Junior Buhui crossed my wall.
The Old Woman of the Golden Flower walked over to him and reached for his wrist. After examining his pulse for a few moment, she said, “The Mystical Palm Technique of Profound Darkness? Do you mean to say that this technique actually exists? Who struck you?”
“My attacker was disguised as a Mongolian army officer, so I do not know who he actually is,” Zhang Wuji replied.
Zhang Wuji was shocked that the intruder was a woman. “Who … who are you?” he asked as sternly as he could.
The woman did not answer him, for she had been wounded too badly by the palm technique of the E-Mei School to speak.
“Who are you?” Ji Xiaofu demanded. “Why have you harmed me time and again?”
The woman remained silent, so Ji Xiaofu pulled out her sword and placed its tip against her chest.
After a while, Zhang Wuji said, “I am going to check on Mr Hu.” He was concerned that Hu Qingniu had fallen victim to the intruder too. After all, she was probably an accomplice of the Old Woman of the Golden Flower. Running over to the physician’s room, he pushed the door open and shouted, “Sir, sir! Are you all right?” When no one answered him, panic set in. He quickly reached for the flint-and-steel on the table, lit a candle and saw that Hu Qingniu’s blankets had been turned down. But he was not in bed or anywhere else in the room.
Zhang Wuji heaved a sigh of relief, for he had half expected to see the physician’s corpse on the floor. He must have been taken away by the enemy, the boy thought. Just as he was about to dash off in pursuit, he heard heavy breathing coming from under the bed. Bending over with the candle in hand, he found Hu Qingniu bound and gagged under the bed. Overjoyed, Zhang Wuji pulled the hapless man out immediately. He had not been able to call for help because his mouth had been stuffed with a huge walnut.
As soon as the walnut was removed from his mouth, Hu Qingniu asked, “Where is the woman?”
“She has been overpowered by Auntie Ji,” answered Zhang Wuji as he began untying the physician. “She will not escape. Sir, you are not hurt, are you?”
“Do not worry about me,” snapped Hu Qingniu. “Bring me the woman quickly, or it will be too late.”
“Why?” asked the boy in surprise.
“Bring her to me quickly,” said the physician again. “Wait, you had better take three ‘Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco’ (Niu Huang Xue Jie Dan / Niu2 Huang2 Xue3 Jie2 Dan1) with you and get her to swallow them first. The pills are in the third drawer. Hurry!” Hu Qingniu seemed so anxious that he would have rushed out himself if he was not all tied up.
Zhang Wuji knew that these ‘Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco’ were very effective detoxicants. Made by Hu Qingniu himself from a variety of medicinal fauna and flora, a single pill was sufficient to counter some of the deadliest poisons known to man. Therefore, the woman had probably ingested an unimaginably strong dose of poison to necessitate the use of three such pills.
Yet, he did not dare to dwell further on the issue, for Hu Qingniu was already beside himself with anxiety. Grabbing the Pills of Bezoar and Daemonorops-draco, he ran to Ji Xiaofu’s shed, turned to the woman whom they had captured and said, “Swallow them quickly!”
“Get lost!” snapped the woman at once. “Who needs sympathy from a little thief like you!” Apparently, she had identified the pills as detoxicants from their smell.
“Mr Hu wants you to take them!” said Zhang Wuji.
“Go away, go away!” said the woman again, her voice becoming weaker as her injuries took their toll.
Zhang Wuji could only guess that the woman had been struck by one of Hu Qingniu’s poisoned darts while tying him up earlier. Thus, the physician probably wanted to keep her alive, so that he could interrogate her on the enemy’s plans. Consequently, the boy forced the three pills into the woman’s mouth and down her throat. Then, he turned to Ji Xiaofu and said, “Let us hand her over to Mr Hu, and hear what he has to say.”
Ji Xiaofu immobilised the woman by striking her acupoints, before leading her to Hu Qingniu’s room with Zhang Wuji’s help.
As soon as the three of them appeared, the physician asked, “Has she taken the pills?”
“Yes,” answered Zhang Wuji.
“Very good, very good!” said Hu Qingniu in relief, as the boy cut away the ropes around his hands and feet.
Free at last, Hu Qingniu scrambled over to the woman and began examining her. After turning her eyelids to check on her blood, he took her pulse. “How … how did you end up with these external injuries?” he gasped in shock. “Who hit you?” He sounded both anxious and sympathetic at the same time.
The woman pouted and replied, “Ask your good disciple!”
Hu Qingniu turned to Zhang Wuji and growled, “Did you hit her?”
“She was about to …,” the boy began to answer, only to feel two tight and resounding slaps landing on his face. Golden stars danced before the boy’s eyes as he struggled against the dizzying effect of these powerful and unexpected slaps.
Meanwhile, Ji Xiaofu raised her sword protectively and shouted, “What are you doing?”
Hu Qingniu ignored the sharp and gleaming blade. Instead, he turned to the wounded intruder and asked, “How does your chest feel? Does your stomach hurt?” He was so warm and attentive that he seemed completely different from the cold and calculating ‘One who Ignores the Dying’. Yet, the woman did not seem to care about his concern. Undaunted, the physician released her acupoints and massaged her limbs. Then, he administered several doses of medicine, taking great care as he fed them into her mouth. Finally, he picked her up, laid her in his bed and covered her with his blankets. Such warmth and gentleness was so unfit for the enemy, that Zhang Wuji began rubbing his swollen cheeks in an absent-minded manner as he tried to make sense of the baffling scene.
The expression on Hu Qingniu’s face softened further, until affection and compassion could be clearly seen all over it. “You have other injuries in addition to the poisoning,” he said to the woman in a gentle voice. “If I heal you of all these ailments, can we call off the duel for the rest of our days?”
The woman smiled and answered, “These light injuries are nothing to worry about. But do you know what poison I took? If you can really heal me of it, I will submit to you. But I am afraid that the abilities of the Sage of Healing are not necessarily as great as the prowess of the Sage of Poisons.” She concluded by eyeing the physician with a coquettish smile.
Although Zhang Wuji did not understand much about the intimate relationships that could occur between a man and a woman, he could tell from the scene that the physician and the woman had a great deal of affection for each other.
“I have already declared ten years ago that the Sage of Healing is less able than the Sage of Poisons, but you have refused to believe me,” Hu Qingniu went on. “Sigh, there are many ways to fight this out, but how can you use your own body to prove your point? Now, I really hope with all my heart that the Sage of Healing is better than the Sage of Poisons, or I will not carry on living any longer.”
The woman smiled again and said, “If I poison other people, you will pretend to be a mediocre physician and let me gain the upperhand. Hee hee, now that I have poisoned myself, you have no alternative but to do your very best.”