The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 18

Cold edge of the flying Heaven-relying longsword.

The next day they continued their journey westward and did not stop for more than a hundred ‘li’. It was around midday, the sun was shining brightly overhead, although it was the depth of the winter, they felt hot.

Continuing after the rest, suddenly they heard faint noises of weapons clashing and people shouting, coming from the northwest direction. Without waiting for Jing Xuan to give an order, everybody quickened their steps, rushing toward the noise. Shortly afterwards, they saw ahead that several people were dodging and attacking in a violent battle. When they were near, they saw three Taoist priests in white robes with weapons in their hands were surrounding a middle-aged man. The three Taoist priests’ left sleeves were embroidered with red blazing flame; apparently they were Devil Cult disciples. The middle-aged man brandished a long sword, the sword’s ray flickered; he fought the three Taoist priests intensely. With one against three, he did not show any sign of defeat.

Zhang Wuji’s legs were already healed for some time, but he still pretended that he could not walk, so he stayed on the sled so that the Emei Pai people would not guard against him, while he waited for a good opportunity to take Zhu’er and escape. Right now, an Emei male disciple was standing in front of him, blocking his view that he had to lean over to see the four people fighting. He saw the middle-aged man’s sword was getting faster and faster. Suddenly the man turned around and shouted. ‘Shua!’ his sword slashed one Devil Cult’s Taoist priest’s chest.

The Emei disciples cheered. Zhang Wuji could not restrain himself from calling out in surprise. The move was called ‘shun shui tui zhou’ [lit. push the boat along the current]; it was a unique skill from the Wudang’s sword techniques, because the middle-aged man who launched the stance was precisely Wudang Pai’s Sixth Hero, Yin Liting.

The Emei disciples watched the battle from a distance and did not step out to help at all. As the other two Devil Cult Taoist priests saw one man down from their side, and the enemy had increased in number, their hearts sank. With a sudden whistle they ran separately, one to the north, the other to the south.

Yin Liting flew to pursue the Taoist priest running to the south. His feet were a lot faster; only seven, eight steps later, he had already reached the Taoist priest’s back. The Taoist priest turned around and brandished his pair of sabers wildly; staking everything he had with the intention to take the enemy down with him.

The Emei Pai disciples realized it would be difficult for Yin Liting to chase two enemies at once; the Taoist priest who ran to the north’s ‘qing gong’ was not bad either, he ran faster and faster. It appeared that even if Yin Liting managed to kill the Taoist priest who ran to the south, he would not be able to turn around to chase and kill the one running to the north. There was an enmity as deep as the ocean between Emei disciples and Devil Cult people; everybody looked at Jing Xuan, waiting for her to issue the order to block the escaping enemy. Most of the female disciples were good friends of Ji Xiaofu; they all thought that had it not because of the crime of Devil Cult’s villain, this Sixth Hero of Wudang would have been their Sect’s in-law. This moment they all hoped to lend him a helping hand.

Jing Xuan was also hesitating; she thought that the Sixth Hero of Wudang held a prominent position within the Wulin world, if he did not ask for help and other people rashly put out their hands, it would be disrespectful for him. That was the reason she did not immediately issue the order to intercept; she would rather the Taoist priest escape than offending the Wudang’s Yin Liuxia [sixth hero].

Suddenly they all saw a bright ray flashed, the sword in Yin Liting’s hand flew to the north. Swift like the wind, fast like a lightning, it shot toward the Taoist priest’s back. The Taoist priest suddenly felt this incoming attack, but by the time he was about to evade, the sword had already penetrated his heart, through his body, and still flew forward. The Taoist priest’s feet did not stop; he still ran at least two ‘zhang’ forward before finally he fell, dead. The sword was still flying for three more ‘zhang’ after going through the Taoist priest before it also fell to the ground. The blade flickered under the bright sunlight as the sword stuck straight up in the sand. Although it was only an object without a life or a mind of its own, the sword carried an awe-inspiring divine power.

Seeing this hair-rising scene, there was not a single person among the spectators who was not shaken to the core; they were speechless for half a day. When they remembered to turn their heads back, they saw the Taoist priest fighting Yin Liting was shaking and swaying just like a drunk. He threw his pair of sabers to the ground, and hands were grabbing wildly the empty air. Yin Liting simply ignored him; he walked toward the Emei Pai party. He had just walked for several steps when the Taoist priest uttered a stifled grunt and fell with his face upward, and stopped moving altogether. Nobody saw with what technique Yin Liting had struck him.

The Emei Pai disciples were loudly cheering and clapping. Even Miejue Shitai nodded her head before heaving a deep sigh. Perhaps with her sigh she was saying: Wudang Pai had this kind of excellent disciple, my Emei Pai did not have this accomplished disciple. But perhaps she was saying: Xiaofu was unfortunate not to be able to marry this man but fell under the hands of a Devil Cult lecherous disciple. In Miejue Shitai’s mind, Ji Xiaofu was killed by Yang Xiao, it was not her who struck her to death.

The call ‘Liu Shishu’ [sixth martial (younger) uncle] was already on Zhang Wuji’s lips, but he swallowed it back. Among his martial uncles, Yin Liting was the one closest to his father, therefore, he also had always treated him with parental love. When he looked at this sixth uncle, whom he had not seen for nine years, he saw a face battered with wind and dust, the hair on his temples was graying out. Zhang Wuji presumed Ji Xiaofu’s death had given him a tremendous blow.

As he saw a close relative after a long period of separation, Zhang Wuji’s first urge was to rush forward and greet him, but finally he thought that in front of too many people, he could not blurt out the truth and should avoid provoking endless trouble later on. Although Zhou Zhiruo knew his real identity, he did not think she would reveal it to others.

Yin Liting bowed and saluted Miejue Shitai. “My humble Sect’s Da Shixiong [first martial brother], leading a number of his martial brothers and the third generation disciples, thirty-two people altogether, have arrived at the frontline’s canyon bank. Wanbei [younger generation – referring to self] is under Da Shixiong’s order to welcome your honorable Sect,” he said.

“Good,” Miejue Shitai replied, “Wudang has arrived first. Have you had any contact with the demons?”

“We have battled the Devil Cult’s Wood and Fire, two Flags, three times,” Yin Liting said, “We have killed several demons, but Qi Shidi [seventh martial (younger) brother] Mo Shenggu suffers a light wound.”

Miejue Shitai nodded. She knew that although Yin Liting spoke lightly, these three battles must be exceptionally fierce and heavy, such that with Wudang’s five heroes’ ability, they still failed to kill the Devil Cult’s Flag Leaders and the Seventh Hero Mo Shenggu even sustained injury.

“Has your honorable Sect ascertained the strength of the Brightness Peak yet?” Miejue Shitai asked further.

Yin Liting said, “We heard the Heavenly Eagle Cult and other Devil Cult’s branches carried a massive operation to support the Brightness Peak, yet some others say that Zi Shan Long Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang have also arrived.”

Miejue Shitai was startled. “Zi Shan Long Wang has also arrived?” she asked.

The two of them were talking while walking side by side, with the Emei disciples followed from a distance; they did not dare to listen to these two people’s discussion. After talking for a while, Yin Liting raised his cupped fists to take his leave, as he needed to make contact with the Huashan Pai.

“Yin Liuxia,” Jing Xuan called out, “You have been busy running around; you must be hungry. Would you eat some light refreshments before continuing your journey?”

Yin Liting was not shy, he said, “In that case I will bother you.”

The Emei heroines immediately took out the provisions; some piled sand and built fire to cook noodles in an iron pot. Their meals were simple, but they were very attentive in entertaining Yin Liting; naturally it was for the deceased Ji Xiaofu’s sake. Yin Liting understood their intention; with moist eyes and choking voice he said, “Many thanks to you all, Shijie, Shimei.”

Zhu’er had been waiting silently on the side, right now she suddenly said, “Yin Liuxia, may I inquire of you about somebody?”

With a bowl of noodle in his hand, Yin Liting turned his head around and said, “I wonder what the honored name of this Xiao Shimei is [little martial (younger) sister? And who is it you wish to inquire about? If I have the information, I will certainly share it with you.” His manner was very cordial.

“I don’t belong to the Emei Pai,” Zhu’er said, “I am their prisoner.”

At first Yin Liting thought she was Emei Pai’s young disciple; hearing her said so, he could not help but be a bit surprised. But thinking that the girl was very frank, he asked pointedly, “Are you of the Devil Cult?”

“No,” Zhu’er said, “I am a Devil Cult’s enemy.”

Yin Liting did not have time to ask her origin in details; to respect the host, he cast a questioning look at Jing Xuan.

Jing Xuan said, “What is it that you want to inquire of Yin Liuxia?”

Zhu’er said, “I want to inquire: is your honorable Shixiong, Zhang Cuishan, Zhang Wuxia [fifth hero Zhang] also come to the frontline’s canyon bank?”

As soon as they heard this question, Yin Liting and Zhang Wuji were gob-smacked. “What do you want by inquiring about my Wu Shige?” Yin Liting asked.

With a blushing face Zhu’er replied in a low voice, “I only want to know if his son, Zhang Wuji, also came with him.”

Zhang Wuji was even more startled. “She knows my real identity,” he thought, “and is going to expose it to everybody.”

“Are you telling the truth?” Yin Liting asked.

“I am sincerely inquiring of the Yin Liuxia,” Zhu’er said, “How could I dare to deceive you?”

“My Wu Shige has passed away more than ten years ago,” Yin Liting said, “The tree by his grave has arched over it. Could it be that Miss does not know it?”

Zhu’er sprang up with a start. “Ah,” she exclaimed, “Turns out Zhang Wuxia has already passed away. So … he … he has become an orphan early on.”

“Does Miss know my nephew Wuji?” Yin Liting asked.

Zhu’er said, “Five years ago, I met him once at the Butterfly Valley’s Divine Doctor Hu Qingniu’s house. I don’t know where he is right now.”

Yin Liting said, “Receiving my Master’s instruction, I also went to the Butterfly Valley to find him, but Hu Qingniu, husband and wife had been killed, while Wuji disappeared without a trace. Afterwards, I went around seeking him, without finding any information about him. Ay, who would have thought … who would have thought …” Speaking to this point, his expression turned sad, and he did not continue.

“What?” Zhu’er hastily said, “What bad news did you hear?”

Yin Liting stared at her. “Why are you so concerned about him, Miss?” he asked, “That nephew of mine, Wuji, did he have kindness with you, or enmity?”

Zhu’er turned her gaze to a distant place; she quietly said, “I wanted him to come with me to the Lingshe Island [spirit snake] …”

“Lingshe Island?” Yin Liting cut her off, “What relation do you have with Jin Hua Popo [Golden Flower Granny] and Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf]?”

Zhu’er did not answer, she continued as if she was talking to herself, “… not only he was not willing, he hit me, scolded me, and bit my palm bloody …” Her left hand gently stroke the back of her right hand, “… but … but … I am still thinking about him. I did not want to harm him, I wanted him to come to the Lingshe Island. Popo would teach him a martial art skill with which he could be healed of the cold poison of the Xuan Ming Shen Zhang [black/mysterious and dark/deep divine palm] in his body. Who would have thought that he was so vicious; he regarded other’s good intentions as bad ones.”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was in turmoil; it was the first time he knew: “Turns out Zhu’er is Ah Li who grabbed me in the Butterfly Valley. The boyfriend who is always in her mind is me.” Casting a sidelong glance, he saw her bumpy cheeks. Where did the beauty he saw on her face when they first met? But her eyes were like limpid autumn water; clear, pure and bright, just like he remembered it after all those years.

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “I hear her Shifu, Jin Hua Popo, also have some enmity with the Devil Cult. But Jin Hua Popo is certainly not an upright person, and this is not a good time for us to start a feud with her. For now, let’s just detain her.”

“Hm, so that’s how it is,” Yin Liting said, “Miss, you had good intentions toward my nephew Wuji, it’s a pity that he was so unfortunate. I came across Wu Zhuangzhu [village/manor master] Wu Lie of the Zhu and Wu combined manor recently. I learned that more than five years ago, Wuji lost his footings and fell into a ten-thousand ‘zhang’ deep ravine; his body and bones did not survive. Ay, the love between his father and I was like hand and foot; who would have thought that the Emperor of Heaven did not bless a well-doer, such that even his only flesh and blood …” He had not finished speaking when with a thud Zhu’er fell backward as she lost consciousness.

Zhou Zhiruo quickly propped her up and massaged her chest for quite a while before Zhu’er regained consciousness. Zhang Wuji was extremely grieved seeing Yin Liting and Zhu’er heart-broken like this, yet he steeled himself to stay out of this matter. When he looked up, he saw that Zhou Zhiruo was staring at him with a questioning look, apparently she was wondering, “How come she does not recognize you?” Zhang Wuji realized that over the last several years, his stature and appearance had undergone huge changes. Zhou Zhiruo would not recognize him as well if he did not mention the Hanshui River boat affair first.

Biting her lips, Zhu’er asked, “Yin Liuxia, who harmed Zhang Wuji?”

“Nobody did,” Yin Liting answered, “Wu Lie of the Zhu and Wu combined manor said that he personally witness Wuji lost his footing on his own and fell into the ravine. Wu Lie’s sworn brother, ‘One Pen Shaking the Heavens’ Zhu Changling also fell and died together with him.” Zhu’er heaved a deep sigh and sat back down dejectedly.

“Miss, what is your honorable surname and great given name?” Yin Liting asked.

Zhu’er only shook her head in daze, as tears streaming down her face. Suddenly she threw herself on the sandy ground and cried miserably.

“Don’t be sad, Miss,” Yin Liting consoled her, “Even if my nephew Wuji had not fallen into that snowy canyon, the cold poison in his body would have flared up by now, it would still be difficult for him to escape calamity. Ay, he fell with a smashed body and shattered bones, that might not necessarily a bad fortune. It sure beats the heavy and endless torture of the cold poison in his body.”

Miejue Shitai suddenly said, “It was better for this breed of sin Zhang Wuji to die early; otherwise he would just be a source of harm to mankind.”

Zhu’er was angry. “Old Thief Nun,” she roared, “What nonsense are you blabbering about?”

Hearing her unexpectedly dared to insult their venerated master, four or five the Emei disciples immediately drew their swords and pointed the tips to her back.

Zhu’er was not scared at all; she still shouted curses, “Old Thief Nun, Zhang Wuji’s father was this Yin Liuxia’s Shixiong [martial brother]; his chivalry and prestige spread all over the world. What’s not good about him?”

Miejue Shitai laughed coldly without answering. Jing Xuan said, “Watch what you are saying. Zhang Wuji’s father was no doubt a disciple of an upright and prestigious school, but what about his mother? He was the son of a Devil Cult witch. If he was not a breed of sin, the source of harm to the mankind, then what is he?”

“Who was Zhang Wuji’s mother?” Zhu’er asked, “Why did you say she was a Devil Cult witch?”

The Emei disciples broke into raucous laughter; only Zhou Zhiruo lowered her head and looked at the ground. Yin Liting looked quite awkward. Zhang Wuji’s face was flushed with fury, his eyes red and brimming with tears; if he had not made up his mind to hide his true identity, he would have stood up and defended his mother.

Jing Xu was more honest and considerate; she explained to Zhu’er, “Zhang Wuxia’s wife was Heavenly Devil Cult’s Cult Leader, Yin Tianzheng’s daughter; her name was Yin Susu …”

“Ah,” Zhu’er exclaimed; her countenance changed greatly.

Jing Xu added, “Because Zhang Wuxia took this witch as his wife, he brought ruin and shame upon himself and slashed his own throat on Mount Wudang. This matter was widely known all over the world. Could it be that Miss was not aware?”

“I … I lived on the Lingshe Island, and have never heard anything about the Wulin world affairs of the Central Plains,” Zhu’er said.

“Alright, then,” Jing Xuan said, “You have offended my Shifu. Quickly apoligize.”

But Zhu’er still asked, “That Yin Susu, where is she?”

“She died together with Zhang Wuxia,” Jing Xu replied.

Zhu’er’s body trembled. “She … she also died?” she asked.

“Do you know Yin Susu?” Jing Xuan wondered.

Right this moment they saw on the northeast horizon a blue flame shot up to the sky. “Aiyo!” Yin Liting said, “My nephew Qingshu is surrounded by the enemy.” Turning around, he bowed to take his leave from Miejue Shitai then raised his cupped fists to everybody else and immediately dashed towards the direction of the blue flame.

Jing Xuan waved her hand; Emei disciples immediately followed. When they got near, they saw that three men were besieging a young man. The three men were wearing hats and dressed like servants, each one had a saber in his hand. The people only watched the fight for several stances and they were secretly shocked. Although these three men were dressed like servants, their movements were ruthless and fierce, not at all inferior to top ranking martial artists. It seemed like their martial art skills were a lot stronger than the three Taoist priests killed by Yin Liting. They were attacking the young man dressed in scholar attire in rotation; one by one they took turns in engaging the young scholar in close combat. The scholar had fallen into a greatly disadvantageous situation, but the sword in his hand still formed a tight defense.

By these four fiercely fighting men stood six men wearing yellow robes, their robes were embroidered with red blazing flame; obviously they were Devil Cult people. These six men stood out of the way and did not take part in the battle. As soon as they saw Yin Liting and the Emei disciples arrive, a stout man among the six called out, “Yin Jia Xiongdi [brothers of the Yin family], you have failed. Just run with your tails between your legs, Laozi [old man or ‘your father’ (vulgar term), referring to self] will cover your back.”

One of the men in servant attire angrily said, “Hou Tu [thick earth] Flag crawls the slowest. The one surnamed Yan, why don’t you run away first?”

Jing Xuan coldly said, “Death is knocking on your door, and you are still squabbling among yourselves?”

“Shijie,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “Who are those people?”

“Those wearing the servant attire are Yin Tianzheng’s servants,” Jing Xuan replied, “They are called Yin Wufu [without luck/prosperity], Yin Wulu [without good fortune], and Yin Wushou [without long life].”

Zhou Zhiruo was astonished. “Three servants, and yet they are this … this good?” she asked.

“Originally they were famous big robbers of the underworld; they are not ordinary people at all,” Jing Xuan replied, “Those in yellow robes are the Hou Tu Flag demons of the Devil Cult. Perhaps the stout one is Yan Yuan, the Flag Leader of the Hou Tu Flag. Shifu said that the five flag leaders of the Devil Cult clashed with the Heavenly Devil Cult over the Jiaozhu position; they don’t get along with each other …”

By this time the young scholar had repeatedly fallen into dangerous situations. With a ‘Rip!’ his left sleeve was cut by the saber in Yin Wushou’s hand. Yin Liting let out a clear whistle, his sword went straight to Yin Wulu. Yin Wulu swept his saber horizontally across his chest to block. The saber and the sword collided. By this time, Yin Liting had already possessed abundant internal energy; it was not a small matter at all. ‘Slap!’ Yin Wulu’s saber was shaken and bent, it turned into a square tool.

Yin Wulu was shocked; he leaped three steps sideways. Suddenly Zhu’er leaped toward him, her right index finger stretched out and pierced the back of Yin Wulu’s neck, and then she leaped back to her previous position at once. Yin Wulu’s martial art skill was not superficial at all, but under Yin Liting’s internal energy attack, the ‘chi’ and blood in his chest welled up. While he was still staggering, Zhu’er’s finger pierced him. Immediately he doubled up in pain and only managed to let out a soft grunt while his body shivered incessantly.

Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou were shocked; abandoning their fight with the young scholar, they rushed toward Yin Wulu to support him. They saw his body was twisted; obviously his injury was very heavy. They turned their gaze toward Zhu’er and suddenly exclaimed, “It is San Xiaojie [third miss].”

“Humph,” Zhu’er snorted, “You still recognize me?”

Everybody thought that these two men would certainly stake everything they got to fight Zhu’er; who would have thought that they picked Yin Wulu and without saying anything they rushed to the north.

This turn of events happened so suddenly that everybody was dumbstruck; they scratched their heads in confusion.

The stout man in yellow robe raised his left hand, in which there was a yellow flag. The other five men also waved their yellow flags. Although there were only six of them, the flags made noise just like a boar hunting party. They slowly retreated to the north with an imposing manner.

Seeing the strange flags, Emei disciples were taken aback. Two male disciples shouted and pursued. Yin Liting’s shadow swayed as he ran after them. He overtook them and cut their path. With arms straight to the front, he lightly pushed. The two men could not help but were pushed three steps back. Their faces immediately turned red.

Jing Xuan shouted, “Shidi [martial brothers], come back! Yin Liuxia’s intention is good. This Hou Tu Flag must not be pursued.”

Yin Liting said, “The day before yesterday Mo Qidi [seventh (younger) brother] and I chased the Lie Huo [raging inferno] Flag formation, and had to suffer a big defeat. Half of Mo Qidi’s hair and eyebrows were burned.” While saying that, he pulled his left sleeve up, showing a large red patch of burned skin. The two Emei male disciples could not help from feeling inwardly scared.

Miejue Shitai’s cold and penetrating eyes swept Zhu’er’s face. “Was that ‘qian zhu wan du shou’?” she coldly asked.

“Not perfect yet,”Zhu’er replied.

“What could you have done if it were perfect?” Miejue Shitai asked, “Why did you harm that man?”

“Too bad I couldn’t pierce him to death on the spot,” Zhu’er said.

“Why?” Miejue Shitai asked.

“It’s my business,” Zhu’er replied, “Why do you care?”

Miejue Shitai’s body slightly moved to the side; she took the sword from Jing Xuan’s hand. ‘Ding!’ Zhu’er busily leaped backward; her face turned paper white. Turned out in that split second Miejue Shitai had chopped her right hand index finger. Her hand was so swift that nobody was able to see it clearly. Because her broken wrist had not completely healed, Zhu’er’s hand was still weak; moreover, because her ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ had not been perfected yet, Zhu’er had put a refined steel cap on her finger before she made her move. Besides, the sword Miejue Shitai used was not Yitian Sword; therefore, to everybody’s surprise, this sword unexpectedly failed to cut her finger.

Miejue Shitai tossed the sword back to Jing Xuan. “Humph,” she snorted and said, “I’ll let you go this time. Next time you use this kind of malicious martial art, make sure you don’t fall into my hand.” Since her attack to a junior did not hit its target, true to her higher status, she was not willing to make another move.

Yin Liting saw the vicious and malicious the martial art Zhu’er practiced, which was his school’s big taboo. However, she had pierced Yin Wulu in her attempt to help his side; furthermore, he also saw her concern toward Zhang Wuji and how passionately she was devoted to him. In the end, he felt compassionate toward Zhu’er and did not want Miejue Shitai to injure her.

“Shishu [martial (younger) uncle],” he persuaded Miejue Shitai, “This child has learned the wrong kind of skill, we can slowly help her to learn from another great master. Hmm … perhaps … perhaps …” He was thinking that it would be best if Miejue Shitai was willing to accept her as an Emei disciple; but he remembered how this young girl had just called her ‘old thief nun’. Fortunately, he managed to stop in time and did not continue speaking. Beckoning to the young scholar to come over, he said, “Qingshu, quickly pay your respects to Shitai and to all Shibo and Shishu.”

The scholar hurriedly took three steps forward and knelt in front of Miejue Shitai. When he bowed to Jing Xuan, everybody continually called out ‘Do not dare’ and all of them returned his salute. Zhang Sanfeng’s age was close to a hundred years; in terms of seniority, he was actually more than one generation above Miejue Shitai. But because Yin Liting was engaged to Ji Xiaofu, he was considered one generation younger than Miejue Shitai. Supposing Zhang Sanfeng was considered of the same generation with the Emei Pai founder Guo Xiang then technically Miejue Shitai should call Yin Liting ‘Shishu’. Fortunately, Wudang and Emei were two distinct schools and neither one considered the seniority of the other school as important, so they address each other based on their age, regardless of the generational seniority. Therefore, when the young scholar called them as ‘Shibo’ and ‘Shishu’ [martial uncles], Jing Xuan and the others modestly declined.

Everybody had just witnessed his battle against the three Yin brothers; his movements were deliberate, his techniques were refined and wonderful, clearly he was a disciple of a prestigious school. Furthermore, although he was at a disadvantage under the three martial art masters’ attack, he still maintained his calm in resisting the enemy; he did not the least bit look panicked, which was not easy to do. Now that they met face to face, everybody could not help but secretly admire him. “What a handsome young man!” they thought. They could see that in his delicately handsome appearance, there was a third part of proud and imposing bearing, causing those who saw him to be impressed.

“This is my Da Shige’s only son,” Yin Liting said, “His name is Qingshu.”

Jing Xuan said, “For the last several years, the name and chivalrous deeds of Yu Mian Meng Chang [Jade-faced Meng Chang – emperor of the Later Shu kingdom, known for his aptitude in ruling the kingdom] is quite famous; the Jianghu people say that Song Shaoxia [young hero Song] is generous and vehement in upholding justice, always ready to deliver people from their distress. It is very fortunate to meet a revered model.” The crowd of Emei disciples murmured among themselves with the ‘he really lives up to his reputation’ look of admiration on their faces.

Zhu’er stood close to Zhang Wuji. “Ahniue Ge,” she said in low voice, “This man is a lot more handsome than you are.”

“Of course,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Do you need to mention it?”

“Are you jealous?” Zhu’er asked.

“Are you joking?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Why should I?”

“He is looking at your Miss Zhou,” Zhu’er said, “You are still not jealous?”

Zhang Wuji turned his attention to Song Qingshu, and sure enough, Song Qingshu was looking at Zhou Zhiruo; but Zhang Wuji did not care. After finding out that Zhu’er was indeed Ah Li whom he met at the Butterfly Valley that year, his heart was tumultuous. At that time Zhu’er was forcing him to come with her to the Lingshe Island, he had no choice but fiercely bite her hand because he could not free himself otherwise. Unexpectedly, she had never forgotten him all this time. He could not help but feeling very grateful.

“Qingshu,” he heard Yin Liting said, “Let’s go.”

Song Qingshu said, “Kongtong Pai has made an appointment to meet with us in this area by noon today, but they have not arrived yet until now; I am afraid they have met some set-back.”

Yin Liting looked worried. “I am afraid so,” he said.

“Yin Liushu,” Song Qingshu said, “I think it is better for us to travel together with the Emei Pai seniors to the west.”

“Very well,” Yin Liting nodded.

Miejue Shitai and Jing Xuan and the rest all thought, “For the last several years, Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren no longer deals with day-to-day business, Song Yuanqiao is the acting Zhang Men [sect leader] of Wudang. It looks like the third generation Zhang Men position will fall into this Song Shaoxia’s hand. Although Yin Liting is his Shishu, he heeds his advice.”

Actually, they did not know that Yin Liting was always easy-going; not often would he pull his rank on others, he very seldom opposed whatever other people suggested.

After travelling for about forty, fifty ‘li’, they saw a tall sand dune ahead of them. Seeing Song Qingshu quickly climb the sand dune, Jing Xuan waved her left hand and two Emei disciples quickly followed. They did not want to be outdone by the Wudang Pai. As the three of them climbed over the sand dune, they cried out in alarm, because to the west of the sand dune there were about thirty bodies scattered on the sand.

Hearing the cry, everybody rushed to climb the sand dune. They noticed that all the corpses, young and old alike, if their skulls were not shattered, then their chests were smashed in; apparently they were all struck by a large blunt object.

Yin Liting had a vast experience; he said, “The Poyang [name of a city/county] Clan of Jiangxi has been wiped out by the Ju Mu [Gigantic Wood] Flag of the Devil Cult.”

Miejue Shitai frowned. “Why did the Poyang Clan come over here?” she asked, “Did your honorable Pai invite them?” She did not sound too happy. The prestigious schools of the Wulin world had always been discriminatory against the clans and societies [‘bang’ and ‘hui’]; Miejue Shitai did not want to mingle with them.

Yin Liting busily said, “We did not. But Poyang Clan’s Liu Bangzhu [Clan Leader] is a disciple of Kongtong Pai. They must have heard the Six Major Sects are besieging the Brightness Peak, and then volunteered to come and help their school.

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted; no longer saying anything.

The disciples buried the bodies of the Poyang Clan people in the sand. They were about to continue their journey when suddenly the grave farthest to the west split open; from beneath the sand flew a person, who grabbed a male disciple and ran away. The rest of the people were so frightened that they were at a loss; about seven, eight Emei female disciples screamed. But they saw that Miejue Shitai, Yin Liting, Song Qingshu and Jing Xuan had already run after that person.

A short moment later everyone came to their senses; they realized now that the person jumping out of the grave must be Qing Yi Fu Wang of the Devil Cult. He must have put on Poyang Clan’s uniform, mixed himself among the corpses and stopped his breathing, pretended to be dead. The Emei disciples did not look carefully and had buried him in the sand. His skill was strong, and he had a lot of guts; so he did not immediately make his presence known. Luckily the sand was loose, so he had no problem holding his breath for a while. When he felt he had fooled them enough, he suddenly broke out of the grave.

At first, Miejue Shitai and the other, four people, were running abreast; but after making a large half circle, the difference in their skill levels became apparent. Two people were now running ahead of the other two; Yin Liting and Miejue Shitai in the front, Song Qingshu and Jing Xuan on the rear. But Qing Yi Fu Wang’s ‘qing gong’ was very strong; truly unparalleled in the world; even when he was carrying a man in his arms, how could Yin Liting and the others overtake him?

When they were about to circle the second time, Song Qingshu suddenly stopped and called out, “Zhao Lingzhu Shishu, Bei Jinyi Shishu, please outflank him from position ‘li’ [lit. leave/depart]; Ding Minjun Shishu, Li Mingxia Shishu, please cut him off from position ‘zhen’ [lit. shake/jolt; my dictionary also gives: symbolizing thunder in ‘ba gua’] …” He continuously shouted his order, instructing the more than thirty Emei disciples to occupy various positions according to Ba Gua [trigrams].

At that moment, the Emei people were like a dragon without a head; hearing the instructions he shouted with authority, everybody complied immediately. This way, Qing Yi Fu Wang was not able to circle freely; with a shrill laughter he tossed the man he had been carrying high to the sky, and then he sped away.

Miejue Shitai put out her hands to receive the disciple falling down, while Wei Yixiao’s voice came across the sandy desert from afar, “Unexpectedly Emei Pai has this kind of skilled man; Miejue Lao Ni [old nun] is truly amazing!” It was obvious that he was praising Song Qingshu.

When Miejue Shitai lowered her head to look at the disciple in her hands, she saw his throat was dripping with blood with two rows of teeth marks; he was definitely dead. Everybody stood around her; they were grieved beyond words.

After a long time, Yin Liting spoke up, “According to what I heard, each time this Qing Yi Fu Wang has to use his martial art, he has to suck fresh blood from a live human being. It looks like the rumor is not false. It’s too bad for this Shidi [martial (younger) brother] … ay …”

Miejue Shitai was ashamed and furious at the same time. Ever since she assumed the Sect Leader position, Emei Pai had never received this kind of significant setback; two of her disciples died in succession, their blood being sucked by the enemy, yet she could not even see the enemy’s appearance clearly.

After staring blankly for half a day, she turned her piercing gaze toward Song Qingshu and asked, “How do you know these many names of my disciples?”

“Jing Xuan Shishu introduced numerous Shishu to disciple,” Song Qingshu replied.

“Hey, photographic memory! [‘ru er bu wang’ – enter the ears not forget. How do you translate it without sounding awkward? ]” Miejue Shitai exclaimed, “Of course my Emei Pai does not have this kind of talent.”

When they stopped for the night that evening, Song Qingshu respectfully came to Miejue Shitai. He bowed and said, “Qianbei [senior, older generation], ‘wanbei’ [junior, younger generation] has a presumptuous request to ask.”

“If you know it is presumptuous, why ask?” Miejue Shitai coldly replied.

“Yes,” Song Qingshu respectfully replied. He bowed again and returned to sit next to Yin Liting.

Everybody heard he came to Miejue Shitai with a request, but when the request was declined, he did not talk too much; they were all curious: what was it that he wanted to ask? Finally Ding Minjun could not hold her patience.

“Song Xiongdi [brother],” she asked, “What is it that you want to ask my Shifu?”

Song Qingshu replied, “When my father taught ‘wanbei’ sword technique, he mentioned that among the sword experts of this age, our own school’s Shizu [ancestor master] is number one; next to him is Emei Pai Zhang Men Miejue ‘qianbei’. Father said, Wudang and Emei swordsmanship each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, our school’s ‘Shou Hui Wu Xian’ [hand brandishes five-stringed instrument] is very similar to your honorable Sect’s ‘Qing Luo Xiao Shan’ [light veil, small fan] with minor differences. But if the force on the sword’s blade is increased, the move loses its liveliness and agility, unlike the ‘Qing Luo Xiao Shan’, which can maintain its free and unrestrained character.” He was speaking and pulling out his sword at the same time, and then executed those two stances in succession; only when he launched the ‘Qing Luo Xiao Shan’, his movements were somewhat nondescript.

Ding Minjun laughed and said, “That’s not right.” Taking the sword from his hand, she demonstrated the stance for him and said, “My wrist is still in pain, I cannot exert my strength, but the movement should be like that.”

Song Qingshu gasped in admiration. He said, “Father always says that he is unfortunate never to see your revered master’s swordsmanship. Today ‘wanbei’ can see Ding Shishu’s ‘Qing Luo Xiao Shan’ stance, it truly is an eye opener for me. Wanbei was thinking of asking Shitai for some pointers to satisfy some doubts and suspicions in my heart. But wanbei is not your honorable Pai’s disciple; thereupon I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Miejue Shitai was sitting some distance away, but she heard everything he said. Hearing that Song Yuanqiao ranked her as number two in the world in terms of swordsmanship, she was satisfied. Zhang Sanfeng was considered the ‘tai shan bei dou’ [as weighty as Mount Tai, as brilliant as the Big Dipper] in the martial art study of the present age; everybody admired him. She had never had any desire to surpass this grand master who was rarely seen, at present, as well as in the past. For a Wudang main disciple to unexpectedly regard her swordsmanship as the most refined aside from Zhang Sanfeng, she could not help but feel very proud of herself. Seeing Ding Minjun executed the stance with only thirty, forty percent proficiency, she was displeased; how could the Emei Pai sword technique whose prestige had shaken the world was just like this? She stood up and came near immediately; without saying anything she took the sword from Ding Minjun’s hand. Lifting the sword so that it was level with her nose, she gently shook the sword that the blade made a buzzing noise. And then she moved the sword from right to left, again from left to right, the sword successively flashed nine times with an extraordinary speed, but each move was very clear. Seeing their master launched this amazing sword technique, the Emei disciple’s hearts were pounding and their palms were wet with perspiration.

“Excellent sword technique! Excellent sword technique!” Yin Liting called loudly, “Wonderful!”

Song Qingshu watched with rapt attention while holding his breath; inwardly he was frightened. At first he commended Emei sword technique just to flatter Miejue Shitai; who would have thought that as she executed the technique, it was unimaginably subtle and amazing that he could not help but submit to her wholeheartedly. After that, with all sincerity Song Qingshu asked for advice. Whatever he asked, Miejue Shitai would answer without reservation, so that she passed on more knowledge to him than to her own disciples. Song Qingshu’s mastery of the martial art was already high, he was also intelligent so he asked all the right questions.

Emei disciples sat around these two people. They watched their Shifu fully demonstrate each one of the sword techniques, every single one was exquisite, strange and subtle, amazing to the extreme. There were some disciples who had been with their Shifu for a dozen of years yet had never seen Shifu demonstrate such divine skill.

Zhang Wuji and Zhu’er stood far outside the circle; they felt it was inappropriate for them to watch Emei’s sword technique demonstration without authorization. Suddenly Zhu’er said to Zhang Wuji, “Ahniu Ge, if I can learn ‘qing gong’ like Qing Yi Fu Wang, I will die satisfied.”

“Why would you want to learn that kind of heretical skill?” Zhang Wuji said, “Yin Liu … Yin Liuxia said that each time this Wei Yixiao utilizes his martial art, he must drink human blood. Isn’t that demonical?”

“His martial art skill is good,” Zhu’er replied, “He managed to kill Emei Pai’s disciples. If his ‘qing gong’ was somewhat lacking, that Old Nun and her companions would have caught him and killed him; only they would not suck his blood. The end result is the same; sucking blood or not, what’s the difference? Upright prestigious school or heretical and demonic way, what’s different?”

For a moment Zhang Wuji could not find a right answer. Suddenly he saw a bright flash of a sword flying straight up to the sky from amidst the people. Turned out Song Qingshu was sparring with Miejue Shitai. During the fifth stance, ‘hei zhao ling hu’ [spirit fox of the black marsh], she shook Song Qingshu’s sword to the sky. This stance was created by Emei Pai’s founder, Guo Xiang to commemorate her adventure with Yang Guo when they went to the black marsh to catch the spirit fox.

As everybody looked up at the sword, they saw a yellow flame shot to the sky on the northeast, about a dozen ‘li’ away. “Kongtong Pai meets the enemy,” Yin Liting called out, “Let’s go and help.”

In this far away mission to the western region to besiege the Devil Cult this time, in order to conceal their operation, the Six Major Sects adopted a strategy of entering the enemy territory separately and then launch a converging attack from different directions. They had agreed on rockets in six different colors as their means of communicating with each other. Yellow rocket was Kongtong Pai’s signal.

Everybody immediately rushed toward the direction of the flame. They heard loud noises of combat, the sound was getting increasingly wretched; often times they would hear one or two people crying out as they met their deaths. When they reached the place, they were greatly shocked, because what they saw was a large scale massacre, an orgy of bloodshed. Both sides had several hundred people in the battle. Under the bright moon, the sabers and swords flicker as the combatants ignore death and overlook live in hard fighting.

As long as he lived, Zhang Wuji had never seen this kind of battle. He saw sabers and swords fly and dance in the air, blood spill and flesh cut open; truly it was a scene too horrible to endure. He did not wish for the Devil Cult to prevail, but also unwilling for Yin Liushu and his company to triumph over their opponent. One side was the Sect where his father came from, the other was his mother’s; but both sides were in an impossible-to-coexist kind of fierce battle. Each time he saw somebody was killed, his heart was shaken, a burst of grief rose up.

Yin Liting observed the battle for a moment and then said, “The enemy consists of Rui Jin [acute/sharp metal], Hong Shui [flooding water] and Lie Huo [raging inferno], three Flags. Hmm, Kongtong Pai is here, Huashan Pai has also arrived, and so has Kunlun Pai. Our side’s three Sects against the enemy’s three Flags. Qingshu, let’s go into the battle.” He waved his sword to split the air, making a buzzing noise.

“Wait,” Song Qingshu said, “Liushu, look on that side. There are still a large number of the enemy waiting for an opportunity to make their move.”

Following the direction of his hand, Zhang Wuji saw that there were three groups of riders clumped together in neat formation toward the east, several dozen ‘zhang’ away from the battlefield. Each group had a hundred men. Currently, the three Sects against three Flags on the battlefield were evenly matched, but if these three companies of the Devil Cult entered the battle, Kongtong, Huashan and Kunlun, three Sects would inadvertently suffer a crushing defeat. However, for an unknown reason, these three companies only held their reins without moving.

Miejue Shitai and Yin Liting were secretly alarmed. “Why don’t those people make their move?” Yin Liting asked Song Qingshu.

Song Qingshu shook his head, “I can’t think through,” he said.

Zhu’er suddenly laughed coldly. “What is it you cannot think through?” she said, “Nothing is clearer than this.”

Song Qingshu’s face reddened, but he did not say anything. Miejue Shitai wanted to open her mouth to ask, but finally she held her peace. Yin Liting said, “Would Miss please give us directions?”

Zhu’er said, “Those three groups are from the Heavenly Eagle Cult. Although the Heavenly Eagle Cult branched out from the Devil Cult, they have never been in good terms with the Five-Element Flags. If your party managed to wipe out the Five-Element Flags, the Heavenly Eagle Cult will be inwardly joyful. Perhaps Yin Tianzheng then can work his way to the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu position.”

Miejue Shitai instantly saw the light. Yin Liting said, “Thank you very much for your insight, Miss.”

Miejue Shitai stared at Zhu’er. She nodded her head while thinking, “Jin Hua Popo’s martial art skill is not weak. Who could have thought that this young disciple of hers is actually also quite good?”

By this time, the group of Emei disciples arrived one after another; they stood behind Miejue Shitai.

“Song Shaoxia,” Jing Xuan said, “Speaking about battle strategy, none of us could surpass your knowledge. Everybody will obey your command. We just want to kill the enemy. Please don’t be bashful.”

“Liushu, this … this …” Song Qingshu stammered, “How can nephew dare?”

“At a time like this you still pay particular attention to superficial politeness?” Miejue Shitai said, “Just issue your order.”

Song Qingshu saw the battle situation was urgent; fighting the Rui Jin Flag, Kunlun Pai seemed to have an upper hand, Huashan and Hong Shui seemed to be evenly matched, while Kongtong Pai seemed not able to hold with the Lie Huo Flag that surrounded them in the middle, slaughtering them left and right.

Song Qingshu said, “Let’s form three groups and charge down on Rui Jin Flag from three directions. Shitai with her team attack from the east, Liushu with his team attack from the west, Jing Xuan Shishu, wanbei and our team attack from the south …”

Jing Xuan was perplexed. “Kunlun Pai is not in a dire situation at all,” she said, “I think Kongtong Pai’s situation is extremely critical.”

“Kunlun Pai is already holding the upper hand,” Song Qingshu explained, “With our additional great fighting power, we thunder in to kill; we can annihilate the Rui Jin Flag in one stroke. The other two Flags will then be wasted and will scatter into the wind. If we help Kongtong, we will be locked into a harsh battle. The Heavenly Eagle Cult will then reap the benefit just like a fisherman spreading his net. Our effort will then be wasted.”

Jing Xuan was truly won over with admiration. “Song Shaoxia has said it well,” she said. She divided her martial brothers and sisters into three groups at once.

Zhu’er pulled Zhang Wuji’s sled away. “Let us go,” she said, “There is no advantage for us to stay in here.” She then turned around and started to move.

Song Qingshu quickly moved to overtake them, he blocked them with his sword across his chest. “Miss, please stop,” he called out.

“And why must I?” Zhu’er said.

“Miss’ origin is dubious,” Song Qingshu said, “I can’t let you go this easily.”

With a cold laugh Zhuer said, “So what if my origin is dubious? So what if it is not?”

Miejue Shitai’s heart was burning with impatience; she could not wait to set aside the Buddhist commandment against taking life immediately and kill the Devil Cult people neat and clean. Listening to Zhu’er and Song Qingshu bickering with each other, her shadow swayed and she had already reached Zhu’er. Her hand quickly sealed three major acupoints on Zhu’er’s back, waist and leg. Zhu’er’s martial art skill and Miejue Shitai’s differed too much; she was completely helpless against this attack. Her knees buckled and she fell down to the ground.

Miejue Shitai brandished her sword and shouted, “We are setting aside the commandment against taking life today; destroy the demons completely!” Along with Yin Liting and Jing Xuan, they charged toward the Rui Jin Flag from three different directions.

Kunlun Pai disciples, led by He Taichong and Ban Shuxian, had already occupied the dominant position against the Rui Jin Flag. With Emei and Wudang now joining the battle, their power multiplied. Miejue Shitai’s swordsmanship was swift and fierce beyond comparison; no one from the Ming Cult was able to hold her for more than three stances. Her big and tall figure was seen weaving through the enemies. Stabbing to the east and hacking to the west, in a very short time seven Ming Cult people lost their lives under her sword.

Realizing the dire circumstances, Zhuang Zheng, the Flag Leader of the Rui Jin Flag rushed to meet the enemy with his wolf-fang staff. Only then was Miejue Shitai’s advance slightly obstructed. After exchanging about ten stances, Miejue Shitai unleashed the full power of Emei swordsmanship; her sword was growing faster and stronger. But Zhuang Zheng’s martial art skill was highly refined; unexpectedly he was able to match her for a while.

By this time, Yin Liting, Jing Xuan, Song Qingshu, He Taichong, Ban Shuxian and their company had done major killing. Although the Rui Jin Flag did not lack highly skilled fighters under its banner, how could they resist the joined forces of Emei, Kunlun and Wudang, three Sects? Before long, the casualties on their side were disastrous.

‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ Zhuang Zheng struck his staff three times, forcing Miejue Shitai to take a step backward. These three strikes were immediately followed by another one as his staff went down, hard and fast, toward the top of her head. Miejue Shitai’s sword moved slightly to the side and knocked the body of the staff, using the stance ‘shun shui tui zhou’ [push the boat with the current], forcing the wolf-fang staff to the side. To her surprise, as an important character within the Ming Cult, Zhuang Zheng could be considered a first-class martial art expert in the Wulin world; his natural strength was amazingly powerful, his internal energy cultivation had also reached top level. As he felt an internal energy push on his wolf-fang staff, he shouted loudly and countered it with a brute and fierce force of his arm. ‘Crack!’ Miejue Shitai’s sword broke into three sections.

When her weapon broke, Miejue Shitai’s arm went numb, but she did not withdraw. Reaching to her back, she pulled the Yitian Sword. A cold and bright ray of light flashed and sparks flew as with the ‘tie suo heng jiang’ [iron lock across the river] she thrust the sword forward. Zhuang Zheng suddenly felt the wolf-fang staff in his hands got lighter, as the full-of-teeth head of the staff was cut down by the Yitian Sword, along with half of his own head, which was also truncated by this matchless sharp sword.

Seeing their Flag Leader has lost his life, the Rui Jin Flag people screamed hysterically and with bloodshot eyes they fought even more ruthlessly, completely disregarding their own lives, immediately killing several Kunlun and Emei disciples.

Someone from the Hong Shui Flag shouted, “Zhuang Qishi [Flag Leader Zhuang] has returned to Heaven for the sake of the Cult, Rui Jin and Lie Huo, two Flags to withdraw; Hong Shui Flag to cover our retreat.”

The banner of the Lie Huo Flag changed; following the order, they withdrew to the west. But the Rui Jin Flag was fighting even more fiercely, nobody withdrew. The man from the Hong Shui Flag shouted again, “Tang Qishi [Flag Leader Tang] of Hong Shui Flag gives his order: the situation is unfavorable, Rui Jin Flag people to withdraw immediately. We will avenge Zhuang Qishi on a later date.”

Several people from the Rui Jin Flag shouted together, “Hong Shui Flag, please withdraw, avenge our grievance in the future. Rui Jin Flag brethrens will live and die together with Zhuang Qishi.”

The Hong Shui Flag suddenly raised a black banner. Someone with a thunderous voice called out, “Brothers of the Rui Jin Flag, the Hong Shui Flag will definitely avenge you.”

The Rui Jin Flag only had about seventy men left; all in one voice called out, “Many thanks Tang Qishi!”

The Hong Shui Flag’s banner turned over and they also withdrew to the west.

Seeing the orderliness of the enemy lineup, with about twenty people on the rear held some glittering cylinders, The people of Huashan and Kongtong, two schools did not dare to pursue they didn’t know what kind of strange trick these contraptions were. Everybody turned their attention on the attack on the Rui Jin Flag.

By this time the battle outcome had been decided; Kunlun, Emei, Wudang, Huashan and Kongtong, five Sects surrounded the Ming Cult’s Rui Jin Flag. Other than Wudang, which had only two people present, the other four Sects’ people were all elite fighters. Since the Flag Leader was dead, the Rui Jin Flag was like a dragon without a head; naturally they were not a match of these martial art experts. But the people serving under the banner were very loyal, they all view death as a return home, and were determined to follow Zhuang Zheng in dying for the sake of the Cult.

After killing several more people, Yin Liting felt their victory was inappropriate. In a loud voice he shouted, “Devil Cult demons, listen up: You have only one way out of the death’s door. Throw your weapons at once, we will spare your lives.”

The Vice Flag Leader laughed aloud and said, “You disregard our Ming Cult’s people too much! Since Zhuang Dage [big brother] has died, would we wish to live?”

Yin Liting called out, “Friends of Kunlun, Emei, Huashan and Kongtong, everybody take ten steps back, let these demons surrender.” One after another, everybody retreated.

Out of her hatred toward the Devil Cult, Miejue Shitai did not retreat, but brandished her sword wildly. Wherever the blade of the Yitian Sword reached, swords broke and sabers cut, limbs severed and heads flew. Seeing that their master did not withdraw, the Emei Pai disciples charged back into the battleground to join the slaughter. Now it was Emei Pai one sect against the Rui Jin Flag.

The Rui Jin Flag still had approximately sixty people, among which, around twenty men were martial art experts. Under the leadership of the Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao, they outnumbered the thirty some Emei disciples by two to one. Technically, they should gain the upper hand. However, the Yitian Sword in Miejue Shitai’s hand was simply too sharp, her sword stances were also very fierce and swift; her dark green shadow appeared to be everywhere, sweeping everything in her path. Instantly seven, eight more people lost their lives under her sword.

Zhang Wuji could not bear to watch. “Let us go,” he said to Zhu’er. Reaching out, he unsealed her acupoints. Who would have thought that after massaging her back and waist for awhile, Zhu’er still felt numb and aching because her acupoints were still sealed. Only then did they realize the profoundness of Miejue Shitai’s internal energy. She only touched lightly, yet her strength penetrated deep into the blood passages. Although Zhang Wuji possessed enough strength and knowledge to unseal the acupoints, he could not do that in such a short period of time.

Zhang Wuji sighed. When he turned his head, he saw all the weapons of the dozens of Rui Jin Flag people were broken. In one hand, these people were surrounded by the Kunlun, Huashan and Kongtong disciples, on the other hand, they were unwilling to run away; thereupon they fought Emei disciples with their bare hands.

Although Miejue Shitai abhorred the Devil Cult, with her status as the Sect Leader of a major sect, she did not want to use a weapon to massacre unarmed enemies. With an outstretched left hand finger, she floated everywhere like a passing cloud or flowing water. In a short moment, the various acupoints of fifty plus Rui Jin Flag people were sealed. They stood upright on the spot, unable to move at all.

Witnessing Miejue Shitai’s superior skill like this, the spectators all cheered. It was now daybreak. Suddenly they realized that the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s three groups of riders slowly closing in from the east, south and north directions. The riders stopped when they were about several dozen of ‘zhang’ away from these people. Apparently they assumed a wait-and-see attitude from some distance away and did not wish to challenge the enemy right away.

“Ahniu Ge,” Zhu’er said, “Let’s leave quickly. It would be a lot worse if we fall into the hands of the Heavenly Eagle Cult.”

Zhang Wuji had an inexplicable affection toward the Heavenly Eagle Cult in his heart. It was his mother’s sect. When he thought about his mother, oftentimes he also thought, “Mother has died, I can’t see her anymore; I wonder if I can see Waigong [maternal grandfather] and Jiujiu [maternal uncle]?” Now that the Heavenly Eagle Cult people were nearby, he wondered if his grandfather or his uncle was among them; therefore, he did not want to leave too soon.

Song Qingshu stepped forward to talk to Miejue Shitai. “Qianbei, we’d better execute the Rui Jin Flag before dealing with the Heavenly Eagle Cult, so that we will have one less thing to worry.” Miejue Shitai nodded.

The early morning sun slowly rose from the east. Its hazy ray shone on Miejue Shitai’s big and tall figure, leaving a long shadow on the ground. Within the imposing image she projected, there was a cold and lonely, yet frightening emotion. In her desire to break the Devil Cult’s spirit, she did not want to kill them with a sword just like that.

In a stern voice she said, “Devil Cult people, listen up: whoever wants to live only needs to beg for mercy, then you’ll be free to go.”

Her words were met with silence. After half a day, a series of incessant ha-ha, hey-hey, hee-hee laughter was heard; the Ming Cult people broke out in laughter, the sound was loud and clear.

“What’s so funny?” Miejue Shitai indignantly asked.

In a loud and clear voice the Rui Jin Flag’s Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao responded, “We have made an oath to live and die together with Zhuang Dage. Just kill us quickly.”

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, “Very well! You still want to be heroes and warriors in a time like this! You wish for a quick and painless death? Not that easy!” Her sword vibrated lightly and immediately cut Wu Jingcao’s right arm.

Wu Jingcao laughed out loud, his expression remained calm and composed. “The Ming Cult enforces justice on behalf of Heaven, provides relief to the people, there is no difference between life and death. Old Thief Nun wants us to kneel down and surrender, I suggest you get rid of that desire at the earliest opportunity.”

Miejue Shitai was even more furious. ‘Shua! Shua! Shua!’ three times, she chopped the next three Cult disciples’ arms. To the fifth man she asked, “Are you going to beg for mercy?”

“Eat your own stinky old nun dog fart!” the man cursed.

Jing Xuan stepped forward from the side and chopped that man’s arm with her sword, while calling out, “Let disciple chop these demons!” She asked several men in succession, but none of the Ming Cult people was willing to surrender. Jing Xuan chopped until her hand grew tired.

“Shifu,” she turned her head around, “These demons are so stubborn …” Her intention was to ask for leniency from her master.

Miejue Shitai ignored her completely. “Chop everybody’s right arm first,” she said, “If they are still stubborn, chop their left arms!” Jing Xuan had no choice but chop several more people’s arms.

Zhang Wuji was not able to keep patient much longer; he sprang up from the snow sled and stood in front of Jing Xuan. “Stop!” he called out. Jing Xuan was startled; she took a step backward.

In a loud voice Zhang Wuji said, “Such a cold-blooded cruelty, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”

Everybody was astonished t see a young man with tattered clothes and unsightly appearance suddenly stepping forward boldly. And then they heard his stern but logical question to Jing Xuan, who was a famous senior master of a famous Sect, they could not help but feel intimidated by his imposing manner.

Jing Xuan let out a long laugh and said, “The demons of the heretic way deserve to be killed. What cruelty are you talking about?”

Zhang Wuji said, “Each one of these men upholds brotherhood and loyalty above everything else, they are not afraid of death, those are the qualities of real heroes and warriors; why do you call them demons of the heretic way?”

“Aren’t they Devil Cult’s disciples?” Jing Xuan retorted, “Isn’t that of the heretical way? That Qing Yi Fu Wang sucks human blood, he killed my Shimei and Shidi. You saw it with your own eyes. If that is not demonic, then what do you call it?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “That Qing Yi Fu Wang killed two people, you have killed ten times more people. He used his teeth to kill, Zun Shi [revered master] used Yitian Sword to kill. They both killed people. What difference there is in good or evil way?”

Jing Xuan was furious. “Young fellow!” she shouted, “You actually dare to equate my Shifu with the heretic demon?” ‘Whoosh!’ her palm struck toward Zhang Wuji’s face. Zhang Wuji hastily moved sideways to evade.

Jing Xuan was the most senior disciple of the Emei Pai, her martial art skill was taught directly by her master. This strike to his face was a fake one; as soon as Zhang Wuji moved sideways, her left leg flew out toward the pit of his stomach. ‘Bang! Crack!’ Jing Xuan’s left leg broke and she was thrown away several ‘zhang’ backwards.

Turned out as soon as Zhang Wuji’s chest was kicked, the Jiu Yang Shen Gong [the divine energy from Nine Yang] inside his body automatically reacted against the incoming force. His footwork was far inferior to Jing Xuan’s, but the Jiu Yang Shen Gong was very powerful; the stronger the incoming force, the heavier the reaction force would be. Jing Xuan felt as if her kick was hitting her own body. Luckily she did not have any desire to take his life; this kick only contained about 50% of her strength, so that she did not suffer serious internal injury.

“I am really sorry,” Zhang Wuji apologetically said. He rushed forward to help her up.

“Go away! Go away!” Jing Xuan angrily said.

“Yes!” Zhang Wuji replied. He had no choice but to back off. Two of Emei female disciples quickly came over to helped their First Martial Sister up.

Most of everyone watching knew Jing Xuan was the first or at least the second best martial art expert under Miejue Shitai. They were wondering why she was this useless; she was thrown several ‘zhang’ away by this raggedy youngster just in one stance? If they say that she had enjoyed false reputation, it did not seem so, because when battling the Rui Jin Flag just now, her swordsmanship was superb; indeed everybody had seen it. Could it be that they had misjudged this raggedy and filthy young man that he actually had a peerless martial art skill?

Miejue Shitai also was secretly amazed. “Which school does this young man belong to?” she mused, “He has been my prisoner for many days, yet I have not paid attention to him. Turned out he is a master who did not show his true colors; he is actually a great character who did not boast his greatness. Even if I want to shake Jing Xuan like this, I am afraid I cannot; perhaps in this age only that old Taoist Zhang Sanfeng who has this kind of ability. But then he had to train for a hundred years before reaching this level.”

Miejue Shitai’s character was like ginger; the older she got, the spicier she became. Although she did not dare to belittle Zhang Wuji, actually she also did not have the least bit of fear in her heart. She looked at him from top to bottom to size him up.

At this time Zhang Wuji was already busy taking care of the Rui Jin Flag people’s bloody wounds. With top-ranked proficiency his hands sealed various acupoints on everyone so that the blood flowing from the cuts of arms was greatly reduced.

Among the spectators, there were not a few experts with similar acupoint sealing technique to treat injuries, but Zhang Wuji’s technique actually made everybody felt ashamed of their own inferiority. They did not even know what extraordinary technique Zhang Wuji was using.

The Vice Flag Leader Wu Jingcao said, “Thank you very much Shaoxia [young hero] for your kindness and loyalty. May I ask your honorable surname and great given name?”

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

Miejue Shitai coldly said, “Come over here, young fellow; take my three sword stances.”

“I’m sorry, would Shitai wait a moment?” Zhang Wuji replied, “Helping people is more important.” He finished wrapping the wound from the cut arm of the last person before he finally turned around, cupped his fists and said, “Miejue Shitai, I am not your match, fighting with you, Senior, is even more beyond what I can think of. I only hope both sides will stop fighting and forget all grudges and grievances of the past.”

When he said ‘both sides will stop fighting’, his tone was very sincere. In his heart, the ‘two sides’ was equal to the memory of his departed parents. One side was the prestigious and upright schools, the side of his father’s Wudang Pai; the other was demonic and heretical way of his mother’s Heavenly Eagle Cult.

“Ha ha … “Miejue Shitai laughed, “Just with a few words from a stinky kid you want us to stop fighting? What are you? The Most Revered in the Wulin World [wu lin zhi zun]?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was moved. “May I ask what about the Most Revered in the Wulin World?” he asked.

Miejue Shitai replied, “He who has the Tulong Dao in his hand will still have to compete with my Yitian Sword to decide who is weak and who is strong, only then will he be the Most Revered in the Wulin World. By that time, it won’t be too late to give everybody orders.”

Hearing how their master ridiculed Zhang Wuji, the Emei Pai disciples laughed mockingly. There were people from the other Sects who also laughed.

Based on his age and status, it was highly inappropriate for Zhang Wuji to say ‘stop fighting’. Hearing everybody sneering at him, Zhang Wuji blushed to the root of his hair. But he still could not bear to stay silent. “Why did you kill so many people?” he asked, “Everybody has a father, mother, wife and children. You killed them, their children would turned into helpless orphans, receivers of others’ bullying. You Senior are a follower of Buddha [orig. ‘chu jia ren’ – one who left home], please show mercy.”

He spoke without authority, his manner was inappropriate, but he remembered his own life experience and spoke with sincerity. His words were passionate and earnest that those who heard him were moved. Miejue Shitai, however, remained wooden.

“Young fellow,” she said in her cold voice, “Do I need you to lecture me? You are conceited because of your profound internal energy that you are blowing hot air in here. Very well, take my three palm strikes, and I will let these people go.”

“I can’t take even one palm strike from your disciple, how am I going to take three from Shitai?” Zhang Wuji said, “I do not dare to compete in martial art with you; I am only asking you to show mercy. Just consider yourself showing divine kindness to these people.”

‘Zeng Xianggong [young master],” in a loud voice Wu Jingcao called out, “No need to talk too much with this old thief nun. We would rather under die this old thief nun’s hand than receive her fake benevolence.”

With squinting eyes Miejue looked at Zhang Wuji and asked, “Who is your Shifu?”

Zhang Wuji thought, “Although Father and Yifu both taught me martial arts, but they are not my Shifu.” Thereupon he said, “I don’t have any Shifu.”

Once these words came out of his mouth, everybody present was very surprised. At first when he shook Jing Xuan with one stance, they thought he must be a disciple of a master, in their hearts there were thirty percent suspicions; who would have thought that he said he did not have any master? Wulin people revered their masters the most. It was not uncommon for someone unwilling to reveal his master’s surname and given name; but very rare would someone who had a master to say he did not have any master. If Zhang Wuji said he did not have any Shifu, then he truly did not have any Shifu.

Miejue Shitai did not want to talk too much. “Receive the first strike!” she said. Her right hand stretched out with a casual slapping motion.

Faced with this circumstance, Zhang Wuji did not have any choice but to fight. Not daring to be careless, he pushed both palms out, receiving her one palm with his both hands. Unexpectedly Miejue Shitai’s palm went down and then from below his hands swiftly slipped through his palms like an extraordinary slippery small fish. ‘Slap! The palm squarely hit Zhang Wuji’s chest.

Zhang Wuji was startled. The Jiu Yang Shen Gong protecting his body automatically reacted to the opponent’s palm strength. But just before these two whiffs of tremendously strong internal energy collided, Miejue Shitai’s palm strength suddenly disappeared without a trace. Zhang Wuji was taken by surprise. When he looked up to see her face, suddenly he felt as if the pit of his stomach was hit by an iron hammer. Zhang Wuji staggered and was thrown rolling around twice on the ground. ‘Wah!’ he spurted out a mouthful of blood, which looked like a pile of mud on the sandy ground.

Miejue Shitai’s palm power switched between ‘swallowing’ and ‘throwing up’, changing indeterminately, sucking and diverting the enemy’s force before sending out her own strength again. It was the most refined and subtle of the internal energy cultivation of the martial art study. The spectators with profound martial art knowledge understood the amazing technique this palm; they all could not stop from cheering.

Zhu’er was extremely worried; she rushed toward Zhang Wuji and reached out to help him up, but suddenly her knees went numb and she slipped to the ground. Turned out although Zhang Wuji had unsealed her acupoints, the blood had not flowed freely. Seeing he received injury, in her anxiety she rushed to help, but after a short moment her strength gave up and she fell down.

“Ahniu Ge, you … you …” she called out.

Zhang Wuji felt the blood in his chest bubbling over. Shaking his hand he said, “I am not dead.” And then he slowly crawled back up.

In the meantime, Miejue Shitai ordered three of her disciples, “Chop all the demons’ right arms, no exceptions.”

“Yes!” the three female disciples responded and with naked swords in their hands they walked toward the Rui Jin Flag people.

Zhang Wuji hastily said, “You … you said if I take your three palm strikes you will let them go. I … I have received one strike, there are still … still two more.”

When Miejue Shitai’s palm struck Zhang Wuji, she could tell that his internal energy was very strong, and not at all of the demonic and heretical way; it was rather similar to her own energy cultivation. She also knew that although he was protecting the Devil Cult people, he was not a Devil Cult member.

“Young people should not meddle in other people’s business,” she said, “Upright and heretic should be distinguished clearly. In that one palm strike I only used thirty percent of my strength; do you know?”

Zhang Wuji knew that as a Sect Leader of a respectable sect, her words could not be empty; if she said she had used only thirty percent of her strength, then she must have used only thirty percent of her strength. But no matter how hard-to-resist the next two palm strikes would be, he could not consider his own life more important by looking helplessly while she was harming the Rui Jin Flag people. Thereupon he said, “Disregarding my own capability, Zaixia would like … would like to receive Shitai’s two palm strikes.”

Wu Jingcao called loudly, “Zeng Xianggong, we deeply feel your kindness! You are a hero who upholds justice and loyalty, deserving everybody’s utmost admiration and gratitude. You must not receive the remaining two palm strikes.”

Seeing Zhu’er fell by Zhang Wuji’s side, Miejue Shitai was annoyed because she obstructed her hands and feet. Her left sleeve brushed away, she rolled Zhu’er inside the sleeve and threw her back. Zhou Zhiruo rushed one step forward to take her and gently laid her down on the ground.

Zhu’er anxiously said, “Zhou Jiejie [older sister], quickly urge him not to receive the other two palm strikes. If you say it, he would listen.”

“Why would he listen to me?” Zhou Zhiruo wondered.

“In his heart, he likes you very much,” Zhu’er said, “Don’t you know it?”

Zhou Zhiruo blushed profusely. “Pei!” she spat, “How can there be such a thing?”

In a loud and clear voice Miejue Shitai said, “Since you insist on being the real man, the hero, it is you who seek your own death. You must not blame me.” Raising her right hand, with a strong gust of wind it attacked straight to Zhang Wuji’s chest.

This time Zhang Wuji did not dare to lift up his hand to block; he wanted to avoid her palm power by leaning sideways. Miejue Shitai bent her right arm and turned it around quickly. From a seemingly impossible angle, her palm shot straight forward. ‘Slap!’ It struck him squarely on his back. Like a bunch of straw Zhang Wuji flew horizontally in the air and fell down heavily on the ground. His body crumpled motionlessly in the sand, it looked like he had met a violent death.

In this palm strike, Miejue Shitai’s technique was flawless and exquisite beyond comparison, the spectators should have cheered; but in their hearts, everybody was secretly admiring Zhang Wuji’s chivalry. Seeing he met with an unfortunate incident, they all called out in alarm and sighed; unexpectedly, no one cheered.

“Zhou Jiejie,” Zhu’er begged, “Please, look at his injury; is it heavy?”

Zhou Zhiruo’s heart was pounding. Hearing Zhu’er was asking earnestly, she wanted to step out and look at his injury; but everybody was staring at Zhang Wuji. How could she, an eighteen, nineteen years old young woman, dare to look at a young man’s injury? Much less the injury was caused by her own master. Although it might not be considered a blatant rebellion against her school if she stepped out, she would inadvertently show great disrespect toward her Shifu. Therefore, she had taken a step, but she pulled back.

By this time the sky was bright with the morning sun. A moment later Zhang Wuji’s back seemed to be moving. He struggled hard to sit up slowly, but when his elbow was about a foot from the ground, his strength was gone; he spurted another mouthful of blood and tumbled again to the ground. In his daze, all he wanted was to lie down quietly, but he remembered he still had to take another palm strike to save the Rui Jin Flag people’s lives. He took a deep breath and finally was able to sit up, but his body was swaying, as if he was ready to fall back down any second.

Everybody else was holding their breath while watching him intently. There were several hundred people all around, but it was so quiet that a fallen needle would be clearly heard.

In this complete silence, Zhang Wuji suddenly recalled several lines from the Nine Yang Manual:
‘He is strong, let him be strong,
The cool breeze brushes away the small hill;
He is rowdy, let him be rowdy,
The bright moon shines on the great river.’
He had recited these lines several times in the deep valley, but had never understood the meaning. This time he suddenly understood: Miejue Shitai was strong and ruthless, fierce beyond compare; definitely not his match. But in light of the essence of the Nine Yang Manual, it appeared that regardless of how strong and fierce the enemy, regardless of how ferocious, to him it was no more than a cool breeze brushing away the hill or a bright moon illuminating a river. Although he could feel the cool breeze of the bright moon, it would not bring him any harm. But how? What should he do that he would not receive any harm?

The next lines in the Manual said,
‘Let him be fierce, let him be ruthless,
a mouthful of ‘zhen qi’ [real/genuine ‘chi’] is enough for me.’
Thinking to this point, his mind suddenly opened. He sat cross-legged and regulated his breathing according to the technique described in the Manual. Almost instantly he felt a warm and comfortable feeling in his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region], lively and strong; the ‘zhen qi’ flowed into his four limbs and the hundreds of bones in his body. He was finally able to unleash the formidable power of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong. Although his flesh wound was so heavy that he vomited fresh blood, the ‘zhen qi’ inside his body indeed did not suffer the least bit of damage.

Watching him circulating his ‘chi’ to treat his injury, Miejue Shitai could not restrain her astonishment. This young man indeed possessed some extraordinary skill. The first stance she used to strike Zhang Wuji was from the ‘piao xue chuan yun zhang’ [floating snow piercing the cloud palm technique]. The second palm strike was even fiercer, it was the third stance of the ‘jie shou jiu shi’ [nine style cutting hand; the word ‘cut’ here means ‘cut (or truncate) into section’ or ‘cut to length’, not ‘slice’ or ‘chop’ kind of cuts]. Both were the best features of the Emei Pai palm techniques.

In the first strike she used only thirty percent of her strength. In the second strike, she added the power to seventy percent. She presumed that if he did not get killed violently on the spot, his muscles and bones would certainly be shattered that he would be paralyzed and would not be able to move anymore. Who would have thought that after lying down for half a day he was able to sit up? It was totally beyond her anticipation.

According to the Wulin world custom, Miejue Shitai was not required to wait for him to circulate his breathing to treat his injury. But she was a person of high status, she definitely must not take advantage of her opponent’s precarious position, especially since her opponent was of the younger generation.

“Hey, the one surnamed Zeng!” Ding Minjun called loudly, “If you do not dare to take my Shifu’s third palm strike, just roll away as far as you can. If you are treating your injury for a lifetime in here, shall we also wait for you for a lifetime in here?”

“Ding Shijie,” Zhou Zhiruo softly said, “There is no harm in letting him rest for a moment longer.”

“You … are you protecting an outsider?” Ding Minjun angrily said, “Looking at this boy …” She wanted to say, ‘Looking at this boy to be a handsome one, you are having ideas in your mind.’ But she immediately remembered there were not just a few notable warriors of the other major sects standing around, naturally she must not utter this kind of vulgar language; and thus she stopped just in time. However, how could everybody present not understand her implication? Although she did not finish her words, it was not any different than if she had said it out loud.

Zhou Zhiruo was ashamed and anxious at the same time. Her face paled from the anger rising in her breast, but she was not willing to bicker. “Xiao Mei is only concerned over our school and Shizun’s [respected master] prestige,” she said drily, “I hope others will not spread a gossip.”

“What gossip?” Ding Minjun was surprised.

Zhou Zhiruo said, “Our school’s martial art is well known all over the world, Shifu is one of the very best Senior Masters of the present age; she will not lower herself to the level of this junior young fellow. It’s just that he was outrageously arrogant that she went into action to teach him a lesson. Do you think she really want to take his life? Our Sect’s chivalry is renowned for nearly a hundred years, Shizun’s benevolence and chivalry is magnanimous, who does not look up to her in admiration? This youngster is just like a candle, how can he be compared to the glorious light of the sun and the moon? Even if we let him train for a hundred more years, he still would not be our Shizun’s match. Much less letting him tending his injury for a bit longer; what difference will it make?”

Her speech had made all who heard inwardly nod their heads. Miejue Shitai’s delight was even greater, thinking that this young disciple indeed understood the cardinal principle and had raised their Sect’s prestige in the eyes of the masters of other Sects.

As soon as Zhang Wuji finished circulating his ‘zhen qi’ for one round, his spirit was lifted and his body refreshed. He heard everything Zhou Zhiruo had said, and was aware that she had done everything she could to protect him. Also, based on her words, Miejue Shitai would be inconvenienced to strike him with a murderous intent. His heart was flooded with gratitude. He stood up and said, “Shitai, ‘wanbei’ will put my life at your service by taking your last palm strike.”

Seeing that his vigor immediately returned after only sitting cross-legged for a while, Miejue Shitai mused, “This kid’s internal energy is indeed very deep, it’s magical.” She said, “You may fight me back. Who told you to take the beating without retaliating?”

“With ‘wanbei’s tiny bit of coarse martial art skill, I cannot touch even half a ‘fen’ [1 fen is approximately 1/3 cm or a little over 1/8″] of the corner of Shitai’s clothes, how could I think of retaliating?” Zhang Wuji replied.

Miejue Shitai said, “Since you already know it, then why don’t you run away at the earliest opportunity? A young man with this kind of courageous spirit is hard to come by. Miejue Shitai’s palm does not normally show mercy, but today I am willing to make exception for you.”

Zhang Wuji bowed. “Many thanks, Qianbei,” he said, “Will you also spare these big brothers of the Rui Jin Flag?”

Miejue Shitai’s long eyebrows drooped down. With a cold laugh she said, “Do you know what my Buddhist title is?”

“Qianbei’s honorable title consists of the character ‘Mie’ [extinguish or overthrow (a regime)] at the top and ‘Jue’ [extinct or vanish, completely] at the bottom,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“It’s good that you know it,” Miejue Shitai said, “Demons and heretical disciples, I must ‘extinguish’ and ‘cut short’; I simply cannot show mercy. Do you think the two characters ‘Miejue’ [wipe out/destroy] is an empty name?”

“That being the case,” Zhang Wuji said, “Qianbei may send out your third palm strike.”

Miejue Shitai cast him a sidelong glance. She had never seen a more tenacious youth in her entire life. She was usually cold-hearted, but this time she started to feel affection toward this talented young man. She thought, “Once my third palm strike is launched, he would definitely die. Since he is not a master of the demonical way, it would be a pity if he loses his life in such a young age!” After hesitating for a moment, she made up her mind. The third palm strike would hit the vital acupoint above his ‘dantian’, she would transmit her internal energy to shake his ‘dantian’ to stop his breathing so that he would faint instantly. After executing the Rui Jin Flag demons, she would help awoken him.

Brushing her left sleeve, she was about to launch the third palm strike when suddenly she heard someone called out, “Miejue Shitai, hold your palm!”

These words were spoken with a shrill voice, as sharp as a needle piercing everybody’s ears; it was extremely uncomfortable. They saw from the northwest corner came a man wearing white robe, waving a folding fan in his hand, walking through the crowd. His feet did not raise the sand at all; it was as if he was floating over the water. The left lapel of this man’s white robe was embroidered with a tiny black eagle with its wings spread out like it was soaring in the sky.

As soon as they saw him, everybody knew this man must be a master of the Heavenly Eagle Cult. Turned out the uniform of the Heavenly Eagle Cult was similar to the Ming Cult’s uniform, which was white robe. Only the Ming Cult’s uniform was embroidered with a red flame, while the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s uniform was embroidered with a black eagle.

The man walked to within three ‘zhang’ from Miejue Shitai. He cupped his fists and said with a laugh, “Shitai, please, this third palm strike, how about I take it instead?”

“Who are you?” Miejue Shitai asked.

The man replied, “Zaixia surnamed Yin, and is called Yewang.”

Once the name ‘Yin Yewang’ was uttered, a commotion broke among the people. Yin Yewang’s reputation was indeed resounding loud and clear throughout the Jianghu for the last twenty years. A lot of Wulin people said that his martial art skill was very high; as a matter of fact, it did not differ too far from his father, the Bai Mei Ying Wang, Yin Tianzheng. He was the ‘tang zhu’ [hall leader] of the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s ‘tian wei tang’ [Heaven’s Secret Hall]; his authority was second only to the Cult Leader.

Miejue Shitai estimated this man was no more than forty some years of age, but his pair of eyes was like a cold lightning sweeping everybody around, his manner was imposing and intimidating. Truly he was not someone to be trifled with, especially since she had heard quite a bit about his reputation. Therefore, with a cold voice she said, “What is this kid to you that you want to take my palm strike on his behalf?”

In his heart, Zhang Wuji cried out, “He is my Jiujiu [maternal uncle], my Jiujiu! Could it be that he recognized me and has come for me?”

Yin Yewang laughed out loud and said, “I don’t even know him. I only saw that he is young yet strong-willed, not at all like those hypocritical Wulin people, those disciples who always fish for compliment. I am pleased, and thus I want to receive instruction and see how good Shitai’s skill is.”

The last few words were not spoken politely, apparently he did not have too high of a consideration toward Miejue Shitai. But Miejue Shitai was not angry, she turned toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Kid, if you still want to live for a few years longer, it is not too late for you to go away at this time.”

“Wanbei does not dare to be greedy of live and forget loyalty,” Zhang Wuji replied.

Miejue Shitai nodded. She turned back toward Yin Yewang. “This kid still owes me one palm strike. Our own account will be settled a (pen) stroke for a stroke. I will certainly not disappoint Sire.”

“Hey, hey,” Yin Yewang sneered, “Miejue Shitai, if you have the ability, kill this young man. If this young man loses his life, I guarantee all of you will die without any burial site.” As soon as he finished speaking, he floated back through the crowd while shouted, “Get out!”

Suddenly from the sandy ground around them appeared innumerable heads; each one had a shield in front of his body, while their hands held drawn bows. Row after row of arrowheads were aimed at the Major Sects’ people.

Turned out the Heavenly Eagle Cult people had dug a tunnel under the sand and surrounded those people. Because everybody’s attention was focused on Miejue Shitai and Zhang Wuji exchanging palm strikes, nobody suspected anything. Song Qingshu and the others were experienced warriors; they were on guard against the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s frontal attack. They did not anticipate the Heavenly Eagle Cult would take advantage of the soft sandy ground by excavating underground tunnel and occupying a strategic position, taking full advantage of the terrain around them.

Everyone’s face changed; they saw that the arrowheads emitted bluish rays under the bright sunlight, obviously the arrows were poisoned. As soon as Yin Yewang issued his order, it would be difficult for the upright sects’ people to protect their own lives, other than a few masters with the highest martial art skill. Among the five Sects present, in term of seniority, prestige and age, Miejue Shitai was the most senior, therefore, everybody turned their eyes to her, waiting for her to issue an order.

Miejue Shitai was simply too obstinate; although she knew the situation was highly unfavorable for her side, she was completely unmoved. “Kid,” she said to Zhang Wuji, “You’d better blame yourself for your fate.” Suddenly her entire bones started to pop and crack, not at all unlike the noise of beans being pan-fried; as her right hand went straight toward Zhang Wuji’s chest.

This palm strike was the pinnacle of Emei Pai’s skill, it was called the ‘fo guang pu zhao’ [The Light of Buddha illuminates everything]. Any palm or sword technique always consists of an unbroken set of complementary stances. The technique could contain as many as several hundred stances, or as little as three or five styles. But whether it was three styles or five stances, in each style would hide several variations that one style could be executed in many stances, as many as a dozen stances. However, this ‘fo guang pu zhao’ only had one stance. Not only this one stance did not have further variations, once it was launched, whether it struck the chest or the back or the shoulder or the face, the style was plain, almost boring; it was always the same style. Its formidable power came from the Emei Pai’s Jiu Yang Gong as its foundation. Once it was executed, the opponent would not be able to either block or evade.

At present, other than Miejue Shitai, no one else was able to launch this stance. At first she only wanted to strike Zhang Wuji’s ‘dantian’ to knock him out momentarily, but after Yin Yewang issued his threat, if she showed leniency, people would think that she did not show mercy, she only was afraid of death, and was kneeling in front of the enemy to surrender. Therefore, she had put all her strength into this one stance, without leaving any room to maneuver.

Seeing that her strike was preceded by popping and cracking of her bones, Zhang Wuji knew this palm strike was not a small matter. With the life and death would be decided in the next split seconds, how could Zhang Wuji dare to be negligent? In this instant he remembered the phrase from the Manual: ‘Let him be fierce, let him be ruthless, a mouthful of ‘zhen qi’ is enough for me’. Without thinking about how he was going to fend off the attack at all, he took a deep breath and gathered a whiff of ‘zhen qi’ in his chest.

With a very loud ‘Bang!’ Miejue Shitai’s palm struck Zhang Wuji’s chest. All the spectators cried out in alarm, as they believed the entire bones in Zhang Wuji’s body would be shattered to dust, or perhaps this earth-shattering force would break his body in two. Who would have thought that when the dust settled, they saw Zhang Wuji, with a shocked expression on his face, was still standing in one piece, while Miejue Shitai’s face was as grey as a corpse while her palm trembled slightly.

What happened was: Miejue Shitai’s stance, ‘fo guang pu zhao’ purely took Emei Jiu Yang Gong as its foundation, which originated from the real Jiu Yang Shen Gong, which Zhang Wuji trained. After listening to Jue Yuan reciting the Nine Yang Manual, Guo Xiang developed Emei Jiu Yang Gong based on fragments she managed to remember. As a result, the power of Emei Jiu Yang Gong of course cannot be mentioned on equal terms with the original Jiu Yang Shen Gong. However, the power of these two internal energies were comparable, the essence was identical. When Emei Jiu Yang Gong met the Jiu Yang Shen Gong, it was like river and stream entering the ocean, or like milk dissolved into water, instantly disappeared without any trace.

Miejue Shitai’s first palm strike, the Floating Snow Penetrating the Cloud, and the second strike, the Nine-Style Cutting Hand, were not based on Emei Jiu Yang Gong; therefore, when the palm hit Zhang Wuji, the strikes had caused him to be injured and to throw up blood. This reasoning was unknown to everybody present. Zhang Wuji admittedly did not have vast knowledge, but although Miejue Shitai possessed an extensive experience and knowledge, her thoughts were no more than that this kid’s internal energy was so deep that she was not able to inflict any harm. Therefore, other than Miejue Shitai herself, the hundreds of people, inside and outside of the besiege, all believed that she was being lenient, or that she was taken by Zhang Wuji’s unyielding character, or perhaps she was working for the benefits of all, unwilling to let the Five Major Sects suffer disastrous casualties under the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s poisoned arrows. Some even went so far as assuming she was a coward who submitted under Yin Yewang’s threat.

Zhang Wuji bowed and cupped his fists. “Many thanks Qianbei for holding your palm and showing mercy,” he said.

“Humph,” Miejue Shitai snorted, she was in a very awkward situation; if she struck again, she would clearly breach her own words that she would strike him three times, but if she dropped the case, she would suffer great embarrassment by yielding to the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s will.

While she was still in a quandary, Yin Yewang had already laughed aloud and said, “Only an outstanding talent can submit to circumstances. Miejue Shitai has proven herself to be a great master of the present age.” To his people he ordered, “Withdraw the arrows!”

The Heavenly Eagle Cult people turned around abruptly and withdrew; like a wave row after row of shields and bows and arrows rolled away in a very neat formation. It appeared that Yin Yewang’s troops were trained for battle; whether they are attacking or withdrawing, they followed certain rules.

Miejue Shitai’s countenance darkened, yet she did not know what to say in her defense; would she say that in the last palm strike she was showing mercy? Everybody had clearly seen how with gentle strike she had inflicted serious injury to Zhang Wuji, twice in a row. But under Yin Yewang’s threat, the third palm, which appeared to carry a tremendous force, did not injure Zhang Wuji in the least bit. No matter how hard she defended herself, nobody would believe her. Much less she was always an arrogant person; how could she ask everybody to believe her?

While staring maliciously at Zhang Wuji, she called in a loud and clear voice, “Yin Yewang, if you want to test my palm power, come over here.”

Yin Yewang cupped his fists and said, “After receiving Shitai’s compassion today, I do not dare to offend further. We will meet again someday soon.”

Miejue Shitai waved her left sleeve; without saying anything she led her disciples to walk quickly westward. The people of Kunlun, Huashan and Kongtong Pai, as well as Yin Liting and Song Qingshu, followed behind them.

Zhu’er’s legs were still paralyzed. “Ahniu Ge,” she said anxiously, “Quickly take me away.” But Zhang Wuji wanted very much to speak a few words with Yin Yewang. “Wait a moment,” he said, and he walked toward Yin Yewang.

“Qianbei has rendered a great assistance, ‘wanbei’ will never dare to forget,” he said.

Yin Yewang pulled his hand and look at him from top to bottom, sizing him up. “You are surnamed Zheng?” he asked.

Zhang Wuji had the urge to throw himself into his bosom and call out, ‘Jiujiu, Jiujiu!’ But in the end he forced himself not to do that, although he could not stop his eyes from turning red. There was a saying, ‘Seeing (maternal) uncle is like seeing one’s mother.’ Since his parents died, Yin Yewang was the first close family member he had seen in more than ten years, how could his heart not get excited?

Yin Yewang saw the affectionate look on his eyes, but he thought that Zhang Wuji was very grateful because he had saved his life, so he did not further think about this matter. His eyes turned toward Zhu’er, who was lying down on the ground. With a dry laugh he said, “Ah Li, are you all right?”

Zhu’er looked up; her eyes were brimming with hatred. Immediately she lowered her head and after a while she called out, “Father!”

As soon as she called, ‘Father’, Zhang Wuji was shocked. But his mind was churning fast, and very soon he understood everything. “Turns out Zhu’er is Jiujiu’s daughter; in that case she is my Biaomei [maternal younger female cousin]. She has killed her second mother, and thus vexed her own mother to her death. She also said that her father would kill her if he sees her … Oh, she used the ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ to pierce Yin Wulu, must be because these brothers, just like their masters, were not good toward these mother and daughter. Although Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou hated her very much, they cannot fight with her, hence they only said a sentence, ‘It is San Xiaojie’ before taking Yin Wulu away.”

Turning his head around toward Zhu’er, suddenly he remembered something else, “No wonder I always felt that her mannerism very much resembled my Mama, turns out she is my own blood relative; my Ma was her (paternal) aunt.”

He heard Yin Yewang’s cold laugh. “You still call me ‘Father’? Humph, I know you have followed Jin Hua Popo and did not have any regard toward the Heavenly Eagle Cult. You are a hopeless kid, exactly like your Mama, train that ‘qian zhu wan du shou’. Humph, look in the mirror, tell me, is there any ugly freak in my Yin family?”

At first Zhu’er was so frightened that her whole body trembled, but suddenly she turned her head and stared directly at her father’s face, while in a loud and clear voice she said, “Father, if you did not raise the past matters, I wouldn’t have raise them either. But since you mentioned it, I want to ask you: you were happily married with Mama, why did you take Er Niang [second mother]?”

“This … this …” Yin Yewang said, “Dead girl, which one among the men did not have three wives, four concubines? You are disobedient and unfilial; it’s useless to debate with you today. You do not have any regard to Jin Hua Popo, Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf], or the Heavenly Eagle Cult.” He waved his hand to his back and said to Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou, “Take this girl along. Let’s go.”

Zhang Wuji stretched out his arms to block. “Hold on!” he said, “Yin … Yin Qianbei, why do you want to take her along?”

“This girl is my daughter,” Yin Yewang replied, “She killed her stepmother and vexed her own mother to death; she is more like a beast than a human being, how can I let her live in this world?”

Zhang Wuji said, “At that time Miss Yin was still very young, seeing her mother bullied by others, she was enraged and had made the mistake of taking matters into her own hands. I beseech Qianbei to remember the love between a father and his daughter and punish her leniently.”

Yin Yewang laughed with his face toward the sky. “Young fellow,” he said, “Who do you think you are that you always meddle with other people’s business? Why, you even want to interfere with my Yin family’s internal affair. Are you the ‘Most Revered in the Wulin World’?”

Zhang Wuji’s mind was stirred. He really wanted to shout, “I am your nephew, I am not an outsider.” But in the end he held his peace.

“Kid,” Yin Yewang laughed, “You are lucky that today your life was spared. But if you keep meddling into the Jianghu people’s business like this, even if you have ten little lives, that won’t be enough.” While saying that, he waved his left hand. Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou stepped forward to pick up Zhu’er then they followed Yin Yewang.

Zhang Wuji knew that falling into her father’s hand this time, Zhu’er would most likely not have the good fortune to keep her life. In his desperation, he pounced forward trying to snatch her away.

Yin Yewang frowned; like a lightning his hand reached out and grabbed Zhang Wuji’s chest and gently tossed him away. Zhang Wuji’s body refused to follow its master’s order; like soaring into the clouds or sailing in the fog he flew out and ‘Bang!’ he fell heavily into the yellow sand. The Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside his body protected him that he did not sustain any injury; but falling into the sand, his eyes, ears, mouth and nose were full of sand that it was unbearably uncomfortable. Unwilling to give up, he crawled up trying to grab Zhu’er again.

‘Kid,” with a cold laugh Yin Yewang said, “I was being lenient the first time, don’t force me to be impolite the second time.”

Zhang Wuji earnestly begged, “She … she is your own daughter. When she was little you carried her in your arms, you kissed her. Please spare her.”

Yin Yewang’s heart was touched, but when he turned his head to look at Zhu’er, he saw her bumpy face, and could not help feeling even more loathsome. “Get out of my way!” he shouted.

Zhang Wuji took a step closer instead, still trying to grab Zhu’er.

“Ahniu Ge,” Zhu’er called out, “Don’t mind me. I will always remember your kindness to me. Just go away, you are not my father’s match.”

Right this moment, suddenly someone in dark green robe flew out of the sandy ground. Stretching out both hands, he grabbed Yin Wufu and Yin Wushou by the back of their collars and brought his arms together, hard. The two men’s heads bumped to each other and they fainted instantly. That man grabbed Zhu’er and carrying her in his arms, he swiftly ran away.

“Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei],” Yin Yewang shouted angrily, “You also want to meddle in my business?”

Qing Yi Fu Wang Wei Yixiao let out a loud and long laugh, while carrying Zhu’er speeding along forward. He was called ‘Yixiao’ [one laugh], but his laughter was continuous without pausing; why wasn’t he called ‘a hundred laugh’ or ‘a thousand laugh’?

Yin Yewang and Zhang Wuji anxiously pursued at the same time. This time Wei Yixiao no longer run in circles; he flew straight toward the southwest direction. His feet moved very fast, almost unthinkable. Yin Yewang’s internal energy was deep; his ‘qing gong’ was also excellent. The ‘zhen qi’ circulated inside Zhang Wuji’s body; he ran faster and faster. But Wei Yixiao’s speed was even more difficult to be dealt with. When they started, he was only a few ‘zhang’ ahead, but not too long afterwards, he increased the distance to a dozen ‘zhang’, then twenty some ‘zhang’, thirty some ‘zhang’ … until finally his shadow vanished in the horizon.

In his extreme anger Yin Yewang laughed. He was secretly amazed to notice that all along Zhang Wuji was able to run alongside him, without falling behind even for a half step. By this time he knew perfectly well that he would not be able to overtake Wei Yixiao, but he still wanted to test this youngster’s legs’ strength, so he increased his speed. Like an arrow leaving the string his body shot forward, but he still saw Zhang Wuji was able to keep up, still running side-by-side with him.

Suddenly he heard Zhang Wuji say, “Yin Qianbei, although this Qing Yi Fu Wang can run fast, he might not necessarily have the strength to run long distance. We might be able to catch up with him eventually.”

Yin Yewang was startled; he stopped his steps immediately, while thinking, “In unleashing my ‘qing gong’ like this, I have exhausted my life-long cultivated strength. I can’t afford to make any mistake in regulating my breath, let alone to open my mouth to speak. This young man is able to speak, yet his feet did not slow down at all. What kind of skill is this?”

When he stopped suddenly, Zhang Wuji had already flown several ‘zhang’ forward. Hastily Zhang Wuji turned around and returned to Yin Yewang, ready to listen to his instruction.

“Zeng Xiongdi,” Yin Yewang said, “Who is your Shifu?”

“No, no!” Zhang Wuji hastily said, “You must not call me ‘Xiongdi’ [brother], I am your ‘wanbei’ [younger generation], you, Senior, just call me ‘Ahniu’. I do not have any Shifu.”

A murderous intent grew in Yin Yewang’s heart; he mused, “This kid’s martial art skill is this weird, if I leave him alive, he might bring disaster later on. I’d better strike preemptively and kill him with a palm.”

Right this moment, suddenly they heard several sharp noise of ocean conch horn from the distant; it was precisely the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s emergency signal. Yin Yewang creased his eyebrows. “Must be Hong Shui and Lie Huo Flags blaming me for not helping Rui Jin Flag that they create trouble for us,” he mused, “If I failed to kill this kid with one palm strike, I would not have time to engage him in a dogfight at this time. I’d better borrow somebody else’s knife to kill him; I’ll let him deliver his own life into Wei Yixiao’s hands.” Thereupon he said, “The Heavenly Eagle Cult is facing an enemy; I must return at once to render my assistance. You can go alone to find Wei Yixiao. This man is ferocious and sinister, as soon as you meet him, you must strike first to gain the upper hand.”

“My skill is so low and inadequate, how can I fight him?” Zhang Wuji said, “Who is your enemy?”

Yin Yewang inclined his ears to listen to the bugle call. “It is indeed the Ming Cult’s Hong Shui, Lie Huo and Hou Tu, three Flags have arrived.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Everybody belongs to the Ming Cult; why must you fight and kill each other like this?”

Yin Yewang’s face sank as he said, “What does a child like you understand? Are you meddling in other people’s business again?” Turning around, he rushed back to where he came from.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Zhu’er has fallen into the hands of the great demon Wei Yixiao; if he bites her on the throat and sucks her blood, how can she keep her life?” Having had this thought, his anxiety grew; he took a deep breath and unleashing his ‘zhen qi’, he dashed forward to give a chase.

Luckily, although Wei Yixiao’s ‘qing gong’ was excellent, because he was carrying someone in his arms, he was not able to step on the sand without leaving any trace; he still left behind a set of his footprints on the desert sand. Zhang Wuji made up his mind, “If he stop to rest, I won’t take a rest; if he stop to sleep, I won’t sleep. Even if I have to run for three days and three nights, I will overtake him.”

However, running for three days and nights under the hot sun on the yellow sand was truly easier said than done; he ran until dusk, and his mouth dried out and his lips parched, while his entire body was sweating like rain. But strangely, his legs did not get weary. Bit by bit the Jiu Yang Shen Gong he cultivated for several years showed its effectiveness, the more he used his energy, his vigor grew more abundantly. He stopped by a spring to fill his stomach with water, and then continued following Wei Yixiao’s tracks nonstop until midnight. He saw the moon was right in the middle of the sky. Suddenly a feeling of dread overcame Zhang Wuji; he was afraid that while he was running, Zhu’er’s body, with her blood sucked dry, would suddenly appear in front of him.

Right this moment, he seemed to hear faint footsteps behind him. Quickly he turned around, but did not see anybody. Unwilling to be delayed, he continued running forward; but the footsteps appeared again behind him. Greatly puzzled, he turned around again; still he did not see anybody. Looking carefully on the desert ground, he saw three sets of tracks; one obviously belonged to Wei Yixiao, one belonged to him, but where did the third track come from? Turning his head again, he saw ahead of him there was only Wei Yixiao’s track. In that case, someone was following him; no doubt about it. But why couldn’t he see the person? Could it be that this person knew magic of making himself invisible?

Preoccupied with doubts, he continued running forward, and sure enough, the footsteps behind him reappeared. “Who’s there?” Zhang Wuji called out.

“Who’s there?” a voice behind him echoed.

Zhang Wuji was shocked. “Are you a human or a ghost?” he asked sternly.

“Are you a human or a ghost?” the voice echoed.

With a great speed Zhang Wuji turned around again. This time he saw a flash of shadow of the person behind him, so he was convinced that someone with an exceptionally swift footwork did indeed follow behind him.

“Why are you following me?” he asked.

“Why am I following you?” that person replied.

Zhang Wuji laughed. “How do I know?” he said, “I was asking you.”

“How do I know?” that person replied, “I was asking you.”

Zhang Wuji knew this person probably did not have any malicious intention; he had been following him for a while, if he wanted to, it would be easy for him to make his move and send Zhang Wuji to his doom. Thereupon he said, “By what name are you called?”

“Can’t say [Shuo Bude],” came the reply.

“Why can’t you say it?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“If I can’t say it, then I can’t say it; why should I explain to you the reason?” the man said, “By what name are you called?”

“I … I am called Zeng Ahniu,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“You are running wildly in the middle of the night; what are you doing?” the man asked.

Zhang Wuji knew this man must be one who loved to play trick on others. He said, “A friend of mine is captured by the Qing Yi Fu Wang, I am going to rescue her back.”

“You cannot rescue her,” the man said.

“Why not?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“The man said, “Qing Yi Fu Wang’s martial art is stronger than yours; you cannot beat him.”

“Even if I cannot beat him, I must fight him,” Zhang Wuji said.

“Very good, you have the spirit,” the man said, “Is your friend a young woman?”

“Correct,” Zhang Wuji replied, “How do you know?”

“If it were not for a young woman, would a young man be willing to risk his life?” the man said, “Is she very beautiful?”

“Very ugly!” Zhang Wuji replied.

“How about you?” the man asked, “Are you ugly or not?”

“Come over here,” Zhang Wuji replied, “You can see it for yourself.”

“I don’t want to see,” the man said, “Does that young woman know martial arts?”

“She does,” Zhang Wuji said, “She is the daughter of Yin Yewang Qianbei from the Heavenly Eagle Cult, and has learned martial art from Jin Hua Popo of the Lingshe Island.”

“You don’t need to pursue,” the man said, “Once Wei Yixiao got hold of her, he will never let her go.”

“Why is that?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“Humph,” the man snorted, “You are a fool, you can’t use your head. Who is Yin Yewang to Yin Tianzheng?”

“They are father and son,” Zhang Wuji replied.

The man asked, “Bai Mei Ying Wang and Qing Yi Fu Wang, whose martial art skill is stronger?”

“I don’t know,” Zhang Wuji replied, “May I ask Qianbei, who is stronger?”

“Each one has his own strong point,” the man said, “Whose influence is greater?”

“Ying Wang is the Heavenly Eagle Cult’s Cult Leader,” Zhang Wuji said, “I suppose his influence must be somewhat greater.”

“That’s right,” the man said, “Consequently, by seizing Yin Tianzheng’s granddaughter, Wei Yixiao can take advantage of her by use her as a leverage, he can force Yin Tianzheng to submit to him.”

Zhang Wuji shook his head. “I am afraid that is impossible,” he said, “Yin Yewang Qianbei is insistent in wanting to kill his own daughter.”

“And why is that?” the man was puzzled.

Thereupon Zhang Wuji told him briefly how Zhu’er had killed her father’s beloved concubine and had caused the death of her own mother.

When Zhang Wuji finished, the man clicked his tongue and said, “Amazing, truly amazing. She is a perfect material.”

“What material?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

The man replied, “In such a young age she was able to kill her stepmother, indirectly killed her own mother, and has received training under Jin Hua Popo of the Lingshe Island. I think she is a treasure. Wei Yixiao must want to take her as his disciple.”

Zhang Wuji was stunned. “How do you know?” he asked.

“Wei Yixiao is my good friend,” the man replied, “Naturally I understand his temperament.”

Zhang Wuji’s mind went blank for a moment before he called out loudly, “It’s bad!” and rushed forward. That man also ran closely behind him.

While still running, Zhang Wuji asked, “Why are you following me?”

“I am curious,” the man replied, “I want to see some excitement. What are you going to do when you overtake Wei Yixiao?”

Zhang Wuji angrily said, “Zhu’er is already rather heretical. I must stop her from taking Wei Yixiao as her master. What would happen if she also learned to become a demon who sucks other people’s blood?”

“Do you like Zhu’er that much?” the man asked, “Why do you care that much of her?”

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “I don’t know if I like her or not; it’s just that she … she is a little bit like my mother.”

“Hmm, so your Mama is also an ugly freak; it may be assumed that you are not too good-looking,” the man said.

“My Mama was very good-looking,” Zhang Wuji quickly said, “Don’t talk nonsense!”

“What a pity, what a pity!” the man said.

“What do you mean, ‘what a pity’?” Zhang Wuji asked.

The man replied, “You are young and have some guts. You are brave and upright, which is very good. It is too bad that very soon you will be a bloodless corpse.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred. “He is right,” he mused, “Even if I can overtake Wei Yixiao, how can I save Zhu’er? Won’t I simply deliver my own life in vain?”

“Qianbei,” he said, “Will you help me?”

“No, I can’t,” the man replied, “First, Wei Yixiao is my friend. Second, I am also not his match.”

“If Wei Yixiao is your friend, why didn’t you advise him?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“Advice is useless,” the man said, “Wei Yixiao himself does not want to suck people’s blood, he has no choice, his suffering is indeed difficult to bear.”

“He has no choice?” Zhang Wuji asked in bewilderment, “How can that be?”

“Wei Yixiao suffered a fire deviation when cultivating his internal energy,” the man explained, “Henceforth, each time he uses his internal energy, he must drink human blood; otherwise his entire body would turn cold and he would freeze to death immediately.”

Zhang Wuji thought for a moment and said, “Does that mean the three ‘yin’ arteries in his armpits are damaged?”

“Ah, how do you know?” the man was surprised.

“I was just guessing,” Zhang Wuji said, “I don’t know if it is correct?”

The man said, “Three times I climbed the Changbai Mountain to find a fire toad for him to treat his illness, but three times I failed. The first time I did see a fire toad, but I missed by about two ‘zhang’. The second and third time, not even the shadow of a fire toad was to be seen. After the current crisis is resolved, I am going back to try again.”

“I can go together with you,” ZhangWuji said, “Is that alright?”

“Hmm,” the man said, “Your internal energy is enough, but your ‘qing gong’ is lacking too much, simply not enough. We’ll talk again when the time comes. Hey, tell me, why do you want to help me find a fire toad?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “If we can catch one, not only Wei Yixiao’s illness will be cured, we can also help a lot of people, because then he would not have to suck other people’s blood anymore. Uh, Qianbei, he has already run for such a long time, he has used up his internal energy. If he has no other choice, won’t he be forced to suck Zhu’er’s blood?”

The man was taken aback. “That might be true,” he said, “Although he wanted to take Zhu’er as his disciple, when the cold attack came, his blood will be congealed into ice. If that happened, I am afraid even his own daughter …”

The more Zhang Wuji thought about it, the more he was frightened; he ran madly as if his life depended on it.

Suddenly the man exclaimed, “Ah, what’s that behind you?”

Zhang Wuji turned his head around to see, but suddenly all he could see was darkness as his entire body was encased in an enormous sack; followed by the sensation of his body lifted to the air. It seemed like he was captured inside a cloth sack, which was lifted up by that man. Quickly he stretched out his arms, trying to rip the cloth sack. Who would have thought that the sack was made of neither silk nor animal hide? It was exceptionally tough and durable. He groped around to feel the cloth; obviously it was a coarse homespun cloth, but he could not make even a crack on the seam.

The man tossed the sack on the ground, laughed out loud and said, “If you can drill out of my sack, I’ll consider you an expert.”

Zhang Wuji exerted his internal energy and pushed ferociously outward with both hands, but the sack simply followed his push without showing the least bit of cracking under the stress. He raised his right foot and kicked with all his might. ‘Pop!’ the sack only curved outward slightly. It did not matter whether he pull, push, roll, stretch; the sack simply followed his movements without giving way to his strength.

The man laughed and said, “Do you give up?”

“I give up!” Zhang Wuji said.

‘Slap!’ the man slapped the sack right on his buttocks and said with a laugh, “Kid, just stay inside my ‘qian kun yi qi dai’ [lit. Heaven and earth (the universe) air pocket] nicely, don’t move; I am taking you to a good place. If you open your mouth to speak and your presence is exposed, I might not be able to save you.”

“Where are you taking me?” Zhang Wuji asked.

The man replied, “Since you have fallen into my ‘Universe Air Pocket’, if I want to take your poor life, do you think you can run away? As long as you don’t move and don’t make any noise, you will reap the benefits.”

Zhang Wuji thought the man made a lot of sense; therefore, he did not struggle anymore.

The man added, “You can get into my cloth sack; that is your good fortune.” Slinging the cloth sack over his shoulder, he dashed forward.

“What about Zhu’er?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“How do I know?” the man replied, “You talk too much and make a lot of noise, I am going to shake you out of my cloth sack.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “If you really shake me out of this cloth sack, I could not ask for anything more.” But his mouth did not dare to reply; he only felt that this man’s feet were very fast.

After running for several hours, inside the sack Zhang Wuji started to feel hot, so he knew it was already daytime and the sack was heated by the sun. A moment later, he felt the man was walking on an upward slope; it seemed that they were going up the mountain.

They continued climbing the mountain for more than four hours. Zhang Wuji felt the nip of the cold air on his body; he mused, “Looks like we are climbing a very high mountain, the peak must be covered in snow, that’s why it is this cold.”

Suddenly he felt his body was flying in the air. He could not restrain from shouting in suprise. But before his shout vanished, he felt they were stopping; that man had landed on the ground. Zhang Wuji understood, the man must have had taken him on a jump just now. He assumed that they were on a dangerous precipice on a high mountain peak; the man jumped while carrying him on his back, the mountain rocks must be very slippery since they were covered with ice and snow. Supposing his foot slipped, wouldn’t it mean both of them falling together and die with their bones shattered?

He was just thinking about these things when the man leaped again. He successively leaped several times; sometimes he jumped higher, sometimes lower, sometimes he jumped far, sometimes near. Although Zhang Wuji was inside the cloth sack and could not see the least bit of light, he knew the local terrain must be extremely steep.