The Return of the Condor Heroes Chapter 21-25

@Chapter 21 – Fierce Fighting at Xiangyang
Yang Guo was just about to take his dagger out and stab Guo Jing when he suddenly heard three light flicks on the outside window. He quickly shut his eyes and kept still.

Guo Jing immediately woke up alarmed and said, “Rong’er? Is there some kind of problem?” No more noises came from the window.

Guo Jing saw that Yang Guo was in a deep sleep and could hear his even snoring. He saw how easily he slept and didn’t want to wake him, so he got up from the bed quietly and went to the door. He opened the door and saw Huang Rong in the courtyard signaling him with her hand. Guo Jing went to her and said quietly, “What’s the matter?”

Huang Rong did not reply and lead him to the garden. She took a look all around before saying, “I heard you and Guo’er’s conversation. He’s up to no good, do you know that?”

Guo Jing was startled and asked, “He’s up to no good?”

Huang Rong replied, “I could tell from his words that he’s been suspicious of you killing his father.”

Guo Jing said, “He may be suspicious but I’ve promised that I’ll tell him all about the reasons for his father’s death in detail.”

Huang Rong said, “Are you really going to tell him everything?”

Guo Jing said, “I have always blamed myself for his father’s tragic death. Though Brother Yang Kang went down the wrong path, we did nothing to save him.”

Huang Rong gave a ‘humph’ and said, “How could he be saved? I just wished that I’d killed him earlier. If I had, would your Masters have died on Peach Blossom Island?” When Guo Jing recalled this bitter event, he couldn’t prevent himself from heaving a long sigh. Huang Rong said, “Brother Zhu sent Fu’er to tell me that there’s something odd with Guo’er and she told me how you two were going to sleep on the same bed. I was worried that something might happen and I have been on guard by the window all along. It’s better not to sleep in the same room as him. You should know that people’s thoughts are hard to fathom. His father… his father died from poison as a result of striking me on the shoulder.”

Guo Jing said, “It can’t be said that you killed him.”

Huang Rong said, “Both of us had the thought of killing him in our minds and in the end he did die because of me. Although we didn’t kill him with our own hands, there’s not much difference.”

Guo Jing thought deeply for a while and said, “You’re right. I won’t tell him about this. Rong’er, you’ve been up for half the night, quickly go back to your room and rest. After tonight, I’ll move to the camp.” He knew that his wife’s wisdom exceeded his a hundred times and although he didn’t believe that Yang Guo had any ill intent towards him, he did as she said. He stretched out his hand and put his arm around her waist and led her slowly into the inner halls. He said, “Guo’er used every ounce of strength he had to take back the position of the Chancellor of Wulin for us. He knows what’s right and wrong when it comes to matters of the country; he risked his life in saving you and Fu’er twice; how can his father compare with his heroic nature?”

Huang Rong nodded her head and said, “Yes, this is something that’s wonderful to see in this young man, but he has two clouds hanging over him. One is the reasons for his father’s death and two, his relationship with his Master. I made Miss Long leave him but Guo’er seems to be all-knowing; somehow he found her again. From their expressions, it looks like they’ll never be separated again.”

Guo Jing kept silent for a while  and then suddenly said, “Rong’er, you’re  even more  all-knowing than Guo’er; think of a way to stop Guo’er from going down the wrong path.”

Huang Rong sighed and said, “I don’t even know what to do about our daughter let along Guo’er. Brother Jing, I just have you in my heart and you have just me in yours. But our daughter isn’t like us; she has two men in her heart, she treats each of the Wu brothers the same. This makes things difficult for us parents.”

Guo Jing accompanied Huang Rong to her room and helped her onto her bed. He covered her with a blanket and held her hand, sitting by the bed waiting for her to go to sleep. The pair had been busy with defending the country and hadn’t had a chance to spend any quiet time with each other like this. The two looked at each other, in silence, in peace.

Huang Rong held her husband’s hand and brushed it gently across her cheeks. She whispered, “Brother Jing, you name our second child.” Guo Jing laughed, “You know I’m not good at that; why are you making fun of me?”

Huang Rong said, “You still say that you’re not able. Brother Jing, there’s no one in the world that’s better than you.” She said these words with great sincerity.

Guo Jing lowered his head and kissed his loving wife on her face gently. He said, “If it’s a boy, we’ll call him Guo Polu, but what if it’s a girl?” He thought for a while and shook his head saying, “I can’t think of one, you think of a name.”

Huang Rong said, “Elder Qiu named you ‘Jing’ so that you would not forgot the shame of the Jing Kang years. The Jin have been destroyed but now the Mongolians are threatening us. This child is going to be born in Xiangyang; we’ll call her Guo Xiang so in the future she’ll remember that she was born in this city when it was surrounded by warring soldiers.”

Guo Jing said, “Good, but hopefully she will not be like her sister. She’s grown up now and she still makes us worry about her.”

Huang Rong smiled lightly and said, “It doesn’t matter if we have to worry but…” She gave a sigh and said, “I really hope that it will be a boy so that the Guo’s will have an heir.”

Guo Jing stroked her hair and said, “A boy or a girl; will it not be the same? Just go to bed, don’t think too much.” He pulled the blanket over her and blew out the candles. He returned to his room and saw Yang Guo in a deep sleep. The chime for the third hour could be heard. He returned to the bed and slept.

How would he know that when he was talking to his wife, Yang Guo was hiding behind the pavilion and heard every single word they said? When Guo Jing returned to the inner halls with his wife, Yang Guo stood there in a daze. His mind was repeatedly going over what Huang Rong had said, “I just wished that I killed him earlier… his father died from poison as a result from striking me on the shoulder… both of us had the thought of killing him in our minds and in the end he did die because of me.” He thought, “There’s no more doubts, my father died because of the two them. Huang Rong is  really  wily;  she’s  already suspicious of me. If I don’t make my move today then I don’t think I’ll ever get another chance like this.” He then returned to the room and slept on the bed quietly, waiting for Guo Jing to return.

Guo Jing slipped himself on to the bed and heard Yang Guo’s faint snoring. He thought, “This child sleeps so soundly.” He rested his head lightly on the pillow, afraid that he would wake him up. A short while passed and he was about to fall asleep when he suddenly felt Yang Guo turning his body around slowly but while he was turning over, his snoring continued. Guo Jing was startled, “Everyone stops their snoring when they turn over in their sleep. There’s something wrong with his breathing, could it be that when he’s practicing his internal energy he circulated it in the wrong way? This isn’t anything trivial.” The thought of Yang Guo pretending to sleep never entered his mind.

Yang Guo slowly turned around slowly and saw that Guo Jing did not notice him so he continued his faint snoring and got down from the bed. He had wanted to make his move while he was beneath the blanket but he was worried about how close he was to Guo Jing. It would be extremely dangerous for him. If Guo Jing sends out a last gasp palm at him then surely he would be killed. He had thought about sitting up to do it but he was still worried about how good Guo Jing’s martial arts were. In the end he decided to first get off the bed and stab Guo Jing in one of his vital areas before escaping out of the window. He was also afraid that if he stopped his snoring, Guo Jing would notice, so he kept up the pretence while he got down from the bed. But by doing this, Guo Jing was fooled even more. Guo Jing was thinking, “Could it be that the child has a sleepwalking disease? If I make a noise now, he would break out in a shock, his chi in his dan tian would surge the opposite way and he would immediately fire deviate.” So he didn’t make a move and listened out for his actions.

Yang Guo took out his dagger slowly and braced it against his chest with his right hand. He made his way to the bed step by step and suddenly gathered his chi into his arm to make his attack. Just as he was about to thrust the dagger, he heard Guo Jing call out, “Guo’er, what kind of nightmare are you having?”

Yang Guo was extremely shocked and he immediately darted out of the window. He was fast but Guo Jing was faster; before he touched the ground Guo Jing had already managed to grab him. Yang Guo’s thoughts went to despair, he knew that his enemy was much stronger than him and it would be of no use to resist so he closed his eyes and kept silent. Guo Jing carried him back into the room. He placed him on the bed and sat him up with his hands hanging down in front of him, assuming the form of practicing Xuan Men chi. Yang Guo was bitter and afraid, “I wonder what kind of evil method he’s going to use to torture me.” He suddenly remembered Xian Long Nu. He breathed in deeply and wanted to call out to her, “Gu Gu, I’ve been captured, quickly run away.”

When Guo Jing saw him suddenly breathe in deeply and circulate his chi, he was even more convinced that he was having problems with the circulation of his chi and thought, “In a situation like this one can only breathe in slowly and shallowly, it’s extremely dangerous to breathe in so quickly and deeply like this.” He quickly placed his palm against Yang Guo’s lower abdomen. Yang Guo’s ‘dan tian’ was suppressed by Guo Jing’s profound internal energy and he couldn’t call out. He was concerned for Xiao Longnu’s safety and struggled until his face went red but with his ‘dan tian’ suppressed, he couldn’t move an inch. Guo Jing said slowly, “Guo’er, you were too anxious in circulating your chi; this is called desiring speed and not transmission. Stop moving, I’ll help return your chi back  to their original sources.”

Yang Guo was startled and didn’t know what he meant by this; but then he felt a warm gradual chi entering his ‘dan tian’ from his palms that was extremely comforting. He then heard Guo Jing say, “Slowly expel your chi and slowly let this warm chi transmit through the ‘Water Divide’ to the ‘Interior Strengthening’ through the ‘Great Tower Gate’, ‘Turtledove Tail’ to the ‘Jade Hall’, ‘Florid Canopy’, first clear the conception vessel, ignore the other meridians.

After hearing these words and feeling his chi clearing his meridians, he more or less gathered what was happening. He thought, “Shocking! He thinks I’ve lost my mind due to me suffering a fire deviation.” He secretly circulated his internal energy and deliberately let his chi run wild, appearing not to be in control. Guo Jing was worried and increased the power in his palms, gathering his wild chi into one place. Yang Guo’s internal energy was now not shallow. Guo Jing found it slightly difficult to cope for a while when Yang Guo sent his chi surging wildly around his body. He had to waste around an hour’s time before he managed to return his contrary chi back into their original channels.

After this struggle, Yang Guo was completely drained of strength and Guo Jing too was extremely tired. The two of them sat in meditation. The sky lightened before they had recovered.

Guo Jing smiled, “Guo’er, are you okay now? I didn’t know that your internal energy has reached such a good level already; even I almost couldn’t control it.”

Yang Guo knew that in trying to save himself, Guo Jing had wasted a lot of his internal energy and was touched by this. He said, “Thank you uncle Guo for saving me; last night I was almost crippled.”

Guo Jing thought, “Last night while you were confused, you actually raised a dagger to kill me; luckily you didn’t know about this, otherwise wouldn’t you be ashamed of yourself?” He was afraid that if Yang Guo knew about this he would feel sorry about it so he changed the subject and said, “Come with me outside of the city, we’ll take a look at the city’s defenses.”

Yang Guo replied, “Yes!” The two of them mounted a warhorse each and rode shoulder to shoulder outside of the city.

Guo Jing said, “Guo’er, the internal energy of the Quanzhen sect is the most orthodox in the world, though progress is slow, you will not run into any trouble. You can learn other sect’s and school’s martial arts but when it comes to internal energy it would be advisable to practice Xuan Men martial arts. We’ll study this together once the enemy has retreated.”

Yang Guo said, “Don’t tell Auntie Guo about me fire  deviating last night. If  she  finds out she’ll laugh at me for learning Long Gu Gu’s unorthodox martial arts and blame me for making Uncle Guo suffer.”

Guo Jing said, “Of course I won’t say. Miss Long’s martial arts aren’t unorthodox; it’s just that you weren’t concentrating and didn’t practice with a clear mind.” Yang Guo knew that if Huang Rong found out about this she would immediately know the truth. When he heard Guo Jing promise not to tell Huang Rong, his mind relaxed.

The two of them headed west of the city and arrived at a stream. Guo Jing said, “Though this is a small stream, it is very famous; it is called the Tan Torrent.”

Yang Guo said, “Oh. I have heard people talk about the story of the Three Kingdoms; they mentioned that Emperor Liu of Shu leaped over the Tan Torrent on horseback. So, the Tan Torrent is located here.”

Guo Jing said, “The horse that Liu Bei rode that year was called De Lu; the horse handler said that it would harm its rider. But in the end De Lu actually leaped over the Tan Torrent and escaped from the pursuing army, saving Emperor Liu of Shu’s life in the process.” When he talked about this, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about Yang Guo’s father Yang Kang. He gave a heavy sigh and said, “The people of the world are just the same as the horse Du Lu; to the good it does good, to the evil it does evil. Is there such a thing as a definite good or evil person? The only difference between the two is that there is a contrast in thought.”

Yang Guo’s heart trembled and he took a look over at Guo Jing. There was an extremely hurt expression on his face; it appeared that these words weren’t meant as an attack on him. Yang Guo thought, “Your words might be right but what is good? What is evil? You and your wife killed my father, could that be the actions of someone who’s good? Your words really are brash; you don’t know how shameful you are.” He had always had great respect for Guo Jing; but from now, whenever he remembers how his father died at their hands, evil thoughts filled his mind. The two rode on for a little while and arrived at the top of a hill. From above one could see the flow of Han going southwards; refugees from all over were descending on Xiangyang. Guo Jing stretched out his horsewhip and pointed at the refugees. He said, “The Mongolians must have intensified their slaughter of our people in Sixiang, destroying the homes of our citizens. They’re abominable.”

Looking down from the hill, one could see, by the side of the road, a stone slab with some words written on it. It said: Minister of Works for the Tang Dynasty, Du Fu’s hometown lies there.

Yang Guo said, “Xiangyang is no ordinary city. So the hometown of this great poet is here.”

Guo Jing swept his whip and recited, “The great city unlike metal, the small cities of over ten thousand zhangs… the joined clouds of lined up battles, the flying birds unable to rise beyond. Self-guarding with ruin, how can Xi Dou be recovered? … Struggling with long halberds, history needs one man.”

Yang Guo heard him recite this with great passion and he recited it himself; “Self-guarding with ruin, how can Xi Dou be recovered? Struggling with long halberds, history needs one man. Uncle Guo, this is a really good poem, was it written by Du Fu?” Guo Jing said, “Yes. A few days ago, your Auntie Guo and I were discussing the defense of Xiangyang and this poem by Du Fu came up. She wrote it out for me. I really like this poem but my memory is bad. I went over this poem many times but all I can remember are just a few lines. There have been many educated men in our history who have written poems; but over the years, they have proclaimed Du Fu as the greatest poet of all and it’s all because of his worry for his nation and people.”

Yang Guo said, “You said, ‘a hero’s imperative is to serve your country, serve your people’, literature and martial arts are different but the same can be applied to both.”

When Guo Jing heard him grasp this he was delighted and said, “I do not understand much about literature; but no matter what one becomes in their life, a merchant, a slave, a solider, as long as the thought ‘serve your country, serve your people’ is there, one can be a true man, a true hero.”

Yang Guo asked, “Uncle Guo, do you think you will be able to defend Xiangyang?”

Guo Jing thought for a while and then pointed to the hills and trees to the west before saying, “In Xiangyang’s history, the most famous person is Zhuge Liang. Twenty ‘li’ (10km) west of here is a thriving place. It was the place where he lived in seclusion. Coarse people like me can’t fathom the deeds that he did saving our nation and bringing peace to our people. He once said that all he knew was that one must follow the phrase ‘bending your body to the task until your dying day’. Whether it would lead to success or failure, he didn’t know. When your Auntie Guo and I talked about whether Xiangyang can be defended or not; we ended up with these same words.”

Just as they were talking, they saw that the refugees who were at the doors of Xiangyang had suddenly turned around while the refugees behind kept on flowing forward towards Xiangyang. It was chaos.

Guo Jing was shocked and said, “Why aren’t the guards letting them into the city?” He galloped towards the city and saw a line of archers with their bows armed pointing at the refugees.

Guo Jing called out, “What are you doing? Quickly open the gates.” When the guards saw that it was Guo Jing, they quickly opened the gates and let him and Yang Guo in.

Guo Jing said, “These people are being persecuted by the Mongolians, why aren’t you letting them in?”

The general guarding the gates said, “General Lu said that spies have hidden themselves amongst the refugees; we cannot let them in for that reason.”

Guo Jing shouted, “Even if there are one or two spies, how can we show no regard for these hundreds of lives? Quickly open the gates.”

Guo Jing has been guarding the city for a long time now and had many great achievements; though he did not have an official post, the general guarding the city did not dare to disobey his orders and opened the city gates. At the same time, he ordered a messenger to report this to Lu Wende.

Old and young all converged on the city. Suddenly, a dust cloud appeared far away; the Mongolian army was moving in from the north. The Song soldiers scattered and went back inside the walls of the city. A large group of people stood out in front of the oncoming enemy; they were all clothed in rags and all had a stick in their hands, none had a real weapon and  they  were  scattered.  They  called  out,  “Don’t  shoot arrows here; we’re Song citizens as well!”

The Mongolian army however sheltered themselves behind the refugees.

Ever since the times of Ji Si Khan, whenever the Mongolian army attacked a city, they would first send the citizens of the surrounding country towards the city they were attacking. If the soldiers who were guarding the city weakened their resolve at this sight, the Mongols would immediately come forward and attack. By using this method, the Mongolian army was able to slaughter the citizens of the nation they were attacking and defeat their opposition in the city, killing two birds with one stone. It was extremely brutal and cruel but effective. Guo Jing had been with Mongolian army a long time and knew about this tactic, but there was nothing he could do to counter it. The Mongolian soldiers held the spears and long sabers to the front as they forced the citizens of the Song forward. The people were forced closer and closer and the people closest the city began to climb up the ladders.

Lu Wende rode his horse and took a look around at what was  happening.  When  he  saw  the  urgent situation they were in he immediately ordered, “Defending the city is the main priority, fire the arrows!”

Arrows rained down and many people were struck. Those who weren’t fell back. The Mongolian army chopped heads with their sabers and pierced bodies with the spears and the refugees were forced back towards the city. Yang Guo stood next to Guo Jing and watched this tragic scene in anger.

Lu Wende called out, “Fire the arrows!” Arrows rained down once more. Guo Jing shouted, “Stop, you can’t kill good people!”

Lu Wende said, “In such an urgent situation, even if it is a good person, we have to kill them.” Guo Jing shouted, “No, how can you kill good people wrongly?”

Yang Guo’s heart trembled, “You can’t kill good people wrongly! How can you kill good people wrongly?”

Guo Jing called out, “My Beggar Clan brothers and my Wulin friends follow me!” He then rushed down towards the city gates. Yang Guo followed him.

Guo Jing said, “You suffered an injury when practicing chi last night; you cannot exert any kind of strength today. Go back to the city wall and watch what’s happening.”

Yang Guo saw his fellow Han being treated worse than animals by the Mongolian army and wanted to go down with Guo Jing and do some killing. He was startled when he heard this but he couldn’t tell Guo Jing that last night was just an act; so he returned back up the city wall. Guo Jing led a group of people and opened the western gate. They rushed out and attacked the Mongolian flank. The Mongolian troops who were forcing the refugees forward turned towards Guo Jing.

The people Guo Jing was leading were good fighters of the Beggar Clan and patriots that had been gathered from all over China. They shouted and attacked; over a hundred Mongolian soldiers were immediately forced off their horses. The Mongolian army saw that their thousand soldiers were not able to fend them off and so another thousand came forward from the side. The Mongolian soldiers were all experienced, brave and vicious; though the group Guo Jing was leading knew martial arts, they were not able to subdue the Mongolians for the time being. When the refugees saw that the Mongolian soldiers were not pushing them forward any longer, they scattered.

A horn blew from the east and two Minghan regiments (division of 1000 men) surged forward. Another two Minghan regiments from the west dashed forward and surrounded Guo Jing and his group. Lu Wende was scared witless when he saw the might of the Mongolian army; how would he dare to send men out for a rescue?

Yang Guo stood at the top of the city walls and kept on going over what Guo Jing had said, “You can’t kill good people wrongly! How can you kill good people wrongly?” When he saw Guo Jing surrounded  he thought, “All the guards had to do was to let some  arrows  fly and kill  a few people  and  they would have been able to stop this Mongolian attack. The reason Uncle Guo is in all this danger is because he didn’t want to kill good people wrongly. He doesn’t know these people yet he risks his life to save them; why did he want to kill my father?”

He saw the tragic killing below but all he could think about was this riddle; “He and my father were sworn brothers; this isn’t any ordinary kind of relationship, but in the end he still wanted to harm him. Could it be that my father was an evil person?” Ever since he was little he had always thought of his father as someone who was chivalrous, brave and heroic; one of the greatest men on earth. To acknowledge that his father was an evil person was something that he could not do. But in his heart, he had the feeling that his father could not compare to his Uncle Guo; but whenever he had  this  feeling,  he  forced  it  back  down. Right now however, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about this point.

The cries below the city walls were ear shattering. Guo Jing and his group dashed left and surged right but they still were unable to break out. Zhu Ziliu led a group of men and the Wu brothers and Guo Fu led another to save them; but the Mongolian horn was blown once again and another four Minghan units surged forward to the city gates. Khubilai was indeed skilled in warfare. If the city gates opened to save Guo Jing and the others, the four divisions would break into the city. Lu Wende was shocked senseless now and ordered, “Do not open the city gates!” Two hundred men who were ordered to guard the gates were told to kill anyone daring to try to open the gates. General Wang led a group of archers at the top of the city walls and they fired their arrows incessantly.

Chaos ruled both outside and inside the city while Yang Guo’s mind was in the same state; sometimes he wished that Guo Jing would perish in this battle, while at others, he wished that Guo Jing would be able to drive the enemy back.

Suddenly, the formation of the Mongolian soldiers was broken up; thousands of mounted soldiers collapsed back to the sides as though the tides swept them. Guo Jing galloped ahead with a long spear in his hands. The Han behind him formed a tight formation and they surged forward. They managed to get to the city gates. Guo Jing turned his steed around and went to defend the back of the group. His long spear knocked seven or eight Mongolian Generals off their steeds. The Mongolian soldiers stopped pressing for the time being.

Lu Wende relied on Guo Jing heavily and when he saw him escape danger he was ecstatic; he quickly called out, “Open the gates! But only a little, don’t open the gates too wide!”

The city gates opened three or four feet and just allowed one rider in at a time. All the men returned to the city. The yellow flag of the Mongolian army was waved and two divisions of soldiers on horseback charged forward from both sides.

Lu Wende called out, “Brother Guo Jing, quickly get back into the city! We can’t wait for the others.”

How could Guo Jing enter the city while he still had men outside? He turned his horse back and killed two Mongolian soldiers that had ridden up to him.

But once the army was in motion, they moved like the waves of the sea. Guo Jing was skilled in martial arts, but how could one person defend against the attack of a large army?

Zhu Ziliu saw the situation was urgent and quickly lowered down a rope. He called out, “Brother Guo, grab it.”

Guo Jing turned his head and saw the final Beggar Clan member had entered the city but he was followed by ten Mongolian soldiers. The guards at the gates fought them off and began closing the city gates. The two foot thick metal gate slowly closed. Guo Jing shouted and killed an Arban Chief with his spear before leaping up to take the rope. Zhu Ziliu pulled up with all his strength and Guo Jing rose up ten feet.

The Noyan who was supervising the troops ordered, “Arrows!”  Immediately,  a  thousand  bows  released their arrows. Guo Jing was prepared for this. He tore off the lower part of his gown and swung it in front of his body with his left hand like a shield while he kept hold of the rope with his right hand. The gown was unyielding and blocked off all the arrows; but the steed that he had left behind outside the city walls was killed by the raining arrows. Zhu Ziliu pulled with both hands and  pulled Guo  Jing up  higher and higher.

Guo Jing was around twenty feet away from the top of the city wall when a tall skinny monk appeared amongst the Mongolian army. He was wearing a yellow Buddhist gown; it was none other than Jinlun Fawang. He took a bow from one of the Mongolian soldiers and raised it. He knew that Guo Jing and Zhu Ziliu’s martial arts were high and would be able to avoid any arrows he shot at them so instead he aimed for the rope. It was a vicious move. The arrow was ten feet away from both Guo Jing and Zhu Ziliu; the two had no way to stop this arrow. Jinlun Fawang was afraid that the two might come up with a way to stop this arrow so he fired two more arrows, one at Guo Jing and the other at Zhu Ziliu. The first arrow severed the rope while the second and third arrow headed for Guo Jing and Zhu Ziliu with great force.

When the rope severed, Guo Jing dropped and the arrow aimed at him missed. Zhu Ziliu felt the weight in his hand lessen and called out; “Oh no!” The arrow had arrived. It was a very forceful arrow; the person who fired it must have very profound internal energy. The top of the city walls were filled with people, if Zhu Ziliu lowered his head to avoid this arrow, someone behind might be injured. So he stretched out the second finger on his left hand and touched the stem of the arrow, diverting it back down the city wall.

Guo Jing was slightly alarmed when he felt the rope part; though he won’t be injured by the fall, he would be surrounded by thousands and thousands of soldiers. How could he fight his way out of that? The Mongol army is right next to the city gate now; if my side opens it to let me in, the Mongols would definitely take the opportunity to push through. There was no time to think in this danger; his left foot flicked up against the wall and he flew up over ten feet. His right foot followed and he rose up another ten feet. Very few people were proficient in this “Stairs to Heaven” technique. Even those who were well versed in it could only manage two or three feet per step; but on this slippery wall, each step of Guo Jing’s took him over ten feet. Guo Jing’s martial arts were frighteningly good. Silence broke out on the battlefield as everyone fixed their eyes on him.

Jinlun Fawang was slightly startled when he saw this. However, he knew that when one uses the “Stairs to Heaven”, they must make their leap in one breath. If Fawang could distract him and disturb his breathing then Guo Jing would not be able to make his third step, so Fawang raised his bow again and shot an arrow towards Guo Jing’s back.

The arrow flew like the wind. Shouts of, “No arrows!” were heard from soldiers from both the top of the city walls and down below. Both sides saw the terrifyingly good skills of Guo Jing and were in awe; they all hoped that he would make it. The Mongolians were the enemy but had much respect for great heroes and great men, they were all furious when they saw someone had fired an arrow at Guo Jing.

Guo Jing knew that the arrow behind him had a tremendous force behind it. He called out in alarm, “Not now!” He had to use his hand to deflect it away. Both sides cheered when they saw that the arrow failed to hit him. But with this earth shattering noise, Guo Jing was falling back down the city wall. There were only a few feet to the top of the city wall but Guo Jing had no way to climb up it.

When the two sides were fighting, the same was happening within Yang Guo’s heart. In the short space of time that Guo Jing climbed up, dropped down, climbed up and dropped down again, Yang Guo’s mind repeatedly went over, “He killed my father, should I kill him or not, or should I save him or not?”

When Guo Jing was using the “Stairs to Heaven” technique, Yang Guo had thought about throwing out a palm at Guo Jing. Guo Jing was in midair and had nothing to support himself with; he would definitely suffer a serious injury and fall back down from the city wall.

But as he was hesitating, Fawang had already fired an arrow at Guo Jing that stopped him from coming up. Yang Guo’s mind was in confusion. Suddenly, he grabbed the severed rope in Zhu Ziliu’s hand with his left hand and leapt down from the city wall towards Guo Jing, grabbing Guo Jing’s arm with his right hand.

This was a move out of the blue but Zhu Ziliu responded with great speed. He first lowered the rope down slightly before gathering strength into his arms and urgently pulled the rope upwards. Yang Guo and Guo Jing arced in circle like two large birds flying in the sky. The soldiers on both sides watched with their mouths open.

When Guo Jing was in midair he thought, wouldn’t it mean he had lost in this exchange if he doesn’t reply to this sneak attack by this evil monk? He saw Fawang had fired another arrow. As soon as his left foot touched the top of the city wall he immediately grabbed a bow from one of the guards and fired an arrow of his own towards Fawang’s arrow. The arrows collided in midair and Fawang’s arrow was split into two. Fawang was stunned. Suddenly, a fierce gust arrived; a ‘zheng’ sound was heard as the metal bow in his hands snapped in two.

Though Guo Jing’s and Fawang’s martial arts were within a hairsbreadth of each other, Guo Jing’s archery skills were unsurpassed. He had learned archery from one of the greatest Mongolian archers, Zhe Bie (Jebeh), when he was young and his internal energy was profound – when it came to archery, Fawang lost out.

Guo Jing had fired three arrows; the first divided Fawang’s arrow, the second snapped Fawang’s bow and the third was fired towards Khubilai’s flag staff.

Khubilai’s flag had fluttered in the wind gloriously amongst the thousands  of  soldiers,  but  now  it  had fallen. Soldiers from both sides shouted and hollered.

Khubilai saw his army’s morale drop after Guo Jing’s display and immediately ordered his men back.

Guo Jing stood at the top of the city wall and watched the Mongolians retreat. They were marching back in formation and in line; those who were at the front didn’t rush and those who were at the back showed no fear. He couldn’t stop himself from sighing and thinking, “Our weak Song army cannot compete with the great Mongolian army.” He frowned as he worried about the fate of his nation.

Zhu Ziliu, Yang Guo and the others were in awe of Guo Jing when they saw that he had no signs of pride of his face even after displaying his might in front of thousands.

Khubilai pulled his men back tens of miles and then started to think of a plan to take the city. With Guo Jing at the helm, it would be difficult to take it.

Fawang said, “Your highness saw for yourself; if it weren’t for Yang Guo, Guo Jing would be dead now. I knew that Yang Guo was not a man of his word.”

Khubilai said, “No! I think it’s because he wants to Guo Jing to die by his own hands and not at the hands of others. He appears to be a brave and valiant man; he is not a conniving fellow.”

Fawang didn’t agree but he didn’t dare to answer back, he just said, “Hopefully your highness is correct.” Xiangyang city was safe now that the Mongolian army had pulled back. Lu Wende was delighted and threw another banquet to celebrate it. This time, Yang Guo was also invited.

Everyone praised him for his swift and life risking actions in saving Guo Jing. The Wu brothers sat at another table and were filled with jealousy. Yang Guo had made a great achievement immediately after arriving at Xiangyang. They were also afraid that after this event,  Guo  Jing  would  again  insist  on betrothing his daughter to Yang Guo. The brothers didn’t say a word and just sat there, drinking wine.

Everyone returned to the Guo residence when the banquet finished. Huang Rong invited Yang Guo into the inner halls and praised him. Yang Guo replied with modest words.

Guo Jing said, “Guo’er, you’ve just exerted a fierce force, does your chest hurt?” Guo Jing was worried that by using unrestrained force, Yang Guo’s internal injury would flare up.

Yang Guo was worried that Huang Rong would ask about this further and see through this so he quickly replied, “I’m fine…I’m fine.” He changed the subject immediately and said, “Uncle Guo, the kung fu that you used to fly up the city wall was excellent, there isn’t another who can match that in the world of Wulin.”

Guo Jing gave a little smile and said, “I learned this kung fu a long time ago and haven’t practiced it for years; I’m a little rusty with it and that was why I ran into a bit of trouble.” In actual fact, if he hadn’t used his chi and internal energy to help Yang Guo protect his ‘dan tian’ last night, he would have been able to fly up the city wall using the “Stairs to Heaven” technique even with Jinlun Fawang’s interference. Naturally, he didn’t mention this and said, “Years ago in Mongolia, the Red Sun Elder Ma taught me this skill; who would have thought that I would have to use it today. If you like this skill I’ll teach it to you in a few days time.”

Huang Rong saw that Yang Guo seemed absent minded and his thoughts were somewhere else. His rescue of Guo Jing was seen by thousands, there was nothing suspicious about this but she still felt uncomfortable and said, “Brother Jing, I’m not feeling well tonight, stay with me.”

Guo Jing nodded and said to Yang Guo, “Guo’er, you’re tired, go and rest.”

Yang Guo said his goodnights to the two and went back to his room alone. He heard the call for the second hour. He sat in front of the table and stared at the flickering candlelight with many thoughts running through his head. Suddenly, a noise came from the door. A girl’s voice said, “You’re not sleeping?” It was Xiao Longnu. Yang Guo leapt up in delight and opened the door. Xiao Longnu was standing in front of him dressed in a light green gown.

Yang Guo asked, “Gu Gu what’s the matter?” Xiao Longnu said, “I wanted to see you.”

Yang Guo held her hand and said tenderly, “I was just thinking about you.”

The two of them strolled out to the garden. The scent of the flowers and trees filled the air. Xiao Longnu looked at the semi-circled moon in the sky and said, “Do you have to kill him with your own hands? We haven’t got much time left.”

Yang Guo quickly whispered into her ear, “The walls have ears here, don’t talk about it.”

Xiao Longnu looked at him enraptured and said, “When the moon is full, the time will be up.”

Yang Guo was alarmed and counted with his fingers; it had been nine days since they parted from Qiu Qianchi. If he doesn’t kill Guo Jing within the next two days, there will not be enough time to hurry back to the valley before the poison reacts. He let out a sigh and sat down on a taihu stone (limestone rocks found in Lake Tai) with Xiao Longnu. The two looked at each  other  without  saying  a  word  and  they became wrapped up in their love, forgetting all about matters of killing and avenging.

Suddenly, the sounds of footsteps could be heard from behind the garden fountain, two people were approaching.

A girl’s voice said, “If you’re going to keep nagging me then you might as well just get a sword and slit my throat to stop my torment.”

An angry male voice said, “Huh, don’t you think I don’t know that you’ve got more than one man in your heart? That Yang punk showed off in front of everyone after arriving in Xiangyang. Do you remember what you said before?” It was Guo Fu and Wu Xiuwen.

Xiao Longnu made a face at Yang Guo, trying to scold him for flirting with girls everywhere and tormenting them. Yang Guo gave her a smile and pulled her closer to him. He shook his head lightly, telling her not to make a noise.

When Guo Fu heard these words, she became furious and raised her voice, “Since you’ve made your mind up then forget everything I said before. I’ll go somewhere far away by myself; I’m not going to see Yang Guo and I’m not going to see you.” A tearing sound was heard; Wu Xiuwen must have tugged her sleeve and Guo Fu must have pulled it back.

Her voice became even angrier as she said, “What are you doing? So what if he shows off? What’s it got to do with me? If my parents betroth me to him I’d rather die than agree to it. If father forces me then I’ll run away. That Yang Guo has always been an attention grabber since he was young, but I choose not to give a damn about him. Father thinks he’s some kind of treasure whereas I think that he’s not a good person.”

Wu Xiuwen said quickly, “Yes…Yes. I was stupid just now, please forgive me sister Fu. If I act like that again, then I won’t have a good death and when I reincarnate, I’ll reincarnate as the king of cowards.” Feelings of joy seeped through as he said this. Guo Fu giggled.

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu looked at each other and smiled; one was thinking, “Look, look at how others view me.” The other thought, “I was wrong just now, I love you but others love someone else.”

Though Guo Fu had a scolding tone in her voice and treated Wu Xiuwen almost like a child, making him obedient and completely enchanted. She had tender feelings for him.

Wu Xiuwen then said, “Master wife loves you very much; beg her day and night non-stop. If Master wife agrees not to betroth you to the one named Yang, then master will not be able to say anything.”

Guo Fu said, “Huh, what do you know? Father may listen to mother but when  it  comes  to  important matters, mother will not stand up to father.”

Wu Xiuwen gave a sigh and said, “It’ll be great if you treat me the same.” Suddenly, a ‘pa’ sound was heard and Wu Xiuwen called out in pain. He said quickly, “Why are you hitting me”

Guo Fu said, “Who told you to say things like that? I’m not going to marry Yang Guo, and I’m not going to marry you, you little monkey.”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Fine, fine. Finally you’ve admitted it. You don’t want to be my wife but you want to be my sister in law. Let me tell you something… let me tell you something…” He was flustered and couldn’t finish his sentence.

Guo Fu’s voice suddenly became gentle and tender as she said, “Little brother Wu, you’ve  told  me  a thousand times, a million times how you feel about me, I already know. Though your brother hasn’t even said one word of this kind, I know that he loves me. No matter who I pick, one of you brothers will be broken hearted. Don’t you know how hard it is for me?”

Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen had always relied on each other ever since they were young because they lost the care of their parents; but in the last few years, the two of them had fallen madly in love with Guo Fu and both were troubled by the other. Wu Xiuwen’s heart was filled with angst and tears actually fell from his eyes.

Guo Fu took out a handkerchief and gave it to him. She sighed, “Little brother Wu, we all grew up together, I have great respect for your brother but I find it easier to talk to you. I am not biased towards any of you. You’re trying to force me to make a clear choice now, if you were me, what should I say?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “I don’t know. All I know is if you marry someone else, life would not be worth living.”

Guo Fu said, “Let’s stop talking about this. Father fought for his life against the enemy today while we’re talking about some trivial stuff here in the garden; if father finds out about this then we’ll both be in trouble. Little brother Wu, let me tell you, if you want to please my parents then why don’t you try to stand out, achieve some great deeds in battle? Won’t my parents look down on you if you keep on hanging around me?”

Wu Xiuwen leapt up and said loudly, “You’re right, I’ll go and assassinate Khubilai and rid the threat to Xiangyang. When that happens, will you agree to marry me?”

Guo Fu smiled, “If you can do such a thing then I would have no other choice but to marry you, wouldn’t I? But Khubilai has many guards around him. Even my father may not be able to beat that Jinlun Fawang. Stop dreaming, just go and sleep.”

Wu Xiuwen stared at Guo Fu’s elegant face and said, “Fine, you go and sleep as well.” He turned around and walked away a few steps before suddenly stopping. He turned and asked, “Sister Fu, are you going to have a dream tonight?” Guo Fu laughed, “How do I know?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “If you do dream, what do you think you will dream about?” Guo Fu gave a little laugh and said, “Most probably about a little monkey.” Wu Xiuwen was filled with joy and skipped away.

Xiao Longnu and Yang Guo listened to their words behind the flower thicket. They couldn’t stop themselves from grinning at each other and comparing themselves with them: one was madly in love with the other while the other didn’t have a set mind; while they had only each other in mind and could die without regret. That couple’s joy and happiness could not compare with the joy and happiness of themselves.

After Wu Xiuwen left, Guo Fu sat on the stone bench and looked up at the moon in deep thought. She stared at it for a long while before letting out a sigh.

Suddenly, someone came out from behind the garden fountain and said, “Sister Fu, why are you sighing?” It was Wu Dunru.

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu were both slightly startled. Wu Dunru must have hid himself here a long time ago, he was here even before they in fact, otherwise the two would have noticed him when he arrived here.

Guo Fu said with a slight angry tone, “You are always weird like this. You heard everything we said, right?”

Wu Dunru nodded and stood opposite of Guo Fu at quite a distance away but his eyes were still filled with love. The two looked at each other in silence.

After a while, Guo Fu said, “What do you want to say to me?”

Wu Dunru said, “Nothing. You know what I have to say.” He turned around and then slowly walked away.

Guo Fu stared at his back while he walked away towards the garden fountain. He didn’t turn around even once. She thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if only one of them existed?” She gave a deep sigh and returned to her room alone.

Yang Guo waited until she had gone before laughing, “If you were her, who would you marry?” Xiao Longnu turned her head slightly and thought for a while before saying; “You.”

Yang Guo laughed, “I don’t count. Miss Guo does not like me one bit. I said if you were her, which one of the Wu brothers would you pick?”

Xiao Longnu compared the two Wu brothers in her mind but still came up with, “I’ll still marry you.”

Yang Guo was amused and touched. He embraced her and said tenderly, “Others have more than one in their hearts but my Gu Gu loves me only.”

The two of them stayed in each others loving arms until daylight.

The sun was on the eastern horizon. The two still did not want to part. Suddenly, a servant rushed up to them and greeted them before saying, “Master Guo requests Master Yang’s presence immediately,”

Yang Guo saw that his face was anxious and knew that it was something important. He left Xiao Longnu and followed the servant to the inner halls.

The servant said, “I searched for master Yang everywhere; master Yang was appreciating the scenery in the garden.”

Yang Guo said, “Has Master Guo been waiting a long time?”

The servant whispered, “The two masters Wu’s suddenly disappeared, Master and Madam Guo are worrying about them and Miss Guo cried a few times!”

Yang Guo was startled when he heard this but he knew what had happened. “The two Wu brothers are trying to fight for the hand of their apprentice sister and want to do something outstanding; they must have gone to assassinate Khubilai. He hurried inside and saw Huang Rong looking distressed in her nightgown with Guo Jing pacing to and fro. Guo Fu’s eyes were red and it looked like she was going to cry at any time. There were two swords on the table. As soon as Guo Jing saw Yang Guo he quickly asked,  “Guo’er, the  Wu brothers  went to  the  Mongolian camp, do you know why?”

Yang Guo glanced over at Guo Fu and said, “The Wu brothers went to the Mongolian camp?”

Guo Jing said, “Yes. You young ones always talk to each other, do you have any clue about why they went?”

Yang Guo said, “I didn’t notice anything. The two Wu brothers did not say anything to me. It’s probably because they were worried about the danger that Xiangyang was in so they went to the camp to kill a few senior generals. It’ll be a great achievement if they succeed.”

Guo Jing sighed and pointed to the swords on the table. He said, “Even if their hearts are in the right place, they don’t know what they are getting into; their weapons have been taken away and sent back here.”

Yang Guo was rather surprised by this. He knew that the Wu brothers would not be able to succeed with such great fighters such as Jinlun Fawang, Yin Kexi, Xiaoxiang Zi and the likes around; but he wouldn’t have predicted that it would happen in the past few hours and that their weapons would be sent back.

Guo Jing gave the letter that was on top of the weapons to Yang Guo and glanced at Huang Rong. The two of them shook their heads. Yang Guo opened the letter and saw:

To Hero Guo of Xiangyang from the First Protector of Mongolia Jinlun Fawang,

Last night when I was hunting, I unexpectedly came upon your disciples by the name of Wu. People say that great Masters will produce great disciples; I cannot deny this. I have long admired and marveled at Hero Guo’s great name. Last time we meet at the heroes’ feast, we did not get the chance to make acquaintances. I have written to you to invite you the camp so we may do so and share wine. As soon as you arrive, your disciples will be returned safely. Will you accept this invitation?

The letter had a humble tone and it appeared to be an ordinary invitation for Guo Jing to go to the camp and make acquaintances with Fawang. But what the letter really was saying is that the Wu brothers will only be released if Guo Jing agrees to go to the camp.

Guo Jing waited for Yang Guo to finish reading before saying; “Well?”

Yang Guo knew what this was about, “Auntie Guo’s wisdom is ten times greater than mine, Auntie Guo would have come up with any plan that I could think of. The reason she summoned me to discuss this matter is for one reason only; she wants me and Gu Gu to accompany Uncle Guo to the Mongolian camp. Fawang, Xiaoxiang Zi and the others together might beat Uncle Guo but it isn’t guaranteed that they’ll be able to kill and capture him. If Gu Gu and I help him, Uncle Guo will be able to  escape.”  He  then immediately came up with, “But if Gu Gu and I suddenly changed sides, to harm him will be as easy as turning my palm. If I can’t kill him with my own hands, then I’ll just let Fawang and the others to do it for me, wouldn’t that be great?” He then gave a wry smile and said, “Uncle Guo, my Master and I will go with you. Auntie Guo has seen our swordplay defeat Jinlun Fawang; they might not be able to keep us there if the three of us go together.”

Guo Jing was delighted and smiled, “No one can compare with your intelligence apart from your Auntie Guo. This is the exact thing that your Auntie Guo came up with.”

Yang Guo thought, “Huang Rong, oh Huang Rong, you’ve been clever all your life but today you lose out to me.” He said, “We’ll go right now. Gu Gu and I will pretend to be your attendants, that way we will be able to emphasize your heroic manner in coming to this meeting all by yourself.”

Guo Jing said, “Good!” He turned to Huang Rong and said, “Rong’er, you don’t need to worry, with Guo’er and Miss Long, even if it was a dragon’s lagoon or a tiger’s lair, we’ll still be able to return safely.”

He straightened his gown and said, “We’ll get Miss Long.”

Huang Rong shook her head and said, “No, I just wanted Guo’er to go with you. Miss Long is like a porcelain doll, I cannot let her meet any danger. I want her to stay with me.”

Yang Guo was startled but then immediately understood, “Auntie Guo is indeed wary of me. She wants to keep Gu Gu with her as a hostage, that way I won’t be able to do anything. If I insist of having Gu Gu with me, she will be even more suspicious.” He didn’t say anything about it.

But Guo Jing said, “Miss Long’s swordplay is excellent, it would be a great help if she comes with us.”

Huang Rong countered, “Your Polu or Xiang’er are about to be born. If Miss Long is here to guard me, I can relax a bit more.” Guo Jing said quickly, “Yes, yes, I’m so dumb. Guo’er, let’s go.” Yang Guo said, “Allow me to tell my Gu Gu.”

Huang Rong said, “I’ll tell her in a minute, you two are just going to the camp for half a day, it’s not some great event.”

When it came to using their minds, Yang Guo found himself losing out to Huang Rong every time. So he decided to use his against the honest and sincere Guo Jing instead. He’ll make his move against him in the camp and then come back to save Xiao Longnu afterwards. He made his mind up and left the city with Guo Jing.

Guo Jing rode the precious red horse and Yang Guo rode his skinny yellow horse. The two horses were fast and they arrived at the camp within one hour.

Khubilai was startled and delighted that Guo Jing had actually decided to come here and he quickly invited him into his tent.

Guo Jing entered the tent and saw a middle-aged Prince sitting in the middle of the tent. He had a square face and large ears with deep-set eyes; Guo Jing was stunned when he saw this and thought, “This person looks so much like his father Tuo Lei.” He was very close to Tuo Lei [Tolui] when he was younger but now he had passed away; his eyes turned red at this thought and he almost cried.

Khubilai left his seat to greet him and bowed down to him, saying, “When my father was alive, he always praised the heroic and righteous Uncle Guo. I have always admired Uncle Guo. To have the opportunity to meet you is the fulfillment of my lifelong dream.”

Guo Jing bowed to him and said, “Tuo Lei and I were like brothers; when I was younger, my mother and I lived in Genghis Khan’s territory and it was your father who looked after us. It is very sad that he died suddenly at such a young age.”

Khubilai heard that his words were sincere and they moved him. He then introduced Xiaoxiang Zi, Yin Kexi and the others to him and then invited him to his place.

Yang Guo stood behind Guo Jing and pretended that he didn’t know any of them. Fawang and the others did not know why he came but when they saw him ignoring them, they ignored him.

However, Ma Guangzuo called out, “Brother Ya…” Before he finished saying ‘brother Yang’, Yin Kexi had pinched his leg tightly. Ma Guangzuo called out, “What are you doing?”

Yin Kexi turned his head around and ignored him. Ma Guangzuo didn’t know who did this and kept on shouting out insults. He forgot about greeting Yang Guo.

Yang Guo sat down and drank some Mongolian milk wine. Yang Guo saw that the Wu brothers were not present and was about to ask their whereabouts when Khubilai ordered his attendants; “Invite the Masters Wu in.” The attendant did as he was told and pushed Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen into the tent.

Their hands and legs were tied tightly with cowhide. The restraints between their legs were just a foot long so the two couldn’t take their normal strides. They could only struggle slowly forwards. Their faces were filled with embarrassment when they saw their Master. They called out, “Master!” and then lowered their heads in silence.

Guo Jing had been extremely angry with them for taking such a risk without telling anyone and causing this mess, but when he saw the two, his feelings changed. Their clothes were torn and blood stained and they were tied up so pathetically, his anger turned to pity. He thought that although the two were reckless, their hearts were in the right place by trying to help the nation, so he said warmly, “A martial artist will endure countless sufferings and countless defeats, what you’ve suffered is nothing.”

Khubilai pretended to scold his attendants and said, “I ordered you to look after these two Masters Wu with great care, why have you treated them like this? Quickly untie them.” The attendants followed his orders. However, the cowhide was soaked in water after being tied and had shrunk tightly into the skin, the attendants couldn’t untie it.

Guo Jing left his seat and took the ends of Wu Dunru’s restraints. He pulled outwards lightly and the restraints snapped. He then did the same with Wu Xiuwen’s restraints. Guo Jing’s movements looked plain, ordinary and seemed to lack sufficient force, but by succeeding, he showed he possessed great internal energy. Xiaoxiang Zi, Yin Kexi, Nimoxing and the others looked at each startled, and all secretly praised his martial arts.

Khubilai said, “Bring some wine quickly so you can apologize to the two Masters Wu.” Guo Jing thought, “Today’s not going to be plain sailing; something’s going to happen soon. If the Wus don’t leave now, I’m going to be distracted.” He then made a bow to everyone in the tent and said clearly, “Thank you your Highness for teaching my disciples a lesson for their insolence.” He then turned to the Wu brothers and said, “Go back and tell your Master wife that I’m going to stay here for a while and talk with an old friend’s son, I’ll be back soon.”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Master, you…” Last night they failed in their assassination attempt and were captured by Xiaoxiang Zi. He knew that the camp was filled with great fighters and he couldn’t stop himself from worrying about Guo Jing.

Guo Jing waved his hand and said, “Leave now! Go and tell General Lu to guard the city tightly and no matter what happens, do not open the city gates in case of an attack by the enemy.” Guo Jing said this with a mighty aura and was telling Khubilai that even if something happens to him, Xiangyang will not surrender.

When the Wu brothers saw that Guo Jing had come personally to save them, they were touched but also ashamed of themselves. They didn’t say anything else and made their goodbyes with Guo Jing before returning to the city.

Khubilai laughed, “Uncle Guo must not have known about your disciples coming here to assassinate me.”

Guo Jing nodded and said, “I did not know about this. My disciples don’t know how tall the sky is and how deep the earth is, they were extremely impudent.”

Khubilai said, “Yes, Uncle Guo and my family have deep ties with each other, the thought of assassinating me would never cross Uncle Guo’s mind.”

Guo Jing said with a serious expression, “You’re wrong here. The matters of the people are more important than my own. Years ago when Tuo Lei led an army here to attack Xiangyang, I once thought about trying to kill him to force the army to retreat. But at that exact time, Genghis Khan fell ill and the army retreated and so our brotherhood was preserved. There’s a saying, ‘place righteousness above family loyalty’, since a family can be gotten rid of, why not friends?”

These words were said with a righteous air and Fawang, Yin Kexi and the others all looked at each other with changed faces.

Yang Guo’s chest trembled and he thought, “Yes, killing brothers is his best skill. I wonder what my father did all those years ago to eventually die by his hands. Guo Jing, oh Guo Jing, could it be that you’ve never made a mistake in your entire life?” As he thought about this, hate and fury slowly filled his chest.

Khubilai did not show any signs of anger and had a smile on his face as he said, “So why does Uncle Guo reproach your disciples when you have the same view?”

Guo Jing said, “Looking at their lowly abilities, what chance had they of succeeding in this task? Their failure is not important, it’s just that once they failed, you will be even more wary of someone assassinating you; this task would be made even more difficult for later assassins.”

Khubilai laughed and thought, “I’ve heard that Guo Jing is an honest and simple person who’s not very good with words, who knew that he can actually speak with such spirit and gusto.”

Actually, Guo Jing was just saying what was on his mind and because he knew what he wanted to convey; he was able to say it with great sincerity.

When Fawang and the others saw that he came alone and empty handed to this vast army without any signs of fear on his face; they were in complete awe of him since none of them could match the spirit that he was displaying.

Khubilai couldn’t stop himself from admiring Guo Jing. When he saw Guo Jing’s lofty air and thought that if he could convince him to join his command, it would be better than taking down ten Xiangyang cities. So he said, “Uncle Guo, the Song are in disarray. You have an Emperor who is blind to the people’s plight, you have scoundrels in your courts and those who are loyal are punished, am I right?”

Guo Jing said, “Correct, Emperor Li Zhonghuang is a blind man and the Prime Minister Jia Sidao is the biggest crook of them all.” No one guessed that he would actually insult his own emperor and leaders. Everyone was startled.

Khubilai said, “Yes. Uncle Guo is a great man and a hero of our time so why do you work for such men?”

Guo Jing stood up and said clearly, “Even if the one named Guo is unworthy, why would I allow myself to let those people use me? When I see you violent Mongols invading our land and killing my people, my blood boils. I’m doing this for my people; the angry blood that flows through me is because of them.” Khubilai patted on the arms of his chair and said, “What great words. Everyone, give a toast to Uncle Guo.” He raised his bowl and downed the wine in one go.

Everyone was getting anxious and they were all afraid that with these stirring words and his relationship with Khubilai’s father, Khubilai might actually let him go. It would be extremely difficult to capture him again but no one could do anything. When they saw Khubilai raise his bowl, they did the same and drank it down in one go. The attendants filled their bowls once more.

Khubilai said, “I once heard an old man say, ‘It’s the people of the land that are important, not the Khan.’ What a truthful phrase. The land of Mongolia is in a state of peace; my people live happily and have what they need. My Khan could not bear to see the people of the Song suffer and when he saw that no one was doing anything about it, he sent his troops south to help end the troubles of the people. This thought is the same as Uncle Guo’s, we both have the same heroic view. Come, let’s toast again.”

Fawang and the others all raised their bowls to their lips. Guo Jing swept his sleeve and sent a gust of wind over. There was a bout of ‘qiang lang lang’ noises as everyone’s bowls fell to pieces on the floor.

Guo Jing angrily shouted, “Stop! Ever since you Mongols invaded our land, you have killed and slaughtered; corpses and bones mount up while blood flows like rivers. My citizens have lost their homes and countless have died by your army’s sabers and arrows. What troubles of my people are you ridding them of?”

Though this sweep of the sleeve was extremely sudden and was completely unexpected, it still managed to knock the bowls out of the hands of Fawang and the others who possessed great martial arts. Everyone felt shame and they all stood up, waiting for Khubilai’s orders to attack.

But Khubilai gave a long laugh to the sky and said, “The Generals of the Mongolian army say that Uncle Guo is a hero without a match, everyone is full of admiration for Uncle Guo. Indeed after seeing you with my own eyes, I now know that your great name is not a myth.  I  do  not  dare  harm  the  brotherly relationship of my father; because of the past let’s stop talking about matters of the country?”

Guo Jing saluted with his hands and said, “Tuo Lie’s son is a magnanimous and open-minded man, and none of the other Mongolian princes can compare with him. He will no doubt lead the country one day. I have some advice for you, would you like to listen?”

Khubilai said, “I am willing to listen to Uncle Guo’s teachings.”

Guo Jing folded his arms and said, “The land of the Southern Song is vast and the people many. Talented and learned men are everywhere, and since history began, these kinds of men have not submitted to anyone. You Mongols might be able to expand your territory for a little while but in the future, you will be forced back north. When that happens, it will be disastrous for you and to regret it then will be too late. Please reconsider what you are doing.”

Khubilai smiled, “Thank you for your words.”

Guo Jing heard him say these words casually and said, “We’ll say our goodbyes at that. Goodbye.” Khubilai waved his hand and said, “Escort the guests out.”

Fawang and the others looked at each other startled and all thought, “It wasn’t easy to catch him, how can we let the tiger escape back into the mountains?” When they saw Khubilai  sending  Guo  Jing  out politely, they all felt that it was inappropriate to make a move on him.

Guo Jing strode out of the tent and thought, “This Khubilai is no ordinary person; he is indeed a strong foe.” He signaled with his eyes towards Yang Guo, telling him to hurry towards their steeds.

Suddenly, eight Mongols dashed forward from the sides. The leading Mongol said, “You’re Guo Jing? You injured many of my brothers at Xiangyang and you’ve actually dared to come here to our camp to show off your might again. His highness has allowed you to go but we cannot allow it.” With a shout all eight men dashed forward towards Guo Jing. These eight men all used Mongolian wrestling techniques as sixteen hands went to grab Guo Jing.

Mongolians are unmatched in wrestling and these eight men were  first-rate  fighters  in  the  Mongolian army. Khubilai had hid them nearby to capture Guo Jing. But Guo Jing grew up in Mongolia and was well versed in riding, archery and wrestling; when he saw the eight pair of arms  coming  towards  him  he stretched out his hands and swept his right leg. In a flash, he had flung four men over ten feet away and tripped the other four onto the ground. He used orthodox Mongolian wrestling techniques but because he had advanced martial arts as a base, the strength in his arms and legs was stronger than any normal men. How could the eight men defend against this?

Khubilai had stationed his personal Minghan unit outside the tent and each one of them was skilled in wrestling. They saw how fast and clean Guo Jing’s movements were in throwing down eight men to the ground in one go. They had never seen such a display and they all cheered.

Guo Jing held out his fist towards the crowd and took off his hat, spinning it in his hand. This was the routine that one did to the crowd after winning a wrestling match. The crowd cheered even louder when they saw him do this. The eight men picked themselves up from the ground and looked at Guo Jing in shock. They didn’t know whether to go again or just leave it at that.

Guo Jing said to Yang Guo, “Let’s go!”

Suddenly, a horn could be heard and Minghan regiments  from  everywhere  galloped  towards  them. Khubilai had moved his troops and surrounded Guo Jing and Yang Guo.

Guo Jing was slightly shocked and thought, “Even if we had the greatest of skills, how could we break out of this? Who would have thought that Khubilai had gone to such lengths to get me captured?” He was afraid that Yang Guo would get worried so he kept a normal expression and said, “Our steeds are fast horses. Our main priority is to break out of this encirclement. We need to get two shields to protect ourselves from their archers.” He then whispered into his ear, “First gallop south and then go north.”

Yang Guo was shocked, “Xiangyang is south of here, why go north?” But he immediately understood, “Hmm, yes, Khubilai must have placed his men around Xiangyang in case he went south. The north will be free of soldiers. First go south and then go north unexpectedly; they will not be able to respond in time and we can escape. How should I stop him?”

Yang Guo was trying to make his mind up when he saw a few people dart out of the tent. These people had blocked their path. A ‘ming ming’ sound followed as a bronze and iron wheel flew towards the steeds; it was Fawang.

Guo Jing saw that the wheels were coming in with great force and did not dare to use his hands to catch them. He lowered his head and pressed down on the necks of the two horses with his hands; the horses lowered their front legs just in time for the iron and bronze wheel to brush over their heads. The two wheels turned in midair and flew back into Fawang’s hands. This slight delay allowed Nimoxing and Yin Kexi to arrive in front of Guo Jing and Yang Guo. Fawang and Xiaoxiang Zi arrived a little later and the four surrounded them.

Jinlun Fawang, Xiaoxiang Zi and the others were all first rate fighters and normally would not lower themselves to fight in numbers, but Guo Jing was too strong and they were all thinking about the title of ‘The Greatest Warrior of Mongolia’. White and golden light glimmered as all of them took out a weapon.

Fawang was holding a bronze and iron wheel. Yin Kexi was holding a golden jewel  embedded  whip. Xiaoxiang Zi was holding a short Ku Sang Rod. The person holding the strangest weapon was Nimoxing. In his hand was a short iron Snake whip that looked like a live snake as it was moved on his arm.

From their running movements and their hand movements in taking out their weapons, Guo Jing could see that the weakest out of the four appeared to be Yin Kexi. He immediately threw both his palms forwards towards Xiaoxiang Zi. Xiaoxiang Zi extended his rod forward, aiming for Guo Jing’s palm. Guo Jing looked at his weapon and saw white silk twirling around it and there was hemp at one end. Guo Jing saw that Xiaoxiang Zi’s martial arts were high and his weapon strange,  he’ll  definitely  have  some  strong  points about him, so he turned his right arm around and used a stance of “Divine Dragon Sweeping its Tail”, he immediately grabbed Yin Kexi’s golden whip. Yin Kexi wanted to use his whip to attack his opponent but it had already been grabbed. He followed the opponent’s pull and threw his body forward with a glittering dagger in his left hand. This stance was using an attack as a defense and it  was  the  top  skill  of  the “Eighteen Little Grabbing Hand Technique”.

Guo Jing called out; “Good!” He used his grabbing hand technique on him again. His right hand still held onto the whip as he went for his dagger. Guo Jing’s arms were crossed over as his right hand held onto the whip in Yin Kexi’s right hand and his left hand held onto Yin Kexi’s left hand. Yin Kexi was sure that by thrusting his dagger forward, his opponent would have no choice but to let go of his whip and avoid the dagger. Who would have thought that his dagger would also be held?

At this time, Fawang’s wheels and Xiaoxiang Zi’s short rod attacked. Guo Jing did not manage to snatch away the golden dragon whip with his first pull and he shouted out; a surge of great chi went through the whip into Yin Kexi. Yin Kexi felt as if a metal hammer had struck his chest heavily, his eyes saw stars and he threw up a mouthful of blood. Guo Jing let go of the whip and blocked the attacks. Yin Kexi knew that he had suffered a severe injury and he pulled back slowly. He sat down on the ground and circulated his chi through his ‘dan tian’ and held back the urge to vomit more blood.

Fawang, Xiaoxiang Zi and Nimoxing were both delighted and afraid when they saw Guo Jing injure Yin Kexi with his first attack. They were delighted because there was now one less competitor for the title of the ‘Greatest Warrior of Mongolia’, but they were also afraid because they saw how powerful Guo Jing was. They themselves might suffer the same fate if they weren’t careful. The three of them did not dare make any rash moves and defended themselves.

Guo Jing responded to every stance that came to him and studied the strange weapons of Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi carefully. The Ku Sang rod was made out of pure iron and apart from being heavy and sturdy; he couldn’t see anything special about it. Nimoxing’s snake shaped weapon was very strange, the head of the weapon was like the head of a poisonous snake and the body of the weapon was soft and crooked. Both the head and tail of the snake shaped weapon were sharp but the most powerful aspect of the weapon was that it was hard to predict the weapon’s movements. One couldn’t tell when the body of the snake would bend over, the head and tail of the weapon had no certain direction; the iron snake whip would suddenly leap up and whirl around in Nimoxing’s arms and then suddenly curl up and slither around, the weapon had hundreds of variations.

In his younger years, Guo Jing had seen the stances of Ouyang Feng’s snake staff; the staff was like a real snake and it had venomous poison with it. Even if Nimoxing’s weapon was extremely powerful, it was still a dead object. When he attacks and when he takes the snake back, there will be certain principles behind it that can be seen through. Because of this, the only person that Guo Jing was worried about was Jinlun Fawang.

The four of them had exchanged several moves when suddenly someone shouted and stepped forward, a man mountain appeared; it was Ma Guangzuo. He was holding a thick and long bronze rod in his hand and smashed it down towards Guo Jing’s head from behind Nimoxing. The four of them were in a heated battle and all of them defended tightly, there was not an ounce of spare space in between any of them. The exchange from Guo Jing’s palms, Jinlun Fawang’s wheels, Xiaoxiang Zi’s short rod and Nimoxing’s iron snake had formed a net of force around them. By smashing the rod down, Ma Guangzuo was running up against the force created by the four. Ma Guangzuo’s rod suddenly bounced back up as it met this invisible force. He noticed something was wrong and shouted out as he gathered strength into his arms to keep control of the rod. Even though he managed to do this, the joints in his hands bled. He called out loudly, “Evil, evil!” He increased the strength in his arms and smashed down once more.

Fawang was standing in front of him and he saw what was happening, the greater the force he smashes down with, the more he’ll suffer and Fawang just chuckled.

Yang Guo watched from the side and knew what would happen; though Ma Guangzuo was strong, his martial arts could no way compare with that of Guo Jing. If he makes a fierce attack blindly and meets up with the world’s most yang and unyielding “Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palm” of Guo Jing head on, what chance would he have of living? Even if he doesn’t die under the palm of Guo Jing, he would be seriously injured by the weapons of Fawang, Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi. He liked this dim-witted person for his simple and straightforward character and for standing up for him on many occasions. If Ma Guangzuo strikes down he would definitely meet great danger so Yang Guo called out, “Ma Guangzuo, watch out for my sword!”

The gentlemen sword went for his back.

Ma Guangzuo was stunned and stopped his bronze rod in midair. He said with shock, “Brother Yang, why are you fighting me?”

Yang Guo insulted, “You Dumbass, what do you think you’re doing? Get away!” The long sword quivered as several stances were thrust forward. Ma Guangzuo could do nothing but retreat. Yang Guo pierced forward furiously and forced him back step by step. Ma Guangzuo had long legs and every step of his was the equivalent of two ordinary steps by a normal person. Ten steps later and they became quite a distance away from Guo Jing and the others.

The sword glimmered in front of his eyes. He could never have dreamed that Yang Guo would suddenly try to kill him and even if he used every ounce of strength he had, he would not be able to fend off these attacks by Yang Guo.

Yang Guo waited until he had retreated back a few more steps before quietly saying, “Brother Ma, do you know that I’ve just saved your life?”

Ma Guangzuo said loudly, “What?”

Yang Guo said quietly, “Keep your voice down, don’t let the others hear.”

Ma Guangzuo said with his eyes wide open, “Why? I’m not afraid of that Guo Jing.” These words were still said clearly and loudly. To him, he was speaking at a normal tone but to others his voice was like someone was shouting and hollering.

Yang Guo said, “Okay don’t speak, just listen to me.” Ma Guangzuo listened to him and nodded. Yang Guo said, “That Guo Jing knows witchcraft. All he has to do is to recite a curse and he’s able to chop someone’s head off. It’s better if you run away as far as possible.” Ma Guangzuo’s eyes opened wider when he heard this and believed his words though he had doubts.

Yang Guo wanted to save his life and he knew if he said that Guo Jing’s martial arts were too high, he would never admit defeat; but if he said that Guo Jing knew witchcraft, this slow witted person would probably be scared. He continued, “You tried to smash his head in with your rod but before you even touched his head, the rod bounced back up, isn’t that strange? That merchant’s martial arts are excellent but how come as soon as he went up to fight him, he was injured?” Ma Guangzuo was becoming slightly more convinced and nodded his head but looked over at Fawang and the others.

Yang Guo knew what he was thinking and said, “That monk knows how to write charms. He gave one to that zombie and one to that dwarf, if you have one on your body, you will be protected against witchcraft. Did that monk give you one?”

Ma Guangzuo said angrily, “No.”

Yang Guo said, “Yes, that old baldy didn’t give me a charm as well. We’ll sort him out afterwards.” Ma Guangzuo said loudly, “You’re right. What should we do?”

Yang Guo said, “We’ll watch from the side, the further away the better.”

Ma Guangzuo said, “Brother Yang, you’re a great friend. It was lucky you told me about this.” He put away his weapon and watched the battle from afar.

Guo Jing was using the great Wulin skill the “Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms”. Fawang and the others kept tight on him thinking that even if his internal energy was more profound, he would not be able to keep up so powerful a palm technique for much longer. But Guo Jing had been practicing the “Nine Yin Manual” diligently for the last twenty years; at first his real power did not show but tens of stances later, the “Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms” suddenly became powerful and then suddenly gentle, from great hardness came softness. This was something that Hong Qigong did not manage to grasp all those years ago. By using this kind of palm technique to fend off these three fighters, not only did he remain on an even level with them, he was able to counterattack when he had the chance and he was getting more and more fluent as he went on.

Yang Guo watched in awe from the side. He too had practiced the “Nine Yin Manual” in the ancient tomb; but because he had no one to instruct him, he didn’t know that the manual’s arts were this extraordinary. He followed Guo Jing’s palm techniques with the teachings of the manual in mind and immediately he understood countless profound fist theories. His mind concentrated on this and for the time being, he forgot about killing Guo Jing to avenge his father.

Fawang’s martial arts and Guo Jing’s martial arts were separated by the smallest of margins; Guo Jing may have had more fortunate encounters than Fawang but Fawang was twenty years older than he and had twenty years worth of internal energy more than Guo Jing. If the two fought one on one, they would have to exchange over a thousand stances to decide who was better. With first-rate  fighters  such  as Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi by his side, it shouldn’t have been difficult to gain victory over Guo Jing. But Guo Jing’s “Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms” were too powerful and along with his palm technique, he was using Quanzhen’s “Big Dipper Formation”. He went to and fro as he fought and it was as if he had separated into seven. Another reason why he was still holding them off was  because  of  his  immediate victory over Yin Kexi; this was a warning to the others and the remaining three made defense their main priority and did not dare to make a rash attack. Although it was three against one, Guo Jing still held his own against them.

After a few more stances, the power in Fawang’s wheel gradually increased. The force of the attacks from Nimoxing’s iron snake was increasing as well.

Guo Jing was getting anxious and thought, “If this continues, I won’t be able to hold them off. Guo’er is over fighting with that giant. That giant’s martial arts are just average, Guo’er will be able to manage. I need to get over to him as soon as possible and think of a way to get out of this place.” The four were putting all their concentration into their battle and did not dare to even blink; they did not notice Yang Guo and Ma Guangzuo were just watching their battle.

Suddenly a strange whistling noise was heard. Xiaoxiang Zi leapt up several feet into the air and pointed his Ku Sang rod downwards. Guo Jing stepped to the side to avoid it when suddenly everything went dark; a black smoke was being emitted from the Ku Sang rod. A stench filled Guo Jing’s nose and he felt slightly faint. He called in alarm to himself and knew that there was something poisonous within the Ku Sang rod and he quickly moved backwards.

Xiaoxiang Zi had seen Guo Jing had definitely taken in the black smoke but he did not faint. He was extremely shocked and thought, “Lions, tigers and any kind of wild beast would faint as soon as they come across my toad poison. But it doesn’t seem to have any kind of effect on him; that is strange.” He leapt up once again and shot out some more poison from his rod. Years ago when Xiaoxiang Zi was practicing martial arts in the wild mountains of Hunan, he saw a toad that was hiding itself in a broken coffin. It had poisoned a large python to death. He understood what the toad had done and gathered some toads to extract the venom from them. He developed a poisonous dust and secreted it in the Ku Sang rod. There was a lever at the end of the rod. When his finger pressed down on the lever it would shoot the poison out. The higher above he fires the poison from, the more effective it becomes. He has used this poisonous dust on pythons and wild beasts before and it knocked them out immediately; but he could not have guessed that Guo Jing’s internal energy was so profound that he was actually able to suppress the effects of the poison.

Fawang and Nimoxing were to the side of Guo Jing and although they did not  come in  direct contact  with the dust, they had smelled a little and they immediately had the urge to vomit. They quickly leapt away from it. Xiaoxiang Zi had plugged the antidote to this poison in his  nose  beforehand  and  he  dashed forwards into the black smoke, waving out his rod to attack.

Guo Jing used a stance of “Seeing the Dragon in the Field” and sent it towards Xiaoxiang Zi’s kneecaps. Xiaoxiang Zi used his rod to block the attack and before  he  had any more  time to fire some  more  poison out, he had been forced back five feet by the palm.

Guo Jing slanted his body to the side only to see Nimoxing coming in with an attack with his iron snake. He sent out a stance of “The Forbidden Submerged Dragon”. Nimoxing quickly placed the Iron Snake across his chest and held each end with his hands. However, the power of this palm of Guo Jing’s came from the area around the palm and not in the palm itself. Though the palm was going for Nimoxing’s chest, there was no kind of force going towards it and he blocked thin air. By the time he knew something was wrong, his abdomen and his face had felt the power of the palm. Luckily for him, he was very short and as a result was very nimble, he quickly threw himself down and rolled away on the ground like a ball.

Guo Jing saw his chance to escape and called out, “Guo’er, let’s go!” He leapt out into the open plains. Fawang flew after him. Guo Jing’s back was just a few feet away from the Mongolian soldiers  and immediately over ten spears were pointed towards it. Guo Jing used his arms to parry away the spears and then grabbed and threw two soldiers towards Fawang. He called out, “Catch!”

If Fawang caught them, it would slow him down and give Guo Jing the chance to run further away so he slanted his left shoulder and knocked into the soldiers and sent them flying over ten feet away. He threw his golden wheel towards Guo Jing’s back.

Guo Jing knew if he returned just one stance, he would get caught up in a fight with Fawang. When Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi catch up, it would be difficult to escape again, so he grabbed two spears and thrust them backwards. He did not slow down one bit as he did this and it was as if he had a third eye on his back; one of the spears went towards Fawang’s right shoulder and the other for Fawang’s chest. Both the direction and power behind it was complete. Fawang secretly praised this and then swept his golden wheel across, smashing the spears in two. By the time his sights were back on Guo Jing, he had already darted into the Mongolian army.

This division of soldiers was ordered by Khubilai to station themselves deeply around the tent to capture Guo Jing. But when Guo Jing darted into their formation, the soldiers could  do nothing about him;  they could not capture him nor harm him. Sounds of spears and sabers could be heard along with calls and shouts. These soldiers actually hindered Fawang and the others in their chase after Guo Jing.

Guo Jing hiding himself amongst the soldiers and horses was like hiding himself in a dense forest; it was actually easier for him to escape danger like this than in the open land. He ran up to a Noyan and pulled him down from his horse. He leaped on the horse and galloped left  and  right  amongst  the  crowd  of soldiers. Soon he managed to break through the rear of them and he galloped forward, whistling as he went. The red horse was left at a faraway place and when it heard its master summoning it; it galloped like the wind towards him.

Yang Guo watched from afar as the red horse galloped towards Guo Jing. He thought to himself, “Oh no!” He knew that once Guo Jing got on the red steed, Khubilai would have no way to catch up with Guo Jing even if he sent all the world’s men after him.

In this urgent situation, he suddenly called out, “Oh no, I’m feel as if I’m dying!” He wobbled a bit as if he was about to fall down onto the ground. He then whispered to Ma Guangzuo, “Don’t say anything, run away now! The further away the better.” He had circulated his chi through his ‘dan tian’ when he called out and even in this clamor, Guo Jing would definitely be able to hear it. When Guo Jing heard this, he would definitely come back for him, but if he sees Ma Guangzuo with him, Guo Jing might actually throw out a palm and send Ma Guangzuo to his death. Ma Guangzuo was very obedient to Yang Guo’s words and although he didn’t understand what he meant by this, he ran away towards the royal tent.

When Guo Jing heard Yang Guo’s call, he was indeed worried. He didn’t wait for the red horse and turned his horse back towards him. He went back into the swarm of soldiers and galloped towards where Yang Guo was standing. A thought went through Fawang’s mind and he knew what Yang Guo was trying to do. He allowed him to pass and instead blocked his escape route.

Guo Jing rode up to Yang Guo and said anxiously, “Guo’er what’s wrong!”

Yang Guo swayed a little and said, “That giant is not a match for me but for some reason, whenever I try to use any real strength, a surge of chi runs through me and my ‘dan tian’ feels as if it’s being cut up by knives.”

This was a completely believable lie; Guo Jing could tell that Ma  Guangzuo’s  martial  arts  were  very ordinary when he attempted to smash down on him with his rod, so if Yang Guo said it was Ma Guangzuo who injured him, Guo Jing would be suspicious. But if he said that something’s wrong with his chi, Guo Jing would not be able to tell if he was lying or not from the outside. There was also the fact that Guo Jing mistook Yang Guo for fire deviating the previous night. The likelihood of this type of injury recurring again in the heat of battle is not uncommon.

Guo Jing saw that he was holding his abdomen with his left hand and his head was covered in sweat. It appeared that the injury was not light and he said quickly, “Get on my back; I’ll carry you out of here.”

Yang Guo said with a false pretence, “Uncle Guo, quickly go, my life isn’t worth anything but Xiangyang’s fate depends on you. The country, the army, the people, and all their hopes rest on you.”

Guo Jing said, “You came here because of me; how can I leave you here? Quickly get on.”

Yang Guo dallied as Guo Jing lowered himself. Guo Jing pulled him onto his back. Just at this time, the horse that Guo Jing had snatched was killed by the Mongolian soldiers’ arrows.

Guo Jing had experienced countless dangerous situations in his life; the more dangerous the situation the greater his bravery. He pondered on how to get out of this situation and he said to Yang Guo, “Guo’er, don’t be afraid, we are going to fight our way out of here.” He stood up and dashed north.

Fawang, Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi were now attacking Guo Jing once again. Guo Jing looked around and saw that soldiers surrounded them; this situation was even direr than the previous time that they were surrounded.

Beneath the camp’s banner stood Khubilai. He was holding a bowl of wine and was watching the battle with a monk by his side. There was an arrogant expression on his face as he watched on with victory assured.

Guo Jing gave a shout as he carried Yang Guo towards Khubilai. He arrived in front of Khubilai after just three leaps. Khubilai’s bodyguards were alarmed and they pointed their spears at Guo Jing. Guo Jing’s palms overcame all obstacles as it sent one of the guards flying away. Just a few more feet forwards and Khubilai would be in range of Guo Jing’s palm. All Khubilai’s guards defended him with their lives but how could they stop Guo Jing?

Fawang saw it was getting desperate and he threw his golden wheel towards Guo Jing’s head. Guo Jing lowered his head to avoid the wheel but did not stop and continued forward.

Yang Guo thought, “If he holds Khubilai hostage, the Mongolians will have no choice but to let him go. If I don’t make my move now, when am I going go make it?” He hesitated a little and eventually said, “Uncle Guo was my father really a tyrant that left you with no choice but to kill him?”

Guo Jing was stunned with this question but he had no time to give it much thought in his reply in their present situation and immediately replied, “He took a scoundrel as his father, he betrayed his country and plotted against his people, he deserved to die.”

Yang Guo said, “Fine!” He hesitated no longer and raised his gentlemen sword and thrust it towards Guo Jing’s back.

Suddenly, a white blur appeared and a rod swept across and blocked his sword. Yang Guo followed the rod and dispersed the opponent’s force. He looked carefully and found out that it was Xiaoxiang Zi who had stopped his sword. He was surprised and thought, “My sword was just about to go through Guo Jing, why are you stopping me?” But he immediately understood his reasons, “That’s right; if I kill Guo Jing then the title of ‘Mongolia’s Greatest Warrior’ will be mine. Huh, this zombie doesn’t know that I’m just trying to avenge my father; I don’t care about titles and whatnot.” He  unleashed  several  stances  and  forced Xiaoxiang Zi’s rod away. He turned his sword back towards Guo Jing and thrust it towards him once again. Xiaoxiang Zi used his rod and blocked his sword.

At this moment, Guo Jing was fending off Fawang’s wheel and Nimoxing’s Iron Snake with his palms; he didn’t know what Yang Guo was up to. He just thought that Yang Guo was trying to fight Xiaoxiang Zi with all his might and he said, “Be careful of the poison in his rod.” Fawang and Nimoxing were in front of Guo Jing and could see what  was  going  on  clearly  and  both shouted, “Xiaoxiang Zi, what are you doing?”

Xiaoxiang Zi cackled and suddenly swept his rod towards Guo Jing. Guo Jing moved out of the way. Yang Guo was about to send his sword through Guo Jing for the third time but once again, Xiaoxiang Zi blocked his sword.

Guo Jing was worried about Yang Guo’s injury and was afraid that he would not be able to cope with Xiaoxiang Zi’s rod so he sent out his left palm towards Xiaoxiang Zi’s chest. Xiaoxiang Zi quickly jumped out of the way.

Yang Guo had no one to stop him now and he sent out his sword towards Guo Jing’s back. However, Xiaoxiang Zi was worried that Yang Guo would succeed and he advanced immediately after his retreat and sent his rod towards the vital pressure points on Yang Guo’s back, forcing Yang Guo to save himself first.

Guo Jing was using his right palm to compete advanced internal energies with Fawang. Both he and Yang Guo were in great danger. He ignored his own safety and tried to save Yang Guo first. His left palm used a stance of “Divine Dragon Swinging its Tail” and collided with Xiaoxiang Zi’s short rod. Xiaoxiang Zi’s arm burned and his ghastly white face turned red.

But at that exact time, Nimoxing had rolled towards him and extended his Iron Snake towards Guo Jing’s left side. Guo Jing was using seventy percent of his energy  against  Fawang  and  the  remaining  thirty percent in blocking Xiaoxiang Zi’s rod. He had nothing left to block this attack of Nimoxing and could only move his left side back half a foot. He was able to avoid the iron snake’s main attack but the head of the iron snake still managed to embed itself inches into his side.

Guo Jing circulated his chi and his muscles flexed and stopped the head of the iron snake from going in any further. He immediately followed this by a flying left kick and sent Nimoxing tumbling. Nimoxing saw that his iron snake had struck one of his vital areas and thought that the title of the ‘Mongolia’s Greatest Warrior’ would be now be his. But he would never have dreamed that  his  enemy  would  have  such incredible martial arts that would allow him to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. This kick landed on Nimoxing’s chest and broke three of his ribs.

Xiaoxiang Zi and Nimoxing had both been defeated but Fawang took this opportunity to gain victory and quickly increased the strength in his palm. Guo Jing’s chi on his left side has now been disturbed and he could hold on no longer. He felt a mountain shattering and ocean turning force coming towards him. If he continued to take this head on, the result would be death. He could only disperse the power in his palm and rely on his twenty years worth of internal energy to take this stance. His body swayed continuously and he threw up a mouthful of blood. His life was in danger but his thoughts were still on Yang Guo. He called out, “Guo’er, go and get a horse, I’ll hold them off.”

After seeing Guo Jing protect him with his life, Yang Guo’s emotions were stirred and he no longer cared about his revenge. He thought about how righteous and virtuous his Uncle Guo was, if he didn’t repay a life with a life then he will have wasted his life on earth. He leapt off his back and flurried his ‘Gentleman’ sword to protect Guo Jing. He was like a mad tiger and fought with his life with every stance.

Fawang and Xiaoxiang Zi were stunned and shouted, “Yang Guo, what are you doing?”

Yang Guo did not reply and sent out a stance towards Fawang. The tip quivered and another stance was sent out towards Xiaoxiang Zi. The two saw that his eyes were red and that he had a strange expression on his face; they both took two steps back. They assumed that he wanted to kill Guo Jing himself in order to get the title of the ‘Greatest Warrior of Mongolia’.

Guo Jing said, “Guo’er, don’t worry about me, save yourself.”

Yang Guo replied, “Uncle Guo, it’s my fault that you’ve ended up like this. I’m going to die with you.” The sword glimmered as he ignored his own safety and protected Guo Jing.

Fawang and Xiaoxiang Zi raised their weapons and attacked Guo Jing together. But Yang Guo’s sword stances were extremely lively and he actually kept the two at bay. The Mongolian army surrounded them and roared as they watched the three fights. Guo Jing kept on urging Yang Guo to run away but all he saw was Yang Guo protecting him with his life. He was worried but also touched. His internal injury flared up and he could hold on no longer; his knees went limp and he fell to the ground.

Nimoxing held down the pain of his broken ribs and advanced forward slowly with his iron snake to kill Guo Jing. Yang Guo sent out several wild stances and then put Guo Jing on his back. He dashed north. His martial arts could not compare with Fawang normally but now with Guo Jing on his back, how long could he last? Several exchanges later, his left arm was slashed open by Fawang’s golden wheel.

End of Chapter 21.  
@Chapter 22 – The Baby Girl of the City in Danger
Just as Guo Jing and Yang Guo thought they had ran out of luck, the Mongolian  soldiers  and  horses suddenly started to disperse. An old crippled man with a metal crutch in his left hand and a hammer in his right advanced towards them. He called out, “Master Yang, escape quickly, I’ll hold them off.”

Yang Guo took a glance at him and recognized it was one of Peach Blossom Island’s disciples Feng Mofeng. He was extremely surprised by this event, but in this perilous danger, he didn’t give it much thought as to how he suddenly appeared.

When Feng Mofeng was forced into working for the Mongolian army, he used the chance to assassinate members of the Mongolian army and had already killed a Noyan and a Jagen leader. He was very careful in making his moves and was yet to be discovered. Today, he heard a great commotion and so he headed up to a high vantage point to see what was happening. He saw that Guo Jing and  Yang  Guo  were surrounded, so he fought his way in to help them. His iron hammer caused gusts of wind as it was swung and those who met it died instantly. A bloody trail was left in his wake.

Yang Guo was delighted with this development and swung his sword to try to break out. However, Fawang used his wheel to intercept Yang Guo’s and Feng Mofeng’s stances at the same time. Whenever Xiaoxiang Zi’s rod came down towards Guo Jing’s back, Fawang would allow Yang Guo to save Guo Jing. If Fawang used his wheel to smash down on Guo Jing, Xiaoxiang Zi would block his attack with his rod. If it wasn’t for the two fighting each other, and even if Yang Guo gave his life in trying to protect Guo Jing, Guo Jing would have been dead long ago.

When Khubilai came up with the reward of being ‘Mongolia’s Greatest Warrior’, he had hoped that his men would use all their efforts to achieve this goal; but instead they fought with each other, which was something that he did not predict.

Guo Jing’s life might be safe for the time being, but the Mongolian army had positioned themselves all around him like an iron wall, presenting a metal boundary. Fawang and Xiaoxiang Zi were fighting for first place. Nimoxing bit down on his tongue as he held in his pain and looked for a chance to attack, attacking with vicious stances here and there.

By now, Yang Guo and Guo Jing had been battling within the army for over an hour. The sun was now skewed to the side. Fawang suddenly changed his stances and his wheel collided with Yang Guo’s long sword. The ‘Gentleman Sword’ was a blade that can cut through metal like butter; as soon as the weapons collided, a hole was made in the golden wheel. Fawang followed the momentum and kept on going forward. The wheel caused an extremely strong pressing wind over them. Yang Guo was afraid that if he moved out of the way, Guo Jing would be injured so he used his sword to take this attack head on. The wheel slanted slightly and a light ‘chi’ sound was heard; Yang Guo’s right forearm was slashed open. Though the wound wasn’t deep, it had cut a vein and blood rushed out. As he fought, he felt his legs going limp and was running out of breath; under these attacks, how could he stop defending in order to stop his bleeding?

Feng Mofeng swung his metal hammer viciously and used every ounce of strength in his efforts in help Yang Guo and Guo Jing. But Fawang’s left palm blocked and attacked, reducing Feng Mofeng to a state where he could only defend. If Feng Mofeng hadn’t fought for his life, he wouldn’t have even been able to save himself.

Xiaoxiang Zi saw his chance had come; he first sent Nimoxing’s iron snake to the side and then leapt up into the air. He pointed his rod towards Guo Jing and was about to release the poisonous dust.

Yang Guo was shocked by this and quickly stretched out his left hand to take the rod. At the same time, he sent his sword forward. At that time, his body was completely open; all Fawang had to do was strike him lightly with his golden wheel and he would have been sent to his death. But Fawang wanted to use Yang Guo to send Xiaoxiang Zi away. Fawang forced Feng Mofeng away with his palm and sent out his arm to grab Guo Jing’s back. Capturing him alive would be a great achievement. Xiaoxiang Zi did not predict that Yang Guo would actually risk his life to stop him. Before he came back to ground his rod had been grabbed and he couldn’t exert any force while in midair. A white light flashed across his eyes as the sword arrived at his chest. He could do nothing but let go of his rod and move out of the way to save his life.

Feng Mofeng smashed forwards with both his hammer and crutch at Fawang’s back.  Two  ‘dang  dang’ sounds were heard as Fawang used his wheel to  repel  the  attack.  Feng  Mofeng’s  joints  bled  from  the force. Fawang’s left hand went out for Guo Jing’s back. Feng Mofeng gave a howl and  abandoned  his weapons and grabbed Fawang’s back. The two fell down onto the ground. Fawang was furious and struck his shoulder with a palm. Feng Mofeng felt as if his insides were turned upside down. Feng Mofeng saw how cruel and vicious the Mongolians were from the camp and saw how they used his citizens in their attack on Xiangyang. He also saw how Guo Jing fought with his life to drive the enemy away. He didn’t know Guo Jing personally and had no idea that Guo Jing was his Master’s son-in-law; he just knew that if this person dies, Xiangyang would fall. So he made up his mind; he was going to endure anything in order to get Guo Jing out of danger. Fawang’s palms came out with unspeakable speed. Feng Mofeng’s bones were broken and his innards severely damaged but still, Feng Mofeng did not let go and dug deep into Fawang with his ten fingers.

The Mongolian soldiers had decided to watch from the side because they thought that Fawang would definitely be able to handle the situation. But when they saw him fall down to the ground, they all rushed forward. In such a situation, even if Guo Jing was perfectly healthy and if his and Yang Guo’s martial arts were even better, how could they fight off the rush of hundreds of soldiers?

Yang Guo sighed to himself, “It’s over…it’s over!” He swung out Xiaoxiang Zi’s rod wildly when suddenly there was a light ‘po’ sound; black dust spurted out from the end of the rod. The ten soldiers that were directly in front of the smoke fell down immediately. In his wild movements, Yang Guo had accidentally triggered the release of the poisonous dust. Yang Guo was slightly startled but immediately understood. He carried Guo Jing and made his way forward; whenever Mongolian soldiers came to meet him, he would trigger the poison and send more men to the ground with the poison.

Though the Mongolian soldiers were great in battle, they were all superstitious. When they saw how their own men suddenly fell down dead to the ground as soon as black smoke came from the rod, they shouted, “His rod is covered by an evil spell, everyone back!”

Khubilai’s personal guards were extremely brave and regarded his orders above all else; even though they saw how dangerous it was for them, they still went forward to catch Yang Guo and Guo Jing. Yang Guo sent out some more poisonous dust and immediately sent another ten or so men to their deaths.

Yang Guo whistled and summoned his horse. His yellow horse stretched its legs and flew towards him. Yang Guo used every last ounce of his strength to place Guo Jing on the horse’s back but felt his limbs were all drained of energy. He had no strength left to get onto the horse. He could only strike the horse’s back lightly and call out, “Quick, leave quickly!” However, the yellow horse was very loyal to its master; when it saw that Yang Guo had no strength to get on, it raised its head and neighed. Yang Guo saw that the Mongolian soldiers were closing in on him; though the poison in the rod was lethal, there’s a limit to the amount of poison it holds. He raised his sword wanting to jab his horse to force it to leave, but in the end he couldn’t bear to. He called out, “Leave!” He poked the horse with the end of the rod. Because his strength had been drained in battle, his poke wasn’t accurate and actually struck Guo Jing. Guo Jing had been unconscious but with this sudden poke, he opened his eyes. He immediately picked up Yang Guo and helped him onto the horse. The yellow horse gave out a joyous neigh and galloped away.

However, the sounds of horns followed closely behind them. Guo Jing gave a whistle and his red horse galloped towards him. The Mongolian army was right behind them. The red horse galloped to the yellow horse’s side and kept nuzzling Guo Jing. Yang Guo knew that although his yellow horse was a fine animal, it was still inferior to the red horse. He drew a deep breath and with Guo Jing in his arms, leaped on the red horse. Just at this time, he heard a ‘ming ming’ sound; Fawang’s golden wheel was flying towards them. Yang Guo’s heart ached as he thought, “Feng Mofeng has died at Fawang’s hands.”

His thoughts stilled as the wheel came closer and closer. Yang Guo lowered himself to the horse’s back and hoped the wheel would brush past him. But the wheel sounded from below; it was actually aiming for the horse’s legs.

After Fawang had killed Feng Mofeng, he stood up and saw that Yang Guo and Guo Jing had already gotten onto their horses; it was too  late  to chase  after  them.  He  immediately shot  out  his  golden wheel low to the ground. Fawang knew that if the wheel struck Yang Guo and kills him, the red horse would still escape with Guo Jing. Only by cutting off the horse’s legs would he have a chance to succeed in his task.

As the wheel got closer and closer, Yang Guo had no other option but to use his sword to repel the wheel. He knew that he had no strength left and knew that it was nigh on impossible for him to succeed but he had no choice but to give it his all. The wheel was now just two feet away from the horse with the wheel generating a soul shaking noise. He  hung his sword  down to the  protect the  horse’s  legs but who would have thought that as soon as the horse realized it’s life was in danger, it galloped faster and faster. The wheel remained two feet away from the horse. Yang Guo was delighted as he knew that the wheel would only get slower and slower. Indeed, a little while later the distance between the wheel and the horse’s legs increased to three feet, to four feet, to five feet; the gap was getting larger and larger. Eventually a ‘dong’ sound was heard as the wheel landed on the ground.

Yang Guo was filled with delight, but then he heard a pitiful neigh behind him. He turned around and saw his yellow horse, its stomach filled with arrows, still staring lovingly at its master. Yang Guo’s heart was filled with sadness and tears fell from his eyes. The red horse galloped like the wind and traveled like a shooting star. In just a short while, it had left the pursuing army behind. Yang Guo held Guo Jing and asked, “Uncle Guo, are you okay?” Guo Jing let out a moan. Yang Guo checked his breathing and felt that it was still deep and strong; he knew that he was okay. He was now able to relax and he could hold on no longer. He fell into a semiconscious state on the back of the horse and let it go wherever it pleased.

Suddenly, countless numbers of soldiers and horses appeared in front of him. He immediately swung his sword and called out, “Don’t harm my Uncle Guo!” He cut and slashed wildly around him. He couldn’t see clearly as faces appeared here and there. After a bout of slashing around wildly, he eventually fell off the horse. But he was still calling out, “Kill me, kill me, it was my fault, don’t harm my Uncle Guo.” Suddenly, he felt as if the world was spinning around him and he eventually fell unconscious.

Some time passed before he woke up again. He called out, “Uncle Guo, Uncle Guo; are you okay? Don’t harm my Uncle Guo!”

A tender voice by his side said, “Guo’er, relax, Uncle Guo will be okay after some rest.”

Yang Guo turned his head and saw Huang Rong with an extremely grateful expression. Behind her was someone with tears in her eyes, someone staring at him tenderly and lovingly; it was Xiao Longnu.

Yang Guo called out in alarm, “Gu Gu, why are you here? Have you been captured as well? Quick, run away; just leave me.”

Xiao Longnu said, “Guo’er, you’re back, don’t be afraid. We’re all safely back in Xiangyang.” Yang Guo let out a relieved sigh. His limbs felt lifeless and he closed his eyes again.

Huang Rong said, “He’s awake now, he’ll be fine. You stay here with him.”

Xiao Longnu agreed but her eyes never left Yang Guo. Huang Rong stood up and was about to leave the room when suddenly a noise came from the rooftops. Her expression changed slightly and with a wave of her left palm, she distinguished the light in the room.

When Yang Guo saw the room plunging into darkness, he sat up  in  alarm.  His  injuries  were  just superficial; the reason he had fainted was due to losing a lot of blood and from over exerting himself in the heated battles. He had rested for half a day now and Huang Rong had fed him the Peach Blossom Island’s great medicine the Nine Flowers Jade Dew Pill. With him being young and in great shape, he had almost recovered completely by now. When he heard that someone was on the rooftop, he immediately became alert and was about to get up to face this enemy. Xiao Longnu blocked his way and unsheathed the ‘Gentleman Sword’ that was beside the bed. She whispered, “Guo’er, don’t move, I’ll guard here.”

A laugh came from the rooftop followed by, “I have come to deliver a letter, is it the custom for the Song to greet their guests in the dark? If you are busy, might I come back later?” It was Fawang’s disciple, Huo Dou.

Huang Rong said, “It is the custom of us Song to meet esteemed guests in broad daylight; we meet those who sneak about under the cover of darkness with darkness.”

Huo Dou’s voice choked up and he lightly leapt down to the courtyard. He said, “I have a letter for Guo Jing, Hero Guo.”

Huang Rong opened the door and said, “Please enter.”

Huo Dou did not dare to enter the pitch-black room and stood outside the door. He said, “The letter is here, please take it.”

Huang Rong said, “You described yourself as a guest so why don’t you enter?”

Huo Dou chuckled, “A gentleman in a dangerous place should prepare for the worst.” Huang Rong said, “What kind of gentleman views others with the mind of a scoundrel?”

Huo Dou’s face flushed. Dealing with someone with such expertise with words as Chief Huang, it would be difficult for him to gain any sort of upper hand so he decided it would be better to keep quiet. He  stood outside the door in silence with the letter held out in his hand.

Huang Rong struck out suddenly with her bamboo rod and attacked Huo Dou’s front. Huo Dou, startled by this sudden move, leapt back a few feet, but something was wrong; his hands were empty. Huang Rong had placed the end of her rod on the letter and trapped it with her rod while Huo Dou was jumping back. She was soon to give birth and didn’t want to see any outsiders. This is why she kept away from her enemy. After that shock, Hou Dou became despondent; the confidence he had gained from entering the city had all but disappeared. He shouted loudly, “I have delivered the letter; we will meet again tomorrow night.” Huang Rong thought, “If I let you come and go as you please from the city, how will that make us look?” She picked up a teapot from the table and shook it to the side; a spout of hot tea shot outwards.

Huo Dou had been on his guard for projectiles shot at him. But the water from the teapot came out without any kind of noise; it wasn’t like your typical projectile that cuts the air with a sound. By the time he found out something was wrong, his neck, chest and right arm was covered with the tea. He felt a hot tingling sensation and called out ‘ai ya’ in shock while leaping aside. Huang Rong stood by the door and while Huo Duo’s feet were still unsteady, she stuck out her bamboo rod and used the “Dog Beating Stick Technique’s” ‘trip’ formulae. She flicked the stick up and sent Huo Dou to the ground. Huo Dou leapt up but the rod strokes of this particular ‘trip formulae has each stroke faster than the last. If you are able to dodge the first stroke, you might then be able to think of a way to evade the next. Hou Dou had already been sent to the ground with the first stroke, how easy was it going to be for him to avoid the next? He felt as if his feet had stepped into a pool of slippery mud; he also seemed to have found himself caught in between countless numbers of tree branches and found he was tripping up as soon as he picked himself up from the ground.

Huo Dou’s martial arts were by no means weak; if he fought Huang Rong fair and square he would eventually find himself to be a level lower than Huang Rong. Were his martial arts higher he wouldn’t have been tripped up so pathetically as this just after one stance. The reason he was in such a state was because he thought that the tea that landed on him was some kind of lethal poison. Just as he was fearfully thinking about what kind of horrible death the poison would bring him, Huang Rong suddenly attacked. Once the first attack succeeded, there was no way to defend against the second and in the pitch- blackness, he was tripped up until he was black and blue. Just at this moment, the Wu brothers arrived after hearing all the commotion.

Huang Rong shouted, “Capture that little bastard!”

In his moment of danger, Huo Dou became alert. He knew that if he picked himself up again he would definitely be sent down to the ground again so he called ‘ai ya’ and pretended to have a serious fall. He lay on the ground and didn’t make a move. The Wu brothers threw themselves forward to capture him. Huo Dou’s metal fan suddenly came out and then ‘da da’; he had sealed the pressure point on their legs. He pushed the two forward at the same time to block Huang Rong’s rod stances and leapt up to the top of the wall. He made a bow with his hands and said, “Chief Huang, terrific rod techniques, but it’s a shame about your disciples!”

Huang Rong chuckled, “With that poison on your body, who in their right mind would come and touch you?”

As soon as Huo Dou heard this, he was scared witless, “This poison burns the skin and carries the scent of tea with it; what kind of weird powerful poison is this?”

Huang Rong knew what he was thinking and said, “You’ve been poisoned yet you don’t even know what the name of the poison is. I guess if you die, you won’t die in peace. Fine, there’s no harm in telling you. This poison is called ‘The Tea of Bones from Midnight to Noon’.”

Huo Dou mumbled, “The Tea of Bones from Midnight to Noon?”

Huang Rong said, “Correct. If even one drop of this poison lands on your  skin,  your  whole  body  will dissolve away to your bones. From midnight you won’t see noon,  from  noon  you  won’t  see  midnight. You’ve still got about twelve hours to live; you better make the most of it.”

Huo Dou knew that this Chief Huang has great martial arts and possesses an unfathomable mind. Her father Huang Yaoshi is a greatly educated man and with the name Yao Shi (translates  as  master  of medicine), he of course must be especially skilled in medicine. With Huang Rong’s intelligence and her family’s skills, to make a poison such as ‘The Tea of Bones from Midnight to Noon’ would be easier than turning one’s palm. He stood on top of the wall in a daze, not knowing whether to go back and wait for his death or to lower his head and beg her for the antidote.

Huang Rong knew that Huo Dou was not an idiot, if a little time passes he will see through this little deception so she said, “I had no feuds with you to begin off  with,  if  it  wasn’t  for  your  little  act  of disrespect towards me just now, I wouldn’t have condemned you to your death.”

When Huo Dou heard these words he knew he had a chance to live. He abandoned his pride and leapt down from the wall. He bowed to the ground and said, “I have been disrespectful to Chief Huang, I ask her for her forgiveness.”

Huang Rong hid behind the door and with a light flick of a finger; she shot out a Nine Flowers Jade Dew Pill. She said, “Take it quickly.”

Huo Dou caught it and didn’t waste anytime in taking this life saving pill. He felt a clear essence entering his dan tian and noticed an extremely relaxing feeling throughout his body. He made another bow and said, “Thank you Chief Huang for the antidote!” By now, all his arrogance had disappeared and he retreated slowly to the wall before flipping over and making a swift exit out of the city.

Huang Rong watched him leave and then went over to the Wu brothers and unsealed their pressure points. She then recalled Huo Dou’s words; ‘Chief Huang, terrific rod techniques but it’s a shame about your disciples!’ Though she managed to get rid of Huo Dou with her intelligence, she felt no pride. She may have used the exquisite and deft “Dog Beating Stick Technique” to trip Huo Dou up but her womb still acted up. She sat down on a chair and rested for a while.

Xiao Longnu lit the candles. Huang Rong opened the letter to see:

To Hero Guo from the First Protector of Mongolia Jinlun Fawang;

To be able to meet and admire Hero Guo was a great honour. I had hoped to converse through the night but our meeting was cut short. What did I do to make you leave in such a hurried manner? I will come and visit Hero Guo tomorrow. Until then...”

Huang Rong was alarmed and handed the letter over to Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu to read. She said, “The walls of Xiangyang may be solid but how can it hold out skilled fighters? The enemy is planning an attack but your Uncle Guo is hurt and I can’t do much, what are we going to do?”

Yang Guo said, “Uncle Guo…”

Xiao Longnu looked at him with a scolding glance. Yang Guo knew she was angry with him for risking his life and saving Guo Jing. He closed his mouth and didn’t say a word.

Huang Rong began to get suspicious and said, “Miss Long, Guo’er has not fully recovered yet, we can only rely on Brother Zhu Ziliu and you to fight off the enemy.”

Xiao Longnu has always said whatever that was on her mind and said coldly, “I will protect Guo’er and only him; other people’s lives are nothing to do with me.”

Even more questions appeared in Huang Rong’s mind but she didn’t say much about it. She said to Yang Guo, “Uncle Guo said that it was thanks to your efforts that you managed to escape.”

Yang Guo thought about the many times he had wanted to kill Guo Jing and felt ashamed of himself. He said, “I’m useless, it was my fault that Uncle Guo has become injured.”

Huang Rong said, “Just rest. When the enemy comes, we’ll win by our wits if we can’t win with force.” She turned to Xiao Longnu and said, “Miss Long, come with me, I have something to say to you.”

Xiao Longnu hesitated, “He…” Since Yang Guo returned to Xiangyang, Xiao Longnu had not left his bedside. When she heard Huang Rong summon her, she was afraid that something might happen to Yang Guo.

Huang Rong said, “The enemy said that they will  attack tomorrow, nothing  is going to  happen tonight. I have something to say to you about Guo’er.” Xiao Longnu nodded and whispered instructions to Yang Guo to be careful before leaving the room.

Huang Rong took her to her own room and closed the doors. She said, “Miss Long, you want to kill my husband and I, don’t you?”

Xiao Longnu might be naïve but she was by no means a fool. Xiao Longnu had made her mind up about killing the Guo couple to save Yang Guo’s life. So no matter what Huang Rong would ask her, there was no way she was going to reveal anything to her. However, Huang Rong knew what she was like so she went straight to the point and asked her just like that. Xiao Longnu was shocked by this and hesitated, “I… I… you treat us so well, why should I… why do I want to kill you.”

Huang Rong saw her face had become red and knew that she had guessed correctly so she continued, “You don’t have to keep it from me, I knew long ago. Guo’er blames us for his parents’ deaths and wants to kill us to avenge his father. You love Guo’er so of course are going to help him achieve his wish.”

Xiao Longnu could not deny any of this and kept silent for a while. She eventually gave a sigh and said, “I really don’t understand.”

Huang Rong said, “Don’t understand what?”

Xiao Longnu said, “Why did Guo’er risk his life today to save Master Guo? He and Jinlun Fawang and the others had agreed to kill master Guo together.”

When Huang Rong heard this, she was extremely shocked. She knew that Yang Guo was up to no good but she never could have imagined that he would actually hook up with the Mongolians. She didn’t let any of this show on her face and pretended that she knew all along and said, “It must be because of how well Master Guo has treated him. In the end, Guo’er could not make himself go through with it.”

Xiao Longnu nodded and said mournfully, “There’s nothing more I can say. Since he has decided to let his life slip away then so be it. I have always known that he is the kindest person in the world. He’d rather die then hurt his enemy.”

Many thoughts ran through Huang Rong’s mind but she could not figure out what her words meant. When she saw Xiao Longnu’s mournful expression, she comforted, “There are still some things you don’t know about the death of Guo’er’s father, we’ll clear everything up with him later on. His injuries are not serious, all he needs are just a few days rest, there’s no need for you to be upset.”

Xiao Longnu stared at her for a while before bursting into tears and sobbing, “He… he’s only got seven days to live, how’s resting a few days going to help?”

Huang Rong was stunned and quickly asked, “What is this about only seven days to live? Quickly tell  me, we’ll find a way to save him.”

Xiao Longnu shook her head but eventually she revealed all; the events of the Passionless Valley, how Yang Guo fell victim to the Passion Flower, how Qiu Qianchi gave him half the antidote only and telling them to trade the other half of the antidote for the lives of the Guo couple in a deadline of just eighteen days. She told of the suffering that one goes through when poisoned by the Passion Flower and how the other half pill is the only antidote that exists in the entire world. The more that Huang Rong heard, the more shocked she became. She could never have guessed that Qiu Qianren and Qiu Qianzhang would have a sister named Qiu Qianchi and that this sister would end in such a state.

After explaining everything, Xiao Longnu said, “He’s only got seven days left, even if we kill you and your husband tonight there’s no guarantee that we’ll make it back in time, why should I still want to try to harm you? I just want to save Guo’er; I don’t care about avenging his father.”

Huang Rong had previously thought that the only reason that Yang Guo was up to no good was because of his father’s death, but who would have thought that there were so  many  other  reasons  buried  within. Saving Guo Jing was just the same as deciding to kill himself. A person that can do such a heroic deed as this is really something to commend.

She stood up slowly and paced back and forth across the room. Even with her intelligence, she could not come up with something to get out of the pressing situation they were in; in just a few hours time, the enemy will come and attack. She may have consoled Yang Guo by saying that ‘if they can’t win with force then they’ll win by wits’ but how? How?

Xiao Longnu had just one thing on her mind; Yang Guo. Huang Rong however had two; her husband and her daughter. She was thinking, “How can I keep brother Jing and Fu’er safe?” A thought went through her mind, “Guo’er could risk his life for others so why can’t I?” She then turned around to Xiao Longnu and said, “Miss Long, I have a way to save Guo’er, will you agree to it?”

Xiao Longnu trembled in delight in reaction to this and said, “I… I… even if I have to die… what’s death, even if it’s something ten times worse than death… I’m… willing…”

Huang Rong said, “Fine, only you and I can know about this, you must not let it slip out.” Xiao Longnu agreed instantly.

Huang Rong said, “Tomorrow, you and Guo’er will protect master Guo; once the danger is over, I will give you my head and you can ride the red horse to get to Passionless Valley and obtain the Passionless Pill.”

Xiao Longnu was stunned. She asked, “What?”

Huang Rong said softly, “You value Guo’er more than you value your life, don’t you? As long as he’s safe and well, you will be happy even if you’re dead, right?”

Xiao Longnu nodded, “Yes, how do you know?”

Huang Rong gave a smile and said, “It’s because I love my husband the same way as you love Guo’er. You don’t have a child so you don’t know that a mother’s love for her child is also as strong. I just want you to protect the safety of my husband and daughter, what else could I want?” Xiao Longnu didn’t reply.

Huang Rong said, “If you and Guo’er don’t fight together, we won’t be able to fight off Jinlun Fawang. Guo’er saved my husband and I on many occasions, can’t I save him just once? The red horse can run a thousand  li  (500km/310miles)  in  a  day;  you  will  be  able  to  reach  Passionless  Valley  within  three  days.  Let me tell you, Qiu Qianzhang and Guo’er’s father were harmed by  me  alone,  it  has  nothing  to  do  with Master Guo. Once Qiu Qianchi sees my head, she will have no choice but to hand over the antidote even if she feels it’s not enough. Afterwards, it would be great if you two can help to defend the country; but even if you decide to live in some secluded place by yourselves, I will still be touched.”

It was clear, there was no other way. In the past few days, Xiao Longnu had been trying to come up with a way to kill Guo Jing and Huang Rong to save Yang Guo. But after hearing these words from Huang Rong’s own mouth, she felt uncomfortable and kept on shaking her head, “We can’t, we can’t!”

Huang Rong was about to explain again when suddenly Guo Fu’s voice came from the door, “Mother, mother, are you there?” Her voice sounded urgent.

Huang Rong was shocked and asked, “Fu’er, what is it?”

Guo Fu opened the door and threw herself straight into her mother’s arms, ignoring the fact that Xiao Longnu was there. She called out, “Mother, the Wu’s are…” She burst into tears.

Huang Rong creased her brows and said, “What is it now?” Guo Fu choked, “They… they are fighting outside the city.”

Huang Rong was furious and shouted, “Fighting? They are fighting each other?”

Guo Fu had rarely seen her mother get so angry and was frightened herself. She mumbled, “Yes, I told them to stop but they didn’t listen… they said… they said they were going to fight to the death. They said only one would return… even if the loser doesn’t die, they will not come back to… to see me.”

The more Huang Rong heard the angrier she got. The lives of the army and the people of the city were at stake here and these two brothers were actually fighting each other over a girl. Her anger disturbed her womb causing her great pain; sweat could be seen on her forehead. She lowered her voice and said, “It must be your doing, tell me everything now.”

Guo Fu glanced at Xiao Longnu and became red. She called out, “Mother!”

Xiao Longnu was longing for Yang Guo and had no time to hear about this matter. She turned around and left the room to be with Yang Guo. Her mind was pondering Huang Rong’s words.

Guo Fu waited for Xiao Longnu to leave the room before saying, “Mother, it was entirely my fault that the two went to assassinate Khubilai. Father ending up hurt trying to get them was my fault. If I don’t tell you all about it, how can I face my mother and father?” She then told her mother about how both brothers were trying to please her and how she suggested going to assassinate Khubilai. Anger filled Huang Rong but she could not let it out, she just rolled her eyes at her with displeasure.

Guo Fu said, “Mother, what shall I do? Each of the brothers has their own good points, how can I choose one over the other? Isn’t my suggestion about killing our enemy what you and father want? Whose fault is it that they are so useless and got captured immediately?”

Huang Rong said, “The Wu’s martial arts aren’t the best, you know that.”

Guo Fu said, “What about Yang Guo? He’s only a few years older than them, how did he battle Fawang and break out of the camp at the same time and never got caught?” Huang Rong knew that her daughter had been spoiled ever since she was born and so even at times when Guo Fu knew that she was wrong, she would still try to argue to get her way. Huang Rong did not inquire further about this matter and just said, “They’ve come back now, why are they fighting outside the city?”

Guo Fu said, “Mother, it’s your fault; it’s because you said they are shameful disciples.” Huang Rong was shocked and said, “When did I say that?”

Guo Fu said, “I heard from the Wu’s that when Huo Dou came with the letter, you told them to capture him but instead they had their pressure points sealed. You then blamed them for being useless.”

Huang Rong gave a sigh and said, “If they can’t compete with others, what can I do? Huo Duo was the one who called them shameful disciples.”

Guo Fu said, “Even so, you didn’t argue with him and just stayed silent. The two couldn’t accept it and started arguing amongst themselves, saying how it was each other’s fault. One blamed the other for being too slow and one blamed the other for getting in the way. The argument became heated and soon they drew their swords. I said ‘If you fight in the city and let others see, what’ll happen then? Anyway, father is still recovering; if you bring any more trouble to him I will never see either of you again.’ They then said, ‘Fine, we’ll fight outside the city.’”

Huang Rong stayed silent for a while before saying with anger, “I’ve got much more pressing matters on my mind at the moment. If they want to fight then let them fight all they want.” Guo Fu hugged her elbow and said, “Mother, if either of them gets injured, what then?”

Huang Rong replied, “If the two were injured while trying to fight off the enemy then they deserve our care. But they deserve to die if they are fighting each other.” Guo Fu saw that her mother had an angry expression on her face. This was completely different to the way she normally talked to her so she didn’t dare say anything else. She left the room and closed the doors.

It was now dawn. Light was coming through the windows; Huang Rong was alone in her room. Though she was angry with the Wus, she was still concerned about them; after all, she had watched them grow up over all these years. Her thoughts then turned to the impending danger and tears flowed from her eyes. She was worried about Guo Jing’s injury so she went to see how he was.

Guo Jing was sitting on his bed in meditation when she entered the room. Though his face was pale, his breathing was even and deep. She knew that all he needed was to rest for a few days and he would be back to full health. Memories of when they were younger came flooding back. She thought of the time when they recuperating in Linan.

Guo Jing slowly opened his eyes and saw that his wife had been crying. A smile appeared on his face as he said, “Rong’er, you know my injury is not serious, what are you worried about? You need more rest than me.”

Huang Rong smiled, “Yes. My womb has been acting up over the past few days. Your Polu or Guo Xiang is about to see their father.” She was afraid that Guo Jing would worry if he knew about Huo Dou and the letter so she kept it from him, as well as what the Wus were up to.

Guo Jing said, “Tell the Wu brothers to be on extra alert when patrolling the city, the enemy knows that I’m injured and will most probably take this opportunity to attack.” Huang Rong nodded. Guo  Jing continued, “How’s Guo’er’s injury?”

Before Huang Rong could reply, the sound of footsteps followed by Yang Guo’s voice could be heard from outside the room, “Uncle Guo, I just have superficial injuries, I’m fine now after taking Auntie Guo’s Nine Flowers Jade Dew Pill.” He then opened the door and entered the room. He continued, “I’ve been to the city walls and took a look around; everyone is on high alert but the Wus are…” Huang Rong coughed and made a signal to him with her eyes. He immediately understood and said, “The Wus said that it was their fault that you are injured so if the enemy comes to attack, they will fight to the end to repay their debts to you.”

Guo Jing sighed, “After this experience, I hope that the Wus are now wiser and don’t see everything as achievable.”

Yang Guo said, “Auntie Guo, isn’t Gu Gu with you?”

Huang Rong replied, “I had a little chat with her just now, she’s probably gone back to her room for some rest. Ever since you came back, she hasn’t slept a wink.”

Yang Guo gave an ‘en’ sound and assumed that after their little chat, Xiao Longnu must have gone back to see him. She must have just missed him when he went out to take a look around along the city walls. When he first arrived at Xiangyang, he had his mind set on killing the couple. But after the experiences of these past few days and seeing how they risked their lives for the country and how Guo Jing risked his life saving him, he changed his mind and had now decided to repay them by helping them in any way he could. He knew that he only had seven days to live but he didn’t care; as long as he could do one or two good deeds in these few days he could say that he has been able to do something with his life. He knew that while Guo Jing was injured, the enemy would definitely take this opportunity to attack the city. As soon as he recovered, he immediately went along the city walls to survey the current situation.

He was longing for Xiao Longnu and was about to leave the room in search of her when suddenly laughter could be heard from the rooftops about one hundred feet away. Two loud noises followed as gold clashed with silver; Jinlun Fawang had arrived.

Guo Jing’s face changed slightly and he pulled Huang Rong, trying to hide her behind him.

Huang Rong said, “Brother Jing, what’s more important, Xiangyang or us? Are you more important or am I?”

Guo Jing let Huang Rong go and said, “Yes, the country comes first!”

Huang Rong took out her bamboo rod and went over to the door. What she had discussed with Xiao Longnu had yet to reach Yang Guo’s ears, what was he going to do? Will he help to repel the enemy or will he take advantage of the situation to avenge his father and save his life? His thoughts have always been shrouded in mystery, if he does turn on us it will be even more trouble. Though she was guarding the door, she kept her eye on him. Though what the Guo couple had said didn’t seem much, in Yang Guo’s ears, they rang loud and true. Guo Jing’s kindness had touched him and he had already decided to pay him back with his life and help him. But as he heard the words ‘the country comes first’, something stirred in him and he began to remember the teaching of Guo Jing of a few days earlier, “a hero’s duty is to serve your country, serve your people,” and, “holding your body to the task until your dying day”. He saw how deeply the couple loved each other, but even with themselves in such danger, they put the country first. Yet he could not let the death of his father go and he could not let Xiao Longnu out of his mind; when had he ever thought about his country? When had he ever worried about the suffering of his people? He felt extremely ashamed of himself.

Suddenly, a childhood memory came flooding back to him. It was a memory of Huang Rong teaching him on Peach Blossom Island; the teaching was along the lines of ‘dying for a righteous cause’ and ‘giving your life for justice’. It was now clearer to him than ever before. He seemed a little frightened by this, yet at the same time felt inspired. With life and death now on the line, many things that he’d never thought about never cared about suddenly became crystal clear. He seemed to be a different person with this newfound spirit, taller, bigger and brighter.

Many thoughts flickered through his mind. All this had happened in a short space of time. Huang Rong watched as his face turned from confusion to shame, from poignant to resolute but she couldn’t fathom what he was thinking.

Suddenly Yang Guo said quietly, “You can relax!” Unsheathing the Gentleman Sword, he made his way to the door.

Jinlun Fawang stood on the rooftop with a wheel in each hand. He laughed, “Brother Yang, how does it feel to be a man who goes back on his word?”

If it were the Yang Guo of old, these words would definitely have angered him, but the present Yang Guo was calm and clear. He thought to himself, “You’re right; my mind had never been set until this day. From now on, no matter how long I live, I will never be one  who  goes  back  on  their  word.”  He  laughed, “Fawang, you’re right. I don’t know what came over me that day; I don’t know why I helped Guo Jing escape. But once he got back to Xiangyang, I don’t know where he’s gone and I can’t find him, It’s only now that I’ve regretted what I’ve done. Do you know where he is?” He then leapt up to the roof and stood a few feet in front of him.

Fawang squinted, he knew that this little kid was very crafty and didn’t know whether he was telling the truth or telling a lie. He laughed, “If you find him, what will you do?”

Yang Guo said, “There’s a sword in my hand.” Fawang scoffed, “Huh, you’d actually dare stab him?” Yang Guo said, “Who said I’d stab him?”

Surprised, Fawang replied, “Who then?”

The Gentleman Sword pierced the air as it came towards Fawang’s left side very quickly. At the same time, Yang Guo laughed, “You of course!” This attack came out of nowhere and with great force. With the close distance and being caught unaware, had Fawang’s martial arts been just a little lower, like that of Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi, he would surely have died from that attack. Fawang managed to react in time and gathered chi in his left arm and blocked the attack. However, the Gentleman Sword is an extremely sharp blade, his arm was cut by the sword and he suffered a wound inches deep and blood flowed.

Fawang might have known that Yang Guo was sly, but he would never have guessed that he would actually attack him. Getting injured like this just as he entered Xiangyang enraged him and he attacked furiously with the golden wheel in his right hand and at the same time, he threw the silver wheel in his left towards Yang Guo. Yang Guo stood his ground and took three stances before replying with three stances. He laughed, “I owed you one from your attack at the Mongolian camp. Let me tell you something, do you know that there’s something special about this sword?”

Fawang couldn’t help himself and asked, “What?” as he attacked continuously with his silver wheel. Yang Guo laughed, “Let me tell you that it’s not my fault.”

Fawang said, “Damn you punk! What’s not your fault?”

Yang Guo said smugly. “This sword came from the Passionless Valley. Gongsun Zhi likes to use a bit of poison here and there so if you want to take revenge, go find him.”

Fawang was slightly alarmed as he wondered whether Gongsun Zhi would have laced his swords with poison. Unsettled, his stances become slower. In reality, what poison was there on the sword? Yang Guo remembered how Huang Rong had scared away Huo Dou with tea and because he knew that his martial arts were not Fawang’s match, he tried to use words to disturb his enemy. As soon as he saw it had worked, he concentrated on defending and waited for a chance to pounce. Though Fawang’s injury was not serious; even without poison, the wound bled non-stop and as time went by, he would definitely tire. In the current situation, it would be to his advantage to have a quick battle so he hurried his wheels and attacked with even more vigor.

Yang Guo knew what Fawang intended to do and he defended even harder than usual. The power behind Fawang’s wheels was getting  greater  and  greater.  Suddenly,  Fawang’s  golden  wheel  attacked  upwards and his silver swept across leaving Yang Guo with no other choice but to leap back. Fawang tore a piece of his sleeve off to wrap up his wound but as soon as he did this, Yang Guo came at him again. This game of cat and mouse continued on for a little while before Fawang decided on another plan; as soon as Yang Guo leaps back, he would leap back also and at the same time, throw his silver wheel. This would force Yang Guo to go back even further. This would  leave him  with enough time  to tend to  his wound.  By the time Yang Guo came back for another attack, Fawang had wrapped up his wound. The fact that there didn’t seem to be any discomfort from his wound indicated that the blade was probably not laced with poison; he relaxed.

At that same time, the sounds of clashing weapons could be heard from a southeastern direction. Yang Guo glanced over and saw Xiao Longnu engaged in battle with Xiaoxiang Zi and Nimoxing. In Xiaoxiang Zi’s hand was a rod that looked exactly like the one that Yang Guo had snatched away and lost in his daze at the Mongolian camp, did this one contain poison as well? With the Guo couple directly below him, Yang Guo knew that it would be disastrous if Fawang finds them, he needed to lure him away. He must make sure that he didn’t reveal his intentions to Fawang so he called out, “Gu Gu, don’t worry, I’m coming!” After a few leaps, he landed behind Nimoxing and he sent his sword forward.

Fawang was of course furious with Yang Guo after being wounded by him but he had come to Xiangyang for Guo Jing; Yang Guo could wait. He called out loudly, “Guo Jing, Hero Guo, I’ve come to visit; why aren’t you here to greet your guests?” He called out a few times but there was no reply.

Shouts and calls could be heard from the northwest; it was his two disciples Da’erba and Huo Dou fighting Zhu Ziliu. The fight between Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu with Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi wasn’t going to end anytime soon. More and more guards were coming to see what was going on. Fawang knew that these guards wouldn’t be able to do anything to him but in numbers, they would make things cumbersome for him, so he called out again, “Guo Jing, oh Guo Jing, you are a so called Hero so why are you hiding away like some coward?”

He was becoming more and more insulting; the calls went on as he attempted to anger Guo Jing into coming out, but still, there was no sign of him. He thought, “There are thousands of homes in Xiangyang, who knows where he’s hiding? He’s willing to accept this abuse to keep his life, but once his injuries have recovered it will be difficult to kill him.” He pondered for a little while and an evil plan hatched. He leapt down from the roof and found where the firewood was kept. He took out his fire knife and splint to the firewood and lit it. He went around and lit several piles of firewood before leaping back up to the roof. Once the fire spreads, Guo Jing will have no choice but to come out.

Though Yang Guo was in battle with Xiaoxiang Zi and Nimoxing, he kept his eye on Fawang. When he saw Fawang suddenly set the place on fire and the rooms north and south of Guo Jing’s room started smoldering, he became alarmed and, as he did so, he almost let Nimoxing’s Iron Snake strike him across the chest. He quickly moved out of the way. If Guo Jing hadn’t broken Nimoxing’s ribs a few days earlier, this attack would have left Yang Guo seriously injured.

Yang Guo thought, “That was close!” His thoughts then turned to Guo Jing. “Uncle Guo is seriously injured and Auntie Guo’s due to give birth. If the two don’t come out then they’ll be trapped by the fire, but if they do, they’ll run into that bald scoundrel.” He had no choice but to leave Xiao Longnu alone to fight the two; so he quickly thrust out two stances towards Xiaoxiang Zi and leapt down. He dived into the fire and flames to look for the Guo couple.

He found Huang Rong by Guo Jing’s bed but at same time, smoke was pouring through the windows. Guo Jing had his eyes closed and was meditating; Huang Rong appeared weak and fragile. When she saw him enter, she could only smile. Yang Guo was put at ease a little when he saw that the two weren’t alarmed and immediately thought of a plan. He whispered, “I’ll lure them away. Take uncle Guo to some place safe and hide.” He then lightly took off Guo Jing’s hat and leapt out of the window.

Huang Rong didn’t know what he was up to but the smoke was getting closer and closer. She reached out to help Guo Jing up and she said, “Let’s find another place to rest.” As soon as she used an ounce of her strength in her arm, she felt a pain in her stomach. She sat down on the bed and cursed, “You little devil, you’ve got a great sense of timing haven’t you; do you want to kill your daddy and mommy?” There were a few days before she was actually due but all the stress and commotions of the past few days had inadvertently sped the birth along. As soon as Yang Guo leapt out of the window, he saw guards shouting and bellowing everywhere; some were taking buckets of water to dampen the flames, others were firing arrows towards the rooftop. There were some who were slashing their weapons about jumping and cursing. He jumped behind a guard in grey and sealed his pressure point. Yang Guo placed Guo Jing’s hat on him and lifted him onto his back. He then leapt up to the rooftops whilst swirling his sword around.

At this time, Xiao Longnu and Zhu Ziliu who were fighting two opponents each in the form of Nimoxing and Xiaoxiang Zi, and Huo Dou and Da’erba, and were losing. Jinlun Fawang on the other hand was threatening Guo Fu with his wheels, waving them around inches away from her face to force her to reveal her parents’ location. Guo Fu’s hair was in a mess and her sword tip had been smashed to pieces by Fawang’s golden wheel, but she bit down on her tongue and kept on fighting, ignoring Fawang’s questions. She was extremely angry inside as she thought, “If the Wus hadn’t gone off to kill each other, the three of us could take care of this bald scoundrel.” She couldn’t help herself blurting out, “Fine, go and fight amongst yourselves, I don’t care who wins, you’ll just be coming back to a corpse!”

Fawang was dumbfounded by her words; “What? Where is Guo Jing?”

He was waiting for Guo Fu to reply when he spotted Yang Guo making his escape in a northwesterly direction with a person on his back; this had to be Guo Jing. He left Guo Fu and immediately chased after Yang Guo. Huo Dou, Da’erba, Xiaoxiang Zi and Nimoxing had also spotted Yang Guo and they left their opponents and chased after Yang Guo. Zhu Ziliu followed to help Yang Guo protect Guo Jing.

When Yang Guo was on the roof, he ran past Xiao Longnu, winked and smiled at her with a crafty expression on his face. Xiao Longnu knew he was up to something but she didn’t know what. With so many people chasing after him, she wanted to go with him to help him but at the exact same time, she heard crying from below; the crying of a baby.

Guo Fu said with joy, “Mother’s given birth!” and leapt down.

Xiao Longnu was curious and along with the fact that Yang Guo seemed to have things under control, she wanted to take a look at Huang Rong’s child, so she too leapt down from the rooftops and followed.

Jinlun Fawang chased after Yang Guo with great effort and saw the distance between them getting smaller and smaller. He thought, “Let’s see how you’re going get out of this one.” He saw that the person on Yang Guo’s back was wearing the same hat that Guo Jing was wearing a few days ago and was sure that it was him.

The Ancient Tomb’s lightness kung fu that Yang Guo had learned could be said to be unequalled under heaven’s skies; even with someone on his back, Fawang would not be able to catch up with him for the time being. Yang Guo ran along the rooftops for a while but  he  soon  heard  the  footsteps  behind  him getting closer and closer, so he leaped down into an alleyway and ran around in circles, playing hide and seek with Fawang.

Yang Guo’s lightness kung fu may be a level higher than Fawang’s but after all, there was someone on his back. If it was in the open, Fawang would have caught up long ago but in the dark and twisty alleyways, he was able to keep one step ahead of Fawang. After circling in the alleyways a few times, Nimoxing, Xiaoxiang Zi and Zhu Ziliu arrived.

Fawang said to Nimoxing, “Brother Nimo, guard the end of the alley, I’ll chase the rabbit out of its den.” Nimoxing rolled his eyes and shouted, “Why the hell should I listen to you?”

Fawang felt that Nimoxing was being unreasonable. He leaped up to the rooftops and took a look around; he spotted Yang Guo trying to catch his breath in a dark corner with Guo Jing on his back. He quietly went closer to him overhead, but just as he was about to jump down and catch him, Yang Guo suddenly called out and disappeared into the smoke.

Fawang had set the fire to force Guo Jing out, but now the smoke from the fire was making it difficult for him to catch Yang Guo. As he was looking around, Da’erba suddenly called out, “He’s over there!”

Fawang followed his voice to find Da’erba fighting Yang Guo with his golden rod. Fawang went forward to block Yang Guo’s escape route. Yang Guo dashed ahead and in a flash, he was by Da’erba’s side. At the same time, Fawang’s silver wheel had come shooting out.

The silver wheel came like the wind leaving Yang Guo with no time to dodge; a tearing sound was heard as it brushed past ‘Guo Jing’, leaving a deep wound.

Fawang was delighted and called out; “Ha! I hit you!”

However, Yang Guo kept on running, ignoring whether or not ‘Guo Jing’ was still alive or not. Yang Guo made his way to the end of the alley only to hear a cackling voice, “Little boy, just give up!” It was Xiaoxiang Zi with his rod blocking the end of the alleyway. Yang Guo had no way forward and no way back, he looked upwards and saw a black figure; it was Nimoxing. Yang Guo leapt up but Nimoxing used his Iron Snake to strike downwards, wanting to force him back down  into  the  alleyway.  Yang  Guo calculated that by now, he had given the Guo couple enough time to escape so he took the guard off his back and threw him towards Nimoxing, calling out, “Here, I’ll let you have Guo Jing.”

Nimoxing was delighted by this turn of events, he had thought that Yang Guo would give him a lot of trouble, but who would have thought that he would give up and actually give him such a great gift? He stretched out his hands to catch him. Yang Guo sent out a powerful kick that struck him on the behind, sending him down into the alleyway.

Nimoxing called out in delight, “I’ve got Guo Jing; I’m Mongolia’s Greatest Warrior!”

Da’erba and Xiaoxiang Zi were never going to let him take this prize on his own without a fight and both went over to him. The three of them held on to the guard pulling at him with great strength and with such force, that the guard tore into three pieces. The hat fell off the guard’s head and only then did the three see that it was not Guo Jing. Stunned, they stood there speechless.

When Fawang saw that Yang Guo had left Guo Jing, he knew something was up so he did not go forward to struggle with the three. Seeing them standing there in a daze, he scoffed, “Idiots!” He continued to go after Yang Guo, thinking that, even if he does not capture Guo Jing, taking Yang Guo’s life would be a good day’s work.

But by now, Yang Guo was nowhere to be seen, how was he going to find him? Fawang thought for while and came up with a plan, “Yang Guo must have lured us away from the real target. Guo Jing must have been near where we first started. Fine, I’ll lure him out.” He made his way to where the flames were strongest.

Yang Guo was hiding underneath a rooftop, observing what was happening. He watched as Fawang headed in Guo Jing’s direction. Yang Guo did not know whether Guo Jing had escaped to another place yet so he followed Fawang quietly. Fawang ran back to near the room where Guo Jing was and leapt down. He called out, “So Guo Jing, you’re hiding here. Come with me!”

Yang Guo was shocked and was about to jump down when he heard the sounds of clashing weapons. Fawang called out; “Guo Jing, surrender now!” The sounds of clashing metal rang loudly.

Yang Guo rolled his eyes and laughed, “Bald bastard, I almost fell for your trick. Your plan is flawed, why the sound effects? In Uncle Guo’s condition, how can he exchange stances with you? And how could he last so long? I’ll hide here and watch what else you’ll get up to.”

Suddenly, Fawang called out, “Yang Guo, this time you die!”

Yang Guo was puzzled, “What’s this about me dying this time?” He then knew what Fawang was planning, “Oh, you can’t get me to come out so now you’re trying to get Uncle Guo to out to save me.”

He heard Fawang laughed, “Yang Guo oh Yang Guo, you’ve lived long enough.”

As soon as he finished, a white blur came out of the smoke; a young girl had darted forward and was thrusting her sword towards him.

Yang Guo called out, “Gu Gu, I’m here!” However, Fawang swung his wheels and blocked Xiao Longnu’s way. When Fawang was trying to give the impression that Yang Guo was in danger, Xiao Longnu heard him and of course she was concerned so she came dashing out.

Yang Guo rushed forward armed with his sword. After a smile to each other, the two of them used the “Pure Heart of the Jade Maiden Swordplay”, trapping Fawang within the boundary of the swords.

Fawang cursed, “What have I done?” Scalding smoke, burning pillars and falling debris were all around them.

Fawang put everything he had behind his wheels to fend off the swords and quickly retreated to the northwestern corner.

Yang Guo said, “We can’t let him escape, we must get rid of him once and for all.” He aimed for Fawang’s back with his sword.

After tasting defeat from the “Pure Heart of the Jade Maiden Swordplay”, he pondered and tried to come up with a way that would defeat it. But this swordplay was deep and profound, the two users became as one and it was like fighting against a great martial artist who had four arms and four legs. He didn’t have much confidence as to whether or not he could actually defeat this swordplay, but in this dangerous situation, he had no other choice but to use the “Cyclone of the Five Wheels” that he had been working on. Though there were still many weaknesses with this technique, he had to give it a try so he searched his body and with a ringing sound, three wheels were in the air and one each in his hands. His five wheels were of different weights and of slightly different sizes, and they come to and from his hands as he pleased; slanting in the air sometimes and suddenly straightening up.

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu felt their eyes dazzled and were slightly alarmed. Yang Guo sent two stances to the left as he leaned right, Xiao Longnu immediately responded and she too sent out numerous stances to the right with her Lady Sword. She moved with force and shifted towards Yang Guo. The two saw that the enemy’s stances were too strange so they decided to defend first and try to grasp the techniques that Fawang was using before coming up with a counterattack in response.

Fawang’s wheels turned and flew about but the two’s swords flew up and then crossed, forming a net of light. Though the power of the five wheels was great, it was unable to penetrate the swords. He sighed, “Looks like even with using five wheels, I am still unable to defeat their swordplay.” Just as he was feeling dejected, a baby’s crying could be heard coming from Xiao Longnu’s arms. Fawang was shocked at this sudden turn of events but he wasn’t the only one; Yang Guo was extremely surprised. In shock, their stances slowed.

Xiao Longnu patted the child in her arms with her left hand and said, “Don’t cry precious, and watch me drive that monk away.” However, the baby cried even louder.

Yang Guo said, “Its Auntie Guo’s?”

Xiao Longnu nodded and sent a piercing stroke towards Fawang.

Fawang swept his golden wheel across and blocked the attack. He didn’t hear Yang Guo and didn’t know what Xiao Longnu was doing with a baby in her arms; but since she’s got extra baggage, her swordplay will suffer so he threw out his golden wheel and attacked Xiao Longnu.

Yang Guo intercepted the attacks and turned his head towards Xiao Longnu, asking, “Uncle and Auntie Guo are safe?”

Xiao Longnu said, “Chief Huang and Master Guo escaped…” A clashing sound was heard as she parried Fawang’s bronze wheel. She continued, “It was becoming dangerous as it  looked  like  the  beam  in  the ceiling was about to collapse so I took the baby girl…”

Yang Guo slashed out at Fawang’s right leg and neutralized the lead wheel’s attack directed at Xiao Longnu before asking, “It’s a girl?” Yang Guo was slightly surprised that it was another girl since Guo Jing had a daughter already.

Xiao Longnu nodded, “It’s a girl, here quickly take her…” She was about to hand the baby over to Yang Guo.

But amongst the cries of the baby, Fawang’s attacks were becoming more and more ferocious. Three wheels circled in the air and attacked from the above while vicious attacks still came from the wheels in Fawang’s hands.

Yang Guo had to use every ounce of strength he had to fend off these attacks, how could he take the baby? Xiao Longnu called out, “Quickly take the baby and use the red horse to go to…”

Ringing sounds were heard as the two wheels became more and more threatening; Xiao Longnu no longer had time to speak. The two’s thoughts were not in line and so they could not unleash the full power of the swordplay.

Yang Guo knew that if he took the baby from Xiao Longnu, she would no longer be distracted so he moved towards her slowly. Xiao Longnu wanted to hand the baby over to him and now that their thoughts were the same, the power of the swordplay suddenly increased. It was as if the sword had lengthened and Fawang was forced backwards two steps. Xiao Longnu handed the baby over to Yang Guo and he was just about to take it when a black blur suddenly came towards them; the iron wheel was sent flying towards the baby. Xiao Longnu was afraid that the baby would get hurt so she loosened her grip on the baby and used her left hand to catch the wheel. The iron wheel was coming towards her with great force and it was extremely sharp but Xiao Longnu was wearing the golden silk gloves, and as she met the wheel, she followed the force of the wheel and pushed it to the side to dampen the urgent spinning of the wheel before finally pushing up and catching the wheel; it was a great use of the ‘Four Liangs Against a Thousand Jin’ theory.

By now, Yang Guo had the baby in his hands and when he saw the wheel in Xiao Longnu’s hand, he called out, “Wonderful!” If Fawang had sent the wheel towards Xiao Longnu, she would not have been able to catch it; she was only able to catch it because the wheel was aimed at the baby.

Xiao Longnu was delighted when she caught the wheel but the icy expression on her face remained. Suddenly, she copied the form of Fawang and raised the wheel, smashing it towards her enemy; she wanted to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Fawang was alarmed, with one wheel missing; his “Cyclone of the Five Wheels” was neutralized. He decided to take in two of his wheels and just use two in his hands, cutting and slashing forwards.

Yang Guo held the baby with his left arm and said, “Let’s kill this bald scoundrel first and talk later.”

Xiao Longnu said, “Fine!” Her left hand held the iron wheel across her chest as she attacked with Yang Guo. With another powerful weapon in her hand and with one thing less to worry about, she should have become more powerful but after a few stances, she found  that  her  sword  strokes  did  not  match  Yang Guo’s and they found it difficult to unite.

This swordplay’s power lies within the user’s pure and complete love for each other, right now the wheel between the two swords was an extra thing. It was like placing a third person between a pair of lovers, causing trouble and unrest, how could their thoughts become one now? The two did not know what was wrong for the time being and after a few more exchanges; they actually found themselves worse off than fighting individually.

Xiao Longnu was getting anxious and she said, “We can’t beat him today, quickly take the baby to Passionless Valley and…”

Yang Guo now knew her intentions; if he rode the red horse now, he would definitely be able to reach Passionless Valley within seven days time. Though he wouldn’t have the heads of Guo Jing and Huang Rong for Qiu Qianchi, by taking the baby to Qiu Qianchi and telling her that they’ll definitely come for it, she would be able to come up with her own way to take revenge. Qiu Qianchi would definitely hand over the antidote. As soon as he recovers, he can rescue the baby from danger. Qiu Qianchi would definitely fall for this plan. If it were two days ago, Yang Guo would have agreed without any hesitation but now, Guo Jing’s patriotic spirit had left him in complete awe, he could not risk Guo Jing’s daughter for himself. Taking his daughter to Passionless Valley was taking advantage no matter which way you look at it; it is not the act of a true man and because of this he kept quiet before saying, “Gu Gu, no!”

Xiao Longnu said, “You… you…” She had only said two words before a tearing sound was heard as the cloth on her left shoulder was cut by Fawang’s golden wheel.

Yang Guo said, “If I do such a thing, how can I face Uncle Guo? I would not be worthy of using this sword?” He raised the Gentleman Sword.

Xiao Longnu did not know about his sudden change of mind, all she was concerned about was to rid the poison in is his body. After hearing him say that he can’t treat the person who killed his father like this and how he wants to be a honorable gentleman, she couldn’t stop herself from feeling shocked.

With the differing thoughts, it was even more difficult for the swords in their hands to respond. Fawang took this chance to advance forward and elbowed Yang Guo on the left shoulder.

Yang Guo felt numbness go through him and the baby in his arm dropped. The three of them had been fighting on the rooftops and now the baby fell towards the ground. Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu both cried out wanting to jump after it but it was too late.

Fawang had heard what the two had said and now knew that the baby was Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s daughter. He may not have caught Guo Jing but by having his daughter as hostage, he could force Guo Jing to surrender, what more could he want? It was now getting urgent and he sent out the golden wheel with his right hand, which intercepted the falling baby.

The wheel was five feet above the ground, carrying the baby with it. The three of them leapt down from the roof to grab the wheel. Yang Guo was closest and saw that the wheel was flying closer and closer to the ground and soon will hit the ground. He immediately rolled over towards the wheel, wanting to sandwich himself between it and the ground so he could take the wheel and baby at the same time, keeping her safe. Suddenly, an arm stretched out from the side and grabbed the wheel, taking the baby with it. The person turned and ran.

Yang Guo got up and Xiao Longnu and Fawang dashed over to him. She said, “It’s my apprentice sister.”

Yang Guo saw that the person was wearing an apricot yellow gown and was holding a fly whisk; it was indeed Li Mochou. How could the baby be safe now that it had fallen into the clutches of this evil woman? He immediately ran after her. Xiao Longnu called out, “Apprentice sister, apprentice sister, that baby is very important, what are you doing?”

Li Mochou did not turn back and replied from afar, “Every generation of my Ancient Tomb sect have been virgins yet you have actually given birth, how shameful!”

Xiao Longnu said, “It’s not my child, give it back to me.” She called out many times but as she did so, she loosened her chi and she was left behind. She saw that they were headed north and so she followed.

The city was filled with soldiers; as some tried to control the fire and others hunted down the spies. Xiao Longnu ignored them all and ran to the city walls to find Lu Youjiao with a group of Beggar Clan members patrolling the northern gate in case the enemy wished to take advantage of the city being on fire and attack.

As soon as he saw Xiao Longnu he asked, “Miss Long, are Chief Huang and Hero Guo safe?”

Xiao Longnu ignored his question and instead asked, “Have you seen Master Yang and Jinlun Fawang? Have you seen a woman carrying a child?”

Lu Youjiao pointed outside of the city and said, “The three of them leapt down from the wall and left.”

Xiao Longnu was startled; the wall was extremely high, even with supreme martial arts your legs and arms would break if you jumped down from such a height; how did the three manage this feat? She was just about to inquire further when she spotted a Beggar Clan member brushing the precious red horse and a thought went through her mind, “Even if Guo’er somehow manages to snatch the baby back, without this horse, how will he get to the Passionless Valley in time?” She darted over to the horse and took its reigns before saying to Lu Youjiao, “I have an urgent matter to attend to and I need to leave the city with this horse.”

All Lu Youjiao was concerned with was the safety of Huang Rong and Guo Jing and he asked again; “Are Chief Huang Rong and Hero Guo safe?”

Xiao Longnu mounted the horse and said, “They’re safe. Chief Huang’s baby daughter  has  just  been snatched away; I need to get her back.” Lu Youjiao was shocked by the news and immediately ordered the gate opened.

The city gate was only opened a few feet and the drawbridge had yet to touch the ground when Xiao Longnu had made her way out. After one slap, the gallant red horse flew over the moat spectacularly. The on looking guards all cheered at the spectacle.

Outside the city walls, Xiao Longnu saw the crushed corpses of two soldiers by the city wall along with the carcass of a horse. She looked all around but how would she know what direction they were headed? She was now anxious and desperate. She stroked the neck of the horse and said, “I’m trying to find your baby master, please take me there!”

Who knew whether the horse understood or not but it raised its head and neighed before galloping in a northeasterly direction.

After chasing Li Mochou to the top of the city wall, both Yang Guo and Jinlun Fawang thought with the walls being at such a height, there would be no where else for her to go. However, as soon as she reached the top of the city walls she grabbed a soldier and threw him off the wall before following herself. Before the guard reached the ground, she used him to break her fall and threw herself forward, gliding down to the ground, all without disturbing the baby. The soldier died without ever making a sound.

Fawang cursed, “What a vicious woman!” He did as she did and sent a guard down from the wall using him to break his fall.

Yang Guo could not bring himself to use someone else as a cushion for himself but it was getting urgent. Just at this moment, his mind lit up and he sent a steed off the city wall and before it landed, he leapt onto the horse’s back. While the horse met its death, Yang Guo continued his chase.

During the battle at the Mongolian camp a day earlier, Yang Guo was wounded twice by Fawang’s wheels and though the injuries themselves were not serious, he had lost a lot of blood, his body was weak and after another day of intense fighting, he felt he could not last much longer. But as he thought about the dreadful fate that would fall upon his Uncle Guo’s daughter in the hands of either Li Mochou or Jinlun Fawang, he ignored his pain and urgently chased after them.

The three of them had been running extremely fast but with Li Mochou having to carry a baby and with Fawang taking precautions about his possible poisonous sword wound, none of them were traveling as fast as before. A few miles later, with Xiangyang far behind them, there was still about a distance of a hundred feet between them. Fawang could not catch up with Li Mochou and Yang Guo could not catch up with Fawang.

After a while, Li Mochou saw that there were hills and mountains in front of her so she sped that way thinking it would be easier to lose her pursuers in the mountain valleys.  Though  she  had  heard  Xiao Longnu say it was not her child, after seeing how Yang Guo risked life and limb for it, she was sure that it was their bastard child and as long as it was in her hands, they could be forced to hand over her sect’s “Jade Maiden’s Manual” to her.

The further they went the higher they got as the terrain became more mountainous and wooded. Fawang was afraid that if he didn’t stop her now, should she hide in the dense woodland, it would be difficult for him to find her. He had never fought Li Mochou before but after seeing her excellent lightness kung fu, he knew that she would be a strong foe. He had lost two of his wheels and didn’t want to risk throwing any. But it was getting urgent, he could not waste any more time so he called out, “Lady, leave the child and I’ll spare your life; if you don’t, then don’t blame this monk for being merciless.”

Li Mochou laughed and sped up once again. With a wave of his right arm, he sent out his silver wheel. The wheel became a white streak as it headed for Li Mochou’s back.

Li Mochou could not ignore the force of the incoming weapon and she turned around, deciding to use her fly whisk against it. However, as soon as she saw how fast the wheel was turning she changed her mind. She was afraid that her weapon would break; she decided to move out of the way instead. Fawang advanced two steps and threw out his bronze wheel. This time, he threw it outwards so that it would curve in, smashing its target on its way back. Again, Li Mochou did not dare to take this attack head on; she moved back three steps and bent her waist, using advanced lightness kung fu to avoid this attack. Now, there was only about thirty feet between she and Fawang. Fawang caught his silver wheel with his left hand and threw the lead wheel in his right hand towards her left shoulder.

Li Mochou whirled her fly whisk to the side, forming thousands of golden needles that rained toward Fawang’s eyes. Fawang threw his silver wheel upwards to block the attack while at the same time with his free hand; he caught his incoming bronze wheel. His crossed his arms and his wheels collided, ringing throughout the valley. His silver and bronze wheels had changed hands and he now started to use lethal attacks with both.

With a great foe in front of her, Li Mochou’s spirit stirred, who would have thought that this tall and skinny monk would possess such great strength and be so swift in his attacks. She fought with everything she knew and gave it everything she had.

After a few exchanges, Yang Guo had made his way to them. He watched from the side, catching his breath and waited for a chance to snatch the baby back. The two of them were fighting quicker and quicker with a fly whisk whirling about amongst the three wheels.

When it came to martial arts and internal energy, Fawang was a level higher than Li Mochou along with the fact that Li Mochou was carrying the child; she would surely be defeated within a hundred stances.

However, towards the beginning of the fight when Li Mochou was trying to protect the child from the sharp blades of the wheels, she noticed that whenever the wheels came close to the baby, Fawang would quickly take the attack back and she then knew what he was trying to do, “That bald bastard wants to take the child and he doesn’t want to hurt it.”

With her ruthless nature, she didn’t care about the safety of others and now that she knew what Fawang was up to, whenever she found herself unable to withstand his vicious moves, she would hold the baby up to protect herself. The baby was now no longer a hindrance but instead a powerful shield, as soon as it was raised, no matter how vicious and ruthless Fawang’s stances were, they would all be taken back.

Fawang attacked several times with the wheel but each time he was forced back by Li Mochou using the baby as a shield. Yang Guo watched with anxiety; a mistake by either of them would surely send the baby to its death. Just as he was about to make his move, Fawang suddenly smashed out and inwards with the silver wheel in his right hand and pushed forward with the bronze wheel in his other hand; by doing this, the wheels trapped Li Mochou within his arms.

Li Mochou’s face went red; what kind of monk would actually use such a stance? She whirled her fly whisk behind to block the silver wheel and raised the baby in front of her to protect her chest. When Fawang had decided to use this particular stance, he had calculated the response; he loosened his left finger and his bronze wheel shot upwards towards her face.

The wheel was only about inches away from her; with the wheel suddenly flying towards her like that with such great force, it was not going be easy to fend off this attack. Luckily for her however, she was an experienced fighter after all these years in the world of Jiang Hu; experience that far exceeded that of Fawang. In this danger she leaned back with her feet nailed to the ground and sent an attack of her own towards his shoulders. Fawang shrugged his shoulders and the fly whisk brushed past; however there were a few threads that had struck his shoulder. His left hand was empty and so, he chopped down onto her left arm. Li Mochou’s arm immediately went numb and she cried out in pain. She leapt away but something was missing; the baby had been snatched away by Fawang.

Just when Fawang thought he had succeeded, a gust of wind came from his side; it was Yang Guo throwing himself forward to grab the baby. Rolling on the ground, he swung his sword into a web of light to protect his body and as he got up, he used a stance of “Sailing with the Waves”, stopping his two foes from getting close to him.

When he saw that the baby had fallen into Fawang’s hands, he knew that as soon as Fawang got a proper hold on her, it would be near to impossible to snatch her back so he risked life and limb to get her back. In a flash, the baby had exchanged hands twice.

Li Mochou praised him; “Yang Guo, exquisite move!”

Fawang was furious and he knocked his wheels together, the wheels ringing like the roar of a dragon. He waved out his left sleeve and threw the wheel in his right hand towards Yang Guo. Yang Guo pretended to stab forward before turning around to run but something breezed past him; it was Li Mochou blocking his path with her fly whisk. She smiled, “Yang Guo, no running! Let’s see you fight a bit with that monk first.” Yang Guo saw that Fawang’s bronze wheel was only inches away from him; he had no choice but to raise his sword and block the attack.

After dueling with each other for so long, the two were very familiar with the other’s martial arts and both attempted to beat the other with speed. The two became a blur as three streaks of light danced around; in a flash the two had exchanged over twenty stances.

Li Mochou was shocked, thinking, “It wasn’t too long ago that I last  saw  him,  how  on  earth  has  he achieved such a level of martial arts?”

Yang Guo had made improvements in his martial arts but some of the improvement was due to the fact that he knew that he didn’t have long to live. He decided to repay Guo Jing back with his life and so, when a dangerous stance came at him, he didn’t care and instead replied with one of his own, forcing Fawang to adjust.

Yang Guo may not have cared about his life but it was a different story with the life of the baby. Though he saw that Fawang’s and Li Mochou’s stances avoided the baby during their fight, this was Guo Jing’s child and he was not going to employ the tactic that Li Mochou used and risk the safety of the child. By putting the safety of the child first, he was soon facing death in the face.

Against Li Mochou, Fawang had to take extreme care in avoiding the baby but with Yang Guo doing the opposite of Li Mochou and protecting her, he began to aim for the baby more than he did at Yang Guo. As a result, Yang Guo was forced on the back foot ever further and he couldn’t last much longer. He called out, “Martial Uncle Li help me against this bald bastard.”

Fawang glanced over at Li Mochou who was standing there watching the fight with a smile on her face.

Fawang didn’t understand, “Xiao Longnu called her apprentice sister and she is indeed his apprentice uncle, why isn’t she helping? Are they planning something? I need to wound this kid and snatch the baby first.” He increased the power in his attacks leaving Yang Guo almost defenseless.

Li Mochou knew that Fawang would not harm the child, no matter how many times Yang Guo asks for help she’d just ignore him. She placed her hands behind her back and watched at leisure.

After a while, Yang Guo felt a throbbing pain in his chest. He knew that his internal energy could not compare with his opponent; he would not be able to last much longer fighting as hard as this. He hadn’t heard the baby’s cries for a while and was afraid something was wrong, so he looked within his arms only to see an adorable face with pearl black eyes starring back at him.

Yang Guo had never got on with Guo Fu but he felt something towards this baby girl in his arms, “In seven days time I’ll be dead, I’m risking my life and limb for her today and if by some miracle I managed to save her, I wonder whether she’ll remember me a few years when she’s all grown up like her sister?” In such an emotional state, he almost cried.

Li Mochou saw that he was exhausted and knew that he’ll soon die by the twin wheels; she was about to go forward and help him when she thought, “This kid’s martial arts have made great improvements, I better leave it to the monk to finish him off to save me future trouble.” So, she kept to the side.

Of the three, Fawang had the highest martial arts, Li Mochou was the most ruthless but Yang Guo was the most cunning. After he got over his sadness, he immediately came up with a plan, he thought, “When Auntie Guo told me the story of the Three Kingdoms, she said that Cao Wei was the strongest and when Shu Han rebelled against Cao Wei, Shu needed the help of Sun Quan.” Li Mochou may not offer help but he can offer his help to her. He blocked Fawang’s attack and threw the baby over to her calling out, “Catch!”

This action was something that Li Mochou did not expect, she didn’t know what he meant by this action but took the baby anyway.

Yang Guo called out, “Apprentice Uncle, take the baby and leave, I’ll hold the monk up!” He sent two strokes forward with all his might, keeping Fawang back.

Li Mochou thought, “Oh, he’s hoping I’ll still respect the fact that we are of the same sect and so I’ll keep it alive.”

How would she know that Yang Guo had an ulterior motive, as soon as she tried to make her escape, Fawang smashed his silver wheel towards her back, switching his attention from Yang Guo to her. This stance came at her extremely fast and she tried to adjust her movements but the silver wheel followed her like a shadow. Li Mochou had no choice but to use her fly whisk to block the attack.

Yang Guo breathed out a sigh of relief when he saw that his plan had worked, but he did not wait by the side and watch the two destroy each other like Li Mochou had done. As soon as he gathered his breath he immediately dived in and attacked Fawang.

The sun was in the sky and light shone through the canopy of the forest. Yang Guo felt freshened and his swordplay became more fluent. A ringing sound was heard as the Gentleman Sword slashed a piece of the bronze wheel off. Fawang was slightly alarmed but his attacks became even more vicious.

Yang Guo thought of another trick and called out, “Martial Uncle Li; be careful of that wheel, don’t let where the wheel was cut touch you, it has poison on it.”

Li Mochou said, “How?”

Yang Guo said, “My sword has poison on it!”

After Yang Guo wounded Fawang, Fawang had been worried about being poisoned but because he had yet to feel any effects from wound, he had ceased worrying. Now upon hearing Yang Guo’s words, he thought, “Gongsun Zhi is a ruthless man, its more likely than not that there is indeed poison on that sword.”

Li Mochou suddenly whirled her fly whisk forward and said, “Guo’er, pierce him with your poisoned sword.” She waved her hand out, appearing to shoot some kind of projectile. Fawang used his wheels to protect himself. Li Mochou was trying to scare him off, she knew that with Fawang’s martial arts, her “Soul Freezing Needles” would most probably miss the target but this little pause allowed her just enough time to move out of the wheel’s range and escape.

Though Fawang suspected there was poison on Yang Guo’s sword,  his  wound  had  not  swollen  up  and there were no ill effects after all this time. He did not want to leave empty handed after all this trouble and immediately chased after Li Mochou.

Who knew when the  battle  would end?  With them  chasing and fighting like  this, Yang Guo was worried that if this was kept up, the baby would catch a chill or the like; even if he does manage to rescue her it might end up all in vain. He knew that the first thing he must do is to use Li Mochou to help to defeat Fawang before dealing with her. He called out loudly, “Martial Uncle Li, there’s no need to run! This bald bastard has been poisoned, he won’t live for long.” As soon as he finished, Li Mochou darted into a cave.

Fawang stopped in his tracks and did not dare to enter. Yang Guo did not know what she was going to do with the baby and without care for his life, he burst into the cave with his sword across his chest. He saw a silver flash and immediately knocked three Soul Freezing needles out of the air. He called out, “Martial Uncle Li, it’s me!”

It was pitch black in the cave but he had the ability to see in the darkness; Li Mochou was holding the baby with her left hand and her right was holding some silver needles. To show that he had no ill intent, he turned his back to her and said, “We need to defeat that bald bastard first.” then guarded the entrance of the cave.

Fawang knew that the two would not come out for the time being and so he loosened his gown and tended to his wound. He saw that his blood was crimson red and when he touched the wound it ached, after circulating his internal energy he discovered there wasn’t anything wrong. He was happy but also furious with Yang Guo for tricking him into worrying about poison for almost half a day. The entrance of the cave was covered with grass and only allowed for one person to enter at a time; with his height he would not find it easy to maneuver if he burst in and would most probably fall victim to an ambush.

Just as he was trying to come up with a plan, he heard a strange voice behind him calling out, “Hey monk, what are you doing here.” It was the voice of the Indian dwarf, Nimoxing. Fawang kept his eye on the cave and said, “Three rabbits have just entered the cave, and I’m going to force them out.”

After leaving empty handed from Xiangyang, Nimoxing was on his way back to the Mongolian camp when he saw from a distance Fawang’s silver, bronze and lead wheels flying about in the air. He knew that he was in battle with someone and tracked him down. After seeing Fawang staring at the cave, he asked, “Guo Jing is in there?”

Fawang scoffed, “There’s two male rabbits and a female one.”

Nimoxing was delighted when he heard this and said, “So, not only are the Guo couple in there but also that rascal Yang Guo.”

Fawang ignored him and after a look around, he came up with an idea. He gathered some dry wood and placed it in front of the cave before lighting it. The wind was blowing southwesterly and the smoke poured into the cave.

When Fawang was placing the dry wood in front of the cave entrance, Yang Guo knew what he was up to and said quietly to Li Mochou, “I’ll check if there’s another exit.” He went back into the cave which was about sixty feet deep and found that it was a dead end. He returned to her and said, “Martial Uncle Li, they are trying to smoke us out, what shall we do?”

Li Mochou thought that there was no way that she would be able to escape from Fawang if she dashed out, but staying in the cave and getting suffocated wasn’t a good plan either. If worse comes to worse she’ll just leave the baby behind; with Fawang’s main target being the baby, he’ll probably let her go. She wasn’t anxious and just smiled.

Not long after, the smoke had filled the cave and the two of them held their breath. The baby however started crying and coughing.

Li Mochou chuckled, “Are you upset?”

After the life and death battle that he had experienced with the baby, he started growing attached to her. When he heard her crying louder and louder, he said, “Give her to me!” He stretched out his hands and advanced two paces.

Li Mochou snapped her fly whisk down towards his arm and said, “Don’t come any nearer! Aren’t you afraid of my Soul Freezing needles?”

Yang Guo leapt back. When he heard the words ‘Soul Freezing Needles’ a sudden thought popped into his head. He remembered the time when he first met Li Mochou and picked up one of her needles. After just holding it for a little while, he was poisoned. He tore off a piece of cloth from his gown and wrapped it tightly around his right hand before going over to the three needles that Li Mochou had previously shot at him and picked them up. He planted the needles in the ground leaving about an inch of the tip above surface and then he covered them with sand and dirt to conceal the shininess of the needles. The cave entrance was blocked with a fire and the cave was filled with smoke; Fawang and Nimoxing did not see what Yang Guo had done.

After he had finished his trap, Yang Guo went over to Li Mochou and said quietly, “I’ve got a plan, try to stop the baby from crying.” He then called out, “Great, there’s an exit; we can get out of here.” His voice was filled with joy.

Li Mochou was surprised and actually believed that there was another exit.

Yang Guo then whispered into her ear, “It’s a lie; I’m trying to lure that bald bastard into my trap.”

Fawang and Nimoxing were shocked when they heard this and believed that they had escaped. It seemed to be true when it suddenly became quiet and the cries of the baby died down. How could they know that Yang Guo had covered the cries of the baby with his sleeve? Nimoxing did not take any time to think and immediately flew around to the other side of the mountain to stop them. Fawang however took his time and noticed that cries of the baby were just muted; they were not coming from afar. He knew that it was Yang Guo trying to trick him into going around the back of the mountain so he could escape with the baby.

He chuckled, “Do you think I’m stupid!” He hid beside the entrance of the cave and armed himself with his wheels as he waited for Yang Guo to come out.

Yang Guo then called out, “Martial Uncle Li, that scoundrel has gone, let’s leave.” Suddenly he whispered, “We’ll both shout in surprise at the same time and trick him into the cave.”

Li Mochou didn’t know what he had planned but she was well aware of his cunning after falling for his tricks before. Since he was sure of his plan, it would definitely work. Luckily for her, the baby was still in her hands, so after driving away Fawang, Yang Guo would still have no choice but to bring the “Jade Maiden’s Manual” to her. She nodded.

Both of them cried out, “You…!” Yang Guo pretended that he was wounded and called out, “Why… why?” He then whispered, “Pretend that you are about to die.”

Li Mochou said furiously, “You… though I… have died by your hands today, I’m… not going to die alone.” Her voice silenced.

Fawang was delighted when he heard this, he thought that the two had fought over the baby and had destroyed each other before even leaving the cave. He was afraid that the baby would die along with them and if that happened, he would not be able to blackmail Guo Jing. So he brushed away the fire and entered the cave. Just two steps in; he felt a pain in the bottom of his foot.

He made a swift adjustment, and before he trodden down fully, he immediately pushed back with his right root and leapt back out of the cave. When he landed, his left leg was numb and he almost fell down. With his profound internal energy, even after suffering several hacks and slashes from a knife, he could still remain upright; he realized at once that he had trodden on something extremely poisonous. Just as he was about to take off his shoe and examine the wound, he heard Nimoxing returning and he was calling out, “That lying punk, there’s no entrance at the back, the Guo couple are still in there.”

Fawang took his hand away from his shoe and acted normal, saying, “You’re right, but there’s no more noise coming from the cave, they must have fainted from the smoke.”

Nimoxing was delighted when he heard this thinking that finally he has managed to capture Guo Jing alive. However, he did not give a second to himself to think about why Fawang would allow him to do this without a fight. He whirled his Iron Snake to protect himself as he dashed into the cave.

Yang Guo had planted the needles in such a way that no matter how large or small your stride is, you will, step into one of them. Nimoxing was short, had small steps and a fast pace, his right foot stepped onto one and before he could react, his left foot stepped onto another. India is a hot and dry place and the people there don’t wear shoes, Nimoxing was no different; though his feet had been conditioned to be as hard as leather, the Soul Freezing needles are extremely sharp and  they  punctured  his  feet.  He  was  a manly fellow; a little pain was nothing to him. He used his Iron Snake to check if there were sharp objects and found nothing. Just as he was about to continue on his way to catch Guo Jing and his wife, his legs suddenly went limp and he collapsed. It was only now that he knew that the poison on the sharp objects was extremely venomous and he quickly rolled out of the cave.

He saw that Fawang had taken off his shoe and was holding a black and swollen left foot. Fawang was using his internal energy to suppress the poison.

Nimoxing was furious and he roared, “Bastard, you fell for that trap so why the hell didn’t you tell me about it?”

Fawang smiled, “I fell for it and you fell for it, both of us have suffered.”

Nimoxing could no longer control his anger as he sputtered, “I… no need capture Guo Jing…Nimoxing… rotten monk…a fight to the death!”

He could no longer use his legs; Nimoxing pushed the ground  with  his  left  hand  and  threw  himself forward at Fawang while his right hand smashed down towards Fawang’s  head  with  his  Iron  Snake. Fawang raised his bronze wheel to block the Iron Snake and  then  swept  his  arm  across,  throwing  his elbow out. With his body in midair, it was difficult for Nimoxing to avoid this blow; Fawang’s elbow came at him extremely fast and struck him in the shoulder.

Nimoxing may have been thick boned, but this attack from Fawang left him in great pain. In such a state of fury he didn’t give a damn about his life and threw himself at Fawang again. He hugged him tightly and bit down on Fawang’s ‘Qi Abode’ pressure point. If everything was normal, Nimoxing would never be able to get so close to Fawang and hug him. Even if he did manage to grab him, how would he ever get a clear path towards Fawang’s ‘Qi Abode’ pressure point? But right now, Fawang had fallen victim to an extremely lethal poison and was using all his internal energy to suppress it at the ‘Bending Spring’ pressure point. As long as he didn’t let the poison spread, the most serious thing that would happen to him is the loss of a foot; his life would be safe. When Nimoxing threw himself at Fawang, Fawang had in effect lost his internal energy and was relying on his external martial arts to fend him off. Nimoxing however was giving everything he had and he bit down on the pressure point and didn’t let go.

Fawang hooked out his right foot and with Nimoxing having lost use of his legs, they both fell down. Fawang tried to pull him off but with a vital pressure point held down, his strength had diminished, how could he pull him off? He could only hold Nimoxing’s ‘Great Shuttle’ pressure point on his neck to stop him from making a fatal blow. The two were great martial artists but after falling victim to poison, they were now brawling on the ground, and not reflecting their martial arts status. The two of them rolled around and were getting dangerously close the edge of a cliff. Fawang saw what was happening and he called out, “Let go, another roll and we’ll fall to our deaths.”

But Nimoxing had lost all his senses, with his internal energy unoccupied, his was greater than Fawang’s and Fawang was unable to stop Nimoxing from pushing forward. Just a few inches away from falling into a deep chasm, Fawang’s survival senses came to life and he called out, “Guo Jing’s here!”

Nimoxing stopped and said, “Where?” As he said this, his mouth loosened. Fawang’s pressure point was no longer blocked and he regained his strength, sending out a left palm. Nimoxing knew that he had been tricked and he lowered his head and threw his waist forwards.

Fawang’s palm was meant to force Nimoxing back but he had forgotten that, after being poisoned, Nimoxing’s legs were no longer in his control, how could he jump back? Instead of sending him back, Nimoxing was now going forward and the two bumped into each other, knocking them over the edge.

When Li Mochou knew that Yang Guo’s plan had worked, she secretly praised him. After hearing Fawang and Nimoxing struggling with each other, she thought the danger was over and was about to exit the cave. Suddenly she heard the two letting out a strange scream.

This was the scream of the two when they fell over the edge. With the cliff being over a hundred yards away and with a boulder blocking their view, they could not see what was happening.

Li Mochou said, “Hey kid, what are they up to?”

Yang Guo could not have guessed that the two had actually fallen off a cliff and said, “That damn monk is very sly, it could be possible that he is copying our trick of being injured to lure us out.”

Li Mochou agreed and whispered, “Yes, they must be trying to trick us out to get my antidote.” She walked to the entrance in order to take a look at what exactly was happening.

Yang Guo said, “Be careful of the needles.” As soon as he said this he regretted his words; “Why should I warn that witch?”

Li Mochou quickly pulled her feet back. The fire at the entrance of the cave was now out and she could not see in the dark like Yang Guo could, if she had continued her steps, she would surely have stepped onto the needles. She may have the antidote but the poison was  very  lethal,  it would  leave  her  in great pain. If she had stepped on one, Yang Guo would have taken advantage and she might have died by her own poisonous needles.

She said, “Remove the needles, why should we stay in here?” Yang Guo said, “Let’s wait for the poison to finish them off.”

Li Mochou scoffed at his reply. She was extremely wary of Yang Guo, the longer she stayed with him in the cave the more danger she was exposed to. When it came to martial arts, she wasn’t confident that she could defeat him and she certainly wasn’t going to out think him. She lowered her head and tried to think of a way out.

Silence filled the cave. The two were preoccupied with their own thoughts. Suddenly, the baby cried. Ever since she was born, she hadn’t been fed; it was a cry of hunger.

Li Mochou chuckled, “Where’s my apprentice sister? Don’t tell me that she’s going to let her child starve to death?”

Yang Guo replied, “Who said its Gu Gu’s child, its Hero Guo’s.”

Li Mochou said, “Do you think using Hero Guo’s name would scare me? If it were someone else’s child, why would you risk life and limb for it, it’s got to be the bastard child of you and her.”

Yang Guo shouted angrily, “Yes, I do want to marry Gu Gu but we’re not married yet, how can we have a child? Watch your words.”

Li Mochou scoffed, “If you want me to watch my words then you should watch your actions.”

Yang Guo worshipped Xiao Longnu, how could he not be furious? He shouted, “My Master is pure and chaste, don’t tarnish her name.”

Li Mochou said, “Pure and chaste sounds so nice, it’s just a shame that the virginity spot on her arm is gone.”

A whooshing sound was heard as Yang Guo thrust his sword towards her chest. He shouted, “You can insult me but not my Master, I’m going to kill you.” Whoosh, swish, swoosh; three strokes in a row were unleashed. His swordplay was clever, his eyes could see in the dark, Li Mochou only survived because she could hear the weapon coming through the air. Though she didn’t get hit, these stances left her staring at death. Luckily for her, Yang Guo was watching out for the baby, he held back on his most threatening stances in case she decided to take the child with her.

The two of them fought for over ten stances when suddenly the baby gave a howling cry before falling silent.

Yang Guo was afraid and immediately took back his sword. His voice was shaking as he said, “You’ve hurt the baby?”

When Li Mochou saw how much he cared for the baby, she was even more convinced that he was the father and said, “Right now it’s alive, but if you don’t follow my orders, do you think I’ll keep it alive?”

A chill went through Yang Guo. He knew that she was a cold blooded murderer; if someone merely offended her just one little bit she would kill them and destroy their whole family. Killing a newly born child would be nothing to her. He said, “You are my Martial Uncle, as long as you don’t insult my Master, of course I’ll follow your orders.”

Li Mochou could hear that he was willing to back down and knew that as long as the baby was in her hands, he could do nothing. She said, “Fine, I won’t insult your Master, you’ll obey me. Go out and take a look and see how they are doing against the poison.”

Yang Guo obeyed and went outside. He took a look around and didn’t see anyone, but he was wary that Fawang was hiding around somewhere so he hacked and slashed the surrounding trees and bushes. He found no one so he returned to the cave and said, “They’re gone, the poison must have scared them off.”

Li Mochou said, “Huh, even if they ran, how far are they going to get after falling victim to my poison? Go and pick up the “Soul Freezing Needles” from the cave entrance and hand them over to me.”

After hearing the non-stop cries of the baby, he knew that he should go out and find something for the baby to eat so he followed her instructions. He wrapped his hand with a piece of cloth and gave the needles back to her.

Li Mochou put the needles away and headed for the exit. Yang Guo followed and asked, “Where are you taking the baby?”

Li Mochou said, “Back to my home.”

Yang Guo said anxiously, “Why do you want the baby? It’s not yours.”

Li Mochou blushed before saying with a serious tone, “What are you saying? If you hand over the Ancient Tomb’s “Jade Maiden’s Manual”, I’ll hand the baby back to you without harming a single of its hair.” She then started to use her lightness kung fu and headed north.

Yang Guo followed her and said, “You’ve got to feed her some milk first.”

Li Mochou turned around with a flushing face and shouted, “What the hell are you saying boy?”

Yang Guo said with surprise, “What? I’m just saying that the baby needs milk, otherwise, won’t she starve?”

Li Mochou said, “I’m a pure and chaste virgin, how will I have milk for her?”

Yang Guo smiled, “Martial Uncle Li, I’m saying that you should find some milk for her to drink, I’m not asking for your milk…”

When Li Mochou heard this, she couldn’t help but laugh. She had stayed single and chaste, she lived a life of swords and sabers, and she knew nothing about caring for a child. She said, “Where can we get milk? How about feeding her rice?”

Yang Guo said, “Has she got any teeth?”

Li Mochou opened her mouth and shook her head, saying, “Not even one.”

Yang Guo said, “We’ll go to a village, find a woman who’s just given birth and can produce milk to feed her, how about that?”

Li Mochou said with delight, “You are indeed full of ideas.”

They climbed to the top of a hill and looked all around. Far away in the west, there was smoke. The two of them traveled very quickly and arrived at a small settlement in a short period of time. The area around Xiangyang had been incinerated and the Mongols had destroyed the large towns and villages near the main roads, the only types of settlements remaining were those in the wild and secluded valleys.

Li Mochou checked the houses one by one and when she got to the fourth one, she found a woman feeding a year old child. Li Mochou was delighted that she had found someone, she went in and picked up the child from the woman’s arms and flung it away towards a bed. She then placed the baby girl’s mouth in the woman’s breast and said, “This child’s hungry, feed it.”

The woman’s child was flailing its arms and legs, crying its eyes out on the bed. The woman quickly went to pick up her child. When Yang Guo saw that the woman was exposed, he quickly turned his back to her before hearing Li Mochou say, “I told you to feed my child, didn’t you hear? Who told you to hold your own child?” Yang Guo heard a thud and quickly jumped around just to see the woman’s child by the wall with its head covered in blood. The woman was distraught and put Guo Jing’s daughter down and threw herself onto her child, crying and sobbing as she did so.

Li Mochou was furious and she lifted her fly whisk to strike down onto the woman’s back.

Yang Guo quickly used his sword to block this blow and thought, “How can there be such an irrational woman?” However, the words that came out of his mouth were, “Martial Uncle Li, if you kill her, there won’t be anyone else left to feed the child.”

Li Mochou replied angrily, “I’m looking out for your child yet here you are sticking your nose in where it’s not wanted.”

Yang Guo thought, “This child isn’t mine yet you keep on saying so, and if it is, then how can I be sticking my nose in?” He smiled and said, “The baby is hungry, the most important thing right now is to feed her.” He then stretched out his hands for her.

Li Mochou raised her fly whisk and blocked his arm, saying, “You dare pick her up?” Yang Guo took a step back and smiled, “Fine, fine! You take her.”

Li Mochou picked up the baby and was just about to place it back into the arms of the woman when she discovered that she was gone. While the two were arguing, the woman had slipped out with her child. Li Mochou was filled with rage and dashed outside to see the woman running away. She flew up and struck down with her fly whisk with a gust of wind; both mother and child died under that strike. She went to find another woman to feed the child but the settlement was filled with men. Li Mochou became even angrier and she killed a few people at random. She then picked up a burning stick from a stove and set a few thatched houses on fire before leaving the settlement.

Yang Guo sighed to himself when he saw how vicious Li Mochou was. They didn’t say a word as they wandered across the plains for several li. The baby had cried itself to sleep in Li Mochou’s arms.

Li Mochou suddenly stopped in her tracks; there were two leopard cubs in front of her playing with each other. She took a step forward with the intention of kicking them away when she heard a roar from the side as a leopard leapt at her. She was startled by this and moved to the left. The leopard immediately turned around and leapt forward once again, clawing and slashing. Li Mochou raised her fly whisk and struck the leopard between the eyes. The leopard growled in pain and became even more vicious showing its sharp white teeth. It crouched on the ground and stared at its enemy with its gleaming eyes, waiting for a chance to attack.

Li Mochou waved out her left hand and shot out two needles at the leopard’s eyes. Yang Guo called out, “Wait!” He blocked the needles with his sword while at the same time the leopard pounced; it leapt ten feet into the air speeding at him. Yang Guo leapt up and after knocking the needles out of the air with his sword, he punched the leopard on the spine. The leopard was in pain from this blow but immediately after it landed, it attacked again. Yang Guo moved to the side and sent out a left palm with half his energy. The leopard was sent rolling back.

Li Mochou wondered what he was up to; the needles that she had shot out would have killed the leopard, why is he wasting so much effort to save it? She watched as Yang Guo sent out a left palm here and right palm there, keeping the leopard on the ground. He was relentless but each palm of his avoided the vitals of the leopard. The leopard’s roars were becoming quieter and quieter, and after ten palms, it could take it no longer and ran away. Yang Guo was prepared for this and reached out for its tail to pull it back but after being defeated, the leopard ran away dejected with its tail hanging down between its legs and Yang Guo missed. He was about to use his lightness kung fu to chase after it when he saw the leopard turn around and call to its cubs to run. Yang Guo now knew what to do and he picked up the cubs, one in each hand.

Seeing its cubs being captured, the leopard no longer cared about its life and threw herself at Yang Guo once again. Yang Guo threw the cubs at Li Mochou and called out, “Catch them but don’t kill them.” He leapt up higher than the leopard and aimed to land on its back. When he landed, he pulled at its ears. The leopard used all her strength to throw Yang Guo off but she was no longer in control of her movements. Yang Guo called out, “Martial Uncle Li, quickly get some tree bark and make some rope to tie it up.”

Li Mochou said with annoyance, “I don’t have time to mess around with you.” She turned around to walk away.

Yang Guo said quickly, “Who’s messing? This leopard can give milk!”

Li Mochou now understood and was filled with delight, she laughed, “Only you would come up with something like this.” She then went off and tore off ten pieces of tree bark and made a rope with it. She first tied its mouth before tying its legs.

Yang Guo patted the dust off himself and smiled. The leopard could not move and its eyes showed that it was filled with fear.

Yang Guo stroked its head and said, “We just want your milk, and we won’t kill you.”

Li Mochou then placed the baby at a teat. The baby was starving and suckled immediately. The leopard could provide a lot of milk and as soon as the baby was full she closed her eye and slept.

Their gaze never left the baby girl as she fed and fell asleep. The two were filled with delight as they watched her smiling in her sleep and they smiled at each other.

The smile shared between these two dissolved most of the wariness between them. Li Mochou’s face was filled with tenderness and she hummed a song as she held the baby in her arms. Yang Guo found some soft hay and made a bed on a large rock beneath a shady tree. He said, “Let her sleep here!”

Li Mochou quickly signaled with her hand, telling him to be quiet. Yang Guo stuck out his tongue and made a face at her. As he watched the baby sleep peacefully, he gave a sigh of relief before turning his heads to the cubs who were feeding off their mother.

The scent of flowers filled the air, a warm breeze blew through their clothes, the aura of death disappeared as both man and beast felt at ease.

Yang Guo had been through hell and high water in the past few days and it was only now that he could unwind. But it was in the strangest of circumstances; there was a cold blooded murderer to one side of him and a vicious beast on the other.

Li Mochou sat beside the baby and used her fly whisk to chase away the forest’s flies. Her fly whisk had killed countless people and could send shivers down the spines of the people of Wulin; yet now it was doing the first kind thing it had ever done.

Yang Guo watched Li Mochou as she stared at the baby. Sometimes there was a smile, at others there would be sadness on her face. She would look overwhelmed then suddenly, peace would fill her face. Yang Guo guessed that she must have been looking back on her life. He did not know much about her; all he knew were a few things that Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang had told him. Behind all these cruel and vicious acts was someone who must have endured bitter suffering; he had always hated her but right now, he couldn’t stop himself from pitying her a little.

After a while, Li Mochou lifted her head and her eyes met Yang Guo’s. She was slightly taken aback by this. She said quietly, “It’s getting dark, what are we going to do about tonight.”

Yang Guo looked around and said, “We can’t take that big leopard with us, we’ll find a cave to spend the night in for the time being and decide on what to do tomorrow.” Li Mochou nodded her head.

Yang Guo looked all around and eventually found a cave that was just about suitable. He gathered some long grass and made a small and large bed in the middle of the cave. He said, “Martial Uncle Li, rest here, I’ll go find something to eat.” He then went off in search of some food. He was back within the hour with three rabbits and some wild fruits. He untied the leopard’s mouth and fed one of the rabbits to it. He then gathered some firewood and roasted the other two rabbits for Li Mochou and himself. Afterwards, Yang Guo said, “Martial Uncle Li, go to sleep, I’ll go outside and guard the cave.” He took out a long rope and suspended it between two trees, and slept on the rope in midair.

This didn’t surprise Li Mochou at all; after all, it was a skill of the Ancient Tomb. Apart from occasionally traveling with her disciple Hong Lingbo, she had always wandered alone. Tonight she had spent time with Yang Guo who tended to all her needs; what a contrast it was to the all the times she spent alone in the wild. As she thought about this, she sighed.

End of Chapter 22. 
@Chapter 23 – Sibling Rivalry
It was past midnight, something woke Yang Guo. Chirrups from an eagle came from the northwest. The chirrups were somewhat croaked, bleak yet intense and lofty. Feeling very curious, he leapt off the rope bed gently and sought the direction of the sounds.  The  chirrups  would  sometimes  rise  and  sometimes stop, but they were much louder than the chirrups of the two eagles on the Peach-Blossom Island. The path in front of him descended as he went forth and soon he found  himself  in  a  valley.  The  chirrups weren’t far from where he was. He crept forward on tiptoes and then quietly pushed aside the bushes in front of him. After a quick peek, he was astonished.

Right in front of Yang Guo’s eyes stood a giant eagle. Taller than a human, yet uglier even than one’s wildest imagination. Sparse feathers covered the eagle’s entire body as if most of its feathers had been pulled off by somebody. The feathers were of a darkish yellow color, which made the eagle appear dirty. It did look somewhat similar to the two eagles on Peach-Blossom Island, but its ugliness made the difference as vast as from heaven to earth. The giant eagle had a hooked beak, and the big lump of skin, as red as blood, occupied the top of its head. There were probably thousands of bird species in the world, but Yang Guo had never seen any bird of prey as imposing and grand as this one. The eagle strode about in big steps with its two extremely thick legs. Sometimes it would extend its two short wings, so short that one would wonder if the eagle was capable of flying. But the way it walked, with its head held high, certainly showed great power and grandeur.

After some more chirrups from the eagle, rustling sounds came from nearby, and suddenly, under the vivid moonlight, four poisonous snakes in bright colors shot at the ugly eagle like four arrows. The ugly eagle turned its head back and forth swiftly, and with four precise pecks, killed the four snakes instantly. The accuracy of the pecks and the speed it displayed were almost in match with first-class elite fighters in the Martial World.

Yang Guo was shocked by the magnificent skills the eagle had put on display. Immediately, his belittling thoughts turned into surprise and admiration. The ugly eagle opened its giant mouth and soon swallowed the four snakes.

“If I can catch this ugly eagle and put him next to Guo Fu’s two eagles, I am sure this eagle would not be inferior to her’s,” Yang Guo muttered to himself quietly.

As he was pondering hard as to how to trap the eagle, a sudden stench caught his attention. Something poisonous and big must be close by.

The ugly eagle raised its head and chirped three times as if sending a signal of challenge to the hidden enemy. A loud whistling sound echoed as a giant serpent, as thick as the diameter of a bowl, and a triangle shaped head, emerged, hanging down from a big tree. And within a fraction of a second, the giant serpent had launched its attack viciously on the eagle. The ugly eagle didn’t yield, but lunged forward instead. Thrusting its beak out, in a flash, the eagle had taken the poisonous giant serpent’s right eye out. The eagle’s neck looked short and thick, and it seemed as if it would have a hard time turning its head around, but the eagle shot the beak out and then retracted it back at lightning speed. Yang Guo couldn’t even tell how the eagle had blinded the giant serpent even though he had sharp eyes.

The giant poisonous serpent apparently experienced excruciating pain from losing its right eye. It opened its giant mouth wide and then clamped the huge jaws down hard, biting onto the big red lump on the ugly eagle’s head. Yang Guo was astounded. He couldn’t help but utter a cry of shock.

Excited by the success, the giant poisonous serpent let itself fall from the tree, and then wrapped its over- twenty-foot-long body around the ugly eagle tightly. It seemed that the ugly eagle was not going to get out alive this time. Not wishing to see the eagle die from the poisonous serpent’s attack, Yang Guo sprang forward with his sword and hacked the blade toward the serpent’s body. Suddenly, the eagle swung its right wing swiftly and smacked Yang Guo’s right arm with tremendous force. Yang Guo was taken  by complete surprise. His “Gentleman Sword” flew out of his grip  and  traveled  dozens  of  feet  in  the  air before falling back down to the ground. Dumbfounded, Yang Guo stared at the ongoing fight and saw the eagle pecking continuously at the serpent’s back. Every peck would end up with blood spurting out of the wound like a small fountain.

“I guess you must be certain about your victory and don’t want any help from me then!” Yang Guo thought.

The poisonous serpent squeezed tighter and tighter with its giant body. The ugly eagle’s feathers almost stood up as it struggled to get out of its grip. Seeing that the eagle seemed to be losing the battle, Yang Guo picked up a large rock and smacked the serpent’s body with it again and again. Feeling the pain, the giant serpent let lose its grip slightly and the ugly eagle suddenly reached out its beak and blinded the serpent’s left eye with a swift peck. The giant serpent opened its jaws wide and bit madly. Because both of its eyes were taken out, the bites were vicious but aimless. Its huge and poisonous fangs only struck thin air. The ugly eagle grabbed the serpent’s neck with its talons and pressed it against the ground with all its weight. Meanwhile, its sharp beak never stopped pecking down hard on the serpent’s head again and again. The serpent twisted and turned and slapped the ground hard with its giant body, trying to get out of the grip, but the eagle seemed to have endless strength and kept the serpent’s head under his talons. After a long while, the serpent finally stopped twitching and lay still, dead.

The ugly eagle raised its head high and let out three loud chirps. Then it turned its head toward Yang Guo and chirruped in a much softer tone, as if it was calling out to him. Hearing the friendly chirrups from the eagle, Yang Guo walked slowly near the eagle. “Brother Eagle, your strength is incredible! It’s very impressive!” he cheered.

The ugly eagle answered with some more soft chirrups. Slowly, it walked next to Yang Guo and then patted him on the shoulder gently with its left wing. Seeing how smart and unusual the eagle was, Yang Guo was very pleased, so he also patted the eagle gently on its back.

The ugly eagle let out some more chirrups in low pitches. Holding the corner of Yang Guo’s shirt in its beak, the eagle pulled a couple of times before  letting  lose  its  grip  and  started  walking  away  in  big strides. Yang Guo knew the eagle wanted him to follow, so he tagged along. The ugly eagle’s legs moved so swiftly that its speed was no slower than a galloping horse. Yang Guo had to  use  his  Qing-Gong techniques in order to keep up with it. He couldn’t help feeling very impressed inwardly. The path the eagle took descended lower and lower. Soon, Yang Guo found himself inside a deep valley. After walking continuously for another good while, they came to the entrance of  a big  cave. The  ugly  eagle  nodded its head three times with three chirrups as if it was saluting toward the cave. Then it turned its head to stare at Yang Guo.

“There must be some kind of a hermit Master who lives in the cave. Then of course the giant eagle must be a tamed pet of his. I must show my respect,” Yang Guo thought to himself. So he knelt down in front of the cave and kowtowed.

“Yang Guo hereby shows his respect to a Senior Master. Please forgive me for disturbing your peace,” he said and then waited. But no one answered from inside the cave.

The eagle pulled Yang Guo’s shirt again and then walked inside the cave. Yang Guo stared at the dark cave in front of him, not knowing if there was really an elite Kung Fu Master inside or some kind of goblins or demons. Feeling a bit uneasy and anxious, he decided to give no thoughts to his own safety and followed it in.

The cave was actually not deep at all. Only about thirty feet into the cave, they had already reached the end. Other than a table and a bench made out of stones, there was nothing inside the cave. The ugly eagle chirped again, signaling toward a corner of the cave. Casting a glance toward the corner, Yang Guo saw a pile of rocks and stones of all shapes and sizes jumbled together. It looked like a grave.

“This must be the grave of a lofty hermit. Too bad the eagle doesn’t know how to speak and can’t tell me more about him,” Yang Guo thought aloud.

He looked up and then something caught his attention. The rock wall seemed to have some words written on it. But thick dust and moss almost covered the entire rock wall, and it was hard to tell what words they were in the dark. Lighting a dry stick, Yang Guo wiped the moss off with his hand, and not to his surprise, three lines of words appeared. The strokes of the words were thin but were carved into the rock wall very deeply. It seemed that the words were carved using a very sharp blade. The three lines said:

“Having roamed the martial world for more than thirty years, I have killed all my  villainous  foes  and defeated all heroic champions. There’s no one who can be my equal under the same sky. Without any other challengers, I could only retreat to this deep valley, living a hermit’s life in seclusion, with only an eagle as my companion. Alas, throughout my life I searched for a match in vain. Unbearable loneliness is my destiny.” The signature at the bottom was, “Demonic Swordsman Dugu Seeking-A-Loss.”

Yang Guo read the three lines back and forth. Astonishment and deep admiration filled his heart. He could clearly feel the sadness and loneliness behind the words.  Because  there  was  no  match  for  him  in  the entire world, this lofty Master had come to live a hermit’s life in seclusion in this deep valley. His understanding of martial arts must have reached the ultimate level. His title was “Demonic Swordsman,” then his skills in sword arts must have been miraculous. And his name was “Seeking-A-Loss,” then he must have traveled all over the world looking for someone who could defeat him, but all his efforts were in vain and he eventually passed away in great disappointment. His imagination filled his mind with thoughts of how the Sword Master had roamed the martial world; Yang Guo was lost in thought.

A long while passed before Yang Guo finally got hold of himself again. Holding the  burning  stick,  he searched around in the cave, but failed to find anything else related to the sword Master. The grave made out of a pile of rocks and stones didn’t have any sign or tombstone on it. He figured that after the sword Master passed away, it must have been the Divine Eagle that had picked all the rocks and stones and piled them on top of the Sword Master’s dead body. Feeling his admiration growing larger and larger, Yang Guo couldn’t help but kneel in front of the grave and kowtow. The Divine Eagle seemed to be pleased to see him show great respect towards the grave and gently patted him on the shoulder a couple of times.

“The sword Master Dugu had called the eagle a companion. Then even though the eagle is an animal, it really is a Senior of mine. It would be very appropriate if I call him Brother Eagle,” Yang Guo thought to himself. So he said, “Brother Eagle, it must be fate that has brought us together. I need to leave now. Would you like to go with me or would you rather stay here guarding Sword Master Dugu’s grave?”

The divine eagle answered with some chirrups. Yang Guo couldn’t understand what the eagle had said, but seeing that the eagle stayed by the side of the grave, he thought, “The many Senior Masters I’ve met in the martial world never mentioned somebody named Dugu  Seeking-A-Loss.  He  must  have  been someone who existed sixty or seventy years ago. The Divine Eagle had lived here  for  a  long  time  and became attached to it. Of course he would rather stay than leaving with me.” He put his arms around the Divine Eagle’s neck and stroked its feathers gently. Then he walked out of the cave.

Throughout his life, other than the intimate relationship he had with Xiao Longnu, he didn’t have any other closer friends. Now he met the Divine Eagle; although the eagle was only an animal, he really felt a close relationship, and was reluctant to part with him. After every couple of steps, he would turn and cast a glance back. And every time he turned around, the Divine Eagle would also answer with a loud chirp. Although the two of them were soon hundreds of feet apart, the Divine Eagle could still see him clearly in the dark and chirped every time Yang Guo turned his head back. Suddenly, Yang Guo’s heart burned with indignation. He shouted out loud, “Brother Eagle, I don’t have much life left in me. After I take care of the business regarding Uncle Guo’s baby daughter and after I bid my farewell to my aunty, I will come back here. If I get to be buried next to Great Hero Dugu, then my life wouldn’t have been a waste of time after all.” He bowed and then headed out in big strides.

He was worried about the safety of Guo Jing’s daughter so he gathered his sword and hurried back to the cave. As soon as he got back to the cave, Li Mochou said, “Where have you been? There’s some kind of damn annoying ghost around here.”

Yang Guo said, “What ghosts?” As soon as he finished, he could hear a distant cry.

Yang Guo was taken aback by this and said quietly, “Martial Uncle Li, look after the baby, I’ll take care of this.”

The cries were getting closer and closer until distinct words could be made out, “What a tragic life I lead…what a tragic life I lead! My wife has been killed and now my own two sons are trying to kill each other.” Under the starlight, Yang Guo could see a large, scruffy man stumbling around, sobbing with his hands over his face. He could not see his face clearly.

Li Mochou said, “So it’s a madman. Send him away; don’t let him wake the baby.”

The man continued to sob, “I only have two sons and yet these two sons of mine have decided to fight with each other, what is there left for me to live for?” He gave out a long sorrowful howl.

Yang Guo remembered something and thought, “Could it be him?” He walked out of the cave slowly and said, “Is that senior Wu?”

This person had come all the way out here in the middle of the night because he wanted to let all his emotions out; he had not expected that anyone would be out here as well. As soon as he heard Yang Guo’s voice, he immediately controlled himself and shouted, “Who are you? What are you doing sneaking around here?”

Yang Guo said, “My name is Yang Guo. Is Senior’s surname Wu with first name Santong?”

This person was indeed Wu Santong. After being injured by Li Mochou’s silver needles in Jiaxing, he fell unconscious. By the time he came round, he saw his wife crouching above him and she was sucking the poison from the wound above his left eye. He was shocked and said, “Sanliang, the venom of this poison is lethal, how can you suck it out?” He quickly pushed her away. Wu Sanliang spat out a mouthful of blood on the ground and smiled, “The blood has now become red again; you should be alright.”

Wu Santong saw that her cheeks were purple and was extremely alarmed. He trembled, “Sanliang, you... you…”

Wu Sanliang knew that by saving her husband, she would die immediately afterwards; she stroked the heads of her two sons and said, “I know that you have been unhappy for as long as we’ve been married. It’s too late to correct the mistake now; all I’m asking is that you take care of our children and watch them grow into men, teach them brotherly love and friendship…” She could no longer finish her words. After this shock, his madness came back on him once more. As he watched his two sons crying over the body of their dead mother, his mind became blank and he left them as they were. He roamed the realm in this state of confusion for many years, but as time went on, his mind became clearer. After the Heroes’ Feast, Sishui Yuyin left with a few friends of the Jianghu world and as they conversed, talk of a particular character whose description matched his martial brother Wu Santong came up. He went in search of this man and eventually came across his martial brother.

When he heard that his two sons were at Xiangyang, Wu Santong was filled with joy and immediately made his way there. He arrived just after the great battle with Fawang. Guo Jing was still injured and Huang Rong had just given birth. After meeting with Zhu Ziliu and Guo Fu, he found out that his two sons were actually fighting with each other outside the city. Memories of his wife’s last request came back to him and he was filled with sorrow. He immediately left the city to look for them. He passed  a run down temple and heard the clashing of weapons from within. After taking a peak inside, he saw Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen in battle with each other. At first, he wasn’t able to recognize his now grown up sons but soon after seeing the two using a sword in their right hands and the “Solitary Yang Finger” with the left to seal the other’s pressure points, he knew they were his sons and immediately jumped in and ordered them to stop.

The two were of course delighted to be reunited with their father but as soon as the name Guo Fu came up, the tension between the two flared up once again. No matter what Wu Santong said or tried to stop the fighting over Guo Fu, nothing worked. The two of them did not dare to argue in front of their father but whenever he was out of sight, the two bickered once more. They then arranged a meeting that night to have a duel to decide this matter once and for all. Wu Santong had overheard them and decided to get to their meeting place first to stop them. The more he thought about this situation the more depressed he got and he could no longer help himself and had to let it all out. Just at this time, a young man popped out from a cave, his natural reaction was one of wariness and he shouted, “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

After hearing that this man was indeed Wu Santong, Yang Guo replied, “Uncle Wu, my name is Yang Guo, I used to live on Peach Blossom Island with your sons in Hero Guo’s residence; I have always admired Uncle Wu’s name.”

Wu Santong nodded and said, “What are you doing here? Ah, that’s it, Dunru and Xiuwen have arranged to duel here and you’ve come to officiate. Huh, you’re supposedly a friend to them, why haven’t you tried to stop them? Instead, you’re here to egg them on, what kind of friend are you?” By now, his voice was becoming shouts and yells as he vented all his anger on Yang Guo. He cursed as he advanced forward with a raised palm, wanting to teach this troublemaker of a youngster a lesson.

Yang Guo knew what he wanted to do by his body language and thought there wasn’t a need to a get into a fight with him, so he took two steps back and smiled, “I didn’t know that the Wu’s had arranged a duel here, you cannot accuse me falsely.”

Wu Santong shouted, “You are still trying to deny it? If you didn’t know about this then why the hell are you here? Of all the places you could be, why have you turned up in this particular place?”

Yang Guo thought what an unreasonable fellow but this meeting was indeed quite a coincidence; he was lost for words as he searched for a reply.

When Wu Santong saw his hesitation, he was convinced that Yang Guo was up to no good. When he was younger, love wasn’t kind to him and because of this, every time he saw a handsome young man, he  would feel a bit of revulsion towards them. He thought, “This kid might not even know who my sons are, he must be up to no good sneaking around here like this.” He did not give it any more thought as his anger took over. He raised his right palm and struck downwards towards Yang Guo’s shoulder. Yang Guo shifted his body leaving the palm striking thin air but Wu Santong immediately followed with an elbow. Yang Guo saw that his stances were very powerful so he did not dare to take it easy; he slanted his body and moved his feet, avoiding another stance.

Wu Santong called out, “Not bad kid, your lightness kung fu is pretty good. Now raise your sword and attack!”

At this time, the baby in the cave suddenly woke up and started to cry. Yang Guo thought, “Martial Uncle Li killed his wife, if the two see each other, it’ll surely get ugly. If those two fight, each stance will be a fatal strike; it will not be easy for me to protect the baby in that situation.” So he smiled, “Uncle Wu, how can junior exchange stances with a person of your stature? But since you’ve got it in your mind that I’m up to no good then I’m left with no choice. How about this, I’ll let you have three stances to attack. If you don’t kill me within these three stances, then you’ll have to leave this place. Agreed?”

Wu Santong was furious and shouted, “You arrogant punk, I held back on that last palm and have yet to use my best skills, how dare you look down on me?” His right index finger suddenly stretched out and used the “Solitary Yang Finger”. He had trained this skill for many years and had profound internal energy. Yang Guo saw his index finger moving around and though it was coming at him at a fairly slow speed, all the major pressure points of his upper body were covered within the finger’s range leaving him guessing which pressure point was being targeted. As he was trying to figure it out, he realized all nine of his major pressure points were being threatened. He immediately flicked out his index finger and used Huang Yaoshi’s “Divine Release of the Flicking Finger”.

The “Divine Release of the Flicking Finger” and the “Solitary Yang Finger” have been famous in the Jianghu world for years. Both have their virtues, but Yang Guo’s internal energy was shallow. He’d learned it in a very short space of time and had yet to train it diligently. How could it match the years that Wu Santong put into his skill? As soon as the two fingers touched, Yang Guo’s right arm trembled and his whole body got hot. He staggered back five or six paces and had to hold himself up with a tree stump to keep from falling over.

Wu Santong said, “This kid has indeed lived on Peach Blossom Island.” Out of respect for Huang Yaoshi and out of admiration for his martial arts talent that could actually block this attack at such a young age, he called out, “The second finger is coming, if you can’t take it then don’t force yourself to, I won’t take your life.” As he said this, he advanced forward a few more steps and once again stretched out his finger; this time, Yang Guo’s abdomen was targeted.

This time, even more major pressure points were targeted; the twelve major pressure points of the surging channel, the ‘Free Gate’, ‘Open Valley’, low to mid ‘Pillar’, ‘Fourfold Fullness’, the ‘Pubic Bone’, ‘Meeting of Yin’, all of these places were under the threat of the finger. Yang Guo saw that the incoming force of the finger was extremely quick, if he tried to use the “Divine Release of the Flicking Finger” again, his finger would probably break. His innards will be at risk as well so he immediately used the stance “Clearing of the Zither’s Heart”; a light swooshing sound was produced as he unsheathed the Gentleman Sword and protected the area two inches away from his abdomen. Wu Santong quickly took his finger back from the threat of the blade and sent out a third finger. This attack came out like lightning and the finger aimed for the spot between Yang Guo’s eyes. He thought that Yang Guo surely would not be able to block this attack with his sword. Yang Guo knew that it would be difficult to neutralize such a fast attack so he quickly used a move from the “Nine Yin Manual”. He crouched down and darted forward between Wu Santong’s legs. Though this move was swift and agile, it looked quite pathetic and using it makes the user lose face; but luckily for Yang Guo, he was a junior so there wasn’t much shame in using it.

Before Wu Santong could say ‘Damn’, he felt Yang Guo patting him on his shoulder before hearing him say, “Uncle, that third finger was very powerful.”

With this shock, he lowered his hands and moved away before saying with gloominess, “Well, it looks there really are heroes amongst the young; there’s no more use for an old man like me anymore.”

Yang Guo quickly sheathed his sword and bowed to him. He said, “That last stance was extremely unsightly, if that were a real duel, it would be a loss for me.”

Wu Santong felt a bit better and sighed, “There’s no need for that, if you had attacked me from behind, I’d have no chance of surviving. It was a very clever move, an old and dumb man such as I can’t compete with smart youngsters such as you…” Before he could finish, the sounds of footsteps could be heard; there were two people coming towards them. Yang Guo tugged at Wu Santong’s sleeve and the two hid behind a bush. The footsteps were gradually becoming louder and louder; the two people that had come were indeed Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen.

Wu Xiuwen stopped and took a look around before saying, “Brother, it’s wide open here, let’s pick this spot.”

Wu Dunru said, “Fine!” He didn’t like talking much. Swoosh; he drew his sword.

However Wu Xiuwen did not draw his sword, he said, “Brother, if I can’t beat you today, and even if you don’t kill me, I won’t be able to live. Remember the three major tasks you have to do; get revenge for our mother’s death, look after father and love and protect sister Fu.”

When Wu Santong heard these words, tear rolled from his eyes.

Wu Dunru said, “We all know this, why talk? If you beat me, the same applies.” He raised his sword and took an open stance.

Wu Xiuwen still did not draw his sword and took a few steps forward before saying, “Brother, we lost our mother when we were young and our father left us; we have always relied on each other and never argued, but now that it’s come to this; you don’t blame me do you?”

Wu Dunru said, “Brother, it’s fate, none of us decided this.” Wu Xiuwen said, “No matter who lives or who dies, this secret can never be revealed to prevent grief for father and sister Fu.” Wu Dunru nodded and held his brother’s left hand. The brothers looked at each other in silence.

When Wu Santong heard how deep their brotherly bond was, he was deeply comforted. He was about to jump out to stop them from doing anything stupid, when suddenly, they both called out, “Let’s start!” Both jumped backwards at the same time. Wu Xiuwen stretched out his hand and unsheathed his sword; three swift strokes were unleashed. Wu Dunru parried the first two strokes and blocked the third before replying with two stances of his own, both of them aimed to strike Wu Xiuwen down. Wu Santong’s heart jumped when he saw this but Wu Xiuwen moved his body and leaped to the side, easily avoiding the attacks.

Sounds of clashing weapons echoed throughout the valley as the two brothers fought a duel to the death. Wu Santong was worried but also sad at the same time; he loved his sons with his life and loved them equally. With the two fighting so viciously it was as if they were fighting their sworn enemies; one of them would come to harm sooner or later. If he came out now and told them to stop, the two would stop the fight; but if things don’t end today, then it will continue on tomorrow and he can’t always be there to watch over them. The more he watched the greater the pain he felt as he thought about how tragic his life was, tears again fell from his eyes.

When they were younger Yang Guo did not get on with the Wu brothers, and after meeting again, there was still some animosity. He was a stubborn fellow and wasn’t the most forgiving. When he first saw the Wu brothers fighting, he had hoped that something would happen to them; but after seeing the anguish that Wu Santong was suffering, he thought about the little time that he had left and his compassionate side surfaced. “I haven’t done much good in my life; after I die, Gu Gu will obviously be upset but apart from her, only Cheng Ying, Lu Wushuang and Gongsun Lu’E will remember me. Why don’t I do something good today and let this old man remember my virtues?” He made his mind up and whispered in Wu Santong’s ears, “Uncle Wu, I have a plan to stop your sons from fighting.”

Wu Santong turned his tearful face around and gratitude filled eyes looked back at him. However, he was not sure how Yang Guo was going to stop his sons from fighting.

Yang Guo said quietly, “I hope that uncle will not be offended when your sons are humbled.”

Wu Santong could not express his thanks and just held Yang Guo’s hands tightly. Wu Santong did not experience much love when he was younger, his marriage was arranged by his parents and because of his struggles with love, he was unable to find peace. After his wife sacrificed her life for him, he began to appreciate his wife more and the feelings that he had for He Yuanjun gradually faded. The only thing that he cared about now was his sons; if he could keep them safe from harm, he would gladly trade his own life for them. Hearing these words from Yang Guo in such a desperate situation as this was like suddenly meeting the Goddess of Mercy in times of difficulty.

When Yang Guo saw his expression, he couldn’t stop his heart from aching as he thought, “If my father was still alive, he would definitely love me as much as Wu Santong loved his sons.” He whispered, “Don’t let them know you are here otherwise my plan won’t work.”

The duel between the Wu brothers was becoming more and more heated. Both of them were using the “Yue Maiden Swordplay”. This skill belonged to Han Xiaoying of the Seven Freaks of Jiangnan. The two had practiced and trained this swordplay countless times over the years but this time, it was not a sparring session; it was a life and death duel where one mistake would be fatal.

Yang Guo watched them for a while and thought, “Uncle Guo’s martial arts reign supreme but it appears that his students have not absorbed these skills. With the  Wu  brother’s  martial  arts  talents  plainly ordinary, I don’t think they have learned even twenty percent of Uncle Guo’s martial arts.” He suddenly laughed out loud and slowly walked out.

The Wu Brothers leapt back in shock and pointed their swords in the direction of the laugh. When they saw that it was Yang Guo, they both shouted at the same time, “What are you doing here?”

Yang Guo laughed, “What are you doing here?”

Wu Xiuwen gave a laugh and said, “We both felt bored tonight so we’ve come out here to practice our swordplay.”

Yang Guo thought, “Little Wu is pretty alert, he’s acting as if nothing was happening.” He chuckled, “Practicing so hard that you don’t have a care for your life? How hard working you two are.”

Wu Dunru yelled, “Go, this is none of your business.”

Yang Guo chuckled, “If you guys were really just working hard practicing, of course it wouldn’t be my business. But between every stance you are unleashing, you are filled of thoughts for my sister Fu, if this is none of my business then whose business is it?”

Yang Guo’s words of ‘my sister Fu’ pierced the brothers’ hearts, leaving their bodies shaking and swords quivering.

Wu Xiuwen roared, “What the hell are you saying?”

Yang Guo said, “Isn’t Sister Fu Uncle and Auntie Guo’s daughter? Don’t the parents arrange a marriage? Uncle Guo betrothed her to me a long time ago; you guys know about this but yet here you are, fighting over my fiancée, what kind of person do you take me for?”

His tone was becoming more and more serious as he said this and he left the brothers speechless. They both knew that Guo Jing had always wanted to marry his daughter to him but Huang Rong and Guo Fu had always disliked Yang Guo. When the two’s thoughts were revealed by Yang Guo, they could only glance at each other and didn’t know how to reply.

Wu Xiuwen was again alert in urgent times and chuckled, “Huh, betrothed? Only you would say a thing like that! Has there been an agreement between the matchmakers? Has the engagement been stamped down on paper?”

Yang Guo replied, “Okay, so both of you brothers have had the permission of your parents and the agreement from your matchmakers I take it.”

Custom was extremely important during this time; marriages must have the agreement of parents and the matchmakers. The two brothers had assumed that after one of them loses, only the winner will go back to Guo Fu leaving with her with no choice. She’ll definitely agree to the proposal leaving just the task of convincing the Guo couple to agree. They were not prepared for this meddling from Yang Guo.

Wu Xiuwen took a second to think before replying, “It might be true that Master wants to betroth sister Fu to you. But Master wife has planned to betroth her to one of us. The three of us are in the same boat, none of us can truly say their claim is right, it looks like sister Fu’s future is going to be complicated.”

Yang Guo laughed at the sky.

Wu Xiuwen snapped when he saw that Yang Guo was laughing loudly non-stop without saying anything and said, “What are you laughing at? Are my words wrong?”

Yang Guo laughed, “Wrong, so wrong. Uncle Guo loves me, Auntie Guo loves me even more, how can you two compete with me?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Huh, who’s going to believe your words?”

Yang Guo laughed, “Why should I lie? Auntie Guo long ago agreed to this marriage, otherwise, why would I risk my life to save them if they weren’t my in-laws? It’s all because of sister Fu. Tell me, has your Master wife ever promised you they’ll betroth their daughter to you?”

The two brothers looked at each other with alarm, their Master wife has indeed not said a single word about this matter, not even hinted that she’ll say something about it; could it be that she has indeed agreed to betroth her daughter to this punk? The two brothers were having a duel to the death with each other; but with this sudden appearance of a common enemy, they both moved closer towards one another.

Yang Guo had heard their conversation with Guo Fu earlier on and wanted to make the two jealous so he smiled, “Sister Fu said to me; ‘Those two brothers are annoying me to death’, and she couldn’t discourage you guys so she said that she liked both of you. Tell me, is there a virtuous girl who’ll say she loves two people at once? My sister Fu is more than virtuous, so of course she’d never do a thing like this. Let me make it clear for you; when she says that she likes both of you, she’s actually saying that she doesn’t like either.” He then impersonated Guo Fu’s voice on that night and said, “Little brother Wu, you’ve told me a thousand times, a million times how you feel about me, I already know. Don’t you know how hard it is for me? You are always weird like this, what do you want to say to me?”

The brothers’ faces turned red. Those words were said by each of them to Guo Fu with no one else around; if she didn’t tell Yang Guo, how would he know about it? The two of them felt their hearts’ breaking, both thinking that Guo Fu has refused all along to agree to marry them because of this.

When Yang Guo saw their faces, he knew that his plan had worked, he put on a serious face and said, “Look, sister Fu is my fiancée, we’re going to stay married for years to come, we’ll have sons, daughters, grand children and all…” At this point, a long quiet sigh came from behind; it was Xiao Longnu’s voice.

Yang Guo called out, “Gu Gu!” But there was no reply; he immediately thought that Li Mochou had made this sigh and that person cannot meet the Wu family at all so he said loudly, “If you two continue to act like this, people will only laugh at you. In respect of my in-laws, I’ll forget about this matter. You two better go back to Xiangyang and help my in-laws guard the city.” He was actually calling the Guo couple his in-laws.

The Wu brothers were now despondent and were now holding each  other’s  arms.  Wu  Xiuwen  said gloomily, “Fine, brother Yang, I wish you and apprentice sister Fu… a long and prosperous life. We’ll leave this place for somewhere else; we’ll disappear from the world.” The two of them turned to leave.

Yang Guo was feeling pleased with himself; the two brothers were still as angry as ever at him but now they’ll hate Guo Fu. The two brothers’ relationship will now be stronger than ever after this; their father’s wishes will at least be fulfilled.

Wu Santong was listening from the bushes and when he heard that Yang Guo had convinced his sons to stop fighting, he was overwhelmed with delight; as he saw his sons walking away, he couldn’t stop himself from calling out, “Wen’er, Ru’er, let’s leave together.”

The two brothers were slightly startled when they heard their father’s voice and both replied, “Father.” Wu Santong bowed deeply to Yang Guo and said, “Brother Yang, I will never forget your kindness.”

Yang Guo frowned; how could he say this in front of the brothers? By the time he wanted to say something to throw them off the scent, Wu Xiuwen had become suspicious and said, “Brother, that punk’s words may not be the truth.”

Wu Dunru may not be as articulate as his brother, but he was just as alert; he looked at his father and then nodded to his brother.

Wu Santong had saw that he had made a mess of things and quickly said, “It’s not what you think, I did not get brother Yang to stop you fighting.”

At first, the Wu brothers were just suspicious, but after hearing their father trying to cover up his words, they both immediately thought about how Yang Guo and Guo Fu had never gotten on with each other. He and Xiao Longnu were deeply in love, so the things that he had just said were most probably lies.

Wu Xiuwen said, “Brother, we’ll go back to Xiangyang and ask sister Fu about this.” Wu Dunru replied, “Yes! We can’t be deceived by other people’s lies.”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Father, come with us as well. Master and Master wife are your old friends, you should go see them.”

Wu Santong replied, “I… I…” He became flustered as he tried to decide what to do. He wanted to use his authority to order his sons to stop fighting but was afraid that they’ll just agree to please him and then go off fighting as soon as his back was turned.

Yang Guo said coldly, “Little brother Wu, how can you say the words ‘sister Fu’? From now on, not only can’t you say it, you’re not allowed to even think it.”

Wu Xiuwen yelled, “What, this from the world’s most unreasonable person? I have said the words ‘sister Fu’ for years now; not only do I want to say it today, I want to say it tomorrow. Sister Fu, sister Fu, my sister Fu…” Suddenly, smack! Yang Guo slapped his left cheek.

Wu Xiuwen leaped back two steps and held up his sword. He lowered his voice and said, “Fine, the one named Yang, it’s been a few years since we’ve had a fight.”

Wu Santong shouted, “Wen’er, why start a fight?”

Yang Guo turned to him and said with a serious face, “Uncle Wu, who exactly are you trying to help?” Logically, he would of course help his son, but it was clear to see that Yang Guo was trying to help him stop his sons from fighting, his mouth froze.

Yang Guo said, “How about this, go and sit over there. I won’t hurt them and more likely than not, they won’t be able to harm me; just watch the show.”

He was a lot younger than Wu Santong but as he said this, Wu Santong couldn’t stop himself  from complying with his instructions and he sat down on a rock.

Yang Guo unsheathed his Gentleman Sword and chopped a large Pine tree at his side in two. He pushed out his left palm and toppled the top half of the tree. The sword left a straight and smooth cut. When the brothers saw how fine a weapon his sword was, they couldn’t help but to look at each other in shock.

Yang Guo returned the sword in its sheath and laughed, “Do you think you are worthy of fighting against this sword?” He casually stretched out his hand and snapped a branch. He removed the leaves and left himself with a three-foot long wooden rod. He said to them, “I know that you don’t believe that my mother-in-law favors me. How about this, I’ll use this wooden rod and you two use your swords against me at the same time. You can use the martial arts that my father and mother-in-law taught you, or you can use the “Solitary Yang Finger” that your Martial Uncle Zhu taught you. I however, will only use the martial arts that my mother-in-law has taught me; if I use a stance from another sect’s martial arts then that means I’ve lost.”

The brothers had been worried about how good his martial arts were; they had seen him in action twice against Jinlun Fawang and the stances that he had used were completely new to them. But with Yang Guo referring to Guo Jing and Huang Rong as his in-laws as if he had already married Guo Fu, how could they not get angry? Also, Yang Guo was being too arrogant and insulting towards them. Two against one with a wooden rod against swords and limiting himself to using only martial arts that Huang Rong had taught him. With these advantages, if they don’t win then it would be a disgrace.

Wu Dunru felt that this wasn’t fair and shook his head. He was about to say something when Wu Xiuwen said, “Fine, you were the one who made the rules; it wasn’t we brothers who asked for it. Should you happen to use a stance of the Quanzhen or Ancient Tomb martial arts what then?” He was thinking that although this punk’s martial arts were good, it was only because he had learned the advanced techniques of the Quanzhen and the Ancient Tomb. When we were living on Peach Blossom Island, we beat the hell out of you and you had to run away, how good were you then? He said these words so that the two of them could fight him together.

Yang Guo said, “We are fighting today not because of old grudges or today’s feud, we are fighting because of sister Fu. If I lose, just one word or glance at her then I’m a worthless and shameless scoundrel.” These words were meant to force the brothers to say the same thing.

Wu Xiuwen could only say, “If we lose, then we too won’t see sister Fu again.” Yang Guo faced Wu Dunru and said, “What about you?”

Wu Dunru said angrily, “My brother and I share the same view, what else am I going to say?”

Yang Guo laughed, “Fine, if you lose today and you don’t keep to your promise, then you are a worthless, shameless scoundrel, yes?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Correct. The same applies to you. Let’s start!” He stretched his sword forward and aimed for Yang Guo’s leg. Wu Dunru attacked at the same time but he came in from the left. Within a stance, the two had moved themselves into the pincer position.

Yang Guo leapt forward and called out, “You brothers are pretty powerful when you fight together.”

Wu Dunru attacked again and Yang Guo raised his wooden rod but he did not counterattack, instead he just moved left and right and said, “A wife is like a piece of clothing, brothers are like limbs, if a piece of clothing is torn it can be mended but if limbs snap, there’s no return! Have you heard this poem before?”

Wu Xiuwen shouted, “What are you babbling on about? Why aren’t you showing us the martial arts that Master wife taught you?” Wu Dunru did not say a word as he fought harder.

Yang Guo said, “Fine, you better watch out, here comes the masterful martial arts that my mother-in-law personally taught me!” He then aimed his wooden rod downwards and used the ‘trip’ codex from the “Dog Beating Stick Technique”. At the same time, he stretched out his left index finger and pretended to go for Wu Dunru’s pressure point. Wu Dunru leapt back to avoid this attack. Wu Xiuwen called out as he was tripped.

When Wu Dunru saw that his brother was in trouble, he raised his sword and quickly attacked Yang Guo.

Yang Guo said, “That’s right, brothers should share the same fortune.” The wooden rod became a blur and within the blink of an eye, the rod was behind him and poked him on the behind. The wooden rod appeared to turn around in a clumsy fashion but the position it came from was one that the opponent had no chance of guessing. The “Dog Beating Stick Technique” is mystifying and unpredictable, not even a ghost or god can guess where it’ll end up. Though Wu Dunru didn’t feel much from this attack, he had already lost a stance to him and on the inside; he was starting to get worried.

Wu Xiuwen leapt up from the ground and called out, “That’s the “Dog Beating Stick Technique”, when did Master wife teach you that? You only learned a few stances when we watched in secret as Master wife was teaching Lu Youjiao, how does that count?”

Yang Guo stretched out his wooden rod and tripped him up once again, this time throwing him forwards. Wu Dunru slashed across to protect his brother.

Yang Guo waited until Wu Xiuwen picked himself up from the ground before laughing, “We both watched at the same time yet how come I know how to use it but you don’t? My mother-in-law was only teaching Lu Youjiao the codex that time, she taught me the stances personally. Even my sister Fu doesn’t know how to use it, how would you know?”

Wu Xiuwen didn’t know that Yang Guo had learned the techniques from Hong Qigong during the battle between Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng. Wu Xiuwen was thinking what Yang Guo said was most probably true, otherwise how come he was able to use the technique after just once listening to the codex, while he himself couldn’t even understand a single point but he still argued, “That’s because each one’s character is different. Only the Beggar Clan Leader can use the stick technique, we only accidentally overheard it, without Master wife’s permission, how can we learn it in secret? Only shameless scoundrels would hold onto what they’ve heard. You’re shameless; others will mock you.”

Yang Guo laughed out loud. The wooden rod made two noises as it poked the backs of the two brothers. The brothers leapt away with red faces. Yang Guo laughed, “Since I  haven’t  got  any  evidence  at  the moment and though I may have used the “Dog Beating Stick Technique” to defeat you, you guys will not accept defeat. Fine, I’ll let you experience another martial art  that  my  mother-in-law  taught  me.”  He looked at big Wu and then at little Wu before asking, “My mother-in-law’s martial arts, who taught them to her?”

Wu Xiuwen said angrily, “Mother in-law this, father in-law that, you’re shameless, we’re not going to speak to you anymore.”

Yang Guo let out a laugh and said, “Why are you so bad tempered? Fine, let me ask you, before your Master wife entered the tutelage of Hong Qigong, who taught her martial arts?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “My Master wife is the daughter of Lord Huang of Peach Blossom Island, her martial arts were taught by Lord Huang, who doesn’t know about this?”

Yang Guo said, “That’s right. You guys have lived on Peach Blossom Island for many  years;  do you know what the greatest skills of Lord Huang are?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Lord Huang’s knowledge is vast and wide, he’s versed in all, you can’t distinguish what a great skill is and a great skill isn’t.”

Yang Guo said, “You are right there. When it comes to swordplay, what technique does Lord Huang use?”

Wu Xiuwen, “Why the questions when you are already know the answer? Lord Huang’s “Jade Flute Swordplay” is peerless in the world of Wulin, it is famed throughout the land, and everyone in the world of Jianghu knows this.”

Yang Guo said, “Have you ever seen Lord Huang before?”

Wu Xiuwen said, “Lord Huang is drifting through the lands, he is in one place one moment and gone the next, even Master and Master wife cannot find him, what chance have we juniors of meeting him?”

Yang Guo said, “Have you seen senior’s “Jade Flute Swordplay” before?”

Wu Xiuwen gave out a cold laugh and said, “One year when it was Lord Huang’s birthday, Master wife dedicated a feast in his honour and after the feast, she performed the swordplay once. My brother and I along with sister Fu saw it with our very own eyes. By that time, brother Yang was in the tutelage of Quanzhen sect.”

Yang Guo smiled, “That’s right. Later on, my mother-in-law…my mother-in-law taught me the “Jade Flute Swordplay” in secret.”

The Wu brothers looked at each other in disbelief, they were thinking that although that Yang Guo had entered Huang Rong’s tutelage, all she had taught him was reading and writing, she did not teach him any martial arts. It was because of this that he was not a match for them in the fight they had on the island. They had heard from Grandpa Ke that the final push that he did on Wu Xiuwen was Ouyang Feng’s “Toad Stance”. The “Jade Flute Swordplay” is complicated and ingenious, even though Guo Fu was Huang Rong’s daughter, she was not taught it even to this day. Since Yang Guo returned from Mount Zhongnan, the meetings that he had with Huang Rong were brief, even if their Master wife wanted to teach him this swordplay, she may not have found time to.

Yang Guo swept his wooden rod lightly and called out, “Watch out, this stance is called “The Flute’s Notion to a Dragon”!” Using the rod as a sword, the rod suddenly straightened and thud, the rod struck Wu Dunru on the right side of his chest. If the wooden rod were a sharp sword, the sword would have gone through him taking his life.

Wu Xiuwen was alert and quickly attacked with his sword, attacking Yang Guo’s right side but he was still too slow, Yang Guo’s wooden rod had turned around and suddenly pierced towards his right side. This stance started second but finished first, Wu Xiuwen’s wrist would have been struck by the rod before his sword reached his opponent. If that happened he would surely  be  disarmed.  He  quickly  changed  his stance, pulling his waist in and taking his sword back, as he kicked out with his left leg. However, Yang Guo’s rod was now going towards Wu Dunru’s shoulder; the rod moved and so did Yang Guo, displaying attack and defense at the same time, avoiding Wu Xiuwen’s kick without dodging. Wu Xiuwen’s kick hit thin air while Wu Dunru’s situation became dire; he used his sword and defended tightly to avoid any more blows to his body.

Within a few more stances, both brothers were struggling; even if they defended with their lives it wouldn’t be enough, how would they even have time to try to cut the wooden rod?

Yang Guo called out the stances, “The Clear Tone Away from the Mountain”, “Gold Ringing and Jade Resonating”, “The Long Call of the Phoenix Song”, “The Sound Across the Stage”, “The Flowing of the Boat’s Song” The wooden rod attacked continuously, graceful and flowing with every stance an offensive one; before the Wu brothers could neutralize a stance, out came a second, a third and so on. He pierced and slashed with the wooden rod and forced the Wu brothers to defend together and they did not dare to take a step away from each other. When the Wu brothers saw Huang Rong performing the swordplay, they didn’t ponder much on it and thought that this handsome and graceful swordplay was only used for show. How would they know that it could be used in such ingenious ways? The stances that Yang Guo called out were the same as the ones that Huang Rong had called out when she was performing the swordplay. With their swords under someone’s control and struggling to respond, their spirits were dampened further and both of them were now convinced that Huang Rong had taught Yang Guo this “Jade Flute Swordplay”. How would they know that Yang Guo had spent many days with Huang Yaoshi  and  had  his  personal tutoring of the “Jade Flute Swordplay” and the “Divine Release of the Flicking Finger”?

When Yang Guo saw their miserable expressions, he felt slightly bad about it but he remembered that he must see this through to the end. If he didn’t convince them once and for all to not see Guo Fu ever again, these brothers would definitely fight over her again until one of them lost their life.

What medicine is there that doesn’t taste bitter? For good to come out of this, there must be a little suffering. He hurried his swordplay and kept on pressing relentlessly. The brothers became more and more alarmed as they fought on but with the rod like a blur threatening all their vitals, they could only clench their teeth and defend with all they had.

The “Yue Maiden Swordplay” that the Wu brothers had learned was actually itself a powerful swordplay but the two had yet to reach a high level of proficiency with it; when Guo Jing taught them he wasn’t too good with his words so he wasn’t able to pass on the more intricate and subtle points of the swordplay to them. As a result, if the Wu brothers fought your average Wulin fighter, the brothers would prove more than a match for them; but under the rod of Yang Guo, there were endless weaknesses. Yang Guo’s “Jade Flute Swordplay” had yet to be perfected as well but his martial arts were a lot better than the Wu brothers. Plus, the Wu brothers were in an emotional state and so their stances were even more flawed.

Yang Guo did not use his fatal stances and instead, slowly transferred his internal energy into the rod. After fighting for a while, the two brothers felt that their opponent’s rod was exuding a strong sucking force, causing their swords to twist and turn. One sword aimed towards the opponent but the tip of the sword turned in the opposite direction to where it was meant to go. The force that the rod emitted got stronger and stronger until it forced the brothers to fight each other. One stance of Wu Dunru’s that aimed for Yang Guo almost struck his own brother and Wu Xiuwen himself almost slashed Wu Dunru; Wu Dunru had to use all his strength to block the attack.

Yang Guo gave a long laugh and said, “There’s more to the “Jade Flute Swordplay” than this, you better be careful!” ‘Dang’, the wooden rod met with Wu Dunru’s sword. The rod had met with the face of the sword and remained completely intact. Wu Dunru felt an extremely powerful sucking force pulling outwards almost forcing the sword out of his hands. He had to quickly transfer his energy to the sword to snatch it back. Yang Guo’s wooden rod followed his force and trapped Wu Xiuwen’s sword as well. Yang Guo then pushed downwards and forced the swords to the ground. The brothers pulled loose; Yang Guo stepped forward onto the swords tips and raised the wooden rod towards them, lightly touching their throats. Yang Guo laughed, “Well?”

If the wooden rod were a sharp sword, the brothers’ throats would have been cut open. And even with the wooden rod, if Yang Guo had put a bit more force behind the attack, the brothers would surely suffer a serious injury. The brothers’ faces were ash grey and they kept silent in misery. Yang Guo raised his left foot and leapt back three paces. He watched the brothers’ wretched expressions. Memories of the insult of being beaten up by the two filled his mind, now that he’s gotten his own back today; a look of satisfaction came over his face.

The brothers no longer had any suspicions and were now convinced that Yang Guo had indeed received teaching of great skills from Huang Rong. But the brothers have been in love with Guo Fu ever since they were young; to end it like this in a single fight and to not ever see her again was something they were not prepared to do. Also, in the sword fight, the opponent had gotten the initiative straight away and they were forced onto the back foot; they had not even used ten percent of what their Master had taught them and there was no chance for them to use their newly learned “Solitary Yang Finger”.

Wu Xiuwen shouted, “Brother, if we leave it like this, what point is there in living on? Let’s just fight to the death!”

Wu Dunru’s heart stirred and he called out, “Yes!”

The two of them lifted their swords and attacked; they no longer cared about defending themselves and attacked with every stance.

This change in approach was indeed impressive, by just attacking and not defending, they were going to try to take Yang Guo’s life even if it meant dying by his hand in the process. Yang Guo pointed at their vitals but the two ignored it, using a sword in their right hand and unleashing the “Solitary Yang Finger” with their left, they used all their best skills as they tried to kill their opponent.

Yang Guo laughed, “Good, this is more like it!” He threw away his wooden rod and moved around within the blades. The brothers fought more and more viciously as they went on but still they were unable to harm him.

Wu Santong watched from the side with mixed feelings; he hoped that Yang Guo would win so his sons would forget about Guo Fu but he also hoped that his sons would be able  to  defeat Yang Guo as they delivered their dangerous strokes. Suddenly, he heard Yang Guo give a crisp whistle and then saw him flicking the swords with his finger; ‘dang’, ‘dang’, the two swords flew towards the sky. Yang Guo caught the swords in his hands and laughed, “This “Divine Release of the Flicking Finger” was also taught to me by my mother-in-law!”

Now that it’s got to this stage, the brothers knew that continued fighting would just result in further embarrassment for them. Yang Guo flipped the swords around and shot the swords towards them. He bowed and said, “My apologies.”

Wu Xiuwen replied miserably, “Fine, I’ll never see sister Fu again.” He then held his sword across and moved the blade towards his throat. Wu Dunru’s feelings were the same as his brother and he too held his sword across his neck to kill himself.

Yang Guo was shocked to see this and quickly flew across to them; two ‘dang’ sounds were heard as he flicked their swords away with his finger once again. The handles of the sword flipped outwards and swords collided, ‘dong’; and the swords broke in two. As this happened, Wu Santong had leaped out and quickly grabbed his sons around the neck from behind, he yelled, “The two of you are giving up your own lives for a woman, you don’t deserve to be called a man.”

Wu Xiuwen lifted his head and said forlornly, “Father… didn’t you… didn’t a woman cause a life of unhappiness for you as well? I…” Before he could finish, he saw the remnants of tears on his father’s face under the starlight showing he was extremely hurt by their actions. Fighting with his brother like this had caused his father great pain and as he thought about this, he called out. Wu Santong loosened his grip and hugged him. His left hand hugged Wu Dunru and the three of them were held in a mutual embrace. Wu Dunru thought about how he had given his heart to Guo Fu but she and Yang Guo had already become a couple. Even their Master wife had kept it from him and his brother that she had picked him out to be her son in-law and taught him her greatest skills. It appeared that everyone had treated them falsely and only fatherly and brotherly love between them is real; he hugged his father and couldn’t stop himself from crying.

Yang Guo had always been an impetuous fellow. On this occasion his intentions were good, but he had caused the Wu brothers great humiliation. As he watched the father and sons in their loving embrace, he felt great satisfaction in his heart. Although he hasn’t long to live, he has at least done one good deed before he died.

Wu Santong said, “Stupid boys, why should a man worry about not having a wife? Since that Guo girl doesn’t love you why should you keep her in your hearts? We have a great mission that we need to take care of…what is it?”

Wu Xiuwen raised his head and said, “To avenge mother’s death.”

Wu Santong shouted, “Yes! We have to kill that Scarlet Serpent Deity Li Mochou even if we have to go to the ends of the earth.”

Yang Guo was alarmed and thought, “I have to lure these three away, if Martial Uncle Li sees them there will be trouble.”

Just as he was thinking this, he heard Li Mochou say coldly from the cave, “Why go to the ends of the earth? Li Mochou has been waiting here a long time.” She came out from the cave with the baby in her left hand and her fly whisk in her right, her gown was fluttering in the wind as she exuded a graceful aura.

The Wu family could not have guessed that this demoness would appear right here right now; Wu Santong roared as he threw himself forward. Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen picked  up  their  broken  swords  and attacked in a pincer formation.

Yang Guo called out, “Please stop everyone, and listen to what I’ve got to say.”

Wu Santong called out, “Brother Yang, we’ll talk after this demoness is dead.” As he said this, his left palm and right finger had unleashed three deadly stances. The Wu brothers’ swords may have been broken but in close combat the broken blades acted like a dagger and they still packed a considerable punch.

Yang Guo knew that they had a blood feud between them and his words alone would not stop them, he was just worried about the safety of the baby and he called out, “Martial Uncle Li, pass the baby to me.”

Wu Santong was shocked when he heard this and leapt back two paces. He asked, “Why did you call her Martial Uncle Li?”

Li Mochou laughed, “Good Martial Nephew, you attack him from behind while I hold the baby.”

After taking three of Wu Santong’s stances, she felt that his internal energy had made great improvements; he was a completely different opponent to the one she faced in Jiaxing all those years ago. With the Wu brothers, who were no weaklings, attacking her without regard for their lives, it would be difficult to fend them all off. She deliberately called Yang Guo her ‘good Martial Nephew’ to distract the three of them.

Wu Santong did indeed fall for her trick and shouted, “Dun’er, Wen’er, you be careful of that one named Yang, I’ll take care of this witch myself.”

Yang Guo kept his hands by his side and moved away. He said, “I’m not helping anyone but you must not harm the baby.”

Wu Santong relaxed when he saw that Yang Guo had moved away and increased the power of his palms as he moved forwards.

Li Mochou defended with her fly whisk and then said, “Young Masters Wu, what I saw just now showed me that you are the sentimental kind, you are not like other vile heartless men. Because of this, I will spare your lives today; now leave!”

Wu Xiuwen replied angrily, “You evil, despicable bitch, what do you know about sentimentality?” He then advanced forward and attacked with vicious stances.

Li Mochou said with fury, “You don’t know what’s good for you fool!” The fly whisk turned around from in to out, forming a circle as it was whipped out. The fly whisk collided with Wu Xiuwen’s sword and he felt a throbbing pain in his chest, almost forcing him to drop his sword. Wu Santong chopped a palm forward and Li Mochou turned her fly whisk back to defend. Wu Xiuwen had avoided danger for now.

Yang Guo moved behind Li Mochou slowly so that as soon as there was a slight opening in her stances, he could dive in straight away and rescue the baby. But the Wu’s were fighting extremely hard, forcing Li Mochou to defend her entire body with her fly whisk. He could not find a single opening. Yang Guo watched as the Wu’s fought without restraint and there was no intent to avoid the baby in their attacks. If something happened, how would he face the Guo couple? He called out loudly, “Martial Uncle Li, pass the baby to me!” He advanced forward while sending a palm out to knock the fly whisk aside and tried to snatch the baby away.

Li Mochou was completely surrounded with enemies to the left and right, in front and behind, so she had no time to struggle with him but she also was not willing to give up the baby as easily as that. She yelled, “You dare try to snatch her away? If I just squeeze my arm, what do you think is going to happen to her?” Yang Guo was taken aback by this, how could he continue his advance?

With Li Mochou slightly distracted, Wu Santong threw out a fierce left palm that had a finger coming behind it; the index finger of his right hand had sealed a pressure point on her  waist.  Li  Mochou immediately felt half her body going numb, forcing her to stumble and almost fall. But she moved with her momentum and threw out a kick that disarmed Wu Dunru and then she swept down viciously with her fly whisk at Wu Xiuwen. Wu Santong quickly pulled Wu Xiuwen back and allowed him to avoid this fatal strike. Li Mochou’s injuries were not light and she motioned her fly whisk about as she escaped back into the cave.

Wu Santong was delighted with this and he called out, “That evil witch has taken a blow from my finger; it’s going to be difficult for her to escape from us today.” The Wu brothers held their broken swords out and wanted to advance into the cave.

Wu Santong called out, “Wait, be careful of her poisonous needles, we’ll wait here and think of a plan to…” Before he finished, a roar came from within the cave and a leopard leapt out.

The Wu’s were shocked by the sudden appearance of this beast, and in their shock, came a flurry of silver light; silver needles had suddenly been shot out from beneath the leopard. They could have predicted that this was going to happen but luckily for Wu Santong, his study of martial arts was deep, his reactions swift and agile, and he was able to leap away from this danger. But he heard his sons crying out, giving him the fright of his life. He watched as Li Mochou clung beneath the leopard, with her fly whisk tucked behind her neck, the baby in her left hand and gripping the leopard with her right hand and legs. She gave a cackle as the leopard leapt away and escaped into the mountain brook.

Even Yang Guo was shocked by this sudden turn of events; he watched as the leopard ran away and quickly began to chase after it as he called out, “Martial Uncle Li…”

Wu Santong was worried to death as he saw his sons lying on the ground unable to get up, he called out, “I’m going to kill you today.” He reached out to grab Yang Guo.

Yang Guo was taken by surprise and was caught by him, he said quickly, “Let me go! I need to get the baby back!”

Wu Santong said, “Fine, let’s all die here today.”

Yang Guo quickly used the “Little Trapping Hand Technique” to try to release his fingers. Wu Santong was extremely restless and anxious and his mind was slightly unclear; however his martial arts were completely unaffected. He held onto Yang Guo’s waist with his left hand and he too used the “Little Trapping Hand” with his right hand against Yang Guo.

Yang Guo saw that Li Mochou and the leopard were out of sight, he was not going to catch up with them any time soon and sighed, “Why are you holding onto me? The most important thing right now is to tend to their wounds.”

Wu Santong said with joy, “Yes, yes, can you cure the poison from the needles?” He released Yang Guo from his grasp.

Yang Guo examined the Wu brothers and saw that Wu Dunru had been struck by a needle in his left shoulder, Wu Xiuwen a needle in his right leg. By now, the poison had taken effect and their breathing was now shallow as they lay there unconscious.

Yang Guo tore a piece of cloth from Wu Dunru and removed the needles. Wu Santong quickly asked, “Have you got the antidote? Have you?”

Yang Guo saw that it would be difficult to save them from the poison and sadly shook his head.

Wu Santong loved his sons deeply and he was full of pain. He remembered how his wife died from sucking the poison from him; suddenly he threw himself onto Wu Xiuwen and moved his lips towards the wound.

Yang Guo was alarmed by this and called out, “You can’t do this!” He sealed his ‘Great Shuttle’ pressure point with his finger.

Wu Santong was not prepared for this and immediately fell down. He couldn’t move and tears rolled down from his eyes as he watched his sons.

Something popped into Yang Guo’s head, “In five days time, the Passion Flower poison in me will take effect. There is not much difference between whether I live five days more or  five  days  less.  The  Wu brothers are not outstanding characters but this Uncle Wu is one who loves with all his heart, and just like me, he has had a life of misery. So be it, I’ll give up my five days so their family can be reunited and his wishes fulfilled.” He placed his lips on Wu Xiuwen’s wound and sucked the venom out. After spitting out a few mouthfuls of the poison, he tended to Wu Dunru’s wound.

Wu Santong watched from the side with indescribable gratefulness, he cursed the fact that his pressure point was sealed and could not join him in extracting the poison. Yang Guo took turns on each of the wounds and after a while, he noticed the bitter taste had gradually become slightly salty. He felt himself getting dizzier and knew that he was poisoned deeply, but he forced himself to suck a few more mouthfuls and after spitting the poison out, his eyes went blank and he fell unconscious.

He was out for a long, long time. Gradually, he could see the blurry images of many people in front of him. He wanted to see what exactly was happening but as he did so, he found it more difficult to focus and his eyes closed once again. A long time passed before he was able to open his eyes once more and as he did so, he saw the delighted face of Wu Santong in front of him calling out, “Good, finally!” Wu Santong knelt in front of him and kowtowed to him many times. He said, “Brother Yang, you… you saved… you saved my sons and you’ve saved my old life.” He picked himself up and then threw himself down in front of another person and kowtowed to him. He called out, “Thank you Martial Uncle, thank you Martial Uncle.”

Yang Guo looked at the person closely and saw that he was dark faced with a tall nose and deep set eyes; his appearance was similar to that of Nimoxing, and he had short, curly white hair, a man of old age. Yang Guo knew that Wu Santong was a disciple of the Reverend Yideng but he didn’t know that he also had an Indian Martial Uncle. He wanted to sit up but found that his strength had escaped him; he looked around and saw that he was lying on a bed. It was the room that he had stayed in while he was in Xiangyang. Now that he knew he was still alive and still had a chance to see Xiao Longnu one more time, he couldn’t stop himself from blurting out, “Gu Gu…Gu Gu!”

Someone went over to his bed and gently placed their hand on his forehead. The person said, “Guo’er, you need to rest, your Gu Gu has some other business to attend to outside the city.” It was Guo Jing.

Yang Guo saw that he had recovered from his injuries and was greatly relieved but immediately thought, “Uncle Guo’s injuries require seven days and nights to heal, could it be that I have been unconscious for this period of time? But why hasn’t the Passion Flower poison in me taken effect?” With this shock, his mind went into a daze and he fainted once more.

By the time he woke up again, it was night. There was a red candle in front of the bed and Wu Santong was still watching by his bedside.

Yang Guo smiled, “Uncle Wu, I’m alright, you don’t have to worry. The young Masters Wu are fine?” Wu Santong’s eyes were filled with tears and he just nodded, not saying a word.

Yang Guo had never received such gratitude from anyone in his whole life and felt uncomfortable with this so he changed the subject and asked, “How did we get back to Xiangyang?”

Wu Santong wiped his tears with his sleeve and said, “My apprentice brother Zhu received instructions from your Master Miss Long to take the red horse to you in the valley. When he got there, he found the four of us on the ground and quickly rescued us and took us back to the city.”

Yang Guo asked with surprise, “How did my Master know that I was in that valley? Why did she have to ask Uncle Zhu to take the horse to me, why not herself?”

Wu Santong shook his head and said, “When I returned to the city, I did not see Miss Long. Apprentice brother Zhu said that though she is of a young age, her martial arts are abundant; it’s a pity that I did not have the chance to greet her. Aiii, look how able the young are.”

Yang Guo was delighted with his sincere praise of Xiao Longnu. According to age, Wu Santong was more than old enough to be Xiao Longnu’s father but he actually used the word ‘greet’ in his sentences, this respect of the Master is due to the debt of the disciple. Yang Guo smiled and said, “My injuries…”

Wu Santong interrupted, “Brother Yang, though helping others in times of need in the world of Wulin is a common practice, your risking your life to save others, including, of all people, my sons who have deeply offended you in the past, no one can match your kindness except my Master…”

Yang Guo kept on shaking his head and told him to stop. Wu Santong ignored him and continued, “If I call you great benefactor, I know you will not agree to it. But if you keep on calling me uncle, you are showing that you do not respect me.”

Yang Guo had always been straightforward and had usually avoided small talk. He had already set his mind on making Xiao Longnu his wife; he didn’t care about custom and tradition so he said, “Fine, I’ll call you brother Wu. But it will be a bit inconvenient to use this greeting in front of your sons.”

Wu Santong said, “What about that greeting? You saved their little lives; they should listen to your every request, even if it means being your slave.”

Yang Guo said, “Brother Wu, there’s no need to thank me. I have already contracted the Passion Flower poison; I wouldn’t have lived long anyway, so saving your sons wasn’t a very important risk.”

Wu Santong said, “Brother Yang, you can’t say that. Even if your poison is incurable, a normal person would still want to live as long as possible.”

Yang Guo smiled and asked, “How long have we been in Xiangyang?” Wu Santong said, “Today is the seventh day.”

Yang Guo had a look of confusion on his face and said, “Logically, I should be dead by now, how come I’m still alive, that’s strange.”

Wu Santong said with joy, “My martial uncle is a great Indian sage; when it comes to healing wounds and curing poison, he’s probably the world’s best. Years ago when my Master mistakenly took a poison that Mrs. Guo sent, it was he who cured my Master. I’ll go and get him.” He hurriedly left the room.

Joy filled Yang Guo’s heart as he thought, “Could it be that while I was unconscious, that great Indian sage gave me a miracle panacea that purged even my Passion Flower poison? I wonder where Gu Gu is now? If she finds out I don’t have to die, she’ll be filled with joy!” As the sentimental thoughts filled his mind, his head ached and his chest felt as if a hammer had smashed against him, the pain was unbearable and he couldn’t stop himself from crying out. He hasn’t felt such pain since he took half of Qiu Qianchi’s antidote, it must be that the effects of the antidote have now passed while the poison remained; he clutched his chest and clenched his teeth. His head was covered with sweat.

Just as the pain was becoming excruciating, the door suddenly opened and a voice said, “Nanwu Amituofo.” The Indian monk’s arms were folded as he entered. Wu Santong followed and when he saw Yang Guo in distress, he was shocked and asked, “Brother Yang, how are you feeling?” He turned to the Indian monk and said, “Martial uncle, his poison is flaring up, give him the antidote quickly!” The Indian monk did not understand what he was saying and went over to Yang Guo and checked his pulse.

Wu Santong said, “Oh yes!” He quickly went to get Zhu Ziliu. Zhu Ziliu was well versed in Sanskrit and he was the only person who could communicate with the Indian monk. Zhu Ziliu arrived to translate.

Yang Guo gathered his wits and as the pain lessened, he explained to the Indian monk how he contracted this poison.

The Indian monk asked in great detail as to what the Passion Flower looked like and was shocked with what he heard. He said, “The Passion Flower is a species that has been extinct for a long time. According to the scriptures, the Passion Flower once ravaged the lives of many people; the Buddha Wenshu Shili eradicated the flower with his great wisdom. Who would know that some still existed in the central plains? I have never seen this flower before; I really don’t know how to cure this poison.” His face was filled with pity.

After Wu Santong heard Zhu Ziliu’s translation, he kept on calling out, “Have mercy Martial Uncle; have mercy!”

The Indian monk folded his arms and recited, “Amitoufu.” He closed his eyes and went into deep thought. Silence filled the room; no one dared to make a noise.

After a while, the Indian monk opened his eyes and said, “When Master Yang sucked the poison from my Martial Grandsons, the poison from the ‘Soul Freezing Needles’ should have killed you. But Master Yang has survived until now. The date for the Passion Flower’s poison to activate has passed, yet you are still alive. Could it be that the poisons are fighting each other and allowed Master Yang to reap his rewards for his deeds?”

Zhu Ziliu nodded his head and after translating, Yang Guo too felt that this was a reasonable explanation.

The Indian monk continued, “People say what comes around goes around, Master Yang has saved the lives of others while risking his own, if this saying is true, an antidote will surely exist.”

After hearing Zhu Ziliu’s translation, Wu Santong leapt with joy  and  said,  “I  implore  Martial  Uncle  to come up with an antidote as soon as possible.”

The Indian monk said, “I need to visit the Passionless valley.”

Yang Guo and the others were shocked. The journey to Passionless Valley was not a short one, getting there and getting back will take a long time.

The Indian monk said, “I need to see the Passionless Valley with my own eyes and test the poison before I can make an antidote. Before I return, Master Yang must refrain from sentimental thoughts; otherwise, the pain will get stronger and stronger each time. If you damage your life line then there will be no return.”

Before Yang Guo could reply, Wu Santong said loudly, “Apprentice brother, let’s go to the Passionless Valley together and force that old hag to hand over the antidote.”

After being poisoned by Huo Dou, Zhu Ziliu was able to receive the antidote thanks to Yang Guo; he had wanted to repay him a long time and said, “Yes, we’ll escort Martial Uncle and whether we’ll take the antidote by force or whether Martial Uncle can make one himself, we’ll get the antidote one way or the other.” The apprentice brothers spoke spiritedly but the Indian monk was looking at Yang Guo with worry on his brows.

End of Chapter 23. 
@Chapter 24 – Turbulent Emotions
Though Yang Guo saw that the Indian monk had a glint in his eye, his lips seemed to have a sorrowful expression and from that, he knew that it would be extremely difficult to cleanse his body of the poison. By now, the monk had finished his examination and so, Yang Guo smiled at him and said, “Reverend, please be honest.”

The Indian monk said, “The suffering from the Passion Flower is different to that of other poisons. The poison becomes one with sentiment and thus suffering goes straight to the heart. From what I can tell, the roots of love are deep in you; separating the poison from it will be very difficult. Even if we manage to get the other half of the antidote, you may not fully recover. But if you can sever your roots then there will be no need for any antidote at all. Going to the Passionless Valley is something that we feel must be done, whether you can recover will depend on you only.”

Yang Guo thought, “You want me to stop loving Gu Gu? What’s the point of living then? You might as well just leave me be and let me die.” His mouth gratefully replied, “Thank you for the advice Reverend.” He had wanted to tell Wu Santong and the others not to go to Passionless Valley but he knew that these people value the code of brotherhood strongly and would not listen to him. Talking to them would just be a waste of his efforts.

Wu Santong smiled, “Brother Yang, take care and rest peacefully. We’ll leave first thing in the morning and come back as soon as possible. When you’ve recovered, we’ll have a drink at your and Miss Guo’s wedding.”

This took Yang Guo aback, but he knew that this matter was complicated and he would not be able to clear it up in a short period of time, so he just agreed. After seeing the door close behind the three as they left, Yang Guo closed his eyes once again and rested.

Again, he slept for hours. By the time he woke up, dawn had broken and the sounds of birds chirping could be heard. Yang Guo had not eaten for days and by now was starving; he saw four dishes by the side of the bed and took a few slices of the cakes that were there. After eating two slices, the door suddenly made a noise and after a creak opened lightly.

The red candle that was by the bedside was now about an inch long and was still alight. Yang Guo could see that the person who had entered was wearing a pale red gown and had an angry expression on their face; it was Guo Fu.

Yang Guo froze before saying, “Miss Guo, it’s early.”

Guo Fu replied with a ‘humph’. Without saying a word, she sat down on a chair in front of the bed with her eyebrows raised, and her angry eyes stared at Yang Guo. A long time passed and still, she did not make a sound.

Yang Guo was made uncomfortable by this stare and smiled, “Has Uncle Guo told you to come here to tell me something?”

She replied, “No!”

After being spoken to twice like this, the Yang Guo of a few days back would have just turned his back and ignored her. He saw that there was something bothering her but he couldn’t tell why she was here so early in the morning so he asked again, “Is Auntie Guo okay after giving birth?”

Guo Fu’s face seemed to become even more frosty and she replied coldly, “My mother’s health is none of your concern.”

Apart from Xiao Longnu, Yang Guo would never back down from anyone, after being treated like this, Yang Guo could no longer suppress his pride and thought, “So what if your father is Hero Guo and your mother is Chief Huang?” He replied with a snort of his own.

Guo Fu said, “What are you snorting at?” Yang Guo ignored her and snorted again.

Guo Fu said loudly, “I said what are you snorting at?”

Yang Guo was amused by this and thought, “Looks like in the end, the little girl can’t keep her composure, I just snorted twice and she’s already agitated.” He said, “I’m feeling unwell, snorting like this makes my body feel a bit better.”

Guo Fu said angrily, “Always making things up, what a liar, you really are a despicable person.” After being insulted by her, Yang Guo suddenly thought of something, “Could it be that she knows about the things I’d said to the Wu brothers to stop them fighting?” Though he saw that she was angry, her beauty made him pity her. He was born with a flirtatious nature and he couldn’t stop himself from smiling, “Miss Guo, are you offended by what I said to the Wu brothers?”

Guo Fu lowered her voice and said, “What did you say to them? Tell me with your own mouth.”

Yang Guo smiled, “I did it for their own good; I stopped those brothers from fighting each other to the end and prevented grief for their father. Uncle Wu told you this, didn’t he?”

Guo Fu said, “As soon as Uncle Wu saw me, he began to congratulate me and started to praise you to high heaven. How…how can I let you dirty my chaste name as you please?” By now, her voice was starting to break and tears flowed down her cheeks.

Yang Guo lowered his head and didn’t say a word; he was extremely regretful as to what he said that night, he’d let his tongue move too fast when he was talking to the Wu brothers. The more he said, the more arrogant the words became; he did not consider that he had sullied Guo Fu’s name. It was his words that had caused this trouble; it would not be easy for him to repair it.

When Guo Fu saw that he had lowered his head and stayed silent, she was even angrier and cried out, “Uncle Wu said that big and little brother Wu couldn’t beat you and so were forced by you to never see me again, is that true?”

Yang Guo sighed to himself thinking, “Wu Santong doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, why did he have to tell her all this?” He could deny no longer and could only nod his head, saying, “I know I shouldn’t have said all those lies but there was no ill intent behind my words; please forgive me.”

Guo Fu wiped away her tears and said with anger, “Uncle Wu said that once you’ve recovered from your illness, he wants to…wants to drink at our wedding, why did you agree?”

Yang Guo thought, “Oh no! So he also told her about what I said last night as well.” He could only argue, “I was still feeling a bit woozy then, I did not hear Uncle Wu’s words properly.”

Guo Fu could tell he was lying and said loudly, “You said that my mother taught you martial arts in secret and had picked you out to be her son-in-law, it this true?”

Yang Guo blushed at her questions and was feeling embarrassed, he thought, “Joking with Miss Guo will just lead to her insulting me a bit more. I’m not a gentleman so it doesn’t really matter much, but lying about Auntie Guo teaching me martial arts is a completely different matter altogether. I can’t let Auntie Guo know about this.” He said quickly, “Miss Guo, this again was due to me speaking without thinking. I implore you, ignore it and don’t let your parents know about the matter.”

Guo Fu laughed coldly, “Since you are afraid of my father, why do you still make up lies to insult my mother?”

Yang Guo quickly said, “I had no intention of insulting Auntie Guo; at that time all I was concerned about was making the Wu brothers forget about you, I was speaking without thinking…”

Guo Fu grew up with the two brothers and had feelings for both of them; when she found out that Yang Guo had lied to the Wu brothers to get them to forget about her and never see her again, how could she control her anger? She asked loudly, “I’ll sort this out later. Where’s my sister? Where did you take her?”

Yang Guo said, “Oh yes, please get Uncle Guo, that’s what I wanted to speak to him about.”

Guo Fu said, “My father has left the city to look for my sister. You… you despicable person, you actually wanted to exchange my sister for your antidote. So it’s like that is it, your life is worth something unlike my sister’s.”

Yang Guo had been ashamed of himself concerning this matter, but now on hearing her bring up the matter about the baby, he felt he had nothing to be ashamed of and said clearly, “My mission was to rescue your sister and bring her back to your parents. No thoughts of exchanging her for my antidote entered the mind of Yang Guo.”

Guo Fu said, “So where’s my sister then? Where is she?”

Yang Guo said, “Li Mochou has her and I’m ashamed of myself for not being able to rescue her. As soon as my strength returns and if I’m still alive, I will immediately go search for her.”

Guo Fu laughed coldly, “Li Mochou is your Martial Uncle isn’t she? You two had been hiding together in a cave, hadn’t you?”

Yang Guo said “That’s right, she is my Martial Uncle but my Master and she have never gotten along with each other.”

Guo Fu said, “Never gotten along with each other? So why did she listen to your request and take my sister away to exchange for the antidote?”

Yang Guo sat up and said angrily, “Miss Guo, watch your reckless words, I Yang Guo may not be a person of great worth but how would I even contemplate such thoughts?”

Guo Fu said, “Well said, this ‘contemplate such thoughts’! This came from your own Master, could it be a lie?”

Yang Guo said, “What did my Master say?”

Guo Fu stood up and pointed her finger at Yang Guo’s nose before saying with anger on her face, “Your Master told Uncle Zhu that you and Li Mochou were in that cave in that valley, she asked Uncle Zhu to take the red horse to you so you can race to the Passionless Valley with my sister…”

Yang Guo interrupted, “Yes, my Master did have this thought; she wanted me to take your sister there and get the antidote first then doing something about the matter afterwards. But this was just one of the ideas that came up, and none would result in harm to your sister…”

Guo Fu butted in, “Within a day of being born, you handed her over to a cold blooded murderer, and yet you talk about not harming my sister. You scoundrel! When you were younger and all alone as an orphan, how did my parents treat you? If they hadn’t taken you to Peach Blossom Island and taken care of you, where would you be now? Who knew that you’d repay kindness with vengeance; you conspired with the Mongols and while my parents were unwell, you took the  opportunity  to  steal  my  sister  away…”  Her insults were becoming more and more vicious, how could Yang Guo argue back? His body was weak after being poisoned again and as his breathing became agitated; he fainted and fell back onto the bed with a thud.

After a long while, Yang Guo came around. Guo Fu stared at him coldly and said, “I never would have guessed you still knew what shame was. You knew that this was your intention; you can’t face living with yourself can you?” Her expression was icy and cold, her words were as sharp as a blade.

Yang Guo let out a long sigh and said, “If I really had this thought then why didn’t I take your sister to Passionless Valley?”

Guo Fu said, “It would be difficult for you to travel in your condition so you asked your Martial Uncle for help. Luckily, it seemed fate had other ideas; I overheard your Master’s and Uncle Zhu’s conversation and I immediately hid the red horse away. Let’s see how you and your Master’s evil plan will work now…”

Yang Guo said, “Fine, say whatever you want, there’s no point in me arguing. Where’s my Master? Where is she?”

Guo Fu’s face became a little red and said, “Like Master like pupil, your Master is not a nice person as well.”

Yang Guo was furious and sat up, saying, “You can shout and insult me all you like, I’ll let it go in respect for your parents. How dare you insult my Master?”

Guo Fu said, “Bah! What about your Master? Who told her to say those words?”

Yang Guo thought, “Gu Gu is an innocent person and does not show the emotions of the human world; how could she provoke her with words?” He scoffed and said, “It’s probably  your  warped  little  mind twisting the words of my Master.”

Guo Fu had not wanted to reveal what Xiao Longnu had said to her but after being aggravated by him, she could not control her anger and said, “She said, ‘Miss Guo, Guo’er is a person with a pure and good heart, he has suffered and been lonely all his life, and she must take care of him.’ She then said, ‘You two are… are a match made in heaven! Tell him to forget me, I will not be offended.’ She then gave me a sword and said it was called the Lady Sword; it’s a match with… with your Gentleman Sword. If this isn’t rubbish then what is?” She was angry and embarrassed as she said this and her voice did not carry the sincere and mournful tone that Xiao Longnu had said these words with.

Each time he listened to a sentence, Yang Guo felt as if his heart was being rammed violently, his mind was full of confusion, and he didn’t understand how Xiao Longnu could say something like this. After a while, he noticed that Guo Fu had finished and slowly raised his head. His eyes flashed as he shouted, “You liar, why would my Master say something like that? Where’s the Lady sword? If you can’t show it to me then you are a liar!”

Guo Fu gave a cold laugh and turned her wrist and removed a sword from her back that was black; it was the Lady Sword from the Passionless Valley.

Yang Guo was filled with disappointment and blurted out, “Who wants to be a match with you? This sword belongs to my Master, you stole it from her. You stole it from her!”

Guo Fu had always been a proud girl. Her parents gave her a little leeway and the Wu brothers let her have her way no matter what, how could she take these harsh words? She only decided to pass on Xiao Longnu’s words because Yang Guo had provoked her and left her with no choice. Who knew that he would come up with such a reply? And now the words said seemed to suggest that it was she that made this whole thing up and it was she who wanted to marry him while he plainly refused. With such anger, her hand held the sword and was about to chop down with it but a thought came into her mind, “Since he respects his Master so much, let me tell him something that will drive him mad.”

She was filled with anger and she did not even give a thought about the possible terrible consequences that would result from her words. A swooshing sound was heard as she sheathed the half exposed Lady Sword and sat down on a chair, laughing as she did so. She said, “Your Master is beautiful and her martial arts are strong, she is indeed a rare breed but there’s just one thing that’s not proper about her.”

Yang Guo said, “What?”

Guo Fu replied, “It’s just a pity that she does not act in a respectable manner and has been sneaking around to meet up with those Quanzhen Taoists.”

Yang Guo angrily replied, “My Master has a feud with the Quanzhen sect, why would she be meeting up with them in secret.”

Guo Fu gave a cold laugh and said, “When I said that she was ‘sneaking around to meet them’, I said the polite version. There are some things that would be inappropriate for a girl to say.”

Yang Guo was becoming more and more furious as he listened, he shouted loudly, “My Master is pure and chaste; if you say another lie I’ll tear your mouth off.”

Guo Fu had an icy look in her eyes as she said coldly, “That’s right, she was able to do it but I’m unable to say it. What a nice pure and chaste girl, going around being intimate with a rotten Taoist.”

Yang Guo’s face became green and he shouted, “What did you say?”

Guo Fu said, “I heard it with my own ears, don’t tell me I’m wrong. Two Quanzhen Taoists came to pay their respects to my father but they turned up just when the city was in a mess, my parents were unwell and couldn’t see them so I had to take care of the guests…”

Yang Guo shouted angrily, “Then what?”

Guo Fu saw that he was furious, his eyes were red and his forehead was tensed up, her plan was working and she continued, “One of the Taoists was called Zhao Zhijing, the other called Yin Zhiping, heard of them?”

Yang Guo said, “Then?”

Guo Fu gave a dry laugh and said, “I instructed my servants to prepare quarters for them and didn’t take notice of them. But in the middle of the night, a Beggar Clan member came to tell me that those two Taoists had drawn swords and were fighting each other in their room…”

Yang Guo snorted as he knew that the two have always been at arms with each other, fighting each other in their room wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

Guo Fu continued, “I was curious so I quietly went to their window and looked in. By then, the two had sheathed their swords but they were still arguing. The one named Zhao said that the one named Yin and your Master did this and that and the one named Yin did not deny it, he was just angry with him for being so loud…”

Yang Guo suddenly flung his blanket off and sat up on the bed, he shouted, “What this and that?”

Guo Fu’s face blushed; she looked a little embarrassed and said, “How would I know? Don’t tell me its something good. Your precious Master knows what she’s done.” She said this with a derisive tone.

Yang Guo was angry and agitated, his emotions were in turmoil and he swung his hand out and slapped Guo Fu on the face. In a blaze of fury, his slap came out with great force and knocked Guo Fu into a daze, her face was red and swollen, if it weren’t for the fact that Yang Guo was still not at full strength, this slap would have knocked her teeth out.

When has Guo Fu ever suffered such an insult? In anger, she unsheathed the Lady Sword from her waist, and went for Yang Guo’s neck.

After slapping Guo Fu, he thought, “I’ve insulted Uncle and Auntie Guo’s precious daughter. This girl is the princess of this city, even if Uncle and Auntie forgive me, how can I stay?”

He stretched out his leg to put on his shoes and saw Guo Fu’s sword coming towards him, he gave a cold laugh and pulled his left arm inwards and shot out his right hand, then with some light movements, he snatched the Lady Sword away.

Failing with two strokes in succession, Guo Fu’s anger rose further. She saw that there was a sword by the head of the bed and grabbed it. Unsheathing the sword, she chopped at Yang Guo’s head. Yang Guo saw a glimmer of light coming towards him and raised the Lady Sword across him to block the attack but after being unconscious for seven days, he had no strength to back up his movements. After raising the Lady Sword up to his chest, his arms felt limp and weak and he could raise it no further. Guo Fu’s sword came in across and after a light clanging sound as the two swords collided, the Lady Sword fell out of his hand.

Guo Fu was furious about the slap that she had received, she thought, “You’ve bought harm to my sister you despicable person, I’ll take your life today to avenge my sister. My parents will not blame me for this.” She saw him sitting on the floor without any strength to retaliate, he was just holding his arm up across his chest to protect himself but there was no sign of pleading for mercy in his eyes. Guo Fu clenched her teeth and increasing the strength in her hand, she chopped down with her sword.

Previously:

That day when Xiao Longnu was looking for Yang Guo and Jinlun Fawang on the red horse, she had headed in the wrong direction. The horse galloped over ten li in one go and by the time she reined in the horse to go back, she had lost them completely. She was very anxious since the more time that passed, the more at risk Yang Guo’s life would be. She rode around within thirty to forty li of Xiangyang searching for him.

The red horse was fast but the valley was well hidden and it was not until after midnight that she heard the cries of Wu Santong. Heading in the direction of the cries, she soon came across the sounds of the clashing blades of the Wu brothers and then the sound of Yang Guo’s voice. She was delighted that she had found him but was afraid that he had come across some strong foes so she decided to hide and help him in secret. She tied the red horse to a tree and quietly moved behind the rocky outcrop and watched Yang Guo face his foes.

There was no need for her to be anxious after she took a look but what she heard shocked her: Yang Guo was declaring that he and Guo Fu had been engaged long ago and calling her his fiancée. He was referring to Guo Jing and Huang Rong as his in-laws; she heard how Guo Jing and Huang Rong had picked him to be their son-in-law and secretly transmitted martial arts to him. She also saw how he lost his temper at the Wu brothers, saying they were not allowed to see Guo Fu. Every word of his struck out at her heart like lightning; she was confused and felt that her whole universe had changed within the blink of an eye. If it was anyone else who saw Yang Guo’s actions changed suddenly like this, they would become suspicious and would ask him to explain everything afterwards. But Xiao Longnu’s mind was as clear as a crystal, untouched by earthly dust; she did not know the lies and tricks of humankind. Yang Guo’s tongue was silky smooth and talked rubbish to others; but to Xiao Longnu, he had never told a single lie and because of this that Xiao Longnu had never doubted his words. As she saw the Wu brothers losing, she pitied herself and let out a sigh. When Yang Guo heard the sigh and called out ‘GuGu’, she did not reply and hid further away. Yang Guo thought that it was Li Mochou who sighed and it was he who was mistaken so he did not give it much thought.

Leading the red horse, Xiao Longnu walked around without aim trying to think but she did not know what to do. She was now over twenty years of age but she had spent her whole life in the tomb. She did not know a thing about the world; her relative experience was akin to that of a newborn baby. She thought, “Since Guo’er is going to marry Miss Guo; that means he won’t be able to marry me. It’s no wonder the Guo couple would not allow Guo’er and me to get married. Guo’er has kept this from me because he didn’t want me to be sad, ah, he’s still thinking of me.” Her thoughts continued, “He failed to kill Hero Guo on many occasions to avenge his father and it was all because of Miss Guo. It appears that his love for Miss Guo runs very deep as well. If I go to give him the red horse now, he may begin to think about my good points again. This might disrupt their wedding in the future. It’s better for me to return to the ancient tomb alone, this outside world is making me mad.”

She pondered for a while and made her decision, even though her heart was in great pain, she was still thinking about saving Yang Guo. So she rode the red horse through the night back to Xiangyang and handed the horse over to Zhu Ziliu so he could deliver the red horse to Yang Guo in the valley.

At this time, though the attackers of Xiangyang had left long ago, Guo Jing and Huang Rong had yet to recover and the city was in chaos. The able Zhu Ziliu along with Lu Youjiao worked together  on  the important task of looking after the security of the city. Right in the middle of all this, Xiao Longnu walked up to him with red horse and asked him to take it to Yang Guo, saying that she wants Yang Guo to get to the Passionless Valley as soon as possible. She said to use the baby daughter of Guo Jing in exchange for the antidote; leaving Zhu Ziliu confused. He tried to ask her to explain but Xiao Longnu’s mind was in turmoil and she did not want to speak much. She just said to get there as fast as possible; any delay may put Yang Guo’s life at risk.

She ignored Guo Fu who was standing next to Zhu Ziliu and thought, “Your sister will be fine for a few days in the Passionless Valley, this is about the life of your fiancée, you yourself will naturally do all you can.” As soon as she thought of Yang Guo, her heart filled with pain, before she could explain herself clearly tears rolled from her eyes. She ran to her room; lying on her bed, she sobbed despondently.

Zhu Ziliu did not know about anything related to this matter so how would he know what Xiao Longnu was talking about? But the words ‘to get there as fast as possible, any delay may put Yang Guo’s life at risk’ was startling. All he could do was to go to the valley and then act accordingly. By the time he was ready to make his way to the valley, the red horse was nowhere to be seen. When he asked one of the soldiers, he said that Miss Guo had taken it away. Zhu Ziliu wanted to find her but she had hidden away. Zhu Ziliu sighed to himself and thought that all these young girls are unfathomable, without saying anything or explaining themselves, they just do what they want without thinking.

He was worried about the safety of Yang Guo so he found another fast horse and took a few Beggar Clan members with him. Following Xiao Longnu’s directions they found the valley only to see Yang Guo and the Wu brothers lying on the ground with Wu Santong sitting on the ground meditating. The three lying on the ground were breathing shallowly, the words ‘to get there as fast as possible, any delay may put Yang Guo’s life at risk’ were indeed true. He immediately took Yang Guo back to Xiangyang and his recently arrived Martial Uncle Indian Monk immediately tended to Yang Guo.

After crying on her bed for a while, Xiao Longnu was getting more and more depressed as she pondered her situation. She wasn’t able to stop her tears. This crying left her sleeves completely soaked. She went to take a handkerchief from her waist to wipe away her tears when her fingertips touched the Lady Sword. She thought, “It’ll be worthwhile to go and give this sword to Miss Guo so they’ll have a matching pair of swords.”

She was deeply in love with Yang Guo, so no matter what it was, as long as something will benefit Yang Guo, she will go and do it without any qualms. She got off the bed and without wiping away the traces of her tears and went to see Guo Fu.

It was deep into the night now; Guo Fu was of course in bed. Xiao Longnu did not wait for any servants to call her, opening the window, she leapt into the room and woke Guo Fu up. She then said “You two are a match made in heaven!” etc, the words that Guo Fu passed onto Yang Guo. She handed the Lady Sword to Guo Fu and went to leave the room.

Guo Fu did not know what she was talking about and said, “What are you saying? I didn’t understand a thing.”

Xiao Longnu did not reply and leaped out of the window. Guo Fu stuck her head out of the window and called out, “Please come back Miss Long.” However, Xiao Longnu did not turn back.

With her head lowered, Xiao Longnu made her way to the garden. A rose bush’s fragrance floated about and it reminded her of the time on Mount Zhongnan when she and Yang Guo were practicing the Jade Maiden’s Manual between the flower thickets. She wanted to go back to way things were when they were living together as Master and disciple yet there was no way it could happen.

In her daze, a voice came from the room to her left saying, “It’s always Xiao Longnu this, Xiao Longnu that, can you stop saying that name for just one day?”

Xiao Longnu was shocked, “Who’s always talking about me?” She stopped her footsteps and listened. Another person let out a dry laugh before saying, “So you can do it but I can’t say it?”

The first person replied, “We are in someone else’s home; with all these ears and eyes about, what would happen to the name of the Quanzhen sect if someone overhears?”

The other person laughed and said, “Oh, so you still remember about Quanzhen’s name? That night by the rose bushes on Mount Zhongnan, that wonderful feeling… ha-ha.” As  he  got  to  this  point,  he  just continued laughing and did not say anything else.

Xiao Longnu was even more shocked when she heard this, her suspicions were roused and she thought, “Could it be that when Guo’er and I were unclothed, we  were  seen  by  those  two  Taoists?”  From  the sounds of the voices, she could tell it was Zhao Zhijing and Yin  Zhiping  so  she  moved  quietly  to  the window and lowered her body as she listened. By now, the two’s voices had  become  quieter  but  Xiao Longnu was quite close to them and could still hear everything clearly. A frustrated Yin Zhiping said, “Martial Brother Zhao, you torture me day and night, what exactly do you want?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “You know what I want.”

Yin Zhiping said, “What do you want me to do? I’ve already agreed, all I wanted was for you stop going on about this yet you are getting worse. Do you want me to die in front of you?”

Zhao Zhijing gave a cold laugh and said, “I don’t know, I just can’t help myself, I’ve got to say it.”

Yin Zhiping suddenly raised his voice a little and said, “You really think I don’t know? You’re just envious of me, envious of brief moment of bliss.” These two sentences were very strange. Zhao Zhijing did not reply, he seemed to want to laugh but could not.

After a long while, Yin Zhiping mumbled, “Yes, that night within the rose bushes, her accupoints were sealed by the Western Poison Ouyang Feng, she wasn’t able to move and I was able to fulfill my dream. I’m not going to deny it. If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know about it, right? After I told you, you torment me non stop… yet, yet I do not regret it, no, not one single bit…” By now, his voice had become soft; it was as if he was talking in his dreams.

As Xiao Longnu heard this, her heart dropped and her mind seemed to run amok with noise. “Could it be that it was him, it wasn’t my beloved Guo’er? No, it wasn’t him, it can’t be him, he’s lying, and it must be Guo’er.”

She heard Zhao Zhijing continue in a cold tone, “Yes, of course you wouldn’t regret your actions. You didn’t have to tell me about this but you couldn’t keep your joy to yourself, you had to tell someone. When I started to remind you day and night about it, why did you become afraid to hear what I had to say?” Suddenly, a thudding noise on the wall was heard; it was Yin Zhiping banging his head against the wall. He said, “Fine say it, tell everyone, tell everyone in the world, I don’t care… no, no, apprentice brother Zhao, I’ll agree to whatever you want, just stop bringing this up.”

In the space of a night, Xiao Longnu had heard two heart shattering pieces of news; she stood outside the window in a dazed state, although she heard what they were saying, she was for the time being, unable to grasp the meaning behind their words.

Zhao Zhijing chuckled a few times and said, “As practicing Taoists, we need to keep a clear mind, a slip in our thoughts will lead to evil. The reason I keep on mentioning Xiao Longnu is so that you will soon begin to hate and detest that name. I’m just helping you to adhere to the Taoist teachings.”

Yin Zhiping said quietly, “She’s a celestial being, how can I hate and detest her?” Suddenly he raised his voice and said, “Don’t try to paint a pretty picture of what you are doing; do you think I’m blind to your ill intentions? One, you are jealous of me and two, you hate Yang Guo, you want to reveal this to everyone so that the two of them will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.”

When Xiao Longnu heard the name ‘Yang Guo’, her heart skipped a beat. Quietly she repeated, “Yang Guo, Yang Guo.” As she said these words, she was filled with a tender feeling and hoped that the two would keep on talking about Yang Guo. As long as someone mentions his name, she would be happy.

She listened on and now heard it was Zhao Zhijing’s turn to raise his voice. He said with hate, “I won’t rest until I teach that bastard a good lesson, humph, it’s just that…”

Yin Zhiping said, “It’s just that his martial arts are too high, neither you nor I are a match for him, right?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “That’s not definite, what’s so special about his evil sect’s unorthodox martial arts? Once he’s in my hands… ha-ha! Our Quanzhen sect’s martial arts are the orthodox way, why should we be afraid of that scum? Apprentice brother Yin, just you watch, I’m not going to let him die easily. I’ll break an arm here or a leg there; I’ll make him wish that he was dead. How wonderful it would be if that Xiao Longnu were there to watch him suffer.”

Xiao Longnu trembled as she heard this; if it was at any other place and time, she would have flown through the window and killed the two with one strike long ago. But now, her despair had completely overwhelmed her; her body felt as if it was no longer under her own control.

She heard Yin Zhiping laugh coldly, “You can believe what you want. Our sect’s orthodox arts may not be able to compete with their so called unorthodox martial arts.”

Zhao Zhijing shouted, “You dog, you Quanzhen traitor! You even praise that Xiao Longnu’s martial arts to high heaven!”

Yin Zhiping has been under this torrent of abuse long enough and could take it no longer, he shouted, “Why are you insulting me? You must know when you are pushing your limits!” Zhao Zhijing knew that his opponent could do nothing to him. If this matter were leaked back amongst the sect, the previous sect leader Uncle Ma and the current leader Uncle Qiu will surely sentence him to death. That was why he had been handing out insults to him day and night. Yin Zhiping indeed did not retaliate. Now, he could tell that Yin was actually showing signs of rebelling. If he didn’t make sure that he was in complete control, it would be difficult for his great plan to succeed, so he took a step forward and sent out a palm.

Yin Zhiping had not thought that he would actually resort to violence; he lowered his head quickly but the palm struck him heavily on the back of his neck, almost sending him to the floor. Enraged, he unsheathed his sword and thrust it forward. Zhao Zhijing moved his body out of the way and laughed, “Oh, so you’ve actually got the gall to raise your sword against me.” He unsheathed his own sword and replied with a stroke of his own.

Yin Zhiping lowered his voice and said, “I’m going to die sooner or later under this constant torment of yours anyway, I might as well get it over with and let you kill me today.” He hurried his sword strokes and pressed his opponent. He was Qiu Chuji’s strongest student, so he and Zhao Zhijing’s martial arts both had their strong points. They both learned the same stances so once a fight started between the two, it would be difficult to tell who was going to be the winner. But Yin Zhiping had made up his mind. All he wanted was to take his opponent down with him while Zhao  Zhijing  had  something  else  planned  and wasn’t going to take his life. Twenty or thirty stances later, Zhao Zhijing had been forced into one of the corners of the room and was losing.

The two’s struggle had been reported by a Beggar Clan member to Guo Fu. Guo Fu dressed hurriedly and rushed to the scene to see Xiao Longnu standing outside. She called out, “Miss Long!”

Xiao Longnu’s mind was somewhere else and she did not hear her.

Guo Fu was curious and so decided not to enter immediately. She too stood outside the window only to hear Zhao Zhijing coming out with derisive comments between his swords strokes. Every single comment related to Xiao Longnu.

When Guo Fu heard their words becoming more and more inappropriate: she decided to move away from the window. When she turned her head to move away, she caught a  glimpse  of  a  disorientated  Xiao Longnu. It appeared that she did not take offence at what the two were saying; Guo Fu became extremely curious and quietly asked, “Is what they’re saying true?”

Xiao Longnu nodded her head and said, “I don’t know, maybe… maybe its true.”

Feelings of condescension towards Xiao Longnu gathered inside Guo Fu and she left with a snort and did not turn back.

During the fight, Yin and Zhao both heard someone talking outside their room; after a clashing of weapons, the two separated and leapt back and both asked at the same time, “Who’s there?”

Xiao Longnu said slowly, “Me.”

Yin Zhiping trembled all over and asked with a shaking voice, “Who’s me?” Xiao Longnu replied, “Xiao Longnu!”

Once those three words came out, not only did Yin Zhiping freeze, Zhao Zhijing did so as well. That day at the Heroes’ Feast of Da Xingguan, just one stance of hers allowed her to place a palm on his chest; the resulting injury was serious and it took him days to completely recover. There was no way he could defend himself against her. He could never have guessed that Xiao Longnu would be in Xiangyang as well; all the insults that he had just said were most likely heard by her. He was scared witless and was thinking, “How am I going to get out alive?”

Yin Zhiping was shocked as well but he was not thinking about how to escape, instead, he stretched out his hand and pushed open the window. Beside the flower bushes stood a silent, somber girl in white; it was the person who had filled his thoughts during the day and his dreams at night, the most enchanting girl in the world, Xiao Longnu!

Yin Zhiping replied in disbelief, “It’s you?”

Xiao Longnu replied, “Yes, it’s me. What you two said just now, is it true?”

Yin Zhiping nodded his head, “Yes! Just kill me!” He turned his sword towards her and handed it to her through the window.

Xiao Longnu’s eyes lit up, her sorrow had reached its peak, her anger had met its limit, she felt that even if she killed a thousand people, or even ten thousand, she would no longer be the pure and chaste girl she once was. She could no longer love Yang Guo as deeply as she did before. When she saw the sword through the window, she did not take it and just looked at the two of them with uncertainty. She really could not decide on what to do.

Zhao Zhijing saw his chance had come, the girl seemed lost in her mind right now, if he doesn’t take this chance to escape, when could he? He grabbed Yin Zhiping’s arm and said with a snicker, “Let’s go, let’s go now, it looks like she can’t bear to kill you!” He pulled hard and staggered out of the door. Yin Zhiping’s mind was completely elsewhere, his body put up no resistance and he followed. Zhao Zhijing utilized his lightness kung fu and ran. Yin Zhiping had allowed himself to be pulled by him but after a few li, he himself started to use his own lightness kung fu. Both of them had begun practicing martial arts before Guo Jing had started. As soon as they put effort into it, they soon arrived at the gates in the eastern part of the city.

There were a few Beggar Clan members patrolling the area by  the  gates.  The  leader  of  the  group recognized the two and knew they were eminent members of the Quanzhen sect. When it came to status, they were Guo Jing’s peers. When he heard Zhao Zhijing say that they had to leave the city due to urgent business, he immediately allowed the gates to be opened. The gates were opened just wide enough for one person to exit and the two of them rushed out of the city at once. The Beggar Clan member praised, “Excellent lightness kung fu!” Just as he was about to close the gates, a white blur passed his eyes, it seemed that someone else had left the city. In shock, he said, “What?” The person was long gone. As he went to the take a look from the gates, the dawn was just breaking, he could only see within sixty or seventy feet, so how could he see who was there? He turned around to ask the others but no one saw anything. He narrowed his eyes and cursed, “Must have been a ghost!” He had been working tirelessly the past few days; it must have been his eyes playing tricks on him.

Yin and Zhao did not dare stop and only after running a few li from the city did they slow their steps. Zhao Zhijing used his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his forehead and called out, “Damn, that was close!” He turned around and looked back. His knees went limp and he nearly fell to the ground. What he saw, about a hundred feet behind them, was a girl in white, looking at them fixated. If it wasn’t Xiao Longnu, who else could it be?

Zhao Zhijing was frightened at what he saw, he let out a ‘no’. He had thought that they had left her behind long ago, but who knew that she was following behind them without making a sound; he himself did not notice it. He immediately grabbed Yin Zhiping’s arm and ran.

He ran over one hundred feet in one breath but when he turned his head back once again, Xiao Longnu was still in sight, following closely behind them with a gap of around thirty or forty feet between them. Zhao Zhijing did not know what to do; he just lowered his head and ran with all his might. He did not dare to keep on checking whether Xiao Longnu was there or not because each time he did, his heart would suffer a shock and his legs became weaker as a result. He said, “Apprentice brother Yin, she could kill us right here right now if she wanted to, she must be up to something.”

Yin Zhiping asked in confusion, “Up to something?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “From what I can tell, it looks like she wants to capture us and then reveal what you did in front of the world’s heroes. This will ruin the reputation of the Quanzhen sect forever.”

Yin Zhiping’s heart skipped a beat, he no longer cared about his life, if Xiao Longnu wanted to kill him, he would not retaliate. He had been in the tutelage of Qiu Chuji since he was young and he loved his teacher; he couldn’t let the reputation of the world renowned Quanzhen sect be tarnished by  his  hands.  As  he thought about this, his spine broke out in a cold sweat. He increased his efforts  and  ran  shoulder  to shoulder with Zhao Zhijing.

The two picked pathless grounds to run through. Sometimes, they would take a peek back but still, Xiao Longnu would still be there, just a few zhangs (1 zhang=3.3 meters / 10+ feet) away from them at all times. The Ancient Tomb’s lightness kung fu is unmatched in the world; following the two would not take much effort but she really did not know what she wanted to do. All she could do was to keep the two within her sight.

The two of them had already been frightened and confused when they first saw Xiao Longnu, but after seeing her follow them like a shadow, they couldn’t help themselves from conjuring up worse and worse scenarios as to what Xiao Longnu was planning for them. They became even more frightened. From dawn to noon, and from noon to the afternoon, running ten or so hours like this non-stop was something the two could not keep up even if the two had profound internal energy. They were out of breath and struggling and were now a lot slower than before. It was deep into the day and the air was hot and the two were soaked in sweat. After a while, the two were hungry and thirsty. They soon came to a brook and thought, “Even if I get captured, I can’t do anything about it.” They threw themselves down beside the brook and drank.

Xiao Longnu strolled casually to the brook and she too took a few mouthfuls of water. In the crystal clear running water of the brook was an image of a girl in white, a picture of beauty, an image of the Ling Bo Goddess. Xiao Longnu’s heart felt empty and she forgot about her state of mind for the moment and plucked a flower from the brook’s bank. She placed it into her hair above her ear and stared at the reflection in the water, her mind a blank.

The two men were drinking and glancing over at her at the same time. Seeing that it appeared that she was preoccupied by something else and looked as if she had completely forgotten about her intentions, the two signaled to each other with their eyes and quietly got up. They silently made their way behind Xiao Longnu and moved away slowly. After looking back a few times to see her still standing by the brook, the two quickly sped up their steps and ran. Not long after, they came to a main road.

The two of them thought that this time, they’d finally managed to escape her; but Yin Zhiping took a glance over his shoulder and saw otherwise. Xiao Longnu was still following them.

Yin Zhiping’s face became grey and called out, “Alas, it’s no use! Apprentice brother Zhao; just let her do what she wants!” He stopped running.

Zhao Zhijing was furious and shouted, “You deserve to die; why should I die with you?” He pulled his arm to take him with him but Yin Zhiping did not want to run anymore. Zhao Zhijing was frightened and angry at the same time; he raised his palm and struck his face.

Yin Zhiping said angrily, “Hitting me again?”

Xiao Longnu felt that it was extremely odd when she saw the two of them suddenly start to fight once again.

Right at this time, two horses came galloping towards them. The riders were Mongolian dispatchers. A thought came into Zhao Zhijing’s head and he quietly said, “Snatch the horses! We’ll pretend to fight but don’t let Xiao Longnu know what we are going to do.” He then chopped forward with a palm. Yin Zhiping raised his arm to block and sent out a palm of his own. Zhao Zhijing took a few steps back and the two gradually moved towards the centre of the road. With the road blocked, the Mongolians reigned in their horses and shouted. Yin and Zhao suddenly leapt up and pulled the Mongolians to the ground. They then mounted the horses and galloped north.

Both these horses were top class steeds and they galloped with great speed. When the two turned back to see that Xiao Longnu was no longer behind them, they finally managed a sigh of relief. After traveling over thirty li (15km / 9+miles) or so, they reached a three-forked road.

Zhao Zhijing said, “She saw us head north, we’ll change directions and head east instead.” He pulled his reigns to the right and they headed along the easterly road. By nightfall, they had reached a small town.

After running all day, the two were extremely tired and hungry. They immediately found a restaurant and ordered a plate of beef and a few jin (grams) of pancakes.

Zhao Zhijing sat down and calmed himself. But fear still lingered in his heart as he recalled the day’s events. Xiao Longnu had been following them all day yet why had she yet to make a move on them? Yin Zhiping’s face was grey as ash, his head was lowered and it seemed that his mind drifted away. The beef and pancakes soon arrived but just as they were picking up the chopsticks to eat, sounds of horses neighing and people shouting arose from outside the restaurant.

Someone shouted, “Who do those horses belong to? Why are they here?” There was a Mongolian accent behind those words.

Zhao Zhijing stood up and went to the entrance. He saw a Mongolian Sergeant with a group of seven or eight soldiers pointing at the horses that Zhao Zhijing and Yin Zhiping had ridden. The waiter at the restaurant was frightened and bowed to the Mongolian as he said, “Sir…Sir!”

Zhao Zhijing’s anger had been building up all day after being chased by Xiao  Longnu,  he  longed  for  a release to his tension; when he saw the Mongolians, he immediately went up to them and shouted, “The horses belong to me! What about it?”

The Sergeant said, “Where did you get them from?” Zhao Zhijing said, “They’re mine! What is it to you?”

By this time, all the land to the north of Xiangyang had fallen into Mongolian hands, all the Han were being oppressed by the Mongolians. Who would dare raise their voice to a Mongolian like this? The Mongolian saw that Zhao Zhijing looked a bit shifty and he had a sword at his waist, he was suspicious of him and said, “Did you buy them or steal them?”

Zhao Zhijing shouted, “What are you talking about? I reared these horses myself.” The Sergeant signaled with his hand and ordered, “Get him!” Seven or eight armed Mongolians encircled them.

Zhao Zhijing placed his hand on his sword handle and shouted, “What’s your problem?”

The Mongolian Sergeant laughed coldly and said, “Horse thief! You’ve really got guts, these horses belong to the Mongolian army, are you going to admit now?” He then went up to the horses and moved their tails to the side to reveal a Mongolian brand. All Mongolian horses had a brand on them to distinguish which camp they belong to. Zhao Zhijing stole these horses from some Mongolians, how would he know about this? When he saw the mark he became silent but continued to argue, “Who said they belong to  the Mongolian army? I like to mark my horses, is that a crime?”

The Sergeant was furious; throughout his travels to the south he had never met such a brazen fellow. He took a step forward and reached out to grab Zhao Zhijing by his clothing. Zhao Zhijing bent his left arm and grabbed the Mongolian’s wrist. Then he sent out his right palm and grabbed the Mongolian from behind before lifting him up and swinging him around his head three times before throwing him. The Sergeant was tossed away and landed in a porcelain shop. Non-stop sounds of smashing were heard as shelves of porcelain plates and bowls came crashing down. The sharp debris sliced up the Mongolian Sergeant and he was bleeding all over. He was unable to get up amongst the debris. The other soldiers went to help him; some moved the shelves and debris away while others helped him up. They no longer cared about trying to capture the horse thief.

Zhao Zhijing laughed out loud and walked back inside the restaurant to continue his meal. However, all the towns shops had closed and were boarded up as a result of the clash and all the customers that were in the restaurant had long ago cleared out. Everyone thought that with the Mongolians’ malicious nature, surely they would be back to wash the town in blood. Zhao Zhijing had a few more bites of his food when the owner of the restaurant came up to him and suddenly dropped to the floor and started to bow to him. Zhao Zhijing knew that owner was afraid of the trouble that he would bring so he stood up and laughed, “Don’t worry, we’ve eaten enough, we’ll go immediately.”

The owner’s face became even greyer with fright and continued to bow to him.

Yin Zhiping said, “He’s afraid that once we’ve left, the Mongolians will be back for us.” He had always been a thoughtful and a strong man; it was only because of his mad love for Xiao Longnu that led him to his actions. His method of approach to everyday problems surpassed Zhao Zhijing in everyway and it was because of this that Ma Yu, Qiu Chuji and the others wanted to pass on the sect’s leadership to him. He suddenly had a thought and said, “Bring me the best food and wine, we’ll take responsibility for what we’ve done, why are you afraid?” The owner picked himself up and agreed compliantly before giving out orders to bring them food and wine.

The Mongolian Sergeant was injured pretty badly and had to be carried to his horse.

Zhao Zhijing laughed, “Brother Yin, after what we’ve been through today, we’ve really got to let off some steam once we’re back.”

Yin Zhiping gave a grunt and looked on as the Mongolians left. After steadying their nerves, everyone in the restaurant brought food and wine to them and filled up a table.

The two of them ate for a while when suddenly Yin Zhiping got up and raised his palm, sending the waiter who was serving him to the floor. The owner was alarmed and quickly walked forward and smiled, “This idiot doesn’t know what he’s doing, please don’t get mad sir…” Before he finished, Yin Zhiping had kicked out with his left leg and lightly kicked him to the floor.

Zhao Zhijing thought he had lost it and called, “Brother Yin… you…”

Yin Zhiping flipped a table and sent bowls and plates smashing to the floor before immediately sending another two waiters to the floor. He then sealed everyone’s accupoints before bringing his hands together and said, “When the Mongolians come and see you in this state, they won’t vent their anger on you, do you understand? You should add a few injuries here and there as well.” He then unsealed everyone’s accupoints.

They suddenly understood and thought is was a great plan. They then started to beat each other up and tear each other’s clothes, eyes were blackened and noses were bruised. Not long after, the sounds of hoofs from many galloping horses could be heard on the street’s pavement. Everyone in the restaurant fell to the floor and cried out, “No, please stop!” “Mercy…have mercy!” “Please sir, I beg you!”

The horses did indeed stop outside the restaurant. Four Mongolian soldiers entered and were followed by a tall skinny Tibetan monk and a short dark man. This dark man had both his legs removed and was supporting himself with crutches.

When the soldiers saw the state of the restaurant they frowned and shouted, “Hurry up and bring us some food, we’re in a rush.”

The owner was taken aback by this and thought, “So these guys are from another group. What am I going to do when those other soldiers get back?” Just as he was hesitating, some of the soldiers struck at his head with their horse whips. The owner took the blows and complied but struggled to get up. One of the other waiters served and set places for them.

The Tibetan monk was Jinlun Fawang; the short dark man was Nimoxing. That day, after both of them had fallen victim to the ‘Soul Freezing Needles’, the two of them struggled outside the cave and fell off a cliff. Luckily, the sides of the cliff had a large tree growing from it and Fawang managed to grab onto it just in time. Nimoxing was in a dazed state by now but he still clutched onto Fawang. Fawang took a look at his surroundings before he gathered his strength in his left arm and pushed;  the  two  of  them  fell  down towards the bushes at the bottom of the cliff. They rolled down a steep hill for around a hundred feet, only stopping once they’d reached the bottom of the valley. The two of them were scratched all over by thorns.

Fawang flipped over and used his minor grappling techniques on Nimoxing’s arm and shouted, “Are you going to release me or not?”

In his dazed state, Nimoxing had no more strength to resist Fawang’s pull; his left arm loosened but his right arm was still clutching onto the back of Fawang.

Fawang laughed coldly, “Your legs have contracted a lethal poison, why aren’t you trying to save yourself and instead still trying to struggle with me?”

These two sentences made Nimoxing look down at his legs. His lower legs had swollen up badly, if he didn’t do something about it soon, his life would be in danger. He clenched his teeth and took out the Iron Snake weapon from his waist and cut his lower legs off. Blood poured out copiously and he passed out. Fawang admired this steely behavior and now that he was a cripple and no longer a threat to him, he decided to help him. He sealed his knees’ ‘Crooked Spring’ accupoints and his thigh’s ‘Five Li’ accupoints to stop the bleeding. He then took out some medicine for external wounds and tore off Nimoxing’s outer garment to bandage his legs.

A lot of Indian martial artists have practiced pain resisting arts such as sleeping on a bed of nails or sitting on a seat of knives. Nimoxing was well versed in such arts and as soon as his wounds stopped bleeding he awoke and sat up saying; “Good, since you’ve saved me, we’ll forget all our past feuds.”

Fawang showed a bitter smile, “Though you’ve lost your legs, the poison in your body has been cleansed, but I’m still in danger.” So he sat down with his legs folded and circulated his chi, slowly forcing out the poison from his foot. It took him an exhausting two hours to force just a minute amount of the poison out.

The two of them rested in the remote valley for a few days. Fawang used his advanced internal energy to force the rest of the poison out and Nimoxing’s wounds no longer bled. Nimoxing made two crutches from some tree branches and the two made their way out of the valley. They soon came across a group of Mongolian soldiers and they made their way back to Khubilai’s camp. On the way back, they came across the same town that Yin and Zhao were in.

When Zhao Zhijing and Yin Zhiping saw Fawang, they looked at each other in shock. They both were present at the Heroes’ Gathering at Da Xingguan and saw Fawang demonstrate his amazing martial arts. Both remembered when his disciples Da’erba and Huo Dou attacked the Chongyang Palace years ago; even some of the Quanzhen Masters found them difficult to contend with. They were filled with fear of this encounter. The two signaled to each other with their eyes and wanted to slip away.

That day at Da Xingguan there were hundreds or thousands of heroes attending the gathering, Zhao and Yin may have recognized Fawang but Fawang did not recognize them. Though Fawang saw that  the restaurant was in a rough state, but since it was during a time of war, this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. This fruitless attack on Xiangyang that ended with defeat was not  going  to  be  his  greatest moment in front of Khubilai. All he was thinking about at the moment was how to cover it up; he didn’t care about the Taoists who were eating their meal.

Just at this time, there was a commotion outside the restaurant, and group of Mongolian soldiers came bursting in. As soon as they saw Yin and Zhao, they all roared and went forward to capture them. Yin Zhiping saw that Fawang was sitting near the door, if they dashed out past him, most probably he would intervene so he said quietly, “Exit through the backdoor!” He pushed a table and bowls and plates, causing a sudden noise as they crashed to the floor. The two of them leapt back and ran towards the backdoor.

Just as he was about to make it to the backyard, Yin Zhiping glanced over at Fawang and saw him holding a cup. Thinking to himself, “He’s ignoring what was going on in the restaurant.” He was delighted and thought, “He’s not going to interfere.” Suddenly, a black blur came at him; the short Western regions person had come and was waving his left hand, striking out at the heads of Yin and Zhao with his crutch. Yin Zhiping and Zhao Zhijing had never seen this person before, but seeing his swift movements and powerful attacks, they immediately lowered their shoulders and dodged to the side.

Hitting thin air, Nimoxing cried out ‘Oh’, these two Taoists weren’t weaklings and he was slightly surprised. He used his left crutch as a support and then attacked with his right crutch, blocking the Taoists path. The two of them unsheathed their swords and attacked from both sides, trying to force him back and make a path for an escape.

Though Nimoxing’s martial arts were stronger than that of Yin and Zhao, he had lost his legs only just recently and had yet to fully recover. Fighting with his crutches against the two would require at least one crutch to remain on the ground at all times. A few stances later, he could no longer keep it up. Fawang walked forward slowly and saw Zhao Zhijing’s sword going for Nimoxing’s chest. Nimoxing raised his crutch to block the attack and as he did so, Yin Zhiping went for his right side. This stance was extremely vicious, Nimoxing had to abandon his crutch and push back if he wanted to avoid it. Fawang took a stride forward and met with Nimoxing’s flying body; Fawang supported him with his left arm and then placed his right hand on Nimoxing’s arm. Nimoxing’s crutch and Zhao Zhijing’s sword had yet to separate at this point. Fawang transferred his internal energy through the crutch. Zhao Zhijing felt his arm shaking violently and half his upper body began to grow hot, a ‘dang’ sound was heard as he dropped his sword.

Nimoxing’s internal energy was lacking but his changes in stance were extremely swift. As soon as he saw Zhao Zhijing’s sword fall from his hands, he immediately swung his  crutch  towards  Yin  Zhiping  and trapped his sword. Fawang touched Nimoxing’s arm once again. Yin Zhiping saw what had happened to Zhao Zhijing previously so he immediately circulated his internal energy to counter the attack. Fawang’s internal energy had both softness and hardness within, after a ‘kala’ sound, the sword broke, leaving Yin Zhiping with a broken sword in his hand. Fawang lowered Nimoxing to the ground  lightly  and  then stretched out his hands, placing them on the shoulders of the two. He smiled, “Why come to arms with strangers? With your martial arts, you two must be first class fighters of the central plains, why don’t we sit down and have a chat?”

There didn’t seem to be any malicious intent in his movements but once his hands touched them, the two could not move. All they felt was a force like a thousand jin (500kg / 1kg=2.2lbs) pressing down on their shoulders. All they could do was try to circulate their internal energy to resist the force; how could they even reply? If they opened their mouths, their internal energy would disperse and their bones from their shoulder to their waist would surely be crushed.

The soldiers who rushed in had by now completely surrounded them. The leader of the pack was a Noyan and he recognized Fawang, who was the First Protector of Mongolia and commanded great respect from Khubilai. He immediately went up to Fawang and bowed, “Your eminence, these two Taoists stole our horses and beat up our soldiers, thank you  for  your  eminence’s  help…”  Before  he  finished,  he  glanced over at Yin Zhiping a few times and suddenly asked, “Is this the person Yin Zhiping?”

Yin Zhiping nodded but he did not recognize this man.

Fawang loosened his grip on the two and reduced the force he was exerting and thought, “These two Taoists are only forty years of age or so yet their internal energy is so pure.”

The Mongolian Noyan said, “Does Master Yin not recognize me? Nineteen years ago, we were eating roast lamb in the desert, I’m Sa Duo.”

Yin Zhiping looked at him carefully and said with delight, “Oh, yes, that’s right! I didn’t recognize you with that beard!”

Sa Duo smiled, “I’ve ridden thousands of li (1 li = 0.5km) all over the lands; all my hair has gone white yet you haven’t changed much. No wonder Genghis Khan claimed practicing Taoists are immortal.” He turned to Fawang and said, “Your eminence, this Taoist has visited the Western regions in the past, he was a guest of Genghis Khan, it could be said that he’s one of us.” Fawang nodded and released his hands from their shoulders.

Years ago, Genghis Khan had invited Qiu Chuji to Western regions to see him, hoping he could learn the secrets of immortality. Qiu Chuji traveled thousands of li and took nineteen disciples with him. Yin Zhiping was his senior student so he of course was within the group. Genghis Khan sent two hundred men to accompany Qiu Chuji and his disciples. Sa Duo was just a lowly soldier at that time and he was within that group; that is why he was able to recognize Yin Zhiping. He had fought for over twenty years and his deeds were rewarded with a promotion to the position of Noyan. He was delighted with this unexpected meeting with Yin Zhiping. He had great respect for Yin Zhiping and laughed off what happened with the horses. Sa Duo asked him about the well being of Qiu Chuji and the others that were on the expedition, and as he talked the past, his pride became visible.

Fawang had also heard about Qiu Chuji before and knew that he was Quanzhen’s best fighter. He saw that Yin Zhiping’s and Zhao Zhijing’s martial arts weren’t bad and thought that the reputation of the Quanzhen is deserved. We were lucky that he was able to strike first and take the initiative, otherwise, had a fight really broken out, it would take him at least twenty or thirty stances to beat them.

Suddenly there was a blur at the door and a girl in white entered. Fawang, Nimoxing, Yin Zhiping and Zhao Zhijing were all alarmed to see that this girl was Xiao Longnu. Only Nimoxing had no fear of her and said, “The Passionless Valley’s bride, greetings!”

Xiao Longnu nodded slightly and then sat down in the corner at a small table. She ignored everyone and quietly ordered some mushroom noodles from a waiter.

The faces of Yin and Zhao were white one minute and green the next; both of them were agitated. Fawang was afraid that Yang Guo would soon arrive; there was nothing that he feared in the world except those two’s ‘Pure Heart of Jade Maiden’ swordplay. The three of them were occupied with their thoughts and ate without saying a word. Yin and Zhao were full a long time ago but if they suddenly went quiet, the others would be suspicious of them, so they ate without stopping so as to occupy their mouths.

Sa Duo however was in a joyous mood, he asked, “Master Yin, have you ever seen our Fourth Prince?” Yin Zhiping shook his head.

Sa Dou continued, “Khubilai is the Fourth Prince son of the Fourth Prince Tou Lei. He is wise and compassionate and he has the respect of everyone in the camp. I was just on my way to report to him; if you two have nothing to do, why not come along and meet him?”

Yin Zhiping shook his head with other things on his mind. Zhao Zhijing suddenly had a thought and asked, “Reverend, are you going to see the Fourth Prince as well?”

Fawang said, “Yes! The prince is a real man of the world, you two must meet him.”

Zhao Zhijing said with joy, “Good, we’ll go with you and Sa Dou.” He patted Yin Zhiping’s leg beneath the table and made a signal with his eyes to him.

Sa Duo said with delight “Good…very good!”

Yin Zhiping’s intelligence is normally higher than that of Zhao Zhijing but as soon as he saw Xiao Longnu, he had drifted off into his own world. Only after a long while did he get Zhao Zhijing’s plan. He wanted to rely on Fawang’s protection to escape from Xiao Longnu.

Everyone quickly finished their meals and all left at the same time, making their way on horseback. Fawang was relieved to see that Yang Guo was still nowhere to be seen and thought, “The Quanzhen sect is one of the central plains largest sects, if I can enlist their help to aid Mongolia, it would be a great achievement. I at least have something to report back to his Highness tomorrow.” He then tried to convey his intent of enlisting them through his words to the Taoists.

The sky was now getting dark, after riding for a while, the sounds of hoofs could be heard from behind them. They looked back and saw Xiao Longnu following slowly behind them on a donkey.

Fawang was alarmed and thought, “She can’t beat me by herself so why is she being so brash and following us? Could it be that Yang Guo is following along in secret as well?” He had just met Yin and Zhao and did not want to lose any face in front of them so he pretended that he did not know that Xiao Longnu was following them.

The group rode for half a night before they reached a forest. Sa Duo ordered his men to take rest. About a hundred feet away, Xiao Longnu too had gotten off her donkey and sat down in the forest. The more secretive her actions were, the harder Fawang concentrated; he did not dare to make a rash move. Zhao Zhijing remembered that Nimoxing had greeted Xiao Longnu, but did not know what ties Fawang had with her. He dare not look at her. After resting for an hour, everyone got on their horses once again and after they left the forest, the sounds of hoofs could again be heard as Xiao Longnu followed once again.

Day had broken and still, Xiao Longnu was following them with a  distance  of  about  a  hundred  feet between them.

By now they had reached an open plain. Fawang looked all around and saw that there were no signs of anyone else. Evil intent stirred in him as he thought, “I have been invincible all my life, yet as soon as I stepped onto the central plains, I was defeated by those kids Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu’s twin swordplay. She’s following me non-stop and must be up to something. Why don’t I attack out of the blue and kill her? Even if she has help, they’ll be too late. Once this girl dies, no one in the world can threaten me.” He had made his mind up and just as he was about to reign in his horse the sound of bells ringing could be heard in front of them. A dust cloud could be seen a few li in front of them as horses galloped towards them.

Fawang regretted his missed opportunity, “If I knew that her help would arrive now, I would have killed her long ago.” Suddenly, Sa Duo cried out, “Oh! That’s strange.”

Fawang saw that a group of four horses were riding towards them and the first horse on the right was carrying a flag. On the flag pole were seven different types of white wool fluttering in the wind; it was Khubilai’s banner yet from afar, there appeared to be no rider on the horse.

Sa Duo called out, “His Highness is here!” He rode forwards and about a distance of half a li from the horses, he got off and stood in a respectful stance.

Fawang thought, “Since his Highness is here, it would not be appropriate to kill the girl now.” If Khubilai saw him fight a girl on her own, Khubilai would look down upon him. He rode forward slowly and saw that in the group of four horses sat a man in midair. The man had white hair, a white beard with a big smile on his face; it was none other than Zhou Botong.

From afar Zhou Botong called out, “Good, good, the big monk is here and the dark shortie is here, we meet again. Oh, and that young girl is here as well.”

Fawang was curious; this person was full of tricks but how was he able to sit in midair? Once the horses got closer, he was able to see what was happening. The horses were holding a makeshift net made from ropes on their backs and he was sitting on the net.

Zhou Botong had always kept away from the Chongyang Palace and very rarely saw the Quanzhen Masters; because of this, Yin Zhiping and Zhao Zhijing did not recognize him. Though they have heard from the Masters that they have a Grand Martial Uncle who was a free wanderer, they had not heard from him for a long time and thought probably he must have passed away. The thought that this could be him had never entered their minds. Years ago at that great battle at the Smokey Rain Pavilion the place was covered with fog and no one could see anything. Zhou Botong was there; although Yin Zhiping had heard of him, he did not see him.

Fawang frowned; this person’s martial arts are extremely high, it would be best not to get mixed up with him. He asked, “Is his Highness behind you?”

Zhou Botong pointed behind him and laughed, “About thirty or forty li back is his tent. Hey monk, a word of advice, I don’t think it’s the best time to see him right now.”

Fawang said, “Why?”

Zhou Botong said, “Right now, he’s pissed off. If you go see him now, you’ll probably lose your bald head.” Fawang said angrily, “Rubbish! Why would his Highness be angry?”

Zhou Botong pointed to the flag and laughed, “I stole his Highness’ flag, why shouldn’t he be angry?” Fawang was shocked and asked, “Why did you steal it?”

Zhou Botong said, “Do you know Guo Jing?” Fawang nodded and said, “So?

Zhou Botong said, “He’s my sworn brother. I haven’t seen him in years; I miss him a lot so I decided to go see him. He’s fighting the Mongols at Xiangyang at the moment so I went and stole the Mongol’s royal banner to give it to him as a gift.”

Fawang was shocked and thought this was terrible; they are unable to break Xiangyang down and now, the royal banner has been stolen. This would bring great disgrace to the Mongols; he must come up with a way to get the banner back at all costs.

Zhou Botong shouted and the horses rushed forward, galloping like the wind in a westerly direction before making a circle and returning. The banner fluttered in the wind. Zhou Botong stood up with four reigns in his hands as he rode across the open plains, he looked like a great General.

He looked extremely pleased with himself and as he got close to them, he shouted and the horses immediately stopped. His hands must be extremely powerful to be able to control the four horses as he pleased.

Zhou Botong laughed, “Hey monk, how’re my riding skills?”

Fawang gave a thumbs up and praised, “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant!” In his mind, he was trying to come up with a way to get the flag back.

Zhou Botong waved his left hand and laughed, “Big monk, little girl, the Old Urchin’s going!” When Yin Zhiping and Zhao Zhijing heard the ‘Old Urchin’, they both yelled out, “Grand Martial Uncle?” They both leapt off their horses.

Yin Zhiping said, “Is this Senior Zhou of the Quanzhen sect?”

Zhou Botong’s eyes rolled around and said, “Hmm, what’s this? You better start your kowtows.”

The two of them were about to greet him but when they heard his words, they were shocked and were afraid that they were mistaken.

Zhou Botong asked, “Who is your Master?”

Yin Zhiping replied respectfully, “Zhao Zhijing is the disciple of the Jade Sun Elder Wang; I am the disciple of the Eternal Spring Elder Qiu.”

Zhou Botong said, “Hmm, seems like each generation is getting worse and worse, and it looks like you two are bad characters.” Suddenly he kicked out with both his legs and his shoes went flying forward towards them.

Yin Zhiping saw that the shoe was coming at him quite slowly without much force; even if it struck him in the face it wouldn’t hurt, he dare not lose his manners and kept bowing. But Zhao Zhijing stretched out his hand to catch the shoe. But who knew that when they arrived within three feet of them, the shoes suddenly curled back. Zhao Zhijing grabbed empty air as the left shoe turned right and the right shoe turned left. The shoes circled back and crossed each other and went back to Zhou Botong. Zhou Botong stretched out his feet and the shoes slipped on.

Though this was just a trick, without extremely profound internal energy, it would be impossible to kick the shoes with the right weight and force like this. Jinlun Fawang and Nimoxing had seen him throw some spearheads in Khubilai’s tent that dropped midway in their flight. The shoes were kicked off with the same type of skill except that an extra back force was added. That was why they weren’t shocked when they saw this. But when Zhao Zhijing stretched out his hand and missed, he was shocked. With his martial arts, even the most lethal projectile would be plucked out of the air by him yet he wasn’t able to catch this slow shoe. He no longer had any doubts and did as Yin Zhiping did and bowed, saying, “Disciple Zhao Zhijing greets great Martial Uncle.”

Zhou Botong laughed, “Qiu Chuji and Wang Chuyi’s eyes must be bad; none of their disciples are up to it. Just forget it, who wants kowtows from you?” He roared, “Onwards!” The four horses galloped forward.

Fawang leapt off his horse and blurred towards the horses’ path. He called out, “Wait!” Each of his palms was pressed onto one horse each. The horses were advancing forward at this time but this press by Fawang actually made them move two steps back.

Zhou Botong was furious and shouted, “Big monk, do you want a fight? The Old Urchin hasn’t found a worthy opponent for years; my fists are getting a bit itchy. Come now, let’s have a few rounds.” He loved martial arts and in recent years, his martial arts have been getting better and better; finding a worthy opponent was an extremely difficult task. He knew Fawang’s martial arts were of a high standard, someone worthy to exchange stances with, so he got off his horse ready to fight.

Fawang waved his hand and said, “I never fight with shameless scoundrels. Fight if you want, I won’t.” Zhou Botong was angry and said, “You dare call me a shameless scoundrel?”

Fawang said, “You knew that I wasn’t at the camp so you went and stole the banner, wouldn’t you call that shameless? You knew that you weren’t a match for me so you waited until you were sure that I wasn’t there before you sneakily stole the flag. Ha-ha, Zhou Botong, looks like you don’t have any pride.”

Zhou Botong said, “Fine, we’ll know whether I’m a match for you after we’ve had a fight.”

Fawang shook his head and said, “I said I don’t fight with shameless scoundrels, you can’t force me to fight. My knuckles are very proud, once they hit any shameless scoundrels, the knuckles would be covered with a stench that’ll hang around for three years and six months.”

Zhou Botong shouted, “What do you want to do?”

Fawang said, “Hand the banner back to me and then come back later tonight to steal it again while I’ll guard it. No matter what method you use, if you are able to steal it again, I’ll give my respects to you as a great hero.”

Zhou Botong could never resist challenges and the harder it was, the greater the urge to do it. He immediately shot the flag back to Fawang and said, “Catch, I’ll be back for it tonight.”

Fawang stretched out his hand and caught the flag pole only to realize the great force behind the throw, he quickly circulated his internal energy to resist but in the end, he still had to take two steps back before he steadied himself.

The horses had been pressing forward but were held back by Fawang; now, Fawang’s hold on them loosened. All the horses suddenly leapt forward at least twenty feet and galloped ahead. Everyone watched as Zhou Botong and the horses raced away further and further into the distance until they were small dots.

Fawang’s mind was occupied for a while before he passed the flag over to Sa Duo and said, “Let’s make a move.”

Fawang knew that Zhou Botong’s actions were hard to fathom, how was he going to win? He thought for a while on the horseback but couldn’t come up with anything. By chance, he looked around and saw Yin and Zhao were speaking quietly to each other and were constantly looking back at Xiao Longnu with fear on their faces. He thought, “Could it be that she has come for them?” So he decided to investigate and said, “Brother Yin, do you know Miss Long?”

Yin Zhiping’s face changed and he replied, “Hmm.” Fawang knew that there more to this so he continued, “You two have offended her and now she’s looking for you to get her own back, right? That girl is extremely powerful; to offend her is not a good idea.” He had no idea what was going on but from the fearful look on the two’s faces, he made a guess, tested the two, and managed to get the right answer straight away.

Zhao Zhijing took this opportunity to reply, “She has offended you as well;  that  day  at  the  ‘Heroes’ gathering she beat you, you must avenge what she did to you.”

Fawang scoffed, “You know as well?”

Zhao Zhijing replied, “Everyone in the world of Wulin knows about this.”

Fawang thought, “This Taoist is not so simple. I want him to help me defeat my enemy yet he’s trying to use me to help him escape his predicament.” He continued, “These two men are not your average men, if I just leave it out in the open, things will go a lot easier.” So he said, “That Miss Long wants to kill you but you can’t beat her so you seek my protection, right?”

Zhao Zhijing replied furiously, “Do I look like someone who needs to  rely  on  others  to  save  myself? Besides, the good Reverend here may not be able to beat her.”

Fawang was shocked by his proud reply and thought, “Could my assumptions be wrong?” He could not tell what the two were thinking so he smiled, “Her twin swordplay  with  Yang  Guo  is  indeed  extremely powerful. But she’s alone right now; it would be extremely easy for me to kill her.”

Zhao Zhijing shook his head, “I’m afraid it’s not as easy as it sounds. Everyone in the Jianghu world says that Jinlun Fawang was defeated by Xiao Longnu.”

Fawang laughed, “I have meditated for years, so how could your words anger me?” From what Zhao Zhijing said, he knew that Zhao Zhijing was hoping that he would defeat Xiao Longnu for him. Before Zhou Botong arrived, he had planned on killing Xiao Longnu but, with the bet he made with Zhou Botong, he had a use for the two. If he killed Xiao Longnu, he no longer had any leverage over the two, so he cupped his hands and said, “Since it is so, I will make my way. After you’ve sorted out the matter with Xiao Longnu, please come and visit his Highness’ camp.” He pulled his reigns and rode forward.

Zhao Zhijing was getting anxious, he knew that as soon as Fawang leaves, Xiao Longnu would catch up with them and torture them. As he thought about the suffering that he had from the Jade Bees on Mount Zhongnan he couldn’t stop himself from worrying. It appeared that this Tibetan monk possessed not only terrific martial arts but also a calculating mind that exceeded his own. Seeing Fawang ride ahead, he quickly caught up and called out, “Reverend, please wait! I am not familiar with the roads here; I will be indebted forever if Reverend would trouble himself to enlighten me.”

When Fawang heard ‘indebted forever’, he smiled and thought, “It looks like it’s the one named Zhao that has offended Miss Long, that’s why he is so afraid, and it looks like it has nothing to do with the one named Yin.” He said, “Fine, but I might need to trouble you later on.”

Zhao Zhijing said quickly, “No matter what the Reverend requests, I will follow the order.”

He and Fawang rode together and as they did so, Fawang asked about the situation at Quanzhen and Zhao Zhijing told all. Yin Zhiping followed behind in a daze.

Fawang said, “Oh, so Elder Ma no longer runs the sect because of old age. I hear that the current leader Elder Qiu is getting on as well.” Zhao Zhijing said, “Yes, Martial Uncle Qiu is already seventy years of age.”

Fawang said, “So after Elder Qiu hands over the leadership, Elder Wang would be the leader.” These words struck out at the thoughts of Zhao Zhijing, his face changed slightly and said, “My Master is also of an old age. In recent years, the Masters have been studying the ways of life; the matters of the sect are passed on mostly to my apprentice brother Yin.”

Fawang saw that as he said this he had a slightly angry expression on his face and said quietly, “From what I see, though your apprentice brother Yin’s martial arts are good, they are not as good as yours and when it comes to intelligence, yours is far superior. The important task of sect leader should fall to you.”

These words had been hidden away in Zhao Zhijing’s mind for seven or eight years now but he had never said it publicly. Hearing these words from Fawang, his anger was even more telling. By appointing Yin Zhiping as the head disciple of the third generation, the Quanzhen Masters are indicating they want him to be the next sect leader. At first, Zhao Zhijing was just jealous and couldn’t accept it, but since he has managed to find a way to blackmail him he has been pondering ways to snatch the sect’s leadership from him. Yin Zhiping’s raping of Xiao Longnu broke major rules of the Quanzhen sect; if the Masters found out his life would be at risk. But Zhao Zhijing well knew that he was a reckless man and had never pleased the Quanzhen Masters. He did not get along with most of his apprentice brothers so even if Yin Zhiping’s name and reputation is tarnished, the title of sect leader would not fall to him. This is the reason why he had kept it to himself all this time.

Having figured out his thoughts, Fawang thought to himself, “If I help him get the sect’s leadership, he will follow my orders completely. The Quanzhen sect has great influence and has followers everywhere; if I can enlist them to our side, it will greatly aid his Highness’ task of invading the south. This would be a great achievement, probably even more so than killing Guo Jing.” Fawang looked back and saw that Xiao Longnu was standing about a li away and was not advancing further. He thought, “With her there, those two Taoists will definitely fall for the bait.”

Everyone entered the royal tent and Khubilai was in a bad temper over losing his royal flag. The royal flag is the army’s lead, in a battle, the thousands and thousands of soldiers follow the flag’s actions and it is an extremely important object. Losing the flag like this without anyone knowing what happened was like losing an important battle. Khubilai’s mood changed when he saw Fawang enter the tent with the flag in his hand and quickly went up to greet him.

Khubilai had both knowledge and valor in abundance and had followed his ancestor Genghis Khan. When he heard Fawang introduce Yin and Zhao as Taoists from Quanzhen, he immediately welcomed them with open arms showing he appreciated great people. He forgot about the incident with the flag and immediately ordered a banquet for them. Yin Zhiping was not concentrating and was thinking only about Xiao Longnu. Zhao Zhijing had always respected people of importance, when he saw how Khubilai treated him, he was out of this world with delight.

Khubilai did not mention the failure to assassinate Guo Jing and instead kept on mentioning how loyal Nimoxing was. Because of his legs, he was invited to head the banquet. Khubilai and he drank with each other. Nimoxing was extremely touched and thought that no matter what Khubilai needed, he would do so without any qualms.

After the banquet, Fawang accompanied Yin and Zhao to their tent. Yin Zhiping’s mind was tired and he went to sleep. Fawang said, “Brother Zhao, we have some idle time, let’s take a walk.”

From faraway, Zhao Zhijing saw Xiao Longnu sitting underneath a tree with her donkey tied to it. His face changed at the sight of her. Fawang pretended he did not see her and asked more about the situation at Quanzhen.

In Northern Song, there originally was only one Taoist sect; Zheng Yi had originated in Sanxi’s Mountain of Dragons and Tigers, headed by Zhang Tianshi. After the invasion by the Jurchens, the Song moved south and in Hubei, three new Taoist sects emerged; Quanzhen, Dadao and Taiyi. The Quanzhen was the most successful and its members were heroic and came to the aid of the needy. During this time, the northern areas were in chaos, the citizens were suffering; they saw that there was no hope from the royal court and everyone saw the Quanzhen sect as their saviors. At that time, someone said, “The Central Plains are shifting, the Southern Song are weak. All the heroes of the world must join if they wish to defend the land. The Founder Chongyang, the Eternal Spring Elder Qiu, models to all, their unique sect’s conduct influences all men of promise, bringing peace to the nation. It is the way of the heavens to have leaders like these.” And so on. North of the great river during this time, the power of the Beggar Clan and the Quanzhen sect were sometimes greater than that of the authorities.

Zhao Zhijing saw that Fawang was treating him with great respect and was touched by this, whatever Fawang asked, he answered, telling him where the sect’s influence lay and where its strongholds were.

The two talked and walked at the same time and soon reached a place where they were alone. Fawang sighed and said, “Reverend Zhao, for your sect to be what it is today is no mean feat. Please forgive me; I must say that Elders Ma, Qiu and Wang do not know what they are doing in this matter. How can they elect brother Yin as the next sect leader?”

Recently, Zhao Zhijing had been thinking about how he was going to wait until Yin was the sect leader and until all the Quanzhen Masters passed away before forcing Yin to hand over the leadership. But he was an impatient man, even if this was going to succeed, it would take years before it would happen. This reminder made him sigh and he looked at Xiao Longnu once again.

Fawang said, “I will take care of the matter concerning Miss Long, and there is no need to worry. The most important matter right now is to make sure the leadership of your sect does not fall into the wrong hands.”

Zhao Zhijing became excited and said, “If Reverend can enlighten me on this matter then I will follow and be your aide for life.”

Fawang raised his eyebrows and said clearly, “A gentleman’s word is a promise; you cannot take back your word.”

Zhao Zhijing said, “Of course.”

Fawang said, “Fine, I’ll guarantee you that you’ll be the sect leader within half a year.”

Zhao Zhijing was delighted to hear this, but he knew that it would be difficult to achieve this and still had some doubts.

Fawang said, “You don’t believe me?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “I do, I do. The good Reverend is full of wisdom, he must have a plan.”

Fawang said, “I have no ties with your sect; whoever becomes the sect leader is of no importance. But for some reason, when I saw you it was like seeing an old friend, I had to intervene.”

Zhao Zhijing was excited and did not know what the best way was to express his thanks.

Fawang said, “The first step is that we must gain a strong supporter for you within the sect. Whose position is the highest within the sect?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “That is of course Grand Martial Uncle Zhou who we met today.”

Fawang said, “Correct. If he agrees to support you, brother Yin would most likely have no chance.”

Zhao Zhijing said with joy, “Yes, Martial Uncle Ma, Martial Uncle Qiu and my Master all have to call him Martial Uncle. Whatever he says must be respected. But what ingenious plan would you use to persuade Great Martial Uncle Zhou to support me.”

Fawang said, “I made a bet with Zhou Botong today about stealing the royal flag. Do you think he’s going to come?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “Of course he’ll come.”

Fawang said, “The flag will not be hoisted on the flag pole tonight, and we’ll hide it in a secret place. The camp has thousands of tents, even if Zhou Botong has the ability to move heaven and earth, there is no way he’ll be able to find the flag in one night.”

Zhao Zhijing said, “Yes!” But he was thinking, “This isn’t the most honorable thing to do.”

Fawang said, “You must be thinking, this isn’t an honorable thing to do. But I’m just thinking of you.” Zhao Zhijing looked at him and didn’t understand what he meant.

Fawang patted his shoulder lightly and said, “I’ll tell you where I hid the flag and then you’ll go and tell Zhou Botong where the flag is and let him find it, how wonderful would that be?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “Yes, yes, that will definitely please Great Martial Uncle Zhou.” But then he said, “But won’t that mean you’ve lost the bet?”

Fawang said, “For friends, men like us can ignore a defeat here or there, what’s so important about that?” Zhao Zhijing was extremely touched by this and said, “I do not know how to express my thanks.”

Fawang smiled, “Once you’ve got the support of Zhou Botong, with my help you’ll be able to elect yourself as sect leader.” He then pointed to the left and said, “Let’s take a look over there.” About a li away from the camp were some small hills, in a short  while  they  reached  one  of  the  hills. Fawang said, “We’ll find a cave and hide the flag there.” The first two hills they came across were open and bare without any caves there. On the third hill they found that it was covered with woodlands and there was cave after cave.

Fawang said, “This looks like the best place.”

Between two large trees he saw a cave with a well-hidden entrance that was not easy to spot at a glance, he said, “Remember this place, I’ll place the flag in there. Later on tonight, bring Zhou Botong here.”

Zhao Zhijing kept on saying yes, he was filled with delight. He looked hard and long at the two trees thinking with these two trees as a marker, he will definitely remember the right cave. The two returned to the camp and did not mention this again.

After supper, Zhao Zhijing kept talking to Yin Zhiping. Yin Zhiping just stared and sometimes said a word here or there, not really replying. The sky was getting dark and the gong for the first hour sounded. Zhao Zhijing slipped away from the camp and sat beside a sandy hill. He saw the patrols and how heavily guarded the camp was and thought, “It really would be difficult to take just one step into this camp. Yet Great Martial Uncle Zhou came and went as he pleased when he took the flag; his abilities are unimaginable.”

The sky above him was now dark blue, like a Mongolian tent that covered the plains. The stars were twinkling in the sky and the stars of the dipper were especially bright. He thought, “If Fawang’s words are true, three months from now I’ll be the leader of the Quanzhen sect; its three thousand branches and eighty thousand disciples will be under my command, ha-ha. Then it would be so easy to take the life of that punk Yang Guo.” The more he thought about it, the more arrogant he became. He stood up and looked into the distance and made out that Xiao Longnu was still sitting underneath that same tree. He thought, “That Miss Long’s beauty really is unmatched, even I feel something, no wonder apprentice brother Yin is so crazy about her. But how can those who want to achieve greatness let things like women get in the way?”

Just as he was feeling pleased with himself, he suddenly saw a black shadow coming from the west. The shadow was darting about within the camp and soon reached the flagpole. The person had a broad gown and large sleeves, his white beard was fluttering in the wind; Zhou Botong had arrived.

End of Chapter 24. 
@Chapter 25 – Domestic Strife, Foreign Aggression
Zhou Botong raised his head, searching the top of the flag pole, but finding no flag there, he could not help being startled. He’d thought that Jinlun Fawang would be hiding somewhere below, waiting to ambush him, then seize the opportunity to route him completely.

It was a smooth plan but not even ten thousand guesses could prepare him for this: the flag was not there. He looked around. The camp was filled with numerous tents. Yet, he must try to find it before leaving.

Zhao Zhijing was about to move forward to greet him but he changed his mind. He thought, “If I go and tell him now, he'll be suspicious. I must first let him look everywhere and when he doesn't succeed, he can't help feeling dejected. At that time, I'll go out and tell him where the flag is. Only then will he be able to show his gratitude towards me.”

He crouched behind a tent to watch the motionless Zhou Botong only to see his body shoot upwards towards the top of the flag pole. He leapt several chi (1chi≈11in) high and used one hand to brace himself against the pole. Then he used his other hand to quickly pull himself up until he reached the top.

Zhao Zhijing was secretly astonished. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou must be almost a hundred years old. Even if he practiced the Taoist doctrines, he still should not be able to avoid the slowing effects of old age. Yet, he is still as agile as a youth. So the stories in Wulin are really true.

Once up there, Zhou Botong scanned the whole camp, seeing several flags fluttering in the wind but none of them was the royal flag. He raised his head and shouted: "Jinlun Fawang, where is the royal flag?"

This angry yell was carried far and wide, its faint echoes bouncing off the cordillera to the West. Fawang had already reported the matter to Huo Bi Lie (Khubilai) so even though the whole army heard his shout, they remained silent.

Zhou Botong warned: "Fawang, if you still don't reply, I might have to scold you." There was still no response.

Zhou Botong scolded: "Jinlun Fawang, you rotten dog, you call yourself a hero? You're worse than a turtle that refuses to come out of its shell!"

From the East, someone suddenly called out: "Mischievous Old Urchin, if you want to steal the Prince’s flag, it's right here."

Zhou Botong quickly rushed down the pole, shouting: "Where?" But after shouting, that person was silent. Zhou Botong searched countless tents but did not know where to start.

Farther away, the person shouted: "The royal flag is right here! The royal flag is right here!"

Zhou Botong dashed towards that sound but that person's voice was softer now, growing fainter and fainter. Zhou Botong only took a few steps, but the voice was already fading in and out like gossamer until finally it stopped. In reality, he did not know how far the voice was from camp.

Zhou Botong called out angrily: "Fawang, you rascal, are you playing hide-and-seek with me? Do you want me to burn down this whole camp so you'll come out?"

Zhao Zhijing thought, “If he sets the camp on fire, that can't be good. He hurried forward and said in a low voice: "Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, don't light a fire."

Grand Martial Uncle Zhou said: "Taoist priest, it's you! Why can't I light a fire?"

Zhao Zhijing quickly lied: "They intentionally want you to light a fire because the whole camp is filled with black powder. When you ignite it, the whole place could explode."

Zhou Botong was shocked. "It's a clever trick but also mean and cruel."

Zhao Zhijing was relieved to see that he believed him. He added: "I secretly inquired around and found out about this clever trick. I was afraid that you did not know about it so I had to tell you."

Grand Martial Uncle Zhou said: "Mmm, your intentions are good. If you hadn't told me, this Mischievous Old Urchin could have been killed."

Zhao Zhijing replied: "I also took a great risk by finding out where the royal flag is. Grand Martial Uncle Zhou, please come along with me."

But Zhou Botong suddenly said: "Don't tell me, don't tell me! If I can't find it, then I must admit defeat." The bet to find the flag was an amusing game. But if Zhao Zhijing gave him directions, he would feel bad even if he won because this kind of game required stealth.

Zhao Zhijing felt anxious. Then suddenly, he remembered,” He is known as the Mischievous Old Urchin, his mood is not ordinary. I must tempt him first so he can get hooked.” He said: "Grand Martial Uncle, I also want to steal the flag. Let's have a race to see who finds it first."

After saying that, he quickly rushed towards the hills. When he got there, he turned to find Zhou Botong following behind. He then darted to the third hill, pondering aloud: "They said that it's in a cave between two elm trees but where are these two elm trees?"

He rushed around the place but actually did not approach the cave where Fawang hidden the flag. Suddenly, he heard Zhou Botong exclaim; "I found it first!" He was standing between the two elm trees.

Zhao Zhijing smirked, thinking, “He stole the Prince’s flag. He'll surely favor me now.  What's  more,  I stopped him from setting the camp on fire. He thinks I saved his  life.  Everything  is  going  exactly  as Fawang planned. Satisfied, he started to step inside the cave. Suddenly, he heard a loud shout, the sound extremely sharp. Zhou Botong cried out: "Poisonous snake...Poisonous snake!"

Shocked, Zhao Zhijing quickly withdrew his foot that was already inside the cave. He asked: "Grand Martial Uncle! There's a poisonous snake inside the cave?"

Grand Martial Uncle Zhou replied: "It's not a snake... it's not a snake..." The voice was already getting weaker.

Zhao Zhijing anxiously gathered some twigs and lit them, using it as a torch so he could see inside the cave. He saw Zhou Botong on the ground, his left hand still clutching the flag. He was brandishing it as though trying to keep him away.

Zhao Zhijing asked: "Grand Martial Uncle, are you all right?"

Zhou Botong replied: "I have been poisoned...venom...venom...was bitten..." But before he could finish his statement, his hand had gradually grown limp.

Zhao Zhijing had seen him enter the cave but despite his high kung fu, he was still seriously injured. That was why he did not want to rush in without knowing what kind of fierce poison it was that afflicted him. What's more, the flag that Zhou Botong was clutching was not the same color as the king's flag. He thought, Fawang had connived with me to trick him into entering the cave but it was really his intention to harm him by poisoning him.

He was extremely vexed. He wanted to flee. So, without even bothering to see what it was that harmed Zhou Botong or what kind of poison it was, he just turned around and ran away.

The fire from the torch that he dropped on the way out was beginning to die out. Halfway out, he was stopped by someone who was holding out a hand to him. That person spoke softly: "Are you always this disrespectful to your seniors?"

The voice was distinctly stern but also as pure and as clear as jade. In the darkness, he saw the lithe form of a woman dressed in flowing white clothes. She was none other than Xiao Longnu. The light from the dying torch shone on her, revealing a beautiful face. Though delicate-looking, the face actually bore an angry expression. Zhao Zhijing was taken aback and rendered speechless. He was not expecting her and now that she was here, all he wanted was to run away. But, he could not even take a single step.

In truth, Xiao Longnu had been observing Zhao Zhijing from a distance, watching his every action. When he made Zhou Botong chase him towards the hills, Xiao Longnu followed as well. Zhou Botong knew this but did not pay attention to it. Zhao Zhijing, on the other hand, was completely unaware. Xiao Longnu bent down and picked up the torch, using it to illuminate Zhou Botong's prostrate form. His face was shadowed and green-like in its pallor.

From her bosom, she casually took out her golden silk glove and slipped it on before lifting his arm to inspect him. She was shocked to see three spiders, their fangs firmly attached to Zhou Botong's finger. The spiders looked extremely strange. Their bodies had alternating red and  green  stripes  that  were  so bright one could get mesmerized watching them. She knew that venomous animals were usually bright in color. The brighter their color the more lethal was their venom. These three spiders were still firmly biting onto Zhou Botong's finger. If she tried to capture them, they would evade her grasp. Finally, she raised her right hand and sent three “Jade Bee Needles” into the air, killing the three spiders immediately.

When sending the “Jade Bee Needles” towards them, she had used just the right amount of force to kill the spiders without injuring Zhou Botong.

This species of spider was called "Cai Xue Zhu" (Multicolored Snow Spider) and they only lived in the snowy mountains of Tibet. Their venom was one of the three most deadly poisons in the world. Jinlun Fawang had brought them with him from the West, intending to use them against famous poison experts in the Central Plains.

That time he tried to kill Guo Jing in Xiangyang, he had not thought of using the venomous Multicolored Snow Spiders. After he was hit by Li Mochou's Bing Po Zhen Zheng  (Soul  Freezing  Silver  Needle),  he angrily returned to the encampment and took the spiders out  of  their  golden  case.  He  hoped  that  he would meet Li Mochou again and then have her feel their venom. Thus, it  was  just  Zhou  Botong's misfortune to make the bet with him about stealing the flag. After making the deal with Zhao Zhijing, he placed the venomous spiders on the flag and hid it inside the cave.

Once the Snow-Colored Spiders saw flesh and blood, they would immediately leap on it and bite. They were attracted to blood and once someone was bitten, they could never escape. Their venom was so lethal that no one, not even Fawang, knew the antidote. He himself was not willing to keep the spiders too close to his body, afraid of getting bitten. Such a disaster he could ill-afford.

Xiao Longnu’s Jade Bee Needles also came from highly venomous insects; the Jade Bees  of  Mount Zhongnan. Although the lethalness of their venom was inferior to that of the Multicolored Snow Spider, the needles managed to enter their bodies, forcing them to produce anti-venom.

The venomous spiders were still biting into their prey when they were hit. Because they were still in the process of producing anti-venom and also sending out their own venom to their prey, they could not fight off the venom from the needles. However, right before they died, their bodily fluids spurted out of their mouths, sending the anti-venom into Zhou Botong's blood stream.

It was extremely fortunate that Xiao Longnu had rushed in to save him and saw the venomous spiders. Not daring to touch them, she instead launched three needles and luckily hit them, thus managing to discover the antidote to the world's most lethal venom.

Xiao Longnu watched the three Multicolored Snow Spider’s lifeless forms on the ground, their bright red- green colors still managing to look fearsome. She also saw Zhou Botong lying motionless as though he was dead. In truth, she actually felt quite grateful to Zhou Botong. If not for him, Yang Guo would not have come to the Passionless Valley and she would have been forced to marry Gongsun Zhi. His whole body was covered in a cold sweat and his breathing had grown irregular. Who would have thought he would die like this? In her heart, she was deeply moved. But all of a sudden, Zhou Botong's left hand began to move and she heard him say in a faint voice: "What was  it  that  bit  me  with  such...such fierceness?" He tried to get up but his body was too weak so that he fell back.

Xiao Longnu was overjoyed to find that he was not dead. She lifted the torch closer to his face and saw that the traces of the spider’s venom were no longer there. Relieved, she asked: "You did not die?"

Zhou Botong chuckled: "Well, it doesn't look that way. I am right between half-death and half-life...ha- ha..." He wanted to laugh heartily but his hands and feet were still twitching and he was still unable to get up. His smile faded.

Laughter came from outside the cave. The sound was so strong that it resembled the ear-deafening sound of thunder rumbling. That person spoke: "Mischievous Old Urchin, have you stolen  the  royal  flag?  In today's wager, who won you or me?" The speaker was Jinlun Fawang.

Using her left hand, Xiao Longnu snuffed out the light. As long as she was wearing her gold silk glove, no sharp objects or raging fires could harm her. Zhou Botong replied: "Whether the Mischievous Old Man has lost in this game is not yet decided. But I'm afraid I've lost my life to you. Fawang, you rascal, what sort of poisonous spider is this, so evil and cruel?" When he spoke these words, his voice sounded soft and thin. Even though he was angry, he was far too weak. Still, his voice was as deep as Fawang's rumbling laughter.

Fawang was secretly amazed. He was bitten by my Cai Xue Zhu (Multicolored Snow Spider) but he didn't die. From his voice, it is clear that his internal strength is profound, and is not below mine. Luckily, he fell for the trap, thus removing a powerful enemy. If he doesn't die soon, he'll only suffer for a short while.

Zhou Botong added: "Young Taoist Zhao Zhijing, you worked with this man to trick me. Go quickly to Qiu Chuji and ask him to kill you!"

Outside the cave, Zhao Zhijing hid behind Fawang, fearing for his life. He thought in terror, “How could I ask that of Martial Senior Qiu?”

Fawang laughingly said: "Taoist Priest Zhao is very good. Once I inform our prince of his great deed, he will refer him as an honorable teacher of the Quanzhen School." But, he thought; “If Zhou Botong dies, Taoist Priest Zhao won't have a way out. From this time on, he is under my control. His level of skill is ordinary. Zhou Botong acts like a crazy person, but Senior generations, like Qiu Chuji and so on, may honor him, but who would take his words seriously? How can the Quanzhen sect depend on the words of the Mischievous Old Urchin”?

Indignant, Zhou Botong let out a snort of contempt. Most of the venom in his body was gone but the Cai Xue Zhu was extremely venomous. Its effects wouldn't vanish that easily. Just as a tiny drop of it could kill several people, so could the slightest anger in Zhou Botong lead to a feeling of dizziness.

Xiao Longnu said: "Jinlun Fawang, you strike some, and then use this kind of venom to injure another. Is that a rule of your school? Quick, give us the antidote to cure Old Gentleman Zhou!"

Seeing Zhou Botong dazed, Fawang was relieved to find that the venom was working. He thought, “How could you depend on this little bit of a girl against me?”

He remembered what Zhao Zhijing said to him earlier in the day, that he was once defeated by her. Making up his mind to get her and show her exactly who was more powerful or stronger, he dashed into the cave, raising his left palm while his right hand moved as though to grab Xiao Longnu.

He said: "Here's the antidote. Take it." Xiao Longnu waved her right hand and a burst of soft tinkling could be heard. A golden bell attached to a silken belt flew out, heading towards his Qi Men Xue point.

Fawang thought, “If I still can't catch you today, how can I teach that Taoist priest Zhao not to laugh at me?” Swaying his body to avoid the golden bell, he reached into his vest to grasp two wheels, beating the two together to produce a loud sound that shook one's eardrums.

Maintaining her position, Xiao Longnu shifted slightly, aiming for his back where his Da Chui Xue point was. The change of moves was extremely fast; Fawang leapt back, exclaiming: "Your level of kung fu is rarely seen in women!"

The two of them fought inside the narrow passage and within the blink of an eye, they had already exchanged ten or so moves. When it came to power, Xiao Longnu was no match for Fawang, however, he was still worried about that day when he entered the cave in the hill and pricked his foot on a Bing Po Zhen Zheng (Soul Freezing Silver Needle), nearly costing him his life.

Although Xiao Longnu and Li Mochou came from the same school, Li Mochou was actually a level higher than her. Still, what he was worried about were the clever tricks that Li Mochou's master must have taught her as well. He was not only unwilling to get inside the cave and make the same mistake again, he also knew that there were poisonous spiders in there. One bite from them would mean sure death for him. So although he was anxious to capture her, he was not bold enough to brave the danger. In the darkness, one could only hear the clang of metals as the lead and silver wheels met the golden bell; the sound almost resembling music made from small gongs.

Standing afar, Zhao Zhijing listened to the sounds of the two fighting while his heart beat wildly. Although it was not his intention to kill Zhou Botong, he knew that he could not escape the blame for his murder. In Wulin, no crime went unpunished. If Fawang killed Xiao Longnu, that would be good. But what if Xiao Longnu won? Even if she withdrew or ran away, the news would still spread. What should he do then? Grasping his sword, he started to pace, listening to the  sound  of  the  wheels and  the  golden  bell grow louder as the sweat continued to stream from his body and soak his robes.

Even though Fawang's kung fu was higher than that of Xiao Longnu, his weapon was shorter than hers so he could not enter the cave. Eventually he found it difficult to gain the upper hand. After six or seven more moves, he still could not penetrate her defenses.

Xiao Longnu saw that Zhou Botong was once again motionless on the ground, close to death. Because she wanted to save him, she did not want the fight to last long. As the two of them fought in the darkness, her better vision gave her an advantage. She saw Fawang wield his wheel to the right before slanting and smashing down to create a crack. Immediately, she moved her silken belt to the right, aiming for him while at the same time, her left hand released ten Yu Feng  Zhen  (Jade  Bee  Needles),  sending  them shooting in his direction.

With very little distance between them, the Yu Feng (Jade Bee) needles shot out noiselessly so that Fawang did not realize it until they were only about a foot from his body. However, his wugong (martial arts) were no small matter and in the face of danger, he hurriedly turned over his wheel to block the small golden bells of the coiling silken belt. Bracing himself with both feet he let out a loud shout at the same time. His body raised several zhang or so, allowing the ten or so Yu Feng needles to fly past the soles of his feet.

In his haste, he used a great amount of his force, raising both arms up as his body rose along with his silver and lead wheels, which were still successively blocking the small golden bells of the silken belt, sending them flying from his hands into midair. The wheels made a "wuwu" sound while the small golden bell let out a "ding-ding" noise as both shot straight up to about twenty feet from the ground.

Under the starlight, one could only see circles of gray and silver amidst the fiercely flying strip of belt above.

Xiao Longnu did not wait for him to fall back to the ground before she released another Yu Feng needle in his way. Fawang's body was still in midair and no matter how strong his wugong was, there was no way for him to deflect it. Although the distance between them this time was big, the circumstance was actually quite dire for him. However, when Fawang leapt he had anticipated that the enemy would certainly try to strike again so he immediately grabbed at his chest, using his external force to rip off two strips of cloth from his gown. As the gown tore into pieces, his laughter rang loud.

Just as the Yu Feng needles shot towards him, he waved the strips of cloth, allowing the tiny needles to pierce the cloth only. He gave another laugh as finally both his feet touched the ground, throwing away the strips of cloth as he did so. He then stretched out his hands to catch his two wheels as they fell from the air.

Twice, he was able to get away from danger, both made possible without using his wugong but his shrewd mind. At a crucial moment, he escaped not only with his life but with Xiao Longnu’s weapons as well. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he rushed up to the mouth of the cave and sneered: "Long Guniang (Miss Long), you still don't give up?"

He was afraid that Xiao Longnu might ambush him in the cave so he did not dare enter. However, Xiao Longnu did not know this so she hid herself near the entrance to the cave, silently clutching a single golden needle.

Fawang waited for a moment. Seeing nothing move, he formulated a plan. He held his two wheels in his right hand and used his left to pick up the two strips of cloth. He quickly tossed the wheels one after the other into the interior of the cave, using them to shield his feet from the poisoned needles on the ground while at the same time wielding the strips of cloth in the air, blocking his front. The two strips of cloth still bore the Yu Feng needles so they actually served as virulent weapons.

He laughed and said: "The wolf's fang cudgel! Long Guniang, why don't you test the severity of my wolf's fang?" But before he could even finish his sentence, he suddenly felt a tug in his hand. A half section of the cloth was unexpectedly grasped by Xiao Longnu! Ordinarily, she would not have so easily grabbed a wolf's fang cudgel with her bare hands but she was wearing her gold silk gloves, not even a wolf's fang could withstand it.

Taken by surprise, Fawang hurriedly applied strength to snatch it back but in between that space of an instant, Xiao Longnu already shot out the golden needles in her hand.

Fawang shouted in the dark, sensing the life-threatening situation. He then grabbed Zhou Botong's body which was lying on the ground and using his heel to raise him and use him as cover, following the stance of the "*Dao Cai Qi Xing Bu."

Afterwards, he hurriedly leapt out of the cave, glad to have escaped with his life. However, the life-and- death situation that he has just been through filled him with fear so that he only stopped when he was well away from the cave, gasping for breath.

Those twenty or so Yu Feng needles pierced Zhou Botong's body. Xiao Longnu gasped, thinking that he was dead. Also, his body was lying still, only serving to increase her guilt. But unexpectedly, Zhou Botong suddenly said: "Good pain, good pain! What in the world bit me?"

Although startled, Xiao Longnu was happy. She said: "Zhou Botong, you are not  yet  dead?"  Knowing nothing about proper addresses, she spoke his name plainly.

Zhou Botong said: "Seems like I'm past death. Can it be that I'm alive again? I didn't know that once you're dead there is still enough life left."

Xiao Longnu replied: "You're not dead. That's good. That Fawang was frighteningly good. Not even once did I hit him." She then took out an iron stone (magnetic stone), using it to suck back the Yu Feng needles from his body.

Zhou Botong scolded: "Fawang, that thieving dog, he speaks nothing but lies, taking advantage of me because I'm dying, even using me to block the tiny needles..."

Xiao Longnu never stopped removing the needles and he also did not stop scolding  that  person.  Xiao Longnu smiled faintly, saying: "Zhou Botong, those needles that pricked you are mine." At that moment, a sudden thought came to her, prompting her to ask: "My Yu Feng needles are steeped in bee venom, does your body feel bad?"

Zhou Botong replied: "I feel very comfortable. Prick me again."

Xiao Longnu thought that he was joking so she took out a tiny jade bottle from her chest, saying: "This bottle of Jade Bee honey is the antidote to my golden needles. If you drink it, then you'll be all right."

But Zhou Botong shook his head, saying repeatedly: "No, no! The pricks of your needles make me feel comfortable. It appears to counteract the venom of the spiders."

Xiao Longnu thought that Lao Wan Tong (Mischievous Old Urchin) was speaking nonsense again, but because he firmly refused to take it, she decided not  to  force  him.  Besides,  it  looked  as  though  this strange old man's neigong (internal strength) was immeasurably deep; he was bitten by the  venomous spiders and he did not die. Being hit by the Jade Bee needles was no hindrance.

In truth, the honeybees' sting, although extremely poisonous, could nevertheless treat various illnesses. The mysterious benefits of the Jade Bee included the cure for rheumatism and other such diseases that affected man. However, Xiao Longnu together with Zhou Botong were not familiar with medicine so they did not know that the Yu Feng needles could be used to combat poison with poison and the Cai Xue Zhu (Multicolored Snow Spider) poison was only one of many.

Fawang was listening to Zhou Botong’s scolding words  from  outside  the  cave  and  was  startled.  He thought that this man scolding him must be an immortal god that could not be killed. If he really wanted to kill him, he must do so now while he was off his guard. Otherwise, the opportunity might not present itself again.

He advanced but before he could enter the cave's entrance, he paused. When he successively used both his silver and lead wheels to see if there was a trap waiting inside, he had also lost them and so now the only weapons he had in his possession was Xiao Longnu’s silken belt. He called out: "Long Guniang, I have your weapon with me!"

Then, with one shake, the silken belt unfolded and flew straight inside. His wugong had reached a level where he could wield any weapon without problem. So although Xiao Longnu’s silken belt was weird, he thought he could use it like one would use a whip. But its ability was unexpected and not only that, he was able to use it even from where he was standing. He was not afraid anymore that the opponent would suddenly attack him with the golden needles.

With child-like innocence, Xiao Longnu rose to pick up the silver and lead wheels. She struck the two together and spoke: "Good, let's exchange weapons so we can start the fight." She stretched out her right arm but a quick pain she felt in her hand made her stop and refuse to push forward.

The lead wheel appeared small but it was actually made of very heavy metal. So when Xiao Longnu extended it, she was not prepared for its weight. She quickly pulled back and clutched the two wheels to her chest.

Fawang saw an advantage and quickly dashed forward, extending his hand to grab the wheels. Xiao Longnu took a step back as her left hand shot up as though to release the silver wheel. But it was only a feint move because she used this chance to release several Yu Feng needles in his direction.

These Jade Bee needles were the same ones she had extracted from Zhou Botong‘s body so they were no longer as poisonous. Still, they could be used as  a  weapon.  Fawang  was  prepared,  however.  When  he could not grab the silver wheel, he quickly leapt to the side, allowing the Yu Feng needles to shoot past him, hitting nothing but empty air.

Zhou Botong laughed, saying: "Great, let the bald thief come and then you hit him in the butt with your tiny needles!"

Xiao Longnu said: "Ai! I've used up all my Yu Feng needles!"

Dismayed, Zhou Botong scratched his head and said: "That's one annoying problem."

He had two personalities in him - one old, the other young - but he did not have the ability to balance the two, so whatever it was he thought or felt at the moment, he always said it without misgivings.

Jinlun Fawang had a scheming mind, but he was really unaware of Zhou Botong’s or Xiao Longnu’s personalities. Believing that no one under the heavens could outsmart him, he thought: “You said that you've used up all your Yu Feng needles. Why should I believe you? It's clear that you want me to believe that to entice me to lower my guard. That old ploy is not going to work on me.” Thus, Xiao Longnu’s frank speech instead caused Fawang to be even less daring, especially when only days ago in the cave in the hills, Yang Guo had tricked him. He did not want to suffer the same fate as Nimoxing and be crippled in both legs. He would rather wait twelve long hours than go through that.

One hour soon turned to two hours until finally the sky showed first light. Zhou Botong sat in a kneeling position, trying to circulate his chi in order to get rid of the poison still in his body. But the venom of the Cai Xue spiders was very strong. As he tried to move his chi, his chest suddenly tightened and he felt nauseous. There was no spot where he did not experience some problem. He had tried circulating his chi through different paths, but each try had the same result.

Finally, he sighed dejectedly and said: "Ai, Lao Wan Tong! You've tried it so many times its no longer amusing!"

Fawang was peeping in from outside, but since he did not wait and stay in his place for long, he did not know of the problem. He thought to himself: “This is not good. The old man is trying to practice nei gong!”

With this new development, he carefully took out a golden box from his bosom, removing the cover to reveal several crawling Cai Xue spiders inside. When exposed to the sun, the light made their variegated red and green colors brighter and even more eye-catching.

Next, Fawang took out a pair of rhinoceros horns and used them to catch the spiders between them and gently lifted them from the sticky web. Gently, he tossed the Cai Xue spiders towards the mouth of the cave where they stuck. He repeated his movements and threw the rest of the venomous spiders from the small box towards the cave. Their sticky web soon covered the entire cave's entrance. The spiders had been inside the small box for a very long time and they had not been fed so as soon as they were able to get out, they immediately set to work, climbing up, moving east, dropping low, and approaching west, hanging suspended, until they were able to create a network of webs in just a very short time.

Xiao Longnu and Zhou Botong watched with interest as the spiders spun the web, yet it never occurred to either one of them to stop their progress. Only when the web reached about ten feet in diameter, covering the entire mouth of the cave, and the red-green venomous spiders start to crawl around did they look troubled. Xiao Longnu said softly: "What a pity I don't have any more Yu Feng needles left. I could have used one to remove these nasty spiders."

Zhou Botong picked up a dried branch, intending to use it to remove the spider web when suddenly a huge butterfly came flitting near the mouth of the cave and ended up caught in the spider web. The species originated from the Kunlun Mountains so when it struck the web, it had enough power in its body to attempt to struggle and escape. However, although the butterfly's body was huge, one touch of the spider silk and it went straight into paralysis.

Xiao Longnu realized this and quickly said: "Don't! The web is poisonous!" Alarmed, Zhou Botong leapt away and hastily flung the stick to the ground.

Indeed, when Fawang released the venomous spiders, he not only intended to use it to seal the cave, but he also hoped that they would use their hands to destroy it. One touch would cause the poison to seep into the skin and enter the body.

Sitting cross-legged again, Zhou Botong watched as the spiders crowded around the butterfly and started to eat it. He thought: “My internal flow is still unstable. It will be some time before I recover.”

Xiao Longnu, on the other hand, was thinking: If he is going to remain inactive, how will Lao Wan Tong be able to move the poison up his body in order to remove it completely? So she asked: "How many days and nights will it take for you to recover your internal energy?"

Zhou Botong sighed and said: "I need one hundred days and one hundred evenings before I can manage it."

Xiao Longnu was surprised to hear this so she asked: "How are we going to survive?"

Zhou Botong chuckled, saying: "Even if that bald thief gives us food to eat, being trapped in this cave for several years is not fun."

Xiao Longnu replied: "He'll never give us food." She let out a sigh. "If it were Guo’Er with me in this cave, I wouldn't mind spending a lifetime here."

"What makes you place Yang Guo above me?" Zhou Botong said indignantly. "Is he also stronger than me? You don't think I'm good company?"

Although his words made no sense, Xiao Longnu did not mind it. She only showed a cold smile and said: "Yang Guo knows the Quanzhen swordplay. Together, we can easily defeat this Buddhist priest and send him running away into the wilderness."

Zhou Botong snorted: "Humph, the Quanzhen swordplay is not that difficult to understand. Even I can use it. Will Yang Guo be able to beat me?"

"When we combine our swords together in a technique called *Yunu Suxin swordplay [‘Pure Heart of the Jade Maiden’], it is important that his heart is filled with love  for me  and my  heart is filled  with love  for him so we become united and are able to subdue the enemy." When Zhou Botong heard her speak about the love between a man and a woman, he was filled with apprehension. He immediately waved his hand and said again and again: "Stop, stop - I don't love you! You also can't possibly love me. But I'm telling you it's much better that there's two of us in this cave. Years ago I was trapped in a cave in Tao Hua Island and had no one to accompany me. I was forced to fight with myself the whole time. But this time, it's entirely different because I have you. It's going to be fun!" With such happy thought, he could imagine being in that cave for a long time.

Xiao Longnu asked dubiously: "Fight with oneself? Is there such a method?" Pleased, Zhou Botong immediately launched into a discussion of the “Fen Xin Er Yong Zuo You Hu” [Mutual Hands Combat] method.

Xiao Longnu thought to herself: “If I could learn this method, then I could use the Quanzhen sword play with my left hand and the Yunu sword play with my right. With the two combined,  I  will  be  able  to complete the Yunu Suxin sword play. But I'm afraid that I won't be able to learn this kung fu in just one evening. "This kung fu is difficult to learn," she told him.

Zhou Botong replied: "If you say it's difficult, then it will really be difficult. If you say it's easy, then it will be easy. There are people who spend their entire lifetime learning yet never understand a thing; while there are people who only need a few days to understand it. You've heard about those two kids, Guo Jing and Huang Rong, right?" Xiao Longnu nodded.

Zhou Botong continued: "Who do you think is more intelligent?"

Xiao Longnu answered: "Madame Guo is a thousand times cleverer. Guo’er told me once that there is no one in this generation who could surpass her intelligence and wisdom. Great Hero Guo is virtuous, but his level is actually ordinary."

Zhou Botong laughed. "What do you mean "ordinary? Are you saying he's stupid? Tell me; am I intelligent, or stupid?"

Xiao Longnu smiled and said: "I look at you and although you're not young, you act silly. Sometimes, you say weird things and you act a little mad."

Zhou Botong clapped his hands, saying: "Ah, you're right. I once taught this Zuo You Hu method to Brother Guo Jing and it only took him a few days to learn it. Afterwards, he tried to teach the same lesson to his wife. You said that this child, Huang Rong is sharp and clever with a mind higher than that of a seventy-eight year old man, but she could not understand this kung fu. I thought that the little idiot Guo Jing probably did not teach her properly, so Lao Wan Tong decided to come and teach her himself. I repeated the left hand and right strokes with her, but she still didn't understand how to combine the two together. It was then that I realized that some men may learn a method that other men would spend a lifetime learning, yet never understand. You see, intelligence is not the only measure of success."

Xiao Longnu said: "Don't tell me that when stupid people learn this kung fu, they can surpass even the smart ones. I can't believe it."

Zhou Botong grinned and said: "I look at you and see that your intelligence is more or less equal to that of young Huang Rong. Your wugong is not that far from hers either. Since you don't believe, why not try to draw a square on the ground with your left index finger and a circle with your right at the same time?"

Xiao Longnu followed his instructions and extended both her index fingers to the ground, making downward strokes to create the figures. However, it turned out that the square looked like a circle and the circle looked like a square.

Zhou Botong laughingly said: "See? I told you it's not easy."

Smiling faintly, Xiao Longnu emptied her mind before extending her index fingers again. This time, she was able to draw a perfect square and a perfect circle.

In his astonishment, Zhou Botong could only stammer: "You...you...you..." A moment passed before he could speak: "You studied this before?"

"Ah, I haven't," Xiao Longnu replied. "Besides, didn't you say this is difficult?"

Zhou Botong scratched the white hairs on his head and asked: "Then how did you know how to draw?" Xiao Longnu said: "I don't know. I didn't think. I just held out my fingers and drew the figures."

As she said this, she wrote the three characters  "lao  wan  tong"  with  her  left  hand  and  the  three characters "xiao long nu" with her right. The two hand strokes were so neatly written they looked like the ones found in books and the handwriting was also very elegant. Delighted, Zhou Botong declared: "This shows that you learned this method even when you were still in your mother's womb! This is so much better!"

Thereupon, he taught her how to attack with her left and defend with her right, strike with her right and block with her left. It was in Tao Hua Island that he first learned this strange kung fu that was unmatched under the heavens so when the old man spoke, she listened.

In truth, the essence of the Zuo You Hu technique was the four characters "Fin Xin Er Yong." Often, people with high intelligence have complicated thoughts and they always rushed from one thought to another. *During the Three Kingdoms period, Cao Zi wrote the Qi Bu Shi, which depicted the turbulence of Wu Dynasty. The poem could be likened to that of a person trying to learn the Zuo You Hu kung fu technique, only to have the turbulence that makes it impossible to learn occur inside the person's mind.

Xiao Longnu’s kung fu was based on suppressing all emotions and desires. Even when she was only eight or nine years old she mastered her feelings, stopping them like one would water. After she fell madly in love with Yang Guo, however, the constant pain in her heart from thinking of him caused her kung fu to gradually decline. But now, this weird technique was introduced, unexpectedly helping her to recover.

After she resumed practicing the Gumu Pai nei gong, she was actually at the same level as Lin Chaoying when she was pining over her lost love. Their mind sets were the same for the most part so they had more or less the same capacity for understanding. As soon as Zhou Botong moved his finger, she understood his meaning quickly. But it was only because Zhou Botong, Guo Jing, and Xiao Longnu shared the same personality, innocence of heart, and that was why people like Huang Rong, Yang Guo, and Zhu Ziliu could not learn it.

Zhou Botong had yet to remove the poison from his body, but he continued to speak and draw with enthusiasm. Xiao Longnu, on the other hand, kept on nodding her head, but in her mind she was secretly trying to figure out how to use the Yunu sword play with her right hand and the Quanzhen sword play with her left. And so after several hours of playing this Chinese finger game with him, she finally grasped the idea.

"I understand completely," she spoke. To test it out, she moved her hands, making circular and thrusting motions with it.

Zhou Botong’s jaw dropped. He could only shout: "Strange! Strange!"

Guarding the cave outside, Fawang and Zhao Zhijing heard the two of them muttering and laughing with each other so they pressed closer but they could only hear snatches of their conversation, not enough to make the meaning clear.

Xiao Longnu raised her head at that moment and saw them eavesdropping. She straightened and said, "We're getting out of here!"

Zhou Botong looked at her blankly, asking: "How exactly?"

"If we go out and catch that bald thief, we can force him to give you the antidote," Xiao Longnu replied. Zhou Botong stroked his beard, saying, "You think you can beat him?"

As they spoke, they suddenly heard a buzzing sound. A honeybee got stuck to the spider web and tried to struggle. Earlier when the big butterfly touched the spider's silk, it immediately went into paralysis. This honeybee was small in size, but it seemed unaffected by the poison of the Cai Xue Spiders  and  even succeeded in splitting the web open.

The venomous spiders zealously eyed it from the side, but dared not go forward and tangle it within their silk. After a long while, the honeybee would weaken and only then would the venomous spiders attack it.

In the Ancient Tomb, Xiao Longnu kept swarms of Jade Bees as pets; being together with honeybees all year long there was no doubt her technique of controlling bees was very good. Moreover, she regarded all bees as friends. When this honeybee was in trouble, she could not stand it. Suddenly changing her mind, she said: "Although these venomous spiders are evil-looking, my bees won't necessarily be afraid of them."

She then took out the jade bottle from her bosom, opened the lid, and used her right hand to fan the air around it, allowing the fragrant aroma to spread and penetrate through the thick spider web.

Surprised, Zhou Botong asked: "What are you doing?"

"Do you want to see an amusing trick?" Xiao Longnu asked.

Zhou Botong was delighted, saying: "Wonderful!" Then, asked: "What trick is that?" Xiao Longnu only smiled, not responding as she continued moving her palm. This was the season when the wild flowers in the valley were in full bloom. Wherever the sweet scent of honey could be smelled, the numerous wild bees gathering honey rushed in that direction. When the wild bees rushed to the cave, they got tangled in the spider web, and immediately began to struggle. Some died after being bitten by the venomous spiders while others were able to sting a few spiders. Although the Cai Xue Spiders were considered among the world's most poisonous, too much bee venom in their bodies caused them to become stiff and gradually die.

Zhou Botong was ecstatic as he looked on, while outside the  cave,  Jinlun  Fawang  and  Zhao  Zhijing watched in helpless astonishment.

In the meantime, the Cai Xue Spiders still had the upper hand. Only three poisonous spiders were dead while about forty or so honeybees were killed. However, the wild bees continued to swarm. At first, there were only thirty of them, but fifty more came and got caught in the web. Afterwards, dozens more of them came, numbering up to a hundred so that the spider web covering the mouth of the cave soon began to fill up, and they were stinging the venomous spiders until they died.

Zhao Zhijing had experienced firsthand the honeybee's sting. Seeing them now, with his own eyes, he realized the circumstance were grave. Hastily, he dived into the bushes to avoid them.

Fawang, on the other hand, knew that the Cai Xue Spiders were rare. If they are annihilated, there would be none left who could do their job. Therefore, he and the venomous spiders shared a common hatred of this swarm of wild bees. However, he did not know that it was Xiao Longnu who summoned them. All he thought about was how to force Zhou Botong and Xiao Longnu out of the cave and take their lives.

Young Xiao Longnu dipped a finger into the jade bottle and shot some honey towards Fawang, hitting him on both sides. He howled into the cave's entrance as several wild bees made an about-face and headed towards him.

Fawang was panic-stricken as he realized the dire situation he was in. He dashed forward quickly. Although the wild bees were fast, his lightness kungfu was faster so within moments, he was already ten or so feet away from them. His figure appeared like a wisp of black smoke, rushing further and further away. Failing to catch up, the wild bees merely scattered around.

Xiao Longnu stamped her foot again and again, saying repeatedly: "What a pity! What a pity!" Zhou Botong asked: "What pity?"

"He ran away before I could snatch the antidote from him," Xiao Longnu replied.

Indeed, she planned to summon the honeybees so they could cover Fawang's flank, effectively trapping him within a sphere. However, these wild bees came from different nests and therefore came from different directions. Unlike the tamed Jade Bees of the Ancient Tomb, when she wanted them to pursue, sting the enemy, return, outflank him, or make a circle like in a battle formation, the wild bees were hopeless.

Zhou Botong, however, was full of admiration. He was the sort who liked games and when he played, his spirit usually improved. So when he clapped his hands with enthusiasm, he forgot all about the poison still in his body.

Xiao Longnu saw that due to the weight of the dead and dying bees the spider web had fallen; she leaped out and shouted, “Come!”

Zhou Botong followed, but he fell down as he was about to leap. “I … I can’t exert my strength!” he said. Suddenly his body shivered and his teeth chattered, like he was plunged into an ocean of ice. His lips turned white and his face turned blue, while his beard could not stop swaying.

Xiao Longnu was startled. “Zhou Botong! What happened?” “Prick…prick me … with your needle again,” he said unevenly. Xiao Lung Nu was surprised, “My needles are poisonous.” “Then … the poison … is good,” the old man responded weakly.

Xiao Longnu remembered the battle between the spiders and wild bees; she thought, “Could it be that the bee’s venom is the antidote to the spiders’?” She quickly picked several needles from the ground and pricked them into his arm. “Good! More! More!” Zhou Botong called out.

Xiao Longnu pricked him some more while keeping her eyes on him. She saw the effect of the spider’s poison had faded from his face. After more than ten pricks, Zhou Botong stopped shivering. He sighed and said, “It is truly a poison against poison.” He tried to exert his energy but it turned out the poison had not been completely neutralized.

Suddenly he slapped his knee and said, “Miss Long, your bee poison is not strong enough and they are no longer fresh.”

“That case I am going to call some bees to sting you,” she said with a smile. “Thank you, thank you …” the old man said, “Hurry up!”

Xiao Longnu then opened the  jade  bottle  to  lure  a  crowd  of  wild bees.  Zhou  Botong  was  grinning  from  ear to ear; he took off his clothes and  let  the  bees  stung  him  while  he  exerted  his  internal  energy.  First  he sucked the bees’ venom to his [dan tian – pubic area, lower stomach] and then spread it out toward all his veins. In approximately the time needed to eat a bowl of  rice  the  spider  venom  had  been  completely neutralized. The bee sting started to hurt  him.  “Enough!  Enough!”  he  cried,  putting  on  his  clothes  back, “More bee stings and I am dead.” Xiao Longnu smiled and drove the bees away.

She picked her [jin ling ruan so] white silk belt with golden bells from the ground and asked, “I am going to Mount Zhongnan. Are you coming?”

Zhou Botong shook his head, “I have an important matter to deal with. You go ahead.”

“Ah! I almost forget,” said Xiao Longnu. “You are going to Xiangyang to give Hero Guo a hand.” As soon as the word ‘Guo Da Xia’ came out of her mouth, Guo Fu came into her mind. From Guo Fu, she remembered Yang Guo. “Zhou Botong, if you see Yang Guo, please don’t let him know you have seen me,” she sadly said.

Zhou Botong mumbled some incoherent words, like he was thinking really hard. A moment later he looked up and asked, “What did you say?”

“Never mind,” she answered. “Farewell then.”

Zhou Botong was preoccupied; he simply nodded and waved his hand. Xiao Longnu turned around and started walking; but before reaching the plain she heard strange noises from Zhou Botong, similar to her own commands to the bees. She thought it was peculiar and quietly walked back. Hiding behind a tree she saw Zhou Botong – with one hand holding a jade bottle, flailing his hand around and howling noisily. She groped into her pocket and sure enough, her jade honey bottle was gone. The funny thing was, after calling for a while only a handful of wild bees were flying around his jade bottle.

Xiao Longnu could not help chuckling. Coming out from behind the tree she called, “Zhou Botong! Let me teach you!”

Zhou Botong blushed, he was caught red handed with the jade bottle in his hand. He kicked the ground and leaped several meters and quickly ran downhill.

Xiao Longnu laughed heartily. This old man was really strange and interesting. But as the echo of her laughter was fading away, she began to feel lonely and miserable; and her tears flowed without inhibition. She had fought Jinlun Fawang, both with her strength and wisdom and then had the Old Urchin’s company for the rest of the night. Now that the friend and foe were gone, she felt utter loneliness, like an orphan without anybody to care.

In another moment she remembered Zhao Zhijing and Yin Zhiping. Even if she cut their bodies into ten thousand pieces, would her hatred be alleviated? She could easily kill those two, but she thought what good would that be? She stood and stared blankly under a big elm tree for a half a day; then said to herself, “Let me find them first.”

She went down the hill and found her donkey grazing in the foothills. When she arrived at the road fork going to the Mongolian camp, she saw dust flying, flags fluttering, and heard the sound of hoofs moving south toward Xiangyang. Xiao Longnu hesitated, “How could I find those two priests amongst this mighty force?”

Suddenly she saw three horses and riders in the distance. They wore the yellow robe and Taoist hat. “Why three?” she wondered. She strained her eyes and could see Yin Zhiping rode in the back, with Zhao Zhijing and an unknown young Taoist priest in front of him. Xiao Longnu pulled her reins and followed with her donkey. Yin Zhiping heard the donkey and turned his head. His countenance paled.

“Martial Brother Zhao, who is that woman?” the young priest asked. “Our archenemy,” he answered, “Don’t ask too much.”

The young priest was startled. “The Scarlet Serpent Deity Li Mochou?” he asked, trembling with fear. “No, but she is her martial sister,” Zhijing explained. The young priest was Qi Zhicheng, one of Qiu Chuji’s disciples. He knew Li Mochou had fought with the Quanzhen’s masters, and they were troubled by her. Naturally her martial sister would not be friendly toward the Quanzhen sect.

Zhao Zhijing anxiously whipped his horse and galloped away. Both Yin and Qi did not have any choice but to follow suit, leaving Xiao Longnu far behind. But the donkey had good stamina; it could not run fast, but it ran steadily. After about four or five li the horses panted and slowed down, and Xiao Longnu gradually caught up with them. Again Zhijing lifted his whip and struck his horse,  but  the  horses’  strength  was already spent; they ran for while, and then slowly trotted.

“Martial Brother Zhao,” Qi Zhicheng said, “Let us block the enemy to give Martial Brother Yin a chance to escape.”

Zhao Zhijing’s face turned green with anger. “You talk rubbish!” he snapped. “Aren’t you afraid of death?”

“Martial Brother Yin bears the heavy burden of becoming our new Sect Leader [zhang jiao],” answered Qi Zhicheng. “We have the responsibility to protect him.” He was sent by Qiu Chuji to summon Yin Zhiping back to Chongyang Palace to be the new Sect Leader.

Zhijing snorted and ignored him. He thought, “You don’t know the height of the heaven, or the depth of the earth; yet you want to block her with your meager skill?”

Qi Zhicheng saw his angry face and did not dare to say anything. He held his reins to wait for Yin Zhiping; then he spoke to him in a low voice, “Martial Brother Yin, you bear a very heavy responsibility, you’d better go first.” Zhibing simply shook his head. “No need,” he said, “She can do anything she wants.”

Qi Zhicheng saw his calmness and could not help but admire him. “No wonder Master wants him to take over,” he thought. “Merely by his calmness, who among the third generation disciples can match him?” Actually, he did not know that Yin Zhiping at this time had no regard for his own safety. If Xiao Longnu wanted to kill him, he would stretch out his neck voluntarily. Zhao Zhijing saw those two were calm, but he was always thinking of ways of escaping. It was good that Xiao Longnu did not seem to plan to attack soon. Even so, he could not help but turn his head in anxiety every now and then.

The four of them proceeded north. By now they were already far away from the Mongolian troops. The wind still carried a muffled sound of horse hoofs and a faint sound of a military bugle, but the area they were traveling in was desolate. The houses were in ruin and the common people had left to avoid the enemy troops. Before that day Yin Zhiping and Zhao Zhijing could still find a place to eat. But now, not even a house was left standing.

That evening the three of them spent the night in a house ruin without any windows or doors. Zhao Zhijing took a look outside, and saw Xiao Longnu sleeping on a piece of rope strung between two big trees. Qi Zhicheng also saw this amazing skill and was scared. Zhijing did not dare to close his eyes. He was ready to jump and dash out whenever any noise came from the trees. Yin Zhiping was the only one who slept soundly all through the night.

Early the next morning they continued their journey. Zhao Zhijing was tired; he rode his horse in silence. Qi Zhicheng and Yin Zhiping rode together, about two to three meters behind. Qi  Zhicheng  could  not contain himself much longer and said, “Martial Brother Yin, I have seen both you and Martial Brother Zhao’s martial art skills. Each of you has his own strengths  and  weaknesses,  it  really  is  difficult  to compare. But speaking of character, there is no comparison between yours and his.”

Yin Zhiping smiled wryly. He asked, “How long will Master and Martial Uncles live in seclusion?”

“Master said at least three months, but it could be as long as a year,” Qi Zhicheng answered. “That was the reason he anxiously summoned Martial Brother Yin to take over.”

Yin Zhiping was lost in thought. “Their skills are already very high, what kind of martial arts are they developing?” he thought aloud.

Qi Zhicheng answered in low voice, “I heard the five Masters want to develop something to defeat the Ancient Tomb Sect.”

Yin Zhiping said, “Oh” and could not help but cast a glance toward Xiao Longnu.

o0o

In the year when Xiao Longnu turned 18, a large group of heretic martial artists gathered at Mount Zhongnan. Da’erba and Huo Du easily entered the Chongyang Temple and Huo Du was able to wound Hao Datong in a few stances. If Guo Jing had not arrived on time, Quanzhen School would have suffered a heavy blow. Nonetheless, the main hall of the Chongyang shrine was burned by Huo Du and his men. Since the time Master Chongyang’s grandeur awed the realm, Quanzhen was known as the orthodox martial arts school. The Seven Masters of Quanzhen had deep and profound martial arts cultivation and retained Quanzhen’s reputation. However, the martial arts of the Tibetan Lamaistic Sect proved to be powerful too and when Jinlun Fawang first came to China he shocked the realm with his impressive skills. On their return Hao Datong and Sun Bu’Er expressed their worries and added more frustration for Qiu Chuji and others. At the Heroes’ Assembly at Dasheng Guan, Xiao Longnu and Yang Guo were able to repel Jinlun Fawang and his pupils. Hao Datong, Sun Bu’Er, Zhao Zhijing and Yin Zhiping saw the martial arts that were displayed by Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu were excellent. Yang Guo was able to mock and overcome Zhao Zhijing without making actual movements in Guo Jing’s study. Later on,  Xiao  Longnu heavily injured Zhao Zhijing within one stance. Although Sun Bu’Er was present, she could not clearly see the movements Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu made. It seemed the martial arts of the Quanzhen School were entirely useless when facing the Ancient Tomb School; this was another frightening thought. Afterwards, they heard that Xiao Longnu and Yang Guo defeated Jinlun Fawang with their combined swordplay; the entire Quanzhen School was shocked.

Only five of the Seven Masters of Quanzhen were still alive at this time, Tan Chuduan died a long time ago. Ma Yu had also passed away by now. Liu Chuxuan assumed leadership of Quanzhen for a short while before passing the leadership onto Qiu Chuji. The five masters were old and their vigour was declining. There were no exceptional talents amongst the third and fourth generation. With the Mongolians trying to invade the south, the country was  in  peril.  The  Five  Masters  of  Quanzhen  would  be  able  to  deal with Jinlun Fawang should he lead his disciples against Quanzhen or the Ancient Tomb Sect should they try to extract vengeance upon Quanzhen. However, if they waited another ten years or so, by that time both internal and external calamity would hit the Quanzhen School. At that point the Quanzhen School would face definite defeat. That is why the Five Masters agreed to contemplate and create a new martial arts skill to protect the reputation of Quanzhen. This skill would not only protect the Quanzhen prestige but also protect the country and save the people. That is why they could be bothered by other duties, and that is why they summoned Yin Zhiping back to become acting leader of the Quanzhen School.

o0o

Yin Zhiping and the others were heading northwest. Xiao Longnu followed them not too far behind. That day they entered Shanxi province. “Martial Brother Yin,” said Zhicheng. “We are getting close to Chongyang Palace. Do you think this Miss Long would dare to pursue us?”

Yin Zhiping only mumbled, “Hmmm.” He had no idea what her intentions were. He had pondered this in his heart for a while now. “Would she expose my evil conduct to the Quanzhen Five Masters? Will she attack mercilessly? Perhaps she was only going to the Ancient Tomb and took the same way. Also … also … she had shown mercy to me before, would she forgive me?” He couldn’t help blushing, secretly ashamed at his foolish delusion. He had always regarded her as a deity. How could a mortal be compared to an immortal? Though he already showed disregard for his own life or death, honor or disgrace; in reality his heart was filled with fear.

Several days later they arrived at the base of Mount Zhongnan. Qi Zhicheng took out a whistling arrow; and with his arm strength flung it into the sky. It shot up and made a loud whistling noise. Not too long after four priests wearing yellow Taoist hats descended the mountain. Bowing to Yin Zhiping in respect one of them said, “Reverend Chonghe, you’re back. We have been waiting for a long time.”

‘Chonghe’ was Yin Zhiping’s religious title; but apart from his own disciples, nobody had called him by that title before. These four Taoist were the third generation disciples from various Masters; they were the same level as he was and one of them was even older than him. These four suddenly changed their way of addressing him, Yin Zhiping felt uncomfortable. He quickly dismounted his horse and reciprocate their bow and said modestly, “Four Martial Brothers are my seniors, your Younger Martial Brother is not worthy of such a title.”

The oldest priest was Ma Yu’s disciple. He said, “The five Martial Uncles have issued a decree that as soon as Reverend Chonghe arrives, he  has to take  the  Interim  Sect Leader position.  The  official inauguration will have to wait until the Fourth Uncle [that is, Qiu Chuji] finishes his meditation.”

“How long have Master and four Martial Uncles been in seclusion?” Yin Zhiping asked. “It has been 20 days,” came the answer.

While they were still talking, there came a sweet sound of music from the mountain. Sixteen Taoist priests came near playing either the sheng or qing and arranged themselves on either side of the road. Another set of sixteen Taoist priests came. They carried in their hands some wooden musical instruments, swords, earthen bowls, and other religious articles. They bowed toward Yin Zhiping and surrounded him, acting as human shields, and together they walked back up the mountain, unwittingly leaving Zhao Zhijing behind without paying any respect to him. He was angry and envious at the same time. “Just wait till the Sect Leader position falls into my hands, I want to see your face then,” he said in his heart.

They arrived at the Chongyang Palace at dusk. There were more than five hundred Taoists arranged in the main hall all the way to the entrance outside the palace. Drums, cymbals and bells were struck simultaneously. The several hundreds Taoists austerely bowed to welcome their Sect Leader.

Seeing this grand scene Yin Zhiping’s spirits soared. Escorted by the sixteen most senior disciples he entered the Hall of the Three Pure Ones, he walked forward to respectfully kowtowed to the statues of the Taoist Three Pure Ones, Heavenly Deity Worthy of the Primordial Beginning, Heavenly Lord Worthy of the Numinous Treasure and Exalted Supreme Lord Lao. Then, they progressed to the rear hall to pay respects to the painting of Wang Chongyang, the founding grand master of the Quanzhen Sect. Yin Zhiping respectfully kowtowed to the painting. Then, the entered the third hall, this was the hall were the Seven Masters gathered to deliberate. Yin Zhiping kowtowed to the seven empty chairs that were in the hall. After that they returned to the main hall, the Hall of the Three Pure Ones.

Qiu Chuji's second disciple Li Zhichang took out the Sect Leader decree and read it out loud while Yin Zhiping knelt down, listening attentively. The decree assigned Yin Zhiping to take over the Interim Sect Leader position. Yin Zhiping was proud to accept this lofty position; but he was touched and ashamed at the same time. He stole a glance toward Zhao Zhijing who stood to one side. Zhao had a smirk in his face, Yin Zhiping shuddered.

As soon as the decree was read Yin Zhiping stood up to express his humble acceptance. But before he could say anything, a priest suddenly barged in, loudly saying, “Reporting to the Reverend Sect Leader, you have a guest waiting outside!”

Yin Zhiping was startled; he did not expect Xiao Longnu would dare to confront him during that important ceremony. He did not know how to deal with it, and thought that since he could not run away, he might as well brace himself and face her. He simply said, “Please bring the guest in.”

The priest bowed and turned around; and came back with two people. Not only Yin Zhiping, but the others were surprised as well. The guests were a Mongolian officer and another man he had met at Khubilai’s camp in Hunan. The Mongolian high-level official spoke with a clear voice, “His Majesty the Emperor has made a decision to grant an Imperial Decree to the Sect Leader of the Quanzhen Sect.” He walked toward the center of the main hall as he was speaking. Stopping at the center he produced a yellow satin scroll; unrolling the scroll with both hands he read out, “Imperial decree conferred to the Sect Leader of the Quanzhen Sect the special position to act as: shen sian yan dao da zong zhi. [lit. The deity/divine person to develop an excellent model of learning and integrity] He is to be the religious leader of the ‘Great Way’ [dao of Taoism] and to reveal the mystery of respectable and perfect mankind. To be in charge of various sects of Taoism …”

Reading to this point he saw nobody kneeling down; he was annoyed and said, “Sect Leader, please kneel to accept the imperial decree.”

Yin Zhiping moved forward and bowed in respect. “My Master Sect  Leader  Qiu  Chuji  is  currently meditating in a closed room. I am the Interim Sect Leader. The Imperial Decree is not bestowed on me; how would I dare to accept it?” he said.

The Mongolian officer smiled and said, “His Majesty the Emperor has said that the Venerable Reverend Qiu – who was well respected by our Great Genghis Khan is old; His Majesty was not sure if he is still in this world. Therefore, His Majesty has bestowed this decree not to the Venerable Reverend Qiu but to the Sect Leader of the Quanzhen Sect. Whoever the Sect Leader is, he is worthy to accept this.”

“This lowly priest does not have competency; how would he dare to accept?” Yin Zhiping insisted on refusing the decree.

The officer laughed and said, “Don’t be bashful; quickly accept this order.”

Yin reluctantly said, “This decree is unexpected, I can’t accept it just like that. I respectfully ask Your Honor to take a rest and have some tea while I discuss this matter with my martial brothers.”

The officer was not happy, but he could not do anything. He tucked the imperial decree away and said, “Very well. But I really do not know what you have to discuss.”

Four priests on duty ushered the guests to the guest chamber and served tea.

In the meantime Yin Zhiping invited sixteen third generation disciples to convene in another room in the courtyard. “This is not a small matter, this junior does not dare to act without Martial Brothers’ approval,” he said, “I will respectfully listen to your valuable suggestions.”

“The Mongolian Emperor has shown us kindness, it is just proper for us to gracefully accept it,” Zhao Zhijing said. “Obviously our Sect is getting more prosperous than ever so that the Mongolian Emperor does not dare to look down upon us.” He was speaking with self-satisfaction in his voice and could not hold in his happy laugh. “No, I don’t agree!” Li Zhichang shook his head. “Mongolia invaded our country and cruelly massacred our people. How can we accept this decree?”

“Uncle Master Qiu himself had accepted Genghis Khan’s royal invitation and traveled thousands of miles to the west,” Zhao Zhijing countered. “Sect Leader Yin and you, Martial Brother Li, were among those who accompanied him on the journey. Having this precedent, why do we refuse the imperial decree now?”

“It’s different,” Li Zhichang said. “At that time Mongolia was at war with the Jin dynasty and had not invaded our country. They even formed an alliance with our great Song dynasty. How can you compare our present situation to those times?”

“You have a very dangerous opinion,” Zhao Zhijing threatened. “Mount Zhongnan is under Mongolian rule; our Chongyang Palace is within Mongolian territory. If we refuse the decree, wouldn’t that mean we are inviting a great disaster?”

Li Zhichang was offended. “Martial Brother Zhao’s opinion is not right,” he said.

“What do you mean ‘not right?” Zhao Zhijing said harshly, “Would Martial Brother Li give us direction?”

“Give you direction, I do not dare,” Li Zhichang said. “But let me ask Martial Brother Zhao: what kind of person was Founder Reverend Chongyang? What kind of people are the Quanzhen Seven Masters?”

“Our Founder, Master and all Uncle Masters are religious people who held high position in our Sect,” Zhao Zhijing answered with consternation.

“They were also real men and woman with determined spirits; patriotic citizens who protect suffering people without regard to their own lives. They took up arms fighting the Jin who invaded us,” Li Zhichang added.

“Reverend Chongyang and the Quanzhen Seven Masters are honorable people who have shaken the river and lake region [Jianghu]. Who in the martial arts world doesn’t respect them?” Zhao Zhijing tried to change the subject.

“I am deeply touched by our predecessors,” Li Zhichang boldly said. “Without exception they were fearless people who resolved to save other people through oceans of water and fire. They taught us the meaning of bravery. Our bodies may perish, but our honor will have to stand.”

His speech had touched Yin Zhiping’s heart, as well as  more  than  ten  other  Martial  Brothers’.  Zhao Zhijing, on the other hand, kept pushing his agenda.  He sneered and said, “Is  Martial Brother Li the  only one who is fearless about death? Do other people fear death and covet life? Our founder had undertaken great difficulties in founding our Sect. Our Sect has reached a high point today; I wonder how much pain and suffering the Founder and Quanzhen Seven Masters have suffered? If Quanzhen Sect fell due to our inability, how would we face our Founder in the underworld? How would we be accountable to the Five Masters when they finish their meditation?”

His speech sounded reasonable and several martial brothers voiced their support. Zhao Zhijing was encouraged and continued, “The Jin dynasty was our archenemy. Now the Mongolians have destroyed their country, wouldn’t that make them our ally? In the past our Founder was defeated by the Jin which resulted in him living in seclusion inside the Ancient Tomb. If he knew his enemy was defeated, wouldn’t his soul in heaven be comforted?”

After hearing his comments praising the enemy, Wang Zhitan, another of Qiu Chuji's disciples said, “If after defeating the Jin the Mongolians formed an alliance with our Great Song and lived in peace with our people we certainly would treat them as brothers. However, the Mongolian armed forces have continued their large scale maneuvers to the south fiercely attacking Xiangyang. Our Great Song is in grave danger. You, I and all of us are people of the Great Song. How could we accept the enemy’s decree?” He turned his head to Yin Zhiping and asked, “Martial Brother Sect Leader, if you accept this decree, you are a traitor of China; you will be condemned forever by our Quanzhen Sect. I, Wang Zhitan; even if the blood of my neck splashes to the ground, will not let you disgrace us.” He spoke with a solemn voice and stern countenance.

Zhao Zhijing leaped up and smacked the table. “Martial Brother Wang!” he bellowed, “Do you want to resort to violence? How dare you insolently threaten the Reverend Sect Leader?”

“We stand on justice!” Wang Zhitan harshly shot back. “Fight if you want, do you think I am afraid?”

Both sides looked in each other’s eyes, ready to draw their swords to fight. A grey haired Taoist priest quickly intervened, “Hold! The Martial Brothers don’t have to fight. We can talk it over.”

“What is Senior Martial Brother’s opinion?” Wang Zhitan asked, eyes bulging out. “My opinion,” the senior priest said, “We … we are devout people, we have to have mercy toward the people, and we have to help them. If … if we accept the Mongolian Emperor’s Imperial Decree, we will be able to persuade the Mongolian rulers and the officers not to commit atrocities. Didn’t Fourth Martial Uncle Qiu Chuji do the same and was able to save a multitude of lives?” Several of Zhao Zhijing’s supporters echoed their agreement.

A terse and forceful Taoist priest shook his head. “The circumstances then and today are beyond comparison. Junior followed Master’s journey to the west and had met Genghis Khan himself. I saw with my own eyes how the Mongolian troops destroyed cities and massacred their people, and committed great atrocities. If we accept this decree, it means we fall under Mongolian influence. Wouldn’t that mean we are assisting a tyrant to do evil? We might be able to save ten or twenty lives, but as the Mongolian power rises, I wonder how many thousands or tens of thousands people will die.” The short and stocky priest who said that was Song Defang, one of nineteen disciples who came with Qiu Chuji to the west.

Zhao Zhijing smirked and said, “You have seen Genghis Khan, so what? I have recently met the Mongolian Fourth Prince, Khubilai. The Prince treats skilled martial artists and scholars with utmost courtesy. He is generous and open-minded; how could someone like him be ruthless?”

“Incredible!” Wang Zhitan shouted, “You have received Khubilai’s order to spy on us!” Zhao Zhijing was enraged, “What did you say?”

Wang Zhitan snapped, “Those who conspire with the Mongolians are traitors to our country!”

Zhao Zhijing made a sudden leap and thrust a palm toward Wang Zhitan’s head. But as he started to move, two palms blocked his attack. They belonged to Qiu Chuji's other two disciples, one of them was Qi Zhicheng.

“Shame!” Zhao Zhijing was livid and loudly shouted, “The disciples of Uncle Master Qiu Chuji rely on numbers to bully others.”

Yin Zhiping immediately clapped his palms and loudly said, “Martial Brothers! Please sit quietly. Listen to what Junior has to say.”

The Sect Leader position granted the bearer an enormous authority. They immediately sat down and did not dare to disobey. “Good,” Zhao Zhijing said, “Let us listen to what our Sect Leader has to say. If he wants to accept the decree, then we accept it. If he wants to refuse it, then we follow. The Imperial Decree is his; it’s neither mine nor yours. Why fight?”

He thought he had Yin Zhiping in his hands. Yin Zhiping would not dare to oppose him. On the other hand, Li Zhichang, Wang Zhitan and the others have known Yin Zhiping for quite some time. They knew he was loyal and patriotic. They were sure he would not betray the country and die as a traitor. They thought it was wise to leave the matter in his hands and let him to adjudicate.

“Junior does not have the competency and skill to hold the Sect Leader position. It was with a humble and heavy heart I accepted this weighty responsibility,” Yin Zhiping slowly said. “Who could have known that I would have to face this difficult matter on my very first day?” He looked up and stared blankly at the ceiling. Sixteen third generation disciples fixed their gaze on their Sect Leader. The room was quiet. Nobody made any noise.

After a long while Yin Zhiping finally continued, “The Quanzhen Sect was founded by Grand Master Chongyang. After him came honorable Master Ma Yu, followed by Uncle Master Liu Chuxuan and my Master Qiu Chuji who carried forward their legacy. Now Junior has to carry the burden. How could I dare to disobey the basic teachings of my honorable predecessors? Martial Brothers! At present the Mongolian troops attack the city of Xiangyang, invade our land, and massacre our people. If it were any of the four Masters, would they accept, or would they refuse?”

The group listened carefully to his word, they reflected on how the Grand Martial  Master  Chongyang, Masters Ma Yu, Liu Chuxuan, and Qiu Chuji would usually handle such affairs: Founding Grand Master Chongyang died a long time ago, none of the third generation disciples had ever met him. Master Ma Yu was kind and honest; he would handle any matter quietly without much fanfare. Master Liu Chuxuan had profound insight; the disciples could never easily discern his thoughts. Master Qiu Chuji was like a raging fire. He was loyal and patriotic. The disciples had deep impressions of him, and without prior agreement they answered almost in unison, “Sect Leader Qiu Chuji would refuse the decree!”

“The Sect Leader now is you, not Uncle Master Qiu!” Zhao Zhijing shouted disrespectfully.

“Junior’s talent is ordinary. I do not dare to violate our Masters’ teaching. Moreover, I have committed a great sin, deserving of harsh punishment.” After saying this Yin Zhiping hung his head. Nobody but Zhao Zhijing knew what he was talking about. They thought he was simply being modest. But ‘a  great  sin, deserving harsh punishment’ was a little bit too hard, unclear, and had nothing to do with the matter at hand.

Zhao Zhijing snorted; standing up he asked, “So, you have made the decision to refuse, hmm?”

“My insignificant life is worthless,” Yin Zhiping mournfully said.  “But  I  can’t  disgrace  the  Quanzhen name.” He started talking in low voice, but as he spoke the later sentence his voice was actually getting ardent. “Presently the heroes of our country have united themselves to fight the invaders. The Quanzhen Sect is known as an orthodox school of the central plains. How would we face the heroes of this world if we fall under Mongolian feet?”

His speech was applauded by loud cheers from Li Zhichang, Song Defang, Wang Zhitan, Qi Zhicheng and many others. “The Martial Brother Sect Leader’s words are true,” they enthusiastically said.

Zhao Zhijing flicked his sleeve and furiously walked out of the room. He paused at the doorway, sneered and coldly said, “Martial Brother Sect Leader, your words were pleasant to the ear. Heh, heh … I am sure you know the consequences you can expect.” Then he turned around and walked briskly out.

As soon as he left many Taoists spoke at once. They agreed that Yin Zhiping had made a wise decision and praised him accordingly but about four or five Zhao Zhijing supporters also left the room without saying anything.

Yin Zhiping’s agony was unspeakable. He retreated to his own chamber. He knew that Zhao Zhijing would not take this setback lightly; Zhao would certainly reveal his secret to the public. He realized that he had condemned himself to die by declaring his intention to refuse the decree. He had suffered great anxiety and fear for several months, and now that he knew he was going to die, his mind became clear and his spirit calmed. With a steady hand he bolted the door of his chamber from inside. With a wry smile on his face he unsheathed his long sword and lifted it toward his throat …

Just before the sword touched his skin, someone suddenly leaped from behind a book shelf and a hand reached toward the sword. Yin Zhiping did not expect this, he was caught off guard.  The  long  sword suddenly flew from his hand. Startled he quickly turned his head only to see Zhao Zhijing with the long sword in his hand.

As Zhao Zhijing flaunted the sword in his hand he smirked and said “You have ruined the Sect Leader’s reputation and now you think you can easily settle the score by dying? Not that easy! Miss Long is standing guard outside the Chongyang Palace. You tell me how we should answer her if she decides to come.”

“Good!” Yin Zhiping answered, “Then I will come outside and slit my own throat in her presence to apologize.”

“Even if you killed yourself, this matter is not over,” Zhao Zhijing said. “After they finish their meditation, the Five Masters would certainly decide to  investigate.  You  have  ruined  Quanzhen  Sect’s  reputation. Surely you will be condemned forever!”

Yin Zhiping’s spirit was crushed. Suddenly a cold sweat poured down his face. He fell into a chair, holding his head with both hands and desperately muttered, “What do you want? Tell me, what do you want me to do? If death is inadequate, then what …?”

He had spoken to his fellow disciples with confidence, but now that he was alone with Zhao Zhijing, he unexpectedly lost his will to fight.

“Very well,” Zhao Zhijing smiled. “If you leave this matter to me, I guarantee I will help you take care of the Miss Long problem, while at the same time preserving the Sect’s and your own reputation. Definitely you will not have any trouble in the future.”

“Do you want me to accept the Imperial Decree?” asked Yin Zhiping anxiously. “No! No! I don’t want you to accept the Imperial Decree,” Zhao Zhijing answered.

Yin Zhiping was relieved. “What then? Tell me quickly! I will certainly listen to you,” he anxiously asked.

After an hour, the bell in the hall sounded and everyone assembled there. Li Zhichang instructed all of Qiu Chuji’s disciples to conceal weapons under their gowns in case Yin Zhiping was coerced into submission by Zhao Zhijing and his supporters. The Taoists filled the hall; their faces grim and filled with anxiety.

Yin Zhiping stepped out slowly from the inner hall and his face was very pale. He stopped in the centre and said, “My fellow Taoist brothers, I have been commanded by Head Priest Qiu to assume  the  Sect Leader’s position, but unfortunately I have contracted a terminal illness which cannot be cured…” This came like a bolt from the blue and many Taoists involuntarily exclaimed, “Ah!” Yin Zhiping continued, “I cannot undertake such a heavy responsibility, and I hereby appoint Elder Wang’s most senior disciple Zhao Zhijing to assume the Sect Leader position!”

When he said this, the hall was filled with an unnatural silence which only lasted for a moment. Then Li Zhichang, Wang Zhitan, Song Defang and company opposed loudly,  “Priest  Qiu  wanted  Brother  Yin Zhiping to become the Sect Leader, how can you pass it on to others?” “You’re supposed to be fine, how did you contract a terminal illness?” “There must be some huge conspiracy behind this; you must have fallen into a trap.” The Fourth Generation disciples did not dare speak loudly but they were all debating among themselves. The hall was thrown into confusion. Li Zhichang and company glared at Zhao Zhijing but he looked indifferent to the matter and just folded his arms silently.

Yin Zhiping raised his hands and waited for everyone to become silent. He then said, “This is indeed very sudden, you’re not at fault for your reactions. Our sect is facing a great disaster and I have committed a great sin – so great that even death cannot atone for it.” When he said this, he grimaced and continued, “I have thought carefully and I found that only Brother Zhao Zhijing is capable enough  to  lead  our  sect through this crisis. Everyone must not look upon him with prejudice but assist him in bringing glory to our sect.”

Li Zhichang said clearly, “It’s human to err. As for your sin, just await the five elders return from their meditation and then report the matter to them. We really cannot acknowledge your abdication.”

Yin Zhiping sighed, “Brother Li Zhichang, we’ve been friends for many years and are as close as brothers. Please just cooperate and don’t make things difficult for me.”

Li Zhichang was full of suspicions and saw that Yin Zhiping looked like he was seriously troubled and his speech had little conviction so he gave up arguing and hung his head in silence. Wang Zhitan said, “If you really wish to abdicate, you should still wait for the five  elders  to  return  and  investigate  carefully  to prevent any foolish decisions.”

Yin Zhiping sadly said, “This is too urgent to postpone.”

Wang Zhitan said, “Even so, among our generation of brothers, there are many who surpass Brother Zhao in character and leadership abilities. Brother Li Zhichang is well-versed in the Tao while Brother Song Defang is able at handling other matters. Why, then, do you choose the unpopular Brother Zhao?”

Zhao Zhijing had a hot-tempered character and he tried very hard to restrain himself. Now he could not control himself and he laughed coldly, “Then what about the brave Brother Wang Zhitan?”

Wang Zhitan angrily said, “I’m not very capable and I cannot be compared to our fellow brothers. But compared to Brother Zhao, I’m superior.” He laughed and stared at the ceiling; his manner was extremely arrogant. Wang Zhitan said loudly, “My martial arts and sword skills may not be superior to Brother Zhao’s but at least I wouldn’t be a traitor.”

Zhao Zhijing lost his control and shouted, “If you have the guts then say it clearly, who’s the traitor?” The exchange of words became more intense and heated.

Yin Zhiping said, “Please don’t quarrel and listen to me.” They stopped arguing but still glared at each other. Yin Zhiping said, “Our sect’s constitution decrees that the position of the Sect  Leader  will  be appointed by the previous Sect Leader and not nominated by the Taoist Brothers, is that right?” Everyone unanimously shouted, “Yes!” Yin Zhiping said, “I hereby appoint Zhao Zhijing to succeed me as the new Sect Leader. Do not oppose this. Brother Zhao, please come  forward and listen to them.” Zhao Zhijing proudly swaggered forward and bowed.

Wang Zhitan and Song Defang still wanted to speak but Li Zhichang held their sleeves and signaled to them with his eyes. They knew he was apt at handling matters and must have planned something so they remained silent. Li Zhichang whispered, “Zhao Zhijing must have some hold over Brother Yin rendering him incapable of any opposition. We must secretly investigate his devious plan then we can contend with him. Let’s just obey Brother Yin for now. If we oppose him now, it may reflect badly on us.” They nodded their heads in agreement and acknowledged the Sect Leader’s command.

The Quanzhen Sect experienced two change-of-command ceremonies in one day so, of course, many were surprised and found it hard to accept.

Once the ceremony was over, he stood at the centre and bade his own disciples to stand guard at his sides. He said, “Invite in the Mongol Khan’s envoy.” Wang Zhitan wanted to abuse him verbally when he heard this but Li Zhichang stopped him with his eye signals. Before long, four disciples escorted the Mongolian envoy and Xiaoxiang Zi into the hall.

Zhao Zhijing quickly rushed forward to welcome him and laughed, saying, “Please come in!” The envoy had already waited for a very long time and was getting impatient. Now he saw that Yin Zhiping was absent his face became blacker. One of the escorts knew what was bothering him and said, “Our Sect Leader’s position is now undertaken by Master Zhao.” The Mongol envoy was surprised and delighted and said, “Oh, I see! Congratulations!” He cupped his hands to salute him. Xiaoxiang Zi was standing two feet behind but his zombie-like face did not display any emotion.

Zhao Zhijing brought the envoy into the main hall and said, “Your Honor, please announce the Edict.”

The envoy smiled and thought, “A person like you should have been made the Sect Leader originally and not that previous leader.” He took out the Edict and opened it. Zhao Zhijing kneeled on the floor and heard the envoy say, “Quanzhen Sect’s Leader is hereby conferred…”

Li Zhichang and the others saw Zhao Zhijing kneel down and accept the edict respectfully and exchanged glances. They suddenly drew their swords from under their gowns and the flashes were seen throughout the hall. Wang Zhitan and Song Defang rushed up and pointed their swords at Zhao Zhijing’s back. Li Zhichang shouted, “Our sect’s most important commandment is loyalty, we’ll never surrender to the Mongolians. Zhao Zhijing betrayed our ancestors and abandoned our honour, he shall not remain as the sect’s leader.” Another four Taoists drew their swords and surrounded the envoy and Xiaoxiang Zi.

This sudden change of events was too abrupt. Although Zhao Zhijing knew Li Zhichang was very unhappy with him, he thought the power and prestige of the Sect Leader’s position would prevent anyone from daring to rebel. He assumed that if he became the leader he would be the highest-ranking member of the sect and even the Five Elder Masters could not oppose his orders easily. He obviously never expected the others to take action against the Sect Leader. Now swords were pointed at his back; he was shocked and angry but he did not show it. He shouted, “You rebellious disciples! You dare to create trouble?”

Wang Zhitan shouted, “Traitor! If you move we’ll make two holes right through you!”

Although Zhao Zhijing’s skills were better than theirs, this was unexpected as he was attacked while kneeling down so he had no chance to retaliate. Zhao Zhijing had instructed about ten of his trusted supporters to bring weapons along with them. But Li Zhichang and company were Qiu Chuji’s disciples who were well-respected in the sect and they acted swiftly and suddenly. Many of Zhao Zhijing’s close supporters did not dare make a move. A few did try to draw their weapons but their accupoints were sealed the moment their arms moved. Among them were Zhang Zhiguang whose face was injured by Granny Sun, Jia Zhifan who once fought with Lu Wushuang and Zhao Zhijing’s disciple Lu Qingdu.

Li Zhichang said to the envoy, “Mongolia is now at war with the Song Empire and we are citizens of the Song Empire. How can we accept a Mongolian edict? Please leave; when we meet on the battlefield we shall talk again.” He said this with gusto and many Taoists in the hall cheered when they heard this.

The envoy flashed his sword and did not betray any emotions, laughing coldly, “You people have acted rashly today. You don’t know what’s good for you. The glory of the Quanzhen Sect shall be destroyed soon, what a pity.”

Li Zhichang replied, “Our territories have been leveled by your armies; we are only a small sect, how can we withstand you? But if you don’t leave soon, don’t blame me for being impolite, I can’t control myself much longer.”

Xiaoxiang Zi sneered, “Impolite? How? I want to see it!” He stretched out his long arms and snatched Song Defang and Wang Zhitan’s swords. Zhao Zhijing immediately jumped up and executed the “White Clouds Exiting the Cave” to defend his back and then he stood next to the envoy. Xiaoxiang Zi handed him one of the swords and slashed the other sword towards Li Zhichang. Li Zhichang raised his sword to parry but his hand became numb when his sword hit the other sword. He tried to use his internal strength to resist the sword but the two swords snapped.

Xiaoxiang Zi’s strokes in snatching and deflecting swords were extremely fast and in the blink of an eye he raised his hands and threw out his palms, disarming four senior Quanzhen disciples. He carried out three strokes continuously and defeated seven Quanzhen experts. The several hundred people in the hall were shocked; they did not expect this zombie-faced man to be so highly-skilled.

Zhao Zhijing has never thought greatly of Wang Zhitan and Song Defang and now that he was trapped in a kneeling position by them in front of so many people, he was furious and stabbed towards Wang Zhitan. This “Big River Heads East” move was one of Quanzhen’s most powerful and swiftest sword techniques. The sword sliced through the air and thrust towards Wang Zhitan’s abdomen.

Wang Zhitan quickly jumped back to evade the thrust. Zhao Zhijing’s sword moves were merciless and aimed to take his life and the tip of the sword followed within two feet of him. It seemed as though Wang Zhitan could no longer evade this blow and everyone looked at them stunned. Suddenly a sleeve flew out and wrapped around the sword. The sleeve was ripped apart but the sword was impeded and Wang Zhitan was able to jump to safety. Two swords were quickly stretched out to block Zhao Zhijing’s sword. The man with the torn sleeve was Yin Zhiping.

Zhao Zhijing was very angry and pointed at him, shouting, “You… you… How dare you do that?” Yin Zhiping said, “Brother Zhao, you promised not to accept the Mongolian edict. That’s why I abdicated in your favour. How could you go back on your word in such a short time?”

Zhao Zhijing said, “You asked me, ‘Do you want me to accept the Mongolian edict?’ I said, ‘No, I’d never want you to accept the edict!’ How did I break my word? The one accepting the edict is me, not you.”

Yin Zhiping muttered, “So it’s like that, you’re despicable!”

Now Li Zhichang took a sword from one of his disciples and shouted, “My good Quanzhen brothers, we’ll still recognize Master Yin as our sect leader. Let’s arrest this traitor Zhao and punish him according to our Sect Leader’s ruling!” He charged up and fought with Zhao Zhijing. Wang Zhitan, Song Defang and five other Taoists quickly got into the ‘Big Dipper Formation’ and surrounded Xiaoxiang Zi. Although Xiaoxiang Zi’s martial arts were good, he could not comprehend the formation’s changes and he saw seven people flying up and down in front of him and he became confused.

The envoy had already retreated into a corner when he saw that things were not going right. He quickly took out a horn and blew it. Two Taoists rushed up and snatched the horn and captured him. They were however a split second late and the horn had sounded out clearly.

Yin Zhiping knew he had summoned reinforcements and knew that danger was near. He was suddenly jolted into attention and commanded, “Brother Qi Zhicheng, watch this Mongolian official. Brother Yu Daoxian, Brother Wang Zhijin, take three brothers to help Brother Sun guard the Jade Cave at the back of the mountain to prevent any Mongol soldiers from distracting the Five Elder Masters from their meditation. Brother Chen Zhiyi, take six people to guard the front of the mountain. Fang Zhiqi, take six people to guard the left side of the mountain. Liu Daoning, take six people and guard the right side of the mountain.”

The people guarding the left and right were all his fellow disciples under Qiu Chuji. Among the people sent to guard the Jade Cave, Yu Daoxian was Liu Chuxuan’s disciple while Wang Zhijin was Hao Datong’s disciple. Liu Chuxuan and Hao Datong were meditating inside the cave and these two disciples were upright and honest, so they would not allow harm to their masters. Yin Zhiping had made such careful arrangements in such a short time and he made sure there were trustworthy people guarding every strategic position. Everyone could support each other effectively. Even if a large body of troops attacked them, it would be hard for them to get through the defenses. Everyone saw that his eyes were keen and alert and his commands clear and forceful. His manner so imposing that none dared disobey him and all carried out the orders without question.

Suddenly they heard shouting and weapons clashing outside. A few Taoists were still moving to take their positions when there was a whistle and a few dozen people jumped over the wall. The troops from the east were led by Yin Kexi, the west by Nimoxing and the front by Ma Guangzuo; their troops were veterans who had been involved in the Khan’s western expedition.

Khubilai had been attacking Xiangyang for many months and an illness broke out in the Mongolian army. This, coupled with their failure at the siege, caused the army to withdraw. The body of troops that Xiao Longnu saw speedily heading south previously was the last division to attack Xiangyang. Before the army withdrew Khubilai ordered his men to recruit capable men from the Central Plains. The Mongol Khan’s edict to take over the Quanzhen Sect was part of Khubilai’s plan. However, he knew the Quanzhen Sect was loyal and upright, so they may not submit. He ordered Jinlun Fawang to lead skilled Wulin fighters to wait near Mount Zhongnan. If the Quanzhen Sect rejected the edict, they would use force to bring it under their control.

Mount Zhongnan’s security was usually very tight but in just one day they experienced two  leadership changes and Chongyang Palace was thrown into chaos. Those who were supposed to guard the mountain were recalled to witness the change-of-command ceremony. Therefore it  was  only  when  Yin  Kexi, Nimoxing and company got right up to the Chongyang Palace that they were discovered. Their sudden appearance caught the Quanzhen Sect unprepared and many of the defenders had not even left the hall. There were enemy soldiers in all directions and although the Taoists outnumbered the enemy forces, most of them were unarmed. Moreover they were surrounded and could only crowd into a small area. The commanding positions all lacked the manpower and it looked like they were going to be utterly defeated.

The Mongolian envoy who was held captive by Qi Zhicheng shouted, “Disciples of Quanzhen Sect, throw down your weapons and suffer your Sect Leader Zhao’s punishment.”

Yin Zhiping said, “Zhao Zhijing betrayed our founder and masters by surrendering to the enemy; he has committed a great sin and therefore is no longer our Sect Leader.” Although he saw that the situation was highly unfavorable, he decided to put up a struggle and repel the enemy. Many of them fought barehanded and before long, there were more than ten dead bodies scattered around the hall. Yin Zhiping, Li Zhichang, Wang Zhitan, Song Defang and Qi Zhicheng and others were either injured, had lost their weapons, had their accupoints blocked or even killed. The rest were forced into a corner by Yin Kexi’s troops and could not retaliate. The envoy’s rank was very high and even Yin Kexi, Xiaoxiang Zi and their soldiers had to obey him. He saw his side had gained a complete victory and said to Zhao Zhijing, “Master Zhao, I’ll save you face. I won’t report the Quanzhen Sect’s rebellion to the Khan.”

Zhao Zhijing bowed and thanked him profusely and suddenly remembered something. He quickly turned to Xiaoxiang Zi and whispered, “I need a big favour from you. My five masters are meditating at the back of the mountain. If they suddenly rush here, then… this…”

Xiaoxiang Zi dryly said, “So be it. I’ll help you fight them.”

Zhao Zhijing did not dare say anymore but was not satisfied. He worried, “Don’t underestimate the Five Masters, if they really come here you won’t defeat them so easily. If they really drive the Mongolians away, it’ll be hard for me to keep my life.”

The envoy said, “Master Zhao, you will first accept the imperial edict and then you will punish your rebellious disciples.” Zhao Zhijing said, “Yes!” He knelt down to listen to the edict.

Yin Zhiping, Li Zhichang and the others had their hands and feet bound. When they heard the envoy read the edict and saw Zhao Zhijing kowtowing and thanking him, they became livid with anger. Song Defang sat next to Li Zhichang and whispered to him, “Brother Li untie my bonds. I’ll dash out and report the matter to the Five Masters.” Li Zhichang leaned back and circulated his internal strength and exerted it with his fingers. He managed to undo the bonds and whispered, “Please report calmly. Don’t shock the Five Masters – they are now cultivating their internal energy…” Song Defang nodded his head.

After reading the edict, Zhao Zhijing stood up and the envoy and Xiaoxiang Zi congratulated him.

Song Defang suddenly saw many people get up and surround Zhao Zhijing. He quickly got up and dashed behind the deities’ statues. Nimoxing shouted, “Stop right there!” He obviously did not care and ran off as fast as he could. Nimoxing’s legs were amputated so he could not give chase so he waved his hand, throwing out a snake-like dart. The dart hit Song Defang’s left leg. Nimoxing shouted, “Go down!” He slowed for a while but did not collapse. Instead he tolerated the pain and continued running. The Chongyang Palace was huge and complex; he turned a few times and the Mongolian troops lost him.

Song Defang got outside, extracted the dart, and bandaged his wound. He went to the medicine room and took a sword and ran to the back of the mountain. He came around a row of pine trees and got to the Jade Cave’s entrance. He groaned in dismay. There were several Mongol soldiers there lifting rocks to block the entrance. A tall, skinny monk stood there and beside him were two people directing the soldiers. He immediately recognized the two people to be Da’erba and Hou Du and knew that their skills were not below that of Hao Datong’s. The tall monk looked extraordinary and his martial arts appeared to be much better than the other two. The entrance was now almost eighty percent covered and he did not know if the Five Masters were still alive. He thought, “Master has treated me very well and today he is in trouble; I must sacrifice my life to save them, or my presence in the world will have been in vain.”

He knew very well that by going up to stop them he would surely lose his life and would still be unable to help the Five Masters. However the Quanzhen Sect was having a great disaster so he would not save his own skin. He unsheathed his sword and rushed out from behind a tree. The sword flew through the air and thrust towards the tall monk. He wanted to kill off their leader, and if he succeeded he would throw the group into confusion.

Unfortunately the monk was none other than Jinlun Fawang. He had  already  questioned  Zhao  Zhijing about the situation at the Quanzhen Sect and headed straight to the Jade Cave on reaching the mountain. He knew that once he trapped the Five Masters, the third and fourth generation  disciples  would  be powerless to resist.

Song Defang’s sword was less than a foot away from Fawang’s back and he seemed not to notice him, so he was secretly happy. Suddenly a golden light flashed and Fawang held out a round golden wheel and smashed his sword. Song Defang shouted in pain and the sword flew out of his hand. He was internally injured and threw up a pool of blood. He became giddy and vaguely heard people shouting around him but he did not know what had happened and fainted.

Fawang had also heard shouting from the hall but with Xiaoxiang Zi, Yin Kexi and the other experts there, he did not think anything amiss and didn’t pay any attention. He only told his men to cover the entrance quickly to prevent Qiu Chuji and the others from charging out and wasting his energy.

Once Song Defang left the hall, the situation changed again.  The  envoy  said  to  Zhao  Zhijing,  “Master Zhao, the people who stirred up trouble were numerous; I think your position is not very secure.”

Zhao Zhijing also knew the people were unhappy with him and would immediately turn on him once Xiaoxiang Zi and the others left. Since it had already come to this, he said loudly, “According to our sect’s rules, those who disobey the Sect Leader should be punished?” The Taoists remained silent but they all thought, “You disobeyed the Sect Leader yourself.” Zhao Zhijing repeated his question and stared at his disciple Lu Qingdu, wanting him to answer. Lu Qingdu said, “Execution in front of the  Three  Deities’ statues.”

Zhao Zhijing said, “Correct! Yin Zhiping, do you admit your offense?” Yin Zhiping said, “No!”

Zhao Zhijing said, “OK! Bring him here!” Lu Qingdu pushed Yin Zhiping forward and stood in front of the statues. Zhao Zhijing also asked Li Zhichang, Wang Zhitan and the others, but everyone said, “No!” Among those captured however, were some who feared for their lives and had submitted, so Zhao Zhijing ordered their bonds to be untied. Altogether there were twenty-four people who did not submit and Wang Zhitan could not control his fiery temper and he cursed and swore.

Zhao Zhijing said, “You’re so stubborn. Even though I, the Sect Leader, am merciful, I won’t be able to spare you. Lu Qingdu, do you act on behalf of our founder!” Lu Qingdu said, “Yes!” He raised his sword and killed Yu Daoxian who was first in the line.

Yu Daoxian was warm and kind and he had many friends in the Quanzhen Sect. When they saw Lu Qingdu execute him, they shouted in fury. What Song Defang and Fawang heard was their cries of protest. Yin Kexi waved his hand and several Mongolian soldiers blocked the Taoists.

When Lu Qingdu saw such fierce reaction, he was afraid. Zhao Zhijing said, “Quickly do it, why are you delaying?” Lu Qingdu said, “Yes!” He raised his sword and killed another two people. The fourth person in the queue was Yin Zhiping and just as Lu Qingdu raised his sword to stab his chest, a female voice coldly said, “Stop! Do not kill him.”

Lu Qingdu turned around and saw a young lady in white. It was Xiao Longnu. She said, “Step aside! Let me kill him.”

End of Chapter 25. 

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