The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 15

The perfect plan was just a dream.

For tens of thousands ‘li’ Zhang Wuji had been travelling together with Yang Buhui, keeping each other company and relying on each other. Now that they suddenly parted, he felt sadness. However, thinking that at last he did not fail Ji Xiaofu by successfully delivering her daughter to Yang Xiao, he could not help feeling relieved and gratified. After standing still for half a day, he remembered that he might bump into He Taichong, Ban Shuxian, or other Kunlun Pai here, so he quickly walked down the valley.

After walking for more than ten days, his arm was gradually healing; however, wandering around Kunlun Mountains, he still could not find his way out of the mountain. One particular day, he walked for half a day and then stopped by a pile of rocks to take a rest. Suddenly from the northwesterly direction he heard sound of barking dogs. From the noise, he estimated there were about a dozen dogs or so. The sound of barking was getting closer, it seemed like the dogs were pursuing some wild animal. Amidst the barking dogs, there appeared a little monkey running for his life; there was a short arrow sticking out from the rear of the monkey’s thigh. The monkey was still several ‘zhang’ away from Zhang Wuji when suddenly it fell tumbling down. Because of the arrow on its thigh it was unable to climb a tree. By this time its strength was gone that it could not even crawl back up.

Zhang Wuji came near the monkey and looked; the monkey looked back at him with fear, but its eyes also spoke to him, begging for pity. Zhang Wuji’s heart was touched; he mused, “I am also running away from Kunlun Pai people, so we are in the same boat.” Thereupon he gently lifted the monkey up and pulled the arrow out. Then he took some medicine from his pocket and applied it on the arrow wound.

Right this moment the barking of the dogs sounded very near. Zhang Wuji quickly opened his robe and hid the monkey in his bosom. He heard loud and intense ‘woof! woof! woof!’ as a pack of about a dozen large hounds with sharp teeth surrounded him. The hounds smelled the monkey. They bare their fangs and brandish their claws threateningly, but did not dare to attack immediately.

Zhang Wuji was terrified to see these vicious dogs exposing their row after row of sharp white teeth. He knew that as soon as he let the monkey in his bosom out, the dogs would turn their attention to the monkey and would not give him any trouble. However, he had received instruction from his father since he was a child to take chivalry seriously; he did not want to fail even toward a wild animal. Immediately he leaped over the dogs and ran as fast as he could. The pack of dogs barked wildly and ran after him.

How could Zhang Wuji match the speed of the hounds? He only managed to run for about a dozen of ‘zhang’ when the pack of dogs overtook him. He felt a sudden pain on his leg as a vicious dog sank its teeth on him and would not let him go. Hastily he turned around and struck the dog’s head with his palm. This palm strike carried his entire strength. The dog rolled down on the ground and then stopped moving altogether. The rest of the hounds attacked together. Zhang Wuji punched and kicked wildly with all his strength. However, his arm had not completely healed that he could not rotate his left hand; before long, a vicious dog bit his left hand and then the dogs pounced on him from all directions. His head, his face, his shoulders, practically his entire body was bitten by the dogs. While he was about to lose his consciousness out of shock and fear, he heard faint calls of a clear and tender voice of a woman. But the voice seemed to be very far away. His vision blackened and he passed out.

In his unconscious state, Zhang Wuji felt as if he was in the middle of packs of jackals and wolves, tigers and leopards which were ready to devour him. He wanted to cry out for help, but no sound was coming out of his mouth. Suddenly he heard that someone was saying, “The critical situation has passed, perhaps he will live.”

Zhang Wuji opened his eyes and saw a pale yellow light. He felt he was lying on a bed inside a small room, with a middle-aged man standing next to his bed.

“Da … Dashu … [big uncle, or more appropriately: honorable uncle] I … how did I ..” Zhang Wuji only managed to utter these words when he suddenly felt burning pains all over his body. Only then did he slowly remember that he was attacked and bitten by a pack of wild hounds.

“Xiaozi [boy, kid],” that man said, “Just consider yourself lucky you did not die. What is it? Are you hungry?”

“I … where am I?” Zhang Wuji said. Because of severe pain all over his body, Zhang Wuji passed out again.

By the time he came around for the second time, the middle-aged man was no longer in the room. Zhang Wuji thought, “Definitely I won’t live much longer, why do I have to experience this much torment?” Looking down his body, he saw his neck, his chest, arms and thighs were wrapped in cotton cloths, while a strong smell of medicine assailed his nostrils. Turned out someone was treating his wounds, but from the smell of the medicine, he knew the person applying the ointment had a rather shallow medical skill. He smelled almond, ‘ma qian zi’ [sorry, I don’t know what it is], ‘fang feng’ [windproof], ‘nan xing’ [southern star], and various other herbs. These kind of herbs were effective to treat rabid dog bites, as it would draw out rabies pus from the wound; but the dogs biting him were not rabid at all, his wounds were on his flesh and bones, without any poisoning. The medicine was not only ineffective, it would increase the pain.

Powerless to get up, he lay down until dawn. The middle-aged man came to check him up. Zhang Wuji said, “Dashu, thank you so much for saving me.”

The man coldly said, “This is the ‘Hong Mei Shan Zhuang’ [Red Plum Villa]; it was our Miss who saved you. Are you hungry?” While saying that he went out and came back with a bowl of steaming hot porridge.

Zhang Wuji drank several mouthful, but his stomach was nauseous; his head was dizzy and he did not have the appetite to each more.

He lay down for eight days before he was finally strong enough to get up. His legs felt weak without the least bit of strength. He knew it was because of excessive lost of blood, so it would take a while to recover.

The man came everyday to deliver his food and change his medication. Although his expression was rather bored, Zhang Wuji was still very appreciative toward him. Only, Zhang Wuji’s mind was filled with unanswered questions, but he did not dare to ask too much because the man seemed uninterested to converse with him.

One day, the man returned with the same medication, ‘fang feng’, ‘nan xing’ and so on. Zhang Wuji could not help from saying, “Dashu, these medicines are not effective for my illness. Would you change it for me?”

The man turned to him with a condescending look. After staring at Zhang Wuji for half a day he said, “Laoye [old master, grandmaster] personally wrote the prescription; how can he be wrong? You said the medicine is not effective, how could it revive you from the dead then? Really! Little kid is babbling nonsense. If our Laoye heard it, he might not be offended, but you really do not know good from bad.” While saying that he spread the medicine on Zhang Wuji’s wound. Zhang Wuji could only force a smile.

The man said, “I think you wound is so much better. Why don’t you go see Laoye, Taitai [Madame], and Xiaojie [Miss] to kowtow and thank them for saving your life?”

“That is only appropriate,” Zhang Wuji said, “Dashu, why don’t you take me to see them?”

The man led Zhang Wuji out of the small room, walked through a long corridor, passed through two halls, and came to a warm chamber. It was the beginning of winter, but the Kunlun region had been very cold for quite some time. The room was as warm as the springtime. Zhang Wuji could not locate the furnace; he only saw the chamber was decorated extravagantly, with couches draped in brocade and soft pillows. In all his life Zhang Wuji had never seen such a splendid and cozy room as the one he was in. Looking at his own dirty clothes, he felt so out of place standing inside such a luxurious warm room; he could not help feeling ashamed at his own filth.

There was no one inside the warm room, but the man’s expression was extremely respectful. Bowing, he said, “The boy who was bitten by the dog is well, he wants to kowtow to Laoye and Taitai to express his gratitude.” After saying this, he stood silently with relaxed hands; he did not even dare to breathe loudly.

After what seemed like a long time, from behind the screen walked in a fifteen, sixteen year-old young woman. She cast a sidelong glance toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Qiao Fu, what are you doing? Why did you bring him here? If the bugs and parasites from his body jump down, what are we going to do?”

“Yes, yes!” Qiao Fu replied.

Zhang Wuji had already been uncomfortable, this time his face blushed even redder. Other than the one on his back, he did not have any other change of clothes. Certainly his clothes were full with bedbugs and fleas by now. He thought that this Miss was not the least bit wrong.

He saw her face was oval like a goose egg, her black hair drooped over her shoulders. She was wearing some kind of fine silk or satin, which sparkled under the light. She wore a golden bracelet on her wrist. In short, he had never seen such a splendid and luxurious young lady. He mused, “When I was surrounded by the pack of dogs, I faintly heard a woman’s voice shouting. That Qiao Fu Da Shu also said that it was his Miss who saved me. I ought to thank her.” Thereupon he kneeled down and kowtowed. “Thank you Miss for saving me,” he said, “I will never dare to forget your kindness as long as I live.”

The young girl was startled, and then she giggled. “Qiao Fu, Qiao Fu, what did you do? Did you fool this dumb kid?”

Qiao Fu laughed and said, “Xiao Feng Jiejie [older sister], this dumb kid kowtowed to you, you shouldn’t accept it. The dumb kid has never seen beautiful face; he thought you are our Miss! But come to think about it, our home’s maid is somewhat comparable to our honorable precious Miss [orig. ‘qian jin’ – thousand gold].”

Zhang Wuji was stunned, he stood up hastily. “It’s bad!” he thought, “Turns out she is a maid, and I thought she was the Miss.” His face turned red and white as he was extremely embarrassed.

Xiao Feng suppressed her laughter. She looked at Zhang Wuji to size him up. His face and upper body were still stained with blood; his wounds were still wrapped in cloth strips. Zhang Wuji was very self-conscious; he was aware of his filth and unsightly appearance, he wished the earth would open up and swallow him.

Xiao Feng lifted her sleeve to cover her nose while saying, “Laoye and Taitai are busy, you don’t need to kowtow. Let’s go to see Miss.” While saying that, she circled around Zhang Wuji at a distant and hurriedly led the way because she was afraid the bugs and fleas from Zhang Wuji’s body might jump onto hers.

Zhang Wuji followed behind Xiao Feng and Qiao Fu. Along the way he noticed the maids and servants were all wearing expensive looking clothes and jewelry. Of the chambers, halls and pavilions he passed there were not any that didn’t look exquisitely beautiful. Zhang Wuji spent the first ten years of his life on the Bing Huo Island [ice and fire]. For the next several years, he spent half his time on Mount Wudang, the other half in the Butterfly Valley. His food and drink and everyday life was very simple. He had never imagined that there were this kind of rich and luxury households in the world.

After walking for a while, they arrived outside a large pavilion. Zhang Wuji saw a sign above the door, which read ‘ling ao ying’ [spirit mastiff camp]. Xiao Feng walked into the pavilion. A moment later she came out and beckoned them to enter in. Qiao Fu then brought Zhang Wuji in.

As soon as he stepped in, Zhang Wuji was shocked, for he saw more than thirty ferocious looking large dogs, arranged in three rows, crouching on the ground. A young woman wearing genuine arctic fox fur coat was sitting on a chair draped in tiger skin. There was a whip in her hand. She barked, “General Qian, throat!”

A vicious dog leaped up suddenly and bit the throat of someone who was standing by the wall. “Aiyo!” Zhang Wuji could not help but crying out as he saw this cruel scene. He saw the dog bit off a piece of flesh and then sat down and started to chew. When he calmed down, Zhang Wuji noticed that the person was actually a dummy made of leather. All its vital points were covered in chunks of meat.

The young woman barked again, “General Che Qi! Lower abdomen!” The second vicious dog leaped up and bit the dummy’s lower abdomen.

To Zhang Wuji’s surprise, these dogs were in training to follow orders to attack people. Their bites were highly accurate. To his shock, Zhang Wuji recognized these dogs as the pack of malicious hounds that wildly bit him at the mountain. Thinking back, he vaguely remembered that the shout which stopped the dogs was the voice of this young woman. At first he only knew that this Miss had saved his life, but now he realized that the many suffering he received was actually because of her. Anger arose to fill his chest; he thought, “That’s it, that’s it! She was in cahoots with the dogs. How can I deal with her? If I knew it earlier, I would rather die on that mountain than treating my injuries in her house.” Ripping the bandages from his body, he threw strips of cloth to the ground then he turned around and walked away.

“Hey, hey!” Qiao Fu called out, “What are you doing? This is our Miss, why don’t you kowtow to her?”

“Pei!” Zhang Wuji spat, “Thank her for what? The malicious dogs that injured me, don’t they belong to her?”

The young woman turned her head. Seeing the extremely angry expression on Zhang Wuji’s face, she showed a faint smile and beckoned him. “Xiao Xiongdi, come here,” she called.

When Zhang Wuji saw her face, his heart suddenly went ‘thump, thump, thump’ continuously, because this young woman face was very captivating; it was so fair and smooth. In trying to fight his feelings, his ears were buzzing, his back turned cold and his limbs slightly trembled. He quickly hang his head low, he did not dare to look at her. His face, which was originally bloodless, suddenly turned deep red.

The young woman laughed. “Come here,” she called again.

Zhang Wuji looked up. His eyes met her bright eyes which were like a vast expanse of water. His mind suddenly turned blurry; he slowly walked toward her against his own will.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” the young woman said with a smile, “You are angry with me, aren’t you?”

Zhang Wuji had suffered many pains under these dogs’ teeth, how could he not be angry? But as he stood in front of her, he only felt that her breath smelled like orchid, her body emitted intermittent whiff of fragrance that he felt he was going to faint; how could he think about this word ‘angry’? Shaking his head, he said, “I am not!”

The young woman said, “My surname is Zhu, given name Jiuzhen. How about you?”

“I am called Zhang Wuji,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Wuji, Wuji!” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Hmm, it is a very elegant name. [Translator’s note: Wuji means ‘without a shame’] Xiao Xiongdi must have come from an aristocratic family. Mmm … why don’t you sit over there?” While saying that, she pointed to a low stool by her side.

Since the day he was born, Zhang Wuji had never seen such a beautiful woman that he was shaken to the core as if he was enchanted. If Zhu Jiuzhen told him to jump into a fiery pit, he would jump down without hesitation. Hearing her telling him to sit next to her, with unspeakable delight he immediately went and sat down reverently. It was beyond Xiao Feng and Qiao Fu’s expectations to see their Miss showing favor toward this dirty and stinky kid.

Zhu Jiuzhen barked her order again, “General Zhe Chong! Chest!” One large dog leaped up to bite the dummy, but the meat on the chest of that dummy had been bitten by another dog; so that dog bit the meat on the side of the dummy’s body and started to eat it.

Zhu Jiuzhen angrily said, “Greedy pig! You did not follow orders?” Raising the whip in her hand, ‘Whack! Whack!’ she lashed it twice.

The whip was full of thorns, as it lashed down, two long strips of bloodstains appeared on the back of the dog. But the dog was still unwilling to put the meat down, it growled menacingly instead.

“You are not following orders?” Zhu Jiuzhen barked. The whip lashed again, striking the dog so that it rolled around wildly with blood dripping from all around its body. Her whip technique was swift and ingenious, no matter where the dog run, it could not escape from the whip. At last the dog spat out the meat and then kneeled on the ground, motionless, whining in low voice. Yet Zhu Jiuzhen did not stop lashing her whip until it was dying to its last breath, and then she said, “Qiao Fu, put medicine on it.”

“Yes, Miss!” Qiao Fu replied, and took the wounded dog out of the hall and handed it over to the servant in charge of the dogs.

The rest of the dogs were all frightened to see this scene; no one dared to move. Zhu Jiuzhen sat back on her chair and barked her orders again, “General Ping Kou! Left leg! General Wei Yuan! Right arm! General Zheng Dong! Eye!” One by one the vicious dogs leaped bit according to the order, no one missed the target.

To Zhang Wuji’s amazement, she had given these dozens of ferocious dogs names as generals, while she directed them all with ease and competence just like a marshall. Zhu Jiuzhen turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and said with a smile, “Did you see these animals? If I do not firmly beat them with the whip, how can they be obedient to me?”

Although this pack of dogs had inflicted enormous pain on him, seeing the dog was beaten to miserable condition, Zhang Wuji could not restrain from feeling sorrowful.

Seeing he did not respond, Zhu Jiuzhen laughed and said, “You said you are not mad at me, but you don’t say something? How did you come to the western region? Where are your father and mother?”

Zhang Wuji thought that with his current miserable condition, if he mentioned the name of Tai Shifu and his parents’ names, he would only bring disgrace to them; thereupon he said, “My parents are dead. It was hard for me to survive in the Central Plains, so I wandered everywhere and ended up in here.”

“I shot that monkey,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Who told you to hide it in your bosom? You were so hungry that you wanted to eat monkey’s meat, weren’t you? You had not thought that you might be ripped to death by my dogs.”

Zhang Wuji blushed; he repeatedly shook his head and said, “I was not thinking of eating the monkey.”

With a captivating smile Zhu Jiuzhen said, “In front of me, you’d better not deny it.” Suddenly she remembered something and asked, “What kind of martial art did you train? My General Zuo’s skull shattered and it died. Your palm power is truly not bad.”

Hearing that he had killed one of her pet dogs, Zhang Wuji apologetically said, “I was in panic and hit with all I had. When I was little, I learned two, three years of random punching and kicking with my father, it was not any martial art at all.”

Zhu Jiuzhen nodded, then turned to Xiao Feng and said, “Take him to bath and give him some presentable clothes.”

Xiao Feng pursed her lips, laughed and said, “Yes!” and took Zhang Wuji out.

Zhang Wuji was reluctant to part from Zhu Jiuzhen; as he reached the door, he could not help but turn his head to look at her one more time. Who would have thought that Zhu Jiuzhen was also looking at him? As he looked at her bright and beautiful eyes, she flashed him a sweet and captivating smile. Zhang Wuji blushed until he felt his entire body, from the root of his hair to the end of his toes, turned red; as if his soul had just left him. He did not pay attention to the threshold, and thus he tripped and fell flat on his face, right on top of dog dung. His entire body was still covered with wounds; this fall had made him sore all over, but he did not dare to groan, he busily propped himself up and crawled away.

Xiao Feng giggled and said, “To see our Miss, everybody would be infatuated and head over heels in love with her. But you are still this young, you are also falling for her?” Zhang Wuji was really embarrassed, he rushed ahead of her.

After walking for a while, Xiao Feng laughed and said, “Are you going to take a bath and change your clothes in Taitai’s room?”

Zhang Wuji halted his steps at once and looked up; he saw above the door ahead of them hung an embroidered golden banner. He had never been to this place before. It was then that he realized that in his confusion he had taken the wrong turn. That maid Xiao Feng was so sly that although she knew, she did not say anything, but waited until he went straight to the family room before opening up her mouth to mock him.

Zhang Wuji hang his reddened face down without saying anything. Xiao Feng said, “You call me ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie’ and earnestly ask me, then I’ll take you out.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Xiao Feng Jiejie …”

With her right hand index finger pointing to her own cheek Xiao Feng said with straight face, “Hmm, what do you want from me?”

“I am asking you to take me out,” Zhang Wuji said.

“That’s better,” Xiao Feng laughed.

Taking him back to the small room, Xiao Feng said to Qiao Fu, “Miss said for him to take a bath and change his clothes with a clean one.”

“Yes, yes!” Qiao Fu replied. He was full of respect. Apparently, although Xiao Feng was also but a servant, compared to the other servants and maids her position was somewhat higher. Five, six male servants immediately stepped in, calling her ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie this’ and ‘Xiao Feng Jiejie that’, flattering her to no end. Xiao Feng actually looked cold and indifferent. Suddenly she came to Zhang Wuji and bowed to him,

Zhang Wuji was flabbergasted. “You … why?” he stammered.

Xiao Feng laughed and said, “Just now you kowtowed to me, right now I am returning the respect to you.” Finished speaking, she disappeared into the inner chamber in a flash.

Qiao Fu told everybody else how Zhang Wuji thought Xiao Feng was their Miss, how he kowtowed to her, adding some spices to his story, describing Zhang Wuji’s appearance as more ridiculous than it actually was so the hall was full with the crowd of servants’ howl of laughter. Zhang Wuji entered the room with his head hung low, but he was not angry. His heart was filled with the memory of the Miss’ laughter and anger, and each word she uttered.

After he took a bath, he saw Qiao Fu return with a set of dark green clothing, which he recognized as the servants’ attire. Zhang Wuji was angry in his heart, “I am not your family’s servant,” he mused, “How do you expect me to wear this kind of clothes?” He was about to wear his own worn out clothes when suddenly he noticed it was full of holes, exposing his skin and flesh. “If Miss wants to see me again and sees that I am still wearing this kind of dirty and worn out clothing, she will be unhappy,” he thought, “Actually, what wrong with me being her servant and doing errands for her?” With this thought, he calmed down and changed into the servant clothes.

Contrary to his expectation, not only the Miss did not call him that day, for the next a dozen of days later, he did not even see Xiao Feng, let alone the Miss. Zhang Wuji often daydreamed with blank expression on his face, thinking the Miss’ voice, her laugh and her face. He even felt that her appearance when she fiercely whipping the dogs was kind of flirtatious and lovely. He was thinking of going to the rear courtyard on his own. He would be satisfied just by looking at her from a distant, or hearing her voice when she was talking to someone else. But Qiao Fu had repeatedly warned him that if it was not their master who summoned them, they were not supposed to enter the gate. Otherwise, the vicious dogs would devour them. Remembering the ferociousness of the dogs, although he longed to see her, in the end he decided it was probably not a good idea to go to the rear courtyard.

More than a month had passed. Zhang Wuji’s broken arm was healed as good as new. The wounds of the dogs’ bite had also been healed, only there were some permanent teeth mark scars on his arms and legs. However, instead of feeling upset, a feeling of sweetness crept into his heart each time he remembered that these scars were from the Miss’ pet dogs.

These days, the cold poison in his body still flared up once every few days. Each time it flared up, it was worse than the last. One day the poison attacked him again. He lay down on the bed with the cotton quilt wrapped tightly around his body, while he was shivering badly. Qiao Fu came into the room. He was accustomed to see Zhang Wuji under the cold attack and did not think of anything unusual.

“Get plenty of rest,” he said, “Drink lots of hot preserved meat porridge! This is the new clothes Taitai [Madame] give to you for the New Year.” While saying that, he put a bundle on the table.

Zhang Wuji endured the poison attack all through the night before the cold gradually subsided. He got up and opened the bundle only to see a set of leather clothes. The lining was of snow-white sheepskin. He was delighted. The style of the leather clothes was still of the servant attire, apparently the Zhu family had regarded him as their servant.

Zhang Wuji had always had a warm nature and seldom lost his temper; he did not consider the clothes as an insult. He only thought, “It’s hard to imagine I have been here for more than a month. Very soon it will be the New Year. Mr. Hu said I would not live for more than a year. This New Year will be my last. I will be gone before the next New Year.”

As the year came to a close and the New Year’s Day approached, the bustling of activities in the rich family doubled. The servants were very busy painting the walls and the doors, and slaughtering pigs and sheep; all were in high spirits. Zhang Wuji helped Qiao Fu do some errands. He was hoping the New Year’s Day would arrive soon, thinking that when he kowtowed to wish Laoye, Taitai and Miss a happy new year, he would see Miss again. After seeing her one more time, he would quietly go away and die in some remote mountain area, so that he would not be an unnecessary burden for Qiao Fu and the other servants.

Amidst the noise of the firecrackers, the New Year’s Day arrived. Zhang Wuji followed Qiao Fu toward the main hall to greet their masters for the New Year. He saw a pair of elegant and beautiful middle-aged man and woman sitting in the hall, while around seventy, eighty maids and servants kneeled down on the floor.

With a happy laugh the man and the woman said, “Everybody has worked hard!” While on the side, two housekeepers distributed money. Zhang Wuji also received two ‘liang’ [tael] of silver. He did not see the Miss and was very disappointed. Holding the money with a blank expression on his face, he suddenly heard a charming and flirtatious voice from the outside, “Biaoge [older male cousin], you come here early this year.” It was precisely Zhu Jiuzhen’s voice.

A male voice laughed and said, “Would I dare to come late to greet Jiujiu and Jiumu [maternal uncle and aunt, respectively] a happy new year?”

Zhang Wuji’s face turned hot; he felt as if his heart was about to jump out of his chest, his palms were wet with perspiration. After hoping for two whole months this was the first time he heard Zhu Jiuzhen’s voice again; how would he stop his soul from being shaken?

He heard another female voice saying, “Shige [older martial brother] rushed here early, I wonder if he wants to pay a New Year visit to our Elders, or if he wants to a New Year visit to Biaomei [younger female cousin]?”

Amidst the voices, three people stepped into the hall. The crowd of servants stepped aside one after another. Zhang Wuji absentmindedly stood motionless. It was not until Qiao Fu forcefully pulled him aside that he finally moved out of the way.

Among the three people walked in, one was a young man. Zhu Jiuzhen walked on his left. She was wearing a scarlet sable coat, accentuating her tender and beautiful face, difficult to be described, difficult to be painted. On the other side of the young man was another young woman.
Ever since Zhu Jiuzhen entered the hall, Zhang Wuji’s eyes had never left her; he did not even care whether the young man and the other young woman were smart or were ugly, or whether they were wearing red or green. The two people kowtowed toward the masters, husband and wife. The hosts and the guests exchanged some words, but Zhang Wuji was oblivious to it all; he heard it but did not understand. In his eyes there was only Zhu Jiuzhen one person.

Actually Zhang Wuji was still too young, about male-female relationship, he only ‘knew one but understand a half’. However, just like everybody else, it was the first time his lust was awakened by a young and good-looking woman that he was infatuated and head over heels like a fool; so it was hardly Zhang Wuji’s natural disposition at all. Furthermore Zhu Jiuzhen was indeed dazzlingly beautiful, and he met her while he was in distress and she saved him; his admiration was hard to control. He only felt that as long as he could look at her once and hear her voice, then he would have an inexhaustible joy.

The masters, husband and wife, talked with three young people for a while. “Pa, Ma,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “I am going out to play with Biaoge and Qing Mei [younger sister Qing]!” Her voice carried a thirty-percent little spoiled girl’s tone. The masters smiled and nodded.

Mrs. Zhu said with a laugh, “Take good care of Wu Jia Meizi [little sister of the Wu family], you, three teenagers, must not quarrel among yourselves in this New Year’s Day.”

Zhu Jiuzhen laughed. “Ma,” she said, “Why don’t you tell Biaoge not to bully me?”

The three young people were talking and walking toward the rear courtyard. Without realizing it, Zhang Wuji followed from a distance. That day the servants had the freedom to do whatever they liked; some went out to play, some went out to gamble. By this time Zhang Wuji had seen clearly that the young man was quite handsome, his body was as beautiful as jade. Even in a cold day like this, he was only wearing thin yellow satin clothes; obviously his internal energy was not weak.

The other girl was wearing a black sable coat. Her figure was slender and graceful, her words and actions were refined. Speaking of grace and beauty, she was comparable to Zhu Jiuzhen, but in Zhang Wuji’s eyes, she was nothing compared to the Miss he venerated as a goddess. All three of them were about seventeen, eighteen years of age.

The three of them were walking and talking and laughing toward the rear courtyard. “Zhen Jie [older sister Zhen],” the other girl said, “Have you trained your Yi Yang Zhi [solitary yang finger] skill to the second level? Would you demonstrate it to broaden Meizi’s [younger sister] horizon?”

“Aiyo!” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You don’t want me to look good, do you? Even if I trained for ten more years, I would never surpass one stroke of your Wu family’s ‘lan hua xue shou’ [orchid acupoint brushing technique].”

The young man said with a laugh, “The two of you need not to be modest. The great name of ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’ [Two Beauties of the Snowy Range] possesses an impressive power and prestige.”

Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Being alone in my home, I blindly think through this, how can I surpass your rapid advancement, Shi Xiong Mei [martial (older) brother and (younger) sister], who can consult and discuss between the two of you? Today you came to see the stance, tomorrow you compare notes, doesn’t that mean ‘a thousand ‘li’ in one day’?”

The other girl could hear the vinegar [meaning ‘jealousy’] in her voice; she simply pursed her lips without saying anything, but in doing so, she tacitly agreed with what she was saying.

The young man was afraid Zhu Jiuzhen would get angry for real. “That’s not necessarily true,” he quickly said, “You have two Shifus, with Jiufu and Jiumu both teaching you, won’t you be stronger than we are?”

Zhu Jiuzhen angrily said, “What do you mean by ‘we’? Humph, of course you love your Shimei more than your Biaomei. Whenever I am playing with Qing Mei, you are always in her side.” While saying that, she turned her head away, no longer paid any attention to him.

Accompanied by a smile, the young man said, “I love my Biaomei, I also love my Shimei. My palm is part of my body, as much as the back of my hand, there is no difference between one and another. Biaomei, why don’t you take me to see those guard generals of yours? Certainly you have trained those generals to be fiercer and fiercer.”

“Alright!” Zhu Jiuzhen started to feel happy; she led them toward the Ling Ao Ying.

Zhang Wuji was following them from afar; he saw them talking and laughing, but he did not hear a word they were saying. Presently he also followed them into the dogs’ courtyard.

Turned out Zhu Jiuzhen was a descendant of Zhu Zhiliu. The girl surnamed Wu was Wu Qingying, she was Wu Santong’s descendant from Wu Xiuwen’s line. Wu Santong and Zhu Zhiliu were disciples of Yideng Dashi [Reverend ‘One Lamp’], so their martial art skills came from the same source. But after more than a hundred years, each of the family developed their own variations. The two brothers Wu Dunru and Wu Xiuwen were under the tutelage of Da Xia [great hero] Guo Jing. Although they also learned the Yi Yang Zhi, their martial art style was closer to the ‘hard’ and ‘fierce’ way of Jiu Zhi Shen Gai [Nine-finger Divine Beggar] Hong Qigong.

The young man, Wei Bi, was Zhu Jiuzhen’s [maternal] cousin. Not only he was handsome, his temperament was also gentle and easygoing, and thus both Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying’s hearts were captivated and both secretly fell in love with him. The two girls, Zhu and Wu, were approximately of the same age, they were both beautiful and glamorous. Just like the spring orchid and the autumn chrysanthemum, each had her own strength; the martial art skills they inherited from their respective families were also comparable.

About two, three years ago, the Wulin community around the Kunlun region gave them the title ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’. Ever since then, these two women had been competing against each other in secret. This situation had put Wei Bi on the hot seat; it was as if he had to choose between the bear paw and the fish, a very difficult choice indeed. Consequently, each time the three of them were together, although outwardly they were polite, the two girls were actually fighting a battle of words, nobody was willing to yield to the other. Only Wu Qingying was more introvert and was not quite outspoken. Besides, Wei Bi and she were of the same school, everyday, day and night, they saw each other a lot; therefore, she had a distinct advantage over Zhu Jiuzhen.

Zhu Jiuzhen ordered the servant in charge of the vicious dogs to release them out. The dogs followed orders to the letter, not one missed its intended target. Wei Bi did not stop voicing his compliments. Zhu Jiuzhen was very proud of herself.

Wu Qingying pursed her lips and laughed. “Shige,” she said, “I wonder which one will you be in the future, ‘Guan Jun’ [lit. head of the army, champion], or ‘Piao Qi’ [lit. rider of the white horse]?”

Wei Bi was taken aback. “What are you talking about?” he asked.

Wu Qingying said, “You are so obedient toward Zhen Jie [older sister Zhen], won’t she bestow to you the title of ‘General Guan Jun’ or ‘General Piao Qi’? Only, you must be very careful toward her whip.”

Wei Bi blushed deep red; there was a slight sign of anger in between of his eyebrows. “Pei!” he spat, “Rubbish! Are you cursing me as a dog?”

Wu Qingying smiled and said, “The ‘generals’ are always by a beautiful woman’s side, shaking their tails and begging for affection. They have a very amusing life. What’s not to like?”

Zhu Jiuzhen was angry. “If he were a dog,” she said, “What does that make his Shimei?”

Listening to this, Zhang Wuji could not stop laughing, ‘Ha!’ escaped from his mouth. He realized immediately of his rudeness, so he covered up his mouth quickly.

Wu Qingying felt anger was boiling inside her stomach, but she knew it was inappropriate to explode in front of Zhu Jiuzhen, so she stood up and said, “Zhen Jie, your mansion’s servants are truly well-mannered. We are chatting here and this servile kid unexpectedly eavesdropping on the side, and still dares to laugh once or twice. Shige, I am going home first.”

Zhu Jiuzhen suddenly remembered that Zhang Wuji was able to strike dead her ‘General Zuo’ with his palm; his strength was actually not small. She laughed and said, “Qing Mei, you do not need to be angry, and do not underestimate this little servant either. Although your Wu family’s martial art is strong, if you are able to flatten this servile kid within three moves, I will truly submit to you.”

“Humph,” Wu Qingying said, “Does this kind of kid deserve me put forth my own hand to deal with? Zhen Jie, you belittle me too much.”

Zhang Wuji was not able to stop from shouting, “Miss Wu, I also have a father and a mother; am I not a human? What do you think you are? Bodhisattva? A princess?”

Wu Qingying did not even look at him. “Shige,” she turned toward Wei Bi, “You let me receive the insult this little servant hurled at me without helping me?”

Seeing her loveable and hurt expression, Wei Bi’s heart had melted early on. Although he was impartial toward the ‘Xue Ling Shuang Shu’, he knew perfectly well that his Shifu’s martial art skill was incomprehensively deep. The skill he would expect to learn from him would be at most ten or twenty percent. If he wanted to master the peerless skill, there was no other way but to win his Shimei’s favor. Thereupon he said to Zhu Jiuzhen, “Biaomei, this little servant’s martial art skill is not bad, is it? Would you let me test him?”

Zhu Jiuzhen understood he was trying to help his martial sister, but she had another thought, “I don’t know the origin of this servant kid surnamed Zhang. Perhaps it is not such a bad idea to let Biaoge compel him to reveal his foundation.” Thereupon she said, “Alright. Let him receive instruction from the Wu family unique skill. Nothing could be better than that. This man, even I do not know which school’s disciple he is.”

Wei Be was surprised. “This servant kid’s martial art skill did not come from your family?” he asked.

Toward Zhang Wuji Zhu Jiuzhen said, “Why don’t you tell Shaoye [young master] who your Shifu is, and which school he belongs to?”

“You despise me too much,” Zhang Wuji thought, “How can I mention my parents’ schools, and thus dishonor Taishifu and my departed parents? Besides, I have never seriously practiced Wudang Pai’s martial art.” Thereupon he said, “My parents passed away when I was a child, I wandered the Jianghu in destitute. I do not know any martial art, I only received a little bit of instructions from my father when I was little.”

“What was your father’s name? Which school did he belong to?” Zhu Jiuzhen asked.

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “I can’t tell you,” he said.

Wei Bi laughed. “With the three of us looking, can’t we find it out ourselves?” he said. Slowly he walked to the center of the courtyard. “Kid,” he said with a laugh, “Why don’t you try taking three stances of mine?” While saying that, he turned toward Wu Qingying and gave her a wink. His meaning was clear, “Shimei, no need to get angry. I am going to beat this kid really bad to vent your anger.”

For someone in love, each word and each action, a frown or a smile of the beloved’s would not escape attention. Zhu Jiuzhen was no different. She understood clearly the meaning of Wei Bi’s wink. Seeing Zhang Wuji was unwilling to concede, she beckoned to him, calling him to come over and then in a low voice whispered in his ear, “My Biaoge’s martial art skill is very strong. You don’t need to defeat him. As long as you can resist his three stances, you are giving me a lot of face.” Finished speaking, she patted his shoulder to show her encouragement.

Zhang Wuji knew he was not Wei Bi’s match. If he conceded, he would unavoidably invite trouble and humiliation on himself, and brought nothing more than delight in these people’s hearts. But standing in front of Zhu Jiuzhen, his mind was chaotic. Hearing her soft voice and gentle words urging him, and smelling her perfume, how could he think clearly? His only thought was, “Miss orders me to fight. Even for a more difficult and dangerous task, I would risk my life to do it; what’s the harm in receiving a few punches and kicks?” He absentmindedly walked toward Wei Bi and stood in front of him with a blank expression.

Wei Bi said with a laugh, “Kid, take this!” ‘Slap! Slap!’ he struck Zhang Wuji twice on his face.

These two slaps came so fast that when Zhang Wuji was about to lift his hand to block, his face had already struck. His cheeks swelled with red palm marks on them.

Wei Bi knew Zhang Wuji did not receive any martial art instructions from the Zhu family, so he knew he had nothing to fear in term of causing Zhu Jiuzhen, as well as his uncle and aunt lose face. His strikes were without any reservation, only he did not use any internal energy; otherwise, Zhang Wuji’s teeth would have fallen and his cheekbones broken, he would have fainted.

“Wuji, fight!” Zhu Jiuzhen called out.

As soon as he heard his Miss call, Zhang Wuji’s spirit was aroused. With a grunt he punched straight forward. Wei Bi evaded sideways and praised him. “Good kid, you know what you are doing!” he said. Moving sideways, he jumped toward Zhang Wuji’s back. Zhang Wuji hastily turned around, but like a lightning Wei Bi’s hand reached out and grabbed his collar. Lifting his arm high, he laughed and said, “Go eat the dog’s dung!” and threw Zhang Wuji hard to the ground.

Zhang Wuji learned martial arts from Xie Xun for several years, but first, he was still too young; second, Xie Xun only told him to memorize the theory and the stances, without giving him any real combat experience. Meeting a disciple from a prestigious family like We Bi, his hands and feet were bound and he was unable to launch any stance. As he was being thrown, he wanted to stretch out his hand to break the fall, but it was too late. ‘Bang!’ his forehead and nose heavily hit the ground and blood spread all over his face.

Wu Qingying clapped and cheered. Giggling sweetly she said, “Zhen Jie, is our Wu family martial art good enough for you?”

Zhu Jiuzhen was ashamed and angered at the same time. If she said the Wu family martial art was not good, she would unavoidably offend Wei Bi; but if she said it was good, she was unbearably angry toward Wu Qingying and did not give her any satisfaction. Without any better option, her face turned cold and she did not say anything.

Zhang Wuji crawled up and looked gingerly at Zhu Jiuzhen. Seeing her knitted eyebrows, he said in his heart, “Even if I have to die, I must not make Miss lose her face.”

Wei Bei laughed and said, “This kid does not even know three-legged cat martial art, why do we have to talk about his school or sect?”

Zhang Wuji suddenly lunged forward, his leg flew toward Wei Bi’s lower abdomen. “Aiyo!” Wei Bi called out with laughter. By moving slightly backward, he evaded this kick, right after, his left hand reached out and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s right foot, which was still in the air, and flung it sideways. He was only using 30% of his power, but Zhang Wuji flew toward the walllike an arrow leaving its bow. In desperation Zhang Wuji kicked the ground to make his back face the wall. Although his skull escaped the disaster of shattering down, his back hurt so much that he felt as if all the bones in his body had been broken. He slid down along the wall and sat on the ground like a pile of mud; unable to crawl back up.

Although he was in severe pain, he was still concerned over Zhu Jiuzhen losing face; while he was still in dazed, he heard that she was saying, “This servant kid is totally useless. Let us go to the garden to play!” Obviously she was very angry.

Without knowing where the strength came from, Zhang Wuji turned around, propping himself on the ground and pounced with a palm strike toward Wei Bi.

Wei Bi laughed aloud and stretched out his palm backward to block. ‘Slap!’ to his surprise, his body swayed, forcing him to take a step back. Turned out Zhang Wuji was using the ‘Qi Xing Shou’ [seven-star (or Big Dipper constellation) hand] from the ‘Wudang Chang Quan’ [Wudang Long Fist], which his father, Zhang Cuishan taught him during the voyage on the raft. Wudang Long Fist was Wudang’s special skill. Although the fist was not strong, it carried a subtle variation. Wudang’s martial art had always departed from the mainstream martial art study, the emphasis was to use softness to subdue hardness, using the weak to defeat the strong, injuring the enemy without using one’s own strength; rather, it incited the enemy’s strength toward himself. If the enemy was using a catty of force, then the reacting force was also one catty; if the enemy was using a hundred catties, then a hundred catties would return to him. It was like punching the wall. The heavier one punched, the heavierthe reaction force he had to suffer.

In the past, when Jue Yuan Dashi [Reverend Jue Yuan] recited the ‘Nine Yang Manual’, he said, ‘use one’s own strength, strike only after the enemy has struck’. Later on, Zhang Sanfeng used this principle to govern the Wudang fist technique. If it was Song Yuanqiao, Yu Lianzhou or the other Wudang experts, they might add their own strength above the enemy’s. Zhang Wuji’s mastery of this skill was only superficial, yet in this punch he was unconsciously successful in inciting the opponent’s force.

Wei Bi felt his hand was sore and numb, the ‘chi’ and blood in the pit of this stomach were shaken. Immediately he leaned sideways and sent out a fist toward Zhang Wuji’s back. Zhang Wuji swept his palm backward to parry using the stance ‘yi tiao bian’ [‘the whip’]. Seeing his marvelous palm technique, Wei Bi hurriedly evaded backwards, but his shoulder was still brushed by Zhang Wuji’s three fingers. Although he was not hurt, Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying had naturally seen that he had lost this move.

Wei Bi was in the presence of his sweetheart, how could he concede? At first, when he was face to face with Zhang Wuji, seeing the opponent was a young boy, he looked at him condescendingly. He had no doubt that he would win martial-art-wise, but he wanted to toy with Zhang Wuji to win Wu Qingying’s favor; and thus his fists and kicks only carried about 20, 30% of his strength. This time, as he suffered defeat twice in a row, he shouted, “Little demon, are you not afraid of death?” With a loud grunt his fist went straight to Zhang Wuji’s chest.

His fist, which contained three layers of force, was from the ‘Chang Jiang San Die Lang’ [Yangtze River’s three layers of waves]. If the opponent used all his strength to block the first layer of force, he would not anticipate the second layer of force would follow closely, followed by the violent third layer of force immediately surging up. Unless the opponent was a martial art master, he would certainly meet death or at least seriously wounded.

Seeing the severity of the opponent’s move, Zhang Wuji was scared. Without enough time to think, he remembered that his father on the wooden raft in the middle of the ocean taught him a technique where both arms circled back and break the opponent’s hand, called the ‘jing lan’ [cross-fence (like the symbol ‘#’)]. This stance was very broad and deep; how could Zhang Wuji comprehend its essence? It was just that he was in such a desperate situation that he had used it without thinking.

Wei Bi was sending out his right hand punch straight toward Zhang Wuji’s right arm. He felt as if the first layer of force of his own fist was entering the vast ocean, it vanished without a trace. While he was startled, ‘crack!’ the second layer of force bounced back and the bone of his right arm was jolted and it broke. Lucky for him he had not launched the third layer of force, otherwise, because Zhang Wuji did not understand the wondrous use of this ‘jing lan’ stance, both of them would suffer serious injury under this third layer of force.

Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying both cried out in alarm and rushed toward Wei Bi to look at his injury. “Not a problem,” Wei Bi smiled bitterly, “I was just being careless.”

Seeing the love of their lives was wounded, as if by prior agreement Zhu Jiuzhen and Wu Qingying both sent out their palms toward Zhang Wuji. As he succeeded in breaking Wei Bi’s arm, Zhang Wuji was also being hit so he was almost thrown backward. Zhu and Wu, two girls’ palms had arrived while his feet were still staggering. In his daze, Zhang Wuji failed to evade. One palm hit his chest, the other hit his shoulder. He instantlythrew up a mouthful of blood. Yet in his heart his resentment was greater than his bodily pain; he thought, “I fought with all my might for you so that you won’t lose face, but after I actually won you hit me!”

“Stop!” Wei Bi called out. Zhu and Wu, two girls halted their hands following his order. They saw him raise his left palm with an ashen face, and he struck Zhang Wuji again. Zhang Wuji hastily leaped sideways to evade.

“Biaoge!” Zhu Jiushen called out, “You are injured. Why should you lower yourself to the same level as this little servant? I was wrong. I should not have asked you to fight with him.”

Based on her usually arrogant temperament, she would never ever bow her head to admit her own mistake to anybody. It was just that she saw her lover’s arm was broken that she was frightened and felt sorry for him and thus she was willing to humble herself. Who would have thought that when Wei Bi heard her, he was even more enraged?

“Biaomei,” he said with a cold laugh, “Your little servant’s skill is superior, where were you wrong? It’s just that I am not convinced yet.” As he said that, he pushed Zhu Jiuzhen aside with his left arm, and then raised his fist to strike Zhang Wuji again.

Zhang Wuji was about to step backward to evade when Wu Qingying pushed his back gently with her palms, so that he could not step back. Wei Bi’s fist hit Zhang Wuji squarely on the bridge of his nose and immediately blood started to flow down from his nose.

Wu Qingying was far more shrewd compared to Zhu Jiuzhen; she helped her martial brother in secret, without showing any sign, so that he did not lose face and felt appreciative towards her.

Zhu Jiuzhen saw it and thought, “You can help your Shige, do you think I cannot help my Biaoge?” Thereupon she also put forth her hand to attack Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji’s martial art skill was far inferior to Wei Bi to begin with; now that Zhu and Wu, two girls, one was helping him in the open, the other was helping him surreptitiously, in a short moment Zhang Wuji had to suffer the three people’s punches and kicks. In just seven, eight moves, he had vomited several mouthfuls of blood.

With the heart full of resentment, Zhang Wuji disregarded his own life and launched the 32 stances Wudang Long Fist one after another. Although his mastery was insufficient and each fist and each kick lacked power,the Wudang Long Fist was his family’s special skill, so that after the time needed to drink a cup of tea later, he was still standing and not falling down.

Zhu Jiuzhen roared, “Where did this stinky kid come from? He dares to come to the Zhu and Wu manors with such unruly manners; he is truly impatient to give his life away.”

Wei Bi raised up his left palm and hacked down in full force toward Zhang Wuji’s left shoulder so that Zhang Wuji’s body was pushed forward toward Wei Bi’s other palm. Wei Bi’s broken arm was getting more and more painful, so he was unwilling to prolong his fight with this lowly servant. His palm carried 100% of his strength. Zhang Wuji, unable to stop himself from fumbling forward, felt a strong gust of wind on his face and realized he was helpless to block, but he still tried to lift both arms to parry.

“Stop!” suddenly they all heard an imposing voice shout. A blue shadow flashed by, somebody flew from the side and fended off Wei Bi’s palm. His movement seemed light, but surprisingly Wei Bi was unable to hold his ground and was forced to draw several steps backward and was about to fall sitting down on the ground. The man in blue robe moved extremely fast; he flew over Wei Bi’s shoulder and reached out to steady him so that Wei Bi was able to stand.

“Father!” Zhu Jiuzhen called out.

“Zhu Bo Fu [paternal (older) uncle]!” Wu Qingying called out.

Wei Bi gasped for breath, and then called out, “Jiujiu [maternal uncle]!”

This man was indeed Zhu Jiuzhen’s father, Zhu Changling. Wei Bi’s broken arm injury was not a small matter, the servant in charge of the dogs in the Ling Ao Ying [spirit mastiff camp] rushed toward the main hall to inform their master. Zhu Changling hurriedly came and saw the three people were surrounding Zhang Wuji. After standing on the side to watch for a while, he saw that Wei Bi launched a killer strike, so he intercepted the attack to save Zhang Wuji’s life.

Zhu Changling cast a sidelong glance toward his daughter and Wei and Wu, two people. His face was filled with rage. Suddenly he slapped his daughter’s face with the back of his hand and roared, “Very good! Very good! The Zhu family descendants are making a good progress. I have such a sweet daughter, will I still have a face to see our ancestors in the nether world later on?”

Since her childhood, Zhu Jiuzhen had always been pampered by her parents; they had never even reprimanded her with harsh words, but today unexpectedly her father slapped her heavily in public. In that instant her head spun and she was at a loss about what to do. It was not until a moment later that she broke up crying.

“Stop it! Don’t cry!” Zhu Changling sternly said. His voice was full of authority and power, shaking the dust on the beam that it rained down. Zhu Jiuzhen was so terrified that she stopped crying at once.

Zhu Changling said, “From generation to generation, our Zhu family has always been upholding chivalry. Your ancestor Ziliu Gong [‘gong’ is a general term to address a male senior/elder] worked under the Yideng Dashi as the Prime Minister of the Dali kingdom. Later on he fought to defend Xiangyang, his name spread out throughout the world. Now, he could be called a hero, don’t you think? Who would have thought that his descendants are unworthy? I, Zhu Changling, have this kind of daughter, three adults surrounding a child, wanting to take his life. Tell me, isn’t that shameless? Isn’t that shameless?” He was berating his daughter, but when Wei Bi and Wu Qingying heard him, it was as if each word was a stab of knife to their hearts that they felt so ashamed that it was a total loss of face for them.

Zhang Wuji was hurt all head to toe and almost fainted, but he gritted his teeth to stay standing. His mind was still clear, however, he was able to hear everything Zhu Changling had said. His admiration grew, and thinking in his heart, “Right and wrong is clearly distinguished, this is the sign of a true hero.”

He saw Zhu Changling was so furious that the skin on his face looked sallow, his entire body trembled, his breathing fast. Wei Bi and the others, three people, hung their heads low, they did not dare to meet his eyes at all. Zhang Wuji also noticed that Zhu Jiuzhen’s face was swollen big; it was obvious that her father’s slap was indeed not light. She looked ashamed and scared at the same time, truly pitiful; she looked as if she wanted to cry, yet she did not dare to. Zhang Wuji bit his own lower lip and said, “Laoye, this does not concern Miss.” He was startled by his own voice, for his voice was hoarse and almost inaudible. Turned out his throat was hit hard by Wei Bi earlier.

Zhu Changling continued, “This Xiao Xiongdi’s [little brother] fists and kicks did not follow any specific method. It is obvious that he has never bowed to anybody and received proper martial art training. All the while he was relying on brute force and bravery, staking everything to defend himself. He has made others admire him even more. The three of you have bullied someone who does not know martial art. Don’t you remember anything your master and elders and your parents instructed?”

His words were harsh and his countenance stern; he had unexpectedly showed the least bit of leniency toward Wei Bi and Wu Qingying. Listening to him, Zhang Wuji was frightened and anxious instead. Zhu Changling also asked Zhang Wuji how he came to the manor, how he came to wear a servant’s attire, while at the same time he also called someone to fetch medicine and some paste to mend broken bones to treat Wei Bi and Zhang Wuji’s injuries.

Zhu Jiuzhen knew her father was furious and so she did not dare to conceal anything. She told him how Zhang Wuji protected the little monkey, how he was attacked by the pack of dogs, and how she rescued him and took him to the manor.

The more Zhu Changling heard, the deeper his frown was; when his daughter finished her narration, he sternly said, “Out of chivalry this Zhang Xiongdi protected the little monkey; that fact shows his heroism, yet you have unexpectedly treated him as a servant. If this matter is spread out later, the Jianghu warriors will all say that I, ‘Jing Tian Yi Bi’ [One Pen Shocking the Heavens] Zhu Changling, am a heartless, unjust disciple. You are raising these malicious dogs, I only knew that you love to play with them, and that’s fine with me. Who would have thought that you dare to be reckless and use them to hurt others? If I don’t kill you, this little girl, today, how can I, Zhu Changling still have a face to take part in the Wulin world?”

Realizing her father was really angry, Zhu Jiuzhen bent her knees and kowtowed on the ground. “Father,” she said, “Child will not dare anymore.”
Zhu Changling’s rage continued, Wei Bi and Wu Qingying also kneeled down to beseech him. Zhang Wuji also opened his mouth, “Laoye …”

Zhu Changling busily said, “Xiao Xiongdi, how could you call me ‘Laoye’ [old/senior master]? I am only several years older than you are. At most you can call me ‘Qian Bei’ [senior/older generation], that would be enough.”

“Yes, yes, Zhu Qian Bei,” Zhang Wuji said, “You cannot blame Miss over this matter; her actions were by no means intentional.”

“Look at that,” Zhu Changling said, “A young boy like him is very broad-minded and loving; how can the three of you rise above that? Today is the New Year’s Day, also Miss Wu is our guest, actually I should have not gotten angry, but this matter should not have happened at all. It was an act of cowardice, the act of the lowly characters of the ‘black way’, how could someone from the ‘chivalrous way’ like us do such thing? Since Xiao Xiongdi has interceded for you, you can all rise.”

Swallowing their shame, Wei Bi and the others, three people, stood up. Zhu Changling turned toward the servant who feeds the dogs and shouted, “Where are those malicious dogs? Take them here.” The servant complied and took the dogs out.

Zhu Jiuzhen saw the dark expression on her father’s face and wondered what he was about to do. “Father,” she called in low voice.

With a cold laugh Zhu Changling said, “You raised these dogs to harm others. All right, tell them to bite me.”

Zhu Jiuzhen cried. “Father,” she was sobbing, “Daughter realizes her mistake.”

“Humph,” Zhu Changling sneered and walked toward the vicious dogs. ‘Slap! Slap! Slap! Slap!’ four times, the skulls of four big vicious dogs, as big and vicious as wolves, were shattered and they fell down on the ground.

The people were shocked and all were speechless. Zhu Changling punched and kicked, his palms hacked down and his fingers pierced, his body floated; a dark blue shadow circled around the courtyard, more than thirty vicious dogs were all killed without mercy. They could not even escape, let alone try to bite or attack. He was able to kill the dogs in one fell swoop, admittedly because the dogs were not under Zhu Jiuzhen’s order to attack, that is, the dogs were caught off guard; however, his action was as swift as the wind or lightning, his palm power was extremely fierce. Wei Bi, Wu Qingying and Zhang Wuji watched with their jaws dropped.

Then Zhu Changling carried Zhang Wuji lying in his arms to his own house to tend to his injuries. Before long, Mrs. Zhu and Zhu Jiuzhen came to take care of him with some medicinal soup.

After being bitten by the dogs, Zhang Wuji had lost a considerable amount of blood, his body was weakened. This time the injuries he suffered were not light, he was unconscious for several days. After his mind cleared up, he wrote his own prescription and asked the servant to prepare the medication and feed it to him, then his recovery was quicker. Seeing his divine-like medical ability, Zhu Changling was surprised and impressed.

Within these twenty-some days of recovering, Zhu Jiuzhen often came to accompany Zhang Wuji by his bed, singing or guessing riddles, telling him stories, or simply chatting and joking, just like a big sister taking care of her ailing little brother, very attentive and considerate with meticulous care. After Zhang Wuji was strong enough to get up, Zhu Jiuzhen was still spending most of her days with Zhang Wuji. When it was time for her to train martial art with her father, she did not try to shun Zhang Wuji away; she always called him to watch on the side.

Zhu Changling had hinted twice that he had the intention of taking Zhang Wuji under his tutelage to inherit his entire martial art skill, but seeing a lack of response on Zhang Wuji’s side, he no longer brought it up. But he still treated Zhang Wuji with kindness, not different than if he were one his own disciples.

The Zhu family martial art was closely related to calligraphy. Zhu Jiuzhen was required to practice writing every day, and she always had Zhang Wuji accompany her studying the books. Ever since Zhang Wuji left the Bing Huo [ice and fire] Island and came to the Central Earth, he had always wandered alone in desperation, laden with grief and misery, when had he experienced this kind of peaceful and happy days?

In the blink of an eye it was already past the middle of the second month. This particular day Zhang Wuji and Zhu Jiuzhen were practicing their calligraphy in a little study room when Xiao Feng the maid came in and reported, “Miss, Yao Er Ye [second master Yao] has returned from the Central Plains.”

Zhu Jiuzhen was very happy; she tossed the pen brush away and called out, “Good! I have been waiting for him for more than half a year, now he finally comes.” Pulling Zhang Wuji’s hand along he said, “Wuji Di [little brother Wuji], come and take a look, I wonder what neat things Yao Ershu [second (younger) uncle] bought for me this time.” Two people walked hand-in-hand toward the main hall.

“Who is Yao Ershu?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“He is my father’s sworn brother,” Zhu Jiuzhen replied, “He is known as ‘Qian Li Zhui Feng’ [pursuing the wind for thousand ‘li’] Yao Qingquan. Last year my father asked him to deliver a gift to the Central Plains. I asked him to buy some rouge cosmetics and silk fabrics from Hangzhou, and embroidery needles and patterns from Suzhou, also some Huimo [Anhui ink, known for its quality] brush and ink. I wonder if he managed to buy everything.” She explained further that the Zhu family manor was located in remote Kunlun mountain range of the western region, and that fine and delicate articles could not be bought within several thousand ‘li’ from where they were. Kunlun Mountain was tens of thousands ‘li’ away from the Central Earth, to make a round trip between two places would required two, three years; therefore, if anybody was going to the Central Plains, Zhu Jiuzhen would ask him to buy large quantities of goods.

As the two of them were near the hall, they were shocked to hear the sound of crying and weeping. Upon entering the hall, their shock was even greater, since they saw Zhu Changling and a tall and slim middle-aged man were kneeling on the floor, weeping. The man was wearing white mourning garment with a straw belt on his waist.

Zhu Jiuzhen went toward and man and called out, “Yao Ershu!”

With a loud wailing Zhu Changling called out, “Zhen’Er, Zhen’Er, our great benefactor, Zhang Wu Ye [fifth master Zhang], Zhang … Zhang Wu Ye … he .. he … he died!”

Zhu Jiuzhen was startle. “How can that be?” she asked, “Zhang En Gong [benefactor master (see also my note on ‘Gong’ earlier] … has been missing for ten years. So he did not return safely?”

Sobbing, Yao Qingquan said, “We live remotely so we did not receive timely information. Turned out more than four years ago Zhang En Gong and Madame committed suicide together. I heard this news on the way at Shanxi, before I even went up Mount Wudang. Upon my arrival on the mountain, I met Song Da Xia and Yu Er Xia [first hero Song and second hero Yu, respectively]. Only then did I know the truth, ay …”

The more Zhang Wuji listened; his shock grew until finally his doubts were gone. The one they referred as ‘the great benefactor, the fifth master Zhang’ was his own father, Zhang Cuishan. Seeing saw Zhu Changling and Yao Qingquan were crying bitterly while Zhu Jiuzhen was also weeping with tears coming down her face, Zhang Wuji was unable to bear the urge to step forward and reveal his real identity, but then he changed his mind, “All along I did not tell them my origin, if I reveal the truth now, it is most likely that Zhu Bofu [father’s elder brother, general respectful term to address an older man] and Zhen Jie [older sister] would not believe me. Perhaps they would think that I am merely trying to buy their sympathy, and then they would look down on me.”

Not too long afterwards, there came a loud noise of weeping from the inner courtyard. Mrs. Zhu, holding on a maid’s shoulder, walked into the hall, while repeatedly asking Yao Qingquan question after question. In his grief and indignation, Yao Qingquan forgot to pay his respects toward the sworn sister-in-law. Immediately he narrated again how Zhang Cuishan committed suicide.

Zhang Wuji tried hard to suppress his emotions. He did not cry openly,but tears rained down on his face. Everybody in the hall was crying, so nobody paid him any attention.

Suddenly Zhu Changling raised his palm and ‘crack!’ he struck the octagonal table by his side that it broke in two. “Er Di [second (younger) brother],” he said, “Tell me clearly, who had forced En Gong and En Sao [benefactor sister-in-law] to their deaths on Mount Wudang?”

“As soon as I heard the information, I should have returned quickly to report this matter to Dage [big brother],” Yao Qingquan said, “But I thought investigating the enemies’ names was more important. Turned out the people who went up Mount Wudang and forced En Gong to his death were under the leadership of the Shaolin Three Divine Monks, the number of people was indeed not a few. Xiao Di [little brother – referring to self] secretly investigated everywhere, and thus was delayed several days.” Thereupon he named the people from Shaolin, Kongtong, Emei, and other ‘Pai’ [sect], and then Hai Sha [lit. sand of the ocean], Ju Jing [gigantic whale], Shen Quan [divine fist], Wu Shan [Mount Wu, located on the Changjiang River by the Three Gorges], and other ‘Bang Hui’ [clan and society], who had gone up Mount Wudang to coerce Zhang Cuishan, such as Abbot Kong Wen, Reverend Kong Zhi, He Taichong, Jing Xuan Shitai, Guan Neng, and many other names.

Zhu Changling grimly said, “Er Di, these people are among the best of the Wulin characters of the present age; we can’t provoke even one of those people. However, Zhang Wu Ye’s kindness on us was as heavy as the mountain; we must avenge his deep enmity even if our bodies were ground into powder and our bones were broken into pieces.”

Wiping his tears, Yai Qingquan said, “Dage is right, we owe our two lives to Zhang Wu Ye. In any case we are able to live these dozen of years, so if we must lose our lives for Zhang Wu Ye’s sake, that is only appropriate. What Xiao Di regrets most is that I was not able to meet Zhang Wu Ye’s young master; otherwise I would be able to convey Dage’s good intention. It would be best if we can invite him here, then we can give him everything we have and take a good care of him the rest of his life.”

Mrs. Zhu prattled incessantly, asking in details about this Zhang Gongzi [young master]. Yao Qingquan only knew that he was seriously injured, but he did not know where he had gone to seek treatment. It seemed to be that this child was only eight, nine years old that year. Supposedly Zhang Sanfeng, Zhang Zhenren [lit. real/true person, a respectful term to address a Taoist priest] was going to pass his entire martial art skillon to him, so that in the future he could take over the Sect Leader position of Wudang Pai.

Zhu Changling, husband and wife immediately kneeled down to express their thanks to the Heaven and the Earth for the future Sect Leader Zhang.

Yao Qingquan said, “Dage asked me to deliver thousand-year-old king ginseng, snow lotus herb from Tianshan, jade lion paper weight, black gold dagger and other things for Zhang En Gong; Xiao Di has left everything on Mount Wudang, asking Song Da Xia to hand them over to Zhang Gongzi.”

“That’s the best arrangement, that is,” Zhu Changling said. Turning toward his daughter he said, “Why don’t you tell Zhang Xiongdi how our family received great kindness from our benefactor?”

Zhu Jiuzhen took Zhang Wuji’s hand and led him to her father’s study room. She pointed toward a large scroll of painting hanging at the center of the wall and told Zhang Wuji to take a look. On the right margin of the painting there were seven characters: ‘Picture of Zhang Gong Cuishan’s Kindness’.

Zhang Wuji had never been to Zhu Changling’s study before, this time, as he saw his father’s revered name, his eyes were clouded with tears. The background of the painting was a vast wilderness. A handsome young warrior, with left hand holding a silver hook and right hand brandishing an iron brush, was fighting a fierce battle with five fearsome looking enemies. Zhang Wuji knew this warrior must be his father. Although the face was somewhat different, he could see the slight resemblance with his own face. There were two people lying on the ground, one was Zhu Changling, the other Yao Qingquan. There were two more people with severed heads. On the lower left corner there was a young mother, her expression was full of fear. She was Madame Zhu. She was carrying a baby girl in her arms. Zhang Wuji focused his eyes and saw a small black mole on the side of this baby’s mouth, so she must be Zhu Jiuzhen.

The paper of this painting had turned light yellow; apparently it was an old painting, at least ten years old. Zhu Jiuzhen pointed her finger to the painting and explained to him. Turned out shortly after Zhu Jiuzhen was born, in order to avoid strong enemies, Zhu Changling took his entire family to the west. Unfortunately, the enemy still managed to overtake them on the way. Two of his younger martial brothers were killed, while Yao Qingquan and he were also overthrown. The enemies were just about to finish them off when Zhang Cuishan happened to pass by. Out of chivalry he beat the enemies and drove them away, and thus had saved the lives of the entire family. A simple calculation would reveal that it must have happened before Zhang Cuishan went to the Bing Huo Island.

After Zhu Jiuzhen narrated this story, her expression turned sad. She said, “We live in such a remote area that we have just found out about Zhang En Gong’s return from overseas last year. Father had made an oath that he would not tread his feet on the Central Plains even for one step; thereupon he imposed upon Yao Ershu to deliver the precious gifts to Mount Wudang and pay his respects, who would have thought …” While she was still talking, a young servant of the study room came in and invited her to the mourning hall to pay her respects.

Zhu Jiuzhen hurriedly went out the room. After changing her clothes to a plain white gown, together with Zhang Wuji they went to the rear hall. There were two memorial tablets arranged in the hall. White candles were burning high. One of the memorial tablets bore this inscription: ‘En Gong Zhang Daxia Hui Cuishan Zhi Lingwei’ [the memorial tablet of benefactor Great Hero Zhang, revered name Cuishan]. The other one had ‘Zhang Furen Yin Shi Zhi Lingwei’ [the memorial tablet of Mrs. Zhang of the Yin family]. Zhu Changling, husband and wife, along with Yao Qingquan were kneeling on the floor, weeping with grief.

Zhang Wuji followed Zhu Jiuzhen, together they also kowtowed. Zhu Changling stroke his head and with a choking voice said, “Xiao Xiongdi, very good, very good. This Zhang Daxia was generous and big hearted, a remarkable man, truly unparalleled in the present age. Although you do not know him, he was not your relative or acquaintance, yet you pay your respects to him. It is very appropriate.”

Faced with this situation, Zhang Wuji had even less reason to confess that he was the Benefactor Zhang’s child, thinking, “The rumor Yao Ershu heard was incorrect, he said I am no older than eight, nine years of age; if I confess now, it would be more difficult for them to believe.”

“Dage,” suddenly Yao Qingquan said, “About that Xie Ye [Master Xie] …” Zhu Changling coughed and made an eye signal. Yao Qingquan immediately changed the subject, “What should we do about the thanksgiving sacrifice? Shall we hold a funeral for the Benefactor?”

“You take care of it!” Zhu Changling replied.

Zhang Wuji thought, “You were obviously saying ‘Xie Ye’; how come suddenly changed into ‘xie yi’ [thanksgiving offering]? [Translator’s note: the same ‘Xie’ (thank you) character, so in Chinese the two words did not differ too much.] Xie Ye, Xie Ye? Could he be talking about my Yifu [foster/adoptive father]?”

That night he remembered his departed father and mother, as well as his Yifu who was spending the rest of his life on the cold island of the extreme north. His mind was full of disquieting thoughts; how could he sleep soundly?

By the dawn the next day, he heard intermittent footsteps, while his nose caught a delicate fragrance, followed by Zhu Jiuzhen entering his room carrying a basin of water in her handsto wash his face with.

Zhang Wuji was startled. “Zhen Jie, what … what are you doing?” he asked.

Zhu Jiuzhen said, “All the servants and maids have left completely. What’s wrong with me taking care of you?”

Zhang Wuji was even more surprised. “What … what happened? Why did they leave?”

“My father told them to leave last night,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “He gave every one of them some money and sent them back to their homes. It is too dangerous in here.” After a short pause she continued, “After you wash your face, Father wants to have a word with you.”

Zhang Wuji quickly washed his face without taking too much care. Zhu Jiuzhen combed his hair, and then together they walked toward Zhu Changling’s study. There were originally seventy, eighty servants in this big building complex, but now it looked cold and empty, not even one person was to be seen.

Seeing the two of them walk in, Zhu Changling said, “Zhang Xiongdi, I very much admire your chivalrous heart and heroic spirit. Actually, I wanted to keep you in my humble home for eight or ten years, but now that we are suddenly on the brink of an unforeseen incident, we must part. Zhang Xiongdi you must not have questions in your heart.” While saying that, he presented a tray; on the tray there were twelve gold ingots and twelve silver ingots, plus a self-defense dagger. He said, “This is a small token just to remember your meeting with a simple-minded couple and their daughter, I ask Zhang Xiongdi to accept. If the old man can keep his life, we will meet again in the future …” Speaking to this point, his voice broke, he sobbed and was unable to continue.

Zhang Wuji stepped aside to evade the gift. He boldly said, “Zhu Bobo [(older) paternal uncle], although your nephew is young and useless, he is not one who covets life and fears death. As your family is facing imminent danger, there is no way nephew will go away on my own. Perhaps nephew cannot help Bofu and Jiejie in any way, but I will follow Bofu and Jiejie in life or death.

Zhu Changling urged him again and again, but Zhang Wuji’s mind was set. “Ay!” finally Zhu Changling sighed and said, “You kid do not know danger. Alright, I will tell you the truth, but you must swear a heavy oath first, that you will not in any way divulge the secret to a second person, you also must not ask me too many questions.”

Zhang Wuji kneeled down at once and with a loud and clear voice said, “The Emperor of Heaven above, the matter which Zhu Bobo will tell me, if I divulge it to other people, or ask him too many questions, let me die with random chops of knife, and bring ruin and shame upon myself.”

Zhu Changling raised him up and then looked outside the door and the windows, followed by leaping up the roof. After ensuring there was no other people in all directions, he returned to the study room and said in low voice next to Zhang Wuji’s ear, “What I am going to tell you, you are to remember it in your heart; you must not say anything to me, to guard against the wall with an ear.” Zhang Wuji nodded.

In low voice Zhu Changling continued, “Yesterday Yao Er Di brought the news of Zhang En Gong’s death, but he also brought someone home. This person is surnamed Xie, given name Xun, he is known as the Jin Mao Shi Wang [golden mane lion king] …” Zhang Wuji was so shocked that his body trembled.

Zhu Changling continued, “This Xie Daxia and Zhang En Gong were sworn brothers, while he has tied many deep enmities with various schools and sects under the heavens. Zhang En Gong, husband and wife committed suicide was because they were unwilling to disclose their sworn brother’s whereabouts. Somehow Xie Daxia returned to the Central Earth and went into action to avenge Zhang En Gong’s grievance. He has killed many enemies, but the enemy warriors are simply too many; in the end he suffered a serious injury. Yao Er Di is quick-witted; he rescued him and brought him here to escape, but we know the enemies will pursue in an instant. The adversaries are too numerous, we are absolutely helpless to withstand them. I am risking my life to repay the kindness; I determine to die together with Xie Daxia. But you have no relation whatsoever with him, why must you lose your life here? Zhang Xiongdi, I have told you everything, quickly leave! Once the enemies arrive, all jades and rocks will be burned; it will be too late to escape by then.”

When Zhang Wuji heard this, his heart was burning with surprise and delight. He had never thought Yifu would come to this place. “Where is …” he asked, but Zhu Changling’s right hand quickly covered his mouth while he whispered in his ear, “Must not speak. The enemy’s power is extensive; one careless word, we will jeopardize Xie Daxia’s life. Have you forgotten your heavy oath just now?” Zhang Wuji nodded.

Zhu Changling said, “I have clearly told you everything. Zhang Xiongdi, although you are young, I have regarded you as a good friend and have taken you into my full confidence, concealing nothing. You must leave immediately.”

Zhang Wuji said, “You have clearly explained everything to me, now I’m even more unwilling to leave.”

Zhu Changling was deep in thought for a long time. Finally he heaved a deep sigh and decisively said, “Alright! Here after we will live or die together, no need to say anything anymore. While we still have time, we must act quickly.”

Immediately he took Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji and went out the door. Mrs. Zhu and Yao Qingquan had been waiting outside the door, with several cloth bundles sitting next to them, as if they were ready to take a long journey. Zhang Wuji looked to the east and gazed to the west, but did not see any sign of his Yifu. Zhu Changling ignited a paper flint to light a torch, and then aimed the fire at a spot above the main gate. Instantly fire blazed high into the sky while the fire tongues reaching out everywhere. Turned out the several hundred houses in this large building complex was already soaked with petroleum. Tianshan and Kunlunshan mountain ranges of the western region were rich with natural resources; it was common to see oil bubbling up from the earth like a fountain, which the people took to make the fire to cook their meals.

The Zhu family village consisted of splendid large buildings spread over a wide area with somewhat connected interior, but with the help of the oil, the fire spread really fast. Zhang Wuji saw how quick the richly ornamented building engulfed in the raging flame; he felt very grateful in his heart. He thought, “This is Zhu Bobo’s life savings, built with countless care, but when evening comes, everything will be reduced to ashes, and all for the sake of my father and Yifu. This kind of courageous and upright man is indeed very rare in the world.”

That night, Zhu Changling, husband and wife, Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji, four people slept in a cave. Zhu Changling’s five trusted disciples, led by Yao Qingquan, stayed on guard duty outside the cave with weapons in their hands.

The fire was raging continuously to the end of the third day; fortunately the enemies had not arrived yet. By the evening of the third day, Zhu Changling took his wife and daughter, along with his disciples, Yao Qingquan and Zhang Wuji to go deeper into the cave, through dark long underground tunnel, toward several underground rooms with mountain rocks as their walls. The chambers were well stuffed with provisions: food and water, but it was rather hot and stuffy down there.

Zhu Jiuzhen noticed that Zhang Wuji kept wiping his face with his long sleeve. She smiled and asked, “Wuji Di [younger brother], can you guess why is it so hot in here? Do you know where we are?”

Zhang Wuji smelled strong burning odor and realized immediately, “Ah, we are underneath the original village.”

“You are very smart,” Zhu Jiuzhen laughed.

Zhang Wuji admired Zhu Changling’s careful thinking even more. When the enemy’s large-scale raid arrived, they would see the Zhu family village had been burnt down without a single tile left intact, so they would go to distant places to search, and would never have guessed that Xie Xun was actually hidden underneath the rubble. Zhang Wuji saw a closed iron door at the other end of the stone chamber, he surmised that his Yifu must be hidden inside. Although he was dying to see his Yifu and chat with him about what happened after they parted, he realized the danger they were still facing. Even Zhu Changling did not dare to talk with him, how could he act blindly without thinking? If he messed up this important matter, the loss of his own life was nothing, but he would also endanger the lives of his Yifu, as well as the entire Zhu family’s, wouldn’t he be responsible for this grave offense?

After spending half a day underground, the heat gradually diminished, everybody unfolded their blankets and went to sleep. Suddenly they heard galloping hoof beats from a distant, which in a short while the noise sounded like it came directly above their heads. Someone with a gruff voice was heard saying, “This old thief Zhu Changling must be protecting that runaway Xie Xun, quickly pursue, quickly pursue!”

Although they were underground, everyone was able to hear clearly the noise above the ground. Turned out there was an iron tube from the underground chambers leading to the surface, transmitting the noise.

They heard random noise of hoof beats, which gradually went away. Altogether, there were a total of five groups of pursuing force coming and going one after another that night; people from Kunlun Pai, Kongtong Pai, and Ju Jing Bang [‘great whale clan’]. They could not hear the origin of the other two groups. Each group was at least seven, eight people, at most a dozen people. Their weapons made a resounding noise, their horses neighing noisily, they were all yelling and shouting evil words; the air was filled with violence that night.

Zhang Wuji thought, “If Yifu was not blind and seriously injured, would he be concerned over these tiny demons and little clowns like you?”

As the fifth group galloped away, Yao Qingquan picked up a wooden plug to cover the mouth of the iron pipe, so that the noise underground would not be accidentally heard by a passerby. But he was still speaking in a subdued voice. “I am going to check Xie Daxia’s condition,” he said. Zhu Changling nodded.

Yao Qingquan reached out and pulled a lever by the iron door to operate the secret mechanism, the iron door slowly opened. Carrying an oil lamp in his hand, he walked through the iron door. By this time Zhang Wuji was no longer able to endure patiently, he stood up and peeked over Yao Qingquan’s back. He saw a big and tall man was lying on a couch facing in. To suddenly see his Yifus broad back, Zhang Wuji’s eyes were brimming with tears of excitement.

He heard Yao Qingquan asked in a low voice, “Xie Daxia, do you feel a lot better now? Do you want to drink some water?”

Suddenly, a strong gust of wind blew out, the oil lamp in Yao Qingquan’s hand went out immediately, followed by ‘Bang!’ Yao Qingquan was struck by Xie Xun’s palm. He flew out of the iron door and fell heavily on the ground.

Xie Xun shouted, “Dogs of Shaolin Pai, Kunlun Pai, Kongtong Pai, come, come! Do you think Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun is afraid of you all?”

“Not good!” Zhu Changling called out, “Xie Daxia’s mind is confused.” Walking toward the door, he said, “Xie Daxia, we are your friends, not your enemies.”

“What friends?” Xie Xun said with a cold laugh, “Are you deceiving me with sweet words?” He walked out the iron door in big strides and sent out his palm toward Zhu Changling’s chest. This palm strike was so swift and fierce that the fire of the oil lamps around the room flickered continuously.

Zhu Changling did not dare to block head on, he circled around to evade. Xie Xun sent out a left punch toward his face. Zhu Changling had no choice but to parry by lifting up his arm, his body shook and he retreated two steps backward.

Seeing this sudden turn of events, Zhang Wuji was frightened. Xie Xun’s fist and palm were like a storm with incomparable speed and power. Zhu Changling did not dare to parry and withdrew repeatedly. Xie Xun’s palm missed Zhu Changling and struck the rock wall nearby; debris of rock flew. If that palm had struck a human body, would he still be alive?

Xie Xun’s long hair was draped on his shoulder, his eyes were like lightning, his face was full of bloodstains, his mouth continuously made ‘huh, huh’ noises, his palms were getting more and more violent. Mrs. Zhu and Zhu Jiuzhen were terrified, they huddled together at the corner of a wall.

Seeing Xie Xun’s fist and palm arrive, Zhu Changling had no choice but shove a nearby wooden table to stop him. ‘Bang! Bang!’ Xie Xun punched twice and the table was smashed into smithereens.

Zhang Wuji was completely dumbfounded, his jaw dropped, because as he watched from the side, he saw that this ‘Xie Xun’ was definitely not his Yifu Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. His Yifu had been blind for a long time, this man’s eyes were flashing bright. He saw this man’s palm struck again, while Zhu Changling’s back was against the rock wall, unable to take another step backwards, but he still did not try to block. “Xie Da Xia,” Zhu Changling called out, “I am not your enemy, I am not going to fight you back.” The man ignored his plea completely, his palm was still striking toward Zhu Changling’s chest.

Zhu Changling’s face bore a pained expression. “Xie Da Xia,” he called out, “Do you believe me now?”

“Dog thief,” that man shouted, “Eat my fist!” as he sent out a punch.

Zhu Changling spurted out a mouthful of blood. In a trembling voice he said, “You are my benefactor’s sworn brother; although you beat me to death, I will never fight you back.”

With a wild laugh that man said, “It’s best that you don’t fight back, it will be easier for me to kill you.” With a left punch followed by a right punch he struck Zhu Changling’s chest and abdomen.

“Ah!” with a miserable cry Zhu Changling’s crumpled body slid down to the ground. The big man showed no mercy and punched again. Zhang Wuji quickly stepped forward risking his life, he raised his arm to block. He felt that the power behind this punch was tremendous. As soon as he was shaken, he almost fainted. At that moment, forgetting about life and death he called out, “You are not Xie Xun, you are not …”

The big man was furious. “What does a little rascal like you know?” He lifted his leg to kick him.

Zhang Wuji rolled sideways to avoid the kick, while shouting, “You pretend to be Jin Mao Shi Wang with evil intentions, you are a fake! A fake …”

Zhu Changling had already been sitting wearily on the ground, but listening to Zhang Wuji’s cry, he struggled to crawl back up. Pointing his finger toward the big man he called out, “You … you are not … you deceived me …” Suddenly he spurted another mouthful of blood, which shot toward that man’s face. He fumbled forward and while falling, he struck to seal the ‘shen feng xue’ [divine grace acupoint] under that man’s right breast.

Actually, after being wounded, Zhu Changling was not that man’s match. But when he spurted blood and fell forward, he took the man by surprise and struck his vital acupoint using the special family skill ‘Solitary Yang Finger’.

After sealing two other acupoints on that man’s waist, Zhu Changling could not hold himself any longer and passed out on the ground. Zhu Jiuzhen and Zhang Wuji rushed forward and quickly held him up.

A moment later, Zhu Changling regained his consciousness and asked Zhang Wuji, “He … he …”

Zhang Wuji said, “Zhu Bobo, I cannot hide the truth from you anymore; the one you call benefactor was my father. Jin Mao Shi Wang is my Yifu. How could I fail to recognize him?”

Zhu Changling shook his head with a bitter smile; his face showed that he was not convinced the least bit. Zhang Wuji continued, “My Yifu is blind, this man’s eyes can see well, that is the biggest flaw of his disguise. My Yifu became blind overseas, of course no outsider would know. This man came here in disguise, he would not know about my Yifu’s blindness.”

“Wuji Di,” Zhu Jiuzhen happily said, “Are you really our family’s great benefactor’s son? That’s very good, very good!”

Zhu Changling still was not convinced. Zhang Wuji had no choice but narrated briefly how he came to be in Kunlun region. Yao Qingquan implied his disbelief by asking him all kinds of questions about the Wudang Mountain; he also asked him the circumstances around Zhang Cuishan, husband and wife’s suicide. After Zhang Wuji gave all the correct answers, only then did he believe.

Zhu Changling still felt uncomfortable. “If this boy did not tell the truth and we offended Xie Da Xia, how can that be good?”

Yao Qingquan pulled out a dagger and placed it on that man’s right eye, saying, “Friend, both of Jin Mao Shi Wang’s eyes are damaged. If you want to pretend to be him, then you must copy him well. I am going to help you by taking out these things first. I, the one surnamed Yao, have been deceived really bad by you; if this little brother did not expose your lie, wouldn’t I deliver my Zhu Dage’s life for nothing?” While saying that, he thrust the dagger forward until the tip touched that man’s eyelid. He asked again, “Who are you, anyway? Why do you pretend to be Jin Mao Shi Wang?”

“If you have guts, just stab your dagger and kill me,” that man angrily said, “What kind of man do you think ‘Kai Bei Shou’ [hand splitting the stone] Hu Bao is? Do you think you can extort any confession from me?”

“Ah,” Zhu Changling exclaimed, “Kai Bei Shou Hu Bao! You are from Kongtong Pai.”

Hu Bao said loudly, “All schools and sects under the heavens know that Zhu Changling wants to avenge Zhang Cuishan. As the saying goes: strike first and gain the upper hand, strike later and suffer a calamity’.”

Yao Qingquan roared, “You are so malicious!” His dagger went down to stab that man’s heart. But Zhu Changling reached out with his left hand to grab his wrist, saying, “Er Di, wait. What if he really is Xie Daxia? Even if we have to die ten thousand times, we still cannot redeem our wrong.”

Yai Qingquan said, “Zhang Xiongdi has told us clearly. Dage, if you are half-hearted [orig. ‘san xin er yi’ – three hearts two intentions] and do not make a decision, it will be difficult to us to escape present disaster.”

Zhu Changling shook his head, “I would rather we receive a thousand blades than make a mistake by injuring even a strand of hair of our benefactor’s sworn brother.”

“Zhu Bobo,” Zhang Wuji said, “This man definitely is not my Yifu. My Yifu is widely known as ‘Golden Mane Lion King’, his hair is yellow. This man’s hair is black.”

Zhu Changling was deep in thought for half a day. Finally he nodded. Taking along Zhang Wuji’s hand, he said, “Xiao Xiongdi, come with me.”

The two of them went out from the stone chambers. They left the cave and walked toward a valley behind the hillside and then sat side-by-side on a piece of boulder.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Zhu Changling said, “If this man is not Xie Daxia, naturally we must kill him, but before we make our move, I must not have the least bit of doubt in my heart; don’t you think so?”

Zhang Wuji said, “You don’t want to make any mistake, that is only natural. But this man is definitely not my Yifu. Zhu Bobo, set your heart at ease.”

“Child,” Zhu Changling sighed, “When I was young, I fell into deceitful schemes of more than a few people. Today I did not want to fight back and I received a severe injuryas a result; hence I knew that I have misjudged that man. One mistake is enough, I cannot make another one. This is a significant responsibility. My death is not to be regretted, but whatever happens, I simply must protect Xie Daxia and your safety. Actually, I wanted to ask clearly Xie Daxia’s whereabouts, so that my heart can be truly at ease, but I feel that this is an inappropriate matter to ask.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was deeply touched. “Zhu Bobo,” he said, “For the sake of my father and Yifu, you have destroyed a million of your family properties, you also went as far as receiving this serious injury personally, how can I not trust you? Even if you did not ask about my Yifu, I certainly must tell you everything.”

Thereupon he told Zhu Changling how his parents and Xie Xun were carried by the current to the Bing Huo Island, how they lived there for ten years, and how the three of them finally returned on a wooden raft; one by one he told him everything. He learned most of these events from his parents’ mouths, but he was able to narrate clearly. Zhu Changling repeatedly asked questions on things that were unclear, such as how Zhang Wuji learned martial art on the Bing Huo Island, how he brought Yang Buhui to the west, how he ran into a misfortune at the Kunlun San Sheng Ao [three-sage depression (of the earth)], until he understood everything clearly. Finding that Zhang Wuji’s story was without any flaw, only then did he believe him completely.

With a long sigh of relief he looked up to the sky and said, “En Gong, oh, En Gong, I am asking your spirit in Heaven to clearly be my witness: Zhu Changling will exhaust everything he has to raise Wuji Xiongdi until he grows up and becomes an adult. Only powerful enemies lie in wait on all sides, while my martial art skill is meager, in all honesty I cannot necessarily bear this heavy burden. Therefore, I pray that En Gong will bless and protect.” Finished speaking, he kneeled down on the ground and kowtowed toward the heavens. Zhang Wuji was grieved, but also full of gratitude; he also kneeled down.

Zhu Changling stood up and said, “Now I don’t have even half a part of doubt. Ay! Shaolin, Emei, Kunlun, Kongtong, which one of them does not have strength in number and superior martial art? Xiao Xiongdi, previously I was determined to risk my old life to fight the enemies one by one, to repay your honorable father’s great kindness. But today, comforting an orphan is an important matter, revenge comes second. Only, the earth is so vast, where can we go to escape this disaster? They managed to find even a secluded place in a remote area like mine, where can we find a more secluded place?”

After pausing for a while he continued, “Xie Daxia lives alone on the Bing Huo Island with nobody to help him. I am thinking that for these past several years, his life must be really miserable. Ay, this great hero has such an esteemed friendship with benefactor and sister-in-law; if only I can see him just once, I will die a happy man.”

Hearing him talk about how his Yifu had a harsh life, alone on the Bing Huo Island, Zhang Wuji was overwhelmed with sadness. Suddenly he had an idea and blurted, “Zhu Bobo, what do you say we go to the Bing Huo Island together? My days on that island were happy, but as soon as I arrived on the Central Earth, I saw and suffered, if not murder then shedding of blood, and thus I feel alarmed and anxious.”

“Xiao Xiongdi,” Zhu Changling said, “You really want to return to the Bing Huo Island, don’t you?”

Zhang Wuji hesitated and did not answer; quietly thinking that he would not live too much longer anyway. Besides, the voyage to the Bing Huo Island was difficult and dangerous, they might not necessarily reach their destination, and thus he should not endanger the lives of Zhu Changling and his family. The ocean was without mercy, just one slight mishap and their bodies would be buried underneath the giant billowing waves.

Zhu Changling held his hands and looked at his face, saying, “Xiao Xiongdi, you and I are not strangers to each other, any concern should be discussed openly. Do you or do you not want to return to the Bing Huo Island?” His voice was full of sincerity.

In Zhang Wuji’s heart right this moment, he was tired and loathed the sinister hearts of the Jianghu people, his desire was that he would be able to see his Yifu’s face one more time before he died. If only he could die in his Yifu’s arms, he would ask nothing else in this life. He was unable to conceal his heart’s content in front of Zhu Changling, thereupon he slowly nodded.

Zhu Changling did not waste any time by more talking; holding Zhang Wuji’s hand, he took him back to the stone chamber, and said to Yao Qingquan, “That man is a traitor, no doubt about it.”

Yao Qingquan nodded. With the dagger in his hand, he entered the cell. They heard Splitting Stone Hand Hu Bao’s long and miserable cry, and then it stopped abruptly. Yao Qingquan walked out of the cell and closed the iron door, his dagger was dripping with fresh blood, which he casually wiped on the bottom of his boots.

Zhu Changling said, “That traitor could come here and be a mole among us, looks like our trail has been compromised; we can’t stay here anymore.” Immediately he led everybody out of the stone chamber, out of the cave, and walked for more than twenty ‘li’, around two mountain peaks, toward a valley, and arrived at a cluster of four, five little huts by a giant tree.

It was dawn. After everybody entered the huts, Zhang Wuji noticed the plow, sickle and other farming tools in the room, as well as pots, pans and furnace, and plenty of all kinds of provisions. It appeared that to guard against his powerful enemies, Zhu Changling had prepared not a few of these safe houses. Due to his severe injury, Zhu Changing immediately laid down on a bed. Mrs. Zhu took out some long gowns made of hand-woven cloth, along with straw sandals, head scarves, and distributed everything to everybody. All of a sudden the rich family madam and miss were transformed into peasant women. Although they did not act or talk like peasants, as long as they did not come too close to outsiders, nobody would know their disguise.

They stayed in the farm house for several days. Zhu Changling treated his injury with legacy medicine from Yunnan so he enjoyed a quick recovery. Fortunately, no enemy came to pursue. With nothing to do, Zhang Wuji quietly observed everything happening around him. He saw Yao Qingquan went out every day to seek out information. Mrs. Zhu led the disciples to pack their luggage, obviously for the long journey ahead of them. Zhang Wuji knew that to repay kindness and escape the enemy, Zhu Changling had decided to bring his whole family overseas to the Bing Huo Island, and Zhang Wuji was delighted.

That night Zhang Wuji was lying on the bed, imagining that if he was lucky enough not to die and manage to reach the Bing Huo Island, he would be able to live together on the island with this elder sister Zhu Jiuzhen, whose beauty was like an immortal’s. He blushed and felt his ears getting hot, his heart was thumping madly. He also envisioned that when (older) uncle Zhu, (younger) uncle Yao meet with his foster-father, the three of them would become good friends; they would live a carefree life on the island for the rest of their lives. They would not have to be afraid that the Mongolians would massacre or push them around; they also do not need to worry about the powerful enemies of the Wulin world sneakilyattacking them. If he could live that kind of life, he would not want anything else in the world. In his delight, he had forgotten about the cold poison in his body and that his own days were numbered. It was deep into the night, but he had not fallen asleep.

While he was half-asleep, suddenly he heard the door gently pushed open, someone entered his room. Zhang Wuji was slightly surprised because his nose smelled light and delicate fragrance, which was precisely the jasmine perfume Zhu Jiuzhen used daily on her clothes. Suddenly his face turned deep red, for some unknown reason he felt extremely shy.

Zhu Jiuzhen walked quietly to the bed and asked in a low voice, “Wuji Di, are you asleep?”

Zhang Wuji did not dare to answer, he closed his eyes tight, pretending to be asleep. A moment later, he felt warm fingers on his eyelids. Zhang Wuji was surprised but happy, shy but scared; he wished she would quickly get out of the room. In his heart, he held Zhu Jiuzhen with the highest respect; if he could only look into her eyes every day, he would be very satisfied. He did not have the slightest degree of dirty thoughts toward her at all; even the hope of taking her as his wife in the future had never entered his mind. This moment, to suddenly see her entering his room, how could he not lose his mind?

Suddenly a thought came into his mind, “Could Zhen Jie possibly have an important matter she needs to discuss with me in the middle of the night?” he mused. Right this moment, suddenly the ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. sheep odor acupoint] in the pit of his stomach went numb, followed by ‘jian zhen’ [shoulder chaste(?)], ‘shen zang’ [divine storehouse], ‘qu chi’ [crooked reservoir], and ‘huan tiao’ [jump the hoop] acupoints were sealed one by one. He was totally taken by surprise, who would have thought that Zhu Jiuzhen came in the middle of the night to seal his acupoints?

In his disappointment he tried to reason, “Ah, perhaps Zhen Jie wanted to test my alertness although I was asleep? She’ll come back tomorrow to unseal my acupoints and make fun of me. If I knew it earlier, I would have jumped and scared her as soon as she entered the room, so that tomorrow she wouldn’t have anything to boast.”

He saw that she quietly pushed the door open and flew out. “I’d better unseal my acupoints quickly and follow her,” Zhang Wuji thought, “I will pretend to be a ghost to scare her. That should be fun.” Immediately he used the acupoint unsealing technique he learned from Xie Xun. However, Zhu Jiuzhen’s family legacy of ‘Solitary Yang Finger’ was not something to be trifled with; he had to spend the most part of an hour to release his sealed acupoints. It was because Zhu Jiuzhen did not have enough strength, and also because she did not want to awaken him, she had only used light force; otherwise, even if Zhang Wuji’s acupoint unsealing techniques were more amazing, he would never be able to free himself.

When he was able to stand up, he hurriedly put his outer garment on and jumped out of the window, but it was quiet everywhere he looked, not a trace of Zhu Jiuzhen to be seen. Standing in the darkness he was feeling rather dispirited, but suddenly he had another thought, “Zhen Jie is going to make fun of me for being useless; let her tease me if she want to, why should I fight over who wins who loses with her? I always try to win her favor daily, it is not easy; if I pursue her tonight, she may be angry with me instead.” Having this thought, his heart immediately calmed down.

It was the beginning of spring, the air was filled with the light fragrance of wild flowers all around the valley. Since sleep had left him, he wandered aimlessly along a small creek. The snow on the hillside was beginning to melt; it trickled down into the creek below. Occasionally he would step on or kick small pieces of ice, creating clinking noises along the way. After walking for a while, he heard giggles coming from the woods to his left, it was Zhu Jiuzhen’s voice.

Zhang Wuji was slightly startled, “Did Zhen Jie find me?” he mused. But then he heard that she was scolding in a low voice, “Biaoge, don’t make a scene, or I will slap your big ears,” followed by a male voice laughing gaily. Zhang Wuji did not need to hear more to know that it was of course Wei Bi.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was so shaken that he almost cried; the sweet dream he had for the last half a day was completely shattered, but his mind was suddenly as bright as the snow: “Why would I think that Zhen Jie sealed my acupoints because she wanted to play a joke on me? She is afraid I might find out that she is seeing her cousin in the middle of the night.” In that instant his hands went numb and his legs went weak. He also thought, “I am a homeless pauper; how can I be compared to Wei Xianggongin terms of literacy or martial art skill, manners or appearance? [‘xianggong’ is yet another way of saying ‘mister’ or ‘young master’]. Zhen Jie and he are related as cousins, they are a perfect match [orig. ‘lang cai nu mao’ – talented man, beautiful woman], truly a match made in heaven [orig. ‘tian zao di she’ – heaven built, the earth arranged].”

Once he accepted the fact, he gradually calmed down and sighed lightly. Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching, someone was coming from behind. Right this moment, Zhu Jiuzhen was still talking and laughing in a low voice with Wei Bi, while walking hand-in-hand toward him. Zhang Wuji did not want to be seen by them, so he hastily stepped behind a large tree to hide.

He heard the two sets of footsteps were approaching each other. Suddenly Zhu Jiuzhen called out, “Father! You … you …” her voice trembled, apparently she was very scared. Turned out the person coming from the other side was none other than Zhu Changling.

Seeing his daughter having a tryst in the middle of the night with his sister’s son, Zhu Changling was really angry. “Humph,” he snorted, “What are you doing here?”

Zhu Jiuzhen forced herself to act like she did not care, she said with a laugh, “Father, Biaoge and I have not seen each other for such a long time, today he happened to come by, we are just chatting.”

“You, this little girl, are recklessly too bold,” Zhu Changling said, “What if Wuji finds out …”

“I lightly sealed five of his major acupoints,” Zhu Jiuzhen cut him off, “He is sleeping soundly right now. I am going to release him as soon as I am back, I am sure he will not know anything.”

Zhang Wuji said in his heart, “Zhu Bobo knew I like Zhen Jie. Because of my father’s kindness to him, he does not want me to be broken hearted and lose heart. Actually, although I like Zhen Jie, I do not have any other intentions. Zhu Bobo, you are very good to me.”

He heard Zhu Changling say, “Even so, you must be very careful, don’t let us fail at the last hurdle and raise his suspicions.”

Zhu Jiuzhen said with a smile, “Child understands.”

“Jiufu [(maternal) uncle], Zhen Mei [younger sister],” Wei Bi said, “I’d better return. I am afraid Shifu is waiting for me.”

Zhu Jiuzhen did not want to part with him too soon, she said, “Let me walk you off.”

“Alright,” Zhu Changling said, “Let me go with you, I need to talk to your Shifu a little bit. This time we are going to Bing Huo Island, everybody must be fully prepared, we can’t afford any mistakes.” And then the three of them walked toward the west.

Zhang Wuji felt rather strange; he knew Wei Bi’s master was called Wu Lie, which was Wu Qingying’s father. Listening to Zhu Changling, it seemed like the Wu family, father and daughter, along with Wei Bi, will be going to the Bing Huo Island too; why didn’t anybody tell him before? The more people knew about this matter, the greater the possibility that it would leak out; hopefully nothing would implicate his Yifu.

He pondered about this for half a day. Suddenly he recalled something: Zhu Changling had said, ‘don’t let us fail at the last hurdle and raise his suspicions’. Suspicion … suspicion … what suspicion? Thinking about this word ‘suspicion’, suddenly something else flashed through his mind as if someone had just lighted a light in the darkness of his mind; the people in the painting ‘Picture of Zhang Gong Cuishan’s Kindness’ all bore close resemblance to the real ones, but how come his father’s oval face was painted as square? He looked a lot like his father, true, because as father and son, they shared many similar facial features; however, his father face was oval with pointy chin, not at all like Zhang Wuji’s long face with square jaw. According to Zhu Changling, he drew the painting with his own hand more than ten years ago. Even if his painting technique was not good, he should not make such a blatant mistake that the face of his great benefactor was changed beyond recognition. The Zhang Cuishan in the painting was practically a grown up version of Zhang Wuji.

“Ah, there is one more thing,” he mused, “Father’s iron pen had a straight handle with sharp nib; it looked just like ordinary writing brush. That day, not long after we arrived on the main land, he bought a regular judge pen from a weapon maker. He said that in term of weight and length, the weapon was acceptable for him to use, even with an extra iron hand. It did not look too pleasing to the eye. Mama said that as soon as we were settled, he should go and have one cast to his specifications. Yet the weapon Father had in the painting was actually a regular judge pen with a cast iron in the shape of a hand. Zhu Bobo himself is an expert in using judge pen, how could he paint it incorrectly? How could he draw Father’s judge pen wrong?”

Thinking to this point, a faint feeling of dread started to grow in his heart. In the deepest part of his heart, he knew the answer, but the answer was too frightening, so he did not dare to think it clearly, he only tried to console himself, “I must not let my imagination run wild; Zhu Bobo treats me this good, why should I suspect him blindly? I’d better go back and sleep, if they knew I wander around in the middle of the night, I might put my own life in jeopardy.” As soon as he thought about ‘his life in jeopardy’, he shivered involuntarily, although he did not know for sure why he should be afraid.

After standing on that place for half a day, he could not stop himself from walking toward the direction Zhu Changling, father and daughter, took. He saw a flicker of fire light like a star among the thick cluster of trees. Turned out there was another house in the middle of the woods. His heart was thumping wildly and immediately he stepped more lightly as he walked quietly toward the house. Arriving at the back of the house, he calmed himself down and peeked inside through a crack on the window. He saw Zhu Changling, father and daughter, and Wei Bi were sitting facing the window, talking with someone. There were two other people in the room, their backs were facing Zhang Wuji that he could not see their faces, but one of them was a woman, which obviously was one of the ‘Two Beauties of the Snowy Range’, Wu Qingying. The other was a big and tall man, listening to Zhu Changling talking about how they were going to disguise themselves as merchants and set sail from Shandong region. He did not say a single word, only nodded repeatedly.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Aren’t I afraid over imaginary fears? Most likely this gentleman is the master of Wu family village, Wu Lie. He is a good friend of Zhu Bobo, so he is invited to come to the Bing Huo Island together. That is only natural, why should I make such a fuss over nothing?”

“Father,” he heard Wu Qingying say, “What if we cannot find that small island in the boundless ocean, and then we cannot return home? What should we do, then?”

Zhang Wuji mused, “This gentleman is indeed the Village Master Wu.”

He heard Wu Lie reply, “If you are scared, then you should stay home. It is the matter of this world, if we do not go through hardship and suffering, how can we achieve peace and happiness?”

“I was only asking,” Wu Qingying sulkily said, “Of course I will follow the lesson I’ve learned from you.”

Wu Lie laughed and said, “Actually, in this matter we are staking everything on a single throw of a dice. If we are lucky, we will get to the Bing Huo Island. Even if that Xie Xun’s martial art skill is higher, he is still only one person, much less he is blind. He is certainly not our match …” Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji felt a cold air creeping up his back; he could not help but shiver. In the meantime, Wu Lie continued, “… how could we not take that Tulong Saber away from him? When that happens, the ‘ruling under the heavens, no one dares to disobey’, your Zhu Bobo and I together will become the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’. However, if our plan is not in accordance with the Heaven’s will [orig. ‘ren suan bu ru tian suan’ – man’s calculation is inferior to the Heaven’s calculation. I remember this saying has its origin from the Three Kingdoms, but I do not have the exact reference.], we will end up dead in the sea. Humph, who in the world would not eventuallydie?”

Wei Bi said, “I heard Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun’s martial art skill is outstanding. On Wangpan Mountain Island, his roar had shaken dozens of Jianghu’s skilled people that they lost their minds. Disciple thinks that as we arrive on the island, we need not fight him openly; just put poison in his food and drink. Let’s not say that he is blind, even if his eyes are well and he can see clearly, he would never guess that the people his foster son brought along would harm him.”

Zhu Changling nodded. “Bi’er’s idea is marvelous,” he said, “Only we, Zhu and Wu, two families, from generation to generation have always been upright and chivalrous prestigious martial art school; we have never used poison, even on our secret projectiles we have never put poison. In short, I do not know anything about which poison we should put in his food and drink without raising his suspicions.”

Wei Bi said, “Yao Ershu goes to the Central Plains a lot, he should know. Ask him to buy some prepared poison.”

Wu Lie turned around to pat Zhu Jiuzhen’s shoulder, he said with a smile, “Zhen’er …” As he turned his head around, Zhang Wuji was able to see his face and he was shocked! Turned out this man was the ‘Hand Splitting Rock’ Hu Bao who masqueraded as his Yifu, who struck Zhu Changling that he vomited some blood, who was killed by Yao Qingquan with a dagger. Zhang Wuji understood immediately, everything was a charade. In order to make the charade lifelike, the palm strike, the hit against the wall so that rock debris fall down, the smashing of the table, had to be performed by Wu Lie, whose martial art skill was very strong.

Wu Lie was saying to Zhu Jiuzhen with a laugh, “Speaking about which, you have an important role to play in this drama; you have to be affectionate toward that little rascal along the way until he has delivered Xie Xun’s life. You must not reveal anything that would give our scheme away.”

“Father,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You must promise me one thing.”

“What is it?” Zhu Changling asked.

“You want me to wait upon that little rascal,” Zhu Jiuzhen said, “You don’t know how much suffering I have to endure these last several days. From here until we get to the Bing Huo Island and kill Xie Xun, I don’t know how many more hardships I have to bear. As soon as you take the Tulong Saber, I want to use it to kill that little rascal!”

Listening to such hateful and malicious talk, Zhang Wuji vision blackened and he almost fainted. Indistinctly he heard Zhu Changling say, “We are using this kind of trick to deceive him only to find out Jin Mao Shi Wang’s whereabouts. Strictly speaking, we should not do this. This kid is not a bad kid. After we kill Xie Xun and get the Tulong Saber, pierce this kid’s eyes blind, and leave him on the Bing Huo Island; that should be enough.”

Wu Lie praised him, “Zhu Dage has a benevolent heart, he does not want to fail the family’s chivalrous values.”

Zhu Changling sighed, “This is like we are taking one step in chess, no feelings should be involved. Wu Erdi [second (younger) brother], when we are sailing, you must follow us from a distance. If you are too close, you might raise that kid’s suspicion, but if you are too far, we might lose contact. You may have to take the trouble of selecting skilled sailors to man your boat.”

“Yes,” Wu Lie replied, “Zhu Dage’s plan is truly thorough.”

Zhang Wuji was confused. “I have never revealed my true identity, how could they find out?” he mused, “Hmm, perhaps when I staked everything to fight Wei Bi and Zhu and Wu girls, I used Wudang Pai’s techniques. Zhu Bobo’s experience is vast; perhaps he could instantly see my origin. He knew that my father and mother would rather die than revealing Yifu’s whereabouts. Supposing he has used force, he could not make me reveal the truth; therefore, he forged the painting, burned down his own residence, using the ruse of inflicting self-injury to move my heart. Without uttering a single sentence of request, I asked him to take me to the Bing Huo Island instead. Zhu Changling, oh Zhu Changling, your sinister plot is truly ruthless.”

By this time Zhu Changling and Wu Lie were still discussing all kinds of preparations for their journey to the east. Zhang Wuji did not dare to listen further, he held his breath and quietly lifted his foot and quietly put it down. For every single step he had to listen and make sure there was nothing astir inside before he took the next step. He realized Zhu Changling and Wu Lie’s martial art skills were very strong, as soon as he made a careless step, stepping on a dry twig, for instance, he would alert them at once. Hence, for the first thirty steps or so, he walked very slowly. It was not until he was more than ten ‘zhang’ away from the little hut did he quicken his pace.

In his panic he did not see where he was heading, he only thought that he must have walked toward the deepest part of the forest on the hillside. He climbed higher and higher, and faster and faster, until finally he ran like a madman. He did not dare to slow down or stop to catch his breath for more than two hours.

After running for half of the night, finally it was dawn. He noticed that he was inside a deep forest on a mountain range. He turned his head to see if Zhu Changling and the others pursued him or not, but as soon as he turned and looked, he cried out in desperation, because his feet made deep prints on the snow as far as he could see. The western regions were bitterly cold, although it was already the beginning of spring; the snow had not melted in between the mountain ridges. Running for his life in panic, with all his strength he managed to climb the mountain ridge; who would have thought that he had left a very clear track of his whereabouts.

From where he was, Zhang Wuji could hear a faint howling of wolves ahead; it was sad and shrill, but also frightening. He walked toward the edge of a cliff and saw on the opposite hillside seven, eight large grey wolves looking up at him, baring their teeth and howling threateningly. Obviously the wolves wanted to eat their fill, but between them there was a bottomless canyon, perhaps tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep, so the wolves would not be able to reach him. Turning his head again, his heart skipped a beat, for he saw on the hillside there were five dark shadows slowly creeping upward; they must be the people from the Zhu and Wu families. Presently they were still some distance away, it seemed like these five people did not walk too fast, but he knew that they were rushing like the wind that they would be able to catch up with him in less than two hours.

Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and made a decision, “I’d rather die by becoming food for the hungry wolves than fall into their hands and have to suffer torment from this group of evil people.”

He thought about how stupid he was to hold Zhu Jiuzhen in the highest esteem, hidden away under her beauty was a heart as poisonous as a viper or a scorpion. In shame and grief he staggered to enter the dense forest.

The grass in the forest was as tall as his waist, although there was accumulation of snow, his trail could not be seen easily. After running for a while, his body and mind were overcome by weariness, plus the cold poison in his body suddenly flared up, his legs gave up that he was unable to move further. He crawled into a clump of long grass and picked a sharp rock from the ground. He held the rock tight, thinking that as soon as Zhu Changling and the others find his hiding place, he would kill himself by striking the sharp rock on his ‘taiyang xue’ [sun acupoint, located on the temple].

Thinking back on everything he went through in the last two months in the Zhu family manor, his heartache grew. “Kongtong Pai, Huashan Pai, Kunlun Pai people repaid kindness with evil, I did not keep their wickedness in my heart. But toward Zhen Jie I had nothing but sincerity, yet in the end it comes to this … Ay, what did Mama tell me before her death? How could I forget her warning?”

Just before she died, Zhang Wuji’s mother had clearly whispered in his ear this warning, ‘Child, when you grow up, you must be cautious of women tricking you. The more beautiful that woman is, the better of a manipulator she will be.’ His eyes were brimming with tears as he vaguely recalled what happened that day. “Mama said those words with a dagger already thrust into her chest. She endured the severe pain just to warn me, but I did not keep the words she uttered through blood and tears in my heart. If I did not know the unsealing acupoint technique and by curious coincidence heard Zhu Changling’s conspiracy, I would have fallen into their thorough scheme and would have brought them to the Bing Huo Island; then I would certainly bring harm to Yifu’s life.”

As his mind was made up, his brain became exceptionally clear; he was able to see the meaning behind Zhu Changling, father and daughter’s actions. When Zhu Changlin realized he was Zhang Cuishan’s son, he went into action by killing the dogs and slapping his daughter, so that Zhang Wuji would believe that he was the kind of man who clearly distinguish right from wrong, a righteous man who upheld chivalry. Although the setting of his large complex of elaborately decorated buildings in flame was something to be pitied, it was nothing compared the ‘Wulin Zhi Zun’ [the most revered in the Wulin world] Tulong Saber. Just from the quick-thinking and decisive way of handling matters, Zhu Changling was indeed worthy to be feared.

Zhang Wuji also thought, “When I was on the island, every day I have seen Yifu held the Saber in his hand, lost in thought. For ten years he was not able to penetrate the secret of the Saber. Although Yifu is intelligent, he is a straightforward man. This Zhu Changling’s resourcefulness surpasses others. Speaking about the depth of his scheme, he is far above Yifu. Yifu cannot solve the mystery, but if the treasured Saber fell into Zhu Changling’s hands, most likely he would succeed …” Carefully thinking it over, all sorts of scenarios jumbled around in his head. Suddenly he heard footsteps. Zhu Changling and Wu Lie had entered the forest.

Wu Lie said, “That kid must be hiding in the forest, he won’t run far …”

Zhu Changling quickly cut him off, he said, “Ay, I wonder what did Zhen’er say that she offended Zhang Xiongdi. I am really worried over him; he is such a young boy, if he met a mishap on these snowy and icy mountain ridges, even if my body is ground to powder and my bones shattered, I would never forgive myself in front of Zhang En Gong.”

These words were spoken with extreme anxiety, as if he deeply regretted himself. Zhang Wuji was completely horrified to hear him, he thought, “He has not given up hope; he still wants to deceive me with flowery speech.”

He heard that Zhu and Wu, two men, were beating the bushes with three branches in their hands. Zhang Wuji crouched even lower and did not dare to make the slightest move. Fortunately, that forest covered a very large area that although they beat the bushes for a while they still could not find him. Shortly afterwards, Wei Bi and the Two Beauties of the Snowy Range also arrived. The five of them searched the forest for half a day without finding anything. They grew tired and sat on rocks to rest. Actually, the place they were resting was less than three ‘zhang’ away from Zhang Wuji’s hiding place; it was just that the grass in this forest was really tall that he was completely hidden from their sight.

Zhu Changling focused his attention and thought for a moment, suddenly he loudly shouted, “Zhen’er, how have you offended Wuji Xiongdi that he left in the middle of the night without telling us?”

Zhu Jiuzhen was startled. Zhu Changling busily signaled her with his eyes, but from his hiding place among the thick grass, Zhang Wuji actually was able to see this signal clearly.

Zhu Jiuzhen understood, she also replied in loud voice, “I was just joking with him, I sealed his acupoints, I did not know that Wuji Di will take it seriously.” Finished speaking, she called out loudly, “Wuji Di, Wuji Di, quickly come out, Zhen Jie wants to apologize to you.” Although her voice was loud, it still carried a flirtatious and seducing tone, coaxing Zhang Wuji to respond.

After calling for a moment without anything astir, suddenly she cried, “Father, don’t hit me, don’t hit me. I did not intentionally offend Wuji Di.” Zhu Changling raised his palm and slapped his own thigh, making loud slapping noises, while his mouth was shouting angrily. Zhu Jiuzhen did not stop screaming miserably, as if she could not bear the pain of her father’s beating. Wu Lie, Wei and Wu Qingying looked from the side with smiles on their faces.

Zhang Wuji saw the drama performed by this pair of father and daughter, but hearing the noise, his heart was still sorrowful. He thought, “Luckily I can see your faces, otherwise, hearing her shrill screaming, although I know it is harmful to me, I would not be able to bear it and would have stepped forward.”

Zhu family’s father and daughter were certain that Zhang Wuji was hiding in this forest; one cursed angrily, the other cried pitifully, their voices grew more and more severe. Zhang Wuji covered his ears with his hands, but intermittently, the voice still penetrated his ears. Finally he could not bear it anymore, he leaped out and shouted, “Whatever trick you are playing, do you think you can still deceive me?”

Zhu Changling and the others, all five of them, cheered together, “He is here!”

Zhang Wuji called out, “Zhen Jie, how are you?” and then turned around and dashed like crazy into the woods. Zhu Changling and Wu Lie flew to pounce on him at once. Zhang Wuji had made up his mind to die, hence without hesitation he ran toward that tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep canyon. Zhu Changling’s ‘qing gong’ [lightness skill] was far superior to Zhang Wuji; as soon as Zhang Wuji rushed toward the nearby canyon, Zhu Changling had already very near behind him, reaching out to grab the clothes on his back.

Zhang Wuji felt a severe pain to the bones as the five fingers of Zhu Changling’s right hand tightly held his back. By this time, however, his foot had already treaded on empty air; half of his body was already above the abyss. His left foot followed and his entire body was thrown rapidly forward.

Zhu Changling had never imagined that Zhang Wuji would throw himself over the cliff to commit suicide. Because he was holding Zhang Wuji’s back, he was also pulled forward. Based on his dozens of years of martial art training, if he released his hand and immediately leaped backward, he would have preserved his life. However, he knew that as soon as he let his five fingers loose, he would forever lost the chance to get his hand on ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’, the treasured Tulong Saber. These past two months of painstaking planning and preparation, the burning of his vast magnificent dwelling complex to the ground, all would be wasted as soon as he let these five fingers loose.

In his hesitation, Zhang Wuji’s fall did not slow down the least bit. ‘Not good!” Zhu Changling called out, while reaching back with his left hand, trying to grab the hand of Wu Lie, who was running close behind him, but he missed by about a foot, yet he was still unwilling to let his grab on Zhang Wuji go. Two people fell together over the cliff, into the tens of thousands ‘zhang’ deep abyss below. They only heard Wu Lie, Zhu Jiuzhen and the others cry out in alarm above, but in a blink of an eye their voices were no longer heard.

The two of them fell straight down through the clouds and mist in the valley. In all his life, Zhu Changling had endured not just a few wind and waves; his mind stayed clear in this critical time. He felt the howling wind rushing past his ears as his body fell downward. Occasionally he would see tree branches extended from the wall of the cliff. He tried to reach out and grab these branches, but several times he missed by a few feet. Finally he succeeded, but the force of gravity on their bodies was simply too strong, the branch was unable to bear the load, ‘crack!’ the pine branch, as big as a human arm, snapped. But this slight slowing down was enough for Zhu Changling to swing his legs, using the move ‘wu long jiao zhu’ [black dragon entangles the pillar], and wrap them firmly around the trunk of the pine tree. Next, he swung Zhang Wuji and sat him on a branch. For fear that Zhang Wuji would leap down again, he kept holding on to Zhang Wuji’s arm.

Seeing that in the end he was still unable to escape from Zhu Changling’s grasp, Zhang Wuji was extremely disheartened. “Zhu Bobo,” he bitterly said, “No matter how you would torture me, don’t ever think that I would take you to look for my Yifu.”

Zhu Changling heaved his own body up and steadied himself sitting on the branch. Looking up, he could no longer see Zhu Jiuzhen and the others; he did not even hear their shouts anymore. Although he was gutsy, recalling that he had just narrowly cheated death, he could not stop cold sweats from trickling down his forehead.

After calming himself down, he said with a smile, “Xiao Xiongdi, what are you talking about? I don’t understand anything. Please don’t let your imagination run wild.”

“I have seen through your crafty scheme,” Zhang Wuji said, “It is completely useless against me. If you force me to take you to the Bing Huo Island, I can randomly point to north, south, east or west; then everybody will die together in the ocean. Do you think I will not dare to do just that?”

Zhu Changling thought that he was telling the truth; right now there was no way he could argue with him face to face, his only hope was for another ingenious plan involving his daughter. He looked around to assess their situation. Climbing back up was certainly not an option. Looking down, he still cannot see the bottom, besides, even if he could reach the canyon ground, nine out of ten there would be no way out. The only possibility was to slowly crawl along the sloping mountain wall.

“Xiao Xiongdi,” he said to Zhang Wuji, “You must not have any blind suspicion. I assure you, I simply will not compel you to find Xie Daxia. If I did, let ten thousand arrows penetrate this body of mine, and I the one surnamed Zhu die without a burial place.” His heavy oath was not empty words, because he thought that since Zhang Wuji had attempted suicide, he knew that it would be useless no matter how he compelled. His only hope was to entice him to willingly bring this matter up.

Hearing his oath, Zhang Wuji was somewhat relieved. Zhu Changling said, “We will have to slowly crawl up from here. You must not jump down, do you understand?”

“If you don’t compel me, why would I want to seek death?” Zhang Wuji replied.

Zhu Changling nodded. Taking out his short saber, he peeled the tree bark to make some rope. He tied one end of the rope to his waist and the other to Zhang Wuji’s. Going all fours on the ground, they crawled one step at a time along the snowy mountain slope toward the sunlight high above their heads. The cliff was steep to begin with, now that it was covered with ice and snow, it was extremely slippery. Twice had Zhang Wuji slipped and fell, both times Zhu Changling exerted his strength to pull him that he did not fall into the deep canyon below. But Zhang Wuji did not appreciate his efforts at all. “If you don’t have your eyes on the treasured Tulong Saber, would you still have the good intention of saving me?” he silently thought.

Two people crawled for half of the day; their elbows and knees were scraped and bruised bloody by the hard ice, until at last the cliff was not so steep. Two people were able to stand; step by step they struggled onward. With great difficulty they walked around a sheer cliff that seemed like a large screen and without any shame Zhu Changling cried out in despair. As far as the eyes could see, there was boundless ocean of clouds around them, there was no way out, that place was like a high and flat stage with empty air on its three sides. The circumference of the stage was more than ten ‘zhang’, but it was hanging in the middle of the air, they could not go up, and could not go down either; it was truly a dead-end.

This large platform was covered with ice and snow; there was no vegetation, no wild animal. Contrary to expectation, Zhang Wuji was happy, he laughed and said, “Zhu Bobo, you have planned all this wholeheartedly, and yet we end up on this suspended-from-the-sky platform. If right at this moment someone offered the treasured Tulong Saber, what would you do with it?”

“Stop talking nonsense!” Zhu Changling shouted. He sat cross-legged and ate two mouthfuls of snow, thinking, “Although I am tired right now, I still have some energy left. If stay here one more day without eating anything, I am afraid it would be hard to escape from this trap.” Thereupon he stood up and said, “There is no way out from this place, we must go back and find another way out.”

“I actually think it is so fun in here,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Why must we go back?”

Zhu Changling angrily said, “There is nothing to eat here, why stay?”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Isn’t it better not to eat human’s food? Then you can cultivate the way of the immortals.”

Zhu Changling was enraged, but he knew that as soon as he used force, perhaps Zhang Wuji would jump over the cliff. “All right,” he said, “You can stay here and rest for a moment. As soon as I find another way out, I’ll be back here to get you. Don’t go too near the cliff, you might fall down.”

Zhang Wuji said, “What concern it is to you if I live or die, exist or perish? If you are still dreaming of me leading you to the Bing Huo Island, I suggest you let it go.”

Zhu Changling did not answer; he went back to where they came from. When he arrived at the big pine tree, he took the path to the left. This side of the cliff was more dangerous, but without having to look after Zhang Wuji, he managed to move faster. After more than an hour of climbing, he reached the top of the cliff. Again he did not see any way out. Zhu Changling looked over the cliff and heaved a long sigh. After staring blankly to the emptiness for a long time, he dejectedly went back to the platform.

Without asking, Zhang Wuji could see from his expression that he failed to find a way out; he thought, “I was hit by the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang [black/mysterious and dark divine palm]. The cold poison is not easy to get rid of. I won’t have too much time to live. No matter where I die, it’s all the same to me. On the other hand, he has been blessed but failed to enjoy it in his vain attempt to become ‘the most revered in the Wulin world’, that unexpectedly he has to accompany me on this world of ice and snow, and die of starvation. It’s a pity, it’s a pity!”

At first Zhang Wuji detested Zhu Changling for his treacherous scheme, even after they fell over the cliff together and escaped dangers, he still made fun of him several times, but as now their hope of escaping alive had been cut short and he saw Zhu Changling hung his head dispiritedly, Zhang Wuji began to feel pity on him instead. “Zhu Bobo,” he warmly said, “You are already old, you have enjoyed all kinds of splendor and happiness, if you die now, what else do you have to regret? Don’t be sad.”

Zhu Changling had always yielded to Zhang Wuji because he had not given up yet; he still hoped that in the end he could swindle Zhang Wuji into leading them to the Bing Huo Island. But now as he saw his path to life had been cut and he was left in this desperate situation, all because of this kid, how could he suppress his resentment? He stared menacingly toward Zhang Wuji, with eyes spouting raging fire.

Seeing the abrupt change of Zhu Changling’s expression, from that of a gentle and good-natured old man to a beast, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel very scared. He cried out in fear and ran away.

“Where can you run?” Zhu Changling roared, reaching out to grab Zhang Wuji’s back. He was determined to torture him really bad, he wanted Zhang Wuji to experience the worst possible pain before he died.

Zhang Wuji ducked forward one step, and saw the dark shadow of what seemed to be a cave on the mountain wall to his left. Without thinking he jumped into the cave. ‘Rip!’ a piece of his pants was torn and his thigh was cut by Zhu Changling’s claw. Zhang Wuji staggered along toward the inside of the cave. Suddenly ‘bang!’ his forehead bumped onto a mountain rock so hard that he saw stars dancing in front of his eyes. He knew that if Zhu Changling could tear his face to pieces right now he would use any savage method to torture him. Therefore, in his fear, he desperately struggled to enter further into the cave. He did not have the luxury of considering that if he entered this dark hole, might be trapped inside and it would be more difficult for him to escape the enemy’s poisonous hands. Fortunately, the deeper he went, the narrower the cave got. Crawling for more than ten ‘zhang’ later, he could barely push his way forward. Zhu Changling could no longer follow him. Zhang Wuji crawled several more ‘zhang’ forward and then he suddenly saw light ahead; he was delighted, he moved his hands and feet faster toward the light.

Zhu Changling was anxious and angry at the same time. “I won’t hurt you,” he called out, “Quickly come out!” But how could Zhang Wuji heed his call?”

Zhu Changling exerted his internal energy into his palm and struck the rock wall. The mountain rock was incomparably solid, when the palm hit the rock, his hand was shaken and he felt severe pain in the center of his palm, while the rock wall was not damaged in any way whatsoever. He took his short saber out with the intention of digging the rock loose so that the passageway would be somewhat wider, but he only dug a few times when ‘snap’, his blue-steel short saber was broken into two.

Zhu Changling was furious. He sent his strength to his shoulder and squeezed his body through the opening. Sure enough, he advanced about a foot forward, but to move any further was totally out of question. The solid rock walls were crushing his chest and back, and to his shock, he could not breathe. If he did not want to die of suffocation, he had no choice but to withdraw. Unexpectedly, his body was stuck in between the solid rocks; he could neither move forward nor withdraw backward. He was so frightened that he felt his soul was leaving him. With his entire strength his arms pushed on the rock and his body was pushed about a foot back, but there was a burst of acute pain on his chest as one of his ribs broke.