The Legend of the Condor Heroes Chapter 31-35

Chapter 31 – Lovers’ Handkerchief

Reverend Yideng narrated all kinds of gratitude and grudges, love and hate that he went through with Concubine Liu in the past. Guo Jing and Huang Rong sat on the mediation mats in front of him, listening intently; while the ‘Fisherman’, ‘Woodcutter’, ‘Farmer’ and ‘Scholar’, his four disciples, stood behind Reverend Yideng.

Reverend Yideng lowered his head and sighed, “Actually I only have myself to blame for this unfortunate disaster. You see, my Dali kingdom is small; although it cannot be compared to the Chinese emperor’s palace where there are more than 3,000 women, speaking about the empress and concubines, I had a few. Ay! It truly was a sin. I was very fond of martial arts; very seldom did I come near a woman. Even my own empress could see me only once every few days; how much less time did I have for my concubines?”

Speaking to this point he said to his four disciples, “This is an inside story, you did not know the details before. Today I am going to tell you everything so you’ll understand.”

Huang Rong thought, “They really did not know it, they did not lie to me.”

Yideng continued, “Day in and day out my concubines saw I train martial arts. Some were interested and expressed their desire to learn. So I casually gave directions to one or two of them. I thought by learning martial arts they would be healthier and might have a longer life. Among them a concubine surnamed Liu was the most gifted. She was so smart that each time I taught her something she would understand everything right off. She was young and she trained hard everyday; her martial art advanced greatly. And so it happened one day as she was practicing martial art in the garden she met Zhou Botong, Zhou Shixiong [Martial Brother Zhou] quite by accident. First of all Zhou Shixiong was crazy about martial arts; his natural disposition was also naïve, he did not guard against male- female relationship. He saw Concubine Liu was training enthusiastically, immediately he came forward and sparred with her. Zhou Shixiong’s martial art came from his martial brother, Wang Zhenren [lit. true/real man, a respectful term to address a Taoist priest]; how could Concubine Liu be his match …?”

“Aiyo!” Huang Rong softly exclaimed, “He did not know whether his hand was light or heavy and has injured Concubine Liu?”

“Nobody was injured,” Reverend Yideng answered, “Only about three moves or two stances later he sealed Concubine Liu’s acupoint, and then he asked if she would admit defeat or not. Naturally Concubine Liu admitted defeat. Zhou Shixiong unsealed her acupoint. He was so proud of himself that he started to talk about the wonderful secret of sealing acupoint technique. Concubine Liu had actually asked me to teach her the acupoint sealing technique before; but just think about it: how could I pass on this profound martial art to an imperial concubine? What she heard from Zhou Shixiong was exactly what she desired. Immediately she respectfully asked him to teach her.”

“(Sigh)! The Old Urchin must be very happy,” Huang Rong said. “You know Zhou Shixiong?” Yideng asked.

Huang Rong laughed, “We are old acquaintances; he stayed at the Peach Blossom Island for more than ten years, never once leave the island even for a single step.”

“With his character, how can he stay that long?” Yideng wondered.

Huang Rong smiled, “My father imprisoned him, and he was released just recently.” “That’s so,” Yideng nodded his head, “Is Zhou Shixiong well?” he asked.

Huang Rong replied, “His body is well, but the older he gets the crazier he becomes. He doesn’t have any manners.” Pointing her finger to Guo Jing she pursed her lips and continued with a smile, “The Old Urchin has performed a ritual to become sworn brothers with him.”

Reverend Yideng could not help smiling; then he continued, “The acupoint sealing technique is only taught by a father to his daughter, mother to her son, husband to his wife; other than that no man can teach a woman and no woman can teach a man …”

“Why is that?” Huang Rong asked.

“Because male and female cannot be intimate,” Yideng replied, “Just think, if we don’t touch one’s whole body acupoints one by one, how can we teach this skill?”

“But didn’t you touch my whole body’s acupoints?” Huang Rong asked.

The fisherman and the farmer was irritated she kept asking questions and diverting the story; they stared at her angrily. Huang Rong stared back and them and said, “What? Can’t I ask any question?”

Yideng smiled, “You can, you can,” he said, “You are a little girl, your life was in danger, of course we have to make an exception.” “All right, so be it,” Huang Rong said, “And then what happened?”

Yideng continued, “And then one taught, the other learned. Zhou Shixiong was at the prime of his life, Concubine Liu was just coming of age; their flesh and skin touched each other everyday, before long their feelings grew and finally they created a problem which was very difficult to rectify …”

Huang Rong wanted to ask; her lips were about to move but in the end she held back. She heard Yideng continue, “Some people came and reported to me. Although I was angry, I still honored Wang Zhenren’s reputation, I pretended not to know. Who would have thought that after Wang Zhenren found out; he interrogated Zhou Shixiong and he did not conceal anything …”

Huang Rong was unable to hold back much longer, she blurted out, “What is it? What is the problem that was difficult to rectify?”

Yideng temporarily at a loss of what to say, he hesitated before answering, “They really were not husband and wife, but they acted like one.”

“Ah, I know,” Huang Rong said, “The Old Urchin and Concubine Liu had a child.”

“Ay! It’s not that,” Yideng said, “They had known each other only for about ten days, how could they have a child? After Wang Zhenren discovered this affair, he bound Zhou Shixiong’s hands and took him to my presence for me to judge. We are martial art practitioners; we value loyalty above everything else, we did not put too much of a regard toward women. How could I injure our friendship over a woman? I immediately untied him and summoned Concubine Liu at the same time. I ordered them to get married. Who would have thought that Zhou Shixiong raised a clamor; he said he did not know what he did was wrong, that if he knew, he would have not done it even if he were to be killed. No matter what, he was not willing to take Concubine Liu as his wife. At that time Wang Zhenren sighed and said, ‘If I did not know any better, that he is a fool who doesn’t know good from evil, a sword would have already cut him into two as he committed this awful crime.’”

Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and said, “The Old Urchin was in a big trouble!”

Yideng continued, “At first I was offended, I said, ‘Zhou Shixiong, I am sincerely willing to part with my treasure and give her to you, do you think I have another agenda? There is an ancient saying, ‘Brothers are like hands and feet, wives are like clothes’; what is a woman for you to consider it a very big deal?”

“Pei! Pei!” Huang Rong spat, “Uncle, you disregarded women, what you said was a pile of rubbish!”

The farmer could not hold his patience any longer, he shouted, “Just shut up and don’t talk nonsense, will you?” “What he said was wrong, I must refute it,” Huang Rong was adamant.

To the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar, Reverend Yideng was not only their lord, but also their teacher. It never occurred to them to talk back, let alone refuting his words. They regarded him with utmost reverence; now hearing Huang Rong’s unrestrained mouth they were shocked and angry at the same time.

Reverend Yideng actually did not seem to mind; he continued his narration, “As Zhou Shixiong heard me, he shook his head. I became angry, I said, ‘If you love her, why don’t you want her? If you don’t love her, why did you do what you did? My Dali is a small country, but do you think you can just drop in and throw an insult like this?’ Zhou Shixiong was silent for half a day. Suddenly he bent his knees and kowtowed to me several times; he said, ‘Emperor Duan, I am guilty. If you want to kill me, just do it, I won’t dare to hit you back.’ I was taken aback, I have never expected him to say such thing; I was at a loss momentarily. Finally I said, ‘How can I kill you?’ He said, ‘Then I am leaving!’ He took out an embroidered handkerchief from his bosom, handed it over to Concubine Liu and said, ‘I give it back to you.’ Concubine Liu smiled sadly, she did not take the handkerchief. Zhou Shixiong let the handkerchief go and it fell near my feet. Zhou Shixiong did not say anything else; he turned around and stormed out of the palace. It has been more than a dozen years and I haven’t heard anything about him ever since. Wang Zhenren apologized to me over and over again; and then he also left. I heard he passed away that autumn. Wang Zhenren was a brave and heroic man, there was nobody can be compared to him. Ay

…”

“Wang Zhenren’s martial art skill might be higher than yours,” Huang Rong said, “But speaking of bravery and heroic spirit, I think he did not necessarily exceed Uncle. He had accepted seven disciples and they are all just average, there is nothing special about them. Anyway, what happened to the embroidered handkerchief?”

The four disciples were annoyed that Huang Rong cared so much about trivial things like handkerchief or clothes; but they heard their master said, “I saw Concubine Liu was staring blankly, like her soul had left her. I was very angry; I picked up the handkerchief only to see a couple of embroidered mandarin ducks playing on the water. (Sigh), it was Concubine Liu’s gift to her lover. I laughed coldly. I then saw next to the pair of mandarin ducks there was a line of poem …”

Huang Rong’s heart was stirred, she hastily asked, “Was it, ‘Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away’?”

With a stern voice the farmer shouted, “Even we do not know it, how did you know? Always talk nonsense and disturb the story!” Who would have thought that Reverend Yideng sighed and said, “It was indeed that poem; you knew it?” At his words the four disciples looked at each other in astonishment.

Guo Jing sprang up and called out, “I remember now! That day on the Peach Blossom Island Zhou Dage [Big Brother Zhou] was bitten by a venomous viper; he was delirious and he muttered this poem. It was, it was … Four weaving machines, a pair on mandarin ducks, and some head turned white. Rong’er, how did it go? I can’t remember it anymore.”

With a low voice Huang Rong recited, “Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desires to fly together right away. It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white. When the green spring grass ripples in the deepest of dawn’s cold; standing face to face taking a bath wearing red clothes.”

“Exactly!” Guo Jing slapped his thigh, “Zhou Dage once advised me against good-looking women; he said he had seen one and as a result he offended a good friend and provoked his Shige [elder martial brother] to anger. He also said don’t ever let her touch your acupoints, otherwise you’ll be covered with germs. Rong’er, he even urged me not to be good to you.”

“Pei!” Huang Rong angrily spat, “Old Urchin! Next time I see him I am going to twist his ears!” Suddenly she giggled and said, “That day in Lin’an prefecture I teased him that he wasn’t able to find a wife; the Old Urchin sulked for half a day. Turned out it was because of this matter.”

“When I heard Ying Gu recited this poem I thought I have heard it somewhere, but tried as I might, I could not remember where I heard it. Uh, Rong’er, how come Ying Gu also knew this poem?” Guo Jing said.

Huang sighed, “Ay, it’s because Ying Gu is that Concubine Liu.”

Among the four disciples, the scholar was the only one who had already guessed 50, 60%; the other three were extremely astonished, they turned toward their master at once. Yideng spoke in a low voice, “Miss is really smart; truly worthy to be Yao Xiong’s [Brother Yao] daughter. Concubine Liu’s first name was ‘Ying’. That day I tossed the handkerchief to her, afterwards I no longer called for her. In my depression I neglected the affairs of the country; I trained martial art every day …”

Huang Rong interrupted him again, “Uncle, do you know that you loved her very much in your heart? If you did not, you would not be so unhappy.”

The four disciples was shocked at her audacity, “Miss!” angrily they called out in one voice. “What?” Huang Rong said, “Did I say something wrong? Uncle, tell me, was I wrong?”

Yideng gloomily said, “Hereafter in more than half a year I have never called for Concubine Liu, but in my sleep I often dreamt of being with her. One evening I dreamt about her, at midnight I woke up; I could not hold my patience much longer and made up my mind to pay her a visit. I did not let the palace guards or the eunuchs know about my intention, quietly I went to her quarters, I wanted to know what she was doing. As I arrived on top of her roof I heard a child was crying inside. (Sigh), outside the frost was thick and the wind was cold. I stood in shock for half a night and did not get down until it was dawn. Afterwards I caught a very serious illness.”

Huang Rong thought how he was revered as the emperor, yet in the middle of the night roaming around the palace roof to visit his own concubine; it was truly unusual. The four disciples also recalled their master’s sickness. It was not only very bad, but also took a long time to recover. All this time they wondered: with his profound martial art cold wind would not easily make him sick; even if he was sick, he should not take that long to recover. Only now did they know that it was more of a crushed spirit than a physical illness that he did not use his own internal strength to battle the sickness. She asked again, “Concubine Liu had given you a child; certainly it was good, wasn’t it? Uncle, why were you not happy?”

“Silly kid,” Yideng said, “It was Zhou Shixiong’s child.”

“But Zhou Shixiong had left for a long time,” Huang Rong said, “Could it be that he came back secretly to see her?” “No,” Yideng replied, “Have you heard the phrase ‘ten-month pregnancy’?”

Huang Rong was suddenly enlightened, “Ah, I know! That child must look like the Old Urchin very much, with pointy ears and high nose; otherwise how did you know it was not your child?”

Reverend Yideng answered, “That is not necessarily so. I haven’t been intimate with Concubine Liu for some time, naturally the child wasn’t mine.”

Huang Rong seemed to understand but she did not understand, but she was aware it was not appropriate to keep asking questions, so she did not pursue further.

Meanwhile Yideng continued, “I was sick for more than half a year; after I recovered, I poured out my attention to internal strength cultivation to dispel boredom and no longer gave thought to this matter. One night about two years later I was meditating in my bedroom, suddenly the curtain on the door was raised and Concubine Liu rushed in. Outside the door a eunuch and two palace guards quickly tried to stop her, but wherever they went, they were struck away by her palm. I looked up and saw she was carrying the child on the crook of her elbow. She wore an extremely panic-stricken expression; she knelt down and cried loudly, she kowtowed in front of me and called out, ‘I ask the Emperor to show mercy, to be infinitely compassionate and spare this child’s life!’ I stood up to take a look. That child’s face was deep red; he was breathing heavily. I took him from her bosom to examine further and found out that five of his ribs were broken.

Concubine Liu wept, ‘Emperor, your lowly concubine has committed a heinous crime worthy of ten thousands death; but I am asking the Emperor to spare this child’s lowly life.’ I was surprised to hear her, so I asked, ‘What happened to the child?’ But she kept knocking her head entreating me. I asked again, ‘Who injured the child?’ Concubine Liu did not answer but kept weeping, ‘Please Emperor, show mercy to him.’ I scratched my head in confusion. She said, ‘If the Emperor bestowed death to me, I would not complain for even half a word, but this child … this child …’

‘Who bestowed death to you?’ I asked, ‘How did the child get injured?’ Concubine Liu looked up and with a trembling voice asked, ‘So it wasn’t the Emperor who sent a palace guard to kill this child?’ I knew something was amiss, I busily asked, ‘So it was a palace guard who injured the child? Which slave did have so much guts?’ Concubine Liu called out, ‘Ah! It was not the Emperor’s imperial edict, so the child’s life can be saved!’ After saying that she fainted and fell to the ground. I helped her up and put her on the bed; I also put the child down on her side. Only after about half a day later she finally awoke. She pulled my hand and weeping she told me what happened.

Turned out she was patting the child to put him to sleep that night, when suddenly from outside the window came a palace guard wearing a mask on his face. The guard pulled the child away and hit his back with a palm. Concubine Liu hurriedly went forward to stop him, but the guard shoved her away. Then his palm hit the child’s chest. Finally he laughed a big laugh and jumped over the window. That palace guard’s martial art skill was very high. She thought it was me who sent him to kill her son; she did not dare to pursue, but she came to my palace to entreat.

The more I heard her story the more amazed I became; I re-examined the child but I could not tell what kind of martial art caused the injury. All I can tell was that the child’s ‘dai mai’ [waist arteries] were shaken and broken. That assassin’s hands were lethal, but obviously he had shown mercy; the baby was so young and weak, but he was still breathing after two palm strikes. Immediately I went to her quarter to investigate, and sure enough, I found very faint tracks on the window sill and on the tile outside the window. I told Concubine Liu, ‘This assassin’s martial art skill is very high, especially his lightness kungfu; it was not a small matter. Apart from me there is no one with this kind of ability in the whole Dali kingdom.’ Suddenly Concubine Liu called out in alarm, ‘Could it be him? Why would he want to kill his own son?’ After saying that her face turned ash gray.”

Huang Rong also muttered in a low voice, “The Old Urchin couldn’t be that bad, could he?”

Reverend Yideng said, “At that time I actually believed it was Zhou Shixiong. Other than him, who in this present age had that kind of ability, and who without any reason at all would injure a baby? I guessed he was not willing to leave an illegitimate child behind and became a disgrace in the Wulin world. After Concubine Liu uttered those words she was bashful and anxious, frightened and ashamed at the same time. She was at a loss. But suddenly she said, ‘No, it definitely was not him! That laughter was not his!’ I said, ‘You were frightened, how could you hear clearly?’ She replied, ‘I will remember this laughter forever, even if I become a ghost I will still remember that laughter! No, it definitely was not him!’”

Listening to this part everybody suddenly felt a chill in the air, goose bumps appeared on their skins. Guo Jing and Huang Rong recalled Ying Gu’s voice and demeanor; they imagined her facial expression when she said those words with clenched teeth, they could not help but shiver in fear.

Reverend Yideng continued, “I heard her so convinced, I believed her. But for the life of me I could not guess who the assassin was. I once thought it might be one of Wang Zhenren’s disciples, maybe Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji or Wang Chuyi? Perhaps they were trying to save Quanzhen Sect’s reputation that they took the thousands of ‘li’s journey to a remote place and kill to close someone’s mouth …”

Guo Jing’s lips moved, he wanted to say something, but he did not dare to interrupt Reverend Yideng’s story. Yideng saw it and said, “You want to say something? You may as well say it.”

Guo Jing said, “Ma Daozhang [Taoist Priest Ma], Qiu Daozhang, they are all chivalrous heroes; they can’t possibly do this thing.”

“I have met Wang Chuyi at Mount Hua,” Yideng said, “His conduct was alright, but I don’t know about the other disciples. But if they could kill the baby with one palm, why did they leave the baby half dead and half alive?” He raised his head and turned his gaze toward the window, staring blankly. Obviously he had not been able to forget the unsolvable mystery of more than ten years ago. The meditation room was quiet. A moment later Yideng said, “All right, let’s talk about that later …”

Huang Rong suddenly exclaimed, “Without a doubt, it must be Ouyang Feng.”

Yideng said, “Afterwards I also suspected him. But Ouyang Feng is a western region’s man, he is big and tall; he is at least a head taller than average local men. Concubine Liu said that compared to average men, the assassin can be considered short.”

“That’s strange,” Huang Rong said.

“My thought precisely,” Yideng said, “Concubine Liu was hugging the child and sobbing. This child’s injury was not as severe as Miss Huang’s, but he was very young; he did not have any immune system yet. If I was to treat his injury, it would have consumed all my energy. I hesitated for a long time. I saw Concubine Liu was crying pitifully. Several times I was going to open my mouth to tell her that I would treat his injury, but every time I remembered that if I do that, I can forget about competing against the other experts at the incoming second Sword Meet of Mount Hua to win the Nine Yin Manual. Ay! Wang Zhenren had said that this Manual was the Wulin world’s big root of trouble; it brought harms to many people and brought out the worst of human’s heart. He was absolutely right. Because of that book I lost my compassion towards others. After hesitating for almost two hours I finally started to lean toward treating his injury. Ay, during these two hours I felt like I was lower than an animal. The worst part was, my decision to treat his injury was not because I wanted to do something good, but because I was tired of Concubine Liu’s constant cry for help.”

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “I said you loved her very much, I was not wrong.”

Yideng did not seem to hear her, he simply continued his narration, “As Concubine Liu heard my promise to help, she was so happy that she fainted again. I massaged her acupoint to awaken her, then I started to untie the child’s swaddling clothes so that I could massage his acupoints using the ‘xian tian gong’ [inborn/innate energy]. Who would have thought that under the swaddling clothes that child was wearing a ‘du dou’ [an undergarment covering chest and abdomen] on his chest. I stopped on my track, unable to say anything; because on the ‘du dou’ was a pair of embroidered mandarin ducks, and next to the ducks was that ‘four weaving machines’ poem. Turned out this ‘du dou’ was the handkerchief given to Zhou Shixiong a couple of years ago.

Concubine Liu saw my expression and she knew things had turned bad for her. Her face was ashen. Clenching her teeth she pulled a dagger from her waist and pointed it toward her own chest. ‘Emperor,’ she called out, ‘I do not have any face to live longer in this world. I am asking your infinite mercy and compassion, I am willing to trade my life for the child’s. In my next life I will become a dog or a horse to repay your kindness.’ As she said that she pushed the dagger into her chest, hard.” Although everybody knew that Concubine Liu was still alive, they could not help but gasp in horror.

As he narrated this part, it was as if Reverend Yideng did not tell the past events to others, but it seemed like he was simply thinking out loud, “I quickly used ‘qin na fa’ [grappling, capture and seize technique] to snatch her dagger away. I was fast, but her dagger had already penetrated her chest. Blood was seeping out her clothes. I was afraid she might try to kill herself again, so I sealed the acupoints on her hands and feet. I tended the wound on her chest and let her rest on a chair. She did not say anything, but her eyes looked at me full of sorrow. Neither of us said anything. The room was quiet, save the sound of that child gasping for breath.

While listening to that child’s breathing many, many past events flashed in my mind: how she entered the palace for the first time, how I taught her martial art, how I had loved her. She had always revered me, feared me, gently attended to all my needs, never dared to disregard my will; but she had never loved me. At first I was not aware of her true feelings, but that day I saw the way she looked at Zhou Shixiong, then I understood. When a woman truly and wholeheartedly loves a man, she will look at him with that kind of look. I remembered the way she looked when Zhou Shixiong threw that handkerchief down, the way she looked when he turned around and left the palace. That scene had haunted me for several years, made my sleeps restless and my meals taste like sawdust. Even today I can still see it vividly in my mind.

This time once again her heart was broken; not over her lover, but over her son, whose life she was willing to trade her own with! I am an honorable man, and I felt disgraced. Me, the ruler of a country! Having this thought my heart was filled with fury; I lifted my foot and smashed an ivory stool in front of me. I looked up and was dumbstruck. I said, ‘You … what happened to your head?’ She did not seem to hear me, her gaze was fixed to her child. I have never really understood before, how someone’s gaze could contain so much love, so much compassion. By that time she had realized I was not going to save her child’s life, so she wanted to look at him as long as he was still alive.

I took a mirror and held it out in front of her. I said, ‘Look at your hair!’ In just a short period of time it seemed like she had become several decades older. She was only eighteen, nineteen years old; yet because of fear, anxiety, remorse, despair, grieve, and all kinds of deep emotional attacks innumerable hair on her temples had turned white!

She did not seem to care toward the change in her appearance. She blamed the mirror to be in the way, obstructing her view to the child. ‘The mirror, take it away!’ she said, candidly. She had forgotten that I was the Emperor, her master. I felt strange; I thought she had always treasured her own looks, why didn’t she pay any attention to it now? I tossed the mirror aside only to see without blinking her gaze was fixed on the child. I had never seen such gaze; full of love and hope, a hope that her child would live. I understood that if she could, she would gladly take her own soul and put it inside her child’s body to replace his slowly departing soul.”

Listening to this Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other; both were thinking in their hearts, “When I was seriously injured and there was little hope for it to be healed you also looked at me that way.” Forgetting their surroundings they held out their hands to hold each other. Two hearts beating as one; they felt warmness creeping up their bodies. Amidst listening to how others were grieving of misfortune they could not help of thinking their own good fortune; due to the fact that their loved one was sitting right next to them at that time, that place. Because her injury had been healed; she would not die. Yes, she would not die. In these two youngsters’ hearts their loved one would not die forever.

They heard Reverend Yideng continue, “I could not take it much longer; several times I wanted to just take the child and treat his injury, but I kept looking at that handkerchief wrapped around the child’s chest. The handkerchief with a pair of mandarin ducks embroidered on it, their necks intertwined with each other. The mandarin ducks had white heads, symbolizing they would grow old together. But why it was written, ‘It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white.’? As I turned my head I saw the hair on her temples had turned white, I broke in cold sweats. At that time my heart turned hard, I said, ‘Fine, go ahead and grow old together; just leave me lonely and cast away in this palace as an emperor! This is you and your lover’s child; why would I sacrifice my whole energy to revive him?’

She looked at me, her last glance. It was full of blame and hatred. Afterwards she had never looked at me anymore, but this one look I will not forget till the day I die. She coldly said, ‘Let me go, I want to hold my child!’ She was speaking with authority and determination; it was as if she was my master, made it difficult for me to disobey. Thereupon I unsealed her acupoints.

She held the child in her bosom. The child was so much in pain that he wanted to cry, but no sound came out of his tiny lips. His small face had turned purple; he looked at his mother as if asking her to help him. I was so hard-hearted; I did not have the least bit of compassion. I saw one by one her black hair had turned to ash grey, and from ash grey to white. I don’t know whether it really did happen, or it was my imagination playing tricks on me.

I heard her gently saying, ‘Child, Mama does not have the ability to save you, but Mama also can’t let you suffer. Child, have a peaceful rest. Sleep Child, sleep. Don’t wake up forever!’ I heard she sang a gentle lullaby. It was a very beautiful song. It went like this, ‘hmm, hmm …’ Listen!”

Everybody heard him say those words, but actually they did not hear the least bit of a song. They looked at each other in bewilderment. “Shifu,” the scholar said, “You have talked long enough, you must be tired. Please take a rest.”

Reverend Yideng did not seem to hear, he kept talking, “The child’s face showed a faint happiness, but the pain made his whole body spasm. With a gentle voice she said, ‘My precious, my heart and my soul, sleep tight, then you won’t feel the pain anymore, not the least bit of pain!’ Suddenly ‘stab!’, her dagger went straight into the child’s heart.”

Huang Rong screamed in fright; she grabbed Guo Jing’s arm tightly. The rest of the listeners were also so shocked that their faces did not show any trace of blood.

Reverend Yideng was oblivious to his surroundings, he continued, “I was so shocked that I cried out and drew back several steps, almost tumbled down. My heart was in turmoil, I was totally at a loss. I saw her slowly stand up and in a low voice she said, ‘There will come a day, I will stab your heart with this dagger.’ She pointed her finger to the jade bracelet on her wrist and said, ‘You gave this to me the day I entered the palace. Just wait, the day I return this jade bracelet to you, will be the day my dagger will follow!’”

Speaking to this point Yideng spun the jade bracelet on his forefinger one time; he showed a faint smile and said, “This is the jade bracelet, I have waited several years for this. At last that day has come.”

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “She killed her own son, what did it have to do with you? You did not injure her child. Moreover, she had used poison trying to kill you; what enmity she had for you had been paid in full. I am going down the mountain to send her off, I won’t allow her to create any disturbance here …”

She had not finished her words when that young monk came rushing in. “Shifu,” he said, “Somebody delivered this at the foot of the mountain.” He held out both hands to present a small cloth bundle to his master.

Yideng took the bundle and unwrapped it. Everybody called out in alarm as one voice. Turned out inside that bundle was the ‘du dou’ made of the embroidered handkerchief. The silk had turned yellow of age, but the embroidered mandarin ducks were still bright as new. There was a knife hole in between the ducks; the edge of the hole was black from the bloodstain. Yideng stared blankly at the ‘du dou’, overwhelmed with grief. After a long time he finally said, “The weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away, hey, desiring to fly together; in the end it was just a dream. She hugged her child’s lifeless body tightly, uttered a long laugh, and jumped over the window sill, flew out of the room and in the blink of an eye disappeared without any trace. I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat, and was miserable for three days and three nights. Finally I came to my senses. I bequeathed the throne to my eldest son and decided to tread the immortal path by becoming a monk.” He pointed at his four disciples and said, “They have followed me for a long time and did not want to leave me. Together we went out of the Dali city wall and lived at the ‘tian long si’ [celestial dragon temple]. For the first three years they took turns in helping my son to run the country. Later my son has understood the government affairs; the kingdom was at peace and nothing serious happened. So we went to the Big Snow Mountain to gather medicinal herbs. There Ouyang Feng injured my disciple and we moved to this place. We have never gone back to Dali ever since.

I was so hard-hearted that I was not willing to save that child’s life. Hereafter for the last ten years or so, day and night I have never had a peaceful rest. I always hoped to save many people to redeem my great sin. They did not know my miserable inner feeling, so they always tried to hinder me. Ay, even if I could save thousand people, ten thousand people, that child would still be dead. How else would I repay his life if not with my own? Everyday I have been waiting for Ying Gu, waiting for her to stab her dagger into my heart. I was afraid she might come here too late; I am already dead, then it would be difficult to redeem my sin. Good, finally she will be here. Why would she mix the poison into the Nine-flowered Jade Dew Pills? If I knew she would arrive soon after she poisoned me, I wouldn’t have wasted these past several hours trying to survive, also my martial brother would not need to waste his divine power to neutralize the poison.”

Huang Rong indignantly said, “This woman’s heart is so evil! She had found out Uncle’s dwelling early on, but was afraid that her own martial art would be insufficient; so she deliberately waited for a good opportunity. Coincidentally she met me, suffering the Iron Palm injury, so she guided me to seek your help. She wanted to employ two methods to achieve one goal; first she wanted you to waste your strength, then to seize that opportunity to poison you. I was so gullible to become the unaware weapon of this wicked woman. Uncle, how did Ouyang Feng’s drawing ended up in her hand? What does this drawing have to do with her?”

Reverend Yideng took The Great Buddist Scripture from the small table beside him, turned several pages and started to read, “The story of the picture is originated from an ancient Indian city: Once there was a king, his name was Shipi. He was a diligent ascetic practitioner, always followed the way of the true enlightenment. One day there was a hawk chasing a pigeon. The pigeon flew in and hid underneath Shipi’s arm, seeking refuge. The hawk demanded the king to return the pigeon to him, he said, ‘If the king saves the pigeon, the hawk will die of starvation.’ The king realized he could not save one without harming the other. Thereupon he took a knife and cut his own flesh for the hawk. The hawk said, ‘If the king cuts his own flesh, it must be the same weight as the pigeon.’ Shipi ordered his guard to fetch a balance. He placed the pigeon on one end and his flesh on the other; but no matter how much he cut his flesh, the pigeon end was still low. The king cut his chest, his back, his arm, his side, but the pigeon was still heavier. Finally he put his whole body onto the balance. Right away the earth shook; music came from the sky, the deities scattered flowers and sweet fragrance filled the whole earth. The dragons, the demons and all heavenly creatures sighed, ‘Shan zai, shan zai [lit. good, peace], there has never been this kind of bravery.’” It was only a myth, but Yideng narrated it full of compassion and mercy, and the audience’s hearts were moved.

“Uncle,” Huang Rong said, “She was afraid you might not be willing to treat my injury, so she used this picture to move your heart.”

Yideng smiled and said, “It seemed that way. When she left Dali that day, her heart was set on seeking revenge, so it seems logical for her to roam the Jianghu [lit. rivers and lakes] to learn martial art from a highly skilled person. Some way or another she met Ouyang Feng, and as Ouyang Feng learned about her intention he helped her plan this scheme, he drew this picture and gave it to her. This book is well-spread in the western region, and Ouyang Feng is from the western region, so he must be familiar with this story.”

Full of hatred Huang Rong said, “The Old Poison used Ying Gu, in turn Ying Gu used me. This is an evil plan of murder with a borrowed knife.”

Yideng sighed, “You don’t need to be upset. If you had not met her, she would injure someone else and send that person to me to be treated. Only if that person does not have a highly skilled escort, he won’t be able to go up the mountain easily. Ouyang Feng must have drawn this picture a long time ago; they have been setting up this plan for at least ten years. Contrary to their expectation, they were unable to find someone for ten years; that is also because of fate.”

“Uncle, I know it,” Huang Rong said, “She has something else in her mind which is more important than harming you.” “Ah!” Yideng exclaimed, “What matter?”

Huang Rong replied, “The Old Urchin was imprisoned by my father on the Peach Blossom Island. She wanted to help him out.” And then Huang Rong told him how Ying Gu painstakingly learned ‘qi men’ [strange/wonderful/mysterious gate] and mathematics. Finally she said, “Afterwards she found out that even if she studied for a hundred years more it would still be difficult for her to overcome my father, plus she saw me getting injured, thereupon …”

Yideng uttered a long laugh; he stood up and said, “Fine, fine. All’s well that ends well. Everything has come together. Today finally she will get her wish.” With a calm face he turned to his four disciples and said, “You go and welcome Concubine Liu, no, welcome Ying Gu and take her up the mountain. You must not utter even half a word of disrespect.” As if by prior agreement the four disciples bowed to the ground and cried, they called out together, “Shifu!”

Yideng sighed, “You have followed me for many, many years, don’t you understand your Shifu’s heart?” Toward Guo Jing and Huang Rong he said, “I am asking you two a favor.”

Jing and Rong answered together, “Just say it, we won’t dare to disobey.”

“Good,” Yideng said, “Now I want you to go down the mountain. All my life I owed Ying Gu a lot. In the future, whenever she is facing a difficulty or is in danger, I am asking you for the Old Monk’s sake, to lend a hand as much as you can. If you two can help in the matter of successful conclusion of her and Zhou Shixiong’s affair, the Old Monk will be forever grateful.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong looked at each other in astonishment; they did not dare to reply. Yideng saw those two were silent, he pressed again, “This Old Monk’s request, is it difficult for you to give your consent?”

Huang Rong reluctantly replied, “Since Uncle has asked, we will obey.” She tugged Guo Jing’s sleeve and bowed down to bid farewell. “You don’t have to meet Ying Gu,” Yideng said, “Go down from the back of the mountain.”

Huang Rong gave her reply, pulled Guo Jing’s hand and turned around to go. The four disciples saw she appeared calm without any trace of grief, they secretly scolded her as cold-hearted and mean, seeing her savior was facing danger she was indifferent and walked away. Guo Jing knew Huang Rong would not rest before she cooked another plan, so he followed her out.

When they got to the door Huang Rong whispered something in his ear. Guo Jing looked hesitant but finally he nodded his head. He turned around and slowly walked back.

Yideng said, “Your heart is honest and upright, you will accomplish great things in the future. I am entrusting Ying Gu’s business to you.”

“Very well!” Guo Jing replied, “Junior will do my utmost to tend to the Reverend’s business.” Suddenly he reached backward and grabbed the Indian Monk’s hand sitting next to Yideng. Guo Jing’s left hand went straight and hit his ‘hua gai’ [fancy canopy] and ‘tian zhu’ [heaven’s pillar] two main acupoints. These acupoints were located one on the hand, the other on the foot; once they were sealed then four limbs would be immobilized. This move totally took Yideng and his four disciples by surprise; they called out, “What are you doing?”

Guo Jing did not reply, his left hand went straight toward Yideng’s shoulder. Yideng’s right palm made a turn and fast as lighting grabbed Guo Jing’s left hand. Guo Jing was startled; he thought Yideng was already shrouded inside his palm’s strength, unexpectedly not only he managed to break through but launched a counterattack as well. Moreover, Yideng’s attack was targeting his vital point. It was truly an exquisite skill. Only as Yideng’s palm came within an inch of his hand he could feel Yideng’s palm was weak. Guo Jing took this opportunity to turn his palm around to protect his hand, while his right hand launched ‘Divine Dragon Swings Its Tail’ to repel the fisherman and the woodcutter who attacked him from behind. The forefinger of his left hand was still moving straight forward to seal the ‘feng wei’ [phoenix’s tail] and ‘jing cu’ [near energy] on Yideng’s side. “Uncle,” he said, “I beg your forgiveness.”

Meanwhile Huang Rong had pushed the farmer out of the door using the Dog Beating Stick technique. The scholar was surprised with this abrupt turn of events; he did not understand Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s intention. “If you have something to discuss, say it; please don’t fight!” he repeatedly shouted.

Seeing his Shifu’s condition the farmer was like a mad tiger; neglecting his own life he charged toward the meditation room. But the Dog Beating Stick was too much for him, he charged three times and three times Huang Rong’s stick pushed him back.

Guo Jing’s palms moved in circles with a strong gust of wind, forcing the fisherman, the woodcutter and the scholar to move back step by step toward the door. Huang Rong abruptly swung her stick from the ground upward to the farmer’s eyebrow. This move was so swift that the farmer cried out, “Aiyo!” He threw his head backward and leaped back several feet.

“Good!” Huang Rong exclaimed. She reached backward and closed the door. With a chuckle she said, “Gentlemen, please hold your hands! I have something to say.”

Every time the woodcutter and the fisherman met with Guo Jing’s palm they felt their arms went numb and their feet staggered. They saw Guo Jing was about to strike again, quickly they stood side by side, ready to receive Guo Jing’s palm with their combine forces. As Guo Jing heard Huang Rong’s words he stopped his palm midway and withdrew it back. Cupping his fists he said, “Please forgive my offense.”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar looked at each other in consternation. With a serious face Huang Rong said, “I have received Honorable Master’s kindness; now I know that Honorable Master is facing a difficulty, how can I just leave and do nothing? We have offended you with the intention to help.”

The scholar stepped forward, bowed deeply and said, “The enemy is our Master’s wife; it would be inconvenient for us to offend her. If she wants to go up the mountain, we won’t have any way of stopping her. Moreover, ever since that … that young master died, for more than ten years our Shifu’s heart was restless. Even if his energy were still intact and he were not poisoned, when he saw Concubine Liu arrive he would not defend himself against her dagger. We cannot disobey our master, yet our hearts are burning with anxiety. We have exhausted our wisdom and used up all our strengths, still we don’t know what to do. Miss is so smart; if you can show us a way, even if our bodies and bones are ground to dust we will wish to repay your kindness.”

Hearing him speaking earnestly Huang Rong did not dare to joke around like she previously did, she said, “We, martial brother and sister, are very grateful for the Honorable Master’s kindness, no different than the four of you, we will use all means possible to help. It will be best if we can prevent Ying Gu from entering the meditation room, but to think that she has been waiting patiently at the Black Marsh for more than ten years, she must have made ample preparation. I am afraid it won’t be easy to block her. Little sister’s plan involves a great danger. If we succeed, we can expect smooth sailing in the future, without any imminent trouble. But it is extremely risky, that Ying Gu is very astute and sly, her martial art skill is also high, so there is a possibility for failure. My ability and wisdom is very shallow and simple, I can’t think of any foolproof plan.”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar said, “We beg your explanation.”

Huang Rong raised her pretty eyebrows and laid down her plan. As the four disciples listened to it, they looked at each other and did not say anything for half a day.

.o0o.

It was the tenth hour (5 – 7 pm), the sun slowly sank behind the mountain. The strong mountain breeze swayed the leaves of the palm trees planted in rows outside the meditation courtyard. The withered lotus leaves on the pond also made a rustling noise. The evening sun cast its light from behind the mountain peaks, the mountain ridges looked like a silhouette of a giant reclining on the ground. The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar sat cross-legged on the ground by the stone bridge. They opened their eyes wide looking to the front. Each heart was heavy with restlessness.

They had waited for a long time. The sky had darkened, the dusk gradually turned into night. The crows crowed while they were flying in the valley below. A thin white mist rose up from the canyon below. But still no one appeared from the turn at the mountain cliff beyond the stone bridge. The fisherman thought, “If only Concubine Liu has a sudden change of heart and does not blame Shifu, maybe she reined her horse beyond the cliff and decided not to come over …”

The woodcutter thought, “This Concubine Liu is very crafty; she must have been preparing a really sinister plot.”

The farmer was more anxious and impatient than the others, he thought, “The sooner she arrives, the sooner we can get it over with; whether it will be disaster or fortune, good or evil, we will find out sooner. She said she would come and she hasn’t arrived yet, it really is exasperating.”

The scholar thought, “The more delayed she is, the more dangerous the threat will be. This matter is really difficult to be solved nicely.” It goes without saying that he was a good schemer and tactician; he had been the prime minister of Dali kingdom for more than a dozen of years. He had seen major battle and faced many difficult situations, yet this time he was nervous. He had given this matter a lot of thoughts, but could not put out the least bit of idea. His eyes scanned the darkened surrounding area; his ears heard the distant cry of an owl. Suddenly he remembered when he was a child he often heard people say, ‘The owl [lit. night cat] hides in a secret place and stealthily counts human’s eyebrows. Whoever got his eyebrows counted correctly, that person will not live to see the daylight.’ It was obviously a myth to deceive little children, but in this situation suddenly hearing the cry of the owl, he involuntarily shuddered. “Could it be that Shifu won’t be able to escape this disaster and die under this woman’s hands?” He had just finished his thought when suddenly the woodcutter whispered urgently with a trembling voice, “She is here!”

The scholar lifted his head and saw a black shadow flew across the stone bridge and light as a feather jumped over the gap, as if floating without exerting any energy at all. The four people were astonished, “When she started training with Shifu, we have already been under his tutelage for a long time. How can her martial art exceed ours? In this last dozen of years or so, where did she go to learn such a marvelous skill?” they thought. As they saw that dark shadow come near, four people stood up and positioned themselves on either side of the way.

In a blink of an eye that dark shadow has arrived at the end of the stone bridge; she was wearing black clothes, and her facial features could be vaguely recognized as Concubine Liu whom the Emperor Duan loved very much in the years past.

Four people knelt down and kowtowed, “Xiao Ren [little/lowly people] greets Niang-niang [madam, or in this case can be translated as ‘empress’].”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted. Her gaze swept the four people’s faces and she said, “What Niang-niang? Concubine Liu had died long ago, I am Ying Gu. Hmm, the Prime Minister, the General, the Admiral, and the Commanding Officer of the ‘yu lin jun’ [lit. defending woods troops. I am not sure, but I think ‘yu lin jun’ is the personal bodyguards of the emperor] are all here. I thought the Emperor had forsaken worldliness and became a monk, who would have thought that he is hiding in this remote mountain and lives in peace and security as an emperor.” Her voice carried so much hatred that their hearts trembled.

The scholar said, “The Emperor does not look like his former self. I am sure Niang-niang will not recognize him anymore.”

Ying Gu laughed a cold laugh, “You keep saying Niang-niang this and Niang-niang that; are you mocking me? You are stiffly sitting on your knees down here, are you wishing me dead?”

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar looked at each other and then they stood up. “Your servants wish for your health,” they said.

Ying Gu waved her hand, “The Emperor ordered you to stop me here, do you still have to perform this empty obeisance? If you want to fight, then just fight. You are lords and royalties, I don’t know how many common people you have harmed; why would you still pretend in front of an ordinary woman like me?”

The scholar said, “Our Emperor loves the people like his children, full of generosity and benevolence, the common people of Dali country still praise him even until today. Our Emperor not only has never harmed the innocent all his life, even toward criminal with grave offense oftentimes he bestowed abundant favor. Doesn’t Niang-niang know?”

Ying Gu’s face turned red, with stern voice she said, “Do you dare to offend me?” “Wei chen [lowly officer] doesn’t dare,” the scholar replied.

Ying Gu said, “With your mouth you acknowledge me as your superior, but in your heart how can you still think there is any royalty- officer relationship between us? I want to see Duan Zhixing; will you let me or will you not?” ‘Duan Zhixing’ was Reverend Yideng’s given name. Although the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar knew it, they never dared to mention it casually. Now that Ying Gu mentioned his name irreverently they could not help but feel offended. The farmer was formerly the Emperor Duan’s personal bodyguards’ captain; he could not endure patiently. With a loud voice he shouted, “One day became an emperor, he will be honored for the rest of his life. How can it be that you speak without propriety?”

Ying Gu let out a long laugh and without saying anything charged forward. Four people respectively shot out their arms to block; they thought, “Even though her martial art skill is high, with us combining our efforts we should be able to stop her. We are going to disobey our order, but the situation is dire, we’ll talk later.”

Who would have thought that Ying Gu did not use her palm or fist to attack, but utilizing her lightness kungfu she bumped them. The woodcutter saw her coming fast, he did not dare to touch her body, he moved aside swiftly, then stretched out his hand trying to grab her shoulder. His hand was quick and powerful, but as soon as he touched her shoulder he felt like he was trying to grab something exceptionally slick, so that his hand slipped away.

By this time with a loud shout the farmer and the fisherman attacked from left and right. Ying Gu ducked and just like a slithery snake she slipped underneath the fisherman’s armpit. The fisherman’s nostrils caught a faint whiff of fragrance, it smelled like an orchid but not quite like an orchid, like musk deer but not quite like musk deer. He was frantic and did not dare to catch her body in between his arms; he opened up his arms instead for fear of touching her body.

The farmer was indignant, “What are you doing?” he shouted. With his ten fingers forming a pair of claws he tried to grab Ying Gu’s waist.

“Don’t be impolite!” the woodcutter called out.

The farmer turned a deaf ear to him, very soon his fingers had reached Ying Gu’s waist, but somehow it was like his fingers were touching a very smooth and oily surface that they slipped away from her waist.

Ying Gu had used the ‘ni qiu gong’ [mud loach maneuver] she perfected in the Black Marsh to go through these three people. Now she knew that these four were helpless to block her. Her palm slapped backward toward the farmer. The scholar swung his arm with his finger aimed toward the acupoint on her hand. To his surprise Ying Gu did not retract her hand but stuck her index finger up and quick as lightning two fingers collided in the air. The scholar had exerted all his strength to his right hand finger, suddenly he felt his finger went numb, his body felt like he was electrocuted. “Aiyo!” he cried out and fumbled down to the ground. The woodcutter and the fisherman busily stooped down to help.

The farmer’s left fist went straight ahead like a hammer hurled toward Ying Gu’s body. This attack carried a strong gust of wind, the force was astonishing. Seeing this strong attack Ying Gu stood her ground and did not evade. The farmer was alarmed; he thought if his fist hit her head, her skull would be cracked. Hastily he tried to withdraw his power, but by that time his fist had already touched the tip of Ying Gu’s nose. Ying Gu leaned her head slightly, the fist slipped from her nose and slid to her cheek. The farmer retracted his left arm, but it was too late. His hand was grabbed by his opponent and with a ‘crack’ sound he felt a shot of pain on his arm. His elbow joint was broken by the back of her fist. The farmer gritted his teeth, ignoring the pain, his right hand index finger swiftly attacked the crook of the opponent’s elbow.

The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar’s acupoint sealing technique was taught by Reverend Yideng. It was inferior to the Solitary Yang Finger with its infinite variations, but it could be considered as a first class acupoint sealing technique in the Wulin world; how would they know that fighting Ying Gu they were like fighting their black star. She was determined to avenge the death of her son; she fully realized Reverend Yideng’s finger skill was very fierce, thereupon she spent a great deal of time and energy to find a method to subdue that skill. She was very skillful in embroidery, so she found her inspiration from the wonderful needlework technique. She wore a tiny golden hoop on the tip of her right hand index finger; on the hoop was a three-fen (about 1 cm) long golden needle, which tip was dipped in poison. Her vision was excellent, her hand was steady; after training hard for several years she was able to prick a fly flying in the air. This time fighting the enemy she was able to prick the scholar’s index finger. Seeing the direction of the farmer’s finger she laughed coldly, lifting up her delicate hand she aimed her fingertip to his and pricked the farmer’s finger.

As the saying goes, ‘ten fingers join the heart’, the tip of the index finger is connected to the hand’s ‘yang ming’ [positive and bright] passage to the large intestine. As the golden needle pricked in, it hit the ‘shang yang xue’ [positive quotient acupoint] squarely.

In his last effort to score victory amidst a defeat, the farmer had exerted all his strength to his finger. Ying Gu on the other hand, did not have to exert any strength; all she needed to do was to position her golden needle right on the path of the farmer’s finger. Hence she let the farmer prick his own finger by the needle.

As his finger was pricked, the farmer roared like a tiger and fumbled to the ground. Ying Gu coldly mocked, “Nice Captain!” and she dashed toward the courtyard in front of the meditation building.

“Niang-niang, stop!” the fisherman shouted.

Ying Gu halted her step and turned around; “And just how are you going to stop me?” she sneered. By that time she had already at the front of the lotus pond. The pond was connected to the meditation building by a small stone bridge. Ying Gu was standing on the bridge’s end, staring at the fisherman. The night was dark, barely enough ambient light to recognize her face. The fisherman stood facing her, he felt her stares were very cold; he shivered involuntarily and did not dare to step forward to stop her.

Ying Gu coldly said, “The Prime Minister and the Captain have been hit by my ‘qi jue zhen’ [seven lethal needle], nobody in this world can save their lives. Do you want to send your own life off?” Without waiting for an answer she turned around and slowly walked forward. Not once did she turn her head; apparently she was not afraid of any sneak attack.

It was only about twenty steps from the small bridge to the building. As she reached the end of the pathway, suddenly someone came out from the darkness; cupping up his fists he said, “Senior, how are you?”

Ying Gu was startled; she thought, “This person waited quietly here and appeared suddenly; why didn’t I heard his breathing before? If he had evil intention I would have been dead or at least wounded.” She fixed her eyes to look closer and saw this person was tall and broad-shouldered, with thick eyebrows and big eyes; it was precisely the person she gave directions to, Guo Jing. “Is the young miss’ injury healed?” she asked.

Guo Jing bowed and said, “Thank you so much for your directions, Senior. Reverend Yideng has cured my martial sister’s injury. “Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “Why didn’t she thank me in person?” Her mouth was speaking, but her feet also kept walking forward. Guo Jing was standing at the other end of the bridge. “Senior, please return!” he hastily said.

Ying Gu ignored him; she slightly leaned her body sideways and utilizing the ‘ni qiu gong’ she slipped past by him. Even though Guo Jing had fought Ying Gu at the Black Marsh, he did not anticipate she would slip pass him while still talking and that her body could be this slippery. In his desperation Guo Jing flung his left arm backward, attacking Ying Gu using the marvelous Vacant Fist of Zhou Botong.

Ying Gu thought that she had already slipped through Guo Jing; who would have thought that suddenly a soft yet strong gust of wind came from his fist pounced toward her face, forcing her to draw back. But Ying Gu was determined not to return, so no matter how strong Guo Jing’s attack was, she bravely charged forward as if wanted to receive the blow head-on.

“Watch out!” Guo Jing hurriedly shouted. He felt a warm and soft female body was thrown into the crook of his own elbow. He was stunned. Taking advantage of his situation Ying Gu swept his feet and both of them fell into the lotus pond.

When they were still midair, Ying Gu’s left hand slipped underneath Guo Jing’s right arm pit, wound around his back and grabbed his left shoulder, her middle finger curled toward Guo Jing’s throat while her thumb and index finger pinched the back of his neck with all her strength. It was the fiercest ‘qian feng hou bi qi’ [sealing front throat shutting air] technique from the ‘qin na shou’ [grab and capture]; so long as one pinch hit the mark, the enemy’s air passage would be sealed and he would not be able to breathe.

While he was falling down Guo Jing felt his shoulder was grabbed, he knew his situation was not good. He bent his right arm to clasp Ying Gu’s neck. It was also a technique from the ‘qin na shou’ called the ‘hou xie jing bi qi’ [clasping the back of the neck to close up breathing]. Ying Gu knew Guo Jing’s arm strength was devastating, and that her own strength was far too inferior; she knew although she attacked first but she could not compete with him in terms of brute force, so she let her hand off Guo Jing shoulder and stretched her finger to prick him instead. Guo Jing used his left arm to parry her finger.

Falling from the stone bridge to the lotus pond actually took a short moment, but two people had exchanged attacks and counterattacks swiftly; in a blink of an eye they had exchanged no less than three stances. Both were utilizing close combat techniques of ‘qin na shou’. Ying Gu’s skill was profound, yet Guo Jing’s strength was astonishing. In these three stances victory and defeat could not be decided. ‘Splash!’ two people fell into the pond.

The bottom of the pond was covered with mud about three feet high; as they fell, they were immersed in the water up to their chests. Ying Gu’s left hand scooped down some mud and smeared it toward Guo Jing’s mouth. Guo Jing was shocked and lowered his head to avoid the mud. Ying Gu had lived on the Black Marsh for more than ten years. Her Loach Maneuver was developed based on watching loach diving and moving around in the mud. Fighting on land she was exceptionally slippery, how much more in the mud? She was like a tiger that grew wings. She intentionally dragged Guo Jing to the pond because she was aware of his martial art; she knew it would be difficult to cross the bridge with Guo Jing guarding it. Her finger-pricking technique was actually several times faster in the mud than on dry land; plus every now and then she scooped a handful of mud and smeared it on Guo Jing’s face.

Both of Guo Jing’s feet sank deep into the mud; moreover, he did not dare to use too much strength and accidentally injure her, so after about only four or five stances he was already at a disadvantage. He heard a swishing sound of mud coming toward his face; hastily he dodged sideways. Who would have thought that as the first mud flew past; the second mud had arrived, followed by the third handful of mud, which hit him squarely on his face so that his mouth, nose and eyes were covered in stinky mud.

The Six Freaks of Jiangnan had taught him well, so he knew if he was hit by a secret projectile, he must not frantically trying to pull out the projectile, because then the enemy would seize the opportunity to assault and make a kill. At this moment he could not breathe and could not open his eyes; he moved his palms and launched three fierce stances so no one would be able to come within five feet near him. Just then he wiped the mud from his face with his left hand and opened his eyes; but Ying Gu had already leaped up to the stone bridge and dashed toward the meditation courtyard.

As Ying Gu successfully went through Guo Jing she secretly scolded herself, “Ashamed! If there were no pond, how would I overcome this dumb kid? It looks like the Heaven is helping me to seek revenge today.”

She sped up her steps and arrived at the temple door shortly. She raised her hand to push; the door was not bolted, it opened immediately with a soft creaking sound. This time she did not rush in, expecting an ambush or some booby trap on the door. She waited outside the door only to see the room was empty, nothing astir. Slowly Ying Gu entered the room. She saw it was a meditation room with a single oil lamp illuminating the image of Buddha with a dignified face. Ying Gu’s heart turned sour, she knelt on the meditation mat and offered a silent prayer. She just barely prayed for a short moment when suddenly she heard someone chuckle softly behind her. Immediately her left hand flung backward in a sweeping movement to block any potential sneak attack, while her right hand pushed down the mediation mat, borrowing the momentum to leap upward and made a graceful somersault in the air before landing back down to the ground.

“Excellent skill!” she heard a woman’s voice applaud. Ying Gu turned to look and saw a young girl wearing green clothes with red belt around her waist and a bunch of golden hoops flickering under the lamp light on her hair, her pair of beautiful eyes stared at Ying Gu with a hint of smile in them; there was a gleaming dark green bamboo stick in her hand. Needless to say, it was Huang Rong. “Senior Ying Gu, I thank you for your kindness in saving my life,” she said.

“I gave you directions to treat your injury, but my real intention was to harm others,” Ying Gu said matter-of-factly, “So I really was not saving your life. Why should you thank me?”

Huang Rong sighed, “Vengeance and debt of kindness is really difficult to understand. My father imprisoned the Old Urchin Zhou Botong on the Peach Blossom Island for fifteen years. In the end he still could not save my mother’s life.”

As she heard the name ‘Zhou Botong’ was mentioned, Ying Gu was extremely shocked. “What relation did your mother have with Zhou Botong?” she asked sternly.

Hearing her tone Huang Rong knew she suspected Zhou Botong had some love affair with her mother and consequently was imprisoned by her father on the Peach Blossom Island. Apparently even after more than a dozen years her feeling toward Zhou Botong did not subside; otherwise why would she drink vinegar over nothing?

Lowering her head, in a mournful voice Huang Rong said, “My mother died of exhaustion due to the Old Urchin.”

Ying Gu was more suspicious than ever. Under the dim light she could see Huang Rong’s skin was as white as snow, her eyes and eyebrows were beautiful; even Ying Gu in her prime years was not as beautiful as she was. She deducted that Huang Rong’s mother must also be beautiful; it would be difficult for Zhou Botong to see her and not be attracted to her. Ying Gu frowned involuntarily.

“Don’t you have any ideas,” Huang Rong said, “My mother is like an angel; that Zhou Botong is as stupid and stubborn as a cow. Unless the woman has eyes but fails to see, nobody would have a crush on him.”

Ying Gu knew Huang Rong was mocking her, but her suspicion was gone; she was instantly relieved. Without batting an eyelid she coldly retorted, “Since there is someone who loves Guo Jing who is as stupid as a pig, there must be someone who loves a man as stupid and stubborn as a cow. How did the Old Urchin cause your mother’s death?”

Huang Rong pouted and said, “You scold my martial brother; I won’t talk to you.” She brushed her sleeve and turned around, pretending to be mad.

Ying Gu really wanted to know about Zhou Botong, so she busily said, “All right, I won’t do that anymore. Your martial brother is actually very smart.”

Huang Rong halted her steps and turned around. “That Old Urchin did not intentionally cause my mother’s death,” she said, “It was very unfortunate of my mother to die because of him. In his anger my father imprisoned him on the Peach Blossom Island; but afterwards my father regretted it. Injustice has its cause, debt has its originator. If someone killed your loved one you should go to the ends of the earth to seek vengeance on the murderer. Why would you vent your anger toward others?”

This speech was like a severe blow on Ying Gu’s head; she stood still without making any noise. She heard Huang Rong continue, “My father had long ago freed the Old Urchin …” Ying Gu was pleasantly surprised, “Then I don’t have to rescue him?” she asked.

Huang Rong smiled, “If my father had not released him, were you going to rescue the Old Urchin?” she asked. Ying Gu was silent.

When Ying Gu left Dali her intention was to look for Zhou Botong. The first few years was spent without hearing any news about him. Then quite by accident she heard from the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind that Zhou Botong was imprisoned on the Peach Blossom Island by Huang Yaoshi; but as for the reason behind it she could not inquire. That day when Zhou Botong renounced her and left Dali she knew that it would be very difficult for him to have a change of heart if not because of some significant cause. This time as she learned about his predicament she was both happy and sad at the same time; sad because the man she loved was in trouble, happy because she thought this was a good opportunity. If she managed to rescue him, how could he not have deep affection toward her? Who would have thought that the roads and pathways on the Peach Blossom Island had a thousand turns and a hundred detours? No need to mention rescuing anybody, she almost died of starvation for three days and three nights. If Huang Yaoshi did not send a deaf and mute servant to show her the way, she would never leave that island alive. Thereupon she made the Black Marsh her residence, diligently learning math and theory of numbers. Now she heard that Zhou Botong had been released she stared blankly with all kinds of thoughts bubbling up in her heart.

Huang Rong smiled and gently said, “The Old Urchin is most willing to listen to me; he won’t dare to turn down whatever I say. If you want to see him, follow me and go down the mountain. Let me be the matchmaker between the two of you; just consider it my way of saying thanks for saving my life.” Her words had made Ying Gu’s cheeks turn red with her heart thumping wild.

Seeing her speech might turn murderous intent into a happy occasion Huang Rong felt smug. Suddenly she heard a slapping sound; Ying Gu’s palms struck each other. Her face looked like it was covered with a layer of frost; sternly she said, “What makes him listen to you, a girl surnamed Huang? Why would he follow your direction? Because of your good looks? I have never shown kindness to you, I don’t need you to repay. Quickly make way for me, or else don’t blame me for being merciless.” “Aiyo, you want to kill me?” Huang Rong laughed.

Ying Gu raised her eyebrows. “What if I do?” she coldly said, “Others are scared of the Old Heretic Huang, I am not afraid of the heaven and the earth.”

Huang Rong chuckled, “Killing me is not a big deal,” she said cheekily, “But who would help you solve the three mathematical problems I left for you?”

Since that day Huang Rong wrote three mathematical problems on the sand inside the thatched hut at the Black Marsh, Ying Gu had painstakingly racked her brain day and night; but she did not have any clue on how to solve them. At first she studied mathematics with the intention of rescuing Zhou Botong; but later on she was captivated with this complex yet mysterious subject. The further she dug into it, the more fascinated she became that sometimes she forgot to eat or sleep, and could not stop even if she wanted to. She knew perfectly well that even if she could solve these problems, compared to Huang Yaoshi’s, her skill would still be like heaven from earth; in other words, it would not help her the least a bit in her plan to rescue Zhou Botong. But curiosity had forced her to rack her brain; without a clear answer it would be difficult for her to keep her mind at peace. Now that Huang Rong mentioned it, the three subjects immediately flashed on her mind clearly; without realizing it her face showed hesitation.

“Don’t kill me, I’ll teach you,” Huang Rong said. She took the oil lamp from the image of Buddha and placed it on the ground. Taking a golden needle out, she started writing numbers and letters on the brick floor.

The first subject was the ‘qi yao jiu zhi tian zhu bi suan’ [seven dazzling nine grasping Indian method of calculation]. As Ying Gu saw the solution she was dazzled and could not help but secretly sigh in praise. Huang Rong continued with the second subject, the ‘li fang zhao bing zhi yin gei mi ti’ [lit. standing up soldier supplying silver topic] had profound changes in it. As Ying Gu waited for her to write the last answer she sighed and said, “This middle subject surely has an endless wonderful secret.”

A moment later she said, “If we say the third subject to be easy, then it is easy; but if we regard it as difficult, then it is difficult. There is an unknown number; three and three has a remainder of two, five and five has a remainder of three, seven and seven has a remainder of two. What number is that? I know it was twenty-three; but that was a hard guess. I need to line up every number for all interchangeable computational patterns, but even after thinking until I split my head I could not figure it out.”

Huang Rong smiled, “It is very easy. Calculating three and three, it amounts to seventy. Calculating five and five, it amounts to twenty- one. Calculating seven and seven, it amounts to fifteen. Adding three numbers together, if not greater than 105, then that’s the correct answer. Otherwise, subtract 105 or its multiple.”

Ying Gu calculated it in her heart and sure enough she got the correct answer. With a low voice she recited, “Calculating three and three, it amounts to seventy. Calculating five and five …”

Huang Rong said, “You don’t have to memorize it like that. Let me give you a poem to help you memorize it easier: Three people travel together in seventy directions, five plum blossom trees have twenty one branches, seven children reunite for half a month, a hundred and five remained to be known.”

Listening to ‘three people travel together’ and ‘reunite for half a month’ Ying Gu felt offended, she thought, “This girl knows him, she knew my shameful secret from early on. ‘Three people traveling together’ is me one woman serving two men. Could it be that by ‘reunite for half a month’ she was ridiculing me of having a love affair knowing him for only a dozen of days?” What she did in the years past had become a matter of the heart to her, unavoidably she became quite over-suspicious to everybody. “All right,” she said flatly, “Thank you for your directions. ‘Asking direction in the morning, bored to death in the evening’. Must I stay to listen to you speaking more nonsense?”

Huang Rong smiled, “’Asking direction in the morning, bored to death in the evening.’ The one who died is the one asking; but I’ve never heard the one asking question kill the one preaching the sermon.”

Ying Gu stole a glance toward the meditation room; she knew Emperor Duan must be residing in the back. She saw Huang Rong kept pestering her, something was amiss. Even though Huang Rong was young, her intelligence and eccentricity was not inferior to her father’s. How could a thirty-year-old lady bicker with a baby? She was afraid her luck would turn bad just like a ship capsized in the gutter. She had wasted not a few moments because she wanted to look at Huang Rong’s calculations; while a very important matter was still ahead of her. How could she allow senseless thought over mathematics consume her energy? Therefore, she decided not to answer and immediately lifted up her feet to walk inside.

Crossing over the worship hall she saw there was a dark room ahead with only one flickering light inside. As a wary person she did not dare to rush in; raising her voice up she called out, “Duan Zhixing, are you or are you not going to see me? You hide your tail in the dark, what kind of real man are you?”

Huang Rong followed behind her, laughing, “You don’t like there is no lamp in here? The Reverend was afraid too much light would scare you away, so he ordered us to put the lights out.”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “I am the kind of person who is not afraid to go to hell, why would a mountain of blades or boiling oil scare me?”

Huang Rong clapped her hands and laughed, “That’s very good! I want to play around the mountain of blades with you.” Taking out a flint from her pocket, lighted it up, then she stooped down and lighted a lamp next to her feet. Turned out there was an oil lamp on the ground; it surprised even Ying Gu. She looked closer to see that it was not an oil lamp, but a small porcelain tea cup filled halfway with oil, with a cotton ball dipped in it as the wick. Next to the cup was a sharpened bamboo stick about a foot long, inserted on the ground with the sharpened end on the top; it looked really sharp.

Huang Rong did not pause, she kept moving and in just a short moment the floor was filled with flickering lights like stars on a dark night. Next to each cup was a sharp bamboo stick. Before Huang Rong even finished Ying Gu had started counting, and she found out there were 113 teacups with 113 bamboo sticks next to them. She was greatly baffled, “If it is the ‘mei hua zhuang’ [plum blossom stake] arrangement, then it must have either 72 sticks or 108 sticks, but it has 113 sticks; what kind of arrangement is this? The array seems random, not the ‘jiu gong ba gua’ [nine-palace eight-diagram], also not ‘mei hua wu chu’ [plum blossom five arrangements]. Moreover, these bamboo sticks are so sharp, how can somebody stand on them? Ah, right, she must be wearing iron-soled shoes.” She further thought, “This girl is prepared, I can’t fight her on these things yet I can’t ignore this. I’ll just go through it then.” Thereupon with big strides she walked forward, but the bamboo sticks were densely packed, it was difficult to walk through them, so she kicked around and broke five, six sticks while saying, “What crafty trick is this? The old lady doesn’t have time to play around with the baby.”

Hurriedly Huang Rong called, “Ah, ah! Don’t do that! Don’t do that!” Ying Gu ignored her and kept kicking. “All right!” Huang Rong called out, “You don’t want to talk reason with me, I am going to turn off the lights. Quickly memorize the bamboo sticks’ positions.”

Ying Gu was startled, she thought, “If these people gang up and plan to attack me, they must have memorized the position of these sticks early on. I could get killed among the bamboo sticks in the dark. I must leave this dangerous place quickly!” She gave her spirit a boost and sped her steps up, kicking furiously.

“Shameless!” Huang Rong called out. She brandished her bamboo stick trying to block Ying Gu. The oil lamp shone on the dark-green bamboo stick, creating a spooky shadow dancing in front of Ying Gu’s face. Of course Ying Gu did not think much about a teenage girl’s stick technique. Her left palm hacked vertically down; she thought one palm should be enough to break the bamboo stick. Who would have thought that Huang Rong’s stick technique was the Dog Beating Stick’s sealing technique; the stick moved horizontally, it was not aimed at the enemy’s body, but it turned into a piece of jade-green wall blocking in front of the door. As long as the enemy did not tread a step, the wall would not hurt the least bit, but if one attacked one would immediately hit.

As Ying Gu hacked down her palm, ‘crack!’ her palm was hit by the end of the stick. Hastily she withdrew her already pain and numb hand. She was not hit on a vital acupoint, but the pain was severe. Formerly Ying Gu did not think much of Huang Rong’s martial art, but as she was hit she became startled and angry. She realized now that this young crafty kid was not easy to deal with. She swallowed her anger and cautiously guarded against the opponent’s martial art, trying to gain more understanding before deciding on the next course of action. She thought, “I have seen the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind’s martial art. Their skills were very profound, but they were already thirty, forty years old. How can this little girl attain this kind of level? It must be that Huang Yaoshi has passed on his lifelong achievement to his only beloved daughter.”

When she went to the Peach Blossom Island she had suffered a bitter defeat without even seeing Huang Yaoshi, almost died on the island; therefore, she always feared the Master of the Peach Blossom Island. She actually did not know that this Dog Beating Technique was the Beggar Clan Leader’s unique skill, that even if Huang Yaoshi were there, he would not necessarily be able to penetrate the stick’s defense immediately.

While Ying Gu hesitated and held her attack back, Huang Rong kept moving her stick with the sealing technique, blocking Ying Gu from entering the door. In the meantime Huang Rong’s feet did not stay idle, she moved from one bamboo stick to the other with agility like a dancing butterfly, kicking the flames one by one. In a short moment she had extinguished most of the 113 oil lamps.

The way she kicked the lamps was amazing; not only she did not step on any teacup, none of the teacups was kicked upside down or smashed, also only a little bit of oil was splashed over. She was fully utilizing the Peach Blossom Island’s ‘sao ye tui fa’ [sweeping leaves leg/kicking technique]. Her movement was swift and accurate, but Ying Gu could see that her skill had not yet reached perfection, it was far inferior to the marvelous changes of the bamboo stick technique. Moreover, although her injury had been healed, her strength had not fully recovered yet. Ying Gu thought that if she attacked the lower part of Huang Rong’s body she might score a victory within dozens of stances. However, as Ying Gu was contemplating her course of action only about seven or eight oil lamps were left flickering in the wind on the northeast corner of the room; while the other three corners were already pitch-black.

Suddenly Huang Rong’s stick moved twice, Ying Gu was startled; under the faint yellow light of the oil lamp she saw a clearance in between two sharp bamboo stick on the ground, giving her an opportunity to retreat one step. Huang Rong stuck her stick on the ground and using it as a pole her body floated in the air horizontally; her long sleeve whisked off and extinguished the seven, eight remaining lamps.

Ying Gu groaned inwardly, “Although I believe I have a way to score victory, among these sharp bamboo sticks every step I take can pierce a hole on my foot; how am I going to fight?” she thought. In the darkness she heard Huang Rong call out, “Have you memorized the bamboo sticks position? Let us fight for thirty stances; if you can defeat me, I will let you go in to see Emperor Duan, all right?”

Ying Gu replied, “You are the one who arranged these sticks. I don’t know how much time you spent practicing here; while you only gave others a wink to look at these many oil lamps.”

Huang Rong was still young and proud, she always tried to outdo others, she also had a high confidence on her excellent memory, so she smiled and said, “What’s so difficult about it? If you want you can light up the oil lamps rearrange the bamboo sticks as you wish, then extinguish the lamps before we fight again, all right?”

Ying Gu thought, “This is not a martial art contest, but a memorization competition. This little demon’s intelligence is matchless, how can I risk my life playing memory game with her while my big enmity is not avenged?” But suddenly she got an inspiration; after thinking about it for a moment she said, “Fine, that’s fair enough. Let the Old Lady accompany you playing.” Taking a flint from her pocket she lighted the oil lamps.

“Why do you keep calling yourself an old lady?” Huang Rong laughed, “I think you are beautiful, you are prettier than a sixteen years old girl. No wonder Emperor Duan was so crazy about you.”

Ying Gu was about to pull a bamboo stick and move it someplace else; hearing this she stopped dead on her track. “He was crazy about me?” she coldly said, “I was in the palace two whole years; just when did he pay any attention to other people?”

“Ah,” Huang Rong was surprised, “Didn’t he teach you martial art?” she asked. Ying Gu retorted, “Is teaching martial art considered paying attention?”

“Ah, I know,” Huang Rong said, “Emperor Duan was training the ‘xian tian gong’ [innate/inborn strength/energy], that’s why he could not get intimate with you.”

“Humph,” Ying Gu snorted, “What do you know? How come he got the crown prince?”

Huang Rong leaned her head sideways; she thought for a moment before answering, “The crown prince was born before he started training ‘xian tian gong’.”

Ying Gu snorted again but did not say anything. She kept pulling the sticks and inserted them back in different places. As she inserted the bamboo sticks one by one Huang Rong memorized their positions carefully; she did not dare to be careless. It was a matter of life and death, if she missed just a few inches during the fight, it would mean immediate disaster to her foot.

A moment later Huang Rong spoke again, “Emperor Duan was not willing to save your son because of his love for you.” “You knew everything?” Ying Gu said, “Humph, because of his love to me?” Her voice was brimming with bitterness.

“He was jealous of the Old Urchin,” Huang Rong said, “If he did not love you, why would he be jealous? He saw your ‘four weaving machines’ mandarin ducks handkerchief and was extremely grieved because of it.”

Ying Gu had never thought Emperor Duan had this kind of feeling toward her, she could not help but be lost in thought. Huang Rong continued, “I think you’d better come back.”

Ying Gu coldly said, “Only if you have the ability to defeat me.”

“All right,” Huang Rong said, “Since you insist, I have no alternative but risking my life to accompany you. If you can break through my defense, I definitely will not hinder you anymore. But what if you can’t?”

“I will never go up this mountain again,” Ying Gu said, “I will also free you from your obligation to accompany me for a year.” “Wonderful!” Huang Rong clapped her hands, “It would be really unbearable for me to accompany you on that rotten black marsh.”

While talking Ying Gu had already inserted about fifty, sixty sticks; immediately she kicked the oil lamps one by one and said, “The rest of them can stay as they are.” In the darkness her five fingers formed a claw fiercely attacking Huang Rong.

Remembering the sticks location Huang Rong slanted her body sideways and without hesitation her left foot landed exactly in between two sticks; while the dog beating stick in her hand shook and attacked Ying Gu’s left shoulder. Who would have thought that Ying Gu ignored her attack, she kept moving forward in big strides and with a series of cracking sound she broke about a dozen bamboo sticks with her feet; hence freely she walked to the rear courtyard.

“Aiyo!” Huang Rong was startled; she realized immediately what had happened, “I am duped. Turned out when moving the sticks around she exerted her strength and secretly pinched the sticks broken.” Because she was trying to outdo others she had not suspected Ying Gu would do such thing; she could not help but feel really vexed.

Rushing to the rear courtyard Ying Gu stretched out her hand to shove the door open. She saw an old monk sitting on a meditation mat in the middle of the room; his silvery beard hung down to his chest, a thick monk robe wrapped around his body up to his cheeks, his head hung low in meditation. The fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar, along with several old monks and young apprentices stood on either side.

The woodcutter saw Ying Gu came in, he stepped forward to the old monk, clasped his palms and said, “Shifu, Liu Niang-niang has come to visit.” The old monk slightly nodded his head without saying anything.

There was only a single oil lamp in the entire meditation room, so Ying Gu could not see everybody’s face clearly. She had known earlier that Emperor Duan had become a monk, but actually she did not think that after about a dozen years without seeing each other a heroic martial artist emperor could turn into such a fragile old monk. Recalling Huang Rong’s speech she realized now that the Emperor was not totally pitiless toward her. Her heart melted and her firm grip of the dagger slowly turned loose.

Lowering her head she saw the embroidered handkerchief that was wrapped around her baby was laid in front of the meditation mat where Emperor Duan was sitting. On top of that ‘du dou’ was the jade bracelet which the Emperor gave her. Instantaneously past events like entering the palace, training martial art, meeting Zhou, love and passion, giving birth to her son, mourning his death, everything came flashing through her mind one by one like scenes on the stage; then she saw her son’s look when he was in so much pain. Although he was still a baby it seemed like his eyes spoke thousand sentences ten thousand words wondering why his mother did not alleviate his pain and suffering. Her anger rose, she raised her dagger up and with a swift movement the dagger stabbed Emperor Duan’s chest, all through the handle.

She knew Emperor Duan’s martial art skill, this stab might not necessarily kill him; moreover, when the dagger went into his chest she had a slightly different feeling. Right away she pulled the dagger back to stab him the second time. Who would have thought that the dagger was firmly stuck between his ribs; she was unable to pull it back in a moment.

The four disciples called out in alarm and rushed forward simultaneously. In her bitterness Ying Gu had painstakingly practiced this stab thousands of times over a dozen of years period. She knew perfectly well that Emperor Duan would surely guard against her attack, so while her right hand did the stabbing, her left palm had already fluttered around, guarding the left, right and the back, three sides of her own body. Now that she could not pull the dagger back, she saw the circumstances had turned to her disadvantage. Her feet moved and she leaped toward the door. Turning her head around she caught a glimpse of Emperor Duan with his left hand on his chest, seemingly in great pain.

Now that her big enmity had been avenged, just as quick she was not sure of what she did anymore; suddenly remembered, “I had an affair with someone else and gave birth to a child, he did not speak even half a word of reproach and left me live freely in the palace. Not only he did not execute me, but he abundantly provided everything for me. In actuality he was always very good to me.” All along she only remembered that Emperor Duan did not save her son’s life, her heart was filled with hatred. Only after stabbing his chest did she remember all his kindness. She heaved a deep sigh, turned around and went out the door.

As she turned around she gasped in horror with sweats came pouring down her body, because she saw an old monk clasping his palms in front of his chest was standing on the door. Under the lamp light she could see his face looked grand and his eyes showed compassion; although he was wearing a monk robe it was as clear as the day that he was the former ruler of the southern kingdom, Emperor Duan. It was as if Ying Gu was seeing an apparition; like a flash of lightning a thought came into her mind, “Did I just kill the wrong person?” She swept her gaze backward and saw the monk she had just stabbed was slowly standing up; while removing his monk attire his left hand pulled on his chin and the white long beard came off. Ying Gu uttered another cry of shock; it turned out that old monk was Guo Jing in disguise.

It was precisely Huang Rong’s scheme: Guo Jing sealed Reverend Yideng’s acupoint and deliberately took his place to receive Ying Gu’s dagger. He was afraid the Indian Monk’s martial art skill might be high, so he attacked him first; who would have thought that the Indian Monk did not even know martial arts. Later on Huang Rong delayed Ying Gu by explaining the three mathematical problems in the courtyard; and then using the dog beating technique she fought her amidst the sharpened bamboo sticks by the oil lamps. In the meantime the four disciples quickly helped Guo Jing wash up the mud and shave his head clean. They also shaved Reverend Yideng’s long white beard and stuck it underneath Guo Jing’s chin. Actually the four disciples did not feel comfortable treating their master in such a disrespectful manner and to let Guo Jing brave a grave danger; they were feeling very uneasy. But in order to save their master’s life they did not have any other choice; if it were one of the four disciples disguising themselves, their martial art was inferior to Ying Gu, they might die under Ying Gu’s dagger.

As Ying Gu stabbed her dagger Guo Jing deftly moved his two fingers inside the monk robe to pinch the flat sides of the dagger. Who would have thought that Ying Gu’s stab was so powerful that even with Guo Jing’s finger strength the blade still cut through about half an inch of his flesh; luckily it did not break his ribs and he only suffered a superficial wound. He could have worn the soft hedgehog armor, which was impenetrable by the dagger; but Ying Gu was cunning; she would perceive the difference, then they would not get rid of the source of the disaster. If she failed this time, she would come back to seek revenge in the future.

Everybody was delighted to see this ‘jin chan tuo qiao zhi ji’ [lit. golden cicada sheds its shell tactic] accomplished successfully; who would have thought that Yideng chose this very moment to make a sudden appearance. Not only Ying Gu was startled, but everybody else also did not anticipate this to happen.

Because Yideng suffered a heavy injury and lost his strength, Guo Jing did not dare to seal his acupoint with too much strength for fear of injuring him further. In the back room Yideng slowly circulated his internal energy to unseal his own acupoint, and then he went back to the meditation room, arriving exactly at this moment.

Ying Gu’s face was pale like that of a corpse, she thought she had fallen into this trap and certainly would not have a good fortune. But Yideng told Guo Jing, “Return the dagger to her.”

Guo Jing did not dare to defy, he returned the dagger to Ying Gu. Ying Gu absentmindedly took the dagger while staring at Yideng. She was wondering what kind of torture he would use against her. But she saw that he slowly removed his monk robe and also his undergarment, and then said, “Nobody shall give her any trouble, let her go down the mountain in peace. All right, go ahead and stab me; I have been waiting for you for a long, long time.”

These words were said very gently, but in Ying Gu’s ears they were like thunderous lightning in a bright daylight. She stood motionless for half a day, then her grip loosened and the dagger fell to the ground with a clanking sound. Covering her face with both hands she rushed out of the room. They heard her footsteps as she went farther and farther away until finally they could hear her anymore.

Everybody looked at each other in shock, nobody made any noise. Suddenly ‘thump, thump’ the student and the farmer fell backward to the ground. Turned out because their fingers were poisoned, in the commotion that followed they suppressed the poison using their internal energy; by now the saw their master was well, their hearts were relieved and could not hold the poison much longer.

“Hurry, invite Martial Uncle!” the woodcutter called out. Before he finished Huang Rong had already accompanied the Indian Monk walking into the room. He was an expert in treating poison related illness. He quickly gave two people some medicine to take, also cut their fingers to get rid of the black blood. His face looked very serious, while his mouth mumbling in sanskrit, “A ma li, ha shi tu, si gu er, qi nuo dan ji.”

Yideng understood Sanskrit, he knew his disciples’ lives were not in danger. They would have to be treated for two months then they would be healed completely.

Meanwhile Guo Jing had removed his monk robe and treated the wound on his chest; he bowed to the ground in front of Yideng to apologize. Yideng busily held out his hand to raise him up; he sighed and said, “You risked your life to save mine; nothing to forgive.” Then he turned toward his martial brother and explained in Sanskrit what Guo Jing had done.

The Indian monk said, “Si li xing, ang yi na de.”

Guo Jing was startled; he knew these two sentences, and he could even recite the next line, “Si re que xu, ha hu wen bo ying …”

Zhou Botong had taught him to recite the Nine Yin Manual in its entirety. The last part of Manual was full of all these strange sentences. Guo Jing did not understand its meaning, but he was forced to memorize the entire Manual including all these mumbo- jumbo; hence he was able to recite it effortlessly.

Hearing him speaking Sanskrit Yideng and the Indian Monk were stunned; moreover, what he had just said was related to excellent technique to cultivate internal energy; they were even more astonished. Yideng asked him the whole story and Guo Jing told him without concealing anything. Yideng was endlessly marveled, he said, “I have heard the story behind the Nine Yin Manual from Chongyang Zhenren. Huang Shang, the person who compiled the manual was not only highly skilled, he was also well-versed in the Daoist canon, skilled in the internal energy cultivation, and understood Sanskrit. When the manual was complete, the last chapter was actually the essence of it. Suddenly he realized that if this manual falls into the hand of criminals, they would be able to turn the world upside down without anybody controlling them. But he was also unwilling to destroy this last chapter; thereupon he rewrote the chapter in Sanskrit, but with Chinese transliteration. He thought that it was difficult to say whether the Manual could be passed on to the future generation; the people of Central Plains who knew Sanskrit was very few, and even more rare was the number of people who were well-versed both in martial art and Sanskrit literature. If the Manual fall into the hand of an Indian, although he is proficient in Sanskrit, but he does not speak Chinese. Huang Shang arranged it this way; actually it was the same as not allowing the future generation to understand the content. Because of this Sanskrit part even Chongyang Zhenren did not understand the Manual’s meaning. Who would have thought that through divine intervention you who do not understand Sanskrit can actually memorize this lengthy great theory that sounds like incantations? It is truly a very rare opportunity.” Thereupon he asked Guo Jing to recite the Sanskrit part slowly while he translated it into Chinese, wrote it on a piece of paper and gave it to Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

The overall guiding principle of energy cultivation in the Nine Yin Manual was mysteriously deep; although Reverend Yideng was a proficient scholar with profound internal energy, he could not dissect the theory completely in such a short period of time. “Stay on the mountain for a few days, let me dig into it comprehensively, then I will transfer my knowledge to you two,” he said. He further said, “Usually as my internal strength is damaged, I will need five years of continuous training for a full recovery; but if I practice according to the Manual, it seems like in less than three months I will get a five-year-worth of internal energy cultivation. Although what I practiced is a Buddhist martial art, which was different from the Taoism method of internal energy cultivation in the Manual, but looking at this principle, as the martial art is trained to the highest level, different approaches will lead to the same result; it is no different than the Buddhism method.”

Huang Rong told him how Hong Qigong was injured by Ouyang Feng. Reverend Yideng showed great concern. “You two must tell your Shifu about the Nine Yin internal energy cultivation method; I am certain he will recover his internal strength,” he said. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very delighted to hear this.

Two people stayed on the mountain for more than ten days. Everyday Reverend Yideng explained the Nine Yin energy cultivation method to them. Huang Rong also took this opportunity for her own recovery.

One particular day they were walking idly outside the meditation building when suddenly they heard anxious cry of eagles in the air; they saw a pair of white eagles in the distance coming from the east. Huang Rong clapped her hands, “Jin wawa [lit. golden baby – see Chapter 29] is here!” The pair of eagles folded their wings and landed, they looked weary. Two people could not help to be alarmed; they saw a gaping wound on the breast of the female eagle. It looked like an arrow wound, but the arrow was no longer there; apparently the eagles had pulled the arrow themselves. There was a piece of green cloth tied on the male eagle’s foot; but they did not bring any ‘jin wawa’ with them.

Huang Rong recognized this piece of green cloth as coming from her father’s robe; then the pair of eagles had indeed been to the Peach Blossom Island. Could it be that there were powerful enemies on the Island? Could it be that Huang Yaoshi was too busy engaging the enemy that he did not have a chance to fulfill his daughter’s request?

The pair of eagles was smart animals, yet the female eagle was hit by an arrow; indicating the person shooting the arrow must have been an excellent martial artist. Guo Jing quickly applied some ointment and wrapped the wound on the female eagle’s breast. Huang Rong was thinking hard for half a day, but in the end she still did not have any clue as to what was happening. Too bad the eagles could not talk, otherwise they would be able to tell what they saw on the Peach Blossom Island.

Two people worried over Huang Yaoshi’s safety; hence they bid farewell to Reverend Yideng immediately. “We can still be together for many days to come, but since there is something happening on the Peach Blossom Island I cannot retain you anymore. However, Yao Xiong [Brother Yao] is all-resourceful; he is wise and smart. I believe no one in the present age is able to harm him; you two do not have to be too anxious.”

Yideng then sent for the fisherman, the woodcutter, the farmer and the scholar; together with Guo Jing and Huang Rong they sat on meditation mats in front of him. He explained the essence of martial art for several hours. When he was finished Guo Jing and Huang Rong bid their farewell reluctantly. The scholar and the farmer had not recovered yet, so they only sent them off to the gate. The fisherman and the woodcutter walked them off to the foot of the mountain. They waited until the two people found their little red horse and at last said their goodbyes with heavy hearts.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong returned via the same road, the scenery was still the same; but their feeling was entirely different from when they went up the mountain just several days ago. Remembering Reverend Yideng’s profound kindness could not help but cause her to bend her knees and bow toward the mountain peak. Guo Jing followed her and kowtowed several times.

Along the way although Huang Rong was concerned about her father, she thought that all the time he had roamed the world far and wide he rarely suffered any setback. Even if he met a powerful enemy, perhaps he would not win, but at least he had enough ability to defend himself; just like Reverend Yideng had said, “No one in the present age is able to harm him.” Therefore, she was not overly anxious.

Two people sat on the little red horse’s back, chatting casually in light mood. Huang Rong laughed, “I don’t know how many times we faced dangers since we met each other, but every time we suffered some loss, we also had some gains. Like this time I suffered injury under that old Qiu Qianren’s palms; in the end we found out the marvelous secret of the ‘jiu yin shen gong’ [lit. nine yin divine strength/energy]; which Wang Chongyang himself did not understand.”

“I would rather not know any martial art as long as you are safe and well,” Guo Jing said.

In her heart Huang Rong was very happy but she laughed and said, “Aiyo, if you want to flatter others you don’t need to blow such a big horn! If you don’t know martial art, you would be long dead. Let’s not talk about Ouyang Feng, Sha Tongtian and the others; even a black-dressed Iron Palm Clan member would be able to cut your head with a knife.”

“No matter what I can’t allow you to be injured anymore,” Guo Jing said, “Last time when I was injured in Lin’an I felt all right; but these past few days looking at you suffering so much pain, ay, that was really not good.”

“Humph,” Huang Rong smiled, “You are a heartless man.” “Why?” Guo Jing wondered.

“You would rather be injured,” Huang Rong said, “Do you think I will feel all right?”

Guo Jing was taken aback; and then he let out a long laugh. His legs kicked the little red horse’s ribs and the horse ran faster; it looked like its four feet were flying above the ground that by noon they had arrived at Taoyuan prefecture. Huang Rong had not yet recovered fully; after half a day of riding she was very tired, her cheeks were flushed and she was panting for breath. There was only one decent restaurant in the city of Taoyuan, it was called ‘bi qin jiu lou’ [evading qin (dynasty) wine shop; lou – multi-story building]. Its name came from the ‘tao hua yuan ji’ [a note on the origin of peach blossom] a literary work of Tao Yuanming [Translator’s note: different characters from the ‘Taoyuan’ prefecture].

Guo Jing and Huang Rong took a seat and immediately called for food and wine. To the wine shop attendant Guo Jing said, “Brother, we need to go to Hankou; I am wondering if you could go down to the river and invite a boatman to come over here to talk to us.”

The wine shop attendant said, “If Sir is willing to ride the boat together with other people, you will save quite a bit of money. To charter a boat just for the two of you will cost you a lot of money.”

Huang Rong rolled her eyes; she took a silver ingot worth five ‘liang’s and tossed it to the table. “Is it enough?” she asked. “Enough, enough,” the wine shop attendant busily said with a smile. He turned around and went downstairs.

Guo Jing was afraid Huang Rong’s condition has worsened, so he forbade her from drinking wine; as a result, he also restrained from drinking himself, they only ate the meals. They just ate half a bowl of food when the wine shop attendant came back with a boatman; saying that the boatman agreed to take them to Hankou, the rice was included but the dishes were not, and the total cost would be three ‘liang’s and six ‘qian’s of silver. Huang Rong did not bargain; she simply gave the silver ingot to the boatman. The boatman took the silver and cupped his hands in an expression of gratitude; he pointed to his own mouth and made several hoarse throaty ‘Ah’ sounds. Turned out he was a mute. His hand flailing to the east and pointing to the west, making some hand signals. Huang Rong nodded and also made some hand signals. It seemed like their signals were very complicated and they were communicating at length, exchanging signals incessantly. At last the mute looked pleased, he nodded his head repeatedly and left.

“What were the two of you discussing?” Guo Jing asked.

“He said we’ll leave as soon as we finish eating here,” Huang Rong replied, “I told him to buy several chickens, several catties of meat, some good wine and vegetables; and not to worry about money. I will reimburse everything later.”

Guo Jing sighed, “If I met this mute boatman by myself, I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said. Since all the servants on the Peach Blossom Island were deaf and mute, Huang Rong had learned how to communicate in sign language since she was two years old.

The honey-steamed cured fish of that restaurant was really tasty; Guo Jing ate several pieces and remembered Hong Qigong. “I wonder where ‘en shi’ [benevolent master] is, and how is his injury?” he said, “Thinking about him makes me worried.” He wished he could wrap some cured fish and gave it to Hong Qigong.

Huang Rong was about to reply when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs. A Taoist priestess appeared. She wore grey Taoist robe with a veil over her face to protect her against the dust. The veil covered her mouth and nose so that only her eyes were visible. The priestess chose a table in the corner and sat down. The wine shop attendant promptly greeted her. The priestess talked in low voice. The wine shop attendant gave his reply and went downstairs. A short moment later he came back with a bowl of vegetable noodle. Huang Rong thought this priestess looked familiar, but she could not figure out where she saw her.

Guo Jing followed her gaze and turned his head toward the priestess, who hastily turned her head around. Apparently the priestess was also looking at him. Huang Rong smiled and whispered, “Jing Gege, that priestess’ heart is moved by worldly desire; she must thinks that you are outstandingly good-looking.”

“Pei,” Guo Jing spat, “Don’t talk nonsense. How can you make fun of ‘chu jia ren’ [lit. people who leave their homes to become monks or priests]?”

Huang Rong laughed, “If you don’t believe me, just wait and see.”

They finished eating and walked to the stairs. Huang Rong was still in doubt, she cast another glance toward that priestess, who at that moment lifted up her veil a little bit, revealing her face. Huang Rong gasped and almost cried out in surprise. The priestess shook her hand, put the veil back down immediately and lowering her head she resumed eating the noodle. Guo Jing had walked down and was oblivious to what was going on.

They went downstairs and settled the bill. The mute boatman was already waiting outside the restaurant door. Huang Rong made several hand signals, saying that they needed to buy some things and would be little bit late coming to the boat. The mute boatman nodded, pointed to a boat with a black sail by the river. Huang Rong nodded, but she saw the boatman did not leave, so she took Guo Jing walking to the eastern end of the road. As they walked to a corner they stopped and hid behind a wall, so that they were not visible from the restaurant while they could still see the restaurant entrance.

Not too long afterwards the priestess left the restaurant; she looked at the little red horse and the pair of eagles nearby. It appeared she was looking for Guo Jing and Huang Rong. After looking at four directions without seeing anybody she turned and walked to the west.

“Right, just as I expected,” Huang Rong said in a low voice. She pulled Guo Jing’s sleeve and hastened to the east. Guo Jing was baffled, but he did not ask any questions, he simply followed her obediently.

The town of Taoyuan was not big; in a short moment they had arrived at the eastern gate. Huang Rong turned around to the south. After passing the southern gate they turned again to the west.

“Are we following that priestess?” Guo Jing asked in a low voice, “Don’t play a joke on me.”

Huang Rong laughed, “What joke?” she said, “The priestess is so beautiful like an angel; if you don’t pursue her you will regret it later.”

Guo Jing anxiously halted his steps, “Rong’er, if you keep making this kind of talk I will be angry,” he said. “I am not afraid,” Huang Rong said, “I want to see you mad.”

Guo Jing was dumbfounded; he had no choice but to continue walking. Approximately five, six ‘li’s later they saw in the distant that priestess was sitting underneath a locust tree. As soon as the priestess saw Jing and Rong arrive, she stood up and walked along a small pathway leading to a hill. Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s hand and they walked toward the pathway.

“Rong’er,” Guo Jing anxiously said, “If you deliberately want to create trouble, then I’ll have to hold you and drag you back.” “I am really tired of walking,” Huang Rong said, “I think you’d better follow her by yourself.”

Guo Jing’s face showed a deep concern; he squatted and said, “If you are tired then let me carry you on my back.”

Huang Rong giggled and said, “I am going to pull her veil away so you can take a look at her face.” She sped up her footsteps to pursue the priestess. The priestess turned around, waiting for them. Huang Rong grabbed her veil and uncovered her face.

Guo Jing followed behind, he called out, “Rong’er, don’t create trouble!” But as he saw the priestess’ face he was stunned and was at a loss of words. He saw a deep crease between her beautiful eyebrows, her eyes brimming with tears, her face had a pitiful look; obviously she was in distress. She was none other than Mu Nianci.

Huang Rong hugged her waist, “Mu Jiejie [elder sister Mu], what happened? Did that kid Yang Kang bully you?” she asked. Mu Nianci hang down her head without saying anything.

Guo Jing came near and greeted her, “Sister.” Mu Nianci uttered a soft ‘mmm’ sound.

Huang Rong pulled Mu Nianci’s hand toward a weeping willow by a small creek; they sat down underneath the tree. “Sister, how did he bully you?” Huang Rong asked, “We’ll find him to settle the score. Brother Jing and I also suffered and our two lives were almost gone under his hands.” Mu Nianci lowered her head, still did not say anything. Huang Rong and her images were reflected on the clear creek water. Petals of flowers fell down on the water and slowly floated by, disrupting the reflections.

Guo Jing sat on a rock a few feet apart from the two, his mind was filled with questions: why did Sister Mu dressed as a priestess? Why didn’t she greet them at the restaurant? Where did Yang Kang go?

Seeing Mu Nianci’s grieving look Huang Rong did not ask anymore questions; she quietly held her hands tight.

After a quite while Mu Nianci opened her mouth, “Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], Brother Guo, the boat you hired belongs to the Iron Palm Clan. They are setting up a trap to harm you.”

Jing and Rong two people were startled; “That mute boatman?” they asked with uneven voices.

“Exactly,” Mu Nianci said, “But he is not mute. He is one of the Iron Palm Clan’s henchmen, his voice is so loud that he is afraid if he opens his mouth he will rouse your suspicion; hence he pretends to be mute.”

Huang Rong was secretly alarmed, “If you did not say I wouldn’t see through his disguise,” she said, “No wonder this fellow’s sign language is very good; he has often disguised himself as a mute many times.”

Guo Jing leaped up the willow tree; he swept his gaze around, but other than two, three farmers in the field he did not see anybody else. He thought, “If not because of Rong’er and Sister Mu walked in circle I am afraid the Iron Palm Clan people would be here by now.”

Mu Nianci heaved a long sigh and slowly said, “You have already known my affair with Yang Kang. Later on I brought adoptive father’s and mother’s coffin to the south. I met him again on a desolate place in the Ox Village of Lin’an.”

Huang Rong opened her mouth, “That, we also knew; we even saw him killing Ouyang Ke with our own eyes.” Mu Nianci looked at her with eyes wide open, Huang Rong’s words were hard to believed. Thereupon Huang Rong told her briefly how Guo Jing and she were hiding in the secret room to treat his internal injury, also how Yang Kang had assumed false identity as the Beggar Clan Leader, how two people narrowly escaped danger and so on. It was a long story with all its takes and turns, but Huang Rong was eager to know Mu Nianci’s experience, so she only raised the important parts.

Gritting her teeth Mu Nianci said, “This man did all kinds of evil, someday he will not have a good end. I regretted myself to have eyes but failed to see, that I will have to go through all these calamities by unexpectedly meeting him.”

Huang Rong groped her pocket for a handkerchief and gently wiped the tears on her cheeks. Mu Nianci’s heart was troubled; all kinds of bad things had come her way that in a moment she did not know where to start. She tried to gather her thoughts and slowly calmed herself down; only then did she open her mouth to tell her story.

End of Chapter 31. 

Chapter 32 – Rushing River Rugged Shore

Mu Nianci let Huang Rong hold her right hand; she looked at the fallen flowers floating on the water and said, “When I saw him kill Ouyang Ke I thought he was going to repent from his evil ways. Moreover I saw the two masters from the Beggar Clan were so respectful toward him when they went to the west. I’ve met those two Beggar Clan uncles before; they were Senior Qigong’s trusted aides. Seeing them treat him that way I was very happy; so I followed them till we get to Yuezhou, where the Beggar Clan was having their congress on Mount Jun.

Before then he quietly told me that he had received Hong Enshi’s [Benevolent Master Hong] order to become the Beggar Clan’s Bangzhu [Clan Leader]. I was surprised and happy. In all honesty it was hard to believe, but I saw even the highest ranking Elders of the Beggar Clan treat him with utmost respect, I didn’t have any choice but to believe him. I am not a member of the Beggar Clan, so naturally I could not participate in the congress and had to wait for him in Yuezhou city. I thought that as he become the leader of the Beggar Clan heroes he would be able to do much good for the people and the country, to achieve great things, and in the future would be able to repel the invaders and avenge adoptive father and mother.

That night my mind went back and forth and I couldn’t sleep; I thought from now on everything would be all right. It was almost daybreak when I finally felt tired and was about to fall asleep when suddenly he jumped in from the window. I jumped in fright; I thought he was having some ideas towards me. But he actually spoke in low voice, ‘Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], things did not go well, we must go.’ I was surprised and asked him what happened; he said, ‘There was an internal dispute in the Beggar Clan; the Dirty Clothes Faction refused to accept Hong Bangzhu’s order. The Clean Clothes Faction and the Dirty Clothes Faction battled each other in this new Clan Leader business; many people were killed.’ I was shocked, ‘What should we do?’ I asked. He said, ‘Because too many people has died, I withdrew my nomination, I did not want to become the Clan Leader anymore.’ Taking the entire situation into consideration, I thought he was doing the right thing. He said further, ‘The Clean Clothes Faction did not want to let me go; fortunately Qiu Bangzhu from the Iron Palm Clan came to my assistance and helped me leave Mount Jun. Right now we’d better go to the Iron Palm Mountain first and we’ll talk it over later.’ I did not know whether the Iron Palm Clan was a good clan or an evil one; but since he said so, I followed him.

When we got to the Iron Palm Mountain, I did not see the Qiu Bangzhu from the Iron Palm Clan, but I was watched over with cold eyes. I noticed that the Iron Palm Clan’s behavior was sneaky, I saw strange things everywhere. I said to him, ‘Although you did not become the Beggar Clan leader, you shouldn’t walk away from them. I think you’d better find your Shifu, the Changchun Zi [Eternal Spring] Qiu Daozhang [Taoist Priest], and ask him to gather the heroes of the Jianghu to uphold the justice, to help the Beggar Clan elect a person of virtue and prestige within their clan to assume the Clan Leader position to avoid a bloodbath within the clan. Hence you will be fulfilling Hong Enshi’s order to you.’ He mumbled indistinctly, neither said yes nor no; but actually raised the matter of his marriage with me. I rebuked him severely; he became angry. We ended up having a heated argument.

The next day I started to regret my harshness; I thought even though he could not differentiate the important from the trivial, friends from foe, and oftentimes acted childish, nevertheless he was always kind to me. I felt I was being too hard on him, no wonder he was mad at me. That evening the more I thought about it the more restless I became. I lit a lamp to write a note, saying I did not blame him. Quietly I went to his room; I was going to slip the note through his window, but suddenly I heard him talking with somebody. I took a peek from the window; I saw a rather short white-bearded old man, he was wearing a yellow coarse-linen short robe, with a large palm leaf fan in his hand.”

Guo Jing and Huang Rong exchanged glances, they both thought, “I wonder if he was Qiu Qianren or Qiu Qianzhang?”

Mu Nianci continued, “That old man took a small porcelain vial from his pocket and put it on the table, he said, ‘Brother Yang, if your fiancée does not listen to you, that is a very simple matter. Just take some medicinal powder from this vial and put it in a cup of green tea, let her drink it, I guarantee you will enjoy a wedding night tonight.”

As Jing and Rong two people heard this, they both thought, “It was Qiu Qianzhang.”

Mu Nianci continued, “To my surprise that boy Yang Kang beamed with joy and repeatedly said thanks. I was so angry that I almost passed out. A moment later that old man took his leave. Quietly I followed behind him. After it was far enough, I pounced on him, I beat his chest and struck him down. If I were not in a dangerous place, I would’ve taken a knife and killed him right then and there. I repeatedly hit him until he passed out, then I searched his body. This old man’s pocket really did contain many things; some rings, broken sword, a piece of brick, and all kinds of strange things. I think all of them are things to harm people. I also found a book. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it might be useful somehow, so I put it in my pocket. The more I thought, the madder I became. I made up my mind to deal with Yang Kang.

I went back to Yang Kang’s room. Who would have thought that he was standing at the door? He smiled at me and said, ‘Meizi, please come in.’ Early on I have decided that tonight I must make myself clear to him, so I went in. He pointed to the porcelain vial on the table and smiled, ‘Meizi,’ he said, ‘Can you guess what’s inside this vial?’ I was angry, ‘Who knows all these kinds of dirty things?’ I said. He smiled and said, ‘A friend gave it to me a moment ago, he said if I take some of this medicinal powder and put it in a cup of green tea and give it to you, then everything will happen as I wish.’ His words have actually blown me away, my anger vanished immediately. I took that porcelain vial and threw it out over the window. ‘Did you do it?’ I asked. ‘I respect and adore Meizi like a deity, how can I engage myself in this kind of filthy business?’ he replied.”

Guo Jing nodded his head, “Brother Yang has done the right thing,” he said. “Humph,” Mu Nianci snorted but did not say anything. Huang Rong recalled that day on the Iron Palm Mountain she peeked through the window and saw Yang Kang sit on the edge of the bed, embracing her and talking softly with Mu Nianci. At that time Mu Nianci was smiling, her face was tender. Apparently that happened after she threw the vial away.

“And then what happened?” Guo Jing asked. Zhou Botong told him that whenever somebody was telling a story, a ‘And then what happened?’ every now and then would help keep the story-teller’s interest high; but unexpectedly Mu Nianci’s face turned red, she turned her head away and hang her head low without saying anything.

“Ah, I know!” Huang Rong suddenly called out, “Afterwards you bowed to the heaven and earth and became man and wife.”

Mu Nianci turned her head back, actually her face was a little pale; she bit her lower lip and her eyes shone with a strange look. Huang Rong was scared; she knew she said something wrong. “I am sorry, I talked nonsense,” she hastily said, “Good Sister, please don’t be offended.”

Mu Nianci spoke with a low voice, “You did not talk nonsense, it was I who messed up. I … I have become his wife, but we did not … we did not bow to the heaven and earth. I hate myself for not having a stronger self control …” Speaking to this point tears came streaming down her face.

Seeing her miserable look Huang Rong stretched out her left arm to hold her shoulder. She wanted to say something to comfort her so after a while she pointed to Guo Jing and said, “Sister, you don’t have to feel sorry, it was nothing. That day in the Ox Village Jing Gege and I also became man and wife.”

As he heard this, Guo Jing was dumbstruck. He was blushing profusely and did not dare to look up; he only mumbled, “We … we did not … did not …”

Huang Rong laughed, “Don’t tell me you did not think about that?” she asked.

Guo Jing’s face was red from ear to ear; he lowered his head and said softly, “I was not being good.” Huang Rong stretched her right arm and patted Guo Jing’s shoulder. “You want to become man and wife with me, and I like that very much. What do you mean you were not being good?” she said with a gentle voice.

Mu Nianci sighed and thought, “Although Sister Huang is extraordinarily smart, she is too young to understand the man-woman relationship. It is truly fortunate for her to meet such an honest and considerate fellow like this Brother Guo.”

“Sister,” Huang Rong asked, “And then what happened?”

Mu Nianci looked at the creek and said in low voice, “And then … and then … I heard commotion outside, like there was a fight going on. He told me not to make any noise, that it was the Iron Palm Clan’s internal affair, it had nothing to do with us. Some time later somebody knocked our door, saying that Qiu Bangzhu wanted to talk. He hastily got up and told me to hide in the bed and not to move. He lit up a lamp and someone came in. I looked through the curtain and to my surprise I saw that bad old man I met a while ago. I was worried to find out that he was the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan; I feared he came to interrogate me about why I plotted against him. How would I know that … that he was the Clan Leader? Luckily he did not bring this matter up; actually Yang Kang and he discussed things like how to destroy the Beggar Clan and how to support the Jin army movement to the south.”

Huang Rong smiled, “Sister, those two old men are not the same person,” she said. “Not the same person?” Mu Nianci was surprised.

Huang Rong laughed, “Those two are twin brothers; they look exactly alike. The one you flattened was called Qiu Qianzhang; his martial art was only so-so, all he could do was just some tricks to deceive people. This Qiu Bangzhu, Qiu Qianren is amazing. Luckily you beat the fake Clan Leader; if you came across the real Clan Leader, with just one strike of his Iron Palm, I am afraid your little life would be difficult to protect.”

“That’s so,” Mu Nianci gloomily said, “Actually it would be better if I met with the real Qiu Bangzhu that day and if he struck me dead with one palm.”

Huang Rong laughed, “Our Brother Yang might not want to give you up,” she said.

Mu Nianci twisted her body around so that Huang Rong’s hand fell from her shoulder. “Don’t talk to me like that,” she said sternly. Huang Rong stuck out her tongue and laughed, “All right, it’s me who don’t want to give you up.”

Mu Nianci stood up and said, “Brother Guo, Sister Huang, I am leaving. You two take care; be careful of the Iron Palm Clan’s evil scheme on the boat.”

Huang Rong hastily stood up and held her hand. “Good Sister, please don’t be angry,” she pleaded, “I won’t dare to talk nonsense anymore.”

Mu Nianci heaved a deep sigh, “I wasn’t angry with you, I … I was grieving.”

“Why?” Huang Rong asked, “Did that boy Yang Kang provoke your anger?” She pulled Mu Nianci to sit back down.

Mu Nianci said, “That night from behind the curtain I heard Yang Kang and that old man surnamed Qiu discussing all kind of plans to betray our country and harm the people; the more I heard the angrier I became. I wanted very much to jump out and kill that old man. They were talking for a long time. Suddenly the commotion outside got louder. That old man said, ‘Xiao Wangye [Young Prince, lit. young king master], I am going to take a look. We’ll talk again later.’ Then he left the room.”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong interrupted, “He went out to pursue Jing Gege and me.”

“After that old man left,” Mu Nianci continued, “Yang Kang went back to make small talk with me. I asked him whether the things he discussed with that old man was a real thing or was he only pretending. He said, ‘We have become man and wife; I don’t need to conceal anything from you. It won’t be long before the Jin army will invade the south. We have received Iron Palm Clan’s great help to strike from both inside and outside. By attacking from two fronts, our victory is guaranteed.’ He was talking excitedly. He said that after the Great Jin destroyed the Song Dynasty, his father king, Zhao Wangye [Prince, lit. king master] will ascend to the great treasure, becoming the Emperor of the Great Jin; he will then be the crown prince. By that time riches and honor will be limitless. I listened without saying anything. He suddenly said, ‘Meizi, at that time you will be the Empress.’ I … I could not hold my patience much longer; I slapped his face fiercely and ran out the door, anxiously rushed down the mountain.

By then the commotion on the Iron Palm Peak had worsened; countless clan members with torches in their hands rushed toward the highest mountain peak. I was the only one going down the mountain, so I did not meet any resistance.

After this incident my heart felt like it was dying; as a matter of fact, I wanted to die very much. I did not know east from west, north from south, I just kept walking and walking, wandering aimlessly. Finally I saw a Taoist temple. I rushed toward the temple and barely stepped into the door when I fainted. Fortunately there was an old priestess living in that temple who gave me shelter. I was sick for more than ten days and I just got well not a few days ago. I donned this priestess garb and set on a journey to the Ox Village. Unexpectedly I met with you two here.”

Huang Rong was delighted, “Sister, we are on our way to the Peach Blossom Island and happened to go the same way. What do you say the three of us travel together? Then our journey will be more fun. If you don’t look down on me, I’ll teach you some martial arts along the way.” Mu Nianci shook her head and said, “No, I … I want to go alone. I appreciate Sister’s good intention very much.” She stood up, took out a book from her pocket and gave it to Guo Jing; she said, “Brother Guo, this book contains some matters concerning the Iron Palm Clan. Please give it to Senior Qigong whenever you see him; perhaps he will have some use for it.”

“Yes,” Guo Jing said, holding out his hand to receive the book.

Mu Nianci walked quickly so that in a short moment she was far away; never once did she turn her head around to see them. Guo Jing and Huang Rong watched her back disappear behind a row of willow trees in the distance. They were silent for half a day.

Guo Jing said, “She is all alone, traveling thousands of ‘li’s to Zhejiang. I do hope she won’t meet some bullies along the way. It’s a good thing that her martial art is not weak; she does not have to fear ordinary criminals.”

“That is difficult to say,” Huang Rong said, “Even people like you and I are still bullied by some bad people.”

Guo Jing sighed, “Er Shifu [Second Master] often said, ‘In a tumultuous time, people are not better than dogs.’ There is nothing we can do about it.”

“All right, let’s kill that mute dog then,” Huang Rong said. “What mute dog?” Guo Jing asked.

Huang Rong made some ‘ah, ah, uh, uh’ noise, flailing her hands and feet. Guo Jing laughed. “Are we going to ride this mute’s boat?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Huang Rong said, “That old traitor Qiu Qianren had caused me a lot of pain, how can I just let it go? I am not his match, but I want to kill some of his disciples and followers first and talk about it later.”

They went back to the restaurant immediately, and saw that mute boatman snooping around the restaurant to find them. As he saw them, his face was beaming, he busily greeted them. Jing and Rong two people acted like nothing happened; they followed him boarding the boat.

The boat was not too big nor it was too small, it was covered with black matting; it held around eighty, ninety sacks of rice. This kind of boat was very common along the Yuanjiang [Yuan River], transporting commodities from the hills of Xiangxi and rice from the fields of the lake front. Two bare-chested young men were scrubbing the deck.

As soon as Jing and Rong two people embarked, the boatman untied the rope and pushed the boat to the river, raising the sail. Under the strong southerly wind and following the current, the boat sailed down the river like an arrow. Guo Jing thought about the affair between Yang Kang and Mu Nianci, and could not help but heave a deep sigh. “Yang Kang is my sworn brother,” he said in his heart, “We have made a vow to share fortune and disaster. Now he is making a wrong choice, I cannot ignore it; no matter what, I have to persuade him to leave his evil ways and go back treading the path of righteousness.” Leaning against the cabin wall he was lost in thought.

Huang Rong suddenly said, “Let me see the book Sister Mu gave you. I wonder what’s written in it.”

Guo Jing took the book out of his pocket and gave it to her. Huang Rong flipped the pages, browsing the book. “Ah, so that’s how it is!” she suddenly called out, “Take a look here.”

Guo Jing moved closer, sat right next to her and read the book in her hand. It was late afternoon, the bright red sunset shone on the river reflecting the ripple of the water on Huang Rong’s face, her clothes, and the book in her hand, creating a waving light dancing on her body.

It turned out that the book was written by the thirteenth Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Shangguan Jiannan; a journal of important events within the Clan year after year. Shangguan Jiannan was formerly a high-ranking army officer serving under General Han Shizhong. After Qin Gui killed Yue Fei, Han Shizhong resigned from his military duty to live as a commoner. Most of his officers and soldiers also returned to civilian lives [jie3 jia3 gui1 tian2 – lit. removed armor return to the (rice) field].

Shangguan Jiannan loathed the way the traitor ministers run the government, so he led a group of brethrens to become outlaws in the Jing Xiang district, and later on they joined the Iron Palm Clan. Not long afterwards the old clan leader died and Shangguan Jiannan took over the clan leader position. The Iron Palm Clan was originally a tiny underworld organization, after he consolidated it, the clan managed to do much chivalrous deeds. A lot or heroes and warriors around the two Hu’s [i.e. Hunan and Hubei] heard of his patriotism and joined the clan so that in a few years the Clan enjoyed equal reputation among the Jianghu people with the Beggar Clan of the north.

Shangguan Jiannan had never forgotten where his loyalty and patriotism lie, although he lived in the wilderness he had never forgotten his duty to defend the country and destroy the enemy, and to restore his homeland; therefore, he frequently dispatched his men to Lin’an, Bianliang and the surrounding areas to gather information, waiting for a good opportunity.

A few years had passed. An Iron Palm Clan brother happened to be a good friend of the warden where Yue Fei was held prisoner. He learned that after Yue Fei was executed, his belongings were confiscated by the government, among which was a book containing military tactics and strategies. He went to many places to inquire and indeed learned that the book was kept in the imperial palace. A fast horse carrying this piece of information was dispatched to the Iron Palm Peak. That very day Shangguan Jiannan led a group of his highly skilled pugilists to enter the palace in the middle of the night and without too much effort they succeeded in stealing the book away. That very night they delivered the book to his former superior, retired general Han Shizhong.

At that time Han Shizhong was already old; he lived in seclusion by the West Lake (Xihu) with his wife, Madame Liang Hongyu. As he saw Shangguan Jiannan bring over the Yue Fei’s Legacy he remembered how the hero died of false accusations and the injustice had not been avenged, he drew his sword and chopped a table in front of him. Holding up his wrist he heaved a long sigh.

In memory of his old friend, Han Shizhong compiled Yue Fei’s writings: poetry, essays, military strategies, into one volume and presented this volume to Shangguan Jiannan as a gift; with the hope that he would continue Yue Wumu’s [another title of Yue Fei] aspiration of uniting the heroes of the Central Plains to drive away the invaders and restore their land [he2 shan1 – lit. river and mountain].

While Han Shizhong and Shangguan Jiannan were talking, they suddenly remembered: everywhere in this military strategy book Yue Fei always exhorted the people’s loyalty and patriotism to dedicate themselves to the service of their country to match Yue Fei’s life aspiration. This book contained a lesson in life attitude; in no way Yue Fei would write this book to accompany him to the grave. It must be because Qin Gui’s tight guard that he was not able to smuggle it outside the prison. However, considering Yue Fei’s extraordinary wisdom, he must have had some way to overcome this obstacle; only it was not clear to whom did he leave his final words. If his message came too late, and that person came to the palace to fetch the book, wouldn’t he snatch empty air?

After discussing this matter further, Shangguan Jiannan drew a painting of the Iron Palm Mountain, with a piece of paper hidden in between the layers containing this message: ‘Wumu’s Legacy at the Iron Palm Mountain, middle finger peak, second knuckle’. Han Shizhong was afraid that person will not understand the message, so he added a poem written by Yue Fei in the old days. He thought the heir of this military strategy book must be either Yue Fei’s child or younger brother or his former subordinate; so he must be familiar with this poem, therefore, he added some additional details to the painting. Finally Shangguan Jiannan re-entered the palace and left the painting behind, so that the heir could follow the trail to the Iron Palm Mountain.

Afterwards Shangguan Jiannan returned to the Iron Palm Mountain and assembled a group of patriots to discuss a military expedition to the north. Who would have thought that the government was too afraid of the Jins; not only did they not support this movement, they sent out imperial troops to surround and eventually crush the Iron Palm Clan. After all Iron Palm Clan was smaller and weaker than the army, hence the imperial army managed to break through their defense on the mountain. Shangguan Jiannan himself suffered a heavy injury and eventually died on the Iron Palm Peak.

Guo Jing flipped over the last page and sighed, “I did not think this Shangguan Bangzhu was actually a good man. Up to the point of his death he was still holding dear the Legacy’s teachings. I thought he was of the same kind with this Qiu and his brethren; colluding with the Jins and selling our country for his personal gain. I used to despise him very much. If I knew this fact earlier, I would have bowed in front of his remains to show him my respect. I am surprised that the Iron Palm was such a heroic and patriotic Clan in the past, and today it turned into a gang of thieves. If Shangguan Bangzhu’s spirit in the underworld knows, he must be very angry.”

Meanwhile the sky was turning dark; the boatman cast his anchor nearby a village and went out to butcher the chicken for their dinner. Huang Rong was afraid he might put something into the meal, so with a pretense that she did not want his dirty dishes, she took Guo Jing along and went into the village to find a peasant house and prepare the food herself. The boatman was staring at them angrily, but because he pretended to be mute, he could not openly curse them and was forced to swallow his indignation. He saw Huang Rong make some hand signals, saying ‘witticism like a bead of pearl, smart tooth like an ivory’ [or something like that ]. He had no way of debating her, so all he could do was clench his teeth and wait until Jing and Rong two people went ashore; only then he went into the cabin and swore under his breath.

After dinner two people enjoyed the cool evening breeze underneath a tree in front of a peasant home. Guo Jing said, “When Shangguan Bangzhu ran to the Iron Palm Peak, why didn’t the imperial army go up the Peak to capture him?”

“I don’t know the answer either,” Huang Rong said, “It is likely the middle finger peak is dangerously rugged, so the soldiers did not want to risk their lives climbing it. Or it could be that some highly skilled Clan members were defending the peak and the soldiers were unable to break through, so they simply declared victory and left.” After a moment of silence Huang Rong continued, “I did not expect Qu Lingfeng, Martial Brother Qu had unintentionally rendered this great service.”

Guo Jing just stared at her with a dumb look. Huang Rong explained, “This ‘Wumu Legacy’ was originally hidden in the cave behind the waterfall near the Cui Han Tang [Jade-Green Cold Hall], Shangguan Jiannan had stolen the book, he drew that painting, naturally he would put the painting on the original place where the book laid, wouldn’t he?”

Guo Jing nodded, “That’s true.”

“After my Qu Shige [martial (older) brother] was expelled from the Peach Blossom Island, he longed for his school to take him back. He knew my father loves calligraphy, paintings and antiques; he also knew that the imperial palace naturally was the best place to find the world’s rarest treasures. Therefore, he took a risk by entering the palace and robbed not a few of famous paintings, calligraphy, books …”

“That’s right, that’s right,” Guo Jing cut her off, “Your Qu Shige stole this painting together with others artworks, and stashed it away inside that secret chamber in the Ox Village. He meant to present them all to your father; unfortunately he was killed by a palace guard. And then when that old traitor Wanyan Honglie came, not only the Wumu Legacy was gone, the painting containing the directions to find it was also gone. Ay, if we knew this early on, we did not need to desperately risking our lives defending the cave; I wouldn’t be injured by the Old Poison, and you did not need to worry for seven whole days and nights.” “That’s not necessarily true,” Huang Rong said, “If you did not treat your injury inside that secret room in the Ox Village, how could you have seen the painting? Also how could …” Suddenly she recalled seeing Huazheng in the Ox Village, she could not help but feel depressed. Trying to change the subject she said, “I wonder how father is doing these past few days?” Looking up she saw the crescent moon on the horizon. “Very soon it will be Mid-autumn festival of the eight month. After the martial art contest at the Misty Rain Tavern of Jiaxing, are you going back to Mongolia?” she gently asked.

“No,” Guo Jing replied, “I must kill the traitor Wanyan Honglie first, to avenge my father and Uncle Yang.” Staring at the moon Huang Rong asked again, “After you kill him, then what?”

“We still have many businesses to tend,” Guo Jing said, “I want to treat Shifu’s injury then I want to take Zhou Dage [Big Brother Zhou]to the Black Marsh to see Ying Gu. And there are my six Shifus, I want to go and visit them one by one at their homes. I also want to find my father’s grave.”

“And after you take care of all these business, must you go back to Mongolia?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing could not say he must go, but he also could not say he would not go; in all honesty he did not know what would be the best thing to do.

All of a sudden Huang Rong laughed and said, “Silly me, why should I worry about all these things? As long as we are together, an hour of happiness must be enjoyed for a full hour. As we go through one day, we will have one less of these kind of happy days. Let us go back to the boat and play a joke on that fake mute boatman.”

At the time the two returned to the boat, the boatman and his two helpers had actually fallen asleep on the stern. Guo Jing whispered on Huang Rong’s ear, “Go ahead and sleep, I am going to watch over them.”

Huang Rong said with a low voice, “I’ll teach you some curse words in sign languages; tomorrow you can show them to him.” “Why don’t you do it yourself?” Guo Jing asked.

Huang Rong chuckled lightly, “Those are vulgar language; a girl from an honorable family shouldn’t say those kind of words.”

“It turns out mute people can curse others too,” Guo Jing said in his heart; but his mouth said, “Go and take a rest now; it won’t be too late to curse him tomorrow.” After recovering from her injury Huang Rong had not gotten her strength back. In all honesty she was tired, so she put her head down on Guo Jing’s legs and slowly she fell asleep.

Initially Guo Jing was thinking of meditating to cultivate his internal energy, but he was afraid the boatman might be suspicious, so he decided to lie down on the cabin deck, silently reciting the theory of energy cultivation from the Nine Yin Manual, which Reverend Yideng translated from Sanskrit. Then he practiced according to the theory for about an hour and he felt his four limbs and all the bones in his body were full of energy. He was delighted. Suddenly he heard Huang Rong mumbled, “Jing Gege, don’t marry the Mongolian Princess; I want to be your wife.”

Guo Jing was startled, he did not know how to answer her; but then he heard Huang Rong said again, “No, no. I was wrong; I don’t want anything. I know in your heart you love me very much, and that is enough for me.”

“Rong’er, Rong’er,” Guo Jing called in a low voice. But Huang Rong did not reply, her breathing was even, apparently she was sleeping. Turned out she was talking in her sleep. Guo Jing felt deep affection and pity toward her at the same time. He started blankly at Huang Rong’s face illuminated by the moonlight. She was just starting to recover from her injury, her face was still pale and under the moonlight it looked like her face was translucent. Guo Jing stared at her for a long time. He saw her eyebrows wrinkle slightly and there were drops of tears in her eyes. Guo Jing said in his heart, “She must be dreaming of the challenges we are facing. All day she acted like she was carefree, laughing and joking, but in her heart she actually was grieving. Ay, it was I who caused her worries. I wish we did not meet at Zhangjiakou, then her life would be better. But what about me? Would I be willing to give her up?”

One was sleeping with a sad dream, the other was awake with heavy heart; suddenly he heard the water ripple, a boat was coming downstream. Guo Jing thought, “The terrain of this River Yuan is so rugged; what kind of boat is so daring as to travel here in the middle of the night?” He was about to poke his head out of the cabin to take a look when suddenly from the stern of his own boat came three clapping sounds. The clapping was very light, but in the stillness of the night the sound traveled far on the surface of the water. He then heard the sound of a sail being lowered and the oars paddling the water. That incoming boat came closer to the right hand side riverbank and slowly positioned near their boat. A short moment later it was side to side with the boat Guo Jing rode.

Guo Jing gently patted Huang Rong to wake her up; he felt the hull shook slightly. Quickly he raised the cabin covering to look outside, right in time to see a dark shadow leaping from his boat to the incoming boat. Judging from the appearance, that shadow looked like the mute boatman.

“I’ll go over to take a look, you stay and guard here,” Guo Jing said. Huang Rong nodded.

Guo Jing crouched and stealthily walked to the bow; he saw that the incoming boat was swaying on the water, he leaped and landed on the horizontal part of the sail mast, which happened to be the center of gravity of the boat. The hull slightly sunk in, but the inclination of the boat did not change one bit; nobody on that boat noticed. He opened his eyes wide, trying to see through some openings on the cabin’s roof. He saw three men standing in the cabin; they wore the black uniform of the Iron Palm Clan. One of them was quite tall; he was wearing a green cloth wrapped around his head, looked like he was the leader. Guo Jing’s movement was so quick that even though that pretend-to-be-mute boatman leaped to this boat first, by this time he was just entering the cabin. He cupped his fists and greeted the tall man, “Leader Qiao.”

“Those two little thieves are still in?” Leader Qiao asked. “Yes,” the boatman replied.

“Do they have any suspicion?” Leader Qiao asked again.

“No suspicion,” the boatman replied, “But those two thieves did not want to dine on board, so I did not have any chance to do anything.”

“Humph,” Leader Qiao said, “They are going to die at the ‘qing long tan’ [green dragon shore]. The day after tomorrow at noon you will arrive at the Green Dragon Shore. About three ‘li’s from the beach is the Green Dragon Village. Break the boat’s rudder there; we will be waiting for you.”

The boatman gave his reply. Leader Qiao continued, “Those two little thieves are very skilled in martial arts, you must be very careful. After the successful completion of this mission our Bangzhu will heap you with generous reward. Now go back from the water, don’t rock the boat and alert them.”

“Yes,” the boatman replied, “Do you have further instructions, Leader Qiao?”

“No,” Leader Qiao waved his hand. The boatman cupped his fists again and retreated; he went down the water from the side of the boat and quietly swam back.

Guo Jing leaped from the mast back to his own boat and told Huang Rong everything he just heard. Huang Rong smiled coldly and said, “We have been through Reverend Yideng’s torrential stream going up the mountain; why should we be scared away by Green Dragon Rugged Shore or White Tiger Rugged Shore? Let’s sleep.”

Their minds were at ease knowing the bandits’ plot. The next day they enjoyed the scenery light-heartedly; and had a good rest in the evening, did not even bother to keep a night watch. Early morning the third day the boatman was about to raise the anchor when suddenly Huang Rong said, “Hold on, let the horse come ashore first, otherwise it will die when the boat capsizes at the Green Dragon Shore.”

The boatman’s face changed slightly, which could not be disguised. Huang Rong raised her both hands, she could not help to ‘say’ several vulgar words to curse him. Each one of the deaf and mute servants of the Peach Blossom Island was a criminal; their skills at cursing people were naturally above average. When Huang Rong started learning those words, she did not understand their real meaning. This time two of her left fingers made a circle, carrying a vulgar sense; with a giggle she let her hand dropped; and then she came alongside Guo Jing taking the horse ashore.

Suddenly Guo Jing said, “Rong’er, let’s not play around with them anymore. We leave the boat and ride the horse from here.” “Why?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing replied, “These Iron Palm Clan people are criminals, why should we squabble with them? As long as we can live together peacefully, we don’t have to prove that we are stronger.”

“Can we live together peacefully forever?” Huang Rong asked. Guo Jing was silent. He saw Huang Rong loosen the little red horse’s rein and point to the north. The little red horse had a divine intelligence, it had been separated from its master several times and right now understood that its masters wanted to part again temporarily. Without hesitation it ran to the north and in a short moment its shadow could not be seen anymore.

Huang Rong clapped her hands, “Let’s get on board.”

“You are not fully recovered yet,” Guo Jing said, “Must you brave the danger?”

“You can’t just let it go,” Huang Rong replied and walked the downward slope toward the boat. Guo Jing had no other choice but follow her to the boat. Huang Rong smiled, “Sha gege [dumb older brother], we have been through many strange and fantastic adventures together. Someday when we are not together anymore, we will have many memories we can cherish, wouldn’t that be good?”

“In the future, must we … must we really part?” Guo Jing stammered. Huang Rong stared at him but did not say anything. Guo Jing did not have the slightest idea until today that when at the Ox Village he promised Tuolei he would marry Huazheng he had caused a deep wound in Huang Rong’s heart.

It was almost noon; they have been sailing for a few hours. The further they went, the steeper and steeper the banks became on both sides of the River Yuan. The Green Dragon Shore must be not too far ahead. Jing and Rong two people stood on the bow looking into the distance. They saw that the passing boats were pulled by porters on the banks. Big boats needed more than a dozen men, while the smallest boats needed three, four men. The porters were stooping down at their waists, at several places their foreheads were almost touching the ground; step by step they pulled the boats upstream against the strong current, sometimes as if the boats were motionless, dead as a nail. The porters wore white headbands, their upper bodies naked, with beads of sweats trickling down their bronze skins, glittering under the bright hot sun; their mouths shouted heave-ho. Several ‘li’s up and down the river the valley was full of their continuous shouts. With these porters’ help the boats were able to move gently and rapidly through the rushing water.

Seeing this Guo Jing was secretly alarmed, he came near Huang Rong and in a low voice said, “Rong’er, I did not know there is such a dangerous part on the Yuan River; we must never let our guards down. It looks to me that the rushing water covers quite some distance. If our boat capsizes while you are not completely fit, I am afraid we’ll face disaster.”

“What do you think we should do?” Huang Rong asked.

“Overthrow the mute boatman, steer the boat to the shore,” Guo Jing replied. Huang Rong shook her head, “That is not fun.”

“At a time like this you still want to have fun?” Guo Jing anxiously said. Huang Rong pursed her lips and smiled, “I love to play!”

Looking at the muddy water between the steep river banks, Guo Jing saw the current was very strong. Frantically he tried to think some way out of this, but he was slow, what could he possibly come out with?

Ahead of them, there was a bent on the river. In the distance they saw several dozens of houses by the river banks. The houses were scattered high and low on the side of the hill. The current carried the boat rapidly along the river, swifter than a running horse, so that in a short moment they had arrived near those houses. They saw that several dozens of porters were waiting along the bank. The mute boatman tossed a couple of ropes from the boat to the shore. The porters took the ropes and wound them around a big capstan. More than a dozen porters turned the capstan, pulling the boat closer to the shore. This boat was of a very good size, it required about thirty men huffing and puffing to pull it ashore. As they were done, some of the porters lied down by the water, exhausted; it looked like they were unable to move again.

Guo Jing thought, “It looks like the undercurrent is much stronger than on the surface.” He saw among the porters were some old men with grey hair, yet some of them were youngsters of fourteen, fifteen years of age; all of them were so thin that their ribs were visible. Suddenly Guo Jing realized that everybody in the world had to work hard to earn a living; his throat choked up involuntarily.

As the boat was ashore, the boatman dropped out the anchor. Guo Jing saw there were more than twenty boats that also dropped their anchors on the nearby bank. Huang Rong asked a man standing nearby, “Brother, what is this place?”

“Green Dragon Village,” that man replied.

Huang Rong nodded. She kept a close attention to the mute boatman. She saw him make some hand signals with a big man standing on the sloping bank. Suddenly the boatman took out an axe and with two chops he cut the mooring rope. Immediately afterwards he raised the anchor. As the boat became free, the rushing water washed it out down the river. It made a sudden turn until the hull slanted sideways and flushed away like flying down the river. The people on the shore cried out in alarm.

After the Green Dragon Shore the riverbed changed abruptly, creating a short waterfall. The river current was so strong that water was splashing everywhere. The mute boatman kept his hands on the rudder, with eyes steadily fixed on the surface of the river. His two helpers held long punting poles in their hands, standing on the either side of him. It seemed like they were guarding against the boat from having an accident, but it also looked like they were protecting the boatman from Jing and Rong, two people’s attack.

Guo Jing saw that the current was getting stronger and stronger, the boat sailed like crazy; it could smash against a rock any moment and would certainly break. “Rong’er, snatch the rudder!” he loudly called out and ran to the stern.

The two helpers heard his shout; they raised the poles up and blocked Guo Jing from both sides. Guo Jing ignored these two; he kept going toward the starboard.

“Hold on!” suddenly he heard Huang Rong shouted. Guo Jing halted his steps and turned his head, “Why?”

With a low voice Huang Rong said, “Are you forgetting about our eagles? We’ll wait for the boat to capsize then we’ll fly away with the eagles. I want to see what they are going to do.”

Guo Jing was delighted, he thought, “No wonder Rong’er is not scared of this torrential river; she has already thought about it early on.” He then beckoned to the pair of eagles to land on his sides.

The mute boatman saw Guo Jing came rushing toward him but suddenly stop dead on his tracks; he did not know that those two had already prepared an escape plan. He thought these two babies, who were still wet behind their ears, were helplessly frightened by the rushing river that they did not know what to do. Inwardly he was very happy.

Amidst the rumbling sound of the water they could hear the heave-ho of the porters in the distance. A moment later they saw another boat similar to their own was pulled against the current; a black flag was fluttering from this incoming boat’s mast. As the mute boatman saw this boat, he raised his axe and with several cracking sound he hacked down the tiller; and then he stood at the port side, ready to jump toward the incoming boat. Guo Jing pressed down the female eagle’s back and called out, “Rong’er, you go first!”

“No need to rush!” Huang Rong replied. Suddenly an idea came into her mind, “Jing Gege, throw the anchor to that boat.” Guo Jing complied and snatched the anchor.

By now their boat had already lost its rudder, it floated along the fierce current uncontrollably. Very soon the distance between two boats was only a little over one ‘zhang’ [about 3 meters or 10 feet]. The incoming boat changed its course to avoid collision. The men on the incoming boat, together with the porters on the hill shouted in alarm. Guo Jing threw the anchor with all his might; the iron anchor flew and hit the pole where the towing rope was tied on the bow of the incoming boat.

The tow rope was made of several hundreds ‘zhang’s of bamboo fibers tightly braided together; it was strung tight like the string of a bow. The iron anchor hit the pole squarely and with a loud ‘crack’ it broke into two pieces. Dozens of porters were pulling the rope with all their might; as the pole broke, they tumbled down to the ground. The incoming boat was like a kite with its string broken; the strong current turned it around so that its stern faced forward and its bow faced backward, it was flushed away downstream. Everybody shouted in alarm; their voices reverberated on the surrounding hills above the noise of the rushing river.

The mute boatman was taken by surprise; his face turned deathly pale and with a loud voice he screamed, “Hey! Help! Help!” Huang Rong laughed, “The mute can speak, it truly is a wonder of the world.”

Guo Jing had thrown one anchor away; the boat still had one more anchor. He saw that their boat and the incoming boat floated together almost side by side at a very close distance. He took a deep breath and lifted the other anchor, turned his body around three times and hurled the anchor toward the rudder of the incoming boat. He was sure the anchor would hit the rudder and then both boats would be completely destroyed; but suddenly somebody leaped in front of the cabin. That person snatched the long punting pole and shook it toward the handle of the anchor. He exerted his strength toward the pole and made it bent like a bow. ‘Crack!’ the pole broke; but the anchor’s trajectory was also diverted. With a loud splash both the anchor and the half punting pole fell into the water.

The person holding the pole wore a short yellow coarse robe, his white beard curled to his ear, blown by the river wind. Even though the boat was violently jolted by the water, he was standing steadily on the deck. His presence brought an impressive air around him. He was none other than the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Qiu Qianren.

Seeing Qiu Qianren on the boat Guo Jing and Huang Rong were startled. They have not recovered from the shock when suddenly there was a loud crashing sound; the bow of their boat was colliding with a reef. The crash was so hard that two people were sent flying until their backs hit the cabin door.

The boat sank so fast that in a short moment the water had risen to their ankles; they did not have enough time even if they wanted to escape by riding the eagles. In this critical moment Guo Jing acted without thinking; he flew forward and called out, “Follow me!” With the ‘dragon flies to the sky’ he threw his body toward Qiu Qianren. He knew at this moment the difference between life and death was only as wide as a hair strand; if he landed someplace else on the enemy’s boat, Qiu Qianren would definitely make a surprise attack from the side. With his power right now he knew he would be able to bear that attack, but it would compel him to take the defensive and would not give him any chance to set a foothold on the enemy’s boat.

Qiu Qianren was fully aware of his intention; he swung the broken pole in his hands to stab several points on Guo Jing’s body in the air, forcing him to change his direction and not land on the boat. Guo Jing inwardly groaned, “Not good!” Stretching his arm toward the pole his body continued falling toward the enemy’s boat; but because of this the ‘dragon flies to the sky’ lost its momentum.

With a long laughter Qiu Qianren let the pole go and his palm struck toward Guo Jing’s chest. With him standing steadily on the deck while the enemy was in the air, and his palm striking up, the enemy would be forced to plunge into the water. But before the pole fell, another bamboo stick intercepted it, and borrowing the momentum someone was leaping to the boat; it was Huang Rong. Before the person landed, her stick had already arrived, striking downward three times with killer strikes. Qiu Qianren did not anticipate she was capable of moving this fast; his left eye was in danger of being poked, so he had no choice but immediately withdrew his palm.

Guo Jing seized the opportunity to land on the bow and immediately launched a converging attack. Qiu Qianren did not dare to underestimate this attack, he moved sideways to evade the bamboo stick, while his right leg swept away, forcing Guo Jing to retreat one step; and then ‘swish, swish’ both of his palms struck out.

How can Iron Palm martial art be ordinary? The Iron Palm Clan built their headquarters on a mountain and for the last several hundred years its power and prestige spread over the Central Plains; it was all because of the exquisiteness of their palm technique. Shangguan Jiannan and Qiu Qianren added even many more subtle variations and refined the stances. Although its overwhelming power was inferior to the ‘Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms’, but its palm technique was ingenious and finer than the ‘Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms’.

In a short moment two men had exchanged seven, eight stances on the bow of the boat. Although they were wary of each other, their palms and feet did not stop moving. The noise of the rushing water was loud, but it could not cover the strong gusts of wind from the four palms.

By now an Iron Palm Clan member had taken over the rudder, slowly steering the boat on the right direction so that they were swiftly floating downstream. The mute boatman’s boat had already broken into two sections; the planks, the sail, the mute boatman and his two helpers were marooned on a big silt in the middle of the river with vortex of water all around them. The mute boatman’s miserable cry for help could be heard from a distance; surely his voice was loud and clear. Huang Rong busily waved her left hand behind her back, making a hand signal, ‘scolding’ the mute boatman. In any case nobody was watching her, so she could be as vulgar as she wished.

Even though the mute boatman and his two helpers were holding to the silt for their dear lives, the vortex was too strong; in a blink of an eye they were sucked into the bottom of the river.

The black-flagged boat was floating swiftly so that when Huang Rong turned her head around, they were already two, three ‘li’s away from the vortex. The pair of eagles was flying in circles above them, continuously crying. Huang Rong wielded her bamboo stick to push the Iron Palm Clan people from the bow; she intended to help Guo Jing fight Qiu Qianren. Suddenly with the corner of her eye she caught a flash of a blade inside the cabin, somebody was about to chop something inside. Without knowing clearly what it was, her left hand launched a steel needle, hitting that person’s arm. That person’s saber fell and slashed his own right thigh, and he screamed loudly.

Huang Rong rushed into the cabin, lifted up her leg to kick him out of the way, only to see someone was lying on the deck; with all her hands and feet bound that she could not move. Her cold eyes were staring at Huang Rong; she was the Divine Mathematician Ying Gu.

Never in her life did Huang Rong expect to save Ying Gu’s life in this place. She picked the saber from the deck and cut of the ropes binding Ying Gu’s hands. As soon as her hands were free Ying Gu stretched out her right hand and snatched the saber from Huang Rong’s hand. Huang Rong was startled; she saw the blade flash and Ying Gu had killed that black-dressed man. Only then did she stoop down to cut off the ropes on her own feet.

“Although you have saved my life, don’t expect me to repay you in the future,” she said.

Huang Rong smiled. “Who wants you to repay?” she said, “You have saved my life, and today I saved yours. Now we are even, nobody owes anybody anything.”

Before she finished speaking she had dashed forward to the bow with her bamboo stick to help Guo Jing. Qiu Qianren was attacked from both front and rear; he increased the strength of his palms, trying to stay on the offensive side. But then he heard ‘splash, splash’ and ‘aiyo, aiyo’ successively; Ying Gu with saber in her hand had attacked the Iron Palm Clan people and forced them to fall into the river. In this turbulent water they could not expect to keep their lives.

Initially when he was fighting Guo Jing, Qiu Qianren had gradually gained an upper hand; but now Huang Rong came to Guo Jing’s rescue with her Dog Beating Stick technique, he was alone against two enemies. A dozen or so stances later he was forced to move back around the boat defending himself. His back was facing the water so that Huang Rong could not attack him from behind.

Guo Jing launched several fierce attacks successively, but Qiu Qianren’s feet were as if nailed to the deck, he could not be pushed further even for half an inch. By now he was so close to the edge that one more step backward would make him fall into the river.

Huang Rong said in her heart, “Although your title is ‘Iron Palm Floating on the Water’, but with the ‘floating on the water’ part you are merely boasting your excellent lightness kungfu. Not to mention this turbulent water and wild waves of this river, even on a mirror- like calm lake you won’t be able to float on the water; unless you have mastered your older brother’s trick by planting several thousands or several hundreds wooden stakes under the water beforehand.” She noticed that while his palms moved steadily, his eyes were repeatedly scanning the water; it seemed like he was hoping another boat would come to his rescue. She thought, “This old fellow’s martial art skill might be high; but with three against one today, if we cannot defeat you, we can consider ourselves as dung.”

By then Ying Gu had swept the boat clean of all Iron Palm Clan people, except the man who control the rudder. She saw Guo Jing and Huang Rong could not gain an upper hand, she coldly said, “Little girl, move away, I am coming!”

Hearing the condescending tone in her remarks Huang Rong could not help but be angry; her bamboo stick moved forward and she launched two stances successively; while her feet kept moving forward. When Qiu Qianren stepped aside to evade, she leaped backward two steps while pulling Guo Jing’s sleeve and said, “Let her fight.” Guo Jing used his palm to guard then he pulled back.

Ying Gu coldly said, “Qiu Bangzhu, your reputation in Jianghu cannot be considered small, but while I was resting in an inn unguarded you used incense to drug me. It was low, even for you.”

“You are captured by my subordinates, what else do you have to say?” Qiu Qianren replied, “If I personally went into action, using only this pair of hands I would be able to capture even ten Divine Mathematicians.”

Ying Gu coldly said, “When did I ever offend the Iron Palm Clan?”

Qiu Qianren replied, “These two little thieves without authorization broke into our Iron Palm Peak’s holy ground; why did you give them asylum at the Black Marsh? I spoke nicely to you asking you to release them, but you dared to lie to me; do you think I, Qiu Qianren, am an easygoing person?”

“Ah, turns out it was because of these two little thieves,” Ying Gu said, “If you have the ability, go and get them; I won’t mind other people’s business anymore.” After saying that she went back several steps and sat cross-legged on the side of the boat, her face looked indifferent; it seemed like she determined to watch the tigers fight, expected Jing and Rong two people and Qiu Qianren to suffer injury. Her action was truly unexpected by Qiu Qianren, Guo Jing and Huang Rong.

It turned out that when her plan to assassinate Reverend Yideng was thwarted by Guo Jing in disguise, and then seeing Yideng bare his chest to her, suddenly she realized Yideng’s kindness to her and she did not have a heart to make a move. She went down the mountain dejectedly, with memory of the tragic death of her son lingering in her mind. She stopped by at an inn to spend the night; confusion, anger and resentment filling her heart, putting her in a very vulnerable situation. Right at that time the Iron Palm Clan people used incense to drug her. Otherwise, with her skill and intelligence, how could she fall into the hands of some lowly, nameless juniors? Right now she saw Guo Jing, Huang Rong, two people, she wanted to vent her anger and frustration by hoping those three people all die in this rushing river.

Huang Rong thought, “All right, we will cope with Qiu Qianren first, we’ll deal with you later.” She made a facial signal to Guo Jing and two people, one with a bamboo stick, the other with his pair of palms, attacked Qiu Qianren side by side. In a moment three people were engaged in a fierce an inextricable combat.

Ying Gu watched the fight with rapt attention. She saw that even though Qiu Qianren’s palm technique was swift and fierce, in the end it would be difficult for him to score victory against these couple. She noticed Qiu Qianren kept moving step by step; it looked like he was trying to defeat the enemies by a surprise attack.

Guo Jing was concerned over Huang Rong’s condition; her serious injury had just recovered, she might lose her strength if this fight was prolonged. “Rong’er,” he said, “Take a rest for a while, then you can come back to help me later.”

“All right!” Huang Rong said with a smile. She raised her stick and withdrew from the fight.

Ying Gu saw the closeness of these two people; Guo Jing loved Huang Rong very much. “Throughout my life, when did someone treat me this way?” she thought. From envy she became jealous, from jealousy came hatred. Suddenly she stood up and called out, “Two against one, what kind of skill is that? Come, let us four people fight in two pairs to determine victory or defeat.” She reached into her pocket with both of her hands and took out two bamboo planks. Without waiting for Huang Rong to reply the pair of planks went down vertically and swept away horizontally, attacking Huang Rong.

“You are a crazy old woman,” Huang Rong cursed her; “No wonder the Old Urchin did not love you.”

Ying Gu raised her eyebrows and intensified her attacks. Once she went into action, the situation on the boat changed considerably. Although Huang Rong’s Dog Beating Stick technique was exquisite, her internal energy level was still inferior to Ying Gu’s; not to mention after a heavy injury her internal strength had not fully recovered, her movements were not as agile as they used to be. She had to rely on the ‘sealing’ technique with all her strength to barely guard herself against the enemy. Ying Gu was slippery as a fish, the jolting and swaying of the boat only added to her fierceness.

On the other front Guo Jing fought Qiu Qianren; for a while it would be difficult to decide victory and defeat. After receiving instructions from Reverend Yideng on the internal energy cultivation his level of energy actually increased one layer; to his own surprise by exerting all his strength he was able to protect himself thus far. On the other hand Qiu Qianren was baffled by Ying Gu’s action; first she acted as his enemy and did not care to help either side, suddenly now she came to lend him a hand. Inwardly he was delighted, his spirit rose and his palms became fiercer. He believed with a prolonged fight he would eventually subdue Guo Jing.

Qiu Qianren saw Guo Jing’s palm wipe out fiercely, he leaned sideways to avoid a frontal attack, his right palm high, left palm low, they clapped down together. Guo Jing responded by stretching out his palms and four palms collided with a great force. “Hey!” two people shouted together and both withdrew three steps.

Qiu Qianren stumbled toward the stern and grabbed the rudder to steady himself. Guo Jing’s left foot tripped on a rope and he nearly tumbled down. Afraid of the enemy’s subsequent attack while his defense line was empty he continued by rolling down on the deck while readied his palms to protect his body. Qiu Qianren thought victory was at hand, watching the enemy tumble down and at a disadvantage he let out a long laugh and stepped forward.

In the meantime Ying Gu had succeeded in making Huang Rong huffing and puffing, panting for breath; she saw beads of sweat trickling down her forehead, she was delighted. Suddenly she heard the laughter, she was greatly shocked; her countenance abruptly changed and absentmindedly she withdrew the attack with the bamboo plank in her left hand.

Huang Rong saw this opportunity and she did not want to miss it; the bamboo stick in her hand turned to attack Ying Gu’s chest. But as the bamboo stick was about to hit the ‘shen cang’ [divine storage] acupoint on her chest, Ying Gu’s body shook as if she was suffering from a sudden illness. “So it was you!” Ying Gu screamed and pounced toward Qiu Qianren like a mad tiger.

Qiu Qianren saw her with arms opened wide, fiercely throwing herself at him without any regard for her own life. Her mouth opened wide exposing rows of white teeth, as if she wanted to bite him alive. Although his martial art skill was high, seeing this disregarding- her-own-life kind of attack he could not help but was startled. Hastily he leaped sideways to evade and called out, “What are you doing?”

Ying Gu did not answer; she kept throwing herself on him. As soon as her feet landed, she would pound him again and again. Qiu Qianren struck with his left palm toward her head, but Ying Gu kept going with arms extended as if she wanted something; she completely ignored the incoming attack, still ferociously trying to throw herself at him. Qiu Qianren was shocked; he thought if he was caught by this insane woman, he would not be able to break free easily, and if at that time Guo Jing came up with a palm, how could he still alive? Therefore, he abandoned his palm strike immediately; saving his own life was more important, hastily he ducked to the left.

Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing’s hand; they moved to the side. Seeing Ying Gu suddenly lost her mind they could not help but feel scared. They saw Ying Gu madly pounced forward, her mouth let out ‘heh, heh’ sound, her lips opened to reveal her teeth, trying to embrace Qiu Qianren without regard of her own life. Although Qiu Qianren’s martial art skill was high, but Ying Gu attacked him like she did not want to live anymore, he could not keep up with her; he was forced to dodge to the west and evade to the east. He saw the muscle on her face twitch, her expression so ferocious, he became more and more afraid. “Revenge, revenge!” he inwardly groaned, “Today I will die under this mad woman’s hands.”

Ying Gu pounced several more times, Qiu Qianren evaded her until he arrived next to the rudder. Ying Gu’s eyes were red as if they were going to spurt blood. One more time her grab missed its target. She raised her palm and ‘bang!’ she struck the man controlling the rudder throwing him into the river; then her leg flew and she kicked the rudder broken. The boat immediately floated chaotically as it lost its rudder.

Huang Rong groaned inwardly, “This woman was going to turn mad sooner or later; it seems that we, four people, will have difficulty escaping death this time.” Immediately she pursed her lips and whistled loudly to summon the eagles down to save their lives.

Right at this moment the boat hit a big rock. With a loud crashing sound a big hole appeared on the bow. As Qiu Qianren saw Ying Gu break the rudder he knew she had made up her mind to die together with him. He saw the shore was not too far; he thought whether dead or alive he must risk everything to escape; therefore, he jumped toward the shore with all his might. But the shore was still a distance away, ‘splash!’ he fell into the water and immediately drowned to the bottom of the river. He was aware that as soon as he went up to the surface, the strong current would flush him away and it would be impossible for him to struggle free; hence he firmly held onto the rock at the bottom of the river and using his hands and feet he crawled underwater toward the shore. Utilizing his outstanding martial art, plus the fact that near the shore the current was not as strong as at the middle of the river, although he had to swallow about a dozen mouthful of water, he finally reached the shore. He was utterly exhausted, he sat on a rock to catch his breath and saw the boat quickly turned into a black dot in the distance. Remembering Ying Gu’s clenched teeth and scary expression he shivered in fear.

As Ying Gu saw Qiu Qianren jump out the boat she loudly called out, “Evil thief, where are you running to?” She rushed toward the side of the boat, ready to jump into the water. But by then the boat had been flushed to the middle of the river where the current was strongest; in this dangerous billows, how would she survive if she really jumped into the water?

Guo Jing could not bear to see her; he rushed forward to grab her back. Ying Gu was angry, she reached behind her back to attack. Guo Jing hastily ducked to evade. Huang Rong saw the pair of eagles had landed in front of the cabin. “Brother Jing,” she called out, “Why do you mind this mad woman? Let us go quickly.”

The water violently surged up and very soon it rose up to their ankles. Guo Jing let his grab went loose. Ying Gu covered her face with both hands, crying loudly. “Child! Child!” she shouted miserably.

Huang Rong repeatedly urged him to go, but Guo Jing remembered Reverend Yideng’s request to look after Ying Gu. “Go ashore with the eagle, then send them back here to rescue us,” he called out.

“There’s not enough time,” Huang Rong anxiously objected.

“Go, quick!” Guo Jing said, “We can’t neglect Reverend Yideng’s entrusting.”

Huang Rong recalled Yideng’s kindness in saving her life, reluctantly she mounted the eagle, knowing she did not have any choice. Suddenly her body shook. With a violent crash the boat hit a big reef in the middle of the river. The water bubbled up toward the cabin, in a flash the hull sank several feet.

“Jump to the reef!” Huang Rong called out. Guo Jing nodded, he went over to take Ying Gu along.

By then Ying Gu was in daze, she knew Guo Jing held out his hand to hold her, she did not resist. Her eyes were staring blankly at the river. Guo Jing slipped his right hand under her armpit and called out, “Jump!” Three people jumped to the reef.

That reef was actually about a foot under the water; the river surrounded three people, splashing their clothes wet. When they stood firm on the reef, they saw the boat slowly sank beside them. Although she had played in the great waves since her childhood, but seeing the muddy water swirling around her Huang Rong could not restrain from having a dizzy spell; she raised her head up looking at the sky, did not dare to look directly into the water.

Guo Jing whistled to call the eagles to come and carry them over; but the eagles were afraid of the water. They flew in circles overhead but did not dare to set their feet on the submerged reef.

Huang Rong looked around and saw a big willow tree on the bank toward their left, about a dozen ‘zhang’s away. Immediately she had an idea, “Jing Gege,” she said, “Hold my hand.” Guo Jing took a good grip of her left hand. With a splash Huang Rong disappeared into the water.

Guo Jing was startled; he saw she dove to the sunken boat, he quickly stooped down until his upper body also went into the water. He extended his arm as far as possible while his legs firmly gripped a sticking rock on the reef. With all his strength his right hand gripped her left wrist, lest the current was too strong and he lost his grip, then she might never be able to come up.

Huang Rong dove toward the mast; she pulled down the sail rope, then wound it around the reef. Next, her hands alternately pulled the sail rope until she got about twenty ‘zhang’s of rope; then she took out her dagger and cut the rope down. Afterwards she extended her arm, calling the female eagle to perch on her shoulder. By now the pair of eagles was grown and they were quite heavy. Guo Jing was afraid Huang Rong could not take it, so he extended his arm to take the eagle. Huang Rong wound the end of the rope to the female eagle’s foot, she pointed to the big willow tree and made a hand signal telling the eagle to fly.

The eagle took the rope and flew in circle several times above the willow tree, then flew back. Huang Rong anxiously said, “Ay! I told you to fly around the tree before coming back.” But of course the eagle did not understand what she said, so Huang Rong sighed anxiously. They tried again and on the eight try the eagle coincidentally flew around the tree and came back. Jing and Rong two people were delighted; they pulled the rope to tighten it, then firmly tied the other end to the protruding rock on the reef.

“Rong’er, you go first,” Guo Jing said.

“No,” Huang Rong replied, “I am staying with you. Let her go first.”

Ying Gu stared hard at them. Without saying anything using both hands she pulled herself along the rope, coming ashore.

Huang Rong laughed, “This is my way of having fun when I was little. Master Guo, please be generous with your rewards!” With one leap she landed on the tight rope and utilizing her lightness kungfu to the fullest she walked along the rope just like a tight-rope walker; brandishing her bamboo stick, traversing the great waves of the rushing river below, toward the willow tree on the shore.

Guo Jing had not learned the same trick, he was afraid to make a wrong step, so he did not dare to fool around like her. Just like Ying Gu, he used both hands to pull himself hanging on the rope, heading to the shore.

He was still about several ‘zhang’s from the shore when suddenly he heard Huang Rong called out, “Hey, where are you going?” She sounded baffled. Guo Jing was afraid Ying Gu had not come to her senses and did something foolish, so he sped up and before even arrived at the willow tree he jumped down.

Huang Rong pointed to the south and said, “She is leaving.”

Guo Jing focused his eyes and saw Ying Gu was running with all her might over the rocky mountain path. “Her mind is confused, I am afraid she would hurt herself. Let us pursue her,” he said.

“All right!” Huang Rong said; lifting up her legs she was ready to run, but suddenly her legs went weak and she fell sitting down, shaking her head.

Guo Jing knew that she had used excessive strength after the injury; she was exhausted and did not have enough energy to run. “Just sit here and take a rest, I will pursue her and take her back,” he said. Immediately he ran toward the direction Ying Gu was last seen; but after crossing a plain in front of him was a fork on the road going three separate directions. Ying Gu’s shadow was nowhere to be seen; he did not know which way she took. Here the rocks were big, the grass reached his chest; everywhere he looked he did not see anybody else. Meanwhile the sun was setting behind the mountain, the sky was turning dark; he was afraid Huang Rong would be worried over him, so he decided to go back.

Two people spent the night among the rocks, hungry and tired. At daybreak they woke up and started to walk along the small pathway by the river banks. They had to find their little red horse before coming back to the main road.

After walking for half a day they found a small inn by the roadside; they bought three chickens, one for them to eat, while with the other two they fed their eagles. The pair of eagles perched on top of a tall tree, eating their cockerels that the feathers fluttered down like snowfall.

They were eating heartily when suddenly the female eagle let out a long cry, dropped the half-eaten cockerel, raised its wing and flew to the north. The male eagle followed its mate with an anxious cry.

“Those two eagles sound very angry, I wonder what they saw?” Guo Jing said.

“Let’s take a look,” Huang Rong said. Two people ran along the main road. They saw the eagles fly in circles in the distance; suddenly they swooped down and soared up again. They circled several more times, then swooped down again.

“They are fighting an enemy,” Guo Jing said.

They sped up their steps and after about two, three ‘li’s they saw a row of houses standing very close to each other; it was a small town. The pair of eagles circled above this town, it seemed like they had lost their enemy’s track. Guo Jing and Huang Rong hasted to the outskirt of the town; they tried to call their eagles down, but the eagles ignored them, they kept circling above as if they were still looking for the enemy.

“I wonder with whom do these eagles have big enmity with,” Guo Jing said.

Only some times later the pair of eagles finally did come down one after another. The male eagle’s left foot was dripping with blood from a really deep saber cut; looked like if its muscle and bone were not strong, that foot would be chopped through. The female eagle’s right claw was firmly grabbing a piece of blackish object. They looked closer and found out that it was a piece of human scalp, with a big clump of hair on it. It looked like the scalp was freshly plucked right from a head, with stains of blood still around it.

Huang Rong applied some cut wound medicine on the male eagle’s foot. Guo Jing flipped over the scalp he took from the female eagle and muttered, “This pair of eagles is so tame ever since they were small; they had never harmed anybody unless they are provoked, how could they suddenly fight with someone?”

“Something is amiss here,” Huang Rong said, “If we can find this person who lost the scalp, we’ll understand everything.”

Two people went into town and found an inn to spend the night; then they went out separately to inquire. But that town was rather big, with quite a large number of people around; they investigated until dark, but did not find the slightest clue.

“I’ve been everywhere to look for a person without a scalp, but could not find anything,” Guo Jing said. Huang Rong smiled, “A person without scalp could always wear a hat to cover his head,” she said.

“Ah!” Guo Jing exclaimed, suddenly enlightened. He remembered seeing quite a lot of people wearing hat in town, but of course he could not take their hats off one by one to take a look.

By daybreak the pair of eagles came back with their little red horse. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were worried about Hong Qigong’s injury, also the martial art match at the Misty Rain Tavern on the mid-autumn festival was drawing near, besides, the enmity the eagles had with whoever was not that important, so they decided to start their journey to the east immediately.

Two people rode on the speeding little red horse with the pair of eagles followed above them. Along the way Huang Rong kept talking and laughing, playing around, looking a lot more lively than she was; sometimes far into the night she was not willing to take a rest. Guo Jing knew she was exhausted, he often urged her to take a rest, but Huang Rong simply ignored him. Sometimes late at night she sat cross-legged on the bed chit-chatting with him over some trivial matters.

One day from the western Jiangnan road they arrived at the southern road within the Zhejiang border. They had been riding the horse for a whole day. It was not too far from the Eastern Sea shore. They stopped by an inn to spend the night. Huang Rong borrowed a shopping basket from the innkeeper; she wanted to go to town to buy some meat and vegetables to prepare some dishes.

“You are tired after traveling the whole day,” Guo Jing tried to persuade her, “Let us just eat in the restaurant here.” “I want to cook for you,” Huang Rong replied, “Don’t you like my cooking anymore?”

“Naturally I like your cooking,” Guo Jing said, “But I want you to take a lot of rest. Wait till you are well, then you can cook for me. It won’t be too late, will it?”

“Wait till I am well; at that time …” Huang Rong said. Her arm carried the shopping basket, one foot had already stepped outside the room, she paused as if she was startled.

Guo Jing did not understand her thought; he gently pulled the shopping basket from her arm and said, “That’s right. Wait till we find Shifu, then we can enjoy the food you prepare together.”

Huang Rong stared blankly for half a day. Finally she returned to the bed and soon she looked like she was asleep. The innkeeper came with their food. Guo Jing called her to eat. Huang Rong jumped out of bed at once and said with a laugh, “Jing Gege, we won’t eat this food, come with me.”

Guo Jing complied and followed her out of the inn, they walked toward downtown. Huang Rong randomly picked a house with white fence wall and black door, a rich family’s house. They circled to the back and leaped over the wall, broke into the house. Guo Jing did not know what was going on, but he followed her nonetheless. Straightaway Huang Rong went to the front hall only to see the hall was bright with candles; the host was having a party.

“Wonderful!” Huang Rong called out in delight, “I picked the right house.” Giggling and walking forward she shouted loud and clear, “Everybody get out of my way!”

There were three banquet tables in the hall; the host and about his thirty guests were startled. They saw her as a beautiful looking young girl; they looked at each other, puzzled. Huang Rong casually seized a fat man, her foot moved to trip that fat man, sending him tumbling to the floor. “You still don’t want to scramble?” she said with a laugh.

The guests scrambled at once in great confusion. The host cried out, “Guards! Where are the guards?”

Amidst the commotion two martial art instructors led about a dozen villagers with sabers and sticks in their hands came rushing in. With a laugh Huang Rong rushed forward and with two moves she flattened the two instructors. She snatched a saber and brandished it, creating a bright white light, pretending she was about to make a kill. The guests screamed in terror; they staggered along and running against each other trying to escape.

As the host saw the unfavorable situation, he tried to slip away; but Huang Rong reached out and pulled his beard, her right hand brandished the saber as if she was going to chop him away. The host was so scared that he dropped to his knees and with a trembling voice said, “Nu … Nu Da Wang [lit. female big king; ‘Da Wang’ was how the people addressed a robber], Good … Good Miss; you want gold or silver, I will certainly present everything to you. Please just spare my old life …”

Huang Rong laughed, “Who wants your money?” she said, “I want you to accompany us to drink.” Grabbing his beard with her left hand she pulled him up. The host was in pain but he did not dare to cry out. Huang Rong pulled Guo Jing along to sit at the head table.

“Everybody sit down!” Huang Rong ordered, “Why are you still standing?” Raising the saber in her hand she hacked down and the saber stuck on the table.

The guests were startled and scared, they crowded around the other two tables, nobody dared to sit at the head table.

Huang Rong shouted, “You don’t want to accompany me drinking, do you? Whoever don’t come over, I’ll butcher him first!”

Everybody rushed forward, shoving and elbowing one another, causing seven, eight chairs to tumble over. Huang Rong shouted again, “You are not three years old, are you? Why can’t you sit nicely?”

Still shoving and elbowing one another the guests scrambled over and after half a day they finally managed to sit nicely around the three banquet tables.

Huang Rong poured herself a cup of wine and gulped it down in one go. “What kind of party is this?” she asked the host, “Anybody died in your family? How many have died?”

The host stammered, “Actually, a child was born for me in my later years. Today he is one month old, so I invited friends, relatives and close neighbors to celebrate.”

Huang Rong laughed, “That’s wonderful! Let me take a look at your child,” she said.

The host turned pale; he was afraid Huang Rong would harm the child, but seeing the saber stuck on the table he did not dare to refuse; he ordered the wet nurse to bring the child out.

Huang Rong held the child in her arms; she looked at his small face under the candlelight, and then she looked up to the host. Leaning her head sideways she said, “He doesn’t look the least bit like you; are you sure he is your child?”

The host looked awkward; his whole body quivered, he said, “Yes, yes!” It was unclear if he was saying that the child was his, or he was saying, “What Miss said was true.” The guests felt funny, but nobody dared to laugh.

Huang Rong took out a gold ingot from her pocket and gave it to the wet nurse; she also handed over the child back to her. “It’s a small gift. Just consider it a first meeting gift from his maternal grandmother,” she said.

Everybody could see that she is very young, but she called herself a grandmother; they could also see her grand appearance, she looked both heroic and rich; they looked at each other.

The host was overjoyed with this unexpected turn of events, he repeatedly expressed his thanks.

“Come,” Huang Rong said, “I’ll toast you one bowl!” She took a big bowl and poured wine to the brim, shoving it in front of the host. The host said, “This old man’s drinking capacity is shallow. Miss, please forgive me.”

Huang Rong raised her beautiful eyebrows, stretched out her hand to pull his beard. “Are you or are you not going to drink?” she barked.

The host had no choice but to raise his bowl and ‘glug, glug’ he drank the whole bowl down. “That’s right!” Huang Rong laughed, “Now we are having fun. Come, we’ll have drinking stories.”

If she wanted to have drinking stories, who at the banquet table dared to refuse? But the guests around the table were not rich merchant or educated people, only peasants and villagers, how could she find a true scholar among them? Everybody was trembling with fear trying to make up some wild stories.

After a while Huang Rong became impatient and shouted loudly, “Everybody stands aside!”

Like they had just received pardon everybody scrambled to stand up. Suddenly ‘boom!’ the host fell backward on his chair. Turned out he was totally drunk and could not stand up anymore. Huang Rong burst out in laughter. She kept drinking wine and talking with Guo Jing as if there was nobody else around, letting the guests helplessly standing on the side just watching them.

They were eating and drinking until the first watch of the night. Several times Guo Jing tried to persuade her and finally Huang Rong had enough and was willing to leave.

Returning to their inn Huang Rong asked with a laugh, “Jing Gege, are you having fun today?”

Guo Jing replied, “Without reasons you scared people to their deaths; why bother to come in the first place?”

“I am looking for my own well-being and enjoyment,” Huang Rong said, “Why would I bother over other people’s life and death?”

Guo Jing was startled; he felt her manner of speaking was rather unusual, but momentarily he could not figure out the profound meaning behind those words.

Huang Rong suddenly said, “I want to go out and take a walk. Are you coming?” “It’s the middle of the night,” Guo Jing said, “Where do you want to go?” “I think that child is amusing,” Huang Rong said, “Grandmother wants to hold him and play with him for a few days; then I’ll give him back to his family.”

“How can you do that?” Guo Jing anxiously said.

Huang Rong only smiled and headed out the door, leaping over the wall. Guo Jing hastily overtook her, pulled her arm trying to stop her, “Rong’er, you have played around for along time,” he said, “Don’t you have enough?”

“Definitely not enough,” Huang Rong stood still and replied. She paused for a second then continued, “I want you to keep me company. Only then will I have enough fun. In a few more days you will leave me, you will be with that Princess Huazheng; she definitely won’t let you see me again. Our time together is numbered. Each day that passed means one less day I am with you. I want to make one day lasts like two days, like three days, like four days. Still it’s not enough for me. Jing Gege, I don’t want to sleep at night, I want to play around and talk with you. Do you understand my feelings? Please don’t try to stop me.”

Guo Jing grabbed her hands tight, he felt deep compassion and love. “Rong’er,” he said, “I am so dumb, I have never realized you have this kind of love to me. I … I …” Speaking to this point he actually did not know what else to say.

Huang Rong smiled slightly. “Father used to teach me to read many classic poems about anxiety, about hatred, and the like. I only know that he missed my departed mother, that’s why he loved to read about those kinds of things. Today I discovered that happiness and joy only come for a moment, but pain and suffering are the matters of a lifetime.”

The crescent moon rose atop the willow tree, the night was as cold as the water, gentle breeze brushed their clothes. Initially Guo Jing was ignorant, even though he knew Huang Rong’s deep feelings toward him, he did not realize she loved him this much. As he listened to her speaking, everything that happened all throughout that day became clear to him. He said in his heart, “I am a crude and straightforward man. In the future I won’t be with her. Although I will certainly think about her often, miss her, eventually I will get over her. But what about her? She will live alone on the Peach Blossom Island with only her father to keep her company. Won’t she be lonely?” He thought further, “Someday her father will die, then only some deaf and mute servants will accompany her. She loves to have new ideas, doing new things. With nobody to accompany her, won’t she die of boredom?”

Thinking about these things his body trembled involuntarily. His grip on her hands tightened, his eyes stared hard at her face. “Rong’er,” he said, “Even if the sky falls down, I want to be with you on the Peach Blossom Island for as long as I live!”

Huang Rong trembled, she raised her head and said, “You … what did you say?”

Guo Jing said, “I don’t care about Genghis Khan, about Princess Huazheng. All my life I want to be with you.”

Huang Rong let out a soft cry and buried her head in his bosom. Guo Jing stretched out his arms and embraced her tightly. This matter had been vexing him for a while. This moment, ignoring everything else he suddenly made up his mind; his heart felt happy and relieved. Two people hugged each other tightly; they had forgotten everything else around them.

After a while Huang Rong gently asked, “What about your mother?”

“I will fetch her and take her to the Peach Blossom Island,” Guo Jing replied.

“Aren’t you afraid of your master, Jebeh, and your sworn brother Tuolei?” Huang Rong asked again. “They love me very much, but I can’t have a divided heart,” Guo Jing answered.

“What about your six masters of Jiangnan? What about Ma Daozhang [Taoist Priest], Qiu Daozhang? What will they say?” Huang Rong asked.

Guo Jing heaved a sigh and said, “They will surely be enraged, but I will slowly talk to them earnestly. Rong’er, you must not leave me, I also won’t leave you.”

Huang Rong said with a laugh, “I have an idea. We can go hiding on the Peach Blossom Island and do not come out forever. My father arranged the island in such a mysterious way that even if they come to the island, they won’t be able to find you and scold you.”

Guo Jing thought this idea of hers might not be appropriate; he was about to ask her of a better idea when suddenly they heard footsteps about a dozen ‘zhang’s away outside the room. Two night-walkers were using their lightness kungfu rushing from the south heading north. One of them said, “The Old Urchin has fallen into Brother Peng’s trick; we don’t have to be afraid of him. Let us go quickly.”

End of Chapter 32. 

Chapter 33 – Upcoming Disaster

At this moment Guo Jing and Huang Rong were enjoying happiness and contentment in their hearts; they did not want to mind other people’s business. But hearing ‘The Old Urchin’ three characters their hearts were stirred. They both jumped at the same time and pursued those two men. The men’s martial art skills looked ordinary; they did not have the slightest idea that they were being followed. Leaving the town they ran for about five, six ‘li’s more before turning into a valley. They heard continuous shouts and curses coming from behind the mountain.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong picked up their speed and followed into the valley. They saw that a bunch of people were gathered on a part of a field. Two of them had torches in their hands. In the middle of the field Zhou Botong was sitting motionless. It was not clear if he was alive or dead. Facing Zhou Botong there was someone sitting cross-legged, wearing a red kassaya; it was Lingzhi Shangren [lit. upper/above man, a respectful term to address Buddhist monk]. He too, was motionless. On Zhou Botong’s left there was a cave. Its entrance was small, so anybody wanted to enter must stoop down. Outside the cave there were five, six people shouting and cursing, but nobody dared to get within a few ‘zhang’s of the cave, as if they were afraid something might come out of the cave and hurt them.

Guo Jing recalled one of the night walkers say, “The Old Urchin has fallen into Brother Peng’s trick;” and now he saw Zhou Botong was sitting motionless just like a corpse. He was afraid that Zhou Botong was injured; he was very anxious and was about to jump forward when Huang Rong pulled his arm and whispered, “Before we do anything, let’s investigate what happened first.”

Two people hid behind a mountain rock and looked at the people outside the cave. It turned out they were all old acquaintances: Shen Xian Lao Guai [Ginseng Immortal Old Freak] Liang Ziweng, Gui Men Long Wang [Dragon King of Guimen (lit. ghost gate)] Sha Tongtian, Qian Shou Ren Tu [Thousand Hands Butcher] Peng Lianhu, San Tou Jiao [Three Headed Scaly Dragon] Hou Tonghai, plus the two night-walkers they followed earlier. The light from the torches illuminated their faces and Jing and Rong recognized those two as Liang Ziweng’s disciples; Guo Jing had fought them the first time he learned the Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms.

Huang Rong thought that now these people were not Guo Jing’s and her matches; she looked to all directions but did not see anybody else. With a low voice she said, “With the Old Urchin’s skill, how could these several fellows defeat him? It seems like the Western Poison Ouyang Feng is lurking somewhere.”

She was about to think of a way to investigate further when Peng Lianhu shouted loud and clear, “Thief male servant bird! [I know this one sounds weird, but it is the literal translation. I’ll leave it to the editors to find a more suitable curse words ... ] If you don’t come out, Old Man here will smoke you out!”

From the cave came a stern voice, “Whatever stinky tricks you have; bring it on!”

Guo Jing recognized it was his Da Shifu [First Master] Ke Zhen’e’s voice; he did not care if Ouyang Feng was lurking around somewhere. “Shifu!” he shouted, “Your disciple Guo Jing is here!” His hands had already made some moves while he was still shouting. He grabbed Hou Tonghai’s back and flung him aside.

The people outside the cave were thrown into confusion. Sha Tongtian and Peng Lianhu made a simultaneous attack. Liang Ziweng turned around Guo Jing’s back, ready to make a sneak attack. Ke Zhen’Einside the cave heard everything; he raised his hand and launched a ‘du ling’ [poisonous water caltrop] toward Liang Ziweng’s back.

The projectile carried a fierce gust of wind. Liang Ziweng hastily lowered his head; the ‘du ling’ flew over his head, cutting several strands of his hair. He was so shocked that cold sweats trickled down his back. He knew Ke Zhen’e’s secret projectiles contained a violent poison on it; the other day Peng Lianhu nearly got killed under this weapon. Hastily he leaped back several ‘zhang’s, stretched out his hand to feel the top of his head. Luckily his scalp was not injured. Straightaway he took some ‘tou gu ding’ [Bone Penetrating Nails] from his pocket and walked quietly toward the left of the cave; he wanted to enter the cave to extract his revenge.

He was just about to raise his hand when suddenly his wrist was numb; something hit his hand. With a clanking noise the ‘tou gu ding’ fell to the ground. And then he heard a female voice said with a laugh, “Kneel down! Or you’ll eat my stick!”

Liang Ziweng quickly turned his head and saw Huang Rong stood smiling, with a bamboo stick in her hand. He was scared and angry at the same time; his left palm struck toward her shoulder, his right hand tried to grab the bamboo stick. Huang Rong stepped aside to evade his left palm, but did not move the bamboo stick, she let him to have a good grip on it. Liang Ziweng was delighted, he held out his hand, thinking that if this young girl did not let go, he would snatch the stick away. As soon as he pulled, he did indeed manage to pull the bamboo stick away, but unexpectedly the end of the stick shook and slid right out of his palm. By this time the end of the bamboo stick had entered his circle of defense. His hands were so close to the stick that he hurriedly reached back to grab; but he was too late. A dark green shadow flashed and ‘slap!’ his head was squarely hit by the bamboo stick.

Overall his martial art skill was not weak; in this critical moment he was still able to throw himself to the ground and he rolled away more than a ‘zhang’ away before he sprang back up. He looked with a shocked expression at this young girl with bright eyes and ivory teeth. The top of his head was hurting, his mind was confused, and his face looked awkward.

Huang Rong said with a laugh, “Do you know the name of this stick method? You have been beaten by me, so what did you turn into?”

Liang Ziweng had suffered hardship under this Dog Beating Stick Technique in the past; he was beaten half dead and half alive under Hong Qigong’s hands. It had been several years since then, but he still had a lingering fear in his heart. He noticed that the stick was indeed Hong Qigong’s Dog Beating Stick, and the stick method was indeed Hong Qigong’s Dog Beating Stick Technique, used up against him. It looked like this young girl was truly Hong Qigong’s heir. With the corner of his eyes he saw Sha and Peng two people continuously step back under the power of Guo Jing’s palms without being able to counterattack; he called out, “In honor of the Old Hong Bangzhu [Clan Leader Hong] we’d better go!” He called out his two disciples and turned around to flee.

Guo Jing’s left elbow circled around forcing Sha Tongtian to retreat three steps; followed by the sweep of his left hand. Peng Lianhu saw that this palm carried a strong gust of wind, he did not dare to take it head-on, he hastily stepped aside to evade. Guo Jing’s right hand made a hook, grabbed his back and lifted him up.

Peng Lianhu was rather short, being lifted high in the air his legs were kicking around frantically. He tried to hit and kick to free himself, but he did not have any strength left. He saw Guo Jing’s left hand make a fist, ready to strike his chest like a hammer pounding a nail; how could he endure this strike? He hastily shouted, “What date is today?”

“What?” Guo Jing was startled.

“Are you going to keep a good faith? Do you stay true to your own promise?” Peng Lianhu asked. “What?” Guo Jing asked again; his right hand was still holding Peng Lianhu high in the air.

“We have agreed to have a martial art contest in Jiaxing on the fifteenth of the eighth month, at the Misty Rain Tavern,” Peng Lianhu said, “We are not in Jiaxing, and today is not the Mid-autumn Festival. How can you injure me?”

Guo Jing thought he was right; he was about to release him when suddenly he remembered something. “What did you do to my Zhou Dage [big brother Zhou]?”

Peng Lianhu replied, “The Old Urchin is betting against that Tibetan monk; whoever moves first lose. What does it have to do with me?”

Guo Jing cast a glance toward the two people sitting on the ground, he felt relieved. “So that’s how it is,” he thought. Then he shouted, “Da Shifu [first master], are you Senior well?” Ke Zhen’Eonly uttered an ‘Hm’ sound from inside the cave.

Guo Jing was afraid as soon as he let Peng Lianhu go, he would kick him on the chest; hence with his right hand he flung Peng Lianhu several feet away, while calling out, “Off you go!”

Peng Lianhu took that opportunity to somersault and land on the ground. He saw Sha Tongtian and Liang Ziweng had already run away. He inwardly scolded them for not remembering their friend. He cupped his fists toward Guo Jing and said, “Seven days later at Misty Rain Tavern we will decide victory and defeat.” He turned around and displaying his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] he ran away. He was wondering about one thing, “Each time I meet this kid, his martial art is improving by leaps and bounds. Isn’t that strange? Did he eat some magic pills or find some immortal secret?”

Huang Rong went toward Zhou Botong and Lingzhi Shangren; she noticed that both of them were staring at each other without blinking their eyes. Looking at the situation she recalled the conversation between those two night-walkers and knew that this must be Peng Lianhu’s evil scheme. They must be scared of the Old Urchin’s martial art, so they tricked him into making a bet against this Tibetan monk to stay still. Lingzhi Shangren’s martial art was nowhere near the Old Urchin’s; but by keeping him from moving, others would have the opportunity to deal with Ke Zhen’e.

The Old Urchin would be happy to have someone accompany him to play; he would not care about other matters, so it would be useless to speak reason with him. Although there was an earth-shattering fight going on next to him, he would sit still like Taishan [Mount Tai]; he would not even move his little finger, he was determined to win his bet against Lingzhi Shangren.

“Old Urchin! I’m here!” Huang Rong called out.

Zhou Botong heard her, but he was afraid to lose, so he did not respond.

Huang Rong said, “The way you bet, even if you sit for several more hours you won’t know who wins and who loses; what kind of fun is that? You know what, let me do this: I will tickle both of you on your ‘xiao yao xue’ [laugh waist acupoint] with my both hands; I will make both hands have the same strength. Whoever laughs first will lose.”

Zhou Botong had been sitting impatiently; hearing Huang Rong’s words he agreed wholeheartedly, but he did not dare to show his approval. Huang Rong did not say anything more, she went in between the two and sat down. She put her Dog Beating Stick on the ground and stretched both arms, two index fingers hit both men’s ‘xiao yao xue’. She knew Zhou Botong’s internal energy far surpassed the Tibetan monk’s, so she was not being unfair; she exerted equal strength. But to her surprise while Zhou Botong admittedly did not move, Lingzhi Shangren also seemed like he did not feel anything.

Huang Rong secretly admired him; she thought, “This monk’s skill in closing up his acupoints is really good. If I were hit like this, I would have rolled around in laughter.” Then she exerted more strength to her hands.

Zhou Botong used his internal energy trying hard to resist the strength of Huang Rong’s finger; but this ‘xiao yao xue’ was located very close to the ribs, the muscle was very tender, it was very difficult to send the energy to that spot. If he straightened up his back he could borrow the momentum from the movement to unload the strength; but that would cause him to move and lose the bet. He felt Huang Rong’s finger getting stronger and stronger, he had no choice but desperately resist her finger.

A moment later he could not take it any longer, the muscle under his ribs contract and expand to repel Huang Rong’s finger. He leaped up and laughed out loud, saying, “Fat Monk, you are good! The Old Urchin admits defeat!”

Seeing him admit defeat, Huang Rong was regretful, “If I knew this would happen, I would have add a little more strength to the fat monk’s body,” she thought; and then she stood up and said toward Lingzhi Shangren, “You won. Your grand-aunt does not want your life. Just go! Go!”

Interestingly Lingzhi Shangren seemed not to hear her; he was still sitting motionless. Huang Rong put out a hand and pushed his shoulder, while shouted loudly, “Who wants to see your stupid face here? Do you want to die?” She only pushed lightly, but to her surprise Lingzhi Shangren fell down to the ground, still in the cross-legged sitting position, just like a wooden carving of Buddha.

Zhou Botong, Jing and Rong were stunned. Huang Rong thought, “Could it be that his closing up acupoints skill is not perfected yet and he died while doing it?” She held out her hand to feel his breathing and found that Lingzhi Shangren was still breathing. Immediately she understood what was going on; she was angry but amused at the same time. To Zhou Botong she said, “Old Urchin, you fell into others’ trick without knowing it. You are really dumb!”

Zhou Botong opened his eyes wide. “What?” he was angry.

Huang Rong said with a smile, “You unseal his acupoints first, then we’ll talk.”

Zhou Botong rolled his eyes then he stooped down and traced Lingzhi Shangren’s body. He tapped several places and found out that eight of Lingzhi Shangren’s major acupoints were sealed by someone else. He jumped up in anger and shouted, “That did not count! That did not count!”

“What did not count?” Huang Rong asked.

Zhou Botong replied, “His friends sealed up his acupoints after he was seated, of course this fat monk could not move. Even if we sit for three more days and nights he won’t lose.” Turning toward Lingzhi Shangren lying on the ground, he called out, “Come, we’ll compete again.”

Seeing Zhou Botong was exuberant, he was not by any means injured, Guo Jing was worried about his Shifu. He no longer listened to Zhou Botong talking nonsense, he sneaked into the cave to see Ke Zhen’Ewithout saying anything.

Zhou Botong stooped down to unseal Lingzhi Shangren’s acupoints while talking nonstop, “Come, we’ll compete again, we’ll compete again!”

Huang Rong coldly said, “What about my Shifu? Where did you throw him?”

Zhou Botong was taken aback. “Aiyo!” he cried and turned around, rushing toward the cave. He moved so abruptly that he almost collided with Guo Jing at the cave entrance. Guo Jing was holding Ke Zhen’E’s hand, leading him out of the cave. He saw his Shifu was wearing plain white cloth and white headband; Guo Jing was startled, “Shifu!” he asked, “Have any of your family members died? Where are Er Shifu [Second Master] and the others?”

Ke Zhen’E raised his head to the sky without saying anything, two lines of tears flowed down on his cheeks. Guo Jing was shocked, but did not dare to ask. Then he saw Zhou Botong was helping someone else going out of the cave. That person’s left hand was holding a wine gourd, his right hand holding half a chicken, his mouth busily nibble on the chicken leg, a broad smile on his face, and he kept nodding his head. He was none other than the Nine-fingered Divine Beggar Hong Qigong.

Jing and Rong two people were overjoyed, “Shifu!” they called out together.

Ke Zhen’E’s face suddenly appeared very angry; he lifted up the iron staff and fiercely hit the back of Huang Rong’s head. The staff movement was swift and fierce, it was a lethal strike from the ‘fu mo zhang fa’ [demon subduing staff technique], which he had painstakingly trained to perfection in the Mongolian desert, with the intention to use it against the blinded Mei Chaofeng. It was created so that even though Mei Chaofeng could hear the staff’s wind, she would not be able to evade it.

Huang Rong had just seen Hong Qigong after a long time and was squealing with delight; she had never guarded against any sneak attack from her back. By the time she was feeling the wind, the blast of the iron staff had already enveloped her completely. Guo Jing saw the staff was about to shatter her skull, in his desperation his left hand swept horizontally shoving the staff aside; while his right hand stretched out and grabbed the head of the staff. In panic he had used too much power, without realizing that by this time his strength had increased tremendously. The move of his left palm was from the Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms.

Ke Zhen’E felt a sudden surge of strong energy. He was unable to block and the iron staff fell down from his hand, he himself also tumbling down to the ground. Guo Jing was startled; hastily he stooped down to pick him up. “Da Shifu! [First Master]” he called out. Guo Jing saw Ke Zhen’e’s nose was swollen and two of his teeth were broken.

Ke Zhen’E spat the teeth, along with some blood, into his palm. “For you!” he said in a cold voice.

Guo Jing was dumbstruck. He knelt down and said, “Disciple deserves to die. Shifu, please punish me severely.” Ke Zhen’E was still holding out his hand, saying, “For you!”

Guo Jing wept. “Da Shifu …” He chocked, not knowing what to say or do.

Zhou Botong laughed and said, “I’ve seen master beating his disciple, but I’ve never seen disciple beating his master until today. Amusing! Truly amusing!”

Hearing this Ke Zhen’E was more furious. “Fine,” he said, “There is a saying: swallow the knocked down tooth and the blood. Shall I do it for you?” Holding out his hand he tossed the teeth into his mouth, throwing his head backward he swallowed the teeth into his belly. Zhou Botong clapped his hands, burst out in laughter and cheered loudly.

Huang Rong noticed the situation was unusual. The grievous expression on Ke Zhen’E’s face had not disappeared. It was unclear why he wanted to kill her; her heart was full of questions. Slowly she went to Hong Qigong and pulled his hand.

Guo Jing knocked his head to the ground and said, “Even if I have to die ten thousands times, disciple will never dare to offend Da Shifu. I was out of my mind to let my hand slip and struck Da Shifu.”

Ke Zhen’E said, “Shifu this and Shifu that, who is your Shifu? You have the Master of the Peach Blossom Island as your father-in-law, why would you need a Shifu? The Seven Freaks of Jiangnan do not have the ability, how can we be worthy to be Guo Daye’s [big master Guo] Shifu?”

Guo Jing heard his words were getting sharper and sharper; he kept knocking his head to the ground.

Finally Hong Qigong could not bear it much longer; he interrupted by saying, “Ke Daxia [Great Hero Ke], Master and disciple spar with each other, somebody losing control is a common occurrence. The stance Jing’er used just now was taught by me. Just blame it on the Old Beggar. Please accept my apology.” And he did indeed cup his fists in respect.

Listening to Hong Qigong, Zhou Botong thought, “Why don’t I say something too?” Thereupon he said, “Ke Daxia, Master and disciple spar with each other, somebody losing control is a common occurrence. The technique Brother Guo Jing used to grab your iron staff just now was taught by me. Just blame it on the Old Urchin. Please accept my apology.” And he also cupped his fists in respect. He was just talking nonsense and meant it as a joke, but Ke Zhen’E was livid. He believed Zhou Botong intentionally insulted him, and as a result he also regarded Hong Qigong’s good intention as a bad one. With a loud voice he said, “You, Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Southern Emperor and Northern Beggar, always think that your martial art skills are matchless and you can turn this world upside-down? Humph! I say many of your deeds are not righteous, certainly nothing good comes out of you.”

With a surprised voice Zhou Botong asked, “Hey, what did the Southern Emperor do to you that you include him in your curse?”

Huang Rong was listening quietly on the side; she knew the more they talked, the worse the situation had become. The Old Urchin being there would only make it more difficult to make Ke Zhen’E’s fury subsided. She opened her mouth and said, “Old Urchin, ‘the weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away’ is looking for you; aren’t you going to see her?”

Zhou Botong was startled; he jumped three feet into the air and shouted, “What?!?”

Huang Rong said, “She wants to ‘stand face to face taking a bath wearing red clothes when the green spring grass ripples in the deepest of dawn’s cold’ with you.”

Zhou Botong was even more shocked. “Where? Where?” he shouted. Huang Rong pointed to the south and said, “Over there! Go see her, quick!”

Zhou Botong said, “I won’t see her. Good Miss, I will do whatever you tell me to do; just don’t ever tell her that you have seen me …” Before he even finished talking, his feet moved and he ran to the north.

“I’ll hold on to your promise!” Huang Rong called out.

From a distant came Zhou Botong’s reply, “Once the Old Urchin make a promise, I won’t regret it.” As the words ‘regret it’ came out of his mouth, like a flash of lightning his shadow had already disappeared.

Huang Rong’s original intention was for him to see Ying Gu. Who would have thought that Zhou Botong avoided Ying Gu like a serpent or a scorpion and ran away from her in fear. It totally blew her mind away; nevertheless she succeeded in getting rid of him.

Up to this time Guo Jing was still kneeling in front of Ke Zhen’E. With tears in his eyes, he said, “For disciple’s sake Seven Shifus had traveled to a faraway desert. Even if disciple’s body is ground to dust and my bones are shattered, it will still be difficult for me to repay Seven Shifus’ kindness. This palm of mine had offended Da Shifu, disciple does not want it anymore!” Drawing the dagger from his waist Guo Jing chopped it down on his left wrist.

Ke Zhen’E swung his iron staff horizontally, striking the dagger to the side. Although the dagger was light and the iron staff heavy, when the two weapons collided sparks flew up; Ke Zhen’E felt a tingling sensation on his palms. He knew Guo Jing was using his entire strength, thus showing his sincerity.

“Fine,” he said, “If that’s the case, then you must do what I say.”

Guo Jing was very happy. “Whatever Da Shifu says, disciple will not dare to disobey,” he said.

“If you don’t do what I say, I forbid you to see my face in the future and thus our master-disciple relationship is severed,” Ke Zhen’E said.

Guo Jing said, “Disciple will do my best. If I can’t do it, I’d rather die.”

Ke Zhen’E struck his iron staff heavily on the ground and shouted, “Go and cut the Old Heretic Huang’s and his daughter’s heads; then you can comeback to see me.”

To say Guo Jing was shocked was an understatement. “Da … Shi … Shifu …” he stammered with a trembling voice. “What?” Ke Zhen’E asked.

“I wonder how did Huang Daozhu [Island Master Huang] offend you?” Guo Jing asked.

Ke Zhen’E heaved two heavy sighs. Suddenly he gritted his teeth and said, “I really wish the Heaven would restore my sight if only for a moment so I can see your face; you, an ungrateful little animal!” Lifting his iron staff high he hacked it down toward the top of Guo Jing’s head.

As Ke Zhen’E asked Guo Jing to do something for him, Huang Rong had already had a vague guess. When Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff suddenly struck and Guo Jing did not evade, she thought whatever happened, saving Guo Jing’s life was more important; hence from the side her bamboo stick intercepted the iron staff before it reached Guo Jing’s head with the ‘e gou lan lu’ [cutting off a vicious dog’s path] stance. As it hit the iron staff, the bamboo stick shook and coiled around the staff, pushing it slanting sideways. This Dog Beating Stick Technique was truly marvelous; although her strength was inferior, by borrowing the staff’s strength she managed to re-orient its path.

Ke Zhen’E staggered; without waiting for his feet to come to a complete stop he fiercely beat his own chest twice and then ran away to the north. Guo Jing ran after him while calling out, “Da Shifu, wait!” Ke Zhen’E halted his steps and turned around; with a stern voice he said, “Guo Daye wants to take my old life?” His expression looked mean and ferocious. Guo Jing was taken aback; he did not dare to continue. Hanging his head down he heard the sound of the iron staff against the ground getting farther and farther away, before completely faded away. Remembering his Shifu’s kindness he could not help but go down on his knees and wept bitterly.

Taking Huang Rong’s hand Hong Qigong walked to his side. He said, “Ke Daxia and the Old Heretic Huang both have a very strange temperament; they are always in some kind of disagreement with each other. Don’t worry, leave it to the Old Beggar to be the mediator between them.”

Guo Jing wiped his tears and stood up. “Shifu,” he said, “Do you know … do you know what it was about?”

Hong Qigong shook his head. “The Old Urchin fell into their trick and was betting against them in staying still. Those traitors wanted to harm me. Luckily we met your Da Shifu outside the Ox Village by accident, and he protected me by taking me hiding in this cave. Thanks to the fierceness of his ‘du ling’ secret projectiles those traitors did not dare to rush in, so we could hold our ground this long. Ay, your Da Shifu has a noble heart, he was very brave in battle defending justice. He accompanied me in that cave resisting the enemy. Undoubtedly he was determined to fight to the death.”

Speaking to this point he took two mouthfuls of wine, and then took a bite on the chicken leg. Biting and chewing the chicken went into his belly; and then he wiped his greasy mouth with his sleeve. Only then did he continued speaking, “The battle was fierce; my martial art skill is gone. I could not offer any help in fighting the enemy. I only saw your Da Shifu’s face, but did not have the luxury of talking to him about anything. Judging from how he was very angry, I don’t think it was because of your slip of hand. He is a chivalrous hero, how can he have such a narrow mind? Luckily in just a few more days it will be the Mid-autumn Festival of the eight month. Wait till the martial art contest at the Misty Rain Tavern is over, the Old Beggar will speak on your behalf.” Swallowing his tears Guo Jing uttered his gratitude.

Hong Qigong laughed and said, “Your two babies’ martial art skills have advanced tremendously. Ke Daxia can be considered a prominent character in the Wulin world, yet as soon as you two babies made your moves he fell into awkward positions. What is the story behind it?”

In his heart Guo Jing was ashamed; he did not know what to say. Laughing and giggling Huang Rong told Hong Qigong everything they went through after they were separated.

Hong Qigong cheered loudly when he heard that Yang Kang killed Ouyang Ke; he shot curse words when he heard the Beggar Clan’s Elders were swindled by Yang Kang, “Little Bastard! Four old muddle-headed! Lu Youjiao has feet does not have brain!” He was entranced when he listened to how Yideng Dashi [Reverend Yideng – great master Yideng] saved Huang Rong’s life; and how Ying Gu came at midnight to seek vengeance. Finally his expression slightly changed when he heard Ying Gu suddenly went insane at the ‘qing long tan’ [green dragon shore]. “Ah!” he exclaimed.

“Shifu, what is it?” Huang Rong asked, “Do you also know Ying Gu?” While in her heart she mused, “All his life Shifu has never had a wife. Could it be that he was also mesmerized by Ying Gu? Hmm, what’s so good about this Ying Gu anyway? Mystifying, acting like a mad woman, but can captivate the attention of so many experts of the Wulin world?” Luckily Hong Qigong’s answer was pleasing to her ears.

“Nothing,” Hong Qigong said, “I don’t know Ying Gu, but when Emperor Duan left home [meaning: become a monk], I was there by his side. That day he sent a letter to the north, inviting me to go to the south. I knew he wouldn’t send for the Old Beggar if he did not have a very important matter. I also remembered Yunnan’s ham, the ‘over the bridge’ rice-flour noodle, and the chunk of cakes and delicacies; so I left at once. When I saw him, his face was haggard, like he was suffering from a serious illness; it was completely different from when I saw him during the Sword Meet of Mount Hua, where he looked alive with a dragon or a tiger’s appearance. I felt very strange. After I have been there for a few days with the pretense of discussing martial art he wanted to teach me the ‘xian tian gong’ [inborn/innate strength/energy] and ‘yi yang zhi’ [solitary yang finger]. The Old Beggar thought: in the past his Solitary Yang Finger was in a level ground with my Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms, the Old Poison’s Toad Stance, the Old Heretic Huang’s ‘pi kong zhang’ [splitting the air palm] and Divine Flicking Finger; nowadays he had mastered Wang Chongyang’s ‘xian tian gong’. In the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua the title of Number One Martial Artist in the World would certainly belong to him; why would he want to pass on these two special skills to the Old Beggar, without any reason whatsoever? If he wanted to exchange knowledge, why wasn’t he willing to learn my Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms? There must be something behind this.

Later on the Old Beggar mulled over this matter, I talked to him and his four main disciples; finally I found a clue. It turned out that after he passed on these two skills to me he was going to commit suicide. Only why he was grieving so much, even his own disciples were unclear.”

Huang Rong said, “Shifu, Emperor Duan was afraid that after he died nobody will be able to control Ouyang Feng anymore.”

“That’s right,” Hong Qigong said, “When I found out, I was adamant of not willing to learn anything from him. At last he told me the truth; he said that although his four disciples were loyal and diligent, their minds have been occupied by the kingdom’s affairs for a long time, that they could not concentrate on training martial art, hence it would be difficult for them to achieve success. It seemed like the Quanzhen Seven Masters’ martial art also could not reach the pinnacle of perfection. He said it was fine for me not willing to learn the Solitary Yang Finger, but if the ‘xian tian gong’ is lost, he would not have any face to meet Wang Chongyang Zhenren [lit. true/real person, a respectful term to address a Taoist priest] in the underworld. I asked him to reconsider his decision, but my persuasion was useless. Only, I was unyielding in my stand not to learn from him, with the hope of saving his life. Emperor Duan could not change my mind; finally he relented by abdicating his throne and becoming a monk. I was by his side the day they shaved his head. It has been more than ten years ago. Ay, finally this enmity can be resolved, this is very good.” “Shifu,” Huang Rong said, “We have finished telling our story, what about you?”

“About me?” Hong Qigong asked, “Hmm, at the imperial kitchen I ate four dishes of ‘yuan yang wu zhen kuai’ [minced five-treasure mandarin duck]; it was enough to satiate my craving; and then I ate litchi fruit and kidney, quail soup, sheep tongue in thick sauce, snail in ginger and vinegar sauce, oyster fermented in sheep’s tripe …” on and on he listed the name of the dishes he ate at the imperial kitchen, while constantly swallowing his own saliva and licking his own lips.

“Why is it that later on the Old Urchin could not find you?” Huang Rong interrupted.

Hong Qigong smiled, “The imperial kitchen chefs repeatedly found their prepared dishes vanished into thin air; they thought there was a fox fairy making disturbance in that place, so they burned incense and lighted candles to worship me. Later on they told the chief of the imperial palace guards, who then dispatched eight palace guards to the imperial kitchen to catch the fox. The Old Beggar thought it was a serious situation; and neither the Old Urchin nor his shadow could be seen. I had no choice but slipped away to a remote part to hide for a while. That place was called ‘e lu hua tang’ [green calyx flower hall] or something, it was full of plum flower trees. From the look of it, it was the winter quarter where that fellow, the Emperor, spends his days enjoying the plum blossoms. Only it was the middle of summer; except several old eunuchs sweeping the ground everyday early in the morning, not even a ghost’s shadow came to that place. The Old Beggar was free to roam around. Everywhere in the imperial palace there were things to eat; even a hundred beggars won’t die of starvation in that place, thereupon I was able to heal my injury in peace and quiet.

I stayed there for more than ten days. One day in the middle of the night I suddenly heard the Old Urchin’s voice pretending to be a ghost; and then the voice turned into dog’s howling and cat’s meowing. He was turning the palace upside down with the noise. And then I heard some people call out, ‘Hong Qigong, Hong laoyezi [old master Hong], Hong Qigong, Hong laoyezi!’ I took a peek. Turned out they were Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian, Liang Ziweng and the other crafty fellows.”

“Ah!” Huang Rong exclaimed in surprise, “Why did they look for you?”

“I thought it was very strange too,” Hong Qigong said, “As soon as I saw them I went back into hiding. Who would have thought that the Old Urchin had already spotted me. He was ecstatic; he dashed forward and hugged me, saying, ‘Thank the heaven and thank the earth for letting me find you at last.’ Immediately he ordered Liang Ziweng and the others to follow behind us …”

“How could Liang Ziweng and the others listen to the Old Urchin’s order?” Huang Rong wondered.

Hong Qigong laughed and said, “At that time I was also racking my brain but could not figure out the reason. All I can say was that they were very afraid of the Old Urchin. Whatever he said, they did not dare to disobey. He ordered Liang Ziweng and the others to follow behind us, while he carried me to the Ox Village to find you two people. Along the way he told me that he had looked for me everywhere but could not find me, he was very worried. And then quite by accident he bumped into Liang Ziweng and the others by the city wall. In his frustration he beat each and every one of them really bad, and then ordered them to comb all streets and alleys the whole day and the whole night to look for me. He said they had been searching around the imperial palace for a while, but the palace was huge while I was hiding in a remote place. All throughout, they did not see me.”

Huang Rong said with a smile, “I did not expect the Old Urchin to be that smart, able to make those devil heads to follow his orders obediently. I wonder why they did not run away.”

Hong Qigong smiled and said, “The Old Urchin employed a mischievous trick. He rubbed some dirt from his body and made more than a dozen pills. He forced them to take three pills for each person, said that this poison would react in seven by seven, forty nine days. The poison was so lethal and nobody in the world other than himself would be able to neutralize it. If they were obedient, he would give them the antidote on the forty-eighth day. Although these wicked thieves half believed and half doubted, they certainly could not take a risk with their own lives; in the end they did not have any choice but to believe and they were compelled to listen to the Old Urchin’s yelling and screaming, without daring to defy.”

Initially Guo Jing was grieving, but hearing Hong Qigong’s story he could not help but smile. Hong Qigong continued, “When we arrived at the Ox Village we could not find you two. The Old Urchin again forced them to go out and search for you. Last night they all came back with their heads hung low. The Old Urchin scolded and cursed them. He was getting angrier and angrier until suddenly he said, ‘If by tomorrow you still cannot find those two babies Guo Jing and Huang Rong, I will make urine pulp pills and give them to you!’ Of course they began to get suspicious and repeatedly provoked him to talk. The Old Urchin was screaming and kicking, finally they found out that the pills they took earlier were not poison at all. I know the situation would turn dangerous; these traitors would certainly create not a small trouble. I told the Old Urchin to kill them all. Who would have thought that Peng Lianhu also saw the danger, immediately he hatched a deception; he told that fat Tibetan monk to compete against the Old Urchin in sitting still in meditation. I could not stop them, and was forced to run out of the Ox Village. I came across Ke Daxia outside the village. He protected me and we ran to this place. Peng Lianhu and the others chased us. Although the Old Urchin was muddle-headed, he knew better than leaving me alone, so he busily overtook us here. These traitors constantly provoked him, until finally the Old Urchin could not take it anymore and agreed to bet against the monk.”

Listening to this story Huang Rong was both angry and amused at the same time, she said, “If we did not meet them by accident, Shifu, your life would be delivered under the Old Urchin’s hand.”

Hong Qigong said, “My life is almost gone anyway, it doesn’t really matter whose hand will deliver it away.”

Huang Rong suddenly remembered something. “Shifu,” she said, “That day when we came back from Ming Xia Dao [bright red clouds island] …”

“It’s not Ming Xia Dao, it’s ‘ya gui dao’ [crushing ghost island],” Hong Qigong interrupted.

“Fine,” Huang Rong smiled slightly, “It’s Ya Gui Dao then. Now, that Ouyang Ke is not the least bit a fake ghost, he is a real ghost. That day when we rescued Ouyang Feng uncle and nephew, on the wooden raft the Old Poison said that there was one man in this whole wide world who can heal your injury. Only this person’s martial art is matchless; so we can’t use force against him, and you are not willing to harm others to benefit yourself by asking him to help you. At that time you were not willing to mention this person’s name. Later on Jing Gege and I went to Xiangxi. Naturally now we know that other than Emperor Duan then, or Reverend Yideng now, there is no one else.”

Hong Qigong sighed, “If he used Yiyang Zhi [Solitary Yang Finger] to attack my ‘qi jing ba mai’ [lit. marvelous/mysterious passage 8 pulses, Kwok & Huang Yushi from Wuxiapedia translated it as: Eight Extraordinary Channels], without a doubt he would heal my injury. But this kind of skill will injure his own internal strength for as long as five years or as few as three years, it’s hard to say. Let’s just say that he does not care about the second Sword Meet of Mount Hua, but he is already over sixty years of age; just how much longer is he going to live? How can the Old Beggar open his mouth and ask for his help?”

“Shifu,” Guo Jing said happily, “This is great! We don’t need anybody’s help, I can go through your ‘qi jing ba mai’.” Hong Qigong was surprised, “What?” he asked.

Huang Rong said, “Jing Gege recited that babbling and mumbling part from the Manual and Reverend Yideng has translated it for us. He told us to tell you, Senior, to use this technique to open your own ‘qi jing ba mai’.” Straightaway she recited Yideng’s translation from memory.

After listening to this Hong Qigong pondered for a long time, and then he jumped in joy and exclaimed, “Wonderful! Wonderful! I believe I will need only about one and a half year to recover.”

Huang Rong said, “In the Misty Rain Tavern martial art contest our opponent will surely invite Ouyang Feng to help their side. The Old Urchin’s martial art might not be inferior to his, but he is a wild person. I am afraid he won’t show up during the competition time. We must go to the Peach Blossom Island to get my father’s help to ensure victory.”

“What you said is not wrong,” Hong Qigong said, “I will go to Jiaxing first, the two of you go to the Peach Blossom Island.”

Guo Jing was reluctant to leave his shifu, he insisted on escorting Hong Qigong to Jiaxing. Hong Qigong said, “I will ride your little red horse. If there is any problem along the way, the Old Beggar will just run away. Who can chase after me?” Immediately he mounted the horse. With a couple of ‘glug, glug’ he drank his wine, and then pressed the horse’s belly with his legs. The little red horse let out a long neigh toward Guo Jing and Huang Rong, as if it did not want to leave them, and then galloped like the wind to the north.

Guo Jing watched until he could not see Hong Qigong’s shadow anymore, he also recalled how Ke Zhen’Ewanted to kill Huang Rong, his heart was heavy. Huang Rong did not try to comfort him. She went alone to find a boat for hire then they set sail toward the Peach Blossom Island.

When they arrived on the Island, they immediately sent the boat away. Huang Rong said, “Jing Gege, I am going to ask a favor from you. Will you promise to grant it?”

“What is it?” Guo Jing asked, “I don’t want to do something I won’t be able to do.”

Huang Rong laughed and said, “I am not going to ask you to cut off your six masters’ heads.” Guo Jing was upset. “Rong’er,” he said, “Can’t you not mention this matter anymore?”

“Why can’t I mention it?” Huang Rong countered, “You may have already forgotten about it; but I can’t. Even though I am good to you, I don’t want you to cut down my head.”

Guo Jing sighed and said, “I really don’t understand why Da Shifu was so angry. He knew you are the love of my life. I’d rather die a thousand times, ten thousand times, than hurting you the least bit.”

Huang Rong could hear the sincerity in his voice, her heart was moved. She pulled his hand and leaned against his body. Pointing to a row of willow trees by the creek she said with a tender voice, “Jing Gege, do you think this Peach Blossom Island is beautiful?”

“It truly looks like a fairyland,” Guo Jing replied.

Huang Rong sighed, “I want to live here forever, I don’t want to be killed by you,” she said. Guo Jing gently stroked her hair and said, “Good Rong’er, how can I kill you?”

Huang Rong said, “What if your six masters, your Mama, your good friend, they all ask you to kill me? Will you do it or not?” Guo Jing confidently said, “Even though everybody in the world wants to make things difficult for you, I will always protect you.” Huang Rong held his hand tightly and asked, “Will you be willing to leave all these people for me?” Guo Jing hesitated and did not answer. Huang Rong looked up and gazed at his eyes, with anxious expression on her face, waiting for his answer.

Guo Jing finally said, “Rong’er, I said that I would accompany you on the Peach Blossom Island for the rest of my life. I have made that decision before I opened my mouth.”

“Good!” Huang Rong said, “Then from this day on, you are not going to leave this island.” Guo Jing was taken aback, “From this day on?”

“Um, yes,” Huang Rong said, “From this day on! I am going to ask Father to go to Misty Rain Tavern and fight for us. Father and I will go to kill Wanyan Honglie to avenge your father. Father and I will go to Mongolia to fetch your Mama. I will even ask Father not to blame your six masters. I am going to take care of every single one of your concerns for you.”

Guo Jing saw the expression on her face was a little bit unusual; he said, “Rong’er, what I said to you, you can definitely count on it. Don’t you worry; you don’t have to do all these things.”

Huang Rong sighed, “The matters in this world are difficult to say,” she said, “When you agreed to marry that Mongolian Princess, did you ever think that someday you’ll regret your own decision? Previously I only knew that whatever I wanted, I got it. But now I know

… Ay! Whatever you wish you have, just pray that the Heaven will not make things difficult for you.” Speaking to this point she could not restrain her eyes from turning red. She hung her head low.

Guo Jing was silent; his heart was filled with tumultuous thoughts. He realized how much Huang Rong loved him, and it made him wanting to stay on the Island to be with her forever. But he felt it was inappropriate for him to ignore all his concerns; only why it was inappropriate, he did not know.

Huang Rong softly said, “It’s not that I don’t believe you or want to force you to live here; it’s just that I am really scared.” Speaking of this she suddenly threw herself into his arms and sobbed on his shoulder.

Guo Jing was caught by surprise; he was at a loss of what to do. He quickly said, “Rong’er, what are you afraid of?” Huang Rong did not reply, but she started to weep.

Ever since Guo Jing knew her, they had been through many difficult and dangerous, sometimes miserable situations, but he had always seen her smiling and laughing. This time she was back in her home and very soon will see her father; why was she scared all of a sudden? He asked, “Are you afraid your father has met some accident?”

Huang Rong shook her head. Guo Jing asked again, “Are you afraid once I leave this island I won’t be coming back?” Again Huang Rong shook her head. Guo Jing successively asked four, five questions but she shook her head again and again.

After a while Huang Rong lifted her head up and said, “Jing Gege, I don’t know what I am afraid of. I remember your Da Shifu’s expression when he told you to kill me, I just can’t shake it off my mind. I always feel there will come a day you are going to listen to him and kill me. That was the reason I asked you not to leave this place. Will you promise me?”

Guo Jing smiled and said, “I was wondering what important matter worries you so much; turns out it is only over this. That day in Beijing didn’t my Six Shifus cursed you as little female demon [xiao yao nu, yao – goblin/witch/devil/monster] or something like that? Afterwards I ran away with you, but we don’t have any problem until today. My Six Shifus seem strict and mean, but their hearts are kind and loving. Once you get to know each other I am sure they will certainly like you. Er Shifu’s [Second Shifu] skill in picking other people’s pocket is amazing; you can learn from him. I am sure you’ll have a lot of fun. Qi Shifu [Seventh Shifu] is tender and friendly …”

Huang Rong cut him off, “So you are determined to leave this place?” she asked.

Guo Jing replied, “The two of us will leave together; we’ll both go to Mongolia to fetch my Mother, we’ll kill Wanyan Honglie together, and then together we will come back to this place. Won’t that be great?”

With a startled look on her face Huang Rong said, “If that’s the case, I am afraid we won’t be coming back together forever, we won’t be together for rest of our lives.”

“Why?” Guo Jing wondered.

Huang Rong shook her head and said, “I don’t know. But when I saw your Da Shifu’s expression that was what I felt. It seemed like killing me is not enough; his hatred went deep into his bones and marrow.”

As Guo Jing listened to her, he could see that her heart was broken. Although her face still showed that childlike naïveté, her eyebrows and the corner of her eyes clearly showed her feelings towards the upcoming disaster. He recalled that she was always right; if this time he did not listen to what she said and some day a disaster befell her, how would that be good? Thinking about this his heart ached; he was overwhelmed with emotion and blurted out, “All right! I am not going to leave this place, ever!”

Hearing him Huang Rong fixed her gaze to his face for half a day without saying anything; two streams of tears slowly flowed down her cheeks. Guo Jing said in low voice, “Rong’er, what else do you want?”

“What else do I want?” Huang Rong said, “I want nothing else!” She raised her beautiful eyebrows up. “Even if I want something else, the Heaven won’t let me.” Her long sleeve gently rose up, she danced underneath the flower trees. As she turned her head around, the golden band on her hair glittered under the sun. Her clothes fluttered in the breeze. She danced faster and faster; every now and then she held out her hand to shake down the trees and petals of flowers fell down like rain: red flower, white flower, yellow flower, purple flower, they fluttered in the air just like butterflies dancing around her, creating a very beautiful scenery.

She danced for a moment, suddenly leaped up a tree, and then leaped over to another tree, dancing from tree to tree performing the ‘yan shuang fei’ [the fly of a pair of swallows] and ‘luo ying shen jian zhang’ [falling (leaves) divine sword palm technique] stances. She looked so happy.

Guo Jing thought, “Mama often told me stories about a fairy mountain on the eastern sea, where many fairies lived. I wonder if there is a fairy mountain more beautiful than the Peach Blossom Island, and if there is a fairy more beautiful than Rong’er?”

End of Chapter 33. 

Chapter 34 – Radical Changes on the Island

While Huang Rong was dancing in the air, suddenly she let out a soft exclaim, “Ah!” and jumped down the tree. Beckoning to Guo Jing she walked into the forest. Guo Jing was afraid he would get lost, so he followed closely and did not dare to lag more than half a step behind her. Huang Rong walked fast along the winding pathway and then abruptly stopped. Pointing her finger to a yellow pile on the ground she asked, “What is that?”

Guo Jing rushed forward several steps and saw it was a yellow horse lying on the ground. He quickly came closer and stooped down to take a look; he recognized it was his San Shifu [Third Shifu] Han Baoju’s yellow horse. He held out his hand to feel the horse’s back and found it was already cold; the horse had died many days ago. This horse had followed Han Baoju to the far away desert; Guo Jing had known the horse since he was little. It was like a good friend to him. To suddenly see the horse dead here Guo Jing was grieved. He carefully considered, “This horse was old, but it was a divine steed and not an ordinary horse. It had galloped north and south all these years with nimble footsteps, it did not show any sign of old age; how could it unexpectedly fall dead in here? San Shifu must be very sad.”

He looked closer and noticed that the yellow horse did not lie on its side, but curled with its legs under its belly, crumpled together into one heap of meat. Guo Jing’s heart turned cold; he remembered how with just a strike of his palm Huang Yaoshi had killed Princess Huazheng’s horse just like this. Quickly he stretched out his left arm trying to lift underneath the horse’s neck, and held out his right hand to examine the horse’s front legs. He found out that the bones of the legs were broken. He withdrew his hands and retraced the horse’s back, only to find that the backbones were also broken. Guo Jing was increasingly alarmed. He took his hand off the horse and jumped in fright because he saw that his palm was full of blood. The blood had turned purplish black, but the blood smell remained. It seemed like the blood was about three, four days old. Quickly he turned the horse’s body around to examine it closely, but he did not see a single wound on its entire body. Absentmindedly he sat on the ground and thought, “Could it be San Shifu’s blood? Where is he?”

While Guo Jing was examining the horse Huang Rong stood quietly on the side; only then did she say in a low voice, “Don’t you worry, let us investigate this matter carefully.” Brushing the flower bushes away she looked to the ground and slowly walked forward. Guo Jing also saw the trace of dripping blood on the ground. Without thinking that he might get lost, he slipped through Huang Rong and anxiously rushed ahead to follow the bloodstain.

The trace sometimes disappeared so Guo Jing took the wrong turn several times. Huang Rong was always careful; she would examine the nearby bushes or the thick patch of grass among the rocks to find the trace of blood. Sometimes the bloodstain vanished altogether so she looked for a hoof print or some horse hair.

After following the trace for several ‘li’s they saw that ahead of them was a row of short flower bushes, with a grave in the middle of the grove. Huang Rong anxiously rushed toward the grave. Guo Jing had seen this grave before when he first came to the Peach Blossom Island, so he knew it was Huang Rong’s mother’s grave. He saw the tombstone lying on the ground, so he raised it up to stand. He saw the line of characters on the tombstone, ‘tao hua dao nu zhu feng shi mai xiang zhi zhong’ [the fragrant burial ground of Mistress surnamed Feng of the Peach Blossom Island].

Huang Rong saw the grave’s door was open and vaguely guessed that there were radical changes on the island. She did not enter the tomb right away, but looked carefully around the grave. She saw the green grass toward the left of the grave was trampled really bad, while there were some vestiges made by blade on the door of the grave. She listened attentively for half a day by the doorway and did not hear anything from the inside, finally she stooped down and entered in.

Guo Jing was afraid he might lost her, he immediately followed. Everywhere along the pathway inside the tomb he saw chipped or even shattered stones from the wall, a sign of a very fierce fight. Two people were very alarmed.

Several ‘zhang’s ahead Huang Rong stooped down to pick something from the floor. The pathway inside the tomb was dim, but they vaguely recognized that it was a half of Quan Jinfa’s balance beam. This balance beam was made of wrought iron, it was as thick as a child’s arm; but right now they saw the beam was broken by someone. Huang Rong and Guo Jing looked at each other, they did not dare to say anything. They knew in their hearts that there were only a handful of people in this whole wide world capable of breaking this balance beam barehanded; on this Peach Blossom Island, naturally there was nobody else aside from Huang Yaoshi.

Huang Rong held the broken beam with trembling hands. Guo Jing took the beam from Huang Rong’s hand and inserted it in his belt. He stooped down trying to find the other half of the beam. He felt like his heart was pulled down by fifteen buckets of water; filled with tumultuous thoughts. Part of him hoped he would find it, part of him hoped he would not.

Several steps later the pathway was getting darker. Guo Jing groped on the floor and found a round object. Turned out it was the balance weight, which Quan Jinfa usually used as flying hammer to strike the enemy. Guo Jing put it inside his pocket. Suddenly he felt his hand touching something cold, soft and somewhat greasy; it felt like someone’s face. He jumped up in fright and bumped his head to the ceiling of the tomb pathway. Without feeling the pain he hastily fetched his fire paper and lit it. He let out a bitter cry, feeling like the sky was turning around him and the earth shook beneath him, he fell backward and fainted.

The fire paper was still in Guo Jing’s hand and the fire was still flickering. Under the fire light Huang Rong saw Quan Jinfa with his eyes open, dead on the ground; the other half of the balance beam stuck out from his chest. Everything became clear to Huang Rong now. She calmed herself down, and then gathering up her courage she took the fire paper from Guo Jing’s hand. She placed the fire underneath Guo Jing’s nostrils. The smoke rose up, Guo Jing sneezed hard twice and regained his consciousness. He stared blankly at Huang Rong before finally standing up, and two people walked to enter to tomb.

They saw the tomb was in chaos; one corner of the sacrificial table was broken, Nan Xiren’s shoulder pole was laid slanting on the floor. On the left corner they saw someone lying down; he was wearing a cloth headband on his head, his shoes fallen down. From the look of his back who else but Zhu Cong?

Guo Jing quietly walked near and pulled Zhu Cong’s body. Under the fire light he saw that the corner of Zhu Cong’s mouth showed a faint smile, while his body had been cold for a long time. In his condition, the smile appeared to be strange yet sad. With a low voice Guo Jing said, “Er Shifu [Second Shifu], disciple Guo Jing is here!” Gently he picked Zhu Cong’s body up. ‘Clink, clink, clank, clank’ there was a series of light noise, countless pearls and precious stones fell down from Zhu Cong’s pocket, scattered on the floor.

Huang Rong picked a handful of jewels to take a closer look, but threw them away immediately. With a long sigh she said, “These are things my Father placed here to accompany my Mother.”

Guo Jing fixed his gaze at her, his eyes looked like they are about to spurt out blood, with a low and calm voice he said, “You are saying … saying that my Er Shifu came here to steal the gems? You dare to say my Er Shifu …”

Huang Rong did not flinch under his glowering stare at all; she stared back at Guo Jing, only her stare was full of desperation and painful anxiety.

Guo Jing continued, “My Shifu was a warrior and a true hero, how could he steal your father’s jewels? He couldn’t possibly … couldn’t possibly come over to plunder your Mama’s grave.” But looking at Huang Rong’s expression his tone gradually changed from angry to sad. The fact was, the jewels fell from Zhu Cong’s pocket, he also remembered his Er Shifu was known as ‘miao shou shu sheng’ [Magic Hand Scholar]; he was able to effortlessly pick anything from anybody’s pocket. Could it be that he really came over here to steal the jewels from this grave? No, no, his Er Shifu was always honest and frank, he simply could not do such a dirty and despicable act; there must be an explanation to this. Guo Jing was grieved and angry at the same time, the hair on his forehead was wet with sweat, his mind was dark, he clasped his fists so hard that the joins were making cracking sounds.

Huang Rong softly said, “When I saw your Da Shifu’s expression the other day, I had a feeling that it would be difficult for you and I to have something good between us. If you want to kill me, just do it. My Mama is here. I only ask you to bury me by her side. After burying me, quickly leave the island, don’t let my father see you.”

Guo Jing did not answer; he walked back and forth in big strides, breathing heavily at the same time. Huang Rong’s gaze was fixed on the painting of her mother on the wall. Suddenly she saw something of the face of the painting. She came closer and saw two secret projectiles. Carefully she took them down and gave them to Guo Jing; they were the ‘du ling’ [poisonous water caltrop] Ke Zhen’E used. She pulled the curtain behind the sacrificial table open, revealing her mother’s coffin behind it. She walked to the coffin’s side, and was unable to restrain exclaiming, “Ah!” She saw Han Baoju and Han Xiaoying, brother and sister have died behind the jade coffin.

It seemed like Han Xiaoying had slashed her own throat, her hand was still holding tight the sword hilt. Half of Han Baoju’s body was draped over the coffin, five finger holes were clearly seen on the center of his forehead.

Guo Jing walked past Huang Rong to take Han Baoju’s body away, while mumbling, “I personally saw Mei Chaofeng has died; who else but Huang Yaoshi in this world who can use this ‘jiu yin bai gu zhua’ [Nine Yin White Bone Claw]?” He gently put Han Baoju’s body on the floor, then he went back to take Han Xiaoying’s body, and brought the body outside. He walked past Huang Rong without looking at her, as if he did not even know she was there.

Huang Rong’s heart turned cold; she stared blankly for half a day. Suddenly the tomb was dark; the fire paper had been burned out. She was used to coming over to this tomb, but now there were four dead people inside. She could not help but feel afraid of the darkness and hastily ran out of the tomb. She tripped on something and almost fell over, but she ran ahead. Only after she was out of the tomb did she recall that she must be stumbling over Quan Jinfa’s body.

She noticed the tombstone was askew; she put out her hand to straighten it up. She was about to close the grave’s door when suddenly something dawned on her, “After killing the Four Freaks of Jiangnan, how come Father did not close the door of the grave? He loves Mama very much. Even though he was in such a hurry, he would not leave this door open wide like this.” One thought led to another, her suspicion aroused, “How could Father let the Four Freaks accompany Mama in the grave? It’s impossible. Could it be that Father also met a mishap?” Immediately she pushed the tombstone three times to the right and three times to the left to close the door, and then rushed to the house.

Guo Jing left the tomb earlier than she did, but after walking a dozen of steps, turning to the left and circling to the right, he was lost. He saw Huang Rong walking by and immediately followed behind her.

Without saying anything two people walked through the bamboo grove, over the lotus pond, toward the study room where Huang Yaoshi took up his residence. They saw the building was in a mess; the beams were broken and the pillars bent.

“Father! Father!” Huang Rong called out; rushing inside she saw that the table was flipped over and the stool laid on its side, books, pen and ink were scattered on the floor, half of the scrolls of painting and poems on the wall were pulled down, but where was Huang Yaoshi’s shadow? Huang Rong propped herself on the turned over table, her body shook and she was about to fall.

After half a day she managed to calm herself down. She rushed toward the mute servants’ quarter, but did not see a single soul. The ashes on the stove had turned cold. If they did not die, all of them had left some time ago. It looked like there was nobody else on this island except Guo Jing and herself.

Slowly she walked back to the study room, only to see Guo Jing inside standing motionless; his eyes looked straight without any expression on his face. With a trembling voice Huang Rong said, “Jing Gege, go ahead and cry. Quickly cry, then we’ll talk!” She knew Guo Jing and his six shifus had a parents and child relationship; right now his heart was extremely grieved. His internal energy had been trained to such an excellent level, that if he was unable to vent his great sadness and pain he would suffer a serious internal injury. Who would have thought that Guo Jing did not seem to hear anything; he only stared at her blankly.

Huang Rong wanted to urge him again, but she was overwhelmed with grief as well. She only said, “Jing Gege,” and could not say anything else.

Two people stood silently for half a day; Guo Jing mumbled with a low voice, “I must not kill Rong’er, I must not kill Rong’er!” Huang Rong’s heart was bitter, she said, “Your Shifus are dead, just cry your heart out.”

Guo Jing thought aloud, “I am not crying, I am not crying.”

After this exchange, the room fell into silence one more time. The sound of the distant waves was faintly heard; in just a short moment a multitude of thoughts swirling inside Huang Rong’s mind. All kinds of things she went through on this island, since she was little until she was fifteen years old, one by one flashed through her brain clearly; and then her body shook again.

She heard Guo Jing said as if he was talking to himself, “I must bury my Shifus first. Must I? Must I bury my Shifus first?”

“Right,” Huang Rong replied, “We must bury Shifus first.” She went out to show the way, back to her mother’s grave. Without saying anything Guo Jing followed behind her.

Huang Rong held out her hand to open the grave, suddenly Guo Jing rushed ahead, his right leg flew up, sweeping toward the middle of the tombstone. The tombstone was made from solid and extremely hard granite; even if Guo Jing’s kick was ten times stronger all he could do was to push the tombstone slightly askew, and not making the slightest dent on it. His right foot was bleeding, but he did not seem to feel the pain. His pair of palms ferociously struck and pushed the stone. He pulled the half of Quan Jinfa’s balance beam and struck the tombstone over and over. Sparks and debris flew everywhere. Suddenly, ‘crack!’ the beam snapped. With both of his hands Guo Jing furiously cracked the stone open, revealing the steel rod inside it. He grabbed the steel rod, trying to break it; but the grave door had actually opened before the rod was bent.

Guo Jing stared with a dull expression; suddenly he shouted, “Other than Huang Yaoshi, who can open the gate? Who can lure my ‘en shi’ [benevolent/kind master] to enter this crafty grave? If it is not he then who is? Who is it?” He threw his head back and shouted, then ran into the grave.

Guo Jing’s blood on the broken stone flowed down to cover his hand print. Seeing his deep hatred toward her mother’s grave Huang Rong was determined, “If he destroys my mother’s jade coffin to vent his anger, I am going to die over it first.” She was about to enter the grave when Guo Jing walked back out carrying Quan Jinfa’s body. He put the body down on the ground, then went back in and respectfully carried Zhu Cong, Han Baoju and Han Xiaoying one by one and laid them down on the ground.

Huang Rong stole a glance toward him and saw the love and admiration on his face; her heart turned icy cold, “He loves his shifus a lot more than he loves me. I must look for my Father, I must look for my Father!”

Guo Jing carried his four shifus’ bodies into the forest, several hundreds steps away from the grave, before he finally stooped down to dig a hole. At first he dug using Han Xiaoying’s long sword, he dug faster and faster and finally the sword snapped; even the handle was broken. Suddenly a burst of heat bubbled up from his chest and he spat out two mouthfuls of blood. He did not stop; he bent down his waist and used his hands to continue digging; scooping the earth and throwing it aside like crazy.

Huang Rong went to the quarter of the mute servants in charge of planting the tree and took two shovels. She tossed one shovel to Guo Jing and used the other to help digging the hole. Without saying anything Guo Jing snatched the shovel from her hand, broke it into two and tossed it to the ground; while he continued to dig alone with the other shovel. Huang Rong did not cry at all; she simply sat on the ground to watch.

Guo Jing exerted all his strength and he managed to dig two holes, one big and the other small, within the time needed to cook rice. He put Han Xiaoying’s body into the small hole. He knelt down and knocked his head on the ground several times; and then stared blankly at Han Xiaoying’s face for half a day before he finally covered it with earth. Next, he picked Zhu Cong’s body and was about to put it into the big hole when suddenly his heart was stirred, “How can Huang Yaoshi’s filthy jewels accompany my Er Shifu in his grave?” Thereupon he put forth his hand into Zhu Cong’s pocket and took the pearls, jade, and gemstones one by one and without looking at them he tossed everything to the ground. At last he reached the bottom of the pocket and took a sheet of paper out. He unfolded the paper and read these words:

‘From Jiangnan, the humble Ke Zhen’E, Zhu Cong, Han Baoju, Nan Xiren, Quan Jinfa and Han Xiaoying are paying a visit to the Senior, Master of the Peach Blossom Island. A short while ago we heard a rumor that disregarding their own lack of ability the Quanzhen Six Masters are about to settle their matter with the Peach Blossom Island. Juniors here realize this matter involves some miscommunication, only we regret that we are not able to act as the mediator between the two parties involved. Senior is an expert of the present age, a peer of the late Wang Chongyang, Wang Zhenren [lit. true/real man, a term of respect to a Taoist priest]; how can Senior let your honor and prestige fall by arguing with younger generations about right and wrong? In the past Lin Xiangru yielded to Lian Po, and it was regarded as a grand occasion in history. A heroic gentleman’s heart is as broad as the sea, and would certainly not be bothered by bickering chicken and worms. The day will come when the Quanzhen disciples will humble themselves in front of the Island Master, and the warriors of the world will admire Senior’s honorable chivalry; wouldn’t that be great?’

Guo Jing recognized his Er Shifu’s handwriting, he held the paper with trembling hands; he said in his heart, “When the Quanzhen Seven Masters were fighting Huang Yaoshi at the Ox Village, Ouyang Feng launched a sneak attack and killed Changzhen Zi [Eternal Truth] Tan Chuduan. At that time Ouyang Feng shifted the blame to Huang Yaoshi. This Old Heretic Huang is a haughty man, he did not bother to argue, so naturally the Quanzhen Sect hates him to the bone. When my six Shifus learned the Quanzhen Sect was coming in full power to seek revenge, they were afraid both sides would suffer injury, so they wrote this letter urging Huang Yaoshi to temporarily avoid confrontation and think of ways to reveal the truth in the future. My Shifus had a kind intention, how could this old thief Huang Yaoshi made his move and brought this calamity upon them?” But then he thought, “Er Shifu had already written this letter, why didn’t he deliver it, but kept it in his pocket? Ah, right, the situation must be pressing, the Quanzhen Six Masters were coming quickly, so they did not have enough time to deliver this letter; therefore, my Six Shifus came in a hurry to prevent the battle.” Following which he thought, “Old Heretic Huang, oh, Old Heretic Huang, you must think my Six Shifus came to help the Quanzhen Sect; and thus without separating the green from the red or black or white you just attacked with your poisonous hand.”

He was busy with his own thought for a while, and then he folded the paper to put it back into his pocket, suddenly he saw several characters were scribbled on the back of the letter. He quickly turned it over and his heart was thumping hard and jumping madly since he saw some crooked writing, “This business has turned for the worse, everybody guard against …” the last character was only written three strokes; looked like the disaster had already stricken, so it was unfinished.

Guo Jing called out, “This is obviously the character ‘east’; Er Shifu warned everybody to guard against the Eastern Heretic; what a pity he did not have enough time.” He crushed the paper into a ball; clenching his jaws he said, “Er Shifu, Er Shifu, the Old Heretic Huang has viewed your good intention as an evil one.” His grip loosened and the paper ball fell to the ground. Stooping down he picked Zhu Cong’s body.

Huang Rong had always kept her eyes on Guo Jing as he was reading the paper; she saw his expression change several times, she knew the letter must be very important. As the paper fell, she slowly walked over and picked it up, she read both sides and said in her heart, “His Six Shifus came to the Peach Blossom Island with a good intention. Too bad this Magic Hand Scholar had a crooked heart; he was accustomed to stealing his entire life, so that when he saw my mother’s many rare treasures he could not help but violating my Father’s biggest taboo …”

In her grief and remorse she saw that Guo Jing was laying down Zhu Cong’s body. Zhu Cong’s left hand was tightly curled into a fist. Guo Jing pried it open and took something out and held it in his hand. Huang Rong looked closer and saw it was a women’s shoe carved from a green jade, approximately an inch long. Although it was a toy, it looked just like a real shoe; the carving was fine and exquisite, truly it was an expensive work of art. Only she had never seen this shoe in her mother’s grave before; she wondered where Zhu Cong got it from.

Guo Jing turned the shoe over in his hand to take a look; there was a ‘zhao’ [to recruit] character engraved on the sole, while another character ‘bi’ [contest/compete] was engraved inside, other than these characters there was nothing unusual about the shoe. Guo Jing hated these treasures very much, ‘swish!’ he tossed the shoe to the ground. He stared blankly for a while, then slowly picked Zhu Cong’s, Han Baoju’s and Quan Jinfa’s bodies and put them in the hole. He was about to cover them with earth, but looking at his three shifus’ faces he could not bear to do so. He called out, “Er Shifu, San Shifu, Liu Shifu [Sixth Shifu], you … you died!” His voice was gentle, the same voice he had used when talking to his shifus in the past.

After about half a day he cast a sidelong gaze toward the pile of treasure by the hole; his anger rose. With both of his hands he scooped them up and walked briskly toward Huang Rong’s mother’s grave. Huang Rong was afraid he was going to violate her mother’s jade coffin; she anxiously caught up, stretching out her arms she blocked the entrance of the grave. “What are you doing?” she imposingly asked.

Guo Jing did not answer, his left arm gently shoved her aside; both of his hands threw the treasures inside the grave. A series of long clinking noise was heard as the jewels hit the ground. Huang Rong saw that jade-green shoe fell near her feet; she stooped down to pick it up and said, “This one is not my Mother’s.” She handed the shoe over to him. Guo Jing only stared at her blankly, ignoring her. Huang Rong put the shoe in her pocket. Guo Jing turned around and returned to the hole; he shoveled the earth and buried his three shifus’ bodies.

Guo Jing was busy for half a day. The sky had gradually turned dark. Huang Rong still did not see him cry; she was getting more and more concerned. She thought perhaps if she leaves him alone he would cry; so she went back to the house to fetch some salted fish and ham and cooked some simple dishes. She put everything in a basket and went back to see that Guo Jing was still standing next to his shifus’ grave. It took Huang Rong approximately an hour to prepare the dishes, yet not only Guo Jing did not move a single step; his expression also did not change the slightest bit.

To see Guo Jing standing like a stone statue in the dark Huang Rong was alarmed and scared. “Jing Gege, how are you feeling?” she called out; but Guo Jing did not pay her any attention. Huang Rong called again, “Come here and eat, you have been hungry for a whole day!”

“I’d rather die of starvation that to eat anything on the Peach Blossom Island,” Guo Jing said.

Hearing him talking Huang Rong was somewhat relieved; she knew his stubborn temperament. His heart was broken and hurt, once he said he would not eat anything on this island then he would not eat. Thereupon she slowly put the basket down on the ground and sat down.

One standing up the other sitting down, time quietly passed, the crescent moon rose from the sea and slowly reached the top of their heads. The food in the basket had already turned cold, as cold as the hearts of this couple.

In this chilly wind under the cold moon, amidst the faint sound of waves breaking the shore, suddenly from a distance came a cry. The sound was intensely mournful, like a wolf’s howl or a tiger’s roar, but it also sounded like a human’s voice. The sound was transmitted by the wind, so when the wind died, the sound also disappeared. Huang Rong inclined her ears to listen attentively; she vaguely recognized it was the voice of someone struggling in severe pain, only it was not clear whether the voice belonged to a human or a beast. After determining where the voice came from, she moved her feet and rushed toward that voice.

Actually she wanted to take Guo Jing along, but then she changed her mind, “Most likely this is not something good, it will only increase his anxiety.” Darkness enveloped her on every side, she was actually afraid to go alone; fortunately she knew every grass and every tree on the Peach Blossom Island very well, hence although her heart was thumping hard, she gathered all her courage and went forward.

She had only walked for about a dozen of steps when suddenly felt a gust of wind by her side; Guo Jing dashed past her and was running ahead of her. He did not know the way, so very soon he was lost. Huang Rong saw his hands hacking and his feet kicking, trying to destroy the trees and bushes blocking his way, as if he was losing his mind. “Follow me,” Huang Rong said.

“Si Shifu [Fourth Shifu], Si Shifu!” Guo Jing called out. He had recognized his Si Shifu, Nan Xiren’s voice.

Huang Rong’s heart turned cold, she thought, “It will be very strange if his Si Shifu saw me and did not want to take my life.” But by now she had already disregarded all consequences; she knew perfectly well a big disaster was looming ahead, but she did not even try to run away from it. She led Guo Jing into the thick forest on the east side of the island. They saw underneath a peach tree a man was rolling around with twisted body.

Guo Jing cried out and rushed ahead to hug him. Nan Xiren’s face showed a smile, his mouth produced ‘heh, heh’ sound. Guo Jing was scared but also happy; suddenly, ‘wah!’ he broke into crying. He was crying and calling out, “Si Shifu! Si Shifu!” Nan Xiren did not say anything; he struck Guo Jing with the back of his palm. Guo Jing was taken by surprise; instinctively he ducked to avoid the blow. As his palm did not hit its target Nan Xiren’s left fist struck out. This time Guo Jing thought that his shifu was punishing him; he was happy, so he let Nan Xiren’s fist to hit him. Who would have thought that Nan Xiren’s fist carried a surprisingly strong force. ‘Bang!’ Guo Jing was sent rolling down on the ground.

Since he was little Guo Jing had practiced fist technique with Nan Xiren several hundreds or thousands times; he knew perfectly well the strength of Nan Xiren’s fists and palms, he was greatly surprised to find Nan Xiren’s strength suddenly increased several folds. Guo Jing had just barely stood up when Nan Xiren’s fist came again. Guo Jing still did not want to fend off. This fist carried an even stronger force; Guo Jing saw stars dancing in front of his eyes, he almost passed out. Nan Xiren stooped down to pick a big rock up, and fiercely pounded it down on top of Guo Jing’s head. If Guo Jing did not evade, this big rock would certainly crack his skull open and turn his brain to mush.

From the sideline Huang Rong saw the critical situation, she quickly flew forward and pushed Nan Xiren’s arm with her left hand. Nan Xiren, with the rock still in his hands, fell down to the ground. His mouth made a ‘heh, heh’ sound and to everybody’s surprise he did not crawl back up.

“Why did you push my Si Shifu?” Guo Jing shouted angrily.

Huang Rong’s sole purpose was to save Guo Jing, she did not expect Nan Xiren would be this weak; as soon as she pushed, she hastily held out her hands to help him up. Under the moonlight she saw his face was smiling, but this smile resembled the exaggerated smile of an actor on stage; his face looked very frightening. Huang Rong called out in alarm and withdrew her hands immediately, she did not dare to touch his body. All of a sudden Nan Xiren turned over and struck her left shoulder with his fist. Two people shouted in pain simultaneously.

Although her body was protected by the soft hedgehog armor, this fist had given her enough pain and sent her staggered a few steps back. Blood was dripping from Nan Xiren’s fist, which was pricked by the thorns on the armor. Amidst the two people’s shouts Guo Jing called out, “Si Shifu!”

Nan Xiren looked at Guo Jing as if he had just recognized him; he opened his mouth to speak, but no matter how much the muscle around his mouth twitched, he still could not say anything. His face showed a smile, but his eyes showed extreme despair.

“Si Shifu,” Guo Jing said, “Please take a rest. Whatever it is you want to say, you can say it later.”

Nan Xiren tried hard to say something, he lifted his neck to look up, but his lips were unable to form the words. After straining for a while his head dropped, looking down to the ground.

“Si Shifu!” Guo Jing repeatedly called out; he rushed forward to lift Nan Xiren up. From the side Huang Rong could see clearly. “Your Shifu is writing,” she said.

Guo Jing looked sideways and saw Nan Xiren’s right index finger was slowly writing on the soft earth. Under the moonlight he saw Nan Xiren wrote character by character: “My … killer … is …”

Huang Rong noticed he wrote with great difficulty, her heart was thumping hard; suddenly she remembered something, “He is on the Peach Blossom Island, even an idiot will know that it is my Father who killed him. But he is on the verge of death and is still using his very last strength to write the killer’s name, could it be that the murderer is someone else?” She was watching Nan Xiren’s finger with a rapt attention; she noticed that the finger moved slower as if losing its strength, so she kept praying in her heart, “If he is going to write some other name, please, please let him write it down quickly.”

Nan Xiren was writing the fifth character [Chinese character, that is], he started from the upper left hand corner and wrote a small ‘ten’ (十 ) character, then his finger trembled and stopped moving all together.

Guo Jing was kneeling on the ground, hugging his shifu. He felt Nan Xiren’s body shook violently then he stopped breathing. He looked at the small ‘ten’ character and called out, “Si Shifu, I know you were going to write the Huang (黄 ) character, you were going to write the Huang character!” He threw himself on Nan Xiren’s body and wept bitterly. In this one cry he had vented up the grief and indignation that had been welled up in his heart the whole day. He cried for quite a while, then his body fell on top of Nan Xiren’s lifeless body; he had fainted.

Without knowing how much time had passed, he woke up under the bright morning sunlight. He stood up and swept his gaze around. Huang Rong was gone, and Nan Xiren’s body was still lying down on the ground with his eyes open. Guo Jing remembered a saying, ‘die without closing his eyes’; he was unable to restrain tears from flowing down his cheeks again. Stretching out his hand he gently closed Nan Xiren’s eyes. Suddenly he recalled just before he died Nan Xiren’s facial expression was very strange; he wonder what kind of injury was so fatal. Thereupon he untied Nan Xiren’s clothes to examine his whole body. Strange to say, except for the pricked hand from hitting Huang Rong’s soft hedgehog armor last night, from head to toe, Guo Jing could not find a single scar on Nan Xiren’s body. Neither his chest nor his back showed any sign of injury by internal strength strike; the skin was neither black nor burnt, so there was no sign of poisoning either.

Guo Jing picked up Nan Xiren’s body and carried it to be buried together with Zhu Cong and the others; but the pathways in the forest were so strange that after about dozens of steps he lost his bearing. He had no choice but turn back and dig a hole underneath a peach tree to bury Nan Xiren. Guo Jing had not eaten for a whole day; his stomach hurt from hunger. He wanted to find a way to go back to the shore and find a boat to return to the mainland, but the farther he went, the more confused he became. He sat down to take a rest for a while, then he stood up with a renewed vigor and walked again. This time he had an idea, regardless of he found a pathway or not, he would keep his eyes toward the sun in the east.

After walking for a while ahead of him was a dense forest, seemingly impassable. Nothing strange about the forest, it was just that each tree was full of long and thorny rattan cane; it would be truly difficult for him to set his feet on. He made the decision, “I am not coming back today!” and then jumped up to the tree top.

He only walked one step on the tree when ‘rip!’ the corner of his trouser was tore by a thorn and his calf was bleeding from several cuts. He walked two more steps, and his left leg was entangled in some long canes. He took his dagger out and cut the canes. Lifting his head up he saw far ahead the rattan trees were very dense, seemingly without end. He called out, “Even if my legs are sheared, I have to leave this cursed island!”

He was about to jump ahead when suddenly Huang Rong called out from the ground, “Get down, I’ll take you out.” He looked down and saw Huang Rong standing underneath a rattan tree on his left.

Guo Jing did not reply, he jumped down and saw Huang Rong’s face was deathly pale, as if her blood was drained completely out. He could not help but startle; he wanted to ask whether her injury recurred, but he forced himself to bite his lips. Huang Rong noticed he wanted to say something, but as soon as his lips started to move he turned his head around. She waited for a moment without seeing any response from Guo Jing; she sighed gently and said, “Let’s go!” Two people walked along the winding path heading east.

Huang Rong’s injury had not been completely healed, and she had to face this heavy misfortune; she was tossing and turning in her sleep the previous night. She knew she could not blame her Jing Gege, she could not blame her father, and she could not even blame the Six Freaks of Jiangnan. She only resented herself; why would she have to endure the Heaven’s punishment like this? Did the Heaven hate people who lead a happy life?

She led Guo Jing toward the beach; knowing in her heart that this time he would never come back, it would be difficult for them to see each other anymore, so she felt that with every step a piece of her heart was also taken away.

Just beyond the rattan trees forest they could see the beach ahead. Huang Rong felt weary, she was unable to restrain her body from shaking; hastily she used the bamboo stick to brace herself, but unexpectedly there was no strength left on her arm, the bamboo stick skewed and she fell down to the ground.

Instinctively Guo Jing outstretched his right hand to hold her, but just as his finger was about to touch her arm, the injustice his shifus suffered flashed in his mind. His left hand moved and ‘slap!’ it struck his own right wrist. He was using Zhou Botong’s Mutual Hands Combat Technique; as his right hand was stricken, he turned his palm over and leapt backward immediately.

Without receiving any help Huang Rong fell down to the ground. As Guo Jing saw her falling down, remorse, affection, grief, indignation and all kinds of emotions bubbled up inside his heart. Even if his heart was made of stone he could not restrain himself from stooping down and pick her up. He looked at all directions trying to find a comfortable place to lay her down, and it was then did he saw a green cloth flutter in the wind on the rock toward his northeast.

Huang Rong opened her eyes and saw Guo Jing’s gaze was fixed on a distant place; she followed his gaze and also saw the green cloth. “Father!” she called out in alarm. Guo Jing let her down, and hand in hand they ran toward the rock. They saw it was a long gown, stuck in the crook of the rock; they also saw a piece of human skin mask lying next to it. Obviously they belonged to Huang Yaoshi.

Huang Rong was really alarmed; she stooped down to pick up the gown and clearly saw a bloody hand print on the lapel of the gown, with the fingers left winding traces. It looked very scary.

Guo Jing remembered, “After killing my San Shifu with the Nine Yin White Bone Claw Huang Yaoshi must have wiped his fingers with this cloth.”

Initially he was holding Huang Rong’s hand, but now his blood was boiling inside his chest; he shook Huang Rong’s hand away, snatched the gown, and with a ‘rip!’ sound he tore the gown into two parts. He saw the corner of the gown was torn, looked like it was the green piece of cloth tied on the eagle’s foot. The blood print was so clear that under the bright sunlight it looked as if the palm would jump out of the clothes and slap someone on the face; but it provoked Guo Jing’s anger even more so that he felt he was going to go insane from grief and indignation. He tucked his own gown into his belt and waded into the water towards a sailboat.

The mute and deaf servants on the boat had long gone, disappeared without a trace. Without looking back to Huang Rong he drew his dagger out and cut the rope, hoisted the anchor and sailed to the sea.

Huang Rong watched the boat sail to the west. At first she was hoping that he would change his mind, turn the rudder and head back to the island to take her traveling together; but then she saw the boat was getting smaller and smaller, while her heart was turning colder and colder. She stared blankly at the sea until the boat disappeared on the horizon. Suddenly she remembered that she was alone on the island; Jing Gege had gone, and she did not know whether her father would ever return. How could she pass the rest of her days? Would she just stand on this shore forever? Rong’er, Rong’er, you must not take a short cut and die!

All by himself Guo Jing steered the boat, leaving the Peach Blossom Island, heading west. He had sailed for several dozen ‘li’s when he suddenly heard the eagles’ anxious cry high above his head. The pair of eagles had followed him and perched on the sail arms. Guo Jing thought, “The eagles come after me, Rong’er is alone on the island, she must be very lonely!” Overcome with pity and regret he spontaneously turned the rudder around, wanting to take her to travel together. But after sailing for a short while he remembered, “Da Shifu told me to cut Huang Yaoshi’s and Rong’er’s heads before I can come and see him. Da Shifu, Er Shifu and the others came to the Peach Blossom Island and fell under Huang Yaoshi’s poisonous hands. Although Da Shifu is blind, he can hear clearly. For some reason he was fortunate to escape and stay alive. He raised his iron staff to kill Rong’er; he wanted me to kill Rong’er, what did Rong’er do? I can’t kill Rong’er; Er Shifu and the others were not killed by Rong’er. But how can I be together with her? I must cut Huang Yaoshi’s head and take it away to see Da Shifu. If I am not the Old Heretic Huang’s match, then I’ll let him kill me.” Immediately he turned the rudder again, making a circle on the sea surface, heading west once more.

Late on the third day the boat reached the shore. Out of hatred of everything from the Peach Blossom Island he took the anchor and smashed the bottom of the boat before leaping onto the beach. He watched while the sailboat slowly leaned sideways and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. He could not help but feel a loss in his heart. Leaving the shore he walked to the west; he found a peasant home and bought some rice to eat. After finding the right direction he went straight to Jiaxing.

That evening he spent the night by the bank of Qiantang River; he saw the reflection of the bright moon on the river, like a big golden wheel floating on the water. Suddenly he jumped up with a start; he was afraid he missed the martial art contest appointment at the Misty Rain Tavern. Immediately he asked the host where he lodged, and found out that today was the thirteenth of the eighth month. Hastily he crossed the river that very same night; he bought a healthy horse and whipped the horse to gallop quickly, and arrived at Jiaxing by early afternoon of the next day.

Since his childhood he had heard his six shifus recounted their battle with Qiu Chuji; how they had a wine drinking contest out of the huge copper vat at the Drunken Immortal Tavern [zui xian lou], the exquisiteness of their martial art skills and the heroism surrounding that battle. Six people loved to tell the story good-naturedly. So as soon as he entered the southern gate he asked the location of the Drunken Immortal Tavern.

The Drunken Immortal Tavern was located by the bank of Nan Hu [South Lake]. Guo Jing arrived at the front of the tavern. He looked up and saw this tavern’s appearance was exactly like what Han Xiaoying had told him. The tavern had been imprinted in his mind for a dozen of years, today he had seen it for the first time with his own eyes; he noticed the exquisiteness of the carving of the eaves, it was truly a beautiful building. At the front of the tavern stood a big wooden sign with ‘tai bai yi feng’ [the great (Li) Bai (a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty)’s left behind manner/custom/air] four letters engraved on it; while above the main entrance there was a sign with ‘zui xian lou’ [Drunken Immortal Tavern], inscribed by Su Dongpo [a famous calligrapher of the Song Dynasty], in golden letters, gleaming under the bright sunlight.

Guo Jing’s heart was thumping madly; walking and leaping, he went upstairs. A wine shop attendant welcomed him and said, “Honorable Guest, please use the downstairs room, since the upstairs is already reserved for some other guests.”

Guo Jing was about to reply when suddenly someone was calling, “Jing’er, you are here!” Guo Jing looked up and saw a Taoist priest sitting and drinking wine, his long beard reached his chest, his face was ruddy; it was none other than Changchun Zi [Eternal Spring] Qiu Chuji.

Guo Jing rushed forward and bowed to the ground, “Qiu Daozhang [Taoist Priest Qiu]!” he called out. His voice was somewhat choked.

Qiu Chuji held out his hand to raise him up; he said, “You are a day early, that is very good. I am also a day early. I thought tomorrow we are going to fight Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and the others, so I want to be here early to drink wine and reminisce about the past with your Six Shifus. Have your Six Shifus arrived? I have prepared some tables for them.”

Guo Jing saw there were nine tables on this upstairs floor; except for Qiu Chuji’s table, which was full with dishes and wine, the other eight tables only had a pair of chopsticks and a wine cup. Qiu Chuji said, “Eighteen years ago I met your Seven Shifus for the very first time in this place; they arranged the tables just like this. This one table of vegetarian dishes was for Jiaomu Da Shi [Reverend Burnt Wood], it’s a pity that I can no longer meet him and your Wu Shifu [Fifth Shifu].” He sounded very grieved. Guo Jing turned his head around, did not dare to look at him straight ahead.

Qiu Chuji did not notice anything, he kept talking, “That day we had a contest on drinking from the copper vat, so today I went to ‘fa hua si’ [magnificent (Buddhist) way temple] and fetched the vat. As soon as your Six Shifus are here we can drink again just like in the old days.”

Guo Jing turned his head to look at the big copper vat by the screen. The outside of the vat was blackish green from the copper rust, but the inside had been washed and scrubbed clean, and filled to the brim with high quality wine, the fragrance attacked his nostrils. Guo Jing stared blankly at the copper vat for half a day then he turned his attention to the eight empty tables. He thought, “Other than Da Shifu, nobody would be able to enjoy the banquet again. If only I can see my seven benevolent masters sit together, drinking wine, talking and laughing, getting drunk for the whole day, I would be very happy even if I have to die immediately.”

He heard Qiu Chuji continue, “At that time we agreed that on the twenty-fourth day of the third month this year, you and Yang Kang will have a martial art contest in here. I respect your Seven Shifus as noble hearted chivalrous warriors; I was hoping you would win and lift up the name of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan in the world. Besides, I was always wandering everywhere, weeding out the criminals from this world; I did not have enough time to spend on nurturing Yang Kang. It was all right not to teach him a good martial art, but I should have taught him to have loyalty and chivalry. For this I am so ashamed toward your Uncle Yang. Although he now thoroughly repented of his former misdeeds, the evil influence in his life will be difficult to eradicate completely; when I think about this, my heart is filled with utmost regret.”

Guo Jing wanted to recount Yang Kang’s dishonorable behavior, but it was a long story so he did not know where to start. Meanwhile Qiu Chuji continued, “In a person’s life, literary or martial art skill is not everything, the most important things are two characters, loyalty and patriotism. Even if Yang Kang’s martial art skill is better than yours a hundred folds, speaking of character, the martial art contest of the Drunken Immortal Tavern is still won by your shifus. Hey, hey, Qiu Chuji lost with a satisfied heart.” He laughed a big laugh. Suddenly he saw Guo Jing’s tears flow down like rain, he was surprised, “Ah, why are you so sad?”

Guo Jing scrambled over one step, he bowed to the ground and wept, “My … my … my five benevolent masters have passed away.” Qiu Chuji was shocked. “What?!?” he almost shouted.

Still crying Guo Jing said, “Except for my Da Shifu, the other five are … are dead.”

These two sentences struck Qiu Chuji like a loud thunder in bright sunlight; he was silent for half a day. He was hoping he would meet some old friends and have a good time together, who would have thought that suddenly disaster struck. Although his time together with the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan was not much, for the last eighteen years he had already regarded them as his lifelong friends. Now that he heard this shocking news, his heart was filled with grief. He went over to the railings in big strides; he looked out toward the vast lake in front of him, throwing his head backward he let out a long cry. One by one faces of the Seven Freaks flashed in his mind. He turned around and picked up the copper vat, with a loud voice he cried out, “My friends are dead, what use do I have of you?” Sending his strength to his arms he threw the vat away. The copper vat fell into the lake with a loud splash, the water flew everywhere. Turning his head toward Guo Jing he grabbed Guo Jing’s arms and asked, “How did they die? Tell me!”

Guo Jing was about to reply when with the corner of his eye he caught sight of someone silently enter the room; he was wearing green clothes, his face was elegant and unrestrained, it was the Master of the Peach Blossom Island, Huang Yaoshi. Guo Jing looked twice, he was afraid of mistaking him for someone else; he fixed his eyes with rapt attention. Who was he but Huang Yaoshi?

Huang Yaoshi also saw him here and was surprised. Suddenly he felt a gust of wind on his face; Guo Jing attacked him over the table using the Proud Dragon Repents. In this one palm Guo Jing had sent out his whole strength, the power was astonishing. Huang Yaoshi slightly moved sideways, his left hand shot out and pushed Guo Jing’s palm to the side. A series of cracking noise were heard, Guo Jing could not hold his ground; he bored through the wooden partition and fell downstairs.

It was a bad day for the Drunken Immortal Tavern, Guo Jing happened to land on the shelf containing cups and bowls. ‘Bing! Bang! Bing! Bang!’ bowls, plates, trays, wine cups; everything was smashed to hundreds and thousands of pieces.

That afternoon, when the old innkeeper heard Qiu Chuji ordered the tables to be arranged in such a way, also saw him bringing the huge copper vat upstairs, he remembered what happened eighteen years ago; he had already had a queasy feeling about it. Now that the upstairs and downstairs were shattered, he could not help but bitterly cry out. He prayed head over heels, “Please help those in distress, oh Goddess of Mercy, the Jade Emperor of Heaven, the God of the City …”

Guo Jing was afraid the dishes and bowls fragments would injure his palm, so he did not dare to push himself up. He twisted his waist and leaped up, and rushed back upstairs immediately. He only saw a grey shadow flashed, followed by a green shadow; Qiu Chuji and Huang Yaoshi leaped down the window one after another. Guo Jing thought, “This old thief’s martial art is above mine; I can’t fight him barehanded.” He drew two kinds of weapons from his waist, with his mouth he bit the dagger given by Qiu Chuji, in his right hand he held the golden blade given by Genghis Khan. He thought, “Even if I have to stake it all and endure that old thief’s fist or kick, I have to make a couple of holes on his body.” He rushed to the window and jumped down.

By now the street was bustling with pedestrians; they heard that some people jumped out from the tavern and came to take a look. Suddenly they saw that someone else was jumping out of the window with a shining blade in his hand; the crowd cried out in alarm, they pushed and shoved each other and several people tumbled down. Guo Jing could not see Qiu, Huang two people because of the crowd; he quickly took the dagger from his mouth and asked an old man nearby, “Where did the two people that jumped down from the upstairs go?”

That old man was startled, he cried out, “Mr. Hero, please spare my life, it’s none of my business.”

Guo Jing repeated his question, but that old man was so scared that he kept calling out, “Help! Help!” Guo Jing gently pushed him aside and rushed out from the crowd, but Qiu and Huang two people had disappeared completely.

He rushed back upstairs and looked to all directions, he saw a small boat on the lake carrying Qiu and Huang two people; it looked like they were heading toward the Misty Rain Tavern on the island in the middle of the lake. Huang Yaoshi sat in the cabin, while Qiu Chuji sat on the stern, rowing. When he saw this Guo Jing was startled, he thought, “Those two people will certainly fight to the death at the Misty Rain Tavern. Qiu Daozhang is brave, but how can he be that old thief’s match?” Anxiously he rushed back downstairs, grabbed a small boat and paddled furiously to catch up with them.

Seeing his enemy ahead it was very difficulty for him to be calm, but he knew he ought to be patient on the water; ‘snap’ the handle of oar was broken because he exerted too much energy. He was furious and anxious at the same time; he took a plank from the boat and used it to paddle the boat. Now instead of going faster he was going slower; the distance between his boat and the two people’s boat gradually increased. By the time he managed to land the boat with a great deal of trouble, those two had already gone.

Guo Jing thought aloud, “I have to swallow my anger, I can’t lose my life before avenging this enmity.” He took a deep breath and spat three times; then he cocked his ears in full attention. He heard from behind the tavern faintly came the noise of blades splitting the air, mixed with people calling and responding each other; apparently it was not Qiu and Huang two people. Guo Jing looked around assessing the situation around him, and then tiptoeing into the Misty Rain Tavern. He saw nobody downstairs, so he rushed upstairs only to see by the window someone was leaning against the railings, looking out, his mouth was still noisily chewing something. It was none other than Hong Qigong.

“Shifu!” Guo Jing rushed forward and called out. Hong Qigong nodded his head, pointed outside and raised a cooked half lamb leg in his hand and took a big bite.

Guo Jing quickly went to the window. He saw flashing swords in the clearing behind the tavern, eight, nine people were surrounding Huang Yaoshi. Seeing the enemy was fighting a multitude of opponents he was slightly relieved; but after looking clearly at who these people were, he could not help but feel surprised. He saw his Da Shifu Ke Zhen’E wielding his iron staff with a young Taoist priest standing behind him. He thought, “How come Da Shifu is also here?” He looked again and found out that the young priest was Qiu Chuji’s disciple Yin Zhiping; who was wielding his long sword to protect Ke Zhen’E’s back, not to attack Huang Yaoshi. The other six were all Taoist priests, they were Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the rest of the Quanzhen Six Masters.

Guo Jing watched for a moment and realized the Quanzhen Sect was using their Big Dipper Formation to fight the enemy. Only the Changzhen Zi [Eternal Truth] Tan Chuduan had died, so the ‘tian xuan’ [sky jade/gem] position was occupied by Ke Zhen’E. Too bad his martial art skill was not on par with the others, plus he was not familiar with the formation, so Yin Zhiping was protecting his back while giving him directions. The Quanzhen Six Masters were brandishing their swords, advancing and retreating, dispersing and gathering together, keeping Huang Yaoshi inside their circle fighting an intense battle.

That day during the fierce battle at the Ox Village only two of the Quanzhen Seven Masters wielded their long swords; the rest of them were fighting using their bare palms, the battle was already very intense. This time there were seven long swords and one iron staff, so the fierceness was scary.

Huang Yaoshi remained barehanded; he floated around amidst the flashing swords and staff, as if he was forced to defend himself without being able to launch any counterattack; for dozens of moves he only moved around to avoid the enemies’ blades without launching a single fist or kick. Guo Jing was secretly delighted, “Regardless of your resourcefulness, it will be difficult for you to run away from justice today.”

Suddenly he saw that Huang Yaoshi swept his right foot around his body twice with his left foot firmly on the ground; compelling eight people to simultaneously withdraw three steps. “Excellent Sweeping Leaves Kick Technique!” Guo Jing praised.

Huang Yaoshi turned his head and waved his hand toward Hong and Guo two people upstairs and nodded his head in greeting. Guo Jing saw his face was relaxed and composed; he did not look like someone who was gasping for breath, which caused Guo Jing to be suspicious. He saw Huang Yaoshi’s left palm sweep diagonally towards the top of Changsheng Zi [Eternal Life], Liu Chuxuan’s head; so Huang Yaoshi had moved abruptly from defensive to offensive.

Actually Liu Chuxuan should not fend off against this palm; the ‘tian quan’ [sky power/authority], Qiu Chuji and the ‘tian xuan’ Ke Zhen’E should have made flank attacks from the side to rescue him; however, Ke Zhen’E was blind, unlike average people, he relied on his acute hearing, how could he guard against Huang Yaoshi’s silent and brilliant palm technique? Qiu Chuji’s sword flickered toward Huang Yaoshi’s right armpit, Ke Zhen’E moved following Yin Zhiping’s direction, but he was one step too late. Liu Chuxuan heard the palm slicing the wind just above his head, in his shock he threw himself to the ground and rolled away.

Ma Yu and Wang Chuyi realized the situation was critically dangerous, they launched a simultaneous flank attacks with their swords. Liu Chuxuan escaped the danger, but the Big Dipper Formation was broken. Huang Yaoshi laughed and dashed toward Sun Bu’er; he only moved for three steps, suddenly turned around and hit Guangning Zi [Infinite Peace] Hao Datong’s chest. Hao Datong had never seen this kind of strange move, he hesitated slightly before stabbing his sword toward Huang Yaoshi’s back. Huang Yaoshi moved like a rabbit, he broke through the encirclement and stood about two ‘zhang’s away from the crowd.

Hong Qigong laughed and said, “Old Heretic Huang, that was a very smart move!” “I am going down,” Guo Jing called out and moved toward the stairs.

“Slow down, slow down!” Hong Qigong said, “From the start your father-in-law has never hit back. At first I was worried about your Da Shifu, but looks like he does not have any intention to harm anybody.”

Guo Jing returned to the window and asked, “How can you tell?”

Hong Qigong replied, “If he wanted to harm anybody, do you think that skinny monkey priest will still be alive? That little priest is not his match, not his match at all!” He took another bite at the lamb leg and said, “Before your father-in-law and Qiu Chuji arrived, I saw these old priests and your Da Shifu arrange their formation over there; but how can the Big Dipper Formation be learned in such a short time? Those old priests persuaded your Da Shifu to temporarily fill the empty position. Your Da Shifu clenched his teeth without saying anything. I don’t know what enmity your Da Shifu has against your father-in-law. He followed that young priest to take the ‘tian xuan’ position; but in the end they still cannot block your father-in-law’s deathly hand.”

“He is not my father-in-law,” Guo Jing said, full of hatred.

Hong Qigong was surprised, “Eh, what do you mean he is not your father-in-law?” he asked. Clenching his teeth Guo Jing said, “He … he … humph!”

“How is Rong’er?” Hong Qigong asked, “You had an argument with her, didn’t you?” “It doesn’t have anything to do with Rong’er,” Guo Jing answered, “This old thief, he, he has killed my five shifus. My hatred to him is as deep as the ocean.”

Hong Qigong jumped in surprise, he quickly asked, “Is that so?” But Guo Jing did not hear his question; his attention was focused on the fierce battle downstairs. By now the situation has changed, Huang Yaoshi was using his ‘pi kong zhang fa’ [splitting the air palm technique], creating strong gusts of wind, blocking his eight opponents’ attacks.

Speaking about martial art skills of Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi and the others, Huang Yaoshi should not be able to penetrate within a ‘zhang’ of their defense by relying on his bare palm only; but in the Big Dipper Formation they moved forward and backward together, Sun Bu’er, Ke Zhen’E and Yin Zhiping three people’s martial art was comparatively weaker, as one person was compelled to draw back, the rest of the formation would have no choice but to follow. And so for each step forward everybody was forced to retreat two steps; they were separated farther and farther away from Huang Yaoshi, but the Big Dipper Formation was not the slightest bit chaotic.

By this time the Quanzhen Sect’s long swords were already too far to reach Huang Yaoshi’s body; it looked like he was just waiting for an opportunity to attack. Several moves later Hong Qigong said, “Hmm, so that’s how it is.”

“What is it?” Guo Jing busily asked.

Hong Qigong replied, “The Old Heretic Huang is deliberately forcing them to open up their formation, because he wants to learn the Big Dipper Formation’s mystery; that’s why he has not launched any killer attack yet. In less than ten moves he is going to reduce the circle once again.”

Although Hong Qigong had lost his martial art power, his judgment was still very clear; and sure enough, Huang Yaoshi hacking palm’s strength weakened and the Quanzhen Masters gradually tightened their encirclement. In less than a time to drink tea later everybody crowded together into one lump of people. Liu Chuxuan, Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi and Hao Datong were simultaneously stabbing their swords into Huang Yaoshi’s body, but somehow when their swords almost reached Huang Yaoshi’s skin, they all missed by several inches. If not for their fast reactions, these four swords would have pierced a hole on their fellow apprentice’s body.

Fighting in this tight circle the difference between one move to the other was only a hair’s width. Guo Jing knew that as soon as Huang Yaoshi was well acquainted with the formation he would not leisurely fight these people anymore. To break the formation he must struck the weakest link, which was his Da Shifu and Yin Zhiping two people. He was too far from those people, if the situation became critical he would not have time to help, while right now he saw dangerous situations occur one after another. “Disciple goes down,” he said to Hong Qigong. Without waiting for an answer he dashed downstairs.

When he got near the battle situation was again changed; Huang Yaoshi continuously moved toward Ma Yu’s left side, but the more he moved the farther away he was from the crowd, as if he was trying to run away. Guo Jing held the dagger in his hand, ready to pound as soon as he had the opportunity. Suddenly Wang Chuyi let out a whistle and he, along with Hao Datong and Sun Bu’er, who formed the handle of the Big Dipper, turned forward from the left, to keep Huang Yaoshi in the middle of the formation.

Huang Yaoshi changed his position three times, but Wang Chuyi also moved the handle of the Big Dipper, just like Qiu Chuji was also moving the four stars of the Dipper, preventing Huang Yaoshi from occupying the position by Ma Yu’s left side. As he was making his fourth attempt suddenly Guo Jing understood, “Ah, right, he wants to steal the north polar star position.”

When he was treating his injury at the Ox Village, from behind the wall he saw the Quanzhen Seven Masters fought Mai Chaofeng, and later on Huang Yaoshi, using the Big Dipper Formation. Later on he learned in detail from Huang Rong the Big Dipper constellation and the north polar star; he knew that the ‘tian shu’ [sky pivot] and ‘tian xuan’ [sky jade/gem] were linked in a straight line with the north polar star. Since the north polar star is always on the north, every night the Big Dipper constellation would revolve around this star. Later on he was captured by the Beggar Clan on Mount Jun at the Dongting Lake, again he pondered about this Big Dipper constellation; not only did he gain more than a few understanding of the Big Dipper characteristics, but also the movement of the Big Dipper Formation, and applied this ingenious method to advance his own martial art skill.

Huang Yaoshi’s intelligence was a hundred folds better than Guo Jing’s; he was also well-versed in astronomy and the study of yin- yang wu hang [lit. negative and positive five lines]. After he failed to break the Quanzhen Seven Masters’ Big Dipper Formation during the battle at the Ox Village he meditated over this for a long time, until he finally comprehended the flaw of this formation.

Guo Jing was thinking about this formation because he wanted to ‘learn’ it; while Huang Yaoshi thought it was not worth his time to learn Wang Chongyang’s technique, so he concentrated on ‘breaking’ the formation. He knew that all he needed to do was to snatch the north polar star position, and the formation would break; or at least if he occupied the central position, he would be able to control the formation, he could wait leisurely for the enemy to be exhausted, while he himself would stand in an invincible position.

The Quanzhen Masters were also aware that he was trying to break the formation by stealing the crucial position; they were inwardly anxious. If Tan Chuduan were still alive, the seven of them could move as one body, certainly they would not let Huang Yaoshi steal the north polar star position. This time the ‘tian xuan’ was occupied by Ke Zhen’E and Yin Zhiping; which, admittedly had inferior martial art skill, and were not familiar with the formation technique, as a result the Big Dipper Formation’s effectiveness was significantly reduced.

Ma Yu and the others knew that a prolonged fight would not do them any good; moreover, Guo Jing was standing on the side, if Huang Yaoshi was in a real danger, as a son-in-law, how could he not help? But their martial uncle’s and brother’s death must be avenged. Their deceased master Wang Chongyang was the number one martial artist of the world; if six of his disciples joined forces against one Huang Yaoshi and still could not gain any victory, the reputation of Quanzhen Sect would be ruined. They heard Huang Yaoshi laugh and say, “I didn’t know Chongyang’s disciples are so stubborn that they do not know what’s good for them!” While talking he moved swiftly towards Sun Bu’er and hacked with his palms three times. Ma Yu and Hao Datong raised their swords to rescue her. Huang Yaoshi slightly leaned sideways to evade the swords, ‘swish! swish! swish!’ he hacked three more times toward Sun Bu’er.

The Master of the Peach Blossom Island’s palm technique was naturally very exquisite. Even if Wang Chongyang lived again, or Hong Qigong recovered from his injury, they would not be able to evade these six palms easily; how could Sun Bu’er block them off? She saw the palm was coming swiftly, she had no choice but to brandish her sword in a flower pattern and furiously protect her face with all her might. Suddenly Huang Yaoshi swept his legs repeatedly and kicked her six times. These ‘luo ying shen jian zhang’ [falling (leaves) divine sword palm technique] and ‘sao ye tui’ [sweeping leaves kick technique] were the Peach Blossom Island’s ‘kuang feng jue ji’ [fierce wind stunt/unique skill]; if the enemy did not retreat within the first six moves, the next six moves would follow, faster than the previous ones. Within six by six, thirty six moves even if a hero or a warrior could avoid the slap, he would not be able to evade the kick.

Ma Yu and the others noticed that Huang Yaoshi concentrated his ferocious attack toward Sun Bu’er; immediately they came to her rescue, as a result, in this pressing situation the formation became disorderly. Ke Zhen’E was blind, so the movement of the formation was somewhat delayed; Huang Yaoshi let out a long laugh and he was already on Ke Zhen’E’s back. “Aiyo!” suddenly Ke Zhen’E heard someone cry out in midair, that person was flying to the top of the roof of the Misty Rain Tavern. It turned out that Huang Yaoshi grabbed Yin Zhiping’s back and threw him away.

The gap in the formation was getting bigger. Without giving the enemy any opportunity to mend the formation, Huang Yaoshi dashed toward Ma Yu, fully expecting Ma Yu to evade. To his surprise as his sword fended off the attack, the sword in Ma Yu’s left hand went straight toward Huang Yaoshi’s eyebrow; his movement was steady, backed by a profound internal energy.

Huang Yaoshi was forced to lean sideways to evade, he could not restrain from praising, “Good! You deserve to be the Quanzhen Sect’s head disciple.” Suddenly his leg swept downward, kicking Hao Datong’s leg while at the same time he stooped down to snatch Hao Datong’s sword and stabbed it toward his chest. Liu Chuxuan was shocked; he wielded his sword to parry. Huang Yaoshi laughed a big laugh and flicked his hand. ‘Crack!’ both swords were broken.

A dark green shadow flashed, the Master of the Peach Blossom Island was moving toward the north polar star position. By this moment the formation was in total chaos, nobody was able to stop him. The Quanzhen Masters cried out bitterly, they knew Huang Yaoshi was about to exercise mastery over them. Ma Yu heaved a deep sigh and was about to throw his sword to admit defeat and ready to take whatever punishment the enemy would send their way. Suddenly he saw the dark green shadow flashed back; there was already someone occupying the north polar star position. It was Guo Jing.

Among the Quanzhen Masters, only Qiu Chuji was overjoyed; he had seen Guo Jing staked it all in attacking Huang Yaoshi at the Drunken Immortal Tavern. Ma Yu and Wang Chuyi knew Guo Jing was kind-hearted and honest; even though they thought he was going to help his father-in-law, certainly he would not harm his own shifu Ke Zhen’E. The rest of the Masters were shocked, they saw Guo Jing had already occupied the north polar star position; as soon as these father-in-law and son-in-law joined hands, Quanzhen Sect would die without any burial place. But they were even more surprised to see Guo Jing was attacking Huang Yaoshi with a bare left palm and a sword in his right hand.

As he succeeded in breaking the formation, Huang Yaoshi wanted to force Quanzhen Sect to admit they were wrong; who would have thought that suddenly someone was occupying the north polar star position. His attention was focused on fighting the Quanzhen Masters, so without looking back he sent his palm backward using the ‘pi kong zhang’ toward the enemy’s chest. That person stretched out his left palm to parry the incoming force, yet he did not move even for half a step. Huang Yaoshi was surprised, he thought, “Very few people in the world have the strength to block my palm, who is this person?” He turned his head to look and saw that it was Guo Jing.

By this time Huang Yaoshi was surrounded by the enemies front and rear; if he could not drive Guo Jing away, the Big Dipper Formation would outflank him from behind and that would put him in a very dangerous situation. He sent out three palm attacks in succession toward Guo Jing, one palm was fiercer than the last, but each time Guo Jing simply blocked it away. The fourth palm contain a fake and a real attack, expecting Guo Jing to take advantage of an opening and launch a counterattack; who would have thought that Guo Jing only took a defensive position and did not counterattack. Guo Jing lifted the dagger up in front of his chest, while his left palm slowly swept across his own lower abdomen. In this way although he received one stance with two attacks from Huang Yaoshi, both attacks were neutralized.

Huang Yaoshi was startled, he thought, “This dumb kid knew how to defend and break the formation; he steadily defending the north polar star position and did not want to move even half a step. Ah, right, he must have received Quanzhen Masters’ instruction and came here to help them to fight me.”

He did not know that his guess was only half correct. Guo Jing did indeed know the secret of the Big Dipper Formation, but he learned it from the Nine Yin Manual and not from the Quanzhen Masters. As Guo Jing was facing the enemy with whom he held an enormous enmity, he suppressed his anger to keep his position; it was as if his feet were firmly planted to the ground, he simply turned his eyes blind to whatever trick Huang Yaoshi used to tempt him to attack.

Huang Yaoshi groaned silently; he thought, “This dumb kid doesn’t know when to proceed and when to retreat! Humph! Even if Rong’er blames me, I am going to hurt you today; otherwise you won’t want to back off.” His left hand made a circle about seven inches in front of his chest, his right palm rode on the left hand; borrowing the strength from the left hand it was propelled forward, the force doubled. But before it hit Guo Jing’s face, he suddenly remembered, “If he doesn’t evade, this palm will certainly cause him a heavy injury. Whatever the reason, Rong’er will not be happy for the rest of her life.”

Guo Jing saw him borrow the strength of his left hand to launch a palm attack, he knew the incoming force would not be a small matter; gritting his teeth he launched the ‘xian long zai tian’ [dragon appears on the field], a stake-it-all stance from the Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms. He realized his martial art was far inferior to the enemy’s; he would suffer serious injury if he took the incoming palm head-on, but in order to evade the attack, he would have to leave the north polar star position, which would set him back into a more difficult situation. Hence in this one move he was ready to sacrifice his own life. Who would have thought that as his palm was about a foot away from his face, Huang Yaoshi suddenly withdrew his attack and called out, “Dumb Kid, go away! Why do you make things difficult for me?”

Guo Jing held his sword tight, he looked at Huang Yaoshi with full attention to protect himself against any trick he might do; he did not reply. By now the Quanzhen Masters had already reorganized their formation; they made encirclement some distance away from Huang Yaoshi’s back, waiting for an opportunity to attack.

“Where is Rong’er?” Huang Yaoshi asked.

Guo Jing still did not answer, his face looked gloomy, his eyes spouted anger. Seeing his expression Huang Yaoshi’s suspicion grew; he was afraid his daughter had met some accident. “What did you do to her? Speak up!” he barked.

Guo Jing gritted his teeth and bit his lips; his right hand, which was holding the sword, slightly trembled. Huang Yaoshi’s attention was focused on him; each slight movement Guo Jing made did not escape his eyes. Seeing Guo Jing’s unusual expression he was even more alarmed. “Why is your hand trembling? Why aren’t you talking?” he called out.

Guo Jing recalled how his shifus died a horrible death on the Peach Blossom Island, grief and indignation burst forth in his heart; his body shook violently, his eyes bloodshot. Seeing him not willing to talk, tears streaming down his face, Huang Yaoshi was more alarmed. He knew his daughter had a heated argument with Guo Jing over the Princess Huazheng’s affair; he was afraid Guo Jing had killed Huang Rong. He kicked his feet and pounced forward.

As soon as Huang Yaoshi made his move Qiu Chuji thrust his long sword out, at the same time the Big Dipper Formation started to move. Wang Chuyi and Hao Datong attacked from Huang Yaoshi’s left and right, one with sword in his hand, the other with a bare palm. Guo Jing’s palm neutralized the incoming attack, while his dagger stung with a lightning speed to make a counterattack move. Huang Yaoshi did not fend it off; he flipped his hand over trying to seize the dagger. Although his movement was accurate and swift, Wang Chuyi’s sword had already arrived at his back; he had no choice but to twist his waist to evade, and thus his fingers missed Guo Jing’s dagger by two inches. Guo Jing used this opportunity to stab forward. This fierce battle was several times more intense than the previous one.

The Quanzhen Masters’ sole desire was to kill Huang Yaoshi to avenge Zhou Botong and Tan Chuduan. Huang Yaoshi knew perfectly well that there was a misunderstanding here, but he was a proud man, he also felt that as someone of higher rank it would be beneath his dignity to explain. He wanted to defeat them completely; to make them throw their swords and surrender, and then he would make everything clear. Thereupon he launched attack after attack while being lenient; otherwise, although Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others might be able to defend themselves, but how could Sun Bu’er and Yin Zhiping keep their lives? Unexpectedly Guo Jing appeared and not only he did not help Huang Yaoshi, but it seemed like he hated Huang Yaoshi to his death. Huang Yaoshi thought that if Guo Jing did not kill Huang Rong, why was he so afraid of him?

This time Huang Yaoshi did not show any mercy; he wanted to grab Guo Jing and ask for some explanation. If Guo Jing did indeed kill Huang Rong, even if he tore him apart to pieces it would not be enough to vent his anger. Unfortunately Guo Jing occupied the north polar star position; although Yin Zhiping had not crawled down from the Misty Rain Tavern’s roof, the battle situation had been reversed. The Big Dipper Formation moved like a billowing wave; they launched offensive moves without ceasing.

Huang Yaoshi tried several times to penetrate Guo Jing’s defense but failed, he started to get impatient. Each time he launched a fierce attack the Quanzhen Masters were always there to block him. He wanted to launch a deathly attack and kill some of them to break the formation, but the Big Dipper Formation gradually tightened its encirclement. He started to think that although he could shake himself loose, it would be difficult for him to escape unscathed.

Fighting for a while Ma Yu pointed his sword and called out, “Hold on!”

The Quanzhen Masters held their hands, firmly stood on their respective positions. Ma Yu said, “Huang Daozhu [Island Master Huang], you are a prominent grandmaster of your martial art school; how can we, the younger generation, dare to offend you? Today we rely on sheer number to fight you; it is because the situation forces us to do so. We want to know how you are going to settle the blood debts of our Zhou Shishu [martial uncle] and Tan Shidi [martial (younger) brother]!”

With a cold laugh Huang Yaoshi said, “What else there is to say? Just go ahead and kill the Old Heretic Huang to protect the Quanzhen Sect’s reputation; won’t that be great? Be on your guard!” Without moving his body or lifting up his arm his right palm had already chopped toward Ma Yu’s face.

Ma Yu tried to evade sideways in panic, but Huang Yaoshi’s palm came without warning; this feign hack was immediately followed by the real attack. This combination of void and solid was a killer stance from the ‘luo ying shen jian zhang fa’. Huang Yaoshi had perfected it for ten years; he intended to use it in the second sword meet of Mount Hua. This stance was not designed to fight a group of enemies, but it was very effective in a one on one combat. Danyang Zi’s [Scarlet Sun] skill might be profound, but how could he be the Eastern Heretic’s match? It would be better if Ma Yu did not evade; once he moved to the right, the second attack came. Ma Yu groaned inwardly, “Not good!” He was going to block by stretching out his hand, but the enemy’s palm had already arrived at his chest. As soon as Huang Yaoshi exerted his strength, Ma Yu’s internal organs would be shaken and he would suffer serious internal injury.

The Quanzhen Five Masters were shocked; swords and palms came to the rescue, but how could there still be time? They saw Ma Yu was at the point of death, surprisingly Huang Yaoshi laughed and withdrew his palm; he said, “If I break your formation this way, you won’t accept your defeat easily. The Old Heretic Huang may die, but how can I let myself be the laughingstock of all the heroes under the sky? Good Priests, come, let us fight!”

Liu Chuxuan snorted and shook his fist, Wang Chuyi followed with his sword; the Big Dipper Formation was ready to go into action. It was to be the seventeenth stance, Wang Chuyi was supposed to move after Ma Yu. He stabbed his sword into the air, ready to strike; but Ma Yu did not move forward, on the contrary, he retreated two steps backward and called out, “Hold it!” Everybody held their steps again. Ma Yu said, “Huang Daozhu, thank you for holding your hand.”

“You flattered me,” Huang Yaoshi replied.

Ma Yu said, “Reasonably said, right now wanbei’s [younger generation, he was referring to himself] life should have been gone, and this formation developed by my deceased master should have been broken by you. If we know good from evil, we should admit defeat and throw ourselves at your mercy. But we do not dare not to seek revenge because of our deep enmity with you. After this matter is settled, wanbei will slash my own throat as a gesture of gratitude toward Daozhu.”

Huang Yaoshi’s expression was gloomy, he waved his hand and said, “It’s useless to talk too much, you can just begin. The matter of kindness and enmity in this world is difficult to understand.”

Guo Jing thought, “Turned out Ma Daozhang and the others fight him to avenge their Shisu and Shidi. But Zhou Dage [Big Brother Zhou] is still alive and well, also Tan Daozhang’s death has nothing to do with Huang Daozhu. However, if I explain the real situation the Quanzhen Masters will withdraw themselves from the battle, leaving Da Shifu and me two people; how can we be his match? Let’s not talk about avenging Shifus’ death, we can’t even guarantee we will still be alive by the time we are done.” But then he remembered, “If I do not tell the truth, how am I going to be different from a coward? Shifus often said that we might lose our head, but not our righteousness.” Thereupon with a loud and clear voice he said, “Ma Daozhang, Qiu Daozhang, Wang Daozhang, your Zhou Shisu has not died yet; and it was Ouyang Feng who killed Tan Daozhang.”

“What did you say?” Qiu Chuji was surprised. Thereupon Guo Jing recounted how he treated his injury inside a secret room at the Ox Village, how from behind the wall he saw and heard Qiu Qianzhang fabricate a rumor to incite both sides to fight each other, how Ouyang Feng place the blame on Huang Yaoshi, he told them everything. Although he was clumsy with words, everybody understood his explanation very clearly.

The Quanzhen Masters were listening, half believing and half doubting. Qiu Chuji loudly asked, “Are you telling the truth?”

Guo Jing pointed his finger to Huang Yaoshi and said, “Disciple hates this old thief that I do not wish to live in the same earth with him, why would I help him? Only it was the truth, so disciple cannot keep his mouth shut.”

The Six Masters knew him as an honest person; moreover, he had shown so much hatred toward Huang Yaoshi, so what he said must be the truth.

It was beyond Huang Yaoshi’s expectation to hear him saying things in his favor; he was astonished and asked, “Why do you hate me so much? Where is Rong’er?”

Ke Zhen’E cut him off, “You don’t know what you did? Jing’er, although we can’t win, we must fight this old thief to our deaths.” Finished speaking he lifted his iron staff and swept it toward Huang Yaoshi.

Hearing his shifu, Guo Jing knew that he was forgiven; he felt very happy and immediately tears flowed down his face. “Da Shifu,” he called out, “Er Shifu and the others, they … all five of them died a miserable death!”

Huang Yaoshi was grabbing the head of Ke Zhen’E staff with an outstretched hand, he turned to Guo Jing and asked, “What did you say? Zhu Cong, Han Baoju and the others were nicely received as guests on my island, why did you say they are dead?”

Ke Zhen’E furiously tried to pull his iron staff, but it did not even budge. Huang Yaoshi asked Guo Jing again, “Disregarding your elders and superiors you talked nonsense to me, attacking me like crazy, is that because of Zhu Cong and the others?”

Guo Jing’s eyes looked like they were spurting blood; he called out, “You have harmed my five Shifus with your own hands, and now you pretend you did not know?” Lifting his dagger up, he stabbed it forward with a straight arm.

Huang Yaoshi moved the iron staff in his hand to block; ‘bang!’ the staff and the dagger collided, sparks flew out everywhere. The dagger was so sharp that it actually nicked the iron staff. Huang Yaoshi asked again, “Who saw it?”

Guo Jing said, “I buried my Five Shifus with my own hands, are you saying that I slander you?”

Hung Yaoshi laughed coldly and said, “So what if you slander me? For all my life the Old Heretic Huang come and go alone; why would I deny killing these several people? You are correct, I killed your shifus!”

Suddenly a female voice was calling out, “No, Father, it wasn’t you. Don’t take the blame on your own shoulder.” Everybody turned their heads around and saw the one who spoke was indeed Huang Rong. They had been so engrossed in the fierce battle that nobody knew she had arrived. As Guo Jing saw her again, he was lost in thought, he did not know whether he should feel happy or anxious.

As Huang Yaoshi saw his daughter was alive and well, he was very happy; his hatred toward Guo Jing disappeared, he laughed a big laugh and said, “Good child, come, let Father hug you.”

For the past several days Huang Rong had been suffering a lot of heartache, it was only today she heard a loving word for the first time; she dashed forward and threw herself into her father’s bosom and cried, “Father, this dumb kid slandered you, he … he also bullied me.”

Huang Yaoshi embraced his daughter and said with a smile, “The Old Heretic Huang always does as he pleases, ever since dozens of years ago ignorant people have always put the crime of the world on your father’s head, so what difference will it make to add several more crimes to the pile? The Five Freaks of Jiangnan were your Mei Shijie’s [martial (older) sister] archenemies, so of course I killed them with my own hands.”

“No, no,” Huang Rong anxiously said, “It wasn’t you. I know it wasn’t you.”

Huang Yaoshi showed a faint smile and said, “That dumb kid is so bold, he dares to bully my good child. Just watch, Father will teach him a lesson.” He had just finished speaking when suddenly like a lightning the back of his palm struck, without a shadow, without a trace. Guo Jing was thinking about what these father and daughter were talking about, when ‘slap!’ he felt a burning sensation on his left cheek. He was just about to raise his hand to block, but Huang Yaoshi’s palm had already returned to Huang Rong’s head, gently stroking her elegant hair.

This palm made a loud noise, but actually the force was weak; Guo Jing felt his cheek burning, but he did not suffer any injury. He was at a loss; did not know whether he should charge forward or he should stay where he was.

Ke Zhen’E heard the slap on Guo Jing’s face, he was afraid Huang Yaoshi might have stricken him with a deadly blow. “Jing’er, how are you?” he anxiously asked.

“I am all right,” Guo Jing replied.

Ke Zhen’E said, “Don’t listen to this demon and this witch telling lies. I don’t have eyes to see, but your Si Shifu [Fourth Shifu] said: he saw this old thief killed your Er Shifu and forced to death your Qi [Seventh] …” Guo Jing did not wait for him to finish, he charged forward toward Huang Yaoshi. Ke Zhen’E followed by wielding his iron staff.

Huang Yaoshi let his daughter go and evaded Guo Jing’s palm, while at the same time stretched his hand to grab Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff. This time Ke Zhen’E had guarded against his grab so that Huang Yaoshi missed the staff. Master and disciple joined hands fighting a tight battle with Huang Yaoshi.

Although Guo Jing had repeatedly met some outstandingly able people and had learned not a few of wonderful martial art skills, he was still too far behind compared to this grandmaster of a martial art school, the Master of the Peach Blossom Island. Even with Ke Zhen’E’s help he could not do much. After only about twenty, thirty moves he had already moved his hands and feet with great difficulty.

Qiu Chuji thought, “In a critical time Quanzhen Sect has received these master and disciple’s help; currently these two are in the brink of defeat, how can we sit down and watch without doing anything? Whether Zhou Shishu is alive or dead, we need to defeat the Old Heretic Huang first, then we’ll talk later.” Brandishing his sword he called out, “Ke Daxia [Chivalrous Hero], go back to your position!”

By this time Yin Zhiping had already crawled down form the Misty Rain Tavern’s roof. Although he was black and blue and had a swollen nose from the fall, he did not suffer a serious injury. He rushed toward Ke Zhen’E’s back and wielded his sword to protect him. Once again the Big Dipper Formation went into action, encircled Huang Yaoshi, father and daughter in the middle.

Huang Yaoshi was enraged, he thought, “Before it was a misunderstanding, so I can understand you attacking me; but after this dumb kid explained everything this crowd of mixed-up hairs still rely on sheer numbers to attack me. Do you think the Old Heretic Huang cannot kill people?” Like a flash of shadow he had already moved toward Ke Zhen’E’s left.

Huang Rong saw the murderous look on her father’s face; she knew his hands would not be light, her heart turned cold. She saw that Wang Chuyi and Ma Yu blocked her father’s palm; Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff ferociously struck toward her shoulder while his mouth shot curses, “Unforgivable lowly criminal, female demon! The Peach Blossom Island’s slut!”

Huang Rong had never been willing to swallow the least bit of defeat; listening him open up his mouth in foul language, anger started to rise up her chest, she called out, “Scold me again if you have guts!”

The Seven Freaks of Jiangnan grew up in the marketplace where all kinds of people buy and sell, cursing each other for generations, what was so difficult about scolding other people? Ke Zhen’E hated Huang Yaoshi, father and daughter; listened to her say so, immediately his extensive vocabulary of malicious words flew out of his mouth. Huang Rong had always lived alone since she was little; she never had any experience with this kind of foul language. To her advantage she was very intelligent so that each time Ke Zhen’E scolded she was able to figure out what he was talking about and even scold him back; but afterwards the more she listened the more she could not talk back, because the more she did not understand. She spat and said, “Shame on you! You are someone’s shifu yet you are not afraid to have a filthy mouth.”

Ke Zhen’E scolded back, “With a clean person the old man talks clean words, with stinky and lowly people I speak filthy words! You are a filthy person, so the old man here talks even dirtier words.”

Huang Rong was angry; she raised her bamboo stick toward Ke Zhen’E’s face. Ke Zhen’E returned the attack with his iron staff; who would have thought that the Dog Beating Stick Technique was extremely marvelous beyond his imagination. Only several moves later his iron staff was completely under Huang Rong’s control, using the ‘lead’ letter of the technique; as the stick went east the staff went east, when the stick went west the staff followed, it totally did not have the mind of its own.

Ke Zhen’E was occupying the ‘tian xuan’ position of the Formation. As soon as his movement was restrained, the entire formation’s movement was somewhat restricted. Qiu Chuji’s flickering sword stabbing Huang Rong’s back, his intention was to help Ke Zhen’E; but Huang Rong relied on the armor she was wearing, to his surprise she ignored the stab, changing her stick movement she sent out three stances in succession. Qiu Chuji’s sword was about to touch her clothes when he suddenly thought, “What kind of person is the Old Qiu, how can I harm this little girl?” The tip of his sword touched Huang Rong’s back, but he did not push further.

Taking advantage of this slight hesitation Huang Rong’s bamboo stick pulled Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff. Borrowing his ‘fu mo zhang fa’ [demon subduing staff technique] energy Huang Rong push the staff down and then jerked it up to the left. Ke Zhen’E was not able to control his strength; the staff left his grasp and flew to the air, ‘splash!’ it fell into the Nan Hu [South Lake].

Wang Chuyi was afraid Huang Rong might use this opportunity to harm Ke Zhen’E; he rushed in front of Ke Zhen’E with his sword blocking in front of his chest. Although his experience was vast, he had never seen the Dog Beating Technique before, so he was caught in surprise.

Seeing his master suffer a setback, Guo Jing called out, “Da Shifu, go and take a rest, I’ll fight for you.” Leaving the north polar star position he jumped into the ‘tian xuan’ position. By this time his martial art skill had already exceeded those of the Quanzhen Masters, plus he was familiar with the Big Dipper method; so as soon as he made his move the Formation’s power increased substantially.

Actually the Big Dipper Formation revolved around the ‘tian quan’ position, but as soon as he entered, the key position moved to ‘tian xuan’ position, and the Formation’s movement was altered. This modification was actually inferior to the original movement, but in this short moment Huang Yaoshi was not able to find a way to penetrate the formation’s airtight defense; although he had his daughter to help, they were defending themselves with difficulty. Luckily for the most part the Quanzhen Masters took a defensive position; Guo Jing was the only one who fought with his life, forcing Huang Yaoshi to reluctantly face him.

Guo Jing kept pressing forward, forcing Huang Yaoshi to fight a tight battle. With the Quanzhen Masters backing Guo Jing up, Huang Yaoshi was not able to inflict any injury to him, and was forced to use his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] to evade Guo Jing’s series of a mad-tiger-like attacks.

Huang Rong saw that Guo Jing’s normally genial and kind face was now enveloped by a layer of murderous look; his expression was so frighteningly ferocious that he looked like a different person, completely different from the Guo Jing she used to know. She was startled and frightened at the same time; she stepped in front of her father and said, “Kill me first!”

Guo Jing glowered at her and barked, “Get out of my way!”

Huang Rong was taken aback, “How can you speak to me like that?” she thought.

Guo Jing charged forward and shoved her aside then he pounced towards Huang Yaoshi. Suddenly he heard someone laughed loudly and called out behind him, “Don’t worry Yao Xiong [Brother Yao], I have come to help you!” His voice was like ear-piercing grating metals.

Nobody dared to turn their bodies right away; the entire Big Dipper Formation turned around Huang Yaoshi’s back before they finally saw five, six tall and short people standing on the lakeside, led by someone with long arms and long legs, which was none other than the Western Poison Ouyang Feng.

The Quanzhen Six Masters cried out in anger. Qiu Chuji said, “Jing’er, let us settle the debt with the Western Poison first!” His long sword raised, the Quanzhen Six Masters surrounded Ouyang Feng. Who would have thought that Guo Jing’s gaze was fixed on Huang Yaoshi; it seemed like he did not hear Qiu Chuji at all. As soon as the Quanzhen Six Masters left, he pounced toward Huang Yaoshi again and in a short moment two people had quickly exchanged five, six moves.

Both sides did not hit their target, so both leaped backward, looking over their shoulders, staring at each other. Guo Jing gave out a loud shout then attacked forward. Several times they exchanged several stances and then separated again.

This time the Quanzhen Six Masters had rearranged their battle formation. They looked at Ke Zhen’E and saw him barehanded, standing behind Huang Yaoshi, his head inclined, listening attentively; his arms were open wide, revealing his intention to sacrifice himself, throwing himself to grab Huang Yaoshi firmly, giving Guo Jing the opportunity to strike Huang Yaoshi’s vital point. Because of this Qiu Chuji beckoned to Yin Zhiping, telling him to occupy the ‘tian xuan’ position.

Ma Yu loudly recited, “Holding hands the departed soul forcing itself to leave like a bead of pearls. Heart opens to hear the sound of nature, unlike the blowing flute!” It was the poem Tan Chuduan recited just before he closed his eyes. As the Quanzhen Masters heard it, their anger rose; with flickering swords and floating palms they attacked Ouyang Feng together. The snake staff in Ouyang Feng’s hand pushed and pulled abruptly, forcing the seven Quanzhen people to back off. Ouyang Feng had seen the Big Dipper Formation’s fierceness at the Ox Village; he was quite intimidated by that, so he decided to keep a tight defense and wait for the enemy to reveal its own flaw. Once the Big Dipper Formation unfolded, it struck to the front and hit to the back, like a continuous wave of attacks. Ouyang Feng carefully met stance with stance, while opening his eyes wide to see any potential to break the formation. A moment later he noticed Yin Zhiping’s ‘tian xuan’ was the Formation’s weak link. He thought if he could destroy this link, he did not have anything else to fear; therefore, he brandished the snake staff in his hand trying to inflict some harm, while his eyes scanning around, assessing the situation around him.

Guo Jing and Huang Yaoshi were still engaged in a tight combat. Huang Rong moved her bamboo stick to keep Ke Zhen’E more than a ‘zhang’ away from these two people. She kept shouting, “Please stop fighting; please listen to me!” But Guo Jing turned a deaf ear to her; palm by palm he struck ferociously, in total disregard of his own life.

At first Huang Rong saw her father holding back, but Guo Jing kept provoking him so that gradually she saw his anger rise, his hands were getting heavier and heavier. She knew the situation was critical; either one of them would certainly suffer a heavy injury if he made a slight mistake. She lifted his head and saw Hong Qigong was leaning against the railing of the Misty Rain Tavern, watching the battle. “Shifu, Shifu,” she hastily called, “Come down and help me explain everything.”

Hong Qigong has seen early on that the situation was far from good, he regretted losing his martial art skill and was powerless to settle this dispute, and hence he was really anxious. Hearing Huang Rong cry out he had an idea, “If only the Old Heretic Huang still has some respect to me left, I think I can still do something.” His hands pressed on the railing and he floated in the air coming down. “Everybody hold your hand!” he called out, “The Old Beggar has something to say.” The Nine-fingered Divine Beggar had such a prestige in the Jianghu that when they saw his sudden appearance everybody’s heart shivered and they could not help but to stop fighting.

Ouyang Feng was the first to secretly groan, he thought, “How can the Old Beggar’s martial art come back?” He did not know that after listening to Guo Jing’s explanation on the Sanskrit part of the Nine Yin Manual Hong Qigong spent these past few days to practice according to the technique and was able to open up his ‘qi jing ba mai’ [marvelous/mysterious passage 8 pulses, Eight Extraordinary Channels].

Hong Qigong’s martial art skill was very profound to begin with, after listening to an excellent internal energy secret such as treating one’s own internal injury, with his divine comprehension within this short period of time he managed to open up one of the eight pulses; his lightness kungfu was 30, 40% recovered. Strictly speaking, if he were involved in a brawl just relying on his fists’ and palms’ strength, he could not even defeat a strong man who did not know any martial art. But in leaping up and down his movement was light and lively, at least in Ouyang Feng’s eyes he did not look like someone who was devoid of any internal strength.

Hong Qigong was amazed to see these people were still in awe of him, he considered it carefully, “If the Old Beggar does not put on some airs, today’s crisis will be difficult to resolve; but what can I say, so that the Quanzhen Masters will listen to my order, and also the Old Poison will comply without giving me too much difficulty?” Momentarily not knowing what to do he threw his head backward and laughed a big laugh; while he was looking up, he saw the moon was beginning to rise up, the bright circle looked like a wheel made of ice with one side of it slightly broken. An idea came into his mind, he said, “You are all experts in the Wulin world, but you deal with each other just like scoundrels and rascals, your words are just like farts.”

Everybody was startled. They knew Hong Qigong always talked crazy words without any restrain, so they did not think much about his language; however, he must have a reason to say such thing. Ma Yu bowed in respect and asked, “Asking Qianbei [Senior] to grant us instruction.”

Hong Qigong angrily said, “The Old Beggar heard some people say that on the eighth month’s mid-autumn day this year there will be people fighting at the Misty Rain Tavern. The Old Beggar was afraid that his hearing was not clear, so while it is still early I want to laze around and sleep in peace and quiet here. Who knew that since early this morning I have been hearing clackety-clack and yakety- yak of people quarreling and fighting nonstop. I heard chamber pot formation or bed urinal formation, and then there was a husband beating his wife, a son-in-law attacking his father-in-law; very noisy just like killing pig or slaughtering dog, so noisy that the Old Beggar cannot take a nap in peace and quiet. Look at the moon, what day is today?”

Listening to his speech everybody remembered that today was the fourteenth of the eight month, so the martial art contest was going to be the next day. Besides, Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and their company had not arrived yet, so fighting today did not make much sense. Qiu Chuji said, “Lao Qianbei [Senior] is right, we should not have made disturbance here today.” He turned his head toward Ouyang Feng and said, “Ouyang Feng, let us find someplace else to decide who will be alive and who will be dead.”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” Ouyang Feng laughed, “I’ll gladly accompany you.”

Hong Qigong’s face turned sour, he said, “As soon as Wang Chongyang returned to heaven, the Quanzhen Sect’s bunch of mixed-up hair has become a reckless empty-headed bunch. Let me tell you something: five priests and one priestess, plus a little priest with low martial art skill, all of you join hands, you are still not the Old Poison’s match. Wang Chongyang has never left anything good for me; it is none of the Old Beggar’s business whether the bunch of mixed-up hairs will be alive or dead, but let me ask you this: you have a martial art contest appointment tomorrow, who will keep the appointment? Will seven dead Taoists be able to fight?”

This speech sounded like he was ridiculing the Quanzhen priests, but in it he reminded them that by fighting Ouyang Feng they would die and would not live. The seven of them could not defeat Huang Yaoshi then, obviously now they were not Ouyang Feng’s match. All of the Six Masters were experienced Jianghu characters, how could they fail to catch the real meaning of his speech? But they were facing their archenemy right now, how could they cower? With the corner of his eye Hong Qigong saw Guo Jing was staring angrily at Huang Yaoshi; while Huang Rong was crying with tears streaming down her cheeks. He knew whatever it was, it must be a very complicated matter; he thought carefully, “I’ll wait for the Old Urchin; with his martial art skill he will be able to subdue everybody. At that time the Old Beggar will speak again.” Thereupon he shouted, “The Old Beggar is going to take a nap; whoever lift up his fist or his kick deliberately wants to offend me. Come tomorrow evening, I don’t care if you turn the sky over or shake the earth, the Old Beggar will not help anybody. Ma Yu, take this bunch of mixed-up hairs and sit down here with me cultivating your internal energy. Make a one notch internal strength gain is a gain; waiting for the last minute will not guarantee your victory. Jing’er, Rong’er, come over here and massage my legs.”

Ouyang Feng was rather scared of him; he thought that if Hong Qigong joined hands with the Quanzhen Masters, they would be difficult for him to fight. He said, “Old Beggar, Yao Xiong and I two guys have some unfinished business with the Quanzhen Sect. The Nine-fingered Divine Beggar’s words are like mountain; I’ll follow your direction today, and tomorrow you may not help either side.”

Hong Qigong was secretly amused, “If you push me with your little finger now, I am afraid I will fall down.” Thereupon he loudly said, “The Old Beggar’s fart is still sweeter than your words; I said I won’t help, then I won’t help. Are you sure you’ll win?” Then he laid down face up on the ground, using his wine gourd as a pillow and called out, “Two children, come and massage my legs!”

By now only the bone was left of the lamb leg in his hand, but he was still reluctant to throw it away, he kept gnawing and licking like it was still tasty. He looked at the clouds looming over the horizon and said, “Those clouds look strange, I am afraid the weather will change very soon!” He also noticed thin mist rose from the surface of the lake; he took several deep breaths and shook his head, “It’s very strange!” Turning his head toward Huang Yaoshi he said, “Yao Xiong, do you think I can borrow your daughter to massage my legs?”

Huang Yaoshi only showed a faint smile. Huang Rong came over and sat next to Hong Qigong, then started to massage his leg gently. Hong Qigong sighed, “Ay, these old bones have never enjoyed this kind of good fortune!” Staring at Guo Jing he said, “Dumb kid, are your dog’s paws broken by the Old Heretic Huang?”

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied. He came over the other side of Hong Qigong and started massaging his leg.

Ke Zhen’E was leaning on a willow tree by the lakeside; his pair of blind eyes was fixed at Huang Yaoshi. He was using his ears in place of his eyes. Huang Yaoshi was pacing around by the water. He walked to the east, Ke Zhen’E’s head followed his movement to the east, he turned west Ke Zhen’E followed him to the west. Huang Yaoshi did not pay him any attention, only the corners of his mouth showed a cold smile.

The Quanzhen Six Masters and Yin Zhiping were sitting cross-legged on the ground, maintaining their respective positions of the Big Dipper Formation; their heads were hung low, they were quietly training their internal energy.

Ouyang Feng’s servants, the snake shepherds, took out a table and a chair, set them up underneath the Misty Rain Tavern and served wine and food. With his back toward everybody else Ouyang Feng sat alone eating and drinking; he was wondering in his heart how Hong Qigong could recover that quick from the heavy injury his palm inflicted.

Meanwhile the weather was stifling hot, small insects were flying everywhere, and thin mist hovered on the surface of the lake. Hong Qigong said, “My thigh bone is sore, a storm must be coming; if we can see moon tomorrow at the mid-autumn festival, I will chop my own thigh and give it to you.” Casting a sidelong glance toward Guo Jing and Huang Rong, he noticed that their eyes had always looked somewhere else, and had never looked at each other. Hong Qigong was always frank and honest; seeing this awkward situation, how could he keep his peace? But after asking several questions, those two mumbled indistinctly without giving him any answer.

Hong Qigong raised his voice asking Huang Yaoshi, “Yao Xiong, what is the other name of this Nan Hu?” “It’s called ‘yuan yang hu’ [Mandarin Duck Lake],” Huang Yaoshi replied.

“Indeed!” Hong Qigong said, “How come on this ‘yuan yang hu’ [Translator’s note: mandarin ducks have always been regarded as the symbol of lovers] your daughter and your son-in-law are having an argument and the father and father-in-law did not advise them?”

Guo Jing stood up immediately, he pointed to Huang Yaoshi and said, “He … he … has killed my five shifus, how can I still call him my father-in-law?”

Huang Yaoshi coldly laughed and said, “Is that strange? The Seven Freaks of Jiangnan are not completely dead; there is still a stinky blind kid left. I’ll say he won’t live to see tomorrow …”

Without waiting for him to finish Ke Zhen’E had already pounced toward him. Guo Jing also jumped forward, and despite the fact he moved later, he arrived sooner. Huang Yaoshi launched a single stance, his palms crossed and ‘bang!’ he shook Guo Jing’s body, forcing him to retreat two steps.

Hong Qigong shouted, “I said don’t fight! Do you think the Old Beggar’s words are just fart?”

Guo Jing did not dare to attack again, his stared angrily at Huang Yaoshi. Hong Qigong asked, “Old Heretic Huang, the Six Freaks of Jiangnan are chivalrous heroes, why did you kill the innocents? The Old Beggar thinks this kind of behavior is not pleasing to the eyes.”

Huang Yaoshi said, “I kill whoever I want, why do you care?” Huang Rong called out, “Father, his five shifus were not killed by you; I know it. Please say that you did not kill them.”

Under the moonlight Huang Yaoshi saw his daughter’s face was thin and pale, he could not help but feel compassion toward her; but when he turned his eyes toward Guo Jing he saw murder written all over Guo Jing’s face, his heart turned hard and he said, “I killed them.”

With a choking voice Huang Rong said, “Father, why do you insist on confessing the murder?”

With a loud voice Huang Yaoshi replied, “Everybody says your father is wicked and strange, didn’t you know it? Can a criminal do a good deed? All crimes in the world are your father’s. The Six Freaks of Jiangnan considered themselves righteous and chivalrous heroes; when I see this kind of self-proclaimed hero I become angry.”

Ouyang Feng burst out in laughter and loudly said, “Yao Xiong, your words are right on target. Let Xiong Di [younger brother, referring to himself] toast you!” Lifting up his wine cup he drank it in one go; he said, “Yao Xiong, let me present you a gift.” His right hand slightly waved, he threw a cloth bundle away.

He was several ‘zhang’s apart from Huang Yaoshi, but by a casual wave of the hand the bundle flew like a bullet cutting the air; everyone was astonished and impressed. Huang Yaoshi held out his hand to receive it; the content of the bundle felt like a human head to him. After unwrapping the bundle he found it was indeed a human head, newly beheaded; the head wore a square hat, with beard on its chin, the face was not of someone he knew.

Ouyang Feng said with a laugh, “Xiong Di left for the west this morning and took a rest at a schoolhouse. I heard this rotten scholar taught the students to be loyal ministers and filial sons. Xiong Di loathes hearing such things, so I killed this rotten scholar. You and I are the Eastern Heretic and the Western Poison, we both are of the same kind.” Then he let out a long laugh.

Huang Yaoshi’s face changed, he said, “All my life I always respect loyal ministers and filial sons.” Stooping down he dug a hole with his hand, buried that human’s head, and respectfully bowed three times.

Ouyang Feng lost his interest, but he laughed and said, “The Old Heretic Huang has enjoyed a false reputation, turns out he also adheres to propriety and etiquette.”

Huang Yaoshi imposingly said, “Loyalty and being filial is integrity, it is not propriety and etiquette!”

He had just closed his mouth when suddenly a thunder crashed. Everybody looked up and saw black clouds covering half of the sky; a thunderstorm was coming. Right at that moment they heard loud music; seven, eight big boats on the lake approached near. The boats were decorated with red lanterns; on the bows stood signs like ‘Su Jing’ and ‘Hui Bi’; looked like they belong to a high ranking government officer.

End of Chapter 34. 

Chapter 35 – In the Temple of the Iron Spear

As the boat reached the shore, twenty, thirty people came ashore; among them were Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and their company. The last ones to come ashore were two men, one tall the other short; the tall one was the Great Jin’s Prince Zhao, Wanyan Honglie, the short one was the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Qiu Qianren. Apparently Wanyan Honglie relied on Ouyang Feng and Qiu Qianren to help them; so he was confident they would win this martial contest, hence he went as far as personally come over to Jiangnan.

Pointing to Qiu Qianren Huang Rong said, “Father, this old man has hit your daughter with his palm that I nearly lost my life.”

At the Cloud Village Huang Yaoshi had seen Qiu Qianren’s disgraceful act; he did not know it was actually Qiu Qianzhang in disguise. He thought it was strange how with just a little bit of trick this man could injure his daughter.

In the meantime Ouyang Feng was having a discussion with Wanyan Honglie and the others; they were talking in a low voice. After about half a day Ouyang Feng came to Hong Qigong and said, “Qi Xiong, you have said that in the upcoming martial art contest you are not going to help either side, haven’t you?”

Hong Qigong said in his heart, “I have the desire but am powerless; even if I want to help I don’t have the ability to do so.” With no other choice he replied, “Contest or no contest, I said the fifteenth of the eighth month.”

“That is so,” Ouyang Feng said, “Yao Xiong, the Quanzhen Sect and the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan are seeking enmity with you; you are a grandmaster and a senior, it will be below your dignity to deal with these people. Let Xiong Di [younger brother, referring to himself] deal with them on your behalf, you can just stand on the side and be the spectator, what do you say?”

Huang Yaoshi thought about the battle situation from both sides’ point of view: if Hong Qigong did not go into action, the Quanzhen Masters would certainly fall under Ouyang Feng’s deadly hand, thus the Quanzhen Sect faced an imminent destruction. If Guo Jing helped them by defending the ‘tian xuan’, Ouyang Feng would not be the Big Dipper Formation’s match; but if this dumb kid kept pestering Huang Yaoshi, the situation would not be the same, he thought, “This kid Guo Jing is still wet behind his ears, the Quanzhen Sect’s life or death, fortune or disaster, actually depends on him. If Wang Chongyang in the underworld knew, all he could do is to laugh bitterly.”

Ouyang Feng saw that he looked indifferent without answering his question, if Zhou Botong arrived, the situation would be detrimental to him; therefore, he let out a long laugh and called out, “Everybody, attack! What are you waiting for?”

Hong Qigong was angry, “Was that a human speaking or a dog farting?”

Ouyang Feng pointed to the sky and said with a smile, “’Zi shi’ [first hour, midnight, between 11pm and 1 am] has passed, right now it is already early morning of the fifteenth of the eighth month.”

Hong Qigong looked up only to see that the moon had slightly shifted to the west, half of it was still covered by the dark clouds, it was indeed the end of the ‘zi shi’ and the start of ‘chou shi’ [second hour, between 1 am and 3 am].

Ouyang Feng’s snake staff struck, its target was Qiu Chuji’s chest. Facing their archenemy, with Peng Lianhu watching intently on the side, ready to strike, the Quanzhen Six Masters knew that the slightest mistake today would result in their demise; hence they pulled themselves together immediately and fought Ouyang Feng with all their might, but after just a few stances, the six of them groaned inwardly.

This time the Western Poison’s intention was to show off his power in front of everybody; everything he displayed was swift and deadly move, particularly the two snakes on the head of his staff, which was extended or withdrawn, striking or evading in sudden movements, it was virtually impossible to guard against. Qiu Chuji, Wang Chuyi and the others had tried several times to stab these snakes, but how could they match their speed?

Huang Rong saw Guo Jing was still staring angrily at her father; it was only because Hong Qigong was on his way that he did not dare to attack. She got a sudden inspiration and said, “All day long talking about avenging his father, humph, now that the killer is here he is afraid.”

Her words reminded Guo Jing, he turned his gaze to her and thought, “Kill the Jin dog first, then look for Huang Yaoshi; it won’t be too late.” Drawing his dagger he charged toward Wanyan Honglie.

Together Sha Tongtian and Peng Lianhu dashed forward, blocking in front of Wanyan Honglie. Guo Jing flicked his wrist and the dagger in his hand stabbed slanting down. Peng Lianhu blocked with his pair of judge pens, ‘clang!’ the weapons collided and he felt tingling sensation on his palms. Guo Jing successively went passed two people. Sha Tongtian’s ‘yi xing huan wei’ [altering form changing position] technique was also unable to stop him; hastily Sha Tongtian tried to pursue him. Lingzhi Shangren and Liang Ziweng, each with weapon in their hands positioned themselves to intercept Guo Jing.

Guo Jing flashed sideways to evade two of Liang Ziweng’s ‘tou gu ding’ [bone penetrating nail]; his both hands, one with a dagger the other with a palm, launched ‘di yang chu fan’ [ram charging fence], throwing his whole body forward.

Liang Ziweng saw that the incoming force was swift and fierce; he rolled away on the ground to evade. Lingzhi Shangren was big and fat, he was not as agile; he thought if he evaded, the enemy would have clear access to the Prince Zhao, so he raised his pair of cymbals, trying to block this attack. With two loud ‘Bang! Bang!’ his hands were shaken and the two cymbals flew to the air, while the wind from Guo Jing’s palm continued hacking toward his face. Relying on the strength of, and poison on, his palms, Lingzhi Shangren fended off Guo Jing’s palm, only to feel his chest constricted and his arm sore and numb; his palms hang loosely down, his wrist joints were shaken and to his shock he could not use his poisonous palm skill. He stood dumbly without knowing what to do. If Guo Jing took this opportunity and sent out a palm, he could easily take Lingzhi Shangren’s life, but he remembered his main target was Wanyan Honglie, so he did not give Lingzhi Shangren another look.

The pair of copper cymbals flew in the air and glimmering under the moonlight one after another they fell back down to the earth. ‘Bang!’ the first cymbal landed on Lingzhi Shangren’s head. Luckily it was in a horizontal position; otherwise with its knife-like sharp edge it would chop the Tibetan monk’s bald head in two. Another loud ‘Bang!’ followed, louder and brighter than the first; the second cymbal landed on the first, creating a continuous buzzing noise, which reached far into the lake and echoed back on the surface of the lake.

Wanyan Honglie saw how Guo Jing was able to go through four martial art masters without missing a step and suddenly arrive in front of him, he was unable to restrain his great shock and cried out, “Aiyo!” while turning his body around and run away.

With the dagger in his hand Guo Jing chased him; but he only managed to pursue several steps when suddenly a yellow shadow flashed by, a pair of palms came slanting down on him. Guo Jing stepped aside to evade, while the dagger in his hand stabbed forward; but his body was swayed by the incoming palms; hastily he steadied his step and saw that the enemy was the Clan Leader of the Iron Palm Clan, Qiu Qianren. Guo Jing knew the enemy’s martial art skill is superior to his own, so he would not be able to pursue his personal enemy; immediately, with the dagger in his right hand and a bare palm on his left, he focused his attention to fight the enemy.

Peng Lianhu knew the critical situation had passed as he saw Guo Jing was tied down by Qiu Qianren while Liang Ziweng and Sha Tongtian were guarding in front of Wanyan Honglie; he turned his attention to Ke Zhen’E and said with a smile, “Ke Daxia, how come only one freak out of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan showed up?”

Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff was thrown into the Southern Lake by Huang Rong; hearing the enemy’s insult he waved his hand to send out an iron caltrop, while he immediately jumped backward. Under the dim moonlight the iron caltrop looked so swift and powerful. Peng Lianhu had experienced suffering because of this poisonous secret projectile; he was scared like a bird was scared of a bow, he did not dare to fend off with his judge pen, so he hastily pushed the pens on the ground to using it as a brace to help him jump high in the air. With a ‘swish’ sound the iron caltrop barely missed the bottom of his foot. He noticed Ke Zhen’E did not have any weapon in his hand; clenching his teeth he struck forward with his pens.

Ke Zhen’E was disabled; he usually walked aided by his staff. He heard the wind as the enemy attack arrived, he had no choice but using all his strength he leaped two steps to the side, and almost fell down as his left foot landed on soft earth.

Peng Lianhu was delighted; with his left pen he guarded against Ke Zhen’E, should he be desperate enough to launch an attack to save his own life, while his right pen fiercely smashed down toward Ke Zhen’E’s chest.

Ke Zhen’E listened to the sound to distinguish the shape, he rolled away to evade. Peng Lianhu’s steel judge pen struck a rock on the ground, sparks flew everywhere. “Blind thief,” he cursed, “You are very slippery!” The pen in his left hand also struck.

While he was rolling away, ‘swish!’ he released another iron caltrop. Lingzhi Shangren was standing nearby, his left hand was holding his right hand, his mouth was busy cursing in Tibetan; as he saw Ke Zhen’E was rolling near him, he raised his foot trying to trample him.

Ke Zhen’E heard the wind; using his left hand to brace the ground he threw himself sideways to escape. But evading the Tibetan monk’s foot he could not escape the pair of judge pen on his back. He felt a stabbing pain and secretly shouted, “Not good!” He closed his eyes, ready to die. Suddenly he heard a tender voice called out, “Off you go!” followed by “Aiyo!” finally he heard a loud ‘bang!’

Turned out Huang Rong used the Dog Beating Stick Technique to block the judge pen, turned it around and jerked it up, throwing both the pen and Peng Lianhu away. This stick technique was exactly the same stance Huang Rong used to fling Ke Zhen’E’s iron staff away; only Peng Lianhu held his pens tight and would not let them go no matter what, so both Peng Lianhu and his pen fell down together.

Peng Lianhu was shocked and angry at the same time, he crawled back up only to see Huang Rong was using her stick to protect Ke Zhen’E, giving him the opportunity to stand up. “Little witch [Translator’s note: the Chinese characters used were ‘xiao yao nu’, with ‘yao’ being ‘goblin/witch/demon/monster’, see also Chapter 25], who asked for your help?”

Ignoring him Huang Rong called out, “Father, look after this blind muddle-head, don’t let anybody harm him.” While saying that she rushed toward Guo Jing to help him fight Qiu Qianren.

Ke Zhen’E was dumbstruck; he stood motionless not knowing what to do. Peng Lianhu saw Huang Yaoshi was standing quite a distant away, with his back facing them, apparently he did not hear his daughter’s call. Quietly Peng Lianhu went behind Ke Zhen’E and suddenly lunged his judge pen toward Ke Zhen’E’s back. This move was both swift and violent, so much so that even if Ke Zhen’E still had the iron staff in his hand he would not necessarily be able to block it. Peng Lianhu saw he was about to succeed when suddenly a ‘swish’ sound was heard; something flew splitting the air, hit the judge pen, and shattered into dust; turned out it was a small grain of gravel. Peng Lianhu’s palm was numb and the judge pen fell to the ground.

Peng Lianhu was shocked; he did not know where the gravel came from, and how could it carry such a tremendous force. He saw Huang Yaoshi with his hands behind his back, still looking at the black clouds on the horizon.

At the Cloud Village Ke Zhen’E had heard this Divine Flicking Finger skill; he knew it was Huang Yaoshi who saved him. In rage he pounced toward Huang Yaoshi’s back, while shouting, “Seven brothers and sister only one left, why would I want to live?”

Huang Yaoshi still did not turn his head; he waited until Ke Zhen’E was about three feet away before his left hand lightly waved backward. Ke Zhen’E felt a strong force pushing him back that he fell face up. Quickly he sat down, but felt his blood surging up his chest and he was not able to stand up.

By this time the sky was getting darker, the fog hovering on the surface of the lake was getting thicker, it spilled over to the ground; submerging everybody’s legs in it. Guo Jing and Huang Rong managed to fight Qiu Qianren evenly. On the other side, the Quanzhen Sect was in dire circumstances; Hao Datong’s thigh was swept by the snake staff, half of Sun Bu’er’s Taoist robe was torn. Wang Chuyi was secretly alarmed; he knew that if this fight continued, someone would be either dead or wounded before long. So when Ma Yu and Liu Chuxuan were launching a flank attack, he took a rocket from his pocket. With a hissing sound the rocket flew up to the sky, like a meteor with a long tail in the dark sky.

Actually, all Seven Masters of the Quanzhen Sect had accepted not a few disciples; they formed quite a number of the third generation disciples. Besides Yin Zhiping, there were Li Zhichang, Zhang Zhijing, Wang Zhitan, Qi Zhicheng, Zhang Zhixian, Zhao Zhijing, and the others; they were all outstanding people. In the martial art contest at Misty Rain Tavern in Jiaxing this time, the Seven Masters were afraid that Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and the others would bring their disciples in their attempt to gain victory by sheer numbers; therefore, they also took their disciples along to Jiaxing and told them to wait by the shore of the Southern Lake. As soon as they saw the rocket they were supposed to immediately come and render their assistance. So now recognizing their precarious situation Wang Chuyi released the rocket. Unfortunately the fog was too thick; even separated by several feet it was already difficult to distinguish people, so he was afraid the disciples would not be able to see through this fog.

Later on, after fighting a little while, the white fog was getting heavier, everybody was enveloped inside the thick fog that they suddenly felt alone. The gathering dark clouds in the sky were getting thicker and thicker; the dim moonlight which penetrated these layers of cloud was getting weaker and weaker, until finally it disappeared all together. Everybody was alarmed; although they did not stop fighting, the distance between them were getting farther and farther away, their stances were most of the time defensives and very few offensives.

Guo Jing and Huang Rong were fighting Qiu Qianren together; suddenly the thick fog welled up and shrouded these three people. Guo Jing saw Qiu and Huang two people suddenly disappear, he decided to look for Wanyan Honglie immediately. His eyes were wide open, trying to catch a glimpse of the flashing of the golden crown on Wanyan Honglie’s head. But the fog was very dense; he could not even see anything beyond three feet. He hurried to the east and dashed to the west to seek the enemy, suddenly he heard someone was calling out in the fog, “Zhou Botong is here, who wants to fight with me?”

Guo Jing was ecstatic, he was about to reply but Qiu Chuji beat him, “Zhou Shishu [martial uncle], are you Senior well?”

Right at this moment the dark clouds revealed a gap and suddenly everybody could see their enemies were actually almost within reach of each other, if anybody launched any attack, they would certainly be injured. As if by prior agreement they all cried out in alarm and leaped back.

Zhou Botong was giggling as he stood among these people, he said in a loud voice, “There are so many people here, very lively. Wonderful! Wonderful!” His right hand reached beneath the crook of his left elbow, he rubbed some dirt and rolled it, he said, “I’ll give you some poison!” and he shoved the dirt into Sha Tongtian’s mouth nearby.

Sha Tongtian quickly evaded, but although he used his ‘yi xing huan wei’, he was still not fast enough; his left arm was grabbed by Zhou Botong and the dirt was squeezed into his mouth. He had suffered quite a bit under Zhou Botong’s hand, he knew if he spat the dirt, he would certainly be beaten; therefore, he had no choice but stay silent and keep the dirt in his mouth. He knew the dirt was not poison, so he certainly was not afraid.

As Wang Chuyi saw Zhou Botong suddenly arrive he was overjoyed, “Shishu,” he called out, “Turned out it’s true that you are not killed by Huang Daozhu [Island Master].”

“Who said I am dead?” Zhou Botong angrily asked, “The Old Heretic Huang had always wanted to harm me, but it’s been more than ten years and he still has not succeeded yet. Ha, Old Heretic Huang, come and try again.” While saying that he waved his fist toward Huang Yaoshi’s shoulder.

Huang Yaoshi did not dare to ignore him; he counterattacked with a stance from the ‘shen jian luo ying zhang’ [divine sword falling leaves palm] while calling out at the same time, “The mixed-up hairs from Quanzhen Sect blamed me of killing you, they are pestering me without any reason, saying that they were seeking revenge for you.”

Zhou Botong was angry, “You killed me? Are you dreaming? When did you kill me? Look clearly, am I a human or am I a ghost?” While spouting nonsense he fought faster and faster.

Huang Yaoshi knew Zhou Botong would not listen to reason, and he was attacking him out of a whim, but his moves were very exquisite and marvelous; Huang Yaoshi had no choice but fight him with all his might.

The Quanzhen Masters thought that as soon as their Shishu arrived, he would join hands with Huang Yaoshi to fight Ouyang Feng; who would have thought that this Shishu did not want to listen to them but entangled Huang Yaoshi in a close combat instead. “Shishu, don’t fight with Huang Daozhu!” Ma Yu repeatedly called.

Ouyang Feng interjected, “That’s right Old Urchin, you are in no way the Old Heretic’s match; quickly run away to save your life! Quick, quick!”

Listening to this provocation Zhou Botong was all the more not willing to give up. Huang Rong called out, “Old Urchin, you use the martial art from the Nine Yin Manual to fight my father; what would your Shixiong [martial brother] say in the underworld?”

Zhou Botong burst out in laughter, he sounded very smug when he said, “Look carefully, do you see I am using the martial art from the Manual? I have spent a great deal of effort trying to forget the Manual. Hey, hey, learning was easy, forgetting is actually a lot of trouble! What I am using now is the 72-stance Vacant Fist, the Old Urchin’s very own creation, do you think it is the same as the Nine Yin Manual even for a fart?”

When fighting him at the Peach Blossom Island, Huang Yaoshi thought his fist and kick strength was much stronger; now he saw that although his fist technique was refined and wonderful, the strength was actually less than he remembered, but Zhou Botong was able to fight evenly with him, which he thought was very strange. Listening to Zhou Botong’s words Huang Yaoshi was secretly impressed; regardless of what kind of bizarre technique he employed, Zhou Botong was able to create an excellent martial art all by himself and thus he founded his own martial art school.

From inside the fog Ouyang Feng could indistinctly see the fight between Zhou Botong and Huang Yaoshi; he was inwardly very happy, but was also afraid that as soon as he defeated Huang Yaoshi Zhou Botong would join hands with the Quanzhen Masters and deal with him. Thereupon he thought as he had the opportunity, he should break the Big Dipper Formation first. Immediately he wielded his snake staff and pressed on bit by bit, placing the Big Dipper Formation in more and more dangerous situation.

Wang Chuyi and Liu Chuxuan called out, “Zhou Shishu, kill Ouyang Feng first!”

Zhou Botong saw his martial nephews’ desperate situation, with a left palm and a right fist he swept horizontally. When he was very close to Huang Yaoshi’s face, suddenly with a laughter the fist changed into a palm and the palm became a fist, continuing their attack across each other.

Huang Yaoshi had never anticipated this kind of strange move, he hurriedly raised his arms to block, but the tip of his eyebrow was brushed lightly by the edge of Zhou Botong’s palm. He was not injured, but Huang Yaoshi felt his eyebrow was burning hot.

As Zhou Botong’s palm brushed his opponent suddenly he was shocked; his left hand slapped his own right wrist and he cursed, “Damn it! Damn it! This is the martial art from the Nine Yin Manual!”

Huang Yaoshi was slightly startled; but his palm had already struck with a lightning fast speed, without any noise landed on Zhou Botong’s shoulder. Zhou Botong bent his waist and shrunk his shoulder. “Aiyo!” he cried out, “The payback is so quick!”

Meanwhile the fog was getting thicker; it was getting more difficult to see anything. Guo Jing was afraid his two shifus would be injured; he held out his hand to help Ke Zhen’E, pulling his arm toward Hong Qigong. With a low voice he said, “Two Shifus, please take a rest at the Misty Rain Tavern; we’ll wait for the fog to recede then we’ll talk again.” He heard Huang Rong called out, “Old Urchin, are you going to obey me or not?”

“I can’t beat your father,” Zhou Botong replied, “So don’t worry.”

“I want you to beat the Old Poison,” Huang Rong said, “Just don’t kill him.” “Why?” Zhou Botong asked; but his hands and feet were not slowing down.

Huang Rong called out, “If you don’t do what I say, I am going to reveal your stinky history.” “What stinky history?” Zhou Botong asked, “You talk nonsense.”

“All right,” with deliberation Huang Rong said, “Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desiring to fly together right away.”

Hearing these two sentences Zhou Botong was so scared that it was as if his soul had left him; “All right, all right, I’ll listen to you,” he busily said, “Old Poison, where are you?” He heard Ma Yu’s voice penetrating the thick fog, “Zhou Shishu, occupy the north polar star to surround him.”

Huang Rong said again, “Father, this Qiu Qianren collaborates with a foreign kingdom, he is a big traitor; please kill him quickly.”

“Child,” Huang Yaoshi said, “Come to my side.” In the heavy fog he could not see where Qiu Qianren was. But he heard Zhou Botong was laughing a big laugh while calling out, “Old Poison, quickly kneel down and kowtow to your grandfather; I’ll spare your life today.”

Guo Jing sent Hong and Ke two people to the side of the tavern; then he turned his body around, trying to find Wanyan Honglie. Who would have thought that as he left the Misty Rain Tavern, not only he could not find Wanyan Honglie, but also Sha Tongtian, Qiu Qianren and the others had all disappeared. He heard Zhou Botong call out, “Uh, where is the Old Poison? Where did he run to?”

This fog was unusually thick, everybody was very close to each other, yet one could not see the face of someone else standing next to them; they only saw a vague image of a human form. Their voices were also somewhat muffled by the fog, as if there was some layers separating each other. Each one of them was an experienced fighter, yet in this battle they felt like they were blindfolded; not a single one of them was not anxious. Huang Rong was leaning close to her father, Ma Yu was giving out orders in low voice to shrink their circle. Everyone was straining their ears to listen to any enemy’s activity; for a moment nobody made any noise. A little while later suddenly Qiu Chuji called out, “Listen! What’s that?”

They heard hissing noise all around them, strange noise from a distant coming near. Huang Rong called out in alarm, “The Old Poison dispatches his snakes! Really shameless!”

At the end of the tavern Hong Qigong had also heard the snakes, he loudly called out, “It’s the Old Poison’s snake formation; everybody quickly come up the stairs!”

Zhou Botong’s martial art could be considered number one among those present, but for all his life he was afraid of snakes, so with a loud cry he dashed wildly toward the Misty Rain Tavern. He was afraid the snakes would bite his heel, so he skipped the upstairs room and utilizing his ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] to the fullest he leaped onto the roof, and sat on the highest ridge, still trembling with fear.

Not too long afterwards the sound of the snakes was getting louder. Huang Rong pulled her father’s hand to go up the Misty Rain Tavern. Holding each other’s hand the Quanzhen Masters were groping their way upstairs. Yin Zhiping stepped on a crack and fell down real hard that his head grew a swollen lump; quickly he crawled back upstairs.

Huang Rong had not heard Guo Jing’s voice, she was concerned; “Jing Gege, where are you?” she called. After calling out several times she still had not heard any reply; she became anxious and said, “Father, I am going back to look for him.”

Suddenly she heard Guo Jing’s cold voice, “Why should you look for me? Don’t call me; I am not going to answer you.” It turned out he was right next to her.

Huang Yaoshi was angry, “Muddle-headed kid, stinky boy,” he scolded; his arm swung across sending out a palm. Guo Jing ducked his head to evade; he was just about to launch a counterattack when suddenly ‘whiz, whiz’ noise of arrows was heard, several long arrows soared in the air and nailed the window lattice.

Everybody was startled; they heard shouts and feathered arrows came one after another. In the darkness nobody knew how many soldiers had arrived; they heard clamoring noise of people outside the building, they were shouting, “Don’t let these thieves escape!”

Wang Chuyi was angry, “Looks like the Jin dog colludes with Jiaxing’s corrupt government official; they are sending out troops to deal with us!”

Qiu Chuji called out, “Let’s go down and completely route them.”

“Not good, snake, snake!” Hao Datong shouted. They heard the noise of the arrows getting thicker, while the hissing noise of the snakes getting closer; they realized that Wanyan Honglie and Ouyang Feng had arranged this treacherous plan in advance; only this thick fog was beyond anybody’s anticipation, so whether a curse or a luck, it was difficult to say.

Hong Qigong called out, “We can fight the arrows, but cannot fight the snakes; if we evade the snakes, it will be difficult to keep off the arrows! Everybody quickly withdraw!” They heard Zhou Botong, still shouting abusive words from the top of the roof; he had caught two arrows and used them to fend off the incoming arrows.

Three sides of the Misty Rain Tavern faced the water. The soldiers rode on small boats surrounding the building and showered it with arrows. It was because of the thick fog that they did not dare to press closer to the banks. Hong Qigong called out, “We go to the west, we take the land route.” He was the chief of the world’s largest clan; each word he said carried a lot of authority and influence. In this chaotic situation everybody accepted his leadership without question; they groped their way back downstairs. They tried hard to open their eyes, but could not see farther than half a foot ahead; how did they know which direction was east, west, south or north? They struck down several arrows while walking in line, holding each other’s hand to avoid getting lost. Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi led the way with swords in their hands; their swords combined and complemented each other, forming a sword umbrella to keep off the arrow rain.

Guo Jing’s right hand was pulling Hong Qigong, while his left hand grabbed someone’s hand behind him. He felt this hand was soft, warm and slightly sweaty; turned out it was Huang Rong’s small hand. His heart skipped a beat; hastily he let her hand go, only to listen to Huang Rong’s cold voice said, “Who needs your concern?” Suddenly he heard Qiu Chuji called out, “Turn around, quick! There are snakes ahead; we can’t go through!”

Huang Yaoshi and Ma Yu were at the end of the line blocking the pursuing soldiers; hearing Qiu Chuji’s cry they turned their head anxiously. Huang Yaoshi picked a couple of bamboo sticks and swept them outward to strike the snakes. In the fog they heard the hissing sound of the snakes, and a foul stench attacked their nostrils. Huang Rong could not endure it any longer, with a ‘wah!’ sound she threw up. Huang Yaoshi sighed and said, “There is no way out, everyone fight for your own life!” Tossing his bamboo sticks aside he carried his daughter in his hands.

Based on everyone’s martial art skill, actually the soldiers’ arrows would not be able to stop them; but the Western Poison’s snake formation was tens of thousands more lethal, as soon as one was bitten, one’s life immediately would be gone. Listening to these frightening snakes everybody could not help but feel terrified. Huang Yaoshi’s jade flute was broken, Hong Qigong’s steel needles were not easy to be launched; the most difficult part was the fog was too thick that nobody could see anything. Even if there were an escape route, nobody knew where to go.

In this critical situation suddenly they heard someone with a cold voice say, “Little witch, give your bamboo stick to this blind man.” It was Ke Zhen’E’s voice.

Hearing him saying the ‘blind man’, two characters, Huang Rong immediately understood his intention; she was very happy and without hesitation handed over the Dog Beating Stick to him. Ke Zhen’E maintained his composure; tapping the stick on the ground he said, “Everyone, follow this blind man to safety. There is always fog and mist around the Misty Rain Tavern; what’s so strange about it? Otherwise how can it be called the Misty Rain Tavern?” He was a native of Jiaxing; ever since he was little all streets and alleys around the Misty Rain Tavern had been ingrained in his heart. Both of his eyes were blind, normally he would be inferior to ordinary man, but now the fog was really thick, black clouds covered the sky; to him it was not the least bit of obstacle.

Listening to the snakes and the arrows he knew that there was an alley to the west with no enemies in that direction. Limping away he immediately led the way. Who would have thought that over the past several years this small alley had been covered with green bamboos, which render it impassable. Ke Zhen’E was very familiar with this road; yet he had not visited this place for decades, so he did not know that this alley had turned into a bamboo grove. He walked only for seven, eight steps and had to stop because the bamboo was on his way. Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi again brandished their swords and the bamboo flew out, opening up a passageway where everybody could pass through.

Ma Yu called, “Zhou Shishu, come over here! Where are you?” Zhou Botong was still sitting on the roof; hearing the sound of snakes all around him, how could he dare to reply? He was most afraid that the snakes’ favorite food was the Old Urchin’s flesh, so if he opened his mouth and let the snakes heard his voice, wouldn’t he be finished then?

Walking for dozens of ‘zhang’s they saw the bamboo grove was getting thin; ahead they could see an alley. The snakes sound was getting farther away, but the soldiers’ shouts were actually getting closer; it sounded like some of the soldiers came around to outflank them. This group of warriors was afraid of snakes, they did not even look at ordinary soldiers. Liu Chuxuan said, “Hao Shidi [martial (younger) brother Hao], let us kill some of the dog officers to vent our anger.” “Good!” Hao Datong replied. Two people brandished their swords to block the incoming arrows which came suddenly like locusts.

Walking a little longer they arrived at a bigger road; above them lightning flashed and thunder struck, followed by heavy rain pouring down from the sky. But because of this downpour the fog cleared up. Although the sky was still covered with dark clouds, they started to be able to see each other’s shadow. “Good, good,” everybody said, “The thick fog is dispersing.”

Ke Zhen’E said, “The danger has passed, everyone can do as they please.” Giving the bamboo stick back to Huang Rong he walked to the east without turning his head back.

“Shifu!” Guo Jing called out.

Ke Zhen’E said, “You go and send Hong Laoxia [Old Hero Hong] someplace peaceful and quiet where he can recover from his injury; then come to the Ke Jia Cun [Ke Family Village] to see me.”

“Yes,” Guo Jing replied.

Huang Yaoshi stretched out his hand to block one incoming arrow, then he went to Ke Zhen’E and said, “I was not willing to explain to you if not for the fact that you saved my life today …”

Ke Zhen’E did not wait for him to finish, he spat thick phlegm toward the bridge of Huang Yaoshi’s nose; he cursed, “Because of what I did today, I won’t have any face to see my six brothers and sister!”

Angrily Huang Yaoshi raised his palm. Guo Jing watched this in shock, he flew in trying to rescue; he knew that as soon as this palm struck down, his Da Shifu’s life would be gone. But he was more than a dozen steps away from Ke and Huang two people, so he knew he would be too late. Under the dim light of the moon he saw Huang Yaoshi’s palm slowly went down. Huang Yaoshi laughed a big laugh and said, “What kind of a man is Huang Yaoshi? How can I lower myself to the same level with you?” With his sleeve he wiped the phlegm from his face; turning around to Huang Rong he said, “Rong’er, let’s go!”

Hearing these words Guo Jing’s heart was shaken with doubt; only he was unclear of what had actually stirred his doubt. He only vaguely felt that something was not completely right. It was like something was flashing in his mind, then suddenly it disappeared into a thick fog.

Suddenly he heard an outburst of shouting, a group of soldiers came charging in. The Quanzhen Six Masters with swords in their hands engaged the enemy. Huang Yaoshi felt it was beneath his dignity to fight soldiers, so he turned around to pull Hong Qigong’s arm and said, “Qi Xiong, let us two brothers go on ahead and drink some wine; we’ll talk about it later.”

It was precisely what Hong Qigong had been expecting; he said with a laugh, “Wonderful, just wonderful!” In a moment two people disappeared into the darkness.

Guo Jing wanted to take Ke Zhen’E away, but another group of soldiers came attacking them. Guo Jing did not want to kill too many people, so he pushed his arms forward to open a way. In this confusion he heard Qiu Chuji and the others were fighting a fierce battle; it turned out Wanyan Honglie had dispatched several of his own personal bodyguards among the soldiers, also joining their ranks were a group of valiant Iron Palm Clan people, making them difficult to push back in a short period of time. Guo Jing was afraid his shifu would be injured in this chaotic battle, he shouted, “Da Shifu, Da Shifu, where are you?” By now the battle cry and the clashing of the weapons had merged into one chaotic noise; but all along he did not hear Ke Zhen’E’s reply.

After taking the bamboo stick back from Ke Zhen’E’s hand Huang Rong had stayed near him all the time. She saw him spitting her father, her mind was tumultuous. She believed this matter had grown out of proportion; her long life’s beautiful dream was shattered into pieces. Hence when the soldiers came she just stood alone, leaning on a tree; when the soldiers galloped quickly past her, it was as if she did neither see nor hear them, she was totally lost in her thought.

Suddenly she heard a call, “Aiyo!” It was Ke Zhen’E’s voice. Following the source of the sound she went out to take a look, only to see Ke Zhen’E was laying by the roadside; an officer was holding a saber high above his head, ready to chop it down into Ke Zhen’E’s back. Ke Zhen’E rolled away to evade, he sat up and threw a backward fist, hitting the officer squarely that he fainted. Ke Zhen’E was about to stand up when he suddenly fell back down. Huang Rong rushed forward and saw that his leg was hit by an arrow; immediately she pulled his arm and helped him up.

Ke Zhen’E made an effort to shed her hand away, but one of his legs was lame, the other was injured by the arrow; his legs lost their strength that his body staggered, he swayed forward and fell back down. Huang Rong held out her right hand to grab the collar on the back of his neck; she said with a cold laugh, “Still flaunting your heroism?” Her left hand lightly waved, she sealed the ‘jian shen xue’ [shoulder chaste acupoint] on his right shoulder with a move from ‘lan hua fu xue shou’ [brushing orchid acupoint technique]. Then she released his collar and grabbed his left arm.

Ke Zhen’E wanted to struggle free, but half of his body was numb; he was unable to move. He had no choice but let her help him up, but his mouth did not stop muttering curses.

Huang Rong let him away for a dozen of steps and took him hiding behind a big tree. They were just catching their breath when another group of soldiers spotted these two people. A dozen or so arrows came whizzing by. Huang Rong stepped forward and brandished her bamboo stick to protect her head and her face from the arrows; letting the arrows hitting her soft-hedgehog armor.

Ke Zhen’E heard the arrows and knew she was risking her life to save his; his heart softened, he said in a low voice, “You don’t need to worry over me, just go save yourself!”

“Hmm,” Huang Rong said, “I want to save you; I want you to receive my kindness. What are you going to do about it?”

While they were talking, two people slowly withdrew behind a short wall. The arrows no longer came, but Ke Zhen’E was heavy, Huang Rong was exhausted, her breathing was short; she leaned against the wall to rest. Ke Zhen’E sighed, “It is finished, between you and me gratitude and grudges are over. Off you go, from now on just consider the blind man Ke has died.”

With a cold voice Huang Rong said, “Obviously you are not dead, why do you consider yourself dead? You are not seeking revenge against me, I will come looking for you.” The bamboo stick in her hand swiftly stretched out and swiftly shrunk back, sealing the ‘wei zhong xue’ [I don’t know how to translate this] on the back of his knees.

Ke Zhen’E was totally caught off guard, he fell sitting down on the ground. Silently he cursed and wondered what kind of malicious method this little demon would use to torture him. His heart was thumping in anger, but he heard her footsteps were getting father away, it sounded like she was leaving the short wall. By now the battle noise was farther and weaker; apparently the Quanzhen Masters had either killed or driven the soldiers away. Amidst this faraway noise he faintly heard Guo Jing’s voice calling out, “Da Shifu!” But the call was going farther and farther away, indicating Guo Jing was looking for him in the wrong direction. He wanted to call, but because of his injury he could not gather enough strength, he could not even hear his own voice.

A moment later all he could hear was quietness, with roosters started crowing in the distant. Ke Zhen’E mused, “This is the last time I hear the rooster! Tomorrow all across the Jiaxing prefecture the roosters will crow again, but I will die under the little demon’s hands and won’t hear it anymore.” Thinking to this point he suddenly heard footsteps; three people came over. The first’s footsteps were light, he recognized it to be Huang Rong; the other two were heavy, sounded like they were dragging their feet.

He heard Huang Rong say, “This is Daye [lit. big master], quickly lift him up.” While saying that she stretched out her hand to massage his body and unsealed his acupoints.

Ke Zhen’E felt he was lifted up by two people and placed on a bamboo stretcher, and then he was taken away. Ke Zhen’E was flabbergasted; he wanted to ask, but suddenly remembered the last time he said something it backfired to him. While hesitating he heard a ‘swish!’ sound, the man carrying him on the front cried out in pain, “Aiyo!” It sounded like he ate Huang Rong’s stick. He also heard her scolding, “Walk faster! What are you mumbling about? You, the soldiers, are used to bully common people; no one is good!” Then another ‘swish!’ was heard; the man on the back also ate her stick, but this one did not dare to say anything.

Ke Zhen’E understood, “It turned out she captured two soldiers to carry me up; she is so smart to come up with this idea.” By this time the arrow wound on his leg was getting more painful, but he was afraid Huang Rong might mock him, so he bit his lips to prevent any moan from escaping his mouth. He felt his body was jolted up and down, he knew he was being carried along a rugged pathway. A moment later he felt tree branches and leaves brushing his head and face, so he knew they were walking in the woods. The two soldiers staggered along, they were gasping for breath, but Huang Rong’s bamboo stick kept whipping them mercilessly.

About thirty ‘li’s later Ke Zhen’E estimated that it was already the end of sixth hour [9 – 11am], early seventh hour [11am – 1pm]; the early morning rain had long gone, the sun had dried out half of his wet clothes. He heard the cicadas calling and the dogs barking, a distant sound of men and women singing in the field; it was a perfect picture of peace and tranquility, a totally different world from the vicious battle at the South Lake this morning.

They stopped by a peasant home to take a rest. Huang Rong bought two big pumpkins from the peasant family, she cooked them with rice, and placed a bowl in front of Ke Zhen’E.

“I am not hungry,” Ke Zhen’E said.

“Your leg hurts, do you think I don’t know?” Huang Rong said, “What hungry or not hungry? I want you to be in so much pain that you will listen to me.”

Ke Zhen’E was very angry; using both hands he lifted up the bowl full of hot steaming pumpkin and threw it to her face. Huang Rong laughed coldly, but one of the soldiers called out in pain. Ke Zhen’E knew she must have moved sideways to evade and the bowl of hot pumpkin must have splashed on the soldier’s body.

“What?” Huang Rong scolded, “Ke Daye [Big Master Ke] is giving you the pumpkin to eat, you are not happy? Quickly eat them up.” That soldier was afraid Huang Rong might beat him again, but also his stomach was very hungry; so enduring the burning ache on his face he picked the pumpkin up and ate it piece by piece.

This time Ke Zhen’E could not decide whether he should be angry or whether he should laugh; half standing and half sitting he leaned against the bench. He felt very awkward; he wanted to pull out the arrow, but was afraid his blood would spurt out like crazy. She certainly would see someone in danger and not willing to help; most probably she would even mock him.

While he was still hesitating he heard Huang Rong said, “Go get some fresh water, quick!” Her speech was followed by a ‘Slap!’ apparently she had just slapped one of the soldiers on the ear.

In his heart Ke Zhen’E mused, “This little demon, she is all right as long as she does not say anything; but as soon as she opens her mouth, she makes others suffer.”

Huang Rong continued, “Take this knife and cut the clothes around Ke Daye’s arrow wound.” One of the soldiers complied and did as she said. Huang Rong said, “You, the one with surname Ke, you’d better not cry out in pain; otherwise, your Miss may not pay you any more attention if she is annoyed.”

“Who wants your attention anyway?” Ke Zhen’E angrily replied, “Just scram as far as possible.” He had not finished his words when suddenly he felt a severe pain on his wound. It seemed to him that Huang Rong had grabbed the shaft of the arrow, and instead of pulling it out, she thrust it into his flesh. Ke Zhen’E was shocked and angry; he was about to throw a punch out when he felt another stab of severe pain and suddenly his palm was holding a shaft of arrow. Turned out Huang Rong had pulled the arrow out and squeezed it into his hand.

Ke Zhen’E heard Huang Rong say, “You move one more time, I am going to slap your ear really good.”

Ke Zhen’E knew she was capable of doing what she said she would do. Currently he was not the little demon’s match; if she killed him with a blade, then it would be a clean end to his life, but if she ever slapped his face, he would suffer disgrace for the rest of his life, so with a pale face he stayed silent. Hearing some ripping sounds he knew she was tearing several strips of clothes. She wrapped the cloth around his thigh, above and below the wound, tightly to stop the bleeding; and then he felt icy cold water on his wound, apparently she was washing his wound with cold water. He was stupefied, thinking, “If she had evil intention, why did she save me? But if she said she doesn’t harbor evil intention, humph, humph, can anything good come out of the Peach Blossom Island’s sorcerers, father and daughter? She must have some evil plan for me later on. Ay, these people are so full of craftiness; it is really difficult to guess her real thoughts.”

While he was busy with his own thoughts, Huang Rong had already applied some cut wound medicine and wrapped it up properly; he felt his wound was cool and for the most part the pain was gone, but suddenly he heard rumbles from inside his tummy.

Huang Rong coldly said, “I thought you were not hungry, but it turns out you are really starving. Too bad we don’t have anything to eat right now. All right, let’s go!” With two ‘slap, slap’ sounds her stick beat the two soldiers, telling those two to lift Ke Zhen’E up and continue their journey.

About thirty, forty ‘li’s later, the sky was getting dark. They heard the loud cry of crows; hundreds of thousands crows flew back and forth in the air. Hearing these crows Ke Zhen’E knew they were in the vicinity of the ‘tie qiang miao’ [Temple of the Iron Spear]. This Temple of the Iron Spear was built to honor a well known general from the Five Dynasties period, the Iron Spear, Wang Yanzhang. Next to the temple there was a tall pagoda. For generations the crows had made their nest on top of this pagoda. There was a legend among the locals that the crows of the Temple of the Iron Spear were the spirits of dead soldiers and generals, so nobody dared to disturb them to such an extent that the crows breed and multiplied, became as many as they were that day.

“Hey,” Huang Rong said, “The sky is getting dark, where can we spend the night?”

Ke Zhen’E thought for a moment, “If we lodge at someone’s residence I am afraid they might open their mouths and lead the soldiers to come and arrest us.” So he said, “Not too far from here there is an old temple.”

“What’s so interesting about crows?” Huang Rong scolded, “You have never seen one before? Go!” This time Ke Zhen’E did not hear the sound of the stick, nevertheless the two soldiers cried out in pain. He wondered whether she pierced them with her finger or kicked them with her foot.

Not too long afterwards they arrived in front of the Temple of the Iron Spear. Ke Zhen’E heard Huang Rong kick the temple door open. The strong odor of crows’ dung and dust assaulted their nostrils. Apparently this temple had been deserted for a long time. He was afraid she would complain of the filth, but surprisingly it seemed like she did not even notice. He heard her ordering the two soldiers to sweep the floor; she also ordered them to go to the kitchen and boil some water. Then he heard she was softly singing a song about some ‘pair of mandarin ducks desire to fly together’ and some ‘not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white.’

A moment later the soldiers brought the hot water over. Huang Rong changed the wrap on Ke Zhen’E’s wound first before washing her own face and feet. Ke Zhen’E was lying down on the ground, using the meditation mat as his pillow. Suddenly he heard she spat and said, “Why are you looking at my feet? Do you think my feet are for you to look? I’ll dig your eyeballs out!”

That soldier was so scared that his soul almost left him; ‘bonk, bonk, bonk’ he knocked his head on the ground. Huang Rong asked, “Tell me, why did you look at me washing my feet?”

That soldier did not dare to lie; while still knocking his head he said, “Xiao De [lit. little/lowly one] deserves to die. Xiao De saw Miss’ feet are very … very beautiful …”

Ke Zhen’E was startled, he thought, “This thief male servant bird’s death is imminent, he still has a lewd heart! I wonder if the little demon will pull his muscle out or peel his skin alive.” Surprisingly Huang Rong only laughed and said, “A crude and stupid man like you knows what’s good and what’s ugly?” ‘Bang!’ the stick in her hand shot out and that soldier rolling around on the ground, but she did not pursue this matter further.

The two soldiers ran to the rear courtyard with their tails between their legs, and did not dare to reappear. Ke Zhen’E stayed still, quietly waiting for what would happen next. He heard Huang Rong pacing back and forth in the main hall; she muttered, “Wang the Iron Spear’s prestige shook the world in his era; in the end he was captured and decapitated. How could he flaunt himself as a hero? As some kind of warrior? Hmm, I am afraid this iron spear is not made of real cast iron.”

When he was little, Ke Zhen’E, along with Zhu Cong, Han Baoju, Nan Xiren, Zhang Asheng and the others, often came to this temple to play. Although they were kids, every one of them had already had exceptional strength; they took turn brandishing that iron spear to play. When he heard what Huang Rong had just said he opened his mouth, “Of course it is made of real iron; how can it be faked?”

“Hmm,” Huang Rong stretched out her hand to pull out the iron spear; she said, “It is about thirty ‘jin’s [catty; 1 jin = about 0.5kg]. I have lost your iron staff and momentarily can not give you any replacement. Tomorrow we’ll bid good-bye; we’ll go our own ways. You don’t have any weapon with which to defend yourself. Why don’t you use this spear as temporary replacement of your iron staff?” Without waiting for Ke Zhen’E to reply she went out and took a large rock from the courtyard; ‘bang, bang’ she broke the spearhead and handed the pole over to him.

Since his parents and brother died, Ke Zhen’E was inseparable with his six brothers and sister. Right now he did not have any relative left. Although he had been together with Huang Rong for only a day, unconsciously he felt that he hated to part with her; listening to her saying, ‘Tomorrow we’ll bid good-bye; we’ll go our own ways’ he suddenly felt something was lost. Absent-mindedly he received the iron spear, thinking that this spear was approximately the same size and weight as his lost staff, so definitely he could use this weapon. He also thought, “She gave me this weapon, so she did not have any evil intention.”

He heard her saying, “This is the ‘tian qi sha dan san’ [powdered medicine made of tian qi (lit. field/farm seven) shark’s gallbladder] made by my father; it is very beneficial to your wound. You hate us father and daughter; whether you want to use it or not, it’s up to you!” She handed the medicine pouch over to him. Ke Zhen’E held out his hand to receive it, and then slowly put it in his pocket. He wanted to say something, but nothing came out of his mouth. He hoped she would say something else, but she only said, “All right, let’s take a rest!”

Ke Zhen’E laid down on his side, with the iron spear by his side; his heart was filled with disquieting thoughts, how could he sleep? He heard the noisy crows on top of the pagoda eventually quiet down until all he could hear was silence everywhere. He did not hear her sleeping, but he heard her tossing and turning; it seemed like she was also restless.

After half a day he heard she was reciting quietly, “Four weaving machines, the weaving of mandarin ducks desires to fly together right away. It’s a pity not yet old but the hair on the head has turned white. When the green spring grass ripples in the deepest of dawn’s cold; standing face to face taking a bath wearing red clothes.”

He heard she repeated the recitation softly, as if she was trying to understand its meaning. Ke Zhen’E did not understand literature, he did not understand what she was reciting, but he could hear the sadness in her voice, as if she was grieving of a heart break; he could not help but feel dazed.

A long time passed. He heard her arrange some meditation mats for her bed; then she lay down and her breathing gradually slowed down, sounded like she was falling asleep. Ke Zhen’E gently stroked the iron spear by his side; all kinds of childhood memories came flooding back into his mind. He saw Zhu Cong with an old book in his hand, reading aloud with his head swaying back and forth. He saw Han Baoju and Quan Jinfa were riding on the idol’s shoulders, pulling its beard; Nan Xiren and himself were pulling one end of the iron spear while Zhang Asheng was pulling the other end; they were playing tug-of-war with each other. At that time Han Xiaoying was only about four, five years old; two lengths of braided hair on her head, giggling and laughing, cheering over them. There were bright red ribbons on her braids, bobbing along as she moved her head. Suddenly everything turned pitch-black. Six sworn brothers and sister, his own brother, and his pair of eyes, everything was successively destroyed under Huang Yaoshi’s and his disciples’ hands. His heart was burned with hatred, which was very difficult to suppress.

Slowly he raised his iron spear, he quietly walked toward Huang Rong. He heard her gentle and even breathing, she was sleeping soundly. He thought, “Once my iron spear goes down, she will die without feeling anything. Hey, if not, the Old Heretic Huang’s martial art is matchless, how can I avenge this deep enmity in this lifetime? His daughter is sleeping right here; the Heaven is granting me a very good opportunity, so that he knows the pain of mourning for his daughter.”

But then another thought came into his mind, “This girl has saved my life, how can I repay kindness with evil? (Sigh!) After killing her, I am going to kill myself right next to her to repay today’s kindness.” Thinking of this, he made up his mind; he thought, “I, Ke Zhen’E, have been an upright man all my life; for decades I have never done anything shameful against the world. Right now I am going to launch a sneak attack toward a sleeping person; it is a cowardly act, but with my death I am going to repay her kindness.”

Lifting his iron spear, he was just about to strike Huang Rong’s head when suddenly he heard someone was laughing in the distant; the sound was ear-piercing, in the dead of the night it caused the hair on his back stood up on its end.

Huang Rong was awakened by the laughter; she leaped up and saw Ke Zhen’E with the iron spear lifted up, right in front of her. She was so shocked; she called out, “Ouyang Feng!”

Hearing her woke up, Ke Zhen’E could not strike his iron spear anymore; he heard people talking and walking toward the temple. Only they were still quite a distance away that he did not hear clearly what they were talking about. A moment later he started to hear some footsteps; there were about thirty, forty people. Ke Zhen’E was very familiar with this temple with its front hall and rear courtyard; with a low voice he said, “The Old Poison and the others must have seen the crow pagoda and come over here. Let us try to hide from them.”

“Yes,” Huang Rong said. She kicked the meditation mats to scatter them around the hall.

Ke Zhen’E led her hand toward the rear courtyard; he tried to push the gate, but it was bolted from the outside. “Those two thief soldiers!” he scolded viciously. He guessed those two soldiers were running away in the dark; they were afraid Huang Rong would find out, so they bolted the door in advance.

By now it was too late to strike the gate with his iron spear, since he heard the main gate was pushed open. He knew there was no hiding place in the main hall; he whispered, “Behind the idol.”

Two people had barely sat behind the idol when about a dozen people entered the main hall. Ke Zhen’E heard a ‘chi’ sound, followed by a burst of sulfur smell; he knew someone was lighting the fire. Then he heard Ouyang Feng said, “Zhao Wangye [Prince Zhao; lit. master king], although we did not get what we want at the Misty Rain Tavern, in the end, we managed to dampen the enemy’s spirit.”

Wanyan Honglie laughed and said, “This entire battle was under Mister’s control.”

Ouyang Feng let out some ‘heh, heh’ laughter, then he said, “Xiao Wangye [Young Prince] arranged an ingenious plan; gathering the soldiers from Jiaxing prefecture, firing out tens of thousands of arrows. We should have been able to round up the whole gang in one swoop; unexpectedly at the right time the thick fog came and gave this group of traitors the opportunity to slip away.”

A young voice said, “With Mr. Ouyang and Qiu Bangzhu [clan leader] go into action, although the group of traitors escaped today, they will be annihilated one by one in the future. Only too bad ‘wan bei’ [junior, younger generation] was one step too late that I could not see Mr. Ouyang greatly unfold his divine power. It was truly a pity.”

Ke Zhen’E recognized it was Yang Kang’s voice; he could not restrain rage from filling his heart. Then he heard Liang Ziweng, Peng Lianhu, Sha Tongtian and the others uttered flattering words; they praised Ouyang Feng to the utmost, saying how he single-handedly fought the Quanzhen Sect, placing the group of Taoists in an extremely difficult situation, Qiu Qianren was nothing compared to him.

Listening to these many masters gathered together like this, Ke Zhen’E did not dare to breathe out loud. Just now he wanted to end his life together with Huang Rong; but somehow, this time he was afraid to be discovered by the enemy and Huang Rong and he would be killed. He heard Wanyan Honglie’s people prepare some bedding and then invite Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang three people to sleep on them.

Yang Kang heaved a deep sigh and said, “Mr. Ouyang, your nephew’s martial art skill was high, his conduct was natural and elegant. Wan bei admired him very much; I hoped to be good friends with him, unexpectedly he was harmed by the Quanzhen Sect’s mixed-up hairs. Each time ‘wan bei’ remembers that, I am always grieved to the utmost. I swear to kill those evil Taoists from Quanzhen Sect one by one with my own hand to console Brother Ouyang’s soul in heaven. It’s a pity ‘wan bei’s martial art skill is meager; I truly have the desire but lack the power to do it.”

Ouyang Feng was silent for a long time then he slowly said, “My nephew was unfortunate to meet his tragic death. At first I thought he died under Guo Jing’s violent hand; but listening to you recount Qiu Chuji’s words, I have just found out it was the Quanzhen Sect’s group of evil Taoists who did it. Nowadays my White Camel Mountain does not have any heir, let me take you as my disciple.”

“Shifu!” Yang Kang loudly called out, “Disciple pays his respect to you.” His voice was full of happiness, followed by ‘bonk, bonk, bonk’ noise as he crawled into Ouyang Feng’s presence and kowtowed several times.

Ke Zhen’E thought this person was a good and loyal man’s descendant, yet he not only admitted an enemy as his father, but took an evil man as his master as well; he was drowned deeper and deeper. Ke Zhen’E was afraid it would be too difficult for Yang Kang to turn around; he was very angry. He heard Wanyan Honglie say, “In this foreign place we don’t have any gift to offer the master, we will do it properly in the future.”

Ouyang Feng sighed and said, “Pearls and jewels, the White Camel Mountain also has some. Ouyang Feng simply looks at this child’s intelligence; I only wish to have an heir of the martial art I possess.”

“Xiao Wang [lit. little king, referring to himself] spoke incorrectly,” Wanyan Honglie said, “Mister, please forgive me.”

Immediately one by one Liang Ziweng and the others offered their congratulations to these three people. In this clamor suddenly someone was calling out, “Shagu is hungry, I am starving to death; how come nobody is giving me food to eat?”

Ke Zhen’E was greatly surprised to hear Shagu’s cry; he wondered how did this girl hang around with Wanyan Honglie, Ouyang Feng and the others? He heard Yang Kang say with a laugh, “That’s right, quickly get some refreshments for this Miss to eat; don’t let her get ill from starvation.”

A moment later Shagu was heard chewing loudly, she was eating. While still chewing she said, “Good Brother, you said you are going to take me home if I listen to what you say; how come we are not home yet?”

“We’ll get there tomorrow,” Yang Kang replied, “Eat until you are full, then go to bed.”

Yet another moment later Shagu suddenly said, “Good Brother, there is some noise in that pagoda, what is that?” “If not bird, then it must be a mouse,” Yang Kang answered.

“I am scared,” Shagu said.

Yang Kang laughed, “Sha Guniang [dumb miss], what are you afraid of?” he asked. “I am scared of ghosts,” Shagu replied.

Yang Kang laughed, “We have many people here, ghosts won’t dare to come.” “I am scared of that short and fat man’s ghost,” Shagu said.

Forcing a laugh Yang Kang said, “Don’t talk nonsense, what short and fat man?”

“Hmm,” Shagu said, “I know, that short and fat man died inside ‘popo’s [maternal grandmother] grave; popo’s ghost will chase that short and fat man’s ghost away, she won’t let that him stay in the grave. He will come over here to ask retribution from you.”

“You talk too much,” Yang Kang shouted, “I am going to call your grandfather and he’ll come and get you, he’ll take you back to the Peach Blossom Island.”

Shagu did not dare to say anything anymore. Suddenly Sha Tongtian shouted, “Hey, don’t step on my foot! Just sit nicely and don’t move!” It seemed that because of her fear of ghosts Shagu had randomly squeezed herself into the crowd.

As Ke Zhen’E heard this exchange, his doubt arose: the short and fat man Shagu mentioned must be his San Shidi [third martial (younger) brother], Han Baoju. He died on the Peach Blossom Island, obviously was killed by Huang Yaoshi; how could his ghost come looking for Yang Kang for retribution? Although Shagu was dumb, there must be a reason behind what she had said earlier. Too bad there were too many powerful enemies in their presence that he could not go out and ask her clearly. He further thought, “In front of the Misty Rain Tavern Huang Yaoshi said to me, ‘What kind of a man is Huang Yaoshi? How can I lower myself to the same level with you?’ If he did not want to kill me, why did he kill my five brothers and sister? But if it was not Huang Yaoshi, why did Si Di [fourth (younger) brother] said he saw with his own eyes that Huang Yaoshi killed Er Di [second (younger) brother] and Qi Mei [seventh (younger) sister]?”

He was mulling around these thoughts in his mind when suddenly he felt Huang Rong pull his left hand. With her finger she wrote on his palm one character, ‘qiu’ [ask/request], followed by character after character, ‘…you a favor.’

Ke Zhen’E wrote back on her palm, “What is it?” Huang Rong wrote, “Tell my father who killed me.”

Ke Zhen’E was startled, he did not understand her intention; he was about to pull her hand to ask further when he felt a breeze right next to him. Huang Rong had leaped out. He heard her said with a smile, “Uncle Ouyang, how are you?”

Nobody had ever expected that someone was hiding behind the idol. ‘Ca, ca, zheng, zheng’ were heard as the people unsheathed their weapons and surrounded her, while shouting, “Who is it?” “Assassin!” “Who are you?”

Huang Rong smiled and said, “My Father told me to wait for Uncle Ouyang here; what are you making such a fuss for?” “How did your father know I will be here?” Ouyang Feng asked.

Huang Rong replied, “My father knows medicine, divination and astrology, there is nothing he doesn’t know. He can do the Wang Xiantian divine calculation and he’d know everything.” [Translator’s note: I am not sure about this part]

Nine out of ten Ouyang Feng did not believe her, but he knew even if he asked, she would not tell the truth anyway, so he just smiled and did not say anything. Sha Tongtian and the others went outside the temple to take a look and did not find anybody else, so they went back in and stood around Wanyan Honglie.

Huang Rong sat on a meditation mat, smiling and chuckling she said, “Uncle Ouyang, you have given my father a hard time!”

Ouyang Feng smiled without answering. He knew that although Huang Rong was young, she was full of tricks. If he gave her one wrong answer, she would grab the opportunity to ridicule him; and in front of all these people he simply could not lose face. Therefore, he waited for her to explain her purpose in coming here before he would decide on the appropriate countermeasure. He heard her said, “Uncle Ouyang, my father is surrounded by the Taoist priests of Quanzhen Sect at the Xincheng town of Xiaopenglai; if you don’t rescue him, I am afraid it would be difficult for him to escape.”

Ouyang Feng showed a faint smile; “Is that so?” he asked.

Huang Rong anxiously said, “You say it as it is nothing! A real man will take responsibility of his own action; clearly it was you who killed Tan Chuduan from the Quanzhen Sect, but I don’t know how it started, those stinky priests are always pestering my father. On top of that, Zhou Botong stirred up the muddy waters; while my father refused to argue with them. What do we do?”

Inwardly Ouyang Feng was delighted; he said, “Your father is a martial art expert; how can those several mixed-up hairs from Quanzhen Sect defeat him?”

“The Quanzhen Sect’s ox-nosed plus the Old Urchin, my father is not their match,” Huang Rong said, “My father told me to come to you and say that after painstakingly pondering for seven days and seven nights, finally he understood the meaning of some sentences.”

“What sentences?” Ouyang Feng asked.

Huang Rong said, “Si li xing, ang yi na de. Si re que xu, ha hu wen bo ying.”

To Ke Zhen’E, Wanyan Honglie and the others, these mumbling sentences did not mean anything, but Ouyang Feng was surprised; it was the strange sentence from the last part of the Nine Yin Manual. Could it be that Huang Yaoshi really understood its meaning? His heart was thumping fast, but his face did not show any changes; he indifferently said, “Little girl loves to swindle people. Who can understand those mumbling sentences?”

Huang Rong replied, “Father has translated these strange characters; from top to bottom, clearly. I saw it with my own eyes; how can I swindle you?”

Ouyang Feng knew Huang Yaoshi’s ability very well. Originally he thought that if nobody was able to solve these strange characters, then so be it; but if there was anybody who could find the solution, it must be Huang Yaoshi, for nobody else in this world had the same intelligence. Still, with an unenthusiastic voice he said, “Let me congratulate your father, then.”

Huang Rong caught the real meaning behind his words, she knew he was still half believing and half doubting; she continued, “I think I still remember some of what I saw. I don’t mind if you want to listen to it.” Immediately she recited, “Either when the body moves, or feels heavy as if pressed by something, or feels light like it is ready to fly, or feels constricted, or feels extraordinarily cold or hot, or feels delightful or restless, or feels like touching something nasty and the hair stood on its end, or feels happy while drunk; all these things must be channeled through divine passages according to the following method.”

This explanation of the Manual made Ouyang Feng’s heart unbearably itch. Turned out Huang Rong recited the section Reverend Yideng translated from the Nine Yin Manual. All these strange conditions were actually the actual situations anybody who cultivated internal energy would experience; each one of these conditions was enough to intimidate the state of mind that may cause the practitioner to suffer a fire-deviation. If there was a method to channel these conditions through the divine passages; then the method could truly be considered as highly valuable. So what Huang Rong said was indeed from the Manual and not from her own random fabrication. Ouyang Feng’s internal energy was exquisite, naturally he knew whether what he heard was real or fake. His suspicion was gone. “What comes next?” he asked.

Huang Rong said, “I don’t remember the rest, but I vaguely remember something like this: At the time the pores all over the body are empty, right away with careful consideration examine the thirty six matters inside the body; it will be like opening the door to the barn and see various kinds of straw and peas, the heart is pleasantly surprised, and quickly becomes quiet and peaceful.” First she explained the strange conditions from the Manual, and then she described the marvelous method of training; in a way she had divulged the secret method of the Manual. But Ouyang Feng was silent; he thought with her intelligence, it was impossible for her to forget, so she must be deliberately unwilling to tell him; he wondered what her intention really was.

Huang Rong continued, “My father told me to ask Uncle Ouyang: Do you want 5,000 characters, or 3,000 characters?” “Please explain it to me,” Ouyang Feng said.

Huang Rong said, “If you go and help my father, two people join forces to destroy the Quanzhen Masters. In that case I am going to recite all 5,000 characters of this marvelous ‘jiu yin shen gong’ [Nine Yin Divine Energy] for you.”

Ouyang Feng smiled, “And if I don’t go?” he asked.

Huang Rong replied, “Then Father asked you to avenge him. After you kill Zhou Botong and the Quanzhen Six Masters, I will read the 3,000 characters for you.”

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Your father and I are just casual acquaintances, how come he suddenly places so much respect toward the Old Poison?”

Huang Rong said, “My father said that: First, the killer of your nephew is a Quanzhen Sect’s disciple, so he supposed you will want to seek revenge …”

Listening to this part Yang Kang could not help but shiver; he was Qiu Chuji’s disciple, so with her words Huang Rong obviously meant him. Shagu was standing right next to him, she asked, “Good Brother, are you cold?” Yang Kang mumbled his reply.

Huang Rong continued, “Second, after translating the Manual, he was challenged into battle by the Quanzhen priests; he did not have time to explain everything to me. Thinking that this matchlessly wonderful book is difficult to find, how can he let it be lost with his demise? Nowadays you are the only one who has similar personality with him. He remembered Uncle Ouyang went to the Peach Blossom Island to seek a marriage alliance. Although your nephew was unfortunate to fall under the Quanzhen Sect’s disciple, my father said you should not thinking about him too much; therefore, he wanted you to train this ‘shen gong’ [divine power/energy] and teach it to me later on.”

Ouyang Feng felt a pang of pain in his heart; but he thought, “What she said was reasonable; if there is no direction from an expert, although this little girl memorized the Manual in its entirety it will still be useless.” But then something else came into his mind, he said, “How do I know you will tell me the real Manual or a fake one?”

Huang Rong replied, “Guo Jing, that muddle-head has written the Manual for you; as I read the crucial points from the translation, you check it against your copy, then you’ll know whether it is real or fake.”

Ouyang Feng said, “You are right. Let me think about it; we’ll leave in the morning to rescue your father.” Huang Rong anxiously said, “Helping people is like fighting fire, how can we wait till tomorrow?”

Ouyang Feng said with a laugh, “Then I will avenge your father; won’t that be the same?” He had made a decision that as the Manual had already been in his hand, later on he could compel Huang Rong to recite to him the crucial points; and then he could think it over to understand the meaning. For now, let Huang Yaoshi and the Quanzhen Sect fight each other. Hopefully both sides would hurt each other; wouldn’t that be great?

Hiding behind the idol Ke Zhen’E was listening to two people conversing about the Nine Yin Manual; he wondered why Huang Rong wrote on his palm ‘Tell my father who killed me,’ seven characters [the original Chinese was ‘gao wo fu he ren sha wo,’ 7 characters]; he did not understand her intention. He heard Huang Rong say, “Then we will leave early in the morning tomorrow, is that all right?”

“Absolutely,” Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “Now you go take a rest!”

Ke Zhen’E heard Huang Rong drag a meditation mat over to sit nearby Shagu. “Shagu,” she said, “Yeye [lit. paternal grandfather] took you to the Peach Blossom Island, how come you are here?”

“I don’t want to follow Yeye, I want to go home,” Shagu said.

“This good brother surnamed Yang; didn’t he come to the island and took you on his boat, and come over here together?” Huang Rong asked.

“That’s right,” Shagu said, “He treats me really good.”

Ke Zhen’E’s heart was stirred, “When did Yang Kang come to the Peach Blossom Island?” He heard Huang Rong asked again, “Where did Yeye go?”

Shagu was startled, “Don’t tell him I am running away,” she said, “Yeye will beat me.” Huang Rong smiled, “I won’t tell him, but whatever I ask you, you must answer me nicely.” “You must not tell Yeye,” Shagu said, “He wants to take me back and teach me to write.”

Huang Rong laughed, “I certainly won’t tell him,” she said, “Did you say Yeye wanted to teach you to write?”

“That’s right,” Shagu said, “That day Yeye took me to his study room and taught me to write; he said my father’s surname was Qu Qu- something, so my surname is also Qu Qu-something. He wrote the Qu Qu-something character and told me to remember. He also told me my father’s name was Qu Qu-something, something Feng. I could not remember the name. Yeye got angry and scolded me that I am very dumb. I AM called Shagu [sha – dumb, gu – paternal aunt, see also my note in Chapter 23]!”

Huang Rong laughed, “Shagu is naturally dumb. Yeye scolded you, Yeye is bad, Shagu is good!” Shagu was very happy to hear that. “And then what happened?” Huang Rong asked.

Shagu said, “I said I want to go home, Yeye was even angrier. Suddenly a deaf and mute servant came, his finger pointing to the east and to the west, his mouth uttered ‘yi yi ah ah’. Yeye said, ‘I don’t want to receive any guest; tell them to go back!’ A moment later that mute servant came back with a piece of paper in his hand. Yeye took a look and then put it down on the table. He told me to go with the mute servant to receive the guest. Ha, ha, that short and fat man was so ugly! I stared at him and he stared back at me.”

Ke Zhen’E remembered that when they visited the Peach Blossom Island to seek audience, it was exactly like Shagu had just said; at first Huang Yaoshi did not want to see the six of them, then Zhu Cong wrote a letter to be delivered, afterwards Shagu came out to receive them. But the Third Brother was no longer alive; he could not help but feel grief in his heart.

He heard Huang Rong ask again, “Did Yeye see them?”

Shagu said, “Yeye told me to accompany the guests to eat, but he went out. I don’t like to see that short and fat man, so I slipped away and went out. I saw Yeye was sitting behind a rock, looking out at the ocean. I also looked at the ocean. I saw a boat in the distant coming toward the island. On the boat there were some Taoist priests.”

Ke Zhen’E thought, “That day we heard the Quanzhen Sect was going to go to the Peach Blossom Island to seek revenge; so we went ahead of them to inform Huang Yaoshi to temporarily keep himself away from them, and wait for the Six Freaks of Jiangnan to explain the whole story to the Quanzhen Sect. But all along we have never seen the Quanzhen Masters on the Island, why did this Shagu said that there were Taoist priests came in by boat?”

He heard Huang Rong asked, “Then what did Yeye do?”

Shagu replied, “Yeye beckoned me to come over. I jumped in fright; turned out he had already seen me slipping out to play. I did not dare to come over, I was afraid he would hit me. He said “I won’t hit you, you come over here”. So I went over. He said he wanted to take a boat ride and go fishing, he told me to wait for the Taoist priests and to let them in as soon as they came ashore; he told me to let them eat together with the short and fat man six people. I said I wanted to go fishing too. Yeye said I could not come; I had to wait for the Taoist priests and let them in, because they did not know the way on the Island.”

“And then what happened?” Huang Rong asked.

Shagu said, “And then Yeye went beyond the big rock and set sail. I know, these Taoist priests are ugly, Yeye did not want to meet them.” Huang Rong praised her, “That’s right, what you said is totally correct. When did Yeye come back?” “Come back?” Shagu said, “He did not come back.”

Ke Zhen’E was shaken; he heard Huang Rong ask, “Are you sure? Then what happened?” He could hear her voice was slightly trembling; apparently she also realized this was a crucial point.

Shagu replied, “Yeye was about to set sail, suddenly a pair of big birds came flying by; they were your birds. Yeye beckoned and whistled toward the birds, this pair of birds came down. There was something tied on the bird’s foot, it looked so amusing. I shouted, ‘Yeye, give it to me, give it to me!’ …” Speaking to this point she actually shouted loudly.

Yang Kang chided her, “Quiet! Everybody is trying to sleep.” “Shagu,” Huang Rong said, “Just continue your story.”

Shagu said, “I will speak quietly.” And she indeed lowered her voice, “Yeye ignored me; he ripped a cloth from his robe and tied it up on the big bird’s foot, then he let them go.”

“Hmm,” Huang Rong talked to herself, “Father was going to avoid the Quanzhen Masters, no wonder he did not have time to fetch the ‘jin wawa’ [see Chapter 29]. But who shot the female eagle with an arrow?” So she asked, “Who shot an arrow to the bird?”

“Arrow? There was no arrow,” Shagu said; and then she went silent like she was lost in thought. “All right,” Huang Rong said, “Why don’t you continue?”

Shagu continued, “Yeye saw his robe was torn, he took it off and told me to go and get another one for him. But when I came back Yeye was gone, the Taoist priests’ boat was also gone, I only saw that torn robe lying on the ground.”

Listening to her to this point Huang Rong no longer asked; she silently mulled it over in her head. Half a day later she said, “Where did they go?”

“I saw them,” Shagu said, “I called Yeye, but he did not reply. I climbed to the top of a big tree and looked, I saw Yeye’s little boat in front, the Taoist priests’ big boat followed behind, slowly they sailed on the ocean and disappeared. I don’t like to see that short and fat man, I stayed on the beach, kicking the gravel and playing all day until dark, and came back with this Yeye and this good brother.”

“So it was this Yeye, and not the one who taught you to write?” Huang Rong asked.

Shagu giggled and said, “This Yeye is good, not only he did not want to teach me to write, he even gave me a piece of cake.” “Uncle Ouyang,” Huang Rong said, “Do you still have the cake? Can you give her some more?”

Ouyang Feng dryly laughed, “I do.”

Ke Zhen’E felt as if his heart was jumping out his throat, “Turned out Ouyang Feng was on the Island that day,” he thought.

“Aiyo!” suddenly he heard Shagu cry out, followed by ‘slap, slap’ two times, some people were fighting, and then someone leaped back and landed again. He heard Huang Rong call out, “You want to kill her to close her mouth?”

Ouyang Feng laughed, “This matter might be hidden from other people, but certainly won’t be hidden from your father. Why would I want to kill this dumb girl? If you want to ask, then just ask her.” But Shagu was moaning and groaning and could not talk anymore. Ke Zhen’E wondered which part of her was hit by Ouyang Feng.

“I don’t have to ask,” Huang Rong said, “I’ve already guessed correctly; I only want Shagu to say it with her own mouth.” Ouyang Feng laughed and said, “This little girl is really smart. How did you guess? Why don’t you tell me?”

Huang Rong said, “When I first saw the situation of the Island, I also thought that Father had killed the Five Freaks of Jiangnan. But then I remembered something, and I knew it must not be him. Just think, how can my father leave these stinky male corpses in my mother’s grave to accompany her? How can he leave the grave without closing the door?”

“Aiyo,” Ouyang Feng slapped his thigh, “We really overlooked that. Kang’er, isn’t that so?”

Hearing this Ke Zhen’E felt his chest was about to burst open; only now did he realize that Huang Rong had early on known that the killers were Ouyang Feng and Yang Kang, two people. The reason she suddenly went out and sacrificed her own life was to reveal the truth and clear up her father from being wrongly accused. She knew perfectly well that when she went out, most likely she would be unfortunate rather than fortunate; that was why she asked Ke Zhen’E to tell her father who killed her. Ke Zhen’E was filled with grief and regret, he said in his heart, “Good Miss, it would be enough if you just told me who the killer is; why do you deliver your life in vain?” But then he thought, “I, the ‘fei tian bian fu’ [Flying Bat, lit. bat flying to the sky], am so hot-tempered. I am blind, yet I placed the blame on father and daughter. Even if she told me clearly, would I believe her? Ke Zhen’E, oh, Ke Zhen’E, you stinky blind man, you deserve to be killed with a thousand blades; you have forced this good Miss’ death.”

In his regret he wanted to lift his hand and fiercely slap his own ear, but he heard Ouyang Feng said, “How did you guess it was me?” Huang Rong said, “Is it difficult? In this present age, those who are able to strike the yellow horse and to break the balance beam are not many. But at first I was thinking of a different person. At the point of his death Nan Xiren had written several characters with his finger on the ground, ‘My killer is ten’; he died before the fifth character [translator’s note: the original Chinese text was ‘sha wo zhe nai shi’] was finished. I thought your name does not start with a ‘ten’ (十 ), so I thought it was the character ‘Qiu’ (裘 ) from Qiu Qianren.”

Ouyang Feng laughed out loud, he said, “This man Nan Xiren was truly a die hard; unexpectedly he survived and saw you.”

Huang Rong said, “I saw his condition before his death, I was sure he was hit by a strange poison; I thought Qiu Qianren practiced poisonous palm skill, that’s why I guessed it was him.”

Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “Qiu Qianren’s martial art is based on palm strength and not poisonous palm. His palms do not have any poison on them. He used boiling poison to train his palms, but it is merely palm strength’s training method. He forced the poison gas to come out, henceforth his palm strength increased. When he died, that Nan Xiren opened his mouth, but could not say anything, his face showed a smiling expression, is that right?”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong said, “What kind of poison is that?”

Ouyang Feng did not answer, he asked again, “His body was twisted, he was rolling around on the ground, he suddenly possessed unusually great strength, is that right?”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong said, “This violent poison, I thought other than the Iron Palm Clan, nobody in the world can possibly have it.”

It was obvious that Huang Rong said that to provoke Ouyang Feng, and he knew it very well, but he still could not restrain from being agitated and angry, “Do you think people call me the Old Poison for nothing?” He stomped his snake staff heavily on the ground and shouted, “The snake on this staff bit him on his tongue, that’s why there was no wound on his body, but he could not speak.”

Hearing this Ke Zhen’E felt warm blood bubbling up straight to his brain, he almost fainted several times. Huang Rong heard movement from behind the idol, she let out some coughs, trying to cover up the noise, and then slowly said, “The Five Freaks of Jiangnan died under your hands, Ke Zhen’E who escaped does not have eyes to see, in the end nobody knew the real killer.”

Listening to her Ke Zhen’E’s heart was stirred, “She is saying that to remind me, telling me not to act rashly so that the two of us will not lose our lives and die without explanation.” He heard Ouyang Feng laugh dryly, “How can that stinky blind man escape my palm? I deliberately let him go.”

“Ah, right,” Huang Rong said, “You killed five people, and let him believe it was my father who killed them. He would go and publicize this matter, then rally the heroes of the world to attack my father.”

Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “It was actually not my idea, but Kang’er’s; isn’t that right?” Yang Kang mumbled his reply. Huang Rong said, “It is truly a divine and marvelous strategy. My utmost admiration!”

Ouyang Feng said, “You changed the topic; what made you think of me?”

Huang Rong replied, “I thought Qiu Qianren and I fought at the southern road between Hunan and Hubei; even though it is possible for him to overtake us and arrive at the Peach Blossom Island ahead of us, it was actually very difficult with us riding the little red horse. I thought again about what Zhu Cong wrote at the back of the letter, he called everybody to stay on their guard. The last character was not finished, he only made three strokes: one horizontal line, one vertical, and another horizontal like a hook. It could be the start of ‘east’ ( 東 ) character, or it could be ‘west’ (西 ) character, couldn’t it? If not ‘Eastern Heretic’ then it must be ‘Western Poison’. I have thought about this on the Peach Blossom Island; but there are some details I do not understand yet.”

Ouyang Feng sighed, “I thought I have done everything flawlessly, who would have thought there are so many trails I left behind. That dirty scholar was so quick, I did not even see him moving his pen to write anything.”

“He was known as the Magic Hand Scholar,” Huang Rong said, “Naturally he would not let you see whatever he was doing. I pondered deeply over the character ‘ten’ (十 ) Nan Xiren wrote; I wonder what could it be? It was because I thought this Xiao Wangye’s [young prince, lit. young master king] martial art skill is so low that definitely he did not have the ability to kill the Five Freaks of Jiangnan in one stroke, therefore, I have never suspected him.”

“Humph,” Yang Kang snorted.

Huang Rong continued, “That day I was all alone on the Peach Blossom Island, tossing and turning between being asleep and awake; I could not find the right conclusion. I was dreaming of many, many people, I dreamt about Mu Jiejie [elder sister Mu], I dreamt she was in Beijing, during the joust to find a spouse. I suddenly was awakened from the dream, sprang up, and only then did I know the killer was actually this Xiao Wangye!”

Hearing Huang Rong saying these words with sharp voice Yang Kang was drenched in cold sweats; forcing a laugh he said, “Did Mu Nianci tell you in a dream?”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong said, “If not for this dream, how could I guess it was you? Where is that little emerald shoe of yours?” Yang Kang was startled, with a stern voice he asked, “How did you know? Did Mu Nianci also tell you in a dream?”

With a cold smile Huang Rong said, “Do you think I need it? After you two killed Zhu Cong, you stuffed the treasures inside my mother’s grave in his pocket; so that when other people see it, they would think he robbed the treasures and was found out by my father; thus he lost his life. Framing someone like this is actually a clever idea; only you forgot one thing: Zhu Cong was known as the Magic Hand Scholar.”

Ouyang Feng’s curiosity arose, “What about the Magic Hand Scholar?” he asked.

“Humph,” Huang Rong sneered, “He only knows putting treasures on other, he actually did not know that other took a treasure from his body.”

Ouyang Feng did not understand, “What treasure?” he asked.

Huang Rong said, “Although Zhu Cong’s martial art skill was inferior to you, at the point of his death again he displayed his magic hand skill; he took something from this Xiao Wangye and grasped it in his hand, of course you did not know. If not because of this thing, not in a million years would I expect this Xiao Wangye to pay a visit on the Peach Blossom Island.”

Ouyang Feng said with a smile, “This matter becomes more and more interesting; this Magic Hand Scholar was actually highly skilled, his life had already gone yet he was still able to leave you a clue. The thing he took must be that little emerald shoe you were talking about.”

“That’s right,” Huang Rong said, “I have seen all the treasures inside Mother’s grave since I was little; and I have never seen this little emerald shoe before. Even in his death Zhu Cong still grasped this shoe tightly; there must be a reason behind it. The front of this shoe has a ‘bi’ [contest, compete] character on it, while on the opposite side there was a ‘zhao’ [to recruit] character. I painstakingly thought about this, but all along could not penetrate the mystery. That night I had a dream, I saw Mu Jiejie on a street corner in Beijing showing off her martial art skill. There was an embroidered banner stood on the side, with the word ‘bi wu zhao qin’ [Joust to find a spouse – lit. martial art contest to recruit a relative/person with intimate relation] on it. Suddenly it dawned on me and everything clicked together.”

Ouyang Feng laughed and said, “Turned out these two characters on the shoe have this romantic history! Ha, ha, ha, ha!” He laughed happily, but actually Ke Zhen’E was listening in indignation, since he did not understand what it was that dawned on Huang Rong’s mind.

Huang Rong knew Ke Zhen’E did not understand, so with the pretense of talking to Ouyang Feng, she explained clearly, “That day in Beijing Mu Jiejie was jousting for a spouse, Xiao Wangye happened to display his full capability. Lucky for me I was there in the crowd to witness this lively occasion. After contesting for a while, Xiao Wangye snatched Mu Jiejie’s embroidered shoe. He won the martial art contest, so he should marry her, but actually there were many complicated affairs involved.”

This joust to find a spouse did indeed have too many repercussions later on. At that time Liang Ziweng, Sha Tongtian and the others were also present to be the witnesses: Wanyan Honglie mourned his wife, Yang Kang met his biological father, and all kinds of circumstances surrounding it. Listening to this point everybody’s heart was filled with sadness and regret.

Huang Rong said, “After I remembered this, I was able to figure out what had happened. Xiao Wangye and Mu Jiejie privately agreed to spend their lives together in the future; naturally they decided the engraved jade shoes would make the best token of engagement. This pair of jade shoes complement each other; one has the ‘bi’ and ‘zhao’ two characters, the other must have the ‘wu’ [martial art] and ‘qin’ [relative/person with intimate relation] on it. Xiao Wangye, did I guess correctly?” Yang Kang did not answer.

Huang Rong continued, “Once I figured this thing out, the rest was easy. Han Baoju was killed by the ‘jiu yin bai gu zhua’ [Nine Yin White Bone Claw]. In this world only ‘hei feng shuang sha’ [the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind] practiced this martial art; but these two had already died. Others would certainly think that the Twin Killers of the Dark Wind’s shifu must be also proficient in this skill. Who would have thought that my father had never practiced this Nine Yin White Bone Claw or any skill similar to this martial art; yet the Copper Corpse Mei Chaofeng had received a skilled disciple when she was still alive. Therefore, the tiny ‘ten’ character Nan Xiren wrote must be the start of ‘yang’ (杨 ) character. Unexpectedly that muddle-head kid Guo Jing insisted it was the ‘huang’ (黄 ) character.” Speaking to this point Huang Rong could not help feeling gloomy.

Ouyang Feng let out a long laugh and said, “No wonder that Guo Jing kid disregarded his own life attacking your father at the Misty Rain Tavern.”

Huang Rong sighed, “Your trick was really marvelous; in his anger that muddle-head kid could not distinguish right from wrong. At first I thought you captured one of the deaf and mute servants and forced him to show you the way; only today did I realize it was Shagu who let you in. Xiao Wangye must have promised to take her back to the Ox Village; Shagu was so happy and did whatever you told her to do. Hmm, you two must have set up an ambush inside my mother’s grave; then you told Shagu to invite the Six Freaks of Jiangnan in my father’s name, telling them to come into the grave. With Uncle Ouyang blocking the grave entrance, how could the Six Freaks of Jiangnan escape your cruel hands? It was truly capturing the turtle inside an earthen jar.”

Listening to her Ke Zhen’E got the impression that she was there to witness everything; the feeling when that day they fought powerful enemy in the tomb came back to his mind. He heard Huang Rong continue, “Uncle Ouyang had seen my father’s long robe on the shore; he took and wore it. The light inside the grave room was dim, in a flash several of the Six Freaks were injured or killed, how could the rest of them recognize the enemy in that desperate situation? So Nan Xiren told Ke Zhen’E that the killer was my father. Zhu Cong and Quan Jinfa were killed by Uncle Ouyang; Han Baoju was killed by Xiao Wangye while Han Xiaoying cut her own throat. Ke and Nan two people managed to escape from the grave, and fought furiously in the study room. You deliberately let Ke Zhen’E escape. By the time Nan Xiren recognized the killer to be the one surnamed Yang, he had already been bitten by the snake.”

Ouyang Feng sighed, “This little girl has a god-like analytical ability. All these things happened by chance; it was the Six Freaks’ fate that they should die this way. When I went to the Peach Blossom Island with Kang’er, we did not know the Six Freaks of Jiangnan would be there.”

“That’s true,” Huang Rong said, “Although the Six Freaks of Jiangnan enjoyed sound reputation in the Jianghu, it was because of their ‘xia yi’ [chivalry], two characters. If we are talking about martial art skill, Uncle Ouyang would not even look at them. So if you two went through great length executing your scheme, you must have another big plan in your mind.”

Ouyang Feng smiled and said, “Little girl is very smart; you must have guessed correctly.”

Huang Rong said, “Indeed I have; but I ask Uncle Ouyang’s forgiveness if it is incorrect. I believe your initial intention was to see the Quanzhen Masters and my father fight each other and injure each other, and then just like Bian Zhuang stabbing the tiger you would destroy both Quanzhen Sect and the Peach Blossom Island in one fell swoop. Who would have thought that you were one step too late; my father and the Taoist priests of Quanzhen Sect have already left the Island. Xiao Wangye interrogated Shagu, and found out that the Six Freaks of Jiangnan were there. Mmm, thereupon you two fully displaying your capabilities by killing the Five Freaks, and arranged it so that all blames will fall to my father. You killed all the deaf and mute servants on the Island, and burned their bodies down to leave no trace; hence there would be no evidence at all. Later on when this matter is known, how can Hong Qigong, Emperor Duan and the others not make things difficult for my father? Xiao Wangye was afraid my father would return early and erase all sorts of traces you left behind on the Peach Blossom Island; therefore, you intentionally let Ke Zhen’E escape. This man is blind, but his tongue is not rotten yet. It’s true that he cannot see, but he can say all kinds of nonsense.”

Listening to this Ke Zhen’E could not help but feeling grieved and angry, but also ashamed. He heard Ouyang Feng sigh and say, “I really envy the Old Heretic Huang to have such a good daughter. Everything that happened was really very complicated, but you guessed everything correctly, as if you have seen everything with your own eyes. Little baby doll, you are really smart.”

End of Chapter 35. 

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