The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 21-25

Chapter 21 – The Thousand-catty Rock

Ouyang Feng felt his surroundings becoming hotter and the deck of the boat was shaking violently; he knew the boat would sink any moment. But Hong Qigong was attacking more furiously and did not slacken his pace; if he did not use his special skills now, he might not get out of this contest alive. He pulled back his Snake Rod with his right hand and kicked out viciously with his right leg.

Hong Qigong used his bamboo rod to chase the Snake Rod while using his left hand to block the incoming kick. Ouyang Feng suddenly twisted his arms and punched towards Hong Qigong’s ‘Right Sun’ Acupoint. This ‘Spirit Snake Fist’ was developed by Ouyang Feng’s own harsh training and was meant for use during the second Mount Hua Tournament. He had not yet used this snake-like boxing skill even after exchanging a thousand strokes with Hong Qigong on Peach Blossom Island.

A snake seems to be boneless and can turn in all directions at will, so the main point of this boxing skill is to be able to twist the arms unpredictably, so that when the opponent blocks the fists, the attacker would be able to throw a punch from an unexpected angle at close proximity. Of course to expect the arms to move exactly like a snake would be unreasonable but to the eyes of the opponent, the movements of the arms greatly resemble the movements of snakes.

With Ouyang Feng executing such a strange move at this critical moment, Hong Qigong should have found it hard to counter, and even if he wasn’t injured, he would still be in danger. However Ouyang Ke had already used the move against Guo Jing, and although he won, he actually gave Hong Qigong a chance to spot a flaw in the move.

That day he did not attend the feast with Li Sheng and the group of beggars but instead thought deeply on how to counter the move. Now that Ouyang Feng finally used this move, he inwardly rejoiced; he extended his fingers to form a claw and caught hold of his fist. His response was perfect and he managed to swiftly and accurately counter this special move of the ‘Spirit Snake Fist’.

It looked like it happened by chance, but in reality Hong Qigong had pondered over it for many days and nights and followed it with long hours of practice which finally allowed him to deal with the entire ‘Spirit Snake Fist’ move. Although it had not been perfected yet, it had the element of surprise and managed to catch Ouyang Feng off guard.

Ouyang Feng had expected Hong Qigong to be greatly surprised and be rendered helpless, allowing him to seize the opportunity and move in for the kill. Unexpectedly it was he who ended up surprised and forced to retreat several steps. Suddenly a mass of fire descended upon him, immediately covering his body. Hong Qigong was also startled; he leapt back and saw that it was actually a large sail which had caught fire and fallen.

Normally with Ouyang Feng’s level of martial arts, even had that sail fallen several times faster, it would not have hit him. But he had just seen the ‘Spirit Snake Fist’, which he painstakingly created over many years, unexpectedly and casually neutralized; he was stunned and he did not even attempt to evade the burning sail. The sail, along with the mast, weighed several hundred jin and Ouyang Feng was not able to lift the sail even after jumping twice. Although he was in great danger, he was still calm; he tried to raise the Snake Rod to lift the sail, but the Snake Rod was pinned under the mast and could not be lifted. In his heart he sighed, "Forget it! I’ll return to heaven today!" Suddenly he felt the weight lifting and his head was no longer covered by the sail. He saw that Hong Qigong had raised the anchor, hooked it onto the sail and pulled the sail away. Hong Qigong did not want to see him being burned alive so he went to save him.

By now Ouyang Feng’s clothes and brows were on fire and he immediately rolled on the deck of the boat frantically attempting to put out the fire. Unfortunately bad things do not come singly and the boat suddenly lurched to one side, causing a huge chain to sweep right into him.

Hong Qigong shouted, “Ah!” and dashed forward to grab the chain. The chain had been heated by the fire and caused a sizzling sound when it came into contact with his hand, burning his palm. He quickly let it go as he threw it into the sea. He was just about to jump from the boat when he felt a slight numbness in his back. He stopped for a second and a thought flashed through his mind, “I saved West Poison’s life, can it be possible that he’s using his snake to poison me?” He turned around and saw that it was indeed a snake and it had fresh blood in its mouth. Enraged, he threw two palms towards Ouyang Feng. Ouyang Feng casually stepped aside and Hong Qigong’s palms hit a mast, splitting it in two.

Ouyang Feng was happy that his sneak attack worked but when he saw Hong Qigong lashing out crazily he became more serious and did not dare take the blows head-on, avoiding them instead. Guo Jing shouted, “Master! Climb aboard the small boat.” Hong Qigong suddenly felt dizzy and staggered.

Ouyang Feng charged forward and struck out with his palms which landed on Hong Qigong’s back. Ouyang Feng’s lethal snake poison was unmatched, but fortunately he already used up most of the poison when he made the bet with Zhou Botong days ago, so today the poison was not as lethal. When Hong Qigong was bitten, he was not severely poisoned and because of his high internal energy, the poison took some time to take effect. When he was hit by Ouyang Feng he was in a daze and he did not circulate his qi to protect himself. The blow caused him to throw up blood and collapse.

Since Hong Qigong was very highly-skilled, Ouyang Feng knew that this blow would not kill him; when he recovered some time later, Ouyang Feng would be in trouble. He jumped over and raised his foot to strike his chest. Guo Jing had just climbed aboard from the small boat and saw that the situation was very urgent and he might not be able to save Hong Qigong in time. So he struck out with both palms using the ‘Twin Dragons Fetch Water’ stance to attack Ouyang Feng’s waist.

Although Ouyang Feng knew his martial arts were not weak, he did not think very highly of him and used his left hand to block the strike while his right foot slammed down. Guo Jing was shocked and did not care about his own safety; he jumped forward to clutch Ouyang Feng’s head. By doing this he left his acupoints exposed and his side was swept at by Ouyang Feng.

Although this counterattack was not very forceful, every one of his strikes was enough to kill his opponent. If not for Guo Jing’s good internal strength, he would have suffered serious injuries. He felt a sharp pain followed by numbness in half his body, but he continued to cling tenaciously to Ouyang Feng’s head.

Ouyang Feng assumed that with his vicious strike, his opponent would retreat, but he did not expect the dumb kid to use a move that could get both of them injured. He had to retract the foot which was halfway to Hong Qigong in order to twist his body around to attack Guo Jing. In such close proximity, he could not execute any of his refined ‘Snake’ moves.

Whenever highly-skilled martial artists fight, they will not allow their opponent to get close to them even if they were targeting acupoints. There was hardly any close-contact grappling involved. When it came to advanced martial arts, there were no moves for scuffling.

Ouyang Feng felt his throat being gripped forcefully by Guo Jing and he struck out backwards, but Guo Jing managed to avoid the blows. It was becoming harder for him to breathe and he felt the grip was becoming tighter, so he jabbed his elbow backwards. Guo Jing evaded to the right and had to let go with his left hand, but at the same time used his legs to execute a Mongolian wrestling technique while his left hand slipped past Ouyang Feng’s shoulder.

He slammed down forcefully on Ouyang Feng’s back, causing Ouyang Feng to suffer intense pain even with his high level martial arts. This technique was called the ‘Camel’s Pull’, and it was so effective that only a wrestling expert could deal with it. Ouyang Feng did not know wrestling, so he suffered the full extent of the strike.

Guo Jing was happy and his right hand released its grip and slipped upwards behind Ouyang Feng’s back. With a loud yell he pressed both palms down. In Mongolian wrestling this move was called the ‘Mountain Breaking Move’ and was used when the opponent had fallen, so that no matter how strong his shoulders were or how good his wrestling techniques were, there would be nothing much he could do as his shoulder would break if he tried to move.

However Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were much better than the Mongolian wrestlers, so even with such a disadvantage he still managed to think of a way to turn defeat into victory. When Guo Jing’s hands came down, he used his qinggong [lightness kungfu] to duck aside and rolled away under Guo Jing’s waist.

With his status as a highly skilled martial arts master, rolling under a junior’s waist was a great disgrace, but that did not bother him. He broke free from the ‘Mountain Breaking Move’ and immediately threw his fists at Guo Jing’s back to counterattack. He did not expect that before his fists reached Guo Jing, his left leg was immobilized. Guo Jing knew he was no match for his opponent, but in a close-combat situation and with his wrestling background, coupled with the fact that he had no regard for his own safety, Ouyang Feng could not get closer to his master to injure him further. At this point the fire became fiercer and the planks twisted, causing them to lose their balance, fall and their clothes to catch fire.

Huang Rong was worried sick and anxious as she saw Hong Qigong’s motionless body slumped at the side of the boat; she could not tell if he was dead or alive. Meanwhile Guo Jing and Ouyang Feng were still rolling and struggling without showing any signs of stopping. Their clothes were on fire and the situation was getting dangerous, so she lifted the oar and swung it at Ouyang Ke’s head. Although his right arm was broken, his martial arts were still good enough for him to evade the oar and stretch out his left hand to grab Huang Rong’s bracelet. Huang Rong stomped her feet fiercely and the small boat almost capsized. Ouyang Ke could not swim and he was about to fall overboard, so he had to let go of Huang Rong. When the boat stabilized, Huang Rong took the opportunity to jump into the sea.

She swam quickly towards the big boat. The boat was already half submerged and the deck was almost touching the water’s surface. Huang Rong climbed aboard to help Guo Jing and took out the ‘Emei Sting’ from her waist. [The Emei Sting is a spike-like weapon which is pointed on each end and has a finger-ring in the middle] Guo Jing and Ouyang Feng were locked in a bundle and rolling about. Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were better and he managed to pin Guo Jing beneath him, but Guo Jing tenaciously held on to his shoulders, preventing him from counterattacking. Huang Rong fought through the smoke, went up to Ouyang Feng, and pierced his back with the spike.

Ouyang Feng was struggling madly with Guo Jing, but when he felt the prick, he was surprised and twisted around forcefully, causing Guo Jing to land on top. Huang Rong now wanted to poke Ouyang Feng’s head with the spike, but Ouyang Feng’s agility allowed him to evade her attacks and she ended up jabbing the spike into the deck.

A gust of wind blew some thick black smoke her way causing her eyes to burn. Just as she was about to rub her eyes she suddenly felt a pain in her leg and fell. Ouyang Feng had kicked her. Huang Rong rolled over and jumped up, but her hair caught fire. She was about to attack him again when Guo Jing shouted, “Save Master first!” Huang Rong silently agreed and ran towards Hong Qigong, grabbed him and jumped into the sea, extinguishing the flames on her body.

Huang Rong placed Hong Qigong on her back, kicked her legs in the water, and swam to the small boat. Ouyang Ke stood at the side of the boat and raised the oar high, shouting, “Put the old beggar down; I’ll only let you alone board!” Huang Rong said, “Fine! Let’s meet in the water!” She shook the boat violently. The boat rocked and seemed about to capsize. Ouyang Ke became frantic and gripped the side of the boat tightly, saying, “Don’t… don’t shake it, the boat is going to overturn!”

Huang Rong laughed as she said, “Pull my master up quickly. And watch out…if you try any tricks, I’ll dump you in the water for six hours.” Ouyang Ke had no choice but to comply and took hold of Hong Qigong, pulling him onboard.

Huang Rong smiled and praised him, “Since I first met you, this is the first good deed you’ve done.” Ouyang Ke’s heart stirred and he wanted to speak, but could not open his mouth. Huang Rong was about to swim back to the large boat to help out in the fight when she suddenly heard a thunderous rumble – a huge wall of water loomed over her head.

She was shocked and quickly held her breath, waiting for the water to hit the boat, but when she looked again her jaw dropped. A whirlpool had formed on the surface of the sea and the burning boat had disappeared together with Guo Jing and Ouyang Feng.

At this moment, her mind went completely blank and she could not feel or think of anything. She’d become completely lost, not knowing where she was. Suddenly, salty water filled her mouth and she found herself sinking. She jerked and her senses awoke as she swam upwards. When she broke the surface, all she could see in any direction was the small boat; everything else had disappeared under the waves. Huang Rong dived under the water again and struggled to go deeper. Her swimming skills were fantastic and her strokes were powerful, but she could only swim along with the current. She covered the entire area searching for Guo Jing but he had disappeared without a trace. Even Ouyang Feng could not be found – it seemed they had gone down with the boat.

After some time, she was completely exhausted, but she refused to give up, and swam about wildly. She could only hope Heaven would be merciful and let her bump into Guo Jing, but she was surrounded by mountainous waves and there was no trace of him. She had been swimming for over an hour now and could not continue any longer, so she headed towards the small boat, intending to rest for a while before resuming the search.

Ouyang Ke pulled her up. He knew that his uncle was missing and was equally anxious, asking, “Have you seen my uncle?” Huang Rong was too exhausted and she suddenly saw everything go black as she fainted. After some time she slowly regained consciousness but felt like her body was afloat, as though she was floating among the clouds while the sounds of the winds and waves beat against her ears. She sat upright and realized that the boat was just following the currents.

By now they did not know how far they were from the sunken boat and Guo Jing could not be found. Huang Rong felt great sadness and fainted again. Ouyang Ke could only grip the sides of the small boat tightly as he feared that the next wave would send him tumbling out of the boat into the water.

After another hour, Huang Rong awoke again and thought that since her Jing ge ge was at the bottom of the sea, it was meaningless for her to live on. When she saw Ouyang Ke’s twitching eyes and his pale lips, she felt disgusted and thought, “How can I possibly die together with this beast?” She stood up and snapped, “Jump overboard!” Ouyang Ke was shocked and exclaimed, “What?” Huang Rong said, “You’re not jumping? Let me capsize the boat then we shall speak again.”

She jumped towards the right, causing a reaction which resulted in the boat springing to the left. She then jumped towards the left, and the boat rocked even more violently. When she heard Ouyang Ke’s frantic shouting, her sadness became joy and she jumped again.

Ouyang Ke knew that if she jumped a few more times, the boat would definitely capsize. When he saw her jump again, he quickly jumped to the other side. They landed exactly at the same time and their forces cancelled out, causing the boat to momentarily dip deeper into the water.

Huang Rong repeated this trick twice, but he managed to stop her. Huang Rong said, “Good! I’ll make a hole in the boat and see what you can do then.” She took out the steel spike and jumped to the middle of the boat, but then she saw Hong Qigong lying motionless in the bottom of the boat. She realized that she had completely forgotten about her master as she yearned for Guo Jing. She hurriedly bent down to place a finger by his nose and she felt his faint breathing. She was relieved and supported Hong Qigong in her arms. His eyes were tightly closed, his face was white as sheet, and his pulse was weak. Huang Rong became worried about her master and no longer worried about Ouyang Ke, so she loosened his shirt to check his injury.

Suddenly the boat trembled violently and Ouyang Ke shouted excitedly, “Land ahead…land ahead!” Huang Rong lifted her head and saw a dense cluster of trees in the distance. The boat had now stopped moving since it was grounded on a reef. They were still some distance from shore but they could see the sea bed; the depth was only waist-high. Ouyang Ke jumped into the water and ran a few steps forward before turning back to look at Huang Rong, then he headed back. Huang Rong saw that Hong Qigong’s shoulder had a black handprint which seemed to be quite deep and she could not help but think, “How could Western Poison’s palm strike be so powerful?”

Then she noticed two fine teeth marks on his shoulder. If she had not looked carefully, she would have missed them. She pressed them lightly with her fingers and suddenly felt a sharp pain in her hand, so she hastily withdrew them and asked, “Master! How are you now?” Hong Qigong moaned but did not answer her. Huang Rong said to Ouyang Ke, “Give me the medicine.”

Ouyang Ke threw up his hands impatiently and said, “The antidote is with my uncle.” Huang Rong said, “I don’t believe it.” Ouyang Ke said, “Search me.” He undid his outer gown and emptied his stuff onto his hand. Huang Rong saw that there was indeed no medicine and said, “Help me get Master ashore!”

Each took one of Hong Qigong’s arms and placed it over their shoulders. Huang Rong held Ouyang Ke’s hand, allowing Hong Qigong to sit on their forearms. Then they proceeded to the shore. Huang Rong felt her master shivering continuously and was extremely worried. Ouyang Ke, on the other hand, was rather pleased since he was only aware of the warm and smooth hand holding his, something he could only dream of before. Unfortunately for him, it was not long before they reached the shore.

Huang Rong crouched and lowered Hong Qigong to the ground and said, “Quick, get the boat ashore, don’t let the tide sweep it out to sea.” Ouyang Ke released her hand and stared blankly, only vaguely hearing Huang Rong’s voice but not paying attention to what she was saying. Luckily Huang Rong did not know what he was thinking and stared at him while repeating what she’d said. Ouyang Ke then dragged the boat ashore and saw that Huang Rong had rolled Hong Qigong over, letting him lie on the grass so that she could give him first aid. Then he thought, “Where on Earth are we?” He ran up a small hill, looked around, and could not help but be surprised and extremely pleased. In every direction was the vast sea; they were on a remote island. The island was filled with lush greenery but there were no signs of human life. He was surprised that there were no signs of food or accommodation; how would they survive? On the other hand, he was pleased because it seemed as though he was fated to be on this deserted island with that angel-like beauty. With the old beggar seriously injured, he would not bother them. He thought, “With her here, this god-forsaken island is like a paradise; even if I die, I will die happy.”

When he thought of this he unconsciously spread his arms, but suddenly felt a sharp pain in his right arm which reminded him that it was broken. He broke off two branches, tore a strip of cloth and tied his arm to the makeshift splint. Huang Rong was at that time trying to suck out the poison from her master’s back. She did not know how else she could help him so she let him lie down on a rock in a cave and shouted to Ouyang Ke, “Go look around and see if there’s an inn around here.”

Ouyang Ke laughed, “This is an island and there’s absolutely no inn here. Let’s see if we’re lucky enough to find anyone else here.” Huang Rong was slightly shocked and said, “You do that.” When Ouyang Ke heard her instructions he was very excited and utilized his qinggong running to the east; but all he saw were more trees and no traces of human beings. Along the way he killed two wild hares and then headed north before making his way back in a loop. He told Huang Rong, “It’s a deserted island.”

That night Huang Rong did not dare sleep for fear of Ouyang Ke attacking them and also because of her anxiety for Hong Qigong. It was only at dawn the following morning that she caught a few hours of sleep. In her sleep she dreamed that Hong Qigong called her several times and she was jolted awake and asked, “Master, how are you?” Hong Qigong pointed at his mouth and moved his jaws. Huang Rong laughed and took some of the unfinished rabbit meat from the previous night and fed him.

Once he’d consumed the meat, he felt the Qi stirring within him and he sat upright in order to breathe properly. Huang Rong did not dare utter a word and only scrutinized his expression. But she watched the reddish tint of his face turn pale, then red again. This cycle repeated several times and soon his head was emitting a steamy mist and sweat fell like rain as his body shivered violently. Suddenly there was the flicker of a shadow… Ouyang Ke was trying to come into the cave.

Huang Rong knew that her master was attempting to treat his own injuries, which was a life-and-death situation; if he forced his way in and distracted her master, nothing would save him. She softly snapped, “Get out now!” Ouyang Ke laughed, “Let’s discuss how we can survive on this deserted island. The days will get longer from now on, you know!” Hong Qigong blinked and asked, “Is this really a deserted island?” Huang Rong said, “Master, please concentrate, ignore him.” She turned to Ouyang Ke and said, “Come, let’s talk outside.” Ouyang Ke was elated and followed her out of the cave.

The weather was good this day, but Huang Rong only saw the edge of the vast sea meeting the sky; apart from a few clouds, there was nothing else. She walked to their landing site and was shocked, and asked, “Where’s the boat?” Ouyang Ke said, “Huh, where is it? It must have been swept away by the currents! Ah, damn it!”

Huang Rong saw his expression and deduced that it was he who pushed the boat out to sea so that she could not get away from here. She felt that this was absolutely despicable. Since Guo Jing’s apparent death, she had no intention of living. Besides, the small boat would not be able to make it through the fierce waves which made the situation bleak. In any case she would not be able to get her master to safety. She stared at Ouyang Ke without showing any change in expression. In her heart she was actually thinking of how she could kill him and save her master at the same time. Huang Rong jumped onto a large rock and looked into the distance. Ouyang Ke thought, “If I don’t use this chance to get close to her, then when can I?” He also leapt up on the rock and waited for her to sit down. After some time, when she did not appear angry and did not shift her position, he moved closer and said, “Little sister, the two of us can live here until we’re old and live like the deities. I must have done something wonderful in my past life to deserve this!” Huang Rong laughed and said, “This island only has the three of us, including Master, wouldn’t we be lonely?” Ouyang Ke thought her tone sounded harmless and was ecstatic, saying, “With me by your side, why would it be lonely? Moreover, when we have children in the future, it will be even less so.” Huang Rong laughed, “Who will have the children? I won’t.” Ouyang Ke laughed, “I’ll help you.” After saying that, he reached out his hand to take hold of hers. Then he felt warmth in his palm and realized that Huang Rong already held his hand. Ouyang Ke’s heart beat madly.

Huang Rong slowly moved her hand up his arm, then said in a low voice, “Sister Mu Nianci’s chastity was destroyed by you, was it not?” Ouyang Ke laughed as he said, “That girl did not want to submit to me. What kind of man would I be to force her?” Huang Rong said, “So, it must be others who slander her. Her lover had a big quarrel with her because of it.” Ouyang Ke said, “Her reputation suffered because of that, what a pity!”

Huang Rong suddenly pointed to the sea and shouted, “Ah, what is that!” Ouyang Ke looked in that direction and was about to ask where when he suddenly felt his wrist stiffen in her firm grip and his body went numb and he could not move. Huang Rong drew her spike and thrust it towards his abdomen. The distance between them was extremely small and Ouyang Ke was in a state of confusion, coupled with the fact that his arm was immobilized, how could he block it? But all of his training under expert guidance at White Camel Mountain had not been wasted; he suddenly twisted his body and in a split second used his chest to thrust towards Huang Rong’s back. Huang Rong evaded him and jumped off the rock, causing the spike to gash his leg and resulting in a deep wound that was almost a foot long.

Ouyang Ke jumped off too and saw her spike. He stood there and grinned, but then he felt terrible pain. He bent over and saw his gown stained with blood and realized that although he barely escaped with his life, he was severely injured. Huang Rong said, “We were talking nicely, so why did you try to bump into me for no reason? I can’t be bothered with you now.” Then she turned and left. Ouyang Ke was filled with love and hatred, shock and joy, as he stood there in silence. As Huang Rong walked back to the cave she blamed her poor skills for wasting such a good opportunity and letting him escape. When she went inside she saw Hong Qigong asleep and a pool of black blood on the cave floor. Startled, she asked, “Master, how are you? Are you better?” Hong Qigong said, “I want wine.” Huang Rong was distressed because she did not know where to find wine on this deserted island. Yet she agreed and said, “I’ll try to get some. Master, your injury isn’t serious, right?” Tears fell as she said that.

Despite having gone through so much, she had not cried. Now that the tears had started she could not control herself, so she buried her head on Hong Qigong’s chest and cried her heart out. Hong Qigong stroked her hair and patted her back, trying to console her. The old beggar had roamed Jianghu for many decades but had never had to deal with a crying girl before; he did not know what to do. He could only say, “Good girl, don’t cry, Master’s here for you. Please don’t cry. I don’t want the wine anymore.”

Huang Rong stopped crying after a while and lifted her head. When she saw that Hong Qigong’s clothes were wet with her tears, she smiled and said, “I didn’t manage to kill that evil jerk, what a pity!” She then told the whole story to him. Hong Qigong was silent for a moment before saying, “Master is useless now and that ‘jerk’ is better than you in martial arts. For now you can only pit your wits against him.” Huang Rong said, “Master, after resting a few days, you’ll recover and take his useless life with one palm, won’t that settle it?”

Hong Qigong regretfully said, “I’ve been poisoned by the poisonous snake as well as Western Poison’s deadly palm. I’ve already used all of my martial abilities to purge the poison but there is some left within me. Even if I survive, my martial arts will be affected. Your master is just another old man without any powerful skills.” Huang Rong quickly said, “No, no, Master, you aren’t, you aren’t!” Hong Qigong said, “I, the old beggar, have never taken things seriously, but now it has come to this and I can’t deny it.”

He paused, and then gravely said, “Child, Master has no choice but to request a huge favour from you… it’s extremely difficult to accomplish… will you accept?” Huang Rong quickly said, “Yes, yes! Master, tell me.” He sighed, and then said, “Our time together as master and disciple has not been long and I didn’t get to teach you very much martial arts. Now that you’re facing a strong opponent, I have no choice but to thrust a great burden on you, or I will not be at ease.”

Huang Rong knew that he was usually carefree and easygoing; but now he was so hesitant that she knew it must be some extremely important responsibility. She said, “Master, please tell me. Your injuries were caused by you trying to help your disciple escape from Peach Blossom Island. Even if I die a horrible death, I can hardly repay you. I’m just afraid I’m too young to carry out your instructions.” Hong Qigong happily said, “So you agree to it?” Huang Rong said, “Yes. Please say it.”

Hong Qigong stood up unsteadily, cupped his hands, and bowing to the north said, “Ancestors, the Beggar Clan you founded passed to my hands. I am now unfortunately incapable of bringing virtue to our clan. Today the matter is urgent and I have to pass on my responsibilities. May the Ancestors in Heaven bless us, help this child avoid trouble and bring our clan to greater heights.” When he finished, he bowed to the north once more. Huang Rong was both shocked and curious when he said that.

Hong Qigong said, “Child, kneel down.” Huang Rong knelt down and Hong Qigong took his green bamboo stick and raised it over his head. He saluted it and placed it in her hands. Huang Rong was extremely shocked and said, “Master, you want me to be the Beggar Clan… the Beggar Clans’…” Hong Qigong said, “Exactly. I am the eighteenth generation Leader of the Beggar Clan, and now you are the nineteenth Leader. Now let’s thank our ancestors.”

At this stage Huang Rong did not dare to disobey and could only imitate Hong Qigong’s actions and bowed with both hands cupped. Hong Qigong suddenly coughed and spat out some phlegm which landed on Huang Rong’s clothing. Huang Rong was secretly sad and thought, “Master’s injuries are indeed serious… he doesn’t even have the strength to spit properly.” However she pretended that nothing was amiss. He sighed, “When the Beggars pay their respects to you in future, there will be a disgusting ritual. Ah, this will be hard on you.”

Huang Rong smiled, thinking, “The beggars are filthy and rough, how could any of that be unexpected?” Hong Qigong drew a deep breath. His face was pale but in his heart it felt as though he had just put down a large rock and he was very pleased. Huang Rong helped him lie down. He said, “Now that you’re the Leader, I am an Elder in the Clan. Although the Elders are respected by the Leader, when there’s something to be done the Leader has to give the order. This rule was laid down by our founders, so you must follow it to the letter. When the Leader issues an order, all the beggars must obey it.”

Huang Rong became depressed and worried, thinking, “We’re on this deserted island and I don’t know how we can return to the Central Plains. Moreover Jing ge ge is dead and I have no desire to live. Now Master suddenly wants me to be some so-called Clan Leader and command all the beggars under the sky; how on Earth am I going to do that?” But when she saw her master’s condition, she did not want to worry him further and could only agree to anything he proposed.

Hong Qigong said, “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month of this year, the four Elders of our Clan will hold a gathering at the lakeside Cave- Courtyard in Yueyang City and hear my announcement of the new Leader. You only need to take the bamboo rod there and they will understand my intentions. Every matter within the Clan will be dealt with by the four Elders, so I can leave it to them. But I have to send you, such an adorable child, into the midst of the filthy beggars; this will be really hard on you.”

Then he laughed heartily, but because of his injury he began to cough before he finished laughing. Huang Rong massaged his back for a while until he stopped coughing. Hong Qigong sighed, “This old beggar is really useless now, ah, I don’t know when I’ll recover. I have to rush into teaching you the ‘Dog Beating Skill’.” Huang Rong was wondering why this stick skill had such a horrible name. She thought that no matter how fierce a dog might be, she could kill it with one punch. She saw no need to learn this skill, but her master was deadly serious, so she could only agree. Hong Qigong said, “Although you are now the Clan Leader, you don’t have to change your personality; if you want to be playful and mischievous, go ahead and be so. We beggars have no restrictions and we do as we please. If we worried that ‘this won’t do and that won’t do’, we might as well be judges or ministers. If you do not think highly of the ‘Dog Beating Skill’, simply say so!”

Huang Rong laughed, “Disciple is wondering what kind of dog could be so tenacious that it requires a specialized skill to handle it.” Hong Qigong said, “Now that you’re the head of all the beggars, you’ll have to act like one. With your rich dress and your rich girl’s attitude, the dog would be only too pleased to listen to you; why would you need to hit it? But if we beggars run into such dogs it’s a different story. The old saying goes: ‘the poor not armed with sticks get bullied by dogs’. You have never been poor so you don’t know what it’s like to be one of them.”

Huang Rong clapped and laughed, “Master, you’re wrong there!” Hong Qigong was perplexed and asked, “Why?” Huang Rong said, “On the third month of this year, I escaped from Peach Blossom Island to play around, and I disguised myself as a beggar. Whenever there were fierce dogs bothering me, all I had to do is give them a kick and they would scramble away.” Hong Qigong said, “Yup, but if the dog is too fierce then you’d have to use a stick to hit it.”

Huang Rong thought, “What dog could be so fierce?” Then she realized what he meant and shouted, “Oh yeah, bad guys are dogs too!” Hong Qigong smiled and said, “You’re really clever. If…” He wanted to say that Guo Jing would not have known it, but his heart turned sour and he stopped.

When Huang Rong heard him stop in mid-sentence, she understood what he was thinking, felt bitterness in her heart and wanted to cry; but now that Hong Qigong needed her help she seemed all grown-up while Hong Qigong seemed like a youth, so she controlled herself and only turned her head away. The tears, however, fell like pearls. Hong Qigong was as sad as her and he knew that consoling her was useless, so he talked about serious matters, saying, “The thirty-six moves of the ‘Dog Beating Skill’ was created by our Ancestors and can only be passed down from one Clan Leader to the next without letting anyone else know about the skill. Our Clan’s third Leader far surpassed previous Leaders and he greatly improved this skill. After hundreds of years, when our Clan faces any strong opposition, our Leader would personally come forward and use this skill to defeat our enemies.”

Huang Rong began to pay attention and then sighed softly, asking, “Master, when you were fighting with Western Poison on the boat, why didn’t you use it?” Hong Qigong said, “This skill is very important to our clan, so even though I didn’t use it, he may not have won. Who’d know he could be so despicable as to poison me after I saved his life?” Huang Rong saw that he was becoming depressed, so she tried to distract him and said, “Master, please teach me so that I can kill him to avenge you.”

With a stony-faced laugh Hong Qigong picked up a piece of firewood and leaned against the cave wall. He recited the formula and executed the steps, thus passing on all thirty-six moves to her. He knew Huang Rong was extremely intelligent but was afraid that he would not live long, so he passed everything on to her in one shot. Although the name ‘Dog Beating Skill’ was crude, the changes within were subtle and the techniques profound; it was one of the best martial arts skills ever created. It was therefore the reason that this skill was passed down like a precious heirloom.

Although Huang Rong was very clever, she could only remember the general skills and forgot some of the finer details. How could she understand it in such a short time? After he was done, a sweating Hong Qigong took a deep breath and said, “I didn’t teach it well, but… that’s all I can do for now.” With a groan he collapsed and fainted. Huang Rong was shocked and shouted, “Master…master!” She hurriedly supported him but noticed his limbs were cold and his breathing was weak; he seemed almost beyond hope. Huang Rong had been severely tried for the past few days but now she could not cry. She listened to his heart beat and found it barely audible so she quickly massaged his chest to aid his breathing. Just at this critical moment she heard noises behind her and a hand reached out to take her wrist. She was concentrating fully on saving her master and did not even notice when Ouyang Ke entered the cave. Now she ignored the fact that the person behind her was a vicious wolf and quietly said, “Master may not make it; think of something to save him.”

When Ouyang Ke heard her plead so sincerely, saw the tears welling up in her eyes and her face looking pitiful, his heart quivered. When he bent down to look at Hong Qigong, he saw that his face was white as sheet and his eyes were rolled up; he felt happier. The distance between Huang Rong and himself was less than half a zhang and he could even feel her breathing and smell her fragrance. A few strands of hair caressed her face and his heart thumped madly until he could no longer restrain himself and he grabbed her by her waist.

Huang Rong was taken aback, struck out with force and took the chance to jump away when he evaded her blow. Ouyang Ke had been afraid of Hong Qigong so he did not dare be disrespectful to Huang Rong; now he saw that Hong Qigong was half dead, so he did not worry any longer and laughed, “Good girl, I normally don’t bother about other girls, but for a beauty such as yourself, I’ll make an exception; come kiss me.”

Then he moved menacingly towards her. Huang Rong was frightened out of her wits and thought, “This is a terrible situation. Looks like I’ll be killed here, with some indignities.” She took out her needles. Ouyang Ke smiled, used his outer gown as a weapon and even advanced another two steps. Huang Rong waited for him to advance another step before crouching low and dodging to the left.

Ouyang Ke followed her and Huang Rong waved her hand. He waved his long sleeve and blocked the spike. Huang Rong knew that she was like an arrow away from the bow and anxiously tried to run out of the cave. Ouyang Ke was faster. Huang Rong heard the wind behind her back and knew he was attacking her. She was wearing the soft armour so she was not afraid of that and furthermore she was prepared to die, but she wanted to injure him first, so she did not defend herself and even sent a strike towards his chest.

Ouyang Ke did not intend to injure her and his strike was only meant to tire her out, so he quickly struck towards her wrist, neutralizing her move. At the same time, he jumped to the cave entrance, effectively trapping her inside. But the entrance was narrow and he could barely turn around, so with Huang Rong’s fierce onslaught coupled with her indifference to defense, her power seemed to have increased tremendously. Although Ouyang Ke was better than her, he did not want to injure her, so he was at a disadvantage.

In a brief moment they had exchanged fifty or sixty moves and Huang Rong was in danger. Her martial arts had been taught to her by her father while Ouyang Ke’s were taught by his uncle. Huang Yaoshi’s and Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were about the same level, but Huang Rong was only around fifteen while Ouyang Ke was almost thirty, so the difference in their martial arts was almost twenty years’ worth of training. Moreover Huang Rong was not as hard working as Ouyang Ke and although she learned some skills from Hong Qigong, she’d hardly practiced them. At this time, even with Ouyang Ke’s injuries, she was still unable to gain an advantage.

Suddenly Huang Rong launched herself forward and sent her spike towards him with a backstroke. Ouyang Ke blocked it and Huang Rong followed up closely with a fierce stab towards his right shoulder. His right arm was broken and in a splint so he could not exert any strength there. He tried to use his left hand to intercept that move, but the spike made a semi-circle, changed directions midway, and stabbed into his right shoulder. Huang Rong was elated, only to feel her hand suddenly go numb and had to drop the spike because her wrist’s acupoint had been hit.

Ouyang Ke was swift and agile; seeing that she was about to escape, he hit her ‘Xuan Zhong’ and ‘Zhong Tou’ acupoints consecutively with his legs. Huang Rong was in midair when she was struck and she fell towards the ground. Ouyang Ke moved forward and threw his outer gown on the ground, laughing, “Ah, don’t hurt yourself.” Huang Rong spun the spike around and tried to jump up but her legs were numb and she only managed to get a foot off the ground before falling again.

Ouyang Ke came to help her up. Huang Rong used her only non- immobilized arm and punched him. But in the confusion, her punch lacked strength and Ouyang Ke laughed as he sealed her last acupoint. This time Huang Rong was totally immobilized and she inwardly regretted, “Why did I did not stab myself just now? Now I can’t even beg for death.” She was on fire inside and everything went dark as she fainted. Ouyang Ke smoothly consoled her, saying, “Don’t be afraid!” He stretched his arm out to hug her. Suddenly he heard a cold voice above his head, saying, “Do you wish to live or die?”

Ouyang Ke was shocked, twisted his head around and saw Hong Qigong standing at the entrance looking at him with a side ways glance from his eyes. He once heard his uncle mention the incident where Wang Chongyang jumped out of his coffin and nearly killed him, so he immediately thought, “The old beggar pretended to be dead and now I’m dead!” He’d tasted Hong Qigong’s skills before and knew he did not even come close, so in shock he knelt down and said, “I was just playing with Miss Huang. Uncle Hong, please don’t be angry.”

Hong Qigong spat and shouted, “Scoundrel, aren’t you going to unseal her acupoints or do you need me to do it?” Ouyang Ke agreed repeatedly and hurriedly unblocked her acupoints. Hong Qigong said coldly, “Enter the cave again and I’ll show no mercy. Scram!” Ouyang Ke darted out like a rabbit.

Huang Rong awoke as though from a dream. Hong Qigong could not hold on any longer and collapsed. Huang Rong was shocked and agitated and quickly held him up. She noticed his mouth filled with blood and three teeth fell out. Huang Rong was very sad as she thought, “Even with Master’s wonderful abilities, such a fall actually broke his teeth.”

Hong Qigong took his teeth and laughed, “Teeth ah teeth, you don’t want to savor exquisite food with me anymore. I never expected you to leave before I did!” He was actually in very bad shape from the snake poison in his body and a palm strike by Ouyang Feng which almost shattered his spine. Because of his high skills, he was fortunately spared from death, but he was as weak as someone without martial arts.

When Huang Rong’s acupoints were blocked, Hong Qigong actually did not have the strength to unblock them for her and had to use his reputation to frighten Ouyang Ke into doing it for him. He saw Huang Rong’s grave expression and said, “Don’t worry. With this old beggar around, he wouldn’t dare to disturb you.” Huang Rong asked, “When I’m inside the cave that creep won’t show up, but what about food?” Though resourceful, she was flustered now and could not think straight.

Hong Qigong asked, “You’re thinking of ways to obtain food right?” Huang Rong nodded. Hong Qigong said, “Help me down to the beach to view the sun.” Huang Rong complied immediately and said, “OK! Let’s go fishing.” She let him lean on her shoulder and they walked slowly to the beach.

The weather was good on this day and the sea seemed endless, moving gently in the sea breeze. As the sun shone on her, their spirits were lifted. Ouyang Ke was also standing on the beach, but when he saw them coming, he immediately retreated several zhang, then stopped to watch them because they did not chase him.

They both worried, “This slimy creature is really hard to shake off; he may discover our weakness sooner or later.” But right now they could not care too much. Hong Qigong sat on a rock while Huang Rong broke off a tree branch to use as a fishing rod. The fish population thrived around this island because no one molested them, so within a short time she caught three big fish.

Huang Rong used the same method she used to cook chicken to cook the fish and they ate their fill. After resting for a while, Hong Qigong asked Huang Rong to display the moves of the ‘Dog Beating Skill’ and gave some pointers along the way. Huang Rong then understood more of the finer profound changes of the skill. By the time evening came, she had practiced until she was very hot, so she removed her outer coat and jumped into the sea to bathe. Suddenly she had a thought, “I’ve heard that the Dragon Palace at the bottom of the sea has a very beautiful Dragon Princess; I wonder if Jing ge ge has gone to the Dragon Palace?”

As she dreamily kicked in the water she felt a sharp pain in her foot and quickly retracted it; but felt as though it was being grabbed by something and she could not get free. She’d played in the sea since young and was not afraid of large clams; she was about to reach out her hand to catch it and got a shock instead. The clam was almost as big as a table; it was larger than any clam she had seen at Peach Blossom Island. She stretched out both hands to pry it open.

The clam was incredibly strong and even with both hands she could not force it open. The clam gripped her even tighter and her leg felt even more painful. Huang Rong smacked through the water, hoping to yank it out of the bottom but she had not expected it to feel like it weighed around two or three hundred jin. The clam had been living on the seabed for many years and had become part of the reef, how could it be easy to move it?

Huang Rong struggled a while more but felt her foot become even more painful; she was worried and gulped down two mouthfuls of water and thought, “Although I have no wish to live, I cannot leave Master alone here to be bullied by that scoundrel, I wouldn’t die in peace.” She quickly grabbed a large stone and smashed it on the clam, but because its shell was tough and she could not exert much strength through the water, even though she hit it repeatedly, it did not budge.

As the clam was attacked it tightened its grip further and Huang Rong swallowed water again; then she suddenly thought of something and quickly put the stone down, grabbed a handful of sand, and threw it into the open clam. The clam was indeed irritated by the sand and hurriedly opened up, wanting to expel the sand. As soon as her leg was free, she wasted no time swimming to the surface and sucked in some fresh air.

Hong Qigong noticed that she was submerged for such a long time and became worried since he knew she must have met some trouble in the water. Wanting to help her, he anxiously splashed around in the water for a brief moment before he saw Huang Rong surface and hailed her in his excitement. Huang Rong waved to her master and decided to dive again. This time she was prepared and dived some distance away from the giant clam and shook it, then used the reef as a pivot to lift it up. She dragged the clam back to the shore. When the clam left the water, it lost its buoyancy and became as heavy as a large rock. Huang Rong could not move it further. Then she grabbed a large stone and struck the clam to vent her anger. When she saw the deep wound the clam had inflicted on her, she thought of her close brush with death and stopped hitting it.

On this night the two of them made the clam into a good meal and they thought that it tasted really good. The next day when Hong Qigong awoke, he felt that the great pain in his body was less intense. His stomach felt really comfortable and he contentedly sighed.

Hong Qigong said, “After sleeping for a night, my injury seemed to have improved by quite a bit.” Huang Rong was elated and exclaimed, “It must be the clam meat which helped you.” Hong Qigong laughed, “The clam meat didn’t help much, but because the food was delicious, it satisfied my mouth. After that my recovery follows automatically by a small amount.”

Huang Rong giggled and rushed out to the beach to find the remains of the clam meat. In her eagerness, she forgot about Ouyang Ke. Just as she cut off two slices of meat, she suddenly saw a figure that was moving closer to her. Huang Rong bent over and grabbed part of the clam’s shell, threw it and jumped away at the same time, reaching the shoreline.

After observing Hong Qigong from a distance for a day, Ouyang Ke was becoming more suspicious since he could hardly walk, but he did not dare go into the cave. Now he forced himself forward and said, “Sister, don’t go, I want to talk to you.” Huang Rong said, “I’m ignoring you, yet you disregard that…you’re really shameless.” She then made a face at him.

Ouyang Ke watched her childish behavior which caused his face to lose color and his heart to itch; he advanced two steps and laughed, “It’s your fault; it’s because you’re so beautiful that people can’t ignore you.” Huang Rong laughed, “I said I’m ignoring you and I mean it. It’s useless to sweet- talk me.” Ouyang Ke advanced yet another step and said, “I don’t believe you.”

Huang Rong’s face became a shade darker and she said, “Move another step forward and I’ll ask Master to club you.” Ouyang Ke said, “Forget it…can he even walk? I’ll go in and carry him out, OK?” Huang Rong felt a jolt inside and retreated two steps. Ouyang Ke grinned, “If you’d like to jump into the sea then go ahead. I’ll wait here for you and we’ll see who can last the longest.”

Huang Rong said, “Fine, you’re bullying me, so I’ll ignore you forever.” She turned and ran, but tripped on a stone and fell down. Ouyang Ke sort of expected this so he laughed, “You’re really mischievous and naughty, but I love it.” He held his gown in his hand to catch any hidden needles she might throw and walked towards her. Huang Rong shouted, “Don’t come near!” She struggled to her feet but fell again after three steps.

This time her fall was more serious and half her body was in the sea; she seemed to have fainted. Ouyang Ke thought, “This girl is very crafty, I won’t fall for her tricks. With your skills, why did you fall for no apparent reason?” He stood there and observed her. After some time, he saw that she was still motionless and the tide was about to engulf her whole body.

Ouyang Ke became worried and thought, “This time she really has fainted; if I don’t save her she might drown.” He ran forward and tried to pull her legs. When he tugged her legs, he got a shock because her body was stiff, so he quickly lifted her up. Huang Rong suddenly hugged his legs and called out, “Go down!” Ouyang Ke could not stand and the two went into the water together.

In the water, despite his high skills, he could not use them and thought, “Even with precautions, I fell for her trick; this time my life is lost!” Huang Rong originally wanted to dunk his head in the water to appease her anger. However as Ouyang Ke felt the water fill his mouth, he could not feel where his body was and struggled wildly, wanting to grab onto Huang Rong.

However she had expected that and swam around him; how could he catch her? In the struggle, Ouyang Ke swallowed a few mouthfuls of water and his body sank deeper until his feet touched the seabed. Even though his martial arts were good and he was quick-thinking, he was at a great disadvantage in the water and could feel his body floating aimlessly. He hurriedly grabbed a rock on the seabed and used his internal energy to hold his breath while he looked around trying to find the direction to the shore. But the water was murky and he could not tell east from west, so he walked around for a few steps and decided that walking upwards was a good idea. He hit rock and took large steps towards the shallower area. With the reef on the seabed, movements were very difficult, so he used his internal energy to dash across in one go. When Huang Rong saw that he did not surface for some time, she quickly looked around and was surprised to see him walking in the water. She swam behind him and used her spike to thrust towards him.

Ouyang Ke felt the water flowing faster, so he quickly evaded and moved even faster. Now he really felt the lack of air in his lungs and let go of the large stone he was carrying trying to surface to breathe. When he stuck his head out, he saw that he was already close to shore. Huang Rong knew she could not stop him now so she sighed and dived again. Ouyang Ke did not die but crawled onto the beach completely drenched and his senses were dull. He threw up all the water he swallowed and felt his body go weak as if he suffered from some great illness. He was very angry and thought, “I’ll go kill that old beggar and see if that girl listens to me then!”

Although he had these thoughts, he was still wary of Hong Qigong and breathed deeply for a few moments to get rid of his fatigue. Then he broke off a tree branch as a makeshift weapon and ran towards the cave.

He avoided going in directly and tried to slip in from the side. He listened for a moment and did not pick up any movements in the room. He looked in and saw Hong Qigong sitting on the ground, meditating. His face showed no signs of any injury.

Ouyang Ke thought, “I’ll test him to see if he can move.” He said in a loud voice, “Uncle Hong, this is bad…this is bad!” Hong Qigong opened his eyes and asked, “What?” Ouyang Ke pretended to be in a state of panic and said, “Sister Huang tried to catch a rabbit but fell into a deep valley and is injured. She can’t climb out!”

Hong Qigong was shocked and said, “Then quickly save her!” Ouyang Ke was excited and thought, “If he can walk, why doesn’t he come out and save her?” He walked in and laughed, “She tried several ways and means to take my life, why should I help her? You go save her.”

Hong Qigong observed his expression, knew that he was lying, and thought, “This scum has discovered that I’ve lost my martial arts…I’m in danger!” In this situation, he could only try to bring him down as well; he secretly channeled all his strength to his arm, and waited for him to come closer before he struck. However when he did that, he felt a sharp pain near his heart and his body felt like it was about to come apart. When he saw Ouyang Ke’s twisted smile, he let out a long sigh and waited for death.

Huang Rong saw Ouyang Ke get to shore and got worried, thinking, “At this point the scoundrel will be prepared for me; it will be harder to scheme against him now.” She swam out a ways and headed left. After a while she saw lush foliage and noticed that this beach was different. She thought of Peach Blossom Island and became sad. Then she thought, “If I can find a safe place here for us to hide for a while, that scoundrel might not find us.” It was not a fantastic plan, but it was better than their situation now and he might not actually find them, giving her master time to recover. So she went ashore but she did not dare explore too far inland since she was afraid of bumping into Ouyang Ke. She stuck close to the seashore, thinking, “If I hadn’t been so carefree in the past and had mastered Father’s Five-Element skills, I’d have been able to handle that scoundrel. Aiyo, Father gave him the map to Peach Blossom Island and he’ll surely be able to understand it.”

She was so absorbed in thought that she tripped on a tree vine and stumbled; above her she heard some rustling noises followed by mud and small pebbles raining down on her. She dashed aside but bumped into a tree behind her and a few of the pebbles hit her body. Fortunately she was wearing the Soft Hedgehog Armour, so she was not really hurt. She looked up and was so stunned that her heart beat rapidly. She saw a sheer cliff face with a gigantic rock at its edge. Half the rock was hanging over the edge and even slight disturbance could bring the rock crashing down. The top of the cliff had many thick vines winding around and the very vine she tripped on just now was attached to the rock. If she snapped a vine connected directly to the thousand-pound rock [the catty in the chapter title is 500 grams or 1.1 lb], the rock could have smacked into her, turning her into mincemeat.

The rock had moved but was not dislodged. Huang Rong became extremely careful and watched where she was going while jumping here and stopping there. She moved back several dozen meters and became curious. She knew that she could pull the rock down with just one arm but no one ever came here; there was not even a bird in sight and the rock had been here for hundreds of years.

Cliffs surrounded this place so even the sea breeze could not get through, and it seemed likely this rock had rocked in the wind for the hundreds of years. As Huang Rong headed back to find her master she suddenly had an idea, “Heaven wants that scoundrel dead and has presented this wonderful opportunity; how can I be so dense?” She became excited and somersaulted twice.

She hurriedly returned to the cliff and carefully examined the place. She saw trees reaching up to the sky and if one wanted to avoid the falling rock, one could only move four or five feet in any direction at most. If that rock came crashing down, even birds or squirrels might not evade it. She took her spike out and cautiously walked to the base of the cliff and noted the seven or eight vines directly attached to the rock so that she would not touch them, then she cut the remaining vines. When she cut a vine she held her breath because she was afraid that one small mistake and it would be she who would be flattened.

When she finished, she was drenched with sweat and felt that it had been more tiring than a fierce battle. She then tied the cut vines together and placed a few heaps of dry grass as markers, then memorized the route she took before heading back. As she went she hummed a few tunes along the way, feeling quite proud of herself. When she got near the cave she still had not seen Ouyang Ke. Then she suddenly heard a perverted laugh coming from inside followed by someone saying, “You claim to be among the best martial artists, yet today you are in Grandfather’s power, how do you feel? All right…because you’re an elder, I’ll let you have a three-move advantage, how’s that? You can display each and every one of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’!” Huang Rong softly exclaimed, “Ah!” She knew that the situation was dire and shouted, “Father, you’re here? Ah, Uncle Ouyang, you’re here too!”

Ouyang Ke had already assessed Hong Qigong’s abilities and was about to strike when he heard Huang Rong’s shout. He was happy and thought, “How is it possible that Uncle and Old Heretic Huang are here?” Then he thought further, “It must be that girl shouting rubbish to save the old beggar. Fine, since the old beggar is in my control anyway I might as well take a look.” He then exited the cave.

He saw Huang Rong waving towards the beach and shouting, “Father… Father!” Ouyang Ke looked that way but of course he did not see Huang Yaoshi. He laughed, “Sister, you wanted to trick me into coming out to play…how could I refuse?” Huang Rong laughed and said, “Who’s lying?” She then ran to the beach. Ouyang Ke laughed, “This time I’m prepared; you want to drag me into the sea again, so let’s try it.” Then he chased her. His Qinggong [lightness kung fu] was good and he was catching up fast. Huang Rong inwardly exclaimed, “This is bad! I might even get caught before I reach that cliff.” She ran another few dozen meters and Ouyang Ke was almost catching her. Huang Rong broke left and off the beach. Ouyang Ke had learned his lesson and did not dare go near, so he laughed, “OK, let’s play hide-and-seek.”

Though he did not stop, he was prepared for any trick she might try. Huang Rong stopped and laughed, “There’s a large worm in front of you, and if you chase me again it’ll eat you in one gulp.” Ouyang Ke laughed, “I’m a worm too and I’m going to eat you!” He leaped forward but Huang Rong just laughed and ran ahead.

The two came close to the cliff wall soon enough. Huang Rong ran even faster and shouted, “Come on!” Just as she was about to reach the wall, she saw two figures on the beach. She was really curious but did not have the luxury of stopping; she carefully looked for the piles of grass then ran all the way to the cliff’s base.

Ouyang Ke laughed, “Where’s the worm?” He also ran faster and reached the cliff wall quick as an arrow. The spot where Huang Rong stopped was already cleared of vines, but Ouyang Ke, not suspecting a trap, stepped right into it, wrenching the rock out of its place. The vines snapped and Ouyang Ke felt a great pressure descending on him. He looked up and what he saw scared the living daylights out of him; a mountain of a rock rolling down towards him.

Although the rock was very high up, the gust of wind it created was so strong that he could hardly breathe; he hastily jumped backwards, but smacked right into a tree with such a great force that the tree cracked and the splinters pierced him. At this point he was fleeing for his life and ignored the pain. He jumped again, but only managed to move three feet. Now he was in a daze, then suddenly felt as though someone had jolted him awake, dragging him several feet away….but it was too late. Amidst the thunderous rumble and flying dust, he fainted.

Huang Rong saw that her plan had worked and she was very happy. She had not expected the deafening rumble which seemed to shove her aside and her head was hit by the countless grains of dirt and dust. She bent over and held her head for a moment before opening her eyes and saw two shadows through the dust.

As the dust settled, she rubbed her eyes and saw that it was actually West Poison Ouyang Feng and the other was the one she so deeply missed…Guo Jing. Huang Rong shouted and jumped for joy. Guo Jing had never expected to meet her here and he rushed forward and hugged her. In their excitement, they had forgotten that their enemy was close by.

o0o

When Guo Jing and Ouyang Feng were fighting on the boat, neither could gain the advantage, while at the same time the boat was sinking. It took them down with it. Deep in the sea the water pressure was very high and they felt water forcing its way into their ears and noses, causing great pain. They had to stop their struggle and cover their ears and noses.

The bottom of the sea had a swift undercurrent moving in a different direction than the surface current and before they knew it they were swept some distance away. When Guo Jing managed to get up to the surface to breathe it was already dark and the boat seemed very far away. While Guo Jing shouted, at that very moment Huang Rong was looking for him; but they were so far apart, how could they find each other?

Guo Jing shouted again and felt a tug on his leg, followed by another head reaching the surface…it was Ouyang Feng. He was at a disadvantage in the water, so although he was a martial arts master, he struggled wildly and refused to release Guo Jing’s leg.

Guo Jing struggled harder but his other leg was also grabbed. They wrestled for a brief moment before submerging again. When they hit the surface, Guo Jing shouted, “Let my legs go…I won’t desert you.” Ouyang Feng also realized that this would kill them both, so he released his legs and grabbed his shoulder.

Guo Jing supported him, allowing them to float. At this time they saw a large wooden board floating by and it bumped Guo Jing. Ouyang Feng shouted, “Careful!” Guo Jing grabbed it, shouting, “Grab it and don’t let go!”

They looked around but could not see any boats. Ouyang Feng’s Snake Staff was lost and he worried, “If we meet any sharks, we can only hit them wildly like Zhou Botong did. I saved him that time, but who’ll save me now?” They floated for some time and saw many fish swimming by so they had to depend on the fish for survival.

As the ancient saying goes, “Helping each other in the same boat ( 同⾈共济 )”, so these two men who fought a bitter battle just a while ago could share the same raft. During this time they were fortunate not to meet any

danger. In time the current brought them to the island where Hong Qigong and Huang Rong were only two days after their arrival. When they hit shore they lay down for some time before they suddenly heard someone laughing. Ouyang Feng jumped up and followed the laughter and coincidentally met Ouyang Ke who had just fallen into the trap. Ouyang Feng tried to rush forward to save him. He managed to pull him back several feet but Ouyang Ke’s legs were crushed by the rock and he fainted from the pain.

Ouyang Feng was suspicious and looked around but did not find any more danger. He went back to check on his nephew. He noticed that he was still breathing so he tried to push the rock off him, but it did not budge even an inch. He then knelt down and grunting, tried again with both hands. Even though his strength was tremendous, how could even he move a thousand- pound rock?

He bent down just as Ouyang Ke opened his eyes and called, “Uncle!” Ouyang Feng said, “You’ll have to bear with it for a while.” He hugged him and pulled him, but Ouyang Ke screamed and fainted again. The rock had pinned his legs beneath it, so this pulling only worsened his pain but did not free him. Ouyang Feng was perturbed.

Guo Jing held Huang Rong’s hand and asked, “Where’s master?” Huang Rong pointed, saying, “Over there.” Guo Jing hearing that his master was alright was elated and wanted her to lead him there. Then he heard Ouyang Ke’s scream and could not bear it; he said to Ouyang Feng, “I’ll help you.” Huang Rong tugged his sleeve, saying, “Let’s go see master, ignore this bad guy!”

Ouyang Feng did not know that this was a trap set up by her since he saw the rock tumble down and it was impossible for anyone to lift it up the cliff. But when he heard Huang Rong stop Guo Jing, his anger flared. Then he heard that Hong Qigong was here and he was startled, thinking, “That beggar took one of my palms and was also poisoned by my snake, yet he’s not dead; even at that he should be ninety percent dead, so why should I fear him?”

He saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong about to leave so he knelt down again and pretended to push the rock as he waited for them to turn away before saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll save you. For now just concentrate on circulating your Qi to protect your heart and pretend that those legs are not yours.” He followed them and saw them with an arm around each other and talking romantically; he was flabbergasted and thought, “If I don’t torture you until you’re worse than dead, I’m not the Western Poison.”

Huang Rong took Guo Jing to the cave entrance. Guo Jing rushed in and shouted, “Master!” Then he saw that Hong Qigong’s eyes were closed and there was no color in his face. He had been insulted by Ouyang Ke and his injury had relapsed. Huang Rong quickly undid his outer gown while Guo Jing massaged his limbs.

Hong Qigong opened his eyes and saw Guo Jing; he was naturally very happy to see him and smiled, saying in a low voice, “Jing’er, you’re here too!” Guo Jing was about to reply when a rough voice cut in from behind, which said, “Old beggar, so am I.” Guo Jing turned around to block the entrance. Huang Rong snatched her master’s bamboo stick and stood beside Guo Jing.

Ouyang Feng laughed, “Old beggar, come out…if you don’t, I’m coming in.” Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other while thinking, “Even if it costs us our lives, we must not let him molest Master.” Ouyang Feng laughed and stepped in. Guo Jing stepped forward to block him.

Ouyang Feng twisted aside to evade his palm strike and moved to his right. Then a bamboo stick flew over and made a circle that seemed aimed at three separate spots at the same time, making it difficult to deal with. He waved his left hand and swept his leg to force his opponents back. He did not expect Huang Rong’s stick to hit the centre of the circle his leg made.

Ouyang Feng was surprised and jumped back, watching carefully. Huang Rong was using the ‘Dog Beating Skill’ and had managed to force her much stronger opponent backwards. She was feeling very proud of herself. Ouyang Feng had not expected that this girl would learn the old beggar’s wonderful rod skill. He snorted and advanced again to hit her bamboo stick. Huang Rong executed the stick skill she’d just learned as she poked, hit, circled and flew around; although she could not injure him, she managed to evade seven or eight successive moves.

Guo Jing, who was surprised and happy, kept cheering, “Very good Rong’er, great rod skill!” Then he attacked with a fist and palm from the side. Ouyang Feng shouted in anger, then knelt down while launching both palms. Even before the palms arrived the wind from the palms caused dust to fly. Guo Jing saw that the palms were very powerful and was afraid that Huang Rong might get injured if she was hit; he hurriedly pushed her aside and they managed to evade the strike together.

Ouyang Feng stepped forward two steps and struck out again with both palms. His attack was terribly strong and he had fought to a draw with Hong Qigong on Peach Blossom Island a few days ago. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were far from his match and were forced to retreat step by step. Ouyang Feng rushed into the cave and flipped his palm, hitting the stone wall and causing bits of stone to flake off. He brought the other palm up above Hong Qigong’s head and held it there to sense his condition.

Huang Rong said, “My master saved your life, yet you want to hurt him… aren’t you ashamed?” Ouyang Feng pushed Hong Qigong’s chest lightly and felt his chest muscles contract, indicating that his martial abilities were really gone. He was happy inside and lifted him, saying, “If you help me rescue my nephew, I’ll spare the beggar’s life.”

Huang Rong said, “Heaven released the rock that pins him, you saw that yourself, so who can save him? Try any more tricks and Heaven will crush you with a rock too.” Guo Jing noticed that Ouyang Feng had lifted Hong Qigong higher and was prepared to throw him down…but he doubted that he would really do it. Still he was worried and quickly said, “Put him down and we’ll go save your nephew.”

Ouyang Feng missed his nephew and was very eager to hurry to him, but he kept his face impassive and put Hong Qigong down very slowly.

Huang Rong said, “Helping him is not difficult, but let’s make an agreement.” Ouyang Feng said, “What do you want?” Huang Rong said, “After we save your nephew, you must not harm the three of us while we’re here on this island.” Ouyang Feng thought, “My nephew and I are afraid of water; if we want to get back I may need to depend on these three people.” He nodded his head, saying, “OK, I’ll not kill any of you now, but I can’t promise anything after we leave this island.”

Huang Rong said, “When the time comes, even if you leave us alone, we’ll come after you. Another thing, my father has betrothed me to him and you saw that for yourself. If your nephew bothers me again, you’re worse than a pig or a dog.” Ouyang Feng spat, saying, “OK, but that only applies on this island, once we leave, then we’ll see.”

Huang Rong smiled, saying, “Finally, although we’ll try our best to help you, we’re not gods; if fate has decreed that your nephew must die, you can’t blame us.” Ouyang Feng said, “If my nephew dies, you two can forget about living. Little girl, shut up and come save my nephew.” He then ran to where the rock was.

Guo Jing was about to follow when Huang Rong said, “Jing ge ge, when he uses his strength to push the rock, you can strike his back when he least expects it.” Guo Jing answered, “We must honour our word; let’s save his nephew first, then try to avenge Master.” Huang Rong sighed and knew that it was useless to try to get him to backstab someone.

For the past two days she had thought that he’d died in the sea; now that she was with him again her heart exploded with happiness. Even if Guo Jing made any unreasonable demands, she would listen to him; moreover his actions were those of an honorable gentleman, so she smiled sweetly and said, “OK, you’re a saint and I’ll listen to you.”

They ran to the base of the cliff and heard Ouyang Ke groaning in the distance. Ouyang Feng shouted, “Hurry up!” They went over and stood beside him and three pairs of hands pushed the rock together. Ouyang Feng said, “Up!” and they pushed at the same time. The rock moved an inch before slamming down again. Ouyang Ke screamed and his eyes rolled up.

Ouyang Feng was shocked and immediately supported him and felt his breathing was weak. To bear the pain he’d bitten through his tongue, filling his mouth with blood. Even with Ouyang Feng’s outstanding martial arts, he was powerless to move the rock. Now he had made it worse for his nephew and also lost a shoe in the sand. Ouyang Feng bent down to pick up his shoe and got another shock…the tide was slowly rising and was already reaching the rock. Ouyang Feng menacingly said, “Little girl, if you want your master to live, you’d better save my nephew quickly.”

Huang Rong was already thinking about it. The rock was enormous and there was no one else who could help them…how could they move it? She had come up with more than ten ideas in a flash, but none seemed workable; when she heard Ouyang Feng, she said, “If Master wasn’t injured, we could easily move this rock with his tremendous strength. Now…” She threw up her hands to indicate that it was useless.

Though his sentence was said in anger, Ouyang Feng thought, “Maybe it really is fate; if the old beggar wasn’t injured and with his chivalrous nature, he’d definitely help. Who knew that when I injured him, it was as good as killing my own nephew?” Although Ouyang Ke was officially his nephew, he’d had an affair with his sister-in-law and he was in fact his son.

Ouyang Feng was usually cold-hearted, but now he felt regret. He turned his head and saw the water had risen a few more feet. Ouyang Ke yelled, “Uncle, kill me with one blow! I… I can’t take it anymore!” Ouyang Feng took out a sharp knife and gritted his teeth, saying, “You bear with it for a while; even without your legs you can still live.” He moved forward with the intention of severing his nephew’s legs.

Ouyang Ke exclaimed, “No, no, Uncle, just stab me to death!” Ouyang Feng said angrily, “With so many years of my guidance, how can you be so useless?” Ouyang Ke hugged his chest and tried to bear the pain, not daring to say another word. Ouyang Feng saw that the rock had pinned him nearly to the hips; even if he amputated his legs, he might not live…so he hesitated.

Huang Rong saw that the uncle and nephew had nothing left to say and both looked dejected; her heart softened and she remembered how her father moved rocks on Reach Blossom Island. She exclaimed, “Wait! I’ve got a way, but I’m not sure if it will work.” Ouyang Feng was elated and said, “Good lady, just say it!”

Huang Rong was thinking, “Now that you want to save your nephew, you’re not calling me names anymore…but ‘Good Lady’, huh!” She smiled and said, “OK, you must listen to me now. Let’s cut some tree bark and make a rope strong enough to lift this rock.” Ouyang Feng said, “Who’s going to pull the rope?” Huang Rong said, “We’ll pull like raising a sail…” Ouyang Feng immediately understood and said, “Yes, yes, just like that!”

Guo Jing heard Huang Rong mention using tree bark and did not question her; instead he pulled out his dagger and began cutting some tree bark. Ouyang Feng and Huang Rong followed his lead and within a short time, they had cut many strips of tree bark. As Ouyang Feng was cutting the bark he looked at his nephew and suddenly exclaimed, “Don’t cut anymore!” Huang Rong curiously asked, “What…why not?”

Ouyang Feng pointed at his nephew and Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at him. They saw that the tide was rising faster and had already submerged half his body. He would be drowned before they had gathered enough material. Ouyang Ke was motionless in the water. Huang Rong said, “Don’t fret. Just cut!”

Although Ouyang Feng was a monster, he meekly obeyed her. Huang Rong jumped down from the tree and ran to Ouyang Ke and used several big stones to support his upper body. That way his nose was still above water.

In a low voice Ouyang Ke said, “Miss Huang, thank you. Even if I don’t live, I’ll die contented knowing that you tried to save me.” Huang Rong felt apologetic and said, “Don’t thank me. Do you know that I was the one who laid this trap?” Ouyang Ke said, “Don’t speak so loudly; if my uncle hears it, he won’t let you off. I guessed it long ago; to die at your hands would leave me with no regrets.”

Huang Rong sighed and thought, “Although this person is annoying, he treats me nicely.” She returned to the tree and began braiding the bark. She joined three together to form a thin rope and then six ropes together to form a thick rope, and then she joined several thick ropes together to form a massive rope. Ouyang Feng continuously cut tree bark while Huang Rong unceasingly wove the ropes.

Although they were fast, the tide was faster and even before the massive rope was half-complete, the water had risen up to Ouyang Ke’s mouth. Soon only his nose was left sticking out. Ouyang Feng jumped down and said, “You can go. I want to speak with my nephew. You have tried your best and I appreciate it.” His voice was heavy with emotion and he was seemingly resigned to the situation.

Guo Jing saw that it was hopeless and went off together with Huang Rong. They’d walked several zhang when Huang Rong whispered, “Let’s go behind the rock and listen to what he says.” Guo Jing said, “That doesn’t concern us. Besides, he’ll discover us.” Huang Rong said, “Once his nephew dies, he’ll try to harm Master, so we must keep ourselves informed to be prepared. If we’re found out we’ll just say that we’ve come back to send his nephew off.”

Guo Jing nodded. They went around a bend, behind some trees, and then stealthily crept back behind the rock. They heard Ouyang feng say, “Go in peace. I know what you’re thinking…you wanted Old Heretic Huang to marry his daughter to you, but I fear I can’t grant your wish.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were startled and thought, “He’s about to die; why would Ouyang Feng say that?” As they heard more, they became angrier. Ouyang Feng was actually saying, “I’ll go kill that girl and bury her with you. Everyone dies; if you can’t live with her then you can die with her and have no regrets.”

Ouyang Ke’s mouth was beneath the water and he could not speak. Huang Rong took Guo Jing’s hand and they stealthily left. Around the corner, Guo Jing angrily said, “Let’s confront that old poisonous thing.” Huang Rong said, “With him we must compare wits, not strength.” Guo Jing asked, “How?” Huang Rong said, “I’m thinking.”

As they walked near a ravine, she saw some reeds. Huang Rong thought of something and said, “If he weren’t so evil, I could save his nephew.” Guo Jing quickly asked, “How?” Huang Rong took out her knife and cut a hollow reed and put it to her mouth and breathed through it for a while. Guo Jing laughed, “Ah…that is really a good idea. How did you think of it? Should we save him?”

Huang Rong pouted, “Of course not. That old poisonous thing wants to kill me…let him do it, hmm, I’m not afraid.” But when she thought of Ouyang Feng’s cruel methods, she could not help but gasp. His martial arts were much stronger than his nephew’s and he was much more cunning. If they fell into his trap, it would not be good. Guo Jing remained silent.

Huang Rong took his hand, saying gently, “Don’t tell me you want me to save that scoundrel? You’re worried about me, right? Those two may not treat us well.” Guo Jing said, “You’re right, but I am worried about you and Master. Since that old poisonous thing is the head of a sect, what he says has some credibility.” Huang Rong said, “OK, let’s save him and then talk; we’ll plan as we go along.”

They turned back and saw Ouyang Feng standing in the water, supporting his nephew. When he saw the duo coming, his eyes glinted and it was obvious he wanted to kill them. He said roughly, “I told you to leave; why did you return?” Huang Rong sat down on a stone and laughed, “I came to see if he’s dead yet.” Ouyang Feng snapped, “So what if he’s dead, so what if he’s alive?”

Huang Rong said, “If he’s dead then it’s no use now!” Ouyang Feng jumped out of the water, hastily saying, “Good… good lady, he’s not dead yet, you must have found a way. Say it…say it quickly.” Huang Rong threw the hollow reed over and said, “Put it in his mouth and he won’t die.” Ouyang Feng was happy and jumped into the water and stuffed the reed into his nephew’s mouth.

The water had already covered his nose and he was exhaling his last bit of air, but his ears could still hear their conversation. When the reed reached his mouth, he breathed hard, felt comfortable and momentarily forgot about the pain in his legs. Ouyang Feng said, “Quick…hurry, let’s connect the ropes.” Huang Rong laughed, “Uncle Ouyang, you want me dead to accompany your nephew, isn’t that right?” Ouyang Feng jerked and thought, “How did she hear what I said?” Huang Rong laughed, “If you kill me and you meet some trouble later, who’s going to help you?” Now that Ouyang Feng was depending on her, he could only pretend not to hear her and went back to work on the tree bark.

They worked for more than two hours and made an enormously thick rope nearly thirty zhang long [99 meters or 325 ft]. By now the water level was nearly half-way up the rock. Ouyang Ke’s head was a few feet under water and only the tip of the hollow reed was exposed. Ouyang Feng was still worried and occasionally reached his hand under the water to check on him.

After another hour the water began to recede and Ouyang Ke’s head was slowly emerging. Huang Rong measured the rope’s length and shouted, “Enough! Now I need four massive poles for the ‘masts’.” Ouyang Feng was doubtful; he knew that on this deserted island, even a knife was hard to find, much less an axe sturdy enough for their task. He asked, “How do we get that?” Huang Rong said, “Don’t worry, just find the wood first.”

Ouyang Feng was afraid she would throw a tantrum and refuse to help him, so he did not ask again and ran around looking for trees with thick enough trunks. He crouched down, gathered his strength and launched his palms at each of the trees. The trees fell after a few strikes. Guo Jing and Huang Rong witnessed this powerful display of internal strength and shuddered. Ouyang Feng found a long and flat rock and used that to cut away the tree branches.

Now Guo Jing and Huang Rong tied the rope round three of the thick tree trunks and looped the rope around the large rock before tying the end to the final tree trunk. That trunk was a centuries-old oak tree and even the arms of three or four people were not enough to circle the tree. Huang Rong said, “I guess this tree can handle the rock, right?” Ouyang Feng nodded.

Huang Rong told them to connect one more thick rope and they arranged the four tree trunks around the tree, forming a crisscross shape and looped the rope round the top. Ouyang Feng praised her, “Good lady, you’re really smart, just like your father.” Huang Rong laughed, “But how can I be compared to your nephew? Let’s start!”

They acted together and used the oak tree as the pivot to pull the crisscross shaped formation. The rope became taut and the rock lifted slowly. The sun was about to set and the sky was red, illuminating the surface of the water.

The tide had already gone out and Ouyang Ke’s body lay in the mud and his eyes were fixed on the rock. It moved slowly and steadily with a creaking sound, causing him to be anxiously happy. Though the rope had made one complete turn around its loop, the rock had only moved an inch and it was already causing great strain on the pivot point.

Although Ouyang Feng did not believe in divine intervention, he silently prayed throughout the process. Suddenly the rope snapped and the rock slammed down onto Ouyang Ke again; he tried to scream but no sound came out. The rope flew back and hit Huang Rong, knocking her off her feet. Guo Jing quickly helped her up.

At this stage Ouyang Feng lost all hope and Huang Rong could hardly smile. Guo Jing said, “We can join them back together, add another rope and try again.” Ouyang Feng shook his head, “That’ll be harder; the three of us aren’t enough.” Guo Jing mumbled to himself, “If only someone else would help us.” Ouyang Feng got angry and snapped, “Obviously!” He knew Guo Jing had good intentions, but in his depression he vented his frustrations on him.

Huang Rong thought for a while then jumped up, laughing and clapping, “Yes, yes, there’s someone who can help us.” Guo Jing asked, “Who might that be?” Huang Rong said, “Hmmm, Brother Ouyang will have to bear more discomfort and wait for the tide to come in again before he can be set free.” Ouyang Feng and Guo Jing both looked at her thinking, “Are you thinking that when the tide comes in, someone will come to our aid?”

Huang Rong laughed, “We’re all tired and hungry; let’s find some food.” Ouyang Feng said, “Miss, you said someone will help us, please explain.” Huang Rong said, “At this time tomorrow, Brother Ouyang will be free. For now I can’t reveal the secret.” Ouyang Feng saw that she had great confidence in herself and his doubts lessened. But he was still skeptical so he stayed with his nephew.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong caught a few wild hares and cooked one for the uncle and his nephew; then they shared the rest with Hong Qigong. When Guo Jing learned that the trap had been set by her, he was surprised and happy. They knew that Ouyang Feng was with his nephew and would not bother them, so they lit a fire at the cave entrance to prevent any wild animals from coming in and they slept very well. The next morning, Guo Jing saw a shadow at the entrance and he quickly jumped up. He saw Ouyang Feng standing there saying, “Is Miss Huang awake?”

Huang Rong was already awake but she pretended to be soundly asleep. Guo Jing whispered, “Not yet. What is it?” Ouyang Feng said, “When she wakes up, ask her to save him.” Guo Jing said, “OK.” Hong Qigong said, “I had her drink the ‘Hundred-Day-Drunken-Stupor’ Wine as well as hit her Sleeping Acupoint. It’ll hard to wake her for three months.”

Ouyang Feng was startled and Hong Qigong laughed heartily. Ouyang Feng realized that he was joking and became angry. Huang Rong sat up and laughed, “If we don’t tease the Old Poison now, when will we get another chance?” She then combed her hair, washed her face extremely slowly and then went out to fish and catch rabbits for breakfast. Meanwhile Ouyang Feng paced up and down like he had ants in his pants. Guo Jing said, “Rong’er, when the water rises, will there really be someone to save him?”

Huang Rong said, “What do you think?” Guo Jing shook his head and said, “I really don’t think so.” Huang Rong laughed, “Me neither.” Guo Jing was startled, “So you lied to him?” Huang Rong said, “Not really; when the tide rises, I have a way to save him.” Guo Jing knew that she was very intelligent and resourceful so he did not question her further. Then they went to play around in the flowers.

Huang Rong had no companions when she was young and always played on the beach on Peach Blossom Island by herself. Now that she had Guo Jing with her, she was extremely happy. They played and laughed endlessly on the beach. Huang Rong said, “Jing ge ge, your hair is terribly messy, let me comb it.”

They sat together on a rock. Huang Rong took out a small golden-jade comb and combed his hair carefully, then sighed, “Why don’t we think of a way to get rid of those two poisonous creatures and then we can live here together with Master and never leave this place…what do you think?” Guo Jing said, “I was thinking of my six masters.” Huang Rong said, “Hmmm, and my Father too.”

After a while she said, “I wonder how Sister Mu is doing? Master asked me to be the Leader of the Beggar Clan and I’m starting to miss those beggars too.” Guo Jing laughed, “Looks like we’ll have to think of a way to get back.” Huang Rong finished with his hair and tied it up. Guo Jing said, “The way you comb my hair reminds me of my mother.”

Huang Rong laughed, “You can call me Mother then.” Guo Jing smiled without replying. Huang Rong tickled him and asked, “Aren’t you going to say it?” Guo Jing laughed and jumped up, messing his hair again. Huang Rong laughed too, “It’s ok if you won’t say it. Do you think anyone will call me ‘Mother’ in the future? Sit down.”

Guo Jing sat down and Huang Rong wiped the sweat away, then kissed his forehead lightly. She thought of the previous day’s fight with Ouyang Feng and remembered that Guo Jing had praised her ‘Dog Beating Skills’, so she wanted to teach it to him. Huang Rong knew that his martial arts had improved a lot and was more excited about that than her own skills.

Since she was Huang Yaoshi’s daughter, she had access to wonderful martial arts skills since she was young, but she really did not pay attention to wonderful skills, just like a rich man’s son would not bother about gold or silver. Then she thought, “This skill is meant exclusively for the Beggar Clan Leader, so I can’t teach him” She asked, “Jing ge ge, do you want to be the Beggar Clan’s Leader?”

Guo Jing said, “Master wants you to be the Clan Leader, why do you ask me?” Huang Rong said, “I’m a young girl and I don’t look like a Beggar Clan Leader. Why don’t I give up this appointment to you? With your commanding appearance the beggars will listen to you. Besides, if you become the Leader, this marvelous skill will be yours.” Guo Jing said, “No, no. I can’t be the Leader. I’m not intelligent enough to handle even small matters, much less important matters.”

Huang Rong knew he was right. Even though Hong Qigong had no choice but to have her succeed him during this crisis, he must have known that despite her youth, she was very intelligent and probably no less capable than the four Elders. Also, he did not give her permission to give this responsibility to someone else and not even a silly boy who knew the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ and the ‘Dog Beating Skill’ could become the Leader. So she laughed, “OK. But I’m afraid that you can’t learn this skill, then.”

Guo Jing said, “There’s no difference between you and me knowing it.” Huang Rong knew that this sentence came from his heart and she was touched. She said, “When Master recovers I’ll return the position to him. Then… then…” She wanted to say “Then we can get married” but somehow the words would not come out of her mouth. She asked, “Jing ge ge, do you know where babies come from?”

Guo Jing said, “I know.” Huang Rong said, “Where?” Guo Jing said, “When people get married, they have babies.” Huang Rong said, “Yes I know that too. But why do married people have babies?” Guo Jing said. “That I don’t know.” Huang Rong said, “Me neither. I asked Father, but he said they crawl out of nests.”

Guo Jing was about to ask more when they suddenly heard a sharp voice saying, “Making babies? You’ll know that when you grow up. The tide is already rising!” Huang Rong gasped and jumped up; she had not expected Ouyang Feng to be listening to them. Although she did not understand male-female relationships, she knew that talking about such stuff was embarrassing, so her face turned red and they quickly ran to the cliff.

Ouyang Ke had been under the rock for twenty-four hours and had been through much suffering. Ouyang Feng kept a straight face and said, “Miss Huang, you said that someone would come to help when the tide rises, this is not a joke.” Huang Rong said, “My father knows the changes of the Five Elements, so of course his daughter would know a bit, although I can’t be compared with him. Still, I can predict a bit of the future.”

Ouyang Feng knew about her father’s abilities, so he said, “Your father is coming? Splendid.” Huang Rong paused, and then said, “Such a small matter wouldn’t need my father’s presence. Moreover, if my father knew that you hurt my master, he wouldn’t let you off. With us two included, how can you win? So what are you happy about?” Ouyang Feng could not argue this point and remained sullenly silent.

Huang Rong said to Guo Jing, “Jing ge ge, go get some tree branches…the more the better.” Guo Jing agreed and went. Huang Rong mended the rope which had snapped the previous day with more bark. Ouyang Feng kept asking who was coming but she just hummed songs without replying.

Ouyang Feng was dissatisfied. But when he saw Huang Rong’s relaxed expression, it kept his hopes up, so he went to help Guo Jing. He watched Guo Jing execute the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ and he only needed a few hits to bring down a sturdy tree. He thought, “His martial arts are good. Coupled with the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, he spells future disaster for me.”

He decided that he had to extract his nephew dead or alive. He crouched down between two trees, sent out his palms simultaneously and each palm hit a tree, causing it to break. Guo Jing was awed and said, “Uncle Ouyang, I wonder when I can match your standard.” Ouyang Feng did not reply but thought, “In your next life.”

They carried all the wood back to the base of the cliff. Ouyang Feng looked out into the sea but could not even see the smallest speck of a boat. Huang Rong asked, “What are you looking for? No one’s coming.” Ouyang Feng was surprised and angry. He raised his voice, “No one?” Huang Rong said, “This is a deserted island and no one will come here.” Ouyang Feng was flabbergasted, unable to speak and waiting to kill someone.

Huang Rong did not look at him directly but turned to Guo Jing and said, “Jing ge ge, what’s the most you can lift?” Guo Jing said, “Around 400 jin [200kg / 440lbs].” Huang Rong said, “Hmmm, how about a 1200 jin rock?” Guo Jing said, “I think not.” Huang Rong said, “How about a 1200 jin rock in the water?”

Ouyang Feng realized what she meant and yelled happily, “Yes, yes, that’s correct!” Guo Jing however had yet to understand it. Ouyang Feng said, “When the tide rises, it half-submerges this rock, causing it to be lighter; we’ll try it again and it’ll definitely work.”

Huang Rong said coldly, “Yeah, but the trees will be half-submerged too; how are you going to work underwater?” Ouyang Feng bit his teeth and said, “Leave that to fate.” Huang Rong said, “Hmmm, it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Go tie and the branches to the rock.”

When she said that, Guo Jing understood too and cheered; working together with Ouyang Feng they began tying several large branches around the rock. Ouyang Feng was afraid that the buoyancy would not be enough, so he tied seven or eight large pieces of wood together and then helped Guo Jing connect the rope that had snapped the previous day. Huang Rong stood aside and smiled, watching them work. Within two hours it was ready and the only thing lacking was the tide.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong went to visit their master. In the afternoon, the tide began to rise and Ouyang Feng ran up to inform them. The three of them went back together. After some time, the tide reached its highest level and they stood in the water and looped the rope around the oak tree. Then they operated the crisscrossed-shaped mechanism again. This time, with the pieces of wood tied to the rock, the buoyancy was quite high and it seemed like there were many strong men helping to lift the rock. The three did not use much effort to move the rock. After turning a few rounds of rope round the tree, Ouyang Feng held his breath and pulled his nephew to the surface.

Guo Jing, knowing that they had been successful, could not help but cheer. Huang Rong clapped continuously and actually forgot that it was she who set the trap.

End of Chapter 21. 

Chapter 22 – Wandering on a Shark's Back

Guo Jing noticed that Huang Rong had a worried expression on her face and asked her, “What are you thinking about?” Huang Rong replied, “I am thinking about three very difficult things.” Guo Jing replied, “You are an intelligent person who always has a way to solve problems.” Huang Rong gave a very slight laugh, but a moment later her eyebrows showed a frown again.

Hong Qigong opened his mouth to speak, “The first thing really does not matter much. The second and third things cause people to be at a loss as to what to do.”

Then Guo Jing said, “Wow! You really are amazing! How would you know about the three things she’s thinking about?”

Hong Qigong replied, “I simply guessed her thoughts. The first is how to cure my injury…but there is no doctor, medicine or a person with good internal energy here to help me. The Old Beggar can accept his fate with resignation and whether I live or die is not the most important matter now. The second thing is how to defend ourselves from the poisonous hands of Ouyang Feng. That person’s martial arts are very solid and the two of you are definitely not his match. The third thing is…how we can return to the mainland? Rong’er, am I right or wrong?”

Huang Rong replied, “Yes, you are right. At present the most pressing matter is to think of a way to discourage the Old Poison from acting ruthlessly.”

Hong Qigong said, “In short, we must have a battle of wits with him. The Old Poison may be cunning but he is hugely conceited. In fact, he is so conceited that it won’t be difficult to fool him. However, after he has been tricked, he will immediately adapt and follow up with a severe counterattack.” The two gave it deep thought. Huang Rong began to think that the enemy’s skill level was difficult to differentiate from her father’s or teacher’s. Even if her father was there, he would not necessarily defeat him. How could she fight him? It seemed that if they did not take his life in one stroke, it would only make him commit even more evil deeds.

Hong Qigong suddenly felt pain in his chest and coughed loudly. Huang Rong immediately helped him to lie down. A shadow suddenly blocked the sunlight at the mouth of the cave. She raised her head to see Ouyang Feng carrying his nephew in and making a hissing sound while saying, “All of you get out! Let me have this cave for healing my nephew’s injury!”

Guo Jing was very angry as he jumped up and said, “This place belongs to my master!”

Ouyang Feng replied coldly, “Even if the Jade Emperor lived here, he too would have to leave!”

Guo Jing, furious, tried to answer him, but Huang Rong pulled his sleeve. She stooped down to help Hong Qigong up and they left the cave.

While passing Ouyang Feng’s side, Hong Qigong opened his eyes and said with a mocking smile, “Impressive power…very deadly!”

Ouyang Feng’s face turned red. He could have killed Hong Qigong violently with just a stroke of his palm, but for some reason he was overwhelmed by Hong Qigong’s righteous air. He shivered and did not answer this insult. He turned his head to avoid Hong Qigong’s penetrating gaze and said, “Come back and bring us something to eat! If you two small creatures mess with the food, then watch out for your three lives.”

The three went down the hill. Guo Jing cursed incessantly, while Huang Rong was deep in thought and did not say anything. Guo Jing said, “Master, please rest here while I go and look for a suitable place to stay.”

Huang Rong had just helped Hong Qigong sit down by a big pine tree when she spotted two squirrels climbing quickly up the tree trunk then immediately climb back down again. They were only a few feet from her and watched the two people with their small round eyes. Huang Rong was fascinated; she picked a pine cone and held it out. One of the squirrels came near to sniff at the cone; then used its front paws to slowly pull the cone away. The other squirrel boldly climbed Hong Qigong’s sleeve. Huang Rong sighed and said, “Nobody has been here before. Look at these two squirrels…they’re not afraid of humans at all.”

When the squirrels heard Huang Rong’s voice they scurried up the tree. Huang Rong looked up the tree and saw dense needles growing from the branches of the pine tree. The leaves formed a canopy and the top of the tree was full of green cane. Huang Rong suddenly had an idea and called out, “Jing ge ge, there’s no need to look anymore. Let’s go to the top of the tree.”

Guo Jing stopped and looked up the pine tree. The tree was indeed a wonderful place for a shelter. The two bent some branches and made a platform. Then, with one on either side, they sat Hong Qigong on their hands and shouted, “Heave!”. They flew up and put Hong Qigong safely on the platform they just made.

Huang Rong laughed and said, “We are living on branches like birds. Let them live in the cave like beasts.”

Then Guo Jing said, “Rong’er, do you want to send them food or not?”

Huang Rong said, “Since I cannot think of any wonderful plan to defeat the Old Poison at the moment, I think we’d better comply with his request.” Guo Jing continued to grumble.

The two wandered around a mountain and managed to catch a wild goat. Then they made a fire at the base of the tree to roast the goat. The roasted goat was then torn in two. Huang Rong took one piece of the meat and threw it on the ground and said, “Urinate on the meat!”

Guo Jiang laughed, “They’ll find out.”

Huang Rong said, “Don’t worry about that…just do it.” Guo Jing blushed and said, “I can’t do it!” Huang Rong asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing mumbled, “I can’t urinate with you beside me.” Huang Rong burst out in laughter.

From the top of the tree Hong Qigong called out, “Throw the meat up here! I will urinate on it myself!” Guo Jing laughed, took the meat and leaped up to the platform so that Hong Qigong could urinate on it. Hong Qigong urinated a lot on the goat meat. Guo Jing laughed loudly then carried the meat towards the cave.

Huang Rong called, “No! Take this one.”

Guo Jing scratched his head and said, “That’s the clean one.”

Huang Rong said, “That’s right. We are going to offer them the clean meat.”

Guo Jing was confused, but he usually listened to whatever Huang Rong said. He came back and took the clean goat meat. Huang Rong took the urine-soaked meat and put it back on the fire while she went out to pick edible wild fruits. Hong Qigong did not understand Huang Rong’s plan and was upset. He’d drooled over the meat, but all that was left was the one soaked with his own urine. He had no choice but to be patient.

The roasted goat released a very good aroma. Inside the cave Ouyang Feng had smelled that wonderful aroma. Without waiting for Guo Jing to arrive he went out of the cave and snatched the meat as his face showed how pleased he was at the moment. Then a thought came into his mind. “Where is the other half?” he asked. Guo Jing pointed his finger.

Ouyang Feng walked in big strides towards the pine tree. He snatched the urine soaked meat and threw the clean meat on the ground. He laughed coldly before turning around to leave.

Guo Jing knew that he must not show anything suspicious on his face. However, it was not in his nature to pretend, so he was forced to turn around and dared not look at Ouyang Feng. He waited for Ouyang Feng to get far away before rushing to Huang Rong. He laughed and said, “How did you know that he would come and exchange the meat?” Huang Rong smiled and said, “According to military tactics, void is actually solid, while solid is actually void. The Old Poison knew that we would try something with the food and did not want to be tricked. So I just let him trick himself.” Guo Jing listened to all of this in awe while tearing the clean goat meat into smaller pieces before taking it up to the shelter they’d made. The three ate the meat.

While they were happily eating, Guo Jing suddenly said, “Rong’er, you really came up with a wonderful ruse just now. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous one.”

Huang Rong immediately asked, “Why?”

Guo Jing replied, “If the Old Poison had not come and exchanged the meat, wouldn’t we be eating the meat soaked in master’s urine?”

Huang Rong, who sat on a branch while listening to Guo Jing’s words, bent over laughing loudly and tumbled down from the tree. Then she leaped back up into the tree unharmed and said, “Very, very dangerous indeed.”

Hong Qigong sighed and said, “Dumb child, if he didn’t come to exchange the meat, then you just don’t eat the tainted meat.”

Guo Jing was startled at the truth of the statement and let out a loud laugh before falling down from the tree as well.

As Ouyang Feng and nephew ate the meat, they thought the wild goat meat had a urine-like smell to it, but they did not suspect anything. In fact, they praised Huang Rong’s wonderful skill in roasting the meat and giving the meat a salty taste. Not long after, the sky began to turn dark. It was at this moment that Ouyang Ke’s wounds started to ache, causing him to groan loudly.

Ouyang Feng walked out towards the pine tree and called out, “Come down little girl!”

Huang Rong was startled because she did not expect Ouyang Feng to come that soon. She asked, “What is it?” Ouyang Feng answered, “My nephew needs tea and water. Quickly go and serve him now.” The people in the tree listened to everything and could not help but feel very angry. Ouyang Feng shouted angrily, “Hurry up! What are you waiting for?”

Guo Jing whispered, “Let’s fight him.”

Hong Qigong added, “The two of you run quickly towards the back of the mountain. Don’t worry about me.”

Huang Rong had already calculated carefully the two choices that they had now. Whether they should flee and allow their master’s life to be lost…or duel with Ouyang Feng. The only thing that could be done now was to compromise for their master’s safety. She leaped down from the tree and said, “Alright, let me go and have a look at his wounds.”

Ouyang Feng sneered and said, “The boy surnamed Guo…come down and follow me. Are you still soundly asleep? I have a good idea you’re not.” Guo Jing, swallowing his anger, leaped down from the tree.

Ouyang Feng said, “Go get a hundred logs for me before the night ends. If you are short by one log, I will break one of your legs. If you are short two logs, I will break both of your legs.”

Huang Rong asked, “What do you want with the logs? Besides, how are we going to see where we’re going in the dark?”

Ouyang Feng cursed her, “You talk too much girl! What does this have to do with you? Go quickly and attend to my nephew. If there is something amiss or wrong, all of you will suffer the consequences!”

Huang Rong gave Guo Jing a hand signal telling him not to make things worse. Guo Jing watched Ouyang Feng and Huang Rong’s shadows disappear in the darkness. He was so angry that tears flowed from his eyes.

Hong Qigong suddenly said, “When I was young, my grandpa, my father and I were slaves of the Jin. What is this hardship compared to what we went through?” Guo Jing was startled and he came to his senses, “It turns out that my benevolent master was once a slave, but later he mastered a matchless martial art. Although I feel wronged today, can’t I just endure it patiently?” Guo Jing then leaped down from the tree and lit a tree branch before heading towards the back-side of the mountain. He used the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, hacking down trees as big as a rice bowl in diameter. He was fully aware that Huang Rong would be able to escape from harm, just like the day she was surrounded by a bunch of criminals at the Zhao palace. No matter how difficult the situation, she somehow managed to escape unharmed. Therefore, he concentrated his attention and energy on cutting down trees.

Using the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ took a lot of his energy. After a while he started to feel strained and numb. In less than an hour Guo Jing managed to knock down twenty one pine trees. By the time he knocked down the twenty-second tree, Guo Jing‘s arm was sore and tired. When he launched the ‘Seeing the Dragon in the Field’, his palm strokes were uneven and though branches and leaves shook, the trunk swayed but did not break. He felt his chest tightening. The energy did not flow to his palm, but went in reverse to his chest. His master had repeatedly warned him about this condition. The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ carried tremendous force, but if his own strength was not sufficient, he would suffer a tremendous self-inflicted injury. He was shocked, immediately sat down, and focused his mind on controlling his breathing. After about an hour he struck that tree again, but his body was worn out and his arms and legs were weak.

Guo Jing knew that if he forced himself to exert more strength, not only would it still be difficult to accomplish his task, but he would suffer internal injuries as well. On this desolate island there was no saber or hatchet…how would he be able to chop down more trees? He noticed that out of the hundred logs needed he was still about eighty logs short and his legs were about ready to give out. He thought aloud, “His nephews legs are crushed… he must hate me to my guts. Even if I manage to give him a hundred logs tonight, tomorrow night he will require a thousand. When will it end? We can’t fight him and on this desolate island there’s nobody to help us.” Having thought about this he heaved a long sigh, “Here we are stuck on this island…who in the world would come to rescue us? Benevolent master Hong has lost his martial arts and whether he will live or die is difficult to tell. Rong’er’s father despises me. All of the Quanzhen Seven Masters and my six benevolent masters are not the Western Poison’s match. If only … if only my sworn brother Zhou Botong was here … but he killed himself by jumping into the sea earlier.” As soon as Zhou Botong came into his mind, he hated Ouyang Feng even more. He thought of that old sworn brother of his, who was skilled in the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, who had created the ‘Mutual Hands Combat technique’, and was forced to his death by Ouyang Feng.

“Ah…the ‘Nine Yin Manual!’…the ‘Mutual Hands Combat technique’!” These words flashed through his mind like seeing a bright star on the horizon on a dark and endless night. “My martial arts may not be enough to fight the Western Poison, but the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contains the most wonderful secrets of the martial arts world and the ‘Mutual Hands Combat technique’ will double my skills. If Rong’er and I train hard day and night, then we can fight the Old Poison with everything we have. Regardless of which martial arts we use, we will still need to fight him for a whole day and night; how can that be good?”

He stood in the forest thinking deeply and suddenly thought, “Why don’t I ask Master? His martial arts might be gone, but his knowledge is not; he should be able to give me clear directions.” He went back to the tree right away and explained to Hong Qigong every single one of his thoughts.

“Recite the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ slowly for me to hear,” Hong Qigong suggested, “Let’s see if there is a marvelous martial art you can learn in a short period of time. Guo Jing immediately recited the manual sentence by sentence. When Hong Qigong heard Guo Jing reciting, ‘One knows that by sitting down and pondering deeply one can accomplish virtue; but to unknowingly attain excellence one requires flexibility, as well as clear and bright understanding. The body is cultivated two-fold; namely movement and stillness. When being attacked, stay still.’ He suddenly stood up, “Ah!” he exclaimed. “What is it?” Guo Jing worriedly asked. Hong Qigong did not answer. He thought those sentences over for a while and then said, “Repeat the last part you were reciting a moment ago.”

Guo Jing was delighted and thought, “Master must have found some method to fight the Old Poison in the last part.” Right away he slowly recited those sentences.

Hong Qigong nodded his head and said, “That’s true. Carry on.” Guo Jing continued reciting the manual from memory. Towards the end he recited, “Mo han si ge er, pin te huo ji en, jin qie hu si, ge shan ni ke …”

Hong Qigong was baffled, “What are you saying?”

Guo Jing answered, “Big Brother Zhou told me to memorize those sentences.”

Hong Qigong frowned, “What do they mean?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Guo Jing replied, “Big Brother Zhou himself did not understand them.”

“Carry on, then,” Hong Qigong said.

Guo Jing continued, “Bie er fa si, ge luo wu li …” until he came to the end, reciting all kinds of these tongue-twisting sentences.

“Hmm,” Hong Qigong said, “It seems the manual also contains some incantations to catch ghosts.” He wanted to add, “Crafty priest, fooling people with cheap tricks,” but remembered that the manual contained an extensive profound mystery. This mumbo-jumbo must have a deep meaning and for the time being, he simply did not understand it. As the words were about to leave his lips, he swallowed them back. After a long while Hong Qigong shook his head, “Jing’er,” he said, “There are many marvelous martial arts in the manual, but none of them can be mastered in one day and night.”

Guo Jing was disappointed. Hong Qigong continued, “Quickly, go and build a raft with those twenty logs, then go away as far as you can. Rong’er and I will stay here and devise a plan to deal with the Old Poison.” “No,” Guo Jing quickly said, “How can I leave you, Senior?”

Hong Qigong sighed, “The Western Poison is afraid of the Old Heretic Huang, he won’t harm Rong’er. In any case the Old Beggar is an invalid. Go quickly!”

Guo Jing was struck with grief and indignation; he raised his hand and struck the tree trunk with his palm.

This strike was extremely heavy and the sound echoed from the mountain and valley. Hong Qigong was startled and quickly asked, “Jing’er, the palm you launched…what technique did you use?”

“Why?” Guo Jing was perplexed.

“You hit very hard, but the trunk did not even shake,” Hong Qigong said.

Guo Jing was very embarrassed, “I used up all my strength striking down trees and my hands are very sore; I don’t have any more strength left,” he said.

“No, no,” Hong Qigong shook his head, “Your palm technique was a little strange. Strike again!”

Raising his hand he struck the tree with his palm. The sound shook the forest, but the tree did not budge. Suddenly it dawned on him. “That was from the seventy-two stance ‘Vacant Fist’ Big Brother Zhou taught your disciple.”

“’Vacant Fist’…I have never heard of it,” Hong Qigong mused.

“That’s right,” Guo Jing said, “Big Brother Zhou was held prisoner on Peach Blossom Island. He had nothing to do, so he invented this technique. He taught me the sixteen-character secret of the technique: ‘empty and hazy like a loose cave, the wind blows carrying a dream, playing around with power or exhaustion, a child can use a worm as a weapon’ [kong meng dong song, feng tong rong meng, chong qiong zhong nong, tong yong gong chong]”

Hong Qigong laughed, “What kind of empty hole?” he asked. [Play on words here, Hong Qigong said ‘tong nong ku long’ which rhymes with whatever Guo Jing was saying. I can’t translate it properly.]

Guo Jing explained, “Each one of those sixteen characters has its own meaning. The word ‘song’ [loose] means the fist must be devoid of strength; ‘chong’ [worm] means the body must be flexible like a worm; ‘meng’ [hazy] means the fist movement must be obscure, must not be too clear. Disciple will play it out for you to watch, tell me what you think?”

“The night is so dark and I can’t see anything,” Hong Qigong said, “Why don’t you explain it to me? This is an excellent martial art; I don’t have to see it in order to understand it.”

Guo Jing explained from the first stance, ‘Empty Bowl Filled with Rice’ [kong wan cheng fan], to the second stance, ‘Empty House Occupied with People’ [kong wu zhu ren], and all variations therein, including how to send out the force, to Hong Qigong.

By nature Zhou Botong was mischievous, so he gave each and every stance a funny name. Hong Qigong had only heard up to the eighteenth stance and his heart was already filled with admiration. He cut Guo Jing off, “You don’t need to continue, I have found a way to fight the Western Poison.”

“With the ‘Vacant Fist’?” Guo Jing asked, “I am afraid the disciple’s skill is insufficient.”

“I know that,” Hong Qigong said, “But we are in a desperate situation; we have to take a risk. Do you still have the dagger Qiu Chuji gave to you?” A cold light flashed in the dark night as Guo Jing took out his dagger. Hong Qigong said, “With the ‘Vacant Fist technique’, use this dagger to cut down some trees.” Guo Jing held his dagger by the hilt, the thin blade was only about one foot long. He was doubtful but did not say anything. Hong Qigong said, “The ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’ I passed on to you is the pinnacle of the external types of martial arts; that ‘Vacant Fist’ is a very profound inner type of martial arts. Your dagger can cut through metal and carve jade; what would the problem be of cutting a tree trunk? The important thing is, your hand strength must follow the ‘Empty’ [kong] and ‘Loose’ [song] principles.”

Guo Jing pondered it for a long time. Hong Qigong also gave him some more directions. Finally he understood. He jumped down from the tree and went to find a medium size pine tree. With the ‘Vacant Fist’ method of exerting energy, using force without force, he lightly struck the trunk and, sure enough, the dagger went through the tree trunk. He exerted his strength and cut around the trunk and that tree fell down immediately. Guo Jing was ecstatic; using the same method he cut down dozens of trees one after another. It seemed before daybreak he would be able to cut down a hundred logs.

While he was still cutting down trees, he heard Hong Qigong suddenly call out, “Jing’er, come up here.”

Guo Jing leaped up to the platform. “It really worked,” he said, “I did not even use very much energy.”

“Certainly we can’t waste our energy, can we?” Hong Qigong said.

“That’s right! That’s right!” Guo Jing exclaimed, “Now I understand the ‘kong meng dong song’ principle. Big Brother Zhou explained it to me, but I did not understand it.”

“This martial art is more than enough to cut down trees,” Hong Qigong said, “But it is still far from adequate for fighting the Western Poison. You must train with the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ again, only then will you have a chance to defeat him. Let us think of some way to buy time.” Speaking about plans and strategies, Guo Jing could only stay silent, letting his master do the thinking.

After a long time, Hong Qigong shook his head and said, “I can’t think of anything good. Let’s wait until tomorrow, perhaps Rong’er can come up with some clever ideas. Jing’er, listening to you reciting the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ I had a thought and I believe I am not wrong. Help me get down from this tree…I am going to practice my martial arts.”

Guo Jing was shocked. “Your injury has not healed yet, how can you train?” he asked.

Hong Qigong answered, “The manual said, ‘The body is cultivated two- fold; namely movement and stillness. When attacked, stay still.’ Those sentences have opened my eyes. Let’s go down.”

Guo Jing did not understand the meaning of those sentences, but he did not dare to defy his master. Therefore he lifted his master and gently jumped down from the tree.

Hong Qigong calmed himself…then opened his arms and launched a palm strike. In the darkness Guo Jing saw his master’s body stagger forward like he was falling down. Guo Jing rushed forward to help, but Hong Qigong had already steadied himself. His breathing was heavy, but he said, “I am alright.”

A moment later he launched a left palm strike. Guo Jing saw him stagger, his feet stumbled and he appeared to be extremely exhausted. Guo Jing fought the urge to rush forward and help his master. Who would have thought that the more Hong Qigong practiced, the stronger he became. Initially he had to catch his breath after every single stance he launched, but later he was able to launch several stances in succession. His steps were getting steadier as well. It was a tremendous improvement. Hong Qigong launched the whole set of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, followed by a set of the ‘Crouching Tiger Fist’ [fu hu quan].

Guo Jing waited until he finished, then he shouted happily, “You are healed!”

“Help me back up,” Hong Qigong said.

Guo Jing wrapped his arm around his master’s waist and jumped up to the platform. His delight was unspeakable, he mumbled repeatedly, “Very good…very good!”

Hong Qigong sighed and said, “Not so good, these martial arts are only good to watch, but they’re actually useless.” Guo Jing did not understand and Hong Qigong explained, “After suffering an injury, all I did was rest, trying to recuperate. It never occurred to me that my martial arts are of the external type; the more I move the better. It’s too bad I realized it way too late; now my life will be spared, but my martial arts will be very difficult to restore.”

Guo Jing wanted to offer some words of comfort, but he did not know what to say. After a while he simply said, “I’ll go down and chop some more trees.”

“Jing’er,” Hong Qigong suddenly said, “I think I have an idea to intimidate the Old Poison. Let’s see if you agree with me.” Then he explained his idea. Guo Jing was delighted, “Splendid! Splendid!” he exclaimed; and immediately jumped down from the tree to make preparations.

Early in the morning of next day, Ouyang Feng came to the tree. He counted the logs Guo Jing chopped down and found only ninety of them. He coldly laughed and shouted, “Little bastard [za zhong]! Get down here quickly! Where are the other ten?”

Huang Rong had spent the entire night by Ouyang Ke’s side, tending his injuries. Listening to his pitiful groaning she felt sorry for him. That morning as Ouyang Feng left the cave, she followed behind. Hearing his loud shouts, she worried for Guo Jing.

Ouyang Feng waited for a moment, but nothing was heard from the tree above, except some gust of winds coming from a distant hill. It sounded like somebody was practicing martial arts. He hastily followed the source of the sounds. When he rounded the hillside, what he saw surprised him. Hong Qigong was sparring with Guo Jing; palms and kicks flew towards each other…they were engaged in a close fight.

Huang Rong saw that her master was not only able to walk unaided, but it seemed his skills were restored as well…she was pleasantly surprised. She heard him shout, “Jing’er, be careful of this next stance!” and he launched a palm.

Guo Jing raised his palm to parry, but before their palms met his body flew backwards and ‘bang!’ he hit a pine tree. That tree was not too big, about a rice bowl in diameter; ‘crack!’ and it was snapped by the strength of Hong Qigong’s push and fell to the ground.

This strike seemed ordinary, but it was enough to stun Ouyang Feng. Huang Rong praised, “Master, that was a great ‘Hacking Empty Air Palm technique’ [pi kong zhang]!”

“Jing’er, protect your body well; don’t let my palm strength injure you!” Hong Qigong called out.

“Disciple understands,” Guo Jing replied. He was just closing his mouth as Hong Qigong’s palm arrived. ‘Crack!’ again Guo Jing was sent flying, again bumping into a tree. Palm after palm came one after another; in a short period of time Hong Qigong had used the ‘Hacking Empty Air Palm’ to send Guo Jing flying and knocking down ten big trees.

“We have ten trees already!” Huang Rong called out.

Guo Jing gasped for breath. “Disciple is exhausted,” he said.

Hong Qigong held his palm and laughed, “This ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is really wonderful. My injury was heavy and I couldn’t even exert any strength, yet I achieved success with just one morning’s exercise.”

Ouyang Feng was suspicious; he stooped down to examine the broken tree trunks and what he saw stunned him. Apart from the heart of the trunk, the outer rings were exceptionally smooth, even smoother than if the trunk was sawn. He thought, “Could it be that the martial arts in the manual is this marvelous? It looks like the Old Beggar’s martial arts have been completely restored. How can I fight them if the three gang up on me? I’ve been lucky so far, I’d better start training myself in the martial arts from that manual.” He cast a glance towards the three and then flew back to the cave in a hurry. He immediately fetched the book Guo Jing wrote, unwrapped layer upon layer of oil papers from the bundle and straightaway buried his head in the book, diligently studying the manual.

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing waited until they could not see Ouyang Feng anymore before both of them burst out laughing. Huang Rong was delighted, “Master, this manual is truly wonderful,” she said.

Hong Qigong laughed without giving her a response. Guo Jing rushed to her and said, “Rong’er, we were only pretending.” Then he told her everything they had thought of and done. It turned out that Guo Jing had used his knife to cut around the trunks, leaving the center intact. Hong Qigong’s palm actually did not carry any strength at all and every time Guo Jing got hit, he used his own strength to fly backwards and bump into a tree, breaking it. Ouyang Feng did not know that with the ‘Vacant Fist’ energy, the dagger was capable of cutting deep into the tree trunk; naturally he did not suspect that the cut was made by the knife.

Huang Rong was laughing hard, but after hearing Guo Jing’s story, she was silent for quite a while with a deep frown on her face. Hong Qigong smiled and said, “The Old Beggar is once again capable of walking on my own feet; it is truly a blessing from Heaven. I don’t care if it was true martial arts or fake. Rong’er, you are afraid the Western Poison will see through this deception, aren’t you?” Huang Rong nodded. “The Old Poison has good eyesight,” Hong Qigong continued, “How could we fool him that easily? But life is full of uncertainties, right now it is useless to worry over nothing. Hear me out: Jing’er recited the contents of the manual to me. There is a section which was called ‘Changing Muscle Forging Bones’ [yi jin duan gu pian] or something; I thought it was very interesting. Since we don’t have anything else to do, why don’t we practice it?”

These words were said with offhanded gentleness, but Huang Rong was aware of the urgency of the situation. What their master had said was very reasonable, therefore she said, “Very well, Master, please teach us.”

Hong Qigong asked Guo Jing to recite the ‘Changing Muscle Forging Bones’ twice, then, based on that, he taught the two how to practice it. He went out hunting and fishing himself as well as lighting the fire and cooking their meals. Several times Guo Jing and Huang Rong offered to help, but he shooed them away every time.

Seven days quickly passed and Guo Jing and Huang Rong made some progress in terms of their energy cultivation. Inside his cave Ouyang Feng was also painstakingly studying his manual and putting all his efforts into doing so. Towards the evening of the eighth day Hong Qigong smiled and said, “Rong’er…how was your Master’s roasted wild goat?”

Huang Rong smiled but did not say anything, she simply shook her head. Hong Qigong laughed, “I can’t eat it myself either. You two have finished the first part of your lesson; today you must rest your muscles and bones, otherwise your ‘qi’ will be obstructed and you will suffer an injury. Ok Rong’er, you prepare our meal tonight; Jing’er and I will go and build a raft.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were astonished, “Build a raft?”

“That’s right,” Hong Qigong said, “Do you want to stay with the Old Poison on this deserted island forever?”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were delighted; they both voiced their agreement and started to work immediately.

The hundred logs Guo Jing cut down were piled neatly at one side. They cut the tree’s bark, wove it into ropes and tied the logs together to make the raft. When Guo Jing used his strength to pull the rope, it broke. He thought the rope was not made strong enough. He tried pulling another rope, but as soon as he exerted a little strength, it also broke easily. Guo Jing was baffled; he stared blankly at the rope and did not know what to do.

From the other side of the hill Huang Rong ran shouting with a wild goat in her hands. When going out to hunt for the goat she carried some pebbles to herd the goat with; who would have thought that with only several jumps she had already overtaken the goat. She twisted around and grabbed the wild goat. Her body movements were so swift that she even surprised herself. Hong Qigong smiled, “So the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is truly a wonderful manual; no wonder countless heroes and warriors were willing to risk their lives for it.”

Huang Rong was delighted, “Master, do you think we can beat the Old Poison now?” she asked.

Hong Qigong shook his head, “Not yet, you are still far from that,” he replied, “You’ll have to train for another eight to ten years. His Toad Stance is not a small matter; no martial art can break it except Wang Chongyang’s Solitary Yang Finger.

Huang Rong pouted and said, “Then even if we train for another eight to ten years we might still not be able to defeat him.”

“That’s hard to say,” Hong Qigong said, “Perhaps the martial arts in that book are fiercer than I think.”

“Rong’er, please be patient,” Guo Jing said, “There is nothing wrong with learning a new skill.”

A few more days passed and Guo Jing and Huang Rong finished the second part of the ‘Changing Muscles Forging Bones’. The raft was also ready. The three of them wove a sail from tree bark and they also prepared some fresh water and food on the raft. All along Ouyang Feng acted indifferent to what they were doing; he simply watched their activities with a cold look.

One evening everything was ready so they planned on sailing the next day. Just before bed that night Huang Rong asked, “Do we have to say goodbye to them?”

“Not only that, we must make a ten year agreement with them,” Guo Jing answered, “They have bullied us badly; how can we just forget it?”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and said, “Absolutely! I pray to Heaven to bless those two thieves so that they can go back to the mainland, and also to give the Old Poison ten more years of life; or perhaps to restore Master’s martial arts quickly, so that in one or two years we can hunt for him. That would be even better.” The next day before the crack of dawn Hong Qigong awoke; he indistinctly heard some noises from the shore. He quickly called, “Jing’er, did you hear that noise from the beach?”

Guo Jing got up immediately and jumped down from the tree. Once he saw what was happening on the beach he could not stop cursing; he immediately rushed forward in pursuit. By this time Huang Rong also awoke and ran after him, calling out, “Jing ge ge, what’s the matter?”

Guo Jing shouted from the distance, “Those wicked thieves stole our raft.” Hearing this, Huang Rong was shocked.

By the time they got to the beach Ouyang Feng had already carried his nephew out to the raft, raised the sail and was already several zhang [1 zhang = 3.3m or 11ft] away from land. Guo Jing was furious and was about to jump into the ocean to pursue, but Huang Rong pulled his sleeve and said, “They are already too far.”

Ouyang Feng roared with laughter, “Many thanks for the raft!” he shouted.

Stomping his feet with rage, Guo Jing furiously kicked a red sandalwood tree nearby. Huang Rong suddenly had an idea, “I’ve got it!” she called out. She took a big rock and placed it in the tree branches. She wanted to use the tree as a slingshot. “Pull on this tree,” she said, “and we’ll hurl the rock.”

Guo Jing was delighted. He braced his legs on the tree’s base and pulled the trunk backward with all his might. Sandalwood trees are strong but supple; it bent almost completely down to the ground but did not break. Guo Jing let go and with a whooshing sound the big rock flew out to sea and fell near the raft’s side, creating a zhang high big splash.

“What a pity!” Huang Rong called out. She took another rock, aimed carefully and let go. This time the rock hit the raft dead on, but the raft’s construction was too good and it did not break. The two launched three more rocks, but all of them fell into the water.

Watching all their rocks miss the target, Huang Rong had a crazy idea. “Quick, use me as the rock!” she shouted. Guo Jing was startled, unclear of what she meant. Huang Rong explained, “Hurl me out to sea; I’ll deal with them.”

Guo Jing knew her water skills were excellent, her lightness kungfu was excellent as well; he saw no danger in complying with her request. He drew his knife and put it in her hand. “Be careful,” he said. He pulled the tree one more time. Huang Rong sat steadily on a branch and called out, “Fire away!”

Guo Jing released his grip and Huang Rong’s body flew into the sky. She somersaulted twice in the air and plunged into the water several zhang away from the raft. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Ouyang Feng and his nephew were dazzled and they didn’t know what she was going to do.

Huang Rong went deep into the water. She did not emerge, but swam underwater towards the raft instead. Once she saw a black shadow overhead she knew she had arrived at the bottom of the raft. Ouyang Feng randomly hit the water with the oar, but he could not hit her.

Huang Rong held up the dagger, ready to sever the ropes tying the wooden raft together; then she suddenly came up with a bright idea. She reduced the strength of her hand only partly cutting the ropes, leaving a third intact; that way the raft would not break apart until the rough waves of the open sea hit it. She turned around and swam away, emerging on the surface about a dozen zhang away; she gasped for breath, pretending she could not catch the raft. Ouyang Feng laughed wildly and hoisted the sail. Not too long afterwards the raft was far away.

While waiting for her to arrive back at the beach, Hong Qigong and Guo Jing cursed continuously; but then they saw Huang Rong’s smug expression and were puzzled. After hearing what had happened, they were delighted to no end. “Even though we are sending those two wicked men to the bottom of the sea, we will have to start the work over again,” Huang Rong said.

The three ate their meal in high spirits; then they cut logs again and built another raft. Several days later they were ready, and when the southeast wind blew, they hoisted the tree bark sail and left the island heading to the west. Huang Rong gazed towards the island, which was getting smaller and smaller, she sighed and said, “Our lives were almost lost on that island; but leaving it today, my heart is filled with sadness.”

“We can always revisit the island in the future,” Guo Jing said.

Huang Rong clapped her hands and said, “Good! We must come back. When that time comes, you can’t go back on your word. But first, let’s give this small island a good name. Master, what do you think?”

“You crushed that little bastard’s legs with a big rock on that island,” Hong Qigong said, “Let us call it ‘Crushing Ghost Island’ [ya gui dao]. What do you say?”

Huang Rong shook her head. “That is not very elegant.”

“If you want elegance, why ask the Old Beggar in the first place?” Hong Qigong said, “If you ask me, since the Old Poison ate my urine on the island, I say we call it ‘Eat Urine Island’ [chi sui dao].”

Huang Rong smiled with a negative wave of her hand; she leaned her head to one side to think. She saw a group of red clouds on the horizon, like a cluster of gems hovering gloriously over the island. “Let’s call it ‘Bright Red Cloud Island’ [ming xia dao]!” she called out.

“Not good, not good!” Hong Qigong countered, “That was too elegant.”

Guo Jing listened to the master and disciple arguing; he smiled and did not say anything. He did not care whether the island had an elegant name or a vulgar name; but deep down in his heart he thought ‘ya gui’ or ‘chi sui’ were more interesting than ‘ming xia’.

Carried by the blowing wind they sailed for two days and the wind did not change its course. Towards the evening of the third day Hong Qigong and Huang Rong were asleep while Guo Jing kept charge of the rudder for the night. Amid the ocean breeze and rolling waves he suddenly heard somebody shout, “Help! Help!” twice. The voice sounded like clashing cymbals and it could be heard clearly amidst the blowing wind and waves. Hong Qigong sat up and said in a low voice, “That’s the Old Poison.” They heard the shout one more time and Huang Rong grabbed Hong Qigong’s arm, “It’s a ghost…it’s a ghost!” she said with a trembling voice. It was the end of the sixth month and the night was dark and moonless; there were only a few stars scattered sparsely in the dark night. The sea was pitch- black and a scream in the middle of the night would make anybody terrified.

“Is that the Old Poison?” Hong Qigong called out. His internal energy was lost, so his voice did not travel too far. Guo Jing gathered the ‘qi’ on his ‘dan tian’ and called out, “Is that Uncle Ouyang?”

From the distance they heard Ouyang Feng answer, “It is me, Ouyang Feng. Help!”

Huang Rong was still terrified, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or a ghost, let’s just leave, quickly!”

“Help him,” Hong Qigong suddenly said.

“No, no!” Huang Rong quickly answered, “I am afraid.” “It’s not a ghost,” Hong Qigong said.

“Even if it is a man we still don’t have to help,” Huang Rong said.

“Helping others in distress is one of our Beggar Clan rules,” Hong Qigong said, “You and I are two generations of Clan Leaders; we can’t abandon the honorable customs handed down from previous generations’ leaders.”

“The Beggar Clan’s custom is not right,” Huang Rong countered, “Ouyang Feng is clearly a scoundrel; when he becomes a ghost, he will be a scoundrel ghost. It doesn’t matter if it is a man or a ghost, we should not help.”

“It is the Clan’s regulation; we can’t change it,” Hong Qigong said.

In her heart Huang Rong was very angry. They heard Ouyang Feng’s voice in the distance again, “Brother Qi [Qi Xiong], are you really ‘seeing death, but do not help’ [jian si bu jiu]?”

Huang Rong said, “I’ve got it! Jing ge ge, wait until you can see Ouyang Feng clearly, then strike him dead with your stick. You are not a Beggar Clan member; you don’t have to observe this unreasonable rule.”

Hong Qigong was angry, “Is taking advantage of somebody else’s precarious condition the way of the righteous warrior?”

Huang Rong did not have a choice. She watched helplessly as Guo Jing steered the raft towards the voice. In the deep darkness of the night they vaguely saw two men in the water rocked by the waves; next to their heads were logs. It seemed that after their raft broke up, Ouyang Feng and his nephew had clung onto the logs until now.

“Let him swear an oath never to harm anybody else, then we will rescue him,” Huang Rong said.

Hong Qigong sighed, “You don’t know the Old Poison’s character; he would rather die than surrender. He won’t make that kind of promise. Jing’er, rescue them.”

Guo Jing bent down and grabbed Ouyang Ke’s collar and lifted him up onto the raft. Hong Qigong was eager to help and he forgot his martial arts were gone. He held out his hand and Ouyang Feng took it. He wanted to borrow strength and leap to the raft; but because of his pull Hong Qigong fell unexpectedly into the sea with a splash. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were shocked; they immediately jumped into the sea and saved Hong Qigong. Huang Rong angrily scolded Ouyang Feng, “My Master has a good heart and wanted to rescue you; how could you drag him into the sea like that?”

Ouyang Feng now knew Hong Qigong had lost his martial arts; otherwise, how could his simple pull make a martial arts expert fall into the sea? But he had been immersed in the water for several days and he was extremely weary. He did not dare to look at them; he lowered his head and said, “I … I did not mean to. Brother Qi [Qi Xiong], please don’t blame your brother.” Hong Qigong laughed heartily, “Well said, well said. But now the Old Beggar’s real skills are known to you,” he said.

“Good Miss,” Ouyang Feng said, “Could you spare something for us to eat? We haven’t eaten for several days.”

Huang Rong replied, “We only have food and water enough for three people on this raft. I can give you some, but what do we eat?”

“Very well,” Ouyang Feng said, “Please give a little bit of food to my nephew then; his legs are severely injured and he won’t survive without food.”

“In that case let’s make a deal,” Huang Rong said, “Your viper injured my Master; he has not recovered. Give him the antidote.”

Ouyang Feng groped in his pocket and produced two vials; handing them over to her and said, “Miss, please take a look; the vials were submerged in the water and the antidote has been washed out!”

Huang Rong took the vials, shook them, and sniffed them; the vials really were filled with seawater. “In that case, tell us ingredients for the antidote; as soon as we are ashore we can prepare some.”

“If I wanted to swindle you, I could just tell you some ingredients and you wouldn’t know if it is genuine or fake; but how can Ouyang Feng be that kind of person?” Then he said, “Let me tell you the truth: my vipers are the most poisonous in the world; nothing can match their lethalness. If one is bitten, although you won’t die immediately due to one’s excellence in martial arts, within sixty-four days half of your body will be paralyzed and you will be an invalid for the rest of your life. I have no problem about giving you the antidote ingredients, but not only are the ingredients hard to find, it also requires processing for three successive winters and summers. By the time the antidote is ready, I am afraid it will be much too late. I have told you the truth; if you still want to take my life that is entirely up to you.”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing listened to him and secretly admired him; they thought, “Although this man is evil and cruel, in a matter of life and death he did not lose his honor as the grand master of his martial arts school.”

“Rong’er,” Hong Qigong said, “He is telling the truth. A man’s life has been decided by fate; the Old Beggar has nothing to be worried about. You give them something to eat.”

Inwardly Huang Rong’s heart was crushed and she knew her master would not recover from his injury. Silently she took a roasted wild goat leg and tossed it towards Ouyang Feng. Ouyang Feng first tore some meat off for his nephew before he took a big bite and chewed the meat.

Huang Rong said coldly, “Uncle Ouyang, you have injured my master; at the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua you will be the winner amongst the heroes. Let me be the first to congratulate you.”

“That is not necessarily true,” Ouyang Feng replied, “There is at least one other person in this whole wide world who can heal Brother Qi’s injury.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong jumped up in shock so that the raft leaned to one side. They both asked in unison, “Is that true?”

While biting the goat leg Ouyang Feng said, “But it is very difficult to ask this person to help. Your Master also knows about it.”

The two’s eyes turned to their master. Hong Qigong smiled, “You know it is difficult…why did you mention it?”

Huang Rong tugged her master’s sleeve, asking for an explanation, “Master, tell us. Even if it is difficult, we still have to try. I will ask my father to help; surely he’ll find a way.” Ouyang Feng snorted softly. “What are you snorting about?” Huang Rong said. Ouyang Feng did not answer.

Hong Qigong said, “He was laughing at you for thinking your father is all powerful. Finding that person is not a small matter, so how could your father convince that person to help?”

Huang Rong was astonished, “That person! Who is that person?” Hong Qigong continued, “Let’s not talk about that person’s high level of martial arts skills. Even if he was so weak that he couldn’t even kill a chicken, the Old Beggar will never harm someone to benefit myself.”

Huang Rong hesitantly said, “High level of martial arts skills? Ah! I know. He is the Southern Emperor, Emperor Duan. Master, let’s ask him to heal your injury, how does that harm others to benefit yourself?”

“Go to sleep and don’t ask any more questions! I forbid you to bring up this matter again. Understand?” Hong Qigong said. Huang Rong did not dare to say more. She was afraid Ouyang Feng might steal their food, so she leaned against the food basket and slept.

Waking early the next morning Huang Rong looked at Ouyang Feng and his nephew; she jumped in fright because their complexions were very pale and their bodies swollen from being in seawater these past several days.

The raft sailed until about the ninth hour [3-5pm] when they saw a dark line in the distance. It appeared to be land. Guo Jing was the first to jump up and shout in delight. In the time needed to eat a bowl of rice they could see more clearly; it was indeed land. The sea was calm and the sun shone brightly, scorching these people and making them miserable. Ouyang Feng suddenly stood up; he swayed a little bit and stretched out his hands and grabbed both Guo Jing and Huang Rong. With the tip of his foot he also kicked and sealed Hong Qigong’s acupoint.

The two were taken by surprise and their vital acupoints sealed; half of their bodies numbed immediately. Startled they asked, “What are you doing?” Ouyang Feng grinned evilly, but did not say anything.

Hong Qigong sighed, “The Old Poison is very conceited; he is not willing to accept another’s mercy. We have saved his life; if he does not kill his saviors, how can his heart be at peace? Ay, I can only blame my own benevolent heart for rescuing these people in the middle of the night and forgetting this fact. Now I’ve endangered the lives of these two weary kids.” “You knew it very well,” Ouyang Feng said, “Also the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is in my hands; if I leave a copy in this boy named Guo’s mind, I will only invite inevitable misfortune on myself.”

Hearing him mentioning the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ Hong Qigong’s heart was stirred; with a loud voice he recited, “Nu er qi liu, ha gua er, ning xie qi qia, ping dao er …”

Ouyang Feng was startled; he recognized the sentence to be one among hundreds of difficult sentences he did not know the meaning of. Listening to Hong Qigong reciting it, he believed Hong Qigong understood the meaning and he thought, “There are many strange sentences in the manual, there must be a key to unlock their secrets. If I kill these three, I am afraid there is nobody else in this world who understands it and my taking possession of the manual will have been in vain.” Therefore, he asked, “What does it mean?”

Hong Qigong replied, “Hun hua cha cha, xue gen xu bat u, mi er mi er …” Even though he had listened to Guo Jing reciting the strange sentences from the manual, how could he have memorized everything? He was just talking nonsense, but his face showed deep veneration.

Ouyang Feng actually thought the sentences carried a very profound meaning; he focused his attention and thought deeply. Hong Qigong shouted, “Jing’er, now!”

Guo Jing pulled back his left hand and sent out his right palm while his left leg flew forward simultaneously. Actually when Ouyang Feng sent out his kick and launched a surprise attack, his vital acupoint was grabbed and he was unable to move. When Hong Qigong talked nonsense and confused Ouyang Feng, it caused him to lose his concentration and slightly loosen his grip. Guo Jing took this opportunity to free himself and launch a counterattack. Guo Jing had trained the ‘Changing Muscle Forging Bones’ to the second stage; although he did not learn any new fist or kick techniques, his original strength was actually increased by at least twenty percent This one pull, one palm and one kick were executed without any extraordinary moves, but the force within his attack was unexpectedly strong.

Ouyang Feng was taken by surprise and because the raft was narrow, there was no space to withdraw; he was forced to raise his hand to fend off the attack, but his grip on Huang Rong did not loosen.

Guo Jing’s fist and palms went out one after another, attacking his enemy like a violent storm. He was well aware that, on this narrow raft, should he ever let Ouyang Feng attack with his Toad Stance, then the three of them would be dead with no burial ground. This flurry of attacks forced Ouyang Feng to withdraw half a step.

Huang Rong leaned sideways slightly, positioning her shoulder to bump Ouyang Feng’s body. Ouyang Feng was amused and thought, “This little girl wants to bump me, just how much skill does she think she has? Don’t blame me if I bump you clear to the ocean.” He had just finished this thought when Huang Rong’s shoulder arrived. Ouyang Feng did not evade nor try to parry, appearing not to pay attention; then he suddenly a felt pricking pain on his chest. The pain caused him to realize immediately that she was wearing Peach Blossom Island’s treasure, the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ [ruan wei jia]. By now he was already at the edge of the raft, so he could not move back even half a step. Her armor was full of sharp spines which he could not deal with. He hastily let go of her vital acupoint and flung her to one side.

Huang Rong did not have any room to set foot on and she was going to fall into the water. Guo Jing reached behind his back and grabbed her, while his left hand was still attacking his enemy. Huang Rong drew out her dagger and rushed forward to attack.

Ouyang Feng stood on the edge of the raft with water splashing his legs; no matter how hard Guo Jing and Huang Rong attacked, they were not able to force him into the water.

Hong Qigong and Ouyang Ke were unable to move, so both of them helplessly watched the ferocious fight. Their hearts were thumping madly as they watched this evenly matched fight where the margin between life and death was as narrow as a strand of hair. They both bitterly wished they could help their side.

Ouyang Feng’s martial arts were considerably above Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s combined power, but because he had been immersed in the water for several days, almost half of his strength was gone. Although Huang Rong’s martial arts were not too high, she was wearing the ‘Soft Hedgehog Armor’ and her hand was holding a sharp dagger. These offensive and defensive weapons were enough to give Ouyang Feng some headaches. Not only that, Guo Jing’s ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’, his seventy-two stances of the ‘Vacant Fist’, the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique, as well as the recently learned ‘Changing Muscles Forging Bones’ from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ combined to make him a formidable opponent. Besides that, the three were engaged in a close fight on a raft!

After a while Ouyang Feng’s palms started getting stronger; Guo Jing and Huang Rong started to fall under his attack. Hong Qigong was very anxious watching this fierce battle. Amidst Ouyang Feng’s dancing palm shadows his left leg kicked out with a strong gust of wind. Huang Rong did not dare to block it and was forced to somersault back and fell into the water.

Suddenly facing a strong enemy alone, Guo Jing was feeling the strain. Luckily, after falling into the water on the left side of the raft, Huang Rong swam under the bottom of the raft, boarded on the right side, and swept her dagger towards Ouyang Feng’s chest. Now Ouyang Feng had to face enemies on two sides.

While fighting courageously, Huang Rong thought of plans to overcome this situation, “If this fight continues, and with our inferior martial arts, in the end we will fall under his hands. The only way to defeat him is under water.” As soon as this thought entered her mind, she swept her dagger and cut the sail rope and the sail immediately fell down; the raft now carried by the waves and no longer moved forward. Huang Rong drew back two steps, wrapped the rope several times around Hong Qigong’s body, then several turns on logs from the raft and made two tight knots. With Huang Rong out of the battle, Guo Jing would not be able to withstand the enemy much longer. He managed to block three successive stances, but the fourth stance forced him to step backwards. Ouyang Feng did not want to let him go and his palms continuously attacked. Guo Jing was forced to step backwards again and using the ‘Fish Jumping out of the Deep’ [yu yue yu yuan] he managed to block another stance. For the next stance he was forced to move backwards again and his left foot stepped on empty air. In this critical moment he did not get nervous; his right foot immediately flew forward to block his enemy from attacking further. With no feet on the raft, with a ‘splash!’ he also fell into the water.

The raft was rocking hard and Huang Rong also took this opportunity to leap into the sea. The two pushed and pulled the raft, trying to overturn it. They knew Ouyang Ke would drown, and besides, in the water Ouyang Feng was not their match. Hong Qigong’s was tied to the raft and the two took the risk of dealing with the Western Poison first before trying to save their master.

Ouyang Feng understood their intentions very well and he raised his foot over Hong Qigong’s head and loudly shouted, “You two kids listen to me! If you rock the raft one more time, I will kick instantly!”

Huang Rong understood her first plan had been foiled so she proceeded with her second plan: she took a deep breath, dove underneath the raft and began cutting ropes with her dagger. She knew they were not too far from land; after drowning Ouyang Feng and his nephew, she thought they could ride on logs and get to shore without too much trouble.

‘Snap…snap!’ the wooden raft broke into two halves. Ouyang Ke was on the left half, while Ouyang Feng and Hong Qigong were on the right half. Inwardly Ouyang Feng felt anxious and he quickly stretched his hand to grab his nephew; then he bent over looking into the water, ready to strike Huang Rong if she cut another rope.

From under the water Huang Rong could see Ouyang Feng’s shadow clearly. Knowing his next attack would be very fierce, she did not dare to cut another rope. Both sides were in deadlock for a long time. Huang Rong swam several zhang away, took another deep breath, then dove right back under, waiting for an opportunity to launch her attack.

With concentrated attention, both sides waited for an opportunity. For the moment their part of the sea became very calm and the sun shone brightly over their heads. The ocean seemed so peaceful, but on this half raft, with one above and one below, there were very murderous intentions.

Huang Rong thought, “If this half raft is cut in two, the waves will certainly turn it over.” While Ouyang Feng thought, “As soon as she pokes her head up, I am going to slap the water. The vibration should be enough to scatter her brains. Once this little girl is gone, the little thief named Guo should not prove a problem to me.” Two people waited without blinking, both itching to strike.

Suddenly Ouyang Ke pointed to the left and called out, “A boat…a boat!”

Hong Qigong and Guo Jing turned their heads and saw a big boat with a dragon figurehead and its sail fully raised; it approached riding the wind and breaking waves. A moment later Ouyang Ke saw someone standing on the bow; he was large in stature and was wearing a scarlet kasaya [a garment worn by Buddhist monks] and looked like the Monk Lingzi. As the boat got closer, he could see more clearly, it was indeed the Monk Lingzi. He quickly told his uncle.

Ouyang Feng concentrates his ‘qi’ in his ‘dan tian’ [lower abdomen] and loudly called out, “Friends, here, come quickly!”

Under water, Huang Rong did not know what was happening, but Guo Jing knew they were in more trouble. He swam underwater and pulled Huang Rong’s arm, signaling her that more enemies were coming. Huang Rong was not very clear on his intentions, but she was aware something was not right. She signaled back to Guo Jing to block Ouyang Feng’s palm while she severed the rope.

Guo Jing knew his own skill was inferior to his enemy by a long shot; but now that he was underwater and the enemy above, the difference was lessened. He knew blocking Ouyang Feng’s palm meant endangering his own life, but it was a critical time and he had no other alternative. Therefore he exerted all his strength into his palms and suddenly swept upwards.

“Ugh!” Ouyang Feng grunted as his palms struck the water; meanwhile Guo Jing’s palms were coming up from below. Two forces collided on the surface of the sea, creating a big splash. The raft was lifted several feet upwards and, ‘snap…snap’, the half raft broke into two parts; it seemed Huang Rong managed to cut the rope just in time.

In the meantime the big boat was only a few dozen zhangs away from the raft. After cutting the rope, Huang Rong immediately dove deeper underwater. She was about to come up and stab Ouyang Feng when she noticed Guo Jing was motionless and slowly sinking. She was alarmed, quickly swam near, and grabbed his arm. She swam several zhangs away before coming up to the surface. Guo Jing’s eyes were tightly shut, his face blue and his lips colorless; he was unconscious.

The large boat lowered a small boat with several sailors pulling the oars; they took Ouyang Feng, his nephew, as well as Hong Qigong aboard. Huang Rong called three times, “Jing ge ge!” but Guo Jing did not wake. She thought that although the boat was full of the enemies, she had no alternative; she held on to Guo Jing’s head and swam towards the small boat.

The sailors pulled Guo Jing aboard and held out their hands to pull her in. Huang Rong’s left hand pressed on the boat’s edge and she leaped up from the water like a flying fish, into the boat, scaring the sailors.

When his palms collided with Ouyang Feng’s, Guo Jing felt a tremendous force surging through his body and he passed out immediately. He awakened and knew he was leaning on Huang Rong’s chest and aware that they were on a small boat. He concentrated his breathing and found out that he was not internally injured; he raised his eyebrows and smiled at Huang Rong.

Huang Rong smiled back at him and her anxiety and fears were gone in an instant. She at last had an opportunity to see what kind of boat was coming to rescue them. Once she looked up, she groaned inwardly; she saw, standing at the bow of the big boat, seven or eight men, both tall and short. They were the same Wulin characters she’d met several months earlier at the Zhao Palace in Yanjing. The short, stout one with bright eyes was the ‘Butcher with a Thousand Hands’ [qian shou ren tu] Peng Lianhu, the one with a bald, shiny head was the ‘Dragon King of Guimen’ [gui men long wang] (lit. Ghost Gate) Note to final editor: the earlier chapter has ‘Dragon King of Demonic Group’] Sha Tongtian, the one with three carbuncles on his head sticking out like horns was the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ [san tou jiao] Hou Tonghai, the one with ruddy face and white hair was the ‘Ginseng Immortal’ [shen xian lao guai] Liang Ziweng, the one wearing scarlet kasaya was the Tibetan monk the ‘Big Handprint’ [da shou yin] Venerable Lingzhi. There were several others that she did not know. She thought, “Jing ge ge’s martial arts and mine have recently enjoyed tremendous improvements. If we have to fight with Peng Lianhu and the others one-on- one, I might not win, but Jing ge ge will definitely score a victory. But the Old Poison is standing nearby, plus these other people. It will be very difficult for us to escape danger today.”

The people on the big boat were surprised to hear Ouyang Feng’s shouts from the raft. Now that they saw Guo Jing and the others, they were even more surprised. Ouyang Feng was holding his nephew; Guo Jing and Huang Rong carried Hong Qigong; the five people in two groups jumped up one after another from the small boat to the big boat.

Soon a man came out of the cabin to welcome them; he wore an embroidered colored robe. As soon as he saw Guo Jing, both men were stunned. The man wore a neat beard on his chin, had a handsome face; it was none other than the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Wanyan Honglie.

After escaping from the Liu family ancestral hall in Baoying, Wanyan Honglie was afraid that Guo Jing might pursue him to the north; he did not dare go home. He came across Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and the others and decided to head down south to steal the book left behind by Yue Wumu (the Wumu Legacy). By this time the Mongolian army had dispatched a large scale military expedition against the Jin; the capital, Yanjing, had been besieged for several months and the sixteen prefectures surrounding it had fallen to the Mongolian invasion. As the days passed the situation for the Jin got more and more critical. Wanyan Honglie was very worried about the fate of his country; he’d seen with his own eyes that the Mongolians were very swift and fierce. Although the Jin army was ten times superior in numbers, each time they met, the Jin were routed. Wanyan Honglie painstakingly pondered all ideas to rebuild his country’s lofty aspirations, and came to the conclusion that what he needed right at that time was the Wumu Legacy. He thought that if this book on military strategy was in his possession, he would be able to build a divine and invincible army just like Yue Fei’s own army. Even though the Mongolian army was strong, they would flee at the sight of his army.

He presently led this expedition south, trying to track down the whereabouts of the Legacy; but he feared the Southern Song would uncover his intentions and be on guard against intruders. He decided to go by sea, hoping nobody would know his itinerary and he could land on the Zhejiang coast undetected and quietly enter Lin’an to steal the book.

Before departing he looked for Ouyang Ke knowing he was a martial arts expert and would be a highly useful companion. After a long time of not hearing any news of him, he decided to leave without waiting for this man. Now they suddenly meet quite by accident on the sea; not only Ouyang Ke, but Guo Jing as well. He could not help but feel anxious; he was afraid his secret mission had been compromised.

Seeing the enemy who’d killed his father, Guo Jing seethed with anger; he did not care if he was surrounded by powerful enemies and he looked at Wanyan Honglie with blazing gaze.

Just then someone else came out of the cabin, but when only half step through the door he immediately drew back in. Huang Rong’s sharp eyes saw that the man looked like Yang Kang.

In the meantime Ouyang Ke introduced his uncle to the prince, “Uncle, this is the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin who loves people with high skills.” Ouyang Feng cupped his fists in front of his chest.

Wanyan Honglie did not know that Ouyang Feng was a very big name in the martial arts realm. He noticed Ouyang Feng had an arrogant expression, but for Ouyang Ke’s sake he returned the cupped fists gesture.

When Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and the others heard his name, they bowed and spoke their praise, “For a long time Mr. Ouyang has been the Mount Tai and the Big Dipper [meaning ‘ultimate’] of the Wulin world; today we are fortunate to finally meet you.” Ouyang Feng slightly bowed, returning their respect half-heartedly.

‘Big Handprint’ the Venerable Lingzhi came from Tibet and did not know of the Western Poison’s reputation; he merely put his palms together without saying anything.

Wanyan Honglie knew that Sha Tongtian and the others were conceited men and they always looked down on others; but he noticed they were very respectful towards Ouyang Feng, almost to the point of fear and heaped flattering words on him. Their expressions looked very unusual. Wanyan Honglie realized that this water-swollen man with disheveled hair and bare feet was not an ordinary person; he immediately treated Ouyang Feng with respect and uttered some polite words.

Among these people, only Liang Ziweng had different feelings. Because Guo Jing had drunk the precious blood of his valuable viper, and now that they saw each other again, how could he not feel angry? But he also noticed that the person he was most afraid of, Hong Qigong, was with Guo Jing. Even though he was very angry, he managed to keep a smiling face. He went forward and bowed respectfully, “The little Liang Ziweng greets Clan Leader Hong and wishes Senior well.”

His speech startled everyone. Although they all had heard for a long time of the stellar reputations of the Western Poison and the Northern Beggar, they had never met them in person. Who would have expected that two of the biggest names in the martial arts world would actually make their appearance at the same time? They were about to rush forward and pay their respects when Hong Qigong laughed loudly and said, “The Old Beggar is having very bad luck; a vicious dog has bitten me leaving me half dead and half alive, what are you paying respects for? It would be better if you bring me something to eat.” Everyone was startled and they thought, “This Hong Qigong is lying motionless because he is severely injured... we don’t have anything to fear from him.” They looked at Ouyang Feng, waiting to see what he was going to do.

Earlier, Ouyang Feng had cooked up a plan as to how to get rid of these three people: Hong Qigong must be eliminated first to avoid his own dishonorable behavior from becoming public; next, he would force Guo Jing to explain the difficult sentences from the manual and then he would kill him. As for Huang Rong, even though his nephew loved her, if he let her live, she would cause an enormous disaster in the future. However, if he personally killed her, Huang Yaoshi would not let him have a single moment’s peace. Therefore he decided to use someone else’s hand to kill her and thus shift the blame from his shoulders. Since the three were aboard the boat, he was not afraid they would fly away and escape. He stepped forward and said to Wanyan Honglie, “These three people are very crafty and they are also highly skilled in martial arts. I beseech the Prince to assign some people to guard them well.”

Liang Ziweng was very pleased; he leaned to the left and squeezed past Sha Tongtian to grab Guo Jing’s hand. Guo Jing turned his wrist over and slapped Liang Ziweng’s shoulder. He’d used the ‘Sighting the Dragon in the Field’, a swift and heavy stance; even though Liang Ziweng’s martial arts skill was high, he was unexpectedly forced to stagger back two steps.

Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng continually competed to win the favor of Wanyan Honglie. They always tried to outdo the other and what their faces showed was different from what they felt in their hearts. Seeing Liang Ziweng stumble, Peng Lianhu was inwardly very pleased. He stepped closer to Hong Qigong and the others; but he was waiting for Liang Ziweng to fall before taking any action.

When Liang Ziweng slipped past Sha Tongtian to pull Guo Jing away, he was prepared for Guo Jing’s single stance, the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’; he knew he would not be able to face it head on, hence the attack from the side. Who would have thought that in less than a month the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’ was not the only move Guo Jing knew? Because Guo Jing did not pursue, he jumped up and attacked with his fists, launching his life’s worth of training in martial arts, the ‘Wild Fox from Liaodong Fist’ technique [liao dong ye hu quan fa], determined to take Guo Jing’s life, both for embarrassing him just now and also for killing his precious snake.

One time Liang Ziweng went to gather ginseng on Mount Changbai [located in Jilin province]; he saw a hound fighting with a wild fox in the snow. The fox was very cunning; it leaped to the east and hopped to the west, very quick and agile. Although the hound’s claws and teeth were sharp, after battling for a long time it had yet not scored victory. Liang Ziweng noticed the ability of the fox to jump very high and he had a sudden inspiration. He abandoned his intention to gather ginseng and decided to stay in a thatched hut on the snowy mountain, painstakingly pondering martial arts moves for several months. As a result, the ‘Wild Fox Fist technique’ was born.

The technique incorporates four fundamental principles, namely ‘ling’ [alert/quick], ‘shan’ [dodge], ‘pu’ [pounce], and ‘die’ [tumble]. This technique had come in handy in dealing with powerful enemies. First of all, he did not give the enemy an opportunity to catch him since he was very quick to retreat and he was able to hasten to the left and escape to the right; then he struck back as the opportunity arose.

Now he did not dare to underestimate his opponent any longer and launched this fist technique right away. His attacks were lightning fast as he threw everything he had at Guo Jing. The fist technique was weird; Guo Jing had never seen anything like it before. He thought, “In Rong’er’s ‘Peach Blossom Island Divine Sword Palm’ technique there are many trick moves; out of five attacks only one is real, or sometimes one out of eight. But it seems this old man’s fists are all empty strikes. I wonder what kind of strange technique this is?” However, he remembered Hong Qigong’s advice, that regardless the technique his opponent is using all he needed to do was to keep using the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’.

After watching the two men fighting for a while, everybody began to silently shake their heads, thinking, “The Old Freak Liang can be considered a grand master of martial arts; why is it that when fighting this new born kid [very inexperienced] he keeps moving around and does not dare to attack head on?”

Several moves later Guo Jing’s palm strength began to force him back step by step; it seemed that very soon he would fall into the ocean. Realizing his ‘Wild Fox Fist’ would not help him score a victory, Liang Ziweng thought of using a different set of fist techniques; but it was too late. Guo Jing’s palms enveloped him completely, not giving him any chance to counterattack. Amidst the strong gusts of wind Hong Qigong’s voice was heard, “Attack the lower part!”

Guo Jing immediately launched the stance ‘The Divine Dragon Swings Its Tail’ [shen long bai wei] and his left arm swept him away. Liang Ziweng called out in alarm and tumbled over the rail of the boat.

Everybody was stunned and rushed to the edge to look, only to hear somebody on the sea laughing a long laugh. Liang Ziweng’s body suddenly flew back up and with a loud grunt landed back on deck, unconscious.

What had just happened confounded everyone on board. Could it be that the waves bounced his body back up? Everybody crowded to the rail of the boat, looked down to the sea below and saw an old man with a white beard and white hair rushing to the east and dashing to the west on the surface of the sea at unusual speed. They strained their eyes to see more clearly; as it turned out, that man was riding on the back of a huge shark at a speed not inferior to someone galloping on horseback on dry land.

Guo Jing was delightedly surprised and with a loud voice he shouted, “Big Brother Zhou, I am here!” That shark rider was indeed the Old Urchin Zhou Botong.

Zhou Botong heard Guo Jing’s shout and he cheered with delight; then he hit the shark’s head near its right eye with his fist and the shark turned left immediately, coming near the boat’s side.

“Is that Brother Guo?” Zhou Botong called out, “How are you? There is a whale ahead and I have been chasing it for a whole day and night. I want to continue chasing it. See you later!”

“Big Brother! Come here quickly!” Guo Jing anxiously called, “There are many bad people here who want to bully your little brother!”

Zhou Botong was angry, “Is that so?” His right hand held onto something inside of the shark’s mouth, while his left hand grabbed onto the rail of the big boat. He pulled hard and both man and shark suddenly flew up above everybody’s heads and landed on the deck. He roared, “Who dares to bully my little brother?”

Almost every single one of the people aboard had extensive knowledge of Jianghu matters; but this white bearded old man who suddenly appeared in a most bizarre way stupefied everyone. Even Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng were dumbstruck.

Zhou Botong saw Huang Rong and he felt strange. “How come you are also here?” he asked.

Huang Rong smiled, “Why not?” she replied, “I figured you’d come back today, that’s why I am here waiting for you. Quickly teach me how to ride a shark.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “Very well, I’ll teach you.”

Huang Rong replied, “First you have to help us get rid of these bad people, and then you can teach me.”

Zhou Botong swept his gaze across the people on the deck and he said to Ouyang Feng, “I knew other people wouldn’t dare to act so savagely, so it turns out to be you.”

Ouyang Feng replied coldly, “A man who does not keep his word, while he is alive in this world, will be the laughing stock of all the warriors of the world.”

“Totally correct,” Zhou Botong said, “A man of integrity certainly won’t cause trouble. But those who speak truly and those who fart [lies] has to be distinguished clearly, otherwise people who hear it might not know if the sound comes from above or from below. I am indeed looking for you to settle an old score and nothing could better than seeing you here. Old Beggar, you are our witness; stand up and give us your judgment.”

Hong Qigong lay on deck and he smiled slightly. Huang Rong said, “The Old Poison was almost dead nine times and my Master was kind enough to rescue him every single time. Who would have thought that he has the heart of a wolf and the lungs of a dog and repays kindness with evil; he injured my Master and sealed his acupoints.”

Actually, Hong Qigong only saved Ouyang Feng’s life three times, but Huang Rong intentionally exaggerated by a factor of three. Ouyang Feng knew this but did not want to argue; he only looked at her with blazing eyes.

Zhou Botong stooped down trying to unseal Hong Qigong’s ‘Song Reservoir’ [qu xhi] and ‘Bubbling Spring’ [yong quan] acupoints by rubbing them. “Old Urchin, it’s useless,” Hong Qigong said.

It turned out that the acupoint sealing method Ouyang Feng used was somewhat unusual; other than Huang Yaoshi and himself, there was no one else in this whole wide world who could unseal them. Ouyang Feng was very smug, “Old Urchin, unseal his acupoints if you have the ability,” he challenged.

Even though Huang Rong could not unseal them, she was familiar with the sealing method; she pressed her lips together and said, “What’s so strange about that? My father can unseal this ‘Penetrating Bone’ [tou gu da xue fa] acupoint sealing technique without very much effort.”

Hearing her mentioning the correct name for his acupoint sealing technique, Ouyang Feng was amazed that this little girl’s knowledge was as deep as a bottomless abyss, even encompassing acupoint sealing techniques. However, he did not pay any attention to her; turning to Zhou Botong he asked, “You lost our bet; why are you talking like breaking smelly wind?”

Zhou Botong covered up his nose and called out, “Break wind? Bad smell, bad smell! But let me ask you this: what did we bet on?” “Everyone here, except this Guo kid and this little girl, is a well-known warrior. I’ll tell what happened and ask these gentlemen to be our judges,” Ouyang Feng replied.

“Well said, well said,” Peng Lianhu said, “Mr. Ouyang, please tell us.”

“This gentleman is the Quanzhen Sect’s Zhou Botong, Master Zhou, known in the Jianghu world as the Old Urchin. In terms of seniority, he holds a very high position; Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi and the other Quanzhen Seven Masters are his martial nephews.“

For the past dozen years or so, Zhou Botong had been detained on Peach Blossom Island; before that time his martial arts skills were obscure. Aside from some mischievous troubles, he never accomplished anything worth mentioning, so his reputation did not spread far and wide in the Jianghu world. However, everybody had seen him riding a shark, a feat not easily accomplished by any of them. Since he is the martial uncle of the Quanzhen Seven Masters, it’s no wonder he is this good. As a result everybody talked amongst themselves in low voices. Peng Lianhu remembered their appointment on the eighth month’s mid-autumn festival in Jiaxing; if the Quanzhen Seven Masters had this strange man as their ally, they would not be easy to deal with. He could not help but feel anxious.

Ouyang Feng continued, “Brother Zhou was stranded in the sea amongst a mass of sharks and I rescued him. I said this mass of sharks was nothing much and without too much effort I could kill every single one of them. Brother Zhou did not believe me, so the two of us made a bet. Brother Zhou, isn’t what I said true?”

Zhou Botong nodded his head repeatedly, “It was absolutely true. But you need to explain to everyone what we were betting on exactly,” he said.

“Correct!” Ouyang Feng said, “I said that if I lost, I would do whatever you wanted me to do. If I am not willing to do it, then I must jump into the sea and become fish food. You said the same thing, is that correct?”

Zhou Botong nodded his head again, “Right, right, that was absolutely correct, and then what happened?” he asked. “What do you mean ‘what happened’? You lost!” Ouyang Feng said.

This time Zhou Botong shook his head repeatedly, “Not true, not true!” he said, “It was you who lost, not me.”

Ouyang Feng was angry, “A real man can distinguish between right and wrong; how can you deny your own words? If I lost, how come you were willing to plunge into the sea to kill yourself?”

Zhou Botong sighed, “That’s true. I originally said that the Old Urchin’s fortune was bad so I lost to you; who would have thought that as I went into the water the Heavens sent something we could regard as a coincidence. Only then did I know that the Old Poison had lost and the Old Urchin had really won.”

Ouyang Feng, Hong Qigong and Huang Rong asked together, “What coincidence?”

Zhou Botong stooped down with his left hand, grabbed a piece of stick stuck inside the shark’s mouth, lifted the shark and said, “I met my riding animal. Old Poison, take a look; it was your precious nephew who stuck this stick inside its mouth, wasn’t it?”

It was indeed Ouyang Ke who concocted this wicked plan to insert a stick inside the shark’s mouth, so that it would not be able to eat and eventually die of starvation. Ouyang Feng had seen this with his own eyes. He saw a huge shark with a wooden stick in its mouth and he also saw the wound caused by the hook in the shark’s mouth. Without any doubt this was the very same shark they’d returned to the sea that day. “So what?” he said.

Zhou Botong clapped his hands and laughed, “That means you lost! Our bet was that you would kill every single one of the sharks, but this good fellow was bestowed with good fortune by your nephew. It could not eat the dead sharks, hence could not eat the poison. It was the only shark left alive. How can you say that the Old Urchin didn’t win?” He burst out laughing. Ouyang Feng’s countenance changed and he could not say anything. Guo Jing delightedly asked, “Big Brother, where were you these past few days? I was so miserable thinking about you.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “I was playing and having fun. Not long after I jumped into the sea, I saw this fellow gasping for breath on the surface and it seemed to be in agony. I said, ‘Old Shark, oh Old Shark, seems like today you and I share the same fate!’ Then I suddenly jumped on the shark’s back. It furiously went under the water and I had to hold my breath with both hands holding tightly to its neck and my feet periodically kicked its belly. In great difficulty it went back up to the surface. Without giving me a chance to take two mouthfuls of air this fellow dove back under. The two of us fought for half a day and he finally became obedient and was willing to listen to what I said. I wanted it go to the east and it went to the east, I wanted it to head north and he wouldn’t dare think of going south.” As he spoke he gently patted the shark’s head, looking extremely pleased.

Of those who were present, only Huang Rong admired and envied him. Her eyes shone and she asked, “I played in the sea for many years, why didn’t I think of this trick? I was so stupid!”

“Look at its mouth full of teeth; they are as sharp as knives,” Zhou Botong said, “If there was no stick in its mouth, would you dare to ride it?”

“You spent the last few days riding on the back of this fish?” Huang Rong asked.

“Certainly,” Zhou Botong replied, “The two of us have pretty good skills at catching fish. As soon as we saw a fish, we chased it and I sent a fist or a palm to kill it. Out of ten fish, I only ate one and this fellow ate the other nine.”

Huang Rong felt the shark’s belly and asked, “You dumped dead fish into its belly? It did not need its teeth to eat?”

“He’s a good eater,” Zhou Botong answered, “There was a time the two of us chased an extremely big cuttlefish …” Two people, one old, the other young, were having an animated discussion, totally ignoring everybody else on board the ship. Ouyang Feng groaned inwardly and silently thought of some methods to deal with this situation. Zhou Botong suddenly turned to him and said, “Hey, Old Poison, do you admit defeat?”

Ouyang Feng had been the one making the speech earlier; how could he swallow his own words in front of this many people? He was obliged to say, “So what if I lost? Do you think there is anything I can’t do?”

“Hmm,” Zhou Botong said, “I must think of a difficult thing for you to do. Very well, you scolded me just now saying that I was farting; I want you to fart immediately and let everybody smell it.”

Hearing Zhou Botong ask Ouyang Feng to break wind for no reason at all, Huang Rong was annoyed. Breaking wind at will was naturally not easy for the average person, but with strong internal energy, it was not difficult to circulate the breathing to all parts of the body, hence it was an extremely trivial thing to do. She was afraid of Ouyang Feng’s craftiness, of his venomous snake staff and was afraid he would grab this opportunity to gently break wind and put everything behind him without too much trouble. So she hastily said, “Not good, not good! First you want to tell him to unseal my Master’s acupoints, then we can talk some more.”

“See!” Zhou Botong said, “Even a young miss is afraid of your smelly fart. Alright, I’ll let you go this time. I was not going to ask you to do a difficult thing anyway; quickly tend to the Old Beggar’s injury. The Old Beggar’s skill is not less than yours; if not of your sneakiness, there’s no way you would be able to injure him. After he is healed, the two of you can fight again. At that time let the Old Urchin be the judge.”

Ouyang Feng knew Hong Qigong’s injury was incurable, so he was not afraid of future retaliation. But he was afraid that Zhou Botong would come up with a more difficult and strange request. Under the scrutiny of numerous people he felt really awkward; he did not want to comply, yet he was too proud not to. Without saying anything he bent down, exerted strength to his palm and unsealed Hong Qigong’s acupoints. Huang Rong and Guo Jing rushed forward to help their master stand.

Zhou Botong swept his gaze to the other people on the deck, he said, “The Old Urchin is most afraid to smell the urine scent of the sheep eaten by you barbarians. Quickly let down a small boat and send us four people ashore.”

Ever since he’d seen the fight between Zhou Botong and Huang Yaoshi, Ouyang Feng knew that this man’s martial arts were very strange. If for any reason they had to fight, he was certain he would not be defeated, but scoring a victory was not guaranteed either. He decided to endure things patiently for the time being. He wanted to wait until he had mastered the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, then he would come and settle the account with Zhou Botong. Besides, he had the excuse of losing the bet earlier. When all was said and done, it would be better off to send this annoying plague away, so he made up his mind and said, “Very well, your luck was very good! Since you won the bet, let it be as you said.” Turning his head to Wanyan Honglie he said, “Prince, please let down a boat to take these four people ashore.”

Wanyan Honglie hesitated as he thought, “I am afraid that as soon as they are ashore, these four will leak my secret mission to the south.”

All this time the Venerable Lingzhi was watching with his cold eyes. Earlier he had seen Ouyang Feng’s unkempt appearance and his heart was filled with contempt. He thought that this ‘chicken half-drowned in soup’ did not dare to defy even half a word of whatever Zhou Botong told him to do; it seemed likely he enjoyed an unearned reputation. Even if his martial arts were excellent, he would not necessarily be more skillful than the rest of the people on board. Noticing Wanyan Honglie’s slight hesitation, he moved forward two steps and said, “If we were on the raft we would have to comply with Mr. Ouyang wishes; how could other people dare to speak too much? But we are on this boat and we have to listen to the Prince’s instructions.”

Listening to this, everyone’s heart was stirred and they turned their gaze on Ouyang Feng to see what he was going to do. Ouyang Feng coldly looked the Venerable Lingzhi up and down, sizing him up. He raised his face to the sky and wryly said, “Does this Great Monk deliberately want to make things difficult for this old man?”

Venerable Lingzhi replied, “I don’t dare. The lowly monk has lived at the edge of Tibet, friendless and ignorant. Today is the very first time I heard Mr. Ouyang’s honorable name. I don’t need to have anything to do with you whatsoever …”

Before he could finish, Ouyang Feng had moved forward one step; his left hand swiftly made a false move while his right hand deftly grabbed Venerable Lingzhi. With a little effort he turned the monk over and held him upside down. It had happened so fast that all the others saw was Venerable Lingzhi’s red kasaya sway, and then flutter loosely in midair. Nobody saw clearly what technique Ouyang Feng used.

Venerable Lingzhi was a head taller than anyone else, but Ouyang Feng was able to grab his neck easily. Even if Ouyang Feng lifted his arm up over his head, he would not necessarily be able to lift Lingzhi’s feet off the deck; but when Ouyang Feng turned his body upside down, the top of Lingzhi’s head was actually about four feet above the deck.

Venerable Lingzhi’s legs were kicking wildly in the air and his mouth let out roaring curses. Everybody had seen Venerable Lingzhi fight Wang Chuyi at the Zhao Palace; they knew his skill was not a trivial matter. But how could he have been turned upside down by Ouyang Feng and held there with his arms flailing weakly beside his head as though the arms were broken and he did not have the strength to struggle free?

With his eyes still looking upward, Ouyang Feng said dryly, “Today was the first time you heard my name; therefore, you look down on the old man, don’t you?”

Venerable Lingzhi was both frightened and angry. He tried to exert his internal energy several times, trying to struggle free, but no matter what he did, he was not able to escape. Peng Lianhu and the others had seen what happened and their faces showed amazement. Ouyang Feng continued, “You look down on the old man, that’s alright. But I don’t want to stoop to your low level in front of the Honorable Prince. So you want to detain the Old Urchin, Master Zhou and the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar, Master Hong. Heh, heh … do you think you can rely on your magical skills to match them? You are both friendless and unlearned; it’s no wonder you don’t know much and have not had enough lessons to teach you manners. Old Urchin, take this!”

Again, nobody saw Ouyang Feng’s hand move; he merely exerted his strength to his palm and Venerable Lingzhi flew like a cloud from the port to the starboard side of the deck. As soon as he felt Ouyang Feng’s palm strength leave his body and he was free, Lingzhi stretched his body like a carp trying to turn his body right side up. Then he suddenly felt a sharp pain on his neck; he cried out and stretched out his left arm to attack. Again he felt his arm go numb and hang helplessly beside his head. Once again his body was suspended midair. As it turned out, Zhou Botong followed Ouyang Feng’s example and grabbed him by the neck.

Although Wanyan Honglie understood Lingzhi’s precarious situation, he knew nobody could accuse Ouyang Feng of not giving forewarning. None amongst his warriors had the ability to deal with Zhou Botong, just this one man; hence he hastily said, “Mister Zhou, you don’t have to play any longer, Little Prince will send a boat out to take the four of you ashore.”

“Very good,” Zhou Botong said, “You can also try to take this!” Following Ouyang Feng’s example, he exerted his strength to his palm and sent the Venerable Lingzhi flying towards the Prince.

Of course Wanyan Honglie knew martial arts, but his skill was limited to the saber, spear and bow and arrow from horseback. The flying monk from Zhou Botong’s hand carried a swift and strong force; how could he take it? Even if he didn’t die he would certainly suffer a heavy injury; so he hastily stepped aside to avoid him.

Sha Tongtian knew the Prince was in danger and straight away stepped forward in front of the Prince, trying to protect him. He saw the Venerable Lingzhi coming fast and if he struck with his palm, he might injure the monk. Following Ouyang Feng and Zhou Botong’s earlier example, he wanted to grab the monk’s neck, turn him right side up, and then lay him down gently. However, he had forgotten one important detail; namely, his martial arts were way below that of those two people. He had seen Ouyang Feng and Zhou Botong, seemingly without effort, grabbing and throwing Venerable Lingzhi’s heavy body. Therefore he leaped up to intercept Lingzhi, stretching his hand to grab his neck. As he touched Venerable Lingzhi’s neck he unexpectedly felt a burning sensation followed by a strong force attacking his hand and wrist. He knew if he did not ward off this attack his wrist would be broken immediately. At this critical moment he quickly withdrew his right hand, while his left fist launched his ‘Splitting Armor Awl’ [po jia zhui].

What had happened was when Venerable Lingzhi was thrown back and forth between Ouyang Feng and Zhou Botong, his blood was flowing adversely, his head was dizzy while his heart burned with anger. He heard Zhou Botong calling out for someone else to take his body; all he knew was that person must be an enemy, so while he was still airborne he had already exerted his strength in anger. As soon as Sha Tongtian’s hand touched his neck, Venerable Lingzhi’s ‘Big Handprint’ [da shou yin] slashed out.

In terms of strength these two were on par with each other; Sha Tongtian had the advantage of standing upright, but Venerable Lingzhi had prepared his attack beforehand, and thus caught him off guard. Two equal forces collided; Sha Tongtian was pushed back three steps, but Venerable Lingzhi, also shaken by the collision, fell flat on the deck. He immediately stood up and saw that the person he thought attacked him was Sha Tongtian; he thought, “Even you, a stinky thief, want to take advantage of me!” With a loud roar he pounced forward.

Peng Lianhu knew he misunderstood the situation and hastily stepped in between the two people, calling out, “Reverend, please don’t get angry, Brother Sha only had good intentions.”

In the meantime the small boat had been lowered. Zhou Botong grabbed the stick inside the shark’s mouth; he lifted and hurled the huge shark into the sea while simultaneously exerting his strength and breaking the stick into two parts. As it splashed into the sea, the shark felt the stick in its mouth had been broken and was very happy. It dove deep into the water to hunt for some fish.

Huang Rong smiled, “Jing ge ge, later on the two of us and Big Brother Zhou can ride sharks together and we can have a race.” Guo Jing did not answer but Zhou Botong clapped his hands and cheered. He said, “We can ask the Old Beggar to be our judge.”

After watching Zhou Botong and the others leave on the small boat, Wanyan Honglie started to think. With his kind of martial arts, Ouyang Feng would provide valuable assistance in his plan to steal the book. He took Venerable Lingzhi’s hand and walked towards Ouyang Feng. “Everyone here are good friends and I hope Sir was not offended; I am sure Reverend was not serious. I wish both gentlemen to give Little Prince face and consider everything as a joke,” he said.

Ouyang Feng smiled and extended his hand. Venerable Lingzhi, on the other hand, was still upset. He mused, “You only used the seizing technique [qin na] and caught me off guard. I have trained painstakingly for dozens of years to develop my ‘Big Handprint’ power; do you think I am inferior to you?” Then he also stretched out his hand while sending energy to his palm with the intention of gripping Ouyang Feng’s palm hard. Just as he was about to exert his strength he suddenly jumped away. He felt as though he was touching red-hot steel and his hand was in so much pain that he dropped it in a hurry. Ouyang Feng did not want to pursue the matter so he faintly smiled. Venerable Lingzhi looked at his hand and did not see anything unusual and thought, “Damn it, this old thief surely knows some demonical tricks.”

Ouyang Feng noticed Liang Ziweng was still lying on the deck, unmoving. He came to examine him. Ouyang Feng knew that Liang Ziweng was pushed into the sea by Guo Jing and intercepted by Zhou Botong, who sealed his acupoints and threw him back onto the boat. He unsealed Liang Ziweng’s acupoints and, there and then, Ouyang Feng became the leader of this group of warriors. Wanyan Honglie immediately ordered a banquet to welcome Ouyang Feng and his nephew. While drinking wine Wanyan Honglie explained to Ouyang Feng his plan to go to Lin’an and steal the ‘Wumu Legacy’ while at the same time asking his willingness to help. Ouyang Feng actually had heard about this matter from his nephew but this time his heart was stirred. Suddenly a thought came into his mind, “What kind of man do you think I, Ouyang Feng, am? How can I submit to you? But I heard that not only was Yue Fei’s military skill divine, his martial arts skill was also superb. I also heard that the Yue Family’s martial arts had been lost to the martial art world. Perhaps in his legacy there is a martial arts manual as well as the military strategies. I will agree to help him get the book and if I like what I see…can’t the Old Poison get what he wants?”

It was a case of: You cheat and I am crafty…it’s everyone for himself. Wanyan Honglie wholeheartedly wanted the book to help him defeat the Great Song. It is said that while the praying mantis was hunting for the cicada, the yellow canary caught it from behind. Ouyang Feng had a different idea to top his. Therefore, while one man heaped flattering words, the other’s mouth was full of compliance. In addition, Liang Ziweng did his utmost to be a good host and the banquet table was overflowing with wine. The guests and the hosts were having a good time. Only Ouyang Ke, who was still in pain from his injury, did not drink anything, but only ate some dishes. Then he asked the crew to help him to the rear cabin to rest.

While they were eating and drinking in a lively manner, Ouyang Feng’s countenance suddenly changed. The cup stopped at his mouth and he did not drink. Everyone was startled; nobody knew what had offended him. Wanyan Honglie was about to ask when Ouyang Feng said, “Listen!”

Everybody inclined their heads to listen, but other than the wind and the waves of the sea, they did not hear anything. A moment later Ouyang Feng asked again, “Do you hear it this time? It’s a flute’s sound.” Everybody listened attentively with rapt attention and now they could hear, amidst the sound of the waves, the faint sound of a bamboo flute, sometimes broken, sometimes continuous. Nobody would have heard it if Ouyang Feng had not pointed it out. Ouyang Feng walked to the bow; there he let out a long whistle and the sound traveled far. By now everybody else had arrived at the bow. They saw in the distance a light boat with three green sails, cutting the waves and coming fast towards their boat. They were inwardly astonished, “Is the flute sound coming from that boat? It’s very far away…how could the sound travel here?”

Ouyang Feng ordered the sailors to turn the rudder to intercept that fast boat. Two boats gradually came closer to each other. On the bow of that fast boat stood a man wearing a long dark green robe and in his hand was indeed a flute. He called out loudly, “Brother Feng, have you seen my daughter?”

“Your daughter has a very strong temperament, how would I dare to provoke her?” Ouyang Feng replied.

Two boats were several zhang apart and nobody saw that man move his body and jump, yet they saw a blurred shadow and that man was already standing on the big boat’s deck.

As Wanyan Honglie saw his marvelous skill and his desire to recruit warriors arose; he stepped forward to welcome the guest, saying, “What is your surname, Sir? I am very fortunate to receive your visit.” Considering his lofty position as a prince of the Great Jin, he was being unusually modest. Upon seeing he was wearing a Jin official’s costume, that man only gave him a blank stare, apparently not paying any attention to him.

Seeing the prince not getting the attention he deserved Ouyang Feng said, “Brother Yao, let me present to you the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Prince Zhao.” To Wanyan Honglie he said, “This is the Master of Peach Blossom Island, the number one martial artist in the world; his knowledge is unparalleled.”

Peng Lianhu and the others were so shocked that they involuntarily withdrew several steps. They knew from the start that Huang Rong’s father was a very fierce devil and the Twin Killers of the Dark Winds were his renegade disciples and were able to shake Jianghu with their might. The faces of the people of the Wulin world would change color whenever their names were mentioned. If the disciples were that fierce, how much more so would be their master? He has appeared here to create trouble for sure, they thought, and everyone remembered that they had offended his daughter. Therefore, everyone’s heart was filled with fear and nobody dared to make a sound.

When his daughter ran away, Huang Yaoshi knew she must be looking for Guo Jing. Initially he was angry and ignored her. But a few days later he became worried; he was afraid she would find Guo Jing on the special ship he built and they’d go down to the bottom of the sea together. He was worried to death for his daughter, so he decided to go out to sea and search for her.

Knowing they were returning to the mainland, he decided to head to the west. But looking for a boat on a boundless sea was truly easier said than done. Even though Huang Yaoshi possessed extraordinary intelligence, after searching back and forth he did find any trace of her. On this particular day backed by his strong internal energy he played his flute at the bow of his boat, with the hope that his daughter would hear and respond. Unexpectedly it was Ouyang Feng who responded.

Huang Yaoshi, Peng Lianhu and the others did not know each other. Hearing Ouyang Feng say that this person was a prince of the Jin, he did not want to stay any longer; he cupped his fists across his chest and said to Ouyang Feng, “Brother needs to continue my search for my daughter; I apologize for not accompanying you longer.” Then he turned around to leave.

Venerable Lingzhi had been angered by Ouyang Feng and Zhou Botong, and now another extremely arrogant and impolite person had come on board. He heard what Ouyang Feng had said, but he thought, “Could it be that there are so many highly skilled people in this world? Most likely these people know some witchcraft and deceive others with their demonical abilities. Let me try and perhaps I can deceive him as well.” Seeing Huang Yaoshi was about to leave he said with a loud voice, “Are you looking for a fifteen or sixteen years old young lady?” Huang Yaoshi paused and turned around with a happy expression on his face, “Yes Reverend, did you see her?”

Venerable Lingzhi coldly replied, “I did see a young lady, but the one I saw was a dead one, not a live one.”

Huang Yaoshi’s heart turned cold, “What?” he asked quickly, his voice was trembling.

Venerable Lingzhi replied, “About three days ago I saw the body of a young girl floating on the surface of the sea. She was wearing white clothes and a gold ring in her hair; originally her face must have been very pretty. Ay! What a pity, what a pity! What a pity her body was swollen by the seawater.” He had accurately described Huang Rong’s clothing and adornments.

Huang Yaoshi’s mind was greatly troubled; his body shook and his face turned pale. A moment later he asked, “Are you telling me the truth?”

Everyone clearly saw Huang Rong board the small boat just minutes ago; now they heard Venerable Lingzhi deceiving this man and taking pleasure from another’s misfortune. Even as they watched Huang Yaoshi’s grieving face, nobody made a sound.

Venerable Lingzhi coldly continued, “Beside that young lady’s body I saw three other corpses; one was of a young man with thick eyebrows and big eyes, the other one was an old beggar with a scarlet wine gourd on his back, and the last one was a white haired old man.” He was describing Guo Jing, Hong Qigong and Zhou Botong.

Reaching this point Huang Yaoshi’s doubts were completely gone. He squinted at Ouyang Feng, thinking, “You knew about my daughter so why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

Ouyang Feng noticed his look and realized his grief had reached its peak so he began to have murderous intent. Although he himself would not suffer a loss, the oncoming force would not be easy to resist. He quickly said, “Brother has just come on board this boat today and it is the first time I met these people. When this Reverend saw some floating corpses, your daughter was not necessarily amongst them.” Sighing, he continued, “Your beloved daughter is such a good girl; it is very regrettable if she really died at such a young age. If my nephew found out, he would die of heartbreak.” This speech shifted the blame from his shoulders, but clearly did not offend either side.

After listening to Ouyang Feng, Huang Yaoshi was in total shock; his heart sank in an instant. He was the type who loved to vent his anger on others; if it were otherwise, then when the Twin Killers of the Dark Winds stole his manual, why did he break Lu Chengfeng and his other innocent disciples’ legs and expel them from his school? His chest felt icy-cold, but his blood was boiling, just like when his beloved wife died some years ago. His hands were trembling and his face changed from snow white to crimson red alternately.

Everybody looked at him in silence and their hearts were filled with unspeakable fear. Even Ouyang Feng was anxious; he gathered his ‘qi’ in his ‘dan tian’, his whole body alert, ready to take any attack. The entire boat was unusually quiet. Suddenly Huang Yaoshi let out a long laugh, sounding like a never ending dragon’s roar.

This latest development took everybody by surprise and they were startled. They saw him facing skyward, laughing wildly and getting louder and louder. His laughter caused a chill in the air; those who listened to it felt more and more miserable. Gradually the laughter turned into weeping, a very sad weeping. The people could not bear it any longer; they felt like they shared his grief and were about to shed tears as well.

Ouyang Feng was the only one who knew his temperament well and knew that he used to sing and cry for no specific reason, hence he was not affected. But listening to him weeping so miserably he thought, “If he keeps crying like this, the Old Heretic Huang will inevitably injure himself. In past days Ruan Ji mourned the death of his mother and in doing so vomited a lot of blood. The Old Heretic Huang could experience the same fate as that person from the past. It was a pity my iron zither was lost when my boat sank, otherwise I could have played it and made his crying more interesting. This man has an unusual character; once he unleashes his uncontrolled emotions he will most likely suffer a serious internal injury. When it’s time for the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua I will surely miss a worthy and formidable opponent. Ay! What a great loss! What a pity, what a pity!”

After crying for a while Huang Yaoshi lifted his jade flute and struck the rail of the boat while singing, “Why did God make someone’s life so short? Why did someone die when all the hair on his head turned white, while the other died because of disaster or child-birth. The previous calamity had not yet passed, when the new one has come along. Morning had just blossomed, but the evening has already come, the dew came with the dawn and evaporated immediately. The departed cannot be pursued, the emotion suddenly fails. The high heaven does not have stairs; to whom shall I pour out my complaints to?”

With a ‘Crack!’ the jade flute was broken in two. Without turning his head Huang Yaoshi walked to the bow. Venerable Lingzhi dashed forward to block him and coldly said, “You wept and you laughed like a madman, what do you think you are doing?”

“Reverend, don’t …” Wanyan Honglie called out, but before he finished, Huang Yaoshi’s right hand stretched out and grabbed Venerable Lingzhi’s neck. Turning him midair until his feet were facing upward Huang Yaoshi threw him down and his fat bald head penetrated the deck up to his shoulders.

It seems that in the martial arts Venerable Lingzhi practiced, his neck was his weakest point. As soon as he made his move, a highly skilled martial artist like Ouyang Feng, Zhou Botong and Huang Yaoshi could immediately see this flaw and attack his weakest point.

Huang Yaoshi continued singing, “The sky’s eternal, the earth unchanging, how long will a man live? The past, the future, everything passes unawares; there is a time for everything.” A dark green shadow flashed and he had already moved to his own boat, turned the rudder and sailed away. The people on board were about to rescue Venerable Lingzhi who remained motionless; they did not know if he was alive or dead. Then suddenly they heard a grunt and the deck hatch opened and out came a young man. He was handsome, with red lips and white teeth, and a face like crown jade; it was Wanyan Honglie’s son, Yang Kang, who’s former name was Wanyan Kang.

After having a disagreement with Mu Nianci he kept remembering Wanyan Honglie’s words, ‘unlimited riches and honor’; soon after he contacted a Jin government office in the north to get information about him. Not long after, he found his father and thus accompanied him to the south. When Guo Jing and Huang Rong came onboard, he caught a glimpse of them and immediately hid inside the cabin, not daring to come out. He only peeked through a crack in the cabin’s door and from there he clearly saw everything that happened on the deck. When the people were eating and drinking he was afraid Ouyang Feng was Guo Jing’s accomplice. He hid in the boat’s hold and eavesdropped on the conversations at the banquet table, trying to find out Ouyang Feng’s real intentions. Only after Huang Yaoshi left did he finally decide that he had nothing to worry about, so he opened the hatch- cover and came out.

Venerable Lingzhi’s fall was truly severe; fortunately, due to his hard training, his head was strong. He’d made a hole in the deck, but his head was not injured and he was only a little bit dizzy. He calmed himself and pushed with both hands on the deck to heave his body up and stood.

The people looked at the round hole in the deck and then looked at each other in amazement. They thought it was funny, but felt it was inappropriate to laugh, so they kept their faces straight, but looked very awkward.

Wanyan Honglie broke the silence by saying, “Son, meet Mr. Ouyang.”

Yang Kang immediately knelt in front of Ouyang Feng and kowtowed to him four times. This was a very big honor, surprising everyone. At the Zhao Palace Yang Kang had felt great admiration towards Venerable Lingzhi; but today he had seen Ouyang Feng, Zhou Botong and Huang Yaoshi, one after another, grab his neck and toss him back and forth like he was a baby. Only then did he realize there was a sky above the sky and there was another man above a man. He recalled the disgrace of being held captive at Cloud Manor on Lake Tai, and of when he was afraid of and lost his nerve to fight Guo Jing and Huang Rong at the Liu ancestral hall in Baoying…all because his skill was inferior to others. Now there was a man with very high skills in front of him and he wanted to take him as his master. After paying Ouyang Feng such respect he turned to Wanyan Honglie and said, “Father, your son wants to take this gentleman as my master.”

Wanyan Honglie was delighted, quickly he stepped forward and bowed in respect to Ouyang Feng, saying, “My young child likes to learn martial arts, only he has not yet met a suitable master. If Sir does not refuse this request and is willing to bestow instructions, Little Prince and son will be forever grateful.”

The others thought that being the young prince’s master was the wish of all of them; who would have thought that Ouyang Feng would simply return the greeting and say, “There has always been a rule in the Old Man’s martial arts school that our knowledge will be bestowed on one disciple only and no one else. The Old Man has already taken my nephew as my disciple; I can’t take another one. For this I beg the Prince’s forgiveness.”

Seeing that Ouyang Feng did not grant his request Wanyan Honglie did not press the issue. He ordered his men to prepare more food and wine. Yang Kang, on the other hand, was quite disappointed.

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “I don’t deserve to be the young prince’s master, but it will not be difficult for the Old Man to give you some pointers on martial arts. We will talk about it later.”

Yang Kang had seen Ouyang Ke’s many concubines and they had received instructions in martial arts from him; but because they were not his disciples their skills were nothing extraordinary. Listening to the way Ouyang Feng said it, he was not in the least enthusiastic, but his mouth was obliged to utter some grateful words. He had not realized that Ouyang Feng’s skill was not to be compared with his nephew’s; receiving one or two instructions on martial arts from an expert of Ouyang Feng’s caliber would give him sufficient skill to boost his power and prestige among the heroes of the Wulin world.

Ouyang Feng noticed his expression and realized his intention to give instructions was not very well received; he never raised this matter again.

During the banquet they talked about Huang Yaoshi’s arrogance and rudeness; they praised Venerable Lingzhi for fooling him so well. Hou Tonghai said, “That man’s martial art’s skills are truly high and it turns out that stinky girl is his daughter; no wonder her ways are crafty.” While saying that he turned his attention towards Venerable Lingzhi’s bald head. After staring for a while he turned his gaze toward Lingzhi’s fat neck, and then he used his right arm to grab his own neck. “Hey, hey,” he mocked and asked, “Shige [Older Martial Brother], those three used a grabbing skill, what kind of technique was that?”

“Don’t talk nonsense!” Sha Tongtian rebuked him.

Venerable Lingzhi could not hold his patience any longer and he stretched out his left hand to grab the three carbuncles on Hou Tonghai’s forehead. Hou Tonghai quickly shrank his body and slid under the table. Everybody laughed and cheered.

Hou Tonghai reappeared in his chair and said to Ouyang Feng, “Master Ouyang, your martial arts skill is very high indeed! How about you teach me the skill of grabbing someone’s fat neck?” Ouyang Feng smiled but did not answer. Venerable Lingzhi glared at Hou Tonghai.

Hou Tonghai turned his head and asked again, “Shige, that Huang Yaoshi was crying and singing; what was he saying?”

Sha Tongtian glowered at him, not knowing how to answer. “Who cares about the gibbering of a madman?” he said.

Yang Kang explained, “What he sang was a poem written by Cao Zijian of the Three Kingdoms period. Cao Zijian composed two stanzas of lamentations because of his daughter’s death. In the poem he said how some people live until the hair on their heads had turned completely white, while some children died prematurely. He questioned why God was so unfair? He hated the fact that Heaven was so high and without stairs so that he could not ascend to God’s throne to cry out his complaints. He finally said that his grief was so deep that the day he would follow her to the grave would not be far away.”

The warriors immediately heaped him with praise, and said, “The Young Prince is truly a scholar and highly educated. We are rough men; how would we know?”

Huang Yaoshi’s heart was filled with grief and indignation. He pointed his finger to the sky and scolded the heaven, cursed ghosts and blamed divine beings for treating him unjustly, for all his sorrows and unfair fate. He commanded his boat towards the mainland. Once he was ashore his anger flamed again. He looked up to the sky and shouted, “Who killed my Rong’er? Who killed my Rong’er?”

Suddenly a thought came into his mind, “It’s that boy surnamed Guo. That’s right, it was him. If not for him, why would Rong’er go aboard that boat? But that boy died alongside Rong’er; who should I unleash my anger on?”

As soon as he had this thought, he remembered Guo Jing’s masters, the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. “Those six are the guiltiest of killing my Rong’er! If they hadn’t taught that Guo kid, how would he have met Rong’er? I won’t be appeased until I cut off their arms and legs one by one.”

As his anger increased, his sorrow decreased somewhat. He arrived at a small town and stopped for some food, while still thinking deeply about how he would pursue the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. “The Six Freaks’ martial arts skills are not high, but their reputations are not low. Perhaps they have something that sets them above everybody else, or perhaps they only use deceit. If I pay a visit to their residence and inquire, chances are I am not going to find them. I must go in the middle of the night and break into their houses. Then I will wipe them and their families clean, young and old alike.” Then he took big strides walking north towards Jiaxing.

End of Chapter 22.  

Chapter 23 – Big Trouble in the Imperial Palace

Hong Qigong, Zhou Botong, Huang Rong and Guo Jing took a small boat to the west. Guo Jing rowed at the stern, while Huang Rong continuously pestered Zhou Botong with questions about riding sharks on the sea. Zhou Botong devised ways of catching sharks to amuse Huang Rong.

Guo Jing, observing his master’s pale complexion, asked “Master, what are you thinking about?” Hong Qigong did not reply as he hoarsely took small breaths again and again. The strike he received from Ouyang Feng had penetrated to the bone. Although the acupoint had already been unsealed, the internal injury had actually worsened. Huang Rong fed him nine ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pills’. Although the pain lessened somewhat, his breathing was just as bad as before. The Old Urchin, with complete disregard for the suffering of others, continued to make a ruckus and shouted that they must catch a shark. Huang Rong knew his behavior was inappropriate and tried signaling him with her eyes to be quite and not disturb Hong Qigong.

Zhou Botong, not understanding in the least, simply continued to cause a disturbance. Huang Rong frowned and said, “You want to catch sharks, but you don’t have any bait to attract them, so what are you going on about?”

The Old Urchin never acted like a respected senior. When juniors drink and swear in front of him, he’s never offended in the least. He suddenly said, “Got it! Brother Guo, I’ll hold your hands while you dip the lower half of your body into the sea.”

Guo Jing respected his sworn brother and even though he did not know his intentions, he quickly agreed. Huang Rong, just as quickly, called out, “Jing ge ge! Don’t listen to him! He wants to use you as bait to catch sharks.”

Zhou Botong clapped his hands and shouted happily, “Exactly! When a shark comes, I’ll immediately whack it and pull it up! Or you could hold my hands and I’ll attract the sharks.” Huang Rong replied, “You two are causing so much trouble on this small boat and if it capsizes, we’ll have you to blame!”

Zhou Botong replied, “If the boat capsizes, that will be great! Then we can all play in the sea!”

Huang Rong replied, “And what about our Master? Do you want him to live or not?”

Zhou Botong held his head, at a loss for words. After a short time, he said that it was strange that Hong Qigong should be injured by Ouyang Feng’s attack. Huang Rong shouted, “If you talk nonsense again, the three of us will not speak to you for three days and three nights!” Zhou Botong stuck out his tongue but did not dare to say another word. He grabbed an oar to help Guo Jing with the rowing.

Although land appeared to be close by, it was already dusk by the time they finally disembarked. That night the four of them slept on the sandy beach. The next morning, Hong Qigong’s illness had worsened considerably and Guo Jing began to cry.

Hong Qigong said with a smile, “Even if I were to live for another hundred years, I’d still have to die in the end. Good child, I only have one wish left. Using this old beggar’s last breath, I would ask that the three of you do something for me.”

Huang Rong replied tearfully, “Master, please tell us.”

Zhou Botong interrupted, “That ‘Old Poison’ is a disgrace. Because of him old Senior is at the point of death. Before he died, my martial brother had to fake his death because of Old Poison. One person had to die twice…isn’t he satisfied? Old Beggar, you go right ahead and die and don’t worry about a thing. I will go and kill him to get revenge for you.”

Hong Qigong replied with a smile, “Avenging a grievance cannot be considered a final wish. What I want is to eat a bowl of minced ‘Five- Treasures Mandarin Duck’ from the Imperial Palace kitchen.” Which of the three would have thought that his final wish was for food? Huang Rong replied, “Master, that’s easy. Since we’re not far from Lin’an so I’ll go steal several large pots from the Imperial Palace so that you can eat to your heart’s content.”

Zhou Botong interrupted again, “I also want to eat.”

Huang Rong gave him a displeased look and replied, “Do you also understand how to differentiate between good and bad food?”

Hong Qigong said, “The minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’ is hard to come by. Back in the day I hid in the Imperial Palace for three months and only managed to try a tiny bit. Just recalling the flavor is enough to make one drool.”

Zhou Botong said, “I have an idea, We’ll grab the old emperor’s chef and make him prepare it.”

Huang Rong replied, “Old Urchin, that’s not a bad idea.” Hearing Huang Rong supporting him, Zhou Botong was very pleased with himself.

Hong Qigong, shaking his head in disapproval, replied, “Not a chance. To make flavorful minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’, the kitchen implements, charcoal fire, and dishes must form a complete set. If even one is missing, the taste will be off. We still need to go to the Imperial Palace.” Seeing that the three still had some misgivings, he said “It will be quite superb and if we go, you will all gain valuable experience.”

Guo Jing immediately placed Hong Qigong on his back and set off to the north. Upon reaching a small town, Huang Rong sold some of her jewelry for cash and purchased a small mule cart to allow Hong Qigong to relax and recover from his injury. Eventually they passed the Qiangtang River and arrived at the outskirts of Lin’an Prefecture where they watched a vast misty sunset and heard the intermittent cawing of a crow. By nightfall they still had not reached the city and were forced to seek lodgings for the night. Looking around, they saw only a small village of several households near the riverbank. Huang Rong spoke out, “This village looks good. We can rest here.” Zhou Botong replied sullenly, “What’s so good about it?”

Huang Rong replied, “Take a look…doesn’t this scenery sort of look like a painting?”

Zhou Botong replied, “How does it resemble a painting then?” Huang Rong stared blankly, having difficulty coming up with a response. Zhou Botong said, “That painting must be very ugly. Unless it is similar to the ‘Old Urchin’s’ paintings, I’m afraid it must be inferior.”

Huang Rong said with a smile, “Heaven has the ability to create a landscape, just like the ‘Old Urchin’s’ random scribbling of a painting.”

Zhou Botong, extremely pleased with himself, replied, “Are you certain? If you don’t believe it, then I’ll make a painting right now and you can ask Heaven to look.”

Huang Rong replied, “Of course I believe it, but you’ve already said that this place is not good enough so don’t rest here…but us three will stay.”

Zhou Botong replied, “If the three of you won’t go on, why on earth would I want to?”

In the midst of this chatter, they arrived at the village. The village center looked very desolate and dilapidated, with only a wine shop banner hanging off a pole at the eastern corner of the village near what sort of looked like the village inn. They arrived in front of the inn and saw two tables under the eaves, on top of which lay an extremely thick layer of dust.

Zhou Botong yelled “Hey!” loudly several times and a young girl of indeterminate age with disheveled hair and clothing came out. She opened her eyes and gave the three a blank, lifeless stare. Huang Rong ordered wine and food, but the girl only shook her head continuously.

Zhou Botong said, “You have neither wine nor food here…what kind of shop are you running?” The girl shook her head and replied, “I don’t know.” Zhou Botong replied, “Ai, you really are a silly girl.”

The girl grinned and laughed, saying, “That’s right, I’m called Sha Gu [silly girl /aunt].”

The three of them laughed and understood. Huang Rong went to take a look at the interior and the kitchen. She found them dust and cobweb covered along with a few pots and other old things. On a bed was a torn mat. One couldn’t help but feel sympathy and sadness. She went back outside and inquired, “Is it just you living here?”

Sha Gu smiled and nodded. Huang Rong asked again, “What about your mother?”

Sha Gu replied, “Dead!” and wiped her hands across her eyes in imitation of somebody grieving.

Huang Rong asked again, “What about your father?”

Sha Gu shook her head, indicating she didn’t know. They noticed that her face and hands were filthy and her long fingernails filled with black crud. Who knew how long it had been since she’d washed her face and hands.

Huang Rong said sadly, “Even if she did cook, we wouldn’t be able to eat it.” She asked, “Do you have any rice?”

Sha Gu smiled and nodded, producing half a jar of unpolished rice. Huang Rong immediately washed the rice and began preparing the meal. Guo Jing went to the west side of the village and bought two fish and a chicken. By the time everything was prepared it was already dark. Huang Rong brought out the food, placed it on one of the tables, and searched for an oil lamp. Sha Gu again shook her head, indicating there was none.

Huang Rong took some firewood and lit a fire in the furnace. Then she tried to find some bowls and chopsticks in the cupboard. She opened the cupboard’s door and a foul stench attacked her nose. She held a burning piece of wood and saw there were about seven or eight shabby bowls. Inside and around the bowls were dozens of dead insects of all kinds. Guo Jing helped her fetch the bowls.

“Wash them thoroughly and then get some small branches to use as chopsticks,” Huang Rong said. Guo Jing mumbled his compliance and took the bowls outside.

Huang Rong reached out to pick up the last bowl and immediately felt a difference. This bowl was cold, colder than a regular porcelain bowl. She tried to pick it up, but the bowl would not budge, as though it was attached to the cupboard. Huang Rong was astonished. She was afraid she might break the bowl, so she did not dare use too much strength. She tried it one more time but the bowl still refused to move. “Could it be that it has been there so long that the dirt made the bowl stick to the cupboard?” she wondered. She took a closer look and saw that the bowl was covered with many layers of rust. It was an iron bowl.

Huang Rong let out a soft laugh and thought, “I have seen rice bowls made of gold, silver and jade, but I have never ever heard of a rice bowl made of iron.” She exerted her strength and tried to lift the bowl up, but still the bowl did not move. She was even more surprised. She thought that with her strength, even if the bowl was nailed to the shelf, the shelf could be cracked. Then she had another thought, “Could it be that the shelf is also made of iron?” She stretched out her middle finger to tap the shelf and heard a metallic sound. The shelf was indeed made of iron.

Her curiosity was piqued and she tried lifting the bowl again but the bowl remained motionless. She tried turning the bowl to the left and did not perceive any movement. She tried turning it to the right and felt movement. She tried turning it harder and the bowl moved. Suddenly she heard a cracking sound and the cupboard slid aside, revealing a dark hole behind it. An even fouler stench came out of the hole, almost making her throw-up.

Huang Rong let out an “Ah!” and quickly leaped to the side. Guo Jing and Zhou Botong heard her cry and immediately came and saw the dark hole. Huang Rong thought out loud, “Is it possible that this is a illegal wine shop and that Sha Gu is just pretending to be insane?”

She handed her burning branch to Guo Jing and walked over to Sha Gu and tried to grab her hand. Sha Gu waved her hand trying to avoid the grab and counterattacked by sending her palm towards Huang Rong’s shoulder. Even though Huang Rong suspected she did not have good intentions, she never expected that this incoming palm would carry such a powerful technique. She could not help but feel slightly startled. Her left hand formed a hook and her right hand came forward as she launched two strikes in succession.

Ever since she mastered the ‘Changing the Muscle Forging the Bone’ technique [yi jin duan gu bian] from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’, her speed and strength had increased tremendously. With a loud slap Sha Gu cried out as her right arm was hit, but her attack did not slow down. She counterattacked with two stances one after another. After several more stances Huang Rong was really astonished. Sha Gu’s moves were actually the Peach Blossom Island’s basic skill of the ‘Jade-Green Waves Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa]. Although it was performed with shallow skills, it was actually the foundation of all Peach Blossom Island’s martial arts. Every disciple had to learn it. Huang Rong intensified her attacks in an attempt to identify Sha Gu’s martial arts school, but Sha Gu dodged and weaved and was able to resist her for six or seven stances.

The situation was similar to when Guo Jing fought Liang Ziweng with only one stance, namely the ‘Proud Dragon Shows Remorse’, but her strength was greatly inferior to Guo Jing’s. Moreover, her palm technique was very straightforward and showed not even the simplest variation. It was beyond anyone’s expectations that in this remote village there was a illegal wine shop with a poor filthy girl who could fight Huang Rong for more than ten stances.

Zhou Botong found all these things very amusing. He noted that the gust of wind from Huang Rong’s palm was swift and fierce. Sha Gu repeatedly cried out, “Aiyo!” while resisting Huang Rong’s attack. Zhou Botong shouted, “Hey! Rong’er, don’t harm her. Let me fight her.” Along the way he heard Hong Qigong and Guo Jing calling her ‘Rong’er’ and she did not seem to mind, so he thought he did not need to be polite by calling her ‘Huang guniang’ or ‘Huang xiaojie’ [both mean Miss Huang].

Guo Jing was afraid Sha Gu had other companions waiting in the dark ready to ambush them, so he stayed closed to Hong Qigong and did not dare to leave him.

Several moves later Sha Gu’s left shoulder was hit, which made her left arm go limp and she was unable to move it. If Huang Rong really wanted to injure her, all she had to do was continue her attack, but she showed mercy and called out, “Quickly kneel down and I’ll spare your life.”

“You kneel down too!” replied Sha Gu as she sent out two palms of the ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ technique towards Huang Rong. However, only the first two stances were executed repeatedly and her technique was clumsy.

This incomplete ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ palm attack lacked internal power but was continuous like waves in water, truly the martial arts style of Peach Blossom Island. Huang Rong’s suspicions about Sha Gu’s martial arts roots became stronger. She called out “How did you learn the ‘Jade- Green Wave Palm’? Who is your master?”

Sha Gu responded with a smile “You can’t hit me no more, ha … ha …”

Huang Rong raised her left hand, moved her right hand to the side, feigned an attack with her left elbow and leaned her right shoulder forward. These four moves were fake attacks. Huang Rong followed with the fifth move by sending both hands curving inward. This fifth attack was also false. The next move, a kick, was real. Sha Gu was unable to stay upright. She fell to the floor and called out as she was getting up, “You used a trick, that does not count, let’s fight again,”.

Huang Rong did not allow her to stand up. She pounced and pushed her down, tore her clothes and bound her hands behind her back. “My palm technique is clearly better than yours,” she said. Sha Gu turned around and shouted in dissent, “You tricked me, unacceptable…you tricked me, unacceptable!”

Guo Jing, seeing that Huang Rong was able to control Sha Gu, walked out of the inn and jumped onto the roof. He looked around for any traces of other people but found none. He jumped back down, walked around the building and noticed that this desolate inn was a stand-alone building, a few ‘zhangs’ apart from other houses in the area. There were no other people hiding around it. Now at last he felt relieved.

When he walked inside the inn, he saw Huang Rong holding a dagger in front of Sha Gu’s eyes, threatening her, “Who taught you martial arts? Tell me quickly or else I will kill you”. While saying that she made two stabbing moves with the dagger.

In the light from a candle, Sha Gu’s smile could be seen. Looking at her expression, it did not seem like she was brave or mad. It was more a stupid smile, completely oblivious to the danger. It seemed like she was thinking that she and Huang Rong were just playing around. Huang Rong asked her again and Sha Gu laughed and said, “You kill me, I will kill you too!”

Huang Rong’s eyebrows rose as she said “This stupid girl is not telling us anything, so we should take a look inside the hidden room. Big Brother Zhou, please take care of Master and keep an eye on this girl. Jing ge ge, let’s go in.”

Zhou Botong waved his hands and said, “No, I am going in with you.” Huang Rong told him, “I don’t want you to come in with me.”

Although Zhou Botong was a Senior with a higher level of martial arts, for some reason he did not dare to defy Huang Rong. He could only beg, “Good Miss, next time I won’t argue with you.”

Huang Rong smiled slightly and nodded her head. Zhou Botong was very happy. He found two pine branches, lit them, and fumigated the dark hidden room for a long time. The fumigated room still emitted a very foul odor. Huang Rong picked up a pine torch and threw it into the room. There was a clatter as the torch hit the far wall and fell to the floor. The room was not very deep at all.

With the light from a torch she looked inside. The room was quiet and there was no trace of people. At that moment Zhou Botong became impatient and snuck past Huang Rong into the room. Huang Rong followed Zhou Botong cautiously. The room was not large. In fact, it was quite small. Zhou Botong cried out “We were fooled…we were fooled, this is no good!”

Huang Rong then let out an “ah!” sound as she spotted the skeleton of a person lying on the floor. The skeleton faced upward and the clothes had decayed. Two rows of the skeleton’s ribs were broken. There was another skeleton in the east corner of the room. This skeleton lay on top of an iron chest. There was a long sword blade penetrating the skeleton’s ribs and piercing the iron chest’s lid.

Zhou Botong noted that the room was small and dirty and he found those two corpses not that interesting. While Huang Rong carefully examined the two skeletons, Zhou Botong got really impatient and wanted to interrupt her. But he feared that Huang Rong might get angry so he did not dare say anything and behaved quietly. Inside, his mind was going crazy. He asked her, “Rong’er, Good Miss, I can go out now, can't I?”

Huang Rong said “Fine, you can go. Get Jing ge ge for me.”

Zhou Botong ran out happily and said to Guo Jing, “Go in quickly, it’s very interesting in there,” He was afraid Huang Rong might call him back but he’d found a replacement. Guo Jing went in.

Huang Rong raised her torch to show Guo Jing the skeletons and asked, “How do you think these two people died?”

Guo Jing pointed to the skeleton on the iron chest; “Looks like this person died while trying to open the iron chest. He died from sneak attack with one thrust. The other person has two rows of shattered ribs, so he was probably attacked by a palm of great internal strength.” Huang Rong said, “I think so too, but there are some things I don’t quite understand.”

Guo Jing replied, “What things?”

“Sha Gu obviously used Peach Blossoming Island’s ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm’ technique. Although she only knew six or seven moves and was not very proficient, her technique was good and correct,” Huang Rong said. “The two dead people…I wonder what their connection is to Sha Gu.”

Guo Jing responded, “I will ask the girl.” Because he was often called ‘stupid kid’ by others he was not willing to call that girl ‘Sha Gu’ [stupid / silly aunt].

“I truly think that girl is retarded, so it will be difficult to get any information from her. Perhaps we can investigate what little evidence we have here on our own,” Huang Rong suggested. She lifted her torch and slowly examined the skeleton on the chest and noticed a shiny object beside it. She picked it up and looked carefully. It was a gold medallion. In the middle, there is a gate engraved into the gold. On the back of the medallion, there were several engraved characters that read ‘By royal decree bestowed on the loyal martial arts master responsible for defending the state, special guard Shi Yanming’.

Huang Rong said, “If this medallion is his, this government officer’s rank was not low.”

Guo Jing replied, “A high-ranking official died in here…this is strange.”

Huang Rong checked the skeleton on the floor again and she noticed something sticking out of the rib area. She used the torch to push on it. The object fell, raising a cloud of dust, revealing a sheet made of iron. She called out in a low shocked voice and picked up the object.

Guo Jing also saw the object in her hand, “Ah!” he exclaimed. “Do you recognize this?” Huang Rong asked. “Certainly,” Guo Jing replied, “This is the iron ‘Eight Trigram’ [ba gua] of Village Master Lu of Cloud Manor.”

“It is an iron ‘ba gua’ alright, but it doesn’t necessarily belong to Martial Brother Lu,” Huang Rong said.

“That’s right!” Guo Jing said, “These two men’s clothes and flesh have decomposed. They have been here for at least ten years.”

Huang Rong was silent for a long time. Suddenly a thought came into her mind. She pulled out the blade stuck in the iron chest’s lid, brought it close to the flame and she saw the character ‘Qu’ engraved on the blade. She could not help blurting, “The one lying on the floor was my older Martial Brother Qu [Qu Shige].”

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed in surprise.

“Martial Brother Lu said that Martial Brother Qu was still alive. Who would have thought that he was already dead in this place … Jing ge ge, look at his leg bones,” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing stooped down and looked, “Both of his legs were broken. Ah, it was your father who broke them,” he said.

Huang Rong nodded her head. “He is indeed Qu Lingfeng. My father once said that amongst his disciples, Martial Brother Qu had the strongest martial arts. He was also my father’s favorite …” At this point she suddenly dashed out the room. Guo Jing followed.

Huang Rong quickly went over to Sha Gu and asked, “Your surname is Qu, isn’t it?” Sha Gu giggled but did not answer.

Guo Jing gently asked, “Miss, what is your surname?” “Surname…surname!” Sha Gu said giggling.

The two wanted to ask further, but Zhou Botong called out, “I am starving! I am starving!” “Alright,” Huang Rong said, “We’ll need to eat first.” She untied Sha Gu and invited her to eat with them. Sha Gu was not bashful about it as she smiled, held out her hands to take a bowl, and ate.

Huang Rong told Hong Qigong everything she’d found in the secret room. Hong Qigong also thought it was peculiar. “It seems like that government officer named Shi killed your Martial Brother Qu. Who would have thought that your Martial Brother Qu, before he breathed his last, threw the blade and killed him.”

“Most probably so,” Huang Rong concurred. She took the blade and the iron ‘ba gua’ and showed them to Sha Gu. “Whose are these?” she asked.

Sha Gu’s countenance suddenly changed. She leaned her head sideways to think, seemed as though she recalled something, but after a while her expression went blank. She shook her head and took the blade, unwilling to let it go.

“Apparently she has seen this blade before,” Huang Rong said. “But it must have been a long time ago and she can’t remember anymore.”

After they finished eating she took care of Hong Qigong and let him sleep. Then she and Guo Jing went back to the room to take a further look. They thought the key to this mystery must be hidden inside the iron chest, so they removed the skeleton lying on top of it and opened the lid. It turned out the lid was unlocked and could be opened easily. In the torch light their eyes were dazzled by a chest full of gleaming pearls, jade, and all sorts of treasures and antiques.

Guo Jing only felt surprise, but Huang Rong knew each article was a very rare and precious treasure. Her father’s collection was not as extensive as the contents of this chest. She grabbed a handful of pearls and let them roll through her fingers. The pearls made nice clinking sounds as they fell back into the chest and hit other pearls and jades. She sighed, “There must be a history behind all these treasures. If father were here he would be able tell us the origins of each.” She took them one by one and explained what they were to Guo Jing. This one was a jade bracelet, this one a rhino skin case, that one was a carnelian cup, that one was an emerald dish, and so on. Guo Jing grew up on the steppes, and as a result, not only he had never seen these kinds of treasures, he had never even heard of them. He thought, “People spent so much effort to collect these objects. What were they going to do with them?”

While she spoke, Huang Rong continued to grope around in the chest. Her hand touched a piece of hard board and she knew there must be another layer underneath it. She moved the jewelry aside and saw rings attached to the board, so she inserted her little fingers inside the rings and lifted the board up. Beneath it were a bunch of greenish bronze colored antiques. Her father had shown her illustrations of some antique bronze ware. She recognized them to be an imperial culture tripod [long wen ding], an article from the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century BC) [shang yi], a plate from Zhou Dynasty (1027BC) [zhou pan], another article from Zhou Dynasty [zhou dun], tableware from Zhou Dynasty [zhou ju lei] and so on. In the end she had to admit she did not know much detail about the articles. If the pearls and jades were considered treasures worth a fortune, then these bronze antiques were priceless.

The more Huang Rong looked at them, the more she marveled. She lifted another board beneath the antiques and discovered rolls and rolls of paintings. She asked for Guo Jing’s help and together they unrolled the paintings one by one. She was shocked! The first painting was Wu Daozi’s ‘Send off a child heavenward’ [song zi tian wang tu]. The next painting was Han Ganhua’s ‘Herding horses’ [mu ma tu] and the other was the Southern Tang Dynasty’s Li Houzhu’s ‘Crossing the forest spring’ [lin quan du zhui ren wu]. Altogether there were more than twenty scrolls and every single one of them had originated from the brush of a famous artist. Several scrolls were calligraphy and paintings by Huizong, while several others were by contemporary artists. Each one of them was of the most exquisite and highest quality. Among them were examples of the imperial court’s artist Liang Kai’s unique two-rolls splashing ink characters, with very vivid images. Some of it reminded her of Zhou Botong.

Huang Rong had only looked at about half of them but did not feel like continuing, so she returned everything to the chest, closed the lid and sat on top of it, hugging her knees. She thought, “Father has amassed all kinds of treasures during his life, but the value of his collection might only be one tenth of the contents of this chest. How did Martial Brother Qu have the ability to obtain so many rare and priceless treasures?” No matter how hard she racked her brain she could not think of a good explanation.

When Huang Rong was thinking hard, Guo Jing never dared disturb her train of thought. He stayed quiet until he heard Zhou Botong calling from outside, “Hey! Get out of there quickly! We need to visit the old emperor’s house for some minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’!”

“Tonight?” Guo Jing asked.

Hong Qigong replied, “The sooner the better. I am afraid I can’t hold on much longer.”

“Master, don’t listen to the Old Urchin speaking a lot of nonsense,” Huang Rong said, “We can’t go tonight. We will enter the city gate tomorrow in the early morning. If the Old Urchin gets anymore weird ideas, we won’t let him come to the palace with us.”

“Humph!” Zhou Botong snorted, “Once again I am to blame.” He sulked and refused to talk.

That night the four slept on the straw beds laid-out on the floor. Early the next morning Huang Rong and Guo Jing prepared some breakfast and the four, plus Sha Gu, ate together. Huang Rong turned the iron bowl, closed the cabinet wall and put all chipped bowls and broken utensils back inside the cabinet. Sha Gu was indifferent to what was going on around her as she held the handle of the sword in her hand and played with it.

Huang Rong took a small ingot of silver [yuan bao] from her pocket and gave it to her. Sha Gu took it and casually tossed in on the table. “If you are hungry you can use it to buy rice and meat,” Huang Rong said. It was hard to say if Sha Gu understood, since she only giggled foolishly.

Huang Rong felt sadness creeping into her heart knowing that this girl must have some relationship with Qu Lingfeng. If she wasn’t a member of his family, then she must be his disciple. Her six or seven stances of ‘Jade- Green Waves Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa] definitely came from Qu Lingfeng, even though she had only roughly learned it. What Huang Rong did not know was whether she had been retarded since birth, or did she have a horrifying experience which shocked and damaged her mind. She wanted to find more information about her in the village, but Zhou Botong kept urging them to move onward. Therefore the four, with their cart, went straight through and entered the city of Lin’an.

Lin’an was, at this time, the world’s most bustling city. When the Song government moved south, it was established as the new capital. All kinds of people converged on the city and it continued to flourish.

The four entered the city via the east gate and went straight to the ‘Beautiful Portal Gate’ [li cheng men] of the Imperial Palace. Hong Qigong remained inside the cart while Zhou Botong and the others looked around. They saw golden nails in the scarlet doors, painted beams, engraved railings and copper tiles covering the roof. There were sculptures of flying dragons and phoenixes, all magnificent in their splendor dazzling their eyes.

“Interesting!” Zhou Botong called out loudly as he took a step to enter.

The palace guards stationed in front of the gate had noticed these three people, one old and two young, with a mule cart making noises in front of the Imperial Palace gate. Four guards with axes in their hands had already stepped forward with menacing looks on their faces.

Zhou Botong loved creating a disturbance very much. Watching the guards with their distinctive armor, tall and powerfully built, he was itching to have an interesting fight.

“Go quickly!” Huang Rong called out.

Zhou Botong stared at her. “What are you afraid of? Do you think these babies can eat the Old Urchin?” he asked.

Huang Rong quickly said, “Jing ge ge, let’s go and play someplace else. Since the Old Urchin is not listening, we’ll just ignore him.” She flicked her whip and the cart sped along to the west. Guo Jing followed behind. Zhou Botong was afraid he would get left behind while they went someplace more interesting, so he ignored the guards and ran to catch up. The guards thought they were simple villagers looking around the city, so they laughed loudly and did not pursue them. Huang Rong drove the cart to a deserted place. Seeing that nobody chased them, they stopped.

“Why didn’t we break into the palace? Could those wine bags and rice sacks [the guards] stop us?” Zhou Botong asked.

“Certainly breaking in is not difficult, but let me ask you…are we here to fight or to go to the kitchen and steal some food?” Huang Rong said, “If you break in, the palace will be in chaos. Do you think the chef will quietly make some ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’ for Master to eat?”

“Fighting and capturing people is the guards’ business and it has nothing to do with the chef,” Zhou Botong reasoned. Actually, what he said did make some sense and Huang Rong was momentarily at a loss, but she was not willing to yield to him, so she argued, “The imperial chef can both prepare food and capture people.”

Zhou Botong stared at her but did not know how to respond. A long while later he conceded, “Fine, let’s just consider I was wrong.”

“What do you mean ‘consider’? You were wrong right from the start,” Huang Rong said.

“Fine, fine,” Zhou Botong said, “Don’t consider anything…don’t consider anything.” Turning his head to Guo Jing he said, “Brother, all the women in the world are very ferocious. That’s why the Old Urchin said don’t take a wife.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Jing ge ge is a good man, so other women won’t be ferocious towards him.”

“Are you saying I am not a good man?” Zhou Botong asked.

Huang Rong smiled, “Are you? You don’t want to take a wife and other people don’t like the way you handle things. You only create trouble and disturbances. Tell me, why don’t you want to take a wife?”

Zhou Botong leaned his head to one side to think, unable to answer. His face turned red, and then pale and it seemed like his mind was full of anxiety. Huang Rong had very seldom seen him this serious, and was astonished.

“Let’s find an inn to stay in. We’ll come back to the palace tonight,” Guo Jing said.

“That’s a good idea!” Huang Rong agreed, “Master, as soon as we find an inn, I am going to prepare a couple of simple dishes as your appetizers and we will have a feast later on tonight.” Hong Qigong was delighted and he cheered repeatedly.

The four stayed at the Jin Hua inn on the street west of the Imperial Palace. True to her word, Huang Rong prepared three dishes and a soup for Hong Qigong. The aroma spread around the inn causing the guests to ask the innkeeper which famous chef had cooked this fine cuisine.

Zhou Botong was still mad at Huang Rong’s words hinting that he could not find a wife, so he sulked and refused to eat. The three of them knew his childish behavior. They only laughed and did not pay any attention to him.

After eating, Hong Qigong lay down to rest. Guo Jing asked Zhou Botong to go out and play, but he was still angry and ignored Guo Jing. Huang Rong chuckled and said, “Then you’d better look after my Master nicely and when I return, I will buy some fun things for you to play with.”

“You are not lying?” Zhou Botong asked, delighted.

Huang Rong smiled, “‘When a word has already left the mouth, it is difficult for four horses to chase it’ [yi yan ji chu, si ma nan zhui].”

During the spring when Huang Rong left home to go north, she visited Lin’an for one day, but that city was too close to Peach Blossom Island and she was afraid her father might find her. She did not dare to stay too long so her visit was a quick one. This time the days were long and nothing burdened her mind. Hand in hand with Guo Jing they went to the West Lake (xi hu).

She noticed Guo Jing’s countenance showed anxiety and knew he worried about their master’s injury. “Master said there is one person in this world who can heal his injury,” Huang Rong said. “But he would not allow me to ask. From the way he talked, it must be that Emperor Duan, but we don’t know where he is. We must find a way to ask him to heal Master.”

“That’ll be great,” Guo Jing said happily. “Rong’er, do you think we can ask him?”

Huang Rong replied, “I am still thinking of how to ask. During our meal today I tried to fish some information from Master. He was just about to say something when he realized it and stopped talking immediately. I must get this information from him eventually.” Guo Jing knew her abilities very well so he was greatly relieved.

They were still talking as they arrived at the Broken Bridge by the lakeside. That ‘duan qiao can xue’ [the broken bridge where people can see the remnants of the snow] was one of the West Lake’s more famous sights, but it was summer so all they saw were the lotus under the bridge. Huang Rong saw a neat little wine shop by the lakeside. “Let’s drink a cup of wine while we enjoy the lotus,” she said.

“Very good,” Guo Jing agreed. The two went in and sat down. The shopkeeper delivered some wine and dishes of meat which tasted very good. They drank wine while enjoying the scenery and were in a good mood.

Huang Rong saw a screen by the eastern window, covered with jade-green muslin. Obviously the shop owner regarded the screen as a very precious object. Her curiosity was piqued, so she went over to take a closer look. It turned out that beneath the muslin there was a poem inscribed on the screen. It was the ‘Wind Entering the Pine’ [feng ru song], which read,

‘Spring time is always spent wasting money, drinking daily by the lakeside. Riding a buckskin horse along the road toward the West Lake, proudly passing in front of a tavern. Singing and dancing amidst the sweet fragrance of red apricots, swinging in the shadow of green willows. Warm winds embraced ten ‘li’ of beautiful women and sky, crushed flowers adorned the sides of their temples. Picturesque boats carrying incense going back and forth are like smoke covering the water. Comeback tomorrow supporting the remnants of drunkenness, seeking the fancy golden inlay on the pathway.’

Huang Rong said, “This poem is a good one.”

Guo Jing asked her to explain the meaning of the poem. The more he listened, the more upset he became and he said, “This is the capital of the Great Song Dynasty and these government officials spend their days drinking wine and enjoying flowers. Don’t they care or even pay attention to the affairs of the country?”

Huang Rong replied, “Exactly, these people talk shamelessly!”

Suddenly someone behind them said, “Humph! What do you two know enough about to talk such nonsense?”

They turned around and saw a man dressed as a scholar, roughly forty years of age, sneering at them. Guo Jing greeted the scholar by cupping his hands and said, “Junior does not understand and would like to ask Mister for advice.”

The man replied, “This is the most splendid work of Yu Guobao in the year of Chun Xi. That year the retired Emperor Gaozong came to drink wine, saw the work and praised it greatly. That very same day the emperor granted Yu Guobao a government position. This is a scholar’s lifelong dream, and the two of you ridicule absurdly it!”

“So it is because the Emperor saw this screen that the innkeeper covers it with jade-green muslin?” Huang Rong asked.

The man laughed coldly and said, “How can it be so? Look at the sentence ‘Comeback tomorrow supporting the remnants of drunkenness’ on the screen. Did you notice that this one sentence has two revised characters?” Huang Rong and Guo Jing examined it more closely and found the character ‘fu’ [carrying or supporting somebody] was formerly ‘xie’ [bringing/carrying along], and the character ‘zui’ [drunkenness] was actually ‘jiu’ [wine].

The man then said, “Yu Guobao originally intended to write ‘Comeback tomorrow bringing the remnants of the wine’.” The retired Emperor smiled and said, ‘Although this phrase is good, it is rather simple-minded.’ Hence he took a brush to revise those two characters. That was truly heaven sent wisdom and farsightedness, like transforming iron into gold.” He swayed his head and sighed as if he was enjoying it tremendously.

Guo Jing listened and became angry. He yelled loudly, “This emperor Gaozong put Qin Gui in an important position in order to harm and kill Master Yue [General Yue Fei]!” His leg flew out and kicked the screen, smashing it. He reached backwards to catch the scholar and pull him forward. With a splashing sound wine spilled everywhere as that man, head up feet down, sank into the wine vat.

Huang Rong loudly applauded and laughed, “I too will make correction to those two sentences. They are, ‘Today standing upright spoiling the wine, the gentleman sank into the vat drunk.”

As the scholar’s head emerged from the wine jar with wine dripping from it, he said, “The oblique tone of ‘drunk’ does not rhyme well.”

Huang Rong replied, “‘Wind entering the pine’ does not rhyme well. My poem ‘Man entering the jar’ rhymes better!” She extended her hand and firmly pressed his head down inside the wine jar, and then flipped the table over, causing an outburst. The customers and the wine shop keeper scrambled out of the shop. Guo Jing and Huang Rong stood up and pounded and smashed all the wine vats, pots and cauldrons. Finally, using the ‘Eighteen-Dragon Subduing Palms’, Guo Jing exerted all his strength to strike the main support pillar of the inn, causing the roof to collapse. In a brief moment, a large restaurant was transformed into a pile of wood that hardly resembled anything. Guo Jing and Huang Rong laughed loudly. Holding each other’s hands, they walked north. Nobody knew where this mad young man and young woman came from but who dared pursue them?

Guo Jing laughed, “That was such a good trashing that all the bad air in my chest went away completely.”

Huang Rong replied happily, “Whenever we see anything unsightly, we will smash it.”

Guo Jing replied, “Good!”

Since leaving Peach Blossom Island, the two had gone through many unfavorable situations. Although they were reunited, their Master had suffered a serious and difficult to heal injury and this made their hearts heavy with worry. At this time they unexpectedly had the chance to break up a restaurant and it had helped to vent their frustrations. The couple leisurely walked along the lake-shore and saw poems everywhere…on rocks, on trees, on pavilions and on the walls. They were written either by travelers bidding their farewells, or young men expressing their love.

Guo Jing did not understand the poems, but when he saw the words ‘wind’, ‘flower’, ‘snow’ and ‘moon’ he sighed and said, “Even if we had a thousand pairs of fists, we can’t break them all. Rong’er, you have learned literature and art…what are all these for?”

Huang Rong smiled. “There were some good ones among these poems,” she said.

Guo Jing shook his head. “I still think fists and kicks are more useful,” he said.

While walking and talking they reached the ‘Flew in Peak’ [fei lai feng]. There was a pavilion built on that peak. Above the gateway there were three characters ‘Jade-Green Small Pavilion’ [cui wei ting] in Han Shizong’s handwriting. Guo Jing knew Han Shizong’s reputation. Upon seeing the handwriting of the general who resisted the Jin army he was delighted. He quickly walked into the pavilion. There was a stone monument inside, with a poem inscribed on it reading:

‘With the passing years dust has settled on the battle uniforms, especially seeking some fragrant jade-green wine, not enough to only see good mountains and good rivers, taking advantage of the bright moon light the return of horse hoofs.’

This seemed to be the handwriting of Han Shizhong as well.

“This is a good poem,” Guo Jing praised. Actually, he did not know a good poem from a bad one, but he believed this poem was Han Shizhong’s. It also contained words like ‘battle uniforms’ [zheng yi] and ‘horse hoofs’ [ma ti], so it must be good.

Huang Rong said, “That was Master Yue, Yue Fei’s work.” Guo Jing was surprised and asked, “How do you know?”

Huang Rong replied, “I listened to father tell the story. In the winter of the eleventh year of Shaoxing, Master Yue died at the hands of Qin Gui. In the spring of the following year, in remembrance of him, Han Shizhong built this pavilion and engraved this poem as a memorial. Unfortunately, Qin Gui was very influential during that period, so he could not openly commemorate Master Yue.”

Remembering the previous dynasty’s General, Guo Jing reached out his hand and ran his finger along the inscriptions in the stone. While he was lost in thought Huang Rong suddenly pulled his sleeve and jumped towards the bushes behind the pavilion and pushed his head down. As they were crouching, they heard the footsteps of people entering the pavilion. A moment later they heard someone say, “Han Shizhong was a hero. His lady, Liang Hongyu, although a former prostitute, helped her husband achieve victory by beating drums during the battle. She could be considered a heroine.”

Guo Jing thought this voice was somewhat familiar but could not remember who it was. Again another man said, “Yue Fei and Han Shizhong were heroes, but the emperor wanted them dead and stripped them of their military leadership. Both Han and Yue had to follow orders. Obviously the emperor held the power that even heroes like them could not defy.”

Guo Jing listened to the accent and recognized that this person was Yang Kang. Guo Jing was startled and wondered, “What is Yang Kang doing here?” Still surprised, another broken cymbal-like voice confounded him even more. It was the Western Poison Ouyang Feng. He heard Ouyang Feng say, “That’s correct. With muddle-headed ruler reigning, just like the previous dynasty, it doesn’t matter how great a hero is…he is useless.”

The first man then said, “But if a wise ruler is on the throne, a great hero like Mr. Ouyang could help him greatly to achieve his aspirations.”

Listening to those two speak, Guo Jing suddenly recognized that the other one was the enemy who’d killed his father, the Sixth Prince of the Great Jin, Wanyan Honglie. Even though he had seen Wanyan Honglie’s face before, he’d not often heard his voice and was therefore unable to recognize it for a moment.

The three talked and laughed and then they left. Guo Jing waited until they had gone far enough and then asked no one in particular, “What are they doing in Lin’an? How come Brother Kang is with them?”

“Humph,” Huang Rong snorted, “I realized earlier that this brother of yours is not a good person. You still say that he is the descendant of a hero. You have been deceived. Now you understand his real intentions. If he is really a good man, how could he accompany those two scoundrels?”

Guo Jing was very much bewildered, “I don’t understand,” he said. Thereupon Huang Rong told him everything she’d heard in the Fragrant Snow Hall of the Zhao Palace. She said, “Wanyan Honglie gathered Peng Lianhu and the other fellows to help with his plan to steal Master Yue’s Wumu’s Legacy. Now they suddenly arrive here. Perhaps this Legacy is in Lin’an. If they succeed, then our Great Song’s common people will suffer great calamities.”

Guo Jing shivered with fear, “We simply cannot let them succeed,” he said. Huang Rong said, “The problem is that the Western Poison is traveling with them.”

“Are you afraid?” Guo Jing asked. “Aren’t you?” Huang Rong asked back.

Guo Jing replied, “Naturally I am frightened of the Western Poison, but this is not a small matter. We … even if we are afraid, we cannot simply overlook it.”

Huang Rong smiled, “If you must take care of it, then naturally I will follow you.”

“Very well,” Guo Jing said, “Let’s go after them.”

Leaving the pavilion they could not see any trace of Wanyan Honglie’s group and were forced to look randomly around the city. Lin’an was a big city, so how could they find what they were looking for in a short period of time? After walking for a long time, the sky turned dark as the two arrived in front of the ‘Martial Arts Garden’ [wu lin yuan] at Zhong Wazi. Huang Rong saw a shop with a lot of masks with vividly drawn features hanging in its entrance. She was amused and remembered her promise to buy something fun for Zhou Botong. She spent five silver coins and bought ‘the king of ghosts’ [zhong kui], ‘the judge of hell’ [pan guan], ‘kitchen god’ [zao jun], ‘earth god’ [tu di], ‘soldier of heaven’ [shen bing] and other ghosts and supernatural beings, more than a dozen masks in all.

While the shopkeeper was wrapping the masks with paper, there came the sweet fragrance of food and wine from a restaurant next door. The two had been walking for a long time and were starving. “What restaurant is that?” Huang Rong asked.

The shopkeeper smiled and said, “So it turns out you two are new to the capital. No wonder you don’t know. The ‘Three-Primary Tavern’ [san yuan lou] is very well-known in our Lin’an. The wine, the food, and the utensils are number one under heaven. You two cannot not leave without trying it.” Huang Rong’s heart was stirred by what he said. She took the masks and then pulled Guo Jing to the front of ‘Three-Primary Tavern’. They could see that the building was decorated with colorful paint and had a row of red and green fencing. Beneath the second floor roof hung flower-patterned lanterns. The interior was lined with luxurious wood inlay and the pavilion looked elegant and unconventional. It was truly an exquisite tavern.

As the two walked in they were welcomed by a waiter with a smiling face and were led through a corridor to a chamber already set with bowls and chopsticks. Huang Rong immediately placed an order and the waiter left to prepare the food.

In the candlelight Guo Jing saw more than a dozen courtesans with heavy makeup sitting in a row on a nearby porch. He wondered who they were and was about to ask when, from the chamber next door, he suddenly heard Wanyan Honglie’s voice call out, “That’s fine! Send somebody to sing and join us drinking wine.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other and thought, “Just like the saying goes, ‘wearing out iron shoes to look around, finding the result without any effort.’”

A summons was heard and a woman gracefully stood up and walked towards the chamber next door with a pair of ivory planks in her hands. A short moment later the woman started to sing. Huang Rong tilted her head to listen to her song:

“The southeast appears victorious, the rivers and lakes (Jianghu) convene, Qiantang River always flourishes from the ancient times. The bridge looks like a painting of smoking willow; the wind blows the wine shop sign and the jade-green curtain, amidst a hundred thousand people. Cloudy trees wind around the sandy dike, angry waves roll up like frosty snow, the sky and the moat around the city are boundless. Rows of pearls line up in the market, the homes compete with each other to show their extravagance. The clear water lake is surrounded by three autumn cassia buds and ten ‘li of lotuses. Along the clear alleys the water chestnut songs floating through the night, enticing old gentlemen to the lotus-like dolls. A thousand riders gather around the ivory tower, intoxicated by the sound of flute and drum, enjoying the rosy-cloud smoke. A particular day to paint fine scenery, as the phoenix returns to the pond of praise.”

Guo Jing did not understand the sing-song sound of her singing, but he did enjoy the gentle tapping of her ivory planks and the melodious sound of the flute.

As the song finished, both Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang proclaimed their praise. “You sing very well!”

The woman repeatedly expressed her gratitude and jubilantly went out with the musicians while wishing Wanyan Honglie much enjoyment.

Wanyan Honglie said, “Son, do you know that this Liu Yong [Eternal Willow] poem, ‘Gazing at the Ocean Tides’ [wang hai chao], has a close relationship with our Great Jin?”

“Your child does not know,” Yang Kang replied. “Would Papa [Die] please explain?”

Hearing him calling Wanyan Honglie ‘Papa’ in an affectionate tone, Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other. Guo Jing was angry and broken hearted. He wished he could go over, grab him, and ask for an explanation.

He heard Wanyan Honglie reply, “During the prosperous years of our Great Jin, the Jin Lord Liang saw this poem by Liu Yong, which praises the beauty of the West Lake’s scenery. Thereupon he sent an emissary south and at the same time dispatched a famous painter to paint the scenery around the City of Lin’an. The painter inserted the Jin Lord’s image in the painting, sitting on horseback on the peak of Wu Shan [Wu Mountain]. The Jin Lord wrote this poem on the painting: ‘Ten thousands of li riding on a chariot, how can there be another border to Jiangnan? Dispatching soldiers by the millions to the West Lake, on a horse’s back to stand on Wu Shan’s first peak!’”

“What a grand and heroic spirit!” Yang Kang praised. Guo Jing was so angry hearing him that he clenched his fist so hard, his knuckles made cracking sounds.

Wanyan Honglie sighed. “Jin Lord Liang’s desire to dispatch soldiers to the south and to stand on Wu Shan on horseback did not come true, but his heroic spirit to cross the river was inherited by us, his descendants. Once he inscribed this poem on a folding fan: ‘With a great fan in the hand, bringing a cool breeze over the entire world.’ That’s the kind of ambition he had!”

Yang Kang repeated that poem. “With a great fan in the hand, bringing a cool breeze over the entire world.” He sounded like he was really impressed by it.

Ouyang Feng laughed and said, “Someday the Prince’s dream of having great authority and standing on Wu Shan will come true.”

Wanyan Honglie quietly said, “I do hope Sir’s words will come true. There are too many ears and eyes around here…let’s just drink some wine.” So the three people changed the topic of their conversation immediately and instead talked about the scenery, what they’d seen and heard about local conditions and social customs.

Huang Rong whispered into Guo Jing’s ear, “They are having a good time drinking wine and I don’t want them to have a good time.” The two slipped away from their chamber and went to the backyard. Huang Rong took out her flint and ignited the firewood in a shed and spread the fire around. In a short moment flames arose and people shouted in confusion, “Fire!” Then they heard copper gongs being struck noisily.

“Quick…we must go to the front or we’ll lose track of them again,” Huang Rong said.

Guo Jing was filled with hatred. “Tonight I must kill that traitor Wanyan Honglie!” he said.

Huang Rong said, “First we must take Master to the palace to eat. Afterwards we will entreat the Old Urchin to face the Western Poison. Only then can we deal with the other two traitors.” “That’s right,” Guo Jing said.

Amidst the commotion, the two walked to the front of the restaurant just as Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang emerged from the building. Guo Jing and Huang Rong followed them at a distance through streets and alleys towards the west market. They entered the Guan Gai Inn. The two waited outside the inn for a long time without seeing Wanyan Honglie or the others coming back out. They concluded that they must be staying here. “Let’s return to our inn, fetch the Old Urchin, and come back here to deal with them,” Huang Rong said. They went back to the Jin Hua Inn immediately.

Approaching the inn they heard Zhou Botong shouting. Guo Jing was frightened because he thought his Master’s injury was getting worse. He rushed forward anxiously only to see Zhou Botong squatting on the ground squabbling with six or seven boys. As it turned out, he was gambling with these kids in front of the inn’s gate and he’d lost. He argued with the kids, and the kids argued back, hence the noise.

With Huang Rong’s return he was afraid she would scold him, so he turned around and went back into the inn. Huang Rong smiled and brought out the masks. Zhou Botong was delighted and squealed again and again. He put on a mask and become the ‘Judge of Hell’, and then became a little demon.

Huang Rong expressed their desire to take him back to help them fight the Western Poison. Zhou Botong readily agreed. “Don’t worry,” he said, “My two hands can use two different fist techniques to fight him.”

Huang Rong recalled the time on Peach Blossom Island when Zhou Botong was afraid he might involuntarily use the martial arts from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. He tied his own hands and as a result was injured by her father. “The Western Poison is very bad,” she said, “You can’t be considered disobeying your martial brother’s death wish if you injure him with the martial arts from the manual.”

Zhou Botong stared hard at her. “No, I can’t do it” he said. “I have trained hard and I don’t need to use the techniques from the manual.” By this time Hong Qigong’s heart was already inside the Imperial Palace’s kitchen. He had waited until the second hour of this night with great difficulty. Guo Jing carried Hong Qigong on his back and the four walked on the roofs towards the Imperial Palace. The palace was taller than the other buildings and its roof glittered with gold inlay. It was very easy to identify. Before long, very quietly and without making any noises, the four leaped over the palace’s wall.

The security inside the palace was tight and guards patrolled everywhere. But with the level of lightness kungfu Zhou, Guo and Huang possessed, how could they be caught by the guards? Hong Qigong knew where the kitchen was and in a low voice he explained the way to it. In a few moments they had arrived at the imperial kitchen, located behind the ‘Six Ministry Hill’ [liu bu shan]. The kitchen was to the east of ‘Fine Bright Hall’ [jia ming dian], where the imperial meals were being prepared. These places were adjacent to the imperial sleeping chamber and the imperial personal office. All were closely guarded with alarm gongs everywhere. By this time the emperor had already gone to bed and the imperial kitchen staff had been dismissed. The four people arrived at the well-lit kitchen where several young court eunuchs slumbered inside.

Guo Jing helped Hong Qigong sit on a beam while Huang Rong and Zhou Botong looked for already cooked meals in the kitchen cabinets. Very soon the four began to eat.

Zhou Botong shook his head, “Old Beggar, the food here can’t be compared to Rong’er’s culinary skills. I don’t understand why you so earnestly desired to come here.”

Hong Qigong replied, “I wanted to eat the minced ‘Five-Treasures Mandarin Duck’. I don’t know where the chef lives…but tomorrow we will catch him. Then we’ll force him to prepare something more to your taste.”

“I can’t believe his culinary skill is superior to Rong’er’s,” Zhou Botong said.

Huang Rong smiled. She knew he wanted to thank her for the masks, which was why he praised her repeatedly. “I want to stay here and wait for the chef,” Hong Qigong said, “Since you are bored, why don’t you and Jing’er go out of the palace and let Rong’er stay with me. Tomorrow night you can come back.”

Zhou Botong put on the ‘City God’ mask and laughed. “No,” he said, “I want to stay here with you. Tomorrow I am going to wear this mask to scare the old emperor. Brother Guo, Rong’er, you keep your eyes on the Old Poison. Don’t let him steal Yue Fei’s legacy.”

“What the Old Urchin said was very reasonable,” Hong Qigong said. “Go quickly and be careful.” The two gave their promise.

“Don’t fight the Old Poison tonight. Wait for me tomorrow,” Zhou Botong said.

“We can’t beat him so naturally we won’t fight,” Huang Rong said. She, along with Guo Jing, slipped away from the imperial kitchen with the intention of going back to the Guan Gai Inn to observe Wanyan Honglie and the others’ activities.

They tiptoed through two halls in the dark. Suddenly they felt a cool breeze and faintly heard the sound of water. In the stillness of the night they could also smell a faint delicate fragrance from deep in the palace courtyard. Unexpectedly they’d come across a wooded hill placed inside the palace.

Huang Rong sniffed and knew there must be a flower garden nearby. She thought there must be many wonderful flowers and unusual plants in the Imperial Palace garden. Since she was there, she certainly could not pass up this rare opportunity to take a look. So she tugged Guo Jing’s hand and followed the flowery fragrance, looking for the garden.

Gradually the sound of water grew louder. The two walked on flower-lined paths and saw pine and bamboo trees blocking the deep blue sky above along with beautiful hills quietly standing in the background. Huang Rong was deeply impressed with this place. Even though the landscaping was inferior to that of Peach Blossom Island, the flowers and trees were exquisitely beautiful. They walked several zhangs further and saw a streak of water appearing like a silver waterfall coming out from the side of a hill. The water ran down to a pond, and in turn, a stream of water came out of the pond so that it would not overflow. There were countless red lotuses strewn across the surface of the pond. Directly in front of the pond was a hall entrance dense with flowers. Just above the entrance were written the three characters ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ [cui han tang].

Huang Rong walked to the front of the hall. Below the porch she saw some stairs leading upwards, surrounded by many kinds of flowers: ‘jasmine’ [mo li], ‘fragrant vegetable’ [su xin], ‘musk deer fragrant rattan’ [she xiang teng], ‘vermillion hibiscus’ [shu jin], ‘jade cassia’ [yu gui], and ‘red banana’ [hong jiao]. Each was the kind of fragrant plants that bloom in summer. Towards the back of the hal, orchids and other scented plants hung. Sweet smelling incense burned, filling the hall and assailing their nostrils.

On a table inside the hall were several bowls of lotus root, sweet melon, loquat, and many kinds of wild fruits from the forest. Several round fans were strewn about on the chairs. It seemed that this was the hall where the emperor enjoyed the cool evening breeze before going to bed.

Guo Jing sighed. “The emperor really knows how to enjoy life,” he said.

Huang Rong laughed. “Now you can be one,” she said, pulling Guo Jing along to sit on a couch. She offered him the bowl of fruits and knelt down. “Long live master. Please enjoy some fresh fruits,” she said.

Guo Jing smiled and picked up a loquat. “Please rise,” he said.

Huang Rong laughed, “Emperors never says ‘please’. That is too polite,” she said.

As they talked and laughed in low voices they suddenly heard someone shout in the distance, “Who’s there?” They were startled. Leaping out of the hall they hid behind a fake hill. They heard heavy footsteps as two men came shouting loudly. Guo Jing and Huang Rong listened to these people and knew their martial arts skills were low. They was nothing to worry about. The guards brandished their sabers while rushing towards the front of the hall. They looked around but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

“You saw a ghost,” one guard said, laughing.

The other one was also laughing. “I am always seeing things these past few days,” he said. They walked away, still talking and laughing.

Huang Rong was inwardly amused. She tugged Guo Jing’s hand to leave, but suddenly heard those two guards grunt…‘hey…hey’. Although the noise was deep and muffled, they knew it was the sound of exhaling because their acupoints were being sealed. Guo Jing and Huang Rong both thought, “Did Big Brother Zhou get bored and came out to play?”

They heard someone speak in a low voice, “According to the Imperial Palace map, the building next to the waterfall is the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’. We are going there.” The voice belonged to Wanyan Honglie.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very shocked. They grabbed each other’s hands and hid even deeper behind the fake hill, not daring to make a sound. In the dim glimmering starlight they saw shadows moving in front of the hall. They vaguely recognized that, besides Wanyan Honglie, there was Ouyang Feng, Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian, the Venerable Lingzhi, Liang Ziweng and Hou Tonghai.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were puzzled. “What are these people doing in the Imperial Palace?” they thought. “Could it be they also want to steal some food from the imperial kitchen?”

They heard Wanyan Honglie speak again, still in low voice. “The Little Prince has carefully examined the secret letter Yue Fei left behind and also the documents from the dynasties two emperors, Gaozong and Xiaozong. I concluded that the Wumu Legacy is hidden fifteen steps east of the ‘Jade- Green Cold Hall’.”

Everyone’s eyes automatically followed the direction of his hand. Fifteen steps east of the hall was the waterfall and nothing else. Wanyan Honglie said, “How the book could be hidden in the waterfall? The Little Prince found hard to understand, but according to the documents, this is the correct place.”

Sha Tongtian was known as the ‘Dragon King of the Demonic Group’ [gui men long wang] and his water skills were excellent. “I’ll go and take a look at the waterfall,” he said. Without waiting, he stepped forward and jumped into the water. Not long afterward he reemerged. Everybody rushed forward to meet him, only to hear him say, “The Prince reasoned correctly. Behind the waterfall there is a cave with a closed iron gate.”

Wanyan Honglie was ecstatic. “The Wumu Legacy must be inside the cave,” he said. “I am afraid I’ll have to inconvenience you gentlemen and have you to open the iron gate.”

Everybody unsheathed their prized sabers and sharp blades, ready to comply with his request and each wanting to render meritorious service. They raced to the waterfall. Ouyang Feng laughed coldly and stayed at Wanyan Honglie’s side. He felt his reputation was different, so he was not willing to fetch the book with the others.

Sha Tongtian was the first to duck under the flowing water. Suddenly a gust of wind assaulted his face. He’d just come in to take a look and saw nothing. How could he guess an enemy would suddenly attack him? He hurriedly avoided the attack, but his left wrist was suddenly grabbed by the enemy and he was pushed hard. Against his wish, his body flew out and hit Liang Ziweng hard. Luckily both men’s martial arts skills were quite high and they were not injured.

Everyone was taken by surprise. In the meantime, Sha Tongtian entered the waterfall again…but this time he was ready. He raised both palms in front of his face and, sure enough, from behind the waterfall a fist came flying out. He used his left hand to parry while launching a counterattack with his right. During all this, he had not seen clearly who the enemy was.

Liang Ziweng had also jumped into the waterfall. A stick suddenly came sweeping close to the ground. Liang Ziweng tried to evade it, but he was too late. The lower part of his leg was hit squarely and he could not maintain his balance and fell backwards. As his chest was being hit by the waterfall, his leg was again hit by the stick. Against his will, his body fell outside the waterfall.

By this time Sha Tongtian had also been pushed outside of the waterfall by a swift and fierce palm. The ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ Hou Tonghai did not think about the martial arts skills his martial brother had compared to his own skills. If his martial brother was so easily defeated, how could he hope to achieve success? Relying on his superb water skills and his ability to open his eyes and see underwater, he charged into the waterfall.

Looking at the adverse situation, Peng Lianhu rushed forward to join the battle. Suddenly a dark and rather shiny shadow flew above his head. With a ‘Bang!’ that shadow fell to the ground and then he heard Hou Tonghai cry loudly in pain. Peng Lianhu quickly went over and said in a low voice, “Brother Hou [Hou Xiong]…be quiet! What happened?”

“Damn his granny!” Hou Tonghai cursed. “My butt is broken into four pieces from the fall.”

Peng Lianhu was confounded and amused at the same time. “Is there such a thing?” he whispered. He stretched his hand to check Hou Tonghai’s buttocks, seemingly checking to see if they were still in one piece. He found nothing injured. He knew something was amiss, but he did not want to face the danger rashly. “Who’s inside?” he asked.

Still in pain Hou Tonghai became angry. “How would I know?” he snapped. “As soon as I went in, I was thrown back out. That scoundrel of a bastard!”

In the starlight they saw the Venerable Lingzhi’s red robe fluttering as he entered the waterfall in big strides. Amidst the sound of the water gurgling, they could hear his loud shouts in Tibetan. It seemed like he was fighting an intense battle with the man inside.

Everyone looked at each other in surprise. Sha Tongtian and Liang Ziweng had been thrown out. But in the darkness they vaguely saw, behind the curtain of water, a man and a woman. The man was barehanded and the woman had a stick in her hand. At this time they heard the Venerable Lingzhi’s loud roar. It seemed he had suffered hardships as well. Wanyan Honglie frowned. “Why is this Venerable so reckless? He called out so earth shatteringly loud. If the palace guards heard it and come here, how will we get the book?” he said.

He had just finished speaking when they saw the Venerable Lingzhi’s red kasaya [Tibetan Robe] fly out from the waterfall and land floating on the red lotus pond, followed by two clanking sounds as the two copper cymbals that he used as weapons also flew out. Peng Lianhu was afraid the cymbals would make a loud noise if they hit the ground and thus alert the palace guards. He stretched out his hands and caught the cymbals. They heard loud shouts of Tibetan curse words coming from the waterfall, which nobody could understand, followed by a huge body flying out.

Luckily the Venerable Lingzhi’s martial arts were different from Hou Tonghai’s. Although he fell backwards, he was able to land softly, so his buttocks were not injured at all. He cursed aloud, “It’s the boy and the girl we met on the boat.”

When Guo Jing and Huang Rong were hiding behind the fake hill, they heard Wanyan Honglie order the people to go into the cave and steal the book. They thought that if the Wumu Legacy was obtained by him, the Jin army could follow Yue Wumu’s military strategies to invade the south, which would be disastrous. They realized that Ouyang Feng was around and that they were not his match, but if they did not step forward bravely, how would they bear it if, in the future, the common people of the world suffered such a disaster?

At first Huang Rong wanted to find a way to scare these people away, but Guo Jing knew that the situation was critical and they had no time to hesitate. He immediately grabbed Huang Rong’s hand and slipped behind the waterfall. They were hoping to set up an ambush and attack Ouyang Feng by surprise. Luckily the waterfall’s rumbling was so loud that nobody heard their movements.

The two did all they could to repel Sha Tongtian and the others. They were pleasantly surprised with the results and did not expect the Manual’s ‘Changing Muscles Forging Bones’ to be that marvelous. Huang Rong’s ‘Dog-Beating Stick’ had infinite variations. So amazing were they that even men of Sha Tongtian and the Venerable Lingzhi’s caliber were thrown into confused helplessness. Guo Jing took advantage of the situation to send out his palms and as a result they managed to throw everyone out of the waterfall.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong knew that as Sha Tongtian and the others were defeated, Ouyang Feng would go into action and that they absolutely could not fight against him. “Let’s get out of here quickly!” Huang Rong said, “We have to raise the alarm and let the palace guards come and prevent these people from acting further.”

“That’s right!” Guo Jing said, “You go out and raise the alarm. I am staying here on guard.”

“You must not fight the Old Poison,” Huang Rong said. “Yes. Now go! Go!” Guo Jing said.

Huang Rong was about to go out through the hole behind the waterfall when they suddenly heard a loud grunt and a great burst of energy came through the waterfall from the outside. The two did not dare to block it and leaped sideways to evade that energy. With a loud roar, Ouyang Feng’s ‘Toad Stance’ energy penetrated the waterfall and hit the iron gate. Water splashed everywhere and the force was astonishing.

Although Huang Rong managed to leap sideways, her back was still hit by the ‘Toad Stance’s’ lateral force. She felt her blood rushing and her vision blurred. She tried to focus her mind and then dashed outside shouting at the top of her lungs, “Seize the assassin! Seize the assassin!” She ran away while continuing to shout.

As she shouted, the palace guards all around the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ were startled awake. Shouting began immediately from everywhere, raising the alarm. Huang Rong jumped up on the roof of the hall, picked up some roof tiles, and ‘Bing…bing…bang…bang!” randomly threw them to the ground. “Kill that little girl first, then we’ll talk,” Peng Lianhu cursed. Launching his lightness kungfu, he gave chase. Liang Ziweng jumped to the left, trying to block her.

Wanyan Honglie was still calm. He said to Yang Kang, “Kang’er, go with Mr. Ouyang and get the book.”

By this time Ouyang Feng was already squatting on the ground in front of the waterfall. With another grunt he sent another burst of energy and the double iron gate at the cave’s mouth flew in. He was about to enter the cave, when from one side, a shadow suddenly attacked. Before the person even arrived, his palm had already come, launching the dangerous stance of the ‘Flying Dragon Soaring Through the Heavens’ [fei long zai tian]. Although he could not clearly see that person’s appearance in the dark cave, as soon as he saw the stance he knew it must be Guo Jing. He was delighted, “The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ is exceptionally difficult to comprehend and I only understand two out of ten sentences. If I can capture this kid, I can force him to explain it.” He leaned sideways to evade the attack then swiftly stretched out his hand, trying to grab Guo Jing’s back.

Guo Jing was determined that no matter what he had to do to guard the entrance, he would not let the enemy enter. As long as he could hold it for a while, the palace guards would come. Although this group of traitors’ martial arts was high, they would have to run away eventually. He was slightly puzzled to see Ouyang Feng not trying to kill him but merely trying to capture him. His left hand swept the attacking hand away and his right hand counterattacked with the ‘Vacant Fist’ technique. Even though, in terms of strength, this technique was inferior to the ‘Eighteen Dragon- Subduing Palms’, by using the ‘Vacant Fist’, his palms floated with tricky movements.

“Good!” Ouyang Feng exclaimed. He dropped his shoulder and pulled back his hand while trying to catch Guo Jing’s right arm. His hand did not carry the gust of wind that came with his usual swift and ferocious force.

While he was on the deserted island, Ouyang Feng studied the Manual Guo Jing wrote out. The more he practiced it the more he felt something was wrong. It never crossed his mind that the Manual in his hands was altered to the point of being somewhat unintelligible. He thought that the Manual carried a very deep and profound meaning which could not be deciphered in a short period of time. Later on he heard Hong Qigong mumbling some gibberish on the raft which he thought was the key to understanding the Manual. Also, every time he met Guo Jing, he noticed that his martial arts were continuously progressing. He was startled yet delighted at the same time. Startled: because this kid’s skills were improving so rapidly. Therefore, the power contained in the Manual must be truly something to be feared. Delighted: because the Manual was in his hands. By strengthening his own background, his advancement in the future would be limitless.

On the raft he fought a life and death battle against two enemies. This time he felt that he had gained the upper hand and wanted to fight at a leisurely pace. He thought he would be able to dissect the manual by watching Guo Jing’s every single move. He did not care whether the Wumu Legacy would be stolen or not. In his heart the only important matter right was the martial arts in the Manual.

By now the light from the many lanterns carried all around the area had made the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ bright as daylight, as more and more palace guards arrived. Wanyan Honglie noted that Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang had been behind the water’s curtain for a very long time without coming back out. Meanwhile the palace guards gathered around them. He was getting increasingly anxious. Fortunately the guards’ attention was concentrated by Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng on the roof chasing after Huang Rong, oblivious that there was a bigger fight going on inside the waterfall. He realized, however, that sooner or later the guards’ would detect their presence there. He stomped his feet and waved his hands continuously, while urgently calling out, “Quick…quick!”

“Don’t worry Prince, little monk will go in again,” the Venerable Lingzhi said. Shaking his left palm in front of his body he entered the waterfall. By now the light from outside had penetrated the water curtain. He was able to see Ouyang Feng exchanging stances with Guo Jing in front of the cave entrance, while Yang Kang, at one side, was trying to get into the cave. But how could he pass through the two people’s ferocious gusts of wind created by their palms?

The Venerable Lingzhi watched for several stances until he could not endure it any longer. He knew the present situation was very urgent. But Ouyang Feng was sparring leisurely with this kid. Truly he was a bastard. “Mr. Ouyang, let me help you!” he shouted.

“Don’t come near me!” Ouyang Feng replied.

The Venerable Lingzhi thought, “In a situation like this you still flaunt yourself as a hero and display your reputation as a grandmaster of a martial arts school?” He bent his knees and attacked Guo Jing’s left side. His ‘Big Hand Imprint’ [da shou yin] slapped Guo Jing’s ‘Sun’ [tai yang] acupoint.

Ouyang Feng was angry. His right hand stretched out to grab the back of Lingzhi’s neck and fling him out. As soon as his neck was grabbed, the Venerable Lingzhi became very angry and he shouted a series of the most obscene cuss words he could think of. Unfortunately he was speaking Tibetan, so Ouyang Feng naturally did not understand a word he was saying. All he heard was “Ba ni mi hong”… half a sentence because water started to get into his mouth and his curses were drowned. As he fell backwards with his face facing the sky, he landed in the pond and water began filling his mouth.

Wanyan Honglie saw the Venerable Lingzhi come flying out and fall like he was mounting the clouds and riding the mist. Then he heard a loud clanking noise as the big flower pot in front of the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ was crushed. He groaned inwardly. He also saw many palace guards coming in succession, so he hastily tucked in his robe and went inside the waterfall.

Although he had learned some martial arts, his skill was only so-so. As soon as he was inside the waterfall he stepped on the slippery surface and fell down. Yang Kang rushed forward to help him up. It took a while for Wanyan Honglie to scan the cave and see what was going on. “Mr. Ouyang, can you expel this youngster?” he called out. He knew that no matter how he begged or entreated, Ouyang Feng might not necessarily pay any attention to him. Therefore he resorted to subtlety by asking if Ouyang Feng was capable of expelling Guo Jing. This was called ‘dispatching a general is not as good as inciting a general’.

Sure enough, as soon as Ouyang Feng heard that, he replied, “Why not?” He squatted and with a loud grunt, sent his ‘Toad Stance’ energy forward through his palms. This one push was backed by his lifelong cultivation of internal energy. Even if Hong Qigong or Huang Yaoshi were here, they would not be able to resist this attack head on, so how could Guo Jing block it?

Ouyang Feng had just exchanged several stances with Guo Jing, compelling him to use the ‘Vacant Fist’ technique. He noticed that Guo Jing’s movements were subtle with marvelous variations. In his heart he was secretly pleased and thought this must be the ‘Nine Yin Manual’s’ martial arts. He wanted to watch Guo Jing use enough of this technique so that he could steal as much as he could. Unfortunately, Wanyan Honglie barged in and questioned his ability. He still thought that Guo Jing would be useful, and he knew the ferociousness of his own strength, therefore, he voluntarily withdrew his push.

But unexpectedly, Guo Jing was determined to guard the Wumu Legacy with his life. He knew that if he stepped to the side, the cave entrance would be defenseless and the Wumu Legacy would fall into the enemy’s hands. Although there were numerous palace guards outside, how could they defend against Ouyang Feng and the others? He knew the incoming force was ferocious. He could not block it, yet he must evade it. His feet kicked jump about four feet upwards to escape the attack and landed back in front of the entrance. He heard a loud noise behind him as sand and rocks fell because Ouyang Feng’s force had hit the cave wall.

“Good!” Ouyang Feng called out. With exceptional speed he sent out the second attack. The previous force had not yet dissipated before the next force arrived.

Guo Jing felt a sudden gust of wind blowing on his upper body. He groaned inwardly and immediately launched both palms forward using the ‘Tremors Shake a Hundred li’ [zhen jing bai li]. It was one of the most powerful moves of the ‘Eighteen Dragon-Subduing Palms’. This time he’d blocked hard with a ‘hard’ stance. For an instant both of them stayed motionless. Guo Jing realized his strength was not a match for his enemy’s and he knew he would suffer defeat, but there was no alternative.

Wanyan Honglie watched these two men fighting, leaping and eluding. As one rose up the other dropped down. Suddenly they were as rigid as corpses. Not even a finger stirred and they did not even seem to breathe. He was greatly astonished. A short moment later sweat began to drip from Guo Jing’s body. Ouyang Feng knew that if this fight continued his opponent would suffer a serious injury. He had a mind to yield for half a stance, but as soon as he lessened his power his chest tightened because his opponent’s power was pressing in. If not for his profound strength he would certainly have been injured.

Ouyang Feng was startled. He had never expected that at such a young age, Guo Jing’s strength would be so fierce. He took a deep breath and counterattacked immediately, pushing the incoming force back. If he just added a little bit more strength to his push, he would be able to overcome Guo Jing easily. But at this time, both parties palm strength was equal. If he wanted to score a victory he would have to inflict heavy injuries on his opponent. It would not be difficult should he really want to kill Guo Jing, but this kid was the key to understanding the Manual, so how could he destroy his only resource? Therefore, he intended to wait for Guo Jing’s strength to become depleted and then capture him.

Not too much later it became obvious that as one’s strength declined, the other’s increased. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang, who watched from the sidelines, did not know how much longer this situation would last. They became very anxious. Actually, the two people had only been in this deadlock for a short time, but because the light from outside was getting brighter and the noise from outside was getting louder, it seemed in Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang’s minds that they had been motionless for a very long time.

With a loud noise, two palace guards suddenly came barging into the waterfall. Yang Kang swiftly pounced. With a ‘ta, ta’ sound both of his hands penetrated the guards bodies. It was the deadly ‘Nine Yin White Bone Claw’ [jiu yin bai zhua gong]. The reeking smell of blood assailed everyone’s nostrils as the guards died instantly. Yang Kang then drew a dagger from his boot and jumped forward to stab Guo Jing in the side.

Guo Jing was resisting Ouyang Feng’s palm with all his strength. How could he avoid this incoming thrust? He knew if he moved even a little bit he would die violently from the Western Poison’s ‘Toad Stance’. Therefore, even though he knew the dagger would penetrate his body soon, he was forced to ignore it. He suddenly felt a severe pain in his side and his breathing stopped. He instinctively swung his fist and hit Yang Kang’s hand.

By this time the difference in the levels of martial arts between these two was vast. Guo Jing’s fist struck Yang Kang’s hand like it was about to crack bones. Yang Kang hastily withdrew his hand so that the dagger’s blade only penetrated halfway into Guo Jing’s side. Right at that moment the ‘Toad Stance’s’ force came surging into Guo Jing’s chest. He let out a noiseless grunt, bent over, and fell down.

Realizing that in the end he had inflicted injury, Ouyang Feng waved his hand and shook his head. “What a pity! What a pity!” he called out. He was dejected and knew that this kid could not be revived. There was no reason why he should hang around since he still had to get the Wumu Legacy. He stared at Yang Kang angrily and thought, “This kid has spoiled my big chance.” He turned around and entered the cave in big strides. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang followed behind.

By that time there were a lot of palace guards there. Without turning, Ouyang Feng reached back and, one by one, flung the guards away. In the end, no guards were able to enter the cave.

Yang Kang lit a torch to see the cave’s interior. He saw thick dust everywhere…a sign that nobody had entered it for a very long time. There was a stone table in the middle of the cave and a stone box on top of it, measuring about two feet square. The box was sealed. Other than that, no other objects could be seen inside the cave. Yang Kang brought his torch closer to take a look. The writing on the seal looked very old and the characters were not recognizable.

“The book must be inside this box,” Wanyan Honglie called out.

Yang Kang was delighted. As he reached out his hand to take the box, Ouyang Feng’s left arm gently pushed his shoulder away. Yang Kang staggered back several steps before falling down. He was startled and saw that Ouyang Feng had taken the box.

“The great work is accomplished…everyone withdraw!” Wanyan Honglie called out.

With Ouyang Feng in front leading the way, the three went out of the cave. Yang Kang saw Guo Jing, his body covered with blood, lying motionless among several guards at the cave entrance. He felt slight remorse and muttered under his breath, “You don’t know good from bad and always meddle in other people’s business. You can’t blame me for this in spite of our sworn brotherhood.” Remembering his dagger was still in Guo Jing’s body, he stooped to retrieve it and suddenly saw a shadow appear outside. “Jing ge ge, where are you?” the shadow called out.

Yang Kang recognized Huang Rong’s voice. He was startled and without taking his dagger he jumped over Guo Jing’s body and ran outside of the water curtain to follow Ouyang Feng and the others.

o0o

Earlier, Huang Rong had been rushing to the east and running to the west on the rooftops with Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng in pursuit. Not long afterwards, palace guards began to gather in the area. Peng and Liang were frightened and did not dare chase Huang Rong any longer, so they went back to join Sha Tongtian and the others waiting for Wanyan Honglie by the waterfall. They killed several guards outside the cave before Ouyang Feng came out.

Huang Rong was concerned about Guo Jing, so she went back inside the cave and called out several times without getting an answer. She was beginning to get nervous, so she struck her flint to her fire-starter bundle and saw Guo Jing, his body soaked in blood, lying next to her foot. Huang Rong was scared to death and her hands began to tremble, her fire-starter bundle fell and the fire went out.

Outside the cave, the guards were still shouting loudly, calling to each other to capture the assassin. More than a dozen guards were grabbed and tossed away by Ouyang Feng with broken necks. No one dared go near them any longer. The palace guards carried a heavy burden of responsibility and presently there was an assassin in the palace. If they did not shout loudly and appear bold by not running away, how else could they show their loyalty?

Huang Rong stooped down to hold Guo Jing, noticed that his hand was still warm and felt relieved. She called out several times without getting an answer from him, so she decided to carry him on her back and quietly slipped away from the waterfall towards the back of the false hill.

By now the area around the ‘Jade-Green Cold Hall’ was as bright as daylight from the guard’s lanterns. Guards from other parts of the palace had heard the news and arrived in abundance. Even though Huang Rong’s movements were quick, it was impossible to avoid being seen by several guards. They shouted loudly and began to chase her. Huang Rong silently cursed. “You are a bunch of scum. You don’t pursue the bad people but chase after the good people.”

She gritted her teeth and flew away. Several guards with higher martial arts skills managed to get close to her, forcing her to launch several steel needles. “Aiyo!” she heard several guards cry out and fall down. The rest of the guards did not dare pursue her and could only look helplessly at her as she leaped over the palace wall and disappeared without a trace.

Those people were so noisy that the whole palace was frightened. In the dark of the night nobody knew if it was a coup with somebody trying to usurp the emperor’s throne, or some government officers inciting a rebellion. The palace guards, the imperial army, and all the armed forces personnel were alarmed, but not a single high-ranking military officer knew what was going on for sure. They were confused for the rest of the night. Come daybreak the cavalry was dispatched and the city was turned upside down in search of ‘the rebels’ or ‘the assassin’. Quite a number of people were arrested. Unfortunately, later investigations proved that these people were nothing but petty thieves and local ruffians. The officials were forced to fabricate oral confessions and randomly execute some people in order to appease the throne and to assure their own safety and position.

After leaving the palace that night, Huang Rong ran without looking where she was heading. She randomly chose her way and only slowed down after realizing that nobody was pursuing them. She entered a small alley and stretched her finger to feel for Guo Jing’s breath. She was relieved to find Guo Jing was still breathing, but since her flint had been lost in the palace, in the darkness she could not examine him to determine where the injury was. She knew if she waited for dawn, it would be more difficult to find shelter inside the city walls, especially with her having a blood-covered person with her, so she decided to leave the city that very same night and headed towards Sha Gu’s wine shop.

Huang Rong’s martial arts skills were high, but after running fast for half the night and carrying Guo Jing on her back, it was with a nervous heart that she shoved open the door of Sha Gu’s shop. She was out of breath and her body felt weak. She sat down to calm herself. After catching her breath she found a piece of firewood and lit it so she could look at Guo Jing’s face and examine his wound. She was even more shocked than when they were at the palace.

Guo Jing’s eyes were tightly closed, his face was as white as a sheet, and he looked more dead than alive. Huang Rong had seen him injured several times before, but had never seen him in this kind of critical condition. She felt as though her own heart was about to jump out of her throat. As she stood lost in thought with the torch in her hand a hand suddenly reached out from the side and touched the torch. Huang Rong slowly turned her head and saw that it was Sha Gu. Huang Rong sucked in a deep breath. Now that there was someone beside her, she felt somewhat better. She remembered that she was going to examine Guo Jing’s injury. Under the bright light of the torch she could see a blackish object protruding from Guo Jing’s side. It looked like the ebony hilt of a dagger. She lowered her head for a closer look and saw that it was indeed a dagger with the blade stuck in Guo Jing’s left side.

By this time Huang Rong’s panic had reached its limits and her mind became calm. She gently tore the clothes from around his waist, exposing bare skin and muscle. She saw that the blood had coagulated around the blade, which had penetrated the muscle several ‘cun’ deep [1 cun is approximately 1 inch]. She was afraid if she pulled the dagger out, Guo Jing would die immediately, but if she waited too long it would be even more difficult to save his life. Biting her lips, she reached out to grab the dagger’s hilt, but doubt suddenly came creeping into her heart and she withdrew her hand. This happened several times. She just could not make up her mind.

Sha Gu became impatient. The fourth time Huang Rong withdrew her hand, she suddenly stretched out hers, grabbed the hilt and abruptly pulled the dagger out. Both Guo Jing and Huang Rong shouted in shock, but Sha Gu thought it was fun and laughed happily.

Huang Rong saw blood gushing like a spring from Guo Jing’s wound, while Sha Gu was still laughed foolishly. Huang Rong went from shock to anger. Her palm struck backwards sending Sha Gu rolling on the floor. Then she immediately stooped down to press the wound with a handkerchief.

When Sha Gu fell, she took the torch with her. The flame was extinguished and the room became pitch-black. Sha Gu was angry. She jumped up and kicked Huang Rong’s leg. Huang Rong did not avoid the kick. Sha Gu was afraid Huang Rong would retaliate, so she jumped back immediately after kicking. After a while, she heard Huang Rong sobbing softly. She was surprised. Hastily she re-lit the torch and came asking, “Did I hurt you bad?”

When the dagger was pulled out, the pain was so severe it woke Guo Jing up. In the torch light he saw Huang Rong kneeling beside him. “Master Yue’s book … was it … was it stolen?” he quickly asked.

Huang Rong was delighted to hear him speak. Knowing he was very concerned about this matter she felt it was not the right time to add to his anxiety. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Those traitors were not able to get their hands on the book …” She wanted to ask how he was feeling but her hands were still warm from his blood.

“Why are you crying?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice. Huang Rong forced a smile and said, “I am not crying.”

Sha Gu suddenly opened her mouth, “She is too, isn’t she? Look, there are still tears on her face.”

“Rong’er, don’t worry.” Guo Jing said. “There is a section about treating injuries in the ‘Nine Yin Manual’. I won’t die.”

Upon hearing this, Huang Rong was like someone in the dark suddenly seeing a beacon of light. Her eyes shone brightly and her delight was unspeakable as though nothing could dampen her spirits. She wanted to ask for the details but was afraid she would make him weary. She turned around to hold Sha Gu’s hand. “Sister, did I hurt you just now?” she asked, with smile on her face.

Sha Gu’s mind was still set on seeing her cry so she ignored her question and asked, “You were crying…won’t you admit it?”

Huang Rong smiled, “Fine, I was crying but you weren’t. You are a good girl.” Sha Gu was delighted to hear her praise.

Guo Jing slowly circulated his ‘qi’ because the pain was unbearable. By this time Huang Rong had cleared her mind. She took out a steel needle and pierced the acupoints around his left side, both to slow down the flow of blood and to reduce the pain. Then she washed his wound, applied some medicine and re-wrapped the wound with clean cloth. She also gave him a ‘Nine Flower Jade Dew Pill’ to help stop the pain.

Guo Jing said, “Although the dagger went in pretty deep, but … luckily it did not hit any vital organs, so it … it won’t be life-threatening. I suffered more dangerous injuries from the Old Poison’s ‘Toad Stance’. Fortunately it seems like he did not use all of his strength, so it looks like I can be healed. Only I will have to make you suffer for seven days and seven nights.” Huang Rong sighed. “You know that even if I had to suffer seventy years for you, I would still be willing,” she said.

Guo Jing felt a sweetness creep into his heart and at the same time felt dizzy. After waiting for a moment his mind cleared up a little bit and he said, “It was a pity that when Master was injured I missed several days’ opportunity to treat him. Had it been otherwise, even though the snake venom was fierce, it wouldn’t have been too hard for him to fully recover. He wouldn’t be … he wouldn’t be disabled like he is today.”

Huang Rong replied, “When we were on that island, even if we could have healed Master’s injury, would the Old Poison and his nephew let us? Please don’t think that way. Just tell me your method and set my mind at ease.”

“First we must find a peaceful and quiet place,” Guo Jing said. “Then, following the Manual’s instructions, we circulate our ‘qi’ together. Each will hold the other’s palm. By using your internal energy you are helping me heal my injury.” At this point he closed his eyes to catch his breath before continuing. “The only difficulty is that for seven whole days and nights our palms cannot be separated even for a second. Your breathing will be closely linked to mine. We can talk to each other, but we definitely can’t have a third person interrupting us by even a half sentence. Also, we must not walk even half a step. If someone else disturbs us, we may …”

Huang Rong realized this kind of treatment was similar to the meditation for cultivating someone’s martial arts. Before reaching a satisfactory result, one cannot experience any external interruptions. Otherwise, the mind would be disturbed with bad thoughts or would go out of control. Unavoidably the result would be a fire deviation and not only would the whole energy cultivation be wasted, but at the very least the person could suffer an injury or even die. That is the reason warriors who cultivate internal energy will find a secluded and uninhabited mountain or field, or at least close their doors and not leave, and have a skilled and powerful master or friend protecting them from the sidelines to prevent their training going astray. She thought, “With this short notice it’s difficult to find a peaceful and quiet place and I am the only one who can help him treat his injury. It’s impossible to rely on Sha Gu to guard against external disturbances. She could even come and create endless disturbances herself. If only Big Brother Zhou would come back. But even then I don’t think he will be able to focus his mind on guarding us for seven days and seven nights. Success won’t be guaranteed and more than likely, things will go wrong. What should I do?” She mused over this matter for a long time. Then she glanced over at the iron bowl in the cabinet. An idea came into her mind, “I’ve got it. We can hide inside the secret room. In the past Mei Chaofeng practiced martial arts without anybody protecting her. Didn’t she hide herself in a cave?”

It was now dawn. Sha Gu went to the kitchen and cooked some rice porridge for the two to eat. “Jing ge ge,” Huang Rong said. “Wait here for a moment. I am going to buy some food and then we can start your treatment immediately.”

She thought that with the weather being blisteringly hot, if she cooked some rice and dishes, they would definitely spoil if kept in the room for seven days and nights. She went to the village market to buy a picul [approximately 50 kg or 100 lbs] of watermelons.

The farmer who sold the watermelons brought everything back to Sha Gu’s inn and stacked them on the floor. On the way out after being paid he said, “Our Ox Village’s watermelons are sweet and crispy. Once Miss tastes them, you will agree with me.”

On hearing the words ‘Ox Village’ [niu jia cun], Huang Rong’s heart skipped a beat. “So it turns out this is Ox Village,” she said to herself. “This is Jing ge ge’s hometown.” She was afraid that if Guo Jing found out his mind would be disturbed and therefore, she replied noncommittally.

She waited until the villager went out before going to the hidden chamber. Guo Jing was asleep and blood no longer seeped out through the cotton cloth wrapped around his waist. Huang Rong opened the cabinet, turned the iron bowl to open the secret chamber’s door, and took the watermelons inside one by one. Then only one thing remained outside…Sha Gu. Huang Rong had repeatedly warned Sha Gu not to tell anybody that they would be staying inside the chamber. No matter what kind of earth shattering things happened, she was not supposed to call out from outside.

Sha Gu did not understand her intentions, but seeing Huang Rong’s serious expression, she said she understood and repeatedly nodded her head. “You want to eat watermelons inside and you don’t want anybody to know. After you finish eating watermelons, you will come back out again. Sha Gu will not tell.”

Huang Rong was happy. “If Sha Gu doesn’t tell, Sha Gu is a good girl,” she said. “If Sha Gu tells, Sha Gu is a bad girl.”

“Sha Gu won’t tell…Sha Gu is a good girl,” Sha Gu said repeatedly.

Huang Rong fed Guo Jing another big bowl of rice porridge and ate one herself. Then she helped him enter the secret chamber. As she was closing the door from the inside, she saw Sha Gu’s simple face showing a smile. Sha Gu said, “Sha Gu won’t tell.”

Suddenly Huang Rong’s heart fluttered. “This girl is so dumb and what if every time she meet someone she says, ‘Those two eat watermelons inside the cabinet, but Sha Gu won’t tell?’ The only way to ensure our safety is to kill her.”

She grew up under the influence of her father. Benevolence and justice, the differences between good and evil didn’t matter to them. Although she knew that Sha Gu had a very close relationship with Qu Lingfeng, right at that moment she presented a danger to Guo Jing’s life. Even if there were a dozen Sha Gus, she would kill them all.

She took the dagger from Guo Jing’s waist and walked out of the room.

End of Chapter 23. 

Chapter 24 – Healing in the Secret Room

Huang Rong had walked two steps before she turned her head and saw Guo Jing’s suspicious expression, as if he could see the murderous look on her face. She thought, “I don’t have a problem with killing Sha Gu, but Jing ge ge might ask me about it later. He might not ask me now, he might not even raise this matter…ever, but in his heart he might harbor hatred towards me and that won’t be good. All right, we’ll just have to take this huge risk.” She closed the door immediately and then looked around the room carefully.

In the western corner, near the roof of that small room, there was a small ventilation window about one foot square where the sunlight entered the room through a sheet of clamshell curtain. It was by this light that they were able to see everything inside the room. The ventilation hole was dusty, so Huang Rong took ut her dagger and cleaned it out. The bad smell in the room still lingered, but they did not seem to notice it. In light of the life and death experiences they’d faced earlier, the smelly, dusty room felt like a sanctuary to them.

Guo Jing leaned against the wall, smiled slightly and said, “There is no better place for us to treat my injury than in this room. Unfortunately we are accompanied by two dead people. Are you afraid?”

Inside, Huang Rong was actually frightened, but she was determined not to think about it. She said with a smile, “One was my older Martial Brother [shige], he certainly won’t harm me, and the other was a rice bucket government official. Alive he wouldn’t scare me and by becoming a ghost he would scare me even less.” She immediately kicked the pair of skeletons towards the northern corner of the room. She took the straw mat covering the watermelons, spread it out on the floor, and then she piled the watermelons around it within arm’s reach. “What do you think?” she asked.

“Very good,” Guo Jing replied. “Now we can start.”

Huang Rong helped him sit down on the straw mat and she sat cross-legged to his left. When she raised her head she saw a small peep-hole the size of a coin in the wall right in front of her. She looked through it and to her delight she saw a mirror in which she could see the entire room outside. Apparently the people who built this secret room had planned it well. When they were hiding from enemies inside this room, they could still observe the activities outside in the mirror. It had been unused for a long time and the mirror was covered with a thick layer of dust. She took out a handkerchief, wrapped it around her index finger, and poked it through the hole to clean the mirror. She saw Sha Gu sitting on the floor throwing pebbles while humming a tune. Huang Rong could not hear clearly what she was humming, so she pressed her ear to the hole to listen. It seemed Sha Gu was humming a lullaby: “Swing, swing, swing; swing to the Grandmother’s bridge. Grandmother calls me the precious baby …”

It was strange, but the more she listened, the more she felt the touching emotions that song carried. Her heart overflowed with tender affection. She could not help but wonder: “Could this song be the one her mother sang to her when she was little …? If my mother had not died, would she have sung to me like this?” Thinking of this, her eyes became moist.

Guo Jing saw her sad expression and said, “What are you thinking? My injury is not that bad…don’t feel so sad.”

Huang Rong moved her hand to wipe away tears and said, “Quickly teach me the internal energy cultivation technique.” Thereupon Guo Jing started to slowly recite the ‘Treating Injuries’ chapter from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’.

There was a saying amongst martial arts practitioners: ‘Learn how to take a beating first before learning how to beat someone.’ Therefore, the most basic lesson in martial arts was how to take a beating without getting seriously injured. When the martial arts became more profound, the practitioner must learn how to protect their own body and their life by sealing acupoints to treat an injury, set broken bones, cure poison, treat wounds, and many other kinds of advanced techniques. Better techniques would result in better skills and it did not matter if one’s martial arts skills were unmatched, there would come a day when he would fall. The ‘Treating Injuries’ portion of the ‘Nine Yin Manual’ explained how a highly skilled martial artist could use his own internal energy to treat an injury and how to circulate his own and other’s internal energy for treating internal injuries. As for broken bones, weapon-inflicted wounds or other external injury treatments, it was assumed that the person who practiced the ‘Manual’ did not need further instructions.

Huang Rong needed to listen to something once and she would remember forever. There were several unclear passages in the ‘Manual’, which they needed to discuss in detail. One had a strong foundation in the Quanzhen Sect’s internal energy cultivation and the other had extraordinary intelligence. With some deliberation, they were able to grasp almost everything. Huang Rong held out her right hand, clasped Guo Jing’s left, and they started to train diligently according to the techniques in the ‘Manual’.

After training for four hours they took a short break. Taking her knife in her left hand, Huang Rong cut up a watermelon. She fed some to Guo Jing, while her right hand still clasped Guo Jing’s left. After training for several hours, the tightness in Guo Jing’s chest gradually decreased as the warm energy from Huang Rong’s palm slowly dispersed into his bones. The pain in his side also gradually reduced. He thought the techniques contained in the manual were truly incomparable. He did not dare to be negligent and proceeded with care.

When the time came for them to take their third break, the light streaming through the ventilation window had gradually dimmed. It was near dusk. Not only did Guo Jing feel that his chest was a lot less constricted, but Huang Rong also felt invigorated. The two chatted a while before continuing their training. Suddenly they heard running footsteps that stopped in front of the inn. Then several people came in. An insolent voice shouted, “Quickly get some food. Your masters here are starving!”

They recognized that the voice belonged to the ‘Three-Headed Dragon’ Hou Tonghai. Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in surprise. Huang Rong quickly looked through the small hole and to her surprise, she saw in the mirror not only Hou Tonghai, but Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng, Yang Kang, Peng Lianhu and the others. Huang Rong had no idea where Sha Gu had gone to play. Hou Tonghai slapped the table and made quite a racket but nobody came. Liang Ziweng went out and walked around the building. He frowned and said, “Nobody lives here.” Hou Tonghai volunteered to go into the village and buy some wine and food. Ouyang Feng found a spot protected from the blowing wind and spread some straw. Then he carried his nephew and gently placed him on the straw to let him lie quietly to heal his broken legs.

Peng Lianhu said with a laugh, “Although those palace guards are useless, they are haunting us like ghosts. We didn’t even have time to stop and eat for the whole day. Prince, you are a northerner, yet you knew that there is a desolate village by the Qiantang River and led us here. Truly nothing is hidden from your knowledgeable mind.”

Although he heard the flattering tone in Peng Lianhu’s voice, Wanyan Honglie’s face did not show the slightest satisfaction. He merely sighed softly and said, “I came to this place nineteen years ago.” Everyone could see that his expression had changed. They felt a little strange. Of course, nobody knew he was thinking about how Bao Xirou had saved his life in this village. The desolate village still existed, but that gentle lady with a hairpin in her hair, wearing green robes, and who fed him warm chicken soup, was no longer in this world.

Meanwhile, Hou Tonghai had returned from the village with wine and food. Peng Lianhu poured wine for everybody and said to Wanyan Honglie, “Prince, today you succeeded in attaining the marvelous book of military strategy. It is a sign that the Great Jin’s prestige will soon inspire the world, and your armies will dominate tens of thousands of lands. Let us all congratulate you!” He raised his cup and gulped his wine. His voice was loud and clear so Guo Jing could hear him clearly in spite of the wall between them. He was shocked. “Master Yue’s Legacy [Yue Yeye] has fallen into his hands!” he thought bitterly. As soon as his mind became anxious, the flow of energy in his chest reversed. Huang Rong could feel his palm shaking and she knew he’d heard everything. It had affected his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region] energy. If it was not controlled quickly his life might be in danger. She quickly pressed her lips to his ear and whispered, “If he could steal the book, can’t we do the same? When your Second Master [Er Shifu], the ‘Magical Hands Scholar’ makes his move, he can easily steal ten books.”

Guo Jing thought she was right and immediately closed his eyes. His mind no longer listened to the conversation beyond the wall. Huang Rong looked into the hole again and saw Wanyan Honglie raise his cup and drink his wine. Then, with a delighted smile, he said, “In today’s battle everyone worked hard to help and Mr. Ouyang rendered the greatest service. If he had not gotten rid of that kid named Guo, we would have had to expend a lot more effort.”

Ouyang Feng let out a dry laugh which sounded like a broken cymbal. As Guo Jing heard his laughter, his heart was stirred yet again. Huang Rong inwardly thought, “Heaven bless us and not let the Old Poison pluck his devilish zither here, or Jing ge ge’s life will be difficult to save.”

She heard Ouyang Feng say, “This place is so remote, the Song army will not find us here. I wonder what kind of treasure this Yue Fei Yishu [Legacy] is. Let us all take a look.”

He took the stone box from his clothing and placed it on the table. His thoughts were that should Wumu Legacy contain an exquisite martial arts method, then he would, without regard for anyone else, take it for himself. However, if the book only contained marching techniques and military strategies, it would be useless to him. In that case, he would gladly let the others enjoy it and allow Wanyan Honglie keep it.

In the meantime, everyone was gazing at the stone box. Huang Rong thought, “What can I do to destroy the book? Destroying it would be better than letting it fall into the hands of these traitors.” She heard Wanyan Honglie say, “Xiao Wang [lit. little prince] has performed a comprehensive analysis of Yue Fei’s riddle in the form of a poem. I also carefully studied the official historical records of the previous dynasties on the construction of the Imperial Palace. I came to believe that this book was concealed fifteen steps east of the ‘Green-Jade Cold Hall’. Today my deduction was proved correct. I believe no one in the Song Dynasty knew that such a treasure was hidden in their palace. The commotion we made last night….I don’t think anybody knew what it was all about.” He sounded very proud of himself. Everyone seized the opportunity to immediately heap praises on him.

Wanyan Honglie twisted his moustache and laughed. “Kang’er,” he said, “Go ahead…open the box.”

Yang Kang responded and stepped forward. First he removed the seal and then lifted the lid. Everyone’s eyes were on the box. Their countenances suddenly changed and they were confounded. No one made a sound. The box was completely empty. There wasn’t a military strategy book inside … there wasn’t even a blank sheet of paper. Although Huang Rong could not see the box, judging from everyone’s expression, she could deduce that the box was empty. She was delighted and found it amusing.

Wanyan Honglie was very disappointed. He held onto the table as he sat down. His hand propped his cheek as he began thinking deeply. “My thousands of calculations, tens of thousands of iterations, all pointed to Yue Fei’s Legacy being in this box. How can it be that there’s not even a trace of it?” he thought. Suddenly he had an idea and his face lit up. He took the stone box outside towards the well and smashed it with all his might against the flagstones. ‘Bang!’ the box broke into pieces.

When Huang Rong heard that breaking stone she immediately thought, “Ah, there is a secret compartment in the box.” She was anxious to see if the Legacy was inside a secret compartment, but no matter what, she could not go out. After a moment, however, she saw Wanyan Honglie dejectedly return to the room and sit down.

“I knew there was a secret compartment in that box, but who could have known it was also empty,” Wanyan Honglie said.

One after another the others tried to offer their opinions. Huang Rong was amused listening to their wild imaginings. Each was weirder than the next. She immediately told Guo Jing. When he learned that the Wumu Legacy had not been stolen, he was greatly comforted. Huang Rong deliberated further. “These traitors will not give up just like that…they must be thinking of going back to the palace tonight.” She was thinking of her Master who was still inside the palace and she was afraid he might be implicated if found. Zhou Botong was there to protect him, but Huang Rong could not help but feel worried since the Old Urchin behaved like a madman. He could not take care of important matters properly.

Sure enough, she heard Ouyang Feng say, “It’s not a big deal. We’ll go back to the palace tonight and search some more.”

“We can’t go tonight,” Wanyan Honglie objected. “We made quite a disturbance last night and I am sure they will guard the palace closely tonight.”

“We can’t avoid the guards,” Ouyang Feng said, “But why worry over it? The Prince and Young Prince do not need to go. You and my nephew may stay here to have some rest.”

Wanyan Honglie cupped his fists in front of his chest. “Then I will trouble Mister to do this work for me. The Prince will await your good news with a peaceful heart.” Straightaway everyone spread out some straw in the room and lay down to sleep. After they’d slept for more than two hours, Ouyang Feng woke the others and they went to the city once again.

Wanyan Honglie tossed and turned without being able to get any sleep. Around midnight he could hear the sounds of the rising tide in the river. He could also hear a dog barking at the other end of the village and the dog barked intermittently throughout the night, as if it was lamenting. In the quiet of the night it brought sorrow to the heart, adding to the anxiety he already felt inside.

After a long while footsteps were heard outside the door…someone was coming in. Wanyan Honglie quickly sat up and drew his sword. Yang Kang had quickly jumped behind the door to set an ambush. In the moonlight they saw a woman with disheveled hair, humming a children’s song, open the door and come in. It was none other than Sha Gu. She had just got back from playing in the woods all day. She thought little of seeing people sleeping in her room, so she kept walking towards the pile of firewood, and lay down next to it. Not too long afterwards, she was snoring. When Yang Kang saw it was only a dumb country girl, he smiled and went back to sleep. Wanyan Honglie’s mind, however, was filled with thoughts of the past and present. He did not sleep for a long time. He got up, took a candle from his backpack and lit it. Then he took out a book and started flipping the pages.

Huang Rong saw the bright light through the small hole. She took a peek and saw a moth circle the candle, then fly suddenly into the flame. Its wings were immediately scorched and it fell onto the table. Wanyan Honglie picked the moth up. He could not help but feel distressed. He thought, “If my Madame Bao were here, she would certainly take care of you.” From his bosom he took out a small silver knife, a small medicine bottle and stroked them affectionately.

Huang Rong lightly tapped Guo Jing’s shoulder and moved aside so Guo Jing could take a look through the small hole. What Guo Jing saw with his own eyes enraged him. He vaguely recognized the silver knife and medicine bottle as belonging to Yang Kang’s mother, Bao Xiruo. He’d seen her using these items at the Zhao Palace when she was tending a little injured rabbit. He heard Wanyan Honglie softly murmur, “Nineteen years ago, in this very village, I met you for the first time … Ay! I wonder what has happened to your former home?” After saying that he arose, took the candle, and went out of the door.

Guo Jing was startled. “Could it be that this is my parents’ hometown, Ox Village?” he wondered. He pressed his mouth to Huang Rong’s ear to inquire. Huang Rong nodded. Guo Jing’s blood surged and his body shook.

Huang Rong’s right palm was holding Guo Jing’s left palm so she realized his breathing was uneven because of his agitation, which was very dangerous. She immediately reached out her left palm to grab Guo Jing’s right and together they synchronized their energies while Guo Jing slowly controlled his breathing. After a long time they saw a moving light and heard Wanyan Honglie heave a long sigh as he came back to the room. By this time Guo Jing was able to control his emotions, but his left palm was still held in Huang Rong’s right. He looked through the small hole again and saw Wanyan Honglie holding several small pieces of broken brick and tile, sitting in daze in the candle light.

Guo Jing thought, “This traitor is less than ten steps away from me. All I need to do is throw the dagger at him and I will be able to take his life.”

His right hand drew the golden blade that Genghis Khan gave him and he whispered to Huang Rong, “Open the door.”

“Don’t!” Huang Rong hastily said. “Killing him will be easy, but our hiding place will be discovered.”

With a trembling voice Guo Jing said, “In six more days, I won’t know where he’ll be.”

Huang Rong knew it would not be easy to persuade him, so she whispered in his ear, “Your mother and Rong’er want you alive.”

Guo Jing’s felt a cold shiver in his heart. He nodded while putting the golden blade back into its sheath and again looked out through the small hole. He saw Wanyan Honglie sprawled on the table, asleep. Suddenly he saw somebody get up from the straw. This person’s face was illuminated by the candle light, but in the mirror, it was not clear whose face it was. Guo Jing only saw him quietly stand up and walk over to Wanyan Honglie. He took the silver knife and the small medicine bottle from the table, looked at them for a while, then gently put them back down on the table. He then turned his head and Guo Jing saw that it was Yang Kang.

Guo Jing said in his heart, “That’s right, you must avenge your parents. This is a very good opportunity. With a stab of the dagger, the enemy, with whom you cannot live under the same sky, will certainly lose his life. You won’t get the same opportunity once the Old Poison and the others come back.”

He was very anxious, hoping Yang Kang would make his move immediately. But after putting down the silver knife and the medicine bottle, Yang Kang blew out the candle. For a moment the room looked dark to him. Then he saw Yang Kang take off his long robe and gently drape it over Wanyan Honglie’s shoulders to protect him from the cold night.

Guo Jing was very angry and turned his head, not willing to look outside any longer. He did not understand how Yang Kang could treat the enemy who killed his parents with such tender and loving care. Huang Rong comforted him by saying, “Do not be impatient. After your injury is healed, even should the traitor run away over the horizon, we will catch him. He is not the Old Poison…don’t you think killing him will be easy?” Guo Jing nodded and went back to circulating his internal energy.

Dawn soon arrived and from the village came the sounds of roosters crowing and all kinds of morning clatter. The ‘qi’ had circulated inside their bodies seven times and they felt relaxed and comfortable. Huang Rong raised her index finger and said with a smile, “One day has passed!”

“And it was very dangerous!” Guo Jing replied in low voice. “If not for you, I would not have been able to keep my mind peaceful and calm. I nearly made things worse.”

“There are six more days and nights to go,” Huang Rong said. “You promised to listen to what I say.”

Guo Jing laughed. “When did I ever not listen to what you say?” he said. Huang Rong leaned her head to one side and said, “Hmm, let me think.”

At this moment a single ray of sunlight came slanting through the ventilation window. Her white skin and beautiful rosy cheeks looked like the red clouds at dawn. Guo Jing suddenly noticed her palm was exceptionally warm and soft. Something stirred in his chest and he hastily chased that thought away, but his face was already blushing. For as long as they had been together, Guo Jing had never had this kind of feeling towards her before. He could not help feeling shocked and he silently rebuked himself.

Huang Rong saw him blushing and felt strange. “Jing ge ge,” she asked, “What just happened?” With a low voice Guo Jing replied, “I have been bad. I suddenly thought of

… thought of …”

“What is it?” Huang Rong asked.

“I am not thinking about it anymore,” Guo Jing answered. “Then what did you think of?” Huang Rong pressed.

Unable to dodge the question Guo Jing confessed. “I was thinking of hugging you…kissing you.”

Huang Rong felt warm and sweet all of a sudden and she also blushed. She looked shy and even lovelier.

Seeing her lower her head without saying anything Guo Jing asked, “Rong’er, are you angry? I was as bad as Ouyang Ke for having such a bad thought.”

Huang Rong gave him one of her captivating smiles. “I am not angry,” she said with a tender voice, “I was thinking that in the future you will hug and kiss me, for I will certainly be your wife.” Guo Jing was very happy. He stammered but could not say anything.

“You wanted to hug and kiss me…is that bad?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing was about to reply when there suddenly came the sounds of rushing footsteps outside as two men burst into the inn. He heard Hou Tonghai’s voice say, “His granny [he’s cussing], I told you earlier that there are ghosts in the world, but older Martial Brother did not believe me.” He was so agitated that he could not say clearly what was in his raging mind. Then Sha Tongtian replied, “What ghost? I told you…we met a martial arts master.”

Huang Rong looked out through the hole and saw that Hou Tonghai’s face was covered in blood, while Sha Tongtian’s clothes were torn to pieces. It seemed as though these two martial brothers had been through an extremely difficult situation. Wanyan Honglie and Yang Kang were confounded to see their condition and they hastily asked about it. Hou Tonghai replied, “We were very unfortunate…we met a ghost at the Imperial Palace last night. Damn it! Old Hou’s ears were cut off by that ghost.”

Wanyan Honglie did indeed see that both sides of his face were covered with blood and looked somewhat unusual. As it turned out, his ears were missing. Wanyan Honglie was astonished.

Sha Tongtian scolded, “Still talking about a strange ghost story! Haven’t you disgraced us enough?”

Hou Tonghai was afraid of his older Martial Brother, but he still tried to argue. “I saw it clearly. His eyes were blue…he was the red bearded ‘Judge of Hell’ pouncing at me with a scary ‘Wah! Wah!’ voice! All I did was turn my head, then he grabbed my neck and my ears were gone. This ‘Judge of Hell’ looked exactly like the one in the temple…how could it not be him?”

Sha Tongtian only fought the ‘Judge’ for three stances and his clothes were ripped to pieces. That ‘Judge’ was definitely a highly skilled martial artist, not some strange ghost, but Sha Tongtian did not have a clue as to why he had the appearance of the ‘Judge of Hell’.

The four people offered their guesses and they even asked Ouyang Ke who was lying down because of his injuries, but nobody came up with a plausible answer.

While they were still talking, Lingzhi Shangren [Shangren is a respectful term for addressing a Buddhist monk], Peng Lianhu and Liang Ziweng also arrived, one after another. Venerable Lingzhi’s hands were bound behind his back with an iron chain, Peng Lianhu’s cheeks were a swollen red and blue, and Liang Ziweng’s condition was the funniest…the white hair on his head had been pulled out so cleanly that he looked like a Buddhist monk. As he stood near and talked to Sha Tongtian, they looked alike with their bald heads reflecting the light.

As it turned, out those three had entered the Imperial Palace and spread out in order to find the Wumu Legacy. All of them had met ghosts, but each met a different ghost. One met with a ‘wu chang gui’ [the ghost supposed to take soul after death], the other ‘huang ling guan’ [yellow spirit officer], and the last was ‘tu di pu sa’ [earth god].

Liang Ziweng stroked his own bald head and opened his mouth to curse using all the dirty words he knew, including some like ‘mother-in-law of the earth grew some fungi’. Peng Lianhu endured it all silently and did not say a single word as he worked hard trying to take the iron chain from Venerable Lingzhi’s wrists. The chain, with hooks on either end, connected tightly to each other and cut deep into the flesh. Peng Lianhu had to exert a lot of strength and his hands were bruised and bloody before he could unhook the chain. Everyone looked at each other with blank dismay and nobody made a sound. They knew in their hearts that last night they had met a highly skilled martial artist and were greatly insulted. They all felt ashamed. Hou Tonghai still believed it was a ghost and nobody bothered to argue with him.

After a long time Wanyan Honglie opened his mouth. “I wonder why Mr. Ouyang has not come back yet. Perhaps he also met a ghost.”

“Mr. Ouyang’s martial arts skill is unmatched,” Yang Kang said. “Even if he met a ghost he wouldn’t suffer a defeat.” Peng Lianhu and the others were indifferent.

Huang Rong heard everything about how these people met extremely difficult situations and talked about ghosts. She was very pleased and thought, “The masks I bought for Zhou Dage [Big Brother] have unexpectedly boosted his power and prestige …that is truly beyond my expectations. I wonder if he’s met and fought the Old Poison yet.” At that moment she felt Guo Jing’s internal energy starting to flow into her palm, so she immediately turned back to join him.

Peng Lianhu and the others had been busy all night and were starving. Working together they chopped firewood, bought rice and vegetables, and prepared the food. When the food was ready, Hou Tonghai went to the cupboard to get some bowls. He noticed the iron bowl and tried to take it… naturally it would not budge. He was startled and shouted, “A ghost!” He pulled the bowl with all his strength, but of course the bowl did not move. Huang Rong heard his voice and was shocked, for she knew that their hiding place must not be found by them. Not only that, if a fight broke out they would not necessarily win and besides, if they moved ever so slightly, Guo Jing’s life would be in danger. That must not happen. Inside the secret room she was frightened and did not know what to do. Outside of the room, Sha Tongtian heard his martial brother’s shout and reprimanded him for making such a big fuss over nothing.

Hou Tonghai was not angry and said, “All right then, come and take this bowl.” Sha Tongtian reached out his hand to pick up the bowl, but the bowl stayed put. “Ah!” he exclaimed.

Peng Lianhu heard him and came over. “Brother Sha [Sha Xiong],” he said, “There must be a secret mechanism connected to it. Try turning it to the left or right.”

Huang Rong knew the situation was pressing and knew that they were being forced to risk it all. She handed the dagger to Guo Jing and reached out her hand to take the bamboo stick given to her by Hong Qigong. Inwardly she felt sad to think their lives would end this way. At the last moment she turned her head and noted the skeletons at the corner of the room. Suddenly an idea came to mind. She hurriedly grabbed the skulls, lifted a big watermelon, and placed the skulls on the watermelon.

With a creaking sound the iron door opened, revealing the hole behind it. Huang Rong placed the watermelon on top of her head and spread her long hair over her face. As Sha Tongtian opened the door, he saw a monster with two heads inside the cabinet, making scary ‘Wah! Wah!’ sounds. The monster’s two heads were skulls, side by side on top of a blue and green striped sphere, with a clump of long black beard beneath it.

Everyone had suffered a lot the previous night and they were still shaken. Now they suddenly saw a ghost inside the cabinet and they were really frightened. Hou Tonghai screamed and ran away. Without thinking, everyone else followed. The only one left was Ouyang Ke. He was lying on a straw bed with broken legs, unable to run. Huang Rong heaved a long sigh and quickly closed the cabinet door. She could not help but smile considering that, for the moment, they had barely escaped serious trouble. She also knew those traitors were some of Jianghu’s top veterans, so surely they would come back. They were running away because they had been frightened by the Old Urchin. If not for that, how could she have fooled them so easily? Once they calmed down they would come back and not be frightened away so easily. She was still undecided on the next course of action.

Huang Rong’s grin had not disappeared before she heard a noise at the inn’s door…someone was coming. Huang Rong grabbed a steel Emei Sting tightly in her hand and kept the bamboo stick was close by her side. As soon as the cabinet door was opened, she would throw the projectile first and think about her actions later. After waiting for a moment she heard a beautiful voice calling out, “Innkeeper…Innkeeper!”

Huang Rong was really surprised to hear this call. She quickly looked out through the small hole and saw a lady wearing an embroidered gown sitting down. Her clothes and adornments were gorgeous, indicating that she came from a wealthy family. She sat with her back facing the mirror, so Huang Rong could not see her face.

The lady waited for quite a while and then she called out again, “Innkeeper…Innkeeper!”

Huang Rong thought, “That voice sounds familiar…tender yet strong. In fact she sounds like the Eldest Miss Cheng [Cheng Da Xiaojie] from Baoying.” At that moment the lady turned around and it was Miss Cheng. Huang Rong was pleasantly surprised. “Why would she come this place?”

Sha Gu had not been awakened by the commotion made by Hou Tonghai and the others, but by now she’d had enough sleep, so she crawled up from her straw bed.

“Innkeeper,” Miss Cheng said. “Would you please prepare some food for me? I would be much obliged.” Sha Gu shook her head, indicating she did not have any food. Suddenly she sniffed and smelled cooked rice. She rushed over to lift the pot’s lid and saw it was full of plain white rice that Peng Lianhu and the others had prepared. Sha Gu was delighted and, without wondering where the food came from, she filled two bowls, gave one to Miss Cheng while she gobbled the other. Miss Cheng noted there was no other food, only plain rice. She ate a few bites, and then put the bowl down. Sha Gu quickly ate three full bowls, then she patted her belly, looking very satisfied.

“Miss,” Miss Cheng said. “May I ask you a question? Do you know how far Ox Village is from this place?”

“Ox Village?” Sha Gu said. “This is Ox Village. How far it is from this place, I don’t know.”

Miss Cheng blushed. She lowered her head and played with the end of her belt. After some time she said, “So it turns out that this is Ox Village. Then I wonder if you know someone. I wonder if you know… know…someone

…”

Sha Gu did not wait for her to finish. She just shook her head impatiently and then rushed out of the door. Huang Rong wondered, “Who is she looking for in Ox Village? Ah, that’s right! She is the disciple of Sun Bu’Er. Most likely she received an order from her Master and Martial Uncles to find Qiu Chuji’s disciple, Yang Kang.”

Huang Rong saw Miss Cheng sitting up straight, her clothes properly arranged and she gently stroked the pearl head ornament at her temple. Her face was flushed and she had a slight smile at the corner of her lips. Huang Rong did not know what she was thinking and found this interesting. She suddenly heard footsteps as someone came in from outside. This person was tall, handsome and his steps were brisk. As soon as he came in, he also called out for the innkeeper. Huang Rong thought, “By what coincidence would people I know gather together in this ‘Cow’ Village? The feng shui [harmonious balance - lit. wind and water] of Jing ge ge’s Ox Village must be very good…if not for wealth, then for the individual.” As it turned out, the incoming person was the Young Master of Cloud Manor, Lu Guanying. When he saw Miss Cheng he was startled. Then he called again, “Innkeeper!”

When Miss Cheng saw this young man, she felt shy and hurriedly turned away. Lu Guanying also felt awkward. “How come there’s a beautiful young girl sitting alone in this place?” he thought. He walked around the kitchen and did not see anyone else. He was very hungry and saw there was rice in the pot. He turned to Miss Cheng and said, “Xiao Ren [lit. little/ – he’s referring to himself] is very hungry, could Miss please give me a bowl to eat.”

Miss Cheng hung her head lower, smiled slightly, and said, “The rice is not mine. Xiang Gong [honorable master], please help yourself.”

Lu Guanying ate two full bowls, then cupped his fists to express his gratitude. He said, “This lowly person wishes to ask Miss about a certain place. I wonder how far Ox Village is from here?”

Miss Cheng and Huang Rong were both delighted. “Ha, it turns out he is also looking for Ox Village,” they both thought. Miss Cheng stood up to return his respects and said, “This is Ox Village.”

Lu Guanying was delighted. “That’s wonderful!” he said, “This lowly person also wonders if Miss knows a certain man.”

Miss Cheng was about to say that she was not a local when she suddenly changed her mind. “I wonder who he is looking for?” she thought.

Lu Guanying said, “I am looking for a gentleman surnamed Guo, Master Guo Jing. I was wondering where he lives… Is he home right now?”

Both Miss Cheng and Huang Rong were startled. “Why is he looking for him?”

Miss Cheng was dumbstruck. She hung her head and blushed to her ears. Looking at her expression, Huang Rong, with eighty percent certainty, guessed, “It seems this Miss secretly fell in love with Jing ge ge because he saved her in Baoying.” Because Huang Rong was still very young, was an open-minded person, and believed in her heart that Guo Jing would not disagree with her reasoning, her heart, therefore, was free from jealousy. In fact, she was delighted to find that others liked Guo Jing as well.

Huang Rong’s speculation was right on target. When Miss Cheng was held captive by Ouyang Ke, it was true that it was the Beggar Clan’s Li Sheng and his men who tried to help her, but they were not Ouyang Ke’s match. If Guo Jing and Huang Rong had not gone into action, she would have suffered a disgrace. She’d noticed Guo Jing was young, his skill superb, and his manner, sincere. Unexpectedly a strand of love thread floated from her to stick on Guo Jing.

She was the young lady of a very rich family and had never been away from home before. She had reached the age where she started to have an interest in the opposite sex, so when she met an attractive young man, Guo Jing, she unexpectedly fell in love. Even after Guo Jing left, he was always in Miss Cheng’s mind. She thought it over from many sides and mustered up enough courage to leave home in the middle of the night. Though she was a martial artist, she had never left home before and did not have the slightest idea about the ways of Jianghu people. She happened to hear that Guo Jing was from Ox Village in Lin’an prefecture, and thereupon found her way there.

Because her appearance was elegant and her bearing noble, bad people did not dare to bully her along the way. At the previous village she was told that Ox Village was near and when she suddenly heard Sha Gu say that this was Ox Village, she had no idea what to do next. She had come thousands of li to find Guo Jing…and now she was hoping Guo Jing would not be home. Her thoughts were, “I will secretly go to his home in the evening, take one look at him, and then go home. I can’t let him know I came to find him…I would die of embarrassment if he found out.”

Now, at this moment, Lu Guanying arrived and inquired about Guo Jing. Miss Cheng was afraid he had found out her heart’s desire. She was at a loss for a moment, and then decided she would stand up and leave. Suddenly, outside the door, an ugly face appeared then vanished. Miss Cheng was startled and drew back two steps. That ugly face reappeared and called out, “Two-headed ghost! Come out in the sun if you have the ability. Three-Headed Dragon [San Tou Jiao] Master Hou challenges you to fight. I have one more head [referring to his Three-Headed Dragon nickname] than you do. In the bright sun, Master Hou does not fear you!” His meaning was clear: when it was dark, Master Hou would candidly admit defeat even though he had more heads. Lu and Cheng obviously did not understand.

“Humph!” Huang Rong snorted. “So they finally came back,” she murmured. She believed Lu’s and Cheng’s martial arts skills were not too high and it would be difficult for them to fight Peng Lianhu and the others. If she and Guo Jing wanted to help, all they would be doing is delivering two more lives. The best way would be to tell them to get out of the way quickly. But how could she let them know? She went over other possibilities, but after thinking it over, she still could not produce any really good ideas. All they had was each other and their courage.

When Peng Lianhu and the others saw the double-headed ghost, they all thought it was the same expert, dressed as a ghost, who had humiliated them the previous night. Therefore, they all ran from the village as far as possible. No one dared to come back, with the exception of Hou Tonghai. He was a simple man and actually believed it was a real ghost. He felt the blazing sun on his head, burning his scalp. While everybody else had disappeared, he cursed, “Ghosts will meet their doom under the sun. They know that, yet they dare to roam Jianghu. I, Lao Hou [Old Hou], am not afraid and I’m going back to face the ghost. Let them respect me.” Thereupon he came back to the inn with big strides, albeit with some trepidation in his heart. When he stuck his head in the door he saw Miss Cheng and Lu Guanying sitting in the middle of the room. “Not good!” he said to himself, “The double-headed ghost has transformed itself into a man and a woman. Old Hou, oh, Old Hou, you have to be very careful.”

Lu Guanying and Miss Cheng heard his challenge, but they did not understand the reason. They looked at each other and decided he was a mad man; hence they ignored him. Hou Tonghai kept cursing, but the ghost did not come out to fight. He believed that the ghost was afraid of the sun. As for barging in and capturing the ghost, Old Hou did not have the nerve. They were in a stalemate for quite a while. He was waiting for the two ghosts to transform themselves into other forms, but who would have thought that the ghosts did not show any signs of activity at all. Suddenly he remembered an old saying that ghosts were afraid of filthy things, so he left at once to find some dung.

There were several outhouses in the village and there was one big one next to the inn. In his efforts to capture the ghost he was not afraid of filth, so he took off his outer garment, scooped up a large bundle of dung, and returned to the inn. He saw Lu and Cheng still sitting in the inn. The secret weapon in his hands boosted his courage considerably. He called out loudly, “All right, daring ghost! Master Hou wants you to return to your original form.” With his three-pronged fork in his left hand and the bundle of dung in his right hand, he boldly entered the room.

As Lu and Cheng watched this lunatic coming back, they were slightly startled. Even before the man arrived they had already noticed the bad smell he was bringing. Hou Tonghai pondered, “I’ve heard people say that men are more vicious than women, but the female ghost is more dangerous than the male.” Therefore, he lifted the bundle and threw it towards Miss Cheng.

Miss Cheng called out in alarm and moved sideways to evade it. Lu Guanying had already lifted a bench to strike the bundle aside. It fell to the floor and broke open. Dung flew everywhere and a terrible smell attacked their nostrils making them want to throw up.

Hou Tonghai shouted loudly, “Double-headed ghost, quickly go back to your original form.” Lifting his fork he attacked Miss Cheng ferociously. He was simple-minded, but his martial arts skills were not bad. His fork attack was both swift and fierce.

Lu and Cheng were alarmed and both thought, “This man is obviously a Wulin expert and he is by no means a lunatic.”

Lu Guanying saw Miss Cheng as a lady from a renowned family and she looked so frail and tender that a whiff of wind might blow her away. He was afraid this mad man might hurt her, so he lifted the long bench to parry the three-pronged steel fork. “Who are you, Sir?” he asked. Hou Tonghai ignored his question and jabbed at him with his fork three times. Lu Guanying kept using the bench as his weapon and repeatedly asked his name.

Hou Tonghai noticed that although the ghost’s martial arts skill was not weak, it was entirely different from that of the mysterious appearing and disappearing ghost of last night. He concluded it was the result of his dung attack earlier. He was very smug and called out, “You, the enchanting ghost, want to know my name so that you can put a curse on me, don’t you? Your master won’t fall for your trick.”

Initially he’d called himself ‘Master Hou’, but now that he had this sudden inspiration, he omitted the word ‘Hou’ and only used the word ‘Master’ to avoid the ghost’s throwing a curse on him. The steel rings on his fork made a ding-dong sound as he intensified his attack.

Lu Guanying’s martial arts were inferior to his opponent’s to begin with and he was using a bench as a weapon. He wanted to draw the saber from his waist but did not have the chance to do so. He was forced to step back so that after a while his back was against the wall, covering the small hole through which Huang Rong was looking.

Hou Tonghai stabbed with his steel fork and Lu Guanying hastily moved sideways to evade it. ‘Bang!’ the fork punctured the wall less than a foot away from Huang Rong’s peep-hole. Before he’d pulled his fork back, the bench in Lu Guanying’s hand struck towards the top of his head. Hou Tonghai’s foot flew out to kick Lu Guanying’s hand, while his left fist attacked Lu Guanying’s face. The bench fell from Lu Guanying’s hands as he was forced to duck to avoid the blow. Meanwhile Hou Tonghai had withdrawn his steel fork from the wall.

Miss Cheng saw this critical situation and she jumped forward, pulled the saber from Lu Guanying’s waist, and handed it to him. “Many thanks!” Lu Guanying said. He had never imagined that, at this critical moment, this polite and charming girl would have the courage to enter such a fierce battle and draw his saber to help him. As he saw the bright flickering light from the steel fork coming towards him, his saber immediately went up horizontally in front of his chest and ‘clang!’ sparks flew everywhere. The steel fork was forced sideways, but he felt a pain in his chest. It seemed that this lunatic’s strength was not insignificant, but with a saber in his hand, he was greatly encouraged.

After exchanging several stances, both men’s feet had stepped into the dung and spread it everywhere they stepped. In the beginning, Hou Tonghai was fighting with some trepidation and he’d thought about darting out of the door to escape. He did not dare to use all of his strength, but the longer they fought, he began to see that the ghost was unable to defeat him. Obviously his enchantment powers were restrained by the dung. He became bolder and his attacks became fiercer. In the end Lu Guanying was having a hard time blocking his attacks.

At first Miss Cheng was repulsed by the dung on the floor and she stood in a corner watching the fight. Then she saw that this handsome young man would lose his life to the lunatic’s steel fork. She hesitated for a moment, finally made up her mind, and drew a sword from her bundle. She called out to Lu Guanying, “Honorable elder brother [Xiong Gong], I … I am going to help you. Please forgive me.” Her manners were so ingrained that she was apologizing before helping someone to fight. Her sword flashed towards Hou Tonghai’s chest.

She was the Sage of Tranquility [Qingjing Sanren], Sun Bu’Er’s disciple, so naturally she was well-versed in the Quanzhen Sect’s sword techniques. Hou Tonghai had anticipated her move. He thought that the double-headed ghost had transformed itself into two and that the female ghost would attack him soon as an evil spirit, so he was not surprised. But Lu Guanying was pleasantly surprised. He saw that her movements were quick and her sword technique exquisite. His heart was full of admiration. His own saber was starting to become erratic and he was sweating profusely, but now someone suddenly came to help him and his spirits rose.

At first Hou Tonghai was quite worried by the female ghost’s fierceness. But after a few stances he noticed that although her sword technique was proficient, her strength was ordinary. Moreover, she looked nervous. Probably she had not been a ghost for long and had not reached the ‘old ghost’ level yet. He gradually felt more relieved. His three-pronged fork created strong gusts of wind. One against two and he was still able to attack more than his opponents.

Watching from the other room, Huang Rong felt very anxious since she knew Lu and Cheng would eventually fall to their enemy. She wanted to lend them a hand, but she could not leave Guo Jing even half a step. Otherwise, with her intelligence and abundant experience, it would be very easy for her to play tricks on this ‘Three-Headed Dragon’.

She heard Lu Guanying call out, “Miss, Go away! You don’t have to endanger yourself with him.”

Miss Cheng knew he was worried that she might be injured and wanted to fight this mad man alone. She was very grateful, but she also knew that if he fought alone, he would not be able to resist this enemy. She shook her head, unwilling to withdraw.

As Lu Guanying fought furiously, he shouted to Hou Tonghai, “As a real man you are making things difficult for a young girl…what kind of hero are you? Just deal with me, a man surnamed Lu, and let this Miss go.”

Although Hou Tonghai was muddle-headed, he knew by now that these two were not ghosts. But seeing how beautiful Miss Cheng was, and since he had gained the upper hand, how could he let her go? With a laugh he said, “I want to capture the male ghost and I also want to take the female ghost.” His steel fork traveled horizontally with a violent thrust. He was being thirty percent lenient towards Miss Cheng, otherwise he would have stabbed her already.

“Miss, go quickly!” Lu Guanying said anxiously, “The man surnamed Lu is grateful for your kindness.”

“Honorable master’s honored surname is Lu, is it?” Miss Cheng asked in a low voice.

“Precisely,” Lu Guanying replied. “Miss, what is your name? What school do you belong to?” “My Master’s surname is Sun. People call her the Sage of Tranquility,” Miss Cheng said. “I … I …” She was going to say her name, but suddenly felt shy and closed her mouth.

“Miss, I’ll block him and you run quickly,” Lu Guanying said. “As long as the man surnamed Lu is still alive, I will look for you. I thank you for your help today.”

Miss Cheng was blushing as she stammered, “I … I don’t … honorable elder brother …” Turning her head to Hou Tonghai she said, “Hey, mad man! Don’t you dare injure this man. My Master is the Sun Zhenren [lit. true person, a respectful term of address for a Taoist priest] from the Quanzhen Sect. She will arrive shortly.”

The names of the Quanzhen Seven Masters were well-known throughout the world. Hou Tonghai had seen it that day with his own eyes when the ‘Immortal with the Iron Foot’ [Tie Jiao Xian], Jade Sun [Yuyang Zi], Wang Chuyi, intimidated the group of experts at the Zhao Palace. Now, hearing Miss Cheng, he was somewhat afraid, but after that slight shock he cursed, “Even if the Quanzhen Seven Masters come together your master here will butcher them all, one by one!”

From outside the door, there suddenly came someone’s clear voice saying, “Who is it in there that’s speaking such nonsense and doesn’t want to live?”

The three were engaged in a fierce battle, but when they heard this voice they all leaped backwards. Lu Guanying was afraid Hou Tonghai would launch a sneak attack so he pulled Miss Cheng behind him and wielded his saber in front of her. Only then he did raise his head to take a look.

He saw a young Taoist priest standing at the doorstep, wearing a feather robe and a star crown. His face was handsome, his eyes bright, and he held a Taoist fly-whisk in his hand. “Who said he wants to butcher the Quanzhen Seven Masters?” he asked coldly.

With the fork in his right hand, his left hand on his hip, Hou Tonghai, with glaring eyes, loudly said, “It was me, your master. So what?” “All right,” the young priest said, “You’re welcome to try.” Leaning his body forward he swept the whisk toward Hou Tonghai’s face.

Guo Jing had finished one round of exercise by now and hearing the clamor of the battle outside he looked out through the small hole. Huang Rong asked, “Is this young priest also one of the Quanzhen Seven Masters?”

Guo Jing recognized the young priest as Yin Zhiping, Qiu Chuji’s disciple. Two years ago he received an order from his master to deliver a letter to the Jiangnan Six Freaks and had a martial arts contest with Guo Jing at night in which Guo Jing was defeated. Guo Jing quietly told Huang Rong everything.

As Huang Rong watched him exchange a few stances with Hou Tonghai, she shook her head and said, “He won’t defeat the Three-Headed Dragon.”

As Yin Zhiping slightly gave way to Hou Tonghai’s attacks, Lu Guanying, saber in hand, immediately stepped forward to help him. Compared to the time he fought Guo Jing that night, he had made some progress, but even fighting side by side with Lu Guanying, they only managed to face Hou Tonghai evenly.

Miss Cheng’s left hand had been grabbed by Lu Guanying for only a short moment, yet her heart was still pitter-pattering madly. As the three people fought furiously right next to her, she was actually daydreaming and gently stroking her hand. With a start she was suddenly awakened from her dazed condition by a clanking noise and Lu Guanying’s urgent voice, “Miss, watch out!”

Hou Tonghai noticed her condition and thrust his fork at her. Lu Guanying hastily fended off the attack while shouting at her. Miss Cheng’s face turned completely red as she gathered her thoughts and re-entered the battle. Miss Cheng’s martial arts skill was not very high, but with one against three, Hou Tonghai had a hard time blocking these enemies. He brandished his fork ferociously, trying to create an opportunity to escape and find some help, but Yin Zhiping’s fly-whisk was dancing around in front of his face, blurring his vision. He was negligent for a split second and Lu Guanying’s saber slashed his leg. “Your eighteen ancestors be damned!” Hou Tonghai cursed. But because of this wound he gradually became slower. He thrust the steel fork forward and Yin Zhiping parried with his whisk and the whisk coiled around it. They both pulled their respective weapons back in a tug-of-war. Because Hou Tonghai was stronger, Yin Zhiping was forced to let his whisk go.

Miss Cheng thrust her sword using the ‘Fighting and Shaking Star and River’ [dou yao xing he] and stabbed his right shoulder. Hou Tonghai could no longer hold his steel fork and it fell. Yin Zhiping took this opportunity to sweep his leg and Hou Tonghai tumbled to the floor. Lu Guanying immediately pounced on him. Taking the leather belt from his waist he bound Hou Tonghai’s hands behind his back.

Yin Zhiping laughed and said, “You can’t even defeat a Quanzhen Seven Masters’ disciple, so how would you butcher the Quanzhen Seven Masters?” Hou Tonghai opened his mouth and shouted curse words, saying that it was three against one and that it was not a real hero’s deed. Yin Zhiping tore off a piece of his clothing and stuffed it into his mouth. Hou Tonghai’s face looked very angry, but he could not say a thing.

Yin Zhiping bowed to Miss Cheng, “Elder Martial Sister [Shijie] is the disciple of Martial Uncle Sun [Sun Shishu]? Your little brother Yin Zhiping greets you.”

Miss Cheng quickly returned his bow and said, “I don’t deserve it. I wonder, who Martial Brother’s [Shixiong] Martial Uncle [Shibo] is? Little sister pays my respects to Elder Martial Brother Yin.”

“Little brother is a disciple of Eternal Spring [Changchun],” Yin Zhiping replied.

Since becoming an apprentice to her master, Miss Cheng had never left her home. Of the Quanzhen Seven Masters, she had never met six of them. However, her master had told her all about her martial uncles and that Changchun Zi, Elder Martial Uncle Qiu [Qiu Shibo] was the most heroic and possessed the highest martial arts skills. Learning that Yin Zhiping was Qiu Chuji’s disciple, she regarded him with respect. Lowering her head she said, “Elder brother is my older martial brother. I am surnamed Cheng. Just call me Younger Martial Sister Cheng.”

Yin Zhiping had been under his master’s tutelage for quite a long time and he also had inherited his master’s broad-minded and heroic disposition. He regarded this martial sister as girlish and shy. She did not look like a heroic person at all, so he was secretly amused. He chatted with her about their school for a while then turned toward Lu Guanying to introduce himself. Lu Guanying introduced himself, but did not mention his father’s name or title.

Yin Zhiping turned his attention to Hou Tonghai. “This lunatic’s martial arts are actually very good. I wonder where he came from. We must not release him,” he said.

Lu Guanying said, “Let little brother use my saber and finish him off.” He was the leader of a band of pirates at Lake Tai and killing was not a serious matter for him. Miss Cheng, on the other hand, was tender-hearted. “Ah! Don’t kill him!” she said.

Yin Zhiping smiled, “It’s all right with me if we don’t kill him,” he said. “Younger Martial Sister Cheng [Cheng Shimei], have you been here long?”

Miss Cheng blushed. “Little sister has just arrived,” she said.

Yin Zhiping looked at the couple and thought, “Looks like these two are in love with one another…I must not interfere. I’ll just visit for a while and then I’ll go.” He said, “I received an order from Master to go to Ox Village to find someone and convey a message to him. Little brother must take his leave. We’ll meet again later.” He cupped his hands and turned around to leave.

Miss Cheng’s blush had not quite faded and from listening to him it seemed like a tinge of redness crept back onto her face. Hanging her head she asked timidly, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, who are you seeking?”

Yin Zhiping hesitated slightly as he thought, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng is a disciple of my school and this fellow surnamed Lu is her travel companion, so he is not an outsider. I think there is no harm in telling them.” Thereupon he said, “I am looking for a friend surnamed Guo.”

With these words, the people on both sides of the wall were stunned. Lu Guanying asked, “Could it be that this friend has the single character ‘Jing’ as his name?”

“That’s right,” Yin Zhiping said, “Brother Lu also knows this Guo friend?” he asked.

Lu Guanying replied, “The one little brother is looking for is exactly this Martial Uncle Guo [Guo Shishu].”

Yin Zhiping and Miss Cheng were both surprised, “You call him Martial Uncle?”

“My father is of the same generation as he,” Lu Guanying said. “That’s why Little Brother calls him Shishu.” Lu Chengfeng and Huang Rong were of the same generation [meaning that they had the same teacher-Huang Yaoshi] and Guo Jing and Huang Rong were engaged to each other. It was for this reason that Lu Guanying referred to Guo Jing as Martial Uncle.

Miss Cheng did not say anything, but her heart was troubled. Yin Zhiping quickly asked, “Have you seen him? Where is he?”

“Little Brother has just arrived. I was about to inquire about him when this lunatic attacked without any reason,” Lu Guanying replied.

“Good!” Yin Zhiping said. “Then let us look for him together.” The three went out the door together.

Huang Rong and Guo Jing looked at each other with bitter smiles on their faces. “They will come back,” Guo Jing said. “Rong’er, open the door and call them.”

Huang Rong sighed and said, “How can I do that? These people are looking for you and it must be about some important matters. You are still trying to heal your injury…how can your attention be diverted?” “That’s right,” Guo Jing agreed. “It must be a very important matter. Can you think of something?”

Huang Rong said, “I will not open the door even if the sky is falling”

Sure enough, not too long afterwards, Yin Zhiping and the others came back to the inn. Lu Guanying said, “Even in his hometown no one can shed any light on his whereabouts. This is not good.”

Yin Zhiping said, “May we know for what important matter does Brother Lu seek him?”

Initially Lu Guanying was unwilling to say, but seeing Miss Cheng’s hopeful look, for some unknown reason he found it hard to refuse. He said, “It is a long story. Let little brother sweep the filth from the floor first, then I will relate the story to you two.” There was no broom or dustpan in this inn, so Yin and Lu had to use tree branches to clean up the mess and only then did they sit down to talk.

Lu Guanying was about to speak when Miss Cheng suddenly said, “Wait a minute!” She went to Hou Tonghai and cut two small pieces from her clothing to stop his ears. “We can’t let him listen,” she said in a low voice.

Lu Guanying praised her, “Miss is very careful. We don’t know where this lunatic came from, so we must not let him listen to what we are discussing.”

On the other side of the wall Huang Rong silently laughed. “We are eavesdropping in here and it is impossible for you to know about it. Ouyang Ke is lying there inside and listening and nobody notices, yet you still talk about being careful?”

Miss Cheng had not roamed Jianghu before. Yin Zhiping had his master’s impetuousness and he was young and inexperienced. Lu Guanying was the leader of Lake Tai’s pirates and he was used to giving orders and not used to paying attention to the details. For that reason the three talked about important matters without carefully investigating their surroundings.

As Miss Cheng stooped down, she saw that Hou Tonghai’s ears had been cut off. She was only startled for moment before stuffing the pieces of cloth into his ear holes. She smiled slightly and said to Lu Guanying, “Now you can talk.”

Lu Guanying reluctantly said, “Ay! I don’t know where to start. I am looking for Martial Uncle Guo and reasonably speaking, I should not be looking for him, but I have to.”

“This is so strange,” Yin Zhiping commented.

“That’s true,” Lu Guanying continued, “I am looking for Martial Uncle Guo not because of him, but because of his six masters.”

Yin Zhiping slapped the table and shouted, “The Six Freaks of Jiangnan?” “Exactly,” Lu Guanying replied.

“Aha!” Yin Zhiping exclaimed. “I think Brother Lu came to this place for the same matter as little Brother. Why don’t we write down a name and let Younger Martial Sister Cheng decide whether we are thinking of the same thing or not.”

Before Lu Guanying could answer, Miss Cheng was already smiling and said, “That’s a good idea. You two turn your backs and write.”

Yin Zhiping and Lu Guanying both picked up a twig and wrote something on the floor. Yin Zhiping said with a smile, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng, see if what we wrote is the same or not.”

Miss Cheng looked at their writing and in a low voice said, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, your guess was wrong. The two of you did not write the same thing.”

“Ah!” Yin Zhiping exclaimed and stood up.

Miss Cheng smiled and said, “While you wrote ‘Huang Yaoshi’, he actually drew a peach blossom.”

Huang Rong was shocked. “Both of them are looking for Jing ge ge in regards to my father?” she thought. She heard Lu Guanying say, “What Brother Yin wrote is the name of the Grandmaster of my school. Little brother does not dare to write down his name.”

Yin Zhiping was startled. “Your Grandmaster? Hmm, it seems that what we wrote down is the same after all. Isn’t Huang Yaoshi the Master of Peach Blossom Island?”

“Oh! So that’s how it is,” Miss Cheng said.

Yin Zhiping said, “Since Brother Lu is a Peach Blossom Island disciple, then the reason you are looking for the Six Freaks of Jiangnan is certainly not in their favor.”

“That’s not true,” Lu Guanying said.

Yin Zhiping noticed Lu Guanying spoke with reluctance. He was unhappy as he said, “Since Brother Lu does not regard little brother as a friend, it’s useless for us to talk any longer. I’ll take my leave now.” He stood up and turned around to leave.

Lu Guanying hastily said, “Elder Brother Yin, wait! Little brother has a difficulty and I wish for older brother’s help.”

Yin Zhiping was overjoyed when others came to him for help so he happily said, “All right, talk with me.”

Lu Guanying said, “Elder Brother Yin, you are a disciple of the Quanzhen Sect. If you know someone is in danger, you will certainly warn that person to guard against the danger. That is part of your duty as a chivalrous person. But what if your own superior wanted to harm innocent people…would you still warn those innocent people to guard against your superior?”

Yin Zhiping slapped his thigh and exclaimed, “That’s right! I know you are a Peach Blossom Island disciple, so you must have great difficulty with this matter. All right, let us see what I can do.”

Lu Guanying said, “In this matter, if little brother does not do anything, I am not doing my duty upholding righteousness. But if I do something, I am betraying my own school. Even though little brother wishes to ask older Martial Brother’s help, in all honesty, I cannot open my mouth.”

Yin Zhiping had more or less guessed what he wanted, but since he was not willing to say it out loud, Yin Zhiping did not quite know what to do. He lifted his hand to scratch his head and looked bemused.

Miss Cheng remembered something: when a girl was too shy to say her heart’s desires, the mother or her sisters would usually ask her questions, and determine what she really wanted by her nodding or shaking her head. Although it was not the best method, it would usually reveal the contents of the girl’s heart in the end. For instance the mother would ask, “Child, are you in love with Zhang San’ge [Third Brother surnamed Zhang]?” The girl would shake her head. “Is it Li Silang [Fourth lad of Li family]?” The girl would shake her head again. “Then it must be the Wang family’s cousin.” The girl would hang her head without saying anything which meant the guess was correct. Thereupon Miss Cheng said to Yin Zhiping, “Elder Martial Brother Yin, you ask big brother Lu questions. If it is correct, he will nod, if wrong, he will shake his head. That way he won’t say anything to betray his own school.”

Yin Zhiping was delighted. “Little sister…that is a wonderful idea. Brother Lu, let me tell you first about my business. My Master, Changchun Zhenren, happened to hear that the Master of Peach Blossom Island hates the Six Freaks of Jiangnan to his soul and that he is going to wipe out the entire six families from the face of the earth. My Master immediately set out to Jiaxing to deliver a warning, but the Six Freaks were not at home. They were traveling somewhere. Thereupon my Master visited the six families one by one and told them to escape. When Island Master Huang arrived, he did not find a single person. He was livid and lashed out his anger to the air…then he went north. I don’t know what happened afterwards. Do you know of this matter?”

Lu Guanying nodded. Yin Zhiping continued, “I think Island Master Huang is pursuing the Six Freaks to the north. Originally there was some friction between my Master and the Six Freaks, but first, this friction has been taken care of, secondly, my Master greatly admires the Six Freaks’ chivalrous deeds in helping others in distress, and finally, my Master thinks this matter is not the Six Freaks’ fault at all. It so happened that the Quanzhen Seven Masters were having a meeting in Jiangnan and hence they spread out to find the Six Freaks, to warn them of this danger. It would be best if they could go into hiding in a faraway place so that your Grandmaster won’t be able to find them. Don’t you agree that we are doing the right thing?”

Lu Guanying repeatedly nodded his head.

Huang Rong was puzzled. “Jing ge ge has already fulfilled his promise to go to Peach Blossom Island. Why would Father still want to settle the debt with the Six Freaks?” She did not know that her father had heard Lingzhi Shangren’s lie and believed that his daughter had died at sea. Therefore, grief-stricken, he wanted to vent his anger on the Six Freaks.

She listened as Yin Zhiping continued, “Since he could not find the Six Freaks, my Master then remembered the Six Freaks’ disciple, Guo Jing. He is a native of Ox Village in Lin’an prefecture and has most likely returned to his hometown. For that reason my Master sent little brother to find him here. Chances are he would know his six masters’ whereabouts. Did you also come to this place regarding this business?”

Lu Guanying again nodded his head. Yin Zhiping said, “Who would have thought that Brother Guo has not come home yet. My Master is very fond of the Six Freaks, but since he could not find them, he did not know what else he could do. But since this is the case, Island Master Huang might not be able to find them either. Brother Lu wanted to ask for my help…does it concern this matter also?”

Lu Guanying nodded. Yin Zhiping said, “Whatever orders Brother Lu might have, please tell me. Little brother will do his best to fulfill your wish.”

Lu Guanying did not open his mouth and he looked quite bemused. Miss Cheng said with a smile, “Older Martial Brother Yin, you forget that Young Master Lu [Lu Xiang Gong] cannot open his mouth to speak frankly.” Yin Zhiping smiled, “That’s right,” he said. “Brother Lu…do you want me to wait for Brother Guo in this place?” Lu Guanying shook his head.

“Do you want little brother to find the Six Freaks and Brother Guo then?” Yin Zhiping asked. Again Lu Guanying shook his head.

“Ah, I get it,” Yin Zhiping said. “Brother Lu wants little brother to spread the news in Jianghu. The Six Freaks are natives of Jiangnan. Once the word is out, sooner or later they will hear it.”

Lu Guanying again shook his head. Yin Zhiping proposed seven or eight more guesses, but Lu Guanying kept shaking his head. Miss Cheng also asked him two questions, but none of her guesses were correct either. Not only was Yin Zhiping confounded, but Huang Rong in the adjacent room was equally so. The three were in a deadlocked situation for a long time. Finally Yin Zhiping laughed and said, “Little Sister Cheng, you can talk with him…I cannot play this riddle game any longer. I am going out for a walk. I will be back in a couple of hours.” With that he went out the door.

Other than Hou Tonghai, Lu and Cheng were left alone. Miss Cheng hung her head and she noticed that Lu Guanying still had not made a move. She stole a glance at him just as Lu Guanying was also looking at her. Their eyes met and both hurriedly glanced away. Miss Cheng blushed even redder than before and hung her head even lower so that her chin touched her chest. Her hands played with the silk tassels at the end of her sword’s hilt.

Lu Guanying slowly stood up and walked to the nearby stove above which was a Kitchen God idol. He stood in front of the Kitchen God idol and said, “Kitchen God, this lowly person has a burden in my heart, but I cannot reveal it to anyone else. I am going to bare it all to you, hoping that with your divine power you will bless this matter.”

Miss Cheng silently praised him, “A smart man.” She raised her head to listen carefully.

Lu Guanying said, “This lowly person is Lu Guanying, the son of Manor Master Lu of Cloud Manor by Lake Tai. My father’s name is Chengfeng and he is a disciple of Island Master Huang of Peach Blossom Island. A few days ago my Grandmaster came to the manor and he said he wanted to kill the Six Freaks of Jiangnan and their entire families. He ordered my father and my Older Martial Uncle [Shibo] Mei Chaofeng to help find the Six Freaks’ whereabouts. Older Martial Uncle Mei has a deep enmity with the Six Freaks, so she accepted this order with gladness. Not so my father since he knew the Six Freaks of Jiangnan as patriots and chivalrous heroes. Killing them would not be righteous. Moreover, my father has become friends with the Six Freak’s disciple, Younger Martial Uncle Guo and therefore, he could not simply ignore this matter. My father had received an order from my Grandmaster, so he was in a very difficult position. He had a mind to dispatch this lowly person to deliver a warning to the Six Freaks of Jiangnan, telling them to go into hiding and save their lives, but he could not betray his own master. That night my father looked up to the sky, heaved a deep sigh, and softly talked to himself, revealing his concerns. This lowly person was nearby and heard everything. Being a filial person I share my father’s sorrow. Eventually my Grandmaster left and this lowly person departed that very same night to try to find the Six Freaks and deliver the warning.”

Huang Rong and Miss Cheng both thought, “It turns out he is copying his father’s method of telling someone without betraying his school.”

They listened to Lu Guanying continue. “The Six Freaks were nowhere to be found, but I remembered their disciple, Younger Martial Uncle Guo, but he is also nowhere to be found. Younger Martial Uncle Guo is my Grandmaster’s son-in-law …”

“Ah!” Miss Cheng could not help but exclaim softly, then hastily covered her mouth with her hand. Originally she was attracted to Guo Jing and thought she was in love with him. She did not realize it was only a young girl’s infatuation and not true love. Today she’d met Lu Guanying who looked distinguished, handsome and elegant. In all respects he seemed superior to Guo Jing. When she heard that Guo Jing was Huang Yaoshi’s son-in-law she was shocked, but not at all sad or heartbroken. On the contrary, she felt relieved. She also recalled at Baoying she’d noticed that Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very close to each other. All of a sudden it did not matter to her anymore. Unconsciously, the heart of this young woman had already been taken by somebody else.

Lu Guanying heard her soft exclamation. He wanted to turn around and look at her face, but he forced himself to bear with it. He thought, “If I acknowledge someone is listening from the side, I must stop talking altogether. That day when Father talked to the heavens, he never once looked in my direction. Right now I am talking to the Kitchen God. If she is listening, that means she is eavesdropping and I have nothing to do with it.” Thereupon he continued, “I am hoping that when I find Younger Martial Uncle Guo, he and Martial Aunt Huang [Huang Shigu] will beseech the Grandmaster to show mercy. My Grandmaster is hot-tempered, but he loves his daughter and son-in-law, so it is possible that he will not kill his son-in- law’s masters. However, from the way my father talked, it sounds as though Younger Martial Uncle Guo and Martial Aunt Huang have encountered some calamities. Whatever they were, it was not convenient for me to ask it of my father.”

Listening to this point Huang Rong thought, “Does father know that Jing ge ge is suffering from a serious injury? No, he simply cannot know about it. Most probably he heard that we were stranded on that deserted island.”

Meanwhile Lu Guanying continued, “Elder Martial Brother Yin is straightforward and just. Miss Cheng is intelligent and friendly …”

Listening to him praising her to her face, Miss Cheng was happy and shy at the same time.

“… but what’s in my heart is like a fantasy and they cannot possibly guess it. I am thinking that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan are well-known heroes and real men. Although their martial arts skills are inferior to my Grandmaster, isn’t asking them to run away from danger the same as accusing them of being afraid of death? They certainly will not consider such a cowardly act. I am afraid that if they hear the news, instead of running away, they will go and find the Grandmaster! Therefore, instead of helping them, I would be sending them into a disaster.” Huang Rong nodded unseen. She thought Lu Guanying was worthy of being the leader of the Lake Tai heroes and he had a profound understanding of the ways of Jianghu people. She heard him continue, “I also think that the Quanzhen Seven Masters are chivalrous people with resounding names and prestige. Their martial art skills are also high. If Elder Martial Brother Yin and Miss Cheng are willing to earnestly ask their masters to be mediators, Grandmaster would most likely give them face. I don’t think there is an irreconcilable deep animosity between Grandmaster and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. It’s more likely the Six Freaks said or did something that was offensive to the Grandmaster. What they need is a reputable character to act as the mediator, then forgiveness is surely not impossible. Kitchen God, Master, this lowly person’s difficulty is that my idea is in vain since I cannot reveal it to anyone. I am asking you to handle this business for me.” Having finished speaking, he repeatedly bowed to pay his respects to the Kitchen God.

As he finished speaking, Miss Cheng hastily turned around to look for Yin Zhiping, but as she walked to the door she heard Lu Guanying saying something more. “Kitchen God, if the Quanzhen Seven Masters are willing to mediate, they will be performing an enormously good deed. When the Seven talk to my Grandmaster, I hope that they will be courteous and respectful and not offend my Grandmaster in any way. Otherwise, ‘when one wave has not yet subsided, another wave arises’…all efforts will be wasted. This is all I have to say to you.”

Miss Cheng smiled and said in her heart, “You have finished talking and now it’s my turn to take care of your business.” Then she left the inn to look for Yin Zhiping. After going around the village she saw neither his shadow nor his tracks.

She was about to turn around and go back when she suddenly heard Yin Zhiping calling her in a low voice, “Younger Martial Sister Cheng!” He beckoned to her from the corner of a wall.

“Ah! Here you are,” Miss Cheng said happily. Yin Zhiping made a hand signal, telling her to be quiet. He pointed to the west and walked towards her. In a low voice he told her, “There are some suspicious looking people snooping around over there and they all carry weapons.”

Miss Cheng’s mind was pre-occupied with what Lu Guanying had just said. She said, “I think they are just passers-by.”

Yin Zhiping’s face actually looked serious and again in a low voice he said, “Those people’s movements are agile and their martial arts skills must be very high. We must be very careful.” Actually what he saw was Peng Lianhu and the others. They’d waited for Hou Tonghai for a long time and he had not come back. They thought he must be in some danger, but all of them remembered the expert who pretended to be the ghost the previous night in the Imperial Palace. Who would dare to go and rescue him? Suddenly they spotted Yin Zhiping, so they withdrew and hid themselves. Yin Zhiping waited for a while and after not seeing any activity ahead, he went over to take a look...but those people were already gone without a trace. Then Miss Cheng told him everything she’d heard from Lu Guanying.

Yin Zhiping smiled and said, “So that’s what he was thinking about. How could anybody guess it? Younger Martial Sister Cheng, you go and ask Martial Uncle Sun’s help and I’ll go and tell Master. As long as the Quanzhen Seven Masters are willing to act, what matter under the sky can’t they solve?”

“But we must be careful not to mess things up,” Miss Cheng said. Then she relayed what Lu Guanying said just before she left the inn.

“Humph,” Yin Zhiping sneered, “Who is Huang Yaoshi anyway? Is he stronger than the Quanzhen Seven Masters?”

Miss Cheng was about to remind him not to be too arrogant, but seeing his stern expression she swallowed back the words that were on her lips. The two went back to the inn together. Lu Guanying said, “Little Brother will have to take his leave. Whenever you pass through the Lake Tai area, please pay me a visit at Cloud Manor for a few days.” Miss Cheng was crushed to have him leave so soon, but how could she dare to reveal her deepest feelings?

Yin Zhiping turned around to face the Kitchen God idol and said, “Kitchen God, Master, the Quanzhen Sect is most willing to help other people in distress. Whenever there is any injustice in Jianghu and the Quanzhen disciples find out about it, there is no way we will not intercede.”

Lu Guanying knew these words were directed at him and he also spoke, “Kitchen God, Master, I pray that you will give your blessing so that this matter will be resolved peacefully. Disciple is forever grateful towards all those gentlemen who expend their energy to help.”

Yin Zhiping said, “Kitchen God, Master, please do not worry. The Quanzhen Seven Masters’ power shakes the world. As long as they are willing to act, there is nothing in this world they cannot deal with.”

Lu Guanying was startled and thought, “How will my Grandmaster be convinced if the Quanzhen Seven Masters rely on power?” He quickly said, “Kitchen God, Master, you know that my Grandmaster comes and goes as he wishes and never pays attention to other people. To others who speak to him as friends, he will certainly listen, but he loathes it if others try to reason with him.”

“Ha, ha …” Yin Zhiping laughed, then said, “Kitchen God, Master, how can the Quanzhen Seven Masters be afraid of others? Originally this matter had nothing to do with us and my Master only sent me to deliver a warning, but if anybody provokes us Quanzhen disciples, I don’t care whether he is Huang Yaoshi or Hei Yaoshi [surname ‘huang’ lit. ‘Yellow’, hei lit. ‘Black’], the Quanzhen Sect will definitely teach him a lesson.”

Lu Guanying felt anger rising in his chest and said, “Kitchen God, Master, what disciple just said, please just consider it as talking in my sleep. If anyone belittles us, we will no longer want to accept anyone’s favor.” These two were talking to each other, but they were facing the Kitchen God idol. One spoke and the other responded and gradually this exchange of words became hotter and hotter.

Miss Cheng wanted to interfere, but those two men were young and hot- tempered and neither was willing to yield even half a word. Finally Yin Zhiping said, “Kitchen God, Master, the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts are the purest of the orthodox skills, while others’ have heretical skills. Even if they are good, how can they be measured against the Quanzhen Sect?”

Lu Guanying responded, “Kitchen God, Master, I have long heard of the reputation of the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts. Certainly there are many martial arts experts within the Quanzhen Sect, but this doesn’t mean that there are no arrogant blabbermouths amongst the disciples.”

Yin Zhiping was angry. His palm struck and the corner of the kitchen stove collapsed. He stared hard and shouted loudly, “Kid, you demean people!”

‘Bang!’ Lu Guanying struck the other corner and it fell to the floor. He shouted, “How would I dare to demean you? I am demeaning only those disciples who are condescending and conceited.”

Yin Zhiping had seen Lu Guanying’s martial arts skill just now and he knew it was inferior to his own, so his confidence was boosted. With a cold laugh he said, “Fine! Let us spar and we’ll see who is conceited.”

Lu Guanying knew perfectly well he was not Yin Zhiping’s match, but he hated it when others insulted his school. He was like someone riding on a tiger’s back. He could not continue riding, but it was difficult to get off safely. He drew his saber, made a gesture of respect with his left hand and said, “Little Brother is ready to receive the Quanzhen Sect’s excellent stances.”

Miss Cheng was very anxious and tears streamed down from her eyes. She wanted to throw herself between these two men, but each time she thought to do so, her courage failed her. She saw Yin Zhiping sweep his fly-whisk and step forward to launch his attack. Straightaway the two fought ferociously. Lu Guanying did not expect victory…he merely hoped he would avoid an embarrassing defeat. He immediately launched the ‘Buddhist Worthy One Saber technique’ [luo han dao fa] he’d learned from Reverend Kumu [Dead Wood], creating a tight defense around himself.

Yin Zhiping assumed the offensive position immediately and to his surprise he found the opponent’s saber power to be quite strong. He realized he had recklessly underestimated his opponent when his left arm was almost chopped off. His heart quivered and he hastily concentrated his attention on facing the attack and responding accordingly. Utilizing his school’s special skill of calming his mind and spirit, he used slow steps with quick hand movements. Only by doing this did he gradually gain the upper hand.

For the past several months, Lu Guanying had received his father’s instructions so he’d progressed by leaps and bounds. but the length of his training was too short for him to be compared to Yin Zhiping who was the main disciple of Qiu Chuji.

Huang Rong watched this fight through the small mirror. She saw Yin Zhiping gradually take the lead and she cursed in her heart. “This ‘xiao za mao’ [lit. small mixed-up hair – a derogatory term for Taoist priest] was disparaging my father. If Jing ge ge was not injured, I would certainly teach you some lessons about the heretical Peach Blossom Island martial arts. Aiyo! This is not good!” She saw Lu Guanying’s saber strike with a familiar stance which Yin Zhiping intercepted and diverted with his whisk. Then he twisted his hand and his finger moved with exceptional speed towards the crook of Lu Guanying’s elbow. Lu Guanying felt his arm go numb and his saber fell to the floor. Without showing any mercy, Yin Zhiping swept his whisk towards Lu Guanying’s face while loudly shouting, “This is the Quanzhen Sect’s martial arts…remember it well!” His whisk was made of horse’s tail mixed with strands of silver. Should Lu Guanying’s face get hit, it would certainly be slashed with countless cuts.

Lu Guanying understood the danger and quickly ducked. The whisk followed by sweeping downward. Suddenly a tender voice shouted, “Older Martial Brother Yin!” Miss Cheng thrust her sword to block the whisk. Lu Guanying took that opportunity to leap back and pick up his saber from the floor.

Yin Zhiping laughed coldly, “Good! Younger Martial Sister Cheng…you are helping an outsider. Come! You two lovers can fight me together.”

“You … you …” Miss Cheng stammered.

‘Swish! Swish! Swish!’ Yin Zhiping swept his fly-whisk three times, forcing her to move her hands and feet in an uncoordinated manner. Lu Guanying saw her precarious situation, so he raised his saber and joined the two against one fight. Miss Cheng did not want to fight her martial brother, so she jumped back.

“Come!” Yin Zhiping said, “He cannot fight me alone. In a while you will come and help again him anyway.”

Huang Rong watched these three people fighting each other with amusement. Just as she was wondering how this matter could be resolved, she suddenly heard some noises from the door. She saw Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian, along with Wanyan Honglie, Yang Kang, and the others coming in together.

They had been waiting for Hou Tonghai for a long time and he had not come back. Sha Tongtian was concerned for his martial brother. Gathering his courage, he quietly came over to take a look. He saw two people fighting inside the inn and noticed their martial arts skills were only average. He waited for a long time but could not see anybody else. He was afraid to go in alone, so he went back, gathered the others, and brought them back to the inn.

Yin and Lu saw these people come in so they leaped back and stopped fighting. They asked these newcomers for their names, but Sha Tongtian only stepped forward with arms open and grabbed both men’s wrists. Meanwhile, Peng Lianhu stooped down and untied Hou Tonghai’s hands.

Hou Tonghai had been suffering for nearly half a day and was really angry. Without taking the cloth from his mouth, he roared and threw himself at Miss Cheng, attacking her with his palms. Miss Cheng evaded by moving backward in a circle. Hou Tonghai’s face was purple from the bruising he’d received and his fists went straight, up and down, as he fiercely attacked Miss Cheng.

“Hold on!” Peng Lianhu repeatedly said. “Let’s talk first.” But since Hou Tonghai’s mouth and ears were stopped with cloth, how could he have heard anything?

The acupoint on Lu Guanying’s wrist was grabbed by Sha Tongtian. He felt half his body go numb and he could not move. Seeing Miss Cheng in danger and Hou Tonghai acting like a mad tiger, he struggled hard and without knowing where the strength came from, shook loose from Sha Tongtian’s grip. Then he fiercely threw himself towards Hou Tonghai.

Before he reached his target, Peng Lianhu swept his leg and sent him tumbling down and immediately pounced on him. He grabbed Lu Guanying by the back of his neck and lifted him up. “Who are you?” he asked. “Where is that fellow who played the ghost?”

Suddenly, the door creaked and opened slowly. Everyone turned their heads at once, but nobody came in. Peng Lianhu and the others could not help but feel shivers of fear in their hearts. Just as suddenly, a female head with disheveled hair was at the door. Liang Ziweng and Lingzhi Shangren jumped up in fright and even shouted, “This is not good…a female ghost!”

Peng Lianhu could see that she was just an ordinary country girl. “Come in!” he shouted.

Sha Gu walked in with a giggle and, while sticking out her tongue, she said, “Wah, so many people!”

Liang Ziweng was the one who shouted, “Female Ghost!” earlier and now he could see that she was just a poor peasant girl with tattered clothes and a silly demeanor. Filled with shame, he became angry. He jumped forward and shouted, “Who are you?” Stretching out his hand, he grabbed her arm. Who would have thought that Sha Gu would withdrew her arm, flip her hand, then her palm struck with the Peach Blossom Island’s ‘Jade-Green Wave Palm technique’ [bi bo zhang fa]? Although her skill was unrefined, the stance was subtle and wonderful to see. Liang Ziweng did not defend against her counterattack at all. ‘Slap!’ Sha Gu’s palm hit the back of his hand hard.

Liang Ziweng was stunned and angry at the same time. “Good!” he called out. “You are only playing dumb!” He rushed forward with both fists raised. Just as Sha Gu stepped back to evade, she suddenly pointed towards his shiny bald head and burst out laughing. This laughter caught everyone by surprise. Liang Ziweng was stunned and stopped dead in his tracks for a few seconds…then he ferociously resumed his attack. Sha Gu raised her hands to block, but staggered back. She knew she was not his match, so she turned around and tried to run away, but Liang Ziweng would not let her escape. He stretched his left leg to block her, while his elbow struck backwards, followed by his fist. Sha Gu’s nose was hit hard and she felt her head spinning. She cried out, “Sister who eats watermelons, come out quickly! Help me! Somebody is hitting me!”

Huang Rong was startled and thought, “My not killing this dumb girl was a big mistake. She is bound to bring us disaster.” Suddenly she heard a soft ‘humph’ sound. It was so soft, almost inaudible, but Huang Rong’s heart jumped with delight. “Father is here!” she thought. Quickly she looked through the small hole and saw Huang Yaoshi wearing a human-skin mask, standing on the doorstep. Nobody saw him come and it seemed as if he had just arrived…but it also seemed as if he had been there before anybody else came. He stood motionless like a piece of wood, without showing the least bit of emotion on his face. Anyone who saw him could not help but shudder. He did not have a green face nor did he have fierce teeth and he did not even look loathsome or ugly, but in all honesty, nobody could say that his face belonged to a living person.

Sha Gu had only exchanged three stances with Liang Ziweng but Huang Yaoshi could immediately tell that she was using the martial arts of his school. With a head full of questions he asked, “Miss, who is your master? Where is he?” Sha Gu simply shook her head and stared at him blankly. She suddenly clapped her hands and laughed. Huang Yaoshi frowned and he knew she must have had some relations with his disciples. If not their disciple, then she must be of their family or a relative. He was very fond of and tended to be over-protective towards his disciples. In no way would he allow anybody to bully them. Mei Chaofeng was a renegade disciple of his and she had committed a great crime against her master. Yet when she was defeated by Guo Jing, Huang Yaoshi would still help her, much less Sha Gu, who was a naïve and child-like young girl. Therefore he said, “Dumb kid…others hit you, why don’t you hit back?”

That day on the boat, when Huang Yaoshi was looking for his daughter, he did not wear a mask, so his appearance was not the same as today and nobody recognized him, but as soon as he opened his mouth, Wanyan Honglie, Yang Kang and Peng Lianhu, remembered his voice and tentatively guessed his identity. Peng Lianhu knew this evil man must not have good things in mind and also guessed that the ghost in the Imperial Palace last night might be this man. He knew there was no way he could fight him, so while there was the opportunity, he was thinking of launching his thirty-sixth stratagem, namely…running away.

Sha Gu said, “I can’t hit him!”

“Who says you cannot hit him?” Huang Yaoshi said. “He hit your nose, then you must hit his nose. He hit you once, so you must pay him back three times.”

Sha Gu laughed. “All right!” she said. Without thinking about Liang Ziweng’s skill being way above hers, she walked over to him and said, “You hit my nose…I must hit your nose. You hit me once…I must pay you back three times.” Her fist went straight for his nose.

Liang Ziweng raised his hand to block when suddenly the ‘Crooked Reservoir’ [qu chi] acupoint at the bend of his arm went numb. His hand was half way up but could go no further. ‘Bang!’ his nose was squarely hit by Sha Gu’s fist.

“Two!” Sha Gu called out and sent out another fist. Liang Ziweng bent his knees while keeping his back straight and his left hand moved straight out using one of the highest ‘Seize and Control’ [qin na] techniques. He was sure he could turn Sha Gu’s arm and divert the attack. Who would have thought that as soon as his fingers touched Sha Gu’s arm, the ‘Scholar’s Arm’ [bi ru] acupoint on his arm went numb and he was unable to divert Sha Gu’s fist. ‘Bang!’ for the second time his nose was hit by Sha Gu. It was such a violent blow that his head was thrown backwards and he staggered, almost falling down. Liang Ziweng was really angry.

The others were astounded, but they did not see anything unusual. Peng Lianhu was an expert in hidden projectile usage and he was the only one who noticed something. Each time Liang Ziweng tried to block the attack, Peng Lianhu heard the very light swishing sound of secret projectiles. He knew Huang Yaoshi had launched some kind of tiny metal needles towards Liang Ziweng’s acupoints, but he did not see Huang Yaoshi’s arm move, so he did not know how Huang Yaoshi did it.

Actually Huang Yaoshi was flicking his finger inside his sleeve and sending the needles through the fabric towards the enemy. The needles arrived suddenly, invisible and were almost inaudible. How could an enemy evade this kind of attack?

“Three!” Sha Gu called out. Neither of Liang Ziweng’s arms would obey their master’s orders. His eyes saw the fist coming straight towards his face and he did not have any choice but to step backwards to evade it. Just as he was about to step back, the ‘White Ocean’ [bai hai] acupoint on the inside of his right leg suddenly went numb. His shock had not yet subsided when a spark flashed in the air and he felt tears brimming in his eyes.

As it turned out, when his nose was hit the tear acupoint was also hit. He had always regarded defeat in martial arts contests as nothing important, but if tears streamed down his face, his lifelong reputation would be ruined. He hastily tried to lift his sleeve to wipe the tears away, but his arm did not obey. Two big teardrops finally rolled down his cheeks. Sha Gu saw his tears and quickly said, “Please don’t cry! Don’t be afraid, I won’t hit you anymore.”

Compared to the three blows to his nose, those two comforting sentences were more difficult for Liang Ziweng to bear. In embarrassment, he vomited a mouthful of blood. He looked up at Huang Yaoshi and said, “Who are you Sire? You harm people secretly …what kind of hero are you?”

With a cold laugh Huang Yaoshi replied, “Are you worthy enough to ask my name?” Suddenly he raised his voice, “Everybody…leave my presence!”

Everyone standing on the sidelines had felt their limbs and hundreds of bones weaken and none had the guts to fight. They just stood still in that inn without knowing what to do. When they heard his shout, it was as if they had just received a pardon for their lives. Peng Lianhu was the first one who wanted to leave, but after two steps he saw that Huang Yaoshi was standing in the doorway, not allowing anybody to pass, so he stopped dead in his tracks.

Huang Yaoshi sneered, “I told you to go, but you don’t go. Do you want me to slaughter all of you one by one?”

Peng Lianhu had heard about Huang Yaoshi’s strange temperament so he would do what he said. Therefore, Peng Lianhu turned to the rest and said, “This Senior Master told us to leave. Let’s just leave.”

By this time Hou Tonghai had pulled the cloth from his mouth. He dashed towards Huang Yaoshi and glared at him menacingly. “Let me pass!” he shouted.

Huang Yaoshi did not pay him any attention to him. “You are not worthy to make me move aside,” he said flatly. “If you want to live, crawl out between my legs.”

Everyone looked at each other with blank dismay and it was clear from their expressions that  they were  angry. They thought  that even  though Huang Yaoshi might be highly skilled, there were many skilled pugilists gathered in that room. If they joined forces and risked it all, they might not necessarily lose.

Hou Tonghai roared and jumped at Huang Yaoshi. With a cold laugh, Huang Yaoshi moved his left hand and Hou Tonghai was lifted high in the air. Then his right hand pulled Hou Tonghai’s left arm. ‘Crack!’ Hou Tonghai’s arm, flesh and bones, was torn from his body. Huang Yaoshi cast the severed arm and the man to the floor. He raised his head to look at the sky, seemingly indifferent to his surroundings. Hou Tonghai passed out from the severe pain and blood gushed forth like a fountain from the wound from his missing arm.

Everyone’s face changed color. Huang Yaoshi slowly turned his head and his eyes swept past everyone’s face one by one. Sha Tongtian, Peng Lianhu and the others were used to killing people without batting an eye, but seeing Huang Yaoshi’s gaze on them, they involuntarily shuddered with fear. With their hair standing on end, goose bumps appeared on their skin.

Huang Yaoshi suddenly roared, “Are you going to crawl or not?” The mere sound of his voice was enough to scare the hell out of them. Nobody any longer thought about joining forces and attacking him together. Peng Lianhu hung his head and was the first to crawl out between his legs. Sha Tongtian released Yin and Lu and, holding his martial brother in his arms, he followed. Yang Kang helped Wanyan Honglie, followed by Liang Ziweng and Lingzhi Shangren, as one by one they crawled out between Huang Yaoshi’s legs. Once they were out the door, they scurried away like frightened cats. None dared to turn around and look back.

End of Chapter 24. 

Chapter 25 – Desolated Inn in the Village

Huang Yaoshi laughed and said, “Guan Yin and this lady, stay.” Lu Guanyin was aware that his grand-teacher had arrived earlier but when he saw Huang Yaoshi with his mask on, he was afraid that the former would not be willing to remove his identity and thus, didn’t dare to address him properly. He decided to bow politely four times so as to greet Huang Yaoshi.

When Yin Zhiping saw how formidable Huang Yaoshi looked, he knew that he was of high status and bowed while saying, “Quanzhen Sect’s Eternal Spring’s disciple, Yin Zhiping greets senior.”

Huang Yaoshi retorted, “Everyone has gotten lost and I did not ask you to stay on. Why are you still here? Are you tired of living?”

Yin Zhiping was taken aback, “Disciple is a student of Eternal Spring of Quanzhen Sect. I am not a criminal.”

Huang Yaoshi answered, “So what if you’re from Quanzhen Sect?” With that, he grabbed a corner of the table and removed a piece of wood before flinging it effortlessly at Yin Zhiping. Yin Zhiping quickly used his whisk to raise some dusts to block the attack but the small piece of wood seemed to be made out of metal and he felt a strong force charge towards him. He could not defend the force and the piece of wood and whisk slapped onto his cheek. Yin Zhiping felt a strong pain and there seemed to be some stuff in his mouth. He hurriedly spitted it out onto his palm before realizing that it was a few of his teeth, which laid on his bloody palm. He was shocked and frightened and didn’t dare to make any sound.

Huang Yaoshi continued coldly, “I am the one called Huang Yaoshi, Hei Yaoshi. What does Quanzhen Sect want so show me?” With these words, Yin Zhiping and Cheng Yaojia were taken aback. Lu Guanyin was also shaken and thought to himself, “Grand-teacher must have heard me quarrel with that little Taoist quarrel just now. If he heard what I said to Prince Zao, then…then…I think father will also…” before breaking into cold sweat. Yin Zhiping rubbed his cheek and said, “You are a senior in the Wulin World but why do you behave so shrewdly? The 6 freaks of Jiangnan are heroic people, why must you force to them the corner? If not for my teacher spreading the news, won’t the 6 of them be killed by you already?”

Huang Yaoshi was furious, “No wonder I couldn’t find them. So it’s a bunch of rascals poking their noses into this matter.”

Yin Zhiping was agitated and shouted, “If you want to kill me, then do so. I’m not afraid of you.”

Huang Yaoshi replied coldly, “Didn’t you have fun scolding me behind my back?”

Yin Zhiping spared no thought for his life and shouted, “I’ll scold in front of you as well. You demon, you weirdo!”

Ever since Huang Yaoshi became famous, no one, no matter good or bad, would dare to be offensive in front of him. He had never met someone as straightforward and disrespectful as Yin Zhiping. The latter had seen how cruelly he dealt with Hou Tonghai just now and yet, was still not afraid to offend him. Huang Yaoshi was surprised and thought that the little Taoist had backbone and was bold, as bold he when he was young. Huang Yaoshi could not help but compare Yin Zhiping to his younger self while he stepped forward and said in a cold voice, “If you dare, scold some more.”

Yin Zhiping said, “I’m not scared of you and yes I want to scold you demonic weirdo.”

Lu Guanyin thought secretly, “Oh no, the little Taoist is not going to be able to escape death.” He yelled out, “Bold Bastard! You dare offend my grand- teacher?” With that, he raised his saber and made an attack for his shoulder. Lu Guanyin was actually secretly trying to help Yin Zhiping. He was sure that his Huang Yaoshi would show him no mercy after all the insults. If Huang Yaoshi attacked, even ten Yin Zhipings would not be able to escape alive. Lu Guanyin hoped that if he injured Yin Zhiping, his grand-teacher’s anger would subside somewhat and let that little Taoist off.

Yin Zhiping evaded the attack with two steps and frowned angrily before shouting, “I don’t want to live after today so I’m going to scold until I’m happy.” Lu Guanyin was bent on injuring him so as to save his life and thus, made another attack with his saber. At the same moment, Cheng Yaojia unsheathed her sword and called out, “I’m also a disciple of Quanzhen sect. If you want to kill, then kill both of us!”

Yin Zhiping did not expect this and shouted, “Good, Apprentice Sister Cheng!” Both of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder and stared at Huang Yaoshi. Lu Guanyin could not attack anymore.

Huang Yaoshi laughed out, “Good, you have guts, have backbone. I, Huang Yaoshi am in fact a heretic demon, you didn’t scold wrongly. Your teacher is my junior, how can I fight with a little Taoist then? Go then!” He suddenly stretched out his arm and grabbed Yin Zhiping’s chest before flinging him outside. Yin Zhiping couldn’t control himself and flew out of the door. He thought that he would fall badly but who would have thought that both his feet landed on the ground and he was still standing normally. He thought that Huang Yaoshi must have grabbed him and dropped him gently onto the ground. Yin Zhiping dazed for a second before thinking, “Close Shave!” No matter how brave he was, he did not dare go back into the inn to scold Huang Yaoshi. He stroked his swollen cheek and turned to leave.

Cheng Yaojia sheathed her sword and made to leave when Huang Yaoshi said, “Wait.”

He stretched out his hand to remove his mask and asked, “Are you willing to be his wife?” while pointing at Lu Guanyin. Cheng Yaojia was shocked but her snow-white skin to turn red slowly.

Huang Yaoshi said, “Your apprentice brother scolded right. I am a heretic weirdo. Who doesn’t know about Eastern Heretic Huang Yaoshi, the owner of Peach Blossom Island? The thing Old Heretic Huang hates most this life is rules and conventions, especially saints and whatnots. These are just things to cheat dumb people. It’s such a joke that people have been blindly abiding to these rules and conventions for generations! I, Huang Yaoshi don’t believe in these nonsensical teachings. Everyone say I’m heretic, humph! At least a heretic is better than those jerks who talk about morals and principals but caused the deaths of so many!” Cheng Yaojia was silent but her heart beat wildly. She did not know how he was going to deal with her.

But she only heard him say, “Tell me properly. Do you want to marry my grand-disciple? I like people who are straightforward and have backbone. That little Taoist scolded me behind my back. If he didn’t dare do that in front of me and kneeled down to beg me just now, do you think I would have killed him? Humph, you dared to help that little Taoist even though you knew it was dangerous, so it shows that your character is good and compatible with my Grand-disciple. Hurry up and answer me!”

Cheng Yaojia was willing with all her heart but she didn’t even dare tell people like her parents, what more an outsider? Furthermore, Lu Guanyin was standing beside him. Huang Yaoshi saw that her pretty face was as red as a rose while Lu Guanyin also lowered his head and suddenly thought of his daughter. He let out a sigh and said, “If both of you love each other, I will give my blessings. Ah, even parents can’t decide the marriage for their children.”

He knew that if he had agreed to his daughter and Guo Jing’s marriage, his beloved daughter would not have died in the deep sea and was vexed. He raised his voice, “Guanyin, stop beating around the bush, do you want her to be your wife or not?”

Lu Guanyin was stunned and answered hurriedly, “Grand-teacher, Grand- disciple’s afraid that I am not good enough for…” Huang Yaoshi cut in, “Good enough! You are my grand-disciple, you are good enough even for a princess!”

Lu Guanyin saw Huang Yaoshi’s eagerness and knew that if continued hesitating, the situation would turn worse. He answered hurriedly, “Grand- disciple is willing.” Huang Yaoshi smiled and said, “Good. What about you Miss?”

Cheng Yaojia felt a sweet sensation in her heart when she heard Lu Guanyin’s words, when she heard Huang Yaoshi’s question, she lowered her head and said softly, “I need father to help me decide.”

Huang Yaoshi replied, “What parent’s decision? All nonsensical rubbish, I want to be the one to make the decision! If your father is unwilling, ask him to come and duel with me.”

Cheng Yaojia smiled, “Father only knows how to calculate accounts and do calligraphy, he doesn’t know any martial arts.” Huang Yaoshi thought for a while, “Then we’ll compete using calculation! Humph, talking about calculations, who on earth can win me? Hurry up, are you willing or not?

Cheng Yaojia kept quiet and Huang Yaoshi said, “Alright, so you aren’t willing then, it’s up to you. We keep to our words and Old Heretic Huang never allows anyone to regret their decisions.” Cheng Yaojia stole a glance at Lu Guanyin and saw that his expression had turned anxious. She thought to herself, “Father dotes on me the most. If I ask Auntie to talk to father and you ask someone to seek my hand, father will agree. Why are you so anxious?”

Huang Yaoshi stood up and shouted, “Guanyin, follow me to look for the 6 freaks of Jiangnan! If you ever speak to this lady again, I’ll cut off both of your tongues.”

Lu Guanyin was shocked and knew that his grand-teacher was capable of such acts. He walked in front of Cheng Yaojia and cupped his palms into a greeting posture before saying, “Miss, Lu Guanyin is lowly skilled in martial arts and is untalented and uneducated. I live a wandering life and am not good enough for you. But I think it is fate that we should meet today…”

Cheng Yaojia answered softly, “Mister doesn’t have to be humble. I…I… am not…” and she kept silent. Lu Guanyin’s heart skipped a beat and he thought to make her answer by nodding or shaking her head, “Miss, if you do not find me up to par with you, please shake your head.” After he said this, his heart pumped frantically as he looked at her delicate face, worried that she would shake her head.

After a while, Cheng Yaojia still kept still and did not even more a finger. Lu Guanyin was delighted and said, “Since Miss is willing to marry me, please nod you head.” But Cheng Yaojia still did not move. Lu Guanyin ws anxious and Huang Yaoshi was exasperated and said, “You don’t shake and you don’t nod. What does that mean?”

Cheng Yaojia said softly, “If I don’t shake my head, it…it…means that I nod my head…” These words were mumbled so softly such that only Huang Yaoshi, who had a high level of internal energy and sharp ears, could hear it. Had it been a few years earlier, he would not be able to hear anything but just see her lips moving slightly.

Huang Yaoshi laughed loudly, “Wang Chongyang has all along been a heroic and brave man. Who would have thought that his disciple would be so wishy-washy? That’s just so funny. Alright, I will see through your marriage today.” The couple was taken aback and stared at Huang Yaoshi speechlessly, who continued asking, “Where is that silly lady? I want to ask her who her teacher is.” When the three of them were talking in the inn, Sha Gu had disappeared somewhere.

Huang Yaoshi continues, “Anyway, there’s no rush to find her now. Guanyin, you will marry Miss Cheng here then.” Lu Guanyin replied, “Grand-disciple is very grateful for grand-teacher’s love but to marry here is somehow too plain…” Huang Yaoshi retorted, “You are a disciple of the Peach Blossom Island, do you want to abide to conventions as well? Come come, stand side by side both of you, and bow to the sky!” His tone was stern and serious and they did not dare disobey him. Cheng Yaojia had reached this stage and knew that she could not do anything but carry on the rituals with Lu Guanyin. Huang Yaoshi continued, “Bow to the earth!… Bow to your grand-teacher ah…good, good, happiness, happiness! Bow to each other!” Huang Rong and Guo Jing watched Huang Yaoshi orchestrate the show and were surprised but delighted as well. They found it very funny while Huang Yaoshi continued, “Excellent! Guanyin, go and get a candle for your nuptial night.” Lu Guanyin was stunned and said, “Grand-teacher!” Huang Yaoshi replied, “Why? After completing the ceremony, isn’t it time for your nuptial night? You and your wife are pugilists, so you don’t need a glamorous room with beautiful blankets right? Can’t you also have your nuptial night in this broken inn?” Lu Guanyin didn’t dare answer back but he was excited and delighted at the same time. He followed his grand-teacher’s instructions and went to the village to get a pair of red candles, some wine and chicken, and prepared a meal with Cheng Yaojia in the kitchen before serving it to their grand-teacher.

After that, Huang Yaoshi was silent and raised his head, thinking about his daughter but hiding his sadness. Huang Rong saw his expressions and knew that he was thinking about her. She felt terrible and wanted to shout out but was afraid that once her father discovered her, would bring her back to Peach Blossom Island. Even if he did not kill Guo Jing, Guo Jing would not be able to survive. When she thought about this, she took back her hand from the door. Lu Guanyin and Cheng Yaojia stole glances at Huang Yaoshi and looked at each other, while feeling happy but awkward. Their faces and ears were both red and they did not dare to make a sound. Ouyang Ke was lying amongst the straws and wood and listened attentively. Although he was starving, he did not dare to make any noise.

The sky gradually turned dark. Cheng Yaojia’s heart was thumping louder and louder. She heard Huang Yaoshi talking to himself, “Why hasn’t that Silly Girl come back? Humph, that bunch of traitors better not give her any trouble.” Turning his head to Lu Guanying he said, “Tonight is your wedding night; why don’t you light some candles?”

“Yes!” Lu Guanying replied. He took a flint and lighted the candles. Under the bright candlelight he saw that Cheng Da Xiaojie’s [Eldest Miss Cheng] hair on her temples were like a cloud of mist, her cheeks were as white as snow, her face showed a bashful and surprised feeling; it was truly hard to describe with words. Outside the door the insects were buzzing, the evening breeze swayed the bamboo trees; he felt like it was a dream! Huang Yaoshi took a wooden bench and placed it on the doorstep, then he laid down on it. Soon afterwards he was snoring lightly; looked like he was sound asleep. Lu and Cheng couple still did not dare to move. After a long time the red candle burned out, the flame died down and the room became dark.

Lu and Cheng couple spoke to each other in low voices. Huang Rong leaned her head sideways trying to listen, but she could not hear what they were talking about. Suddenly she felt Guo Jing’s body tremble, his breathing has quickened. Apparently his internal energy flow had reached a branched passage, so she busily helped him to overcome this obstacle. After his breathing turned normal she turned her attention to the room one more time. She saw the moonlight slanted down from the broken window outside. Lu and Cheng couple was still sitting side by side on the bench. She heard Cheng Yaojia speak in low voice, “Do you know what day is today?”

“Today is our happiest day,” Lu Guanying replied.

“That goes without saying,” Cheng Yaojia said, “Today is the second day of the seventh month, my third [maternal] aunt’s birthday.”

Lu Guanying smiled, “Ah, you must have many relatives,” he said, “It must be difficult to remember all those birthdays.”

Huang Rong thought, “Your wife belongs to a big clan in Baoying; her maternal aunts’, her paternal aunts’, her nephews’ and nieces’ birthdays will come and go; but can they be compared to you, the Great Leader Lu of the Lake Tai’s stronghold?” Suddenly she recalled something, “Today is the second day of the seventh month, Jing Gege will need until the seventh to recover. The Beggar Clan’s general assembly is on the fifteenth at Yueyang City. We have a very tight schedule.”

Suddenly there was a long whistle outside, followed by a loud laughter, shaking the roof tiles; it was precisely Zhou Botong’s voice. He called out, “Old Poison, you have been chasing me from Lin’an to Jiaxing and from Jiaxing back to Lin’an, one day and one night, throughout you can’t overtake the Old Urchin. Victory or defeat between us two has already been decided. What else do you want to compete in?” Huang Rong was startled, “From Lin’an to Jiaxing and back is more than five hundred ‘li’s; these two men’s feet are truly fast.”

Ouyang Feng’s voice was heard replying, “Even if you run to the end of the earth I will still chase you.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “We won’t eat, we won’t sleep, we won’t even urinate or defecate; let’s see who can run the longest. Do you dare to compete with me?”

“Why not?” Ouyang Feng replied, “I want to see who will drop dead of exhaustion first!”

“Old Poison,” Zhou Botong said, “You won’t be able to compete with me in not urinating and not defecating.”

They both stopped talking and let out a long laugh instead, but the laughter seemed to come from more than a dozen of ‘zhang’s away already. Lu Guanying and Cheng Yaojia did not know what kind of people these men were, who swiftly came and went in the middle of the night. They looked at each other in astonishment; then hand in hand they walked to the door to take a look.

Huang Rong thought, “If these two are competing their feet power, then father will surely want to watch.” Sure enough, she heard Lu Guanying’s surprised voice, “Ah, where is Grandmaster?”

“Look over there,” Cheng Yaojia said, “There are three shadows; the last one looks like your Grandmaster.”

“That’s right,” Lu Guanying said, “Ah, they are that far already. I wonder what kind of experts those two are. Too bad we did not have any chance to meet them.”

Huang Rong thought, “The Old Urchin is all right, but you’d better not meet the Old Poison.”

As Huang Yaoshi left, Lu and Cheng two people thought that they were alone in that inn; their hearts started to get devious. Lu Guanying circled his arm around his newly-wed wife’s waist and asked in a low voice, “Meizi [Little sister – term of endearment], what is your given name?”

Cheng Yaojia said with a chuckle, “I won’t say it, you guess.”

Lu Guanying smiled, “If not Xiao Mao [kitten], then it must be Xiao Gou [puppy].”

Cheng Yaojia laughed, “Neither. It’s Mu Da Zhong [mother big bug].” “Ah,” Lu Guanying laughed, “Then I must catch you.”

Cheng Yaojia wriggled and leaped over the table. Lu Guanying laughed and chased her. One ran, the other chased, they were both laughing and giggling, running around the inn. The starlight was dim, Huang Rong was unable to see these two clearly, but she could hear their laughter clearly. Suddenly Guo Jing whispered in her ear, “Do you think he can catch Cheng Da Xiaojie?”

With a light chuckle Huang Rong replied, “Certainly.”

Guo Jing asked again, “After he catches her, then what happen?”

Huang Rong’s heart skipped a beat; she did not know the answer. She heard Lu Guanying had succeeded in catching Cheng Yaojia, the couple then sat on the bench, hugging each other and talking in low voices.

Huang Rong’s right hand was holding Guo Jing’s left. She felt his palm was getting hotter and hotter, while his body trembled faster and faster. She was frightened, busily asked, “Jing Gege, what happened?”

After Guo Jing suffered a heavy injury, his internal strength considerably decreased, practicing this Nine Yin energy cultivation method required a clean heart, free from any devilish thought. Right now he heard that Lu and Cheng couple was talking and laughing intimately; at the same time right next to him was his own beloved beautiful girl. Gradually he lost control, his blood warmed up to the point of boiling. He turned around and stretched out his right hand to embrace her shoulder. But as she heard his rushed breathing and felt his burning hot palm, Huang Rong was frightened and busily said, “Jing Gege, be careful, quickly calm your heart.”

Guo Jing’s heart was shaken, anxiously he said, “I can’t. Rong’er, I … I …” He wanted to stand up.

Huang Rong was very anxious, “You must not move!” she said.

Forcing himself Guo Jing sat down; he tried hard to control his breathing, but his chest felt like it will almost burst open. “Rong’er, help me,” he begged. Once again he wanted to stand up.

“Sit down!” Huang Rong shouted, “If you don’t, I’ll seal your acupoint.” “Right,” Guo Jing said, “Quick! I can’t take it anymore.”

Huang Rong realized that if his acupoint was sealed, his internal energy flow would be blocked, then their two days of effort would be wasted and they would have to start from the beginning again. But his condition was critical, as soon as he stood up, his life would be in danger. So gritting her teeth her left arm made a circle with the ‘lan hua fu xue shou’ [orchid brushing acupoint technique] and struck the ‘zhang men’ [sealing gate] acupoint on the eleventh rib on his left chest.

Her finger was right on target, but unexpectedly Guo Jing’s internal strength was so profound that as soon as his body met an external force, the muscle automatically contracted and caused her finger to slip. Huang Rong struck twice in succession, both times missed. She was about to strike for the third time when suddenly he grabbed her left wrist.

It was almost dawn. Huang Rong saw his eyes were bloodshot like they were on fire, she was shocked; but she felt that he was pulling her hand while his mouth was mumbling indistinctly, as if he was loosing his mind. In desperation Huang Rong moved her elbow and ferociously bumped her shoulder against his arm. As the thorns on the soft hedgehog armor pricked his arm, Guo Jing felt a shot of pain and was startled. Right at that moment they heard the rooster crow in the village. It was like a strike of lightning clearing out Guo Jing’s mind. Slowly he put Huang Rong’s wrist down; his face showed great embarrassment.

Huang Rong saw sweats dripping from his forehead; his face was pale and he looked so weary. But she knew the critical moment had passed. She said happily, “Jing Gege, we have passed two days and two nights.”

‘Slap!’ Guo Jing slapped his own face and said, “Very dangerous!” He raised his hand to slap again. Huang Rong smiled and grabbed his hand. “That was nothing,” she said, “You remember the Old Urchin? With that kind of skill he still could not bear to listen to my father’s flute; much less you, who are seriously injured.”

In their excitement as Guo Jing was battling his own mind, they forgot to lower their voices. All Lu Guanying and Cheng Yaojia cared for was each other, so naturally they were oblivious of everything else. But lying down in the room Ouyang Ke was fully awake, with his keen hearing he heard everything, he could even vaguely recognize Huang Rong’s voice. He was surprised yet happy. He tried to listen carefully, but no more sound was to be heard. Both of his legs were broken, he was unable to walk, but by using hands as his feet he could stand upside down and he came out of his hiding.

Lu Guanying and his newly-wed wife were sitting side-by-side on the bench, with his left hand wrapped around her shoulder. Suddenly they heard rustling noise from the firewood. Turning their heads around they saw a man standing on his hands come out from the inner room. They were startled and quickly drew their weapons out.

Ouyang Ke’s injury was heavy, plus he had not had anything to eat for quite a long time, hence he was weak; suddenly seeing the bright flickering light of the blade he felt dizzy and fell down on the ground. Lu Guanying saw his sickly complexion; he rushed forward to help him sit on the bench with his back leaning against the table.

“Ah!” Cheng Yaojia called out in alarm, recognizing this man as the lecherous person who captured her at Baoying. Lu Guanying saw her frightened expression, he said comfortingly, “Don’t be afraid, his legs are broken.”

“He is a bad man,” Cheng Yaojia said, “I know him.” “Ah!” Lu Guanying exclaimed.

Ouyang Ke slowly woke up. “Give me a bowl of rice, please,” he said, “I am starving.”

Cheng Yaojia saw his deep cheeks, his eyes dull; he was not the same arrogant man who hurled insults to her. She was tenderhearted, plus she was a newly-wed, her heart was filled with happiness; thereupon she went to the kitchen and fetch a bowl of rice for Ouyang Ke.

Ouyang Ke ate one bowl, he asked for another bowl. After eating two big bowls of rice his strength returned. He looked at Cheng Da Xiaojie and his lewdness also returned. But he still remembered Huang Rong. “Where is Miss Huang?” he asked.

“Which Miss Huang?” Lu Guanying asked.

“The Peach Blossom Island’s Huang Yaoshi’s daughter,” Ouyang Ke replied.

“You know my Huang Shigu [martial (paternal) aunt]?” Lu Guanying asked. “I heard she has passed away.”

Ouyang Ke laughed. “Don’t lie to me,” he said, “Obviously I had just heard her voice.” His left hand pushed the table, his body flipped and he walked around the room with his hands. He recalled that Huang Rong’s voice came from the east side, but there was only a wall without any door on the east side. He considered carefully and came to the conclusion that there must be a secret in the cabinet. Immediately he pulled a table toward the cabinet, flipped his body over to sit on the table, and opened the cabinet door. Convinced that the secret passage must be inside, he was disappointed to see inside the cabinet was very dirty, unbearably filthy. He looked over carefully and saw some handprints on the dust covered iron bowl. His heart was stirred. Stretching out his arm he grabbed the bowl and tried to lift it up, but the bowl did not budge. He turned it around and with some creaking noise the secret door inside the cabinet slowly opened, revealing Huang Rong and Guo Jing two people sitting cross-legged inside the secret room.

He was delighted to see Huang Rong, but was scared and jealous to see Guo Jing by her side. After staring at them for half a day he finally asked, “Meizi, are you training martial art in here?”

Huang Rong had seen him through the small hole moving the table to the cabinet. She was sure they would be discovered soon, so she started thinking of ways to kill him. When the door started to move she whispered in Guo Jing’s ear, “I’ll lure him close, you finish him off with a Dragon Subduing Palm.”

Guo Jing said, “I don’t have any strength in my palm.”

Huang Rong was about to say something else, but Ouyang Ke had already seen them. She thought, “How can I deceive him so that he will go far away and let us pass these five days and five nights in peace?”

Initially Ouyang Ke was rather afraid of Guo Jing, but seeing his thin and pale complexion he remembered his uncle said that in the imperial palace he had injured him severely with the Toad Stance; if Guo Jing did not die, then his injury must be extremely heavy. Looking at their expression he knew that his guess was 70, 80% correct. He wanted to try again, so he said, “Meizi, why don’t you come out? It’s too stuffy and tight to hide in there.” He held out his hand to pull Huang Rong’s sleeve.

Huang Rong raised her bamboo stick and with a ‘bang da gou tou’ [stick hits dog’s head] she struck the top of his head. Her movement was very fierce; it was one of the deadliest stances of the Dog Beating Stick Technique. The stick carried a strong gust of wind, the oncoming force was swift and violent. Ouyang Ke hastily moved to the left to evade, but her stick suddenly swept horizontally. Ouyang Ke was startled, he somersaulted over the table and fell behind the table.

If Huang Rong could pursue, she would take advantage of this favorable situation and launch the ‘fan jie gou tun’ [flipping up and cutting the dog’s butt]; certainly she would be able to harm his life. But she was sitting cross- legged and must not move, so she cried out inwardly, “What a pity!”

Lu Guanying and Cheng Yaojia were shocked to suddenly see there were people inside the cabinet. By the time they saw clearly it was Guo Jing and Huang Rong, Ouyang Ke and Huang Rong had started fighting.

As Ouyang Ke fell down, his hands pushed the ground and he leaped back to the table and sat back down. He used the ‘qin na’ [grab and capture] technique trying to catch Huang Rong’s hand across the secret room’s door. Huang Rong’s Dog Beating Stick Technique was marvelous, but she could not move; besides, she had to take Guo Jing’s internal energy situation into consideration so that she could not use too much strength of her own. Ouyang Ke’s martial art skill was actually several times better than hers, so after more than a dozen moves she fell into a desperately dangerous situation.

Lu Guanying husband and wife drew out their saber and sword and attacked from both sides. Ouyang Ke let out a long laugh and ferociously launched a palm strike hacking toward Guo Jing’s face. At this moment Guo Jing was unable to exert any strength, so he simply closed his eyes waiting for death.

Huang Rong was shocked; she lifted up her stick to block. Ouyang Ke flipped his palm over and grabbed the end of the stick, pulling it out from Huang Rong’s hand. Huang Rong could not match his strength; her body staggered forward. She was afraid her palm would be separated from Guo Jing’s palm, so she let the stick go. Immediately she reached into her pocket and threw a steel needle out.

Those two were only several feet away from each other. By the time Ouyang Ke saw the flashing light, the steel needle was already in front of his face. Busily he bent his waist and threw his head backward, almost reclined on the table, thus evading the needle.

Lu Guanying saw his condition as if he was a sacrificial meat on the table, his saber chopped down toward Ouyang Ke’s neck. Ouyang Ke rolled to the right and with a ‘crack!’ sound his saber hacked the tabletop. Right at that moment he heard swishing noise of a steel needle above him and suddenly felt his back numb; one side of his body was paralyzed. He wanted to move aside, but his right arm had already been grabbed by the enemy from behind.

Cheng Yaojia was shocked and rushed forward trying to help. Ouyang Ke laughed and said, “That’s wonderful!” His hand moved so swiftly and grabbed the front upper part of Cheng Yaojia’s gown. Cheng Yaojia hastily hacked her sword down to cut his hand, while trying to leap backward at the same time. ‘Rip!’ Her gown was torn by his hand. She was so scared that the sword almost fell from her hand; her face turned deathly pale and she did not dare to rush forward anymore.

Ouyang Ke sat at the corner of the table. He turned his head around and saw the door to the secret room was already closed. Recalling his dangerous encounter with steel needles earlier he shuddered in fear. “This little girl is really not easy to fight,” he thought, “Aha! I got it! I am going to play around with this Cheng Da Xiaojie, let that kid surnamed Guo and the little girl hear it. Their concentration will be broken and thus their energy cultivation will be disrupted. I want to see if by that time she won’t listen to me nicely.” Thinking to this point he was very happy. He further considered, “This Huang family’s little girl is like an angel, nevertheless I have to make her willing to follow me for the rest of her life. It won’t be as much fun if I use force. I think it will be wonderful. Just marvelous beyond words!” So he turned to Cheng Yaojia and said, “Hey, Cheng Da Xiaojie, do you want him to live or to die?”

Cheng Yaojia saw her husband was in the hands of the enemy; she could not make any rash move. Hastily she said, “He has never wronged you, nor did he have any enmity with you. Please release him. You were very hungry a while ago. Didn’t I give you some food to eat?”

Ouyang Ke laughed. “How can two bowls of rice pay the price of a life? Hey, hey, you’ve never imagined that one day you Quanzhen Sect people will ask someone else’s help, have you?”

Cheng Yaojia said, “He … he is the Peach Blossom Island’s disciple; don’t hurt him.” Ouyang Ke laughed, “Who told him to chop me with a saber? If I wasn’t quick enough to evade, do you think my head will still be perched on my neck? Don’t you use the Peach Blossom Island to scare me, Huang Yaoshi is my father-in-law.”

Cheng Yaojia did not know whether he was lying or was telling the truth; she hastily said, “Then he is your junior. Just let him go, let him apologize to you later.”

“Ha … ha …” Ouyang Ke laughed, “How can there be such an easy thing in this world? You want me to release him? That’s easy, but you must do what I tell you to do.”

Cheng Yaojia saw the lewdness in his face, she knew he must have malicious intentions; hence she lowered her head but did not say anything.

“Look at me!” Ouyang Ke roared. ‘Crack!’ his palm hacked down and cut the corner of the table; making a neat cut as if the table was cut by an axe or a saber. Cheng Yaojia was stunned, she thought, “Even my Shifu does not have this kind of ability.” Ouyang Ke had been training martial art under his uncle’s tutelage since he was little; no wonder his skill surpassed Sun Bu’er who started to learn martial art in her adulthood.

Seeing the frightened look on her face Ouyang Ke was immensely puffed up. “You must do whatever I tell you to do,” he said, “Otherwise I’ll do this to his neck.” Then he made a hacking move. Cheng Yaojia broke in cold sweats and called out in alarm.

“Will you do it?” Ouyang Ke asked. Cheng Yaojia reluctantly nodded her head. Ouyang Ke said with a smile, “Good! That’s my good girl. Now go and close the door.” Cheng Yaojia hesitated; she did not move.

“You are not listening!” Ouyang Ke was angry. Cheng Yaojia trembled in fear; she did not have any choice but stand up and close the door.

Ouyang Ke said with a smile, “You two got married last night, I heard it clearly from the other room. It was your wedding night, but you did not take your clothes off. There is no such thing in this world. You don’t know how to be a bride, so I am going to teach you. Now take your clothes off. All of them. If you leave even half a strand of silk, I am going to send your husband returning to heaven, and then you will become a young widow!”

Lu Guanying could not move his body, but he could hear clearly. He was so angry that he felt his eyes were about to pop out of their sockets. He wanted to tell his wife to run away and forget about him, but his lips were unable to move.

When Ouyang Ke grabbed Lu Guanying, Huang Rong quickly closed the door to the secret room. She took her dagger out, waiting for his second attack. Suddenly she heard him ordering Cheng Yaojia to take her clothes off; she was angry, but at the same time found it amusing. She was still childish so even though she hated Ouyang Ke’s despicable behavior, she also wanted to know whether this girlish and bashful Cheng Da Xiaojie would follow his order or not.

“What’s the big deal about taking off all your clothes?” Ouyang Ke said with a laugh, “Did you wear anything when you came out of your mother’s belly? Do you want your pride or his life?”

Cheng Yaojia hesitated a moment, then with a sad voice said, “Just kill him!”

Ouyang Ke did not expect she would say such thing; he was slightly startled, but then he saw she lifted her sword horizontally across her own neck. Hastily he waved his hand, sending out a ‘tou gu ding’ [bone penetrating nail]. ‘Clank!’ her sword fell down to the ground.

Cheng Yaojia was about to stoop down to pick her sword up when suddenly she heard someone knocking the door, “Innkeeper, innkeeper!” someone called out. It was a woman’s voice. Cheng Yaojia was delighted, “Someone’s coming, things may change,” she thought. She busily bent down to pick her sword and leaped to open the door.

There was a young woman wearing white standing outside the door, with a white cloth on her head and a dagger on her waist. Her face was thin and pallid, but it was obvious that she was a beautiful woman. Cheng Yaojia did not care what kind of person she was, she already considered her to be her liberator. “Please come in Miss,” she quickly said.

That woman saw her exquisite clothes and adornment, her sweet and pretty face, also a sword in her hand; never in her wildest dream would she expect a desolate inn in this rural village like this would have this kind of innkeeper. She was dumbstruck. “I have two coffins outside, may I bring them in?” she asked.

If it were an ordinary house, the coffins may never enter in; but an inn was different. Besides, Cheng Yaojia was hoping she would come in quickly. She would not care if it was a hundred or even a thousand coffins, let alone only two coffins. She busily said, “Wonderful, wonderful!”

That young woman was taken aback, she thought, “What’s so wonderful about coffins going into an inn?” She beckoned outside and eight porters carrying two black coffins came into the inn.

That young woman turned her head and was surprised to see Ouyang Ke. With a ‘qiang lang’ sound she unsheathed the dagger on her waist.

Ouyang Ke laughed a big laugh and said, “The heaven has destined us to be together. You can run away, but you cannot escape your fate. It has delivered us good fortune, so we commit a great sin if we do not enjoy this blessing.”

This young woman was precisely Mu Nianci who was once captured by Ouyang Ke. After she broke off with Yang Kang at Baoying she cut her hair in grief, completely discouraged. Then she remembered there was one thing on earth she had to take care, thereupon she rushed back to the capital to fetch Yang Tiexin’s, husband and wife, bodies and brought them to the south. She wanted to bury her adopted father and mother at their hometown, the Ox Village of Lin’an; and then she was going to leave home and become a Buddhist nun.

At that time the Mongolian army was launching a large scale attack against the capital, they laid siege around the city. As a single woman traveling with two coffins in the turmoil and chaos of war, she experienced untold hardships, until finally she arrived at her adopted parents’ hometown. She had left home since she was five years old, and had never been to the Ox Village before. As she saw Shagu’s inn she was thinking of stopping by for some food and directions; who would have thought that she came across Ouyang Ke here.

At this time she did not know whether this beautiful woman wearing exquisite gown was her captor’s accomplice or not; when Cheng Yaojia was taken prisoner by Ouyang Ke, Mu Nianci was already hidden away inside the empty coffin. These two women had never met each other, so Mu Nianci thought Cheng Yaojia was one of Ouyang Ke’s concubines. She chopped her dagger toward Cheng Yaojia, then darting toward the door trying to escape. She heard the rustling noise of a clothes, someone was leaping over her head. Mu Nianci lifted her dagger up, Ouyang Ke’s body was still midair, his right hand’s index finger and thumb pinched the back of her dagger and pulled it away, while his left hand grabbed her wrist. Mu Nianci was forced to let her dagger go; her body leaped up and two people fell together on the doorway, halfway above the coffin.

“Aiyo!” the four porters cried out in alarm. The coffin fell to the ground, pinching five, six of the porters’ eight feet.

Ouyang Ke’s left hand embraced Mu Nianci in his bosom, while his right hand stabbed the dagger randomly toward the back of those four porters. The porters screamed in terror and scrambled anxiously over the coffin to run away. The other four porters also dropped their coffin and ran outside the inn; without asking for their money.

Lu Guanying tumbled down as he was free from the enemy’s hand. Cheng Yaojia rushed over to help him up. She was totally ignorant of what was going on around her; her mind was set on how to get away from the enemy. With Mu Nianci in his left hand Ouyang Ke pushed the coffin with his right hand, and leaped back to the table. He snatched Cheng Yaojia’s belt and very soon she was also embraced at the crook of his right arm. Ouyang Ke sealed both women’s acupoints and sat on a bench. He laughed and called out, “Huang Meizi, you have to come over here too!” While he was feeling smug, a shadow flashed in from outside; a young gentleman came in. It was Yang Kang. After he went out from underneath Huang Yaoshi’s legs along with Wanyan Honglie, Peng Lianhu and the others, they ran away out of the Ox Village. Everybody was angry at the humiliation they had just received; they hung their heads low and nobody said anything. Yang Kang thought if he wanted to seek revenge, he must find Ouyang Feng first, who had not returned from stealing the book in the imperial palace. Thereupon he asked for Wanyan Honglie’s permission and went back alone, waiting in the forest just outside the village.

That night Zhou Botong, Ouyang Feng and Huang Yaoshi three people came and go in a flash. With Yang Kang’s current skill level, he could not even see them clearly. Early the next morning he saw Mu Nianci bringing the coffins into the village. His heart pounded from excitement and he followed behind her quietly. He saw her enter the inn, and then saw the porters running away, he felt strange, so he peeked through a crack on the door and did not see Huang Yaoshi inside; but he saw Mu Nianci was embraced by Ouyang Ke in a frivolous way.

Ouyang Ke saw him come in, he called out, “Xiao Wangye [Young Prince], you came back!” Yang Kang nodded. Ouyang Ke saw his face looked unusual, he tried to console him, “In the past Han Xin had also received humiliation by crawling underneath someone else’s crotch. But a real great man can be bent and can be stretched. It was nothing. Just wait for my uncle, then you can extract your revenge.”

Again Yang Kang nodded his head. His gaze was fixed on Mu Nianci.

Ouyang Ke smiled and said, “Young Prince, what do you think of my two beautiful women?” Yang Kang nodded again. Ouyang Ke was not present when Mu Nianci and Yang Kang were jousting to find a spouse on the street of the capital; therefore, he did not know that these two had a deep relationship between them.

At first Yang Kang did not think much of Mu Nianci, and then afterwards he saw how much she was passionately devoted to him; his heart could not help but be moved by her love, hence he promised to marry her. Right now he saw Ouyang Ke was hugging her, his heart swelled with hatred, but he maintained his composure.

“There was a wedding in here last night,” Ouyang Ke said with a smile, “There is some wine and chicken in the kitchen. Xiao Wangye, I’d like to bother you to fetch the food, I want to drink with you several cups. I am going to tell these two beautiful women to strip and dance to accompany your drinking.”

“Nothing better than that,” Yang Kang replied with a smile.

To suddenly seeing Yang Kang, Mu Nianci was pleasantly surprised. But when Yang Kang did not pay her any attention, she was mad. Now she saw his frivolous expression as he was going to join Ouyang Ke in humiliating her, her heart turned icy cold. She was determined that as soon as her hands and feet were free, she would cut her own throat in the presence of this heartless fellow; and then she would forever be free from the anxieties of the world.

She watched him turn and go into the kitchen. He fetched the food and drink, then sat alongside Ouyang Ke. Ouyang Ke poured two cups of wine and held them up in front of Mu and Cheng two women’s mouths and said with a smile, “Drink this wine first, it will help to make your dancing more interesting.” The two women were very angry, but since their acupoints were sealed, they were unable to turn their heads away from the wine cups on their lips. Ouyang Ke managed to pour half a cup into their mouths.

“Mr. Ouyang,” Yang Kang said, “I admire your martial art skill very much. Let me toast you one cup before we enjoy the dancing.”

Ouyang Ke took the cup Yang Kang handed over; he drank it in one gulp, then casually he released the two women’s acupoints, but he placed his hands on the acupoints on their backs. He smiled and said, “If you listen nicely to what I say, not only you won’t get hurt, but I will make you happy!” He turned to Yang Kang and said, “Xiao Wangye, which one of these young girls do you like? I’ll let you choose first!”

Yang Kang slightly smiled and said, “Thank you very much!” Mu Nianci pointed toward the two coffins on the doorsteps and imposingly said, “Yang Kang! Do you know whose coffins are those?”

Yang Kang turned his head and saw on the first coffin there was a red piece of paper with this line of characters on it: ‘da song yi shi yang tie xin ling jiu’ [the bier of Yang Tiexin, a chivalrous warrior of the Great Song Dynasty]. His heart turned cold, but his face did not show anything. He said, “Mr. Ouyang, can you hold them closely for me? I want to see which one has the smaller feet. I am going to choose her.”

Ouyang Ke laughed and said, “Xiao Wangye is truly smart! I think this one’s feet are smaller.” While saying that he rubbed Cheng Yaojia’s chin before continuing, “I have a special skill. I only need to look at a girl’s face to know what her body looks like, from top to bottom.”

Yang Kang laughed, “Amazing! I am impressed! What if I bow to you and take you as my master? Then you’ll teach me this special trick.” While saying that he bent down under the table.

Mu and Cheng both women had decided that as soon as he touched their feet, they would kick his ‘tai yang’ [sun] acupoint on his temple. Yang Kang smiled and said, “Mr. Ouyang, drink another cup of wine, then I’ll tell you if your guess is correct.”

“All right!” Ouyang Ke laughed, taking the cup with both hands. Yang Kang glanced upward from underneath the table, he saw Ouyang Ke was drinking the wine with his head thrown backward; suddenly he took a broken spearhead from his bosom. He sent all his strength to his arm, from his arm to his wrist, lunged it forward and ‘Stab!’ the spearhead went five, six inches deep into Ouyang Ke’s abdomen. Immediately he somersaulted backward behind the table.

It was such a sudden change that Huang Rong, Mu Nianci, Lu Guanying and Cheng Yaojia were all startled. They only knew something changed, but nobody saw what happened under the table. Ouyang Ke raised his arms and pushed Mu and Cheng two women, they fell under the bench; and then he threw the wine cup in his hand out. Yang Kang ducked to evade and ‘crash!’ that cup hit the ground and turned into thousands of pieces; indicating the power behind that throw must be astonishing.

Yang Kang rolled on the ground, trying to escape to the door. Unfortunately the door was blocked by the coffins. He turned his head to see Ouyang Ke was standing on his hands on the bench, his body bent forward, his face looked like he was smiling yet he was not smiling, his eyes were staring at him with a weird expression. Yang Kang shuddered involuntarily. He wanted very bad to run away, but because of Ouyang Ke’s stare, his body stiffened like a corpse, he could not move.

Ouyang Ke looked upward with a laughter and said, “I, the one surnamed Ouyang, have been roaming the world for half of my lifetime; unexpectedly I have to die under this kid’s hands. One thing I don’t understand, Xiao Wangye, why did you kill me?”

Yang Kang moved his legs and leaped up; he wanted to escape outside the door before answering his question. While his body was still midair, suddenly he felt a gust of wind behind his back; the back of his neck was grabbed by a steel-hook hand. He was unable to continue his leap and was forced to land on the coffin, along with Ouyang Ke next to him.

Ouyang Ke said, “You are not willing to talk, do you want me to die with my eyes open?”

The acupoint on the back of Yang Kang’s neck was grabbed by Ouyang Ke; he could not move his limbs. He knew he would not escape alive, he laughed coldly and said, “All right, I’ll tell you. Do you know who she is?” While saying that he pointed his finger toward Mu Nianci.

Ouyang Ke turned his head and saw Mu Nianci with a dagger in her hand, ready to pounce forward to help, but she was afraid she might hurt Yang Kang; her expression was full or concerns, exactly like what Cheng Yaojia showed toward Lu Guanying. Suddenly it dawned on Ouyang Ke. He laughed and said, “She … she …” his words were cut short by coughing.

Yang Kang said, “She is my fiancée; twice you have bullied her. How can I let you go?” Ouyang Ke said with a smile, “So that’s how it is. We are going to hell together!” Raising his hand high his palm was ready to strike the top of Yang Kang’s head.

Mu Nianci cried out in alarm, she rushed forward to save him, but it was too late. Yang Kang closed his eyes ready to die; he waited for Ouyang Ke’s palm to strike down; who would have thought that after waiting for a while there was nothing moving above his head. He opened his eyes and saw Ouyang Ke was still smiling with his hand still high in the air, but his left hand, which grabbed Yang Kang’s neck, was actually relaxed. Hastily Yang Kang struggled free and leaped away. Ouyang Ke tumbled down on top of the coffin, his breathing had ceased.

After staring blankly for half a day, Yang Kang and Mu Nianci rushed to each other and held each other’s hands. They had countless words to say to each other, but neither one knew where to start. They both looked at Ouyang Ke’s body and still felt fear in their hearts.

Cheng Yaojia helped Lu Guanying up and unsealed his acupoints. Lu Guanying knew that Yang Kang was a Jin’s envoy. Even though he killed Ouyang Ke, thus Lu Guanying was indebted to him, he could not make an enemy his friend, so he simply cupped his fists in respect, then without saying anything he took Cheng Yaojia’s hand and they both went away. These two people had just undergone a thrilling experience, escaping a life and death situation; they completely forgot about seeing Guo Jing and Huang Rong earlier.

Huang Rong was very happy to see Yang Kang and Mu Nianci were back together; she also appreciated the fact that Yang Kang saved Mu Nianci from a possible disaster. Guo Jing also hoped that his sworn brother would change for the good. He exchanged a glance with Huang Rong, both of them broke into smiles.

They heard Mu Nianci say, “I have brought back your father and mother’s bodies.”

Yang Kang said, “Actually it was my responsibility. I have bothered Meizi so much.” Mu Nianci did not want to bring up past events; she simply discussed with him how to bury Yang Tiexin husband and wife. Yang Kang pulled the broken spearhead from Ouyang Ke’s abdomen and said, “We have to bury him quickly. If his uncle finds out, even if the world is big, there will be no place for us to hide.” Two people immediately buried Ouyang Ke’s body in the backyard of the inn; and then went to the village to hire some people to help them carry the coffins and buried them in the backyard of Yang family’s former home. Yang Tiexin had left his home for a long time that everybody who knew him had died. Nobody asked them anything.

By the time they finished burying their dead, the sky had already turned dark. That night Mu Nianci slept at a villager’s house, while Yang Kang spent the night in the inn.

Early morning the following day Mu Nianci went back to the inn, she was going to ask him what he wanted to do next. She saw him pacing back and forth in the inn, stomping his feet and complaining bitterly. She asked him what happened and Yang Kang said, “I was so muddle-headed to let those two people leave yesterday. I should have killed them to close their mouths. Now that they are gone, where can we find them?”

“Why?” Mu Nianci was surprised.

Yang Kang said, “If this fact that I killed Ouyang Ke ever leaks out, won’t that be a disaster?”

Mu Nianci knitted her brows in displeasure. “A real man is not afraid to take responsibility of his actions,” she said, “If you are afraid, you shouldn’t have killed him yesterday.”

Yang Kang did not say anything, he was busy thinking how to pursue and kill Lu and Cheng two people to close their mouths.

Mu Nianci said, “Even though his uncle is very fierce, we can run away to some far away place, he won’t be able to find us.”

Yang Kang said, “Meizi [sister/beloved], I have another thought: his uncle’s martial art is unparalleled, I want to take him as my master.” “Ah!” Mu Nianci exclaimed.

“I have had this thought for a while,” Yang Kang continued, “But they follow a very strict rule: they only take one disciple per generation. Now that this man is dead, his uncle might take me as his disciple!” He sounded very proud of himself.

Hearing his words and looking at his expression, Mu Nianci’s heart turned cold. With a trembling voice she said, “It turns out the reason you killed him yesterday was not to rescue me at all, but you have another agenda in your mind.”

Yang Kang laughed and said, “You are overly skeptical; for you, even if my body is crushed to dust and my bones smashed up to pieces, I am most willing.”

“Let’s talk about that later,” Mu Nianci said, “Right now, what are you going to do? Are you willing to be a loyal patriot for the Great Song; or do you still want to seek unlimited riches and honor, acknowledging an enemy as your father?”

Looking at her beautiful face and smart appearance Yang Kang was silently full of admiration, but listening to her talk exposing the content of his heart he was not pleased at all. “Riches and honor? Humph,” he said, “What riches and honor do I have? The Great Jin’s capital has fallen to the Mongolian army. The Jins were defeated every time they went out to battle. The fall of Jin country is the present disaster we are facing.”

The more Mu Nianci listened to him, the more displeased she became. “The defeat of the Jins is precisely what we are earnestly wished for,” she said with a stern voice, “Yet you actually feel sorry for them. Humph, what if the fall of Jin country is the present disaster? Is the Jin country your country? This … this …”

“Why are we talking about other people’s business?” Yang Kang cut her off, “I have been bitterly missing you since you left me.” Slowly he went over to grab her right hand. Mu Nianci could hear the tenderness in his voice, her heart softened; she let him pull her hand gently, without struggling she followed him, her face was slightly blushing.

Yang Kang’s left arm was about to embrace her shoulder when suddenly they heard bird cries high in the air; it was very loud and clear. They looked up and saw a pair of big white eagles spreading their wings flying across the sky. Yang Kang had seen this pair of eagles that day when Wanyan Honglie led a team of soldiers to pursue and kill Tuolei, and he knew that later on Huang Rong took the eagles away. “How did the white eagles come to this place?” he thought. He pulled Mu Nianci’s hand and hurriedly walked outside. He saw the pair of eagles fly in circles overhead, while a young girl was sitting on a steed’s back by the big tree outside; she was looking at a distance. That young girl was wearing a pair of leather boots, with a horse whip in her hand. She was wearing Mongolian attire, with a long bow on her back and a quiver full of arrows hanging on her waist.

The eagles circled overhead for a while, then they flew along the road. A moment later they flew back. And then sound of hoof beats was heard coming from the road, a number of horse riders came speeding by.

Yang Kang thought, “Apparently this pair of eagles is to lead the way so that these people can meet with this Mongolian girl.” He saw dust rose on the road and three riders were coming fast toward them. A swishing sound was heard, an arrow shot out to the air, coming this direction. The Mongolian girl extracted a long arrow from her quiver, drew her bow and shot the arrow to the air. As the three riders heard the arrow, they called out in delight, and rushed their horses even faster.

That young girl urged her steed forward to approach the riders. As they were about three ‘zhang’s apart from each other, the girl and one of the rider shouted and jumped from their saddles toward each other; their hands met in the air and together they landed on the ground.

Yang Kang was secretly startled, “The Mongolians are very proficient in riding and shooting techniques; even a young girl has this kind of ability. Is it a wonder that the Jins are defeated?” Inside the secret room Guo Jing and Huang Rong also heard the birds’ cry and the hoof beats coming near. After a moment they also heard several people talking and walking toward the inn. Guo Jing was pleasantly surprised, “How did she come over here? This is wonderful!” he thought.

Turned out the Mongolian girl was his fiancée, Huazheng; and the other three were Tuolei, Jebeh and Borchu. Huang Rong did not understand one word of Huazheng’s babbling of talking and laughing in Mongolians; while Guo Jing’s face turned green one moment and white another moment. His delight was replaced with anxiety. “My heart already belongs Rong’er, so I can’t marry her. But she has looked for me here. How can I break my promise? What should I do?” he thought in his heart.

With a low voice Huang Rong asked, “Jing Gege, who is this girl? What are they saying? Aren’t you feeling well?”

Several times Guo Jing had meant to tell Huang Rong everything once and for all, but always each time the words were already on his lips, each time he swallowed them back. Now that Huang Rong asked him, he could not hide anymore. “She is the Mongolian’s Great Khan, Genghis Khan’s daughter. She is my fiancée.”

Huang Rong was shocked; tears started welling up her eyes. “You … you have a fiancée?” she asked, “Why have you never told me?”

That day when Qiu Chuji and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan discussed Guo Jing’s engagement in the inn at the capital, the Six Freaks of Jiangnan did mention that Genghis Khan had betrothed his beloved daughter to Guo Jing, but at that time Huang Rong had not arrived outside the window yet; therefore, she had not heard about it and all this time she was not aware about this engagement.

Guo Jing said, “Now and then I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid you won’t be happy. Sometimes I did not remember this matter.”

“She is your fiancée, how can you not remember?” Huang Rong asked. Guo Jing was at a loss. “I don’t know,” he said, “In my heart I always regard her as my sister; we are like brother and sister. I don’t even want to marry her.”

Huang Rong raised her eyebrows in delight, “Why?” she asked.

Guo Jing replied, “The Great Khan decided this matter for me. At that time I was not unhappy, but I was not happy either. I only thought that the Great Khan’s decision must be right. But now, Rong’er, how can I leave you to marry another?”

“What should we do then?” Huang Rong asked. “I don’t know,” Guo Jing replied.

Huang Rong sighed and said, “As long as in your heart you are forever good to me, I don’t care if you marry her.” But a moment later she said, “However, if you marry her, I won’t like another woman to be with you all day. Perhaps one day I won’t be able to control my temper and make a hole in her chest with a sword, and then you will hate me. Enough talking about this, why don’t you listen to them and tell me what they say.”

Guo Jing pressed his ear to the small hole and heard Tuolei and Huazheng talk about what happened after they parted. It turned out that after Huang Rong and Guo Jing went down to the sea, the white eagles flew around in the wind and the rain looking for their masters. There was no place on the ocean for them to set their feet on, so they had to fly back to the mainland. They remembered their old home in the north, hence they flew to find their other master.

Huazheng was astonished to see the white eagles came back. She saw a piece of cloth tied on the eagle’s foot, with some Chinese characters carved on it. She took the cloth to some Han people in the army to translate. Turned out they were the ‘in danger’ two characters. Huazheng was concerned, so she went south immediately to investigate. By this time Genghis Khan was busy supervising the military expedition against the Jins; day after day the Mongolians engaged the Jins in fierce battles both inside and outside the Great Wall, so nobody stopped her when she expressed her intention to go to the south.

The eagles understood their master’s intention, they flew ahead several hundred ‘li’s to look for Guo Jing, and went back every night. In so doing they arrived at Lin’an. Guo Jing had not been found, they came across Tuolei instead.

Tuolei was sent by his ‘fu wang’ [father king] on a diplomatic mission to Lin’an, to solicit cooperation from the Song Dynasty for a converging attack against the Jin country. But the Song ministers and officials were enjoying peace and prosperity in the southeast; they also were afraid of the Jin’s army. They were thanking the heaven and the earth that the Jins did not attack them; how could they dare to pull a tiger’s whisker? Therefore, they were very indifferent toward Tuolei; they placed him in the guest house and did not pay any attention to him anymore. Fortunately Wanyan Kang was captured by Lu, father and son, at Lake Tai; otherwise the Songs would have received the Jins’ order and have Tuolei killed.

Later on came the news that the Mongolian army was moving fast and the Jin’s capital of Yanjing fell. The ministers of the Song Dynasty changed their attitude immediately; now they treated Tuolei as the Fourth Prince this and the Fourth Prince that, flattered him to no end. They went as far as agreeing immediately to form an alliance to attack the Jins; they thought if they could seize the opportunity to defeat their enemy without to much effort, then why not?

Tuolei was not happy, but he still agreed to sign the bilateral agreement with the Southern Song Dynasty to attack the Jins. That day he returned to the north, the Songs ministers respectfully sent him off outside the city gate. Tuolei did not feel like performing perfunctory propriety, so he simply slapped his horse and left.

Just outside Lin’an he saw the white eagles; he thought Guo Jing must be around, who would have thought that it was his own sister. Huazheng asked, “Did you see Guo Jing Anda [Mongolian for ‘sworn brother’]?” Before Tuolei could answer they heard clamoring noise outside the door; the sound of armors and horses. It turned out it was the Song Dynasty’s escort finally caught up with the Mongolian envoys.

Yang Kang was standing quietly at the door; he saw the Song troops were carrying a banner with these large characters written on it: ‘Respectfully sending off the Mongolian Fourth Prince to return to the north.’ He was unable to restrain having a disquieting thought, an extreme regret in his heart. Just dozens of days ago he was also a prince, an honorable envoy; today he was alone in the world and nobody paid him any attention. He had tasted riches and honor all his life, so it would be very difficult for him to throw away everything he held dear.

Mu Nianci watched him with a cold eye; she noticed his unusual expression. Although she did not know what he was thinking, but remembering that he had never forgotten the glory and splendor of being a part of the enemy, she was unable to restrain herself from feeling hurt.

The captain of the Song escort team went into the inn and respectfully appeared before Tuolei. He spoke with Tuolei for a moment before going back out and bark his order, “Go to every house and find out if there is someone surnamed Guo, Guo Jing, Guo Guanren [Master Guo – lit. government official] living in this village. If he doesn’t, ask where did he move to?”

The soldiers complied with one voice and immediately spread out. Not too long afterwards from the village noises were heard of chicken scrambling and dogs running, men crying out and women screaming; for the soldiers did not find the information they were looking for, so they helped themselves to plunder sheep and other belongings. How else would they punish the villagers for not giving out the information they wanted?

Yang Kang’s heart was stirred, “If the troops can seize this opportunity to plunder, why can’t I seize this opportunity to befriend this Mongolians?” he thought, “I will accompany them returning to the north and kill him along the way; that won’t be difficult. The Mongolian Great Khan will think it is the work of a Song man; hence the alliance between the Mongolia and the Song Dynasty will be broken. It will be a great advantage to the Jins.” Once his mind was decided he told Mu Nianci, “Wait here for a moment.” And in big strides he entered the inn.

The captain tried to stop him with a loud shout; holding up his hand in front of Yang Kang. Yang Kang lifted up his left arm and tossed the captain away. The captain fell backward and for half a day did not crawl back up.

Tuolei and Huazheng were startled. By that time, Yang Kang had already arrived at the center of the room. He took the broken spearhead from his bosom and lifted it high above his head; respectfully placed that spearhead on the table, and then he knelt down in front of the table, wailing loudly, “Guo Jing, oh, Brother Guo, you died a miserable death. I surely must avenge your death, Guo Jing, oh, Brother Guo.”

Tuolei brother and sister did not speak Chinese, but they heard him keep calling Guo Jing’s name, they were astonished. By that time the captain was crawling up with great difficulty, hastily they told him to inquire.

Yang Kang was crying and talking, tears streaming down his cheeks, in between sobs he said, “I am Guo Jing’s sworn brother, somebody killed Guo Dage [big brother] with this spearhead. That bastard is a Song Dynasty military officer; I think he received the Prime Minister Shi Miyuan’s inciting.”

As Tuolei and Huazheng, brother and sister, heard the captain translate what Yang Kang had said into Mongolian, it was as if they were struck by a thunder; they were speechless. Jebeh and Borchu remembered their deep friendship with Guo Jing; the four of them wept and beat their chests. Yang Kang also brought up the fact that Guo Jing routed the Jin army at Baoying to save Tuolei and the others; hence Tuolei’s suspicion was gone. They asked Yang Kang how Guo Jing died and who killed him. Yang Kang told them the killer was a Great Song’s officer by the name of Duan Tiande, and that he knew this person’s whereabouts, and that he was gong to find him to seek revenge; it was a pity that Yang Kang was unable to do it without help, he was afraid this task would not be easy to accomplish. The story just flowed out of Yang Kang’s mouth like it was a true story. In the other room Guo Jing heard everything clearly and he was frustrated. As Huazheng heard this story, she drew the dagger on her waist and was about to slash her own neck to commit suicide; but then she changed her mind and hacked the dagger into a table nearby. “I am not a human if I can’t extract revenge for Guo Jing Anda!” she made a vow.

Yang Kang was very happy to see that his plan was halfway successful; he lowered his head and cried some more. Suddenly he saw the bamboo stick that Ouyang Ke snatched from Huang Rong’s hand lying on the ground. It was deep green and clear like crystal, truly an unusual object; he knew it was an extraordinary stick, so he walked over and picked it up. Huang Rong was groaning inwardly, but she had no choice but to let him take it.

The troops came and delivered food and wine, but Tuolei and the others did not have any appetite. They urged Yang Kang to lead them to find Guo Jing’s killer. Yang Kang nodded his head in compliance; he took the bamboo stick in his hand and walked to the door. He turned his head and called Mu Nianci to join them. Mu Nianci shook her head slightly. Yang Kang did not want to miss this good opportunity, their personal affair could wait, so he went out of the inn alone. Everybody else followed him.

Guo Jing said with a low voice, “Didn’t he kill Duan Tiande at the Cloud Village a long time ago?”

Huang Rong shook her head, “I don’t understand it myself. Wasn’t it he who stab you with a dagger? This man is very sly, his thoughts are unpredictable.”

Suddenly outside the door there was someone reciting loudly, “Roaming to and fro, free without limitation; heart is free from greed, glorious body is free from disgrace! … Ah! Miss Mu, why are you here?” It was the Changchun Zi [Eternal Spring] Qiu Chuji.

Before Mu Nianci could reply, Yang Kang happened to be walking out of the inn. He saw his Shifu and his heart started thumping madly; this time they came face to face, there was no place he could hide, he had no choice but to kneel down and kowtow. Next to Qiu Chuji stood several people; they were Danyang Zi [Scarlet Sun] Ma Yu, Yuyang Zi [Jade Sun] Wang Chuyi, Qing Jing San Ren [Sage of Tranquility] Sun Bu’er, as well as Qiu Chuji’s disciple, Yin Zhiping. The previous day Yin Zhiping was beaten by Huang Yaoshi and he fell down and half the teeth in his mouth came off. Hastily he went to Lin’an to give report to his Shifu. Qiu Chuji was startled and angry; he wanted to go immediately to find Huang Yaoshi. Ma Yu strongly advised against his intention. Qiu Chuji said, “The Old Heretic Huang shared the same honor as our deceased master. Among us seven brothers and sister, only Wang Shi Di [younger martial brother] has seen his face at Mount Hua. Xiao Di [little younger brother] always admire him and wanted to see him long ago, I don’t want to fight with him; why did Da Shige [first martial (older) brother] prevent me?”

Ma Yu said, “I heard Huang Yaoshi’s temperament is strange, while your own temperament is brash and explosive; if you two meet, chances are that we won’t have an amiable situation. He spared Zhiping’s life, that means he is being lenient to us.” However, Qiu Chuji was adamant in going, and Ma Yu did not have any way to persuade him not to. As it turned out, all Quanzhen Seven Masters happened to be in the vicinity of Lin’an; thereupon they were summoned and the next day they went to the Ox Village together.

All Quanzhen Seven Masters gathered together carried a strong power, but they fully realized Huang Yaoshi’s ability, at the same time it was not clear whether he was a friend or a foe, therefore, they did not dare to be careless or indiscreet. Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi, Sun Bu’er and Yin Zhiping, five people went into the village; while Tan Chuduan, Liu Chuxuan and Hao Datong waited outside the village, ready to help. Who would have thought that they did not see Huang Yaoshi, but saw Mu Nianci and Yang Kang instead.

Qiu Chuji only snorted seeing Yang Kang kowtow, and did not pay him any attention. Yin Zhiping said, “Shifu, the Master of the Peach Blossom Island bullied disciple in this inn.” Initially he referred to Huang Yaoshi as the Old Heretic Huang [Huang Laoxie], but after being scolded by Ma Yu and the others he changed the way he called him. In a loud and clear voice Qiu Chuji called out, “Quanzhen disciples Ma Yu and the others pay their respect to the Peach Blossom Island’s Huang Daozhu [Island Master Huang].”

“There is no one inside,” Yang Kang said.

Qiu Chuji stomped his foot and said, “What a pity, what a pity we can’t see him!” Turning his head to Yang Kang he asked, “What are you doing here?”

Yang Kang was already scared to see his master and martial uncles, so he did not know what to say.

Huazheng had stared hard at Ma Yu for half a day, finally she rushed forward and called out, “Ah, you are the one who helped me capturing the eagles; you are the three-hair-bun Uncle. Look, those little eaglets have grown this big.” She let out a loud whistle and the pair of eagles came down and perched on her left and right shoulders.

Ma Yu showed a faint smile, he nodded his head and said, “Are you going south to play?”

Huazheng cried and said, “Daozhang [Taoist Priest], somebody killed Guo Jing Anda. Please avenge his death.”

Ma Yu jumped in fright; he translated what he just heard into Chinese. Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi were shocked; busily they asked further information. Huazheng pointed her finger toward Yang Kang and said, “He saw it with his own eyes; ask him what happened.”

As Yang Kang found out that Huazheng knew his Da Shibo [first martial (older) uncle], he was afraid that if they talked too much their suspicion would be aroused; and then his plan to swindle these Mongolians without any effort would be thwarted. However, he could not talk irresponsibly toward his master and martial uncles, so he told Tuolei and Huazheng, “You go ahead and wait for me for a moment, I need to talk to these priests and then I’ll come along immediately.” Tuolei listened to the captain’s translation, he nodded his head, then led everybody to leave the village and going to the north. “Who killed Guo Jing?” Qiu Chuji asked with a stern voice, “Tell us, quick!”

Yang Kang considered his answer carefully, he thought, “Guo Jing was clearly killed by me; whom should I accuse?” He was undecided for a moment before he remembered, “I’d better mention someone with a high level of martial art; let Shifu find him and thus delivering his own life, then I won’t have any more problem in the future.” Thereupon with hatred in his voice he said, “It was the Peach Blossom Island’s Huang Daozhu.”

The Quanzhen Seven Masters had known early on that Huang Yaoshi wanted to pursue and kill the Six Freaks of Jiangnan, so it made perfect sense if Guo Jing died under his hands; they did not have the least bit of suspicion. Qiu Chuji cursed the Old Heretic Huang as the most evil person, and he vowed not to rest before dealing with him. Ma Yu and Wang Chuyi were very depressed, so they could not say anything.

Suddenly from a distant came the voice of laughter, followed by someone whose voice was like a broken cymbal, finally there was someone shouting in a soft voice; although the sound was low, it was heard clearly. Three different voices went around the outskirt of the village; and then suddenly it was as if they came from a faraway place.

Ma Yu was pleasantly surprised, “That laughter sounds like Zhou Shishu; he is still alive!” He heard three whistles from the east side of the village, going farther and farther away.

“Three Shige already give chase,” Sun Bu’er said.

Wang Chuyi said, “Listen to that broken cymbal sound and that soft shout; it seems like they are chasing Zhou Shishu.”

Ma Yu was worried, “Those two people’s martial art skills are not below Zhou Shishu’s; I wonder which experts are they? Zhou Shishu is facing two enemies, I am afraid …” He shook his head.

All Quanzhen four masters leaned their heads to listen for half a day, until the sounds were gone. They knew those people had already several ‘li’s away, so it was useless to pursue them.

Sun Bu’er said, “If Tan Shige and the others manage to catch up and render their assistance, Zhou Shishu does not have to worry.”

“I am afraid they cannot overtake them,” Qiu Chuji said, “It would be best if Zhou Shishu knew we are here and run to this village.”

Huang Rong found their reckless surmise ridiculous to hear, she thought, “My father and the Old Poison are competing leg strength with the Old Urchin; they are not fighting. If they were, and you – a bunch of stinky ox noses [derogatory term for Taoist priest] – want to help, do you think you are my father’s and the Old Poison’s match?” She had just heard how Qiu Chuji was cursing her father, she was not happy; while she did not mind too much that Yang Kang brought a false charge against her father as Guo Jing’s killer, because Guo Jing was in good condition and was sitting right next to her.

Ma Yu waved his hand and everybody went into the inn to sit down. Qiu Chuji said, “Hey, are you now called Wanyan Kang, or is it Yang Kang?”

Yang Kang saw his master’s eyes were glittering brightly, looking at him with a penetrating gaze, his face looked grim; he knew if he gave one bad answer, it would be difficult for him to keep his life. He busily said, “If not because of Shifu, Ma Shibo and Wang Shishu giving me directions, disciple still would have been in the dark today, regarding an enemy for a father; so naturally disciple’s surname is Yang. Last night disciple and Sister Mu here have just buried my deceased father and mother.”

Hearing him saying so, Qiu Chuji was delighted; he nodded and his face turned softer. At first Wang Chuyi reprimanded Yang Kang for jousting against Mu Nianci but not wanting to marry her; but now he saw these two people together he thought the two of them had sorted things out, his indignation toward Yang Kang vanished.

Yang Kang took out the broken spearhead with which he killed Ouyang Ke and said, “This is what’s left of my deceased father’s belongings; disciple always keep it with me.” Qiu Chuji took the spearhead and caressed it gently; his heart was filled with sorrow. He heaved a sigh and said, “Nineteen years ago, I came across your father and your Uncle Guo. Very quickly more than a dozen years have passed, two old friends have come back to the yellow earth. The two of them are dead, leaving me suffering on this earth. I was powerless to save your parents’ lives; it has been my life-long regret.”

In the other room Guo Jing heard Qiu Chuji fondly remember his own father, he was grieved. “Qiu Daozhang [Taoist Priest] still remembers his friendship with my father, but I have never seen my father’s face. Brother Yang was able to meet with his father, he is luckier than I am.”

Qiu Chuji then asked how Huang Yaoshi killed Guo Jing, and Yang Kang opened his mouth making up some stories. Qiu, Ma and Wang three people had known Guo Jing for a long time; they sighed incessantly. After talking for a while Yang Kang remembered he had to see Tuolei and Huazheng, his heart was restless.

Wang Chuyi looked at him, and then looked at Mu Nianci, “Have you two married?” he asked.

“Not yet,” Yang Kang replied.

“You’d better get married soon,” Wang Chuyi said, “Qiu Shige, why don’t you make the decision for them? How do you think we should handle this matter?”

Huang Rong and Guo Jing looked at each other, they both thought, “Are we going to witness another wedding tonight?” Huang Rong further thought, “Mu Jiejie [older sister] is hot-tempered, she is a lot different than that Cheng Da Xiaojie. Perhaps before she agrees to get married she would challenge that kid surnamed Yang for a martial art contest. Now that would be interesting to watch.”

She heard Yang Kang delightfully reply, “I rely on Shifu to make the decision.” But with a clear voice Mu Nianci said, “I have one condition you must fulfill; otherwise I won’t comply.” Qiu Chuji showed a faint smile listening to her; he said, “All right, what is it? Miss, please say it.”

Mu Nianci said, “My adoptive father was killed by that traitor Wanyan Honglie. Before we can get married, he has to avenge his father’s death first.”

Qiu Chuji clapped his hands and called out, “Hear, hear! Miss Mu has just said what’s in this Old Priest’s heart. Kang’er, don’t you agree?”

Yang Kang was very hesitant; he pondered deeply how to answer. Suddenly from outside the door a rough throaty voice like a mute’s hissing was heard, singing the ‘lian hua luo’ [fallen lotus flower], and then a high-pitched throaty voice called out, “Master, Lady, be merciful, spare this beggar some money.”

Mu Nianci thought this voice was somewhat familiar, she turned her head and saw that two beggars stood at the doorstep; one fat, the other short and thin, so small that the fat one looked three times as big as he was. These two’s postures were so unusual that even though it had been many years, Mu Nianci still remembered that when she was only thirteen she had tended their injuries. Hong Qigong was pleased that she had a good heart, for this reason he passed on some martial art to her for three days. She was about to go out and greet them, but ever since those two beggars enter the room, their eyes had never left the bamboo stick in Yang Kang’s hand. They looked at each other and nodded their heads, then they walked toward Yang Kang, cupped their hands in front of their chests and bowed respectfully.

Ma Yu and the others noticed the two beggars’ steps and body movement, they knew these beggars were not weak; they also noticed that each beggar carried eight coarse sacks on their backs; therefore, these two were the Eight-Bag Disciple of the Beggars Clan. Their positions were very high, but they were this respectful toward Yang Kang; Ma Yu and the others did not understand.

The thin beggar said, “I heard the brethrens say that some people in Lin’an City saw the Clan Leader’s Stick. We went everywhere to investigate, and are fortunate to see it here. I wonder where did the Clan Leader go begging?”

Although Yang Kang took the bamboo stick, actually he did not know the stick’s origin. Listening to this beggar’s words he did not know how to respond, so he simply uttered an ‘Hmm.’ There was a custom in the Beggars Clan that seeing the Dog Beating Stick was the same as seeing the Clan Leader himself; so even though Yang Kang did not pay any attention to them, they still looked respectful and cautious.

The fat beggar said, “The assembly at Yuezhou is getting closer; from the east Elders Lu and Jian have headed west seven days ago.”

Yang Kang become more and more confused, he uttered another ‘Hmm.’ The thin beggar continued, “In order to look for the Clan Leader’s Stick, disciples have been delayed for several days; so we must hurry along immediately. If Your Excellency decides to leave today, let disciples accompany and take care of you along the way.”

Yang Kang was inwardly excited, he had been trying to find a way to leave his Shifu; without caring what the beggars said, he wanted to grab this opportunity. Thereupon he prostrated himself in front of Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others and said, “Disciple has some important matter to attend, I cannot accompany Shifu much longer. Please forgive me for taking my leave.”

Ma Yu and the others thought that Yang Kang must have some important connection with the Beggar Clan. The Beggar Clan was the largest organization in the world. The Clan Leader Hong Qigong was a martial art expert who shared the same reputation with their deceased master, Wang Zhenren; therefore, clearly they could not detain Yang Kang. Out of respect to the two beggars, they felt it was inappropriate to ask more questions, so they simply paid their respects according to the Jianghu custom.

The two beggars had always admired the Quanzhen Seven Masters; knowing they were Yang Kang’s masters, they were more modest, kept referring themselves as ‘wan bei’ [juniors]. Mu Nianci talked about past events, the two beggars became more affectionate. Since she already had some connection with the Beggar Clan, she was also invited to the Yuezhou assembly. Mu Nianci wanted very much to travel with Yang Kang, so she immediately nodded her head.

Qiu Chuji was originally very angry with Yang Kang and wanted to cripple him to take his martial art skill away, but remembering the deceased Yang Tiexin he did not have the heart to do so. Now, first, he saw that Yang Kang treated Mu Nianci in an intimate manner, that simple ‘joust to find a spouse’ affair turned out good after all; second, Yang Kang seemed to learn good lesson from life experiences, he was willing to forfeit riches and honor, took the surname Yang as his own, so Qiu Chuji’s loving care in teaching and giving him guidance was not in vain; third, these two high- level Beggar Clan disciple seemed to respect him very much, it certainly would bring glory and honor to the Quanzhen Sect. Therefore, the fury in his heart was replaced immediately into delight. He gently twirled the end of his long moustache and watched Yang and Mu two people’s backs with a smile on his face.

That very evening Ma Yu and the others slept in the inn, waiting for Tan Chuduan three people to return. But all day the next day they did not hear anything about them; four people started to get anxious. Near midnight they heard a long whistle from outside the village. “Hao Shige came back!” Sun Bu’er said. Ma Yu returned the call with a low whistle. Not too long afterwards a shadow flashed by the door and Hao Datong flew in.

Huang Rong had never seen this person, she pressed her eye into the small hole to take a look. It was the fifth day of the seventh month, the crescent moon shone its light through the window opening. Under the moonlight she saw this man was big and tall, his appearance looked like that of a government official. His Taoist robe had short sleeves, stopped at the elbow; it looked different than the ones Ma Yu and the others wore. Turned out before he became a priest he was a head of Shandong’s Ninghai sub- prefecture’s rich family; highly educated, even managed to sell his divination skill. Later on he bowed to Wang Chongyang at the ‘yan xia dong’ [smoky red clouds cave] and took him as his master. Wang Chongyang took out his own robe, cut the sleeves and gave the robe to Hao Datong; saying, “Don’t worry that it is without sleeves, you will complete it yourself.”

The word ‘xiu’ [sleeve] was similar to the word ‘shou’ [to teach/to instruct/to award/to give]; the meaning was, no matter how much the master gives instructions, there will always be more to learn; whether the disciple enlightened or not, it depends on his own comprehension. He remembered his Master’s kindness very well, so afterwards he always wore the half- sleeved Taoist robe.

Qiu Chuji was the most impatient, “How is Zhou Shishu?” he asked, “Is he playing around with others, or is he fighting them?”

Hao Datong shook his head. “I am ashamed,” he said, “Xiao Di’s [little brother] skill is superficial, I only managed to pursue them for seven, eight ‘li’s before Zhou Shishu’s and the others’ shadows disappeared. Tan Shige and Liu Shige were still ahead of Xiao Di. Xiao Di was powerless; I tried to look for them one whole day and one whole night but did not have the slightest clue on where they were.”

Ma Yu nodded his head, “Hao Shidi [younger martial brother] is tired. Sit down and take some rest.” Hao Datong sat cross-legged. He circulated his ‘qi’ around his body one time, then he said, “On my way back at the ‘zhou wang miao’ [Temple of King Zhou (dynasty)] Xiao Di saw six people. Their appearance matches Qiu Shige’s description of the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. Thus Xiao Di came over to talk with them, and indeed it was them.”

Qiu Chuji was delighted, “The Six Freaks are very bold,” he said, “They unexpectedly went to the Peach Blossom Island. No wonder we could not find them.”

Hao Datong said, “The head of the Six Freaks, Ke Zhen’e, Ke Daxia [great hero Ke] said that they had an agreement to see Huang Yaoshi, therefore, they went to the Peach Blossom Island to keep their promise; who would have thought that Huang Yaoshi was not on the island. They heard Xiao Di mention Qiu Shixiong and the others are here, they said they are going to pay us a visit a little later.” Guo Jing heard that his six masters were well, his heart was greatly comforted. By this time he had trained for five days and five nights, most of his injury has been healed.

Toward the ninth hour [3-5pm] of the sixth day, from the east of the village came a long whistle. “Liu Shidi came back,” Qiu Chuji said. A short moment later they saw Liu Chuxuan, accompanied by an old man with white hair and white beard, walking toward the inn. That old man was wearing a yellow short robe, a pair of shoes made of coarse cloth on his feet, and a huge rush-leaf fan in his hand. He was talking and smiling while entering the inn. When he saw the Quanzhen Five Masters he simply nodded his head slightly, as if he did not regard them too highly.

Liu Chuxuan said, “This is ‘tie zhang shui shang piao’ [iron palm floating above the water], Qiu Lao Qian Bei [Senior Qiu]. It is truly our good fortune to see him today.”

Huang Rong heard this and almost burst out in laughter, she lightly bumped Guo Jing with her elbow. Guo Jing also thought it was funny. Both were thinking, “I want to see how else this old scoundrel will swindle people.”

Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others had heard Qiu Qianren’s fame for a long time, they had a profound respect toward him, so they talked to him with utmost respect and caution. But Qiu Qianren kept bragging unguardedly. After talking for a while Qiu Chuji asked if he saw their Shishu Zhou Botong. Qiu Qianren replied, “The Old Urchin? He was killed by Huang Yaoshi.”

Everybody was shocked. Liu Chuxuan said, “How can it be? Just the day before yesterday Wan bei [junior] saw Zhou Shishu; only he ran so very fast that I could not overtake him.” Qiu Qianren was confounded, he simply smiled without saying anything; his mind churning to find a good answer.

Qiu Chuji interrupted, “Liu Shidi, did you have a good look, the two people who chased Shishu are what kind of people?”

Liu Chuxuan said, “One was wearing a white robe, the other a dark green long gown. They ran really fast. Indistinctly I saw the one wearing green had a very queer facial appearance, almost like a corpse’s face.”

Qiu Qianren had seen Huang Yaoshi at the Cloud Village, he quickly opened his mouth, “That’s right! The one that killed the Old Urchin was this green-long-gown-wearing Huang Yaoshi. Other than him, who has the ability to do so? I was about to rush forward but I was one step too late. Ay! The Old Urchin died a miserable death.”

Tie Zhang Shui Shang Piao Qiu Qinren had a resounding reputation throughout the Wulin world; he was a senior with a high level of martial art skill. How would the Quanzhen Six Masters know that he was a blabbering mouth? Immediately they felt exceptional grief and indignation. Qiu Chuji slapped the tabletop so hard producing an earth-shattering noise; again he scolded Huang Yaoshi as a dog with head drenched in blood.

Huang Rong at the other room was very angry. She did not blame Qiu Qianren from spreading false rumor about her father, but she did blame Qiu Chuji for scolding her father repeatedly.

Liu Chuxuan said, “Tan Shige’s footwork is faster than mine, perhaps he saw how Shishu was killed.”

Sun Bu’er said, “Tan Shige has not come back till now, perhaps he also suffered harm under the old thief’s hand …” Speaking to this point her face turned miserable, she stopped talking immediately.

Qiu Chuji drew his sword and called out, “Let us go quickly to rescue and avenge people!”

Qiu Qianren was afraid they might meet Zhou Botong, he quickly said, “Huang Yaoshi is aware that you are all gathered here, he could look for you anytime. This Old Heretic Huang is so evil, the Old Man here cannot allow him to continue like this. I am going to find him; you wait for my good news in here.”

Everybody revered him as the senior, it would be inappropriate to defy his word; also they were afraid they would miss Huang Yaoshi if they were out looking for him, it would certainly be better to wait here for the enemy to find them and conserve their energy at the same time. Thereupon they bowed to express their gratitude and sent Qiu Qianren off to the door.

Qiu Qianren stepped over the doorstep and turned around to wave his hand, “You don’t have to send me off too far. Although that Old Heretic Huang is fierce, I have a way to deal with him. Watch this!” He drew the shining sharp sword from his waist and aimed it towards his own abdomen. “Hey!” with a grunt he thrust the sword in.

Everybody called out in alarm; they saw more than half of the three feet sword went into his stomach. Qiu Qianren smiled and said, “Any sharp weapon in the world won’t injure me. Please don’t panic. If I can’t find the Old Heretic Huang and he comes to find you here, don’t fight him, avoid getting injured. Just wait for me to deal with him.”

Qiu Chuji said, “The enmity of Shishu, it is impossible for the disciples not to avenge it.”

Qiu Qianren sighed and said, “That’s fine too, this is fate. If you want to seek revenge, there is one thing you must remember.”

Ma Yu said, “Please give us your direction, Senior.”

Qiu Qianren’s face turned serious, he said, “As soon as you see the Old Heretic Huang, kill him immediately. Don’t bother talking to him; otherwise, this enmity will forever be difficult to avenge. Important! Very important!” As he finished speaking he turned around with the sword still stuck in his abdomen.

Everybody looked at each other in amazement. Ma Yu and the others had vast experience, yet they had never heard of a sharp sword entering the abdomen and nothing happening; they thought this man’s skill must have reached a level beyond measure. They did not know that it was another trick of Qiu Qianren: that sword was actually consisted of three sections, as soon as a light force was applied to the tip of the blade the first and second sections would automatically retract into the third section, the sword edge went through a seam in the waistband, hence for the spectator at a distance it looked like the sharp edge was entering the body. He had been hired by Wanyan Honglie to incite enmities among the Jiangnan heroes and warriors, so that when the Jin army attacked to the south they would not be united to fight the invaders.

For the rest of the day the Quanzhen Six Masters were restless; they could not drink tea or eat their rice, they stayed awake until the midnight of the seventh day. They heard some faint whistles come from the north of the village, two people, on in front of the other, came swiftly to the outside of the inn. Ma Yu, all six people were originally sitting cross-legged on the straw training their breathing exercises, because Yin Zhiping’s skill was lower, he was sleeping. Hearing this noise they all jumped up immediately.

“The enemy is pursuing Tan Shidi,” Ma Yu said, “All Shidis, be careful!”

Tonight was Guo Jing’s last night to train and heal is injury. During these past seven days and nights not only his internal injury gradually healed, his external wound was also closing up, and both Huang Rong’s and his own internal strength had enjoyed tremendous advancement. These last several hours would be very crucial to the entire healing process. Listening to Ma Yu, Huang Rong was very concerned. “If the incoming person is indeed Father, all Quanzhen Seven Masters will fight him immediately. I won’t be able to come out and tell them the truth,” she thought, “I am afraid the Quanzhen Seven Masters will be injured under Father’s hand. I don’t care much for Quanzhen Seven Masters, but Jing Gege has a close relationship with Ma Daozhang and the others. I know his character well; it would be difficult for him not to come out and help them. If he bravely steps forward, not only the entire exercise will be wasted, his life will also be in danger.” Therefore, she quickly whispered in Guo Jing’s ear, “Jing Gege, promise me that whatever happens, no matter what important incident, you must by all means not go out.”

Guo Jing just barely nodded his head when the whistle had already arrived at the door.

“Tan Shige,” Qiu Chuji called out, “Tian gang bei dou [lit. sky’s stars north head – the Big Dipper constellation] formation!” Hearing the ‘tian gang bei dou’ four characters Guo Jing’s heart was stirred, he said to himself, “The ‘bei dou da fa’ [Big Dipper great method] is mentioned several times in the Nine Yin Manual as the foundation of learning the martial art. But the explanation of ‘bei dou da fa’ in the Manual is profoundly subtle, it was so difficult to understand. I wonder if Ma Daozhang and the others’ ‘tian gang bei dou’ has anything to do with the ‘bei dou da fa’. It’s surely important to know.” Busily he pressed his eye to the hole and looked out.

His eye was barely on the hole when he heard a loud ‘bang!’ the front door shook, and a Taoist priest flew in. But the priest’s robe was lifted up, his left foot had already stepped over the threshold, suddenly he staggered back out of the door. It turned out the enemy had arrived behind him and had launched an attack.

Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi flew together towards the door, standing at the entrance their sleeves rose up and two palms struck together. ‘Bang!’ they collided with the enemy’s palm. Qiu and Wang two people were forced two steps backward, the enemy also drew two steps back. Tan Chuduan took this opportunity to enter the room.

Under the moonlight his hair looked disheveled, with two traces of blood streaming down his face. The long sword in his right hand was only half of its original length, his overall appearance was a total wreck. As Tan Chuduan entered the room, without saying anything he sat down cross- legged. Ma Yu and the others also immediately sat in their respective positions.

From the darkness outside came a woman’s gloomy voice calling out, “Tan Laodao [old Taoist], if I did not regard the face of your Shixiong Ma Yu, this old lady would have already delivered your life to the heaven early on. Why did you lead the old lady to come over here? Who had just exchanged palm strength with me? Tell it to Mei Chaofeng.”

In the stillness of the night listening to her owl-cry like voice, although it was the middle of summer, involuntarily a chill crept on everybody’s back. As soon as she stopped talking the silence came back, outside the door the insects’ buzz was heard clearly. A moment later a series of cracking noises were heard. Guo Jing knew the noise came from Mei Chaofeng’s joints, in a moment she would start making her move.

Yet another moment someone was reciting softly, “Once one make a dwelling one can stay for several dozens years.” Guo Jing recognized it was Ma Yu’s voice, the intonation was really gentle and soothing. Tan Chuduan continued, “With disheveled hair walking all day long like crazy.” His voice was straightforward and heroic. Guo Jing peeked outside and took a good look on the Second Master of the Quanzhen Seven Masters. He saw a muscular face with thick eyebrows and big eyes, his body looked big and sturdy. Before he became a priest Tan Chuduan was a blacksmith in Shandong. After he entered Quanzhen Sect, his title was Changzhen [Eternal Truth] Zi.

The third Taoist priest was thin and small, his face looked like a monkey; he was Changsheng [Eternal Life] Zi, Liu Chuxuan. He continued the recitation, “Chongyang Zi [from ‘Wang Chongyang] underneath the ‘hay tang ting’ [ocean cherry-apple pavilion].” His stature might be small, but his voice was loud and clear.

Changchun [Eternal Spring (season, not water spring)] Zi Qiu Chuji opened his mouth, “Tai yi xian [I think he is a Taoist deity] in the lotus leaf boat.” Followed by Yuyang [Jade Sun] Zi Wang Chuyi, “Nothing can get out of an empty shell.” Guangning [Infinite Peace] Zi Hao Datong was next, “There’s someone who can reach enlightenment before being born.” Lastly Qingjing Sanren [Sage of Tranquily] Sun Bu’er recited, “Leaving home with a smile without any obstruction.” Ma Yu concluded, “Cloud in the West Lake, moon in the sky!”

Mei Chaofeng listened to these seven recitations, each voice carried an abundant ‘qi’ in it, a sign of their deep internal energy. She was secretly shocked, “Are the Quanzhen Seven Masters really here this time? It can’t be. Other than Ma Yu, the others’ voices are not the same.”

On the peak of Mongolian desert cliff she had heard Ma Yu and the Six Freaks of Jiangnan pretending to be the Quanzhen Seven Masters talking to each other. Her eyes were blind, so she depended a lot on her extremely keen ears; her memory was also superb, once she heard anything, she would not forget it. She did not know that Ma Yu was deceiving her that day.

“Ma Daozhang, you must be well since our last meeting!” she said with a clear voice. She knew Ma Yu was showing her mercy the other day. Although she was vicious, she knew the good from evil. When Tan Chuduan could not overtake Zhou Botong he decided to return. On his way back he saw that Mei Chaofeng was using a living person to train her martial art. Being a man of chivalry and righteousness, he went forward to prevent evil; who would have thought that he was not her match. Fortunately Mei Chaofeng recognized him as a Quanzhen Sect priest. Out of her respect to Ma Yu she did not kill him, she only injured him and chased him away.

Ma Yu said, “I am very fortunate! Thank you! The Peach Blossom Island does not have any enmity with Quanzhen Sect. Is your honorable master coming soon?”

Mei Chaofeng was startled, “Are you expecting my Shifu?” she asked.

Qiu Chuji called out, “Witch! Quickly get your Shifu over here to experience Quanzhen Sect’s real skill.”

Mei Chaofeng was angry, “Who are you?” she called out.

“Qiu Chuji!” Qiu Chuji said, “Haven’t you, the demon, heard my name?”

Mei Chaofeng cried out loudly, her body flew up to the direction of Qiu Chuji’s voice. Her left palm was protecting herself, and her right claw striking downward.

Guo Jing knew that this pounce by Mei Chaofeng was swift and ruthlessly fierce, it was really difficult to block, although Qiu Chuji’s martial art was good, he would not be able to take it head on. Who would have thought that he was still sitting cross-legged on the ground; he neither parried nor evaded. “Not good!” Guo Jing shouted inwardly, “How can Qiu Daozhang be this bold?” He saw that Mei Chaofeng was about to grab the top of Qiu Chuji’s head, suddenly two palm winds came from left and right; it was Liu Chuxuan and Wang Chuyi striking together. Mei Chaofeng’s right claw continued to strike, while her left palm swept horizontally to block Liu and Wang two people’s palm strikes. Who would have thought that these two palms were complementing each other, one ‘yin’ [negative], the other ‘yang’ [positive], the power, unexpectedly, was much stronger than the internal strengths of two people added together.

Mei Chaofeng felt this surge of power in midair; it was like a cannonball pushing her upward. Hastily she changed her right claw into a palm, striking downward then she flipped her body backwards and landed on the threshold. She was unable to restrain her shock, thinking that these two people’s skills were very profound, certainly above the Quanzhen Seven Masters. “Is Hong Qigong and Emperor Duan in here?” she called out.

Qiu Chuji said with a smile, “We are the Quanzhen Seven Masters. What Hong Qigong or Emperor Duan?”

Mei Chaofeng was puzzled, “Tan Laodao [old Taoist] was not my match; how come there is such an expert among his martial brothers? Could it be there is such a big difference in skill among them even though they came from the same school?”

Guo Jing in the other room was also puzzled; he thought that although Liu and Wang two people’s martial art skill was higher, they were more or less in par with Mei Chaofeng or with her senior. Even if those two combined their forces, they would not be able to casually throw her out like that. Only Zhou Botong, Hong Qigong, Huang Yaoshi, Ouyang Feng, and other people of their caliber would have this kind of ability; how did the Quanzhen Seven Masters manage to do that?

Mei Chaofeng’s temper was very bold; other that her own Shifu, she did not fear anybody in the world. The more she suffered setbacks, the more she would act recklessly. That day on the peak of the Mongolian’s cliff Ma Yu was speaking to her amiably, treating her in good manners and let her go without giving her too much difficulty. But today Qiu Chuji believed Qiu Qianren’s lies that Zhou Botong had been killed by Huang Yaoshi; he also believed Huang Yaoshi killed Guo Jing. His hatred toward the Peach Blossom Island went deep to his bones and marrows; he kept calling Mei Chaofeng ‘yao fu’ [lit. goblin/witch/devil/monster woman]. Mei Chaofeng knew perfectly well that her enemies were not her match, but she was not willing to give up. She only hesitated for a moment before she reached into her waist to pull her ‘du long bian’ [poisonous dragon whip] out. “Ma Daozhang!” she called out, “I must offend you today!”

Ma Yu replied, “You flatter me!”

Mei Chaofeng said, “I am going to use my weapon. Unsheathe your swords!”

Wang Chuyi said, “There are seven of us while you are alone, plus your eyes cannot see a thing. Even if the Quanzhen Seven Masters are unworthy, we cannot use weapons against you. We will sit and not move; you can start!”

Mei Chaofeng coldly said, “Do you want to face my silver whip sitting motionless?”

Qiu Chuji scolded, “Witch, tonight you will lose your life, what more do you want to say?”

“Humph,” Mei Chaofeng snorted. Her right hand flicked, the long whip full of hooks in her hand moved slowly like a big python straight toward Sun Bu’er.

In the other room Huang Rong listened their conversation; she knew how fierce Mei Chaofeng’s ‘du long bian’ was, the Quanzhen Seven Masters went as far as daring to take the whip sitting motionless and barehanded, she wanted to know how they were going to do that. She pulled Guo Jing away from the hole and told him that she wanted to watch.

She saw the Quanzhen Seven Masters sat in a formation inside the room; it suddenly dawned on her, “This is the Big Dipper constellation! Hmm, right! Didn’t Qiu Daozhang mention the Big Dipper formation?” Huang Yaoshi was proficient in astronomy and the study of calendar calculation (almanac). When Huang Rong was small she often sat on her father’s knees in a clear night, looking at celestial constellation, hence she immediately recognized the positions of the seven Taoist priests.

The Quanzhen Seven Masters’ Ma Yu took the ‘tian shu’ [sky pivot] position, Tan Chuduan took the ‘tian xuan’ [sky jade/gem] position, Liu Chuxuan ‘tian ji’ [sky pearl], Qiu Chuji ‘tian quan’ [sky power/authority]. These four people formed the head of the constellation. Wang Chuyi took the ‘yu heng’ [jade (measuring) weight], Hao Datong the ‘kai yang’ [open sun], and Sun Bu’er ‘yao guang’ [shaking ray (of light)]. These three were the handle of the Big Dipper.

Among the seven stars of the Big Dippers, the light of the ‘tian quan’ was the darkest, but it was the link connecting the head with the handle. It was the most important position; hence it was occupied by the strongest among the Quanzhen Seven Masters, Qiu Chuji. Among the handle, ‘yu heng’ was the most important; hence it was taken by the second strongest Wang Chuyi.

Mei Chaofeng’s ‘du long bian’ was moving toward Sun Bu’er’s chest. It seemed slow but it was very fierce; who would have thought that the Daogu [Taoist priestess] was still sitting motionless. Huang Rong followed the movement of the tip of the whip and saw that there was a skull embroidered on Sun Bu’er’s Taoist robe; she was secretly amazed. “Quanzhen Sect enjoys the reputation as a Taoist orthodox school, how come her clothing resembles something from Mei Shijie’s pathway?” She did not know that when Wang Chongyang took Sun Bu’er as his disciple he drew a skull and gave it to her. His meaning was that somebody’s life was short, that very quick death will come, and the person would change into a skull; so she must cultivate the true and admired ‘way’ [‘Dao’ of the Taoist means ‘the way’]. In memory of her deceased master, Sun Bu’er embroidered this skull on her robe.

The ‘yin bian’ [silver whip] seemed to move slowly, yet it carried a gust of wind. The tip of the whip was only about several inches apart from the embroidered skull on her robe, suddenly with an abrupt movement the silver whip flew back, just like a python when its head was chopped with a knife, or like an arrow it flew straight back towards Mei Chaofeng. It was so strange and swift; Mei Chaofeng only felt that her hand was slightly shaken and the wind had already caressed her face. Quickly she ducked and the silver whip brushed through her hair. “Dangerous!” she cried out inwardly as she pulled the whip back and re-attacked. This time the whip was aimed toward Ma Yu and Qiu Chuji, who were still sitting motionless. Tan Chuduan and Wang Chuyi raised their palms and parried the whip away.

After they exchanged several stances Huang Rong was able to see clearly that the Quanzhen Seven Masters always parry the incoming attack with one palm, while the other palm was holding the shoulder of the person sitting right next to them. Huang Rong pondered deeply and it dawned on her, “It turned out that they are using the same method I use to help healing Jing Gege’s injury. They are combining seven people’s strength into one; how can Mei Shijie resist?”

The Big Dipper Formation was Quanzhen Sect’s highest and most mysterious martial art, developed by Wang Chongyang with countless meticulous care. The main principle was combining forces in combat with a wide range of variations; it might even be used in the battlefield. When the enemy attacked, the one directly bearing the brunt did not need to exert any energy to resist; it was the companions on his/her flanks who would launch the counterattack. It was as if one person with several people’s martial art; the power was truly irresistible.

Several moves later Mei Chaofeng became increasingly panicked, since she realized that the enemy no longer fend the whip off and shake it away, but she felt the whip was being pulled and redirected so that the circle of the whip movement was decreasing, getting smaller and smaller. A short moment later as the several ‘zhang’s long silver whip was moving halfway toward the enemy, she could not pull it back anymore. If at this time she has let the whip go and jumped back, she might escape unharmed; but she had spent innumerable painstaking efforts in training with this long whip, how could she just sit quietly when the enemy was trying to snatch the whip away from her hand?

She hesitated only for a moment but her opportunity to escape was gone. Once the Big Dipper Formation started to move, all seven people moved swiftly as if they were one person, unstoppable unless by the person occupying the ‘tian quan’ position. By the time Mei Chaofeng realized her precarious situation, it was already too late for her to back off. The only thing she could do was clench her teeth, let go of the whip handle and stake it all.

Liu Chuxuan’s palm made a pulling action, with a loud ‘bang!’ the whip flew and hit the wall, shaking the whole building; the roof tiles rattled loudly and dust and debris from the roof fell down to the ground. Mei Chaofeng staggered; she could not resist this pulling force and was forced one step forward.

Although this one step was only about two feet, it was crucial in determining victory or defeat. If Mei Chaofeng had let her whip go sooner, she would not be pulled forward and she could turn around and escape out the door; the Quanzhen Seven Masters might not necessarily pursue her, because even if they did they might not necessarily able to overtake her. But now that she had moved forward one step, she knew the situation was unfavorable to her; she wielded her palms to the left and right, and they happened to meet with Sun Bu’er and Wang Chuyi’s palms. As she slightly added her palm strength, Ma Yu and Hao Datong’s palms came striking from behind. She knew perfectly well that if she moved another step, her situation would become more dangerous; but under the circumstances, she had no choice so her left foot treaded half a step forward. At the same time with a loud shout her right foot flew up and successively kicked Ma Yu and Hao Datong’s hands.

“Good skill!” Qiu Chuji and Liu Chuxuan cheered together, while simultaneously their palms struck, one from the front, the other from the back, to prevent her from continuing her attack. Before her right foot even landed, Mei Chaofeng’s left foot flew up and like a flash kicking Qiu’s and Liu’s palms; but as her right foot landed she moved one more step forward. This way she went even deeper into the Big Dipper Formation; she will not be able to escape unless she managed to overthrow one out of seven people.

As she was watching the battle, Huang Rong’s heart was secretly anxious. Under the pale yellow moonlight she saw Mei Chaofeng’s long hair flutter in the air as she was leaping around and her palms striking, her feet kicking. Each hand and each foot carried a light wind, like a tiger leaping or a leopard flitting about.

The Quanzhen Seven Masters were still sitting cross-legged; when the head is struck the tail responded, when the tail is attacked the head responded, when the middle is struck the head and tail responded, while all the time keeping her firmly inside the formation.

Mei Chaofeng had successively used the ‘jiu yin bai gu zhua’ [nine yin white bone claw] and ‘cui xin zhang’ [devastating heart palm] trying to dash out of the tight encirclement; but every time she was forced to go back by the Seven Masters’ palm strength. In her anxiety she let out a strange ‘wah, wah’ cry.

By this time if the Seven Masters wanted to take her life they would be able to do so without too much effort, but all along they had never launched a deathly strike. Huang Rong watched for half a day before she realized what was happening, “Ah, right! They are borrowing Mei Shijie to train this formation. It is not easy to find an opponent with her high level of martial art. I think they are going to weary her to death before they’ll stop.” Actually her guess was only half true; they were borrowing Mei Chaofeng to train their formation all right, but Taoism did not tolerate killing easily, therefore, they never had any intention to kill her.

Huang Rong did not have a favorable impression toward Mei Chaofeng, but seeing the Seven Masters humiliate her like this Huang Rong was seething with anger; so after watching for a moment longer she didn’t want to watch anymore and gave the hole back to Guo Jing. She still, however, heard the gusts of wind in the other room sometimes intensifying and sometimes slowing down, a sign that the battle was still raging. At first Guo Jing was puzzled to see the fight; he did not understand why the Seven Masters was fighting Mei Chaofeng by sitting in an irregular formation on the ground. Huang Rong whispered in his ear, “They are sitting according to the Big Dipper Constellation; seven people’s internal strengths are connected to each other. Do you see it?”

It was like a reminder to Guo Jing; he remembered the second part of the Nine Yin Manual mentioned the Big Dipper quite often. He had memorized this part by heart, yet he did not understand its meaning. Looking at the Seven Masters launching palm attacks while sitting in a formation suddenly he understood what the Manual was talking about. The more he watched, the happier he became, finally he was unable to restrain his excitement and stood up.

Huang Rong was shocked and quickly pulled him back. Guo Jing shivered in fear and immediately sat down. He pressed his eye against the hole and watched the fight again. This time he more or less understood the essence of the Big Dipper Formation. Although he did not know how to use it, each move and every style the Seven Masters used was like showing him the trick of the trade mentioned in the Nine Yin Manual.

The Nine Yin Manual was the result of a martial art expert Senior’s comprehension over ancient Taoist canon. Wang Chongyang developed this formation before he saw the Manual; however, the martial art study within Taoism came from the same root. The basic essence originally did not differ much; therefore, the variations within the formation were not far from the Manual’s basic content.

The other time on the Peach Blossom Island Guo Jing had watched Hong Qigong fight Ouyang Feng and he had gained tremendous advantage. However, he was slow, plus the Northern Beggar’s and the Western Poison’s martial arts were not based on the Manual; therefore, his comprehension was somewhat limited. This time the Seven Masters’ martial art and the position they assumed were based on the same Taoism essence with the Manual; everything seemed to fit perfectly and this time he truly gained great benefit. He saw Mei Chaofeng was in a difficult situation, but the Seven Masters’ palm strength was also gradually weakened. Suddenly he heard someone on the doorstep speak, “Yao Xiong, are you going to act first, or do you want Brother to try first?”

Guo Jing was startled, it was Ouyang Feng’s voice; he did not know when he came in. The Seven Masters were also surprised to hear his voice; they turned their heads toward the door and saw two men standing side by side on the threshold, one was wearing dark green long robe, the other was dressed in white. They were the two people who chased Zhou Botong the other night.

The Quanzhen Seven Masters made a low whistling noise, stopped fighting, and stood up. Huang Yaoshi said, “What a fine sight! Seven mixed-up hairs [derogatory term for Taoist priests] join forces against my lone disciple. Feng Xiong, if I teach them some lessons, will you say I am bullying some juniors?”

Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “They were being rude to you first; if you do not show your skill, these juniors will not understand the Master of Peach Blossom Island’s ability.”

Wang Chuyi had seen the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison at Mount Hua; he was going to step forward to pay his respect to them when suddenly Huang Yaoshi’s shadow flashed and struck with the back of his palm. Wang Chuyi stepped back to evade, but he was too slow. ‘Slap!’ his cheek was squarely hit; he staggered and tumbled down.

Qiu Chuji was shocked, “Quickly return to position!” he called out; but ‘Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!’ Tan, Liu, Hao and Sun four people were slapped by a palm. Qiu Chuji only saw a dark green shadow flashing by; a palm hacked down right in front of him, the palm shadow suddenly fluttered. Qiu Chuji did not know where the attack would come from; desperately he raised his sleeve, striking toward Huang Yaoshi’s chest.

Qiu Chuji’s martial art was the chief among the Quanzhen Seven Masters; this strike was not a small matter. Huang Yaoshi had underestimated him a bit too much; unexpectedly he was struck by Qiu Chuji’s sleeve and he felt pain on his chest. Hastily he retracted his hand to protect his chest; his left hand went up and grabbed the sleeve, his right hand moved fast toward Qiu Chuji’s eyes. Qiu Chuji struggled with all his might and ripped his sleeve. At the same time Ma Yu’s and Wang Chuyi’s palms came to rescue him. Huang Yaoshi moved very fast; as soon as his strike to Qiu Chuji failed he leaped behind Hao Datong’s back and raised his left leg. ‘Bang!’ he kicked Hao Datong, sending him rolling down on the ground.

This time Guo Jing let Huang Rong look through the small hole. She saw her father greatly demonstrate his invincible might, she was very happy. If she did not remember that Guo Jing still needed two to four hours to recover, she would have already jumped up and cheered.

Ouyang Feng loudly laughed and called out, “Wang Chongyang had accepted this group of rice buckets as his disciples!”

Ever since Qiu Chuji started learning martial art, he never suffered such a defeat. “Return to positions!” he repeatedly shouted. But Huang Yaoshi flashed to the east and swayed to the west, and in a short moment launched seven, eight deathly strikes. Everybody was having a hard time to parry, how could they return to their formation? A couple of ‘crack! crack!’ sounds was heard; Huang Yaoshi snapped Ma Yu’s and Tan Chuduan’s swords, he broke and tossed them to the ground.

Qiu Chuji’s and Wang Chuyi’s pair of swords continued to move upward with the Quanzhen Sect’s subtle variations sword technique. As the pair of swords attacked together, their power increased exponentially. Huang Yaoshi did not dare to be negligent; with concentrated attention he launched several counterattacks. In the meantime Ma Yu took this opportunity to return into his ‘tian shu’ position while launching a palm attack at the same time, giving Tan, Liu and the others the opportunity to return to their respective positions.

As soon as this Big Dipper Formation was assembled, the battle situation changed. ‘Tian quan’ and ‘yu heng’ faced the enemy from the front; ‘tian ji’ and ‘kai yang’ sent out palm attacks from both sides, ‘yao guang’ and ‘tian xuan’ from the back circled to the front. With four whooshing noise Huang Yaoshi sent out four palm attacks toward four people. “Feng Xiong,” he laughed and said, “I did not know Wang Chongyang left behind this kind of skill!” His voice sounded effortless as his hands parried each opponent’s palm attack, each one substantially different from the other. Each one of these seven people’s attack carried an enormous power; it was incomparable to when they were fighting individually. Immediately Huang Yaoshi used his ‘luo ying shen jian zhang fa’ [falling (leaves) divine sword palm technique]; his body moved swiftly as if he was skating around randomly while his palms flew as if they were everywhere.

Huang Rong thought, “When Father taught me this ‘luo ying shen jian zhang fa’, I only know five voids one solid, or seven voids one solid; with the voids to distract the enemy. But I didn’t know that these five voids and seven voids can be changed into solids.” This amazing fight was certainly not the same as when the Seven Masters were fighting Mei Chaofeng earlier. Not only did Huang Rong watch the fight with baited breath, Ouyang Feng with his level or martial art skill was also startled.

Mei Chaofeng was standing on the side, listening to the wind generated by the battle. She was both joyful and frightened on the inside. Suddenly she heard an ‘Ah!’ followed by a ‘bang!’; turned out Yin Zhiping was watching eight people fight, he became dizzy as if the world was spinning around him; he saw many Huang Yaoshis moving around in front of him, his vision blurred and he fell backward, passed out.

The Quanzhen Seven Masters firmly held their positions, doing all they can to resist the enemy; they knew only one slight mistake was needed, and the seven of them would not live to see the day. Along with their demise, the Quanzhen Sect would see its fall. Huang Yaoshi was also groaning inwardly. If only he launched deathly attack a moment ago, he would be able to kill one or two enemies then the Big Dipper Formation would be broken. But because he had shown leniency he knew victory would not be achieved easily, while he simply must not lose. Both sides were like riding on a tiger’s back; they could not back off easily. All they could do was fight with all their strengths. Within less than two hours Huang Yaoshi had used thirteen different martial arts just to be even with the opponents. Eight people were inseparable until the dawn arrived, the roosters crowed and the sun started to cast its light into the room. By now Guo Jing had finished his seven days and seven nights training. Although the fight in the other room shook the sky and turned over the earth, his mind was very peaceful; his eyes closed, his internal energy was warming up his entire body, starting from his ‘wei lu’ [tail gate] going to his ‘shen guan’ [kidney pass], from his spine through both passes it ascended to ‘tian zhu’ [sky pillar] and ‘yu zhen’ [jade pillow]; finally to ‘ni wan gong’ [restrained pill palace], at the top of his brain, paused for a moment and then pushed his tongue against his jaw. His inner breathing went down from his face, ‘shen ting’ [divine courtyard], to ‘que qiao’ [magpie bridge], and back again until it arrived at ‘huang ting’ [yellow courtyard], ‘qi xue’ [air pocket] and slowly down to his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region].

Huang Rong saw his face was ruddy and resplendent in divine brightness; her heart was overjoyed. She pressed her eyes against the small hole again to look outside and she was shocked. She saw her father’s steps were sluggish; he moved according to the ‘ba gua’ [eight diagram]; while slowly launching palm attack by palm attack. She knew her father would not easily use this highest footwork technique. She knew that victory or defeat will soon be decided; it was a defining moment of life and death.

The Quanzhen Seven Masters were also fighting with all their might while shouting encouragement to each other. The top of their heads were emitting steaming mist, their robes were stuck to their sweating bodies. Their condition was totally different from when they were leisurely fighting Mei Chaofeng earlier.

Ouyang Feng was standing at the side with his sleeves down, looking intently at the Seven Masters’ Big Dipper Formation. He was hoping that Huang Yaoshi would be exhausted and suffer a serious injury so that on the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua he would have one less powerful enemy. Who would have thought that Huang Yaoshi’s martial art came out one after another; even though the Seven Masters were not defeated, it was obvious that they would not achieve victory easily either. “The Old Heretic Huang is really good!” he thought. He saw both sides moved slower and slower, a sign that the situation had become more critical than ever; in less than the time to drink a tea this battle would reach its conclusion.

Huang Yaoshi sent out two palm attacks toward Sun Bu’er and Tan Chuduan. They raised their hands to parry, while Liu Chuxuan and Ma Yu came to their rescue. Ouyang Feng let out a long whistle and called out, “Yao Xiong, let me help you.” He squatted down and thrust both palms ferociously toward Tan Chuduan’s back. Tan Chuduan was using all his power to fight Huang Yaoshi. Suddenly he felt an earth shattering force coming from behind with a lightning speed. Not only his martial brothers and sister did not have time to rescue, he also did not have time to evade. ‘Bang!’ his whole body was thrown forward.

“Who wants your help?” Huang Yaoshi roared angrily. Right at that moment Qiu Chuji’s and Wang Chuyi’s palms arrived together. He brushed his sleeve to neutralize those attacks, while his right palm blocked Ma Yu’s and Hao Datong’s palms.

Ouyang Feng laughed and said, “All right, let me help them then!” Suddenly his palms struck toward Huang Yaoshi’s back. When he attacked Tan Chuduan, he was only using 30% of his strength, but now he was using all of his lifelong cultivated energy; taking the opportunity while Huang Yaoshi was busy blocking the attack of Four Masters. He wanted to strike Huang Yaoshi down in one blow. He had planned it carefully: he would kill one of the Seven Masters and then kill Huang Yaoshi. As soon as the Big Dipper Formation was broken, he would not be afraid of their revenge. This evil scheme of his was perfect; even if Huang Yaoshi’s skill were higher he would not be able to resist Four Masters and Western Poison on his back all at once.

“I am finished!” Huang Yaoshi secretly sighed; he had no choice but to concentrate his ‘qi’ on his back, staking his all to receive the brunt of Ouyang Feng’s Toad Stance attack. Ouyang Feng’s push carried an enormous force, but the speed was slower. He was sure his plan would prevail, he was secretly delighted. All of a sudden a dark shadow flashed by. Someone from the side flew toward Huang Yaoshi’s back, receiving the hit with a loud shout.

Huang Yaoshi, Ma Yu and the others stopped fighting immediately and leaped back. They saw that the person who risked her life to protect her master was Mei Chaofeng. Huang Yaoshi turned his head around and coldly laughed, “The Old Poison is really poisonous, you truly live up to your reputation!”

As his attack accidentally hit someone else, Ouyang Feng cried out in his heart, “What a pity!” He was aware that if Huang Yaoshi joined hands with the Quanzhen Seven Masters, his life would be difficult to protect. With a loud laugh he flew out the door and ran away.

Ma Yu stooped down to hold Tan Chuduan and he was shocked. Tan Chuduan’s body was askew, his head was drooping to the side. It turned out this one strike of Ouyang Feng had broken the ribs on his back and his spine. Seeing his Shi Di’s life was cut short Ma Yu’s tears flowed down like rain.

Qiu Chuji pursued out with a sword in his hand, only to hear Ouyang Feng calling out from a far, “Old Heretic Huang, I helped you breaking the Wang Chongyang’s formation, I also punished the Peach Blossom Island’s renegade disciple on your behalf. You can take care of the remaining six mixed-up hairs by yourself. We’ll see each other again later!”

“Humph!” Huang Yaoshi snorted; he knew Ouyang Feng was spreading his poison again, trying to incite tension between him and the Quanzhen Sect by placing the blame of the killing of Tan Chuduan on his shoulder, so that the Quanzhen Sect would seek their revenge on him. He understood very well Ouyang Feng’s ill intention, yet he was not willing to explain anything to the Quanzhen Seven Masters. Slowly he held Mei Chaofeng up; he saw the blood spurting out from her to the ground, he knew she would not live.

Qiu Chuji pursued for dozens of ‘zhang’s but he could not see which direction Ouyang Feng took. Ma Yu was afraid if he was chasing on his own he would also fall into Ouyang Feng’s poisonous hand, so Ma Yu shouted, “Qiu Shi Di! Come Back!” Qiu Chuji’s eyes were on fire; he came back in big strides, pointed his finger to Huang Yaoshi and scolded him, “What enmity do you have with the Quanzhen Sect? You are a wicked ghost! First you killed our Zhou Shishu, now you harmed our Tan Shi Ge. Why did you come over here?”

Huang Yaoshi was startled. “Zhou Botong?” he asked, “I killed him?” “You still don’t want to admit it?” Qiu Chuji said.

Actually Huang Yaoshi was having a race with Zhou Botong and Ouyang Feng. They had run for several hundreds ‘li’s and were inseparable from each other; nobody was willing to give up. While they were running, Zhou Botong suddenly remembered he left Hong Qigong alone at the imperial palace. Hong Qigong had lost his martial art skill; if he was discovered by the palace guards, his life would be in danger. So he said, “The Old Urchin has a business to attend. I don’t want to race anymore!” Once he said he did not want to race, he did not want to race. Huang Yaoshi and Ouyang Feng could not make him do otherwise and were forced to let him go. Huang Yaoshi had wanted to ask Zhou Botong for news about his beloved daughter but all along he did not have the opportunity to do so.

Tan Chuduan and the others were pursuing behind, but very soon they lost track of the three’s shadows. However, Huang Yaoshi and the other two could see them clearly. So as the Old Urchin left to tend his business, the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison two people decided to return to the Ox Village without expecting what was waiting for them over there.

By now Qiu Chuji was stomping his feet in fury, Sun Bu’er was crying while holding Tan Chuduan’s body. Everybody wanted to stake it all to fight Huang Yaoshi. Huang Yaoshi knew there was a misunderstanding here, but being a man of his position he simply laughed coldly without saying anything.

Tan Chuduan opened his eyes slowly and in a low voice said, “I am leaving.” Qiu Chuji and the others quickly gathered around him, sitting cross-legged on the ground. They heard Tan Chuduan softly recite, “Holding hands, the departed soul, like a string of pearls, forcing itself to leave. Hearts are open to the sound of nature, unlike the blowing flute.” As he finished reciting, he closed his eyes and died.

The Quanzhen Six Masters lowered their heads to pray. Finished praying, Ma Yu held Tan Chuduan’s lifeless body in his arms. Qiu Chuji, Yin Zhiping and the others followed behind without even looking back. At this moment Qiu Chuji, Sun Bu’er and the others realized that with the death of Tan Chuduan the Big Dipper Formation was broken. If they continued fighting Huang Yaoshi they would only deliver six more lives. Revenge had to wait some other day.

End of Chapter 25.

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