The Heaven Sword and the Dragon Sabre – Chapter 36

Graceful movements of three pines in the lush green forest.

Under the heavy rain, the patrols on rooftops and everywhere else were considerably slackened off. Zhang Wuji followed close after Yuanzhen by hiding behind the building corners and behind big trees. He saw Yuan Zhen leap over the back wall of the Temple. “Turns out Yifu is imprisoned outside the Temple,” he thought, “No wonder I can’t find any clues inside the Temple.”

He did not dare to jump openly over the wall; creeping along the wall, he climbed up slowly to the top of the wall, and then after the patrolling monks passed by, he jumped down to the ground. In the rain, he saw that the top of Yuan Zhen’s umbrella was already more than a hundred ‘zhang’s to the north of the Temple, and then it turned to the left toward a small hill. Yuan Zhen climbed to the top of the hill with an exceptional speed

By this time Yuan Zhen was already around seventy years of age, but his agility was still extraordinary; during the ascend to the peak, the umbrella in his hand did not seem to sway at all. His movements were so smooth that it was as if someone was pulling him up with a rope.

Zhang Wuji quickly ran toward the foot of the hill. He was about to climb up when suddenly his eyes caught a glittering light by the mountain path; there was someone with open blade lying in ambush by the roadside, hastily he halted his step. After waiting for only a short moment, he saw from the cluster of trees four people, three in the front and one in the back, came out and ran toward the peak. From a distant, Zhang Wuji saw there were several pine trees on the peak, but he did not see any buildings. He wondered where Xie Xun could be imprisoned.

After looking around for and not coming across any other people, he followed to the peak. The ‘qing gong’skills of the four people ahead of him were excellent. He picked up speed until he was only about twenty ‘zhang’s behind them. In the darkness he could still see that among the four, one was a woman, the other three were men, all of them wearing regular clothes. He thought, “Most likely these four came to give my Yifu some trouble. I’ll let them fight a life and death battle against Yuan Zhen first. There is no hurry for me to interfere.”

Arriving at the peak, the four people picked up their speed. Suddenly Zhang Wuji recognized two of them, “Ah, those two are Kunlun Pai’s He Taichong and Ban Shuxian, husband and wife.”

He heard Yuan Zhen let out a long and fierce cry, turn around abruptly, and dash back down the hill. Immediately Zhang Wuji dove down and hid among the grass by the roadside. He crawled several ‘zhang’s to the left and heard the ringing noise of clashing weapons, as Yuan Zhen and the newcomers had begun to fight.

From the sound of the clashing weapons, it sounded like only two people were fighting Yuan Zhen. “The other two are not fighting,” he mused, “Obviously, they proceed to the peak to find Yifu.” Right away he crept faster among the thick patch of grass to the peak of the hill.

As he arrived at the peak, he only saw a bare stretch of flat land; there was no building, only three tall pine trees arranged in triangle, their branches looked like soaring dragon, reaching up to the sky. He felt strange, “Could it be that Yifu is not being held here?” he thought.

He heard some rustling noise coming from the underbrush on his right, as someone was creeping along; followed by Ban Shuxian’s voice, “Move quickly, our two Shidi’s may not necessarily able to hold that Shaolin monk.”

“That’s right,” He Taichong replied. Two people rose up and charged toward the three pine trees.

Zhang Wuji was afraid Xie Xun was really around here, so he did not dare to act rashly; he crawled forward among the thick grass. Suddenly he heard He Taichong exclaim, ‘Hey!’, as if he was hurt. Raising his head, he saw that He Taichong was standing among the pine trees, brandishing his sword fiercely like he was fighting with somebody, but actually no one else was visible. He only heard occasional ‘bang, bang, bang’, as if He Taichong’s sword was colliding with some strange weapon. Zhang Wuji was even more perplexed. He crawled several steps forward and focused his eyes to have a closer look; he could not help but gasp in shock.

It turned out that the trunks of the two pine trees diametrically opposite to him were hollow. The cavities’ size was just enough to accommodate one person. In each cavity sat an old monk, each monk held a black long rope in his hand, with which they were attacking He Taichong, husband and wife. The third three was right in front of Zhang Wuji. A black long rope also came out from this tree, so he knew that this tree also had an old monk inside its trunk.

In the dark night, the three black ropes did not reflect any light, hence, they were almost invisible in their movements. He Taichong, husband and wife, anxiously brandished their swords in tight defense. But because they could not see the direction of the enemies’ weapons, they did not have the leeway to launch any counterattack. These three long ropes appeared to move slowly, but in reality they were very fast, yet they did not create any wind at all. Under the heavy rain, in the middle of the night, on a lone hill peak, the three ropes moved like ghosts or as if by magic; it was unspeakably weird.

Mr. and Mrs. He repeatedly shouted their frustrations. They tried to get away from the encirclement these trees, but each time they charged outward, the ropes would always push them back in. Zhang Wuji was secretly amazed; these ropes moved noiselessly, the people who drove them must have had profound internal energy, clear, pure and without any ruggedness in its utilization, might not be inferior to his own. He was astonished. “Yuan Zhen said that Yifu is being guarded by his three Tai Shishu [grand martial uncles]; obviously, they are these three old monks. Their power is extremely profound!”

“Ah!” suddenly he heard a miserable cry, as He Taichong’s back was hit by the rope and was thrown out from the encirclement; his life was gone right away.

Ban Shuxian was shocked and saddened. While she is losing her concentration ever so slightly, the three ropes struck together to burst her skull and break her four limbs, making her lose her human form. One of the black ropes shook and threw Ban Shuxian’s corpse out from the encirclement.

Yuan Zhen was fighting and stepping backwards, luring his opponents toward the peak. “Come!” he called out, “You dare to come here, receive your death.”

Although his two opponents were Kunlun Pai’s masters, with his level of martial art skill, Yuan Zhen would not necessarily lose, but it would be difficult to kill both of them at once. At best he would be able to injure only one of them, and then the other one would unavoidably escape. Therefore, he led them toward the pine trees.

The two of them were still several ‘zhang’s away from the trees, when suddenly they saw He Taichong’s body. They both halted their steps, and in that split second, two long ropes came noiselessly from behind their heads and wound around their waists. The ropes jerked, and two people were thrown down from the peak, which was more than a hundred ‘zhang’s tall. Needless to say, they died as soon as their bodies struck the foot of the hill, but they cried out wretchedly when they were still midair, and the echo of their cry was still heard even after they were dead.

In a short moment the three old monks had killed four masters of Kunlun Pai. They were able to lift heavy objects as if they were very light, and accomplished the task with ease; the level of their martial art skill was rarely seen. Zhang Wuji believed they were superior to Lu Zhangke and He Biweng, although not as good as Tai Shifu [grand master] Zhang Sanfeng, whose skill was immeasurably deep; but they had definitely reached the boundary of divinity. Shaolin Pai unexpectedly still had this kind of old expert, perhaps even Tai Shifu and Yang Xiao were not aware of it. His heart was beating fast; he crouched down in the thick grass and did not dare to make the slightest movement.

He saw Yuan Zhen kick twice in succession, sending the bodies of He Taichong and Ban Shuxian into the deep valley below. As the corpses fell, it was a moment later that they heard two dull thuds as the bodies crashed into the bottom of the valley. Zhang Wuji mused, “He Taichong repaid my kindness with evil. Today he came here to harm my Yifu and steal the precious saber away; his conduct was despicable. But he was a martial art master, truly an expert in the martial art study, and a leader of his school. I did not expect for him to end his life this way.”

He heard Yuan Zhen respectfully say, “Three Tai Shishu’s divine skill is truly matchless; just by raising your hands, you have killed four masters of the Kunlun Pai. Yuan Zhen’s respect is endless. Words truly cannot express it.”

“Humph,” one of the old monks snorted, but did not say anything.

Yuan Zhen continued, “Yuan Zhen received Fangzhang Shishu’s [abbot martial uncle] order to come and wish three Tai Shishu well, and also to talk with the prisoner.”

One raspy voice said, “Kong Jian Shizhi [martial nephew] was very virtuous and highly skilled. The three of us are very fond of him. We were hoping he would develop Shaolin’s martial art study. It was unfortunate that his life was lost in this villain’s hands. The three of us have lived in seclusion for decades and for a long time did not encumber ourselves with the mundane affairs of this world; yet because of Kong Jian Shizhi we came to this hill peak. This criminal is worthy of death for his many sins. One chop of the blade will take his life away. Why should you waste your breath and disturb our peaceful meditation?”

Yuan Zhen bowed respectfully and said, “Tai Shishu’s instruction is right. However, Fangzhang Shishu also said, my En Shi [benevolent master] was harmed by this villain, but what kind of martial art my En Shi possessed? How could this villain, alone, have the power to injure him? For that reason, we imprison him here and trouble three Tai Shishu to guard him. First, to lure his comrades to come and save him; we hope to destroy the enemies who help him harm my En Shi one by one. Second, we want him to hand over the precious Tulong Saber, so it won’t fall into other sect’s hands, and thus usurp our position as the most revered in the Wulin world, which we have held for thousands of years.”

Listening to this point, Zhang Wuji could not help but gnash his teeth in anger. He mused, “This evil thief Yuan Zhen truly deserves to be cut in pieces for all his crimes. His words are sweet but poisonous. He persuaded these three monks, who have lived in seclusion for decades, to come out, and borrow their hands to slaughter the martial art masters of the Wulin world.”

“Hmm,” he heard one of the old monk said, “You can speak with him.”

By this time, the heavy rain had not stopped, thunders were still rumbling incessantly. Yuan Zhen walked toward the center of the triangle and kneeled on the ground. “Xie Xun,” he said toward the ground, “Have you thought about it? You only need to say where you keep the Tulong Saber, I will let you go.”

Zhang Wuji felt strange, “Why did he speak to the ground?” he thought, “Could it be there is some kind of dungeon down there, and my Yifu is held captive in it?”

Suddenly, with a loud and clear voice one of the old monks said angrily, “Yuan Zhen, Buddhist monks [orig. chu1 jia1 ren2 – people who leave their homes] do not tell lies. Why do you deceive him? If he did tell you the place where he hid the Saber, would you really let him go?”

“Tai Shishu, please understand,” Yuan Zhen replied, “Disciple thinks that my En Shi’s enmity is deep, yet if we consider it carefully, our Sect’s prestige is more important. If he would tell us the precious Saber’s whereabouts for our Sect to obtain it, then we would let him go. After three years, disciple will find him to avenge my En Shi.”

“So be it,” the old monk said, “In the Wulin world, good faith is of priority. Our words are like arrows. Even toward big criminals or the most evil people, Shaolin disciples should not break our promise.”

“Respectfully received Tai Shishu’s instruction,” Yuan Zhen said.

Zhang Wuji thought, “These three Shaolin monks not only possess outstanding martial art skill, they are also virtuous eminent monks; too bad they unconsciously fell into Yuan Zhen’s sinister plot.”

He heard Yuan Zhen shout to the ground again, “Xie Xun, did you hear my Tai Shishu? Three Seniors have agreed to let you go.”

Suddenly from underground came the reply, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

As Zhang Wuji heard this heroic, but bleak voice, which he recognized as his Yifu’s voice, his heart was shaken. He fought the strong urge to dash forward, kill Cheng Kun and rescue Xie Xun, knowing that as soon as his presence was detected, three Shaolin eminent monks’ black ropes would immediately strike him. Even without Cheng Kun joining the fight, he knew he could not match the collaboration of these three monks. He thought, “I will wait for that evil monk Yuan Zhen to go, then I will step forward to pay my respect to the three monks. Then I will explain the entire complicated story. They are enlightened Buddhists, they must know how to tell right from wrong.”

“Xie Xun,” he heard Yuan Zhen say with a sigh, “You and I are old, why do you still painfully hang on to those past events? At most in twenty more years, you and I both will return to the yellow earth. I know I have wronged you, but I have also done you some good. Let the matter of the past go.”

As he was rambling on, Xie Xun did not pay him any attention. He simply waited until he was done speaking, then he said, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

Yuan Zhen talked repeatedly for half a day, but the answer was always, “Cheng Kun, do you still have a face to talk to me?”

Yuan Zhen coldly laughed and said, “I give you three days to think it over. After three days, if you still do not want to tell the Tulong Saber’s whereabouts, you know with what method I will deal with you.” As he said that, he stood up, paid his respect to the three monks, and walked down the hill.

Zhang Wuji waited until he walked far. He was about to arise to greet the three monks when suddenly he felt something different on the air around him. This sneak attack did not have the least bit of forewarning. He was shocked and immediately rolled away, while feeling two long objects from above of his face coming horizontally across, perhaps no more than half a foot in front of his face. It was a swift and marvelous attack, but did not carry the least bit of wind. These objects were precisely the long black ropes.

As he rolled a little more than a ‘zhang’ away, another black rope was pointing toward his chest. This black rope was as straight as a lance or a staff, coming fast to pierce his body. At the same time, the other two ropes wound around from behind him.

Only a moment ago he had seen four masters of Kunlun Pai, in short succession, lost their lives under these three black ropes. So he knew that these strange weapons were very fierce. Feeling the danger he was facing at this precise moment, he was even more shocked.

Flipping his left hand, he caught the black rope piercing his chest, thinking he would fling it to the side. But suddenly the rope shook and a whiff of mountain-moving, ocean-stirring internal energy attacked the pit of his stomach. If this attack hit its target, all his ribs would be broken and his five internal organs would be crushed.

In the time of split seconds, Zhang Wuji moved his right hand to the back, warding off the two black ropes threatening his back, while his left hand launched the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, backed by Jiu Yang Shen Gong. One hand pulled the other pushed and he let his body follow the force. With a ‘whiz!’ he flew up to the sky.

Right that moment, three, four flashes of lightning lit up the sky. Two of the eminent monks grunted, as if they were amazed at his martial art skill. These lightning illuminated Zhang Wuji. Three eminent monks lifted up their heads, only to see that the martial art master whose skill had reached the pinnacle of perfection was actually a peasant young man with a filthy face. They were even more surprised.

Three black ropes flew up menacingly like three black dragons, aiming Zhang Wuji from three different directions. Taking advantage of the lightning, Zhang Wuji looked down to see clearly the three monks’ appearances. The one sitting on the northeast corner had a black face, as black as the bottom of a wok. The one on the northeast corner had a sickly yellowish face, the same color of a dry wood. The monk sitting on the south had a deathly pale, paper-white face. All three monks had deep cheeks. They were so thin that it looked as if they did not have any flesh on their bodies. The yellow-faced monk only had one eye. The five eyes of the three old monks sparkled under the lightning so that they looked even more mysterious.

As he saw the three black ropes curling toward the upper part of his body, Zhang Wuji pushed to the left and reached to the right. One hand swept, the other tangled as he borrowed these three monks’ forces to wind the three black ropes together. This move was based on Wudang Pai’s Taiji technique, which he learned from Zhang Sanfeng. The force was like a vortex, the three black ropes were wound into one.

The lightning flashed, the thunder rumbled continuously; the Heaven was showing off its soul-shaking power. Zhang Wuji made several somersaults midair, before his left foot landed on a pine-tree branch. As he steadied his footing, in between the crashing thunder he said in a clear voice, “Junior [orig. hou4 xue2 wan3 bei4 – younger generation who studied later] Ming Jiao Jiao Zhu [the Ming Cult’s Cult Leader] Zhang Wuji, pays his respect to three eminent monks.”

His left foot was treading on the tree branch, his right foot high up in the sky, while he bowed in respect. As he bowed down, the pine-tree branch followed his movement, bobbing up and down slightly like a wave. Zhang Wuji stood steadily, his body appeared graceful. Although he was bowing down, he was up on the tree looking down, so he did not degrade his position.

As the three monks felt their ropes were wound up by Zhang Wuji’s internal energy, they shook their hands and the ropes separated. In this short exchange, the three monks had used the three different stances of nine different styles [san1 zhao1 jiu4 shi4]; each style concealed dozens of variations, dozens of killer moves. Who would have thought that each one of these three stances of nine styles was warded off by the opponent? Each style was extremely dangerous. If the opponent missed even a fraction of a hair width, his flesh would be crushed and his bones broken, he would die a violent death. However, Zhang Wuji appeared to stay composed, as if he was crossing a ravine like flat ground. The three eminent monks had never faced this kind of superior opponent. No wonder they were very amazed.

They actually did not know that to neutralize these three stances of nine styles, Zhang Wuji was forced to exhaust his entire strength. So as he was standing on the fluctuating pine-tree branch, he took the opportunity to regulate the troubled internal energy [orig. zhen1 qi4 – genuine breath] in his ‘dan tian’ [pubic region].

The martial arts Zhang Wuji used just now consisted of Jiu Yang Shen Gong, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi, and Taiji Quan, three major divine skills, but for the final somersault in midair, he used the technique he learned from the engraving of the Sheng Huo Ling.

Although the three Shaolin eminent monks possessed unique skill in martial arts, they had been living in seclusion for decades; they did not follow the human affairs. Obviously, they had never seen even one of these four martial arts. They vaguely felt, however, that his internal energy was somewhat similar to Shaolin Jiu Yang energy, yet it also felt far superior to Shaolin’s divine energy in a subtle way. As they heard him introducing his own name, who was unexpectedly the Cult Leader of the Ming Cult, the admiration and surprise they felt earlier immediately turned into rage.

The old monk with deathly-pale face spitefully said, “Lao Na [lit. old cassock – referring to self] was wondering which martial art expert descended down to pay us a visit; turns out it is the big devil head of the Devil Cult. Lao Na, three brothers, have shut ourselves up for dozens of years, ignoring the mundane affairs of this world. Even our own Sect’s important business usually eludes our attention. Today by chance we get to meet the Devil Cult’s leader; that is truly the good fortune we couldn’t even hope for in our lifetimes.”

To hear him mentioning the words ‘devil head’ and ‘Devil Cult’ left and right, it was obvious to Zhang Wuji that they bore a very deep grievance against his Cult; he could not help hesitate greatly, and was at a loss as how to reply.

He heard the yellow-faced monk with one eye say, “The Jiaozhu of the Devil Cult is Yang Dingtian!
How can it be Sire?”

“Yang Jiaozhu has passed away almost thirty years ago,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“Ah!” the yellow-faced old monk exclaimed, but did not say anything. He sounded shocked, as if he was utterly crushed and broken-hearted.

Zhang Wuji thought, “He looks exceedingly grieved to hear about Yang Jiaozhu’s death. His friendship with Yang Jiaozhu in the past must be very deep. Yifu was Yang Jiaozhu’s subordinate. Perhaps I can bring up the old friendship and then tell them how Yuan Zhen bore a deep hatred toward Yang Jiaozhu, and I’ll see what happen.” Thereupon he said, “Da Shi [reverend – grand master] must have known Yang Jiaozhu then?”

“Of course I do,” the yellow-faced old monk replied, “If Lao Na did not know the great hero [the word here is ‘da ying xiong’] Yang Dingtian, how could I turn into a one-eyed man? Why would we, three martial brothers, have to sit in suffering for more than thirty years?”

He said those words matter-of-factly, but the extreme pain and deep hatred behind those words were obvious. Zhang Wuji groaned inwardly, “Bad! It’s bad!” He understood that this old monk’s eye went bad under Yang Dingtian’s hands, so the three martial brothers lived in seclusion for the last thirty years of their lives, making a painstaking effort, was to avenge this enmity. No wonder they were greatly disappointed to hear the death of their archenemy.

The yellow-faced old monk suddenly let out a clear whistle and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, Lao Na’s Buddhist name is Du E [lit. crossing distress]. This white-faced Shidi [younger martial brother] is Du Jie [lit. crossing calamity]. This black-faced Shidi is Du Nan [lit. crossing difficulty]. Since Yang Dingtian [his given name means ‘top of the sky’] has died, our three people’s deep hatred and great resentment must fall into the current Jiaozhu. Our martial nephews, Kong Jian and Kong Xing have died under your honorable Cult’s hands. Since you dare to come over here, you must be a fearless man. As for the dozens of years gratitude and grudges, let our martial art skills be the judge.”

Zhang Wuji said, “Junior [wan3 bei4] does not have any enmity against your precious Sect. I come here to rescue Yifu, Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Daxia. Although Kong Jian Shen Seng [divine monk] accidentally perished under my Yifu’s hands, the background story is rather complicated. As for Kong Xing Shen Seng’s death, it has nothing to do with my humble Cult. The three of you cannot listen only to one side of the story. You must be able to discern right from wrong.”

The white-faced old monk, Du Jie, said, “So according to you, who harmed Kong Xing?”

Zhang Wuji frowned and said, “According to Junior’s understanding, Kong Xing Shen Seng died under the imperial family’s Ruyang Palace’s warrior.”

“Who is the leader of the Ruyang Palace’s warriors?” Du Jie asked.

“The daughter of the Ruyang Prince,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Her Han name is Zhao Min.”

“I heard from Yuan Zhen,” Du Jie continued, “That this girl has joined hands with your honorable Cult. She has abandoned her royalty, abandoned her father, and defected to the Ming Cult. Is it true?” He was aggressively pressing on step by step.

Zhang Wuji did not have any choice but said, “That’s right, she … right now, she … she has crossed from darkness to light.”

In a loud voice Du Jie said, “The killer of Kong Jian is the Ming Cult’s Jin Mao Shi Wang Xie Xun. The killer of Kong Xing is the Ming Cult’s Zhao Min. This same Zhao Min has also broken into the Shaolin Temple, captured our Temple’s disciples. The worst of it all, she went as far as engraving insulting words on our revered sixteen Luohan idols. If we add my Shixiong’s [older martial brother] eyeball to those offenses, the three of us bear a hundred years of grievance. Zhang Jiaozhu, if we do not settle this debt with you, then with whom?”

Zhang Wuji heaved a deep sigh, thinking that since he had decided to shelter Zhao Min, her previous excessively wicked deeds could only be heaped on his head. In that blink of an eye, he suddenly understood his father’s feelings when he committed suicide when confronted with his beloved wife’s former crimes. He thought that as the settlement of Yang Jiaozhu and Yifu’s enmity from the past until today, “Du Jie is right: If I do not undertake it, who would?” He stood straight up, sending his strength to his foot, and the bobbing tree branch he was standing up suddenly stayed still. In a loud voice he said, “Since the three honorable masters say so, Wanbei cannot run away from this responsibility. Then only Wanbei, one person, can accept all offenses. But as Yifu harming Kong Jian Shen Seng, there were innumerable difficulties surrounding that event. I am asking three honorable masters not to hold him accountable.”

Du E said, “What do you depend on that you dare to plead for Xie Xun? Do you think we, three martial brothers, will not kill you?”

Zhang Wuji thought that as things had come this far, he must fight to the end; he said, “With one against three, Wanbei is definitely not your match. Which one of the three honorable masters will grant instruction to me?”

Du Jie said, “Fighting one to one, we cannot defeat you. This is about an enmity as deep as the sea, we don’t have to follow Jianghu custom. Good devil head, come to receive your death. Amitabha Buddha!”

As he invoked the name of Buddha, Du E and Du Nan spoke in chorus, “May Buddha shows mercy!” Three black ropes flew in a flash to coil around his body.

Zhang Wuji dropped down to evade the ropes, but before his feet touch the ground, he flipped midair and charged toward Du Nan. Du Nan raised his left palm; with an abrupt turn of his palm, a strong gust of wind attacked Zhang Wuji’s lower abdomen. Zhang Wuji turned sideways to evade; using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi on his palm he ward off the attack. In the meantime, Du E and Du Jie’s pair of black ropes curled down on him. Zhang Wuji smoothly skated half a circle. Du Jie waved his left palm and launched a noiseless attack.

Zhang Wuji moved from tree to tree, sending attack after attack. Suddenly his palm hacked down, several hundred raindrops, as big as soybeans, flew toward Du E, carrying a strong gale of wind. Du E leaned his head sideways to evade, but dozens of raindrops still hit his face so he felt pain nonetheless. “Good kid!” he shouted. The black rope shook. It made two circles in the air and struck down toward the top of Zhang Wuji’s head. Zhang Wuji flew like an arrow to avoid the circle of rope and attack Du Jie at the same time.

The more he fought, the more alarmed he became, as he felt his body was surrounded by the airstream from the three black ropes and the gust of wind generated by the three palms, which gradually tightened around him like glue. Ever since he started teaching himself martial art, he had never met such superior opponents like these three monks. Not only their stances very complicated, the abundance of their internal energy was matchless.

At first, Zhang Wuji was still able to use 70% of his strength in defense and 30% for offense. More than 200 stances, however, he started to feel that his pure and clear internal energy gradually turned muddy that in order to survive he could only defend and not attack at all. His Jiu Yang Shen Gong was actually unlimited; the more he used it, the stronger he was. But right now, every move he made consumed enormous internal energy that little by little he felt his stamina decrease. Actually, it was also because he had never had this kind of experience ever since he trained the Shen Gong [divine skill/strength].

After several dozens more stances, Zhang Wuji thought, “If I keep fighting, I will only deliver my life in vain. I’d better escape today, and come back with Grandfather [orig. wai4 gong1 – maternal grandfather], Yang Zuo Shi [left emissary], Fan You Shi [right emissary], and Wei Fu Wang [bat king]. With five of us joining forces, I am sure we will defeat these three monks. At that time we will be able to rescue Yifu.”

Immediately he sent three stances attack toward Du E in his attempt to break out of the encirclement. Unexpectedly, the circle of three long black ropes was as tight as copper wall or iron rampart. Several times he attacked, each time he was pushed back and was unable to get out. He was greatly shocked. “Turns out these three monks collaborate as one individual,” he thought, “Can anyone in the world really achieve this kind of interlinked minds?”

He did not know that Du E, Du Jie and Du Nan, three monks had spent more than thirty years sitting in meditation together. Their biggest skill was in using the ‘interlinked minds’. As one person moved, the other two understood his intention immediately. This ‘telepathic’ skill sounded mysterious, but these three men had been together in one room for more than thirty years; concentrating in interaction with each other in training, so it was not surprising that their minds could react as one person.

Zhang Wuji further thought, “If that is the case, then although Grandfather and the others come together, we might still be unable to breakthrough these three men’s interlinked minds. Could it be that in the end my Yifu is beyond deliverance? That I will lose my life today?”

As he was anxious, his focus was slightly dispersed, his shoulder was swept by Du Jie’s five fingers, and the pain entered the bones and marrows. He mused, “My own death is nothing to be regretted, but Yifu’s injustice must be washed clean. Yifu has always been a proud man. Since he has fallen into others’ hands, he will not utter half a word to defend himself.” Thereupon, in a clear voice he said, “Three Old Honorable Masters, since Wanbei has stranded over here today, my life is difficult to protect. A real man is not afraid of death. What else can I say? There is one matter I need to clarify, though …”

‘Whoosh! Whoosh!’ two black ropes came from left and right. Zhang Wuji pushed to the left and pull to the right, warding off the incoming force away, while continuing, “That Yuan Zhen’s real civilian name was Cheng Kun, his title was Hun Yuan Pi Li Shou [Lightning Hands of the Originating Formation]. He was my Yifu, Xie Xun’s master …”

The three Shaolin eminent monks noticed how he warded off their forces while spitting out words at the same time. It was a kind of internal energy cultivation they themselves were not able to master. They could not help but feel more alarmed. The three monks recognized the Ming Cult was the ‘stop-at-no-evil’ Devil Cult. The higher the Jiaozhu’s martial art skill, the higher their capacity to harm others would be. Seeing that currently he fell into the tight encirclement and unable to escape, they decided to seize the opportunity. Only, their endeavor would need unlimited efforts. Therefore, without saying anything, they intensified the black ropes and their palms attacks.

Zhang Wuji continued talking, “Three Old Honorable Masters must understand, this Cheng Kun’s Shimei [younger martial sister] was the Ming Cult’s Jiaozhu Yang Dingtian’s wife. Cheng Kun had some feeling toward his Shimei, thus he became jealous and eventually his jealousy turned into deep hatred toward the Ming Cult …”

Thereupon as his hands were busy fending off the three monks’ stances, his mouth did not stop recounting, from the beginning to the end, how Cheng Kun schemed to destroy the Ming Cult, how he made illicit rendezvous with Mrs. Yang, which finally caused Yang Ding Tian’s demise, how he faked drunkenness and molested Xie Xun’s wife and killed his entire family, how he compelled Xie Xun to randomly massacre Wulin people, how he took Kong Jian Shen Seng as his master and deliberately lured him to take thirteen fists from Xie Xun, but he did not appear and in the end Kong Jian died with unsatisfied regret.

The more Du E, three monks heard, the more troubled their hearts were; the story appeared as it was cooked up by some criminals or barbarians, yet everything was logical and reasonable, everything fitted together perfectly. Du E was the first to relax his black rope.

Zhang Wuji also said, “Wanbei does not know how Yang Jiaozhu became enemies with Du E Dashi, but I am not surprised if there was a third party who incited disharmony between the two of you. Most likely this man was Yuan Zhen. There is no harm in Du E Dashi trying to recall past events. See if what Wanbei has said has some merit in it.”

“Hm,” Du E stopped his rope altogether. He lowered his head and pondered a moment. “That makes sense,” he finally said, “In Lao Na’s feud with Yang Dingtian, Cheng Kun did indeed play an important role. Afterwards, he wanted to take Lao Na as his master, but Lao Na had never taken any disciple, so I recommended him to Kong Jian Shizhi to be his disciple. Come to think about it, did he intentionally arrange all this?”

“Not only that,” Zhang Wuji said, “Currently, he is coveting over the Shaolin Temple Abbot position, gathering supporters outside the Temple, and cooking up a secret conspiracy to usurp Kong Wen Shen Seng …”

He had not finished speaking when there was a loud rumbling noise as a giant boulder on the sloping hill toward their left tumbled down toward the three pine trees.

“Who’s there?” Du E shouted. The back rope in his hand flew. ‘Bang! Bang!’ it struck the boulder right on, but it only caused several chips to fly away. From behind the boulder a shadow suddenly pounced toward Zhang Wuji with an exceptional speed. A cold ray flashed as a short blade was thrust into his throat.

This attack was so sudden, and it came when Zhang Wuji was using his full-strength to block Du Jie and Du Nan, two monks’ black ropes and palm strikes. He was totally caught off guard against this sneak attack. He only felt a sharp wind in the darkness and the short blade had already reached his throat. In this critical situation he threw himself sideways, and with a ‘rip’ noise the sharp of the blade made a big cut on his clothes right on his chest. If he was a fraction of a second late, his chest and abdomen would be cut open.

As his attack failed, the attacker broke out of the three monks’ black ropes encirclement by rolling behind the giant boulder.

“Close shave!” Zhang Wuji silently cursed. He shouted, “Wicked thief Cheng Kun! Come and deal with me personally if you dare! You want to kill me to close my mouth?”

Actually, he did not see clearly the assassin who attacked him with the blade, but he knew that person’s movements were quick, his stance was fierce, his internal energy was strong, and his martial art was somewhat similar to Xie Xun, so he presumed it was none other than Cheng Kun.

Just like three great hands, the three black ropes of the Shaolin three monks reached out toward the boulder. Wrapping and heaving, they lifted the thousand-catty giant boulder and hurled it away. But Cheng Kun had already gone down the mountain far away.

“Was it really Yuan Zhen?” Du E asked.

“Of course that was him,” Du Nan said.

Du E said, “If he did not have any guilty conscience, why would he …”

Suddenly from all directions came repeated shouts, as seven, eight shadows arrived. The first one shouted, “Shaolin monks became Buddha disciples in vain, you have killed too many people. Aren’t you afraid the consequences of your sins? Everybody, let’s go together.”

Eight people, each with a weapon in their hands, charged toward the three monks. Zhang Wuji was still standing in the middle of the three monks. He saw that among these eight people, three wielded swords, each of the other five wielded either a saber or a whip. Each one of them possessed a high level or martial art skill. Immediately they fought the three monks’ black ropes.

After watching for a while, Zhang Wuji recognized the stances of the three people wielding swords were similar to the Qinghai Three Swords, who were killed by the Shaolin monks several days earlier. Only their changes were more subtle and their forces stronger, far above the Qinghai Three Swords. These people must be Qinghai school’s senior characters. These three people attacked Du E. The other three people fought Du Nan, and the remaining two joined hands in battling Du Jie.

Although Du Jie only fought two people, these two’s martial art skill was a notch higher than the rest of the attackers. After fighting for half a day, Zhang Wuji could tell that Du Jie gradually fell under his enemies’ control; while although fighting one against three, Du E seemed to be in control with his abundance internal strength.

About a dozen or so stances later, Du E was aware of the difficulty Du Jie was facing. His black rope shook, and flew toward the two men attacking Du Jie. The two men were tall and powerfully built. Their black beards floating, their movements were extremely agile. One of them held a pair of judge brushes, the other held a short pole to seal acupoints. Du E and Du Jie were several ‘zhang’s apart, yet Du E could feel the wind generated by these two people’s weapons as if they were closed to him, proving that short weapons were inevitably more fierce than the long ones.

On the other front, the power carried by the three swords of Qinghai people was getting weaker, and they slowly fell under Du Nan’s control. As it happened, Du Nan was fighting three enemies, while Du E and Du Jie two monks were fighting five enemies. For the time being, both parties were in a stalemate.

Zhang Wuji wondered in his heart, “These eight people are all martial art experts and they are not necessarily inferior to He Taichong, husband and wife. Other than the three Qinghai Pai people, I cannot figure out the school origin of the other five. Truly in this wide world, there are crouching tigers and hidden dragons among the tall grasses and thick weeds. I wonder how many heroes and warriors are hiding quietly, whose names I have never heard of.”

After these eleven people fought for more than a hundred moves, the black ropes in the three monks of Shaolin’s hands were getting shorter. The shorter ropes required less internal energy to operate, but their agility and attacking power were also reduced several degrees. Several dozens of moves later, the three monks’ black ropes were shortened six, seven feet more. The two black-bearded old men fought closer and closer. The power behind their weapons was getting stronger and stronger. As soon as they saw a hole in their enemies’ defense, they would do their utmost to advance step-by-step, to be as close as possible to the three monks. But as their black ropes were shorter, the three monks’ defense was also tighter. The three ropes were like a circle with infinite elasticity. Each time the two black-bearded old men pressed on, they would be pushed back by the ropes.

By this time the three monks had already joined their ‘qi’ that the battle turned into three against eight. The three Shaolin monks spared no effort in fighting the enemies, but they were groaning inside. They knew that although the battle with these eight people was prolonged, they would not suffer defeat. If they used the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ [Buddha’s warrior’ devil subduing ring/loop], not only eight enemies, even sixteen or thirty-two people would not be able to penetrate their defense. However, inside this ring hides a powerful enemy who would endanger them internally. If Zhang Wuji ever decided to make his move, they would be crushed from inside and outside, then the Shaolin three monks’ lives would be gone.

The three monks saw him quietly sit on the ground; apparently he was waiting for a good opportunity to strike. Perhaps he was waiting for the three monks and their enemies to exhaust their strengths, and then gain advantage at their expense. By this time the three monks had used their internal energy to its fullest potential. They were thinking of letting a long whistle down the hill to call for help from the Shaolin Temple, but they could not open their mouths. If they uttered even a single word, the flow of their blood and ‘qi’ would reverse, and then if they were lucky enough not to die, they would certainly suffer internal injury and would be crippled.

In their hearts, they were scolding themselves for being too proud. If, at the first sign of powerful enemy’s arrival they had raised the alarm asking reinforcement from the Temple, their victory would have been assured as soon as several masters of Damo Hall and Luohan Hall came to help.

This dire circumstance was also clearly seen by Zhang Wuji. If he wanted to take these three monks’ lives at this time, it would be as easy as lifting his finger. But he thought as a real man, he should not take advantage when others were in danger. Let alone the fact that these three monks were the victims of Yuan Zhen’s evil plot. Besides, if he killed them, he would still have to deal with the eight powerful enemies, which would not make his job any easier.

Knowing that victory or defeat between the two parties would not be decided for a while, he looked down to see that there was a dungeon in the ground, covered with a very big rock. All he could see was a small gap, supposedly it was the air passage for Xie Xun to breathe, and to deliver food for him. He thought that his time was limited. By the time victory and defeat between the combatants was decided, some people from the Shaolin Temple might have arrived; and then he would lost the opportunity to rescue Yifu. Thereupon he knelt down by the rock and pushed with both hands. He was able to push the giant stone slowly aside by exerting his strength using the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi technique.

He had not pushed the rock one foot when suddenly a strong wind came from behind, as Du Nan sent a palm strike toward his back. Zhang Wuji used the ‘take off force to borrow strength’. ‘Bang!’ a large part of the clothes on his back tore to pieces. In the fierce wind and rainstorm, the pieces of clothes flutter in the air like butterflies; but actually he transferred Du Nan’s palm strength to the giant stone. With a loud rumbling noise the stone slid about a foot. He unloaded the palm strength to the rock so that he was not injured internally, but when he took the force, his own internal energy was focused on the stone in front of him; therefore, he felt severe pain on his back.

As Du Nan launched a palm strike, he revealed a gap in the black ropes defense. One of the black-bearded old man immediately penetrated the loop. The short pole in his right hand struck toward Du Nan’s left breast.

The Shaolin Three Monks’ flexible rope formation was very effective for a long distance attack, but not for a close combat. Du Nan raised his left palm to ward off the attack threatening the acupoint on his chest. The black-bearded old man stretched out his left-hand index finger to pierce Du Nan’s ‘shan zhong xue’ [lit. ‘in the flock (of sheep or goats)’ acupoint].

“Not good!” Du Nan cried out inwardly. He did not expect the enemy’s ‘yi zhi chan’ [sacrificing finger] acupoint sealing technique was fiercer than his sealing acupoint pole. In this critical situation, he did not have any choice but to let go the rope in his right hand and sweep it across his chest with a strong gust of wind, and immediately launched a counterattack with his thumb, index finger and middle finger shaped like a fan.

Although he succeeded in warding off the enemy’s attack, with the black rope no longer in his hand, the old man wielding judge-pens immediately entered in his line of defense. The Shaolin Three Monks’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was broken.

Suddenly, the end of the black rope, which was lying on the ground, rose up just like the head of a viper ready to strike its victim. With a loud scream the rope went toward the acupoint on the face of the old man wielding the judge pens. Even before the rope arrived, the strong wind generated was enough to stop the enemy. The old man hastily raised both of his judge pens to block. As the rope and the pens collided, he was shaken and his arms went numb, the pen in his left hand almost fell off, while the pen in his right hand was diverted to strike the rock underneath. Rock chips flew as sparks splashed everywhere.

The black rope continued toward the Qinghai Pai’ three swordsmen, forcing them to withdraw about a ‘zhang’ backwards. The ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ was not only restored, the power was even greater than the original formation. The Shaolin Three Monks were pleasantly surprised, especially since they saw the other end of the rope was unexpectedly in Zhang Wuji’s hand. He had never practiced the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ with them, so in term of ‘interlinked minds’ and moving in seamless coordination with the others, he was far inferior to Du Nan. However, his unequalled abundance internal energy was more than enough to generate an earth-shattering force to drive the enemies to withdraw in all directions.

Du E and Du Jie’s black ropes also moved that together they drove the remaining seven people to fall back. In the meantime, Du Nan focused his attention to deal with the black-bearded old man, which was a notch inferior to him both in terms of martial art and internal strength. He fought sitting inside the pine tree, and did not stand up at all. His ten fingers slapped, pierced, plucked, hooked, pointed, brushed, captured and seized, so that after several moves, the black-bearded old man repeatedly fell into dangerous situations. Seeing his seven companions were not in a better situation than what he was facing, the old man bellowed and leaped out from the loop.

Zhang Wuji handed the black rope back to Du Nan, and then bending down, he used the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi again to push the giant rock another foot. He looked down into the exposed underground cave and called out, “Yifu, Child Wuji is late in rescuing you. Can you come out?”

“I am not going out,” Xie Xun replied, “Good Child, get out of here, quick!”

Zhang Wuji was surprised. “Yifu,” he said, “Is your acupoint sealed? Or are you bound in shackles?”

Without waiting for Xie Xun to reply, he jumped down the dungeon. ‘Splash!’ water splashed out. Turned out the several hours of heavy downpour had flooded the dungeon that the water reached his waist. Half of Xie Xun’s body was submerged in water.

Zhang Wuji’s heart ached. He reached out to carry Xie Xun up. His hands groped around Xie Xun’s hands and feet, but did not feel any shackles. He then massaged Xie Xun’s several main acupoints, but again, he did not find any signs of anybody sealed his acupoints. Hence, he wrapped his arms around Xie Xun’s body, leaped up and out of the dungeon, and sat Xie Xun on top of the giant rock by the cave opening.

“This is the best time to escape,” Zhang Wuji said, “Yifu, let us leave.” As he said that, he pulled Xie Xun’s arm, with the intention to leave immediately. But Xie Xun kept sitting on the rock, refusing to move. Hugging his own knees he said, “Child, the gravest sin I have ever committed in my life was killing Kong Jian Dashi. If your Yifu fall into other people’s hands, I would certainly fight bravely to the end. But today I become a prisoner of the Shaolin Temple, I am willing to receive the harshest punishment to pay for Kong Jian Dashi’s life.”

Zhang Wuji anxiously said, “But you killed Kong Jian Dashi by mistake. It was Cheng Kun, that wicked thief, who engineered such a sinister plot. Besides, Yifu’s entire family’s blood debt has not been restituted, how can you die under Cheng Kun’s hands?”

Xie Xun sighed and said, “Everyday for more than a month, in this dungeon, I heard the three eminent monks chant their prayers, I heard the morning bell and the evening drum from the temple at the bottom of this hill, which has made me think about my past. Your Yifu’s hands reek with too much innocent blood that even a hundred deaths cannot redeem it. Ay, all sorts of wickedness caused too much sin. I am more sinful than Cheng Kun. Good Child, don’t mind me, just quickly go down the hill.”

The more Zhang Wuji listened to him, the more anxious he was. “Yifu,” he shouted, “If you don’t want to go, I will force you.” As he said that, he turned around and grabbed both of Xie Xun’s hands; he was going to carry him on his back.

They heard clamoring noise of people coming up the mountain path, there were several people shouting, “Who dare to cause trouble at Shaolin Temple?” A dozen or so people were coming up the hill, amidst the noise of feet splashing in the water.

Zhang Wuji was just about to grab Xie Xun’s legs, ready to take him go; but suddenly the ‘da zhui xue’ [big spine acupoint] on his back went numb. It was Xie Xun. Zhang Wuji’s hands lost their strength and he did not have any choice but to relax his grip. In his anxiety he almost cried. “Yifu,” he called out, “You … why are you being this difficult?”

“Good Child,” Xie Xun replied, “The wrong I have received, you have already explained it clearly to the three eminent monks. The sins I have committed, I have to pay the retribution myself. If you are not leaving, who will avenge my grievances for me?”

Zhang Wuji’s heart turned cold; but he saw the dozen or so Shaolin monks wielding Buddhist staff or saber had already attacked the eight people. ‘Bing, bing, bang, bang!’ the noise of the close combat can be heard.

The black-bearded old man with judge pens realized that if the battle was prolonged, not only they would fail their mission at the last minute; they may find it difficult to escape alive. He was enraged that a nameless young man had spoiled their important business. With a clear voice he shouted, “I beg to know the honorable surname and the great given name of the young man in the middle of the pine trees. Hao Mi and Bo Tai of Hejian [a city in Hebei province] want to know which expert has interfered with our business today.”

Raising his black rope up, Du E said, “The Ming Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu, the number one martial art expert in the world; how can the Hejian Shuang Sha [twin evils of Hejian] not know?”

“Ah!” the judge pen wielding Hao Mi exclaimed. He raised his pair of pens up and then walked out of the loop. The other seven followed him. The Shaolin monks were about to stop them, but those eight’s martial art skill was considerably higher than the monks; side by side they proceeded going down the hill.

Du E and the others, three monks, had heard everything Xie Xun and Zhang Wuji said. They also knew that Zhang Wuji did not take advantage of their precarious situation, he simply stood on the side, did not help either side. When Bo Tai broke through their ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’ defensive line, based on the Twin Evils of Hejian’s cruelty, the three monks would have lost their lives by now. The three monks laid down their black ropes, stood up, and put their palms together in respect. “Many thanks for Zhang Jiaozhu’s benevolence,” they said in chorus.

Zhang Wuji hastily returned the propriety and said, “Such an insignificant deed; is it worth mentioning?”

Du E said, “In today’s business, although Lao Na would not allow Xie Xun to accompany Zhang Jiaozhu, but Zhang Jiaozhu has just saved our lives, Lao Na would be powerless to stop you from leaving. Only Lao Na, three martial brothers, have received order from our temple’s Abbot to watch over Xie Xun. We have established a heavy oath before Buddha’s presence, unless the three of us lose our lives, we will never let Xie Xun escape. This matter concerns our Sect’s thousand years of glory or disgrace; we beg Zhang Jiaozhu to understand of our difficulty.”

“Humph,” Zhang Wuji snorted, but did not say anything.

Du E continued, “About the animosity of Lao Na losing an eye, we can consider it over today. If Zhang Jiaozhu wishes to rescue Xie Xun, you may come back anytime. As long as you can break Lao Na, three martial brothers’ ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’, you can take Shi Wang [lion king] go. Zhang Jiaozhu may bring as many helpers as you wish. You can take turn fighting us, or you can fight us as a group; we, three martial brothers, will accept the challenge by ourselves. Before Zhang Jiaozhu’s return, Lao Na, three brothers, will guard Xie Xun carefully. We will not let Yuan Zhen to insult him even for half a sentence, or harm a single strand of his hair.”

Zhang Wuji cast a glance toward Xie Xun; in the dark night he saw the silhouette of his well-built form, his long hair draped over his neck and shoulders; he was standing with lowered head, as if his heart was full of remorse over the transgressions he committed in the past. He looked totally different from his impressive, invincible former self. Zhang Wuji felt tears forming in his eyes as he considered, “I can’t defeat them today, and Yifu does not want to leave. I must bring [maternal] Grandfather, Yang Zuo Shi, Fan You Shi, and the others to help me fight. This three black rope formation is as impregnable as a copper wall or iron rampart. If Du Nan Dashi did not send me a palm attack, that Bo Tai would definitely not able to break through their defense line. Even with the help of Grandfather and the Left and Right Brightness Emissaries, there is no guarantee that we can break their formation. Ay, right now, all I can do is to deal with whatever comes my way using one step at a time.” Thereupon he said, “Since that is the case, I will return to receive instructions from the Three Reverends.” Turning around to embrace Xie Xun’s waist he said, “Yifu, your child is leaving.”

Xie Xun nodded. Gently stroking Zhang Wuji’s hair he said, “You don’t have to come back. I have made up my mind not to leave. Good Child, I hope in everything you will turn bad luck into good fortune. Don’t let the hopes of your Father and Mother and myself down. Follow your Father’s example; don’t follow your Yifu’s.”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Both Father and Yifu are heroes and real men; upright warriors who do everything in the open. Both are Child’s role models.” As he said that, he bowed in respect. His shadow swayed and he flew out of the three pine trees circle. Raising his hands toward the Shaolin Temple’s three monks, he launched his ‘qing gong’ and suddenly disappeared. They only heard his clear whistle, which in a very short time had reached about a ‘li’ [approx. 0.5 km] away.

The Shaolin monks standing on the peak of that hill looked at each other in astonishment. They had heard that the Zhang Jiaozhu of the Ming Cult possessed an outstanding martial art skill, but they had never expected his skill to be this divine.

Since his presence was no longer a secret, Zhang Wuji thought he might as well show his martial art skill. Perhaps the Shaolin monks would be scared and would treat Xie Xun nicely.

His whistle sound came out of his abundant ‘qi’; it was a continuous whistle, which rose up above the noise of the thunderstorm. It sounded like a dragon roar as it flew through the sky. Putting his entire strength on his feet, he ran faster and faster, while his whistling was also getting louder and louder. Thousands of Shaolin monks were startled awake from their dreams. It was not until the whistle was far away they started to talk to one another. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others knew Zhang Wuji had arrived; which only served to increase their anxiety.

Zhang Wuji ran for several ‘li’s. Suddenly from behind a willow tree by the road side someone was calling out, “Hey!” Someone leaped out. It was Zhao Min.

Zhang Wuji stopped his whistle and halted his steps. Reaching out, he pulled her over, only to see that her whole body was dripping wet from the heavy rain; as she looked up, water streaming down from her face.

“Did you fight with the Shaolin Temple baldies?” Zhao Min asked.

“Yes,” Zhang Wuji replied.

“How is Xie Daxia?” Zhao Min asked, “Did you see him?”

Zhang Wuji pulled her arm along, and while they were strolling in the heavy rain, he told her briefly what had happened just now.

Zhao Min hesitantly asked, “Did you ask him how he got captured?”

“I was only thinking of how to help him escape,” Zhang Wuji replied, “I did not have time to mind other people’s business.”

Zhao Min sighed and no longer made any noise.

“You are not happy?” Zhang Wuji asked.

“To you, it is other people’s business, to me, it is a very serious matter,” Zhao Min replied, “All right, I’ll wait for Xie Daxia to be rescued. I don’t think it will be too late to ask him then. I am only afraid …”

“What are you afraid of?” Zhang Wuji asked, “Are you afraid we cannot save Yifu?”

“The Ming Cult is a lot stronger than the Shaolin Pai,” Zhao Min said, “If you really want to rescue Xie Daxia, I am sure you will eventually succeed. I am only afraid that Xie Daxia is determined to die because of Kong Jian Shen Seng.”

It was exactly what had been burdening Zhang Wuji’s heart. “Do you think he is?” he asked.

“I hope he isn’t,” Zhao Min replied.

Two people walking and talking until they arrived at the Du couple’s hut. Zhao Min laughed and said, “Your real identity has been exposed, you cannot hide from these two people anymore.”

Zhang Wuji noticed that the door of the hut was half closed, so he reached out to open it. After shaking the rain water from his head and body he went in, but suddenly smelled a burst of blood. He was shocked and immediately pushed Zhao Min back out of the door with his left hand. From the dark someone’s claw was reaching out. This claw was noiseless, without creating any wind, but it was shockingly fast. In a flash the fingers had reached Zhang Wuji’s cheek. He did not have enough time to evade. His left foot flew up toward that person’s chest. The attacker pulled back his hand and his elbow struck the ‘huan tiao xue’ [lit. ‘jump-the-loop’] acupoint on Zhang Wuji’s leg with an extremely fierce and ruthless move.

Zhang Wuji knew that as soon as pulled back his leg slightly, the enemy’s left hand would immediately scoop out his pair of eyeballs. Therefore, he feigned a grab toward the enemy’s hand, expecting the enemy to pull back his elbow, but unexpectedly his grab was successful. He took the enemy’s left hand in his palm, but right at that moment, his ‘huan tiao xue’ went numb; he could not stand and was forced to kneel down on his right leg.

He was about to seize the opportunity by wrenching the enemy’s wrist when he suddenly realized the hand in his palm was soft, warm and smooth. It was a woman’s hand. His heart was stirred and he did not have the heart to treat her with a heavy hand. He lifted that person up and flung her outside. ‘Stab’, he felt a severe pain on his right shoulder as it was pierced by a knife.

As the enemy leaped out of the room, her palm struck toward Zhao Min’s face. Zhang Wuji knew Zhao Min would not be able to block it and would be killed on the spot. Thereupon, enduring the pain, he leaped up and sent out his palm to parry. ‘Bang’ two palms collided. That person’s body swayed, her feet staggered; but borrowing the momentum, she continued moving backward and ran several ‘zhang’s out, and then disappeared into the darkness.

“Who was that?” Zhao Min was still in shock.

“Hey,” Zhang Wuji mumbled. He tried to light a fire, but the flint inside his pocket was soaked wet from the heavy rain; he could not start the fire. Afraid that the enemy’s knife on his right shoulder was poisonous, he did not dare to pull it up.

“Light up the lamp,” he said.

Zhao Min went to the kitchen to get a flint and lighted the oil lamp. She was shocked to see the short knife on his shoulder. Zhang Wuji saw that the blade of the knife was without poison.

“Only a flesh wound,” he laughed, “Nothing to worry about.”

As he turned his head and pulled the knife out, he saw Du Baidang and Yi Sanniang curled up on the corner of the room. Ignoring the blood oozing out of his wound, he rushed to look; the couple had died for a while.

Zhao Min was scared. “They were still fine when I went out,” she said.

Zhang Wuji nodded. As Zhao Min wrapped his wound, he took up the short knife and examined it. It was precisely the weapon the Du couple used. He looked around the room, and saw on the beam, on the pillars, on the table, on the ground, everywhere, there were short blades scattered around. Apparently, the enemy engaged the Du couple in fierce battle, forcing them to use up their blades one by one, and then began to injure them.

“This person’s martial art is very fierce,” Zhao Min said in amazement.

If Zhang Wuji was not quick enough in the battle in the dark just now, that person would have had gouged his eyes. Not only he would have been a blind man, but most likely Zhao Min and he would be lying on the ground, dead. He looked back at the bodies of the Du couple. Dozens of ribs on their chests were broken, as were ribs on their backs. It was obvious that the martial art which killed them was very cruel, with a very powerful palm strength behind it. He had fought countless archenemies, undergone many dangerous situations, yet thinking back about the quick-paced, three-stance close combat in the dark room, he could not restrain from shivering in fear. He had fought two vicious battles tonight; the first was one against three, which lasted for a long time. But speaking of soul-stirring and hair-rising battle, it was nothing compared to the second one, which lasted for a twinkling of the eye.

“Who was that?” Zhao Min asked again.

Zhang Wuji shook his head without answering. Suddenly Zhao Min understood. Her eyes grew big in fright. After staring blankly for half a day, she threw herself into Zhang Wuji’s bosom and wept in fear. They both knew that if Zhao Min did not hear Zhang Wuji’s whistle and came out amidst the heavy rain to welcome him, and thus escape the great catastrophe, right now on the corner of the room there would not only be two corpses, but three.

Zhang Wuji gently patted her back and consoled her in gentle voice. Zhao Min said, “That person’s target must be me; she killed the Du couple first, and then hid to set up an ambush against me. She simply did not mean to harm you.”

“You must not leave my side these next several days,” Zhang Wuji said. After thinking for a while he muttered, “How could her internal energy and martial art skill advance so rapidly in less than a year? I am afraid nobody in this world other than myself will be able to protect you.”

The next morning, Zhang Wuji took Du Baidang’s hoe and dug a deep hole to bury the Du couple. Together with Zhao Min they kneeled and bowed to express their respect. Recalling how Yi Sanniang had treated the two of them with loving care, they could not help but feel grief.

Suddenly from far away, from the direction of Shaolin Temple they heard a faint continuous ‘dang, dang’ sound. It sounded very urgent. At the same moment, from the east a blue-green rocket shot to the sky; from the south a red rocket, from the west white, and from the north black, while from several ‘li’s away they saw yellow smoke rise up. These five rockets and smoke encircled the Shaolin Temple in the middle.

“The Ming Cult’s Five-element Flags have arrived!” Zhang Wuji called out, “And they are going to deal with the Shaolin Pai frontally. Let’s go quickly.” Hurriedly they changed their clothes, washed the mud from their hands and faces, and walked quickly toward the Shaolin Temple.

Walking for only a few ‘li’s, they saw a company of white-clothed Ming Cult army, with small yellow banners in their hands, going up the mountain.

“Is Yan Qi Shi [Flag leader Yan] here?” Zhang Wuji called out.

As the leader of the Hou-tu Qi [thick earth flag/banner], Yan Yuan heard the call, he turned around and saw his Jiaozhu. In his delight, he quickly came forward to pay his respects. The people serving under him were also expressed their delights in thunderous voices and bowed down together.

Yan Yuan reported: As the leaderships of the Ming Cult learned about Xie Xun’s whereabouts, they held a discussion and decided that if they waited for the Duan Yang Festival to ask for Xie Xun, all the heroes under the Heaven would have flocked to the Shaolin Temple, then the Ming Cult would have to face the world’s heroes as their enemies. Since they were not able to report to their Cult Leader, they were forced to take the matter into their own hands. Thereupon, ten days before the Duan Yang Festival, Yang Xiao and Fan Yao led the masters of the Cult to the Shaolin Temple to ask for Xie Xun. They expected an open war would be unavoidable, but after looking everywhere, they could not find their Cult Leader, so the group of warriors felt like a dragon without a head.

The Ming Cult people blew the bugle, announcing the arrival of their Cult Leader; so not too long afterwards, Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, Yin Yewang, Zhou Dian, Peng Yingyu, Shou Bude, Priest Tie Guan, and the others came one after another, while the Rui Jin [acute gold/metal], Ju Mu [gigantic tree], Hong Shui [flooding water], and Lie Huo [blazing fire], four banners were surrounding the Shaolin Temple on all sides. As they saw each other, everybody broke into delightful chatter.

Yang Xiao and Fan Yao admitted their guilt for acting without authorization. Zhang Wuji said, “You don’t have to be too modest. Everybody with one mind join forces to rescue Xie Fa Wang. That shows our Cult’s brethrens have a strong spirit of brotherhood [yi4qi4]. Everybody appreciates what we are doing, why do you feel guilty?”

He told everybody briefly how he went undercover and mingled among the Shaolin Temple’s workers, and how last night he battled with Du E three monks. As they heard Cheng Kun was behind everything, plotting and scheming, they were all furious. Zhou Dian and Priest Tie Guan shouted some curse words.

Zhang Wuji said, “Today our Cult is paying a formal visit to ask Shaolin Fangzhang [Abbot] to release the prisoner. It is best if we do not injure our friendship. We will fight only out of absolute necessity. Our goal first and foremost is saving Xie Fa Wang, next, we want to apprehend Cheng Kun. Other than that we should not harm the innocents.” The people acknowledged the order in one voice.

“Min Mei,” to Zhao Min Zhang Wuji said, “In order to avoid more trouble, it will be best if you would be in disguise, don’t let the Shaolin Temple monks to recognize your true identity.” Since she took the Shaolin monks prisoners to Dadu, she had sowed an extremely deep enmity with Shaolin Pai.

Zhao Min laughed and said, “Yan Dage [big brother Yan], let me pose as one of the brothers under your command!”

Yan Yuan immediately ordered one of his men to get the uniform for Zhao Min to wear. She quickly went to the woods behind the mountain and hurriedly put on the uniform and applied black grease onto her face. When she went out of the woods, she turned into a mean and ferocious thin man with a black face.

The bugle sounded again, the Ming Cult warriors went up the mountain in neat formation. Earlier that day, the Shaolin Temple had received the Ming Cult’s visiting card. Eminent Monk Kong Zhi, leading a group of monks, had been waiting at the pavilion in front of the Temple.

Because of Yuan Zhen, Kong Zhi was convinced that when the Shaolin monks were captured by deceit and brought to Dadu as prisoners, when their fingers were broken after they were forced to show their martial art skills, it was all part of the conspiracy between the Ming Cult and the Ruyang Palace. Later on, when Zhang Wuji came and rescued them, it was also part of the sinister plot to curry their favors. Therefore, he received the guests with a gloomy look. He put his palms together in respect, but did not say anything.

Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and said, “Our humble Cult has a favor we’d like to ask in earnest from your precious Sect. For that reason, we are going up the mountain to pay our respect to the Fangzhang Shen Seng [Abbot Divine Monk].”

Kong Zhi nodded. “Please!” he said, and he led the Ming Cult warriors walk toward the gate.

Abbot Kong Wen, accompanied by the Damo Hall, Luohan Hall, Banruo [great wisdom] Hall, and Jielu [monastic discipline] Courtyard, all senior monks, was waiting outside the door to greet the guests. He took the warriors into the Da Xiong Bao Dian [great hero precious hall] and invited them to sit down. Immediately several young monks appeared to serve them tea. After exchanging some pleasantries with Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao, Yin Tianzheng, and the others, Kong Wen was silent.

“Fangzhang Shen Seng,” Zhang Wuji said, “We would not go up to the San Bao Dian [three-treasure hall] if this wasn’t an important matter. We come here to ask earnestly that Fangzhang would honor the Wulin way by releasing our humble Cult’s Xie Fa Wang. We will certainly repay this great kindness and great benevolence someday.”

“Amituofo,” Kong Wen said, “Those who left homes [Buddhist monk or nun] must have mercy as their life principle. We must shun anger and avoid murder; actually, we should not make things difficult for Xie Fa Wang. However, Lao Na Shixiong [martial brother] Kong Jian perished under Xie Shizhu’s [benefactor Xie] hands. Zhang Jiaozhu is the leader of a cult, you must understand the custom of the Wulin world.”

Zhang Wuji said, “There was another reason behind it, we must not blame Xie Fa Wang.” Thereupon he narrated how Kong Jian willingly received some beatings in his attempt to reconcile a great enmity in the Wulin world.

As Kong Wen and the others heard to the middle of the story, he exclaimed praises to Buddha, and stood up at once to show his respect.

With tears in his eyes, Kong Wen said in a trembling voice, “Shanzai, Shanzai! Kong Jian Shixiong willingly put this benevolent and self-sacrificing principle into practice; his virtue was not small.”

The rest of the monks chanted scripture verses in low voice, praising Kong Jian’s chivalry and righteousness; there wasn’t anybody who did not admire him. The Ming Cult warriors also stood up to show their respects.

Zhang Wuji narrated in detail what had happened that day, and said, “Xie Fa Wang injured Kong Jian Shen Seng by mistake; he deeply regretted it. But if we think over it carefully, the real master mind behind this crime was your precious Temple’s Yuan Zhen Dashi.” Noticing that Yuan Zhen was not in the Hall, he said, “Would you ask Yuan Zhen Dashi to come out? Let us meet face to face and resolve right from wrong.”

“That’s right!” Zhou Dian opened his mouth, “This bald donkey [derogatory term for Buddhist monks] feigned death on the Brightness Peak, but actually he is alive and well. What is he up to, being sneaky like that? Quickly tell him to roll out.” He had suffered a great setback from Yuan Zhen on the Brightness Peak, so he still bore a grudge against him.

“Mr. Zhou,” Zhang Wuji busily said, “You shouldn’t be rude in front of Fangzhang Dashi.”

Zhou Dian said, “I was cursing that bald donkey Yuan Zhen, not cursing the bald Fangzhang …” As the word ‘bald’ came out of his mouth, he knew something was wrong; hastily he put his hands on his mouth.

As Kong Zhi listened to Zhou Dian’s rude remarks, he was even more indignant. “In that case, how would Zhang Jiaozhu explain the death of my Kong Xing Shidi?” he asked.

Zhang Wuji replied, “Kong Xing Shen Seng was a frank and upright hero; I [orig. zai4xia4 – under] had the privilege of visiting him on the Brightness Peak. I admired him very much. Kong Xing Dashi had agreed to meet with me again in the future to discuss martial art. Who would have thought that the unfortunate Master had met a terrible fate? I deeply regret his passing. It was a sinister plot of some traitors; it has nothing to do with our humble Cult.”

Kong Zhi laughed coldly and said, “Zhang Jiaozhu, it seems like you are washing your hands really clean. Then the news that the Ruyang Prince’s Junzhu has joined hands with the Ming Cult is also a false rumor?”

Zhang Wuji blushed and said, “Junzhu has had some disagreement with her Father and Brother, and has joined our humble Cult. In her former days, Junzhu has done a great deal of irreverence toward your precious Temple. I will ask her to go up the mountain to pay her respect to Buddha and seriously apologize.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu,” Kong Zhi was shouting, “Your words are sweet but insincere; how can it be that easy? You are a leader of a Cult, yet you are talking nonsense. Aren’t you afraid you will be the laughingstock of the heroes all over the world?”

Zhang Wuji realized that the murder of Kong Xing and the captured of numerous monks were certainly Zhao Min gravest offense. Although she had done it without the Ming Cult’s knowledge, presently she entrusted herself to him. Apparently, he could not make any excuses that he had nothing to do with her.

While he was in an awkward situation, Priest Tie Guan said with a stern voice, “Kong Zhi Dashi, our Jiaozhu respects you as a senior eminent monk, he is giving you a face; therefore, you should not press too hard. Our Jiaozhu always keep his promises and holds justice in high regard, how can he tell any lie? Your insult to our Jiaozhu means insult to our million Ming Cult disciples. Our Jiaozhu is broad-minded and generous; he might not want to argue, but we, his subordinates, may not want to let it go.”

By that time, the Ming Cult army had besieged towns and occupied lands around the Huai Si and Henan, Hubei area. They recruited soldiers and built up cavalries, so when he said ‘a million disciples’, he was not exaggerating.

With a cold laugh Kong Zhi said, “So what if you have a million disciples? Are you going to destroy Shaolin Temple to the ground? The Devil Cult has insulted our Shaolin and we have not repaid that disgrace until today. We were captured, and then held captives at the Wan An Temple; we can only blame our own negligence. Evil and righteous do not coexist; that fact we understand well. But you came to our Shaolin Temple and on the back of our sixteen revered Luohan idols you carved sixteen large characters. Hey, hey, ‘Destroy Shaolin first, then overthrow Wudang, only our Ming Cult fits to rule the Wulin world!’ How impressive! Such a fart!”

Those sixteen characters were carved on the back of the sixteen revered Luohan images with some kind of sharp tool by Zhao Min’s warriors after the captured Shaolin monks had been taken away. Afterwards, Fan Yao waited until everybody had left, and flew back to the Luohan Hall. He turned the sixteen revered Luohan images back, so that their backs were against the wall. His goal was to thwart Zhao Min’s plan of shifting the blame to the Ming Cult. Later on, Yang Xiao and the others knew something was amiss and they saw the carving on the backs of the Luohan images, but they had never expected the Shaolin monks would also find out about it.

Zhang Wuji had never been known as an eloquent man. Besides, he thought that it was Zhao Min who deliberately stirred up trouble; he was inwardly ashamed and did not know how to answer. It was Yang Xiao who answered Kong Zhi.

“We don’t understand what Kong Zhi Dashi was saying,” he said, “Our humble Cult’s Zhang Jiaozhu is the son of Wudang disciple, Zhang Wuxia [fifth hero Zhang]. It is not a secret in the Jianghu. Even if we were ten thousand times more arrogant than we are, we would never dare to insult Jiaozhu’s elders. How can our Zhang Jiaozhu himself make the ‘overthrow Wudang’ inscription? Fangzhang Dashi and Kong Zhi Dashi are highly virtuous eminent monks, how can you not understand such a simple logic like this? I am [orig. zai4xia4] convinced that there is no such thing.” His words were refined and thought provoking, rendering Kong Zhi speechless.

Abbot Kong Wen was a man of learning and wisdom; his disposition was also kind. He realized that in the end, the situation was not advantageous for them. He knew the Ming Cult had great influence; if both sides engaged in serious battle, he was afraid the thousand years of Shaolin history, which was passed on from generation to generation, would unavoidably end in his hand. Therefore, he said, “It’s useless for us to debate endlessly; please follow Lao Na to visit the Luohan Hall. We’ll look at the Luohan images reverently, and then we’ll know who’s right and who’s wrong.”

Zhang Wuji mused, “As soon as we enter the Luohan Hall, the truth will be revaled.” Hence, he hesitated and did not immediately give his consent.

“That is a good idea,” Yang Xiao replied.

Zhang Wuji did not understand Yang Xiao’s intention, but seeing Zhao Min stayed with the ‘Hou Tu’ Flag members and did not enter the Temple at all, he thought that there was little chance she would be found out by the Shaolin monks, so he had nothing to worry about.

The monk in charge of receiving the guests led the way, and everybody followed him in single file, walking toward the Luohan Hall. Kong Wen bowed down in front of the Luohan images and said, “Disciple is disturbing the revered Luohan, please forgive me.” Then he stood up and ordered six disciples to respectfully turn an idol around.

The six disciples went forward as instructed. After they clasped their palms together and uttered a silent prayer, with three men on each side, they lifted the first Luohan idol and turned it around. But not even a scratch was found on the back of this Luohan. Formerly, there was a large ‘xian’ character [‘first ‘] on the golden lacquer, but right now there was not the least bit of trace of the character. Not only Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others were surprised, even Zhang Wuji himself was stunned.

Shaolin disciples moved together, they turned the Luohan over one by one, but there was not even a half stroke of character on the back of these Luohans. The Shaolin disciples were speechless; they looked at each other in astonishment. They had clearly seen there was a large character engraved on the back of each Luohan, which together, they read ‘xian zhu Shaolin, zai mie Wudang, wei wo Mingjiao, wulin chen wang’ [Destroy Shaolin first, then overthrow Wudang, only our Ming Cult fits to rule the Wulin world]. But were did those sixteen characters go?

The golden lacquer on the back of these Luohans looked new; it was obvious that the lacquer had just been applied. But for the last several months, the security in and around Shaolin Temple was very tight. To fix the writing on the back of these sixteen Luohans, and then re-apply the golden lacquer, was indeed not a simple thing to do. How could no monk in the Temple know about it?

Zhang Wuji turned his head around and saw Wei Yixiao and Fan Yao looked at each other with suppressed smile on their faces. His heart was stirred; he realized it must be his fellow Cult brothers who went into action. “Whoever is doing this must be very resourceful and have a vast knowledge,” he mused.

Seeing the bewildered looks on the monks’ faces, Yang Xiao said, “Your precious Temple’s good fortune is very deep; there is no end to your virtuous beneficence. Sixteen revered golden images are in perfect condition. As Kong Zhi Dashi said, these idols suffered some vandalism, but the sixteen Luohans are obviously divine, their virtue boundless, they are able to fix themselves. It truly is a reason for us to celebrate.”

As he said that, he bent his knees and kowtowed toward the Luohans. Zhang Wuji and the others also followed his example and kowtowed.

Kong Wen, Kong Zhi and the others did not believe such nonsense as the Luohans were divine, having boundless virtue that they were able to fix themselves up. They guessed it must be the Ming Cult who surreptitiously did this. Regardless of what happened, however, it showed that the Ming Cult was trying to make amends to their Temple; knowing this, they could not restrain a third of the anger in their hearts from melting away. But, thinking about how these devil heads were able to come and go like ghosts, they felt 30% admirations and 30% fears.

“Since the Luohan idols are as good as new, we should not mention this matter again,” Kong Wen said. Waving his hand, he ordered Shaolin disciples to turn those Luohan back to their original positions.

“Last night, Zhang Jiaozhu has visited us and has made an acquaintance with Lao Na’s three martial uncles,” Kong Wen continued, “I heard Du E Shishu and Zhang Jiaozhu have come to an agreement; as long as Zhang Jiaozhu is able to break my three Shishu’s ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Juan’, you can take Xie Shizhu away.”

“That’s right,” Zhang Wuji replied, “Du E Dashi did say that. But I [orig, zai4xia4] have a deep admiration to the three eminent monks’ profound martial art skill. In all honesty, I know I am their match. I had suffered defeat under three eminent monks’ hands last night. How can the general of a defeated army dare to speak bravely?”

“Amituofo,” Kong Wen said, “Zhang Jiaozhu’s words are too heavy. Victory or defeat of last night has not been decided yet. Furthermore, Jiaozhu’s kindness and chivalry in helping them have left a deep impression on the three Shishu’s hearts.”

Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, and the others had heard from Zhang Wuji how Du E and the other two monks possessed such an amazing martial art skill. Naturally, they wanted to see it with their own eyes.

Yin Tianzheng said, “Since the Shaolin eminent monks insist on seeing who is superior in the martial art study, Jiaozhu, I think forgetting our own inadequacy, we should follow their request and we ask instruction from the Shaolin Pai. Besides, that is the only way we can save Xie Xiongdi [brother Xie]. We are compelled to do this. It’s not like we deliberately want to challenge Shaolin Temple’s supremacy in the Wulin world.”

Zhang Wuji had always held his grandfather’s opinion in high regards; besides, Yin Tianzheng was right, they had no other choice. Thereupon he said, “My brothers have heard how I praised the three eminent monks’ divine skill as unrivalled; they said the three eminent monks have been living in seclusion for decades that nobody in the Wulin world knew about them. Now that we are fortunate enough to pay a visit, it would be our lifelong happiness to be able to meet with them.”

“Please!” Kong Zhi raised his hand and led the group of warriors toward the hill behind the Temple.

The ‘Hong Shui’ Flag of the Ming Cult, under the leadership of Tang Yang, had arranged themselves, forming a formidable wall around the hill. But Kong Wen and the others seemed oblivious to their presence; they kept walking toward the peak. Kong Wen and Kong Zhi, with clasped palms, walked toward the three pine trees, bowed and reported to their elders.

Du E said, “The enmity against Yang Dingtian has been resolved last night. The affair of the Luohan idols has also been resolved today. Very good, very good. Zhang Jiaozhu, are you all coming here to fight?”

Yang Xiao and the others noticed the three monks’ were short and skinny. Sitting inside the hollow trunks, they looked like corpses. Yet as he spoke, Du E’s voice resounded in the mountain and valley. It was obvious that his internal strength was very deep. They could not help their faces from changing.

Zhang Wuji pondered in his heart, “Last night I was alone, hence I could not defeat them. Today I have many people with me. If we rely on number in fighting them, first, I might not be able to unleash my skill to the fullest, second, even if we won, we will demean our own Cult’s prestige. Too many people won’t look good, too few people won’t achieve anything. I think the best way would be three of us against three of them. Fair and square.” Thereupon he said, “I have experience three eminent monks’ divine skill last night; my heart is full of admiration. I do not dare to show off my shameful skill in front of the three of you. But Xie Fa Wang has shown me fatherly love; he is also a good friend and a brother to my brethrens here. Even if we have to overestimate our own strength, we must try to save him. I am thinking of asking two of my Cult brethrens to help, so that we will fight three against three; that way, we are receiving instruction on a level ground.”

“Zhang Jiaozhu does not need to be modest,” Du E dryly said, “If in your precious Cult you have someone whose seniority in martial art comprehension second only to Jiaozhu, then you need only one more person to kill us, the three old baldies. But if Lao Na’s presumption is correct, there will not be any second person with skills as high as Jiaozhu’s to be found in the world. In that case, it doesn’t matter if you have more people or less people; all of you can come up together.”

Zhou Dian, Priest Tie Guan, and the others looked at each other. They all thought this old bald donkey was very arrogant, by going as far as regarding the world’s heroes as nothing. However, they also realized that they were praising Zhang Jiaozhu by saying that nobody in the world could be considered on par with him; so they were being polite after all. Zhou Dian was about to open his mouth to speak, but Shuo Bude’s hand was quicker; it reached out to cover Zhou Dian’s mouth.

Zhang Wuji said, “Our humble Cult is considered heretical [orig. pang2 men2 zuo3 dao4 – lit. side door, left way] and not worthy to be compared to your precious Sect’s prestigious name, but with our several hundred years of establishment, we do have some talented people. It was by chance that I am appointed the interim Cult Leader. In reality, in term of ability, insight and martial art skill, within my humble Cult, we do not lack people who are superior to me. Wei Fu Wang [bat king Wei], please deliver this visiting card to the three eminent monks.” As he said that, he took out a piece of visiting card, which listed Zhang Wuji’s name on the top, and then Yang Xiao, Fan Yao, Yin Tianzheng, Wei Yixiao, down to everybody who came to pay a visit.

Wei Yixiao knew the Cult Leader wanted him to demonstrate his unparalleled-in-the-present-age ‘qing gong’, to show the Shaolin monks that they should not belittle the Ming Cult characters. Immediately he bowed to accept the order. After taking the visiting card, without straightening up his back or even turning around, his body flew backward, as smooth as floating smoke. He covered the several ‘zhang’s distance as if he was skating on ice. As he got to the pine tree, he handed over the visiting card to Du E with both hands.

Du E and the others only saw his shadow sway, and Wei Yixiao had suddenly appeared in their presence. They had never seen ‘qing gong’ this exquisite; much less he was flying backwards, which was even unthinkable to them. They could not help but praised, “Good ‘qing gong’!”

The crowd of Shaolin monks also knew a good thing when they see one, so they broke out in applause. Although the crowd of Ming Cult warriors had already aware of Wei Yixiao’s excellent ‘qing gong’, it was the first time for them to see he fly backwards like that. Only, they felt uncomfortable to praise their own people openly, so even though their hearts were full of admiration, they restrained themselves from saying anything. Only Zhou Dian applauded noisily.

Du E slightly leaned his body forward and stretched out his hand to receive the visiting card. The five fingers of his right hand grabbed the card, and Wei Yixiao felt tingling sensation in his entire body, as if he was stricken by a thunder; his chest was burning, suddenly he felt weak. In his shock, he hastily circulated his energy trying to dissipate the attack.

At the same time, Du E took away the visiting card, and the whiff of internal energy transmitted through this card disappeared. Wei Yixiao’s countenance changed, thinking that this one-eyed old monk’s profound internal energy was truly immeasurable. He did not dare to linger any longer; leaning his body sideways, he skate on a layer of long grass on the ground, back to Zhang Wuji’s side.

It was his infamous ‘cao shang fei’ [flying on the grass] ‘qing gong’. Although it was not exceptionally good, but to train until he was able float like that, that could be considered brilliant. Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the others thought, “This man can achieve this level of ‘qing gong’, he undoubtedly has received training from a master, but obviously because he has talent. It seems that he was born with different trait that other people would not necessarily reach this kind of level even though they train painstakingly.”

Du E said, “Zhang Jiaozhu said on your precious Cult there will be three people joining our exchange of pointers. Other than Jiaozhu and this gentleman Wei Fu Wang, who will the other person be?”

Zhang Wuji replied, “Wei Fu Wang had received instructions from Dashi’s divine internal energy. I am thinking of inviting the Ming Cult’s Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness to help me.”

Du E was surprised, “This young man has a very sharp vision,” he mused, “I sent the internal energy via the visiting card for only a split second, yet unexpectedly it did not elude his eyes. Now, what kind of people are these Left and Right Emissaries of the Brightness? Could their martial art skills be better than this person surnamed Wei’s?”

He had lived in seclusion for too long, hence he had never heard about Yang Xiao’s reputation. As for Fan Yao, he had been living incognito for the last several years so not everybody knew about him.

As Yang and Fan two people heard Jiaozhu mentioning their names, they stepped forward at once and bowed down. “Respectfully accept Jiaozhu’s command,” they said.

“The Three Eminent Monks use flexible weapons, what will be a good weapon for us to use?” Zhang Wuji asked.

Zhang, Yang and Fan, three people usually fought their enemies barehanded. Today they were facing formidable opponents, so they could not hold on to their habit of not wielding any weapon. For these three people, they knew ten-thousand different techniques as well as one; for them, any weapons would do. Zhang Wuji asked this question just for the convenience of the other two.

“We’ll follow Jiaozhu’s instruction,” Yang Xiao replied.

Zhang Wuji hesitated a moment; he thought, “Last night, the Twin Evils of Hejian were using short weapons to attack long ones; and they seemed to gain quite a few advantages from it.” Thereupon he took the six tablets of Sheng Huo Ling from his bosom and handed over four of them to Yang Xiao and Fan Yao, while saying, “This time, we are going up the mountain to pay a visit to the Shaolin Temple, we do not dare to bring any weapons. This is our own Cult’s treasure; let us just use these tablets then.”

Yang and Fan two people bowed down and received the tablets. They were asking for further instructions when suddenly Kong Zhi shouted, “Ku Toutuo, we still have an unfinished business from the Wan An Temple; how can I let you go? Come, come, come! Let Lao Na ask for your advice first. Lao Na did not take the ‘Shi Xiang Ruan Jin San’ today; we are going to see our true power.”

He had never forgotten the resentment of being held captive at the Wan An Temple; upon seeing Fan Yao today, he had tried his best to suppress his rage, but at this time he could not hold his patience any longer.

Fan Yao laughed dryly and said, “I [orig. zai4xia4] received Jiaozhu’s order to ask instructions from the Three Eminent Monks. If Dashi wants to avenge the enmity of the former days, you’ll have to wait until this matter is closed, then I will be able to accompany you.”

From the hand of a Shaolin disciple standing next to him, Kong Zhi took a sword and shouted, “You are overestimating your own ability. You want to fight my three Shishu; if you don’t die, you will be seriously injured and then I can’t extract my revenge on you.”

Fan Yao laughed, “If I die under your honorable Shishu’s hand, won’t that be the same?”

Kong Zhi laughed coldly, “Looks to me there is no other master in your Ming Cult. What can I say?”

How could the Ming Cult warriors not know that he was provoking them? But if they ignored his remarks, would not the Shaolin Pai look down on the Ming Cult? In terms of rank, Yin Tianzheng was right after Fan Yao. Zhang Wuji thought that his grandfather was old, it was inconvenient for him to ask Grandfather to fight. Therefore, he was thinking of asking his uncle [orig, Jiujiu – maternal uncle] Yin Yewang to take his father’s place.

Yin Tianzheng took a step forward and said, “Jiaozhu, subordinate Yin Tianzheng is ready to accept instructions.”

“Waigong is advanced in years, let me ask Uncle …” Zhang Wuji said.

Yian Tianzheng cut him off, “I am old, but not as old as these Three Eminent Monks. Shaolin Pai can have their senior warriors; can’t our Ming Cult have our own veteran?”

Zhang Wuji was aware that his grandfather’s martial art skill was very deep; not beneath Yang Xiao or Fan Yao’s, and a lot higher than his uncle’s. If he joined this battle, their chance of victory was several degrees better. “All right,” he said, “Fan You Shi can conserve your strength to accept instructions from Kong Zhi Shen Seng later. I am asking Grandfather to help me.”

“I follow the order!” Yin Tianzheng replied, and took the Sheng Huo Ling tablets from Fan Yao’s hands.

In a clear voice Abbot Kong Wen said, “Martial Uncles, this gentleman is Yin Lao Yingxiong [old hero Yin], Bai Mei Ying Wang [white-browed eagle king]. He is the founder of Tian Ying Jiao [heavenly eagle cult] of the former days, and its prestige was comparable to the Six major Sects. He is an extraordinary warrior. This gentleman is Mr. Yang; his inner and outer power has reached perfection. He is the Ming Cult’s first class character. Numerous masters of Kunlun and Emei Pai have been defeated under his hands.”

With a dry laugh Du Jie said, “Fortunate meeting, fortunate meeting! Let’s see how well Shaolin disciples compete against them.” The three black ropes shook; they soared like three China-ink black dragons and formed three layers of loops around their opponents.

Last night, when Zhang Wuji battled these three monks, he could not even see his own fingers, so he had to rely on the aura of the black ropes to determine the direction of the incoming weapons. This time, it was the beginning of the seventh hour [between 11am – 1pm]; the sun was shining brightly in the sky that he was able to see clearly every wrinkle on the faces of the three monks. Reversing the Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands, he cupped his fists and bowed. “Please forgive my offense,” he said, and immediately attacked sideways.

Yang Xiao flew toward his left. With a loud shout Yin Tianzheng raised the Sheng Huoling in his right hand to strike the black rope in Du Nan’s hand. A dull clanking noise was heard as the rope and the tablet collided. These two weapons were so strange that the noise generated when they struck each other also sounded weird. Both men’s hands were shaken, and both exclaimed inwardly, “Very fierce!” They both realized that they were facing a formidable opponent, which they seldom meet in their lifetimes.

Zhang Wuji thought, “The three monks’ black ropes are connected together to form a loop. Their defense is very tight. Although the three of us join hands, we might not necessarily be able to make a breakthrough within three to five hundred stances. We’d better try to exhaust the three monks’ energy, then slowly look for a flaw.” Seeing the black rope coil over his way, he used the Sheng Huo Ling to take the brute force head on with brute force.

Fighting for the time needed to cook rice, Zhang Wuji, three people managed to press forward and reduce the loop diameter a ‘zhang’ or so. However, as the three monks’ loop was getting smaller, their defensive power increased. Each step the three attackers took required several folds of effort from the previous ones. As the battle progressed, Yang Xiao and Yin Tianzheng were more astonished than ever.

At first, the battle was three against three, but after about an hour, Yang and Yin, two people gradually could not hold their ground. In the end, the two of them fought Du Nan; while Zhang Wuji had to deal with Du E and Du Jie, two monks, alone.

Yin Tianzheng always took the ‘hard’ and ‘ferocious’ approach. Yang Xiao, on the other hand, sometimes used ‘soft’, sometimes ‘hard’; his fighting style kept changing. Among these six combatants, Yang Xiao’s martial art was the most attractive to look at. The two Sheng Huo Ling tablets in his hands circled around and danced in the air; sometimes it became a sword, suddenly it changed into a saber. Sometimes he thrust it forward like a short spear, next time it struck, coiled, slapped, and then changed into a judge’s pen; poking, pressing down, jerking up, and then the one in his left hand changed into a dagger, while the one in his right changed into an awl [(?) Translator’s note: I don’t know what kind of weapon this is. The original was ‘shui3 ci4’ 水刺 – ‘water thorn’]. Suddenly the one in his right hand changed into a steel whip, while the one in his left a crowbar. Within these hundreds of changes, he struck the two tablets to each other, creating a ‘ya ya’ [This is the transliteration of the Chinese characters, don’t ask me what kind of noise is this.] sound, disturbing the enemy’s concentration. Before they even fought for four hundred stances, the tablets had changed into twenty-two different weapons; with each weapon incorporating two sets of styles, so altogether he had used forty-four different sets of styles.

Kong Zhi had mastered eleven out of Shaolin Pai’s seventy-two unique skills; while almost no martial art skills in the world eluded Fan Yao’s knowledge, but at this moment watching Yang Xiao deftly launch his divine skills, both of them could not help but inwardly sigh with admiration.

Zhou Dian had never been in good terms with Yang Xiao. The two of them had fought each other several times. But this moment, the longer Zhou Dian watched, the more ashamed he was. “Turn out this son of a turtle Yang Xiao has always yielded to me,” he mused, “I knew his martial art skill was somewhat higher than mine, and I thought each time we fought, he was just lucky that he won by one stance or half a style. Who would have thought that I, Zhou Dian, actually inferior by one big peg to this son of a turtle.”

However, no matter how many changes Yang Xiao launched, Du Nan’s black rope still parry the two people’s attack without showing any slackness. Everybody started to see white mist rising on top of Yin Tianzheng’s head. They knew he was using his entire internal energy. The white robe he wore slowly ballooned up, and it was soaked with his perspiration. Each step he took left a deep mark on the ground. In an hour, the area around the three pine trees was full of his footprints.

Suddenly, Yin Tianzheng moved the Sheng Huo Ling tablet in his right hand to his left. With this pair of tablets he pushed Du Nan’s black rope down; while with ‘pi kong zhang’ [splitting air palm] his right hand hack down toward Du Nan. Du Nan raised his left hand up with five fingers forming a claw, like a hollow fist, also hacking toward the incoming palm.

“Ah!” Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the other Shaolin monks exclaimed together; their voices were full of amazement and admiration. Turned out the technique Du Nan used was one of the seventy-two special skills of Shaolin, which was called the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ [overflowing mountain palm; ‘xu mi shan’ also means ‘Sumeru Mountain’, which is the central ‘world mountain’ of the Buddhist universe – courtesy of Ren Wo Xing]. Needless to say, this special skill was very difficult to train. But even if someone did master the technique, each time it was launched, the practitioner must assumed the horse stance, and concentrated his ‘qi’ for a long time; only then would he be able to gather his internal energy in his ‘dantian’. Who would have expected that Du Nan had a perfect control and was able to launch the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ at will?

‘Slap!’ as his hand blocked Yin Tianzheng’s palm, the black rope in his hand shook and struck toward Yang Xiao. But because the ‘xu mi shan zhang’ consumed a lot of energy, the power behind the black rope was diminished by more than a half. Du Nan quickly covered up his weakness by rolling, fluttering, and coiling the black rope as if it was a spirit snake randomly quivering in the air. Yang Xiao’s pair of Sheng Huoling tablets was also making countless changes. The eyes of most of the spectators were watching the battle between these two people.

Yin Tianzheng focused all his strength on his palms, sending strike after strike toward Du Nan. Sometimes he took two steps forward, another time he took two steps back.

On the other front, Zhang Wuji was engaged in a fierce battle against two formidable opponents. These three people’s style looked ordinary and bland, because their true battle was internal. This kind of staking-it-all internal energy match was actually a lot more dangerous than Yin Tianzheng’s battle of strength and Yang Xiao’s battle of style against Du Nan. As soon as one of the parties’ internal energy was overcome by the opponent, if he did not die instantly, then suffering fire-deviation, losing his sanity or being crippled was a common occurrence. However, only the combatants knew their own situations. To the spectators, even though their martial art skill was higher, they would never be able to predict the outcome of the battle by observing the three combatants’ outward appearance.

Slowly the sun rose from the east, then it was exactly on top of their heads, before gradually moving to the west. By this time, the battle situation was clear for Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, Fan Yao, Wei Yixiao, and the other masters. They saw the mist coming out from the top of Yin Tianzheng’s head was getting thicker; on the other hand, the trunk, the branches and the needle-leaves of the big pine tree in which Du Jie was sitting were shaking constantly. From this fact, they knew the difference in level of power of the two monks, Du E and Du Jie. At this stage of the battle, Du Jie’s back was leaning against the tree to borrow its strength in blocking Zhang Wuji’s Jiu Yang Shen Gong. If Yin Tianzheng fell, the Ming Cult lost; but if Du Jie gave up first, then the Shaolin Pai was defeated.

The six combatants also understood they had reached the crucial point of the battle. Yin Tianzheng was staking it all in sending out his palm attacks toward Du Nan, but after more than thirty stances, he realized he was not Du Nan’s match. “Our priority today is saving Xie Xiongdi,” he said in his heart, “My own victory or defeat, glory or disgrace, why should I care? Much less I lost under the hand of Shaolin Pai’s senior master’s hand, so nobody can say that the Bai Mei Ying Wang’s prestige is damaged.”

Thereupon, with all his might he blocked the enemy’s attack, while he was forced to retreat half a step back. Successively he blocked more than ten strikes, and was forced to fall back more than a ‘zhang’. He did not know, however, that Du Nan had trained the ‘xu mi shan zhang’, one of the seventy-two Shaolin Pai’s special techniques for dozens of years, so that the power of his palm was not a small matter. As Yin Tianzheng withdrew one step, Du Nan’s palm strength also advanced one step. Surprisingly, the power did not diminish ever so slightly with the increasing distance.

Yang Xiao thought, “This Shaolin monk is formidable indeed. No matter how much change my Sheng Huo Ling make, in the end I still fail to make him budge. Yin Bai Mei [white-browed Yin] only attacks with his strength, I am afraid he won’t survive a prolonged battle.”

He combined the two Sheng Huo Ling tablets and struck them toward the black rope. It looked like he was going to fight force with force head-on in order to help Yin Tianzheng. As the Sheng Huo Ling just about to strike the black rope, Du Nan shook his wrist, and the black rope rose up toward Yang Xiao’s face. Yang Xiao’s mind was as quick as lightning; he threw the Sheng Huo Ling tablets toward Du Nan’s chest, while his palms turned over to grab the end of the rope. It was the stance called ‘dao ye jiu niu wei’ [pulling back nine ox tails], in which a sudden force was pulling outward.

Du Nan saw Yang Xiao throw his weapons like secret projectiles with an extremely strong force; he raised his left hand with a bent elbow to press down the Sheng Huo Ling threatening his left chest. To his surprise, the other Sheng Huo Ling suddenly changed its course midair and ‘whoosh!’ it flew toward Du Jie.

Yang Xiao was the most resourceful among these six combatants. His attack with these two Sheng Huo Ling tablets toward Du Nan was a fake; his real target was Du Jie, in which he sent out his entire internal strength.

Du Jie was using his entire strength to fight Zhang Wuji. He noticed that in dealing with Yang and Yin, two people, Du Nan seemed to gain an upper hand. He had never expected that Yang Xiao was able to launch this extraordinary sneak attack with such a weird technique. In his shock, he saw the Sheng Huo Ling was already in front of his face. Du Jie’s concentration was slightly broken. He lightly stretched his hand with two fingers up to catch the Sheng Huo Ling. But his entire strength and attention was focused on blocking Zhang Wuji’s attack; as he was disturbed, the pine tree he was sitting on shook violently, pine-needles fell down like rain.

As he saw a big break in his opponent’s line of defense, Zhang Wuji launched the highest technique of the Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi to penetrate this opening. It was unstoppable even when the enemy used a hundred different techniques to block; much less Du Jie was in a disadvantageous situation. Zhang Wuji sent his internal energy toward his five fingers. With a ‘zip, zip’ noise, his hand struck down. ‘Crack, crack!’ In an instant, the branches on Du Jie’s tree were shaken and fell down one by one.

Du E realized their precarious situation. ‘Whoosh!’ He stood up suddenly. His shadow swayed and he flew toward Du Jie’ side. Stretching his left hand, he grabbed Du Jie’s shoulder. With the help of his martial brother Du E, Du Jie was able to steady himself.

On the other front, Du Nan’s fight against Yin Tianzheng and Yang Xiao also reached a critical moment, where both sides were staking all they have in a life and death battle. Yang Xiao was grabbing the rope and trying to pull it away. With a ‘splitting mountain, crushing stone’ kind of palm power, Yin Tianzheng kept pressing down the enemy. Two masters, one pulled, the other pushed. Du Nan was attacked with two exact opposite forces; even though he was extremely strained, he did not seem to be in danger of losing.

The spectators on the side, both the Ming Cult warriors and the Shaolin monks, also saw this critical situation. They knew that if the battle went on, not only the victory or defeat was difficult to decide, perhaps from among these six masters, more than half would be either dead or seriously injured. The hill peak was awfully quiet, with the backs of most of the spectators wet with sweats. They were all very tense; everybody was concerned about their own side.

The silence was suddenly broken by a low and deep voice, coming from the ground in the middle of the three pine trees, “Yang Zuo Shi, Yin Dage, Wuji Hai’er [left emissary Yang, big brother Yin, child Wuji], I, Xie Xun, have a pair of bloodstained hands. I deserved to be condemned. Today, in order to save me, you are battling the Shaolin Temple’s three eminent monks. If either side is harmed, Xie Xun, cannot bear the additional guilt. Child Wuji, quickly take our Cult brethrens out of the Shaolin Temple. If you don’t, I am going to cut my own main artery to avoid adding my own sin.”

Xie Xun spoke with his divine skill ‘lion roar’, with which, on the Wang Pan Island in the past, he had shaken the soul of countless warriors from various clans and sects [‘bang’ and ‘pai’]. This time, although he did not use it to harm anybody, he still managed to shake everybody’s soul that their eardrums were buzzing, and they looked at each other with changed countenances.

Zhang Wuji knew his Yifu’s words were as strong as a mountain; and his Yifu was not willing for anybody to be injured to get himself out of this trouble. Zhang Wuji considered the present situation carefully; supposing both sides fought with all their strengths, although he himself might be all right, but it was possible that Grandfather, Yang Xiao, Du Jie and Du Nan, four people could not avoid injuries.

While he was hesitating, Xie Xun loudly shouted, “Wuji, you are not leaving yet?”

“Yes!” Zhang Wuji said, “I will follow Yifu’s order.” He took a step backward, and in a clear voice he said, “The Three Eminent Monks’ martial art skill is really marvelous. Today the Ming Cult is not able to break it. We will return some other day to ask more advice. Grandfather, Yang Zuo Shi, we stop fighting!” As he said that, he gathered his ‘qi’ and flicked Du E and Du Jie’s black ropes that the ropes returned to their master.

Yang Xiao and Yin Tianzheng heard his order, but they were still engaged in an internal energy battle with Du Nan, and were incapable of stopping the fight, because if they pulled back their strengths, Du Nan’s force would injure them. For the same reason, Du Nan was also incapable of stopping the fight.

Zhang Wuji walked in front of Yin Tianzheng. Waving both of his palms, he took and neutralized the palm power of Du Nan and Yin Tianzheng from left and right. And then reaching out with a Sheng Huo Ling, he pressed down on the black rope near the end held by Du Nan’s hand. This black rope was held at either end by Du Nan and Yang Xiao, it was stretched very tight just like a bowstring. As Zhang Wuji’s Sheng Huo Ling pressed down, Qian Kun Da Nuo Yi’s divine power immediately dissolved the pulling forces. The black rope loosened and fell down to the ground.

Yang Xiao deftly reached down and caught the rope. Du Nan’s countenance changed; he was just about to speak when Yang Xiao, holding the black rope with both hands, took several steps forward and said, “Respectfully presenting Dashi’s weapon.” Du Jie understood Yang Xiao’s intention. He picked the Sheng Huo Ling tablets by his side and returned them to Yang Xiao.

After going through this battle, the three Shaolin eminent monks lost their previous haughtiness. They knew that if this staking-it-all battle continued, both sides would suffer losses, while the three of them would not necessarily achieve victory.

“Lao Na has lived in seclusion for decades,” Du E said, “To be able to make acquaintance with worthy warriors of the present time, we feel very happy and fortunate. Zhang Jiaozhu, you have people with outstanding ability in your precious Cult. You yourself are even more excelling above the others. I hope you will use this excellent capability to benefit common people and do not use it for dishonorable businesses.”

Zhang Wuji bowed and said, “Thank you very much for Dashi’s advice. Our humble Cult does not dare to commit evil acts.”

Du E continued, “We, three martial brothers, will respectfully await here for Zhang Jiaozhu’s third visit.”

“I do not dare,” Zhang Wuji replied, “However, I will have to ask for some more advice. Xie Fa Wang is my Yifu. His kindness is more than a family to me.”

Du E heaved a deep sigh, closed his eyes, and did not say anything anymore.

Leading Yang Xiao and the others, Zhang Wuji cupped his fists and took his leave from Kong Wen, Kong Zhi, and the other Shaolin monks; then they went down the mountain. Peng Yingyu sent out a signal, instructing the Five-element Flags to withdraw. Five ‘li’s outside the Temple, the Cult disciples from Jumu [gigantic tree/wood] and Houtu [thick earth] Flags built more than a dozen wooden shacks on a hillside for their leaders lodgings.

Zhang Wuji was despressed, as he thought that within their Cult, nobody possessed martial art skills higher than Yang Xiao and his grandfather. Even if he took Fan Yao and Wei Yixiao, he doubt if the result would be different than today’s battle. Where in the world can I find one or two masters who are superior to them, who can help me break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’?

Peng Yingyu guessed correctly what was in his mind. “Jiaozhu,” he said, “Have you forgotten about Zhang Zhenren?”

Zhang Wuji hesitantly said, “Supposing my Tai Shifu is willing to go down the mountain and help us, the two of us join hands, we would certainly break the ‘Jin Gang Fu Mo Quan’. However, by doing this, Tai Shifu would damage the friendship between the Shaolin Pai and Wudang Pai; so Tai Shifu might not want to do it. Besides, Tai Shifu is over a hundred years old. Although his martial art skill has reached a high degree of proficiency, his physique is, after all, declining. If there is any accident, wouldn’t that be very bad?”

Yin Tianzheng suddenly rose on his feet, with a laughter he said, “If Zhang Zhenren is willing to go down the mountain, our success is guaranteed. Marvelous! Marvelous!” After several hollow laughs, the laughing voice suddenly stopped, but his mouth was still wide open.

Seeing he froze in standing position with a laughing face, the group of warriors felt strange. “Yin Xiong,” Yang Xiao said, “Do you think Zhang Zhenren will go down the mountain to help us?”

He asked twice, but Yin Tianzheng did not reply, he did not even move. Zhang Wuji was startled, he reached out to feel his pulse, and found that Yin Tianzheng’s pulse had already stopped; he had unexpectedly passed away.

Turned out when Yin Tianzheng was the only one left to fight the warriors of the Six Major Sects on the Brightness Peak, he had strained himself, and his physique had suffered a great damage. His recent ‘staking-it-all’ battle with Du Nan had further depleted his strength, plus he was also quite advanced in years, so his condition was like a dried up oil lamp.

Crying, Zhang Wuji embraced his body. Yin Yewang rushed forward and cried his heart out. The group of warriors also remembered their comradeship and spirit of loyalty and brotherhood [‘yi qi’]; there wasn’t anybody who did not shed tears. The news travelled fast; there were a lot of Heavenly Eagle Cult disciples who now served under the Ming Cult banner, their sound of crying shook the hill and valley.

For the next several days the group of warriors was busy attending to Yin Tianzheng’s funeral. Wulin leaders and masters from various sects and clans and societies also went up the mountain. These people admired Yin Tianzheng’s prestige, and came in front of his coffin in the wooden shack to offer their condolences.

Later on, Shaolin Pai also sent thirty-six monks to offer prayers for Yin Tianzheng’s departing soul. But they had only read several verses from the scripture when Yin Yewang, with a ‘ku sang’ staff [from MDBG dictionary: a mourning staff draped in white, held at a funeral to show filial piety] in his hand, exploded in anger and chased these thirty-six monks out.

From the side, Zhou Dian shouted his curse, “Hypocritical Shaolin bald donkeys!”

Zhang Wuji’s heart was still burdened with their rescue effort; several times he consulted Yang Xiao, Peng Yingyu, Zhao Min, and the others, but nobody was able to offer a good solution. Zhao Min wanted to try the ‘shi xiang ruan jin san’ in Du E’s, three monks, diet. She also wanted to summon Lu Zhangke and He Biweng to collaborate with Zhang Wuji. But on both accounts Zhang Wuji, Yang Xiao and the others thought it was inappropriate.