The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 35

Will the encounter while lion-slaying cause a calamity?

Lu Zhangke’s sneak attack came when Zhang Wuji was resisting the combined power of eighteen foreign monks. The internal energy protecting his body, which formed a barrier on his back, was removed. As a result, the Xuanming cold poison entered his body without resistance and hence his injury was really heavy. He sat cross-legged and circulated the Jiu Yang energy three times around his system. After vomiting two mouthfuls of blood, he felt the constriction in the pit of his stomach loosened somewhat. As he opened his eyes, he saw Zhao Min was looking at him with anxious expression on her face.

“Miss Zhao,” Zhang Wuji said in tender voice, “You are suffering greatly.”

“Are you still calling me ‘Miss Zhao’ after all this?” Zhao Min asked, “I am no longer a royalty, I am not a ‘Junzhu’ anymore. You … are you still regarding me as a little witch in your heart?”

Zhang Wuji slowly stood up. “Let me ask you one question, please answer me truthfully” he said, “Did you or did you not cut the sword wounds on my cousin Yin Li’s face?”

“I did not!” Zhao Min answered.

“Then whose malicious hand did it?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“I cannot tell you,” Zhao Min said, “If you can find Xie Daxia, he can tell you all the details.”

“My Yifu knows all the details?” Zhang Wuji wondered.

“Your internal injury has not been healed yet, asking too much question is harmful to your peace of mind,” Zhao Min said, “Let me tell you one thing: if after your careful investigation you can prove that it was I who harmed Miss Yin, you don’t need to make any move. I will kill myself in your presence to make amends.”

Listening to her speaking with confidence, Zhang Wuji had no choice but to believe her. He was silent for half a day before saying, “Looks like there was a martial art master hiding in the Persian Ming Cult ship. Using some kind of demonic method, he sneaked out in the middle of the night and drugged us all, harmed my cousin, and stole the Yitian Sword and the Tulong Saber. After rescuing Yifu, we need to go to Persia and inquire with Xiao Zhao.”

Zhao Min pursed her lips and laughed. “You just want to see Xiao Zhao,” she said, “Hence you fabricate some story to give you the reason to do so. Listen to me: don’t indulge in fantasy, the sooner your injury is healed, the sooner we can go to the Shaolin Temple to pay them a visit.”

“Shaolin Temple?” Zhang Wuji was surprised, “What do we do there?”

“Saving Xie Daxia, of course,” Zhao Min replied.

“Is my Yifu in the Shaolin Temple?” Zhang Wuji was even more surprised, “How can he be in Shaolin Temple?”

“It’s a complicated story, and I don’t claim to know all the details,” Zhao Min said, “But I am quite certain Xie Daxia is in the Shaolin Temple. Did I tell you one of my warriors became a monk in the Shaolin Temple? He sacrificed his life to bring me news.”

“Why did he sacrifice his life?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhao Min said, “In order to bring me proof, my informant tried to cut a bunch of Xie Daxia’s yellow hair. But the Shaolin Temple guarded Xie Daxia very strictly. After cutting Xie Daxia’s hair, my informant went out the temple, bit in the end he was spotted and had to receive two palm strikes. He struggled to deliver the hair into my hand, and died not too long afterwards.”

“Hey! How fierce!” Zhang Wuji exclaimed. It was not clear however, whether his ‘how fierce’ exclamation was praising Zhao Min’s operation, or was referring to the danger of the situation.

Because his mind was upset, his internal condition was affected that he vomited another mouthful of blood. Zhao Min anxiously said, “If I knew the severity of your injury, I would have not continually vexed you like this. I am not going to talk to you anymore.”

Zhang Wuji sat down with his back on a large mountain rock. He tried hard to focus his attention and calm his mind, but there was simply too much in his mind that he was unable to do so. “Shaolin Shen Seng [divine monk] Kong Jian was killed by my Yifu’s ‘qi shang quan’ [seven-injury fist],” he said, “The Shaolin monks and disciples, from top to bottom, have been waiting for more than twenty years to seek vengeance. Furthermore, that Cheng Kun has become a monk in the Shaolin Temple. Since my Yifu has fallen into their hands, how can he keep his life?”

“Don’t worry,” Zhao Min said, “There is something that will keep Xie Daxia alive.”

“What thing?” Zhang Wuji hastily asked.

“The precious Tulong saber,” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji’s mind was stirred, and he understood. The Tulong Saber was known as the ‘most revered in the Wulin world’. The Shaolin Pai had been leading the martial art world for the last several hundred years, of course they would want to get their hands on this valuable saber. For the sake of this saber, they would not easily harm Xie Xun’s life, but disgrace and humiliation would be difficult to avoid.

Zhao Min continued, “I am thinking that the matter of rescuing Xie Daxia should be handled quietly by just the two of us. The Ming Cult is full of heroes, but if we carried out a large scale attack against Shaolin, the damage to both sides will be heavy. Supposing the Shaolin Pai is not able to defend against the Ming Cult’s attack, they might not want to keep Xie Daxia, maybe they would resort to deceit and begin to harm him.”

Listening to her thorough consideration, Zhang Wuji was very appreciative. “Min Mei [younger sister], you are right.”

It was the first time Zhang Wuji had ever called her ‘Min Mei’. Zhao Min felt unspeakable sweetness in her heart; but immediately her parents’ kindness and her brother’s love came into her mind, which, from this time on, were no longer hers. She could not stop the sweetness turn to bitter.

Zhang Wuji understood her feelings, but he felt inadequate to offer any consolation. He merely mused, “She had entrusted herself fully to me, how can I ever repay her affectionate kindness? Zhiruo is engaged to me, how can I let her down? Ay! Right now, the most important thing is trying to save Yifu; this kind of man-woman love relationship has to be set aside.” He exerted his strength to stand up. “Let us go!” he said.

Zhao Min saw that his complexion was ash-grey, she knew his injury was really not light. Slightly knitting her beautiful brows, she thought aloud, “My Father loves me very much; he won’t give us any trouble. I am only afraid Gege will not let us go. As soon as he can have an excuse to leave Father, he would definitely send people to take us back within these next four hours [orig, two ‘shichen’s – 1 ‘shichen’ is 2 hours].”

Zhang Wuji nodded. He had noticed how firm Wang Baobao handled his affairs; he was truly not an easy person to deal with, he certainly would not give up easily. Presently, both he and Zhao Min were injured; it looked like their journey west to Shaolin would be very slow and full of obstacles. Other than that, they did not have any plan.

“We must leave this dangerous place immediately,” Zhao Min said, “We can stop again when we get to the foot of the mountain.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and he walked toward the horses with faltering steps. But when he was going to mount the horse, he felt a severe pain in the pit of his stomach, and did not have enough strength to climb up. Zhao Min bit her lips and exerted her strength on her right arm to give him a boost. But as she was doing that, the knife stab wound on her abdomen opened up and quite a lot blood seeped out. She also struggled to climb up the horse and sat behind Zhang Wuji. At first it was Zhang Wuji who supported her, now she had to wrap up her arms around his to support him up. Both of them had to stop for half a day to catch their breaths before they finally let the horse went forward. The other horse followed behind them.

Two people sharing a ride went down the mountain. They traveled along the main road, turning slightly to the east to avoid meeting Wang Baobao. After walking for a while, they turned toward a small pathway. They were feeling slightly relieved, since they thought that even if Wang Baobao dispatched some people to pursue, they would not easily find this small and remote pathway. They will have more chance of escaping when the sky turned dark and they entered deeper into the mountain.

While riding leisurely, suddenly they heard hoof beats from behind; a pair of riders galloped near. Zhao Min’s countenance sank; she tightened her hold on Zhang Wuji’s waist while saying, “My Gege comes very quick. It’s just our cruel fate, in the end we can’t escape from his cruel hands. Wuji Gege, let me go home with him. I am going to ask Father earnestly that we will see each other again later. As eternal and unchanging as the universe, let us not fail each other.”

With a bitter smile Zhang Wuji said, “Your honorable brother might not necessarily be willing to let me go.”

Just as he was saying that, the riders had come within several dozens ‘zhang’s behind them. Zhao Min held the rein to let the riders pass. She pulled her dagger out, thinking that if they had a chance, they would escape, but if her brother had made up his mind to kill Zhang Wuji, then the two of them would die together. However, when the two riders came near, they did not even slow down. They were wearing Mongolian soldiers’ uniform. They galloped passed them, giving them only a quick glance, and continued forward.

Zhao Min had just mused, “Thank Heaven and thank the Earth. Turned out they are only two low-ranking soldiers, not our pursuers.” When she saw those two Yuan soldiers held their reins to slow down their horses, talked to each other, and suddenly turned their horses around and returned toward the two of them.

One of them, a full-bearded Yuan soldier, shouted, “Audacious barbarians! Where did you steal these two good horses from?”

As she heard the tone of his voice, Zhao Min understood that they coveted the pair of steeds given by her father. The horses of the Ruyang Prince were naturally divine steeds, with golden stirrups and silver reins, extraordinarily magnificent and expensive ornaments. The Mongolians loved horses like they loved life itself, so when they saw a pair of excellent horses, how could their hearts be not moved?

Zhao Min thought, “Although these two horses were given by Father, but if these two wicked thieves want to seize them by force, we’d better let them go.” She spoke in Mongolian, “Which General’s subordinates are you? Why do you dare to be so impolite to me?”

That Mongolian soldier was startled. “Who are you, Miss?” he asked. He saw that these two were wearing expensive looking clothes, the horses they were riding were no small matters either; and now she was speaking fluent Mongolian. He did not dare to be careless.

“I am General Waerl Puche’s daughter,” Zhao Min said, “This is my brother. We met some robbers along the way and are injured.”

The two Mongolian soldiers exchanged a glance, suddenly they laughed loudly. The bearded soldier said in loud voice, “One can’t escape, two will not live. We might as well kill these two babies.” Unsheathing his saber, he charged forward.

Zhao Min was alarmed. “What are you doing?” she asked, “I’ll tell the General and have the two of you pulled by four horses.” Execution by pulling by four horses was Mongolian army’s capital punishment, in which the lawbreaker’s limbs were tied to four horses. As the signal was given, a long whip cracked, the four horses would run to different directions at once, tearing the convict into four parts. It was the cruelest punishment.

The full-bearded Mongolian soldier laughed menacingly. “Waerl Puche was unable to defeat the Ming Cult army,” he said, “He randomly executed his subordinates, venting his anger to us, his soldiers. Yesterday the army revolted and chopped your father to be meat sauce. Nothing can be better than to bump into you, two puppies, in here.” While saying that, he raised his saber, ready to chop down.

Zhao Min jerked the rein, her horse leaped forward to evade. The soldier pursued to kill. The other Yuan soldier called out, “Don’t kill this young girl who is pretty-as-a-flower. We can have fun with her first.”

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” the bearded soldier replied.

Zhao Mi had an idea so she jumped down the horse and ran to the side. The two Mongolian soldiers immediately dismounted their horses to chase her.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min screamed, while falling down to the ground. The bearded solder pounced on her, reaching out to grab her back. Zhao Min’s elbow struck backward and hit the vital acupoint on his chest. The bearded soldier grunted and fell on the spot. The other Yuan soldier did not see clearly what had happened to him, he continued his pounce toward her. Zhao Min repeated her trick earlier and struck his acupoint too.

Normally, she would be able to do these two strikes effortlessly, but this time she had to exert her entire strength that her head was soaked in cold sweat, and she felt as if all her strength was drained out. Propping herself against the ground, she stood up, and then helped Zhang Wuji dismount the horse. With the dagger in her hand she shouted, “Dog thieves! You have defied your superior. Do you want to live or not?”

Because their acupoints were sealed, the two Yuan soldiers felt their upper bodies were numb; they were unable to move their hands. Their lower parts still had feeling, but they were unbearably sore and ache all over. They expected Zhao Min to kill them, so they were surprised when they heard that she seemingly wanted to give them an opportunity to live. “Miss, have mercy!” they hastily said, “Xiao Ren really were not the ones who harmed General Waerl Puche.”

“All right,” Zhao Min said, “I will spare your lives as long as you do what I say.”

The two Yuan soldiers did not care how difficult the matter she was going to tell them to do, they complied immediately, “We’ll do it! We’ll do it!”

Zhao Min pointed toward her own horses and said, “You two must ride these two horses quickly to the east. Within a day and a night, you must cover 300 ‘li’s; the faster the better. You must not fail.”

The two soldiers looked at each other in confusion. They did not expect her instruction to be this trivial. They thought she must mean the opposite of what she was saying.

“Miss,” the bearded soldier said, “Even if Xiao Ren have enormous courage, we will not dare to ride on Miss’ horses …”

“This is important,” Zhao Min cut him off, “If anybody asks you along the way, you must say that you bought these pair of steeds at the market. You must never mention us two people’s appearances. Do you understand?”

The two Mongolian soldiers were still half believing and half doubting, but Zhao Min repeatedly urged them. They thought that even if she was playing a trick, going away was certainly better than being killed by her dagger. Therefore, step-by-step they slowly walked away from her, and then turned around and jumped onto the saddles.

The Mongolians grew up on horseback. For them, riding a horse was as easy as walking. Although their limbs were still stiff, they were able to drive the horses forward. They were afraid Zhao Min gave them the order out of temporary confusion and would regret her decision, so after a few dozens of ‘zhang’s, they squeezed the horse with their legs and they sped away as fast as they could.

“This is a very good idea,” Zhang Wuji said, “If your Gege’s men see these horses, they must think that we are going east. Where are we going actually?”

“We are going southwest,” Zhao Min replied.

They took the horses the Mongolian soldiers left behind, and leaving the main road, they walked toward the southwest on the wilderness. It was actually a rugged rocky path, full of brambles, which pricked their horses’ legs so that they were dripping with blood. Stumbling and limping, they only managed to cover twenty some ‘li’s within two hours of travel.

The sky turned dark. Suddenly they saw a wisp of smoke coming from a chimney of some building in the valley ahead. Zhang Wuji was delighted. “There are houses ahead, we can lodge in someone’s home,” he said.

When they got near, under the shadow of a big tree they saw the corner of a yellow wall. Turned out it was a temple. Zhao Min helped Zhang Wuji dismount the horse, and then she turned the horses’ heads toward the west. Picking up a thorny branch from the ground, she whipped the horses’ buttocks several times. The horses let a long neigh, and leaped away to the west.

By what she did, Zhao Min was trying to create yet another diversion to Wang Baobao’s pursuing soldiers. By losing their rides, the journey would be more difficult; but she did not give it too much thought. Right now, she was taking their journey one step at a time.

Two people supporting each other walked toward the front of the temple. They saw the tablet by the door had a four-character inscription, ‘zhong yue shen miao’ [Mount Song (in Henan, one of Five Sacred Mountains) divine temple].

Zhao Min lifted the ring of the gate and knocked three times. She waited for half a day without anybody answering the door, so she knocked three more times. Suddenly from behind the door came a grim voice, “Is it a man or a ghost? Or is it a living corpse?”

The wooden gate opened with a creaking noise. Behind it they saw a shadow. It was dusk, the dark was deepening. That man’s back was against the light, so they could not see his face clearly. But from his bald head and the monk robe he was wearing, he was obviously a Buddhist monk.

Zhang Wuji said, “We [orig. ‘zai4 xia4’ – ‘under’] brother and sister, were robbed an injured during our journey. We hope we can spend the night in your precious monastery, we are asking Da Shi [‘great master’, reverend] to show mercy.”

“Humph,” the man snorted, and then with a cold voice said, “Those who leave home [meaning, becoming Buddhist monks or nuns] do not usually provide convenience to others. You better go.” Immediately he closed the door.

“Helping others is helping self,” Zhao Min hastily said, “By helping us, you might not necessarily without any benefit.”

“What benefit?” that man asked.

Zhao Min reached up to her ears to take her pair of pearl earrings out, and handed them over to him. The monk saw that each earring had a bead of pearl as big as the tip of his little finger. He sized the two people up, and then said, “All right, helping others is helping self.” He moved aside to let them in.

Holding up Zhang Wuji, Zhao Min led him entered in. The monk took them pass through the main hall and a courtyard, to a room on the eastern side of the temple. “You can sleep here,” he said.

There was neither light nor fire inside the room, it was as dark as a cave. Zhao Min groped around on the bed. There was nothing else on the bed other than a sheet of straw woven mat. They heard a loud and clear voice calling out from outside, “Hao Si Di [fourth younger brother Hao], whom did you let in?”

“A couple of guests seeking lodging for the night,” the monk replied, while stepping out of the room.

“Reverend,” Zhao Min called, “Could you please donate two bowl of rice and some plain vegetable dish?”

“Those who left homes receive alms; we do not give to charity,” the monk said in haughty tone while striding away.

“This monk is terrible!” Zhao Min bitterly said, “Wuji Gege, you must be very hungry. We must find something to eat tonight.”

Suddenly they heard several footsteps coming from the courtyard, as seven, eight men came in. Flame flickered, the door was pushed open and two monks lifted up candlesticks in their hands to illuminate the faces of Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min. In a glimpse Zhang Wuji saw eight monks, short and tall, one had thick eyebrows and huge bulging eyes, the other had face full of wrinkles; none of them had a friendly face.

The old monk with wrinkles said, “Whatever money and jewelry you have, take them all out.”

“What for?” Zhao Min asked.

The old monk laughed and said, “Because of fate two benefactors have come over here, just happened to visit this little temple, which is about to carry out a great undertaking: reconstructing the main gate, and repairing the inlay of the golden idol. The benefactors’ money and jewelry must be donated. If not, you are offending the Buddha; and then you will be in great trouble.”

Zhao Min was indignant. “Isn’t that the misdeed of the robbers?” she asked.

“It’s sin! It’s sin!” the old monk said, “We, eight brothers, used to kill people and burn their houses; we robbed and did all kinds of shady businesses. But recently we laid down our sabers to follow the teachings of Buddha, and so we became casual Buddhist monks. Benefactors have been brought here by karma; the fat sheep has arrived to our door on its own account. Ay, you have made things difficult for us who have left our homes; we are no longer able to keep our purity.”

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min were very shocked; they did not expect these eight monks were former big bandits. This old monk had been speaking quite bluntly. It sounded like he was going to kill them; he did not even try to keep it a secret, neither did he show any intention to let them go.

Another fierce looking monk said with a laugh, “Miss Benefactor need not be afraid; while we eight monks are robbing and plundering, we lack a mistress to take care of the temple. You have such a beautiful face, truly as if the ‘Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa’ [Guanyin Bodhisattva, the Goddess of Mercy] descends to the earth. Even if Buddha himself saw you, his heart would have been moved. Wonderful! Wonderful!”

From her pocket Zhao Min pulled out some seven, eight golden ingots and a string of pearls, and placed them all on the table. “All I have is here,” she said, “We, brother and sister, are also Wulin people. Gentlemen must respect the Jianghu’s ‘yi qi’ [spirit of loyalty, code of brotherhood].”

The old monk laughed and said, “So you two are Wulin people, nothing can be better than that. I wonder which school do you belong to?”

“We are Shaolin disciple,” Zhao Min said. Shaolin Pai was the number one major sect in the Wulin world. Zhao Min was hoping that these if eight men were not Shaolin disciples, perhaps one of their friends or relatives were somewhat related to Shaolin.

The old monk was startled, his eyes suddenly shone with murderous look. “Shaolin disciples?” he said, “That’s truly unfortunate! You two babies should really blame yourself for belonging to the wrong school.”

He reached out to pull Zhao Min’s wrist. Zhao Min quickly withdrew her hand so the old monk ended up grabbing empty air. Zhang Wuji realized the critical situation they were in. Both Zhao Min and he were heavily injured; it was extremely difficult to fight the enemy. They had battled countless well-known Wulin characters these past several years; would they lose their lives today in the hands of eight nameless lowly robbers? No matter what, he could not let Zhao Min being disgraced without him doing something. Thereupon he said, “Min Mei, hide behind me. I have a way to deal with these eight lowly thieves.”

Zhao Min’s brain was usually full of bright ideas and clever tricks, but this moment her hands were bound and she was unable to do anything about it. “What kind of people are you?” she asked.

The old monk replied, “We are renegades that the Shaolin Temple chased away. To come across other Sect’s Jianghu people, we can sill show mercy and not make our moves; but to come across Shaolin disciples, we cannot do anything but kill you. Little Miss, this brother actually wanted you to be the custodian of the temple, but after finding out that you are a Shaolin disciple, we have no other choice but to kill you first, so that we will not leave any witness behind.”

With a low and deep throaty voice Zhang Wuji said, “Good, huh! You are Yuan Zhen’s disciples, aren’t you?”

“Ah!” the old monk exclaimed in surprise, “That’s strange! How did you know?”

Zhao Min interrupted, “Actually, we are on our way to Shaolin Temple to see Chen Youliang Dage [big brother], to support Yuan Zhen Da Shi [‘great master’ – reverend] to become the Shaolin Temple Fangzhang [abbot].”

“Shan zai! Shan zai! [exclamatory remark used by Buddhist monks, means ‘good, peace’]” the old monk said, “Our Buddha reaching perfection, restoring all living beings.”

“That’s right,” Zhao Min said, “We must join our hearts and minds, accomplishing virtuous acts together.” As she said that, all eight monks broke out in laughter.

Turned out these eight monks belong to the same party as Yuan Zhen and Chen Youliang; they were inducted by Chen Youliang to be Yuan Zhen’s disciples. For the past few years, Yuan Zhen had coveted the Abbot position and thus recruited capable people from everywhere. However, Shaolin Temple monastic discipline was strict, each time they accepted a disciple, the disciple must undergo a rigorous examination by the monastic authorities, a detailed verification of their family background and origins, so that Yuan Zhen found it difficult to do whatever he pleased. Consequently, he cooked up a plan with Chen Youliang, to recruit the warriors of underworld organizations, pirates and bandits, and gathered them outside the Temple as Yuan Zhen’s disciples, yet they were not Shaolin disciples. They were waiting for an opportunity then together they would take this great undertaking.

Yuan Zhen’s martial art skill was very profound and he was able to defeat the Jianghu warriors into submission as soon as he put his hands into it. These Wulin characters had always been admiring Shaolin’s fame as the prestigious upright Sect; they had also seen Yuan Zhen’s divine martial art skill, therefore, they willingly submit under his tutelage. There were a small number of disciples who were not willing to betray their own original school. Yuan Zhen immediately removed these people. That was the reason they had not been exposed even though they had been engaged in this deceitful scheme for a long time.

When that old monk said ‘Our Buddha reaching perfection, restoring all living beings’ he actually was saying their secret code. If the other party replied with ‘the blooming flower meets Buddha, the heart draws near to Lingshan [a mountain in Guangxi]’; then they would know that they belonged to the same school.

As Zhao Min heard the undertone of the old monk’s words, she knew they were Yuan Zhen’s disciples, and she deduced that Yuan Zhen had his eyes on the Abbot position; but how would she know they had agreed on some secret code to communicate to each other?

“Fu Dage [big brother Fu],” a short and stout monk said, “This little girl says something about supporting our master to become Shaolin Temple Fangzhang; where did she learn it from? This is a very important matter, we must inquire clearly.” Although these eight people had become monks, they still addressed each other as ‘Dage’, ‘Erge’ [second brother], and so on; the habit they acquired when they were still involved in the ‘lu lin’ world. [‘lu lin’ means ‘green forest’, usually refers to the criminal world]

As soon as Zhang Wuji heard these eight men laugh, he knew something had gone wrong. He regretted that his back was seriously injured so he was unable to concentrate his internal energy [see note below]. He had no choice but to painstakingly focus his attention, trying hard to force the ‘chi’ to break free. He felt the warm energy gathered in a clump in the east, and formed together in a block on the west, but the ‘chi’ did not want to flow along in the blood vessels.

[orig, ‘zhen qi’ – true ‘chi’. Translator’s note: previously, I translated ‘qi’ as simply ‘energy’ or internal energy. When reading some martial art related publication, I realized that ‘chi’ has become an English word. Here are two examples I found:

Ch’i or qi (pronounced “chee” and henceforth spelled “chi”) is the Chinese word used to describe “the natural energy of the Universe.” (Skeptic Dictionary)
In Chinese culture, Qi (spelled in Mandarin Pinyin romanization), pronounced IPA: [tɕ[FONT=’Lucida Sans Unicode’,’sans-serif’]ʰ[/font]i], also ch’i (in Wade-Giles romanization) or ki (in Japanese romanization) is a kind of “life force” or “spiritual energy” that is part of every living thing. It is frequently translated as “energy flow”, or literally as “air”, “breath”, or “gas”. (For example, “tiānqì”, literally “sky breath”, is the ordinary Chinese word for “weather”). (Wikipedia)

Hereafter, I will leave the word ‘qi’ as it is, or translate it as ‘internal energy’.]

Zhang Wuji saw the old monk’s five fingers striking toward Zhao Min like a bird’s claw. Zhao Min was powerless to ward it off; she eluded by withdrawing into the bed. Zhang Wuji’s mind was very anxious, but he kept sitting cross-legged, hoping that he could restore 20, 30% of his strength, which would be enough to drive these eight wicked thieves away.

Seeing that Zhang Wuji was still arrogantly sitting in meditation in a time like this, the short and stout monk angrily roared, “This kid is so arrogant; let the old man [referring to self] send him to the western sky first, so that he won’t be in the way here!”

When saying that, he raised his right arm while his bones made cracking noise. With a ‘whoosh’ he sent a fist toward Zhang Wuji’s chest. Seeing this desperate situation, Zhao Min’s shrill voice cried out in fear; but she saw that as the stout monk’s fist landed on its target, his right arm went limp, his eyes rolled until only the whites were visible, and he stood motionless.

The old monk was shocked; he stretched his hand to pull his comrade’s hand. The plump monk’s hand did not give any resistance, as he had already died. The rest of the monks were startled and angered. They cried out one after another, “This kid uses witchcraft! He is a sorcerer!”

What happened was: when the plump monk used his entire strength to strike Zhang Wuji’s chest, he inadvertently hit the ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. sheep odor acupoint]. Zhang Wuji’s ‘Jiu Yang Shen Gong’ was not enough to attack the enemy, but it was more than sufficient to protect his own body. Not only did it rebound the fist strength of the enemy’s strike, but also because the incoming strike was powerful, it spurred the Jiu Yang ‘zhen qi’ [real/true/genuine ‘chi’ – see above] inside his system, increasing the rebound force, adding strength behind the strength, so that the plump monk was killed instantly.

The old monk thought that Zhang Wuji’s pocket must be loaded with poison-tipped arrows or some other venomous stingers, so that the plump monk died of severe poisoning. Stretching out his palm, he struck Zhang Wuji’s right arm, which was exposed outside his sleeve, thinking that he had better break Zhang Wuji’s arm first before dealing with him further.

As the powerful palm struck Zhang Wuji’s arm, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi inside his body was incited again. The old monk was thrown outside immediately; he flew like an arrow and ‘crack!’, breaking through the window lattice, he struck the big locust tree in the courtyard, his skull was smashed and his brain burst forth.

The rest of the monks were shouting and screaming. One monk used both of his hands to attack Zhang Wuji’s ‘tai yang xue’ [sun acupoint]. Another monk used the ‘shuang long qiang zhu’ [a pair of dragons fought over the pearl], stretching out his fingers to dig into Zhang Wuji’s eyeballs. Yet another monk flew up and kicked Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ [pubic area].

Zhang Wuji lowered his head to evade the attack to his eyes, letting the attacker’s two fingers to hit his forehead. A series of ‘Bang! Bang!’, ‘Aiyo!’, ‘Crack! Crack!’ was heard; all three monks were shaken to their death one after another. The third monk’s flying kick was so powerful that his right leg was broken on the spot. As Zhang Wuji’s ‘dan tian’ received the kick, the ‘zhen qi’ in his body was aroused; unexpectedly the arteries and veins on the right half of his body were open. He mused, “It’s a pity this wicked monk died too early. If he had kicked my dan tian several times, he might have helped me restoring my internal energy sooner. Apparently, although my injury is heavy, the recovery is not as difficult as I thought. I think I will need about ten days to half a month of recuperation to recover 100%.”

Out of eight monks, five had died miserably. The remaining three wicked monks were frightened out of their wits; they raced against each other to get out of the room, and went straight out of the temple gate. After they were sure that Zhang Wuji did not run after them, they stopped and discussed among themselves. One monk said, “This kid must have used some witchcraft.” The other monk said, “I think it was not witchcraft; this kid’s internal energy is very strong, he could rebound the strike to injure the enemy.” The third monk said, “That’s right. In any case we must avenge our brothers’ death.”

The three of them talked for half a day. One monk suddenly said, “This kid must be suffering a heavy injury. Otherwise, why didn’t he run after us?”

“That’s right!” the other monk happily said, “Most likely he can’t walk. When our five brothers hit him by fist and kick, he fought them by inciting his internal strength. If we use blades to chop him or pierce him, I don’t think he has copper muscles or iron bones to resist us.”

As the three monks made a decision, one of them got a lance, the other unsheathed his saber, and the third wielded a sword; together the returned to the courtyard. They noticed that the eastern room was extremely quiet, as if it was unoccupied. They peeked over the broken window lattice, and saw that young man was still sitting cross-legged on the bed; his face looked weary, his body was shaky, as if he would fall down any minute. The young girl was wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. The three monks looked at each other; they did not dare to rush in.

One of the monks called out, “Stinky kid, if you have some skills, get out and fight your master for three hundred stances.”

Another monk cursed, “What skill does this kid have? All he has is some witchcraft to harm others. That is such a cheap trick, despicable to the lowest end, totally without any sense of shame.”

The three monks saw that Zhang Wuji did not reply and he did not get down from the bed either, so they became bolder and bolder, their cursing and swearing were getting dirtier and dirtier. In term of dirty talk, perhaps among the disciples of Buddhism there was nobody who could surpass these three monks.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min were not angry at all. They were more afraid of these three monks leave and not return, rather than being annoyed by their coming back to seek revenge. That place was not too far from the Shaolin Temple of the Song Shan [Mount Song in Henan]. If those three monks went to inform Cheng Kun, they would face an even graver problem. It would be almost impossible for Zhang Wuji to treat his injury in less than ten days. Within that period, it would not take as much as Cheng Kun to personally come, one or two martial experts of Chen Youliang’s caliber would be difficult for him to resist. Thus, Zhang Wuji was secretly delighted to see these three monks return.

After receiving the five monks’ attacks, the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi inside Zhang Wuji’s body had been somewhat more controllable, so although he still could not use it to attack the enemy, his heart was not as frightened as it was before.

Suddenly a loud ‘Bang!’ was heard as a monk kicked the door open and rushed in. A dark green light flashed by, the red tassel trembled, as the lance in his hand came straight toward Zhang Wuji.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min cried out. Hastily she handed over the dagger in her hand to Zhang Wuji.

Zhang Wuji shook his head without moving his hand. He groaned inwardly, “I don’t have the least bit of strength on my hand; how would I resist the enemy even though I have a weapon? My flesh and blood won’t withstand the enemy’s weapon.” He had not finished musing when the tip of enemy’s lance formed a circle, with its red tassel blooming like a flower, had already reached in front of Zhang Wuji’s chest.

The lance strike was fast, Zhao Min’s mind worked even faster. She reached into Zhang Wuji’s pocket to take a Sheng Huo Ling tablet out, and placed it on Zhang Wuji’s chest to shield it against the spearhead. ‘Bang!’ the tip of the lance struck the Sheng Huo Ling.

Even an extremely sharp weapon like the Yitian Sword was not able to scratch the Sheng Huo Ling, much less an ordinary spearhead. Again, this strike had aroused the Jiu Yang Shen Gong inside Zhang Wuji’s body, which reacted naturally. “Aahhhhh …” a long and miserable cry was heard as the lance’s pole penetrated the monk’s chest.

This monk had not fallen down when the second monk’s saber was hacking down on the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhao Min was afraid one Sheng Huo Ling would not suffice to block the saber, so grabbing a Sheng Huo Ling in either hand, she swiftly placed them on Zhang Wuji’s head.

Her action was truly effective. With another ‘bang!’ the saber bounced, its back crashed into that wicked monk’s forehead, smashing his skull; but the tip of Zhao Min’s left little finger was also sliced off. In the excitement of the moment, she did not feel the pain.

The third monk, wielding a sword in his hand, was just about to enter the door; seeing his two companions meet their cruel fate, he screamed in terror and ran out the door.

“We can’t let him escape!” Zhao Min called out, while throwing one Sheng Huo Ling tablet over the window. Her throw was accurate, but she lacked the strength, so it fell down even before touching that monk’s body.

Zhang Wuji wrapped his arms around her and called out, “Throw again!” He concentrated his internal energy in his chest and transmitted it to Zhao Min’s back. Zhao Min threw the Sheng Huo Ling in her left hand. Two more steps, then that monk would have stepped over behind the wall; but the Sheng Huo Ling was so fast that it struck his back. Immediately blood spurted from his mouth and he died on the spot. As soon as the Sheng Huo Ling left their hands, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min fainted and fell on the bed.

At this moment, there were six dead monks in the room, with two more dead monks in the courtyard, so Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had fainted in the pool of blood. The temple was so small and it was located on a remote hill. Under the cold moon and cool breeze, there was not a sound to be heard.

After a long while, Zhao Min gained her consciousness first. Still in daze, she reached out to feel Zhang Wuji’s breathing. She felt that the breathing was weak, but it was long and steady. Propping up herself she arose slowly. Because she was too weak to get him out of bed, she had no alternative but pulling him down, and then rested his head on one of the dead monk bodies. Just this little exertion forced her to sit among the dead bodies, gasping for breath.

After half a day, Zhang Wuji opened his eyes. “Min Mei,” he called out, “You … where are you?”

Zhao Min gave him one of her captivating smiles. The bright and cold moonlight streamed in from the window. They both saw the other’s face was full of blood, so they’ll know their own faces must be frightening. But after going through a life and death situation together, they felt that the other’s face was very handsome and beautiful. Without realizing it, they both reached out and embraced each other tightly.

In this dramatic battle, Zhang Wuji was able to kill the first seven monks without the least bit of strength on his part; he simply borrowed strength to fight strength, and contrary to his expectation, he did not suffer any harm. However, when throwing the Sheng Huo Ling to kill the eighth wicked monk, both Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had exhausted the remainder of the strength they had after the injury. Right now, the two of them were incapable of moving; all they could do was leaning on dead people’s bodies and quietly wait for their strength to return. Zhao Min wrapped her cut left-hand little finger, and then, still in daze, she went back to sleep.

Around noon the next day, they started to awake. Zhang Wuji sat up and circulated his ‘chi’, trying to harmonize the flow. After meditation for more than an hour, he felt his spirit return. He stood up by pushing himself against the floor, and suddenly heard his tummy was growling. He went to the kitchen by leaning on the wall. He saw a pot of rice, where half of the rice had already turned black, and the other half was also burned that it carried a strong burning smell. He filled a bowl full of burnt rice and returned to their room.

Zhao Min said with a laugh, “You and I are in such a distressed situation today. The Heaven knows, the Earth knows, you and I know, but nobody else knew about it.”

They both laughed heartily, and then ate the rice with their bare hands. To them, the burnt rice tasted so good that it was better than any exotic delicacies they had ever had.

They had not finished this bowl of rice, when suddenly from the distant came the muffled noise of hooves against mountain rocks. ‘Crash!’ the bowl in their hands crashed down on the tiled floor. Zhao Min and Zhang Wuji looked at each other. Their hearts were beating rapidly. They heard two horses were coming their way, and stopped in the front of the temple’s main gate. They heard the brass ring on the door was knocked four times, and then someone banged the door. The noise stopped for a moment then the knocker banged four more times.

“What should we do?” Zhang Wuji asked in low voice.

They heard someone outside the door calling out, “Shangguan San’ge [third (older) brother Shangguan], it is me, Qin Laowu [old fifth Qin]!”

“They are going to break in,” Zhao Min said, “Let’s pretend we are dead; we’ll act according to the circumstance.” The two of them lied down among the corpses, with their faces on the floor.

They had just lied down when with a loud crash the door was pushed open. From the noise generated by the broken door, it was obvious that the newcomers had quite a bit of strength. Zhao Min had an idea. “Go lie down near the door,” she said, “Don’t let these people escape.”

Zhang Wuji nodded and crawled toward the entrance. Right at that moment, they heard two people cry out in fear, followed by ‘swish, swish!’ as the two people who entered the temple were pulling their weapons out. Obviously they had seen the two corpses in the courtyard.

“Careful!” one of them said in low voice, “Watch for the enemy’s ambush.”

The other man loudly shouted, “Friends, sneaking and hiding in the dark, what kind of heroes are you? Come out and fight Laozi [the Old Man – referring to self] to the death if you have the nerve.” This man’s voice was strong and heroic, a sign of his abundant internal energy. He must be the one who pushed the gate open.

He shouted several times, but did not hear the least bit of voice answering his call. “The thieves must have left far away,” he said.

The other man said in a hoarse voice, “We must look up everywhere, make sure the enemy is not setting up an ambush.”

“Shou Laodi [lit. ‘old’ (younger brother) Shou],” the one who called himself Qin Lauwu said, “You look to the east and I’ll search to the west.”

Apparently, the one surnamed Shou was a coward; he said, “I am afraid the enemies are numerous. We’d better go together.” Qin Laowu did not say anything.

Suddenly the one surnamed Shou exclaimed in terror while pointing his finger toward the room on the east, “There … there are more dead people inside!”

The two of them went to the door and saw that in that small room there were about seven, eight corpses lying around on the floor.

Qin Laowu said, “This temple … this temple’s eight brethrens have lost their lives at the same time. I wonder whose treacherous hands have done it!”

“Qin Wuge [fifth (older) brother Qin],” the surnamed Shou said, “We must return to the Temple immediately, to report … report … report this to Shifu.”

Qin Laowu hesitantly said, “Shifu has urgently ordered us to deliver these invitations promptly, since the guests are expected by the fifth day of the fifth month [orig. ‘duan1 wu3 jie2’ – Dragon Boat (or Duanwu) Festival day] for the Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly [orig, tu2 shi1 ying1 xiong2 hui4]. If we fail, I am afraid we will be punished.”

As he heard the words ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’, Zhang Wuji was slightly taken aback; and then he was shocked, delighted, ashamed and angry, as a hundred feelings filled up his heart. He mused, “His Shifu issued invitations for some ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’, his intention must be to gather the heroes and warriors under the Heaven, and then to kill Yifu publicly. From what he said, it seems like before the Duanwu, Yifu’s life will not be harmed. I cannot protect Yifu completely; I let him down by letting him fall into others’ hands that he has to suffer this disgrace. I am unfilial and unworthy; there is nothing worse than this.”

The more he thought, the angrier he got; he wished he had a weapon in his hand and kill these two villains, but he was afraid they might escape while he was powerless to pursue them. Therefore, all he could do was to wait for these two men to enter the room and then cut their way out. Just like before, he hoped the Jiu Yang Zhen Qi in his body would get rid of these two traitors. Unexpectedly, because these two saw the room was full of dead bodies, they did not dare to enter, but simply stood and talked in the courtyard

“This is most important,” the one surnamed Shou said, “The sooner we report to Shifu the better.”

“Let’s do this then,” Qin Laowu said, “We take our separate ways; I deliver the invitation, you go back to the Temple to report to Shifu.”

The surnamed Shou was afraid he might run into the enemies on the road; thereupon he did not answer immediately. Qin Laowu was angry, “Take your pick, then. Would you rather deliver the invitations? It is up to you.”

The surnamed Shou contemplated the options in his mind. In the end he decided that returning to their mountain was safer; thereupon he said, “I will follow Qin Wuge’s instruction; let me return to the mountain and give report to Shifu.” Straightaway both of them turned around to leave.

Zhao Min moved slightly and groaned lightly twice. Qin and Shou two people were startled. Turning their heads around they saw Zhao Min were moving. This time they looked carefully and saw that she was a woman.

“Who is this woman?” Qin Laowu was surprised. He walked into the room. Although the one surnamed Shou was a coward, seeing that it was a woman, a seriously wounded woman, he gathered up his courage and followed in.

Qin Laowu reached down to pull Zhao Min’s shoulder. Zhang Wuji coughed and sat up. He took a meditation position with his eyes half open. Qin and Shou two people were extremely shocked to see him suddenly sit up, with his face full of blood and a terrifying appearance.

“Not good!” the surnamed Shou cried out, “It’s a zombie. This corpse … this corpse is haunted by a ghost. Qin Wuge must … must be careful.” He hastily jumped on top of the bed.

“Bad zombie!” Qin Laowu called out, “The one surnamed Qin is not afraid of you.” Lifting up his saber, he ferociously hacked it down on the top of Zhang Wuji’s head.

Zhanh Wuji had been ready with two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands. As soon as the saber hacked down, he raised his tablets and placed them on top of his head. ‘Bang!’ the saber hacked the Sheng Huo Ling and immediately bounced back and smashed Qin Laowu’s brain that he died immediately.

The one surnamed Shou was holding a saber in his hand, but he was trembling all over; how could he dare to slash it on Zhang Wuji’s body? Zhang Wuji was waiting for him to attack, so that his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi might strike him dead.

Zhao Min saw that the surnamed Shou was not moving for a long time; she was getting anxious, “This coward is scared out of his wits and does not dare to make his move. If he throws his saber away and run out, how can we stop him?” She saw his teeth were chattering, and then ‘clank!’ his saber fell down from his grip.

“Chop me if you dare,” Zhang Wuji said, “Strike me with your fist.”

“Xiao … Xiao De [little/lowly one] don’t have any guts,” he replied, “Don’t … don’t dare to fight Laoye [old master].”

“Kick me, then,” Zhang Wuji said

The man replied, “Xiao De … Xiao De do not dare even more.”

“You are such a useless man [orig. ‘nong2 bao1’ – wrapping cloth of boiled wound], you’d better be dead,” Zhang Wuji indignantly said, “Quickly chop me once or twice. If I see that your strength is not bad, I might spare your life.”

“Yes, yes!” the man scrambled to pick up his saber. He took a glance on the wretched condition of the smashed skull of Qin Laowu, and thought that this zombie’s magical power was superior, so it would be better for him to ask for mercy. Hence, he knelt down immediately and knocked his head on the floor, “Laoye have mercy! You have died an unjust death. It has nothing to do … nothing to do with Xiao Ren [little/lowly man]. Please don’t … don’t take revenge on Xiao Ren’s life.”

Listening to him addressing Zhang Wuji as a dead man, Zhao Min was angry. “Humph,” she snorted, “I am surprised in the Wulin world there is this kind of peon with no future.”

“Yes, yes!” that man said, “Xiao De has no future, no future. I am only a peon, only a peon.”

The more he did not dare to act, the more Zhang Wuji was baffled. Suddenly he had an idea. “Come here!” he barked.

“Yes!” that man hastily replied. He crawled several steps forward, still in kneeling position.

Zhang Wuji stretched out his arms and placed his thumbs on that man’s eyeballs. “I’ll dig out your eyeballs first!” he roared.

In his great shock, without thinking that man raised his hands to ward off Zhang Wuji’s arms with all his strength. Zhang Wuji was expecting this push; borrowing this strength, he slid his arms downward and sealed the ‘shen feng’ [lit. divine seal (‘seal’ as in official ‘seal’ on a letter)] and ‘bu lang’ [lit. walking/pacing porch] acupoints on his chest.

The man’s entire body went numb and he slid down to the floor. “Laoye have mercy! Laoye have mercy!” he loudly cried, “Turns out Laoye is not a zombie. That’s very good! Then … then you have even more reasons to spare my life.” By now he was prostrating right in front of Zhang Wuji, after looking clearly that the other party was a living person.

Zhao Min realized that Zhang Wuji sealed the acupoints using a borrowed strength, but the sealing force was really too small. He could only immobilize that man’s limbs for a short time; that man’s strength was not completely gone. In less than an hour, the sealed acupoints would be opened; and then they would be in trouble. She also knew that there were so many questions she would like to ask him, so obviously they could not kill him yet.

“Your fatal acupoints have been sealed by this Master,” she said, “When you take a deep breath, you feel a dull pain deep in the side of your left chest, don’t you?”

Following her words, he took a deep breath and did feel pain on the muscle and bones of his left chest. Actually, it was the natural reaction when the flow of ‘qi’ and the blood was stopped momentarily; but that man did not know, so he wailed and cried for mercy even louder.

“Do you want to save your life?” Zhao Min asked, “I must use a golden needle to unseal the fatal acupoints. But it won’t be easy.”

The man kowtowed and said, “Miss, no matter the difficulty, you must save me. Even if Xiao Ren has to become an ox or a horse, I will still implore you.”

Zhao Min smiled sweetly and said, “This is the first time I ever see a Jianghu character like you. All right, go find a brick and come back here.”

“Yes, yes!” that man busily said. Stumbling out to the courtyard, he picked a brick and walked back.

“What do you need the brick for?” Zhang Wuji said in a low voice.

Zhao Min smiled mysteriously, “I have an ingenious idea.”

With a brick in his hand, that man respectfully walked in. Zhao Min pulled a golden hairpin from her hair and placed the hairpin on that man’s ‘que pen xue’ [lit. empty basin acupoint] on his shoulder. She said, “I am going to use this golden needle to unseal the blood vessels on the upper part of your body first, so that the deathly ‘qi’ from the fatal acupoint will not flow into your brain. If that happens, you are beyond help. But I don’t know whether this Master is willing to spare your life or not.”

That man looked at Zhang Wuji with a piteous face. Zhang Wuji nodded. That man jubilantly said, “This Daye [grand master] has agreed. Miss, please start immediately.”

“Hmm, are you afraid of pain?” Zhao Min said.

“Xiao Ren only fears death, I don’t fear pain,” the man replied.

“Very well!” Zhao Min said, “Use the brick to tap this golden needle in.”

That man knew that inserting the golden needle into his shoulder would mean his skin and flesh would be injured. But without wrinkling his brows, he lifted up the brick and struck the tail of the hairpin.

As the brick went down, the golden hairpin pierced the ‘que pen xue’. That man did not feel pain at all, on the contrary, he felt comfortable, so his confidence in Zhao Min grew and he did not stop expressing his thanks to her. Zhao Min told him to draw the pin out, and then pierced his ‘hun men’ [soul gate], ‘po hu’ [spirit entrance], ‘tian zhu’ [pillar of the Heaven], ‘ku fang’ [storage room], and other acupoints, seven or eight in total.

Zhang Wuji smiled and said, “That’s enough! That’s enough!” He stood up, knowing that with these acupoints pierced, if that man wanted to escape, as soon as he exerted his strength to run, these acupoints would flare-up, and he would meet his doom.

“Go fetch two buckets of water,” Zhao Min told him, “We want to wash our faces. And then you can cook some rice. If you want to die, go ahead and put some poison in the food, and then the three of us will become ghosts together.”

“Xiao De does not dare, Xiao De does not dare,” that man said. And thus Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min had a servant to attend to their needs.

Zhao Min asked his name. Turned out his surname was Shou [long life], given name Nanshan [southern mountain]; he was known in Jianghu as ‘wan shou wu jiang’ [ten thousand long life without limit]. Actually, his friends were making fun of him since he had always shrunk from battle, so they said that he would have a long life because he would never be killed in a battle.

Although he belonged to the group of ‘lu lin’ [lit. green forest, outlaws – see similar occurrence above] warriors who joined Yuan Zhen’s school, Yuan Zhen regarded his talent as lacking, his intelligence low, so Yuan Zhen only used him to do the leg work but had never imparted any martial art skill to him.

Even after his acupoints were sealed, Shou Nanshan did not lose his physical strength; he carried out Zhao Min’s instructions diligently. He was the one who dragged all nine corpses and buried them in the rear yard, and he also fetched water to clean the temple from all the bloodstains. His martial art skill might be mediocre, but his culinary skill could be considered first class. As Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min enjoyed the meat and vegetable dishes he prepared, they heaped him with praises.

After everything was settled, Zhang and Zhao two people began interrogating him about the ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’. Contrary to their expectation, Shou Nanshan did not even try to conceal anything from them, but too bad his companions did not regard him too highly, so that in many things nobody had ever told him anything. He only knew that the Shaolin Temple Abbot, Reverend Kong Wen, had assigned Yuan Zhen to preside over this assembly. Yuan Zhen, acting on behalf of Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, two divine monks, had broadcasted invitations to all heroes and warriors from all schools and sects, clans and societies around the world, to gather at the Shaolin Temple on the Duanwu day, to discuss a very important matter.

Zhang Wuji asked to see the invitation. It was addressed to Fu Chenzi, Gu Songzi, Gui Zangci, and other sword masters of Diancang Pai of Yunnan. The sword masters of Diancang had been famous for quite a while, but they were living way down south in Yunnan, and had never had any contact with the Wulin characters of the Central Plains. This time even Shaolin Pai invited them to come. It was clear that the scale of this assembly was to be magnificent. Shaolin Pai was the Wulin leader. When Kong Wen and Kong Zhi personally issued an invitation, no matter what important matter the addressee was facing, they would lay it aside and come to attend the meeting.

Zhang Wuji noticed that the invitation did not have too many characters on it; it simply said, ‘Respectfully inviting (you) on the Duan Yang festival, to get together at Shaolin, to enjoy goblets of wine and be merry with the heroes of the world.’ There was no reference on ‘lion-slaying’ at all.

“Why did that Qin Laowu say this meeting was called ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Shou Nanshan, with a smug look on his face, said, “Zhang-ye [Master Zhang] did not know it, but my Shifu has captured a very important character who is called Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. For this kind of accomplishment, our Shaolin Pai wants to show our face in front of all the world’s heroes. We are going to kill this Jin Mao Shi Wang in public, that is why this meeting is called the ‘Lion-slaying Heroes’ Assembly’.”

Suppressing his anger Zhang Wuji asked again, “What kind of character is this Jin Mao Shi Wang? Have you seen him? How did your Shifu capture him? Currently, where is this person being detained at?”

“This fellow Jin Mao Shi Wang,” Shou Nanshan said, “Hey, hey, he is truly magnificent. He is twice as tall as Xiao Ren, his upper arm is thicker than Xiao Ren’s thigh. Apart from everything else, whenever he is staring at you with that pair of sparkling bright eyes of his, you would feel that your soul is flying out of your body. Even without fighting, you would kowtow and beg for mercy …”

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min exchanged a glance, while Shou Nanshan continued, “My Shifu battled him for seven days and seven nights without clear decision of victory and defeat. Later on, my Shifu has gotten angry and launched his earth-shattering ‘qin long fu hu gong’ [capturing dragon, subduing tiger skill]; finally he was able to defeat him. Right now, this Jin Mao Shi Wang is detained in a large iron cage inside our Temple’s Da Xiong Bao Dian [lit. great heroism precious hall]; with seven or eight pure steel chain links bound around his body …”

The more Zhang Wuji listened, the angrier he got. “I told you to tell me the truth, and not such rubbish!” he roared, “Do you want me to take your life? Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia has lost his vision, how can you say he has a pair of sparkling bright eyes?”

As his lies were exposed on the spot, Shou Nanshan busily said, “Yes! Yes! Xiao Ren must be mistaken.”

“Now tell me, have you or have you not seen him [orig. lao3 ren2 jia1 – senior]?” Zhang Wuji asked, “What does Xie Daxia look like? Tell me.”

In reality, Shou Nanshan had not seen Xie Xun at all. Knowing that he could no longer lie, he was afraid of his life, so he hastily said, “Xiao Ren does not dare to lie. Actually, I only heard what other brothers have said.”

All Zhang Wuji wanted was the exact location of Xie Xun’s imprisonment; but after repeated interrogation, Shou Nanshan still was not able to give him any new information. He thought this matter must be of great importance and was held in the strictest confidence, so of course a small peon like Shou Nanshan did not have any access to the information. Therefore, Zhang Wuji had no choice but to let it go. Luckily, the Duanyang festival was still some times away, since it was only the second month, so he still had time to wait until they were fully recovered from their injuries.

The three of them stayed in the Divine Temple of Mount Zhong [‘zhong yue shen miao’] for several days. They spent their days in peace and quiet, since Shaolin Temple did not send anybody to establish any contact with the former occupants. Toward the eighth day, Zhao Min’s injury had been 70, 80% healed, while Zhang Wuji’s internal energy was flowing better progressively. He gradually regained the strength of his four limbs, so now it would not be difficult for them to escape even if the enemies arrived.

Shou Nanshan was waiting on them with all his heart, he did not dare to have the slightest idea of rebelling. Zhao Min said with a laugh, “‘Wan Shou Wu Jiang’, your mediocre martial art skill is nothing to be talked about, but your talent to be a ‘guan jia’ [housekeeper/butler] is actually top-notch.”

“Well said, Miss,” Shou Nanshan answered bitterly.

Everyday Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min enjoyed the delicacies Shou Nanshan meticulously prepared for them, making their stay at the Zhong Yue Shen Miao a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

After about ten more days, the two of them were fully recovered. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min began to discuss their plan on rescuing Xie Xun.

“Actually, the best way would be to seal Wan Shou Wu Jiang’s fatal acupoints, and then we can send him to Shaolin Temple as our spy,” Zhao Min said, “But this man is so useless [orig. nong2 bao1], that he would most likely give himself away and spoil the important matters. Let’s do this: right now, let us go to the foot of Shaoshi [the western peak of Mount Song, where Shaolin Temple is located]; we will act as the opportunity arises. Only we must change our appearances first.”

“What should we disguise ourselves into?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Shall we shave our heads clean and become a monk and a nun?”

Zhao Min’s face slightly blushed. “Pei!” she spat, “Only you can think of such thing! A young monk hanging around with a young nun all day; what would people think?”

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Well then, let’s become husband and wife, a couple of villagers who go to the foot of Shaoshi Peak to open up rice field and gather firewood.”

“Can’t we be brother and sister?” Zhao Min laughed, “If we become husband and wife, I am afraid if Miss Zhou sees it, I would have five more finger holes on my left shoulder.”

Zhang Wuji also laughed, but he felt uncomfortable in continuing their conversation. After asking about the situation and the layout of the Shaolin Temple in details from Shou Nanshan, he said, “The sealed fatal acupoints in your body have been loosened. You can go.”

“However,” Zhao Min added sternly, “For the rest of your life, you must live in the southern area. As soon as you see snow and ice, you will lose your life. I suggest you move to the south as soon as possible; you must live in a warm climate; the hotter the better. See to it that you do not subject yourself to cold wind; if you ever catch a cold or cough, your life will be in grave danger.”

Shou Nanshan took her advice seriously; he took his leave from the two people, and left the temple heading south that very same day. He spent the rest of his life on the hilly area of the south, being careful not to catch any cold or cough. He died during the years of Yong Le [the third Ming Emperor, 1403 – 1424], of the Ming Dynasty. Although he did not actually live an unlimited life for ten thousands of years [wan shou wu jiang], he did live a long and enjoyable life.

Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min waited for him to walk far before they carefully cleared up any evidence of their presence from the temple. They went for more than 20 ‘li’s before stopping by at a farmer house to buy two sets of male and female farmer clothes. They changed their clothes in the wilderness, and buried the clothing they were formerly wearing in the ground, before continuing their journey to the foot of Shaoshi Peak in a leisurely pace.

Before they were within seven, eight ‘li’s of the Shaolin Temple, they had already met monks from the Temple three times. “We cannot get any further,” Zhao Min said.

They saw there was a thatched hut by the mountain path, with a patch of vegetable garden in front of it. An old farmer was busy watering the plants.

“Let’s ask for lodging here,” Zhao Min said.

Zhang Wuji went forward, cupped his fists in respect, and said, “Excuse me, Uncle. We, brother and sister, are traveling. We are tired and wondering if you could give us a bowl of water to quench our thirst.”

It was as if the old farmer did not hear him at all, or he ignored him; he kept scooping manure mixed with water with a ladle and splashed it on the root of his vegetables. Zhang Wuji repeated his words, but the old farmer was still ignoring him. Suddenly the wooden door of the hut opened with a creaking noise, a white-haired granny came out. She laughed and said, “My husband is deaf and mute. What do you [orig. ke4 guan1 – honorable guest] need?”

“My sister is too tired to walk,” Zhang Wuji said, “May I ask for a bowl of water for her?”

“Please come in,” the old granny said.

They followed her in, and saw that the hut was very clean and tidy. The wooden table and stools were spotless. Although her clothes were made of coarse homespun fabric, they were very clean. Zhao Min was very happy; after drinking a bowl of water, she took out an ingot of silver and said with a smile, “Popo [granny], my Gege is taking me to see our maternal grandmother. My legs gave up along the way. I was wondering if we can spend the night here and continue our journey tomorrow early in the morning.”

“I don’t have any problem with you staying overnight in here, and I don’t need your money,” the old granny said, “But we only have one bedroom with a single bed in it. Granted that my husband and I can spend the night outside, but you, brother and sister, cannot possibly sleep in one bed, can you? Hey, hey, little Miss, you’d better tell Popo the truth, didn’t you run away from home to be with your beloved Gege here?”

As the secret of her heart was revealed, Zhao Min blushed, thinking that this granny had very keen eyesight. She also thought that she did not speak like an old woman of an ordinary peasant family. Thereupon she took a second look at her and noticed that although her back was hunched, her eyes were mysteriously bright; perhaps she was a martial art expert in hiding. Zhao Min also realized that Zhang Wuji did not look like an ordinary farmer either, while her own appearance and mannerisms were certainly not those of farmer women’s.

“Popo,” she said quietly, “Since you have already guessed correctly, I can’t lie to you. This Zeng Gege [big brother Zeng] is my childhood friend. My Father does not like him because his family is poor; he won’t let me marry him. My Mama was aware I would rather die than not to be with him, so she told me to go … to go with him. Mama said that after two, three years, when we … we get a baby, we may come home. By that time, Father will have no choice but to let us marry each other.”

While she was speaking, her face turned deep red, while she often stole a glance toward Zhang Wuji, with eyes full of love. She continued, “My family is quite respectable [orig. you3 mian4 zi5 – have a face] in Dadu. Father is a government official. If we were ever caught, Father would certainly beat Ah Niu Gege to his death. Popo, I have told you everything, you must not tell anybody.”

The granny laughed out loud and said, “When I was young, I also belonged to a respectable family. Don’t worry, I will let you, two young married, to use our room. This is a remote place, your family certainly won’t look for you this far. Even if there is someone who will give you trouble, Popo will not stand on the side doing nothing.”

She saw that Zhao Min was tender and beautiful, and she had entrusted her secret with her; so in her heart she regarded Zhao Min favorably. Thereupon she decided to do her best to help this young couple and to see a successful conclusion to their good deed.

Listening to her last words, Zhao Min was convinced that she was a Wulin character. Only this place was so close to the Shaolin Temple, she wondered whether this granny was related to Cheng Kun or not. She decided they must be very careful and must not reveal the least bit of flaw. Thereupon she gracefully knelt down and bowed while saying, “Popo is willing to take care of us, we are very grateful. Ah Niu Gege, come quickly and say thank you to Popo.”

Zhang Wuji came following her instruction; he bowed in respect to express his gratitude. The granny smiled and nodded; immediately she let them use her room, while she built another bed in the main room with a plank, padded with some straw, and spread out a woven straw mat on it.

As they entered the room, in a low voice Zhang Wuji said, “The old farmer watering his garden has an even higher martial art skill, did you see that?”

“Ah, I did not see that,” Zhao Min replied.

Zhang Wuji said, “He was carrying buckets of manure mixture using a shoulder pole, and he walked very slowly, but surprisingly the two buckets were very steady. That is a sign of a very high internal energy skill.”

“How is he compared with you?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji laughed and said, “Let me try it, and we’ll see.” He lifted her up and carried her on his shoulder just like someone carries something with a shoulder pole.

“Aiyo!” Zhao Min giggled, “You think I am a bucket of manure mixture?”

From outside the room the granny heard these two people were affectionately laughing and joking; any remnant of suspicions she previously had in her heart immediately vanished.

That evening, the two of them sat for dinner together with the old farmers, husband and wife. To their surprise, they had some chicken and meat dishes. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min deliberately made a show of pinching each other hands under the table, or bumping each other with their elbows, just like a pair of eloping lovers, or like honey mixed with oil, neither one was willing to part with the other even for a moment. At first they were just acting, but later it became quite natural for them to show affection to each other. The granny saw everything, but she simply smiled. It seemed like the old farmer did not see anything; he just looked down and ate his meal quietly.

After dinner, Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min went into their room and bolted the door. After teasing each other on the dining table, part pretending and part real, they could not help but feel excited.

Zhao Min whispered, her pretty face blushing, “We are only pretending, we are not doing it for real.”

Zhang Wuji embraced her in his bosom, kissed her mouth and replied in low voice, “If we are only pretending, how can we have a baby in two, three years, and return home so that your Father can see the baby?”

“Pei!” Zhao Min bashfully spat, “Turns out you were eavesdropping on the side and heard everything I said.”

Although Zhang Wuji seemed unrestrained in talking and joking with Zhao Min, in his heart he always remembered that he was engaged to be married to Zhou Zhiruo. Although he hoped that he would live a happy live, he also hoped that after his marriage with Zhou Zhiruo he would be able to sort things out with Zhao Min. At this moment, with a warm and tender body in his embrace, he could not help but feel confused. But finally he restrained himself and only kissed her cherry lips and tender cheeks; and then he carried her to the bed, while he lied down on a wooden bench in front of the bed. He finally fell asleep after circulating his Jiu Yang Zhen Qi for twelve rounds along his entire body.

In the meantime, Zhao Min felt her face flush and her heart beat faster; she tossed and turned on the bed until deep into the night, unable to sleep at all. When she finally drifted off to sleep, suddenly, she heard footsteps from a distance. Someone was coming with great speed and had arrived at the door. She reached out to wake Zhang Wuji up. Coincidentally, Zhang Wuji had also heard the noise and was reaching out to wake her up; so two hands touched and they held each other tight.

They heard a clear and bright voice from the outside, “The virtuous husband and wife of the Du family, we meet again. Old friends come to visit in the night, we hope that we are not being rude”

After half a day, the granny replied from inside the hut, “Is it the ‘Qinghai San Jian’ [Qinghai (or Tsinghai – a province in western China) three swords]? From Chuanxi [western Sichuan] we, husband and wife, have exiled ourselves to this place, out of fear of your Yuzhen Guan [genuine jade Taoist monastery]. Our dispute was over a small misunderstanding, there is no deep animosity or a major offense between us. Why is it that after so many years Yuzhen Guan has not let it go and force us into hardship? As the saying goes, ‘killing the man does not necessarily mean to snatch his land.’”

The man outside laughed and said, “If the two of you are really afraid, kowtow to us three times, then Yuzhen Guan will forget the past and forgive your previous offense.”

With a creaking noise the wooden door opened. The granny said, “You are able to pursue to this place, your source of information is quick.”

The full moon had just risen, its silver light flooding the earth. Zhang Wuji and Zhao Min peeked from a crack on the wooden partition. They saw three Taoist priests wearing yellow crowns stand outside. The one in the middle was short and plump, the tip of his short beard was branched into two points.

“Will the virtuous husband and wife kowtow to apologize, or should we decide life and death with a pair of hooks and a spear?” the short Taoist priest asked.

The granny had not answered him yet when the deaf old man came out in big strides and stood in front of the door. With hands on his waist, he gave the three Taoist priests a cold look. The granny followed him out and stood by her husband’s side.

The short-bearded priest said, “Why hasn’t the Venerable Du uttered a single word? Do you think it’s beneath your dignity to talk to the Qinghai Three Swords?”

“My humble husband is deaf,” the granny said, “He could not hear anything you say.”

“Ah,” the short-bearded priest exclaimed, “Venerable Du’s technique in listening to the wind to distinguish the secret projectile was Wulin’s unique skill; how did he become deaf? Pity, it’s a pity.”

The priest next to him was even fatter than him. ‘Swish’ this priest unsheathed his sword and said, “Du Baidang, Yi Sanniang, are you sure you are not going to use any weapon?”

The granny, Yi Sanniang, replied, “Ma Daozhang [Taoist priest Ma], you are still this impatient? Shao Daozhang, we haven’t seen each other for several years, the hair on your heads have turned gray. Hey, hey, you can’t even let go of a small childish matter, why should we bother talking to you?”

Swiftly she raised both her hands. Bright rays of light flickered from her palms, as each palm held three short blades, less than half a foot each; so she had a total of six blades. The old man Du Baidang followed her lead; his palms also hold six short blades. He swiftly switched the blades in his left hand to his right and the ones in his right hand to his left. It was as if his fingers were crossing each other with matchless dexterity.

The three priests were startled. They had never seen this kind of weapon in the Wulin world. It looked like a flying dagger, but there was no such technique among the flying dagger users. Du Baidang’s pair of hooks had shaken the Western Sichuan, while his wife, Yi Sanniang, was very adept at using a spear. But this time both husband and wife had unexpectedly discarded the weapons they had trained for dozens of years; so these twelve short blades must have extremely fierce and strange stances.

The fat priest raised his sword and he recited with deep veneration in his voice, “Three element-sword formation, heaven, earth and mankind [San Cai Jian Zhen Tian Di Ren].”

The short-bearded priest, Shao He, continued, “Lightning rapidly comes out of Yu Zhen, pursuing the star [dian zhu xing chi chu yu zhen – remember that their monastery was called ‘Yuzhen Guan’].”

The three priests moved around in a circle, always keeping the Du husband and wife in the center.

Zhang Wuji saw that the priests were moving to the left and all of a sudden to the right and vice versa. It looked like a three-element formation, but not quite a three-element formation. Their three swords were weaved into one bright net, but they did not attack the enemy.

After the three priests had moved for seven, eight steps, Zhang Wuji started to understand the principle behind the formation. He mused, “These three priests are very sly; they said it was a three-element sword formation, but it actually has the five-element principle hidden in it. If the enemy believes it was a three-element formation and fights the heaven, the earth and the mankind, three positions, they would be devoured by the five elements. Then it would be difficult for them to escape, and they would be either killed or injured. They are only three people, but launching a five-element formation; each one has to occupy more than one position and overcome their many variations. Their ‘qing gong’ and their sword techniques must be extraordinary.”

The Du couple stood with their backs against each other. Four hands flickered with silver rays, twelve short blades were constantly exchanged. Not only they switched the blades from their left to right hands and vice versa, but Du Baidang’s blades moved to Yi Sanniang’s hand, and Yi Sanniang handed over her blades to Du Baidang’s hands. All along not a single blade fell down, the short blades exchanged hands smoothly.

Zhao Min was baffled by their movement. “What kind of magic trick they are playing?” she asked in low voice.

Zhang Wuji knitted his brows without answering. He watched intently for a moment and suddenly said, “Ah, I understand. He is afraid of my Yifu’s lion’s roar.”

“What lion’s roar?” Zhao Min asked.

Zhang Wuji kept nodding his head, and suddenly sneered, “Humph, based on their skill, they want to slaughter a lion and subdue a tiger?”

Zhao Min was more confused than ever, “Are you talking in a riddle?” she asked, “Why are you talking to yourself and leave the listener in bewilderment?”

“These five are my Yifu’s enemies,” Zhang Wuji said in low voice, “That old man is afraid of Yifu’s lion’s roar, hence he punctured his own ear to deafness …”

‘Dang, dang, dang, dang, dang ….’ Suddenly they heard a series of clanging noises close to each other, just like a string of pearls; the five of them had begun fighting. Three Swords of Qinghai sent out five attacks in succession, all of which were parried by the Du couple. The twelve short blades in their hands went back and forth between the two of them. Under the moonlight the blades looked like three rings around the body, their defense was very tight.

The Qinghai Three Swords tried to penetrate their defense for a long time without any outcome and they immediately changed their tactic into defense. Du Baidang took the opportunity to enter their defense line; his short blade attacked the small and thin Taoist priest, Shao Yan’s abdomen.

There was a saying within the martial art practitioners, ‘an inch longer, an inch stronger; an inch shorter, an inch more dangerous.’ The short blades were less than five inches long, so they were extremely dangerous. ‘Swish, swish, swish!’ Du Baidang launched three blades which all were meant to kill without any regard for his own safety.

Ma Fatong and Shao Yan immediately launched a double attack, which was fended off by Yi Sanniang’s blades. Now they know that the blade technique this couple trained was based on close coordination between the two; one attacks the other defends. The one who attacks focused his/her attention only on the attack. Likewise, the one who defends only care about the defense. Neither one needs to divert his/her attention.

As Shao Yan received three successive attacks, he was forced to block frantically, and retreated several steps back. Du Baidang pounced on his chest, all his blades were aimed to Shao Yan’s vital points. Shao Yan’s condition was getting more and more critical.

Shao He let out a long whistle, and his sword movements changed. Together with Ma Fatong, the two swords formed a sword net between Du Baidang and Shao Yan, keeping Du Baidang three feet away from them. Now three swords joined together in a very tight defense, so tight that even water would not be able to penetrate.

Zhang Wuji let out another cold laugh and whispered in Zhao Min’s ear, “Both of the sword and the blade techniques are meant to battle my Yifu. Look at them, they all concentrate on defense and do not attack too often. More defense less offense; we won’t find the outcome of the battle even if they fight for another day and night.”

Indeed, after several failed offensive attempts, Du Baidang also changed his tactic into defensive. In low voice Zhao Min said, “Jin Mao Shi Wang’s martial art skill is outstanding. These five fellows only concentrate on defense, how can they score a victory?”

They saw the five people exchange blade and swords stances, and successively use seven, eight different moves, but victory or defeat was still difficult to be seen.

“Hold it!” Ma Fatong suddenly shouted, while leaping out of the circle.

Du Baidang also withdrew. His silver beard fluttered, showing off his might and power.

Ma Fatong said, “The blade technique virtuous husband and wife employed, was it trained to slay the lion?”

“Ah!” Yi Sanniang exclaimed, “Your vision is very good.”

“Virtuous husband and wife’s son was killed by Xie Xun, of course this great enmity must be avenged,” Ma Fatong said, “Since you have scouted the enemy’s whereabouts at the Shaolin Temple, why didn’t you make your move at the earliest convenience?”

Yi Sanniang cast him a sidelong glance. “This is our husband and wife’s personal affair,” she said, “We don’t see any need to trouble Daozhang [respectable term to address a Taoist priest] over it.”

Ma Fatong replied, “Yuzhen Guan and virtuous husband and wife’s dispute, as Yi Sanniang said, was over a small matter. It certainly does not worth fighting with our lives at stake, does it? How about we turn the enemy into friend by working together to find Xie Xun?”

“What kind of enmity does Yuzhen Guan have against Xie Xun?” Yi Sanniang asked.

“There is no enmity, hey hey,” Ma Fatong said.

Yi Sanniang said, “If you don’t have anything against Xie Xun, why would you painstakingly train this set of sword technique? We both train different techniques to achieve the same goal, which is to fight the Seven-Injury Fist.”

“Yi Sanniang’s vision is also very good!” Ma Fatong said, “In front of a sage we do not tell a lie; Yuzhen Guan only wants to borrow the Tulong Saber.”

Yi Sanniang nodded. She rapidly wrote several characters on Du Baidang’s palm. Du Baidang replied by writing several characters on her palm. Both husband and wife communicated using their fingers instead of their tongues. Using such technique, they were having a discussion for a while.

Yi Sanniang said, “We, husband and wife, only want to seek revenge. For that, we are willing to shed our lives. We have no interest in Tulong Saber whatsoever.”

“That’s great!” Ma Fatong happily said, “The five of us work together to break into Shaolin. Virtuous husband and wife get your revenge, Yuzhen Guan get the precious saber. By combining our mind and strength, we can accomplish a great merit. Both sides obtain their desire, friendship will not be harmed.”

Five people struck each other’s palms to seal their oath straightaway. Then the Du couple invited the three priests to come into their house to have a detailed discussion on their plan to seek revenge and snatch the Saber away.

As the Three Swords of Qinghai were seated, they saw that the wooden door of the bedroom was closed; unavoidably they eyed it suspiciously. Yi Sanniang said with a laugh, “Don’t worry, they are a young couple from Dadu, running away from their homes. The girl is as pretty as jade, the boy is an uncouth fellow; both do not know the least bit of martial art.”

“Sanniang please don’t blame us,” Ma Fatong said, “It’s not that we don’t believe virtuous husband and wife’s explanation, it’s just that what we are about to accomplish is of the greatest importance, involving the life and death of the word’s heroes; if our secret is leaked, I am afraid …”

Yi Sanniang laughed, “We have fought for half a day, yet this young couple is still sleeping like a dead pig. It’s very prudent of Ma Daozhang to be cautious. You’d better see it with your own eyes.”

While saying that, she pushed the door, but the door was bolted from the inside. Zhang Wuji thought that it would be better for him to learn whatever information he could get from these five people before trying to find a way to rescue his Yifu, so he did not want to get rid of these people so soon. He immediately carried Zhao Min and put her on the bed. Quickly he removed his shoes and pulled the blanket over their bodies.

‘Snap!’ the latch broke by Shao He’s internal energy exertion. With a candlestick in her hand, Yi Sanniang walked in, with the Three Swords of Qinghai followed behind her. Seeing the candlelight, Zhang Wuji turned his eyes toward Yi Sanniang with a blank expression on his face. ‘Swish’ Ma Fatong slashed his sword toward his throat. His action was very swift and fierce.

“Ah!” Zhang Wuji cried out in fear, and jumped out of bed, as if he was delivering his neck toward the blade of the sword. Ma Fatong immediately held his sword, thinking that this man truly did not know any martial art, because no matter how brave, a martial art practitioner would not dare not to evade the sword.

Zhao Min mumbled and turned her body around as if she was still deep in slumber. Under the candlelight, her face looked captivatingly beautiful and tender.

“Yi Sanniang was right,” Shao He said, “Let’s get out of here!” The five of them returned to the living room.

Zhang Wuji jumped down the bed and put on his shoes. He heard Ma Fatong say, “Have virtuous husband and wife confirmed that Xie Xun is really at the Shaolin Temple?”

“We are absolutely certain,” Yi Sanniang replied, “Shaolin Temple has already sent out invitations to invite all heroes for a ‘Lion-slaying Assembly’ on the Duan Yang Festival. If they had not captured Xie Xun, they would certainly lose face in front of the world’s heroes. How could they do that?”

“Hmm,” Ma Fatong was silent for a moment before continuing, “Kong Jian Shen Seng [divine monk] of Shaolin Pai died under Xie Xun’s fist; of course Shaolin monks and disciples would want to avenge him. Actually, all virtuous husband and wife need to do is enter the Temple on the Duan Yang Festival, and open your eyes to see your enemy stretch out his neck to die. Without uttering any word or exerting the least bit of strength, your enmity will be avenged. Why did Mr. Du sacrifice his ears and risk the danger of offending the Shaolin Pai?”

With a cold laugh Yi Sanniang said, “My humble husband destroyed his ears five years ago. Besides, without any reason our only beloved son was murdered by that wicked thief Xie Xun. Our hatred toward him is as deep as the ocean. With this kind of enmity, would we leave the revenge in other people’s hands? In order to deal with this wicked thief surnamed Xie, our first step was to pierce his pair of ears deaf. We, husband and wife, will strive to die together with him. Hey, hey, ever since our beloved child was killed by him, we don’t have anybody to love in this world anymore. We don’t care if we offend Shaolin or Wudang, or die under thousand blades and ten thousand cuts.”

In the adjacent room, Zhang Wuji could hear a very deep hatred in her voice; he shivered involuntarily while musing, “Because of his suffering under Cheng Kun’s hands, Yifu has vented off his anger to many innocent people in the past. This Du couple does not look like bad people, yet because they are heartbroken over their son’s tragic death, they endured pain and suffering just to kill my Yifu. This kind of enmity will not be easily resolved. As soon as I rescue Yifu, I will have to take him far away to avoid further shedding of innocent blood.”

By this time, Zhang Wuji did not hear the least bit of noise from the five people on the other side of the door. He took a peak from a crack on the wooden partition and saw the Du couple and Ma Fatong, three people, were dipping their fingers on the teacups and writing on the table. “These five people are truly cautious,” he thought, “Although they are convinced that Zhao Min and I are not Jianghu characters, they are still afraid we might leak their plan. Ay, too many families in Jianghu want to seek revenge on Yifu. There are even more people who covet the Tulong Saber. I am afraid there are countless people who want to get their hands on him even before the Duan Yang Festival. These people not only made extraordinary painstaking effort, they are also martial art experts. Yifu would certainly face a catastrophic suffering if Shaolin Temple is somewhat negligent. Looks like the sooner I can save him the better.”

As five people continued their silent, secret discussion, Zhang Wuji lied down on the wooden bench and slept. They woke up at dawn the next day, and saw the Three Swords of Qinghai had already left.

“Popo,” Zhang Wuji asked Yi Sanniang, “Why did those three Taoist masters come here last night with shining knives in their hands? At first, I thought they came here to capture us that I was scared out of my wits. Only later I found out that it wasn’t the case.”

Yi Sanniang was secretly amused to hear him calling the sword a ‘knife’; but keeping a straight face she said, “They were astray travelers; they left after drinking a bowl of tea. Zeng Xiaoge [young big brother Zeng], after lunch we are going to take three bunches of firewood for sale in the Shaolin Temple. Would you help us carry a bunch? If the monks in the Temple ask, I will say that you are our son. This might inconvenience you a bit, but I just want to avoid making them suspicious. Your wife who is as-pretty-as-a-flower, must not go out to take a walk on her own.”

Although she talked as if she was asking Zhang Wuji’s opinion, her tone carried an authority, which did not give Zhang Wuji any chance to say otherwise. As soon as Zhang Wuji heard her, he understood her intention. “She thinks I really am a farmer boy,” he thought, “And she wants me to accompany her scouting the Temple. Nothing can be better than that!” Therefore, he immediately agreed.

“Whatever Popo said, Xiaozi [little child – referring to self] will obey,” he said, “All I ask is that Popo will give the two of us shelter. We have been running to the east and fleeing to the west with fear and trepidation, without a day of peace.”

Right after the seventh hour [between 11am – 1pm], Zhang Wuji followed behind the Du couple, each one carried a pile of firewood on their shoulder pole, walking toward the Shaolin Temple. He wore a wide bamboo hat on his head, a short hatchet on his waist, and a pair of straw shoes on his feet. Among the three, he carried the largest bunch of firewood. With a smile on her face, Zhao Min stood by the door, sending him off with her gaze.

The Du couple deliberately walked slow, huffing and puffing along the way, until at last they arrived at a pavilion just outside the Shaolin Temple, where they put down their loads and took a rest. There were two monks chatting idly in the pavilion. They did not think much of seeing these three people.

Yi Sanniang took off her head scarf to wipe her perspiration. She also reached out to wipe the sweats on Zhang Wuji’s head while asking, “Child, are you tired?”

At first Zhang Wuji was embarrassed, but then he realized that she said those words with genuine affection; he could not help but look in her eyes. He saw tears were forming on her eyes, so he knew she must be thinking of the son Xie Xun had killed. He saw she was looking at him with lingering emotion, apparently she was expecting a reply. He was touched, and said, “Ma, I am not tired. You are tired.”

When he said, ‘Ma,’ he was remembering his own mother, hence, his voice was full of emotion too. As Yisanniang heard him call her ‘Ma,’ the dam broke and tears streamed down her cheeks. Instead of wiping the sweat off her head, she used the head scarf to wipe her tears away.

Du Baidang stood up, heaved the firewood and waved his left hand while walking out of the pavilion. Even though he could not hear the two people’s conversation, he knew that his wife was overwhelmed with the memory of their perished child. He was afraid she would expose some weakness and the two monks would see through their scheme.

Zhang Wuji went to Yi Sanniang’s pile of firewood, took two bunches and added them to his own pile, and said, “Ma, let us go.”

Seeing him showing this much consideration, Yi Sanniang thought, “If my child were still alive today, he would be several years older than this young man, and I would have had several grandchildren.” For a moment she was only staring blankly and unable to move. Then, seeing Zhang Wuji walking out of the pavilion carrying his load, she stood up to follow. But because she was still excited, she slightly staggered.

Zhang Wuji turned around to help her, thinking, “If my Mama were still in this world, I would hold her like this …”

One of the monks said, “This young man is actually very filial, which is rare nowadays.”

The other monk said, “Popo, are you going to sell this bunch of firewood to the Temple? These past several days Fangzhang [abbot] has issued an order that no outsiders will be allowed to enter the Temple. You’d better come back.”

Yi Sanniang was quite disappointed; she thought, “Shaolin Temple has indeed elevated their security, then it won’t be easy to go in.”

Du Baidang had already proceeded several ‘zhang’s ahead, but realizing the other two did not follow, he stopped and wait.

The first monk said, “This village family’s mother is a loving mother, the son is filial, we must help them. Shidi [younger martial brother], take them through the back door to the kitchen. If anybody asks, just tell them they are the villagers who used to sell firewood. I don’t think there will be any problem.”

“Yes,” the second monk said, “The Supervisor forbid the outsiders to enter the Temple to avoid casual onlookers. These people are honest and upright villagers, why would we hurt their livelihood?” Thereupon he led the Du couple and Zhang Wuji to enter the Temple through the back door. They dropped the firewood in the kitchen and the monk in charge of the kitchen counted some coins to pay them.

Yi Sanniang said, “We have some nice ‘da bai cai’ [bokchoy, Chinese cabbage], I will send Ah Niu to deliver several catties tomorrow. You don’t have to pay, just consider it our gift to all the Shifus to taste something new.”

The monk who took her there laughed and said, “Starting tomorrow, you can’t come in anymore. If the Supervisor finds out, the blame we have to endure will not end for a lifetime.”

The kitchen manager looked at Zhang Wuji, sizing him up, and then suddenly said, “Around the Duan Yang Festival, we are going to have more than a thousand guests in the Temple. We are going to be too busy to fetch water and chop the firewood. This Xiongdi [brother (general term)] looks healthy and strong. How about you come and help us for a couple of months, and I’ll give you five silver coins per month for your wages?”

Yi Sanniang was delighted. “That’s great,” she hastily said, “Ah Niu does not have anything important at home to do. It will be better for him to stay and do errands for all Shifus, while earning one or two coins of silver to help the family out financially.”

Zhang Wuji hesitated, he thought, “Many people in the Shaolin Temple know me. Once in a while they are bound to wander into the kitchen then I would be in trouble. If I have to live in the Temple for two months, I must avoid going out to prevent being recognized.” Thereupon he said, “Ma, my wife …”

Yi Sanniang thought it was a heaven-sent opportunity, which could never be expected but could only be accepted. “Your wife is fine at home,” she hastily said, “Are you afraid your Mama will mistreat her? You just stay here and listen to the Shifu’s words, don’t be lazy. After several days, Mama and your wife will come to visit you here. You are a big boy now; can’t you get away from Mama for even a day? Do you still want Mama to nurse you and help you urinate?” As she said that, she tussle his hair, with eyes brimming with love.

Actually, the monk in charge of the kitchen had been upset for many days. Around the Duan Yang Great Assembly, heroes from all over the world would gather there; providing rice and vegetable dishes, and preparing tea were the most difficult parts to be dealt with. Although the Temple Supervisor had allocated more manpower to help in the kitchen, these monks were not in the habit of practicing meditation and Buddhism dharma; they were more interested in training martial arts. Therefore, they were not willing to do menial kitchen works. They went to the kitchen just because the Temple Supervisor told them to; but they carried their haughty attitude in the kitchen, staring a lot at the other kitchen workers, but did not do too much work. By this time, it was still all right, but as soon as they guests arrived, they would be in big trouble. He saw Zhang Wuji was an honest, simple, hardworking villager, so he was determined to retain his service; thereupon he constantly persuaded Zhang Wuji to stay.

Zhang Wuji considered, “I can stay in the kitchen during the day to avoid seeing the Temple masters, while leisurely looking for Yifu’s whereabouts in the evening.” But he was still pretending to drag his feet, until the monk who took him inside also persuaded him, then he reluctantly complied by saying, “Shifu, I want to get six coins of silver per month from you; five silver coins for my Ma, and one silver coin for my wife to buy some clothes …”

The monk in charge of the kitchen laughed and said, “It’s a deal! Six silver coins a month it is.”

After repeatedly exhorting Zhang Wuji to work diligently, Yi Sanniang slowly went down the mountain with Du Baidang. Zhang Wuji ran after them and said, “Ma, please take a good care of my wife.”

“I know,” Yi Sanniang replied, “Don’t you worry.”

In the kitchen, Zhang Wuji was extremely busy with chopping firewood and removing the ashes, lighting fire and fetching water. He deliberately let the ashes smeared onto his face, and let the ashes fell on his hair, so that when he looked at his own reflection in the water jar, he could not recognize his own face. That night he slept with numerous kitchen helpers in a little cabin next to the kitchen. He knew the Shaolin Temple was full of crouching tigers and hidden dragons. Oftentimes there were martial art masters hidden among the kitchen helpers. Thereupon, he was very cautious in all aspects, he did not even dare to speak half a sentence more than necessary.

In this way he passed seven, eight days already, during which time Yi Sanniang took Zhao Min to visit him twice. He worked hard from morning till night, and had never refused any task given to him. The kitchen manager monk was very happy. He also got along well with the other kitchen helpers. He did not dare to ask any question, but he opened his eyes and ears wide, trying to find any clues within the idle talks around him. He expected someone would be sent to deliver food to his Yifu, and then he would follow and try to find where his Yifu was imprisoned. Who would have thought that after waiting patiently for several days, he neither found any clues nor heard any news.

By the evening of the ninth day, he was sleeping on his bed, when suddenly around midnight he heard some faint shouting from about half a ‘li’ [1 li is approximately 0.5km] away. He arose quietly, and after making sure nobody else was awake, he launched his ‘qing gong’ towards the direction of the noise.

It seemed like the noise came from the wooded area to the west of the Temple. Leaping up to a big tree, he crouched to look around. After making sure nobody was hiding among the grass around him, he leaped from tree to tree toward the noise. By this time he started to hear clashing weapons; and then he saw several people who were engaged in a fierce battle.

Hiding behind a tree, he saw flickering light from sabers and swords, as six people, divided into two sides, were fighting each other. The three men wielding swords were none other than the Three Swords of Qinghai, who arranged themselves in the fake ‘three-element’ formation, which was actually a five-element formation. Their defense was very tight. Their opponents were three monks, each with a saber in his hand, trying hard to penetrate the defense.

After about twenty, thirty stances; ‘stab!’ one of the Qinghai Three Swords fell by the saber. The fake three-element formation was broken. The other Two Swords of Qinghai were not able to hold much longer. Several stances later, with a miserable ‘Ah!’ one of them was chopped by the saber. Judging from his voice, it was the short and fat Ma Fatong.

The last man’s arm was already injured, but he kept fighting to the death. One of the monks shouted in a low voice, “Hold it!” Three monks with sabers in their hands surrounded him, but did not continue their attacks.

An old-sounding monk said, “Your Yuzhen Guan of Qinghai has never had any enmity or hatred toward our Shaolin Pai; why did you trespass our territory in the middle of the night?”

The last of the Three Swords of Qinghai was Shao He; with grief in his voice he said, “Since the three of us martial brothers have already been defeated, we can only blame our own inadequacy; why do you ask any questions?”

The old-sounding monk said with a cold laugh, “You came for Xie Xun, and wanted to get the Tulong Saber, didn’t you? Hey hey, I have never heard Xie Xun killed anybody from the Yuzhen Guan; so you must be after the Tulong Saber. Based on your child’s play skill, do you think you can wander around the Shaolin Temple? The Shaolin Temple has been the leader of the Wulin world for more than a thousand years; it never occurred to me that some people actually look down on us like this.”

‘Swish!’ Shao He took advantage while the monk was talking happily to thrust his sword straight forward. The monk hastily evaded, but he was one step too slow and the sword pierced his left shoulder. The other two monks from either side of him slashed together with their sabers, Shao He’s head was immediately separated from his body.

Without saying anything, the three monks picked up the bodies of the Three Swords of Qinghai and walked toward the Temple. Zhang Wuji was just thinking of following them to know the outcome of this affair, when suddenly he heard faint breathing from among the tall grass ahead of him and slightly to the right.

“What a close call!” he silently sighed, “Turns out they set up an ambush here.” Immediately he crouched back and remained motionless.

About almost an hour later, he heard from among the grass someone softly clap twice. And then from some distant away someone else also clapped in response. Zhang Wuji saw six monks arose from all around him, each with a weapon in his hand, either a monk’s staff, a saber, or a sword. They walked in a fan-shaped formation toward the temple.

Zhang Wuji waited until those six months were far away before he returned to the cabin. The rest of the kitchen helpers were still sleeping soundly; nobody knew he was away. He sighed inwardly. “If I did not see it with my own eyes, I would not believe three warriors have just lost their lives in a very short moment.” From what he had just experienced, he knew that the Shaolin Temple has set up a thorough security system, far tighter than usual, so he had to be even more careful.

A few more days passed; it was the middle of the fourth month already. The weather gradually turned warm. They were a day closer to the Duanyang Festival with each passing day. Zhang Wuji mused, “If I keep doing this heavy manual labor in the kitchen, in the end it would be difficult for me to find out Yifu’s whereabouts. Tonight I must take a risk by going everywhere to investigate.”

That night he slept until the third hour [between 3 – 5 am]. He quietly got up and jumped to the roof, crouching behind the stony roof ridge. He had just settled down into position when he saw two shadows from the south, light as a feather, swept passing to the north; their monks’ robes floating in the air, the sabers in their hands flicker under the moonlight. They were patrolling monks of the Temple.

After these two monks passed, Zhang Wuji quickly moved several ‘zhang’s forward. He heard footsteps on the tile floor ahead, as two more monks leaped up. He saw shadows of monks going back and forth everywhere. The security was very tight; he thought that even the security inside the imperial palace was not this strict. Seeing this kind of situation, he knew that if he proceeds, he would be unavoidably detected. Therefore, he decided to return in disappointment.

Toward the third evening, a storm was brewing; thunderclaps boomed and heavy rain poured down from the sky. Zhang Wuji was delighted. “Heaven helps me!” he thought. He saw the rain was getting heavier, everywhere he looked all he saw was total darkness.

Quick as a lightning, he moved toward the main hall, thinking, “The Luohan Hall, the Damo Hall, the Banruo [lit. great wisdom] Court, the Abbot’s lecture hall, are all Shaolin Temple’s most strategic places. I will explore them all one by one.” However, there were so many buildings and rooms in the Shaolin Temple; in reality, he did not know which way was the Luohan Hall, which way was the Banrou Court.

Trying to hide from the flashes of lightning, he wandered aimlessly until he arrived at a small bamboo grove. He saw ahead of him was a small cottage, and a flicker of light coming through the window. By this time his body was totally soaked; raindrops as big as soybeans hit his hands and face, and bounced back from his skin. Stealthily he crept toward the window, and he heard someone speaking inside; the voice belonged to Reverend Kong Wen, the Abbot of the Shaolin Temple.

Zhang Wuji heard him say, “Because of this Jin Mao Shi Wang, the Shaolin Temple has killed twenty-three people in one month. We are heaping sins on ourselves, contrary to the teaching of Buddha about showing mercy. The Ming Cult’s Guangming Zuo Shi [left emissary of the brightness] Yang Xiao, You Shi [right emissary] Fan Yao, Bai Mei Mo Wang [white-browed devil king] Yin Tianzheng, Qing Yi Fu Wang [green-winged bat king] Wei Yixiao, one after another sent their envoys to the Temple, asking me to release Xie Xun …”

Hearing this, Zhang Wuji’s heart was reassured, thinking, “Turns out my grandfather [orig. wai4 gong1 – maternal grandfather], Yang Zuoshi, and the others have learned this information and have already sent people to come over here.”

He heard Kong Wen continue, “Of course our Temple refused, but how can the Ming Cult let the matter drop? That Zhang Jiaozhu has reached the pinnacle of the martial art mastery, until now he has not appeared. I am afraid he is operating surreptitiously. Kong Zhi Shidi [younger martial brother] and I owe him for saving our lives. If he personally came and asked for favor, how can we answer him? This is a serious problem. Shidi, Shizhi [martial nephew], do you have any honorable idea?”

An old and deep voice coughed lightly. As Zhang Wuji heard this cough, his heart was shaken, for he recognized this person as Cheng Kun, who changed his name to Yuan Zhen. Zhang Wuji had never spoken with him face to face, but at the Brightness Peak, when Zhang Wuji was inside the cloth-sack, he heard him recounting the past events, and then from behind the rock, he heard him shouting; he was very familiar with Cheng Kun’s voice. In a flash, suddenly Xiao Zhao came into his mind. One part of his heart was sweet, the other part was bitter.

He heard Yuan Zhen say, “Xie Xun is being guarded by three Tai Shishu [martial granduncle], so nothing will happen to him. The heroes’ assembly this time concerns our Shaolin Pai’s thousands of years’ prosperity and decline, our glory or disgrace. Some small kindness or resentment from the Ming Cult should not worry Fangzhang Shishu [abbot martial uncle] too much. Besides, the Wan An Temple affair was a collusion between the Ming Cult and the imperial government to make things difficult for the Six Major Sects, doesn’t Fangzhang Shishu know it?”

“How can the Ming Cult collude with the imperial government?” Kong Wen was surprised.

Yuan Zhen said, “The Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu was engaged to the Emei Pai Zhangmen [sect leader], Miss Zhou. On their wedding day, the Ruyang Prince’s Junzhu Niangniang [princess] suddenly took that fellow surnamed Zhang away. This matter has shaken the Jianghu; Fangzhang Shishu must have heard about it.”

“That’s right,” Kong Wen said, “I heard it was so.”

“One of that Junzhu Niangniang’s subordinate is a very capable warrior, called Ku Toutuo,” Yuan Zhen continued, “Both Shishu must have seen him at the Wan An Temple.”

At the Wan An Temple, Kong Zhi was forced by Zhao Min to demonstrate his martial art. Once he was humiliated by Ku Toutuo, because at that time his internal strength was gone, and thus he was not able to resist. He still bore some resentment until this moment. “Humph,” he said, “Once this important business is finished, I am going to Dadu to find Ku Toutuo and challenge him.”

“Shishu [plural], do you know who this Toutuo really is?” Yuan Zhen asked.

“This Ku Toutuo’s knowledge is very vast,” Kong Zhi replied, “He seems to know the martial art skill of every school and every sect. In all honesty, I can’t pinpoint his school origin.”

“Ku Toutuo is actually the Ming Cult’s Guangming You Shi Fan Yao,” Yuan Zhen said.

“Is that so?” Kong Wen and Kong Zhi exclaimed together. They sounded very surprised.

“How can Yuan Zhen dare to deceive Shishu?” Yuan Zhen said, “If he has the guts to appear on the Duan Yang Festival, once Shishu sees it, you will know.”

Kong Wen was deep in thought. “If that’s the case, then Zhang Wuji definitely collaborates secretly with that Junzhu. As the Junzhu captured the leaders of the Six Major Sects, Zhang Wuji sold his kindness by rescuing us.”

“I am 80, 90% sure that was what really happened,” Yuan Zhen said.

“But I still think that Zhang Jiaozhu looks honest, considerate and upright,” Kong Wen said, “It’s hard to imagine he is that kind of man. We must not wrongly accuse a good person.”

Yuan Zhen said, “I am sure Fangzhang Shishu remember the saying, ‘knowing a man by his face, not knowing his heart’ [zhi1 ren2 zhi1 mian4 bu4 zhi1 xin1]. That Xie Xun is Zhang Wuji’s Yifu, he is also one of the four Great Protector Kings [hu jiao fa wang – see my note in Chapter 30] of the Devil Cult. The Devil Cult will disregard everything to save its own people. In the upcoming Lion-slaying Assembly, everything will become apparent.”

Thereupon the three of them continued their discussion on how to welcome the guests, and how to stop the enemies who wanted to abduct Xie Xun; they also estimated how many masters from each school and sect would attend the assembly. Yuan Zhen strived to provoke all schools to fight each other. Then, after they had been defeated and suffered some injuries, Shaolin Pai would take advantage by killing the tiger inside the village, subduing all sects, so by right they would obtain the Tulong Saber and kill Xie Xun as a sacrifice for Kong Jian.

Kong Wen strongly emphasized that they should not shed too much blood and offended the Wulin people of the same principle; also, it seemed like he did not want to insult the Ming Cult.

Kong Zhi, however, wanted to embrace both ideas. He said, “When all is said and done, the most important matter is forcing Xie Xun to reveal the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts before the Duan Yang Festival. Otherwise, this ‘lion-slaying assembly’ will be meaningless and in turn will degrade our Sect’s prestige.

“Shidi has stated it well,” Kong Wen said, “We must show the Saber without fail at the meeting to set up our prestige. We’ll say that this ‘most revered in the Wulin world’ [wu3 lin2 zhi4 zun1], the precious Tulong Saber has returned under our Sect’s control. Then our Sect will rule the world, and nobody would dare to disobey.”

“All right,” Kong Zhi said, “Let it be so. Yuan Zhen, go and talk with Xie Xun again. Persuade him to hand over the precious Saber and we’ll spare his life.”

“Yes!” Yuan Zhen replied, “I respectfully follow Shishu’s instruction.” Footsteps were heard as Yuan Zhen went out the room.

Zhang Wuji was delighted, but he knew that these three Shaolin monks possessed extremely high martial art skill; if he made the slightest noise, he would be immediately detected. If he had to fight the three of them together, he was afraid it would be difficult for him to score a victory. The best he could do would be escape, but then his efforts to save his Yifu would be a thousand times, ten thousand times more difficult. Thereupon he held his breath and stayed perfectly still.

He saw that Yuan Zhen’s slim figure was moving to the north. A loud pitter-patter noise was heard as the heavy rain struck the oilpaper umbrella in his hand. Zhang Wuji waited until he was more than a dozen of ‘zhang’s away before he lightly slipped out to follow him.