The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 17

Coming and going of a messenger brings a laugh.

Zhang Wuji and the peasant girl turned their gaze toward the northeast. It was already dawn. They saw a green shadow walking on the snowy ground with steps as light as a feather. When the shadow was about a dozen of ‘zhang’ away, they could see clearly that it was a woman wearing a green robe. She talked with Ding Minjun for a while, and then turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and the peasant girl, before finally she walked towards them.

Her clothes fluttered in the wind, her movements were light and graceful, her steps were dainty, but in an instant she was already four, five ‘zhang’ away from the two people. They saw her style was simple yet elegant, her countenance beautiful, she could not be older than seventeen, eighteen years of age.

Zhang Wuji was amazed; listening to her whistle and looking at her movements, he would have thought that she was a lot older than Ding Minjun, but it turned out that she looked even younger than him. He noticed a short sword hanging on the young woman’s slender waist, yet she did not draw her weapon but approached them barehanded.

Ding Minjun warned her, “Zhou Shimei [younger martial sister], this witch girl’s martial art is very demonical.”

The young woman nodded. With a refined and polite manner she asked, “May I know your honorable surnames and great given names? For what reason did you injure my Shijie [older martial sister]?”

When she was near enough, Zhang Wuji thought she looked quite familiar. As soon as she spoke, he remembered immediately, “Turns out she is the Hanshui River boatman’s little girl, Miss Zhou Zhiruo. Tai Shifu took her up the Wudang Mountain, how did she become Emei School’s disciple?”

His heart warmed up; he wanted to ask her about his Taishifu, but then he changed his mind. “Zhang Wuji is dead. Right now I am a bum, the ugly freak Zeng Ahniu. If I am not able to control my emotions, I would only invite inexhaustible calamity in the future. I simply must not reveal my true identity to avoid bringing harm to Yifu, so that my Papa and Mama’s death would not be in vain.”

The peasant girl laughed coldly and said, “With the ‘pushing the window to look at the moon’ your honorable Shijie’s palms struck my back. She broke her own wrists because of that. How could you blame me? Go ahead and ask your honorable Shijie, did I attack her even for half a stance?”

Zhou Zhiruo flashed a questioning look at Ding Minjun. Ding Minjun angrily said, “Take these two to see Shifu, let the Senior punish them.”

Zhou Zhiruo said, “If these two did not offend Shijie intentionally, in Xiao Mei’s [little sister – referring to self] opinion, it’s always better to let it go, turning an enemy into a friend.”

“What?” Ding Minjun angrily shouted, “Are you siding with the outsiders?”

Looking at Ding Minjun’s expression, Zhang Wuji remembered one night a few years ago, when Monk PengYingyu was besieged by enemies in the forest, in which Ding Minjun showed hostility toward Ji Xiaofu. History repeated itself today. Ding Minjun again was forcing her will to her young martial sister. He could not help but secretly worry for Zhou Zhiruo. But Zhou Zhiruo was very respectful toward Ding Minjun.

“Xiao Mei will follow Shijie’s instructions, will not dare to disobey,” she said with a bow.

“Alright,” Ding Minjun said, “Seize this stinky girl, break both of her hands.”

“Yes,” Zhou Zhiruo replied, “I am asking Shijie to help watch my back.” Turning around toward the peasant girl, she said, “Please forgive Xiao Mei for being rude; I want to request Jiejie’s [older sister] expert instructions.”

The peasant girl said with a cold laugh, “Where did this wordy girl come from?” While in her heart she said, “Do you think I am afraid of this little girl?”

Without relying on Zhang Wuji’s help, she sprang up and fast as a lightning launched three palm strikes in succession. Zhou Zhiruo leaned sideways and rushed forward, her left palm tried to capture the girl’s hand. She had used an offensive strike as a defensive mechanism, her gambit was rather ingenious.

Although Zhang Wuji’s internal energy was strong, his knowledge of movements in martial arts had not reached the level of complete comprehension. As he watched Zhou Zhiruo and the peasant girl fight a fast-paced battle; Zhou Zhiruo’s ‘mian zhang’ [soft palm] from Emei Pai was agile and swift, while the peasant girl’s palm technique was weird and mysterious, he was very impressed, but also concerned about the two combatants. He did not care who would win; he only hoped that neither one of them would be injured.

The two women fought for more than twenty stances; each had fallen into dangerous situations several times. Suddenly the peasant girl called out, “Got you!” Her left palm hacked down on Zhou Zhiruo’s shoulder.

‘Rip!’ Zhou Zhiruo flipped her hand and pulled the peasant girl’s sleeve. Both of them leaped back immediately. Their faces were red.

“Good ‘Qin Na’ [grab and capture] technique!” the peasant girl shouted. She was about to jump back into the arena when she saw Zhou Zhiruo wrinkle her brows with her hand pressing her chest. She staggered two steps and swayed as if she was about to tumble.

Zhang Wuji could not stop from calling out, “You … you …” His face showed a very deep concern.

Seeing this man with long hair and long beard show deep concern toward her, Zhou Zhiruo was secretly astonished.

“Shimei, how are you?” Ding Minjun asked.

Placing her left hand on her martial sister’s shoulder for support, Zhou Zhiruo shook her head. Ding Minjun had suffered pain from the peasant girl, she knew the peasant girl was very fierce. It was just that their Shifu often praised this young martial sister, saying that her perception was wonderfully deep, her progress was amazingly rapid. She would most likely play a very important role on the advancement of their Sect in the future. It was hard for Ding Minjun to accept, therefore, she told her to give it a try, with the hope that she would also suffer some pain under the peasant girl’s hands. Seeing her Shimei was able to fight the peasant girl for more than twenty stances without suffering any defeat, which exceeded her by a large margin, Ding Minjun was very jealous in her heart.

Feeling the hand leaning on her shoulder was without any strength, she knew her Shimei’s injury was not light. Afraid that the peasant girl would attack, she said hastily, “Let’s go!” Supporting each other, the two of them walked toward northeast.

The peasant girl noticed Zhang Wuji’s expression. “Ugly freak,” she said with a cold laugh, “Seeing a beautiful girl makes your soul fly to the heavens.”

Zhang Wuji wanted to explain, but he thought, “I won’t be able to explain this matter clearly without revealing my history. I might as well not say anything.” Thereupon he said, “Whether she is beautiful or not, what does that have anything to do with me? I was concerned about you, I was afraid you might be injured.”

“Are you telling me the truth?” the peasant girl asked.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Actually, I was concerned about both of you.” He said, “Why would I lie to you? I am surprised that such a young girl from Emei Pai can possess such an excellent martial art skill.”

“Fierce! Very fierce!” the peasant girl said.

Zhang Wuji turned his gaze toward Zhou Zhiruo’s back, thinking that she came with light and graceful steps but left staggering. He remembered how on the boat on the Hanshui River she helped feed him, gave him towel to wipe his tears. He wished her injury was not heavy.

Suddenly the peasant girl laughed coldly and said, “You don’t have to be worried, she was never been injured. When I said ‘fierce’, I was not talking about her martial art skill, but she is such a young girl, yet her quick thinking and scheming ability is this fierce.”

“She was not injured?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“That’s right!” the peasant girl said, “When my palm hacked on her shoulder, her shoulder produced internal energy reaction, which diverted my palm. Turns out she has trained the Emei Jiu Yang Gong [Nine Yang energy/power], with which she shook my arm that it went slightly numb and painful. Where did her injury come from?”

Zhang Wuji was greatly delighted; he thought, “Could it be that she is highly favorable in Miejue Shitai’s eyes that unexpectedly she passed on the Emei Pai treasured skill, Emei Jiu Yang Gong, to her?”

Suddenly the peasant girl heavily slapped Zhang Wuji’s face with the back of her hand. Her action was so sudden that Zhang Wuji was caught off guard and his cheek turned red and swollen at once.

“You … why did you do that?” he angrily asked.

The peasant girl hatefully said, “Seeing that beautiful girl, your soul fly to the heavens. I said she was not injured, why are you this happy?”

“I am happy for her, what does it do to you?” Zhang Wuji replied.

The peasant girl swung her palm again, but this time Zhang Wuji ducked that she missed. The peasant girl angrily said, “You said you are going to take me as your wife. It is still less than half a day and you already changed your mind as soon as you saw that pretty girl.”

“You have said it early on that I am not fit to marry you,” Zhang Wuji retorted, “You also said that your heart has already belonged to this boyfriend of yours, so you cannot marry me.”

“That’s right,” the peasant girl said, “But you have promised me that you will treat me well for the rest of our lives, that you will take a good care of me.”

“Of course I will keep my promise,” Zhang Wuji said.

The peasant girl was angry. “If that’s the case, why did you lose your soul as soon as you saw this good-looking young woman? That is very aggravating to those who look at you.”

Zhang Wuji laughed. “I did not lose my soul,” he said.

“I forbid you to like her,” the peasant girl said, “I forbid you to even think of her.”

“I’ve never said I liked her,” Zhang Wuji said, “But why do you always have another in your heart, and never forget him?”

“I met him first,” the peasant girl said, “If I know you first, then all my life I would be good to you only, and would not think about other people. This is called ‘faithful unto death’ [Confucian ban on widow remarrying]. The Heaven will not tolerate a double-minded person.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “I knew Zhou family girl long before I met you.” But it was inappropriate for him to say so, thereupon he said, “If you are good to me only, then I will be good to you only. If you remember another in your heart, I will also remember another in my heart.”

The peasant girl was silent for half a day. Several times she seemed to open her mouth to speak, but each time she stopped. Suddenly tears started to flow from her eyes. She turned around so Zhang Wuji would not see her wiping her tears with her sleeve.

Zhang Wuji could not bear to see her crying. He grabbed her hand and said in a soft voice, “Why did we say these things without any reason at all? In a few more days my legs will be healed, and then the two of us will travel everywhere to have fun, won’t that be great?”

The peasant girl turned her head; with an anxious look on her face she said, “Ahniu Gege, I want to ask you one thing, but you must not get angry.”

“What is it?” Zhang Wuji asked, “As long as it is within my power, I will do it for you.”

“You must promise me not to get angry first before I tell you,” the peasant girl said.

“Alright, I won’t,” Zhang Wuji promised.

The peasant girl hesitated for a moment before saying, “With your mouth you said you won’t get angry, but I also want you not to be angry in your heart.”

“Alright, I also will not be angry in my heart,” Zhang Wuji said.

The peasant girl flipped her hands so that she was holding Zhang Wuji’s hands now. “Ahniu Gege,” she said, “The reason I travelled for tens of thousands ‘li’ from the Central Plains to this remote Western Region was to look for him. Before, I still heard news about him; but as soon as I arrived here, he vanished just like a stone sank in the ocean and I have never heard anything about him anymore. After your legs are healed, help me to find him, and afterwards I will accompany you roaming the mountains and playing on the rivers, will that be alright?”

Zhang Wuji could not restrain from feeling unhappy. “Humph,” he snorted.

The peasant girl said, “You promised me not to get angry; aren’t you angry right now?”

Feeling uncomfortable, Zhang Wuji said, “Alright, I’ll help you find him.”

The peasant girl was delighted. “Ahniu Gege,” she said, “You are very kind.” Looking toward the distant horizon, her heart was beating fast with the memory of ‘him’, she said quietly, “When we find him, he will know that I have been looking for him for such a long time that he won’t be angry with me. I will do whatever he says, I will obey whatever he tells me to do.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Tell me, what is so good about this boyfriend of yours that you always keep him in your mind like this?”

The peasant girl smiled slightly and said, “How can I explain how good he is? Ahniu Ge, do you think we will be able to find him? When he sees me, will he beat me, scold me?”

Seeing how childish her affection was, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel sorry for her. He said in a low voice, “I don’t think so. He will not beat you or scold you.”

The peasant girl’s cherry lips quivered; tears welled up in her eyes. Also in a low voice she said, “That’s true, he will love me and pity me that he won’t beat me or scold me anymore.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “This girl loves her boyfriend this much. If only there was someone in this world who loves me and misses me like her, I will be happy even if I have to suffer more hardships and pain.” He turned his gaze to the pair of footprints Zhou Zhiruo and Ding Minjun left on the snow, thinking, “I wish Ding Minjun’s footprints were mine; if I could walk side by side with Miss Zhou …”

“Aiyo!” suddenly the peasant girl called out, “Let’s go, quick! It will be too late if we tarry.”

“What?” Zhang Wuji was awakened from his daydreaming.

The peasant girl said, “That Emei girl was not willing to fight with me so she feigned injury. But that Ding Minjun insisted on her to take us to see their Shifu. Miejue Shitai must be somewhere near. This old thief nun always loves to outdo others, how can she not come over?”

Zhang Wuji recalled how Miejue Shitai struck Ji Xiaofu to her death without showing any mercy; he could not help from shuddering. “This old nun is very fierce,” he said in fright, “We are definitely not her match.”

“Have you met her?” the peasant girl asked.

“She is the Emei Pai Zhangmen [Sect Leader], how can she be an ordinary person?” Zhang Wuji replied, “I can’t walk yet, you’d better run away quickly.”

“Humph,” the peasant girl was angry, “How can I abandon you and escape alone? You think my conscience is that bad?” Creasing her eyebrows, she thought hard for a moment. She took several pieces of stiff firewood from the pile and twisted the flexible ones as the ropes to build a snow sled. Carrying Zhang Wuji in her arms, she helped him sit on the sled with his legs stretched out straight; and then she pulled the sled toward the northwest direction.

Zhang Wuji only saw her slender figure sway, just like a lotus leaf blown by the early morning breeze; her back looked graceful, her posture beautiful. She towed the sled just like a breeze of wind flitting across the snowy ground.

She sped along without pausing for about thirty, forty ‘li’. Zhang Wuji felt bad for her. “Hey, let’s get some rest first!” he called out.

The peasant girl laughed. “Who do you called ‘hey’?” she said, “Don’t I have a name?”

“You don’t want to tell me; what can I do?” Zhang Wuji replied, “You wanted me to call you Miss Chou, but I think you are attractive.”

The peasant girl scoffed; she let out a mouthful of breath then halted her steps. Pushing a stray hair, she said, “Very well, there is no harm in telling you. I am called Zhu’er.”

“Zhu’er, Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are truly a precious pearl.” [Translator’s note: ‘zhu’ of ‘spider’ and ‘pearl’ sound the same in Chinese, and ‘pearl’ is a more common name for girls.]

“Pei!” the peasant girl spat, “Not ‘Zhu’ of pearl [zhen zhu], but ‘Zhu’ of spider [zhi zhu].”

Zhang Wuji was stunned. “Who would have used this ‘spider’ character as a name?” he mused.

“That’s my name,” Zhu’er said, “If you are scared, don’t call me.”

“Did your Papa give you that name?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Humph,” Zhu’er said, “If my Papa gave me that name, do you think I would want it? It was my Ma. She trained me the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [hand of a thousand spiders ten-thousand posion], so she said for me to use that name.”

Hearing the five characters ‘qian zhu wan du shou’, Zhang Wuji shuddered inwardly.

“I have started training since I was a kid, yet I still have far to go,” Zhu’er said, “When I have mastered this skill, I will not have to fear this old thief nun Miejue. Do you want to see it?” While saying that, she took a glistening yellow gold case from her bosom. She opened the lid and showed two spiders, about the size of a thumb, squirming inside.

The spiders’ back were spotted with bright, multi-colored dots, dazzling the eye. Zhang Wuji immediately remembered that Wang Nan’gu’s Poison Manual did mention that the spotted spiders were the most poisonous insects; once a human was bitten, he would be beyond help. Zhang Wuji could not help but feel very scared.

Looking at his serious expression, Zhu’er laughed and said, “You know the benefit of my precious spiders. Just wait a moment.” As she said that, she leaped onto a large tree and looked around. Then she leaped back down to the ground and said, “Let us go a little bit farther; we can leisurely talk about spiders later.”
Pulling the sled along, she ran about seven, eight ‘li’ until they arrived at the edge of a canyon. She helped Zhang Wuji out of the sled and she put several large rocks in his place. Pulling the sled, she ran toward the canyon. When she got to the edge of the canyon, she abruptly halted her steps, while the sled continued its journey into the canyon below. The sled, along with the rocks on it, crashed into the canyon with a loud, resounding sound, which continued for a long time.

Zhang Wuji turned his head back and saw the firewood sled had left a pair of tracks, snaking on the snowy ground, as far as his eyes could see. Following the tracks with his eyes, he saw the tracks disappeared at the edge of the canyon. He thought, “This girl’s thinking is so thorough. If Miejue Shitai followed us here, she would think that we fell into the snowy canyon below, and died with none of our bones survived.”

Zhu’er stooped down and said, “Get on my back!”

“Are you going to carry me? You will be too tired,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhu’er rolled her eyes and said, “Do you think I won’t know it if I am tired or not?”

Zhang Wuji did not dare to talk too much, he quietly got on her back and very lightly hugged her neck.

Zhu’er laughed and said, “Are you afraid you will choke me to death? Your hands and feet are very light; you are only tickling me to death.”

Seeing she was so innocent and without any apprehension toward him, Zhang Wuji was delighted; he hugged her neck tighter. Zhu’er leaped up suddenly and brought him flying to a tree. The row of trees extended toward the west, so Zhu’er leaped from one tree to another, also heading west. Her stature was small and delicate; Zhang Wuji was big and tall, but her feet were nimble and did not show the least bit of being over-burdened.

After leaping about seventy, eighty trees, she jumped to a mountain wall and then leaped down to the ground. She gently lowered him to the ground, and said with a laugh, “We are going to build a cowshed in here. This is the perfect place.”

“Cowshed?” Zhang Wuji wondered, “Why would we build a cowshed?”

“For the bull and the cow to stay, of course,” Zhu’er laughed, “Aren’t you called Ahniu?” [Translator’s note: The ‘niu’ character of Ahniu means ‘cow/bull’.]

“That’s not necessary,” Zhang Wuji said, “In four, five days, my broken legs will be healed completely. Actually, if I am forced to walk, I think I can manage without problem.”

“Humph!” Zhu’er said, “Forced to walk? Right now you are already an ugly freak, if your cow legs are lame, will you look good?” While saying that, she took a strip of branch and swept the snow accumulated beside the mountain rock.

Hearing her say, ‘Will you look good if your cow legs are lame?’ Zhang Wuji suddenly realized that she had a deep concern toward him; he could not help his heart from being touched. He heard her humming a tune while pulling and breaking branches and twigs to build a canopy in between two boulders, so that the thatched roof and the boulders formed a hut, an attractive little cabin which they could use to take shelter.

As soon as the hut was finished, Zhu’er scooped piles and piles of snow and spread the snow on the roof. Working hard for half a day, she got the hut completely hidden in snow that it was not visible from the outside. Only then did she stop, took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from her face.

“Wait here,” she said, “I am going to find something to eat.”

“I am not that hungry,” Zhang Wuji said, “You are too tired. Why don’t you take a short rest before going again?”

Zhu’er said, “If you want to treat me well, you must treat me really well. If you only sweet-talk me, what good would that bring?” Without waiting for an answer, she entered the woods in quick steps.

Staying on the mountain rock, Zhang Wuji recalled Zhu’er’s tender voice and her graceful manners, which was the style of a refined woman. Her face might be ugly, but he remembered how just before her death, his mother had admonished him, ‘The more beautiful that woman is, the better of a manipulator she will be. You must take more caution.’ Zhu’er was not pretty, yet her treatment to him was fabulous; he had a mind of spending the rest of his life with her. However, her heart had already belonged to another man; she had no regard of him in her heart.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was like a tidal wave as his mind raced in myriads of thoughts. Shortly afterwards Zhu’er returned with two snow birds. She built a fire and roasted the birds; it was tasty beyond comparison. Zhang Wuji ate one bird clean to its bone, but it was not enough for him. Zhu’er pursed her lips and laughed then she pushed her two bird legs, which she saved earlier, to him. Actually, she saved the legs because it was her favorite part of the chicken.

Zhang Wuji was about to decline when Zhu’er angrily said, “If you want to eat, just eat. Whoever speaks to me with pretense, saying something without meaning it, I will stab three holes on his body with a knife.”

Zhang Wuji did not dare to talk too much, he ate the two bird legs. Because his mouth was greasy, he picked up a handful of snow from the ground and wiped his face, then used his sleeve to dry it up. Zhu’er happened to turn her head and saw him wiping his face clean. She could not help from being startled and stared at him.

Zhang Wuji was embarrassed; “What is it?” he asked.

Zhu’er said, “How old are you?”

“Twenty one,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Hmm,” Zhu’er said, “You are only three years older than I am. Why do you have such a long beard?”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “I lived alone in a remote valley deep in the mountains, I have never met anybody else, so I have never thought of shaving.”

Zhu’er took out a knife with golden handle from her side and raised it to his face to shave him slowly. Zhang Wuji felt the blade was very sharp; everywhere the knife touched, hair immediately fell. Feeling her soft and tender palm and fingers, Zhang Wuji could not stop his heart from beating faster.

The knife slowly arrived at his neck. Zhu’er laughed and said, “If I exert a little bit more force, your throat will be cut and you’ll become a ghost. Are you or are you not afraid?”

Zhang Wuji also laughed, “To die under Miss’ jade-like hands, I will become a happy ghost.”

Zhu’er flipped the knife and pressed hard on his throat with the back of the knife. “Then be a happy ghost!” she shouted.

Zhang Wuji was scared and wanted to jump, but her movement was swift, the knife was also very close. As he was about to jump, the blade had already slashed. He was powerless to resist, but the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside his body reacted automatically and shook the knife sideways. It was then that he knew she was only using the back of the blade.

Zhu’er felt a jolt on her arm. “Aiyo!” she cried out, but then giggled immediately. “Are you happy?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji laughed and nodded his head. His natural disposition was rather serious, but in front of Zhu’er he somehow felt free and unrestrained. It was as if he had known her since childhood and they grew up together; he felt unexplainably at ease and even had an urge to joke around with her.

Finished with shaving him clean, Zhu’er stared at him for half a day. Suddenly she heaved a deep sigh.

“What is it?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhu’er did not reply, she trimmed his hair a little bit, combed it, and tied the hair into a bun. She carved a hairpin from a tree branch and stuck it into his bun. After he was tidied up, although his clothes were tattered and unsightly (as a matter of fact, the clothes were too short and a few sizes too small for him, as if they were stolen clothes), his countenance glowed; the ugly freak has turned into one handsome young man.

Zhu’er sighed again and said, “I have never thought you are such a handsome man.”

Zhang Wuji knew she was disheartened by her own ugliness; thereupon he said, “I am not that handsome. Besides, among the beautiful things in this world, oftentimes there is some bad thing hidden inside. The peacocks are adorned with beautiful feathers, but their gallbladders are extremely poisonous. Manchurian cranes’ crest are bright red, very pretty, who would have thought that it was the most lethal poison? Within the various snakes and insects, oftentimes the more beautiful it looks, the more venomous it is. Aren’t those two spiders of yours beautiful? What good is it to have a handsome appearance? A good heart is more desirable.”

Zhu’er sneered and said, “What good is it to have a good heart? Why don’t you explain it to me?”

Zhang Wuji could not find the answer right away. After being silent for a while, he said, “A man with a good heart will not harm others.”

“What good is it in not harming others?” Zhu’er pressed.

Zhang Wuji said, “If you don’t harm others, you will have a peaceful heart, you will be calm and composed.”

“I don’t feel happy if I don’t harm others,” Zhu’er said, “If I can make others miserable beyond words, then my heart will be happy and peaceful, and then I will be calm and composed.”

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “You are forcing anarchy and robbing justice,” he said.

With a cold laugh Zhu’er said, “If not for the purpose of harming others, why would I want to train this ‘qian zhu wan du shou’? I have to endure vast and limitless pain and suffering, do you think it was all for fun?” While saying that, she sat cross-legged on the ground, and after circulating her internal energy for a while, she took the small golden case from her bosom, opened the lid, and stuck her two index fingers into the golden case.

The pair of colorful spiders inside the case crawled slowly toward her fingers and then the spiders bit the tip of her fingers separately. She took a deep breath, her arms slightly trembled as she used her internal energy to resist the poison. The colorful spiders fed on her blood, but in turn Zhu’er sucked the spiders’ venom into her body by reversing her blood flow.

Zhang Wuji saw her face was solemn while at the same time a faint black layer appeared on the center of her eyebrows and both of her temples. She clenched her teeth to endure the pain with all her might. A moment later, beads of perspiration started to form on the tip of her nose.

Zhu’er trained this special skill for almost an hour, until the spiders were full with blood, with their belly bulged that they looked like a couple of furry balls; they dropped on their belly inside the case and fell asleep. Zhu’er continued circulating her internal energy for a good while. The blackness on her face gradually disappeared and the blood returned to her cheeks. When she exhaled, Zhang Wuji could smell that her breath was fragrant, but he felt dizzy immediately. Obviously her breath contained a violent poison.

Zhu’er opened her eyes and smiled slightly. Zhang Wuji asked, “How do you train to reach perfection?”

Zhu’er said, “Each colorful spider must turn to black, and then from black turn to white, then the venom is exhausted and it will die, while the poison inside the spider is completely transferred into my fingers. I need at least a hundred spiders to reach small success. To really reach perfection, a thousand or two are not considered too many.”

Hearing her saying so, Zhang Wuji could not restrain the hair on his back from standing up. “Where did you get these many spiders?” he asked.

“One way is to raise them, they can produce little spiders,” Zhu’er replied, “Another way would be to catch them in their original habitat.”

“There are so many different martial art skills in the world,” Zhang Wuji exclaimed, “Why must you train this kind of poisonous skill? The spiders’ venom is extremely violent; granted that you have a way to withstand it if it enters your body, but in the long run it won’t give you any benefits.”

With a cold laugh Zhu’er said, “No doubt there are many different martial art skills in the world, but which one school’s skill is superior to this ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ in terms of fierceness? You may rely on your strong internal energy, but when I reach perfection, you may not necessarily able to withstand one poke of my finger.” While saying that, she concentrated her ‘chi’ into her finger, and then casually poked her finger into a tree by her side. Because her internal energy had not reached perfection, her finger only went half an inch deep into the tree.

Zhang Wuji asked again, “How did your Mama teach you this skill? Did she complete the training herself?”

Zhu’er’s eyes suddenly shone with a malicious light; she hatefully said, “In training this ‘qian zhu wan du shou’, as long as one has consumed more than twenty spiders, the venom accumulated in one’s body is already considerable, one’s countenance will be deformed. If the training reaches a thousand spiders, one’s face will be incomparably ugly. My Mama had almost reached a hundred spiders when she met my father. Because she was afraid her countenance would grow uglier and would make my father unhappy, she discarded the entire skill from her body. As a result, she turned into an ordinary woman who lacked the strength to even truss up a chicken. Although she turned back into a pretty woman, but receiving Er Niang [second mother] and my two older brothers’ bullying and insults, unexpectedly she did not have the least bit of ability to fight back. In the end she still had to lose her life. Humph! What good is it to have a pretty face? My Ma was a very beautiful and extremely refined woman. Just because she did not bear a son, my father took a concubine …”

Zhang Wuji’s eyes swept over her face. “So … it was because you train this skill …” he said in a low voice.

“That’s right,” Zhu’er said, “It was because I train this skill that the poison turned my face to look like this. Humph, if that heartless man pays me no attention, just wait ‘til I master the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’. When I find him, if he does not have any woman by his side, then that’s all right …”

“You are not married to him,” Zhang Wuji cut her off; “You also are not engaged to him, you’re just … you’re just …”

“Just say it straight out, what are you afraid of?” Zhu’er said, “You wanted to say that I am just indulging myself in unrequited love, didn’t you? What if I am? Since I have already fallen in love with him, I cannot let another woman occupy his heart. If he is heartless and wishy-washy, I’ll let him taste my ‘qian zhu wan du shou’.”

Zhang Wuji stifled a laugh, but he did not argue with her, realizing that she had a weird character; when she was good, she was really good, but when she was bad, she would not listen to reason at all. He also remembered that his Tai Shifu, Er Shibo [second martial (older) uncle) and the others would often tell him to avoid Wulin people of the heretical way. Apparently the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ she trained was one of the most ruthless martial art skills of the heretical sect. Her mother must also be a top ranking demon of the heretical sect. Thinking to this point, he could not help but feel somewhat apprehensive toward her.

Zhu’er, however, did not realize the change in his mood; she was busy going in and out of their little hut. She picked a lot of wild flowers and arranged them inside the hut. Seeing the elegant taste with which she decorated the hut, Zhang Wuji knew that her good taste must have come from her natural instinct, it was the poison that caused her face to be ugly.

“Zhu’er,” he said, “After my legs are healed, I am going to pick some herbal medicine to try to cure the poison swelling on your face.”

When Zhu’er heard these words, her expression suddenly turned fearful. “No … no … don’t,” she said, “I have endured countless pain to reach today’s level. Do you want to neutralize my ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ skill?”

Zhang Wuji said, “Perhaps we can think of a way to eliminate the swelling of the poison on your face without any adverse effect to your skill.”

“No way,” Zhu’er said, “If there were a way, my Mama would have inherited the skill, how could she not know? In this world, other than the Divine Doctor Hu Qingniu of the Butterfly Valley, nobody else has this kind of astonishing ability. But he … he has died many years ago.” [Translator’s note: the original was ‘yi xian’ – medicine/medical immortal. Previous chapters also use ‘Sage of Healing’.]

“You know Hu Qingniu?” Zhang Wuji asked in astonishment.

Zhu’er stared at him and said, “What? Something strange? The name of Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley was known throughout the Jianghu, everybody knew him.” She heaved a deep sigh and continued, “Even if he was still alive, he had the reputation as Seeing Death Without Helping, [orig. Jian Si Bu Jiu. Previous chapters also used ‘The One who Ignores the Dying’.] what good is it to see him?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “She did not know that the Divine Doctor of the Butterfly Valley had passed on his entire skill to me. I’d better not mention it now, someday I’ll think of a way to cure the poison swelling on her face, it will be a big pleasant surprise for her.”

White they were talking, the sky turned dark. They leaned on mountain rocks inside the hut to catch some sleep. In the middle of the night, Zhang Wuji suddenly heard one or two sobbing noises in his sleep. He woke up with a start only to find Zhu’er crying. Zhang Wuji sat up immediately and reached out to gently pat her shoulder twice.

“Zhu’er,” he said, trying to comfort her, “Don’t be sad.” Who would have thought that with his gentle words, Zhu’er cried even louder as she placed her head on his shoulder?

“Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji asked, “What is it? You are thinking about your Mama, aren’t you?”

Zhu’er nodded. “Mama is dead!” she said in between sobs, “I am all alone. Nobody likes me, no one’s good to me.”

Zhang Wuji pulled his lapel and slowly wiped her tears. “I like you,” he said in a gentle voice, “I am good to you.”

“I don’t want you to be good to me,” Zhu’er said, “I only like one man, but he ignored me, beat me, scolded me, and he even bit me.”

With a trembling voice Zhang Wuji said, “Why don’t you forget this unfortunate young man? I’ll marry you, I will treat you well for the rest of your life.”

“No! No!” Zhu’er loudly said, “I won’t forget him. If you tell me to forget him, I am going to ignore you forever.”

Zhang Wuji was greatly embarrassed; fortunately it was very dark inside the hut that Zhu’er could not see his red and awkward expression. For a good while nobody said anything.

A long time afterwards, Zhu’er said, “Ahniu Gege, are you angry at me?”

“I am not angry at you,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I am mad at myself, I shouldn’t have said those words to you.”

“No, no!” Zhu’er hastily said, “You said you wish to take me as your wife, you will treat me well for the rest of my life, I love to hear it. Can you say it one more time?”

Zhang Wuji indignantly said, “Since you cannot forget that man, what else can I say?”

Zhu’er reached out to grab his hand. “Ahniu Gege,” she said in a soft voice, “Please don’t be angry. I offended you. My mistake. If you really take me as your wife, I might prick your eyes blind, I might kill you.”

Zhang Wuji shuddered. “What did you say?” he asked in shock.

Zhu’er said, “If you are blind, you won’t see my ugly face, you won’t look at that Miss Zhou from Emei Pai. If you still cannot forget her, with one finger I will stab you dead, with one finger stab that Miss Zhou from Emei Pai dead, and with one finger stab myself dead.” She said those strange words with ease, as if what she was going to do was in accordance with the heaven’s law and the earth’s principle.

Hearing her ruthless words, full of maliciousness, Zhang Wuji’s heart skipped a beat. Right this moment, suddenly from a distant came an old voice, “In which matter did Miss Zhou of Emei Pai give you trouble?”

Zhu’er was startled, she leaped up and said in a low voice, “It’s Miejue Shitai!”

Her voice was so low, but the person outside could still hear her. “That’s right,” she said sternly, “It is Miejue Shitai.”

When the person outside spoke the first few words, the voice sounded from a far, but the second time she spoke, she was already outside the little hut.

Zhu’er knew their situation was far from good, but it was too late for her to pick Zhang Wuji up and hide; she had no choice but holding her breath without saying anything.

“Get out!” they heard the person outside said with a cold voice, “Do you think you can hide inside forever?”

Zhu’er opened the straw curtain and walked out holding Zhang Wuji’s hand. She saw about two ‘zhang’ outside the hut stood an old nun with white hair and dreary face, she was none other than Emei Pai’s Zhang Men [sect leader], Miejue Shitai. Behind her, about a dozen people, divided into three groups, came rushing in. As they arrived, they stood on either side of Miejue Shitai. Half of those people were nuns, the rest were men and women in civilian clothes. Ding Minjun and Zhou Zhiruo were among them. The male disciples stood at the back row. Miejue Shitai had never favored male disciples, Emei Pai male disciples had never learned the most advanced of their school’s martial art, their status was somewhat lower than the female disciples.

Miejue Shitai coldly looked at Zhu’er to size her up without saying anything for half a day. With trepidation, Zhang Wuji was crouching behind Zhu’er. He had made up his mind that if Miejue Shitai attacked Zhu’er, he would do his utmost to help her, although he knew he was not Miejue Shitai’s match. He heard Miejue Shitai humph and she turned toward Ding Minjun.

“Was it this baby girl?” she asked.

“Yes,” Ding Minjun replied respectfully.

Suddenly they heard ‘Crack! Crack!’ twice, Zhu’er uttered a muffled grunt, while she was thrown about three ‘zhang’ backward with broken wrists. She fainted on the snowy ground.

Zhang Wuji only saw a grey shadow flashed as with inhuman speed footwork Miejue Shitai dashed toward Zhu’er, with inhuman speed hand technique she broke her wrist bones and threw her out, and again with inhuman speed footwork she returned to her previous position, and stood loftily like an ancient tree. She looked so ghostly yet also grand standing in the night breeze. Each one of her actions was nimble yet so clear. Zhang Wuji could see each movement clearly, yet her speed was unfathomable. He was so astonished by her speed that he was paralyzed in fear.

Miejue Shitai stared at Zhang Wuji with a piercing-heart-and-soul vision. “Get out!” she sternly said.

Zhou Zhiruo took a step forward. “Shifu,” she reported, “This man’s legs are broken; he cannot walk.”

“Make two snow-sleds, take them go,” Miejue Shitai said. The disciples complied at once.

The dozen or so male disciples with quick hands and feet built two sleds. Two female disciples carried Zhu’er, two male disciples carried Zhang Wuji. They put them on the sleds and pulled the sleds behind Miejue Shitai who had already sped to the west.

Zhang Wuji focused his attention, trying to hear or see if Zhu’er was astir. He did not know the severity of her injury. After travelling for about a ‘li’, he heard Zhu’er groan softly.

“Zhu’er,” Zhang Wuji called out loudly, “How’s your injury? Have you received an internal injury?”

“She broke my both my wrist bones,” Zhu’er replied, “But my chest and abdomen seem to be fine.”

“No internal injury, that’s good,” Zhang Wuji said, “Use your left elbow to bump your right arm three ‘cun’ five ‘fen’ [1 cun is approximately 1 inch, 1 fen is approximately 1/3 of a centimeter or a little over 1/8 or an inch] below the bend, and use your right elbow to bump your left three ‘cun’ five ‘fen’ below the bend. That should lessen your pain somewhat.”

Before Zhu’er could respond, Miejue Shitai had already exclaimed, “Ah!” She turned her head toward Zhang Wuji, stared at him and said, “This kid is proficient in medical skill. What’s your name?”

“Zaixia [lit. under/below, the humble one] surnamed Zeng, called Ahniu,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Who is your Shifu?” Miejue Shitai asked.

Zhang Wuji said, “My shifu was a nameless country doctor of a small town; Shitai would not know him even if I mentioned his name.”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, but no longer paid him any attention.

The party travelled straight until the dawn before they stopped to eat their rations. Zhou Zhiruo took out several cold steamed buns and gave them to Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er. As she gave the buns to Zhang Wuji, she looked up at his face for a second before turning her head away.

Zhang Wuji’s heart was shaken; he could not bear it any longer. “Your kindness in feeding me on the Hanshui River boat, I will never dare to forget,” he said softly.

Zhou Zhiruo’s whole body trembled; she quickly turned around and looked at him. This time Zhang Wuji was clean-shaven. She looked at him for a while. “Ah,” she suddenly exclaimed with a pleasantly surprise expression. “You … you …” she stammered. Zhang Wuji knew she finally recognized him, he slowly nodded his head.

“The cold poison in your body, is it healed?” she quietly asked. Her voice was as soft as a mosquito that it was almost inaudible.

In the same soft voice Zhang Wuji replied, “It is healed.”

Zhou Zhiruo’s face blushed, and she walked away.

All this time, Zhu’er was behind Zhang Wuji. She saw Zhou Zhiruo could not contain her joy; her lips quivered, her face also appeared bashful, but her eyes brightened. Zhu’er waited until Zhou Zhiruo left before she asked Zhang Wuji, “What were the two of you talking about?”

Zhang Wuji’s face reddened. “What? No … nothing,” he said.

“Humph!” Zhu’er snorted, “Barefaced liar!”

They rested for about an hour and a half before continuing their journey in haste to the west, and continued in the same manner for three days. Apparently they had some important matter to attend to. Along the way, whether when travelling or resting, neither the male nor female disciples opened their mouths to talk, unless it was absolutely necessary; it was as if they were a bunch of mute people.

By this time Zhang Wuji’s legs were already healed. He could walk if he wanted to, but he maintained his guise as a cripple. Every now and then he would fake a groan so Miejue Shitai would not guard against him. He was waiting for a good opportunity to help Zhu’er to escape. However, the terrain they had been travelling so far was a vast plain, before they could run too far, the pursuers would certainly overtake them; therefore, he did not dare to act recklessly. He quietly mended Zhu’er’s broken wrist; Miejue Shitai only gave him a cold look, but did not interfere. During their stops in the day, or in their bivouacs at night, Zhang Wuji was dying to get a glimpse of Zhou Zhiruo, but she had never come close to him anymore.

After travelling for two more days, they arrived at the great desert in the afternoon. The snow on the ground had melted; the sleds were now being pulled over sand. Suddenly they heard horse hooves coming from the west. Miejue Shitai signaled with her hand. The disciples immediately hid themselves behind sand dunes. Two disciples drew their daggers and placed the daggers on Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er’s back. Their intention was clear: Emei Pai was ambushing of the enemy, as soon as Zhang Wuji or Zhu’er made any noise to warn the enemy, they would thrust the daggers forward and take their lives.

It seemed like the horses were galloping very fast, only they were still very far away that it took almost half a day before the horses came near. As soon as the riders saw footprints on the sand, they reined their horses at once. Emei Pai’s senior disciple Jing Xuan Shitai waved her whisk; about a dozen disciples responded to her signal by leaping out from their ambush and surrounding the riders.

Zhang Wuji took a peek to see there were four riders altogether, all wearing white robes. The robes were embroidered with a red blazing flame. Realizing they were being ambushed, the four riders shouted, drew out their weapons, and charged toward the northeast trying to break the siege.

Jing Xuan shouted, “It’s the Devil Cult’s demons, don’t let even one of them escape!”

Although Emei Pai had more people, they did not attack together. Two female disciples and two male disciples responded to Jing Xuan Shitai’s order. They shouted their compliance and stepped forward to block the enemies. The four Devil Cult’s people fought valiantly with curved sabers in their hands. But in the expedition to the western region this time, Emei Pai had sent their choice fighters; each one possessed strong martial art skill. After only about seven, eight stances, three of the Devil Cult people were killed by the swords and were thrown down from their horses. The remaining one was a lot stronger than his companions; he managed to chop and injure the Emei Pai male disciple’s left shoulder and rushed through this opening to escape.

When he was several ‘zhang’ away, the third ranking Emei Pai disciple, Jing Xu Shitai called out, “Get down!” With a swift footwork she caught up with the man. Her whisk swept toward the man’s left leg. The man brandished his saber to block. Jing Xu’s whisk suddenly changed its course; ‘Shua!’ it struck the back of the man’s head.

This move had hit the man’s vital point, the whisk also carried a profound internal energy; the man immediately fell down from his horse. Surprisingly this man was extremely swift and fierce; even under such a severe injury, he still attempted to perish together with the enemy. Spreading out his arms, he threw himself on Jing Xu. Jing Xu leaned sideways to evade while her whisk lashed on the man’s chest.

Right that moment, from the cage hanging on the neck of the last man’s horse flew three white pigeons. “What devilish trick are you playing?” Jing Xuan called out. Her sleeve shook, three iron lotus seeds flew toward the three pigeons.

Two pigeons were shot down. The third iron lotus seed was shot down by a secret projectile launched by the white-robed man, who at this time was lying on the ground. The last white pigeon dashed toward the cloud. The numerous Emei Pai disciples immediately launched their secret projectiles, but none hit its target. They saw that the pigeon was flying toward northeast.

Jing Xuan waved her left hand. The male disciples immediately dragged the four white-robed men and stood them in front of her.

From the initial attack toward the enemy down to shooting the pigeons and capturing the men, Miejue Shitai only looked coldly with her hands behind her back. Zhang Wuji thought, “She dealt with Zhu’er personally, which showed that she held Zhu’er in considerably higher regard; perhaps it was because she shook Ding Minjun’s wrists broken. If this old nun wanted to stop that white pigeon, all she needed to do was to lift her finger; what’s the problem with that? But she seemed to intentionally ignore her numerous disciples’ effort in dealing with the situation.”

Zhang Wuji also recalled how Jing Xuan, along with Ji Xiaofu and the others, had come up the Mount Wudang to wish his Taishifu happy birthday. Clearly she was considered of the same rank as the various Sect Leaders of Kunlun, Kongtong, and other sects. By this time these Emei Pai’s senior disciples had held quite a reputation within the Jianghu; any one of them was fully capable to assume sole responsibility in important matters. In dealing with several Devil Cult people, Miejue Shitai did not need to personally go into action. The fact that Jing Xuan and Jing Xu had personally put forth their hands showed that they had a high regard toward the enemy.

A female disciple picked up the two shot down pigeons. She took a roll of paper out from the small tube tied on the white pigeon’s leg and presented it to Jing Xuan. Jing Xuan unrolled the paper and read.

“Shifu,” she said, “The enemy has found out our plan to besiege the Brightness Peak. This letter is an emergency call for help to the Heavenly Eagle Cult.” She looked at the other roll of paper and said, “Exactly the same. Too bad the other pigeon escape from the net.”

“Why do you feel bad?” Miejue Shitai coldly said, “Let the devils gather together. We’ll wipe them out in one swoop. Won’t it be a happy occasion? It will save us running around to the east and to the west looking for them.”

“Yes,” Jing Xuan said.

Hearing the words ‘emergency call for help to the Heavenly Eagle Cult Heavenly Eagle Cult’, Zhang Wuji was startled. “Isn’t the Heavenly Eagle Cult Leader my ‘wai gong’ [maternal grandfather]?” he mused, “I wonder if he, the Senior, would come. Humph, this old nun is so arrogant; you may not necessarily be my Grandfather’s match.”

Originally, he wanted to find an opportunity to help Zhu’er escape, but with this turn of events, he wanted to continue watching the drama unfold, thereupon he did not want to leave just yet.

Jing Xuan sternly asked the four white-robed men, “Who else did you invite? How did you find out about the Six Major Sects’ plan to besiege the Devil Cult?”

The four white-robed men laughed bitterly with their eyes to the sky, then suddenly they fell down to the ground, motionless. Two male disciples stooped down to take a look; they saw the contorted smile on the four men’s faces, it was obvious that they stopped breathing.

“Shijie [older martial sister],” they called out in fear, “They all dead!”

Jing Xuan indignantly said, “The witches took poison to kill themselves. The poison is very lethal, the reaction was this quick.

Jing Xu said, “Search them.”

“Yes!” four male disciples complied. They were about to search the corpses’ pockets when Zhou Zhiruo suddenly said, “Shixiong [martial brothers], be careful. There might be poisonous things hidden inside their pockets.”

The four male disciples were startled; they drew out their weapons to search the pockets. They saw something was wriggling inside the pocket. Turned out in each pocket were hidden two extremely venomous snakes. If they had used their hands to search the pockets, they would have been bitten by the snakes. All disciples’ faces changed; everybody cursed the Devil Cult disciples as poisonous and ruthless in their actions.

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “From the Central Earth we came to the west, today was the first time we dealt directly with the Devil Cult disciples. These four men were merely nameless pawns, but they were already this sinister. Can you imagine how we are going to deal with the leaders and the brains behind the Devil Cult? Humph, Jing Xu, you are not young anymore, but they way you handle matters is this careless, not as careful as Zhiruo.”

Jing Xu’s face reddened; she bowed down to accept the reproach.

In his heart, Zhang Wuji was still pondering Jing Xuan’s words earlier, ‘Six Major Sects besiege the Devil Cult’. “Six Sects? Six Sects?” he mused, “I wonder if our Wudang Pai is one of those Sects?”

About the second hour that night, suddenly they heard the jingle of bells usually mounted on camel’s heads. It sounded like there was a camel approaching from a distance. Everybody was actually asleep, but they were awakened at once. At first the sound of the camel came from the west heading to the south, but a short time later it sounded like the camel ran from south to north, but as soon as the sound arrived at the northwest direction, it immediately turned east, and then the sound appeared again from the northeast. In this way the sound came from east and west just like a ghost.

The people looked at each other in bewilderment. Everybody thought that no matter how fast the camel could run, it was impossible for it to be on the east at one time and suddenly on the west. From the sound of it, it was also unlikely that there were several people on the four directions who rang the bell one after another.

After a while, it sounded like the camel bell came toward them from a distance, the bell grew clearer and clearer. Suddenly the bell rang loudly from the southeast, as if the camel was a bird, which flew swiftly.

Coming to this great desert and hearing this kind of strange ringing bell, Emei Pai people were inwardly frightened. In clear voice Miejue Shitai said, “Which master is paying us a visit? Please come out to meet us. Won’t it be highly improper, playing tricks like this?” Her voice travelled far.

After she spoke those words, the bell suddenly turned silent, as if the person ringing the bell was afraid of her and did not dare to play tricks anymore.

Nothing happened all day the next day, but by the second hour in the evening, the camel bell returned. Suddenly going afar, suddenly coming near, suddenly it was on the east, suddenly it moved to the west. Miejue Shitai repeated her reprimand, but this time the camel bell ignored her. Sometimes the sound was light, another time it was loud. Sometimes it sounded as if the camel galloped in anger towards them, but suddenly it walked away sadly from them. It just drove everybody nuts.

Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er looked at each other and smiled. Although they did not understand how the bell could make this kind of weird noise, they knew it must be the doings of a Devil Cult’s master to disturb the Emei people and render them helpless. Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er found it amusing to see them at a loss like this.

Miejue Shitai waved her hand; the disciples lay back down to sleep, no longer paid any attention to the bell. The bell made a loud noise. Although it changed pattern a hundred times, the Emei people simply turned a deaf ear to the sound, apparently they were no longer interested in the bell. Suddenly the bell rang loudly on the north and then vanished. It seemed that Miejue Shitai’s tactic ‘seeing demon as not a demon, let the demon defeat itself’ was somewhat effective.

By daybreak the next day, everybody was busy tidying up their clothes and blankets, preparing themselves for the journey ahead. Two male disciples suddenly cried out in alarm, because they saw somebody was lying next to them, sleeping soundly. This person’s body was covered from head to toe with a filthy blanket, not the least bit of his body was exposed; his buttocks curved upward, he was snoring loudly.

The rest of the Emei Pai people also jumped in fright. Last night numerous people took turns in night-watch duty, but how could nobody knew someone was coming and that he mingled with them? Miejue Shitai’s martial art skill had reached such a level that even grass blown by the wind or a petal of a flower flying or a leaf falling would not escape her eyes and ears; but how could she not know there was an extra person in the midst of her disciples?

Everybody was startled and ashamed. Two disciples immediately drew their swords and walked toward the man. “Who is it? What trick are you playing?” they shouted.

The man was still snoring loudly, seemingly oblivious of everything around him. A male disciple used his sword to lift the blanket and saw an impressive-looking man wearing dark green robe over white long gown. The man was sleeping soundly with his face to the ground.

Jing Xu knew that since the man dared to come like this, he must have an extraordinary background. She took a step forward and said, “Who are you, Sire? What business do you have here?”

The man’s snoring was getting louder, like the rumble of a thunder. Seeing the man was this rude, Jing Xu was enraged; she brandished her whisk. ‘Shua!’ the whisk lashed toward the man’s buttocks which were sticking up. ‘Whoosh!’ suddenly the whisk somehow left Jing Xu’s hand and flew vertically up for more than ten ‘zhang’ to the sky. Without realizing it, everybody looked up…

“Jing Xu, watch out!” Miejue Shitai called out. She had just closed her mouth when the man in dark green robe had already moved several ‘zhang’ away. His steps were so swift it looked like he was flying; he carried Jing Xu in his arms across his chest.

Jing Xuan and another senior female disciple, Su Mengqing, each with a sword in her hand, quickly pursued; but the man’s movements were so fast they were almost fantastic, the pursuers definitely would not be able to catch up. Miejue Shitai let out a clear whistle, and then with the treasured Yitian Sword in her hand she also ran after them.

The Sect Leader of Emei indeed possessed an extraordinary skill. In the blink of an eye she had already passed Jing Xuan and Su Mengqing. A dark shadow flashed as the sword pierced toward the man’s back. But the man was really fast, the sword missed him by almost a foot and thus he escaped unscathed. The fact that he was carrying Jing Xu did not have any adverse effect on his speed; he was not by any means slower than Miejue Shitai.

He did not run away, but ran in circles around the Emei people as if he intentionally wanted to show off his skill. Miejue Shitai repeatedly thrust her sword forward, but all along she failed to stab his body.

Suddenly they heard a ‘Pat!’ as Jing Xu’s whisk fell back down on the ground. By this time, Jing Xuan and Su Mengqing had stopped pursuing. Everybody watched with baited breath as about a dozen ‘zhang’ away where the two masters were chasing each other. Although they were running on a desert ground, both people’s feet were like flying that the sand did not fly upwards.

The Emei disciples noticed that in that man’s arms, Jing Xu did not move at all, as if she had already died; their hearts were scared. A lot of the Emei disciples had the desire to step forward to intercept, but remembered their Shifu’s prestige, how could she lower her rank by asking her disciples for help? If the incident ever spread out, wouldn’t they be the laughingstock of the heroes and warriors of the Jianghu? It was a highly suspenseful moment, but nobody dared to take any step forward. They only wished their Shifu would be one step faster then she would be able to stab that weird-looking man’s back.

In the meantime, the man and Miejue Shitai had made three large circles around the people. If only Miejue Shitai were one step closer, her sword would injure the enemy. However, she was always one step too late. Although that man started first and Miejue Shitai managed to catch up with him, the man was carrying a person, which added his burden by more than a hundred catties. Therefore, in this ‘qing gong’ contest, although they could be considered even in terms of speed, Miejue Shitai was still one notch inferior to the man.

By the fourth circle, the man turned around abruptly and stretching out his arms, he threw Jing Xu over to Miejue Shitai. Miejue Shitai only felt a strong wind in front of her face as Jing Xu arrived with an irresistible force. Hastily she concentrated her ‘chi’ into her legs and with ‘qian jin zhui’ [thousand-catty fall] she gently caught Jing Xu.

The man let out a long laugh and said, “The Six Major Sects come to besiege the Brightness Peak. I am afraid it won’t be that easy!” While saying that, he ran northward.

When he raced Miejue Shitai earlier, the sand underneath their feet was not stirred up at all, but this time the yellow sand rose high behind him, surging on to the north with an overwhelming power that it looked like a giant dragon, several dozen ‘zhang’ long, which immediately blocked his shadow from view.

The Emei disciples rushed toward their Shifu only to see Miejue Shitai’s face paled; she did not say anything.

“Jing Xu Shijie …” suddenly Su Mengqing cried out in fear. Jing Xu’s face looked like yellow wax, there was an open wound on her throat, apparently she had stopped breathing. The wound was covered in blood, but there were teeth marks around it; obviously she was bitten to her death by that strange man.

The female Emei disciples broke out in loud crying. “What do you cry for?” Miejue Shitai shouted, “Bury her.” Everybody stopped crying at once and buried Jing Xu right there.

“Shifu,” Jing Xuan respectfully asked, “Who was that demon? Let us remember him clearly in our hearts that we can avenge Shimei later.”

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “This man sucks blood from the neck, he is ruthless and savage; he must be one of the Devil Cult’s four kings, the ‘Qing Yi Fu Wang’ [green-winged bat king]. I have long heard that his ‘qing gong’ is unparalleled in the world; apparently his reputation is well-deserved, he defeated me by a large margin.”

At first, Zhang Wuji hated Miejue Shitai for her ruthlessness, but now that he witnessed how in the face of huge changes she was able to maintain her composure, to keep her coldness as if nothing happened, as well as her ability to praise the enemy and not ashamed to admit her own shortcomings, which befit her status as a grandmaster of a prominent Sect, he could not restrain his respect toward her from growing.

Ding Minjun hatefully said, “He did not dare to fight Shifu; always ran away, what kind of hero is he?”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted. ‘Slap!’ suddenly she slapped Ding Minjun’s mouth while angrily said, “Shifu cannot overtake him, cannot save Jing Xu’s life. He won. Victory or defeat is known to the world. Is hero or warrior a self-proclaimed title?”

Half of Ding Minjun’s face immediately turned red and swollen. “I accept Shifu’s lesson. Disciple knows her own fault,” she respectfully said, while in her heart she said, “You cannot beat others and lost face, but vent your frustration on me. Just consider my bad luck!”

“Shifu,” Jing Xuan said, “Could you please tell us more about this Qing Yi Fu Wang?”

Miejue Shitai waved her hand without answering Jing Xuan’s question; she walked forward. As the rest of the disciples saw how their martial sister had bumped her head against the wall, nobody dared to say anything. They continued their journey in silence until evening, when they built a large fire and slept behind a sand dune.

Miejue Shitai sat motionless with her gaze fixed on the fire, she looked like a stone statue. Seeing their Shifu had not slept, nobody dared to sleep. In this way they waited for more than two hours. Suddenly Miejue Shitai thrust both of her palms forward, creating a blast of strong wind. ‘Bang!’ the bonfire died down at once.

Everybody was still sitting motionless. The cold moon cast its clear light on everybody’s shoulders. Suddenly a sad feeling crept into Zhang Wuji’s heart. “Will Emei Pai’s awe-inspiring prestige collapse completely in this western region? Will they suffer a total defeat from the enemy?” he mused. He also thought, “Whatever happens, I must save Miss Zhou, but the Devil Cult’s people are this fierce, what can I do to save others?”

Suddenly he heard Miejue Shitai shout, “Kill the demon fire, extinguish the devil fire!” And then after a brief pause she continued slowly, “The Devil Cult regards the fire as sacred, reveres the fire as deity. After the death of their thirty-third generation Jiaozhu [Cult Leader] Yang Dingtian, the Devil Cult does not have any Jiaozhu. Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness, Four Great Hu Jiao Fa Wang, Five Wanderers, as well as the Five Flag Leaders of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth Flags, all covet this Jiaozhu position so much so that they fight and massacre each other, and thus the Devil Cult became weak. Although each of the upright major sects is prosperous, I believe it is not easy at all to seek the destruction of this demonical and heretical people if they are not inthe midst of this internal strife.”

[Translator’s note: here I repeat my note in chapter 30: ‘hu jiao fa wang’ (‘hu’ – protect, ‘jiao’ – Cult, ‘fa’ – law, ‘wang’ – king) has been translated as ‘Protector King’ throughout this novel. I believe the more accurate translation should be ‘Protector of the Cult, Law Enforcement King’, or ‘Judge’. The same ‘fa wang’ was translated ‘imperial priest’, as in Jin Lun Fa Wang, in Shen Diao Xia Lu – RoCH; in different story, it is also translated as ‘Dharma King. I am going to keep using the term ‘Protector King’, interchangeably with ‘fa wang’ for the remainder of this novel; I just want the readers to know that the term carries a broader sense than simply ‘Protector King.’]

Zhang Wuji had heard the name ‘Devil Cult’ ever since he was little, but because his own mother was somehow related to the Devil Cult, each time he asked, his parents did not look too happy. When he asked his Yifu, his Yifu would stare blankly as if he was entranced, then all of a sudden he would be thrown into a violent rage. For this reason, he had never known what the Devil Cult was. Later, when he was with Tai Shifu Zhang Sanfeng, who also abhorred the Devil Cult, whenever he brought it up, Tai Shifu would earnestly warned him, telling him to never, ever, mess with the Devil Cult people or make friends with them. However, Zhang Wuji then met Hu Qingniu, Wang Nan’gu, Chang Yuchun, Xu Da, Zhu Yuanzhang, and other warriors, which were all Devil Cult people. These people were generous, just and loyal; they might not necessarily evil. It was just that their actions were sometimes underhanded that to the outsiders they were often unfathomable. This moment, as he listened to Miejue Shitai talk about the Devil Cult, he perked up at once and listened attentively.

Miejue Shitai continued, “The Devil Cult’s previous generations’ Jiaozhu had always passed on the Sheng Huo Ling [lit. the order of the sacred fire] to the next generation as their token of authority. But to the thirty-first generation Jiaozhu, God rest his soul, the Sheng Huo Ling was somehow vanished without a trace. Hence the thirty-second and thirty-third generations Jiaozhu did not have this token of authority, and thus these two Jiaozhu led the Cult quite reluctantly. Yang Dingtian died suddenly. Nobody knows whether he was poisoned or fell under the enemy’s plot, but he did not have enough time to appoint his successor. The number of highly-skilled devil-heads within the Devil Cult is truly not a few; there are at least five, six people who are qualified to be the Jiaozhu. You don’t submit to me, I won’t yield to you; and thus internally they are in a big chaos. Until today, they still do not have any Jiaozhu. The one we met today also wanted to be the Jiaozhu. He is one of the Devil Cult’s Four Great Protector Kings, Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao.”

The disciples had never heard the name Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao before, they stayed silent.

Miejue Shitai continued, “This man has never set foot on the Central Plains; the way the Devil Cult’s people handle matters is also extremely surreptitious. For this reason, although this man’s martial art skill is strong, he does not have the least bit of fame in the Central Plains. But I am sure you all know about the Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king] Yin Tianzheng and Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun, two people, don’t you?”

Zhang Wuji shivered inwardly. Zhu’er softly exclaimed in surprise, ‘Ah!’ Yin Tianzheng and Xie Xun’s reputation was so widespread that nobody in the Wulin world could claim that they had never heard those names.

“Shifu,” Jing Xuan asked, “Are those two also belong to the Devil Cult?”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, “Of course they belong to the Devil Cult, what else? ‘Mo Jiao Si Wang, Zi Bai Jin Qing’ [The Devil Cult’s Four Kings: Purple White Gold and Green], Zi Shan Long Wang [purple-robed dragon king], Bai Mei Ying Wang, Jin Mao Shi Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang are the Devil Cult’s four kings. The Green Wing is ranked the last, yet today all of you have seen his skill with your own eyes; you can imagine the skills of Zi Shan Long Wang, Bai Mei Ying Wang and Jin Mao Shi Wang. Jin Mao Shi Wang has gone insane and has done many despicable things. More than twenty years ago he suddenly went on killing the innocents indiscriminately. Finally he disappeared and his whereabouts became Wulin world’s big mystery. Yin Tianzheng failed to be the Devil Cult’s Jiaozhu, in his anger he founded another Tian Ying Cult [Heavenly Eagle]. His sickness was that he craved to be a Jiaozhu. I know that since Yin Tianzheng has forsaken the Devil Cult, he became like water and fire with the Brightness Peak. Who would have thought that when the Brightness Peak is facing a calamity, they still ask the Heavenly Eagle Cult for help?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was in chaos; he had known early on that his foster father and (maternal) grandfather’s conduct was heretical, which most of orthodox people would not tolerate; but he had never thought that those two people were actually the Devil Cult’s Protector Kings.

While being busy with his thoughts, he did not hear what the Emei disciples were talking. A little while later he heard Miejue Shitai continue, “We, the Six Major Sects, are currently in a mission to destroy the Brightness Peak. We will prevail. Even if the demons and witches are united, what do we fear? It’s just that during the battle, many will be injured or dead. No one must have a faint heart; we should not rely on luck. If fear overcomes our hearts, then we will degrade Emei Pai’s power and prestige in the presence of our enemy.” The disciples jumped to their feet at once. They bowed in compliance.

Miejue Shitai continued, “Whether one’s martial art skill is strong or weak, it all depends on talent and destiny, we cannot force it at all. Before Jing Xu even had a chance to launch a stance, she had fallen under the enemy’s scheme and died in the hands of that blood-sucking demon. Nobody can sneer at her. What is the purpose of training martial arts? Is it not to rob the rich and give it to the poor, to destroy the demons and devils? Today Jing Xu was the first to die. Who knows? Perhaps the second one will be your own Shifu. Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, Kunlun, Kongtong and Huashan, the Six Major Sects’ mission is to besiege and destroy the Devil Cult. We, the Emei Pai, have earlier disregarded good luck or bad luck, disaster or happiness …”

In his heart Zhang Wuji thought, “Our Wudang is indeed among them.” Deep in his heart he felt that his journey to the west this time would bring him to see countless wretched disasters, which eyes could not near to see, and ears could not bear to hear. And thus he seriously considered taking Zhu’er to escape so that they would not have to witness the war and massacre among the Jianghu people.

In the meantime, Miejue Shitai said, “The proverb says it well: ‘A thousand coffins go out the door, the home prospers. The children survive, the father dies first; and thus the descendants mourn their ancestors.’ [Translator’s note: this is a literal translation of the text. I am not sure about the background of this saying. Any help will be greatly appreciated.] Who in the world would not die? As long as we leave behind our successors, we can still prosper even though there are hundreds or thousands of deaths in the family. I am only afraid that you will all die and leave the old nun live alone.” She paused for a moment before continuing, “Hey, hey, even if that happens, I will have no regrets. A hundred years ago, was it not that Emei Pai did not even exist? As long as every one of us is fighting with everything we have, wouldn’t that be enough if Emei Pai had to meet its destruction?”

With boiling blood, the disciples’ drew out their weapons and responded in loud voices, “Disciples vow to fight to the death; we will not co-exist with the people of demonic way.”

Miejue Shitai laughed drily and said, “Very good! You may sit down!”

Although the majority of Emei Pai disciples were weak women, Zhang Wuji had to admit that they possessed heroic spirits, which enable them to brave death without frowning. He thought that it was not by accident that Emei Pai was considered one of the Six Major Sects, and certainly not only because of their superiority in martial arts. Witnessing this scene, he was reminded of how Jing Ke went west to enter the Qin [Jing Ke was supposedly the would-be assassin of King Ying Zheng of Qin], with the sadness of ‘the mournful wind rippled the cold water, the warrior departed on a one-way mission.’

Actually, these words should be spoken before they embarked on this mission, while they were still thinking that the Devil Cult was weakened by internal strife that it would be easily destroyed with just a raise of the hand. They had not anticipated that in the middle of disintegration, the demons of the Devil Cult were still able to join hands in resisting outsiders’ invasion. Now that Qing Yi Fu Wang had made his move, the situation was substantially different.

Sure enough, Zhang Wuji heard Miejue Shitai say, “If Qing Yi Fu Wang could come, then Bai Mei Ying Wang and Jin Mao Shi Wang could also come. The possibility of Zi Shan Long Wang, the Five Wanderers, and the Five Flag Commanders to come is even greater. We, the Six Major Sects, originally thought that with our combined forces, we would be able to destroy Guangming Zuo Shi [the Left Emissary of the Brightness] Yang Xiao first, then sweep out the other demons one by one. Who would have thought that this time the prediction of Huashan Pai’s Shen Ji Xiansheng [Mr. Divine Strategist], Xianyu Zhang Men’s [Sect Leader Xianyu] is inaccurate? Hey, hey, he is totally off the mark.”

Jing Xuan asked, “What kind of evil devil-head is that Zi Shan Long Wang?”

Miejue Shitai shook her head. “Zi Shan Long Wang’s evil conduct is obscure; I myself only heard bits and pieces about him. I heard when this person failed to be the Jiaozhu, he immediately escaped to the distant overseas and no longer communicated with the Devil Cult. It would be best if he stays out of this. ‘Mo Jiao Si Wang, Zi Bai Jin Qing’. This person is the chief among the Four Kings, needless to say, he is the most difficult to be dealt with. Other than Yang Xiao, the Devil Cult has another Emissary of the Brightness. From generation to generation, the Devil Cult has always had Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness, whose positions are above the Four Hu Jiao Fa Wang. Yang Xiao is the Guangming Zuo Shi [Left Emissary of the Brightness]; but the name of the Guangming You Shi [Right Emissary of the Brightness] is actually unknown to the people of the Wulin world. Kong Zhi Dashi [reverend] of Shaolin Pai and Song Yuanqiao, Song Daxia [great hero] of Wudang Pai, both are warriors with vast experience and knowledge, but even they did not know it. Yang Xiao is our enemy; in a frontal battle, victory or defeat will be decided by our martial art skill, which is fine with me. My main concern is if that Guangming You Shi suddenly launches a sneak attack.”

The disciples were scared; without realizing it, they turned their heads around as if that Right Emissary of the Brightness or the Purple-robed Dragon King suddenly came and launched a sneak attack. Under the cold moonlight, everybody’s face looked deathly pale.

Miejue Shitai indifferently said, “Yang Xiao killed your Gu Hongzi Shibo [martial (older) uncle], he also killed Ji Xiaofu. Wei Yixiao killed Jing Xu. Between Emei Pai and the Devil Cult there is an enmity as high as the heavens. Since our Sect was founded by Guo Zushi [ancestor master], the Zhang Men position has always been held by a virgin woman. Not to mention that a man will not have any part in this position, even a woman, if she is married, cannot hold the Zhang Men position. However, today our Sect is facing a life and death, exist or perish situation; how can I adhere strictly to the norms? In this mission, whoever set a great merit will inherit my cassock and alms bowl, I don’t care if it is a man or a married woman.”

The disciples hang their heads in silence; they felt their Shifu was making an arrangement for things to do after her death, discussing the appointment of her successor, as if she knew that she would not return to the Central Earth alive. In everybody’s hearts there was a third part of uncomfortable, mournful feeling.

Miejue Shitai let out a long, loud laughter, “Ha ha, ha ha …” her voice travelled far into the distant over the great desert. The disciples looked at each other in a start; inwardly feeling scared. Miejue Shitai waved her sleeve and loudly said, “Everybody, sleep!”

As usual, Jing Xuan arranged the night watch.

“No need for night watch,” Miejue Shitai said.

Jing Xuan was startled, but then she understood. If a master of Green-winged Bat King’s caliber attacked in the middle of the night, how could the disciple find out? Night watch would be futile.

That evening the Emei Pai seemed relaxed outwardly, but very tense inwardly; they seemed to be scattered loose, but actually in a very tight formation, ready for any unanticipated matter.