What hope is there for four women in the same boat?
At that moment, they heard two ‘ding-a-ling’ sounds coming from behind them, and very soon three people had arrived. Zhang Wuji took a glance and saw three people wearing wide robes; two of them were very tall, while the one on the left was a woman. They were approaching with their backs to the moon, so that he could not see their faces clearly; but their robes were embroidered with an image of flaming fire, so obviously they were Ming Cult disciples. Each person had their hands high in the air, with each hand holding a black, about two feet long, tablet. The one, which was the tallest, said in a clear and loud voice, “The Ming Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling [Decree of the Holy Fire] have arrived, Cult Protectors Dragon King and Lion King have not kneeled down, what are you waiting for?”
His accent was terrible; he sounded very stiff. Zhang Wuji was startled; he mused, “Yang Jiaozhu [Cult Leader Yang] did mention that our Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling has been lost since the time of our thirty-first generation Cult Leader, Shi Jiaozhu. How can it be in these three people’s hands? Is this the genuine Sheng Huo Ling? Are they really our Cult’s disciples?”
Jin Hua Popo said, “I have left the Cult a long time ago, so these four words ‘hu jiao long wang’ [cult protector dragon king] don’t mean anything to me. What is Sire’s honorable name? Is that Sheng Huo Ling the real one or a fake? Where did it come from?”
That man barked, “You have left the Cult; what are you prattling about?”
Jin Hua Popo coldly said, “In all her life Jin Hua Popo has never allowed others to slander her for even half a word; in the past, when Yang Jiaozhu was still alive, even he was 30% respectful toward me. What is your position in the Cult that you dare to shout and bicker in my face?”
In a sudden movement, the three people’s shadow swayed, and simultaneously three left hands moved to grab Jin Hua Popo. She brandished her walking stick, sweeping horizontally toward them. It was unclear how these people moved, but somehow their position changed and Jin Hua Popo’s stick had struck empty air and three right hands reached out to the back of her neck; her body shook and she was thrown far away.
Based on Jin Hua Popo’s martial art level, even if three highest-skilled martial art masters besieged her, they would not necessarily able to throw her out in one move like that. But, not only the footwork of these three people in white robes was very strange, their coordination was also near perfection; they were just like one person with three heads and six arms.
“Wow!” Zhang Wuji could not stop from exclaiming. As those three people moved, he was able to see their features clearly; the tallest among them had pointy whiskers, his eyes were bluish green. The other man had blonde moustache and eagle nose. The woman’s hair was black, just like the Chinese, but the pupils of her eyes were so pale that they were almost colorless. Her face was watermelon-seed shaped; she was around thirty years of age. Although her features were strange, she looked very beautiful.
Zhang Wuji thought, “Turn out these people are Middle-Easterners; no wonder their accents are so stiff, almost sounds like they are reciting a book.”
In a loud and clear voice the man with the pointy whiskers said, “Seeing the Sheng Huo Ling is like seeing the Jiaozhu; Xie Xun, why haven’t you knelt down?”
“Who are the three of you?” Xie Xun replied, “If you are Ming Cult disciples, then Xie Xun should know you. If you are not Ming Cult disciples, then Sheng Huo Ling has nothing to do with the three of you.”
“Where is the origin of the Ming Cult?” the pointy whisker asked.
“It came from Persia,” Xie Xun answered.
“Correct, correct!” the pointy whisker said, “I am the ‘Liuyun Shi’ [flowing/spreading (take your pick) cloud emissary] from the Persian Central Ming Cult. These other two are ‘Miaofeng Shi’ [wonderful wind emissary] and ‘Huiyue Shi’ [glorious moon emissary]. We come to the Central Earth [‘zhong tu’] from Persia on assignment from the Central Cult Leader.”
Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji were stunned. Zhang Wuji had read Yang Xiao’s book, the ‘Ming Jiao Liu Chuan Zhong Tu Ji’ [A record on the spread of Ming Cult to the Central Earth]; so he knew the Ming Cult came from Persia. He saw these three people were Persian Middle-Easterners, their martial arts were also this good; so they must be telling the truth.
He heard that blonde-moustache Miaofeng Shi say, “Our Jiaozhu received the news that the Central Earth’s Jiaozhu was missing and the disciples were killing each other, the Cult was declining quickly. He ordered Cloud, Wind and Moon, three Emissaries, to reorganize the Cult’s affairs. All Cult disciples, from the top to the bottom, must receive our commands without fail.”
Zhang Wuji was delighted, “The Central Cult Leader has sent his orders; nothing can be better than that,” he thought, “Now I don’t have to bear this heavy responsibility with my superficial experience and cause harm on the important matter.”
He heard Xie Xun say, “Even though the Central Earth’s Ming Cult stemmed from Persia, we have become an independent faction for several hundred years; therefore, we are outside the Persian Central Cult’s jurisdiction. The three of you have come from afar to the Central Earth, Xie Xun is very pleased; as for kneeling down and so on, don’t you think it is rather unreasonable?”
The pointy whiskered Liuyun Shi struck the two pieces of black tablets in his hands to each other. ‘Clang!’ The noise was neither those of metals nor jade; it sounded very strange. He said, “This is the Central Earth’s Ming Cult’s Sheng Huo Ling; the former Jiaozhu surnamed Shi was unworthy; he lost it to the outsiders, and now we took it back. Seeing the Sheng Huo Ling is like seeing the Jiaozhu; Xie Xun still does not obey orders?”
When Xie Xun joined the Cult, Sheng Huo Ling had been lost quite a long time, so he had never seen it; but he had heard about its divine features, it was also frequently mentioned in the Ming Cult’s Holy Scripture. Therefore, listening to this unique sound, he knew that the Sheng Huo Ling in that person’s hand was the genuine one. Besides, those three were able to catch and throw Jin Hua Popo away with only one move, which ordinary people would not be able to do; his doubts were gone.
“Subordinate believes what Sire has said,” he said, “I wonder what instructions do you have for me?”
Liuyun Shi waved his left hand; together with Miaofeng Shi and Huiyue Shi they leaped together. In two jumps they landed by Jin Hua Popo’s side. Jin Hua Popo attacked them with some golden flowers; the three Emissaries dodged to the east and swayed to the west; the golden flowers fell to the ground. Huiyue Shi dashed forward with extended finger toward Jin Hua Popo’s throat. Jin Hua Popo raised her walking stick to block, followed by a counterattack. Suddenly her body flew up, because her back was grabbed and lifted up by Liuyun Shi and Miaofeng Shi. Huiyue Shi immediately advanced three steps and her palms struck Jin Hua Popo’s chest and abdomen three times. The palm strikes were not too heavy, but Jin Hua Popo was immobilized.
Zhang Wuji said in his heart, “These three’s movements were not extraordinary, but the ingenuity of their coordination was matchless. Huiyue Shi attacked from the front to entice the enemy and the other two mysteriously come in and out to capture Jin Hua Popo. Strictly speaking, in term of martial art, each one of them is inferior to Jin Hua Popo. That woman’s three palm strikes are not really sealing acupoint technique, but it was cunningly comparable to our Central Earth’s sealing acupoint technique.”
Liuyun Shi grabbed Jin Hua Popo with his left hand and tossed it toward Xie Xun. “Shi Wang [Lion King],” he said, “According to our Cult’s law, once somebody enters our Cult, he cannot rebel and leave the Cult. This woman has left the Cult on her own accord; hence she is a traitor. Behead her.”
Xie Xun was shocked; “The Central Earth Ming Cult does not have this law,” he said.
Liuyun Shi coldly said, “From now on the Central Earth Ming Cult will receive the Persian Central Cult’s orders. A traitor who leaves the Cult will bring disaster later on, if left alive. Quickly execute her.”
Xie Xun fearlessly said, “The Four Kings of the Ming Cult are no different than sworn brothers and sister. Although she treated the Old Xie ruthlessly today, the Old Xie cannot retaliate cruelly. I cannot harm her.”
Miaofeng Shi laughed loudly. “Chinese people are wishy-washy, with so many customs to be observed” he said, “How can you not kill a traitor? Where is the logic in that? What a load of crap!”
“The Old Xie can kill people without batting an eyelid,” Xie Xun said, “But I have never killed my fellow Cult disciple.”
Huiyue Shi said, “You don’t want to kill her that means you are defying order. We will kill you first.”
Xie Xun replied, “The three of you came to the Central Earth, and your first order of business is forcing Jin Mao Shi Wang to kill Zi Shan Long Wang, is it because you want to establish authority by intimidation?”
Huiyue Shi showed a faint smile. “Your eyes are blind, but your heart is not,” she said, “Hurry up, do it!”
Xie Xun tilted his head up and let out a long laugh; his voice shook the mountain and valley. He loudly said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang has always been frank. Not to mention I won’t kill friends and comrades, even if the Old Xie has a deep enmity toward someone, you have already captured and immobilized her; how can the Old Xie kill someone who is unable to fight back?”
Listening to his Yifu’s heroic and frank speech, Zhang Wuji cheered inwardly; but he started to loath these Three Emissaries from the Persian Ming Cult.
He heard Miaofeng Shi said, “For the disciples of Ming Cult, seeing Sheng Huo Ling is the same as seeing the Jiaozhu. Do you dare to defy the Cult?”
Xie Xun boldly said, “The Old Xie has been blind for more than twenty years. Even if you place it in front of my eyes, I still cannot see it. What do you mean by ‘seeing Sheng Huo Ling is the same as seeing the Jiaozhu’?”
Miaofeng Shi was angry. “Fine! Then have you made up your mind to rebel?”
“The Old Xie has never dared to rebel against the Cult,” Xie Xun said, “But the Cult’s teaching is to do good and shun evil; ‘yi qi’ is heavily emphasized. Xie Xun would rather lose his head than do this despicable thing.”
Jin Hua Popo was paralyzed, but she heard everything Xie Xun said. Zhang Wuji realized his Yifu was about to face a life and death situation; he immediately laid Yin Li gently on the ground. He heard Liuyun Shi say, “Ming Cult disciples who refuse to follow the Sheng Huo Ling’s order will be killed without mercy!”
“I am a Protector King of the Cult,” Xie Xun shouted, “Even if Jiaozhu himself want to execute me, he would have to bow to the Heaven and the Earth, and to the Ming Zun [the Ming Cult prophet(?)] in front of the altar and state my crime clearly.”
Miaofeng Shi chuckled and said, “The Ming Cult of Persia was fine, but once it arrived at the Central Earth, it has so many of these stinky customs!” All three Emissaries let out a whistle and together they charged forward.
Xie Xun brandished his Tulong Saber, forming a wall in front of his body. The Three Emissaries successively attacked three times but failed to get close to him. Huiyue Shi managed to sneak in, the tablet in her left hand struck toward the top of Xie Xun’s head. Xie Xun raised the Saber to block, ‘Clang!’ the noise was very strange. No other weapon could match the sharpness of the Tulong Saber; yet it failed to cut the Sheng Huo Ling.
In between strikes, Liuyun Shi rolled down toward the left and hit Xie Xun’s leg with his fist. Xie Xun staggered. Right that moment Miaofeng Shi swept his tablet horizontally toward Xie Xun’s back, suddenly he felt that his wrist was grabbed and the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand was snatched by someone else. In great surprise he turned around and saw a young man with the Sheng Huo Ling in his right hand.
With an unmatched speed and unbelievable agility Zhang Wuji had managed to jump in and snatch the tablet away. Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi were startled and angered; they attacked together from two sides. Zhang Wuji turned around and dodged to the left; unexpectedly, ‘Slap!’ his back was squarely hit by the tablet in Huiyue Shi’s hand.
The Sheng Huo Ling was made of special material; it was extremely hard. As Zhang Wuji was hit, his vision turned black, he almost passed out. Luckily, the divine energy [‘shen gong’] protecting his body was so profound that he managed to control his mind and he dashed three steps forward. The Persian Three Emissaries immediately rushed after him and surround him.
Zhang Wuji attacked Liuyun Shi with the tablet in his right hand, while his left hand swiftly reached out and grabbed the Sheng Huo Ling in Huiyue Shi’s hand. Who would have thought that suddenly Huiyue Shi let her hand loose; the Sheng Huo Ling flew upward with the tail first. ‘Slap!’ it hit Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji felt all five fingers of his left hand went numb; he had no choice but let the Sheng Huo Ling he just seized to fall down. Huiyue Shi deftly reached out and snatched it back.
Ever since Zhang Wuji learned the ‘qian kun da nuo yi’ plus receiving Zhang Sanfeng’s instructions on the most refined secret of the Taiji Fist, he had been roaming around without any match. Unexpectedly now that he fought Huiyue Shi, a woman, he was hit repeatedly. On the second time, if not of his ‘shen gong’ reacted naturally to provide protection, his wrist would have been broken. He was wary and did not dare to attack; he stopped and focused his attention to see his opponents’ moves more clearly.
The Persian Three Emissaries were also amazed that he was hit twice without sustaining any injury. Miaofeng Shi suddenly bent down and charged toward Zhang Wuji with his head as a battering ram. Using one-self’s most important part to strike the enemy was actually a big violation of the martial art theory. Zhang Wuji did not budge from his position; he knew that a clumsy move like this bound to be followed by an exceptionally fierce stance. He waited until the head was only about one foot in front of his body before he finally moved one step backward.
Liuyun Shi suddenly leaped up; trying to land on top of Zhang Wuji’s head. It was another weird move; attacking the enemy using one’s buttock. Although there were countless strange moves within the martial art world, such a clumsy and seemingly useless stance had never been heard of. Without batting an eyelid, Zhang Wuji stepped sideways to evade. Suddenly he felt pain on his chest, as Miaofeng Shi struck him with his elbow. The ‘jiu yang shen gong’ [nine-yang divine energy] in Zhang Wuji’s body reacted naturally, sending Miaofeng Shi stumbling three steps backward. He was just about to steady his feet when the residue of the force compelled him to fall back three more steps.
The Persian Three Emissaries’ countenances changed in consternation. Huiyue Shi swept the Sheng Huo Ling in her hands horizontally, while Liuyun Shi made three somersaults in the air. Zhang Wuji wondered what his intention was, but he knew he had better evade. He had just moved one step to the left when a white ray of light flashed, and his right shoulder was heavily hit by the Sheng Huo Ling in Liuyun Shi’s hand.
It was indeed an unthinkable stance that Zhang Wuji did not the least bit anticipate. Liuyun Shi was obviously somersaulting in the air; how could he suddenly reach out with his Sheng Huo Ling and struck out his shoulder? Zhang Wuji was startled and did not dare to prolong contact. Besides, although his body was protected by the ‘jiu yang shen gong’, the strike on his shoulder was so heavy that he felt the pain to his bone and marrow. However, he fully realized that if he drew back, his Yifu’s life would be difficult to protect. Therefore, he took a deep breath and clenching his teeth he leaped forward; his palm struck toward Liuyun Shi’s chest.
At the same time, Liuyun Shi leaped forward and struck the Sheng Huo Ling in his hands to each other. ‘Clang!’ Zhang Wuji was still in the air; hearing the noise his mind was suddenly disturbed and he fell back down to the ground. He felt a shot of pain on his waist as Miaofeng Shi kicked him. ‘Bang!’ Miaofeng Shi stumbled backward from the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ reaction; while Huiyue Shi hit Zhang Wuji’s right arm with her Sheng Huo Ling.
All this time Xie Xun was standing on the side, listening to the fight. He knew this young man from the Gigantic Whale Clan had already hit several times and was presently exhausted. Xie Xun regretted his blindness that he was helpless to step forward and lend his hand. He was very anxious; if he was fighting alone, he would be able to distinguish the enemy’s weapon, fist or kick by listening to the wind. But if he was fighting alongside a friend, how could he tell whether it was the friend’s fist or kick, or it was the enemy’s weapon? He could brandish his Tulong Saber; but wouldn’t he be greatly distressed if he inadvertently hacked down his own friend?
“Shao Xia! [young hero]” he called out, “Please back off. This is the Ming Cult’s business; it has nothing to do with you, Sire. Shao Xia has repeatedly helped me today; Xie Xun is deeply grateful.”
Zhang Wuji shouted, “I … I … Go away quickly! Please listen to me, go away!”
Right away Liuyun Shi struck with his Sheng Huo Ling. Zhang Wuji parried with the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand. ‘Clunk!’ Two Sheng Huo Ling struck each other, the noise was unbearable, it sounded like a slaughtered animal or grating metals. Liuyun Shi could not hold his grip, his Sheng Huo Ling flew up. Zhang Wuji quickly leaped up trying to snatch it; but suddenly ‘Rip!’ a large portion of the clothes on his back was grabbed by Huiyue Shi. Her fingernails created several lines of claw cuts on Zhang Wuji’s back. Zhang Wuji was in so much pain that his action was slowed down and Liuyun Shi managed to snatch the Sheng Huo Ling back.
The fight went on for several more stances. Zhang Wuji realized that in terms of strength, these three were far inferior to him, but their martial art was very strange, and their weapons were mysterious, almost magical. But it was their collaboration that was the most difficult to deal with; it was like a formation, but not quite a formation, like choreographed movements, but not quite like it. It was mysterious and ruthless, beyond imagination. He knew that as long as he could strike one of them, he would win the battle. But whenever he attacked one, the other two would launch a converging attack to help their comrade. Zhang Wuji kept changing his style, but throughout he was unable to break these three people’s defense; instead, he was hit twice by the Sheng Huo Ling. Luckily, for the Persian Three Emissaries, this was the first time their fists and kicks bounced back to hurt them each time they attacked; after a while they did not dare to made fists and kicks contact with him anymore.
With a loud shout Xie Xun leaped forward, holding the Tulong Saber in front of his chest. He came near Zhang Wuji and said, “Shao Xia, use this Saber!” while handing the Saber over to him.
Zhang Wuji thought that with this precious saber’s invincible power, he might be able to repel the enemy; hence he took the Saber immediately. Xie Xun’s right foot kicked down to jump backward, but within a split second his back was heavily hit by Miaofeng Shi’s fist, he felt as if his internal organs inside his chest and belly were turned upside down. This fist was without a noise and without a trace; Xie Xun did not hear the least bit of wind.
Zhang Wuji brandished the Saber to hack Liuyun Shi. Liuyun Shi raised both of his Sheng Huo Ling, moved both of his hands, and the Sheng Huo Ling rode on the Tulong Saber. Zhang Wuji felt an intense vibration on his palm and the Tulong Saber almost fell off his hand. He was shocked and hastily added more internal strength to his hand.
It had always been easy for Liuyun Shi to use the Sheng Huo Ling to seize his opponent’s weapon; he had done it thousands of times without failing. This time unexpectedly he failed; he was greatly surprised. Huiyue Shi let out a shrill shout and the Sheng Huo Ling in her hands also rode on the Tulong Saber’s blade. Four tablets pulled the Saber together, the force increased.
Zhang Wuji had received seven, eight injuries; although they were all minor, his internal energy had been greatly reduced. At this moment he felt half of his body was feverish, his right hand, which was grabbing the Saber, was trembling. He knew this Saber was his Yifu’s lifeline. His Yifu had not found out the truth about him, yet surprisingly he was willing to lend the Saber away, demonstrating his heroic character. Supposing that Zhang Wuji lost the Saber in his hand, how would he still have the face to see his Yifu? Thereupon with a loud grunt he sent out his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ like a steady stream of energy attacking his enemies.
Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi’s faces changed. Miaofeng Shi realized the disadvantageous situation, he moved the remaining Sheng Huo Ling in his hand to also ride on the Tulong Saber. Now Zhang Wuji had to resist three powerful pull on his Saber, yet he was able to hold his ground. He was secretly glad that he managed to snatch the Sheng Huo Ling away from Miaofeng Shi earlier; otherwise, he would be really hard-pressed to resist the six Sheng Huo Ling altogether at the same time.
By this time these four people had reached the stage where they were staking everything in this internal energy tug-of-war. Zhang Wuji thought that this internal energy duel was exactly what he was expecting, since his internal energy was a lot stronger.
For a moment four people stood motionless with each one exerting his/her internal energy. Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt a shot of pain in his chest as if a very fine sharp needle was pricking his heart and lung. His grip loosened and the five Sheng Huo Ling pulled the Tulong Saber away. Facing this great change, he stayed calm; in one fluid motion he pulled the Yitian Sword from his waist and using the ‘yuan zhuan ru yi’ [lit. circle/sphere revolving harmoniously] from the Taiji Sword, he made some slanting circles, simultaneously sweeping the Persian Three Emissaries’ lower abdomen.
When the Three Emissaries were about to leap back to evade, Zhang Wuji returned the Yitian Sword into its scabbard on his waist, while simultaneously reached out and snatched the Tulong Saber back. These four movements: loosing the Saber, pulling the Sword, returning the Sword, and snatching the Saber back, were executed swiftly, lightning fast; based on the seventh level of ‘qian kun da nuo yi’.
“Ah!” the Persian Three Emissaries exclaimed in amazement. Their internal energy was not as strong as Zhang Wuji’s; as soon as they opened their mouths, three Sheng Huo Ling were pulled away by the Tulong Saber. Three people quickly exerted their internal energy to pull back the Sheng Huo Ling; once again the four of them were locked in a stalemate situation.
Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt that pricking pain in his chest again. This time he had anticipated the attack, so that his grip on the precious saber was not loosened. These two attacks were tangible, he could feel it; but in reality they were formless attacks. A thread of cold air broke through his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ defense line, straight to his internal organs. He knew it was the Persian Three Emissaries’ cold ‘yin’ internal energy, concentrated into a singular point and entered his body via the Sheng Huo Ling.
When a ‘yin’ type of energy attack a ‘yang’ one, it might not necessarily be able to penetrate the ‘jiu yang shen gong’ defense. However, his ‘jiu yang shen gong’ was protecting his whole body, while the ‘yin’ energy was concentrated like a thin silk thread, drilling through his defense system. It was difficult to guard against, as well as difficult to bear. For example, the elephant has great strength, yet even a woman or a small child will be able to prick its skin with a small embroidered needle. As the ‘yin’ energy entered the body, it would disperse immediately; but this prick could really cause the pain to enter the bones.
Huiyue Shi successively sent out two attacks of ‘tou gu zhen’ [bone penetrating needle] internal energy. She was astonished to see the opponent resisted her attacks seemingly without too much effort. Although Miaofeng Shi’s left hand was free, his entire strength was actually concentrated to his right arm; so that his left hand was no different from if it was paralyzed.
Zhang Wuji realized that if this deadlock situation continued and while the enemy keep repeatedly sending this needle-like ‘yin’ energy attacks, he would not be able to hold on in the end; yet he did not have any real idea on how to get out of this situation. He heard Xie Xun’s heavy breathing behind him, and realized he was walking step-by-step closer; apparently he meant to strike the enemy to help Zhang Wuji. However, by this time the four people’s entire bodies were covered with their internal energy; if Xie Xun struck the enemy, it would be the same as striking Zhang Wuji, and therefore, he did not dare to act recklessly.
“This situation is dangerous,” Zhang Wuji thought, “Getting Yifu away from this place is more important.” Thereupon with a clear voice he said, “Xie Da Xia, although these Persian Three Emissaries’ martial art is marvelous, it is not difficult for me to escape alone. Would you please leave for the time being, after I’m done, I will return the precious saber to you.”
The Persian Three Emissaries were even more alarmed to hear him open his mouth as if nothing happened, while in reality he was exerting his entire internal energy.
Xie Xun asked, “Shao Xia, what is your honored surname and great given name?”
Zhang Wuji thought that if he let himself known, out of his deep love toward him, his Yifu would certainly stake it all to fight the Persian Three Emissaries; hence, controlling his emotion he said, “My surname is Zeng, given name Ahniu. Xie Da Xia, you haven’t left; could it be that you are afraid I might embezzle your treasured saber?”
Xie Xun laughed aloud and said, “Zeng Shao Xia [young hero Zeng], you don’t need to incite me. You and I have the same guts; Xie Xun is very happy that in his sunset years he can have a friend like you. Zeng Shao Xia, I am going to use the ‘qi shang quan’ [seven-injury fist (technique)] to strike that woman. As I send out my strength, you can let the Tulong Saber go.”
Zhang Wuji knew the fierceness of his Yifu’s ‘qi shang quan’. As long as he was willing to let the Tulong Saber go, one fist from his Yifu would send Huiyue Shi to her violent death. On the other hand, his Cult would develop a very deep enmity with the Persian Central Cult. Zhang Wuji had always been earnestly admonishing his brethrens to live in harmony with their fellow Cult disciples; if today without any reason he killed one of the Central Cult’s emissaries, how could he continue to be the Cult Leader? Thereupon he hastily said, “Hold on!”
Toward Liuyun Shi he said, “Let us hold our hands for a moment, I have something I’d like to say to the three of you.” Liuyun Shi nodded.
Zhang Wuji continued, “I have a close relationship with the Ming Cult. The three of you have the Sheng Huo Ling in your hands then you are our honored guests. Just now I offended you; for which I apologize. Let us pull our internal energy back together and stop fighting; what do you say?”
Liuyun Shi repeatedly nodded his head. Zhang Wuji was delighted; he pulled his strength back and pulled the Tulong Saber to the front of his chest. He felt the Persian Three Emissaries were also pulling their internal energy back; but suddenly a whiff of ‘yin’ energy – like a saber, like a sword, like a dagger, like a chisel, struck straight into the ‘yu tang xue’ [jade hall acupoint] on his chest.
This time, although the cold ‘yin’ energy was still formless and invisible, it felt like a steel blade’s stab. In an instant Zhang Wuji was suffocated, his body was paralyzed; several thoughts flashed in his mind, “After I die, it will be difficult for Yifu to escape their cruel hands. I can’t believe the Persian Central Cult’s emissaries do not give any thought to good faith. I wonder if my cousin Yin Li is going to live… What will happen to Miss Zhao and Miss Zhou? Xiao Zhao, ay, poor little child! What will happen to our Cult’s great undertaking of driving the Yuan away?” He saw that Liuyun Shi raised the Sheng Huo Ling in his right hand, ready to strike the top of his head. Zhang Wuji quickly circulated his internal energy, trying to attack the ‘yu tang xue’ on his chest, but he felt the energy flow was sluggish.
Suddenly a loud female voice was heard, “The Central Earth Ming Cult battle force has arrived!” Liuyun Shi was startled, his hand halted in midair and did not strike down. A grey shadow flashed by, pulled the Yitian Sword on Zhang Wuji’s waist, and swept toward Liuyun Shi’s chest.
Although Zhang Wuji’s body was immobilized, he could see clearly that this person was Zhao Min. He was delighted, but his delight quickly turned into shock, because the stance she was using was Kunlun Pai’s deathly stance called the ‘yu sui kun gang’ [jade shattered over Kunlun (mountain) ridge]; it was the stance to kill the enemy without any regard of one self’s safety. Although Zhang Wuji did not know the name of this stance, he knew that by using this move plus the Yitian Sword’s sharpness, she would certainly inflict harm to Liuyun Shi, but it would also difficult for her to escape the enemy’s cruel hand.
Liuyun Shi could see immediately the fierceness of this sword attack. It would be difficult for him to save himself, let alone thinking of joining hands with the other Emissaries to launch a converging attack. In his desperation he raised his Sheng Huo Ling to block with all his might, followed by throwing himself on the ground and rolled away. ‘Bang!’ the Sheng Huo Ling managed to divert the Yitian Sword, but he felt a breeze of his left cheek. Without knowing whether he was dead or still alive he stood up and traced his cheek; he felt something wet and sticky, and extremely painful. Turned out the beard and whiskers on his left cheek, along with a piece of his skin, had been sliced by the Yitian Sword. If not because of the special material Sheng Huo Ling was made of, half of his skull would be sliced by this Yitian Sword strike.
When Zhang Wuji left to see Xie Xun, Zhao Min kept thinking that Jin Hua Popo was hiding a lot of craftiness; plus, Chen Youliang’s actions were suspicious. She was anxious over his safety; therefore, she quietly followed behind. She knew her own ‘qing gong’ was inferior, hence if she came too close she would be discovered in no time. She stayed some distance away and did not come close until Zhang Wuji was fighting the Persian Three Emissaries.
When Zhang Wuji was engaged in internal energy duel against the Three Emissaries, she was delighted; thinking that although these three foreigners’ martial art was weird, in term of internal energy, no way would they surpass Zhang Wuji’s ‘jiu yang shen gong’. When Zhang Wuji suddenly called out to hold their hands, Zhao Min was about to call him to be careful, but the enemy had already launched the ‘yin feng dao’ [‘yin’ wind saber] that Zhang Wuji was hurt and he fell down. In her anxiety she disregarded everything and dashed out, snatched the Yitian Sword and brandished it with Kunlun Pai’s suicidal stance she saw in the Wan An Temple earlier.
Zhao Min succeeded in forcing Liuyun Shi away, but the Yitian Sword had bounced back and slashed her own hat, exposing a cluster of her beautiful hair. Her Sword made a slanted circle as she threw herself toward Miaofeng Shi, while her Yitian Sword followed behind.
This move was called the ‘ren gui tong tu’ [man and ghost travel together], a Kongtong Pai suicidal move, similar to Kunlun Pai’s ‘yu sui kun gang’; both were used as one was certain he or she would definitely lost, then his or her only hope would be to die together with the enemy. Shaolin and Emei, two Buddhist sects did not have this kind of desperate stances. Those who launched ‘yu sui kun gang’ and ‘ren gui tong tu’ were not trying to score a victory amidst a defeat, or to seek life amidst deaths; but they deliberately wounded themselves to perish together with the enemy. When the masters of Kunlun Pai and Kongtong Pai were imprisoned, they were humiliated by being forced to contend in martial arts while their internal energy was gone. Because they knew it was impossible for them to score any victory, some hot-tempered masters had used these kinds of stances. Unfortunately, their strength was not enough and they failed in their attempts, giving Zhao Min the opportunity to memorize these stances, one-by-one, in her heart.
Seeing her coming his way in this violent manner, Miaofeng Shi was shocked; his body turned cold and he froze. Although his martial art skill was high, his courage was lacking. Seeing this kind of move, he was unable to parry; he was so intimidated that he stood as stiff as a corpse, with hands froze in the air, waiting for death. In the meantime, Zhao Min’s body had already reached the Sheng Huo Ling in his hand; shaking out her Sword, she stabbed Miaofeng Shi’s chest.
The principle of this stance was throwing one’s body to the enemy’s weapon first, and then, as the weapon, be it saber or sword, spear or axe, was still in one’s body that the enemy’s movement was temporarily delayed, one would stab one’s sword. Even if the enemy’s martial art skill were higher, they would not be able to escape.
Miaofeng Shi was scared to death to see this fierce attack. Fortunately, the weapon in his hand was the Sheng Huo Ling, which looked like an iron ruler, without any sharp edge. As Zhao Min’s body landed on the weapon, she was unharmed. Her Sword had barely stabbed forward when her back was grabbed by Huiyue Shi. The Persian Three Emissaries’ collaboration in fighting the enemy together was truly marvelous beyond imagination.
Zhao Min’s two suicidal moves had thrown three martial art masters into confusion; until this time, Huiyue Shi only managed to grab Zhao Min’s back. Her grab seemed ordinary, but actually it was very accurate and swift like a meteor. Although Zhao Min’s sword was also swift and fierce, it still failed to reach Miaofeng Shi’s body in the end.
As Zhao Min felt her arm tighten, she knew something was amiss, she did not resist the pull, she let her body fall backwards at the same time turned her sword around and stabbed her own lower abdomen. This suicidal stance was even fiercer than the previous ones; it was a part of Wudang Pai’s sword technique called the ‘tian di tong sui’ [heaven and earth live together]. Actually, it was not created by Zhang Sanfeng, but came from Yin Liting’s painstaking effort; he meant to use it against Yang Xiao. Ever since Ji Xiaofu died, he could think nothing else but how to kill Yang Xiao to avenge her death; yet he realized his martial art skill was not Yang Xiao’s match. Although his Shifu was the number one martial artist in the world, his own intelligence and perception was limited; his comprehension was only about 30, 40% of his Shifu’s skill. In any case, after killing Yang Xiao he did not think to live anyway, hence on the Wudang mountain he painstakingly thought of several moves, which might enable him to kill the enemy while disregarding his own life.
Yin Liting trained his sword in secret. One time Zhang Sanfeng saw him. He sighed, knowing that whatever he said, Yin Liting could not be persuaded. Thereafter he named this stance ‘tian di tong shou’, meaning that after someone dies, the spirit becomes immortal, it will live for tens of thousand springs (season). Hence, in actuality, it was a solemn and stirring sword move to take away the shell in which that spirit resides.
Yin Liting’s senior disciple was trying to use this stance at the Wan An Temple; luckily Fan Yao saved him. Zhao Min saw it and this time she used it. This move could be used to kill an enemy who was grabbing one from behind. The sharp sword penetrated one’s lower abdomen, straight through to the enemy’s lower abdomen; how would Huiyue Shi escape? If Miaofeng Shi was not scared out of his wits and Liuyun Shi was standing close by, then the two of them might be able to save her, since Huiyue Shi and her partners had been working together long enough that they developed an alertness as if they were one person.
They saw the Yitian Sword was about to pierce Zhao Min and Huiyue Shi’s lower abdomen. Right at this crucial moment Zhang Wuji succeeded in breaking through his sealed acupoint. Quickly he reached out to seize the Yitian Sword. Zhao Min struggled to free herself from Huiyue Shi’s grab. Moving very fast she took the Sheng Huo Ling from Zhang Wuji’s hand and threw it far away. ‘Swish!’ it fell among the sharp steel spikes Jin Hua Popo spread on the ground earlier.
To the Persian Three Emissaries, this Sheng Huo Ling was as important as their lives. Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi disregarded Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min as their enemy; they did not even give any thought to Miaofeng Shi’s safety, they jumped toward the steel spike formation to look for the Sheng Huo Ling.
Rushing forward for only a ‘zhang’ or so, they reached the steel spikes. “Ah!” Huiyue Shi screamed, as she treaded on one of the steel spikes.
It was a moonless night with wind blowing hard, the grass was knee-deep; they could not see the steel spikes and the Sheng Huo Ling. They were forced to get down and pull the spikes while groping around for the Sheng Huo Ling. At that moment Miaofeng Shi called out in alarm, as if he had just awaken from a dream, and leaped forward to follow his comrades.
In order to save Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min had used these three stances much like a rabbit fighting a falcon; certainly without even give it a thought in advance. Now that the excitement subsided, the more she thought about it, the more she was afraid. “Wah!” she broke into a cry and threw herself in Zhang Wuji’s bosom.
Zhang Wuji embraced her with a heart full of gratitude, but he realized that as soon as the Persian Three Emissaries found the Sheng Huo Ling, they would turn around against them. “Let’s go quickly!” he hastily said. He turned to return the Tulong Saber to Xie Xun. Carrying the severely wounded Yin Li, he said, “Xie Da Xia, let us temporarily escape from them.”
“Right,” Xie Xun replied. Stooping down he unsealed Jin Hua Popo’s acupoints.
Zhang Wuji thought that after narrowly escaped death, Jin Hua Popo would certainly forget her enmity towards Xie Xun. Four people went down the hill for several ‘zhang’s when Zhang Wuji thought that although Yin Li was his own cousin, yet a man and a woman should not be to close to each other; thereupon he handed her over so Jin Hua Popo could carry her.
Zhao Min was leading the way, followed by Jin Hua Popo and Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji was the last, to protect them against the enemy. Looking back he saw the Persian Three Emissaries were still stooping down, searching among the long thick patch of grass. Zhang Wuji recalled the thrill of his defeat just now, and his heart shivered in fear; plus he was not sure if Yin Li would survive this severe injury.
While he was still deep in thought, suddenly he heard Xie Xun’s angry shout and saw him sending his fist toward Jin Hua Popo’s back. Jin Hua Popo reached back to parry, while simultaneously throwing Yin Li to the ground. Zhang Wuji was shocked and flew forward.
“Mrs. Han,” Xie Xun barked, “Why do you want to kill Miss Yin?”
Jin Hua Popo laughed coldly, “Whether you killed me or not, that’s your business. Whether I want to kill her or not, that’s my business. Why do you care anyway?”
“Since I am here,” Zhang Wuji said, “I won’t let you harm anybody on your whim.”
“Haven’t you meddled enough in other people business for today, Sire?” Jin Hua Popo asked.
“That’s not necessarily your business,” Zhang Wuji said, “The Persian Three Emissaries will pursue us here in an instant and you still will not go?”
Jin Hua Popo snorted and ran westward. Suddenly she shot three golden flowers backhandedly toward the back of Yin Li’s head. Zhang Wuji stretched out his hand and flicked his fingers. ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ the sound of golden flowers split the air, flying back toward Jin Hua Popo, stronger than arrows shot from a crossbow.
Jin Hua Popo had already seen his face clearly when Zhang Wuji held Yin Li for the first time and wiped out the beards pasted on his lips. Since realizing this young man’s internal energy was surprisingly very profound, she did not dare to reach out and catch; hastily she ducked down to dodge. The three golden flowers swept past her robe and tore away three big strips of clothes on her back. She was so frightened that her heart was jumping madly; she scurried away without even looking back.
Zhang Wuji reached out to carry Yin Li. Suddenly he heard Zhao Min moan in pain while bending her waist and pressed both hands on her lower abdomen. Hastily he went forward and asked, “What is it?” But then he saw that her hands were full of blood, which was still seeping out from her fingers. Turned out the ‘tian di tong shou’ had stabbed her abdomen after all.
Zhang Wuji was very shocked and busily asked, “Is the injury deep?”
Right at that moment they heard Miaofeng Shi cheered, “I found it! I found it!”
“Don’t mind me!” Zhao Min urged, “Go! Just go!” Zhang Wuji reached out to carry her and rushed downhill.
“To the ship! We escape to the sea!” Zhao Min said.
“Right!” Zhang Wuji responded. With one hand carried Yin Li and the other hand Zhao Min, he sped downhill.
Xie Xun followed close behind; he was secretly astonished, “This youngster is amazing; carrying two adults yet still able to run this fast.”
Zhang Wuji was so anxious that he felt his heart go numb. Even if only one of these two girls in his hands would die of her wounds, he would hate himself for the rest of his life. Luckily their bodies were still warm and did not gradually turn cold.
As the Persian Three Emissaries found the Sheng Huo Ling, they rushed to pursue, but these three’s ‘qing gong’ was definitely inferior to Zhang Wuji. It was even greatly inferior compared to Xie Xun’s.
As Zhang Wuji was nearing the ship, he loudly called out, “Shao Min Junzhu’s order: Raise the sail and weigh the anchor, prepare to sail immediately!”
So when he and Xie Xun stepped their feet on the deck, the ship was ready to sail. But the captain must hear from Zhao Min personally; he went forward to ask for instruction.
Zhao Min had lost a lot of blood. With a weak voice she said, “Hear … hear Zhang Gongzi’s order … do it …”
The captain immediately complied, the ship set sail that when the Persian Three Emissaries reached the shore, the ship had already sailed dozens of ‘zhang’s away from the island.
Zhang Wuji laid down both Zhao Min and Yin Li side by side in the cabin. Xiao Zhao helped him take off their clothes to reveal the wounds. Zhang Wuji assessed these two women’s conditions; he saw the sword wound on Zhao Min’s abdomen was approximately half a ‘cun’ [1 cun is about 1 inch] deep. Although she was bleeding profusely, her life was not in danger. All of the three golden flowers on Yin Li’s chest had hit her vital points; apparently Jin Hua Popo did not attack her half-heartedly. Whether her life could be saved remained very difficult to say. He applied some medicine and wrapped their injuries.
Yin Li remained unconscious, while tears streaming down Zhao Min’s face. Zhang Wuji asked how she felt; she merely clenched her teeth without giving an answer.
“Zeng Shao Xia,” Xie Xun said, “Old Xie has left the matters of the world; this time unexpectedly returning to the Central Earth, and still can make an acquaintance with a friend with such a deep ‘yi qi’, I am happy beyond believe.”
Zhang Wuji led him to sit on a chair in the middle of the cabin. He knelt and bowed down, crying, “Yifu, child Wuji is unfilial; has not been able to meet you sooner, causing Yifu to suffer extreme hardships.”
“You …” Xie Xun was shocked, “What did you say?”
“I am your child Wuji,” Zhang Wuji said.
But how could Xie Xun believe? “You … what did you say?” he asked.
“The fist technique starts with a focused attention, intention precedes strength, only then victory will be achieved …” Zhang Wuji gushed non-stop, reciting the theories Xie Xun passed on to him on the Bing Huo Island just before they bade each other good-bye.
After he recited about twenty sentences or so, Xie Xun was surprised and happy; he grabbed Zhang Wuji’s arms and said, “You … you are really my child Wuji?”
Zhang Wuji stood up and embraced Xie Xun tightly, while trying to control his emotions. Thereupon he narrated in brief important points of what had happened since they parted omitting the fact that he was the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. He did not want his Yifu to observe the Cult protocol and did obeisance to him instead.
Xie Xun felt as if he was in a dream; but this time he could not help but believe. “Lao Tian Ye [Heaven, God] has eyes, Lao Tian Ye has eyes!” he repeatedly said.
Suddenly they heard the sailor on watch shouted from the stern, “The enemy ship pursues!”
Zhang Wuji rushed toward the deck and saw on a distant a large ship riding on the wind with five sails open, coming fast toward them. In the dark night he could not see the ship’s hull, but the five large white sails were clearly visible. Zhang Wuji looked for a while; he noticed that the enemy’s ship was lighter; they were closing the gap rapidly. He was anxious and was at a loss. If it was only the Persian Three Emissaries, then he could fight them inside the cabin. Because of the space limitation, they might not be easily collaborating with one another. Thereupon he moved Zhao Min and Yin Li to the side, took the two big anchors on the deck, and placed them on the middle of the cabin as a barrier, forcing the Persian Three Emissaries to fight one on one.
As he finished the preparation, suddenly a loud explosion was heard; their ship violently leaned sideways, followed by the seawater rise up to the sky and splash into the cabin.
“The enemy ship fires their cannon! The enemy ship fires their cannon!” the sailor on the stern loudly called out. Luckily the cannon missed its target and landed on the water.
Zhao Min beckoned Zhang Wuji and in a low voice said, “We also have cannon!”
Zhang Wuji remembered and immediately rushed to the main deck, ordering the sailors to take away the covers of the cannon and load it with gunpowder and iron cannonball. They lighted the fuse and ‘Bang!’ the cannonball flew out. These sailors were Zhao Min’s warriors in disguise; their martial art skills were not weak, however they knew nothing about artillery or naval battle; the cannonball landed in between two enemy ships. Column of water rose up several ‘zhang’s to the sky, but the enemy’s ships were not even swayed. Fortunately, as the enemy saw that they also have guns, they did not dare to get too close.
Not too long afterwards, the enemy ship fired another round. This time it hit the bow and immediately their ship caught fire. Zhang Wuji busily directed the sailors to draw water to fight the fire. Suddenly he saw the fire had reached one of the upper deck’s cabins. With both hands carried two buckets of water, he kicked the cabin door open and splashed the water to extinguish the fire. Amidst the smoke he saw a woman lying on the bed. It was Zhou Zhiruo. She was completely soaked.
Zhang Wuji dropped the buckets and rushed in. “Miss Zhou,” he hastily asked, “Are you all right?”
Zhou Zhiruo’s head and face was wet; she looked really miserable. She was extremely stunned to suddenly see Zhang Wuji appear. She tried to move her hands, ‘clink, clank, clink’. It turned out her hands and feet were shackled in iron chain by Jin Hua Popo. Zhang Wuji rushed to the lower deck cabin to fetch the Yitian Sword and cut away the shackles.
“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Zhou Zhiruo said, “You … how come you are here?”
Before Zhang Wuji could reply, the hull suddenly shook violently. Zhou Zhiruo’s legs were still weak and she fell into Zhang Wuji’s bosom. Zhang Wuji busily reached out to help her up. By the flame light from outside the window Zhang Wuji saw on her pale face two streaks of blush; embellished by little drops of water, she looked so beautiful and elegant, just like narcissus in the morning dew.
Zhang Wuji calmed himself down and said, “Let us go to the lower deck cabin.”
Two people barely went out the door when they felt the ship was spinning. Turned out the enemy’s cannon just now had not only hit the rudder and smashed it, but killed the helmsman and threw him down the sea as well.
The captain was anxious, he personally loaded the cannon, with the hope of sinking the enemy ship. He kept pouring gunpowder down the gun barrel and packed it solid with an iron rod. Turning around the cannon’s mouth, he lighted the fuse. ‘Bang!’ Suddenly the air around them turned red as the explosion shook the sky, pieces of steel and iron flew everywhere. The cannon exploded and killed the captain and the sailors standing nearby; their flesh and blood scattered everywhere. It was because the captain wanted to utilize the full power of the cannon that he put several times the amount of gunpowder than necessary, so that the cannon exploded instead.
Zhang Wuji and Zhou Zhiruo had just stepped onto the deck when they saw the ship was on fire; they withdrew immediately. Looking around Zhang Wuji saw a small boat tied on the port side of the ship. “Miss Zhou,” he called out, “Jump to that boat …”
By this time Xiao Zhao, carrying Yin Li, and Xie Xun, carrying Zhao Min, emerged from the lower deck cabin. Turned out the explosion had made a crack on the hull of the ship and the seawater welled up quickly. Zhang Wuji led Xie Xun and Xiao Zhao to the boat. He cut the rope with his sword and ‘splash!’ the boat fell onto the sea below.
Zhang Wuji jumped out and lightly landed on the boat. He took the pair of oars and started rowing with all his might. By this time, the fire was blazing wild, painting the surface of the sea to a bright red. Zhang Wuji thought he must take the boat as far away as possible from this circle of light. If the Persian Three Emissaries did not see the small boat, they would think that everybody perished in the sea and will no longer pursue them. Xie Xun followed his example by taking out a plank and rowing furiously.
The small boat sailed swiftly on the waves; in a short moment they were outside the circle of light. They heard a series of explosions as the gunpowder on the ship was detonated. The Persian ship did not dare to come close; they stopped to observe afar from quite a distance.
Some of Zhao Min’s warriors possessed good water skills; they dove into the sea and swam toward the enemy ship, crying for help. But the Persians shot them with arrows and they died in the sea.
Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun did not dare to slack off. If the Three Emissaries overtook them on land, they would still be able to fight to the death. But now they were in the middle of the boundless ocean; if the enemy ship fired their canon, even if they missed the small boat by several ‘zhang’s, the wave would surge and the small boat would capsize. Fortunately, these two’s internal energy was very profound that they were not exhausted although they rowed for half a night.
Black clouds filled the sky towards dawn and all around them was gray drizzle of thick fog. Zhang Wuji happily said, “If this thick fog stays for half a day, then the enemy will not be able to find us in any way.” But towards the afternoon, suddenly a strong wind came followed by a heavy rain.
The small boat was blown southward by the wind. It was the depth of wintertime. Everybody’s clothes were soaked. Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun had profound internal energy, so they were all right. But blown by the north wind, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao could not restrain their teeth from chattering. Unfortunately, there was nothing on that small boat; nobody could come up with any ideas. Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun had stopped rowing for a while; right now four people removed their eight shoes and used them to scoop the rainwater accumulated on the boat to the sea.
Xie Xun was very happy to finally meet Zhang Wuji; although the present situation of their plight was dangerous, he did not seem to care. He cursed the sky and shouted at the sea, and was busy talking and laughing in the rain. Xiao Zhao was also carefree; she happily accompanied Xie Xun chitchatting. Only Zhou Zhiruo was silent; occasionally her eyes would meet Zhang Wuji’s, and she would immediately turn her head around to avoid his gaze.
“Wuji,” Xie Xun said, “In the past, while your parents and I were riding on a boat together, we met a violent storm along the way; it was worse than today. Afterwards we were marooned on an iceberg and we had seals as our food. But that time the south wind was blowing, so we were floating to the North Pole’s world of ice and snow. Today the north wind is blowing. Could it be that ‘Lao Tian Ye’ [God, or Heaven] think Xie Xun is not pleasing to the eyes, that He wants to send me to the South Pole’s palace of old immortals for another twenty years? Ha ha ha ha …!”
After laughing for a moment he said, “That time your parents were one man and one woman, a talented young man and a beautiful young woman; it was a match made in Heaven. Now you have four beautiful girls with you; what can we do? Ha ha ha ha …!”
Zhou Zhiruo blushed and lowered her head; while Xiao Zhao remained calm and said, “Xie Laoyezi [old master Xie], I am Gongziye’s [master] servant; of course I don’t count.”
Although Zhao Min’s injury was not light, she was conscious the whole time; “Xie Laoyezi,” she suddenly said, “If you keep talking nonsense, as soon as I am well, we’ll see if I don’t slap your ears really good.”
Xie Xun stuck out his tongue and said with a smile, “This girl is actually very mean.” Suddenly the smile disappeared from his face; he hesitated a moment before saying, “Hmm, last night you launched three suicidal moves. The first one was Kunlun Pai’s ‘yu sui kun gang’, the second one was Kongtong Pai’s ‘ren gui tong tu’, and the third one … what was it? The old man is uncouth and unlearned, could not hear it.”
Zhao Min was secretly shocked. “No wonder Jin Mao Shi Wang’s name shook the world in the past; his conducts in Jianghu were earth-shattering,” she thought, “His eyes are blind, yet he was able to guess correctly the two stances I was using. He truly lives up to his reputation.”
“The third move was Wudang Pai’s ‘tian di tong shou’,” she said, “Apparently it was developed only recently, no wonder Laoyezi does not know.” She said that with a really respectful expression.
Xie Xun sighed, “You did your utmost to save Wuji; that was really good,” he said, “But why did you risk your own life? Why risked your life?”
Zhao Min started to say, “He … he …” but then she stopped, as if she was mulling over whether she should continue or not. Finally she could not refrain from sobbing; she said, “He … Who told him to show such affection? … Hugging … Hugging Miss Yin. I don’t want to live!” Finished speaking, her tears were already rolling down like rain.
Hearing her publicly revealing her deepest feelings unexpectedly, four people were startled; they did not remember Zhao Min was a Mongolian girl who loves when she wants to love, and who hates when she wants to hate. Certainly she was not wishy-washy; unlike the Central Earth’s women who were strongly influenced by Confucianism’s custom and regulations. Besides, they were all on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, the heavy rain drenched their heads, their small boat could capsize anytime and they would all perish. At the time when they hovered between life and death, it was even more unnecessary to be scrupulous.
Listening to Zhao Min, Zhang Wuji could not help but feel touched. “Miss Zhao is originally my archenemy,” he thought, “This time my primary intention was to see Yifu when we were going out to the sea together. Who would have thought that she would have these deep feelings toward me?” Unable to restrain his emotions, he reached out to hold her hand, put his lips next to her ear and whispered softly, “No matter what, next time you can’t do it again.”
As Zhao Min blurted out her feelings, she had almost immediately had already regretted it; thinking that if a girl from an honorable family did not stop this kind of talk from coming out, how could he not look down on her? Suddenly hearing him admonish her lovingly, she was surprised and happy, bashful and loving at the same time. She felt an unspeakable sweetness in her heart and felt that last night’s risking her life three times, and the suffering of drifting on the ocean today, everything, were not in vain.
The heavy rain started to subside and gradually stopped, but the fog was coming back and actually getting thicker and thicker. Suddenly a swishing noise was heard as a large fish, more than 30 catties, leaped up from the sea. Xie Xun’s right hand stretched out and stabbed his five fingers into the fish’s belly, taking the fish into the boat. Everybody cheered. Xiao Zhao took out her sword to cut open its belly and scrape the scales; and then cut it to pieces. They were all hungry, so although the raw fish was smelly, they forced themselves to eat a few slices. Xie Xun ate eagerly; he had lived on a desolated island for more than twenty years, and had survived on all kinds of food, how could he care about eating raw fish? Besides, the fish was fresh; after chewing for some times and being used to the fresh fish smell, the meat brought out its raw sweet flavor.
The waves gradually subsided. After eating, they all closed their eyes to get some rest. They had been fighting violently for the whole day and whole night the previous day, they were not only physically, but emotionally exhausted as well. Although Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were not engaged in battle physically, the excitement and frights they experienced were not small. The ocean gently rocked the small boat like a cradle; the six people on the boat fell asleep one after another.
They were sound asleep for almost six hours. As an old man, Xie Xun was the first one to wake up. He heard the sound of five young people breathing blended with the sound of the wave and the wind. Since Zhao Min and Yin Li were injured, their breathings were short and quick. Zhou Zhiruo’s breathing was light and long. Zhang Wuji’s inhales and exhales sounded like they were broken yet continuous, without any distinct separation. Xie Xun was secretly astonished, “This child internal energy is very profound,” he thought, “I won’t be able to achieve this level in all my life.”
Xiao Zhao’s breathing was sometimes fast, sometimes slow, a sign of a very special school’s internal energy cultivation method. Xie Xun frowned as he remembered something, “This is strange,” he mused, “Could it be that this child is …”
Suddenly his thought was interrupted by Yin Li’s loud shout, “Zhang Wuji, you little kid, why don’t you come with me to Ling She Island?”
Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were awakened by her shout. She said again, “I live alone on the Island, and quite lonely … why are you not willing to come and accompany me? I miss you so much, you … you are in the afterworld, do you know that?”
Zhang Wuji put his hand on her forehead and felt it was burning hot; he knew her severe wound had caused her a fever, making her sprouting nonsense. Although his medical skill was exquisite, there was nothing on the small boat, not even a blade of grass, so he was helpless. He tore away a piece of his clothes and soaked it in the water, then pressed it on her forehead.
Yin Li continued to ramble; suddenly she shouted, “Father, you … don’t kill mother, don’t kill mother! I was the one who killed ‘Er Niang’ [second madame or second mother], you’d better kill me; it had nothing to do with mother … Mother is dead, mother is dead! I killed my mother! Boo hoo hoo…” She cried miserably.
“Zhu’Er, Zhu’Er, wake up,” Zhang Wuji said in a gentle voice, “Your father is not here, you don’t have to be afraid.”
“Father is not good, I am not afraid of him!” Yin Li indignantly said, “Why did he marry ‘Er Niang’, ‘San Niang’ [third madame or third mother]? Is not one wife enough for one man? Father, you have two hearts and three minds; delight in the new, discard the old. You’ve married someone yet marry another, hurting my mother really bad, hurting me really bad! You are not my Father, you are a heartless man, a greatly wicked man!”
Zhang Wuji was shocked and alarmed; his face turned blue and his lips white. Turned out he had just had a good dream; he dreamt that he married Zhao Min, and also married Zhou Zhiruo. Yin Li’s face had changed, she was beautiful; he also married her and Xiao Zhao. Whatever idea he did not dare to think during the day had manifested itself in a dream when he was sleeping. He felt that these four girls were all good, and he could not bear to part with any of them. Hence when he comforted Yin Li, his mind was still vaguely remembering the sweetness that the dream brings.
This time listening to Yin Li scolding her father, he recalled how in the past she had told him that because she could not accept her mother being cheated, she killed her father’s beloved concubine, so that his uncle, Yin Yewang wanted to kill his own daughter. This tragic incident had affected Yin Yewang greatly that to comfort his own feeling he took several more wives and concubines.
Zhang Wuji looked at Zhao Min, and could not help but look at Zhou Zhiruo as well, remembering his dream, he was deeply ashamed. He heard Yin Li mumbling in her sleep, but suddenly she implored urgently, “Wuji, please come with me, I am asking you. You’ve bitten the back of my hand really bad, but I don’t hate you the least bit. I will take care of you as long as I live, to be close to you, to regard you as my master. Don’t hate me because my face is ugly; if you want it, I’d rather lose my martial art, I’ll discard the poison from the thousand spiders, so my face will come back to when you first saw me …”
She spoke these last few sentences with a very tender and gentle voice, totally different from the strong-willed and short-tempered, eccentric cousin Zhang Wuji had always known; that gentle and tender feeling also grew in his heart. He heard her continue, “Wuji, I went everywhere looking for you, I went to the end of the earth without hearing anything about you, and then in the western region I heard you have died, falling off a cliff; made me want to stop living. In the western region I met a guy named Zeng Ahniu; his martial art skill was very high, he was also very good to me; he wanted to take me as his wife.”
Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao knew that Zhang Wuji often used the name Zeng Ahniu, they all turned their eyes to him. Zhang Wuji blushed profusely; he felt very awkward to be under these three girls attentive gaze. He really wished he could just jump into the sea and did not come back up until Yin Li regained her consciousness.
He heard Yin Li mumbled and said, “That Ahniu Gege [big brother Ahniu] said to me, ‘Miss, with all my heart I sincerely desire to marry you. I only hope you will not regard me unworthy.’ He said, ‘From now on, I will cherish you with all my might, I will look after you. No matter how many people come to make things difficult for you, no matter how many fierce people come to bully you, I don’t care if I’ll have to lose my life, I will protect you. I want you to be happy, I want you to forget your past sufferings.’ Wuji, that Ahniu Gege’s character is a lot better than yours; his martial art skill is also stronger than that Emei Pai’s Miejue Shitai. But my heart belongs to you, this heartless and short-lived little rascal, hence I cannot come with him. You have died young then I will be your widow for the rest of my life. Wuji, tell me, isn’t Ah Li good to you? You ignored me in the past, don’t you regret it now?”
At first Zhang Wuji was very embarrassed when she repeated what he said to her, but the more he listened to her, the more his heart was touched. He could not control his tears from flowing down his cheeks.
By now the thick fog had already been dissipated, the crescent moon illuminated the boat. Yin Li was leaning on her side, so that her graceful figure was clearly seen. She softly said, “Wuji, in the afterworld, aren’t you lonely? Don’t you miss me? I am going with Popo to the northern sea’s Bing Huo Island to find your Yifu, and then I am going to the Wudang Mountain to offer sacrifice on your parents’ graves. Afterwards I am going to the snowy peak in the western region where you died and I’ll jump down to accompany you. But I must wait for Popo’s a hundred years [meaning: a lifetime, till she died]; I cannot accompany you yet, leaving her to suffer in this world alone. Popo treated me very well, if she did not save me, I would have been killed by Father early on. For your Yifu’s sake I have betrayed Popo; she must hate me very much, but I still have to be good to her. Wuji, don’t you think so?”
She talked as if she was discussing something face to face with Zhang Wuji. In her heart, Zhang Wuji had become a ghost from another world. The way she spoke soft and gentle words to the dead, plus the moonlight shining on the ocean, a quiet night, lone boat were all making those who were listening feel a sudden chill creep in their hearts.
Yin Li kept rambling to the east and to the west, which did not make any sense whatsoever; sometimes she called out in alarm, sometimes shouted in anger, each word was a manifestation of inexhaustible anxiety in her heart. She called out and shouted randomly like that for a while, finally her voice softened, and slowly she fell into a deep sleep.
The other five people on the boat were silent as they were busy with their own thoughts. The only audible noise was the sound of the waves gently striking the hull of their little boat. Under the gentle wind and the bright moon, they felt that the life’s miseries from tens of thousands days ago still exist today, and will be forever.
In between thoughts, they suddenly heard a very faint gentle singing float above the water, ‘In the end, this body will be difficult to escape from that day. Out of a hundred years span of life, those who reach seventy are already sparse. Years of misery pass like torrential flood of the river.’ [Translator’s note: I am not a poet, and this passage is very difficult to translate. I welcome any correction.] It was Yin Li who softly sang the song in her sleep.
Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; he remembered inside the secret passage of the Brightness Peak, when their exit was completely stopped by Cheng Kun that they were unable to get out, Xiao Zhao had also sung this tune. Almost without thinking he turned to look at Xiao Zhao. Under the moonlight he saw that Xiao Zhao was looking at him with a blank expression her face.