The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 30

East and west are forever apart like Orion and Antares.

After singing that song, Yin Li continued singing another tune. This time the song was unspeakably weird, the melody was totally different from songs of the Central Earth. If one listened closely, they would be able to discern the words, which were also similar to the song Xiao Zhao used to sing, ‘Coming like the running water, departing like the wind; wonder where it came from, and where it will end!’

She sang these two songs over and over again, while her voice getting softer and softer, until finally her voice was drowned by the noise of the wind and the waves. Everybody pondered how life and death was not eternal; one came into this world lightly, just like the flowing water of the river, without knowing where it came from. It does not matter if you are a hero or a warrior, death is inevitable in the end, coming out of this world also lightly, just like the blowing wind, without knowing where it would go. Zhang Wuji felt that Zhao Min’s delicate fingers in his hand were as cold as ice, and they slightly trembled.

Xie Xun suddenly said, “This is a Persian song; Mrs. Han must have taught her. One evening twenty years ago, I heard this song at the BrightnessPeak. Ay, I can’t believe Mrs. Han could be that heartless to hurt this child with a cruel hand.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min asked, “How did Mrs. Han know about a Persian song? Was it a Ming Cult’s song?”

Xie Xun replied, “Ming Cult’s origin is from Persia, so this Persian song is somewhat related to the Ming Cult; but it is not a Ming Cult song. This song was written by the most famous Persian poet Omar Khayyam more than two hundred years ago; it was said that every Persian could sing this song. When I heard Mrs. Han sing this song, I was touched; thereupon I asked her the story behind this song, and she told me everything:

There was a great Persian philosopher by the name of Imam Mowaffaq Nishapuri; among his disciples, there were three outstanding students: Omar Khayyam, who was a master in literature studies, Nizam-ul-Mulk, who was an expert in political studies, and Hassan-i-Sabah, who excelled in martial arts. These three were good friends and bound themselves in an oath, to face fortune and adversity together, and not to forget each other in riches and honor.

Later on because of his accomplishment, Nizam-al-Mulk became Vizier to the Seljukid Empire. His two old friends came to seek shelter. Nizam entreated the Shah, and Hassan was granted an official position. Omar was not willing to be a government official; he only asked for annual provision so that he could research and study astronomy, almanac and mathematics, also to drink wine and write poems in peace. Nizam generously granted each of his friends’ requests.

Unexpectedly, Hassan was ambitious; he was unwilling to be someone else’s subordinate for long and thus staged a rebellion. His attempt was foiled and he fled to a mountain. Later on he became the chief of a sect whose prestige shook the world. This sect specifically took murder as their service, and was called the Hashhashin Sect. During the Crusades, whenever someone in the western region mentioned the name of The Old Man of the Mountain, Hassan, no hearts would be exempt from shaking in fear. Many of the western region’s rulers lost their lives under the innumerable assassins under The Old Man of the Mountain.

Mrs. Han told me that in the far west [i.e. Europe] there is one great nation called England. This country’s King Edward has offended The Old Man of the Mountain, so he dispatched a band of assassins. The King was wounded by a poisoned blade. Luckily, the Queen sacrificed herself to save her husband by sucking the poison from his wound. As a result, the King survived.

In spite of the kindness he received in the former days, Hassan dispatched his men to assassinate the Vizier, Nizam-al-Mulk. At the point of his death, the Vizier uttered Omar Khayyam’s verse; these two lines ‘Coming like the running water, departing like the wind; wonder where it came from, and where it will end.’

Mrs. Han also told me that afterwards, the martial art from The Old Man of the Mountain’s Sect was practiced by the people of the Persian Ming Cult. The Persian Three Emissaries’ martial art was odd in a strange way; I suppose it stemmed from The Old Man of the Mountain’s martial art.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “This Mrs. Han’s character is similar to that of The Old Man of the Mountain; you treated her with utmost kindness, yet she plotted to harm you.”

Xie Xun sighed, “It is common for people to repay kindness with evil; what’s so strange about that?” he said.

Zhao Min lowered her head and was silent for half a day before saying, “Mrs. Han was the chief of the Ming Cult’s Four Kings, but her martial art skill is not necessarily superior to Laoye Zi. Last night, why didn’t she use the deathly stances of ‘qian zhu wan du shou’ [hand of thousand spiders ten thousands poisons] when she fought with the Persian Three Emissaries?”

“Qian zhu wan du shou?” Xie Xun asked, “Mrs. Han does not know that skill. She is a woman of an outstanding beauty, and she cherishes her appearance more than her life; how could she be willing to practice this kind of skill?”

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo were startled; they thought Jin Hua Popo was ugly. Looking at her present appearance, even if she was thirty, forty years younger, it would be very difficult for them to say that she possessed an outstanding beauty. Her nose was crooked and her lips thick; her face was oval-shaped, her ears as big as a pair of fans. Certainly these features would not change over time.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Laoye Zi, I’ll say Jin Hua Popo’s beauty is nowhere near ‘outstanding.’”

“What?” Xie Xun said, “Zi Shan Long Wang’s [purple-robed dragon king] beauty is similar to deities’. Twenty some years ago she was the Wulin World’s Number One Beauty. Granted that she is advanced in years now, but her gracefulness in the past should still be there … Ay, too bad I cannot see her anymore.”

Listening to him speaking seriously, Zhao Min had a vague feeling that something was wrong; this ugly, hunched back and sickly woman was the Wulin World’s Number One Beauty? Nobody would buy that. “Laoye Zi,” she asked, “Your name shook the Jianghu, your martial art skill is high, so nobody would doubt you. Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king] founded a cult. He managed to stand equally with the six major sects, and even fought valiantly against them for over twenty years. Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] comes and goes like a ghost. That day at the Wan An Temple he threatened to destroy my face; hereafter if I think about it, I am still shivering in fear. On the other hand Jin Hua Popo to have a position above the other three is rather unsuitable although her martial art skill is also high and quite resourceful. I wonder why?”

Xie Xun replied, “That was because Yin Er Ge [Second (older Brother Yin], Wei Si Di [Fourth (younger) Brother Wei) and I, three people were willing to yield to her.”

“Why?” Zhao Min asked. Suddenly she chuckled and said, “Because she was the most beautiful woman in the world, three great heroes were willing to submit under her skirt?” She was a Mongolian woman, who did not confine herself to senior-junior propriety; whatever came into her mind, she would unscrupulously blurt it out as a joke toward Xie Xun.

Surprisingly, Xie Xun was not angered. He sighed and said, “Do you think only three people who willingly submitted under her skirt? If I say there were a hundred people inside and outside the Cult who hoped to attain Taj-kis’ favor, I am afraid that number is still too few.”

“Taj-kis?” Zhao Min wondered, “Is that Mrs. Han? How come her name is so strange?”

“She is a Persian,” Xie Xun said, “That is a Persian name.”

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo were stunned; “She is a Persian?” they asked almost simultaneously.

“Can’t you all see?” Xie Xun was surprised, “She was born of a mixed marriage between a Chinese and a Persian. Her hair and eyes are black, but her nose is high and her eyes deep; her skin is as white as snow; greatly different from the women of the Central Plains. It is so easy to distinguish.”

“No, no!” Zhao Min said, “Her nose is low, her eyes are like a pair of slits on her face; completely different from your description. Zhang Gongzi, isn’t that right?”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “Could it be that she is like Ku Toutuo, deliberately destroying her own face?”

“Who is Ku Toutuo?” Xie Xun asked.

“He is the Ming Cult’s Guang Ming You Shi [right emissary of the brightness], Fan Yao,” Zhang Wuji replied. Thereupon he briefly told him how Fan Yao had destroyed his face and entered the RuyangPalace as a spy.

Xie Xun sighed, “This act by Fan Xiong [brother Fan], done in pain and suffering, was a great merit to our Cult; not everybody is capable of doing that. Ay, part of it was also because of Mrs. Han’s affair.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “Please don’t keep us in suspense. Why don’t you tell us everything from beginning to the end?”

“Hmm,” Xie Xun raised his head up and was lost in thought for half a day before he slowly said, “Twenty some years ago, the Ming Cult was quite prosperous under Yang Jiaozhu’s leadership. One particular day three Persian foreigners suddenly appeared at the BrightnessPeak, to deliver the personal letter of the Persian Central Cult’s Jiaozhu addressed to Yang Jiaozhu. The letter said that the Persian Central Cult had a Jing Shan Shizhe [lit. clean and virtuous emissary], who was Chinese. He had lived in Persia for a long time; joined the Ming Cult, and rendered quite a few meritorious services. He married a Persian woman and had a daughter. This Jing Shan Shizhe passed away a year ago. On his deathbed he remembered his native land and wished his daughter be sent to China. The Central Cult’s Jiaozhu honored his wish and thus dispatched some people to escort his daughter to the BrightnessPeak; hoping that the Central Earth’s Ming Cult would look after her.

Yang Jiaozhu readily agreed and invited the daughter to come in. As that young woman entered the main hall, immediately it was as if the hall was filled with a glorious light; nothing could describe her glaring beauty. As she knelt down to pay her respects toward Yang Jiaozhu, there wasn’t any one who was not shaken among everybody in that hall, including the Left and Right Brightness Emissaries, the three Protector Kings, the Five Wanderers and the Five-Element Flags.

The three Persian escorts only stayed at the BrightnessPeak overnight; they took their leave the very next day. Since then, this glamorous Persian girl, Taj-kis lived at the BrightnessPeak.”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said with a laugh, “At that time you were also mesmerized by this glamorous Persian woman, were you not? Come on, don’t be shy; admit it honestly.”

“No!” Xie Xun shook his head, “At that time I was a newlywed; I loved my wife dearly, and she was pregnant. How could I think about another woman?”

“Oy,” Zhai Min muttered, silently scolding herself for making an indiscreet remark. She knew that Xie Xun’s wife and son were killed by Cheng Kun. This time she inadvertently brought it up, she knew she would unavoidably bring grief to Xie Xun’s heart; hastily she said, “That’s right, that’s right! No wonder Mrs. Han said that when she married Yin Ye Xian Sheng [Mr. Silver Leaf], everybody on the BrightnessPeak opposed her, except Yang Jiaozhu and you, who treated her very well. I bet Jiaozhu’s wife was not only beautiful, but also an expert in martial arts, so she won over her husband’s heart.”

“Yang Jiaozhu was generous, brave and chivalrous,” Xie Xun said, “Taj-kis’ age was appropriate to be his daughter. Besides, the Persian Central Cult has entrusted her to him, so Yang Jiaozhu always treated her with utmost respect; definitely he did not have any inappropriate thoughts against her. Mrs. Jiaozhu was my Shifu’s shimei [martial (younger) sister], she was my Shigu [martial aunt]. Yang Jiaozhu loved his wife very much.”

Cheng Kun had killed his entire family; Xie Xun bore a long and deep hatred toward him but when mentioning Cheng Kun’s name, Xie Xun said it lightly, as if he was mentioning other people’s name.

Zhao Min asked, “I heard when he was young, Ku Toutuo Fan Yao was a very handsome man. Did he fall in love with Taj-kis?”

Xie Xun nodded; “It was love at first sight,” he said, “Later on it became a kind of infatuation written-in-his-heart and engraved-on-his-bone. In fact, I am afraid I seldom find a man whose heart was not moved by Taj-kis’ beauty. But the Ming Cult’ religious law is strict; everybody maintained self-control and propriety. In the end, only bachelors dared to show their admiration toward Taj-kis. Who would have thought that Taj-kis’s heart was as cold as ice; she was also a no-nonsense, unpretentious kind of person. Whoever revealed even a slight cordiality toward her would receive her harsh reprove; to the point of humiliating him so that he would fall from his honored position. My Shigu, Madame Jiaozhu, wanted to be the matchmaker between her and Fan Yao. Taj-kis flatly declined. Later on, she went as far as swore publicly, with a sword horizontally across her body, saying that she would never get married, and that she would rather die if anybody forced her. Because of this, everybody’s heart also turned cold towards her.

One day about half a year later, somebody from LingSheIsland came to the BrightnessPeak. He said his surname was Han, given name Qianye [lit. thousand leaves], a son of Yang Jiaozhu’s enemy of the former days. He came to avenge his father. Admittedly, nobody thought this youngster surnamed Han’s appearance was astonishing. Seeing his surprising boldness in coming to the BrightnessPeak to challenge Yang Jiaozhu, everybody burst out in laughter. But Yang Jiaozhu’s expression was serious; he received him as an honored guest and prepared a banquet to welcome him.

After the feast, Yang Jiaozhu explained to the brethrens how in the past due to a misunderstanding he had seriously injured this lad’s father using the ‘da jiu tian shou’ [great nine heavenly hands] that his father fell on his knees and was unable to stand back up. At that time the father said that he was going to avenge this enmity; only realizing his martial art skill would not advance anymore, he promised that he would send his son or his daughter.

Yang Jiaozhu said that whomever he would send, whether a son or a daughter, Yang Jiaozhu would yield to him or her for three stances. That man replied that he would not expect Yang Jiaozhu to yield, but he would ask that if they were to have a martial art duel, to have his son or daughter choose the method on how they would fight. At that time Yang Jiaozhu gave his consent.

A dozen or so years had passed; Yang Jiaozhu had already set this matter aside from his mind. Who would have thought that the man surnamed Han did indeed send his son to seek revenge. Everybody thought that it would be well if he did not come; but once he came, nothing good would happen to him [善者不来,来者不善 -‘shan zhe bu lai, lai zhe bu shan’]. This man dared to come alone to the BrightnessPeak, he must have had an astonishing skill. But Yang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill was very high; it could be said that nobody in this present age could be compared to him. Other than Wudang Pai’s Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. real/true man, a term of respect to address a Taoist priest], nobody would be able to take his one stance or half a form. How old could this man surnamed Han be? Yang Jiaozhu did not have anything to be worried about even if he was three times or five times his age. We were anxious only over how they were going to have their duel.

On the next day, in front of everybody Han Qianye first explained the agreement of the past, cornering Yang Jiaozhu so that he could not deny his promise, and then he presented his request. To everybody’s surprise, he wanted to fight against Yang Jiaozhu inside the ‘bi shui han tan’ [bluish green water cold pool] on the BrightnessPeak to decide victory or defeat.

As he said that, everybody was shocked. The water of ‘bi shui han tan’ was really cold, penetrating the bones. Even in the heat of the summer nobody dared to enter in, much less in the middle of the winter?

Although Yang Jiaozhu’s martial art skill was high, his water skill was only so-so. If he went into the ‘bi shui han tan’, , he would be frozen to death, or drown to his death inside the water without even contending in martial arts. At that moment, all warriors and heroes in the Sheng Huo Ting [holy fire hall] opened their mouths to denounce the young man.”

“That was a very difficult dilemma,” Zhang Wuji said, “Once a word left a real man’s mouth, four horses would not be able to chase it. Yang Jiaozhu had made a promise to that man surnamed Han that he would let his son or daughter to pick the way they would fight. That Han Qianye Lao Qianbei [senior, older generation] picked water battle; reasonably speaking, Yang Jiaozhu could not refuse.”

Zhao Min reached out to the back of his hand and pinched it lightly; she laughed and said, “That’s right! Once a word left a real man’s mouth, four horses would not be able to chase it. What kind of man was the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu? How could he swallow back his words, break his own promise to the world? Once he gave his consent regarding other people’s matters, then he should fulfill his promise.”

She was saying that to Zhang Wuji, reminding him about the oath of honor between them; but of course Xie Xun did not know that. “That’s exactly so,” he said, “That day Han Qianye clearly said, ‘I am going up the BrightnessPeak alone, I am not hoping to go down this mountain alive. The heroes and warriors can simply kill me; nobody in the Jianghu will find out. I am only a nameless lowly character. What difference does it make if there is one less of me? If you want to kill me, go ahead.’ When everybody heard what he said, they could not say anything anymore.

Yang Jiaozhu was silent for half a day before he finally said, ‘Han Xiongdi [Brother Han], I have made an agreement with your honorable father. A hero must be frank; I already lost this duel. I am going to comply with whatever you have in mind.’

Han Qianye flipped his wrist and produced a brilliantly gleaming dagger; he pointed the dagger to his own chest and said, ‘This dagger is Xianfu’s [late/departed father] legacy; I am only asking Yang Jiaozhu to kowtow three times to this dagger.’

As the warriors heard him, there wasn’t anybody who was not angered; how could a Ming Cult’s Cult Leader take this humiliation? But Yang Jiaozhu has admitted defeat; according to the Jianghu custom, he had no choice but comply with the opponent’s wishes.

The situation was clear; Han Qianye came staking everything he got, as soon as Yang Jiaozhu kowtowed three times, he would immediately thrust the dagger into his own chest to avoid being killed by the warriors of the Ming Cult.

In that instant, the main hall was awfully quiet. The Brightness Left and Right Emissaries, Xiao Yao Er Xian [Xiao and Yao, two immortals], White-browed Eagle King Yin Er Ge [second (older) brother], Peng Yingyu Heshang [Buddhist monk], and the others are all excellent strategists, but facing this difficult problem, they were at their wits’ end. It was obvious to them that Han Qianye intended to humiliate Yang Jiaozhu the same way his father was forced to fall on his knees; and then he would kill himself.

In this critical moment, Taj-kis suddenly stepped forward and said to Yang Jiaozhu, ‘Father, he is a good and filial son; but don’t you also have a good and filial daughter? This Master Han is seeking revenge on behalf of his father, so it is only appropriate if your daughter fight him on your behalf. The older generation dealt with the older generation, the younger generation deals with the younger generation; no confusion in generational gap here.’

Everybody was surprised, ‘Why did she call Yang Jiaozhu ‘tie-tie’ [dad, father]?’ But straight away they understood, ‘She is pretending to be his daughter to help him out of this distress.’ They also thought, ‘Looking at her pretty and delicate features, does she know martial arts? Even if she does, her skill is certainly not too high, so to have a water battle in the ‘bi shui han tan’ is even more out of question.’

Yang Jiaozhu has not replied, Han Qianye has already laughed coldly and said, ‘It’s certainly all right if Miss wants to fight on behalf of your father; but if Miss loses, I am still going to insist that Yang Jiaozhu kowtow three times toward my Xianfu’s dagger.’ He has noticed that Taj-kis was a pretty and delicate girl, of course he did not consider her a threat to him.

Taj-kis replied, ‘What if Sire loses?’

Han Qianye said, ‘You want to kill me or chop me, it’s entirely up to you.’

‘Good!’ Taj-kis replied, ‘Let us go to the ‘bi shui han tan’ then.’ As she said that, she had already preceded him walking toward the pool.

Yang Jiaozhu hastily waved his hand, ‘No,’ he said, ‘This matter does not have anything to do with you.’

‘Father,’ Taj-kis replied, ‘Don’t you worry.’ And she respectfully knelt down to him. It was as if with this kneeling down, she acknowledged Yang Jiaozhu as her Yifu. Yang Jiaozhu saw that she had high confidence; other than that, he did not have any other idea. Hence, he was obliged to listen to her proposition.

Immediately everybody went to the ‘bi shui han tan’ on the northern side of the mountain. By that time the northern wind was blowing intensely, as we arrived by the pool side, the cold air attacked us furiously. Those whose internal energy was somewhat lower had already felt discomfort. The water in the pool had turned into ice for quite a while, below the surface the water looked deep blue, we could not see the bottom.

Yang Jiaozhu did not want Taj-kis to risk her life for him, he boldly said, ‘Dear Daughter, I accept your good intention, but let me fulfill Han Xiong’s wish.’ As he said that, he took off his outer garment, and with a single dagger in his hand he was ready to jump in; this time he had made up his mind not to back off.

Taj-kis smiled and said, ‘Father, your daughter grew up by the sea; since I was little my water skill has been very good.’ Immediately she unsheathed her sword and leaped to the middle of the pool. Standing on the ice she turned her sword to make a circle about two feet in diameter. With her left foot she treaded on the ice, ‘crack!’ the round ice broke and she jumped into the water.”

At that moment a gust of sea breeze from the north brushed their clothing. Xie Xun continued his narration, “Each time I recalled the scene by the ‘bi shui han tan’ that day, it always seems like yesterday to me. Taj-kis was wearing a lavender gown. Standing on the ice that day, she looked like the ‘ling bo xian zi’ [Immortal/Deity/Goddess Ling Bo]. Silently and instantly she disappeared into the water below; the crowd of warriors was amazed.

As Han Qianye watched the way she entered the water, the haughty expression on his face disappeared. He followed, jumping into the pool with the dagger in his hand.

The pool was dark green; nobody could see the battle raging underneath the surface from above the water, but the water was bubbling continuously.

After a while the bubbling gradually ceased. But before long the water started to bubble again. The Ming Cult warriors were extremely anxious. Those two had been in the water for a long time, how could they survive underwater for that long?

A moment later a wisp of dark red blood appeared on the green deep water. Everybody was even more anxious, not knowing if Taj-kis was injured. Suddenly ‘splash!’ Han Qianye jumped out from the water, gasping for breath, panting heavily.

Seeing him jumping out first, everybody was shocked; they surged forward and asked, ‘Where is Taj-kis? What happened to her?’ But then they saw that his hands were empty, his dagger was actually stuck on his right chest, while there was a long scar on each of his cheeks.

While everybody was still in shock, Taj-kis flew up from the water like a flying fish, with her sword in front of her body as a shield. She made a flip in the air and lightly landed on the ice. The warriors broke into loud cheers. Yang Jiaozhu went forward to grab her hand; he was speechless from extreme delight. Nobody would guess that this cute and tender girl possessed such magnificent water skill.

Taj-kis looked at Han Qianye and said, ‘Father, this man’s water skill is not bad. Taking into account that he was a filial son seeking revenge for his father, could his rudeness toward Jiaozhu be forgiven?’ Naturally, Yang Jiaozhu granted her request; he ordered Shen Yi [Divine Doctor] Hu Qingniu to treat his injury.

That very evening there was a huge banquet on the BrightnessPeak; everybody agreed that Taj-kis has rendered a great service to the Ming Cult. If not for her stepping out to take the matter over, Yang Jiaozhu’s reputation would go down the drain. Immediately a position in the Cult was arranged. Madame Yang bestowed to her the title ‘Zi Shan Long Wang’, and given her the same authority as the Eagle King, Lion King and Bat King. We, the other three kings, were most willing to let her hold the chief position among the four kings; since her great merit that day easily surpassed the other three kings’ merits of the past. Afterwards the three ‘hu jiao fa wang’ and she, four brothers and sister, agreed on how to address each other; hence she called me ‘Xie San Ge’ ever since.

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

The battle of ‘bi shui han tan’ has brought another repercussion beyond anybody’s anticipation. Han Qianye was defeated in the battle, but somehow he won Taj-kis’ heart. I don’t know whether it was because she visited him on his sick bed everyday, or love grew out of pity, or passion out of regret; but when Han Qianye recovered, suddenly Taj-kis reported to Jiaozhu that she wanted to marry this man.

As we heard this news, some were grieving because their hopes were shattered, some deeply resented it; because this Han Qianye had forced our Jiaozhu to be under an extremely difficult situation. How could our own ‘hu jiao fa wang’ marry this man? Some of the more temperamental brethrens spoke insultingly to her face.

Taj-kis was adamant. Holding a sword in her hand, she stood at the hall entrance and loudly said, ‘From this day forward, Han Qianye is my husband. Whoever insults Han-lang [a term of endearment for ‘husband’], will have to face Zi Shan Long Wang’s sword!’ Seeing this turn of event, everybody could only disperse bitterly.

On the day she wedded Han Qianye, most of our brethrens did not come to drink the celebratory wine. Only Yang Jiaozhu and I, who were appreciative for what she did, strived to help her and mediate for her, so that she could have a safe marriage, not lacking anything.

When Han Qianye wanted to enter the Ming Cult, the opposition from the brethrens was too strong; it was also inconvenient for Yang Jiaozhu to disregard the public opinion.

Not too long afterwards, Yang Jiaozhu husband and wife suddenly disappeared together. The BrightnessPeak was in panic. Everybody went everywhere to track them down. One evening Guangming You Shi Fan Yao unexpectedly saw Mrs. Han Taj-kis come out of the secret passage.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was moved. “She came out of the secret passage?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Xie Xun replied, “The Ming Cult’s law is very strict; other than Jiaozhu, nobody is allowed to enter the secret passage. Fan Yao was shocked and angered; immediately he asked and reproached her. Mrs. Han said, ‘I have committed a grave offense to our Cult; you want to kill me or chop me, it’s entirely at your convenience.’

That very evening we had a general assembly. Mrs. Han kept repeating those words. When asked for what reason she entered the secret passage, she said she was not willing to tell lies, but she was also unwilling to tell the truth. When asked where Yang Jiaozhu had gone; she said she did not know. As for the matter of her entering the secret passage, she said she alone had done it, she alone was responsible; there was no need to say too much.

According to our law, she either had to kill herself or cut off one of her limbs; but first of all, Fan Yao had not forgotten his feelings of the past, he did his utmost to cover up for her, secondly, I also pleaded on her behalf. Finally, the general assembly agreed to punish her by confining her for ten years, so that she could consider her crime. Who would have thought that Mrs. Han said, ‘Yang Jiaozhu is not here, nobody can punish me.’”

“Yifu,” Zhang Wuji asked, “Why did Mrs. Han enter the secret passage?”

“That’s a long story,” Xie Xun replied, “In the Ming Cult, only I alone know the reason. At that time everybody suspected it had something to do with the missing Yang Jiaozhu, husband and wife; but I am convinced it wasn’t related with that matter in any way.

In the Holy Fire Hall of the BrightnessPeak that day, there was a strong argument among the warriors, and it resulted in Mrs. Han leaving the Cult, saying that from that day on, she would have nothing to do with the Ming Cult of the Central Earth. She was the very first person to ever leave the Ming Cult. That very day Han Qianye and she left the peak and disappeared without any trace.

Thereafter the Cult brethrens went around everywhere to find Jiaozhu without any result. A few years later the internal strife over the Jiaozhu position got worse. Bai Mei Yin Er Ge also left the peak and founded the Heavenly Eagle Cult [‘tian ying jiao’]. I persuaded and pleaded with him, but he would not listen. Because of that, he and I became enemies.

More than twenty years ago, by the WangpanMountain the Heavenly Eagle Cult showed off the Saber to flaunt their power and prestige. Jin Mao Shi Wang hurriedly appeared on that gathering. First, to snatch the Tulong Saber away; second, to vent my anger over the dispute of the former days. I intentionally wanted to give Yin Er Ge a hard time; to let him know that after leaving the Ming Cult, he might not be able to accomplish anything great. Ay! When I think about it now, I was rather carried away by my feelings and went too far!”

He heaved a long sigh, as if he was unleashing the inexhaustibly bitter feelings of the past and mourning over the countless disturbances in the Jianghu; during which the others were silent for half a day.

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min said, “Afterwards, the names of Jin Hua Yin Ye [golden flower silver leaf] shook the Jianghu. Why was it that nobody from the Ming Cult recognized their true identities? That Yin Ye Xiansheng [Mr. Silver Leaf] must be Han Qianye; how did he get killed by poison?”

“I am not clear on that matter myself,” Xie Xun said, “When they, husband and wife, roamed the Jianghu, they always avoid Ming Cult people.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji said, “Jin Hua Popo has always avoided the Ming Cult. When the Six Major Sects besieged the Ming Cult, she did not go up to lend a hand even though she was in the vicinity of the Peak.”

Zhao Min pondered over it and said, “But Zi Shan Long Wang was the beauty of her era; how did she become that ugly? Her face did not show any sign of damage.”

Xie Xun said, “I guess she is using some clever trick to change her appearance. In all her life, Mrs. Han has always been a peculiar person, but actually she endures an unspeakable suffering in her heart. She has always avoided the Persian Central Cult’s people’s pursue, but who would have thought she is still unable to escape in the end.”

“Why is the Persian Central Cult looking for her?” Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min asked simultaneously.

“This is Mrs. Han’s biggest secret,” Xie Xun replied, “Actually, I should not say it, but I am hoping that you would return to the Ling She Island to save her; so I’ll have to tell you this.”

“Return to the Ling She Island?” Zhao Min wondered, “Do you think we can overcome those Persian Three Emissaries?”

Xie Xun did not answer directly, but he told this story instead: “For several hundred years, the Ming Cult of the Central Earth has always had a man as our Jiaozhu; but the Persian Central Cult’s Jiaozhu has always been a woman, not only that, but the woman must be a virgin. The Holy Scripture of the Central Cult clearly stipulated that the virgin maiden is necessary to maintain the Ming Cult’s sacred purity. Right after each Jiaozhu takes office, three maidens, called the ‘sheng nu’ [holy maiden] are appointed from among the Cult’s high-level officials. After these three holy maidens take an oath, they are sent out to do good deeds and render meritorious service to the Ming Cult. As the current Jiaozhu pass away, the elders of the Cult convene to evaluate the three holy maiden’s merit; the holy maiden who renders the greatest merits then designated to be the new Jiaozhu. But if there is any holy maiden who loses her chastity, she will be punished by getting burned alive; even if she runs away to the ends of the earth, the Cult will dispatch people to pursue her, in order to maintain the purity of the sacred teaching …”

As he spoke to this point, Zhao Min interjected, “Is that Mrs. Han one of the three holy maidens of the Central Cult?”

“Correct!” Xie Xun nodded his head, “I was already aware of it even before Fan Yao found out she came out of the secret passage. Mrs. Han considered me as a friend; therefore, she told me everything. During the battle with Han Qianye inside the ‘bi shui han tan’, they had some physical contacts, her feeling started to grow. Later on, they reassured each other by his sick bed, and she knew that she was committing a great sin. She was aware that there will come a day when the Central Cult will dispatch someone to find her. She was hoping to render a great service to the Central Cult as retribution of her crime. Thereupon she entered the secret passage stealthily to find the ‘qian kun dai nuo yi’ manual. The Central Cult had lost this manual for a long time; the only copy left belonged to the Central Earth Ming Cult. As a matter of fact, the real reason the Central Cult sent her to the BrightnessPeak was to find this manual.”

“Ah,” Zhang Wuji exclaimed. He vaguely felt something was wrong, but after thinking for a while he still could not figure it out.

In the meantime, Xie Xun continued, “Mrs. Han had entered the secret passage several times, but could not find the manual. As I learned about it I gave her a serious warning that this matter was a grave offense to the Cult’s law, which would not be easily forgiven …”

“Ah, I know!” Zhao Min interrupted again, “Mrs. Han left the Cult because she wanted to enter the secret passage. Since she is not a member of the Central Earth Ming Cult, then the restriction did not apply to her.”

“Miss Zhao is so smart,” Xie Xun said, “But the Brightness Peak is our headquarters, how could we allow outsiders to come and go as they wish? At that time I’ve also guessed her intention, so after Mrs. Han left the mountain, I personally guarded the secret passage entrance. Mrs. Han did indeed come up the mountain three times, each time she met me; finally, she gave up.”

Xie Xun thought deeply for a moment, then he asked, “Those Persian Three Emissaries’ clothing, in what way they are different from what they have in the Central Earth Ming Cult?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “They all wear white robes with blazing flame embroidered on the corners … Hmm, there was a black strip on their white robes; that is the only small difference.”

“That’s it!” Xie Xun slapped the edge of the boat and exclaimed, “The Central Cult Jiaozhu has passed away. The people of the west use black as their mourning clothes. White robes with black lining, those are their mourning garments. They are going to elect a new Jiaozhu, that’s why they came tens of thousands ‘li’s to the faraway Central Earth to find Mrs. Han’s whereabouts.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Since Mrs. Han came from Persia, she must be familiar with the Persian Three Emissaries’ weird martial arts. How come in less than a stance she was captured by them?”

Zhao Min laughed and said, “You idiot; Mrs. Han is in disguise, of course she could not reveal that she knew the Persian Emissary’s martial art. From what I understood, supposing Xie Laoye Zi had listened to their order and killed her, Mrs. Han would certainly find a way to escape.”

Xie Xun shook his head, “She is not willing to reveal her own identity, that part is correct. But if you think that she was capable of escaping after her acupoint was sealed by the Persian Three Emissaries, that might not necessarily be true. In anyway, she would rather be killed by my blade than suffer the pain of being burned alive.”

“I always think the Central Earth Ming Cult is a malicious cult,” Zhao Min said, “Who would have thought that the Persian Ming Cult is even more evil. Why would they want a virgin to be their Jiaozhu? Why would they burn the holy maiden who lost her chastity?”

“Miss talked nonsense,” Xie Xun rebuked her, “Each Cult and Sect will have their own customs and ceremonial regulations, handed down from generation to generation. Buddhist monks and nuns cannot marry, cannot eat meat, isn’t that custom and ceremonial regulation? What is malicious or evil?”

Suddenly they heard a ‘clack, clack, clack’ noise, Yin Li’s teeth chattered from cold. Zhang Wuji quickly touched her forehead and felt his hand was burning hot; a sign that she was suffering from a severe fever. “Yifu,” he said, “Your child also would like to return to the LingSheIsland. Miss Yin’s condition is very serious, I must find some herbs to treat her. We must strive to save Mrs. Han, we must also save Miss Yin.”

“That’s right,” Xie Xun replied, “This Miss Yin loves you this much; how can we not save her? Miss Zhou, Miss Zhao, what do you think?”

“Miss Yin’s injury is serious,” Zhao Min said, “Mine is not a problem. Other than returning to the LingSheIsland, what else can we do?”

Zhao Zhiruo unenthusiastically said, “Laoye Zi says we should return then we must return.”

Zhang Wuji said, “We have to wait for the fog to clear up and then we can look at the stars to find our bearing. Yifu, that Liuyun Shi was somersaulting in the air, but he was able to hurt me with his Sheng Huo Ling. How did he do that?”

Immediately the two of them discussed the Persian Three Emissaries’ martial arts. Zhao Min also possessed a vast knowledge of martial arts, so occasionally she was able to offer some opinion. But after deliberating for half a day, they still could not figure out the essence of the coordinated movements of the three people.

The fog on the ocean lasted until dawn. Zhang Wuji said, “We came from the north toward the southeast; hence we need to row toward the northwest.”

Zhang Wuji, Xie Xun, Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao took turn rowing the boat. It was not easy to handle that small boat braving the big waves against the strong northerly wind. Fortunately, Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun possessed profound internal energy; Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were not weak either. They considered rowing the boat as martial art training.

For several days, the lone boat headed northwest slowly but surely. Xie Xun had been frowning all this time, as he was thinking deeply about the Persian Three Emissaries’ strange martial art. Other than asking Zhang Wuji a few questions, he did not say anything else.

Toward the evening of the sixth day, suddenly Xie Xun carefully interviewed Zhou Zhiruo about the martial art of Emei Pai, which Zhou Zhiruo answered matter-of-factly. Two people exchanged questions and answers until very late at night.

Xie Xun’s expression showed some disappointment as he said, “Shaolin, Wudang, Emei, three Sects’ martial art was somewhat related to the ‘Jiu Yang Zhen Jing’ [Nine Yang Manual]; similar to what Wuji has learned, all based on the ‘yang gang’ [positive and hard/firm]. If only Zhang Sanfeng Zhenren [lit. real/true person, a respectable term to address a Taoist Priest] was here, then his extensive martial art skill encompassing ‘yang gang’ and ‘yin rou’ [negative and soft/flexible] could join hands with Wuji; so yin and yang complement each other, then we can defeat the Persian Three Emissaries. But distant water cannot extinguish a nearby fire; if Mrs. Han has already fallen into the hands of the Persian Three Emissaries, what use is my good idea?”

“Laoye Zi,” Zhou Zhiruo suddenly asked, “I heard a hundred years ago in the Wulin world there exist some experts who were proficient in the Jiu Yin Zhen Jing [Nine Yin Manual]; is that true?”

On MountWudang, Zhang Wuji had heard his Da Shifu [great master] mentioned the name Nine Yin Manual; so he knew that the founder of the Emei Pai, Guo Xiang Nuxia’s [heroine] father, Guo Jing, and the ‘Shen Diao Daxia’ [Divine Eagle Great Hero] Yang Guo, both had mastered the martial arts from the Nine Yin Manual. But the skill contained in the Manual was very difficult; so that although Guo Xiang was Guo Jing’s own daughter, she still had not learned it. Listening to Zhou Zhiruo’s question he thought, “Could it be that the Emei Pai’s founder has handed down parts of the skill contained in the Nine Yin Manual?”

Xie Xun replied, “People of old did say such thing, but nobody knows the fact. Based on what I heard from the seniors, if we had someone who masters this martial art join hands with Wuji, then they would be able to defeat the Persian Three Emissaries.”

“Hmm,” Zhou Zhiruo mumbled and no longer asked any questions.

“Miss Zhou,” Zhao Min asked, “Do any of your Emei Pai people know this martial art?”

Zhou Zhiruo replied, “If Emei Pai knew this divine skill, Xian Shi [late/departed master] would not lose her life at the Wan An Temple.”

Miejue Shitai passed away because of Zhao Min, so Zhao Zhiruo hated her to the bone. Although they were on the same boat through the wind and the rain, she had not talked to her even one sentence. This time Zhao Min asked her directly, she contradicted her immediately. Zhou Zhiruo was gentle by nature; her remark to Zhao Min was already the most rude she had talked to anybody in her entire life. Zhao Min was not angry; she simply smiled.

During this entire conversation, Zhang Wuji did not stop rowing the boat. Suddenly he looked at the distant and called out, “Look! Look! There is fire over there!”

Everybody followed his gaze and indeed they saw flashing light of fire on the horizon toward their northwest. Although Xie Xun was not able to see, he was as excited as everybody else; he took the wooden oar and helped to row the boat with all his strength.

That blazing fire looked near, but actually it was dozens of ‘li’s away on the surface of the ocean; both men had to row for most of the day before they got close to it. Zhang Wuji saw the fire was actually on a mountainous island, which was precisely the LingSheIsland. “We have arrived!” he said.

“Aiyo!” suddenly Xie Xun exclaimed, “Why is the LingSheIsland on fire? Did they burn Mrs. Han?”

‘Thud’ suddenly Xiao Zhao fell down on the boat.

Zhang Wuji was shocked; he leaped to help her up, but her eyes were tightly closed, looked like she passed out. He busily massaged her acupoint to wake her up. “Xiao Zhao,” he called out, “What happened to you?”

With tears on her eyes Xiao Zhao said, “I heard somebody is being burned alive, I … I … I’m very scared.”

“That was just Xie Laoye’s guess,” Zhang Wuji consoled her, “It might not be true. Besides, even if Mrs. Han has fallen into their hands, if we rush, we might still be able to catch up and save her.”

Xiao Zhao grabbed his hand and earnestly said, “Gongzi, please, you have to save Mrs. Han’s life.”

“All of us will do our best,” Zhang Wuji replied. He went back to the stern, picked up the oar, and exerting his strength, he rowed even faster.

Xiao Zhao also picked up an oar, and although her hands were trembling, she also furiously paddled the boat.

“Zhang Gongzi,” suddenly Zhao Min said, “There are two things that I don’t understand; I’ve been giving it a thought for a long time, but still cannot figure it out. I wonder if you could enlighten me.”

Hearing her suddenly being polite to him, Zhang Wuji felt strange. “What is it?” he asked.

Zhao Min said, “That day outside the Green Willow Manor, I dispatched people to attack your grandfather, Yang Xiao, and the others; but this Miss Xiao Zhao had actually defended against the troops. I know that under a capable general there are no weak soldiers, but still, under the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu there is actually a little servant girl with this kind of ability, I found it really strange … “

“What Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu?” Xie Xun interrupted.

“Laoye Zi,” Zhao Min laughed, “Let me tell you now: the young master, your foster child, is the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. You are actually his subordinate.”

Xie Xun was half believing and half doubting; he was at a loss of words. Thereupon Zhao Min told him briefly how Zhang Wuji had taken over the Cult Leader position; but she did not know too much about the details. Xie Xun then asked Zhang Wuji directly, and he did not have any choice but telling him the truth, about his involvement when the Six Major Sects besieged the BrightnessPeak, and how he found the ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’ manual inside the secret passage.

In his utmost delight Xie Xun stood up, then knelt down on the small boat’s deck; “Subordinate Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun pays his respect to Jiaozhu,” he said.

Zhang Wuji hastily also knelt down to return his respect. “Yifu,” he said, “Please don’t be overly courteous. Yang Jiaozhu had left an order for Yifu to take the interim Jiaozhu position. It is very hard for your child to bear this heavy responsibility. With the Heaven’s blessing Yifu has returned, safe and sound; it is truly our Cult’s good fortune. As soon as we reached the Central Earth, I am going to ask Yifu to take over the Jiaozhu position.”

Xie Xun sadly said, “Your Yifu has returned, but his eyes are blind. So you cannot actually say ‘safe and sound’. How can a blind man take the leadership of the Ming Cult? Miss Zhao, didn’t you say you have two things you do not understand?”

“I want to ask Miss Xiao Zhao,” Zhao Min said, “Who taught you the ‘qi men ba gua’ [strange/wonderful gate, eight trigrams] and ‘yin yang wu xing’ [yin and yang, five elements] techniques? You are very young, how did you know all those extraordinary skills?”

Xiao Zhao replied, “They are my family heritage. It is not worth Junzhu Niang-niang’s [Princess] attention.”

“Who is your honorable father?” Zhao Min asked further, “The daughter is this good, your father and mother must be world famous masters.”

“My father has buried his name and lives in seclusion,” Xiao Zhao replied, “Why did Junzhu bother to ask? Could it be that you are going to cut my fingers to force me to show you my martial art?” She was young, but surprisingly did not show the slightest degree of submission toward Zhao Min. By bringing up the finger cutting affair, it was obvious that she was trying to incite Zhou Zhiruo’s anger; pulling her to her side to face a common enemy.

Zhao Min simply smiled; she turned her head toward Zhang Wuji and said, “Zhang Gongzi, that night we met at the small inn in Dadou for the second time, Ku Toutuo Fan Yao came to take his leave from me. When he saw Miss Xiao Zhao, he said two sentences; what were those?”

Zhang Wuji had already forgotten this matter; now that she brought it up, he had to think for a moment before answering, “Ku Dashi [Reverend Ku] seemed to say that Xiao Zhao’s appearance looks very much like someone he knew.”

“Correct!” Zhao Min said, “Can you guess to whom did Ku Dashi think Miss Xiao Zhao look like?”

“How can I guess?” Zhang Wuji said.

Throughout this discussion, the small boat was approaching the LingSheIsland. They that saw a row of ships were moored on the west of the Island; there was a large red blazing fire painted on each one of their main sails, there was also a black ribbon hanging from each sail. Zhang Wuji wrinkled his eyebrows and said, “The Persian Central Cult dispatches their armada; the number of people coming in must be a lot.”

Zhao Min said, “Let us take this boat to the back of the island and land on a secluded place. Don’t let them see us yet.”

“Yes!” Zhang Wuji nodded his head.

He was only rowing for three, four ‘zhang’s when suddenly from one of the ships came a bugle sound, ‘whoo, whoo …’ followed by ‘bang, bang’ two explosions, as two cannonballs were fired away. One fell to the left of the small boat, the other to its right side, creating two water columns. The small boat was shaken and nearly turned over.

Someone called out from the ship, “Quickly row the boat over here; if you don’t obey, we are going to fire again.”

Zhang Wuji silently groaned, knowing that with these two salvos the enemy deliberately demonstrated their ability to shoot accurately; if they could hit two sides of the boat, then with the distance so close, they would easily hit the boat. Once the boat capsized, none of the six people onboard would survive. He had no choice but slowly row the boat toward the ship while the three cannons from the big ship slowly turned, following them around.

When the small boat reached the ship, a rope ladder was let down. Zhang Wuji said, “Let us go up and try to seize the ship.”

Xie Xun groped around for the ladder and he was the first to go up. Without saying anything Zhou Zhiruo stooped down to pick Yin Li up, and then climbed to the ship, followed Xiao Zhao. Carrying Zhao Min in his arm, Zhang Wuji was the last to go aboard the ship.

They saw the people on the ship were all blonde haired with blue eyes, their statures tall, they were Persian foreigners; but Liuyun Shi and the other two were actually not among them. One of them, who spoke Chinese, asked, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Zhao Min replied, “We are shipwrecked; and are looking for help.”

That Persian was half believing and half doubting; he turned his head around and spoke several sentences in Persian toward someone sitting on a chair on the deck, who seemed to be their leader. That leader mumbled some instructions. Suddenly Xiao Zhao jumped and sent out a palm strike toward that leader. The leader was startled; he dodged sideways, grabbed the chair, and smashed it toward Xiao Zhao.

Zhang Wuji was taken by surprise; not anticipating Xiao Zhao to make her move this soon. He moved three feet sideways and stretched out his fingers to strike the leader’s acupoint. The several dozen Persian sailors aboard were immediately thrown into confusion; they unsheathed their weapons and surrounded them. Although these people knew martial art, their skills were far below those of the Cloud and Wind emissaries.

Supporting Yin Li with his right hand, Zhang Wuji’s left hand struck to the east and slapped to the west. Xie Xun unsheathed his Tulong Saber; Zhou Zhiruo brandished her sword; together with Xiao Zhao whose movements were quick, in a short period of time they struck down dozens of Persians. More than ten people fell down on the deck, either died or seriously injured by the blades; about seven, eight people fell down to the sea below, while the rest of them were immobilized because their acupoints were sealed.

Instantly the sea was full with people shouting and bugle sounding, as the other Persian ships moved to surround them, with the people on board ready to attack. Zhang Wuji picked up the leader and jumped to the ship’s side. “Don’t you dare come over, or I’ll hack this man to his death,” he shouted loud and clear.

The people on the other ships shouted and yelled. Zhang Wuji did not understand what they were saying, but seeing that nobody jumped to their ship, he believed the man he captured must be someone in a high position, so that the enemy hesitated and did not dare to attack rashly. Zhang Wuji jumped back down to the deck.

He barely laid that leader down when he suddenly heard a swishing noise from behind, as a weapon was coming down on his back. Quickly he evaded sideways and kicked back; only to feel that his foot had struck a Sheng Huo Ling, while from the left another Sheng Huo Ling swept horizontally. Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, resenting the fact that the Wind, Cloud, and Moon Emissaries have arrived this quickly. “Everybody, retreat back to the cabin,” he shouted, while lifting up the leader in his hands to parry the Sheng Huo Ling.

Huiyue Shi hastily pulled her attack back, but because of this abrupt movement, her lower body was exposed; Zhang Wuji swept with his leg and almost hit her calf. Liuyun Shi and Miaofeng Shi attacked together from the sides, forcing Zhang Wuji to withdraw his kick.

Toward the ninth stance, the Sheng Huo Ling in Miaofeng Shi’s left hand slamming down diagonally in a very weird move; looked like he was aiming Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. Zhang Wuji lowered the Persian leader’s body. Although Miaofeng Shi’s stance was very strange, Zhang Wuji’s reaction was extremely ingenious. ‘Slap!’ the Sheng Huo Ling squarely hit that Persian on his left cheek.

The Three Emissaries cried out in alarm simultaneously; their countenance changed and they leaped back at the same time. After talking in Persian among themselves, suddenly they bowed toward the Persian in Zhang Wuji’s hand, with a very respectful expression; and then they retreated.

Suddenly the bugle sounded again as one big ship slowly came near. On the bow of this ship were twelve embroidered golden banners, while underneath the banners twelve chairs were set covered in tiger skins. One of the chairs was empty, while the other eleven were occupied. That big ship stopped some distance away and dropped its anchor.

Zhao Min noticed that the empty chair was the sixth one; a thought came to her mind. “The man we captured is dressed similar to those eleven people on that ship; looks like among their twelve leaders, he ranks number six.”

“Twelve big leaders?” Xie Xun asked, “Hmm, the Central Cult’s twelve ‘bao shu wang’ [lit. kings of treasured/precious tree] have come to the Central Earth. This is no small matter.”

“What are the twelve ‘bao shu wang’?” Zhao Min asked.

“Under the Jiaozhu of the Persian Central Cult,” replied Xie Xun, “are the twelve grandmasters of the Scripture; they are called the Twelve Precious Tree Kings. Their position is similar to the Four Protector Kings of the Central Earth’s Ming Cult. These twelve kings are: the first Dasheng [great holiness], the second ‘zhi hui’ [wisdom or knowledge], the third Changsheng’ [eternal victory], the fourth Zhanghuo’ [palm of fire], the fifth Qinxiu [diligent cultivation], the sixth Pingdeng [equality], the seventh Xinxin’ [faith], the eighth Zhen’e [suppressing evil], the ninth Zhengzhi [integrity], the tenth Gongde’ [virtue], the eleventh Qixin [single mindedness], the twelfth Juming [entire brightness]. However, these twelve Precious Tree Kings are only experts in Scriptures and doctrines, great teachers of religious law; I heard they are not experts in martial art. This man is the sixth; so he must be the Pingdeng Bao Shu Wang.”

Zhang Wuji sat down by the main mast, laying down the Pingdeng Wang on his knees. This man held a high position within the Persian Central Cult; hence, Zhang Wuji was thinking of using him a hostage to escape later on, therefore, he must take a good care of him. Looking down, Zhang Wuji saw that man’s left cheek was swollen very badly; fortunately it was not life-threatening. Thinking about the fierceness of Miaofeng Shi’s strike, he felt strange; hastily he exerted his strength and felt some reaction from this man’s internal energy.

Meanwhile Zhou Zhiruo and Xiao Zhao were cleaning up the deck; they moved the corpses to the rear cabin and laid down those who were still alive neatly in rows on the deck.

They saw that they were surrounded by more than ten Persian ships, with each ship’s cannon aimed at their ship, while the deck next to the fender was full of Persian people; their blades flickered under the bright torchlights. The ships were jam-packed with these people, it was difficult even to estimate how many people were there. Zhang Wuji was secretly anxious; without even considering the fact that the cannons on each ship were capable of bombarding their ship, if these thousands of people attacked together, he would be hard-pressed to defend himself even if he had three heads and six arms. He might be able to escape relying on his own martial art skill; but how about his companions? Moreover, Yin Li and Zhao Min were injured, making their situation more dangerous.

He heard a Persian speak in Chinese with a loud voice, “Jin Mao Shi Wang, listen! Our Twelve Precious Tree Kings of the Central Cult are here. You have committed a crime against the Central Cult, the Precious Tree Kings are being lenient and willing to pardon you. Quickly release the Cult member on your ship, we will allow you to sail away safely.”

Xie Xun laughed. “The Old Xie is not a three-year old child; do you think we don’t know that your cannons will fire on us as soon as we released the hostages?” he said.

That Persian was indignant. “If you don’t release our people, do you think we cannot shoot you?”

Xie Xun hesitated for a moment before answering, “I have three conditions; if you agree, we will then respectfully send these Cult people ashore.”

“What condition?” that man asked.

“First,” Xie Xun replied, “From now on, the Central Cult and the Central Earth Ming Cult are to respect each other, no more interfering with each other’s affairs.”

“Hmm, and the second?” that man said.

“Release Taj-kis,” Xie Xun said, “Send her over to our boat. Pardon her for losing her chastity, and do not look for her again, ever.”

“Not on your life,” that man angrily said, “Taj-kis has violated a major law of the Central Cult; she must be burned alive as a punishment. What does that have to do with your Central Earth Ming Cult, anyway? What is the third condition?”

“You have not agreed to the second one, why talk about the third one?” Xie Xun said.

“All right!” that man replied, “Let’s just say we agree to the second condition; then there is no problem in hearing the third one, isn’t there?”

“The third condition?” Xie Xun said, “That’s the easiest one. Send a small boat to follow us. After we sail for fifty ‘li’s, and we are sure that you are not pursuing us, then we’ll release the hostages to the small boat. You are free to pick them up.”

That man angrily shouted, “Hu shou jiu dao! Hu shou jiu dao!”

Xie Xun and the others were puzzled, not understanding what he said. Zhao Min laughed and said, “This man learned how to speak Chinese, but he learned it sloppily. He must have thought one degree higher than ‘nonsense’ must be ‘absurd’.” [Translator’s note: ‘hu shuo ba dao’ (胡说八道) means ‘rubbish, nonsense’, where the single character 八 – ‘ba’ means ‘eight’. The man increased the number eight to number nine, 九 – ‘jiu’.]

Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji thought they could not blame his logic; they could not help bursting into laughter even though they were currently under a dire circumstance.

As that man increased the ‘degree of rubbishness’ and Xie Xun and the others were laughing, the Precious Three King who was sitting at the end of the row, called Juming Bao Shu Wang, was angry. Letting out a loud whistle, he jumped toward the enemy’s ship. The eleventh king, Qixin Bao Shu Wang, followed behind him.

Zhang Wuji stepped forward, his left palm struck toward Qixin Bao Shu Wang’s chest. To his surprise, Qixin Wang did not parry, but stretching out his left hand to grab the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhang Wuji thought that surely his palm would reach the enemy’s body first; who would have thought that from the side Ju Ming Wang’s both palms came charging in, blocking his palm, while at the same time Qixin Wang’s fingers almost touched his skull. Zhang Wuji evaded by moving one step forward. He realized now that these two people’s collaboration was as tight as one person with four arms and four legs.

The three people had exchanged seven, eight stances in a flash. Zhang Wuji was inwardly worried; the collaborations of these two were somewhat inferior compared to the Wind and Cloud, three emissaries, but their martial art was very strange nonetheless. The essence of their martial art was clearly similar to the ‘Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’, but as their attack arrived, it carried an unpredictable variation within, making it very difficult for Zhang Wuji to fight with confidence. Speaking about swiftness and fierceness, however, their stances were actually not as good as the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi by a long shot. These two men were fighting as they were mad; occasionally they would launch what seemed to be a stance from the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, but before striking the target, they would suddenly act as if they were losing their minds and kicked and hit randomly, but surprisingly their attack was very difficult to block. Their collaboration was very tight, it wasn’t any different from the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries.

Zhang Wuji resisted with a lot of effort and only managed to fight them evenly; it was not until twenty, thirty stances later that he slowly started to gain an upper hand. It was at this moment that the Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, howled in one voice and jumped to their ship, toward the Pingdeng Wang, with the intention of snatching him back to redeem their guilt of striking him earlier.

Xie Xun heaved the Ping Deng Wang and brandished him around, making a large circle around him. This time, how could the Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, dare to act rashly? They hastened to the left and dodged to the right, while trying to find a hole to launch their attack.

Suddenly Juming Wang grunted and tumbled down. Zhang Wuji reached down trying to grab him, but Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi’s pair of tablets came to block, while Miaofeng Shi scooped Juming Wang to bring him back to their own ship.

Qixin Wang and Cloud and Moon Emissaries were forced to face Zhang Wuji together; their coordination was not as when they were fighting with their own respective partners. After several more stances, they knew it was hard to score a victory. Three people successively let out a whistle and retreated to their ship.

After calming himself down, Zhang Wuji said, “These people definitely knew the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; but somehow their techniques are different, making it difficult for me to deal with.”

“Our Cult’s Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi originated from Persia,” Xie Xun said, “But after they passed it on to us several hundred years ago, they lost their own copy. So what they preserved, according to Taj-kis, was only some shallow and superficial knowledge. For that reason, they sent Taj-kis to the BrightnessPeak to get the manual back.”

“Their martial art foundation really is superficial, so their knowledge is indeed only skin deep,” Zhang Wuji said, “But the way they use it was truly ingenious. Obviously, they knew something significant that was the key to their skill, which I have not penetrated through. Hmm, in the seventh level of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, there are some passages I have not mastered yet; could it be the key?” While saying that, he sat down on the deck with his head between his hands, thinking hard. Xie Xun and the others did not dare to make any noise, for fear they would disturb his train of thought.

“Aiyo,” suddenly Xiao Zhao called out in alarm. Zhang Wuji looked up only to see Wind and Cloud, Three Emissaries, was taking someone to the presence of the eleven Precious Tree Kings. That person was a hunchback, with a walking stick in her hand; she was none other than Jin Hua Popo.

Zhihui Bao Shu Wang who was sitting on the second chair shouted her some questions. Jin Hua Popo leaned her head sideways and shouted back, “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.”

Zhihui Wang sneered; he stood up and reached out with his left hand, pulling the entire white hair from Jin Hua Popo’s head, exposing a clump of silky hair as black as crow. Jin Hua Popo turned her head sideways, trying to hide her face. But Zhihui Wang’s right hand reached out suddenly to peel a layer of skin from her face.

Zhang Wuji and the others could see clearly that what Zhihui Wang peeled was a human skin mask. Instantly Jin Hua Popo turned into a very beautiful woman, with creamy white skin, almond shaped eyes, and cheeks like peach. Her countenance was glowing; her beauty was truly indescribable.

As Taj-kis’ true appearance was exposed, she might as well throw away the walking stick, and she stood there smiling bitterly. Zhihui Wang asked her some questions again, and she replied in Persian. As those two people exchanged words, the countenances of the eleven Precious Tree Kings were getting more and more serious.

“Miss Xiao Zhao,” suddenly Zhao Min asked, “What are they talking about?”

With tears in her eyes Xiao Zhao said, “You are so smart, you knew everything; why didn’t you prevent Xie Laoye Zi from talking?”

Zhao Min was puzzled, “Prevent him from talking what?” she asked.

Xiao Zhao replied, “Initially, they did not know who Jin Hua Popo was. Later on, they found out that she is the Zi Shan Long Wang; but they had never guessed that Zi Shan Long Wang is the Holy Maiden Taj-kis. Popo had made a great effort in concealing her identity from them. Xie Laoye Zi’s second condition was for them to release Sheng Nu Taj-kis; although his intention was good, he inadvertently revealed her secret to Zhihui Bao Shu Wang. Xie Laoyezi’s eyes cannot see, of course he did not know that Jin Hua Popo’s appearance was radically changed that nobody would recognize her. Miss Zhao, you can see everything clearly, could it be that you haven’t thought about it?”

In reality, when listening to Xie Xun’s story on the little boat, Zhao Min had early on guessed correctly that Jin Hua Popo was the Persian Ming Cult’s Holy Maiden Taj-kis, but she had never guessed that in the eyes of the Persian leaders, her true identity was by no means uncovered. She was about to open her mouth to retort back, but noticing that Xiao Zhao was speaking miserably, she vaguely guessed that Xiao Zhao must have had some unusual relationship with Jin Hua Popo. She did not have the heart to speak harshly and only said, “Xiao Zhao Meizi [(younger) sister, term of endearment], I certainly have not thought about it. If I had an ill-intention to harm Jin Hua Popo, let me die a horrible death.”

Xie Xun was even more remorseful; he did not say anything. But he had made a decision in his heart that even if he had to lose his life, he would save Taj-kis from danger.

Sobbing, Xiao Zhao said, “They blame Jin Hua Popo, saying that she got married and committed apostasy against the Cult, they … they are going to burn her to death.”

“Xiao Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said, “Please don’t worry, as soon as there is an opportunity, I am going to go over and save Jin Hua Popo.” He was accustomed to call her ‘Popo’, but if he looked at Zi Shan Long Wang right now, even though she was middle-aged, but her gracefulness and beauty was not inferior to Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo, and the others; she even looked like Xiao Zhao’s elder sister.

“No, no,” Xiao Zhao said, “You cannot fight Eleven Bao Shu Wang, plus the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries; don’t deliver your life in vain. Right now they are discussing how they are going to take the Pingdeng Wang back.”

“Humph!” Zhao Min hatefully said, “Even if they take Pingdeng Wang back, his face has already imprinted with these lines of characters; he will look so ugly.”

“What imprinted characters?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“That yellow bearded emissary’s Sheng Huo Ling struck his left cheek …” Zhao Min said, “Ah, Xiao Zhao!” suddenly she remembered something. “Xiao Zhao Meizi,” she asked, “Do you know Persian characters?”

“I do,” Xiao Zhao replied.

“Come here and look,” Zhao Min said, “What is written on Pingdeng Wang’s face?”

Xiao Zhao came near Pingdeng Wang and leaned over his head; she saw his left cheek was swollen badly and three lines of Persian characters were imprinted on it. Turned out each one of the Sheng Huo Ling was engraved with characters. Miaofeng Shi had accidentally struck Pingdeng Wang, and the characters on the Sheng Huo Ling were transferred to his flesh. Only, the part where Sheng Huo Ling met the flesh was no more than two ‘cun’s wide and three ‘cun’s long [1 cun is approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm)], so the inscription was incomplete.

Xiao Zhao had followed Zhang Wuji into the secret passage of the BrightnessPeak, and had memorized the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual; although Zhang Wuji had never forbidden her, she had never trained it, but she knew the theory of this martial art by heart. When Zhang Wuji encountered a difficulty during training of the seventh level and he was forced to skip several lines, Xiao Zhao had memorized those lines well. Presently, looking at the characters on Pingdeng Wang’s face, she could not help from blurting out, “This is Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory!”

“Did you say Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“No, it’s not,” Xiao Zhao said, “At first, I thought it was it, but it’s not. Translated into Chinese, those lines mean: ‘reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear; three voids, seven solids, something exists out of nothing …’ something, ‘the heaven square, the earth round …’ and the next line is unreadable.”

Listening to these dozen or so characters, Zhang Wuji felt as if among the black clouds in the sky suddenly he saw a flash of lightning; but after the lightning passed, the sky was still dark. Nevertheless, this flash of lightning gave him hope, that in the midst of a five-‘li’ dense fog he could see a glimpse of a way out. His mouth muttered, “Reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear …” He tried hard to integrate these cryptic lines with the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi theory he already mastered. Several times did he think he see the connection, each time it appeared right but actually was wrong; in the end everything was still dark to him.

“Gongzi, watch out!” suddenly he heard Xiao Zhao calling out, “They are issuing an order: the Three Win and Cloud Emissaries are to attack you, Qinxiu Wang, Zhen’E Wang, and Gongde Wang, three kings are to take Pingdeng Wang back.”

Xie Xun heaved the Pingdeng Wang and held him across his chest, while tossing the Tulong Dao to Zhang Wuji and said, “Just chop them up with this Saber.”

Zhao Min also took the Yitian Sword and handed it over to Zhou Zhiruo. This time they were on the same boat sharing the same fate; fighting a common enemy together was more important than their differences.

Zhang Wuji took the Tulong Saber, and absentmindedly inserted the Saber to his waist, while his mouth was still mumbling, “Three voids, seven solids, something exists out of nothing …”

“Idiot!” Zhao Min anxiously said, “This is not the time to ponder some martial art theory; quickly prepare yourself to face the enemy.”

Before she finished speaking, Qinxiu, Zhen’E, and Gongde, three kings had already jumped over with their palms extended to attack Xie Xun. They were afraid to injure Pingdeng Wang, hence they did not dare to use weapons. They were hoping that by attacking with their palms and fists, they might have a chance of snatching him back as soon as one man managed to get hold of Pingdeng Wang’s body.

Zhou Zhiruo was standing by next to Xie Xun; each time the situation was critical, she would hack down her sword to Pingdeng Wang; forcing Qinxiu Wang, Zhen’E Wang, and Gongde Wang, diverting their attack toward Zhou Zhiruo to prevent her sword from harming Pingdeng Wang.

On the other battlefront, Zhang Wuji was fighting the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries. These four people fought cautiously; each side had suffered some hard beating from their opponents, nobody dared to be careless. After fighting for several stances, Huiyue Shi’s tablet came down to strike; according to basic martial art principle, this move should strike Zhang Wuji’s left shoulder. Who would have thought that the Sheng Huo Ling changed its course halfway; it made a very strange turn and ‘slap!’ it hit the back of Zhang Wuji’s neck.

Zhang Wuji felt a burst of severe pain, but it was as if his mind was as bright as snow. “Reacting to the left is actually to the front, to the right is actually to the rear, that’s right, that’s right!” he shouted excitedly. In this short period of time, he suddenly realized that the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries’ martial art was based on the first level of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi; only the Sheng Huo Ling was inscribed with the marvelous, almost fantastic, variations on the usage of these stances. His mind was churning, and straightaway he understood the four lines of secret Xiao Zhao uttered earlier. Only he had not been able to penetrate the secret of ‘the heaven square, the earth round’ part. He thought he had to take a look at the inscription on the Sheng Huo Ling to thoroughly understand the essence of the Persian martial art.

Suddenly he let out a clear whistle and his pair of hands, using the ‘three voids, seven solids’, reached out to grab two Sheng Huo Ling from Huiyue Shi’s hands; while with ‘something exists out of nothing’ he took away the two Sheng Huo Ling from Liuyun Shi’s hands. While the two of them were still in shock, Zhang Wuji had put the four Sheng Huo Ling into his bosom, and then separately grabbed them by the back of their necks and threw them back into their ship.

Amidst the shouting yelling of the Persians, Miaofeng Shi turned his body around trying to escape. By this time Zhang Wuji had understood clearly the basic principle of his opponents’ martial art. His comprehension of the details was somewhat limited, but Miaofeng Shi’s martial art had lost its mystery in his eyes. Once his right hand reached out, he grabbed Miaofeng Shi’s left foot and pulled him back from midair. With one hand on the Sheng Huo Ling in Miaofeng Shi’s hand, Zhang Wuji lifted up Miaofeng Shi’s body and smashed him toward the top of Zhen’E Wang’s head with the other hand.

The three kings were shocked; making hand signals to each other, they hurriedly leaped back to their ship. Zhang Wuji sealed Miaofeng Shi’s acupoint and threw him down near his foot.

This victory of his came so quickly that in a blink of an eye from being under-handed he suddenly gained an upper hand. Zhao Min and the others were no less surprised and they all asked him how he did it.

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “We might still be in trouble if not of mistakes arising out of chance that Pingdeng Wang suffered this mishap. Xiao Zhao, translate the inscriptions on these six Sheng Huo Ling for me; quick, quick!”

They looked at the Sheng Huo Ling, and noticed that they were neither made of metal nor jade, but of very hard substance. The size of six of them varied, some were big, some were small, some were long and some were short. The surface seemed translucent, but also seemed opaque. There seemed to be a faint image of blazing fire dancing around inside the tablet, but actually it was a reflection of the ambient light on the tablets, on which color fluctuated. Each one of the Sheng Huo Ling was inscribed with a lot of Persian characters; to translate them would take a lot of time, not to mention Zhang Wuji would have to interpret their very profound meaning. But he realized that if he wanted them to survive this current situation, then he had to understand the essence of the Persian sect’s martial art.

“Miss Zhou,” he said toward Zhou Zhiruo, “Please place your Yitian Sword on Pingdeng Wang’s neck. Yifu, please place your Tulong Saber on Miaofeng Shi’s neck. We have to buy as much time as possible.” Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo nodded their compliance.

Xiao Zhao took the six Sheng Huo Ling, and picked the shortest one, an unremarkable blackish green tablet with the least characters inscribed on it, and she started translating it. Zhang Wuji listened attentively, but he did not understand even a single sentence. He pondered deeply but still could not make any sense of what he heard, and could not help but feeling very anxious.

“Xiao Zhao Meizi,” Zhao Min said, “Why don’t you read the Sheng Huoling that struck Pingdeng Wang.”

Her words had reminded Xiao Zhao; she busily checked the inscriptions on the other tablets, and found it to be the second longest. She translated it immediately, and this time Zhang Wuji could actually understand 70, 80% of it. Once she was finished, she took the longest one and translated it. Zhang Wuji only heard several sentences when he happily said, “Xiao Zhao, these six Sheng Huo Ling, the longer ones contain the shallowest sentences. The one you just read was the rudimentary theory of their martial art.”

Actually, the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling were cast by the Persian ‘Shan Zhong Lao Ren’ [the Old Man of the Mountain], in which he engraved the essence of his lifetime martial art achievement. These six Sheng Huo Ling entered the Central Earth at the same time as the Manichaeism, and they became the symbol of authority of the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult. After a long time, nobody within the Ming Cult of the Central Earth understood Persian writing. Decades ago, the Sheng Huo Ling was stolen by the Beggar Clan. It went through many hands before finally acquired by a Persian merchant, and found its way to the Persian Ming Cult.

The Persian Central Cult diligently studied the writing for dozens of years, and as a result, the leaders of the Cult had enjoyed a tremendous advancement in their martial art skills. However, the martial art contained in these tablets were too broad and deep, so that even Dasheng Bao Shu Wang who was the first among the kings only managed to master 30, 40% of the entire skill set.

As for the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual, it was originally the Ming Cult’s ‘hu jiao shen gong’ [divine skill to protect the cult]; but due to its extraordinary features, it was not a skill an average person would be able to master. The Persian Ming Cult stipulated that its Cult Leader must be a virgin maiden, and for hundreds of years, the position was held by women with mediocre skill; therefore, the transfer of the manual to the successive generation was very limited, while the Central Earth Ming Cult still preserved the manual in its entirety. The Persian Ming Cult only mastered less than 10% of the original Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi. By combining it with the 20, 30% of the Sheng Huo Ling’s martial art, they developed a set of strange stances, forming a brand new branch of martial art skill.

Zhang Wuji sat cross-legged on the bow, while Xiao Zhao translated the inscriptions on the Sheng Huo Ling line by line. Actually, the martial art contained in these Sheng Huo Ling was very exquisite, but by mastering one set of skill well, it would be easier to learn ten thousand sets of skill; as all kinds of skills, although they use different and unique approach, are basically developed to reach a common goal. Zhang Wuji had already possessed a profound knowledge of the Jiu Yang Shen Gong and Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, as well as the principle of Wudang Pai’s Taijiquan. Although the martial art of Sheng Huo Ling was strange, even greatly broad and profound, it was nothing more than another unorthodox sect’s martial art, which had not attained the pinnacle of its perfection yet; after all, it was still far inferior to the aforementioned three martial art skills.

After Xiao Zhao finished translating the six Sheng Huo Ling, Zhang Wuji felt that he only remembered 70, 80% of it, and understood only 50, 60%; nevertheless, he was confident that he had understood thoroughly the martial art of the Precious Tree Kings and the Wind and Cloud Three Emissaries.

Time slowly passed. Forgetting everything else, Zhang Wuji wholeheartedly pondered over the martial art he had just learned; but Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo, who observed the enemy’s movement, were getting more and more anxious. They saw Taj-kis’ hands and feet were shackled, while the eleven Precious Tree Kings convened in private; then the eleven kings took off their long robes and changed into soft armors, while the people around them presented eleven strange-looking weapons. They saw the ships around them were full of Persians with their bows drawn and the arrows were aimed at them. They saw around a dozen Persians with hatchets in their hands plung into the water, waiting for their chiefs’ command to sink their ship. Suddenly they heard Dasheng Bao Shu Wang, who was sitting among the kings shout; from all the ships the drums thundered and the bugles sounded.

Zhang Wuji was startled; he raised his head and saw the eleven Precious Tree Kings, each one wearing glittering metal armor and holding weapon in their hands, were jumping toward his ship. Xie Xun and Zhou Zhiruo held their Saber and Sword tight, placing them on Pingdeng Wang and Miaofeng Shi’s necks. The eleven kings noticed this and as they jumped to the bow, they did not dare to press further. They formed a half moon formation and gazed intently, waiting for an opportunity to make their move.

In Zhou Zhiruo and Zhao Min’s eyes, these eleven kings looked so mean and ferocious, plus they were tall in stature; they were rather afraid.

Zhihui Wang spoke in Chinese, “Thou better release my fellow Cult member quickly, we will spare thy lives. They people are like pigs or dogs in us eyes; why do thou need to place thy blades on they people’s necks? If thou dare, go ahead and kill they people. There are thousands of people like them people in the Persian Holy Cult. What regret do we people have if thou kill one or two of they people?”

“Thou don’t have to talk big to deceive we people,” Zhao Min said, “We people know that they two people are the Pingdeng Bao Shu Wang and Miaofeng Shi. They people’s positions in thy Ming Cult are quite high. Thou said that they people are just like pigs or dogs in thy eyes then thou have made a mistake, a big heap mistake!”

That Zhihui Wang’s Chinese was a ‘textbook’ Chinese, the terms they used for ‘thou’ and ‘they people’ were nondescript. Zhao Min had cleverly imitated his intonation and terminology. Although they were in a dangerous situation, Xie Xun and the others could not restrain from smiling.

Zhihui Wang frowned and said, “In our people’s Holy Cult, there are three hundred sixty Bao Shu Wang, Pingdeng Wang holds the three hundred and fifty-ninth position. We people have one thousand two hundreds emissaries, this Miaofeng Shi’s martial art is just so-so, he is totally useless. Thou quickly kill they people then!”

“Very good, very good!” Zhao Min said, “Friends with saber and sword in your hand, quickly kill these useless people!”

“Accepting order!” Xie Xun said. Lifting up his Saber, he drew a deep breath and hacked down toward Pingdeng Wang’s skull.

Everybody shouted in alarm; but the Tulong Saber swept gently and swiftly less than half an inch pass Pingdeng Wang’s head, cutting a clump of his hair, which was blown by the sea breeze, vanishing into the air. Xie Xun moved his arm, slicing to the left and to the right, seemingly cutting Pingdeng Wang’s arms; but in the last moment he flicked his wrist slightly and cut Pingdeng Wang’s sleeves instead.

These three moves were executed fiercely, yet accurately. It was extremely difficult even for people with seeing eyes, let alone for a blind man.

Narrowly missing death, Pingdeng Wang was so scared that he almost passed out several times. The other eleven Precious Tree kings and the Wind and Cloud three emissaries were dumbstruck; their mouths were wide open but their tongues were tied.

“Now thou have seen the Central Earth Ming Cult’s martial art,” Zhao Min said, “This Jin Mao Shi Wang ranks three thousand five hundred and ninth in the Central Earth Ming Cult. If thou want to rely on numbers to achieve victory, then the Central Earth Ming Cult will come to Persia to seek revenge in the future. We will wipe out thy central altar, and thou will certainly not able to resist. I suggest thou make peace with we people.”

Zhihui Wang knew Zhao Min was bluffing, but he did not know how to answer her. Suddenly Dasheng Bao Shu Wang spoke. Xiao Zhao called out, “Zhang Gongzi, they are going to sink our ship.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; he realized his side did not possess excellent water skill. Once the ship sunk, they would certainly be captured by the enemy. His shadow flashed and he had arrived in front of Dasheng Wang.

“What are thou doing?” Zhihui Wang shouted. From both sides Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang, one was using a whip, the other a hammer, struck together.

By this time Zhang Wuji had already understood Persian Sect’s martial art; without even trying to evade, both of his hands reached out and grabbed the kings’ throats. ‘Clang!’ Gongde Wang’s iron whip and Zhanghuo Wang’s octagonal hammer struck each other. Sparks flew everywhere. Zhang Wuji sealed both men’s acupoints on their throats to immobilize them and dragged them away.

In this confusion Zhang Wuji kicked his feet left and right; two kicks made the blades in Qixin Wang and Zhen’E Wang’s hands flew away, two more kicks made Qinxiu Wang and Juming Wang flew into the water. Suddenly he saw a tall and skinny Precious Tree King pounc on him with a pair of daggers in his hand, stabbing Zhang Wuji’s chest. Zhang Quji’s foot flew up and kicked his wrist. That man overlapped his hands and stabbed Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. This change was so quick that Zhang Wuji was forced to hurriedly leap back to evade.

Turned out this man was Changsheng [eternal victory] Wang, who possessed the highest martial art skill among the twelve kings of the Persian Central Cult. After sealing Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang’s acupoints, Zhang Wuji quickly threw them into the cabin, and then turned his body around to fight Changseng Wang’s pair of daggers.

Although this man was numbered among the twelve kings, his martial art skill was strong, greatly different from the rest of the kings. Zhang Wuji attacked for three stances and defended for another three stances, he advanced three steps and retreated three steps. He inwardly praised, “A Persian with an excellent skill!”

After gaining an understanding of the martial art theory from the Sheng Huo Ling, Zhang Wuji did not have time to practice. Now that he met a powerful enemy, he had to think and fight Changsheng Wang at the same time. For the first dozen or so stances, he defended himself relying on his profound internal energy and the ingenuity of his moves, thus he managed to fight evenly with a narrow margin. After the twentieth stance, he was getting more and more comfortable in utilizing the secret from the Sheng Huo Ling on top of the martial art from the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi.

Changseng Wang earned his title ‘Eternal Victory’ because in his entire life he had never met any worthy opponent. This time he felt like his hands and feet were bound by the enemy, which he had never experienced before; naturally he was astonished, but also scared.

After thirty stances, Zhang Wuji made a step forward and suddenly sat on the deck, while grabbing Changsheng Wang’s calves. This strange move was an extremely profound move recorded on the Sheng Huo Ling. Although Changseng Wang knew about it, he had never dared to use it.

As Zhang Wuji grabbed the enemy, his ten fingers moved and sealed the ‘zhong dou’ [central capital] and ‘zhu bin’ [building guest] acupoints on Changseng Wang’s calves, using the acupoint sealing technique of the Central Earth martial art. Changseng Wang felt the lower half of his body went numb and difficult to move; he heaved a deep sigh and let his hands caught by the enemy.

Suddenly Zhang Wuji felt a fondness in his heart toward this man’s ability. “Thy martial art skill is excellent, I want to save your reputation. Quickly return to your ship,” he said, while releasing his captive. Changsheng Wang was grateful and ashamed at the same time, he leaped back to his ship.

Dasheng Wang saw Changsheng Wang’s bitter defeat, also saw how Gongde Wang and Zhanghuo Wang fell into the enemy’s hands, he realized that if the enemy’s ship sank, Pingdeng Wang and the other three kings would also perish with them. He shouted his command, calling everyone to return to their ship.

Zhao Min loudly called out, “Quickly release Taj-kis and agree to Jin Mao Shi Wang’s three requests!”

The remaining kings quietly discussed their situation. Zhihui Wang said, “Complying with thy requests is not a big deal. But this young master’s martial art is obviously our Persian Sect’s skill, where did he learn it from? We demand an explanation.”

Stifling her laugh, Zhao Min maintained a solemn face and said, “Thou art naïve and lack of understanding, boastful and wishy-washy. This young master is our Cult Emissary’s eighth disciple. His seven martial brothers will arrive soon. By that time, if the seven of them are upset, then it will be extremely awful for thou. Woe is thou …”

Although Zhuhui Wang was intelligent, Chinese language is difficult and profound; he only understood around 60, 70% from what Zhao Min said, but he was certain she was blowing her horn. He hesitated a moment before saying, “Very well! Send Taj-kis over to their ship.”

Two Persian cult members took Taj-kis to the bow of Zhang Wuji’s ship. Zhou Zhiruo raised her sword. ‘Ding, ding!’ immediately the shackles on Taj-kis’ hands and feet were cut off. Seeing the sharpness of the Sword, those two Persians were scared to death; they hastily leaped back to their ship.

“Thou may set sail immediately, return to the Central Earth,” Zhihui Wang said, “We will send a small boat to follow behind thy ship.”

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “The Central Earth Ming Cult came from Persia, thou and us are like brothers. Today we had a misunderstanding. I respectfully wish thou do not keep this in thy mind. I invite you to visit the BrightnessPeak in the future, we will drink wine and have a pleasant chat together. For the offenses of today, herewith Xiongdi [brother] apologize.”

Zhihui Wang laughed out loud and said, “Thy martial art skill is excellent, you’ve won our utmost admiration. For those who learn some kind of skill, isn’t it a delight to train it to perfection? A friend comes visit from afar, isn’t it a delight to the host? Even if they are upset, shouldn’t they be delighted?”

Zhang Wuji and the others were surprised to hear him quoting Kongzi [Confucius], showing that he was an educated man, he was able to respond accurately to Zhao Min’s remarks earlier. They all laughed.

Zhao Min said, “What you say is very good; you are truly a distinguished Persian, a true rarity! I wish you all a prosperous and long life, blessed with abundance and kept from calamities, free of sickness until the day you die.”

Zhihui Wang understood the four character ‘prosperous and long life’ [duo1 fu2 duo1 shou4], so he believed the rest were also good wishes for him. He smiled and mumbled, “Many thanks, many thanks!”

Zhang Wuji realized that although Zhao Min was speaking amiably, she could turn vicious and hurl some cunning and provocative speeches. Right now they were among tigers and wolves, the night was still young and the dreams many; hence the earlier they get out of danger the better. Immediately he pulled the anchor and turned the rudder, he hoisted the sail and slowly drove the ship away.

All around them the Persians aboard their ships watched how Zhang Wuji weigh the anchor and hoist the sail, a job for dozen of sailors, alone; a demonstration of an astonishing strength. They burst out in cheers. Someone tossed the mooring rope of a small boat, which Zhang Wuji caught and tied to the rear mast. The big ship towed the small boat, gradually they sailed away. There were two people on the small boat, a man and a woman; they were none other than Liuyun Shi and Huiyue Shi.

Zhang Wuji manned the rudder and steered the ship westward, he saw that the Persian ships did not pursue. Quickly they sailed away for several ‘li’s, until the ships by the LingSheIsland looked no more than one inch big, yet they were still unmoving, so finally he felt relieved. He asked Xiao Zhao to handle the rudder, while he went into the cabin to check on Yin Li’s condition.

Yin Li was still in a blurry condition, half-asleep and half-awake. Although she did not seem to improve, but her sickness did not get worse either. Zhang Wuji thought that in this big Persian ship, there must be some medicine around.

Taj-kis was standing on the bow with her eyes gazed into the ocean. She heard Zhang Wuji walk on the deck, but she did not turn her head. Zhang Wuji saw her from behind, and had to admit that her figure looked beautiful and elegant; her beautiful hair floated in the wind, the back of her neck as white as the white jade. Xie Xun said she was the Wulin world’s most beautiful woman in the past, it was certainly not an empty word. He imagined her standing by the bank of the Bi Shui Han Tan, with her purple gown as beautiful as a flower, her sword as brilliant as the snow; he wondered how many heroes and warriors’s hearts had fallen because of her.

Sailing until the evening, they had left LingSheIsland approximately a hundred ‘li’s behind. Looking to the east they did not see a single sail on the surface of the ocean; obviously the Persian Central Cult did not dare to pursue them under their threat.

“Yifu,” Zhang Wuji said, “Can we release them now?”

“Very well!” Xie Xun replied, “Even if they want to pursue, they won’t overtake us.”

Zhang Wuji unsealed Pingdeng, Gongde, Zhanghuo, three kings, and Miaofeng Shi’s acupoints, while apologizing to them repeatedly. He took them to the stern and helped them to leap into the small boat.

Miaofeng Shi said, “We are responsible for these six Sheng Huo Ling; losing them is not a small offense. Please return them to us.”

Xie Xun said, “Sheng Huo Ling is the Central Earth Ming Cult’s token of authority; today it returned to its rightful owner, how can we let you take it away?”

Miaofeng Shi talked incessantly, insistent that the tablets be returned to him. Zhang Wuji thought he must subdue Miaofeng Shi’s heart today to avoid more trouble in the future. He said, “If we return these tablets to you, your ability is still too low. I am afraid you won’t be able to defend them. Rather than letting some strangers snatch them away, don’t you think it would be better if the Ming Cult has them?”

“How can some strangers casually snatch them away?” Miaofeng Shi asked.

“If you don’t believe me, then let us try,” Zhang Wuji said, handing over the six Sheng Huo Ling tablets to him.

Miaofeng Shi was delighted; he had barely uttered, “Many thanks!” when Zhang Wuji hooked with his left hand and pulled with his right, taking the six tablets back.

Miaofeng Shi was surprised and angrily said, “I was not even ready, that one did not count.”

Zhang Wuji smiled, “All right, there is no harm in trying again,” he said, handing the Sheng Huo Ling back to him.

Miaofeng Shi put the four tablets of Sheng Huo Ling into his bosom first, and then held the two tablets in his hands tightly. Seeing Zhang Wuji reached out to snatch, he moved the Sheng Huo Ling in his left hand to hit Zhang Wuji’s wrist. Zhang Wuji flipped his wrist and grabbed Miaofeng Shi’s right arm and pulled it up so that two Sheng Huo Ling struck each other. ‘Clang’ the noise shook their hearts. Zhang Wuji transmitted his abundance internal energy to Miaofeng Shi’s arm.

Both of Miaofeng Shi’s arms were numb because of this attack, his whole body lost its strength as if he was paralyzed, so that the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands fell onto the deck. Zhang Wuji took the four Sheng Huo Ling from his bosom first before taking the ones on the deck.

“Well?” he said, “Do you want to try it again?”

Miaofeng Shi’s face was ashen. “You are not a human,” he stammered, “You are the devil, you are the devil!” He took several steps backward and was about to jump into the small boat, but he staggered and tumbled down. Liuyun Shi leaped up to carry him down.

The small boat raised its sail. Gongde Wang pulled the towing rope. ‘Snap!’ the rope broke and the small boat was separated from the big ship. Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Please forgive us for the many offenses.”

Gongde Wang and the others’ eyes were full of hatred, they turned their heads around without answering. The big ship rode on the wind and sailed to the west, two boats were getting farther and farther away from each other.

Suddenly Taj-kis cursed, “Bastard! How dare you?” She jumped into the water.

Zhang Wuji was shocked and hastily turned the rudder. He saw blood bubbling up from the water, followed by another one some distant away. Altogether there were six bloody areas with bubbles up to the surface.

With a splash Taj-kis’ head appeared from below the surface with a short dagger in between her teeth, her right hand was holding a Persian man’s hair, which appeared above the water shortly.

Zhang Wuji turned the rudder quickly to meet them, but the hull of that ship was too big; because of the strong wind, instead of turning around, the ship slowly made a big circle on the water. In the water, Zi Shan Long Wang was as agile as a fish; without taking too much time, she had reached the ship. Her left hand reached the anchor and with one pull she flew up, taking the Persian along with her, to the deck.

Everybody realized now, that the Persians had concealed this disastrous thought. They waited until Gongde Wang and the others safely moved to the small boat, then they raised the sail to cover up some people who went underwater toward the big ship, with the intention of sinking Zhang Wuji and the others to the bottom of the sea. Fortunately, Zi Shan Long Wang noticed the bubble in the water from these people’s breathing, leaped into the sea, and managed to kill six of them while capturing one alive. She was about to interrogate this survivor when suddenly there was a loud explosion coming from the aft; followed by black smoke rising to the sky. The hull shook violently, as if it was hit by a cannon; the mast broke and the top part flew into the air.

Zhang Wuji and the others felt a searing heat; hastily they ducked down. “What a wicked scheme!” Taj-kis called out. She rushed to the mast and saw a big hole on the aft, while the rudder disappeared without any trace. Water rushed in from the hole. Taj-kis asked several questions in Persian to the man she captured, and then her palm struck down toward his skull, smashing his head altogether. She kicked his body to the ocean while saying, “I only knew they were trying to make some holes on the ship; I did not think they planted explosive on the aft.”

By this time Gongde Wang and the others had sailed quite some distance away on their small boat; although Taj-kis’ water skill was excellent, there was no way she could overtake them. Everybody looked at each other in blank dismay, not knowing what to do. Zhao Min gave Zhang Wuji a sorrowful look while thinking in her heart, “The enemy ships will be over very soon; all of us will certainly die without any burial place.”

The ship was really big, so that it would not sink too quickly. Amidst that commotion, suddenly Taj-kis spoke to Xiao Zhao in Persians, to which Xiao Zhao also replied in Persian. Two people spoke back and forth, their expressions kept changing irregularly. They noticed Xiao Zhao glanced at Zhang Wuji with blushing cheeks, she looked bashful. Taj-kis kept talking to her with a stern voice. They talked for half a day; apparently they were arguing over something. Afterwards, it sounded like Taj-kis was urging Xiao Zhao to do something, while Xiao Zhao kept shaking her head without saying anything. Finally, she suddenly looked toward Zhang Wuji, heaved a deep sigh, and said two sentences. Taj-kis stretched out her arms to embrace her and kept kissing her, tears streaming down from their eyes. Xiao Zhao was sobbing, while Taj-kis comforting her in gentle voice.

Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo looked at each other in bewilderment, not knowing what was happening. Zhao Min whispered in Zhang Wuji’s ears, “Look, their faces look alike!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was stirred, he noticed Taj-kis and Xiao Zhao both had delicate and elegant melon-seed-shaped faces, high nose and snow-white complexion, graceful like rippling waves of autumn. Their facial features were about 60, 70% similar, only on Xiao Zhao, the Persian heritage was but a shadow, while Taj-kis looked more foreign than a Central Earth woman. Zhang Wuji recalled at the little wineshop in Dadou, when Ku Toutuo Fan Yao saw Xiao Zhao, he said, ‘Looks alike, looks alike!’ Turned out what he meant by ‘look alike’ was that Xiao Zhao looked very much like Zi Shan Long Wang. Was Xiao Zhao Taj-kis’ younger sister, then? Or was she her daughter?

Zhang Wuji also remembered how Yang Xiao and Yang Buhui, father and daughter, had always been suspicious toward Xiao Zhao. Whenever he asked Yang Xiao why he seemed wary toward a young girl like Xiao Zhao, Yang Xiao only said that Xiao Zhao reminded him of his old enemy, yet he did not elaborate further. Only now did Zhang Wuji understand that Yang Xiao felt Xiao Zhao’s appearance looked very much like Zi Shan Long Wang; only he did not have any other evidence. Besides, Zhang Wuji was protective toward her, thus it was inconvenient for Yang Xiao to accuse her blatantly. Now it also became clear to him why Xiao Zhao deliberately twisted her mouth and made her nose crooked, painstakingly pretended to be an ugly girl.

Suddenly he recalled another matter, “Why did Xiao Zhao roam around the BrightnessPeak? How did she know the entrance to the secret passage? I am sure it was Zi Shan Long Wang who ordered her to go there; obviously with the intention to steal the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual. She became my servant and has already been by my side for two years, and I have never suspected her. She had seen the manual; hereafter, if she want to write a copy, it would be as easy as taking something out of her own pocket. Aiyo! I only knew she was an innocent young girl; who would have expected that she is a shrewd schemer. These past two years were like a dream to me, I was constantly under her mercy without even realizing it. Zhang Wuji, oh, Zhang Wuji, in all your life you always believe others too easily, that was very stupid! Indeed, even a little girl like her was able to play with me on her palm.”

Thinking to this point, he could not help but feel angry. Right at that moment, Xiao Zhao’s eyes met with his. Zhang Wuji saw that her gaze was tender with unbounded passion, without any hint of pretense in it. His heart was shaken; he remembered how on the Brightness Peak, when he was battling the Six Major Sects, Xiao Zhao had protected him without any regard of her own safety, how during these two years she had ironed his clothes and taken good care of his daily needs. Could those actions be faked? Or could it be that he had accused her unjustly? While he was busy with his thoughts, the ship shook again and sank down quite a bit more.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Taj-kis said, “All of you do not need to panic. When the Persian ships arrive, Xiao Zhao and I will deal with them. Zi Shan Long Wang is only a woman, but she knows how to be responsible of her own actions; in no way she would implicate others. Zhang Jiaozhu and Xie San Ge have shown kindness as heavy as a mountain to me; Taj-kis herewith expresses her gratitude to you.” While saying that, she gracefully bowed to the ground.

Zhang Wuji and Xie Xun hastily returned her respects; each of them thinking, “These Persians are evil and cruel; they are going to capture you and burn you to death, and will certainly not let us go.”

The ship gradually sank down; the water had reached the cabin. Zhang Wuji carried Yin Li, and Zhou Zhiruo carried Zhao Min, they all climbed up the mast. Suddenly Xiao Zhao pointed her finger to the east and broke into crying again. Everybody turned their eyes to follow her finger, and saw in the distant some sails on the surface of the ocean. Before long, the sails grew bigger and bigger; they were indeed a dozen or so big Persian ships coming to pursue them.

Zhang Wuji thought, “If I were Taj-kis, I’d rather jump into the ocean and die rather than suffering the pain of being burned alive.” But when he looked at her, her expression was calm, she hardly showed any anxiety or fear; he had to admit his admiration, “She was the chief of the Si Da Fa Wang [Four Great Judge – see my notes earlier on ‘hu jiao fa wang’]; she is truly an extraordinary lady. To think that in the past, Yi Wang, Shi Wang and Fu Wang [eagle, lion and bat kings] have already achieved fame as senior heroes, while she was just a teenage girl; for her to be ranked above the three kings, it could not be just because of one time merit she rendered. She must have had some other quality, which surpassed other people.”

Seeing the Persian ships gradually come near, he thought, “My offense toward the Bao Shu Wang [Precious Tree Kings] is not small, if I fall into their hands, I might as well forget about escaping alive. Only I have to find a way to save Yifu, Miss Zhao, Miss Zhou, and cousin. Xiao Zhao, oh, Xiao Zhao, you can betray me, but I cannot treat you unkindly.”

By now, a dozen or so Persian ships were within sight; he could see that the cannons on those ships were aimed at the sunken ship’s mast. The ships stopped within twenty some ‘zhang’s from the sunken ship, and they rolled the sail and dropped the anchor right away. He heard Zhihui Wang laugh heartily. He looked very smug when he called out, “Are thou surrender now?”

In a loud and clear voice Zhang Wuji replied, “The warriors of the Central Earth would rather die unyielding; how can we surrender? True warriors would contend with martial arts to decide who’s strong and who’s weak.”

Zhihui Wang laughed; “True warriors battle with wits and not with brute force. Hurry up, extend your hands to be bound!”

Taj-kis suddenly spoke several sentences in Persian; her demeanor was stern. Zhi Hui Wang was stunned; he also replied in Persian. Two people asking and answering for a while; Dasheng Wang also joined the conversation. After several more exchanges, the big ship released a small boat with eight sailors rowing it, coming near the sunken ship.

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Taj-kis said, “Xiao Zhao and I will go over there first, please wait for us here for a moment.”

“Mrs. Han,” in a stern voice Xie Xun said, “The Central Earth Ming Cult’s treatment to you was not bad. Our Cult’s safety and danger, its prosperity or fall, is on Wuji’s shoulder alone. If you betray us, the Old Xie won’t show any compassion. If you harm a single strand of Wuji’s hair, even becoming a ghost the Old Xie will not spare you.”

With a cold laugh Taj-kis said, “If your foster child is so precious, do you think my daughter is merely dirt?” While saying that she took Xiao Zhao’s hand and lightly jumped into the small boat. The eight sailors immediately rowed; the small boat sailed as if it was flying toward the big ship.

Listening to her words, everybody was startled. “Xiao Zhao is indeed her daughter,” Zhao Min said.

From a distance they saw Taj-kis and Xiao Zhao board the ship and talk with the Precious Tree Kings; while their own ship was sinking. The mast went into the water inch by inch. Xie Xun sighed and said, “Different people, different hearts. Wuji Child, I am mistaken about Mrs. Han, and you are mistaken about Xiao Zhao. Wuji, a real man can be bent and can be stretched; we will endure disgrace for a while, waiting for a good opportunity to escape. You bear a very heavy responsibility on your shoulders, millions of common people of the Central Plains place their hopes in our Ming Cult to lift the banner of righteousness high and to repel the Tartars. When the opportunity comes, you’ll have to escape, you cannot think others. You are the leader of a great Cult, you must be able to distinguish the important from the trivial.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated without answering. “Pei!” Zhao Min spat and said, “It is still questionable whether you will stay alive, yet you worry about Tartars. Tell me, which one is better, the Mongolians or the Persians?”

Zhou Zhiruo had always been silent, but now suddenly she opened her mouth, “Xiao Zhao loves Zhang Gongzi very much, she won’t betray him.”

“Didn’t you see Zi Shan Long Wang coercing her?” Zhao Min said, “Xiao Zhao was not willing, but later the pressure was getting unbearable that in the end she relented, but still pretended to cry loudly.”

By this time, the mast was only about a ‘zhang’ [about 10 feet or 3 meters] away from the water, the waves splashed and made everybody’s face wet. Zhao Min suddenly laughed and said, “Zhang Gongzi, it is so neat that we are going to die together. That traitor Xiao Zhao, on the contrary, cannot die with us.”

These words were spoken jokingly, but the meaning was deep. Zhang Wuji was really touched; he said in his heart, “I cannot take them all as my wives, but if I can die together with them, then my life is not in vain.” He looked at Zhao Min, then looked at Zhou Zhiruo, and also looked at Yin Li in his embrace. Yin Li was still unconscious, while Zhao and Zhou two girls were blushing, with drops of water on their faces. They looked as beautiful as fresh flowers; if the Zhao girl could be likened to a rose, then the Zhou girl was an orchid. His heart was filled with warm and fuzzy feelings.

Suddenly, the Persians on a dozen or so ships shouted together. Zhang Wuji and the others were startled; they focused their eyes to look. They saw the people on each ship were kneeling down on the decks; they were bowing toward the big ship. On the big ship, all the Precious Tree Kings were also bowing toward someone sitting on a chair, whose features looked like Xiao Zhao’s. Only the distance was too far that they were not able to see clearly.

Zhang Wuji and the others were alarmed and unsure of what trick these Persians were about to do. After shouting for a while, the Persians stood up, but the sound of shouting did not stop; however, the shout was obviously a shout of joy, as if they were happily celebrating something. A moment later, the small boat returned with Xiao Zhao on board, sitting majestically.

“Zhang Gongzi, everybody,” she waved, “Let us go to the big ship. The Persian Ming Cult will not dare to harm you.”

“Why?” Zhao Min asked.

“You will find out later,” Xiao Zhao replied, “How could Xiao Zhao answer Zhang Gongzi if they still have ill intention toward you?”

“Xiao Zhao,” suddenly Xie Xun asked, “Do you become the Persian Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu?”

Xiao Zhao lowered her head without answering, but a moment later two drops of crystal-clear tears suddenly hang from her eyes. All of a sudden Zhang Wuji’s ears buzzed, because he had guessed with 70, 80% certainty what was happening; his heart was grieved but also full of gratitude.

“Xiao Zhao,” he said, “You did this because of me!” Xiao Zhao turned her head to the side, she did not dare to meet his eyes.

Xie Xun sighed and said, “To have a daughter like you, Taj-kis is truly worthy to bear the illustrious name of Zi Shan Long Wang. Wuji, let’s go.”

He was the first to jump into the small boat, followed by Zhou Zhiruo carrying Yin Li and Zhang Wuji with Zhao Min in his arms. The eight sailors immediately rowed the boat toward the big ship.

When they were still more than ten ‘zhang’s away from the big ship, the Precious Tree Kings had already bowed to welcome their Cult Leader.

As they came aboard the big ship, Xiao Zhao gave her orders and immediately several people respectfully presented them with towels and food, and they were led to a cabin to change their wet clothes.

Zhang Wuji saw his cabin was very spacious. The room was illuminated by pearl and jewels; and it was furnished with countless precious objects. He was just about to dry his body with a towel when suddenly with a creaking noise the door was opened and somebody came in. It was Xiao Zhao, with a set of short shirt and pants, and a long robe in her hands.

“Gongzi,” she said, “Let me help you change your clothes.”

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “You are the Central Cult’s Jiaozhu. Technically, I am your subordinate. How can you do this anymore?”

“Gongzi,” Xiao Zhao begged him, “This is for the last time. Hereafter, we will be separated by tens of thousands ‘li’s from east to west. Our time is limited. After this time, even if I want to serve you, I cannot.”

Zhang Wuji was heartbroken; he had no choice but to let her help him change his clothes, button his shirt, and tie his belt, just like she used to do. She also took a comb and combed his hair, all the while tears were streaming down her cheeks. Zhang Wuji could not restrain himself much longer; he turned around and hugged her petite stature in his bosom.

“Ah,” Xiao Zhao exclaimed softly, her body trembled slightly.

Zhang Wuji planted a deep kiss on her cherry lips. “Xiao Zhao,” he said, “At first I thought you were betraying me; I had never expected you to treat me this good.”

Xiao Zhao leaned her head on his broad chest. She whispered, “Gongzi, I did lie to you. My Mama was one of the Central Cult’s three Holy Maidens. She received an order to come to the Central Earth to set up a merit, so that when she returns to Persia, she would take over the Jiaozhu position. Unexpectedly, after meeting my Father her feelings were difficult to suppress, hence she had no choice but to commit apostasy and marry my Father. Mama knew she was guilty of a capital crime; thereupon she passed on the Holy Maiden’s seven-color gem ring to me, told me to go among the BrightnessPeak people and try to steal the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual. Gongzi, I continuously concealed these things from you, but in my heart, I have never had any ill intention towards you. I would rather be your servant, serving you for the rest of my life, and never leave you, than being the Jiaozhu of the Persian Ming Cult. I have told you that haven’t I? And you have promised you would let me do that, haven’t you?”

Zhang Wuji nodded; he held her tender body and sat her on his knees, and he kissed her again and again. Her warm and soft lips were wet with tears; they tasted as sweet as honey, yet also bitter from pain.

Xiao Zhao continued, “I have memorized the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi manual, but that was not because I wanted to betray you. I would never have divulged this information if the mountains were not exhausted and the rivers used up …”

“I know,” Zhang Wuji softly said, “I understand everything now.”

As if she was talking to herself, Xiao Zhao said in a soft voice, “When I was little, I often saw Mama was restless and frightened, day and night. She covered up her fine appearance by pretending to be an old and ugly granny. She would not allow me to be seen with her; she let another family raise me up, and would only see me every one or two years. Only now do I understand that she braved this great danger just to be married with my Father. Gongzi, if not for the situation we were in today, I would not be willing to be the empress of this whole world, let alone be a cult leader.”

Speaking to this point, her cheeks were fiery red. Zhang Wuji felt the tender body in his embrace go warmer; his heart was moved, but suddenly Taj-kis’ voice was heard from outside the door, “Xiao Zhao, if you cannot restrain your passion, you are endangering Zhang Gongzi’s life.”

Xiao Zhao trembled and jumped up. “Gongzi,” she said, “You should forget me. Miss Yin has followed Mother [here the original word was ‘mu qin’, a formal term for ‘mother’, while before, she used the term ‘Mama’] for many years, she is also passionately devoted to you; she will be a good match to you.”

In a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “We’ll break out and kill, capture one or two Bao Shu Wang, and force them to take us to the LingSheIsland.”

Xiao Zhao sadly shook her head, “This time they are ready; at this very moment, there are Persians with unsheathed blades standing by Xie Daxia, Miss Yin and the others. As soon as we make our move, they will be killed immediately.” While saying that she opened the cabin door. They saw Taj-kis was standing by the door, with two Persians wielding swords standing behind her. Those two Persians bowed toward Xiao Zhao, but their swords did not leave Taj-kis’ back.

Fearlessly Xiao Zhao walked up the deck, with Zhang Wuji following behind her. They saw Xie Xun and the others, each one with Persian warrior by their side, wielding a naked blade.

“Gongzi,” Xiao Zhao said, “Here is some Persian medicine, effective to treat wounds; please apply it to Miss Yin.” She then spoke several sentences in Persian. Gongde Wang took a bottle of medicine and handed it over to Zhang Wuji.

“I have ordered some people to take you back to the Central Earth; we’ll part here,” Xiao Zhao continued, “Xiao Zhao’s body will be in Persia, but every day my prayer is that Gongzi will have happiness, good health, and peace; and that everything you do will be successful.” Speaking to this point she choked and started crying.

“You will be living among the tigers and the wolves,” Zhang Wuji said, “Please be careful.” Xiao Zhao nodded and ordered her people to prepare a ship.

Xie Xun, Yin Li, Zhao Min and Zhou Zhiruo boarded the ship one by one. Xiao Zhao returned the Tulong Saber and Yitian Sword to Zhang Wuji. With a bitter smile she raised her hand to bid them farewell.

Zhang Wuji did not know what to say; he stared blankly at her for a moment before finally he leaped into the ship. The big ship Xiao Zhao was riding sounded its horn. Both ships set sail at the same time, the distance between them gradually increased. Xiao Zhao was standing on the bow, her eyes fixed on Zhang Wuji’s ship. Two people looked at each other while the sea between them got wider and wider. Finally, Xiao Zhao’s ship was only a black dot on the dark blue sea. The strong wind from afar blew on the sail, faintly carrying the sound of soft crying.

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