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Thread: Legend of the White Haired Demoness - Unabridged

  1. #21
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 20

    Chapter 20
    A Flute melody
    Broadcasted over the mountain
    Waking up from many years of dream
    Becoming a widow in shame
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Tie Shanhu put the flute on her lips and blew as hard as she could. The pitch of the flute sounded higher and higher while retaining its clarity.

    "Ha!" Jin Duyi said, "You are still in the mood to play flute?" Suddenly he felt the ground beneath his feet was shaking, followed by a distant rumble from the top of the mountain.

    "Not good!" Ying Xiuyang cried out, "Avalanche!"

    All of a sudden big mountain rocks, mixed with ice and snow, rolled down the mountain slope. Actually, the accumulation of snow on the mountain peaks on either side of the Bright Moon Gorge was just about to melt due to the warm spring weather. Every year when the snow melts, all the valley passes would be sealed by the rocks and mud from the peaks.

    Murong Chong and his two companions' martial art skills were outstanding, amidst the rolling and flying rocks and snow, they soared high into the sky toward the valley below. In the deafening rumbling noise, with dust and sand filling the air, they saw Tie Shanhu ran desperately.

    "That way!" Murong Chong called out. With arms lifted high, he kicked the ground and flew up and pounced down. Tie Shanhu blew another short arrow, but this time Murong Chong had anticipated it, his palm swept horizontally, striking the short arrow down. His left hand moved down, grabbing while he fell back down, he caught Tie Shanhu's neck. Instantly half of Tie Shanhu's body felt wooden, she was unable to move a single step.

    "Lian Jiejie, come here, quick!" she called out.

    Murong Chong laughed. "That's what I want, I want to wait for your Lian Jiejie!"

    The noise of the avalanche gradually stopped. Murong Chong turned his head around to look, the valley pass was completely blocked by mud and rocks, if they did not possess excellent qinggong, they would not be able to climb down from the steep cliff over yonder. Other than Jin Duyi and Ying Xiuyang, who were already in the valley, the other Guards were cut off at the other side of the valley.

    Murong Chong pulled Tie Shanhu up and anxiously said, “Our brethrens are on the other side, if Yu Luocha attacked with her female troops, we would be heavily outnumbered!”

    Ying Xiuyang said, “Since we have this girl, we’d better go back first. Yu Luocha’s martial art is superb, her courage reaches the heavens; if we have her sworn sister in our hands, she would definitely risk her life to save her. At that time, she will be playing on our field, we control the rule, which will add to our advantage.”

    “Very well,” Murong Chong said, “In that case, let’s hurry up and climb out of this place.”

    The three of them climbed the cliff. Murong Chong’s martial art was outstanding; although his qinggong was not as amazing as Yu Luocha’s, it could be considered extraordinary. Holding Tie Shanhu, he was still able to climb the cliff as easily as walking on a level road. Ying Xiuyang’s martial art was slightly inferior, but with nothing in his hands, he was able to follow easily. Jin Duyi had the worst of the three; although his martial art skill was high, his ankle wound had not completely healed, walking on a plain, he would not have any problem, but leaping and climbing was especially hard for him, he was forced to rest every several steps.

    Murong Chong was impatient, he said to Ying Xiuyang, “Help him up!”

    Ying Xiuyang’s qinggong was barely enough to support himself, he did not want to do it, but it was Murong Chong’s order, he had no choice but to brace himself and turn around to help Jin Duyi. Murong Chong waited while resting his legs. Suddenly Tie Shanhu, whom he grabbed tight by his side, let out a shriek.

    “Do you want to die?” Murong Chong harshly shouted. When he looked up, he saw a shadow appear on the mountain top. The shadow flew down like a shooting star

    “It’s Yu Luocha!” Jin Duyi was scared.

    Murong Chong sealed Tie Shanhu’s acupoint and placed her on the side. He waited for the enemy with rapt attention, and saw that the shadow on the mountain was actually not one, but two people, one in the front was leading the other one. The shadow did not fly straight down, but rather, it flitted across each peak, rushing down from the other side of the Bright Moon Gorge. This person looked like a woman. The other shadow appeared and disappeared intermittently between the strange and dangerous-looking rocks. Although this person’s facial features could not be seen clearly, it was obvious that he was not a woman.

    Back to Yu Luocha and Zhou Yihang who climbed to the mountain top to look into the distance. Suddenly they heard distant thunder amidst the mountain breeze. "Avalanche on the outlying hills!" Yu Luocha exclaimed, "Shanhu Meizi[1]must be blocked outside!"

    She was just going to descend the mountain when from the opposite peak suddenly a shadow appeared to be flying toward them. When they looked closer, they recognized the shadow as Red Flower Demon Matriarch.

    "Red Flower Demon Matriarch is back, she must have been misled by others," Zhuo Yihang said, "Lian Jiejie, you must be careful."

    "You wait for her here," Yu Luocha said, "I am going to the stronghold and be back in a moment." She turned around and dashed back to the stronghold. Zhuo Yihang waited alone on the peak, Red Flower Demon Matriarch arrived in a flash.

    What happened was that when Red Flower Demon Matriarch left the Bright Moon Gorge at dawn, she was half believing, half doubting what Yu Luocha had told her. She thought, 'That thief husband of mine has been warned and advised time and again, but he does not change, so his misdemeanor is to be expected.' She also thought, 'No, it's impossible; he slipped out only a few days ago, not only that, on the second day I have already left to pursue him, he would not have time to flee to Murong Chong and plan to do evil together.' Little did she know that when he escaped this time, Jin Duyi was in cahoots with Ying Xiuyang. They took advantage of Red Flower Demon Matriarch who went out to visit a friend to sneak out and escape along a pre-arranged route.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch's heart was full of suspicions, she mused, 'Yu Luocha said he went to the Qing Xu Monastery, I will go to Qing Xu Monastery to inquire.' Red Flower Demon Matriarch did not know that Priest White Stone was still at the Qing Xu Monastery. When they met, they provoked each other that a big fight almost ensued. During the heated argument, Red Flower Demon Matriarch learned that her husband was indeed at the Qing Xu Monastery earlier, and that he was indeed stabbed by Yu Luocha.

    "Who has time to mind your husband?" Priest White Stone scolded, "Running here to look for your husband; what a big joke! You want to find your man? Ask Yu Luocha! Humph, humph! Yu Luocha's sword might not be forgiving, your man must have fallen under that demoness' evil scheme! You look for her, she might not necessarily give you back your man alive!" Priest White Stone wanted to frustrate her plan, although he had numerous disciples in the monastery, he actually dreaded Red Flower Demon Matriarch, thereupon he provoked her intentionally, implementing the 'shifting the disaster to the east of the river' tactic.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was anxious to save her husband, she was not in the mood to fight the Wudang Pai. As soon as she heard him, she rushed out of the monastery. It was not until she reached the monastery gate that she remembered something. She turned her head and asked, "What about that Yue Mingke?"

    Priest White Stone's countenance sank. "Who would want to leisurely mind other people's business with you? I don't know!" Wudang disciples immediately slammed the gate shut.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was very angry, she wanted to leap back into the monastery, but then she remembered: husband's life or death was unclear; if he was indeed harmed by Yu Luocha, why would she want to stay in here and mess with White Stone?

    As Red Flower Demon Matriarch hurriedly went down the mountain, again she came to the part of the city where she met Murong Chong earlier. By this time the hungry people robbing the granary had already dispersed, the wounded Guards had been brought back to the city. When she arrived, Red Flower Demon Matriarch's ears were immediately assaulted by the sound of miserable wailing and groaning, which shook her to her core. As soon as they were within her sight, she saw the injured was eight or even nine out of ten; all were stabbed by the sword on their acupoints, definitely it was Yu Luocha’s handiwork!

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch did not see Murong Chong, neither did she see Ying Xiuyang, so she asked the remaining Guards, who had been instructed by Ying Xiuyang early on to give this answer: “Chief Murong and Chief Ying are out to save Old Father Jin! Senior may go to the Bright Moon Gorge to find them.”

    “Why do I have to go to the Bright Moon Gorge?” Red Flower Demon Matriarch asked.

    “Ah,” the Guard exclaimed, “So Senior does not know it? Senior Jin was stabbed by Yu Luocha and was kidnapped by her.”

    “What about that Yue Mingke?” Red Flower Demon Matriarch, “Ay, also, is it true that Military Commissioner Xiong was executed by the Imperial Court?”

    “Yue Mingke?” the Guard said, “Mmm, right, must be that Yue Mingke! He is such a nameless peon, how do you, Senior, know about him? I heard he was to be executed together with the Commander. He should not enter the state treasury and steal things. The Imperial Court wants to recover those things, and that is exactly why we were sent to hunt and capture him. As for why Xiong Tingbi was being executed, that, we ourselves are not clear. I heard he was charged with treason, for collaborating with the foreign power.” As soon as Red Flower Demon Matriarch finished her inquiry, she left town and hurried toward the Bright Moon Gorge.

    When she almost arrived, Red Flower Demon Matriarch could see the pursuing Guards from a distance. Hastily she caught up with them to inquire, but suddenly she heard the thundering noise of the avalanche. By this time Jin Duyi and Murong Chong had already reached the third valley pass, while Red Flower Demon Matriarch had just reached the first valley pass. When she heard the noise, the avalanche of snow had sealed the mountain. She stopped to ask the left behind Guard, and naturally that Guard was Ying Xiuyang’s disciple, whose craftiness was not inferior to his master.

    “We are here to rescue Old Father Jin,” the Guard replied, “On our way here we clashed with her gang of female bandit. It’s good that you, Senior, is here! The avalanche of snow sealed up the mountain, we can’t pass through, you can climb the mountain wall, bypass the mountain pass and go to the Bright Moon Gorge.”

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch thought it was a good idea. Avoiding the front of the avalanche, she unleashed her qinggong to climb to the mountain peak.

    By the time she reached the peak, Murong Chong and the others were still climbing the cliff. They happened to be hidden by the rocks protruding on the cliff’s surface, also by the vine growing on the cracks of the rock wall. Consequently, Red Flower Demon Matriarch was completely oblivious that her husband was underneath her and hence she narrowly missed him.

    Just at that time, suddenly she saw another shadow appear on the other side of the mountain peak, as swift as a shooting star flying down the remote valley. Red Flower Demon Matriarch thought, “That kind of qinggong is truly out of the ordinary, it appears almost on par with Yu Luocha’s. I wonder who this highly skilled master of the present age is?” Red Flower Demon Matriarch tried to remember all skilled martial artists from various schools of the Jianghu, but no one had this kind of ability, thereupon she could not figure out which senior master, whom she presumed had lived in seclusion, had come to visit.

    In normal times, when she saw this kind of master, Red Flower Demon Matriarch would immediately run after him to get acquainted. But right now, first of all, her heart was set to rescue her husband; secondly, she did not know whether this person was a friend or a foe? If he was a foe, no doubt they would try to kill each other; if he was a friend, they would also waste some time in exchanging some conventional greetings. The Bright Moon Gorge was just ahead, Red Flower Demon Matriarch did not want to waste her time by tarrying in that place.

    Having seen that dark shadow flow down the deep valley, she took a deep breath and also dashed lightly from the hill top across the mountain peaks one by one, until she arrived at Yu Luocha’s stronghold on top of the Bright Moon Gorge.

    In the meantime, Zhuo Yihang was looking into the distance from the mountain top, his heart was beating fast in anxiety. In a flash Red Flower Demon Matriarch had arrived. “Where is Yu Luocha?” she asked sternly.

    Zhuo Yihang cupped his fists and bowed. “Senior has come to visit, I wonder what advice do you have for us?” he asked politely.

    “I don’t care about you, just tell Yu Luocha to come over here!” Red Flower Demon Matriarch replied.

    “Senior, please wait here for a moment, she will be back momentarily,” Zhuo Yihang said.

    Seeing the gate of the stronghold was tightly closed, Red Flower Demon Matriarch said, “Humph, you are just stalling on her behalf. Lao Niang[2]will not fall into your trick.” Red Flower Demon Matriarch thought that Yu Luocha realized she was in the wrong and thus did not dare to meet Red Flower Demon Matriarch, so she must be closing the stronghold gate and sneaking out from the back of the stronghold and going down the mountain.

    In her impatience, she pushed Zhuo Yihang aside with her left palm, and rushed forward while exerting her school’s internal energy to her crutch. With a loud grunt she struck the stronghold gate that it cracked open, followed by a hack with her palm that the gate collapsed. The female troops inside scattered around in confusion.

    Yu Luocha rushed in and angrily shouted, “Red Flower Demon Matriarch, you dare to destroy my stronghold’s gate?” ‘Shua, shua!’ her sword went straight toward Red Flower Demon Matriarch’s heart.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch shook her crutch to block, like a flying bird Yu Luocha flitted across the top of her head and landed on a higher position. "Come, come!" she shouted, "Let's fight for another three hundred stances!"

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch waved her hand backward and shouted, "Yu Luocha, you dare to lie to me, give me back my man, otherwise, I am not going to let you rest!"

    Yu Luocha knew very well that Red Flower Demon Matriarch was fooled by others, but she hated her for breaking down the stronghold gate; her anger rose to the top of her head, she did not care right or wrong anymore. With a cold laugh she shouted, "If you don't fix my stronghold gate, I may know you, but my sword does not. Even if you let me rest, I won't let you rest!" While still speaking, her sword had already made six, seven deadly attacks with extremely fast speed!

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was also furious, her dragon-head crutch swept across with loud whooshing noise. She fought Yu Luocha fiercely in front of the stronghold! Red Flower Demon Matriarch wanted to rescue her husband, plus she hated Yu Luocha for being rude to her, hence she went all-out with the intention to kill the opponent. The crutch was as heavy as the mountain. Yu Luocha had painstakingly trained her internal energy on the Bright Moon Gorge for the last three years, yet she found it was really not easy to block the crutch. But Yu Luocha's qinggong was outstanding, Red Flower Demon Matriarch struck the sand and stone around her that it swirled in the air, but she could not hit her!

    "Ha," suddenly Yu Luocha laughed, "For more than three years I haven't had this much fun!"

    When a chess player meets his match, his spirit will rise. Yu Luocha brought the full power of her school's unique sword technique to the unprecedented level. Her sword style unfolded, the sword dance in the air like a divine dragon, stabbing and hacking, thrusting and retreating, going up and down, sometimes real sometimes fake, each stance hid several other variations, each one was amazing to the extreme.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch failed to rein her under control. "Fine!" she shouted angrily, "I will go all out against you!" Her crutch and palm alternated, her strikes grew more and more vicious. The crutch hacked, swept, coiled and struck, just like a sudden clap of thunder, every single one aimed at one of Yu Luocha's vital points. Her left palm carried an earth-shattering power, the gust of wind from it pushed the tip of Yu Luocha's sword aside.

    Watching from the side, Zhuo Yihang was very anxious. "If you have something to say, let's talk!" he shouted, "Senior Jin is really not here!" But both sides were staking everything they had in this fierce battle, neither side was willing to yield, neither side was even willing to talk, each one returned an attack for an attack, in less than a hour, they had already fought for more than 300 stances!

    This fierce battle was not the same as their fight on the Mimo Cliff a few years previously. Last time there were Priest White Stone and Tie Feilong fought two battles first, draining Red Flower Demon Matriarch's strength considerably, and then there was Yue Mingke's glove, which gave Yu Luocha quite a bit of advantage. This time both of them were using their full power. Although Yu Luocha's sword stances were ruthless, her qinggong was amazing, her internal energy was still inferior to the opponent's, hence after fighting for a long time, her breathing became labored and she fell into a disadvantageous position.

    Zhuo Yihang was completely at a loss, he wanted to intervene, but could not enter the battle. Suddenly he heard Red Flower Demon Matriarch shout, "Take this!" In one fluid motion the dragon-head crutch swept upward and swiftly went back down, quick as lightning it pressed down Yu Luocha's sword, and then her left palm swept, it went straight to slap Yu Luocha's face!

    The female troops cried out in alarm, but they heard Yu Luocha's tender laughter, "Not now!" It was not clear how she did it, but in that seemingly impossible situation, her sword suddenly arose from under Red Flower Demon Matriarch's crutch, turned around, and a tooth for a tooth, it went straight toward the pit of Red Flower Demon Matriarch's stomach.

    It turned out after the battle at the Mimo Cliff, Yu Luocha came to the realization that the Red Flower Demon Matriarch was the most formidable opponent in her entire life, thereupon she took a lot of trouble thinking about how to deal with her staff technique. Although her internal strength was inferior to the opponent's, which make it impossible for her to compete strength for strength, actually she had a very good grasp of Red Flower Demon Matriarch's staff technique. In the face of danger, she utilized her outstanding qinggong and escaped suddenly from the opponent's two converging attacks.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was confident that this time Yu Luocha would not be able to dodge; who would have thought that she was still able to escape. Unconsciously a feeling of fondness of this kind of skill grew in her heart, she thought, "This baby girl is so young, yet she is able to train to this level, it really is not easy! If she did not kill that thief husband of mine, I might just let her go." Her crutch swayed, she shook Yu Luocha's sword aside.

    As they both were slowing down, Red Flower Demon Matriarch spoke harshly, "That thief husband of mine, is he alive or is he dead? Aren't you going to tell me?"

    Yu Luocha laughed. "How do I know whether he is alive or dead?" she replied.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch's anger had reached the top of her head. "Didn't you stab him? How come you do not know?" she asked.

    "That's right," Yu Luocha replied, "I did stab him, but when I did, he was obviously still alive. Whether right now he is dead or alive, how do I know?"

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch's heart ached, she still believed that her husband was captured by Yu Luocha and was about to die from his injury, and that's why Yu Luocha said what she said. "Take me to see him in the stronghold," she roared, "If he is not dead yet, you must help him quickly, if he is dead, humph, I'll take your life as compensation."

    With a cold laugh Yu Luocha said, "If you have the ability, go in by yourself!" She held her sword across her chest, ready to fight again.

    Zhuo Yihang anxiously called out, "Senior Jin is really not here!"

    "Where is he?" Red Flower Demon Matriarch shouted back.

    Zhuo Yihang replied, "When he was stabbed last night, he rolled down the hill. I think he returned to the city to look for Murong Chong."

    "Nonsense!" Red Flower Demon Matriarch said, "Murong Chong is just outside the valley, he is delayed by the avalanche but will be here shortly. If he returned to the city, why would Murong Chong come over here to save him?"

    Yu Luocha's heart was shaken, she mused, "I am having fun here, fighting her to my heart's content, unexpectedly Murong Chong is here to attack. I am afraid Shanhu Meimei is pursued by them. Shanhu Meimei is not their match." Thereupon she said urgently, "If that's the case, let's find Murong Chong and confront him directly, won't that be a lot more convenient?"

    With a cold laugh Red Flower Demon Matriarch said, "Saving people is like fighting the fire. Since you have stabbed his vital acupoint, how can I still have time to leisurely visit Murong Chong with you?"

    Yu Luocha laughed in glee, "Who said I stabbed his vital acupoint?" she said, "Your husband's martial art skill is nothing but ordinary. Let me be frank with you, I did want to stab his vital acupoint, but he was able to dodge quickly, at most I only managed to stab the area around his ankle, what are you worrying about?"

    "Are you serious?" Red Flower Demon Matriarch asked, "So he is really not here? Humph, Yu Luocha, don't lie to me. When I asked you earlier, why didn't you say something about his injury?"

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud. "This minor matter is also worth mentioning?" she said, "Let me ask you: when you lost your face, would you casually mention it to others?"

    "What?" Red Flower Demon Matriarch said, "When did I ever lose my face? Are you talking about the last time we met at the Mimo Cliff? That time you took turn fighting me, it did not count!"

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "I was just drawing an analogy. Your husband's martial art skill is obviously inferior to mine, but I still failed to stab his vital acupoint. Doesn't it mean I lost my face? Of course I am embarrassed to mention it."

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was both angry and amused. "Humph," she mused, "I did not expect you to be this proud!" But because of that, she believed her. "All right," she said, "Let's go!"

    Surprisingly, Yu Luocha coldly said, "No you can't!"

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch as astonished, "Didn't you say you want to see Murong Chong for a direct confrontation?" she asked.

    "That's right," Yu Luocha replied, "But you broke my stronghold's gate, you must apologize to me; as for the repair of the gate, I'll let you wait until after we see Murong Chong."

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was livid, stamping her crutch, she said, "Yu Luocha, you dare to patronize me?"

    "I am the master of the stronghold," Yu Luocha said, "Breaking the gate of my stronghold is the same as overthrowing the Emperor's dragon bed, or tearing down the escort banner of an escort agency. Don't you understand the custom of the Jianghu? Quickly apologize, then we'll go find Murong Chong."

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was startled, there was indeed such custom in the Jianghu. But this matter was not clear yet, whether her husband was in the stronghold had not been determined, how could she lower herself and offer an apology? She said angrily, "You want me to apologize? Alright! You may fight my crutch again, if my crutch bows to you, then I will also bow to you."

    Zhuo Yihang was very anxious, he blamed Yu Luocha for raising up new issues, who would have thought Yu Luocha was extremely stubborn and unyielding. With a cold laugh she said, "Then we'll fight for three hundred stances more! Yihang, go down the mountain, see if Shanhu Meimei has returned."

    Angrily Red Flower Demon Matriarch brandished her crutch with the stance 'Wild Goose Fall on Flat Sand', sweeping the waist and striking the leg.

    "Very good!" Yu Luocha called out, she swayed and leaped suddenly that the dragon-head crutch swept pass underneath her feet. While in the air, Yu Luocha did not slow down the least bit, with the move 'White Rainbow Piercing the Sun' from high in the sky she struck down. Red Flower Demon Matriarch raised her crutch horizontally to parry. 'Crash!' the sword and the crutch collided. Yu Luocha bounced back up. Borrowing the momentum, she leaped several zhang sideways.

    Suddenly they heard intermittent sound of flute, faint and faraway, the sound was thin and clear, majestic like a silk thread floating in the air, sometimes it was a burst of short staccato, sometimes it was a long note, as if it came from the outer space, or came down from among the clouds; Yu Luocha's countenance abruptly changed. As Red Flower Demon Matriarch's crutch struck by, Yu Luocha brandished her sword to divert the attack while calling out, "All right, we'll talk about your apology later after we confront Murong Chong."

    "Do you think I care about your joke?" Red Flower Demon Matriarch said, while raising her crutch to strike again. In the meantime, the flute sounded even more clear and melodious. Red Flower Demon Matriarch had also heard it. She felt the flute was filled with unbounded grief, but was also brimming with anger. Red Flower Demon Matriarch's heart shook. Without meaning it, she blurted, "Who plays the flute in here?"

    "Tie Feilong's daughter, Tie Shanhu," Yu Luocha replied, "The avalanche has closed up the mountain, I think she is trapped."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "If Senior Jin's injury is not heavy, chances are he is here with Murong Chong. Aiya! Not good!" He was thinking that if Tie Shanhu was surrounded, she would not escape Murong Chong and the others' evil clutches.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch's heart was shaken. She also called out inwardly, "Aiya! Not good!" Because she thought, 'I was convinced that that thief husband is with Yu Luocha in here, it never occurred to me that he might come together with Murong Chong. If he did come, with the sword wound has not healed yet, how would he escape the avalanche disaster?' And then she thought, 'If he did come, ay, ay, won't that mean Yu Luocha is telling the truth? That as soon as he left home, he immediately did bad deeds? Ay! How can I explain to Yu Luocha? Will I have to personally cripple him and just turn a deaf ear to her insult? Humph, humph, no, I can't do that! We are, after all, husband and wife for several decades! Aiya! That won't do! But neither can I cover up for him, since won't I forever be the laughingstock of the Wulin?'

    While waves of disquieting thoughts were burning in Red Flower Demon Matriarch's mind, Yu Luocha's heart was also burning with anxiety from hearing Tie Shanhu's flute sound. In her heart she was scolding herself for messing around with Red Flower Demon Matriarch. Brandishing her sword to get away, she called out, "Even if you are not coming, I still want to go! If you have a thick skin, you may stay here and bully my female troops!"

    "Pei!" Red Flower Demon Matriarch spat, "This matter must come to light[3], even if you fly to the end of the earth, I will come with you!" Her crutch pushed the earth, her body flew up, following close behind Yu Luocha. In the meantime, although he had used up his entire ability, Zhuo Yihang still fell several dozen zhang behind.

    After Yue Mingke left the Qing Xu Monastery the previous night, he hid himself in the mountain forest. By the fourth watch of the night, he heard noisy footsteps as he saw Murong Chong and his large group of men went down the mountain, with each one carrying or supporting his wounded companion. "Hey," Yue Mingke mused, "Surprisingly, Priest White Stone is not bad at all. Murong Chong and the others suffer a crushing defeat under the Wudang Pai." He did not know that Yu Luocha had come and gone, because he took a different route going down the mountain from Yu Luocha going up, hence they did not see each other.

    Yue Mingke had been on the run for several days, plus he had just out of a fierce battle, so his strength was depleted. Seeing Murong Chong and his men went far, he was relieved and said in his heart, "I'd better sleep for a while, and then after dawn return to apologize to Priest White Stone and take my leave from Zhuo Xiong."

    He did not know how long he had been sleeping when suddenly a noise awakened him. Yue Mingke was sleeping in between two large rocks. He took a peek from the opening between the rocks and saw a hideous-looking old woman, with a big red flower stuck on her temple. She was mumbling indistinctively, but she strode as if she were flying as she dashed toward the city. Yue Mingke was startled. Could it be this person was the Red Flower Demon Matriarch? It looked like her qinggong was not inferior to his own, she disappeared from his sight quickly. Yue Mingke sprang up. He tidied up his clothes and hat, and then went back up the mountain and knocked on the Qing Xu Monastery's door.

    Priest White Stone had been subsequently harassed by Yu Luocha and Red Flower Demon Matriarch, so he was still very angry. Who would have thought that Yue Mingke would appear as soon as Red Flower Demon Matriarch has left. As soon as Priest White Stone saw him, his anger rose again. Yue Mingke performed the ritual to show respect to a senior, he bowed with cupped fists in front of Priest White Stone and asked, "Is Zhuo Xiong well?"

    Priest White Stone angrily said, "Aren't you all together with that witch Yu Luocha?"

    "What?" Yue Mingke was surprised.

    "You are still pretending. Yu Luocha has kidnapped our Sect Leader!" Priest White Stone replied.

    Yue Mingke was even more surprised, "Really? Is there really such matter?" he asked, "So Yu Luocha is also in Guangyuan?"

    Priest White Stone grew even more angry, "Yue Mingke," he scolded, "As a junior you are really too audacious, it's all right for you to frame us, Wudang Pai, that we oppose the government authorities, but why do you collude with Yu Luocha to make fun of us?"

    To have their Sect Leader kidnapped, the shame that Sect must bear was not light, that was the reason Priest White Stone's resentment appeared in his speech and countenance.

    Yue Mingke bowed respectfully and replied, "About last night, I, Junior, admit my guilt. However, about collusion with Yu Luocha, I believe Senior misunderstood!"

    'Swish!' Priest White Stone drew his sword and shouted, "Just for last night, you should eat my sword! It's not enough for you to simply apologize for such an important matter!"

    Priest White Stone's Sequential Life-snatching Sword Technique was fast and nimble to the extreme, while he was still talking, he had already launched several stances. Yue Mingke hastily pulled out his sword to block. With a loud 'Dang! he shook Priest White Stone's sword aside.

    Priest White Stone called out, "Wudang disciples, aren't you going to make your move?"

    Yue Mingke feigned a sword attack, but he jumped out the main gate and like flying he ran away! Priest White Stone was not able to run after him and was very angry at himself!

    Yue Mingke was very disheartened by Xiong Tingbi's death, several times he thought about shaving his head and become a Buddhist monk, and returned to Tianshan[4]. It was because there was a Tie Shanhu in his mind that he was still indecisive. As we know, Yu Luocha had proposed marriage on impulse, which Yue Mingke responded improperly, and was heard by Tie Feilong, father and daughter. As a result, Tie Shanhu was angry and ran away. Yue Mingke deeply regretted the incident and felt it was his duty to find Tie Shanhu and offer her an apology before he could have a clear conscience. Because of the flurry of military activity, he had not had any chance to realize his desire. Now that he heard that Yu Luocha had appeared the previous night, he thought, 'Since Yu Luocha is here, she must know Tie Shanhu's whereabouts. Although she does not get along with me well, I still need to find her and ask.' Thereupon Yue Mingke went down the mountain to inquire further and found that Yu Luocha was at the Bright Moon Gorge. Nine out of ten Guangyuan residents knew about it. Yue Mingke also asked the direction toward the Bright Moon Gorge and immediately left.

    In the meantime, Red Flower Demon Matriarch had also just left the city heading toward the Bright Moon Gorge. However, with one in front of the other, both Yue Mingke and Red Flower Demon Matriarch did not know the presence of the other.

    When he was near the Bright Moon Gorge, Yue Mingke also saw the pursuing Guards in the valley, and saw the escaping female troops on the hillside. He was greatly surprised. Thereupon he stopped a female troop and asked.

    Seeing he was not one of the Guards, the female troop asked his identity. "I am your Lian Zhaizhu's[5] friend," Yue Mingke replied.

    It was only then did the female troop realize that Yue Mingke was able to climb the mountain swifter than the monkeys, she presumed he must be a Wulin master, so he said happily, "Then you must quickly save our Tie Zhaizhu! She is being chased by the falcons and dogs, and has just entered the mountain pass over there."

    "Who?" Yue Mingke jumped in shock.

    "Don't you know our Tie Zhaizhu?" the female troop asked, "She is the daughter of Old Hero Tie of the northwest, her given name is Shanhu."

    She had not finished speaking, Yue Mingke had already dashed away like flying. Like a clump of white shadow he weaved amidst the dangerous cliffs spread around that valley. Yue Mingke's qinggong was almost on par with Yu Luocha's, although they had good eyesight, the pursuing Guards only saw a white shadow flitted across the hills; nobody knew whether it was a ghost or a human, so nobody dared to even speak about intercepting it.

    By the time Yue Mingke reached the first mountain pass, Tie Shanhu had just entered the third pass. When she played the flute the first time to alert Yu Luocha, she only played several notes and was cut off by the avalanche, so Yu Luocha did not hear it (Yu Luocha did hear the second time she blew the flute), but Yue Mingke did hear it.

    As soon as Yue Mingke heard the flute, his heart went wild with joy. "Thank heavens, it really is she!" he mumbled to himself. And then suddenly he heard the loud thunderous noise in the valley, echoed on the ten thousand peaks, an ear-splitting noise. Yue Mingke grew up in the northwest, so he was familiar with avalanche, hastily he jumped to a higher hilltop.

    The avalanche stopped a moment later. Yue Mingke quickly jumped over several mountaintops. He saw the third mountain pass in the distance; it was completely covered with snow. He looked into the distance, but did not see anybody ahead. He thought, 'Shanhu Meimei must be trapped underneath the deep valley. It would be really bad if the enemy also escaped the avalanche!' Taking a deep breath, he unleashed his qinggong's full potential and glided down from the peak.

    It was at this time that Red Flower Demon Matriarch was flitting across the peaks, about several zhang above him. Yue Mingke heard the wind and when he glanced upward, he saw Red Flower Demon Matriarch. He felt it strange and mused, "She was at the Qing Xu Monastery, and now she is rushing here to the Bright Moon Gorge, I wonder what her intention is?" But Yue Mingke's heart was set on rescuing Tie Shanhu, so he did not wish to do anything with Red Flower Demon Matriarch. His hands pulled the tangle of vines, his feet stepped on the cracks on the cliff's surface, in a short time he reached the waist of the mountain. Suddenly he heard Murong Chong shouting loudly, "You must not leave!"

    Yue Mingke took a quick look and saw Murong Chong was laughing maliciously, while by his side he was grabbing the person Yue Mingke yearned day and night, Tie Shanhu. Yue Mingke was shocked and angered, drawing his sword from its sheathe he called out, "I'll fight you to the death!"

    Murong Chong swung Tie Shanhu behind him while saying with a laugh, "Very good, go ahead!"

    Yue Mingke called out, "You dare to harm a single strand of your hair, today the three of you and I will die together in this valley!"

    Jin Duyi suddenly yelled, "Let's get down and talk!"

    Because his ankle was painful from the stab wound, Jin Duyi was relying on Ying Xiuyang to support him, consequently, both of them were feeling the strain. Jin Duyi thought, 'If we don't dig out of the mountain pass sealed by the avalanche, I am afraid climbing this mountain would be more difficult than ascending to the heavens.' Seeing Yue Mingke's anxiousness, he thought it would be better to use Tie Shanhu to coerce him, to have him implore Yu Luocha that she would send her female troops to open up a pathway.

    Murong Chong, however, had another scheme: Yue Mingke was the man most wanted by Wei Zhongxian; not only he was more important than Tie Shanhu, he was also a lot more important than Yu Luocha! Only, Yue Mingke's martial art was superior, a fierce combat with him would be unavoidable. Supposing the three of them fought together, it might be possible to seize him, but it would not be a short battle; if Yu Luocha should appear with her troops, then they would not be able to escape. Therefore, he also wanted to use Tie Shanhu to coerce Yue Mingke.

    Yue Mingke followed them to the bottom of the valley. With a cold laugh Murong Chong said, "Yue Mingke, what do you want?"

    Yue Mingke looked at Tie Shanhu. Her face was deathly pale, her hair was in disorder, her clothes were tattered; he could not help but feeling extremely grieved. In a loud voice he cried out, "What kind of hero are you, bullying a woman? Let her go!"

    "Humph," Murong Chong sneered, "It's easy for you to say! I will let her go if you nicely come with us back to Beijing to face the court."

    Yue Mingke took another glance toward Tie Shanhu and grimly said, "Following you to Beijing, that shouldn't be difficult, but how do I know she is not injured?"

    Murong Chong stretched out his finger to unseal Tie Shanhu's acupoint. Tie Shanhu called out, "Dage, don't go with him to Beijing!"

    Murong Chong laughed and said, "Don't you see? She is not injured at all! We'll make a fair deal, I will definitely not mutilate her to cheat you into entering Beijing."

    Yue Mingke rolled his eyes, he thought: 'I have already given the book Military Commissioner left behind to Zhuo Yihang, I have nothing else to worry, I'd better risk my life and come with him to Beijing. Only I do not know whether Shanhu Meimei has fallen under his treachery or not, if he shook her heart using his internal energy, although she might be able to endure it momentarily, but in ten days to half a month, she would die eventually. This cannot be seen clearly. If she is injured, I must try to rescue her and treat her wound immediately.'

    "Dage," Tie Shanhu called out again, "Don't fall into his trick!"

    Yue Mingke said, "Try taking a deep breath, see if your ribs ache?"

    "Ridiculous!" Murong Chong called out, "Do you think I, Murong Chong, am the kind of man who would plot against women and children?"

    Tie Shanhu's mind was stirred. She took a deep breath, and then deliberately said, "Seems to be a little bit sore."

    Murong Chong's countenance fell, "You are just faking it!"

    Tie Shanhu said, "Let me play my flute and have Dage listen to it."

    "That's right," Yue Mingke said, "Try playing your flute, by listening to it, I will be able to tell whether you are injured or not."

    "Fine," Murong Chong said, "Play then!" He called Jin Duyi, "Come here!" He pulled Tie Shanhu aside and told Jin Duyi, "Watch her, don't let her play any tricks!"

    Jin Duyi pressed one hand on her shoulder blade, and pressed the other hand on the middle of her back. Jin Duyi's Venomous Sand Palm was unparalleled under the heavens; although his qinggong was somewhat reduced because of the injury, his palm was still exceptionally powerful. With both hands threatening Tie Shanhu vital points, if she made a slight wrong move, he would immediately send out his power. Even if Tie Shanhu's martial art skill was ten times higher, her internal organs[6] would be shattered by him!

    Murong Chong released his grip on Tie Shanhu and pushed her between Jin Duyi and Yue Mingke, while staring at Yue Mingke all the time to guard against any sudden attack; we could say that he was a hundred percent alert. "All right," he said, "Lowly girl, why haven’t you played?"

    Tie Shanhu's heart was filled with unbounded grief and hurt, she put the jade flute on her lips and gently blew several notes. The flute sound was very tender, but gradually it went higher and higher. At first the melody carried a joyous feeling, just like a warm sunny day in the spring, when the flowers bloom, when a pair of lovers walk hand-in-hand, whispering sweet words to each other. Yue Mingke could not help but remembering the days when they were travelling together over ten thousand li, when they were trying horses at a suburb in the spring; it was as if his spirit was intoxicated by the melody.

    Suddenly the flute changed, as if from the warm sunny day of spring, when the flowers bloom, now it was late autumn, when the trees shook down their leaves, when the lone goose wailed, when the cicadas let out their mournful cry in the winter. Yue Mingke recalled how she wandered in Jianghu, alone and pitiful; his heart was filled with a guilty conscience.

    The flute changed again. This time the pitch grew higher, the sound was more mournful, like the cry of the mermaids in the night, or the weeping of the apes of the Three Gorges; within the sorrow, there was a hint of anger. Yue Mingke mused, 'I really should not refuse to marry her, making her so sad.'

    The flute changed three times, the sound was thin and clear, graceful like a silk thread floating in the air, beyond anybody's ability to describe it; sometimes it sounded intermittent, sometimes it was continuous, as if it was weeping and complaining, as if listening to someone swallowing his tears like the words in Liu Yong's[7] song: "Holding hands, we look into each other's tearful eyes; Without words, throats choked; As I think of my voyage through a thousand miles of mists and waves, where the evening clouds are somber and the distant skies vast. Lovers have suffered since ancient times, the sorrows of parting. How can I bear further my solitude in this clear autumn season? Where shall I be when I wake up from my drink tonight? Willow banks, the breeze at dawn, and the waning moon!"[8]

    The flute sound made everybody sad, even a man with a heart of stone like Murong Chong could not restrain the corner of his eyes from being moist. Yue Mingke felt a chilling pain in his heart, he thought, 'Why does she play such a heartrending tune as if mourning the death of a loved one? Mmm, could it be that she does not want to give me up as I am going to my death? If in one's life one can have an intimate friend, one will have no regrets even in death. Although I am going to die, I am happy. I only hate that she will be lonely for the rest of her life!'

    The flute continued. Murong Chong loudly called out, "Stop it! Haven't you played enough?"

    Tie Shanhu said in her heart, "Lian Jiejie should’ve heard it by now!” and stopped her playing.

    “Yue Mingke,” Murong Chong harshly said, “You have heard it clearly, she does not have the least bit of internal injury.”

    “Very well,” Yue Mingke said, “Let her go, I’ll come with you!”

    Suddenly Murong Chong laughed, “You have to do what I say first,” he said.

    “What is it?” Yue Mingke asked, “You must not raise other complications.”

    Murong Chong said, “It’s not a complication at all. I only want you to chop your own right arm!”

    “What?!?” Yue Mingke asked in shock.

    Murong Chong coldly said, “Your martial art skill is superior, we cannot bind you tight enough, if we seal your acupoint, you might be able to unseal it yourself. We are going on a tens of thousands li journey, your old men won’t want to be inconvenienced by you! You don’t trust me, I also don’t trust you. If you chop your own right arm, everybody will be happy. Ha … ha … are you afraid of pain?”

    Dage,” Tie Shanhu cried out, “Please don’t, please don’t! If you die, I don’t want to live alone!”

    “Shanhu Meimei,” Yue Mingke called out, “I appreciate your sympathy. You are still young, you must stay alive no matter what. Go back to Lian Jiejie, don’t mind me.”

    “Ha,” Murong Chong said with a cold laugh, “It is truly an eternal affection. How much more the two of you want to say to each other?”

    Yue Mingke shouted, “A gentleman’s word is like a fast horse whipped once! I agree to come with you, you must not injure her!”

    “Whoever renege his promise, may he be the laughingstock of the Wulin!” Murong Chong replied.

    “All right!” Yue Mingke cried out. Grabbing the sword with his left hand, he swung it against his own right arm!

    Suddenly there was a blood-curling screech, Yue Mingke cold sword was knocked out of his hand. He looked up in shock, and saw both Tie Shanhu and Jin Duyi rolling on the ground!

    Actually, when Tie Shanhu played her flute to give a warning, her original intention was to stall, hoping that Yu Luocha would hear and come to their rescue. Who would have thought that Murong Chong would resort to such a sinister means? Seeing Yue Mingke was about to cut his own right arm, Tie Shanhu thought, “Now that I know his love is deep, if I don’t die now, what am I waiting for?” Once she made the decision, her left elbow struck backward, she turned around and pressed her jade flute to activate the mechanism inside. Three darts went straight toward Jin Duyi’s body.

    Tie Shanhu was a girl of a renowned martial art family; although her martial art skill has not reached perfection, she knew some unique killer moves. This time, her elbow struck the pit of the stomach, the darts injured the fatal point; although Jin Duyi’s internal strength was profound, his skill in martial art excelled, his eyes turned dark from the pain. He sent out his palm power and as the result, both of them suffered a heavy injury and both rolled around on the ground.

    As Tie Shanhu collapsed to the ground, she still called out in stern voice, “Dage, you must run! Avenge me later, we’ll see each other again in the next life!”

    Yue Mingke was stricken with grief. Enduring the pain, Jin Duyi leaped up. Suddenly Yue Mingke roared, “I am avenging you today!” Flipping his sword around, he charged forward. Murong Chong raised a fist to punch him. But seeing Yue Mingke’s bloodshot eyes and how he fought like a mad tiger as he punched the air randomly, Murong Chong sidestepped immediately.

    Yue Mingke's body moved following his sword, as swift as the gushing wind. Jin Duyi had just stood up, Yue Mingke roared, "Give your head to me!" Soaring high in the air, he kicked Jin Duyi rolling on the ground. Murong Chong rushed to help, but he was too late. He only heard Jin Duyi's blood-curdling scream as the sword flashed, Jin Duyi's head was already in Yue Mingke's hand!

    Murong Chong was shocked. Yue Mingke's sword flashed by, together with his roar, "You want me to come to Beijing and face the court, I want you to come with me to hell to face the Yan Wang[9]!" The wind of his sword fiercely and ruthlessly surrounded Murong Chong. Seeing Yue Mingke was fighting without any regard of his own life, Murong Chong realized that in the battle today, his only choice was to stake everything he had, otherwise, he would not escape alive. Exerting his mysterious internal power[10], he faced the enemy's sword with his pair of fists, fighting a fierce battle in the valley dyed red with blood!

    The two combatants' powers were in par with each other. Yue Mingke's sword danced like a roaming dragon, Murong Chong's fists attacked like a tiger or a leopard, in the blink of an eye they had already fought twenty, thirty moves. Yue Mingke was in total disregard of his own life, he kept pressing with his attacks. Murong Chong's heart started to waver.

    Ying Xiuyang was watching on the side, dumbstruck. Murong Chong said, "If I die, you must escape alone!" Actually, his intention was asking for help, but contrary to his expectation, his words stirred Ying Xiuyang's heart. He mused, "Looking at Yue Mingke fighting like a mad tiger without any regard to his own life, even if I go forward and join the fight, we might not necessarily be able to defeat him. Besides, what if Yu Luocha comes and attacks? If I don't escape now then what am I waiting for?" Thereupon moving his hands and feet, he climbed up the cliff. Murong Chong was so furious that he felt his teeth itch. Yue Mingke’s attacks were growing in ferociousness, but Murong Chong was thinking how to run away.

    Back to Yu Luocha and Red Flower Demon Matriarch, who reached the mountain peak one after another. Yu Luocha was one step ahead, and heard the battle noise down below. Unleashing the full potential of her qinggong, her body flew down as if she was about to crash against a protruding rock. The tip of her sword touched the rock, she soared again and continued flying downward. By repeatedly soaring and falling, very soon she had reached the waist of the mountain.

    By this time Ying Xiuyang had just started climbing. Yu Luocha laughed and said, "That time on Mount Hua's peak you were able to escape. This time you won't be able to run away!"

    Ying Xiuyang's heart and guts froze. Crouching on the dirt, he swung his sword backward and diagonally up.

    "Ha," Yu Luocha said, "You still want to fight!" She chopped her sword down, a streak of cold ray as swift as lightning collided with the enemy's sword, and went straight to cut the enemy's wrist.

    Fighting on flat land, Ying Xiuyang was still far inferior to Yu Luocha, much less now fighting in a deep canyon, with his body hanging on a dangerous rock. In his panic his foot slipped. Yu Luocha's sword had not touched his body yet, he had already tumbled down the valley below.

    Yu Luocha laughed and jumped down. She looked around and could not help but be deeply shocked!

    On the desolate valley, she saw Murong Chong and Yue Mingke were engaged in a life and death battle, a headless body lying on the wild grass among the scattered rocks, not far from this body, Tie Shanhu was lying face down on the ground.

    "Shanhu Meimei!" Yu Luocha called out and rushed to turn Tie Shanhu's body around.

    Gasping for breath, Tie Shanhu's weak voice replied, "Lian Jiejie, you are too late. Please tell my father not to miss me."

    Although Tie Shanhu's voice was weak, Yue Mingke heard it. He was like dry grass brought back to life by the thunderstorm in the spring. "Hey, she is not dead yet!" he said in his heart. Pulling back his sword, he turned around and ran toward Tie Shanhu.

    Murong Chong was just thinking of running away by climbing the rock wall; seeing a shadow of a red flower flash on the mountain, hastily he climbed from the other side.

    "Heroine Lian," Yue Mingke called out, "Please pursue Murong Chong; let me look at Shanhu Meimei."

    Yu Luocha let out a bitter laugh as she carried Tie Shanhu up and handed her over to Yue Mingke. Yue Mingke tenderly kissed Tie Shanhu's eyes while calling out, "Shanhu Meimei, open your eyes. See? I am here."

    Tie Shanhu only managed to get her eyes half open. With a weak smile she said, "Dage, I am so happy."

    "I have let you down," Yue Mingke said, "I came too late!"

    "You are not late," Tie Shanhu said, "It's just that I will have to go first."

    Tie Shanhu's internal organs were shattered by Jin Duyi's palm strength. As she saw that Yue Mingke was with her at her last moment, with her dying breath she said those words, and then she felt as if she was sleeping on a goose down or velvet bed; it was very warm and comfortable. It was as if she had returned to her childhood home, when her father carried her as they took a bath in a hot spring nearby Chang'an[11]. It was so warm and comfortable that her eyelids felt heavy, like when she fell asleep in the hot bath. She felt her body sank, she sank deeper, and deeper...

    Yue Mingke, on the other hand, felt colder and colder. Tie Shanhu had given up her last breath!

    In this instant, Yue Mingke did not want to think about anything else, his brain felt empty, everything felt so hopeless. He only felt coldness, the coldness that penetrated his heart. He even felt that the air surrounding him had condensed into cold ice.

    Back to Red Flower Demon Matriarch who was going down the mountain. From the distance she saw Yu Luocha running after Murong Chong, who was climbing the mountain on the opposite peak. She was greatly surprised. "Jin Laoda[12], Jin Laoda!" she called out.

    Yue Mingke was shaken by Red Flower Demon Matriarch's ear-piercing calling, as if he had just been awakened from a nightmare. Putting Tie Shanhu's body gently on the ground, he lifted Jin Duyi's head and shouted in rage, "Your Jin Laoda is here!"

    As soon as Red Flower Demon Matriarch looked up, just like Yue Mingke, her entire body, from the crown of her head to the tip of her toes, felt very cold! After looking again, although the head was badly mangled and mutilated, she recognized beyond any doubt that the head had belonged to her husband of several decades! Menacingly and awe-inspiringly Red Flower Demon Matriarch lifted high her crutch, with a trembling voice she called out, "Did you kill him?"

    "Even ten of your stinky husbands cannot substitute my Shanhu!" Yue Mingke replied.

    "Who are you?" Red Flower Demon Matriarch angrily asked, "I must kill you as restitution for his life!"

    Yue Mingke roared angrily, "Old Yue is still alive after braving several dozen of near death dangers in front of magnificent armies with thousands of men and horses; being hunted as a criminal by the castrated traitor, I have already put my life beyond consideration. Haha! You want to kill me to pay for his death! Who would pay for Military Commissioner Xiong's death, my Shanhu Meimei's death?"

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch felt like a lightning had just struck her. Unexpectedly, Yu Luocha was telling her the truth, this lowly husband was indeed an accomplice of the tyrant to do evil and to persecute good and loyal subjects! Her several dozens of painstaking efforts to change him to be good, still ended up as a failure like this!

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch felt her limbs lose their strength, her crutch slowly went down. Yue Mingke's anger was somewhat reduced. "What do you want to do?" he asked.

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch was still angry, but had lost her strength. "Are you Yue Mingke?" she asked, "Are you Military Commissioner Xiong's grand adjutant?"

    "I also know that you are the Red Flower Demon Matriarch," Yue Mingke replied, "Humph, humph, people have called you wrong, it is your husband who was the devil!"

    Red Flower Demon Matriarch heaved a deep sigh, she said in her heart, 'It is finished, it is finished! How can I still have a face to see Wulin friends of the same principle? Why do I want to live on this earth?' For a moment she was lost in thought then suddenly she struck her head against a mountain rock. Pitiful Red Flower Demon Matriarch had always lived a heroic life, but because she mistakenly married a wicked man, she was implicated in his crime and died the cruelest death. Her blood splashed the deep valley!

    Yue Mingke was taken aback, but then suddenly he laughed wildly and cried out, "Everybody died! Everything is finished!" Leaping up, he also aimed his head toward a mountain rock!

    Back to Yu Luocha who was pursuing Murong Chong. When he reached the mountain top, Murong Chong took advantage of his higher position and randomly shoved big rocks down. Like a sudden hailstone the rocks rolled down the mountain. Yu Luocha jumped and leaped frantically to evade, she had no way of launching an attack. Suddenly she heard from down below Red Flower Demon Matriarch and Yue Mingke were scolding and cursing each other. 'Not good!' she thought, 'Red Flower Demon Matriarch will certainly fight him to the death'. She was also concerned over Tie Shanhu's safety, so she called out, "Murong Chong, I'll spare your life today!" Turning around, she hurried down the valley.

    Suddenly she saw Red Flower Demon Matriarch crashing her head against a rock to take her own life. Yu Luocha was shocked! "Bad! Really bad!" she mused, "From now on I have one less worthy adversary!" She rushed down and arrived just in the nick of time! The crown of Yue Mingke's head was only less than five cun away from the rock. With one hand she grabbed Yue Mingke's ankle and pulled him back, hard.

    Yue Mingke only heard someone's voice by his ear, "We can't have two martial art masters die one after another in just one day!" When he opened his eyes, he saw it was Yu Luocha talking to him.

    Yue Mingke slumped down and sat on the ground. He pointed and said, "Shanhu is dead, why would I want to live?"

    Yu Luocha felt great pain in her heart, but her goal was to save the living and not the dead, hence with all strength she could muster, she steeled herself and with a cold laugh she said, "Yue Mingke, are you afraid of having a sword duel with me?"

    Yue Mingke's anger bubbled up, he thought, 'Tie Shanhu was your sworn sister, you are actually this heartless and at time like this still have the mood to have a sword duel with me.' He sprang up and called out, "You want to have a duel? Come, come! It's a pity Shanhu Meimei cannot see her sworn sister's awe-inspiring prowess!"

    Yu Luocha said with a laugh, "I don't want to have a duel with you right now. Both of our Shifus created his and her respective sword school, one upright the other backward, each one is able to subdue the other. My Shifu's original intention was that after she mastered the sword technique, she would have a contest with your Shifu, to verify each other's martial art skills. It's a pity that my Shifu is dead, those two Seniors can't have a duel anymore. Each of us inherited our schools’ sword technique, each of us is our respective master's sole heir, later on, it is up to us to fulfill the wishes of the previous generation. If you don't want to, who would have a sword duel with me? We must train ten or twenty years more, perfecting our school's swordsmanship. And then we can have a nice contest to see who's better and who's worse. If we have the duel right now, more or less we are going to fight evenly then what good is it?"

    Yue Mingke's heart was shaken, he mused, 'So that's her real intention. My Shifu is at the dusk of his life, definitely he won't have the second person he could impart his skill to. I really should not commit suicide and bring along this sword technique to the grave'. Thinking to this point, it was as if a bucket of cold water was splashed onto his head. He came to his senses and with a low voice said, "Thank you for your encouragement. Twenty years from now, I am going to wait for you on Tianshan."

    Yu Luocha let out a breath, now she felt the pain in her heart. Embracing Tie Shanhu's body, she sobbed loudly.

    Yue Mingke thought, 'Turns out although she is vicious on the outside, her heart is compassionate'. He was just about to comfort her when from the mountain someone was rushing down to the valley. It turned out it was Zhuo Yihang. His qinggong was relatively inferior, so only now did he finally arrive.

    With tears in his eyes Yue Mingke called out, "Zhuo Xiong, Shanhu is dead, please console her."

    Zhuo Yihang was shocked, he hurriedly went forward to prop Yu Luocha.

    Suddenly Yu Luocha thought, 'Although Yue Mingke and Tie Shanhu cannot consume their marriage, they sincerely love each other, I can see that today. To have his love, Shanhu Meizi can die with closed eyes!"

    Deep in her heart, Yu Luocha felt that Tie Shanhu was happier than she. Casting a glance toward Zhuo Yihang, her eyes were filled with deep love mixed with resentment. Zhuo Yihang was not able to look her in the eyes, he lowered his head.

    Disquieting thoughts surged in Yu Luocha's mind. Suddenly she realized that the truly pitiful one was not Tie Shanhu but it was she. She stared blankly and unconsciously tears started flowing down again. After a long, long time she finally looked up and said, "We might as well bury her in this valley. When the snow melted and the pass is open, we'll build her a tomb."

    The three of them used their swords to dig the ground. They dug a deep groove and then put Tie Shanhu's body down. Yu Luocha said, "Let's dig another one!"

    She carried Red Flower Demon Matriarch's body and said, "She is also a pitiful woman."

    When they finished digging a good groove, Yue Mingke said, "Let her be buried together with her husband." He put Jin Duyi's head and body into the hole and said, "Actually, I was going to offer his head as a sacrifice to Shanhu Meimei, but for his wife's sake, I will let him go easily."

    The three of them covered the grave with dirt and mud, while grieving silently. Suddenly they heard a low groan. Yue Mingke looked around and saw that it was Ying Xiuyang rolling on the ground. Because he was forced to jump down by Yu Luocha, he sprained his ankle. He witnessed Jin Duyi being killed and Red Flower Demon Matriarch crash her head on the rock. Although his injury was light, he was so scared that his legs turned weak.

    "There's another one," Yue Mingke hatefully said, "Good, let's dig another grave and bury him alive!" He grabbed Ying Xiuyang and lifted him up. But Yu Luocha suddenly said, "Let's keep his dog's life!"

    "That's right," Zhuo Yihang understood her meaning, "Let's keep his dog's life. We want to use him to lure his comrades who have sold themselves to the Manchus to come out!"

    Yue Mingke recalled the affair with Zheng Hongtai on the peak of Huashan several years ago, he said, "In that case, I'll leave this matter into Heroine Lian's hands."

    After two severe battles and one grieving heart, straight from dawn to that hour, when the shadow was already leaning to the west, the day was almost spent. Yu Luocha was not in the mood to interrogate the prisoner. "Take him back to the stronghold first," she said, "Let him live two more days."

    Yue Mingke said, "With you in charge, even if he grew wings he would not escape his fate." He lifted up Ying Xiuyang and like flying he climbed up the mountain.

    Arriving at the stronghold, Yu Luocha immediately dispatched her female troops to excavate the sealed mountain pass. After dinner, when the new moon arose, the troops under Tie Shanhu's command had returned, luckily none of them suffered any injury. They had been busy for almost a day and a night, everybody was exhausted, and went to bed right after eating their meal. But Yu Luocha, Zhuo Yihang and Yue Mingke were not in the mood to sleep. The three of them took a stroll silently on the mountain, nobody said anything. The moon was dim, adding to the depressing mood they were in.

    Suddenly Yue Mingke broke the silence, "Heroine Lian, I have a favor I'd like to ask you."

    "Please speak," Yu Luocha replied.

    Yue Mingke said, "Military Commissioner Xiong died a tragic death, his head was passed around to nine directions. I do wish you'd recover his head back and bury it with his body."

    "Military Commissioner Xiong was my friend," Yu Luocha replied, "This matter is very dear to my heart, I will definitely do my best to accomplish it."

    "Zhuo Xiong," Yue Mingke continued, "Please deliver the Military Commissioner Xiong's legacy to the deserving man; I am entrusting this matter to you."

    "Xiaodi will certainly do my best," Zhuo Yihang replied, "I'm only afraid that from now on, as the Sect Leader, I will rarely roam the Jianghu."

    "You still want to return and be the Sect Leader?" Yu Luocha asked.

    Zhuo Yihang lowered his head without saying anything. To help him out of embarrassment Yue Mingke said, "Zhuo Xiong going back to be the Sect Leader is also good; it's certainly better than having one of his Shishu to be the Sect Leader." Zhuo Yihang forced a smile. Yue Mingke added, "If you cannot find anybody worthy of this book, you can keep it over there."

    "Don't worry, Yue Xiong," Zhuo Yihang said, "If Xiaodi cannot personally find someone worthy to own this book, I will definitely send a trusted friend to do it for me."

    Yu Luocha noticed Yue Mingke's unusual expression, she was worried that he still could not overcome his grief, so she laughed and said, "Don't forget our duel appointment twenty years from now."

    "I won't," Yue Mingke promised.

    "Yue Xiong," Zhuo Yihang said, "What is your immediate plan?"

    Yue Mingke said, “Living my fate, I will be at home wherever I am; no matter how chaotic the mortal world, I will deal with it as it comes my way.”

    “Uh, what are you talking about?” Yu Luocha said, “You sound like an old monk chanting the scripture.”

    Zhuo Yihang knew Yue Mingke had seen through the mortality of the world, what he said show that he had grasped the principles; he mused, ‘He becomes a monk is also all right; I do not have the luck to become a monk.’

    Early morning the next day, sure enough, Yue Mingke left without saying goodbye. He only left a letter addressed to Zhuo Yihang and Yu Luocha, saying that his Shifu was old, so he must return to Tianshan to attend to his needs. In the coming years, he would devote his time to train his swordsmanship among other things. Zhuo Yihang and Yu Luocha had anticipated this, so they were not surprised, but still, they were saddened by his departure.

    That day Yu Luocha personally supervised the work of constructing the tombs for Tie Shanhu and Red Flower Demon Matriarch. She was back in the stronghold in the evening. After dinner with Zhuo Yihang, she went alone to take some rest. She was thinking of interrogating Ying Xiuyang when suddenly she saw the barn was on fire.

    Yu Luocha was startled; grabbing her sword, she leaped outside, where she saw her troops were thrown into confusion. They came to report, “The imperial army attacks!”

    “The imperial army has this kind of ability?” Yu Luocha asked in disbelief. Lifting her sword she rushed out the stronghold gate. Suddenly she saw Murong Chong, leading several dozen troops, was setting the stronghold on fire.

    Yu Luocha angrily said, “You were lucky to escape alive, you still dare to come here?” while brandishing the sword in her hand.

    Seeing Yu Luocha come out, the morale of her troops soared. Following Yu Luocha’s signal, they formed a circle and engaged the imperial troops in a tangled battle. Yu Luocha charged forward with her sword, her target was Murong Chong.

    During the battle, another commotion arose at the western corner, under the moonlight, they looked like a group of Taoist priests, with swords in their hands, breaking through the stronghold.

    After Murong Chong escaped the other day, he took care of the injured, either by Yu Luocha’s stab or by the avalanche, when they were rolled over by the rocks and broke their hands or feet. The remaining Guards who were still able to fight were less than ten. Greatly discouraged, he was thinking of returning to Beijing to get reinforcement.

    It so happened that after the hungry people’s riot, the imperial troops stationed in the province was alerted and they came to Guangyuan. Wei Zhongxian dispatched the commander of the ‘suppressing bandit’s troops’, Lian Chenghu to also come. Lian Chenghu was the former chief instructor of the Western Faction Guards, he was an old colleague of Murong Chong. Hearing that Murong Chong had arrived, he rushed out to meet him.

    Murong Chong sighed and said, “In all my life I have never suffered such setback.”

    Lian Chenghu asked him in details and Murong Chong answered all his questions. Hearing Jin Duyi was killed, he did not show too much emotion, but as soon as he heard Ying Xiuyang being captured, his countenance changed greatly.

    Turned out Wei Zhongxian, Ying Xiuyang and Lian Chenghu were Manchuria's inside contacts. Lian Chenghu was afraid Ying Xiuyang might confess under pressure and reveal their secret to the world. He hastily asked, "I have heard about Yu Luocha's reputation; how many troops does she have?"

    "Several hundred, more or less," Murong Chong replied, "They all are women."

    Lian Chenghu laughed and said, "Only several hundred female bandits, what are we afraid of? We can lead our army to flatten her stronghold."

    "Although several hundred female bandits are nothing, the Bright Moon Gorge is extremely dangerous, how can a large army go up there?" Murong Chong said, "Besides, the avalanche has closed off the mountain, the road is even more impassable."

    Lian Chenghu thought for a moment, then said, "Didn't you say earlier that there were many female bandits from the stronghold who were also blocked by the avalanche and could not return to their stronghold? Yu Luocha has no choice but to clear the pass to let them go home. I have in my troops several dozen men whose qinggong is passable. We can go together with you back to the mountain."

    Murong Chong shook his head and said, "It's still impossible. Although the warriors in the army may be able to enter the stronghold, several dozen of them are still not enough to resist the female troops well-trained by Yu Luocha. Much less that Yu Luocha and Yue Mingke's swordsmanship is truly extraordinary. Plus that Sect Leader of Wudang Pai will certainly be involved."

    Lian Chenghu said, "I heard Wudang Pai has elected their new Sect Leader by the name of certain Zhuo Yihang. Wudang Pai usually does not want to oppose the government, can it be that Zhuo Yihang is staying with that demoness?"

    "Exactly," Murong Chong replied, "Not only Zhuo Yihang is very close to that demoness, he also covered up that criminal Yue Mingke. Just one man Zhuo Yihang is nothing to be afraid of, but each one of Wudang Pai's priests is very proficient in martial arts. There are still several dozen of them within Guangyuan's city limits, if they also get involved in this turmoil, the problem will be thornier."

    Lian Chenghu's countenance changed again, "Ying Xiuyang must be rescued," he said, then he whispered by Murong Chong's ear, "Ying Xiuyang is Wei Gonggong's trusted aide, his favor toward Ying Xiuyang is no less than to you and me, several times Wei Gonggong has ordered me to take a good care of him."

    Previously, Murong Chong did not regard Ying Xiuyang too highly, hence he was surprised to hear this. 'Such being the case,' he thought, 'We have no other choice but to rescue him.' Unconsciously he remembered Ying Xiuyang's suggestion earlier. He said, "Actually, Ying Xiuyang had a very good idea, but I thought it was not worth doing it."

    "What good idea?" Lian Chenghu hastily asked.

    "We convert Wudang Pai from the enemy into a friend," Murong Chong replied, "We must apologize to Priest White Stone, and invite them to join hands with us to attack the mountain."

    "Great idea!" Lian Chenghu clapped his hands and laughed, "Let's do it this way. Priest White Stone is a narrow-minded man, their Sect Leader is kidnapped, we can exploit this fact to incite him."

    Ying Xiuyang and Lian Chenghu's guess was right on; after waiting for two days and not seeing Zhuo Yihang, Priest White Stone was very angry, but realizing that he was not Yu Luocha's match, he did not dare to go up the Bright Moon Gorge to get their Sect Leader back. Listening to Murong Chong and Lian Chenghu's explanation, he discussed this matter with Priest Red Cloud. After a long deliberation, unexpectedly they agreed to join the expedition, with some conditions.

    Priest White Stone required that: First, both sides should mind their own business and should not meddle with each other. Their main objective was to get their Sect Leader back, not to help the imperial army win their battle. Second, other than Yu Luocha, they did not want to harm anybody else. If they were attacked by the female bandits, they would only fight in self-defense. That was the reason the imperial army would go first to engage the female bandits in battle, to let the priests enter the stronghold and search for their Sect Leader. Third, as soon as the mission was accomplished, each would go their separate ways. The previous gratitude and grudges would be written off, the Guards must not give Wudang Pai any more trouble. Murong Chong agreed to all conditions, thereupon they went up the mountain that very same evening.

    When Yu Luocha saw Priest White Stone leading the priests breaking into the stronghold, she flew into a rage and shouted harshly, “Priest White Stone, you also help the tyrants do their wicked deeds!”

    When the female troops saw their Zhaizhu was furious and saw this group of priests suddenly broke through their stronghold, naturally they also divided themselves to intercept the enemy.

    “Knock the weapons off their hands!” Priest White Stone barked his order.

    The female bandits boldly charged the enemy, while the Wudang disciples were not willing to hurt them, hence they could not easily knock the female bandits’ weapons in such a short time. Priest White Stone and Priest Red Cloud joined the battle. Priest Red Cloud moved the sword to his left hand, along with Priest White Stone, they launched a converging attack from left and right. These two Wudang Elders’ power was certainly anything but ordinary, in just a short time they had managed to knock the weapons of more than a dozen female troops. The blades and spears flew up randomly, the stronghold was in total chaos.

    How would Yu Luocha know that Priest White Stone and Murong Chong had three agreements? Seeing they attack the stronghold together, she simply assumed that they were in cahoots with the government army to destroy, kill and burn the stronghold!

    “Humph!” she snorted, and ‘shua shua!’ with two sweeps of her sword she stormed away from Murong Chong and broke through the siege to rush back into the stronghold. Her sword pierced to the east and struck to the west, thrust to the south and shot to the north. The Wudang Pai disciples could not resist, she managed to enter into their defense line.

    “Witch!” Priest White Stone shouted, “Quickly return our Sect Leader Disciple to us, otherwise, you won’t escape justice today.”

    Yu Luocha angrily replied, “You really bring disgrace to Priest Purple Sun’s illustrious name; won’t you be the laughingstock of the heroes under the heavens?” Her sword moved swiftly, surrounding both Priest White Stone and Priest Red Cloud’s swords in her sword ray.

    Back to Zhuo Yihang who had not slept yet. To suddenly see his martial uncles leading his fellow disciples breaking through and attacking, he was so startled that he was at a loss. Rubbing his eyes in disbelief, he realized it was not a nightmare. He was paralyzed with deep grief and did not know what to do.

    A moment later, he heard the intensifying miserable cry, because as soon as Yu Luocha rushed back into the stronghold, the female bandits fighting outside, who could not resist Murong Chong’s assault to begin with, were having even less fighting power. They were thrown into confusion immediately and suffered countless casualties.

    Lian Chenghu led his troops to enter the stronghold, and immediately set the stronghold on fire. The stronghold was constructed using logs of wood and thatch, not using stone and brick; as soon as it was lighted, it was like a prairie fire, nobody could stop it.

    Hearing the miserable cry and seeing the blaze, Zhuo Yihang sprang up and rushed out, while loudly calling out, "Shishu, I am here! Why do you help the imperial army fighting them?"

    "All right," Priest White Stone replied, "You come with me down the mountain, now!" He led Wudang disciples to protect Zhuo Yihang.

    With red eyes Yu Luocha fought and pursued, she was unwilling to give up; her movement was very swift, in a flash she had reached Zhuo Yihang. Zhuo Yihang said, "Let me go, fighting the imperial army is more important." Tossing over the book Yue Mingke gave him to her he said, "I want you to fulfill Yue Xiong's request for me." When he saw how stubborn his martial uncle was, he knew that as soon as he came back, although he became the Sect Leader, he would be closely watched, therefore, he handed over the book written by Military Commissioner Xiong, the magnificent book concerning the fate of the nation, to Yu Luocha.

    Yu Luocha was taken aback. Meanwhile, Priest White Stone had already attacked from her back. Yu Luocha swept her sword backward. 'Ding dang!' Priest White Stone's sword was shaken that it almost flew out of his hand.

    Priest Red Cloud called out, "We have our Sect Leader, let's go! Yu Luocha, do you insist on opposing our Wudang Pai?"

    The noise in the stronghold was earth-shattering! Yu Luocha gritted her teeth and said, "Fine, I'll let you go!" Dodging sideways, she rushed out of the encirclement. Wudang disciples withdrew in fan formation with Zhuo Yihang and the masters in the middle.

    By this time the stronghold was completely engulfed in fire. Lian Chenghu rushed toward the rear of the stronghold, searching for Ying Xiuyang. Murong Chong and Yu Luocha were engaged in fierce battle amidst the blazing fire. The imperial troops and the female bandits fought with each other as they run out of the stronghold. In a short moment, the fire was burning higher that the stronghold became an ocean of fire. While they had not surrounded by the fire, Murong Chong and Yu Luocha rushed out while still fighting. The imperial troops and female bandits who failed to escape cried out inside the ocean of fire, and very soon they were burned to ashes.

    By this time nine out of ten female bandits had either perished or wounded, while the number of imperial troops had also been reduced to less than half. Yu Luocha's anger had reached the sky; her meticulous care and painstaking effort in establishing her foundation had vanished into the thin air like a smoke! What grieved her heart more was: how many of her several hundred female troops, who live and die together with her like sisters for several years, would escape alive today?

    In her extreme grief, she disregarded her own life, her sword stabbed, her palm struck; she moved like the wind and in a short period of time managed to kill about a dozen imperial troops. Murong Chong hastily tried to block her, but his movements were not as quick and agile as Yu Luocha's. Yu Luocha zigzagged through the troops and in an instant she had killed ten more.

    In the fierce combat, suddenly someone shouted, "Get out of the way, capture the bandits, let us deal with this witch!" Turned out it was Lian Chenghu, who had just rescued Ying Xiuyang.

    Ying Xiuyang had been held prisoner for two days, his leg injury was already healed; he shouted, "Don't let this witch escape!" Together with Lian Chenghu, they cut her off from left and right.

    Yu Luocha was enraged, her sword lunged straight ahead, aiming for the throat, stabbing the chest; she attacked with incomparable offensive power. For each stance Ying Xiuyang struggled to block, Yu Luocha followed up with two, three stances in succession, each attack was a killer move. Ying Xiuyang quickly put into a dire situation as he was about to be killed by the sword, luckily Lian Chenghu’s attack came from her back, with flickering pair of hooks he rushed to his rescue. Yu Luocha stabbed her sword backhandedly, 'Ding dang!' it pushed the hooks aside. Both of them had to take several steps back. Ying Xiuyang broke out in cold sweat. Brushing the dust from his clothes, he only dared to attack from the side.

    As the former Chief Instructor of the Western Faction Guards, among the Palace Guards, Lian Chenghu's martial art skill was only slightly below Murong Chong's, but it was definitely above Ying Xiuyang's. With his pair of hooks, unexpectedly he was able to resist the enemy for more than a dozen stances, giving Murong Chong the opportunity to rush in, brandishing his fists he joined the battle, trapping Yu Luocha in the middle.

    In the meantime, the remaining female bandits had scattered around, they were running and calling out, "Zhaizhu, run away quickly!" Some of them who knew Yu Luocha's temperament well added, "Zhaizhu, while the green hills last, there'll be wood to burn. Don't risk your life with them!"

    Yu Luocha's heart was shaken, but even if she wanted to run, she was no longer able to. Murong Chong's martial art was on par with hers! Lian Chenghu was also only a notch inferior to her. Although Ying Xiuyang was the weakest among them, with him acting as the one corner of the triangle, he managed to pose a considerable threat to her. Although Yu Luocha possessed a superb qinggong, her entire body was enveloped by the wind from Murong Chong's fists. If she forced herself to run, she might be wounded by the palm power. Moreover, Lian Chenghu's 'Sun-Moon Double Hooks' may be used to lock and seize the enemy's weapon, or to hook and pull the enemy's hands and feet, so if she escaped by leaping up, she might be wounded by the hooks.

    By this time the female bandits were either dead, wounded, or escaped; Yu Luocha was the only one left from the Bright Moon Gorge to fight the imperial army. Murong Chong and the others, three men, tightened their encirclement. Yu Luocha's swordsmanship had reached perfection, it changed irregularly with infinite variations, yet she could barely defend herself.

    She had been fighting for several hours nonstop, she had launched thousands of stances; it was nearly midnight, Yu Luocha's strength was depleted, her fighting spirit was still high, but her physical strength was weak. "Could it be that I will die tonight?" she mused.

    The imperial army stood around them. Although no one dared to interfere, they were cheering and jeering on the side. Someone laughed and said, "Such a beautiful bandit, I don't have the heart to hurt her." Someone else spat and said, "Pei, even if we catch her, you won't have your turn!" Yu Luocha was so mad that she almost fainted, her sword movement became chaotic.

    Amidst the laughter and mocking of the army, suddenly a thunderous voice was heard, "Damn it! You dare to bully my daughter?"

    The sound had not stopped, the imperial troops had screamed miserably. Tie Feilong charged through the crowd; where his hands reached the imperial troops were like grass being mowed, one by one they were thrown to the valley below.

    Such is: wicked people trembled at the sound of thunder, the old hero displayed his prowess tonight.

    [1]Younger sister, a term of endearment.

    [2]Lit. Old Madame, referring to self.

    [3]Orig. 'shui luo shi chu' - as the water recedes, the rocks appear.

    [4]Tianshan mountain range is located between Xinjiang and Mongolia.

    [5]Reminder: Zhaizhu means stronghold master.

    [6]Orig. 'Five Zang' and 'Six Fu'. See note 2 of Chapter 10 by Faerie Queenie.

    [7]A poet of the Song Dynasty (987-1053).

    [8]I hate translating poems! This is not mine, I found it here:

    [9]Yama, King of the underworld.

    [10]Orig. 'xuan gong nei'.

    [11]Modern day Xi'an, the ancient capital of China during the Tang Dynasty.

    [12]Lit. oldest child in a family, the first, the leader.

  2. #22
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 21

    Chapter 21
    Destroyed stronghold left grief
    Emotion remained on a piece of dirt
    Testing moves brought laughter
    Generous gift concealed a treasure
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Murong Chong angrily said, "It's the uncouth old man again!"

    Tie Feilong roared, "The Old Man wants your life!"

    Murong Chong punched forcefully, Tie Feilong swept his palm across his chest to block, just like a boulder meets an iron broom. 'Bang!' Both of them were shaken by the opponent's force and both staggered sideways.

    Yu Luocha's spirit was greatly aroused, with a move 'star revolves across the sky' she swept Lian Chenghu's double hooks aside. Murong Chong forced himself to leap up again, Tie Feilong also sprang up to fend off. The tables were turned, Tie Feilong repeatedly snorting and cursing, while pressing toward the Five-Element Eight-Trigram position, trying to strike the enemy from a dominant position. Murong Chong bent his knees to assume the horse stance position, as if he was nailed to the ground, returning a stance with a stance, returning a style with a style, his feet were planted on the ground, he did not move the least bit. These two men, one's palms dominate the world, the other's fists unrivalled; one attacked the other countered, the sand and stone around them swirled in the air. The rest of the imperial troops had to take several steps back.

    Losing one powerful enemy, Yu Luocha brandished her sword like flying dragon and dancing phoenix, stance after stance stormed toward the enemy, causing Lian Chenghu and Ying Xiuyang's hearts shake with fear.

    Amidst the fierce battle, suddenly Tie Feilong asked, "Where is your Shanhu Meizi?"

    Yu Luocha's heart was shaken, Lian Chenghu's left hook pulled, his right hook pierced, Yu Luocha was rather slow in dodging the attack, a piece of her sleeve was ripped. Yu Luocha flew into rage, she attacked backhandedly and shouted, "Gotcha!" Lian Chenghu did not have time to pull his double hooks, 'Stab!' his shoulder blade was pierced by her sword. Yu Luocha laughed wildly, Lian Chenghu and Ying Xiuyang fled in panic. Like mad Yu Luocha kept on laughing and did not run after them.

    Tie Feilong's heart skipped a beat. "Are you alright?" he called out. 'Whoosh, whoosh!' his palms swept Murong Chong, sending him to whirl around. Murong Chong had fought for half the night, his energy was depleted; seeing his companions flee, he did not have the mood to continue the battle. With all his remaining strength he stopped himself, turned around, and also ran away.

    Tie Feilong knew something was not right, he rushed toward Yu Luocha to hold her. Yu Luocha was still laughing wildly, but her laughter sounded like sobbing. "All the enemies have run away!" Tie Feilong said.

    Yu Luocha's legs gave up, she fell down on the ground. "Father, I have wronged you!"

    Tie Feilong was greatly astonished. "Slow down and tell me what happened?" he said.

    After experiencing deep grief followed by fierce combat, Yu Luocha felt the hundreds of bones in her body disintegrate; her vision blurred, her eyes closed, and she fainted.

    "Poor child, you are too tired!" Tie Feilong sighed.

    By this time the stronghold had turned into pile of ashes, the fire had spread toward forest.

    Tie Feilong had suffered untold hardships; after toiling for three years he finally heard some information on Tie Shanhu and Yu Luocha's whereabouts. Unexpectedly, after a long journey he saw the mountain stronghold had been destroyed. It was as if his head was bumped by a deer; he jumped around continuously like mad, while his eyes scanned the surroundings. All imperial troops had run away, he did not hear anybody, he only heard in the midst of cracking fire the flapping and crying of birds, and the shouts of apes and monkeys fleeing from the burning forest.

    "Shanhu! Shanhu!" Tie Feilong called out; his voice reverberated in the forest, echoed from the mountain peaks. Tie Feilong shouted at the top of his lungs for quite a long time before two female bandits crawled up. They were lucky to escape alive by hiding among the tall grass on the waist of the mountain.

    These two female bandits did not know what kind of man Tie Feilong was, but they noticed he was wearing civilian attire, while they did not see any imperial troops everywhere, so they guessed he must be their stronghold leader's friend. As they reached where he was, they said with a sob, "Tie Zhaizhu is dead!"

    Tie Feilong's heart was crushed; for this daughter of his, he had tracked her down through ten thousand rivers and a thousand mountains, but in the end he still could not even see her face. He was silent for a long, long time before he made some noise to acknowledge the female trooper. He listened quietly to the recounting the unforeseen disaster the mountain stronghold had been going through these past several days, and only then did he finally burst into tears. "I came too late!" he shouted wildly.

    Seeing this, the female trooper was flabbergasted; she asked in shock, "Could it be that Mister is the Old Hero Tie whose name has shaken the northwest region?"

    Tie Feilong stood rigid like a piece of rock, his eyes unmoving like two beads of pearls, his mind was drifting to the past, the shadow of little Tie Shanhu played vividly in front of his eyes; he did not even hear the female trooper’s question as if he was a mere stone statue standing on that mountain top.

    In the meantime the female bandits had just discovered Yu Luocha’s body laying face down on the ground, they were even more frightened. They rushed toward her, but when they only took two steps, Yu Luocha turned around but she did not seem to be awake. The female trooper was in such panic that she lost her mind, she rushed back toward Tie Feilong, pulled his legs while calling out, "Old Hero Tie, please look at our Zhaizhu!"

    Tie Feilong suddenly woke up from his trance and with a choking voice said, "Don't worry, I must not lose my other daughter!"

    As Yu Luocha turned around she called out, "Shanhu Mei, I will avenge you!"

    Tie Feilong's heart was shaken, he thought, "That's right, I must avenge my daughter!"

    Yu Luocha turned again and called out, "Zhuo Yihang, are you ..."

    Tie Feilong's grief had reached its limit; from the female troop he had quite a clear picture on what had happened that night, he said in his heart, "My poor child, you love the wrong man. He is a descendant of government officials, although he possesses a little bit spirit of a Lulin hero, he still cannot give up everything. Even in an important issue of marriage, his views are just the same. Even if his martial uncles do not interfere, the two of you may not necessarily be a good match." At that moment he suddenly felt that his own daughter had better insight than Yu Luocha, his heart felt even more bleak.

    Tie Feilong came two steps closer when suddenly Yu Luocha laughed maniacally again, "Ha ha ... you are all gone! Shanhu Mei, you left in peace. Mingke, the kid, you also left in peace. Yihang, oh Yihang, you did not leave in peace ...!"

    Tie Feilong knew she was so much in pain that she went mad; he pulled her to his bosom, sharing her grief, while gently called, "Chang'er, look, I am here."

    Yu Luocha slowly came to her senses. As soon as she saw Tie Feilong, she covered her face and cried loudly.

    Tie Feilong said, "We, father and daughter, are relying on each other, from now on, we won't wander off alone."

    "Father," Yu Luocha said, "I cannot protect Shanhu Meimei, I really deserve to die!"

    "Shhh," Tie Feilong said, "You are not to be blamed; don't cry, don't cry. Why don't you take me to Shanhu's grave?" He persuaded Yu Luocha not to cry, but his own eyes were wet with tears.

    Pulling Tie Feilong's hand along, Yu Luocha went down the mountain silently. The female trooper also followed. Along the way, they called and shouted. About a dozen or so female trooper who ran away earlier heard their call and joined them. Seeing Yu Luocha's deathly pale countenance, their lips were tightly closed, nobody dared to make any noise as they all followed her to the bottom of the valley, toward the two newly built tombs.

    Yu Luocha used the dust as the incense, she kowtowed three times. Tie Feilong sat on the head of the grave, his eyes were fixed on the night sky, his mouth did not utter a single word, as if even his tears had dried out.

    Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha, one sitting on the head of the grave, the other standing in front of the it, they were facing each other silently, until without anybody realizing it, the eastern horizon gradually turned white.

    A female trooper said, "Zhaizhu, the dead cannot come back to life; let's go home."

    With a bitter smile Yu Luocha replied, "Where do you think we should go?"

    The female troop remembered their stronghold had turned into ashes, ninety percent of her companions had either perished or wounded; several years of hard work was destroyed in just one day. Indeed they had nowhere to go. Everybody shed tears and nobody dared to speak anymore.

    A moment later the morning sun arose, the sunlight penetrated the trees into the bottom of the canyon. The female trooper was about to try to persuade again when suddenly they heard the sound of footsteps and hoof beats coming from outside the mountain pass.

    "Humph," Yu Luocha sprang up in anger, "They want to completely destroy us?"

    Tie Feilong leaped onto the rock wall and pulled a large rock, saying, "Let them come, I am going to bury them in this valley!" They both thought it must be the imperial troops. With anger welled up in their chests, they waited for the enemy excitedly.

    The mountain pass was sealed by the avalanche the day before yesterday. Although the female troops had dug it out, only one person at a time could walk through it. Tie Feilong crouched on top of the hill, he was ready for the imperial troops to appear, as soon as they walk through the pass, he would throw the rock to bury them alive!

    Not too long afterwards, they saw a banner fluttering at the mouth of the valley, followed by the clip-clop of hoof beats of horse as a group in battle attire entered the valley in single file.

    Tie Feilong roared and pushed the big rock down. Yu Luocha suddenly called out, "Hold it!" But with rising dust the big rock had already rolled down the hill! Tie Feilong hastily held his hands. When he looked clearly, he saw the army walking through the mountain pass was a women's corps!

    "Bad!" Yu Luocha cried out, "It's not the imperial army!" Together with Tie Feilong she flew down trying to help, but the rock rolled down very fast, by the time it reached the waist of the hill, it bumped into another protruding rock so it flew high and fell down, carrying a very strong momentum! Even if Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong were able to move faster, they would never be able to withstand such a tremendous force!

    "Not good!" Tie Feilong shouted.

    The leader of the troops below was a female general, she leaped from the horseback and brandished her long spear toward the falling rock. 'Crack!' The spear broke into two, the female general made a somersault midair, and nicely landed on the horseback, her movement was graceful and very pleasing to the eyes! The big rock flew to the other side of the hill and down to the mountain stream below.

    "Good skill!" Yu Luocha could not refrain from calling out.

    The female general ran her horse forward and with a smile she asked, "Are you Lian Zhaizhu?"

    Seeing that female general was wearing red skirt, Yu Luocha replied, "Precisely. Do you happen to be called the Heroine Red Madame by the Jianghu friends?"

    The female general bowed and replied, "I do not dare. Young Roaming King told me[1] to send his greetings to Jiejie."

    By this time, about a dozen or so female troops stepped forward and called, "Zhaizhu." Yu Luocha turned around and recognized them to be her own troops.

    Red Madame said, "Yesterday our commanding general Li Yan led our army to attack the county town, together with the starving people we came to the provincial capital to destroy the 'suppressing bandits troops' completely. We received an order from the Young Roaming King to invite Jiejie to leave the mountain and take a leading position. Unexpectedly we are one day too late, the stronghold has been burned down. We are unable to offer our assistance and have come here to apologize."

    Yu Luocha said, "The stronghold met a disaster due to my own negligence. You have taken these sisters under your wings, I cannot thank you enough." Toward the female troops she asked, "Have all of you who escaped returned?" The female troops broke into crying.

    Yu Luocha did a quick head count. Including the dozen or so women already with her, she only had twenty seven female troopers left. From more than 500 female troopers, those who escape alive were less than 10%. Recalling how for the last several years these women had lived and died together as sisters, she could not restrain tears from streaming down her face.

    Red Madame said, "Jiejie, don't be sad, right now the whole country is in rebellion, homeless people number in tens of thousands; once the call to action is issued, heroes and warriors will stand together. By that time, for Jiejie to raise a female army [the original says 'heroic military division of feminine head covering/cap', but I do not know how to translate it] will be as easy as turning your hand." Yu Luocha forced a smile, but did not say anything.

    Red Madame continued, "In the city, Li Yan is busy comforting the bereaved families, he asked me to send his regards to Jiejie."

    "Who is Li Yan?" Yu Luocha asked.

    Red Madame said, "He is the commanding general[2] under the Young Roaming King, he is also my husband."

    "My respects, my respects!" Yu Luocha said.

    Tie Feilong walked near and made his acquaintance with Red Madame; they had heard about each other and thus expressed their admiration toward each other. Tie Feilong said, "Isn't your respectable husband the son of Li Jingbai, the high official of the Ministry of War?"

    "He is," Red Madame replied.

    Yu Luocha's eyes brightened, Zhuo Yihang's shadow flashed in her mind, unconsciously all sorts of feelings welled up in her heart.

    Red Madame was a female bandit of Henan province, although her reputation was not as resounding as Yu Luocha, she was quite famous in Jianghu. Li Yan was a prominent young man in Qixian[3] Henan. His father was Li Jingbai, a former high official of the Ministry of War. Therefore, in term of family background, Li Yan was quite similar to Zhuo Yihang. However, Li Yan’s father had died prematurely early on, hence although his father’s position was a level higher than Zhuo Yihang’s father and grandfather, his influence in his hometown was inferior to that of Zhuo Yihang’s family. Li Yan was similar to Zhuo Yihang, he also studied both literary and swordsmanship, therefore, he was a master of both the pen and the sword.

    One particular year Henan experienced a severe famine, Li Yan noticed the victims’ desperate plea, he was deeply moved by compassion. On his own initiative he took out several hundred dan[4] of grain stockpiled in his barn to give relief to the people. He also composed the ‘soliciting donations song’, urging the patriotic members of the gentry to also donate their grains. Some of the lyrics were: ‘the government authorities levy grain taxes like hungry tiger, the prominent families exact debts like ravenous wolf; poor oppressed people gasping for breath just to survive, their souls return to the netherworld in premature burials.’

    He wrote such song to ‘solicit donations’, naturally it touched the taboo of the gentry and prominent families; as a result, he was arrested and imprisoned, charged with instigating the ‘starving people rebellion’. The jail was like a big furnace, forging him to become refined steel, thereupon, when later on the Red Madame brought her army to attack and capture Qixian’s county seat, he decided to follow the Red Madame.

    Yu Luocha had also heard Li Yan’s name, but she did not expect he would marry the Red Madame, the fact that Li Yan had become a general under the Young Roaming King was even further away from her anticipation. When she first heard the Red Madame mention Li Yan’s name, Yu Luocha did not realize it was the same Li Yan who wrote the ‘solicit donations song’. In this instant, Yu Luocha suddenly remembered Zhuo Yihang. She thought, “Yifu[5] often said that Zhuo Yihang came from a government officials’ family, he might not be a good match for me. Didn’t that Li Yan also come from a government official’s family? Yet he and Red Madame have actually tied an excellent predestined match.”

    She did not realize that although their family backgrounds were similar, Li Yan’s path of life was entirely different from Zhuo Yihang’s. Zhuo Yihang could not be compared to Li Yan in that Li Yan’s life was transformed[6] a long time ago. Yu Luocha had not grasped this fact.

    After Red Madame got acquainted with Yu Luocha, she invited Yu Luocha to come with her back to the county seat. Yu Luocha thought for a moment, and she agreed.

    The situation in Guangyuan differed greatly from several days ago; tens of thousands famine victims were transformed into valiant troops by Li Yan. Most of them did not have any weapons, but they cut wooden branches as their weapons in other to rise in rebellion. Every single one of them was high spirited, they looked like the mighty army trained in Beijing. Seeing this kind of spectacle, Yu Luocha inwardly sighed with admiration. Looking up, she saw a white cloth banner hanging horizontally above the main street, with large characters written on it: ‘Destroy his mother, pierce his mother, open the main gate to welcome the Roaming King. The Roaming King arrives, no more taxes to pay.”[7] Unwittingly she broke into wide smile and exclaimed, “Good!” This verse was simple yet forceful, without the slightest bit flavor of pain or wishy-washiness; indeed it fits Yu Luocha’s appetite.

    The barrack gate opened and Li Yan came out to welcome them. Red Madame laughed and said, "I've already welcomed the honored guest on your behalf."

    Li Yan also laughed and welcomed them anyway; he turned to Yu Luocha and said, "Nowadays the patriots are rising; the Roaming King's army is about to move out from Qinling to the west. Capture Tongguan first then fight for Henan. I wonder if Lian Zhaizhu would be willing to join us?"

    Yu Luocha contemplated for a moment before saying, "China belongs to you. What assistance can I possibly offer? I am asking Hong[8] Jiejie to look after my troops, I want to take my leave."

    Li Yan was sure Yu Luocha would agree to join forces with them, hearing her reply, he was quite surprised. Li Yan did not know Yu Luocha had other thoughts. As she heard Li Yan's invitation to become their ally, she thought, 'Shanhu Meimei has not been avenged, how can I be stranded in the army? Besides, if I join, it will be more difficult for me to see Zhuo Yihang." It must be understood that toward Zhuo Yihang, Yu Luocha had a love-hate feeling; when she was angry, she wanted to sever all relationship with Zhuo Yihang, but as soon as her resentment dissipated, she would miss seeing him.

    Li Yan was not pleased to hear Yu Luocha's rejection. Red Madame said, "Lian Jiejie, your stronghold has been destroyed by the imperial army, this enmity must be avenged!"

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and said, "With you around, why must I worry? Managing an army is not my talent; besides, my natural temperament is wild, I only wish to wander unhindered with my sword, free and without any care. Don't you think it would be better if we simply go our separate ways?"

    Li Yan mused, 'No wonder she is counted among the demonesses, her love of the wild is difficult to tame. If we accepted her in the army, I am afraid she might disrupt the discipline of the troops.' Thereupon he no longer insisted.

    Li Yan had just captured the county seat, he was still busy with military affairs. Several gangs of bandits in that area had come to submit to him, thereupon he sent for the bandits and negotiated the distribution of the grains and the soldiers' pay. The city was bustling with activity.

    Yu Luocha sat on the side, watching him make payments to the troops, and noticed that he did not refuse anybody's request but accommodated everybody's needs; he would inquire clearly the number of troops and immediately pay and provide adequate provisions for each group. After being busy for half a day, all those people were perfectly satisfied, and each one returned to their respective places.

    "Why do you deal with these gang leaders like this?" Yu Luocha wondered.

    "Would Jiejie give your advice?" Li Yan replied.

    "When I went to the south," Yu Luocha said, “I took over the property and army provisions of the various strongholds; where is the logic in giving everything to them instead?”

    Li Yan smiled slightly, he thought, ‘You dominate others by force, how can you be successful in major affairs?’

    From the side, Red Madame answered the question, “If we don’t do it this way, they would not be delighted to come and help us. The imperial court has two large armies stationed at two Sichuan provinces, they are planning on crushing us one by one. If we do not join our forces, I am afraid it will be difficult for us to survive. Not only we won’t be able to go out west to Tongguan, we will be whipped back north.”

    Yu Luocha reasoned, “But there are all kinds of groups and personalities among Lulin’s bandits; aren’t you afraid someone might swindle you of your money and provisions?”

    “Jiejie is right,” Li Yan said, “We will have to deal with each group differently. But that can wait till later, besides, there is a strong yi qi[9] among the Lulin world, we must not shut our door just because of a few scumbags in our community.”

    “What you said is correct,” Yu Luocha admitted. She paused for a moment, and then continued, “How many provisions do you have that you can give to them? How much grain and money stored up in this town? I have a general idea, but will it be enough to feed the starving people in one month?”

    With a wry smile Li Yan said, “I will have to think of a way to solve that problem later.”

    Yu Luocha suddenly laughed, “I can’t join you as your ally, but I do have a tiny bit of gift I’d like to present to Hong Jiejie.”

    Red Madame waved her hand and said, “Jiejie needs not be polite.”

    Yu Luocha said, “You have no choice but to receive this gift. Tomorrow I want you to take a team of female troops and come with me to the Bright Moon Gorge.” Finished speaking, she stretched out her arms and yawned, “Looking at you to be very busy, I get dizzy and my eyes blurry. Ha, I want to sleep!”

    Li Yan quickly ordered his people to prepare a room and invited Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong to take a rest.

    Early morning the following day, as agreed Red Madame led a group of female troops following Yu Luocha to the Bright Moon Gorge. Seeing Yu Luocha acting strange, Red Madame was suspicious, so much so that just before they left, she quietly said to Li Yan, “I wonder what kind of gift she wants to give me, why does she drag these many people along, why does she look anxious?”

    Li Yan simply laughed and said, “I can guess with seventy, eighty percent confidence, but you might as well come with her. Let me send you off a bit.”

    After sending them off outside their town, Li Yan reined his horse, but suddenly Yu Luocha said, “I want you to come with us.”

    Red Madame was not happy, she thought, “How come this Demoness is so unreasonable, he is busy with military affairs, doesn’t she know it?” Red Madame thought her husband would certainly decline, but unexpectedly Li Yan only showed a faint smile and agreed to come with them.

    “Don’t you have an appointment to see couple of Lulin chieftains today?” Red Madame said.

    “I will ask my vice-general to handle the matter for me,” Li Yan replied. Handing a roll of paper to his attendants, he ordered them to return to the city, while without hesitation he followed Yu Luocha along.

    The stronghold on the Bright Moon Gorge had turned into ashes, Yu Luocha lingered on the scorched soil for a moment without saying anything. Li Yan said, “Jiejie, don’t be grieved, for each stronghold the imperial army destroyed, we will take ten of their provincial capitals.”

    Yu Luocha suddenly said, “You have a sword hanging on your waist, I supposed you must be adept in using the sword? While we don’t have anything else to do, why don’t we exchange several moves in here?”

    Red Madame’s anger shot to the roof, she thought, “Humph, this Demoness said she has a gift for us, turns out she only wants to size us up.” She was just about to open her mouth to rebuke, when suddenly she saw Li Yan threw her a meaningful glance, telling her not to say anything.

    Li Yan’s initial reaction was also a surprise, but then he laughed and said, “How can my swordsmanship be compared to Jiejie’s?”

    Yu Luocha said, “I have rested for two days with nobody to fight, my hands itch. You have entertained me with excellent spirits and delicious dishes, but if you accompany me in a couple of stances, I would be very much obliged.”

    “Very well,” Li Yan said, “Jiejie, please make your move!”

    Yu Luocha pinched the tip of her sword, the sword moved like the wind; a blue ray flashed straight toward Li Yan’s wrist. Li Yan learned his swordsmanship from Wang Tong, a master from Taiji Pai. His sword struck downward and conveniently pulled a flat flower. Instead of blocking the attack, he stabbed the opponent’s foot.

    “Not bad!” Yu Luocha praised. In the blink of an eye she had launched two stances, one swing of the sword going down to chop, the other swing of the sword went up to stab. Li Yan could not guess the real target of her attack, he raised his sword in front of his chest to block, using the ‘looks like sealing appears to close’ sword style, trying to seal the opponent’s sword movement and block it outside the perimeter of his defense line. Who would have thought that Yu Luocha’s sword technique was strange and crafty to the extreme; the sword momentum had not vanished, the power in her hand pushed outward, the sword continued moving. This attack was even fiercer, the blade of the sword flickered, from an unexpected angle the sword stabbed from the left toward his neck. Li Yan slid back, his left hand feigned a sweep, his right leg kicked Yu Luocha’s slender waist. It was the stance ‘Drunken Wu Song Strikes Gate of Divinity’, one of the chain kicks styles. His swordsmanship was insufficient to deal with the opponent, he was forced to unleash his fist and feet martial art.”

    “Ugh!” Yu Luocha grunted, “You are still able to match me well!” Twisting her waist, she lunged her sword forward. Li Yan turned his sword around and evaded this dangerously close attack. Yu Luocha’s attacks were getting swifter and swifter, the sword’s ray flickered everywhere, it looked like her shadow was all around him.

    Red Madame sucked in a deep breath, she mused, “This Demoness surely enjoys a well-deserved reputation.” Suddenly she saw that Yu Luocha twisted her sword, coiling Li Yan’s sword and twisting it along two revolutions; a loud ringing noise followed. “Not good!” Red Madame shouted. She wanted to leap into the arena, but Yu Luocha was laughing loud and long, and the two combatants suddenly separated.

    Red Madame was confounded. Li Yan put his sword back into its sheath, cupped his fist and said, “Heroine Lian’s swordsmanship is truly without equal! My utmost admiration!”

    Yu Luocha maintained a neutral expression, “Indeed you praise me too much!” she said, but immediately she broke into a laughter and said, “I failed to snatch your sword within thirty stances, you deserve to receive my gift.”

    Red Madame was greatly astonished, she cursed inwardly, “How can there be such logic in presenting a gift? That the receiver must be measured up for the gift? Who covets your gift anyway?”

    But Li Yan simply said, “In that case, let me thank you first.”

    Yu Luocha unhurriedly walked to the side of the mountain cliff while saying, “Yesterday I witnessed your literary talent and resourcefulness first hand, today I experienced your martial art skill. I know I am entrusting this gift to the right person.”

    Yu Luocha’s stronghold was built leaning on the mountain wall, with wooden logs used as pillars; there were still some scorched pillars on the mountain rocks. Yu Luocha chopped sideways with her palm, the pillar broke. She beckoned the Red Madame and said, “Please have your troops dig here, dig through the wooden floor.”

    Red Madame was quite angry, “I might as well get more people here and clean up this rubble for you,” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

    Yu Luocha’s countenance fell, she said, “In this life, I am not going to return here; why would I want this place cleaned up?” For more than three years Yu Luocha operated this stronghold, and it was destroyed in one night; she was grieved by Red Madame’s words and failed to catch the sarcasm in her voice.

    Seeing she was heart-broken, Red Madame regretted her harsh words, she thought, “Although this Demoness’ character is strange, her personality is actually quite straightforward.” She directed her female troops to dig the ground.

    They dug out the wooden logs buried in the ground, and after digging for a while, suddenly they felt the ground was loose. One female troop dug her hoe down, and suddenly it sank into a hole. Digging some more, ‘Dang!’ the hoe struck against a flagstone. Yu Luocha jumped down and lifted the flagstone up. A pile of jewels dazzled their eyes, gold and silver, pearls and jade, piled up in the hole. It was the tribute Yu Luocha extorted from the bandits’ leaders all these years, as well as the treasures she amassed from robbing the rich.

    The female troops digging the earth was frightened that they only stared blankly. Red Madame was also rather stunned. Only Li Yan laughed softly, as if he had already anticipated everything.

    Yu Luocha said, “Please get all these things out.”

    The female troops had never seen such a treasure, they walked on their tiptoes and very carefully took the treasures one by one out, as if they were afraid these treasures would bring them bad luck.

    Yu Luocha giggled happily as she explained to Tie Feilong: that thing was snatched by Shanhu from such and such bandits’ leader, that piece of deep green emerald was a tribute from such and such clan leader; she sounded very proud.

    Tie Feilong knitted his brows and said, “Why on earth did you spend so much time and energy to collect such rusty and rotten things?”

    Yu Luocha laughed, “Father,” she said, “Have you even seen two masters playing chess? They don’t care about the fancy pieces, but if there are fancy pieces, their interest will be increased. Previously I subdued the Lulin world of Shannan[10], forcing them to pay tribute to me; it was no more than a chess master wanting to get fancier pieces.” These past two days, Tie Feilong had been weighed down with anxiety, but hearing her teasing words, he could not help but loosen up and laughed.

    After Red Madame’s female troops finished moving the gold, silver, pearls and jewels out, Yu Luocha raised her cupped fists toward Li Yan and said, “This meager gift I present to worthy husband and wife as a supplement to the soldiers’ ration and pay.”

    “In that case,” Li Yan replied, “On behalf of the starving people and my brethren, I thank you so much.”

    Yu Luocha casually lifted up a golden horse saddle and somberly said, “This thing used to belong to your old Zhaizhu, Wang Jiayin, which he delivered to me via his son. Now that he is dead, please take this saddle and give it to Wang Zhaoxi, just consider it my wedding gift to them.”

    Red Madame said, “Aren’t you going to pick one or two things as a souvenir?”

    According to the underworld gang’s custom, every time someone made a move, one could not return empty handed. If they happened to meet someone more powerful and was inconvenienced in their act, then taking a small copper coin was also acceptable. This was supposed to bring good luck. Yu Luocha had accumulated this invaluable treasure over the year, and now she presented everything as a gift; consequently, adhering to the underworld gang’s custom, Red Madame also reminded her to take one or two things.

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and said, “From now on I am washing my hands and withdraw from the Lulin world, why would I want to keep these mere worldly possessions?” After laughing for a moment she rolled her eyes and suddenly said, “All right, I do want to take something.” Stooping down, she took a scoop of dirt from the ground and said, “I have lived in this place for more than three years. Very few had I lived in one place for such a long time. I am very familiar with the smell of the dirt.” She brought the dirt to her nose and sniffed it before continuing, “This dirt has been dyed with my sisters’ blood, there is nothing more deserving to be kept as souvenir.” She put the dirt into her pocket and then calling out to Tie Feilong, they flew down the mountain.

    Red Madame shouted to call them back, but she could only see Yu Luocha’s sleeve floating in the wind, she did not even turn her head around, she had really left.

    Such is: All kinds of rare and wonderful treasures were undesirable; a handful of dirt was kept as a reminder of deep love.

    [1]Just like the Xiao Chuang Wang, she also used the term 'an' to refer to herself, showing that she came from northern part of China.

    [2]Orig. 'zhi jiangjun', zhi - control/regulate, jiangjun - general. Book note: This is an official position in the imperial bureaucracy.

    [3]A county in Kaifeng, Henan.

    [4]A dry measure for grain, 1 dan equal to about 100 liters (approximately 2.8 bushels).

    [5]Foster father.

    [6]Orig. ‘tuo tai huan gu’ - shed his mortal body and exchanged his bones.

    [7]In the original text, these verse rhyme: ‘chi ta niang, chuan ta niang, kai le da men ying Chuang Wang, Chuang Wang lai shi bu na liang.’

    [8]Hong means Red.

    [9]Loyalty, code of brotherhood.

    [10]Southern Shaanxi province.

  3. #23
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 22

    Chapter 22
    Flying frost in the sixth month
    Unjust verdict from Beijing
    Studying document in closed palace
    Heroine delivers strange book
    (Translated by Foxs and Ren Wo Xing, Edited by Eliza Bennet, with Special Thanks to Hoju!)

    Half a month later, Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong were galloping on the plain of Chengdu[1]. Both of them were wearing black attire, as dark as the night, while riding jujube-red stallions, so they attracted some attention. Once Tie Feilong had advised Yu Luocha to dress as a man, but Yu Luocha laughed and said, “I want to flaunt myself wearing a hat, skirt and hairpin; why would I want to dress as a man?” Tie Feilong laughed and dropped the subject. Fortunately both of them possessed superior martial art skills, and many among the public knew Yu Luocha, so even though they met her, nobody dared to pick a fight with her.

    One particular day, they reached Pengxian[2], which was only about a hundred li from Chengdu. “Father,” Yu Luocha said, “Have you noticed these past two days there were always men appear and disappear along the way?”

    “Others don’t disturb me, I don’t disturb others,” Tie Feilong replied, “We have our own business to attend to, why would we mind others?”

    “It’s not that,” Yu Luocha said, “Probably they are hunting for some bandits.”

    “Haven’t you washed your hands and left the Lulin?” Tie Feilong said, “Government officials catching bandits is a common thing, why do you care so much? Could it be that your hands itch and you cannot endure it so you want to pick a fight?”

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, “Father, you are exactly right!”

    Tie Feilong said, “If you want to pick a fight, you must look for a good match. Even if you kill this sloppy and useless constable, you won’t have any satisfaction.”

    In reality, Yu Luocha did not have any intentions of killing the chief of police, it’s just that she noticed that after his daughter died, Tie Feilong always looked gloomy, apparently he was still grieving; hence along the way, she tried to find something interesting to chat about and teased him to make him laugh, so that he might gradually let the worries lift off his chest.

    When the night fell, the two of them lodged at Wanxian[3]. As they entered the inn, suddenly Yu Luocha said, “Father, I think I saw the secret sign those constables left behind.”

    “What secret sign?” Tie Feilong asked.

    “Looks like the bandit they are hunting is an important criminal,” Yu Luocha replied, “There is a drawing of a butterfly on the outside wall of the inn, which is the symbol of Chengdu’s most wanted criminal Gan Tianli. He is an expert in using poisonous butterfly darts, which closes up the throat as soon as the poison makes contact with the blood. He is an archenemy in the Lulin world. When I was still at the Bright Moon Gorge, there was a friend of the underworld gang who asked me to remove him. But I thought Chengdu is far away, the government army has quite a strong influence in this area. Honestly, I was afraid that if I go, the government army would take advantage of my absence and attack the stronghold, so I did not comply. Gan Tianli has a brother known as Jiaohua, an expert in external martial arts, a rather mature fellow, also a constable in Chengdu. What I saw just now was the secret mark Gan Tianli left for Jiaohua, telling him to hurry along toward the Flying Fox mountain range to intercept a convict. If it was not an important convict, those two would not work together to hunt a criminal."

    Tie Feilong said, "I don't care what kind of convict, it is better if we do not meddle in their business. This place is near Chengdu, if we make our move rashly, we would alarm them and then we'll have to deal with them. Although we are not afraid of them, our trip will inevitably be delayed."

    Yu Luocha pursed her lips, and then said with a laugh, "Father, I think you are getting more and more timid!"

    Tie Feilong pretended to be angry. "Who says I am scared?" he said, "Just wait till we get to Beijing, you'll see."

    Yu Luocha laughed, but did not say anything. As she sat in her room, she was just thinking of calling the inn servant to bring some dinner when suddenly someone knocked on her door, twice. When she opened the door, the innkeeper walked in, closed the door, and in a low voice asked, "Is lady by any chance Heroine Lian?"

    "How do you know me?" Yu Luocha asked.

    With a smile the innkeeper said, "Most of the time, my humble establishment entertains travelling merchants, but every now and then friends from the underworld gangs also spend the night in here. I am not going to conceal anything from you, one time Zhu Zhaizhu[4] also stopped by for the night here, and he mentioned your venerable name."

    "Which Zhu Zhaizhu?" Yu Luocha asked.

    The innkeeper replied, "The one with the nickname Fire-Spirit Monkey."

    "Oh," Yu Luocha said, "Turns out it is the Fire-Spirit Monkey Zhu Baochun. Is he grazing nearby?"

    "Exactly," the innkeeper said, and then he slowly took an envelope from his chest.

    Fire-Spirit Monkey Zhu Baochun was formerly one of the big bandits around the Sichuan-Shaanxi border, he was involved in the attempted robbery of the golden saddle that belonged to Wang Zhaoxi.

    "Is this letter from him?" Yu Luocha asked.

    "No," the innkeeper replied, "It is from another guest. First he mentioned Zhu Zhaizhu's name, thinking that he would send this letter to him, but then he changed his mind and wanted me to give it to you instead."

    "What kind of guest?" Yu Luocha was astonished, "How did he know I am here?"

    The innkeeper laughed, "Among the underworld gang's friends of the two Sichuan provinces, who does not know you, Senior?" he said, "Before you arrived in here, the news about you have already reached this place. In this small town, you can say that all small inns look the same. That guest said that you, Senior, might not stop, but if you do, most likely you will stay here."

    Yu Luocha held out her hand and said with a smile, "All right, let me see the letter. I wonder who he is." She took the letter from the innkeeper's hands and opened it.

    She saw the letter only had a picture of a hand in the form of a claw, the hand was drenched with blood, there was nothing written on it. "Ha, it is him," Yu Luocha said, "What does he want? Tell me!"

    "He did not say, and the humble one did not dare to ask," the innkeeper said, "He drew it in great haste, he had just finished drawing, there were sounds of horse bells outside; he gave the letter to me, and hurriedly jumped over the back wall."

    "Oh, so that's how it is," Yu Luocha said, "No wonder he did not have time to write even a single character." She then asked, "And then that government official who came here, wasn't he the Butterfly Dart Gan Tianli?"

    "Precisely," the innkeeper replied, "How do you, Senior, know? He was accompanied by another elderly official."

    "He left a sign on the outer wall of your inn!" Yu Luocha said.

    The innkeeper was startled. "What?" he jumped in fright, "Does he think this small inn have dealings with the underworld gang?"

    "It's not that," Yu Luocha replied, "He wants his companion to hunt and capture that guest." After a short pause she asked, "Do you know where the Flying Fox mountain range is?"

    The innkeeper said, "It's more than ten li from this place, in one of the pathways leading to the Western Sichuan."

    "Very well," Yu Luocha said, "Please prepare several dishes of tasty appetizers for this Old Master, some diced chicken meat sautéed with green pepper, duck meat in cinnamon tea, and some mutton; I think those three dishes are enough. Father, do you think these dishes suit your taste? Oh, and don't forget a pot of warm Fen wine."

    The innkeeper was greatly amazed to see Yu Luocha was very respectful toward Tie Feilong, and to hear her calling him 'Father' over and over again.

    Yu Luocha said with laugh, "Jianghu friends all call me Yu Luocha, you may call me Yu Luocha; you don't need to call me 'Senior' or what have you. It is toward this Old Master that you should call him 'Senior'."

    "Ha," Tie Feilong said, "I am not that old either."[5]

    "Yes," the innkeeper acknowledged, "What the two Seniors said is right. Ay, I am used to call you 'Senior', it's hard for me to change."

    After they excused the innkeeper, Tie Feilong laughed and said, "Your reputation is indeed resounding. I have wandered around the northwest for several decades, as soon as I get to Sichuan, people take me to be the useless old man."

    Yu Luocha also laughed, "Father is a renowned old hero, the younger generation does not fit to even know you."

    "What kind of man is that guest who left you a letter?" Tie Feilong asked.

    "He is Luo Tiebi," Yu Luocha replied, "Formerly he set up his stronghold at Anyao on the Michang Mountain on the border of Sichuan. I subdued him along with Zhu Baochun and the others. Later on, the imperial army carried out a large-scale raid, all Zhaizhu of the west fled, and I lost track of them. Who could have thought that tonight he actually appeared in this place? He has a bit of reputation, and his martial art skill is not bad either but he is by no means a big name bandit. I don’t know why Chengdu’s two renowned hunters want to capture him. Father, he and I have burned incense sticks together, he had presented more than a few gifts to me. The proverb says, ‘Wealth may save one from disaster’, I have received his gifts, he is in trouble and asks for help, I cannot keep my hands in my sleeves and ignore his plea.”

    Tie Feilong laughed, “You really want to fight,” he said, “Since he is your former ally, I won’t stop you, I am coming with you.”

    Yu Luocha said, “Just a few constables, why must they bother you? Just sit here and drink wine, I will be back before dawn!”

    Leaving the inn, Yu Luocha unleashed the full potential of her qinggong that in less than an hour she had reached the Flying Fox mountain range.

    Flying Fox mountain range was actually only a small hill. As Yu Luocha reached one side of the hill, she heard noises of battle on the other side. “Ha,” she mused, “I am right on time, they are indeed fighting! Let me just take a look first, how much has Luo Tiebi’s martial art skill advanced?”

    It was the eve of the fifteenth, the moon was clear and bright, Yu Luocha climbed to the peak of the hill and craned her neck to look down. She saw three men were surrounding Luo Tiebi on the small path at the foot of the hill. Other than Gan Tianli and Jiaohua, there was another man who seemed familiar to her. Yu Luocha looked attentively and remembered this man was Shi Hao, an imperial guard who fled at the mere distant sight of her in the south; she thought, “I heard Shi Hao was promoted to be the vice chief of the Western Faction Guards. Why is he here?”

    Looking closer, she noticed that Luo Tiebi was also carrying a child; surrounded by the three men, his situation was very critical! Yu Luocha let out a long laugh while pulling her sword out and charging down the hill.

    “Not good!” Shi Hao cried out, “Yu Luocha has come!” With a stance ‘overwhelming flood’, both of his palms swept and struck Luo Tiebi’s back. Gan Tianli’s single saber also struck from the side, making Luo Tiebi’s situation even more desperate. Luo Tiebi turned around to dodge, ‘crack!’ his shoulder was hit by the saber. ‘Wah!’ the child on his shoulder cried loudly, while waving his little hands in the air, trying to slap Shi Hao.

    Shi Hao laughed aloud and stretched out his left hand to snatch the little child. Luo Tiebi bellowed while his right palm hacked down, his left leg swept away. Jiaohua’s left wrist feigned a hook, his right fist jabbed straight out. He was using the ‘striking across the golden bell’ from the ‘subduing tiger fist style’, left void, right solid; striking Luo Tiebi’s ‘shoulder well’ acupoint. It was a very ruthless strike, he expected Luo Tiebi to sidestep abruptly, so the next stance would coordinate well with Gan Tianli’s single saber to attack the lower part of his body. Unexpectedly, Luo Tiebi disregarded his life and slapped down with his palm. Two hands collided; Luo Tiebi’s palm struck Jiaohua’s chest, while Jiaohua’s fist broke Luo Tiebi’s shoulder bone. They both cried out in severe pain and jumped several zhang backward!

    These several exchanges were as swift as lightning or spreading wild fire, but in this twinkling of an eye, Yu Luocha had already arrived.

    "Help that child first!" Luo Tiebi called out.

    As he managed to snatch the child, Shi Hao immediately ran about a dozen zhang away. "Where do you think you are going?" Yu Luocha shouted. Her toes kicked the ground, faster than a shooting star she suddenly arrived at his back. Shi Hao lifted the child while turning around to block. Yu Luocha cursed, "Shameless and lowly trick!" Shi Hao felt his wrists were shaking, Yu Luocha's movement was lightning fast, her fingers brushed away and she snatched the child back.

    Under the moonlight she saw the child's face was as round as the full moon; the child said, "Gugu[6], thank you very much."

    Yu Luocha was taken aback; in the midst of danger and violent battle, this child did not cry, even his face did not show any sign of fear. Not only that, he even dared to open his mouth and greet her; he was truly a fearless child, Yu Luocha had neither seen nor heard such audacity before!

    Because of this slight astonishment, Yu Luocha's steps were halted. Shi Hao desperately ran and very soon he was a dozen or so zhang away. Yu Luocha laughed and said, "Good child, just watch, I am going to catch this evil man back for you, so you can slap him and vent your anger."

    Suddenly they heard Luo Tiebi's miserable cry. The child said, "I want Luo Shushu[7], I can slap the evil man later. Gugu, please save Luo Shushu."

    Yu Luocha hastily turned around and saw Gan Tianli supporting Jiaohua, ran down the mountain path, and disappear into a wheat field. Luo Tiebi's arm was hanging limply, his countenance deathly pale; he swayed and was about to fall. Yu Luocha rushed forward and saw that his left arm was chopped by the saber, only a piece of bone connected the arm to his shoulder remained, obviously it was beyond help. Moreover, the limp arm was black and swollen; it looked like a small bucket hanging down from his shoulder!

    With a bitter laugh Luo Tiebi said, "I was hit by his butterfly dart and was chopped by his saber. Might as well! This way the poison will not spread upward."

    Yu Luocha quickly took out a cut-wound medicine. Luo Tiebi said, "No good!" His right hand pulled a dagger hanging on his waist and 'chop!' his left arm was severed from his shoulder, blood gushing out like running water.

    While he did not cry before, now the child's eyes were wide open and 'wah!' he cried loudly. Yu Luocha put the child down and ripping her clothes, she applied cut-wound medicine on his wound and wrap it. "Good man!" she praised, "You are worthy to be a friend of mine!"

    Luo Tiebi grunted without saying anything. Taking a deep breath, he said in a low voice, "I need a favor from you, Senior; please stop the evil for me."

    "Why do you still talk according to the custom like that?" Yu Luocha said, "I have also washed my hands from Lulin's affair, now we are friends."

    "Ah," Luo Tiebi exclaimed, he seemed to be astonished. Large beads of sweat dripped down from his forehead, he seemed to be very much in pain, but he endured it bravely as with a low voice he consoled that little child, "Cong'er, don't cry, don't cry. Your Shushu will not die!"

    Seeing the two grownups talking and laughing, without appearing to be anxious, sure enough, the child stopped crying. Luo Tiebi said, "This Gugu is the world's most able heroine of the present age, you are very lucky to meet her. Why don't you kowtow and say thank you."

    Yu Luocha laughed. "This child is very nice," she said, "He has already thanked me!"

    Listening to Luo Tiebi's admonishment, the child did kneel down and kowtow to say thank you again.

    Seeing the child was so cute, Yu Luocha laughed and barraged Luo Tiebi with questions, "Whose child is this? How old is he? What's his name? How come he followed you fleeing to this place?"

    The boy answered her questions instead, "My name is Yang Yuncong, I turned five just on the sixteenth of this month. My Papa is Yang Lian."

    "Ah," Yu Luocha laughed, "Turns out you are Yang Lian's son. Your father does not have your boldness."

    "Who says he doesn't?" Yang Yuncong said, "At home, he often speaks about killing those treacherous court officials, those very big traitors. Luo Shushu told me that those treacherous court officials are friends with the Emperor. My Papa is not afraid of those treacherous court officials, he is also not afraid of the Emperor; why do you say he is not bold?"

    Yu Luocha laughed, "Fine, just consider me speak incorrectly, your Papa is very bold!"

    This was the first time since she was born that Yu Luocha admitted she was wrong, but of course the child did not know it; he laughed, feeling very proud of himself.

    In a low voice Luo Tiebi said, "Three years ago, I could not set foot in Shaanxi, and had to disband my troops. I roamed Jianghu for a while before someone recommended that I go to Official Yang’s household and be the bodyguard over there, so I went.”

    At first Yu Luocha’s countenance sank, but then she asked, “When you said Official Yang, did you mean Yang Lian?”

    “If it was not Yang Lian, I wouldn’t have gone,” Luo Tiebi replied.

    “Yang Lian is a good official, I did not blame you. Please continue,” Yu Luocha said.

    Hearing Yu Luocha mention that his father was a good official, Yang Yuncong laughed again. Luo Tiebi continued, “Official Yang treats me very well, I was happy to have a shelter while protecting his household at the same time, and also lived incognito for three years. One evening in the first month of this year Official Yang asked me to come into his study, and told me that he must submit a memorial to the throne to impeach Wei Zhongxian. If the petition failed, it was possible that his house would be searched and his possessions confiscated, to the extent that his entire family would be executed. Because of this, he wanted me to take his son out of Beijing first. He would wait for ten days after we left before submitting the petition. Now Shi Hao, Gan Tianli, Jiaohua, and the others are hunting for me, I suppose he has submitted the memorial and the petition has been defeated.” Speaking thus far, Luo Tiebi was so much in pain that beads of sweat dripped from his forehead. He swallowed a pain killer and then felt slightly better.

    Yu Luocha suddenly asked, “Where are you taking this child?”

    Luo Tiebi replied, “I am thinking of finding him a Shifu, if his father is harmed by the treacherous court officials …”

    “I will seek revenge for him,” Yang Yuncong continued.

    Luo Tiebi chuckled and then asked, “Heroine Lian, you are not looking for a disciple, are you?”

    “I like this child very much,” Yu Luocha said, “But I can’t take any disciple right now.” She thought for a moment, then suddenly said, “If one does not have a vanquish-dragons-and-subdue-tigers type of ability, contain-the-river-and-embrace-the-ocean type of vision, one does not deserve to be this child’s Shifu. I have one such personality in mind, but he lives too far away, he lives on Tianshan. You do not fear a difficult and dangerous journey, do you?”

    Luo Tiebi’s eyes brightened, he wondered what kind of man deserved to be held in such a high esteem by Yu Luocha. “I do not fear even death,” he said, “Much less a difficult and dangerous journey. May I ask which Senior hero is he?”

    Yu Luocha laughed, “He is a young hero,” she said, “Perhaps not much older than I am. Probably he has become a monk by now. Hey, have you ever heard the name Yue Mingke?”

    “I have heard Official Yang mention his name,” Luo Tiebi said, “Military Commissioner Xiong was Official Yang’s best friend, and Yue Mingke was Military Commissioner Xiong’s grand adjutant, wasn’t he?”

    Yu Luocha said, "You must not think that he is simply an insignificant aide. Although we cannot say that his swordsmanship is unrivalled, not many people are actually able to surpass him. Take this child to him, tell him that it is I, Yu Luocha, who wants him to accept a disciple!"

    "Very well," Luo Tiebi said, "Even with only one arm I can still carry him up Tianshan."

    "Can you walk now?" Yu Luocha asked.

    "I can walk!" Luo Tiebi replied.

    Yu Luocha cut a branch to make a crutch for him, she said, "When Shi Hao and the others saw me saving you, they will not dare to come back before finding a stronger helper."

    Luo Tiebi laughed, "When they see you, Senior, it's like mice seeing a cat," he said, "I'll say they must be back to Chengdu by now."

    "Zhu Baochun is operating in this vicinity, you already know it," Yu Luocha said, "Walk slowly, by daybreak, you may come to him, and then tell him to go together with you to Guangyuan to see Li Yan. Tell him that you need to take this child to Tianshan on my orders. The northwest is their world, he must have a way to escort you pass the Jade Gate[8]."

    Luo Tiebi expressed his thanks and then he struggled to stand up. Holding on to the crutch, he walked forward step by step. Yang Yuncong followed on his heels, running and hopping, while he often turned his head around to wave at Yu Luocha.

    Yu Luocha almost could not restrain from personally carrying him to Zhu Baochun, but she had a second thought, "If this child does not receive discipline, and going through hardships and perils, it will be difficult to mold him into a great talent, let him go!" Seeing the two of them had walked far, she turned around and went back to the inn.

    Back to Tie Feilong. After dinner, he waited for a while, but Yu Luocha did not return. He thought, "Those several constables are not Chang'er's match, why should I worry about her?"

    When he was just about to sleep, he suddenly heard some commotion outside. The innkeeper suddenly came in and said in a low voice, "The Fire-Spirit Monkey Zhu Zhaizhu is here. He is eating and drinking tea with some people outside. It appeared they have made an appointment beforehand. But now they are fighting. Would you, Senior, go out and mediate, please?"

    Although this inn catered to all kinds of people from different walks of life[9], to have someone die on its premises was always not a good thing, therefore, the innkeeper hastily asked someone else to mediate. After receiving the innkeeper's attentive hospitality, Tie Feilong felt uncomfortable to refuse, so he followed the innkeeper outside toward the dining hall.

    He saw a table in the middle of the hall, with Zhu Baochun sitting at the head of the table, two other guests sat on either side of him. They were in the middle of a heated argument. Tie Feilong heard the young man sitting on the left blurt out, "Our Tang family of Wanxian has never asked anybody for a favor, don't you dare refuse a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit!"

    Zhu Baochun slapped the table, "Fine! You are using the Tang family's name to scare me? I won't yield! Even if the Emperor of Heaven came down I still won't yield!"

    Tie Feilong's heart was stirred, he mused, "Turns out this young man belongs to the Tang family, I have more reason to interfere."

    The young man also slapped the table, 'Bang!' and then he stood up. With a loud and clear voice he said, "Since Zhu Zhaizhu is not willing to give us face, then disregarding the immensity of heaven and earth, zaixia[10] must ask for several stances of instruction! With two friends here threatening me from both sides, even if Zhu Zhaizhu slashes me three times and pierces me six times, I will die with no regrets."

    Apparently, Zhu Baochun was also not a patient man, tossing his coat aside, he stood up and said, “That’s wonderful, do you want to have a duel with blades, with palms and fists, or with secret projectiles? Ha, your Tang family’s secret projectiles are famous throughout the world, why don’t we just have a secret-projectile duel? Outside, the place is spacious, please come outside. I have brought my thing along, feel free to take it with you!”

    The two of them exchanged harsher and harsher words, just like an arrow on a taut bow, ready to be shot any second. Tie Feilong laughed aloud and walked near in big strides. His laughter was not too loud, but those three people felt the laughter pierce their ears and went straight to their hearts that they jumped in fright.

    Zhu Baochun and the young man surnamed Tang called out almost together, “A friend, from which way are you? Please keep your ten-thousand selves[11]!” Both sides thought that Tie Feilong was a helper brought by the other side.

    Tie Feilong strode to the table, he pulled a stool and sat astride on the stool. “This gentleman must be Zhu Zhaizhu, fortunate meeting, fortunate meeting! And this gentleman must be Jiabi Xiong? Young hero, Old Man here hardly recognizes you. And this friend? Old Man has a faulty vision, I must consult your illustrious name.”

    Both sides were startled. Zhu Baochun had been in Lulin for many years, so it was not surprising that a stranger would recognize him, but hearing Tie Feilong call the other man as ‘Jiabi Xiong’, obviously he also recognized him very well. They had no choice but to regard Tie Feilong carefully. Zhu Baochun thought, ‘We agreed that neither side would bring a helper, yet he still invites another pair of hands to come. With Tang family’s reputation, unexpectedly they do things this way. Later I can press him with words.”

    Actually, Tang Jiabi was even more astonished. Their Tang family had always resided in Wanxian, dominating the Wulin with their proficiency in using secret projectiles. Tang Jiabi turned twenty this year, and it was the first time he received his father’s order to come out and handle some business matters. It was beyond his expectation that Tie Feilong was able to recognize him with just one glance.

    Tang Jiabi’s friend stood up, he cupped his fist and said, “The humble one surnamed Du, my lowly name is Mingzhong. I wonder if the Mister has some instructions for me?” He looked like someone who has gone through a lot in life, his manner was a lot calmer than Tang Jiabi.

    Tie Feilong said, “Enmity ought to be dissolved and should not be nurtured; the Old Man is taking the liberty to invite both sides to drink a cup of tea.” Lifting the teapot, he promptly poured it down.

    Zhu Baochun and Tang Jiabi immediately shouted, “Hold on!”

    Turned out there was a custom in Jianghu that when people negotiate in a teahouse, and they drink the tea served by the mediator, it means both parties are willing to reconcile. Right now, neither side knew Tie Feilong, how could they forget their enmity just by a few words spoken by him?

    Tie Feilong laughed aloud and said, “So all of you are unwilling to give me face by drinking this cup of tea?” While speaking, he kept pouring the tea.

    The teacups used in the inn were made of yellow poplar wood hollowed in the middle; the cups were as big as bowls, and very sturdy. While speaking and pouring, the tea entered the cup. ‘Splash!’ the wooden cup shattered and the tea splashed into three other cups, and then the three cups also shattered and the tea flooded the table!

    Zhu Baochun and Tang Jiabi were greatly shocked. It must be understood that if based on the palm strength alone, crushing a solid wooden cup was already difficult, much less transferring the power via hot tea to shatter the wooden cup? They had neither seen nor heard of this kind of skill before; thereupon they were immediately intimidated by Tie Feilong’s prowess.

    “All right,” Tie Feilong said with a laugh, “You are unwilling to drink this tea, the tea is undrinkable anyway. Shop owner, how come your teacups are like this? How come they are so weak? Quickly wipe this table!”

    Standing on the side, the innkeeper watched everything with astonishment and delight. Bowing, he said, “Yes,” and then he took a tablecloth and wiped the table.

    “All right,” Tie Feilong said, “Get another cup, I still want these gentlemen to give me some face.”

    Zhu Baochun and Tang Jiabi said together, “Old Hero, please hear me first.”

    Tie Feilong pointed toward Tang Jiabi, “You may start!” he said.

    With a scarlet face, Tang Jiabi said, “This Du Xiong is our family’s good friend. He had two treasures, which Zhu Zhaizhu robbed. Father sent me to ask a favor from Zhu Zhaizhu that he would generously return the items.”

    Tie Feilong nodded and said, “True, the yiqi[12] of Jianghu is the most precious treasure. Those two treasures are nothing. Zhu Zhaizhu, tell me, do you hate to part with those things?”

    Zhu Baochun’s face also turned red as he loudly said, “This Du Xiong is the guest of West Inspector-General Chen Jiyu, he brought a thousand-year Heshouwu[13] and an arctic fox fur coat, to be delivered to Beijing for Wei Zhongxian. I’d rather have these two things than give them to Wei Zhongxian; Old Hero, I don’t mind if you want those things. It’s not that I’m greedy of treasures, it’s just that I don’t want to give anything to that castrated traitor!”

    Tie Feilong knitted his brows and asked Tang Jiabi, “The recipient of the gift Du Xiong brought, did you know it beforehand?”

    Tang Jiabi replied, “He has told Father from the start.” Tang Jiabi’s father was Tang Qingchuan, whose prestige shook the western Sichuan. He had some friendship with Tie Feilong. About ten years ago, Tie Feilong had stayed in his home for more than three months. Knowing Tang Qingchuan’s personality, Tie Feilong thought, “Tang Laoda[14] is not that muddle-headed. Since he is already aware yet he still sent out his son to retrieve it, there must be another reason behind it. I must investigate it carefully before I deal with it.”

    Du Mingzhong also stood up, with both hands on the table he was just saying, “Old Hero, please listen to me …” when a strange laughter came from outside. When the door opened, two men walked in. These two men looked exactly the same, their hair were both a mess, they were both lanky, with faces devoid of any color. They were only 30% resembled human, the other 70% resembled ghosts, walking stiffly like a pair of corpses from the grave!

    Zhu Baochun sprang up and called out, “Shen Laoda, Shen Lao’er[15]! What are you here for?”

    “Turns out that they are the Shen brothers,” Tie Feilong said in his heart, “I have long heard that their martial arts are strange, their character is questionable. I did not expect I would bump into them tonight.”

    These Shen brothers were called Shen Dayuan and Shen Yiyuan, they were well known Lulin characters of the north. All their lives they had never submitted to other people. Three years ago, not too long after Wang Jiayin died in battle, following Li Zicheng’s advice, Gao Yingxiang called the thirty-six leaders of Lulin world to gather at Mizhi, these two men also did not want to attend. After everybody fled in all directions, they came to Sichuan and struck an agreement and formed an alliance with Zhang Xianzhong[16]. They received the title ‘Shoulder to shoulder’ Kings. In the Lulin, Zhu Baochun’s rank was way below these two Shen brothers, plus he knew how vicious these brothers were; therefore, he could not help but be terrified.

    With strange-looking wooden face, Shen Yiyuan laughed frostily, “I heard you have attained two good things; quickly take them out, the Eight Kings want them!” he said threateningly.

    ‘The Eight King’ was Zhang Xianzhong’s bandit title. Zhang Xianzhong was different from Li Zicheng; he was greedy of material gains: gold, silver, jewels, no exceptions. He was also bloodthirsty, hence in Lulin he was known as the devil incarnate.

    Zhu Baochun’s countenance changed. He was unwilling to hand over the treasures, but knew that if he did not, his life would be in danger. While he was still undecided, Shen Dayuan said, “You are only inviting trouble if you are unwilling!”

    Nobody saw how he made his move, but in a flash he was already in front of Zhu Baochun, and took the bundle hanging from Zhu Baochun’s waist. By the time Zhu Baochun realized what had happened, Shen Dayuan’s claw-like hand had already reached his chest! In his fright Zhu Baochun frantically leaped backwards and rolled away on the ground. Luckily he moved quite fast that Shen Dayuan’s hand missed him.

    Seeing that, Tang Jiabi and Du Mingzhong were also shocked. They both jumped over the table to pounce on the bundle. Tie Feilong mused, “This is not good.” Suddenly two miserable screams were heard, as Tang Jiabi and Du Mingzhong were thrown to the foot of the wall. Shen Dayuan’s movements were quick as lightning; his palm injured Du Mingzhong and sealed Tang Jiabi’s ‘gigantic bone acupoint’.

    Shen Dayuan laughed aloud and he shook his sleeves and left carrying the bundle. Suddenly Tie Feilong called out, “Hey! Stop!” His shadow swayed, he flew in front of Shen Dayuan and blocked him right in front of the door.

    “Old Bum!” Shen Dayuan bellowed angrily, “You dare to stop me!” His palm hacked down on the crown of Tie Feilong’s head!

    Tie Feilong shrank his shoulder so that although Shen Dayuan’s palm was powerful, fast and nimble beyond imagination, his hand missed and his heart turned cold. Before he realized what had happened, he heard Tie Feilong’s roar as he launched a counterattack. Shen Dayuan suddenly felt a strong gust of wind toward his waist. He reached down, his hand formed a hook and pushed out; two hands collided, unexpectedly Tie Feilong’s power struck his hand that it was skewed sideways.

    Shen Yiyuan was shocked. With both palms stretched out, he flew to shield his older brother. Tie Feilong roared again and struck backhandedly, hacking the enemy’s shoulder. But before the two palms meet, Shen Dayuan turned around and pounced on the enemy. Tie Feilong abruptly changed his stance, right palm blocked the younger brother, left fist punched the older brother. As soon as three men exchanged one stance, they separated toward the three exits.

    Although Tie Feilong managed to jolt Shen Dayuan back, his own shoulder was burning with pain. “These two brothers indeed live up to their reputation, no wonder they are this furious!”

    The Shen brothers stared hard with their strange-looking eyes wide open, their knees slightly bended and their bodies leaned forward, ready to attack. Suddenly, they both let out strange shouts and attacked simultaneously. Tie Feilong hacked sideways with his left palm and kicked straight out with his right leg, neutralizing the brothers’ attacking stances at once. Shen Dayuan was burning with anger, his palm changed into a knife form and cut down, followed by a sweeping motion. Shen Yiyuan raised his fist and punched down. Tie Feilong roared again, a palm and a fist shot out together. Although the Shen brothers had trained martial arts for all their lives, they did not dare to meet these steel-hard attacks head-on. The brothers pulled back suddenly and leaped over the table. Tie Feilong’s leg swept up and the table was kicked up to the roof. With a loud crashing sound the roof split open as the table crashed onto the tiles; the roof tiles fell back down while the table continued flying out.

    Zhu Baochun ran to the corner to evade, the Shen brothers moved very fast, as soon as Tie Feilong’s kick missed them, the brothers pounced back with a pair of fists. This fight was even more astonishing! The Shen brothers, one from the left and the other from the right, launched a converging attack to a powerful enemy, defending against Tie Feilong’s attack with an offensive move. The bones in their bodies cracking as they each attacked with a fist each.

    Tie Feilong knew their external type of martial arts had been trained to perfection; he did not dare to be careless, immediately he moved according to the ‘Five-Element, Eight-Trigram’ bearing, hard and soft working together, concurrently launching defensive and offensive moves.

    After fighting for a moment, Shen Yiyuan showed a weakness in his movements; Tie Feilong mused, “You try to lure the enemy like this, how can I fall for your trick?” Deciding to beat him at his own game, from the ‘gen’ position[17], Tie Feilong shouted suddenly and his palm hacked down, followed by a rapid leap into the ‘li’ position, snatching the exact position void of the enemies’ reach. Before Shen Dayuan could react, as quick as lightning and as sudden as thunder his left palm cut down on Shen Yiyuan’s wrist.

    Tie Feilong’s mastery of the ‘Five-Element, Eight-Trigram’ position had reached its summit. It seemed that there was no way Shen Yiyuan would be able to strike back. Who would have thought that as Shen Yiyuan brandished his arm, his joints produced cracking noises, and surprisingly his arm grew two cun[18] longer, while his palm strike turned into finger poke to seal Tie Feilong’s ‘scholar’s arm’ acupoint. In the battle between the experts, oftentimes the outcome was within a hair’s breadth; Tie Feilong did not anticipate this move and thus his arm was suddenly shaken. His palm quickly shot out, while he leaped high. He seemed to endure Shen Yiyuan’s attack, while Shen Yiyuan let out a strange ‘wah, wah’ cry. Tie Feilong hastily circulated his qi. In the meantime, Shen Dayuan pulled his younger brother back.

    Although Tie Feilong’s palm succeeded in striking Shen Yiyuan, his power diminished after his acupoint was sealed. Although he managed to inflict excruciating pain on Shen Yiyuan, in the end Shen Yiyuan’s wrist was saved from damage.

    “Everything’s all right?” Shen Dayuan asked.

    Shen Yiyuan waved his fist in an arc, and then said, “I am all right.” The two brothers shook their fists.

    Tie Feilong mused, “So they have trained in ‘changing muscle shrinking bones’ skill!” He changed his palm technique, ‘whoosh, whoosh’ it was like a giant hatchet splitting the mountain, or an iron chisel striking the rock. The Shen brothers saw that after his acupoint was sealed, unexpectedly he acted like nothing had happened; their shock was not small. Although they had mastered strange skills like ‘seven-terminating palm’ and ‘iron fox fist’, they did not dare to take his attack head on.

    The three of them were engaged in an inextricable battle, yet Tie Feilong’s palm power was still heavy and vicious, the two brothers repeatedly shaken by his palms, their countenances did not show too much change, but their breathing became increasingly labored.

    While the battle intensified, suddenly a tender laughter was heard. “Father, give those two men to me! I went for a small shrimp, but you get the big fish in here, it’s not fair! My hands itch!”

    Tie Feilong laughed aloud and leaped out of the arena. “Fine!” he said, “I’ll let you pick up the easy one!” Immediately the Shen brothers felt that the pressure was lifted and they could breathe easier. Yu Luocha arrived as soon as her voice arrived, her sword flickered and blocked in front of them.

    “Are you Yu Luocha?” Shen Dayuan asked.

    Yu Luocha cast him a glance, with a graceful laugh she said, “Looking at your weird looks, you must be the Shen brothers.”

    Standing by the wall, Zhu Baochun called out, “Heroine Lian, tell them to return the bundle.”

    Yu Luocha recalled Li Zicheng told her that the Shen brothers did not attend the general assembly at Mizhi. With a laugh she said, “In the past, you were in the north, I was in the south, we had nothing to do with each other. But now you mess with my father, I want to see what you brothers are capable of since you are this wildly arrogant!” Her sword flashed, ‘shua, shua!’ in a snap of the fingers she stabbed both of them.

    The Shen brothers had always bullied people around, unexpectedly Yu Luocha dared to bully them by striking as soon as she finished speaking. The two brothers were enraged and let out strange ‘wah, wah’ cries while executing ‘seven-terminating palm’ and ‘iron fox fist’.

    Yu Luocha pointed to the east striking to the west, facing to the south attacking to the north, in one breath she successively attacked more than thirty stances before laughing and saying, “Just a bit of skill, cannot be considered first class. Hey, how did you dare to become kings of the underground world with this tiny skill?” While laughing and mocking, she pressed on, forcing the Shen brothers to frantically dodge her attacks.

    Actually, Yu Luocha had reaped quite some benefit. With the two brothers joining hands, although Yu Luocha was not afraid, it would not be easy for her to score a victory over them. However, their acute spirit had been broken by Tie Feilong, their physiques were also sore and tired, being shaken by Tie Feilong’s palm power. As a result, by the time they fought Yu Luocha, their condition was far from perfect. From the start they had been hard-pressed by Yu Luocha’s offensive moves so that more than thirty stances later they only had strength left to defend, without the least bit of strength to counterattack.

    After leaping back, Tie Feilong unsealed Tang Jiabi’s acupoint and said, “Go home and pay your respects to your honorable father, tell him that Tie Feilong of Longmen is sending his greetings.”

    “Aiya!” Tang Jiabi exclaimed and immediately kowtowed, “Turns out it is Tie Shushu, no wonder you have this kind of ability! Your nephew has made a fool of himself tonight.”

    “It’s alright for young people to experience a bit of setback,” Tie Feilong said. Then he turned to look at Du Mingzhong’s injury. Noticing his shoulder was dark purple, Tie Feilong took out a pill and stuffed it into his mouth. “Turns out Shen brothers also train poisonous sand palm, I may need to get their school’s antidote.”

    It was Tang Jiabi’s debut in the Jianghu, and he suffered a disastrous defeat, hence he was very angry. As soon as his acupoint was unsealed, he groped into his secret projectile pouch and tossed two strange-looking secret projectiles toward the two Shen brothers!

    The Shen brothers were flustered by Yu Luocha incessant attacks, suddenly they heard strange humming noise; it was too late to evade, the two brothers were hit by Tang Jiabi’s poisonous caltrop[19]. The secret projectiles of the Tang family were famous throughout the Jianghu, their poisonous caltrop was especially fierce, as soon as it contacted the blood, it would choke the respiratory passage.

    The Shen brothers ran two steps back, their countenance changed greatly; suddenly they both pounced toward Tang Jiabi to grab him. Tie Feilong quickly launched the ‘closing the iron gate’ stance, one hand cutting, the other blocking, the two brothers tumbled down on the floor, cursing and swearing, but their voices grew weaker and weaker.

    Tang Jiabi smugly cursed back, “You have injured people; now you know how formidable your young master is!” But when he looked up, he saw murderous intent all across Yu Luocha’s face, while she stood frostily in front of him.

    “Great secret-projectile, great technique!” she laughed coldly, “Who needs your help anyway? Take out the antidote!”

    Tang Jiabi’s shock was not small, “But … but …” he stammered.

    “Chang’er,” Tie Feilong hastily said, “This is Tang Xianzhi[20],” while rushing toward him and urged him, “Quickly take out the antidote!”

    Tang Jiabi did not have any choice but take out the antidote. Panting with rage he said, “Du Xiong’s injury is from their poisonous claw, what will you say about that?”

    “What are you worried about?” Yu Luocha said, she took the antidote and tossed it to Shen Dayuan while saying, “You also take out the antidote!”

    The Shen brothers were quite surprised by this turn of events, their cursing stopped, they swallowed the antidote, and were quite happy with the result. Then they also took out the antidote and tossed it toward Yu Luocha.

    “Leave the bundle, and get lost from my face!” Yu Luocha shouted. Without saying anything Shen Dayuan threw the bundle down and pulled his brother’s hand, they ran out the door and paused for a moment to stare at Yu Luocha and hatefully said, “Fine, Yu Luocha, we’ll meet again someday!” Yu Luocha let out a long laugh while her hand gently stroked the hilt of her sword. The Shen brothers were scared and ran away swiftly, they did not dare to say anything else.

    Zhu Baochun, Tang Jiabi, and Du Mingzhong all pounced on the bundle. Yu Luocha lightly pressed the bundle down with her toes, while casting a sidelong glance with her apricot eyes. Zhu Baochun pulled back at once, he said, “There is a thousand-year 'Black-haired Mr. He' and an arctic fur coat; they want to present them as a gift to Wei Zhongxian. I robbed the bundle, with the intention of presenting it as a gift to you, Senior. Please tell me: was I wrong in robbing it?”

    “Is that true?” Yu Luocha asked.

    Du Mingzhong lifted his head and said, “These two things are for Wei Zhongxian, but I want to use them to save other. Imperial Censor[21] Zuo, Zuo Guangdou, is my[22] Jiujiu. He, along with Yang Lian and the others, jointly submitted a memorial to the throne, but Wei Zhongxian put them all in jail. Inspector-general Chen read the government gazette, and informed me to hurry to the capital and think of a way to save him. I have no way of dealing with the traitor, so I am forced to curry his favor first. Zuo Guangdou is a just man from Tonglin, everybody in the world knows it. Am I wrong in trying to save him?”

    Yu Luocha was startled, and then said, “Very well, I’ll give the bundle to you.” Turning toward Zhu Baochun she said, “Luo Tiebi has rescued Yang Lian’s only child, he is looking for you. You better hurry back.”

    Zhu Baochun said, “Why didn’t you tell me early on? I wouldn’t have robbed it if I knew you will save others with it.” Cupping his fist, he took his leave and hurried back to his stronghold.

    Du Mingzhong stepped forward and kowtowed to express his gratitude. Yu Luocha rolled her eyes and said, “Father, I want to go to the capital to watch some excitement.”

    Tie Feilong thought about it: the killer of his daughter, the ominous Old Freak Jin, had been killed by Yue Mingke, but there were two other enemies; one was Murong Chong, the other was Ying Xiuyang, and they both served in the palace. Although right now they were in distress, eventually they would return to Beijing. Thus waiting for a good opportunity in Beijing seemed to be a good idea. Thereupon he consented.

    Tang Jiabi was in an awkward position, he seemed to be at a loss. Finally he cupped his fist and said to Du Mingzhong, “You have Tie Shushu escorting you to Beijing, Xiaodi requests to be excused.”

    Tie Feilong walked him off outside the door. When he returned, he laughed and said, “Chang’er, next time you must not scare a junior who is making his debut!”

    The three of them travelled together, they chatted along the way. Yu Luocha found out that Du Mingzhong had once served under Military Commissioner Xiong as his secretary, taking care of the correspondence, he also knew Yue Mingke. Yu Luocha could not refrain from saying, “After Military Commissioner Xiong died, no one took over his position. The border defense is crumbling, I am afraid that Ming Dynasty’s rivers and mountains are finished.”

    “Not so,” Du Mingzhong said, “It’s not that nobody takes over the border defense, but that the imperial court does not want to entrust that position to anyone.”

    Yu Luocha’s heart was stirred, she said, “According to you, who can be Military Commissioner Xiong’s successor, taking over the strategic defense of the border?”

    Du Mingzhong replied, “Provision Manager of the Eastern Liaoning army, Yuan Chonghuan is a rare talent of the present age! Formerly he was the magistrate of seven counties, before his talent was recognized by Military Commissioner Xiong and he was recruited to defend and patrol the border around Guangning. Military Commissioner Xiong was implicated by Wang Huazhen when he suffered a total defeat. Alone Yuan Chonghuan rode out the mountain pass to spread the news of the latest situation, asking for reinforcement from the troops defending east of Liaohe River. It’s a pity that at that time Military Commissioner Xiong already had 5000 soldiers, the imperial court was not willing to dispatch more troops. Later, when their troops were defeated and they were on the run, Military Commissioner Xiong told him to manage the military affairs, to find a place to raise militia. During the day, the enemy troops appears and disappears, he was unable to move. But in the night, he penetrated deep like crouching tiger or panther through the jumbled briars beyond the enemy line, into the villages and mustered the vagabonds and common people, raising a militia. As a result, later on we had eight small victories, and had enough potential to confront the enemy at Shanhai Pass. Otherwise, the Qing troops would have crossed over the pass early on.”

    Yu Luocha said in her heart, “If there is indeed this kind of man, Military Commissioner Xiong’s legacy can be entrusted to him. But he is far away outside the Great Wall, how can I look for him?”

    By the time the three of them arrived in Beijing, it was already the last third of the first month. That particular day when they entered the city gate, they saw that the street was bustling with activities, dozens of capital officials were carrying Wei Zhongxian’s golden statue, striking gongs and beating drums while marching along the streets of Beijing. The people were looking from a distance, cursing under their breath. When Tie Feilong asked around, he was told that they were constructing a temple dedicated to Wei Zhongxian.

    It had been four years since Wei Zhongxian took control of the laws and discipline of the imperial court, his power spawned over the internal and foreign affairs. The common people had a nursery rhyme, ‘winding ghost set up the dynasty, eggplant flowers fill the earth with red.’ When the characters ‘winding’ and ‘ghost’ are combined, it becomes the character ‘Wei’, the pronunciation of character ‘eggplant’ is the same with character ‘Ke’. It can be seen from this nursery rhyme that the Wei-Ke duo had a very strong influence in the dynasty. A vassal of the dynasty, Wei Guangzhi, was known to be Wei Zhongxian’s nephew. Ruan Dazhen, Cui Chengxiu, Gu Bingqian, Fu Yue, Ni Wenhuan, Yang Weiyuan, and the other ministers all paid their respects to Wei Zhongxian as ‘father’ and to Madame Ke as ‘mother’. The inspector-general of Zhejiang, Pan Ruzhen was the first one to propose the establishment of temple dedicated to Wei Zhongxian, and the rest of the country, one after another follow suits; it was truly a collection of an extremely shameless worldly accomplishment, and lastly, it was also constructed in Beijing. Furthermore, the self-proclaimed supervisor of ‘Confucius Academy’ Lu Wanling composed a eulogy: “Confucius wrote the Spring and Autumn Annals, Minister Chang wrote ‘Vital Canon’ (Minister Chang was another name of Wei Zhongxian); Confucius put Shao Zhengmao to death, Minister Chang executed Donglin society members; in proper ritual and respect, and year of sacrifice comparable to Confucius[23].” These words were allegedly really uttered by him.

    Seeing those shameless officials' despicable acts, Yu Luocha was so angry that she wanted to pull out her sword and go on a killing spree. Tie Feilong quickly pulled her back and said, "Don't look at them, my own stomach is just about to flip!"

    In Beijing, Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha separated from Du Mingzhong. Tie and Yu, two people stayed at the Chang'an Escort Agency, while Du Mingzhong went to stay with his maternal cousin, a high ranking official of the ministry of war, Sun Chengzong. When they separated, Yu Luocha sneered lightly as she said to Du Mingzhong, "I don't think your effort to bribe Wei Zhongxian will be effective."

    "I will try my best," Du Mingzhong replied, "I may need your help later on."

    Although Tie and Yu, two people thought that he was a little muddle-headed, they had to admit that he could still be considered a man of honor, thereupon they gave him the address of the Chang'an Escort Agency.

    The chief of the Chang'an Escort Agency was Long Dasan, a good friend of Tie Feilong, who, upon seeing Tie and Yu, two people's arrival, eagerly prepared a hospitable reception. After dinner that night, Yu Luocha asked the story behind Yang Lian's arrest and imprisonment.

    Long Dasan sighed and said, "It is truly hard to explain in just a few words!" But Tie Feilong pressed on, therefore, Long Dasan said, "The castrated clique is in struggle with the Donglin party, this fact you are already aware of. The castrated clique is of course Wei Zhongxian's henchmen. Wei Zhongxian proclaimed himself to be Nine-Thousand Years[24], hence the high officials under him also become Lord of Thousand Years. The civil and military court officials under them adopt the titles Five Tigers, Five Leopards, Ten Dogs, Ten Children, Forty Grandchildren, and so on. Their special interest is to oppose the Donglin. Donglin got its name from the Donglin Academy of Wuxi, where demoted high officials Gao Panlong, Kong Qian, and the others gave their lectures. Presently, all honest characters wearing the 'Donglin Party' hat are charged with criminal accusation. A henchman of Wei Zhongxian, Wang Shaohui, made a list of 108 most prominent members of the Donglin party in a 'roll-call record', equating them to the '108 generals of the Liangshan moor'[25]. The castrated clique is calling themselves the 'just people', whereas the Donglin party is reduced to the 'heretical clique'; they are preparing criminal charges against each one of these 108 men. The names of Yang Lian, Zuo Guangdou, Yuan Huazhong and the others rank among the top of this so called 'roll-call record'."

    Yu Luocha angrily said, "It is truly the inversion of right and wrong! What is going to become of our world?"

    Long Dasan continued, "After Military Commissioner Xiong was executed, Yang Lian saw the Ke-Wei pair is getting more tyrannical, he could not stop his anger from rising, he submitted a memorial to the throne, accusing Wei Zhongxian of twenty-four major crimes. Unexpectedly, the next day an imperial decree was issued, Yang Lian was condemned. The righteous high-ranking officials in the imperial court were enraged; they jointly prepared a memorial to the throne, while waiting for a good opportunity to submit the memorial directly to the Emperor when he is sitting on the throne. Wei Zhongxian knew about this conspiracy and thus prevented the Emperor from sitting on his throne for three consecutive days. Within these three days, his own arrangement was completed. On the fourth day, Wei Zhongxian countersued these people with the charge 'colluding with Xiong Tingbi', and have these six men: Yang Lian, Zuo Guangdou, Wei Dazhong, Gu Dazhang, Yuan Huazhong and Zhou Chaorui, arrested and locked up in Beizhen Fu Si[26] prison. Wei Zhongxian is very sinister and ruthless, he accused them of accepting Xiong Tingbi's 'ill-gotten money', and told them that they must 'return the stolen goods'. These people are poor officials, how could they return the 'stolen goods'? As a result, for five consecutive days, they received punishment. Each punishment was forty beatings and fifty clamps between the poles. Now, they cannot seek life, but cannot ask for death either. There are several people among them who cannot endure the torture, so they are calling to their rich relatives, disciples and friends to raise funds to 'return the stolen goods'. However, those 'ill-gotten money' are only in Wei Zhongxian's mouth; no matter how much 'stolen goods' are returned, it is never enough. In the end, they only add another source of income for Wei Zhongxian."

    Yu Luocha slapped her thigh and exclaimed, “Too bad for that thousand-year Heshouwu!”

    “What?” Long Dasan asked.

    Yu Luocha laughed but did not answer his question. “Alright,” she said, “I am going to look for Yang Lian tonight.”

    Long Dasan said, “Beizhen Fu Si is not an ordinary place, Miss must not be rash.”

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and said, “I can get in and out imperial palace at will, what kind of place is Beizhen Fu Si? Hey, have Murong Chong and his cronies returned yet?”

    “I haven’t heard anything,” Long Dasan said, “I will find out for you tomorrow.”

    Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong were people who are afraid of neither the Heaven nor the Earth; whatever they dare to say, they dare to act. That very same evening they changed into night-travelers’ clothes and went straight to the prison.

    The prison wall was three zhang tall, the top of the wall was packed with spikes, but nothing hindered them. Tie Feilong leaped onto the top of the wall and said, “You go find the prisoner, I will guard against the enemy.”

    “Very good!” Yu Luocha said. She leaped down inside, truly as light as a leaf floating down, without any noise at all.

    Yu Luocha crouched in a dark corner of a corridor. Before too long, she saw a prison guard carrying a lantern making his rounds. Yu Luocha leaped out and flashed her flickering sword in front of that prison guard’s face, while in a low voice she hissed, “Which prison cell is Yang Lian’s?”

    The prison guard jumped in fright, but as soon as he heard Yu Luocha, he was delighted. “Are you going to rescue Official Yang?” he asked, “He is in the sixth cell on the west wing. From here you take a right turn over there.”

    Yu Luocha said, “If you lie to me, I will chop your head with this sword.”

    The prison guard stomped his foot and said, “Official Yang is about to be executed by suffocation, if you want to save him, you must move faster!”

    Looking at his facial expression, Yu Luocha knew the guard would not sound the alarm on her, thereupon she moved according to his direction, after taking the turn, she found the sixth prison cell.

    The iron door of the cell was five cun thick, with a large iron lock on it. Even if one had a stronger hand, one would not be able to crush the lock, so an average person can forget about going in. But for Yu Luocha, it was not a difficult matter. She was in Lulin for many years; she was extremely skillful in picking locks. She took a strip of bent wire from her white purse, and inserted it into the lock. Without too much trouble the lock opened. Yu Luocha groped her way into the cell.

    The prison cell was pitch-black, but she could hear a weak groan. Yu Luocha struck her flint, and saw Yang Lian was chained and shackled, he was covered with blood that his face was almost unidentifiable.

    Seeing someone suddenly came in, Yang Lian was startled. Upon looking clearly and recognizing Yu Luocha, his shock was indeed not small. Struggling, he shouted, “What do you want?”

    “I want to help you out!” Yu Luocha replied.

    “I am a minister of the imperial court, how can I follow you escaping from prison?” Yang Lian indignantly said.

    Yu Luocha was also angry, “You still speak like that?” she said, “Don’t you want to be alive?”

    Yang Lian said, “Even if I am killed or hanged, it is none of your business. You do not abide by the law, how can I be same as you?”

    Yu Luocha cursed, “Abide by the law, abide by the law! I’ll say you are a big idiot!”

    Yang Lian struggled to shout, “If you come closer, I’ll bang my head and die!”

    Yu Luocha said, “Your son is brought to Sichuan by Luo Tiebi, don’t you miss him?” She thought that by bringing up the father-son sentiment, she would be able to dispel his blind loyalty to the court; who would have thought that Yang Lian laughed aloud instead and said, "Cong'er is safe, what else should I worry about?"

    "Humph," Yu Luocha snorted, "You are such a loyal minister, but after you all die, the imperial court will fall under the control of treacherous officials. Don't you think the Ming Dynasty's rivers and mountains will fall even faster?"

    Yang Lian's heart was stirred, but suddenly he spat and said, "How can the loyal ministers be completely eradicated? Do you think we have nobody in the court? Didn't you see that after Xiong Tingbi died, Yuan Chonghuan arose? That after Ye Xianggao is gone there is Hong Chengchou taking over his position? The Great Ming's rivers and mountains will not be robbed by the barbarians; you, roving bandits, will not snatch it away either."

    Yang Lian had been promoted into the Left Vice-censor of the Great West in the ministry of war, he had been a government official for several decades, his orthodox sense of being a loyal minister had been etched deep into his heart and mind; he had already regarded himself and the imperial court as one body, therefore, to him, Yu Luocha, who had come to save him, still belonged to the 'roving bandits' and thus she was the enemy. Of course he had never expected that after his death, the Ming Dynasty's rivers and mountains did indeed fall into the hands of the Manchurian's Qing Dynasty, also, Hong Chengchou, whom he held in high regard, had also become a traitor to China later on.

    "Humph," Yu Luocha's anger shot to the roof, "If I did not see you have been beaten like this, I would kill you first!"

    In that instant, she had the feeling that Yang Lian was pitiful, but also ridiculous, he was annoying, but also won her admiration. She admired him for defying the greater power, he dared to impeach the castrated traitor. He was pitiful, ridiculous, and annoying because he was incorrigible even to his death in his blind devotion to the court!

    Yang Lian lowered his voice as he suddenly said, "Just go! When you see my son later, tell him not to be a government official, but you can't tell him to be a bandit either."

    Yu Luocha said with a laugh, "You still care of your son's future? Humph, he may be much stronger than you. I will only tell him not to follow your bad example."

    Yang Lian's eyeballs flipped, a surge of phlegm arose in his chest, he passed out. At this moment, sound of running footsteps was heard outside; very soon, cries of 'Catch the thief breaking into the jail!' were heard louder and louder.

    Actually, at this moment Yu Luocha was about to reach out and pull Yang Lian out, but then she changed her mind. Turning around, she rushed out of the prison cell and leaped onto the roof. Tie Feilong was on the roof, he was using the roof tiles as weapon, throwing the tiles toward the Imperial Bodyguards who were trying to jump up. Tie Feilong's throws were accurate and powerful, the Imperial Bodyguards were hit on their heads and were bleeding.

    As he saw Yu Luocha come out empty-handed, Tie Feilong was disappointed. "You can't find him, huh?" he asked.

    "I don't want to save him anymore!" Yu Luocha replied.

    Tie Feilong said in his heart, "This girl's temperament is strange." But the opportunity is fleeting, by this time, several more Imperial Bodyguards had already jumped up, so they could not go back to break the prison even if he wanted to. "Then we'll charge out!" he said.

    Yu Luocha's pent-up anger had nowhere to go, she let out a long laugh and charged toward the Imperial Bodyguards. 'Shua, shua!' she brandished her sword at will, the tip of her sword stabbed either their vital acupoints or their fatal joints. The Imperial Bodyguards had never seen such a swordsmanship, in just a short moment, several Guards rolled down the roof, crying and screaming miserably in great pain.

    "Chang'er," Tie Feilong called out, "Don't kill too much!" With his palms he struck the several remaining Guards on the roof, sweeping them down, and then together with Yu Luocha, they flew toward the civilian houses and immediately disappeared.

    After Yu Luocha left, Yang Lian realized he would not live to see the next day. After staring blankly for a while, he saw the Beizhen Fu Si's Xu Xianchun and the Imperial Bodyguards' director Cui Yingyuan walk in, followed by two prison guards carrying a dirt sack.

    "Official Yang," Xu Xianchun said, "Please forgive our rudeness, but we must send Official Yang returning to the heavens tonight."

    Yang Lian laughed aloud and said, "Can you wait a moment? Let me write a blood letter, and I must bother you to deliver it to the Emperor. Can you do it?"

    "Official, please write," Cui Yingyuan said.

    Yang Lian dipped his finger to his own blood and tore away a piece of white cloth from his shirt, and wrote, "Today, I, Lian, shall die beneath the rod. Due to my earnest desire to serve my lord, I stupidly made many enemies through my straightforward actions. Long did I fight heroically, without caring about the consequences to myself. I did not flee like Zhang Lian[27], nor did I take poison like Yang Zhen[28]. I desired to offer my life to the imperial court ... the lightning thunders, and the rain reveals itself. Can this be a sign of Heaven's favor? I shall die in the royal prison, and it cannot be said that my death was in vain. Thus, why complain to heaven? Why hold grudges against man? I alone, the Imperial Censor, was made an imperial caretaker[29]. As Confucius said, "When a dying king entrusts you with his child and all that is important to him, you must maintain your integrity and your honor no matter what happens." As soon as I think of these lines, I can see the previous Emperor in Heaven, along with the two founders and the ten ancestors[30], Lord Sky and Mother Earth, and all who have passed away throughout the ages! I laugh and laugh, and still I laugh. What the executioner's blade shall actually chop is righteousness and integrity; what, then, does any of this really have to do with me as a person?"

    Reading the phrase 'I laugh and laugh, and still I laugh. What the executioner's blade shall actually chop is righteousness and integrity; what, then, does any of this really have to do with me as a person?' Cui Yingyuan almost cheered, Xu Xianchun was Wei Zhongxian’s adopted son, reading the letter, he gloomily asked, “Are you done writing?”

    Yang Lian dipped his finger in the blood and continued writing, “... my flesh and blood shall spray out and be scattered, as my death is imminent. My ministry pursued corruption, strangling and ruthlessly battling it. How can it then be that this, my treatment, comes from the Emperor's heaven-like benevolence? In truth, it is nothing more than my enemies seeking to take my life while using the pretext of securing the country as an excuse. Thus, I now appear before the Emperor as a falsely accused official ..."

    [Acknowledgement: Yang Lian’s letter was very difficult to translate. I contacted Hoju! who provided supporting material and advised me to ask for Ren Wo Xing’s help. (What amazes me most that RWX only took a day and he sent it back to me, fully translated and annotated) Hence I’d like to dedicate this part to these two wonderful translators and friends.]

    Xu Xianchun grabbed the letter and snorted, “Humph, until today you still dare to blame Minister Chang?” [Author’s note: Wei Zhongxian was in charge of the factions, hence he was called the Minister Chang[31].] “Do it quickly!” he shouted.

    The two prison guards took the dirt sack filled with mud and pressed it against Yang Lian’s face and chest; not too long afterwards, Yang Lian stopped breathing.

    Xu Xianchun said, “Finish up Zuo Guangdou and Wei Dazhong as well, so we won’t have to worry about prison breakups.”

    Because Zhou Chaorui, Yuan Huazhong and Gu Dazhang were locked up in different prison, their lives were momentarily spared.

    Naturally Xu Xianchun was not willing to submit Yang Lian’s blood letter to the Emperor, but Cui Yingyuan memorized the letter. Because Yang Lian had won his sympathy, later on he resigned and returned to his hometown. From there he circulated the letter Yang Lian wrote at his death to appeal to the masses. This letter carried blind devotion and sincerity, it also carried a heroic air, it truly showcased the literary skill of a real man. It made people feel ridiculous and pathetic, yet it was also majestic and brought up the admiration of the readers.

    Back to Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong. They returned to Chang’an Escort Agency and speaking about Yang Lian’s blind loyalty, Yu Luocha was still depressed. Tie Feilong suddenly said, “Although he is blindly loyal, he is still a real man. If the Emperor issues an imperial order to release him, that would be best.”

    “That’s right!” Yu Luocha clapped her hands and laughed, “Why didn’t I think about it earlier? We are going to Beijing this time is for three matters: first, to find someone worthy to receive Military Commissioner Xiong's legacy; second, to avenge Shanhu Meizi, to find Murong Chong and Ying Xiuyang and have them meet their bad fate; third, to rescue this incorrigibly obstinate Yang Lian. We can wish on the first matter, but we cannot deliberately seek; the second and third matters may need a trip to the imperial palace. It would be better if I go to the palace alone tomorrow night, while you keep an eye on whether Murong Chong has returned or not."

    With head hanging low, Tie Feilong was lost in thought. Yu Luocha said, "Father, please let me go. I am more familiar with the pathways of the palace than you are, besides, with the disturbance we created in the jail tonight, the expert fighters of the palace will inevitably be sent over to guard the jail, so that I might just seize the opportunity to sneak in."

    Tie Feilong recalled that her qinggong was indeed more superb than his own, almost to the point of she was able to come and go without a trace; thereupon he said, "Alright, just be careful! In case Murong Chong is back, do not provoke him, wait for me to find a way to deal with him one on one." Yu Luocha nodded her head in agreement; she did not know that less than an hour after she left the prison, Yang Lian had already been executed by suffocation.

    Yu Luocha was both skillful and bold, as planned, she went to the imperial palace on the next evening. However, she actually did not know where the Emperor resides; she mused, "I know where that wh*re Madame Ke's 'Wet Nurse Mansion' is, I'd better go there first, it's very possible that the young Emperor is also in there." With this plan in mind, she unleashed the full potential of her qinggong and quietly sneaked to the 'Wet Nurse Mansion', and flew to the main beam of Madame Ke's private chamber. Madame Ke was chatting with her daughter inside.

    Yu Luocha mused, "I heard her daughter is the disciple of Red Flower Demon Matriarch; I wonder how her temperament is?" Thereupon she focused her attention to eavesdrop.

    She heard Madame Ke say, "Ting'er, you are not too young anymore, what do you say I ask the Emperor to take you as his concubine?"

    "Ma," Ke Pingting replied, "You are not old yet, why would you ask such a silly question?"

    "I'll say you are the silly one," Madame Ke said, "What's not good about being a concubine? You be the concubine first, later I will have the Emperor issue a decree to depose the Empress, and then you can become the Empress."

    "I don't want to be a widow," Ke Pingting said.

    "Uh, what are you talking about?" Madame Ke asked, "Why did you put a curse on my You Ge'er[32]?"

    "Who cursed him?" Ke Pingting said, "Ma, you should remember that I train martial arts, just by looking at someone, I can tell that whether person's physique is strong or weak. Although the young Emperor's appearance does not show anything, if you listen to him speak, he only speaks for a bit and already loses his voice. His body seems empty and weak; his steps are light, as if he is floating. If he doesn't take tonic, he would be dead by now. Ma, I am willing to bet with you that he will not live pass three more years."

    Madame Ke thought for a moment, and realized that her daughter was stating the fact, but she still said, "If what you say is true, then we must conspire sooner. Although right now I still have the power, for thousands of years there has never been a wet nurse able to dominate the palace for a long time. Only Empress Dowager may hold power over the affairs of the state, she may flourish forever. Daughter, when you become the Empress, after the Emperor dies, you will become the Empress Dowager. Ha, at that time, you will have whatever your heart desires. Why are you afraid of being a widow?"

    Yu Luocha said in her heart, "This woman is extremely shameless; if I am not afraid I might alert the enemy, I could finish her off with my sword!"

    Anger also bubbled up in Ke Pingting’s heart, upon entering the palace, she noticed her mother’s licentiousness, to the point that it was hard for her to endure; hearing her words, she was both ashamed and enraged. Suddenly her temper flared and she said, “Ma, I am going home tomorrow.”

    “Home? What home?” Madame Ke said, “This is your home!”

    “I want to find Shifu!” Ke Pingting said.

    Madame Ke said, “Although your Shifu’s martial art skill is number one in the present age, she does not know how adapt to circumstances.”

    “I don’t care,” Ke Pingting said, “I want to find her.”

    “I only have one daughter,” Madame Ke said, “There is a crisis looming in the horizon in the palace, don’t think that I will be all right because I have influence and power. If You Ge’er is dead, most likely I will be killed as well. Since you know martial arts, I am relying on you to protect me.”

    Ke Pingting’s eyes were moist as she said, “Then do not force me to become a concubine; if you do, I will immediately leave."

    "Fine," Madame Ke replied, "If you don't want it, I'll find another family for you to marry into. How about one of those newly appointed Zhuangyuan[33]? Literary Zhuangyuan, or martial[34] Zhuangyuan, I don't care."

    Ke Pingting pouted, she angrily said, "Ma, I don't want you to talk about it. To be honest, living in the palace is depressing for me. Ma, I want to go to Western Mountain [Xi Shan] tomorrow to enjoy the flowers. Are you coming?"

    "I am already old, I don't have that kind of strength anymore," Madame Ke replied, "There is no harm in you going out to relieve boredom. Just the other day I had a skilled worker build a leisure vehicle[35], right now it is parked on the corridor outside. You can take the vehicle with you. From inside the vehicle, you can see people, but people cannot see you. You see, Ma loves you very much."

    A smile appeared on Ke Pingting's face. Madame Ke suddenly said, "Please take this bowl of ginseng soup to the Emperor for me!"

    "I don't want to!" Ke Pingting said.

    "A fit of temper again?" Madame Ke said, "Alright, don't go then. Chun Gui, come here!" She called a palace maid and told her to deliver the ginseng soup to the Emperor. The palace maid carried the ginseng soup in an iron box, which had an alcohol burner at its base.

    Seeing her walking out of the mansion's door, Yu Luocha leaped down; light as a feather she followed behind her, but unexpectedly the palace maid was completely oblivious.

    The Emperor's residence was not too far away from the Wet Nurse Mansion; the palace maid only had to walk for a while and she had arrived. Noticing that the residence was patrolled by palace guards, Yu Luocha flew ahead of her and crouched behind a rock garden around the corner. By the time the palace maid appeared, Yu Luocha had already made a tiny mud ball. Placing the mud ball between her fingers, she gently flicked it toward the palace maid's forehead that she cried out loudly.

    "What is it?" the palace guards called out while rushing toward her.

    "Someone hit me," the palace maid said, "Look, my hair is disheveled. It hurts!"

    The palace guards laughed and said, "To hell with it! I don't see anything." Taking that opportunity, he caressed the palace maid's cheek.

    With this diversion, Yu Luocha flew up toward the glazed roof tile, then floated down into the inside courtyard, and finally leaped onto the beam outside the Emperor's study room. The guards outside were still flirting with the palace maid, they did not see anything.

    Inside the study room, the young Emperor, You Jiao was reading the memorial presented to the throne. The higher ranking ministers' memorials were already intercepted by Wei Zhongxian, but the lower ranking ministers' memorials were available to him to relieve his boredom. As he read one memorial, he muttered, "Well, this man is so audacious, unexpectedly he dares to submit a memorial on behalf of Xiong Tingbi, requesting me[36] to execute Wei Zhongxian to appease public's indignation. I wonder what his name is."

    Actually, You Jiao was not stupid at all, it was just that he had been under Wei and Madame Ke's control for a long time that he was unable to extricate himself. By this time he was already a young man twenty years of age, and realized that he was just a puppet emperor, he had an office without any authority, so he was quite depressed. Therefore, sometimes he would look for some memorials to be approved, and thus satisfying his craving to be the Emperor.

    This particular memorial, however, he did not dare to approve, but neither was he willing to give it to Wei Zhongxian. Looking at the name at the bottom of the memorial, he muttered, "Yuan Chonghuan, the Provision Manager of Eastern Liaoning. Hmm, I need to keep his name in my mind. Perhaps I'll find an idea how to use him. Ah, he is already in Beijing, waiting for his next assignment. That's it! In a few days I will have Da Xue Shi[37] to summon him. But how am I going to handle this memorial?"

    While he was still scratching his head trying to make a plan, the window suddenly opened, a gust of strong wind flew in! You Jiao cried out in fear, he saw a shiny dagger suddenly appeared on top of his writing desk, piercing a piece of paper onto the desk. In a sloppy handwriting the paper said, 'Quickly release Yang Lian, give Tingbi a proper burial, if you don't, I'll take your head!'

    "Guards!" You Jiao called out. Suddenly he remembered the memorial, but by the time he looked, the memorial had already disappeared.

    Naturally it was Yu Luocha's doing; with a lightning fast movement she sent out the dagger, took Yuan Chonghuan's memorial, and flew out toward the rock garden. Suddenly there was a whooshing wind as a piece of red cloud appeared in front of her, a huge shadow with two disc-shaped strange weapons suddenly came crashing down on her. Yu Luocha swept her sword to block; a loud crashing noise made her ears ring, her sword was clamped in between the two strange weapons and was almost pulled away from her hand.

    Yu Luocha looked up and saw the assailant was a Lama wearing large red kasaya; this monk was known as the Chang Qin Da Lama[38]. Other than his superb martial art skill, he was also proficient in refining tonic as well as setting up the laboratory to manufacture it. Because You Jiao had nothing to do, he indulged himself in sexual activities. Wei Zhongxian especially employed this Lama to cater to the Emperor's 'needs'. Wei Zhongxian did not care whether he would have a short or a long life as long as the Emperor was satisfied with these 'tonics'.

    Although Chang Qin Lama's body was full of unhealthy drugs, his martial art was not weak at all. With a pair of large copper cymbals in his hands, he was actually very powerful. When he failed to snatch away Yu Luocha's sword, he was shocked, but before he recovered from his shock, 'shua, shua!' Yu Luocha's sword had already stabbed with lightning fast speed. Chang Qin Lama brandished his pair of copper cymbals to block left and right, but to his surprise, Yu Luocha's sword technique was extremely tricky. As the tip of the sword revolved, it suddenly turned toward his mid-section. Chang Qin Lama was forced to shrink his torso, as well as pulled back one of his cymbals, and thus he again failed to pinch the sword down; but the belt of his robe was cut that he scrambled in fright backwards. Yu Luocha immediately fled from that place.

    By this time the sound of alarm rose from all directions in the palace, while palace guards were running around everywhere. A guard was standing on the glazed roof tiles as he saw a shadow fleeting by. With a loud voice he called out, "Yu Luocha, how dare you? This time don't expect to run away!" It was precisely Murong Chong.

    Murong Chong fully realized that Yu Luocha's qinggong was marvelous; it would not be easy to capture her. He was not willing to stake everything to fight her, so he simply leaped down calling out loudly, "Don't panic, quickly shut all exits from the palace, light lanterns, release arrows, guard the palace walls then do the search. She won't escape!"

    Murong Chong's internal energy was profound, his voice spread to the outside of the palace. Immediately the palace walls were lighted with millions of small-cup lanterns, while palace guards appeared everywhere. It was indeed impossible to break out of the palace.

    In dangerous situation, Yu Luocha became resourceful; seeing the palace walls were densely covered with lanterns like stars in the sky, she knew the light would not reach the inner courtyard of the palace. Yu Luocha was wearing black outfit, she entered the flower bushes and sneaked around the trees, deliberately taking the dark and small pathways. From time to time she would use diversionary tactic, by throwing rocks to lead away the pursuing guards nearby. Unintentionally she was back at the Wet Nurse Mansion.

    As soon as Madame Ke heard the commotion outside and was frightened, so she had already closed the door early on, and went hiding in the cellar. With a sword in her hand, Ke Pingting stood guard outside the cellar door, there was nobody in the mansion. Yu Luocha flew in and saw the leisure vehicle, a slight smile appeared on her face; lifting up the cover, she hid inside the vehicle.

    The palace guards were busy for half the night, but did not see anybody breaking out of their encirclement; they were greatly astonished. Leading a group of guards, Murong Chong carefully combed the palace, yet after searching until dawn, although the palace had been shut down, they still did not see anybody. Murong Chong was greatly disappointed; he could only assume that with her marvelous qinggong, Yu Luocha somehow managed to slip out somewhere. He had no choice but order the search to be stopped, and increase the guards later on. It had never occurred to him that Yu Luocha was sleeping comfortably inside the leisure vehicle.

    By noon the next day, the palace was back to normal. Ke Pingting was planning on leaving early in the morning, but because Murong Chong had the main gate shut, she had to wait anxiously for half a day. As soon as the martial law was declared over and the gates were reopened, she took the vehicle out of the palace. Ke Pingting often went out of the palace to go sightseeing, so the palace guards were used to see her. Seeing she was taking the leisure vehicle out of the palace, who would dare to stop and search her?

    The leisure vehicle was really comfortable, sitting on it, the passenger would not feel the slightest bumping or jolting. Very soon the vehicle reached the Western Mountain. Ke Pingting was just about to get off to enjoy the flowers when suddenly she heard faint chewing noise, as if there was a mouse stealing the food inside the vehicle.

    “Um,” Ke Pingting mused, “This is a brand new vehicle, how come there is a mouse hiding inside?”

    She was about to lift up the seat cushion when suddenly a burst of force went straight toward her head. Ke Pingting leaped back. The cushion opened – the seat was a long bench padded with fox fur, long enough to seat two people comfortably; and someone suddenly appeared from underneath the seat. She laughed and said, “How are you? Thank you very much for your dates and preserved peaches.”

    It turned out Yu Luocha was unable to endure her hunger, and thus stole the food she brought along on this trip. The more she ate, the more she enjoyed the snack, so her chewing was getting louder.

    Ke Pingting was greatly surprised, but before she was able to draw her sword, Yu Luocha had already punched the window and shattered it, and immediately jumped out of the vehicle. Yu Luocha was running and shouting at the same time, “Hey, your Shifu is dead; if you don’t leave the palace, you will waste the martial art skill your Shifu had painstakingly taught you!”

    “Who killed her?” Ke Pingting shouted back.

    “Nobody,” Yu Luocha replied, “She died because her thief husband vexed her very much. Now in the Wulin world, you are the only heir of her skill! Her son is a useless good-for-nothing bum. If you do not go out and make a name, making every effort to succeed your master’s school, your Shifu will not die with closed eyes!” As soon as her voice disappeared, she had also disappeared.

    Back to Tie Feilong, who was very anxious as he was waiting for Yu Luocha for almost a day and a night. Seeing Yu Luocha returned, he barraged her with questions. Yu Luocha answered and told him everything. Hearing Murong Chong was back, his countenance sank; hearing how Yu Luocha stole Ke Pingting’s snacks, he burst out in laughter. When her story was finished, Yu Luocha said, “It will be hard to bring Murong Chong to his bad luck for the time being; let us set this matter aside for now. But I have found a possible candidate as the recipient of Military Commissioner Xiong's legacy."

    "Are you talking about Yuan Chonghuan?" Tie Feilong asked.

    "Exactly," Yu Luocha replied, "When at first I heard Du Mingzhong mentioning him as a genius of the present age, I did not believe it. Later I heard Yang Lian said he succeeds Xiong Tingbi, I was still not completely convinced. But now that I have seen his memorial to the throne, I know that this man indeed has courage and insight. I think I will hand over the book to him."

    Tie Feilong said, "Military Commissioner Xiong's legacy concerns about the fate of the nation, so we must be very cautious. Since he is already in Beijing, I'll ask Long Dage to make a discreet inquiry as to where he stays, and then we'll make a visit and test him out."

    After being dismissed from his post outside the Great Wall, Yuan Chonghuan returned to Beijing to await for his next order. Realizing his rank as a middle-level officer, of which the palace had hundreds, he knew that the Ministry of War would not consider him as a priority. By risking his own life he had submitted a memorial to the throne, but even this memorial did not have any follow-up.

    That night he was depressed and bored, so he brewed a strong pot of tea and sat alone in his room reading the Sun Tzu's The Art of War. He had just read several pages when the door was suddenly opened and an old man and a young woman walked in. The young woman harshly said, "Yuan Chonghuan, how dare you oppose Wei Gonggong! Don't you want to live?"

    "Who are you?" Yuan Chonghuan asked.

    "We are here to kill you!" Yu Luocha said, as she pulled the memorial to the throne and slapped it on the table. "Did you or did you not write this?" she asked sternly.

    Yuan Chonghuan's heart shivered, he thought, "When I arrived at Beijing, I heard that most memorials will be handled by Madame Ke; I also heard that Madame Ke has a daughter who is proficient in martial art. Could it be that my memorial was read by Madame Ke and she sent her daughter and a palace guard to kill me?" But he stood up boldly and replied in loud voice, "I did. So what?"

    Such is: When righteousness filled a man's heart, he won't even fear death.

    [1]A prefecture level city and capital of Sichuan province in southwest China.

    [2]A county in Sichuan.

    [3]A port city on the Changjiang (Yangtze River), still in Sichuan province.

    [4]Reminder: 'zhaizhu' means 'Stronghold Master'. I thought Zhaizhu is more specific than simply 'Chief'.

    [5]The word I translated as 'Senior' is 'Lao Ren Jia', with the character 'Lao' means 'Old'.

    [6]Paternal Aunt.

    [7]Paternal (younger) Uncle.

    [8]In Gansu province.

    [9]Orig. 'three cults, nine schools of thought, black/dark way (meaning underground/criminal world), white/light way'.

    [10]Lit. under, the humble one.

    [11]Orig. 请留万儿 Translator’s note: I know it does not make any sense, I am guessing that this is special code spoken by people of the underground world, hence I decide to translate it literally, hopefully someone out there is able to shed some light on this.

    [12]Spirit of loyalty, self-sacrifice, code of brotherhood.

    [13]Polygonum multiflorum – from Wikipedia: Heshouwu ('Black-haired Mr. He'), a Chinese man who is reputed to have lived until the age of 132, is the first consumer of this herb to be reported.

    [14]Lit. the oldest child in a family, the first, the leader.

    [15]The second child in a family, the second in rank.

    [16]Nicknamed Yellow Tiger, was a Chinese rebel leader who conquered Sichuan Province in the middle of the 17th century.

    [17]A position within the Eight-trigrams representing one of its elements. See also note 6 of Chapter 14 by Faerie Queenie.

    [18]1 cun is approximately 1 inch.

    [19]蒺藜 – tribulus terrestris, chenupodium album. (whatever that is … :-D)

    [20]Lit. ‘worthy nephew’.

    [21]A formal title of a dynastic official whose main duty was to review central government affairs.

    [22]He also used ‘an’ to refer to himself, i.e. he was from northern China.

    [23]I have difficulty with the last part, 孔子诛少正卯,厂臣诛东林党人,礼宜并尊,岁祀如孔子. Donglin Academy was a school of neo-Confucian scholars.

    [24]which meant that he was symbolically the second most important person in the country, just after the emperor, who is called the Ten-Thousand Years.

    [25]See Water Margin, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, All Men Are Brothers or The Marshes of Mount Liang.

    [26]Lit. 'under the control of provincial governor northern town'.

    [27]Zhang Lian was an official who, after being falsely accused by a eunuch, fled and sought refuge wherever he could find it. In the end, more than ten people were executed for harboring him.

    [28]Yang Zhen was an official who, after being slandered by a eunuch, was banished back to his home province. On the road back, he committed suicide by ingesting poison.

    [29]'Imperial caretaker' is a very imprecise term, and more of a conceptual translation than a literal one. 'Guming, 'life caretaker' in the original Chinese, is an adjective which refers to ministers who were summoned by a dying emperor to arrange for his funeral and provide guidance and support to the new emperor. This line then segues into Confucius' quote in the following line.

    [30]The two founders refer to Ming Taizu (Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty) and Ming Chengzu (Zhu Di, the first Emperor of the Ming dynasty). The character 'zu' means founder. The ten ancestors refers to ten succeeding Emperors after them, Ming Renzong, Ming Xuanzong, Ming Yingzong, Ming Daizong, Ming Xianzong, Ming Xiaozong, Ming Wuzong, Ming Shizong, Ming Muzong, Ming Shenzong. The character 'zong' means 'ancestor'; it denotes a lesser level of prestige/seniority compared to 'zu', of which there is usually only one. Note that all of these titles are posthumous temple name titles.

    [31]'Chang' means Faction.

    [32]Lit. ‘my boy’, referring to Emperor You Jiao.

    [33]Candidate who came first in the Han-lin examination.

    [34]Or Civil or Military, respectively.

    [35]I am not sure what it is: 逍遥车 (xiao yao che, xiaoyao means carefree/hang loose, or something like that ...).

    [36]Orig. 'zhen' (an emperor referring to himself).

    [37]Not sure what this is: Da - great, major, high ranking; Xue - learning; Shi - scholar, warrior, knight.

    [38]Lit. 'prosperous royal great Lama'.
    Last edited by foxs; 03-25-10 at 09:38 AM.

  4. #24
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 23

    Chapter 23
    The sword aura arises to the heavens
    Three shocking internal affairs
    Prying into the palace's secret door
    Resentment reaches the end of the earth
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    With a laugh Yu Luocha said, "So you really are not afraid of death?" while reaching out with her slender, jade-like finger, and scribbled something on the red sandalwood tabletop. When she stopped talking, a large 'kill' character appeared, engraved into the wood, about several fen[1] deep.

    Yuan Chonghuan laughed heartily and said, "If I am scared of death, I wouldn't have written that memorial, would I? If you want to kill, just kill; why show off?"

    'Swish!' Yu Luocha drew her sword. Yuan Chonghuan leaned forward and 'pei!' he spat on her, but suddenly her shadow disappeared before his very eyes. And then he heard Yu Luocha laughing by his ear, "Not bad," she said, "At least you did not soil my clothes. If you did, could you afford to pay me with your poor official salary?"

    Yuan Chonghuan was startled; he saw Yu Luocha was standing right next to him with a smile on her face, while her sword had already been returned to its sheathe. Yuan Chonghuan was baffled.

    "Chang'er," Tie Feilong said, "Don't fool around."

    Yu Luocha cupped her fist and saluted. "Very good," she said, "You are indeed a hero who does not fear death!"

    Yuan Chonghuan returned the gesture and asked in surprised, "So the two of you are not assassins who are sent by Ke and Wei?"

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "We come here to deliver something for you."

    "What is it?" Yuan Chonghuan asked.

    Yu Luocha untied her bundle and took out a book and placed it on the table. Yuan Chonghuan saw the cover of the book had three characters written on it, 'Liao Dong Lun'[2], which he recognized as Xiong Tingbi's handwriting. Hastily he picked it up and flipped several pages. “Aya!” he exclaimed, “How did Military Commissioner Xiong’s book end up in your hands?”

    “You don’t need to know,” Yu Luocha said, “If you think this book has any use to you, you may have it.”

    “If you don’t explain clearly, how can I accept Military Commissioner Xiong’s legacy?” Yuan Chonghuan said.

    “Do you have any wine?” Yu Luocha asked.

    “I do,” Yuan Chonghuan replied.

    “Since you have wine, why haven't you brought it out?” Yu Luocha said with a laugh, “It’s a long and complicated story, if there is no wine to wet our throats, how can we tell the story?”

    Yuan Chonghuan burst out in laughter. “So be it,” he said, “Too bad I don’t have anything to accompany the wine,” while in his heart he said, “This girl is really frank and straightforward.” Yuan Chonghuan took out a pot of white wine and poured three cups.

    Yu Luocha said, “We are going to talk about something that will make us proud, and that is enough to accompany the wine. Father, I will have to break my oath of not drinking wine today!”

    Tie Feilong downed three cups successively and said with a laugh, “Ever since Military Commissioner Xiong, this is the first time the old man see a hero of the present age, I will also have to break my oath of not drinking wine.”

    Yu Luocha was drinking and talking; starting with how Xiong Tingbi left his writings to Yue Mingke, and then how Yue Mingke gave it to Zhuo Yihang, and how finally Zhuo Yihang gave the book to her. Yuan Chonghuan listened to the story with tears streaming down his face. He knelt down and kowtowed toward the heavens three times before receiving the book.

    Yu Luocha’s drinking capacity was not too great, after only drinking for several cups she already felt tipsy. She was just thinking of taking her leave when suddenly someone was calling from the door.

    After listening to her story, Yuan Chonghuan deduced that she must be Yu Luocha, whose name had shaken the Jianghu. Thereupon he said, “Heroine Lian, you’d better make yourselves scarce momentarily,” while opening the door to a side room. He removed the wine cups, took a table cloth and spread it on the table, to hide the character ‘kill’ You Luocha had just written a moment ago, and only then did he open the door.

    A man in military attire walked in and asked, “You must be Master Yuan?”

    Yuan Chonghuan mused, “Perhaps this man is sent by Ke and Wei?” He said, “I am indeed Yuan Chonghuan!”

    The military officer said, “The Emperor has long admired Master Yuan’s name, and he longs to see you.”

    “Which officer to the Emperor are you?” Yuan Chonghuan asked.

    “I am from the Prince Xin's Palace[3],” the military officer replied.

    Prince Xin, Zhu Youjian, was the current Son of Heaven’s younger brother, and had quite a reputation as respecter of the wise. Yuan Chonghuan had heard his name and was quite surprised.

    The military officer said, “Master Yuan has toiled along the border, you have routed Manchurian’s troops, who does not know of it? Our Lord admires you very much.”

    Yuan Chonghuan said in his heart, “The imperial court definitely did not know. This prince pays attention to the matters of the border, he is not bad at all.”

    Zhu Youjiao’s younger brother, Zhu Youjian [he was later known as Emperor Zhen] was actually a lot more astute than his older brother. Zhu Youjiao’s body was weak, and he did not have any crown prince, so early on Zhu Youjian had always regarded the throne as ‘already in the bag’; he had also planned that as soon as he ascended the throne, he would deal with Wei Zhongxian. However, he did not have any trusted general under his command, therefore, planning ahead[4], he wanted to take Yuan Chonghuan for his own use.

    At this time Yuan Chonghuan was discouraged, as he heard someone recognizing his achievement, he could not refrain from feeling touched. Accepting Zhu Youjian's written invitation he said, "I have to bother honorable officer to inform the Prince that sooner or later the Ol' Yuan will definitely ask for an audience."

    He was about to serve tea to the visitor when there was another knock on the door. Yuan Chonghuan was quite amused inwardly, "Since I came here to wait for a new assignment, nobody cared of me, but tonight there are several visitors coming to see me; could it be that things are starting to look up?"

    When he opened the door, two men rushed in. One was a middle-aged man around fifty years of age, with a nose like a hawk and a mouth like a lion; his face could be considered ugly. The other man was dressed in Imperial Bodyguards uniform. Peeking from the side room, Yu Luocha recognized this man as Shi Hao; she was surprised, "Why does Shi Hao come over here?" she mused.

    She saw Shi Hao took two steps forward and exclaimed, "Ah, aren't you from the Prince Xin's Palace? What are you doing here?"

    The military officer sent by Prince Xin to invite Yuan Chonghuan was called Bai Guang'en, he was proficient in wrestling, a chief instructor, whose rank at the Prince's Mansion was, if not the first, then at least the second best. Seeing Shi Hao was able to recognize his identity, he groaned inwardly, "Not good, this Shi Hao is a trusted aide to Wei Zhongxian. It will be quite troublesome if he can see through the Prince's real intention."

    Relying on his superior ability, he decided to gain the initiative by striking first; thereupon he smiled and cupped his fist while greeting, "Chief Shi, how are you?" Suddenly his arm looped around Shi Hao's neck, while his leg swept. 'Bang!' he brought Shi Hao falling down to the ground together.

    Yuan Chonghuan was startled, but before he even realized what was happening, he saw the old man, who was coming with Shi Hao, let out a strange laughter, and in a flash he was already standing in front of Bai Guang'en. Bai Guang'en was rather short, his arms reached behind his head and using a wrestling technique called the golden carp flip he leaped up from his back and reached out again to bring him down.

    As Bai Guang'en launched his attack, suddenly the old man sternly said by his ear, “Young fellow, you are asking for death!” Suddenly he felt severe pain on his shoulder, and his strength vanished.

    “Who are you?” Yuan Chonghuan shouted, “How dare you play rough in my place!” He leaped forward and swept across with his palm.

    “Good!” the old man roared, both his hands grabbed Bai Guang'en and tossed him aside, while side-stepping Yuan Chonghuan’s palm. He laughed and said, “Good kid, you are not bad, no wonder our Great Khan has a liking for you!”

    Yuan Chonghuan was shocked, withdrawing his palm, he sternly said, “What Great Khan?”

    The old man laughed and said, “We might not have known each other if we haven’t fought; you have clashed arms several times with our Great Khan, and you still ask?”

    “Are you being sent here by Nurhachi?” Yuan Chonghuan asked.

    The old man laughed. “Precisely,” he replied, “Our Great Khan wishes to invite you outside the Great Wall, but is afraid your might put on airs and be unwilling to come, so he sent me here!”

    Yuan Chonghuan was enraged, “You Manchu’s dog thief,” he cursed, “Unexpectedly you dare to run amuck in Beijing. If I don’t show you my fierceness, you would think there is nobody in China!” ‘Whoosh, whoosh!’ he launched two palm attacks successively.

    The Manchurian warrior said, “Since I asked you nicely and you did not want to go, please forgive my rudeness!” With a left fist and right spear-hand, he countered using a boxing technique and acupoint-sealing technique.

    Although Yuan Chonghuan was a very able general with excellent battle skills both on and off the horse, his skills were rather lacking in this kind of prancing around, dodging and attacking, with fist, palm, and finger fight. While he was in a dire situation, suddenly a tender laughter was heard, “Master Yuan, why are you fighting with your guest?”

    The Manchurian warrior’s eyes brightened, he saw a young woman with nimble steps, as graceful as jade, walk in, with a smile on her face. He thought her glowing countenance was over whelming, making others do not dare to look up to her.

    Yu Luocha beckoned to him and laughed, "Come, come! Why don't you tell me why does your master want to invite Master Yuan? If there is a good enough reason, I'll tell him to come with you."

    As if he were bewitched, the Manchurian warrior unwittingly took several steps forward. But suddenly he had an idea, "Such a beautiful, fairy-like woman, why don't I catch her and present her to the Great Khan?"

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "You have come from outside the Great Wall and you have an Imperial Guard as your guide, I believe you must have a great background. Tell me, in the imperial court, which noble minister has you as his honored guest?"

    Yuan Chonghuan said, "He is a Manchu spy, why should we talk too much with him?"

    Yu Luocha laughed, "Not so," she said, "As the saying goes, a single strand of thread is not a thread at all. If he has nobody to protect and shelter him, how could he dare to take someone captive in broad daylight and in the capital?" Yuan Chonghuan's heart shivered; he stepped aside to let Yu Luocha to deal with this Manchurian warrior.

    The Manchurian warrior shook his head and said, "Little girl, it's none of your business. You'd better come with me. If our Great Khan can see you, he would surely be delighted, then for the rest of your life you will enjoy unlimited riches and honor, glory and splendor."

    Yu Luocha's countenance changed, but abruptly she laughed again and said, "Is that right? So you decide not to tell me?"

    Seeing Yu Luocha talking and laughing playfully, the Manchurian warrior thought little of her. With a licentious laugh he reached out to grab Yu Luocha's wrist. Yu Luocha pulled her hand back and still laughing, she said, "As a guest, I am more difficult to deal than Master Yuan. Aren't you afraid of me?"

    The Manchurian warrior said, "To entertain a little girl like you is exactly what I've been looking for!" He reached out again to grab her hand. Suddenly Yu Luocha pulled the tablecloth to reveal the character 'kill' engraved three fen deep into the wood. The Manchurian warrior was startled, but suddenly he felt a strong gust of wind as a palm struck by. Hastily he dodged sideways, but there was an excruciating pain on the left side of his body penetrating his heart and lung.

    This Manchurian warrior was called Chaketu, one of the top-ranked warriors serving under Nurhachi. As he suffered a crushing defeat, he bellowed loudly and 'whoosh!', his palm struck down toward the table and flipped it over. Yu Luocha had already drew her sword, 'shua, shua!' she attacked twice and thrust her sword straight forward. Although Chaketu was bold and powerful, how could he fight Yu Luocha's magical swordsmanship? About a dozen stances later, he could only defend without any strength to counterattack.

    Yu Luocha's spirit rose, with a long laughter her foot kicked the ground, her sword flashed, straight toward his throat. Suddenly Tie Feilong called out, "Hold your sword, don't kill him!"

    Yu Luocha turned the direction of her sword, and stabbed a vital point on the enemy's body instead. She said with a laugh, "Father, if you did not remind me, I would have killed him!"

    Stabbed by the sword, Chaketu tumbled down to the ground, feeling pain go deep into his bone. Yu Luocha laughed and said, "You truly refuse a toast only to be forced to drink a forfeit. I ask you a question, and I expect you to give me a truthful answer."

    Chaketu gnashed his teeth to endure the pain, but he remained silent. "Humph," Yu Luocha said, "You still pretend to be a real man? Father, get that Shi Hao here, let him also have a look!"

    When Yu Luocha was fighting, Tie Feilong had already helped Bai Guang'en and Shi Hao up. Bai Guang'en's injury was light, he was able to get up by himself and took a rest. But Shi Hao suffered a bad sprained leg, Tie Feilong helped him up and sat him on a chair. He could not move and could only look helplessly as Yu Luocha sneered at him.

    While Shi Hao was absolutely horrified, Yu Luocha laughed and said, "Shi Hao, twice you have escaped from my sword. I should have not spared you today, but if you do what I say, I might let the net open and give you another chance."

    Shi Hao did not dare to make any noise. Yu Luocha continued, "I want to show you an example first." Amidst her laughter, her palm suddenly slapped down the side of Chaketu's body.

    The slap seemed as light as a feather as if she did not use any strength at all, but as soon as Chaketu was hit, he screamed violently while rolling around on the ground. When he was stabbed with the sword earlier, although the pain was severe, he could still circulate his qi and endure it; but just with a light pat from Yu Luocha, he felt as if millions of vipers were running around his body and biting randomly. He felt as if his heart and lungs were torn to pieces, his five internal organs were flipped over that even if he was made of cast iron or steel, it would still be difficult to endure. He could not help but cry out, “I’ll talk, I’ll talk! I ask Heroine to have mercy on me.”

    Yu Luocha leaped over and kicked the acupoint on the left side of his body. The pain immediately lessened, his blood was flowing freely. A moment later, Chaketu said in a low voice, “Great Khan sent me out as his envoy to visit Wei Gonggong.”

    Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha had already guessed it, but it was totally beyond Yuan Chonghuan’s expectations; he was enraged and almost could not restrain it. He heard Chaketu continue, “Just before I left, Great Khan said that after Xiong Manzi’s[5] death, the Central Plains still have Yuan Chonghuan’s talent. Although right now his official rank is low, he will become a powerful enemy for us once he holds power over the military. When we get to Beijing, we should find a way to capture him. If we cannot capture him alive, then we should kill him.”

    Listening to this point, Yu Luocha laughed and said, “Very good!” Yuan Chonghuan was baffled, he did not understand her. Yu Luocha explained, "The enemy holds such a high regard of you. If we decide to entrust Military Commissioner Xiong's legacy to you, isn't that very good?"

    Chaketu continued, "I asked Wei Gonggong to find Master Yuan's address for me, so Wei Gonggong sent someone to the Ministry of War to get the information. The Ministry of War has his curriculum vitae on file, the one submitted by Master Yuan when he arrived in Beijing. They looked it up immediately. Funny how Wei Gonggong does not recognize a talent when he sees one, he said, 'Such a trivial thing does not worth your Great Khan's worrying about.' As soon as we got the information, he sent Chief Shi to take the humble one here."

    "A close call!" Yuan Chonghuan said in his heart, "Fortunately my position is so petty and low that I escaped Wei Zhongxian's attention. Otherwise, I am afraid even before this day he would have sent someone to kill me secretly."

    Tie Feilong shot Chaketu another look. He asked, "How many times have you seen that castrated traitor?"

    Chaketu looked startled. Yu Luocha said, "The castrated traitor is Wei Zhongxian. Don't you know it?"

    "Twice," Chaketu replied, "The first time was to present the Great Khan's letter, the second time was to inquire Master Yuan's address."

    "Did you see him during the day, or during the night?" Tie Feilong asked again.

    "Both times were in the evening," Chaketu replied.

    "When you saw the castrated traitor, were you near him?" Tie Feilong inquired further.

    Chaketu replied, "He had me sit on the guest chair, it was neither far nor near."

    "Approximately how far?" Tie Feilong asked.

    "He sat on the head of the table, which is on the east, and I sat at the west end," Chaketu said, "The table was about a zhang[6] long."

    "Are you telling me the truth?" Tie Feilong asked.

    "Not even half a word of lies," Chaketu replied.

    Yu Luocha laughed. "Very good," she said, "You have told us the truth then I will show you mercy."

    The word 'thanks' had not even left Chaketu's mouth when Yu Luocha's palm struck sideways toward his forehead. Chaketu died instantly without uttering any noise! Yu Luocha said with a laugh, "Including him, the number of people I executed like that, quick and peaceful, is less than three. I would not have shown such mercy if I did not think he was telling the truth!"

    Listening to her, Shi Hao trembled with fear, his face turned ashen! Yu Luocha said, "I'll even make his body disappear, so Master Yuan will not be implicated." Taking out a silver vial from her pocket, she sprinkled the contents onto Chaketu's body. In just a short moment the huge body turned into a pool of thick blood. Using her sword, Yu Luocha dug a hole on the ground and buried the blood.

    She then turned to Shi Hao and said, "Now it's your turn. You must do whatever I want, if you dare to disobey even to half a word, let's see if your fate will not be worse than him."

    With a shaking voice Shi Hao said, "I will follow Heroine's order."

    "Father," Yu Luocha said, "Tell him what to do!"

    "Take me to see Wei Zhongxian," Tie Feilong said.

    Shi Hao was startled. Yu Luocha stared at him. Shi Hao hastily said, "I'll do it, I'll do it!"

    "Master Yuan," Tie Feilong said, "You can't stay here anymore. Why don't you temporarily move to Prince Xin's Palace? Bai Guang'en's injury is not heavy, he can take you there." Taking Shi Hao along, he bade farewell and left with Yu Luocha.

    Tie Feilong had noticed that his and Chaketu's built and appearance was somewhat similar, so he had an idea to assassinate Wei Zhongxian. That night Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha discussed their plan at the Chang'an Escort Agency. Yu Luocha was afraid he would not be able to do it alone. Tie Feilong said, "How can we catch tiger's cub if we do not enter tiger's den? I am not afraid Wei Zhongxian would see through my disguise. As long as he is willing to come out, without giving him the chance to see clearly, I will immediately strike him dead with my palm."

    Yu Luocha was also a demoness who was afraid of neither Heaven nor Earth, she laughed and said, "In that case, I am also going to enter the palace. One enters openly, the other enters surreptitiously. As soon as you succeed, we will rush out the palace immediately!"

    And thus under Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong's threats, Shi Hao did not have any choice but to comply. Sure enough, the next evening he took Tie Feilong to enter the palace quietly. Although Wei Zhongxian had established contact with the Manchus, other than several of his most trusted aides, he kept it a secret; therefore, he arranged the meeting with Manchurian messenger to always be during the night, when the palace was quiet that even Murong Chong was not aware of these meetings.

    This evening, he was about to go to sleep when he heard Shi Hao request an audience. Immediately he draped a robe on his shoulders and went out of his room. From a distance he saw that Shi Hao and the Manchurian envoy were standing in front of the reception hall. A thought came into Wei Zhongxian's mind, "When we were talking about Yuan Chonghuan yesterday, that Manchurian envoy said that Nurhachi regards this man as very important to them. I was curious and asked him as soon as he captures Yuan Chonghuan, to bring him here for me to see. Now there are only the two of them. Could it be that Yuan Chonghuan has escaped, or perhaps he was killed because he refused to come along?"

    Having this suspicion in his heart, Wei Zhongxian quietly spoke several sentences behind the small yellow door before stepping into the reception hall. When he was still several zhang away from them, with his back against the wall, he raised his voice to call out, "Gululu, gugetulu, bagenate ketutu!"

    From Chaketu Wei Zhongxian had learned several sentences of pleasantry in Manchurian, right now, imitating Manchurian accent, he spoke some random sentences. If the man was the real Manchurian envoy, he would certainly laugh and correct the Manchurian words. It must be understood that for Wei Zhongxian to be able to dominate the royal government, naturally he must be street-smart and have the ability to respond to an emergency. Sure enough, Tie Feilong was caught off guard by this small test. By the time he realized what was going on, he launched a sudden attack by springing toward Wei Zhongxian. Wei Zhongxian let out a sinister laugh while pressing the mechanism on the wall, and then he disappeared into the dark room behind the wall.

    As his strike failed, Tie Feilong realized he had fallen into a trap, so he rushed out the room. That Shi Hao was also very crafty; while Tie Feilong was pouncing toward Wei Zhongxian, he leaped out of the hall and cried out "Catch the thief!"

    All of a sudden a large number of Wei Zhongxian's trusted aides and guards appeared. Tie Feilong roared and turned around; his palms struck backhandedly, 'bang, bang!' two East Faction Guards died with shattered heads. Another guard, a famous palace warrior, brandishing a large iron hammer that weighs forty jin in his hand, rushed in and struck down with great strength. Tie Feilong roared again and raised his left palm to block. Unexpectedly the large hammer's downward momentum was stopped by his palm strength. In the blink of an eye his right palm went up. Like a tornado the palm struck the guard and 'bang!' sent him flying two, three zhang away!

    Tie Feilong's palm power could be considered number one in Jianghu, peerless in Wulin, that even the Red Flower Demon Matriarch was about thirty percent afraid of him. The East Faction Guards, Wei Zhongxian's cronies, had never seen such formidable weapons; in a short moment they were forced to retreat step by step.

    Tie Feilong's murderous intentions were aroused; he charged toward the crowd. Suddenly a bluish ray flashed, he could feel the gust of wind of a blade on his back. Tie Feilong parried backhandedly with his palm, but before the two people came in contact, he recognized the attacker to be the West Faction Guards' Chief Instructor, Lian Chenghu. He was originally sent by Wei Zhongxian to Sichuan to lead the 'suppressing bandit troops', but was now recalled back to the palace. Lian Chenghu's martial art skill was only slightly below Murong Chong's. His weapon was a pair of tiger-head hooks, he was also very adept in using other schools’ weapons. Because Tie Feilong had to block him with a palm, he was somewhat slowed down, giving the Guards an opportunity to catch up and surround him again.

    Tie Feilong’s power was overwhelming, his palm hacked down, his fingers poked, but he was still unable to break away from the encirclement. Fortunately, Lian Chenghu and the guards were afraid of his formidable palms, so they did not dare to get to close to him.

    Amidst the fierce battle, suddenly someone was shouting, “All of you, back off! Let me catch this old thief!” The person arrived as quickly as the sound of his voice.

    Tie Feilong hacked down with his palm, but felt a strong force counter his own that he was forced several steps back. When he looked up, he recognized it was Murong Chong.

    Murong Chong was also pushed back several steps from the collision, he thought, “This old man’s reputation is certainly well-deserved!” Once pushed back, he immediately charged back and engaged Tie Feilong in a fierce battle. In just a short time, they had fought ten, twenty stances without a clear winner.

    Murong Chong was the imperial court’s top fighter, and ordinarily was a conceited man, therefore, after he shouted his order, none of the East and West Faction Guards’ captains, as well as the Imperial Palace’s guards, dared to step forward and help him.

    Wei Zhongxian went out from his hiding place behind the wall, seeing this situation, he could not help but feel impatient, he said in his heart, “There is an assassin in the palace, why must he consider his status? Why must he put on airs?” Therefore, he was quite displeased with Murong Chong. “Lian Zong Guan[7],” he shouted, “Help Murong Chong catch this assassin.”

    Lian Chenghu followed the order, with one hook as a shield, the other hacked down diagonally, he entered the arena. Tie Feilong reached back to divert this weapon to block Murong Chong’s attack, while leaping up to kick at the same time. Lian Chenghu dodged by sliding toward Tie Feilong’s back, while the hook he used as a shield earlier scratched down to tear Tie Feilong’s skin and flesh away. At the same time, with left fist and right palm, Murong Chong also threatened the front of his torso. Luckily Tie Feilong did not panic in facing such a dire situation, his leg swept horizontally to parry Murong Chong’s palm and fist simultaneously, with a sudden spin of his body, his spreading fingers brushed away, sweeping Lian Chenghu’s hooks away. Lian Chenghu felt sudden pain on his wrist, hastily he leaped back, only to see a spot on his acupoint, about a cun wide, was red and swollen, as if it was branded by a red-hot burning iron stick. He was greatly shocked and did not dare to sneak attack anymore. With a pair of hooks in his hands, he stood on the side, waiting for an opportunity to attack the enemy while protecting his own body.

    Murong Chong launched a powerful double-fist attack, forcing Tie Feilong to withdraw repeatedly to the side. Lian Chenghu calmed himself down, and only then he brandished his pair of hooks, making a flank attack!

    Wei Zhongxian shouted, “You must capture the assassin alive, I want to know who’s behind this.” Waving his hand, the captains of the guards spread out in all directions to form an impenetrable wall. The two martial art masters Ying Xiuyang had just recruited also came out to join the battle.

    Fighting Murong Chong alone, Tie Feilong already had to strain all his strength; now with the enemy all around him, he was unable to withstand. It looked like he would not be able to escape, all he could do right now was just fight with everything he had, while waiting for Yu Luocha to the rescue. However, Yu Luocha was definitely not around, nobody knew where she went.

    Let’s return to Ke Pingting. After returning from the West Mountain the other day, her heart was tumultuous and she was not happy the rest of the day. Recalling what Yu Luocha told her, she was not convinced whether she was telling the truth or not. That day she sat alone in the palace, with myriads of thoughts surging through her mind. One side of her thought: Yu Luocha was a famous character in Wulin, presumably she would not say any preposterous thing. If my Shifu had indeed died, why would I want to stay in the palace? The other side of her thought: my mother only has one daughter, me. There is a crisis looming on the horizon in the palace, she and I depend on each other for our survival, how can I have the heart to leave her?

    While these two thoughts going back and forth in her mind, suddenly she heard someone lightly tap the window, twice, from the outside. “Who is it?” Ke Pingting asked.

    A low and somewhat muffled outside replied, “Don’t make any noise, it is I. Quickly open the door!”

    The voice sounded familiar; Ke Pingting was startled, and then called out in a low voice, “Yu Luocha?”

    “That’s right!” the person outside the door said with a laugh, “I have a favor to ask you!”

    Strictly speaking, Yu Luocha was the Red Flower Demon Matriarch’s enemy, and was the opponent of Ke and Wei, therefore, she was actually Ke Pingting’s ‘enemy’. However, for a reason she herself did not understand, Ke Pingting did not feel the least bit of ‘hostility’ toward Yu Luocha. Particularly during the two days after their encounter, Ke Pingting felt that Yu Luocha have a one-of-a-kind attractiveness, which was different from average people. She possessed the heroic disposition, the frank laughter, which seemed to come from another world altogether! Especially when Ke Pingting compared her to the officers of the imperial court, the impression she left on Ke Pingting’s heart was even more distinct. Ke Pingting thought that in some aspects, Yu Luocha was somewhat similar to her Shifu; but compared to her Shifu, Yu Luocha was definitely more endearing, so much so that the life Yu Luocha was living constituted a part of Ke Pingting’s fantasy. It was a life as free as the wind and as lofty as the moon, wandering the earth with a sword, roaming around the country, criss-crossing the Lulin. It was a life with strong enticement to Ke Pingting, who had lived in the confinement of the palace. Each time Ke Pingting remembered Yu Luocha, she would also remember the unlimited and wide world out there, which she associated with the colorful legendary characters of the Jianghu. Ke Pingting not just envious of Yu Luocha, she also had a bit of admiration towards her.

    Tonight, to Ke Pingting’s ears, the sound of Yu Luocha’s muffled laughter carried an authoritative tone, a power which Ke Pingting felt must not be defied; therefore, without hesitation she opened the door to let the ‘enemy’ in. Like a gust of wind, Yu Luocha seemed to float into the room, while swiftly and gracefully closing the door at the same time.

    “Why do you sneak back into the palace?” Ke Pingting asked, “The young Emperor took my leisure vehicle for his own use, I have no way of sneaking you out again.”

    Yu Luocha stifled her laughter, but suddenly her face turned serious as with a low voice she said, “Ke Pingting, I want to ask you something!”

    “Please speak!” Ke Pingting said.

    “Do you want the Manchurian Tatars to invade through the pass?” Yu Luocha asked, “Do you want them to take over our Han people’s rivers and mountains?”

    Ke Pingting jumped up in fright, “Do you still have to ask those questions?” she said, “Of course I don’t!”

    “Alright,” Yu Luocha said, “Since you don’t want those to happen, you must do two things for me!”

    “Tell me,” Ke Pingting replied, “What is it that you want me to do!”

    Yu Luocha said, "First, you must assassinate Wei Zhongxian for me!"

    Ke Pingting was shocked, "Why?" she asked. Although Ke Pingting did not know that she was Wei Zhongxian's natural daughter, she could actually feel that Wei Zhongxian doted on her very much. Moreover, Wei Zhongxian and her mother were good friends, they often met to talk in private; she was also aware of this fact.

    Seeing the baffled look on her face, Yu Luocha whispered in her ear, "He has contact with foreign power to betray China!"

    Ke Pingting trembled, Yu Luocha talked with such a conviction that she simply must believe her. She could not help but inquire further, "Who else is involved?" She was afraid her own mother was Wei Zhongxian's accomplice. She suddenly felt the chill penetrate her heart, her voice also trembled.

    "I can't say that I know everybody in this conspiracy, I only know that there is someone by the name of Ying Xiuyang," Yu Luocha replied, "Ying Xiuyang's martial art skill is above yours, so I don't want you to stomp the grass to scare the snake; leave it to us to deal with him."

    Ke Pingting let out a breath and asked, "What is the second task?"

    Yu Luocha said, "My Yifu is being besieged by them in front of the Qingyang[8] Palace, I want you to find a way to get him out!"

    What happened was: when Shi Hao took Tie Feilong entered the palace, Yu Luocha took that opportunity to also sneak in. By the time she reached Wei Zhongxian's residence, the Qingyang Palace, Tie Feilong had already been engaged with Murong Chong and Lian Chenghu in a fierce battle. After taking a look at the situation, Yu Luocha mused, "It's bad! I know Yifu will be able to eliminate that castrated traitor with one strike, who would have thought that the castrated traitor was able to escape? Worse yet, he was able to alarm the entire palace guards. Even if I come down, I can only help Yifu resist the enemy for a moment longer, but if we want to escape, I am afraid it would be quite impossible!"

    In her anxiety, she suddenly remembered Ke Pingting's argument with her mother that night. She thought, "Looking at that Ke Pingting's manner, it seems to me that she is greatly different from her mother. It’s worth a try."

    Hearing the second task Yu Luocha asked her to do, Ke Pingting was shocked again, "My skill is meager," she said, "How can I rescue your Yifu?"

    Yu Luocha said, "We use our wits and not our strength. All you need to do is just lead away several martial art masters of the palace."

    Ke Pingting thought for a moment before saying, "Alright, I will do as Jiejie ask; here is what I think we can try." Thereupon she whispered a few sentences into Yu Luocha's ear.

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "Good, let's do it. You are truly my good Meimei." And she gently planted a kiss on her forehead and instantly flew out of the window.

    As soon as she blurted out the word 'Jiejie', Ke Pingting felt embarrassed, but then Yu Luocha suddenly also called her 'Meimei', reducing the distance between them; she felt a pleasant sweetness in her heart. She felt that she was willing to do whatever Yu Luocha care to ask her. Even she herself did not understand why she was greatly attracted to Yu Luocha's personality.

    Back to Tie Feilong who was struggling against the four martial art masters of the palace. At first he was still able to defend himself relying on his palm power, however, gradually his strength was drained and his muscles became weary. Repeatedly he found himself in dangerous situations, yet Yu Luocha was still nowhere to be seen. He thought, "I did not expect I would be killed in here. But even if I die, I must expose that castrated traitor's plot!"

    In the meantime, Murong Chong was very happy to see things had gone so well. His fist swept across his face to block Tie Feilong's attack, while his left hand moved toward the side of Tie Feilong's body to seal his Primary Gate acupoint. Suddenly he heard Tie Feilong shout, "Wei Zhongxian has contact with foreign power to betray China, even ten thousand deaths won't be enough to atone for his crime. All of you are helping the traitor do his evil deeds, it will be difficult for you to escape justice later on!"

    Murong Chong was startled, his finger slanted to the side and missed. Wei Zhongxian angrily shouted, "This thief speaks nonsense, kill him!" Murong Chong hesitated slightly. Suddenly he heard someone shout, "Fire, fire!"

    Wei Zhongxian was startled and immediately called out, "Get out there and look, which place is on fire?" His voice had not vanished when suddenly a miserable cry echoed through the night sky, "Help, help!" Wei Zhongxian's heart trembled in fear, he recognized the voice as Ke Pingting's cry for help.

    A guard standing close to the gate reported, "Madame Feng Sheng's Palace is on fire!"

    Soon after Ke Pingting's desperate cry for help, from outside came a long laughter, followed by the noise of roof tiles falling down from everywhere. Shi Hao was standing behind Wei Zhongxian; as soon as he heard the voice, his countenance turned ash-grey, just like a corpse's. With a trembling voice he called out, "It's ... It's Yu ... Yu ... Yu Luocha!"

    Twice Yu Luocha had created disturbance in the imperial palace, Wei Zhongxian fully realized she was a formidable foe. Moreover, from the sound of it, it seemed that more than one person had arrived. In his fright he hastily called out, "Quickly split up and help Madame Feng Sheng!"

    All these were created by Ke Pingting and Yu Luocha. Ke Pingting started the fire then she called out for help, pretending to be chased by some assassins. Meanwhile, Yu Luocha unleashed her amazing qinggong and jumped onto the glazed tile roof; she threw a roof tile to the east, and tossed a brick to the west, creating the impression that there were enemies everywhere.

    The Qing Yang Palace where Wei Zhongxian resided was actually very near to Madame Ke's Wet Nurse Mansion. Looking at the blazing fire, everybody was quite alarmed; on top of that, hearing Ke Pingting's desperate cry for help mixed with Yu Luocha's laughter filled with murderous spirit, they were all even more frightened. More than half of the guards surrounding Tie Feilong ran out of the gate. Murong Chong feigned an attack with his fist, and then he also rushed out the gate.

    Tie Feilong's spirit was aroused, 'whoosh, whoosh!' his palms forced Lian Chenghu and the other master to retreat. Suddenly he drew a dagger and threw it toward Murong Chong's back while shouting loudly, "Thief Murong, catch this!"

    Without even turning his head, Murong Chong reached back and caught the flying dagger. Just as he was thinking of throwing it back, he heard Tie Feilong called out again, "Look at it carefully!" Murong Chong's heart was stirred; he put the dagger inside his secret projectile pouch and leaped out of the gate, and went straight toward the Wet Nurse Mansion.

    Wei Zhongxian called out again, "Lian Chenghu, I want all of you to chop this old man's head!"

    The remaining less-than-half of the guards brandished their sabers and spears and charged toward Tie Feilong from all directions. Tie Feilong roared and grabbed the back of a Guard, and then threw him out. The Guard's huge body flew over the forest of sabers and spears. Everybody cried out in alarm and hastily dispersed. Tie Feilong laughed aloud and went on a throwing spree; he successively caught three Guards and threw them out.

    Lian Chenghu was enraged, he chopped rapidly with his double-hooks. Suddenly the long laughter was heard again as Yu Luocha flew down from the glazed roof. The sword and the person flipped in a big circle in the air, it looked like a silver corona falling down from the sky toward the Guards. The ray of sword flashed, hands were cut, legs were severed, everybody ran for their lives!

    Wei Zhongxian was shocked, Shi Hao called out, "Not good! Let's hide!" Wei Zhongxian ran into the secret room, with Shi Hao close on his heels. And so it happened that even though there were still ten, the spirits of the twenty Guards besieging Tie Feilong, were already dashed.

    Yu Luocha unleashed her school's unique sword technique, her stances were fast and ruthless; like lightning or thunderstorm, like butterflies land on flowers, the sword flashed to the left, the sword flashed to the right, the sword stung on the enemy's vital joints and fatal acupoints. In just a few seconds five or six Guards fell down to the ground, crying and screaming miserably.

    Yu Luocha sternly shouted, "Fight me and you'll die, run away from me and you'll live!" With a long laughter she opened a bloody pathway, killing the Guards surrounding her foster father. Even Lian Chenghu and the two martial art masters recruited by Ying Xiuyang were in a bit of a panic!

    Yu Luocha charged with sword pointing straight ahead, launching the Jade Maiden Threads a Needle stance, stabbing toward the Soul Gate Acupoint on Lian Chenghu's back. Lian Chenghu moved his pair of hooks like a pair of scissors to block. Suddenly Tie Feilong let out a loud shout and snatched the hook away. With one hook scratched down, suddenly there was a loud 'rip' as a big chunk of Lian Chenghu's clothes was torn away! But Lian Chenghu managed to escape.

    With their leaders fleeing, the rest of the Guards did not have the heart to continue fighting. Yu Luocha wielded her sword like a storm, killing left and right; Tie Feilong punched and chopped with his hands like a giant axe, he was even more unstoppable, no Guard dared to pursue. Yu Luocha was more familiar with the pathways in the palace, in a short moment, crossing several fake hills, she managed to lead Tie Feilong out of the palace via the Shen Wu[9] Gate.

    Back to Murong Chong. As he went out to fight the fire, he saw Ke Pingting with disheveled hair and blood on her left shoulder. Murong Chong was shocked, but he did not see any enemy. Ke Pingting said, “The assassin has left, I was stabbed by that Demoness, luckily my wound is superficial. Fighting the fire is more important!”

    Murong Chong looked at her with suspicion in his heart, he thought, “Yu Luocha’s swordsmanship is so formidable, when she makes her move, she always stabs the enemy’s joint or acupoint. Did she actually show mercy to this little girl?”

    The fire was not too bad, with the combined effort of many people, it was soon put under control. Madame Ke pulled her daughter back into their residence to change clothes. She wrapped the wound while cursing Yu Luocha continuously. Ke Pingting was secretly amused, her wound was self-inflicted, it was nothing more than only a long cut on the skin, it did not even go deep enough to touch the bone; it was really nothing.

    After half a night of disturbance, the Guards stationed at the Shen Wu Gate reported that the assassins had escaped. Wei Zhongxian breathed a sigh of relief. He ordered his subordinates to stand guard around the clock and not lax their vigilance, but he himself quietly went for a visit to the Wet Nurse Mansion.

    By this time Ke Pingting had already changed her clothes, she was lying on the bed, feigning a rest. Yu Luocha’s words seemed to echo in her heart. Suddenly she heard the footsteps of her mother and Wei Zhongxian outside her door, Ke Pingting’s heart jumped. “Should I obey Yu Luocha and assassinate him for her?” she pondered quietly.

    The light in the house brightened, Ke Pingting felt Wei Zhongxian was about to come and see her. She thought, “Right now, as soon as I make my move, I will kill him. But Mother is here, how can I let her see bloodshed?”

    “Ting’er,” in a low voice Madame Ke called. Ke Pingting pretended to sleep, she did not move at all.

    “Um, she’s asleep,” Madame Ke said.

    “Is her injury bad?” Wei Zhongxian asked.

    “Luckily it is not fatal,” Madame Ke replied.

    “Hmm, I feel sorry for her,” Wei Zhongxian said, “We took her into the palace, originally it was so that she could enjoy a happy and prosperous life, but instead she had to sustain injury on my behalf tonight.”

    “What?” Madame Ke said, “Sustain injury on your behalf?”

    “Don’t you know it?” Wei Zhongxian said, “Those assassins were here tonight to kill me.”

    Ke Pingting shivered slightly, Wei Zhongxian said in a soft voice, “Let’s not talk in here, or else we might wake her up.” Pulling Madame Ke’s hand along, he walked out and gently closed the door.

    Ke Pingting heard everything, there was a big suspicion in her heart, she thought, “Why would Wei Zhongxian this good to me? As if he treats me as his own daughter? Granted that he is in good terms with my mother, but he does not have to be this good to me. I heard he is so ruthless against the Donglin party members, but he is this benevolent towards me? Why is this? Why?”

    Previously, because Ke Pingting loathed Wei Zhongxian, each time Wei Zhongxian came to talk with her mother, she had always avoided him and had never had any thought to eavesdrop to their conversation. But tonight Yu Luocha’s words had raised mighty waves in her heart, Wei Zhongxian’s manners had caused her to be doubtful; thereupon she quietly put on some clothes and went out to follow the sound of Wei Zhongxian and her mother’s footsteps, to listen to them secretly.

    Inside the private room, candle light flickered. Ke Pingting silently used her saliva to wet the paper covering of the window. She peeped in and saw Wei Zhongxian’s hands on her mother’s shoulders, his manner showed great affection; Ke Pingting frowned. She heard Wei Zhongxian say, “In just a few days Ting’er will turn twenty, isn’t she?”

    “That’s right,” Madame Ke replied, “I thought you have forgotten. So you still have a little conscience after all.”

    Ke Pingting’s tumultuous heart jumped, “Hey, how did he know my birthday?” she mused. She heard Wei Zhongxian continue, “Ever since she entered the palace, there seems to be a load of worries on her mind, she always looks discontented. Have you asked her the reason? Isn’t it because she has come to age and wants to get married? It’s alright if she does not want to be the Emperor’s concubine, the high officers, both civil and military in the imperial court, as well as the Emperor’s kinsmen, will all be happy to take her.”

    Madame Ke chortled, but then she suddenly sighed. “Ay,” she said, “To give her in marriage is the easiest thing to do, the thing is: she does not want to get married. I don’t know why she doesn’t want to get married. She was a bouncing and vivacious, naughty and outgoing type of child; but now, you can’t even coax her to talk two sentences more than necessary. Each time we talk, she always says she wants to return to our hometown, that is, she wants to go look for her Shifu. I have been really angry at her.”

    Wei Zhongxian sighed and said, “Could it be that this little girl is fated to live a lowly life?”

    Madame Ke grimly said, “You shouldn’t say such things. Actually, although our life in the countryside was hard, it still had its own good parts.” Wei Zhongxian laughed a hollow laugh. Madame Ke continued, “Don’t you remember how happy we were living in the country?”

    Wei Zhongxian said with a laugh, “Aren’t you happy now?”

    Madame Ke blushed. “Pei!” she spat, “Truly the dog’s mouth will never produce ivory. I just say that compared to the former days, we now have more things to worry; not only we have to guard against the Donglin Party members’ attack, we also have to worry about what will happen when the Emperor grows up. Our power cannot last forever. Pingting said that the young Emperor is in a poor health, perhaps he won’t live long. If we had a new Emperor, what will happen to us, what will our fate be?”

    Wei Zhongxian laughed aloud and said, “Right now, all civil and military officers in the court are, if not my kin, then certainly my disciples. I also have full control of the East and West, two Factions; what can the new Emperor do? Only he who will listen to us is going to be the Emperor. Ha ha … to think that in the former days those rogues in the countryside scolded me as a ‘muddle-head’, those people would never dream that now I am the Lord of Nine-thousand Years. Humph, Lord of Nine-thousand Years is nothing; even the Lord of Ten-thousand Years[10] is in my hands, I, who am the Lord of Nine-thousand Years.”

    Madame Ke, however, did not share his laugh; she continued, “We also have to worry about the assassins. Just look at tonight, even Pingting is hurt; it really scared me to death. I am not kidding, I just feel that compared to our former days in the country, your life of clandestine operations creates more anxiety and fear in me!”

    Wei Zhongxian was still laughing. “So you are saying that you’d be better off not entering the palace and became the wet nurse?” he said, “But look at me: I had my body mutilated and become the court eunuch, that is even more undeserved! If not for our desire of riches and honor, after that tuberculosis-suffering, crafty husband died, we might live an honest and honorable life for a while, raising several plump babies. I[11], Wei Zhongxian, would not die without any heir. Now I have a lowly little girl, but I cannot even let her know that I am her birth father.”

    The more Ke Pingting listened, the more agitated she became. Listening to this part, her hands and feet felt ice-cold, she felt as if a knife was piercing her heart; she had never imagined that this castrated traitor Wei Zhongxian was actually her birth father. In that instant indignation, disgrace, shame, hurt, all kinds of sentiments welled up in her heart; it was the same feeling as if someone spat on her face, it was a feeling more difficult to bear than death! Ke Pingting wished the earth would open and swallow her whole, so that she would never have to face anybody else anymore.

    Covering her face, she cried and almost made a noise. Not in the mood to listen further, she turned around and fled. She had just rounded a corner along the winding corridor when she suddenly saw a shadow, as swift as a falcon, flew down from the glazed roof tile. Ke Pingting quickly hid behind a large pillar carved with coiling dragons. As she looked clearly, she was surprised to recognize the shadow as Murong Chong.

    “What is he doing this late in the night in this place?” she mused.

    Murong Chong climbed quickly toward the large beam outside Madame Ke’s private room and then curled up motionless. By now Ke Pingting’s curiosity was piqued and she was very excited, yet she was unwilling to be detected by Murong Chong; therefore, she backtracked the winding corridor, taking two turns, and was back at her own room. She sat on her bed, staring blankly into darkness, thinking about a lot of things.

    After Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha left, Murong Chong helped putting off the fire at the Wet Nurse Mansion and then returned to his own room. When his hand inadvertently ran over the dagger Tie Feilong threw at him, he found there was a piece of paper stuck on the dagger’s blade, with these words written on it: ‘I challenge you in three days at noon, to have a one on one duel with me on the Mimo Cliff. Either side must not invite any helpers. If you dare to come, you are a hero, if you do not dare to come, you are a coward[12]. Signed, Tie Feilong.’

    Murong Chong angrily said, “Old Thief Tie, you bully me too much. Even if I won’t necessarily win, I won’t necessarily lose in your hands as well; why would I be scared of you?” He crumpled the paper in his hand and tossed it on the ground.

    Ordinarily, if Murong Chong received a challenge for a duel, he would dedicate his entire attention to think of a way to defeat the enemy. But tonight, his thoughts were occupied by a more significant matter, Tie Feilong’s loud curse in front of everybody at the Qing Yang Palace: ‘Wei Zhongxian, you are a traitor who made contact with foreign power to sell your own country!’ It was as if a large piece of rock had been thrown into his heart, creating great waves of thought in his mind. “Is Wei Zhongxian really a traitor who sells his own country?” Murong Chong mused.

    He also recalled that right after Tie Feilong cursed, Wei Zhongxian’s countenance was filled with violent rage like thunder; he remembered that normally Wei Zhongxian would meet with Lian Chenghu and Ying Xiuyang for private discussion, and usually he was excluded. The more he thought, the more he was suspicious. He thought: although this Old Thief Tie was a harsh and unreasonable bully, he was a Wulin character with quite a high status, certainly he would not speak foolishly or make wild accusations?

    Murong Chong was a Muslim from Gansu[13], by nature he had a supernatural strength; later, he was taken disciple by Jiao Manzi, a major solitary bandit of the northwest. He was trained in Eagle Claw and Iron Armor Skills; he also went to Mount Kunlun to seek tutelage under Ding Xu Dashi[14], where he learned the 72-style of Divine Fist. From then on he roamed around the country, making quite a reputation for himself. Later on, Shenzong[15] issued a public announcement of entrance examination to the Imperial Guard. Murong Chong wanted to gain the scholarly honor in the imperial exam, since along with it, his wife would be bestowed titles and his descendants would also enjoy hereditary posts; thereupon he went to the capital to take the exam. After obtaining a personal guarantee and recommendation, he assumed the position of Du Zhihui[16] within the Imperial Bodyguards, which he held for more than ten years.

    Although Murong Chong’s martial art skill was extremely high, he lacked the ability to curry favor with his superiors. Moreover, because of his exceptional skill, his eyes could not see anything worth his attention all around[17], plus he did not get along well with his colleagues, therefore, even after more than ten years as a Du Zhihui, he had never been promoted until Wei Zhongxian came along and seized power. Knowing Murong Chong’s excellent martial art, Wei Zhongxian wanted to use him. Thereupon he successively promoted him three times that in less than half a year, Murong Chong had become the Chief of the East Faction Guards.

    Murong Chong’s mind was filled with the desire for riches, honor and fame; to have Wei Zhongxian promote him to such a high position, it was only natural that he was very grateful. However, he still maintained several degrees of bluntness; he sometimes did not try to hide his antipathy toward Wei Zhongxian’s actions of slaughtering the loyal and virtuous ministers. Even so, his desire for riches, honor and fame had overpowered the little bit of kind, honest and upright heart; therefore, unwittingly he continued to be exploited by Wei Zhongxian, unconsciously he had become Wei Zhongxian’s lackey.

    However, tonight, when Murong Chong recalled his suspicions that Wei Zhongxian could really had contact with the Manchus, again he could not suppress the fluctuation of his emotions. He mused, “If Wei Zhongxian really is a traitor to our country, won’t I be implicated and my reputation be ruined?” It should be understood that Murong Chong had always considered himself a hero; although presently he was no more than a guard dog or hunting falcon, he himself has not realized it yet. He thought about it some more, and was quite depressed. He wanted to leave Wei Zhongxian, but did not want to lose his current position; if he did not leave, he was afraid that Wei Zhongxian was truly a traitor.

    After pondering for a long time, he heard the night watch knock, signaling it was the fourth watch of the night[18]. Suddenly he had an idea: ‘why don’t I investigate and find the truth?’ Thereupon he went to Wei Zhongxian’s Qing Yang Palace first, and then to Madame Ke’s Wet Nurse Mansion. Wei Zhongxian and Madame Ke were still talking. Murong Chong was crouching on the large beam outside, eavesdropping.

    He heard that Wei Zhongxian was laughing and saying, “Whatever Pingting thinks, I do not wish to care anymore.”

    “Pei,” Madame Ke spat, “You don’t care about your own flesh-and-blood daughter?”

    Murong Chong was shocked, “Turns out that little girl is indeed his own daughter!” he mused.

    Wei Zhongxian said, “It’s not that I don’t care about her. Didn’t you see how I doted on her so much? It’s just that I cannot control of her, I can’t take a good care of her. Every time she sees me, she just doesn’t want to talk to me. How can I have a heart-to-heart conversation with her?”

    Madame Ke fell silent for a long time. Finally she said, “Tell me, will it be better if I tell her who her real father is?”

    Wei Zhongxian hastily shook his hand, “By all means, no!”

    He paused for a moment before continuing, “You are concerned that when the new Emperor ascends the throne in the future, he might be detrimental to us. I’ll say your worry is unsubstantiated.”

    “Why?” Madame Ke asked, “You still rely on the civil and military officers in the court, who, if not your kin, then certainly your disciples? But these so-called kin and disciples of yours are people who always curry favor from those in power. When the iceberg falls, aren’t you afraid they will find another mountain to lean on?”

    Wei Zhongxian let out a hollow laughter, which sounded like rain, “This,” he said, “is already under my anticipation. But, Wife, there is something you do not know.”

    “What is it?” Madame Ke asked.

    “I am afraid before the new Emperor even ascend the throne, the Manchurian Tatars will have already crossed the pass,” Wei Zhongxian said.

    “How could it not be worse?” Madame Ke said.

    “What are we afraid of?” Wei Zhongxian replied, “When the Manchurians rule the land under the heavens, won’t we be able to maintain our riches and honor?”

    “What?!?” Madame Ke cried out, “You have contact with the Manchurians?”

    “Not too loud,” Wei Zhongxian said, “The proverbs say: Only an outstanding talent can recognize current trends. Right now the bandits are creating havoc within, a powerful enemy is lurking on the outside. It is either perish by the bandits or perish by the enemy. In a word, the Ming Dynasty’s rivers and mountains will not last for long. Falling under the roving bandits is worse than falling under the Manchurians; if we fall under the roving bandits, we will die without a burial ground, if we fall under the Manchurians, even if the worst happens, we still have food to eat. Tell me, don’t you think what I said makes sense?”

    Madame Ke pondered quietly for a long time. Finally she sighed and said, “Your intelligence, cunning and wisdom have always been above mine. It’s just that I never want you to carry the bad name as the traitor who sells his own country. Ay, until today, I had no idea!”

    “I had no idea!” Hearing to this point, Murong Chong only had confusion in his already blurry mind that he almost fell off the beam. “So he really is a traitor who sells his own country,” he mused, “What should I do? Shall I turn my back on him? He is the benefactor who single-handedly promoted me to where I am today! Shall I stay with him? If the plot fell through and this matter is exposed, inevitably people will revile us. At that time, I really won’t be a hero but will be a coward!”

    Hearing Wei Zhongxian was taking his leave from Madame Ke, Murong Chong quickly floated down and hurriedly left first.

    Flitting over two glaze tile roofs, suddenly he heard someone was sobbing in low voice. “Uh, isn’t that Ke Pingting’s voice?” Murong Chong thought, “How come she is not asleep yet?” Recalling his suspicion over her allegedly ‘sword injury’ earlier, unwittingly he stopped his steps.

    Such is: In a critical junction facing an important test, a load on one’s mind is difficult to express.

    [1]1 fen is approximately 1/3 cm or about 1/8".

    [2]Lit. Eastern Liaoning Theory (or 'talk' or 'discussion').

    [3]Orig. ‘Huang Fu’: huang – emperor, fu - seat of government / official residence / mansion / presidential palace. I used the term 'palace' here for lack of better word.

    [4]Lit. ‘before it rain, bind around with silk’ – it was an idiom from Book of Songs.

    [5]‘Southern barbarian’, an insulting term for south Chinese.

    [6]Reminder: 1 zhang is approximately 10 feet or 3 meters.

    [7]Lit. ‘Chief Manager’.

    [8]Lit. Green Sun.

    [9]Lit. Divine Military/Martial Art.

    [10]Meaning, the Emperor.

    [11]He also used ‘an’ to refer to himself, i.e. he was from northern China.

    [12]I just want you to know that the actual Chinese terms rhyme. Hero – yingxiong, coward – gouxiong (lit. black bear, different ‘xiong’).

    [13]Gansu province is located between Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia in north China.

    [14]Reverend, Great Master, a term used to address a respected Buddhist Monk.

    [15]Wanli Emperor, 1572-1620, grandfather of Youjiao, the current emperor.

    [16]Literal translation would be ‘Chief of the Capital’.

    [17]This is a literal translation, in other words: arrogant and conceited.

    [18]Between 1- 3 am.

  5. #25
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 24

    Chapter 24
    With a changed mind the butcher’s knife discarded
    Deep hatred dissipated
    The truth relayed in bright pen strokes
    Old companion is hard to forget
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    With legs hooked onto the eaves, Murong Chong took the ‘inverted rolled-up curtain’ posture, hanging upside-down and listening in secret. Suddenly he saw the light inside the room brightened as Ke Pingting lifted up a red candle. “I don’t want that kind of father,” she whimpered.

    “Uh,” Murong Chong mused, “She knows!” Peeking into the room, he saw Ke Pingting pick up a jade figurine used as ink roller and bring it under the flickering candle light. She spat on it and suddenly threw it forcefully onto the floor that it shattered.

    It was actually a Wei Zhongxian figurine. In order to curry Wei Zhongxian and Madame Ke’s favor, the Inspector-general of Sichuan had sought a high-quality piece of jade and made it into a pair of Wei Zhongxian- Madame Ke figurines as a gift to them. Madame Ke wanted her daughter to have a favorable impression to Wei Zhongxian, thereupon she insisted that these pair of beautiful ink rollers were placed on Ke Pingting’s desk. At that time Ke Pingting was bewildered and thus raised a question. Madame Ke replied, “Such a beautiful jade is a rare treasure, won’t it be good for you to have it to decorate your room when you become a concubine? Why do you care whose image it resembles?” Therefore, although Ke Pingting loathed Wei Zhongxian, in obedience to her mother, she no longer argued about this trivial matter and simply shoved it to the corner of her desk.

    Murong Chong saw everything clearly and secretly lamented; he thought, “Why does she hate Wei Zhongxian this much?” But then he saw Ke Pingting pick up her mother’s figurine and looked at it carefully for a long time. She seemed to want to throw it away, but held her hand while muttering, “If you are like him, being a traitor to our country, I also don’t want to have a mother like you.”

    Ke Pingting was talking to herself in a very low voice, but in Murong Chong’s ears, her words were like thunder shaking his entire being. He thought, “Ke Pingting lives in the palace with higher honor and glory than the princesses, but as soon as she found out her birth father is a traitor who sells his own country, she hates what she has become!”

    Inside the room, with trembling hands Ke Pingting was wrapping her clothes and other personal belongings into a small bundle, yet she picked none of the treasure or toys scattered around the room. Last, she picked up her mother figurine and brought it under the candlelight again. After looking at it carefully for a long time she sighed and was about to stuff it into her bundle when she suddenly put it down again and muttered to herself, “These two figurines were originally a pair, since I have shattered the other one, what would I do with this one? I’d better not to bring it along.” And she returned the figurine to the desk.

    Even the longest night would eventually end, a streak of dawn already appeared on the horizon. “Mother!” Ke Pingting muttered, “This is the last night I am with you.” She looked at the sky through her window and muttered, “It is not the time to leave yet.” And she sat back in front of her desk, picked a sheet of snow-white paper from a stack, took her writing brush made of weasel bristle, and began to write. She wrote for a moment, then lowering her head, she started to sob again.

    Murong Chong mused, “Presumably she is writing a letter to her mother, telling her that she would not return to the palace ever again.” He also thought, “Ke Pingting’s status is just like a princess, yet she is not in the least reluctant to leave. My position as the Chief Instructor of the East Faction Guards is nothing compared to that.” His blood boiled and his face turned hot; he said to himself, “All seven feet of me is a robust man, can’t I be compared to this little girl?” He leaped up and flew out from the mansion. When he turned around to look, he saw that Ke Pingting was blowing off the candle. The sky had turned bright.

    Murong Chong went to the imperial garden where he hung his head low in contemplation. Suddenly he heard someone calling his name, “Murong Zong Guan, good morning!”

    Murong Chong raised his head and saw that it was Ying Xiuyang. Suddenly he remembered that this man was one of the traitors who sell their own country. He thought, “If I want to kill him, it will be as easy as turning my hand over! But after all, Wei Zhongxian is my benefactor who promoted me. I won’t help him anymore, but that won’t necessarily mean I am going to be his enemy. Alright, since I, Murong Chong, have met the wrong person, I will bear the consequence of bad luck for the rest of my life. From now on I will disappear into a remote mountain and won’t mind things of the world any longer!”

    Seeing Murong Chong’s unusual expression, Ying Xiuyang was greatly surprised, he stepped forward and patted Murong Chong’s shoulder. Murong Chong coldly shoved Ying Xiuyang’s hand and said, “What are you doing this early?”

    With a flattering smile Ying Xiuyang replied, “I am going to pay my respect to Madame Feng Sheng; are you coming?”

    “I am not coming,” Murong Chong said with a bored expression.

    Ying Xiuyang was even more surprised; he stared at Murong Chong’s back as he walked away and disappeared among the fake rocks and the cluster of flowers and trees, and then hurriedly went to find a court eunuch and left some instructions in low voice before he went to the Wet Nurse Mansion to give his report.

    Back to Tie Feilong who went back to the Chang’an Escort Agency office. Listening to Yu Luocha’s story how Ke Pingting set the building on fire, he raised his eyebrows and burst out in laughter. “It’s hard to imagine that witch Madame Ke has that kind of daughter!” Hence he also told Yu Luocha about his one-on-one duel appointment with Murong Chong.

    Yu Luocha asked, “Do you dare to say that he will agree to keep the appointment alone?”

    “Murong Chong considers himself to be a hero,” Tie Feilong said, “Do you think he will not afraid to be Jianghu’s laughingstock if he does not come? Chang’er, let me strike an agreement with you first. Whatever happens, you must not interfere. If you do, let our father-daughter relationship be broken.”

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, “How can I not understand this Jianghu’s customs?”

    Tie Feilong also laughed and said, “I know you understand, but I also know that what you like most is fighting with others.”

    Yu Luocha laughed and walked out, but she quietly found the Chief of the Chang’an Escort Agency, Long Dasan and had a talk with him.

    Three days later, Tie Feilong was waiting on the Mimo Cliff. A moment later, he indeed saw Murong Chong come alone. Remembering the hatred over his daughter’s death, Tie Feilong’s heart was burning with rage. With a loud roar he kicked the ground and flew toward the enemy.

    “Old man Tie,” Murong Chong asked, “Why should you and I have a life and death fight?”

    “A life for a life,” Tie Feilong replied, “The debt must be paid!”

    Murong Chong broke in cold sweat, he thought, “For the last several years, although I have killed quite a number of good people for Wei Zhongxian, Tie Shanhu did not die in my hands.”

    Tie Feilong sternly said, “You are still unwilling to stretch out your neck to die? Don’t even dream of asking for my mercy!”

    Stammering, Murong Chong said, “A life for a life, the debt must be paid? Alright! Just make your move then! Even if I, Murong Chong, am a nameless junior, I challenge you in three contests; if you win, I’ll give my life to you.”

    “What contests?” Tie Feilong asked.

    Murong Chong replied, “A round of ‘soft’ contest, a round of ‘hard’[1] contest, and another round of half-soft and half-hard contest.”

    “Humph,” Tie Feilong laughed coldly and said, “Who has time to compete in literary and martial art with you? Such a long-winded and unclear speech. Let me tell you: this is revenge, not martial art competition. We simply use our fists to see who will win and who will lose!” With arms spread wide, he leaped about a zhang forward and launched the killer move from the Seven Seizing Palms, grabbing toward Murong Chong’s back.

    “Old man Tie,” Murong Chong angrily said, “You bully me too much!” While in his heart he was saying, “I should have explained everything to him, but if I yield to him now, he’ll think I am scared of him instead.” Bending his knees, ‘whoosh!’ his fist went straight toward Tie Feilong’s chest. Tie Feilong used his palm to parry. The two of them fought like blowing wind of flashing lightning, fists and palms moved with strong gusts of wind. In a flash the sand flew, the rocks rolled, the birds of the forest flew out in fright.

    One was unequaled divine fist, the other was peerless iron palm. After fighting for about an hour, victory or defeat was still undetermined. Yu Luocha was hiding on the peak looking down, she watched the battle with shock and astonishment. Actually, Tie Feilong did not allow Yu Luocha to come, but Long Dasan and she secretly came anyway. They were afraid Tie Feilong would see them; therefore, they were hiding behind a large rock on the peak of Mimo Cliff, peeking out from a crack on the rock.

    After a while, they saw Murong Chong suddenly let out several loud roars, his fists moved like rain, forcing Tie Feilong to repeatedly draw back. Long Dasan was shocked.

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, “Not a problem. Murong Chong is relying on his young age and vigor, he is thinking to knock down my father with one blow. He is using Emei Town Mountain’s treasured Subduing Dragon Conquering Tiger Fist. But my father’s technique to break his attack is exceptionally good; what he is using is half-defensive, half-offensive Thunderous Bagua[2] Palm. Do you not see how his palm movements and footwork are not in the least chaotic?”

    Long Dasan looked and noticed that each step Tie Feilong took was according to Bagua’s position. Although he repeatedly stepped back, indeed his movements were not in the least chaotic, his palm techniques were very steady, he could faintly hear the thunderous gust of wind amidst the mountain breeze. Long Dasan laughed and said, “I have long heard that within Old Tie’s Thunderous Bagua Palm there is a palm technique to break powerful enemy’s offensive and counter it at the same time, but I’ve never seen him using it. I didn’t expect I would see it today.”

    “Quickly look! Quickly look!” Yu Luocha said, “If you miss seeing this kind of fighting technique, you won’t easily find the opportunity to see it again in your lifetime.”

    Long Dasan no longer spoke, he focused his attention on watching and saw the situation under the peak had changed. Tie Feilong let out a loud roar, successively his palms struck swiftly like billowing waves. This time Murong Chong was forced to repeatedly withdraw. Long Dasan was delighted. He said, “Indeed the older the ginger, the spicier it is. Although Murong Chong’s martial art skill is high, he is not your godfather’s match.”

    “It’s too early to tell victory or defeat!” Yu Luocha said. They saw that although Murong Chong was stepping back, his fist technique also did not get chaotic.

    It turned out that Murong Chong was also a man with an exceptionally vast experience. As soon as he realized his offensive moves failed to snatch a quick victory, he changed his tactic immediately. Unleashing the 72-way Divine Fist, he moved so fast that the wind and the rain would not be able to penetrate it! Although Tie Feilong’s palms were extremely swift and fierce, they could not break through this iron barricade, copper wall.

    The two of them fought hard for about a hundred stances, yet victory or defeat was still undeterminable. Suddenly Tie Feilong and Murong Chong roared almost simultaneously. ‘Bang!’ Murong Chong’s fist hit Tie Feilong’s shoulder; Tie Feilong’s thunderclap palm also swept Murong Chong’s lower backbone. Both sides used their internal strength to resist, and both leaped back three steps.

    “Old Man Tie,” Murong Chong called out, “You cannot defeat me, I also cannot defeat you. Let’s consider this round as a draw. Why would we continue to fight recklessly?”

    Tie Feilong angrily replied, “Today we won’t rest until either one of us die!”

    “This round can be considered the ‘hard’ duel,” Murong Chong said, “We are going to compete in a ‘soft’ way for one round, and another round of half-soft and half-hard contest. If I lose, I will kill myself in your presence!”

    Tie Feilong said, “A gentleman’s words …”

    “… is like a whipped horse,” Murong Chong continued.

    Tie Feilong said, “Then why don’t you explain to me what kind of contest do you have in mind?”

    Murong Chong took out a leather pouch full of secret projectiles and poured out the secret projectiles on the ground.

    "Are we going to compete using secret projectiles?" Tie Feilong asked, "This is still a martial art [‘wu’ or ‘hard’] competition!" While in his heart he said, "I have never used secret projectiles, if he wants to compete secret projectiles with me, I would be beaten by him really bad."

    But Murong Chong said, "Secret projectiles are effective against little thieves; dealing with an old thief like you, what good will they bring?"

    Stroking his beard, Tie Feilong laughed and said, "It's good that you know it!" Actually, he was quite happy to hear Murong Chong's last sentence.

    "You and I dominate our respective areas with fists and palms, using internal energy to score victory. Let us compete our wrist strength. There are a lot of large trees around here, we will use our hands as the hatchet, each of us will chop ten trees. Let's see who is more formidable in the end?"

    "Alright, I'll accompany you," Tie Feilong said, "But what if both you and I are able to do it?"

    "That's why I have this leather pouch," Murong Chong replied. Breaking a twig, he pierced the leather pouch with it, making a small hole, and then he filled the pouch with water from a mountain stream nearby, the water dripped from the hole in the leather pouch. "Do you understand it now?" Murong Chong asked, "Whoever managed to cut down ten trees before the pouch is empty will win. If both of us can do it before the water leaks completely, then we'll decide the winner by looking at how much water is left in the pouch. We are not barbarians, do you have any more questions?"

    Tie Feilong said, "But the sizes of the trees are not the same."

    "That is easy," Murong Chong replied, "We will pick twenty trees first, and divide it into two groups, ten trees each. The difference between the two groups will not be far."

    Tie Feilong agreed, and so the two of them chose twenty most solid large trees and marked them up one by one.

    "Enough?" Tie Feilong asked.

    Murong Chong walked back to the mountain stream and filled the pouch with water, and then he crumpled a piece of paper into a ball and used it as the cork, lastly, he hung the pouch on a tree. "This way nobody can play any tricks," he said.

    Tie Feilong pulled up his sleeves and was about to start chopping trees. "I will go first!" Murong Chong suddenly called out, "This is my idea, I should go first while you watch. As soon as I start, you may pull the cork out." Tie Feilong retreated toward to leather pouch. As soon as he heard Murong Chong's shout, he pulled the paper ball out.

    'Bang! Bang! Bang!' He saw Murong Chong attack a large tree five, seven times with his fists, and then wrap his arms around the trunk and pulled. "Fall down!" he shouted. And sure enough, the large tree fell down.

    "Wow," Tie Feilong mused, "He shook a large tree with his internal energy, and then pulled it out. Although he is using a little bit of a trick, his internal energy can be considered as reached to perfection!"

    As agreed, Murong Chong pulled out ten big trees then he took down the leather pouch. The water in the pouch had just leaked out completely. It was quite a moment later that the last drop of water dripped down, and then it stopped dripping. With a laugh Murong Chong said, "A close call. It's your turn now."

    Tie Feilong also walked to the mountain stream and filled the pouch full with water then he used the same paper ball as a cork and hung it on the tree. He shot a glance toward Murong Chong and said, "You don't need to pull the cork."

    "Won't you suffer a disadvantage, then?" Murong Chong asked.

    "I'd rather suffer a disadvantage," Tie Feilong replied. Pulling out the paper ball swiftly, he went to look for a marked tree.

    Actually, Tie Feilong was afraid that Murong Chong will play a trick if he pulled the paper ball. Murong Chong snickered inwardly and mused, "I am not afraid you, old ghost, would win; you will fall into my trick. I don't need to resort to any cheap trick by tampering with the paper ball, you have already lost."

    The way Tie Feilong cutting down the trees was not the same as Murong Chong's, he circled a tree once, while both of his palms continuously and rapidly hacked horizontally on the tree trunk, and then he pushed hard and the tree fell down; indeed it looked like it was chopped down by an axe.

    Murong Chong was greatly shocked, he thought, "His palm strength is really above mine. If I were as old as he is, I would certainly be beaten by him."

    Successively Tie Feilong chopped down ten big trees as agreed, aware that he had used shorter time than Murong Chong did; therefore, radiant with joy he returned and took the leather pouch down. To his surprise, the water in the pouch had just leaked out completely. It was quite a moment later that the last drop of water dripped down, and then it stopped dripping.

    Tie Feilong was puzzled; he mused, "Presumably Murong Chong did not attempt to play any trick. Besides, when I chopped down the trees, I was always on the lookout. If he attempted any trick, he would not be able to hide it from my eyes." However, it did not occur to him in that instant that because of the water pressure inside the pouch, the small hole would slowly grow. Granted that the growth was minuscule, but it would make a difference nonetheless. Therefore, whoever started first would reap a slight advantage.

    This time Murong Chong really cried out inwardly, 'A close call!" Seeing Tie Feilong's frustrated expression he laughed and said, "Why, this round we are draw!"

    Hiding behind the rock on the peak, Yu Luocha saw and heard everything. She could not restrain from saying to Long Dasan, "Humph, Murong Chong is truly shameless. He has obviously lost, but said it was a draw. Let me go down and expose him!"

    Long Dasan whispered in her ear, "Aren't you afraid Old Tie would scold me?"

    Listening to him, Yu Luocha had no choice but restrain herself. She said with a smile, "I'd better watch longer, see what other bad idea he might come up with."

    Murong Chong was just thinking of speaking about the third round of competition when Tie Feilong rolled his eyes, laughed aloud and said, "The old man has gone hunting for several decades, yet a wild goose has pecked my eye. However, although you managed to pull a cheap trick, it still can't be considered too lowly."

    Murong Chong knew that Tie Feilong had been able to see through his subtle trick; he only smiled indifferently.

    "The third round should be a half-soft and half-hard contest, is that right?" Tie Feilong asked.

    "Right!" Murong Chong replied.

    "For this round I remember one way to compete; tell me if it is acceptable," Tie Feilong said.

    "Please speak!" Murong Chong answered.

    Tie Feilong said, "With my way of competing, either side cannot pull a cheap trick!"

    Murong Chong looked embarrassed as he said, “No need to talk too much, whatever it is, I, Murong Chong will accompany you.”

    Tie Feilong leaped onto a boulder and beckoned Murong Chong to follow. “Let us play with our palms,” he said, and told Murong Chong to hold out his palms against Tie Feilong’s palms. Tie Feilong said, “Whoever pushed down from the rock will lose. This way, although four palms touched each other, it is not exactly hand-to-hand combat, so technically it is half-soft and half-hard contest, isn’t it?”

    Murong Chong groaned inwardly; he thought, “Apparently this old man’s internal strength is a notch higher than mine. Alright, I did not plan on staying alive anyway. It’s just that it does not seem to be a glorious death if I lose my life due to skills competition.”

    While he was still thinking of a way to get out of this situation, Tie Feilong had already sent out his strength through his palms. If he lost concentration, his inner organs might be shaken by the opponent and he might suffer serious injury. Thereupon Murong Chong gritted his teeth and exerted his school’s internal energy to resist Tie Feilong’s force.

    The two of them sat cross-legged on the boulder, exerting their entire strength. Four palms met each other, four eyes looked at each other. In less than an hour, they were sweating like rain. This kind of competition was actually a hundred times more dangerous than a vicious battle using blades and spears! If one of them slightly slacked off, he would definitely die.

    Tie Feilong’s internal energy was profound, but Murong Chong was younger and more vigorous; he had sufficient chi and his spirit was healthy. Although he was a notch inferior, he was able to hold on.

    A little while longer, they felt that their hearts were boiling, their throats were parched, their bodies were soaked with perspiration from head to toe. Murong Chong realized that if this situation was prolonged, he would inevitably lose. However, they had reached the critical point where neither one could yield to the other. They must withdraw their strength at the same time, otherwise one would suffer a serious injury. Murong Chong felt his palms were like rubber, he could not admit defeat, since he could not even open his mouth to speak.

    Another moment passed, steam started to rise from Murong Chong’s head, while his heart was anxious as he sent out his entire strength just to survive.

    They were actually sitting on the boulder directly facing a cave underneath the Mimo Cliff. In that critical situation suddenly a strange laughter was heard, coming from inside the cave. Leading several men, Lian Chenghu appeared from the cave, all sorts of weapons suddenly attacked Tie Feilong!

    What happened was: when Ying Xiuyang noticed Murong Chong's unusual expression the other day, he secretly sent a court eunuch to Lian Chenghu, telling him to pay close attention to Murong Chong. Ying Xiuyang himself continued going to the Wet Nurse Mansion to pay his respects toward Madame Ke and her daughter. Lian Chenghu immediately went to Murong Chong's quarters, but Murong Chong was not there. Upon further inquiry, he found out that Murong Chong had left the palace early that morning. Lian Chenghu began to be suspicious; he searched Murong Chong's room carefully and found the crumpled paper with Tie Feilong's handwriting, challenging Murong Chong to have a one-on-one duel with him. "So that's what it is," he mused, "Surely he would invite other masters to come with him, but why didn't he tell any of us?" He took the crumpled paper and went to see Ying Xiuyang. To his surprise, however, Ying Xiuyang was nowhere to be found. He was not at the Wet Nurse Mansion, he was not at the Qingyang Palace; nobody knew where he went.

    Finally the night came. The news from the Wet Nurse Mansion was even more astonishing: Ke Pingting also went missing. At the seventh hour [between 11am - 1pm] that day, Ke Pingting was seen going out of the Palace riding the leisure vehicle. When the evening fell, she had not returned. Madame Ke dispatched people to look for her in the suburbs, as well as all famous places around Beijing. At the West Mountain they found the wreckage of the leisure vehicle, but nobody was around. Madame Ke cried in extreme distress. While sending people out to continue looking, she went to her daughter's room to look it over.

    After looking for a while, she found the letter Ke Pingting left behind inside the drawer. She wrote that she would never return to the Palace.

    Lian Chenghu reported everything to Wei Zhongxian. By nature, Wei Zhongxian was always overly suspicious about everything; he thought: Is it possible that the fact that Ying Xiuyang gone missing, Ke Pingting running away, and Murong Chong's duel appointment were all related? Thereupon he said, "Murong Chong has been gone for a day and a night, he also did not report his duel appointment with Tie Feilong to his superior; this is very suspicious. When the day comes, you take several masters with you and go to the Mimo Cliff to take a look. If Murong Chong is indeed having a duel, you help him. If he is not, take him back with you."

    Obeying Wei Zhongxian's orders, Lian Chenghu waited until the day of the duel. He took the three martial art masters who were invited by Ying Xiuyang, as well as the Young Emperor's personal bodyguard, Great Lama Chang Qin. Together these five men left early in the morning and hid inside the cave on the Mimo Cliff.

    Although they arrived early, Lian Chenghu was afraid of the fierceness of Tie Feilong's palms. With a crooked smile he said, "Let us wait until the two of them exhaust their strength before we make our move. Do you agree?"

    Chang Qin Lama nodded his approval. The other three masters were also glad to oblige since it was more convenient to them. Thereupon they waited quietly inside the cave, until Murong Chong and Tie Feilong were engaged in a life-and-death internal energy battle. When they saw both sides were about to be mutually wounded, they sprang out to attack.

    Tie Feilong was delighted for his imminent victory; suddenly he saw the flickering rays of various weapons coming toward him. Enraged, he shouted, "Thief Murong, today the old man will return to Heaven, but I will destroy you first!" He sent out a violent strength with both palms, an unstoppable force!

    Suddenly Murong Chong let out a loud roar and let go of his hands, he did not block the attack at all, Tie Feilong's palms landed squarely on his body. But in this split second, Murong Chong's palms swept backward. Lian Chenghu's double-hook had just touched Tie Feilong's clothes, but the hooks were shaken by Murong Chong's palm power. The hooks flew to the air, Lian Chenghu's wrists bones were shattered, he fell down immediately! Murong Chong also threw up a mouthful of blood and he tumbled down from the boulder.

    This turn of events was totally unexpected that Great Lama Chang Qin and the others, four martial art masters of the Imperial Palace, were stunned. Suddenly from the peak there was a long laughter; Yu Luocha flew down with her sleeves fluttering in the air. Her sword flickered and a cold ray flashed toward Chang Qin Lama, while at the same time someone behind the rock was shouting, "The fish is on the hook; brothers, come up quickly and capture them!" The voice was powerful, it echoed throughout the valley.

    What happened was that Yu Luocha was afraid they might be heavily outnumbered, so she told Long Dasan to shout to intimidate the enemy. Chang Qin was indeed scared. He had experienced Yu Luocha's fierceness, plus Lian Chenghu had been seriously injured. He thought with the four of them, they might not be Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong's match, and now the enemy had prepared an ambush. His fighting spirit disappeared, he called out loudly, "The wind is tight, pull back!" With all his might he used his pair of cymbals to block Yu Luocha's three sword strikes, while one of the masters picked up Lian Chenghu; hastily they ran down the mountain.

    Yu Luocha held her sword and did not pursue; she saw Tie Feilong's face was ash-grey. "Father," she called out, "Are you injured?"

    Tie Feilong's face stayed wooden, he did not say anything. Yu Luocha took a step and aimed her sword at Murong Chong. Suddenly Tie Feilong said, "Don't kill him!" Yu Luocha was startled and held her sword. Tie Feilong said, "I am not injured. It was he who saved my life. Please take him down the mountain." His voice was deep, low and bleak, as if he had just recovered from a serious illness.

    A moment later Long Dasan also climbed down. "Heroine Lian," he said with a laugh, "You were flying down the dangerous cliff just now, I think you did not see it clearly. The Old Tie's life was indeed saved by this man. It had not occurred to me that he could do it!"

    In a low voice Tie Feilong said, "Shanhu's death cannot be avenged."

    Yu Luocha said, "In Shanhu Meimei's death, he was one of the murderers, but he was not the main assailant. The main assailant was the Old Freak Jin, who was killed on the spot by Yue Mingke. The other murderer is Ying Xiuyang."

    "Even if he were the main assailant, we must spare his life," Tie Feilong said. After stretching out his waist to loosen up his muscle and bones, he personally picked up Murong Chong and brought him back to the Chang'an Escort Agency. Murong Chong's injury was really heavy that although Tie Feilong had fed him several pills, he was unconscious all the way back, with blood flowing out from his nostrils.

    "Looks like he won't survive," Yu Luocha said.

    Tie Feilong was very grieved. "Let's find a way to bring him back to life!" he said.

    By the time they arrived at the Chang'an Escort Agency, it was already dusk. The Vice Chief of the Agency, Lin Zhenjiao, went out the door to meet them. "Thank heavens!" he said, "Finally you all came back safe and sound. Ah, Old Chief Tie even managed to capture the enemy alive? Really good skill! A strange thing has happened in our escort agency today!"

    Tie Feilong mumbled indistinctly in response. Long Dasan signaled Lin Zhenjiao with his eyes and asked, "What strange thing?"

    Lin Zhenjiao said, "Not too long after you left, a young lady with a veil over her face came to our office, riding on a carriage. She said she had a package to be delivered to Heroine Lian, and told us not to open it. As soon as she finished speaking, she took a large sack from the carriage and tossed it onto the courtyard, and then left without saying anything else. I tried to lift it up and it was heavy. I ran my hand over it and it felt like a human inside. Hastily I brought the sack inside and untied it. Indeed it was a human inside! He was unconscious, his breath reeked of wine; apparently he was drugged with wine. When I examined him closer, I found that his acupoint was also sealed that he would stay unconscious. I do not know what kind of man is he, so I do not dare to rashly unseal him. There was also a letter in the sack, with this message: 'To be delivered to Miss Yu Luocha.'"

    Yu Luocha broke out in giggles. "That must be Ke Pingting," she said, "She does not know my name, so she simply calls me Yu Luocha."

    "Let us see what kind of man did she send you?" Tie Feilong said. Carrying Murong Chong, he stepped into the rear courtyard, followed by everybody else.

    Yu Luocha took one look and she cried out, "Ah, it is Ying Xiuyang!"

    Tie Feilong felt a strange feeling rise up in his chest. "Shanhu's death can be avenged!" he said.

    Yu Luocha took the letter and opened it; she read, "Yu Luocha Jiejie: I don't have any face to see you, I cannot kill Wei Zhongxian. Hereby I am sending you the traitor Ying Xiuyang to atone for my shortcoming. Ke Pingting."

    Yu Luocha muttered to herself, "What exactly is her concern?" She felt strange that Ke Pingting was able to capture Ying Xiuyang alive. She mused, "Although Wei Zhongxian is heavily protected by martial art masters, so that for us killing Ying Xiuyang is easy, killing Wei Zhongxian is difficult, Ke Pingting is in such a position that she has the best opportunity to be alone with Wei Zhongxian. Logically, killing Wei Zhongxian for her is a lot easier than killing Ying Xiuyang. Since she dared to brave mortal danger by capturing Ying Xiuyang, why is she unwilling to kill Wei Zhongxian?" Her heart was puzzled.

    Tie Feilong placed Murong Chong on the damp floor to let him inhale the cold air from the ground then he went toward Ying Xiuyang to unseal his acupoint. Ying Xiuyang had been unconscious for several days, his strength was gone. He looked confused as if he had just been awakened from a dream. With sleepy eyes he looked at Tie Feilong, who was staring at him, and then he saw Yu Luocha, who was laughing coldly by his side. Ying Xiuyang was scared out of his wits; he wanted to spring up, but his legs felt like jelly. “Ah,” he cried out, “What kind of place is this? Pingting, where are you?” He was still hoping that it was just a nightmare.

    Yu Luocha used her toe to lightly push his chest; immediately Ying Xiuyang was so much in pain that he screamed like a pig being butchered.

    “Don’t kill him yet,” Tie Feilong said, “Get his confession first. I’ll leave this matter to you.”

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, “I am the expert at forcing a confession. Father, set your mind at ease.” Tie Feilong focused all his attention to treat Murong Chong’s injury, while Yu Luocha dragged Ying Xiuyang to a private chamber for questioning.

    Turned out when Ying Xiuyang visited the Wet Nurse Mansion to pay his respects to Madame Ke and Ke Pingting the other day, Ke Pingting was in a very bad mood and had no way of venting it. Seeing Ying Xiuyang, she thought, “This is one of the traitors to our country. Alright, I’ll capture him and send him out as a gift.”

    Ying Xiuyang paid his respects with a flattering smile. Suppressing her anger, Ke Pingting also welcomed him with a smiling face; she even took out some wine to entertain him. Ying Xiuyang was overwhelmed by favor from his superior. No matter what kind of wily old fox he was, Ying Xiuyang would never imagined Ke Pingting could plot against him; successively he drank three full bowls of wine. The wine was from a concentrate; it was called A Hundred-Day Drunk, fermented exclusively in the Palace. Although the name was an exaggeration, it actually could make someone drunk for two, three days, and Ying Xiuyang had drunk three full cups, no wonder he was knocked out cold instantly. Ke Pingting was still worried, however, so she also sealed his consciousness acupoint. Afterwards she placed him under the seat cushion of the leisure vehicle, and took him out.

    When she got to the West Mountain, Ke Pingting struck the leisure vehicle and destroyed it. Then she put Ying Xiuyang inside a gunnysack and she also changed her clothes. That night she lodged in a commoner’s home at the outskirts of Beijing. Ke Pingting was afraid the wine would lose its potency sooner, so every twenty four hours she would seal his acupoint again. Therefore, Ying Xiuyang had been unconscious for three whole days.

    Actually, Ke Pingting did not know that Yu Luocha was staying at the Chang’an Escort Agency office. Later on she remembered after her Shifu, the Red Flower Demon Matriarch, had a duel with Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha, she once mentioned that Tie Feilong was an old friend of the chief escort of the Chang’an Escort Agency. Ke Pingting thought: It does not matter whether Yu Luocha is staying at the Chang’an Escort Agency or not, if Ying Xiuyang was delivered to that office, sooner or later Yu Luocha would receive him. Thereupon she inquired the Chang’an Escort Agency’s address, and then hiring a carriage and covering her face with veil, she delivered the sack containing Ying Xiuyang to the escort office.

    Back to Yu Luocha who took Ying Xiuyang to a private chamber for questioning. Yu Luocha’s skill in ‘injuring acupoint, destroying the body’ was superior to any torturing method in the world. She made Ying Xiuyang hover between life and death. In the end he gave her the names of the people who have contacted with the foreign power and betrayed their own country. Yu Luocha wrote down their names and official positions on a piece of paper; and then she picked him up and brought him to Tie Feilong.

    Tie Feilong exhausted his medical knowledge, he gave Murong Chong muscle relaxant and medicine to improve blood circulation, as well as medicated wrap for external wound. Although from time to time Murong Chong gained consciousness, his injury was still very heavy; he was so weak that he could not even talk.

    Seeing Murong Chong lying on the ground, Ying Xiuyang was even more shocked. With a cold laugh Tie Feilong said, "Ying Xiuyang, what are you looking at? Murong Chong is not like you."

    Yu Luocha whispered something on Tie Feilong's ear. Tie Feilong said, "Very well, since we have obtained the list of names, we'll send him to see Yanluo[3]." With a loud voice he shouted, "My daughter, your enemies are all killed, you may die contentedly." 'Whoosh!' his palm came down on the crown of Ying Xiuyang's head, smashing it, while tears streaming down his face. Yu Luocha hastily held him up and helped him inside to take a rest.

    "Chang'er," Tie Feilong said while walking, "Murong Chong is not our enemy, you must take good care of him."

    "I know," Yu Luocha said with tears in her eyes.

    Two days passed. In spite of their attentive care, Murong Chong's condition did not show any improvement. It should be understood that with his palm, Tie Feilong was able to smash a slab of stone or make a hole on an ox's stomach. If not for the fact that Murong Chong's own internal energy was very profound, he would have died early on.

    By the third day, Murong Chong's breathing was getting weaker, yet he struggled to say, "Old Tie, thank you."

    "Murong Laodi[4]," Tie Feilong said, "It was me who wronged you."

    "I haven't lost to you," Murong Chong said.

    At the death's door, he still remembered their duel. Yet Tie Feilong did not find it the least bit amusing. He simply nodded and said, "True, you have not lost to me."

    A smile flitted over Murong Chong's face, and he closed his eyes. Tie Feilong checked his breath, and it had not stopped, his heart was still beating. He could not stop a light sob from escaping from his mouth.

    While he was grieving, suddenly Yu Luocha came, bouncing and laughing as she pushed the door open. Tie Feilong frowned and said, "Quiet! The sick man needs a peaceful sleep."

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "Murong Chong will be saved."

    Tie Feilong sprang up, but suddenly he knitted his brows again as he said, "Don't try to make me happy, I have injured him like this, how can he be saved?"

    Still laughing, Yu Luocha pulled his hand out of the room, and took him running to the main hall. "Look who's here?" she said.

    "Why, it's Du Xiong," Tie Feilong said.

    Their guest was indeed Du Mingzhong, who came with them to Beijing to save his Jiujiu[5]. Tie Feilong had been anxious for many days, in that instant he failed to understand what did Du Mingzhong have to do with Murong Chong's life?

    "Du Xiong is giving me a very generous gift," Yu Luocha said, "Tell me, should I accept it?"

    "What is it?" Tie Feilong asked.

    Yu Luocha opened a long box on the table, inside was a shiny jet-black object, shaped like a human baby.

    "This is the thousand-year Heshouwu[6]!" Tie Feilong exclaimed, "So Du Xiong have not presented it to the castrated traitor?"

    Du Mingzhong's eyes turned red as he said, "My Jiujiu has been executed by that castrated traitor. I heard he has been dead for more than ten days. He was executed secretly in jail. I found out about it only three days ago."

    "Isn't your Jiujiu Zuo Guangdou?" Yu Luocha asked.

    "That's right," Du Mingzhong replied, "You still remember."

    Yu Luocha said, "He was in the same jail as Yang Lian, they were detained at the Beizhen Fu Si."

    "Right again," Du Mingzhong said, "How do you know?"

    "I went to visit Yang Lian," Yu Luocha replied.

    Du Mingzhong said, "All six of them have been put to death. I heard my Jiujiu and Yang Lian died on the same day. They died miserable deaths, they were executed by dirt bag."

    Yu Luocha could not help feeling sad. She thought, "They must have been executed the night I created disturbance in the prison."

    Du Mingzhong said, "My only regret is that I did not listen to Heroine Lian's advice and still wanted to ask for that traitor's favor. Luckily before the door is closed, I heard the news of my Jiujiu's death. This thousand-year Heshouwu and the arctic fox fur coat have not been delivered to the undeserving recipient. Heroine Lian, when we were in Wanxian the other day, I was injured by that Shen Dayuan's poisonous claw, it was entirely due to you that he was compelled to take out the antidote. I cannot repay your kindness, I only have this Heshouwu to give to you. Perhaps you will put it to a good use."

    "It is extremely useful," Yu Luocha admitted as she received the Heshouwu. She said, "Do you know that your former colleague Yuan Chonghuan is here?"

    "So I heard," Du Mingzhong replied, "But I have not been able to find him."

    "He is in Prince Xin's Palace," Yu Luocha said, "Go and find him there. Ah, wait a minute, I have a letter I'd like you to deliver to him."

    "Certainly," Du Mingzhong said.

    Yu Luocha returned to the back room, she put the list Ying Xiuyang gave her in an envelope, she also wrote a detailed letter explaining the whole story. Yu Luocha thought, "Presently Wei Zhongxian's power is as high as the heavens, even though there is reliable evidence that he is a traitor to the country, the senate won't be able to topple him. It would be better to give this to Yuan Chonghuan. If Prince Xin ascends the throne in the future, this list of names will be enough to indict him for his capital crime."

    Yu Luocha was not a highly educated woman, she took a really long time to write the letter. Anxious to get back to Murong Chong, Tie Feilong was waiting very impatiently. After a long and difficult wait, finally Yu Luocha reappeared. She gave the letter to Du Mingzhong, and she still wanted to serve tea before seeing the visitor out. All this time Du Mingzhong did not show any sign that he was about to take his leave. Seeing Yu Luocha happily attending to their guest, Tie Feilong asked Yu Luocha to take the Heshouwu out, and asked Du Mingzhong's advice on how to prepare it. Then he went inside to prepare the medicine and gave it to Murong Chong.

    Du Mingzhong continued to make some small talk with Yu Luocha. He said, "Did you hear about Military Commissioner Xiong?"

    "What is it?" Yu Luocha asked.

    Du Mingzhong told her, "When he was executed, didn't they take his head and pass it around everywhere? Several days ago his head was sent back to the Capital. All of a sudden the Emperor issued a decree, saying that remembering his past service to the country, his head was 'bestowed' to his family. Not only that, the Emperor also granted permission to his family to conduct an elaborate funeral, complete with the official 'Military Commissioner' title written on the funeral lanterns."

    Yu Luocha knew that her effort that night of sending a letter on a dagger to the young Emperor had a positive effect. She laughed and said, "It should be so." She also said, "Yuan Chonghuan must be empowered with great authority. Perhaps in the future the two of you will develop a plan to defend the border."

    "I hope so," Du Mingzhong said, "I am only afraid the treacherous court officials will stand in the way. Even if Yuan Chonghuan is made the Military Commissioner, he might not necessarily be able to act to the utmost of his ability."

    When Emperor Chongzhen ascended the throne later on, Yuan Chonghuan was indeed promoted as the Military Commissioner of the Eastern Liaoning, while Du Mingzhong became a senior general serving under him. But history repeats itself, more than ten years later, his fate was the same as Xiong Tingbi’s, traitors and the foreign enemy framed him. He died under the hands of Emperor Chongzhen, who earlier recognized his talent and promoted him to his current position. But all of these are something to be told later, and will not be presented in this story.

    After sending off the guest, Yu Luocha went back in to see Murong Chong. She heard the murmur of conversation inside. When she pushed the door open, Tie Feilong happily said, “It is truly a miracle drug! It can even revive the dead. Not too long after taking it, his countenance has already shown improvement.”

    “Thank you all,” Murong Chong said, “Old Hero Tie, you have indeed given me a new lease of life.”

    Laughing aloud, Tie Feilong said, “You saved my life, and I saved yours. It’s really nothing! You have just recovered, you must not exhaust yourself. Take a lot of rest.”

    Several days later, Murong Chong looked a lot better. For the last few days he had had some conversations with Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha, and was considerably touched by them. Murong Chong said, “Wei Zhongxian must hate me to the bones. When I am well, I won’t stay in the capital any longer, I don’t want to help the tyrant do his evil deeds.”

    Tie Feilong said, “You can’t establish a foothold in the capital, but you can go join the Roaming King’s army. Nichang has a good relationship with them, she may give you a good recommendation.”

    Murong Chong went silent. Tie Feilong knew he was still unwilling to oppose Wei Zhongxian, so he let the matter drop.

    One day, Yu Luocha was chatting with Tie Feilong when suddenly an escort came in to report, “There is a nasty beggar creating trouble outside. Our Chief and Vice Chief are not in, would you go out and take a look?”

    “Is that so?” Yu Luocha said, “What kind of trouble?”

    The escort said, “He is asking for ten thousands taels. This nasty beggar only has one arm, but he is very formidable. He sat on the ground with his arm high in the air, holding an earthen alms bowl, asking us to fill it up with silver ingots[7]. A dozen of us tried to push him out, but he is motionless.”

    Yu Luocha’s heart was stirred, she rushed out to look. The nasty beggar suddenly sprang up and called out loudly, “If I didn’t do this, you, Senior would not come out.”

    As soon as Yu Luocha saw him, she recognized him as Luo Tiebi. She laughed and said, “You don’t have to do this, just come in and talk to me.”

    When the escorts saw that those two people knew each other, they realized that the beggar was actually an expert beaten and weary from travel, who intentionally dressed as a ‘nasty beggar’ to seek audience with Yu Luocha.

    Yu Luocha took Luo Tiebi into the rear courtyard. Luo Tiebi said, “I have been in the capital for several days, originally to find Official Yang, who would have thought that Official Yang is already dead. I thought you, Senior, might stay in this escort agency, so I took the liberty to come and visit you.”

    “Have you sent Yang Lian’s son to Tianshan?” Yu Luocha asked, “Did you find Yue Mingke?”

    Luo Tiebi replied, “Yue Mingke’s Shifu, Hermit Tiandu, has passed away. Nowadays he has shaved his head and became a monk, assuming the name Reverend Hui Ming[8], he is not called Yue Mingke anymore. He likes Yang Yuncong very much, he said that within ten years he would make him the best swordsman under the heavens.”

    Yu Luocha laughed. “He dared to boast like that?” she said, “Fine, in ten years’ time, I am also going to train a girl disciple to subdue him.”

    Listening to them mention Yue Mingke, at first Tie Feilong’s heart was filled with melancholy, but hearing Yu Luocha’s childish talk, he could not refrain from smiling as he said, “He has become a monk, you still have a grudge against him?”

    Luo Tiebi also said, “On my way back, I passed by Mount Wudang and stayed on the mountain for several nights.”

    Now Yu Luocha went silent. Luo Tiebi said, “Zhuo Yihang is now the Sect Leader Disciple. Um, I feel sorry for him …”

    Yu Luocha’s eyes turned red. She said, “I don’t want to talk about him.”

    “Um, I feel sorry for him.” Luo Tiebi continued, “Ah, why did I tell you that? You should read the letter he wrote for you first …”

    Although her mouth said she didn’t want to talk, her heart was dying to know how Zhuo Yihang was doing. Hastily she opened the letter only to see three stanzas of inside.
    The butterfly dances the warblers into another year,
    It is distressing to see each time the flower blooms and the flower withers,
    This feeling is like the water flowing to the east early in the morning,
    Only to appear before the eyes pounding with the tide!’

    Drifting along the way, the strength is waning,
    Difficult for keen sword to wipe away self-pity,
    Gaining the moon, the light has long bowed down,
    The heart follows the bright moon, chasing after the skirt hem.’

    Overcoming nature without any plan, tears are shed in vain,
    Sea of hatred is hard to fill by blaming the birds,
    If only an old friend could forgive me,
    There is no need to list the deepest concerns in my heart.’
    These several verses were easy to understand, although Yu Luocha only had a rudimentary knowledge of literature, she understood the affection in those words; she shed some tears unintentionally. She remembered when she picked a wild flower in the Bright Moon Gorge and rubbed it in her hand, and tossed it down the valley, using the flower as a metaphor of life, how the infirmity of age would easily lead to death, feeling that the coming days were without much emotion. She chewed on Zhuo Yihang’s words again, ‘It is distressing to see each time the flower blooms and the flower withers’, and unconsciously she stared blankly, lost in thought.

    “Although Zhuo Yihang has become the Sect Leader, he is in very low spirits,” Luo Tiebi continued, “It looked like he had lost his mind, he also looked so thin. I heard that his several martial uncles were all very disappointed at him. I chatted with him for several evenings, he only said he regrets his past deeds.”

    Yu Luocha was overwhelmed with sadness. “Please say no more,” she said.

    “He wishes for you to see him,” Luo Tiebi said. Yu Luocha was silent.

    “I am leaving,” Luo Tiebi said. Yu Luocha was still silent.

    “Where are you going?” Tie Feilong asked.

    “Ravenous wolves is controlling the road, the Central Plains is tumultuous,” Luo Tiebi replied, “I want to study with Reverend Hui Ming, I am going to Tianshan.”

    Tie Feilong sent Luo Tiebi off until he was out of the gate. When he returned, Yu Luocha was still sitting at her original seat, just like a stone statue. Tie Feilong’s heart was moved as he thought, “This child is also really pitiful!” He stepped forward and pulled Yu Luocha’s shoulder as he said, “Since you miss him, why don’t you go to see him?”

    The image of Zhuo Yihang in his pitiful state appeared in Yu Luocha’s eyes, suddenly she got angry and said, “Who wants to go see him? I am not going. I don’t want you to talk about him.”

    Knowing her temperament, Tie Feilong did not say anything.

    Another half a month had passed. Murong Chong had been completely recovered; he only had to rest in the escort agency office for a month or two, his martial arts would be restored to their original state.

    “Let’s go wandering around the country again,” Tie Feilong said to Yu Luocha.

    “Where are we going?” Yu Luocha asked.

    “You don’t need to ask,” Tie Feilong replied, “I am not going to take you to places you do not wish to go.”

    Yu Luocha kept her mouth shut, packing her clothes, she followed Tie Feilong to bid goodbye to Long Dasan and Murong Chong. During the last month, Murong Chong’s mind, body and spirit were like revived from the death, he was very grateful toward Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha, so he thanked them profusely as he bade them farewell.

    Wandering the vast Jianghu, Yu Luocha’s anxiety gradually subsided, she was laughing and joking with Tie Feilong. A little over a month later, after going south from Beijing, they crossed Henan and arrived at Hubei. Yu Luocha knew Tie Feilong was directing them toward Mount Wudang, but she feigned ignorance and went along with him.

    One particular day they reached Xiangyang district in Hubei, about forty li outside the city, a village south of Zhang River. It was where the Red Flower Demon Matriarch had lived in seclusion, it was also Madame Ke’s hometown. Yu Luocha had inquired about this clearly during their journey.

    Yu Luocha knew that although along the way Tie Feilong was chatting and laughing with her, his own heart was actually very melancholy. Ever since he avenged Tie Shanhu’s death, he seemed not to have a weight on his mind anymore, and thus his spirit appeared to be emptier.

    When they arrived at Xiangyang, suddenly Yu Luocha remembered Ke Pingting, which brought her the memory of Tie Feilong’s former beloved concubine, Mu Jiuniang. She mused, “I wonder if Ke Pingting has returned home? I wonder if Mu Jiuniang and Red Flower Demon Matriarch’s son Gongsun Lei still live in their old home?”

    That night she tested the water by asking, “Father, what do you say we go visit Ke Pingting? I miss seeing her!”

    Tie Feilong’s expression changed. “If you want to go, just go alone. I am not coming with you!” he said.

    Yu Luocha was secretly laughing, she thought, “Father’s temperament is just identical to mine. He says he does not want to go, actually I know that he wants to go. He is old and lonely; other than myself, admittedly, Mu Jiuniang is the only close relative of his. Ay, I don’t care much about Mu Jiuniang, but I am very fond of Ke Pingting. Since I am already here, how can I not pay a visit to her place?”

    That evening they stayed at an inn within the city walls. Around midnight, suddenly Tie Feilong heard Yu Luocha’s scream coming from the neighboring room. Hastily he threw on his clothes and about to rush out. Right that moment, ‘whoosh!’ his window suddenly opened, and a strong gust of wind blew in.

    Tie Feilong shouted, “A rat dares to launch a sneak attack!” With a flip of his hand he caught the secret projectile flying from the outside, but then he found out it was only a soft straw sandal! Tie Feilong angrily flew out of the window. He saw a dark shadow in the distance, climbing the house across the street. The shadow looked rather big and tall, but he was unable to see clearly in the dark of the night. Hastily he returned to Yu Luocha’s room to look around, but Yu Luocha was nowhere to be found. Tie Feilong was shocked; he thought, “Who would have such skill? Even if Red Flower Demon Matriarch came back to life, her skill would not be as superior as this!”

    Unleashing his qinggong, he leaped onto the roof of the house to pursue that dark shadow. The shadow ran sometimes fast, sometimes slow; Tie Feilong was fast, the shadow also ran fast, Tie Feilong slowed down, the shadow also slowed down, but all along Tie Feilong was not able to catch up.

    Such is: Among the strong there is the strongest, a mountain high there is another mountain higher. Who was that shadow?

    [1]A little bit of explanation here: The original Chinese characters were ‘wen’ (literary) and ‘wu’ (martial art). However, the subsequent story tells us that they were not exactly competing ‘literature knowledge’; therefore, for lack of better words, I decided to translate this part as ‘soft’ and ‘hard’, respectively.

    [2]Eight divinatory trigrams of the Book of Changes.

    [3]Yama, King of Hell.

    [4]Lit. 'old younger brother'. [I don't want to translate it, since it will sound awkward, but I don't want to change it into a simple 'brother' either, since it will lose the brotherly sentiment Tie Feilong was displaying.]

    [5]Reminder: Jiujiu is maternal uncle.

    [6]See note 14 of Chapter 22.

    [7]Orig. ‘yuan bao’, can be translated as either silver or gold ingot, boat-shaped.

    [8]Hui – dark/night/unlucky, Ming – clear/bright.

  6. #26
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 25

    Chapter 25
    Like a lotus leaving filthy mud,
    The mind is made up to leave father and mother.
    Without distracting thoughts in the heart,
    Returning to the loved one with complete devotion.
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    When he started pursuing the dark shadow, Tie Feilong noticed that the person was wearing a cloak covering both the head and the face. After looking carefully, however, he found out that the person was not big and tall, but rather, the cloak was oversized, it appeared too big for the actual body size. He tried to rack his brain, but all along he failed to remember who this person might be. He cursed the shadow, but the shadow simply ignored him; it seemed that the shadow was trying to lead Tie Feilong to a certain place.

    After chasing for a while, Tie Feilong saw there was a isolated village ahead, with the outline of several houses visible in the dark. Tie Feilong's heart was stirred, he called out, "What kind of joke are you playing?"

    The person in the front burst out in giggles, took off the cape, and said with a laugh, "Red Flower Demon Matriarch had once lived in this village; don't you want to take a look around?" It was Yu Luocha.

    Turned out Yu Luocha could not get Ke Pingting out of her mind, she wanted very much to visit Red Flower Demon Matriarch's former residence, to see whether Ke Pingting had returned there. But because Tie Feilong was unwilling to see Mu Jiuniang, he did not want to come along. Being mischievous, Yu Luocha played this joke on her foster father. Without too much trouble she stole a big man's cloak from the hotel to cover her head and face then she feigned injury to lure Tie Feilong out of his room.

    Tie Feilong's countenance sank. "Father," Yu Luocha said, "Please don't be angry. Red Flower Demon Matriarch could also be considered your friend. What's wrong with you paying a visit to an old friend's son?"

    Tie Feilong answered her question with silence. He hardly had any relatives and friends of the same generation, Mu Jiuniang had lived with him for more than ten years. In his old years he loved to reminisce about the old friendships, in fact, he also wanted to know how Mu Jiuniang was doing, but after giving it some thought, he still felt that it would be better for him not to see her. Until Yu Luocha took him there.

    "Father," Yu Luocha said, "Why don't you come in and take a look? That little girl Pingting has sent us Ying Xiuyang, and we have not even thanked her for the gift."

    While Tie Feilong still hesitated, the night breeze suddenly brought a faint sound of screaming and yelling, mixed with the noise of clashing weapons. Tie Feilong cocked his ears to listen, and his heart turned cold. "Alright," he said, "Let's go look!"

    The noise also caught Yu Luocha by surprise, she thought, "Could there be someone is seeking revenge against Red Flower Demon Matriarch's descendants?"

    Unleashing their qinggong, they flew toward the village ahead. They saw a brick house with light coming out of it. Yu Luocha quickly flew to the roof and she heard someone curse, "This is Red Flower Demon Matriarch's disciple, get her and take her away, we'll kill two birds with one stone!"

    Yu Luocha looked down and saw in the courtyard that a man and a woman were engaged in a fierce battle. Who else was the woman if not Ke Pingting? On the side there was another woman screaming and yelling until her voice was hoarse, but she kept stammering, "What crime does my son have? You have killed my husband, why haven't you let him off? Leave my son alone, leave him alone ..." It was Mu Jiuniang's voice! Yu Luocha was shocked. She raised her sword and flew down!

    She saw a big burly man with a saw-toothed sickle in his hand, who, with great strength and ferocious moves, was forcing Ke Pingting to retreat step by step. There were also three other men in the courtyard watching the fight, laughing coldly. These three people were a Buddhist monk, a Taoist priest, and an old man about sixty years of age.

    Yu Luocha let out a long laugh and called out, "Pingting Meizi, don't panic, I am here!" She arrived as soon as her voice did. Her sword flickered, as swiftly as a storm, the burly man suddenly felt cold wind all over his face. Before he was able to lift the sickle to protect his face, his wrist was already stabbed by the sword, instantly he rolled around on the ground, screaming like crazy!

    Yu Luocha's movement was unspeakably fast; it was only then that the three people on the side were able to see clearly that she was only a young woman. The Buddhist monk was the first to let out a loud roar. Brandishing his staff, he hacked down on Yu Luocha's head. Yu Luocha sidestepped and raised her sword to block. The monk shook the tail of his staff with the stance Lighting the fire to stir up the Heaven, unexpectedly he managed to deflect the sword away. The blade of the sword was buzzing as it oscillated continuously. Yu Luocha still did not change her stance, with the strength of her wrist she suddenly reversed the direction of her sword to take the enemy's shoulder.

    The monk had never imagined Yu Luocha's swordsmanship to be this magically tricky! Before he could parry by swinging his staff, he was forced to contract his torso, leaving his back open. Suddenly 'rip!' his robe was cut open. Yu Luocha had not exhausted the momentum of her sword, she treaded a step further and sent out another stab.

    The Taoist priest suddenly made a move. His long sword shook, he tried to press down Yu Luocha's treasured sword. Suddenly Yu Luocha relaxed her strength and let the sword be pushed down. The Taoist priest staggered. Yu Luocha turned around and stabbed. But the Taoist priest was not a weak fighter, his long sword reached out diagonally and as unexpectedly it was able to twist and deflect Yu Luocha's sword away.

    "Ah," Yu Luocha mused, "Where did these ox-nosed and bald donkeys[1] come from? And they are unexpectedly able to combine various techniques?" Thrusting her sword straight out, she neutralized the enemy's internal strength, and then changing her stance, she stabbed again.

    The Buddhist monk has just recovered from his shock. He was raising his staff, about to join the fight, when suddenly there was a loud crash. He saw a large figure leaping down swiftly from the roof, smashing the iron bars on the window of the side room with his palm, and jumping into the room.

    The old man still standing on the side called out, "Is it the Old Tie?"

    While he still hesitated and did not immediately block, Tie Feilong was already inside and was tossing a big man out. The noise of a baby crying, mixed with the pleasantly surprised Mu Jiuniang's voice, was heard from the room.

    "Father," Yu Luocha called out, "Come outside and quickly finish these three bandits, otherwise I will keep everything for myself and won't give you any share!"

    Tie Feilong jumped out and shouted, "Chang'er, hold it!"

    Yu Luocha was startled and held her sword. The monk and the priest leaped back simultaneously to join the old man standing underneath a locust tree in the courtyard. It was only then that Yu Luocha noticed that a dead body was hanging on the other side of the locust tree. The body was swaying in the air, to her surprise, it was none other than the Red Flower Demon Matriarch's only child, Gongsun Lei.

    Tie Feilong angrily said, "Huo Lao'er[2], Priest Zhuo, Monk Zhi, the three of you are the seniors in the Wulin world, why did you bring your disciples and bully women and children together?"

    The old man replied, "Tie Feilong, aren't you also an enemy of Red Flower Demon Matriarch? Do you remember we invited you to fight the Red Flower Demon Matriarch in the past? Although you could not come because of other commitment, you did not decline either."

    Tie Feilong looked up to the sky and unenthusiastically said, "Once someone is dead, a hundred enmities vanish. Why do you still remember the matter of the past? Besides, it was Red Flower Demon Matriarch's business, what do her son, daughter and disciple have to do with it?"

    Priest Zhuo was the first to exclaim in surprise, he hastily asked, "Red Flower Demon Matriarch is dead?"

    Tie Feilong said, "She has been dead for more than half a year!"

    With a choking voice Monk Zhi said, "Our enmity cannot be avenged!"

    Pointing toward Gongsun Lei's body, Tie Feilong said, "Your method is a bit too cruel. Humph, humph, I, the Old Tie, cannot tolerate it."

    "Old Tie," Priest Zhuo angrily said, "Do you want to turn friends into enemy?"

    "So what if you cannot tolerate it?" the old man Huo also angrily said, "You have injured my disciple, I haven't settled it with you yet!"

    With a loud roar Tie Feilong's palm hacked down. Monk Zhi's staff swept across, Tie Feilong changed his hacking palm into a grab. "Let go!" he shouted.

    Tie Feilong's internal strength was astonishing, it was far above Yu Luocha's. Monk Zhi felt searing pain on the palm of his hand, he struggled hard to keep standing. Priest Zhuo moved his sword like flying, swiftly stabbing Tie Feilong’s wrist. Tie Feilong’s right palm swept across, left palm made a circle, lightly pushing Priest Zhuo’s sword aside. With open fingers his right hand brushed away and he shouted, “Got you!” When Priest Zhuo hastily retreated, his wrist was slapped by Tie Feilong’s finger tips that five long finger marks immediately appeared!

    These stances were as quick as lightning; by the time Priest Zhuo was injured by Tie Feilong, Monk Zhi was also pushed by his palm strength, ‘Bang!’ he tumbled down on the ground with bleeding palm, while his staff was also bent. Luckily the staff was made of cast steel, otherwise it would be twisted and broke.

    Old Huo knew those two men were not Tie Feilong’s match. Quickly he untied his flexible whip, and lashed it around Tie Feilong's waist. This Old Huo’s name was Huo Yuanzhong, a famous martial art master from an aristocratic family in the west. His martial art skill was very strong; as soon as he brandished his flexible whip, a strong wind assaulted Tie Feilong’s face.

    “Good!” Tie Feilong shouted, while bending his waist backward, his palm lightly touched the body of the whip, and then ran the edge of the palm along the whip to hack slantingly down. Huo Yuanzhong dropped down, and with the stance Strange Python Rears Its Head, both the man and the whip made a twist and stood back up, followed by three successive lashes of the whip using the stance Cyclone Sweeps the Willow, 'Shua! Shua! Shua!' the whip sliced the air and became a swirling shadow. He was using an offense as defensive mechanism, creating a tight perimeter around his body.

    Monk Zhi and Priest Zhuo, one with a staff the other with a sword, charged from the left and right, encircling Tie Feilong in the middle. "Old Tie!" suddenly Huo Yuanzhong called out, "I want to say something."

    Tie Feilong shouted, "Throw down your weapons, then I'll talk to you! Don't you understand this custom?"

    Throwing down the weapon is equal to admitting guilt and surrender; throwing down the weapon and then talk was the same as accepting the blame and asking for mercy.

    "Old Tie!" Huo Yuanzhong angrily said, "You bully me too much!" The whip lashed toward Tie Feilong's wrist. Monk Zhi and Priest Zhuo also brandished their staff and sword to attack together.

    Several years ago, in order to save her stop-at-no-evil husband, Red Flower Demon Matriarch had become enemies with thirteen martial art masters of the northwest. With her astonishing martial art skill, however, she had completely routed these thirteen masters. These thirteen masters took this defeat as a major disgrace, and thus they swore an oath for revenge. But not too long afterwards, Red Flower Demon Matriarch left the northwest region and disappeared in some poor village. Several decades later, these thirteen masters passed away one after another; only Huo Yuanzhong, Priest Zhuo and Monk Zhi were still alive. These three men trained hard for several dozen of years, and were confident that they might be able to fight Red Flower Demon Matriarch again.

    As it turned out, just earlier that year they heard that Red Flower Demon Matriarch had reappeared, therefore, they came out of their seclusion to investigate. They did not know at all that their enemy had died, so they went straight toward Xiangyang. Actually, they did not know that Red Flower Demon Matriarch lived in the rural area on the outskirt of Xiangyang. It was Red Flower Demon Matriarch's precious son, Gongsun Lei, who created a major disaster, and thus had led them to this place.

    After Red Flower Demon Matriarch died, Gongsun Lei had no one to control him, and so he gradually committed more and more evil deeds. At that time his wife, Mu Jiuniang, was about seven or eight months pregnant, yet he was still 'playing with flowers and grass' outside.

    It so happened that he took a liking for an escort's wife. The escort went out on duty, leaving his wife alone at home. Gongsun Lei repeatedly tried to seduce her, but it did not go well, instead, he was scolded and cursed by the escort's wife. In his anger, one night Gongsun Lei sneaked into her house and raped her, which, in turn, had caused the escort wife to hang herself.

    When the escort came back, he looked for Gongsun Lei to settle the account. They fought fiercely without any clear winner. It was not until Gongsun Lei threatened the escort with Red Flower Demon Matriarch's reputation that the escort finally retreated. To Gongsun Lei's surprise, the escort happened to be Huo Yuanzhong's disciple. As soon as Huo Yuanzhong received the news, he took Monk Zhi and Priest Zhuo along and came over.

    By this time Mu Jiuniang had just given birth to a baby boy, yet not even ten days after giving birth, she had fallen ill, and had to take a complete bed rest. She could only looked helplessly when the enemy listed her husband's evil deeds and then hanged him to death. Mu Jiuniang was so enraged that she fainted. The fury of Huo Yuanzhong's disciples, namely, that escort and his younger martial brother, had not been quenched. One of them grabbed Mu Jiuniang's son, the other wanted to capture Ke Pingting to humiliate her. Luckily Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha arrived, or else the outcome would be unimaginable.

    When Ke Pingting saw Yu Luocha, shock and delight filled her heart; she held Yu Luocha's hand with glistening tears on her eyes. It was half a day later that she was finally able to call out, "Jiejie."

    Yu Luocha made a quick assessment of the battle situation in the courtyard, then she laughed and said, "In a prolonged battle, these three men won't be my foster father's match. Meizi[3], let us chat about what happened after we parted first, there is no need to be busy helping the fight."

    Ke Pingting cocked her ear to listen to the sound of baby crying in the side room, and then said, "Let us look at Mu Jiuniang first; both mother and son have received quite a fright, I wonder how they are?"

    Yu Luocha followed her into the side room. She saw Mu Jiuniang's haggard countenance and trembling limbs, as she hugged her baby tightly in her bosom.

    "Sister-in-law," Ke Pingting said, "Nephew is not harmed? Let me carry him, you can take a rest."

    Mu Jiuniang's breathing was weak, with a wheezing voice she said, "I won't make it. Let me hug him a while longer, luckily he is not harmed."

    Originally, Yu Luocha loathed Mu Jiuniang; but seeing her condition, her heart ached. With an uncontrolled anger she said, "Let me massacre those people completely for you!"

    Mu Jiuniang struggled to call out, "No, don't!"

    Yu Luocha was startled, "You don't want to avenge your husband's death?" she asked.

    Mu Jiuniang replied, "It is all because of his sin, he ... he ... " her voice broke, she was unable to speak.

    Ke Pingting continued for her, "The enemy is simply seeking justice over the injustice they received. My Shige[4] was guilty and deserved to be punished. But their method is rather too cruel. Ask them not to involve the innocents and then let them go."

    Yu Luocha's eyes grew big. Ke Pingting whispered in her ear, "My Shige raped another man's wife and it prompted his colleagues' visit tonight!"

    Mu Jiuniang could guess what they were talking about; she covered her face with her hands and turned her face away from them.

    Yu Luocha was enraged. The thing she hated most was men bullying women, especially rape that lead to death. By this time the battle in the courtyard was very intense. Suddenly she heard the old man Huo cry out, apparently he was swept away by Tie Feilong's palm power.

    Yu Luocha rushed out of the room and called out, "Father, stop!"

    Tie Feilong was hacking Huo Yuanzhong with his palm, disrupting his whip movements. When their main force weakened, the enemy's momentum might be broken. As he heard her, he was taken by surprise.

    Yu Luocha called out again, "We can't blame them completely, Father, stop!"

    Tie Feilong's palm stopped midair. "They killed people and insult women and children, they are vicious and merciless, they have committed monstrous crime; how can we lightly forgive them?"

    With one hand stroking his wound, Huo Yuanzhong laughed coldly and said, "Red Flower Demon Matriarch is dead, our enmity with her needs not be mentioned," with the other hand pointing toward Gongsun Lei's body he said, "Her precious son has raped my disciple's wife, causing her to hang herself. Today we hanged him to his death. A life for a life. What wrong have we committed?"

    Tie Feilong was startled. "Chang'er," he asked, "Is that true?"

    "It's true!" Yu Luocha said.

    With a cold laugh Huo Yuanzhong said, "Disregarding the fact you meddled left and right, and injured me; that I can still forget. But you also severely wounded my disciples, what do you have to say for yourself?"

    Yu Luocha took a step forward and said, loud and clear, "I have something to say!" Her almond-shaped eyes were wide open, her cold and threatening gaze swept over the three men's faces.

    Although Huo Yuanzhong was a renowned senior character, he felt his heart tremble. "Please grant your instruction!" he hastily said.

    Yu Luocha said, "One man does it, one man bears the consequence. Gongsun Lei committed the crime, you hanged him to death, that's the end of him. But what do his wife and his Shimei have got to do with it? Do not do unto others what you do not wish others do to you. Humph, humph, you think women are good only to be bullied?"

    Huo Yuanzhong was speechless. Yu Luocha's tone was somewhat less tense when she continued, "You have done an inappropriate thing and received injury that is a deserved punishment. This disciple of yours went so far as wanting to humiliate my Pingting Meizi, for this crime he should not escape punishment. But for the time being I'd like to assume it was because of his wife's tragic death that he attacked in rage, wanting to seek revenge beyond what he was entitled to. For this, I am willing to spare him from death."

    The escort was stabbed by Yu Luocha at his acupoint, the inflicted pain was unusual. Yu Luocha's technique in stabbing acupoints was her school's unique skill, nobody else was able to unseal it, hence until now, he was still rolling on the ground, moaning and groaning in pain. Yu Luocha paused her speech, she leaped up and kicked the escort's waist!

    Huo Yuanzhong angrily shouted, "What are you doing?" Too late to stop her, his whip swept away. But Yu Luocha had already leaped back.

    "The dog bites Lu Dongbin[5], you don't know others' good intention," Yu Luocha said with a laugh, "Didn't your disciple suffer a serious injury? Look, isn't he already well now?"

    As soon as the escort was kicked, his blood circulated freely and the pain seemed to be gone, he suddenly was able to stand up.

    Yu Luocha continued, "Your other disciple has bullied women and children, the more reason he should not escape punishment. I must leave a little mark on him." Flicking her fingers, she sent out her school's unique secret projectile, the Nine-star Shaped Needle.

    That man was thrown down by Tie Feilong, breaking two of his ribs. He was gasping for breath while leaning on a tree. Suddenly he saw two streaks of silvery light coming fast toward him like lightning. He felt coldness on the edge of his ears, followed by stabbing pain, two little holes appeared on both of his ears.

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and said, "Father, I have punished them for you. Do you have anything else to say?"

    "Huo Lao'er," Tie Feilong said, "Red Flower Demon Matriarch is dead, your disciple's enmity has also been avenged, what are you waiting for? My precious daughter's temperament is hotter than mine. You are only asking for trouble if you still talk too much!"

    Huo Yuanzhong and the others had seen Yu Luocha's ability, they thought: Tie Feilong, one man, is already difficult to deal with, much less that he also has this Demoness. Therefore, although in their hearts they refused to accept, they had no choice but cup their fists and say, "Old Tie, we had a misunderstanding today, let's consider it resolved. I wish we'll have another chance to meet later." Panting in indignation he led his two disciples out, followed by Monk Zhi and Priest Zhuo.

    Tie Feilong sighed. From the side room came Mu Jiuniang's stammering voice, as if she was calling them in low voice. Yu Luocha quietly said, "Father, I think she won't make it. Let us look at her." Silently Tie Feilong followed Yu Luocha entering the side room.

    Mu Jiuniang's face looked like yellow paper, seeing Tie Feilong walk in, she said, "Master, I am asking you a favor."

    "Please speak," Tie Feilong said.

    Mu Jiuniang said, "I want to give this boy to you as your grandson, I am asking you to give him a shelter. When he marries and have children in the future, I want the first to be surnamed Tie, so he will be the heir of the Tie family. The second child I want to be surnamed Gongsun, let him continue my mother-in-law's legacy. If there is a third child, then he can have the surname Jin."

    Mu Jiuniang was formerly Tie Feilong's concubine, so it was amusing that she now gave her son to be his grandson. But this time Tie Feilong was already pass caring about the matter of scrutinizing seniority. In this instant the past events flitted across Tie Feilong's mind, one by one. He remembered that after his wife died, he had taken Mu Jiuniang, a promiscuous woman of the Jianghu because he wanted to find someone to care for Shanhu, also wanted someone to comfort him in his loneliness.

    At that time he did not give the least bit of consideration about their age difference, or whether their temperaments agreed with each other; he simply asked her to come home with him. He did not even give her the honor to be his wife, which greatly damaged her dignity.

    "Actually, she did not want to be with me," he mused, "For more than ten years she had been with me, she was never happy. No wonder she was always looking for happiness outside. I deserved her having left me. It's a pity that she repeated her error, in her impatience to find a mate, she had fallen into this ill-fated relationship. Although Red Flower Demon Matriarch's precious son vexed her to her death, the root of the disaster befalling her, the one who brought her harm, isn't that me?" Deep inside his heart, Tie Feilong felt a twinge of guilt, he thought that it was the greatest mistake in his life.

    With despair in her eyes, Mu Jiuniang looked at Tie Feilong. In a low voice she said, "Master, do you still hate me?"

    "No," Tie Feilong said, "It is I who should ask you not to hate me."

    Mu Jiuniang said, "I don't hate you at all. Do you agree to give shelter to my son?"

    "I will regard him as my own grandson," Tie Feilong promised.

    Mu Jiuniang smiled contentedly, and then she closed her eyes.

    "She is gone," Yu Luocha said.

    Tie Feilong was silent with sadness in his heart, tears almost flowed down from his eyes.

    Ke Pingting suddenly said, "Father, I also have something to say."

    "You want to call him like I do?" Yu Luocha said, "Don't say it yet, let me guess. Um, you are not thinking of having him as your foster father, are you?"

    Ke Pingting said, "My nephew is Senior Tie's grandson; do you think I should not call him 'father'?"

    Tie Feilong laughed aloud and said, "My own daughter is dead, now I have two, plus a grandson. I could not have thought that my evening would turn out to be very good."

    Ke Pingting knew he had given her permission, she kowtowed in great happiness. Tie Feilong pulled her up and said, "Let us bury your Shige and Shisao[6]."

    The tree of them dug a grave underneath the locust tree to bury Gongsun Lei and Mu Jiuniang. Yu Luocha was shoving the dirt when she cocked her ear and suddenly said, "Ah, someone is coming?"

    Ke Pingting did not hear anything. "Really?" she asked.

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "I was a robber for many years. I may not learn other skills, but my ability to put my ear on the ground to listen has never failed me."

    "How many are coming?" Tie Feilong asked.

    Yu Luocha listened for a while and said, "Four, they all ride horses."

    Ke Pingting said, "Must be my mother sending people to take me back."

    "Meizi," Yu Luocha said, "Don't be upset. Leave it to us to deal with them."

    "But you must not kill them all," Ke Pingting said.

    Yu Luocha laughed and said, "I know. You still think I am the demoness queen who kills without batting an eye? If the newcomers are not traitors who betray their own country, of course I will spare them from death."

    A moment later, the hoof beats stopped in front of the gate. Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha retreated into the side room. They heard the people outside knocking on the door and calling out, "Princess, please open the door."

    At the Palace, Ke Pingting was called 'Princess' by her underlings. The words 'palace' and 'Duke' are homophone, therefore, she enjoyed more or less the same honor and glory as the Princess.[7]

    Ke Pingting opened the door, and indeed she saw four men, they were the guards her own mother kept at her mansion. The name of the captain of the guards was Huang Biao, the zong guan[8] of the 'Wet Nurse Mansion'.

    "What do you want?" Ke Pingting asked.

    Huang Biao replied, "Madame Feng Sheng[9] is asking Princess to go home."

    With a cold laugh Ke Pingting shook her head and said, "I am not coming home!"

    Huang Biao bowed and said, "Madame Feng Sheng misses Princess very much, she has no heart for tea or rice. If Princess does not wish to go home, I am afraid she will fall sick of a broken heart."

    Ke Pingting's heart ached, she said, "You have come from afar, please take a rest here. Tell me the situation at the Palace."

    Ke Pingting wanted to know her mother's well-being, but Huang Biao thought she still loved the liveliness of the Palace; hearing her softened tone, he sat down and said with a laugh, "Princess is a very sensible person; there is nothing better in the world than your own parents, it is best that you come home."

    Hearing the words, 'there is nothing better in the world than your own parents', Ke Pingting unconsciously shivered. Huang Biao continued, "Wei Gonggong's power is getting increasingly stronger, already there are several governor generals who want to be in his good books and thus sending him heavy gifts, but he is unwilling to accept. Nowadays, inside and outside the Palace, people are asking him to be the Lord of Nine Thousand Years. Wei Gonggong also miss Princess very much, he ordered us, all high-ranking military officers, to find you at all costs.”

    It was alright if Huang Biao did not mention Wei Zhongxian, but as soon as he mentioned Wei Zhongxian, Ke Pingting suddenly felt a spell of nausea; she thought, “Who said 'there is nothing better in the world than your own parents'? To go back and see Wei Zhongxian mingles with my mother is worse than dying.”

    Seeing Ke Pingting’s face blush, her eyes strange, as if she was resentful or angry, Huang Biao stopped talking. He was just thinking of saying something nice to persuade her when Ke Pingting suddenly flicked her sleeve and loudly said, “Please return and say to my mother on my behalf, tell her to take a good care of herself, I will never return to the Palace!”

    Huang Biao stood up in consternation; he said, “Princess, Princess, this ... this … how can we report to Madame Feng Sheng and Wei Gonggong like that?” The other three Guards also stood up, they took the four corners, keeping Ke Pingting at the center.

    Suddenly there was a cold laugh coming from the side room. Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong walked out. With a cold laugh Yu Luocha said, “You want to kidnap? Hey, your robber ancestor is here, even if your ‘eyes’ have seen the light and you want to kidnap, you must ask me for permission!”

    Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong had just caused havoc at the Palace gate and in the inner courtyard, there was no one among the Guards who did not know this. With this sudden turn of events, all four Guards panicked. With a deep voice Tie Feilong said, “Chang’er, don’t threaten them. They have come from a far, please sit down, please sit down. Pingting is my foster daughter, you are inviting her to return to the Palace, are you inviting me as well? Ha … ha … my foster daughter is going to be a princess, that’s not bad at all. But what about me? Who will a lonely old fellow like me rely on? If you want to invite her, you should also invite me.”

    Yu Luocha also laughed and said, “That’s right, Pingting is also my foster sister, she and I are as close as siblings; we hate to part with each other. If you want to invite her, you should also invite me. The imperial garden is so much fun, I have been there before without your invitation. If this time you invite me, even if Pingting does not want to go, I will.”

    Huang Biao was even more shocked, never in his wildest dream he would imagine Ke Pingting would regard these two old and young devil heads as foster father and sworn sister. His face turned from blue to white. Only after half a day was he finally able to utter something, "If the two of you want to come, I'll have to return and ask for Wei Gonggong's permission first."

    With a cold laugh Yu Luocha said, "Who cares about your Wei Gonggong?"

    Huang Biao said, "We are only the advance party, there will be more people afterward to greet you. These people had fought with you before, so I am afraid it will be rather inconvenient. It will be better if we go back first and explain to them." Actually, Huang Biao was scared witless; he was very afraid that Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha would make their move on the spot; therefore, he hinted that he had reinforcements behind him.

    Yu Luocha only laughed coldly. Huang Biao suddenly felt something on his waist, his weapon, a dragon shaped iron club, which was hanging on his waist, had already moved to Yu Luocha's hand. He heard Yu Luocha's cold laugh, "You want to use Wei Zhongxian's name to frighten me? Humph, humph, I am not scared!"

    It was Huang Biao who was so scared that his face was ghastly pale. Tie Feilong said, "Chang'er, give that dog beating stick to me."

    Yu Luocha said with a laugh, "This iron club is not for beating dogs, this is the honorable Guard's weapon, it is used to beat people."

    Tie Feilong took the iron club and casually bent it until it snapped into two pieces. He said, "The thing I hate most in my life is the rich people's wicked dog. Since this iron club cannot be used to beat dogs, what good it is for?" He tossed the iron club to the ground.

    Ke Pingting said, "You go back, I will not return to the Palace!"

    Yu Luocha said, "If you don't go, do you want us, father and daughter, to send you off?"

    This time Huang Biao did not dare to talk too much, leading his companions, he scurried out like a scared rat. Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong looked at each other and burst out in laughter.

    Ke Pingting said, "I am afraid they will be back to harass me again, we cannot stay here anymore."

    "Alright," Tie Feilong said, "Let's go now." He went back into the bedroom to get the baby. The baby looked very much like Mu Jiuniang; carried in Tie Feilong's arms, surprisingly he did not cry at all.

    The three of them left Red Flower Demon Matriarch's former residence on that very night, and reached Xiangfan[10] the next day. After resting for a night, they continued their journey northwest. A couple of days later, they saw a continuous mountain range looming on the horizon straight ahead, with a high and steep peak on the other side.

    Tie Feilong pointed to the peak and said, "That is Mount Wudang. Chang'er, father has not led you along a stray path."

    Although Yu Luocha had known early on that Tie Feilong was taking her to Mount Wudang, but now that she saw it in front of her, she could not stop her heart from thumping hard, as well as turning sour. After a while, she held her head up and said, "Father, I am not going to hide the truth from you. Indeed I want to see that man."

    Tie Feilong said, "Listening to Luo Tiebi's story, he misses you very badly; I can also see early on that you have cherished a desire for many years. Although I do not wish to see those several old Taoist priests, I will gladly stake everything and fight them again if you want me to come along."

    Yu Luocha said, "This time I do not want to fight them, I only want to see Zhuo Yihang; I want to ask him to make a final decision: does he want to be the Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, or will he be willing to run away with me. If he is willing to leave with me, nobody will be able to stop us. About the Ke-Wei party's men, since they failed to get Pingting Meizi back to the Palace, I am sure they won't give up easily. We are not scared of those wine sacks and rice bags, but if they harass us along the way, we will be inconvenienced nonetheless. Much less you are also carrying a baby. The two of you must not tarry, go to Shanxi first. The militia has an enormous influence in the northwest, once you are there, you can reach home safely."

    Tie Feilong said, "If that's the case, we'll leave first. You must be a bit more careful, those several old Taoist priests are shady characters who pose as upright Taoists, I am afraid they will not let you go down the mountain easily."

    "I know," Yu Luocha said, "To reason with them or to fight them, either way I am not afraid of them."

    Tie Feilong said in his heart, "I am afraid Zhuo Yihang will be the one who would change his mind again. Anyway, whether she will succeed or not, she will have to go up the mountain to get the result; otherwise, it will always be a burden in her heart and she will feel worse."

    Yu Luocha continued, "Tomorrow early in the morning I will go up Mount Wudang. I will follow Wulin's customs and will ask to see their Sect Leader." Suddenly she broke into chuckle and said, "And then as soon as Zhuo Yihang hand over the Sect Leader position, we will go back to Shanxi."

    During the last month, day and night Yu Luocha had always been thinking about the poems Zhuo Yihang wrote for her. She thought that this time Zhuo Yihang would certainly not let her down, that was why she spoke with such confidence, as if Zhuo Yihang and she would go together was already a done deal.

    Tie Feilong smiled and said, "I do hope so."

    That evening they lodged at a small town at the foot of Mount Wudang. By the fourth watch[11], Yu Luocha had already crawled out of her bed and took a temporary leave from Tie Feilong and Ke Pingting. With only a sword in her possession, she went up the mountain alone.

    Tie Feilong's gaze followed her shadow until it disappeared in the dark of the night. He sighed unconsciously and muttered, "I wish that this time she will satisfy the cherished desire of her heart for many years, and don't let her experience the cruel fate of my Shanhu."

    Such is: The bitter tears of children stir up the old people's despair.

    [1]Derogatory terms to call a Taoist priest and Buddhist monk, respectively.

    [2]Lit. the second child, the second in rank.

    [3]Reminder: Jiejie and Meizi are terms of endearment to address older and younger sister, respectively.

    [4]Martial older brother.

    [5]‘The dog bites Lu Dongbin’ is a Chinese proverb, which means an inability to recognize goodness and repay kindness with vice. Lu Dongbin was one of the Eight Immortals (ba xian) in Taoist legends.

    [6]Martial (older) sister-in-law.

    [7] A little bit of explanation is in order here: Ke Pingting was called '宫主' - gong zhu, 'gong' - palace, 'zhu' - host, master. The dictionary defines this 'gong zhu' as 'imperial empress / milady'. The other 'gong zhu' was '公主', 'gong' - Duke (highest of five orders of nobility), or 'honorable', same 'zhu' character. Together, this 'gong zhu' means 'Princess'. This play of words does not carry over well into English, therefore, I use 'Princess' for both 'gong zhu' for simplicity sake.

    [8]Reminder: zong guan means 'chief manager'.

    [9]When I first encountered this name (during the fire in Chapter 23), I did not know that 'Madame Feng Sheng's Palace' was the same as the 'Wet Nurse Mansion'. Apparently the official name of the mansion was 'Madame Feng Sheng's Palace'.

    [10]A prefecture level city in Hubei.

    [11]Between 1-3 am.

  7. #27
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 26

    Chapter 26
    The sword rushes to a famous mountain,
    Beautiful woman seeking to find her true self.
    Glorious red clouds, deep valley,
    White hair in place of fine black hair.
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    That particular day happened to be the fifth anniversary of the death of Priest Purple Sun, the former Sect Leader of Wudang Pai. Ever since the death of Priest Purple Sun, Wudang Pai had been suffering a gradual decline. Priest Yellow Leaf had placed his hopes on Zhuo Yihang, who would have thought that after exhausting a thousand ways and a hundred plans to get Zhuo Yihang back to the mountain and made him the Sect Leader, after for more than a year, Zhuo Yihang was very passive and looked depressed, as if he had lost his mind. His several martial uncles were the ones dealing with day-to-day operation of the Sect. Over time, he was even more indifferent whether his own Sect was flourishing or declining, in everything he simply let his martial uncles to take the initiative. Zhuo Yihang was the Sect Leader in name only, Priest Yellow Leaf was the actual undertaker. Seeing these circumstances, the Four Elders of Wudang and the four senior disciples (their four head disciples) were very concerned and grieved.

    On twilight that day, Priest Yellow Leaf went out of the monastery to visit Priest Purple Sun's grave. He was surprised to see Priest White Stone was sitting on the head of the grave, sighing quietly.

    "Shidi," Yellow Leaf said, "You are here too?"

    White Stone said, "Da Shixiong has been dead for five years, I cannot sleep, so I came here. I remember how during Da Shixiong's day, our Sect was at the peak of our glory, there wasn’t anyone in Jianghu who did not revere us. Who could have thought that today it has become like this, even a witch like Yu Luocha dares to bully our Wudang Pai. If Da Shixiong in his grave knew, he would really cry bitterly."

    Priest Yellow Leaf also sighed and said, "Yu Luocha opposing us is a minor matter. If our Wudang Pai does not have any successor, won't that grieve us to no end?" The two Elders reminisced about the honor and glory of the olden days, and both could not refrain from heaving deep sighs.

    Priest White Stone wiped the tombstone with his sleeve, and was silent for half a day before saying, "Da Shixiong always held Yihang with the highest regard, I can't imagine he would turn this depressed, he is completely without a sect leader's air." Priest White Stone had never realized that with him meddling and interfering everything, how could Zhuo Yihang show the 'air and mannerism of a sect leader'?

    Yellow Leaf asked, "Yihang was rather close to you in the past, has he ever told you anything that might be a burden to him?"

    White Stone shook his head and said, "After returning from the Bright Moon Gorge, he seemed to avoid talking openly with me."

    "You think he is still in love with that witch?" Yellow Leaf asked.

    "I think that is the root of the problem," White Stone said, "Humph, humph, that witch does not take a proper measure of herself, she wants to marry our upright Sect's Sect Leader; not on her life!"

    Yellow Leaf said, "Even so, if she is always in Yihang's mind, he won't have any heart to do his job as our Sect Leader, in the end our problem is still unresolved."

    White Stone said, "Today is the anniversary of our Da Shixiong's death, won't it be better if you assemble everybody in our Sect and have Zhuo Yihang resign from the Sect Leader position? Then we can arrange a suitable marriage for him. When his spirit is revived, he can resume his responsibility as the Sect Leader."

    Yellow Leaf said, "His leadership was personally appointed by Purple Sun Daoxiong[1], I am afraid it won't be good to have him resign."

    White Stone said, "Our Sect is in urgent need of a plan to shake things up, letting him holding a job without any work will be worse."

    Priest Yellow Leaf contemplated for half a day. Suddenly he said, "Although Yihang looks depressed, I think his martial art skill appears to be advancing, did you see that?"

    White Stone shook his head, "I haven't paid attention," he said. Since his daughter married Li Shenshi, he held a slight grudge against Yihang; he did not pay as much attention to him as he used to do. Obviously he is even more reluctant to evaluate Yihang's martial art progress.

    Yellow Leaf said, "I can see from his footsteps that his internal energy has a very strong foundation, it is greatly different from he was before. I don't know how he has achieved such a rapid advancement. That's why in the matter of asking him to resign from the Sect Leader position, I think we need to give it a further thought. There is no one among the second generation disciples who is as talented as he is."

    While they were talking, Priest Yellow Leaf occasionally looked down the mountain. Suddenly he exclaimed in surprise! Priest White Stone followed his martial brother's gaze and saw a white shadow flying up toward them. "Who's there?" White Stone called out.

    In an instant the white shadow had reached the waist of the mountain, its speed was unbelievably fast, they could not see clearly the person's appearance. Priest White Stone's heart was stirred, he pulled his sword out and flew down, but then they heard a laughter, "Priest White Stone, I am not here for you, I do not dare to ask you to welcome me."

    Priest White Stone was both startled and angered, he called out, "Yu Luocha, you dare to come up the mountain carrying a sword?" His sword vibrated, with a stance Long Snake Enters the Hole he stabbed forward.

    Yu Luocha called out, "I don't want to fight with you today, will you or will you not let me pass?" Priest White Stone gritted his teeth. 'Shua! Shua!' he attacked two more times. In Wudang Pai's Sequential Life-snatching Sword Technique, a stance was immediately followed by another stance; it was very swift and fierce.

    Yu Luocha angrily said, "Don't you have any sense of propriety?" Her body flew up to evade all three attacks, the sword in her hand made a circle in the air, but the pattern looked random, it covered not only the head, but also all the way down. Suddenly another sword flashed by slantingly, 'Ding! Dang!' Yu Luocha's sword was blocked twice in a row. When she looked clearly, it was Priest Yellow Leaf.

    Priest Yellow Leaf's power was stronger than all his younger martial brothers, but as their swords collided just now, he did not feel the slightest bit of advantage, his heart was shaken.

    "Priest Yellow Leaf," Yu Luocha shouted, "You are the eldest of the Wudang Elders, are you going to have the same view as Priest White Stone?"

    Priest Yellow Leaf said, "Drop your sword first. We do not allow outsiders carry a sword on Mount Wudang."

    "Nonsense," Yu Luocha said, "You dare to put on airs like this based on what?" The tip of her sword swiftly pierced, Priest Yellow Leaf swept his sword across to block; unexpectedly, Yu Luocha’s sword move was unpredictable, it seemed to be moving upward, but actually attacking downward. The blade shook and went straight toward Priest Yellow Leaf's solar plexus, and continued scraping downward to his knee.

    Priest Yellow Leaf was greatly shocked; hastily he spun around on his toes. As his body was spinning, the sword ray spread out to four directions. Only by doing this, and assisted by Priest White Stone who made a flank attack, was he able to barely break Yu Luocha's attack.

    Priest Yellow Leaf said in his heart, "This witch's swordsmanship is indeed perfect, no wonder she is this vicious." Secretly exerting his internal energy, his sword became heavy, his movements became very slow, but Yu Luocha's sword seemed to be everywhere; it opposed, yielded to, and deflected the incoming force easily.

    "Good!" Yu Luocha shouted, "You can be considered the number one master within the Wudang Pai, you are much stronger than your Shidi!" Suddenly the power behind her sword vanished, it was as if Priest Yellow Leaf's sword was thrust to the thin air. He saw Yu Luocha's body was as light as a thin leaf, she swayed and floated along with the gust of wind from the sword. Although Priest Yellow Leaf's internal energy was powerful, he failed to overcome Yu Luocha.

    "What are you doing here?" Priest Yellow Leaf sternly shouted.

    Yu Luocha leaped one step back, and said with a laugh, "Ha, you don't want me to throw my sword away now? I come here today to see your Wudang Pai's Sect Leader; don't you understand the customs of the Wulin world?"

    According to the martial art world customs, when a master pays a visit to certain school's Sect Leader, it does not matter whether the guest is a friend or foe, the school's people should allow the guest see their Sect Leader first before taking any further course of action. But Yellow Leaf and White Stone were Zhuo Yihang's martial uncles, plus they had always regarded Yu Luocha as their sect's public enemy, whose swordsmanship was from an unorthodox school, as opposed to their 'upright' school's swordsmanship, why would they be willing talk about 'Wulin customs' with her?

    White Stone was the first to shout, "A witch like you wants to see our Sect Leader? Humph, humph, why don't you look at the mirror first?"

    Yellow Leaf also said, "Our Wudang Pai Leader usually does not mingle with heretical, devious people; you'd better roll down the mountain, we'll spare you from death."

    "Humph," Yu Luocha angrily said, "I have not settled the account with your Wudang Pai, yet you go as far as talking nonsense!" Brandishing her treasured sword, she started to swiftly move from place to place, seemingly piercing White Stone, but also seemingly rushing towards Yellow Leaf.

    "Shixiong," White Stone called out, "We must not let this Demoness escape today!"

    Yellow Leaf puckered his lips to let out a whistle, summoning their fellow Wudang people. His sword made an arc, trying to confine Yu Luocha's sword movements. Yu Luocha blocked several stances. Priest Yellow Leaf puckered his lips again and whistled. Yu Luocha mused, "Although I am not afraid of these two old ox-noses, being entangled by them like this is not good for me. Besides, if Yihang arrives in a little while, won't he be in a difficult position?"

    Priest Yellow Leaf put all his power on his sword, relying on his deep internal energy, the sword hacked down from above. Yu Luocha's shadow flashed away, but suddenly it went straight back in, and with three stances: Jade Maiden Throws the Shuttle, Silver Needle Penetrates in Secret, and Colorful Thread Floats Slantingly, in succession, her sword lashed out, seemingly flexible, but also looked stiff, toward Priest White Stone.

    Priest White Stone was compelled to sidestep. Yu Luocha let out a long laugh, her shadow flashed again, as fast as lightning she flew out through the gap, and in an instant she turned toward a valley.

    Yellow Leaf said, "This witch's movements are very fast, we don't need to pursue her. Looking at the direction she is taking, she seems to go to our monastery on the mountain. We'd better gather our school's disciples and form the Earth’s Net Heaven’s Trap, even if her skill is higher, she won't be able to escape."

    Shixiong is right,” White Stone said, “If we let her escape today, our Wudang Pai will not be able to lead the Wulin world anymore.” He dashed up the mountain, while calling out loudly along the way.

    Mount Wudang’s ridges and peaks overlap one another, one peak seems to be higher than the other. Although from Priest Purple Sun’s grave one was able to see the monastery high up on the mountain, the actual distance was actually quite far. After climbing two peaks, Yu Luocha was able to hear the ringing of the warning bell in the monastery, followed by some people running down the mountain toward her. By this time, all she needed to do was to climb another peak, and then she would reach the main hall.

    Yu Luocha bitterly thought, “Alas, if things have come to this, how can I have a private talk with Zhuo Yihang?”

    Yu Luocha saw shadows in the valley ahead; when she looked closer, she noticed that the shadows belong to a man and a woman, whose appearances looked familiar. When she was closer, she recognized them as Priest White Stone’s daughter and his son-in-law, He E’hua and Li Shenshi. These two people were brought by Priest White Stone to Mount Wudang to learn Wudang’s swordsmanship. Every day before dawn the young couple went down to the waist of the mountain to enjoy the scenery and train their swordsmanship.

    As soon as Yu Luocha had seen clearly, she leaped up. He E’hua had just turned around when her shoulder was tapped by Yu Luocha. She said in surprise, “Ah, it is you! I heard Yellow Leaf Shibo’s[2] warning whistle, and the bell in the monastery is also ringing continuously, signaling that the arrival of some powerful enemy!”

    “I wish both of you, newlyweds, a happy life!” Yu Luocha said, “Hey, where is Zhuo Yihang? I want to see him!”

    He E’hua was almost forced by her father to marry Zhuo Yihang, luckily later on she knew Zhuo Yihang did not have any feelings for her, plus with her aunt’s interference, she was not doomed to live as an unhappy couple. Therefore, in He E’hua’s heart, although she did not have a particularly favorable impression toward Yu Luocha, she did not have any ill will either.

    As she heard Yu Luocha’s question, her heart was moved, she thought, “I am someone who has personally experienced the affairs of the heart. Not being able to marry one’s true love is indeed a lifetime of regret. Without any good reason father has forbidden Sect Leader Shixiong to have anything to do with her.” A feeling of compassion grew in her heart; she said, “These last dozen of days, every day Yihang would come to Stone Lotus Platform early in the morning to train his swordsmanship.”

    “Where is this Stone Lotus Platform?” Yu Luocha anxiously asked.

    He E’hua replied, “Go to the left and find a mountain peak that looks like a lotus flower, and there’s also a waterfall flowing down from the peak. Once you see that waterfall, go diagonally to the left, next to the waterfall you will see a large boulder. That is the Stone Lotus Platform.”

    “Many thanks!” Yu Luocha said, and then she ran following the direction given by He E’hua.

    By this time a streak of the dawn had already appeared on the horizon, the birds were startled by the sound of human voices and flew out of the forest one after another. Yu Luocha thought, “I must see Zhuo Yihang before my presence is discovered by the priests in this monastery.”

    Behind her, she had already heard Priest White Stone’s voice calling out to his daughter, followed by voices of people calling out to alert each other. Relying to her superb qinggong, Yu Luocha hastily climbed the lotus-flower shaped mountain peak, and sure enough, she saw a waterfall. It looked like the waterfall was sending out pearls and splashing jade against the cliff's rock, emitting a deafening noise. Yu Luocha was not in the mood to enjoy the scenery. Following the waterfall, she walked slightly off to the left. Amidst the noise of the waterfall, she seemed to hear the sound of the priests' chanting. Yu Luocha mused, "It must be my heart ache." [Translator's note: I am not sure about this part 这一定是那个酸丁了] Picking up her pace, she reached the top in no time at all.

    Back to Zhuo Yihang. His heart had always been melancholy ever since Priest White Stone picked him up and brought him back to the Mountain, his days were not happy. Fortunately Priest Purple Sun left him a sword manual. To relieve his boredom, he spent his days exhausting himself in studying and researching the manual on a small hill. He found several bewildering stances in the manual. All Wudang Pai sword techniques were interleaving with each other, only these several strange stances were detached, he was not able to integrate them into one smooth flow.

    After asking his martial uncles, Zhuo Yihang found out that these several stances were from the Damo [or Bodhidharma] Sword Techniques. Altogether, the Damo Sword Techniques had hundred and eight styles, they were the origin of Wudang Sword Style. However, sometime in the middle of the Yuan Dynasty, the original Damo 108-style manual suddenly went missing; therefore, the styles were imparted to the subsequent generations orally, along with an order for the later generations to search for the book. At the same time, although the original manuscript of these 108 styles was missing, for some reason the older generations were still able to remember the general idea of quite a number of styles. The part Elder Purple Sun recorded in his sword manuscript was also known to Zhuo Yihang before, it was just that Zhuo Yihang did not know that those several stances were from the Damo Sword Techniques.

    After listening to his martial uncles' explanation, Zhuo Yihang thought: 'All my Shishu said that these several strange stances are disorganized, scattered and fragmentary, and that there is no way to string them together, so these stances can only be set aside and used only as example to the later generations, hopefully someday the original manual will be found and then these stances can be verified; in terms of practicality, these stances are not useable at all. However, although this set of sword techniques are not being handed down along with its secret, surely there is a reason behind each stance and each style. Even if they cannot be applied together in a link, there will still be power behind them. I need not pay attention to whatever the older generations said and thus limit myself.' And so, ignoring whether the styles were practical or not, Zhuo Yihang blindly took a lot of trouble learning the set; every morning he would go to the Stone Lotus Platform to practice.

    The Damo Sword Techniques used stillness to overcome movement, used chi to apply the force; it was a great help to the internal energy cultivation. Although Zhuo Yihang did not understand the subtlety of the stances, unconsciously the training had given him a tremendous benefit.

    After practicing his swordsmanship that morning, not only Zhuo Yihang did not feel tired, he felt his chi and blood were flowing freely and his body was full of vigor. Because he was thinking about Yu Luocha, he lost half a night of sleep the previous night; at first he thought he would feel exhausted this morning, who would have thought that after his training, he felt much better instead. He was greatly delighted, and believed that this must be the benefit of learning the Damo Sword Techniques. And thus he was quite engrossed in pondering the wonderful principle of the technique that he was completely oblivious of his Shishu’s whistle, as well as the warning bell from the monastery on the top of the mountain.

    While he was still deep in thought, suddenly someone reached out to his face and lightly knocked his forehead. Zhuo Yihang sprang up in surprise, but then his joy was unspeakable, because not even in his wildest dreams he would expect that the one standing right in front of him was Yu Luocha, who was constantly in his mind, day and night! He was dumbfounded and was only looking at her absentmindedly without being able to say anything.

    Yu Luocha started to say, “How are you …” but then her voice broke into sobs and she was unable to continue.

    Both of them had ten thousands words and thousands of things they wanted to say, but neither one knew where to start. The Stone Lotus Platform was an enormously big chunk of rock, as smooth as a mirror; it was so big that perhaps a hundred, or at least several dozens people would be able to stand on it. Unwittingly Yu Luocha looked down and saw several lines of small characters engraved on the rock; looked like Zhuo Yihang used his sword to carve those characters. Yu Luocha read silently, and recognized it as a short lyric from the ‘Dual-tone Remembering Jiangnan’ song:

    “In a quiet autumn night, alone in front of a single lantern, crying or laughing, no one knows me; sitting or walking, I am exhausted dreaming about my fate, where would I find comfort for my low spirit? The wind blew the rain, the rain swept up my heart, my heart seems want to follow the wind and the rain. On the boundless ocean the billows freely roll, no love means no hatred either.”

    Yu Luocha shed some tears and quietly asked, “Did you write this last night?”

    Zhuo Yihang replied, “I listened to the pleasant sound of the rain last night, while sleep eluded me, so I randomly scribbled several lines, please don’t mock me.”

    Yu Luocha sighed and said, “Is it worth it? But if you have determination, why would you be so depressed?”

    “Lian Jiejie,” Zhuo Yihang said, “I was wrong!”

    Yu Luocha casually brushed the hair on her temples, her eyes brightened, a smile appeared on her face, it even appeared on the tip of her eyebrows, as with a low voice she said, “Let’s not talk about the past …”

    But Zhuo Yihang cut her off, “I have decided that from now on I will follow Jiejie wandering around the world.”

    “Really?” Yu Luocha asked.

    The noise from the monastery was carried by the wind. Zhuo Yihang cocked his ear to listen. The sound echoed throughout the valley, there seemed to be someone calling his name.

    "I have met two of your Shishu," Yu Luocha said.

    "Which two?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    "Priest Yellow Leaf and Priest White Stone," Yu Luocha replied.

    Zhuo Yihang wrinkled his brows and asked, "What were the three of you talking about?"

    "I said I want to see you, but they would not allow me," Yu Luocha said, "But in the end we are still seeing each other, aren't we?"

    While talking heart to heart, unconsciously their hands were holding each other. But Zhuo Yihang felt that Yu Luocha's palms were burning hot. "Jiejie," he called out, "You have been suffering for the last year. I ... I ..."

    Yu Luocha cut him off, "Your two Shishu treat me as an enemy."

    With a bitter laugh Zhuo Yihang said, "That's how they are, I am helpless against them."

    The noise from the monastery was getting louder, the sound from outside the valley was getting closer. Zhuo Yihang was suddenly startled, with a quivering voice he said, "My Shishu must have had gathered my fellow disciples to deal with you!"

    Yu Luocha's eyes grew big and shiny, she fixed her gaze at Zhuo Yihang while stressing every word she was saying, "How about you? Are you going to help your Shishu to capture me, or ...?"

    From the trembling fingertips in her hands, Yu Luocha could tell that there was a battle raging inside Zhuo Yihang's heart; unconsciously she was also trembling and was unable to continue. She heard Zhuo Yihang say, "Definitely I do not want to be your enemy."

    "Is that all?" Yu Luocha asked.

    Zhuo Yihang said, "I have made up my mind not to bear the burden of being the Sect Leader."

    "Is that all?" Yu Luocha still asked.

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Today is the fifth anniversary of my Shifu's death. As soon as my Shishu are here, I am going to report to them that after we offer sacrifice to Shifu, I am going down the mountain with you. Hereafter for eternity we will not be separated anymore!"

    Yu Luocha let out a breath, her face slowly blushed; after half a day she said, "In that case, I have nothing else to fear."

    "It's just that ..." Zhuo Yihang started.

    "It's just what?" Yu Luocha asked.

    "It's just that you also know the temperament of my several Shishu," Zhuo Yihang said, "I don’t want you to use violence against them. Please give me some face and yield to them a little."

    "You want me to apologize to them?" Yu Luocha asked.

    "Um," Zhuo Yihang said, "You don't have to apologize to them, let me deal with that. I am asking you that if they scold you, please don't scold them back right away."

    "Alright," Yu Luocha promised, "Considering your genuine and sincere regards, what's the harm in enduring some humiliation?"

    While they were still talking, the crowd of Wudang Pai disciples had entered the valley, following the waterfall and climbing up, suddenly they saw Zhuo Yihang and Yu Luocha standing side-by-side on the rock platform, they were all astonished.

    Once Zhuo Yihang's mind was made, his expression remained calm. His hands grasping Yu Luocha's were tightening. Yu Luocha stood up straight with her head held high, she did not even look at the crowd of priests. In this moment she only felt happiness filling her heart; she only thought that regardless of the commotion outside, in this whole wide world, there were only Zhuo Yihang and she!

    White Stone and Red Cloud walked in front, nothing can be seen on their faces but extreme anger. Approaching the Stone Lotus Platform, they called out loudly, "Yihang, Yihang!"

    "Shishu," Zhuo Yihang answered.

    In a loud voice White Stone said, "You are the Sect Leader, the warning bell in the monastery went off, did you not hear it?"

    "What kind of enemy is coming?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    "You are shameless!" White Stone angrily said, "You knew it well, yet you still ask. This witch is our Sect's public enemy, yet you still interact with her."

    "But she is not our enemy," Zhuo Yihang responded.

    "Nonsense!" White Stone said, "She repeatedly opposed our Wudang Pai, how can you say she is not our enemy? You are our Sect Leader, in front of our fellow disciples, do you feel no shame? You better capture her."

    "Shishu," Zhuo Yihang said, "I want to say something."

    "What else do you want to say?" White Stone said, "Are you going to betray our school for the sake of this witch? Whichever decision you are going to make, just do it quickly, there is nothing to say anything anymore!"

    Priest Yellow Leaf slowly stepped forward and said, "Shidi, let him speak. Yihang, think carefully, what is it that you want?"

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Disciple has little virtue and meager abilities, bearing the responsibility of the Sect Leader, I am ashamed for not making any contribution. I ask Shishu to elect a capable person, disciple is asking to be excused."

    White Stone angrily said, "Your being the Sect Leader or not is an entirely different matter; but this witch is our public enemy, you simply must not interact with her."

    In a low voice Zhuo Yihang said, "Everybody has his own ambition. My wish is that from now on, I will devote my life to diligently study the sword technique. If in the future I am able to gain a little advancement that can be considered repaying the debt of gratitude to my Benevolent Master."

    "You want to train sword with her?" White Stone angrily asked.

    "Um, I need someone to give me guidance!" Zhuo Yihang replied.

    White Stone could not hold his anger anymore, he cursed, "Wudang Sword Technique is an orthodox martial art skill in the world, why would you want to learn a demonic and heretical skill from the outside?"

    Priest Yellow Leaf was also very unhappy; he shouted, "Yihang, aren't you going to listen to your Shishu? Quickly let go of her hands!"

    Being scolded by him, Zhuo Yihang released his grip; but he still said, "My wish of studying sword skill cannot be changed."

    Yellow Leaf, White Stone, Red Cloud and Green Palm, four elders simultaneously leaped onto the stone platform. With a cold laugh Priest White Stone said, "Study sword, sword, sword! Mount Wudang has never allowed outsider to bring a sword!"

    Yellow Leaf asked, "Yihang, have you really made up your mind?" Zhuo Yihang nodded lightly. Yellow Leaf suddenly said, "Step aside. Before we make everything clear in front of your Shifu, you are still Wudang Pai's Sect Leader Disciple." Zhuo Yihang stepped to one side of the platform.

    Yellow Leaf turned torward Yu Luocha and he said with a heaviness in his voice, "There are many men in the world, why do you insist on bothering him?"

    Yu Luocha's anger shot through the roof. In a normal time, she would definitely draw her sword and pierce a hole on Yellow Leaf's body. This time however, she restrained her anger and with a cold laugh answered, "There are many serious troubles in the world, you do not care about those troubles, why do you insist on minding other people's business?"

    Priest Yellow Leaf waved his hand, Yu Xincheng and the others, four senior disciples, along with other disciples holding special position, such as protector of the scriptures, protector of the law, etc., all jumped onto the platform.

    Yellow Leaf asked again, "Yu Luocha, did you come this time with the intention of creating trouble by taking Zhuo Yihang away?"

    "I have never forced him to go away," Yu Luocha replied.

    Yellow Leaf said, "You may not necessarily able to leave this place. Put your sword down first!"

    Yu Luocha cast a quick glance toward Zhuo Yihang. Zhuo Yihang thought that after Yu Luocha put down her sword, his martial uncles would let them leave together. In a low voice he said, "This is the rule of our mountain."

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and tossed her sword down onto the stone platform; she said, "I'll abide by your stinky rule. Will you let us leave now?"

    Yu Xincheng stooped down to pick up the sword; holding the sword horizontally high above his head, with a loud and clear voice he said, "The evil witch from outside school has surrendered her sword, Elders please announce the punishment!"

    Among the second generation disciple, Yu Xincheng ranked the highest; presently he was the Protector of the Law, his main responsibility was to defend Wudang Pai's conventional power. Unexpectedly he considered Yu Luocha as a defeated enemy and thus proceeded with the offering the sword ceremony.

    Yu Luocha's anger almost burst out her heart and lungs. She heard Priest Yellow Leaf with a loud voice say, "Since you already surrendered your sword, your former offense won't be held against you. Quickly roll down the mountain! Zhuo Yihang is our Sect Leader, how can a witch like you be his match? You'd better give up your desire as soon as possible!"

    Yu Luocha rolled her eyes and with a cold laugh said, "I am not leaving!"

    White Stone and Red Cloud had suffered humiliation under Yu Luocha's hands before; they leaped out together and shouted, "You are not leaving? I have never seen such a despicable woman in my life before, shamelessly running up our Mount Wudang to look for a husband."

    Yu Luocha suddenly let out a cold laugh, her shadow flashed, 'Slap!' Priest White Stone received a slap on his face. Hastily he drew his sword, but he heard Yu Xincheng cry out. It turned out that when he was taking a step forward to present the sword to Priest Yellow Leaf, he did not watch his surroundings; the sword was snatched back by Yu Luocha, while he himself also received a slap on his face.

    White Stone and Red Cloud angrily called out, "Back-off! Back-off!" A pair of swords swiftly moved to threaten Yu Luocha's vital acupoints.

    Yu Luocha launched the stance Sweeping Up the Galaxy, her treasured sword produced a strong gust of wind, 'Whoosh!' it flitted over the top of both men's heads. In the meantime, she heard Priest Yellow Leaf call out near her ear, "All of you watch your Sect Leader Shixiong, he is sick today, his mind is confused, he is under the spell of demonic spirit; you must not let him wander out randomly."

    Zhuo Yihang had been kept under his elders' influence for such a long time that although his heart was filled with resentment, he did not have the courage to say anything.

    Yu Luocha was worried over Zhuo Yihang, she took a quick glance toward him, and saw his countenance was ashen, while sitting motionless on the stone platform. White Stone and Red Cloud's swords were still threatening her vital points from two directions. Yu Luocha was quite disappointed, she thought, "Oh Yihang, you have spoken with determination, but why you do not utter even a single word at this moment?"

    When masters were having a sword duel, they must not allow anything to divert their attention. Priest White Stone launched the Sitting Cross-legged Snapping the Steps, 'Shua!' his sword turned into a bluish ray toward Yu Luocha's throat. Yu Luocha was almost hit, her anger rose, she dodged by leaning sideways, her sword moved lightning fast, making an arc in the air, and cut down toward White Stone's wrist. Priest Red Cloud quickly thrust his sword forward, together with White Stone's sword, they parry Yu Luocha's sword with all their might. Before anybody could see what happened, like a lightning Yu Luocha launched three stances in succession against White Stone and Red Cloud's pair of swords, forcing them to retreat in confusion. Yu Luocha's sword appeared to be a link of swords, the sword generated strong gusts of wind, her sleeves fluttered in the air. White Stone and Red Cloud struggled hard just to ward off her attacks, they felt a dense cold air surrounding them, while shadows of sword dazzled all around them!

    Yu Luocha's murderous intent was aroused, with a loud voice she cursed, "Thief Taoist White Stone, you led the imperial army to trample my Bright Moon Gorge Stronghold, a lot of my sisters perished in that battle, do you realize it? I was going to spare you, but you are showing off your power. If I do not leave some marks on you, I would be called Yu Luocha in vain!" Her sword movements suddenly changed, now a burst of silvery ray enveloped her body, streaks of violet sparks flew out to the air as she launched one attack after another; her stances were really ruthless!

    Priest Yellow Leaf was greatly shocked; he mused, "This Demoness is very vicious and ruthless; looks like she is able do what she said she would do. If she indeed injures White Stone Shidi in front of everybody here, that won't look good at all!" Thereupon he signaled Priest Green Palm to join the battle, while he himself wanted to maintain the dignity of his rank in front of all his school’s disciples; he was unwilling to join hands as the Wudang Four Elders besieging one woman.

    Priest Green Palm’s swordsmanship was highly polished, his sword technique excelled his peers; he quickly walked to the sloping side of the platform. With a hearty laugh Yu Luocha said, “Alright! Another Wudang Elder is coming! You always consider your sword technique as the number one under the heavens, was it because you rely on numbers to score victory?”

    White Stone, Red Cloud and Green Palm remained silent, three swords swiftly stabbed and pared, echoing each other’s movements, encircling Yu Luocha in the middle. One sword withdrawn, the other came in, creating a chain of attacks. Although Yu Luocha’s sword stances were fast and nimble, in the end she was forced to change her movements. By fighting one against three, gradually she was feeling strained.

    As soon as Priest White Stone felt the pressure relax, he cursed back with a loud voice, “So what about Wudang’s swordsmanship? Humph, humph, looks like before you can injure me, I will injure you. Watch the sword! Watch the sword!” ‘Shua! Shua!’ Without pausing he stabbed straight, twice.

    To his surprise, Yu Luocha still let out a long laugh and mocked, “A frog at the bottom of a well, how would you know the expanse of Haihe[3]? You must broaden your horizons!” Her sword movements changed again, her sword appeared to be a divine dragon frolicking in the water, or like a flying rainbow across the sky; it was pointed to the east striking to the west, it was aimed to the south attacking to the north. She dashed in a large circle like a silvery streak of light, immediately it looked as if Yu Luocha’s shadow was on four sides and eight directions.

    After battling the Red Flower Demon Matriarch twice, Yu Luocha learned an important lesson. Even if her swordsmanship were more proficient, she knew that by one against three, granted that she would not necessarily lose, but it was also difficult to score a victory. She thought: ‘The combined power of these three is more or less equal to one Red Flower Demon Matriarch. Since my qinggong is far surpassing theirs, I can fully utilize it to defeat them, just like when I fought Red Flower Demon Matriarch.’ Thereupon by avoiding the enemy’s strength and striking their weaknesses, relying on her exquisite swordsmanship and footwork, she attacked whenever there was a hole in the three-sword defense, weaving in and out their encirclement, and launched ruthless strikes whenever possible, blurring and confusing these three men’s visions. Each one of them was forced to guard against a sneak attack, and gradually lost their coordination. Although on the surface it seemed like three persons joined hands against one, in actuality each one had to fight his own battle.

    About fifty to seventy stances later, the sword movements of these three people were growing more and more chaotic. Zhuo Yihang called out, “Enmity should not be sowed, besides, there is no serious hatred between us; please stop fighting."

    As soon as he uttered those words, Four Elders of Wudang and Yu Luocha were all dissatisfied. The Four Elders thought: 'Zhuo Yihang is actually speaking on behalf of the outsider; his heart is leaning to the outside!' While Yu Luocha thought, 'Why do you have to wait until I gain the upper hand before you ask me to make peace with them? You are asking me to receive their insult for no reason. In this critical moment you are not making your heart's desire clear, but trying to stop the fight instead.' Both sides were angered and thus their battle intensified.

    Priest Yellow Leaf walked toward Zhuo Yihang and in a serious tone said, "The matter of today concerns Wudang's glory or disgrace. Things have gone this far, if because of personal feelings you speak on her behalf, not only you are a traitor to our school, you will also be despised by the Wulin people under the heavens! You are not an ordinary disciple, you should realize that you are the Sect Leader Disciple! To fight for our Sect's glory or disgrace is the responsibility of the Sect Leader; even if your body is torn and your bones crushed, you should never relinquish this responsibility. Don’t you know this?"

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was pierced; he sobbed and said, "She is only a lone woman, how can she oppose our Sect? Shishu, please don't force me to be her enemy!"

    Priest Yellow Leaf's countenance changed from white to blue, the pupils of his eyes were blazing as he reprimanded Zhuo Yihang, "I'll let you think for a minute, you are a sensible and highly educated man, I don't want to see you degenerating into a rebel who is reviled by everybody!" With glowering eyes he looked at Zhuo Yihang, and then he turned his attention back to the battle.

    He noticed Yu Luocha's exceptionally marvelous swordsmanship that even her three opponents were head over heels just to defend themselves! What was more embarrassing was that Yu Luocha was laughing while she was fighting, as if the entire Wudang Pai were not worthy in her eyes!

    Priest Yellow Leaf angrily said, “Ruthless Demoness, what a good friend you are! Do you think you can just tread on our Wudang Pai with the soles of your feet? Our Sect Leader cannot come out, although I am old, even if my body is torn and my bones crushed, I simply cannot allow you to show off your viciousness!” Panting with rage, he pulled out his sword and charged to the middle of the battle.

    Zhuo Yihang was crying bitterly, but no one among his martial bothers who were standing around him came to comfort him.

    Priest Yellow Leaf was the leader among the Four Elders, naturally his power was out of the ordinary. As he unleashed the power of his sword, the sword light flashed, followed by a faint noise like a thunderstorm. He pulled and pushed, Yu Luocha’s sword momentum was suddenly blocked. White Stone and the others, three men, were able to take a breather, and then pressed on to attack again.

    “Ha … ha …” Yu Luocha laughed maniacally, “Four Wudang Elders have all come! Truly it is my good fortune that I can fight Wudang masters today!”

    Hearing this, Priest Yellow Leaf was both ashamed and angry; he shouted, “Witch, stop your madness! Watch the sword!” With a stance ‘wind and thunder strikes’ he sent his strength to his foot and pressed down.

    Yu Luocha was moving her sword backhandedly, suddenly she felt a whiff of energy pressing down on her. Yu Luocha’s movements were extremely fast, following the wind of the sword, her body floated out like a long-winded willow, while launching the sword stance ‘vicious fowl pecking a chestnut’ on a sudden attack toward Priest White Stone. But as her sword tip reached midway, suddenly it changed into ‘divine colt spreads out its legs’, with a stab toward Priest Red Cloud’s heel.

    Red Cloud’s sword moved down to parry, Yu Luocha’s sword vibrated and abruptly changed into a straight thrust in the ‘golden roc folds its wing’, threatening the ‘seal gate’ acupoint on the lower side of Priest Green Palm’s body. In this instant Yu Luocha had already attacked three famous masters. Priest Yellow Leaf was greatly shocked. The light of his sword reached out to protect his three martial brothers He was using the 'sticking' technique to entangle Yu Luocha's sword, while his gaze was fixed on her.

    This 'sticking' technique belonged to the 'internal' side of the martial arts, which Priest Yellow Leaf had trained to the point of perfection, but it must not be used freely. It follows these martial art theories: 'shedding humanity', 'bent along the crooked elongated following the stretching', 'neither resist nor fight back', 'strength following speed', 'gradual dispensing of strength in reaction to the slow action'. [Translator's note: this part is too hard for me, my apology for the inaccuracy.] Just like a magnet pulling iron and stick to it, it was the 'power-to-attract-other-power' type of skill.

    Priest Yellow Leaf unleashed his life-long cultivated skill, although Yu Luocha was able to move like a whirlwind, she was entangled by him and was unable to escape, so that she could not unleash her own power. Furthermore, White Stone and the others, three men, were all martial art masters of the present age. Immediately she was forced into a disadvantageous position!

    After fighting for more than a hundred stances, beads of perspiration started to appear on Yu Luocha's forehead. She tried hard repeatedly, but failed to break out of the encirclement, she was exasperated; and so, disregarding life and death, she launched an all-out attack, evading the strong striking the weak, she concentrated her offensive moves on White Stone, Green Palm and Red Cloud. All her moves were ruthless and were meant to kill or heavily injure the opponents. Priest Yellow Leaf was greatly alarmed. Actually, he had several opportunities to injure her, but in order to save his martial brothers, he had no choice but to move his sword to block her attacks.

    Priest Yellow Leaf said, "Let me take care of the defense against her sword power, all of you concentrate on the offense." He moved his sword to follow the revolving light of Yu Luocha's sword, while White Stone and the others, three men, moved their swords like a storm in vicious stabs.

    The five swords battling each other looked like a net of light; wherever Yu Luocha's sword struck, it felt like she was striking an iron rampart or a copper wall. White Stone and the others, three men's swords were linked sequentially to each other, giving Yu Luocha no time to launch any counterattack. Yu Luocha had no choice but gritted her teeth and take the challenge head on; her eyes scanned four directions and opened to eight sides. Relying on her superb qinggong she soared and dodged everywhere, in just a short time they had fought several dozens more stances!

    This kind of battle was rarely seen in the world, Wudang Pai disciples watched with blurry eyes, everybody held their breath with eyes fixed on the battle field. Zhuo Yihang had early on stopped crying, his attention was drawn by the fierce battle in front of him. By this time, actually the Four Elders of Wudang had occupied the upper hand position, however, the crowd of Wudang disciples only saw the sword chi crisscrossing each other, they were dazzled by rays of light, the swords seemed to be everywhere, just like stars in a dark night, millions of sparks sprinkled the air, the shadows of five combatants intermingled with each other, so that it was hard to distinguish one person from the other. Zhuo Yihang watched with a shaken heart and soul; he knew that in this fierce battle, casualty was definitely difficult to avoid. His heart was split, he did not know which side he wish would triumph.

    Suddenly Yu Xincheng said, "Four Shishu are already old, and now they are fighting a powerful enemy. If anything should happen to them, how could our generation's disciples live with it? Zhang Men[4] Shixiong, what do you think we should do?" Zhuo Yihang acted as if he did not hear a word he said, he did not give him any reply.

    Yu Xincheng laughed coldly and said, "Our Shishu are staking their lives in this battle, how can we, their disciples, only watch with folded arms?"

    Each one of Yellow Leaf, Red Cloud, White Stone and Green Palm had a head disciple; they were known as the four senior disciples of the second generation. Yu Xincheng was the head disciple of Yellow Leaf, he was the leader of the four senior disciples. He called the other three head disciples, "Let us go out together. We'll form Wudang Sword Formation with four Shishu; we must not let this woman escape." Finished speaking, he turned toward Zhuo Yihang and raised his cupped fists and said, "Zhang Men Shixiong, we'll await your order, please go out first!"

    Asked to lead his fellow disciples to join the battle, Zhuo Yihang was extremely grieved. He heard someone sneer behind him; when he turned his head to see, it was actually his fellow disciple Geng Shaonan. Zhuo Yihang saw the expression of scorn on Geng Shaonan's face. When their eyes met, Geng Shaonan ignored him and averted his eyes.

    Geng Shaonan had once suffered humiliation by having his finger cut by Yu Luocha's sword, he hated Yu Luocha to the bone. Only because he realized his own skill was not as good as the four senior disciples of Wudang that he did not dare to go out to fight. But in his heart he was hatching up a plan, he wanted to provoke Zhuo Yihang to fight. Because Zhuo Yihang was reprimanded by his martial uncles, he was despised by his fellow disciples. It was something totally out of his anticipation. After two or three such incidents, he felt as if he was a small boat in the sea under attack of the wind and the waves, his spirit was shaken, his brain felt like it was about to burst. Truly it was more painful than receiving physical punishment. His mind started to shut down.

    Fighting the Four Elders of Wudang, Yu Luocha already felt extremely strained, now that the four senior disciples joined the battle, she found it difficult to hold her ground. Although these four disciples' skills were comparably lower, they were not, by all means, ordinary people. Even more difficult to deal with was that these four people joined the previous four, they occupied the eight directions in a very tight sword formation, just like an impregnable bastion that even a fly would find it difficult to fly out from. Even if Yu Luocha's skills were higher, or her qinggong more amazing, she would still find it was difficult to resist.

    By now the battle field was full of dancing swords, with Yu Luocha trapped in the middle, just like a small boat struggling alone in the storm and was suddenly drawn into a vortex, tossed about and shaken, completely powerless to fight. Her situation was extremely critical!

    From dawn to about the seventh hour[5], Yu Luocha had been fighting for her life for more than a thousand stances. The siege of eight masters of Wudang was several times more formidable than the 'Seven Greats Formation' on Huashan's peak several years ago[6]. Yu Luocha's strength was depleted, her movements were not as agile as before.

    Seeing their effort was showing a favorable result, the eight masters of Wudang tightened their encirclement. Their attacks were like the tide of the ocean, advancing and retreating continuously. Eight bright and shiny sharp swords crossing and intersecting each other on Yu Luocha's front, back, left and right; it seemed like Yu Luocha could be sliced into eight pieces any moment, without giving her any time to take a breather.

    Zhuo Yihang was so scared that he could not bear to watch and turned his face the other way. Geng Shaonan laughed aloud. Pulling Zhuo Yihang's arm, he said, "Zhang Men Shixiong, look, look ... ! Yellow Leaf Shishu's sword is marvelous, White Stone Shishu's sword is not bad. Ah, too bad, too bad ... Green Palm Shishu's sword was definitely going to pierce her throat, but for some reason she managed to evade it. Hey, Xincheng Shixiong is not bad either, his sword almost slice off her knee. Ah! Ah! Good! She's hit! She's hit!"

    Suddenly Zhuo Yihang heard Yu Luocha's scream, followed by another one. Quickly he opened his eyes, only to see Yu Luocha was on the verge of collapsing. Her footsteps were disorderly, like a mad tiger she charged to the left and dashed to the right, but was not able to escape. In the midst of flickering swords, Zhuo Yihang saw a red shadow swaying back and forth, like a splatter of rouge on the white snowy ground; he believed Yu Luocha was injured by the swords and blood seeped out of her clothes! Unconsciously Zhuo Yihang let out a loud cry and was nearly fainted.

    Yu luocha's left arm was hit by Yellow Leaf's sword, her right wrist was slashed by the edge of White Stone's sword; she was about to collapse, but suddenly she heard Zhuo Yihang's miserable cry. She thought, "Turns out he still cares about me." With a renewed spirit, with strength that she did not know she still had, her sword soared and fluttered in the air, just like a torrential downpours, her body followed her sword, blended into a white light, and dashed straight toward Priest Yellow Leaf.

    Still using the 'sticking' technique, 'bending along the crooked elongating along the stretching', Priest Yellow Leaf brandished his sword, thinking that he would send out all his strength to dissolve her wild incoming force. Who would have thought that Yu Luocha was too swift; before Priest Yellow Leaf's internal energy reached the tip of his sword, Yu Luocha's sword had already truncated his sword. Priest Yellow Leaf used his palm to push. In the wake of the wind from his palm, Yu Luocha flicked her wrist with a growing ferociousness. An arc of white light appeared, followed by loud metallic noise as Priest Red Cloud's sword was also cut by her sword.

    Yu Luocha laughed wildly, 'Shua! Shua!' she launched two successive attacks. Priest White Stone was just launching the Star Across the Revolving Sky, with a backhand stab, the tip of Yu Luocha's sword, as quick as lightning, was moving straight toward his throat. Priest White Stone's heart turned cold. In this critical moment, he used the Iron Panel Bridge skill; left foot was firmed on the ground, right foot went up, waist bent backward all the way to the ground. 'Whoosh!' Yu Luocha's sword flitted above his face. Priest Green Palm pounced forward, turning the sword from his wrist, he blocked Yu Luocha's sword.

    Right this instant, suddenly they heard Yu Luocha cry out miserably; they saw her eyes rolled until only the whites were visible, while her sword lost its momentum and slowed down. Priest Green Palm was baffled, but then he heard Yu Luocha cry out in grief, "Zhuo Yihang, it's you ... is this how you are treating me?"

    What happened was that when Yu Luocha broke Yellow Leaf and Red Cloud's swords and almost killed White Stone, Geng Shaonan was screaming right next to Zhuo Yihang's ear, "Zhang Men Shixiong, you still don't want to quickly save Shishu? Just use a secret projectile! Shoot her, quick!" While shoving a crossbow into Zhuo Yihang's hand. Zhuo Yihang was already in a semi-conscious state, his spirit was crushed. As he heard Geng Shaonan's voice in his ear, it was as if he was being hypnotized; absent-mindedly he pulled the bow and 'whiz, whiz, whiz!' he launched three bullets. These three bullets were shaken and smashed by the sword wind in the battlefield; naturally the bullets would not reach Yu Luocha's body, but actually they had injured Yu Luocha's heart!

    Having just escaped from a dangerous situation, Priest White Stone was still filled with murderous intent; seizing this opportunity, he pounced on Yu Luocha, holding his sword with the blade down like a dagger, to stab down like a tornado. Priest Green Palm also took advantage of this situation with sword across his chest; he slashed down slantingly toward the side of Yu Luocha's waist.

    Right this moment from the side of the platform Zhuo Yihang was crying out in alarm. Yu Luocha vaguely heard him screaming, "What have I done, what have I done?" Followed by a 'thump!' Apparently Zhuo Yihang had tumbled down on the ground.

    White Stone and Green Palm's swords arrived almost simultaneously. Yu Luocha held her sword across her chest, seemingly forget to make any move. The two men were greatly delighted, they were thinking of stabbing her acupoints to capture her alive, and then deal with her later based on the entire school's majority decision. The two of them were having identical thought, and wanted to seal the same acupoint, hence their movements were somewhat slowing down. The two swords were about to stab, obviously they had touched her clothes, suddenly Yu Luocha flicked her wrist, as fast as lightning her sword swept across. This move happened in a split second, like a jolt of thunder. On Yu Luocha's side, the power seemed to arise from her reservoir of energy, much like waves of flood arose suddenly and burst the dam. On White Stone and Green Palm's side, it felt like a bow had been strung, but it broke and not only the force bounced back, the opponent's force was being added to it.

    One swept, the other blocked, loud metallic crashing was heard as White Stone and Green Palm's swords flew to the air. "Not good!" Priest Yellow Leaf cried out, he leaped for more than a zhang, striking Yu Luocha with his palm.

    Priest Yellow Leaf was quick, Yu Luocha was even quicker; they all heard White Stone and Green Palm cry out in pain. In a flash the two men's arm joints were stabbed by the tip of Yu Luocha's sword. Yellow Leaf's palm missed, Yu Luocha brandished her sword while laughing wildly, like a whirlwind she broke out of the encirclement!

    Among the Four Elders of Wudang, two men's swords were broken, the other two had been seriously injured. The four senior disciples did not dare to intercept; besides, even if they wanted to, Yu Luocha's sword wind was not easy to ward off. As soon as she was out of the encirclement, she jumped down the platform and dashed away. Although there were nearly a hundred Wudang Pai disciples, they were intimidated by her invincible might, and stepped out of her way. Priest Yellow Leaf dejectedly heaved a deep sigh, he looked helplessly as Yu Luocha ran away while laughing madly after creating such disturbance on Mount Wudang.

    White Stone and Green Palm's acupoints were sealed by Yu Luocha's unique acupoint sealing technique, their joints were injured, and Priest Yellow Leaf was helpless to unseal it. He could only massage their blood vessels to relieve the pain, and instructed the four senior disciples to take them to the Cloud Hall to recuperate. Within twenty four hours, their sealed acupoints would open on their own.

    Finished giving instructions, Priest Yellow Leaf swept his gaze around only to see all his disciples hanging their heads down dejectedly; he could not help but heave another deep sigh while throwing away his broken sword down the valley. Slowly he walked toward Zhuo Yihang, who was lying unconscious on the ground, with the crossbow still held tightly on his bosom.

    Yellow Leaf said, “In critical moment you shot the bullets and help us win the fight, you are still our Wudang disciple.” Reaching down, he tapped his Crouching Rabbit acupoint to stimulate the blood circulation. Zhuo Yihang suddenly cried out and sprang up, still with the crossbow in his hand, 'whiz, whiz, whiz!' he shots several bullets randomly to all directions, while shouted, “Strike, strike! Who dares to go up Mount Wudang? Strike! Who dares to stop me? Strike! Who dares to mind someone else’s business? Strike! Ha, ha … you are extremely daring, you have offended my ancestor founder, strike!”

    Priest Yellow Leaf scolded him, “Are you crazy?” Zhuo Yihang stared at him while still jumping and shouting. Yellow Leaf pounced on him with a palm to strike the crossbow down. Geng Shaonan also pounced on him and wrapped his arms around him. Zhuo Yihang suddenly turned around and launched a palm strike. ‘Slap!’ he struck Geng Shaonan’s face. It was such a powerful strike that Geng Shaonan cried out and spurted out a mouthful of blood, along with his two front teeth.

    Yellow Leaf quickly stretched out his finger and sealed Zhuo Yihang’s consciousness acupoint. “Shaonan,” he said, “Your Zhang Men Shixiong is mad, did he injure you?”

    Geng Shaonan held his red and swollen face in his hands, he said, “Not too bad, it’s only flesh wound.”

    Yellow Leaf said, “Take him back, lock him up in the back room and guard him well.”

    After half a day of commotion, the sky was darkened, it was nearly dusk. Because of the disturbance, there was no way they could hold the ceremony for the fifth anniversary of Priest Purple Sun’s death.

    Back to Yu Luocha who was running down the valley. She was broken-hearted, angry, and filled with love and hate at the same time; her mouth was parched, her stomach starved. When she looked down, she saw her clothes were dyed red with her own blood. Hatefully Yu Luocha said, “Wait till I get a good night rest, I’ll be back to fight you all old ox-nosed Taoists again. I want to grab him and ask: actually, are you or are you not willing to go with me? You spoke so sincerely, so earnestly, could it be that everything was fake? Ha, ha … you hit me with the crossbow, you hit me! Luckily I am not dead.”

    She was extremely bitter. Suddenly another thought came into her mind, “If he did not cry out, I would not have strength to continue fighting. Ah, Yihang, you have helped me escape a mortal danger, yet you also put me in the deathtrap. What were you thinking? Do you consider me as a loved one, or an enemy?”

    Extreme love, extreme hatred; hate to the extreme is just another form of love to the extreme! Yu Luocha's mind was confused, her footsteps felt like she was floating. She had fought a fierce battle for half a day, successively breaking two swords; her exhaustion was unbearable. Dazed and with a blurry vision, she entered a valley and scooped some water from a mountain spring to rinse her wounds before applying some metal-cut medicine. Fortunately the wounds were not on vital joints. After the bleeding stopped, she ate some dry rations. Her eyelids closed, she could not endure the weariness and lied down dejectedly. With her feet soaked in the mountain spring, she fell fast asleep.

    In her dream she saw Zhuo Yihang was walking toward her with a smile on his face. Yu Luocha reached out to poke his forehead. Zhuo Yihang said, "I didn't mean to hurt you, they compelled me!"

    Yu Luocha said, "Are you an adult or a child? Don't you have a will of your own?"

    "I am only a sheep," Zhuo Yihang said.

    "Fine," Yu Luocha said, "You are a sheep, and I am the shepherd. I want to whip you!" Suddenly a leather whip appeared in her hand. Yu Luocha lashed the whip in the air, 'Shua, shua!' the whip cracked. Suddenly Zhuo Yihang disappeared and in front of her lay a sheep, its body was entirely scarlet, and its eyes were begging for mercy.

    Yu Luocha's whip was about to lash down, she hurriedly drew it back and put out a hand to stroke the little lamb's horn. The lamb suddenly roared; it was not a lamb, but a fierce tiger. The fierce tiger bared its teeth and brandished its claw, and pounced on Yu Luocha, throwing her down with her back on the ground. The tiger opened its mouth and sank its teeth into Yu Luocha's throat.

    Yu Luocha had the ability to subdue dragons and conquer tigers, however, for some unknown reason, this time her strength was completely gone. The tiger's white teeth gnawed on her throat. Yu Luocha screamed and struggled to get up. The sheep, the tiger, and Zhuo Yihang vanished into the thin air!

    Yu Luocha opened her eyes and felt the red clouds dazzled her eyes. Turned out she had been asleep for the entire night; everything she saw a moment ago was just a nightmare.

    Yu Luocha felt that her neck was wet and cold. She brought her hand to feel it; turned out the water of the mountain spring was rising and wet her neck. Moreover, she was tossing and turning in her sleep while using a protruding rock as a pillow, her throat bumped into the rock and in her dream she felt as if a tiger was gnawing on her throat.

    Yu Luocha turned over and sat up, her wet hair draped over her shoulder; it was really uncomfortable. When she looked at her reflection on the water, she saw a strange looking woman with white hair looking back at her. Yu Luocha screamed in fear. This scene was ten thousand times more frightening than the vision of a tiger in her dream!

    "Am I still dreaming?" Yu Luocha asked aloud. She brought her finger to her mouth and bit hard; her skin broke and her blood flowed, the pain went deep into her heart. It was definitely not a dream. Hastily she grabbed her own hair and brought it to her eyes. Upon careful inspection, she found that half of her jet-black fine hair was gone! Her hair had turned gray!

    Yu Luocha sprang up and screamed, "This is not me, this is not me!"

    The shadow on the water also sprang up, the water rippled against the edge, creating some noise, which made the shadow of the person on the water seemed to say, "I am you, I am you!"

    It must be known that Yu Luocha was born with an exceptional countenance; her beauty was her most cherished treasure, who would have thought that in just one night she had turned from a young maiden into a white-haired, haggard looking old woman? The pain she felt right now was beyond description.

    Yu Luocha threw herself on the ground; she tried to empty her mind and did not want to think about anything. But she still saw the bright clouds floating high overhead, the dawn sun shone on the ocean of clouds, reflecting the sunlight down into the valley. The red clouds were beautiful and glorious, dazzling her eyes. The wild flowers emitted their sweet fragrance, the birds in the forest sang their beautiful song, the breeze whistled through the pine trees, the mountain was teeming with life. Only Yu Luocha felt her heart had died.

    The floating clouds looked like all kinds of imagery. In her daze Yu Luocha seemed to see Zhuo Yihang high above the cloud looking at her and smiling. Her ear seemed to hear his voice, "Lian Jiejie, your countenance will always look like a blooming flower and not a withered one." "A dream of a foolish man! Ever since the beginning of time, has there been any eternally young person? ... the next time you see me, I am afraid I will be a white-haired old granny!" "When your hair has turned white, I am going to find the panacea so you can restore your youthfulness." It was when Yu Luocha and Zhuo Yihang were telling each other their true feelings on the Bright Moon Gorge. Right now, what was meant to be a joke at that time had turned into a reality!

    The cloud changed its shape, 'Zhuo Yihang' was no longer there. With a bitter smile Yu Luocha said, "Even if there were a panacea in the world, I will not see you again, ever!"

    At first Yu Luocha was prepared that as soon as her strength was restored, she would go up Mount Wudang again to create havoc, to make Zhuo Yihang understand. Unexpectedly in just one night her life was changed greatly. Right now her heart was extremely sorrowful, even if Zhuo Yihang should come to her, she might went away to avoid him.

    Yu luocha lied down for half of a day, her clothes had already dried, the mountain breeze brought a faint ringing of the monastery's bell. Yu luocha scoffed coldly, right that moment she made a decision. She spoke into the sky, "From now on there is no Yu luocha in the world anymore, I must go to the place where I belong." Without looking back, she flew down the mountain.

    Back to Wudang Pai, which had suffered serious casualties from this battle. After twenty four hours, although White Stone and Green Palm's sealed acupoints had been opened, their joints, muscle and bones were still broken, so that they could not use swords. They had to use willow branches to set the broken bones and would need about half a year of treatment before they would be fully recovered.

    Priest Yellow Leaf was very much afraid that Yu luocha would return, he was waiting with trepidation for several days, luckily nothing happened. Zhuo Yihang's madness also seemed to be improving significantly; he was no longer crazily shouting and screaming.

    However, although Zhuo Yihang did not deliberately raise a clamor, his eyes did not show any sign of life, he looked like an idiot. Priest Yellow Leaf was extremely grieved, he strictly prohibited the other disciples from mentioning Yu luocha's name in front of him. Yellow Leaf devoted his energy to treat him. And so after three months of intensive care, Zhuo Yihang seemed to get his sanity back, but it was not often that he was willing to speak, as if he was treating his martial uncles and fellow disciples as total strangers.

    Priest Yellow Leaf set up guards to stay outside Zhuo Yihang's room around the clock, the security was really strict. Yellow Leaf was afraid Zhuo Yihang would commit suicide, oftentimes he would peek from the window at night, but everyday he would see Zhuo Yihang was cultivating his internal energy with his eyes closed, nothing seemed to be out of ordinary. Finally Priest Yellow Leaf felt relieved; he thought, "He still has the motivation to cultivate his skill, he won't commit suicide."

    There had been talk among the disciples about electing another Sect Leader, but Yellow Leaf never gave his consent. In reality, he could not find another talented person to take over the responsibility among Wudang's second generation disciples. Besides, Zhuo Yihang's rapid progress in internal energy cultivation was obvious to everybody.

    One day, an unexpected visitor had come up Mount Wudang, it was Murong Chong. After he was fully recovered, Murong Chong left Beijing. In his heart he was still thinking about the kindness Tie Feilong and Yu luocha had shown to him, thereupon when he wandered around Mount Wudang, he remembered Zhuo Yihang was a good friend of Yu luocha. But he also knew that Priest White Stone had always opposed their marriage. He mused, "Wudang Pai and Yu luocha become enemies, I share part of the blame. Back then Priest White Stone and I joined hands to crush Yu luocha's Bright Moon Gorge Stronghold, and thus deepening the enmity between the two parties. Presently Yu luocha and I have turned from enemies to friends, so I should mediate this matter as well." And thus he went up Mount Wudang and asked to see Priest White Stone.

    Priest White Stone was still recovering from his injuries, he was still staying at the Cloud Hall thereupon it was inconvenient for him to receive any visitor. Consequently, Murong Chong asked to see the Sect Leader Disciple, Zhuo Yihang.

    Seeing the visiting card, Priest Yellow Leaf remembered that Murong Chong and Wudang Pai had had some relationships in the past, thereupon he received the guest on behalf of Priest White Stone. When Murong Chong met with Priest Yellow Leaf, each one expressed their admiration to each other with sincerity.

    Priest Red Cloud also came out to greet the visitor. He asked, "How could Murong Zong Guan[7] have the leisure to enjoy visiting our desolate mountain? Right now the world is in turmoil, would Ten-thousand Year[8] allow Zong Guan to leave the Capital without worrying?"

    Murong Chong laughed and said, "Right now I am no longer an officer; that's why I am carefree. I no longer fight for fame and fortune."

    Red Cloud was startled, but he felt it was inappropriate to ask the details. Yellow Leaf laughed and said, "Very good, very good! Living like a wild crane flying over the clouds is much better than being a high-ranking official!"

    After exchanging some pleasantries, Murong Chong asked to see Zhuo Yihang. Yellow Leaf said, "He is not feeling very well."

    "What kind of illness?" Murong Chong asked.

    Priest Yellow Leaf was not accustomed to lying; with embarrassment he said, "He is not really sick per se."

    Murong Chong looked displeased. He said, "I consider Zhuo Xiong as a friend, I have come from thousands li and only ask to see him once."

    Yellow Leaf and Red Cloud could not answer. Murong Chong continued, "Your honorable sect is the Taishan and the Big Dipper[9] of the Wulin world, of course you would not consider me, Murong Chong, worthy to see your Sect Leader." Murong Chong had repeatedly made a name for himself in the Wulin world. According to Wulin custom, if a famous hero wanted to see a Sect Leader but was not allowed, it could be considered an insult.

    Yellow Leaf hastily said, "Mr. Murong misunderstood, let me get Yihang to come out."

    A moment later, Zhuo Yihang, accompanied by Yu Xincheng and Geng Shaonan, walked into the guest hall. Murong Chong saw that Zhuo Yihang's footsteps were firm and steady, his complexion was ruddy; he greeted with a laugh, "Zhuo Xiong, how are you?"

    Zhuo Yihang did not know that Murong Chong was no longer Yu luocha's enemy; with eyes wide open he said, "Very well, thank you! What do you want?"

    Murong Chong replied, "First, I want to pay my respects to you. Second, I want to inquire from you Yu luocha's whereabouts."

    As soon as he uttered those words, everybody in the hall was startled. "I don't know!" Zhuo Yihang said loudly.

    "Zhuo Xiong misunderstood," Murong Chong said, "Xiao Di[10] is not seeking revenge, but rather, seek to pay a debt of gratitude. Honestly, she is such a sincere and straightforward, kind and upright, amazing woman!"

    Zhuo Yihang was taken aback, and then he cried bitterly. Murong Chong said, "Zhuo Xiong is also a man of feeling, the two of you love each other deeply, you should be joined in marriage[11]. Brother Priest Yellow Leaf, forgive me for taking the liberty, but I want to be the matchmaker. Ha, ha ...!"

    Yellow Leaf's countenance changed greatly, with a loud voice he said, "Don't mention that lascivious demoness! Yihang, go back to your room! Xincheng, Shaonan, take him back!"

    Murong Chong was a proud man, in all his life, he only yielded to Tie Feilong and Yu luocha. Hearing that, he shouted, "Priest Yellow Leaf, it is still alright to insult me, you also dare to slander my benefactor too?"

    'Whoosh!' he sent out a fist, which Yellow Leaf parried with a sweep of his arm. Both of them had a profound internal strength, but Murong Chong was comparatively stronger. As two arms collided, 'Bang!' Priest Yellow Leaf was shaken and thrown back over a zhang away, while Murong Chong also staggered three steps backwards.

    With a loud voice Murong Chong called out, "Zhuo Yihang, you are crying, have you no shame? Yu luocha dares to do what she dares to wish, don't tell me you are inferior to a woman!"

    Zhuo Yihang had been depressed for several months, he was just like a volcano ready to erupt; as soon as Murong Chong spoke bluntly to him, he stopped crying and loudly said, "I am asking Shishu to excuse me and elect someone else as the Sect Leader, disciple is leaving!"

    Yellow Leaf and Red Cloud shouted together, "You must not leave!" Yellow Leaf leaped up, Murong Chong punched upward, forcing Yellow Leaf to jump back down. Red Cloud reached out to grab Zhuo Yihang's shoulder, but he felt Zhuo Yihang's shoulder was so slippery that his claw slipped. Zhuo Yihang shook his shoulder, like a fish he slipped out of the room.

    Turned out Zhuo Yihang's internal energy cultivation had enjoyed tremendous progress that he was now about equally matched with Red Cloud. Plus Red Cloud did not dare to use a killer move in trying to grab him.

    Priest Red Cloud dashed out to run after him, but with a loud roar Murong Chong sent out his left arm toward Red Cloud's armpit, while with his right foot he kicked Red Cloud's shin. Priest Red Cloud quickly swayed his hip to evade.

    Murong Chong laughed out loud and said, "Ox-nosed Old Taoists, you won't allow me to be the matchmaker, I won't comply to that!" Yellow Leaf pounced, Murong Chong stood on the door to block, slapping and kicking; the two of them were engaged in a fierce battle.

    Yu Xincheng and Geng Shaonan were trying to stop Zhuo Yihang, but they were pushed back and were thrown to the floor. Yellow Leaf and Red Cloud were enraged and stormed on Murong Chong, but Murong Chong was known as the 'Peerless Divine Fist', his boxing skills were far superior to theirs. Standing at the door, he was just like a steel barrier, so that although the two of them attacked dozens of times, they were unable to break through.

    Only after he was sure that Zhuo Yihang had escaped down the mountain did Murong Chong laugh aloud and said, "Ox-nosed Old Taoists, your Sect Leader is not a kid anymore, he wants to find a wife, why do you have to care? Ha, ha ... don't worry, I must go to catch up with him, I want to drink their celebratory wine. I’ll take my leave now, goodbye!"

    Priest Yellow Leaf's elbow struck out, followed by his palm. At the same time, Priest Red Cloud sent out a kick and a palm strike. Murong Chong burst into loud laughter, with a Crouching Tiger Turns Its Head, his right fist ferociously went backward, forcing Yellow Leaf to step back, and then throwing himself backward, both of his feet launched several kicks successively with Separating Flower Brushing Willow move, kicking Red Cloud's legs.

    Red Cloud's martial art skill was somewhat inferior. 'Bang! Bang!' he was kicked twice; like a rubber ball he was thrown more than a zhang away. 'Thud!' he fell under the sacrificial table, with a large lump on his forehead. Fortunately Murong Chong was being lenient and did not use all his strength in this kick, otherwise both of Red Cloud's legs would be swept broken.

    Murong Chong cupped his fists across his chest and said, "Pardon my offense! Pardon my offense! Goodbye, goodbye!" And he dashed out the door.

    Panting with rage, Red Cloud crawled up and said, "Shixiong, strike the warning bell, assemble the disciples to pursue the villain."

    With a bitter laugh Priest Yellow Leaf said, "Don't bother. Don't you think tying one enmity is enough? Do not tie another one."

    Actually, Red Cloud was just in a fit of anger, he blurted out without thinking. Now that he had given it another thought: White Stone and Green Palm had not recovered from their injuries, his Shixiong and himself were definitely not the enemy's match, let alone their disciples; what made him think that they would be able to stop Murong Chong?

    Yellow Leaf said, "We don't have to worry about Murong Chong, but we want Zhuo Yihang back. Lately, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. If Wudang Pai cannot find a talented individual as the Sect Leader to stimulate our progress, I am afraid within several years the name of Wudang Pai will not be resounding anymore." However, as soon as he left, Zhuo Yihang disappeared like a fish jumping into the abyss; other than a flying eagle, no one could find him.

    Back to Tie Feilong and Ke Pingting who were returning to their hometown of Longmen[12], Shanxi. Day and night they were expecting Yu luocha to come home together with Zhuo Yihang. But several months had passed, early autumn turned into cold winter, they had not heard even the news of Yu luocha.

    Ke Pingting was extremely anxious, "Could she be harmed by those Taoist priests on Mount Wudang?" she asked.

    "That's unlikely," Tie Feilong said with a laugh, "What I am afraid is that Zhuo Yihang had a change of heart."

    Ke Pingting said, "Come spring, let us go to Mount Wudang to inquire."

    Tie Feilong said, "Yu luocha and I are like real father and daughter, with you she is like your real sister; based on her character, even if she is frustrated in the realm of love, she would definitely not commit suicide. I'll say sooner or later she will come back." However, day after day they waited, Yu luocha still had not come back.

    Ke Pingting diligently studied the martial art manual left by Red Flower Demon Matriarch, and had enjoyed considerable progress. One night, past the third hour[13], Ke Pingting was in a deep slumber; half dreaming she suddenly saw a head on her window, looking in. The head had white hair draped over its shoulder and neck, its face was deathly pale, its eyes were flickering like fire. Ke Pingting was so terrified that she felt as if her soul had left her body. "A ghost!" she screamed. The head quickly pulled back.

    Tie Feilong heard the startled cry and pushed the window to look; he was also startled, but Tie Feilong had roamed the Jianghu for a long time, plus he was brave. He looked again carefully, and saw the 'female ghost' with white hair draped over her shoulder kneel down and kowtow to him twice then she turned around and left.

    Tie Feilong called out loudly, "Chang'er, come back! Pingting, get out quickly, meet your Jiejie!"

    Ke Pingting hurriedly threw on her outer garment and ran out. The white-haired woman had already flown out the house. Tie Feilong and Ke Pingting hastily ran out to pursue. One called out, "Chang'er, come back!" The other called out, "Jiejie, come back!"

    The white shadow suddenly turned around and said, "Ting Mei, I did not mean to scare you."

    Ke Pingting said, "I am not scared, even if you really have turned into a ghost, I am not scared!"

    The white shadow continued, "You must take a good care of Father; with you serving him, I have nothing to worry."

    Tie Feilong said, "Please come back."

    The white shadow turned toward him and kowtowed again twice, "Father," she said, "You must take care of yourself. I still haven't fulfilled my Shifu's wish, I have to keep my appointment with Yue Mingke!" Turning around, she swiftly walked away. At first they were still able to see a white shadow fleeting on the white snowy ground, but gradually the shadow blended with the snow, that in the end all they could see was a white vastness under the flickering stars above. Yu luocha had gone far!

    Tie Feilong returned to the house in low spirits. With tears streaming down her face, Ke Pingting said, "How could Lian Jiejie turn to be like that? What a pity about her peerless appearance, not yet old but her hair has turned white. How could she have the heart of not willing to live with us anymore?"

    Tie Feilong sighed. "Zhuo Yihang must've had a change of heart," he said, "Wu Zixu's hair also turned white in just one night, sorrow can harm people, it has happened. Your Jiejie usually cherished her looks, listening to the way she talked, she must be going to some wilderness and remote place to practice the sword with full concentration, she will no longer mind worldly matters." Father and daughter sighed repeatedly, and could not go back to sleep for a very long time.

    By the next day, Ke Pingting was still depressed, she took a walk alone outside the village. Suddenly she heard the jingling of horse's bell from the distance. A moment later a horse galloped by. The rider had blood all over his face. Dashing toward Ke Pingting, suddenly the rider toppled down from the horseback. There were several arrows sticking on the horse's body. As the rider fell, the horse neighed and scampered away.

    Ke Pingting helped the rider up. He was a young man with thick eyebrows and big eyes. The young man asked, "Is this Longmen, Tie Family Village?"

    "It is," Ke Pingting replied, "Who are you?"

    "Please help me quickly," the young man said.

    Such is: a stranger came to the deserted village, mighty waves rose up from the plain

    [1]Lit. Taoist (Older) Brother.

    [2]Martial (older) uncle.

    [3]From the dictionary: a system of five waterways around Tianjin, flowing into Bohai at Dagukou. However, the character ‘hai’ and ‘he’ mean ‘ocean’ and ‘river’, respectively, so it can also be translated as the vastness of the ocean and the river.

    [4]Sect Leader.

    [5]Between 11 am - 1 pm.

    [6]See Chapter 4.

    [7]Reminder: 'zong guan' means 'chief manager'.

    [8]Meaning: the Emperor.

    [9]'As weighty as Mt. Tai, as brilliant as the Big Dipper'. Meaning: the ultimate.

    [10]Lit. 'little younger brother' - referring to self. In this case he was holding Zhuo Yihang in a high regard.

    [11]Orig. 'mandarin duck pair or companion'.

    [12]Lit. Dragon Gate.

    [13]Between 11pm - 1 am.

  8. #28
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 27

    Chapter 27
    Accidentally leaving his name,
    A young man seeking protection.
    Remorse begets eternal regret,
    Young nobilities painstakingly seeking each other.
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    The young man was seriously injured and was extremely exhausted, as soon as he tumbled down from the horseback, he was unable to crawl back up. Ke Pingting helped him up and asked, "Who are you actually?"

    "Little girl, you talk too much," the young man said, "If you are willing to save me, just call Tie Feilong to come out; if you are not willing to save me, just help me get the saber on my back!" Ke Pingting still did not know the young man's origins. She was thinking of asking him further, but seeing his heavy injury, all of a sudden she took a pity on him.

    From outside the village came the faint jingle of several more horse's bells. The young man called out, "It's too late! Just help me get the saber on my back!"

    "What do you want to do with it?" Ke Pingting asked.

    The young man said, "I'd rather die than fall into the traitors' hands!"

    Ke Pingting mused, "This young man is frank and bold, he prefers death to disgrace, looks like he is not a bad person." Thereupon without hesitation she said, "Alright, I'll save you!"

    The hooves’ beats were getting closer. Ke Pingting carried the young man and put him inside the haystack on a wheat field by the road. In all her life Ke Pingting had never touched a man, plus that young man's body was heavy; the heavy load pressed the pit of her stomach that her chi could not flow. By the time she managed to hide him with great difficulty, the pursuing soldiers had reached the mouth of the village. Ke Pingting could be considered a meticulous person, hastily she took off her outer garment and stuffed it into the haystack, and then rub some dirt on her hands to conceal the bloodstains.

    A moment later the pursuing soldiers arrived. There were five riders, bearing a lofty manner. The leader asked, "Hey, Little Miss, have you seen an injured young man riding a horse passing through here?"

    "I did!" Ke Pingting said, "He is going that way!" while pointing to the direction of the Tie Family Village. The horse that the young man rode had also been wounded by several arrows, its blood dripped along the way.

    The riders looked at the trail, and then suddenly asked, "Isn't it Tie Family Village ahead?"

    "That's right," Ke Pingting replied, "That young man entered the Tie Family Village."

    The five riders dismounted their horses, they huddled up together and whispered to each other. One of them said, "Tie Feilong's temperament is strange, we can't make a demand to him." Another one said, "Don't you think we, five brothers, will be able to deal with him? We'll use courtesy first then if courtesy fails, we'll use force. Let's knock on his door and search." Yet another one shook his head vigorously in strong disagreement.

    While these five men were having a discussion, Ke Pingting was standing by the roadside, focusing her attention to eavesdrop; her eyes did not even blink. One of the riders was suddenly aware of her presence; he took two steps forward and with a nasty laugh asked, "Hey, who are you?"

    "I am a peasant girl," Ke Pingting replied, "I've been up since dawn to gather straw."

    "You are not from the Tie Family Village?" the man asked.

    "I am from the neighboring village," Ke Pingting answered.

    As soon as they arrived at the Tie Family Village, Ke Pingting washed her cosmetics clean, and wore peasant women's attire. Right now her beautiful face was smeared with mud; nobody could have guessed that not too long ago, she was a more luxurious woman than the Princess. However, these riders were Jianghu characters with vast experience; as soon as the man looked closer, he laughed aloud and said, "We have roamed the southern sky and the northern land, yet we are almost deceived by this little girl. Come, look ... " He pointed and said, "All of you, look, her face is smeared with mud, her body is wrapped in tight-fitting cotton clothes, but she is really attractive! Her speech is also very clear and coherent, she is not a peasant girl!"

    Ke Pingting's heart was shaken. The man harshly shouted, "Speak quickly, where did you hide that man? He is an extremely wicked, unpardonable criminal; you dare to hide him, you don’t want your lowly life anymore?”

    “What criminal? I don’t know what you are talking about,” Ke Pingting said. The man bellowed and stepped forward to seize Ke Pingting.

    "Don't be rash," another man shouted, "Ask her what's her relationship with Tie Feilong first?"

    The man said, "Tie Feilong's daughter is dead long ago, and he does not have any female disciple, I guess she is in cahoots with the bandit!" Without pausing his steps, he reached out to grab!

    Ke Pingting turned her body around to evade. The man called out, "Wow, you are quick, what a smart move! Obviously you belong to some martial art society!" Ke Pingting's move astonished the five riders, they knew she was not an ordinary peasant girl.

    The martial art skill of the man fighting Ke Pingting was really not weak; he used the northern style skill of chopping with the side of his palms. The movement of his hands and feet brought up strong gusts of wind. However, Ke Pingting's martial art was an authentic skill taught by the Red Flower Demon Matriarch. In the past, Red Flower Demon Matriarch was able to move unhindered in the Jianghu with her staff and pair of palms, her martial art skill was by no means low or weak. Her palm technique combined hard and soft, with strong internal energy; she was extremely formidable.

    Although Ke Pingting had not reached perfection, when she unleashed her palm technique by turning her body around and made a sweeping chop, the rider found it was difficult to deal with her. One of the riders watching from the side said, "No doubt this girl is an accomplice of that criminal, let's go together!"

    These five riders were the warriors serving under the western governor-general Chen Qiyu, they were on a mission to pursue the young man. However, these five men came from different backgrounds; three of them were originally chiefs of bandits from the west, they received amnesty from Chen Qiyu by becoming enlisted men. The other two were captains of the East Faction Guards, who were transferred into the western governor-general's army to provide assistance in suppressing bandit activities.

    The man fighting with Ke Pingting was one of the bandit chiefs. Seeing the disadvantageous situation, his other two bandit chiefs pulled out their weapons and attacked together. The two captains of the East Faction Guards watched from the side. After standing motionless with rapt attention, they looked at each other with astonishment. With one against three warriors, Ke Pingting did not show any sign of fear; her palms intertwined, she pointed to the east striking to the west, aimed to the south attacking to the north; there was detail within the swift and fierce movements, there was acupoint sealing technique within the chopping and hacking. The three warriors attacked her from all sides with all their might, but after fifty, seventy stances, victory and defeat had not been decided. Unfortunately, Ke Pingting had just made her debut, she did not have enough endurance in a prolonged battle, her palm movements became chaotic. The enemies tightened their siege; a saber, a whip and a pair of palms in tight coordination, they advanced bit by bit.

    Ke Pingting's clothes were wet with perspiration, the dirt and mud on her face were washed out by her sweats. In the violent battle, Ke Pingting became negligent, caught off-guard, the enemy's whip lashed out on her shoulder. "Aiyo!" she cried out in pain. The man who hit her laughed aloud and said, "Female bandit, you are still not surrendering? Quickly confess!"

    "Father! Come quick!" Ke Pingting called out, "There are people bullying your daughter!"

    The three warriors were startled; they asked sternly, "What is your relation to Tie Feilong?"

    "He is my father, so what?" Ke Pingting replied.

    The three men burst out in laughter and said, "You still want to deceive us, you want to frighten us, it's really a joke!" They tightened their encirclement.

    Suddenly there was a rustling noise from the haystack, as the injured young man crawled up and called out loudly, "Don't harass her, I am here. Take me away and let her go!"

    This turn of events was beyond anybody's expectation. The three warriors let Ke Pingting go and charged forward to catch 'the criminal'. Ke Pingting was taken aback; suddenly she heard someone calling out, "Aren't you the Princess[1]? Hey, Long Lao'er[2], hold on, this Miss is Madame Feng Sheng's daughter[3]!"

    Before their transfer, these two captains of the East Faction Guards had served in the palace. At that time Ke Pingting was highly revered and honored in the palace. These two men's positions were rather low, so that they did not have the qualifications to get close to her. Even so, they had seen her several times. When they met just now, they would never have guessed that this peasant girl was Ke Pingting, but after the dirt on her face was washed out by her sweats, they recognized her and hurriedly yelled, "Princess!"

    On the other hand, the three men who fought Ke Pingting were greatly shocked; holding back their weapons, they stood there with blank expressions on their faces.

    The injured young man was also extremely stunned; he froze absentmindedly and then suddenly called out, "What? Are you Madame Ke's daughter? Why, why did you save me? I don't need your pity, take me away!"

    Ke Pingting felt as if her heart was being twisted, she thought, "Turns out the heroes of Jianghu hate my mother very much."

    The two East Faction Guards captains bowed to show they respect, and reverently said, "Princess, this man is a rebel against the imperial court, he is a criminal whom Lord[4] Wei wants to capture, please hand him over to us so we can bring him back!”

    “Get lost,” Ke Pingting scolded them, “This man stays with me. If you want him, tell Wei Zhongxian to personally come and get him!”

    The fright of the three men, who fought Ke Pingting earlier, subsided somewhat, they all had the same thought, “This is really bad, she is Madame Ke’s treasured daughter, and we have injured her like this. If we return to the Palace and this matter is known, our capital offence will be difficult to forgive. Rather than facing death penalty, we’d better kill her to shut her mouth.”

    The man wielding a whip who injured Ke Pingting earlier rolled his eyes and suddenly barked, “Nonsense! What kind of Princess is she? Most likely she is just a look-alike. If she was the Princess, how could she be far away from the Palace and lives alone in this remote village?”

    As soon as they heard this, the two East Faction Guards captains understood his intention. They hesitated and could not decide whether they should help their companions killing her to shut her mouth, or to save her. In the meantime, the three men had already shouted and brandished their sabers and whip to attack again.

    From the small pathway a shadow flashed, like flying Tie Feilong dashed by; with raised eyebrows he shouted angrily, “Who dares to bully my daughter?” He arrived as soon as his voice was heard. His voice sounded like thunder, his palms like sudden lightning. The three men were just about to block him, Tie Feilong shot first with one palm followed by the other; his palms shook, his right foot swiftly kicked, with two palms and one kick he overthrew the three enemies.

    The two East Faction Guards captains hastily called out, “Old Hero Tie, please don’t get involved with our matter!”

    “They have not fought you?” Tie Feilong asked.

    “They haven’t,” Ke Pingting replied, “Please let them go!”

    “She is my daughter,” Tie Feilong harshly said, “You want to find the Princess, go someplace else. If you come across me again later, I am going to break your dog-legs immediately!" Tie Feilong did not know that they were hunting for a wanted criminal, he thought they were coming for Ke Pingting. The two East Faction Guards captains hastily scurried away like scared rats.

    Ke Pingting smiled and said, "Father, they were not here for me. They were here to capture this young gentleman."

    Tie Feilong looked at the direction indicated by Ke Pingting's finger, he said, "I thought he was injured by you. Uh, who are you? Aren't you that dumb kid who used to be with Wang Zhaoxi?"

    The injured young man had wanted to say something, but all along he was unable to interrupt the conversation. Now that he was asked, with a foolish looking smile he said, "That's right, you, Senior, have a very good memory. I am Bai Min. My Shimei has once lived in your precious village."

    Tie Feilong did not remember his name, and thus blurted out the word 'dumb kid'. Seeing Bai Min's grin as he acknowledging his identity, Tie Feilong could not help but laughing while he said, "I am old, memory not good, please don't be offended. Hey, how did you get injured? Tell me."

    "Zhaoxi Xiong told me to pay you, Senior, a visit," Bai Min said.

    Tie Feilong was astonished, "He is assisting the Roaming King, and is very busy with military affairs; why would he remember an old man like me?"

    "He does not particularly want me to visit you," Bai Min replied, "He wants me to come and inquire something from you. Ay, it's a long story ..."

    Seeing him speak frankly, Tie Feilong was delighted. Ke Pingting said, "Father, he is injured like that, let us take him home and let him have some rest before we continue talking."

    Tie Feilong laughed aloud and said, "I am such an old muddle head, you are much more understanding and considerate. However, although his injuries look serious, they are not fatal. He suffers arrows and blade wounds, no more than skin and flesh injuries. I'll wrap him up and within five days he will be recovered."

    Bai Min's body was strong; after recuperating in Tie Family Village for three days he was already able to move around. Ke Pingting had always lived in the Palace, and the people she came in contact with were mostly hypocritical and lowly people. After meeting Bai Min, she was very fond of his sincere and honest character, so she was delighted to spend time chatting with him. Tie Feilong found this to be amusing, he thought, "Truly people bind their own relationship with other people. Pingting is such a pampered and spoiled girl, yet unexpectedly she likes a dumb kid."

    As soon as Bai Min was feeling better, he told his story. Turned out when Li Zicheng was hiding in Qingling, he spent several years to rest and build up strength, his power increased greatly. Moreover, the militia he left behind in Shaanxi and Shanxi, two provinces, had enjoyed a considerable growth in the last several years. Li Zicheng planned on returning to the west, to move from the west via Tongguan to capture the entire country. Because Wang Zhaoxi was the son of Wang Jiayin, who was a major leader of the various groups of bandits around the northern Shaanxi province, Li Zicheng appointed him the important task of being the contact person with the militia in those two provinces, Shaanxi and Shanxi. Wang Zhaoxi sent Bai Min in advance to inform the leaders of the militia in these two provinces for an important meeting at a designated location. The Shaanxi leaders had already been contacted. The Shanxi meeting was decided to be held seven days later at Mount Zhongtiao, not more than three hundred li away from Longmen, Tie Feilong's residence. Therefore, Wang Zhaoxi told Bai Min that after he had accomplished his mission, he was to pay a visit to Tie Feilong. Unexpectedly, when Bai Min went all over the place to deliver the message, he was spotted by the undercover warriors working under Chen Qiyu, thereupon he was pursued and before reaching Longmen he was already injured.

    Bai Min also said, "Zhaoxi Xiong is prepared to arrive two, three days before the meeting, he told me to wait for him here. He wants to personally ask you, Senior, to leave the mountain[5]."

    Tie Feilong stroked his beard and said with a laugh, "I am old and unfit for anything. Perhaps in the future this daughter of mine will be able to lend you a hand."

    "Isn't she Madame Ke's daughter?" Bai Min asked.

    Instead of answering his question, Tie Feilong turned to Ke Pingting and asked, "They are opposing the Imperial Court, and refuse to co-exist with Wei Zhongxian. Do you wish to help them?"

    Ke Pingting replied, "If father says I can help, when my training of martial art skill is completed, I will follow the militia to join hands with them."

    Bai Min's eyes grew big, his impression of Ke Pingting was completely changed. Tie Feilong remembered that once he was thinking of betrothing his daughter to Wang Zhaoxi, his heart was not without a tinge of regret. He asked, "Has Zhaoxi married Miss Meng?"

    "I already have a two year-old nephew," Bai Min replied, "Meng Shimei is petite, she is also a quiet girl, but she has given birth to a fair-skinned and plump baby, and very mischievous! Ha ... ha ...! Meng Shimei also misses you, Senior, very much."

    Tie Feilong said, "I also want to see them."

    However, it was two days before the meeting, and Wang Zhaoxi had not arrived yet. Bai Min was very anxious. Tie Feilong contemplated for a long time, finally he said, “Let us go to meet him, Bai Min, how’s your injury?”

    “I am completely healed,” Bai Min replied. Thereupon the three of them left together for Mount Zhongtiao.

    As Tie Feilong and his company hastened toward Mount Zhongtiao, a man was walking alone by the side of the mountain. This man was Zhuo Yihang who escaped from Mount Wudang. “Would she be willing to see me? Would she pay me any attention?” These questions had formed a big knot in his heart, a knot that could not be untied until he saw Yu Luocha. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if Yu Luocha would be willing to see him or not, it doesn’t matter if he had to go to the ends of the earth, crossing thousand hills and ten thousand rivers, he simply must find her.

    “Where can I find her?” The first thing Zhuo Yihang remembered was Tie Feilong. He thought, “Yu Luocha is Tie Feilong’s foster daughter, Tie Feilong would certainly know her whereabouts. Perhaps Yu Luocha stays at his home.” Therefore, with only a sword on his body, he braved the morning breeze, treaded the waning moon, passing through the dangerous three gorges, from Hubei to Sichuan, from Sichuan entered Shaanxi, and from Shaanxi to Shanxi.

    During the several months journey, from the shaken-leaves-dancing-in-the-air of autumn to snowflakes-fluttering-in-the-breeze of winter; this particular day he reached the side of Mount Zhongtiao, less than three hundred li away from Longmen, where Tie Feilong lived.

    The sky was hazy, twilight had fallen upon him, the snow was falling heavier and heavier. Zhuo Yihang was hoping that perhaps in a couple of days he would be able to see the love of his life again. Although the north wind chilled his bones, the cold cut his muscles, his heart was burning. In his eagerness, he missed finding a lodging place, and before he realized, the sky had turned completely dark.

    The mountain path was difficult, the night was cold, the snow was slippery. Zhuo Yihang looked at the haziness all around him, braving the cold wind he muttered softly, "Snowflakes won't cold a dead man's heart, at the corner of the ocean or at the end of the world, the distance can only make the heart grows fonder!" He spoke those words, but because he had already been hurrying along for many days, in the end he could not bear the exhaustion plus the cold and the hunger.

    There was a rustic temple by the mountain, a temple where the villagers offered sacrifice to the mountain deities; but presumably because it was a winter day of the twelfth month, nobody came to light up incense, hence the temple felt very desolate. Escaping the winter, wild birds and bats built their nests in the temple; hearing the noise of a human, they flapped their wings and flew out. Zhuo Yihang mused, "I am just like these flocks of birds and beasts, taking a nap in this place."

    Zhuo Yihang entered the temple and drank cold water to wash down his dry rations. Opening the curtain of the temple idol, he found the place behind the idol to be quite clean, thereupon he lay down fully clothed on the floor. Originally he only wanted to take a short nap, but because he was extremely weary, he fell into a deep sleep as soon as he lay down.

    After sleeping for nobody knows how long, he had a dream. In his dream he saw Yu Luocha came to him, letting out a long whistle. He woke up with a start, but the sound of whistle was still ringing in his ears. Suddenly the whistle changed, it sounded like the cry of an owl, it was extremely disturbing. "Could it be that I wasn't dreaming?" Zhuo Yihang wondered, "Lian Jiejie is really here. No, it isn't she! Her laughter does not sound like this; this is awful!"

    He was thinking of crawling out, but suddenly heard footsteps, someone was walking into the temple. Zhuo Yihang pulled the corner of the idol curtain and opened his eyes wide to look outside; he was nearly screaming from fright. From the reflection of light on the snow accumulating in the temple courtyard, he could see two men with colorless faces; they resembled human for only 30%, the other 70% they looked like ghosts. Both men were laughing with grating noises. The hair on their heads was disheveled, both were tall and thin, and they looked exactly alike!

    Calming himself down, Zhuo Yihang heard one of them say, "Lao'er[6], we scared him well and showed him who is in charge!" From a leather sack he took two round and fuzzy things; Zhuo Yihang focused his vision on those things and to his surprise, those two things were two severed heads!

    The man who spoke earlier put the severed heads on the sacrificial table. Zhuo Yihang could not see, but he heard the noise of flint stone and soon he smelled incense burning while the sudden light dazzled his eyes. 'What kind of trick they were doing?' he wondered. A moment later, there was the sound of hoof beats coming toward the temple. Those two men stood up suddenly, with a strange voice they called out, “Wang Xiong is truly a man of his words, you really came! We have your good friends waiting for you here!”

    The man outside answered, “Shen Laoda[7], Shen Lao’er, you two are early. Who else do you have in there? Aren’t you breaching our prior agreement?”

    As Zhuo Yihang heard that, he thought the voice was familiar, turned out it was indeed Wang Zhaoxi. In all his life, Zhuo Yihang only had two best friends, one was Yue Mingke, the other was Wang Zhaoxi. Although Wang Zhaoxi and he took different paths, they had always treated one another with absolute sincerity. Hearing his voice, he could not help but be delighted; but as Wang Zhaoxi finished speaking, Zhuo Yihang was astonished. “Shen Laoda, Shen Lao’er?” he mused, “Aiyo, I wonder if they are the Two Shen Brothers of the Shaanbei[8], Shen Dayuan and Shen Yiyuan? I have long heard that these two men’s martial art is strange, their conduct is absurd; how did Wang Zhaoxi end up making appointment to meet them here?”

    The temple gate opened, Wang Zhaoxi walked in slowly, suddenly he cried out in fear, “Aren’t they the Night Owl Du Wu and Eagle-shooting-to-the-sky Zhang Si[9]? You … why did you do such a cruel thing?”

    With his grating voice Shen Dayuan laughed and said, “They did not obey Eight Great King’s order, we have no choice but to kill them as an example to others[10]!”

    “This is definitely not Eight Great King’s idea,” Wang Zhaoxi said, “Eight Great King has sword brotherhood with our Young Roaming King, how can he kill our people?"

    With a clear and loud voice Shen Yiyuan said, "Young Roaming King? Humph, what Young Roaming King? When we start roaming, he has not even broken through[11] his mother's belly yet, who does he think he is, to think of holding command over the heroes of the two provinces? Eight Great King may be willing to swear brotherhood with him, but we are not going to buy that idea."

    The Eight Great King was Zhang Xianzhong, the Young Roaming King was Li Zicheng. A few years back, Zhang Xianzhong led thirty six camps of outlaws, he attacked Shanxi with more than twenty thousand men but was defeated by the Ming Dynasty's governor-general Hong Chengchou. Their group fled into Henan and Hebei, two provinces, but again they were impeded by Ming's imperial army. From Henan they flee to Hubei's border, from Hubei they once again were forced to flee to Sichuan. In the meantime Li Zicheng also entered Sichuan from the west, to train his troops at Qinling; and thus the two men bound themselves in brotherhood.

    Zhang Xianzhong's power in Sichuan was rather significant, thereupon Li Zicheng struck an agreement with him, giving Sichuan to him as the base of his military activities, while Li Zicheng would return to the west. As for Shanxi, if one goes back in history, it was originally Zhang Xianzhong's domain; but he was perfectly satisfied to acquire Sichuan. He thought, 'It was beyond my control[12] anyway; after acquiring the 'heavenly province'[13], why would I want the impoverished Shanxi?' Consequently, by verbal agreement he gave Shanxi to Li Zicheng, so that Li Zicheng could expand his power in Shanxi. This was precisely the reason Li Zicheng dispatched Wang Zhaoxi to contact the militia in Shaanxi and Shanxi, two provinces.

    Unexpectedly, the Shen Brothers refused to accept; when they found out about Zhang Xianzhong and Li Zicheng's agreement, they went to see Zhang Xianzhong and with strong words persuaded him not to give up his control over Shanxi. Zhang Xianzhong was swayed, but he thought it would be embarrassing to breach the agreement, thereupon he washed his hands and let them deal with this situation. The Shen Brothers knew that Wang Zhaoxi had made contact with all militia leaders and was about to have an assembly on Mount Zhongtiao. Thereupon two days before the assembly, they wanted to negotiate with Wang Zhaoxi first. On the other hand, Wang Zhaoxi also heard the rumor about their activity in Shanxi, so he also wanted to approach them and discuss it clearly with them, and thus he agreed to meet with them. Who would have thought that the Shen Brothers were vicious and merciless; not only they killed Du Wu and Zhang Si, two militia leaders who were strong advocates to the acceptance of Roaming King's leadership, but also brought their severed heads to frighten Wang Zhaoxi.

    Restraining his anger, Wang Zhaoxi talked to them, but the more they talked, the more they realized the meeting had reached a deadlock. Wang Zhaoxi said, "Actually, we should cooperate to reach the common goal, together we attempt to achieve the important matter, it doesn't matter who will be the leader. However, since you wish to work separately, you should not seize any opportunity trying to gain the power. More importantly, we should not massacre one another! Since this is what you want, I have no choice but ask the heroes to make a joint decision the day after tomorrow."

    Shen Dayuan rolled his strange-looking eyes, with a loud laughter he said, "Do you still think that you will be alive the day after tomorrow?"

    Wang Zhaoxi indignantly said, "What do you think?"

    Shen Dayuan said, "Little kid, when your father was still alive, he did not dare to criticize us like this. Since you dare to be rude, we'll invite you to go together with the Night Owl and Eagle-shooting-to-the-sky, just go happily and peacefully!"

    "Do you dare?" Wang Zhaoxi shouted harshly.

    Shen Dayuan let out a loud wild laughter and shouted back, "What makes you think I wouldn’t dare?" With a forward leap he swung his arm to grab Wang Zhaoxi's body. But Wang Zhaoxi was not an unskilled person, he dodged slightly and pulled out his sword. Shen Dayuan's palm chopped down, Wang Zhaoxi flipped his sword and pared away. Shen Dayuan laughed and said, "Little kid, what else can you do? Just show me all!" With a sudden and unexpected movement his body charged straight in, his left palm pushed the sword’s body sideways with his internal strength, his right palm went down to cut Wang Zhaoxi's knee followed by horizontal strike of his left palm toward his lower abdomen.

    It was a stance from the Three-Style Wild Fox Fist. Shen Dayuan thought: 'Wang Jiayin's martial art skill is almost on par with mine, how high could his son's skills be? He definitely won't escape from this stance.' He did not know that Wang Zhaoxi was 'blue comes from indigo, but blue surpasses indigo'; he saw the sword in Wang Zhaoxi's right hand dropped down to intercept the attack on his knee, while his left hand formed a hook to catch the enemy's wrist. Simultaneously he launched two stances, one offensive the other defensive, with near perfect execution; it was exactly the stance to break Shen Dayuan's unique skill!

    Shen Dayuan was slightly shocked, he no longer dared to underestimate the enemy. His hand, as big as a cattail fan, pushed aside, while like a halberd his left hand finger reached around Wang Zhaoxi's head to seal the dashing-to-the-sky acupoint on the back of his head. Hearing the gust of wind behind his head, Wang Zhaoxi ducked down, rotating his sword from the wrist, he went straight into Shen Dayuan’s line of defense, changing the stance to Black Tiger Rotates Its Tail, coiling and sweeping down at the same time.

    “Good!” Shen Dayuan exclaimed, like a pinwheel his body turned, his hands turned into fists and palms indeterminately, with occasional finger poking to seal acupoints. All his stances were meant to kill, giving Wang Zhaoxi such a hard pressure that he was not able to take a breather.

    These two men’s fierce combat had frightened the bats, squeaking noisily they flew out of the temple randomly; the dust rose up everywhere. On top of that, with the Shen brothers strange appearance, the situation appeared to be more dreadful, frightening to the eyes. Zhuo Yihang watched the fight for a moment, and saw that although Wang Zhaoxi's swordsmanship was very refined, in the end he still had to concentrate more in defense and less in offense. Shen Dayuan's palm technique was very strange, obviously his strike was not going to reach certain direction, but suddenly his attack changed toward that direction. Moreover, it was difficult to predict whether it was a real strike or a fake one, even Zhuo Yihang was not able to decipher the logic behind it.

    After fighting for a while, Shen Dayuan intensified his offense, Wang Zhaoxi reduced the circle, his sword's ray danced like a long rainbow, protecting his body. Shen Yiyuan called out, "Gege, don't waste time, just finish him up!"

    "Alright," Shen Dayuan said, "Use a heavy hand to strike his back."

    These two brothers' martial art skills were identical. Normally, when they met a powerful enemy, they would always fight together. Tonight, however, since Wang Zhaoxi was a junior, only one of them fought. Who would have thought that although Shen Dayuan had spent considerable effort, although he gained the upper hand, he was involved in a long battle.

    As soon as Shen Yiyuan joined the fight, immediately Wang Zhaoxi faced enemies in front of him and at his back; danger sprang up all around him. Wang Zhaoxi fought with everything he had, blocking the front and parrying the back, while striving to escape. Shen Dayuan laughed aloud and said, "Unless the mountain deity of this temple comes down to save you, don't even think of running away!" Sending his internal strength into his palm, he forced Wang Zhaoxi to retreat step by step, slowly toward the temple idol.

    Shen Yiyuan's palm hacked down, when the wind of the palm arrived, the curtain behind the idol flew up, a streak of bluish light suddenly struck out like a lightning. Shen Dayuan found it was too late to resist, his ankle was cut by the sword. He only heard someone was laughing and saying, "The mountain deity has arrived!"

    "Ah, Zhuo Xiong," Wang Zhaoxi exclaimed, "How come you are here?"

    "Let's finish these two evil thieves first, then we can talk," Zhuo Yihang replied. His sword went straight toward Shen Yiyuan. Wang Zhaoxi also turned around and fought again, he stormed toward Shen Dayuan.

    Shen Yiyuan recognized Zhuo Yihang, but he did not consider him worthy to be his adversary. Brandishing his left arm, he attempted to snatch Zhuo Yihang's sword; his right palm went straight in, followed by his left hand sweeping Zhuo Yihang's knee. Zhuo Yihang spun his body on his heel; although Shen Yiyuan's palm was unbelievably fast the fact that his chop missed shocked his heart. Right that instant Zhuo Yihang unleashed his sword technique, a bluish ray flashed, with the stance Riding the Dragon Leading the Phoenix, he seized the opportunity to counterattack. 'Shua! Rip!' a piece of Shen Yiyuan's sleeve was cut down. Luckily Shen Yiyuan's movements were very quick, otherwise the sword would have cut his wrist and bore through his abdomen.

    Shen Yiyuan was furious, he waved his arm and all the joints of his bones were cracking, unexpectedly his arm lengthened by about two cun[14], his open palm turned into a spear hand, threatening the 'time-gate' acupoint on the side of Zhuo Yihang's body. It was the Shen Brothers' unique skill, it was strange beyond belief!

    Actually, when martial art masters fight, oftentimes the difference between victory or defeat was only a hairbreadth; this attack should have been difficult for Zhuo Yihang to evade, luckily he had the benefit of being the spectator when he was watching the battle a moment ago. He knew the Shen Brothers possess such a strange martial art skill, therefore, he was completely on-guard early on, even when he gained an advantage, he did not pursue and attack. As soon as Shen Yiyuan launched this stance, like a tiger he sprung to the left to evade, while his sword pared down to neutralize the incoming force.

    Over the past year Zhuo Yihang's martial art skill had advanced tremendously, his mastery of the Wudang's 72-Style of the Sequential-Linking Life-snatching Sword Skill had reached an unprecedented level, he was able to move the sword at will, just like it was an extension of his arm or hand, attacking or defending at his heart's desire, truly like flowing water or floating cloud, soaring and moving nimbly. Although Shen Yiyuan's martial art was strange, he was under so much pressure that very soon he was at a disadvantageous position.

    On the other side, Shen Dayuan and Wang Zhaoxi were also entangled in a fierce battle. Shen Dayuan's power was very strong, his skill was also above Wang Zhaoxi's; however, his ankle was injured by Zhuo Yihang's sword just now, he was not able to step, shift, dodge, leap, as agile as he used to. As a result, Wang Zhaoxi was able to fight him evenly; not only that, he was also slowly pushed into a disadvantageous position.

    After fighting for more than a hundred stances, the Shen Brothers realized tonight it would be difficult for them to prevail, hence a moment later they called to each other to turn around and flee. However, Wang Zhaoxi hated them for committing outrageous crimes, for destroying the Roaming King's project of paramount importance; he did not want to let them go, thereupon he charged two steps forward to guard the temple's gate, while increasing the power of his sword.

    Shen Dayuan was quite inconvenienced by his injury, he could not jump, he could not charge out; he could only grit his teeth and fight fiercely. As for Shen Yiyuan, his situation was worse, he was enshrouded by Zhuo Yihang’s sword. The sword’s ray curled up, the sword’s shadow danced around, with Shen Yiyuan trapped in the middle, unable to escape at all!

    While the Shen Brothers’s situation became more serious, suddenly they heard a flock of horses neighing outside the temple, followed by noisy chatter of people; apparently a group of people were dismounting their horses and rushing up the mountain slope.

    Shen Dayuan angrily said, “Wang Zhaoxi, you are a junior; why don’t you keep your words and have people come here to ambush your old man?”

    But Wang Zhaoxi was also thinking that those incoming people were sent by the Shen Brothers; hearing Shen Dayuan, he was stunned and shouted, “Aren’t they here to help you? Let’s stop fighting now, they must be the imperial army!” With a loud bang the temple gate shattered into smithereens, a dozen or more soldiers rushed in; their leader were unexpectedly Lian Chenghu and Jin Qianyan.

    Actually, in Murong Chong’s absence, Lian Chenghu was promoted to be the Chief of the East Faction Guards. It was because of an urgent military situation that he was dispatched to the front, in his capacity as the inspector-general of the ‘raid-the-bandits army’. Jin Qianyan was Jin Duyi’s nephew. He did not dare to return home after Jin Duyi was killed by Yue Mingke, because Jin Qianyan was afraid of the Red Flower Demon Matriarch. Relying on his connections with the officers, he became a captain in the West Faction Guards. After Red Flower Demon Matriarch’s death, he was even more out of control. This time he also received the assignment to aid Lian Chenghu, who was supervising and directing Chen Qiyu’s operation in monitoring Wang Zhaoxi’s activities in the two provinces, thereupon he asked to be personally involved in the hunting and capturing of the criminal.

    Lian Chenghu’s original intention was to capture Wang Zhaoxi only, hence he was pleasantly surprised to also see the Shen Brothers and Zhuo Yihang in the temple. He knew that the Shen Brothers were renowned bandits of the north; to be able to find them while hunting for Wang Zhaoxi was really an unexpected bonus for him. He also knew that Zhuo Yihang was the Sect Leader Disciple of Wudang Pai, therefore, although he knew that Zhuo Yihang was Wang Zhaoxi’s good friend, he was unwilling to sow enmity with Wudang Pai whose strength he knew so well. And thus as Wang and Zhuo had just stopped fighting with the two Shen brothers while the imperial soldiers rushed in, with a loud voice Lian Chenghu shouted, “This Zhuo Gongzi[15] is a good friend, don’t harm him. Seize those three evil thieves! Zhuo Gongzi, you’d better withdraw from the battlefield and go away quickly!”

    Zhuo Yihang was furious, launching the stance Sword in the midst of Wind and Thunder, 'whoosh!' his sword cut horizontally in a powerful and swift motion. Lian Chenghu was caught off guard, his fingers were almost cut. "You don't want to listen to good advice, you will regret it!" he angrily said. Turning his pair of hooks around, he wrapped it around the blade of the sword.

    In the meantime, Jin Qianyan led the soldiers to attack. "What should we do?" Shen Dayuan called out. Wang Zhaoxi replied, "Crossing the river in the same boat, we set aside our differences!" Brandishing his sword, he made the first move by attacking Jin Qianyan.

    The Shen Brothers let out strange laughter and suddenly made their move; two captains of the East Faction Guards were grabbed and flung away, while they dashed toward the gate in an attempt to escape. There were quite a number of martial art masters among the incoming soldiers, seeing the Shen Brothers' vicious wolf-like power, they hastily blocked the exit.

    Swords and halberds like a forest, sabers and spears danced in the air, immediately the four men were surrounded in the middle. Lian Chenghu's martial art skill was not weak at all, his pair of hooks turned, soared and revolved everywhere like a furious dragon or a frightened python; if Zhuo Yihang's martial art skill did not advance greatly, he would be hard-pressed just to keep up. Even with his current skill level, he could only ward off the attacks without any strength left to counterattack. Fortunately Lian Chenghu was interested in Wang Zhaoxi and not in Zhuo Yihang; in the tangled battle, oftentimes he would leave Zhuo Yihang to attack Wang Zhaoxi. But Zhuo Yihang stayed close to Wang Zhaoxi, they fought side-by-side, so even though Lian Chenghu continually launched killer attacks, he was not able to harm Wang Zhaoxi the least bit.

    Wang, Zhuo, and the two Shen Brothers fought hard from midnight to almost dawn, they fought bravely with everything they had. However, with the prolonged battle, Shen Dayuan's injury was getting worse, he found it harder and harder to move around, so gradually he showed the sign of weariness. Lian Chenghu could see this and delightedly said, "Finish this evil thief first!" Leaving Wang and Zhuo, his pair of hooks reached out like a pair of scissors to cut Shen Dayuan's neck. Shen Dayuan roared, his right arm swept. 'Bang!' Lian Chenghu was hit on the shoulder by Shen Dayuan's unique skill, his shoulder blade broke in two sections, but Shen Dayuan was also hit by his hooks, a large piece of Shen Dayuan's skin and flesh was torn. Wang Zhaoxi was greatly shocked, 'shua! shua!' his sword cut across, followed by a straight thrust, and only then he was barely able to save Shen Dayuan from danger!

    Receiving this additional injury, Shen Dayuan was getting weaker. Actually, among the four people, his martial art skill was the strongest, but now he had to rely on the other three to keep him safe. The crowd of soldiers could also see this situation, realizing they had gained the upper hand, the soldiers tightened their siege.

    While the battle was raging, dawn had already come; suddenly there was a long and loud whistle from afar coming near, the whistle was deep and low, everybody was able to hear it clearly. Hearing the whistle, Wang Zhaoxi and Zhuo Yihang were delighted, they called out together, "Senior Tie is here!" Wang Zhaoxi added, "Shen Laoda, don't be discouraged, the one coming over is Tie Feilong, whose prestige has shaken the northwest region, we may be able to break through!" Wang Zhaoxi did not know that the Shen Brothers once had an enmity with Tie Feilong, they had suffered a major defeat under Tie Feilong's palms.

    As soon as he heard the whistle, Lian Chenghu's countenance changed; he called out, "Quickly finish these few little thieves then we'll deal with the old thief together!" With strong gusts of wind his pair of hooks attacked ruthlessly!

    Jin Qianyan's Venomous Palms of the Yin Winds was actually similar to the Shen Brothers' Wild Fox Fist, they were both heretical sects' martial art skill; just like fighting poison with poison, neither side gained an upper hand against the other. By this time Jin Qianyan was pressing Shen Yiyuan. The rest of the soldiers also intensified their attack; it appeared that very soon they would be able to kill Wang, Zhuo and the two Shen Brothers, four people.

    The whistle was getting nearer, the Shen Brothers were identical twins, they shared the same thought, without consulting each other, they both thought, "Facing great calamity, it's only natural Wang Zhaoxi wanted to join hands with us to fight the enemy, but after the siege is over, who can tell if he won't change his mind? If he joins hands with the old thief Tie to deal with us, we, two brothers, would die without burial ground!"

    These two Shen Brothers had the heart of lowly people in their gentlemen's bellies. They signaled each other with their eyes, and in the blink of an eye they both turned around and grabbed; Shen Dayuan grabbed Wang Zhaoxi, Shen Yiyuan grabbed Zhuo Yihang, while shouting loudly, "We help you! Quickly capture these men!"

    This turn of events was beyond anybody's expectation. Lian Chenghu was stunned, and then he called out, "Good, good!"

    In two big strides Shen Dayuan walked toward Jin Qianyan. Jin Qianyan thought the Shen Brothers had surrendered by betraying their friends to seek personal glory, and thus they were now on the same side, hence he did not guard against them at all. Who would have thought Shen Dayuan suddenly bellowed and stretched out his arm and managed to grab Jin Qianyan at the back of his neck. He lifted Jin Qianyan's body and used it as a weapon, turning it around like a whirlwind, while laughing aloud and said, "Your old men never surrender to anybody; brother, let's go!" And they broke through the encirclement!

    This chain of events occurred in the twinkling of an eye, the soldiers were cautious about attacking them for fear of harming their companion, so they stepped out of the way. By the time Lian Chenghu realized what had happened, the Shen Brothers had already outside the temple gate. Lian Chenghu was enraged, he lifted his pair of hooks up and struck it down toward Wang and Zhuo, two people. Wang and Zhuo were injured by the Shen Brothers's grab earlier, they were unable to move swiftly. Seeing the pair of hooks went down, they were powerless to evade.

    In this instant, Zhuo Yihang suddenly leaned sideways, staggering as if he was about to fall, but the sword in his hand suddenly went up. On the surface it looked like a desperate attempt without any technique, who would have thought that as soon as Lian Chenghu's hook arrived, it was shaken and flew to the air, while the momentum of Zhuo Yihang's sword did not diminish, it continued moving from the direction Lian Chenghu did not anticipate. 'Stab!' the sword penetrated Lian Chenghu's left arm to the bone!

    Lian Chenghu screamed in pain and hastily withdrew several steps back; the pain penetrated deep into his bones and marrow, immediately his left arm limped down. Not even in his wildest dream would he expect Zhuo Yihang's swordsmanship to be this exquisite, he could not help but feeling discouraged.

    What happened was that the stance Zhuo Yihang was forced to launch in the dire circumstance was one of several sword techniques left behind by Dharma ancestor. The elders of Wudang Pai thought that the techniques were fragmented and appeared random, lacking any methodicalness; they had always thought that these techniques were impractical in a real battle. Yet Zhuo Yihang had spent considerable effort in practicing the moves to near perfection. Brazenly he tried the move and the result was beyond his expectation; indeed it was astonishingly amazing, the power was great, high above his imagination.

    As his sword move was successful, Zhuo Yihang's courage increased suddenly. 'Shua! Shua!' he launched several stances, pointing to the east striking to the west, aiming to the south attacking to the north; in an instant he injured several more soldiers. Lian Chenghu was both shocked and angered, moving his pair of hooks, he protected his own chest with the left hook and blocked the enemy's attack with the right hook, carefully entering the battleground again.

    Zhuo Yihang, after all, only knew several strange moves; several stances later, he was again forced to draw back. Although Lian Chenghu was injured, his martial art skill was still above Zhuo Yihang's, besides, Wang and Zhuo, two men, had also sustained some injuries; furthermore, they were heavily outnumbered, by relying on several strange moves, in the end it was difficult for them to stand. And so their situation became critical once more.

    The sound of whistle outside the door rose up. Zhuo Yihang was greatly delighted, he stood his ground with all his might, thinking that Tie Feilong would arrive shortly. To his surprise, however, the whistle suddenly stopped, it vanished into the thin air. Leading his warriors, Lian Chenghu intensified their attack. Amidst the tangled battle, Zhuo Yihang's inner thigh was hit by a saber that he cried out in pain. Wang Zhaoxi anxiously called out, "Old Hero Tie, why aren't you here yet?" Lian Chenghu raised his double hooks like a pair of scissors to shear Wang Zhaoxi's wrists!

    Back to Tie Feilong. He was a seasoned Jianghu warrior. Bai Min told him that Wang Zhaoxi would arrive two, three days before the meeting on Mount Zhongtiao, and possibly would come directly to his house. However, when Wang Zhaoxi did not arrive by the appointed time, he knew something was amiss; thereupon taking Bai Min and Ke Pingting along, they hastened for a day and a night, riding three stallions, taking only short breaks along the way, toward Mount Zhongtiao. Suddenly they saw a dozen or so horses grazing on the hillside. Tie Feilong dismounted and crouched down with his ear on the ground, he could hear the faint noise of battle on the hill. He said to Bai Min, "Wang Zhaoxi must have fallen into an ambush, we have come just in time!" Thereupon he let out a loud whistle to let Wang Zhaoxi know they were coming so that he would fight courageously.

    The three of them left their horses and climbed up the hill, and saw the desolate temple in the wilderness; the battle noise came precisely from this temple. With a silly looking grin Bai Min said, "They do pick a good place to fight; the wilderness is wide open yet they do not fight outside, but chose to fight in the temple? Perhaps they want to scare the mountain spirits?" Ke Pingting blurted out a laughter. Bai Min asked, "Miss Ke, did I say something wrong?"

    While still talking, they suddenly saw two men rushing out of the temple. "Let me stop them!" Tie Feilong called out. When he focused his attention, he recognized those two as the two freaks from the Shen family. Shen Dayuan even carried on his shoulder Jin Duyi's nephew, Jin Qianyan. Tie Feilong was indeed taken by surprise. With a harsh voice he asked, "Is Wang Zhaoxi inside?"

    "What Wang Zhaoxi?" Shen Dayuan replied, "I don't know. We, two brothers were taking a shelter from the snow inside the temple and fell into an ambush; we had a hard fighting with a dozen captains of the East Faction Guards and the warriors sent by Chen Qiyu. We captured this man and were able to escape. Old Tie, right now are exhausted and weary, this is the best time for you to capture us to offer a meritorious deed to the government."

    Tie Feilong was angry, "Rubbish!" he bellowed, "Do you think Old Tie is that kind of person? Who else is inside? How come the imperial troops did not come out to pursue you?"

    With a big grin Shen Dayuan said, "Old Tie, do you think we, two brothers, are juniors who are easy to be dealt with? Although I received injury, we have also wounded a dozen or so of them. Right now they are tending to their dead and injured, even Jin Qianyan is captured by us, how can they dare to pursue us?"

    Tie Feilong noticed that his ankle was bleeding and he was limping, plus they had indeed captured Jin Qianyan; he thought that these two brothers' martial art skill was not bad, so they seemed to be telling the truth. Since Wang Zhaoxi was not inside the temple, why would he give those wounded soldiers more trouble? Thereupon he halted his steps.

    Shen Dayuan said, "Old Tie, since you are not going to capture us to offer a meritorious deed to the government, then, please excuse us, we want to go!"

    "If you want to go, just go! No need to talk too much!" Tie Feilong said.

    The Shen brothers swiftly run down the mountain. "Wait a moment!" suddenly Tie Feilong called out.

    "What?" Shen Dayuan turned around and asked, "You change your mind?"

    Tie Feilong said, "Leave Jin Qianyan to me!"

    Exerting his strength, Shen Dayuan threw Jin Qianyan away. Jin Qianyan screamed miserably in the air, and by the time he landed on Tie Feilong's arms, he was already motionless. Tie Feilong looked down and saw that Jin Qianyan's throat was crushed by Shen Dayuan's palm power.

    Tie Feilong said, "This man was the murderer of Priest Zhenqian, he also had a part in harming my daughter, his death is not worth to be regretted! Let's just feed him to the hungry wolves!" Swinging his arm, he tossed Jin Qianyan's body into the valley below.

    Suddenly he remembered, "Why did Shen Dayuan have to kill him first before throwing him to me?" Tie Feilong was a veteran of the Jianghu, he knew all kinds of tricks and dirty ways of the underworld; suddenly he realized, 'Could it be that he killed to shut his mouth? What does Shen Dayuan hide that he does not want me to know?'

    Right that moment, Zhuo Yihang's miserable cry was heard from the temple, followed by Wang Zhaoxi's shout, calling on Tie Feilong's name. "Not good!" Tie Feilong cried out, "I have fallen into Shen Dayuan's trick! He was stalling me, he wanted to commit murder by borrowing someone else's blade, by letting the government troops to get rid of Wang Zhaoxi before I arrive!"

    Seeing through the sinister plot, Tie Feilong flew into a rage; by now it was too late to pursue the Shen brothers, like a tiger he roared and leaped up the hill and dashed into the temple, only to see with a flickering pair of hooks Lian Chenghu was about to kill Wang Zhaoxi! With eyes open wide Tie Feilong bellowed and without too much trouble grabbed the warrior who was coming to stop him, and threw him toward Lian Chenghu.

    Lian Chenghu dodged sideways, his double hooks stabbed the warrior's body. Taking this opportunity, Wang Zhaoxi raised his sword and dashed forward. Zhuo Yihang's spirit was also greatly roused, successively he launched three attacks and injured three enemies, and then he also dashed forward.

    "Zhuo Yihang, you are here too?" Tie Feilong called out.

    Like a tornado Lian Chenghu stormed toward Tie Feilong. Tie Feilong roared again and struck with both of his palms. Lian Chenghu blocked with his pair of hooks. After being injured, his left arm lost its strength, as soon as it collided with Tie Feilong's palm power, the left hook was jolted, it flew to the air and pierce the rafter of the temple. Not daring to fight, he hastily ran out of the temple. Tie Feilong ran after him. Coincidentally, Ke Pingting and Bai Min were just entering the temple. Lian Chenghu brandished his single hook to meet them, he pulled Bai Min's flexible whip and threw it away, he also locked up Ke Pingting's sword. The two of them were pushed aside, and just happened to block Tie Feilong's way. Lian Chenghu dashed out the temple door and desperately ran away as fast as he could.

    "Ah, Wang Gege," Bai Min called out, "You are injured!" Picking up a warrior's saber from the floor, he charged toward the enemies recklessly. Seeing that their leader has bailed out, the soldiers also cried out and scampered away.

    "Don't attack randomly!" Ke Pingting called out. Bai Min was very obedient, he stopped immediately. In an instant the soldiers had all fled outside the temple.

    Tie Feilong examined the two men's injuries and said, "These are from the Shen Brothers' claw!"

    "Exactly!" Zhuo Yihang said.

    "Those two are very vicious!" Tie Feilong angrily said.

    Wang Zhaoxi said, "They were unwilling to surrender to the imperial troops, at least they still have some guts. But their conduct is preposterous, they will bring big trouble in the end if we let them stay by Zhang Xianzhong's side." And then he narrated what had happened to them.

    Tie Feilong said, "Just wait till I see Zhang Xianzhong, I will definitely ask him to punish those two evil thieves."

    Luckily Wang and Zhuo, two men's injuries were not serious, it was just that they had fought for half the night that right now they were totally exhausted. Tie Feilong applied his wondrous metal-cut wound medicine on them and told them to circulate their chi to restore their strength.

    Secretly pointing her finger toward Zhuo Yihang, Ke Pingting asked Bai Min quietly, "Is that pale-faced scholar Zhuo Yihang?"

    "That's right," Bai Min replied, "Don't you know him? He is my good friend!"

    "Humph," Ke Pingting snorted, "Such a good friend!"

    Bai Min was extremely unhappy, raising his voice he asked, "What's not good about him?"

    "Shush!" Tie Feilong signaled them to be quiet.

    Lowering her voice, Ke Pingting said, "If he is good, why did he break my Lian Jiejie's heart?"

    Bai Min was stunned, "What Lian Jiejie?"

    "It's Yu Luocha!" Ke Pingting exlained.

    Although Bai Min did not have any ill intention toward Yu Luocha, he did not have any good impression either. "That Demoness can also be heart-broken?" he asked.

    Pouting her lips, Ke Pingting said, "You have become a Lulin character in vain; Yu Luocha hates the evildoers as her personal enemies, she's just a strong-willed woman, why do you call her a demoness?"

    "Fine," Bai Min said, "Just consider me speaking incorrectly, she is not a demoness. But breaking her heart is not a big deal!"

    "Idiot!" Ke Pingting angrily said, "Let me ask you: if, for example, you break my heart, can you still be considered a good person?"

    Bai Min pondered for a moment and then said, "You have saved me, you have treated me very well; if I break your heart, then I am the son of a turtle!"

    Ke Pingting blurted out a laughter, she said, "Alright, so be it. Do you understand now?"

    Although Ke Pingting was whispering, Zhuo Yihang was meditating with full attention, so he heard everything. His countenance alternated between red and white; he could not bear this sorrow of his being mentioned! Without waiting for his strength to be restored, he sprang up.

    Bai Min panicked! "Zhuo Gege, I said if I break Miss Ke's heart, I am the son of a turtle. I did not mean you, please don't be angry with me!"

    Zhuo Yihang cupped his fists toward Ke Pingting and said, "Miss, you blame rightly!" His voice choked. He walked toward Tie Feilong and bowed with cupped fists and asked, "Where is Lian Jiejie? Why didn't she come with you? Is she not at Senior's home?"

    Tie Feilong coldly said, "She did come."

    "And now?" Zhuo Yihang hastily asked.

    "She left!" Tie Feilong replied.

    "Where is she going?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    Tie Feilong shook his head, "I don't know," he said.

    Zhuo Yihang anxiously said, "You must know, if you don't, nobody does. If I cannot see her again, I will not die with my eyes closed!"

    Tie Feilong looked up to the sky filled with red clouds, the morning sun shone on his face. Ke Pingting hatefully said, "She is at the end of the earth."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Even if she is at the end of the earth, I still have to see her!"

    Tie Feilong was silent for a moment before he finally said, "Although she is not at the end of the earth she is not too far away from the end of the earth. I think she is going to Tianshan. If you want to find her, you must go far away beyond the Great Wall. The desert wind is cold and bitter, you are a child of an upper-class family; can you endure the hardship?"

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Even crossing deep water and scorching fire I must go, let alone only a cold desert!"

    Tie Feilong said, "Tianshan mountain range stretches for more than three thousand li, you may not necessarily able to find her!"

    "And she does not necessarily want to see you!" Ke Pingting interrupted.

    Zhuo Yihang felt a deep pain in his heart, he hung his head with tears streaming down his eyes; he said, “She doesn’t want to see me, I still want to see her. Even if in the end I cannot see her, I will be content just to live closer to her.”

    Tie Feilong said, “Since you are this sincere, you may go now!”

    Ke Pingting said, “But her hair already turned white, she is not the same Lian Nichang you knew, if you see her, you might be disappointed!”

    “What?” Zhuo Yihang said, “Her hair has turned white, it must be because I broke her heart, because of her extreme grief.”

    “It’s good that you know it,” Ke Pingting said.

    Zhuo Yihang was in an extreme state of grief, but he no longer had any tears. With a resolution in his voice he said, “I will not cease to be faithful even if her skin is like a chicken’s and her hair like a crane’s, let alone only her hair is turning white. The ocean dries up, the rock rots, the sky turns desolate, the earth grows old, my feelings will not change. Heaven and Earth is my witness.”

    Ke Pingting said, “You should save those words for Lian Jiejie.”

    Tie Feilong stroked his beard and smiled. “Pingting,” he said, “Don’t tease him. Alright, sincerity can split metal and break open rocks. You may go as soon as you feel better.”

    “I feel better already,” Zhuo Yihang said.

    After completing a round of chi circulation, Wang Zhaoxi sprang up and asked, “Zhuo Xiong, are you leaving now?”

    “Yes,” Zhuo Yihang replied, “Right now!”

    Wang Zhaoxi said, “Although family matter is important, the matter of our country ought to be considered as well. I advise you: if you cannot see her, you’d better come back.”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “We have you to mind the matter of the country, I do not need to worry. If I cannot see her, I will stay on Tianshan for a long time. We may not see each other in the indefinite future, I wish you will succeed in your great undertaking. I wish to hear the news about you in the future, I will pray on your behalf from the distant Tianshan.”

    Tie Feilong said, “When you return from the border, you may perform your knightly duty to uphold justice. The people over there are pure and simple, perhaps in the future you will also have some good achievements.”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “Performing knightly duty to uphold justice is our responsibility; Senior’s instruction, I will keep it firmly in my heart.” Thereupon he bid his farewell with Tie Feilong and Wang Zhaoxi.

    Wang Zhaoxi gazed at Zhuo Yihang ‘s back as he went down the mountain. He shook his head but did not say anything for a long time. Afterwards he discussed the meeting on Mount Zhongtiao with Tie Feilong and Bai Min, and no longer mentioned Zhuo Yihang.

    Such is: A son of nobility felt remorse and regret to no avail, a hero put utmost importance in dedicating himself to the service of his country.

    [1]See Note 7 of Chapter 25 on this 'Princess' term.

    [2]Lit. 'Ol' Second'.

    [3]Orig. 'qian jin' - thousand gold.

    [4]Orig. ‘zong zhu’ – ancestor master.

    [5]'Leaving the mountain' means coming out of seclusion to become a government official or leaving a hermit life to take a leading position.

    [6]Second child, second in rank.

    [7]First child, highest in rank.

    [8]Northern Shaanxi province.

    [9]Du Wu and Zhang Si are ‘Du the Fifth’ and ‘Zhang the Fourth’, respectively.

    [10]Orig. ‘killing the chicken to warn the monkey’.

    [11]The character 'chuang' from the Young Roaming King can also be translated as 'break through'. See also Note 7 of Chapter 18.

    [12]Orig. 'the whip cannot reach'.

    [13]It was an epithet of Sichuan, especially the area around Chengdu.

    [14]About 2 inches or 5 cm.

    [15]Son of an official, a young nobility, young master.
    Last edited by foxs; 03-25-10 at 01:32 PM.

  9. #29
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 28

    Chapter 28
    Accepting disciple beyond the Great Wall,
    Engrossed in teaching swordsmanship.
    To the end of the earth seeking for a friend,
    With complete devotion searching for a loved one.
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Upon his arrival on Tianshan, Yue Mingke shaved his head and became a Buddhist monk, he changed his name to Reverend Hui Ming[1], and lived in seclusion for more than four years. The second year after he arrived at Tianshan, Luo Tiebi, taking Yang Lian's son, Yang Yuncong, went up the mountain. He explained that he came on Yu Luocha's recommendation, asking Reverend Hui Ming to take Yang Yuncong as his disciple.

    "Why does she have to be this meddlesome?" Reverend Hui Ming said, "She has just added a burden to me." Nevertheless, although he spoke like that, seeing that Yang Yuncong was exceptionally smart, with extraordinary spirit, his heart was won over. Not only that, he was a descendant of a loyal minister, thereupon he promptly agreed. Immediately they performed the ritual to become master-disciple. Henceforth while diligently training his own swordsmanship, Reverend Hui Ming also devoted his time to teach Yang Yuncong.

    Yang Yuncong had a somewhat predestined relationship with martial art training, he was able to absorb whatever Reverend Hui Ming cared to teach him. When he arrived, he had just turned seven, but within three years, his foundation was already solid, he was able to hunt tiger or leopard with bare hands.

    Reverend Hui Ming was very happy, he gathered the essence of the five metals[2] around Tianshan to refine further the two treasured swords his Shifu had left behind. With heart and soul he taught Yang Yuncong, and had not descended the mountain for quite a long time, and thus he was completely oblivious of the worldly affair outside. Only every now and then, when he practiced sword at night, he would look up to the moon and remember the people dear to his heart. When he remembered Xiong Tingbi and Tie Shanhu's tragic deaths, he could not refrain from heaving a deep sigh toward the moon.

    By the third year, all of a sudden he started to receive visits from famous characters from beyond the desert. Some of them were asking if he had known about a certain woman.

    Actually, although Reverend Hui Ming's swordsmanship was peerless and his martial art skill had reached perfection, he was never an arrogant person; therefore, during the several years he was serving on the border, he had won the respect of others. The heroes north and south of Tianshan knew he had come from the Central Plains, hence whenever they came across a difficult matter, they would oftentimes come to him to ask for his advice.

    Listening to these people, he learned that about half a year ago, a certain woman had come to the border; her hair was white, but her countenance was actually tender. Looking at her hair, she seemed to be fifty, sixty years old granny, but looking at her face, she seemed to be a young woman about twenty some years of age. Nobody could guess how old she really was.

    This woman mysteriously appeared and disappeared, the depth of her martial art skill was unfathomable. Soon after she arrived, she went on the rampage by expelling the Three Demons of the Sang family from southern road of Tianshan to outside the border. Each one of the Three Demons of the Sang family had his own unique martial art skill. The first demon, Sang Gan, was trained in Seven Soul-exterminating Sword Technique, there was a virulent poison on the blade of his sword, which would close up the air passage of the throat as soon as it contacted the blood. The second demon, Sang Hu, was adept in using the heavy steel rod, his specialty was external type of martial art, which he trained to near perfection. The third demon, Sang Ren, practiced yin-yang Air-splitting Palm; when someone was hit by his palm power, his five internal organs[3] would be shattered. Because the martial arts they practiced were vicious and cruel, they earned the nickname ‘the Three Demons’.

    These three demons had run amuck for quite a long time, seeing the white-haired woman with mysterious origin, they harassed her with obscenity. With just a sword, the woman single-handedly beat them really bad that they almost lost their lives. The three brothers could no longer set their feet inside the border, so they fled to Tibet.

    Expelling these three demons was only one of many deeds the woman accomplished. The three demons had caused trouble within the border, the woman banished them, the people were grateful, nobody could say that the woman had done a bad thing. However, this white-haired woman’s temperament was very unusual, as soon as she heard anything that did not conform to her heart’s desire, she would immediately resort to violence. Not only that, she loved to challenge famous Wulin characters for a duel. Oftentimes she would defeat the opponent in just several stances. Sometimes she would let out a long laugh as she leaves, another times she would look up to the sky and sigh deeply. It could be said that ever since she arrived at the border, she was unable to find her match, why would she stay at the border?

    The famous personalities north and south of Tianshan were all very afraid of her. Because of her white hair, everybody called her the White Haired Demoness. Later on some people were ashamed of spreading falsehoods, so they said that her surname was Bai[4].

    Some suspected that she was a female bandit from the Central Plains, and so they came to Reverend Hui Ming to inquire about her origin. Some even suggested that Reverend Hui Ming would challenge her for a duel. As soon as Reverend Hui Ming heard this story, he had a fairly good idea of who she was. ‘That must be Yu Luocha,’ he mused, ‘But I wonder how did her hair turn white? She crossed a great distance coming to the border, must be because of some heart-breaking, frustrating matters. I can’t believe her temper, her hot temper and her love to pick a fight have not changed.'

    Reverend Hui Ming suspected that Yu Luocha and Tie Feilong had come together, so he asked those people, "Does that White Haired Demoness have any companion?"

    The man replied, "Just one person is so difficult to deal with, let alone if she has a companion! She appears and disappears like a spirit, always comes and goes alone, floating in and out, nobody knows where she lives."

    Reverend Hui Ming thought, 'Yu Luocha came to the border alone, it must be because she does not want anybody to know her origin.' Thereupon he told those people, "I don't know her name, surname or origin either. Since people say she is surnamed Bai, let us also call her Bai. Name is no more than a symbol, there is no need to investigate further."

    The man also asked him if he knew any renowned female bandit of the Central Plains. Reverend Hui Ming replied, "Before I shaved my head, I was serving under Military Commissioner Xiong patrolling the border, I am very unfamiliar with the Lulin world of the Central Plains. Perhaps she is an independent bandit who always acts alone."

    Some people urged him to go down the mountain and challenge the White Haired Demoness for a sword duel. Reverend Hui Ming clasped his palms and said with a laugh, "I am a man who has left home to see through the world of mortals. Buddhist teaching will not allow me to have the intention of vying for supremacy against others."

    "So there is nothing we can do?" the man asked.

    Reverend Hui Ming explained patiently, "Although she is ruthless, other than killing evildoers, did she also kill upright people?"

    The man said, "Not that I heard of."

    Reverend Hui Ming said with a laugh, "So then she does not have any enmity with you, actually. Some people are addicted to something and do not have control over themselves. For instance, someone who is heavily addicted to playing chess, if he sees others playing chess, although the chess board has a warning, something like: 'A real gentleman watches chess game without giving out commentary', but he is unable to bear not to speak, so much so that from passive observer he would become an active player, by trying to move the chess pieces himself. Being able to watch a chess game without saying anything is indeed an excellent trait, but watching a chess game and giving out commentary is not a big crime either. I am guessing that this White Haired Demoness is so addicted to martial art that whenever she sees a famous martial art master, she is like a chess addict meeting a chess master, she would itch to join the game by throwing the dice. As long as she does not deliberately use her strength to oppress the weak, but observe and emulate each other, this is also a good thing. Why must we anger her?"

    Some of those people were sighing with admiration over Reverend Hui Ming's broadmindedness, but some others thought he ought not have that kind of opinion. Yet since Reverend Hui Ming was unwilling to go down the mountain, those people did not have any way to force him.

    Another half a year passed, gradually nobody heard about the White Haired Demoness challenging other people anymore. Reverend Hui Ming thought, 'Must be because she cannot find her match, thinking that even the most famous character with great reputation is nothing out of the ordinary, therefore, she is disinclined to have any duel anymore.'

    After Yang Yuncong joined him on the mountain, Reverend Hui Ming had gathered pure five metals and using Shaolin’s secret method, he re-cast the treasured swords his Shifu left behind. By this time the process had been going on for three full years, the result was two swords, one was long, the other short, the long one was called Gliding Dragon[5], the short one was called Jade Fracturing. Although these two swords differ in length, they both could cut iron like a piece of mud, and would cut a strand of hair blown onto their sharp blades. They were truly a pair of divine objects of mortal world, quite surpassed their previous state.

    One particular day, Reverend Hui Ming was deep in thought: before winter this year he had to go down the mountain to purchase several winter supplies. Thereupon he gave the Jade Cutter sword to Yang Yuncong and told him to guard their abode, while he himself took the Gliding Dragon for self-defense as he left for the big city of Bole[6] in northern Xinjiang to purchase the supplies, while inquiring about the White Haired Demoness at the same time.

    A month later, Reverend Hui Ming returned from Bole; it was already late autumn, the area beyond the Great Wall was bitter cold, the kind of weather that will freeze a drop of water into ice. That day Reverend Hui Ming was passing through the Kadar prairie, suddenly he saw a man who looked like a tribal chief, leading a large number of soldiers, driving away a herd of cattle and sheep across the prairie. Behind them were a large group of herdsmen crying and wailing loudly. Reverend Hui Ming could not bear to see this scene, he stepped forward to inquire. The herdsmen said, "We owe Chief Meng Sasi some money, so he is taking our herds away."

    There was a tattered tent nearby, with two dead bodies outside the tent. A child was weeping bitterly by the bodies. Reverend Hui Ming asked about the child, and he was told, "Their herds were taken away, so his father and mother committed suicide. Ay, our fate is cruel, but this child is even more pitiful!"

    Reverend Hui Ming looked at the child, he was about six, seven years old; although his body was only skin over bones, he looked sharp, his eyes were jet-black, round and bright. Reverend Hui Ming turned his attention to him and asked, "Are you a Han?"

    The child replied, "My surname is Chu, others call me manzi[7], my father said that we moved here from Hunan. I don't know if Hunan is a Han people's place. Father once said that over there the government officials are more ominous than wolves and tigers, so we escaped to this place to make a living."

    An old man nearby said, "Chief Meng Sasi here is about the same as Han people's government officials." Apparently, he also escaped from within the Great Wall to this place.

    The child cried again and said, "Father, mother, you are dead, who will look after me?"

    Reverend Hui Ming's heart was moved with compassion; he stroked the child's head while thinking, "Yuncong does not have other children as his playmates, I'd better take another disciple, let them keep each other company. This child's bone structure is not bad, he also seems to be smart, looks like he is a good candidate to learn martial arts." Thereupon he said, "Don't cry. Do you want to come with me? I'll take you as my disciple."

    The child wiped his tears and knelt down immediately. He kowtowed three times and called out, "Shifu."

    Reverend Hui Ming was very happy. He was about to carry the child when suddenly someone called out, "Chief Meng is back." In a flash the herdsmen scattered in all directions.

    Two soldiers with plumes stuck on their hats ran over and called out, "You, the wandering monk, what are you doing here?"

    Reverend Hui Ming said, "This child is very pitiful, please don't frighten him."

    "Humph," the soldier said, "We'll do whatever we want to do, you dare to talk too much? Our Chief says this child's parents are dead, he is all alone with nobody to give him shelter, so he told us to come back and take him home. You see, our Chief is very merciful."

    The child cried and said, "Chief is very bad, I don't want to come with him."

    From the distant the Chief called out, "Who is that monk? What are you talking about? Hurry up and get that child. We still have other places to collect debts." Turned out the Chief wanted to snatch the child to be his son's servant.

    Reverend Hui Ming quickly carried the child and said, "This child is my apprentice, please let him go!"

    "What a nerve!" the two soldiers shouted, "You dare to take the child from our Chief? Are you or are you not going to let him go?"

    Reverend Hui Ming hung his head down and said, "Amituofo!"

    Seeing Reverend Hui Ming was ignoring them, the two soldiers flew into rage. One from the left the other from the right, they punched and kicked. Reverend Hui Ming carried the child on the crook of his left elbow. Uttering another 'Amituofo!' he let the two soldiers' fists and kicks to land on his body as if he was merely a leather punch-sack. 'Bang! Bang!' the two sturdy looking soldiers were thrown more than a zhang away like bullets. Fortunately Reverend Hui Ming was showing mercy, otherwise these two men's hand and leg would be broken.

    This turn of events was beyond Chief Meng Sasi's expectation. After recovering from his shock, he shouted, "Seize him!"

    There was a Lama wearing red kasaya standing next to Meng Sasi, he was talking to a companion wearing Han people's attire. Suddenly the Lama called out, "Hold on, Chief! Let me ask this monk's origin first?" In an instant he dashed out and stood in front of the soldiers, and with a loud voice he said, "Hey, Monk! Where are you coming from? Quickly tell me your name!"

    Reverend Hui Ming said, "I am just a wandering monk, no name, no surname. Dashi[8], please forgive my inadequacy!"

    The Lama in red suddenly let out a strange laughter and said in a loud and clear voice, "You think I don't know you? You are Yue Mingke, are you not?"

    Reverend Hui Ming was stunned. He took a second look at the Lama in red, but he could not recognize him, thereupon he said, "Dashi, please don't make fun of me, the air is cold, the ground is frozen, this child is cold and hungry, I must quickly return to my mountain."

    The Lama in red harshly shouted, "Don't tell a lie in front of a holy man, don't think that you can escape by becoming a Buddhist monk. Quickly hand over Xiong Manzi's book on military strategy, otherwise the Buddha will release you from suffering today!"

    Hearing this, Reverend Hui Ming was even more shocked; he said in his heart, 'How could this ominous monk know about the Military Commissioner Xiong's book on military strategy he had entrusted to me? But you only know one and do not know two, I have given the book to Yu Luocha long time ago. Since this monk is inquiring about the military book, he must belong to the clique of traitors. Looks like I will have to violate Buddha's commandment of not taking life!'

    The Lama in red shouted again, "Yue Mingke, are you or are you not going to tell me?"

    Reverend Hui Ming read another prayer, "Amituofo!" and then he said, "The impoverished monk only knows how to abide by Buddha's commandments, he loathes and has given up murder, how can he have any book on military strategy?"

    "Fine," the Lama in red called out, "Before reaching the Yellow River you do not lose hope, before witnessing the Buddha's fierceness you won't want to submit!" Taking a pair of copper cymbals from his waist, he struck the cymbals against each other, creating a harsh crashing noise. Suddenly he sprang up like a clump of red cloud and struck down on Reverend Hui Ming's head.

    Reverend Hui Ming protected the child with his left hand, while stretching out his right hand. 'Bang!' he blocked Lama in red's cymbals. It appeared Reverend Hui Ming's palm would be crushed by the cymbals, who would have thought that Reverend Hui Ming's palm slipped out like a fish. Suddenly the palm turned into fingers, poking toward the Lama's eyeballs.

    The Lama in red let out a strange shout while his body flipped over like a windmill; the cymbal in his left hand cut upward, the one in his right hand chopped down, forcing Reverend Hui Ming to quickly change his move. Both parties retreated three steps back!

    Both men were very shocked; although the Lama in red knew the mysteriousness of Reverend Hui Ming's swordsmanship and the depth of his internal energy cultivation, he did not expect that even when carrying a child, his single palm could meet the enemy's attack with this kind of fierceness! On the other hand, neither did Reverend Hui Ming expect that in a remote frontier place, in a poor uncultivated land like this he would meet with someone excelling in martial art skill like the Lama!

    Reverend Hui Ming had been living in seclusion for several years, he did not know the earth-shattering change that happened outside. Because of excessive wantonness, Zhu Youjiao's physical condition deteriorated quickly, and sure enough, as Ke Pingting predicted, he died prematurely. Reigning for only seven years, he died at the age of twenty-two. After Zhu Youjiao's death, his younger brother Zhu Youjian succeeded the throne, assuming the regal name of Chong Zhen.

    Upon his ascension to the throne, he executed Wei Zhongxian by dismemberment[9] and expelled Madame Ke from the Palace, and later, she was also put to death. Other members of the clique of traitors like Cui Chengxiu and the others were also beheaded. Wei Zhongxian's adopted son got away with a comparatively light indictment, he was stripped out of all nobility and was banished to the frontier. Yuan Chonghuan, as well as Donglin society members, were re-instated. For a period of time a healthy environment was being promoted, he succeeded in building a popular image.

    It's a pity that Emperor Chong Zhen killed Wei Zhongxian as an individual act. After sweeping the clique of traitors clean, he did not take advantage of the momentum by promoting what is useful and getting rid of what is harmful, on the contrary, he aggravated the people by raising land tax, fleecing out the people’s money, to such an extent as to destroy the kingdom. This is something to be talked about later, let us leave it for now.

    After the death of Ke and Wei, like the saying goes, ‘when the tree falls, the monkeys scatter’. Youjiao’s ‘Great Protector’ Master[10] Changqin, who belonged to the Red Sect of Lama, utilized his martial art skill to escape back to Tibet. Wei Zhongxian’s trusted aide, Lian Chenghu also escaped to seek protection under Master Changqin.

    In the meantime, the chief of Kada’er tribe on the border, Meng Sasi, was having a lofty ambition; he wanted to unify the tribes around the border. Hearing that Master Changqin had returned, he sent out a large number of treasures to gain his assistance. Master Changqin’s experience was as vast as the ocean, at first he did not wish to help. But Lian Chenghu had another idea, he was a Manchu’s agent, and believed that the Manchus will rule the world, sooner or later they would deal with the people around the border with force. The people around the border had little manpower, their armed force was weak, not as good as Meng Sasi’s force hence he wanted to build the foundation first. And thus he strongly urged Master Changqin to accept the offer. He also came with Master Changqin to the border. Unexpectedly today he accidentally came across the wandering monk Yue Mingke.

    He knew that Yue Mingke had Xiong Tingbi’s legacy in his possession. If he could get his hands on the book, he might go outside the Great Wall and assume an important position, and no longer had to return to the border to let out a long-line, hang-in-the-distant kite. And so he incited Master Changqin to deal with Reverend Hui Ming.

    Master Changqin’s martial art skill was by no means insignificant, with the pair of copper cymbals in his hands, he was indeed unstoppable by ten thousand men. In her effort to save Yang Lian, Yu Luocha had entered deep into the palace and once fought with him. That time Yu Luocha defeated him with her tornado-like swordsmanship, even so, she had needed twenty, thirty stances. In all his life Master Changqin only suffered defeat once, under Yu Luocha, therefore, he was extremely conceited. To his surprise this time he came across Reverend Hui Ming, who was even more formidable of Yu Luocha in the past. Reverend Hui Ming was carrying a child in his arm, and fought him with only one palm. No matter how he brandished his pair of cymbals, again and again he failed to gain the advantage to press closely on.

    Master Changqin was secretly very upset, but because he was carrying a child, Reverend Hui Ming was also very cautious. Luckily the child was as bold as Yang Yuncong, he was not scared at all. He found it very amusing to watch Reverend Hui Ming with his bare hand fighting this big and tall foreign monk, forcing him to fall back again and again, while that foreign monk’s strange weapon would make noise like broken gong from time to time. The child even forgot the sorrow of losing both of his parents. When he saw a brilliant move, he would call out, "Good, good! Shifu, you must teach me this move!" And then he would crane his neck to see how Reverend Hui Ming fought.

    Although Reverend Hui Ming was delighted to see this child's amazing courage, he was afraid the child would be injured. After exchanging several stances, he feigned an attack and then turned around to leave. Seeing that although Reverend Hui Ming did not look defeated at all, but suddenly left, Master Changqin was astonished. He was just about to press on with his cymbals, he suddenly saw a flash of light in front of his eyes, with a burst of cold air penetrating his skin. In the instant Reverend Hui Ming retreated and advanced again, he had already pulled the Gliding Dragon out of its sheathe. With a flip of his wrist the sword went up and with a loud 'dang!' the cymbal in Changqin's left hand was cut into two!

    Master Changqin was greatly shocked; frightened, he retreated several steps back. Reverend Hui Ming was extremely happy to see his treasured sword was forged to perfection, with a great and amazing might. He wanted to test it further, so he leaped up and moved the sword in a pattern, threatening the Spirit Gate Acupoint on Master Changqin's back, expecting Master Changqin to turn around to block.

    Meng Sasi shouted his order, like migratory locusts the arrows flew to shield Master Changqin. Reverend Hui Ming brandished his sword to protect all four sides of his body. A series of continuous 'Ding! Ding! Dang! Dang!' was heard, the arrows were met by the sword's ray and were immediately broken!

    Reverend Hui Ming laughed aloud and muttered another 'Amituofo!' before saying, "Forgive me for not keeping you company, the impoverished monk is leaving!"

    When Reverend Hui Ming was busy blocking the arrows, Master Changqin took off his red kasaya and used it as a weapon in place of his left cymbal. He charged forward again and shouted, "Buddha still wants to determine victory and defeat with you!" He shook the kasaya and like a clump of red cloud he struck down, thinking that he would use his school's unique internal energy cultivation to overcome the enemy's power, using soft to overcome hard, to snatch the treasured sword away.

    Disappointed, Reverend Hui Ming said, "You still want to entangle me?" The tip of his sword went up, 'Rip!' it tore a piece of the red kasaya. But kasaya was unlike a conventional weapon; when a conventional weapon broke, it can no longer be used, not so with kasaya, although it was ripped, it could still be used. Master Changqin took advantage of the momentum, turning the kasaya around, he wanted to wrap it around the sword. At the same time, the cymbal in his right hand cut across with whistling noise.

    Reverend Hui Ming's both internal and external martial art had reached perfection, naturally he would not fall into his trick. Shaking the tip of his sword slightly, he pulled it out to meet the incoming cymbal. Master Changqin knew the fierceness of his sword, he did not dare to block, but leaped aside three steps to evade the blade of the sword. To his surprise, Reverend Hui Ming's Tianshan Sword Technique was exquisite beyond compare, like glued to him, Master Changqin was unable to evade the sword; he leaped to the left and to the right, the sword's ray had never left his back.

    Reverend Hui Ming wanted to cut Changqin's right cymbal as well, but about a dozen or so warriors under Meng Sasi rushed forth to surround him. Reverend Hui Ming thought these warriors would not stand a single blow of his, therefore, he was thinking that after finishing up Master Changqin, he would break their weapons in a single swoop. Unexpectedly one of them was capable of moving amazingly quick, the pair of sun and moon hooks in his hands flickered as it went straight toward the child in Reverend Hui Ming's bosom in a killer strike!

    Reverend Hui Ming pushed the ground with his toes, like an arrow he shot sideways; the child in his bosom screamed in terror. Reverend Hui Ming turned around to see and could not refrain from laughing coldly. "Ha!" he said, "I was wondering who it was! Turns out it is Lian Da Zongguan[11]! Aren't you satisfied by harming Military Commissioner Xiong? Now I have shaved my head and become a monk, Wei Zhongxian ought to be satisfied. The Ol' Yue is nothing, how can I dare to bother you that you chase me beyond the Great Wall." Reverend Hui Ming did not know that Wei Zhongxian had been executed by dismemberment, he thought he was still in power just like in the past, and had sent Lian Chenghu and this Lama to pursue him.

    With a bitter laugh Lian Chenghu moved his double hooks slantingly. Together with Master Changqin, they launched a converging attack from left and right. Lian Chenghu was exceedingly vicious, seeing Reverend Hui Ming was holding the child on his left, he knew the left was his weak point. Moving his flickering hooks, he concentrated his attack on this weak point. Even if the child in Reverend Hui Ming's bosom was more courageous, he would still be frightened to the point that he was panicked. His little arms grabbed Reverend Hui Ming's shoulder tightly, while from time to time he would scream in fright.

    With a copper cymbal in his right hand and a monk robe in his left, Master Changqin changed his tactic from defensive to offensive. Reverend Hui Ming was furious; brandishing his sword, he unleashed the full potential of the Tianshan Sword Technique his Shifu and he had created. Purplish streaks of light flew filled the air, cold rays suddenly arose; like a Gliding Dragon, yet seemed graceful. Wherever the blade went, the wild grass on the prairie, taller than an adult man's waist, was blown away by the sword wind, creating rustling noise. How could Lian Chenghu and Master Changqin dare to get close?

    However, Lian Chenghu and Master Changqin were seasoned fighters, while Reverend Hui Ming was carrying a child, so he did not dare to be careless; therefore, after fighting hard for fifty to seventy stances, they were still fighting to a standstill. Meng Sasi led his warriors to form a circle about a hundred steps away from the fighting, ready with bow and arrows; they were waiting for Reverend Hui Ming to be defeated, and then they would shoot him from all directions.

    While they were at the stalemate, suddenly they heard a long laughter from a distance. Reverend Hui Ming's heart was moved; no sooner than he heard the laughter, he saw a clump of white shadow flying over the grassland. Shortly afterwards, people were screaming everywhere. Before Meng Sasi's men were able to see clearly, many of them were already stabbed by the sword and fell down to the ground. Someone was shouting in fear, "Run for your life! White Hair Demoness is here!"

    Reverend Hui Ming sent out a forceful attack, forcing Master Changqin and Lian Chenghu to withdraw several steps. He heard the White Hair Demoness calling out, "I trust you are well since our last meeting! It is not our appointed time yet, but I am here anyway!" Her voice was as heroic as in former days, but she sounded older than before!

    Master Changqin shot a glance and he was scared out of his wits. Although White Hair Demoness did not look as young and beautiful as he remembered it, her appearance was still distinguishable. Since he had suffered a crushing defeat under her hands, Master Changqin thought, 'Yue Mingke is already formidable, now this demoness is here. If the two of them join hands and attack together, I will die without a burial ground for sure.' Thereupon he turned around and fled.

    Lian Chenghu also withdrew his double hooks and wanted to run for his life, but his qinggong was slightly inferior to Master Changqin's. White Hair Demoness came in very fast that before Lian Chenghu managed to cover about ten zhang, like a shadow attached to his body she was already at his back. The sword flashed, it stabbed straight onto his back. Lian Chenghu did everything he could to resist several stances. The ray of White Hair Demoness's sword fluttering randomly, it went to the front but suddenly turned to the back, it seemed to point to the left but attacked to the right. Probably Lian Chenghu managed to block about a dozen or so stances, suddenly White Hair Demoness shouted, "Gotcha!" Her sword was as swift as her voice, Lian Chenghu's heart and guts turned cold, he could not tell which direction her sword would strike, he only felt pain on his kneecap and 'thump!' he tumbled down on the ground!

    White Hair Demoness grabbed and lifted up Lian Chenghu, while sealing his acupoints at the same time then she turned to Reverend Hui Ming and said, “Let’s go!”

    “Where?” Reverend Hui Ming asked.

    “I will go wherever you are going,” White Hair Demoness replied, “You do not dare to compete with me?” Reverend Hui Ming suddenly realized that the White Hair Demoness wanted to have a qinggong competition with him.

    Reverend Hui Ming was secretly laughing: ‘It’s been many years and now we meet by chance, unexpectedly she did not want to talk about what happened during our long separation first, but want to compete in qinggong instead.’

    “Come on,” White Hair Demoness said, “I am carrying an adult, you are carrying a child, you are afraid you will lose to me?”

    Reverend Hui Ming only smiled, he thought, ‘A few years ago my qinggong was inferior to yours. Today we have not even started, victory or defeat has yet to be determined, yet you are already boasting!’

    It must be known that Reverend Hui Ming and White Hair Demoness’ martial art skills came from the same root; one was straight, the other backward. It was because Reverend Hui Ming’s Shifu, Hermit[12] Tian Du and his wife were acting rashly out of a feeling of wrongdoings that each started their own martial art set. Warrior Tian Du once said: ‘One was straight, the other backward, although each has its own strength, once it is trained to the level of reaching divinity, it has been brought to the point of perfection, the straight will win over the backward. This logic is not easily understood.’ Therefore, Reverend Hui Ming was also curious of how far White Hair Demoness had advanced; he wanted to measure it in against his own. Now that the White Hair Demoness had repeatedly urged him, he broke into a smile and said, “Alright.” His body rose up and he shot faster than a stormy wind, with White Hair Demoness following closely behind. Like two clumps of white cloud the two of them flitted across the great prairie.

    After running for half a day, they had reached the edge of the prairie. Further ahead was the plateau which was part of the Tianshan mountain range. Because Reverend Hui Ming had a head start, plus he was carrying a child, who was considerably lighter than the adult the White Hair Demoness was carrying, he was surprisingly about a dozen of steps ahead.

    Suddenly White Hair Demoness halted her steps and said, “No need to continue, this round we are equally matched. You have trained hard for several years, your progress is amazing, congratulations!” Inwardly, Reverend Hui Ming was ashamed. They stopped running.

    The child clapped his hands in delight and called out, “Shifu, you know the skill of the immortals? Riding on your back I felt like I was soaring above the clouds or riding in the fog.”

    Reverend Hui Ming laughed and said, “It is not the skill of the immortals. You will understand it when you grow older.”

    Shifu,” the child spoke again, “I want to learn this skill too.”

    White Hair Demoness cast this child a glance. “Is he your new disciple?” she asked. Reverend Hui Ming nodded. White Hair Demoness said, “This child’s intelligence is not below Yang Yuncong’s, his quick-wit does not seem to be inferior either.”

    “He is still very young,” Reverend Hui Ming replied, “Whether he is good or not, he will succeed or not, it is still too early to tell.”

    White Hair Demoness put Lian Chenghu down and unsealed his acupoints. “Now we should interrogate him!” she said with a laugh.

    Reverend Hui Ming said, “Ask him first, how many men did Wei Zhongxian send to hunt me?”

    “Wei Zongzhu[13]has already died!” Lian Chenghu said.

    Reverend Hui Ming and White Hair Demoness could not help but be shocked. “How did he die?” White Hair Demoness hastily asked.

    "He was put to death by dismemberment on the new emperor's order," Lian Chenghu replied.

    "That's good," Reverend Hui Ming said, "If he died of old age, then I'll say he had it too easily."

    "What about Madame Ke?" White Hair Demoness asked.

    "She was also executed," Lian Chenghu replied.

    Remembering that he had once witnessed Madame Ke's immoral lascivious behavior and how she dominated the imperial court, Reverend Hui Ming was secretly pleased. However, White Hair Demoness was a little grieved remembering how devastated Ke Pingting must have been. She said, "Actually, she was exploited by Zhongxian; it would be enough if she were expelled out of the Palace." And she asked the details of the real situation.

    Afraid of White Hair Demoness's cruel punishment, Lian Chenghu told her everything, except the fact that he was a Manchu agent, and the real reason behind his presence on the border. He had never expected that White Hair Demoness had already obtained Ying Xiuyang's confession and hence she knew that Lian Chenghu was the enemy's undercover agent. After he finished, she smiled and said, "Are you telling me the truth and did not conceal anything from me?"

    Lian Chenghu was so frightened that he broke into cold sweats; bracing himself for the worst, he said, "No!"

    With a cold laugh White Hair Demoness said, "You are a Manchu agent, why didn't you tell me that?"

    Lian Chenghu's face turned ghastly pale, he was tongue-tied and was unable to say anything. White Hair Demoness said, "You have committed all kinds of evil, I cannot spare you." With a flash of her sword she cut him into two.

    White Hair Demoness laughed aloud and said, "Yue Mingke, sorry, I forgot you have become a monk. Reverend Hui Ming, what do you say for us to have a sword competition?"

    Reverend Hui Ming laughed and said, "It won't be fair."

    "How so?" White Hair Demoness asked. Reverend Hui Ming pulled his Gliding Dragon sword and casually swiped it down, cutting a large rock into two halves. White Hair Demoness cheered and said, "So you still know how to refine swords."

    Reverend Hui Ming said, "Actually, when one's martial art skill is trained to perfection, any type of weapon won't make any difference. With painstaking effort I have refined two treasured swords, but I am thinking of giving the other sword to my disciple, so that he can defend himself with it."

    White Hair Demoness seemed unconvinced; "Using a treasured sword, you will only gain a slight advantage," she said.

    Reverend Hui Ming said, "Our generation's skill is not perfected yet, the difference between our sword skills is not far, naturally the treasured sword will give me quite an advantage." He paused for a moment, then with a smile he said, "Both in terms of power and swordsmanship, you and I are more or less the same. You'd better help me test this treasured sword, see if you would be able to defeat me within a hundred stances."

    White Hair Demoness was secretly angry, she thought, "Using this treasured sword, I won't need a hundred stances." Thereupon without further ado she received the Gliding Dragon and casually stood in attention. "Please start!" she called out.

    "You go first," Reverend Hui Ming said.

    "Excuse me," White Hair Demoness muttered. The tip of her sword shook, and stabbed horizontally forward.

    Reverend Hui Ming slightly pulled his sword and neutralized her attack with a formless stance. White Hair Demoness turned her sword around and cut backhandedly. Reverend Hui Ming did not parry at all, he also turned around and backhandedly attacked an opening in her defense. It was an attack to force the enemy to withdraw his own attack. White Hair Demoness was forced to deflect her sword to block. Reverend Hui Ming swiftly launched a series of attacks, but he would pull the sword as soon as it was about to make contact with the opponent's weapon, so that although she was wielding a treasured sword, she was quite powerless.

    White Hair Demoness' fighting spirit was aroused, she mused, "I will attack you continuously, let’s see how you will evade!" Her shadow arose, her sword movements changed swiftly. Reverend Hui Ming secretly sent out his mysterious power, he stood motionless in full concentration. As soon as her sword arrived, he turned his hand in a twisting motion, the flats of the two swords stuck together just like magnet attracting iron. White Hair Demoness's sword pointing to the east, Reverend Hui Ming's sword followed by pointing to the east; White Hair Demoness's sword moving to the west, Reverend Hui Ming's sword followed by moving to the west.

    Before the hundred stances were over, White Hair Demoness halted her sword and angrily said, "We'll compete again in twenty years!" Returning the Gliding Dragon to Reverend Hui Ming and took back her own sword, she turned around and flew away without saying anything.

    Reverend Hui Ming sighed and said, "Why are you so eager to outdo others?" He had wanted to ask her about Zhuo Yihang, Wang Zhaoxi and his other old friends, as well as her own experience, but he did not have enough time.

    Reverend Hui Ming took the child back to Tianshan and gave him the name Chu Zhaonan. Other than personally teaching him how to cultivate internal energy, he told Yang Yuncong to teach him basic martial art techniques, such as: eyesight training, lower back and footwork training, palm technique training, and so on.

    In a flash several months passed, it was already the depth of winter, Tianshan was very cold. Early in the morning every day, the two boys must train their martial arts to keep their body warm outside. One day, Reverend Hui Ming was meditating in his room; suddenly he seemed to hear that the boys were talking to someone outside. Reverend Hui Ming walked out of the temple. He saw an ugly looking old granny standing in the middle of the courtyard, indifferent of the two boys sending out palm attacks to her. She floated to the east and slid to the west, making the boys frantically follow her all around.

    Reverend Hui Ming was shocked, he thought, "In the depth of the winter she is able to go up Tianshan; her martial art ability can't be low." He noticed from the way she move that her body movements were of the highest quality technique, moreover, he had a feeling that he had seen these kind of movements before; hence he could not stop himself from asking, "Hey, who are you? Why do you bully children?"

    "Shifu," Chu Zhaonan said, "Quickly fight her, she says our Tianshan Palm Technique has an unwarranted reputation."

    The old granny did not say anything, but suddenly she sent out a palm strike toward Reverend Hui Ming. Her palm seemed to be floating lightly, but the force behind it was extremely powerful. Reverend Hui Ming raised his palm to block.

    After fighting for a while, he knew exactly who she was, but he did not say anything. About a hundred stances later, his palm met hers, the old granny leaped up and then ran away.

    "Hey," Reverend Hui Ming called out, "You came to faraway Tianshan only to have a palm competition with me?" And he ran after her.

    After crossing two mountain peaks, the old granny suddenly stopped; turning her head, she peeled a mask from her face. This 'old granny' was actually the White Hair Demoness. Where in the world had she stolen the mask from? And why did she turn herself into an old and ugly granny?

    "Why are you playing this kind of joke on me?" Reverend Hui Ming sounded upset.

    White Hair Demoness' elegant countenance fell, she said quietly, "This mask goes very well with my white hair, don't you think?"

    From the way she spoke, Reverend Hui Ming was aware that she was not joking; his heart was moved, he knew that she must be broken-hearted, thereupon he stayed silent, giving her the chance to talk.

    A moment later, White Hair Demoness sighed and broke the silence by asking, "Did Zhuo Yihang look for you?"

    Reverend Hui Ming was surprised. "When did Zhuo Yihang arrive at the border?"

    White Hair Demoness said, "So the two of you have not met?"

    "If he is here," Reverend Hui Ming said, "I am sure he would try to find you first."

    With a bitter laugh White Hair Demoness said, "Indeed he is looking for me."

    "And you haven't met him?" Reverend Hui Ming asked, "I don't understand, the two of you are like a pair of immortals, why aren't you together, but wander around in this barren land beyond the Great Wall?"

    White Hair Demoness only shook her head. Reverend Hui Ming was about to ask again, White Hair Demoness suddenly said, "If he is looking for you, please advise him to return quickly, don't look for me."

    "Why?" Reverend Hui Ming blurted out.

    White Hair Demoness' countenance changed abruptly. "I should go!" she sighed and said.

    "Hey, wait a minute," Reverend Hui Ming said, "What actually happened between the two of you?"

    White Hair Demoness said, "Tianshan's two peaks, north and south, are separated by a thousand li, since you already occupy the northern peak, I will have to occupy the southern peak."

    "If Zhuo Yihang is here," Reverend Hui Ming said, "I will tell him where to find you."

    "Why are you so meddlesome?" White Hair Demoness said, "I don't want to see him anymore!" As soon as she finished speaking, she dashed down the mountain.

    Reverend Hui Ming knew running after her would be useless; he sighed and said, "Passion and karma are easy to bind, but are not so easy to untie; just how many heartaches are there in this world?” Suddenly he felt his face was burning, as he recalled his own heartache in the past; his heart was in turmoil as he hastened back to his room to continue his meditation.

    About half a month later, one evening just when the sun was setting and the crescent moon was starting to rise, Reverend Hui Ming was training his swordsmanship on one of Tianshan’s peaks. His sword moved so swiftly that the flickering blade cause the moonlight seem to be dimmed. Suddenly he heard rustling and a panting noise from the waist of the mountain. Reverend Hui Ming quickly went over, he heard someone praise him, “Good swordsmanship!”

    Reverend Hui Ming pulled aside the snow-covered vine and saw a freezing Zhuo Yihang, whose face was entirely red, whose limbs were frozen stiff, as he was crawling on piles of snow. “You have been through so much hardship!” Reverend Hui Ming said.

    Zhuo Yihang stood up and rubbed his hands and feet. He said with a laugh, “I am used to it now, at first it was a lot harder! It’s just that these past several days were unusually cold, my breath turned into ice, I thought I was not going to reach the peak!”

    Reverend Hui Ming hurriedly brought Zhuo Yihang back to the temple, he ordered Yang Yuncong to brew hot tea for him. After Zhuo Yihang had caught his breath, Reverend Hui Ming questioned him in detail, and only then did he know that because it was the first time Zhuo Yihang took a long journey alone, plus he was unfamiliar with the northwest’s geography, he took almost a year to go from Shanxi to the border. When he finally reached the border, he still had to scour the Tianshan mountain range that stretches for more than 3000 li. When he was thirsty he had to chew the snow, when he was hungry he had to hunt snow sheep and roast them. It took him an extra of more than half a year before he was finally able to find this place. Luckily even though he experienced so much hardship and suffering, his body was already trained and robust, his martial art was also a lot more advanced than before.

    Good friends have met each other, naturally they were very happy. Zhuo Yihang stayed at Tianshan for several days, he unburdened everything that happened since they parted. When he told about how after the great battle on Mount Wudang Yu Luocha had left with a broken heart, he could not restrain tears from streaming down his face.

    Yue Mingke laughed and said, “Just a few days ago Yu Luocha was here. Ah, I forgot to tell you that the people around here are calling her the White Hair Demoness; nobody knows that she was the Yu Luocha, whose prestige has shaken the Jianghu in the past.”

    “That’s right,” Zhuo Yihang sighed and said, “Because of me her hair had turned white, yet I am incapable to seek the panacea to restore her youthfulness.”

    Reverend Hui Ming remembered folklore told by herdsmen north and south of Tianshan; he laughed and said, “Panacea to restore one’s youth, perhaps there is none, but a wonder drug to change white hair back to black and can also preserve one’s youthfulness, may not necessarily be nonexistent.”

    “Where is it?” Zhuo Yihang asked anxiously.

    Reverend Hui Ming said, “According to folklore told by herdsmen of the prairie, there is a kind of flower known as Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower. It blooms once every sixty years, each time it blooms, it only produces two stems of flower, one white one red, about the size of a large bowl. It is said that the flowers can make white hair turn back to black and rejuvenate the body. I think the drug ingredient of these flowers is probably more precious than that of Heshouwu[14]. Recovering one’s youthful vigor, that I do not believe, but turning white hair back to black, that is not so strange.”

    Zhuo Yihang was very disappointed to hear that the flowers only bloom once every sixty years, plus nobody knew for certain where the plant grows. With a bitter laugh he said, “If the flowers have just bloomed recently, by the time they bloom again in sixty years, won’t she be close to a hundred years old?”

    Dhyana Master[15] Hui Ming also brought up what White Hair Demoness had said and her expression when she said it. Zhuo Yihang said, “If she is that heartless by not willing to see me, then she probably won’t say where she lives.”

    Reverend Hui Ming said, “The southern peak is colder than this place, not only that, the way to that place is a big forest where nobody has ever set foot on. I am afraid it will be more difficult to find than this place.”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “Even if I have to freeze into fossil and my life is gone on the desolate mountain, I still have to go.”

    “In that case, why don’t you wait until early summer before you start your journey?” Reverend Hui Ming said.

    “My heart is burning with anxiety,” Zhuo Yihang said, “How can I wait until early summer?”

    Yet Reverend Hui Ming insisted that he stayed for seven more days. In these seven days, they researched and studied internal energy cultivation together. Zhuo Yihang actually already had a strong foundation, with Reverend Hui Ming’s direction, his advancement enjoyed quite a benefit.

    Zhuo Yihang sighed and said, “My several Shishu are like frogs at the bottom of the well, they do not know the blue ocean is so big, they thought their martial art skill is unsurpassed, while compared to you[16], the difference is indeed too far.”

    Reverend Hui Ming said, “Although they are rather arrogant, actually, Wudang’s internal energy cultivation technique indeed deserves the admiration of the Wulin world. It was probably after your Dharma ancestors’ book was lost that nowadays nobody has been able to peep into its innermost mystery.”

    Lamenting in his heart, Zhuo Yihang said, “I really wish I can take you as my master, so I can reverently learn your swordsmanship.”

    “Zhuo Xiong,” Reverend Hui Ming said with a laugh, “You must be joking. It is possible for us to carve and polish each other, how can you consider that as teaching one another? Actually, right now you already have a good teacher and helpful friend, an immortal-like close family, you don’t need to find another one.”

    Zhuo Yihang understood to whom he was referring to, with a forced smile he said, “If I can have her to see me, I will be perfectly satisfied. Talking about this word, ‘marriage’, I am afraid it’s quite hopeless for me.”

    When the seven days were fulfilled, Zhuo Yihang took his leave from Reverend Hui Ming and started his journey to the southern peak. He spent many months trekking the primitive vast forest, enduring all kinds of hardships from the wind, the frost and the snow, scared by insects, snakes and beasts, only then was he able to finally see the south peak in the distance. However, what he saw was a snow-capped mountain with its peak disappearing into the clouds above, with icicles hanging upside down, falcons circling overhead, and snow sheep going up and down the mountain, while the weather was extraordinarily biting cold; he stared at this scene bleakly.

    Like a pilgrim on a religious journey to the holy land Zhuo Yihang cast aside all worries, he climbed to the peak doggedly and only three days later did he reach the waist of the mountain. Luckily his internal energy had advanced greatly, otherwise he would not be able to withstand the difficulties.

    That day he was climbing when cold wind arose abruptly; the weeds and the mountain reeds were blown with loud flapping noise, ice chunks as big as millstone rolling down the hills everywhere. Hastily Zhuo Yihang stopped climbing and took shelter in the midst of several ancient trees which formed a natural barrier. He sat cross-legged in meditation waiting for the wind and the snow calamity to pass. After about the time needed to cook rice has passed, the wind gradually stopped. Zhuo Yihang was ready to continue his journey when suddenly he seemed to hear voices not too far away. The voices were clear.

    “Have you investigated clearly that White Hair Demoness is Yu Luocha?” an old-sounding voice was heard.

    Zhuo Yihang was startled. He heard another voice reply, “I am sure. Although her hair had turned white and her countenance is haggard, I can still recognize her. Moreover, no one else in the world can wield a sword like her.”

    Zhuo Yihang peeked outside and saw about several zhang away from where he was four men appeared from a thicket, presumably just like him, they were also hiding from the wind and the snow. The attires of these four men had nothing in common with each other. The first one was a Lama wearing a large red kasaya, the second one was a Taoist priest in black robe, the third was a strange looking Buddhist monk wearing climbing boots, with a string of skulls hanging on his neck, and the last one was an old man about sixty years of age.

    Zhuo Yihang was greatly astonished, “Are all these people here for Yu Luocha?” he mused.

    The old man had exceptionally keen eyes, when Zhuo Yihang was peeking out, his hand pushed the wild reeds aside and created a slight rustling noise, he immediately found out. “Who’s there!” he shouted.

    The four men spread out in formation as if they were facing a powerful enemy. Zhuo Yihang knew he could not hide any longer, boldly he stepped out and cupped his fist as he said, “Are you all going up the southern peak?”

    Seeing it was not the White Hair Demoness, the four men relaxed. “Who are you?” they asked, “Snowy ground, cold air, you are climbing the southern peak alone, what are you doing here?”

    Zhuo Yihang was contemplating whether he should tell them the truth. The Lama in scarlet clothes suddenly said, “No need to ask, he must be climbing the southern peak to find White Hair Demoness. Are you not?”

    “What if I am?” Zhuo Yihang said.

    “Are you looking for her for revenge?” the Lama in red asked.

    Hearing this, Zhuo Yihang knew that these four men were Yu Luocha’s enemies, anger rose up in his heart; with a cold laugh he said, “Even if there were ten more men like me, I still won’t dare to seek her for revenge.”

    The old man’s countenance changed, “Who are you?” he asked harshly.

    Sticking out his chest Zhuo Yihang said, “Wudang Pai’s disciple, Zhou Yihang.”

    The old man laughed aloud. “Turns out it is the Wudang Pai’s Sect Leader,” he said, “A nice position you don’t want, but you come here to look for a demoness, humph, humph! I want to teach you a lesson!” He pulled a flexible whip from his waist and lashed it out, ‘shua, shua!’ Deftly his hand shook the whip, it moved like a flying snake to wrap around Zhuo Yihang’s waist!

    These four men were Master Changqin, Huo Yuanzhong, Priest Zhuo, and the Black Head Elder of Tian Long Pai[17] from Tibet. After suffering a crushing defeat under White Hair Demoness’s hands, Master Changqin invited his good friend, the Black Head Elder, to come along and help him. As for Huo Yuanzhong and Priest Zhuo, they were old enemies of the Red Flower Demon Matriarch. After their attempt at seeking revenge at Red Flower Demon Matriarch was foiled by Tie Feilong and Yu Luocha[18], they returned to Tibet to live in seclusion, where they made their acquaintance with Black Head Elder, and thus they were also invited to come along.

    Huo Yuanzhong was of the same generation as Priest Purple Sun, he had even seen Priest Purple Sun face to face several decades ago. Zhuo Yihang was the current Wudang Pai’s Sect Leader, everybody in the Wulin world knew about it. When discussing martial art during their meeting in the past, Huo Yuanzhong was also offended by Priest Yellow Leaf and Priest White Stone. And now that he saw not only Zhuo Yihang was alone, he was also looking for White Hair Demoness, being a petty character, Huo Yuanzhong wanted to impose his seniority on him and drive Zhuo Yihang down the mountain. Zhuo Yihang hated them because they were coming with enmity toward Yu Luocha; drawing his sword out, he did not wish to yield either.

    Huo Yuanzhong swept his whip ferociously like an angry python on a rampage, with astonishing changes. Zhuo Yihang unleashed Wudang’s sword technique to its full potential, like a divine dragon coiling and twisting proudly; which attack was real and which one was fake was not easy to distinguish. Huo Yuanzhong was shocked, he had never expected that Wudang’s second generation disciple could be this formidable.

    Seeing Huo Yuanzhong was unable to dominate Zhuo Yihang, Master Changqin was quite disappointed, he thought, “How come Huo Lao’er is this useless!”

    Black Head Elder was hot tempered, “Since this kid is White Hair Demoness’ partner, why be polite with him?” Brandishing his staff, he charged forward.

    Black Head Elder’s martial prowess was very profound, his staff carried strong gust of wind, ‘Whoosh! Whoosh!’ he successively forced Zhuo Yihang to draw back.

    In this critical situation, suddenly a grim laugh was heard. “Who dares to hold a blade and toy with a staff in here?” a cold voice was heard.

    Hearing this voice, Zhuo Yihang’s delight was unspeakable. “Lian Jiejie, Lian Jiejie!” he called. With eyes wide open he tried to look, and could not help but staring blankly in shock, for in front of him was unexpectedly an old lady with skin like chicken and hair like a crane. When Reverend Hui Ming told him about her the other day, he deliberately skipped the part where White Hair Demoness often wore a mask. Zhuo Yihang only called out once, and did not dare to call again. “Even if Lian Jiejie’s hair has turned white, she can’t be this old and ugly!” he mused.

    "Who are you?" Master Changqin sternly asked.

    White Hair Demoness did not speak a single word, her body flew in horizontal position like a strange bird to pounce on Black Head Elder, her sword moved in Upside-down Icicle stance, striking straight down from the air. Black Head Elder swayed his shoulder, his body spun half a revolution, his staff swept backward. 'Shua!' his shoulder was hit by the sword.

    Hastily Master Changqin and Priest Zhuo drew their weapons and charged forward. White Hair Demoness laughed coldly and said, "Huo Yuanzhong, Priest Zhuo, the two of you do not want to accept your defeat and unexpectedly come here asking for death?"

    At these words, Huo Yuanzhong called out, "This is the White Hair Demoness!"

    Zhuo Yihang had also seen her swordsmanship, and his doubt was gone, she was indeed Yu Luocha. Before he opened his mouth, White Hair Demoness launched a series of attacks, all were killer moves to destroy these four men! Zhuo Yihang also heard her mentioning the two men's names, suddenly he recalled that one day his Shifu mentioned that he had some friendship with these two men. Thereupon he hastily said, "Lian Jiejie, please spare these two men!"

    Ignoring his plea completely, White Hair Demoness launched a sword strike after another. Zhuo Yihang was quite embarrassed, without any other choice he launched an attack toward Master Changqin.

    Amidst the fierce battle, suddenly he heard 'Aiyo!' cry twice, both Huo Yuanzhong and Priest Zhuo were hit by the sword. White Hair Demoness sternly said, "You haven't rolled down the mountain, are you waiting for me to add a couple of more scars on you?"

    Huo Yuanzhong and Priest Zhuo had never expected White Hair Demoness' swordsmanship was a lot formidable than in the past; as they were hit by the sword, they were scared out of their wits. Hastily they jumped out of the battlefield, and with their hands covering their heads, they indeed rolled over the accumulation of snow on the hillside, and went straight down the mountain.

    Zhuo Yihang was inwardly delighted, he thought, "She's still willing to listen to my advice."

    Out of four enemies, two had left, only Black Head Elder and Master Changqin continued fighting, naturally their resistance was even weaker. About twenty, thirty stances later, suddenly Yu Luocha shouted, "Got you!" Her sword cut horizontally, as fast as lightning it severed Black Head Elder's head; blood gushed out, dying the snowy earth red.

    Master Changqin gritted his teeth as he threw both cymbals, one toward Zhuo Yihang, the other toward White Hair Demoness. As soon as the cymbals left his hands, he also ran down the mountain. Zhuo Yihang knocked down the copper cymbal with his sword. White Hair Demoness let out a cold laugh, with the tip of her sword she lightly tapped the copper cymbal, sending it down the mountain. She shouted, "I don't have any use of your weapon, I am returning it to you!"

    Because of its sharp edge, the copper cymbal produced a strange humming noise against the wind as it was flying down in a lightning-fast speed. Master Changqin was only halfway down the mountain when the copper cymbal arrived and cut him down into two sections; his body continued to roll down the icy hill!

    Zhuo Yihang did not dare to look, he turned his head away, only to see White Hair Demoness' icy and wooden expression. Zhuo Yihang did not know she was wearing a mask, unconsciously a chill crept into his heart. Gathering his courage, he called out, "Lian Jiejie, Lian Jiejie!"

    White Hair Demoness stared at him for an instant, suddenly she turned around and walked away. Zhuo Yihang ran closely after her, while calling out like mad, "Lian Jiejie, Lian Jiejie!"

    Strictly speaking, White Hair Demoness' qinggong was several notches above his, therefore, if she really wanted to run away, there was no way Zhuo Yihang would be able to pursue her. However, it seemed as if she was deliberately slowing down her pace; she always maintained a distance of twenty, thirty steps ahead of him.

    Finally they arrived at a mountain peak. She stopped suddenly and turned around and stared at him.

    Such is: several meeting and parting past one's prime in life, the road is merciless although it is lined with passion.

    [1]Hui – dark/night/unlucky, Ming – clear/bright.

    [2]Gold, silver, copper, iron and tin.

    [3]Five viscera of traditional Chinese medicine: heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys.

    [4]Meaning: White.

    [5]Orig. 'You Long' - swimming or wandering dragon. See also footnote 15 of Chapter 9.

    [6]Modern day Bortala Shehiri, a county level city in Bortala Mongol autonomous prefecture, Xinjiang.

    [7]Southern barbarian, an insulting term for southern Chinese.

    [8]Lit. Great Master, reverend.

    [9]Or 'death of a thousand cuts'. See also “execution through measured lacerations”, footnote 15 of Chapter 1 by Faerie Queene.

    [10]Orig. ‘fashi’, fa – law, method, shi – master; one who has mastered the Buddhist sutras.

    [11]'big or great chief manager'.

    [12]Orig. 居士 (ju – resident, shi – scholar), a lay Buddhist or hermit. Thanks to Han Solo and Junny.

    [13]Lit. ‘ancestor master’.

    [14]See footnote 24 of Chapter 22.

    [15]Orig. 'Chan Shi'. See also footnote 6 of Chapter 9.

    [16]The original is plural, i.e. he was referring to Yue Mingke and Yu Luocha.

    [17]Lit. Celestial Dragon Sect.

    [18]See Chapter 25.

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    Apr 2006

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    Chapter 29
    Echo in an empty valley
    Still unable to meet a loved one
    Footprints on a desolate mountain
    Conspiracy of a clique of traitors

    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    He saw her pair of bright, open-wide eyes, full of life and hope, with their brilliance shining against her face, just like a pair of sparkling brilliant gems on a piece of coarse and unsightly sheepskin. Zhuo Yihang's heart ached: 'Other than this pair of eyes, which look very much alive like flowing waves, plus the graceful bearing of Yu Luocha of the past, where can I see her shadow on the old lady with skin like chicken and hair like crane standing in front of me?' he mused. Zhuo Yihang did not realize she was wearing a mask, his heart was full of doubt to the point of as if he was having a nightmare; how could a young woman with peerless appearance turn into such an old and ugly woman like this? Unconsciously Zhuo Yihang shed some tears as he threw himself at her and called out, “Lian Jiejie!”

    White Hair Demoness lightly sidestepped, Zhuo Yihang rushed to an empty space, he nearly slipped down. White Hair Demoness laughed coldly and said, “Who’s your Lian Jiejie? You mistook me for someone else!”

    “Lian Jiejie,” Zhuo Yihang said, “I have been looking for you for more than two years!”

    “Why are you looking for her?” White Hair Demoness asked.

    “I know I was wrong,” Zhuo Yihang replied, “Now I have abandoned my position as the Sect Leader, I only hope to be together with you, forever and ever! Never to be separated again.”

    With a cold laugh White Hair Demoness said, “You want to be together with me? Ha ha ..., I am an old woman with one foot already in the grave, what ‘forever’ are you talking about?”

    Zhuo Yihang threw himself at her again, sobbing he said, "It was me who vexed you so!"

    Like a flash White Hair Demoness evaded again, still with a cold laugh she said, "Your Lian Jiejie has been dead for a long time, why do you still talk to me this much?"

    "You don't want to know me, I will still follow you like your shadow," Zhuo Yihang said, "I don't care how much you changed, my heart will never change!"

    White Hair Demoness let out a cold laugh again, her chilling 'face' suddenly looked at Zhuo Yihang with glaring eyes. "Really?" she said, "Have you seen clearly? Does your Lian Jiejie look like this?"

    Looking at such a frightening expression, Zhuo Yihang shuddered involuntarily, but he gathered his courage once again and reached out to hold White Hair Demoness' hand as with a loud and clear voice he declared, "Lian Jiejie, even if you are burnt into ashes I will still recognize you. In my eyes, you look exactly the same as you were in the past!"

    White Hair Demoness sneered again as she flung Zhuo Yihang's hand away. "Go find your Lian Jiejie of the past," she said, "Go! Why aren't you going?"

    Zhuo Yihang had a sudden inspiration. "Lian Jiejie," he said, "I haven't forgotten what I said to you, I am going to find the panacea to restore your youthfulness."

    "That's your business," White Hair Demoness said, "I have nothing to do with it. You are you, I am me, we have nothing to do with each other. Stop calling me your Lian Jiejie, even if I were she, she has died once, why would you bring up the former matters?"

    As Zhuo Yihang heard this, he could tell that although her tone was still grim, it was not as harsh as before; thereupon he said, "I know there is a kind of immortal flower somewhere on this prairie, it can turn one's white hair back to black and can recover one's youthfulness, let us go together to find it!"

    White Hair Demoness suddenly laughed coldly and said, "I don't have time for this. Since you put that much importance on this mortal flesh, why don't you go find it alone? There is an inexhaustible supply of beautiful women in the world, you can enjoy it together."

    Zhuo Yihang did not realize that White Hair Demoness has a very moody personality, since she had already grieved over her appearance, she did not want anybody to talk about it. Zhuo Yihang rushed two more steps forward. "No, no!" he anxiously said, "Lian Jiejie, that's not what I mean ..." Without waiting for him to finish speaking, White Hair Demoness suddenly turned around and walked away.

    "Lian Jiejie, Lian Jiejie, you can't just leave like this!" Zhuo Yihang called out, "Have pity on me! I have been through ten thousands rivers and a thousand hills, wind, frost, rain and snow before I finally found you!"

    White Hair Demoness suddenly halted her steps and let out another cold laugh. Zhuo Yihang heard her say, "Right, as a child of a rich family, as a sect leader of a prominent sect, surprisingly you were willing to endure the hardship of the wind and the frost beyond the Great Wall, your Lian Jiejie should be really appreciative!" Her words were full of cynicism, her meaning was clear: What meritorious deeds or toil have you done deserving any consideration?

    Zhuo Yihang was taken aback, in that instant he was unable to think of any way to argue.

    Amidst her cold laughter, White Hair Demoness leaped down from the mountain peak. Zhuo Yihang cried out in alarm, but he saw the sleeve of her clothes flutter, a white shadow riding on the wind flew by. White Hair Demoness had unleashed her near perfect qinggong to leave. Very soon her laughter diminished, her shadow vanished.

    Zhuo Yihang stood by the hundreds of zhang deep cliff, he sighed dejectedly. At first he was upset, afterwards he started to blame himself. He thought that with his complete sincerity he would be able to move Yu Luocha's heart. But now he thought that after all was said and done, in all honesty, he had disappointed Yu Luocha too much, while the display of his sincerity was too little. When two people are deep in love, everything will come naturally, there is no need of too much talk. He went far beyond the Great Wall, braving the wind and the snow, those were things he ought to do anyway, why would he even need to mention it?

    Once his thought reached this point, Zhuo Yihang felt that on the subject of love, his knowledge was simply not deep enough! After staring blankly for a day while he was immersed in his thought, Zhuo Yihang suddenly felt a renewed comprehension. He knew that even if he could find Yu Luocha again, Yu Luocha would still be unwilling to see him. Thereupon he left Tianshan's southern peak and went back to the northern peak to see Reverend Hui Ming.

    As soon as they met, he asked, "Over three thousand li of thin water[1], how can I use the ladle to cross it?"

    Reverend Hui Ming put his palms together and replied, "If in reality there is no water to cross, why would you want to drift along?"

    Zhuo Yihang asked again, "If there was no Lei Yin Si[2] along the way to the Western Paradise, how did Tang Sanzang overcome the obstacle? If there was a Lei Yin Si, they would journey forever without reaching the destination, then what would happen?"

    Reverend Hui Ming replied, "Didn't Tang Sanzang wish to achieve Buddhism and fetch the scriptures? What does the question of whether there was a Lei Yin Si along the way to the Western Paradise has anything to do with it? If wholeheartedly one wants to be a convert, why would one consider the distance one has to travel?"

    Zhuo Yihang bowed deep with hands clasped, he said, "I have received venerable instruction!" Hurriedly he went out without saying anything anymore. Reverend Hui Ming did not persuade him to stay either; he simply smiled slightly while also sighed repeatedly.

    These exchanges were actually Zhuo Yihang's way of asking Reverend Hui Ming's advice in regard to Yu Luocha. He used 'thin water' as an allegory to 'the river of love'[3]. On 'thin water', any object would immediately sink, so he asked Reverend Hui Ming how could he fly across it? Reverend Hui Ming advised him not to drift along first, since in actuality there is no such thing as 'thin water'. Zhuo Yihang was also afraid that although he did everything possible, he would still not receive Yu Luocha's forgiveness, or perhaps when finally Yu Luocha forgive him, many years would be spent in vain, then what should he do? Thereupon he was using the 'Tang Sanzang overcomes the obstacle' metaphor.

    As Zhuo Yihang took his leave and went down the mountain, he said in his heart: 'That's true, as long as I vow to be always faithful, there will come a day when Lian Jiejie will forgive me. Perhaps she did not mean it, perhaps she is intentionally testing me through suffering. Suddenly remembering the Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower from the folklore, he said in his heart, 'Even if I have to do everything I can, braving the rain, snow, wind and frost in the next ten years, I must find this flower, to let Lian Jiejie know my heart and my love to her.'

    Henceforth Zhuo Yihang wandered around the vast prairie; he roamed all over Tianshan, north and south, and very soon three winters and summers had passed. Yet all along he was not able to find the fabled immortal flowers.

    One day, Zhuo Yihang was in the deep wilderness to the north of Tianshan, when a brilliant white snow-covered mountain peak attracted his attention. This mountain peak looked like a camel, with its head on the east and its tail to the west, and its entire body was covered with a snow white fur. Upon reaching the foot of the peak, Zhuo Yihang suddenly saw a stone building on the hillside. To have herdsmen at the foot of Tianshan was nothing out of ordinary, but to have some people actually live alone on a snow-covered hillside was quite strange. His curiosity was piqued, so he climbed upward.

    All these years Zhuo Yihang had endured quite a harsh training; not only his martial art skill advanced greatly, his endurance was also far above his previous condition. Currently he was able to climb the mountain just like treading on a flat land. In just a short moment he was already half-way up the mountain. He heard several people were talking loudly in front of the stone house. Hiding behind a large rock, Zhuo Yihang looked out and saw two Lamas, one old, the other young, were shouting loudly. The other party was a villager dressed in Kazakh minority attire, accompanied by a twelve, thirteen years old boy. The child looked like a skinny monkey, but his eyes were large and round, and looked so alive with spirit.

    The old Lama shouted, “Xin Laowu[4], since you cannot deliver the snow lotus herb, and you can’t fulfill your quota of rhinoceros horn, what do you have to say for yourself? How am I supposed to tell the Prince?”

    The older Kazakh villager pleaded, “This year I found barely enough snow lotus herb, which I had to sell to the medicine merchant; rhinoceros horn I only found one, Dashi Fu[5], please be lenient to me.”

    The old Lama was called Tiande Shangren[6], he was one of the Elders of Tianlong Pai of Tibet, who was hired by the tribal chief of Kazakh people as their master protector. The younger Lama was his disciple. Kazakh people were originally one of the nomadic tribes on the prairie. Each member of the tribe was required to pay tribute to their chief. The herdsmen must pay tribute in the form of livestock, the hunters and herbs gatherers of the mountain must pay tribute in the form of raw material for medicine and wild animals. Nine out of ten Kazakh people lived on the prairie, raising cattle and sheep. Only about a hundred or so families made their living on the mountain. They lived scattered over the Tianshan mountain range, so it was quite inconvenient to collect the tribute.

    Tiande Shangren, however, harbored an ulterior motive; each year he would volunteer to collect the tribute for the chief from the mountain hunters, his purpose was to gather rare medicinal herbs of Tianshan, which he would embezzle for himself. For example, the chief would require certain household to pay one rhinoceros horn, he would ask for two; or if the tribute was two snow lotus herbs, he would demand four. Since the mountain dwellers were unable to see their chief in person to ask for leniency, while powerless to resist the collectors, they were easily exploited. Xin Wu was a prominent Kazakh hunter, but because he was unable to defy, he was forced to beg for mercy.

    Tiande Shangren rolled his strange-looking eyes, with a cold laugh he said, “So you sold it to the merchant? Humph, what a nerve! Why didn’t you give it to the Prince first?”

    Xin Wu said, “If we don’t sell it, what would we eat? Snow lotus herb cannot appease hunger. Our Prince’s treatment to his people has always been good. In the past, when we cannot find any snow lotus herb, and did not pay tribute for two, three years, he would never send anybody to collect it. Dashi, please speak to him on our behalf, tell him our miserable plight. The Prince will certainly understand.”

    Tiande Shangren’s face flushed with rage, he scolded, “The Prince is kindhearted, you are cunning and abusing his kindness. The Prince can excuse you, I can’t! Are you going to pay or not? If not, I will arrest and take you away!”

    Without waiting for his master’s order, the young Lama immediately stepped forward, ready to fight. Xin Wu retreated again and again, while begging for mercy continuously. It looked like he would soon be caught by the Lama.

    In this critical situation, the boy suddenly called out, “Robbers! You dare to bully my father!” Suddenly he bent his waist and jumped with both feet, charging forward. The young Lama was completely oblivious of this attack, his lower abdomen and dan tian[7] was hit by the boy's head. 'Thump!' he was toppled down!

    Tiande Shangren was slightly startled. As the boy succeeded in toppling down one man, his courage arose, repeating his previous movement, he charged toward Tiande Shangren. Tiande Shangren lightly evaded, the boy's head struck a tree nearby. The tree shook, but surprisingly the boy did not cry out of pain. Seeing this, Zhuo Yihang was much amazed, he did not expect this little boy would have this kind of strong natural power.

    Tiande Shangren laughed aloud as he grabbed and squeezed the boy's arm. Tiande Shangren was an elder of a sect, naturally his martial art skill was not weak. Although the child had a strong natural power, he was unable to budge.

    Xin Wu called out, "Master, he is only a child who does not understand anything, please let him go, I will find some more snow lotus herb for you."

    "Xin Laowu," Tiande Shangren said with a laugh, "Consider it your good luck to have such a fine son! Not only I won't harm a single strand of his hair, I will even exempt you from paying the tribute."

    Xin Wu was very happy, he was just about to express his gratitude when Tiande Shangren suddenly continued, "Hold on! Although your son was born with a few catties of brute force, without any great teacher to give him directions, he will grow to be no more than a rough ox; what good will he be?"

    As soon as Xin Wu heard this, he knew the Lama's intention, but he did not say anything. Tiande Shangren released his grip and said with a smile, "Little kid, look at this!" With a sudden movement his palm hacked down on the tree trunk. 'Whoosh!' his chop was better than a machete. "What do you think?" he said, "You hit this tree, but not even a single leaf was shaken down. With just a palm I can cut it down. Don't you think my skill is a lot higher than yours?"

    With his pair of large eyes the boy stared at him. He asked, "What good is it to have such a high skill? Every year you bully my father, I don't want to learn the skill of a bully!"

    Tiande Shangren's countenance changed; suddenly he laughed again and said, "What a brat! You don't know what's good for you. Let me tell you: Your fate is decided. I must have you as my disciple, later on I will not want your father's things."
    The boy's face looked delighted, but suddenly he asked, "What about my uncles? Will you not want my uncles' things too?"

    Tiande Shangren was surprised, "Since when do you have so many uncles?" he asked.

    The skinny boy replied, "Father told me that in the past our Prince did not want us to pay too much taxes, it was only after you came along that we have to pay more. Outside the mountain you want my uncles' livestock, on the mountain you want my uncles' medicinal herbs, you want to take everything."

    Xin Wu hastily said, "Little child must not speak nonsense! Master, he is my lifeblood, please don't take him away."

    "Humph!" Tiande Shangren was furious, he shouted, "You dare to oppose Buddha! If I didn't look at your son's face, I would send you return to the heavens first! I don't want snow lotus herb, I want your son. Others wanted me to take them as my disciples, I was not willing, you just don't know how to appreciate someone's kindness!"

    The skinny boy called out, "Alright, you curse my father, you bully us, I don't want to be your disciple!"

    With a malicious grin Tiande Shangren said, "You don't have any choice, I will take you home. I will use whip to shed your love of the wilderness first, and then after you submit to me, I will teach you my skill."

    The skinny boy struggled with all his might, but Tiande Shangren tightly gripped his wrist. The more he struggled, the more painful he was, but this boy was so stubborn that he did not beg for mercy at all.

    Watching this scene, Zhuo Yihang was burning with rage; he leaped out from behind the rock and with a loud voice shouted, "Where's the logic in receiving a disciple like this?"

    Tiande Shangren cast him a glance; he noticed Zhuo Yihang looked like a Han scholar. With a loud laughter he said, "What do you have to do with me accepting a disciple?"

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Accepting disciple must be by mutual consent."

    Tiande Shangren said with a laugh, "Whatever Buddha wants, Buddha gets. You talk too much, I will break your legs first."

    With a cold laugh Zhuo Yihang said, "Do you think you can do it? Let me be honest with you: this child has a beautiful inborn character, you are not fit to be his Shifu!"

    Tiande Shangren roared in laughter. "If I am not fit to be his Shifu, what about you?" he said, "Listening to your tone, it seems to me you also know some three-legged cat martial art skill. Come, come! Why don't we have a little competition here?"

    Zhuo Yihang did not move a single muscle; with a lazy smile he said, "If you want to have a competition, why don't you start? Why are you still blowing off steam?"

    Seeing Zhuo Yihang did not even try to avoid the fight, did not show any respect to him, and carrying a careless attitude, Tiande Shangren could not restrain his anger. Flicking his monk robe away, he used the palm style with which he chopped the tree just a moment ago. 'Whoosh!' his palm swept horizontally!

    He did not realize that Zhuo Yihang deliberately wanted him to lose his temper. Actually, when Zhuo Yihang saw the way he chop the large tree, although he knew that based on his own power he would not necessarily lose, he realized it would not be easy to score victory either. Although on the surface he looked careless, inwardly he gathered his strength, to use stillness to overcome movement.

    First, Tiande Shangren was underestimating the opponent, second, he was infuriated; having a hot temper, his chi became unstable. Although his force was violent, it was not heavy, although his stance was swift, it was unsteady. Zhuo Yihang waited until the edge of the palm to almost arrive, when it almost touched his clothes, suddenly he turned his palm around horizontally, with the palm of his hand facing out, with his strength concentrated at the fingers. When Tiande Shangren palm chop arrived, he felt a jolt of energy pushing out; he could not control his body as he was pushed and tumbled down sideways. Quickly he used the ‘thousand-catty fall’ to steady, but unexpectedly Zhuo Yihang redirected his force, now he pulled to the back, and then instantly pulled out his strength completely. Tiande Shangren staggered. Zhuo Yihang flipped his palm over and struck Tiande Shangren’s chest, while shouting, “Go!” His palm pushed out, Tiande Shangren’s huge body immediately flew up, he was thrown backward with his head toward the rock!

    Zhuo Yihang laughed aloud. To his surprise, Tiande Shangren’s martial art ability was really not low, he flipped in the air, with his head down and feet up, his palm pushed against the ground, his body somersaulted. As soon as his feet touched the ground, like a flying arrow he shot back to attack while spinning his palms.

    Seeing this display of superb martial art skill, Zhuo Yihang did not let him to launch a frontal attack, he immediately sidestepped with his left palm taking Tiande Shangren's wrist, while with his right hand, with fingers straight like a spear, he reached out as fast as lightning toward the side of Tiande Shangren's body. Tiande Shangren's fists missed their target, while his side was threatened, hastily he held his breath to protect his acupoint, hence his speed was slowing down somewhat. With both fists Zhuo Yihang punched repeatedly, and gradually was able to gain the upper hand.

    Twice in a row Tiande Shangren had been in a disadvantageous position, he was quite upset and was hungry for a quick victory. However, after fighting for more than a dozen moves, Zhuo Yihang raised his left leg, while struck with his right palm. 'Bang!' Tiande Shangren's shoulder was hit. In this strike, Zhuo Yihang was using the unexpected tricky move called the Attack of Top and Bottom Intersection from the Wudang's Palm Technique. Fist and kick alternated, top and bottom working seamlessly, Tiande Shangren was unable to resist. 'Thump!' he tumbled down on the ground, and was unable to crawl back up for half a day.

    Watching from the side, the skinny boy clapped his hands and cheered. "Kick him again!" he called out to Zhuo Yihang, "Kick him down the mountain!"

    "Can't he crawl down by himself?" Zhuo Yihang said with a laugh.

    Tiande Shangren's face was red with shame, he crawled up and without daring to make any noise he ran down the mountain, followed by his disciple. The boy was delighted even more, he roared in laughter. Xin Wu stepped forward to express his gratitude, Zhuo Yihang said, "It was nothing, there is no need to thank me, Sir. Your child has grown big, what is his name? Looking at his skill just now, I am sure he will surpass us in later time!"

    "Longzi[8]," Xin Wu called his son, "Why haven't you thanked our benefactor? If not for this Mister, you would have been taken away by that evil monk! Mister, please don't mock him. He is thirteen this year, he still does not understand anything, he is very wild, really!"

    Suddenly the boy knelt in front of Zhuo Yihang and said, "Benefactor, please take me as your disciple. Let me, Xin Longzi kowtow to you!"

    Actually, Zhuo Yihang did not have any intention to accept any disciple, but looking at Xin Longzi's peculiar appearance and strong innate power, he was delighted and said, "Very well, I accept you as my disciple. I forbid you to take unfair advantage of others based on your own power after you mastered my skill."

    Xin Longzi said, "If I take unfair advantage of others based on my power, let me be like the evil monk just now, let me not die a good death."

    Xin Wu was also very happy, but he was afraid Zhuo Yihang would take his son away. Zhuo Yihang said, "I know he is your lifeblood, I will teach him martial art here."

    Xin Wu invited Zhuo Yihang to sit inside the stone house. The furnishing inside the stone house was very simple; there were two sets of bow and arrow hanging on the wall, and several animal hides, there were several large rocks on the floor, to be used as table and stools.

    "Why do you live on a snowy mountain like this?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    "We are accustomed to the cold weather," Xin Wu replied, "It is easier to make a living in here; with many snowy peaks on the mountain, gathering the medicinal herbs is rather easy."

    "Shifu," Xin Longzi said, "Tomorrow I'll take you up the icy peak to play, it's so much fun out there. There is an icy lake, with a couple of snow lotus herb on it. They bloom once every three years, it's too bad that we have already picked this year's snow lotus herb and traded it with the medicine merchant for salt and food, otherwise I can show it to you. The lotus looks very beautiful, it has a snow-white flower, very big and fragrant. One flower can be traded for ten catties of salt."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Snow lotus herb is a very rare drug ingredient, out there, one flower worth at least one tael of gold. Next time you shouldn't trade it cheap like that."

    Xin Longzi said, "What good is gold? It cannot be eaten."

    Xin Wu sighed and said, "How would we know snow lotus herb is that valuable? Even if we can bring it outside, it's not going to be easy to find a buyer who would pay the fair price. Besides, what about the travel expenses? Where can we borrow the money from?"

    Zhuo Yihang came from a wealthy family, he had a rather shallow understanding of poor people's plight. He listened without saying anything, but in his heart he was laughing at himself for not understanding worldly affairs.

    Xin Longzi laughed and said, "Shifu, I remember something: there are a couple more flowers up there, which are more beautiful than the snow lotus herb. Too bad those flowers have not bloomed."

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was stirred, "Those couple of flowers, aren't they one white one red?" he anxiously asked.

    "That's right," Xin Longzi replied, "How do you know?"

    Zhuo Yihang's delight was unspeakable. "Are they as big as rice bowls?" he hastily asked again.

    With a chuckle Xin Longzi said, "It's only as big as a plum blossom, the petals are still tightly closed."

    "Can you take me to see it today?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    Xin Longzi happily said, "Shifu, turns out you also like to play."

    Xin Wu felt strange, he asked his son, "When did you see it? Why didn't you tell me?"

    Xin Longzi said, "A couple of days ago I went up to hunt eagle's eggs, and I found them among the flowering shrubs. Those two flowers have not bloomed, why would I tell you?"

    "Silly kid," Xin Wu said, "I am afraid these two flowers are the fabled flowers of the prairie ..."

    "The Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower?" Zhuo Yihang interrupted.

    Xin Wu was surprised, "Benefactor, you know about this Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower?" he asked.

    Zhuo Yihang said, "I am here precisely to find the flowers!"

    Xin Wu said frankly, "Benefactor, you have saved us, you are also willing to teach this child martial art, we will never be able to repay you, let us guard these two flowers for you. Listening to Longzi, perhaps these flowers won't bloom for a very long time! Benefactor, please eat something, then we'll go up to look."

    Without thinking Zhuo Yihang ate a little bit of cake with fried game meat, and then went up the mountain with Xin Wu, father and son. This particular mountain was covered with ice and snow. Although it was already late spring, the wind was still bone-chilling. Zhuo Yihang was running behind Xin Longzi. The farther they went, the more he was puzzled; ordinarily, the higher one goes up the mountain, the colder the weather will be, however, the higher they climbed this peak, it was just the opposite, by the waist of the mountain, the air was very cold, but as they reached the top, the air felt nice and warm!

    Xin Wu said with a laugh, “This mountain is called Muztagata (or Muztagh Ata). Uighur people call ice 'mu shi', and call mountain 'ta ge', hence 'mu shi ta ge'[9] means 'ice mountain'. The entire mountain is covered with ice and snow, it is very cold. Only this peak is as warm as the autumn."

    "And why is that?" Zhuo Yihang wondered.

    Xin Wu said, "It is said that thousands of years ago, there was a volcanic crater on this peak; it shot flames all year long. Later, the volcano died out, the crater turned into a lake; however, the surrounding area still emits steam, as a result, the air is warm."

    Actually, there were quite a number of 'dead volcanoes' from the ancient times scattered over the desert, similar to the former volcano around the Turpan City area, which was very famous. The volcano on the 'mu shi ta ke' can be considered small in comparison to the others.

    "In that case," Zhuo Yihang said with a laugh, "This is actually the best place to live as a hermit."

    Picking up their pace, a short moment later they were climbing to the top of the mountain. Suddenly they saw brightness in front of their eyes, the entire peak was covered with lush green meadow, with a clear spring flowing down from the peak, forming a small lake underneath. There were also springs bubbling up in the lake, with flower petals and floating ice chunks scattered over the surface. Mass of flowers like an ocean filled the banks of the lake.

    Pointing at a flowering shrub Xin Longzi said, "Shifu, that pair of immortal flowers is over there."

    Zhuo Yihang pushed aside the dense vegetation and squeezed himself toward the cluster of flowers. Suddenly a strange fragrance assaulted his nostrils, it smelled so good that he felt that his spirit was revived. Upon careful inspection, he saw a pair of flower buds, as big as his thumb. The red one was like the color of rouge, the white one looked like a white jade, both were tightly wrapped by their own petals. Zhuo Yihang was delighted first, and then sorrow filled his heart. He was delighted because finally he found the Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower, he was sad because he did not know when would the flowers bloom?

    After looking at the flowers for a while, Zhuo Yihang beckoned Xin Wu to come over. Xin Wu also took a look and then he asked, "Benefactor, why do you want these two immortal flowers?"

    "A friend of mind is not yet old, yet her hair has turned white," Zhuo Yihang replied, "I want these two flowers so that I can help her to restore her youth." His voice and countenance were filled with emotion.

    Xin Wu was silent for half a day, he thought, "By the time these flowers bloom, I am afraid my son's hair will also turn white."

    According to the legend, the Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower only blooms once every sixty years. When it blooms, it grows as big as a rice bowl, as brilliant as the rosy cloud. Before it reaches ten years of age, the flower was barely as big as a thumb, after ten years, it will gradually grow bigger.

    Zhuo Yihang only knew the legend say that there was such an immortal flower, but he knew nothing about how to differentiate the age of the flower. He repeatedly asked, "When do you think this flower will bloom? Is there any other legend concerning this immortal flower in your prairie folklore?"

    Seeing how anxious he was, Xin Wu could not bear to tell him the truth; he only said, "Nobody has seen this Superior Dark Clouds Immortal Flower, I don't know when it is going to bloom. Perhaps five, perhaps ten years, or perhaps twenty years, who knows for certain?" Actually, he knew it would be closer to fifty years, but Xin Wu deliberately toned it down.

    Zhuo Yihang knitted his eyebrows tightly without saying anything. Xin Wu said, “Benefactor, please set your heart at ease, we, father and son, will watch over these two immortal flowers for you. When I die, there is still Longzi. One of us will know if the immortal flowers bloom.”

    “Might as well,” Zhuo Yihang said with a mournful laugh, “Watching over the flower to bloom, it does not matter how long one lives as long as one understands one’s cherished desire.”

    Xin Wu slowly walked away from the flowering bush, suddenly he remembered something. “I am only afraid that that evil monk will come back to harass us, then even if we, father and son, want to watch over the immortal flowers, we won’t be able to.”

    Zhuo Yihang thought for a while then he slowly said, “Actually, I don’t want to meddle in the matter of your people, various tribes of the prairie. But since that evil monk is so vile, I’d better fight him again.”

    “Benefactor,” Xin Wu said, “Are you going to give him some trouble? Tian Long Pai is rather influential around here, especially that evil monk, he is our Chief’s trusted man. Benefactor must be very careful.”

    But Xin Longzi clapped his hands and shouted, “Great! Shifu is going to beat him; it would be even better if he is driven away from our prairie.”

    Zhuo Yihang smiled and said, “Longzi, you must remember this: those who learn martial art must exhort good and fight evil. I wish to drive him away from the prairie, but I do not wish to beat him up.” After a short pause he said to Xin Wu, “I have been wandering the north and south of Tianshan for several years. I more or less understand the affair of various tribes of the prairie. Among the various tribes, Kazakh, Kadar and Luobu, three tribes are the richest and most powerful. Especially Luobu’s Chief, Tang Nu, whose fame spread out far and wide, earning the respect of the people. Although Kadar’s Chief Meng Sasi is extremely competent, he is a brutal man, and has a lofty ambition. Others are afraid of him, but nobody respects him. Your Chief is actually not bad, it’s a pity that he is easily swindled by that evil monk and some unworthy subordinates, therefore, the way he handles business in the recent years is both good and bad, half and half. Is my assessment correct?”

    “Benefactor has said it well,” Xin Wu said.

    Zhuo Yihang continued, “Therefore, I am going to see your Chief and tell him about how that evil monk is oppressing the people. I am going to ask your Chief to drive him out.”

    Xin Wu pondered about it for half a day, and then he said, “This is indeed good, however I am afraid it might not work as well as we hoped. When Benefactor leaves, it is best if you see our Chief’s assistant first, his name is Balong. This man is loyal and devoted to our Chief, he is also very good to our people. I heard he is not in good terms with that evil monk too. If you discuss it with him first, things will go a lot smoother.”

    “Very well,” Zhuo Yihang said, “Let me teach Longzi some basic skill of our school for a little bit, then I’ll leave.”

    Xin Longzi grew up on the icy camelback peak, he had been chasing birds and beasts since he was little, helping his father hunting, developing agility as well as maintaining a strong and healthy body. On top of that, he was born with an extraordinary strength, therefore, learning martial art was very easy for him. Zhuo Yihang taught him some basic skill, he also passed on to him a set of Nine-Palace Divine Way palm technique. He stayed on the camelback peak for three months. After seeing that Xin Longzi had comprehended the preliminary foundation, he instructed him to practice on his own before he left the camelback peak, heading north toward the prairie bordering the area where various tribes lived.

    One day, Zhuo Yihang was just crossing over a pass on the Muztagata. Just beyond this mountain was the Beijiang’s[10] lush and vast natural breeding ground. Although the Muztagata Mountain is not as tall as the Tianshan’s main peak, it is surrounded by peaks of Tianshan mountain range, just like a heavy door to a house, making it very arduous to pass through. Because this mountain is the passage between the north and the south, there was a narrow and winding path along the waist of the mountain opened by the people living in that area, yet because there were not many people walking along this path, weeds, thistles and thorns grew all over the place.

    Pushing the tall grass aside to open the way, Zhuo Yihang saw ahead of him was a pair of peaks opposite each other, overlooking a deep valley below. The mountain path meandered down like a long serpent snaking through in between the twin peaks. Looking at the path, it seemed like only one person or one rider can pass through. "This is truly a dangerous place where one man can stop an army of ten thousand from passing through," Zhuo Yihang mused.

    While he was walking, suddenly Zhuo Yihang heard the sound of horse bell ahead of him. The horse seemed to be galloping on such a rugged mountain path which was an absolutely impossible thing to do unless if the rider's equestrian skill was very exquisite. Zhuo Yihang's curiosity was piqued; he raised his head to scan the horizon, and saw in the distance that two horses, one in front of the other, were coming toward his direction. As the horses were just passing the path between the twin peaks, suddenly there was a whistle, followed by the twanging noise of the bowstrings. The horses neighed mournfully, the riders tumbled down and fell from the horseback straight to the bottomless canyon below!

    Zhuo Yihang was stunned, he assumed it was a band of bandits robbing a passerby. The horses were hit by the arrows, the riders falling down, it was too late for him to help; Zhuo Yihang was very angry. Suddenly he saw the two riders were somersaulting midair; surprisingly, before reaching the ground, each of them managed to grab an arrow and use the arrow to strike down the arrows raining down on them, while with the tip of their feet they pushed the cliff wall and unexpectedly they were able to jump back up. Meanwhile, from the among the underbrush and pile of rocks scattered around the place, a dozen or more men suddenly appeared; some drew their bows to shoot more arrows, the rest of them brandished their swords and sabers, immediately the riders were surrounded.

    These men were dressed in Luobo tribal attire, all of them looked unusually strong and sturdy. Surprisingly, they were able to move freely on the edge of the dangerous cliff among the scattered rocks. Listening to the whizzing arrows, their strength was not weak either.

    Zhuo Yihang shouted harshly, "In the middle of a clear day, in the vast and mighty universe, wicked thieves dare to commit atrocity!" Unsheathing his sword, he charged forward.

    Suddenly he saw the two riders leaped up like giant eagles sweeping in the air, followed by blood-curling scream as they struck two of the Luobu men down into the canyon below!

    The two riders broke through the encirclement and promptly ran away, while the Luobu men pursued them vigorously. The leader of these men had three plumes stuck on top of his head, he was able to dash on the mountain path as if it was a flat land. He pulled his bow and 'whiz! whiz! whiz!' he shot several arrows in succession. The two riders pulled the sabers from their waist to knock the arrows down, consequently, their steps were somewhat slowed down, it seemed like the Luobu men would overtake them very soon.

    Zhuo Yihang called out, "Hold on just a moment longer, I am coming to help you!" Displaying his excellent qinggong, he flew down from the waist of the mountain. He saw that the Luobu leader had already caught up with the two riders and swiftly chopped down his saber, while the other Luobu men were also arriving one after another.

    The two riders suddenly turned around and shouted, "Drop down!" One of the riders charged toward the Luobo man with arms spread out to hug him, and took him down. Like two giant balls the two men rolled down the hill. The other rider took this opportunity to run away.

    By this time Zhuo Yihang had come near, as he looked, he felt that the rider's face seemed familiar. The rider called out, "Zhuo Gongzi, help me!" This man was unexpectedly the former chief of the Imperial Bodyguards, Shi Hao!

    This recognition had taken Zhuo Yihang by surprise, he remembered Tie Feilong told him how one evening Shi Hao brought a Manchurian emissary to kidnap Yuan Chonghuan; apparently Shi Hao had some connections with the Manchus. Presumably because Ke and Wei had fallen, he had run away beyond the Great Wall.

    When Shi Hao called, Zhuo Yihang was unconsciously startled. The first thing that came to his mind was: 'I thought it was bandits ambushing and robbing some riders, looks like it is not necessarily so. What should I do now?'

    He heard Shi Hao call out, "Help me temporarily hold the pursuing soldiers, let me rescue that brother." Because of this shouting, he was delayed and the Luobu men had arrived, followed by rain of arrows everywhere!

    Zhuo Yihang was compelled to use his sword to defend himself, to his surprise, however, Shi Hao dodged and ran away, while waving his arm, shooting secret projectiles toward the Luobu man who was struggling with his companion on the hillside. Listening to the wind of the secret projectiles, they sounded like some kind of caltrop-shaped projectiles, and a series of projectiles were shot in quick succession.

    “Shi Hao, hold the fight!” Zhuo Yihang called out. Reaching out, he caught three arrows shot by the Luobu men, and flung them toward Shi Hao, knocking the last several secret projectiles shot by him; however, the first several projectiles had already arrived at the Luobu leader’s body.

    The Luobu men roared in anger. When some of them were fighting with Zhuo Yihang and the rest of them were trying to save their leader, Shi Hao took the opportunity to escape. The Luobu men could not catch him, so they all turned their attention to attack Zhuo Yihang!

    “Please calm down!” Zhuo Yihang called out, “I am not with him!”

    Of course the Luobu men did not believe him; they attacked and cursed him, “You hide people in the prairie to stir up trouble, you are the Manchurian’s spy, and now you injured our Chief. If we cannot cut you off into ten thousand pieces, we cannot be considered heroes of the Luobu people!”

    Zhuo Yihang was groaning inwardly, he did not expect that the man injured by Shi Hao’s secret projectiles was the most prestigious Chief of the Luobu people, Hero Tang Nu! Unleashing his excellent qinggong, Zhuo Yihang dodged to the east and ducked to the west, while keeping his eyes on the situation around him. He saw Shi Hao’s companion was riding on Tang Nu’s body, chopping his saber down. With all his might Tang Nu was holding his wrist, desperately struggling for his life.

    The Luobu warriors were rushing forward to help, but before they came near, the man suddenly shouted, “You take another step forward and I’ll cut your Chief’s head!” Although hatred filled the Luobu warriors’ hearts, they were scared by his threat fearing their Chief would be harmed, so they did not dare to move forward!

    Seeing this critical situation, Zhuo Yihang suddenly shook his sword. A burst of metallic noise was heard as the sabers and swords of several Luobu warriors close to him were cut in halves. They cried out in alarm and were forced to drawback. Zhuo Yihang seized this opportunity to break through the encirclement and rushed straight toward Tang Nu. The several Luobu warriors near Tang Nu rushed forward to meet the enemy, but Zhuo Yihang was as swift as a flying arrow, his shadow flitted, weaving through the surrounding warriors, very soon he was already out.

    Thinking that he was a friend, Shi Hao’s companion delightedly called out, “No need to come over, I am not injured. Just help me open the way, we’ll make a breakout.”

    Without saying anything Zhuo Yihang flicked his fingers to shoot his secret projectiles, plum blossom needles. The man had not finished shouting when a shot of pain attacked his wrist, his saber fell down. With renewed strength Tang Nu struggled free; with a loud shout he flipped over, and the situation was reversed, in a short time he was now riding on that man’s body.

    The man who rode with Shi Hao was called Ketu, a Kadar, sent as an emissary of the Manchus. His martial art skill was not weak. Although he was knocked down by surprise, he was still able to give a tenacious resistance. Besides, since Tang Nu was hit by Shi Hao’s poisonous caltrops, the poison was starting to flare out; as soon as he exerted his strength, suddenly his vision blurred and he lost consciousness. Ketu parried Tang Nu’s strike with a horizontal sweep of his left arm, while with the fingers of his right hand spread out like a claw he struck Tang Nu’s throat.

    Zhuo Yihang shot another needle; just like before, the timing and accuracy was exact, it hit the acupoint on the side of Ketu’s body, rendering him immobile; his fingers were still forming a claw, but he could not move it a single inch!

    Zhuo Yihang’s acupoint sealing with the flying needle was exceptionally fast, the Luobu warriors did not even realize that Ketu had been knocked down thanks to Zhuo Yihang; they still stormed toward him with blades and spears lifted high. Lying on the ground, Tang Nu struggled to sit up, with a hissing voice he called out, “This is our benefactor!”

    The Luobu warriors were stunned, someone was shouting, “He fought us and helped the Manchu spies escape; how can he be our benefactor?”

    Actually, Tang Nu was not sure about Zhuo Yihang’s intentions either; he said, “You have helped me, I will not give you any trouble; but please enlighten me: you saved me, but let the Manchu spies go, what are your intentions?”

    Zhuo Yihang was feeling sorry; suddenly from his hundred-treasure pouch he took out a bottle the color of lamb fat or a white jade, and poured a little bit of medicinal powder out onto a large leaf about the size of a human hand.

    “What are you doing?” the Luobu warriors shouted.

    Zhuo Yihang said, “Your Prince is hit by poisonous caltrops, take this medicine, some for external application, some to be taken orally, 24 hours later he will recover completely.”

    The Luobu warriors still did not believe Zhuo Yihang, they did not dare to accept it. Tang Nu said, “Give it to me! If he really wants to harm me, why should he wait longer?” Tang Nu was extremely straightforward, he dismissed his subordinates’ doubt just by those words. Seeing how Tang Nu trusted him, Zhuo Yihang felt very appreciative.

    Tang Nu took the medicine and sighed, “Too bad I’ll have to wait for 24 hours, I cannot go to pursue that Manchu spy!” And then he turned to Zhuo Yihang and asked again, “You saved my life, but you let my enemy go, actually, what is the reason?”

    Zhuo Yihang looked at the shadow to estimate the time of the day; with a loud and clear voice he said, “I will catch that spy for you! Leave some men here to wait, I should be back here before nightfall.”

    As soon as he said those words, the Luobu warriors’ expression showed their doubts; they all had seen Shi Hao’s ability, after this long, he should have been more than ten li away, how could Zhuo Yihang catch up with him? Zhuo Yihang did not want to waste more time by explaining, he simply took his heels and ran, only to hear Tang Nu call out, “If you catch the spy, don’t bother to come back, just hand him over to Balong. Balong is at the outermost mouth of the double mountain pass.”

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was moved, he thought, "It appears they have organized ambush at strategic places inside and outside the mountain to capture the spy. Since I am just about to see Balong, I can use Shi Hao as a meeting gift then I can kill two birds with one stone." Thereupon he unleashed his qinggong to its full potential and flew to pursue the spy.

    Although Muztagata is part of Tianshan mountain range, it stretches for more than a hundred li. For generations the mountain dwellers had been traveling over the mountain and thus creating the mountain path, the result was a meandering and circuitous path, unbroken for hundreds of li. Zhuo Yihang's martial art skill had enjoyed a tremendous progress in the past several years, plus he was accustomed to traveling along the mountain path, he thought that although Shi Hao's qinggong might be good, it could not be better than his own. At any rate, he estimated that he would be able to overtake Shi Hao before they were out of Muztagata.

    After pursuing for about two hours, Shi Hao's back was faintly visible. Zhuo Yihang called out, "Shi Hao, it's me! Wait for me, let us travel together."

    Shi Hao ignored him completely, he kept running forward. Zhuo Yihang mused, "Looks like he already has a guilty conscience. Tang Nu said that he is a Manchurian spy, and apparently he is right. Humph, you don't want to wait for me, do you think I cannot overtake you?" Picking up speed, he ran even faster.

    After two mountain passes, he managed to close the gap. Shi Hao suddenly let out a long whistle and stopped. Turning around, he said with a laugh, "Zhuo Yihang, why do you pursue me?"

    Zhuo Yihang was confident that Shi Hao was like a bird in the cage or a fish in the net, so he might as well simply talk frankly, no need to be polite with him. With a cold laugh he said, "Why do I pursue you? You should know."

    Shi Hao roared in laughter, he shrugged his shoulders and spread out his palms while saying with a laugh, "I am not the worm in your stomach, how can I know?"

    "Who was your companion?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    "Zhuo Gongzi," Shi Hao was still laughing, "Why do you mind other people's business?"

    With a serious face Zhuo Yihang said, "This time I have to mind. Tell me, isn't your companion a Manchurian envoy?"

    "What if he is?" Shi Hao said with a cold laugh.

    Zhuo Yihang's anger rose up, he said, "Do you want to fight me? Or will you follow me nicely?"

    Shi Hao burst out in laughter, "Zhuo Gongzi," he said, "You don't want a nice position as the Sect Leader, yet you come to this barren land beyond the Great Wall, arbitrarily meddling other people's business. Ha, ha ... too bad you have come too late, this other people's business is no longer yours to mind!"

    Before Shi Hao even finished speaking, Zhuo Yihang heard someone calling out, "Shi Dage, who is this kid? What other people's business he wants to mind?" Followed by a voice of foreign monk blabbering some swear words and cursing. From a valley came out two men, one was wearing a Kazakh warrior attire, the other was a Toutuo[11] wearing oversized red Buddhist robe.

    Shi Hao said, "This kid's background may not be insignificant, he is the Sect Leader of Wudang Pai!"

    The Toutuo rolled his eyes, he cast a glance toward Zhuo Yihang and then with thickly accented Chinese he said, "Ha ha, Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, are you? I have long heard about Wudang Pai's martial art; it is said to be number one in the Central Plains. I[12] want to have a contest with you."

    "Zhuo Gongzi," Shi Hao said, "Considering your part in covering for me just now, I don't want to kill you. Just leave and return to the mainland, go back to Mount Wudang; this is not the place for an upright, virtuous master like yourself!"

    Zhuo Yihang scolded, "Rebellious thieves, everybody has the right to punish you. No need to talk too much, the three of you can come together!"

    Having reinforcement nearby, Shi Hao's confidence grew; slowly, word by word he said, "Zhuo Gongzi, do you really want to fight? At least we ought to know each other first; let me introduce them to you. This is the head disciple of Tian Long Shangren[13], Master[14] Leimeng. Tian Long Pai's power and influence beyond the Great Wall is similar to your Wudang Pai's in the Central Plains. This is their territory and not yours; you should understand it clearly. This gentleman is a famous Kazakh warrior, Hachuan. How long have you been in this area? Haven't you heard about his reputation?"

    Shi Hao was fully aware that Wudang Pai's martial art was formidable, thereupon he used words to provoke Zhuo Yihang. But for the last several years not only his martial art skill advanced, Zhuo Yihang's temperament was also growing more stable and a lot calmer than before; how could he fall into his trick? While listening to Shi Hao, he also focused his attention to observe the enemy. And sure enough, while they were speaking, Master Leimeng suddenly launched a sneak attack.

    Waving his hand, he shot the Rolling Blade Ring, a unique secret projectile belonging to the Red Sect of Lamaism. The ring radius was no more than five cun[15], but there were twelve blades embedded on the inside. Approaching the enemy, all twelve blades could shoot out together. Zhuo Yihang heard the whooshing noise the secret projectile generated as it split the air toward him, swiftly he leaped up, unleashing the One Crane Soars to the Heavens qinggong. Pulling his sword, he charged straight to meet the incoming projectile head-on. Flicking his sword lightly, he sent the Rolling Blade Ring four, five zhang into the air. The twelve blades inside the ring shot out and fell into the valley below like dead meteorites.

    Master Leimeng bellowed in anger, brandishing his staff he swept forward. Zhuo Yihang mused, "Even your Shishu is not my match, you dare to be wild in my presence?" He did not know that although Master Leimeng was Tiande Shangren's martial nephew, he was after all the head disciple of the Tian Long Pai's founder. Tian Long Shangren's martial art skill was a lot higher than his younger martial brothers, therefore, Master Leimeng's skill level was about the same as his martial uncles. Because Zhuo Yihang underestimated the enemy, his sword was knocked by Master Leimeng's staff that it almost flew out of his hand.

    Master Leimeng laughed aloud and said, "Your reputation surpassed the reality. Wudang's Sect Leader is only so-so!" The laughter had not vanished, Zhuo Yihang's sword had already arrived, exceedingly swift and fierce.

    Master Leimeng warded it off with a horizontal sweep of his staff. Zhuo Yihang unleashed his swordsmanship, to the left he launched Peacock Picks its Plume, to the right he launched Li Guang Shoots the Rock, 'swish! swish!' he cut the belt on Master Leimeng's Buddhist robe. "What about Wudang Pai's sword technique?" he asked.

    Master Leimeng was shocked and was unable to make any sound. Zhuo Yihang moved his sword like a storm, pressing forward bit by bit. Master Leimeng was frustrated, twice had his Buddhist robe opened up, obstructing the movements of his hands and feet, hence he was flustered by Zhuo Yihang's relentless attack!

    Originally Shi Hao thought that although it would be difficult for Master Leimeng to score victory, he would not be easily defeated either; but seeing the battle situation, he was greatly shocked and drew his saber to join the fight. Zhuo Yihang hated Shi Hao to the bone; after feigning an attack to Leimeng, the tip of his sword turned around and went straight toward Shi Hao.

    During his employment under Wei Zhongxian, Shi Hao was inferior only to Murong Chong, Lian Chenghu, Li Tianyang and Ying Xiuyang, four men; so in terms of fame he was the fifth. Naturally his martial art skill was not weak. But after parrying several stances, he did not make any progress. Leimeng brandished his staff to counterattack, now with two against one, they managed to level up the fight.

    Seeing how swift and fierce Zhuo Yihang 's swordsmanship was, the Kazakh warrior Hachuan also jumped into the battle ground. His weapon was a single-footed human-shaped copper mace, with which he instantly used the move Taishan Pressing Down the Apex, crashing down on Zhuo Yihang's head.

    Seeing this demonstration of brute force, Zhuo Yihang did not dare to take the attack head-on; he flashed sideway to evade instead. Thinking that a man with such a brute force usually had a weak qinggong, as soon as he dodged, Zhuo Yihang moved his sword diagonally down to attack the lower part of his opponent's body. Who would have thought that Hachuan's martial art skill was a unique school of its own. His qinggong was definitely mediocre, but he was adept at 'wrestling'. As soon as Zhuo Yihang came near, suddenly he stretched out his leg to trip him. Zhuo Yihang's body was tilted forward, his sword lost its momentum.

    Hachuan let out a sinister laugh, the single-footed human-shaped copper mace struck Zhuo Yihang's chest. Luckily in this critical situation Zhuo Yihang did not panic, his move changed extremely quickly; seeing the violent incoming force of the copper mace, he knew he did not have enough time to dodge, so while his body was still leaning forward, he suddenly flicked his wrist slightly. Hachuan was still sending his strength, suddenly he felt a jolt on his wrist, the copper mace hung limply down. Zhuo Yihang spun on his heel, turning out while 'shua! shua!' he simultaneously parried Shi Hao and Leimeng's weapons.

    Hachuan was reckoned to be first or second best warrior of the Kazakh people, his wrestling skill dominated the area beyond the Great Wall. This time he tripped Zhuo Yihang, yet not only he failed, he also suffered a significant defeat; it was indeed beyond his expectation. Presently he did not dare to underestimate the enemy. Pulling himself together, he joined the fight of three against one.

    Failing to stab Hachuan, Zhuo Yihang was also startled. Originally he wanted to strike the enemy one by one to break through the encirclement, his first target was Hachuan, because presumably he was the one with the weakest footwork, on the contrary, because of Hachuan's unique wrestling skill, he did not dare to get too close to him. As for Shi Hao and Leimeng, these two men's martial art skill was only a notch below Zhuo Yihang's, he could not stab them within three stances and two styles. Therefore, to strike them one by one and break through their encirclement was definitely very difficult.

    The fierce battle continued for more than a hundred moves, Zhuo Yihang gradually fell into a disadvantageous position. Leimeng shouted, "Since you are a Sect Leader, surrender your sword to Buddha, you can then escape with your life."

    Shi Hao hastily said, "Releasing a tiger is easy, capturing a tiger is difficult, how can we let him go easily?" 'Whoosh! Whoosh!' he brandished his saber to intensify his attack. Shi Hao knew Wudang Pai people would unite to deal with outsiders, he also knew that Zhuo Yihang would never let him go; therefore, now that they have become enemies, he had all the intention to kill Zhuo Yihang to shut his mouth.

    Zhuo Yihang was a disciple of a prestigious school, an upright Sect Leader, naturally he had an air of arrogance within him. When Leimeng ordered him to surrender his sword, his heart and lungs exploded with anger. Hearing Shi Hao's comment, his anger shot to the highest heavens. With a loud voice he shouted, "With a 'non-self' like you, how can Ol' Zhuo ask to be spared today? Watch the sword!" Suddenly his sword technique changed; now he launched the several stances from Damo Sword Style based on his own comprehension, its swiftness and fierceness were unprecedented.

    Seeing his sword-play suddenly became a lot fiercer, Shi Hao and the others could not help but be alarmed. Each of them used their weapons in a tight defensive move. If Zhuo Yihang had used this opportunity to break out and run, those three would not dare to pursue. However, since he was overcome with anger, seeing his sword-play was performing as he expected, he attacked again and again.

    A moment later, Shi Hao was able to see that Zhuo Yihang's most fearsome and most difficult to resist was only a few stances. With a loud laughter he said, "Zhuo Yihang, you have exhausted your kicking-donkey skills, this place will be your burial ground!" Brandishing his saber, together with Leimeng and Hachuan they pressed in and counterattacked from three directions!

    The battle intensified, Zhuo Yihang used the Damo Sword Style interspersed within the Wudang's 72-style Sequential Life-snatching Sword Technique. He was barely able to defend himself with these several stances of Damo Sword Style. But his stamina was gradually decreasing, another hundred moves of battle, his breathing became labored, his heart pounded like crazy, and his body was drenched in perspiration.

    Shi Hao was greatly delighted, he attacked even more vigorously. Taking the opportunity when Zhuo Yihang was warding off Hachuan's human-shaped copper mace, his saber chopped down fiercely onto Zhuo Yihang's wrist.

    As Zhuo Yihang was breathing between life and death, when his life was flashing in front of his eyes, suddenly a long laughter came from the mountain peak. Shi Hao's heart was shaken and his hand trembled; his saber was about to chop, unexpectedly it skewed to one side.

    In great delight Zhuo Yihang called out, "Lian Jiejie!"

    Seeing Shi Hao's countenance suddenly turn ash grey, Leimeng and Hachuan were astonished greatly. "What are you afraid of?" they asked almost simultaneously.

    Zhuo Yihang called out again, "Lian Jiejie!"

    With a lewd laughter Leimeng said, "Is your Jiejie going to help you in battle? Looking at your appearance, your Jiejie's appearance must be not too bad!" Before he even finished speaking, his words turned into a miserable scream as he tumbled backwards.

    Hachuan urgently brandished his human-shaped copper mace to help. Zhuo Yihang thrust his sword straight toward the vital Soul Gate acupoint on the left side of his body. Hachuan thought Shi Hao was still on his left, so he did not try to parry, and was stabbed by Zhuo Yihang's sword; he fell down instantly!

    Several times Shi Hao almost lost his life under Yu Luocha's hands; right now, hearing her laughter, he was like a mouse meeting a cat, he ran away in panic. However, his limbs had already turned soft, the more he wanted to run fast, the slower he was. In just three leaps and two steps Zhuo Yihang was able to overtake him. Raising his sword, Zhuo Yihang stabbed him and he fell down to the ground.

    Zhuo Yihang paid no more attention to Shi Hao, anxiously he rushed to the mountain peak and called out, "Lian Jiejie, please come out to see me!" Powdered snow was blown away by the wind on the peak, but not even a shadow was to be seen. Zhuo Yihang called out again, "Lian Jiejie, I have found the immortal flower on the Camelback Peak of Mount Muztagata for you, please come down!" His voice was carried by the mountain breeze, it echoed across the peaks and valleys, still nobody responded.

    Zhuo Yihang was extremely disappointed, he plopped down on a rock dejectedly. "She is willing to rescue me from danger, why isn't she willing to see me? Ah, she comes and goes without a trace, perhaps these past several years she was often by my side without me knowing it."

    Delight, despair, wistfulness, bitterness; all kinds of feelings were flooding his heart! Zhuo Yihang gazed on the white clouds above, he gazed on the faraway mountain top, his mind went blank as if he was drunk!

    After an unknown time had passed, suddenly he heard sound of hoof beats and footsteps outside the mouth of the pass. Zhuo Yihang suddenly remembered that Shi Hao and Hachuan were still lying on the mountain path below; he thought, "Lian Jiejie is not willing to see me, there is no need for me to wait here. I wonder who's coming? If they are on Shi Hao's side and coming to help him, won't I fail my promise to Tang Nu? Not only that, Lian Jiejie would also have saved me in vain." Having these thoughts, he hurriedly rushed down the peak.

    Zhuo Yihang's stab just now was rather severe, Shi Hao's shinbone was pierced through. He was struggling to crawl on the ground, but he was still about a zhang away from Hachuan. It appeared that he was going to unseal Hachuan's acupoint, and then he would ask Hachuan to carry him down the mountain. It was a good plan, too bad that he was destined to fail within the sight of success. Zhuo Yihang arrived and subdued him. Zhuo Yihang sealed Shi Hao's acupoint, and then cutting a strip of wild vine, he bound the two of them together. Afterwards he went to look for Master Leimeng.

    He saw Master Leimeng was sprawling by the roadside with his face toward the sky, with a dark red streak across his throat. Zhuo Yihang lifted his foot to kick him gently, but Master Leimeng did not move at all, unexpectedly he had died! Zhuo Yihang bent down to take a closer look, and saw a silver needle sticking on Leimeng's throat almost all the way, only a little bit of needle was visible outside; Zhuo Yihang could not refrain from letting out a soft gasp!

    The needle on Master Leimeng's throat was undoubtedly Yu Luocha's unique secret projectile, the Nine-star Shaped Needle. Tiny secret projectiles such as Plum Blossom Needle and the like can only be released from a close distance, they cannot be thrown too far. Yet Yu Luocha was able to take the enemy's life without anybody was able to see her. Supposing she was hiding behind the nearest pile of rocks, the distance was still more than five zhang away. To be able to throw a needle over such distance and kill the enemy shows not only superb secret projectile skill, but a shocking internal energy level as well.

    Zhuo Yihang sighed and mused, "I did not expect Lian Jiejie's skill has reached such a state; it's just that she is a bit too ruthless."

    The sound of hoof beats was getting nearer, a short moment later, a small group of Kazakh warriors in single file entered the mouth of the gorge. The leader was an elderly general, with a golden-backed 'hacking-mountain' saber across his hand, the long hair on his temples fluttered in the air, he looked very imposing.

    Zhuo Yihang stepped forward to meet them and asked, "Are you the Kazakh's Old Hero, General Balong?"

    With a surprised look on his face, the old general replied, "Who are you? You are a Han, how did you know my name?" Looking around, suddenly he noticed Hachuan and Shi Hao, who were bound together; unable to restrain his shock he called out, "Hachuan, are you also a Manchu spy?"

    Hachuan opened his eyes and shot back, "What Manchu spy? I am helping Chief to unify Tianshan's north and south, a grand plan, but you are wrecking it!"

    "What plan?" Balong asked.

    Hachuan replied, "The Manchurian army is far way outside the pass, how can they be a threat to us? If we form an alliance with them to fight the Ming, only good will come out of it, nothing bad will happen. I hate it that an old useless man like you thwarting it, that even our Prince, the Great Chief Unifier of Princes and Dukes, does not believe me. I am working with Tiande Shangren so that Kadar Prince will join our cause, and form an alliance with our Prince and other tribal chiefs. After the Manchus enter the pass and destroy the Mings, we, the people beyond the Great Wall will become a nation; what's not good about it?"

    Hachuan was actually a first class warrior of the Kazakh; a pity that he was brave but lacked wisdom, his brain was muddled, so much so that he looked for the impossible and had not realized the folly of his thinking.

    Balong sighed and said, "Hachuan, you are a fool! You have been exploited by traitors; don't you realize it?" He was sighing, but he was actually secretly rejoicing because Hachuan was such a simple and straightforward man, that he exposed the conspiracy between Meng Sasi, Tiande Shangren and the Manchu, so that the disaster looming over the prairie can be avoided in time.

    Balong asked Zhuo Yihang, "Were you the one who caught these two men?"

    "That's right," Zhuo Yihang replied.

    "Why do you want to catch them?" Balong asked, "Did you know beforehand that they are Manchu spies?"

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Even if I did not know their conspiracy, I still wanted to catch him," he pointed to Shi Hao. "Old Hero," he continued, "You may not know that he was a trusted aide to Wei Zhongxian who had brought disaster to the country and calamity to the people, the former Chief of the Imperial Bodyguards, Shi Hao!"

    Wei Zhongxian was in power for many years, his notoriety spread out far and wide, even the people beyond the Great Wall all knew about him. "Aya!" Balong could not help but exclaim; and then he said with a laugh, "We, the people of the prairie, have a saying: trash tends to make a pile; no wonder he is in cahoots with that bald donkey Tiande."

    Hachuan was listening with eyes open wide, he was really confused. Hearing Balong's last words, he was angered and shouted, "Balong, are you saying that I am trash?"

    "You are not trash," Balong replied, "But you are being confused by the stink of trash!" After pausing for a while, he turned to Zhuo Yihang, "You have captured these two men, by right you ought to decide how to handle them. However, I am asking you a favor: is it alright to untie Hachuan?"

    "I'll leave the handling of this matter to General," Zhuo Yihang replied.

    Balong untied Hachuan and took him to the side and slowly told him the truth. Zhuo Yihang was able to hear everything. Balong explained how Tiande Shangren had been oppressing their people, deceiving those above him and bullying those below him. The two of them were talking for half a day. The more they talked, Hachuan grew ashamed mixed with indignation, his back was wet with perspiration. Suddenly he sprang up and said, "Alright, you are right! Tiande has swindled me to be his hit-man, I want to go back and settle the score with him."

    "No need to rush," Balong said, "We will eventually settle the score with him. But let me ask you first: you came to this place today, was it on Tiande's orders?"

    Hachuan said, "He told me and his martial nephew to come together to provide support for that Manchu envoy. Unexpectedly before the Manchu envoy appeared, we saw this Shi Hao."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "The Manchu envoy has been apprehended by Tang Nu early on."

    Balong happily said, "Tang Nu is really good, he has already investigated the Manchu envoy's movement over at the Kadar Prince, Meng Sasi's place, but hindered by Meng Sasi's power, he was unable to catch the envoy. Therefore, seizing the opportunity when the envoy was leaving, he contacted me to prepare an ambush here. Too bad I am still one step too late."

    Handing over Shi Hao to Balong, Zhuo Yihang said, "You are already aware about the wickedness of Tiande. I am asking you to advise your Prince to expel him out of the prairie. I am taking my leave now."

    "Hero[16]," Balong said, "I have a favor to ask you." Zhuo Yihang asked him what he need, Balong said, "Day after tomorrow we are going to hold the treaty meeting of the various tribes north of Xinjiang at the Kaqin Prairie, this time we will push forward the forming of an alliance among the tribes. I am afraid Meng Sasi and his clique will create a disturbance; moreover, Tiande's martial art is too strong for the likes of us to deal with. I am asking you to stay and lend us your power! We will thank you endlessly."

    Zhuo Yihang thought it was his righteous duty to help, thereupon he agreed. Balong was experienced and careful, taking along Zhuo Yihang and Hachuan, he led his men hiding in the prairie instead of promptly returning home to see their Chief; he chose to make preparations quietly first and did not send any reports to the Chief.

    Three days later, the leaders of various tribes and clans, accompanied by people of importance in their tribe, had all gathered at the Kaqin Prairie for the alliance treaty meeting. Kazakh's chief was deeply concerned because his trusted assistant, Balong, had suddenly gone missing these past few days. It was quite unimaginable, especially on the eve of this kind of important event.

    It was the middle of a hot summer, during the day, the prairie felt like the oven, but the evenings were very cool and refreshing, requiring the people to wear lined clothing; therefore, all activities were to be held in the evening.

    As the sunset glow faded away, the crescent moon raised above the grassland. Balong had not returned home. Without any other choice, Kazakh Chief took Tiande as part of his entourage to the treaty meeting.

    A large bonfire was lighted on the prairie, the tribal chiefs and their delegations sat underneath the canopies built on the grass around the fire. The assembly was opened with a sharp debate. The Kadar Chief, Meng Sasi, wanted to elect the alliance leader first, while the Luobu Chief, Tang Nu, wanted to push the capture of the Manchurian envoy first on the agenda; he wanted to expose Meng Sasi's collusion with the Manchurian to the assembly.

    Collaboration with the Manchurians to betray one's country was indisputably major accusation among the people of China; however, the Manchus had never waged war with the people of the prairie, therefore, 'collaboration with the Manchurians to betray one's country' was no more than a tactic used in the argument. Meng Sasi counter-accused Tang Nu of not even informing him of the capture of Manchu envoy in his employment. A sharp debate followed, the majority of the tribal chiefs did not approve of forming an alliance with the Manchus to oppose the Mings. However, some people also believed that Tang Nu detaining the Manchurian envoy was inappropriate.

    During the heated argument, the warrior on guard duty came in to report: "General Balong of Kazakh and his entourage have arrived!"

    Such is: Joining hands to subdue the tiger and capture the dragon, the dark cloud loomings overhead must be swept clean.

    [1]Orig. ‘ruo shui’ – weak water. From the following passage, I believe it means ‘water with low density (or specific gravity)’, hence I translate it as ‘thin water’.

    [2]Temple of 'the Sound of Thunder'. My apology to the readers, I am not familiar with either Buddhism or Journey to the West. I would appreciate it very much if any of you can help me clarify this part.

    [3]Can also be translated as 'a stumbling block on the path to enlightenment (Buddhism)'.

    [4]‘Ol’ Xin the fifth’

    [5]‘reverend father’ (lit. great master father)

    [6]Tiande means heavenly virtue, Shangren (lit. above/upper person) is a term of respect to address a Buddhist monk.

    [7]A point two inches below the navel where one's chi resides.

    [8]Lit. 'dragon kid'.

    [9]This is the pinyin spelling.

    [10]North of Xinjiang.

    [11]A Buddhist monk who did not shave his head.

    [12]He used 'an' to refer to himself, a northern dialect way of saying 'I'. Southerners would say 'wo'.

    [13]Reminder: Shangren (lit. above/upper person) is a term of respect to address a Buddhist monk.

    [14]Orig. 'fa shi'. See note 10 of Chapter 28.

    [15]Approximately 5 inches or 12.5cm.

    [16]Orig. 'yi shi' - literal translation would be 'righteous scholar'.
    Last edited by foxs; 05-06-10 at 09:55 AM.

  11. #31
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 30

    Chapter 30
    Cold star appears on the horizon
    Frustrated heart
    Fierce battle on the prairie
    Intense sword aura
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Balong's prestige within the Kazakh people was second only to the Chief’s; this time he arrived after a long delay, all the chiefs of various tribes were astonished, the Kazakh Chief was even more unhappy. The sharp debate was suspended, everybody turned their attention to welcome him. They noticed that Balong was accompanied by a Han, who was boldly striding into the meeting arena. As soon as Tiande Shangren recognized the Han man, his countenance changed. The incoming Han man was no other than Zhuo Yihang who had defeated him.

    Kadar Chief, Meng Sasi was the first to open his mouth in protest, "Today's assembly is our grassland people's assembly, how can a Han take part in it?"

    Balong laughed and said, "This Han man is closely related to our treaty to form an alliance. Besides, Tiande Shangren is not of our grassland people either, he is a meeting participant, why didn't you raise any objection?"

    Meng Sasi was silenced. "What relationship does he have with our assembly?" he then asked, "If he has anything to say, let him say it first, and then he can be dismissed."

    When Balong was arguing with Meng Sasi, Zhuo Yihang swept his gaze around the meeting, his eyes met with Luobu Chief, Tang Nu, they smiled at each other.

    Meanwhile, Meng Sasi had finished speaking, Zhuo Yihang was about to speak, when suddenly he saw commotion among the crowd outside the meeting circle. Someone was saying with a laugh, "Prince Tang Nu, your princess does not want to play outside, she wants to come with you!" The grassland people's assembly did not follow any strict protocol to begin with, so when a Chief's daughter ran in to find her father, nobody thought it strange.

    Balong, who was sitting next to Zhuo Yihang, laughed and said, "Tang Nu only has one daughter, whom he doted very much, wherever he goes, he always takes this daughter along. All of us are very fond of her."

    Zhuo Yihang found it amusing. He saw the crowd part and a little girl, about eleven or twelve years old, ran in. Her forehead was covered with bangs, with two braids of hair hanging behind her head, she wore a tight-fitting turquoise archery clothes, in the style of a grassland warrior. The rest of her hair was combed into horn-shape on the sides of her head, tied with a strip of red silk turban, which was fluttering in the wind as she run, she looked very lively.

    The girl shouted, "Father, it's not fun playing outside, the wind and the sand are strong, I want to warm myself with you here. Hey, will you have a martial art competition later in the program?"

    When the grassland people were having an assembly, and they could not reach an agreeable decision, oftentimes they would settle it with archery, horse-riding and the like. Most probably this girl had heard from the warriors guarding outside about the sharp argument earlier, thereupon she asked as soon as she was in.

    Tang Nu laughed and said, "You must not raise a clamor, if you want to stay here, you must sit nicely and do not make any noise, or else I will send you out."

    A chief teased her by saying, "If we have a martial art competition, we will ask our Little Fei Hongjin to be the judge, alright?"

    The little girl cast a glance toward her father, and did not dare to reply loudly. She only put her thumb on the corner of her mouth and said, "Yes!" while nodding her head vigorously, as if she was saying, "Wonderful, wonderful!"

    Zhuo Yihang's speech was interrupted by the little girl, at first he was not too happy, but seeing her lively and cute appearance, he could not help but won over by her smile. In a low voice he asked Balong, "How come Tang Nu's daughter's name is so unusual, she is called Fei Hongjin?"

    Balong answered with a laugh, "That's not her real name. Her name is Hamaya, but because she always wear a red silk turban on her head, plus she loves to ride on horseback - don't look at her young age, she can ride very fast, like the horse is flying - so everybody call her Fei Hongjin[1]."

    In the midst of heated argument, Fei Hongjin had brought a relaxed atmosphere. The numerous chiefs also took this opportunity to break the tension. After the laughter subsided, Meng Sasi's face turned serious again as he said, "Balong, who is the Han man you bring along? What is it that he wants to say?"

    Zhuo Yihang slowly walked into the center of the arena, he cupped his fist around and said, "My name is Zhuo Yihang, I am the Sect Leader Disciple of Wudang Pai of the Central Plains."

    His words were met with an uproar from Tiande Shangren, "Balong is colluding with a sect of the Wulin world of the Han people, could it be that he wants to seize the leadership?"

    Balong only laughed coldly. The Kazakh Chief knew very well that Balong was loyal and devoted, but these past several days Balong had suddenly gone missing, he could not stop suspicion from creeping into his heart; now hearing Tiande Shangren's instigation, he simply had to ask, "I have long heard that Wudang Pai is the leader of the Wulin world of the Central Plains; since you are the Sect Leader Disciple, why are you here?"

    Zhuo Yihang replied, "For us Jianghu people, floating to the east and rushing to the west is very common. If Prince asks me why I am here, it's the same as asking Wei Zhongxian's cronies why are they here? I am here for a personal matter, Wei Zhongxian's cronies are here as envoys to the Manchus, who in reality are threatening your authority and even want to take your life!"

    Tiande Shangren's countenance changed greatly. "Nonsense!" he said mockingly, "How can there be any Wei Zhongxian's cronies in here? What do we have to do with your Han people's internal strife?"

    When Wei Zhongxian was still in power, he extorted considerable amount of tribute from these princes, therefore, the various tribes in Xinjiang all knew that this man was a castrated traitor of the Ming Dynasty. After they were extorted once or twice, they simply decided not to send any more tributes, yet these people really detested Wei Zhongxian.

    Zhuo Yihang laughed coldly, he said mysteriously, "Do you want me to present people who will recognize you?"

    Balong let out a long whistle. The men he had prepared outside the meeting arena immediately pushed two men in; one was Shi Hao, the other was Hachuan.

    Pointing at Shi Hao, Zhuo Yihang said, "He had once stayed in your tent for many days, how can you forget him this quickly?"

    Shi Hao knew his fate was like a fish in the net, he was ready to die; however, to lighten his crime, he was willing to testify, "Shangren, if not for you and Prince Meng Sasi who are protecting me, as a Han, I alone would not dare to create trouble!"

    Meng Sasi's heart was greatly shaken, but on the outside he stayed calm. "You Han people are crafty in many ways; how do I know you are not bribing this man to masquerade as Wei Zhongxian's crony and conspire with you to slander me?"

    Zhuo Yihang laughed aloud and said, "There are crafty people everywhere in the world, not just among the Han people. Great Prince of Kazakh, if you do not trust Han people, here we have your own loyal subordinate."

    Hachuan responded by stepping forward and with a loud and clear voice said, "Prince, please pardon me! At first Tiande Shangren told me that he is going to help you win the leadership of various tribes' alliance, only then did I obey his order, together with Prince Meng Sasi to make contact with the Manchurian envoy, in preparation of the unification of the tribes north and south of Tianshan. But now I know that they have another scheme! They are prepared to use me to replace Balong, and after they seize power over your military, they are going to force you to submit to them and be their puppet. If you don't want to submit, they are going to kill you. And later, after the Manchurians cross the pass, Prince Meng Sasi will swallow up various tribes and found a kingdom with him as the emperor, become a vassal state of the Manchurians!"

    Hachuan's speech had created quite a sensation in the audience. Meng Sasi shouted sternly, "Hachuan, do you have any evidence? You are making slanderous accusations against others! Great Prince of the Kazakhs! Your subordinate slanders me, I demand you to condemn him!"

    The Kazakh Prince was also flustered, he shouted sternly, "Hachuan, you don't have any evidence, you must not make irresponsible remarks!"

    Hachuan calmly said, "Evidence? But I have already brought the evidence."

    Tiande Shangren flicked his two fingers, like a lightning a small fork used to pick beef flew toward Hachuan's throat!

    Zhuo Yihang had already anticipated against this attack, leaping two steps forward and reaching out, he caught the small fork in his palm, while shouted loudly, “Tiande Shangren wants to kill people to eliminate witness, this is the evidence!”

    Tang Nu also shouted, “Arrest him first!”

    In the following chaos, suddenly they heard the little girl was screaming; Tiande Shangren had caught Fei Hongjin in his arms and jumped onto the stage erected on the prairie. This raised platform was prepared for ceremonial sacrifice to the Heaven later when the meeting was over. He laughed maliciously and said, “Tang Nu, Balong, you have bribed Hachuan and those two Han men to frame me? Humph, I am not that easy to be dealt with! Your girl’s life is in my hands, I only need to exert some strength, and she is finished!” While saying that, he put his hand around Fei Hongjin’s neck.

    “Shameless wicked monk, put her down!” Tang Nu shouted.

    The rest of the chiefs were also angry, but Fei Hongjin was in his hands, how could they help? The old chief of Kazakh said, “Tiande, we can talk. Aren’t you ashamed of bullying a little girl like that?”

    Tiande Shangren laughed and said, “That’s right, we can always talk; that’s reasonable. I don’t want to stay on your prairie anymore. Tang Nu, let me go back to Tibet; as soon as I am in Tibet, I will send your daughter back to you!” Tiande Shangren knew he was no match for this crowd; therefore, he wanted to take this opportunity to escape.

    Tang Nu was furious; seeing Fei Hongjin on the stage was staring at him, he could not bear not to call out to her, “Hamaya, don’t be afraid. I promise to let him go!”

    Fei Hongjin called out from the stage, “Who says I am afraid?”

    Hearing Tang Nu’s promise, Tiande Shangren was delighted, his fingers relaxed. Actually, he was also afraid he would pinch too hard and kill the girl, and then he would not be able to escape. Who would have thought that as soon as his grip loosened, Fei Hongjin’s small hand struck the side of his body? The point stricken was exactly a vital acupoint. Tiande Shangren screamed loudly. Fei Hongjin struggled to free herself from his grip and dropped down from the stage. The blow was a vicious palm technique, fortunately Fei Hongjin’s power was lacking, otherwise he would have suffered broken ribs and shattered bones. Even so, Tiande Shangren was still bawling loudly. He tried to stand up, but he kept tumbling down again.

    Fei Hongjin was surprisingly very quick and agile, with a sudden spin of her body, she waved her arm. Tiande Shangren suddenly felt a streak of silvery light flash in front of his eyes; hastily he brandished his Buddhist robe to ward off. Fei Hongjin successively launched two flying needles, but both were brushed away by him.

    These events happened as fast as lightning or wild fire; the people underneath the stage were not clear how Fei Hongjin had struggled free. To say that Zhuo Yihang was shocked would be an understatement! Because the way Fei Hongjin made her move was Yu Luocha’s unique skill. The way Yu Luocha slapped and counterattacked with her palm, the way she snatched away the golden saddle, were precisely using this special technique! Plus the way she launched those two flying needles were similar to Yu Luocha’s unique secret projectiles throwing technique, the Nine-star Shaped Needles. Not even in his wildest dream would Zhuo Yihang think that this little girl of the prairie prince was indeed Yu Luocha’s direct disciple!

    By this time Tang Nu, Balong, and the others were rushing forward. Zhuo Yihang let out a long whistle, his shadow flew up. He moved later, but arrived earlier; flitting over everyone’s head, he flew onto the stage.

    After brushing away Fei Hongjin’s silver needles, Tiande Shangren stuck out his five fingers like a hook, and just about to claw down when Zhuo Yihang arrived and warded off his attack. Tiande Shangren staggered back a few steps. Fei Hongjin laughed and leaped down from the stage, back to her father’s embrace.

    On the stage, Tiande Shangren’s countenance turned ash-grey; his eyes seemed to be spitting fire as he pulled out his sword to fight obstinately. Zhuo Yihang was even more unwilling to talk than he was, with a flickering sword he charged immediately.

    Suddenly, there was a commotion under the stage. When Kadar Chief Meng Sasi saw that their conspiracy fell through and stood exposed, he took his delegation to leave the meeting arena. With a loud voice he announced, “I am not interested in the alliance anymore, hereafter you and I shall not be concerned over each other’s affairs!” Although everybody else hated what he had done, he was after all a respected Chief, so they felt it was inappropriate for them to stop him and let him leave.

    Meanwhile Tiande Shangren and Zhuo Yihang were still fighting. Tiande Shangren went all out, boldly and fiercely assaulting the enemy. His special skill Celestial Dragon Sword Technique was indeed very swift and fierce, with its eighteen ways and one hundred sixty-two steps, which he cycled constantly to unleash its full potential. The sword created strong gust of winds, as swift as the wind and the rain. Seeing him staking everything he had, Zhuo Yihang did not dare to underestimate the opponent; unfolding the Wudang Sword Technique, he went on the defensive while calming himself down and met the attacks one by one in an unhurried manner.

    Hachuan went over to his Chief. He presented a large bundle of documents with both hands and said, “Your Highness, this is the evidence I mentioned a moment ago.”

    Being an experienced and careful man, Balong was hiding on the prairie and did not appear until Tiande Shangren arrived at the meeting. Then, taking Zhuo Yihang and Hachuan along, they broke into his tent. Tiande Shangren’s several disciples, whom he had left to guard the tent were not their match and they captured each and every one of them. Balong searched the tent, and found the correspondence between Tiande Shangren and Meng Sasi. He also found several documents proving that he had contact with the Manchurian envoy. Balong put all these documents into a bundle and handed it over to Hachuan, who, in turn, presented them to the Chief.

    The Kazakh Chief angrily said, “I don’t need to look! I was swindled by that wolf, and now I am really ashamed toward you!”

    Hachuan said, “I was also deceived by him. It was only after I read these letters that I realize the magnitude of their scheme.”

    Taking Fei Hongjin along, Tang Nu walked over to the Kazakh Chief. “As the water recedes, the rocks appear,” he said with a laugh, “Now that the truth is revealed, we do not need to look at the evidence; let’s just watch the sword duel.”

    The Kazakh Chief was so angry that he ground his teeth. He turned to Hachuan and said, “Aren’t you going to help that Han man?”

    Hachuan laughed and said, “This Han man is a Sect Leader, he won’t like other people to help him in fight.” Hachuan was a pugilist himself, so he more or less understood the customs of the Han people’s Wulin world.

    The Kazakh Chief saw how fierce Tiande Shangren was, the sword in his hand flashing, it seemed to be confining Zhuo Yihang’s sword in the middle. He could not help but feel anxious. “Tiande’s martial art is unusually formidable,” he said, “Can this Han man be his match?”

    “A few days ago,” Hachuan said, “I would say that his martial art skill is without rival in the world.”

    “What?” the Kazakh Chief was astonished, “Are there people stronger than him?” It should be understood that only because Tiande Shangren had demonstrated his superb martial art skill in front of him, the Kazakh Chief finally invited him to serve as the Master Protector. Moreover, for the last several years, indeed nobody had been able to match Tiande Shangren; therefore, the Kazakh Chief’s opinion of his martial art skill had reached the superstitious degree.

    “This Han man is a lot stronger than he is,” Hachuan said.

    The Kazakh Chief was only half-convinced, thereupon while watching the sword duel on the stage, Hachuan narrated how on the Muztagata Peak, with one against three, Zhuo Yihang was still able to defeat them.

    By the time he finished speaking, the battle situation underwent a big change. Actually, Zhuo Yihang's swordsmanship was more formidable than Tiande Shangren's; it was because he was unwilling to stake everything he had that at first he only concentrated on defense and not on offense. By this time Tiande Shangren had already launched the entire set of 162 stances of Celestial Dragon Sword Technique, yet he did not gain the least bit of advantage; his spirit was dampened, his mind anxious, his sword-play gradually became chaotic.

    Zhuo Yihang let out a loud shout, his sword movements changed abruptly; like a sudden clap of thunder or a jolt of lightning, he counterattacked several stances in succession. The people under the stage were watching with blurred vision and shaken hearts. In the middle of the fierce battle, suddenly Tiande Shangren pounced with all his might, his sword suddenly appeared in front of Zhuo Yihang's face!

    "Aya!" the Kazakh Chief exclaimed, thinking that in desperation Tiande Shangren staked everything in this last attack, the Han man would be hard-pressed to evade this malicious move. Hachuan was also shocked, but suddenly they heard Zhuo Yihang shout, "Got you!"

    Nobody could see clearly what had happened, but they saw Tiande Shangren's huge body kicked down the stage, with a sword hole in the pit of his stomach; blood gushing out from this wound, it was obvious that he would not live.

    What happened was that while Tiande Shangren was desperate, Zhuo Yihang deliberately feigned an opening in his line of defense, enticing Tiande Shangren to thrust his sword into this opening, and then abruptly Zhuo Yihang launched a killer move, rendering Tiande Shangren incapable to retract the sword to defend himself. It was precisely the 'life-snatching' part of the Wudang's 72-Style Sequential Sword Technique.

    The Kazakh Chief was greatly impressed, he acclaimed repeatedly, "Today my horizon is greatly broadened. This is indeed the matchless swordsmanship under the heavens."

    Tang Nu only smiled, he laughed inwardly at the narrowness of the Kazakh Chief's outlook; he mused, "If he could see Hamaya's Shifu, he would prostrate himself in adoration."

    With Tiande Shangren dead and Meng Sasi left, the treaty meeting proceeded smoothly and the result was obtained fairly quickly. The various tribes agreed to form an alliance. Luobu's Chief Tang Nu received the most support and was pushed ahead to be the alliance leader of the Beijiang[2]'s tribes.

    At the end of the ceremony, all the attendants, the various clansmen, cheered, their voices shook the sky. The ceremony was followed by an all night long party. The Kazakh Chief expressed his gratitude again to Zhuo Yihang, he wanted to persuade Zhuo Yihang to stay and train the warriors under his command. Zhuo Yihang tactfully declined, and went alone to look for Tang Nu.

    Tang Nu and his daughter were watching the horse race. "Prince," Zhuo Yihang said, "I have something I'd like to ask you, can I?"

    "I was about to look for you to express my gratitude again," Tang Nu replied, "Within these three days you have repeatedly saved our, father and daughter's, lives; we don't know how we are going to repay it!"

    Fei Hongjin also liked Zhuo Yihang very much. "Shushu[3]," she said with a smile, "You really are a good man; if not because of you, I would have been grabbed by that evil monk. My Shifu says that there are very few good men; she told me that when I grow up, I ought not pay attention to those stinky men, but I think you are a very good man."

    Zhuo Yihang could only force a smile. Taking his daughter along, Tang Nu led Zhuo Yihang away from the noisy crowd, taking a stroll on the prairie. It was a midsummer night, the star-studded sky was exceptionally bright, it sparkled as if it was a blue velvet screen inlaid with beads of gems. Zhuo Yihang gazed at the stars, entranced as if he was dreaming.

    Tang Nu felt strange, he asked, "Mr. Zhuo, what is it that you wanted to say?"

    "Forgive me for being bold," Zhuo Yihang said, "May I ask who teaches Young Princess martial art?"

    Fei Hongjin rolled her mischievous eyes, she laughed and said, "Shifu forbids me to tell anybody."

    Tang Nu laughed, "Mr. Zhuo is not a stranger," he said, "There is no harm in telling him."

    "Then Father should tell him," Fei Hongjin said, "Then even if Shifu finds out, she cannot blame me."

    Tang Nu laughed, "You are indeed a good disciple of your Shifu." Then to Zhuo Yihang he said, "Mr. Zhuo, let me tell you a story first. About a dozen years ago, I went to Beijing to offer tribute to the Imperial Court. That time the Emperor was still very young, he treated me very well. When I returned, he bestowed quite a bit of gifts to me. I would never have thought that because of those treasures, I nearly lost my life in a foreign land."

    "What happened?" Zhuo Yihang asked, "Didn't the Imperial Court send escorts?"

    "Let's not talk about them!" Tang Nu said, "Unexpectedly those escorts conspired with rebel army against the Imperial Court, they wanted to rob me. Luckily it was not time for me to die yet, in the most critical time, there was a heroine who suddenly arrived and saved me."

    Although Zhuo Yihang had never heard Yu Luocha tell this story, by this time he had already deduced that it must be her; he could not refrain from blurting out, "It was Yu Luocha!"

    Tang Nu was startled. "What Yu Luocha?" he said, "She was called Lian Nichang. After she arrived at our prairie, some people call her White Haired Demoness."

    Fei Hongjin interrupted, "Although my Shifu's hair is completely white, her face is very pretty. If I can grow up to be as beautiful as she is, I will be very happy."

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was stirred, inwardly he felt very strange. He heard Tang Nu continue, "Hence she is my first savior. At that time I said to her: if someday you visit the area north and south of Tianshan, you must come visit me. It was only a pleasantry on my part, I did not expect that several years ago she did indeed come here. She has not forgotten me, so one day she really come to visit me. She was always delighted to see Hamaya. Perhaps they were destined to be together. At first she only stayed for a day or two before she left again, but after seeing Hamaya, she has actually settled down."

    "Does that mean she lives at your place now?" Zhuo Yihang anxiously asked.

    "Not too fast, let me tell you the rest of the story," Tang Nu replied, "She said she has a friend who lives on the northern peak. This friend of her has accepted a very good disciple, therefore, she also wanted to take a good disciple to achieve success on her behalf."

    Zhuo Yihang was laughing inwardly, he mused, "Lian Jiejie is always very competitive, she is always unwilling to let Yue Mingke outdo her. Even in taking disciples she still wants to compete." He thought further, "The later waves of Changjiang River[4] always push the former waves; these younger generations are all talented people with beautiful characters, loved by others. Yue Mingke has Yang Yuncong, Lian Jiejie has Fei Hongjin; my Xin Longzi must not lose to them."

    Tang Nu continued, "Thereupon she took Hamaya as her disciple. This is exactly what I have always been looking for. Hamaya has been training with her for more than two years. Mr. Zhuo, do you think she will accomplish much?"

    "Little Princess' martial art skill is superb!" Zhuo Yihang said. Burning with impatience, he asked, "So now she lives with you over there?"

    Tang Nu said, "Her character is very strange, each time she only visits for from ten days to half a month to teach Hamaya, and then she would leave immediately. In a year she only comes three to five times."

    Fei Hongjin laughed and said, "Too bad you are a few days too late, otherwise you would be able to meet her. Compared to yours, her swordsmanship is not too bad. Once I have seen her jump onto a tree and stab a low-flying bird!"

    Zhuo Yihang was not in the mood to chat with Fei Hongjin; he anxiously asked, "Um, too bad she had already left! I suppose you do not know where she is going?"

    "I don't," Tang Nu said, "She has never told us where she is going. However, this time she did leave a bit of message."

    "What message?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    "Just before she left," Tang Nu said, "She said that there will be a friend coming to see her. But she still does not want to see that friend. She told me that if someone is anxiously inquiring about her, she asked me to tell that person not to worry and to wait a while longer, she might go to look for him."

    "Really?" Zhuo Yihang asked happily.

    Fei Hongjin puckered her lips and said, "My father has never told a lie!"

    Tang Nu laughed and said, "Mr. Zhuo, apparently you are the friend who is coming to see her, aren't you?"

    Zhuo Yihang nodded. "That's right," he said. Looking up to the sky, he saw cloudless sky for thousands of li, the vast expanse of sky was clear blue. At this moment, Zhuo Yihang's mood was as clear as the sky; he had never felt happiness like this for a long time.

    "Shushu," Fei Hongjin suddenly said, "Do you also like to look at the stars?"

    "I do," Zhuo Yihang said, "I like to look at the shining stars. They are actually very far, but they look so close." After saying that, he laughed inwardly, musing, "How can a child understand these words?"

    Fei Hongjin suddenly pointed to a bright star on the horizon and said, "My Shifu also likes to look at the stars. Shifu said that she is like that North Star; only when there is no dark cloud in sight the North Star will brightly shine."

    Zhuo Yihang had a sudden inspiration. He looked up at the sky again, but the night was almost gone, the lights of the stars gradually weakened.

    Several days after the treaty meeting on the prairie, Zhuo Yihang bade his farewell from Tang Nu. His heart was brimming with blissfulness. He knew Yu Luocha was frequently by his side, like the stars of the night stealthily watching over him. Perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow morning, she would suddenly appear in front of him, without him even need to say anything.

    Thereupon Zhuo Yihang wandered around the prairie again, looking forward for that 'miracle' to happen. However, ten days passed, and then half a month, and then a month, two months, the sun arose and the sun set, the stars in the sky came and went, nights passed, new days began; time raced on, yet there was no trace of her. The prairie was boundless, from beginning to end, Yu Luocha's shadow never appeared. Zhuo Yihang gradually fell into despair. He remembered Xin Longzi, he remembered the two immortal flowers on top of the Camelback Peak. Thereupon he traversed the grassland once again, thinking that he would return to the Camelback Peak of Muztagata Mountain, to wait for the flowers to bloom, to wait for her to appear.

    While wandering around the prairie, Zhuo Yihang suddenly discovered a 'miracle', but it was not the 'miracle' he had hoped for; rather, he found a mark left by Jianghu character. It was some strange looking patterns drawn on a rock. Sometimes it was an arrow symbol on the meadow, as if someone was trying to give direction to his companion. Zhuo Yihang was confident of his own skill, plus he was courageous, so he did not pay attention to these marks.

    One day he was walking on a sandy desert area, the sun was scorching overhead, the air was stifling hot, when suddenly a gale blew, the yellow sand of the desert rose up all around him. Zhuo Yihang knew that sandstorm on the desert was dangerous; if one was not careful, one might be buried alive by the moving sand dunes. Fortunately all these years he had had some experience regarding the desert sandstorm. He quickly looked for a place where he could hide from the blowing sand. In the midst of the storm, he suddenly saw several riders galloping fast.

    The sandstorm was only a hot blast of wind flitting across the desert, it came swiftly, it also ended swiftly. In just the time needed to cook rice, the storm already passed. Zhuo Yihang quickly went out of his hiding place, he was hoping that he could leave the desert area as early as possible and reach the grassland area before dark, to find food and water.

    Suddenly he heard the noise of battle transmitted by the desert breeze. Zhuo Yihang mused, "Could it be those Jianghu characters are tracking down their enemy into the desert and overtaking them, they are trying to make a kill?"

    In his curiosity he followed the noise and saw a young woman was running in front, being chased by two men. The woman was running swiftly, but the pursuers were able to overtake her. Three shadows were engaged in a fierce battle on the desert. Zhuo Yihang muttered to himself, "This time I'd better investigate clearly before getting myself involved. I must not act like the last time, thinking of saving a merchant from horse thieves, I was helping bad people instead."

    As Zhuo Yihang got near, when he looked up, he was shocked, because the men pursuing the young woman were unexpectedly Shen Dayuan and Shen Yiyuan, the twin Shen brothers. Zhuo Yihang felt very strange. 'Has Zhang Xianzhong's army been defeated by the imperial army and is disbanded? Otherwise how can those two living treasures be on this desert? Who is the young woman they are pursuing?'

    Zhuo Yihang was just about to pull his sword when he suddenly heard that young woman call loudly, "Zhuo Dage!" Zhuo Yihang could not help but was startled; he heard the young woman call again, "I am Luhua! Dage, hurry up and help me!"

    In an instant Zhuo Yihang was feeling pleasantly surprised; this young woman turned out to be martial uncle White Stone's daughter. He remembered how they met on Mount Song for the very first time, when she was only seven or eight years old, now she looked so tall! He wondered if martial uncle White Stone was also here?

    He was surprised, delighted and anxious at the same time, but Zhuo Yihang did not have time to leisurely ponder about his options. The Shen Brothers' martial art skill was no trifling matter, facing their converging attack, He Luhua was truly surrounded by perils. Zhuo Yihang let out a loud shout and pulled his sword.

    With his strange laughter Shen Dayuan said, "It is truly by fate that we did not meet each other anywhere else but here!"

    "Why do you bully my little Shimei?" Zhuo Yihang shouted harshly.

    Shen Yiyuan laughed aloud and said, "Even your Shishu we still want to bully; so what?"

    Zhuo Yihang was angry, unfolding his swordsmanship, he thrust the sword straight ahead, engaging the Shen Brothers in a fierce battle in the desert! The Shen Brothers did not expect that after several years they had not met each other, Zhuo Yihang's martial art skill would advance this much. The sword in his hand danced like a whirlwind, like a divine dragon frolicking in the river, or a magical bird fluttering in the wind; not only it flowed smoothly from one style to the next, each move was both pressing and thoroughly swift and fierce, so that even with such high level or martial art skill, the Shen Brothers found it difficult to resist.

    Actually, by fighting two against one, even if the Shen Brothers may not necessarily able to prevail over their opponent, they would at least be able to gain a slight advantage; however, there was He Luhua. Although her swordsmanship was far inferior to Zhuo Yihang's, He Luhua was after all Wudang Pai's direct disciple. Her moves were exceptionally clever, oftentimes she would take the opportunity when the enemy was hard pressed by Zhuo Yihang by launching a sudden attack from the side, disturbing the enemy's concentration, that the two Shen Brothers were helpless to fend off.

    After fighting for a while, Shen Yiyuan was hit by the sword that he repeatedly drew back. Shen Dayuan lost the appetite to continue the fighting, protecting his younger brother, they turned around and fled.

    Zhuo Yihang did not pursue, he anxiously asked He Luhua, "How did you end up fighting them? Is Shishu White Stone coming?”

    He Luhua used her sleeve to wipe clean the sand from the storm from her face, she said with a laugh, “How can I dare to wander alone beyond the Great Wall if father wouldn’t be coming?”

    Zhuo Yihang felt like a deer had hit his head, his heart was thumping madly. Meanwhile He Luhua continued, “Er Shibo[5] still wants you back to be our Sect Leader, he sent my Father to come here and find you. Jiejie has left home[6]. For the last several years brother-in-law stayed on Mount Wudang, but now he has returned to his home school, Emei; Jiejie is going with him. Father only has me now, he is very lonely. I am tired of living on Mount Wudang, so I badgered him to take me beyond the Great Wall to broaden my horizons. He could not stand my nagging him, so in the end he agreed to take me along.”

    He Luhua was bright and so full of life, with a tad of mischievous spirit, she was so different from her quiet elder sister. Zhuo Yihang did not say anything, his mind was churning, wondering what he would say to his Shishu when they met.

    He Luhua added, “When we reached the desert, we did not have enough water left in our water pouch. There was a small mountain over yonder, and we vaguely saw a mountain cave, Father said that perhaps there is a spring in the cave, so he went to find some water. He noticed I was dead tired, so he told me to just wait over here. Unexpectedly, Father has not left long when the storm came. I hid in a small gutter to take shelter from the wind. When the storm stopped, I saw those two men. I don’t know how they knew my father’s name. They ran after me. If it were not for you, I would be in such a horrible state. Those two men look like the pair of Wuchang[7] Ghost statues in the temple on Mount Wudang.”

    Zhuo Yihang looked up into the distance and sure enough, he saw a tiny hill not too far away. This desert was located between two grasslands, so it was unlike other deserts, which have yellow sand as far as eyes can see. Zhuo Yihang looked around for a moment, and then he suddenly said, “Shishu is usually astute, that small hill is not too far away from here; why didn’t he hear your cry?”

    “You are right,” He Luhua said, “I don’t understand.”

    Hastily Zhuo Yihang and He Luhua ran to the small hill; yet after searching everywhere they still did not see even Priest White Stone’s shadow. They found the cave, but it was so small that at most only one person could go in; besides, the inside of the cave was full of sand and stones blown by the wind. Zhuo Yihang secretly felt very strange. While he was considering calling out his Shishu, suddenly he heard He Luhua’s startled scream.

    Such is: even knowing the danger of the wind and the cloud over the desert from the start, bizarre changes are not easy to guess.

    [1]Lit. flying red turban; 'fei' - fly or flying, 'hong' - red, 'jin' - women's headcovering.

    [2]Reminder: North of Xinjiang.

    [3]Paternal younger uncle.

    [4]Yangtze River.

    [5]Second (older) martial uncle.

    [6]i.e. getting married.

    [7]Chinese Grim Reaper – ghost taking away the soul after death.
    Last edited by foxs; 05-06-10 at 10:05 AM.

  12. #32
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006

    Default Chapter 31

    Chapter 31
    Sending hatred away to the horizon
    Myriads of thoughts to consider
    Qin melody flying over the great desert
    Misunderstandings abound

    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Zhuo Yihang looked everywhere, but failed to see even Priest White Stone's shadow; suddenly He Luhua cried out in alarm. Zhuo Yihang quickly came over to see, He Luhua pushed aside the thinly spread weeds outside the cave, she pointed down. Zhuo Yihang faintly saw a few drops of blood on the sandy stone.

    He Luhua's countenance changed. "Could it be that my father has been murdered?" she said with a tremor in her voice.

    Zhuo Yihang was also shocked; he stooped down to examine carefully. Other than these bloodstains, he could not see anything out of ordinary. Putting up a cheerful expression he laughed and said, "Hua Mei, don't worry, if Shishu White Stone were murdered, there would be a lot more than these few drops of blood."

    "But where did he go?" He Luhua asked.

    "The storm in the desert is quite strong," Zhuo Yihang explained, "Oftentimes the wind would blow and change the shape of the sand dunes, so that people and animal can easily lose their bearings. Perhaps he was out looking for you, but lost his way on this great desert. Quite possibly he went out to look for you and was lost in the great desert. Those few drops of blood probably came from a minor cut when his skin was scraped by a rock."

    He Luhua thought his explanation made sense; she said, "When those two bandits saw me, they mentioned father's name. Perhaps they have some enmity with my father? If they have companion nearby, when father went out to look for me, won't he bump into them?"

    "I know those two bandits," Zhuo Yihang said, "Our Sect and they are how the water of the well does not mix with the water of the river, normally there should not be any enmity between us. Besides, Shishu's swordsmanship is exquisite, his martial art skill is strong, he shouldn't worry over those few small thieves. I am more afraid that he is lost."

    Thereupon the two of them looked high and low over the desert, but after half a day, they still could not find his tracks. The red sun was starting to set on the western horizon, the cold wind was starting to rise.

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Shishu is an adult, he won't get lost. Perhaps because he could not find you, he has already crossed the desert to the grassland over there. Right now the day is almost spent, the desert cold is difficult to bear, moreover, we did not bring any tent, spending the night on the desert will be most uncomfortable. Let us also hurry to cross to the prairie over there."

    This desert was located in between two grasslands, so before long the two of them had already reached the prairie. By this time the evening had fallen, stars rose over the grassland, far away on the horizon the Tianshan seemed to reach the sky; its peaks were white with snow, in the dim light of the night the peaks glittered like sparkling crystals. The cold wind blew, sweeping over the grassland. Antelopes were galloping on the grass, bald eagles were circling high in the sky, it was a perfect picture of a night beyond the Great Wall.

    Zhuo Yihang gazed on the stars above as he was leisurely lost in thought. Suddenly he sighed and said, "I haven't seen you for ten years, you have grown this big. Time passes so quickly, how can't we be sad?"

    He Luhua looked up and said with a smile, "Zhuo Dage, how come you do not seem to grow older? You look exactly the same as in the past, only a little bit darker. I still remember when you went up Mount Song for the first time, father wanted you to meet my Jiejie, you were so shy and timid like a big girl. My Jiejie and I laughed at you behind your back. Ay, that time you carried me and accompanied me playing. Do you remember?"

    "How can I forget?" Zhuo Yihang said with a bitter smile. At that time, if not for Priest White Stone who deliberately complicated the issue, Yu Luocha and he would not have to go through these many conflicts.

    "Zhuo Dage," He Luhua said, "Don't you want to go home?"

    "The prairie beyond the Great Wall is my home," Zhuo Yihang said, "Why would I want to go back?" After being lost in thought for half a day, he asked He Luhua, "How is our Wudang Pai nowadays? Is Er Shibo[1]'s body and spirit well?"

    He Luhua sighed and said, "After you left, Er Shibo stayed in the Cloud Room all day long, he did not want to come out easily. He is growing old, last autumn he was seriously ill, he repeatedly told my father to go find you and bring you back. The mountain was a lot quieter, not bustling with activities like before."

    Listening to this, Zhuo Yihang could not help but heave a deep sigh as well. In that instant the image of Priest Yellow Leaf suddenly flitted across his mind. His eyes stern, yet full of hope seemed to stare at him. Suddenly Zhuo Yihang felt that although his several martial uncles were loathsome, they were also pitiful.

    "Dage," He Luhua asked again, "You really don't want to go back?"

    Zhuo Yihang looked up to the stars and quietly said, "Um, I won't!"

    "Have you found her?" He Luhua suddenly asked.

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was shaken. "Who?" he asked.

    He Luhua laughed, she said, "Who in the world does not know about Dage and Yu Luocha's affair? Do you still need to ask? It's a pity I have never seen her. All Shishu said that she is our school's public enemy, Father hates her even more, only Jiejie has never said anything bad about her."

    With a bitter laugh Zhuo Yihang asked, "What about you?"

    "I have never seen her," He Luhua replied, "How would I know? Although all of our school's Shishu and Shixiong curse her as a demoness, I actually think that as a woman she is able to dominate Wulin, whatever they say, she is an outstanding woman who is superior to men."

    Zhuo Yihang laughed at her comment. He Luhua continued, "Dage, is it true that you want to grow old and die together with her beyond the Great Wall?"

    "I haven't found her," Zhuo Yihang replied, "No, actually, she comes and goes like the desert wind, swirling the yellow sand, and swiftly pass."

    He Luhua stuck out her tongue. She laughed and said, "In that case, Dage, you have to be careful. It won’t be fun if you are buried under the swirling sand!"

    The prairie wind was getting colder, the night was getting darker, the chill crept into their bodies. Zhuo Yihang saw a flicker of fire some distance away. "It looks like some herdsmen are building a fire to keep themselves warm over there. The herdsmen of the prairie are most hospitable, we'd better join them to pass the cold night."

    When they were near, they saw a large group of Kazakh people gathered around a bonfire, with a dozen or so camels scattered around them. There were bundles of merchandise on the back of these camels. Apparently they were not herdsmen, but a caravan of merchants passing through the desert. Some of them understood Chinese. Seeing Zhuo Yihang and He Luhua come near, they looked surprised. Zhuo Yihang said that after the sandstorm they lost their way. Immediately some of them gave up their places to let the visitors sit.

    The traveling merchants of the desert considered camels as their homes; they did not have a fixed address, therefore, they travelled around as a family. Also, because of the danger on the desert, more often than not several families would travel together as a caravan, so their lifestyle was more or less similar to nomadic tribes. Kazakh people loved singing and dancing, there were several young people and children circling around the bonfire, singing loudly. One of them, a young woman, had a very beautiful voice. Soon the chorus turned into a solo, a young man accompanied the singing with a huqin[2]. Zhuo Yihang had been on the prairie for several years, he had quite a good understanding of their language. He heard the young woman was singing:

    The storm swirls the yellow sand,
    the circling eagle on the horizon wishes to sweep down,
    My brother, you are like that eagle on the horizon,
    although you are not afraid of the sandstorm,
    you do not wish to come down!

    The storm swirls the yellow sand,
    the circling eagle on the horizon wishes to sweep down,
    It's not that I am not afraid of the sandstorm,
    My sister, it is because I want to see your face
    that I ride on the wind to seek for your home!

    The sound of the qin was clear and beautiful, the singing sounded heroic yet touching; Zhuo Yihang listened with a blank expression on his face, as if he was drunk. He thought to himself, "It's a pity I am not an eagle. She is the eagle, but she is unwilling to ride the wind to seek for me."

    The Kazakh people continued singing and dancing for a while, and then one of the young people said, "We invite the two guests that come from a distant place to also sing a song for us." Immediately someone handed the huqin to He Luhua, inviting Zhuo Yihang to sing first.

    Zhuo Yihang's heart was filled with misery, obviously he was not in the mood to sing or dance; however, it was Kazakh people’s etiquette and if the guest does not sing, the host may think that the guests are dissatisfied. Left without any choice, Zhuo Yihang sang:

    Gazing on the moon in despair, the scenery turned into anxiety,
    Like the desolate sound of a bao se[3],
    a broken-hearted man blames most of his feelings to the pain of separation,
    on the brink of ascending the jade-blue mountain or crossing the distant river.

    Lifting up the eyes to the unending waves of withering grass,
    Sitting by the table in the dead of the night to clear away the burden.

    The yellow leaves will fall without any wind,
    Autumn cloud looming overhead without any rain.
    If the Heaven has passion, the Heaven will also grow old,
    Hidden hatred is difficult to be shaken away.

    Regret and despair make former happiness feel like a dream,
    When one awakes, it's nowhere to be found.

    When he was singing 'If the Heaven has passion, the Heaven will also grow old', tears were flowing down from his eyes, his voice turned a bit hoarse. On the Bright Moon Gorge, Yu Luocha had said to him, 'Ever since the beginning of time, has there been any eternally young person? I tell you, if Laotianye[4] was just like a mortal, full of considerations and anxieties, even Laotianye will grow old! Each time we see each other we quarrel, the next time you see me, I am afraid I will be a white-haired old granny!' Unexpectedly those were prophetic words, which now had become reality. Zhuo Yihang sang this poem (a famous poem, A Full River, composed by Sun Zhu of the Song Dynasty) because he remembered his feelings toward Yu Luocha. It was after he sang that he realized his song was not in harmony with the joyous atmosphere of the night.

    When the song finished, everybody looked gloomy. Although most of Kazakh people did not understand Chinese, they could hear the sadness of the melody. He Luhua mused, "Others are reveling in gaiety, yet you sang this kind of song!" Without waiting to be invited by the Kazakh people, she volunteered, "I want to sing a song too!"

    Asking Zhuo Yihang to play the qin, she sang:

    Before the evening breeze the willow branch droops while the moon arises on the horizon.
    Very quietly the golden hook adjusts the blinds, the silver cup extinguishes the lamp.
    Sleeping in the spring time on the embroidered bed, the fragrant musk of deer orchid adorns the folding screen.
    Suddenly footsteps are heard outside the window shutters.
    I do not see my beloved, only a meddlesome person hiding in the winding corridor.
    I push the dual-pane window to scold the frivolous person, but see from behind the bamboo shade, blown by the wind the fragrant flowers fall.
    I sigh in wishful thinking, how many more demons of temptation will come into the depths of lady’s chamber?

    It was a popular folksong of the Jiangnan; her voice seemed to linger in the air, the melody was lively. As soon as she finished singing, the mood was reversed. The Kazakh youth said, "Miss sings really well!" And he gave the precious huqin to He Luhua to show his respect. Zhuo Yihang told her that it was a Kazakh's custom, so she must not decline. With a big grin on her face He Luhua accepted.

    Several Kazakh youths had very good impressions toward her, they all crowded around her to engage her in conversation. He Luhua asked, "Where are you from?"

    A youth who understand Chinese replied, "We are from Yili[5], we had just passed through the Taklamakan desert!"

    He Luhua had an idea, "During your journey today, did you by any chance see a Taoist priest?" And then she described her father's appearance in detail.

    "Oh," the Kazakh youth said, "We did. Is he your traveling companion? That Taoist priest looked really strange, he was riding on a horseback with an angry look on his face, as he travelled in the midst of a group of Lamas."

    "What?" He Luhua was surprised, "Lama!" Her father had never had any good relation with any Lama!

    "That's right," the Kazakh youth replied, "We also felt it is unusual for a Han Taoist priest to mingle with Tibetan Lamas, it struck us as very strange. Those Lamas also rode on horsebacks, all of them looked very inauspicious!"

    He Luhua was shocked. "Was the Taoist priest tied up by them on the horseback?" she asked.

    The Kazakh youth shook his head, "I did not see it clearly," he said, "The Taoist priest was riding in the middle of the Lamas' horses, he carried a dejected appearance. Their horses galloped really fast, we did not get out of the way fast enough and had to suffer several whip lashes."

    "Which direction were they going?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    The Kazakh youth said, "The direction we were coming from."

    "So they were also heading toward the Taklamakan desert," Zhuo Yihang said.

    After thinking for half a day, suddenly Zhuo Yihang took out several snow lotus herbs from his sack. "What do you think of this snow lotus herb?" he asked. Zhuo Yihang picked these snow lotus herb flowers on Tianshan's northern peak when he went to visit Reverend Hui Ming. Each flower had several dozens of petals, stacked on top of each other in layers, so that it looked like a snowball.

    Those Kazakh people exclaimed in astonishment; they said, "We have never seen such a big snow lotus herb; where did you find it?"

    With a chuckle Zhuo Yihang said, "I want to trade these several flowers of snow lotus herb with a camel and a tent. Would you trade?"

    Those Kazakh people were very fair; they said, "Camels are easy to find, snow lotus herb are rare. These flowers worth far more than a camel."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "To me, a camel is hard to find, snow lotus herb is easy to pick. If you are willing, let's trade."

    The Kazakh people were delighted; they threw in some tools which would be very useful in the desert, and some dry rations.

    Early in the morning the next day, Zhuo Yihang bade farewell to his Kazakh friends, and rode on the camel with He Luhua, heading straight to the west.

    "Why do you want a camel?" He Luhua asked, "Camel is slower than our running speed?"

    "The Taklamakan desert is actually a string of smaller deserts linking north and south of the border, yellow sand spread out for thousands of li," Zhuo Yihang explained, "You are not accustomed to the desert, how are we going to cross the desert if we do not have this camel?"

    He Luhua said, "How can my father travel together with that crowd of Lamas? I cannot think it through. Could it be that he is kidnapped? But my father has never been beyond the Great Wall before, let alone having some business with those Lamas. This is just too strange."

    Zhuo Yihang remembered his encounter with the Tibetan Lamas of the Tian Long Pai, which resulted in some grudges between them. "Perhaps it is Tian Long Pai's doing," he thought, "But how could they know he is my Shishu? Besides, in our Sect, Shishu White Stone's swordsmanship can be reckoned as first or second best, how did he fall into their treacherous hands?" He could not think it through either; thereupon he said, "Since we now know that they are entering the great desert, all we need to do is follow their trail and gather some information."

    The yellow sand spread over thousands of li uninhabited land over the great desert, luckily the two of them were travelling together, so they could keep each other company. He Luhua was only young girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age, plus this was the very first time she travelled beyond the Great Wall, so to her, the desert scenery was very fascinating. She also asked a lot of questions about all kinds of Jianghu affairs. Zhuo Yihang chatted with her almost all day long that he was not feeling too sad. Only whenever He Luhua asked him about Yu Luocha Zhuo Yihang would answer her with a smile without saying anything, or try to talk about other things.

    Without even realizing it, they had travelled for half a month. They frequently found tracks of camel or horse footprints, yet when they tried to follow the tracks, oftentimes they would be covered or altered by sandstorms. After traveling these many days without leaving the desert, He Luhua started to be distressed.

    One day toward the twilight a gust of wind was blowing straight to them, the yellow sand was starting to rise. Zhuo Yihang said, "It seems like there will be a sandstorm tonight, we'd better find some place sheltered from the wind to erect our tent."

    Sure enough, that night the storm blew, the moon and the stars disappeared from the sky, the air was thick with yellow sand, as if the whole world was covered with thick yellow screen. Zhuo Yihang picked a good place to put up the tent, he tied big rocks on all sides, he also kept the camel outside the opening of the tent as a wall to stop the sandstorm. The strong wind blew over the tent, creating all kinds of scraping noise.

    "I did not expect the storm beyond the Great Wall to be this terrible," He Luhua said.

    Zhuo Yihang laughed and said, "Right now it is not the stormy season yet; if it is, the sand dunes will be moved by the wind. If caught in the storm, people and animals will also be blown to the air. Other than huge beasts like the camel, no one can withstand it. This storm cannot be considered big, I think it will be over very soon."

    A moment later, the storm did indeed abate. The two of them were about to sleep when suddenly outside the tent the camel neighed. Zhuo Yihang dashed out of the tent, and saw two dark shadows who quickly ran away from the camel. Zhuo Yihang raised his hand and called out, "The storm has not stopped completely, why don't the two of you come in and visit with us inside the tent?"

    The two men stopped on their tracks and went back. To Zhuo Yihang's surprise, they were wearing Han people's attire. The one on the front replied respectfully, "Our horses are collapsed by the wind and suffocated, they cannot be used anymore. Since Sire invites us in, we have nothing else to hope.” Thereupon the two of them followed Zhuo Yihang in.

    Zhuo Yihang was fully aware that those two were going to steal the camel, but remembering the dangerous sandstorm and the fact that they did not have any ride, he thought wanting to steal camel was understandable; hence he did not say anything and simply received them politely.

    These two Han men had sabers hanging on their waists, their faces were ugly and ferocious-looking. He Luhua signaled Zhuo Yihang with her eyes, her expression showed her dislike. Zhuo Yihang smiled and said, “The desert night is cold, let’s build a fire and boil some water.”

    He Luhua built a fire and poured some water from the water sack into a copper pot. She said, “Why don’t you build a furnace? Otherwise how are we going to put the pot over the fire?”

    Zhuo Yihang looked around and said with a laugh, “There are no gravels around here, and we cannot take the rock holding down the tent. What should I do?”

    The two Han men said, “Please do not bother Sire, we have been in the desert for a long time, we are used to suffer the cold.”

    “Why do we have to suffer?” Zhuo Yihang said, “Let me think of something.” He looked around again and said, “I got it! Let’s have a try.” He brought one of the big rocks holding down the tent inside. Quietly he gathered his cultivated internal strength into his palms and then suddenly he slammed both palms down while shouting, “Open up!” The big rock split into four pieces. He laughed and said, “I think this will work!” and quickly set the rocks into a furnace. The two men stared with open mouths; they were speechless.

    Zhuo Yihang knew these two men were bad people, therefore, he intentionally made a show of his skill, yet he maintained his composure and chatted with them as if nothing happened.

    By the time the water boiled, the storm outside had stopped. The two men drank their warm water and took their leave, saying, “Thank you very much Sire for your hospitality.”

    “Isn’t it inconvenient to hasten on your journey in the night?” Zhuo Yihang asked.

    The two men replied, “We are always running around all year long, we are used to it. Now it is not the storm season, so the wind rarely blows. After this storm, the wind won’t blow again in three, five days; it doesn’t make any difference whether we travel during the day or during the night. Besides, Sire has a female family member with him, it is not convenient for us to disturb you.”

    He Luhua blushed, Zhuo Yihang said, “In that case, I wish the two of you a safe and pleasant journey,” as he sent them off outside the tent.

    The two men suddenly turned around and asked, “Would Sire tell us your illustrious name so that we can repay you back in the future?”

    “Such a trivial matter, it’s not worth mentioning,” Zhuo Yihang said. The two men looked at each other, and then left after expressing their thanks again.

    Zhuo Yihang went back into the tent. He Luhua complained, “It’s hard to fathom a person’s mind, why didn’t you ask clearly before inviting them in?”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “We are chivalrous people, how can we see people in distress and not help?”

    He Luhua said, “Those two men are ugly and ferocious looking, I was disgusted as soon as I saw them. They are definitely not good people. Luckily you showed you skill and scared them off. I am guessing that they had bad intentions and quickly left only after your demonstration.”

    Zhuo Yihang laughed and said, “It’s over now, no need to make wild guesses.”

    Dage,” He Luhua said, “Your martial art skill is really good. Just with the strike of your palms that big rock split into four pieces. I don’t think even my father can do that. I believe that in our Sect, other than Er Shibo, no one else has this kind of skill. No wonder all Shishu are determined to ask you back to the mountain.”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “Damo ancestor’s martial art skill is inconceivably extensive and profound, what I know is merely a superficial knowledge. Only if we can uncover the Damo ancestor’s secret, our Wudang Pai will truly be unequalled under the heaven.”

    By this time Zhuo Yihang had already made an oath: for as long as he live, he would never return to Mount Wudang. However, to repay the kindness of his master and school, he must by all means uncover the Wudang’s highest secret. If he happened to die beyond the Great Wall, he would commission Xin Longzi to continue his endeavor.

    The sandstorm stopped, the night was growing deep, after chatting for a while, they went to sleep. After those two men left, He Luhua had nothing to worry about, so she slept soundly, snoring lightly. The fire cast its weak light onto her apple-pink face; there was a fascinating spirit of a young girl on her childlike appearance. Zhuo Yihang sighed quietly, he could not help but remember the time he met Yu Luocha for the first time in the Yellow Dragon Cave. At that time Yu Luocha was also sleeping with a naive, guiltless expression on her face. He remembered how he was afraid she might catch cold, so he gently took off his own coat and covered her up with it ... And then his thoughts took an abrupt turn, he remembered the phrase 'From time immemorial, beautiful women are just like famous generals, they would never let people see them growing old'. He remembered his own failure in raising a family, while the years were rolling by like a stream, totally beyond his control.

    Despair and anxiety surged into his heart like a tide, Zhuo Yihang was unable to sleep for quite a long time. Noticing the fire was almost gone, he was just thinking of adding some more fuel to it when suddenly the camel outside the tent let out a long neigh. "Could it be those two fellows are back?" Zhuo Yihang mused.

    He was about to stand up when with a sharp noise the tent ripped open; the wind blew in, a cold ray flashed, a shiny flying dagger flew in. Zhuo Yihang shouted and caught the flying dagger between his index and middle fingers. Flinging the dagger down, he pulled out his sword and with the White Snake Leaves the Hole style, the tip of his sword dashed out and circled to all directions to guard against sneak attack. In the wake of the flickering sword, his body also dashed out the tent. Yet the enemy outside did not shoot any more secret projectiles.

    In the dark of the night Zhuo Yihang was able to vaguely see the silhouettes of three big-statured people running westwards. Zhuo Yihang angrily shouted, "Camel thieves, I kindly invited you in to avoid the sandstorm, yet you are repaying kindness with evil; you still dare to take your companion to secretly commit an evil act. If I don't punish you today, the justice of heaven won't be served!" With sword in his hand, like a tornado he stormed forward; in an instant he had caught up with the three men.

    Zhuo Yihang was under the impression that two of those three men were his guests earlier. To his surprise, however, as soon as he caught up with them, the three men suddenly turned around and barked, "Your old man has roamed the area beyond the Great Wall, if I want to steal, I would steal a rare treasure; why would I want to steal your camel?"

    Another man sneered, "I want to see what ability the Wudang Pai's Sect Leader has! Is it worth our Incense Master to spend so much effort in specifically delivering the invitation?"

    Those three men wore black cotton cloth masks on their faces; the voices of those two men were rather hoarse, definitely they were not the two Han men earlier. The other masked man did not say anything; he was only giggling coldly.

    Zhuo Yihang was startled, these three masked men's demeanor and speech were so strange that it was completely beyond his expectations! First of all, listening to their tone, they seemed to be some people of prominent background, however, launching a sneak attack like that could be considered a despicable conduct in the Wulin world, which was usually committed by thieves, not by people who speak like that. Secondly, the title 'incense master' was an important position within the clans and societies in the Central Plains; what relation did these people in the remote area beyond the Great Wall have with the 'incense hall' organization in the Central Plains?

    Although for the last several years Zhuo Yihang had gained a vast amount of experience, he had no clue about the origin of these people. At first he thought these masked men were Lamas of the Tibetan Tian Long Pai, but they spoke a fluent Chinese, so it was unlikely that they were Tibetans.

    By this time both sides were like arrows strung on a bow, Zhuo Yihang did not have the luxury of carefully considering his options. The two men who spoke earlier turned around and attacked him. One with a pair of judge pens in his hand, poking, striking and stabbing very swiftly and fiercely; the other hacking and sweeping with his palms, generating strong gusts of wind, the strength of his palms was also very powerful.

    Zhuo Yihang had never expected to meet such powerful masters in the great desert, he was shocked and rather frightened, but his spirit was aroused. Quickly he launched the Wudang's 72-style Sequential Sword Technique to fight the enemy. 'Shua! Shua!' quick as lightning his sword attacked the two men simultaneously.

    The one with judge-pens moved his left-hand pen to divert the attack, while his right-hand pen struck slantingly down toward Zhuo Yihang's laugh acupoint on his waist. 'Clang!' sparks flew everywhere as two weapons collided, the judge-pen was pushed sideways, while the palm of Zhuo Yihang's hand felt hot.

    Zhuo Yihang moved very nimbly, his 72-style Sequential Sword changing continuously. In a flash he moved sideways and launched three stances against the other enemy. This other man was also very formidable; he bent his knees to evade the first attack, stretched out one finger of his left hand, and struck with his right palm toward Zhuo Yihang's left arm. His finger stabbing, his palm hacking, he forced Zhuo Yihang's second attack to be skewed sideways, followed by his feet kicking the ground, 'swish!' his body slid about a zhang to the right and thus evaded the third attack. Unexpectedly all three swift and fierce attacks of Zhuo Yihang's school's unique skills were evaded by his half-offensive, half-defensive movement.

    No sooner said than done, the masked man with judge-pens in his hands rushed over and attacked. The pens flew up at an angle, very fast yet powerful. Zhuo Yihang turned around to fend off while his leg swept across with Wudang Pai's Mandarin Ducks Chain-Kicks, which was as famous as the sword technique. This particular move was called top and bottom intersect in an attack, the sword and the leg were used together. If the masked man evaded the stabbing upward sword, he could not avoid the sweeping downward leg; if he evaded the sweeping downward leg, he would not be able to evade the stabbing upward sword. His situation was very critical.

    Sword and leg flew simultaneously, the sword arrived first, the leg arrived later, the masked man had just raised his pen to parry the incoming sword, Zhuo Yihang's flying leg swept to the left and kick to the right, it already arrived at the man's heart. But in this instant, the other man who was forced by Zhuo Yihang to withdraw earlier leaped back in, delivering an attack with both of his palms. Surprisingly, it was the move Flying Eagle Catches the Rabbit from the Great Grappling Technique. If Zhuo Yihang's lower leg was caught, he would be toppled down immediately even if his martial art skill were stronger. Zhuo Yihang hastily pulled his leg back slightly, and flitted sideways about six, seven feet; he was inwardly very shocked, he had a feeling that he had seen this technique and footwork before.

    The two masked men barked, "Where are you going?" From left and right they both pounced forward in a converging attack. The pens danced like a dragon or a snake, the palms generated loud gusts of wind, the combined force was overwhelming.

    "Do you think I am scared of you?" Zhuo Yihang angrily said, "Looking at your status, you are not people of mediocre position, but you are actually committing a third-class shady business. What a pity!"

    The man wielding the judge-pens roared in laughter and said, "We are only testing your skill, how can you consider it a third-class shady business?"

    Zhuo Yihang did not want to waste time by arguing with him, unleashing his swordsmanship to its full potential he swiftly stabbed. Although the man said they were only testing his skill, the pair of judge pens always threatened thirty-six major acupoints on Zhuo Yihang's body without showing any leniency at all. The other man, the expert in Great Grappling Technique, attacked even more ruthlessly, as if they were fighting a strong archenemy!

    Unleashing the result of his life-long training, Zhuo Yihang launched the 72-style Sequential Sword in continuous motion, like the billowing waves of Yangtze River, countering each attack with an attack. They were caught up in a fierce, inextricable battle.

    Thirty, fifty stances later, they were still evenly matched. Two out of three masked men were fighting Zhuo Yihang, the third masked man was standing leisurely on the sideline watching the battle, letting out a laughter or two from time to time. Zhuo Yihang was wary, but he could not divide his attention to guard against this man's sneak attack. All along he was unable to guess what kind of men were these three?

    During the raging battle, suddenly He Luhua rushed out of the tent and flew toward them. Zhuo Yihang worried over the powerful enemies, he called out, "Shimei, don't come here!" But how could she be willing to listen? Like a tornado she charged in! 'Shua!' she stabbed the phoenix eye acupoint of the man with the judge pens. The man flipped the pen backward to meet the sword. He Luhua was very slippery, turning around, she had already at the right side of the other man, the tip of her sword stabbed toward the spirit haste acupoint on the man's waist. The man turned one palm backhandedly, the wind of his palm brushed He Luhua's clothes. He Luhua jumped in fright. "How fierce!" she called out while dodging the attack.

    He Luhua's swordsmanship came from the devoted teaching of Priest White Stone, although her level was far below Zhuo Yihang's, these two people were under the threat of Zhuo Yihang's swift and fierce sword, so they could not divert their attention to deal with her; moreover, her footwork was very agile, she slipped here and there, roved around, stabbing and slashing from left and right, top and bottom, threatening those two men's acupoints. Although they did not consider her a powerful enemy that they should be afraid of, they had no choice but to guard against her attacks.

    And thus the battle situation underwent a great change. The two men had already entailed a strenuous effort in fighting Zhuo Yihang, now there was He Luhua who invaded and harassed them, hence very soon they were falling into a disadvantageous position.

    The last masked man, who was standing on the side thus far, could not take it much longer. Suddenly he let out a long whistle as he pulled the leather belt from his waist and brandished it smoothly. 'Crack! Crack!' In his hand, the leather belt became a flexible whip, which circled in the air and swept down on Zhuo Yihang's shoulder. Zhuo Yihang sidestepped using the Treading on Seven Stars move; he spun around, and suddenly his body along with his sword had already behind the enemy, like the wind the tip of his sword stabbed forward. It was as if the masked man had eyes on the back of his head, without turning around, his whip coiled backward and struck down. Zhuo Yihang was greatly shocked and hastily retracted his sword. He did not expect the masked man to be proficient in 'listening to the wind to distinguish direction' technique, his martial art skill was also higher than the first two men.

    Now that the man wielding the whip joined the battle, the situation changed again. With two against three, slowly Zhuo Yihang and He Luhua were hard-pressed until they were only able to defend without any chance to attack.

    The man wielding the judge pen mocked again, "Ha, Wudang Sect Leader is only so-so! The Incense Master had overestimated him!"

    Zhuo Yihang was enraged, his sword revolved, like an eagle diving into the forest, a giant bird swooping over its prey, the tip of the sword moved away from the man wielding the whip, in a move called Ferocious Fowl Seize the Grain, the sword flashed toward the eyeballs of the man wielding the pen. The man launched the move Supporting Horizontal Golden Beam, his pair of pens went up horizontally to block the sword. Who would have thought that it was only a feign attack on Zhuo Yihang's part. With a bluish flash the sword circled down and pierced forward; 'rip!' a big hole appeared at the front of that man clothes. Luckily he managed to evade quickly, otherwise the sword would pierce his abdomen all the way to the side of his body.

    The masked man wielding the judge pen was frightened that his body was drenched in cold sweat. Zhuo Yihang's sword technique was so strange that it was beyond their anticipation. The man wielding the whip even exclaimed in surprise, because to his surprise it was not part of Wudang's 72-style Sequential Sword Technique. It was like a wave appeared suddenly on a flat land, like a strange peak arose prominently; it came swiftly yet vanished quietly, so unpredictable that it was virtually impossible to guard against.

    After several stances in succession, the three masked men were repeatedly forced backwards. Obviously these three men had never dreamed that these moves were Wulin's ultimate skill, the long lost Damo Sword Style. These three masked men were used to face a powerful enemy together; seeing Zhuo Yihang’s strange moves, they withdrew as if by prior agreement and formed a joint defense.

    Although Damo Sword Style was formidable, Zhuo Yihang only knew several stances. It was sufficient to be used in a surprise attack, but quite useless in a prolonged battle. Several stances later, the enemy was able to see the actual situation, hence they pressed in forward again. Zhuo Yihang did not have any choice but to fight the enemy using Wudang’s 72-style Sequential Sword Technique again, intermingled with the Damo Sword Style.

    Thirty to fifty stances of intense battle later, Zhuo and He, two people, were in a very difficult position. The three masked men tightened their encirclement. Fortunately Zhuo Yihang’s mastery of the sword skill was thorough, He Luhua’s movements were quick and skillful, so they were able to hold for the time being.

    The masked man wielding the whip’s murderous intentions was aroused, he launched the Whirling Wind Sweeping the Willow, his whip generated a whooshing noise as it attacked violently. Zhuo Yihang’s heart was stirred, suddenly he shouted, “Senior Huo, why do you repeatedly treat me as your enemy?”

    This masked man was precisely Huo Yuanzhong, who climbed the Tianshan’s southern peak earlier and defeated by Yu Luocha. Huo Yuanzhong’s flexible whip was renowned in the Wulin world. Because one, he was wearing a mask, and two, he was using a leather belt as the whip, Zhuo Yihang did not recognize him immediately.

    Huo Yuanzhong let out a cold laugh and said, “Where is your Yu Luocha?”

    Zhuo Yihang said angrily, “If you have any enmity with Yu Luocha, then go and find her. In vain you are being a hero of the senior generation yet committing this kind of rat-stealing, dog-groping kind of shady business, throwing daggers and shooting arrows in the dark. If I tell this to Wulin friends, I want to see where you are going to put your thick face at?”

    Huo Yuanzhong laughed aloud and said, “Who is plotting against you? Go back to your tent and look, I was only delivering an invitation for you! Someone else is delivering an invitation to Yu Luocha. If you have guts, then come to our meeting!” Finished speaking, he laughed aloud again before calling out, “Enough testing. What do you think, as a guest of your Incense Master, this kid won’t let you down, will he?” Moving his whip in a half-circle, he parried Zhuo Yihang's incoming sword, and then withdrew immediately.

    Zhuo Yihang was stunned, he did not realize that when he was busy talking with Huo Yuanzhong and did not pay attention to the other two masked men, they suddenly launched a killer move toward He Luhua. While the man with the judge pen was fending off He Luhua's sword, the other man formed his left hand into a claw to capture her wrist, and delivered a blow toward her chest with his right palm. Since her sword was entangled by the man with the judge pen, He Luhua was unable to evade. She felt the palm wind was as sharp as a blade, the palm had already reached her clothes; she could not refrain from screaming.

    Just in that instant, there was another scream, followed by a heavy thud as someone fell to the ground. Turned out it was Zhuo Yihang who pounced forward to save her, using the stance Rushing through the River from the Damo Sword Style to pierce the man's palm. However, because he was rushing to help, while flying forward, his shoulder was hit by the man's claw that he screamed from the burning pain.

    "Are you hurt?" Huo Yuanzhong called out to his companion. Without saying anything the man with the judge pen picked up his companion and carried him on his back, and then he turned around and ran away.

    "Zhuo Yihang," Huo Yuanzhong called out, "If you are not afraid someone will avenge this, we'll meet again at the Feng Sha Tie[6] Fort!" Zhuo Yihang simply let out several cold laughs, he held his sword, but did not pursue.

    "Dage," He Luhua asked, "Are you injured by his ghostly hand?"

    "It's nothing," Zhuo Yihang replied, "Let's go back."

    "Do you know them?" He Luhua asked again, "They said they only wanted to test you, why were they so vicious?"

    "I only know that man with the leather belt is Huo Yuanzhong," Zhuo Yihang said.

    "Hm, Huo Yuanzhong," He Luhua said, "He has some grudges against my father. I think my father has fallen under their treacherous plot."

    Zhuo Yihang was surprised, "What grudges?" he asked, "I have never heard Shishu White Stone ever mention it."

    He Luhua said, "It was after we arrived beyond the Great Wall that I heard about it. According to my father, about thirty years ago Huo Yuanzhong came to Wudang to discuss martial arts with him; unwilling to accept that Wudang Sword Technique is number one in the world, he challenged father for a duel. Within thirty stances father managed to stab him with a sword. He asked him if he surrender. That Huo Yuanzhong was stubborn, he shut his mouth and did not answer. My father stabbed him one more time, and thus he was compelled to surrender and that was the end of it."

    Zhuo Yihang sighed and said, "When Shishu was young, he must have been a very proud man." Actually, even after he grew old, Priest White Stone’s temperament had not changed.

    “You’re right,” He Luhua said, “In this mater father was indeed a bit too much. That’s the reason was he and I traveled beyond the Great Wall this time, he told me that there is no martial art master in this area, but we must guard against Huo Yuanzhong, since he might want to avenge his defeat thirty years ago.”

    Zhuo Yihang said, “Based on Huo Yuanzhong’s martial art, at best he is currently on the same level as your father; it is unlikely that your father has fallen under his treacherous plot. I am afraid there are more people involved in this matter.”

    “That’s right,” He Luhua said, “Didn’t Huo Yuanzhong just now mention something about Feng Sha Tie Fort? He also mentioned something about invitation. Perhaps he has more companions and delivered the invitation to our tent on their behalf! We must guard against them!”

    While speaking, they have arrived outside their tent. Zhuo Yihang lighted up his flint while pushing the tent curtain open with his sword. He looked inside, only to see the dying fire; there was no one else inside. He Luhua went inside and put some straw, which was originally to feed the camel, into the fire. “Huo Yuanzhong talked nonsense! Where is the invitation?” she wondered aloud.

    Zhuo Yihang’s eyes were sharper, he glanced toward the flying dagger he tossed to the ground a moment ago, and indeed, there was a piece of paper skewered on the dagger’s blade. Quickly he lifted it up and said, “Oh, turns out the invitation is here.” Delivering an invitation on a dagger blade was actually a common custom of the Jianghu, it was not meant to offend anybody, and therefore, it could not be considered a sneak attack.

    Zhuo Yihang read the invitation and laughed, “I am still wondering how that old fellow Huo Yuanzhong could do such a shady business, a person with a status such as his? What kind of people could make him agree to deliver the invitation?”

    He Luhua came over to look at the invitation, it said, “We have long heard Wudang Pai dominates the Central Plains; it’s a pity that due to the tens of thousands li separation over the mountain pass, we have no opportunity to ask for guidance. Today since the respected Sect Leader has already travelled far to this remote area, why not take advantage of the closer proximity to make friendship? On the seventh day of the seventh month, at the fort awaiting for your instructions. The Fort Master of Feng Sha Fort respectfully invites.”

    Zhuo Yihang knitted his eyebrows as he said, “Must be that blabbermouth Huo Yuanzhong; he told people everywhere that I am the Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, so much so that it draws this kind of invitation. How can I have the mood to vie for supremacy in the Wulin?”

    He Luhua said, “For my father’s sake, even if you did not want to vie for supremacy, you still have to fight.”

    “Those Kazakh people said your father was travelling with a group of Lamas,” Zhuo Yihang said, “He may not be at the Feng Sha Fort.”

    “This is at least a clue,” He Luhua said.

    “Be that as it may, we still do not know where the Feng Sha Fort is situated,” Zhuo Yihang replied. His wounded shoulder was throbbing with pain.

    Seeing him frown, He Luhua quickly took out some medicinal ointment used to treat cut wound. “Dage,” she said, “Put some medicine first before we continue talking.”

    “Um, give that to me,” Zhuo Yihang said. He turned around, ripped open the clothes off his shoulder, and applied the medicine himself.

    He Luhua was innocent and carefree, ordinarily she would not adhere strictly to propriety. Being with her, Zhuo Yihang was constantly on the edge; he was afraid Yu Luocha would appear suddenly and would arouse a misunderstanding. Thereupon he always avoided close physical contact with her. Seeing she was going to apply the medicine, he hastily asked to apply it himself.

    He Luhua snickered inwardly, she mused, “Shame on him to be Sect Leader, such a bashful attitude.”

    Suddenly there were footsteps outside the tent, the camel neighed again. Zhuo Yihang tossed down the medication, pulled his sword and shouted, “Who’s there?”

    The tent opened, the two Han men who came earlier walked in and said, “Master Zhuo, we have come to apologize!”

    He Luhua angrily said, “What kind of deceit are you two playing? I’ll say you are Huo Yuanzhong’s $hit.”

    The two men replied, “Miss has guessed correctly, but you have also guessed wrong. Aiyo, you are wounded. This is the Venomous Sand Palm injury; how can we treat this on this side of the desolate great desert?”

    Because the wound was itchy, Zhuo Yihang had already suspected as much; hearing their exclamation, he smiled and said, “It’s really the venomous palm of the Old Freak Jin.”

    The two men said, “Since Master Zhuo is already aware, why don’t you seek treatment as soon as possible?”

    With an indifferent laugh Zhuo Yihang said, “Even after the poison breaks out in twenty four hours, I still can treat and cure it. What’s so amazing about Venomous Sand Palm? Why worry too much? You said you are here to apologize. What for?”

    Hearing that it was the Venomous Sand Palm, He Luhua’s expression changed. Wudang Pai did have a secret recipe handed down from generation to generation on how to treat the Venomous Sand Palm injury; however, it involved making ten cauldrons of hot water, utilizing the steam to drive out the poison from the body. Only by using this method the treatment would be effective. In this kind of desert, drops of water was more valuable than gold. The water in the pouch on the camel was barely enough to last for several days; how could they boil ten cauldrons of water? Yet Zhuo Yihang did not seem to mind, he urged the two men to speak quickly.

    The two men said, “We are from the Feng Sha Fort.”

    “Mm, I have just received an invitation from your Fort Master,” Zhuo Yihang said.

    “We already know that,” the two men replied.

    He Luhua was impatient, she pressed in, “What is your Fort Master’s surname? Why does he want to have a martial art competition with my Dage?”

    The one right in front of her replied, “Our Fort Master is called Cheng Zhangwu, he was actually coming from inside the pass.”

    “I have never heard that name,” Zhuo Yihang said.

    The man laughed and said, “He has been here for dozens of years. Perhaps Master Zhuo’s Shishu knew him. Formerly he opened an Incense Hall in Huainan region, running an illegal salt business. Later he was hard-pressed by the imperial army and had nowhere to set his feet on, and hence along with several brothers he escaped beyond the Great Wall. It was nearly thirty years ago, only a few of the brothers who came with him remained. Only then did he settle beyond the Great Wall. Our father actually came with him. There is a piece of fertile land with water and grass at the edge of Taklamakan desert. The local herdsmen are afraid of the sandstorms, they do not dare to raise their herds over there. It’s exactly on that place he built his fort, fortifying it with an iron tower so that it can withstand the sandstorms, and thus it is called the Feng Sha Fort, outsiders also all it the Feng Sha Tie Fort. He leads us, a group of Han people, for several decades to raise livestock in there, so that we can make a living.”

    “That’s very good, passing the days in peace like that,” Zhuo Yihang said, “But why does he want to seek trouble with me?”

    The man said, “He is well advanced in years, he has great aspirations, but lack the physical strength. In the last several years, there is a White Hair Demoness who has come from the Central Plains. The heroes of various tribes beyond the Great Wall, almost all famous characters have received some kind of humiliation from her and it didn’t matter whether he was a Han or a barbarian. Luckily because of our location at the edge of the desert, plus our Fort Master having gone into seclusion long ago, she has not come to us. However, there are some people among those who received humiliation from her who know that our Fort Master is a man of ability, thereupon they promptly invited him to lead the effort to eliminate that woman. Our Fort Master did not give his consent right away.”

    “It’s the White Hair Demoness!” He Luhua called out, “Let me tell you: White Hair Demoness is our Wudang Pai’s enemy, why did your Fort Master look for our Wudang Pai’s heads instead?”

    The man laughed and said, “Our Fort Master is already aware that the White Hair Demoness is also known as Yu Luocha, and it was because of her that Master Zhuo has come beyond the Great Wall!”

    Zhuo Yihang blushed; “Is it because of her that your Fort Master is reaching out to me?” he asked.

    “Not exactly,” the man replied, “In the spring this year, Huo Yuanzhong arrived at the fort, he urged our Fort Master to set up an Incense Hall to dominate the area beyond the Great Wall. The people of Tibetan Tian Long Pai are even more willing to support our Fort Master to be a prince of the area beyond the Great Wall. I heard because one of Tian Long Pai people was killed by Master Zhuo, plus he was expelled by the Kazakh people beforehand, the Cult Leader of Tian Long Pai is willing to help Kadar Chief and our Fort Master's alliance to gain control over the desert and prairie. At the same time, Tian Long Pai people have also suffered defeat under the White Hair Demoness; and thus Tian Long Shangren is most willing to join hands with the heroes and warriors of the desert and prairie to fight her."

    Zhuo Yihang was shocked. "If that's the case," he said, "Doesn't that mean that the martial art masters of Tibet and the border regions will all come to deal with us?"

    "That's right," the man said, "Our Fort Master is still afraid that we won't be able to overcome the White Hair Demoness, therefore, he sends invitations everywhere to gather more martial art masters. Actually, we were sent to Beijiang to invite people."

    "Such being the case," Zhuo Yihang said, "Why did you tell me all this?"

    The man replied, "Our life here is not bad, we also don't want our Fort Master to wage any war. We heard that White Hair Demoness is very formidable, won't that be really bad if both sides suffer? Moreover, Master Zhuo treated us very well, you obviously knew we were going to steal your camel, but you were still willing to give us shelter; how can we bear to see Master Zhuo brave the danger?"

    He Luhua could not refrain from asking, "Why didn't you say so earlier?"

    "At that time I did not know you are Master Zhuo," the man replied, "Afterwards we came across our Vice Fort Master and Huo Yuanzhong, we mentioned that we have bumped into a certain highly-skilled individual, and straightaway Huo Yuanzhong guessed it must be Master Zhuo. Huo Yuanzhong seems to know you very well ..."

    "It's because Yu Luocha and I have fought with him once," Zhuo Yihang cut him off.

    "No wonder," the man said, "He was also the one who told us that White Hair Demoness' name is Yu Luocha. A lot of people do not know that."

    The man continued, "And then those three people went to find you. Actually, they were sent by our Fort Master to scout your whereabouts."

    "Wait a second," Zhuo Yihang said, "Which one is your Vice Fort Master?"

    The man replied, "Our Vice Fort Master is a master in sealing acupoint technique ..."

    "Oh," Zhuo Yihang said, "Needless to say, he must be the one wielding the judge pens."

    "Who is the other one?" He Luhua asked.

    "I heard he is a disciple of Jin Duyi's Venomous Palm of the Yin Wind school, who at one time dominated the northwest," the man explained, "Jin Duyi had a lot of disciples, after his death, many of his disciples went over to the area beyond the Great Wall."

    "No wonder his palm technique seems rather familiar," Zhuo Yihang commented.

    "Do you know Priest White Stone?" He Luhua asked.

    The man shook his head and said, "Never heard of him. But a few days ago a large number of Tian Long Pai lamas arrived. I heard someone mentioned that among them there was a Taoist Priest; maybe he is the Priest White Stone you are talking about. I am not sure."

    He Luhua sprang up and said, "Even though your Fort Master did not send me any invitation, I must come. Hey, what day is today? In this desert, I have forgotten all about sunrise, sunset and the season."

    "Today is the fourth day of the seventh month," the man replied, "Our Fort Master will set up the Incense Hall on the seventh day of the seventh month."

    "How far is the Feng Sha Fort from here?" He Luhua asked.

    The man thought for a moment, and then he laughed and said, "If you are the guests who come to congratulate us, you may leave on the evening of the seventh day of seventh month and still arrive on-time."

    Zhuo Yihang also laughed and said, "We are definitely going to congratulate you."

    The man anxiously said, "Master Zhuo, you'd better not come. I am also thinking of asking Master Zhuo to advise the White Hair Demoness not to come. Two tigers fight, injury is inevitable. If Master Zhuo is injured, that won't be good, if our Fort Master is injured, that won't be good either."

    "I understand. We have another plan," Zhuo Yihang said, "Since your Fort Master sent you out to deliver invitation, you'd better go."

    After the two men took their leave, He Luhua suddenly clapped her hands and said, "It's really unexpected!"

    Zhuo Yihang was startled. "What’s unexpected?" he asked.

    He Luhua said, "Looking at their appearance, those two men look fierce, yet they actually know how to repay kindness. Um, Dage, how can we find ten cauldrons of water in this desert?"

    Zhuo Yihang knew she was thinking of his Venomous Sand Palm injury; he laughed and said, "That's easy, just listen to me ..." Suddenly he frowned and did not continue.

    What happened was that Zhuo Yihang was thinking that based on his current level of internal energy cultivation, he may not need steam; he could use the internal circulation of mysterious strength to drive the poison out of his system. However, after careful consideration, he recalled that while using the internal circulation of mysterious strength, he must not move at all, plus he needed someone to massage his acupoints. If he had a male companion, that would be best, but He Luhua was obviously a female. Besides, if He Luhua's internal energy cultivation was deep enough, she may be able to massage the acupoints through the fabric of his clothes, but he knew for a fact that her cultivation was still shallow; he would have to take off his clothes and let her touch his skin.

    He Luhua did not know this; therefore, seeing his eyebrows were tightly pressed, she panicked. "Dage," she said, "You are injured because of me, but I am unable to help you. What should we do? I depend on you to rescue my father. It will be the seventh day of seventh month four days from now, yet you are injured. What should we do?"

    Zhuo Yihang said in his heart: in case of emergency, I cannot worry over too many things.

    With tears on her eyes He Luhua stepped forward and pulled Zhuo Yihang's hand. Zhuo Yihang said, "Venomous Sand Palm is nothing, but I do need your help."

    "How can I help?" He Luhua asked.

    Zhuo Yihang explained the technique to her and taught her how to massage the acupoints. With tears still in her eyes, He Luhua giggled. "You are weird," she said, "If it is that easy, why didn't you tell me earlier? Quickly sit down cross-legged."

    Zhuo Yihang took off his upper garment and regulated his breathing, his eyes were looking at the tip of his nose, his nose pointed toward his heart; just like an old Buddhist monk meditating. He Luhua helped him massaging his acupoints to disperse his inner strength.

    After a while, Zhuo Yihang's body was drenched in sweats; he opened his eyes and said, "That's good, only the heat is unbearable."

    He Luhua pulled up the corner of the tent's opening to let cold breeze in, she said, "Let's rest for a while, then you can put on your clothes again."

    By this time Zhuo Yihang had finished circulating his internal strength, he was gasping for breath from the heat. He Luhua thought: I'd better divert his attention by urging him to speak, so he won't feel hot. Thereupon she asked, "Are you good friends with Yu Luocha?"

    Zhuo Yihang grunted, but did not say anything. He Luhua intentionally tried to get him to speak. "I don't believe you," she said, "How did the two of you become good friends?"

    Zhuo Yihang smiled, he said in his heart: The feeling between a man and a woman is marvelous beyond comparison, you are only a little girl who is still wet behind the ears, how can you understand?

    He Luhua pressed on, "Yu Luocha loves to fight, doesn't she?"

    Zhuo Yihang nodded; he said, "If not for her fondness of picking a fight, we won't have this much trouble."

    "Because you don't love to fight, right?" He Luhua asked.

    Zhuo Yihang nodded again. He Luhua giggled. "That's exactly your problem," she said, "The two of you have different basic temperaments. She is the world-famous 'Demoness', but you actually look like an elegant scholar, no wonder you and she don’t get along well!”

    Zhuo Yihang was stunned, what she said made a lot of sense. He was afraid she could not curb her mouth and Yu Luocha would hear it in secret. His heart was nervous and the heat flared out again. “Let’s not talk about Yu Luocha, alright?” he anxiously said.

    He Luhua smiled and said, “In that case, let me play huqin and sing for you. When my father is vexed, he also loved to hear me sing.”

    Zhuo Yihang mused: as long as you don’t speak nonsense, whatever you sing is alright. Thereupon he nodded. He Luhua took out the huqin given to her by the Kazakh people and asked what Zhuo Yihang would like her to sing.

    “Why don’t you sing a cheerful folksong of Jiangnan?” Zhuo Yihang said.

    He Luhua tuned up the string and then she played and sang:

    Can it be that studying diligently in spite of poverty under the fairy lights will chase away leisure time?
    Can it be that flirting coquettishly will bring sweet dreams at night?
    Can it be that having a quiet time alone will mistakenly remind the tea and grain shelves?
    Can it be that a light boat and a fast horse will take you to the other end of the world?
    Can it be that bragging about one’s literacy and wine capacity will bring ruin to his family?
    Can it be that chatting and joking will anger him?
    Can it be that dreading the heat and cursing the cold will bring sickness?
    Ten thousand different kinds of and a thousand good teachings will not ease my suspicion!

    This song was actually a modification of a courtesan melody of the Jiangnan region from the story ‘Romance of the West Chamber’. It described someone who wandered far away and had not returned home for a long time, who was pondering about his feelings. But because the melody was lively and elegant, it spread among the common people, and the upscale women loved to sing it. Since Zhuo Yihang said he would love to hear a cheerful and light-hearted song, without thinking He Luhua chose to sing this song.

    Listening to this tune, Zhuo Yihang's emotion was carried away, unconsciously he called out softly, "Lian Jiejie."

    He Luhua could not stifle her laughter as she said, "You said not to talk about Yu Luocha, but you yourself are calling out her name? Hey, I heard that Yu Luocha's beauty is not inferior to the immortals, is that true?"

    Zhuo Yihang mused: How can the feeling between a man and a woman be based upon appearances? Thereupon he said, "Her hair has turned white now, she is not as beautiful as her former self, will you say she is beautiful? She may not be comparable to you, but ..."

    He was about to explain that it did not matter if Yu Luocha was old and ugly, he would still like her, when suddenly they heard a long laughter, as clear as the sound of silver bells. There was also a ripping sound as Yu Luocha sliced an opening on the tent and then she leaped in.

    Zhuo Yihang's shock was not a small matter. "Lian Jiejie," he was about to call out, but before he regained his voice, he saw her eyes - she was wearing a silver-colored silk headband on her forehead, her countenance was still as bright as when she was a young woman, her eyebrows were willow-shaped, her eyes as sharp as a dagger - swept He Luhua, and with a mocking laugh she said, "What a pretty girl, what a beautiful huqin playing. Why don't you continue playing?"

    "This does not concern her," Zhuo Yihang anxiously said, "It's me, it's me ..." He was going to explain that because he was hit by the Venomous Sand Palm, she was helping him treating it. However, he knew that if he told her that, her misunderstanding would only increase.

    With a cold laugh Yu Luocha said, "It's you! Of course it's you!" 'Whoosh!' she pulled out her sword and thrust it toward Zhuo Yihang's heart.

    Actually, when Zhuo Yihang was wandering around the prairie, she had visited the Camelback Peak on the Muztagata mountain and saw Xin Longzi was guarding the immortal flower. Although she knew that the flowers would not bloom for several decades, she could still recall fondly Zhuo Yihang's sincere thought; therefore, she went down to the prairie to follow his trail. Unexpectedly, as they met each other tonight, she saw him listening to He Luhua playing the qin with naked upper body, she also overheard Zhuo Yihang and He Luhua's discussion about her own appearance. All of a sudden her love turned into anger, her hatred reached its peak, as she could not restrain herself from pulling out the sword.

    "Yu Luocha," He Luhua called out in alarm, "What are you doing? If you kill him, nobody is going to save my father; I'll have to fight you to the death." Drawing out her sword, she charged forward.

    Zhuo Yihang took a step forward, sticking out his chest to meet the tip of the sword, he said with a bitter laugh, "Lian Jiejie, to die under your sword is my earnest wish! Turns out your love for me is this deep!"

    Yu Luocha's countenance changed, hastily she withdraw her hand. By this time He Luhua's sword had reached her back, which Yu Luocha easily deflected upward, and then she flew out of the tent.

    In that instant, love and hate were surging together in Yu Luocha's heart, which she herself found it hard to distinguish. Zhuo Yihang threw himself forward trying to catch the corner of her clothes.

    With a mournful laughter Yu Luocha said, "You are from a government official family, a Sect Leader of an upright Sect, what do you want with a peasant girl like me? Go back to Mount Wudang with her!" Leaping lightly, Zhuo Yihang's grab caught an empty air, Yu Luocha's shadow disappeared.

    Zhuo Yihang tumbled down dejectedly. He Luhua was bewildered. "Uh," she said, "How come Yu Luocha is that temperamental?" She was so naive that she did not have the slightest idea that Yu Luocha was jealous of her.

    Such is: the sound of qin flying across the great desert, the string increases a tangled emotion.

    [1]Second (older) martial uncle.
    [2]Two-stringed fiddle.
    [3]A type of standing harp, with 5-25 strings.
    [5]Or Ili, a modern day Kazakh autonomous prefecture.
    [6]Lit. Wind, Sand and Iron.
    Last edited by foxs; 05-25-10 at 09:55 AM.

  13. #33
    Senior Member foxs's Avatar
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    Apr 2006


    Chapter 32
    The yellow sand of the desert
    burying the shadow of bruised feelings
    The distant galaxy
    transmitting regret and hope of a pair of stars
    (Translated by Foxs, Edited by Eliza Bennet)

    Three days later it was the seventh evening of the seventh month. Crowd of warriors gathered in the Feng Sha Fort, dragons and snakes intermingled. There was Tian Long Shangren and his disciples, and then there were orthodox and underground heroes from north and south of Tianshan. Fort Master Cheng Zhangwu had picked this day to set up his Incense Hall, his intention was to undertake a great endeavor beyond the Great Wall.

    By the time the ceremony was over, it was already dusk. The storm was howling outside, but inside the fort it was as warm and cozy as the springtime. Cheng Zhangwu, Huo Yuanzhong, and a famous Kazakh warrior Longhuyatu were sitting around, chatting idly with Tian Long Shangren.

    Longhuyatu said, "Cheng Baozhu[1], you have been on the prairie for many years, we have regarded you as one of our own. It's not that we hate Han people, it's just that the White Hair Demoness is running amok bullying people, in complete disregard of us, brave and free warriors beyond the Great Wall. I have no choice but to have to vent out my frustration."

    Tian Long Shangren laughed and said, "That White Hair Demoness does not have three heads and six arms, any one of the four of us will be enough to fight her, not to mention there are a lot of heroes and warriors who have some enmity with her. To think that Priest White Stone had once boasted that there is no martial art expert beyond the Great Wall, yet in the end we were still able to capture him. I don't believe the White Hair Demoness' fierceness has reached that level."

    Longhuyatu also laughed and said, "Cheng Baozhu, if Wudang’s Sect Leader comes in response to your invitation, you can overthrow him, then it will give us a lot of face."

    Cheng Zhangwu's intention was precisely that; he wanted to knock down a master on the day he set up the Incense Hall, and thus establish his prestige. The reason he sent a challenge to Zhuo Yihang was precisely because Zhuo Yihang was the Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, so Zhuo Yihang was the most ideal candidate; he did not have any personal grudges against Zhuo Yihang whatsoever.

    Tian Long Shangren said, "But we don't know if he will dare to come."

    Huo Yuanzhong said, "His Shishu is here, he will definitely come. Zhuo Yihang is not difficult to fight, I am confident Cheng Baozhu will score victory easily. Wudang Pai people are arrogant, after Cheng Baozhu knocks down Zhuo Yihang, we will have Priest White Stone out here, we will give them fifty lashes each and then drive them out of the border, let the heroes inside the pass also have a laugh."

    Cheng Zhangwu said, "What Huo Xiong has just said is exactly what I have in mind. Zhuo Yihang is incomparable to the White Hair Demoness, we may spare his life."

    Tian Long Shangren said, "We have a grudge against Zhuo Yihang; I want to have a talk with him before Cheng Baozhu drives him away."

    The evening came, Cheng Zhangwu had prepared a banquet inside the fort, a sumptuous feast for the crowd of warriors. On all four walls there were butter candles as big as human arms, so the banquet hall was brightly lit. One after another the crowd congratulated Cheng Zhangwu, while speculating whether Zhuo Yihang would dare to come or not.

    When everybody had enjoyed three rounds of wine, a fort hand on guard duty outside walked in and presented a sheet of visiting card made of rhinoceros hide. The visiting card said: 'Wudang Pai disciple Zhuo Yihang is here in response to your invitation.' The rhinoceros hide was very thick, ordinary knife would not be able to cut it, yet those several characters were not written with ink and brush, rather, they were carved with finger. Cheng Zhangwu read it and snorted; immediately he ordered his people to open the door.

    Although Zhuo Yihang's feelings were as tumultuous as the ocean waves and he was deeply heart-broken, to rescue his martial uncle, he had to come. After sending out his visiting card, in large strides he walked in, with He Luhua by his side. He saw the banquet hall was full with people; there were a group of Lamas who were glaring angrily at him, there were also Huo Yuanzhong and the Shen Brothers sitting among the crowd. Zhuo Yihang proudly walked in without showing any sign of fear. He Luhua also looked at ease as she followed closely.

    Cheng Zhangwu rose up among the crowd and said, "Feng Sha Fort Master Cheng Zhangwu at your service. Mr. Zhuo is a trustworthy man. Who is this Miss?"

    "She is my Shishu White Stone's daughter," Zhuo Yihang replied. Reaching out to shake each other's hands, they both exerted their internal energy, and found they were at a stalemate.

    Cheng Zhangwu laughed aloud and said, "Please drink three cups first!"

    Zhuo Yihang let go of his hand and said, "Thank you very much for Baozhu's hospitality, we can receive the wine later, please release my Shishu first and take him out!"

    Cheng Zhangwu roared in laughter and said, "That's easy. It's not often that Wudang Pai Sect Leader would come to this place; I, the old man, want to ask instructions for several stances first."

    Zhuo Yihang said, "Baozhu is a hero of senior generation; since you are willing to grant instructions, how can the Ol' Zhuo dare to refuse? It's just that ..." Sweeping his glance across the room he continued, "We still need to talk about propriety here, I can have dealings with Baozhu; however, there are so many heroes and warriors in here, please forgive me for not being able to greet all of you one by one!" His meaning was clear, he wanted to act according to the Wulin custom; if he fought them all one by one, he would definitely lose.

    Cheng Zhangwu laughed aloud again and said, "Sect Leader is willing to bestow some face, you have held me in high esteem, the Old Man is frightened and ashamed. This visiting card ..." he picked up the rhinoceros hide. Zhuo Yihang said, "Traveling on the wilderness, I do not have paper and pen. I have hunted a rhinoceros and peeled its skin, and have used it as a temporary visiting card. I hope Baozhu will not mock me."

    Cheng Zhangwu shook his hand and said, "That's not what I mean. To think that Wudang Pai's prestige has shaken the Central Plains, how could the Old Man dare to accept the Sect Leader's visiting card?" Casually grabbing the rhinoceros hide, he tore it to pieces, and then he put the pieces in the palm of his hand and rubbed it. When he opened his palm, the pieces of rhinoceros hide had turned into a crumpled paper ball, which Cheng Zhangwu then tossed far away.

    Zhuo Yihang was shaken; he said in his heart, 'This old man's eagle claw skill can be considered superior, I must not underestimate the enemy.'

    Cheng Zhangwu obviously wanted to make a show; he was just thinking of how to end his demonstration when suddenly a young girl stood up from among the crowd and called out, "Father, let your daughter have some fun first. I have long heard Wudang's Sword Technique is peerless under the heavens. I want to ask for guidance from this Jiejie first, to broaden my horizons."

    This young girl was Cheng Zhangwu's daughter, her name was Cheng Zhangzhu. Cheng Zhangwu stroked his beard and laughed, "Very well," he said, "We are entertaining the Sect Leader, we should not treat this Miss coldly. You go and ask for advice from her politely."

    He Luhua was furious. Seeing that Cheng Zhangzhu was issuing a challenge, she did not decline. The two of them walked into the arena. One was wielding a saber, the other was using a sword. After exchanging some pleasantries, they immediately fought. Both of them were young ladies about seventeen, eighteen years of age. One was wearing white clothes with red skirt, the other was wearing bluish-green hunting attire. Red, white and green, three colors rose up to the air, like a pair of butterflies the two young women fluttered up and down. Although not much can be said about their skill levels, their movements were actually very entertaining. He Luhua's sword was light and lively, it weaved in and out of the opponent's weapon range. Cheng Zhangzhu's saber was heavy and powerful, even more so than a man’s.

    They fought for about fifty, seventy stances. He Luhua did not dare to meet the opponent's weapon head-on, but Cheng Zhangwu was unable to strike her either. They both had their own strengths, but it was difficult to tell which one was superior to the other.

    Cheng Zhangwu was watching the fight with a smile on his face; he was quite happy that even though his daughter had never formally fought with anybody, she was actually not too bad. Little did he know that because of this lack of real battle experience, after fifty, seventy stances He Luhua was able to see a flaw in Cheng Zhangzhu's defense. He Luhua dropped her sword slightly and extended it forward, when Cheng Zhangzhu's saber hacked down trying to knock it off, He Luhua suddenly raised and flipped her sword at the same time. A bluish ray flashed, with the move Woodman Asking for Directions, 'Shua!' the sword moved to stab the opponent's imperial canopy acupoint.

    Cheng Zhangzhu hastily swept her saber sideways to fend off using the stance Horizontally Supporting A Golden Beam. To her surprise, He Luhua's move was actually a fake; a bluish ray flashed again, her tender voice shouted, "Saber down!" The blade of her sword was sweeping toward Cheng Zhangzhu's wrist. Cheng Zhangzhu hastily released her grip and jumped backward to evade. 'Clang!' the saber fell down to the ground. Her apricot face blushed as she ran back to her father's side.

    Cheng Zhangwu said, "Wudang swordsmanship is indeed superb, my daughter did not know her own strength and thus has brought ridicule to our family. There's still us to make the conclusion."

    "Very well!" Zhuo Yihang loudly replied.

    Cheng Zhangwu picked up a wine cup with both hands and successively downed three cups. He said with a laugh, "With honored guests coming from afar, how is it that the wine cups were not used properly? Let's down this cup before we continue!" Suddenly his hands waved together, a cup of wine and a small fork with a piece of beef flew toward Zhuo Yihang's face!

    Zhuo Yihang reached out with only two fingers, one hooked, the other turned; spinning, the wine cup reached the side of his mouth. He opened his mouth, and bit the flying fork. He ate the beef and spat out the fork then he poured the wine into his mouth and tossed the cup away. "Thank you Baozhu," he said with a laugh. Cupping his fists, together with Cheng Zhangwu the two of them dashed into the middle of the arena.

    This battle would differ greatly from the fight between two youngsters just a moment ago. Cheng Zhangwu spread out his arms with his palms facing outward, and then swiftly clawed down on Zhuo Yihang's head. Unexpectedly Zhuo Yihang did not evade, with a sudden movement he turned around, 'shua!' his sword went straight toward the opponent's ribs.

    "Well executed!" Cheng Zhangwu shouted, while sliding sideways to evade. He bent down and his left palm shot upwards toward Zhuo Yihang's throat, while his right hand struck toward the side of Zhuo Yihang's skull. Zhuo Yihang flew up, 'Shua! Shua!' his sword pared slantingly down. Cheng Zhangwu spun around and launched a series of palm strikes, partly to defend and partly to counterattack; majestic like a divine roc spiraling in the air or a dragon or a snake scurrying fast. Zhuo Yihang countered by several sword attacks in succession; all attacks and counterattacks fell into empty air!

    Cheng Zhangwu was inwardly amazed, Zhuo Yihang did not look older than mid-30, yet his sword-play was extremely experienced and careful, showing his maturity. Both of them focused their entire attention and did not dare to underestimate the opponent.

    Cheng Zhangwu palms surging forward, sweeping and slapping, clawing and jabbing; the wind generated by his palm felt hot. It was truly an eye-opener to the spectators. Zhuo Yihang's sword stormed in like a falcon; the sword aura weaved in and out with unpredictable changes. The palm wind was everywhere, sand and pebbles arose from the ground. The sword aura soared to the heavens, the shadows of the combatants could not be distinguished.

    After fighting for about a hundred stances, victory or defeat was still undetermined. Cheng Zhangwu's skill was comparably higher, but Zhuo Yihang's swordsmanship was meticulously refined, his defense was so tight that Cheng Zhangwu was not able to press in.

    The battle continued for a while, Cheng Zhangwu's heart was burning hot; he decided to go all out to dominate the fight. In the midst of violent battle, his body suddenly rose up, five fingers like a claw struck down on top of Zhuo Yihang's head. Zhuo Yihang countered by thrusting his sword upward. Cheng Zhangwu unexpectedly bent his body midair, his palm deflected the sword, while his claw was still going down. Zhuo Yihang was shocked, using the stance Eighteen Flips of the Green Swallow he threw himself on the ground and rolled away to dodge Cheng Zhangwu's claw.

    The crowd in the Feng Sha Fort burst out in laughter. The Vice Fort Master who was once defeated by Zhuo Yihang laughed the loudest as he mocked, "Ha, did you see that? What a nice turtle crawl!"

    Zhuo Yihang did not say anything, he leaped up and thrust his sword again to continue fighting. A moment later, Cheng Zhangwu repeated his stunt; he flew up again as he sent his claw down to grab Zhuo Yihang's head. Zhuo Yihang suddenly leaned sideways, the tip of his sword flew up. Cheng Zhangwu repeated his movements: left palm hacked sideways, right claw grabbed down. Who would have thought that in the middle of overbearing palm wind, both his strikes came up empty-handed. Zhuo Yihang retracted his sword and flipped it over to pare down, swiftly and fiercely, just like a lightning in a dark night.

    Cheng Zhangwu cried out, he threw himself head down feet up about three zhang away, and flipped over as soon as his body reached the ground. The leather band protecting his wrist was completely cut, fortunately he did not suffer any injury.

    The crowd in the Feng Sha Fort looked at each other with changed expression. He Luhua laughed aloud and said, "Ha, did you see that? What a nice old dog flip!"

    Cheng Zhangwu called out, "One claw one sword, we are even. Come again, come again!" He pounced forward, the palms and the sword were engaged in fierce battle once again.

    Zhuo Yihang carefully went on defensive, yet after twenty, thirty more stances, he did not see Cheng Zhangwu repeating the previous stunt.

    Actually, Cheng Zhangwu's flying and pouncing down was the essence of Eagle Claw Skill, its fierceness was extraordinary. The deepest feature of this skill was the ability to maneuver midair, to bend and stretch one’s body at will, so that when the practitioner pounced down, it was like a giant eagle swooping down on a rabbit, it happened in a flash and was impossible to evade. However, Cheng Zhangwu's skill had not reached perfection, he was not able to maneuver in the air at will; therefore, Zhuo Yihang was able to stab him as soon as he used the strange stance from the Damo Sword Style.

    Although Zhuo Yihang only knew several stances of Damo Sword Style, when he used it to deal with Cheng Zhangwu’s surprise attack of flying claw, it was exceptionally effective. Cheng Zhangwu had suffered a loss and did not know the real situation; hence he unexpectedly did not dare to use this skill again.

    Cheng Zhangwu did not use the flying claw stunt, Zhuo Yihang did not use the Damo Sword Style either, so the two of them were back to the previous situation: Wudang's 72-style Sequential sword technique versus Eagle Claw's qinna[2] palm technique. Although Cheng Zhangwu's skill was comparatively higher, Zhuo Yihang had the advantage of younger age and stamina in a prolonged battle. Moreover, since Cheng Zhangwu did not dare to use his special skill, he was scared and his confidence was dwindling, unlike when they started the fight.

    Tian Long Shangren creased his eyebrows, He Luhua was watching with delight. Another thirty, fifty stances, Zhuo Yihang slowly gained the upper hand. Tian Long Shangren suddenly leaped into the arena with both palms stretched out. "Hold it!" he shouted.

    Zhuo Yihang felt a burst of energy pushing him back; hastily he sidestepped and with a cold laugh said, "Cheng Baozhu, what do you say?"

    Tian Long Shangren said, "The two of you have fought for a very long time yet victory and defeat is still indistinguishable; let's just consider it a draw."

    Zhuo Yihang mused: 'He has many companions, I am alone, I'd better not destroy his reputation.' Thereupon he said, "Thank you Baozhu for being lenient to me. Luckily Ol' Zhuo is not defeated yet; can you release my Shishu now?"

    Cheng Zhangwu looked awkward, he found it difficult to reply. Tian Long Shangren said, "That is you business with Cheng Baozhu; I oughtn't interfere, but I do have a tiny bit of grudge against you. If I may, let me be bold enough to ask Cheng Baozhu to allow me to resolve these two matters once and for all. After we settle our account, from now on Tian Long Pai will not look for you for revenge, Priest White Stone will also be released for you."

    Zhuo Yihang knew this battle was inevitable, thereupon he said in a loud and clear voice, "How do you want to settle it? Your Tian Long Pai has the advantage in numbers; if all of you want to charge together, Ol' Zhuo might as well give his head to you, to repay the life of your Shidi's disciple!" He thought that Tian Long Shangren was the founder of Tian Long Pai after all, so he spoke first to provoke him, so that he would not dare not to save his face.

    Sure enough, Tian Long Shangren laughed and said, "You are the Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, I am the Cult Leader of Tian Long Pai; two armies have equivalent banners and drums, there is no need for other people's help. If you can defeat me, Priest White Stone will not miss a single strand of his hair. But if you lose, you have to abide by our rules."

    "What rules?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    Tian Long Shangren replied, "We, the followers of Buddha of the western region usually have a custom: it does not matter whether it is a debate on the teachings of Buddha or a martial art competition, the loser will have to surrender to the winner, voluntarily become the disciple of the winner. If the loser refuses to be the winner's disciple, then he must surrender his head as an atonement of his guilt."

    Zhuo Yihang angrily said, "Let's just have the duel, you and I; why do you have to talk too much? If I lose, you can have my head."

    Tian Long Shangren laughed aloud and said, "Very well, it's a deal! All of the heroes present here are the witnesses. Pour two cups of wine!" Tian Long Pai disciples quickly presented two brimming cups of wine.

    Zhuo Yihang said, "No need to waste more time, why must we drink wine?"

    "According to our western region's custom," Tian Long Shangren said, "When one is at the death's door and bidding farewell, he must drink a cup of wine. I heard you, the people inside the Pass, also have a custom where a convicted criminal is about to be executed, the prison warden would also serve him three cups of wine. The two of us are having a duel, one of us will definitely die. We should respect each other with a cup of wine!"

    Zhuo Yihang was angry, he picked the wine cup with both hands and brought it to his face. At the same time, Tian Long Shangren also brought the wine cup to his face. Zhuo Yihang wanted to cut his arrogance short; once his mind was set, he showed off his excellent skill, his left palm pushed forward, he tossed the wine cup with the palm strength. He fetched the wine cup back with a jump, the wine in the cup did not spill in the least! Zhuo Yihang downed the wine in a single gulp; he thought that some people would certainly cheer, who would have thought that the arena packed full of people was completely quiet. Zhuo Yihang looked up to see and unconsciously he turned pale with fright!

    He saw that Tian Long Shangren was craning his neck, his mouth was blowing to the air; the wine cup was blown up and was hovering in the air. Knowing that Zhuo Yihang was looking at him, he laughed and said, "Honorable guest have drunk the cup dry, I ought to accompany him drinking!" While he was talking, the wine cup in the air fell down. Like a tread of silver string the wine shot down from the air. Tian Long Shangren opened his mouth and sucked, all the wine entered his mouth, nice and clean. He wiped his mouth and said, "Such an excellent grape wine, very sweet, very sweet!" The crowd around the arena broke into a thunderous applause.

    Zhuo Yihang's shock was not small: Tian Long Shangren was unexpectedly far above his martial brother, his internal energy was superior to his own. He was quietly trying hard to figure out how to deal with the enemy when he heard Tian Long Shangren, immensely proud of himself, smiled and said, "Both of us are the leaders of our Sects, fighting with hands and feet is beneath our dignity; don't you think we ought to do a more gentle duel?"

    " ... what kind of duel?" Zhuo Yihang asked.

    Tian Long Shangren said, "I will sit on the stage, you may strike me three times with your palms, I will not hit you back. If you can strike me down, you win."

    This kind of duel seemed to give Zhuo Yihang a tremendous advantage, but it actually came from Tian Long Shangren's vast experience and his careful scheming. What happened was that from the wine cup episode, Tian Long Shangren knew Zhuo Yihang’s internal energy was inferior to his. He mused: Zhuo Yihang’s swordsmanship is superb, although I know I can defeat him, I am afraid I will need more than a hundred stances. Dueling this way, after three palm strikes, I can defeat him immediately, won’t that be brilliant?

    On the other hand, Zhuo Yihang also thought: Even if I fight with everything I have, it appears that I am still not his match. Since he already pulled rank like that, let me give it a try. I don’t care if he is as hard as cast iron or diamond, I can strike him down.

    Immediately both sides voiced their agreement. Tian Long Shangren jumped onto the tall platform and sat down cross-legged, his big belly sticking out like the statue of Milefo[3]. He gave belly laughter and said, “Great Sect Leader of Wudang Pai, Buddha is here waiting for your instruction!”

    Zhuo Yihang also jumped onto the stage, his forearm moved in a half circle, with a loud shout his palm struck toward the big belly. To his surprise, as the edge of his palm made contact, he felt as if he was striking a cotton pillow. Not only that, there was a burst of sucking force, which made his palm stuck onto the belly. Zhuo Yihang was greatly shocked, hastily he sent out a counterforce to pull his palm back. Luckily his palm followed his command as he lightly pulled it back. The palm slid diagonally down from the belly.

    Seeing that his power has failed to suck Zhuo Yihang’s palm, Tian Long Shangren was also slightly shocked; but he covered it by laughing aloud and said, “That was the first palm strike. Come again, come again!” The spectators underneath the stage clapped their hands.

    While busily thinking, Zhuo Yihang took a step forward and swept his palm horizontally. This time he did not strike the belly, but he struck his face. He thought: Even if your internal strength is much better, you can’t possibly train the skin on your face! Who would have thought that as soon as his palm hacked, Tian Long Shangren suddenly raised his eyebrows. ‘Bang!’ he took Zhuo Yihang’s palm head on.

    Zhuo Yihang felt as if his palm was striking a steel plate; he was shaken three steps backward and almost fell down from the stage. Tian Long Shangren was also shaken that his buttocks was pushed and his whole body was shifted to the side. However, the agreement was that Zhuo Yihang must be able to strike him down; although his body was shifted, he was still considered the winner. The people underneath the stage broke into loud applause again!

    Tian Long Shangren roared in laughter as he said, “There is still the last palm strike; if you fail to strike me down, you must either be my disciple, or I’ll have your head chopped off!”

    Zhuo Yihang did not expect Tian Long Shangren’s internal and external strength had reached their pinnacle. Momentarily he was at a loss as where he should aim his last palm strike; his palm was already raised in the air, but he let it down again.

    Tian Long Shangren grew impatient, he harshly shouted, “You’re scared of death? Why haven’t you struck yet?”

    Suddenly there was a commotion at the back of the fort. Cheng Zhangwu called out sternly, “Who’s making trouble over there? Quickly look!”

    The crowd underneath the stage still had their eyes fixed on the platform; they did not want to miss Zhuo Yihang’s last palm strike. Right this moment, suddenly there was a long laughter inside the fort. The people on the outskirt of the crowd staggered along and scattered away.

    With great delight Zhuo Yihang called out, “Lian Jiejie!” Casually his palm struck toward the side of Tian Long Shangren's waist. Tian Long Shangren only felt a sudden light push on the side of his body, and then he fell down of the stage.

    Tian Long Shangren was bewildered, he suspected someone else was attacking him surreptitiously, but he could not tell for sure. He was the founder of a Sect; if he mentioned that someone was attacking him in secret and he was not able to guard against, he would loss more face. Without any choice he sent his chi to his belly to endure the pain, and then gnashing his teeth he soared back onto the stage.

    Looking up, he saw a woman with white hair, running straight from the edge of the fort. She had a long sword in her hand, which she waved around at will. Whoever was touched by the tip of her sword would immediately fall down to the ground while screaming wildly. In an instant she had reached the center of the arena. A large crowd of fort hands ran away, nobody dared to be close to her.

    Cheng Zhangwu called out loudly, "It's the White Hair Demoness!"

    Along with several dozens of martial art masters he drew his weapon and surged forward to block. Suddenly he saw there was another person behind her; panting with rage and brandishing the sword in his hand he shouted loudly, "Demon monk Tian Long, old thief Huo Yuanzhong, eat my sword!"

    This person was none other than Priest White Stone. With great delight He Luhua called out, "Father!"

    Zhuo Yihang had already jumped down for the stage, he pulled her back and said, "Don't be rash, Yu Luocha is here, we can definitely get out of danger!"

    You may wonder how could Yu Luocha suddenly appear. What happened was that that night she heard He Luhua mention that Priest White Stone was captured by the enemy. The next day she immediately went around to investigate. She found out that Cheng Zhangwu and Tian Long Shangren were planning on gathering a large number of people to deal with her. They captured Priest White Stone simply to use him as bait; she could not help but feel very angry. Although she loathed Priest White Stone, this time she couldn’t not rescue him. Besides, she also found out that on the seventh day of the seventh month Zhuo Yihang will also come to keep the appointment. As much as she hated him, she could not bear to see Zhuo Yihang coming alone to deliver his life. And thus, taking advantage of the time while Zhuo Yihang was fighting in the arena, she quietly slipped deep into the fort to rescue Priest White Stone.

    Yu Luocha's qinggong had reached perfection, she was able to come and go noiselessly; furthermore, all the masters in the fort were in the front, watching Zhuo Yihang's battle against Cheng Zhangwu and Tian Long Shangren. Stealthily[4] she slipped through the fort guards, and while wondering how to find the place where Priest White Stone was kept prisoner, she suddenly saw on each corner, not too far from each other, there was an arrow drawn with yellow mud. Yu Luocha was very surprised. "Which master has come here before me?" she mused.

    Following the arrows, she proceeded forward and sure enough, she found Priest White Stone's prison cell. Yu Luocha rendered the guard unconscious and cut down the shackles on Priest White Stone's hands and feet. Not wishing to hear him expressing any gratitude, she dashed out of the cell first.

    By this time Zhuo Yihang was about to launch his third palm strike. Taking advantage of the confusion, Yu Luocha secretly launched her unique school's Nine-star Shaped Needle secret projectile. The flying needle was very small, plus Tian Long Shangren was focusing all his attention to receive Zhuo Yihang's third strike, and thus he was caught completely unaware.

    When Priest White Stone was caught in the sandstorm on the great desert, he was captured by Tian Long Shangren and Huo Yuanzhong, and was kept prisoner for many days in the fort, his anger had been boiling up inside him. Now that suddenly he was rescued by Yu Luocha, his feelings were even more unspeakable. Dashing out, he immediately went to find Tian Long Shangren, wanting to determine life and death again with him.

    Yu Luocha laughed softly; her iron palm waved, taking him by surprise, she swept Priest White Stone more than a zhang away, so that he almost tumbled down. Priest White Stone did not expect that after saving him, Yu Luocha would humiliate him on the spot. He stared at her with his eyes open wide, only to hear Yu Luocha was laughing coldly as she said, “Priest White Stone, you are not his match. Why don’t you nicely stand on the side?”

    Priest White Stone’s anger seemingly shot out of this world, reaching the nirvana! However, first, she was his rescuer, second, they were facing a powerful enemy; therefore, he did not dare to talk back. With a heart filled with anger, he was forced to endure quietly!

    Seeing Yu Luocha’s impressive power, Tian Long Shangren’s heart also turned cold, but in front of all his disciples, he put a bold face on and cursed, “White Hair Demoness, others are afraid of you, I am not! Come, come, come! Let Buddha and you fight for three hundred stances!”

    Yu Luocha only gave him her graceful smile; she did not seem to be interested in fighting him. Tian Long Shangren was taken aback; and then he opened his mouth to swear again, “Buddha is a hundred-time refined Vajra[5], how can I be seduced by a demoness like you?”

    To his surprise, after smiling, Yu Luocha indifferently said, “Are you really not afraid of me? Are you really a hundred-time refined Vajra? Why don’t you try stroking your lower backbone? It’s the seventh section up from the bottom!”

    Even if he did not want to, Tian Long Shangren could not stop his hand from stroking the spot Yu Luocha mentioned; he felt itch and sore. Angrily he roared, “Demoness, turns out it was you who sneakily attacked Buddha!” Drawing out his whisk, he was about to fight to the death. Yet Yu Luocha only laughed softly again. She said, “You are hit by my secret projectile. If you are no longer angry, no longer exerting your strength, you may go back home and recuperate for seven times seven, forty nine days. With luck, you may be able to use your internal energy to push the secret projectile out of your system. If you are still angry, no need for me to fight you; within three days, you will meet your death!”

    Speaking to this part, suddenly her face turned harsh as she sternly said, “Considering you are a Sect’s founder, it was not easy for you to train to this point. If you don’t want to die, why haven’t you rolled away?”

    These words were ear-piercing and heart-boring, Tian Long Shangren could not help but shiver; he thought: The matter of my own life and death, I would rather believe her. He simply could not afford not to believe her. Turning around, he left. Tian Long Pai disciples dispersed instantly; they all followed their Cult Leader leaving the Feng Sha Tie Fort.

    Cheng Zhangwu was so angry that his face turned white and blue; he did not expect Tian Long Shangren was such a useless man. He saw Yu Luocha was rolling her eyes; she laughed and said, “Feng Sha Baozhu, you have gathered this many people, why haven’t you started? Ha, Shen Dayuan, Shen Yiyuan, you two precious are also here. Father and I have spared you twice, this time I cannot let you go. Huo Yuanzhong, you are also here? The lesson you received on the southern peak, you have forgotten it so soon?

    Shen Dayuan called out loudly, “This demoness is vicious and merciless, right now we are riding the tiger and cannot get off, let us stake out everything to fight her!”

    Cheng Zhangwu had never experienced Yu Luocha’s fierceness, he waved his hand and about a dozen or twenty martial art masters charged forward. Yu Luocha let out a long laugh, and in a flash ‘Shua! Shua! Shua!’ she launched three consecutive attacks with her sword, stabbing three martial art masters so that they rolled down on the ground.

    Cheng Zhangwu pounced with a claw. Yu Luocha said, “Alright, let me try your Eagle Claw skill!” Her left palm hooked upward, the palm of Cheng Zhangwu bled instantly, the pain was really unbearable. As soon as he was able to extricate himself, Cheng Zhangwu angrily shouted, “Brothers, let us surround her together, even if we have to die, we cannot be humiliated!”

    Although in their hearts the crowd of warriors in the fort were frightened, the Fort Master had issued an order, they must follow it to their deaths and not surrender; so each one of them surged forward. Yu Luocha nodded her head, ‘Apparently this Fort Master has won great popular support.’

    The Vice Fort Master was an expert in sealing acupoints, his pair of judge pens danced in the air in a sneak attack. It was as if Yu Luocha had an extra pair of eyes on her back, stabbing backhandedly, she laughed and said, “I also want to test your acupoint sealing skill!” The Vice Fort Master cried out loudly and tumbled down on the spot. The fort hands hastily lifted him up and carried him away.

    By this time the crowd of warriors had already surrounded Yu Luocha, Priest White Stone, Zhuo Yihang, and He Luhua, four people. Leading seven martial art masters like Shen Dayuan and the others, Cheng Zhangwu closely pressed in on Yu Luocha. Although Yu Luocha was formidable, the opponents were simply too many, momentarily she was not able to break through their encirclement. Relying on her extremely light and agile footwork, she weaved in and out of the holes among the enemies’ weapons, making use of every opportunity to stab those with weakest martial art skill and made them fall on the ground. In a very short period of time screams of pain sprang up everywhere. Cheng Zhangwu was so angry that his eyes were bloodshot; he doggedly pressed in, determined to fight to the death and not let her go.

    Priest White Stone was looking for Huo Yuanzhong among the crowd. Because He Luhua’s martial art skill was the weakest, Zhuo Yihang brandished his sword like a flying dragon and dancing phoenix close by her side. In the tangled battle several times did Yu Luocha pass by Zhuo Yihang’s side, yet never once did she cast a glance in his direction. Zhuo Yihang repeatedly called out, “Lian Jiejie, Lian Jiejie!” Yu Luocha shook her sword and fight will all her might, but did not pay the slightest attention to him. In the fierce battle Zhuo Yihang did not dare to divide his attention, hence he could not explain, only his heart was drowned in sorrow.

    Priest White Stone was looking for Huo Yuanzhong among the crowd, his heart was boiling in anger; moving his sword like the wind, he pursued him resolutely. To his surprise, however, Huo Yuanzhong’s skill was not weak either. If they were fighting one on one, although he was slightly inferior to Priest White Stone, he would have been able to hold on for at least several dozens of stances; much less right now Priest White Stone was alone while Huo Yuanzhong had many helpers. It was even more difficult for Priest White Stone’s plan to go smoothly under these circumstances.

    After fighting for five, seven stances, the Kazakh’s famous warrior, Longhuyatu struck the iron hammer in his hand at an oblique angle swiftly toward Priest White Stone’s head. Longhuyatu’s skill level was not below Cheng Zhangwu. Striking his hammer three times in a row, he forced Priest White Stone to evade frantically. Huo Yuanzhong seized this opportunity to strike with his whip. ‘Crack! Crack!’ the whip lashed out twice toward Priest White Stone’s left and right lower waist, ripping small pieces off Priest White Stone’s clothes, and leaving two bloody scars on his waist.

    Huo Yuanzhong laughed aloud and said, “Two whip lashes for two sword cuts, I have not collected the interest yet!” 'Swish!' the whip lashed out of the crowd, like a wisp of smoke it vanished from the air. Henceforth Huo Yuanzhong would live in seclusion and would no longer care about other people's business.

    Anger exploded inside Priest White Stone's heart and lungs; like a mad man he stabbed around violently, and thus injured two men, but once again he was stopped by Longhuyatu.

    Yu Luocha called out, "You are not quickly coming back here to join hands with us, do you want to die?"

    Priest White Stone's eyes were bloodshot; he stubbornly refused to join the others. Longhuyatu and several other martial art experts were ganging up on him, Priest White Stone was facing danger on every side, several times he almost lost his life. Zhuo Yihang and He Luhua quickly came to his rescue.

    By this time Zhuo Yihang's martial art skill had already passed his martial uncle's, with several very strange and swift stances from Damo Sword Styles, he managed to injure several people and reached Priest White Stone's side. Yu Luocha saw everything and was secretly full of praise; however, she was also afraid he might lose, so hastily she opened up a bloody path to join Priest White Stone and the others.

    With the Tian Long Pai people leaving first, followed by Huo Yuanzhong, Feng Sha Fort's side lost a great deal of power. In the midst of fierce battle, again Zhuo Yihang called out, "Lian Jiejie!" twice, but Yu Luocha simply said, "Yihang, you must protect your Shishu well, don't let others harm him."

    Hearing her suddenly speak to him, Zhuo Yihang felt as if he had just received an imperial decree. Having no time to ponder, in a great rush he replied, "Yes! I will obey Jiejie's command, I won't let others harm Shishu!"

    Priest White Stone's eyes turned white, he almost died of anger! He Luhua repeatedly asked him, "Father, are you alright?" Yet he turned a deaf ear on her and did not even utter a single word.

    Seeing her father's terrible expression, He Luhua spoke to Zhuo Yihang in a low voice, "Father seems to be insane, we must protect him tightly!" Zhuo Yihang nodded, the sword in his hand coiling and twisting like a proud dragon, but it never left Priest White Stone's back.

    After giving Zhuo Yihang her advice, Yu Luocha let out a long laughter, her toes kicked the ground, she suddenly soared high over Cheng Zhangwu and the others. Midair she pulled her sword and thrust it directly toward Shen Dayuan. Shen Dayuan was scared out of his wits, in panic he turned around to evade, while sending out his claw backhandedly to counterattack.

    Shen Dayuan's Wild Fox Fist was also one of the best skills in Wulin, its fierceness was extraordinary. However, ever since she reached the area beyond the Great Wall, Yu Luocha had been single-mindedly researching and training the sword manual her Shifu had left behind, her swordsmanship had reached an unprecedented level. As Shen Dayuan was sending out his claw, Yu Luocha took this opportunity to thrust her sword straight through his back. When Shen Yiyuan turned around to flee, Yu Luocha kicked his back. He vomitted a mouthful of dark-colored blood and fell down, dead!

    Yu Luocha laughed aloud and said, "Feng Sha Baozhu, how's your skill compared to the Shen Brothers? If you don't know what's good for you and give up immediately, I will temporarily cancel my vow of not killing!"

    Cheng Zhangwu angrily said, "You think I am a man who is scared of death?" Unexpectedly he met the tip of Yu Luocha's sword with a sweep of his palm! Yu Luocha lightly withdrew her shoulder while gently raising her left hand. Cheng Zhangwu's feet became unsteady, he staggered to the side. In that instant, Yu Luocha had already stabbed several more people. Cheng Zhangwu's heart was in great pain as he called out, "You killed my brothers, I will not rest until I destroy you! You don't need to show mercy, just kill me, I'd rather die together with my brothers!"

    Yu luocha's movements were very fast, in the blink of an eye she had already stabbed several more people. Cheng Zhangwu was not able to keep up; even if he wanted to fight her to the death, he would not be able to. Yu Luocha suddenly laughed and said, "Feng Sha Baozhu, when did I ever kill your brethren?"

    Cheng Zhangwu's anger had reached its peak, looking at the rolling and groaning brothers around the arena, he roared, "You demoness, are you still talking rubbish?" Throwing himself toward her, he suddenly heard the sound of a wooden fish. "Amituofo!" the voice sounded very close to his ears. Cheng Zhangwu looked up and saw a monk. Nobody knew when the monk entered. In a deep voice the monk recited, "Amituofo, enmity should not be cultivated, please halt the weapons of war and the noise of killing immediately!"

    Most of the martial art masters from the north and south of Tianshan invited by Cheng Zhangwu knew this venerable monk; they could not refrain from calling out almost simultaneously, "Reverend Hui Ming! This demoness kills people like mowing grass; please help us quickly!"

    Yu Luocha smiled and said, "Yue Mingke, it's you!"

    Seeing Yu Luocha and Reverend Hui Ming knew each other, the crowd was even more shocked. Reverend Hui Ming tapped his wooden fish again and clasped his palms together as he said, "Amituofo, please both sides hold your hands!"

    Reverend Hui Ming had been living on the Tianshan for eight years, the people knew his martial art skill was immeasurably deep, his character was also humble and amiable. There was not any one among the warriors of the north and south of Tianshan who would not submit to him. Hearing his request, everybody leaped out of the arena. Only Cheng Zhangwu was unwilling to let the matter rest; with disheveled hair he stubbornly chased Yu Luocha around, wanting to fight her to the death.

    With clasped palms Reverend Hui Ming yelled, "Baozhu, stop! She did not lie to you, none of your subordinate brothers has died. I will help those who are injured. Please look at this impoverished monk's face and hold your hands!"

    Startled, the Fort Master of Feng Sha Fort held his hands and said, "Their injuries are this heavy, can you bring each one of them back to life?"

    Reverend Hui Ming said, "Although she is known as the Demoness, there is still a little bit or mercy left in her heart. The stab of her sword is always on a vital joint; although the victims are unable to stand, their lives are in no way threatened. I have made some very good blue miracle cure pill from Tianshan's snow lotus herb; boiled in water, it can be taken both orally and applied externally, the pain will lessen immediately. In less than two hours they will be able to move about as usual."

    Reverend Hui Ming took out several dozens of the blue miracle cure pills and gave them to the uninjured people, telling them to prepare it as he prescribed and give it to the injured. A short while later, as expected, the injured had been able to stand up.

    "Mingke," Yu Luocha laughed and said, "This time I am the victim of the people's cursing while you are the good one. Don't be smug, I still want to have a sword duel with you in the future!"

    Cheng Zhangwu suddenly turned toward Yu Luocha; he bowed with cupped fist and said with a sigh, "Today we know that there is a heaven beyond the heaven. I hereby disband this Incense Hall, and from now on we are not going to vie for supremacy! But I still would like to ask you not to be too harsh!"

    Reverend Hui Ming laughed and said, "Look, won't you say that there are people who consider you the good one?" Turning toward Zhuo Yihang he laughed and said, "My business here is finished, the impoverished monk should leave! Don't you think the gratitude and grudges between the two of you should also be reconciled?"

    He had just finished speaking when suddenly Yu Luocha's expression changed greatly. In a harsh tone she said, "Zhuo Yihang, you are a proud disciple of the Wudang Pai, aren't you going to follow your Shishu back to your mountain?"

    "Jiejie," Zhuo Yihang was startled, "Please hear me out ..." because Priest White Stone, father and daughter, were standing nearby, he felt uncomfortable to explain what happened that night in the tent, thereupon he spoke haltingly, "Jiejie, no matter how you treat me, I am determined to spend my last years on this desolate land accompanying you!"

    Yu Luocha only laughed coldly. Suddenly she saw Priest White Stone raise his cupped fist to her with his cheeks fiery red! Yu Luocha swiftly sidestepped and with a cold laugh said, "I am a demoness of a demonic sect, how can I dare to accept respect from Five Elders of Wudang?"

    With a hoarse voice Priest White Stone cried out, "This respect is to thank you for your kindness in saving my life, but I still don’t have any good feelings toward you. Originally, we came here to get Yihang back to our mountain to be our Sect Leader, but now I relieve myself from this burden, I am letting him go with you. Yihang, from now on you have no responsibility toward Wudang Pai. You may look after your Lian Jiejie for the rest of your life!”

    Zhuo Yihang stammered, “Shishu, what are you talking about?” Taking his daughter by her hand, like flying Priest White Stone dashed out of the fort. Yu Luocha repeatedly sneered. He Luhua still turned her head around and said, “Yu Luocha, you must treat my Dage well, don’t flaunt your power and bully him!” Yu Luocha was slightly startled, she was going to ask further, but He Luhua had already followed Priest White Stone out.

    Zhuo Yihang was as dumb as a wooden chicken. He was raised and trained by Priest Purple Sun; although for the last dozen of years he did not get along with his fellow disciples due to his love affair with Yu Luocha, he still wholeheartedly had the desire to repay his school, who would have imagined that martial uncle White Stone would expel him from his school? How could he not feel grieved? It had never occurred to him that his appointment as the Sect Leader can only be rescinded by majority decision of his fellow disciples. Priest White Stone simply did not have the authority to expel him.

    Yu Luocha let out another cold laugh. Zhuo Yihang was like he had just awakened from a dream; he rushed toward her and said, “Lian Jiejie, do you understand now? What happened that night was a big, big misunderstanding!”

    Yu Luocha’s heart was already discouraged to the extreme; remembering the twists and turns of the last dozen of years, and now her hair had turned white, becoming a mandarin-duck companion was out of question. Yu Luocha was an extraordinary woman, her way of thinking was unusual; when she was talking about marriage with Zhuo Yihang, with all her heart and soul she would strife to overcome all difficulties, in spite of everything. But now that her heart had been broken, she felt that marriage would not have any meaning, so she was unwilling to hear Zhuo Yihang's explanations further. She would rather leave it as a little bit of unfulfilled passion, to remember each other by!

    Zhuo Yihang had not finished speaking, Yu Luocha had already floated out. Zhuo Yihang ran after her while calling out madly, but how could he overtake her? He saw the galaxy on the sky above, he saw yellow sandy desert on the earth below, yet Yu Luocha's shadow had disappeared! Zhuo Yihang broke in a bitter cry.

    A long, long time passed, suddenly he felt that someone was gently stroking his shoulder, and he heard a gentle voice was saying, "Passion and sin, passion and sin!" Reverend Hui Ming had been following him, but deliberately gave him time to cry before opening up his mouth to comfort him.

    Zhuo Yihang stayed silent, together with Reverend Hui Ming they walked along the desert for a while. Finally he opened his mouth, "Lian Jiejie left this time, it will be even more difficult for me to find her in the future!" Looking up to the sky, he saw two bright twinkling stars; suddenly he recalled that that night was the seventh day of the seventh month, the Day of Tryst[6]. He could not refrain from sighing dejectedly as he said, "In the sky the magpie bridge provides the meeting place, in the world people are not wishing to part. Laotianye[7] has played a joke on me a little bit too much!"

    Reverend Hui Ming also looked up and saw the Cowherd and Weaving Maid stars[8] slowly swept across the sky. Suddenly he said, "You have read a lot of poetry; do you remember Qin Shaoyou's song on the seventh day of the seventh month's 'Magpie Bridge Immortals'?"

    Zhuo Yihang's depressed mood was stirred; in a low voice he recited, "The delicate cloud was skillfully built, the shooting star passing out regret, the galaxy spends eternity in the far away darkness. Golden wind and jade dew came across each other, defeating countless humans’ affairs. Tender and soft as water, the day of tryst passed by like a dream, enduring the magpie bridge returning to the way home, if two passions died a long time ago, how can there be mornings and evenings?"

    "Isn't that the truth?" Reverend Hui Ming said, "If she does not have any feelings toward you, why would she look for you mornings and evenings? Hundred years in the world, one instant in the heaven, if you care for her this much, the days the two of you will be at odds with each other are by no means eternal!"

    The two of them treading the desert under the starlight; the Cowherd and Weaving Maid stars rose and set in the sky.

    After the battle at the Feng Sha Tie Fort, the name White Hair Demoness spread far and wide, no one north or south of Tianshan dared to provoke her anymore. However, it was also more difficult to see her shadow on the great desert and the prairie. She lived in seclusion on the Tianshan's southern peak. During the first several years, only once did she go down to Tang Nu's place and stayed there for eight, ten days, to teach Fei Hongjin martial arts. Afterwards, very seldom did she ever descend the mountain.

    After walking Reverend Hui Ming back to the northern peak, Zhuo Yihang returned to the Camelback Peak of Muztagata mountain. Xin Longzi came out to greet him and told him, "Several months ago, there was a woman with a full head of white hair came up the mountain to visit."

    Xin Longzi said, "I was afraid she might destroy the immortal flowers, so I came over and shouted a question. She gently shoved me. She looked at the immortal flowers for a long time and sighed repeatedly. Suddenly a smile appeared on her face, and then she finally left. That woman was so strange. Shifu, is she your friend?"

    Zhuo Yihang heaved a disappointed sigh. After a long time, he called Xin Longzi over and asked him, "Tell me truthfully, when do you think this two immortal flowers will bloom?"

    Xin Longzi replied, "I have asked Father. From what he said, it seems to me that perhaps it will take as long as fifty, sixty years!"

    "Alright," Zhuo Yihang said, "Someday after I die, you must continue guarding these two immortal flowers."

    Xin Longzi was full of questions, but seeing that his Shifu's eyes were brimming with tears with a strange expression on them, he did not dare to ask anything.

    That night the moon was pale, the stars were sparse. Zhuo Yihang climbed the Camelback Peak alone. Forlornly he gazed onto the south, toward the distant southern peak, which towered into the clouds. In the ever-changing sea of clouds he seemed to see that someone was also looking at him. Zhuo Yihang heaved a deep sigh. The circumstances he experienced in the last dozen years or so flitted across his mind one by one: the first meeting at the Yellow Dragon Cave, the dialog in the night at the Bright Moon Gorge, the dispute on the Mount Wudang, the long journey across the great desert, everything seemed to flash in front of his eyes. There was remorse, there was passion, there was heartache, but there were also sweet moments and tender feelings, some shocking things, rumors and grudges. The saddest part was over, he may not necessarily be able to pursue the future, or capable of doing so; all he could do was to face night after night like this.

    Zhuo Yihang was lost in thought as if he was drunk. Looking at the stars overhead, he recalled Yu Luocha’s words, which Fei Hongjin told him. He felt Yu Luocha was just like the stars overhead, it appeared to be so close, yet at the same time it seemed very far away. Feelings surged in his heart like billowing waves on the lake. Overwhelmed with sorrow which he was unable to sever, unconsciously he used his sword to carve a poem[9] on the rock wall. It said:
    After separation neither voices nor letters are unheard no more,
    Anticipating the imminent many and confusing rumors and complains,
    In the ocean of fate one will know oneself,
    Only then will he believe the far-flung realms as very close to his heart;
    After undergoing calamity one would no longer think of life and death,
    Passing through frosty place one would acquire an unyielding and cold heart!
    The severe winter wind breaks thousand flower and trees,
    Yet there will still be remote forest emitting sweet smelling fragrance.
    Finished carving, he recited the poem loudly; his voice with graceful intonation traveled far across the mountain peaks and river banks, the northern star[10] was already high in the sky!


    [Translator’s note: the book also includes the following part, which, since I am not a historian, with my limited knowledge I am afraid I might make mistake and make a fool of myself, so I decided not to translate it.]

    This book involves important historical facts and characters:

    Imperial Bodyguards (lit. brocade clothes guards)
    The Case of the Clubbing Assault
    Wei Zhongxian
    East Faction
    West Faction
    Donglin Academy
    Gu Xiancheng
    Xiong Tingbi
    The red pill case
    Yang Lian
    Zuo Guangdou
    Yuan Chonghuan
    Ruan Dazhen
    Cui Chengxiu
    Sun Chengzhong
    Gao Panlong
    Hong Chengchou

    [1] Fort Master.

    [2] grab and capture, grappling technique.

    [3] Buddha Maitreya.

    [4] Orig. 'the gods are not aware, the ghosts are not conscious'.

    [5] Buddha’s warrior attendant.

    [6] From Wikipedia: A young cowherd named Niulang ("[the] cowherd"), came across seven fairy sisters bathing in a lake. Encouraged by his mischievous companion the ox, he stole their clothes and waited to see what would happen. The fairy sisters elected the youngest and most beautiful sister Zhinü (literally "[the] weaver girl", the star Vega) to retrieve their clothing. She agreed to do so, but since Niulang had seen her naked, she agreed to his request for marriage. She proved to be a wonderful wife, and Niulang to be a good husband. They lived happily and had two children. But the Goddess of Heaven (or in some versions, Zhinü's mother) found out that Zhinü, a fairy girl, had married a mere mortal. The Goddess was furious and ordered Zhinü to return to heaven.

    (Alternatively, the Goddess forced the fairy back to her former duty of weaving colorful clouds, a task she neglected while living on earth with a mortal.) On Earth, Niulang was very upset that his wife had disappeared. Suddenly, his ox began to talk, telling him that if he killed it and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven to find his wife. Crying bitterly, he killed the ox, put on the skin, and carried his two beloved children off to Heaven to find Zhinü. The Goddess discovered this and was very angry. Taking out her hairpin, the Goddess scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, thus forming the Milky Way between Altair and Vega.

    Zhinü must sit forever on one side of the river, sadly weaving on her loom, while Niulang watches her from afar and takes care of their two children (his flanking stars β and γ Aquilae or by their Chinese names Hè Gu 1 and Hè Gu 3).

    But once a year all the magpies in the world would take pity on them and fly up into heaven to form a bridge (鵲橋, "the bridge of magpies", Que Qiao) over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so the lovers may be together for a single night, which is the seventh night of the seventh moon.

    [7] God/Heavens.

    [8] Altair and Vega

    [9] Orig. ‘lushi’ – a strict poetic form with eight lines of 5, 6, or 7 syllables with even lines rhyming. In this case, Zhuo Yihang’s poem consists of 7 characters each line.

    [10] Polaris

  14. #34
    Senior Member
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    Mar 2012
    Ni Yang Realm ATM


    Don't mind me. I enjoyed foxs' translation of mount deer so much that I had to dig around to find his other completed works (hmm...sounds like I am talking about Jin yong himself!)

  15. #35
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    Aug 2012

    Default pOt7ts2TUrz

    sac longchamp pas cher, sac longchamps

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