The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 23

Visitors drunk on magical lotus in the Green Willow Manor.

They continued their journey for more than a hundred ‘li’s before spending the night on the desert. Zhang Wuji slept until midnight, when suddenly he heard a faint ‘dingdong, dingdong’ of clear metallic noise coming from the west. His heart was stirred. Immediately he woke up and quietly went toward the incoming noise. Rushing ahead for about a ‘li’ he saw a shadow of a small person moving under the moonlight. He sped up his steps and called out, “Xiao Zhao, why are you following us?”

That shadow was indeed Xiao Zhao. As soon as she saw Zhang Wuji, “Wah!” she broke into tears and threw herself on his bosom; sobbing and crying without saying anything.

Zhang Wuji gently patted her shoulder and said, “Good child, don’t cry, don’t cry!”

Apparently Xiao Zhao had experienced much suffering and grievance; as she finally was able to vent it off, she cried even louder. “Wherever you go, I … I will follow you.”

Zhang Wuji thought, “This little girl’s parents are dead; and Yang Zuoshi [Left Emissary Yang] father and daughter always suspect her, she is truly pitiful. Just because I treated her nicely she is quite attached to me.” He said, “Very well, don’t cry. I will take you to the sea with me.”

Xiao Zhao was elated; she looked up. The dim and hazy moonlight shone on her simple and beautiful, yet elegant, small face like a layer of fine veil. The crystal clear tears had not been wiped out; yet her eyes shone with happiness just like the waves of the sea.

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “Xiao Zhao, when you grow up, you will be very beautiful.”

Xiao Zhao laughed, “How do you know?” she asked.

Before Zhang Wuji could answer they suddenly heard the noise of hoof beats toward northeast to them; a large group of riders galloped from the west heading to the east. It sounded like there were at least a hundred riders.

A short time later Wei Yixiao and Yang Xiao hurriedly came one after another. “Jiaozhu [Cult Leader],” they said, “A large group of riders speed along in the middle of the night, chances are they are the enemy of the cult.”

Zhang Wuji told Xiao Zhao to join Peng Yingyu and the others, while he took Wei and Yang two people toward the noise of hoof beats to investigate.

When they got nearer, they saw a row of horse hoof prints on the sand. Wei Yixiao stooped down to take a look; he grabbed a handful of sand and said, “There is a bloodstain.”

Zhang Wuji took the sand toward his nose and smelled fresh stench of blood. Following the print on the sand three people pursued for several ‘li’s. Suddenly Yang Xiao saw a half-broken blade on the –sand to his left. He picked it up to take a closer look, and saw three characters engraved on the hilt, ‘Feng Yuansheng’. He hesitated for a moment before saying, “This belonged to a member of Kongtong Sect. Jiaozhu, I think Kongtong people prepared some horses in here to take them back to the Central Plains.”

“It’s been more than half a month since the battle of the Brightness Peak,” Wei Yixiao said, “I wonder what craftiness they are up to by still being here?”

As they knew it was the Kongtong people, three people set their hearts at peace. They returned to their camp and slept peacefully. Toward the afternoon of the fifth day they saw a group of pedestrians on the prairie ahead; most of them were Buddhist nuns wearing dark robes, along with some seven, eight men.

As they were getting closer to each other, one of the nuns called out with a sharp voice, “It’s the evil thieves from the Devil Cult!” Everybody unsheathed their weapons and spread out in battle formation.

Zhang Wuji knew they were from the Emei Sect, but he had never met any one of them before. “Are ‘Shitai’s from the Emei Sect?” he asked in clear voice.

A small and wiry middle-aged nun stepped out and in stern voice said, “Evil thief from the Devil Cult, why do you ask? Come out here to receive your death.”

“How must I address Shitai?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Why are you so angry?”

“Evil thief!” that nun roared, “Are you worthy to ask my name? Who are you?”

Wei Yixiao dashed toward the incoming group of people. He sealed two male disciples’ acupoints. Grabbing the back of their collars he kicked the ground and flew some distance away. Leaving the two men on the ground he swiftly returned to his original position. His movements were as quick as a falcon snatching a rabbit; his speed was unbelievably fast. With a cold laugh he said, “This is the Number One Martial Artist of the present age, peerless under the heaven, unifying the Left and Right Brightness Emissaries under his command, leading the Four Cult Protector Kings, the Five Wanderers, the Five-Element Flags, the Heaven, Earth, Wind and Thunder Gates; the Zhang Jiaozhu of Ming Cult. He drove away the Emei Sect down the mountain; he snatched away the Yitian sword from Mie Jue Shitai’s hand. With his reputation, don’t you think he is worthy to ask Shitai’s illustrious name?”

The Emei Sect disciples were astonished at his words, but as they had seen Wei Yixiao’s demonstration of such an unthinkable skill, nobody doubted what he said. After calming herself down the middle-aged nun asked, “Who are you, Sire?”

“My surname is Wei, my nickname is Green Winged Bat King,” Wei Yixiao answered. The Emei disciples cried out in alarm; immediately four of them went to take a look at their two comrades. Wei Yixiao said, “We have received Zhang Jiaozhu’s command: The Ming Cult and the Six Major Sects are to refrain from fighting each other, to forget faults and repair goodness. Your disciples are fortunate, Bat King Wei did not suck their blood.”

After Zhang Wuji treated his injury with the Jiu Yang Shen Gong, not only had the cold poison of the Xuan Yin fingers been driven out, but the previously accumulated poison in his system had also been expelled for the most part; so that every time he exerted his internal strength he did not have to suck blood to resist the cold anymore.

Those four Emei disciples took their two comrades back to the group. They were still thinking on how to unseal their acupoints when they heard two swishing noise. Two small pebbles flew, splitting the air, toward two people’s acupoints, unsealing them. It was Yang Xiao, using Divine Flicking Finger transmitting his ‘zhi shi dian xue’ [acupoint sealing technique by throwing rocks] skill.

The middle-aged nun had to admit that not only the opposite party was numerous, the two people who had just demonstrated their skills showed that their martial arts were much higher. If they had to fight, her group would inevitably suffer a big loss. Besides, she was not sure if the so-called ‘refrain from fighting each other, to forget faults and repair goodness’ was true or not; therefore, she said, “Pin ni [lit. impoverished nun] ‘fa ming’ [Buddhist name/title, not real name] is Jing Kong. Have you gentlemen seen my Shifu?”

“Honorable Master has left the Brightness Peak more than half a month ago,” Zhang Wuji said, “I believe by this time they have reached the Yumen [Jade Gate] pass. You have come from the east; could it be that you missed each other?”

A thirty-something woman behind Jing Kong said, “Shijie [martial (older) sister], don’t listen to his nonsense; there were three groups of us, each with flare signals, how can we miss them?”

Listening to her rudeness Zhou Dian wanted to teach her some lessons; he said, “It’s so strange …” But Zhang Wuji cut him off in low voice, “Mr. Zhou, don’t lower yourself to the same level with her. They could not find their Shifu, naturally they are anxious.”

Jing Kong’s face showed suspicions. “Have our Master and comrades fallen into the Ming Cult’s hand?” she asked, “As men of honor, shouldn’t you tell us the truth?”

Zhou Dian laughed. “Let me be frank to you: the Emei Sect came and without considering their own strength, attacked the Brightness Peak, so everybody from Mie Jue Shitai down to her last disciple were captured and detained in the underwater prison. Let them ponder over their own faults for eight years, ten years, then we’ll talk about whether we should release them or not,” he said.

Peng Yingyu quickly said, “Please don’t mind Zhou Xiong’s [Brother Zhou] joke; Mie Jue Shitai’s divine energy is matchless, each of your fellow disciples’ martial art is superior, how can they fall into Ming Cult’s hand? Let us not talk any further; please return to Emei, I am sure you’ll see each other then.”

Jing Kong half believed half doubted; she could not make up her mind. Wei Yixiao said, “This Zhou Xiong loves to joke around. But do you think our Cult Leader would swindle juniors like you?”

The middle-aged woman said, “The Devil Cult is always crafty, deceitful and sly; how can we believe anything you said?”

Tang Yang, the Flag Leader of the Flooding Water Flag waved his left hand; immediately the Five Element Flags spread out to surround the Emei disciples. The Gigantic Wood on the east, the Raging Fire on the south, the Sharp Metal on the west, the Flooding Water on the north, the Thick Earth moving outside the encirclement, ready to respond.

In a loud voice Yin Tianzheng said, “Lao Fu [Old Man] is the White Browed Eagle King. I alone am enough to capture all of you juniors. The Ming Cult is showing mercy to you today; as younger generation you should think before you speak.” He spoke with a thunderous voice, shaking the Emei disciples’ ear drums so that their ears were ringing and their minds were troubled; making them difficult to concentrate. Looking at his white eyebrows and white beard and witnessing his divine power their hearts shivered in fear; everybody was dumbstruck in amazement.

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Please convey my respect to your honorable master; tell her the Ming Cult’s Zhang Wuji wishes her well.” Thereupon he led his people continue their journey to the east.

Tang Yang waited until Wei Yixiao, Yin Tianzheng and the other walked pass one by one before he waved his hand once again to recall the Five Element Flags. The Emei disciples watched this procession in awe; their hearts were filled with fear, their eyes followed Zhang Wuji and his entourage for a while, jaws dropped and speechless.

Peng Yingyu said, “Jiaozhu, I believe there is something fishy here. Mie Jue Shitai and the others have left to the east; I couldn’t think of any reason why they miss their disciples. Every sect every organization has their own special symbol for communicating with each other; how can they miss each other’s track?”

They continued their journey while discussing this strange occurrence. They thought it was unfathomable to think this many Emei disciples to suddenly vanish in the desert. Zhang Wuji was concerned over Zhou Zhiruo’s safety and well-being; but he was uncomfortable to share his thoughts with other people.

One day, towards the evening, the Flag Leader of the Thick Earth Flag, Yan Yuan suddenly exclaimed, “There is something strange here!” Rushing ahead he carefully examined the shrubs on their left. He took an iron spade from one his comrades and started digging the earth. Not too long afterwards, a corpse was revealed. It had been decayed, its face was unrecognizable, but judging from the clothes, it was a Kunlun Sect disciple.

The Thick Earth Flag members immediately began excavating the earth around and very soon they dug a big hole. There were sixteen corpses lying around randomly inside the hole; all were Kunlun Sect disciples. If it were their own school, in no way would they be buried this carelessly; so it was obvious that they were buried by the enemy. Looking at these corpses, every single one of them had weapon-inflicted wounds. Zhang Wuji ordered the Thick Earth Flag to bury each corpse separately and properly. Everybody looked at each other; their minds were filled with the same question: “Who did this?”

After getting over their shock, Peng Yingyu said, “If this matter is not brought to light, these bad debts would certainly be heaped upon our heads.”

In a clear voice Shuo Bude said, “Everybody, listen up! If we are facing blades and spears in a broad daylight war under our Jiaozhu’s command, although I do not dare to say that we are invincible, but we wouldn’t lose to other people in any way. However, a stab in the back is more difficult to guard against. Therefore, from now on we must guard against the enemy’s poisonous plot in every drop of water we drink, every food we eat and at every accommodation we stay.” The Cult complied in one voice.

Continuing their journey a little bit further, the setting sun appeared red like blood, very soon the sky would turn dark. They were just about to find a place to spend the night when they saw four bald condors circling the sky continuously toward the northeast. Suddenly a bald eagle dived down but flew back up immediately; some of its feathers fell and it cried out in pain. Apparently it was struck with something from below and it suffered an injury.

After Zhuang Zheng, the Flag Leader of the Sharp Metal Flag died under the Yitian Sword, Zhang Wuji promoted the Flag Leader Deputy Wu Jincao to be the Flag Leader. Seeing the strange bald eagle Wu Jincao said, “Let me take a look.” Leading two of his brethren he rushed ahead.

A moment later one of them came back and reported to Zhang Wuji, “Reporting to Jiaozhu: Yin Liu Xia [The Sixth Hero Yin] of Wudang Sect has fallen inside that valley.”

Zhang Wuji was startled. “Yin Liu Xia?” he asked, “Is he injured?”

“Apparently he is seriously injured,” the man replied, “As soon as the Flag Leader Wu recognized Yin Liu Xia, he ordered subordinate to report to the Jiaozhu. Flag Leader Wu is going down the valley to rescue …”

Zhang Wuji was extremely shocked; he rushed toward the valley without waiting for the man to finish his report. Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng, and the others followed behind. When they got near they saw a big sandy valley, more than a dozen of ‘zhang’s deep. Wu Jincao, with Yin Liting in his left arm, was stepping up and falling, strenuously trying to climb up the valley. Zhang Wuji slid down the valley wall; with one hand he grabbed Wu Jincao’s right arm, with the other he examined Yin Liting’s breath. He was slightly relieved to feeling a weak breath. Holding Yin Liting in his arms he leaped vertically several times and was out of the sandy valley then he laid Yin Liting down on the ground. As he calmed himself down and examined him, he was startled and his heart filled with grief and indignation. He found out that Yin Liting’s knees, elbows, ankles, wrists, feet, fingers; in short, all joints on his four limbs were broken. And as Yin Liting was at the point of his death, unable to move, the enemy fed him some poison. It was truly an unheard amount of cruelty.

Yin Liting was still conscious; seeing Zhang Wuji, his face showed happiness and he spat out two small pebbles from his mouth. Apparently he was pushed down the sandy valley after he was injured, but due to his profound internal energy he did not die. The bald condors wanted to eat him, so he leaned his head sideways and bit some pebbles on the ground. With his strong internal energy he managed to shoot the pebbles up and thus had survived for several days with untold hardships.

Yang Xiao saw the four bald condors were still circling overhead; seemingly waiting for them to leave Yin Liting and then they would swoop down to feast on his corpse. Yang Xiao picked four small stones from the ground and ‘swish, swish’ flicked those stone up. Four bald condors successively fell on the ground, their heads were smashed by the stones.

Zhang Wuji gave Yin Liting a pill to stop the pain and protect his heart; then he thoroughly examined him. After finding more than twenty breaks on Yin Liting’s four limbs, each and every one of them was crushed by heavy fingers’ strength, Wuji was not able to continue the examination.

In a low voice Yin Liting said, “It’s just like San Ge [third (older) brother]; Shaolin Sect … ‘jin gang zhi dao’ [diamond finger blade. Chapter 3 has it as ‘Golden Steel Finger’; ‘jin gang’ could also mean ‘a very hard substance’. I am not sure why it has an extra ‘blade’ (刀 ) character; I think it was a mistake, it should be ‘strength/power’ ( 力 ) character.] … injured by finger strength.” Zhang Wuji recalled his father telling him about how San Shibo [third martial (older) uncle] Yu Daiyan was injured; his joints were also crushed by Shaolin Sect’s Diamond Finger ‘Power’; and as a result he had been bedridden for more than twenty years. At that time his parents had not yet acquainted with each other. Unexpectedly many years later one more of his shishu [martial (younger) brother] had fallen under the same Shaolin Sect’s Diamond Finger. After calming himself down he said, “Liu Shu [sixth (younger) uncle], don’t you worry. This matter has fallen into your nephew’s hands. The criminal responsible for this will not escape justice. Which Shaolin Sect disciple did this, does Liu Shu know?”

Yin Liting shook his head. He had suffered untold hardship these past several days; he was already dead-tired. At this moment his heart was relieved, he could not hold any longer and passed out. Zhang Wuji remembered his own life; how his parents committed suicide for his San Shibo’s sake. Today his Liu Shishu had fallen under similar circumstances. If he could not force Shaolin Sect to hand over the criminal responsible for this cruelty, how could he fulfill his duty toward his Yu and Yin uncles? How could he be worthy to see his departed parents? He knew that although Yin Liting was severely injured, his life was not in danger. Only his limbs would be difficult to heal; most likely he would end up sharing Yu Daiyan’s fate.

Zhang Wuji’s experience was limited; facing this unfortunate situation he had to calm himself and think carefully. With his hands behind his back he wandered off some distance away; finally he sat down on top of a small hill. Two thoughts were waging war inside his mind: “Shall I go to the Shaolin Temple and find the criminal to avenge Father, Mother, San Shibo and Liu Shishu? If Shaolin Sect is willing to admit honestly and hand over the criminal, naturally nothing can be better than that. Otherwise, should Ming Cult join hand with Wudang Sect to deal with Shaolin together? My brethren and I have already drunk blood and made an oath, not to seek enmity with various sects, clans and societies [‘pai’, ‘bang’ and ‘hui’]. But as soon as I take this matter personally, I might as well throw the oath out the window; how can I win everybody’s heart? Once the disaster gate is opened blood will be avenged, I don’t know how many generations this bloodshed will continue, and how many heroes and warriors life will be sacrificed?”

In the meantime the sky had turned dark; the Ming Cult people built a fire and cooked their meals. Zhang Wuji was still sitting on the hill. He saw the bright moon rise, but he still could not make up his mind. He was deep in thought until almost midnight before he finally decided: “I’ll go to Shaolin Temple and see Abbott Kong Wen; I’ll explain everything and ask him to render justice.” But then he thought again, “What if we reach deadlock? Must I fight? Then what will happen?” He heaved a deep sigh, stood up and thought, “I am young yet have to bear a heavy responsibility. Right from the start I face this extremely difficult situation. I wholeheartedly want to avert the war and the fighting; but this deep hatred is shoved into my face. I bear the heavy responsibility of the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, I can’t get away from it; consequently I’ll have to face endless and exhausting hardships! If only I am not the Cult Leader, wouldn’t that be a lot better?”

As he returned to the fire he saw that everybody was very hungry but nobody dared to move their chopsticks to eat; they were standing up respectfully, waiting for him. Zhang Wuji felt very bad and busily said, “Next time you can go ahead and eat; you don’t have to wait for me.” He went over to see Yin Liting’s condition. He saw Yang Buhui had already cleaned his wounds with hot water and was feeding him hot soup. Yin Liting was still in daze; suddenly he opened his eyes and stared at Yang Buhui and loudly said, “Xiaofu Meizi [younger sister, term of endearment], I miss you so much, do you know it?”

Yang Buhui blushed; her face looked awkward. With her right hand holding the soup spoon she said in a low voice, “Drink some more soup.”

“Promise me you won’t leave me forever,” Yin Liting said.

“All right! All right!” Yang Buhui replied, “Drink this soup first, we’ll talk later.” Yin Liting looked very happy; he opened his mouth and drank the soup.

The next day Zhang Wuji passed an order for everybody not to go their assigned destinations for the time being, but to go to Shaolin Temple at Mount Song [‘song shan’], to find out the whole story about Yin Liting’s injury first and to talk about other things later. Wei Yixiao, Zhou Dian and the others had seen the severity of Yin Liting’s injury, every one of them was enraged; hearing their Cult Leader’s order to seek justice at the Shaolin Temple they cheered loudly.

Yang Xiao had always felt regret and guilt toward Yin Liting over Ji Xiaofu’s affair; although his mouth did not say anything, in his heart he was determined to avenge him with all his might. He also quietly told his daughter to take a good care of Yin Liting and thus clearing his conscience.

From here on they did not meet any other strange events along their way. When Yin Liting awoke later, Zhang Wuji asked him again the circumstances surrounding his injury. It was still difficult for Yin Liting to speak, he said, “Shaolin Sect’s monks, five of them besieged me. They were using Shaolin martial arts, I can’t be wrong.”

That day they have entered the Yumen pass. They sold their camels and bought some horses so as not to raise any suspicions. They also changed their clothes and dressed up as traders. Some of them acquired mule carts and loaded them with leathers, goods, medicine, and other commodities. The next day early in the morning they left to get an early start along the Ganliang main road. The sun was blazing like fire, the temperature was starting to rise.

After journeying for more than four hours they saw a row of about twenty willow trees ahead of them. They were very happy and urged their mounts to pick up speed since they wanted to take a rest under those trees. When they got closer they saw there were nine people sitting under the trees. Eight of them were big men dressed as hunters, with blades on their waists and bows and arrows on their shoulders. They also had five, six hunting falcons with them; the falcons looked fearsome with black feathers and sharp claws. The last man was a young gentleman, wearing a sapphire blue silk gown, lightly waving a folding fan in his hand. His appearance carried an elegant air around him.

Zhang Wuji turned around and dismounted his horse. He cast a glance toward that young gentleman; he noticed his facial features are delicate and exceptionally handsome. His dark eyes accentuated his white face, they were shining brightly. The folding fan in his hand had a white jade handle; the hand which waved the fan was as white as the fan handle. But everybody’s attention was caught by that young gentleman’s waist. They saw a golden hook, bound by a belt inlaid with precious stones; on this hook a long sword was hung. On the hilt of the sword was carved ‘yi tian’ two ‘zhuan wen’ characters [script character normally used on official seal]. The length and the shape of this sword were exactly like the one Mie Jue Shitai used to slaughter the Ming Cult people and the one Zhou Zhiruo used to stab Zhang Wuji that he almost died earlier.

The Ming Cult people were startled; as Zhou Dian was about to open his mouth to inquire when they heard from the east of the main road a disorder noise of hoof beats, a group of riders in a chaotic manner approached. They were a group of approximately fifty, sixty of Yuan soldiers, dragging along over a hundred women tied in ropes. These women were mostly small in stature; how could they follow the horses? Some of them fell down to the ground, but the soldiers kept pulling the rope so that the women were dragged on the ground. All women were Han people; obviously they were common people who were held captive by the Yuan soldiers. Most of their clothes had been ripped apart; some were almost naked. They were crying and weeping; creating an extremely heart-wrenching noise. Some of the soldiers had wine bottles in their hands; it seemed like they were drunk. Some wielded whips and struck the women. These Mongolian soldiers spent most of their lives on the horseback, so their skill in using whip was excellent. Once the whip was lashed, a piece of the women’s clothing was gone amidst the cheering and laughing of the soldiers.

The Mongolians had invaded China for almost a hundred years; they regarded the Han people lower than animals, only this kind of wantonly obscene and oppressive insult in broad daylight was actually extremely rare. The Ming Cult people’s eyes narrowed into slits; they were waiting for Zhang Wuji to issue an order and they would charge to kill the soldiers and rescue the women. Suddenly that young gentleman said, “Wu Liupo, tell them to release these women and stop deliberately making such trouble!” His voice was clear and tender, sounded like a female’s voice.

“Yes!” one of the men replied. He loosened one of the yellow horses tied on the willow tree, leaped up and landed on the horseback. He galloped forward while shouting, “Hey, you deliberately create trouble in broad daylight. Don’t you have a superior to control you? Quickly release these women!”

From among the Yuan soldiers one rider that looked like an officer came out. A young girl in his arm, his slanting eyes bleary, he laughed and said, “You are really impatient to die, sticking your nose into your master’s business!”

That man coldly said, “You are officers and soldiers, yet you act like bandits and robbers, without any compassion toward common people. Just do as I say!”

The officer sized up the people underneath the willow trees; he was slightly surprised at the audacity of this man. He mused in his heart that when commoners see soldiers, they usually would try to avoid them while they are still far away; could it be that these people had eaten a leopard’s gallbladder and a tiger’s heart that they dare to mess up the soldiers’ business? Sweeping his gaze he saw the young gentleman’s hat was inlaid with two shining bright, longan fruit size pearls. His greed arose; he smiled broadly and said, “Rabbit master [‘tu er xiang gong’ – ‘rabbit-like mister’, I don’t know how to translate this properly], come and follow your master! You will enjoy a lot of happiness!” Pressing his leg he urged his mount toward that young gentleman.

That young gentleman was initially indifferent; he did not show any anger looking at the Yuan soldiers’ atrocity. Yet as he heard this officer’s rudeness his handsome eyebrows slightly creased, he said, “Don’t let a single one of them live.”

As the word ‘live’ left his mouth, a ‘swish’ sound was heard, a feathered arrow shot out, creating a hole in the officer’s chest. The arrow was released by a man standing next to the gentleman. His shooting technique was not only fast, but very strong as well; not in the least bit inferior to an expert of the Wulin world. How could a common hunter have this kind of ability?

‘Swish, swish, swish!’ Arrow after arrow was shot; all eight hunters shot with great accuracy, not a single arrow missed its target, one arrow killed one Yuan soldier. Although this attack took the soldiers by surprise, they were all skilled in horseback riding and archery; with loud shouts they returned the attack by shooting arrows. The other seven hunters also mounted their horses and charged forward. Arrow after arrow, in a short moment they had killed about thirty Yuan soldiers. The rest of the soldiers understood their precarious situation; they whistled to each other, threw the women away, turned their horses around and ran away.

The eight hunters pressed their legs and their horses pursued with lightning speed. Eight arrows were shot and eight Yuan soldiers dropped down to the ground, dead. After about a ‘li’ the Mongolian soldiers were completely annihilated.

The young gentleman led his horse away, mounted it, and without turning his head he galloped away. It seemed like for him, giving order to kill more than fifty Mongolian soldiers was as ordinary as eating his rice; he did not even give it the slightest thought.

“Hey, hey!” Zhou Dian called out, “Wait! I want to ask you something!” The young gentleman did not pay him any attention; in a moment he and his eight hunters had gone far.

If Zhang Wuji, Wei Yixiao and the others really want to ask that young gentleman a question, they could use their ‘qing gong’ [lightness kungfu] and overtake the speeding horses; but after witnessing those eight hunters’ divine archery skill to annihilate the enemy they were impressed with their chivalry, their hearts were full of admiration, hence they felt it was inappropriate to press and offend those people. Everybody started to talk at once, but nobody knew these nine people’s origin.

Yang Xiao said, “That young gentleman is obviously a female wearing male clothes. Those eight men dressed as hunters were very respectful toward her. Their archery skill was divinely marvelous, but it did not look like archery skill of the people of the Central Plains.”

By this time Yang Buhui and the Thick Earth Flag members were busy consoling the women. It turned out that they were taken captive from the neighboring villages and small towns. Thereupon the Ming Cult people searched the Yuan soldiers’ corpses and took any gold, silver and other valuables, and distributed it to the women and sent them home.

For the next several days the topic of discussion among the Ming Cult people was the nine people whose arrows obliterated the Yuan soldiers. They regretted the fact that they were unable to befriend those people. To Yang Xiao Zhou Dian said, “Yang Xiong [brother Yang], your daughter can be considered a beautiful woman, but I am afraid she falls short compared to that young lady dressed as a man.”

“Right, right!” Yang Xiao replied, “If they were willing to join our Cult, those eight hunters’ position would be above the Five Wanderers.”

“Your mother’s stinky fart! [this is one of those ‘weird-to-english-speakers’-ears’ stuff]” Zhou Dian was angry, “What’s so special about horse-riding skill? Just call them to have a contest with Zhou Dian.”

Yang Xiao hesitated a moment before replying, “Compared to Zhou Xiong [brother Zhou] they are slightly inferior, but talking about martial art skill, I think they are half a notch higher than Leng Qian Xiong [brother Leng Qian].”

The fact that among the Ming Cult’s Five Wanderers it’s a well known matter that Leng Qian’s martial art skill was the highest. Yang Xiao and Zhou Dian were always at each other’s throat. Although they no longer fought each other openly, Zhou Dian had never missed any opportunity to argue with Yang Xiao. This time hearing Yang Xiao said that the eight hunters’ martial art was higher than Leng Qian’s, in other words, he was looking down upon the Five Wanderers, Zhou Dian was angry. He was about to open his mouth to retort when Peng Yingyu laughed and said, “Zhou Xiong, again you fall into Left Emissary Yang’s trap. He was deliberately making you angry!”

Zhou Dian laughed a big laugh and said, “I am not angry; how can he make me angry?” But not too long afterwards he started to mutter how Yang Xiao’s riding skill was not so good. Everybody looked at each other and smiled.

Under daily medical care of Zhang Wuji, Yin Liting had begun to regain his consciousness. He said that when he left the Brightness Peak that day, his mind was so shaken that he was lost in the desert. He walked farther and farther away, groping his way on the yellow sand of the Gobi desert for eight, nine days. By the time he found the right direction he had lost contact with his Wudang martial art brothers. That day he unexpectedly ran into five Shaolin monks. Without saying anything these five monks suddenly attacked him. Their martial art skill was not weak; although Yin Liting managed to overthrow two of them, in the end he was still overwhelmed by sheer number and in the end had to suffer heavy injury. He said these five monks’ martial art was definitely Shaolin’s martial art, only he did not see them on the Brightness Peak; so they must be the reinforcement who came later. On why they attacked him violently, Yin Liting could not come with any plausible answer. One time or another Yin Liting had announced his name, so in no way would the monks mistake him for someone else.

Along the way Yang Buhui was taking a careful care of Yin Liting. She knew her parents had offended him; but her own compassion also grew because of his pitiful condition. That particular evening they arrived at Yongdeng. They urged their horses because they wanted to reach Jiangchengzi to spend the night there. While walking they suddenly heard horses’ hoofs; on the main road two riders were coming fast toward them. When they got within a dozen ‘zhang’s, suddenly the two riders stopped their mounts and leaped down. Holding the horses’ reins they waited on the side of the road; their manners were really respectful. Those two riders were two of the eight hunters who annihilated the Yuan soldiers with their arrows earlier.

The Ming Cult people were delighted; one after another they dismounted their horses to greet the two hunters. The two hunters walked toward Zhang Wuji and bowed in respect. In a clear voice one of them said, “Our superior had long admired the Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu’s heroism and chivalry, along with his heroes and warriors. Xiao ren [little/lowly people] have received our superior’s order to invite all of you with sincerity and respect to take a rest at our village.”

Zhang Wuji returned the respect and said, “We do not dare, we do not dare! I wonder how shall we address your superior?”

That man replied, “Our superior’s surname is Zhao; but I do not dare to tell her name without her authorization.” Everyone was pleased they openly admitted that the young gentleman was actually a woman in disguise; indicating the sincerity of the invitation.

Zhang Wuji said, “Ever since we saw your divine archery skill, we have never cease to praise you every day; to be able to make friends with you is truly our good fortune. Only we do not want to impose.”

“You are all the heroes of this generation,” that man replied, “Our superior has admired you for a long time. Today you pass by our residence, how can it be that we do not offer you three cups of our insipid wine and chat with you to build friendship?”

Zhang Wuji wanted to know these warriors better, but he also wanted to inquire about the Yi Tian sword they saw earlier; therefore, he said, “If that’s the case, to refuse would be impolite; we’ll visit your village.”

The two hunters were delighted; they mounted their horses and led the way.

Less than a ‘li’ later two more riders came their way. They stopped some distance away and waited by the side of the road. They were also part of the ‘shen jian ba xiong’ [divine archer eight heroes]. Another ‘li’ later the last four members of the Divine Archer Eight Heroes also came to welcome them. The Ming Cult people were happy and feeling reassured in seeing the courtesy their host demonstrated.

Following a street made of green flagstones they arrived at the courtyard of a big manor. The manor was encircled by a small brook; the bank of the brook was full of green willow trees. To be able to see a Jiannan-like scenery in Gan Liang area, they felt refreshed.

The manor gate was wide open and a draw bridge was already lowered. The lady surnamed Zhao, still wearing a man’s clothes, stood at the gate, welcoming them. Miss Zhao stepped forward and saluted them. “The heroes and warriors of the Ming Cult’s visit to the Green Willow Manor today truly bring glory to us,” she said in a clear voice, “Zhang Jiaozhu, please! Left Emissary Yang, please! Yin Lao Qianbei [old senior Yin], please! Bat King Wei, please! …” She called out the Ming Cult’s people one by one. Not only did she know everybody’s name without anybody announcing it to her, but she also knew their respective position; not a single one was missed. Everybody was astonished.

Zhou Dian could not help but asked, “Miss, how did you know our names? Could it be that you know divination?”

Miss Zhao smiled and said, “The Ming Cult’s heroes are well-known in the Jianghu, who has not heard of them? In the recent battle of the Brightness Peak Zhang Jiaozhu, with his divine ability, has deterred the six major sects. This news has shaken the Wulin world. You are going east to the Central Plains; along the way I don’t know how many Wulin friends will give you admiring receptions, how can this ‘xiao nuzi’ [lit. little/lowly woman] miss this opportunity?”

Everybody agreed with her and inwardly they were very pleased, but with their mouths they muttered some modest words. They turned toward the Divine Archer Eight Heroes, asking their names and martial art school. One big and tall man answered, “Subordinate is Zhao Yishang [lit. one injury]. This one is Qian Erbai [lit. two defeats]. This one is Sun Sanhui [lit. three destructions]. This one is Li Sicui [lit. four devastations].” Pointing to the other four men he continued, “That one is Zhou Wushu [lit. five loses]. That one is Wu Liupo [lit. six damages]. That one is Zheng Qimie [lit. seven extinguish], and the last one is Wang Bashuai [lit. eight feeble/weak].”

Hearing their names the Ming Cult people were dumbstruck. They recognized the eight men’s surnames were taken from the ‘bai jia xing’ [Book of Hundred Surnames], namely ‘Zhao Qian Sun Li, Zhou Wu Zheng Wang.” Not only it was very strange, but their given names were all unlucky. Take ‘Wang Bashuai’ for example; not even bandits and barbarians would think of such names. But in the Jianghu world it was not uncommon that some people changed their names to avoid calamity or enmity; so nobody asked any further.

Miss Zhao personally led the way, taking everybody to the main hall. They saw in the main hall hung a large wooden tablet with ‘lu liu shan zhuang’ [Green Willow Villa] four characters engraved on it. In the middle of the hall there was a banner with Zhao Mengxiao’s poem:

The white rainbow [oxymoron, I know, but how do you translate 白 虹 ?] stood up to fly,

Green serpent roared inside the box,

Murderous frost at the edge of the blade,

The round moon just about to reach its apex.

Sword can tear the dragon on the outer sky,

Sword can charge against the sun,

Sword can slit the demon’s abdomen,

Sword can cut away the treacherous minister’s head.

Hiding to ward off the demon’s enchantment,

Do not frighten the consort.

Keep the sword to behead the scaly dragon,

Do not test it to strike the street dog.

At the end of the poem there was a small inscription, “Testing the precious Yitian Sword in the night, it was truly a treasured thing. I wrote the poem ‘shuo jian’ [lit. speaking about sword] in praise of it. Bianliang Zhao Min.”

Zhang Wuji’s calligraphy skill was not too good, but following the ‘shu jiu zhen lian’ [lit. vermillion nine real/true practice] character principle [Translator’s note: I am sure about this part], he was able to somewhat distinguish other people’s penmanship. Looking at the strokes of this poem he saw charm and tenderness, revealing the poem came from a female hand; so it must be this Miss Zhao’s handiwork. Other than medical book, he seldom read any other book; but the poem’s meaning was certainly not obscure. As soon as he read it he understood its meaning. He thought, “Turned out she is from Bianliang [modern day Kaifeng, previous capital of the Northern Song], and has a single character ‘Min’ as her name.” Thereupon he said, “Miss Zhao is well-versed in both literature and martial art [wen wu quan cai]; my utmost admiration. Turned out Miss belongs to the family of the former capital.”

That Miss Zhao, Zhao Min smiled and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu’s father was well-known as the ‘yin gou tie hua’ [Silver Hook Iron Stroke], a calligraphy expert. Zhang Jiaozhu received your educational background from your family, ‘xiao nuzi’ earnestly wants to see a poem from your hand.”

Upon hearing this Zhang Wuji’s face turned red; he lost his father when he was ten and had not learned penmanship from him. Afterwards he only learned medicine and martial art, so it could be said that his writing skill was superficial. “If Miss wants me to write,” he said, “That is the same as requesting my death. My late father departed too early; I haven’t learned anything from my father. I am really ashamed.”

While they were talking the Manor servants had already served tea. They noticed that inside the sky blue porcelain cups there were green and tender Longjing [city in Jilin] tea leaves floating around. A delicate fragrant greeted their nostrils. The warriors felt strange; this place was separated thousands of ‘li’s from Jiangnan, how could there be fresh Longjing tea leaves? In all aspects this Miss carried a mysterious aura around her.

Zhao Min was the first to take the cup with both hands and took a sip before inviting everybody else to do the same. She said, “You have journeyed far, our village is simple and slow, so please forgive our lack of hospitality. Everybody please follow me to have some refreshments.” She stood up and led them passed a porch and a courtyard, toward a big garden. This garden was littered with unadorned mountain rocks and a plain creek pond in the middle; there were not too many flowers and plants, but the overall impression was elegance. Zhang Wuji did not have deep understanding of landscape architecture, but Yang Xiao silently nodded his head in approval. He thought the master of the garden was certainly not an uncouth person; inwardly he was full of admiration.

In the pavilion in the middle of the pond two banquet tables had already been prepared. Zhao Min invited Zhang Wuji and his entourage to take a seat. Zhao Yishang, Qian Erbai and the other Divine Archer Eight Heroes took the rest of the Ming Cult people to have their meals at another hall on the side. Yin Liting was unable to get up, so Yang Buhui attended to him in yet another room.

Zhao Min poured a big bowl of wine and took it in one gulp; she said, “This is the eighteen years old ‘nu zhen chen’ [old chaste maiden (or spinster)] wine from Shaoxing; please take a taste and tell me what you think?”

Although Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao, Yin Tianzheng, and the others truly believed that this Miss was a young generation chivalrous heroine, they were still very careful. They looked at the wine pot and the wine cups and did not see anything unusual; besides, Miss Zhao had taken the first cup, so they chased their suspicion away and ate and drank with ease of mind.

Ming Cult originally had a religious rule so-called ‘shi2 cai4 shi4 mo2’ [meat dish are a matter of the devil]; prohibiting them to consume alcohol and meat. But after their altar was moved to the Mount Kunlun this prohibition against alcohol and meat was removed. In the Western Region fresh vegetables were hard to come by; they were more expensive than meat. Plus the climate was bitter cold; without cattle and sheep fat it was difficult to fight the cold using internal energy alone.

Around the pavilion, on the bank of the pond, there were seven, eight flower trees; they looked like ‘shui xian’ [lit. water deity; narcissus?] but not as big. The flowers were white; the fragrance was light and elegant. So close to this refreshing fragrance, drinking the good wine, the gentle breeze carried the flower scent; the warriors’ hearts were really carefree. That Miss Zhao was really cordial, she was very knowledgeable of stories and news of the Wulin world of the Central Plains; many of those were not known even to Yin Tianzheng father and son. Toward Shaolin, Emei, Kunlun, and the other sects’ martial arts she did not say too much, but she placed the highest regards toward Zhang Sanfeng and the Wudang Seven Heroes. She also heaped praises toward Ming Cult’s leaders’ martial art. She was seemingly talking without giving it too much thought; but each praise and every admiration were right on target. The guests were delighted and full of admiration toward her; but when asked which martial art school she belongs to, Zhao Min only smiled without giving any answer, and then she changed the topic.

The wine had gone several rounds. Zhao Min always drank her cup dry. She was very open-minded. Every time a new dish arrive, she always moved her chopsticks and be the first to eat the dish. Her face was starting to exude a reddish glow from the wine; she looked even more beautiful. A beautiful woman would either be refined and elegant, or tender and glamorous; but this Miss Zhao, in her extreme beauty she also carried a third part boldness, a third part heroic attitude, while maintained her elegance. Plus, she also carried an air of authority, which gained other people’s respect and made them not dare to stare at her intently.

Zhang Wuji said, “Miss Zhao, our Ming Cult is most grateful for your hospitality. I have a question I’d like to ask, but I do not dare to utter it.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhao Min replied, “Why are you acting like you are an outsider? Isn’t there a saying in the Jianghu world, ‘within four sides of the ocean, everybody is a brother’? If you do not think I am unworthy, just consider ‘xiao mei’ [little sister, she was referring to herself] your friend. Whatever it is you want to know, I will do my best to answer it.”

Zhang Wuji said, “If that is the case, then I’d like to ask: where did Miss acquire this Yitian Sword from?”

Zhao Min showed a faint smile; she loosened the Yitian Sword from her waist and placed it on the table. “Ever since Xiao Mei met with all of you, your eyes have never left this sword. I wonder if you care to tell me the reason behind it.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Frankly, this sword originally belonged to Mie Jue Shitai, the Sect Leader of Emei Sect. The number of my brethrens from the Ming Cult who perished under this sword was not a few. Even I almost died from this sword’s stab on my chest. That was the reason we pay a close attention to this sword.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu’s divine ability is matchless,” Zhao Min said, “I heard by using ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ you were able to snatch this sword from Mie Jue Shitai’s hand. How could you be injured by this sword? I also heard the one injured Zhang Jiaoshu with this sword was a young female disciple of the Emei Sect; her martial art was only so-so. Xiao Mei really does not understand why it happened.” With raised eyebrows she looked at Zhang Wuji’s face intently; her mouth showed a faint smile, yet she was not smiling.

Zhang Wuji blushed profusely. “How did she know this clearly?” he thought. He said “the other side came too suddenly, I was not paying attention and let it slip.”

Zhao Min smiled and said, “That Zhou Zhiruo, Zhou Jiejie [older sister Zhou] is very beautiful, is she not?”

Zhang Wuji blushed even redder, “Miss is teasing me,” he said. He picked up the wine cup with both hands, trying to drink it in one gulp to hide his embarrassment, but unexpectedly his left hand slightly trembled and he spilled a few drops of wine on the sleeve of his clothes.

Zhao Min smiled and said, “Xiao Mei cannot bear the wine power, I am afraid if I drink some more I will breach the etiquette; I wouldn’t know the seriousness of what comes out of my mouth. I am going inside to change my clothes and will be back right away. Please all of you continue eating and drinking, no need to be polite.” She stood up, cupped her fists, turned around and went out of the pavilion, and disappeared beyond the willow and flower trees on the other side of the pond. The Yitian sword was left lying on the table, she did not take it with her. The Manor servants continuously served food and wine.

The Ming Cult people stopped eating. They waited for quite a long time but Zhao Min had not returned. Zhou Dian said, “She left her precious sword here, obviously she trusts us.” While speaking he lifted up the sword with one hand. “Ah!” he suddenly exclaimed, “How come it is so light?” Grabbing the hilt he drew the sword from its sheathe. Everybody rose up from their seats in astonishment. Where is the Yitian sword, which could cut metal and slice jade, with its matchless sharpness? The sword in Zhou Dian’s hand was just a wooden sword. Immediately everybody smelt a faint incense-like fragrance, and saw that the sword’s blade was light yellow, for the sword was made of sandalwood.

For a moment Zhou Dian was at a loss; pushing the sword back to its sheathe he mumbled, “Yang … Left Emissary Yang, this … what kind of trick is this?” Although he loved to argue with Yang Xiao daily, but actually deep down in his heart he admired Yang Xiao’s vast knowledge and experience. This time facing a mystery he could not help but asking Yang Xiao for direction.

Yang Xiao’s face was serious, in a low voice he said, “Jiaozhu, I am 90% sure that this Miss Zhao harbors ill intention. This moment we are in danger, I think we’d better leave as soon as we can.”

“Why would we be afraid of her?” Zhou Dian asked, “We are numerous. Even if she is making her move, do you think she can eradicate us completely?”

Yang Xiao said, “Since entering this Green Willow Manor everywhere I looked I felt something strange. It feels right yet not exactly right; it feels wrong yet not exactly wrong. I can’t pinpoint what it is. Why should we stay in this place? We don’t have any specific reason anyway.”

“What the Left Emissary Yang said is right,” Zhang Wuji nodded his head, “We have had our meals; it’s time for us to leave.” Then he stood up.

Tie guan dao ren [the Iron Hat Taoist Priest] said, “What about the Yitian Sword? Aren’t you going to inquire, Jiaozhu?”

Peng Yingyu said, “In my humble opinion, this Miss Zhao has a suspicious intention; she won’t stop until she reached her goal. Even if we don’t look for her; she will definitely look for us.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “We have our own tasks to accomplish, there is no need to seek a new burden. We’ll wait for the enemy to exhaust himself; we’ll talk about it once we understand more.”

Everybody left the pavilion on the pond; returning to the main hall they told the servant to notify the lady that they were grateful for the feast and it was time for them to leave.

Zhao Min came out in a hurry; she was wearing a light yellow silk gown. She looked natural yet elegant; her glowing countenance was stunningly beautiful. “We have just met, why are you leaving?” she asked, “Is it because ‘xiao nuzi’s hospitality is too simple and slow?”

Zhang Wuji said, “We are very grateful over Miss’ hospitality, how could you say ‘simple and slow’? We have businesses to attend and cannot tarry too long. We’ll meet again someday and we’ll ask for more of your advice.”

The corner of Zhao Min’s mouth showed a faint smile, yet she was not smiling. She sent the guests off the village. The Divine Archers Eight Heroes stood on the either side of the road, bowing respectfully to send the guests off. The Ming Cult people cupped their fists, and without saying anything sped away. As they left the Green Willow Manor on all directions they saw open field, with nobody in sight.

Zhou Dian loudly said, “This Miss Zhao does not necessarily harbor ill intentions to us. Perhaps she was just playing a joke to Jiaozhu with that wooden sword. Even if that little girl wants to create trouble, what could she do? Left Emissary Yang, this time you were wrong!”

Yang Xiao hesitated before answering, “Whatever it is, I can’t say; but I feel uncomfortable.”

Zhou Dian laughed and said, “After the battle of the Brightness Peak the famous Left Emissary Yang has turned into a coward … Aiyo!” He swayed and fell from his horse.

Shuo Bude was the closest to him; he busily jumped down his horse to help Zhou Dian up. “Zhou Xiong [brother Zhou], what happened?” he asked.

Zhou Dian laughed and said, “No … nothing. I guess I drank too much wine so I am dizzy now.”

As the word ‘dizzy’ came out of his mouth, everybody looked at each other. Turned out as they sped way from the Green Willow Manor, everybody felt slight dizziness. Only they thought it was because of the wine, so they did not give it too much thought. But not only Zhou Dian’s martial art skill was high, his drinking capacity was also strong; how could a few bowls of wine make him so dizzy that he fell down from his horse? Surely something was amiss.

Zhang Wuji looked up and tried to remember Wang Nangu’s Book of Poison, which poison was colorless, tasteless and odorless; but could make people dizzy. He could not think of anything. But he ate and drank the same dishes and the same wine, yet why did he not feel anything different? Suddenly something flashed in his mind like a lightning bolt; he remembered something and was extremely shocked. He shouted, “Everybody who ate at the pavilion on the pond, get down from your horses and sit down cross-legged; right now! Whatever happened, do not circulate your ‘qi’ [breathing, in term of internal energy cultivation].” He also issued an order, “Brothers of Five-Element Flags and Heavenly Eagle Flag, spread out to all directions and encircle the leaders. Whoever is trying to get near can be immediately killed!”

Hearing their Cult Leader issued a strict order everybody replied it loud voice. They stood up, unsheathing their weapons and moved into position. Zhang Wuji ordered, “Do not leave your position until I come back!”

The leaders were confused; they only felt slightly dizzy, certainly nothing else seemed unusual, why was the Cult Leader so alarmed? Zhang Wuji warned again, “No matter how uncomfortable you are, do not fight it with your inner strength; otherwise the poison will be difficult to neutralize.”

The leaders were startled, “How can we be poisoned?”

Zhang Wuji’s shadow swayed and in a blink of the eye he had already fled more than a dozen ‘zhang’s away. He felt horse would be too slow, so utilizing his ‘qing gong’ to the fullest he flew back to the Green Willow Manor.

He was very anxious, knowing the extent of the poison attack on Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng and the others. The poison would not flare-up in three quarters or an hour; but it was not like the ‘xuan yin zhi’ [black/mysterious finger, Xuan Yin Finger in Chapter 22], in which the treatment could be delayed for a long time. If he could not find the antidote soon, these people’s lives would be in danger.

He flew over these twenty ‘li’s or so in a short moment. As he arrived at the Manor gate, he flew up like an arrow. The gate guards did not even see anybody entering the Manor, only a blur of a shadow. Zhang Wuji went straight to the garden in the back, towards the pavilion in the middle of the pond. He saw a lady wearing a light green silk gown; her left hand holding a cup, a book in her right hand, sitting quietly, reading a book and drinking tea. It was none other than Zhao Min. This time she was wearing female clothing. Upon hearing the sound of Zhang Wuji’s footsteps she turned her head around and gave a faint smile.

“Miss Zhao, I need some flowers and grass from you,” Zhang Wuji said. Without waiting for her to reply, his left foot kicked and he jumped from the pond bank to the pavilion in the middle of the pond. His body floated above the water like a dragonfly; while with his hands he pulled the seven, eight narcissus-like flower trees. As he landed on the pavilion, he heard several ‘swish, swish’ sounds, several tiny secret projectiles flew toward his face.

Zhang Wuji flicked his right hand and rolled the secret projectiles inside his sleeve. His left sleeve brushed away toward Zhao Min; Zhao Min slanted sideways to evade, only to hear a whistling sound. The gust of wind from the sleeve blew away everything on the table: teapot, teacup, fruit dish and everything else flew across the pond and shattered into pieces as they struck the flower trees on the other side.

Zhang Wuji stood up straight; he examined at the flower trees in his hand, and saw that each tree had a deep purple long root, and on these roots grew small beads the size of pearls, dark green like jadeite. He was delighted since he knew he had found the antidote; he put the roots in his pocket. “Thank you so much for the antidote, I am taking my leave now!” he said.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Easy to come, but difficult to leave!” Tossing her book aside she drew a pair of paper-thin and frost-white daggers from the book; and thrust the daggers forward.

Zhang Wuji was concerned about Yin Tianzheng and the others’ injuries, he was not willing to prolong the contact. His right sleeve brushed away and dozens of golden needles in his sleeve shot out toward her. Zhao Min evaded sideways and flew out of the pavilion. Her right foot stepped on the stairs and immediately she flew back in; dozens of golden needles fell into the water.

“Good movement!” Zhang Wuji praised. He saw her left hand in front of her body and her right hand behind, both daggers came slanting down on him. He thought, “This little girl’s heart is so poisonous. If I did not know the Jiu Yang Shen Gong [the internal energy cultivated from the Nine Yang Manual] and did not read Wang Nangu’s Book of Poison, today the Ming Cult would have fallen under her hand without knowing anything.” Both of his hands reached out to grab her hands and snatch the daggers away.

Zhao Min’s white wrist flipped suddenly, her pair of daggers swift as lightning slashed his fingers. Zhang Wuji did not exert his energy in this move, he was inwardly groaning. But his internal energy was profound, in reflex his fingers moved and although he failed in snatching the dagger away, he managed to strike the acupoints on her wrists. Once again she flicked her wrists and the daggers flew out from her hands. Zhang Wuji leaned his head sideways to evade. ‘Bang, bang!’ The daggers struck the pavilion’s wooden pillar with such a force that they stuck on the wood and vibrated continuously.

Zhang Wuji was stunned; speaking about martial art skill, she could not be compared to Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao and the others, but in term of alertness and quick-thinking, her reflex was very fast. Even though her daggers repeatedly missed their target, they would have been able to injure the opponent in the end. If early on he erroneously thought that he managed to disarm her and was not moving quick enough, then his life would have been gone by now.

As the pair of daggers flew out of her hands, Zhao Min’s right wrist flipped again and she quickly snatched the wooden Yitian Sword from the table. She thrust the sword, still inside its sheath, toward Zhang Wuji’s waist, without drawing the sword out.

Using two of his left hand fingers Zhang Wuji attacked the ‘jian zhen xue’ [shoulder chaste acupoint] on her left shoulder. As Zhao Min leaned her head sideways to evade, his right hand stretched out, using a marvelous movement from ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ he snatched the wooden sword.

Zhao Min withdrew to the steps; she laughed softly and said, “Master Zhang, what kind of martial art was that? Was it ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ divine skill? I think there is nothing special about it.”

Zhang Wuji opened up his left palm; revealing a pearl head ornament still gently shaking. It was the head ornament Zhao Min wore on the side of her head. Zhao Min’s face changed slightly; Zhang Wuji was able to snatch the hair ornament on her temple without her feeling anything. If when taking the ornament he slightly touched the left hand ‘tai yang xue’ [sun acupoint] on her head, then her little life would have been gone. But she was quick to think and she smiled. “If you like that pearl flower, then I’ll gladly give it to you; you don’t have to snatch it away from me,” she said.

Zhang Wuji was slightly embarrassed by her words; his left hand waved, tossing the pearl ornament back to her. “I’ll return it to you!” he said. Turning his body he was about to leave the pavilion.

Zhao Min held out her hand to take the head ornament. “Wait a minute!” she called out.

Zhang Wuji turned around. “Why did you steal two of the biggest pearls?” she said with a smile.

“You are talking nonsense, I don’t have time to joke around with you,” Zhang Wuji said.

Zhao Min lifted the head ornament high and with a stern voice said, “Look here, aren’t two of the pearls missing?”

Zhang Wuji shot a glance and he noticed two golden threads without any pearl on them. He knew she must have had taken those pearls herself; she wanted to lure him to come back so that she could carry out some other dirty trick. “Humph,” he snorted, ignoring her.

Zhao Min pressed the edge of the table with her hand and sternly said, “Zhang Wuji, I dare you to come within three steps of me.”

Zhang Wuji was not fazed by her intimidation, he said, “It’s up to you if you say that I am a coward who fears death.” While talking he had already taken two steps down the stairs.

Seeing none of her tricks worked, Zhao Min’s beautiful face changed; with a miserable voice she cried out, “It’s over! It’s over! I am defeated, how could I still have a face to see my Shifu?” Reaching back she pulled one of the dagger stuck on the pillar. “Zhang Jiaozhu,” she called out, “Thank you for your help!”

Zhang Wuji turned his head around only to see a flash of white light; she thrust the dagger into her own chest. Zhang Wuji laughed coldly, “I won’t fall …” he had not finished whatever he wanted to say when he saw the dagger enter her chest. She cried out miserably and fell on the edge of the table.

To say that Zhang Wuji was extremely shocked would not be an overstatement; he did not expect her to be so hard-headed that she committed suicide just because she failed to overcome him. He thought that as long as the dagger did not strike her heart, he might still be able to save her. Hence he turned around to examine her wound.

He walked to within three steps of the table and was going to reach out to pull her shoulder when suddenly his foot stepped on empty air; his body dropped vertically down. While groaning inwardly he flicked both of his sleeves, so that his drop was slightly halted. In the meantime his palm struck the edge of the table. If his palm struck its target, then he could borrow the momentum to leap out from this trap. Who would have thought that Zhao Min’s suicide was a fake; she had already anticipated his action. Sending her strength to her right palm she managed to block his palm from reaching the table.

This ‘rabbit-rose-up-falcon-fall-down’ exchange happened in a blink of the eye; by the time two palms met, Zhang Wuji’s body had dropped half of his height. Flipping his hand over he tried to grab four of Zhao Min’s fingers. But her fingers were slippery, they immediately slipped away from his grab. Yet within this fraction of a second Zhang Wuji exerted his strength – taking the opportunity as their fingers touched- to reach out to grab Zhao Min’s upper arm. Only the force of his falling down was too great; as soon as he pulled, the two of them fell together.

All of a sudden darkness enveloped them; they kept falling, but heard the slam of the trap door close above their heads. The trap was about four, five ‘zhang’s [about 12 – 15 meters or 40 – 50 feet]. As his feet touched the bottom immediately Zhang Wuji leaped up, using ‘bi hu you qiang gong’ [gecko roaming the wall skill] to the fullest he crawled along the trap wall to the top, trying to push the trap door open. His hand touched something icy cold; turned out the door was made of a giant iron panel, reinforced by some kind of contraption to hold it firmly on its place. Although he had the divine strength of ‘qian kun da nuo yi’, but his body was suspended in midair; he did not have a strong foundation, unlike if he were standing on the ground. As he pushed, the iron panel did not move even so slightly, while he fell back down to the bottom.

Zhao Min chuckled and said, “The door is reinforced with eight thick steel bars; you are pushing it from below. Although your strength is exceptional, how can you push it open?”

Zhang Wuji was mad at her treachery; ignoring her remarks he groped around the four walls, trying to find a way out. Unfortunately the walls were all icy cold and extremely smooth and hard.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Master Zhang, your Gecko Roaming the Wall is excellent. These walls were made of pure cast steel, they were polished and very slippery; not a single crack exists, yet you were able to crawl along the wall. Hee .. hee … heh … heh …!”

Zhang Wuji angrily said, “You are with me in this trap together, what’s so funny?” Suddenly he remembered, “This girl is very crafty. There must be a way out of this trap. I can’t let her escape alone.” He moved forward two steps and grabbed her hand.

Zhao Min was frightened. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Don’t ever think of escaping alone,” Zhang Wuji replied, “If you want to live, you should open the trap door quickly.”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Why worry? We won’t starve to death in here. If they cannot find me, they will let us out. The worse case is if my men think I am going out of the Manor; then that would be too bad.”

“Is there any secret mechanism to get us out of this trap?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min laughed. “You don’t look like an idiot, how come you asked such a stupid question?” she said, “This trap was not built to amuse ourselves. It was to trap an enemy inside; why would we provide a secret mechanism for the enemy to escape?”

Zhang Wuji thought what she said was reasonable. He asked, “There are people falling into the trap; how come nobody outside knows? Hurry up and call someone to open the door.”

“All my men are on assignments outside. You saw a moment ago there was nobody else in the pavilion, did you not?” Zhao Min said, “They will come back by this time tomorrow. Just be patient; take a rest for a moment. You have just had your meal; certainly you are not hungry, are you?”

Zhang Wuji was angry; he thought, “I have no problem staying for a while, but how can I save (Maternal) Grandfather and the others?” Thereupon tightening his grip with 20% of his strength he roared, “If you don’t let me out, I am going to kill you first and talk later!”

Zhao Min smiled and replied, “If you kill me, then you can forget about getting out of this trap forever. Hey, men and women are not supposed to be intimate; why are you holding my hand?”

Hearing her words Zhang Wuji immediately released her hand and withdrew two steps; and then he sat down with his back against the wall. This steel trap’s perimeter was only several feet; even when he tried to sit as far as possible from her, their distance could not be more than one step. He was anxious and angry at the same time. He could smell her breath, and the sweet fragrance if her perfume; he could not help but feeling agitated. Finally he stood up and angrily said, “Our Ming Cult people and you are not acquainted with each other; we did not have either resentment or enmity. Why did you deliberately plan to put us all to death?”

Zhao Min replied, “Things that you don’t understand are too much; but since you asked, let me explain it to you. Do you know who I am?”

Zhang Wuji did not think it was a good idea; he wanted to know this young girl’s origin and her true intentions, but if he had to wait for her to tell her story in its entirety, then Yin Tianzheng and the others might be dead because of the poison. Also, how would he know whether she would tell a lie or not; if she fabricated a lie and told him a whole bunch of nonsense, then he would be stuck in that trap for a long time. His sole purpose right now was to force her to open up the trap door; therefore, he cut her off by saying, “I don’t know who you are, and right now I don’t have time to listen to your story. Are you or are you not going to call somebody to open the door for me?”

“I can’t call anybody,” Zhao Min replied, “Even if I shout as loud as possible down here, people above won’t be able to hear. If you don’t believe me, just give it a try.”

Zhang Wuji was really angry; his left hand reached out and grabbed her arm. Zhao Min cried out in fear and tried to move her hands to fend off; but early on her acupoints had been sealed so she could not move. Zhang Wuji’s left hand choked her throat; he said, “If I exert a little bit more strength, your life will be gone.”

By now those two stood very close to each other; he could feel her hurried breathing, it smelt like orchid. Zhang Wuji looked up to give some distance away between his face and hers. Zhao Min suddenly broke up in tears; choking and sobbing she said, “You bully me, you bully me!”

Zhang Wuji did not expect this turn of events; he was startled. Releasing his left hand he said, “I don’t want to bully you, I only want you to let me out.”

Still crying Zhao Min said, “It’s not that I don’t want to. All right; I’ll call!” Raising her voice she shouted, “Hey, hey! Come here! Open the door, I fall into the steel trap!” She called out for a while, but nothing astir overhead. Zhao Min said with a smile, “You see? It’s useless.”

Zhang Wuji’s anger had reached the top; “Shameless! Crying and laughing. What kind of person are you?” he said.

“You are the shameless one!” Zhao Min shot back, “A big man like you bullying a weak girl like me.”

“You, a weak girl?” Zhang Wuji replied, “You are so crafty that even ten grown men are not your match.”

“Thank you for your praise, Zhang Da Jiaozhu [Big Cult Leader Zhang]!” Zhao Min laughed, “Little girl does not dare to accept.”

Zhang Wuji thought the situation was getting urgent; if he did not make a drastic move, the Ming Cult people would be annihilated. Gritting his teeth he reached out and with a scoff he tore a piece of Zhao Min’s skirt.

Zhao Min thought he suddenly had an evil intention; finally she was really scared. “You … what are you doing?” she called out.

Zhang Wuji said, “If you decide to let me go, just nod your head.”

“Why?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji ignored her question. He spat his saliva on that piece of silk cloth to make it wet. “Please forgive me,” he said, “I don’t have any choice.” Immediately he sealed up her nose and mouth with that wet cloth.

Zhao Min could not breathe; a short moment later she felt her chest constricted, she felt utterly miserable. Unexpectedly she was so unyielding and did not want to nod her head at all; after a while her body slumped and she passed out.

Zhang Wuji took her wrist to examine her pulse; he felt her pulse to be weak. Immediately he took away the wet cloth covering her nose and mouth. After half a day Zhao Min slowly regained her consciousness; she moaned lightly.

“It didn’t feel good, did it?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Now, are you or are you not going to let me go?”

Zhao Min hatefully said, “Even if I have to faint a hundred times I still won’t let you go. You’d better just kill me.” Swiping her mouth with her hand she spat several times and said, “Your spittle! Pei! It stank to the high heaven!”

Seeing her hard-heartedness Zhang Wuji was temporarily at a loss. After remaining in this stalemate situation for some time, he was getting more anxious than ever. Finally he said, “In order to save everybody’s life I have to play rough. I apologize for being inappropriate.” Grabbing her left foot he tore away her shoe and sock.

Zhao Min was both angry and scared. “Stinky boy, what are you doing?” she asked.

Zhang Wuji did not answer. He grabbed her right foot and also took her shoe and sock away. With both hands extended he touched the ‘yong quan xue’ [bubbling spring acupoint] on the bottom of her feet; then he transmitted heat toward these acupoints using the Nine Yang Divine Energy.

This ‘yong quan xue’ was located at the center of the crook of the foot; it was the end of the ‘zu shao yin shen jing’ [foot’s ‘little yin’ kidney passage], thus it was very sensitive to the touch. Zhang Wuji was very proficient in medical science, hence his knowledge was profound. When children play, they used to tickle their friend’s foot; making their body tingled from the sensation. This time he transmitted the warm Nine Yang Divine Energy into her ‘yong quan xue’; the sensation was a hundred times more difficult to bear than if she was tickled using feather or soft plume. At first Zhao Min could not help but broke up in laughter. She wanted to pull her foot away, but her acupoints were sealed; how could she move away? Later on she felt discomfort more painful than if she were cut with blade or flogged with a whip. She felt like millions of fleas were creeping and crawling in her internal organs; nipping and gnawing at her bone marrow and blood veins. Her voice became hoarse from laughing, and gradually her laughter turned into crying.

Zhang Wuji hardened his heart; he ignored her crying and continued his torture. Zhao Min felt like her heart nearly jumped out from her chest; she felt like the hairs on her body fell off from their roots because of the itch. “Stinky kid … Thief …” she cursed, “One day, I … I will cut you … to thousand pieces. All right, all right … mercy … have mercy on me … Zhang … Master Zhang … Zhang Jiao … Jiaozhu … Boohoo … boohoo …”

“Are you or are you not going to let me go?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Sobbing Zhao Min replied, “I … I’ll let you go. Stop … stop it!”

At last Zhang Wuji let his hand go and said, “Please forgive my offense!” He rubbed her back and unsealed her acupoints.

Zhao Min gasped for breath before scolding him, “Thief, give me back my shoes and socks!”

Zhang Wuji took the sock and grabbed her left foot. When he tortured her just a moment ago, he did not have any other thought in his mind; but now as soon as he touched her warm and soft foot his heart was beating faster. Zhao Min pulled her foot; she felt an unspeakable shyness so her face was blushing. Luckily in that darkness Wuji could not see her face. Silently she put her shoes and socks back on. A strange feeling crept into her heart; suddenly she wanted him to touch her foot again.

“Quick, hurry up!” suddenly she heard Zhang Wuji’s stern voice, “Let me go!”

Without saying anything Zhao Min stretched out her hand to trace a circle engraved on the steel wall, and then with the end of her dagger’s hilt she rapped the center of the circle seven, eight times; sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes long, sometimes short. As soon as she stopped a crashing noise was heard, a bright light came down as the trap door opened. The circle on the steel wall was actually connected to the outside by a narrow tube. The people outside immediately opened the door as she knocked the wall in a previously agreed pattern.

Zhang Wuji did not expect her to open the door as soon as she said so; he could not help but feel surprised. “Let’s go!” he said.

Zhao Min hung her head low; she stood on the side without making any noise. Zhang Wuji remembered she was only a young girl and he had repeatedly tortured her; he felt sorry. He bowed and said, “Miss Zhao, just now I did not have any other choice. Please accept my most sincere apology.”

Zhao Min turned her head toward the wall; her shoulder slightly trembled as if she was sobbing. She was very crafty and ruthless; when he was engaged in a fierce battle of wits with her, Zhang Wuji did not have any distracting thoughts. But now he was overwhelmed with guilt; especially looking at her graceful and elegant, slender back, the skin on the back of her neck white as jade, her beautiful and fluffy hair. With pity and regret in his heart he said, “Miss Zhao, I am leaving. Old Zhang has offended you.”

Zhao Min’s back moved slightly, but she still was not willing to turn her head. Zhang Wuji did not dare to tarry much longer; using the ‘bi hu you qiang gong’ he crept upward. When he was about a ‘zhang’ away from the trap door, his right foot kicked the steel wall and he flew out of the trap, while sweeping his sleeve away to protect his head and face for fear somebody set up an ambush by the trap door. Before his feet even touched the ground he swept his gaze around, but did not see a single soul in the pavilion. Without wasting a single second he leaped over the outer wall and rushed along the trail towards the place where the Ming Cult leaders took a rest.

By this time the sun was setting behind the mountains; he had been delayed for more than an hour inside the trap, without knowing Yin Tianzheng and the others’ condition. With an anxious heart he ran faster and not too long afterwards he was not too far away from his destination. His heart skipped a beat because he saw a large group of Mongolian cavalry charging forward; surrounding the Ming Cult people, shooting arrow after arrow.

Zhang Wuji thought, “Our Cult leaders are poisoned, nobody gives orders; how can we withstand the enemy’s besieging?” He picked up speed and rushed forward.

When he got closer he heard a clear female voice from among the crowd calling out, “Sharp Metal Flag attack to the northeast, Flooding Water Flag outflank the southwest.” It was Xiao Zhao’s voice. Just as her voice trailed off, a group of the Ming Cult people under a white flag came out, charging toward the northeast. Another group under a black flag outflanked toward the southwest. The Yuan soldiers divided themselves to engage the enemy. Suddenly the yellow flag of Thick Earth and the green flag of Gigantic Wood came out from among the Ming Cult people like a yellow dragon and a green dragon shoulder to shoulder attacking the enemy. The Yuan soldiers were thrown into confusion and were forced to retreat.

With several leaps Zhang Wuji arrived in front of the Ming Cult people. As they saw their Cult Leader came back, they burst out in cheers and their spirit was greatly aroused. Zhang Wuji saw Yin Tianzheng, Yang Xiao, Zhou Dian and the others, as well as the Five Elements Flags commanders and their second-in-commands, were still sitting cross-legged on the ground. Xiao Zhao, holding a small flag in her hand, was standing on a mound, commanding the Ming Cult people to defend against the enemy.

Actually, everybody in the Five Elements Flags and the Heavenly Eagle Flag was a warrior with excellent martial art skill; only their leaders were poisoned that they were in disorder. As soon as Xiao Zhao arranged the defense line according to the Eight Diagram the Yuan soldiers actually could not penetrate their defense for a long time.

“Master Zhang,” Xiao Zhao happily called out, “Come and assume the command.”

“I can’t,” Zhang Wuji replied, “You can command better. Let me kill some officers first.”

With ‘swish, swish’ sound several arrows came toward him. Zhang Wuji grabbed a lance from among the Ming Cult people and struck the incoming arrows one by one to the ground. Raising his arm he hurled the lance like an arrow penetrating a ‘bai fu zhang’s [leader of a 100 men unit] chest, nailing him to the ground. The Yuan soldiers cried out in alarm and withdrew several dozens of steps.

Suddenly they heard a bugle sound; about a dozen riders came fast. Zhang Wuji saw the ones in the front were Zhao Min’s Eight Divine Archers. He creased his brows and said in his heart, “These eight people’s shooting skill is too strong. If they attack I am afraid the damage to my brethren will not be small. I’ll have to attack first!” But he saw the leader of the Eight Divine Archers, Zhao Yishang, wave a short golden dragon-head staff and called out, “Master’s order: withdraw troops immediately.”

The commander of the Yuan troops, a ‘qian fu zhang’ [leader of a 1000 men unit], shouted some Mongolian words. The Yuan soldiers turned their horses around and galloped away. Qian Erbai dismounted his horse. Holding a tray in his hands he walked toward Zhang Wuji, bowed down and said, “My Master is asking Jiaozhu to accept this as a souvenir.”

Zhang Wuji saw yellow brocade spread out on the tray; on the brocade was a small exquisitely carved golden case. He was not afraid of any crafty trick; holding out his hand he took the box. Qian Erbai bowed in respect, walked backward three steps, turned around to mount his horse and galloped away.

Zhang Wuji handed over the golden case to Xiao Zhao. He was very concerned over his people’s condition that he did not care to look what was inside the case. Immediately he took the flower tree from his pocket and gave an order for someone to fetch some clear water. He crushed the deep purple root along with the dark green small beads and put them in the water. One by one he gave the concoction to Yin Tianzheng, Yang Xiao, as well as to the Five Elements Flags commanders and their second-in-commands. Practically every one of the Ming Cult leaders who joined the banquet at the pavilion, except Zhang Wuji who was protected by the Nine Yang Divine Energy, was poisoned.

Yang Buhui accompanied Yin Liting outside the pavilion; Xiao Zhao and the rest of the Ming Cult people ate at the side reception hall. Everybody followed their Cult Leader’s order; every dish was quietly tested with silver needles before they ate it; hence they were free from poisoning.

The antidote was very effective that in less than an hour the toxicity inside their bodies was neutralized; they no longer feeling dizzy, only they were still feeling very weak. Immediately they asked the whole story on how they got poisoned.

Zhang Wuji sighed and said, “We were being very careful; the water, wine and the food did not have any poison. I am sure about it. How would I know that that Miss Zhao’s evil mind was very cunning that she employed an unthinkable method? This kind of ‘shui xian’-like flower is called ‘zui xian ling fu’ [drunken immortal phantom lotus]. It is extremely rare but in itself it is not poisonous. The fake Yitian sword was made of a ‘qi ling xiang mu’ [marvelous pangolin fragrant wood], which grows on the ocean floor. In itself it is also not poisonous. But if these two fragrances are mixed together, they become violently poisonous.”

Zhou Dian slapped his thigh, “It was my bad; who told me to have an itchy hand and pull that Yitian sword out to take a look at it? Damn it!”

Zhang Wuji said, “She had already planned to harm us; even if Zhou Xiong did not pull it out, she would have sent someone else to draw it out and poison us. It was unavoidable.”

“Come!” Zhou Dian said, “Let us burn that Green Willow Manor to the ground!”

He barely closed his mouth when in the distant they saw black smoke rose up to the sky, red flame flickered; the Green Willow Manor was on fire. They looked at each other, dumbstruck; everybody had the same thought, “This Miss Zhao has anticipated everything; she knew that as soon as the poison in our bodies is neutralized we will settle the debt by burning the manor, so she beat us by setting the manor on fire first. This person is young, she is also a girl, yet she is a formidable enemy.”

Zhou Dian slapped his thigh, “She burned the manor, so what? We can still catch up and kill them all.”

Yang Xiao said, “Since she had already burned the manor, she must have prepared everything. We may not necessarily be able to pursue them.”

“Yang Xiong,” Zhou Dian said, “Your martial art is not bad, but when it comes to scheming, you beat Zhou Dian by half a notch.”

Yang Xiao laughed and said, “I wouldn’t dare, I wouldn’t dare! Zhou Xiong’s strategic ability is divine; how can Little Brother match it?”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “You two don’t need to be modest. This time we do not suffer too much damage, except for thirteen, fourteen brothers who suffer some arrow wound; we should thank our lucky stars. Let’s continue our journey.”

Along the way they asked Zhang Wuji how he knew the cause of their poisoning. Zhang Wuji replied, “I remember in the Poison Manual there is an article: If the fragrance of the ‘qi ling xiang mu’ is mixed with that of some kind of lotus flower, the resulting mixture oftentimes can cause someone to become intoxicated for a few days. It can be neutralized by drinking the mixture of the beads of the flower with water. If the poison is not dispelled immediately, the toxicity will greatly damage the heart and the lung. This ‘zui xian ling fu’ is several times more severe than regular lotus. That was the reason I asked everybody not to circulate your internal energy. Otherwise the fragrance would have entered all passages and pulses, and then your life would be in danger.”

Wei Yixiao said, “I am surprised that this little girl Xiao Zhao has rendered a great service today; if it wasn’t for her bravely stepped forward in critical situation, our casualty would be very heavy.”

Initially Yang Xiao believed that Xiao Zhao was the enemy’s spy; but her actions that day could be considered a great service to the Ming Cult. It was so totally beyond his anticipation that for the time being he did not know what to think.

Along the way they tried to guess Zhao Min’s origin, but nobody was able to offer a plausible explanation. Zhang Wuji did not tell anybody that they fell into the trap together, and that he touched her feet, ripped her skirt, and the circumstances surrounding that occasion. Although he felt that he did not do anything shameful, he still didn’t feel comfortable talking about it in public.

That evening they decided to stop by an inn a little bit early. The rest of the Ming Cult people went their separate ways to find temples and ancestral halls to spend the night. Xiao Zhao took some water to Zhang Wuji’s room for him to wash his face.

“Xiao Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said, “Today you have rendered a great service; you don’t have to act as my servant anymore.”

Xiao Zhao flashed one of her captivating smiles. “I am very happy to attend to your needs; what servant are you talking about?” After waiting for him to wash his hands and face; she took the golden case out and said, “I wonder what kind of poisonous bugs or secret projectiles are in this box?”

“Right,” Zhang Wuji said, “We have to be very careful.”

Placing the case on the table he pulled her away from it. Taking out a copper coin he tossed it away. ‘Ding!’ the coin hit the edge of the golden case and opened up its lid. Nothing strange happened. He came near to take a look. Inside the box was a pearl head ornament; it still vibrated lightly. It was precisely the head ornament he took from Zhao Min’s temples, except the two big pearls, which Zhao Min said were missing, were back on their golden stems. Zhang Wuji was taken aback; he could not guess Zhao Min’s real intention in doing this.

Xiao Zhao smiled and said, “Master, that Miss Zhao is very good to you, she sent somebody to deliver this precious pearl head ornament to you.”

Zhang Wuji said, “I am a man, what am I supposed to do with this kind of girl’s jewelry? Xiao Zhao, you can keep it.”

Xiao Zhao shook her hand; she laughed and said, “How can I? Others show their affection to you; how do I dare to take it?”

With three of his left hand fingers Zhang Wuji took the pearl ornament. “Catch!” he laughed, and tossed the ornament away. His strength was neither light nor heavy; the ornament landed on Xiao Zhao’s hair without the golden pin scratching her skin.

Xiao Zhao reached up to take it away, but Zhang Wuji shook his hand and said, “Can’t I give you some trinkets?”

Xiao Zhao’s cheeks blushed; in a low voice she said, “Thank you very much, then. I am only afraid my Miss will be angry with me.”

“What you did today was not a small matter,” Zhang Wuji said, “How can the Left Emissary Yang, father and daughter, still suspect you?”

Xiao Zhao’s heart was filled with joy; she said, “You have been gone for a long time, I was really worried; plus those Tartars came to attack. I don’t know how, but suddenly I was swept by a great courage. If I think about it now, I was really scared. Master, can you talk to the Five Elements Flags and the Heavenly Eagle Flag brothers: asking them not to be offended by Xiao Zhao’s boldness and unseemly behavior?”

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “They can’t thank you enough, how can they blame you?”

Less than a day later they arrived within the Henan borders. By that time the world was in chaos; everywhere heroic and patriots raised their arms to fight the invaders. Mongolian officers and soldiers conducted an even stricter questioning and searching of insurgents. It was inconvenient for the Ming Cult people to travel together as a large group, therefore, they traveled in smaller groups to the Mount Song [Song Shan] and regrouped at the foot of the mountain before they finally traveled together up the Shaoshi Peak.

The Gigantic Wood Flag Chief, Wen Cangsong, was sent ahead to deliver Zhang Wuji and the others’ name cards to the Shaolin Temple. Zhang Wuji knew that this time they went up to the Shaolin Temple to ask for justice and although they did not want any fight, the end result would be difficult to tell. Supposing that the Shaolin monks did not want to talk but resort to violence instead, the Ming Cult could not balk at the challenge. Thereupon he passed on an order: while the leaders were entering the temple, the Five Elements Flags and the Heavenly Eagle Flag were to disperse around the temple and wait outside; as soon as they heard him whistle three times, they were to render their assistance. The flag leaders accepted the order and went their separate ways.

Not too long afterwards an old monk acting as the welcoming host went down the mountain accompanied by Wen Cangsong; he said, “The Temple Abbot and all elders are closing themselves in meditation; they cannot receive any guest.”

The Ming Cult leaders’ faces changed as they heard this. Zhou Dian indignantly said, “This is the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, personally came to the Shaolin Temple to pay a visit; the Senior Monks do not want to see him, don’t you think this is a bit rude?”

That ‘welcoming host’ monk [Translator’s note: I can’t think of a single English word for this. Literally it means ‘receiving guest’.] lowered his head with knitted eyebrows; his face full of anxiety, he said, “Can’t see!”

Zhou Dian angrily stretched out his hand to grab his collar. Shuo Bude raised his arm to block, he said, “Zhou Xiong, don’t be rude.”

Peng Yingyu said, “Since the Abbot is in seclusion, then it will be the same if we can see Reverend Kong Zhi or Kong Xing.”

That ‘welcoming host’ monk clasped his palms and said with an icy-cold voice, “Can’t see!”

Peng Yingyu said again, “How about the Head of the Damo Hall or the Head of the Luohan Hall?”

That ‘welcoming host’ monk maintained his cold and indifferent look. “Can’t see!” he said.

With a thundering voice Yin Tianzheng roared, “Bottom line: are you or are you not going to see us?” Both of his palms shot out with an earth-shattering force, ‘bang!’ he hit and broke a nearby pine tree into two; the top part, still with branches and leaves on it, collapsed to the ground, taking three crow nests with it.

The ‘welcoming host’ monk began to show fear on his face, he said, “You have come from afar, it is only proper for us to see you, but our elders are meditating in seclusion. Please come back later!” He bowed and clasped his palms, then turned around to leave.

Wei Yixiao’s shadow flashed, blocking in front of the monk, he said, “I wonder how should we address Reverend?”

The ‘welcoming host’ monk said, “I can’t say lowly monk’s Buddhist name.”

Wei Yixiao stretched out his hand and lightly slapped the monk’s shoulder twice; he laughed and said, “Very good, very good! You repeatedly said ‘Bu Jian’ [Can’t see] two words, turned out you are ‘Bu Jian Da Shi’ [Reverend ‘Bu Jian’ or Reverend Can’t See], you are Kong Jian Shen Seng’s [Divine Monk Kong Jian – the same ‘Jian’ character as ‘Bu Jian’] martial brother. I wonder if the Yan Luo Wang [King of the Underworld] called you, ‘Bu Jian Shen Seng’, will you answer him?”

As the ‘welcoming host’ monk took the slap, a cold air flew from his shoulder to his chest; his body shook, his teeth chattered and his mouth made ‘ge, ge’ noises. Enduring all these he leaned sideways and slipped past Wei Yixiao; trembling and staggering all the way he ran back up the mountain.

“This fellow’s internal strength is not Shaolin’s,” Wei Yixiao said.

Immediately Zhang Wuji recalled Yuan Zhen’s internal strength, and admitted that Shaolin’s internal strength was extraordinary. He said, “Bat King has slapped him twice with the ‘han bing mian zhang’ [cold-ice soft palm]; how can his grandmasters and his masters ignore it? Let us go up the mountain, I want to see if the senior monks truly do not want to see us.”

Everybody knew a fierce fight would be unavoidable, Shaolin Sect was known as the Wulin world’s ‘tai shan bei dou’ [Mount Tai and Big Dipper – meaning ‘the ultimate’]; over the last thousand of years it had enjoyed the reputation as the Undefeated Sect in the Jianghu. In the battle that would happen today finally they will see between the Ming Cult and the Shaolin Sect, which one was strong and which one was weak. Everybody’s spirit was boosted a hundred folds; picking up their speed they climbed up the mountain. They realized Shaolin Temple’s martial art experts were as abundant as the cloud; so the intensity of the incoming big battle would not be a small matter.

Less than the time needed to drink tea later they had arrived at the pavilion in front of the temple. Zhang Wuji recalled how as a kid he followed his grandmaster going up this mountain and saw the Shaolin Sect’s Three Divine Monks right here in this pavilion. Although it was only a few years, but back then he was a lone thin and sickly kid; while today he was the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, with all the honor and respect belonged to the position. He felt like the two visits were a world apart.

He saw that two of the pillars of the stone pavilion were broken; the stone table in the middle of the pavilion was turned upside down on the ground.

Shuo Bude laughed and said, “Shaolin Monks are brave and fierce; these two pillars are broken recently. It looks like they had a big fight only a few days ago and have not had any chance to fix it.”

Zhou Dian said, “After winning the battle today, we can come back and tear this pavilion apart.”

They waited at the pavilion, expecting a lot of martial art experts to come out of the temple; after exchanging pleasantries they were going to ask straightaway why Yin Liting fell under such a cruel hand. If the monks did not give them a satisfying answer, then they will resort to violence. Who would have thought that after waiting for half a day they did not see any movement from the temple. A moment later they saw that some people came out from the back of the temple and were going toward the mountain, from the distant it looked like there were forty, fifty people.

“Humph,” Peng Yingyu said, “They are deploying people to set an ambush.”

“Let’s go into the temple!” Zhang Wuji said.

Immediately, with Yang Xiao and Wei Yixiao on his left, Yin Tianzheng and Yin Yewang on his right, Tie Guan Daoren [Priest Tie Guan], Peng Yingyu, Zhou Dian and Shuo Bude, Four Wanderers behind him, Zhang Wuji entered the temple gate. Upon entering the ‘da xiong bao dian’ [great hero precious hall] they saw the sacrificial table in front of the image of Buddha was laying on its side, the incense burner fell and the ashes were scattered on the ground; but they couldn’t see anyone there.

Shuo Bude laughed coldly and said, “As the Shaolin Sect people saw us coming, they were panic-stricken and confused that they knocked the incense burner over. Funny, very funny!”

In a clear voice Zhang Wuji said, “Ming Cult’s Zhang Wuji, joined by Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, and the other Cult Leaders have come to pay a visit. We wish to see the Abbot.” His voice was not loud, but it was supported by abundant power that it echoed on the copper bell and the big drum hanging inside the hall, creating a buzzing noise throughout the hall.

Yang Xiao, Wei Yixiao and the others looked at each other, thinking, “Jiaozhu’s internal energy is so profound, it truly is amazing. Even if Yang Jiaozhu [Cult Leader Yang] were still alive, his internal energy would still be inferior to this. It looks like in the incoming battle today our victory is imminent.”

Zhang Wuji’s voice could be heard in the front and rear courtyards, and all over the Shaolin Temple; yet after waiting for half an afternoon nobody came out.

“Hey!” Zhou Dian shouted, “Shaolin Temple Monks! Brothers! Are you playing hide and seek? Are you pretending to be a new bride?” His voice was louder than Zhang Wuji’s, but the copper bell and the big drum were not buzzing.

They waited for a little bit longer; still nobody came out. Peng Yingyu said, “Suddenly I got a bad feeling about this temple; something is really wrong.”

Zhou Dian laughed and said, “You are a monk entering a temple; this is your appropriate place, what do you mean something is wrong?”

“Ah,” Tie Guan Daoren suddenly said, “Here is a piece of meditation stick cut by a blade.”

“Ah!” Shuo Bude exclaimed, “There is a blotch of blood here!”

Zhou Dian laughed, “They must have remembered the battle of the Brightness Peak,” he said, “Our Jiaozhu’s reputation has spread far and wide, Shaolin Temple hangs high the truce flag! You see, they were so panic-stricken that they ran away dropping everything, including their weapons.”

Tie Guan Daoren shook his head, “That’s not right!” he said.

“Why not?” Zhou Dian asked.

Tie Guan Daoren said, “What about this blood stain?”

Zhou Dian replied, “Most likely they cut themselves in fright …” Speaking to this point he stopped, since he realized his idea was too far fetched. Right that moment a gust of wind blew, rising everybody’s sleeve. “It’s nice and cool!” Zhou Dian exclaimed. Suddenly they heard a loud crashing noise from the west, a big pine tree about a dozen ‘zhang’s away from them fell down.

The crowd was startled; immediately they jumped toward the collapsed tree. The tree grew on the southeast corner of the courtyard; there was nobody in the courtyard, so nobody knew how such a big tree fell down just by a puff of wind and in the process crashed half of the surrounding wall. They examined the broken part only to see the core of the tree to be already ruptured, clearly it was shaken by someone with profound skill; so the tree had already withered and dried up, and not fell down because of the wind just now.

They looked around their surrounding and one after another exclaimed, “Ah, it’s strange!” “There was heavy fighting in here!” “So fierce, so many people were injured!” The courtyard was full of traces of intense fighting: there were blade marks and imprints of fists and palms on the green flagstones below, on the trunk and branches of the surrounding trees, and on the enclosing walls. They could also see bloodstains everywhere; obviously the battle was truly bloody. There were also deep footprints on the ground, a sign that the combatants were martial art experts who stake their whole internal energies.

Zhang Wuji said, “Quickly grab that ‘welcoming host’ monk, we need to ask him clearly.”

Wei Yixiao, Shuo Bude and the others quickly dispersed to look, but the ‘receiving guest’ monk had disappeared without any trace. The Five Elements Flags also looked everywhere. A little over an hour later all the Flag leaders came back one after another with their report: nobody was found in the temple, but they saw traces of violent battle everywhere. Many of the halls and rooms had bloodstains in them, along with broken blades and other weapons, but not a single body was to be seen.

“Left Emissary Yang, what do you think?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“This battle happened two, three days ago,” Yang Xiao replied, “Could it be that the entire Shaolin Sect is annihilated and not a single one survived?”

“Wasn’t there a few dozens people went out the temple from the back just now?” Shuo Bude asked.

Yang Xiao replied, “Quite possibly they were the Shaolin Sect’s enemy. They were left behind to take care of things in here; but as they saw our large group arrived they slipped away.”

Peng Yingyu said, “Judging from the turn of events, I think you are right. That ‘welcoming host’ monk must be an impostor; it’s a pity we could not capture him. But among the enemies of the Shaolin Sect, which one is this powerful? Could it be the Beggar Clan?”

Zhou Dian said, “The Beggar Clan is indeed big, and has a lot of martial art experts, but they don’t have the ability to wipe out the entire Shaolin Temple that not a single survivor is left. Only our Ming Cult has this kind of ability; but we clearly did not do it, do we?”

“Zhou Dian, can you not spout nonsense?” Tie Guan Daoren said, “Our Cult obviously did not do it, do you think we don’t know?”

“Reporting to Jiaozhu,” Yan Yuan, the Flag Leader of the Thick Earth came to report, “It looks like the eighteen arhats in the Luohan Hall have been shifted, but there was no footprint around.”

The leaders knew that Yan Yuan and his Thick Earth Flag were experts in building and construction, so his suspicion must not be unfounded. “Let us take a look,” they said.

Upon entering the Luohan Hall, they saw quite a bit of blood splattered on the walls and broken blades and meditation sticks strewn on the floor.

“Yan Xiong,” Zhou Dian said, “What’s unusual about these eighteen arhats?”

“Each Luohan arhat was moved from their original position,” Yan Yuan replied, “At first I thought there was another door somewhere, but after carefully examining the wall, I did not see any secret passageway anywhere.”

Yang Xiao was deep in thought for half an afternoon before he finally said, “Let us push these arhats and take a look.”

Yan Yuan leaped toward the platform and pushed the long-eyebrowed arhat to the side, exposing the wall behind it, but there was nothing unusual there. Yang Xiao also leaped to the platform to take a closer look at that long-eyebrowed arhat. “Uh,” he suddenly exclaimed, “There is a character on the back of this arhat.” He turned the arhat around. To their astonishment, the crowd saw a ‘mie’ [extinguish] character as big as a human’s head.

The Luohan arhats were inlaid with gold, but by now a large ‘mie’ character was engraved on the glittering golden back with a sharp object. The engraving was about a ‘cun’ [an inch] deep that the clay inside was exposed. The engraving was new, obviously it was done not too long ago.

“What’s the meaning of this ‘mie’ character?” Zhou Dian wondered, “Ah, right! It must be the Emei Sect attacked the Shaolin Temple; Miejue Shitai left this to demonstrate her power.”

The group of heroes thought his idea was too unthinkable; they all shook their heads. While speaking they turned all the arhats around. Other than the Subduing Dragon Arhat on the extreme right and the Crouching Tiger Arhat on the extreme left, a large character was engraved on the back of every arhat. From right to left there were sixteen characters which read: ‘First execute Shaolin then extinguish Wudang, only our Ming Cult is fit to be Wulin world’s king!’

Yin Tianzheng, Tie Guan Daoren, Shuo Bude and the others called out together, “This is a treacherous plan to shift the blame!” They realized these sixteen characters were a threat to incite terror; they recalled how the Shaolin Temple’s monks suffered an unexpected calamity, and the blame was put upon the Ming Cult’s head. Everybody was anxious and grieved at the same time.

“Let us quickly scrape off these characters to avoid injustice toward us,” Zhou Dian called out.

Yang Xiao said, “The enemy intention is obviously malicious; scraping off these sixteen characters may not be necessarily useful.”

This time Zhou Dian felt what he said made a good sense, so he did not argue. “What should we do, then?” he asked.

Shuo Bude said, “This is actually evidence. If we can find the person who hatched this treacherous plan, we can take him here and confront him with these sixteen characters.”

Yang Xiao nodded his agreement.

Peng Yingyu said, “Xiao Seng [little/lowly monk] still have a question, I need the Left Emissary Yang’s enlightenment. The person who carved these sixteen characters obviously wanted to shift the blame to our Cult; placing the responsibility of Shaolin Sect’s destruction on our head, so that the Wulin world’s heroes would rally together to attack us. Then why did he turn these arhats to the wall? Why didn’t they leave these large sixteen characters facing outward? If it wasn’t because of Flag Leader Yan’s attentiveness, nobody would know there are characters on the back of these Luohan arhats.”

Yang Xiao was deep in thought. “Come to think about it,” he said, “There must be someone else who turned these arhats back. Most likely there is someone helping our Cult in secret. We owe him a big debt of gratitude.”

“Who is this person?” the crowd asked almost simultaneously, “How did Left Emissary Yang know?”

Yang Xiao sighed and said, “This is a complicated mystery, I cannot possibly know everything …”

“Ah!” he has not finished his words when suddenly Zhang Wuji loudly exclaimed, “‘First execute Shaolin, then extinguish Wudang,’ I am afraid … I am afraid Wudang is facing a terrible disaster.”

“We must leave immediately to render our help,” Wei Yixiao said, “We might also find out which dog has done it all.”

“We can’t wait much longer,” Yin Tianzheng also said, “We must leave now. These bandits have already left one or two days ago.”