The Return of the Condor Heroes Chapter 31-35

@Chapter 31 – The Other Half of the Antidote
Surrounded by the mountains, the floor of the Passionless Valley was vast, occupying about thirty thousand acres of land, with winding paths, towering hills, and deep ravines. But Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu used their lightness kungfu to follow the path on the map, and they arrived at their destination in just a short while. In front of them they saw several big elm trees, seventy or eighty-feet high, providing a shade for a brick and pottery kiln below. The map showed that the Indian monk and Zhu Ziliu were imprisoned here.

Yang Guo turned to Xiao Longnu and said, “You wait here. I’ll go in and take a look. With charcoal and ash in there, it must be very dirty.” As he bent over to step into the kiln, he was hit by a heat wave.

“Who is there?” A voice shouted.

Yang Guo said, “I've got the chief’s order. I’m coming to get the prisoners.”

That person emerged from behind the brick wall and asked, “What?” Seeing Yang Guo, he was startled and said, “You…You…”

Yang Guo saw that he was a valley disciple dressed in green so he said, “The chief has ordered me to come get the monk and the man surnamed Zhu.”

That disciple knew that Yang Guo had saved his master’s life, that she'd announced in front of everybody that Yang Guo was her intended son-in-law, and that he and Lu’E were on the best terms. This person would one day become the Valley Chief, and so he didn’t dare to offend Yang Guo.

He said, “But... what about the chief’s command sign?”

Yang Guo ignored him and said, “Let me come in and take a look.” That disciple complied and turned back into the kiln.

Inside the brick walls, the heat was even more intense. Two lowly laborers were raking charcoal. Although it was bitterly cold at this time of year, the two people were actually bare-chested, each wearing short pants to cover his lower body. Still they were sweating profusely. The disciple in green pushed aside a big stone, revealing an opening. Yang Guo went inside and saw that it was actually a stone chamber of ten feet square. Zhu Ziliu sat there with his face to the wall, using his index finger to draw pictures. His arm rose and fell as if he was very pleased with himself. The Indian monk was actually lying on the floor, and it was hard to tell if he was still alive. Yang Guo called out, “Uncle Zhu, how are you?”

Zhu Ziliu turned his head back. He laughed and said, “A friend has come to visit from afar; how could I not be fine?” Yang Guo had to admire him. He was stranded here for a long time but still kept calm as if everything was normal. Even in crisis, he could still be mirthful. He himself was far, far inferior to him in this regards.

“Is the Divine Monk sleeping?” He asked. Having said this, his heart was beating wildly because Xiao Longnu’s life depended on this Divine Indian Monk.

Zhu Ziliu didn't reply. Only after a while he let out a gentle sigh and said, “My Martial Uncle can usually withstand heat and cold much better than I can, but this time...”

It sounded like the Indian monk’s condition was critical. Frightened, Yang Guo didn't bother to say any more words. He turned his head to the disciple in green. He ordered, “Unlock the door. Let them out.”

The disciple in green said in surprise, "What about the lock? The chief's got the key. If she ordered you to free people, how come she didn’t give you the key?”

Impatient, Yang Guo shouted, “Make way!” He lifted his black iron sword and struck down, making a big hole in the stone wall with a ‘ka’ sound. That disciple let out an ‘ah’ cry and froze  with  fright. Yang Guo swung his sword a few more times and that five-inch window became wide enough for a person to pass through.

Zhu Ziliu cried out, “Brother Yang, I congratulate you on your great skills!”

He bent over to pick up the Indian monk, passing him through that hole. As Yang Guo took him, he could feel that the Indian monk’s arm was warm. His heart jumped. But then he saw that the Indian monk’s eyes were shut tight. He thought to himself, “Aiyo, even a dead body is warm in this fire room.” He quickly stretched his hand to feel the Indian monk’s breath and realized he was still breathing faintly. Zhu Ziliu jumped out from that hole in the wall. He said, “Martial uncle has passed out. Hope it’s not a great obstacle.”

Yang Guo blushed. He thought to himself, “Shame on you!” He thought about how he himself didn’t really care about the Indian monk’s well being but more about how to save his own wife. He asked, “Did he pass out from heat exhaustion? Let’s quickly go outside to get some air.” Then he carried him out. Seeing the three people, Xiao Longnu was delighted.

Yang Guo said, “Let’s find some cold water to sprinkle on Reverend’s face.” “No, Martial uncle was poisoned by the Passion Flowers.” Zhu Ziliu said.

Yang Guo was startled. He asked, “Is the poison severe?”

Zhu Ziliu replied, “I think not. It was he who poisoned himself.”

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu were puzzled. In one voice, they exclaimed, “What?”

With a sigh Zhu Ziliu said, “Uncle said that these Passion Flowers were already extinct in India. He didn’t know how it had been spread. He said that if it got out of hand, it would be a great disaster. Years ago, people and livestock in India had been poisoned and died because of these flowers. Martial uncle had thoroughly researched poison techniques but this Passion Flower poison was really strange. He came to the valley this time, knowing that the Divine Pill (Passionless Pill) could only help one person. He wanted to find out what could detoxify the poison to help people on a large scale. He used his body to test the poison so he would understand its nature and be able to find the antidote."

Yang Guo was half amazed and half in awe. He said, “Buddha said – if I don’t go to hell who will? Reverend is trying to save people, not hesitating to face a disaster. People really have to respect him.”

Zhu Ziliu said, “In an ancient tale, Shen Nong tried a hundred kinds of herbs to save people. If it was the wrong herb, his face would turn blue. This Martial Uncle of mine must have had this story in mind.”

Yang Guo nodded and said, “Right. Do you know when he will regain consciousness?”

“After he poisoned himself, he said if his calculation was not wrong, he would wake up after three days and three nights,” said Zhu Ziliu.

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu looked at each other. They both thought, “He’ll be in a coma for three days and three nights. It means the poison is very severe. Fortunately this Passion Flower poison affects people differently. If one has a passionate heart, the poison will act up very fiercely. This monk has a steady heart. He's much better than an average person.”

Xiao Longnu said, “You two were in the kiln, how did you find Passion Flowers?”

Zhu Ziliu replied, “After we were put in the fire room, there was a girl who often came to visit...”

Xiao Longnu said, “Was she a tall girl with fair complexion and a small mole on one corner of her mouth?” “Yes,” said Zhu Ziliu.

Xiao Longnu smiled at Yang Guo. Then she said to Zhu Ziliu, “That was the Valley Chief’s daughter Miss Lu’E. She heard that you two had come to help Yang Guo so she was fond of you. Although she didn’t dare to release you, she’d get you whatever you wanted.”

Zhu Ziliu said, “Correct. Martial uncle asked her for a branch of the Passion Flowers and I asked her to send my message asking for help. She complied. In the kiln, everyday there would be a time the fires blasted. She would pour water on them to reduce the intensity, making it bearable for us. I often asked her who she was but she never answered. I didn’t know she was the Valley Chief’s daughter.”

“She gave us the directions to come here,” said Xiao Longnu. Yang Guo said, “Great Reverend Yideng is here too.”

Zhu Ziliu was delighted. He said, “Oh, let’s go.”

Yang Guo frowned and said, “Monk Ci’en is also here. I’m afraid there might be a little trouble.”

Zhu Ziliu was puzzled. He said, “Brother Ci’en is also here. How can it not be good? When brother and sister meet, Chief Qiu will have no choice but consider this kinship.”

Even though he became Reverend Yideng’s disciple before Ci’en, in Jianghu Ci’en’s kungfu was actually at the same level as that of Reverend Yideng. And so, Diancang, Yuyin and Zhu Ziliu highly respected him, treating him as ‘Martial Elder Brother.’ Zhu Ziliu had asked Lu’E to send his help message, hoping that Ci’en would come, and the two sides would be reconciled. Now that Yang Guo mentioned trouble, he couldn’t quite understand.

Yang Guo briefly told him about Ci’en’s mental instability and how Qiu Qianchi was trying to stir up his emotions.

Zhu Ziliu said, “Madame Guo is also here in the valley. That’s really the best. Her wisdom is second to none. My master is here to control the situation. Also, Brother Yang’s kungfu has reached this improved stage. There shouldn’t be any problem. I’m only worried about my Martial Uncle.”

Yang Guo also felt that the Indian monk’s safety was the first priority. He said, “We could find a place to stay, and wait for Reverend to regain consciousness. The three of us can protect him.”

Zhu Ziliu hesitated. He asked, “Where should we go?” He pondered for a long time, feeling that this Passionless Valley was dangerous everywhere. Then he figured out and said, “We wait right here.”

Yang Guo was startled but then he understood. With a smile he said, “Uncle Zhu’s idea is wonderful. This place seems bad but it actually is the best place in the valley. We just have to stop those valley disciples from leaking our secret.”

Zhu Ziliu stretched out his finger. With a laugh he said, “That’s easy.”

He picked up the Indian monk and said, “We’ll rest here in the kiln. May I ask Brother Yang and Mrs. to go help my master?”

Yang Guo remembered that Reverend Yideng’s injury had not recovered and that Ci’en had been swaying back and forth between good and evil. If he stayed here to guard the Indian monk, it would be rather selfish and he wouldn’t feel comfortable. Seeing Zhu Ziliu carry the Indian monk back into the kiln, he and Xiao Longnu returned to the path they’d just come from.

The two people passed by the Passion Flower thicket. It was bitter cold at this time. Undoubtedly soon there would be no flowers, and the leaves would fall, leaving only ugly bare branches, full of sharp thorns.

Suddenly Yang Guo thought of Li Mochou. He said, “No doubt this thing called passion is sometimes extremely beautiful but other times extremely ugly. Like your martial sister, spring flowers wither quickly but their thorns can still kill people.”

Xiao Longnu said, “I hope the Divine Monk can find the antidote to this flower poison. Not only will it cure you, my martial sister can also be saved.”

But Yang Guo actually hoped that the Indian monk would regain consciousness and that the Indian monk would first treat the poisons in Xiao Longnu’s body. If he didn’t wake up and just passed away, what then? Looking at his wife, his heart was filled with infinite tender feelings. Suddenly, he was hit by a flash of pain in his chest. He knew that because he’d saved the Cheng-Lu cousins, the poison in his body was even more severe. Afraid that he would worry Xiao Longnu, he turned his head to look at the bare branches, appearing to be happy and not paying attention to life and death matters.

By now there was another scene in the main hall of the Passionless Valley. Qiu Qianchi was urging her brother to act. The more she talked, the more ferocious her words became. Reverend Yideng didn’t say a word, leaving Ci’en to make a decision for himself. Ci’en looked at his sister. He looked at his master. Then he looked at Huang Rong. One was his blood sister. Another was the master who had changed him. And the third caused his brother's death. His mind fluctuated between kindness and hatred. Good and evil were battling. How would he decide? His entire life from childhood to old age flashed in his brain. Sometimes tears glistened in his eyes, other times a smile came to the corners of his mouth. His heart was aflame for this was fiercer than any battle he’d ever fought in.

Lu Wushuang noticed that Yang Guo had left the hall for a long time and still not returned. Ci’en’s state of mind had nothing to do with her whatsoever. She gently tugged at Cheng Ying’s gown sleeve and quietly slipped out of the hall. Cheng Ying followed her out. “Where did Sha Dan (Dumb Egg) go?” Lu Wushuang asked.

Cheng Ying didn’t reply. She only said, “He’s been poisoned and we don’t know how bad his condition is.”

Lu Wushuang said, “Hmm.” She was also worried. In a low-spirited voice, she said, “I really didn’t expect this. He and his master finally...”

Cheng Ying said in the same tone, “Miss Long is really beautiful, and she’s really good. Only such a person can be a match for Big Brother Yang.”

Lu Wushuang said, “How do you know she’s a good person? You haven’t really talked to her.” Suddenly she heard a cold voice from behind, “Her foot is not lame. Naturally she’s good.”

Lu Wushuang drew out her Willow Leaf saber, turning her body around. That voice, of course, came from Guo Fu.

Seeing her unsheathed saber, Guo Fu quickly pulled out a long sword from Yelu Qi’s waist. She returned the angry glare and shouted, “You want to fight me?”

With a merry laugh Lu Wushuang said, “How come you don’t use your own sword?” Her foot had been crippled since childhood, and it was her sore spot. Other people never mentioned this in front of her. Since Guo Fu ridiculed her ‘lame foot,’ she was enraged, and so she sarcastically brought up the broken sword issue.

Guo Fu barked, “I’m going to use someone else’s sword to give you a kungfu lesson.” Having said that, the long sword struck, and the ‘weng-weng’ sounds echoed.

Lu Wushuang said, “How rude. The Guo family's child doesn’t respect her senior. Good, today I’ll teach you the difference between good and bad.”

“Bah, how can you be my senior?” Guo Fu said.

With a laugh Lu Wushuang said, “My cousin is your Martial Uncle. If you won’t call me Gu Gu (paternal aunt) you should call me Ah-yi (maternal aunt). You can ask my cousin!” Then she pointed at Cheng Ying.

By her mother’s order, Guo Fu had to call Cheng Ying ‘Martial Uncle.’ But deep down, she was still not convinced that her strange grandfather had accepted such a person as a disciple. She thought that she and Cheng Ying were about the same age so Cheng Ying’s kungfu shouldn’t be very good. She looked at Lu Wushuang and said, “Who knows if she’s a real or fake disciple? My grandpa is world famous. There are many shameless people pretending to be his disciples.”

Although Cheng Ying’s natural disposition was gentle, hearing this she couldn’t help getting angry. But her whole heart right now was fixed on Yang Guo, and so she had no intention of bickering with people. She said, “Cousin, let’s go… go find Big Brother Yang.”

Lu Wushuang nodded. She turned to Guo Fu and said, “Did you hear that? Did she or did she not call me her cousin? Hero Guo and Chief Huang Rong are world famous. I don’t know how many shameless people pretend to be their daughter!” Then with a ‘hei-hei’ cold laugh, she turned to leave.

Guo Fu was slow. She thought, “Who pretends to be my parents’ daughter?” But then it dawned on her, “Aiyo! She called me a bastard, saying that I’m not my parents’ daughter.” Now that she understood the meaning, how could she bear it? She jumped up and thrust her sword towards Lu Wushuang’s back.

Hearing the sound of Guo Fu's sword cutting through the air, Lu Wushuang turned and blocked the strike with her saber. With a ‘dang’ sound, slight pains shot through their arms.

Guo Fu shouted, “Did you call me a bastard?”

The long sword struck again and again. Lu Wushuang blocked the sword left and right. She sneered, “Hero Guo is a righteous hero. Chief Huang is truly the daughter of the Chief of Peach Blossom Island. Their characters are remarkable...”

Guo Fu said, “Who doesn’t know that? There is no need to praise my parents to please me.” She really thought that Lu Wushuang had sincerely praised her parents, and so her sword slowed down.

But Lu Wushuang continued “You? You cut off Big Brother Yang’s arm. You couldn’t tell right from wrong, hurting a good person. How could such behavior be anything similar to that of the Guo couple? Makes people wonder.”

“Wonder, about what?” Guo Fu asked.

Lu Wushuang darkly said, “You think about it.”

Yelu Qi was standing on the side of the scene. He knew that Guo Fu’s intelligence was far inferior to Lu Wushuang. If this verbal spat went on, Guo Fu wouldn’t be able to stand it. He said, “Miss Guo, let’s not talk to her any more.”

He could see that Guo Fu’s kungfu was more advanced than Lu Wushuang’s. If she couldn’t  win  an argument, she would resort to a real fight. Who would have thought that Guo Fu would be blind with rage and not understand his intention? She said, “Don’t meddle. I’m asking her to explain what she said.”

Lu Wushuang gave Yelu Qi a stare. She said, “A dog that bites visitors will give you trouble in the future.” Yelu Qi blushed, knowing that Lu Wushuang had already figured out his feelings towards Guo Fu. What she meant was that Guo Fu was so irrational that she would give him infinite trouble in the future.

Seeing Yelu Qi blush, Guo Fu was greatly suspicious. She questioned, “You suspect that I’m not my parents’ daughter as well?”

Yelu Qi quickly said, “No, no. Let’s go. Don’t pay attention to her.”

Lu Wushuang butted in, “Naturally, he is suspicious. Otherwise, why does he want you to leave so quickly?”

Guo Fu’s face reddened, and she pressed her hand on the sword.

Yelu Qi could only advise, “Miss Lu’s words are mean and cutting. If you want to test her kungfu, just do it. There’s no need to talk.”

Lu Wushuang said, “He said you’ve got a dumb mouth. Talking too much will only reveal what a fool you are.”

Guo Fu had feelings for Yelu Qi, and so she was worried that he wouldn’t like her. Although other people were talking nonsense, when it involved her loved one, she had to think about it. As she thought about what Lu Wushuang said, she feared that Yelu Qi would really think badly of her. Her parents had doted on her since she was little, and the Wu brothers -- her childhood friends -- had always obeyed her. Except for her occasional quarrels with Yang Guo, she’d never had an argument like this. Today  she  ran  into  a ferocious opponent, who outpaced and outwitted her no  matter  what  she  said.  Realizing  that  talking would result in more damage, she scolded, “If I don’t cripple your other foot today, my name is not Guo.” Having said that, her sword moved like the wind, flying towards Lu Wushuang.

Lu Wushuang said, “No need to cripple my foot. Your real name is not Guo anyway. Maybe your name is Zhang or Li.” Lu Wushuang carried on calling her a ‘bastard.’ While they were exchanging these verbal attacks, the saber and the sword clashed, and the battle became more intense.

The Guo couple had taught their daughter the best of kungfu. Guo Fu was taught all the basics but it was difficult to master the skills in a short period of time. When it came to martial proclivity, Guo Fu had a stronger resemblance to her father and very little in common with her mother. And so, even though her foundation of orthodox kungfu was good, she still needed to refine her skills before she could use any lethal kungfu. Even so, Lu Wushuang wasn’t her match. Besides, her retreat wasn’t very agile because of a crippled foot. Guo Fu was burning with rage and she kept on attacking. Sword lights flashed as she was trying to stab Lu Wushuang’s right leg.

Cheng Ying was watching them fight, her brows creasing with worry. She thought, “Although my cousin’s name-calling isn’t nice, this Guo girl is too rude and too unreasonable. No wonder Yang Guo’s right arm was cut off by her. If they continue to fight, my cousin’s right leg will be difficult to save.”

She saw Lu Wushuang constantly retreating. Suddenly she heard the ‘chi’ sound as Lu Wushuang’s skirt was ripped open. She let out a soft cry, “Aiyo!”

Lu Wushuang stumbled back, her face pale. Guo Fu quickly took a couple of steps forward and brought her sword around in a horizontal swipe, slashing Lu Wushuang’s leg. Seeing that Guo Fu had already won but still kept on attacking and that Lu Wushuang was dangerously cornered, Cheng Ying stepped in gently, using both hands to block Guo Fu.

She said, “Miss Guo, please go light on her.”

Guo Fu lifted her sword. Seeing blood on the blade, she knew that Lu Wushuang had already been injured. She pointed her sword proudly at Lu Wushuang and said, “My lesson today will teach you not to spout nonsense again.”

The sword wound on Lu Wushuang’s leg was aching. She angrily said, “Are you going to use your sword to stop people from talking?” She knew that Guo Fu basked in her parents’ glory, so she pretended to say that Guo Fu was not Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s daughter.

Guo Fu shouted, “What did they say?” She moved forward a step, with the tip of her sword straight towards Lu Wushuang’s chest.

Cheng Ying stepped in between them. Seeing the long sword arrive, she used three fingers to hold the blade and gently pushed it aside. She persuaded, “Cousin, Miss Guo, we are in the middle of danger here. Let’s stop this senseless fight.”

Her sword was brushed aside by Cheng Ying’s bare hand. Guo Fu was half-startled and half-angry. She shouted, “Are you helping her? Good, good, good. Even two on one, I’m not afraid. Draw out your weapon!” After she said that, she pointed her long sword at Cheng Ying’s waist preparing to thrust. She waited calmly for her to pull out the jade flute from her waist.

With a faint smile Cheng Ying said, “I just asked you two not to fight, how can I fight you myself? Brother Yelu, please come and talk to Miss Guo.”

“Yes. Miss Guo, we are in the enemy territory. We’ve got to be careful everywhere we go.” Yelu Qi said.

Guo Fu quickly said, “Good. You don’t help me. Instead, you help an outsider.” Seeing that Cheng Ying was a girl of beauty and grace, she suddenly thought to herself, “Is he interested in her?”

Yelu Qi had no clue what she was thinking. He continued, “That monk Ci’en looked quite strange. Let’s go back to the hall and watch him.”

Lu Wushuang heard Guo Fu’s words and saw the look on her face. She understood what Guo Fu was worried about. She said, “Compared to you, my cousin is prettier. Her behavior is gentler. And she had better kungfu. You’ve got to be very, very careful.”

These four sentences pierced Guo Fu’s heart. Nervously she asked, “Careful about what?”

Lu Wushuang sneered, “Even if I were an idiot, I would still prefer my cousin. You are rude and vicious, what’s so good about you?”

These words were so obvious, how could Guo Fu stand them? Her long sword flew out, swerving around Cheng Ying and flying towards Lu Wushuang.

This move of hers was called the ‘Jade Stance Guiding Silver Arrow,’ which was one of Huang Rong’s family techniques. The blade was swung in an arc and would strike the side of the target. The move appeared to be without haste but the damage zone was wide. Only one with higher sword skills would be able to block such a blow; otherwise, it was extremely difficult to escape.

Cheng Ying frowned. She thought to herself, “Why is this girl using her fiercest stance? My cousin only offends you with words. She isn't your most hateful enemy. Why are you acting like you mean to kill a murderer?”

Fortunately, Huang Yaoshi had earlier taught her this sword stance. And so, she sent energy to her fingers, waiting for Guo Fu’s sword swing. Then with a clang, the long sword shot to the ground.

The technique Cheng Ying had just used was called ‘Divine Flicking Finger.’ But it came out strong only because Cheng Ying had understood Guo Fu’s technique and waited to strike when the power in Guo Fu’s sword dropped. Otherwise, since the two people’s martial skills were about the same level, Cheng Ying wouldn’t have been able to disarm Guo Fu with her fingers. Cheng Ying used her left foot to step on the long sword and the jade flute in her hand pointed at Guo Fu’s pressure point on her waist.

In a flash Cheng Ying had knocked Guo Fu’s sword out of her hand, stepped on it, and threatened Guo Fu’s pressure point. Guo Fu was in an extremely awkward situation. If she bent down to snatch the sword, the pressure point on her waist would be exposed. But if she jumped backwards, her long sword would of course be taken. Although her kungfu was not weak, she lacked battle experiences. At the moment, she was blushing profusely, not knowing what to do.

Yelu Qi shouted, “Hey, girl. Why did you step on my weapon?”

Then he leaned forward to grab the jade flute. Cheng Ying retracted her arm, and then she turned around to leave, pulling Lu Wushuang along with her.

Guo Fu snatched the long sword back. She called out, “Slow down, let’s see who the better person is.” Lu Wushuang turned her head back and said, “Still want to...”

Cheng Ying grabbed her arm, dragging her cousin along. The two people were already twenty or thirty feet away from them, and so Lu Wushuang didn’t get to finish her sentence.

Yelu Qi said, “Miss Guo, she was just lucky with that move. Actually, the two of you are equals.”

Guo Fu bitterly said, “Right. I was swinging my sword in an arc. Before I could hit her, she took advantage of the moment the strength on my sword was void. I didn’t expect someone who looked quite refined to be sly like that.”

“Hmm.” Yelu Qi made a sound. He was a straight person. Not wanting to falsely flatter her, he said, “Miss Cheng’s kungfu isn’t weak. If you fight with her another time, you can’t underestimate her as an opponent.” Hearing him commend Cheng Ying, Guo Fu frowned darkly. She couldn’t bear it and so she said, “Did you say her kungfu was good?”

Yelu Qi replied, “Yes.”

Guo Fu angrily said, “Then don’t mind me. Just go, be with her.” As she said that she turned around.

Yelu Qi said, “I advised you not to underestimate the opponent. I asked you to be careful. Am I helping you, or am I helping her?” Now that Yelu Qi had explained that he wanted her to protect herself, Guo Fu couldn’t help but smile.

Yelu Qi continued, “Didn’t I help you get the sword back? Why are you still blaming me?”

Guo Fu turned her head back and said, “I’m not. I’m not. I’m not blaming you!” A happy smile filled her face. Yelu Qi was delighted but suddenly he heard repeated roars from inside the hall, accompanied by the interminable sounds of metal clanking.

Guo Fu cried out, “Aiyo, let’s go quickly and take a look.”

Originally, while listening to Qiu Qianchi ramble on about decades-ago events she did not realizing that a crisis was looming, the more she listened, the more annoyed she became. So she slipped out of the hall and ran into the Cheng-Lu cousins and fought with them. Now that she heard the strange sounds, her thoughts were on her mother. She rushed back into the hall.

In the middle of the hall Reverend Yideng sat cross-legged, holding a string of Buddhist rosary beads in his hands and reciting Buddhist sutras. He had a gentle look on his face. Monk Ci’en paced back and forth in the hall and often let out a roar, which sounded incredibly wicked. His hands were shackled, but the chain that linked the two cuffs had already been broken. When the two parts struck against each other, a clanking sound echoed in the hall. Qiu Qianchi also sat in the hall, her complexion pale. She was already ugly but at this time she looked fearsome. Huang Rong and Wu Santong were standing in a corner of the hall, intensely watching Ci’en.

Ci’en had been pacing around in a fit of insanity, and beads of sweat dripped profusely from his forehead. White steam emitted from the top of his head, looking like  white  clouds.  These  clouds  were  growing denser. And the more he paced, the faster he became. Reverend Yideng suddenly used his inner energy to shout, “Ci’en, Ci’en, distinguish between good and evil. Have you meditated today?”

Ci’en turned dull, his body swaying. He threw himself on the floor. Qiu Qianchi shouted, “E’er, quickly go help your uncle up.”

Gongsun Lu’E did as told. Ci’en opened his eyes and saw Lu’E’s face. In his daze, Lu’E’s beautiful face, with long eyebrows and thin lips, looked very much like his sister when she was young. He cried out, “Third sister, where am I?”

Lu’E said, “Uncle, I’m Lu’E.”

Ci’en muttered, “Uncle… who is your uncle? Who are you talking about?”

Qiu Qianchi shouted, “Second brother, she’s your third sister’s daughter. She wanted to meet her first uncle.”

Ci’en was startled. He said, “My big brother? You can’t meet him. He’s already fallen to death from the Iron Palms summit. His body was all gone.” Then he jumped up. He looked at Huang Rong and shouted, “Huang Rong, you killed my big brother, you’ll pay for it!”

Arriving back in the hall, Guo Fu had stayed by her mother’s side, carrying her younger sister in her arms. Now that she saw Ci’en pointing his finger at her mother and scolding her, she couldn’t stand it. And so, she stepped forward and said, “Monk, if you are rude again, this young girl won’t stand for it.”

Qiu Qianchi sneered, “This young girl is fearless...” Ci’en asked, “Who are you?”

“Hero Guo is my father and Chief Huang is my mother,” replied Guo Fu. Ci’en asked, “And the baby you are holding?”

Guo Fu said, “She’s my little sister.”

In a severe tone Ci’en said, “Humph, surprisingly Guo Jing and Huang Rong have two children.” Hearing a strange tone in his voice, Huang Rong shouted, “Fu’er, get back here, quickly!”

Guo Fu saw that Ci’en was acting like a madman. After all this talking, he still hadn’t begun fighting. She thought he was afraid of her mother so she didn’t fear him. Instead, she moved a couple of steps forward. With a laugh she said, “If there’s revenge to extract, just get on with it. If not, don’t open your mouth!”

Ci’en shouted, “I will extract my revenge!”

His voice ripped through the air like a clap of thunder, and all the teacups were making ‘dang-dang’ rattling sounds. Guo Fu couldn’t move her hands and feet. She only saw his left and right hands coming at her with the force of a mountain being cast into the sea. She wanted to escape, but how could there be enough time?

As if by prior arrangement, Huang Rong, Wu Santong, and Yelu Qi jumped up into the air at the same time. The three people all noticed that even though Ci’en’s right hand was fierce, his left palm was far more lethal. So they all aimed at his left palm, and the four palms clashed with a ‘peng’ sound.

Ci’en let out a ‘hei’ sound and stood still but the three people fell back several steps. With the lowest skills, Yelu Qi was knocked back the furthest, and next to him was Huang Rong. Before she could steady herself, she saw that her daughter Guo Xiang had already been snatched by Ci’en. Guo Fu just stood there dumbly too frightened to escape.

Huang Rong was alarmed. She thought, “Was Fu’er hurt by that palm strike?” Immediately she jumped up and out, her left hand pulling Guo Fu back. She wielded the “Dog Beating Stick” with her right hand, using the ‘seal’ trick. Although Ci’en’s palms were fierce, he couldn’t hurt  her  this  time.  Guo  Fu  was actually not injured but she was confused. Now that she leaned against her mother’s body, she could let out an ‘ah’ cry.

As the battle began, the Wu brothers, Yelu Yan, and Wanyan Ping unsheathed their weapons. Qiu Qianchi signaled the many valley disciples to scatter, waiting for her order to besiege them. Only Reverend Yideng was still sitting cross-legged in the center of the hall as if he didn’t see all these things. He was reciting Buddhist sutras. His voice was not loud, but very clear.

Ci’en lifted Guo Xiang. He shouted, “This is Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s daughter. I'll kill this girl first, and then I’ll kill Huang Rong!”

Qiu Qianchi said in delight, “Good second brother! You are really the world-famous “Iron Palms Floating on Water”, Chief Qiu!”

In this situation, Huang Rong and the others couldn’t defeat Ci’en in battle without anybody getting hurt; they didn’t even have a way to save the baby from this mad man.

In a loud voice Guo Fu suddenly shouted, “Yang Guo, big brother Yang, quickly come and save my little sister.”

When facing a disaster, Yang Guo had always come out of nowhere to save her. Seeing that nobody could do anything at this time, she naturally hoped that Yang Guo would come to her rescue again. But at the moment Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu were enjoying their time together. The two people walked slowly hand in hand, watching the sunset. How could they know about this urgent situation in the hall?

Ci’en used his right hand to hold Guo Xiang high above his head and brought his left palm on guard.

He sneered, “Yang Guo? Who’s Yang Guo? Now even if East Heretic, West Venom, South Emperor, North Beggar, and Central Divinity all came at once, they could only kill me, Qiu Qianren, but they wouldn’t be able to save this baby.”

Yideng slowly lifted his head and saw blood lust and murderous intent in Ci'en's eyes. He said, “You want to seek revenge on people, people will then come and take revenge on you. What good can come of it?”

Ci’en shouted, “If they dare, come!” Now dusk had begun to fall, and the evening light entered the hall. Despair showed in everyone’s eyes, while his face looked absolutely terrifying.

Suddenly Huang Rong let out a ‘ha-ha’ laugh, her voice alternating between high and low pitches, like a lunatic. The people couldn’t help being frightened.

Guo Fu cried out “Ma!”

Wu Santong and Yelu Qi called out in one voice “Madame Guo!” Their hearts were thumping wildly, thinking that she’d gone insane because the enemy had her daughter. She tossed her “Dog Beating Stick” to the floor, moving a couple of steps forward. Her laugh sounded mournful and shrill.

“Ma!” Guo Fu called out and tried to grab her arm. Huang Rong brushed Guo Fu aside with her right hand and jumped towards Ci’en with a miserable cry.

Even Qiu Qianchi hadn’t expected this. She stared at Huang Rong in disbelief.

Huang Rong stretched out both hands and gave Ci’en an evil stare. She cried out, “Quickly kill this child. Hit her hard. You can’t spare her.”

Color left Ci’en’s face. He held Guo Xiang close to his chest and said, “You... you... who are you?”

Huang Rong laughed crazily, her arms flinging out. Although Ci’en’s left palm was on guard, he didn’t dare to strike. He sidestepped and asked again, “Who are you?”

Huang Rong sadly replied, “Have you completely forgotten? One evening in the Dali Imperial Palace, you held a small child like this in your hand. Right, it was... it was.. You injured him badly and he eventually died. I am this child’s mother. Kill this child quickly. Kill this child quickly. What are you waiting for?”

Ci’en listened to her, and his whole body trembled. Events of decades-ago flashed in his mind.

Years ago, he’d injured Dali Imperial Concubine Liu's child, hoping that the South Emperor would use years of cultivated inner energy to treat the child’s injury. But Emperor Duan had been cruel enough to let the child meet a violent death. Afterwards Concubine Liu and Ci’en had run into each other twice and she fought like a mad tiger, willing to die together with him. Although Ci’en's kungfu was superior, he actually didn’t dare to fight her; instead he fled into the wasteland. Huang Rong had twice met Yinggu, on the Black Dragon beach and at the top of Mount Hua and seen her insane smile. She’d known that this was Ci’en’s biggest worry. And so, seeing Ci’en holding Guo Xiang in his arms but unable to harm her, she’d told him to kill Guo Xiang. Wu Santong, Qiu Qianchi, Yelu Qi and the others all thought that she’d gone totally insane. Only Reverend Yideng secretly admired Huang Rong for her great wisdom and courage. He thought to himself that a strong man wouldn’t have the gall to come up with such a scheme and say “Kill the child quickly.” When Ci’en was frighteningly violent like this, if he hit Guo Xiang even lightly, how could she not die a sudden death?

Ci’en looked at Huang Rong and Yideng. Then his eyes turned to the child in his hand. A surge of pain and regret suddenly hit him, and he sobbed, “He was dead! He was dead! The child was alive and well, and I killed him.”

He stepped towards Huang Rong and handed Guo Xiang to her. He said, “I killed this small baby. Please beat me to death!”

Overjoyed, Huang Rong reached out to take Guo Xiang. But  then  Yideng  shouted,  “Revenge  breeds revenge; when will it stop? Your hand holds a murderous blade. When will you throw it away?”

Ci’en was startled, and Guo Xiang fell from his hand.

Huang Rong didn’t wait for Guo Xiang to fall to the floor, her right foot flew out. She kicked the child, sending her out in the air. At the same time, she laughed crazily and said, “You killed the child. Good. Good. This is wonderful.”

Her kick looked as if it was fierce but when her foot touched Guo Xiang’s waist, it actually stopped her from falling and gently sent her out again into the air. She knew that this was an extremely critical moment. If she bent down to pick up her daughter, perhaps Ci’en would change his mind.

Guo Xiang flew through the air towards Yelu Qi. He caught her and saw that her black eyes were sparkling, and that her little mouth was about to let out a big cry. She was indeed unharmed. He was first startled and then understood that Huang Rong, knowing that Guo Fu was rash, sent him her daughter. So, he covered the child’s mouth with his palm and shouted, “Aiyo, the child was killed by the monk.”

Ci’en’s face was deathly pale. All of a sudden he was awakened. He put his hands together and bowed to Yideng. He said, “Great monk, many thanks for saving me!”

Yideng bowed back and said, “Congratulations, great monk. You’ve found the right path!” The two monks exchanged a smile. Ci’en ran out.

Qiu Qianchi quickly called out, “Second Brother, Second Brother, you come back!”

Ci’en turned his head back and said, “You call me to come back; I’m now asking you to come back too.” Having said that his gown sleeves flared out, and he floated out of the hall.

With a joyful expression on his face Yideng said, “Good, good, good!” Then he retreated to a corner of the hall. He lowered his head, his eyebrows drooping, and said no more.

Huang Rong fixed her hair and got Guo Xiang back from Yelu Qi. Seeing that her mother was normal and her little sister was all right, Guo Fu was pleasantly surprised. She threw herself into her mother’s arms and said, “Ma, I thought you really went insane!”

Huang Rong walked over to Yideng and kowtowed. She said, “I (niece) had no other way but to mention that past affair. Reverend, please forgive me.”

With a faint smile Yideng replied, “Rong’er, Rong’er, you are really the female Zhuge!”

In the hall, Wu Santong was the only person who knew about the past events. Others were looking perplexed at one another.

After this unexpected turn of events, Qiu Qianchi saw her brother going out the screened door. She thought about how she wouldn’t see him again and couldn’t help becoming heavy-hearted. His words “You call me to come back, I’m now asking to you come back too” sounded like advice, urging her to control herself, repent and be salvaged. She secretly felt a pang of regret but her regret disappeared in a flash. All of a sudden, she proudly said, “Everybody, please wait here, I’m afraid this old woman can’t keep you company.”

Huang Rong said, “Hold on a minute! We’ve come here today to ask for the Passionless Pill...”

Qiu Qianchi nodded at her numerous disciples and they all responded with a war cry. Each entrance was blocked by four disciples in green, with an adorned fishnet in their hands. Four maids lifted Qiu Qianchi’s chair and retreated to the inner hall.

Seeing the power of the fishnets, Huang Rong, Wu Santong, Yelu Qi, and the others were secretly alarmed. They thought, “These fishnets are deadly, how can we break out of the trap?”

While they were hesitating, both the front door and the back door of the hall were being pulled shut, and the disciples in green all squeezed out. The Wu Brothers struck one of the doors with their swords. With a ‘peng’ sound, their double swords were caught in the crack of  the  door  and  immediately  snapped.  It seemed that these doors were cast from metal after all.

In a low voice Huang Rong said, “No need to be frightened! Even if we aren’t allowed to leave the hall, we can still think of a way to defeat those fishnets and get the antidote to help Yang Guo.”

Gongsun Lu’E followed her mother into the inner hall. She asked, “Ma, what should we do?”

Seeing that her brother had abruptly departed and that skilled enemies were gathering, Qiu Qianchi knew she had a big problem. But the murderer of her brother had arrived; no matter who tried to persuade her, she would never yield. With a slight hesitation she said, “Go take a look. What are Yang Guo and those three girls doing?” This was actually what Lu’E had wanted to do. She nodded in compliance and left for the kiln.

As she was halfway to the kiln, she heard voices ahead of her. It was Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu talking. It seemed that they said something about 'Miss Gongsun.' By this time, the sky had become totally dark, and Lu’E hid herself in a willow grove nearby. She thought, “What are they talking about?”

She gingerly stepped forward, approaching them without making a sound. She saw Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu standing side by side.

Yang Guo said, “You said these matters revolved around Miss Gongsun. That’s absolutely right. If the Divine Monk wakes up, all past animosity is buried, and all the poisons are expelled, won't that be wonderful? Aiyo!”

Lu’E jumped as Yang Guo let out a sudden cry, not knowing what had just happened to him. She was worried and couldn’t help poking her head out to look around. In the darkness, she saw Yang Guo fall to the ground.

Xiao Longnu hoarsely said, “The Passion Flower poison is acting up again?” “Mmm…aah…” Yang Guo could only let out a groan.

This pain was very difficult to endure. Lu’E pitied him and thought to herself, “He’s already taken half of the Passionless pill. He needs the other half to get rid of the poisons, and he can only get this other half from mother.”

After a while, Yang Guo got up and let out a long gasp.

Xiao Longnu said, “Your seizures are getting more and more frequent, and every time more severe than the last one. The Divine Monk still has to regain consciousness before he can find the antidote. Even then, there may not necessarily... there may not necessarily... You must be in a lot of pain.” She’d wanted to say “there may not necessarily be enough time” but she changed her last sentence. With a bitter smile Yang Guo said, “This old Madame Gongsun is extremely stubborn. She’s hidden the antidote. Unless she wants to give it to me herself, even if we kill everybody in the valley and hold a knife against her neck, she still won’t give it up.”

“But I actually have a method,” said Xiao Longnu.

Yang Guo could guess what she was thinking and so he said, “Long’er, don’t say it. We…husband and wife, sincerely love each other. If we can grow old together, naturally we’ll thank heaven and earth. If something bad happens, its fate. No third person may come between the two of us.”

Xiao Longnu sobbed, “That Gongsun girl... She looks like a very good person. She will listen to me.”

Lu’E’s heart shook, understanding that Xiao Longnu was urging Yang Guo to marry her to save his own life. But then she heard Yang Guo’s reply.

In a resonant voice he said, “Miss Gongsun is a naturally good person. There are really quite a few good girls, aren’t there? Miss Cheng Ying and Miss Lu Wushuang were also the kind of girls who love deeply. But your heart and mine are one, how can we let other people intervene? You think, if there was a man who could get rid of the poisons in your body and he wanted you to give up your body, would you or would you not agree to it?”

“I’m a female. That would be unthinkable,” replied Xiao Longnu.

With a chuckle Yang Guo said, “To others, men are superior to women. To Yang Guo, it’s the other way around...” As he was saying this, he suddenly heard a sound coming from a dense thicket. Yang Guo asked, “Who is it?”

Lu’E thought she’d been spotted and was about to reply. Suddenly she heard a female voice, “Dumb egg, it’s me!”

Then she saw Lu Wushuang and Cheng Ying step out from behind a thicket. And so, she used  this opportunity to move back quietly. Her mind was in turmoil.

She thought, “Aside from comparing myself to Miss Long, look at Miss  Cheng  and  Miss  Lu's  beauty, kungfu, and past friendship with Yang Guo, how can I ever match them?”

When she met Yang Guo, she couldn’t help falling in love with him. She’d known that he was serious about Xiao Longnu but, deep in her heart, she still hoped that he could take two wives. Now that she’d heard his words, she realized that all her hopes were in vain. She’d been sad since she was little but today she was completely disheartened. She made up her mind that she no longer wanted to live, and then she walked away westward. Low-spirited, she walked aimlessly. She didn’t know where she was. There was only a voice in her head, “I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to live anymore.”

She didn’t know how long she’d been walking when, suddenly, she heard voices coming from behind some mountain rocks. She pulled herself together feeling slightly startled. She’d been wandering about aimlessly, and to her own surprise she’d arrived on the west side of the valley where very few people frequented. She looked up and saw a mountain peak rising towards the sky. This was the most dangerous zone of the Passionless Peak.

On this mountain ledge, she could see the three letters ‘Broken Heart Cliff’ that someone had carved on the cliff ages ago, and twenty or thirty feet in front of her was a slippery and barren ledge where not even a blade of grass was seen. The place was enveloped by a blanket of fog all year long, and the wind here was so violent that even a bird would find it difficult to perch on this cliff top. Beyond and below was an abyss of shadows that no one could see the bottom of. The area surrounding the ‘Broken Heart Cliff’ was quiet and beautiful because the terrain was so rugged and dangerous. Slippery rocks made it very easy to fall into the abyss below. The valley dwellers stayed clear of this area, and even those disciples in green with their kungfu wouldn’t dare to come here. This being the case, she didn’t know whose voices she was hearing.

Originally Gongsun Lu’E was resigned to die but at this moment she became curious. She hid herself behind a rock pile and listened. Her heart jumped as she learned that it was her father talking. Although her father had wronged her mother and had been ruthless with her, she was still his daughter. She'd been worried about him since her mother blinded one of his eyes with a date stone and banished him from the Passionless Valley. Hearing the familiar voice, she now knew that he hadn’t left the valley. Instead, he'd come to this remote place to hide. She was secretly happy.

Then she heard him talk, “You’ve been beaten black and blue, and I actually lost my eye. It's all because of that small thief Yang Guo. Not only do we have a common enemy, we share the same problem.” After saying that he smiled, but the other person didn’t reply. Lu’E felt this was quite strange. Who was her father talking to? His tone was faintly frivolous, was that person a female? Then Gongsun Zhi continued, “We ran into each other at this rarely-frequented place. We were thousands of li apart, yet we met as if by predestination. It must be fate.”

That female let out a ‘pei’ sound in contempt. She angrily said,  “I’ve  been  thoroughly  injured  by  the Passion Flowers. Yet, you made light of it and mock me with such laughable nonsense.”

Lu’E thought to herself, “Oh, it’s Li Mochou who just broke into the valley today.”

Then she heard Gongsun Zhi quickly say, “No, no. Why would I make light of it? Naturally I will do all I can. Your body is in pain, so is my heart.”

The person Gongsun Zhi was talking to was of course Li Mochou. Her whole body was pricked by the Passion Flowers, and so the poison in her body was not small. Luckily she was filled with anger and hatred towards heaven and earth, not the sentiments between man and woman, and so her body wasn’t in that much pain. But she knew that the poison was deadly. While urgently searching for the antidote, she wandered about aimlessly on the crisscrossing paths inside the valley and unexpectedly arrived at this Broken Heart Cliff. Gongsun Zhi had actually been here for a long time, hiding from all the valley people and waiting for the right moment to kill Qiu Qianchi and reclaim his Valley Chief position.

The two of them had once fought so they both knew each other’s skills. After they met, they thought, “I’m having trouble in this valley, I could use some help.” By this short exchange of words, they were actually trying to strike a bargain.

Since the death of his beloved Rou’er years ago, Gongsun Zhi had  been  concentrating  on  his  kungfu practice and ignoring beautiful females. But then he failed to marry Xiao Longnu. His long-suppressed lust gushed out like a broken dam, out of control. With his status, his attempt to abduct Wanyan Ping was considered extremely low in Jianghu. Now that he’d run into Li Mochou and saw her beauty, he thought, “After I kill that evil woman Qiu Qianchi, I’d better marry this woman. With her kungfu, she’s exactly my match.”

What he didn’t know was that Li Mochou was extremely vicious and without mercy and that the cause of her evil was none other than this ‘passion.’ At the moment, Gongsun Zhi’s words had become bolder and bolder, how could she not be enraged? But she wanted the antidote, so she had no choice but to feign interest, offering a perfunctory reply.

Gongsun Zhi said, “I’m the original chief of the valley. There’s no second person in the world who knows how to make the antidote to this flower poison. But the manufacturing process is time-consuming, and you won’t have enough time for that. Luckily, there’s one pill left in the valley, in that evil woman’s hand. Let us go get rid of her, then everything will be yours.”

His last sentence had a double meaning. It actually meant that not only would she get the antidote, she would also become the mistress of the Passionless Valley. That Gongsun Zhi was the only person in the world who knew how to make the antidote was not a lie. Passion Flowers had grown in this valley for a long time, and Gongsun Zhi’s ancestors had taken many lives, experimenting to get the right antidote. These passionless flowers stopped outsiders from entering the valley so of course they didn’t get rid of them. Anyhow, the antidote formula was only handed down from father to son so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of other people.

Even Qiu Qianchi only knew that the pills they had were left by the previous generation and that the antidote formula had already been lost. But what Gongsun Zhi actually didn't know was that Qiu Qianchi only had half a pill left.

Li Mochou hesitated and said, “Since it is so, aren’t you making an empty promise? Your wife has the antidote but you and she have become enemies. Even though killing her isn’t that hard, how will you actually get the antidote?”

Gongsun Zhi hesitated to reply. After a while he said, “Taoist Li, you and I have met by fate. Even if I die I have no regrets.”

Li Mochou blandly said, “You flatter me.”

Gongsun Zhi said, “I’ve got a plan. I can capture that evil person and force her to give up the pill. But I hope you can promise me one thing.”

Li Mochou said in agitation, “I’ve roamed Jianghu all my life. I come and go as I please and no one can ever force me to do anything. If you are willing to give me the antidote, do it. If not, just drop it. How can it be that I, Li Mochou, would ever beg for my life?”

Although Gongsun Zhi’s kungfu was strong, he’d been secluded in the valley his entire life. As a result, he didn’t know about Jianghu’s most ferocious characters. He only knew a little about decades-ago names that Qiu Qianchi had mentioned. Over the past ten years, the name Scarlet Serpent Deity Li Mochou had shaken Jianghu, and there was no one in the martial world who didn’t know that. Although Li Mochou did look like a peach, her heart was that of a serpent. Gongsun Zhi actually didn’t know any of this. As he heard her arrogant words, he was very pleased.

He quickly said, “You misunderstood my meaning. I only hoped you would do something for me. How could it be that I was forcing you? To snatch the antidote, we have to kill my daughter. If I said something inappropriate, please don’t be offended.” Gongsun Lu’E was hiding behind a big rock. Hearing ‘we have to kill my daughter,’ she couldn’t help but tremble.

Li Mochou was also taken aback. “The antidote is in your daughter’s hands?”

“No,” replied Gongsun Zhi. “I’ll tell you the truth! That evil woman is excessively stubborn and violent. The antidote must be hidden in an extremely concealed place and we cannot possibly force her to hand it over. We can only resort to trickery, it’s the only way.”

“That sounds correct,” said Li Mochou, nodding in agreement.

“That wretch is heartless to everyone and there are no limits to her viciousness. However she does care for her daughter and her alone. We can use this to our advantage. I’ll trick Lu’E so you can capture her and toss her into the flower thickets, then that evil woman will have no choice but to retrieve the Passionless Pill to save her daughter. We’ll seize this opportunity to snatch it – there’s no reason why we’ll fail. It’s a pity there’s only one Passionless Pill in the world, and since it’s going to you, my daughter’s life cannot be saved.”

“We don’t actually have to use real Passion Flowers to prick your daughter. We just need to put on an act and make her seem like she’s poisoned – this way, we get the pill and your daughter stays safe.”

Gongsun Zhi sighed. “That wretch is extremely shrewd. If my daughter was merely poisoned by something else, it will not go unnoticed.” His voice became constrained towards the end and he choked, as if he was really becoming emotional.

Li Mochou said, “How can I let your daughter be harmed in exchange for my life? It seems also that you are reluctant to part with her. Let’s drop this matter.”

Gongsun Zhi said hurriedly; “No…no! Although I hate to part with her, it would be worse to part with you.”

Li Mochou remained silent, admitting as much that there really was no other way.

“Let’s wait here,” said Gongsun Zhi. “I’ll call her out when it’s past midnight. Clever she might be, but she would never guess that her father has got something up his sleeve.”

Gongsun Lu’E heard every sentence that had just transpired between the two, and the more she dwelled on it the more she was afraid. When Gongsun Zhi dropped her and Yang Guo into the alligator pit that day, she knew her father cared naught of their father-daughter relationship. But that day’s events could be explained as a rash fit of anger. This day, he had actually plotted and schemed to end his daughter’s life in order to please a woman he had just met. His heartlessness and cruelty truly exceeded that of the most savage beasts.

Gongsun Lu’E had originally lost her will to live, but when she heard them plotting her murder, she instinctively wanted to try and escape. It was a good thing that the area had plenty of hills and dense forests, making hiding places aplenty. And so she  lightly took  one  step  back, and  after a  few  moments, took another step back. In this manner, she retreated tens of feet before finally turning around to flee.

After an hour’s journey, she was far from Passionless Valley. Knowing her father would come for her soon, she didn’t even dare to return to her bedroom. She sat perched on a rock, desolate. The cold wind pierced her flesh and the pale moon shone mercilessly down. There was nothing left in this world that she longed for, and she mumbled to herself, “I didn’t want to go on living anyway. Why did you still devise this plot to kill me, father? If you want to kill me, come along and kill me. It’s very strange, why did I escape?”

Suddenly, a notion struck her like a bolt of lightning: Father is vicious, but his scheme is brilliant. Since I’m going to commit suicide anyway, I might as well use his scheme to trick the Pill from mother and save Brother Yang. Then you, husband and wife, will have me to thank for your reunion – me, the ill-fated girl who cared for him with all her heart. At this thought, her heart was filled with a mixture of gladness and sorrow, but nevertheless she found her energy once again. She glanced at her surroundings to ascertain her location. Then, she rose and walked towards her mother’s bedroom.

When she passed by the Passionless Flowers, she severed two flower stalks. Holding them in her hands, she walked to her mother’s bedroom door and called in a low voice, “Mother, are you asleep?”

Qiu Qianchi answered from her room, “E’er, what is it?” Lu’E cried, “Mother, mother! I’ve been pricked by the Passion Flowers.” As she spoke, she embraced the flower stalks and pushed down forcefully onto her chest.

The hundreds and thousands of little thorns sank into her flesh all at once. Since her childhood she had been repeatedly warned against getting pricked by the flowers. Because she did not have the capacity for such risks then, she suffered no serious injury despite being pricked occasionally. But as she grew up, the warnings from people around her became sterner. After more than 10 years of cautiously avoiding this object – to think that now, she was actually pricking herself on purpose! The pain in her heart grew a level deeper and she grits her teeth, calling again and again, “Mother!”

Shocked to hear that something was wrong with her, Qiu Qianchi anxiously ordered the maidservants to open the door and help Lu’E inside. Lu’E exclaimed, “I have the Passion Flower thorns in my body, you can’t come near me.” The color drained from the two maidservants’ faces and they opened the room door wide, allowing Lu’E to walk in herself. How would they dare to touch her body?

Upon seeing her daughter’s shivering body with a face as pale as death, and with two Passion Flower stalks hanging from her chest, Qiu Qianchi asked hurriedly, “What happened to you? What happened?”

Lu’E cried, “Its father…Its father!” Afraid of her mother’s suffocating gaze, she lowered her head, not daring to make eye contact.

Qiu Qianchi said furiously, “And you still call him ‘father’? What did that old thief do?” “He… he…”

“Lift up your head and let me see you.”

Lu’E obeyed and met her mother’s frightening eyes. She shivered and said, “He… he was speaking secretively with the pretty Taoist priestess on Duan Chang Cliff… the priestess that came to the Valley today. I hid behind a rock to hear what they were saying…” Up till now, Lu’E had been speaking the truth. But after this point she would have to spin a lie, and afraid her mother would notice something unusual, she lowered her head.

Qiu Qianchi pressed, “What did the two of them say?”

Lu’E said, “They spoke of being together in illness,  and  something  about  being  extraordinarily  fated. They… they kept calling you ‘wretch’ and ‘evil woman’, and I couldn’t stomach it…” At this, she started weeping.

Grinding her teeth, Qiu Qianchi said, “Don’t cry...don’t cry! What happened next?”

“I accidentally moved from my position, and they realized my presence. That priestess… that priestess then pushed me into the flower thickets.”

Sensing hesitation in her tone, Qiu Qianchi said, “No, you’re  lying!  What  really  happened?  Don’t  even think of hiding it from me.”

Lu’E broke out in cold sweat. “I didn’t lie to you, this… aren’t these Passion Flowers?”

“There was something wrong with your intonation,” said Qiu Qianchi. “You have  been  like  this  since young, unable to tell lies of any sort. How would I, as your mother, not know this?”

An idea came to Lu’E and she said, “Mother, I was lying, it was actually father who pushed me into the thickets. He was angry at me for following you and helping you, saying that I only wanted mother and not father. He… he was trying his utmost to please that pretty Taoist priestess.”

Qiu Qianchi hated her husband to the core and Lu’E’s words struck precisely at her heart’s threshold, suiting her perfectly. Immediately she had no further doubts and took Lu’E’s lies to be true. She hurriedly held her daughter’s hand and said gently, “Lu’E, don’t be afraid, your mother will deal with that old thief. There was always going to be a time where we finally vented this hatred in our hearts.” She then ordered the maidservants to bring her a pair of scissors and tweezers. First she removed the stalks from Lu’E’s chest, and then used the tweezers to extract the broken thorns.

Choking with grief, Lu’E said, “Mother, I don’t think I’ll survive this time round.”

“Don’t worry, we still have one half of the Passionless Pill,” said Qiu Qianchi. “Luckily we didn’t waste it on that heartless scoundrel Yang Guo. After taking the half Pill, you still won’t be totally rid of the poison but if you be good and stay by mother, completely ignoring all worthless men, or even completely shutting them out from your thoughts, then you’ll definitely be safe.” Qiu Qianchi had bitterly endured her husband’s torture, and then Yang Guo refused to become her son-in-law. She hated all the world’s men with a vengeance, and there would be nothing better than if her daughter remained unmarried all her life. Lu’E frowned in silence. Qiu Qianchi asked, “Where’s that old thief and the Taoist priestess? Where are they?”

Lu’E replied, “I struggled up from the flower thickets and didn’t dare look back. They’re probably still there.”

Qiu Qianchi thought to herself: “Now that the old thief has found a powerful helper, he will definitely return to claim back the Valley. The disciples here are all probably his followers. In a confrontation, they would undoubtedly help the old thief. Either that or they will just sit on the fence, not helping any side, but they will definitely not oppose him. All my limbs are crippled and I can only use my date stone skill. If fired at an unprepared opponent, its power is extremely great. But that old thief will be on his guard and I will probably not be able to withstand his attacks. If he uses the tablet to attack, then I will be left with no devices. What, then, should I do?” Qiu Qianchi’s eyes flickered as she remained silent, deep in thought.

Thinking that her mother was now deliberating if her words were truth or fallacy, she was terrified that more questions would be asked and the truth exposed, eventually. Her own pain and suffering was secondary, but if she failed to get the Passionless Pill, Yang Guo would never be rid of the poison. The moment Yang Guo flitted into her mind, a huge pain seized her chest and she let out a cry. Qiu Qianchi reached out and caressed her daughter’s hair, saying, “Let’s go and retrieve the Passionless Pill.” With two claps of her hand, the maidservants carried her chair out of the room.

Ever since Yang Guo left the valley previously, Lu’E had always wanted to know where her mother had hidden the half Passionless Pill. She had heard her mother mention before that the pill must never be hidden near her, or anyone could kill her and obtain it through a simple search. Lu’E thought to herself that since her mother was disabled and required people to carry her around, the pill couldn’t possibly be hidden in some place of extremely great height. Hiding it in the mountain caves or secluded valleys was also out of the question, so it should be hidden within the manor. But Lu’E had spent the last ten days or so searching the Pill Room, the Sword Room, the garden and the bedrooms, but there was no sign of it anywhere. Presently, the maidservants carried Qiu Qianchi towards the Great Hall, and this came as a big surprise. The Hall was where everyone frequented and it was the hardest place to conceal an object. Furthermore, strong opponents seeking the Passionless Pill were now congregated in the Great Hall itself. Could it be that the Pill had been there all along for anyone’s taking?

The metal doors of the Great Hall had been firmly shut and the disciples were guarding it with their knives and fishnets. Upon seeing Qiu Qianchi’s arrival, the disciples went forward and saluted. The head disciple bowed and said, “The enemies have not made any move and seem to be helplessly waiting for death.”

Qiu Qianchi retorted with a “humph”, thinking: “What of a frog in the well, not knowing the vastness of earth and sky. These are no ordinary people who have come with ill intentions. How could they be ones to helplessly wait for death?” Aloud, she commanded, “Open the door!” Two disciples opened the metal door while another eight flanked Qiu Qianchi, guarding her with two fishnets. Together, they moved into the Hall.

Yideng, Huang Rong, Wu Santong and Yelu Qi were all sitting in one corner of the Hall. After Qiu Qianchi’s maidservants lowered her chair onto the floor, she said, “All here except Huang Rong and her two daughters are free to leave without hindrance. I will not pursue your crime of intruding into the Valley, so please take your leave immediately.”

Huang Rong smiled and said, “Valley-Owner Qiu, a misfortune looms over your head and still you do not know enough to flee. Instead you come here and exaggerate your  importance.  It  makes  one’s  teeth  go cold.”

Qiu Qianchi’s heart chilled at this, thinking: “How does she know a misfortune looms? Could it be that she knows the old thief has returned?” She said coolly, “Whether it is a blessing or misfortune, retribution will reveal. This old lady is a cripple with handicapped limbs, what else can I be afraid of?”

Of course, Huang Rong knew nothing of Gongsun Zhi’s return. But one’s countenance speaks everything: she noticed that there was a furrow in Qiu Qianchi’s brow and could tell that something weighed heavily on her mind. This was a contrast to the arrogant and ruthless expression she wore when exiting the Hall. Huang Rong conjectured that something must have cropped up in the Valley and so, said a few words to verify. Qiu Qianchi’s defensive response told her that she was most probably right.

“Valley-Owner Qiu, your elder brother slipped and fell into the depths of the valley himself, and  was definitely not harmed by junior. If you still bear a grudge over this matter then junior will not try to avoid death, but you must first hand over the antidote to cure Yang Guo’s poison,” said Huang Rong. “If I do die, all my friends here will bear no grudge against you for it and will even help you fend off this pending misfortune and fight the internal enemy. Do you accept this bargain?”

Huang Rong’s offer seemed extremely advantageous to Qiu Qianchi, seeing as the latter, being a cripple, could only rely on her powerful date stone skill to inflict any kind of harm. Mentioning the words ‘internal enemy’ also struck Qiu Qianchi's biggest worry.

Qiu Qianchi thought to herself: “Isn’t this too good to be true?” Aloud, she said: “You are Leader of the Beggar Clan, so I assume you will hold true to your words. Should I strike you with three of my date stones, you will not dodge or use any weapon to deflect them?”

Before Huang Rong could even reply, Guo Fu butted in, “My mother just said she will not avoid it, but she never said she wouldn’t use a weapon to deflect it.”

Huang Rong smiled and said, “If Valley-Owner Qiu wants to vent her heart’s hatred, then  junior  will certainly not use any weapons to deflect.”

“Mother! How can this do?” cried Guo Fu. Her long sword had earlier been broken by the date stone’s strike, and she knew its power was incomparable. Her mother was after all made of flesh and blood, how could she survive without avoiding or deflecting?

But Huang Rong thought: “The Guo family owes Guo’er a huge debt. Now that he has contracted this deadly poison, we must obtain the antidote no matter what. Her date stone skill is one of the deadliest projectile arts in the world, if I let her hit me with three stones it is indeed dangerous. Just a slight moment of carelessness will cost me my life, but how would she be willing to hand over the antidote otherwise?”

Huang Rong had chosen her words wisely, making sure that Qiu Qianchi’s every need was met. The intention was to lessen her bitterness and worry. In her moment of anxiety they would help her fend off her enemy, and to lessen her bitterness she would be free to injure Huang Rong in the only way she could. Even Qiu Qianchi herself would not be able to think a more advantageous offer than this. But Qiu Qianchi suspected it was too good to be true. She said hoarsely: “You are my mortal enemy, yet here you are, willing to take three date stones from me. What scheme are you hiding? What ill intentions do you have?”

Huang Rong went forward and said in a low voice, “There are many pairs of eyes and ears in this place, most of which harbor ill intentions towards you. I’m going to whisper a few things in your ear.”

Qiu Qianchi swept a glance at all the disciples and thought: “Amongst them are many of the old thief’s followers. Indeed I should be careful.” She nodded.

Huang Rong went near and whispered, “Your enemy will be attacking soon. Isn’t junior in a precarious situation as well? Let us quickly bury this hatchet and, no matter if junior lives or dies everyone can fight side-by-side and resist the enemy. Furthermore I am indebted to Yang Guo; I must obtain the Passionless Pill for him even if it costs me my life. If one does not know how to repay kindness, would he be any different to any beast on this earth?” Ending her sentence, she took three steps back and concentrated her gaze on Qiu Qianchi.

At the words ‘if one does not know how to repay kindness, would he be different to any beast’, Qiu Qianchi gave a start, thinking: “If it wasn’t for that fellow Yang Guo who saved me, I’d still be all alone in that underground cave, suffering in silence.” But this thought came and went as fast as lightning and her heart hardened once more. She said icily: “Your pretty words do nothing to change my iron heart. Come, come! Take three of my date stones!”

Huang Rong flung her sleeve and said, “Then I’ll put my life on the line and take three of your iron date stones.” As she spoke she moved backwards, stopping in the middle of the Hall about thirty feet from Qiu Qianchi. “Please fire your date stones!”

Though Wu Santong knew that Huang Rong was always full of wit and ideas, everyone was witness to the power of Qiu Qianchi’s date stone skill. Now, seeing Huang Rong standing there barehanded, all their hearts beat anxiously. Guo Fu was even more worried and walked over to Huang Rong, tugging at her sleeve. “Mother,” she whispered. “Let’s find a place, I’ll give you the Hedgehog Armor so you can put it on, then we don’t have to be afraid of that old hag’s deadly projectiles.”

Huang Rong slid. “What’s the point if I use the Hedgehog Armor to block the date stones? Wait and see your mother’s method.”

At this moment, Qiu Qianchi said: “Everyone else move…” before the word ‘aside’ left her mouth, a date stone had already been fired at Huang Rong’s abdomen. Though it was just a tiny date stone, it sliced through the air so violently that the sound of its speed sounded like a shrill flute. With a high-pitched cry, Huang Rong bent over, clutching her stomach.

Guo Fu, Wu Santong and the others were horrified and before they could go over to help her up, the ‘flute’ sounded again – the second date stone had been fired, this time at Huang Rong’s chest. Again, with a loud cry, Huang Rong swayed and moved unsteadily backwards, looking like she was about to fall. Qiu Qianchi saw that Huang Rong was indeed true to her word, making no attempt to dodge. The two date stones had already struck the essential points of her body. With that same kind of compelling force, the iron date stones could break even a rock, what more of human flesh? But Huang Rong had sustained two date stones without falling, obviously hanging on despite the pain to receive the third date stone. Secretly astounded, Qiu Qianchi thought to her self: “At first I thought this woman looked too delicate to possess any real substance as Leader of the Beggar Clan. But now it seems like she is indeed a formidable pugilist!”

At the thought of Huang Rong’s imminent death after receiving two date stones, she couldn’t help but feel pleased. With a “po” sound, the third date stone left her mouth. This time, it went for Huang Rong’s throat. With the stone penetrating the throat, her brother’s killer would definitely die on the spot.

When Huang Rong said that she would take three hits of her date stones, she had yet to think of any good ideas, knowing that she could only do so in exchange for the Pill. She would then die and repay her debt to Yang Guo. But after having a quiet chat with Qiu Qianchi, she had a notion which invoked many thoughts in her brain, a plan struck her mind. Huang Rong had secretly picked up Guo Fu’s sword. It had been broken earlier by the fired date stones. She had it hidden in her sleeve. When the dates were fired later, she could bend her elbow and use the broken sword’s handle to deflect the stone. But the impact of the date stones and the sword would cause a metallic sound, so she had shouted two times to cover the sounds. This clever move had indeed perfectly prevented Qiu Qianchi from suspecting anything.

Huang Rong had deliberately faked being injured severely as these could both reduce the anger of Qiu Qianchi and save her face for being the master of the valley. The third date stone was aimed to hit her throat, so Huang Rong could not raise her sleeve, and block it with the hidden sword handle. If she did, Qiu Qianchi would then be able to see through the ruse. This would expose her breaking of the covenant of not blocking and not avoiding. In the situation now, she could only accept the risk. She slightly bent both of her elbows, waiting for the date stone to fly to her lips. Her chest had already been filled with 'Zhen Qi', and when she opened her mouth, with all her effort, she pushed the 'Zhen QI' out of her mouth. It was all because she knew where the date stones would come that caused her to be so flexible. She used her 'Zhen Qi' against Qiu Qianchi's as her’s was near but Qiu Qianchi's was far. She could then take great advantage of this situation and reduce the speed of the date stones. One thing she did not know was, that in the past, Qiu Qianchi had been living in a cave alone. Though her limbs were disabled, she had practiced spitting date stones everyday and all the time not wondering about other things.

Huang Rong, on the other hand, had gong li that was not as deep and profound as Qiu Qianchi's. She still had to take care of the matters of the Beggar Clan, protecting Xiangyang, giving birth to children and teaching her disciples. How could she compare with Qiu Qianchi? Thus, when her 'Zhen Qi' was released, the date stone's speed was only reduced a little, as it was not comparable to the force and power of the flying date stone.

Huang Rong was shocked when she  noticed this, but the  date  stone  was already in front of  her lips.  She had no other ideas and so she opened her mouth and bit at the date stone as hard as possible. The force of the iron date stone shook her teeth terribly and created awful pain in her gums. She was staggered and stepped back two steps. The date stone had really forced her back this time. But, fortunately for her fast thinking in such a short time and the two quick back steps she took, her front teeth were saved or else they would have broken off immediately after the hit. Though they were  saved  from  breaking  off,  the impact had her gums bleeding.

The people standing around shouted in shock together, and surrounded her. Huang Rong raised her head and spit out the date stone and it stuck in one of the wooden planks of the roof. She frowned and said, “Qiu Valley Master, sister has taken your three date stone hits, my life will not last long. I only hope you will not break your promise and give me the pill.” Qiu Qianchi saw that she could even stop her swift flying date stone by biting it, and was a little shocked as well, but she could not understand why the first two date stones did not cause her to fall down though they were shot into her body with great force. She glanced at Gongsun Lu’E, and thought, ‘My daughter has been poisoned by the Passion Flower. Even if he becomes my son-in-law, how could I still give the remaining half Passionless Pill to him..?’ But just now she had agreed, in front of everyone, that she would give Huang Rong the pill. She could not deny it. She had a plan suddenly and spoke, “Guo Madam, though both of us are women, we do what we promise, it is always this way. You have voluntarily taken my three date stones; such bravery is very rare now in this world. I admire you very much, and so the pill I will surely give you. If I am in trouble, I do wish everyone here could lend me a helping hand.”

Guo Fu really thought her mother had taken the three date stones without trickery, and shouted, “If my mother is injured heavily, everyone here would have already fought with their lives against you.” She turned her head towards Huang Rong and said, “Ma...where did the old woman’s date stones hit you?”

Huang Rong did not answer her daughter's question, but spoke to Qiu  Qianchi  instead,  "My  daughter speaks nonsense. Valley Master need not take it seriously. Sister had always spoken and done what she says and will voluntarily help Valley Master force the enemy to retreat if you could give me the pill." Wu Santong and the others had heard Huang Rong speak with clear and bright voice and plenty of air in her lungs. They were slowly feeling relieved when she didn’t seem to be injured at all. Qiu Qianchi had also noticed it too. She was very shocked and confused deep in her heart, and thought, “She has such great martial arts that makes it even more difficult for me to break the promise. I can only lie to her.” She nodded and spoke, "I would thank you first then." And turned her head towards her daughter and said, “Come over here Lu’E, I have something to say."

Huang Rong had faced so many people who were cunning and unfaithful in her life. She had already noticed there was something amiss when Qiu Qianchi’s eyes blinked non stop. She knew that Qiu Qianchi would not easily give up the pill, but she could not think of any trickery to use yet. She only heard Qiu Qianchi say, “Go ahead in front of me and flip over the fifth tile.” Gongsun Lu’E was both shocked and amazed, ‘Could it be that the Passionless Pill is hidden under the tile..?’ Once Huang Rong heard what she said, she was astonished and praised her in her heart for being so cautious and clever. “This Passionless Pill is so precious that there are many who wanted to have it. It is really ingenious of her to keep it in such an unthinkable place. The pill kept under the tile must really be the real one. She could not possibly have thought that she could be left in such a situation as now, and keep a fake pill under the tile.” If Qiu Qianchi was to order her servants to go any medicine room or pharmacy to get the pill, Huang Rong would have wondered if the pill was the real one or a fake one. But now, when she saw Gongsun Lu’E following her mother’s orders to flip the tile over, she had fewer worries.

Gongsun Lu’E counted to the fifth tile and pried it up with the small dagger from her waist. She saw dust and ashes under the tile, which was nothing unusual. Qiu Qianchi then spoke, “The hidden secret under the tile cannot be known by others, Lu’E, come over here.”

Huang Rong knew that Qiu Qianchi had some cunning thoughts, deliberately acted as though she was seriously injured. She bent herself down slowly so Qiu Qianchi would suspect nothing about her yet. Then, she tilted her ear slightly towards them, trying to eavesdrop on their words. She gave full attention toward them but to no avail. She could only hear “the Passionless Pill is under the green tile” these seven words. This information was not much of a use, as she already knew that the pill was underneath the tile. Qiu Qianchi’s voice gradually softened, and thus she was not able to hear another word. She took a look back at Gongsun Lu’E but there was only a slight frown on her face. She was also nodding in reply.

Huang Rong was already in a frantic state, as she knew that the situation was aggravating but had no way to deal with it. Suddenly, she heard Reverend Yideng speak, “Rong’er, come over here so I can see your wounds…” Huang Rong turned her head to face Reverend Yideng. Seeing Reverend Yideng sitting in a corner of the room, and realizing he had caring look, she thought, “If he feels my wrist, he will know I was actually not injured.” Thus, she walked over and stuck out her hand. Reverend  Yideng  stretched  three fingers and placed them on her wrist, mumbling, “Amituofo (the Buddhist word)…the old granny said… Amituofo…there are two bottles under the tile… Amituofo, Amituofo…in the East side is the real pill… Amituofo…in the West side is the fake pill…tells her daughter to take the fake pill, which is on the west… Amituofo… you take the real pill… Amituofo…”

When Reverend Yideng mumbled the Buddhist words, his voice was bright and clear, but when he told her the hidden information, he lowered his voice into a whisper. Huang Rong had only to hear him say, “the old granny said”, these four words, and she immediately understood and knew Reverend Yideng’s tremendously powerful internal energy made his eyes and ears much better than a normal human. The Buddhist religion is said to have “eyes that can see heaven”, and “ears that can hear heaven”. It is said in the Buddhist scripture that people with such skills, could hear six different types of sounds in the world without being confused. This type of saying is over exaggerated and is, of course, not believable. But when someone with deep and profound internal energy, a pure and simple heart, has exceptionally incredible ears, which could hear what a normal human could not. This is not strange but rather to be expected.

Though Qiu Qianchi had whispered to her daughter, Reverend Yideng, who sat a few feet away, could hear every single word clearly. He knew that the pill’s ingenuity is linked to Yang Guo’s life, and so informed Huang Rong about it. The Buddhist religion had always cared about other people’s lives.

Huang Rong waited for Reverend Yideng to finish his Buddhist words, and so asked, “Can my injury be healed?” “Can the date stones shoot all at once?” Every sentence she asked, had just nicely covered up Reverend Yideng’s hidden speech, such as “in the East side is the real pill”, “in the West side is the fake pill”. Qiu Qianchi glanced at both of them for a while, but seeing that Huang Rong had a worried look on her face, asking non-stop about her injuries  and  Reverend  Yideng’s  continuously  repeating  “Amituofo”, she fell for the trick, not knowing that her treacherous plan was discovered.

After listening to her mother’s words, Lu’E nodded, bent down and reached into the soil under the tile and felt. There were indeed two bottles; her heart turned sour and thought secretly, ‘Dear Yang Guo dear Yang Guo, today I risk my life to get the real pill for you. Of this bitter effort, you will never know, will you?’ Immediately, she touched the East bottle and took it out saying, “Mother, the Passionless Pill is here!” She stretched her hand deep under the tile, and was the only one who knew it was the bottle which contained the real pill. Both Qiu Qianchi and Huang Rong thought that it was the one from the West side. The physical appearance of the two bottles was the same; the pills in the two bottles looked alike too. If Qiu Qianchi did not stick out her tongue to try the pill herself, she would not be able to tell whether it’s real or fake. She saw Gongsun Lu’E take out a bottle and thought, “At first, I was still suspecting that this daughter would steal the pill from me to help her lover, but now she had also gotten the Passionless Flower’s poison. She will now be thinking to save herself.” Qiu Qianchi was born to be very cunning, evil, harsh and ungrateful. She would never believe anyone on Earth to be willing to sacrifice their life to save others and so said, “We will do what we promised, and l will give the pill to Guo madam…” Lu’E walked towards Huang Rong with both her hands carrying the bottle.

Huang Rong bowed towards Qiu Qianchi in the traditional way and replied, “Thank you for the sincere offer.” But she thought in the other way, ‘Now I know where the real pill is, could I not easily steal it..?’

Just as she stretched out her hand to receive the bottle, a man suddenly crashed through the roof, making a big hole. That man dropped down and immediately snatched away the bottle which was in Gongsun Lu’E’s hands.

Gongsun Lu’E hollered, “Father!” Huang Rong saw that Gongsun Lu’E’s face turned pale all of a sudden, and was very anxious. She couldn’t stop from feeling astonished, “The bottle Gongsun Zhi took was obviously the fake one, but why is she so worried..?” At this moment, the main room’s door suddenly got blasted off with a huge sound, shaking the whole room and causing every red candle’s flame to flicker non-stop. The light in the room glowed brightly, followed by a loud sound. The main door split in two, and the door flew off. A man and three women walked in. The man was Yang Guo; the others were Xiao Longnu, Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang.

Gongsun Lu’E saw Yang Guo coming in, shouted with a lost voice, “Brother Yang…….” Running towards him, but she felt it was inappropriate and stopped after two steps. She also restrained the sentence she wanted to say. Huang Rong had been noticing Gongsun Lu’E, and saw her eyes revealing deep love towards Yang Guo when she glanced at him. There was also infinite worry in her eyes.

Huang Rong suddenly realized, “Rong’er, Rong’er. How come you don’t understand the girl’s heart even though you have been a mother for so long? Though her mother ordered her to give me the fake pill, she was totally obsessed with Yang Guo, and the pill she tried to give me was the real one. Gongsun Zhi had snatched away the miracle pill, why would she not worry?”

End of Chapter 31. 
@Chapter 32 – What is Love
When Huang Rong, Yideng, Guo Fu and the other were trapped in the main hall, Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu were sitting side by side near the flower bushes, chatting. Not too long afterward, Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang arrived. Xiao Longnu saw that Cheng Ying was warm and elegant; she felt a sense of attraction toward her. Immediately she took Cheng Ying’s hand and they talked. At the same time, Lu Wushuang told Yang Guo about the fight between Guo Fu and her, how she made her confused and at a loss for words and how Cheng Ying made her lose her sword and lose the moment. After meeting both Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang again, Yang Guo once again felt a little guilty and sorry that he couldn’t repay their love for him. Aware that Lu Wushuang apparently knew that Xiao Longnu was now his wife, she was still comfortable in front of Xiao Longnu. Cheng Ying was talking with Xiao Longnu quietly, he was greatly relieved.

The four of them sat on a rock, Xiao Longnu was talking to Cheng Ying and Yang Guo was chatting with Lu Wushuang. Xiao Longnu and Cheng Ying’s characters were quieter, and  they  had  fewer  things  to  talk about. Yang Guo and Lu Wushuang were talking non-stop and cracking many jokes, calling each other names like “Dumb Egg” (Sha Dan) and “Wifey”. All of a sudden, Cheng Ying spoke out cutting off their speech, “Yang Da Ge [Big Brother], you have Yang Da  Sao  [Big  Sister-in-law]  here,  so  you‘ll  have  to change your words when addressing my cousin…” She was laughing while she was talking.

Yang Guo let out a soft cry, “ah”, and stretched out his hand to cover his mouth. In the mean time, Lu Wushuang suddenly felt embarrassed. Her face reddened immediately. Cheng Ying thought silently, “They were only joking and the words contained no serious meaning. I shouldn’t have said it, and now it has made things uncomfortable…” She immediately spoke, “Yang Da Ge, you’ve got the Passionless Poison in your body, how are you feeling now?” Yang Guo replied, “I’m alright. Auntie Guo is very clever and full of ideas. I believe she can get me the miracle pill. I’m only worried about my wife’s injury...” He was pointing towards Xiao Longnu with one finger.

Both Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang were shocked and asked, “What? Yang Da Sao is also injured? We had no idea.” Xiao Longnu smiled slightly and said, “It’s actually nothing. I used my internal energy to stop the poison from spreading. I have been fine these past few days.” Lu Wushuang replied, “What poison is it? Is it the’ Passionless Poison’ again?” Xiao Longnu said, “No it isn’t, it is my senior sister’s ‘Soul Freezing Needles’.” Lu Wushuang replied, “Of course it’s that disgusting Li Mochou again. Dumb…..Big Brother Yang; didn’t you see her ‘Five Poison Secrets’ book? Though the ‘Soul Freezing Needle’ maybe strong, it isn’t difficult to neutralize.”

Yang Guo just  sighed  softly.  Sorrowfully  he  said,  “The  poison  has  infected  her  blood  stream  and  her internal organs;  it  is  impossible  to  neutralize  it  with  any  ordinary  antidote.”  Then  he  proceeded  to  tell them how  Guo  Fu  –  unintentionally  –  launched  the  ‘Soul  Freezing  Needle’  while  his  wife  was  trying  to cure herself by reversing her blood flow.

Lu Wushuang angrily struck the stone she was sitting on; she was very angry. “Guo Fu really did not follow in her parents’ footsteps; she is ignorant of the laws of heaven. Cousin, we can’t just sit here doing nothing. I don’t care if her parents are chivalrous heroes of the world, I am not afraid of them.”

“We can’t really blame her,” Xiao Longnu commented. “The situation was entirely different than when she chopped off Guo’er’s arm.”

“Yang Da Sao,” Cheng Ying stated, “My Shifu said that with a strong internal energy we can momentarily halt the spread of the poison; however, the longer the poison resides in our bodies, the worse the end condition will be. Therefore, we will have to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

Xiao Longnu only uttered a “Hmm” sound, but Yang Guo thought, “When the Divine Indian Monk wakes up, whether or not he can neutralize the poison, is really hard to say.” He did not want to upset Xiao Longnu, so he did not say what he was thinking, he simply said, “I wonder how Auntie Guo and Reverend Yideng are dealing with that mad monk; we’d better go and take a look.”

Immediately they sought the way to the main hall. While they are still dozens of zhangs [a zhang is approximately 10 feet/3 meters] away, they saw a dark shadow flashing upward, whom they recognized as Gongsun Zhi. Then a very loud crashing was heard; Gongsun Zhi was smashing a hole in the hall's rooftop and jumping down.

Yang Guo did not dare follow Gongsun Zhi's way of entering the hall via the rooftop since he was wary of the enemy's nets. He destroyed the stone door with his heavy iron sword instead.

When Gongsun Zhi entered the hall and saw Huang Rong and the other skilled martial artists, he was not afraid. He thought, “If I can’t fight them, I can always run away, can’t I?” He was about to rush outside when suddenly Yang Guo entered the hall by smashing the door. He was startled. He kicked his feet to the ground and leaped up to get out of the hall the same way he entered. His goal that particular moment was to get the antidote [Passionless Pill] for Li Mochou. Killing Qiu Qianchi and taking back the Passionless Valley could wait another day.

Just as Gongsun Zhi leaped up, Huang Rong followed with the ‘Dog Beating Stick’ in her hand; using the ‘chan’ [entangle] technique she entangled Gongsun Zhi's leg. “Old thief!” Qiu Qianchi shouted, and launched an iron date stone [zao he ding] toward Gongsun Zhi's waist. When he was leaping up vertically he had anticipated this attack, so he swung his saber and knocked the projectile down while maintaining his speed going up. But then his ears heard another sound, the second shot was coming his way. His golden saber was still extended; there was not enough time to pull it back. In the meantime Huang Rong’s dog beating stick had already entangled his leg and hit his thigh. He could not let the stone hit his abdomen, so he twisted his body frantically and bent his knees trying to elude it.

To everybody's surprise, Qiu Qianchi launched the stone in a very extraordinary way. Everybody could see that those two date stones were directed at Gongsun Zhi. Who would have thought that about half a foot away from Gongsun Zhi, the second date stone suddenly changed course, made a small circle in the air, and ... flew toward Huang Rong! Not even in her wildest dreams could Huang Rong have predicted what had happened. Frantically she moved her dog-beating stick and tried to knock the nail down, but the force carried by that iron date stone nail was too great; Huang Rong's body shook, her arm and hand hurt. With a ‘clank’ sound the dog-beating stick fell onto the ground and Huang Rong followed after it.

Because of the interruption, Gongsun Zhi  was  also  forced  to  come  back  down.  He  landed  next  to  Huang Rong and immediately swung his saber horizontally  toward  her.  Yang  Guo  swung  his  black  sword  and  a strong gust of wind attacked Gongsun Zhi. Yang Guo’s attack was  so  fierce  that  Gongsun  Zhi’s  saber  was pushed back about three  feet.  Gongsun  Zhi  felt  the  force  carried  by  that  sword  was  earth  shattering,  in his heart he was frightened no end that Yang Guo – who had lost one arm – had made  a  tremendous improvement in just one short month.

At that time Lu’E was standing in between her father and mother. She used to be afraid of her father, not daring to speak even half a word; but ever since she overheard her father and Li Mochou’s conversation at Broken Heart Cliff, that her father would rather sacrifice his own daughter’s life for some woman he barely knew, she experienced a change of heart. She challenged her father, “Father, you crippled Mother’s limbs and threw her down into an underground cave. Such viciousness was indeed very rare. Tonight at the Broken Heart Cliff, you discussed something with Li Mochou. May your daughter know what is it about?”

Gongsun Zhi’s heart turned cold, he was not aware, that in that secluded place, somebody would have heard their conversation. Even though he was cruel he was still deeply embarrassed, considering his evil plan to harm his own daughter. Now that his daughter confronted him publicly his face paled, “Wh...What? I didn’t say anything …” he stammered.

Lu’E wryly said, “You mean to kill your own daughter for the sake of a woman who is a stranger to our family. I am your daughter. If you want me dead, I certainly would not rebel against you. But Mother has promised to give the Passionless Pill in your hand to somebody else. Please, give that pill back to me.” She moved two steps forward and held her hand out to him.

Gongsun Zhi hastily put the porcelain bottle inside his pocket and with a cold laugh said, “One of you betrayed her own husband, while the other rebelled against her father. Both are wicked. I don’t want to deal with you just now. Wait for my revenge.” Brandishing his sword and  saber  so  that  they  made  a buzzing sound, he walked out the hall with big strides.

After listening to Lu’E, although Yang Guo did not understand the whole story, he lifted his black sword blocking Gongsun Zhi’s way. He turned his head toward Lu’E and asked, “Miss Gongsun, I would like to ask you a question.”

Hearing his voice Gongsun Lu’E was overwhelmed with self-pity, she thought, “I would sacrifice my life to give you the antidote, yet I can’t let you know that. Several years from now your house will be full of your children and grandchildren and you will soon forget this ill-fated wretched woman. Why would I cause you a life-long regret over this matter?” She lowered her head and asked, “Brother Yang, I am waiting for your question.”

“You said your father wants to harm you for a stranger, who is that woman? And would you enlighten me on what happened?” Yang Guo asked.

“That woman was Li Mochou. What happened was …” She hesitated a little bit, and then said, “Even though my father means me harm, he is still my father. I do not want to tell ... “

“Lu’E, speak up! Tell us!” growled her mother. “He had the courage to do evil, why would you be afraid to unmask him?”

The young lady just shook her head and said with a sad voice, “Brother Yang, half of the pill is inside the bottle in Father’s hand. I ... I am an unfilial daughter.” Speaking to this point she could not contain herself anymore, “Ma!” she called, as she ran toward her mother and hid her face in her bosom.

When she said ‘I am an unfilial daughter’ Qiu Qianchi thought she was referring to defying her father, but actually she meant she was defying her mother’s instructions. The hall was full of people, but Huang Rong was the only one understood her true meaning.

Since they were surrounded by the enemy Gongsun Zhi had tried to find a way to escape, “Luckily in this critical moment that crazy old hag wounded Madame Guo with her date stone; while they are trying to harm each other, I will have an opportunity to get out of here,” he thought. Laughing hard he shouted, “Good! My sweet child! You and your mother just stay on your guard over there. Let us destroy these scoundrels who dare to enter our Passionless Valley.” Brandishing his sword and saber he attacked Huang Rong.

Huang Rong’s right arm was still hurting; she could not  hold  the  dog-beating  stick yet,  so she  had no choice but to lean sideways to avoid the attack. Guo Fu lifted the sword in her hand trying to protect her mother. Gongsun Zhi’s black sword thrust toward Guo Fu’s throat; Guo Fu parried with her sword. “Watch out!” cried Huang Rong. With a ‘clang’ sound the girl’s sword was cut in two. Gongsun Zhi’s sword kept going! Guo Fu froze! Her heart was almost jumping out  of  her  throat;  she  was  incapable  of  doing anything.

“Fend off with your right arm!” cried Lu Wushuang from the side.

In that crucial moment, as the black sword almost pierced her throat, Guo Fu raised her right arm without thinking …

Everybody eyes were wide open. Suddenly Cheng Ying’s voice was heard, “Cousin! How could you …” Miss Cheng knew that her cousin said that because she held a grudge against Guo Fu who chopped off Yang Guo’s right arm. Cheng Ying was also extremely grieved that Yang Guo lost his arm; she had cried her heart out silently and of course she also hated Guo Fu for acting so rashly. But she realized it was an unfortunate accident; she definitely had never thought of chopping off her arm to retaliate. Therefore, hearing Lu Wushuang, she moved forward trying to block, but that black sword had already pierced Miss Guo’s right arm.

“Rrrrrip!” Guo Fu’s clothes were slashed open and she staggered backward; but strangely her arm was unharmed, showing not even a drop of blood. Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang were startled. Gongsun Zi and Qiu Qianchi were shocked. Stabilizing herself Guo Fu exclaimed, “Thank you Big Sister! How did you know …” Miss Guo was not the smartest kid in the world and she thanked Lu Wushuang for “saving” her life.

Yang Guo quickly interrupted her, “This old scoundrel, Gongsun Zhi, does not know your special skill.” He knew Huang Rong had soft-hedgehog armor, which was not penetrable by even the sharpest sword or saber. When Guo Fu’s arm was not even scratched, she immediately realized it was because of the soft- hedgehog armor; thus she was asking, “How did you know …” she was going to say, “…that I’m wearing the soft-hedgehog armor?” Yang Guo thought it was fortunate that Gongsun Zhi’s sharp sword was not able to injure her and that shocked Gongsun Zhi, but it wouldn’t serve any good purpose for him to know the whole story. Yang Guo said, “This lady is the daughter of Great Hero Guo and Clan Leader Huang, the granddaughter of the Peach Blossom Island Master Huang Yaoshi; she inherited a very special skill which makes her body impenetrable by any weapon. How could your rusty sword hurt her?”

“Hmm! I was being lenient with her. Do you think I could not take her life?” Gongsun Zhi mockingly swung his sword back and forth, making a buzzing noise.

Guo Fu was furious by his condescending remark. “He would not be able to hurt me because of this protective vest. If I attack fiercely, I will gain the upper hand,” she thought, and then said, “Brother Xiuwen, let me lend your sword. This devious old man does not believe in Peach Blossom Island’s superior martial arts. Let me introduce them to him.”

Xiuwen gave his sword to the young lady, who then brandished it and shouted arrogantly, “Devious old man Gongsun! Let’s fight again!”

Just by seeing her move Gongsun Zhi could see her meager abilities. “Alright, please give me a lesson or two!” He snarled and hacked with his saber. Guo Fu leaned sideways eluding that attack and thrust her sword at the same time. She was shocked to see the black sword in front of her face. “Not good!” Guo Fu said in her heart, “I have the soft-hedgehog armor on me, but this sword does not have any protection, if hit by his sword, it would certainly be cut in two.” Therefore, she held her thrust and jumped backward. Gongsun Zhi then moved his two weapons to his right hand, while his bare left hand attacked her. Guo Fu was thrilled, “Go ahead and hit my soft-hedgehog armor and injure yourself,” she thought. But she also realized that if she took the full force of his hand head on, her internal organs would be injured as well. She then slanted her body slightly to neutralize 70% of his force and waited for his hand to hit her. Surprisingly, Gongsun Zhi leaped backward just before touching her clothes and cried, “Good little girl! You attack me stealthily!” He staggered and almost fell down.

Guo Fu was bewildered, “I didn’t attack you stealthily!” but then she thought, “Could it be that the soft- hedgehog armor is so incredible that he is injured even before touching it?”

How would she know Gongsun Zhi was just pretending? His goal was achieved, he had the pill and now he just wanted to dart out and give the pill to Li Mochou. He did not have any time to vie for supremacy with a little kid like Guo Fu. He realized that among these intruders: Yang Guo and Huang Rong were the strongest and that long eyebrowed monk, who was sitting meditating quietly, certainly was not an easy rival. He wanted to use the opportunity, while everybody thought Guo Fu  was  winning,  to  sneak  out through the back door.

Lu’E, however, had kept her eyes on her father. She immediately made her move. “Father, hold on!” At that moment two date stones flew, Qiu Qianchi was afraid she might injure her daughter, so she aimed toward Gongsun Zhi’s head. He quickly ducked and the stones barely missed Lu’E’s temple before they hit the wall.

“Get out of the way!” he barked, and lunged toward his daughter.

The young woman held her ground and said, “Give me back the pill …” But before she could finish, her hand was grabbed and she was held in front of his chest as a shield. He snapped, “Wicked woman! If you want me to die, then let the two of us die together.” By that time Qiu Qianchi had already launched two more stones. She was shocked, but fortunately managed to move her head a little so that the stones flew and missed Lu’E’s body.

What she did not anticipate was that the stones hit two of the valley disciples. One was hit on the head, the other on the chest. They died instantly. Gongsun Zhi was delighted with this turn of events. In his effort to take the valley back, he would need not only Li Mochou’s help, but his disciples’ as well.

Without wasting a single moment he shouted, “You wicked woman! You dare to kill my disciples! I will hold you responsible!” But because of this incident, he was held back and Yang Guo already stood in front of him. “Mr. Gongsun…not so fast, we need to talk about these many problems first.”

Gongsun Zhi; still holding Lu’E high above his head, smirked, “You dare to block me?” With his left foot as an axis he made one turn, then, with his right foot, he made another one. With these two turns he had moved within four feet of Yang Guo. Yang Guo was afraid that Lu’E would be hurt, so he leaped sideways.

Gongsun Lu’E was held in her father’s hands immobilized; when Gongsun Zhi made the circles, she could see that Yang Guo leaped back to avoid hurting her; she was deeply touched and her heart was greatly consoled, “He did not try to get the pill for my sake. I can die peacefully.” She could not move her limbs, but she could turn her head. A moment later she closed her eyes and sighed, “Yang Lang, Yang Lang! [Translator note: “Lang” could also mean “Dear Husband” – Lu’E regarded Yang Guo as her husband.]” She then stretched her beautiful neck toward her father’s black sword!

“Aiyo!” Yang Guo called out and rushed forward, trying to help, but he was too late! He stood still like he was in a daze. Two streams of tears flowed down his cheeks. A lovely young woman with a heart as big as the sky, had lost her life at her own father’s hand.

Gongsun Zhi was also startled, his heart turn sour, but his ears heard loud and angry scream from across the hall. Suddenly three more iron date stones flew like a flash. Gongsun Zhi threw his daughter’s body to intercept them. Three date stones pierced her lifeless body. Everybody screamed and shouted angrily at his viciousness; after Lu’E died he still had the heartlessness to mutilate her body. They unsheathed their weapons and surrounded him.

“My disciples!” cried Gongsun Zhi, “By forming an alliance with these intruders this wicked woman planned to annihilate everybody in this valley! Come! Let us capture them with the net formation!”

Since they were young, these disciples had always regarded Gongsun Zhi as their benevolent leader. When this cruel man was wounded and driven out of the valley, they had to follow Qiu Qianchi, albeit unwillingly. Now they heard his commanding tone, and, having witnessed earlier the death of two of their own by the old woman’s stones, without thinking they lifted the nets and started to surround the enemy from every direction.

Each net was about twenty feet square, full of sharp blades. The people in the hall were not weak in terms of martial arts, yet they did not know how to deal with this net formation. If the nets ever caught them, their body would have at least ten additional holes in it. The nets were getting closer to them, including Qiu Qianchi who loudly shouted, “My disciples, don’t listen to that old scoundrel’s nonsense; everybody listen to me! Back off!” But the disciples turned a deaf ear on her; they followed Gongsun Zhi’s command obediently. “’Kun wang’ [earth net], move to the front, ‘kan wang’ [pit net], diagonally to the left, ‘zhen wang’ [shock net], turn to the right!” Quickly those nets moved to those positions making the circle smaller and smaller.

Huang Rong took some steel needles from her pocket and raised her hand to shoot at the eight green clothed disciples on the west. The distance was close, the steel needles were numerous, at least five or six disciples would be injured, she thought. But they lifted the net up and with “ding, ding” sound all the needles, as well as Qiu Qianchi’s stones were stuck to the nets. “Not good!” cried Huang Rong, “Fu’er, lift your sword, protect your head! Hack those nets down!”

Heeding her mother’s instruction, Guo Fu jumped to the northeast. Four valley disciples moved to block her. She managed to parry several blades; either with her sword or her protective vest, but those four disciples spread out and tried to capture her just like fishermen catching fish.

Since Yang Guo was standing close to Gongsun Zhi, he was actually outside the net formation. But then eight valley disciple turned to the left and move to the right surrounding him. Yang Guo realized the situation was critical he leaped toward Guo Fu, exerted his internal energy to his heavy sword and hacked down the net. It broke with a loud noise, and its bearers –four disciples, fell down to the floor. Wu Santong and Yelu Qi immediately pounced and beat them to near death. Yang Guo hacked twice and two more net formations went down. With three hacks he destroyed three nets. If we consider the net material, we should know that they are very tough and ductile. The fact that Yang Guo was able to tear them down demonstrated his magnificent internal energy and his amazing black steel heavy sword. The valley disciples were shocked! They scrambled away in fear.

“Five nets…Attack!” again Gongsun Zhi shouted his command, “This kid has lost his strength.”

Yang Guo was nervous. He wasn’t sure he could hack five nets down at once. He quickly made his move before the enemy did. With one more hack, another net went down. Just as Yang Guo was about to make another move, a loud voice was heard outside, “Where’d you go?”

He was startled. A moment later a yellow shadow darted inside. Everybody was surprised to see it was none other than the ‘Scarlet Serpent Deity’ Li Mochou, who upon entering the hall, stood arrogantly wielding her sword.

Before anybody could react, another shadow darted inside whose body was covered with blood and whose hair was in disarray. It was Zhu Ziliu! He pounced on Li Mochou with his bare hands, left finger and right palm; and even though she was armed, she ran around trying to elude his attack. It was because he attacked as a mad man, without any regard to his own safety. They were both martial arts experts, and in a flash they had already run around the hall six or seven times.

Yang Guo was confused, “Li Mochou is not inferior to Zhu Ziliu; how could she be afraid like that? What about the Divine Indian Monk?” Those two actually possessed almost the same level of martial skills, but in term of lightness kungfu, Li Mochou was a step superior. Therefore, Zhu Ziliu was not able to catch up, plus he was bleeding profusely.

Wu Santong, Dunru and Xiuwen leaped together to block the demoness. “Martial Brother!” cried Zhu Ziliu. “That wicked woman has killed Martial Uncle! Your younger brother ... I …”… he couldn’t finish, his body swayed and he fell to the floor.

That was indeed a heavy blow to everyone present. Reverend Yideng had a very high level of spiritual strength, not to mention his profound internal energy, he was a very composed monk. But this news made him stand up and he cried, “Ah!” To Yang Guo, the news was more like thunderbolt from a bright and clear sky. He almost blacked-out. He then cast a glance toward his wife, who at that very same moment was looking at him. Two pairs of eyes met. They felt like they were falling down a very dark and cold hole in the ground. Xiao Longnu uttered a soft cry and rushed toward her husband, and leaned her body against his, breathing heavily.

After a while Yang Guo composed himself, threw his heavy sword away, and walked listlessly outside, holding his wife’s hand.

What had happened? How did the Indian Monk fall victim to the demoness? In his effort to cure poison induced illness, the Divine Indian Monk had tested many-many types of poison on his own body. Quite naturally, his body developed immunity to poisons. When pricking himself with the Passionless Flower thorns, he predicted that he would be unconscious for three whole days and nights. It turned out that he had regained his consciousness on the second night. As he opened his eyes he said, “Ziliu, this Passionless Flower is not as lethal as I thought it would be. I am confident that I can neutralize it.”

Ziliu was ecstatic and immediately told his Martial Uncle that Reverend Yideng, Yang Guo, and the others had arrived in the valley. He also mentioned that it was Yang Guo himself who smashed the kiln door where they were being kept prisoner.

“The sooner we can neutralize the poison, the better. Let’s not waste another second,” having said that the Indian Monk immediately walked outside and headed directly to the flower bushes. He looked down and started searching for the herbs he thought would be the antidote to the poison. It is a natural phenomenon that the poison and the antidote would usually co-exist in the same place.

Unbeknownst to them, Li Mochou was still hiding behind the rocks scattered throughout that area. Seeing the Monk, she launched her “Soul Freezing Needle” at him. The Indian Monk did not possess any martial arts skill so when the needle hit him in the chest, he died instantly.

Hearing the unusual noise, Zhu Ziliu knew something was amiss. He saw Li Mochou and immediately rushed toward his Martial Uncle without regard to his own safety. Li Mochou launched another needle his way. Since Ziliu was not armed, he used his long sleeve to parry the attack but left his back defenseless at the same time. The demoness slashed with her sword and made an inch-deep wound on his right shoulder.

He quickly exerted his internal energy to his fingertip and attacked the demoness’ waist. He knew if he backed off, the demoness would not let him off easily. Ziliu was starting to get anxious because he did not hear anything from his Martial Uncle’s direction, while the ‘Scarlet Serpent Deity’ attacked him relentlessly. “Uncle… Uncle!” he called, but the Monk did not respond.

The demoness sneered, “If you want his answer, you will have to meet him … in hell!” Li Mochou expected him to lose his concentration. In battle between experts, the outcome is more often that not decided by who lost one’s concentration first. Who knew that Ziliu not only did not lose his, but became fiercer, like he was possessed …

Under the starry sky Li Mochou could see his unusually bright eyes as he attacked her like there is no tomorrow. The place where they were was so quiet, nobody was around, no sound was heard; but perhaps remembering her own sins, she became nervous and started to feel afraid. Because of that, she increased her attacks, which forced Ziliu to back off a bit, and using the opportunity, she leaped back and ran away. Ziliu immediately checked his Uncle’s wrist and did not find any pulse. The Indian Monk was beyond help. With extreme grief and anger he leaped toward the demoness and started chasing her.

Gongsun Zhi was ecstatic when he saw Li Mochou. “Sister Li! Over here!” he started toward her.

Even though she was injured, Huang Rong did not lose her wit. She saw Gongsun Zhi acting weird and immediately knew what he was up to. “Guo’er!” she cried, “Don’t let those two get close to each other!”

Yang Guo ignored her, he just smiled bitterly. The death of the Indian Monk had broken his heart, and he no longer cared who would get the half-pill.

Yelu Qi saw all this, and he made a swift decision. He picked one end of a net. The one destroyed by the heavy sword. “Wu Brothers!” he shouted, “Help me hold the other end!” Wu Dunru, Wanyan Ping and Yelu Yan quickly complied, and together they moved and blocked Gongsun Zhi who was trying to approach Li Mochou.

The overall situation was very chaotic. Qiu Qianchi used that opportunity to repeatedly launch her stones. Five or six Passionless Valley disciples fell down, dead. The net formation was completely destroyed and Gongsun Zhi’s minions scrambled out.

Angrily Gongsun Zhi hacked Yelu Yan with his golden saber. Cheng Ying jumped in  and  attacked  the enemy’s hand with her flute. Gongsun Zhi quickly retracted his saber and thrust his black sword toward Cheng Ying. Seeing her cousin in danger, Lu Wushuang quickly came to her rescue and hacked repeatedly with her willow-leaf saber.

Because of this hindrance, Gongsun Zhi’s intention to ally himself with Li Mochou was foiled. He could not give her the pill. Moreover, Qiu Qianchi kept launching her stones toward him. After a few stances he started to get nervous and decided to get out as quickly as he could, and join Li Mochou later. “Sister Li!” he shouted, “Let’s get out of here! I’ll meet you at you-know-where.” As soon as opportunity arrived, they ran past Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu who at the time were still holding hands, walking slowly out of the hall. They seemed oblivious to what happened around them.

“Sister Long, block Gongsun Zhi!” Huang Rong called, “The Passionless Pill is in his hand.”

Xiao Longnu was startled, “After the Divine Monk’s death, Guo’er’s life depends on the pill,” she thought. She let go Yang Guo’s hand and chased him.

“Long’er, let him go!” Yang Guo called out.

“Why?” she asked, but did not stop. Yang Guo was forced to follow. Gongsun Zhi and Li Mochou took their own separate ways; one ran to northeast, the other to northwest. Xiao Longnu, Yang Guo, Cheng Ying and Wushuang ran after Gongsun Zhi; while Wu Santong, his two sons, Zhu Ziliu and Wanyan Ping followed Li Mochou. Yelu Qi, his sister and Guo Fu kept Reverend Yideng and Huang Rong company, while guarding against Qiu Qianchi’s actions. In the Wu Santong’s party, Zhu Ziliu had the highest martial art skill but he had already suffered heavy injuries, so he gave up after running a little while. Wu Santong and his sons stopped to check on his condition, which caused them to lose track of the demoness.

“If that wicked woman could elude us, we really do not have any face to see Martial Uncle,” sighed Zhu Ziliu bitterly. They tried beating the bushes and other places, but Li Mochou had vanished from sight. “Gongsun Zhi has already arranged a meeting place for them,” mused Zhu Ziliu again, “We don’t know where it would be, but if we just follow Gongsun Zhi, we’ll eventually find her. He needs to give that pill to her anyway.”

“You are right,” Wu Santong said, “Let’s find Gongsun Zhi.” So, utilizing their lightness kungfu they changed course to northwest.

Sure enough, not too long after they heard battle sounds. They quickened their pace, but the noise they heard was kind of peculiar; sometimes seemed like it was just around the corner, other times it came from afar. They kept going in circles until the dawn broke, but never found the source of the noise. At daybreak they arrived on a path sloping upward. Suddenly they heard a loud and hair-raising laugh. They stopped and lifted their gaze upward. There, across a ravine, perched on a hill, stood a man laughing maniacally. It was Gongsun Zhi. There was a deep ravine below him, and a very high mountain peak above.

Seeing Gongsun Zhi’s madness – real or pretend, Zhu Ziliu was worried, “If he slips, his body will be totally smashed in the abyss below. His death is well-deserved, but he would take the Passionless Pill down with him.” He quickly ran ahead and after making a turn he found Yang Guo, Xiao Longnu, Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang standing on the verge of the ravine looking up at Gongsun Zhi.

Xiao Longnu approached Zhu Ziliu and softly asked, “Uncle Zhu, can you think of something to force him down?” Zhu Ziliu looked around and found out that between the mountain peak and the place where they stood there was a natural long rock bridge that looked like a tree log, only less than one foot wide. The rock bridge, as well as the stones around the bridge, were covered with moss, which make them slippery. There was no way they could force him down. He had to be tricked into coming down on his own. But Gongsun Zhi was so shrewd. What kind of trick could they use?

Wu Santong remembered his indebtedness for Yang Guo’s great kindness. The fact that his two sons were alive and live in harmony with each other was because of Yang Guo’s sacrifice. He decided right then and there to repay this debt and, rolling his sleeves up, immediately said, “Let me drag him down here.” But before he could move a shadow flashed ahead of him. It was Cheng Ying. “Let me do it!” And she already stepped onto the rock. She was quick, Yang Guo was even quicker. She felt somebody tug her sleeve and she was pulled back. “Little Sister, how much am I worth that you make a sacrifice like that?” she heard Yang Guo whisper into her ear. She blushed and was speechless.

Suddenly Xiao Longnu’s voice was heard, “Let me borrow your swords.” With a fluid motion she pulled Dunru’s and Wanyan Ping’s swords. Such a beautiful move! Before they even realized what had happened, the young woman was already perched on the rock.

Gongsun Zhi was shocked to see her bravery; he quickly jumped back to the other end of the bridge. Wielding his sword in front of him he snickered, “Do you really want to die?”

Holding her two swords, Xiao Longnu quietly prayed, “Please God, bless me. Let me die after I get the pill back.” She looked at Gongsun Zhi and softly spoke, “Mr. Gongsun, you have saved my life, yet because of me, you have suffered a lot of misery. I … my heart ached for you. I do not want to fight you.”

“So, what do you want?” he asked.

“I want to beg you to give me the Passionless Pill to save my husband’s life,” she answered, “I know you have no use for the pill, but I will forever be indebted to you if you just give it to me.”

While they were still speaking, Yang Guo shouted, “Long’er! Get back here! What’s that half-pill for? It won’t save both our lives.”

Looking at her standing atop the rock, her dress fluttered in the wind, and her stunningly beautiful countenance, Gongsun Zhi was mesmerized; how could Li Mochou be compared to her? Suddenly an evil thought came to his mind. “That kid is your husband?” he asked.

“Yes, we are married.”

“Well, if you grant me a request, I will immediately give this pill to you,” Gongsun Zhi continued.

By the look of his eyes, Xiao Longnu knew what he was about to say. She shook her head and said, “I am already married, I can’t marry you. Mr. Gongsun, I know you loved me very much. However, I have already given my heart to someone else. With a deep regret I cannot accept your love.” Gongsun Zhi’s countenance changed. “Go away!” he barked, “If not, I won’t hold myself back any longer.”

“If we fight, wouldn’t that be very sad?” Xiao Longnu said sadly. She was not pretending, she really was remembering Gongsun Zhi’s kindness.

Gongsun Zhi made an “hmph” sound and put a really evil smile on his lips. “I want to see that Yang Guo kid screaming and rolling around on the ground dying miserably,” he said, “I want to see a faithful wife wearing mourning clothes.”

“Long’er! Come back!” Yang Guo kept shouting, “Come back! Don’t waste your breath talking to that lowly creature.” He would have come and dragged his wife away if he could find a place to put his feet down.

The young madam smiled sadly. “Listen!” she said, “He’s calling me. He called because he loves me. He’d rather die of the poison than see me hurt by you.”

Gongsun Zhi’s mind was reeling. He wanted very much to make Xiao Longnu his hostage. However, they would both fall into the ravine below if the young wife put up any struggle at all. On the other hand, if he did not capture her, how could he save his own life? He looked at his enemies, and among them, Yang Guo was the only one he was afraid of. But he was relieved to see the young man did not wield his heavy sword. In his mind, unarmed, Yang Guo would not be able to block him. His best bet right now would be to attack Xiao Longnu, try to capture her, or at least push her back far enough for him to escape. Having thought this over, he barked, “Will you or won’t you move back?” and thrust his sword simultaneously. Xiao Longnu’s left sword parried this attack while her right sword counterattacked. A series of metallic sounds echoed throughout the valley.

After learning the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique from Zhou Botong, Xiao Longnu’s swords skills were more than doubled. Even though she was poisoned and her level of energy was weakened  somewhat, Gongsun Zhi’s black-sword and golden-saber technique still was no match for her ‘Jade Maiden Swords Technique’. His technique, though carrying seemingly infinite variations, still resulted in a saber remaining a saber, and a sword always a sword. She moved her pair of swords so fast, that her body was surrounded by the flashing of the swords. Gongsun Zhi felt like he was caught in a rainstorm. Swords everywhere … He sighed and regretted his decision, “I wouldn’t have attacked her in the first place if I had known her true skill.” Luckily for him, the “Jade Maiden Swords” was not created with murderous intent, plus Xiao Longnu did not have any intentions to kill him; therefore, he was able to hold his ground for the time being.

In the meantime, Reverend Yideng, Huang Rong, Guo Fu, Yelu Qi and Yelu Yan had also arrived. Together they witnessed this spectacular battle with their hearts pounding.

“Eh, you go help her,” Guo Fu told Yelu Qi, “Elder Sister Long can’t win by herself.” Yelu Qi only shook his head, “There is no place I can set my foot on.”

In spite of her weaknesses and spoiled nature, Guo Fu’s natural character was not evil. She became stressed when she saw Xiao Longnu’s dire situation and remembered her own experience battling the old man’s high martial arts skills. Yelu Qi was not wrong. But Guo Fu insisted, this time to her mother, “Mother! Please help Sister Long.” She did not realize that even without her prompting everybody was willing to help. Everyone was just as anxious as she was, and of course they would’ve helped if it were at all possible.

They saw Gongsun Zhi’s golden saber and black sword repeatedly making some killer moves, while Xiao Longnu’s double-swords moved gracefully, seemingly without  any  strength.  It  gave  the  impression  that she was losing to Gongsun Zhi’s vicious attacks. Only Yideng, Yang Guo, Huang Rong and Zhu Ziliu knew Xiao Longnu was actually gaining the upper hand. However, they were fighting ferociously on a slippery cliff; if they lost their footing they would surely fall to their deaths. Therefore, each move carried a life or death risk. They saw two shadows dancing around; one surrounded by a golden aura, the other wrapped by a black one. Everybody held their breath, with cold sweat on their palms and foreheads.

After observing for some time, Huang Rong noticed that Xiao Longnu was utilizing the ‘Mutual Hands Combat’ technique, which as far as she knew, was mastered only by Zhou Botong and her own husband, Guo Jing. She then concluded that Madame Yang had received the Old Urchin’s tutelage. Yet more time passed. She witnessed Gongsun Zhi’s high level of martial arts and Xiao Longnu’s disadvantage because of the poison in her body. Her swordsmanship was a level higher than Gongsun Zhi’s, however; she was not able to gain an upper hand even after hundreds of stances.

Huang Rong’s intelligent mind started to cook something up. “Guo’er,” she said, “let’s help Sister Long. We create a disruption for that disgusting man. You disparage him, while I encourage him. He’ll lose his concentration.”

Yang Guo was delighted and silently praised his smart Auntie Guo. “Mr. Gongsun, I have killed Qiu Qianchi!” shouted Huang Rong.

Gongsun Zhi heard that, his heart was shaken, half believing, half doubting.

“Gongsun Zhi!” cried Yang Guo, “Li Mochou said that she would beat you to death if you don’t give her the pill!”

“No, no!” Huang Rong countered, “Li Mochou did say that she would marry you as soon as you cure her.”

“Well, yes! But we won’t allow that to happen,” Yang Guo continued, “We will capture you and throw you to the Passionless Flower field, so that you too will enjoy the thorns’ exotic sensation.”

“No, don’t be so cruel,” said Huang Rong. “Mr. Gongsun, don’t you worry. Let’s forget this enmity. I want to be your friend.”

“How could you befriend this scoundrel!” howled Yang Guo. “Gongsun Zhi. I’ve heard that you killed your maidservant, Rou’er. I think she has become a ghost and wants revenge. Ah! Look! Behind you! Watch out! The ghost is going to attack!”

This ramble between Yang Guo and Huang Rong had shown some results. Of course Xiao Longnu also heard them, but it has nothing to do with her, and by nature – and her upbringing in the Ancient Tomb – she was always very composed. She had also learned to divide her own mind. She started to gain an upper hand. Gongsun Zhi had been busy eluding left and right, his situation got precarious; this exchange between Huang Rong and Yang Guo made him nervous. He shouted, “What nonsense are you talking about? Shut up!”

“Hey, Gongsun Zhi!” shouted Yang Guo, “Who’s that behind you? Eeek! It’s a young woman, her hair disheveled, her tongue stick-out, her face full of blood! Ah! She comes near you … She … is going to choke you!” Suddenly, he yelled with a loud voice, “Yes! Rou’er! Strangle Gongsun Zhi!”

Gongsun Zhi knew they were just trying to break his concentration. Nevertheless, he remembered his many crimes, and without even realizing it, he looked back. At that very same moment Xiao Longnu’s sword flashed diagonally, the point of the sword vibrated and stabbed his left wrist. His saber fell from his grip. Under beautiful rays of dawn that golden saber glittered down into the ravine. It was some time later that a very distant splash was heard, like there was water at the bottom. Wu Santong, Zhu Ziliu and the others looked at each other with amazement; the time it took for the saber to fall indicated that the ravine was very, very deep!

Losing his saber, Gongsun Zhi could not defend himself much longer, let alone make any attacks. To him Xiao Longnu’s left sword and right sword seemed like four swords. Not long afterward, she managed to disarm him of his black sword as well. With the right sword pointing toward his chest, the left toward his stomach she plainly said, “Mr. Gongsun, just give me the pill. I won’t kill you.”

The old man was pale. “What about the others?” he asked. “They won’t hurt you,” she gave her promise.

He had no choice; he did not want to die, why would he care about Li Mochou anyway? So he took the bottle from his pocket and handed it to her. Still pointing her left sword at his abdomen, Xiao Longnu took the bottle with mixed emotions. “I won’t live much longer, but Guo’er’s life is spared,” she said in her heart. Then she leaped back from the rock bridge.

Wu Santong, Zhu Ziliu and the others were not unaware of this young madam’s level of martial arts; however, even in their wildest dreams they could not believe Xiao Longnu was able to use two different sword stances at the same time. Of course they heard such skill existed. It was told that in the Jianghu world, only Zhou Botong and Guo Jing have mastered the skill. But ... nobody had ever seen it, therefore they were rather skeptical about it. Now they have seen it with their own eyes and knew what they heard was true. Yelu brother and sister, Wu brothers, Cheng Ying, Lu Wushuang and Guo Fu of the younger generation saw that Xiao Longnu’s age was not much different than theirs, yet her martial arts were incredibly higher than theirs; they could not help but admired her as their senior.

As she landed on the ground, her clothes fluttered in the wind, and she walked gracefully toward Yang Guo. She looked like a deity, an angel descending from above. Without prompting everybody cheered!

Yang Guo rushed forward, while the others also crowded around them. Xiao Longnu opened the bottle and took the half pill out. “Guo’er,” she said, laughing softly, “I think this is the real thing.”

“Real?” Yang Guo was indifferent. “Long’er, how are you feeling? Why is your face pale? Try concentrating your breathing.”

His wife laughed emotionlessly. She had started to feel uneasiness and heaviness because of blocked energy in her chest as soon as she finished her battle with Gongsun Zhi. She had tried circulating her ‘qi’, but failed. She was dizzy and was about to throw up. She understood very well that this was the symptom of the poison getting worse. She just did not care anymore because she had the Passionless Pill in her hand. To her, Yang Guo’s life was a lot more precious than her own; so she just smiled and did not respond.

Yang Guo held his wife’s hand and was shocked to find it colder than ice. “Long’er!” he said, his heart thumping heavily. “How ... what do you feel?”

“I’m OK. Just swallow this pill,” she answered calmly.

Yang Guo looked at his wife’s face with wide eyes. “No, I don’t want it,” he said. His voice trembled. “Half a Passionless Pill will not save both our lives. Long’er … ah, Long’er! Do you think if you died I would want to live alone?” Suddenly he took away the half-pill from his wife’s hand and … threw it down into the ‘bottomless’ gorge. That half-pill – the only thing in the whole wide world that can save his life – flew down into the abyss.

What had happened was beyond everybody’s expectations, they gasped in shock! Xiao Longnu could feel his deep and profound love toward her, she was sad yet grateful. She was no longer able to maintain her consciousness and fainted in her husband’s arm.

Guo Fu, Wu Brothers, Wanyan Ping and Yelu Yan were baffled since they did not know the whole story; they all talked at the same time among themselves. Suddenly Wu Santong shouted, “Li Mochou! Don’t ever think you will live a day longer!” And then he ran towards the left. Everybody turned their head and saw Gongsun Zhi was running to the west toward Li Mochou, who was standing on top of a small hill. They were getting closer, while Wu Santong and the others were still quite a long way away.

Just before Gongsun Zhi reached her, a hearty laugh could be heard behind the hill, and a healthy looking old man appeared. He carried a big wooden box on his back. That old man had white hair and beard, and it was none other than Zhou Botong.

“Old Urchin!” called Huang Rong, “Chase that yellow-robed Taoist priestess over here!”

“Wonderful! Watch what the Old Urchin can do!” he answered, opening his wooden box and waving his arm. A swarm of bees came out of the box and flew toward Li Mochou.  Turned  out  that  when  the Mongolian soldiers burned down Mount Zhongnan, the Quanzhen disciples retreated while saving their books and other temple’s articles. He on the other hand, was busy collecting the Jade Bees and put them into this wooden box. Even though he was childish and loved to fool around, he was very smart. After a while, with the help of a jar of honey from Xiao Longnu, he figured out how to control the bees.

Seeing the grey bees, Gongsun Zhi was frightened. He turned around and ran toward the valley. Li Mochou was also shocked. There were bees behind her and enemies in front of her. She decided to run to the east. Wu Brothers, Cheng Ying, Wushuang, and the others quickly surround her with weapons unsheathed. “Shifu,” Yelu Qi called, “pull your bees back!”

Zhou Botong repeatedly shouted his commands to pull his bees back; but in the commotion the Jade Bees did not respond and kept going after the demoness. Wu Santong was afraid his archenemy would escape again, he ran toward her ignoring the bees’ attack.

While everybody was chasing Li Mochou, Yang Guo stayed where he was, still holding his wife tightly. He whispered into her ears, “Long’er … Long’er …” Slowly Xiao Longnu opened her eyes. She heard the Jade Bees humming seemingly so distant. She thought she was dreaming and was inside the Ancient Tomb. Her countenance brightened a little and she whispered back, “Are we home …?”

A short while later, she regained full consciousness and became fully aware of what was happening around her. She whistled and softly shouted her commands. Hearing their master the Jade Bees gathered above Li Mochou’s head. “Shi jie [elder martial sister],” she said, “now it has come to this, aren’t you going to repent of all your past crimes?”

Li Mochou’s face was sheet-white. “Where’s the pill?” she inquired. Her martial sister sadly smiled, “Inside that bottomless abyss.” She continued, “Why did you kill that Divine Monk? If he were alive, not only he would save Guo’er’s life and mine, but yours as well.”

She was shocked! Her martial sister had never lied. She would never have imagined that using just one of her own “Soul Freezing Needles” would eventually kill her.

In the meantime, Wu Santong and his two sons, Cheng Ying, Lu Wushuang, and the others had formed a tight formation around her; while Zhou Botong was still busy shouting his commands. “Elder Zhou,” Xiao Longnu called, “you have to whistle this way.” She then gave him some examples, which were imitated by the Old Urchin. Thousands of bees immediately gathered around him and then entered the box. The old man was so delighted. “Miss Long, thank you … thank you …” Observing this old man, Reverend Yideng smiled and called, “Brother Botong, it’s been a long time. You look as if you did not age at all.”

Zhou Botong was surprised. He quickly closed the bee box and said, “You are well, I am too. Everybody’s well.” He swung the box to his shoulder and ran away without saying anything else.

Of those Li Mochou saw around her; Huang Rong, Yang Guo or Xiao Longnu alone would be enough to defeat her, let alone being surrounded on every side like this. She started to realize that she would not come out of this alive. She became desperate. She looked around  and  said,  “Huh-huh!  You  consider yourself as heroes. Huh-huh! Today you will win by sheer numbers. Martial Sister! I am a disciple of the Ancient Tomb. I can’t let myself be killed by an outsider. Come! You do it.” She then reversed her own sword so that its blade pointed to her own chest.

Xiao Longnu shook her head, “Why would I want to kill you?” she asked.

“Li Mochou!” snapped Wu Santong. “Let me ask you this: what did you do to Lu  Zhanyuan  and  He Yuanjun’s bodies?”

The demoness trembled. “I burned them,” she said menacingly. “I spread their ashes: one on the peak of Mount Hua, the other on Eastern Sea, so that they won’t see each other for eternity.” Her cruelness made everybody’s heart pound.

“Sister Long has a benevolent heart, she won’t kill you,” said Lu Wushuang. “But my whole family died by your hand, not a single dog or chicken was left; only I survived. I want revenge this very day. Cousin, come!”

“My mother died by your hands,” the Wu brothers continued. “Other people can show mercy to you, but my brother and I will never forgive you.”

Li Mochou was indifferent, “During my life I have killed countless people; if everybody came for revenge, how many lives have I to compensate? Considering the thousands of hatreds and tens of thousands of injustices, I have nothing more than just this one life.”

Lu Wushuang and Wu Xiuwen called out, “It’s too cheap for you!” One using a saber and the other a sword they stepped forward simultaneously.

Li Mochou exerted her energy to her sword and “Crack!” that sword was broken into two pieces. She smirked, held her hands behind her back, totally ignoring their attack.

Suddenly at that moment heavy smoke and fire appeared to the east. “Aiyo!” cried Huang Rong, “The compound is on fire!”

“Let’s postpone killing her, saving Martial Uncle’s body is more important,” said Zhu Ziliu. He leaped toward Li Mochou, and sealed three of her accupoints with his famous “Yang Solitary Finger” to prevent the priestess from escaping.

“Miss Gongsun’s body too!” cried Cheng Ying.

“Right!” answered the others. They ran toward the Valley Master Hall. The Wu Brothers dragged Li Mochou along. Yang Guo, Xiao Longnu, Huang Rong and Reverend Yideng were not far behind. They walked slowly because of the injuries. About a quarter of kilometer away from the valley complex, they began to feel the heat. People were shouting and screaming and buildings were collapsing.

“That Gongsun Zhi is really cruel,” Wu Santong said, “Miss Long should’ve killed him!”

“I don’t think it was him who’s burning this place down,” commented Zhu Ziliu. “If I am not mistaken, this is that old granny’s doing.”

“Why Qiu Qianchi?” asked Santong, “Isn’t the Passionless Valley hers?”

“Well, the valley disciples have rebelled against her. Even if we killed Gongsun Zhi, she would not be able to live here any longer,” Zhu Ziliu explained. “I think that granny is just narrow-minded …” He did not continue and exerted his energy, quickly running to the kiln. Fortunately the kiln was a little bit away from the main complex. Hastily Zhu Ziliu lifted his Martial Uncle’s body away. The Monk’s countenance was still smiling, like he’d found something delightful just before he died.

Wu Santong shed some tears. “Martial Uncle died without suffering.”

Zhu Ziliu hesitated, “Martial Uncle was killed when he was searching for the Passionless Flower antidote,” he explained.

In the  mean  time,  Huang  Rong  and  her  company  arrived.  Hearing  Zhu  Ziliu’s  explanation,  she immediately examined the Indian Monk’s body, but she could not find anything. She  searched  all  the pockets in his clothes... nothing. “Did your Martial Uncle say anything to you?” she asked.

“No,” answered Zhu Ziliu. “When Martial Uncle and I came out of this kiln, we never thought danger was lurking.”

Huang Rong fixed her gaze on the Indian Monk’s smiling face and a thought flashed into her mind. She stooped and looked at the Divine Monk’s hands. Her heart was pounding, for she saw between his right thumb and index finger some dark-purplish grass-like herbs. Slowly she pried open his fingers and took the grass away. “What kind of grass is this?” she mused. Zhu Ziliu only  shook  his  head.  Huang  Rong smelled it. The grass had an awful smell, she almost threw-up.

“Madame Guo, careful!” said Yideng, “That is ‘Intestine Severing’ grass. It’s very poisonous.” Huang Rong stared blankly. She lost hope.

At that moment the Wu brothers along with Li Mochou arrived. Upon hearing that the grass was very dangerous, Xiuwen said to Huang Rong, “Shiniang [martial female master - Shifu's wife], let’s give that grass to this demoness.”

“Shan zai! Shan zai! [lit. good, peace] Young man, don’t be so cruel,” Yideng rebuked him.

“Grand Martial Master,” said Xiuwen, “Are we supposed to show mercy to an evil person like this woman?”

By now the fire had reached the trees and bushes around the kiln.

“The fire comes from the east, let us retreat to that hilly area to the north, and talk this matter over,” Huang Rong gave her command. Everybody complied and as they arrived there, the buildings around the kiln had started to burn.

Although Li Mochou’s accupoints were sealed, she was still able to walk, but without her internal energy. Secretly cursing her bad luck she tried to unseal herself. She thought she would try to escape when the enemy was not looking. Unexpectedly, her chest and stomach hurt like hell as soon as she did that, “Ah!” she screamed in agony. What happened was that she had depressed the poison using her internal energy before. However, when her accupoints were sealed, her energy was also neutralized. Now that she tried to circulate her energy, the poison was flowing alongside and attacked her inner organs.

Her eyes saw stars floating around; she was writhing in agony and almost lost consciousness. Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu walked toward her, but what she saw was a young couple, a handsome man and a lovely young woman and right in front of her they suddenly turned into Lu Zhanyuan and He Yuanjun. She leaped and screamed, “Zhanyuan! You are so cruel! You still have a face to see me?” Because she was thinking about love, the poison in her body became more active than ever. She was in so much pain that her body writhed, her face contorted and white as a sheet of paper. She looked so frightening. Everybody stepped back a few steps seeing her behaving like a mad woman.

Li Mochou had always been a proud woman; never in her life did she ask any favor from anybody. But with her dying breath she cried incessantly, “Oohh... ah! Help! Ohh ... somebody help me, please …” Her voice was truly heartrending.

“The only one who could help you was my Martial Uncle,” Zhu Ziliu answered and pointed to the Indian Monk’s body. “Why did you kill him?”

“Yes! I killed him!” the demoness gritted her teeth and screamed, “I’ve killed all kinds of people, good people, bad people, I killed them all! I want to die! Why are you still alive? I want you to die with me!” Her body swayed, her breathing shortened, and suddenly she lunged toward Wu Dunru’s sword.

For many-many years Wu Dunru had dreamed of stabbing the demoness with  his  very  own  sword. However, at that moment he was taken aback, and pulled his sword away unwittingly. Li Mochou missed the sword; she fell down to the ground and her body rolled away toward the blazing flames in the valley below.

Everybody shouted! In a flash her clothes were like a giant torch, blazing with fire. She struggled and eventually managed to stand up in the middle of the flames.

Xiao Longnu, remembering their sisterhood, was the only one compassionate toward her. She immediately cried, “Sister, get out of there!” But Li Mochou did not budge, it seemed like she was not even feeling the intense heat. It was a terrifying scene … everybody’s eyes were wide open. Suddenly, from her mouth came a heartrending voice; she was singing …!

O mortals, what is love? That binds beyond life on earth?

To all corners, in pair we fly... braving summer and winter, by and by... Union is bliss, parting is woe, agony is boundless, for a lovelorn soul, sweetheart... Give me word, trail of clouds drifting forward...

And mountains capped with snow, whither shall my lonesome shadow go? [Noodle’s translation]

Her voice was getting weaker and weaker, until it finally faded away amidst the raging fire …

[Her song, Liu Bo – flowing waves – was the one she used to sing with Lu Zhanyuan, when they were still together. She  also  sang  it  with  tears  flowing  down  her  cheeks  when  Yang  Guo  and  Cheng  Ying  were playing and singing this song – see Chapter 15]

Xiao Longnu could not hold her tears back any longer. She sobbed uncontrollably in Yang Guo’s single arm. Nobody was exempt from feeling sadness creeping into his or her heart. The ‘Scarlet Serpent Deity’ finally paid for her sins with a well-deserved death; however, they could not help but feel pity for her. She was actually a weak and blind woman; weakened and blinded by love.

Wu Santong and his two sons, Lu Wushuang and Cheng Ying had a very deep animosity toward her, and had always wanted their revenge. But now that she was dead, they did not feel a single bit of joy in their hearts. Huang Rong remembered how the demoness – despite of her evil and cruel character – had taken care of her little Guo Xiang with love and kindness for many-many days. She then lifted the baby up, put her little hands together, and waved them toward the blazing fire as a gesture of final respect toward the ill-fated woman.

Yang Guo looked at the fire then turned his gaze toward the Valley Master Hall. He sighed ceaselessly. He had rushed from the Broken Heart Cliff toward the building complex to save Lu’E’s body from the fire. Yet now he saw the whole complex was burned down almost to the ground. He felt a deep sense of loss. He remembered both women, Lu’E and Li Mochou. One was an angel, the other a demon. Both died and became ashes because of love. Without even realizing it, tears started flowing down his cheeks.

While Yang Guo was still staring blankly into the fire, a long, loud and terrifying laugh was heard, coming from the top of the hill to their northeast. That voice was supported by a high level of internal energy. “Qiu Qianchi!” Yang Guo was startled. “How did she climb that hill?”

Xiao Longnu’s heart stirred. “Let’s ask her if she has another Passionless Pill in her hand,” she said. “Long’er…ah Long’er! Are you still dreaming?” her husband said with bitter smile.

Huang Rong, Wu Santong, Zhu Ziliu and the others heard what Xiao Longnu said; they thought, “What’s wrong in asking her? If we can get the pill, Yang Guo needs to be compelled to take it; we can’t let him deliberately destroy the pill and die.” Almost everybody had the same thought, as a matter of fact, several of them immediately said, “Let’s go and take a look.” Wu Santong and his sons, Yelu Qi, Wanyan Ping and the others rushed toward the hill. Yang Guo sighed and shook his head. “Only if you can find a divine pill to save both husband and wife’s lives …”

Cheng Ying, who all this time stood quietly beside him, suddenly said, “Yang Da Ge, you should not belittle everybody’s loving concern toward you. We love you. Let us go together.” As we all know, Cheng Ying had always loved Yang Guo, and treated him with nothing but kindness. Yang Guo was not unaware of that fact. Even though he had already given his heart to another, he had always regarded Cheng Ying with nothing but respect and brotherly love. The young miss had never asked him for anything until now. How could he refuse? Therefore, he nodded his head and said, “Very well, let us see what evil scheme that old hag on top of that hill has.”

Quickly they climbed the hill toward Qiu Qianchi. Very soon Yang Guo could see that it was the hill where the old granny, together with Lu’E and himself had escaped from the underground cave. The trees and everything around were still the same, but the golden-hearted lady was no longer here. He sighed and was deeply saddened.

Within about a ‘li’ they could see from afar that Qiu Qianchi was sitting on a chair on the hilltop. She was laughing with a creepy voice, and kept looking off in the distance. She looked and behaved like a mad woman. “I think she’s gone crazy,” said Wushuang.

“Don’t get too close,” said Huang Rong, “That woman is so cruel that we have to be on our guard against her evil schemes. In my opinion she is not crazy.”

Everybody stopped. They were wary of the old granny’s  iron  date  stones.  Carefully  Huang  Rong approached her, but before she said anything, somebody appeared  from  behind  a  big  rock.  He  was wearing a blue robe, and was none other than Gongsun Zhi himself. Laughing menacingly he took his robe off, and with his profound internal energy, made the robe hard and stiff like a stick. Huang Rong and the others were impressed with this internal energy demonstration. “Wicked woman,” he cursed, “You have destroyed everything I had, and everything my ancestors had owned, with a torch. I will not show any mercy to you!” And he ran toward her. With a swish sound Qiu Qianchi launched a stone, stopping Gongsun Zhi’s attack. From the top of that hill the stone could reach far and it also created a violent wind gust. Gongsun Zhi parried with his robe. The stone penetrated several layers of cloth, but did not hurt him at all. Gongsun Zhi was able to neutralize her “hard” energy with his “soft”. He was initially not sure if he could withstand her stone, but in his anger toward the granny who burned down everything he had, he was determined to kill her. Besides, he knew that as soon as the intruders intervened, he wouldn’t be able to even get near her. Therefore, he was delighted to find that his energy was sufficient to counter Qiu Qianchi’s.

Shouting a terrifying cry he leaped towards her. “Help!” cried Qiu Qianchi, her eyes wide open.

“Mother… That granny’s going to die!” said Guo Fu, her heart pounding.

“I don’t understand,” Huang Rong said, her eyes never leaving those two people, “She is not crazy, but why did she act like it? Was it to lure Gongsun Zhi here?”

In the mean time two more swishing sounds were heard, Qiu Qianchi launched two date stones in close succession. Gongsun Zhi again used his robe while leaping forward. Suddenly, he vanished from sight in a blink of the eyes. The granny opened her mouth to laugh.

That laugh only sent out two “Ha .. ha …” when suddenly a long robe appeared from below. Like a snake it wrapped itself around the leg of the chair Qiu Qianchi was sitting on. A fraction of a second later that chair flew down into the opening, taking Qiu Qianchi with it.  Qiu  Qianchi’s  laughter  turned  into  a terrifying cry intermingled with Gongsun Zhi’s cry of horror. Then everything fell silent …

Everyone witnessed and heard everything, but nobody knew what had really happened; except Yang Guo. He sighed and softly said, “Revenge! Revenge!” Quickly, Huang Rong and the others climbed to the hilltop. There they saw four female bodies lying around near a big hole in the ground. Looking down, all they could see was darkness.

In her desire to seek revenge, Qiu Qianchi had become more cruel and evil than ever. After burning the building complex, she commanded four slave girls to carry her to that hilltop, to the underground cave mouth, where she and her daughter were rescued by Yang Guo. She commanded the girls to cover the hole with tree branches and leaves. Afterwards, she cruelly  murdered  them  with  her  iron  date  stones. Then she pretended to be crazy to lure  Gongsun Zhi.  Her  cry  for  help when  Gongsun  Zhi  first attacked was part of her ploy to lure him closer.

Gongsun Zhi had forgotten the  cave  entrance;  hence  he  fell  into  her  trap.  In  his  last  struggle  to  save  his own life, he threw his robe up, with the hope that he could use the chair as an anchor to pull himself out of the hole. Unfortunately, the chair – with Qiu Qianchi on it, fell down into the cave because his pull was too strong.  So  it  happened  that,  husband  and  wife  became  archenemies,  and  died  together  on  the  same day, on the same hour, smashed together inside that underground cave.

Yang Guo then told the rest what he knew about their life story. Everybody sighed and could not help but feel sorry for them. Cheng Ying along with Yelu Qi and his sister dug a big hole and buried the bodies of the four slave girls.

The fire was still raging down in the valley, and the whole building complex was destroyed. There were no other buildings around for them to rest in. Besides, after witnessing so many deaths that day, nobody wanted to stay around much longer.

“Brother Yang has not found cure for his injury, we have to find another doctor promptly,” Zhu Ziliu said. Several others voiced their agreement.

“No,” said Huang Rong. “We cannot leave today.”

“What is your suggestion then, Madame Guo?” asked Zhu Ziliu.

Huang Rong knitted her eyebrows, “I receive an injury from Qiu Qianchi’s date stone, and it hurts badly right now,” she answered. “Could we stay overnight here, please? We will leave tomorrow first thing in the morning. What do you say?”

Of course nobody objected. They spread out and searched for some caves or anywhere suitable to stay overnight.

Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu walked hand in hand going down the hill, but before they got too far, they heard Huang Rong call, “Sister Long, could you come over here, please? I have something to discuss with you.” Having said this she put Guo Xiang in Guo Fu’s care and walked toward Xiao Longnu.

Holding Xiao Longnu’s hand she turned her head toward Yang Guo and smiled, “Guo’er, don’t you worry. She has become your wife, and I certainly will not try to persuade her to leave you.”

Yang Guo smiled but didn’t say anything. He couldn’t help wondering in his heart, “What does Auntie Guo want to talk about?” He saw Huang Rong holding Xiao Longnu’s hand, walking toward a big tree and then they both sat down underneath it. Yang Guo felt a little bit of uneasiness, but he felt it was not proper for him to sneak in and eavesdrop on them. “Long’er has never concealed anything from me, why would I worry she wouldn’t tell me about it?” he thought.

“Sister Long,” Huang Rong began. “My spoiled brat daughter has caused you and Guo’er many miseries. I feel really bad.”

Xiao Longnu just smiled and said, “Oh, it’s alright.” But in her heart she was thinking, “Her single Soul Freezing Needle is taking both of our lives, what good is your apology?”

Seeing her dark expression Huang Rong felt even worse. She did not enter the Ancient Tomb, hence did not know the whole story. She remembered how Wu Santong and Yang Guo himself had suffered injury from the needles, yet they fully recovered. She did not know that Xiao Longnu was poisoned when she was reversing her blood flow; hence, Guo Fu’s needle was a death sentence for her.

“There is one thing I do not understand about Yang Guo, and I want to ask your explanation,” she inquired further. “By risking your own life you had succeeded in getting the pill back from Gongsun Zhi. Why was Yang Guo not willing to take it? Why throw it down the ravine instead? Why? I really don’t understand.”

Xiao Longnu sighed slightly, said in her heart, “I am about to die and Guo’er’s love for me is very deep, how could he live alone? But things have come this far and I don’t want to create more trouble.” She only said, “Yang Guo has a strong character.”

“Guo’er’s heart is full of love,” said Huang Rong, “Could it be that because Miss Gongsun sacrificed her life for the pill, Yang Guo did not have the heart to take it? Thus he is willing to sacrifice his own life to repay her love. Sister, that action shows his benevolent character, deserving our highest respect. However, we cannot make the dead live again. On the other hand, his stubbornness in refusing any antidote would negate Miss Gongsun’s sacrifice.”

Xiao Longnu nodded her head.

Huang Rong paused for a moment, and then continued, “You have risked your life battling Gongsun Zhi on the stone bridge above the Broken Heart Cliff. That was also an act of ultimate sacrifice. Yang Guo will listen to nobody but you alone. Therefore, my Sister, please talk with him and persuade him for his own good.”

Xiao Longnu could not hold her tears any longer; they flowed down her lovely cheeks. “If only he were willing to listen to me … but even then, where can we find another Passionless Pill?” she said, sobbing.

“There are no more Passionless Pills in this whole wide world,” Huang Rong said, “but I believe there is another antidote to neutralize the poison in him. What I feel is most difficult is to get him to take it.”

Xiao Longnu was surprised and delighted at the same time. “Is that so?” she stood up and asked, “Is … is there another antidote?”

Huang Rong pulled her hand, “Please sit down.” She groped her pocket and took the purplish grass out. “This is the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ [duan chang cao] that was in the Divine Indian Monk’s hand when he died. According to Brother Zhu, he was searching for the antidote when that needle took his life. As you also witnessed, Sister, even though he was dead, his countenance showed a satisfied smile. My only conclusion is that he was satisfied because he found this grass, which is the antidote to the Passionless Flower. According to my Master - the Venerable Hong Qigong - inside a snake’s lair always exist some kind of plant, which is the antidote of that particular snake’s venom. This fact also holds true for other kinds of poisons as well. Natural Law, it is how nature governs itself. This grass indeed grew underneath the Passionless Flower. We only knew that this grass is poisonous; however, after pondering for a while, I realize that this grass is the antidote to the flower. Poison against poison. One poison neutralizes the other.”

Xiao Longnu listened to her explanation and repeatedly nodded her head in agreement.

Huang Rong continued, “Taking this poisonous grass indeed poses a great risk; but we don’t have any other alternative right now, we need to take this risk. In my opinion, I am 90% confident that this medicine will be effective.” She knew that Huang Rong was very intelligent, and listening to her confidence, she could not help but feel her own confidence grow as well. Besides, as Huang Rong said, they did not have any other alternative anyway. After witnessing Li Mochou’s suffering caused by the Passion Flower she felt that for Yang Guo to die from the grass’ poison would be preferable to dying of the flower’s poison. Therefore, after a moment or two careful consideration, she made up her mind and said confidently, “Very well. Let me persuade him to take the grass.” Huang Rong immediately reached in her pocket and took out several handfuls of grass and gave it to Xiao Longnu. “I picked these grasses along the way, and I believe these handfuls would be sufficient,” she said. “You will have to tell him to try a few strands of grass first, while protecting his internal organs with his energy. If it works, than he can take more later.”

Xiao Longnu then put the grass into her pocket and stood up, then kneeled down in front of Huang Rong. “Guo’er … he … he’s an orphan and has nobody to look after him. He has suffered a lot,” she was choked up … “He is rash and often times does whatever his heart desires … I beg Madame Guo to look after him.”

Huang Rong quickly lifted her up. “Guo’er is under your loving care, and I trust you are a hundred times better than me in this matter,” she was emotional as well, “After Xiangyang is saved from the Mongols, we shall go together to the Peach Blossom Island and have some good times together.”

As intelligent as she was, Madame Guo did not have any clue as to why Xiao Longnu had asked her the favor. Xiao Longnu expected she would die any moment and had asked Huang Rong to take care of Yang Guo.

While his wife was having a conversation with Huang Rong, Yang Guo waited patiently. Now that he saw his wife stand up and walk away, he immediately came to her. “Guo’er,” said Xiao Longnu, smiling sweetly, “our days are numbered. Let us not be burdened with other’s business and just be together, you and I… Would you accompany me looking around this place?”

“Good!” Yang Guo replied, “I was just going to propose the same thing.” Holding hands they left the crowd and walked slowly down a quiet path..

They hadn’t walked too far when they saw a young couple having a quiet talk under a tree. It was Wu Dunru and Yelu Yan. Yang Guo smiled and turned the other way. Again, they hadn’t walked too far when suddenly somebody ran out of the bushes ahead, laughing merrily, with somebody behind, chasing her. It was Wanyan Ping, being chased by Wu Xiuwen. “I want to know where you are going!” cried the young man. Seeing Yang Guo and Xiao Longnu, Wanyan Ping blushed. “Brother Yang, Sister Long,” she greeted them sheepishly. Then she ran toward the forest to their left. Xiuwen was not too far behind.

“O mortals, what is love? That binds beyond life on earth?” Yang Guo softly murmured. He was silent for a minute before continuing, “Those two brothers were fighting to the death to win Miss Guo’s attention. Only a short time later they love someone else already. There are people in this world who could love only one person – for life. Yet there are others like Gongsun Zhi and Qiu Qianchi who turned love into hatred. Ay! ‘O mortals, what is love? That binds beyond life on earth?’ this is a very deep question and worthy to be pondered.” Xiao Longnu was silent. She put her head down, quietly walked along, like she was thinking very hard.

They arrived at a foothill a little while later. Looking up they could see the sun was low on the mountain top. Its red rays illuminating purple clouds in the blue sky. The  evening mist starting to cover up the mountain peaks. It was a beautiful evening beyond words. They were convinced that they would not be together much longer; they were reluctant to part with this beautiful scenery.

“Guo’er,” Xiao Longnu suddenly broke the silence, “didn’t you say that after we are dead, our spirits will go to the underworld? Is it true there is a Yan Luowang [king of the underworld]?”

“I do hope so,” answered Yang Guo. “Even if the underworld was a sea of blades, boiling oil, or other kind torture, I would rather the underworld exist, than having our souls separated for eternity.”

“That’s true,” said his wife, “I do too; hope that there is an underworld somewhere. People say that on the way there an old granny meets the departing spirit and gives that spirit a bowl of water that makes the spirit forget everything mortal. As for me, I would refuse to drink that water. Guo’er, you have to promise me that you won’t forget my love forever.”

Xiao Longnu was raised and trained by the Ancient Tomb Sect, where she learned how to suppress all emotions. Therefore, while her heart was broken, she was able to speak with a steady voice. Yang Guo, on the other hand, could not hold back his tears any longer. He quickly walked away, turned his head from his wife and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

Xiao Longnu sighed. “Ah! How can we mortals know anything about the underworld matters?” she said, “But if I were given any choice, I would rather live forever with you …. Guo’er, look! That flower is very pretty.”

Yang Guo turned his head to where his wife was pointing, and he saw a beautiful red flower. It was so big, bigger than a rice bowl. The flower was swaying from the soft early evening breeze. It looked like a peony [mu dan] yet different; it looked similar to the type called ‘Chinese Peony’ [shao yao] yet different. “This flower is truly rare; it is still winter, but it blooms so brightly. If I were to give this flower a name, I would name it ‘Dragon Lady Flower’ [Longnu Hua].” He stooped down,  picked  the  stem  of  the  flower,  and slipped it into his wife’s hair. “Thank you, for giving me a beautiful flower, and for giving the flower a beautiful name,” Xiao Longnu smiled. After walking a little bit longer they sat down on a grassy hill, resting. “Guo’er, do you still remember everything you promised when I took you as my disciple?” asked the young madam.

“Why wouldn’t I?” he answered.

“Well, do you remember taking an oath to always obey what I command as  long  as  you  live?”  she continued, “Whatever I say, you cannot disobey. But I have become your wife now. Tell me, do I have to obey you, or will you forever obey me because I was your master and teacher? What do you think?”

“I will always obey you,” promised Yang Guo. “Teacher’s word has to be obeyed. Wife’s word even more, I cannot disobey.”

“Hmm!” said his wife, “It’s good to know you remembered.”

They sat shoulder-to-shoulder, leaning against each other, enjoying the  beautiful  dusk  scenery  around them. From a distance they heard Wu Santong calling them for dinner. They looked at each other and smiled. Who would want to eat while enjoying this breathtakingly wonderful time?

Eventually, the sun set, and the moon slowly rose. Night was falling. They were tired, and unwittingly fell asleep.

Yang Guo stirred and opened his eyes around midnight. The  weather  had  turned  cold.  Half-asleep  he asked his wife, “Long’er, are you cold?” He stretched out his arm, wanting to embrace her. With a sudden jolt he felt like his blood was drained completely from his body, because his hand only grabbed a handful of dirt! He leaped up instantly. His wife was nowhere to be seen! He looked everywhere, but all he could see were mountaintops and trees, gleaming under the silver light of  the  moon.  He  stretched  his  neck, trying to listen; but all he could hear was a gentle breeze, carrying soft chirping and buzzing of the little critters. Where could Xiao Longnu be? His heart was pounding very hard! He exerted his internal energy, ran to the hilltop and shouted at the top of his lungs, “Long’er! Long’er!”

Frantically he dashed to another hilltop. “Long’er! Long’er!” His voice echoed throughout the valley. “Long’er! Long’er …!” but Xiao Longnu did not answer. Yang Guo’s heart turned cold, “Where could she go? She slept next to me; it is impossible for an enemy to capture her, or even a beast to harm her without my knowing.”

His cry had awakened Yideng, Huang Rong, Zhu Ziliu and the  others.  Knowing  what  happened, immediately they spread out around the valley, trying to find the young madam; while their hearts were puzzled. Xiao Longnu was nowhere to be seen, even after searching high and low.

Yang Guo was running around like crazy. A moment later they gathered together again. Yang Guo also stopped running, he thought, “She must have left of her own will, otherwise I would certainly know; but why? I believe Mrs. Guo had something to do with it. She once ran away from me and went to the Passionless Valley because of her.” Because of this thought his blood boiled and he exploded, “Auntie Guo! What exactly did you say to her this afternoon?”

Huang Rong herself was confounded; she did not have any idea why Xiao  Longnu  would  suddenly disappear. She saw Yang Guo’s veins showing on his face and neck, and realized how critical this moment was. “I only advised her to persuade you to take the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ to neutralize the poison inside your body,” she explained patiently.

“Since her life cannot be saved, do you really think I would want to live alone?” Yang Guo screamed.

“Don’t you worry,” said his auntie soothingly, “Miss Long possesses a very high level of martial arts. It is unthinkable that something bad has happened to her that she could not overcome. Why did you say ‘her life cannot be saved’?”

In his unbearable grief Yang Guo lost his temper and snapped, “Huh! This is all your precious daughter’s doing. She struck her with a ‘Soul Freezing Needle’ while she was reversing her blood flow, so that the lethal poison attacked her internal organs. My wife is not a deity, how could she endure that?”

How  would  Huang  Rong  know  what  had  happened?  Her  daughter  indeed  told  her  that  she  had accidentally injured the Yang – Long couple with a  Soul  Freezing  Needle’;  but  those  two  were  from  the Ancient Tomb Sect, the same sect Li Mochou  was  from.  Certainly  they  must  have  the  antidote.  Yes,  they would be hurt momentarily, but she did not think the poison would threaten their lives. Yang Guo’s answer was like  a  thunderbolt  from  a  blue  sky.  Her  countenance  was  sheet-white.  Now  she  understood,  “So  it turns out Guo’er was adamant about not taking the  pill  because  he  would  rather  die  than  live  alone.  But where could Xiao Longnu go?”  She  looked  up  towards  the  hill  where  Gongsun  Zhi  and  Qiu  Qianchi  met their tragic ends. She shuddered involuntarily.

Yang Guo had kept his gaze on Huang Rong and understood why she shuddered. He was shocked and angry beyond any reasoning. “You knew it! You knew she is beyond help and persuaded her to kill herself to save my life, didn’t you?” he screamed. “You think you are doing me a big favor, but … but … I HATE YOU!!!” His chest tightened, he fainted and collapsed to the ground. Reverend Yideng immediately gave him a massage and after a moment he regained his consciousness.

“I only persuaded her to save your life,” said Huang Rong, “I have never told anybody to commit suicide. Whether you believe me or you don’t, it’s up to you.”

Everybody was looking at each other, they did not know what to say or do. “Let us go to that hilltop and take a look,” Huang Rong said. Everybody left at once. But the hole on that hilltop was deep and so dark, they could not see anything.

“I think we’d better make a rope for me to go down into the cave to investigate,” Cheng Ying broke the silence. “Perhaps … perhaps … Sister-in-law slipped …”

Huang Rong sighed. “Very well, let’s find out.”

They immediately unsheathed their weapons and gathered tree bark, which was then braided into a long rope. They worked hard and around dawn, more than a hundred zhangs [a zhang is approximately 10 feet or 3 meters] of rope was ready. Several of the youngsters immediately offered to go down first. “Let me go first,” said Yang Guo.

Everybody looked at Huang Rong for approval. Mrs. Guo thought hard. She was sure that if she said ‘no’, Yang Guo would insist on going anyway; but if she said ‘yes’ and – God forbid – Xiao Longnu were found inside, Yang Guo would certainly not be willing to come back up. While she hesitated, Cheng Ying once again offered a solution, “Brother Yang, let me go. Don’t you trust me?”

Other than his wife, Cheng Ying was the only person Yang Guo loved and respected. Besides, he felt weak from excessive grief anyway, so he just nodded his agreement.

Wu Santong and his sons, along with Yelu Qi slowly lowered Miss Cheng into the  opening.  The  cave entrance was located on or near the hilltop, so we can safely conclude that the depth of the cave is approximately the same as the height of the hill itself. Therefore, when they had almost run out of rope, Cheng Ying finally reached the bottom.

Everybody stood around the hole without making any sound; intently looking at the hole, waiting for some word from Cheng Ying. It was a suspenseful moment, as it seemed like Cheng Ying stayed in the cave for a long time.

Huang Rong and Zhu Ziliu exchanged a glance; they both had a similar thought, “If Xiao Longnu is really dead inside, Yang Guo would surely jump into the hole. We must not let him do so.”

Yang Guo caught sight of their exchange, he thought, “If I really want to die, I can do that quietly, no need to involve all of you; unlike that foolish couple earlier.”

Suddenly the rope in Wu Santong’s hands moved. “Quick! Pull!” Guo Fu and the Wu Brothers shouted almost simultaneously. Quickly they helped pulling the rope. Even before she reached the top, Cheng Ying had shouted at top or her lungs, “Not here! Sister-in-law is not here!”

Everybody was so relieved that they sighed almost simultaneously. A little later Cheng Ying reached the top and immediately said, “I have looked every where, every corner of the cave. Nothing was there except Gongsun Zhi and Qiu Qianchi’s bodies.”

Zhu Ziliu spoke in a low and somewhat muffled voice: "We have looked everywhere, so I think Miss Long has already left the valley."

Suddenly, Lu Wushuang said, "There is another place where we have not gone to look. Perhaps she is trying to fish that Passionless Pill out..."

Yang Guo's heart skipped a beat. Before Lu Wushuang could finish speaking, he dashed towards the Broken Heart Cliff. As he ran, he shouted: "Long’er, Long’er!" When he got to the edge of the cliff, he looked into the deep ravine below. All he saw was a vast sheet of grayish mist, how could anyone be seen in there?

He thought, “Long’er’s thoughts are simple and pure. If she had any problems, she would have certainly not kept them from me.” Then, he recalled the words that Xiao Longnu had uttered earlier, “She had asked me only to remember forever the vow that she had asked of me. I would naturally never go against her wishes, so why was there even a need to speak of it? But she did not even ask anything of me in the first place.”

Lifting his head, he said in a soft voice: "Long’er, Long’er, where exactly have you gone? What are the words that you want me to obey?" Looking across the ravine at the Broken Heart Cliff, he could almost imagine the indistinct figure of a woman in white with a red flower in the hair by one of her temples. The woman seemed to move swiftly as she engaged Gongsun Zhi in an intense battle with the pair of swords in her hands.

"Long’er!" called Yang Guo. Then, pulling himself together, he realized that Xiao Longnu was not there. All he saw were floating sheets of whitish mist ... but that red flower was indeed at the bottom of the opposite cliff.

Struck by the oddity of the discovery, he thought, “When Long’er fought Gongsun Zhi in that place yesterday, the flower was certainly not there. The whole area is nothing but rock that does not encourage even the growth of grass or trees; how can there be any flowers? If I say that the wind blew the flower there; that would be too much of a coincidence.”

Exerting his internal energy he leaped toward the cliff and crossed the stone bridge. His chest tightened! That flower was the one he slipped into his wife’s hair just a few hours ago. He was sure of it, since one side of the flower was a bit flattened.

Yang Guo bent down and picked the flower up. Underneath it he found a paper package, which he hastily opened. Inside he found a few strands of purple grass, the “Severed Intestine Grass”. His heart was beating fast. He looked at the paper, but he found nothing, not even a single stroke of a character was to be seen.

Suddenly he heard Lu Wushuang shout, “Brother Yang, what are you doing?”

He turned his head and his gaze was caught by two lines of characters carved by a sword on the cliff’s wall. It read, “Sixteen years from now we will meet here. The love between husband and wife is profoundly great. Do not break your promise.” Underneath was carved in smaller characters, “Xiao Longnu addresses my husband Yang-Lang. Please treasure this and I beg that you fulfill this reunion.”

Yang Guo stared at those characters like he was losing his mind. His head felt dizzy. He really could not decipher what it meant. Unanswerable questions kept floating around in his mind. “She wants me to meet her here in sixteen years; then where did she go? She is heavily poisoned, she might not survive another ten days or even half a year; how can she wait sixteen years? She knows I threw the Passionless Pill away, why did she ask me to wait sixteen years?” The more he thought, the more his mind was confused; he staggered a few times and almost fell down.

The others stood on the opposite side of the cliff and saw his dazed and confused condition; they were afraid he might make a wrong step and fall down into the bottomless abyss below. But the stone bridge was so narrow that only one person could stand on it. Yang Guo’s martial arts were so profound that if someone went to him and he acted up they would certainly die together. Huang Rong frowned and turning to Cheng Ying she said, “Shimei [Younger Martial Sister], go talk to him. I think he will listen to you.”

“Very well, I will go to him,” she responded, leaping onto the rock, and walking slowly toward Yang Guo. Hearing footsteps coming near Yang Guo snapped, “Go away!” He turned his head with fire in his eyes.

“Yang Da Ge, it’s me,” the young miss said softly. “I just want to help you find Yang Da Sao, nothing else.” Yang Guo stared hard at her sad face. Slowly his countenance softened.

“Is this red flower left by Sister-in-law?” asked Cheng Ying, approaching him. “Yes,” he said, “She wants me to wait sixteen years...Why sixteen years?”

Cheng Ying read the message. She was perplexed. “Madame Guo is very intelligent, nothing can get past her,” she said, “Why don’t we ask her what she thinks. I am sure she can solve this puzzle.”

“That’s right,” said Yang Guo, “Be careful! That stone is slippery.”

They immediately walked back down and told everything they knew to Huang Rong.

She was silent for a moment, frowning deeply. Suddenly her eyes lit. Clapping her hands she exclaimed, “Guo’er, Congratulations, congratulations!”

Yang Guo was flabbergasted. He was shocked but a bit thrilled at the same time, “What … Why … What for?” He stammered.

“Congratulations! How can I not congratulate you!” his auntie was laughing ecstatically. “Sister Long has met the ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ [nan hai zhen ni]. This is a very extraordinary destiny.”

Yang Guo’s face looked puzzled: “Divine Nun of the South Sea? Who’s that?” “Nan Hai Shen Ni is a divine Buddhist nun with a very high level of martial arts,” she explained, “Just how high her skill is, nobody can tell. Because she seldom comes to the mainland, almost nobody in the Central Plains knew her big name. My father met her and was taught a very high-level fist technique. That was sixteen, thirty-two … yes, it was thirty-two years ago.”

“Thirty-two years ago?” Yang Guo repeated absent-mindedly.

“Yes,” she continued, “I think the ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ is almost a hundred years old now. According to my father, she always visits the mainland once every sixteen years. Woe to the evil men who crosses her path. She has a benevolent heart and is always ready to help anybody in need. I am sure Miss Long has met her, was taken as her disciple, and was taken back to the South Sea.”

“Sixteen years ... sixteen … Reverend, is there such person?” Yang Guo turned to Yideng. His voice was hoarse.

Yideng was about to answer with an “hmm” when Huang Rong quickly cut him off. “The ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ excels in martial arts, but her character is a bit weird. Reverend, have you ever met her?”

“The old monk is unfortunate, he has not met her,” he answered, shaking his head.

Huang Rong sighed. “Ah, that Senior is really ignorant,” she said, “to separate a young couple like that… and for sixteen years! Sister Long already possesses a level high martial art. After sixteen years, wouldn’t her husband looked like chicken compared to her?” Then she burst out in laughter.

“No, Auntie Guo, I don’t think that was what she had in mind,” countered Yang Guo.

“What then?” asked the aunt? Without further ado Yang Guo reminded her, that Guo Fu unintentionally struck her with a “Soul Freezing Needle” while his wife was reversing her blood flow to cure her injury. That caused the poison to attack her internal organs. “If what you said is true, I think the Shen Ni is trying to cure her within that sixteen years period.” He sighed, “You know, before this new development, I thought Long’er’s condition was terminal.”

“That spoiled brat of mine truly has caused you two too many troubles,” said Mrs. Guo. “I think you are right. That poison has resided inside Sister Long’s body for too long. Even if she was given a miracle cure, she would certainly need a long time to recover fully. Guo’er, let us hope that Sister Long will recover sooner, and that the ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ will release her sooner too.”

Yang Guo was lost in thought with a heart full of questions. It was hard to believe his auntie, yet the Xiao Longnu’s letter seemed to corroborate her argument. If she killed herself, why would she say sixteen years? Suddenly he turned his gaze toward Huang Rong and asked, “Auntie Guo, how do you know Nan Hai Shen Ni took Long’er away? Why didn’t Long’er say so in the message, so that I wouldn’t worry?”

“I came to that conclusion because of the words ‘sixteen years later’,” she explained. “I know this for a fact, that the ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ visits the mainland only once every sixteen years. Nobody else has that peculiar habit. Reverend, have you known anybody else with that custom?”

“No,” he answered.

“Father said that the Shen Ni does not like to be mentioned,” Mrs. Guo continued, “so it’s understandable if Sister Long did not mention her name in the message. My only concern is that I am not sure the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ will save your life. If … Ay! … if sixteen years pass and Sister Long comes back and she cannot see you, it is very possible that … that she would not want to live any longer.”

Yang Guo shed some more tears. He could see clearly in his mind a shadow of things to come. He saw a white shadow; it was his wife, comeback to meet him sixteen years from now. He then saw his wife was grieving because he was no more.

A gentle breeze blew and Yang Guo shivered. “Auntie Guo,” he said, “I think I’d better go to the South Sea to find her. Do you know where the Shen Ni lives?”

“Guo’er, don’t be silly,” rebuked his auntie softly, “The ‘Great Wisdom Island’ [da zhi dao] where the Shen Ni lives has never been visited by strangers. Woe to the man who visits the island uninvited. My Father received her tutelage, but even Father has never set foot on this island. Now that she’s taken Sister Long under her wing, I am confident that someday you two will meet again. What is sixteen years anyway? It will pass in the blink of an eye. Why do you have to rush?”

Yang Guo looked intently at Huang Rong’s face and asked, “Auntie Guo, are you telling me the truth?”

“You go and examine that message,” she countered, “If that message was not written by Sister Long, you can say whatever you want.” “It was indeed written by Long’er herself.” Yang Guo said, “Every time she writes the character ‘Yang’, she always add a short stroke on the right. Nobody writes it like that.”

“Very good, then,” said his auntie, clapping her hands. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure myself. I thought it was too much of a coincidence. I thought it was Brother Zhu’s doing trying to comfort you.”

Yang Guo was lost in thought again, his eyes stared hard at the Broken Heart Cliff. “Very well,” he finally said, “I will take the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’. If it fails, I hope sixteen years from now Auntie will tell my poor wife everything.” He turned to Zhu Ziliu and asked, “Uncle Zhu, how do I take the grass?”

Zhu Ziliu only knew the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ was a poisonous plant. He had no idea on how that poison would neutralize other poisons. Therefore, he turned to Yideng and asked, “Shifu, I think we need your insight on this matter.”

Extending his right hand forefinger, Yideng quickly sealed four of Yang Guo’s accupoints: the ‘shao hai’ [lit. lesser sea], ‘tong li’ [lit. open inside], ‘shen men’ [lit. divine gate], and ‘shao chong’ [lit. little highway]. These four accupoints can be classified as the basic positive passages of the ‘shou shao yang xin jing’ [elementary positive heart manual(?)]. Yang Guo felt a warm feeling flowing from these accupoints toward his chest, and loosened the tightness in his breast. “The Passionless Poison mostly attacks the organs closely linked to the feelings or emotions,” Yideng explained, “The ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ poison would most likely attack your heart as well. Therefore, I sealed your four accupoints to protect your heart. Go ahead, take some strands.”

Yang Guo bowed to express his gratitude.

Yideng sighed, “If my Martial Brother were here, he would know how to take it properly, so that we would not have to make a wild guess.”

When the Divine Indian Monk was killed by Li Mochou, Yang Guo thought Xiao Longnu was beyond hope, so he desired to die; but now he was determined to live for at least sixteen years longer. He put the grass into his mouth and started to chew, then swallowed it. The ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ was very bitter, but he endured it. He thought of how miserable Xiao Longnu would be if, sixteen years from now, she came back and did not see him. He quickly sat down and exerted his internal energy to protect his heart, liver, and other sensitive organs.

After not too long, he started to feel his stomach growling, followed by excruciating pain like he had swallowed thousands of needles. The name ‘Severed Intestine’ was not an empty name. He endured the pain, gritting his teeth. After another moment or two, the pain surged through his entire body, to his hands and feet, but his heart felt quite comfortable. This demonstrated the excellence of the ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ of Reverend Yideng. An hour or so later, the pain was concentrated back in his stomach, and he threw up some blood. The blood glittered and looked redder than regular blood.

“Ah!” seeing him vomiting blood, Cheng Ying, Wushuang, and the others were shocked! Only Reverend Yideng looked delighted. “Shi di… [Younger Martial Brother]! Shi di!” he said softly, “even after your death you were still able to save your fellow man.”

Yang Guo leaped up and declared with a voice full of emotion, “Today my life has been saved by the Divine Indian Monk, Reverend Yideng, and Auntie Guo.”

“Is the poison completely eradicated from your body?” asked Wushuang gleefully.

“How could it be that quick?” he answered. “But now that we know the grass works, I will take a couple of strands every day until the poison is completely gone.”

“But how would you know when your body is clean?” inquired Miss Lu further, “I mean, if the poison is completely neutralized and you continue taking the grass, wouldn’t the grass poison you?”

“I can tell,” he answered, “if the Passion Flower poison is still here and I … I … I think about love, my chest will hurt.”

Guo Fu had been listening the whole time and suddenly quipped, “Yang Da Ge is thinking about Yang Da Sao, not you!” When she parried Gongsun Zhi’s sword with her right arm earlier, she was heeding Lu Wushuang’s advice. At first she thought Wushuang was being nice to her; but afterwards realized Lu Wushuang did not know about the soft-hedgehog armor. Lu Wushuang must have wanted her to lose her right arm just as she’d chopped off Yang Guo’s right arm. She’d kept her anger pent up for a long time and now she could not restrain herself.

“Fu’er! Shut up!” her mother rebuked harshly.

Hearing her, Lu Wushuang’s face was flushed with anger, but Guo Fu wasn’t finished yet, she continued, “Sixteen years from now, Sister-in-law will come back. Don’t you get any weird ideas.” Wushuang unsheathed her willow-leaf-saber. “Wicked woman!” she snapped, pointing her saber to Guo Fu, “If not for you, Yang Da Ge wouldn’t have to be separated from Yang Da Sao for sixteen years. Do you have the slightest idea how badly you have hurt Yang Da Ge?”

Guo Fu was about to counter when Huang Rong rebuked her with anger in her voice; “Fu’er! If you can’t behave, go to the Peach Blossom Island. I’ll forbid you to comeback to Xiangyang.” Guo Fu did not dare to open her mouth, but she still looked at Wushuang menacingly.

Yang Guo heaved a sigh and sorrowfully said, “It was an accident. Miss Guo did not intentionally want to hurt Long’er. Sister Lu, I forbid you to raise this incident again.”

Hearing Yang Guo used the term “Sister Lu” to address her, while he called Guo Fu “Miss Guo”, thus differentiating a good friend from an acquaintance, Wushuang was very pleased and sheathed her saber.

“Yang Shao Xia [Young Hero Yang] has eaten the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’; but he did not experienced any bad side effects. That proved the grass was indeed the antidote to the Passionless Flower’s poison,” Yideng said. “In my opinion, however, I think it will be better for Mr.  Yang  not  to  take  the  grass continually. Wait another seven days or so, and then you can have the second dose, even then, you should reduce the amount a little bit.”

“Thank you for your priceless advice, Reverend.” Yang Guo said, bowing.

The sun was already high in the sky. Huang Rong said, “We’ve been gone from Xiangyang for a while, and have not heard any news on the war situation. My mind keeps wandering back there, so I think we’d better go back today. Guo’er, I think you’d better come along, your Uncle Guo was really worried about you.”

“Let me stay here and … and wait for Long’er,” he answered. “You want to wait here sixteen years?” Guo Fu asked in disbelief.

“I don’t know. I just feel like there is nowhere better,” he answered.

“Very well then,” decided Huang Rong, “It’s all right if you want to wait here ten days to half a month. But if Sister Long does not come back, you’d better come to Xiangyang.”

Yang Guo cast his glance toward the cliff but did not say anything.

Everybody bade Yang Guo farewell. Only Lu Wushuang seemed reluctant to leave. Of course Guo Fu saw that, and she could not help making a comment, “Hey, Lu Wushuang, do you want to stay here to accompany Brother Yang?”

Miss Lu blushed. “None of your business!” she snapped.

Suddenly Cheng Ying said, “Brother Yang has not fully recovered yet. Let Cousin and I stay here to accompany him for a few days.”

Huang Rong knew, as sweet and gentle as she looked, in reality her younger martial sister had a very strong character. If her own daughter messed things up, she would not keep her peace. She looked sternly at Guo Fu, signaling her not to say another word. “Guo’er, I think it is a great idea to have Martial Sister and Miss Lu taking care of you,” she said, “However, as soon as you are cured, I do hope you will come to Xiangyang, where my husband and I will wait for the three of you.”

Yang Guo, Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang stood on the hill side, watching Yideng, Huang Rong and the others slowly fading away from their sight; disappearing among the trees. In the mean time, the fire that had been raging all night long had slowly died away.

“Sisters,” said Yang Guo suddenly, “I would like to suggest something. I do hope you won’t get offended.” “Who has ever been offended by you?” Wushuang asked.

Yang Guo smiled sadly, his voice trembling, “We have known each other for some time now; we love each other and we have even faced danger together. When I was a young boy I lived alone, with neither brothers nor sisters. My heart’s desire is that we become sworn brother and sisters. What do you think?”

Cheng Ying was touched. She was sensitive and knew exactly what Yang Guo was thinking. She knew Yang Guo loved Xiao Longnu with all his heart. He had made that suggestion because he had to wait sixteen years, and because they would have to live together for several days. He wanted to avoid anything that could cause embarrassment or would make them uncomfortable. Lu Wushuang put her head down, tears flowing from her eyes. “I would have never dreamed of being your sworn sister,” she said softly. “We will be proud and honored to have a big brother like you.” After saying that, she walked toward a Passionless Flower nearby and picked three strands of  the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’. “Others become sworn brothers and sisters with incense sticks, here we use grass instead.” She tried to make a joke and sound cheerful, but toward the end, her voice was hoarse. Before Yang Guo could respond, she immediately kneeled down on the ground. Yang Guo and Cheng Ying quickly knelt at either side of Miss Lu, and, just like the regular ceremony of becoming sworn brothers and sisters; they kowtowed eight times, and then bowed to each other in respect.

“Second Sister, Third Sister, what I hate most in this world is the Passionless Flower,” Yang Guo said. “If that flower ever spreads outside this valley, it would be a real disaster for mankind. Therefore, let us make an oath to completely wipe out the Passionless Flower from the face of the earth. What do you think?”

“Your desire Big Brother is a very noble one,” said Cheng Ying. “I am sure the Goddess of Mercy will bless you so that you will meet Sister-in-law much earlier.”

Hearing his sister's words, Yang Guo’s spirits rose. Immediately they went to the building complex ruins, trying to find some tools like machete or axe to cut down the poisonous flowers. They had to work very slowly. Not only there were lots of shrubs to cut, but if not careful, they would get pricked by the thorns. They finished cutting the shrubs after toiling for six whole days. Then they walked around the whole valley, making sure not a single shrub was spared. It was because of their hard work that the world was free of the Passionless Flowers.

Early morning the next day, Wushuang took some more ‘Severed Intestine Grass’, went to her sworn brother and said, “Big Brother, it’s time for you to take another dose of the grass.”

After his first experience seven days ago, Yang Guo was  not  hesitant.  Although  the  ‘Severed  Intestine Grass’ was poisonous, it was effective against the poison in his body. He immediately sat down on the ground, exerted his internal energy to protect his heart and liver, and quickly ate the grass. This time the pain was not so severe. After about an hour or so he threw up some blood and the pain lessened almost immediately.

He stood up, stretched his arms and legs, and saw Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang’s joyful countenance. “I am so lucky to have two very loving sworn sisters.” he said to himself. “One is more than enough, now I have two. How can I repay their kindness?” He looked down, thinking hard. Then he thought, “Second Sister has had an excellent Master, and I am sure someday she will be an excellent martial artist. Not so with Third Sister.”

Having had that thought, he said to Wushuang, “Third Sister, your master and mine were martial sisters. That makes us people of the same sect. The highest level of the Ancient Tomb Sect’s martial arts was written in the ‘Jade Maiden Manual’. Li Mochou’s lifelong desire was to get hold of this manual, fortunately she did not get her wish right up to the day she died. While we have the opportunity, I’d like to teach you one or two arts from our sect. What do you say?”

Lu Wushuang was delighted, “Thank you Big Brother,” she said. “Next time Guo Fu and I meet, she will not dare to pick a fight with me.”

Yang Guo smiled faintly and immediately taught the theory of ‘Jade Maiden Manual’ to his sister, beginning from the elementary to the advanced. “You have to memorize the theory first, and later on ask Second Sister’s help when it comes to training,” explained the big brother. “This quiet Passionless Valley is a very suitable place to learn martial arts.”

For a few days Wushuang used all her waking moments to memorize the theory. Since her background was also from the Ancient Tomb Sect, she did not have any difficulty understanding the elementary lessons. Very soon however, she arrived at the more difficult part of the lesson and started to have some trouble understanding the theory. Yang Guo advised her to just memorize the theory blindly; she would eventually understand the whole lesson. So Wushuang spent almost the whole month memorizing the entire ‘Jade Maiden Manual’. In the mean time Yang Guo ate the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ every seven days and his pain gradually lessened.

One morning, as usual Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang prepared their breakfast, and then waited for Yang Guo to come. After waiting for quite a while, Yang Guo did not come. They went to their big brother’s cave, only to find some characters written on the ground at the cave’s entrance. It said, “To part for a while, to be together forever. Brotherly love shines like the sun and the moon.”

Both girls were shocked. “He … finally he left us,” Lu Wushuang said, running toward a hill and looked around. Cheng Ying followed not too far behind. All they could see were clouds on the mountain peaks. Miss Lu’s heart was broken. She asked, with an uneven voice, “Second Sister … where … where did he go? Can we … can we see him again?”

“Third Sister,” her older sister replied, “Do you see those clouds? They gathered together, then were blown away by the wind, to be gathered again somewhere else. We are just like those clouds. Now we gather, then we part. Why is your heart troubled?” Even though her mouth said those words, her heart was also full of sorrow.

Yang Guo had remained on the Broken Heart Cliff for about over a month and imparted the ‘Jade Maiden Manual’ to Lu Wushuang. During all this time, he did not find any more clues or news about the whereabouts of Xiao Longnu and knew that it would be no use to wait any longer. He gathered a bunch of the ‘Severed Intestine Grass’ and then left a parting a message in the sand before leaving the cliff. However, he had still not given up hope of seeing Xiao Longnu again, so he returned to mount Zhongnan and went back into the Ancient Tomb. But after seeing that the wedding garments were left untouched and were lying on the bed and floor, his heart was broken once again.

He left the mountain and roamed Jianghu for a few months. One day, he found himself near the city of Xiangyang. The burned wastelands that the Mongols had left was showing signs of human activity and it appeared that in the past months the Mongols were once again heading south.

He missed Guo Jing, but he did not want to see Guo Fu and thought to himself, “It’s been a long time since I parted with Brother Eagle, why don’t I go visit him?” He then made his way to the wild valley.

As he neared the home of Sword Demon Dugu Qiubai [Dugu Seeking-A-Loss], he gave a long whistle. He walked and whistled at the same time and not long after, he heard chirrup calls from the base of the mountain. He raised his head and saw the Divine Eagle below a  large tree  with  a wolf  in its  claws.  When the Divine Eagle saw Yang Guo, it released the wolf and made its way to him. After managing to keep its life after facing the jaws of death, the wolf darted straight into the bushes without turning back.

Yang Guo hugged the eagle; both man and beast were extremely happy. They made their way back to the cave. In just a few months, Yang Guo had found himself slipping from life to death and from death back to life again, grief and joy both came and went, the trials and tribulations he had gone through, countless. It was a pity that the eagle could not speak; otherwise Yang Guo could tell it all the things that have been on his mind.

He stayed in the valley with the eagle as his companion for months. One day out of boredom, he made his way to the cliff where Dugu Qiubai buried his swords. He made his way to the top of the cliff and looked at the words underneath the decayed wooden sword:

“After the age of forty, I no longer relied on weaponry. Even bushes, trees, bamboo sticks or rocks can all be my sword. From then on, I achieved great progress and slowly reached the realm of overcoming the sword without a sword.”

Yang Guo thought to himself, “With the heavy iron sword, it can be said that I had no match under heaven’s skies; but from senior Dugu’s words, it appears that the wooden sword can defeat the heavy iron sword, and finally, no sword can defeat the wooden sword. Since Long’er said that we will only be able to see each other again in sixteen years time, with all these years to come, I might as well study the ways to defeat the heavy iron sword with the wooden sword and how to overcome a sword without a sword.”

He broke a branch and formed a sword with it and pondered, “The heavy iron sword is around seventy jin in weight, there are only two possibilities on how to overcome it with such a light and fragile wooden sword. One is through ingenuity of the sword strokes, using speed to overcome the slow;  the  other  is through overbearing internal energy, using strength to subdue the weak.”

From that day on, he trained his internal energy hard night and day and studied the art of the sword. Every timed it rained; he went to the mountain torrents to fight the water in order to increase the power in his sword strokes.

Summer ended and autumn arrived, autumn went and winter came. Though Yang Guo trained with dedication, he made little progress with his internal energy and sword arts. However, he knew that his level of martial arts was already very high; to gain any sort of improvement from such a state was, in reality, a hard task to accomplish, so he wasn’t troubled by it.

One day, it started to snow. The Divine Eagle called out with joy and leapt into the open. It spread its wings and created a strong gust of wind, blowing the snow away. Yang Guo had a thought, “There are no mountain torrents in the winter; practicing in the snow is a great alternative.”

He watched on as the gusts of wind created by the eagle became stronger and stronger; though the snow was heavy, not a flake landed on its body.

Yang Guo’s interests were stirred. He picked up the wooden sword and he too went out into the snow. He used his sword with his left hand and swung his right sleeve at the same time. Whenever flakes of snow got close, either the wind from the wooden sword or the force from his right sleeve would repel it. He continued for a half a day and felt that the power in both his sword and sleeve seemed to have made some improvements.

It snowed for three days and Yang Guo practiced in the snow each day. On the afternoon of the third day, the snow became even heavier. Yang Guo was in the middle of concentrating on attacking the snow when suddenly, the Divine Eagle swept its wings at him. Yang Guo was not prepared for this and was almost tripped by this attack. He leaped up urgently to avoid this attack but  as  soon  as  he  did  this,  he  felt coolness on his forehead, two flakes of snow had landed on it. He immediately understood, “That day on top of the cliff, Brother Eagle used its wings to fight me and helped me to make great improvements in my sword arts; today he is helping me to train my sword skills once again.” He then extended his sword and thrust forward, a ‘crack’ sound was heard as the  sword  met  the  eagle’s  wings;  the  sword  broke.  The Divine Eagle did not continue its attack and instead it straightened up and chirruped with an impression of blame.

Yang Guo thought, “The only way to fight against your frightening strength with a wooden sword is to dodge, evade and wait for a chance to attack from afar.” He made another wooden sword and once again, fought with the Divine Eagle in the snow. This time, he managed ten stances before the sword broke.

Training as hard as this without stop, Yang Guo felt that the Divine Eagle was like a strict teacher and showed no signs of letting up; he was touched by this  but he  was also ashamed  of  himself, “If  I don’t manage to learn the wooden sword, won’t I have let down Brother Eagle’s good intentions? Anyway, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, how can I let it slip away?”

From then on, he thought about how to increase his internal energy, about how to evade and how to strike out with the sword even in his dreams. He trained rigorously and as a result, his thoughts of Xiao Longnu did not engulf his mind as it had in the previous months. The poison from the Passion Flower had now been cleansed from his body, his internal energy had improved, he was in prime shape and he no longer had the haggard and distressed look of old.

It was now the anniversary of his parting with Xiao Longnu. Yang Guo said, “Brother Eagle, I want to visit the Passionless Valley; I’m going to have to leave you for a while.” He then picked up his wooden sword and made his way out of the valley. The Divine Eagle followed. When they reached the fork in the road, Yang Guo bowed to the Divine Eagle and made his way on the road to the north. But to his surprise, the Divine Eagle tugged at his clothes and pulled him towards the south.

Yang Guo said, “Brother Eagle, I have something to do in the north, let us part now.” But the eagle kept on pulling him south. Yang Guo was curious, “Brother Eagle has been very understanding; why is he being so stubborn now?” He could not get through to it with words and could only follow the Divine Eagle south. When the Divine Eagle saw that Yang Guo was following, it let go of Yang Guo’s clothes: but as soon as Yang Guo turned around and tried to go north, it got hold of his clothes once again.

Yang Guo thought, “Brother Eagle is a divine creature, it must have a reason for wanting me to go to the south with him, I might as well go.” He dropped his thoughts of returning to Passionless Valley and followed the eagle to the southeast.

After traveling over ten li, Yang Guo suddenly had a thought, “Could it be that Brother Eagle is leading me to the South Sea to allow me to see Long’er?” As soon as this thought finished, he was filled with excitement and started to take greater strides as he followed the Divine Eagle. Within a month, they had reached the coast of the South Sea.

He stood on a rock and gazed into the sea. He watched the waves of the sea as all manners of emotions filled his mind. After a while, he heard the thunderous sounds of the tides that went on without stop. After spending part of his childhood on the Peach Blossom Island, he knew that the tides of the sea always kept its cycle; it would come at the first and seventh hour of the day. The sun was in the sky and it appeared that it was the time for the turn of the tide. The tide was getting louder and louder, sounding like the hoofs of ten thousand horses. The tide made a white line as it surged towards the coast; the force shown by the tide was greater than the hue and cries of thunder and lightning. Yang Guo could not believe that there existed such a force and after seeing this display, he couldn’t stop his face from changing expression.

In the blink of an eye, the waves had reached him and were about to engulf him. Yang Guo leaped backwards, but suddenly he felt a great force pushing him from behind. It was the Divine Eagle using its wings to hit him. He was in midair and had no control over where he was going. With a splash he landed in the foamy waves. He felt a salty taste in his mouth as he swallowed two mouthfuls of seawater.

It was an extremely dangerous situation but luckily for him, he had spent a long time training in  the mountain torrents and he immediately used the ‘Thousand Pound  Plummet’,  steadying  himself  on  the rocks below the sea’s surface. The bottom of the sea was a lot calmer than the turbulent waves on top. He gathered his thoughts and immediately knew what was  happening,  “Brother  Eagle  has  led  me  here because he wants me to train my sword arts in the waves of the sea.” He lifted his legs and leapt up to the surface of the sea and into the fierce winds, meeting the first of the waves head on. He pushed against the water with his left arm and leapt above the waves before quickly drawing a deep breath and returning to the bottom of the sea. He repeated this until the tide calmed; by then he was so exhausted that his face had turned white. When the tide came again that night, he took the wooden sword with him and leapt into the waves to again train his sword skills. However, unlike the mountain torrents where all he had to contend with was the force of the water heading in one direction, the forces of the waves came from everywhere; whenever he could not take it any longer, he would dive down to the sea bed to avoid the waves.

From then on, he trained twice a day and within a month, he felt his internal energy had made great improvements. When he used the wooden sword on dry land, he was able to produce a faint sound that sounded like sound of the tide. Whenever the Divine Eagle sparred with him, it started to avoid the sword and did not dare to meet it with its wings.

One day, Yang Guo was getting deeply engrossed in the sparring sessions and slashed the wooden sword with all his might. The Divine Eagle called out and leapt to the side. Yang Guo could not withdraw the force of his sword in time and it struck a tree. The wooden sword broke but the tree was cut in two.

Yang Guo held the broken sword’s handle and thought, “This wooden sword is light and fragile, but it was still able to cut a tree; this is because of the internal energy in my hand. If in the future the tree breaks and the sword does not then I won’t be too far off the divine skill of Senior Dugu.”

Spring went and autumn came, the months flowed by. He trained his sword arts in the sea’s waves night and day, whatever the weather. The sound produced by the wooden sword was getting louder and louder to the point where it was able to produce great volume of noise. After a few months, the sound from the wooden sword got quieter and quieter until no more noise came from it. Another few months passed and the sword produced sound again. This process of going from soft to loud and loud to soft repeated itself seven times. Eventually, he was able to produce whatever sound he desired, loud or soft. By the time he reached this stage, he counted on his fingers and realized he had been by the sea for six years.

By this time, when Yang Guo trained in the sea’s waves with the wooden sword in his hand, the wind generated by his sword could repel the waves and the Divine Eagle, with its frightening strength, could last not more than three stances of the wooden sword. At this point, he realized what the Sword Demon Dugu Qiubai must have felt all those years ago, “With a sword art such as this, who, on this earth, can stand up to it? No wonder Senior Dugu felt lonely and buried his sword away in the deep valley.” He then thought, “If Brother Eagle hadn’t witnessed how Senior Dugu trained his sword skills, how would I have been able to obtain such a divine skill? I call him Brother Eagle but in reality he is my kind master. When it comes to age, I don’t know how old he is, I’m afraid that I could even call it Grandfather Eagle or Grandmaster Eagle.”

During his training by the sea, Yang Guo would often ask the passengers on passing boats about a ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ [Nan Hai Shen Ni]. He has asked thousands of sailors and passengers but there was nothing. He knew that seeing Xiao Longnu before the sixteen years was up was going to be a near impossible task.

One dark, windy and rainy day, something stirred in Yang Guo’s heart, he placed the wooden sword at his waist and covered himself with his tattered gown. The man and eagle made their way west and from then on, made their way back into Central Plains and roamed the southern region [Jiangnan].

End of Chapter 32. 
@Chapter 33 – Tales in the Night
The Song Emperor Li Zong celebrated the start of the year, the ninth year after Mengke (or Meng-ge) became the Mongolian Khan. In the early February spring on the tumultuous north bank of the Yellow River's Fenglingdu area, the donkeys and the horses called out mixed with the sounds of people and carts. The weather was cold then warm, the Yellow River had just thawed, but the north wind blew on this day and it started snowing, freezing the river’s water. The water surface did not permit the movement of boats while the carts could not travel on the ice, forcing many visitors heading south to be stranded in the Fenglingdu area. They would be unable to continue their journeys. Although  the  Fenglingdu  area  has several inns, travelers arrived from the north continuously and in less than  half  a  day,  the  inns  were already fully occupied and the travelers who arrived later had no place to stay.

In the town the biggest inn was the "An Du Old Inn", occupying a location supposedly bringing good luck. In this inn the guest-quarters were spacious, all travelers who could not find any accommodations came here, and therefore the inn was particularly crowded. The innkeeper tried his best to arrange matters and so each room was packed with three to four individuals. Around twenty people who were waiting to get a room had to sit in a circle in the great hall. The inn assistants moved the furniture and lighted a fire. Outside, the north wind howled, the cold wind together with the snow managed to enter through a crack in a door, causing the fire to flicker continuously. It looked like the many visitors still would not be able to continue their journey the next day and they were full of worries.

The sky became darker, the snow got heavier and heavier. Suddenly horses' hoofs were heard. Three riders anxiously rushed up and stopped at the inn entrance. In the hall an old guest frowned, saying, "Yet another visitor has come."

A female voice said, "Innkeeper, prepare two good spacious and clean rooms."

The innkeeper greeted her with a smile and said, "Sorry, the inn is already fully occupied. I really cannot prepare rooms for you."

That female said, "OK, then one room will do."

The innkeeper said, "Really sorry, honored guest, but the inn must also please others and now visitors really have filled the inn’s rooms."

That female swung her horse whip, making a "Pa!" sound and scolded, "Rubbish! You run the inn, but will not prepare rooms, what kind of inn is this? Can’t you ask someone to give way? I’ll pay you more." After saying that, she then rushed into the hall.

The crowd saw this female figure become clearer and she looked around 30 years old, with a peach colored cheeks, elegant appearance and wearing an expensive blue colored fur-lined coat. The neckband revealed smooth skin; all the clothing looked quite expensive. Behind this young woman was a male and female of around fifteen or sixteen years old. The male had thick eyebrows and big eyes, and had a straightforward facial expression. The female was lively looking, elegant and beautiful. The two youths wore light green satin fur-lined coats. Around the young girl’s neck hung a string of pearls, with each one around the size of a small finger nail and showing a light halo. The many guests saw these three people’s imposing manner and although they had chatted all day they stopped talking and stared silently at the three people.

The inn assistant bowed with a smile, saying, "Madam, look, these guests cannot find any accommodations. If you three do not mind the discomfort, I will let everybody occupy this space and keep warm by the fire, comfortably passing the night. If the river melts tomorrow, you can cross the river."

The young woman got impatient, but it looked like this was reality, so she frowned wordlessly. A middle- aged woman sitting near the fire said, "Madam, sit here, keep warm by the fire, get rid of the cold air then talk about this again." The beautiful woman said: "Good, many thanks to you." A male guest to the  side  of that middle-aged woman hurriedly moved away, giving up his place.

The three people sat down, and soon the inn assistant delivered their meals. The food was sumptuous, with chicken and pork, and a big pot of wine. That beautiful young woman’s alcohol capacity was very good, having drunk bowl after bowl. The youth and the refined young girl also accompanied her in drinking; the three of them addressed each other as brother and sister. The youth looked older than the refined girl, but called her "elder sister".

The people sat in a circle around the fire, listening to the wind whistling outside, none feeling sleepy at the moment.

A man with a Shanxi accent said, "This weather really is unfavorable; it changes rapidly. God doesn’t allow man to have even one good day." A short person with a Hubei accent said, "You can’t blame Heaven and Earth; we have in here a fire to keep warm, food to eat, what else do you want? If you have lived in the besieged city of Xiangyang, even the world’s most bitter places will seem a cozy nest."

That beautiful young woman upon hearing “besieged city of Xiangyang ", exchanged glances with her brother and sister.

A visitor with a Guangdong accent asked, "Excuse me, elderly friend, that besieged city of Xiangyang - how is life there?"

The Hubei visitor said, "The Mongolians’ cruelty, of  which  all of  you know,  need not be  mentioned. The year the Mongolians’ 100,000-strong army attacked Xiangyang fiercely, the garrison was controlled by Governor Lu, a stupid and incompetent person. Fortunately the heroic couple Mr. and Mrs. Guo bravely repelled the enemy forces..." The young woman, upon hearing "heroic couple Mr. and Mrs. Guo", started paying attention. Listening to that Hubei visitor continue, "Xiangyang City’s hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians also defended the city with their lives and none cowered from their duty. A small- time merchant like me, though only able to move earth and stones, also helped to defend the city. This old arrow scar on my face was caused by a Mongolian’s arrow." The people looked at his face simultaneously, saw that under his left eye there really was a teacup-size arrow scar and could not help but respect him.

That Guangdong guest said, "Our great Song has much land and many people; if everybody acts like the old friend here, even if the Mongolians were ten times fiercer, they couldn’t conquer our lands."

The Hubei man said, "Yes. Look, the Mongolian army has been attacking Xiangyang for more than ten years, but can’t take the city, while other cities fall easily. I heard dozens of countries in the western region got destroyed by the Mongolians, while our Xiangyang, throughout, stood erect like a mountain. The Mongolian prince Khubilai Khan personally directed the combat, but also could not overcome our Xiangyang people." After saying that, he greatly felt satisfied.

The Guangdong guest said: "The common people will fight the Mongolians with their  lives;  if  the Mongolians come to Guangdong, our Guangdong men will also fight them with all our might."

The Hubei man said, "Even if we don’t go all out with the Mongolians, we will still die. The Mongolians cannot take Xiangyang, so they seized the Han people outside the city, tied them up next to each other and beheaded them near the city. Even some four or five year-old or six or seven year-old children were tied up, then pulled by horses in circles under the city wall, and usually in less than half a circle, the children would die. We could hear the children crying loudly from the top of the city wall, and it hurts the heart greatly. The Mongolians use such cruel methods, trying to frighten us into surrendering, but the more vicious they are, the harder we defend the city. That year all of Xiangyang’s grain was eaten, the water supply used up, we even had to drink the water condensed on tree bark, but the Mongolians could never force their way in. Afterwards the Mongolians gave up and withdrew the army."

The Guangdong man said, "After more than ten years fighting, if Xiangyang didn’t persevere unyieldingly, I fear half of the great Song Empire would have already disappeared."

Many people asked about Xiangyang’s defense situation, and the Hubei man talked dramatically, praising Guo Jing and Huang Rong like deities, so the people called out their approval unceasingly.

A visitor with a Sichuan accent suddenly sighed, "Actually good officials who can defend a city are numerous, but the Imperial Court is treacherous, often allowing disloyal subjects to enjoy riches and honor, while the loyal ministers die unjustly. The previous dynasty’s General Yue need not be mentioned. For instance, our Sichuan has several loyal ministers who were killed by the Imperial Court."

The Hubei man said, "Who were they? I must ask." The Sichuan man said, "The  Mongolians  attacked Sichuan for more than 10 years and we all depended on Marshal Yu to defend us. The entire Sichuan population treated him like a living Buddha. Who knew that the Emperor believed the words of his disloyal subject Ding Daquan who said Marshal Yu was too powerful and dangerous.  The  emperor  bestowed poisoned wine upon him and compelled him to commit suicide; replacing him with an incompetent and deceitful jerk as Marshal. Then when the Mongolians attacked again, the  northern Sichuan province could not defend itself. The soldiers were Marshal Yu’s former subordinates, so everyone fought to the death. But the new Marshal could only polish up his superiors so as soon as we went to war, he deployed the troops hopelessly and naturally we could not defend ourselves. Ding  Daquan  and  Chen  Dafang,  the deceitful duo, both shielded that useless Marshal, and instead maligned the brave and unyielding General Wang Weizhong. They accused him of collaborating with the enemy,  resulting  in  his  entire  family  in Beijing being captured and General Wang beheaded." Saying this, his voice had a sobbing note, and many people sighed simultaneously.

The Guangdong visitor said indignantly, "Our country’s affairs are  all  thrown  into  disarray  by  these disloyal subjects. I heard the Imperial Court has three dogs, so this disloyal subject Ding Daquan must be one of them." A fair youth was listening silently, but he said, "Correct, the Imperial Court’s disloyal subjects Ding Daquan, Chen Dafang and Hu Dachang are the top three dogs. The Linan people added a dot to their 'Da' character, changing them to Ding Qianquan, Chen Quanfang and Hu Quanchang." (Playing with the Chinese characters) Hearing this, the group of people laughed heartily.

The Sichuan man said, "From your voice, you must be from the capital Linan." The youth said, "Exactly."

The Sichuan man said, "Then have you heard of the matter concerning General Wang Weizhong’s punishment?"

The youth said, "I saw with my own eyes. Before dying General Wang’s manner did not change and he fiercely shouted that Ding Daquan and Chen Dafang will bring disaster on the nation and the people. But moreover there is also a different matter." The numerous people asked, "What different matter?"

The youth said, "General Wang's death was caused by Chen Dafang’s plotting. When General Wang was tied up and he was being moved to the execution ground, he shouted loudly in the street, saying that he will definitely voice his grievances to the Jade Emperor (the Emperor of Heaven). The third day after General Wang’s death, that Chen Dafang was killed in his own home; his severed head was actually displayed above the Linan east gate’s bell tower, suspended on a long bamboo pole. Neither apes nor monkeys could reach this place, let alone a person; if it wasn’t the Jade Emperor, then who could have done it?" Many people expressed admiration. The youth said, "This matter is known throughout Linan and was not made up by me. If you people go to Linan, you will know as soon as you ask."

The Sichuan man said, "This brother's story is indeed good. However the one who killed Chen Dafang, certainly wasn’t a deity or god, but actually was a great hero."

The youth shook his head and said, "That Chen Dafang was a high official in the Imperial Court and had many soldiers. He was guarded closely; how could the average man kill him? Also, to hang this disloyal subject's severed head above the bell tower, one must have wings; only then can one have that ability."

The Sichuan man said, "A chivalrous hero with such extraordinary abilities must still exist in the world after all. But if I didn’t witness this myself, I might also find it unbelievable."

The youth curiously asked, "You saw how he hung up Chen Dafang’s severed head on the high bamboo pole with your own eyes? How did you see that?"

The Sichuan man hesitated for a while and said, "General Wang Weizhong has a son; when General Wang was arrested the son escaped outside Linan. The Imperial Court’s disloyal subjects wanted to nip the problem in the bud, so they sent the army to pursue and capture him. General Wang’s son was also a military officer; although he has some martial arts, he actually was overwhelmed by sheer numbers and knew that he was about to be caught. But a savior came and empty-handedly thrashed dozens of soldiers soundly. Young General Wang then told his savior how his father fought bravely for the country but was framed by the disloyal subjects. That chivalrous hero rushed the same night to Linan, wanting to rescue General Wang, but was late by two days and General Wang was already dead. That chivalrous hero swelled with anger and that very evening he severed Chen Dafang's head. Although that bell tower is out of reach of apes and monkeys, that chivalrous hero had only to jump gently and reached it in one attempt."

The Guangdong man asked, "Who is this hero? What’s his appearance like?"

The Sichuan man said, "I did not know this hero's name, I only saw that he was short a right arm, his facial expression...his facial expression was also very unusual. He rode a horse and led another horse with a huge strange-looking bird riding on it..." He had not finished talking when a man with a straightforward facial expression loudly said, "Correct! This must be the world-famous ' Eagle Hero '!"

The Sichuan person asked, "He is called the ‘Eagle Hero’?"

The other man said, "This chivalrous hero valiantly upholds justice, defends the good against evil, but is never willing to reveal his name. Our friends in Jianghu (the pugilistic world) always see him and a queer bird together, so they gave him the nickname the “Chivalrous Eagle Hero” (Shen Diao Da Xia). He said he was not fit to be called a “Chivalrous Hero” (da xia), so they only called him the “Eagle Hero”. But based on his actions, what’s wrong with calling him “Chivalrous Hero”? If he isn’t a hero, then who is?"

The beautiful young woman suddenly said, "You are a chivalrous hero, I am also a chivalrous hero, humph, there are rather too many chivalrous heroes."

That Sichuan person imposingly said, "Madam said that? Although I don’t understand Jianghu matters, the Eagle Hero rushed Linan from Jiangxi for four consecutive days and nights, without sleeping or resting, in order to save the life of General Wang. He didn’t even know General Wang, but because of the General’s utter loyalty in serving the country and being framed by the disloyal traitor, he acted boldly without regard for his own safety. He braved much danger to seek justice for General Wang’s orphan, so should you call him a chivalrous hero?"

The young woman made a ‘humph’ sound and was about to argue, but the refined young girl beside her said, "Elder sister, judging from what this gentleman did, of course one should call him a “Chivalrous Hero”." Her words were clear; upon hearing this, nobody else could say anything as pleasant to hear.

The young woman said, "What do you know?" Turning her head to that Sichuan man, she said, "How do you know it so well? Is this not hearsay? In Jianghu news, around 90% is not accurate."

That Sichuan person hesitated for a while before saying, "My surname is Wang; General Wang Weizhong was my father. My life was saved by the Eagle Hero. I am a fugitive and the Imperial Court has issued a warrant for my arrest, and wants my head. But this involves my savior's reputation, so I do not dare fear death and keep this matter from coming to light."

The people were shocked to hear him say that. The Guangdong man curled his thumb upwards, saying "Young General Wang, you are a good man. Anyone who dares to inform the government authorities of your whereabouts may have a white knife entering him, a red knife coming  out."  Many  people  loudly praised this. The beautiful woman heard him say this and could not argue.

The refined young girl looked at the flickering fire and was lost in thought, gently mumbling, "Eagle Hero, Eagle Hero... ... "Turning her head to young General Wang, she said, "Uncle Wang, the Eagle Hero has such excellent martial arts, how could he lose an arm?" The beautiful woman’s face changed greatly, the lips moved slightly, wanting to speak, but she controlled the impulse.

Young General Wang shook his head saying, "I didn’t even get to ask his name, how could I ask about his life story?"

The beautiful young woman made a ‘humph’ sound, saying "Of course you don’t know."

The Linan youth said, "The Eagle Hero killed the traitor which young General Wang witnessed with his own eyes, then naturally it was not the deities who  did  it.  But  that  traitor  Ding  Daquan’s  face  turned green in one night, so it must be due to heaven’s punishment."

The Guangdong man said, "How did his face turn green in one night? This is really strange."

The Linan youth said, "Formerly the people of Linan called Ding Daquan as Ding Qianquan, but now he is called “Ding Qingpi” (Ding Green Skin). His originally fair skin suddenly turned green in a night, and it didn’t go away. All the wise doctors were not able to treat him. I heard the Emperor also once asked about it but that disloyal official said that he wholeheartedly served the Emperor and his anxiety over national affairs caused him to lose much sleep, so his complexion turned green. But in Linan everyone said this deceitful scoundrel brings disasters on the nation and the people, so the Jade Emperor turned his face green."

The Guangdong man smiled shaking his head, saying, "Indeed this is very strange."

The man with the straightforward face suddenly laughed loudly, patted his leg and called out, "This was also the work of the Eagle Hero, heh-heh, this makes me happy." People quickly asked, "What, the Eagle Hero did this too?" That guy only laughed and said, "Ha-ha, this is funny." The Guangdong guest desired to know the details and ordered the servant to bring two catties of wine and invited that guy to drink.

He drank a big bowl of wine and was satisfied and happy, loudly saying, "This matter is not a cock and bull story; I also have a bit of credit. That evening the Eagle Hero suddenly arrived in Linan; he called me to lead some followers and we tied up the Linan Qian Tang Xian Yamen (Something like a District Court) officers, removed their clothes and let us play  the  roles  of  the  officers.  Everybody  was  pleasantly surprised, as we did not know why the Eagle Hero gave such instructions, but we wanted to play along and so we acted accordingly. Soon the Eagle Hero arrived at the Qian Tang Xian Yamen, he put on the magistrate’s costume, sat the hall, banged the wooden block and shouted, 'Bring that scum Ding Daquan here!'” Saying this, his saliva splattered and he drank a big mouthful of wine.

The Guangdong guest said, "Friend what did you work as in Linan at that time?"

The man returned his gaze and said, "What job? I drank a lot, ate a lot, had much money but I was a businessman without capital." (Hinting he was involved in shady activities.) The Guangdong visitor was startled and did not dare ask again.

The man also said, "At that time when I heard ' Ding Daquan ', I got a shock, carefully thinking 'The dog Ding Daquan is currently the Prime Minister, how did the Eagle Hero bring him here?' The Eagle Hero hit the wooden block again, and then two burly men actually brought a man dressed in official court dress before him. A year earlier Ding Daquan went to a Taoist temple to burn incense and obtain blessings and I saw him outside the temple. Now when I looked again, it was really Ding Daquan. His whole body trembled, not knowing whether to kneel or not. Our brothers kicked his knees, he fell over and knelt down, ha-ha, the Eagle Hero asked, 'Ding Daquan, are you aware of the charges against you?' Ding Daquan said 'I don’t know.' The Eagle Hero shouted, 'You engage in corrupt practices for your own personal gain, caused the deaths of loyal men, cruelly harm the common people, collaborate with the enemy who invade the country; all these are heinous crimes – quickly, confess now!' Ding Daquan said, 'Who are you? You insult the Prime Minister; do you not know the law?' The Eagle Hero said, 'Do YOU not know the law? Officers, hit him forty times then we shall talk again!' Everybody already hated this scum, so this time we hit doubly hard, but we only hit this scoundrel several times before he begged for mercy again and again. The Eagle Hero asked several questions and he answered willingly, not daring to act stubbornly. The Eagle Hero brought a pen and paper and demanded he write a confession. He hesitated slightly so the Eagle Hero commanded us to hit his buttocks and slap his mouth."

The refined young girl smiled and said quietly, "Interesting!"

The man drank another huge mouthful of wine, saying with a smile, "Yes. This is very interesting. That Ding Daquan had never been hit before so he had no choice but to write the confession, but he suffered from the beatings so he wrote extremely slowly. The Eagle Hero had to urge him on repeatedly but he was not willing to write any faster. Soon the Sun rose, outside the Yamen the sounds of people got louder, and a large troop of soldiers arrived, probably because the matter had leaked out. The Eagle Hero got angry and shouted, 'Behead him!' and cast a glance at me. I knew the Eagle Hero would not easily take someone’s life, so I drew out my broad sword and brushed Ding Daquan’s neck, then when I chopped the sword down, I turned it in midair, chopping his neck with the flat of the sword. But this scared the living daylights out of Ding Daquan, causing his complexion to turn green suddenly and he fainted. The Eagle Hero laughed heartily, calling us to put back the Yamen’s officer’s clothes and sneak off through the side door and return home. Afterwards he went out to the soldiers and so we never fought with them, and everybody withdrew safely. I heard the following day the Eagle Hero personally sneaked into the Imperial Palace, and handed Ding Daquan’s confession to the Emperor. But we do not know how, but that Ding Daquan managed to sweet talk the Emperor into believing him and allowing him to continue as Prime Minister."

Young General Wang sighed, "If the Emperor was not stupid, then  disloyal  subjects  could  not  do  evil. When Qin Hui was gone, Han Tuozhou came; when Han Tuozhou has gone, Shi Miyuan came; now Shi Miyuan has gone, Ding Daquan comes. We saw Jia Sidao in power and saw how this brought disaster upon the nation and the people. Oh, since the disloyal subjects are numerous, our great Song Empire may not last long."

The other man said, "Only if we ask the Eagle Hero to be Prime Minister can we repel the Mongolians and restore peace throughout the country."

The beautiful woman said, "Humph is he qualified to be the Prime Minister?" The man got angry, "If he’s not are you?"

The young woman became furious and shouted, "Who the hell are you; how dare you be impolite to me?"

The guy picked an iron rod from the fire; she grabbed a few sticks of firewood and struck his rod. The guy’s arm trembled and he felt half his body go numb so he let go of the hot rod, which fell onto the floor causing sparks from the fire to fly and scorch strands of his beard. People called out in alarm. Although the man is hot-tempered, he tasted her martial arts, suffered a loss and did not dare act rashly. He only stroked his burnt beard, not even wanting to drink the wine anymore.

The refined young girl said, "Others have been talking about the Eagle Hero and it was all going fine, why do you not like to hear it?" Turning her head to the man she gave a sweet smile, saying "Uncle, please do not be offended." That man was originally filled with anger, but  seeing  her  sweet  smile,  his  anger dissipated immediately and his large mouth also smiled; he wanted to say something polite but did not know what to say.

The young girl said, "Uncle, how did you get to know the Eagle Hero?" The man looked at the young woman, hesitated and did not speak. The young girl said, "Just agree not to offend my elder sister and that will do. How old is the Eagle Hero? Are his looks good?" She did not wait for the man to reply and turned her head to the woman saying, "Elder sister, I wonder how his Divine Eagle compares with our pair of eagles?"

The young woman said, "Compare with our pair of eagles? In all this world, which eagle or eagles can hold a candle to our pair of eagles?"

The young girl said, "Not necessarily true. Father often said, 'A person who studies military theories must know that superior parties always exist and so one cannot be complacent.' If that applies to humans, then it applies to our eagles too, so more magnificent birds should exist." The young woman said "At your young age, what do you understand? When we went out, our parents told you to listen to me, have you not remembered?"

The young girl said with a smile, "That also depends on whether what you say is right. Younger brother am I right or is elder sister right?"

The youth next to her is big and sturdy, but actually looked very naive, so he hesitated for a while then said, "I don’t know. Father said we should listen to elder sister, and told you not to talk back to elder sister."

The young woman looked very pleased and said, "Isn’t that so?"

The young girl saw that her younger brother was helping her elder sister, but she was not angry and said with a smile, "You don't understand anything either." Turning her head to the straightforward man she said, "Uncle, continue the Eagle Hero’s story, please."

The man said, "OK, since the lady wants to hear, I shall speak; although I, whose surname is Song, have poor skills, I am an honest man. What I say is true and definitely doesn’t contain half a word of lies, if the lady does not believe me, then there’s no need to listen."

The young girl took the wine pot and poured out a bowl of wine for him, then said with a smile, "Why would I not believe you? Come on, quickly start talking!" She also called out, "Waiter, bring ten catties of wine again and cut 20 catties of beef, my elder sister requests all of you to drink merrily and drive out the cold air." The servant repeatedly agreed and relayed the order. The many travelers smiled from ear to ear, expressing their gratitude with one voice. Before long, three waiters brought the wine and meat.

The young woman calmly said "Even if I wanted to provide a treat, I would not invite people who utter rubbish. Waiter, the bill for the wine and meat money should not be charged to my account."

The servant gawked, looked from the young woman to the young girl, not knowing what to do. The young girl took off a golden hairpin from her hair and gave it to the servant, saying, "This hairpin is made of real gold, it's worth several taels (a unit of currency) of silver. Take it away and exchange it for money. And bring another ten catties of wine and 20 catties of mutton."

The young woman got angry, "Younger sister, must you be spiteful with me? Even a pearl on this hairpin alone is worth more than 100 taels of silver; you bothered and begged Uncle Zhu for it, but now you casually use it to treat people to a drink. When you return to Xiangyang, if Mother asks about it how will you answer?"

The young girl stuck out her tongue and said with a smile, "I shall say it fell on the road, and I could not find it."

The woman said "I will not lie for you."

The young girl used her chopsticks to grasp a piece of beef and put it in her mouth. She then said, "After all, we have already eaten, how can I take it back now? Everybody, please eat, there is no need to be polite."

The people saw the two arguing and all found it interesting, but they liked the young girl’s naïve character, so even those who did not drink carried the liquor bowls to those who drank the wine, helping the young girl secretly. The young woman spitefully closed her eyes and used her hands to cover her ears.

The young girl said with a smile, "Uncle Song, my elder sister is sleeping, it’s OK if you speak loudly; you won’t wake her." The young woman opened her eyes widely, getting angry, "When did I sleep?" The young girl then said, "That’s even better, even if we talk loudly we won’t disturb you."

The young woman said loudly, "Xiang’er, let me tell you, if you anger me, I will not allow you to follow us around tomorrow." The young girl said, "It’s alright, I can travel together with  Younger  brother."  The woman said "Younger brother will come with me." The young girl said, "Younger brother, say, who will you follow?"

The youth was caught in a fix, if he helped his big sister, his other sister would be upset, if he helped his other sister, his big sister would be angry, so he said, "Mother said, the three of us must always travel together and not be separated."

The young woman stared at her younger sister and snapped, "If I had known that you would become so disobedient, I would not have been anxious to find you back when you got kidnapped by the thugs when you were small."

The young girl heard her say that, causing her heart to soften, so she hugged the young woman's shoulders, begging, "Good elder sister, please don’t be angry, it’s my fault." The young woman was angry and paid no attention to her. The young girl then said, "If you don’t smile, I will tickle you." That young woman turned her head away instead. The young girl suddenly extended her right hand and poked at the young woman’s armpit from behind. The young woman did not counter the move but swept her left hand backwards. The young girl used her left hand to block and her right hand continued to move forwards. The young woman sank her right elbow slightly, pressing down on her sister's arm. The young girl then circled her palm and avoided the elbow, executing the graceful move beautifully. In that short moment, the two people exchanged seven or eight moves, all originating from the ingenious "Subtle Hand Arresting Technique". Although the young girl did not manage to tickle her elder sister’s armpit, the young woman also could not catch her sister's arm.

Suddenly a person in a corner softly said, "Good skills!" Both sisters stopped and looked at that corner and saw a person curled up into a ball, the head buried between the knees sleeping soundly. The sisters sat on a pile of firewood looking at him resting in such a position without moving at all. The other people were unable to see his face, so it looked like this comment was not made by him.

The youth said, "Big sister, elder sister, Father warned us not to reveal our martial arts casually."

The young girl smiled, "Young old man, you are right." She turned her head to the straightforward man and said, "Uncle Song, sorry, we sisters were busy arguing and forgot to listen to your story, please continue."

The man named Song said, "I’m not spinning a yarn, this is the absolute truth and nothing but the truth." The young girl said, "Uncle Song, what you say is naturally true."

The man drank the wine, saying with a smile, "I’ve consumed much of the lady’s wine and meat, how can I not tell all? If I had not lost all my money last night due to three confounded dice, I would really repay the lady. You keep addressing me as Uncle, how can I disappoint you? How did I get to know the Eagle Hero? It was similar to young General Wang; it was also the Eagle Hero who saved my life. But this time he actually didn’t use his Wugong (martial arts), he used money to buy my life back." The young girl said with a smile, "Well, this is curious; he used money to buy your life? Eh, how much is it worth?"

That man laughed aloud and said, "My worthless body actually cost more than beef and pork because the Eagle Hero unexpectedly forked out 2,000 taels of silver for it. More than five years ago, I tried to uphold justice in Shandong and I killed a crook. Since murder carries the death penalty, I was sentenced to death so there was nothing for me to say. Who knew several days later, the Licheng county magistrate interrogated the local evil tyrant and later brought me forward for a torture session accusing me of crimes that local tyrant committed, murder, extortion, rape; all the blame was pushed onto me and the tyrant was acquitted. Afterwards the Prison Warden told me that the tyrant bribed the County Magistrate with 1,000 taels of silver, so the County Magistrate transferred all his capital charges to me. A capital offence is punished with death; ten capital offences were also punished with death, so I was made a scapegoat. When I heard such injustice, I shouted loudly in my cell, scolding the corrupt official, but what use was that?”

"After several days, the corrupt official called for a retrial and that local tyrant was also kneeling next to me. I shouted, 'You corrupted dog, you accepted bribes and distorted justice, you will not have a peaceful death!' That corrupt official grinned, 'Song Wu, you do not have to speak thus, I investigated closely and found that you were sentenced unjustly. That crook was not killed by you but by this tyrant!' After saying that, he ordered the Yamen attendants to hit him hard, and used the bamboo torture method (something like squeezing the fingers between bamboo sticks) on him, forcing him to confess that he killed that crook and pushed the blame on me. I wasn’t able to figure this out; that crook was obviously killed by me, how could this charge be transferred to someone else?"

The young girl heard this and smiled, saying, "This magistrate must be really blind."

Song Wu said, "He was definitely not blind; when I got home, my mother told me after I was sentenced to death, my mother bitterly wept daily on the street. One day she happened to meet the Eagle Hero passing through who asked her what was wrong. The Eagle Hero asked around and discovered the truth; he said he had a matter at hand and didn’t have the time to find this corrupt official to settle the score, so he gave my mother 2,000 taels of silver to buy my life. After three months, everyone in the town said the County Magistrate, late one night, was robbed of 4,000 taels of silver and got into a fit of anger. He was so mad he coughed up blood ever since. I knew this surely must be the Eagle Hero’s doing, so I didn’t dare continue living there and moved to Jiangnan. After more than a year, some people told me, a great master with a missing arm was by the seashore with a big queer bird and he was looking blankly into the sea, and had been doing so for the past few days. I hastily hurried up to him and kowtowed to him as an expression of gratitude."

The young woman suddenly said, "Thank him for what? He paid 2,000 taels of silver but stole 4,000 taels of silver; so he made a profit of 2,000 taels of silver. How could this Yang scum do business in such an unscrupulous manner?" The young girl said, "Yang? The Eagle Hero is named Yang?" The young woman said, "I don’t know, I didn’t say his name is Yang." The young girl said, "I clearly heard you say so." The woman said, "Surely you heard wrongly."

The young girl said, "OK. I won’t argue with you. Even if the Eagle Hero gained 2,000 taels of silver, it must also have been used for helping the poor and needy people. He is a generous and chivalrous hero, how would he use the money for his own personal gain?" Many people cheered with one voice, all saying, "The lady is right!"

The young girl asked, "Uncle Song, why did the Eagle Hero stare at the sea? Is he waiting for someone?" Song Wu shook his head, "I don’t know, I didn’t dare to ask about this."

The young girl took up two pieces of firewood and threw them into the fire, looking at the dark flame turn bright red, gently saying, "Although Eagle Hero is ever eager to help the distressed; perhaps he actually has a problem of his own? Otherwise why does he always stare at the sea?"

A middle-aged woman sitting in a western corner suddenly said, "I have a younger female cousin who has seen the Eagle Hero before. She also once saw the Eagle Hero blankly looking at the sea with a strange expression, and so she personally asked him about it. The Eagle Hero replied, 'My beloved wife is at the other end of the sea, so we can’t meet.” The people all said "Ohh” at the same time.

The refined young girl said, "So he has a wife, why did she end up at the other end of the sea? He has such excellent abilities, why doesn’t he cross the sea to look for her?"

The middle-aged woman said, "My younger female cousin also asked him that. He said, “The Sea is so vast, I don’t know how we can meet.”

The young girl gently sighed, "I expected that such a character would have such a personality, so it’s actually true." She also asked, "Is your younger female cousin very pretty? In her heart she secretly likes the Eagle Hero, is it not so?"

The beautiful young woman shouted clearly, "Younger sister, are you fantasizing again?"

The middle-aged woman said, "My younger female cousin may be considered to be beautiful. The Eagle Hero killed her father in order to save her mother. Whether or not my younger female cousin secretly liked the Eagle Hero, nobody knows. She has since married an honest farmer. The Eagle Hero gave her a great sum of money and now her life is pretty good."

The young girl said, "The Eagle Hero killed her father in order to save her mother? How strange!"

The beautiful woman said "This person has a very strange temperament, when he’s good he saves lives, when he’s wicked he murders people. Yes, he was like that since he was young."

That young girl curiously asked "He was like that since he was young? How do you know?" The woman said, "I just know."

The young girl persistently asked about the matter but the young woman refused to say. The young girl said, "Fine, since you won’t say, then I don’t want to hear. Even if you did say, I may not believe you." She turned her head to the middle-aged woman and said, "Madam, please tell me about your younger female cousin's story."

The woman said, "Alright. My younger female cousin and I have an age gap of seventeen years, and her mother is my aunt..." The young girl said with a smile, "And her father is your uncle." That woman replied with a smile, "Oh, I’m droning non-stop again, causing the lady to be impatient. My uncle is from Henan; in that year the Mongolians invaded our lands and captured my uncle to work as a slave. My aunt led my cousin, begging for food along the way, and went to Shandong from Henan. Then they went to Shanxi from Shandong, looking for my uncle's whereabouts."

Young General Wang sighed, "Traveling thousands of li to find her husband; that is really rare."

The woman said, "But because my aunt and my cousin’s appearance is  good,  traveling  on  the  road  is doubly hard. The two of them spread their faces with black mud to prevent evil men from seeing colour and coming up with ideas..." (Meaning lusting after them...as if you didn’t know!)

The young girl said, “Seeing colour and coming up with ideas?” Half of the people sitting around the fire started laughing.

The beautiful young woman hurriedly said, "Younger sister, if you don’t understand then don’t talk nonsense, you’re a big lady, and people will laugh at you."

The young girl muttered, "I don’t understand, that’s why I ask; if I understood, why would I ask?" The middle-aged woman smiled and said, "These are awful words, if the lady doesn't understand it’s better for her. Mmm, my aunt and cousin searched for four years and heaven helped them; they finally found my uncle in Hubei, serving as a Mongolian official’s slave. This official is very evil. When my aunt saw my uncle, he had just massaged the Mongolian official’s left leg. My aunt was extremely grieved and begged the Mongolian official to allow him to return home. The Mongolian official was not willing to agree, saying he bought this lackey for 100 taels of silver, so unless my aunt has 500 taels of silver to redeem his freedom, the official would rather kill him than set him free. My aunt didn’t even have 50 taels of silver, how could she find 500 taels of silver? She thought for a long time, finally deciding not to be concerned about face and so she and her daughter sold their flesh..."

Again the young lady did not understand, but her previous question caused much laughter, so now she did not dare to ask again, and continued to listen to the woman. The woman said, "After several years like this, the mother and daughter only had a little savings, but to raise 500 taels of silver, was easier said than done. Fortunately their clients knew about their plight, so they often paid more than necessary. The mother and daughter suffered great humiliation, and on this New Year's Eve, they finally raised the 500 taels of silver. They went to the Mongolian official’s residence, thinking that the whole family can finally be reunited and have a happy new year."

The young girl heard this and was happy for the mother and daughter. Then she heard the woman say, "That Mongolian official received the 500 taels of silver, and then called my uncle to come out, letting the family meet. My uncle’s family kowtowed (kneel and bow) to  that  Mongolian  official  and  bade  him farewell. Who knew that when the Mongolian official saw my cousin, he  suddenly  had  evil  intentions, saying, 'Good, you are here to redeem this slave, nothing could be better, now hand over 500 taels of silver!" My aunt was shocked, she had already given the Mongolian official 500 taels of silver, and how could she hand over the money again? The Mongolian official’s face changed, shouting, 'I am a high Mongolian official, would I cheat for my slave’s money?' My aunt was afraid and sad, so she immediately cried loudly in the main hall, and then that Mongolian official said, "Fine. Today is New Year’s Eve, I shall show mercy and let your family be reunited, but I fear when this lackey is gone he will not return, so you must leave your girl behind. ‘My aunt knew he harbored evil intentions; how would she  be  willing  to comply? That Mongolian official shouted for his attendants who then threw my uncle and aunt out of his office.”

"My aunt wasn’t willing to give up her daughter and shouted in front of the Mongolian official’s office. The common people knew perfectly well that she has been wronged, but Hubei was not part of the great Song territory. Mongolian soldiers killed the Han people like trampling on ants, so who dared to say a word about fairness? But my uncle said, 'Since the Mongolian official has taken a liking for our girl, that is a fortune others cannot have, so why do you cry?' He actually behaved like a slave since he has been a lackey for a long time. He then asked where that 500 taels of silver came from. In the beginning my aunt was not willing to say, but was questioned persistently and she finally said it. My uncle got angry, saying my aunt had ruined his reputation by not following the traditional woman’s ethics. He became depressed, then did such a despicable act as to write a divorce paper immediately and has since divorced my aunt." The people sighed with one voice; all saying her aunt really has had such an unfortunate life.

The middle-aged woman said, "My aunt toiled through untold hardships for seven or eight years but reached such a wretched state that she did not want to live. Then she went to the woods and loosened her belt to hang herself. But heaven is just and fair; just then the Eagle Hero passed by and rescued her. He found out the whole story and his face flushed with anger. That very evening he entered into the Mongolian official’s office and saw the Mongolian official trying to coerce my cousin and my uncle unexpectedly urging my cousin to submit. He was saying that since she has been in that kind of job all these years, she isn’t a decent girl anymore and didn’t have to respect her chastity. The Eagle Hero killed my uncle with one punch and gripped that Mongolian official and threw him into the Huaihe River, thus saving my cousin. He said my aunt sold her flesh to save her husband so she deserved much more respect than the common chaste ladies. He also said the people he hates most are ungrateful people, so he would never spare people like my uncle."

The young girl heard this and started to day-dream, casually lifting the  wine  bowl  and  drank  a  big mouthful then gently said, "So many of you were able to meet the Eagle Hero, but I do not have such luck. If I can just see him once and listen to him to say a few words, I...I would be overjoyed."

The young woman loudly said, "This person’s martial arts are good, but compared with Father, he is way behind. A young girl like you doesn’t know anything. When others exaggerate  such  matters;  you immediately proclaim how great this person is. Actually you have seen this person, and he also carried you before."

The young girl blushed and said, "You are my elder sister, yet you speak so frivolously, who would believe you?"

The woman said "If you don’t believe it that’s up to you. That, whatever, Eagle Hero is named Yang Guo, and lived on our Peach Blossom Island (Tao Hua Dao) in his childhood. His arm was ... Eh...Mmm... he carried you the day you were born." This beautiful young woman is Guo Fu, the young girl is her younger sister Guo Xiang and the youth is Guo Xiang’s twin brother Guo Polu. More than ten years ago, Guo Fu had married Yelu Qi and now Guo Xiang and Guo Polu have also grown up. The three of them were carrying out an assignment for their parents which was: to proceed to Jinyang and invite Quanzhen’s senior priest Qiu  Chuji,  styled  Chang Chunji (Everlasting Spring), to preside over the heroes’ congress in Xiangyang. On  this  day  the  three siblings were on their way to Jinyang, but they were held up here as the cold had frozen Fenglingdu’ s part of the Yellow River mouth, so they listened to the many people talk throughout the night.

Guo Xiang’s face had a happy expression and she mumbled to herself, "He carried me the day I was born…" She turned her head to Guo Fu and said, "Elder sister, the Eagle Hero really lived in our Peach Blossom Island (Tao Hua Dao) in his childhood? How is it I’ve never heard our parents mention this before?"

Guo Fu said "What do you know? Our parents have never mentioned many things to you before."

Actually Yang Guo losing his arm and Xiao Longnu getting poisoned were all caused by Guo Fu acting rashly. Whenever this matter was mentioned, Guo Jing would get very angry. Although his daughter had gotten married, he would still scold her fiercely, not giving any face  to  his  daughter  or  son-in-law. Therefore everyone in the Guo family stopped talking about this matter, so Guo Xiang and Guo Polu never heard of Yang Guo’s affairs.

Guo Xiang said "Since he and our family have such deep ties, why hasn't he visited us? Hey, he must surely be attending the “Heroes Congress” on the fifteenth of March in Xiangyang."

Guo Fu said, "This person does things strangely and has such an arrogant character, most probably he won’t come."

Guo Xiang said, "Elder sister, it would be good if we think of how to deliver an invitation to him." Turning her head to Song Wu, she said, "Uncle Song Wu, can you think of a way to forward a letter to the Eagle Hero?"

Song Wu shook his head saying, "The Eagle Hero wanders around the country, not having any definite destination. If he has any matters requiring our assistance, he would just pass the word down. If we try to look for him, even a lifetime may not be enough."

Guo Xiang was very disappointed. She’d listened to the various people talking about how Yang Guo saved Wang Weizhong’s only child, executed Chen Dafang, interrogated Ding Daquan, redeemed Song Wu, killed the father to save the mother and all sorts of chivalrous and magnanimous acts and could not help but daydream. Listening to her elder sister say he carried her when she was young, her heart was on fire and she wished she would be able to see him once. But then she heard he would most probably not participate in the “Heroes Congress” and could not help but sigh, saying,  "At  the  “Heroes”  meeting  not  everyone would necessarily be a hero, but a genuine hero who is so outstanding actually may not go."

Suddenly a “Po” sound was heard and a person from the corner somersaulted and stood up. It was actually the person who was rolled into a ball and sleeping soundly. The people heard the rumbling sound, caused by that person speaking. He said, "If the lady wants to meet the Eagle Hero it’s not difficult; tonight I shall take you to see him." When the people heard him they were startled, and then when they saw his appearance, they were even more surprised. His height was less than four feet, his body was really skinny, but his head was huge. His arms were long, hands and feet were big, larger than the ordinary person’s. In fact, even if they were on an ordinary person they wouldn’t fit. All this on his small body, it was very weird.

Guo Xiang was filled with great happiness and said, "Excellent, but I am unknown to the Eagle Hero, rashly seeking an audience may trespass on his patience; I don’t know if he will see me."

The dwarf loudly said, "If you do not see him today, I fear you may never see him in future." Guo Xiang curiously asked, "Why?"

Guo Fu stood up, saying to the dwarf, "What is your great name?"

The dwarf laughed coldly, "I am such an ugly person; how can there be another on this Earth? Since you don’t know, go home and ask your father and mother."

At this time, a distant voice slowly and softly said, "In Xishan are a group of ghosts; he is the ninth out of ten and his is called Big Head Ghost! (Da Tou Gui) If you don’t find out now, then when will you?" This voice was rather incoherent, worn out and had a ghostly tone, but everybody heard every word clearly.

That big headed dwarf was shocked, made a loud noise and a “Peng” sound was heard, the flames became dark and the dwarf disappeared without a trace. The people were startled, and saw the front door had a large hole, made by the dwarf when he exited. Breaking down a door was not unheard of, but this person dashing through a door was really uncommon.

Guo Polu said, "Big sister, this dwarf has such good skills!" Guo Fu had followed her parents for a long time, and saw much of the pugilistic world, but their parents never mentioned this dwarf before, so she was struck dumb for quite a while.

But Guo Xiang said, "Among Father’s teachers, the Jiangnan Seven Freaks, there was a short guy named Grandpa Ma Wangshen. Third brother, you called him a dwarf, if Father knew he might not be too happy. You should call him Senior." Guo Jing never forgot the Jiangnan Seven Freaks' kindness, and was very respectful towards them and treated any blind person or dwarf kindly, teaching the children to do that too.

Before Guo Polu could reply, a “Hu” sound was suddenly heard and the big headed dwarf stood in front of him, with wind and snow blowing in through the broken door, causing sparks from the fire to fly about. Guo Fu feared that the dwarf would injure her brother and sister so she rushed forward and blocked him from Guo Xiang and Guo Polu.

The dwarf poked his big head towards the side of Guo Fu’s waist and said to Guo Xiang, "Young lady, if you want to see the Eagle Hero, follow me."

Guo Xiang said, "Alright! Elder sister, Younger brother, let’s go together."

Guo Fu said, "What’s so good to see about the Eagle Hero? Don’t go. We don’t even know this person well."

Guo Xiang said, "I’ll just go for a while and return, you guys wait here for me."

Song Wu suddenly stood up and said, "Lady, do not go. This person is... ... is one of the… … Ghosts of Xishan...If you go something unfortunate might happen to you."

The dwarf grinned cunningly, saying, "You know the Xishan Ghosts? You know we are bad people?" His left palm suddenly struck out, hitting Song Wu on his shoulder. A “peng” sound was heard, Song Wu flew backwards and hit the wall and immediately fainted.

Guo Fu got angry and loudly said, "Sir, please leave! My younger sister is naive, how could she go along with you and create trouble in the middle of the night?" She turned her head and fiercely shouted at her younger sister, "Stop this foolishness. You are not going!"

At this moment, that distant voice was heard again, saying, "The ninth of the ten Xishan Ghosts, Big Head Ghost, our spirits are restless, we have been waiting for a long time!" This voice sounded a li away, yet seemed very close, causing much confusion and everybody to be terrified.

Guo Xiang made up her mind resolutely, "Tonight, even if I meet evil spirits and ghosts, I must still meet the Eagle Hero." She said, "Senior, please lead me there!" Upon saying that, her legs made a leap and she dashed through the broken door.

Guo Fu anxiously called, "What are you doing?" She put out her hand to grab her younger sister’s arm but missed, so she leaped quickly, and pursued her through the door.

Who knew that when her body was about to pass through the door, the hole swiftly disappeared; Guo Fu immediately stopped her body in midair. Her dash was blocked and she had to land her feet onto the floor, her toes less than one foot from the door. She looked carefully, nearly calling out in alarm. Actually, the dwarf was using his body to block the door, the distance between them was only several inches and the tip of his nose nearly bumped into her chest; how would she not be startled? She hurriedly leapt back when a gust of cold wind blew at her body and the big headed dwarf was gone. Guo Fu called loudly, "Younger sister, come back!" She leapt out, only hearing a distant rumbling laughter, but Guo Xiang’s shadow was nowhere to be seen.

The dwarf made Guo Fu retreat in fear, he’d turned around and leapt into the snow saying: "Good! The lady is very courageous." Holding Guo Xiang’s hand, he jumped forward. He utilized a rather uncommon qing gong (lightness skill), like a big frog, jumping forward continuously, and although he was short, each leap covered a great distance.

Guo Xiang’s wrist was being pulled by him and she felt like a metal circlet was round her wrist and it felt rather painful. Her heart was thumping madly and she did not know where this dwarf would take her. Since childhood Guo Jing and Huang Rong taught her martial arts personally, so her wugong (martial arts) had quite a strong foundation, but she found it difficult to keep pace with the dwarf’s leaps. Later on she was actually being dragged by him, forcing them to jump and land together.

After jumping like this for a little while, someone behind a mountain suddenly said, "Big Head Ghost, why are you so late? Ha-ha, you even brought a beautiful girl along!" The dwarf said, "She is Guo Jing and Huang Rong's daughter, she wanted to meet the Eagle Hero, so I then led her here." That person gawked, saying, "Guo Jing and Huang Rong's daughter?" Another person behind the mountain eerily said, "Hurry up, let’s get going!" The voice became distorted, and dozens of horses appeared from behind the mountain ridge.

The heavy snow still did not stop, and the white snow created a shiny reflection. Guo Xiang saw nine strange people mounted on the horses, but most of the horses had no riders. The dwarf pulled two horses forwards and gave the reins of one to Guo Xiang with himself mounting another horse, shouting, "Let’s move!" He whistled, and the horses neighed and galloped towards the northwest.

When Guo Xiang looked at the nine people, she saw two females, one of whom was a senile appearing old woman while the other was dressed in scarlet from head to toe. She looked like she was on fire and appeared to be even more glaring in the snow’s reflection. The other seven people’s appearances could not be seen clearly. Guo Xiang thought carefully, "From what I heard, the Xishan Ghosts consist of ten people. At present there are exactly ten people, so this group of people must be the Xishan Ghosts. Uncle Song Wu only warned me about getting into trouble with them and that person knocked him out with one palm; this really looks ominous. They said they will take me to meet the Eagle Hero, so they shouldn’t be deceiving me. They must already be acquainted with the Eagle Hero, so they can’t be that evil."

In a short while they’d already covered ten li, then the first person made a "de er" sound and the horses stopped at once. He led the horse up a small hill and then turned around. Guo Xiang saw his appearance and found it startling yet funny - this person was also a dwarf, his upper body was less than two feet, but his beard was actually three feet long, hanging over the horse. His face had wrinkles, his double eyebrows tightly knit and his face was filled with worry.

She heard him say, "From here to Mapingyi is less than 3 li. The Jianghu (pugilistic world) people say that the Eagle Hero’s martial arts are superb, we must discuss this in advance and not spoil the Xishan Ghosts’ reputation."

The old woman said, "Then we request Eldest brother to issue an order."

The long bearded man said, "Should we fight with him on chariots or surround him?"

Guo Xiang was shocked and thought, "From his tone, they must be enemies of the Eagle Hero."

The old man said, "What are the Eagle Hero's abilities like? Seventh brother, please explain clearly."

A burly man with a body like an iron tower said, “Although I have seen him, I never fought with him, I saw... I saw... that he has some sort of demonic aura."

The red clothed woman said, "Seventh brother, how did you become enemies with the Eagle Hero? Now is the time to explain clearly so that before everybody starts fighting, we would know what’s going on. You always stammer and stutter and you usually fail to reveal the whole truth."

The man got angry, saying, "We Xishan Ghosts will live and die together; since this person dares to come forward to find us, do we cower away?"

A tall and skinny person with a gloomy voice said, "Who said anything about cowering away? But even if Ninth sister didn’t ask, I would ask. We have not offended him. Why did he want to expel the Xishan Ghost from Xishan?"

The man got angry and said, "Everybody, look, he cut off my ears. If you won’t help me get back at him, what kind of good brothers and sisters are you?" As he said this he took off his felt hat. Under the bright reflection of the snow, everyone plainly saw his head missing both ears. The Xishan Ghosts got angry and started cursing and swearing with thunderous rage, all wanting to fight the Eagle Hero to the death.

The red clothed woman said, "Seventh brother, why did he cut off your ears? What offense did you commit? You were harassing decent women again, is it not so?"

A person with a laughing face got angry and said, "Even if Seventh brother harasses decent women; other people have no right to interfere." This person was born with a really unusual face; although he was angry, the smile on his face did not disappear. Guo Xiang looked carefully and saw that the corners of his mouth curled upwards with both eyes squinting, so even if he was sobbing sadly, it would seem like he was smiling from ear to ear.

The man said, "No, no! On that day my wife and four concubines were quarrelling over some small matter and things were about to turn violent. This, so called, Eagle Hero passed by and saw this; he was such a busybody and unexpectedly persuaded my wives to stop. My third wife had no shame and smiled at him...”

The red clothed woman said, "Ah ha, I know, Seventh brother got jealous and forbade her to smile."

The man said, "Get jealous? I don’t need other people to poke their noses into my affairs. I punched my concubine’s three front teeth and told the broken-armed scum to scram."

When Guo Xiang heard this she could not bear it and said, "He gave you well-intentioned advice, why did you speak so impolitely? You were wrong there." The ten people turned their heads to look at her and could not believe this young girl dared to act so boldly.

The man got really angry and shouted, "Little twit, how do you dare to tell me what to do! Fifth brother, is this cutie your girl?"

The big headed dwarf said, "She wants to see the Eagle Hero so I brought her along to take a look, I don’t care about other matters."

The man said, "Good, then I shall teach her a lesson." He raised his horse whip and lashed down towards Guo Xiang’s head with a "pa" sound.

Guo Xiang lifted her whip and blocked, the two whips struck each other and interlocked together. The man used his arm to seize the whip and Guo Xiang felt a great force vigorously tugging her whip. She could not hold on any longer and released her whip, causing her palms to be scratched with searing pain. The guy took back his whip, raised it and wanted to lash down again, but the old man shouted, "Seventh brother, it’s getting late, let’s hurry, why do you lower yourself and fight with a child?" The man’s whip was in midair, but he did not strike.

That long-sleeved old man sneered, "The Xishan Ghosts are not afraid of the sky and the earth, even Guo Jing and Huang Rong's reputation does not scare us. Little girl, if you talk again, I will butcher you immediately." He leaned forward, saying, "Seventh brother, a true man will get up again if he falls, my long beard was cut off by my enemy several years ago. How were your ears sheared off?"

The man then said, "I told the Eagle Hero to get lost, so he smiled, turned around and walked away. It’s all my third concubine’s fault, she cried out, saying she was forced to marry me and at that time she was not willing. Now she was bullied by my first wife. She added that after I married her, I also married a fourth concubine and did not have a conscience. That Eagle Hero turned around; his expression changed greatly and asked, 'Is this woman speaking the truth?' I said, 'So what if it is? So what if it’s not? My nickname is Fairy Ghost and I kill without blinking, do you know that?' He said calmly, 'If you like her, why did you marry someone else after you married her? If you do not like her, why did you marry her at all?' I laughed loudly and said, 'At first I liked her, now I’m tired of her. It’s common for a man to have three wives and four concubines. I even want to marry another four.' He said, 'You heartless creatures are far too many, how can the world’s females live in peace?' Suddenly he stepped forward, drew out a dagger from my waist and sliced off my ears. Then he pointed the dagger at my chest, shouting, 'I’ll dig your heart and liver out to take a look, what colour are they?' "

Guo Xiang became delighted, could not bear it and wanted to cheer, but she saw the Xishan Ghosts’ fierce and strange expressions and swallowed the "Good!" she wanted to shout.

The man continued, "Then my concubines knelt down to beg for mercy, they even cried loudly, saying they would rather be killed than me, because if I died, they must commit suicide to accompany the husband, damn, this is really disgusting. Hey, I have really lost face! I angrily shouted, 'Hurry, just kill me! The Xishan Ghosts will come and haunt you!' He wrinkled his eyebrows and said to my wives, 'Why do you still plead for such a heartless scum?' My five wives only kowtowed. He asked my third concubine, 'You said you were forced to marry him against your will. If I kill him won’t it be good?' My concubine said, ‘At that time I wasn’t willing, later on I changed my mind. Please don’t kill him.' I got angry, saying, 'Just kill me, there are nine more of us.' He said, 'OK! I won’t kill you today. The Xishan Ghosts… so what? On the night at the end of this month, I shall wait at the Horses’ Plains for you. Call all your ghosts together to find me. If you do not dare, the Xishan Ghosts must leave Xishan forever and never come back.' "

After they heard him say that, they did not speak for quite a while. Then the old woman said, "What weapons does he use? What school is his Wugong (martial arts) from?"

The man said, "He only has a left arm and he does not carry any weapons. Wugong...I couldn’t tell."

The woman said, "Eldest brother, this person subdued seventh brother in one stroke, he must be extremely swift and agile and his Wugong must be quite unorthodox. We rely on numbers to win, you take the lead, and I and fifth brother will help from the side, three against one, and butcher him straightaway. Do not allow him to use his skills."

The long-sleeved old man lowered his head and pondered for a while, and then he raised his head and said, "This Eagle Hero has a good reputation. Over these ten years many people have been defeated by him, he must have some astonishing skills. Today’s fight is no small matter. I and Second sister will launch a sudden frontal attack, Third and Fourth brother will get close to him then attack his lower body, Fifth and Sixth brother will attack from behind, Seventh and Eighth brother will use long weapons to strike his flank, confusing him, Ninth sister will throw  concealed  projectiles,  Tenth  brother  will  discharge  poison gas. Since the Xishan Ghosts have sworn brotherhood, the ten of us have never attacked simultaneously, today is the first time, if we can’t butcher him, let us all turn into real ghosts!"

The big headed dwarf said, "Eldest brother, if ten of us attack a single person, we won’t win honorably;  if word of this is spread, all the Jianghu heroes will despise us."

The old woman said, "We shall butcher the Eagle Hero tonight. Apart from this girl, who else knows about this matter?" Once she said this she raised her arm.

The big headed dwarf waved his left sleeve and blocked her from Guo Xiang. Then he took out a fine needle from her sleeve and said, "Elder sister, I brought her along, please don’t take her life." He turned to Guo Xiang and said, "Young lady, you want to meet the Eagle Hero, you cannot mention this matter to anyone, otherwise you should go back quickly now."

Guo Xiang was alarmed, afraid and also angry, thinking, "This old woman has such vicious moves; if not for the short uncle saving me, I could have died from her silent needles without a doubt." So she said, "Alright I will not speak of it." But she continued, "You have ten brothers, does he have a single helper?"

The big headed dwarf laughed loudly and said, "The Eagle Hero only appeared in Jianghu around ten years ago, but we never heard that he has any assistants. He has this big bird which is unable to speak to accompany him." He then raised the horse’s reins, loudly shouting, "Let’s go!" The ten people galloped and the dwarf said to Guo Xiang, "Later, when we start fighting, you must not leave my side." Guo Xiang nodded, she knew that the Xishan Ghosts were quite cruel and merciless, but this big headed dwarf is looking after her. He prevented his companion from harming her, but his ways were rough; although he spoke in a low voice, the other nine people heard him.

Guo Xiang rode along with the other people. She saw the Xishan Ghosts all had unique skills; no matter how strong the Eagle Hero’s wugong might be, how could he fight ten people alone? She thought, "If father and mother were here it would be good, they wouldn’t stand by and do nothing."

Just at this time, several tiger roars could be heard in the dark forest in front of them and the horses gave a startled neigh, some standing motionless, some trying to escape. The skinny man waved his horse whip and was the first to rush into the woods.

The old woman scolded, "You lousy animals, you even fear a small cat eating you up?" The group charged forwards and entered the woods. They moved round ten feet when suddenly a person in front fiercely shouted, "Who are these brave people who dare to enter the Beastly Mountain Village at night without permission?"

The Xishan Ghosts stopped their horses, seeing only a  person  standing  on  the  path,  a  brave  tiger squatting next to him. The horses heard the tiger growling and were alarmed. The long-sleeved old man put his hands together to greet that person, immediately saying, "The Xishan Ghosts entered this place without informing you, pardon our rudeness."

That person said, "Oh, the Xishan Ghosts? You must be the Long Sleeve Ghost?"

The old man said, "Precisely. We have an important matter at hand and we are rushing to the Horses’ Plains, when we return we will apologize for this." He knew this character was not very affable but at this moment they needed all their strength to deal with the Eagle Hero, so he hoped not to complicate matters and spoke very politely.

That person said, "Gentlemen, please wait." He raised his voice and called, "Eldest brother, it’s the Xishan Ghosts going to the Horses’ Plains; they said they will apologize when they return." The ghosts heard this and were disgruntled, thinking, "We said we would return and apologize, but those are only polite words. Would the Xishan Ghosts really bow down to this person?" The Xishan Ghosts all had outstanding skills, before they became sworn brothers they had already gotten through many troubles, creating much havoc in Shanxi in recent years. The people of Wulin (martial arts world) all dreaded them. Now the ten people are assembled together and if they had no prior appointment with the Eagle Hero on that night, they would beat this person good and proper just based on his words alone.

They heard a screeching voice deep in the forest saying, "Apologizes are not needed, let them go around the forest."

When they heard this they got angry immediately. The skinny person with the bamboo staff sneered, "The Xishan Ghosts never take detours!" He raised the horse’s reins and charged straight towards the person standing on the path.

That person raised his left hand and two tigers near him threw themselves forward immediately, causing the skinny man's horse to be frightened and rear up. The skinny man’s riding skills were really good; he bent down on the saddle, both hands holding a short spear, fiercely thrusting at the two tigers. The tiger on his left leapt aside while the tiger on the right scratched the horse's belly with its claws; but that tiger gave a roar because it was injured by the spear. The skinny man jumped onto the ground, shouting, "Watch my weapons!" He thrust the spears forth, one high one low, displaying the "Double Dragon Fu Yuan Skill", but he did not advance forward.

The person coldly said, "You injured my family’s watch-cat, now whether you take the detour or not is not up to you. Wu Changgui (Uncommon Ghost), leave your spears behind!"

When Wu Changgui found that the person knew his nickname, he said, "Who are you, sir? The Beastly Mountain Village was supposed to be in Western Liang, why has it moved to Southern Jin? If you want me to leave my spears, that’s very easy to do."

The person said, "If our Beastly Mountain Village wants to move, must we report to the Xishan Ghosts? We were tired of living in Western Liang so we moved to Southern Jin to play. My eldest brother, by telling you to take a detour, was being extremely polite. My third brother is sick and doesn’t like outsiders harassing us, do you understand?" When he said this, he suddenly stretched his left hand out and grabbed Wu Changgui’s right spear near the edge.

Wu Changgui never expected him to move so fast, so he thrust his left spear forward and increased his right hand’s strength.

The person extended his right hand and grabbed Wu Changgui’s left spear as well. The two people had great strength, and no one let go of the weapons. A "pa" sound was made and the two spears snapped.

The Xishan Ghosts shrugged and the long-sleeved old man said, "Sir are you the Eight-Handed Monkey Immortal Shi? Is the Golden Claw Lion King ill? At this moment we have a matter at hand, tomorrow at this time, we shall meet here again."

The masters of the Beastly Mountain Village are five brothers, the eldest being White Forehead Mountain Lord Shi Bowei, the second Caring Eyesight Sage Shi Zhongmeng, the third Golden Claw Lion King Shi Shugang, the fourth Immortal Of Giant Strength Shi Jiqiang, the youngest Eight-Handed Monkey Immortal Shi Mengjie was the one present here. The five brothers inherited the animals from their ancestors. These five people all live unusually and they not only have superb taming skills, they also learned martial arts from the animals’ movements. The brothers had these beasts as companions since childhood, taking the beasts as their masters and learning martial skills. Shi Shugang entered the mountains when he was twenty years old and met an outstanding person, learning advanced internal strength techniques from him. He then went home and taught his brothers. The five people raised many wild animals and improved their wugong tremendously. The Beastly Mountain Village’s reputation gradually became known in Jianghu and the Wulin people called them "Tiger, Leopard, Lion, Elephant and Monkey". When the Long Sleeve Ghost heard Shi Shugang was sick, he was relieved; he thought no matter how good the Shi brothers were, the Xishan Ghosts would not be afraid. Now that the central pillar of the "Tiger, Leopard, Lion, Elephant and Monkey" Lion King was sick, it would definitely not be a problem to handle them, so he proposed a duel the next evening.

Eight-Handed Monkey Immortal Shi Mengjie said, "Tomorrow night we shall wait outside the forest for you at 11 p.m." Saying that he put his hands together to salute and shot the broken spear heads into a tree next to the Long Sleeve Ghost.

The Long Sleeve Ghost was startled, thinking, "Why does he not allow us to cut through the forest? What do the Shi brothers have in this forest?" He also put his hands together and saluted, "The Xishan Ghosts bid farewell!" He nudged the horse with his legs and moved forwards. Shi Mengjie said loudly, "Hold! My eldest brother told you to take a detour, didn’t you hear?"

The Long Sleeve Ghost pulled the reins and was about to reply when he heard people in the northeast and northwest of the woods laughing loudly at the same time, then a thick cloud of smoke appeared. A person called out, "What the heck are you doing in the woods? You can’t hide it from our group of ghosts." Another person said, "You are just meeting your ancestors." (Making puns with the Chinese words.) Actually the eighth and tenth ghost had sneaked behind Shi Mengjie and set a fire while he was talking to the Long Sleeve Ghost.

The flame leapt upwards, and then he heard the two ghosts’ voices call out in alarm as they wildly dashed back to the group, breathless, their facial expressions bearing great fear. The Long Sleeve Ghost shouted, "What?" One of them said, "Tigers, tigers! 100, 200 of them..."

When Shi Mengjie saw the fire in the forest he got really angry, shouting, "Eldest brother, second brother, this is important, let them go; we can easily find them later."

Suddenly everyone saw a blurred figure; a dog-like  creature  squirmed  through  the  woods  and  dashed away in the blink of an eye. It was pretty small, had four long legs, a snow white coat, had a black tail, looked like a dog yet looked like a cat. Shi Mengjie called loudly: "The “Nine-Tailed Fox has emerged!" and started pursuing it, his face looking anxious and panic-stricken.

A fierce voice was heard from the back of the woods, sounding like a lion’s or a tiger’s roar, yet sounding like someone shouting loudly. When Guo Xiang heard this shout a chill went down her spine. When this sound died down, a hundred beasts roared from all directions, including lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, elephants, monkeys and orangutans... For a while it was not very clear, and then with a thundering rumble the wild animals rushed out from the forest. Then someone said, "Eldest brother head towards the northeast, second brother go towards the northwest, fourth brother hurry to the southwest... “This voice and the howl were similar.

However Guo Xiang only saw several shadows flashing around, leaving the forest. She knew perfectly well there was danger, but her curiosity took over and she hurriedly chased after them out of the woods. The Big Head Ghost called out, "Miss Guo, don’t wander about!" He then pursued her.

Guo Xiang left the woods and saw a strange sight; five people  leading  a  group  of  wild  animals  each, moving rapidly in five directions on the snowy plain. These wild animals were all well-trained, not fighting among each other, forming packs, running in an orderly way. Guo Xiang was frightened but also thought this was amusing. The five groups of animals got closer and formed a big circle.

Suddenly a white flash appeared - that dog-like animal squeezed out of the encirclement, zooming in front of Guo Xiang, really moving like lightning. Guo Xiang was startled and bent down to catch it with her hand, but that small animal had already dashed several feet away. It stood still, suddenly turning its head to look at Guo Xiang with its fiery red eyes, looking like two embers in the dark.

The Shi brothers called out, "The Nine-Tailed Fox! It’s over there!" The groups of animals rushed forward together like a moving mountain.

Guo Xiang rode towards the side to avoid them, but when the horse saw so many wild animals, it got frightened. Its legs became weak, then its legs bent and it knelt down on the ground. Guo Xiang was shocked thinking, "The group of beasts are rushing towards me; they are going to trample me into minced meat!" She leapt away from the horse and dashed off. She still smelled the animals but the groups of beasts rushed by her like the torrents of a river and were far away before long.

By now all the Xishan Ghosts had also gotten out of the forest. The Long Sleeve Ghost said, "No matter how strong the Shi brothers’ Wugong is, we are not afraid, but these many animals are not easy to deal with. Tonight we won’t provoke them so that we’ll still have our strength to deal with the Eagle Hero. Everybody, let’s go!"

The old woman said, "Good, tonight after we kill the Eagle Hero we will burn the lions and roast the tigers tomorrow!" She then raised the reins and started to gallop around the forest.

The fierce roars of the lions and tigers were heard again, the groups of beasts were returning on separate paths. But this time the roars didn’t sound so vicious and the animals were not running very fast. The Long Sleeve Ghost suddenly turned green and called out, "Oh no, hurry, let’s go!" But the wild animals were growling in all directions and soon they were surrounded by the group of beasts. The Long Sleeve Ghost whistled and the ten people leapt off the horses, standing in five positions, each drawing  their weapons, silently waiting for the enemy to arrive.

The Big Head Ghost softly said, "Young Lady, leave quickly, you shouldn’t risk your life here." Guo Xiang said, "Where’s the Eagle Hero? You agreed to take me to him."

The Big Head Ghost frowned, "Have you not seen all these wicked beasts?"

Guo Xiang said, "You should try to reason with the animals’ masters, saying you and the Eagle Hero have an appointment, and you shouldn’t delay much longer."

The Big Head Ghost said, "Humph, the Xishan Ghosts never reason with anyone."

While saying that, the Shi brothers had led the wild animals back. The five people were all wearing animal skins, standing forty to fifty feet away from the Xishan Ghosts. The fifth brother Shi Mengjie said, "The Beastly Mountain Village and the Xishan Ghosts have no bad blood, why did you set the forest on fire and scare away the Nine-Tailed Fox?"

Guo Xiang heard him say this with deep anger and thought, "That small animal  may  be  cute,  but  it’s nothing great, why should they kick up such a big fuss? It obviously has only one tail, how could it be called the Nine-Tailed Fox?"

The red-clothed female said, "As for today’s matter, the fault lies with the Shi brothers.  This  Beastly Mountain Village has been at Ganliang for a long time and suddenly it moved to Shanxi. Now you don’t allow people to pass through on the main road in the middle of the night. With such actions how could you blame others?"

The White Forehead Mountain Lord Shi Bowei shouted, "Since it has come to this stage, what more can be said? The Xishan Ghosts shall not live." Loudly roaring, he charged unarmed to the Long Sleeve Ghost, his palms imitating tigers’ claws, causing wind to be generated before his palms arrived; even a fierce tiger could not compare to its ferocity.

The Long Sleeve Ghost slipped aside, moving back towards the left. He shouted and swept a long pointed weapon towards Shi Bowei. Shi Bowei stretched his claws  out,  grasping  the  end  weapon,  which  was  a thick steel rod. Before his palm held firmly, he felt heat shoot through his palms and he hurriedly let it go, the left palm executed an advanced stance to avoid the steel rod. If he were not quick enough his chest would have been pierced by the rod. Shi Bowei was startled, "The Xishan Ghosts’ reputation has risen in recent years, so they actually live up to it." He did not dare to be careless and drew his weapon with a "chia lang lang” sound - it was pair of double hooks. The right hook weighed 18 catties while the left hook weighed 17 catties; it was a fierce and sharp weapon, with  the  hooks  giving  off  yellow  light.  He  then fought fiercely with the steel rod.

Now Shi Zhongmeng grasped the rod, fighting one-on-two, sparring with Cui Ming Ghost’s knife and Shang Meng Ghost’s chain spear. Shi Jiqiang and the old woman grappled along a long rope; although his strength was great, it was useless against the old woman’s soft sleeve. He roared again and again, exhibiting his giant’s strength, but was unable to utilize it. Shi Mengjie’s foe was the copper hammer- wielding Big Head Ghost. Shi Mengjie’s pen stances were complex and strange, so the Big Head Ghost found it hard to defend himself, and then the red clothed woman raised her knife and went forward to help him. On the snowy ground, the ten people were divided into four groups fighting viciously under the heavy snow, unable to decide victory or defeat.

The Xishan Ghosts still had six people not in action yet while the opponents only  had  the  Lion  King standing by. They saw him leaning on a lion’s body, sickly and without any strength.  In this  battle  the Xishan ghosts fought with numbers, showing the potential for victory, but the Shi brothers only had to whistle and the group of beasts would attack, causing the Xishan Ghosts to go from victory to defeat.

Guo Xiang saw the group of beasts surrounding them and was afraid, she also remembered she wanted see the Eagle Hero, so she said, "Uncle Big Head Ghost, stop fighting, you have more people, even if you win it wouldn’t be honorable. You offended them, just apologize!" But who would bother about her?

Ten people fought violently for a long time. The Long Sleeve Ghost and Shi Bowei were on par. The old woman’s long rope moved flexibly and had many changes within, forming big and small circles; if Shi Jiqiang lost his focus, he would have been hanged by her rope. Luckily his broadsword made big moves with great ferocity, so the old woman could not afford to be careless. The Big Head Ghost and the Clever Ghost were hard and soft respectively, complementing one another, but Shi Mengjie’s moves were quick yet strange, as the saying goes a quick hit counters three slow. The three people were fighting in circles, but Shi Mengjie did not lose the upper hand yet. The Big Head Ghost roared like rumbling thunder while the Clever Ghost chatted in a gloomy tone, dividing the enemy’s attention. Shi Mengjie turned a deaf ear to them and just concentrated on their battle.

On this side the Cui Ming Ghost and the Shang Men Ghost actually could not withstand Shi Zhongmeng’s silver rod. His silver rod was short and hollow, and used strange moves. The three people were fighting near the border of the forest. The Shang Men Ghost thrust his spear forward; Shi Zhongmeng aimed his rod at him and thrust directly at the spear, causing the spear to go right through into the hollow rod. The Shang Men Ghost was greatly startled but he was not willing to let go of his weapon. The Tao Zhai Ghost leapt up to help them, swinging his slab towards Shi Zhongmeng’s silver rod. Shi Zhongmeng drew his rod back and retreated, allowing the Shang Men Ghost to regain his weapon. The Tao Zhai Ghost’s weapon resembled an iron block and it was actually an accounts book cast in iron. The book had five pages and each page could be flipped about, its edges sharper than knives and it made a strange and sharp weapon.

The Xishan Ghosts originally had their respective surnames, but ever since the "Xishan Ghosts" became known, they discarded their real names and used “Ghost” as their nicknames. The ten people all had unusual and strange appearances so the ten brothers said, "The Jianghu heroes call us ghosts, so we shall see if the people are good or the ghosts are fierce?" That Tao Zhai Ghost made himself that iron book because he avenged any minor wrongs, never willing to let off anyone who offends him even slightly. So the martial arts world nicknamed him the "Tao Zhai Ghost (Debt Collecting Ghost)". He was very pleased with this nickname and cast an iron accounts book, carving the names of those who offended him on the iron pages, and then writing off those names after he has settled the debt.

The silver rod was a unique weapon, but the iron accounts book was actually more unusual, with five iron sheets attacking together, making “dang dang” noise. The Cui Ming, Shang Men and Tao Zhai Ghosts fought Shi Zhongmeng together, gradually gaining an advantage.

Guo Xiang stood at the side, watching the group of ghosts and the Shi brothers fighting non-stop, thinking that their appointment with the Eagle Hero was long overdue. She feared that he’d left after waiting impatiently. She became more and more anxious, but was incapable of stopping the fight. The hundreds of beasts lay around them, forming a tight circle. The Xishan Ghosts looked around them and saw the bright glitter of eyes everywhere in the darkness and knew that even if they killed all the Shi brothers, it would be difficult to get out of the animals’ siege. The old woman wanted to use her rope and tie down Shi Jiqiang to force the Shi brothers to recall their animals, making a pathway for their exit. But Shi Jiqiang’s martial arts were at the same level as hers, how easy could that be? The Laughing Ghost called out, "Second sister, let me help you." He drew his weapon from his waist and threw himself towards Shi Jiqiang.

Shi Jiqiang was fighting ferociously when he saw the Laughing Ghost jumping forward, but it suited him and he said, "Great!" He brought his bronze weapon fiercely down on that ghost’s head. The Laughing Ghost leaned aside blocking with his two whips, but the whips snapped with a “Pu” sound. The Laughing Ghost was greatly startled and quickly rolled away. “Peng!” The bronze weapon struck the ground. The Laughing Ghost dipped his hand into his clothes and grasped some poisonous powder. Standing up immediately he flung it towards Shi Jiqiang. Shi Jiqiang suddenly saw a red mist and was hit by it, losing his footing, falling immediately. The old woman cast her rope and lassoed his legs.

Shi Bowei, Shi Zhongmeng and Shi Mengjie saw their brother fall and were startled and angry. If he was captured, they could not rescue him. Guo Xiang called out, "What are you doing? You used trickery to hurt him, what kind of man are you?" She was not helping any party, but when she saw the Laughing Ghost using such a dirty move, she could not bear it and criticized him.

At this time a sudden low roar was heard, the Lion King Shi Shugang stood up slowly, growling lowly, "Put down my fourth brother!"

Shi Jiqiang had passed out. The old woman used her long rope to tie his hands up as well, but was wary of his great strength, fearing that he would suddenly awaken  and  snap  her  rope,  so  she  blocked  his accupoint and said, "Get your animals to move away then we will release him!" She saw Shi Shugang's dull eyes and sallow face, walking unsteadily; he was obviously seriously sick, so she paid no attention to him.

Guo Xiang saw Shi Shugang slowly walking towards the ghosts, hands and  feet  unsteady,  meeting  the enemy in spite of his illness, just like a real man, so she quickly said, "Hey, you’re sick, don’t fight." Shi Shugang nodded to her and said, "Thanks." But he did not stop and continued towards Shi Jiqiang. The Laughing Ghost exchanged glances with the old woman (Hanging Ghost) and they stood forward together, wanting to snare him as well.

They threw themselves onto Shi Shugang, stretching out their hands when Shi Shugang growled fiercely; his left hand smacking the Hanging Ghost’s head, his right hand tugging the Laughing Ghost’s back and the two people felt a great strength suddenly pressing down on them. Their legs gave way and they nearly fell down, so they hurriedly leaped away. Fortunately for them Shi Shugang did not pursue them. Two people looked at each other in amazement and broke out in a cold sweat, not expecting this sick person to be so strong.

Shi Shugang bent down to clear his brother's accupoint. He  pulled  gently  and  snapped  the  Hanging Ghost’s rope in several places. But Shi Jiqiang was poisoned and did not awake. Shi Shugang frowned and shouted, "Hand over the antidote!" The Laughing Ghost said, "You recall your animals, then I give up the antidote."

Shi Shugang snorted and walked shakily to the Laughing Ghost. The Laughing Ghost did not dare take him head-on and stepped aside quickly. Shi Shugang was sick  and  could  not  chase  after  him,  but continued to walk weakly to him. The four ghosts watching from the side jumped up while the Laughing Ghost also turned around to fight. Shi Shugang struck out with his palm slowly, but his palm strength was really great. The five ghosts encircled him, punching here and chopping there, but did not dare get closer to him. The Laughing Ghost feared that he would poison his  own  brothers,  so  he  did  not  release  the poison gas.

Guo Xiang thought, "This man lost to dirty tricks, it’s really pitiful!" She grabbed some snow and rubbed on Shi Jiqiang’s forehead, and then she put a snowball in his mouth. The poison gas effects were not long- lasting and Shi Jiqiang’s body was tough, he felt cold, and slowly awoke. He saw Guo Xiang still picking up snow for him and said, "Many thanks, young lady!" He rolled and stood up, rubbed his eyes and saw the five ghosts besieging Shi Shugang, so he loudly called out, "Third brother step aside!" He stretched out his hand and twisted the Laughing Ghost’s neck.

Shi Bowei’s hooks and the Long Sleeve Ghost’s steel rod were  clashing  rapidly,  and  then  he  saw  Shi Jiqiang awake, he felt very happy and cheered loudly. The beasts lying by the side heard this cheer and all stood up immediately, waiting to pounce. Shi Bowei cheered  again  and  the  beasts  followed  with  their roars. The Xishan Ghosts have had many battle experiences, but this time they could not help but tremble in fear. Before the beastly roars died away the animals charged towards the Xishan Ghosts.

Guo Xiang shouted "Ah!", and her face turned pale. Shi Shugang stretched out his hand and shoved a tiger pouncing on Guo Xiang away; he took off his skin hat and placed it on Guo Xiang’s head. The animals have been trained for a long time, as soon as they saw her put on the skin hat; they left her alone and turned their attention to the ten ghosts. Tigers, wolves, leopards, apes and lions all bit and scratched at the ten ghosts. The Xishan Ghosts furiously killed seven or eight beasts, but the Shi brothers attacked from the side and the beasts kept coming and coming, becoming too many to handle. The ten people were all injured, their clothes tattered and dripping with blood, they were about to lose their lives and could not escape from the animals’ clutches.

Guo Xiang saw three lions surrounding the Big Head Ghost, his bronze hammer had fallen to the ground, his right arm trapped in a lion’s mouth, relying entirely on his left palm to block the lions. Guo Xiang remembered him defending her before and saw him so distressed, she could not help it and without hesitation, she took off the skin hat and immediately placed it on his head. But his head was too big for the hat, so it looked extremely funny as it kept bouncing around his head. When the Shi brothers trained their animals, they specially made the skin hats for the animals to differentiate between friend and foe, so when they saw the Big Head Ghost put on the hat, they moved away immediately. But now four leopards surrounded Guo Xiang.

Shi Shugang was now trying to snatch away the Long Sleeve Ghost’s steel rod to prevent him from injuring too many animals when he heard Guo Xiang calling for help, he turned his head to look and was startled, they were too far apart and he could not go to her rescue. But strangely, the four leopards did not attack Guo Xiang; they only sniffed and walked around her, being very friendly to her. Guo Xiang was shocked speechless, but the four leopards were not harming her. She remembered her mother and sister once told her that she drank leopard's milk when young, so these four leopards must have mistaken her for one of their own. She was pleasantly surprised and bent down to hug the leopards' necks while they licked her hands and cheeks. Guo Xiang felt somewhat itchy and started laughing. Since the Shi brothers started training their animals, they had never seen something like this before and were all greatly surprised.

The Big Head Ghost managed to avoid any trouble with the skin hat, but he saw his brothers and sisters all in a dire situation and did not want to get away alone. Although the Xishan Ghosts were not honorable and usually did heretical things, their loyalty towards one another was very deep, so he grasped the hat immediately and threw it to the red clothed woman, saying, "Ninth sister, you quickly escape." She caught the hat and threw it towards the Long Sleeve Ghost and called out, "Eldest brother, you leave first, just avenge us in future." But he threw the hat to the Laughing Ghost and said, "Tenth brother, it’s never too late for revenge, I won’t live any much longer anyway." The ten people were actually unwilling to use this life-saving device.

The Laughing Ghost was tying down five wolves and did not throw the hat. However wolves were extremely savage, when they smelled blood, they ignored the hat on the Laughing Ghost and did not want to give up their meal. The Laughing Ghost cursed loudly, but his face was still carrying a happy expression.Then out of nowhere a person with a clear and cold voice said, "The Xishan Ghosts do not keep their word, they made me wait for half a night. So here they are fooling around with animals!"

Guo Xiang felt very happy, saying in her heart, "The Eagle Hero is here!" She lifted her head and saw a person sitting on a big tree’s branch with a large headed and magnificently ugly eagle. This person wore a long grey gown, his right sleeve stuffed in his waistband, showing his missing arm. She looked at his face and could not help but feel her goose bumps rising; she saw a sallow complexion and a grotesque face, not looking like a live person. He looked like a zombie. The Xishan Ghosts all looked strange and weird, but definitely were not as ugly as he was.

Before Guo Xiang saw him, her young girl's heart imagined him to be like a suave Confucian scholar, outstandingly handsome, but when she saw him now, she was greatly disappointed and thought, "So there is such an ugly person in the world!" She could not bear it and looked at him again and saw his pupils glinting, exuding a heroic aura. When the eyes flashed across and gazed at her face, as if they sensed something slightly strange. Guo Xiang felt her heart racing and could not help but lower her head, slowly finding the Eagle Hero not to be so ugly anymore.

End of Chapter 33. 
@Chapter 34 – Settling a Dispute
Above them was none other than Yang Guo. During these sixteen years his heart ached and yearned for Xiao Longnu. He wandered around with his eagle and did many heroic deeds, earning him the title ‘Eagle Hero’. He knew that he was young and handsome and had attracted lots of girls already. Miss Gongsun sacrificed herself for him, Cheng Ying and Lu Wushuang loved him dearly. So he often wore Huang Yaoshi’s human skin mask, to conceal his real looks. This night he had an appointment with the Xishan Ghosts; but after waiting for half a night without seeing any of them, he went looking and arrived at the forest.

The Xishan Ghosts were holding tight to their dear lives in the battle against the beasts. Upon hearing Yang Guo’s voice they were desperate. With one more formidable enemy they lost all hope of ever escaping alive. They thought, “It’s over. It’s over. This might possibly be our last battle.”

“You others are the Beastly Mountain Villagers, the Shi brothers?” Yang Guo called, “Can you hold your palms and listen to me for a second.”

Shi Bowei said, “Our surname is indeed ‘Shi’. Who are you, Sir?” He paused a moment and said, “Ah! I believe you are the Eagle Hero?”

Yang Guo said, “You are correct. I am the Eagle Hero. Quickly call off your beasts or else the Xishan Ghosts will turn into real ghosts.”

Shi Bowei said, “Everybody will turn into real ghosts.”

Yang Guo said, “The Xishan Ghosts have an appointment with me. If they do die, who will speak to me?”

Shi Bowei heard him say all this and gave out a cold laugh. Yang Guo said, “You know I am the Eagle Hero, why aren’t you listening to me?”

Shi Bowei said, “So what if you are the Eagle Hero. If you have any skills, come down here and pull the animals back yourself.”

Yang Guo said, “OK. Brother Eagle, lets get down.” One man and one eagle leapt from the tree.

Shaking out his sleeve, he jumped down with the eagle. Several beasts immediately pounced at them as soon as their feet touched the ground. The eagle waved its wings left and right. The wolves and other smaller animals were pushed back by the gust of wind alone. The bigger animals were knocked down or pushed back staggering with each hit. Suddenly a very big lion and a very big tiger leaped at them with loud roars. The eagle again parried the attack with its formidable wings. The lion and the tiger were knocked over down. The eagle’s left wing struck the tiger’s head and it died instantly. This incident frightened the other animals away.

Shi Bowei was furious. With all his fingers open like a claw he leaped and tried to grab Yang Guo’s chest. Yang Guo only smiled, then moved his body a little bit and shook his empty sleeve. “Smack!” the sleeve hit Shi Bowei’s hands as if hit by a saber. Bowei cried out in pain.

Walking slowly Shi Shugang tried to push Yang Guo with both his hands. “Good!” cried Yang Guo, parrying the attack with his left hand. He only exerted 30% of his energy. After training against the waves of the tide for many years, Yang Guo’s strength was formidable. He could push a big tree down, let alone a mere flesh and blood human.

Shi Shugang had received some lessons on internal energy and thus had strong internal energy. Even so, when Yang Guo’s hand touched his, he could not help but stagger back. He tried with all his might to hold his ground.

“Watch out!” shouted Yang Guo, while pushing him back. Shi Shugang’s vision darkened and he knew he was going to die.

“Ah! You’re sick?” suddenly hearing Yang Guo’s voice. Immediately he felt the enormous power pushing him back vanish and Shi Shugang was spared. He was startled and stared at the Eagle Hero blankly.

Looking at him, Shi Bowei, Shi Zhongmeng, Shi Jiqiang and Shi Mengjie thought that their brother was heavily injured. Roaring loudly they attacked Yang Guo in unison.

In a flash Yang Guo leaped and grabbed a tiger by the neck, which he then used as his weapon to parry the four brothers’ attack.

As we remember, Yang Guo had used the heavy black-steel sword; weight about 70 catties, even before he trained against the tide’s waves. The tiger was only a little over 100 catties. Thus he easily lifted and used the tiger as a weapon against its own masters. The tiger clawed and bit frantically.

Guo Xiang watched this incident from the sideline. She was delighted; laughing and clapping she shouted, “Good! Eagle Hero, good! Shi Brothers, you’d better surrender now.”

Yang Guo looked at the girl out of the corner of his eye, wondering in his heart, “Who is this girl? She plays with leopards, yet does not take the Shi Brothers’ side.”

In the meantime, Shi Shugang tried to circulate his ‘chi’, and finding nothing amiss, he understood the Eagle Hero had shown him mercy. He thought, “Based on our true skills, even if the five of us go together, we would not be his match.” Looking at his brothers he shouted, “Brothers, stop! We have to know our limits.”

Hearing his shout, Shi Zhongmeng who was thrusting his silver pipe immediately pulled his weapon back. But the ‘Immortal of Giant Strength’ Shi Jiqiang, the reckless one of the family, didn’t listen; he thought, “What limits? Let him eat my staff first, and then we talk.” He kept attacking Yang Guo’s head with his “Elephant Opening a Mountain” stance. This attack mimicked how an elephant used its trunk. His copper staff was shaped like an elephant trunk; small in front, bigger and a little curved toward the back. His force was a mixture of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’; no less than 1000 jins strong.

Yang Guo did not budge. He threw his tiger away, flipped his hand, and caught the end of the staff. He smiled and said, “OK let’s have a duel and see who is stronger.”

Shi Jiqiang used all his strength to push down. His ‘Elephant Trunk Staff’ was above Yang Guo’s head but no matter how much force Shi Jiqiang used the staff would not go down.

Shi Shugang said, “Fourth brother, don’t be rude.”

Shi Jiqiang tried to retreat and pull his staff away but it wouldn’t budge. Shi Jiqiang tried to pull back three times but still couldn’t retrieve his staff. Yang Guo thought, “He has a powerful strength; if I don’t overcome his with my strength this man will not give in.”

So Yang Guo used his full strength, his left hand came up and grabbed the middle of the staff. The force was focused towards the middle of the staff trying to force Shi Jiqiang to release it. But Shi Jiqiang did not let go forcing the staff to bend upwards.

Yang Guo shouted out, “Good!” He used his strength and internal energy and caused the staff to bend down. But Shi Jiqiang still refused to let go.

”Crack!” the staff broke in half. Shi Jiqiang’s palms were both bleeding, but he still held the half staff in his hands. Yang Guo saw Shi Jiqiang’s tenacity and thought it was amusing and started laughing. He picked up the other half of the staff and threw it to the ground. It struck the earth and went deep  until  it  was completely buried.

He looked around and saw the Shi brothers, Shi Shugang, Shi Mengjie and the others were trying to calm down and control all the beasts. But because they had smelled blood; the beasts were out of control. Yang Guo signaled to Guo Xiang to plug her ears. Guo Xiang did not understand but still listened and did what she was told. She saw Yang Guo opened his mouth and he roared to the sky. It was like a tiger or dragon’s roar.

Even though Guo Xiang had plugged her ears, she could still hear the roar. Her heartbeat sped up and she could barely stand up. But luckily she had practiced the purest form of internal energy with her father Guo Jing and her mother Huang Rong ever since she was little. So even though she was young, her internal energy was better than an average martial artists and she didn’t fall down but only staggered a few times.

Yang Guo’s dragon roar seemed like it would never end. Everybody’s face changed color. The animals started to fall down one by one, leaving only the elephants still standing. Slowly one by one the Xishan Ghosts fell down. Next the Shi Brothers also fell down; leaving only two people barely standing up. They were Shi Shugang and Guo Xiang. Yang Guo was amazed and impressed that this sick man, Shi Shugang, was able to stay standing. He knew that if he continued he would hurt Shi Shugang even more.

So he waved his sleeve and his dragon roar stopped. The eagle looked proudly at Yang Guo. Only then did everybody and the beasts slowly stand up. The wolves and other small animals had not awakened yet; their bodies still scattered about on the snow. The larger animals did not wait for the Shi Brothers’ command, they tucked their tails between their legs and scampered away deep into the woods, not even daring to look back. The Shi Brothers and Xishan Ghosts have never met such opponent in their entire lives. They just stared at Yang Guo and could not utter a single word. Yang Guo said, “Shi Brothers, I apologize for the disturbance. I have an appointment with Xishan Ghosts; but since you had started fighting, I had to intervene. After taking care of this small problem, I will let you continue your fight and I promise not to be on anybody’s side.” He turned his body around and continued, “Well? Are you going to fight me one on one, or are all of you going to fight me together?”

The one supposed to answer his question would be the Fairy Ghost, the burly man with a body like an iron tower, whose ears were cut off by the Eagle Hero. But since he was still dazed from the roar, he couldn’t say anything. The Long Beard Ghost then moved a step forward. He clasped his fists in respect, bowing to the ground and said, “Eagle Hero, your skill and ours are like heaven and earth apart. We, the Xishan Ghosts, do not dare to fight you. Our lives have been saved by you. In the future, if  Great Hero (Da Xia) ever has any need of our services, even if we have to go through water or fire, we will comply. If Da Xia wants us to leave Shanxi, we will not stay another second.”

As soon as he saw the Long Beard Ghost, Yang Guo was suspicious. And now, after hearing his voice, he asked straight away, “Are you not the one surnamed Fan with a given name Yiweng?”

The Long Beard Ghost was indeed Fan Yiweng, the first disciple of Gongsun Zhi, master of the Passionless Valley. After Yang Guo spared his life at the Valley, he had run away and hidden himself. About ten years later he re-entered the Jianghu world and with his level of martial arts, he managed to attain the first position of the Xishan Ghosts. During the battle at the ‘Broken Heart Cliff’ Yang Guo’s arm had not yet been chopped of by Guo Fu. Besides, Yang Guo was wearing a mask now, so he did not recognize him. Hearing the question, he bowed and answered, “This lowly one is indeed Fan Yiweng. What is your command, Great Hero?”

Yang Guo smiled and lifted his hand. “Don’t use such humility. If you want my command, I will say it: Do not move away from Xishan. Fairy Ghost, you’d better let your four concubines go!”

“Very well,” said the Fairy Ghost. He was silent for a moment and then continued, “If they don’t want to go, I’ll beat them with a stick.”

Yang Guo was taken aback. He recalled what happened that day, how this Ghost’s wife and four concubines kneeled down and begged him for mercy. He laughed and said, “No! You can’t beat them. If they want to leave, just let them leave; but if they want to stay with you …” he heaved a sigh. “An outsider certainly cannot interfere. Uh, did you say you were going to take four more concubines to make yours exactly eight?”

The Fairy Ghost blushed. “Because of my concubines the Eagle Hero has had some trouble and my brothers and sisters were almost harmed,” he embarrassedly said. “Even if I want to do that, Big Brother certainly wouldn’t let me.” Everybody laughed hearing his response.

“Very well, this business is settled,” said Yang Guo. “Now you can continue your fight.” He moved aside and together with his eagle they were ready to be the spectators of the Shi Brothers versus the Xishan Ghost’s battle.

Fan Yiweng moved a few steps forward and said to Shi Bowei, “The Xishan Ghosts have met an ill-fated event today, and we are hurting; therefore, we’ll have to ask for your leave. However, may we know where your Beastly Mountain Village will be: in Shanxi or Liangzhou? The reason I asked, is so that we can pay a visit in the future.”

Shi Bowei understood the threat very well, he said, “We will wait for your visit in Liangzhou. But if … if … my third brother can’t be saved because of this, you don’t have to come to Liangzhou; the four of us will certainly pay you a visit wherever you are.”

Fan Yiweng was shocked. “What have we to do with Third Brother’s illness?” he wondered.

Shi Bowei’s face turned red and he shouted, “My Third Brother…” Shi Shugang sighed, “Eldest Brother, never mind. The Xishan Ghosts’ actions were unintentional; it is your younger brother’s fate. We don’t have to add unnecessary enmity.”

Shi Bowei struggled to control himself and said, “Fine!” He lifted one hand toward Fan Yiweng and said, “The green hill will not change; the green water always flows; we will meet again.” He turned to Yang Guo and said, “Eagle Hero, even if we train for another 30 years we are still not your match. We admit defeat. We will never dare to cross your path again.”

Yang Guo laughed, “There’s no need for that.”

Fan Yiweng was feeling uncomfortable with what had been said and asked, “Eldest Brother Shi, please wait. The Third Brother Shi said we unintentionally did something wrong. What did we do besides entering your territory without authorization? We, the Xishan Ghosts are not afraid to lose our heads; we are certainly not afraid to kowtow to apologize to you.”

Shi Bowei had seen that when they were under the animal’s attack they were throwing the fur hat to each other. Each one of them certainly did not fear death. They were also the kind of people who knew right from wrong. So mournfully he said, “You frightened off the ‘Nine-Tailed Spirit Fox’ [jiu wei ling hu] which my Third Brother needs for treatment of his internal injury. Even if we kill you a thousand times, or even ten thousand times, what good would that be?” Fan Yiweng was shocked; he recalled how the Shi Brothers were leading a large pack of animals to pursue that little fox and wondered why the fox was so important to them.

The Killer Ghost said, “What’s the use of this little fox? Mmm … since it is important to the Third Brother’s well-being, let us join forces and capture that small fox. Wouldn’t it be great?”

Shi Jiqiang shouted, “What do you mean ‘great’? If you can catch that fox I will kowtow to you a hundred times, no, a thousand times!” He was getting emotional.

Fan Yiweng thought, “The Shi Brothers are animal experts without equal in the world. If THEY say it is difficult, what chance would other people have?” Thinking this he involuntarily cast a glance at Yang Guo.

Guo Xiang could not contain herself any longer. “Why do you keep talking? Why don’t you ask the Eagle Hero for help?” she interjected. Shi  Zhongmeng’s  heart  was  stirred;  he  thought,  “This  Eagle  Hero  is  highly  skilled,  maybe  he   really  can  help us.” But he said, “What do you know?  Unless  ‘da  luo  jin  xian’  [the  Great  Golden  Immortal  surnamed  Luo  –  I think  he  is  one  of  Taoist  deities]  comes  down  to  earth,  who  else  would  be  able  to  catch  that  animal?”  Yang Guo knew he deliberately provoked him; so he simply smiled.

Guo Xiang said, “What’s so special about the fox? Would the Second Shi Uncle care to explain?”

Shi Zhongmeng sighed and said, “Toward the end of the year before last my Third Brother defended against injustice in Liangzhou, but the enemy was playing dirty. My Third Brother was not careful and was severely injured …”

Guo Xiang said, “The Third Uncle Shi’s skills are good. Who’s capable of hurting him?”

Shi Shugang said, “You’re flattering me. My skill is like the faint glow of a firefly compared to the sun. What you just said, I am afraid The Eagle Hero would laugh to my face.”

Guo Xiang cast a glance at Yang Guo and said, “Him? He is different. I am talking about other people here.” Shi Zhongmeng said, “It was a Mongolian Prince called Hou Du. I heard he is the disciple of Jinlun Fawang.” Yang Guo softly sighed, “It was he. No wonder.”

Guo Xiang said, “Eagle Hero, please punish this Mongolian Prince severely for Third Uncle Shi’s sake.”

Shi Zhongmeng said, “We do not dare to bother the Eagle Hero. As soon as the Third Brother’s injury is cured, we will find him and fight him fair and square. I am sure we won’t be  defeated. Only my Third Brother’s internal injury will need a long time to heal; additionally, he will need to drink the blood of the fox for treatment.”

”So that’s the story,” Guo Xiang and the Xishan Ghosts murmured.

Shi Zhongmeng said, “The ‘jiu wei ling hu’ is a rare animal; extremely skittish. We, five brothers have spent almost a year trying to track it down. This fox’s habitat is also in unusual places, like a big marsh located about thirty li [about 15 km] northwest.”

The Killer Ghost asked, “Big marsh? Is it the Black Dragon Marsh?”

Shi Zhongmeng said, “Precisely. You have lived in the Jinnan area for a long time, naturally you know that place. This Black Dragon Marsh’s surrounding area is covered with sludge for a few li around it; no man or beast is able to live there. It’s been a very big effort on our part to simply lure one to this forest.”

The Killer Ghost said, “Oh, no wonder you wouldn’t allow us to enter the forest.”

Shi Zhongmeng continued, “We Shi Brothers are newcomers to this area, naturally we can’t act impolitely. But this is an urgent matter; we did not have any other choice. That fox can run very fast, you have seen it with your own eyes. We led the animals to surround this forest and had actually hoped we would catch it. Unexpectedly you lighted a fire in the forest that our animals were afraid of, and, using that opportunity, the fox escaped. We are ashamed that even with all our might we weren’t able to catch that animal. Once the fox went back to its lair I doubt if we will ever be able to lure it out again. In the meantime my Third Brother’s injury is not getting better. We are running out of time. That was the reason we acted unreasonably.” He then looked at Yang Guo imploringly.

Fan Yiweng said, “We are partly responsible for this mishap. But may I know, how did you lure the fox in the first place? Why can’t we repeat it?”

Shi Zhongmeng said, “The fox is a very suspicious animal; it was extremely difficult to lure it out. We have sacrificed more than a thousand roosters. We put a roasted chicken every day a few feet apart. Only after about two months did its suspicions gradually subside and we slowly led it to this forest. After this incident, I doubt it would ever fall into our trap again, even in ten years.”

Fan Yiweng nodded, saying, “That is so. But what if we try to capture it in its lair?”

“The Black Dragon Marsh is surrounded by several li of more than ten foot deep sludge. Nothing can step on it, not even a boat or light wooden raft will float. The fox’s body is light, its feet wide and thick, plus it is agile so it can run on the surface,” Shi Zhongmeng explained.

Guo Xiang suddenly remembered her family’s pair of eagles which she and her siblings used to ride in the air. The Divine Eagle is bigger than theirs, capable of carrying two people; hence she said, “Eagle Hero, if you are willing to help, I have a way.”

Yang Guo smiled and said, “The Shi Brothers are animal experts, yet they were not able to catch it, even if I am willing what could I do?”

Shi Zhongmeng heard willingness in his voice. This was a matter of life and death for his brother, so without hesitation he bent his knees and knelt down on the snow in front of Yang Guo and asked, “Eagle Hero, my younger brother’s fate is in your hand. Please help us.” Shi Bowei, Shi Jiqiang and Shi Mengjie also knelt down.

Yang Guo quickly lifted them up and said, “I do not dare.” Then he turned to Guo Xiang, “You said if I am willing then you have a way. I will listen to your respected opinion.”

Guo Xiang said, “You can ride on the Divine Eagle and fly over the marsh.”

Yang Guo laughed heartily, saying, “Ha-ha-ha, my Brother Eagle is different from other birds; his body is too heavy, he can’t fly. His strong wings can sweep tigers or leopards away, but they won’t help him soar.” Still, he turned his head to the Shi Brothers and said, “Even though I am useless, I will try my best to help. I beg your forgiveness if I am inadequate.”

The Shi Brothers were very happy. They knew this well-known hero’s reputation; he would do what he promised to do. And if he couldn’t do it, nobody could. Shi Bowei and his brothers kowtowed and said, “Then we invite the Eagle Hero and the Xishan Ghosts to draw up a plan together at our place.”

Fan Yiweng said, “This trouble was started by our brother. We will listen to you.”

Shi Bowei said, “We don’t dare accuse him. At least we made a few friends out of this.” The Xishan Ghosts and Shi Brothers did not have any enmity to begin with; now that they have agreed on something, each uttered polite words and their enmity was quickly forgotten.

Yang Guo, however, disagreed. “Brothers, let me go directly to the Black Dragon Marsh. No matter if I succeed or fail, I will come and pay my respects to you within five days.” The Xishan Ghosts and the Shi Brothers knew he usually handled matters alone; so even though they wanted to come they did not dare to propose otherwise. Yang Guo lifted his arm in respect and turned around, heading north.

Guo Xiang thought, “I came to see the Eagle Hero and I’ve seen him now. Although he looks ugly, his skills are astonishing and he likes to help those in need; he’s a real hero. So if I am looking for a ‘Da Xia’, I have found one.” She was curious to see how he would catch the fox so she quietly followed him.

The Big Head Ghost was about to call her, but changed his mind at the last moment. “She came to see the Eagle Hero; perhaps she has something to say to him,” he thought. The Shi Brothers did not know Guo Xiang to begin with, so they did not say anything either.

Guo Xiang was following about ten feet behind Yang Guo. However, Yang Guo and the eagle moved faster and faster like a speeding horse; a moment later Guo Xiang was far behind. All she could see was Yang Guo’s sleeve floating in the wind; the distance between them was getting greater and greater. Guo Xiang used her family’s lightness skill with all her might but very soon all she could see was two spots on the horizon. She anxiously cried, “Hey, wait for me!” She lost her concentration and fell onto the snowy ground. She was upset and started to cry.

Suddenly she heard a gentle voice saying, “Why are you crying? Who bullied you?”

Guo Xiang looked up and saw that it was Yang Guo. She did not know how he could get back that fast. She was both surprised and happy, but also embarrassed. She searched for her handkerchief to dry her tears but it was gone. She thought it fell to the ground because she was running frantically.

Yang Guo groped in his sleeve pocket and produced a handkerchief which he held between his thumb and index finger and asked with a smile, “Are you looking for this?” Guo Xiang saw that it was her own embroidered flower handkerchief so she said, “It is you who bully me.”

“How did I bully you?” Yang Guo asked.

“You took my handkerchief away, didn’t you bully me?” Guo Xiang answered.

Yang Guo laughed, “You dropped it yourself and I was kind enough to pick it up for you. How could you say I took it away?”

Guo Xiang also laughed, “I was behind you, so how could you have picked it up? Obviously you took it from me.” Actually Yang Guo was aware that Guo Xiang was following them. He wanted to test her skills; so he intentionally ran faster. He thought this young girl’s martial arts seemed to come from a famous expert. After she fell he was afraid she might be injured, so he took a detour around her and saw a handkerchief several feet behind, so he picked it up.

Yang Guo smiled, “What’s your name? Who’s your master? Why are you following me?” Guo Xiang countered, “What’s your great name? You tell me first then I’ll tell you.”

Yang Guo had been unwilling to even reveal his face for the past decade, so obviously he was not going to tell a stranger his name. He said, “Young lady, you’re a strange one. If you won’t say it, then never mind. Here’s your handkerchief.” He waved his hand slightly and the handkerchief spread out and flew steadily to Guo Xiang.

Guo Xiang found it fun and took it, saying, “Eagle Hero, what skill is this? Can you teach me?”

Yang Guo saw that she was young and innocent and his repulsive mask did not scare her, so he thought, “I must scare her a bit.” He suddenly said sharply, “You’re very daring. Why aren’t you afraid of me? I’m going to hurt you now.” He stepped forward and raised his hand as if about to strike.

Guo Xiang was shocked but recovered quickly and laughed, “I’m not afraid. If you really want to hurt me, would you say it first? The Eagle Hero is chivalrous and valiant, why would you want to hurt a little girl like me?”

For someone past caring about worldly affairs, even if a great man praised him sincerely, he would not care. Although he was not desperate to be praised, when he heard Guo Xiang earnestly complimenting him, he smiled, “You don’t know me, and how do you know I won’t harm you?”

Guo Xiang said, “Although I don’t know you, I heard a lot about your great deeds at Fenglingdu last night. I said to myself, ‘I must definitely meet such a great hero.’ So I followed the Big Head Ghost here to find you.”

Yang Guo shook his head, “I’m no hero. After you’ve seen me you’ll know that my fame is exaggerated.”

Guo Xiang quickly said, “No, no! If you’re not a hero… then who is?” After she said this she realized she said something wrong – it implied her father was not on the same level as he was. So she said, “Of course there’re several great heroes apart from you, but you’re definitely one of them.”

Yang Guo thought, “You’re just a teenager, how can you know about the great men of the time?” He smiled, “So who are those heroes?”

Guo Xiang felt that his tone was quite dismissive of her statement, so she said, “OK, I’ll say it. But if I’m right, you’ll take me to catch that “Nine-Tailed Fox”, OK?”

Yang Guo said, “OK. Name me a few.”

Guo Xiang said, “OK. There’s one hero who defends Xiangyang and repels the Mongol invaders with all his might to protect the people. Is that a great hero?”

Yang Guo held up his thumb and said, “Correct! Hero Guo Jing can be counted.”

Guo Xiang continued, “There’s also a female hero who protects the people, defends the country, is really intelligent and predicts like the Gods. Is she a great hero?”

Yang Guo said, “You mean Madam Guo – Chief Huang? Hmm… she can be considered a great hero too.”

Guo Xiang said, “There’s also an old hero who’s a master of the Five Elements and the Divine Flicking Finger and is a great prodigy. Is he considered a great hero?”

Yang Guo said, “This must be Island Master Huang, a senior in the Wulin community. I’ve always respected him.”

Guo Xiang saw that he knew the three people she mentioned so she was quite pleased with herself. She said, “Then there’s yet another, he commands the Beggars’ Sect, kills the mighty enemy, serves the country and the people, and toils laboriously. Is he considered a great hero?”

Yang Guo said, “Are you referring to Chief Lu Youjiao? Although his martial arts are not that fantastic and he never accomplished much, but based on you saying he ‘kills the mighty enemy, serves the country and the people’, he can be counted as a great hero too.”

Guo Xiang thought, “You’re so great yourself and your standards are so high; if I continue then you may not agree. Moreover after Father, Mother, Grandfather and Uncle Lu, I can’t think of anyone else.”

Yang Guo saw her hesitating and thought, “Uncle Guo, Aunt Guo, Island Master Huang and Chief Lu are all very well-known heroes. It’s nothing strange for this young lady to mention them.” He said, “If you can name one more correctly, I’ll take you to the Black Dragon Marsh to catch the “Nine-Tailed Fox”.”

Guo Xiang wanted to mention her brother-in-law Yelu Qi but felt that although his martial arts were high, he did not qualify to be a ‘great hero’ yet. Her martial brothers Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen were even worse candidates. She was greatly troubled when  she  suddenly  thought  of  something  and  said,  “OK,  here’s  one more: he helps people in trouble, protects the weak and is widely praised – the Eagle Hero! Whether he is to be considered a great hero is for you to decide.”

Yang Guo said, “Young lady, your words are very amusing.”

Guo Xiang said, “So are you taking me to the Black Dragon Marsh?” Yang Guo laughed, “Since you called me a great hero, how can a great hero disappoint the young lady? Let’s go.”

Guo Xiang was overjoyed and stretched out her hand and held his left hand. She was friendly with the heroes in Xiangyang since young and they treated her like their goddaughter, hence she did not pay attention to the proper behavior between males and females. In her excitement, she did not treat Yang Guo as a stranger.

Yang Guo, feeling his hand being held by her, felt that it was soft and smooth. He was at a loss as to what to do because if he withdrew his hand, it might have seemed rude. He glanced at her and saw her hopping and skipping with joy written all over her face and without any other thoughts, so he smiled and pointed north, saying, “The Black Dragon Marsh is over there; it’s not very far from here.” As he pointed, he managed to take his hand away from Guo Xiang’s hold discreetly. Yang Guo was a great flirt when young but after separating from Xiao Longnu, he restrained himself. He paid great attention to the proper behavior between males and females for the past 10 years while roaming Jianghu. Although he saw that Guo Xiang was sweet and innocent, he was still careful with his behavior and did not even dare to touch her hand.

Guo Xiang did not bother about that but walked shoulder-to-shoulder with him. After walking a few steps, she saw that although the Divine Eagle was ugly, it looked proud and majestic, so she stretched out her hand to pat its wings. She’d played with a pair of white eagles since young and patting the eagles’ wings as a game. However the Divine Eagle spread its wings and pushed her aside with an “Aak”. Guo Xiang was shocked and exclaimed, “Ah!”

Yang Guo laughed, “Brother Eagle, relax! Why treat this young lady so coldly?” Guo Xiang stuck out her tongue at it and walked to Yang Guo’s right, not daring to go near the eagle. She did not know that while her eagles were pets Yang Guo’s eagle was sort of his master as well as his friend. Considering its age, it was an elder, so its status was different.

So the two people and the eagle headed towards the Black Dragon Marsh. They found it quite easily as there was no plants or trees for 7 or 8 li. The Black Dragon Marsh was originally a large lake, but the water source dried eventually and it was clogged with slit year after year. As a result, the place became a desolate marsh. With only a bit of effort, Yang Guo and Guo Xiang made it to the marsh. They looked around and saw a heavy cloud of mist with only dried bushes scattered around the vast marsh. The “Nine-Tailed Fox”, should be hiding somewhere around here.

Yang Guo took a twig and threw it into the marsh. At first the twig settled on the snow, but then it sank slowly and steadily without stopping. Soon there was not a trace of the twig. Guo Xiang exclaimed, “The twig is so light and yet it sank, so how can we walk on it?” She stared at Yang Guo and wondered what clever tricks he was thinking of.

Yang Guo broke off two yew branches which were a few feet long and tied them to his feet. He said, “Let me try it and see if this works.” He bent forward and jumped onto the snow, skiing quickly on the surface. He skied left and right without pausing and turned several times on the frozen marsh before returning to his original location.

Guo Xiang laughed, “Great skills!”

Yang Guo saw the glint of admiration in her eyes and knew she was really eager to trap the fox, but she did not have great lightness skills so he laughed, “I promised to take you to the Black Dragon Marsh to catch that “Nine-Tailed Fox”, are you afraid?”

Guo Xiang sighed gently and said, “I don’t have skills such as yours; even if I were very brave it’d be useless.”

Yang Guo smiled without a word and broke off another two branches. He then gave them to Guo Xiang and said, “Tie them to your feet.”

Guo Xiang was surprised and delighted and immediately tied the branches as instructed. Yang Guo said, “Bend forward and remember not to exert any strength with your feet.” He grabbed her arm and shouted, “Fear not!” Guo Xiang was dragged by him and she found herself skiing on the snow. She panicked at first, but after a few meters she felt herself floating like the wind and she repeatedly shouted, “This is so much fun!”

After skiing for some time, Yang Guo suddenly shouted, “Oh!” Guo Xiang asked, “What?” She lost her concentration and her left foot sank into the snow. The mud splashed onto her leg and she exclaimed in surprise. Yang Guo lifted her out and said, “Remember, always move continuously and you must not stop suddenly.”

Guo Xiang said, “OK. What do you see? Is it the ‘Nine-Tailed Fox’?”

Yang Guo said, “No! It seems like someone is living in the middle of the marsh.” Guo Xiang curiously asked, “How can someone live here?” Yang Guo said, “I don’t know that either. But the plants and trees here are arranged into some sort of formation; definitely man-made.”

They were getting closer to the formation and Guo Xiang looked carefully, saying, “Correct, Wood at the east, Fire in the south, Earth at the centre but it’s not Water at the North but Metal.”

She had heard her mother talk of the ‘Changes of the Five Elements’ since young so she managed to pick up some of it. Her character was quite different to her sister Guo Fu – she was frank but not uncouth and she was much more intelligent than her sister. Huang Rong always said, “If your grandfather ever saw you, he would really like you a lot.” Huang Yaoshi was very well-versed in medicine, astrology, the arts and warfare. Guo Xiang was very much like her grandfather but she was distracted easily, so  her  martial  arts improvement was slow. She was always day-dreaming, did as she pleased and her conduct was usually extraordinary, causing Guo Jing and Huang Rong a lot of headaches. Hence her nickname at home was “Little Eastern Heretic”. For example on this occasion she followed the Big Head Ghost whom she did not know to look for the Eagle Hero, and now she followed another stranger, the Eagle Hero, to catch the fox. She boldly did as she wanted and was different from the Huang Rong and Guo Fu of years ago.

When Yang Guo heard that she knew how the formation was arranged, he was quite surprised and asked, “How did you know? Who taught you?”

Guo Xiang laughed, “I saw that in some books, I don’t even know if it’s correct. But from what I see there’s nothing extraordinary about this formation, so it can’t be some expert living in there.”

Yang Guo nodded, “That a person can survive in such an inhospitable place is strange.” So he said loudly, “My friend in the Black Dragon Marsh, you have guests.” After waiting a while, there was still no response. Yang Guo repeated his words but still received no response. Yang Guo said: “Looks as though someone made this formation, but the person doesn’t live here. Let’s go over and take a look.” He skied several meters ahead and went right up to the formation.

Guo Xiang suddenly felt as though she had set foot on solid ground. Yang Guo finished his examination and laughed, “There’s nothing weird about this. There’s an island in the middle of the marsh.” As he said this, there was a sudden movement in the snow and two little foxes came out from behind a bush. It was a pair of “Nine-Tailed Foxes” and one headed northeast while the other headed southwest, both running very fast.

Yang Guo shouted, “Stay here and don’t move.” He turned and chased the fox heading northeast. Now that he didn’t have to look after Guo Xiang, he was able to utilize his full skills and ski on the snow swiftly as a bird. However the fox was extremely fast and agile too and it turned, and then dashed in front of Guo Xiang. Suddenly, as the wind blew, Yang Guo threw out his sleeve and almost caught the fox but it was too agile and somersaulted in midair, causing Yang Guo’s sleeve to miss only by a few inches. Guo Xiang exclaimed, “What a pity!”

The man and the fox dashed through the snow with lightning speed and Guo Xiang was filled with excitement and could not stop cheering Yang Guo, shouting, “Eagle Hero! Faster! Little fox, you can’t escape, just surrender!” The other fox zigzagged around, sometimes moving close to Yang Guo. Yang Guo knew it was there to distract him so he did not bother with it and only concentrated on the first fox, wanting to tire it out. Although the fox was small, its stamina was excellent and showed no signs of fatigue after dashing around for so long.

Yang Guo increased his pace and the other fox ran alongside its companion in an attempt to save it. He scolded, “You little animal, do you think I can’t catch you?” He swiftly bent down and grabbed a ball of snow and squashed it until it was like a stone. He shot the snowball out and hit the fox in the head, causing it to fall down and roll over. Yang Guo did not want to kill it, so he threw the snowball very lightly. The fox rolled several times and stood up again, quickly dashing into a clump of bushes, not daring to come out again.

If Yang Guo hit it again, he could catch the fox, but he purposely wanted to compete with it, saying, “Little fox, if I hit you hard with a snowball, you won’t die in peace. I’m an upright man and if I can’t catch up with you, I’ll let you off.” He took a deep breath and launched himself forward, sliding on the snow and got right up to the fox. The fox was shocked and tried to escape to the right. Yang Guo was prepared for that and shot out his sleeve, hitting the fox. He then grabbed its head with his left hand. He felt proud of himself and laughed heartily.

When he stopped laughing, he saw that the fox was motionless and appeared to be dead. Yang Guo thought, “Oh no! My sleeve must have hit it too hard. These foxes are very delicate, I wonder if the dead fox’s blood can be used to treat the third Shi.” He took the fox and skied to Guo Xiang, saying, “This fox is dead, I’m afraid it’s of no use to us, let’s go catch the live one.” He dropped the fox onto the ground, and as he was afraid it was pretending to be dead, he flung his sleeve out to catch it back if it moved. But the fox remained motionless and seemed to be really dead.

Guo Xiang said, “The fox was cute when alive, maybe it dropped dead from fatigue.” She took a branch and said, “I’ll go chase the other fox here. You wait here.” She walked a few steps forward and hit the bushes with the branch. When she hit the bushes, she wanted to hit again but could not lift the branch up. It seemed like the branch was being bitten by some animal. She exclaimed in surprise and tugged harder, but she lost her grip and the branch was dragged into the bushes.

With a strange sound a person emerged from behind the bushes; it was an old woman with white hair and dressed in black. She stared at Guo Xiang fiercely and raised the branch to hit her. Guo Xiang was shocked and immediately jumped back, retreating behind Yang Guo.

At this time the ‘dead’ fox sprang up and jumped into the old woman’s embrace and stared at Yang Guo with its beady eyes. It was feigning death after all.

When Yang Guo saw this, he was angry yet amused. He thought, “Today I lost to a small animal; seems like it belongs to the old woman. I don’t know who she is and I’ve never heard about such a person in Jianghu. It might be a problem if I insist on taking the fox.” He lifted his hand and said, “I have offended you, Elder, please forgive me.”

The old woman stared at the branches on their feet and appeared surprised. However she quickly masked it and waved her hand, saying, “This old woman lives in seclusion and doesn’t entertain any guests. Go away!” Her pitch was sharp and thin and her brows showed traces of an unfriendly aura.

Yang Guo saw that her appearance was intimidating but her brows and eyes were delicate, so it seemed she must have been beautiful when young. He really could not figure out who this could be and said politely, “I have a friend who has suffered some internal injuries. I need the blood of the “Nine-Tailed Fox” to treat him. I hope you will be generous and save a life. My friends and I will be very grateful to you.”

The old woman faced the sky and laughed, “Ha-ha ha-ha heh heh.” She did not stop for a while and her laughter was filled with hatred. Finally she said, “He has suffered internal injuries, so you need to save him. Wonderful! Why did no one want to save my son when he was severely injured?”

Yang Guo was shocked and said, “What injuries did Elder’s son suffer? Can we still save him in time?”

The old woman laughed again. She said, “In time? He died several decades ago and has already turned to ashes, what are you talking about?”

Yang Guo knew she was thinking about her past, so he did not say much. He only said, “Our visit here to request this fox is really inappropriate, if elder has any orders I shall carry them out if they’re within my capacity.”

The old woman cast a gaze at him and said, “I live here alone and have no kith or kin – only these foxes as companions. If you take them away, it’s no problem, but you must leave this girl here to accompany me for ten years.”

Yang Guo frowned but before he could answer, he heard Guo Xiang say, “This place is only stinking mud and firewood, it’s no fun here. I don’t want to live here. If you’re bored here, then you may come to my home. My parents will definitely welcome you and you can live with us for ten or twenty years. Isn’t that better?”

The old woman angrily said, “Who do you think your parents are? How can they invite me?” Guo Xiang was very broad-minded and if anyone was rude to her, she would just laugh it off, so she hardly got angry. The woman seriously offended Guo Jing and Huang Rong and if Guo Fu had heard this, she would have flown into a rage immediately. Guo Xiang however just smiled and stuck out her tongue at Yang Guo.

Yang Guo felt this young lady was very familiar and did not wish to bring her trouble. He nodded to her and faced the old woman, saying, “Elder’s invitation to this girl is indeed generous and is a rare opportunity for her but without her parents’ permission, she can’t decide for herself…”

The old woman said sharply, “Who are her parents? What are you to her?” Yang Guo found these questions hard to answer.

Guo Xiang immediately said, “My parents are villagers, even if I tell you, you wouldn’t know them. Him… He’s my… brother!” She looked at Yang Guo.

At this time Yang Guo was also starring at her and they made eye contact. Although Yang Guo was wearing a mask and his face looked dead and zombie-like, his eyes radiated a warm and protective aura. Guo Xiang felt her heart tremble and thought, “If I only had such an older brother, he’d definitely look after me. He won’t be like my sister who nags and scolds all the time, grumbling about this and nitpicking at that.” As she thought of this, her face showed signs of respect.

Yang Guo said, “Yeah, my sister is young and ignorant, so I took her out to see the world…” Guo Xiang was initially afraid that Yang Guo would not acknowledge her as his sister but when she heard this, she was extremely delighted. She heard him continue, “She saw that this “Nine-Tailed Fox” looked so majestic and knew it must be some exalted elder who owns it so she has come with me on this visit. She is really fortunate to meet you.” The old woman laughed coldly, “What’s the use of talking such rubbish? The way you chased my fox – is that showing respect for an elder? Quickly go and don’t come back!” She waved both palms and thrust one palm at Yang Guo and the other at Guo Xiang. The three of them were standing about a meter apart and although they were out of range of her palms, Guo Xiang felt a cold wind suddenly rush towards her. Yang Guo waved his sleeve and completely dissipated the wind blowing towards Guo Xiang and did not even bother about the wind blowing towards him.

In the beginning, the old woman was not afraid of them and only wanted to chase them out of the Black Dragon Marsh, so she only used 50% of her strength. But when she saw that it did not affect them in the least bit, she was shocked and angry. She increased her strength and struck out with two palms again, not worrying if she took their lives. Once Guo Xiang felt the wind coming, she felt the chill immediately, but Yang Guo waved his sleeve and dissipated the wind again. She knew they were competing internal strength and she saw that the old woman’s expression was terrible while Yang Guo looked calm as he had the upper hand.

The old woman quickly ducked and stepped away, then suddenly lashed out with a strange move, hitting Yang Guo squarely in the chest with a thud. She immediately retreated and did not wait for Yang Guo to retaliate, and was several meters away in a moment. Guo Xiang was shocked and pulled his arm, asking, “Are… are you injured?” The old woman said sharply, “You’ve been struck by my “Yin Frost Arrow Palm”, you won’t live to tomorrow. You brought this upon yourself, so don’t blame anyone else.”

Yang Guo’s martial arts had far surpassed this old woman’s martial arts even fifteen years ago. Now that he had reached such a high level of internal and external martial arts mastery, the old woman’s “Yin Frost Arrow Palm” did not hurt him. However he had no feud with her and he also wanted her precious pet. He did not want to be rude and thus did not retaliate for three palm strikes.

The old woman had trained her “Yin Frost Arrow Palm” for the past two decades and one palm stroke could smash seventeen bricks at once. The shattered pieces did not fly everywhere, showing that her palm strikes were fierce and concentrated. She thought when Yang Guo was hit, he would collapse from his injuries but he smiled as if nothing happened. She thought, “This kid is still stubborn even on the verge of death.” She said, “While you’re not dead yet, quickly take this girl and leave, don’t die in my Black Dragon Marsh.”

Yang Guo lifted his head and said clearly, “Elder lives in seclusion and is very knowledgeable.” He laughed loudly and clearly, his voice robust and vigorous, showing his profound internal strength.

When the woman heard this, she realized that he was not even slightly injured and her face darkened. It was only now that she knew he had actually allowed three moves and she was far from his match. She did not wait for him to finish and carried her fox while whistling for the other. The other came out from the bushes and jumped into her embrace. The old woman said sharply, “Martial arts expert, I admire you. But if you want to snatch this old woman’s foxes, never! If you step one foot closer I’ll strangle them and you can return empty-handed.”

Yang Guo heard that her words were resolute and saw that her character was stubborn and unyielding, he hesitated. If he suddenly charged forward and sealed her accupoints before snatching a fox, it looked like she might die from anger. This way, even if he saved Shi Shugang’s life, it would be at the expense of another innocent life.

At this time, they heard a voice from behind. “Amituofo.” Then the voice said, “Old monk Yideng wishes to see you, Yinggu, please meet me.”

Guo Xiang saw that there was no one around her and was very curious. The voice seemed to come from close by but there was nowhere anyone could conceal himself in the surroundings. Where could this person be? She had once heard from her mother that Reverend Yideng was a highly-skilled elder. He had once saved her mother’s life and he was also the master of Wu Santong who was the father of the Wu brothers. She had never met him before, so when someone suddenly called himself Yideng, she was surprised and happy.

When Yang Guo heard Yideng’s voice, he was very delighted too. He knew that Yideng was now using the “Voice Transmitting Over 1000 Li” skill. Of course Yideng was not literally 1000 li away, but if there was no mountain in the way, someone with high martial arts could project his voice over several li and yet sound very near. The higher the internal energy, the gentler the voice would sound. Yang Guo only heard these two sentences and was full of admiration and admitted to himself that this monk’s internal energy was so profound and refined that the monk was superior to him. He then thought, “So this old woman is Yinggu. I wonder what Yideng wants to see her for. Maybe with his intervention I can get the fox.”

The old woman living in the Black Dragon Marsh was indeed Yinggu. Years ago when Yideng was the King of Dali, Yinggu was one of his concubines. She had an affair with Zhou Botong and had a son by him. Later Qiu Qianren used his Iron Palms to injure their son severely but King Duan (Yideng) refused to save the child and he died. Following that King Duan became a monk and took on the name of Yideng. When Yinggu could not kill Qiu Qianren on Mount Hua, she chased Zhou Botong for some time before touring Jianghu and finally settling down in the Black Dragon Marsh. By this time Yideng had been outside the marsh for seven days and transmitted his voice to seek permission to visit her everyday. However Yinggu remembered how he totally refused to save her son many years ago and her hatred had still not diminished, so she refused to see him. Yang Guo saw Yinggu retreat a few steps and sit on a pile of firewood. Her eyes were filled with hatred. After a while, they heard Yideng again, saying, “Old monk Yideng has come from a thousand li away, Yinggu, please grant us permission to visit.” Yinggu just played with her foxes and ignored him. Yang Guo thought, “Yideng’s martial arts far surpass hers, so she can’t stop him from coming, so why does he beg her to see him?” They heard Yideng repeat the words once more, then they did not hear him again.

Guo Xiang said, “Brother, this Reverend Yideng must be some great man, can we go see him?”

Yang Guo said, “Yes! I want to see him too.” Then they saw Yinggu stand up and cast her fierce gaze at them and felt uncomfortable. He grabbed Guo Xiang’s hand and said, “Let’s go!” They skied away together.

Guo Xiang was pulled for several feet by Yang Guo. Then she asked, “Brother, where’s Reverend Yideng? When I heard him speak, it’s as though he’s right beside me.”

Yang Guo heard her call him “Brother” twice and her voice was gentle and sweet, his heart shivered and thought, “I must never let her get entangled in the web of love. This girl is young and naïve  and inexperienced, so it’s best we split up soon before there’s any trouble.” But they could not stop in such a desolate place and he could not let go of her hand now. Guo Xiang asked, “I’m asking you, didn’t you hear?”

Yang Guo said, “Reverend Yideng is in the northwest and is several li away from here. He can speak from far as though he’s nearby using the “Voice Transmitting Over 1000 Li” skill.”

Guo Xiang happily asked, “You know it too? Can you teach me? When we’re a thousand li apart I can use this skill to communicate with you, won’t that be great?”

Yang Guo laughed, “Although this is the “Voice Transmitting Over 1000 Li” skill, if you can only project your voice over several li, it would indeed be considered excellent. If you want to reach Reverend Yideng’s level, even with your intelligence you’ll only have mastered it when you have white hair.”

Guo Xiang heard that he was praising her for being intelligent, she was overjoyed and said, “How am I intelligent? If I were only 10% as intelligent as my mother, I’d be satisfied.”

Yang Guo’s heart trembled and he saw that her brows resembled Huang Rong’s, so he thought, “Among all the people I’ve met in my life, whether male or female, when it comes to intelligence none can compare to Aunt Guo. Could she really be Uncle and Aunt Guo’s daughter?” But he laughed nonchalantly and thought, “Is there really such a wonderful thing? If she’s really their daughter, Uncle Guo would never let her come out and wander around like this.” He asked, “Who’s your mother?”

Although Guo Xiang said that her parents were great heroes, now she was shy to admit that she was Guo Jing and Huang Rong’s daughter, so she laughed, “My mother is my mother. You wouldn’t know her anyway. Brother, between you and Yideng, whose skills are better?”

Yang Guo was almost a middle-aged man now and  he’d  experienced  the  agony  of  separation  from  Xiao Longnu, so his proud nature had waned with age. He said, “Reverend Yideng is a famous character in Wulin and his name is as well-known as the Peach Blossom  Island.  He  was  the  Southern  King  among  the  Five Greats, how can I be compared to him?”

Guo Xiang said, “If you were born several decades earlier, then there would be Six Greats: East Heretic, West Poison, North Beggar, Central Divinity and the Eagle Hero. Ah, there’s also Hero Guo and Madam Guo. So there would be Eight Greats.”

Yang Guo could not help it anymore and asked, “You’ve met Hero Guo and Madam Guo before?”

Guo Xiang said, “Of course, they like me a lot. Do you know them personally? After we finish this business, we’ll meet them together, OK?”

Yang Guo had already forgotten the incident in which Guo Fu hacked off his arm, but he could not stop hating Guo Fu for poisoning Xiao Longnu and causing their sixteen-year separation. He blandly said, “Next year, I might visit Hero Guo and Madam Guo, but I must meet my wife first, then I’ll go with her.” When he mentioned Xiao Longnu, he was extremely excited inside.

Guo Xiang suddenly felt his palm become hot and asked, “Your wife must be really beautiful and highly- skilled.”

Yang Guo sighed, “There’s no one else as beautiful as her on Earth. Hmm, I think she has already far surpassed me in terms of martial arts.”

Guo Xiang was full of admiration and said, “Brother, you must take me to meet your wife. Can you promise me that?”

Yang Guo laughed, “Why not? She’ll definitely like you a lot. When the time comes you  can  call  me ‘Brother’.” Guo Xiang was surprised and asked; “Why not now?” She stopped and her foot sank into the mud again. Yang Guo pulled her out and skied another few meters. Then they saw a man standing some distance away in the snow. His white beard was flowing freely and he was wearing a loose grey robe. It was indeed Yideng. Yang Guo said in a clear voice, “Disciple Yang Guo greets the Reverend.” He dragged Guo Xiang and ran up to him.

He bent his knees as soon as he came near the Reverend.

The place where Yideng stood was beyond the Black Dragon Marsh. Yideng was also very happy and quickly pulled the young man up. “Brother Yang,” he said, “How have you been? I am delighted to see your skill has improved thus far.”

As soon as he stood up, Yang Guo saw another monk lying on the ground behind the Reverend. The monk’s face was sheet white and his eyes were closed; he looked like a corpse. After looking at him for a moment he recognized the monk as Ci’en. He was surprised and asked “What happened to Reverend Ci’en?”

Yideng heaved a heavy sigh. “He has been injured by an enemy and my efforts to help him were in vain,” he said.

Yang Guo quickly checked Ci’en’s pulse and found it was very weak. He knew that Ci’en would have been dead if he did not possess profound internal energy. “Reverend Ci’en has a very high level of martial arts. Your disciple is puzzled as to how could he be injured that badly?”

“For a long time he and I lived a secluded life in Hunan province,” explained Yideng. “A while ago we heard that, because they were not successful in taking over Xiangyang, the Mongolians had turned their attention to the south. They attacked Da Li with the intention of using it as a stepping stone to attack the central plains from both north and south. Because he saw my concern about the safety of my homeland, Ci’en went out to investigate. Unexpectedly he met an enemy and was engaged in a battle for one whole day and night. As a result he suffered a heavy injury.”

Yang Guo stomped his feet. With a sigh he said “Jinlun Fawang has come back to the central plains,” he said.

“Big Brother, how did you know the enemy was Jinlun Fawang? Reverend Yideng did not say it was him,” asked Guo Xiang.

“I guessed it was Jinlun Fawang because the Reverend said they were battling each other for one whole day and night,” he answered. “From what the Reverend said, Ci’en was not injured by some kind of trickery and the number of people who can do that is only a handful. Among those people, Jinlun Fawang is the only one.”

“Big Brother,” Guo Xiang said, “Please find that man and avenge Senior Monk.”

At that moment Ci’en slowly opened his eyes. He looked at Guo Xiang and shook his head. “What is it? You don’t want revenge?” asked the girl. “Ha! You worry that Big Brother will lose?”

“Little Miss has guessed incorrectly,” Yideng said. “My disciple has committed many crimes in the past. He had repented of his past sins and done so many good deeds to repay those sins. There is only one thing disturbing his heart. Without resolution he will die with regrets. He doesn’t want revenge; he doesn’t want his enemy’s demise. All he wants is someone’s forgiveness. Then he will close his eyes in peace.”

“Does he want the forgiveness of that granny who lives in the middle of the marsh?” asked the girl. “That granny is so hardhearted. She won’t easily forgive you if you offended her.”

Yideng again heaved a heavy sigh. “That’s true,” he said. “We have camped out here for seven whole days and nights. She still has not responded!”

Yang Guo was surprised. He suddenly remembered the granny mentioned something about her child, whom she said was injured but nobody was willing to help. “Is this about the death of a child?” he asked.

Yideng slightly shivered. “So Brother Yang knows,” he said.

“Disciple does not know the details,” said Yang Guo. “I said that because the granny mentioned it.” He proceeded by narrating the reason for his visit to the Black Dragon Marsh and his conversation with the granny.

“She was my wife, her name is Yinggu,” said Yideng softly. “She has a very strong character …” he sighed “If this situation persists, Ci’en won’t be able to hold on.”

Yang Guo sighed and sadly said, “Who has never done anything wrong? Whenever somebody repents, all could be forgotten. Yinggu is rather shortsighted.”

Seeing Ci’en was nearing his end, Yang Guo’s valiant character was stirred. “Reverend, by ignoring my meager ability, I would like to force her to come out,” he said. “Will you allow me?”

Yideng thought for a moment, “Ci’en and I have come this far to ask Yinggu’s forgiveness. We can’t force her, but we have been here a long time without meeting her and looks like our effort will be in vain. If this Yang Guo has any ideas, we might as well try them. Worst case is we still cannot meet her.” So finally he said, “If Brother Yang could persuade her to come out, I would be delighted. But in your efforts, I wish for you not to cause any trouble and worsen this already deep hatred.”

Yang Guo nodded and took a handkerchief and tore it into four pieces. He put two pieces in Ci’en’s ears and gave the other two to Guo Xiang; signaling her to put them in her ears. Guo Xiang understood and immediately did as she was told.

Yang Guo then exerted his internal energy and gathered his ‘chi’ in his ‘dan tian’. [The 'dan tian' is somewhat below the navel and between the kidneys. It's somewhere in the centre of the cross-section of the body. All the 'chi' arises from this central point].

He bowed in front of Yideng and said, “Disciple will show off my lack of ability, I hope Reverend won’t laugh at me.”

Yideng clasped his hands and said, “Not many people in this world can match Brother Yang’s skill. This old monk has long wanted to see it.”

Yang Guo put his hand on his waist, looked up, and he shouted loud and long. The shout was loud and sharp, slowly becoming unbearable. It was like earth shattering thunderbolts. Even though her ears were stopped, Guo Xiang’s heart pounded and her face paled. Not too long after there came a sound like the waves of the tide, continuously crashing onto the shore. One after another, the next one was louder than the previous one.

“Big Brother, stop! I can’t take it any longer!” shouted Guo Xiang. But her cries were overcome by Yang Guo’s cry so that she could not even hear her own voice. She felt like her spirit was snatched out and her body was swaying. At that time she suddenly felt Yideng holding her hand and out of his hand came a warm energy flowing into her body. Guo Xiang understood Yideng was helping her with his profound internal energy. Therefore, she quickly exerted her own energy and calmed her perturbed heart. A moment later her heart was steadied and her mind cleared.

After the time needed to eat a bowl of rice Yang Guo’s voice had not weakened. On the contrary, the intensity was increased. Yideng was very impressed, because he had not achieved that level when he was Yang Guo’s age.

In the time it took to light a joss stick a black shadow came out of the Black Dragon Marsh; immediately Yang Guo shook his sleeve and stopped the roar.

“Emperor Duan,” a voice was heard. “You are too much! You forced me to come out. What do you want?” “It wasn’t me. It was Brother Yang’s voice,” said Yideng.

While still speaking the shadow kept coming near and when it stopped, all could see that it was Yinggu.

She looked puzzled. “Is that true, that there is someone besides Emperor Duan who possesses internal energy that profound?” she asked in her heart. “Even though he is wearing a mask, I can tell from his hair that he is only thirty-something. It’s amazing for him to reach this level.”

She was forced to come out of her lair by the loud roar. She realized that if she refused, the roar would get louder and she will be heavily injured, possibly her nervous system ruined. So even though she was irritated, she had to comply. Little did she know that the roar came out of Yang Guo’s throat.

After calming herself she turned to Yang Guo and coldly said, “Take my fox. I admit defeat. But I want you to leave immediately.” She lifted the fox by the scruff of its neck and gave it to Yang Guo.

“Hold a moment,” Yang Guo said. “The fox can wait. Reverend Yideng wants to talk to you. Please listen to him.”

Yinggu looked coldly at Yideng. “Very well, I await the Emperor’s decree.”

“Let bygones be bygones,” said Yideng. “Why do you still use that term? Yinggu, do you know him?” He pointed to Ci’en who was still lying on the ground.

Ci’en was wearing a monk’s robe. His face had changed much from the Mount Hua [Huashan] Sword Meet of 30 years ago. Yinggu looked at him for a minute and then said, “How would I know this monk?”

“Who hurt your son then?” Yideng asked.

The granny’s body shuddered, her fair countenance turned red, and from red it turned back to white. “That scoundrel Qiu Qianren,” she answered. “Even if he’s turned into dirt I will still remember him.”

“It has been decades yet you have not rid your heartache.” Yideng sighed. “This man is none other than Qiu Qianren. You don’t recognize his face any longer, but your heart is still full of hatred.” Yinggu leaped and stretched her fingers like claws, she was going to pierce Ci’en’s breast. Before her hands reached their target, she looked at him again. That face only slightly resembled the Qiu Qianren that she knew. He was lying motionless, no different than a corpse. “If he really is Qiu Qianren, why did he want to see me?” she asked doubtfully.

“He is indeed Qiu Qianren,” explained Yideng. “He repented his great and many sins, shaved his head and became my disciple. His Buddhist name is Ci’en.”

The granny snorted. “Great sinners always think they can redeem their sins by becoming a monk,” she said.

“You are wrong,” said Yideng patiently. “Sin is sin. By becoming a monk he is still a sinner. But he is heavily injured and is dying. He remembered his sin toward you in the past. He knew he injured your child and his heart is troubled; if he doesn’t see you, he won’t die peacefully. Therefore, enduring his pain, we have come from thousands of li away to ask for your forgiveness.”

The granny looked at Ci’en for a long time. Her eyes shone with unleashed hatred. Guo Xiang was really frightened. Slowly the granny lifted her hands up to hit Ci’en. Even though Guo Xiang was scared, her valiant heart prevailed. “Stop it!” she shouted. “He is heavily injured. It’s not proper for you to hit him.”

Yinggu coldly laughed. “Not proper?” she asked. “He murdered my child and made me suffer for tens of years. Right now –  even though it is a bit late, I have a chance for revenge. Not proper? What do you mean ‘not proper’?”

“He has repented and regretted his sins,” said the girl. “Why do you insist?”

Yinggu looked up and laughed maniacally. “Child, don’t talk rubbish!” she snapped. “What would you do if he killed your child?”

“I … I … I don’t have a child,” Guo Xiang stammered.

The granny made a noise with her nose. “What if he killed your husband, your lover … your big brother? What would you do?” she asked again.

Guo Xiang blushed. “You talk rubbish,” she said, “Where did my husband or my lover come from?”

Yinggu was seething with anger. She ignored the girl and lifted her hands again to hit her archenemy’s head. Suddenly Ci’en sighed and opened his eyes. A smile formed on his lips. “Thank you Yinggu, for helping me.”

The granny was stunned, her hands stopped mid-air. “Help you what?” she barked. But then she realized Ci’en’s intention. She now knew that the monk was dying, he wanted it finished by her hands. ‘An eye for an eye’... He would pay his old debt.

Yinggu then coldly laughed. “Hmm! How could you die that easy?” she said. “Now I don’t want to kill you, yet I don’t want to forgive you either!” That word left her mouth with such a cruelty that all who heard her shivered.

Yang Guo was certain that, as a monk, Reverend Yideng would not use force against his ex-concubine who was mad with anger. Guo Xiang was still too young to be regarded by the granny. He was the only one who could do something, anything. He thought for a moment and then said, “Senior Yinggu, I do not know the details of your enmity toward Ci’en. But I can tell from your words that you are a little bit too involved. Therefore, whether I want it or not, I’ll have to intervene.”

Yinggu was startled and looked at Yang Guo with flame in her eyes. She recalled her three failed attacks, and she recalled his magnificent roar. She realized her skill was not on par with the Eagle Hero, who, judging from his words, would resort to force against her. She also remembered her suffering. From anger she turned sad, and then sobbed uncontrollably.

Yang Guo and Guo Xiang, even Yideng, were perplexed; they didn’t understand why the granny cried. A little while later she said, still sobbing: “You! You wanted to see me and I ignored you, but you used force against me. But that person is not willing to see me and none of you care about it.”

“Who?” asked Guo Xiang quickly, “Who doesn’t want to see Senior? We can help you.”

“You can only bully women,” said Yinggu. “But you are afraid to meet a highly skilled pugilist.”

“I am indeed useless,” said the girl. “But with Reverend Yideng and Big Brother here, we are not afraid of anything.”

After thinking for a while, Yinggu stood up. “If you can bring him to see and talk to me, I will do whatever you want me to do,” she said. “You want a fox, you want me to make peace with Qiu Qianren, whatever.”

“Big Brother,” Guo Xiang turned to Yang Guo. “What do you think?” “Whom do you want to see? Why is it so difficult?” asked Yang Guo. “Ask him,” said the granny, pointing to Reverend Yideng.

For an instant Guo Xiang thought the granny was blushing. She was surprised and asked in her heart, “She is this old, yet she is still shy?”

Realizing Yang Guo and Guo Xiang were looking at him, Reverend Yideng softly said, “It was the Old Urchin, Brother Zhou Botong.”

“The Old Urchin?” Yang Guo asked. He was delighted. “I know the old man well. Very well, I will try to find him.”

“My name is Yinggu,” the granny said. “You have to tell him up front that the person who wants to see him is me. If not, he will run away as soon as he sees me; and if that happens, don’t ever think of finding him again. If you succeed, I will do whatever you want me to.”

Yideng was shaking his head. Yang Guo saw that, and realized what he’d got himself into. He guessed that there must be an unusual affair between Yinggu and the Old Urchin that made the old man unwilling to see her. But he also knew that Zhou Botong was capricious and loved to play. Yang Guo hoped to somehow trick him. And so he asked, “Where is the Old Urchin? Does Senior know?”

“If you walk for about two hundred li (around 100km) north, you will arrive at a valley. It’s called the ‘Hundred-Flower Valley’ [bai hua gu],” explained the granny. “He hid himself in the valley, spending his days keeping bees.”

Hearing the words ‘keeping bees’ Xiao Longnu immediately came into Yang Guo’s mind. He remembered that sixteen years ago Zhou Botong had learned how to keep the Jade Bees from his wife. Because of this thought tears welled up in his eyes. “Very well,” he said. “Junior will try to find him. Please wait here.” Having said that he asked a clearer direction to the valley and immediately set foot. Guo Xiang followed behind him.

“You’d better stay here,” whispered Yang Guo. “That grandpa has a very high martial arts skill, and he is kindhearted too. You can use this opportunity to ask him for a lesson or two. I believe you will gain tremendous advantage for the rest of your life.”

“No, I want to come with you to see Zhou Botong,” said the girl.

Yang Guo frowned. “Ah, you are wasting a golden opportunity,” he said, regret in his voice.

“After we see Zhou Botong, I can go home alone if you have to go someplace else,” said Guo Xiang, “But for now, let me come with you.”

Yang Guo was touched. “Ah! If only I had a little sister like her, I wouldn’t feel so lonely roaming Jianghu,” he said in his heart. He smiled and said, “You didn’t have any sleep last night. Aren’t you tired?”

“I am, but I still want to come,” she answered.

“Very well,” said Yang Guo, grabbing her hand. Utilizing their lightness kungfu they ran to the north.

With Yang Guo pulling her along, Guo Xiang felt she could run faster without using too much energy. “If only I could run this fast without your help,” she said, laughing.

“Your kungfu base is excellent. If you keep training, you will reach this level someday,” said Yang Guo. Suddenly he looked up and shouted. The girl was startled, but then she understood. He was calling his bird. “Brother Eagle,” Yang Guo said, “We need to go north for some business. You’d better come along.” Whether the bird understood his words or not he chirped and followed behind them.

About one li later the eagle ran faster and even with Yang Guo pulling her, Guo Xiang could not keep up. The eagle lost its patience. He bent his knees to make his body shorter. Yang Guo chuckled and said, “Brother Eagle wants to carry you. Say ‘thank you’ to him.”

Guo Xiang did not dare to be disrespectful toward the Divine Eagle. She bowed in reverence and then mounted the bird’s back. The eagle immediately stretched his legs and ran like the wind; Guo Xiang felt like the trees along the way, were dancing past them. Yang Guo exerted his energy and ran alongside them. He talked and told Guo Xiang what he knew about the places they were passing. The girl was ecstatic! She had never experience this much fun. She wished in her heart the eagle would not run too fast so that she could enjoy the ride longer.

About midday they had run for two hundred li. By following Yinggu’s direction they entered a path way between two hills. Beyond this path they found a very beautiful valley. It was beautiful because it was full of colorful flowers. They slowed down and walked leisurely. In between the flower bushes they could see ponds with water clear as the sky. They felt like the place was out of this world.

Guo Xiang clapped her hands and exclaimed, “The Old Urchin is so lucky. How could he find a place this beautiful? Big Brother, how could this place be so pretty?”

“This place is facing south, so the mountains act as a barrier to the cold north wind,” explained Yang Guo. “Besides, I think there are sulfur or other mineral springs underground, and that is why the ground is warmer so spring comes early. While other places are still covered with snow, the flowers are already blooming here.”

Guo Xiang slid down from the eagle’s back and said, “Brother Eagle, many thanks to you.” Then she walked side-by-side with Yang Guo entering the valley. After a few turns they saw a couple of stone walls on each side of the path, with three pine trees in between, forming two natural gates. As soon as they came near the gates, they heard buzzing sounds and saw thousands of Jade Bees flying around amidst  the  trees  and flowers.

Yang Guo knew Zhou Botong must be around, so he called, “Old Urchin! Your younger brother Yang Guo and little sister have come to visit you and play.”

If we look at the proper level, Yang Guo was actually three levels below the old man. He should have called ‘Great Grand Martial Master’, but he knew that the old man did not care much about ‘propriety’ and might not like to be called ‘Great Grand Martial Master’; therefore, he called him ‘Old Urchin’.

A moment later an old man came out from one of the gates. Yang Guo was startled. He had not seen Zhou Botong for more than ten years. He thought he would see an old man with white hair and beard. Contrary to his thought, Zhou Botong’s face had not changed a bit, and his hair and beard had more black than white. In short, Yang Guo saw a younger Zhou Botong!

As soon as he saw Yang Guo, the old man laughed heartily. “Brother Yang, what business do you have with me? Aha! You are wearing a mask to scare me off?” Having said that his hand moved toward Yang Guo’s left side to snatch his mask. Yang Guo lifted up his right shoulder a little bit and slanted his head to the left. Zhou Botong’s attack fell to an empty space. The old man was surprised, but he laughed and shouted, “Little Brother! Good! You are really good! I did not reach your level when I was your age.”

In that short encounter both experts had exchanged their skills. Zhou Botong’s snatch, while it looked like an ordinary snatch, had actually blocked Yang Guo’s movement. Even if he were to leap back, he shouldn’t be able to elude that attack. If it were not Yang Guo, the opponent would parry the attack with another attack. But Yang Guo had used a more sophisticated move. When he lifted his right shoulder up, his right sleeve made a move like it was going to attack Zhou Botong’s chest. As an expert Zhou Botong could see the move and readied himself to fend off the attack. Because his concentration was now split, his snatching power was reduced so Yang Guo was able to neutralize Zhou’s snatching by merely slanting his head a little bit. Guo Xiang was inexperienced; she could not see the exchange between these two experts. But she was delighted to hear the old man praising her big brother. “Grandpa Zhou,” she said, “Tell me, is your skill higher now than when you were younger, or the other way around?”

“When I was young, my hairs were white, but now my hairs are black,” he answered, grinning. “Of course my skill is much higher now than when I was younger.”

“If you can’t beat my big brother now, how you could beat him then?” said the girl.

Zhou Botong was not offended, he laughed and said, “Little girl, don’t speak rubbish!” Suddenly his hands flew toward Guo Xiang’s back and waist. He lifted her up to the air, spun her around, threw her up in the air, held her back and slowly put her back on the ground.

His mischievousness had angered the Divine Eagle. Suddenly the eagle swept at Zhou Botong with its wings. Zhou Botong saw the wings’ attack and said to himself: “Let me try this winged beast’s strength.” He exerted his energy and fended off with both hands. Crash! Two formidable forces collided. The old man was still standing and the eagle’s wings passed his side. The eagle was about to attack  again  when  Yang  Guo suddenly shouted, “Brother Eagle, don’t be rude! We are in the presence of a highly skilled senior.”

The eagle halted his attack and stood proudly still. “His strength is indeed formidable, no wonder he is so arrogant,” said the Old Urchin, laughing heartily.

“Brother Eagle is more than a hundred years old. He is much older than you are,” said Yang Guo. “Uh, Old Urchin, how did you become young again and your hairs turned black?”

The old man laughed heartily. “My hairs and beard have their own will; I cannot control them,” he said. “From black they turned white, and now turned back to black again.”

Guo Xiang giggled hearing his foolhardy answer. “Old Urchin, I think you are going to turn to a young boy,” she said. “After you shrink to a young boy then people will pat your head and call you ‘little brother’. It will be fun!”

Hearing that the old man was worried and he stood staring blankly. Actually, there were a couple of real reasons behind this change of hair color. First, he was always happy, his body was healthy, and his internal energy was profound. Second, he ate a lot of energy-booster foods like Poria mushroom filaments [Fu Ling], Jade Bee’s honey, and the like. But probably the main reason was simply because his body was different from average people; even though his age was close to a hundred, he was not getting weaker, but on the contrary, he was getting stronger.

Listening to their conversation Yang Guo had an idea. “Brother Zhou,” he said. “If you agree to see someone, I guarantee you won’t get smaller.”

“Who…Who?” he asked hastily.

“Before I tell you, you have to promise me one thing,” Yang Guo answered, “You have to promise you won’t run away as soon as I mention this person’s name.”

The Old Urchin Zhou Botong was capricious and naïve, but he was not stupid. If he were, how could he reach such a high level in the martial realms? Therefore, as soon as he heard what Yang Guo said, he deduced correctly. “In this whole wide world there are two people I do not dare to see,” he said. “The first one is Emperor Duan; the other is Concubine Yinggu. Other than these two, I am not afraid of anybody else.”

“Looks like I’ll have to provoke him,” Yang Guo thought. So he said, “You do not dare to see them because you were defeated at their hands.”

“No, it’s not like that,” the old man contradicted. “Old Urchin sinned against them; that was why I don’t have face to see them.”

Yang Guo was surprised. Now he understood why the old man acted like he did. Yang Guo tried approaching from a different direction. “They are in grave danger and their lives are threatened,” he said. “Do you have the heart not to do anything?”

Zhou Botong was shocked. He loved and respected Yideng and Yinggu very much. If they were in trouble, he wouldn’t hesitate to help up to the point of sacrificing his own life. However, he saw Guo Xiang was smiling, and her countenance did not show any sorrow. He realized Yang Guo’s trick and laughed heartily. “Are you trying to trick me?” he asked. “Emperor Duan has a very high level of martial arts. How could he be in grave danger? Even if he is facing a formidable enemy and he lost, do you think I could win?”

Yang Guo didn’t know what to do. “All right, let me just tell you the truth,” he said. “Yinggu has been thinking about you, she wants to see you and talk with you.”

The old man’s face changed abruptly. “Brother Yang!” he snapped. “If you mention that name one more time, you’ll have to leave “bai hua gu”. Don’t blame me if I don’t make an exception.”

Even though he had been through a lot of things, Yang Guo was still a proud man. He waved his sleeve and with a loud voice said, “Brother Zhou, I don’t think you’ll easily achieve your desire to drive me out of this valley.”

“Huh! Huh! Do you want to fight with me?” asked the old man.

“Yes, I want to ask a lesson or two from you,” he answered. “Let us make a bet: if I lose, I will leave this valley without further ado. But if you lose, you’ll have to see Yinggu.”

“No! Can’t be!” shouted the Old Urchin. “First, how could I lose to a kid? Second, if I did, I still don’t want to see Concubine Liu.”

“Aren’t you ashamed?” asked Yang Guo irritated. “If you win, you are free not to see her, but if you lose, you still don’t want to see her, what kind of bet is that?”

“Just shut your mouth up!” snapped the old man. “I don’t want to see her, I am not going too. Protect yourself!”

This time the Eagle Hero was really dumbfounded. He could not be persuaded, he could not be forced. If they really fight, Yang Guo didn’t have any confidence of victory. He stood there blankly, uncertain of what to do.

As we know, Zhou Botong was crazy about martial arts. Even when he lived alone at the “Hundred-Flower Valley” he trained everyday. He always wanted to find a sparring partner; however, with his high level of martial arts, where could he find a suitable match? Therefore, seeing Yang Guo was willing to spar with him, he was itchy to start the fight. Without wasting a single moment Zhou Botong cried, “Watch out!” and started the fight with his “Vacant Fist”. Yang Guo parried with a palm but felt there was something wrong with the power of the fist; it seemed as if it wasn't there. He considered using soft palms as a response but decided against it, as it would be too risky so he used hard palms even though it wouldn't match. He used the palm techniques that he developed over the years against the tide’s waves. Three stances later, flower petals were flying around everywhere and after another three, branches from trees fell. At first Yang Guo was worried that Zhou would not be able to take his fierce and overbearing palm because of his advanced age. He withdrew the power from his palm as soon as he sent it out, but after six stances, Yang Guo knew Zhou's internal energy was very profound and so did not hold anything back. The “Vacant Fist's” ingenuity was above the martial arts that he was using.

“Good! You are very good!” shouted Zhou Botong. “This is a match I have always wanted.”

The perimeter of their forces was getting larger as the fight progressed, which forced Guo Xiang to step back. The eagle stayed close to Yang Guo, protecting its breast with its left wing while the right wing was a little bit open. The eagle understood the fierceness of this match and it never took its piercing gaze from Yang Guo, ready to step in if Yang Guo had any trouble.

After a while, Zhou had used all seventy-two stances of his “Vacant Fist”. He had the advantage of better technique but his internal energy could not compare with the overbearing and boundless force of Yang Guo. With eyes open wide Guo Xiang watched these two people exchanging blows. She knew they weren’t fighting as enemies; still, a fight between two highly skilled martial artists was very unpredictable. The slightest mistake could mean death. Cold sweat poured out of her body.

After seeing his “Vacant Fist” could do nothing to Yang Guo, he secretly praised him and then suddenly changed stances and used his left-right technique to fight. His left and right hands used different fist techniques, so that suddenly, Yang Guo was fighting against two Zhou Botongs.

Yang Guo was already at a disadvantage when it was one hand versus two, now it became even more so. One time, when Xiao Longnu fought Jinlun Fawang, she had just learned the “Dividing Ones Mind” skill from Zhou. When the couple met again, Yang Guo had lost his right arm. Xiao Longnu was afraid she might make him sad, so she did not say anything about the technique. Yang Guo was slightly alarmed and could only increase the power in his palm and used his sleeve to take some of the attacks.

As somebody who had trained in martial arts since she was little, Guo Xiang did not understand the fist techniques being exchanged, but she could see who had gained the upper hand and who  was  having difficulty. She was flustered. Then Guo Xiang remembered her father’s lesson on the ‘Dividing Ones Mind” skill, which he demonstrated before Guo Polu and herself. She saw what Zhou Botong was doing and it looked to her he was using her father’s skill. She wasn’t sure whether her father learned the skill from this old man, or the other way around. Anyway, she saw an opportunity to give Yang Guo a hand, so she shouted, “Old Urchin! Stop! Not fair! Big Brother does not want to fight you anymore!”

Surprised, Zhou Botong leaped back. “Why not fair?” he snapped. “You stole that skill from my father and used it against Big Brother,” she answered. “Aren’t you ashamed?”

After hearing the young girl called Yang Gou ‘Big Brother’ naturally Zhou Botong thought she was Yang Guo’s younger sibling. And because he did not know Yang Guo’s father, he only laughed and said, “This skill was my own invention. How could you say I stole it from your father?”

“Fine,” said the young Miss. “Even if what you said was true, you still used two arms, while Big Brother only has one. Is that fair? If my Big Brother had two arms, you would’ve been beaten a long time ago.”

“What you said is true,” the old man confessed. “But I am sure that even if he had two arms; he still could not use this skill of mine.” Then he laughed jovially.

Guo Xiang grunted. “Shame on you!” she mocked, “You just said that because you know Big Brother’s arm cannot re-grow. If you are a valiant man (ying xiong), you wouldn’t take any advantage of your opponent’s disability.”

“Fine… In that case I am going to use only a one fist technique,” said the old man.

Guo Xiang stuck out her tongue. “Still shame on you, still unfair, because you use two arms against Big Brother’s one,” she snickered.

“Darn it!” shouted the old man, annoyed. “What should I do then? Shall I ask a woman to chop off one of my arms?”

Guo Xiang was startled, “Which woman had chopped off Big Brother’s arm?” she wondered in her heart. Then she smiled and said, “It’s OK then. You don’t have to chop off your arm. It would be fair if you just tie up one arm and fight Big Brother using only the other one.”

The Old Urchin laughed a big laugh. He thought that this way of fighting would be fun. Besides, he thought that he wouldn’t necessarily lose even if he is using a single arm. So he placed his right hand in his belt prepared to fight. He said, “Come now! This way you will not regret it even if you lose.”

When Zhou Botong and Guo Xiang were having their debate, Yang Guo didn’t say anything. He was never afraid others would mock him because of his disability. On the contrary, he was proud because with only one arm he could beat anybody. Therefore, he was slightly miffed when he saw Zhou Botong do this because he felt he was looking down on him. “Old Urchin!” he said, “By doing that you are looking down on me. Aren’t you thinking that a one-armed Yang Guo couldn’t beat you? Huh! If I lose, I would immediately …” Lashing his anger out, he was going to say that he would immediately kill himself right then and there. But suddenly he remembered his upcoming rendezvous with Xiao Longnu. He stopped before finishing his sentence. Guo Xiang regretted her words. She was childishly thinking that she was doing Yang Guo some good. She did not remember that Yang Guo was a Chivalrous Hero (Da Xia), therefore, he would not want anybody to look down on him. Quickly she approached Yang Guo and said, “Big Brother, my mistake …” and then she came to the old man and took his arm out of the belt. She said, “Old Urchin, with his single arm Big Brother will defeat you. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and try.”

Without waiting for his answer, Yang Guo leaped and chopped out a left palm. Zhou replied with a left fist and didn't use his right arm. He felt it was unfair to use both arms.

Twenty stances passed. Yang Guo was upset since even with one arm the Old Urchin was not easy to defeat. The ‘yang’ness [from yin-yang: yin – soft, cold, yang – hard, hot] in Zhou's fist and palms gradually surfaced. This type of energy was opposite to Zhou Botong’s ‘yin’ energy of the “Vacant Fist” technique. Yang Guo noticed the change and suddenly recognized the “Demon Subduing Fist” of the “Nine Yin Manual” in the tomb. Yang Guo shouted, “What’s so special about the 'Demon Subduing Fist'? Use two hands and take my ‘Melancholic Sad Palms [An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang].

Zhou was shocked; one, Yang Guo actually knew what technique he was using and two, what in the world was 'An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang'? Zhou was knowledgeable in the martial arts from the various sects of the world but he had never heard of this martial art before. He looked at Yang Guo and saw him with his arm bent, his eyes seemingly far away. His legs seemed to float and his front was completely open – his form contradicted martial arts norms. Zhou went forward to test him out and threw a fist towards Yang Guo's stomach.

He was afraid that he would hurt his opponent so he only put thirty percent power in his fist. Just as his fist was about to make contact, Yang Guo's stomach and chest contracted and then extended outwards. Zhou leapt back in shock – skilled fighters contracting their bodies to avoid attacks was fairly normal but he has never seen someone use their chest and stomach to actually attack someone. He was utterly surprised and shouted, “Uh, what kind of technique was that?”

“This was An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang's thirteenth stance, ‘Muscles Jumping with the Frightened Heart' [Xin Jing Rou Tiao],” came the answer.

“Huh? I’ve never…never heard of such technique before,” he said.

“Of course you haven’t,” said Yang Guo, “I developed this 'An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang' myself. This technique has seventeen stances.”

As we remember, after being separated from Xiao Longnu at the ‘Broken Heart Cliff’, with the eagle’s encouragement, he trained against the tide’s waves. Apart from gradually strengthening his internal energy, he practiced no new martial arts. He couldn’t forget his wife and as time passed, he was more and more depressed from loneliness. One day while walking by the sea, out of boredom he started to throw a few fists and kicks about. By now, his internal energy was at a very high level – anything he threw out contained great power. One of his light palms landed on a turtle’s back and smashed its shell. From then on, he developed a complete set of palm techniques that were completely different from conventional martial arts. The palms relied on internal energy and not on complicated fist techniques.

Yang Guo had learned various first class martial arts from several experts since his childhood. From the Quanzhen, he learned the purest nei-gong techniques. From Xiao Longnu, he learned the “Jade Maiden Sword and Palm” techniques. From the manual inscribed on the Ancient Tomb’s walls, he learned the “Nine Yin Manual”. From his adopted father, Ouyang Feng, he inherited the ‘Toad Stance’ and the ‘Reversing Blood Flow’ techniques. From Hong Qigong he got the ‘Dog Beating Stick’, from Huang Yaoshi he received the “Divine Flicking Finger” and “Jade Flute Swordplay”. Except for the “Solitary Yang Finger”  from  the Southern Emperor, it could be said that he had mastered the specialty of the Eastern Heretic, Western Poison, Northern Beggar and the Central Divinity. By analyzing and combining these various techniques, it was not too difficult for him to create a brand new fist technique.

Because he had one arm, he did not try to achieve victory with variations in stances but instead  he deliberately chose to go against martial arts norms. Also, the names of this palm technique came from a line in one of Jiang Yan’s works (a poet of the Southern Dynasties). This was the first time that the palms have met such a strong opponent as Zhou Botong.

Zhou Botong became even more excited when he heard this was a palm that Yang Guo had invented himself and said, “Good! I want to see this brand new technique.” He continued to fight – with one hand. Yang Guo faced the sky as if he didn’t even notice that Zhou was there and arched a palm towards his face and then downwards. The palm’s power dispersed all around.

Zhou knew that there was no way to avoid the palm’s power and sent out his palm to meet it. The palms collided and Zhou wobbled; he felt his chest tighten –  his martial arts were not weaker than his opponent’s but palm for palm, he could not compete with Yang Guo’s heavy and overbearing palm. “Good!” he praised, “What was that stance?”

“It was ‘Causing One to Worry’ or ‘Overbearing Sadness’ [Gei Ren Yau Tien].” Yang Guo called out, “Watch out! The next stance is ‘Out of Nothing Came Something’ [Wu Zhong Sheng You].”

The Old Urchin laughed heartily, “Interesting! Very interesting!” he shouted, “Kid, how did you come up with those weird names?”

Yang Guo hung his arm down in a completely unprepared form. As soon as Zhou’s fist came near him, Yang Guo suddenly moved everything; his left palm, right sleeve, kicks, head, butt, even his chest, back, stomach and waist attacked – they all contained a level of energy capable of injuring an opponent.

Zhou could never predict a move such as this. In a flash, over ten different stances came at him at once. ‘Out of Nothing’ was one stance but it contained tens of variations within. Even someone with martial arts as high as Zhou’s, he was forced to step back. In this situation, he couldn’t help but also use his right arm to fend off the attack. He had to use all his efforts to block this attack, counterattacking never came into the equation. Nevertheless, he managed to block all the attacks and quickly leapt back in case of some more weird moves.

“Old Master Zhou!” cried Guo Xiang, “Two arms are not enough! You need three!” The old man laughed heartily and repeatedly nodded his head as a very high compliment to Yang Guo.

Yang Guo was impressed that Zhou was able to block all these profound sudden attacks and called out the next stance, “Watch this next stance: ‘Dragging Mud with Water’ [Tuo Ni Dai Shui].”

Both the old man and the young girl cheered, “Very nice! That sounds very nice!” he shouted.

“Don’t you praise me just yet. Take this one!” Yang Guo countered. His right sleeve flowed like water and his left palm slid out heavily like flowing mud and sand.

Zhou recalled something that his apprentice brother Wong Zhongyang told him about Huang Yaoshi. Huang Yaoshi had a palm technique he invented called the ‘Palms of the Five Elements’, the five elements were contained within the palms. Right now, Yang Guo’s right sleeve was like North’s water and his left palm was like Central’s earth, light and swift along with heavy and fierce. Zhou did not dare delay and immediately used the ‘Vacant Fist’ with his left hand and the ‘Demon Subduing Fist’ with his right; light against light, heavy against heavy. After the two attacks came together, they both shouted and moved back a couple of steps.

After those four stances, they both had great respect for each other. Yang Guo stood and stared blankly for a moment. He understood that Zhou was the strongest opponent his palms had ever met and if there was going to be a victor; an internal energy competition would be needed. If they did that, there was a possibility that one or maybe both of them would be heavily injured or even die – something he was not prepared to do after what happened to Hong Qigong and Ouyang Feng. Why would he do something like that to such a benevolent man as Zhou Botong? He swallowed his pride and bowed to him saying, “Senior Zhou, I admit defeat.” He then turned to Guo Xiang and said, “Little Sister, we failed to invite Senior Zhou. Let us leave!”

“Hold it! Hold it!” shouted the old man. “Didn’t you say the 'An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang' has seventeen stances? You’ve just used four of them, what about the other thirteen?”

“There is no enmity between us,” said Yang Guo. “Why should we fight to death? Junior admits defeat.”

Zhou Botong shook his head, “Not right! Not right!” he said, “You have not lost yet, and I haven’t won. Don’t ever think of leaving this valley before you show me all the palms.”

Yang Guo chuckled, “Senior, you act strange. I was trying to invite you to come with us, and now that I failed, I just want to leave. Why would you hold me here?”

Zhou Botong – who was crazy about martial arts, was baffled. “Good Brother,” he begged, “How could I guess the thirteen stances of the 'An Ran Xiao Hun Zhang'? I hope you’ll have pity on this old man. Please show me, I am willing to trade with any skill of your fancy.”

An idea clicked on Yang Guo’s head. “It’s not difficult to learn my technique,” he said, “I don’t want anything in return; as long as you come with us to see Yinggu.”

The old man wrinkled his eyebrows and said, “I won’t see her even if you chop off my head.” “In that case, let me bid you farewell,” said Yang Guo, turning his body around.

Suddenly Zhou leaped to block Yang Guo’s path and threw out a fist. “Good Brother, please show me just one more stance,” he begged. Yang Guo defended using Quanzhen martial arts. Zhou changed his fist techniques but Yang Guo kept to using Quanzhen palm techniques and Nine Yin martial arts to defend.

The ‘Nine Yin Manual’ contained all kinds of martial arts techniques; therefore, it was more than enough for Yang Guo to defend himself. If Yang Guo wanted to defeat Zhou Botong, it would be no easy task; but now that he’s just concentrating on defending, Zhou was not able to do anything to him. No matter what kind of ruses or tricks that Zhou tried, Yang Guo did not fall for any of them. He did not use any new stances of his “Melancholic Sad  Palms”  but he  repeated  the  four stances  of  his ‘Melancholic  Sad  Palms’  that he  had previously used with different variations to agitate Zhou Botong even more.

The two fought for almost an hour. Zhou Botong was an old man, his vigor had been depleted and his internal energy was no longer the same as it was at the start of the fight. He knew now it would be difficult to get Yang Guo to use a new palm from his ‘An Ren Xiao Hun Zhang’ so he leapt back and begged Yang Guo, “All right! All right! I will kowtow eight times and take you as my master. Master Yang, disciple Zhou Botong kowtows to you!” And he really kowtowed to Yang Guo!

Yang Guo chuckled again, “How could I be your master? Nevertheless, it’s suitable for me to tell you the names of the rest of the stances.”

“Good! Aw …! You are so nice,” said the old man, ecstatic.

“Big Brother, don’t tell him unless he is willing to come with us,” said Guo Xiang. Yang Guo smiled, “It’s OK. He will only hear the names.”

“Right! What’s the problem if I only hear the names?” said the old man hastily.

Yang Guo went over to a big tree and sat underneath it. “Brother Zhou, hear this: the other stances are ‘Wandering The Valley Of Emptiness’ [Pai Huai Kong Gu], ‘Strong Desire Weak Strength’ [Li Bu Cong Xin] ‘Good For Nothing’ [Xing Shi Zou Rou] ‘Disturbing Oneself – Confused Fool’ [Yong Ren Zi Rao] ‘Walking Upside Down – Perverse Action’ [Dao Xing Ni Shi]…”

Listening to this Guo Xiang was howling with laughter while rolling around holding her stomach; but Zhou Botong listened attentively. Yang Guo paused and smiled seeing Guo Xiang’s behavior, then continued, “‘Restless Thought’ [Fei Qin Wang Shi], ‘A Lone Form Is A Mere Shadow’ [Gu Xing Zhi Ying] ‘Drink To Swallow One’s Hatred – Cherishes Hatred Suppresses Sobs’ [Yin Hen Tun Sheng] ‘Six Disturbed Spirits/Ghosts’ [Liu Shen Bu An] ‘Entering A Dead End’ [Qiong Tu Mo Lu], ‘Face Without Feeling’ [Mian Wu Ren Se], ‘Longing For Emptiness’ [Xiang Ru Fei Fei], ‘Stupid As A Wooden Chicken [Dai Ruo Mu Ji].”

The old man only scratched his head and grinned. After acting bewildered for a while he  finally  said, “Strange …! Wonderful …! Take “Face Without Feeling” for instance, how would you use that to defeat an enemy?”

“That stance contains not only one but numerous variations,” explained Yang Guo. “Somebody who uses the stance has to be able to change his countenance, from upset to happy. The opponent will be affected by that change. We look sad, he would be sad, we look happy, he would follow. This one stance can defeat the enemy by manipulating their emotions.”

“Is that stance based on the “Soul Altering Spell” from the ‘Nine Yin Manual’?” asked Zhou Botong. “That’s right,” answered Yang Guo.

“What about ‘Walking Upside Down’?” asked the Old Urchin.

Yang Guo immediately turned upside down and threw a punch. “This is one of the thirty seven variations of the stance.”

Zhou Botong nodded his head. “I know,” he said, “This is from Ouyang Feng.”

“Right again,” Yang Guo leaped back up, “but in my stance there are ‘bends among the straights’, the ‘bends’ and ‘straights’ work together.”

“What does it mean?” asked the old man. “That is a secret, I can’t tell you.”

The old man opened his mouth, but then closed it again without saying anything. He knew, begging wouldn’t do him any good. He scratched his head and looked so disappointed.

Seeing him like that, Guo Xiang’s heart melted. She approached him and softly said, “Senior Zhou, why don’t you want to see Yinggu? I bet Big Brother would be willing to teach you his skill.”

Zhou Botong sadly sighed. “About Yinggu, it was due to my own foolishness when I was young,” he said. “It is an embarrassing story.”

“Why would you be embarrassed?” asked the young miss. “If you have something in your heart, better to talk it out than keep it to yourself. Every time I’ve done something wrong, I always admit it to my parents. True, they would scold me, but then that would it. If I lied, even though I did not get any scolding, I felt depressed. This time I disobeyed them by coming here without their permission. My mother will scold me for sure, but I will tell her the truth.”

This young girl’s honest words touched the old man’s heart. He glanced at Yang Guo and softly said, “Very well, I will tell you what I did. Only please do not laugh in my face!”

“Who would mock you?” said Guo Xiang. She held the old man’s arm, leaned on him and continued, “You can always tell the story like it happened to other people, or you could pretend it was an ancient lore. Afterward, I will also tell you my mischief.”

Zhou Botong looked at her innocent face, smiled and asked, “You have done mischief?” “You think I can’t be naughty?” Guo Xiang countered.

“Well then,” Zhou Botong said, “Let me hear what you did first.”

“I have done much mischief. Let’s see … a soldier was on guard duty one night on the city wall; and he fell asleep. Father had him arrested and was going to have him beheaded the next morning. I saw him and my heart melted. I quietly let him go around midnight, and told him to run away as fast as he can. Father was furious. He found out it was my doing and he beat me up. Another time I saw a poor peasant girl looking longingly at my mother’s golden bracelet. I stole it and gave it to that poor girl. Afterward Mother looked for it everywhere but could not find it. I laughed secretly, but did not say anything. Finally I told her the truth. She was not mad at me, but my elder sister insisted that I get the bracelet back from the girl.”

Zhou Botong sighed heavily, “What you did is incomparable to what I’ve done.” Then, with embarrassment in his voice, he told how in his youth he tagged along his martial brother Wang Chongyang visiting the Emperor Duan. He told them how Concubine Liu had learned martial arts from him; how he secretly made love to her; how the Concubine had always wanted to see him but he kept avoiding her, and how – because of anger the Emperor abdicated his throne and became a monk.

Guo Xiang and Yang Guo listened attentively. After the old man finished, timidly she asked, “Besides Concubine Liu, did the Emperor have any other wives or concubines?”

“Even though he was incomparable to the Song Emperor, he had three palaces, six courtyards and dozens of other women: his queen and other concubines,” he answered.

“There! You see?” said the girl, “Emperor Duan had many other women, but you, you didn’t have a single woman. Therefore, as a friend, he could give Concubine Liu to you.”

Yang Guo nodded his head and thought, “This girl does not adhere strictly to common  etiquette  and tradition. Truly she is a girl after my own heart.”

“At that time Emperor Duan said the same thing,” the old man said. “But I know that he loved Concubine Liu very much. Because of this scandal he became a monk. This proves how deeply I have offended him.”

Listening to this, Yang Guo intervened, “Reverend Yideng became a monk because he thought he sinned against you and not because you sinned against him. Don’t you know that?”

“What did he do?” Zhou Botong wondered.

“Well, there was a man who injured your son and he refused to help him,” Yang Guo answered.

For all these long years Zhou Botong had never known that Yinggu bore him a son. “My … my son?” he stammered.

“I don’t know the details,” answered Yang Guo, “I heard this from Reverend Yideng.” He immediately narrated what he heard at the Black Dragon Marsh.

Zhou Botong was spellbound. He stood silently, recalling how Yinggu had suffered for many-many years. A feeling of love, compassion and guilt slowly crept into his heart.

Yang Guo noticed this old man’s behavior; he said in his heart, “This Senior is a compassionate man. His character is almost the same as mine. For a man like this, how could I withhold the seventeen stances of ‘An Ren Xiao Hun Zhang’?” Having had this thought he then said, “Senior Zhou, let me show you the entire ‘An Ren Xiao Hun Zhang’. I beg you to give me some pointers.” And then he demonstrated all the stances of ‘An Ren Xiao Hun Zhang’ except the ‘Face Without Feeling’, because he was wearing a mask. As a highly skilled martial artist – plus a profound knowledge of the “Nine Yin Manual”, Zhou Botong was immediately able to understand the stances. The only two he had some difficulty with were “Dead Man Walking” and “Entering a Dead End”. Yang Guo explained several times, but he still could not grasp the essence of the stances. “Senior Zhou,” Yang Guo finally said, “I was separated from my wife fifteen years ago. Day and night I kept thinking about her. In agony I created these two stances. Senior is a carefree man; you have never known suffering in your life. No wonder you cannot grasp the essence of the stances.”

“Ah! How did you get separated from your wife?” the old man was surprised. “She was beautiful and kind hearted. No wonder you cannot forget her.”

Yang Guo did not want to mention Guo Fu, so he told him how his wife was gravely injured, and was taken by the ‘Divine Nun of the South Sea’ as her disciple, and how he had to wait for sixteen years before they could see each other again. He also mentioned how he prayed everyday for his wife’s safety. Finally he said, “I just want to see her one more time. Afterward, I don’t care if I will have to die. I will die a satisfied man.”

Listening to Yang Guo, Guo Xiang was saddened and tears flowed down her cheeks. “Oh God, let them see each other again,” she said with a trembling voice.

Since his separation from his wife, this was the first time somebody had prayed for him earnestly. He was so touched and vowed not to forget her kindness. He heaved a sigh and bowed to Zhou Botong. “Senior Zhou, I bid you farewell.” He took Guo Xiang’s hand and left.

After only a few steps Guo Xiang looked back and said, “Senior Zhou, did you see that? Big Brother is thinking about his wife all the time. Yinggu is the same. She is thinking about you. Do you have the heart not to see her?”

Zhou Botong was startled and his countenance paled.

“Little Sister, let it go,” Yang Guo whispered. “Everybody has their own thoughts; we have no right to tell him what to do.” Slowly they left the “Hundred Flower Valley”. Their hearts were heavy.

“Big Brother,” Guo Xiang asked, “Are you going to be sad if I ask you about your wife?” “No,” he answered, “We are going to see each other in a few months.”

“How did you meet her?” asked Guo Xiang.

Yang Guo then told her his life story. How as an orphan he was bullied by the Quanzhen priests, how he ran away to the Ancient Tomb and met Xiao Longnu, and how after several years of living together they fell in love with each other, and finally how they got separated at the ‘Broken Heart Cliff’.

Guo Xiang was listening with a sad heart. After Yang Guo finished his story, she said earnestly, “I pray to Heaven that you will meet her safely.”

“Thank you, thank you very much!” Yang Guo said. “I will not forget your prayer. I will let my wife know about your loving kindness toward us.”

“Every year, right on my birthday, Mother will pray to Heaven for our safety,” Guo Xiang continued. “That day she always tells me to make three wishes. Oftentimes I could not figure out what to wish even after thinking about it for half a day. But this year, I already know what to wish. I will wish that Big Brother will meet your lovely wife much earlier.”

“And the other two wishes?” asked Yang Guo.

Guo Xiang laughed, “That’s a secret. I cannot tell you.”

A moment later they heard somebody calling behind them, “Brother Yang, wait! Brother Yang, wait for me!” It was Zhou Botong.

Yang Guo was overjoyed! Quickly he turned his head and saw the old man coming to them with blinding speed. “Brother Yang!” he shouted, “I carefully thought it out. Take me to see Yinggu.”

“Now, that is the proper thing to do,” Guo Xiang was so touched. “You don’t have any idea how great her suffering was.”

“After you left, I kept thinking about what Brother Yang said,” explained the old man. “I won’t be able to sleep for the rest of my life unless I see her. I have an important question I’d like to ask her.”

Zhou Botong wanted to continue the journey overnight if it were up to him. But Guo Xiang was too tired, so he reluctantly agreed to stop and rest underneath a big tree. Very early the next morning they started walking again. They arrived at the Black Dragon Marsh before noon.

Seeing that Yang Guo was successful in bringing Zhou Botong along, Yideng and Yinggu’s delight was indescribable. From afar Zhou Botong had already shouted his question, “Yinggu, how many cowlicks were there on our son’s head?”

Yinggu was surprised. Not in her wildest dream did she think that Zhou’s first question would be a seemingly meaningless one like that. But she answered anyway, “Two.”

“Aha! Same as me!” cried the old man. “That kid must be very smart.” He paused a moment and then regretfully said, “Too bad he died!”

Yinggu was happy and sad at the same time, she sobbed uncontrollably. The old man playfully punched her on the waist and said, “There, don’t cry, don’t cry …” He turned his head toward Yideng and said, “Emperor Duan, I seduced your wife, and you did not help my child. It’s a draw. Nobody owes anybody anything. Let us forget the past.”

“This is the man who injured your son,” Yideng said, pointing toward Ci’en. “You can kill him.” “Yinggu, go ahead!” said Zhou Botong.

The old granny looked at Ci’en intently and then softly said, “If not for him, I might not have seen you for the rest of my life. Besides, we cannot raise the dead. With the joy I experience today, I am willing to forgive and forget what had happened!”

“Right … that’s right,” said Zhou Botong. “Very well, let us forgive him.”

In his half conscious state, Ci’en was still able to comprehend what was happening around him. He was so relieved. He turned his eyes toward Yideng and weakly said, “Thank you Shifu for perfecting me.” Then to Yang Guo he said, “Thank you benevolent master for toiling on my behalf.” Upon saying that he closed his eyes and gave up his ghost, smiling.

Reverend Yideng immediately said a prayer and bowed, “Ci’en … Ci’en …” he said hoarsely. “Officially we are master and disciple, but in reality you are my friend. For many, many years we have lived together and you always wanted to redeem your sins. Today you go to that eternal place. My heart is saddened, but I am happy.” Then with Yang Guo and Guo Xiang’s help he dug the earth and buried the monk.

Yang Guo stood in front of the grave, staring blankly. He recalled the time when they were a newly wed couple, how Xiao Longnu and he met Ci’en at the hut on the snow covered mountain, and how Ci’en was lashing out in his sickness. But now, one of the experts in the Jianghu world was laid beneath the earth. He could not help but feel very sad.

A moment later Yinggu took the two foxes from her robe. “Master Yang,” she said, “I don’t have anything to repay your kindness. Please take these two animals.”

Yang Guo took one and said, “Thank you. I think one is enough.”

Suddenly Yideng said, “Master Yang, you take both of them, but don’t kill them. Just slit their knees. From each fox, alternately, take one small cup of blood everyday. After taking two cups, no matter how bad your friend’s injury is, he will certainly recover.”

Yinggu and Yang Guo were thrilled. “It will be great that we don’t have to take their lives,” Yang Guo said. And then he took both animals and bade Reverend Yideng, Zhou Botong and Yinggu goodbye.

“After you are done, just let them go,” said the granny, “They’ll know the way home.”

Suddenly Zhou Botong said, “Emperor Duan, Yinggu, I invite you to take a rest for a few days in the Hundred-Flower Valley. Brother Yang, after your friend is cured you and little sister have to stop by and we’ll have a good time together.”

“If everything goes as planned, I will certainly come and visit you three seniors,” he answered, paid his respects and left.

The foxes’ eyes were looking at Yinggu, they whimpered softly as though begging for mercy. Yinggu shouted, “Master Yang won’t take your lives, what are you afraid of?” Guo Xiang stretched out her hand, put on a comforting smile, and stroked the foxes’ heads.

End of Chapter 34. 
@Chapter 35 – The Three Golden Needles
Yang Guo brought about the reunion of Zhou Botong and Yinggu, allowing Ci’en to die peacefully and managed to obtain the Nine-tailed Fox. Through his efforts he performed three good deeds in a row and was very happy and he went back to the Beastly Mountain Village with Guo Xiang and the Divine Eagle.

The Shi brothers saw Yang Guo carrying two foxes in his arm and were  very  happy  and  grateful, immediately slitting a fox’s leg to draw its blood. Shi Shugang consumed the  blood  and  exercised  his internal energy to recuperate.

That night the Beastly Mountain Village threw a banquet and invited Yang Guo to be the guest-of-honour, serving him dozens of exotic dishes like bears’ paws which outsiders could never have the chance to taste. They also took out a big plate and piled it up with delicious food for the Divine Eagle to eat. The Shi brothers and the Xishan Ghosts never mentioned their gratitude to  Yang  Guo  as  they  had  already promised themselves in their minds, that since Yang Guo spared their lives, should he have any problems they would gladly give up  their lives to help  him. During the  banquet  they talked loudly, discussing the latest news in Jianghu.

Ever since Guo Xiang met Yang Guo, she was extremely delighted, but now she did not utter a single word, silently listening to their conversations. Yang Guo occasionally glanced at her and saw that her face was troubled, but he assured himself that it was because they had just rushed about continuously for the past few days, so it was natural that she was tired. He never expected Guo Xiang to be troubled over their impending departure after such a short meeting and hence was feeling depressed.

After drinking a few bowls of wine an ape outside suddenly screeched loudly, and caused many other apes to shriek as well. The Shi brothers’ faces became rather grave. Shi Mengjie said, “Brother Yang, Xishan guests, please remain seated, I’ll go check it out.” He then hurriedly ran outside.

They all knew a strong foe must have come to their forest, but seeing the many martial experts gathered here, they need not be afraid even if the foe is very highly skilled. The Fairy Ghost said, “It’d be best if it’s that Prince Hou Du that’s here, we can all fight him together to help Third Brother Shi get back at him.”

Before he finished saying, they heard Shi Mengjie say, “Who is this visiting our village in the middle of the night? Please stop there.” Then a female voice was heard, saying “Is there a big-headed shortie around here? I want to ask him where on Earth he has taken my sister.”

When Guo Xiang heard it was her sister who was here, she was shocked and happy; but when she saw Yang Guo’s penetrating gaze and strange expression, she felt strange and swallowed back the “Sister!” she wanted to call out.

Then they heard Shi Mengjie angrily say, “You are a rude woman, why are you not answering my question and instead causing a commotion here?”

Guo Fu shouted, “Out of my way!” There then came the clash of weapons as the two began to fight with Guo Fu trying to force her way in and Shi Mengjie trying to keep her out. Yang Guo had last seen Guo Fu at the Passionless Valley (Jue Qing Gu) more than 10 years ago; now, as he heard her again, he felt a hundred emotions surge through him. Then the clashing sounds of weapons got further and further away as Shi Mengjie managed to draw her away.

The Big Head Ghost said, “She’s heading in my direction. I’ll go meet her.” He then dashed out of the hall, followed by Shi Jiqiang and Feng Yiweng.

Guo Xiang stood up and said, “Big Brother, my sister is here to find me, I’ve got to go.” Yang Guo was shocked and said, “That… that is your sister?”

Guo Xiang said, “Yeah. I wanted to meet the Eagle Hero, so that big headed Uncle brought me here. I… am very happy…” She did not finish saying this and lowered her head and quickly stepped outside.

Yang Guo saw a tear drop fall into the wine cup and thought, “So she was the baby, she has grown so big now. She came to find me in the middle of the night, she must have a problem, but why doesn’t she mention it? She looks kind of troubled, I must not ignore it.” He swiftly moved out of the hall and chased her. She was about to enter the forest so he strode several large steps and caught up with her, saying, “Little Sister, if you have any problems, just say it.”

Guo Xiang smiled, “No, nothing. I’m OK.” The pale moonlight was shining on her fair and refined face and Yang Guo saw clearly the tear drops in her eyes, so he soothingly said, “So you are Hero Guo and Madam Guo’s youngest daughter. Did your sister bully you?” He thought since Guo Jing and Huang Rong were very capable and their name was well-known throughout the Central Plains, they should have no difficulty solving her problems. Most probably it was Guo Fu being overbearing, obnoxious and bullying her little sister.

Guo Xiang laughed, “Even if my sister bullies me, I’m not afraid of her. If she scolds me, I argue with her, and anyway she wouldn’t dare lay her hands on me.”

Yang Guo said, “Then why did you come to find me? Tell me.”

Guo Xiang said, “At Fenglingdu I heard the people talk of your heroic deeds. I was full of admiration and wanted to meet you; I’ve got no other intentions. Tonight during the banquet I remembered the phrase ‘tian xia mei bu san de yan xi’ (there’s no meeting without a parting) and my heart became heavy. Who knew that before the banquet is over I… already have to go.” Her voice was now cracking.

Yang Guo’s heart quivered, remembering that on the very day she was born he carried her and fought fiercely with the Golden-Wheel Monk (Jinlun Fawang) and Li Mochou. Then he remembered how he and Li Mochou caught the leopard to feed her with milk. Then he took her into the Ancient Tomb and took care of her for a while. He never expected that when he met her again, she would already be a graceful young lady. As he reminisced about the past, he could not help but feel strongly about the matter.

After a while, Guo Xiang said, “Big Brother, I have to go now! I need to trouble you for a favour.” Yang Guo said, “Just say it.”

Guo Xiang said, “When will you and your wife be reunited?” Yang Guo said, “The start of winter this year.”

Guo Xiang said, “When you meet her, please send a message to Xiangyang and let me share your joy.”

Yang Guo was very grateful and thought that, although this lady and Guo Fu have the same mother, their characters were worlds apart. He asked, “How are your parents?”

Guo Xiang replied, “They’re fine.” She suddenly thought of a wish and said, “Big Brother, when you meet your wife, please come to Xiangyang and visit me, OK? My parents and you are the heroes of the times; they will surely want to see you.”

Yang Guo said, “When the time comes we shall see. Little Sister, about our  meeting  –  please  do  not mention it to your sister… hmm... don’t mention it to your parents either.”

Guo Xiang was curious and asked, “Why?” Then she remembered that when the people were talking about the Eagle Hero at Fenglingdu her sister slighted him, so perhaps they may have some grudges, so she said, “OK I won’t say anything.” Guo Xiang smiled sweetly and said, “You treat me very well. Sister often tells people that she’s Hero Guo and Madam Guo’s daughter, I feel embarrassed for her. Although our parents are famous, we don’t have to keep on saying it all the time. But if I say the Eagle Hero is my big brother, my sister can’t imitate me.”

Yang Guo smiled, “Why do you look up to me so highly?” He paused for a while then said, “You’re sixteen years old this year. September… October… 22nd… 23rd… 24th… Your birthday is on the 24th of the tenth month, right?”

Guo Xiang was very surprised and exclaimed “Ah!” then said, “Yes, how did you know?”

Yang Guo did not answer and continued, “You were born in Xiangyang, so your given name is ‘Xiang’, right?”

Guo Xiang said, “So you know everything, yet you pretended not to know me. The day I was born you carried me, true?”

Yang Guo began day-dreaming and did not answer her, he lowered his head and mumbled, “16 years ago, on the 24th of the tenth month, we were fighting with Fawang (Golden-wheel Monk), and Long’er was holding that baby…”

Guo Xiang did not understand what he was talking about, but she heard the fight in the forest becoming more intense and feared her sister would injure Shi Mengjie, so she said, “Big Brother, I really have to go now.”

Yang Guo was still mumbling, “On the 24th of the tenth month, time flies, it’s almost 16 years already.” Suddenly he woke up and said, “Ah… you’re going… on the 24th of the tenth month this year you’re going to burn joss-sticks to ask for three wishes.” He remembered she said that when she asked for her wishes, she would pray for him and Xiao Longnu’s reunion. Guo Xiang said, “Big Brother, if in future I request three wishes from you, will you agree?”

Yang Guo said, “I will definitely try my best to fulfill your wishes.” He took out a small box from his bosom and flipped open the lid. Then he took out three golden needles which Xiao Longnu used as projectiles and gave them to Guo Xiang, saying, “When I see these needles, it’s like seeing you. If you can’t meet me, get someone to send the needles here and I’ll carry out your requests.”

Guo Xiang said, “Thanks very much!” She took the needles and said, “I’ll say my first wish now.” She then returned a needle to Yang Guo and said, “I want you to take this mask off and let me see you with my own eyes.”

Yang Guo laughed and said, “This is really too easy. It’s just that I don’t want my old acquaintances to recognize me so I put this mask on. You use one needle so casually, won’t it be a waste?”

Guo Xiang said, “I’ve never even seen your face, how can I claim that I know you? This is not a small matter.”

Yang Guo said, “Fine!” He reached up to his face and lifted the mask off.

Guo Xiang saw a suave and handsome face, with sword-like eyebrows and bright and sparkling eyes, but he was slightly pale and rather slender. Yang Guo saw her closely examining his face and smiled, “What?”

Guo Xiang felt her face go red. She softly said, “Nothing.” But she was thinking, “I never knew you would be so good-looking.”

Guo Xiang pulled herself together and returned another needle to Yang Guo, saying, “I’ll tell you my second wish.”

Yang Guo smiled, “Telling me a few years from now will make no difference, young lady, and you’re having childish wishes.” He did not stretch out his hand to receive the needle.

Guo Xiang stuck the needle in his shirt and said, “My second wish is that on the 24th of the tenth month, which is my birthday, I want you to come down to Xiangyang to have a chat with me.”

This wish required more effort to complete, but was still rather childish. Yang Guo said, “I promise, it’s not so difficult. But I will only meet you alone; I won’t see your parents or your sister.”

Guo Xiang smiled, “That’s alright with me.” Her smooth white hand clutched the third needle and waved it in the moonlight and said, “My third wish is…”

Yang Guo shook his head, thinking, “Do I, Yang Guo, grant wishes so easily? This young lady is naïve and treats this as a game.”

He saw her face had turned red and she laughed, “I can’t think of the third wish now. I’ll tell you some other day.” She then rushed into the forest calling, “Sister, sister!”

Guo Xiang ran towards the clashing sounds and she saw Guo Fu fighting fiercely with Shi Mengjie and the Big Head Ghost, while Feng Yiweng and Shi Jiqiang were watching the fight with their weapons at the ready. Guo Xiang shouted, “Sister, I’m here, and these are good friends.”

Guo Fu’s training had her parents’ guidance in martial arts, while her husband, Yelu Qi, was a highly skilled expert. In the past few years her skills had improved greatly. But she was inattentive and impatient, so she did not train hard. Although her parents and husband were well-known experts, her wugong was only slightly above average. She found it difficult with the two’s continuous onslaught and was becoming listless. Then suddenly she heard her sister calling out, so she shouted, “Sister, come here.”

Shi Mengjie heard Guo Xiang call Yang Guo “Big Brother”, and now Guo Fu called her “sister”, he was surprised and thought, “Can it be that this woman is the Eagle Hero’s wife or sister?” He had just sent out a blow that he quickly withdrew and leapt backwards.

Guo Fu clearly knew her opponent had given way to her, but she was angry and she thrust her sword forward fiercely and slashed Shi Mengjie’s chest. The Big Head Ghost was shocked and shouted, “Hey, what…” Guo Fu made turned the sword with a bright flash and the Big Head Ghost’s back suffered a long slit. She felt proud of herself and said, “Now you know my great prowess!”

Guo Xiang shouted, “Sister, I said these are friends!” Guo Fu angrily said, “Quickly follow me back! Who could be friends with these scoundrels?” Shi Mengjie’s chest injury was not light. He staggered a few steps backwards and collapsed onto the ground.

Guo Xiang hurried forward and bent down to raise him up, asking, “Uncle Shi, how are you?” Shi Mengjie’s chest was bleeding profusely, staining her dress. Guo Xiang quickly tore off a strip of cloth from her dress and dressed his wound. Guo Fu held her sword and stood aside, nagging, “Hurry up, let’s go! I’ll go back and tell Father and Mother and we’ll see if they beat you!”

Guo Xiang angrily said, “You rashly injured people. I’ll tell Father and Mother as well!” Shi Mengjie saw her face turning red with fury and tears forming in her eyes so he said, “Lady, please don’t worry. I won’t die from it.” Shi Jiqiang held the horn to his mouth and breathed heavily, but he could not decide if he should fight all out with Guo Fu or attend to his brother’s injuries.

Suddenly Guo Fu screamed “Ah!” Two fierce tigers appeared out of the blue silently, then, as she turned away to evade them, she saw two lions squatting in front of her, and four leopards waiting by the side. It was Shi Zhongmeng who had led the animals here and surrounded her. Guo Fu became white as sheet and almost fainted.

Then from within the forest someone shouted, “Fifth brother, how are your wounds?” Shi Mengjie said, “I’m still fine.” Then that person said, “The Eagle Hero has instructed us to allow these two ladies to leave.” Shi Jiqiang made a few whistles and the animals turned around and disappeared into the darkness.

Guo Xiang said, “Uncle Shi, I apologize on behalf of my sister.”

Shi Mengjie’s wound was hurting badly, so he laughed bitterly and said, “Because of the Eagle Hero’s intervention, even if your sister killed me it would be nothing.”

Guo Xiang anxiously asked, “Your injuries… are really not serious?”

Guo Fu grabbed her hand and said, “Are you still not coming?” She pulled her hard and dragged her out of the forest.

When the Shi brothers and Xishan Ghosts saw the sisters leave they all came out together to check Shi Mengjie and the Big Head Ghost’s injuries. They started talking and all said Guo Fu was in the wrong. But they did not know what her relationship was with the Eagle Hero, so they did not dare be rude to her. Shi Jiqiang furiously said, “That young lady is such a nice girl, but her sister is so overbearing. Fifth brother clearly gave way to her and she knew it, yet she did such a despicable thing. If the sword had pierced two inches deeper, how could he survive?” The Big Head Ghost said, “Let’s ask the Eagle Hero about this woman. At Fenglingdu she kept defaming the Eagle Hero, so I guess he wouldn’t protect her.”

Someone stepped out from behind a big tree, saying, “Thank God Brother Shi’s injuries are not serious. That woman has always been rash. My right arm was actually cut off by her.” That person was Yang Guo. When they heard this, they felt very angry and could only stare at him wordlessly. They all wanted to know more, but dare not ask.

Guo Fu dragged her sister all the way to Fenglingdu. By that time the ice on the Huang He (Yellow River) had already melted, so they crossed the river and headed back to Xiangyang. All along the way Guo Fu nagged like an old woman, continuously chiding Guo Xiang, telling her not to  mix  with  such  uncouth people. Guo Xiang pretended to be deaf and largely ignored her, but she could not stop talking about the Eagle Hero.

When they reached Xiangyang, Guo Fu handed over the ‘Everlasting Spring Priest’, Qiu Chuji’s letter to her parents. The letter said that he was old and sick in bed, so he has sent the Quanzhen Sect’s new leader Li Zhichang together with the top Quanzhen disciples to help. After this was done, the first thing Guo Fu said was, “Father, Mother, sister was disobedient along the way and caused a lot of trouble.” Guo Jing was shocked and asked about the matter. Guo Fu then told of how, at Fenglingdu, Guo Xiang followed someone they did not know and went missing for two days and nights, exaggerating the events as she went along.

At that time Guo Jing was handling some urgent military matters and  was  quite  worried  about  the situation, so when he heard what Guo Fu said, he got very angry and asked, “Xiang’er, your sister is right, isn’t she?”

Guo Xiang laughed happily, saying, “Sister is making a mountain out of a molehill; I went with a friend to see what’s going on, what’s the big fuss about that!”

Guo Jing frowned and said, “What friend? What’s the name?”

Guo Xiang stuck out her tongue and said, “Ah, I never asked his name, but his nickname is ‘Big Head Ghost’.”

Guo Fu said, “He’s one of the so called Xishan Ghosts.”

Guo Jing had heard of the Xishan Ghosts, and although they did not commit any evil acts, they were not gentlemen either. When he heard of his daughter’s mixing with such people, he got even angrier. But he remained silent, only making a “Hey” sound and saying no more. Huang Rong however rebuked Guo Xiang sternly.

That night Guo Jing organized a family feast and arranged the seating plan for Guo Fu and Guo Polu, but left Guo Xiang out. Yelu Qi tried to persuade his father and mother-in-law otherwise. Guo Jing said, “If that girl is not firmly taken in hand, it will only harm her. Xiang’er has been strange since she was small, causing me to worry about her. Since you’re her brother-in-law, you should worry for her too.” Yelu Qi did not dare say more.

The Guo couple had spoiled Guo Fu too much, thus allowing her to create so much trouble. So now they were stricter with Guo Xiang and Guo Polu. Guo Polu was quiet and serious, just like his father, but Guo Xiang usually agreed on the outside, yet she was usually dissatisfied on the inside. That night she heard the maid say that Master and Mistress organized a family feast but intentionally did not invite her. Guo Xiang got angry and went on hunger strike and starved for two whole  days.  On  the  third  day,  Huang Rong’s heart softened and without informing Guo Jing she personally cooked several dishes and cajoled her daughter, finally making her smile. Huang Rong’s cooking skills were the  best  in  the  world;  even though she had not cooked for a long time she was still able to cook delicious food for Guo Xiang. But in doing so all the effort to discipline her had gone right down the drain.

The Mongols had conquered Dali and sent the troops north; another division headed south, planning on meeting at Xiangyang. They aimed to destroy the Song Dynasty in one fell swoop. The Mongols had been planning this campaign for many years, and the north division was led by the Great Khan’s brother Khubilai. The south division was led by the Great Khan Mengke himself, together with all their valiant and capable generals. The large number of troops involved was unprecedented in Mongol history. The troops looked grand and unyielding, showing the Mongols’ might.

Before the Mongols arrived, Xiangyang was already in a state of shock. However, the useless Song Premier Ding Daquan was a traitor and dismissed this matter totally. Xiangyang dispatched numerous urgent messages, but the traitorous premier just said, “The Mongolians have been attacking Xiangyang for many decades and have never succeeded; they just may go back empty-handed this time as well. This is just a small matter; why should we bother ourselves with it?”

When the Mongols’ south division conquered Dali, Guo Jing immediately knew the urgency of this matter and sent letters to all the heroes in Jianghu, inviting them to meet at Xiangyang to assist with the defense. The Mongol troops were swift and deadly and were able to conquer Dali in just a short time. The King of Dali, the great-grandson of Yideng, was young and ignorant and he had only ruled for two years when Dali was conquered. He was rescued in the final hour by Zhu Ziliu, Wu Santong and the Fisherman.

The Mongolian troops were steadily advancing closer and closer. The Heroes’ Summit was scheduled for the 15th of the tenth month and was to last 10 days. Today was the 13th, two days away from the meet, and all the heroes from all over Jianghu had gathered at Xiangyang. Guo Jing and Huang Rong were concentrating on military affairs and gave the responsibility of welcoming the guests to Lu Youjiao and Yelu Qi, with the Wu brothers and their wives Yelu Yan and Wanyan Ping to assist them.

On this day Zhu Ziliu, the Fisherman, Wu Santong, Quanzhen Sect’s leader Li Zhichang and his fellow sect disciples, the Beggar Clan elders with the seventh and eighth grade members, Lu Guanying and Cheng Yaojia had all arrived… Xiangyang was now filled with many well known martial experts. Many old heroes who rarely appeared in Jianghu were also present. This time the Heroes’ Summit may decide the fate of Xiangyang. They also respected the Guo couple, so all of them rushed to Xiangyang upon receiving the invitation. This Meet was grander than the one at Dasheng many years ago.

That night, Guo Jing had a private banquet with his old friends, inviting more than 10 people to dine with him, including Zhu Ziliu and Wu Santong. They drank past the third watch but the Beggar Clan Chief still did not turn up. They thought he must have been busy with the Beggar Clan affairs and so did not find anything amiss. They ate and drank, discussing Jianghu events of the past 10 years. Yelu Qi, Guo Fu and the Wu brothers group had a table to themselves and they chatted animatedly.

Suddenly an eighth grade member of the Beggar Clan burst in and whispered something to Huang Rong. Huang Rong’s face became grave and she stood up, saying loudly, “What?” The people were shocked and all turned to stare at her. Huang Rong said, “There are no outsiders here. Just say it. How did this happen?” They saw tears well up in her eyes as she spoke, so it must be something terrible. Then the beggar said, “This afternoon Clan Leader Lu took two seventh grade sect members to patrol outside the city but they didn’t return. I could not let the matter rest and went to investigate. We went to the Yang Tai Fu Temple down the hill and found Clan Leader Lu’s corpse there…” The group gave a cry of “Ah!” when they heard this.

The beggar’s voice cracked as he said this, he knew Lu Youjiao’s martial arts were not excellent, but he was responsible and caring and had earned the respect of the beggars. The beggar continued, “The two seventh grade members are not dead yet. They said the three of them were ambushed by the Mongolian prince Hou Du who killed the Clan Leader. The two seventh grade members fought with him and were severely injured by his palms.” Guo Jing was so angered his face turned white and only said, “Hou Du!” He thought that if he had known this would happen, he would not have spared him at Chongyang Palace years ago.

Huang Rong said, “Did Hou Du leave any message?” The beggar said, “I dare not say.”

Huang Rong said, “Why not? He wants Guo Jing and Huang Rong to surrender to the Mongols, or they will end up like Lu Youjiao, right?”

The beggar said, “The Chief is brilliant. The scoundrel Hou Du said exactly that.” According to tradition, Huang Rong was no longer the Beggar Clan leader, but the beggars all still addressed her as “Chief”.

Huang Rong frowned and said, “Lu Youjiao’s “Dog Beating Stick” has been taken by Hou Du, right?” The beggar said, “Yes.”

The guests all left the banquet and went to see Lu Youjiao’s body. They observed a steel fan’s mark on Lu Youjiao’s back and a rib bone was broken. This showed that Hou Du had snuck up and attacked with his fan from behind, then killed him with his palm. The people all felt deeply grieved when they saw this.

At that time thousands of beggars in Jianghu were gathered in Xiangyang. When they heard that Lu Youjiao had been killed, the city fell into a gloomy silence.

Guo Xiang was on good terms with Lu Youjiao, often pulling him out into the wilderness to drink wine and chat about Jianghu affairs. The two usually chatting for half a day, and were very friendly. The Yang Tai Fu Temple was not far from Xiangyang, so Guo Xiang and Lu Youjiao often went there. When she heard her dear old friend was killed there she was greatly hurt and aggrieved, so she took a pot of wine and went to the temple like she usually did.

Late that night, Guo Xiang put down two cups and filled them with wine, saying, “Uncle Lu, half a month ago, when we were merrily chatting here, who knew such a hero would meet such a tragic end? Let me offer you a toast.” She took up a cup and poured the wine onto the ground in a sweeping motion, remembering their past friendship. She felt overwhelmed by sadness and tears welled up in her eyes. She said, “Uncle Lu, rest peacefully.” She held the other cup forward with both hands and then drank the wine.

Her tolerance for liquor was not very good, but she was open-minded and friendly with  the  heroes  of Jianghu and often drank with them. When she drank two cups of wine she felt giddy and slightly hot.

In the darkness a shadow suddenly flashed past and she thought it must be Lu Youjiao’s spirit who had come and said, “Is that Uncle Lu? Please come here.” Although her heart was beating rapidly, she still wanted to meet Lu Youjiao’s spirit. However a female voice was heard saying, “Why are you fooling around here in the middle of the night? Mother wants you to go back quickly.” The person came into the temple in a flash – it was Guo Fu.

Guo Xiang was very disappointed and said, “I’m waiting here for Uncle Lu’s spirit. Now you come barging in like this, how would he show up? Sister, you return first, I’ll be following you shortly.”

Guo Fu said, “Stop talking rubbish. You’re just imagining things. Why would Lu Youjiao’s spirit want to see you?”

Guo Xiang said, “He was very friendly with me, moreover I promised to share my private thoughts with him. I said I would tell him on my birthday. Who knew he couldn’t be here.” She became depressed as she said this.

Guo Fu said, “Mother saw that you had disappeared and predicted you’d be here. You monkey, you’re getting naughtier, but you can’t escape from Mother’s palm. Mother is angry with you for being so daring

– who knows, that Hou Du might be lurking around here somewhere; won’t that be dangerous?”

Guo Xiang sighed and said, “I was thinking about Uncle Lu and forgot about the danger. Good sister, please accompany me for a while, maybe Uncle Lu’s spirit might still come and see me. But you shouldn’t talk, lest you scare him away.”

Guo Fu had never  really  respected  Lu  Youjiao  and  felt  that  he  became  the  Beggar  Clan  Leader  all  due  to her mother’s grooming and recommendations. She thought that even  if  his  spirit  came,  she  would  not  be afraid. She also knew her sister’s  character  –  since  she  wanted  to  wait  there,  unless  if  their  parents personally came to stop  her,  she  would  not  budge  no  matter  what  Guo  Fu  said.  So  she  sat  down  and sighed, “Sister, you’re getting older, yet you  are  still  so  childish.  You’re  sixteen  this  year;  in  two  or  three years you’ll be getting  married.  Please  don’t  tell  me,  that  even  when  you  move  into  your  in-laws’  place, you’ll still act so crazily?” Guo Xiang said, “What’s the difference? After you married brother-in-law, you are still as carefree as a single woman.”

Guo Fu said, “Hey! How can others compare to your brother-in-law? He’s a hero of the times and is very broad-minded, he wouldn’t restrict my movements. He’s talented in martial arts and literature. Among the younger generation, who can compare to him? If your future husband is half as good as him, Father and Mother will be very satisfied.”

Guo Xiang knew she was so boastful and said, “Brother-in-law is of course talented, but I don’t believe there’s none in this world who can compare to him.” She felt proud of herself as she said that. Guo Xiang said, “I know someone who’s ten times better than brother-in-law.”

Guo Fu got angry, saying, “Who? Tell me.”

Guo Xiang said, “Why must I say it? It’s good enough for me to know.”

Guo Fu laughed coldly, asking, “Is it Brother Zhu? Wang Jianming?” She named a few young heroes.

Guo Xiang kept shaking her head, saying, “They can’t even compete with brother-in-law, how can they be ten times better?”

Guo Fu said, “Unless you’re talking about Grandfather, Father, Mother, and Uncle Zhu, they are older heroes.”

Guo Xiang said, “No! The person I mentioned is younger than brother-in-law, and he’s more handsome and his martial arts are very much better. The difference is as great as night and day, you can’t even compare them…” As she said this, Guo Fu continuously spit, “Pui…pui…pui…pui...”

Guo Xiang ignored her and continued, “If you don’t believe me that’s up to you. He has a good character. If anyone is in trouble, he’d lend a hand whether he knows them or not.” She lifted her head and started day-dreaming.

Guo Fu angrily said, “You’re just making things up. Lu Youjiao’s dead, now the Beggar Clan doesn’t have a leader. Mother said that, since so many heroes are here for the Heroes’ Meet, there will be a martial arts contest to pick a highly-skilled expert to lead the Beggar Clan and prevent it from splitting up into the Dirty Faction and Clean Faction again. You said this man is so powerful, tell him to spar with your brother- in-law and see who will be the next Beggar Clan Leader.”

Guo Xiang laughed, “He doesn’t want to be the Beggar Clan Leader.”

Guo Fu scolded, “You dare to look down on the Leader’s status? Elder Hong was the leader, Mother was the leader; you dare to look down on Elder Hong and Mother?”

Guo Xiang said, “When did I say I looked down on the Leader? You knew Uncle Lu and I were good friends.”

Guo Fu said, “OK! Tell your grand hero to spar with your brother-in-law, and then we shall clearly see who the hero is and who the useless bum is.”

Guo Xiang said, “Sister, you always talk unreasonably. When did I say brother-in-law was a useless bum? If he’s one, then that makes you an animal. We have the same mother, so I’d be ashamed too.”

Guo Fu heard this and did not know whether to laugh or flare up, so she stood up and said, “I don’t have the energy to talk nonsense with you. If you still won’t come back, I’ll get a scolding too.”

Guo Xiang had a razor-sharp tongue and liked to argue with her sister, so she said, “Even though you’re married, Father and Mother dote on you the most. Who will have the guts to scold you if you are the wife of the next Clan Leader?”

Guo Fu heard her sister address her as the ‘wife of the next Clan Leader’, she became smug and said, “There are so many heroes here and he’s not the Leader yet; don’t say such things, you’ll only make people laugh.”

Guo Xiang woke up from her day-dream and saw that the pale moon was almost full. Then she sighed and said, “It looks like Uncle Lu’s spirit won’t be coming. Sister, why the hurry to choose a new Leader? Why can’t we mourn Uncle Lu a little longer?”

Guo Fu said, “You’re being childish again. The Beggar Clan is the number one sect in Jianghu, how can it go without a leader even for a day?”

Guo Xiang said, “Which day did Mother say the Leader would be chosen?” Guo Fu said, “The Heroes’ Summit will start on the 15th, the most important issue is to discuss how to allocate all the heroes in Jianghu to resist the Mongolians. This should take about five to nine days, so the new leader should be chosen on the 23rd or 24th.”

Guo Xiang exclaimed, “Ah.” Guo Fu asked, “What?”

Guo Xiang said, “Nothing. The 24th just happens to be my birthday. Everyone will be busy preparing for this Meet, so Mother won’t be celebrating my birthday for me.”

Guo Fu laughed, “Ha-ha, you’re a little baby, what significance is your birthday? How can you put it on the same level as the Leader’s selection? People would laugh their teeth out. Ah, there can only be one such person like you on this Earth, remembering such trivial matters.”

Guo Xiang’s face turned red, saying, “Father may not remember, but Mother will surely remember. You say it’s a small matter, but I think otherwise. I’m going to be 16, you know?”

Guo Fu laughed even louder and needled her, “On that day all the heroes will congratulate our Miss Guo on her sixteenth birthday. She’s no longer a baby, she’s a lady now! Ha…ha…ha!”

Guo Xiang shook her head and said, “Others might not care, but there will be at least one hero who will remember my birthday. He promised that he will come to see me.” She felt very happy as she said this.

Guo Fu said, “What hero? Ah, is he the one who is superior to your brother-in-law? Let me tell you – Number 1, there’s no such person, you’re just fantasizing; Number 2, even if there’s such a person, he must have many things to do, how would he have the time to celebrate your birthday? If he’s attending the Heroes’ Summit, then he will come to Xiangyang.”

Guo Xiang heard this and was almost moved to tears. She stamped her feet and said, “He promised, he promised. He won’t attend the Heroes’ Summit; he won’t vie to be the Leader.”

Guo Fu said, “If he’s not a hero, our parents would not invite him. Even if he comes, he may not be fit to attend.”

Guo Xiang took out her handkerchief to dab her tears and said, “If that’s the case, I won’t attend the Heroes’ Summit either, nor will I even look in at the Leader’s selection.”

Guo Fu coldly laughed, “Ah, Miss Guo’s not attending the Heroes’ Feast, all the grandeur is gone. Where’s the glory of being the new Leader? Face it, nobody would miss you.”

Guo Xiang covered her ears and dashed out of the temple.

Suddenly a black shadow flashed across and stood  silently  at  the  temple’s  entrance,  blocking  it.  Guo Xiang was shocked and leapt back to prevent herself from running into him. The tall person stood under the moon light, exhibiting his dark face, but his upper body was rather short. Looking closely, she noticed that he had two legs missing, his arms supporting his body with six-foot long crutches. His pants were very long, dangling on the ground, making him look like a giant.

Guo Fu was shocked and said, “You’re Nimoxing?”

That person was indeed Nimoxing. This time the Khan was commanding the campaign himself, so all the brave warriors followed him north from Dali. The warriors all tried to prove themselves to win glory for their names. Although Nimoxing’s legs were gone, he did not lose his martial skills; in fact he trained harder and he was better than before he lost his legs. The Mongols were still a hundred li from Xiangyang, but some warriors were sent ahead to Xiangyang to scout first, so Nimoxing reached Xiangyang earlier. On this night he was wandering around the temple and he overheard the Guo sisters’ conversation. Then he got very excited, thinking that since Guo Jing was leading Xiangyang’s defense, if he captured the Guo sisters he could force him to surrender or at least demoralize him and thus contribute greatly to the Mongol war effort. He heard that Guo Fu knew him, so he said, “Miss Guo is very sharp, I’ve not seen you for so many years and you have grown even more pretty. Don’t cause any trouble, just be good and follow me!”

Guo Fu was shocked and angry. She knew his martial arts were very high, even if she and Guo Xiang attacked him together, they would still lose, so she could not help but glare at Guo Xiang, thinking, “It’s entirely your fault, how are we going to get out of this mess?”

Guo Xiang asked Nimoxing, “Why are your two pant legs so strange? Were your legs very long before you lost them?”

Nimoxing snorted  and  ignored  her,  telling  Guo  Fu,  “You  two  walk  in  front.  Don’t  try  any  tricks!”  He treated them as his prisoners as he said that.

Guo Xiang said, “You’re talking very strangely. Where do you want to take us in the middle of the night?”

Nimoxing angrily said, “Little girl, just shut up and follow me.” He was afraid that there might be strong opponents from Xiangyang coming to help, so he wanted to leave quickly.

Guo Fu whispered, “Sister, this black guy is a Mongolian warrior and his martial arts are great; you attack his right while I attack his left.” She drew out her sword and thrust towards Nimoxing’s waist.

Guo Xiang did not bring any weapons out of the city and thought that since he had lost his legs and was using his crutches to fight, how could he fight her sister? So she said, “Sister, this person is pitiful, don’t hurt him!”

As she said this, Nimoxing braced his left crutch on the ground and defended himself with his right crutch. Then he struck Guo Fu’s sword, causing sparks to fly and Guo Fu’s sword to fly out of her hand. She felt her hand go numb and her chest was hurting. Then she used a special stance to follow the sword and retrieve it with her left hand. Striking forward with the ‘Sword of the Yue Maiden’ [Chao Nu Jian Fa] as she fought with Nimoxing. This ‘Chao Nu Jian Fa’ was taught to Guo Jing by Han Xiaoying of the Jiangnan Seven Freaks. Guo Jing taught this skill to his two daughters out of gratitude to her. This sword skill was smooth and contained subtle changes and was a powerful skill. If Guo Jing executed this skill, it would be strong and powerful and would not be overcome easily, but Guo Fu was not very strong; although the strokes were good, they were not good enough to defend against Nimoxing’s crutches.

Guo Xiang saw how Nimoxing was using his crutches. The left and right crutches were swapping roles intermittently and were very swift. The crutches were long as well, so her sister was losing to his fierce attacks. She then became more anxious. Guo Fu felt the pressure from his crutches getting stronger and stronger, hitting her sword with great force, causing her strokes to be unsteady. Guo Xiang was worried about her sister but was unarmed so she sent out her palms and struck towards Nimoxing.

Nimoxing shouted and poked his left crutch on the ground and leapt into the air, attacking with both crutches at great speed. The crutches hit Guo Xiang in the shoulder and Guo Fu in the chest. Guo Xiang stumbled and retreated several steps. Guo Fu was hit quite hard and could not withstand the pain and she sat down heavily. Nimoxing was feeling proud of himself and swaggered towards Guo Fu, laughing coldly, “I told you to be good and follow me…”

Guo Fu jumped up and said, “Let’s escape from the back of the temple!”

Nimoxing was shocked. He had obviously hit her “Shen Cang” (Hiding Deity) Accupoint, how could she still move? He did not know about Guo Fu’s soft armour and thought she must have learned some great skills from the Guo family that prevented her accupoint from being sealed. Actually, Guo Fu’s accupoint was not sealed, but she was injured by that strike and could not use her sword. Guo Xiang then unleashed the ‘Descending Hero’s Palm Skill’ [Luo Ying Zhang Fa] to protect her sister and shouted, “Sister, you go first!”

Nimoxing raised his left crutch and sent it towards Guo Xiang, stopping three inches in front of her nose, but the wind generated was so great that her face hurt. He shouted, “Don’t move!”

Guo Xiang angrily said, “At first I pitied you, but you’re such an evil person!”

Nimoxing laughed, “Little girl, if you don’t suffer you won’t know my strength.” His crutch hit the ground, his face was fierce and ugly, he opened his mouth, exposing his white teeth and charged forwards screaming like he wanted to bite someone.

Suddenly someone behind said, “Don’t be afraid! Use secret projectiles on him.”

This was a dangerous moment and Guo Xiang did not care who that was and felt around her body and urgently said, “I don’t have any.” She saw Nimoxing getting closer and was at her wits’ end and tried to use a palm stance called the ‘Flower Spreading Stance’ [Shan Hua Shi] to protect herself. She out stretched her palms and felt a breeze suddenly blow across them; then her hands trembled slightly and two thin golden bangles flew out, striking Nimoxing’s crutches.

Although the sound made on impact was not very loud, Nimoxing knew he could not withstand it and his crutches flew backwards, hitting the wall, causing dust and mud to fly  on  impact.  Nimoxing  lost  his crutches and fell down. He hit his back on the ground and then jumped up, screaming angrily and struck his palms out, sending his whole body forwards with his palms aiming at Guo Xiang.

Guo Xiang did not think and reacted by taking a hair pin out of her hair and tried to hit Nimoxing, then she felt the breeze behind her again and sent the pin flying forward. Nimoxing suddenly saw the pin flying towards him and quickly tried to use both hands to block, then he cried,  “Strange!”  and  fell  onto  the ground, unmoving. Guo Xiang feared that he was up to no good, so she jumped to Guo Fu and said, “Sister, let’s go!”

The two sisters were standing next to a deity’s statue in the temple and saw that Nimoxing did not move at all, so Guo Fu said, “Did he suddenly have a stroke and die?” She raised her voice and said, “Nimoxing, what are you doing?” She thought that since he’d lost his crutches, it would not be convenient for him to move, so she was not afraid and advanced to him. She saw his eyes staring  blankly  upwards,  his  face without colour and his mouth wide open; he was dead.

Guo Fu was very surprised and lit the candles in the temple, wanting to investigate further when she heard someone outside the temple saying, “Fu, Second Sister, are you in the temple?” It was Yelu Qi. Guo Fu happily said, “Brother Qi, come quickly. Strange… this is strange!”

When Guo Fu went to find her sister and did not return for quite some time, Yelu Qi, remembering that Lu Youjiao was ambushed and killed and the enemy was just outside Xiangyang, got worried and went to find the two sisters. He brought two sixth grade Beggar Clan members and hurried there only to find Nimoxing dead on the ground, and he was shocked. He knew this short person’s martial arts were good; even he could not handle this person himself, so he was surprised that his wife had killed Nimoxing. He took the candle from Guo Fu’s hand and looked closely.

He saw two holes in Nimoxing’s palms and a hair pin stuck in the Shen Ting (Deity’s Hall) Accupoint. This pin hit with great force but did not break and instead was able to penetrate this highly-skilled expert’s palms and kill him. Such a powerful skill like that is unthinkable. He turned to Guo Fu and said, “Is Grandfather here (referring to Huang Yaoshi), quickly lead me to greet him.”

Guo Fu curiously said, “Who said Grandfather was here?”

Yelu Qi said, “It’s not Grandfather?” He swept the place with his eyes and said excitedly, “So it must be Master.” He looked around but could not find Zhou Botong. He knew his master was mischievous, so he must have hid himself to scare them. He went out of the temple and jumped onto the roof, but he saw no one.

Guo Fu said, “Hey! Why are you saying such silly things? What Grandfather, what master?”

Yelu Qi then came down and asked how they met Nimoxing and how he met his end. Guo Fu told him, but she completely could not explain how her sister’s hair pin could kill him. Yelu Qi said, “Some powerful hero must be helping Sister secretly. The only people I know with such martial arts are Father-in-law, Grandfather, Master, Reverend Yideng and the Golden Wheel Monk (Jinlun Fawang). Fawang is the Mongolian Guo Shi (Spiritual Leader), he wouldn’t kill  Nimoxing,  while  Reverend  Yideng  won’t  kill anyone, so I thought since it’s not Grandfather; it must be Master. Sister, who do you think helped you?”

After Guo Xiang’s hair pin killed Nimoxing, she immediately turned around but saw no one, and kept repeating “Don’t be afraid! Use secret projectiles on him,” to herself. She thought the voice familiar. She wondered if it could be Yang Guo. But as she thought of him, she said to herself, “That’s impossible! It must be because I was thinking of him, and I mistook that voice for his.” Yelu Qi saw that she seemed to be day-dreaming and might not have heard him.

Guo Fu saw that her sister’s eyes were red and tears were streaming down her face and she was looking lost. Guo Fu thought she must be in a shock and held her hand, asking, “Sister, what’s up with you?”

Guo Xiang trembled and her face turned red, saying, “Nothing.”

Guo Fu said, “Brother-in-law was asking you who saved you just now, didn’t you hear?”

Guo Xiang said, “Who saved me? It must be him! Who else would have such excellent skills?” Guo Fu asked, “Him? Who’s he? Is he the special hero you were talking about?”

Guo Xiang felt her heart beating heavily and quickly said, “No, no! I’m talking about Uncle Lu’s spirit.” Guo Fu spat “Pui” and threw down her hand. Guo Xiang said, “I didn’t even see a shadow just now, it must be Uncle Lu secretly helping me. You know we were good friends when he was still alive.”

Guo Fu half-believed what she said and was wondering if Lu Youjiao’s spirit refused to go away. But if it was not a spirit, how could a person kill someone without even showing himself?

Yelu Qi took up Nimoxing’s crutches and sighed, “This level of martial arts really commands admiration.” Guo Fu and Guo Xiang looked carefully, observing that both crutches had a golden bangle lodged deep into them, as though they were made that way. This person actually used his internal energy (nei gong) to hit Nimoxing’s crutches out of his hands, so it was no wonder Yelu Qi praised him like that.

Guo Fu said, “Let’s bring them to Mother, she should know who did this.” The two beggars carried the body, the crutches and followed Yelu Qi and the two sisters back into the city. Guo Jing and Huang Rong heard Guo Fu’s narration and thought about the matter, causing them to be shocked.

Guo Xiang thought she would surely be scolded by her parents for getting into such trouble again. However Guo Jing liked his daughter’s deep loyalty so he consoled her instead. Huang Rong saw that he was not angry so she hugged her and comforted her. She saw Nimoxing’s body and crutches and said to Guo Jing, “Brother Jing, who do you think it is?”

Guo Jing shook his head and said, “This internal energy is so fierce and powerful, from what I know, only two people are capable of it.”

Huang Rong said, “But Master Hong Qigong passed away long ago and it is not you.” She asked for the details but could not think of an explanation.

After taking Guo Fu and Guo Xiang back to their rooms to rest, she said, “Brother Jing, our second lady has hidden something from us, do you know that?” Guo Jing curiously asked, “Hiding what?” Huang Rong said, “Ever since she returned from sending the Heroes’ Summit invitations, she has been day-dreaming alone. Tonight she was speaking even more strangely.” Guo Jing said, “She has suffered a shock, so she’s not thinking clearly.”

Huang Rong said, “No. Sometimes she would be shy, sometimes she would smile to herself, and this is obviously not symptoms of suffering a shock. She actually has a joy in her heart which she can’t say.” Guo Jing said, “When a child suddenly fights an expert, she would be shocked and happy, there’s nothing strange about that.” Huang Rong smiled and thought, “Regarding matters concerning a girl’s heart, you didn’t understand when you were young, now that you’re old, what do you know?” They changed the topic, discussing strategies to defeat the enemy, how to welcome the guests to the Heroes’ Summit, how to arrange the seating etc. before resting.

Huang Rong lay on her bed and thought of Guo Xiang’s affairs and found it hard to sleep, so she thought, “This girl met with much hardship and troubles when she was born, I’m worried her life may be rather troubled. She has fortunately lived the past 16 years peacefully; don’t tell me she will meet with some serious disaster now?” She thought about the strong enemy’s imminent attack and the impending hardships for the people. If she had some prior intelligence, it would greatly aid them. Yet her daughter has been very strange since birth. If she did not want to say something, she would not say it no matter how her parents coerced or scolded her. Instead her face would turn red but she would not reveal a single word. Her parents found it funny yet still got angry.

The more Huang Rong thought of it, the more worried she was, so she stood up and went to the city wall, ordering the guards to open the gate and she went to the Yang Tai Temple.

The sky was cloudy, hiding the Moon and the stars. Huang Rong took a white candle and used her qing gong (lightness skill) to ascend Mount Xian. Suddenly, she heard voices dozens of meters away near “Dropping Tears Tablet”. She crouched down and crept forward and hid behind a tree several meters away, not moving any closer.

Someone said, “Brother Sun, the Benefactor told us to wait behind the Dropping Tears Tablet, but why does this place have such a unique name?”

The one named Sun said, “The Benefactor must have had some problematic affairs of the heart. So whenever he sees any place named Duan Chang (Severed Intestine), You Chou (Worries) or Duo Lei (Dropping Tears), he remembers them easily.”

The first person said, “With the Benefactor’s great skills, he should be able to solve any problem, but whenever I see his expression or hear his tone of voice, it seems like he has indeed some unhappy problems. I think he actually named this place Dropping Tears Tablet himself.”

The one named Sun said, “No. I’ve always heard Master Guo’er Shu say that during the Three Kingdoms Period, Xiangyang belonged to the Wei Kingdom. The general in charge, Yang Hu, had great merit in administrating the city and protecting the people. He used to tour this mountain. When he was dead the people remembered his contributions and built the Yang Tai Temple on this mountain and made this tablet to remember him. When the people remembered what he had done for them, they would be moved to tears, so this place is called the ‘Dropping Tears Tablet’. Brother Chen, someone who has done as much as Grand Elder Yang is really a great man.”

The one named Chen said, “The Benefactor has done many heroic deeds and helped countless people around the world. If he were the general of Xiangyang, he may even be better than Yang Hu.”

The one named Sun smiled, “Xiangyang’s Hero Guo is defending the people and does many heroic deeds, so he must be on the same level as Grand Elder Yang and the Benefactor.” Huang Rong heard them praise her husband and was secretly pleased, but thought, “Who is the Benefactor they’re referring to? Is he the one who secretly helped Xiang-Er?”

Then Mr. Sun said, “Long ago we were the Benefactor’s enemies, then the Benefactor saved our lives; the Benefactor’s kind personality of treating his enemies as his friends might be comparable with Grand Elder Yang Hu. About that story during the Three Kingdoms Period, that master also mentioned that when Yang Hu was protecting Xiangyang, the enemy opposing him was General Lu Xun’s son Lu Kang of the Wu Kingdom. Yang Hu sent troops into Wu territory to fight the enemy, whenever he harvested the people’s rice for his military provisions he would compensate them. When Lu Kang was sick, Yang Hu sent medicine to him and Lu Kang took it without any suspicions. His lieutenants advised him to be careful, but he said, “Someone like Uncle Yang (“Zhen De Mu Pang Huan Xi Pang”) did not resort to despicable tactics. Uncle Yang is Yang Hu. His character was above question and the enemy respected him. When he died, even the Wu Kingdom Generals mourned him. The way he treated others really made him deserve to be a hero.”

(Some background information: the three countries of the Three Kingdom Period were Wu, Shu and Wei. Wei was controlled by Cao Cao and Wu by Sun Quan. When Shu’s Liu Bei attacked Wu in retaliation for the killing of Guan Yu, Lu Xun defended Wu. He managed to destroy Liu Bei’s 700,000 strong army with his 50,000 troops. Liu Bei did not listen to his advisor Zhuge Liang’s  advice.  This  Zhuge  Liang  of Xiangyang was mentioned in earlier chapters by Guo Jing.)

Mr. Chen kept sighing as he touched the stone tablet, then after a while he said, “The Benefactor told us to meet here, is it also to admire Grand Elder Yang’s character?”

Mr. Sun said, “I heard the Benefactor mention before that when Yang Hu was alive there was a sentence that he always remembered.”

Mr. Chen asked, “What was that? Say it slowly, I must memorize this. If the Benefactor admired it, this sentence must be something great.”

Mr. Sun said, “After Lu Kang died, the Lord of the Wu Kingdom said that Yang Hu treated the Wu Kingdom sincerely and saved many Wu Kingdom citizens, but he was serving the traitors of the Imperial Court, so Yang Hu sighed, ‘Tian Xia Bu Ru Yi Si, Shi Chang Ju Qi Ba’ (easy matters are often complicated). The Benefactor praised these words.”

Mr. Chen never expected it to be such a sentence and was slightly disappointed and sighed, then suddenly said loudly, “Brother Sun, Yang Hu – this name sounds the same…”

Mr. Sun said, “Hush! Someone’s here.”

Huang Rong was slightly surprised, and then she heard someone running round the mountain. Then she thought, “Sounds the same as ‘Yang Hu’ but uses different characters? Could it be ‘Yang Guo’? No, no way. Even if Guo’er’s martial arts have improved, it can’t have reached such an unimaginable level. This person couldn’t be saying that it sounds the same but uses different characters.”

After a short while, the person ascending the mountain clapped lightly trice and Mr. Sun returned three claps. That person walked to the Dropping Tears Tablet and said, “Brothers Sun and Chen, the Benefactor tells you not to wait for him; here are two invitations from the Benefactor, please help him deliver them. Brother Sun, this invitation is for Old Master Zhao of Henan’s Xingyang Mansion on Crows Mountain; Brother Chen, this invitation is for the deaf-mute Head Camel of Hu Nan’s Changde Mansion. Please tell them that they are requested to meet here within ten days.” Mr. Chen and Mr. Sun respectfully agreed, they took the invitations and placed them in their inner pockets.

When Huang Rong heard this, she was greatly surprised. Old Master Zhao of Xingyang was working for the Imperial Court, his Thirty-two Long Punches and Eighteen Rod Stances were the special skills of his family and were passed from generation to generation within his family. He was a nobleman and never bothered about Jianghu affairs. The Head Camel of Crows Mountain was a famous elder in Wulin, his martial arts were very good, but because he was a deaf-mute, he seldom mixed with outsiders. For this Heroes’ Summit at Xiangyang, Guo Jing and Huang Rong knew  these  two  people  liked  seclusion  and would not attend the meet, but they still respected their reputation and sent them invitations. Obviously they replied and declined. Could it be that this so-called ‘Benefactor’ has such a great influence on them and is able to draw them out of seclusion and hurry them here based on his invitation alone?

Then Huang Rong thought again, “The Heroes Meet would start tomorrow and this person is summoning all the experts in Jianghu to Xiangyang, what is his motive? Could he actually be helping the Mongols? That’d be unfavorable for us.” Then she felt that although Old Master Zhao and Deaf-Mute Head Camel were loners, they were not traitors. This ‘Benefactor’ secretly helped Xiang’er kill Nimoxing, so he must not be one of them.

As she was talking to herself, she heard the three people talking softly but she could not hear clearly as she was too far away, then she heard Mr. Chen say, “Benefactor has never entrusted us with such an important assignment, this assignment will… it would be a grand event… our present… ” She missed several words in between. Mr. Sun said, “OK! Let’s do it. Rest assured we will not mess up the Benefactor’s plans.” When he said that, the three people descended the mountain.

Huang Rong could not guess the origin of that ‘Benefactor’ but she did not want to blow things up by capturing the three people to ask about the matter. When they were gone far, she went into the temple and looked around but did not see anything amiss. When the enemy attacked the area, all the worshippers and caretakers at the temple fled into the city so there was no one there. When she went back, it was already dawn.

When she was near the city’s west gate, two horses charged along the road and she had to leap aside to avoid them. She saw two big and strong men riding the horses. The two horses went to the intersection and separated, with one heading west and the other heading south. She heard one of them say, “You must remember to tell Fat Zhang that he must bring the musical instruments and the show’s costumes himself. And don’t forget to bring decorations experts.” The other laughed, “Don’t nag at me, if you’re late by one day in inviting Master Chuan Chai, even if the Benefactor forgives you, we won’t.” The first man laughed, “Hey, that’s alright. If I’m late by one day, cut off my head to feed the pigs.” The two men saluted each other and rode off.

As Huang Rong entered the city, she mumbled to herself, “I heard Fat Zhang is a tyrant, even chivalrous outlaws respected him, and how could this ‘Benefactor’ get him here with one word? They talked about flags and drums, what could they be used for?” Suddenly she thought of something and said, “Yes, yes! It must be so.”

She went into the Government Office and asked Guo Jing, “Brother Jing, did we miss out any invitations?”

Guo Jing curiously said, “How could we have missed anything? We checked for many days, it couldn’t have happened.”

Huang Rong said, “I think so too; we must have offended a great hero who’s not that famous, so he sent invitations to those who obviously won’t come. From the way it looks, it must be a great man who’s dissatisfied with us, so he also wants to host another Heroes’ Summit to compete with us.”

Guo Jing happily said, “This hero has the same motives as us, nothing could be better. We will invite him to chair the Heroes’ Summit and get him to command the heroes to defend against the Mongolians; it’s alright for the both of us to listen to him.”

Huang Rong frowned and said, “But from what I hear of him, he might not be here to defend the city. He sent invitations to Xingyang’s Old Master Zhao, Deaf-Mute Head Camel of Crows Mountain and Hankou’s Fat Zhang and others.”

Guo Jing was surprised and happy; he clapped and said, “If this man can invite such great people here, Xiangyang would be strengthened. Rong’er, we must definitely meet such a man.”

Huang Rong became quiet. She knew that the beggars from Jiangnan would arrive soon, so Guo Jing and Huang Rong went forth to welcome them. On that day heroes from all around Jianghu arrived and Huang Rong was so busy entertaining the guests that she almost had no time to breathe and of course forgot the events of the previous night.

The next day was the banquet for the ‘Heroes’ Summit, and  the  heroes  sat  around  four  hundred-odd tables, with Xiangyang’s Commander General Lu Wende and Defense Official General Wang Jian offering toasts to the heroes. The people in the banquet hall talked about  the  Mongols’  cruelty  and  how  they invaded Song territory and killed its citizens. All the heroes expressed their indignation and their will to fight the invaders. That night everyone unanimously elected Guo Jing to chair the Meet and they swore to kill the invaders.

Guo Xiang and her sister argued at the temple the other night and she said she would not attend the ‘Heroes’ Summit. Of course she was absent and was instead dining in her own room alone. She told the servant, “Sister is attending the ‘Heroes’ Summit while I’m here comfortably drinking wine. She may not be as happy as I am.” Guo Jing and Huang Rong were occupied with strategies to defeat the enemy, how could they care about what their daughter was doing? Guo Jing did not even know her whereabouts nor bother to find out. Huang Rong asked around but knew her daughter’s strange character so she could only laugh.

Many of the heroes present had great capacity for liquor and felt that the wine was excellent, their spirits were boosted and they displayed their martial skills. Huang Rong missed her daughter and told Guo Fu, “Go get your sister here to join in the fun. This kind of grand occasion occurs only once in a lifetime.”

Guo Fu said, “No way am I going. Sister is unhappy now and is waiting for any opportunity to argue with me, I’m not going to bang my head against the wall.” Guo Polu said, “I’ll get her here.” He hurriedly left and walked towards her room.

After a short while Guo Polu returned alone; before he could say anything Guo Fu said, “Didn’t I say she wouldn’t come?”

Huang Rong saw her son’s face was devoid of colour and asked, “What did she say?”

Guo Polu said, “She said she’s hosting a mini ‘Heroes’ Summit in her room, so she won’t be attending the major ‘Heroes’ Summit.”

Huang Rong smiled, “Only your sister can think of such crazy things, leave her alone.”

Guo Polu said, “But she has guests. Five males and two females are drinking inside Sister’s room.”

Huang Rong frowned and thought that this girl was getting more and more out of hand. How could a young girl invite men to her room to dine? Her ‘Little Eastern Heretic’ nickname was indeed fully deserved, but today there were many guests so she could not be punished and spoil the atmosphere. So she told Guo Fu, “Your brother is young and doesn’t know how to entertain guests, you go. Invite your sister’s friends to the banquet as well, so that we can get to know each other.”

Guo Fu was curious to find out what sort of guests her sister had. She knew her sister did not bother about what was proper between males and females and enjoyed making friends with all kinds of people. She thought these people must be thugs or similar characters. When she heard her mother instruct her to do so, she immediately got up and went to Guo Xiang’s room.

As she stood near the door, she heard Guo Xiang say, “Little Wooden Head, tell the kitchen to send another two pots of wine.” ‘Little Wooden Head’ was a maid and Guo Xiang had given her the unusual nickname. The maid acknowledged the order. Then she heard Guo Xiang say again, “Tell the kitchen to cook another two goats’ legs and 20 jin of beef.” The maid replied affirmatively and exited the room. Then from the room came a rough voice saying, “Miss Guo is frank and straightforward, too bad I, Ren Chuzi, didn’t know that before or I’d have been friends with you long ago.” Guo Xiang laughed, “Becoming friends now is not too late.”

Guo Fu frowned and looked through the window slit. She saw a short table in her sister’s room and there were many wine cups on the table. The eight people were sitting on the floor and drinking merrily. There was a fat man facing her with his shirt exposing half his chest, showing his thick and black chest hair. On his left was a scholar with neat clothes and he was fanning himself lightly with his fan, appearing to be refined. His fan had a drawing of a ghost sticking out its tongue. On his left was a woman of about forty years old with a delicate face, but her face had around ten sword scars. Sitting opposite her was a tall and skinny camel-like man with a shiny golden head-dress and his mouth was biting into half a chicken and eating joyously. There were three whose backs were facing the window, so Guo Fu could not see their faces. She saw that two of them were white haired men while the other was a black-clad priestess. Guo Xiang was sitting in between them and her face was red like an apple, her eyes showed signs of  her consuming liquor and she was talking merrily. Guo Fu thought they were so happy here, if she invited them to the banquet they looked like they would not go.

Then one of the white-haired men stood up and said, “Today’s feast is almost over, on this lady’s birthday, we shall come and drink again. This old man has a small gift; it might make the lady laugh.” As he said that he took out a box and placed it on the table. The other old man said, “Bai Chaoxian, what are you giving her, let me see.” He then flipped open the box and could not help but draw in his breath sharply, saying, “Ah, this is a thousand-year-old snow Ginseng, did you get it from the bottom of the river?” He placed it in his palm.

Guo Fu saw him holding a foot-long snowy white Ginseng, with its ‘head’, ‘body’ ‘hands’ and ‘feet’ all in place and showing a slight trace of red, indicating that it was a rare and exclusive Ginseng root.

The people all praised it and that old man was very proud; then he said, “This snow Ginseng can cure terminal diseases, neutralize hundreds of poisons; it’s even said to be able to resurrect a person. This lady will live to be a hundred, so she doesn’t have to use it. But on her 100th birthday, she just may need to take it so she can live for another 100 years.” The people all clapped and praised him.

The fat Ren Chuzi took out a money box from his bosom and laughed, “This is a small toy, and hopefully it can amuse the lady.” He opened the box and took out two metal-cast monks of around seven inches tall and activated a mechanism, causing the monks to exchange punches and kicks. The people all laughed as they watched this. The monks displayed strokes from Shaolin’s Luo Han boxing, and exchanged dozens of moves before stopping, then standing at attention, which was the style of highly-skilled Shaolin monks.

The people all stopped laughing when they saw this and their faces changed colour. The scar-faced woman said, “Ren Chuzi, don’t bring trouble to Miss Guo! This is the metal Luo Han from the Shaolin Temple, how could you steal them?” Ren Chuzi laughed, “Heh-heh, even if I’m not afraid of the sky or the Earth, I wouldn’t dare steal anything from the Shaolin Temple. This was given to me by Reverend Wuse of the Shaolin Temple’s Luo Han Hall. The elder said when this lady celebrates her birthday, quickly go down to Xiangyang to wish her a happy birthday. Eh, this is my gift.” He took off the inner lid from the box and took out a black jade bangle.

The black bangle looked dull and nothing special. Ren Chuzi then drew a thick-backed ghost-headed knife from his waist and chopped down on the bangle. The knife hit the bangle with a ‘dang’ sound and flew upwards, not even leaving a scratch on the bangle. The people all cheered, then the scholar, priestess, Head Camel and the woman all presented their gifts to Guo Xiang, all highlighting how unique their gifts were. Guo Xiang smiled happily as she received the gifts.

Guo Fu was more and more curious and surprised, so she headed back to the banquet hall and told everything to Huang Rong.

When Huang Rong heard this, she was even more surprised than Guo Fu, so she waved to Zhu Ziliu and the three people went to Guo Xiang’s room. Huang Rong told her daughter to repeat the story. Zhu Ziliu was equally surprised and said, “Ren Chuzi and Bai Chaoxian actually came to Xiangyang? That black- robed priestess should be the Merciless Killer Priestess Shenying. The scholar’s fan has a drawing of a ghost, hmm; he should be the Turning Wheel King Zhang Yimang.” As he said this, Huang Rong nodded her head. Zhu Ziliu kept shaking his head instead, saying, “There’s nothing much to this. Miss Guo has never gone beyond 10 li of Xiangyang except for once recently, how could she get to know such strange people? Moreover, I heard Shaolin Temple’s Reverend Wuse has not shown his face in recent years; even eminent people of Wulin who visit the Shaolin Temple don’t get to see him. Why would he  come  to Xiangyang to wish a girl happy birthday? Hmm, maybe she just wants to fool around with her sister by coming up with this.”

Huang Rong said lowly, “But we seldom mention people like Priestess Shenying and Zhang Yimang, so even if Xiang’er knew, she couldn’t have thought of this.”

Zhu Ziliu said, “Then it must be true. Let’s go take a look and meet them. Since they’re her friends, they wouldn’t have any bad intentions by coming to Xiangyang.”

Huang Rong said, “I think so too, but people like Priestess Shenying and Turning Wheel King Zhang Yimang are hard to classify as good or bad. Although this is not a big problem, it is enough to cause a headache. Here we are defending against the enemy and now we’re not sure how to deal with these weird people…”

Suddenly someone outside the window laughed, saying, “Madam Guo, this group of people are visiting Xiangyang only to convey our birthday wishes, we have no other intentions, why the headache? When the last few words were heard, the voice was already far away. Huang Rong, Zhu Ziliu and Guo Fu went to the window together and saw black shadows flashing out and disappearing behind the wall. Guo Fu wanted to give chase but was held back by Huang Rong, who said, “Don’t bother; you can’t catch up with them!” Then they saw a white fan hanging from a tree branch outside.

That fan was up in the tree about four yards away, Guo Fu knew she couldn’t reach it and called, “Mother!” Huang Rong nodded her head, and lightly leapt forwards and grabbed a branch with her left hand, then flipped around and grabbed another branch with her right hand. She caught the fan and lightly jumped to the ground.

The three people went back indoors and under the candle light, saw the drawing of a ghost sticking out it’s tongue with a silly grin and both hands clutched together. On the side were several words, “Wishing Miss Guo many happy returns  and living to  a ripe  old age.”  Huang Rong flipped  over the  fan and  the words said, “Black-robed priestess Shenying, Bai Chaoxian, Jiu Sisen, Dog-meat Head Camel, Han Wugou and Zhang Yimang greet Hero Guo and Madam Guo. We celebrated your daughter’s birthday without permission, we apologize for the offence.”

Zhu Ziliu was an expert in calligraphy, so he praised, “Good, good calligraphy!” Huang Rong said, “Let’s go see Xiang’er.”

Zhu Ziliu was already quite old and was not suspicious of the girl so they all went into Guo Xiang’s room. They saw Little Wooden Head and another servant clearing the dishes. Guo Xiang said, “Uncle Zhu, Mother, Sister, look at the birthday gifts my guests have given me.”

When Huang Rong and Zhu Ziliu saw the snow Ginseng, twin iron Luo Han statues, black jade bangle and the other presents, they both praised and marveled at them. Guo Xiang activated the mechanism and the two Luo Han statues started to spar, which made her feel really proud. Huang Rong watched the Luo Han perform the Luo Han Boxing. When they had finished she gently asked, “Xiang’er, what’s going on? Tell Mother.”

Guo Xiang laughed and said, “A few new friends knew my birthday is approaching, so they gave me these amusing things.”

Huang Rong asked, “How did you get to know these people?”

Guo Xiang said, “I got to know them only today. I was alone in the room drinking wine, when Sister Han Wugou stood outside the window and asked, ‘Little lady, we’d like to come in and drink with you, alright?’ I said, ‘Nothing could be better, please come in!’ All of them jumped in through the window then said that on the 24th itself they would come and celebrate my birthday. How do they know my birthday? Mother, they are yours and Father’s friends, right? Or why else would they give me such wonderful things?”

Huang Rong said, “Your Father and I don’t know them. You met some strange friends by appointment, true?”

Guo Xiang laughed, “I don’t have any strange friends, unless it’s Brother-in-law.” Guo Fu angrily said, “Rubbish! How can your brother-in-law be a strange man?”

Guo Xiang stuck out her tongue and laughed, “After he married you, how can he not be strange?” Guo Fu stretched out her hand to hit her but Guo Xiang laughed and evaded to the side.

Huang Rong said, “You two stop it. Xiang’er, let me ask you, did the Turning Wheel King, Bai Chaoxian (Hundred Plants Deity) and the others say anything about attending the ‘Heroes’ Summit?”

Guo Xiang said, “No, but they said they admire and respect Father.”

She asked a few more questions and felt that Guo Xiang was not hiding anything so she said, “OK! Go to sleep.” Then she, Zhu Ziliu and Guo Fu went out.

Guo Xiang ran to the door and said, “Mother, this snow Ginseng seems to be rather useful, you take half and Father can take the other half.”

Huang Rong said, “But this was given to you as a birthday present!”

Guo Xiang said, “After I was born I didn’t do anything much, but you have suffered.” Huang Rong did not want to reject her daughter’s filial wishes so she took the Ginseng and thought back  to  Guo  Xiang’s hardships when she was born and sighed.

The ‘Heroes’ Feast had dispersed happily and Guo Jing returned to his room. He told his wife about the heroes’ determination to drive out the enemy and expressed his joy. Huang Rong then told him about Priestess Shenying, Bai Chaoxian etc. visiting Guo Xiang.

Guo Jing was surprised, saying, “There’s such a thing?” Then he looked at the snow Ginseng and knew that it was a rare and precious gift.

Huang Rong laughed, “Looks like our precious lady’s influence far surpasses her parents’.” Guo Jing remained silent and bowed his head, thinking about the people she mentioned.

Huang Rong said, “Brother Jing, maybe we should host the Beggar Clan Leader’s Selection earlier and not postpone Guo Xiang’s birthday. If those people actually come, we might not be able to deal with them while we’re busy with the Leader’s Selection.”

Guo Jing said, “I have another idea. Let’s hold it on her birthday itself instead. Then if they actually turn up we can invite them to battle the enemy with us, won’t that be great?”

Huang Rong frowned and said, “I’m afraid they’re only using Guo Xiang’s birthday as an excuse to come, but are actually coming here to cause trouble. Just think what could their relationship with Xiang’er be? Could they be here just to celebrate her birthday? ‘A big tree will catch more wind’; there might be many people in Wulin who’re not willing to let you be the Chancellor of Wulin.”

Guo Jing stood up and laughed, saying, “Rong’er, when it comes to fighting the enemy, the more people the better. Someone else being the Chancellor of Wulin, it would still be the same. Moreover, evil cannot triumph over good; if they’re really here to create trouble, we’ll entertain them. Your “Dog Beating” skill and my “Eighteen Dragon Subduing Palms” have not seen action for several years but they may not be rusty yet.”

Huang Rong saw that he was in good spirits so she laughed, “OK! We’ll do as you say. You take this Snow Ginseng; I think it’s worth three to five years of training.”

Guo Jing said, “No! You’ve had three children; your internal strength is weakened, so you should take it.”

The husband and wife were very loving and kept pushing the Ginseng to each other for half a day. Guo Jing finally said, “There will be fierce and brutal battles in the coming days and many of our friends will be injured. This snow Ginseng can save many lives, so let’s keep it for then.”

End of Chapter 35. 

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