He was about to wake him and discuss what they were going to do when there was a slight rustling noise outside the door. He knew it must be Ouyang Feng checking to see if they were sound asleep, so he pretended to talk in his sleep, “Good wine! Good wine! I want ten more pots!”

Ouyang Feng was startled, at first thinking the Old Beggar was still awake, drinking wine; but then Hong Qigong called out loudly again, “Old Poison, let us fight for another thousand stances … (giggling) … Good boy! That was awesome!” Standing outside the door Ouyang Feng listened to him speaking nonsense. He was confused for a while, then realized that Hong Qigong was talking in his sleep. “The stinky Beggar’s death is imminent, yet he still drinks and fights in his dreams,” he thought.

As Hong Qigong’s mouth talked nonsense, his ears listened attentively. Ouyang Feng’s lightness kungfu was superb, but Hong Qigong was still able to hear him walking towards the port side of the boat. Hong Qigong put his mouth on Guo Jing’s ear and lightly shook his shoulder, “Jing’er!” he whispered.

“Mmm!” Guo Jing mumbled as he awoke.

“Just follow my lead and don’t ask any questions,” Hong Qigong said urgently, “Get out quietly and make sure nobody’s watching you.”

Guo Jing rolled over and crawled quietly towards the door. Hong Qigong silently opened the door and, tugging Guo Jing’s sleeve, they moved towards the starboard side. He was afraid they would be detected by Ouyang Feng, so instead of jumping he climbed over the rail. With his left hand holding onto the rail his right hand pulled Guo Jing along; both of them hung outside the boat. Guo Jing thought it was strange, but did not dare to make any sounds. Hong Qigong slowly released his hands from the rail and quietly crawled downwards keeping his eyes on Guo Jing fearing that the boat was too slippery for him. Should he fall, he would surely make noise.

The boat was smoothly painted, plus, it was wet and they were going downwards to where the boat sloped towards the water. The boat was moving in waves making the boat rock, so climbing down was not an easy matter. Luckily Guo Jing had been trained by Ma Yu to go up and down the cliff everyday on the Steppe; plus, his skills had been improved tremendously this past year or so. He would stick his fingers in between the wooden planks or grab the head of a nail or find a crack somewhere and slowly but steadily moved down.

Half of Hong Qigong’s body was already in the water. He moved towards the stern with Guo Jing following close behind. His target was the small life boat tied on a rope behind the boat. “Get on that boat!” he told Guo Jing. He loosened his grip and released his body from the big boat.

The big boat was traveling quite fast, so only a second later Hong Qigong grabbed the edge of the small boat. Swinging with his hands his body somersaulted and landed in the small boat without making a sound. After Guo Jing followed his example he quietly said, “Cut the rope.” Guo Jing took out his dagger and a moment later the small boat was floating free on the ocean waves. Hong Qigong pulled the oars to get them some distance from the big boat. A moment later the big boat disappeared into the darkness.

Suddenly flames were seen on the big boat’s stern coming from the torch in Ouyang Feng’s hand. Ouyang Feng could be heard shouting in alarm because the small life boat was nowhere to be seen. He sounded shocked, angry and afraid at the same time. Hong Qigong concentrated his ‘qi’ in the ‘dan tian’ region and let out a long laugh.

Out of nowhere another boat appeared, heading rapidly towards the starboard side of the big boat. Hong Qigong wondered, “Uh, whose boat is that?” Before he finished speaking a pair of white eagles came down from the sky, circling the big boat’s main sail. Someone dressed in white could be seen leaving the incoming boat and leaping towards the big boat. In the bright starlight one could see the glimmer of a golden hair band on her head. “Rong’er!” Guo Jing gasped.

The person leaping onto the big boat was indeed Huang Rong. Just before leaving Peach Blossom Island she saw the little red horse galloping from the forest, she thought, “This little red horse is useless on the sea, but those two eagles would actually be able to help me find Jing ge ge.” So she whistled loudly to call the white eagles to her.

Eagles’ eyes are sharp and they can fly extremely fast. On this boundless sea they unexpectedly found Guo Jing on the big boat. Huang Rong was alarmed, but also pleasantly surprised to find the ‘in danger’ message Guo Jing had tied on the eagles’ leg; she immediately let the eagles soar in the sky and steered the boat to follow them. Eventually her boat caught up with the big boat, but she was a little bit too late, Hong Qigong and Guo Jing had already left the big boat.

Huang Rong had not forgotten the ‘in danger’ message she got earlier and she was afraid she might be too late; as soon as the eagles circled above this boat, she ordered her crew to sail alongside. As soon as the distance was manageable she leaped onto the big boat with a butterfly steel projectile in her hand, only to see Ouyang Ke pacing around nervously, like an ant on a hot pot.

“Where is Guo Jing?” Huang Rong shouted, “What did you do to him?”

Ouyang Feng had lit the fire in the hold and was planning to escape using the small life boat when he suddenly saw the boat was gone. Perspiration ran down his forehead like beads or pearls when he heard Hong Qigong’s loud and long laugh. He silently cursed his own stupidity because instead of harming others he was harming himself; of course he was very anxious. Then Huang Rong suddenly arrived on a boat and he rushed to grab this opportunity, “Quickly seize that boat!” he shouted.

The crew of Huang Rong’s boat was deaf mute servants from the island. As long as Huang Rong was on board, they followed her commands out of fear; as soon as Huang Rong left the boat, they immediately turned the boat around, hoisted the sail and escaped as fast as they could.

Not long after Hong Qigong and Guo Jing saw Huang Rong jump onto the big boat, the fire in the hold was starting to reach the deck. Guo Jing, unaware of what had happened, called out in alarm, “Fire…fire!”

“That’s right,” Hong Qigong said, “The Old Poison set the boat on fire to burn the two of us to death.” Guo Jing had a blank expression on his face as he excitedly said, “We must save Rong’er!”

“Let’s go back to the boat!” Hong Qigong said. With all his might Guo Jing pulled the oars. The big boat had also changed its direction to approach the small life boat. The deck was full of male snake herders and female maidservants running around frantically, shouting for help. Hong Qigong had to raise his voice to be heard, “Rong’er! Jing’er and I are here! Swim over quickly!”

On the sea the mighty waves rolled, the night was dark, so it was a very dangerous time to swim. But Hong Qigong knew Huang Rong’s water skills were excellent and it was also a critical moment, so he was compelled to take this risk.

When Huang Rong heard her master’s voice, she was delighted. No longer paying attention to Ouyang Feng and his nephew she rushed to the boat’s side and jumped into the water below. Suddenly she felt something was holding her back. Huang Rong turned her head in great surprise to see her right wrist in Ouyang Feng’s hand. “Let me go!” she shouted, sending her left fist toward Ouyang Feng’s face; the result was, both of her wrists were in Ouyang Feng’s hands.

Ouyang Feng saw the boat that brought Huang Rong had already far away, too far for them to pursue and the big boat they were on was already ablaze. The main mast was burning and about to fall and things on deck were extremely chaotic; the boat would sink at any minute. His only hope now was the small life boat in Hong Qigong’s control; so he shouted loudly, “Stinky Beggar! Miss Huang is in my hands; do you see her?” He lifted Huang Rong high in the air.

By that time the sea was lit bright red from the fire on the boat. Hong Qigong and Guo Jing could see her clearly. Hong Qigong was very indignant, “Again he uses a dirty trick to get this boat. Humph! I am going to get Rong’er back.” Guo Jing saw the boat was nearly burnt to the rails, “I am coming too!” he said.

“No! You stay and guard this boat; don’t let the Old Poison take it away,” Hong Qigong said.

“All right!” Guo Jing said and exerted his strength pulling the oars. By that time the big boat was motionless on the sea’s surface, so with several pulls they had come close to the big boat.

Hong Qigong kicked the small boat and his body flew toward the big boat. Stretching his left hand he grabbed the boat’s rail with his strong fingers and then catapulted his body upward and somersaulted to the deck.

Ouyang Feng was still holding Huang Rong’s wrists; “Stinky Beggar, what do you want?” he said, smiling ferociously.

Hong Qigong cursed him silently, “Come…let us fight another one thousand stances.” ‘Swish…swish…swish!’ He sent three palm attacks towards Ouyang Feng’s face. Ouyang Feng was shrewd; he pushed Huang Rong’s body forward as a shield, forcing Hong Qigong to retract his attack. Ouyang Feng had sealed Huang Rong’s acupoints, so she was paralyzed.

Hong Qigong shouted loudly, “Old Poison, you are shameless! Quickly unseal her and let her go; you and I will fight here to decide victory or defeat.”

How could Ouyang Feng release his prisoner so easily? Then he noticed his nephew was continuously being pushed backwards by the fire; he threw Huang Rong towards him and called out, “Go to the small boat!”

Ouyang Ke caught Huang Rong and looked downward to see Guo Jing waiting in the small boat below. He thought the small boat was too small. If he jumped down carrying someone, he might cause the boat to turn over, so he found a thick rope. After tying it to a mast he used his right hand to slide down onto the small boat while holding Huang Rong with his left.

Guo Jing was relieved to see Huang Rong on the small boat but he did not know that Huang Rong’s acupoints were sealed. His attention was focused on his master and Ouyang Feng fighting a fierce battle on the blazing deck. He was so worried about his master’s safety that his gaze was fixed on the fight and he forgot to speak to Huang Rong.

Both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng demonstrated their excellence in martial arts while leaping around to avoid falling wood and ropes. They attacked and counterattacked each other. Hong Qigong had a slight advantage in that his body was still wet from swimming to the small boat earlier, while Ouyang Feng’s clothes and hair had caught fire here and there.

The two’s martial arts were at par to begin with and a slight advantage was enough for Hong Qigong to gain the upper hand. Ouyang Feng was forced to step back bit by bit until his back was very close to the cabin and his clothes and beard started to catch fire. He wanted to jump into the sea, but Hong Qigong did not give him any slack. If he tried to jump and thus diverted his attention from the fight, he might be seriously injured or even worse, killed. Ouyang Feng became very anxious and it seemed like defeat was imminent.

Hong Qigong also realized that he would certainly win this time and that boosted his confidence. But then another thought came into his mind, “If I forced him to enter the fire and die, that won’t do my plan any good. He has obtained the ‘Nine Yin Altered Manual’ from Jing’er and he won’t die satisfied until he practices that manual. Why don’t I let him off this time?” Thereupon he laughed and said, “Old Poison, I let you off this time, quickly jump into the boat.”

Ouyang Feng looked at him strangely, then turning his body he jumped into the sea. Hong Qigong was about to follow when Ouyang Feng suddenly flew back up. “Hold on! Now that my body is also wet, we are on level ground. Let us fight again to decide victory or defeat.” Holding onto the boat’s rail he swung his body up and landed on the deck.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Hong Qigong said, “I’m having a very satisfying fight today!” He sent his fist forward, and the two engaged in a fierce battle one more time.

“Rong’er, do you see how fierce the Old Poison is?” Guo Jing asked. Huang Rong’s acupoint was still sealed, so of course she was not able to answer. “Do you think I should go up there and help Master? The boat is about to sink,” Guo Jing said. There still was no answer from Huang Rong. Guo Jing turned his head to see Ouyang Ke hugging Huang Rong; he became angry and shouted, “Take your hands off her!”

After great difficulty Ouyang Ke was finally able to touch Huang Rong’s hands; how could he let go that easily? Smiling he said, “If you move, I am going to bash her brains out with my palm.”

Guo Jing did not even think; he swept the oar in his hand horizontally. Ouyang Ke ducked to avoid this attack, but Guo Jing sent his palm with a whistling sound toward his head. Ouyang Ke was forced to let Huang Rong go and swung his head backwards to avoid this attack. Guo Jing’s fists moved simultaneously, one downward, the other upward, both aimed at Ouyang Ke’s head.

Ouyang Ke realized this small boat was not the best place to fight while his enemy attacked fiercely. He stood up and sent a stance from his ‘Spirit Snake Fist technique’ [ling she quan], his hand swept horizontally. Guo Jing extended his left arm to parry, but suddenly Ouyang Ke’s fist curved upward turning into a palm that slapped Guo Jing hard on his cheek.

This blow was very hard and Guo Jing’s head was spinning because of it; but he realized the danger and he opened his eyes to see the second attack coming. Ouyang Ke’s movement resembled a wine gourd with two bends. Guo Jing avoided this attack by throwing his head backwards while sending his right arm forward to counterattack. Because his head was moving backwards, his attack was not effective. Luckily he had learned the ‘Mutual Hands Combat technique’ from Zhou Botong, so both his left and right hands could move independently of each other. This time his left hand followed his right with a different stance heading at his opponent. Because Ouyang Ke’s hand was still coming towards Guo Jing, Guo Jing’s arms surrounded his hand. Ouyang Ke's right arm happened to get caught in between Guo Jing's hands and as the left hand was pulling inwards and the right was pushing outwards. With a crack one of Ouyang Ke’s arm bones was broken.

Actually Ouyang Ke’s martial arts skill was not much below those of Ma Yu, Wang Chuyi or Sha Tongtian. No matter which technique he used, he should be able to defeat Guo Jing in a fair battle. Because Guo Jing’s techniques were more bizarre than any other techniques he had seen before, he suffered under Guo Jing’s hands twice. Ouyang Ke fell onto the small boat’s deck.

Guo Jing did not pursue his attack on his opponent; instead he quickly took Huang Rong’s yielding body and unsealed her acupoint. Luckily for him that when Ouyang Feng sealed her acupoint, he did not use too much energy; he was trying to conserve his energy because he’d anticipated Hong Qigong’s attack. Guo Jing would not have been able to unseal the Western Poison’s acupoint sealing otherwise.

Huang Rong came to her senses, “Quickly help Shifu!” she called out.

Guo Jing lifted his head to see his master and Ouyang Feng engaged in close hand-to-hand combat and looked like they were dancing in the midst of the blazing fire. The sound of the winds generated by their movements was intermingled with the sounds of cracking and debris falling over them. Suddenly a loud crack was heard as the boat’s back broke; the stern slowly sank into the sea and vanished in the dark water. The bow was lighter, but slowly sank as well. Guo Jing took his oar and started paddling to get the small boat closer with the intention of helping his master.

Hong Qigong’s feet hit the water first. His clothes had been dried out by the fire, while Ouyang Feng’s were still wet from jumping into the sea earlier. This time the Western Poison had gained the upper hand over the Northern Beggar. Hong Qigong did not want to surrender so easily, so he fought with all his might. At that moment the main mast broke and fell. The two hurriedly jumped backwards so they were separated by the burning mast.

Ouyang Feng fetched his snake staff and jumped over the burning mast. Hong Qigong immediately drew the bamboo stick from his waist and fended off the attack. They had been fighting ferociously barehanded before, so imagine how fierce the battle had become now that both were wielding weapons.

Guo Jing held the oar in his hands, ready to jump on board. He was very concerned about his master’s safety, yet watching the two’s wonderful weapon techniques he was carried away, clucking his tongue and praising them unceasingly.

There is a saying among martial arts practitioners, “A hundred days to master a saber, a thousand days to master a spear, ten thousand days to master a sword,” indicating that sword techniques were the most difficult to learn. However, when martial artists reached perfection, each would develop his/her own unique skill and the difference between various weapons would become minuscule. Twenty years ago during the Sword Meet of Mount Hua both Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng already admired each other’s martial arts very much. Even using swords it was very difficult for one to defeat the other. Now neither used the sword any longer.

Hong Qigong wielded a bamboo stick which he carried anywhere he went as the symbol of authority of his position as the Beggar Clan Leader. The bamboo was pliable but hard to break. Compared to a sword it was about one foot longer. His skill in external martial arts was superb; he was able to impart an incredible amount of strength to the flexible weapon in his hands, increasing its might tremendously.

Ouyang Feng’s snake staff was also unique in that he’d combined the cudgel, stick, and spear techniques; the movements were complicated. The staff’s head was carved in the form of a human head; its mouth grinned ferociously, looking very scary. The two rows of sharp teeth inside its mouth were covered with poison. The head danced around like a ghost ready to strike its victim. On top of that, there was a hidden button on the staff that, when pressed, would shoot some poison towards the enemy. If that wasn’t enough, fiercer still were the two snakes wrapped around the staff. They were alive and able to make unpredictable moves and were very difficult to guard against.

The two exchanged palms and weapons, displaying their respective unique skills. Ouyang Feng had a slight advantage in terms of weaponry, but Hong Qigong was the leader of beggars everywhere and beggars were experts in catching snakes. His bamboo stick danced amidst the snake staff movements and parried every move that came his way. He also took advantage of any opening in his opponent’s offense and struck at the snake staff’s vital point. Ouyang Feng moved his staff very quickly, making it difficult for his opponent to take accurate aim; he knew Hong Qigong meant to kill the snakes on his staff. He did not activate the secret button on his staff for fear that his reputation would be ruined.

Hong Qigong still had a unique skill set belonging to the Beggar Clan, namely the ‘Dog Beating Stick technique’ [da gou bang], its changes were subtle yet marvelous. It was a very sophisticated stick technique. However, Hong Qigong did not want to use this special skill unless except in an emergency situation. He was planning on using it at the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua the following year and he did not want to let this would-be-contender to have the advantage of watching his moves beforehand.

Guo Jing stood on the bow of the small boat and several times wanted to jump on board to help his master; but the two combatants were fighting closely. He realized his own skill was too far below theirs and it would be very difficult to even get close to them. All he could do was stare blankly, unable to do anything.

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